"I will leave you two alone for this." Lazlo said. He silently exited the room.
Bastian starred for a moment. Then took a deep breath and put on the mask.
Suddenly he hit the floor. Coughing and gasping, he tried to recompose himself and make sense of his surroundings. He was in what appeared to be, at first a blank white vastness, but various objects, old picturs, painting, a record player, a cabinet displaying old weapons, then piles of rubble, like torn down buildings slowly came into perspective.
"My apologies Bastian, nobody has done that in quite a while. The connection was..... unstable..." An old voice said, it had age behind it, but also a strangely cold determinism found most often in the young.
Bastian rose and looked behind him. The first thing to catch his eye was the vast white space ending, like a ledge looking over a valley, it opened up in to a brilliant starry space. A galaxy spun in its eternal dance beyond them, bright blue in its outer reaches, and its center blazing white, almost like an eye missing the pupil.
It seemed all of existence passed by in endless space beyond.
A lone figure sat in a metal armchair, lounging, one leg crossed casually over the other. He was young, but something in his body language was ancient. His black dress shirt unbuttoned and untucked, revealed a torso of well trained muscle slowly fading from entropy. The man had blonde hair about an inch long, messy and unkempt. Unusual considering that most he knew him before remember a cleanly shaven head. His facial hair was the same color, and it appeared as though he had gone a few days too many without a shave. His eyes appeared slightly bloodshot, and dark circles were underneath. Never the less, he sat straight up, holding his head up. It was strange, one could simultaneously think he was alive and well, and ready to fall apart, both at the same time.
"I am indeed... Im sure you have questions...Let me entertain the first. You are infact, inside the mask. You mind, and subsequently, your consciousness, are that is. Dont worry, you body isnt going anywhere."
Bastian was about to interject concerning that same subject. "How did you..."
"Ive been here a while, I know when a thought is foreign even when it isnt meant for me to know."
"How long exactly?"
"Since shortly after Silas sealed the portal."
"So it was you that was with him."
"Indeed. Now, Ive read your dossier, in fact, Ive read a lot more...."
"Wait, how have you been able to contact the physical?"
"The man you met outside." Kin readjusted himself in his chair. "Lazlo Mercer is a very skilled imperiomancer. One of the better of our day and age. He has been feeding me information. As I was saying, I have read up on you, and several people in your team. Its a good squad to be sure. But the issues at hand may be more grave than even I can discern."
Bastian looked around. "Let me guess, you want to get out of here, get back into the game?"
"Yes indeed." Kin picked up a small glass of scotch on a small table next to him and sipped it. The continued "But I cant do it from here, and prolonged exposure to the mask could prove harmful to anyone of sound mind."
"I can only assume you have a plan..."
Kin chuckled, " When u have had this much time to think, you'd be a damn fool not to. There is a veteran, special forces, combat heavy unit leader by the name of Rueben Chantal, who is suffering severe battle psychosis. I believe a fractured mind would allow me easy access. His mind is frayed, but his body is perfect for the job. Of course, when I reach him, he will have to agree to all this."
"How do you reach a mentally scarred individual?"
"We have found that in almost every mental condition, part of the subconscious still functions normally, your just have to find it. Im going to offer to help him repair the damage, and in return he helps us. Tests have already concluded that he in fact, can use imperiomancy, but was never trained to become aware of it, and certainly cant now. I want you to bring him to me, or me to him, doesnt matter."
"Sounds fair enough. Just one question."
"The one question looming on your mind since you realized whats happening here..."
Bastian nodded. "Yeah. How did all this happen?"
Kin sighed and finished off his scotch, setting it down he folded his hands.
"After the great conflict in the rift, I settled down, resigned from active service and had a couple of kids. One day Silas Gray shows up at my door, he was ecstatic, eccentric. All he said for the first five minutes was "I think I figured it out! I figured it out!". He was working on old alchemy principles. So I joined him. We were searching for the deeper nature of mental capacity in none living objects."
"Sure enough, he found a way. And with his geomancy, and my imperiomancy..." Kin shook his head, a smile across his face. "It was alchemy jazz, free form creation. It even made us stronger."
Kins memory went back..... he and Silas, young men, stood near and old abandoned building. Kin raised his hand, and suddenly a massive telekenetic bolt of energy ripped through the air, like what one would imagine sound waves looking like As energy shook the very fabric space it radiated through, suddenly the building burst apart. No explosion or fire or smoke, just a massive, instantaneous, brick by brick dis-assembly. They flew out in every direction, randomly, then suddenly stopped in mid air all at once, suspended by invisible hands. Then each brick individually exploded, millions of fragments from dust particles to chunks the size of a fist went everywhere. With a flick of his wrist, Silas deflected any piece coming towards the two. "Ive never been one for comparing man to God, I find it far to blasphemous for casual talk, but if there was ever a moment we felt like gods, it was then."
"It was incredible, but it wasnt even our most brilliant work. You see we began to blur the boundaries between physical and mental. Any skilled imperiomancer can imbue messages into objects, or create scrying orbs. The better could infiltrate peoples minds, like what you have just done, though not of your own accord. The best could even leave fragments of personality inside things, or pieces of themselves, but never before had anyone done what we did. Most ancient Golems had to be made up, at least partially of energy imbued or sacred stones. We took piles of rocks and turned them into life."
