Daylight's Dirge: Part Six
Months passed. As time went on, Pariel-Sloth did his best to coordinate the times he was on the station to when those who shared his hangar were not. It never completely worked, but he came closer. With each set of attacks on Neopia, the security on the Space Station increased. With each increase, Parlax and his hackers found new ways to work around Valka.
Then Pariel-Sloth ordered a triple-strength attack on Kiko Lake.
The response was immediate. A heavily guarded shuttle left the Space Station within twelve hours after Kiko Lake was destroyed. Pariel-Sloth kept his forces from following it. It didn’t matter what happened on Neopia anymore. “Before Valka gets back, set the station up for the takeover.” Pariel-Sloth turned away from the computer screen, arms clasped behind his back. “We won’t have much time.”
Parlax bowed and left the room silently. Outside, Pariel-Sloth heard the Grundo beginning to contact the cells of his army. Pariel-Sloth smiled. This will work wonderfully.
Us, of course.
The green Ruki turned back towards the windows, pleased with the world. The attack on Shenkuu should arrive soon, and then he’d get to watch another round of robots get slaughtered. Pariel-Sloth smiled, thoughts turning to the land that seemed so flighty, and yet had the strength of steel and blades that cut as beautifully as pure energy. The computer bleeped softly, and Pariel-Sloth turned to face it. The capsule had landed. Ten separate camera views appeared on the computer screen, and Pariel-Sloth leaned closer to watch.
There was a hill in front of them, and as the robots began moving towards it, Pariel-Sloth saw a single Kougra, purple and dressed in what looked like dark blue leather, standing at the top of the hill. Pariel-Sloth shook his head. Even the Shenkuuri weren’t so prideful to believe that one of them could beat ten robots and two fanatics with lasers. Assuming the fanatics remembered they had lasers, which didn’t always happen. Pariel-Sloth’s smile soured. If this was one of those times, he’d record a speech for Parlax to show to his army. And it wouldn’t be a pleasant speech. Not at all.
A message flashed up on the computer. Activate sound? Y/N
Pariel-Sloth hesitated for a moment, then pressed Y. Immediately, the fanatic’s shouted orders came through. Pariel-Sloth winced. Of course this was a cowardly batch. The robots advanced up the hill. Pariel-Sloth stared at the Kougra, but the warrior didn’t move. Enlarging one of the images, Pariel-Sloth’s eyes widened. The Kougra’s eyes were closed. He was either brave or stupid, and Pariel-Sloth didn’t know which he was hoping for.
With a shake of his head, the Ruki reset the images so that all ten displayed equally. Garbled words that sounded like whispers in the wind came through the speakers. ‘Remember’ was the only word that Pariel-Sloth could easily make out. Then one of the robots crested the hill. The Kougra’s eyes snapped open and his sword flashed. One of the cameras fizzled out with a screech, and Pariel-Sloth shut off the sound with a wince, typing a quick command to make any speech show up as subtitles.
-sword is like water. It flows smoothly and steadily, yet it can be still and calm or quick and roaring.- The Kougra’s speech paused as he cut down two more robots with perfect blows. Pariel-Sloth sighed. Neither bravery nor stupidity was the reason for the Kougra standing on his own. The Kougra was good. Better than almost any other sword-warrior Pariel-Sloth had seen. But then, the Kougra was Shenkuan, probably a Shenkuuri by the way he was talking.
-The way of the sword is not one of violence, but one of protection. Aggression is not violence. Anger is violence, when it is not controlled. Aggression is simply the art of taking away the initiative from one’s opponent. Taking the initiative from an opponent can take many forms, but the final art is that of destroying their spirit without a touch.- The words flowed across the screen as the Kougra cut down almost all the robots, leaving only one left.
-Remember that to touch the void is to touch the heart of nothingness, and to fight, you must touch that void with your thoughts.-
Pariel-Sloth jerked at those words, which remained on the black screen. All the robots were destroyed. The mutants couldn’t win against the Kougra. If they’d fought with the robots, they could’ve. But no. Pariel sighed, head in his hands. The robots should’ve withstood that attack better.
The heart of nothingness, Sloth said quietly. Interesting that he uses that term.
Why? Pariel asked, perversely annoyed. It’s pretty much what a void is.
