Chapter 3: Realignment
The room was, without question, recognizable as Lansigâ€™s. Once a person entered it from the castleâ€™s lower hall, they could never make sense of where they really were. The stars themselves danced inside it. There was nothing to help one gain their bearings. The back wall not only seemed to be missing, but the room itself appeared to stretch off into the horizon. This illusion was kept secret by the thick fog that only allowed one to see the silhouettes of a few trees through it. Close to the entrance, a circle with twenty symbols lining it had been etched into the marble floor. "Over here," one of the guards said from a nearby doorway. "He's over here." Mark senses had barely adjusted to the fantastic room that stretched out before him, when the guard spoke. The doorway between the two rooms only appeared in two dimensions, as though it was a piece of paper with a guard's left arm and leg sticking out of it. Vertigo began to set in causing Mark to fall against the wall. The guard walked through the doorway and grabbed the woozy Unborn in a supportive gesture. "Come on, young Beta. Tis best we get you out of here before you have to clean up after yourself. Trust me, Lansig has no patience for that which is grotesque. I myself had to clean my own mess up before you were summoned." Mark cringed and looked at the guard's hand holding his arm. "Oh, by the gods, I cleaned myself up. Now get up before I leave you here to suffer the same sickness I endured."
The room beyond the paper-thin doorway was as drab as the previous one had been lavish. There was nothing attention grabbing about it, other than the bound and gagged prince sitting beside Lansig at a small circular table. “Come forth, Mark. Our hour of deception has begun,” Lansig said, with an authoritative inflection. A guard, much younger than the one that had helped Mark into the simple chamber room, untied the cloth from the Prince’s mouth. Following this, he removed the ropes that had bound the young lord to his chair. Once left to his own strength, the Prince stood up energetically. “How DARE you?! You can trick the simpletons that fill the countryside of this land, but the very gods themselves will take offense to what you are trying to do here. They will make you pay for your twisted crimes.” With a wave of Lansig’s hand, the Prince lost his voice with a squeak; rage still burned in his eyes. With another wave, the Prince was forced down into his chair and with a third his forearm was forced onto the table within Lansig’s reach. “You know nothing of the gods, you self-absorbed fool. There is more at work here than you, your Unborns, or the kingdom’s future. Now, let us begin.” Without question, Mark put his arm up so that his branding was clearly visible. He was powerless to resist the temptation to look down at it one more time. It was a scarred and twisted β. Despite the fact that it symbolized him as an Unborn and a slave, Mark saw it through sentimental eyes. He was a Beta, the very first copy to the heir to the throne. It didn’t give him much prestige but there were graces bestowed upon him that his “brothers” would
never know. This sentiment began to work its way into his willpower; he looked into his old friend’s eyes. “What are you doing?” “You must trust me, Mark. This has to come to pass; it was set in motion before the world was fully formed. Please, do not resist. Him I can force this on, but you, you have to grant me permission,” he said. After a moment’s pause, he continued, “Do you?” The young Unborn looked back and forth between his mentor, his master, and his scar. Both man’s face bore a look of curiosity, though the Prince’s face was equally mixed with bewildered rage. Mark felt that inner pressure build, that nausea that had come in spades this day. Mixing with the remains of the vertigo he had just suffered through, it threatened to cause some involuntary reaction that was sure to offend Lansig. Before it grew to a point of becoming physically uncontrollable, Mark nodded his head. He closed his eyes, as he saw his master bare his teeth with a look of rage that put his previous intensity to shame. Mark felt the familiar cold touch of leathery skin against his forearm, his heartbeat slowed. The nausea left him instantly. There was chanting in his ear, though it grew more and more distant with each syllable that was sung. As he sat at the table relaxing, he began to feel the world melt away for the second time today. The new world that formed around him was one of death and shadow that chilled Mark to his very core. Standing on a small, lifeless hill, he could see very little except for thousands of dead bodies littering the field around him, surrounding him like an ocean. The pollutions of war littered the ground and sky as far as the eye could see. The smell of dead bodies filled his nose proving that his senses worked just as well in this new world as they had in the previous
one. The smell was thick and violent. It felt as though death itself was invading Mark with every breath he took. A nearby stream had turned red with blood that flowed from the stacks of bodies that lie on each of its banks. Black, ominous clouds had nearly taken over every inch of sky. In the distance, a glint caught his eye. It flashed at him randomly, forcing Mark’s senses away from the rot surrounding him. Minutes passed as he tried to find a way through the sea of dead bodies. It proved to be a fruitless effort; the ground was so heavily littered with corpses there was no clear place to get footing. Seek out their identities. He leaned forward, squinting to try and make out some significant detail. Tell them to stand. “Who? The dead?” As he spoke, the eyes of the rotting corpses opened. They turned toward Mark with a look of evil hunger in them. Yes. Command them. They MUST obey you. You are their king. Fear flowed in Mark deeper than he thought a person could feel. His throat ran dry as he spoke. “A-arise and make way. Make room.” The slain quickly obeyed by standing in unison and lining up to give the bewildered Unborn a path to walk down. Time and again Mark turned to find himself face to face with yet another animated corpse. As they moved, their pungency danced sickeningly in the breeze. The
