Mei was still mad at Verge by the time they got to the inn across town. It was an old, well-loved place. The walls and windows knew they were loved and did their best to stay standing despite their age.
Mei paid the man at the front desk and the two of them walked uncomfortably down the hallway. It wasn't dirty, but it was stained.
Years of unwiped boots marred the shag carpeting. Verge scoffed when he saw the room.
"I'm going downstairs to the pub to see if there's anyone to talk to," Mei said, sharply.
"I'm going to sleep. I've had a long day," Verge said, with equal sharpness.
Mei walked down the hall and Verge shut the door to the room and locked it. He plopped down on the bed and tried to get comfortable. It was a lumpy down mattress, but eventually, Verge sunk in and drifted off to sleep.
All throughout the room, the shadows were signing. Verge knew what was coming. He knew there was no point in forestalling it.
Mei plopped down the stairs; one by one. Tom's old jacket scraped against the stairs as she made her way towards the sounds of people talking and the smell of food.
She came around the corner to the inn's pub. She took a quick look around. Most of the other guests were in the middle of passionate conversations over strong drinks. A man sat in the far corner surrounded by empty tables.
Mei ordered a fruity drink and sidled over towards him. She could feel the unhappiness. It seeped out of the man. The air was thick and murky around him.
As she got closer, she noticed his jacket over the rest of his drab clothing. He was an officer of Talon, although she did not know what rank.
"Hey," she started. She tried smiling as big as possible.
The man peered up from his misery. The silver of his sparse scales shimmered off of his cheeks. His face was young but his hair was a deep silver.
"Hey," he replied solemnly.
"It's so boring here," Mei said, "There's nobody to talk to."
"Hmm," he said.
"I just got in today," she said, keeping her cool, "How about you?"
"I got here a few moments ago, myself."
Solemn moments passed.
"Please talk to me," she pleaded, "I bet you're the only person here who speaks common."
"All right, kid," he said, placing his head in his hands, "What do you want to talk about?"
That tone always worked on guys. It was something about the tone itself. Regardless of what was said, with that tone, the desired effect was always achieved.
"I dunno," she said, still smiling, "What's your name?"
The man finished his drink in one gulp.
"My name is Mei."
"Just Mei? Don't you have a family name?"
"I do but I don't go around telling it to strangers."
Faustave laughed lightly.
"So Mei," he said conversationally, "What brings you to Congradia?"
"Sightseeing. I'm on my way to 01."
"Home of the Nanites," he mused, "Why would you want to go there?"
"There's someone I want to meet."
"If you don't mind me asking, how are you getting there? Do you have a ship?"
"Something like that. My friend is here too, but he's back at the room."
"I could never get used to ships," he said quietly, "They always seemed too small."
"I don't mind them so much. I think of them as cozy."
"Ah, well, it's not as if I need one to get around. I am a Nanite, after all."
"You're a Nanite?" she said, suspiciously.
"Yes, I'm a Nanite. Look at my hair."
"Well, what's your full name?" Mei prodded, now very much interested in the conversation.
"Nanite Faustave Union Component Breaker Prime," he said proudly.
"I'd rather not get into it right now."
"Oh," she said, but quickly rebounded. "Well, what are you doing here?"
"Personal business," he said, "I'm leaving tomorrow. I have some business to attend to in Haven as well."
"Haven! That's where we're going in a few days. You should come with us!"
The man jerked upright in his seat. Mei gave him that look and tried the tone again.
"My friend is so boring. You should come with us."
"You mean I'd piss him off?" he said flatly.
"Kid," he said, motioning with his hand, "I'm a soldier of Talon. I'm not going to be swayed from my mission just like that."
Mei looked down on her knees and bunched herself up inside Tom's jacket. It was warm when she pulled everything inwards in just the right way.
Faustave got up and walked towards her side of the table.
"Where are you from?" Faustave ventured, after a moment.
She told him.
He smiled as best he could. The air lifted its weight and the mood became clear.
"You said you're going to Haven? I actually know a great restaurant there. Let me know when you're leaving."
Mei pulled herself together.
In the darkness of sleep Verge was helpless. In order to sleep, he had to let go. And letting go meant making himself vulnerable against it.
There was no fancy transition this time. Verge became aware that he was standing in a barren field.
Rows of dead plants waved softly in the dusty breeze. A dead city loomed in the distance.
"Things are starting to get hairy," Eye said.
Verge spun around. He turned to face a tall thin man in a long black coat. The man's scarf dragged through the dirt. He had no face. He only had one large, blank eye.
"Back for more, eh?" Verge spat on the thing.
"I'm sorry about what happened last time, Verge," Eye said softly.
"There's no need to try to trick me by changing your tone. I know what you want."
The man chuckled softly. It lead to a hacking cough which reverberated through the field.
"It's difficult, you know," it said to him. "The gray one has so much of me, there's almost none left. It's getting so that I cannot even command my slaves."
"Cut to the chase and tell me why I care," Verge said curtly.
"Verge," it paused, and for a moment it seemed sad, "I want you to let me help you again."
Verge stared at the man coldly.
"It will be different this time!" it pleaded. "You'll stay in control. I'll give you everything you want. Just let me help you get it."
"What is this really about?" Verge said.
"I hate him! I hate them!," it hissed.
"Thanatos. The Fates. I hate them all."
The dirt grew black and the dry husks of the plants grew mold. The air was thick with the smell of rot.
"What happened to you Eye? Where's the seething malice? Why aren't I on my knees?" Verge demanded.
"Everything's ruined!" it sobbed. "I'm breaking apart. I'm lost! It's been too long since you broke us. I have nothing left! Why wont you take me back?!"
The man moved towards Verge. Tears were streaming down his not-face. He was shaking and as he stepped towards Verge he sank deeper into the rotten dirt.
"Stay away from me!" Verge shouted.
"Please!" the mound of shadow and clothing begged. "I'm saying please now. Just take me back!"
