Chapter 87 The Greatest Secret in the World: part two

The hour was noon. The streets were cleared from within and the roads leading in, barricaded and guarded by armed militia. For the next several hours the military and capital of Garghent would remain isolated with no communication or power. A breach in security would normally be cause for drastic retaliation, but Garghent’s attention was elsewhere. Between protecting other important sectors and policing one of the largest city-states on the continent as well as occupying Daedal, a neighboring metropolis, which required enormous resources and though the governing powers would seldom ever admit this, they were stretched very thin. Garghent’s ambitions were not without cost and risk.

Only a small band of Specters could be afforded to safeguard the one laboratory that contained the potential to turn the world on its head with another Aspect revolution, one that provided the means to obtain Aspect Mastery.

Garghent was designed with much foresight, the metropolis was laid out in an intricate grid of interconnecting roads of concentric circles joined together resembling an industrial spiderweb, at least from the bird’s eye view.

For Laeaus, he saw this with an Aspect’s eye view. His eye, the Sclerotic Aspect. It gave him complete and separate control of his two eyeballs. Firstly, he could move them independently from his body, leaving behind empty sockets. Separated from their sockets, Laeaus could control their flight as well as their size. His eyes gave him vision no matter where they floated off too. And they were indestructible. 

One such eye floated high over Garghent’s center. An accusing glare watching all below. The eye, with its swampy green iris, suspended in the air like a guilty moon spying on an even guiltier city.

That eye had watched Gargehent’s sins for a thousand days.

Laeaus was one of Josua’s Specters, the watcher of the infamous vigilante group.

The crowds gathering around the military district were finally in place. Josua’s backers had provided enough funds to hire thousands of fake mobbing citizens to draw attention from the soldiers and guards.

The eye spotted an opposing group of Specters walking cautiously down the main road that led from the Research facility. Another of their group with many tattoos was sprinting after them. When the tattooed woman caught up she was frantically explaining something. 

Laeaus was trained as an expert lip reader. Of course the group below had noticed the giant floating eye above them, so they had been covering their mouths to speak, the correct precaution for his Sclerotic eyes. 

But the newcomer with tattoos had started speaking before they hushed her and bade her cover her mouth when speaking. 

Laeaus managed to catch a couple words during her initial warnings. He read ‘ambush’ and a ‘dozen’. So their coder had managed to breach the website, thought Laeaus.

Laeaus told Josua at once, speaking remotely from his vision, like being two places at once. Seeing in one while existing in another. It took years of practice to move a blind body separately from eyes that floated anywhere he pleased.

Sclerotic was a good answer to Vandle’s Seeker. They could track each other’s movements effectively. Vandle kept a Seeker beam right on Laeaus’ giant eye. Laeaus knew what Vandle was doing. Should Laeaus want his eye back, Vandle would be lead right to them. This was the wrong decision but Laeaus was still impressed by Vandle’s deduction that this was an actual eye and not some projection or conjuration. 

Josua drilled into them each Specter they would possibly encounter, hundreds of faces, abilities, personalities and strategies for fighting them memorized.

Laeaus told Josua who was in the opposing group.

Short light brown hair, uneven from front to back with a few bangs extending below her nose. Average height and build, slightly rounded face with sleep bags under tawny brown eyes. Hales Ailor, Solar Aspect.

Large male, muscular, heavyset, built like an ox. Unruly hair and a cruel expression. Emilo Prantis, Steelskin Aspect.

Short, skinny, covered in tattoos. Veron Helio, Jinx Aspect.

Another tall kid, more defined than Emilo, buzz-cut hair, cleanly shaved, blue eyes and a confident walk, characteristic of a natural born leader. Genjam Beatal, Chaos Blue Aspect.

Tall, runner’s legs, short hair, hawk-like features. Jid Cavin, Hunter Aspect.

Lastly there was the retired sniper, Antho’s former professor, Vandle the Seeker Aspect.

Laeaus finished updating Josua and the rest of their allies.

Josua divided them into two teams. One to counter Vandle and his squad and the other to recover the archaeologist.