offensive odors became so thick that they forced fear out of Mark’s mind altogether. He had become too sickened by these smells to fear them any longer. As the young Unborn walked closer to the glinting light that teased his curiosity, he began to make out two figures moving against one another, timed as though they were dancing. A few more steps revealed that this dance was actually a fight; a few more revealed that the glinting light was from each combatant’s weapon reflecting sunlight as they moved through the air. The two figures were standing by themselves on a small island in the middle of a great river whose waters ran so thick with blood it was hard to tell if water was part of its mix any longer. Mark could tell that the smaller of the two figures was one of his brothers or perhaps even himself, but it was the larger figure, which towered over his copy that shook Mark to his very core. His copy was dueling against Emperor Grenvalt, the Clockwork King. The half-man, half-machine being that was the Clockwork King was considered both an abomination and a force of nature. His empire tore the earth it stood upon to find the metals it used to build and rebuild its never-ending armies. Over the years, kingdom after kingdom had fallen before the Emperor and it was no secret that he wanted any excuse he could find to invade the sacred lands of Safera. The Emperor’s current rival attacked with a passion that made ripples of bittersweet emotion wash over Mark. He knew it was a wasted effort, as did the Emperor and, more than likely, the Unborn soldier. The young clone moved as a seasoned fighter would, meeting the Emperor’s attacks with a level of skill that defied what Mark knew of his lineage. Each blow the Emperor gave was met with an effective defense; the look of annoyed surprise on the
Emperor’s face was enough to signify that his assumption of the Unborn’s skill had been the same as Mark’s was. The weapon the surprisingly skilled Unborn used was a strangely shaped ax, one Mark had never seen before. It appeared as though it had something coiled around its handle, though it was too far away to make out clearly. Mark tried to step closer for a better look, forgetting he was on the edge of a riverbank. Even though his big toe alone had disturbed the water, the ripples it created grew to a magnificent size. Swiftly, the ripples made their way to the two-man island where they lapped against its tiny shore. The waves caught the attention of both fighters instantly. The Emperor looked at Mark, revealing another odd detail: the eyes of this Emperor weren’t his. Though Mark had only seen the Emperor in pictures, it was hard for him to forget that he had one natural, human eye and one mechanized eye that worked independent of the other. What he had now looked like two human eyes except for the facts that they had no irises and their pupils were as small as pinholes. Keeping his guard up as he moved, the young Unborn warrior turned to see what had distracted his opponent. Once he had taken sight of Mark, both Unborns froze. It was unmistakable, that was no copy, no brother of Mark’s. The young warrior was Mark himself. Though others wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between who was Mark and who was his brother, it was obvious to Mark. The only difference was in the shape of their irises; the young warrior’s weren’t round, they were green slits. Though they were frozen in awe for only a moment, a moment was all it took. The blade grew out of the young warrior’s chest faster than Mark had ever seen one move. As it viciously ran through the Unborn, his look of shock carried a secret of shame and loss in it; a
look Mark alone would have caught and only because he was the owner of both that look and the emotions it carried with it. The warrior fell to his knees, his pierced back still to the Emperor. His blood quickly flowed down the bank of the small island and mixed into the blood of the river. Mark, gasping for air himself, looked back to the Emperor; he was staring back at him. The half-man, halfmachine creature reached both arms into the air and looked to the sky. Thunder boomed in the distance violently as the dark clouds above them flew through the air. A furious screech came from the Emperor’s mouth that filled the sky. It was a sound neither man nor machine could make. It shook Mark from his trance once more. He, again, found himself sitting at the table with his old friend holding his forearm. Looking to the Prince, he realized his Master’s appearance had changed; he now wore the rougher skin of a worker. His hair was matted and unkempt; even the scars Mark had received through his years of service decorated his Master now. “Lansig, I-“ “Shh,” Lansig said as he too turned to look at the Prince. The royal Trueborn was passed out right before their eyes; once he sank in his chair, Lansig motioned for the guards to take him away. “It is finished,” the old mage finally said, removing his hand from Mark’s forearm. The Beta symbol that had been a part of him for so long was now gone; his forearm was completely smooth as though it was that of his Master’s. “Wait,” Mark said, looking into the old mage’s eyes. “Does this mean I am a Trueborn?”