You’ve lived within my mind. Sloth sighed, blanking the computer. To most Neopians, the definition of a void is a vacuum. An empty place. Not a heart of nothingness. A heart of nothingness... Placing a hand on the wall, Sloth stared out a window at the stars. The heart of nothingness is what we live. Perhaps you don’t realize it yet, but it won’t be too long until you’ll be forced to. One hundred years. That’s how long we get before the sun burns our reign, Pariel. One hundred years to rule a world of peace before it splinters once more.
What are you talking about now? I thought you’d told me everything already.
You’ll never know everything I do until we’re truly one. Sloth smiled suddenly. I can show you something, though, when we go back into space.
Which we can do as soon as you’ve assured yourself that everything’s going smoothly.
Pariel-Sloth turned from the window, leaving the room without another word. Within the small room it connected to, Parlax had set up a jungle of electronics. The lithe split Grundo finished talking to a group, then switched off the receiver. “Go on,” Parlax said, glancing up at Pariel-Sloth. “I can deal with all of this. Hopefully it’ll all be over before you get back.”
The green Ruki nodded sharply, navigating through the electronic mess. As he left, he heard Parlax begin talking to his army again. Pariel-Sloth strode down the corridors quickly, not caring if a scientist saw him up here. He’d been seen up here enough for them to simply assume he was one of them, and his association with Fugelce enhanced that belief. As the scientists and researchers often kept odd hours, they thought nothing of the irregularity of when they saw him.
And that’s the way we like it.
Smiling, Pariel-Sloth called a lift. One arrived in bare seconds, and Pariel-Sloth entered. As soon as the doors closed, he pressed the button for level 15. The lift rose quickly, letting Pariel-Sloth out in the low gravity of the dock level. Without any hesitation, the Ruki strode to the hangar his salvager resided in. In the airlock, he pulled on his spacesuit, fastening everything with half his mind. The other half, Sloth’s half, was quiet, much to Pariel’s annoyance.
But once inside the hangar – filled by four salvagers that probably looked the same to anyone who didn’t see them most days – Pariel-Sloth entered his salvager and strapped himself into his seat, poking in the standard request for takeoff. At about the same time as he finished securing himself, the giant doors above – below – him opened. Feathering the thrusters, Pariel dropped out of the space station’s hangar, into the void of space.
Pariel set course for the scraps that still drifted in orbit around Neopia and Kreludor.
No. Sloth took over, putting in coordinates that Pariel didn’t recognize at all.
So where are we going, then?
To where stars shine bright and clear in the darkness, where the void of space and the burning sun are balanced perfectly. To a place only four people in the world know about.
Will there now be five who know, since you’re showing me?
Sloth hesitated, hands falling still as he stared out at space and the stars. No, he said at last. There are still only four.
Because we are one.
Pariel quieted, watching as Sloth guided his salvager away from Neopia, into the depths of space. The stars were constant, but looking at the screens showing what was behind him, Pariel could see Neopia, Kreludor, and the space station shrinking in the distance. Everything he knew was falling away, to be replaced with stars and the heart of nothingness.
“Listen,” Sloth said, shutting down all the lights inside the salvager. “Can you hear it? We’re almost there.”
Pariel closed his eyes, ignoring Sloth’s soft laughter. Sitting there, bound to his seat by nothing more than pieces of plastic strapped to his legs, Pariel listened. At first, he heard nothing but his breath, in and out, over and over again. Then, the buzz of the life-support systems. Occasional bursts of sound as the thrusters maneuvered the salvager for unknown reasons. A faint thread of music unlike anything Pariel had ever heard before.
“Yes,” Sloth said, words so soft they were barely audible. “Fideus gave me this music thirty years ago, Pariel. He said that I would know when it was time to share it with another. For the longest time, I didn’t understand. Now I do.” He smiled. “Welcome to my world, Pariel. Welcome to my mind.”
The song echoed, reverberating in every cell of Pariel-Sloth’s body. Each note was a prickle, as if a leg that’d fallen asleep was waking up once more. Sloth’s voice drew Pariel up and into the song. Nothing else existed for that time, though neither of them knew (he didn’t know?) how long it lasted. All they knew was that the song held them, brought new life to them, and was so beautiful it couldn’t ever be denied.
When at last the song left him, Pariel-Sloth drew a deep breath, smiling. They weren’t separate anymore. They truly were one body, one mind, and nothing could unforge that bond now. Nothing at all.
To be continued...