“These are the teams,” Josua said so even the hidden Specters could hear. “Vandle knows I am here and is on his way with five Specters. Many of you might have dueled some of them in the Tournament. Now’s your chance to even the score.” Josua turned to one of the members of his group. “Erahat, take Antho, Kris, Rhenai, Kassel and Cathee. Stall them for as long as possible. Laeaus you’re with me on the rescue mission, keep your eye on the fight with Vandle. Zeul and Arsus you’re also with me. Illiot, stay behind and block out their Coder from the website, we don’t know how much he’s accessed but it needs to stop ” Josua divided the roles with absolute authority. “Everyone ready?” Josua slipped on his headphones and cranked the dial to max volume. The bass was pounding in his chest and his brain was thumping to the sound waves pulsing over his body. 

“Zone.” Josua activated his Aspect. There was no room for error, not today.

He looked over his team, grateful for the Specters who were opposed to the military enough to accept his request, not without the fees of course. They had to be hired temporarily from other employers at a steep price but still not many would be willing to accept becoming an enemy of the state.

This is Garghent, the city where there is nothing that can’t be bought for the right price.

“Let’s run it.” The teams split up.

Erahat’s team was picked up by Vandle’s Seeker as soon as they stepped into the road. They followed the beam toward its source until they came into view of Vandle and his squad.

Both parties stopped moving as they faced off in the street.

The goal was to distract them while Josua rescued the archaeologist. Beating them wasn’t important.

But Erahat and the rest were itching to fight the military scum.

Past acquaintances greeted each other first.

“Antho Harsk.” Vandle named. “It has been a while.”

“Professor.” Antho replied curtly. He had to act neutral, he’d get only one chance with this deception. 

“Genjam, you remember me right?” The speaker curtsied. Genjam blushed for a brief moment before remembering the situation.

“Kris the Swarth Aspect.” Genjam had won their duel in the tournament, avenging his classmate Winnow’s loss against the tricky Specter. Genjam and Kris’ battle was considered to be one of the least vindictive and most sportsman match up. They departed the duel with mutual respect. 

Kris still had long black hair that dropped below her hips and a set of wispy brows and lashes that highlighted the flowy, ghostlike nature of her Aspect. Genjam knew from experience that so much hair was not impractical. It allowed her movements to be more shadowy and illusive.

Genjam cleared his throat. “How have you been?”

“Training to beat you,” she smiled, “so good.”

“I would hate to give you a losing streak, but you’re on the wrong side of history right now. “I won’t hold anything back.” Genjam warned.

“I’m glad to see we’re all friends here.” one of Josua’s men said, full of humor. “My name is Erahat, it’s a pleasure to meet some of Garghent’s finest. 

Veron whispered to her group. “Be careful he’s a Sage, I can sense it.”

“What are you scheming about? You don’t trust me?” Erahat sounded hurt. He was a strange looking young man. His nose was too big, his eyes too large, his brows too far apart, his mouth too wide and the hair kept getting in the way of the eyes. This was all complemented by a cape, gloves and a cane. He was a showman through and through and his wide grin was infectious.

“Besides this Erahat guy and Antho, they’re all from the Tournament. Kassel is especially dangerous.” Hales told Vandle. Hales recalled that close and intense fight against Kassel and her glass child.

“For everyone’s benefit,” Erahat clapped his hands, “let me do introductions. Antho, well you already know them all. Kris, Rhenai, Cathee and Kassel, meet Professor Vandle, Hales, Genjam, Emilo, Jid and Veron.” He pointed to each as he spoke.

“I don’t recognize Rhenai, what does she do?” Hales asked quietly, still covering her mouth from the looming eyeball above them.

“Light manipulation. She changes light from black to white in patterns,” Veron explained.

Hales nodded and studied Rhenai. She was wearing a classic shirt and blazer with suit pants and a veiled hat resting atop a bob cut. Rhenai was tall and her footsteps clattered loudly from boots reinforced with tap metal. Brown lipstick rounded off Rhenai’s noir appearance.

“They’ve got a lot more style than us,” Hales muttered to herself. She felt like she was without individuality. Granted, their Specter gear was hightech and practical and probably saved her life on more than one occasion, but it all felt very drab. The Specter gear provided by Garghent was meant to be as diverse as possible but it lacked the attention to detail on the personal level, something important in developing an Aspect. Hales could tell that Rhenai’s veiled hat served a greater purpose in minimising any ill effects of rapidly changing light and dark.

“Can we take them?” Emilo asked, not out of fear but practicality. 