“No, not really. It’s very complicated, but you are in disguise. Though I transferred your branding to your former Master’s forearm, it is merely a cosmetic change. There are certain ways of detecting the difference between an Unborn and a Trueborn that you will have to deal with along your path.” “Lansig, he’s out of the room, we are alone now. I think you can be candid with me.” The old mage leaned back in his chair. “There are things in motion that I can not reveal to you, simply put it’s not within my power to do so. However, I can give you a bit of guidance. Hurry, come with me.” Rising together, the two men made their way to an open doorway at the rear of the room; as they stepped closer to it, the room it led into began to rapidly change. Hundreds of possible rooms flashed by making Mark slow his pace. Lansig smiled back at him. “It knows,” the old mage said. The moment his words hit Mark’s ears the shifting room settled on a room full of light. Mark could make out white stones forming a wall inside the room, but could make out no more detail until he stepped through the doorway. He expected a shift, a fall, something that would prove to him that the room he was entering was not joined to the one he had just exited. He felt nothing. “By the gods.” Mark gaped in awe of the grand statue before him. Roughly twice the size of Safera’s castle, it was the largest piece of artwork he had ever seen. It was of two snake-like beasts looping around to bite each other on the tail. The resulting design was that of a loop of infinity. Though they looked nothing like any snake, lizard, or dragon Mark had ever seen, they also looked as though they were a combination of all three.
The room they had entered was not a room at all; it was a walkway which led directly up to the mouth of the mountain cave that was now behind them. Behind the statue, lush fields of green stretched as far as the eye could see. “Lansig, I can’t take much more of this. What’s going on?” The old mage turned to his former student with a look of urgency. “The only reason I can bring you here now is because I am manipulating the powers that have been granted to me momentarily. I am abusing a blessing, so let’s make this quick.” They began to walk down the mountain’s walkway, which soon became a path fit for horse and buggy. “This world is a temple,” Lansig continued, speaking hurriedly. “There are things that live beyond our kingdom and our world. What they are I don’t know, but what I do know is that all of them believe in something more powerful than our gods. You will think me a heretic for admitting it, but our gods worship it as well.” “Worship what, Lansig?” The old mage pointed to the gigantic statue. “There is a singular cohesion to all that exist. It is sentient and without equal and that, my young friend is the problem.” Mark shook his head as though he were trying to wake up once more. “This is crazy. What does this have to do with me or my Mas-“ “He’s no longer your master. What is happening to you is connected with what is happening here. I saw the dream you just had, I saw the Clockwork King. He is to be a part of this, too. Even the gods are pawns in this scheme; do not trust them to protect any of us.”