Verge stepped away from the hissing puddle.
"You can't truly think that I'll take pity on you, can you?" Verge spat.
"Fine!" the vapors sobbed. "Just remember: empty scales balance too."
Verge woke up.
Verge took a cautious look around the room. His head was fuzzy from the dream, but it was late and Mei hadn't come back to the room. He pulled his pants on and went to the hallway.
As Verge trudged down the stairs into the smell of food and booze, he was hit by the wall of noise coming from the pub attached to the inn. It snapped him back to his senses and that's when he noticed it.
There was a Nanite in the pub.
He walked softly now and crept around the corner. He took a look around the room. The patrons were enjoying themselves quite loudly. He walked carefully through the pub until he finally saw Mei at one of the back tables.
Sitting with her was Faustave. Of course.
His mind raced. He knew what was coming. Any minute now, Faustave would stop pretending he didn't notice him. Then, Faustave would kill him; simple as that.
Verge began to slink behind another table. He caught Faustave say something to Mei and then get up. Mei remained at the table, working on some sort of frozen dessert.
In an instant, Faustave was beside Verge.
"Verge," he said coolly, "We need to talk."
"Yes," Verge forced himself to say.
"Outside then?" Faustave said, gesturing towards the front door.
The night air was cold and Verge's breath billowed from his mouth. The dirt road was empty and only a few of the sparse buildings still had their lights on. He began to wish he brought his jacket when he remembered he would be dying shortly; so it didn't really matter.
That wasn't entirely true. He wasn't out of options. He was just out of good options.
You're never out of options. You only fool yourself into thinking you are, a familiar voice coiled. You can still use it.
"Well Verge," Faustave began, "It took me a while, but I finally found you!"
"Faustave," Verge hesitated, "You look well."
"Cut the crap, Verge," he spat. "You know damn well why I'm here."
Verge began gathering his strength. Wind and shadow circled his feet slowly.
"When I heard what they did to you, I knew it was my best chance. I've spent years scouring the frontier for your soggy pelt. I suppose you're happy to hear it, aren't you Verge? I've spent so much time focusing on you."
"It's a touching sentiment, but I can't die here."
Faustave's weave began to open up. It felt like a serpent was coiling; preparing to strike him. The Nanite drew heat from the air and gathered itself.
"The choice isn't yours to make," Faustave flared. "You know you can't beat me."
Verge knew it. He had thought about what he might do if he found himself in this situation. He always came to the same conclusion: he'd figure it out when the time came. Verge opened his mouth to speak.
"You can't buy time by talking," Faustave spat. "You're on my time now. You live at my pace."
"I understand," Verge said solemnly.
He began to open his weave more. He called up the hissing wind and the seething shadows. Faustave did not appear to noticeand if he did, he didn't care.
"You can't hurt me any more Verge. I am beyond pain. I am beyond fear. I am beyond anger and hatred," Faustave said; his voice wavering slightly.
"But you still want to know why."
Faustave grimaced. The scales on his forehead shone in the moonlight and he pursed his lips. Verge could feel Breaker-prime pulsing. It was getting ready to kill him.
Verge knew Faustave wouldn't hold back much longer.
"Consequence," Verge stated. "The first thing I ever said to you was that all actions have consequences. Only now I truly understand that."
"Enough," Faustave bellowed. "I'm tired of your self-righteous shit!"
Mei barged out of the door, heading towards the two of them as they took aim and attacked. The air crackled as the two of them drew heat and light for their attacks.
Faustave let loose a blast of searing blue-white light as Verge released a small gray blob; a shadow of a shadow.
The two attacks passed through each other unremarkably. Verge jumped to the side but could not fully dodge Faustave's attack. His right side was covered in liquid phosphorous. He fell to the ground as his flesh began to melt from his bones.
Faustave, on the other hand, chuckled lightheartedly as the little black ball hit him in the chest and fizzled with a puff of smoke.
Verge called on the shadows to heal him. They sputtered and spurted as they tried to force their way into the light. With great resistance, black clay formed around what was left of Verge's dexterous half.
Verge coughed and gagged as he hastily rebuilt his organs. Faustave walked towards him calmly.
Mei began to rush towards Verge.
"Mei," Faustave said without taking his eyes off Verge, "Stay where you are. No one else should be hurt because of him."
Something more than the authority in his voice anchored her to the ground. He feet were jammed in the dirt.
Faustave reached down and picked Verge up by his head. His neatly groomed claws glimmered. He lifted Verge's face level with his own.
Verge spotted a drop of sweat.
Faustave looked Verge in the eyes and began to squeeze. Verge reached up and tried, in vain, to pry Faustave's fingers away. His legs kicked as the pressure became unbearable.
Then his skull started to crack. It was a dry creak that reverberated within his head. It was like when one bites too hard and grinds their molars together, except inside his brain. He could hear it in his ears, but even worse, he could feel it in his ears.
Mei screamed, covering her ears with her hands. Verge's eyes began to fail him. His vision went blurry then black. His hearing went too. The world started to close inwards upon him. Reality was wrapping him in a thick, woolly blanket.
Verge coughed and gasped as he felt his body fail him. His arms fell limp. They had no more fight left in them. He tried to move, but he found that even that power had left him. He remained for a moment, a being of agony, trapped in a lifeless body.
Then Verge felt something that was not pain. He felt relief. Or rather, it was a lack of the crushing pressure on his skull. He was still in pain, immense pain. He felt himself moving, then noticed an abrupt stop. Faustave had just dropped him.
His hearing came back slowly. Mei's muffled screams became sharper, but were stifled by a shriek coming from Faustave's direction.
It was more like a gurgle, really. Faustave was dying and could no longer be saved. It was the technique Eye had taught him. The last time he used it was on Talon himself. The last time Verge had used it, he was the Eater of Worlds.
