The restraint on my face came free. I held it in my hands as I opened my eyes to see a white hood bristling with golden wires that ran into a featureless black sphere on a table next to the bed. My arms were like sticks, ribs visible in my torso. The room felt dead. I could not sense any prana.
“I’m blind.” I said softly.
The rustling of fabric nearby drew my attention to a gender-mixed group of five people in robes in varying patterns of white and gold. Primate Dion was one of them. They were… just people… to me. I could not sense the concentrations, ebbs and flows of their prana. I could barely sense my own. They were just… people. There was no insight to the divine. The table was just a table. Air was just air. Heaven became as mundane as Earth.
Prana gathered at my fingertips and a piece of table came away in my hands and I began to eat, heedless of the horrified stares of the people around me. The matter digested before it even reached my “stomach” and my ribs disappeared under filling out skin, stick like arms staying thin, but losing the skeletal qualities.
I breathed, centered myself, and struggled to sense, struggled to feel anything. There was a disconcerting lurch and I could see the wheel of the Principality D’Orleans, the archaic Victorian inspired construction of the Principality D’Orleans. And then I was back in my body. No; I had never left…
“You’ve blinded me!” I reiterated.
“You seem to see just fine,” Dion said.
“I cannot see or feel the flow of prana in the world around me! I’m blind to the surge of the divine.”
“Prana is not divine,” one of the Primates said with pinched authority. “And whatever you lost is paltry compared to the continued existence of millions of souls that will be…”
I rolled off of the bed, dimly aware that the sheet covering my mutated nethers was about to fall off. Cool, shadow-shaded prana clothed me, acknowledging my thoughts of impending nakedness. I stalked towards the door before something broke and I tried to kill them all.
I was drowning in anger. As I walked through the halls, eyes squinting in pain, I could feel my subconscious rewiring my sensory apparatus, helplessly groping for something to replace the input that had been a constant almost since I arrived.
“Excuse me, sir.” A woman with a chart in her hands, wearing a white dress and a white apron, with a cap emblazoned with a red cross, eyed me from a desk. “Do you need some help?”
“I need directions to the space port,” I replied.
“Well,” she began carefully. “You are in the Central Hub Hospital and you are clearly in great distress.”
“Yes, I am in distress,” I replied acidly. “And it is a distress that your good hospital cannot repair. I just need to get away from here.”
“No commercial craft will take an obviously sick man anywhere,” she replied.
“I don’t need a craft,” It was hard to keep the agitation from transitioning into a ragged sneer. “And technically, I do not need doors. I am trying to be polite.”
“Lord Vycta!” Horace called from behind me.
“They blinded me Horace!” I yelled. “I can’t sense prana anymore!”
There was a pause and then, in a more subdued tone, Horace said, “Her Eminence would like to see you. I am certain that she can get you off of the Principality. Not faster than going through the walls, but at least without the squadrons of the Knights D’Orleans coming after you.”
I considered it: a bloody denouement to a fucked up little career would be nicely spectacular, but also painful… and annoying if I didn’t die and they captured me. I pivoted to follow him. He was in his legion torso piece with thick pants tucked into knee high boots, all in white.
“You look almost skeletal,” he commented.
“A few minutes ago, it wasn’t ‘almost’,” I replied. As I walked next to him, I could not help the disturbing sensation that I was walking next to an automaton. He was not there except for his physical presence and I realized that for me, it only fulfilled a partial definition of ‘real’.
A room on the hall where I had been held had been cleared out and re-appointed, and Sivar was there, talking quietly with a dark-haired young man in an ornate corselet, enameled black and inlaid with gold, with a prominent fleur-de-lis on the front.
Whatever Sivar was saying died on her lips as we entered. Horace bowed deeply but I spoke bluntly. “I need to get off of this space wheel.”
The young man colored at the breach of protocol but Sivar almost stood. “You do not look well.”
“Dion blinded me,” I replied. “I can no longer sense any prana outside of my own flesh. I need to get out of here please.”
The young man inserted himself into the conversation. “On this Principality, we abide by certain codes of conduct.”
“I just finished yelling at a Primate and several stooges that are, probably, also Primates,” I turned on the boy. “We are beyond convention at this moment.”
“What happened?” Sivar asked.
I told her. Of course, by the time I was finishing up, Dion strolled into the room, “Hello Prelate Sivar, Lord Allen, Lord Vycta,” he said mildly.
