I write these words into this book, not because I wish to remember. Nor do I wish to preserve my thoughts for future generations to know of them. I do not write this so as to beg for sympathy. I do not wish to explain or excuse what I believe is yet to come. I do this because if I do not, I shall surely go insane. I have to put it into words, in some way – and anyone I could speak these words to is now dead by my own hand.
Or perhaps it is wrong to use that phrase. My hands did no wrong. No, they did not slay those I loved. It was, rather, mine own blood, passed down to me by my parents. The same blood that ran through my sister’s veins, until my own blood spilled it.
No. No, this is wrong. This is not my blood’s fault. My parents had the blood. My sister had it. Hundreds of others have it, all over the world. It was not my blood which slew Friedrich and Anneliese, or sweet little Adelheid. It was not my blood which slew my beloved Gerlinde, or her brother Gilbert, bravest of all.
It was my own weakness, my weak heart and my brittle mind, which could not contain the power of my blood as it awakened. I… I killed them. All of them. Just two days ago, I slew everyone I’ve ever loved, and more besides. I am alone now, with naught by my blood left – and the hope that, perhaps, our glorious Leader can give meaning to this accursed blood of mine.
Yes, that is it. The one good thing to come of this – our Leader has taken notice of me; how could he not. 8644 people dead in minutes, by the power of one foolish child. Perhaps he wishes to punish me. I hope he does. I deserve punishment, yet I cannot devise one of my own which befits the crime I have committed. Or perhaps he, in his wisdom, can see the purpose of this – there has to be a purpose, right? Why would God bestow such power upon one such as I, if not with a greater purpose in mind? Why let me slaughter all these innocents, if not to prepare me for a grander fate?
Please, please, dear God, I beg of you, don’t let this have been for nothing! I can still feel my own sisters blood on my face, on my hands, please, please, don’t let this have been for nothing!
Basil looked away from the screen. Eudocia had finally finished the translation of Hartmann’s diary, and he’d sat right down to read the first entry.
None of the entries were dated, and Eudocia had commented that the only order to them appeared to be that in which they came to the author’s mind. The translation was precise, if a bit formal; translating from German into English lost a lot, unfortunately.
It didn’t lose enough, though, to make it easier to read. Basil had of course heard the stories of how Hartmann had manifested. The sudden onslaught of his power, the forest he’d created nearly instantaneously, destroying his birthplace. An entire village gone in moments, with less than a hundred survivors.
What few eyewitness reports remained of the event had spoken of the young man – a boy, really, younger then than Basil was now – standing in the centre of the forest, covered in blood as he looked up at the corpses of his family and laughed.
Obviously, this being Weisswald, it had largely been interpreted in the worst possible way – but unless this diary was an utter fabrication, he’d felt remorse – at least for a while.
<Father, is something wrong?> Eudocia asked him. <Did I make any mistakes?>
“No, no, that is not it,” he said, though his voice came out rather raspy. He reached for his throat, touching it gingerly. It’d been inflamed for a few days now. “Just… a difficult subject matter.”
<You are not well, Father,> she said. <Your throat infection has gotten worse. You should go to the doctor again.>
“There is nothing he can tell me which I could not figure out on my own,” Basil replied with some annoyance, turning back to his reading. “I only went there to get my medicine legally.“
<The medication isn’t working though, or it wouldn’t get worse, Father!> she said, exasperated. <You need to take care of yourself!>
He looked straight into his computer’s webcam, trying not to show just how fed up he was growing with her constant meddling. He’d already snapped at his friends too much lately, he would not do it to her, too. Even Prisca had been walking on eggshells around him lately.
Maybe that ought to tell him something.
With a sigh, he closed his eyes and admitted to himself that he should at least rest a bit. “I am fine. I will just go to sleep early before school,” he said.
<Father… it’s seven in the morning. On a friday. Classes start in two hours,> she said gingerly.
