Chapter 25: Revelations

Telepathy is neither a one-way street or a walkway. One side needs to have the magical talent to communicate, and the other must be willing. — Exploring the Depths of the Mind

Kanéko stared at a massive gear looming above her. It was metal, but she had never seen anything so large made out of steel. She knew it would take a powerful mage to shape it, but part of her wished someone without magic could mold metal at that scale. The thought saddened her but then her thoughts drifted to the purpose of the gear.

As she concentrated, she saw other gears and pistons attached to the large one. It was a device of some sort, complicated and massive. A smile graced her lips as she started to work her way through the linkages and ratios in an effort to find the power or the purpose.

When she gave up, she had lost track of time while failing to find the purpose. It was a wall of mechanical devices that had no purpose or reason. For all appearances, a shifting mechanism for the sake of being there.

She was dreaming, she could think of no other explanation.

Kanéko relaxed almost immediately and let herself enjoy the pointless designs. It was peaceful tracing through the designs, seeing how her efforts with the water screw and what she learned about the mill had integrated into her dreams.

With a smile, she reached out and pressed her hand to a massive piston larger than a house. Impractical but beautiful, she imagined it having beautiful scrollwork and designs along the ends.

The piston blurred. Metal rose up underneath her palm as elegant designs spread out like a plant, caressing the metal sleeve. The more she focused on it, the details grew sharper just as she pictured.

Kanéko pulled back and admired her work with an approving nod. She could finally interact with the designs in her head. Sweeping her hand back, she summoned gears and pistons. It only took a moment to rebuild the water screw and boiler from scratch, then pull it apart to reassemble it. She could see where one of the joints was weak and where it probably ruptured and destroyed the stable.

She sighed and let the screw crumble. Turning around, she looked at what her mind had created. The rest of her dream was a field of boilers, smokestacks, and every combination of machine she could imagine. It stretched as far as she could see and disappeared in a haze of oily smoke and steam.

A page fluttered across her vision. She reached out and snatched it before it blew away. It was part of the water screw’s design, just as she pictured it in her head. A bit of color had bled through the page and she flipped it over. When she saw a little girl’s scrawl of herself doing magic, she dropped the page in surprise. It fluttered away, dancing between two mechanized grape presses.

The surface below her consisted of writings and pictures she had created as a child, the dreams she had at her father’s feet, the lessons she learned during her obsession with magic. Her world of mechanical perfection was built on her childhood fantasies.

Her surroundings clicked from countless gears meshing, ticked from clockwork devices counting down seconds, and even the faint thud of pistons driving home. The world around her pulsed and beat in time to some ethereal metronome.

Joy filled her as she walked along a trail of magic books and oil pans.

She spotted a hill in the distance and headed toward it. Her bare feet slapped on the paper ground as she ducked underneath a boiler larger than her father’s tower. She stopped abruptly when she came to the edge of a chasm, a cliff plunging straight into the darkness of oblivion. The cliff wall beneath her bare feet was made from fantastical devices that shook the ground.

As she admired the world around her, a new smell intruded on her thoughts. It wasn’t the sharpness of burning oil or the scent of paper. Instead, it was sour and tangy, fishy. She frowned as she tried to remember the familiar smell. She licked her lips and took a deeper breath. It took her a moment, but then she recalled the oil on her hand during the cliff collapse.

Kanéko realized she was wiping her hip. She lifted her hand and stared at the blackness that coated her palm. Thick rivulets ran down her wrist. Where the liquid touched, her skin tingled. She brought her hand closer and sniffed, the fishy smell was coming from the oil.

Frowning, she looked up while still trying to scrape it free on her trousers.

A pair of glowing red eyes stared at her.

She gasped and jerked back.

The eyes were on the far side of the ravine, hovering beyond the cloud of oil smoke and dust rising between them. Unhidden by the rock, they loomed over her in a palpable aura of menace. Each eye was massive, larger than a horse. It had no pupils. It was just a glowing red orb that somehow gave the impression that it was staring straight at her.

Kanéko took a step back.

«We are Damagar.» The words slammed into her mind, twisting her own thoughts to form the concepts instead of dredging up memories like Ruben had done. She felt helpless and vulnerable, as if the creature was growing deep inside her.