“Primate,” Sivar nodded.
“Lord Vycta?” the young man – Allen – repeated, protest rising in his voice. “He is a Lord? A peer?”
“Vycta has a propensity for making horrendous sacrifices and surviving them, usually with a commiserate increase in his ability to inflict trouble,” Primate Dion replied. “The money and status that comes with it are a bribe to keep revenge from metastasizing. He is so susceptible to it… bribery I mean, not revenge.”
“Horace called me Lord Vycta in the hallway,” I replied. “You pre-bribed me before you jabbed that shit into my forehead and blinded me.”
“Approximately yes,” he replied.
“You saw the vision,” he replied. “I have been traveling, consulting with anyone with hints of precognition, trying to get as many points of view on the incoming event as possible.
You have a navigator’s gift without a navigator’s obligations.”
“It was a true blessing,” Allen interjected.
“Shut up,” Dion said darkly. “You are undoing my work here.” The Primate turned back to me. “Truly, deep in the core of your being, past the raging surface that has had the glory of heaven sullied and dimmed, do you regret that the loss of your Sight will save the souls on ten Principalities?”
His face was five feet away from mine, but my imagination put him in spittle spewing distance. I thought, You fat bastard. I said, “I can’t regret it.”
“And that is why you were chosen,” he replied. “You were available. You would be bitter but not take the reaction to nihilistic heights”
“Alright, you’ve proven that I’m an idiot. May I go now?” I snapped. “This is the second time you’ve done something to me that reaved away fundamental bits of my being without my permission. I just want to get the hell away from you.”
“Where are you going?” Sivar asked. The blazing glory that shaded my view of her was gone now. All I saw was a beautiful but severe woman.
“Pluto,” I replied. “And then the Ort Cloud. There’s something really effing big in there.”
She turned to Dion, “Can he do it?”
“He could have done it before,” the fat man shrugged.
Irritation spiked my voice, “What does that mean?”
“It is a test,” a faint voice whispered in the quiet of my skull. “The injection reacted with your underlying structure, amplifying some parts and damaging the rest, including the amplified portion, so its flow pattern no longer works. You can still feel Prana, your own. Use that feeling. Draw in prana from around you and reactivate those parts. Heal them.”
I felt I had to keep any reaction to the seemingly secret conversation off of my face. However, the disgust registered. “This is a cruel test.”
“He was probably planning to hold it over you,” the voice replied. “Push you into more sacrifices.”
“Why are you helping me?” I asked.
“Because Dion could have used the serum he concocted from my essence without earning lasting harm to himself, but he is afraid of me, and did not want me to have access to his mind. He was actually pretty wise in that regard. But since he used someone else, I am telling you now out of petty spite.”
“Who are you?”
“It is not wise to say or know my name,” the voice continued. “The connection is fading. Hurry before your system sets and you need another application to put yourself right.”
I dropped into lotus, ignoring everyone. I dropped into a state of mindfulness awareness that Seifu called: emptiness. And honestly, I was bad at learning it. Monkeymind is strong with me. Perversely, the perceived desperation of the situation made me get it right.
My thoughts were quiet and I had space to plan and act. I drew in prana, wincing in pain as the increased flow ran smack into the blockages in my system. It was like dealing with congealed macaroni spaghetti. Painstakingly, I freed a strand, unblocked it, repowered it, healed it, and moved on. Slowly, I worked through it. The experience was markedly painful. I died a million little deaths. When the clumps were cleared away, my full pranic nervous system flared to life, a brilliant fractal representing the complete picture of myself. I’d never really seen it before and I think I barely scratched the surface.
When I opened my eyes, I saw Horace watching me, eyes distant and distracted. I could feel the weight of him in my mind again, feel the heft of his power, and perceive the density and weave of his pranic structure in my mind. It was a sharp, intimate awareness, bordering on erotic. There was also a lot of blood on the floor.
The ebullience I had with my “cure” evaporated and I whistled. “Holy shit,”
It wasn’t my blood. I immediately thought there had been a fight, but the there was a pattern to the spray. It seemed to radiate out from me maintaining its pattern on the walls and ceilings, which pulsed faintly with prana. If strained and squinted, I could see a faint web of oddly attuned prana webbing the area between the patterns.
“Horace … what’s going on?” I asked.