When he looked at the camera in surprise, she made an apologetic sound. <I tried to tell you, honestly, but you were just… completely down the rabbit hole for the entire night!>
Wait, that can not be true, he thought to himself as he looked down at his hands, which he’d put on his lap. They were pale, like the rest of him, thinner than was usual even by his standards. I… I was thinking about… about something… just an hour ago, or so… it was just barely past the afternoon!
“What did I work on?” he asked gingerly. Some part of him didn’t want to look for himself, not after the failures of the last week.
<I don’t know, Father,> she admitted. <I think you started out with a new power armour design, but then you scrapped it for… I don’t know. You went through at least seven different projects, but you didn’t get anywhere near completing even one. That is the only thing that’s left.> Her webcam turned to point at something, and he followed the motion.
His gaze drifted out over his workshop… or rather, the joke it had become. Whereas he’d used to have a lot of projects going on simultaneously, switching from one to another as the inspiration took him, he’d slowly but surely been forced to downsize, focusing his meagre remaining resources on fewer projects. Or at least he’d tried to do it, tried to conserve resources and focus his attention – but the more he’d tried to, the less it had worked. He just couldn’t get his power to focus, no matter how much he tried to guide its focus; he’d even gone online and searched out dedicated gadgeteer message boards (there was actually one, known as the ‘Think Tank’, which was exclusive to confirmed gadgeteers; the same place where he’d gotten many of the blueprints he’d used in his early days) to research techniques for handling your power.
None of them had worked. Instead, he’d only wasted more resources, started and aborted even more projects. Now… no, yesterday, he’d only had two left, one a garbled mess of an attempt to create a new power source for his equipment (he couldn’t even remember what it had been supposed to be, never mind knowing what it had ended up as) and a new weapon system, a glove that used electrical capacitors to massively enhance striking strength. It hadn’t worked out, either, as he’d lost track of what he’d been doing partway through.
Now… now that was gone, too. His workshop now mostly consisted of a few tables with but three computers and twice as many screens left (he’d resorted to cannibalising even his basic equipment to somehow try to make something, even though he was regretting doing so now… even though he’d known he would even when he’d done it), and several scattered remnants of projects – he’d worn through a lot of material, and there’d even been several catastrophic malfunctions ending in, at least, the materials being spoiled and useless and, in the worst cases so far, in explosions that destroyed even more material.
He’d never had to deal with malfunctions like that before. He’d never have thought he’d have to wear his armour for lab work.
Speaking of which, he’d finally gone through with his design to reduce his power armour to a more economic set of body armour with a few gimmicks. That, at least, had worked out well, and now he had a surprisingly tight, lightweight set of armour that was nonetheless almost as tough as his power armour had been, and far easier to move in without the need for servo motors. It didn’t absorb blunt hits as well as it used to, as it wasn’t rigid, but he wasn’t planning of getting as close to his enemies as he’d used to, anyway. The new set also lacked the enhanced strength, obviously, but he could live without that – Gilgul was stronger than he was ever going to make it, anyway.
At least his ravens were still running. He’d stopped producing new ones, but he had been able to keep up with maintenance.
On the other hand, whatever he’d been working on over the night would not be running. He’d be very surprised if he’d even be able to figure out what it had been supposed to be.
Let’s not waste any more time, he thought, making himself get up… only to realise just how tired and worn out he really felt. He fell back into his chair with a surprised grunt, unable to stay up. “Eudocia,” he said slowly. “How long has it been since I have slept?”
<Actual sleep, or microsleep and naps?>
If she even has to ask… “Actual sleep,” he specified.
<Five days, eighteen hours and twenty-three minutes,> she said immediately. <Furthermore, it’s been two days and forty-four minutes since the last time you ate an actual meal.>
Wow, that is… I did not even notice that. “I did not even notice,” he told her truthfully.