Verge lay broken on the ground, unable to move; listening to Faustave's cries ascend and then finally stop. Then Verge slept.
Verge awoke slowly and carefully. He cautiously opened his eyes and tried not to move.
Golden light filtered in through a thin set of curtains. The air was thick with water vapor and medicine. Mei sat on a chair nearby, reading the back of a Hanchun Chew wrapper. She glanced up when he started moving.
"You're awake," she said with relief.
"Yes," he coughed. "I feel much better."
He clumsily took the wet cloth off of his forehead.
"And who's idea was this?"
"Mine," Mei replied proudly, "The doctors couldn't figure out how to fix you."
"You got doctors?"
"Yeah, but they didn't charge me anything. They said you were going to die."
Verge lay back; resting his head against the down pillow. He took in a slow, calculated breath.
"How many days has it been?" he finally asked.
"You've been out cold for two days."
"And what happened to Faustave?"
"When my feet got unstuck, I ran inside to get you help. When we came back out, Mr. Raines was gone."
Verge coughed up a globby chunk of something. He wiped it on the cloth and tried to take another deep breath.
"What did you do to him?" Mei asked, taking out another Hanchun.
Verge shakily began to climb out of the bed. His feet cringed on the cold wood floor. He pulled himself upright.
"There's no time for that," Verge said hurriedly, "The black bean is almost gone. We have to get to a clearing before it's too late."
"No!" Mei shouted. "I've had it with all this occult stuff. What did Mr. Raines do to me back there and what did you do to him?"
"If you hurry along, I'll tell you."
Verge gathered his things from beside the bed and rushed out the door, leaving Mei no time to protest. She angrily followed, huffing along behind him.
Not far outside the town Verge found a patch of dirt in a field. He began to clear it of rocks and sticks. Mei caught up with him, out of breath and irritated.
"Here I am," she wheezed. "Spill the beans!"
"Sure thing," he said quickly, "Just help me clear out the sticks and rocks."
Mei half-heartedly began to kick smaller objects out of the barren patch.
"Okay," Verge said, tossing a handful of rocks to the side, "What Faustave used on you is called a bind. It's like a kind of hypnosis. It doesn't work on the strong-willed."
Mei gave him a face.
"And what did you use on him?"
"I'd rather not talk about it."
He took one of the sticks he had cleared and drew a circle in the clearing, filling it with various runes.
"Well, you better start talking about it," she said impatiently. "And what's all this?"
"This is for the next leg of our journey. I'm going to attempt a shadow jump to get us to Haven."
"First tell me what you did to Mr. Raines!"
Verge tossed the stick out of the circle and dug his feet into the center.
"It's not something I'm proud of," Verge sighed.
"Stop avoiding the question," she barked. "Just tell me."
"It was supposed to kill him," he relented, "but if you didn't find a body, then it means it only weakened him. He's probably off licking his wounds somewhere. Now will you get in the circle?"
"Fine," Mei said curtly.
"Good. Now Mei, you might want to close your eyes for a moment."
"What, you don't think I can handle seeing what you're going to do?"
"Well, I'm closing my eyes now," he said calmly, "Take that as you will."
Mei's face scrunched.
A few moments later, there was light: pure, white, alabaster, chalky light. It was a cool, clean light that soothed the eyes.
Haven was a city built as close to the Center as The Twelve would allow. The buildings were built of white marble and the structure of each was both large and graceful. Haven architecture had a reputation for being larger than life.
Mei stared slack-jawed at the people and other things walking and flying through the city. They hovered about their business. She stared down the main street off into the distance.
Verge coughed up a lung as he stepped out of the reception zone. Mei followed closely behind.
"We're here?" Mei said excitedly.
Her anger at Verge seemed to have melted in the face of finally being in Haven. At the very least, she likely took being in Haven into account.
"Yes," Verge sputtered.
"Are you okay? You look worse than when we left."
"Comes with the territory of a shadow jump. It's like slamming your head into a cement wall."
"We need to get to the Tower of Consequence before I really start to feel the effects."
Verge motioned to a point on the ground.
Mei moved over and Verge stood next to her. He tapped a short rhythm into the floor. The panel below the two of them flashed for a moment before slowly lifting off of the ground. Verge tapped another beat into the panel and it began to fly towards the five towers in the center of the city.
Mei prostrated herself on the platform; clutching onto Verge's ankles.
"Quit it," he said, "it's not like you're going to fall off."
"It ain't like I'm used to just flying around everywhere!"
"Take in the sights," Verge smiled. "Haven's a great place."
The five towers grew closer and Verge grew paler.
"So where's the sky?" Mei called from Verge's feet.
"There Isn't one," Verge said. "The city is shaped like an egg shell. The buildings are on the inside."
Several minutes later, they touched down by one of the five towers. Mei strained herself to see the top.
It was, like all the other buildings in Haven, pure white and very grand-looking. There was a grimacing angel with a set of scales above the door, which itself stood several stories tall.
"Here we are," he said, "The Tower of Consequence!"
Verge took a closer look.
"Oh great," Verge cursed. "More of these people. Well, just stay right behind me."
There was a crowd of angry people with signs chanting by the doorway. Most had poorly thought-out puns involving numbers and the Eater of Worlds.
Mei watched in disbelief as Verge wove and slithered through the crowd seemingly unnoticed. She followed behind bumping into the occasional protester. Soon, they were at the front door. Verge had his back turned to the crowd.
He placed his hand on the door and the colossal stone structure silently and instantly moved out of his way. Verge and Mei stepped inside as the crowd realized what had just happened. Their roar was silenced when the massive door silently slammed shut. Not even an ounce of sound came through the door.
Verge and Mei were alone in a large hall at the base of the Tower of Consequence.
"Well, here we are," Verge struggled to get out, clutching his chest. "It's closed to the public right now."
He began to hobble towards the elevator.
"Come on," he coughed.