It took a step forward, reaching out with one massive paw. Large claws curved out of three distinct toes, and she spotted webbing between each one. She couldn’t focus on the rest of the creature’s shape through the haze of the ravine, but the foot was clear. When it smacked down on the ravine, it crushed the countless devices into a spray of oil and debris.

«We know you, Kosobyo Kanéko, Kanéko Lurkuklan.» The words pummeled her as the creature stepped further into the ravine. «We are in your head.»

Her concern twisted in fear. She stepped back again, stumbling over a pile of childhood drawings. She flailed out and grabbed the nearest pipe. The metal sizzled underneath her hand only a moment before sharp agony raced up her limb. It was searing hot. Knowing that she would fall if she let go, she forced her fingers to remain wrapped around the burning metal enough to regain her feet.

The ground shook beneath her. She looked up with surprise as ripples raced through the countless devices around her. Axles and pistons snapped as the ground buckled in expanding waves. Spurts of oil and smoke followed.

Kanéko got back to her feet and peeled her hand away from the pipe. Strips of flesh were left behind to sizzle and cook away, filling the air with the smell of burning flesh that quickly mixed in with the oil. Blinking past the tears, she clutched her hand to her chest.

She had burned herself repeatedly while working on the water screw. It wouldn’t take long for the initial agonies to fade. Tensing, she counted up as she waited for her body to remember.

As the sharpness of her pain faded, so did the quakes. Panting, she waited for the throbbing to subside.

When she looked up, she saw the glowing red eyes were still staring at her. Damagar had continued to approach but it moved slowly. Its bulbous body was just coming down into the ravine, crushing acres of the pointless mechanisms. Oily smoke swirled around it, revealing a heavily textured surface over an obsidian body. «We communicate, nothing more.»

Kanéko stared in shock, her pain forgotten. Damagar’s shape teased her memory, it was familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it. She frowned and peered at it closer, wishing the oily smoke would clear to give her a better view.

Responding to her thoughts, a wind blew across the ravine. It tugged at the haze of smoke and dust, drawing it into streamers that rolled through the pipes and around Damagar’s body. She could see thick ridges and wart-like knots on its dark skin. The large bumps disturbed the streamers of smoke that raced around its body.

With a final surge, the haze was clear, and she could focus clearly on Damagar.

It was a toad. A massive obsidian toad with glowing red eyes and a cracked surface. From the size of the ravine and its feet, she thought it was about eighty or ninety feet across and about a hundred long excluding its feet. Each paw was easily a rod across. The maw of the creature slowly opened and a tongue ran along the ridge before it snapped its jaw closed again.

She shuddered at the sight. The tongue was thicker than her torso.

Damagar took another step toward her, crushing countless gears into scraps of metal and spurts of oil.

Fear rose inside her. She didn’t want the creature to get any closer.

The far side of the cliff pulled away from her, stretching the bottom of the ravine along with it.

The disruption pulled Damagar away from her, but that didn’t stop it from taking slow, measured steps that crushed new machinery. Its eyes never left hers and she could feel the pressure of its thoughts approaching her, terrifying and overwhelming.

Kanéko tensed with anticipation.

Despite the growing presence, it didn’t speak again. No powerful thoughts slammed into her consciousness, no memories were forcibly dredged up from her subconscious.

Her fear ebbed. She watched it continue to pace toward her, the cliff still drawing away out of sight but the creature continued to stalk her wordlessly. She clenched her hands into fists. Agony blossomed on her injured palm, but she pushed it aside.

Time continued to inch forward. Around them, the broken gears squealed against each other, and a rapid clicking noise rose up. The smell of machine and fish oil filled the air, both burned in the back of Kanéko’s throat.

Finally, she couldn’t wait any longer. “Well? What do you want?”

Damagar blinked one eye and then the other. It took another step.

“If you don’t want anything, get out of my dreams! Out of my head!”

It finally responded. A pressure built up inside her head and she heard a whisper of a dozen different voices crashing into her mind. Concepts and thoughts were burned into her mind, drowning out the squeaks, hisses, and scrapes of metal that surrounded her. «… must kill the Broken Thought … before it kill us.»