<I’ve repeatedly alerted you to the issue, but you ignored or brushed aside my warnings,> she said, and though her voice was still mostly monotone – she had trouble operating voice synthesisers, and he hadn’t had the time or inspiration to make one for her that she could use easily – he could still tell that she was quite petulant.
Or perhaps he was just projecting his own emotions onto her. “I…” He sighed, leaning forward to rest his head on his hands, and his elbows on his knees. “I do not know if I can make it through school today.”
<You are in dire need of nourishment and, above all else, rest, father,> she said through the speakers near him. <There is nothing high school could teach you which you could not teach yourself better once you’re recovered.>
“N-no… I have missed too many classes… people might… get suspicious,” he groaned, though he wasn’t even sure why it was so important to him to go to school. “Besaaa-” his sentence drifted off into a big yawn.
Once he was done with that, he pushed himself to his feet. “No, I will go to school. At least for the first two periods – then we will see,” he decided. “I should check out the new invention first, though. Just in case it’s actually useful.”
<Father, you are not well! You need to rest!>
“Enough,” he ordered her. “Leave it be.” She stayed quiet and he turned to his latest effort at inventing something.
To his surprise, the gadget actually looked functional. Not complete – but functional. At the very least, all parts seemed to be connected to each other and there weren’t any obvious faults.
It looked, at a glance, like an egg the size of a football made of metal and wire, with several plates of what he had left of his ceramic to armour the upper, thinner half. The lower half had several more such pieces, shaped almost like flower petals, which could open like a flower, attached to the bottom of the ‘egg’, which exposed several fin-like protrusion along their insides.
The egg lacked any discernible propulsion system, but it was too big to be a grenade or something of that kind. When he picked it up, it proved to be lighter than he would’ve expected.
Is it hollow?
His fingers felt along the shell, and into the openings exposed by the petal-like parts of the armour (carefully avoiding the razor-sharp fins – he could not think of a use for them, it wasn’t like they were positioned in a way that would allow using them as weapons, and they weren’t long enough to be able to cause serious damage anyway), but his power was not co-operating – it did not help him understand his invention.
He tried to open the petals fully, but found that they only opened by about sixty degrees – which meant that the fins would always be aimed towards the inside of the egg, anyway.
Finally, he figured out how to open the egg properly – a little pressure here, a little pull there – and the incomplete gadget opened fully.
He could immediately tell what was wrong, and this time, his power actually did jump in and help.
The core of the gadget was missing. It had no less than four of his crystal programming cores built into the insides of its shell, one on each side of the ‘egg’ – which suggested that it would require some heavy programming to work properly – but the connections to whatever was supposed to actually make it work were sticking out, unused.
He’d wasted an entire night’s sleep and… yeah, about half of his remaining materials to build the world’s most expensive (and useless) Easter egg. It wasn’t even colourful, just dull black.
Really, you’re gonna waste time thinking about that? the Man in the Moon whispered into his head. You ought to rethink your priorities, mate.
“Shut up,” he said, too tired to raise his voice.
<Did you say something, Father?> Eudocia asked.
He sighed and shook his head. “No, no, it is all alright.” He put the egg down again. He still had no idea what it was meant for.
What a waste of time. What made it sting even more than just the waste of time was the level of craftsmanship on the inside – what little of the wiring he’d completed was among the most complex he’d ever made – and just the fact that it had four programming cores, when even his ravens – which contained programs far more complex than even his power armour used to have – had only ever needed one per unit. His armour had used a grand total of two, and one of them had been redundant, just in case the primary core was ever damaged.
He’d never made anything which had actually required so much as two programming cores, and this one had four. What could it possibly be meant to do?
I will probably never know, he thought surly.
You’ll survive, the man in the moon replied.
That does not help me, Basil rebutted angrily, anyway, where’s the other one? This ought to be the Blazing Sun’s job.
That one’s… busy, the other one replied.
Busy with what?
Can’t say. Literally, so don’t bother asking, the other guy replied. Seriously, I’m not enjoying this any more than you do, but I can’t even begin to guess what’s going on with us. And before you ask why I care, I am in your body, and a part of you – I feel everything you feel.
