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Chapter 13

            Norman studied his bare hands.

            Time, never one to wait, passed forth.

            Trying to recall why he was staring at his hands, he looked around. He stood at the center of a crossroad that had been enveloped by a thick amorphous fog. Kneeling low, he examined the path feeling the wet cobblestone. The intersecting roads appeared to be surrounded by a forest for he could make out branches and leaves of the trees before the fog shrouded them. Standing up he noticed he was neither wearing gloves, nor his helmet, and was adorned in his Mu-Protector uniform.

            Where am I, he thought, what am I doing here?

            He felt like he had just awakened, but he did not know where he would have slept.

            What was I doing? He starred into the mist trying to force the answer to coalesce.

            Turning in a circle, he squinted at the hidden sky above attempting to discern the time of day, but the fog was so thick he did not have a clue whether the sun was setting or rising. The feeling of being watch gripped him. He glanced at his hands and knew they had done something. What did they do? He went back to studying them.

            Time, in endless motion passed further, emptying the present into the past. The future always hidden, hovered in the distance, promising change.

            He visually traced each dermal ridge of his palm prints with the weaving in and out. Maybe he could find a solution to what they did, by tracing the path. He opened and closed them, examining his nails. The feeling of being watched grew stronger.

            “Hello?” he said taking a quick look around. He almost expected someone to walk out of the fog.

            Norman”, Thauma said. “Can you hear me?”

            He recognized that incorporeal voice. A smile brightened his face.

            Norman, where are you?”

            “Here,” he answered to the fog trying to look past the fluffy cloak. “I am here…”

            Reality gushed forward into his mind, causing him to wince. He finally remembered what he was supposed to be doing.

            “Where are you?”

            A pure black mist materialized before his eyes coalescing into the beautiful and tall Thauma Guard.

            “Finally alone,” Norman said devouring her with his eyes.

            Thauma rolled her eyes and shook her head. She produced a small shimmering green force shield, about the size of a baseball in the palm of her hand, “You do want to breathe, right?”

            Norman held out his hands in front of him and chuckled, a smile curling the right side of his mouth.

            “Where are we then?” Thauma asked noting the wet cobblestone road and thick cotton fog.

            Norman looked around once more, “Not sure.”

            “Is this a memory?”

            “No, definitely not,” or so he thought, “I think I am supposed to pick a direction. But, why four paths? Why not just two, a forward or a backwards?”

            “I don’t know. This is your journey; I am just along for the ride.”

            Norman turned to face Thauma and the look of somberness surprised her.

            “Everything aside, I really appreciate this. You really did not have to risk yourself for my benefit.”

            “Honestly, I think I may not have been fair to you. You have always watched out for me and I may not know to what extent.” Thankfully, she thought. “We glaringly have different world views, but you have been faithful to me. I am just returning the favor I suppose.”

            Norman humbly bowed low seeming magnanimous. If at no other time then now, he reminded her of the gallantry of Occam. There did appear some sort of noble warrior behind the roughish exterior, a sense of honor and a belief system. No matter how different, it was there. Whether it was by the blood of dragons or something he always had it did not matter. Norman’s own actions defined him. He just seemed to like to keep his true motives hidden.

            Thauma smiled, “So which way does my Protector wish to go?”

            “Well,” he thought looking all four directions. “None are any more discernable than the next.”

            “Maybe just choose a path and think where you want to go.”

            Norman nodded, “Why not, simple enough.”

            He winked at Thauma and walked unto one of the paths.

            “Good luck,” she said watching the tendrils of fog encircle his body and devour him. “What am I suppose to do now?”

*****

            In the blink of an eye, Thauma found herself blinded by a bright radiance, transported before a blazing sun. Holding her hands up to shield her eyes from the intense light the luminosity diminished revealing a truly spectacular sunset. Deep dark reds gave way to vibrant oranges that smeared into intense yellows. With the emerald green and bold violets completing the color spectrum she could not help but stand slack jawed. Cotton white caps of clouds towering in the distance, like stellar mountains, were serving as the backdrop and a bright deep blue sky served the canvas. Pinks mixed with the other colors creating a most fantastic scene. Never had she scene such a brilliant display. She knew she never would again.

            “Brethren!” a voice boomed filling the air in a melodic baritone that vibrated the air penetrating Thauma with a warm and comforting tone. She swore it was singing and not spoken, like wrapping yourself in a cozy blanket of protection. It was only because of the voice was she able to tear herself from the distant display of nature.