Vandle was trying to think. His Seeker’s were moving fast to search for Josua. With communication cut off Vandle had to make sure someone was still guarding the laboratory. It was a mistake to call his squad here but then Josua being able to knock out the power grid and telecommunications came as a surprise. He was grateful that his students split up and some stayed behind. The growth they displayed in working as a team now from the race to the top of the mountain at the Camp of Awakening where all his students worked alone made Vandle proud.

Vandle had to make a critical decision. He removed the Seeker beam watching the eye and gave up the search for Josua. He’d keep one Seeker here for the fight and the other to watch the Research building. Whoever was in control of the eyeball would be doing the same thing. The Specter with the eye was with Josua, Vandle concluded. They could keep communication that way, Vandle needed to do the same or they’d be at a disadvantage.

Vandle’s Seeker made it to the laboratory where Yillo was standing guard alone. No sign of Talayia, and Dartan was inside the annex working at a computer.

Perhaps most importantly was the question of why Erahat was stalling. Josua and his group had a minimal amount of time to complete their mission. It also needed to be done with enough security to ensure the archaeologist made it out alive, so why did they need so many Specters to confront us here on the street, Vandle contemplated.

“Do you know why we are here?” Erahat began. “Garghent is hiding information that should be available to the world. We already know some of it. The archaeologist has been leaking tidbits of the translation to us. Whether we are successful rescuing him or not, as soon as we release what we do know, the whole world is going to be very upset at Garghent for keeping this to themselves.”

“What’s our move, professor?” Genjam pressed.

“He’s bluffing,” guessed Emilo.

“We know Talis is dead.” declared Erahat.

“Definitely not bluffing.” pointed out Hales.

Realization struck Vandle. That’s why there are so many Specters here when all they are doing is stalling. They’re not sure they can win in a fight. 

As long as half of us are out here, away from the laboratory then Josua is confident he can successfully reach the archaeologist.

“Antho” Professor Vandle’s voice called out. “I think it’s time you rejoined us. You’ve done good.”

“Aye.” Antho agreed.

“What?” Erahat questioned. 

Everyone activated their Aspects that weren’t already.

Totem, Yellowmancy, Vitro, Steelskin, Chaos Blue, Solar, Swarth, Blinds, Hunter!

“Antho what are you doing?” Erahat shouted as the Yellowmancy Aspect began walking. Antho’s Aspect put yellow auras around his hands and wherever he moved, the trails remained in place and became hard as steel.

Antho walked from the left of his group to toward the left of Vandle’s group, creating dual lines of yellow steel in motion to his hands. He was creating a barrier.

“This was always the plan, Erahat.” Antho told him, hard as steel, as his yellow trails.

Hales couldn’t help but be disappointed that what Veron said was true, that Garghent truly had agents in place everywhere, prepared for any contingency, always a decade ahead of everyone else.

Hales didn’t believe in this mission, hiding the Talis translations was not right. This would be another victory for Garghent, another planned out conquest.

“Now, what were you saying?” Vandle touted Erahat. 

Antho returned to wary, suspicious eyes.

“Welcome back,” Hales greeted. Antho had never really known his classmates too well when they were all students. His extracurricular activities involved apprenticing with Josua and being trained as a double agent. Hales was always nice, he remembered, never judgemental.

It meant her guard was down.

Coincidentally, Hales was the most accepting of Antho’s betrayal of his group simply because she experienced first hand Garghent’s intrusive influence.

“Damn you!” Erahat screamed, flustered from anger. “Attack them!” he ordered.

With so many Specters gathered in one place, a lot happened in the first several seconds.

Before the attack order, Erahat, a Sage with the Quiddler Aspect, the ability to stall and delay, distracted everyone by talking. During the conversation, Kris the Swarth Aspect had been invisible from the beginning. Her physical image projected to appear in place. She stayed long enough to finish the conversation with Genjam, confirming to him that she was with her real body because her Swarth apparitions could not produce noise or touch anything, it was merely an image of her that she could control. While Erahat was speaking, Kris timed her movements to his words, concealing her footsteps as she went behind Genjam. The moment of attack, Kris had a knife to Genjam’s throat. “Don’t even think about moving.”

During the same instance, Rhenai activated her Blinds by stepping on the ground with her tap boot, creating a large field of highly contrasting alternating bars of black and white. Each bar was half a meter and the light affected a rectangle eighty meters long down the street and twenty meters wide.

