The Bastion was monstrous and misshapen, a relic of another time, trapped in the present by those who could not let go of the past. Its gothic arches and cackling gargoyles taunted me, laughed at my insignificance, beckoning me to attempt to become as great as it. For the Bastion, now, in the moonlight, seemed to possess a sentience, some kind of spirit, an anima, as I recall it being thought to me in the Scholastica Alchemica countless years ago. Its odd, really, that I remember such trivialities from beyond the grit and horror of war, as if some part of me was still trying desperately to grasp at the shattered fragments of my past life, desperately endeavoring to recreate it. But the product was always malformed, for I have long realized that there will never be an opportunity to turn back.
What has been done cannot be undone. That was the first axiom of alchemy the Scholastica had taught me, and as I often find, such wisdom transcends mere chemistry. But the reason I had come to the Bastion had little to do with the lofty ideals held by an organization long dissolved. Far from it, in fact, for what I was about to do contradicted the tenets of science themselves. I was going to delve deep into the dark, spontaneous and highly emotional caverns of the human condition, and break the code I have lived by since I could remember. I was going to kill.
The alchemists tried to separate simple murder from warfare as the Southlands waged their expansionist wars against the Free Holds of the north. As the conflict broke out, they began preaching to us the necessity of preserving our ways of life, and how the Holds couldn’t maintain their feudal infrastructure without the deaths of innocents. I believed every acid-laced word.
Eager to display my prodigious abilities, I signed up for front-lines service. What had met me there was far from the romanticized libel the Archons or propaganda posters had whispered to me. Death himself seemed to lurk in those dark trenches, coming in the forms of futile bayonet charges, horrible war machinations, and the flames of the pyrokinetic Freehold mages. I too, became an aspect of Death, cutting down those who opposed me with bursts of flame and rolling arcs of lightning. The passions of my youth turned into bloodlust as bullets and mortars that had no effect on my diamond-hard alchemical warding cut down my companions with ease.
Every day at dusk I stood before the corpses of my allies, and at dawn, the enthusiastic troops called in from reserves. It is said in myths and legends that immortality is a curse, and at that point I couldn’t help but agree. My powers kept me alive, and for that I scorned them.
But Death would find me soon enough. It happened at night, in the trench fields outside of Heliopolis. The air was quiet and crisp, and the infantry were sleeping against the dirt walls, rifles gripped tightly between their sleeping fingers. To me they were human, at least more human than I was. For I was merely a weapon, like the rifles they held so dearly in their hands. While they had to aim and fire, I was always prepared for combat, my voice was my rifle and my hands were my bayonets. But even I could not predict the assault, or do anything in my power to stop it.
They came in considerable numbers, stalking our position like vultures. By the time most of the battalion had been asleep, they had found our position, and when the sentry had sounded the alarm, they had already infiltrated our defenses. The Freeholders had a name for them, and it had been whispered through the ranks of the Southlands army, inspiring fear and dread amongst its soldiers. They were known as Pseudomortis- the Half Dead. Stories were told of skeletal necromancers wielding unimaginable power over life and death, about how they could snuff out your soul with a simple gaze. These tales were by far the most chilling to me, one who had been brought up in the Scholastica Alchemica, and who had been taught since birth to despise the dark paths of blood magic. The Freeholders knew they were losing the war, so they had sent their most abominable constructions to repel us.
Their black robes contrasted with the bright light cast by the trench lanterns, appearing to us as nightmarish shadows. The sounds of frantic screams and gunfire permeated the air before the alarm did, and by then the entire battalion had been reduced to a state of unimaginable chaos. The Liche Priests moaned in their ancient, horrible tongue, projecting apparitions of horror upon the soldiers. Many had quite literally lost their wits, becoming gibbering wrecks on the floor, repeating insignificant actions time after time until they met death in the form of a shot through the head, or a ceremonial knife across the throat. Even I, who possessed alchemical strength comparable to theirs, was fearful.
I stripped a few rounds into my pistol, knowing that it would provide me with little protection, though merely giving me something to do while I nervously waited for the Freehold mages to assault the more fortified part of the trench a few other soldiers and I had taken refuge. I ducked into cover behind an overturned blast shield and waited, body pressed hard into the dirt walls.
The howling and the waves of overwhelming fear came before the Liches, like tremors preceding an earthquake. I tried to block it out with all my might, remembering my training, attempting to not to think of any personal information they could use against me. The fortress of mnemonics and lyrical patterns that I had built around my skull was interrupted by bolts of rage and hate projected by the mages in the distance, now approaching slowly. Eventually it caved in, and their psychological tendrils grasped my mind, filling it not with fear, but deep despair. I spun backwards as my vision faded, flailing my arms out before me, trying desperately to hold on to reality.