            Gathering her senses, she stood behind a black and tanned-veined granite dais polished to a mirror-like surface. The pulpit was anchored at a quadrant of a massive outdoor circular amphitheater that had been skillfully carved from a mountainside between fields of green grass and golden crops. The white marbled columns stretching to the heavens were incredibly crafted almost looking like puffy clouds rising up into the sky representing an unattainable purity.  The reflection off the floor mimicked the sky so perfectly that walking across the platform gave the feeling of vertigo.

            She wondered if she was flying or falling.

            Looking around for Norman, she noticed the speaker and paused too awestruck to think or put together a cognizant thought. Occam’s description seemed very pale, but they were dragons. Never in her life did she witness such a magnificent form, that she wept from joy. The setting sun was but a shadow to the iridescent beauty of the creature. Even in her wildest dreams, such beings could not exist. Angels must hide their face in shame when walking among Occam’s kin. Yet, she stood before an entire coliseum of them.

            On the edge of her consciousness, she could only sense Norman’s thoughts. He was here, but she could not discern where.

            “We are gathered here,” the voice continued and Thauma inexplicably knew the speaker was Grendel, father to Occam, “In the waning days of our earthly existence to offer a Gift to humankind.”

            Thauma, gathering her wits, watched two dragons move a large cover from a top of a huge clay jar from in front of the dragon king.

            “Our friends and allies on high have offered us this historic opportunity to contribute to a vast resource of knowledge and insight. Join me and donate our essence to this Gift of wisdom and understanding, may its light guide humankind in their hours of darkness and link our descendants to their destiny.

            The melodious chanting and singing overwhelmed Thauma’s senses. She became awash in bliss experiencing the ceremony losing herself to its rhythm. The mantra deepened and quickened reaching a crescendo. The music seemed to come alive and swallow her whole.  Feeling the rising power, she involuntarily bowed down, although she felt she had no physical form here, odd since she had shielded her eyes with her hand. It was as if some deep forgotten instinct had forced her to kneel. She bowed her head when a brilliant golden light, far greater than the sun or the light that brought her, overwhelmed her senses with no apparent source evident. Fearing to, she dared to glance around watching a ball of golden radiance slowly rise from the chest of every dragon. These essences came together above the jar and slowly descended into the vessel. Wondering how the container could hold that much power, darkness plunged her into an endless black loneliness, for an eternity she feared. Even the sun was blotted out. Surely, the jar exploded, but she heard stone scraping against stone and the lid snap shut. Once again, the light of the glorious sunset returned, although its brilliance seeming much paler then when she first arrived.

            A plainly robed female figure appeared next to the jar and bowed low in respect to Grendel. Thauma had a vague sense that the person was Pandora, but that knowledge seemed unclear and muddled. By the gods, what am I witnessing?

            “We thank thee for allowing us the honor to contribute,” Grendel said bowing.

            In a silent explosion of white light, Pandora and the box were gone.

            Another dragon dressed in chaste white robes hovered over to Grendel and spoke in a low voice while others performed several clean up tasks around the dais. Thauma arose wanting to hear what was said and suddenly found herself beside the last dragon king.

            “Oh, Great King,” the dragon said pardoning his interruption. “There are some Oracles who say the Gift will cause only plagues, pestilence, and destruction among the humans.”

            Grendel gripped his friends shoulder gently in reassurance, “I see differently, my friend. The Gift will extend the wisdom to fight such horrors. When we leave this reality, our drake descendants will guide humanity in our absence. It will speak to them even more ensuring our genetic heritage is passed on. This I have foreseen.”

            Thauma found it hard to stop from staring at the stunning creatures. Her eyes literally hurt from observing such beauty and she was glad this was only a memory. Only when a fair blonde-haired kid, barely a man stepped forward to take the side of Grendel was she able to break the gaze.

            She gasped with a mysterious instinctual knowledge, strangely recognizing the man. The legendary Beowulf now stood next to Grendel. He was expressing gratitude to the king, and it seemed he was too was a ruler, that of the humans. Beowulf could have been no more than twenty years of age. She watched the human king signal to a woman holding a baby, standing next to a radiant female dragon. That dragon was Grendel’s mother.

            “Oh reverent Dragons,” he began his voice echoing around the coliseum, “I, King Beowulf, am happy to announce the birth of my nephew… and the son of… Grendel!”