<Father, Vasiliki has just entered the base,> Eudocia chimed in, oblivious to the exchange going on inside his head.
Better go greet her, the man in the moon suggested. And tell her you’re not going to school today.
Fuck that, he threw back empathically. Not that he wasn’t going to go greet her. It was just that second part he objected to. At least Vasiliki won’t pester me about that. She’s the last person who’d skip school, no matter the reason.
Throwing the image of a webcam onto a monitor, he used it as an impromptu mirror – and found himself rather wanting. He had to do something about his hair, and he needed fresh clothes; he was pale and drawn out, with dark bags under his eyes and he probably didn’t smell all that nice, either.
How did I let myself go like this? He was usually so intent on staying clean. But there was nothing he could do about that now – he’d just have to take a shower before he left for school.
Shutting down all the electronics down here – save for Eudocia’s webcam access, of course – he threw one last look at the empty egg, and took the winding stairs up to the common room of his base.
He hadn’t even had a chance to greet her or even look around for Vasiliki before she assaulted him with food.
Just as he stepped off the stairs and into the room, she shoved a fork into his mouth, before he’d even realised she was standing next to the doorway.
“Eat,” she ordered firmly, her hair pulled up in a tight knot that made her look a lot like a stern (if disconcertingly pretty, for the average student) teacher.
The taste of grilled meat, fresh onions and thinly cut French fries filled his mouth, and though he felt barely any appetite, his body was more than happy to start chewing once she’d drawn the fork out of his mouth again.
In spite of said lack of appetite, it still tasted wonderful. He chewed, though it was surprisingly difficult to swallow it, even once he’d chewed it to paste.
“Hey-” he tried to say, but she just shoved the next forkful into his mouth the moment he opened it.
“Don’t talk,” she said firmly. “Sit and eat.” She pointed to a chair by the table he’d set up next to the kitchen, and she was reminding him way too much of a grade school teacher to disobey her, so he went and sat down while he chewed the food and swallowed.
Before he could say anything, she put the plastic plate and a fork down in front of him – it was from her family’s restaurant, a pretty big meal and still hot – and walked around the table to look at him from the opposite side, looking at him as if to make sure he actually ate everything.
He got a good look at her – unlike him, she was immaculate, her handmade replica of the school uniform (far superior to the genuine article) looking just-pressed and utterly spotless, her hair in a perfect bun, with a pair of fashionable rimless spectacles on her nose (she’d admitted that she’d used to need glasses, and now she mostly pretended to use contacts, but apparently she still liked wearing glasses). Right now, she had the facial expression to go with the look, stern but not unkind.
“Eudocia told me everything,” she said while he tried the salad that came with the meal. “I should’ve known something would be wrong, when you didn’t show yourself for days and cancelled your patrols. But this? What have you been thinking!? Do you want to get yourself killed?”
She ratted me out? Damn, he thought, though he couldn’t get particularly worked up about it. “I just got a little caught up with work.” He picked at his food, trying to make himself eat the rest.
“And how much, exactly, have you invented?” she asked calmly, going straight for the kill. “Let me guess – you haven’t actually finished anything, or am I wrong?”
Ow. He looked away, unable to respond.
She sighed, and he heard the fridge open and close again. Then she put a chilled bottle of water and a glass next to his plate, filling the latter with water from the former. “Drink.”
“I’m not thirsty,” he said, sounding almost petulant. He hoped.
He couldn’t see her facial expression, as he was still focused on the floor next to the table, but he was pretty sure he was picturing it right when she said, “Drink, or I swear I’ll get a chute, jam it down your throat and empty the entire bottle into you.” She sounded dead serious.
The water was used up in moments, an entire bottle emptied in pretty much one go – he’d ignored the glass. He didn’t feel thirsty, but apparently his body had different ideas.
