Marange, NYUNDO Headquarters"Then out of respect for me and my client..."
"We extend all courtesy and are most gracious to have you as guests." The response came from behind the trio. Startled, they turned to face the broad figure that dominated a kolwezite archway fashioned into the image of a baobab's bole.
Makemba rose from beside Ndakala and stormed across the room towards the new arrival and began to beat them mercilessly with a sullied rag. "Khethiwe! You hyena's ass!"
Khethiwe laughed and gave old Makemba a playful wail in response to the beating as Ndakala and Miss Benson exchanged surprised glances over the stone carafes they sipped from. Surprise soon faded to apprehension as the two whispered quickly in a tongue unfamiliar to Ndakala.
Khethiwe gestured toward the pygmy with a beckoning wave as Makemba took Miss Benson by the arm and gently led her towards an adjoining chamber that rich aromas wafted from. "There is one who would speak with you, my friend. Come."
Ndakala accompanied the large figure of Khethiwe past the arch that shimmered brilliantly in the firelight and down a dark corridor that branched off intermittently until reaching a sight that made the pygmy's steps falter.
The pair had come to something so fantastic Ndakala's mind struggled to process; beyond them was a kaleidoscopic tunnel that wound its way past his sightline. Scurrying to match his guide's gait, he marveled at the tessellated walls that recounted a history he had no time to string together. “Unbelievable, isn't it?" Khethiwe peered over his shoulder and gave an understanding wink, fingertips dancing along a mosaic-- viridian and teal patchwork depicting surging waters.
A muted grunt of acknowledgement was all Ndakala could muster as the two walked in retrospective silence. After some time, the visitor became aware of a distant drone and in stunned realization blurted "Is.. is that water?" A small chuckle was all that came in response as they came to a fork in the path. They continued on the right-hand path when Khethiwe began.
"Makemba tells me you spoke of Phalaborwa and were saddened to hear of it burning. You would be pleased to know that much of its people were saved from such a terrible fate and you personally played a hand in their survival. Most have been relocated further north, while those that wish to fight will call Marange home from here forward. The one you met- the one that charged you with bringing the child to us; she is their champion and would have been able to do little for them had she been focused on protecting the little one."
They paused, and for the first time did Ndakala note that his guide's pace had slowed. Only when abreast with Khethiwe did he observe how haggard, almost shrunken, they were when compared to less than an hour ago. Deep channels had appeared beneath round, cheerful eyes and their skin seemed to have taken on an ashened hue.
"As such, our leader would be very pleased to speak with you." They extended a hand forward and pulled open a pellucid hatch that served as a barrier to the humidity that crept into the tunnel. What had once been a muted drone grew to a roar as Ndakala entered an expansive chamber that once more left him speechless. They stood at a precipice overlooking a worn path that meandered through a forest of towering fungi pocked with spires of crystal, neatly divided by a rushing river.
Their descent was slow going, Khethiwe growing more tired with each shaded crevice or panoramic gulch, and having reached the path's ingress into the mycological marvel they asked for a moment's rest. Ndakala nodded and made his way towards the fungal brake's brink, slightly intoxicated with the surrealness of his environs. As he grew closer he felt a strange quality in the air, his skin tingling in response. In the distance the river's surging was a pleasant backdrop to the retreat at his presence of fat salamanders between gregarious stalks that loomed overhead. Bejeweled beetles fluttered upon diaphanous wings as they sprauchled from bulbs swollen with fluorescent sap, and somewhere far-off he could hear the playful baying of unknown beasts.
Moved beyond the limitations of language, Ndakala lost himself in the primal orchestra that permeated throughout. Wishing to express the gratitude he felt at being shown this place, he turned back to check on his guide. "What miracle created such an environment?"
His words caught in his throat as Khethiwe's form slumped forward from its seated position atop a rock. Ndakala recoiled in horror upon turning the guide's form over with a sickening squelch. A viscous and malodorous fluid poured from several cracks that had appeared along Khethiwe's torso, and with one last shuddering breath their form collapsed in upon itself. Within the cavity that had moments prior been Khethiwe, lay a shriveled figure, slick with putrescence.
"Sorry you had to see that. Thought I'd get here before he ran out of time." Khethiwe stepped down the forest path, offering a hand to the kneeled pygmy.