            A cheer rose up from the crowd as the woman brought forth a child wrapped in swaddling clothes to Grendel. He gently, but firmly snatched his son from the trappings and held him up naked, to the gathering. The roar thundered across the countryside. Again, Thauma was caught off guard. Beowulf’s sister was Grendel’s wife! That made Beowulf Occam’s uncle. Occam had kept the piece of information to himself. She could not help but wonder why.

            Grendel’s mother approached the King and whispered into his ear, “His future has been prophesied and he will restore the honor and dignity of our kind. His claws shall cut all that draws breath in the world.”

            Thauma was stunned at the revelations. Beowulf’s sister was Occam’s mother. “You never told me,” was all she could say aloud.

            One of the other dragons snapped his head toward Thauma as though he heard her comment. Thauma gasped, their eyes locking...

            Darkness followed.

*****

            Thauma was taken back, almost fearful. She thought this was a trip into genetic memories. What deep magick was the half-dragon working?

 When the light returned slowly and dimly, Thauma compared the experience like watching a stage performance. The scene changed bringing her to Atlas Park, of Paragon City. This familiar landscape had been eerily blasted away looking like Baumtown after the Rikti bombed it. The only recognizable feature was City Hall at the center of the district. The building was the hub of the city government in Paragon City. She could sense where she had previously had been was extremely far back in time. Recalling Occam’s birth was estimated well over fifty thousand years ago. This present memory was in the future. They were experiencing a vision of the future. One she divined was very close in the near future.

            Thauma began wondering where Norman was, Ock had said he would probably experience everything from the eyes of his bloodline. She guessed he had to be experiencing the last trip as baby Occam, but now she could not be sure.  If she stilled her mind she could sense his presence, but it was far away.  Thinking of him caused her formless consciousness to start drifting toward his location. The whole experience was like a disembodied lucid dream.

            Flying toward what remained of City Hall, she found her Protector scaling the backside of the dome. He was wearing his red and orange regalia. She wondered if Norman was as lucid as she was, and if he had any control of the actions. Unseen forces tugged her viewpoint toward the front of the building above the roof. There Lord Recluse himself stood surveying the toppled statue of Atlas. Was Norman a conspirator of this future possibility?

            Norman balanced himself on the very top of the dome of City Hall. The crumbling granite threatened to break away. Seeing Lord Recluse with his back toward him, he leapt into the air. With a large VROOM, his entire body burst into flames. The heat intensified forming a plasma shield around him. On the back end of his descent, he let lose a red bolt of lighting from a stretched hand strike the ruler of the Rogue Isles.

            “No,” Recluse growled side stepping Norman’s descent. “I killed you. Permanently!”

            Speechless, Norman landed on the roof and the Rogue Isle Protector launched into melee. Recluse easily blocked his attacks, but Norman’s flames seemed to have minds of their own and feed upon the Arachnos leader licking his armor.

            “How dare you betray me,” Recluse hissed beginning to fight back.

            Norman still did not say anything and continued his attacks. The initial assault was only a feint to get in close. He started focusing his true powers to raise the heat of the immediate area. I hope that pushing the structural integrity of weakened roof to whatever breaking point would be needed.

            Recluse brought up his mechanical arms and began easily blocking the fury of his former loyalist. He easily stalemated the fight by staying on the defensive.

            Norman responded by striking back harder and faster, giving into all the love and all the hatred he buried. Today he would end the reign of Lord Recluse.

            Recluse cursed again, his defenses being penetrated. He turned left and lashed out with his robotic arms forcing Norman to step back. “I ended your pathetic existence. You are weak.”

            “Is this what you had in store for your technological vision?” Norman yelled. “You have failed Arachnos… You have failed the Rogue Isles... You have failed me.” Norman sent more waves of heat and flame from around him setting the rock itself on fire.

            Recluse turned sideways gaining enough advantage to send three of his limbs to shoot out like a spear. Norman accepted the attacks trapping one arm, another one bouncing of his chestplate, and the other burying itself into his leg.

            The light faded to black, it seemed to be the end of Act 2.

 

            No!Norman yelled. “I must see more.”

            Thauma could mentally feel the force of will Norman projected. The battlefield in Atlas Park completely faded to black, only to intensify with the performance now continuing in a modern throne room with Norman and Lord Recluse being the only people present.

            Lord Recluse sat on his throne and watched with steely eyes and amusement at his Protector approaching.

            Norman tossed a scorched helmet looking exactly like the one Recluse currently wore to his feet, “You lost this.”