She closed her mouth with a snap. When Damagar didn’t follow up, she said, “W-What? What are you talking about?”

«Kill the Void Child, the Broken Thought.» It seemed as if Damagar had tried to frame a description but failed. She knew what it was talking about though, there was only one other person with her. Like before, it was as if it couldn’t picture or even name Ruben directly.

Kanéko remembered how Ruben plucked the memories out of her mind. She knew that Damagar could do the same, to find the perfect words, but the idea of the creature inside her head left Kanéko feeling cold. She turned her head away from Damagar, looking down at the ground to avoid looking into its eyes.

A small black frog was at her feet. It looked up with tiny crimson eyes. «We’re already here, Kanéko Lurkuklan, Kosòbyo Kanéko. You cannot escape.»

She caught movement in the corner of her eye. Looking over, she saw another small frog.

«We only communicate.»

When Damagar used a plural to describe itself, she didn’t get an image of the giant toad. Instead, it was a group of figures projecting in unison, a choir of distinct personalities that combined together spoke as Damagar. None of them were human nor were they even natural creatures she had read about. Instead, they looked like the monsters and nightmares twisted out of animals. There were bipedal cats, bird-like creatures with wings for arms but human-like faces, and even one beast that looked like a bear without hair.

Curious and with her anger dissipating, she concentrated on the swirl of individuals that popped in her head. With her focus, words and descriptions welled up into her consciousness: the leaders were Strategy, Preparation, and Observation. There were others, dozens with more specific titles related to the body like Right Leg, Heart, and Breath. The names were surprising. They were all names for abstract concepts or functions, not arbitrary labels.

It only took her a moment to realize their names and functions were the same. Damagar needed all of them to even move. The creature was too big and powerful for a single mind to control its form. It needed all of them.

As his connection to her grew deeper, she felt hundreds of other personalities still sleeping in its mind. Only a few were awake. They spoke to her, but she could imagine if there were a hundred personalities all speaking once in her mind.

Cold fear rippled through her dreams, and the ravine spread further apart. She shook her head and held up her hands. The storm of thoughts was already too much, she couldn’t take more. “Out! Out of me!”

«We will leave, but we need you to extinguish—» She felt Damagar reaching into her mind. His thoughts were jumbled and powerful, surging around in her thoughts as he forced her memories to rise up to the fore. «We cannot see it. We cannot name it beyond a label, the Void Child, the Broken Thought.»

As Damagar responded, Kanéko concentrated on the powerful thoughts. She could almost pick out the individual thoughts that pummeled her. Each one had different motivations and desire. Damagar’s Right Leg only wanted to move, its Strategy was trying to keep her mind away by shifting her attention to Damagar’s Heart. She lost herself in feeling the beat of a powerful heart even as she realized she had been misdirected.

With all her effort, she forced her attention back on Damagar’s Strategy. “Why me?”

Damagar responded by driving its thoughts into her mind, burning away everything but intense memories that consumed every thought inside her head.

She tried to regain her sense of self, but it was impossible. Her thoughts were being torn apart faster than her mind could pull them back together.

There was no time to scream as the creature’s thoughts took over her own and she saw the world from it’s point of view.

Damagar felt the presence of two creatures walking along the top of the cliff. They were female and humanoid, sentient. Both of them leaked emotions and thoughts without any concern for their exposure. It remembered that non-psychics rarely knew how to shield their thoughts.

One of the so-called females was brimming with potential magic about to manifest. She was a dalpre though the spells that had grafted animal and human together had long since faded. That brought a moment of confusion, the dalpre were only recently created when it went to sleep, but the female before it was clearly the results from many generations after that. Part of its mind wondered how long it had been since it hid underneath the ground, and the train of thought slipped away from Kanéko.

Damagar focused on the other female. There wasn’t even a glimmer of magic inside her. It focused harder, working through a series of tests that searched for a hundred different types of magic in only a second. It found none.

Kanéko felt saddened by the verification that she would never use magic.