“I honestly don’t know,” he said carefully. “Although I think you have noticed the… lattice we find ourselves within.” He levered himself to his feet. “It is Primate Dion’s work, but I do not know what it is supposed to do.”
“Do we have to stay in here?” I asked.
“No, we definitely do not,” he replied, offering me a hand. An arc of static electricity jumped between us and we snatched our hands apart with a shared, “Ow!” I felt a lingering taste of … man… on my tongue. I frowned and pulled my aura in, wincing a little, “Still tender.”
“Let’s get out of this…”
Dion entered, face sober, but otherwise expressionless, “This room is psychically sterile. You’re going to be here while you heal. I’ve ordered food. Horace can taste it to make sure I am not poisoning you, but eat carefully. It is very rich.” He turned slightly, pulled in a tray, and produced a large bowl full of what looked like fresh fruit pieces dressed in something that smelled like mead.
“Eat slowly,” he said, turning to leave.
Horace suspiciously took a bite of fruit and his eyes widened, “Ambrosia?”
Dion closed the door.
“This is numbingly suspicious,” Horace supplied. “I do not feel ill, so you should finish this before it spoils.”
“You are welcome to some if you want,” I replied.
He nodded vaguely and sat back down to stare seemingly off into space. The fruit salad was awfully sweet, but the aftertaste was oddly sanguine. The bits of fruit had the density of heavy meat and the mead was thick as congealed blood, but lightly sweet on the tongue. By taking my time, I hovered at the edge of full until I finished it.
“You are going to get very sleepy,” Horace warned. He periodically took bites but did not really leave his place. “Don’t be alarmed. It is just a side effect of the drug.”
I fell asleep, dreaming of innocuous things built out of familiar anxieties and fears. They were dominated by the gargantuan sense of relief that I had been able to fix myself. It was like coming back from the dead. And I rejoiced because I did not give a fuck what that Primate had said about prana not being divine.
I reversed myself. It may not have been said out of malice. I found myself thinking consciously inside of a dream. The same kind of somnolent thinking that made me interrupt potential wet dreams because when I was alive, even in dreams, I did not have unsafe sex. I was… well, am… just that neurotic.
I woke up in my bed at Sivar’s, my wrist computer and goggles by the nightstand, along with my pebble pouch. I performed a meditative “systems check” before pushing away the covers.
I heard steps just outside of the door. I scooted back so I sat up against the headboard, sheets pulled up to protect my modesty as Dion walked in with a thin, saturnine man.
The thin man’s gray robes would have passed for “plain” had they not been made out of what looked like high quality silk. His skin had a pearly sheen that should have verged on “oily” but instead he looked well moisturized. He had large, expressive, dark eyes that he probably used as lethal weapons on the unsuspecting.
“Vycta,” Dion said affectionately, which immediately put me on edge. “This is Legionnaire Sebastian Augustine. He has been sent to interrogate you.”
“But… how can I know anything?” I replied. “I’ve been a shut in. Hell, even when I was in D’Orleans I was a shut in. I can name the people I’ve interacted with on a non-commercial level since I’ve died on my fingers and toes.”
Dion’s expression was meaningful, verging on subservient. The man in gray frowned. “Please leave us, Primate.”
“Um, I would prefer that he did not,” I replied. “Why are you here? I’m just a nobody.”
“Yes, a nobody who is a lover of a Prelate, former eromenos of a Praetorian Dreadnaught Legionnaire, novice Ranger, and student of a Princess of Qin. You are hardly ‘nobody,’” he drawled, with a slightly aristocratic tic to his voice.
I replied, “I am a tool. I was a pleasant experience for someone who was about to be sent to their death. The bonds created during that coming of age experience were in turn used to filter demon essence so Legionnaires being sent to their deaths would have a chance at life. In turn the Legion turned on their donors and I was brought here out of pity…”
“That’s enough,” he replied. “You may think that, and you may have been a ‘nobody’ then, but you are a person of interest in a serious crime now.”
“What crime? Sleeping?”
“Consorting with Demons,” he replied.
“Oh really? Now?” I said leaning forward. “So this is a lie being escalated to an investigation?”
He tensed, “I could have you tortured.”
“Torturing me does not alter the nature of the truth,” I replied. “I do not consort with demons. My fellow man is complicated enough without dealing with the remnants of a cadre of disgruntled Celestials.”