The songs of the Liches, combined with their cerebral magic lead me into a deep, primordial state of being, a place far beyond the normal threshold of human thought. These dark chambers held all my fears and my desires, my love and my hate, the very place I was taught to forget about during my years of training at the Scholastica. My head was filled with songs of lamenting and sadness, for the death of an entire culture was being brought about. The Liches knew that their empire was in its dusk, and their sadness was present in their psychological assaults. I would fade away with their citadels, like snow in the spring.
But I was no mere man! I was a weapon of the Southlands, Student of the Scholastica Alchemica, and bringer of ruin. I would not be subjected to such petty attacks! I spat on their songs, and spun one of my own, one of rage and hate. Somber melodies soon transmuted themselves into discord and cacophony. I felt a pressure on my head and a welling in my heart as the primordial chamber erupted with pure white light, and suddenly shattered into oblivion.
I gasped, and opened my eyes. My mind was blinded with crazed insanity, and I stood up, blood gushing from my ears and nose. I was an angel of death, and it was time for the Pseudomortis themselves to feel fear. Their hooded forms staggered back, shocked to witness one who had withstood their witchcraft. They were now exposed and vulnerable, ready to hear my song. I gathered all the energy in my system, channeled it into my palms, and unleashed a torrent of flames in their general vicinity. They screamed in pain as they burned, seeking desperately to find some means of extinguishing the blaze. I slumped down against the dirt wall, wiping the blood off my face with a sleeve. It was over.
A column of scout cavalry found the decimated trench complex along with my broken form the next day. I had suffered more internal damage then I had first perceived, sustaining brain hemorrhaging, organ trauma and a multitude of badly broken ribs.
It was now winter, and the war had ended. The entirety of the Southlands had been swept with a tide of unprecedented political dissent among the populace, and the streets were rife with crime and riots. In an attempt to redistribute power and send a message to the populace, the Scholastica was abolished and its alchemists murdered or imprisoned, myself escaping death by a hair.
The once proud citizens of a once proud nation had been metamorphosed into a throng of violent and vicious cutthroats – through the very war they once were eager to be a part of. The Archons had simply gone too far with the amount of resources, human and material, spent on the expansion. The young men who had been proudly whisked off to the Freeholds with the fanfare and praise of the masses found themselves dead in the mud, without a soul to remember them. And yet the Southlands pushed on. They plowed forward because they wanted glory, a glory that would come baptized in the blood of two nations. But glory never came, and when the war ended, there was little celebration. The Southlands was festering, and the time had come for the infection to be purged with flame.
The rebels had already gained access to entire hangars of aircraft, and with the weapons found within had laid waste to the sky fortresses Antares and Aquila, sending their titanic forms, which once stood like constellations suspended midair, cascading slowly into the earth like meteors from the heavens.
Most of the dissidents were the university students who, due to their standings, were not permitted to partake in the war. Their wounds stung the most, for they were not allowed to fight alongside their brothers in the apocalyptic events that would tear their lives apart. But I was a god amongst men. I knew what the Archons were planning, and while the common man would vent his rage against the Southlands itself, I would end the old men who had started it. The last living alchemist would bring ruin once more. They would pay for what they had done to me.
I moved like a shadow along the paths of the Bastion, forcing my crippled body to tread through the thick snow, using my old military rifle as a cane. The fortress was utterly silent; the only audible sounds were the ghosts of artillery barrages miles away, whispering like shrieking demons in the wind. Although it was the dead of night, the sky was ablaze with flame, signifying that the rebels had torn apart another sky behemoth.
It would seem to most that the Bastion would be forgotten, just as the Archons had planned it to be. Unknown to all but the Archons themselves, an aerostat would be arriving within half an hour to drop off Archon Antioch, the next down . Though the exterior of the Bastion was a decaying façade, the internals were comprised of an elaborate web of mechanical and alchemical defenses. While the sky fortresses and their personnel thinned out as many rebels as they could, the Archons would wait in their Bastion, peaceably counting down the seconds until they could emerge to reclaim their charred empire. They would rather watch the Southlands burn to the ground than relinquish control over it. I would come to remind that no matter how hard they tried to forget their actions, retribution would always find them.
I walked into the black of the Bastion’s venting tunnels. Though I was expecting to find some kind of warmth, all that met me was the familiar bitter cold of the fortresses exterior. In that darkness I was transformed, transmuted into Death incarnate, just as the Freehold death mages did all those long months ago. I was now no longer human, ready to become a weapon of death, completing a cycle that had started at my birth. I had always been destined to become a weapon of the state, and now it seems that the Archon’s plans would become their undoing. My aches and pains dissolved into the dark air that enveloped me. I checked my pocket watch. Three minutes.