Kris’ body appeared back over her real form. Her physical image needed to be overlapping her invisible body to actually do damage, though she could interact with the world such as with her footsteps. So the knife to Genjam’s throat was very real.

Jid, who could have seen Kris in his Hunter state, had been too late in using it. The fatigue from searching in the hours leading up to this had seen him trying to conserve his power for the actual fight. He missed the opportunity and lost the initiative.

The momentary confusion of darkness caused by the Blinds and a dropped guard allowed Antho to swivel and wave his arms around Hales. She tried to draw out stars but Antho yanked her arms down and swiftly circled her. Hales was trapped in a cage of yellow steel.

Still in that first moment, Kassel began emanating glass with her Vitro Aspect. It spread quickly, bubbled, popped and hardened in random shapes and half arcs and stalagmites.

Emilo held his breath and turned to stone as a reaction in order to gauge the situation before acting.

Cathee used his Totem Aspect to summon a bizarre creature. A raptor resembling a brightly feathered ostrich with a tufted neck and a turtle shell in the shape of a saddle appeared by his side. He mounted it and charged.

Although too late to stop Kris, Jid was about to enter his Hunter state when a voice interrupted him. Erahat’s voice. “You’re missing something.” It gave Jid enough pause before realizing it was another stall tactic, but by then Cathee was upon him, ramming Jid with his Totem creature. Jid was knocked unconscious. 

Rhenai kept stepping, alternating the Blinds, switching the black bars to white and the white to black. She moved in the darkness, always timing the change to conceal her presence. The constant change was dizzying for those unadjusted to it and added to the pandemonium of the fight.

Vandle’s Seeker had trouble giving him vision, the flashing light from the Blinds multiplied the effects on him, as his panoramic view saw the flashes many times more. Vandle was without vision, at least until he adjusted.

The glass was creeping up on Vandle’s feet and he found himself surrounded by the bursting glass. He was forced to shut off his Aspect for now. 

Veron, who was in the backline, aimed a Jinx at Kris, hoping to free Genjam to move. She activated a tattoo of a snake that peeled off her skin and began slithering. It was crushed by Antho’s fist. Faster than Veron, Antho used his martial skill to pin her down in an instant. He left Veron caged by his yellow.

Emilo returned to flesh only to be staring into the face of a Cathee’s totem creature. It’s beak could pluck an eye out. “Surrender.” Cathee demanded.

Emilo cursed.

Vandle was against Rhenai and Antho in hand to hand combat with Kassle directing her glass to grow and explode at him. He was overrun before long, without his Aspect for vision he was fighting an overwhelming battle. The constant tapping of Rhenai’s boots ensured Vandle could never keep track of her as she and Antho took down the professor.

“Antho you traitor!” barked out Vandle as we too was caged by the Yellowmancy.

Rhenai deactivated her Aspect and the scene revealed Vandle and his squad were all subdued. They’d been caught off guard and beaten soundly.

“Well… well… well.” Erahat enunciated each repetition slowly. “Garghent is in big trouble if this is all you’ve got. It’s a good thing we are here to save this city from tyranny, from yourselves.” he mocked. Erahat glanced up to the eye above and gave the signal.

*****

“Yillo, you should wait inside. With communication’s severed  and the security cameras down there’s no telling from where they might come from.” Dartan said, pinching his nose.

“Aye. How much did you get from the website?” Yillo asked.

“A lot, I’ll sort through it after the mission.”

“Good work.” Yillo complemented. He was about to ask Dartan to do one more thing.

“I’ll work on it.” Dartan said first. Figuring out how to restore power.

Yillo nodded. “I’m heading inside. You’re in no condition to fight so find someplace else to camp out.”

“Keep your radio near you. As soon as communications are back up I’ll contact you first. I’m going to be in the camera room. Good luck.” Dartan left through the hallway.

Yillo slipped into the laboratory room. There were a dozen scientists, anthropologists and historians working under lamp light. Yillo spotted the doctor overseeing this project. Doctor Vant. He approached the bearded scientist.

Yillo was straight to the point. “I’ll be guarding you from here. We’re working on restoring power. They will be here shortly.” he meant the enemy. Doctor Vant understood.

“What happened to the rest of the guard?” Demanded one grouchy middle-aged lab coat.

Yillo shrugged. There was a clamor of disgruntled murmurs.

Doctor Vant remediated. “You are Yillo Adealous, correct? Gentlemen, we have nothing to worry about. He is a most effective Specter. We are behind schedule and must not concern ourselves with events outside of our control.” That seemed to placate them. 

