Contact Binary

06 - Goddess

Aze and Rozenn emerge in the altar chamber, beneath the roots of the great tree, entwined with gems of light. A swarm descends and circles them, grey moths the size of their faces, red crystal eyes casting a red glow on the intruders.

“Agh, slight coordinate error,” Rozenn says.

“Fuck,” Aze says.

“Someone’s coming!” Rozenn says.

Aze executes a command, and the space around them blurs as the æther envelops them in an echo of negation. Just as it does, a gateway opens nearby, and a squad of three dragonrider guards rushes through, short chitinous spears in hand. Behind them, two temple priestesses follow, adorned in moth-wing cloaks.

“Run!” Aze says and pushes through the moth swarm to make for the nearest corridor out of the chamber. It and Rozzen flee, making no sound or sight as Aze’s echo isolates their sensory impact from the environment.

Not bothering to perceive the illusion of gravity, they float down the tunnel, between walls of black marble and iridescent quartz chunks entwined by silver tree roots. As their pursuers close in, Aze leads them into a small recess in the cavern where one of the great tree roots protrudes from a crack in the wall. Aze climbs underneath it into a little obscured space.

????-?-???? ???:?? Aze > how are they following us?! we’re echoed!

????-?-???? ???:?? Rozenn > Aze! Hold still...

She reaches to it’s back and pulls off a large moth construct clinging to its avatar.

????-?-???? ???:?? Aze > damn it...I caught one of them in the echo bubble

Aze reaches out to grasp it mentally and focuses to enclose the æther around it, crushing it until it dissolves back into the space around them.

????-?-???? ???:?? Rozenn > The guards are coming!

????-?-???? ???:?? Aze > we’re still hidden from their eyes, just don’t disturb the æther. not even talking. don’t even FEEL anything. hard suppress.

Coming from around the curve, the pursuing party reaches them. The moth familiar swarm flies in circles over the priestesses’ heads. One girl signals to stop the group and steps forward. A detachment of the swarm descends to orbit her. Wherever she directs her gaze, an insect flies that direction to investigate.

She looks straight at the two intruders. Aze can feel her æthereal gaze passing through it. A moth circles around its space, flying through it, unable to interact. It floats just in front of its face, its glowing orbs of eyes staring at the rock beyond it, its wispy antennae flailing around making ripples in the æther as it scans. Aze calls a command to suppress its fear, its anxiety, its every feeling. It must be invisible in all capacities.

The construct backs off and returns to its master. She orders the group to proceed ahead, leaving them alone at last.

“Fuck, I could almost feel my body holding its breath,” Rozenn says.

“Good thing you can hide your emotions when your life depends on it,” Aze says.

“These priestesses, Aze...”

“Strong technopaths. I can feel it too.”

“Come on, we can’t linger,” she says.

“Which way? It’s hard to read this area. It’s like the server’s keeping me from tracing the pathways on any level deeper than visual,” Aze says. “Can you make anything of it? Ain’t you AdminSpec?”

“Yeah...but this server does not like me poking around in it. I’ve been trying, believe me. They were ignoring me earlier, but there’s definitely an admin here, and they’re strong,” she says. “I think I can get through its barriers though.”


“Drop your bypass echo, I have to get hold of the æther,” she says.

Aze terminates the program, and as the æthereal filter obscuring and isolating it and Rozenn falls back into phase with the local æther, another echo terminates in front of them. Adorned in her winged cloak, High Priestess Antheræa stares them down, her eyes glowing bright white. Slender silver roots sprawl across the floor, wrapping around her legs and splitting into fibrous vines entwined around her body like lace, reaching her staff and coiling around it. Two priestesses and four warriors surround her, cutting off escape through the hallway.

“Aw come on, how the fuck did you--” Aze says.

“The eyes of Gaia cover the world!” she speaks in a voice that echoes through the tunnel.

????-?-???? ???:?? Rozenn > Distract them!

Aze senses motion in the æther and sees branches of the roots crawling its way, from either side along the wall. It grasps for anything to say.

“Oh yeah, well what if I don’t believe in Gaia?” Aze says

“Belief is meaningless!” Antheræa says. “Gaia’s breath flows through this stone, it flows through the water, through the air, Her radiance is the light of Dactyl! Her grace and Her love--”

????-?-???? ???:?? Aze > knew that would set off some kinda monologue

Rozenn grabs Aze’s hand from behind and pulls it backward. It falls into an opening in the rock, barely big enough for both of them. The roots outside lash out at it with a sudden speed, but the rock wall slams shut in front of it. Aze and Rozenn float in a narrow pocket inside the wall.

“Ah, it can be done!” Rozenn says.


“Just stretching the perceived physical dimensions of the--”

Cracks appear in the rock pressed against Aze’s skin, and tiny little silver fibers start to pierce through.

“Come on.” Rozenn reaches out to tear open more space above them and pulls them up through the mountain in their little bubble outside of space.

“Where are we going?” Aze says.

“The inner sanctum, where else?” She pulls Aze along behind her as their space drifts upward. “The tree is just an interpretation of the Admin’s influence, I think. Get to the heart of the tree and we’ll find her.”

“Remember there’s no guarantee it’s her!” Aze says.

Looking into the layout of the space around them, it seems like Rozenn is following the path of a large root. It joins a larger one. As they approach the central convergence, the pathway only grows more twisted and tangled, like a fractal pattern expanding endlessly from some central point ahead of them. Aze hesitates and pulls back on Rozenn’s hand.

“What’s wrong?” Rozenn says. “We’re almost to the top.”

“We should have reached it by now. Something’s strange about this...” Aze says.

Even as they stay still, the complexity of the root network around them increases. It didn’t notice before--the roots are continually multiplying, writhing, moving to surround it and Rozenn on all sides.

In unison, the roots light up with a burning glow in a spectrum of colors Aze’s mind can’t even interpret, but painfully bright. As Aze reflexively shuts off its visual sense, a growing ringing in its ears morphs into a piercing hiss of high pitched noise. It feels it as vibrations sending shockwaves through its avatar. It turns off its hearing as well, and takes a step back in consciousness to view the æther in more abstract terms, trying to hold onto an image of the space around it.

????-?-???? ???:?? Aze > the presence here is overwhelming. all around us...

????-?-???? ???:?? Rozenn > Admin’s pushing back hard!

Rozzen focuses all she can to maintain the integrity of her bubble of space. Fibrous black roots from the great tree pierce through, twisting themselves together into spiral drills and spinning fast to rend cracks in the shell of Rozenn’s bubble world. As the fibers tear open a hole in Rozenn’s barrier, a thicker root reaches through and wraps around the wrist of Aze’s avatar. The æther of its material is burning to touch. The heat hits Aze in waves of pain pain that pulsate like the resonance of a true avatar, linked to a mind.

As the vines wrap around the two--around their limbs, their chests, their necks--and tighten, the primal impression of suffocation overtakes Aze’s mind. No amount of logic can overcome it. It can feel its body struggling for breath surfaceside, the echo is too strong to disbelieve.

As more and more roots break through it, Rozenn’s shield falters and tightens around her, with the stone and quartz of the mountain and the roots of the tree closing in with it. As their bubble collapses, the impression of being crushed to death under the weight of a mountain feels completely real. Aze’s shield shatters and dissolves. Its avatar is breaking under the pressure.

The pain and primal fear are a gravity well in space, and beyond it an infinite fractal network of passageways expand, directing this overwhelming attack against it. The image of this pattern in its mind’s eye lingers for just a moment before its thoughts all begin to break down into white noise. Dissolution of the mind into the æther awaits, and with it, death.