The inverted mountain was sinking. The Anti-Zot, as Kip liked to call it, was dragging through the clouds, drifting down towards the distant mass of lands below. The fortress had once been the home to the Daear. But now that they had been defeated and their powers broken, there was not enough life force left to keep the thing afloat.
If you call this taint a life force at all.
How he had ended up there was all very muddled. Seeing the tide of battle had turned for the worst, instinct drove him to retreat from the Crystal room in Fabul. The Daear troops were a mess. Word of Pren’s demise ran rampant as the humans began to carve out chunks in their army. As far as Kip knew, none of the Daear had escaped – at least, he hadn’t seen any signs of life since he had come there.
Just as well. Pren got what she deserved. As did all of the rest of them. I hope they all rot in the Void…
The remaining rift back to the mountain fortress had been very weak. But it had been the only escape that Kip could find outside of the gates of Fabul.
I hate this place. I’m glad it’s going down.
The fortress reeked of decay. Things worse than decay. Of a world hollowed out, guts strewn around, by its own keepers. But that was nothing new to him. Nothing he had never seen before. In fact, it’s all he had ever seen in his lifetime. And no amount of struggling against it ever saved anyone.
Not ShiKon. Not NaTu. Not even Master SoYa.
A pang of dark loneliness crept over O.M.E.G.A. there in the blighted heart of the dying mountain. Afterall, there wasn’t anything left for him in the cold world.
I couldn’t find them. I couldn’t save them.
Images pulsed through his mind.
They died while I ran, like a coward, from the planet’s explosion.
Brilliant red yellow and white flowering through the starry sky outside of his ship’s window.
The terrible memory drove his hands upwards, fingers clutching at his head. Digging into his skull. The pain on the outside was so much easier to deal with.
And even in his singular, last task, he had failed.
I lost the Crystal. I lost Joran’s trust. I could not defeat Golbez…
A shudder rumbled through the structure around him, bits and pieces raining down from above. But O.M.E.G.A.’s anguish did not care. There were only the rending, tearing feelings inside of his mind. Of what he once was and what he had become.
I have failed.
And now he would meet his end, there within the sinking mountain. Nothing but a crumbling person who should have never been. Nothing more than a prototype… the O.M.E.G.A. project.
A fallback plan for if the Dark Lord ever turned against Zeromus.
But even by the time that did happen, O.M.E.G.A. had long been forgotten. Left to spend eternity in the sleeping pod in the bowels of Zot. To die when the pod could no longer function.
Kip slumped against the oozing face of the wall, a shadow upon shadow. Memories ever more intense until the ghosts of the past were almost a reality before his single blurry-visioned eye. The faces of those he loved, hovering just out of his reach, sifting through a cold silver mist that now seemed to fill the halls of the fortress. Though it was too much to ask for, Kip knew, perhaps the only way he could go to join them was through his demise.
-KiNaTu…- A voice. It came from every direction at once, as if it was part of the mist. It bled into his mind, melting away the lingering shadows with a sense of wonderment.
That name… how…?
The mists billowed into the room, an eerie cloud of unanswering silence. Kip lifted his head, the single eye burning into the shifting shapes, trying to make out the source. Something about it felt strangely familiar… as if he should recognize the presence that was forming there within the fortress. Something about it also made every hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
“Who are you?” he asked warily.
-One that has been watching,- came the reply.
Kip ground his teeth. If there was anything he didn’t like, it was being observed without his knowledge. “What do you want from me?”
“Nothing?” the O.M.E.G.A. echoed. “I find that hard to believe after you just told me that you were watching me.”
-It is not what I want from you… it is what I can offer you, instead.-
“And that is?” he found himself leaning forward in spite of himself. Afterall, he had nothing to lose. So, even if he was being played by the strange voice in the dying fortress, there was no harm to be done.
-Your enemy and my rival are one in the same,- came the simple answer. Forthright. Without any embellishment.
Maybe that’s why Kip found himself believing the voice. Or maybe… it was just that he didn’t want to lose. To be a failure. To give up the fight so early on.
“You’re talking about Golbez?” O.M.E.G.A. asked, pushing himself up on his palms with a frown.
-And his brother. Both.-
“The Paladin King?” an eyebrow arched. This was getting interesting. And perhaps dangerous. Anything that had its sights set out to destroy a Paladin was probably not good news. But then again, neither was O.M.E.G.A.
Kip thought for a long moment, feeling the shifting of the fortress underneath him. He watched as streams of loose stone and ooze melted down the face of the further wall. The sickly green mingled with the silver mists, seeming drawn into it. The mists became more intent. As if fed by the death around it.
“How do you plan on fighting them?” O.M.E.G.A. finally asked.
-I will grant you the ability that you need to continue your battle.-
“I see,” he pursed his lips. “There’s not a lot we can do unless we can get Incrytan away from Golbez. With his Key Crystal in hand, he’s far more dangerous than before.”
-Perhaps. And then, perhaps there are far more dangers that he is not accounting for yet,- came the ambiguous reply.