Mei followed hesitantly. Verge pressed the button for the thirty-seventh floor.
An instant later, they arrived.
Verge rushed out as best he could towards a door at the far wall. He stumbled once or twice. Mei took her time walking through what appeared to be a museum. She saw several hallways and exhibits.
Verge braced himself on the door and tapped a sequence into the wall on a number pad only he could see. The door slid out of the way and he fell into the room. He slowly got back up and made his way towards the bed in the corner of the main room.
"You can buy food over on that console," he said pointing, "Don't worry about the bill and don't make a mess of the place."
Then Verge passed out on his bed.
Mei learned how to operate the console fairly quickly. She was an especially quick learner when her options were either to learn how to use the console or to see what would happen if she tried to wake Verge up. After a few mistakes and bad orders, Mei had a crate of Hanchun Chews delivered to the door. It was more Hanchun Chews than she had ever imagined. And he did say not to worry about the bill.
With her hunger sated, Mei's focus turned to finding some way to entertain herself for however long Verge was going to be asleep. This, she decided, had an easy solution since she was in a museum of sorts.
Mei gathered her Hanchuns and went back to the front door and started at the beginning of the exhibit.
The front door of the shrine was closed. It looked the same from behind as it did from the front. Everything in the tower looked the same. He called it the Tower of Consequence. Mei wasn't sure what that meant. But everything was white; pure white. Well, not pure white. There were the exhibits, which, when absolutely necessary, had color. Everything else ranged in color from ivory to translucent egg shell.
Mei looked down at the first of many engraved plaques. The words were just cut into the strange material that made up the tower. The shadows from the elusive lights made the words clear. She read the white plaque.
"Nanite Verge Union Component Breaker," she spoke softly as she worked out what the symbols read.
Underneath the title was a smaller name. Mei snickered.
"Virgil Row?" she said quietly. She'd never let him live it down.
Mei passed the slab and moved to the first part of the exhibit. She walked into a hall that sat under a sign that read, "Verge's Childhood." There were various pictures and images being displayed. Words scrolled up on some. Others simply held pictures of a young Verge. He was a lot cuter when he was a kid. He was certainly happier as a kid.
Walking down the hall, the pictures of Verge became slowly older, until a small room branched off to the right. Ahead of her, the hallway curved back into the main room. She saw a few more pictures of Verge, but the smiles were gone.
She peeked into the room and she saw it; Eye. It seemed even more out of place in the white halls of the tower than it normally would have. Of course, she had seen pictures of Eye. She knew what it was. Everyone was taught what Eye was in history class. This image seemed to have emotions behind it. It was more than a page in a textbook. It was Eye. It was darkness, pain, avarice, rage. Mei quickly looked away from the image of Eye over Verge.
She spun around and only saw more pictures of Verge's younger self in great pain. His face was twisted in a strange frown. Tears were flowing down his eyes. She had never seen him cry like that before.
As she turned to move quickly down the hall, she caught glimpse of one last image. It was a picture of Verge in a clean, white room. She bobbed quickly down the hall back into the main hall and caught her breath. It must have been a picture of the "that place" that Verge talks about sometimes when he's upset.
Mei sat down on a soft, white bench between the last hall and the next one. She looked around. The halls made a loop that encircled the central hall. She cracked open a Hanchun Chew. The wrapper softly fell to the floor. Mei sat back and began to eat the bar. She'd pick it up after she was done. She needed a break.
Mei slowly shifted herself forward. The Hanchun Chew was good. It was a fresh one; not the months old stuff they sell you out on the frontier. Maybe there was something to living in the Center. She reached for the wrapper. It was gone.
Mei shrugged and hoped to her feet. She set her sights on the next hall. Mei stretched her arms over her head and hopped a few times to let the contents of Tom's Jacked settle. She turned to her right to face the next hall.
Down the tall, wide corridor were rows of pictures. They were planets. About twenty screens filled each side of the hall leading down towards a room. Mei knew what was in that hallway without having to go in. Her grim suspicion was confirmed by a large oil painting displayed with golden frame at the end of the hall.
It was a radiant Verge, pulsing with pure light, holding the severed head of Talon. Mei looked towards the entrance of the hall. The plaque read, "Verge's Battles." Underneath, in smaller text, "The War of Talon."
Mei decided she would skip that exhibit and focus on the main room and the other two halls on the left side of the shrine. The main hall was a large, open dome. Its white ceilings stretched high over the white floor. Scarce shadows created by lights Mei still couldn't find created some shape in the hall. Mei took her time admiring the architecture. The four halls that surrounded the main room were tall and wide. There were many benches like the one she had sat one minutes ago. They were scattered about the shrine, located around the larger exhibits.
Mei wandered through the various small exhibits of the main hall. The were small and flavorful tidbits about Verge. Mei didn't know Verge's favorite color was green. As she passed through, she saw pictures of Chi and Nanites. Most of their names didn't make sense, so she moved on.
Mei made it to the third hall. Like the others, she peeked inside, in case the exhibit would be too scary or disturbing. She didn't see much. In fact, only the first few feet had any pictures. The rest of the hall was empty.
The plaque over the hall read, "The Exile of Verge." Mei walked into the unfinished hall.
Around her were pictures of people she didn't know. She assumed they were Nanites. They had silver hair.
Further down, Mei found a picture of a small, orange city. It was surrounded by evergreens. It stuck out like a sore thumb. That's what she thought when she first went there, in search of him. Coria looked as real as it did when Mei had landed. She knew who she would see in the pictures she would find further down the hall. There were only a few feet of hallway left. Mei gathered her courage and took her determined steps forward.
She looked around and there she was. There was Mei. She was wearing Tom's old jacket and everything. She decided to ask Verge who had taken the pictures when he woke up. She skittered quickly out of that hall and decided not to even bother with the fourth hall.
Mei grabbed a Hanchun Chew and opened it, letting the wrapper fall to the ground. She decided she would learn all she could from the central room.