I knocked a wrought iron door out of its very hinges with a blow from my glowing palm, striding out into the desolate airfield, keeping my heart rate and breathing in control. The night air rushed to meet me, attracted to my alchemically charged form like moths to an open flame. My blood felt as if it would boil, for I was releasing all my madness, my anger, and the warm tears that should have burst from my eyes on the first day in the trenches. I would meet the Archon here, in plain sight, and unleash my smoldering rage upon him. I felt more power than I ever had before.
The swirling cacophony of alchemical engines preceded the arrival of the aerostat. The airship itself was small, hard to detect and fast, forsaking the traditional large arms generally equipped to craft of its size. That would be their undoing, for without any heavy firepower, they would have nothing to oppose me. It touched down onto the landing pad elegantly, like some graceful beast from legend, landing struts extending dexterously. I stood before them, ready, though they were completely oblivious to my presence.
Halfway through the engine shutdown process, somebody onboard recognized my presence, and a quick, panicked check would reveal that I was not meant to be there. The engines fired up suddenly, and takeoff procedures began. But I would not allow them to escape back to their sky fortresses. I thrust my hands forward, channeling my built up alchemical energy into two massive ethereal fists, each half the size of the aerostat itself, and projected them forward, both gripping onto the rotors fixed on either side of the airship. My fists clenched, and after a few seconds delay, so did the ethereal effigies alchemically attached to them. The rotors began to slow and fail, smoke pouring out of the cockpit.
Just as I began to feel excitement over my victory, the airship began to morph. The mechanized hatch its at the stern of the craft retracted, revealing a brass-laden machine and a crew of three engineers, which must have climbed into the concealed hard point in the chaos. Knowing what would come next, I was forced to dismiss the two ethereal hands suspended around the rotors, in an attempt to conjure a buffer field around me. The bullets splintered and fragmented in front of my face, sending a torrent of molten lead in every direction. With the spectral hands off the rotors, the aerostat launched off into the night sky, trailing flame and black smoke. The gunners were suddenly thrown off balance by the unprecedented takeoff, two slipping off completely, each colliding fatally and viscerally with the launch pad. The other gained his footing and slipped back into the cockpit of the airship.
The mass of the once elegant metal construct was now flailing out of control. Their main weapon was inoperable, their mobility crippled and their crew in panic. All I had to do now was watch as the Archon’s aircraft was brought down t by its own wounds. The airship flipped over once, desperately trying to maintain control, before spiraling down to earth in a plume of flaming destruction. It plowed into the concrete flooring, ripping apart the hull and splintering the wings as it scraped against it at high velocity.
Once the aerostat had stopped moving completely, a figure carrying a small revolver climbed out of the hatch, blindly groping around the smoke for some means of escape. I fired a warning shot from my rifle, and realizing it was not the Archon, let him escape peaceably, to his overwhelming satisfaction. I then proceeded to approach the wreckage, in an attempt to locate my target.
I entered the hatch of the downed aerostat, using my heightened senses to see through the smoke. The interior resembled more of a temple forged of iron than any aerostat cockpit I had seen in the war. The architecture sacrificed function for form, and made the use of sweeping flying buttresses laden with motifs and symbols, each supporting the domelike structure that was the command center. The entirety of the once grand room was in a state of utter disrepair, pipes lay steaming and bookshelves smoldering, in a sense reminding me of the ancient and long forgotten ruins of old. After searching the room thoroughly and finding little of interest, I proceeded to walk to the captain’s quarters, which had clearly been renovated to fit the tastes of the upper echelons of society.
The door, monolithic and elaborate in its nature, wrought from the same dense black iron as the rest of the aerostat, was the final barrier between my goal and me. The Archon had nowhere else to hide but here. I shot off the complex and clearly antique ceremonial lock affixed to its frame, and nudged the door in slowly with my boot. It moved effortlessly against the gears connected to it, and I stepped into the dark room.
I walked no more than two paces into the chamber before I was bashed in the head by a blunt object. My entire reality flickered and buzzed as my brain struggled to maintain consciousness. I spun backwards, nearly falling in an attempt to distance myself from my attacker, while leveling my rifle awkwardly. I steeled myself and took aim at my assailant.
The Archon stood before my sights, a figure tall and wraithlike in appearance, black ceremonial cloaks hanging by his side. In his hand was a long dueling blade, glistening eerily in the red evacuation lights. I spat at his form and fired.
The Archon plunged the foot long length of steel through my abdomen, exiting in a spray of blood. I looked down in shock and disbelief at my disfigured chest, and then back up to the Archon’s face, which was now as wild and fearful as my own. I threw my hands around his cranium, and unleashed a torrent of energy through his skull. We fell together, in a tangled mess of limbs. I gasped before my vision faded into infinite blackness.
As a weapon of war, my purpose had been served.
Age 15, Grade 10
Saint Ann’s School