This scene contains violence and death and monstrous/horror imagery.
City of Rangda — Council Building, Meeting Room #3
He wouldn’t treat his precious Empress this way if he really believed.
It was just the expediency of a power-hungry schemer.
Somehow he found out about my power and he wanted to use me.
She held on to that thought for some comfort. She had nothing else.
She did not know what to believe, but she knew what she wanted her self to be.
Madiha felt like her head was about to explode. She felt sick and a little dizzy and the nape of her neck felt like a tight bundle of throbbing muscle. She did not even want to know what the wounds looked like. It would certainly bruise. There was even blood.
Her mind was still swimming with half-remembered images.
Whatever those needles contained it was strong.
It could truly have altered her mind in an irreparable fashion had any more been injected. Perhaps it could have even overcome the protection of her strange power.
She stood from the chair, her wrists and ankles feeling raw from her bonds.
Quickly she took stock of the chaos unfolding.
Mansa and that woman who had been with Jota at the depots, Moira; both were gone.
On the half of the room once occupied by the conspirators, only Jota remained.
He stood unsteadily, his firearm wildly shaking in his hands.
“The stone,” he murmured with horror, “the stone.”
On the right-hand wall near him, Chakrani was unconscious and bound.
Had she been any closer perhaps whatever took Mansa would have taken her too.
Near her, Von Drachen and his two Cissean fighters in Ayvartan uniform held their aim on Jota. They were perhaps unwilling to stare at the brawl unfolding behind them, where Kali had the Brass Mask in a melee. She climbed on its body, avoided its hands, floating and jumping and swinging off him almost more monkey than lizard, employing her tail, claws and wings to batter and slash the creature and covering it in vaporous wounds.
“Von Drachen, if you want to escape from here I need a weapon now.” Madiha said.
Immediately, the Cissean General plucked a pistol from a subordinate’s hip.
He handed it over, but not quickly enough.
“You fucking monster!”
Jota rapidly pulled the trigger on his gun with frantic abandon.
His shots flew over Madiha’s shoulder and around her side. Jota struck one of Von Drachen’s men. Immediately Von Drachen and his remaining man opened fire back. Six bloody wounds blossomed on Jota’s chest. He stumbled back over half of Mansa’s table which had been cleanly severed by the black burst from the trinket. Falling over, he lay twitching and choking for a few seconds and seemed to quickly die from his wounds.
Von Drachen kneeled beside his man, and found him struck in the neck and choking.
“No good. I’m sorry. Rest knowing, however, that we only lost one instead of all.”
He put his gun to the man’s forehead and shot through his brain.
Madiha turned her head away from the sight and rushed toward Chakrani’s chair.
“Nakar, we have bigger problems!” Von Drachen shouted.
Almost as soon as he called out to her, she turned and watched as the Majini finally seized Kali by the neck and hurled the little dragon out of the window like a stone.
“Kali!” Madiha cried out.
The Majini whirled around to meet them. Madiha raised the pistol she had been given, a common Nocht Zwitscherer. Her aim was unsteady; against a Majini she was not certain to hit. They had some kind of aura about them that made many of her powers falter.
Von Drachen and his remaining man followed suit, backing away toward Madiha with their firearms trained on the creature. The Brass Mask, in its neutral position, was like an old drape around a cylinder with a head. With its arms retracted, and its body so covered by voluminous parchment, it did not have anything resembling a human shape, if one knew how the limits of how thin and stretched a normal human body could become.
Normally the mask was static, made of metal, with a smaller head within the face.
Madiha could feel a difference in this one. And soon, she started to see the difference.
She bore witness as the mask gruesomely split in half and then across again in four.
Four brass plates on four snout-like chunks of a head between which there were teeth.
Amid the black gums on these fleshy pillars there were eyes and a lolling purple tongue.
That was not a brass mask it was wearing. That was its face, its brass face.
She almost could not fathom that such a thing could exist on Aer. She had heard of goblins and ghosts, of witches and fairies, of great races of a distant past that created long-gone monuments sunk into the seas. She knew of mythical things that on some level had a face, a human face that could speak and emote and that could be understood. To the consummate socialist atheist these were known as stories that explained human issues and troubles. That was why they had these human faces.
Nothing like that could explain what she was seeing before her.
There was a weight to the sight that made her eyes want to turn from it.
Again she felt herself pushing with her power on her own mind to try to keep together.
She mustered the strength to keep standing and to speak and move.
She could not collapse here. Parinita would not save her here.
She had to save Parinita now. From this; from what could potentially unfold.
Her conviction and survival instinct helped her overcome her fear momentarily.
“Von Drachen this thing is different than I thought! Keep your distance!” She whimpered.
“Rest assured, my dear, that your experience has no bearing on how much distance I keep from this monstrosity!” Von Drachen replied, talking fast as he stepped away.
She wondered how he could even stand to stare at it. His looked almost amused.
At Von Drachen’s side, the remaining soldier’s legs shook so strongly that he fell.
Even his eyes and jaw seemed to be shaking uncontrollably.
The Brass Face turned its gouged head this way and that, searching the room.
It spoke but its words were soundless.
“Ayvarta,” bellowed many voices at once, “He has gone.“
All across its “mouth,” the many “eyes” seemed to focus on Madiha.
“You reek of his will. Of the shackles he placed.“
Though the sounds she heard made no sense she could still understand them.
From its sides the arms sprouted anew. Ice began to collect on its palms and fingers.
“I sense the void. You cannot have this. I must take it from you.”