Yillo wouldn’t have cared either way.

The team returned to work, huddling over manuscripts and ledgers, replicas of cave markings left behind by the legendary Talis Ranis. An original untranslated copy of The Dream and Dreamer was constantly being referenced by another lab coat. They compared and doubled checked and jotted notes and any other manner of meticulous scientific work involved in carefully translating the most significant find of their lives.

Yillo exchanged eye contact with the archaeologist at the center of this mission. Jourac was his name. He looked about a decade older than himself and a man without malice. The story was that he got caught up in all this work simply by being near Garghent. Unfortunate circumstances. Jourac had a light layer of sweat on him. He knew his death was a very real possibility in the next few moments. Jourac threw himself into the work as a distraction for the rising fear, Yillo sensed.

Minutes passed. A few more. Then the faint smell of melting steel. The stench grew.

“Paroxysm.” Yillo combusted into a fury of reds and oranges.

A second later, at a wall near the scientists, a four meter hole was melted through by molten lava. One of the Specter’s wiped his chin from a dribble of lava.

Yillo remembered him from the Tournament. Zeul, Lava Aspect. The ability to vomit lava from which blob monsters form and hurl their own bodies before cooling and hardening.

Standing next to them was Josua, who had actually bested Zeul in the Tournament, with headphones and a thick jacket. 

The other Specter was Arsus, the martial artist who fought with an astral wyvern, the Dragon Aspect.

The fourth and final enemy was unknown to Yillo. He rode on an enlarged eyeball, using the 

optic nerve as reins. His sockets were empty.

“Laeaus, keep him off of us.” Josua ordered.

Yillo sprinted to meet them but the eye Specter, Laeaus, launched the ocular float at him. Yillo punched it, draining his color to enhance the strike, but the eyeball didn’t budge. All that force returned to Yillo and sent him crashing to the back wall.

The scientists pulled out guns but Arsus was already swiping in tune with his astral dragon which materialized alongside Arsus’ open palm. It breathed fire as it sailed overhead, causing the scientists to duck. Bullets fired were blocked by the physical dragon which became astral again once it finished its pass.

Several parts of the lab caught fire. The scientists dropped their guns and went to save their work from the flames. Arsus went through the lab knocking out scientists one by one. Even with guns, they were too slow to ever hit him as he ducked and weaved around their inexperienced combat.

Zeul vomited out more lava, creating a magma blob that started to chuck scalding rock across the lab. They were trying to destroy it so that the scientists would be forced to save their work and lab or lose the lab but keep Jourac out of Josua’s hands.

Yillo wasn’t ready to let that happen. He pulled himself out of the dent he made in the wall. He was glistening a very shiny red, like scintillating ruby if scintillating ruby had a nuclear core.

“I’ll take you all!” he screamed through a haze of steam. Yillo was using his Phlogiston body. A form of Paroxysm where Yillo projects his rage outward, maintaining a more constant offense and defense. Phlogiston was less of an all or nothing stance and more of a neutral fighting style with moderately heightened power. It’s use was designed for multiple enemies.

Yillo had to first find a way around the giant eyeball that was blocking him from reaching Josua and the other two Specters.

Yillo grabbed several lab coats hanging on a rack nearby. He ignited them with his own heat and tossed them toward the eye. The eye floated back a meter to keep visual on Yillo. His heat waves made him a shimmering figure amidst the falling flaming lab coats. The eye briefly lost sight of Yillo.

Yillo moved fast and came up behind the eye. He grabbed the optic nerve at the base. The eye tried to float away but Yillo was stronger, holding it in place.

“Josua!” the Laeaus eyes called.

Josua glanced to see that Yillo had grabbed the eye. Josua in a fluid motion disarmed Doctor Vant and shoved him to the ground. He kicked the gun away and vaulted over a lab desk to reach Yillo.

Yillo still held onto the eye with one arm and engaged Josua. The first several punches from Josua connected with Yillo. Josua was wearing heat resistant gloves.

Yillo counter attacked but Josua was too fast, plus he was weighed down by an eyeball that tried to wrench itself out of his grip in the opposite direction.

Arsus, finished with the scientists, made his way to Jourac. 