“Ran out of -- what in the name of Khonvoum? What did I just witness?"
“Not all of our gifts are as wonderful as Najwa’s or Kengue’s,” Khethiwe approached the withering remains of its Helmasi and gave a brief nod in respect of its passing, “but we use what we are capable of to help. Now, unless you’d like to witness how I give the Helmasi form, I suggest you follow the trail until you reach the vitreous lagoons of the Kichaka Siri.” Khethiwe gave Ndakala an encouraging wave of dismissal and as the pygmy began their unaccompanied trek he could hear uncomfortable dry heaving from his former guide’s location.Meanwhile in the NYUNDO Barracks...
“I should have been more aware of how emotionally compromising the mission was for you. I can only blame myself for your hesitation in separating a child from their family, habibi.” The old man sat absentmindedly picking at a cuticle of his wooden prosthesis. A heavy sigh gave way to a soft chuckle before he continued. “We may come to regret the boldness of our activities, but for now let us celebrate our victories. You make us all proud, Najwa.”
Back turned to Assad, Najwa stood at a basalt basin fed from the grinning maw of a lion and washed away the blood and ash of the previous 24 hours. The majority of the XSF uniform she’d expropriated earlier lay in a huddled mass at her feet. She paused to observe her countenance reflected in the algid pool, droplets running down taut bronze flesh. She stepped away from the basin and entered a chamber adjoining her quarters, its threshold artfully hewn in prismatic dolomite. “Has Kengue returned,” she inquired from the other room as her father gave an aged groan, stooping to collect the uniform.
“I insisted he remain at Malawi and rest. He pushes himself too far, just like you.” The old man deposited the clothes into a narrow chute and stretched, muscles trembling upon full extension.
“You’re one to talk, or do you think we can’t see just how old the Lion has become?” Najwa shot back puckishly. She stepped back into the anteroom, now comfortable in her NYUNDO fatigues. “And Mshale? I heard he too came across the unexpected during his operation.”
“As for that,” Assad began…NYUNDO Stockades
Mshale held fast to the thrashing ghoul he'd taken from Xanathan’s talons, its gaunt form writhing against telekinetic might, suspended several feet off the mottled cave floor. Guttural curses were locked away as its frame was forcefully flung against a cell carved into the porous wall. Through the application of his willpower, Mshale slid a dense and translucent slab of quartz over the cell’s only opening.
He spat in disgust at the distorted image of his cadaverous captive as it scuttled about its new quarters in bestial fashion. “I should kill you now and be done with this uroyi.” He began to apply more pressure, agonizing rivulets gouging into the creature’s splintering mandible.
A soothing palm pressed against the center of Mshale’s broad back and he turned, immediately relinquishing his psionic grasp. “Release your anger, and focus that ever so dreadful mind on me.” Her voice, sweeter than passion fruit, ushered him out of the stockades and into the warmth of her embrace.13-8-2039
Rendenvauld (formerly Johannesburg, South Africa)
“Tonight marks the third night of skirmishes between Pro-Human forces and dissident elements. The protests are in response to unsubstantiated reports of lethal repression and have once again sparked controversy amongst Xanathan intelligentsia, with some being so bold as to claim that even if the reports were true…” the announcer’s audio was lost within the stochastic *THUNK* of 40mm canisters showering chemical irritants over a roaring multitude of clashing protesters.
Tear gas rose in billowing plumes, choking gasps lost in the throng’s tumult as Jean-Yves Mbappé broke through the mob; his grip a vice around his wife’s hand. They had the misfortune of being caught in a dissident demonstration after the Maglev rails were blocked with overturned construction equipment. Their footsteps retreated down an alleyway as the rapport of several minor explosions shook them to their knees; vivid orange and crimson flames reached for the partially-obscured full moon as he paused to peer back at the thoroughfare. Jean-Yves’ ears rang with the unmistakable staccato of gunfire as he wrapped his arms protectively around Delphine’s shoulders, shuffling onward in a panic. An agitated buzz reverberated through their skulls as they were unexpectedly blinded by the sudden discharge of an immobilizing arclight and they stumbled blindly into the adroitly manicured courtyard of Hyŏng Cybernetics.
“손 들어! 손 들어!” The couple were swiftly encircled by a force of armored individuals moving in unison, K7 submachine guns at the ready.