“Just what sort of game are you playing?” Kip asked shrewdly templing his fingers.
-I assure you, this is no game.-
“Then why don’t you show yourself?”
-If I could manifest, then I would not have to seek outside assistance to meet my goals.-
Kip frowned. Things were getting more complicated and less rational. He didn’t like the feeling of the offer… there were too many things left unsaid. Too many opportunities for his own undoing. But the shivering of the structure under his feet left him very little time to make up his mind. And the voice seemed to know this.
-Do you wish to impart your vengeance? Or will this be the place of your demise?-
“Alright,” O.M.E.G.A. finally answered. “Let me see what you got. If you can get me out of here before this place rots into nothing, then we can talk shop.”
-That will not be a problem,- came the distant reply.
All at once, the shifting mists began to take on a softer, more luminous look. The structure blurred and wavered, rippling in streams of distorted light. Kip suddenly knew that his previous theory about how the mists might be drawing energy from the fortress was probably closer to the truth than he could have guessed.
It was as if a pathway to another existence had unfolded around him. Wherever the mist rose, the world was not the world that Kip knew. It was darker. Indistinct. Alarmingly erratic. Every sane thread left within him – if there were any – warned him against taking the first motion towards the place.
What’s the alternate choice, afterall. Either way I go, I could end up just as dead.
With grated teeth, Kip forced his feet to move. Insanity had won out. And the unending, dull thrumming in the back of his head. The inevitable welling of fervor to drive forward. To destroy that which O.M.E.G.A. was created to destroy.
The strange world peeled back away from him. As if it was observing and not quite sure that O.M.E.G.A. belonged there. Or anywhere. But this particular place seemed to have an awareness of its own. He could feel them. Thousands upon thousands of sentient points drifting through the mists that hovered just on the edge of his sight.
So much emotion… so much chaos.
Shivers ran up and down the length of his body despite the fact there was neither heat nor cold in the air around him. In fact, Kip wasn’t even sure if there was air at all. How he was breathing, he didn’t want to ponder too much. The world was closing in behind him, blocking out the last vision of the dying Daear mountain.
What is this place?
-You have come to the Mists. The place between the waking and the dead. Here, They who left life incomplete… They who chose to remain without passing… and the souls of Those in desperate wanting all wander.-
Verbal words seem too hard to form there in the Mists. Maybe it was the ethereal nature of the place. Or maybe it was just from the shock of realization. But the voice seemed to have little problem in plucking the thoughts out of his head.
Then… the emotions I’m feeling… are from those who are dead?
-To put it simply.-
Kip felt his pulse quicken. He had, afterall, chosen to listen to the deal in order to escape death. Not step right into it.
-Do not worry. You will not be harmed here. They have no physical power over you.-
Why did you bring me here?
The voice answered simply, -This is my domain… and my prison.-
Are you dead..?
It wasn’t until after the question came out that he realized it was pretty insensitive. And it probably wasn’t a good idea to tee off whatever power had just pulled him into the land of the unliving.
But the voice did not seem angry at all. It answered very patiently.
-No. I am disconnected.-
Kip took a moment to puzzle that statement. But he couldn’t get anything out of it, try as he might.
Before he could find the thoughts to ask for clarification, he realized that the Mists were doing something. Pulling together. Taking a form. And behind the growing shape were points of light that he came to realize were glittering eyes. Kip could make out nothing more of them than that.
And he didn’t have to… it was quite enough for him to realize he was officially in over his head.
The mists continued to draw together in the form of a man – a very tall and slender-built man. Though his features were blurry and unfocused, Kip could make out the long streams of hair, the sharp tilt of his face… and the cold grip of his silver-eyed gaze. Behind him, the mists unfurled… at first without shape. But then, as the swaths of white lifted far above the figure’s head, Kip could clearly see the outline of huge feathered wings.
– I will hold my end of the bargain.-
A chilling sense of dread held Kip’s soul. Something about this figure, this silver-eyed winged man, seemed terribly, terribly wrong. But as a single hand lifted and the power from the mist began to draw around O.M.E.G.A., Kip was lost in the morbid delight… the feeling of growing strength in his own body, as his plates began to absorb the power that was offered.
– I will grant you a power far more than mere mind magery… I will grant you the power to turn souls.-
A low hiss escaped O.M.E.G.A.’s lips. The burning green of his eye was almost the only point of color in all of the Mists. Breathing heavily, the tingle of unearthly magic rushed through Kip’s body, filling him with a renewed strength and hunger. The feeling was exhilarating… frighteningly so.
– And with this power, you can take from your enemy what is most dear to him… However.-
With that last word, the figure lowered his hand.
-I require two things of you in return.-
Two things… such as?
The voice paused for a moment. When it spoke again, the condition was nothing that O.M.E.G.A. couldn’t have guessed at.
-The remaining Crystals must be destroyed.-
A slow smirk crept over O.M.E.G.A.’s face.
That’s all? There is only one set left.
Silence fell over the mists. The kind of silence that told Kip instantly that he was mistaken.
-I require that the corresponding Crystals of the Red Moon also be destroyed.-