Location: Ar’Elis, capital of the True Evolutionist Empire, Eastern Continent of Hellifyno.
Corgan’s booted feet beat a steady rhythm on the smooth, pristine concrete that stretched out before hm. The feel of the thud, foot meeting ground again and again, felt good for some odd reason. Comforting. A cool breeze rushed the dry winter air around him, and even though it made his skin prickle, that felt good too.
As he moved, he took in the city of Ar’Elis, the steady thump of his boots like a second heartbeat trilling through his body. This was an ancient place; a place that his people had re-clad in marble and steel, turning ruins into modern marvels of durability, efficiency, and organization.
Where once there had been crumbling stone, now there were polished walls of dark, mixed hues which rose straight and true into the air, towering far above where their predecessors topped their heights.
Those same walls were dotted with pinprick sensors; you could almost make them out if you looked closely. They were used to monitor the population: watching, listening, ensuring that the Crowleys had full control of everything at all times. The larger slats in the walls, made for the release of gun turrets, kinetic graspers, and drone soldiers, were both more obvious and more menacing.
While the city was now a model of efficiency and order, Corgan had to admit, if only to himself, that it had lost some of its grandeur. Ar’Elis had been taken easily with little damage to its architecture, so he had gotten to see the ancient place before the renovations had been completed. While it was more orderly, stronger, firmer, and even possibly grander in scope, the power lent to the ancient place by the force of its years had been lost in the modern remaking of the metropolis.
The streets weren’t crowded, but people did move about here and there, all of them with the same faintly glowing green skin he had. A universal sign of the Anti Magic purification process they had been treated with. Most were dressed in uniform outfits consisting of a white vested garb that the state made available to its citizens, though a few maintained individual attire, tattered as it might be. They moved quickly, quietly, few words passed between them, almost as if they were afraid of being heard. Well, if they were innocent they had nothing to fear. They’d learn that eventually.
This had once been a land of violence, war, crime, and starvation. The True Evolutionists brought peace, order, and plenty for all. They had given the land a rebirth, making it immune to the tyranny of magical superiority. The citizens of the Empire should be thanking the Pure Blood Crowleys for what they had done in bringing the social revolution to these lands.
Except… many in the ruling family questioned the necessity of keeping mundane citizens alive at all. Some were whispering that it would be best to exterminate them entirely and just repopulate the land with members of the Blood.
Machines could do the work of men with far greater efficiency, and the Brains had the capacity to operate hundreds of machines at once. What good was an entire population of grumbling, distrustful, low blood flesh beings?
But no, that line of thought seemed wrong to Corgan. There were some things a living mind could do that an AI just couldn’t reproduce, no matter how good. And the Brains… well, he wasn’t even sure they were human anymore. He stopped himself from glancing up at one of the obsidian towers that dotted the skyline of the city.
As he approached the palace of the Emperor’s Voice, he began to see Imperial soldiers lining the streets, topping the roofs of buildings, and marching in formations to and from the many barracks that surrounded the capital quarter.
All of their bodies were bloated with chemically infused muscles. Most had other modifications as well: claws, horns, spikes. Some had replaced their living limbs with stronger, larger mechanical arms and legs that provided a variety of enhancements over natural human form.
He tried not to scowl at these abominations. He knew their soldiers needed to be strong in order to counter the advantages of the magical opponents, but things were going too far. The original philosophy of the True Evolutionists had been to find equality by eliminating the dominance of magical superiority. But these mechanized “enhancements” were just recreating that same monopoly on power.
He could see where things were going, and he didn’t like it.
The massive gates of the palace were guarded by a squad of some of the largest Imperial soldiers Corgan had ever seen. A man who was easily nine feet tall, obviously a boon of the recently perfected height enhancement modifications, towered over him, a half dozen tentacle-like steel arms wavering from his back. The slithering limbs seemed almost menacing, as if preparing to strike Corgan down where he stood.
Glowing red eyes peered down at him from the towering monstrosity of humanity.
Corgan failed to suppress his scowl this time. He was a member of the Blood, perhaps one who was out of favor, but still a direct descendant of the Crowley line. It was bad enough that he couldn’t get in to see the Emperor, instead forced to go sniveling to his Voice, but at the very least this low blood dog should be bowing his giant prick head and licking Corgan’s feet.
Despite the rage, he was proud that he managed to keep his tone even as he spoke. “I am Corgan Crowley, a member of the Pure Blood, here on official business with the Voice of the Emperor. I command you to stand aside at once.”
The giant man sneered down at him with an inhuman crimson glare.
This was not the sort of respect that should be shown a Crowley. He would get this man’s name and make sure that his legs were chopped off at the knees for such insolence. He was about to say just that when the soldier cut him off with a deep, booming, bear-like voice.
“He said to meet him in the Weave.”
Corgan shook his head, fury threatening to burst through the regal facade of dignity he was forcing himself to maintain. “I repeat. I am Corgan Crowley,” he growled, emphasizing the last name. “I am a member of the Pure Blood, and I have full rights to see the Emperor’s Voice. Face to face.”
