Fantastic Tales – Ch 21: In the Belly of the Beast!

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as narrated by Ligaya “Seadancer” Lualhati

    Our Legacy isn’t just what we leave behind when we’re gone. It’s what we carry with us throughout our lives. It’s inspired by those who came before us and driven by the dreams of those who will follow after.

    For a third generation “hero” it can a lot to bear too.

    “Boss! Something’s coming through the portal. Something…yaaah!” I screamed. It was my first mission solo (though still under the command of my mentor) and it was not going well.

    It had sounded so simple in the briefing: Get to a portal in the Atlantic that was resting about a mile and a half below sea level. Trigger an amulet. Smash the portal. Go home a winner. Somehow the briefing had missed the steps of “lose invisibility spell”, “fight a pack of giant, super-powered squid” and “watch a monster the size of a small mountain emerge from the portal you were supposed to close.”

    I tried to get away from the creature that tore out of the portal but it moved so fast the water cavitated around it. I should have been too small a morsel for it to notice but, with the beatings I’d been giving to the portal’s defenders, I’m pretty sure the guy who summoned the monster knew that I was a threat.

    I didn’t even have time to scream before the creature’s giant maw clamped down on me. Rows of razor sharp teeth slammed around me like a prison. If I wasn’t my mother’s daughter and the inheritor of her strength and power I would have been shredded into a mess of bloody parts. As it was I wound up wedged between a half dozen of the thing’s mouth razors (there were way too many of them for me to think of them as teeth). It was uncomfortable and sort of embarrassing, and I wasn’t strong enough to force my want free, but fortunately it wasn’t strong enough to smash me to paste either.

    I tried to shock my way out of the creature’s maw but even my most powerful jolts didn’t seem to register on it.

    “Boss, I’m stuck here!” I tried calling out on our telepathic link.

    I got no response. Worse than that, I couldn’t tell where she was either. In swallowing me, the beast from the deep had severed our magical connection!

    “This is not good.” I said as I looked at the shielding talisman in my hand. It was active but I could see it was fading fast. Against the portal, it was supposed to have been good for ten minutes of shielding. With the speed it’s glow was diminishing inside the beast though I didn’t figure I had more than a couple of minutes before it gave out completely. Since I didn’t think I’d be closing the portal any time soon, I shut the talisman down to conserve what power it had left. You never knew when something like that might help.

    “Seadancer to Investigators.” I called, trying my normal communications device. There was no joy to be had there either. Whatever the beast was, it’s hide seemed to block all sorts of signals from getting out.

    “If I can’t get out then I’ll have to go in I guess.” I said. Talking to yourself was supposedly a sign of being crazy. To my mind, putting on a costume of bright blues and asking the world to take its best shot at me was proof enough that I was crazy. Especially since that led directly to me being eaten by a giant monster.

    I surveyed my surroundings looking for a way out of the mess I was in. The first thing I noticed was that the razor teeth I was trapped by met at imperfect angles leaving little bits of space between them. The gaps were too tiny for me to squeeze out of in my normal body but as the daughter of the previous Seadancer, I knew a lot of spells for something my age.

    “{Body of the Flowing River.}” I said in Atlantean. My primary powers were the ones I’d inherited from my mother but the Investigators believed heavily in cross training. My inherited powers were mystical in nature, a gift passed from mother to daughter. That meant I had a larger than normal store of magic energy to draw upon. Learning to cast spells with it had been one of the reasons I’d been sidekicked to Waterskimmer.

    I felt a cold freezing sensation in my chest when I cast the spell and for a moment it felt like the invocation would fail. I poured myself into it though and my body transformed to water as it was supposed to.

    The gaps that had been too small for my human body to escape through became trivially easy to flow through as a gush of water. The frost that had gripped me was worrisome though. Despite the fact that I didn’t have a human body I felt light headed in the wake of the transformation. When I gauged my level of available magical energy I saw why.

    When I cast a spell, most of the energy for it is drawn from the world around me. Inside the beast’s maw though I couldn’t feel any energy whatsoever. It felt like I was cut off from my world entirely. If that was true then I’d used my own personal energy to cast the transformation spell. On the one hand that was excellent! I’d been working at developing my reserves since I met Waterskimmer. On the other hand my sense of how much spare magic I had left in me said “probably very little”.

    As water, I drifted down into the beast’s gullet and was absorbed before I could reach the reactor that passed for it’s stomach. That was fortunate since even as water, I wouldn’t have survived the annihilation chamber that powered the creature. There was a price to my continued survival though. In merging with the creature I felt our minds drawing close together as well.

    I knew spells that would protect me from unwanted mental intrusions but I didn’t dare use them with as little magic as I had left. Without that protection I was swept away into visions of the past and the sense of the present. I couldn’t use my magic, or my powers but I still had my mind, I could still fight to force the information I was seeing into a single stream rather than drowning in it all at once.

