X. Exhausted: Is it over..? Is the battle yet won?

Author: Radetch
Published: 2020-01-09, edited: 2020-01-11
A story where the dream is shattered.

Part of the campaign:

Unfinished Starbound AAR

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Game: Other games

IX. Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum.

Images: 25, author: Radetch, published: 2020-01-09, edited: 2020-01-11

Cheery: Greetings? Greetings..? Greetings? Param test successful.

"Thankful: No permanent damage."

https://youtu.be/zq_wcQcLk-s

Indeed, despite some scuffles and pockmarks against his frame, the metal man rising from the broken ground around him seemed to have fared all the better through his fall through - whatever that had been.

Radetch blinked his optics several times each, trying to grow accustomed to the grey light - if light was the right word for it. Wishing he'd swapped his cloak for a proper lighting attachment, the Glitch noble switched to reserve low-light cameras, and the darkness began to take shape in front of him.
Thoughtful: It seems like only a fool would go forwards.
"Scathing: Perhaps I am just the fool to try."

Radetch glanced behind him - the grey soil had already faded away, leaving his path invisible and distant. Curiously, he raised his fingers to the sky - and felt a tension around it, like the skein of a bubble, plastic and malleable.

"Uncertain: Bracken water like this is often a hot-bed for corrosive substances and diseases... Dare I go forwards?"

Casting his gaze up into the void, Radetch waited - hoping for a response. From a retainer, a friend, another noble - even a passing traveler. Something to affirm, perhaps -

He was alive.

"Serious: There is no way to proceed but forward. I shall do it. I shall go. I must."

Unable to feel if the temperature here was hot or cold enough to affect him, the Voived shivered - and plunged forward.
Peaceful: The water was welcoming, not cruel.

It buoyed his fall as he fell from what seemed to be a great height, taking him down twisting dens and waterways that seemed to be carved out of solid rock -

Perhaps inhabited, once, by great creatures, now lost to time.

Finally, the liquid 'hung' in mid air, spitting the Voived into a small cavern complex below. Roots hung from the ceiling - as did, above them, the water; unaffected by gravity or whatever forces approximated it here.

No - more then that...

Radetch held one hand to the roots, removing his gauntlet.

They pulsed with the quiet thrum of life, tiny insects and the heartbeat of trees pulsing undeniably within them.

Smiling, the Voived continued past them, down a sloping network of cavernous passageways into a long, grey hallway -

From which came a peculiar sound.

https://youtu.be/e2M9A-fShZE
Entry not found.

"Hey."

At the table up ahead sat a lone figure, his containment suit aged from time and ill maintainence. Radetch tilted his head to one side - not believing what he saw.

"Curious: Do I not know you, Singularnosti?"

"Most people know me, metal man. Believe I gave you some information about something or another?.. Have a seat. No use talking while standing up."

The Voived sat across from the lone figure, who was staring intently at a game of solitaire in front of him - a game that he seemed to be losing.

"Polite: May I help?"

"No, seems I lost this one long before I started playing. So it goes - you win some, and you lose the rest."

Sighing, the containment-suit clad stranger reclined in his seat.

"Want to make a bet, metal man?"
Entry not found.

Radetch, who had been watching the movements of the man as if entranced, cast his gaze back to the table - the cards now gone, replaced by a large wheel - full of colour.

https://youtu.be/P9R6xoMWmfk

"Firm: Three."

Radetch replied without thinking. His host gave a small, short nod.

"Good choice, way I see it. Well, here you go. Let's see what comes up."

The wheel spun, and as Radetch watched it spin, he could hear the wheezing shuffle of his host rising to his feet and walking to the window.

The wheel landed on a perfect three... And then slipped forward two places.

"Good luck, I suppose." The Singularnosti murmured, and removed his mask.

The table, furniture, Radetch and all else hurtled forward, flying through shards of broken glass as the Singularnosti fell backwards, arms outstretched.
Entry not found.

When Radetch had managed to get to his feet, the enigmatic man had all but vanished, though the tiny orb used to stake his bet had landed just in front of his faceplate.

Around him in every direction stretched a ruined, blighted land - carved from rust and disuse and ash.

The buildings were modern, mostly Terran in make. More then that, the Voived couldn't say - so he walked, and walked further.

Finally, the sky opened up and he could see towering figures above him - composed of many limbs and many mouths and endless sloughing flesh; in colours that shifted or changed depending on where he stood.

None could make sounds to speak, but they seemed to be arguing and violently - for their great limbs collided in showers of gore and ruined viscera falling from the sky and further damaging the dead metropolis.