He was cut off again as the entire squad of soldiers began to laugh, some with deep voices like their commander, others howling, almost like hyenas, a mad sound chattering from between sharpened teeth.
One of them quipped, “The Voice is beyond that now. He ain’t got a face to face no more.”
More laughter chittered from the soldiers, but Corgan just blanched as realization dawned on him. He’d gone through with it. He’d shed the flesh, taken the injections; the Emperor’s Voice had become one of them.
This time he did spare a glance at one of the dark towers in the distance, then he looked back at the Voice’s palace, his gaze lifting up to trace the outline of a new obsidian spire which rose into the air atop the grandeur of the dark polished walls.
“Yeah, I think you wanna meet him in the Weave. You don’t wanna go all the way up there and see what he looks like now,” remarked the commander.
The comment was met with another explosion of laughter, but Corgan was already stalking away. He’d memorized the man’s face, all of them actually. He would look them up for disciplinary action later. For now, he had more important matters to attend to. Matters of the Empire.
He strode into one of the nearby Weave Cafes, small establishments that were available on almost every block of the city. With disgust he noticed the Clouding Grounds, an open space of black steel floor where dozens of lower class patrons slumped against one another, their bodies like sacks of empty flesh while their minds floated in the heady world of the Weave.
He was a Crowley; he wasn’t subject to such degrading behavior. He signaled a waiter and made his way to a private booth where he could sit alone, shielded from view by the outside world.
Taking a deep breath, he let the sensation of air rising into his lungs soothe him, expanding him with life. Then he placed his hands upon the darkened steel of the table top and his body slumped.
The Weave… was pleasure. The Weave was possibility. Much as the air had rushed into the lungs of his physical body moments before, now the Weave itself rushed into him, through him, around him; and then he blinked, and he was there.
It was a random place within the vast network that existed. Here, there were flashing lights, tall buildings, monsters, a battle in the distance, and yet, another distance showed an orgy. From his perspective, the undulating forms in each group looked much the same. Killing or cumming, whatever you wanted could be had here.
His body felt malleable. He knew he could easily make his avatar grow wings or claws, or even expand into a giant of relative size with nothing but a stray thought. He could end the battle, or start a new one. He could have a wave of lusting virgins descend upon him at the merest hint of a whim. Everything was potential, possibility.
He breathed deeply. Not real air; it was sweeter, an almost cloying succor dancing at the edges of the “taste.”
All Corgan wanted was his promised meeting. His words would be heard. Even if they were heard by some chemical pumped abomination.
A blink, and he was standing before the palace of the Voice. It mirrored the one in real life, but this one had no soldiers. Such mundane things were not needed here. The great obsidian spire he had somehow missed at first glance was even more prominent, a giant throbbing shadow pulsing against the multicolored horizon of the Weave.
There was no need for formal procedures or precautions. The Voice simply appeared. Within the Weave he had the look of his old body, which was a clone of the Emperor himself. So when Corgan looked into the fleck-speckled gaze of the man before him, he was looking into the eyes of Zain Crowley, Imperial Lord of the True Evolutionists and leader of the Crowley family, though this form was only a proxy for the power.
“Greetings be to you, Corgan Crowley, Noble of the High Court, Descendant of the First, and member of the Pure Blood. What brings you before the Voice of the Emperor?”
This creature’s smug tone tempted Corgan to scowl; in the real world, the Voice was nothing but a giant, pulsing, fleshy, wire hooked abomination. But instead he smiled, a falsely sincere flash of teeth that he had learned early in his political life amongst the family.
“My Lord Voice, I see that you have finally shed the unseemly flesh of form and have ascended to the ultimate condition. My congratulations to you.”
The avatar eyes of the Emperor’s cloned body, a form carelessly shed by this monster in the real world, met Corgan’s with a steely gaze, and when the Voice spoke, there was menace in his tone. “The bastard son of a deposed ruler should be careful with what he chooses to say to the True Emperor’s emissary.”
His words fell like lead weights and the palace behind him began to throb angrily, the ephemeral physics of the Weave bending at the great man’s mere emotion.
Corgan hardened. He couldn’t let this creature intimidate him. He was a member of the Pure Blood, a fourth generation direct descendant. In some ways he had more right to the throne than the Emperor. He wouldn’t press that claim of course, but he held it as a source of pride as he stood before the dangerous man, ignoring the wavering anger mirrored in the tempest of the Weave around him.
“I live by the whim of the True Emperor, of course,” Corgan replied smoothly. “But he has granted me and mine this boon because he sees the value in those with the purest of the Pure Blood. Those directly descended from the great Patriarch First. Surely you share this view with our duly conquering leader?”
Blood was everything in the Crowley family, and this was another gentle dig at the current Emperor, Zain, who was only a cousin of the First of the Family. Corgan’s own father, Brutus, the deposed Emperor, had been a grandson of the great man; a direct descendant.
Deposing one with purer blood had caused political problems for the new Imperial Lord, so Zain had been forced to make concessions; like granting the lives of Corgan and the others descendant or derivative or Brutus’s own line to be spared. But Imperial leniency towards them had been waning of late. That’s why he was here. He had to stem the tide.
“Blood is the door, but greatness requires feet,” came the Voice’s response.