“S’il vous plait! On ne comprend pas!” Jean-Yves pleaded, eyes flushed with tears. A piercing ring accompanied each interrogatory wave of their barrel-mounted flashlights as his sight struggled to return. Scrabbling in search of Delphine, his world reeled with the impact of a reinforced boot across his cheek. “Je.. je prie…,” he muttered through a swelling jaw as more blows landed. A crumpled mass on the courtyard’s cobblestone, Delphine stared vacantly as her young husband was brutally beaten.
“중지!” An authoritative voice undercut the clattering of ceralloy armor plates, putting an immediate end to the assault. Panting heavily, the detachment stood at attention as the man groaned at their feet. The air grew still with the audible deactivation of the arclamps. A slender figure approaches Jean-Yves, swimming through the haze of pain from his left eye being swollen shut, and stoops to inspect a deep laceration. “C'est une mauvaise lésion,” the figure knelt and assisted Jean-Yves to a seated position, “Devons ralentir le saignement.”
The cool silk of the man’s handkerchief pressed against the wound and without lifting his gaze he commanded, “내 차, 당장!” One of the armored individuals gave a salute in response and withdrew with a hurried jog.
“Mademoiselle, votre mari a besoin d'un hôpital. Es-tu blessé aussi?” No response came from Delphine other than shuddering sighs. “Mademoiselle?”
With a surge of resolve Jean-Yves lifted himself enough to turn towards his wife and shakily rasp, “D-Delphine…” Recognition washed over her features with an audible whimper and she scrambled over to her husband. “J-Jean.. Jean, qu'ont-ils fait? Qu’ont-ils fait..”
“Calme, Delphine.. Calme.” Finally aware of the man assisting Jean-Yves, she bawled while pointing angrily at the remaining armored guards, “Qu’ont-ils fait! Bâtards! Lâches! Mon pauvre mari.. Mon mari..”
“해산!” The detachment departed at the command, leaving the the couple and their unknown protector to be illuminated by the headlights of a sleek luxury sedan. “Aidez-moi à le soulever, Delphine. Allons à l'hôpital.”A few hours later…
Sudwala Caves, Xanathan Territories
"Ptah درخواست RA،’ چطور باید محدود شوند؟ ‘
'در غیاب من'، اعلام کرد RA
و به Ptah داده شده است
The eldritch invocation echoed through each cavernous chamber of the cave system, its cadence growing in fervor with each repetition. Its source was a hooded figure, clad in cobalt vestments whose utterances were produced behind a mask in the graven image of an ibis. Arms slick with viscera, the figure scrawls an elaborate series of sanguineous runes upon a length of papyrus soaked in the urine of a jackal. Setting the scroll aside, they bent over the lifeless bodies of Jean-Yves and Delphine before straightening with a lock of each’s hair. The papyrus and hair were deposited into a canopic jar, sealed with a lid depicting a crocodile.
"دانتوں اور دانشوں کے گرین کا تیز،
وہ جو بخار میں خوش ہے. "
The robed personage’s chant eerily layered itself upon the initial antediluvian syllables, feeding into one another through an occult ouroboros of octaves. Their footsteps traced a pattern in entrails strewn across the cave floor, the canopic jar held aloft. At the end of the pattern upon a dais of Precambrian design stood a scale that dwarfed its acolyte. Fashioned by no mortal hand, the scale’s fulchrum was carved into the oblong likeness of a six-eared kudu, aureate helixed-horns lined with bands of lapis lazuli and turquoise. A basalt beam was thrust through its eyes, ending in fine chains of silver from which hung deep bowls. Suspended between its cervid antlers was a true microcosm, perceived as a prismatic, pulsating mass; and where they met upon its brow was a glaring third eye, cast in diamonds. Setting the canopic jar within one of the scale’s bowls, the figure was lost in zealous fervor as he began the final invocation.
"היא חיפשה אותו ללא הרף, היא הסתובבה סביב כדור הארץ הזה בצער, והיא לא נרתעה ולא מצאה אותו".
The fabric of reality churned as spacetime was rent asunder, and above the scale’s empty bowl appeared a desiccated heart that undulated sickeningly with its manifestation. It collapsed with a clatter, plunging the cave into a Stygian darkness.
END OF ACT I