            “Fascinating,” Recluse began, “You have exceeded my expectations. I no longer require your association with Project Destiny. You have grown beyond my influence. The fact you did not even render me the proper respect as your commander proves that.”

            Norman remained silent. Whether he consciously or unconsciously did not bow before his liege, he was going to allow the question to remain in Recluse’s speculation.

            “I hereby release from your duties and oath. Go out into the world and prosper.”

            Norman let the suspense build by not moving or saying anything. He was pondering everything he had experienced, piecing together what he wanted to say.

            “You said something interesting to me, in the future,” Norman said. “I killed you. While it is not a public knowledge, a line of thought does exist in all my superiors about how to permanently kill me. Arachnos made me what I am. And I know what you are.”

            “Enlighten me,” Lord Recluse said leaning back into his throne. He brought his hands in front of him, his fingertips touching.

            “There is no need to. You made me a drake. That alone would be alarm enough for someone like you to fear me. Only this time around the entire world is different. No doubt on some unconscious level you know exactly what I am. You would have had to get rid of me, because I am a threat to you.”

            “Even though you have proven your loyalty.”

            “Indeed,” Norman agreed. “Does that make your crime worse? Since I have visited the future, one where you killed me, my return has now brought up the paradox. If you kill me, your fate is sealed. I shall return and end your life. If you let me live I could threaten your strangle hold over Arachnos. Quite the predicament.”

            “Quite,” Recluse said almost chuckling.

            Norman was sure is former Lord was enjoying the moment. Neither of them would truly show their true feeling, thusly revealing weakness. Both would use their best poker faces.

            “Here’s the issue. I don’t care what you have planned for me. I have sworn an oath to Arachnos and the Rogue Isles. That oath cannot be broken by you and you cannot release me from it. I have grown tired with your Project Destiny. I have some Isles to protect.”

            With his speech over Norman, dismissing Recluse with a wave of his hand, spun around and headed for the doors to the chamber. Let Lord Recluse loose sleep over his paranoia, there where other issues weighing heavy on his mind. He was now trapped between his oath and not wanting to have anything to do with Arachnos. Lord Recluse would destroy the organization by his own fears and paranoia. Norman’s hope for a technocracy was now shaken. Recluse was not the one to create such a society. Moreover, the Protectors would never forgive him for leaving.

            “Very well,” Recluse said his words chasing the Protector. “I will leave you to it… Arbiter Salazar.”

*****

            Norman blinked and found himself again at the crossroads. He was alone and watched a black mist rise up from the ground. It coalesced into a human figure, his mind almost did not register it was not the Thauma.

            “Destined One your blasphemy and heresy will not go unnoticed!”

            The Protector was instantly disoriented as if reality crashed around him. The woman had caramel skin and dressed with grass skirt as though she came from some tropical island in the Pacific. Her dreadlocked hair topped a frozen stern face. She was unquestionably beautiful, but it did not matter.

            “Thee will be redeemed. Look for Simplicity’s Duplicity, heralding the ascension of Another. Gods will Mind. Thy time will be at hand. Rumors flare, find thy Lost blood. Once united, break the Circle and fulfill thou destiny.”

            Norman rubbed his eyes the echoes of the cryptic words imprinting unto his soul. Realizing she was not speaking English, he could still understand her words.

            “Who are you?” he felt stupid for asking already knowing the answer. The fact Hequat his bloodline’s goddess was here should not have surprised him, but it did.

            “My Drake knows,” her voice boomed causing the fog at the crossroads to quiver. “My Assassin of the Gods, a fusion of Mu and Dragon. My vengeful champion.”

            Another mist began forming next to her and Norman knew it was Thauma.

            “Bow before your god,” she demanded. “Fear me, tremble before me. Thou shall host me beyond the spirit realm.”

            Thauma’s form started to solidify.

Norman knew this day would come. He did not think it would be like this, but nonetheless it was inevitable. Being the Destined One of the Mu would undoubtedly lead to a confrontation of his goddess.

            Norman growled and rushed her. She would not claim Thauma and if he died protecting her, so be it, he could return. He summoned his flames in mid rush, but they did not respond. Deciding just to tackle her, he plunged head along.

Thauma finally emerged at the crossroads and she could now sense Norman’s mind. She watched is confusion, as a dark skinned woman backhanded a charging Norman sending him back, far into the mist. She would have acted, but she felt the pull of travel.

“Heretic,” the strange woman yelled.

Her surroundings were enveloped in blackness once again.






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