Yillo swung the eye at Josua, who bent backwards, dodging below the eye. Yillo released his hold of the eye and continued to spin with the momentum, leading himself into a roundhouse kick aimed for Josua’s out of position legs. Josua let one leg get hooked by Yillo’s kick and rolled with the blow. Josua jumped with his other leg and did a flip to land back on his two feet. 

Laeaus’ eye moved behind Yillo, flanking the Paroxysm Specter. Yillo turned and drop-kicked the eye which charged him at the same time. Yillo was again launched directly at Josua who swiveled in time to dodge Yillo’s true attack.

Only Yillo wasn’t aiming for Josua. He flew past him and landed next to Arsus who leaned away from a rapid punch. Arsus retaliated but Yillo stepped in close, using his intense heat to break Arsus’ rhythm. His Dragon was forced to make another round in order to be back in position. Arsus tried to get space but simply didn’t have the room to make use of his Dragon. 

Yillo increased his heat wave and feigned one punch to draw Arsus’ defense. It worked and Yillo threw a jab that hit home. Arsus had the wind knocked out of him and fell to his knees gasping for air, the heat made it doubly hard to breathe.

Yillo turned in time to see a joint attack of a floating eye, a lava ball and Josua. Yillo leapt into the air, using both hands to slam the lava ball down on Josua, who sacrificed his opportunity to attack for side stepping the lava. Laeaus’ eyeball turned and rammed into Yillo, bodying him in mid air and sending Yillo crashing to the ground. 

Yillo stayed on all fours and crawled under a burning lab desk and slid back into a stand, tearing off a table leg and throwing it directly at Laeaus with incredible velocity. Laeaus, who saw with his eye, dove out of the way and moved his eye to protect his body. 

Yillo turned again to Josua but a voice cancelled their combat.

“Enough!” Shouted Doctor Vant. He was holding Jourac at gunpoint.

Jourac winced as the gun was pressed hard into the side of his neck.

“Leave or he dies.” threatened Doctor Vant.

“You’ll kill him anyways.” Josua said.

“He was ordered to be executed, yet he is still alive. My word is iron.”

“Release him. Garghent got what it needed.”

“He knows too much, so I can’t do that.” Doctor Vant explained.

“How about you put the gun down.” Jourac suggested. Doctor Vant pressed the gun even harder. “Ah, ah, okay. Quick question,” Jourac said through gritted teeth as his head was being pulled to keep his neck exposed. “Why did you let me live in the first place?”

Josua, Laeaus, Zeul and Arsus slowly came together on one side of the scorching lab as Yillo moved closer to Doctor Vant’s side.

“Unfortunately, I’ve grown to like you. I hate losing educated people who can think for themselves. That’s a talent that can’t be taught.”

“I’m touched.” Jourac said. “You were right to keep me alive.”

“Shut up.” Vant demanded, pushing the gun until the skin was being welted. “You’re not in a position with leverage.”

“Damn that! There’s a good chance I’m going to end up dead, I’ve got every right to use any leverage I’ve got.”

“Last warning or I kill him!” Vant asserted. “Leave!”

Josua kept his hands up. He couldn’t approach nor could he leave without Jourac.

“You can’t kill me, because if I die my secret dies with me.” Jourac started pridefully. “The greatest secret in the world.”

“Oh? And what is that?” Vant entertained, unconvinced.

“Something only I could recognize.”

“This is sounding fake.” Vant warned, the gun an ever present reminder to Jourac how little patience the doctor had.

“It has to do with the translations.” The room was becoming dangerously hot. Joruac swallowed and sweat stung in his eyes. He couldn’t wipe it. “If you kill me, you’ll never learn what I discovered, what Talis Ranis did at the cave.”

“And how did you come across this convenient information that our whole team overlooked?” Vant asked with a very deadly serious humor.

“My background, my field of study. Your word is iron, let me go and I’ll explain it to you right here, right now. Garghent will still have the head start with the translations. I can’t memorize everything. But everyone will be on equal footing. You’d avoid the backlash of suppressing information that will find a way to escape whether through me or someone else.”

Vant didn’t say anything. Jourac kept talking. “Neither of us are Specters, doctor, our work is discovering the truth hidden in the past and the mysteries of the world. Do you serve Garghent or knowledge for knowledge’s sake?” Jourac was getting bold. Bold and desperate.

“Tell you what, Jourac. You explain this secret and I’ll decide if it’s worth letting you live or not.”

Josua protested. “You snake!”