It was an old saying, and Corgan bit back a dig about the Voice’s own bodily feet being missing, since he was nothing more than a massive throbbing brain sitting in a vat. But only barely, waiting patiently for the man to continue. Was he… growing?
Eventually breaking the heavy silence, the Voice’s deep tone rang out once more. “Why have you come before me?” The tone had become formal now, louder, and deeper, the syllables thrumming like the beating of a great drum.
Corgan ignored the chill that suddenly laced the air. At least they were done with the posturing and could get down to business. “My lord the Imperial Voice, spirit of the Greatest One, will of our Salvation,” he spoke, the words dripping with formality and false humility. Darkly impassive, color-flecked eyes stared back at him. Waiting. “As you know, our party has sent several petitions to you concerning–“
“They have been received,” came the sharp interruption. “What is your specific purpose here?
Had those eyes grown predatory? Corgan had no time to study the expression, surging onward. “Yes well, as you no doubt know, our greatest concern is for the health and prosperity of the Empire. As such…”
“Get on with it.”
Dammit, he was growing. You could be any size here, so it wasn’t really strange, just… daunting. It shouldn’t be; it was nothing but a stupid visual trick, yet somehow it felt as if more than just the Voice’s form was expanding. Like his presence had grown larger. Corgan struggled to contain himself. Something about the atmosphere of the Weave was unsettling him, and the constant interruptions were not helping matters.
“The purpose of the True Evolutionists is not war. A battle of attrition with the magicals will only weaken us, and threatens both our people and our creed.” The words tumbled from Corgan’s lips like stones down a mountain.
“You dare to lecture ME on the purpose of the True Evolutionists?”
The figure before him was definitely growing, and at the same time everything was getting darker. He could feel a presence, like encircling arms wrapping a stranglehold around him. There was something in the Weave…. And it was everywhere, it existed in every direction. There was no escape.
He fought to maintain his calm and casual demeanor, the usually sweet pleasure of the Weave’s air now a cloying burn that surged through his being. Corgan was getting desperate. He had to get through to this man, this thing, and he had to do it now.
“Maybe I wasn’t there at the beginning, maybe I didn’t bask in the light of Lady Bright, but I know the dream you dreamed. It was one of equality, of strength, of power. I dreamed it with you when I first found my way here, and I’ve dreamed it ever since. Surely you must see that what we are doing jeopardizes everything we’ve fought so hard for.”
The man before him, with the face and mind, though not the full power or identity, of the Emperor, showed no emotions. By now, the Voice was easily twice the size of Corgan, but it was the creature’s looming presence bearing down on him like an ever present tidal force that was truly unsettling. And when he spoke, his words rung out through the air with the force of hammers crashing on anvils.
“The Bruitish coalition has been protesting the True Emperor’s will more often of late. Do you believe yourselves wiser than he?”
Corgan took a deep breath, though breathing was not needed here. “The war in the North is stabilized.” The words came out slow, measured, and calm. “The war in the East is at a standstill. We are in a position of power.” He met the color flecked darkness of the Voice’s eyes. “If we sue for peace now, we can rebuild; we can stabilize. We can create an Empire that will last for generations. All we have to do is–“
“DO YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU AND YOUR BRUTISH COMPATRIATES ARE WISER THAN THE EMPEROR?”
Corgan could feel the darkness, the strangling presence, pressing in on him. It was hard to breathe… No! He didn’t need to breathe here, he just needed to think, but a mixture of rage and terror was clouding his judgment, so instead he just reacted, a retort springing to his lips. “This isn’t about war, or philosophy. It’s about blood.”
“WATCH YOUR WORDS, LITTLE MAN!”
It was like a mountain scolding him. Fuck. But he didn’t care anymore. If this was it, he’d spit in the eye of fate itself. He kept going. “The Emperor knows that he is only a cousin of the Patriarch, and he is using this war to distract the family while he secures his position and his line. But surely he, and even you, with many of his memories, must remember that the strength of the Crowleys has always come from the unity of the Blood. You have nothing to fear from me and my brethren. Our inborn talents can be of use to…”
He stopped. The darkness had receded. The man before him was just a man. The words died on his lips, and the cloying claustrophobia faded away. In its place there was something worse.
It was like his soul was being… rewritten. He could almost see his thoughts changing, being forcibly shifted. The worst part was that it didn’t hurt; no instinct screamed to stop it. Instead, it actually felt good.
He had to get out of here. Now.
“The Emperor listens to the wisdom of all of the Crowley blood. Your words will not be forgotten.”
Corgan was trying to back away, no, escape, pull back. Reality, he had to get… get out of here. Now. But the Voice kept booming.
“Just remember. The power of our Empire grows every day.”
He couldn’t get away. It used to be so easy. You just open your eyes. Why couldn’t he open his eyes?
“But the power of the Emperor grows even faster.”
There was an iciness to those words, almost perceptible in this place of symbols.
“You are dismissed.”
And that was when Corgan awoke, sitting at the empty booth and staring into the obsidian black of the portal table before him.
That hadn’t gone well. Fuck. What was he going to do now?
He had to move.