Mei spent the next few days learning all she could from the exhibits from the central halls. She memorized all the facts about Verge she could. She was good at memorizing. She didn't try to venture into any of the halls. She didn't even look down them. Mei, curious though she was, decided to entertain herself in the main hall until Verge woke up.
She also had to solve the mystery of how the place stayed so clean. There was no dust and no dirt. Small dropped objects would disappear silently within moments. Mei tried various small coins. The floor ate the one current coin, the five current coin, and the ten current coin. It didn't touch the twenty-five current coin until she left the area for a few minutes.
It was a true mystery. Nothing would ever disappear when she was watching, but as soon as she looked away, even for a second, the junk would be gone. Between the mystery of the clean floor and the various exhibits in the main hall, Mei was able to keep herself quite happily entertained for several days.
Then one day, Verge just woke up. He called out as Mei was spying on the floor waiting for it to take an unwrapped Hanchun. She looked to the open door of the back room. Then, remembering her mission, quickly looked back at where the Hanchun Chew had been. Five second rule.
Verge slowly shambled to his feet as Mei stomped into the room. Every part of his body ached, from the muscles to the joints. But it was a good kind of ache. It was the kind of ache you get from swimming too much in one day.
He looked around and saw everything was where he left it. The only change was that there was now a crate of candy bars in the middle of the room and a few blankets strewn about the couch on the far wall.
Verge stretched and breathed in deeply. He let out a huge sigh and walked into the bathroom. Minutes later, Verge came out of the bathroom refreshed and ready for the next step in his plan.
Mei was still stomping about, chewing on another candy bar.
"What's your deal?" Verge said.
"You made me miss it again. And I wanted to figure it out before you woke up!" she replied.
"Figure what out?"
"What happens to all the stuff I leave on the floor. I was watching it about to eat a Hanchun Chew when you yelled."
"Oh," Verge said, softly, "Sorry. If you want, I can tell you."
"Maybe later. I'm still a little made at you, Virgil."
Verge chuckled softly.
"I knew you'd latch onto that one," he said. He raised a hand towards the wall and a screen appeared. Small numbers and words scrolled and floated about.
"But I left that name on Enuth," he continued. "Did you see the whole museum?"
"No," Mei said, "I never really went down any of the halls other than the first."
Verge moved his fingers and numbers moved in symphony. He looked back at Mei.
"You have more courage than me," he said, "I never go down the first hall."
He continued to move his fingers until a small piece of paper came out of the side of the screen. He grabbed it and sat back down on his bed.
"I did look down the third hall too," Mei said. "Who took all those pictures?"
"Dunno," he said, smirking.
"So," Verge said, conversationally, "How long was I out for?"
"I dunno," Mei smirked.
Verge grimaced for a moment and got up. He placed his hands on another section of wall. A closet appeared. It was full of clothes Verge had acquired at some point in the past. He quickly rummaged through the sets of clothing.
"Can't go to 01 looking like this," he said.
Verge smiled and pulled out some clean clothes. He made his way towards the bathroom.
"Would you like to go out to lunch before we head out?"
"Well, I'm still mad at you," Mei said angrily.
"What? For the Hanchun? You have a whole crate!"
"No for lying to me."
"You told me you weren't Nanite Verge when we first met in Coria."
"You knew it was me the whole time," Verge said flatly. "I'm not going to buy that you are suddenly overcome with shock over my true identity."
"Well, I'm still mad," Mei said defiantly.
Verge shut the bathroom door and appeared a few minutes later in his new clothes. He looked down. They still had lines in them from their fresh ironing.
The Alabaster Egg looked exactly as one would expect. The ceilings were high and the walls were ornate with floral patterns. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling and provided a soft light which permeated the entire establishment.
Verge and Mei were led to a table and were given two sets of menus. Verge requested a tea and Mei asked for some water.
Within moments, the drinks were there. The waiter said he would return shortly to take their orders when they were ready. A baroque tune hummed softly in the background.
Verge sipped some tea from a pure, white cup and placed it back onto the pure, white table. Mei sat across from him, still looking slightly peeved.
"What do you think?" he said, smiling. "It's the finest restaurant in Haven; probably the best in the Fishbowl."
"It's nice," she said softly.
"I thought you'd be happy to be out of the Tower of Consequence."
"Mr. Raines said he'd take me to a nice restaurant in Haven. Is this it?"
Verge looked out the window and watched a Chi float by.
"There are a lot of nice restaurants here," his voice trailed off.
"Why did he hate you?"
"Does," Verge corrected.
He took another sip of his tea.
"He hates me for the same reason most people do," Verge continued. "I killed someone who was very close to him."
He took a deep breath.
"I'll be right back," Verge said, rushing off to the bathroom.
"Well, there you are May," jeered a familiar voice. "Never thought I'd find you here of all places. I wasn't aware they let little shits like you in fine establishments like this."
Mei slowly turned around. It was Jordan.
"I'll scream," she said quickly.
Jordan reached out a hand and grabbed her by the throat. She scraped at his hand, trying to pry his fingers off her trachea.
"And just who is going to do anything about it? I practically own this fuckin' place! Maybe that tea drinking sissy who ran off as I was coming in is going to do something."
Mei tried to scream, but she couldn't manage anything more than a squeak. Jordan's beefy cronies began to chuckle to themselves.
One of the waiters started move towards the group for a moment when one of the large men flashed his piece and the waiter returned to the sidelines.
Jordan started squeezing her throat harder.
"Thought you could run away forever, didn't you? Funny how life has a way of evening out the score. You're going to give me what's mine!"
Mei choked out a few gags and nothing more as Jordan continued to throttle her.
The next thing Mei heard was a dry crunching sound and Jordan crying out in pain. She fell to the floor gasping for breath.
"What the hell is going on?" Verge spat.
