((8 - From the Wreckage))
The fog was thick and heavy, hanging over the air like a blanket. Out of nowhere, the great face of the crystal roared silently, gleaming gray-silver. The mottled patterns of it indicated regrowths and damages over its history--clearly whatever was imprisoned in it hadn't been held down easily. The lower edge of the roughly cuboid crystal loomed, the bottom surface not quite visible due to the angle. The vertical faced sheered off above into the ever-present infinity of the Void Nebula.
Kasby Bellwood's leather gloves gripped the steering controls of the Archimedes carefully and delicately. ((Roy Norvell)) He had all the confidence of a thousand flights behind him, but you never last long in the Void without a bit of caution. He eased the hovercraft in nice and slow, flipped a switch now and again. His eyes, shielded by a pair of goggles, occasionally flicked to his radar. It was a primitive system, given the materials they had available, but it was the best he could do. He looked for something--anything--that might have caused an energy fluctuation like that like that on a crystal that hadn't shown much signs of weakening for all of Kasby's life.
The systems blinked, indicating the pulses were coming from nearly directly overhead. With a gentle motion, Kasby brought the aircraft upwards. The boosters glowed intensely with the effort of lifting the vehicle, but in the fog they could hardly be seen. Kasby's left hand came to rest on one of the two holsters hanging by his belt, onto a familiar wooden handle--his dart pistol, the oaken gears ticking away.
After a few minutes, something began to come into view up the face--something silver-gray and rounded, protruding from the crystal. Hard to make out from this distance exactly what it was.
Keeping in time with his cautious advance, Kasby eased the Archimedes forward. A year ago, he would have felt a bit of unease- nobody else with him, and some odd formation he hadn't seen before... In the here and now, though, the deadly calm of danger, learned through dozens of battles, had taken him over.
Slowly, details began to emerge through the fog. Rounded shapes, structures, layered upwards. Arches. Designs. The dark-lensed goggles hid Kasby's wide eyes from the rest of this sleeping world. He moved a hand down and turned a knob, and with a flash and a pop the front lights of the craft came on.
It was... big. Whatever it was. A few miles across, at least, and seemingly bolted into the face of the crystal. Closer down, some scaffolding extended downwards from the bottom of it, towards where some holes had been blasted into the crystal. As he got closer, sounds started to waft down towards him. Clanking, humming, a general noise.
Kasby's heart started to pound in his chest as he guided the hovercraft closer towards the sounds. Whatever it was, he was starting to get caught up, like being tugged along by the wind, or by his own excitement. Battle after battle, blood spilled over and over... that, he was numbed to. That was expected. But this... Demons didn't build. Or carve. They just... burn, and kill, and destroy. So what did this? ...Who did this?
An instrument pinged. Loudly. The energy pulses were spiking faster, and more violently. They were no longer overhead, instead coming from the direction of the crystal. Kasby jumped in his seat, his heart skyrocketing. He fumbled for a minute before tightening his hand on the controls, the other groping down at his holster. He twisted a knob, trying to check his equipment to find out what the bloody hell was going on. Energy spikes, becoming more and more frequent, from within the crystal.
The sounds above suddenly began to change drastically. A new sound filtered in. A familiar sound. Human screams.
Christ, thought Kasby. Oh Christ. Familiar sounds indeed... the one year since sure hadn't put many buffers on that memory. The sound truly kicked him into gear, though, shoved the intense curiosity to the very back of his mind- at least for now. Time for action and heroics.
--something coming down--
--no, three somethings--
--three human-shaped somethings--
He gunned the engine of his craft and blasted his way through the fog, tapping the keys of the controls madly. Lock on, lock on, lock on, please....
--make that four, five, six, twelve--!
The screen of the Archimedes still wavered uncertainly as Kasby hammered in commands. "Lock on, dammit!" he shouted in frustration. The craft still zoomed forward, the engine roaring and the boosters tearing through the fog as he zipped towards the falling people. As Kasby looked down at his controls, the problem became suddenly apparent. They weren't registering as living objects. No heat signatures.