“Now eat, or do I have to chew it for you and feed you with a chute?” she asked.
Again with the chute… “Alright, alright, I’ll eat already!” he said and focused his attention on his meal.
“And afterwards, a shower. You stink. Be glad Prisca isn’t here, I wouldn’t blame her if she dumped you for that,” she continued as she leaned against the fridge, her arms crossed beneath her chest.
“I love you too,” he replied calmly, before he filled his mouth again.
“I certainly hope so, considering I’m giving up first period for you,” she shot back.
He chewed thoroughly, then swallowed his food. “What are you talking about? We still have plenty of time before school starts…”
“Not if you keep talking instead of eating. So eat, shower, dress and we can go. And don’t think I’m not telling Prisca you’ve been letting yourself go – I can’t look after you all the time, after all.”
“Oh, please do not! You know she will overreact!” he begged half-heartedly.
“Tough luck for you – it was your choice to have a girlfriend like her,” she shot him down. “Now eat your meal, empty that bottle and go shower.”
“Yes mother…” he mumbled.
“What was that?”
The hot water was doing wonders for Basil. He couldn’t believe he’d gone almost an entire week without a shower! He usually showered every day, and twice on hot days. Wasteful, perhaps, but he loved it too much.
And yet I completely spaced out on cleaning up. He was taking too long, really, and if he didn’t finish soon, he’d probably have Vasiliki storming in to finish the job, and he really didn’t want that.
He took the soap and a long scrubber (he could have invented an automatic full-body washing machine, but he’d decided it was better to leave some things be) and went to work, cleaning himself up thoroughly. They’d probably be late to school… but then again, it was kind of weird for him to worry about that. It was just school. Compared to fighting spiteborn and Hastur, school was really barely a blip.
But for some reason, there was a part of Basil that was just… so firmly attached to the idea of a normal life. Living with his sister. Going to school. Going out with his girlfriend.
Just thinking about it made him feel fuzzy and nostalgic, in a really weird way. And even though he’d been… pushing himself lately, he’d barely missed a day of classes, even though, thinking about it in retrospect, he’d avoided his friends.
I wonder why.
Maybe it’s because part of you knows you’re going wrong, and you didn’t want them to help you, mate.
Why wouldn’t I want their help?
I cannot say.
Yeah great, that’s so… wait. That’s what the Blazing Sun always says!
“Great, now he’s giving me the silent treatment,” Basil said, before he wondered just what it meant for his mental health when his own multiple personalities were ignoring him to avoid questions.
I am so fucked.
The downside of taking a nice hot shower was that it was even harder now to stay awake. He’d have to focus a lot to stay awake through the drudge of school. Maybe Vasiliki can help me with that…
He stepped out of his bathroom, wearing a shirt and shorts, only to see Prisca sitting on the table in a cute red minidress and black thigh-high socks. He froze, staring at her, for more than one reason (reason a) cute. Reason b) what was she doing here at this time? She was supposed to be awake!).
Which was why he didn’t notice Vasiliki step up to him from next to the door.
“What i-” he began, before she blew a handful of green dust into his face and the world drifted away.
Prisca watched as Vasiliki caught Basil as he went slack, and quickly glided over to take him off of her – if anyone got to manhandle her boyfriend, it’d be her!
“Alright, you got the plan?” Vasiliki asked as they carried him to the single bedroom he’d built into the base.
“Let him sleep, if he wakes up make sure he eats and drinks a lot and above all, no letting him work on any inventions until we’ve all met up and talked to him,” she said in a serious voice.
“Right. And you’re sure you’ll be able to stay asleep for this?” Vasiliki asked to be sure.
“Sure, I pushed myself to stay up late just for this, so I’d sleep through to noon at least,” Prisca replied.
“Good. I’ll be back after school then,” Vasiliki said and left. “Then we’re going to figure out just what’s wrong with Basil…”
“And we’ll damn well fix it,” Prisca agreed.