"You fucker!" Jordan shouted, nursing his broken arm. "I'll fucking kill you!"
Verge smiled wide.
"Well," Verge goaded. "Have at me!"
"Ice him!" Jordan barked.
The beefy men didn't take out their guns. Two of them began to back away.
Jordan looked like he was thinking for a moment and then did a double-take.
"Glad you've caught up with weight of the situation. Care to tell me what the hell you think you're doing?"
"Your bitch has my money!"
"It's mine," she croaked from the floor, still gasping.
"Well, my...bitch says it's hers. And you don't look terribly honest, yourself."
"Fuck honest," Jordan shouted in Verge's face, "She wouldn't even have that money if it weren't for me."
Verge looked down at Mei.
"Is he your pimp or something?"
Mei gave Verge a look as she tried to brace herself on a nearby chair.
Verge looked back to Jordan.
"The way I see it"
Verge sputtered for a moment while the shadowswhat shadows there were in the restaurantbegan to flicker and hiss.
"Ugh," Verge groaned. "Do I really have to break your other arm too?"
"Y-You stay the fuck away from me!"
A cruel smile flashed across Verge's face.
"Say, how would you like to learn how to fly? I do lessons, you know. We can use that window right over there."
"What the fuck?"
"Come on," Verge chuckled with razor teeth. "Just because all of my other students plummeted to their deaths doesn't mean you will."
Verge grabbed Jordan's shoulder. Jordan shot Verge twice more in the chest and once in the head.
Verge didn't let go. The shadows shrieked and wind howled through the restaurant. Verge coughed up a few bullets.
"What's there to be afraid of? It's only twenty stories down."
Jordan dropped his gun and thrashed wildly trying to escape Verge's grip; his broken arm whipping about.
"Come on," Verge repeated, dragging Jordanwho, by this point, was screaming and flailing as wildly as he couldtowards the window. "You never know if you can do something until you try."
"Put me down, you fucker!"
Verge pushed the window open and a cool breeze gushed in.
"Well, have you ever tried to fly?"
"Put him down, Verge," Mei called from the table.
"What?" Verge asked, genuinely confused, "But he shot me four times!"
"Just let him go."
"Fine," Verge huffed.
He threw Jordan to the ground.
Jordan gathered himself up and began limping towards the door.
As he passed Mei, he said, "You got lucky this time, bitch, but your guard dog wont always be there to protect you."
He quickly scurried out to the parlor where his four friends were.
Verge sat back down at the table and hacked up another bullet. He examined the holes and blood-stains in his new outfit with disappointment.
"Verge," Mei began softly. Her neck was red.
"Look," he said, "We can talk about your whore money later. I still haven't ordered lunch."
Mei gave him a look and dried her eyes.
At Mei's request, the two did not go to Gerard Cross Memorial Space Port using Verge's crazy flyin' disc thingy. Instead they walked.
Verge, who was still breaking in his new shoes, sighed in protest, but caved in quickly. It wasn't worth the fight.
After a bit of a hike, they made it to the port. The immense archway declared the name of the space port to all of Haven.
Inside, Verge steered Mei past the large crowd of travelers towards a smaller gate in the corner. He said a few words to the man behind the counter and waved his right hand over a small box. It lit up with a faint green. The door opened and Verge and Mei were shown into a smaller corridor. Within moments they were on the ship.
Verge sat down and took a deep breath.
Mei took her seat as well. The chairs were large, white, and cushioned. The armrests were covered in buttons and controls.
After a few minutes, Verge began to stir.
"What's your deal?" Mei asked.
"Nothing," Verge said, "I just forgot how everyone likes to be late around here."
"I'm sure they don't like to be late. If they're like everyone else in existence," she said a bit sarcastically, "They just get behind schedule a bit."
"Well, I didn't pay them the outrageous price they charge for a first class ticket just to sit around while they decide if they're going to leave on time."
"Just get over yourself," Mei spat out, "The world doesn't revolve around you, ya know!"
Verge glanced sideways towards Mei.
"You're so close to your goal now," she continued, a bit softer, "Why can't you even be a bit relieved?"
"Has it occurred to you that maybe this is the way I am?"
Mei paused for a moment, but then her anger got the better of her.
"Are you even aware of the words that come out of your mouth?" she yelled.
Verge took in a breath to reply when a tiny white light in the ceiling appeared. A bell ringing accompanied the light along with the voice of a flight attendant.
Verge sat up and buckled himself in. He smiled.
The ship softly hummed to life and although it did not feel as if it were moving, the scenery whooshing past outside suggested otherwise.
Verge ordered a drink and smirked at Mei.
"What?" she scoffed.
Verge took a sip of his oddly colored drink.
"You're afraid," he said calmly.
"What are you talking about?"
"It's why you've been so touchy lately," he replied. "You're afraid that when we get to 01 I'm going to leave you all alone."
Mei's reaction was a combination of surprise and anger. She flushed with rage before she tried in vain to regain her composure.
"You're a real jackass; you know that?" she spat. "You think you're such a big-shot, but you're just some cruel bastard who thinks he's the most important thing in the world. No matter what happens, you still just act like a spoiled child!"
Verge's smile disappeared.
"And you're not as clever as you think you are!" Mei added.
Verge opened his mouth to reply when the ship jerked and creaked. The lights flickered for a moment before going dark. The vessel moaned as it buckled under its own weight.
Verge took a deep breath. What shadows there were flickered.
Verge and Mei alone crawled out of the wreckage. Or rather, Verge crawled out of the wreckage carrying Mei. He pushed his way through the slag and twisted metal and dropped down onto the roof of a nearby building. What was once a great ship of haven was a pile of metal and quickly burning bodies in the middle of a place Verge had never seen before.
What he saw in front of him, behind him, and indeed all around him was an endless city. The buildings were short and squat and were made of brick. But the brick could barely be seen through the layers of posters and billboards. Steel fire escapes pocked the alleys and roads ran in orderly fashion between the city blocks.
