(Continued from "i'Lahm: Glimpse")
The tales had been true, though they misconstrued the ending. i'Lahm reeled from the shock. The floating city hovered just out of reach, but it was not so sheltered as the stories told. The Artless were more than a match for their erstwhile kin, for though they were made of the same aether, they were not so constrained by the desire to protect. With no holds barred, the furthest reaches of the world were not a safe enough hideaway.
Unsure whether the spasms that shook him were from this new revelation or his body caving to its wounds, i'Lahm steeled himself for what must be done.
Ksopaac, They must not hold the city. In their hands, they can do too much with it.
NOTED. THE ASSESSMENT IS VALID.
Can you take it from them? Force them out?
RESOURCES ARE LIMITED. I MAINTAIN CONTROL OF THE OBSERVATION POD AND NAVIGATIONAL CONTROL ONLY. ALL ELSE IS INACCESSIBLE. THEY WORK TO INFILTRATE ALL SYSTEMS POSSIBLE.
i'Lahm fell silent. The Tale did not often speak directly of the machines of men, and what little they did contain was generally so obscured by imagery as to be unrecognizable in practice. He rapidly sifted through the bits and pieces his mindlink fed him. The trickle became a stream, and in the space between one thought and the next he found himself tracing wires. Wires became circuits, and the circuits parts of larger schematics. The images blurred and i'Lahm found himself staring at a single red button in a plastic shell.
Ksopaac, I want you to destroy it
Ksopaac, destroy the floating city
There was silence. i'Lahm became aware of blood leaking out of his left temple where a shred of optical fiber had pierced skin as he was thrown from the rocket. The blood formed into a thick, red pearl and began to trickle down his cheek.
NO, I'LAHM. I WILL NOT.
A blast of hot air threw back his hair. The wind was fierce on the barren, dry plain, and he lifted a hand to shield his eyes from the stinging sand. The ground below him was still- none of the tremors he had felt previously shook the dust loose from the cracked clay.
All about him, a swarm of shadows whipped up the dirt and sand. He leaned against the wind and took one staggering step forward. A sudden peel of thunder shook the heavens and he peered out between his fingers. Above him, there was a darkness that boiled and frothed at the edges. Small cloudlings separated themselves from the mass and split again and again until they joined in the swarm of thousands of black hornets in the gale.
The din of the swarm grew to a frenzy, and i'Lahm found himself buffeted more by their circling than the searing gusts. In the midst of the fray, he was so very alone.
You leave me just one choice. If you can't, then I must...
Digging his heels into the jagged soil, i'Lahm pulled his remaining strength upwards. Short jolts of blue lightning arced to his hands from his feet, from his chest, from his eyes, and from his scalp. He held these bolts firmly between his hands and let them gather in a crackling globe of energy. As he felt his knees beginning to give way, he opened his mouth to project his will upward into the thick tar that blacked out the sky.
Words flowed forth in the original language of the Tale, amplified by the electric mass he held over his head. He felt his hands melting from the heat, and still he spoke. His arms sparked and ignited in a hot orange blaze that heated steadily to white. A pillar of words, not a hands-breadth across, began winding its way upwards through the black swarm into the heart of the darkness. The insects screeched and dove wildly at i'Lahm, but the blaze had engulfed him down to his waist. Those that flew too close were seared to ash.
As i'Lahm dropped to his knees, he shouted the only words left to him. Ksopaac had filled in the gaps, and he now knew the true pronouncement made as the floating city ascended during the last stand of the Artful.
WE SHALL PRESERVE THE WORTHY. And you, Ksopaac, are no longer worthy.
His words etched out gaping rents in the darkness above him. Shadows fled screaming as fast as the wind could carry them. A roar of ear-splitting thunder shook the earth with such violence that i'Lahm was sent sprawling on his side. The black clouds erupted with an acrid rain, but the fight had left the darkness. The charred remnants of i'Lahm's body still smoldering were extinguished by the sludge falling from the clouds. Mouth agape, i'Lahm realized the clouds were more of a dull grey than black now, and the corners of his mouth slid into a sick semblance of a smile. Drawing in a shuddering breath, i'Lahm found to his astonishment that the ground was alive with tremors once again. They were weak and inconsistent, but just noticeable if he lay utterly still.
Drinking in the view with both his lidless eyes, i'Lahm sent a final goodbye to the spider clenched to his spine and listened to the rain he could no longer distinguish from the sound of distant drums.
Inspired in part by "Through Glass" by Stone Sour