“Those conditions are more than fair. I signed a death sentence the moment I came to Garghent with the feather.”

Vant released Jourac. 

Jourac took a few steps and turned to face Vant. He rubbed his neck, it was red from the imprint of a gun’s barrel.

Jourac had to say it, the full truth. It was the best chance for him to live. Garghent would be far ahead of the rest of the world but his survival meant the world had the slightest chance of catching up. The lab being trashed would at least slow them down. The fires were dying down already. A majority of the lab was fireproof, it was just desk items and papers that had been burning, though there had been a lot.

“You know Doctor Gillud and my previous work on the prehistory civilization.”

“Yes, we’ve argued this before many times, you usually refrain from calling it a civilization.” Vant replied. The gun was still aimed at Jourac.

“I was wrong. We discovered nineteen of these small tribal towns across the continent. If we took a trip to the Brother continent I’d bet my life we could discover another dozen and a half.”

“I fail to see how this is relevant.” Vant said testily. “You’ve had a change of heart during a near death experience.

“No. I’ve been holding this back for weeks, months. Ever since we went to the physical location of the cave.”

“You’re dragging this on longer than it needs to be.” Vant pointed out.

“Talis dropped his feather for me specifically.”

“Oh please don’t pretend like you believe that.” Vant said, growing annoyed.

“He did it because of my field of work. Because I was part of a team investigating the early civilizations.” Jourac wiped sweat from his brow. He had second thoughts. Maybe this information should be lost to the void forever. Yet, why then would Talis Ranis drop his feather for him, a clue. “The new Talis cave is another site, a twentieth village. There’s just no evidence left.”

“You’re better than leaping to theories unsupported by physical evidence.” Vant waved his gun dismissively, threateningly.

“Except.” Jourac rushed to say, holding a finger for pause. “Except for the cave writings.”

Vant raised an eyebrow.

“Get into contact with Doctor Gillud, show him the cave writings, he’d say the same thing. The language that prehistory civilization used is a very simple one. The markings for their characters are simple lines.”

“The Talis writings, so what? Talis used the language of a ten thousand year-old-people to code his messages in, that is what you are saying, no?” Vant shook his head. “Not good enough, Jourac.”

“Talis didn’t use the language, he copied the writings of that civilization. They aren’t prehistory at all. They are the earliest in history. Talis traced the writings in that cave so that they looked recent. He wrote down some of his own messages but the rest, the hidden parts of the cave we kept discovering were witten ten thousand years ago.”

Vant slowly lowered his pistol. 

Jourac said it out loud, even though by now Vant was realizing it on his own. “That civilization sprawled all over the continent had Aspects. They lived in precursor villages to our own metropolises. Tiny bands of humans with enormous powers. Talis somehow discovered this and learned from these people because they knew how to advance to become Master Specters. He chose me because he needed an expert on that civilization to make this connection.” Jourac’s heart was beating so rapidly he’d swear it was about to pop out of his chest. “It could have been Doctor Gillud or someone else on the team but I walked off one day and so it was me”

“What does that mean?” Arsus asked, more interested in Talis than the current precarious situation of the mission.

Doctor Vant answered. “It means Talis Ranis, before his death, wanted to give the world the best chance at Aspect Mastery.”

“Because someone out there is stronger than Talis.” Jourac finished. “Because Talis knew things about the past that he needed to warn us about. To prepare us.”

“Not preparation. The mood and tone don’t read like that.” argued Vant. “Talis gave a last dire message so that we could face whatever he did, so that we could put up a fight. To make it an interesting battle. Hundreds of Masters potentially. If something is stronger than that… than a hundred Klyle’s… well then Talis, in ‘preparing’ us, is doing so simply for that something’s benefit. Not ours.”

“This is way bigger than I imagined.” Zeul remarked in disbelief.

“You may go, Jourac.” Doctor Vant said quietly.

Jourac gave a sigh of relief and closed his eyes for a moment. “Thank you.” Jourac turned and started walking. “It’s been a pleasure working with you, Doctor.” Jourac said earnestly. Despite being coerced into working for Garghent, Jourac enjoyed the moments when death wasn’t looming over him constantly, which it always was, but the breakthroughs were an exciting distraction.

“In another life we could have cracked the mysteries of this world.” Vant said ruefully.

Jourac replied passionately. “Ah, but we discovered the greatest one of the century!”