The streets themselves were paved, but even that was almost indiscernible from underneath the thick layer of garbage covering every inch of road and sidewalk.
Verge began making his was down one of the fire escapes.
He gazed into the deep blue sky. A single white moon filled a large portion of the sky. It shone down hollow, pale light onto the dead city. Verge looked back at what was once the ship.
Mei slowly stirred. Her eyes latched onto the wreckage.
"Did anyone else survive?" she asked softly.
"Not as far as I can tell," he said conversationally.
Mei became aware of her surroundings.
"Where are we?"
"No idea," he motioned with one hand, "But, there's a building over there that still has its lights on."
He paused for a moment before placing Mei on the ground again.
Several hours of silent trekking later, Verge and Mei made it to the footsteps of the large building. From up close, they could see that it was the only building that still had any signs of life.
Verge and Mei approached and entered the large steel doors. Verge pushed one aside effortlessly and made his way towards the inner chamber.
The inside was much like the rest of the city. It was inlaid with brick and steel. There were posters and signs hung along the inside. But this building had something else on its inside that interested Verge.
"Books," verge chuckled. "It's a library."
Mei followed behind him cautiously as he ventured further into the building. Dim, yellow light came from the many lights hung seemingly at random along the vast ceiling. The shelves were arranged in a grid that set a straight path for the central desk at the very center of the building.
Verge turned to Mei and smiled darkly.
"There's someone here," he said.
He picked up his pace with Mei tagging along behind him, the contents of her old coat jingling in rhythm to here gait.
Verge approached the central desk. It was a circular wooden island in the very center of the acorn shaped building. The desk was clean, a stark contrast from the rest of the city and even the library. Then Verge caught sight of the bell sitting on the desk.
There was a sign in front of it which clearly read Ring Bell for Service. Verge grinned.
"Don't even think about it!" Mei hissed as softly and as sharply as she could.
Verge brought his hand down on the bell's ringer.
Mei flinched as the bell's sharp ring echoed and resounded through the large hall. After a moment, a young woman poked her head over the edge of the desk. She looked at Verge and then at Mei.
"C-Can I help you?" she asked, very softly.
"I hope so," Verge said, calmly.
"We're not going to hurt you," Mei added quickly.
The woman stood up and brushed herself off. She pushed up her glasses and stepped around to one section of the desk. She lifted the bar and stepped outside of the desk.
"Who are you people? How did you get here?" she asked.
"I'm Verge and this is Mei," Verge started, "The ship we were riding crashed a few miles out. This was the only place with signs of life, so we came here."
"Your ship crashed?" the woman repeated, very surprised. "I knew it would be my turn soon enough."
Verge glanced at Mei and then back at the woman.
"How long have you been here, lady?" Verge asked.
"My name is Nora Abrams and I've been here Forever."
Nora pulled up three chairs and motioned for Verge and Mei to sit down. She carefully poured tea into three well-kept mugs.
Mei wrapped her hands in her coat to insulate herself. Verge just held the mug. After a moment, Verge started conversation up again.
"So what exactly is this place and how did you get here?"
"Maybe I should start at the beginning," Nora said softly.
Mei took a small sip.
"You know, I was once one of the greatest minds in existence. At the end of what they called the Great Age, the Twelve brought me here and made me one of their slaves."
"Slave?" Mei asked quietly.
"Yes," Nora continued. "I'm an abdal; bound to the god Seshet."
Verge gave her a puzzled look.
"It's a person who a god uses as a physical tie to reality. The gods watch out for their abdals and make sure as little harm comes to them as possible. Because of the Twelve, I've been stuck here for countless ages."
Nora began to cry softly. Mei put down her tea and moved to comfort the woman.
"I wish I could say I can't remember how long I've been here," she sobbed, "but the truth is I remember every say."
"Where are we exactly, Nora?" Verge asked.
"This is their old world," Nora said softly. "The one they ruined before they created The Fishbowl."
"Do they communicate with you at all?" Verge pressed.
Nora was silent.
"Perhaps a portal?" he began to look around furiously. "I doubt they severed their ties with this world completely, especially if they put you here."
"This isn't the time," Mei hissed.
"No," Verge said in a worried tone, "This is exactly the time."
His change in tone jerked Mei out of the drama that was unfolding and back into reality. She looked at Verge expectantly.
"He's here," Verge said.
Nora jumped out of her seat and let out a scream, flinging Mei to the floor. Verge glanced back at the young woman.
"He's been killing us all, one by one," she stuttered out, "There is only one more after me."
She broke down crying and fell to the floor.
Verge turned his attention to the growing blotch of darkness creeping up behind him. There was a reason why he hadn't been able to sense Faustave until just now: Eye.
"My, my Verge," his voice cackled from behind, "It seems you've done all my work for me."
Verge didn't turn around. He knew what Faustave had become.
"Faustave," Verge said coldly, "I knew you wanted revenge, but I had no idea you were willing to walk down the same path I once did."
"Walk down the same path as you?" Faustave roared back, his voice full of a dark laughter. "Your footprints ended a long time ago!"
Verge went to move but he was too slow. An instant later, he found himself in a pile of books with the words "Thanatos promised me he would tear you apart for all eternity" ringing in his head.
Verge's head was throbbing, but he forced himself out of the books. He walked towards the center of the library as his body made its hasty repairs.
He looked around but some of the lights had gone out. It was a lot darker. Almost too dark for him to see. At his feet, next to the circular desk, the body of Nora Abrams lay, a single clean cut across her throat.
Verge thrashed his head back and forth, searching for Mei and Faustave.
Where were they?
He caught something out of the corner of his eye.
At the far wall of the building a small door was slightly ajar. Blue light poured out of the crack and Verge focused himself on it. He ran towards it.
A door? They travel to this world using a door?