“What if it was for power?” he asked.
“They have nothing to offer me,” I replied.
“You equate prana manipulation to divinity,” he continued coolly. “The Celestials have mastered it and…”
“This isn’t some sort of hearing on suspected collusion with demons,” I cut him off pulsing with incandescent fury. “This is a screening to see if I am susceptible to it. Let me tell you this. Your Primates are not gods. They are old spirits in their observatories straining into the night for some reflection of the Creator’s work as it creates, destroys, and recycles. They speculate on divinity, but whether they are right or not is more open to interpretation than they are comfortable with.”
“I will have you on charges,” the man in gray hissed.
“And it still won’t change the truth,” I replied. “And the truth is that I have not consorted with demons. Anything demonic I’ve been introduced to has been through the Legion and the Primates. Investigate your own goddamned house!”
“Bleeding sodomite,” he rasped.
I felt his words and there was something… else…. I took a chance. “Men in glass houses should not throw stones.”
A thin crack in the gray man’s social facade appeared, shivering wider in the cloud of nonverbal signals that permeated the space between us. I could feel attack, causing the conversation’s evolving social interaction construct to shift and skew.
“Do you consort with demons,” he asked.
“Only the human ones,” I replied. “Celestial ones, no.”
“Vycta,” Dion chided. He sounded far too paternal.
I pushed back down to recline on the bed and broke into brief song. “There’s an angel in your arms this morning, who’s gonna be a devil in someone else’s arms tonight.” I did not mangle the old song too badly.
“That isn’t an invocation, Primate.” I frowned. “That statement wasn’t a confession. It was a commentary.”
“You must have been a holy terror in your orientation sessions,” Augustine mused. “Who were your instructors?”
“Instructors in what?” I asked.
“Your orientation instructors when you first arrived,” He said.
“I had an Erastes,” I replied. “He was all I knew. We spent all of our time in the wastelands in the general area–as in a few hundred miles–of the CNAP beanstalk city. I only tested here and I did not test until my time as eromenos had been finished, which was a few years after I earned novice status.”
Augustine was angry. It bled off him in waves, strong enough to affect the prana in the room. Shame and embarrassment mingled with the fury but he stood up smoothly. “For what it is worth, I believe you.”
“I apologize for baiting you,” I answered. “Sincerely. I have been angry for some time now and I lashed out.”
Our eyes met briefly and he bowed and left the room. Dion exhaled violently and then stilled. I felt the faintest ripple in the background prana and he spoke hurriedly, “I thought for certain that you were going to raise some uncomfortable truths.”
“That you injected me with essence of an angel?” I asked.
A brief flicker of surprise crossed his features and then he smiled, “How did you know?”
A smile spread over my face. “I guessed, but I made the assumption that non-fallen celestials may be more potent, or maybe more alien, to us. Fallen angel essence made me deathly What you did to me overloaded the psychic synapses and curdled my substance.”
“Gave you something mildly analogous to a psychic cancer, but you beat it,” he replied. “The overloading mutagenic effect is why we use demon essence for panacea…. Well, one of the reasons.”
“What’s the difference between them, besides allegiance and employment status?” I asked.
The room actually seemed to get dark, the air choking and thick.
Dion raised an eyebrow, squared his shoulders, and said, “Allegiance and ‘employment status’ are indeed very important Vycta and…. ” He looked like he wanted to vomit and finally said, “Dammit, how could you have named yourself ‘Whore?’ Out of all of the choices, you took the name ‘Whore’! No one says your name. They call you ‘that boy’ or ‘the boy with the penis,’ or ‘Sivar’s Boy,’.”
I frowned irritably, “I didn’t! That’s not my name! That’s my job!”
“Haven’t you noticed that many of the people you know are known primarily by their position and task? Prelate, Primate, Legionnaire! And then there’s you … whore.”
I found myself shouting at the top of my lungs. “I chose ‘Vycta’! I did not choose the occupational designation! And since something huge is apparently listening, tell me, how do I change my job assignment!”
A Celestial appeared. This one, disturbingly, had the head of an octopus and the body of an overdeveloped male athlete. He wore only the briefest of loincloths and nothing else.
Octopus head or no I found my eyes drifting downward. Honestly, I’ve always not been much of a ‘face’ man. Feeling exposed, I gathered the covers around myself and waited to see what the creature had to say. (by Hank T Cannon)