"Terrible, isn't it?"

Murmured a quiet voice to his left, and Radetch nodded without thinking.

"Once they've taken hold of a place, that's all they do. Fight, and claw, and ruin their prize."

...

"Are you frightened?"

The voice asked, gently - and once again, slowly, Radetch gave a curt nod.

Around him, the darkness grew like a comforting blanket.
You won't need those. I'll keep them with me, safe - until you do. Until we meet again, one day. Soon.

"Don't fear."

Around his shoulders, the darkness dissolved, seeping through his chassis and eating away at his internal machinery - though the sensation was not unpleasant.

"If you believe nothing else - know that not all that lives in this darkness is evil - please, remember that much..."

Whispered the darkness, but by then it had swam over his faceplate and the Voived could not reply - struggling as he was to prevent it from infiltrating his face, swimming over his optics and drowning his vision.

The voice grew quiet and despondent, but hung in the air as if it wished to say more -

His last thought was that it had almost sounded hopeful.
Groggy: It seems that I have taken more beatings then a serf who jumped up above their station...

"Yaaaaaa!"

First, a field of yellow swam into view - then, as he pried the tiny Avian off of his faceplate, an unending sea of green.

https://youtu.be/Dxm7R14Omuo

Wait... Avian?

"I'm gonna get you, space invader!"

Radetch stared at the child who now stood in front of him, yellow feather dyed with dirt and soil. She appeared to be holding a tube of fabricated, corrugated paper as if it were a deadly blade.

"Fearful: So I see. If I am to meet the gods here, would you have the courtesy of killing me quickly?"

Not in enough pain to ruin a child's day, the Voived watched as the Avian lowered her 'blade' with a look of horror on her face.

"What, no, I'm not gonna kill you...! I'm gonna TAKE YOU PRISONER!"

Rising from the ground and placing his hands in the air, the Voived glanced somberly at the youth marching imperiously in front of him.

"Doomed: Seems I have no choice. Very well, brave knight - "

"Not a knight! I'm a space pirate!"

"Doomed: Very well, brave space pirate. Lead me to my fate!"

"Krila, you haven't been dragging kids into the wood to play with you, have you?"

At the sound of a distant voice and the heavy footsteps of someone nearby, the Avian girl - Krila? - dropped all pretense of bravery and hid behind the very bemused Voived.

"That's my mom. You need to lie now."

Before Radetch could reply with something witty, a middle-aged Avian woman had stepped into the clearing - her plumage a dark brownish-red that had only grown darker with age.

Her expression flipped from mild amusement of her own, to shock.

"Sir, are you all right?!"

Her eyes flashed for a moment as she re-positioned herself between Krila and the Voived in a split second (despite Krila's squirming protests).

"Apologetic: Sorry, ma'am. I am quite fine - I just fell from a very great height and had been abducted by space pirates. Luckily, a brave knight in training saved me; if it hadn't been for young Krila here, I might well be dead."

His bow was low and comical, and she cracked a wide grin.

"Oh, are you sure? I only know little space pirates in training, unfortunately. Still, better alive then dead I suppose. You want to come with us, get cleaned up?"

"Thankful: Please!"

She held out a dark-feathered hand, and took his warmly.

"Placine Threefeather, nee Venomskull."
Observant: The village was mostly Terran, with large Avian and Novakid populations.

His blinking blue sight seemed to reflect her slight smile as he trailed behind her - watching as, around them, villagers languidly went about carrying boxes or playing games at tables, but seeming to do no real labour.

https://youtu.be/oEz9VpUoXyA

"Sardonic: Venomskull doesn't sound like a traditional Avian name...?"

"It isn't. It's my husbands - meet my husband."

Placine pointed to a large collection of rocks. Someone had left a a can of something foul-smelling nearby, which flies orbited contentedly.

"My husband was a piece of work. I prefer my maiden name."

"Courteous: As do I, though it doesn't truly do your plumage justice - "

Placine stopped, one thick eyebrow raised, smile half-formed and enigmatic.

"Flattery will get you nowhere and everywhere, Glitch. Don't go pushing your luck too early."

Crossing his arms, and looking flustered, the Voived turned around - to see Krila sticking her tongue out at him. She gasped in surprise and ran into the central plaza, arms flailing.

The Threefeather house was small, and handbuilt, and smelt of something powdery and burnt incense. No altars to Kluex were visible, and the Voived had learnt enough from his subjects to guess what this meant.

The door closed behind them, and Placine took a seat at the small, round table - eying a vase of wilting flowers with the same, enigmatic expression.