As he got closer to it, he realized the door was made of wood. It was stained black and had golden leaf embedded in the frame. A polished brass doorknob sat on the left side of the door. The light was getting dimmer.
Verge rushed and grabbed the door as it was about to close, jamming his fingers in the frame. He bit his lip and pulled the door open again, slowly.
Verge knew that behind that door was the realm of the Twelve Gods, few mortals had ever been there before. Even fewer returned. Verge also knew that behind that door Mei and Faustave were waiting.
There was no choice.
He took a deep breath and ran inside.
The transition was seamless. The floor ceased to clack under his shoes like cement and simply released a muffled clop with every step. Verge covered his eyes and tried to adjust.
It seemed as if the world was comprised of light and the color blue. He tried to continue forward, discerning between various shades of bright blue and brighter blue. His eyes began to adjust to the radiance and he came to a massive, open chamber.
The cavernous chamber was conical; with small paths snaking their way around. There were calm pools and white pillars seemingly placed at random. At the center was a light so bright, Verge could not look at it directly. He heard shuffling and voices begin to gather around him.
It was them.
"Virgil!" one shouted, "You must stop him! He'll destroy everything!"
"You must," pleaded another. "He's killed the abdals. There's nothing stopping him from killing the demon anymore. You have to hurry to the center."
Verge trudged onward, picking up his pace as he began to move downhill.
"Virgil!" another shouted from almost out of earshot, "Your reward shall be greater than anything you can imagine."
Verge wasn't listening. He ran down the slope as fast as he could toward the impossibly bright blue light. He knew that's where he would find Mei and Faustave.
Verge charged down the hill until finally he made it to the bottom. He landed with a soft thud as hit jumped the last few feet onto the flat platform at the very center.
His eyes had adjusted to the light. He could finally see it: Source. Above the Chi are the Fates, beings whose presence and will governs reality. Before him was Source; the captive Fate, the Blue Light.
Surrounding it was an intricate lattice of pearl-colored shackles. Far in the distance, right in front of Source, Verge could see two beings fighting. One was Faustave. The other was something else.
He began to run towards the three when something caught his eye. It was a tiny brown lump on the ground. It contrasted completely from everything else so much, Verge was unsure why he hadn't seen it earlier.
It was Tom's jacket. And underneath that−Verge didn't have to look to know. The blood on the ground was enough.
He focused himself back on the three; two now. Whatever stood in Faustave's way appeared to be dead as well.
As he approached, Faustave turned around slowly and showed a twisted smile full of razor-like teeth.
"You've finally showed up," he said calmly, his voice like rust.
Verge was speechless. Before him was Source, the center of everything. Beside him was something that Faustave killed. Behind him was Mei. Faustave stood in the middle of it all. His form was twisted. Thanatos had chosen a new incarnation.
"I can feel what you're thinking Verge," he said. "Eye is no more. Thanatos has chosen me. I was more convenient. He had it all planned out perfectly. He told me where all the abdals were. All I had to do was kill them!"
"Even knowing that, you accepted?" Verge said.
"Don't be so naive," Faustave hissed. "We both want the same thing. Once I free Source, everything will be molded the way I want it."
"That's the same greed that bound the twelve to this small world. Do you really think she'll come back if you do this?"
Faustave shook his head and laughed quietly to himself.
"Verge," he said, "Even after being a Nanite, you still don't understand the way things work."
"No," Verge said. "I understand plenty. Arienne would die if she saw you like this. You've become me."
Faustave stood silently for a moment, then began to scream. His voice was full of anger, rage, and regret.
"You!" he shouted, his voice crackling with the sound of hatred. "I hate you!"
Verge sighed softly.
"I know," he said quietly. It was more an admission to himself than anything else. But as Faustave charged towards Verge, strength welled up inside of him. He knew what he had to do.
The clash seemed to last for hours. Verge and Faustave flew about each other, crashing and exchanging blows. Attack after relentless attack, Faustave stuck Verge down. Verge returned his strikes in equal strength and soon, the two faced each other, barely able to stand.
Faustave coughed and began to buckle before he rushed Verge again. This was it.
Verge could barely stand. He felt like he had no strength left. Somehow he had survived this long. No, he had matched Faustave.
The world started to spin and he felt himself losing consciousness. His limbs started going numb and the world lost its shine. Things were going black. Faustave was closing in.
Verge took up his strength. There was barely any left. He focused it into his arm. Faustave was in front of him. He was blind. He struck with everything.
For a moment there was nothing.
He felt it connect. He felt the sickening crunch of his opponent's body collapse. He felt his arm shatter. He felt his body hit the ground. He lay there, barely conscious; barely alive.
Verge gathered his strength and opened his eyes. He could see Source standing in front of him; still bound by the lattice of her prison.
He slowly tried getting to his feet. After a few attempts, he managed to get on to his knees. His left arm was shot. It hadn't healed and he was bleeding badly.
"Get up," Source commanded.
It was a cool night on a tiny planet out on the frontier. Far away form all the bustle and business of the Center, the people of this tiny place spend their time gossiping at the local pub.
Except they don't call it that. Men don't gossip.
"And he up an' split after that," one man continued. "Jus' up an' left: Ne'er to be seen again."
"An' jus' where is he now then?" another piped up.
A third man chimed in.
"He's back at your house," he said, "Showin" your sister a good time!"
The group burst out in laughter while the second man angrily took a long drink from his mug.
A young, black-haired man got up from his seat in the corner and dropped a few coins on the bar as he headed out.
One of the men reached out a hand towards him in an attempt to draw the joke out even further.
"Ey kid," he called out, "Where da you think he is?"
"Probably kickin' around somewhere," he said and walked out the door.
The laughter faded behind him as he walked further into the cold night. He finished buttoning up Tom's old jacket and took a deep breath. Of course it fit him perfectly. Of course.
Virgil walked further into the frozen night. A pale moon hung in front of him. He smiled and quietly chuckled to himself.