"Our first creation, Riley... he was little more than a foot tall, made of plain granite. But between me and silas, we could infiltrate the very fabric of its existence, and built something new."
The young men stood over a pile of rocks, it began to float , its pieces came to order as if a partially invisible creature. The floating rocks arranged in the shape of a person. It turned to look up at them without eyes. Then Silas gave it a swift kick, scattering the stones, which promptly began to roll back into a pile and reassemble. Nicholas and Silas grinned, delighted with their creation.
"IT took three years to make Riley alone. Turns out sentience is a bit more of a bitch to figure out than we thought, it doesnt just take a conscience. It needs order and purpose, and so much more. Before Riley, most of out attempts resulted in stones moving about randomly for a moment then flinging themselves against walls with such force they became dust piles. Almost broke a rib once because of it. Riley was a combination of our psyches. And with two sets of thoughts, ideas, morals, values etc, he matured fast and learned quickly, although he could never speak, he was very intelligent."
"But we werent done yet, we moved on to bigger and better. Turning my whole suit of armor into a living construct using my conscience,... it was our masterpiece. Its purpose was a last resort in combat, should I die, the suit waits for a bit, then resumes fighting for me as a surprise attack. Even though the first time we activated it, it attacked us due to lack of combat protocol, it was generally a success. It fought like me, thought like me, even moved like me, and eventually was better than me. But it wouldnt last...."
Kin sighed.... "Im not perfect, and neither was Basher, that was the construct suits name. About the same time Riley was maturing, we started noticing anomalies in Basher. IT sometimes hesitated when given orders. I searched it up and down but found no sign of any other user but me and Silas. It began to haunt us, in smalls ways at first. Like moving a bit at a time, then all the way across the room by the next morning, and eventually getting up in the middle of the night and watching things. The final straw was when it followed me home and I found it watching my children sleep one night. The next day me and Silas decided it needed to be terminated, along with Riley."
Kin thought for a moment. "Its funny... Riley knew what we were coming to do.... but it didnt fight back. Like maybe it had reached the level of consciousness to think philosophically. Maybe it understood itself to be a threat. It accepted its fate, and in doing so, may have showed a greater peace of mind than most living things ever reach."
"Basher on the other hand, was the seed planted by my self preserving nature. It fought back, and had developed defenses against both my imperiomancy and Silas' geomancy. Not an easy level of power to reach. It almost killed both of us when we had to dismantle it... well who am I kidding? We KILLED it..."
"We stopped all the research in that field after that. We knew we werent ready for that sort of thing, we told ourselves we woundnt continue, but I was obsessed. If I could spark brand new life into the inanimate, why not transfer life? My single minded determinism became both my salvation and my curse. One day I was inside Silas' mind. We told ourselves it was for his health, to help determine the cause of an unusual sickness, but we both knew we werent fooling ourselves, we wanted to seek out new areas in the connection."
"The one day we found something we never thought could be found, something many doubt the existence of even....
We found the spirit....
The human spirit....
"Silas had, however, come into contact with the divine an unusually high number of times, and in the deepest part of his mind, we found... well.... Im not sure to this day. But something tells me we found God."
Kin stood at a door in Silas' mind. A fire began to erupt out of it. Kin turned tail and fled, running through Silas' memories and ideas. Everything was collapsing, buildings in Silas' mind fell, the ground shook. Kin ducked to dodge an old car that was flung down the alley he was in as the alley itself began to close on him. He made it out just in time, and ran towards a large cathedral. If he recalled correctly, it was the sight of Silas' first mission with the guardians. Gravity shifted, the sun began to blot out. Memories muddled together. Places and people that never existed where flung into the abyss. Kin made it to the cathedral. He looked in horror as he realized his mistake. It wasnt the exit, it was where Silas lost the love of his life. Kin only saw one door and began to bolt towards it at full speed, right past a girl collapsing at the feet of an assassin and a young Silas running past Kin in the opposite direction, attempting to stop the inevitable. But the whole scene was consumed by fire as Kin ripped open the door and ran inside. Inside he clung to the handrail of a ledge, praying it would hold against the maelstrom. It was all he had. No exit. His salvation and curse. A fail safe he had created in his mask in his obsession with preservation. On one side, Silas mind collapsed only to begin to reassemble itself as it should be, a subconscious function of any sane mind when such trauma occurs. Silas' probably wouldnt even be aware it happened, most never did.
On the other side, Kin watched at the places of his memory faded away. He clung to the ledge in the cold vast emptiness, knowing full well, but not accepting what happened. He was gone. The last thing he could see was a beautiful woman hold onto two young boys. Tears welled up in Kins mind. He had abandoned them. He prayed, begged God or whatever cosmic force was listening. He would give anything to get it back. But it never would. "Please...." he choked... "Please let them be safe." He wept openly. "Please.... dont punish them for my sin... please....."
Kin sat in front of Bastian. A tear, painful memory in liquid form, was welling up in his eye.... "Find Rueben Chantal..." He said.
Bastian slid the mask off. And folded his hands, pressing his mouth to them in deep thought.