The first of them came close enough to see. A great spike of solid crystal was speared through his torso, bloody out one side. Kasby felt his heart drop into his stomach. Oh, no, no... He swerved around, unable to look as the lifeless bodies fell further into the abyss.
From above, a sudden horrific rending noise began, the sound of metal being pulled apart by some great force. And from ahead, from within the crystal, a bloody red light began to shine, cutting through the fog.
Kasby's heart was still pounding in his chest, his stomach still churning because of the corpse, but he kept his hands steady on the controls and continued to pound orders into the console. Find. Me. Life.
The instruments pinged meekly. Lifesigns, coming from the structure, still above--numbers dwindling VERY fast. Blinking out in rapid succession.
A series of red lights began to pulse within the crystal, spreading outwards and getting brighter.
Kasby swooped in, the Archimedes screaming through the air, his eyes flickering between the screen and back. He was climbing towards the life forms, only giving the red lights a second thought.
As he came level with it, the structure came into view. Arches and buildings and roads and clearings--a city. A real city. Stuck on to the crystal face--no, stuck into the crystal face. Wrought metal and carved crystal formed its myriad paths and homes, spiraling intricately into itself.
But now... crystal spikes were so dense spiking through the whole structure that they seemed to crosshatch it white. Blood was everywhere. The spikes Kasby recognized as the crystal's last line of defense... but they were meant for escaping demons, not for... people. As Kasby watched, the last lifesign blinked out.
"NO!" He screamed it out of the cockpit and through the city, an anguished cry. So close, so close, so fucking goddamn close, oh god... Kasby stalled his ship in the air, the boosters slowed and cooling as he hung there, gripping the controls. His fingernails dug into the wooden controls so hard he felt blood well up under each nail.
The instruments started blinking again. Something was coming out of the crystal. They weren't huge--not much more than a meter across, and maybe a dozen meters long. Grayish, ugly, like big angry larvae, or maggots. They glowed with that same bloody red light. The beasts unfurled great leathery wings, each wing easily ten feet across, and began to slowly flap to the sky. Behind them, a great cracking noise filled the sky.
Kasby clenched the controls and gunned the engine, his teeth gritted in anger as he tore through the air, the Archimedes swooping in on the demons like some giant bird of prey. He reached to his right, left hand still on the controls, and grasped hold of what he had been looking for: a crank. With a stony resolution, Kasby whirled the crank over and over in his right hand, and from somewhere on front of the ship came a repeating hollow sound. Crystal shard after crystal shard thunked out of the weapon mounted on front of the Archimedes at a rapid pace, cutting at the demons like a scythe through weeds. Seal up the just-free demons, jet out of the crystal before you incur too much harm, and wait until it shatters. Then you begin the slow, painful process of hunting down each and every escapee... the steps began to sound off in Kasby's mind numbly as he prepared to fire the weapon. Too much to do to feel anything else. He turned the crank...
The crystal shards streaked towards their targets, flying deadly and true-- The red light surrounding the demons sharpened, intensified, solidified. The shards shattered harmlessly against the light as the beasts continued to stream out of their fresh-bored holes in the crystal. The shards didn't work, leaving Kasby gaping in surprise...
The cracking increased. A great split began to work its way open, centered on the city of steel and glass.
-- the instruments pinged again, a different one. The previous alert he had set up. Human lifesigns. Six of them, in one of the tunnels just vacated by a demon. The scientist did a double take into the monitor, halfway between a yelp of shock and a scream of joy. The demons continued to soar through the sky out into the nebula, leathery wings beating, but it didn't take a heartbeat for Kasby to choose his direction. He pulled opened the throttle and made a beeline for the tunnel. Signs of life...
He could just make them out visibly. One of them dove out of the end of the tunnel, followed shortly by two more. The other three stayed in the tunnel--
Until the entire crystal shattered in an instant, sending everything hailing into madness.