Damagar’s thoughts drew her back into its consciousness as it investigated her mind, picking out clear and distinct thoughts. While Maris’s mind was a jumbled mess of reactions, Kanéko’s was structured and ordered but with the flexibility of curiosity.

For some reason, Kanéko felt pride as Damagar identified her as having the ability to receive telepathic communication and the wits to actually communicate.

As Damagar planned which memories to burn into her mind and force communication, Kanéko tried to look for the memories of Ruben. She wanted to compare herself to his thoughts.

Damagar’s thoughts moved with her attention as she focused on where Ruben stood during the same moment.

There was nothing. The memories refused to focus on Ruben’s exact location. She tried again and again but the creature’s mind refused. After a few moments, she relented and drifted back into the memories being projected into her.

Seeing the world from multiple perspectives was strange. Each of Damagar’s personalities picked out different things. Its Right Back Leg only cared about the rock trapping its limb, but Observation sensed the beat of their hearts and the rate of their movement. There were precise details down to less than an inch for everything around the creature, she could see the rate of her movement and the size of her bones. The details compared to Ruben’s perception of the world but with far more precision.

Underneath the cliff, the rock had crumbled as black liquid seeped through the cracks. Damagar’s blood. She tried to focus on the blood in the rock, but Strategy shoved her thoughts away. It focused back on the magical girl walking over the fragile rocks, her weight causing a cascading failure.

Kanéko saw Maris’s emotions spike as she realized the cliff was crumbling. Emotions burned bright before the rock crumbled. Moments later, Kanéko’s own emotions exploded as she raced over.

She felt sick seeing Maris plummet, but Observation watched impassively as the dalpre plummeted to the ground. Right before she struck the ground, she reflexively manifested magic. Damagar saw far more details as it analyzed the elemental powers but Kanéko couldn’t understand in the sheer amount data. She had to pull back, to focus on the physical as Maris landed limply on the ground. Damagar’s Observation withdrew slightly, and the information overload faded.

When the boulder underneath Kanéko broke off, she expected Ruben’s scream. She waited to hear his voice, the surprisingly deep sound, but it didn’t come. Instead, there was a terrible explosion, a deep booming that ripped apart the very nature of reality.

A brilliant blue fissure appeared on top of the cliff. It wasn’t human or even vomen. It glowed with the same color as Ruben’s eyes, a wavering force that began to draw everything into its depth.

The psychic suction from the fissure yanked at Damagar’s mind. Its individual personalities began to panic as they were tugged away from the moorings that kept them cemented inside the giant toad form. They screamed in terror and clung to each other, reaching out for one of the many slumbering fragments that could wake up and save them from the all-consuming void.

Damagar’s Self-Preservation was the first to wake. It was a powerful force, an intense fighter capable of rapid decisions. But it would take too long. Waking up personalities took time and energy to avoid something far more terrifying deep inside Damagar’s psyche. She tried to focus on the reasons but Strategy once again redirected her thoughts to a different personality, Damagar’s Stubbornness.

Stubbornness was a humanoid frog. It surged to wakefulness in an instant, rising up with the threat against Damagar. Without waiting, without thinking, it charged forward to the fissure. With a sickening ripping sensation, Stubbornness tore free of Damagar’s mind and plunged toward the fissure.

The humanoid frog somehow landed on the fissure, straddling it even as it was being torn apart. It was surreal how it moved, an action that defied physical action since the personality had nowhere to brace itself.

With a scream, it plunged a giant spear into the fissure.

The spear crumbled as did its own legs. There was a sickening crunch as the personality was yanked into the fissure. As the personality was torn apart by the blue, agony slammed into Damagar. The tenuous connection between the physical and the personality had been ripped out, leaving nothing but a gaping wound that felt like grief and having an arm ripped off at the same time.

The pain managed to separate Kanéko from Damagar. She regained her sense of self but the echoes of the suffering were still there. Ruben’s thoughts, the fissure of brilliant blue, had torn Damagar’s mind apart.

To Kanéko’s surprise, she felt Stubbornness rising up again. Webbed claws reached out of the blue fissure and grabbed both ends. With a surge of fading strength, it yanked the opening closed before it disappeared forever.