“So,” Mark said, stepping back from his mentor. “I am to fight him? Was that dream true? Oh Lansig, our whole world was turned to rot. That can’t be true; please, tell me that isn’t true.” Lansig shook his head. “That is one possible outcome. It is the most likely outcome if you take the sacred ax into battle.” “Sacred ax? Lansig, why are we here? Why are you showing me this now?” “This is the only place where our gods can not sense us. We are away from our world, away from all the gods of every world. This place is protected by that which I spoke of, the sentience of all creation. It is what grants me both the power and the courage to speak to you of the task before you.” Mark backed further away, shaking his head. “You’ve gone mad. That spell must have done something to you. I-I can’t believe what you’re saying.” Mark whispered as he began to move back up the path toward the mouth of the cave. Lansig followed him keeping the same pace he had walked down the mountain. “Marcus, I know you are scared. Trust me, this has to come to pass.” “No,” Mark said as he began to run up the path. “You tell me I have to fight the most powerful mortal in the world and that that battle has something to do with a god that the gods worship? How am I to believe this?” He stopped to look back at Lansig. The mage was beside him, making Mark jump. His look of surprise was quickly washed away by one of anger.
“I’m an Unborn; I am a slave. I shouldn’t have trusted you; you have damned me to a fate I can’t imagine whether your words are true or not.” Lansig shook his head once more, then reached his hand out to the departing Unborn. It held Mark where he stood. “This is your only chance for answers, Mark. Don’t throw it away out of fear.” Mark turned around to face his former teacher, baring his teeth. “Fine. Since you promise answers, I will ask for them. What is this thing?” Mark asked, pointing to the giant statue. Lansig sighed. “It is the singular consciousness of the universe.” “You can let me go now; I’m not going to run.” Lansig lowered his hand. “And why must I fight the Clockwork King?” “All of us are mere pawns in this. I can not give you the answer to what we are to do other than to say that you are to find the sacred ax of Rosin and decide whether to use it in battle against Grenvalt. I know very little more about this than you do now, but I do know that if you use the ax as it is intended it will bring about the world you saw in your dream.” “Such rubbish. I should have simply died in my master’s place. You made me believe we were doing something good and right for our people. Now, I have broken the sacred oath and have either a madman for a guide or a friend who betrayed my trust.” Lansig walked up to Mark, putting his hand on his shoulder.
“If I could have told you more, I would have. I can only tell you now because the powers given to me have allowed me to bring you here, but even they are now fading. We must return before we are found here; it would put everything into jeopardy.” Begrudgingly, Mark nodded his head and began to walk to the cave entrance. “This is a beautiful place,” he noted. “Yes, I wish I could show you the whole planet. There are beauties here few mortals will ever see.” “Who built it?” “The world? It was created by the sentience I told you about; it is the creator of all worlds.” “But, did he make the statue. You said this world was a temple, that means something else built the statue as a means of worship.” The old man smiled and patted his young friend on the shoulder. “You are a clever little Unborn, aren’t you? Yes, you are right. It was created by something else. It was created by the Thirteen.” “You mean our gods came here and built that thing? Now, I really do think you’ve gone mad. Aside from the fact that they can’t work together on anything, you want me to believe they travelled to this world and left us to our own devices at some point in time?” The mouth of the cave lit up as they approached, this time the view on the other side was stagnant. It was the room they had left moments before. “I know you have a lot to think about, but just remember this: you are now Prince Marcus, heir to the royal throne, not Mark Beta. Just focus on the task before you; after all, being the future ruler of the kingdom is more than enough stress for anyone.”
This time Mark felt a tug that took his stomach; there was something inside him that resisted leaving the beautiful place behind him. It was neither physical, nor mental, but both at the same time; the sensation was foreign to him. With a thud, he fell to the floor. Lansig leaned against the wall for support; his face looked drained and exhausted. “Lansig?” Mark asked, trying to stand despite the vertigo that once more plagued him. “I’m fine, I’m fine. We made it back just in time. Another few moments and I would not have been able to bring us back.” Each man stood once more. Mark shook his head, opening his mouth to speak. “No,” Lansig ordered him. “Not one word about it. We can be heard now. Remember what I told you.” Mark nodded. “You should get to your chambers, Prince Marcus. Tomorrow will be a very stressful day for you; you will need your sleep.” “What is going to happen to my former master?” “That, my young friend, is up to his father. Let’s hope he does not wish to make an example out of you.” Mark turned to leave. Glancing back, he gave a sheepish look to the old mage. “Am I doing the right thing, Lansig?” His old friend forced a smile onto his face and very slowly shook his head. “There is no such thing as what is right or wrong after seeing what I just showed you. What matters is doing what’s best for those that you can. Right now, that’s getting some rest and concentrating on being the best prince you can possibly be.”