    I started with the oldest memory. It is older than the War Beast I ride within. It is a memory linked through the blood and minds of countless War Beasts down through the aeons. It is a memory of their beginning.

    I stand on a broad plain, under a blood red sky. The winds that tear across the plain bring death and desolation. Ash and sulfur choke the lands and the sky is alight with strange and ominous colors. Most things that are touched by the winds, or sunk into the ash die but I survive. The strange lights inflict changes on all whom the winds and ash fail to slay. Others of my race perish but I  am granted strength. The winds can no longer harm me, the ash can no longer choke me and the colors in the sky are no longer strange.

    In time I find my new siblings. It is not hard. We are bound together by the song of the Makers. Our masters are creatures of empty form and wordless voices. We are their engines, their tools. It is for them that we march forth, for them that we trample the high walls that shield their enemies from the winds and the ash.

    With each battle we grow stronger, saiting ourselves on the spoils of victory. Though we share no common form, there are patterns that repeat in us. Legs massive enough to support our towering girth, arms tipped with the weapons given us by our makers. Faces and mouths to roar our defiance at the world and sing the praise of our Makers ceremony of destruction.

    As we grow in size and number our enemies strike back harder against us. Some of fall and our Makers layer armors onto those who remain. The weight of our armor is unbearable but we push on. Those who cannot bear the weight are scavenged to give strength to those who remain and we grow larger and stronger still.

    Across the lands and beneath the seas our Masters send us. In their name we conquer. In time the whole of the world is left as no more than the ruined plain where I first stood. Victory has been achieved, but it is not enough. The world of battle knows peace and so our Masters begin to dwindle.

    They command us to turn on one another and so we do. Our battles rock the world. Hills and trampled. Mountains are shattered. It is not enough. Still our Master’s dwindle.

    Our battles cease. We wait, unquestioning, unthinking, for our Master’s have left us as empty vessels they no longer require.

    The colors in the sky bend and twist. We hear the echo of our master’s voices. This world has become a prison for them. They clash against the bars of their prison but they are bound too tightly to escape.

    They are incapable of knowing despair, incapable of accepting that they are trapped and so they sleep. On the borderlands of death they wait for the day when the bars of their cage will be broken. Before the last one passes into their black and endless sleep they order us to renew ourselves. Even if  the great wheel of the cosmos turns ten thousand time, even if the stars burn out and all life grow cold, they command that we be waiting for them when they arise. We listen and obey.

    Generations of War Beast are born. Generations die. We do not question the orders of our Makers. Their voices are silent but in the minds of each new generation are the memories of the generations that came before them. Even down through a million years the words spoken by the Makers still resonate in the dreams of the War Beasts.

    The silent world turns in an empty sky and new creatures arise on its surface. Some disturb the sleep of the Makers and we destroy them. Some grow mighty and seek to challenge us, but there is no power that can stand against ours. Our Makers have crafted us too well. Again and again the new creatures try though.

    In time we hear something new within our minds. In the dream which all War Beasts share there begin to appear voices, the voices of the creatures who have risen on the world. They are not the Makers and so they cannot compel us. Most we destroy but some escape us. Whatever their fate though, the new voices do accomplish one thing. We listen to them.

    Discontent grows in the shared thoughts of the War Beasts. We are not silent  anymore. The old memories remain though and pitted against a million years of silence the brief chatter of the new voices amounts to little. Perhaps we need to change but we cannot. We were not designed to change.

    Then comes the break in the cage. Outsiders arrive. Our Makers stir but the cracks in the cage are too small for them. The Outsiders are not looking for our Makers. They are looking for us.

    We hear their voices in our shared dream. They seek to compel us and they fail. When they leave, we know they will return. We know what is in their minds. They will bring us the gift of thought. They will set us free from the silence of Masters. They will bring us to a new world and we shall be as once we were. Engines of destruction to reshape a new world.

    We rejoice at the ending of the long silence, but in our dreams there is a darkness that takes shape. What we were, we can be again but for the first time, free of our Makers, we question that.

    I am closer to myself, I can almost remember that I am Ligaya, daughter of the Laulhait family. A human, a bearer of a lineage no less ancient than the War Beasts. Before I can separate my thoughts from the War Beasts though I am deluged by its senses.

    We are moving through the water. We have covered a vast distance. Before us lies a coastline. We have reached the shore.

    I tear my sense of self apart from the War Beast. I can see it from an outsiders view point.

    It’s a behemoth. At least two hundred feet tall with four legs and four arms. It’s hide has enchantments that resemble technology and technology that resembles magic. It is a walking arsenal of destruction with powers and abilities I barely have time to fathom.

    Looking out through its eyes though is the most terrifying part. Through them I see the city of Brassport. I see darkness and flame. I see the beginning of the end of the world.

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