It slowly turned into a smile as the Voived remained standing, arms folded behind his back.

"Are you going to keep doing that all day? You can sit down, if you like."

"Honest: I am a lord of no small standing, Placine. I - absolutely must get back to my people. I fear the absolute worst and - "

With the smile fading, Placine shook her head.

"Even if that's true, don't panic. The worst thing you can do is panic. Sit a moment. Think."

So they sat a moment, and thought.

Slowly, Placine's smile spread to the Voived, and he rested his hands against the table - before taking the flowers gingerly from the vase.

"Thoughtful: A moment."

He returned with several from outside, pale blue like the river they grew near. After placing them, he faced her with a calm, but unyielding expression.

"Serious: I am Voived Radetch voi Tinselkampf. You may not believe it, nor know why this is important; for I do not know where I am. But my honour and for my people, I must make every effort to return."

Placine ran her tongue over her beak and smiled.

"We're in the boonies here, but it shouldn't be too hard to find something you can use."

She cast her eyes outside, watching as Krila engaged in a theatrical fistfight with a human child, the two finally falling to the ground and laughing.

"We are pirates, after all."
Wistful: The first days, he continued to feel panic, and doubt.

But weeks made for easy company, and soon he began to grow accustomed to the routine of walking to the 'General' - the only store in town, and where news from far and adrift slowly arrived - and traded stories with the old-timers there.

The Novakid who ran the place barely shone anymore, but his voice was full of excitement every day - as if he had just found the most precious treasure in the world. Perhaps - on some level - he had.

Occasionally, Placine and her crew would leave - he didn't ask where from, or about her craft. They would return with food and supplies and things for the children - and time continued to pass by.

Radetch spent most of his days inquiring about possible spacecraft for purchase or hire, and indulging an old hobby of his he had not found the time for on Deneb - soon the quiet susurration of bees bringing life to the shack he had been duly granted under a vote from the pirates.

One day, while Krila was out and fresh honey shone like gold against the griddlecakes in front of them, Placine rose and drew the curtains shut.

Her eyes met his, and doubts and burdens swam there, freely.

But she held her own, after all - and time continued to pass.
You'll like it, I swear! It's a real piece of work, real piece of work, pal, but, trust me!

"Never seen a more beautiful - a more beautiful craft all my years, USMC, AMC, GMC, BBC - all of the big C's, so trust me robot-man, you'll be thankful you bought this beautiful piece, not a museum piece..!"

The salesman prattled excitedly as Radetch glanced at Placine, who gave him a wide, enthusiastic smile.

"Practically new, isn't it? I haven't seen one this undamaged in ages. Sure, it isn't really befitting of your... Lordship, but we all have to make little sacrifices, right?"

Radetch 'hrmed' non-comitally to himself, tapping the worn metal. It whistled back - beaten, but not broken.

"Serious: I do not doubt you, merchantman. I have no pixels to my name, however."

The merchant gave Placine a huge shrug and a sour look that ached of wasted time - one that stuck on his face as the Voived removed a stachel from his side and flung it to the ground.

Gold, and more besides, glittered up at the quiet ship vendor.

"Resolved: This is my offer. Is it acceptable?"

Slapping his thigh, the vendor laughed and spat on his hand - holding it out and shaking Radetch's gingerly.

It took another six months to restore the ship to life.
Quiet: The stars hung heavy in the sky - but they shone as distant friends, and I thought of you.

Above them, the sky was black save for the indelible points of light.

She held his hand, and was quiet.

"You're going, then."

"Quiet: I'm going."

Placine looked far to the side, where the village reflected lights as a pale mimic to the heavens above - all electric and wan in the cool night air.

"Thought as much - certainly can't stop you. Wouldn't if I could. Isn't the place of one person to hold a hand to another, really."

She fidgeted, and was quiet.

After some time, Radetch unlooped the simple circlet he wore - it's feather long since having started to grow old and discoloured. Without a word, he handed it to her -

Placine broke into unhidden laughter.

"What, what the hell is this? You know that's a training circlet, right?"

"Serious: Yes - and no."

His eyes met hers, and they did not blink.

"Promising: I will return, no matter how long it takes or what must be done. I'm going to the Lilith Basin system - even if we don't meet each other again before that, I want you to know - and to remember this thing."

"By giving me a trainee's circlet?"

She wasn't laughing, any more.

"Soft: By giving you my word."

The stars hung heavy overhead, and if they illuminated the ground below - who could say..?

Next chapter:

Game: Other games

XI. The streets were quiet and listless.

Images: 15, author: Radetch, published: 2020-01-09, edited: 2020-01-11

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