The blast that issued from Silver Mount a week ago had caused quite a panic in Starfall. That unnatural mountain of metal that jutted out of the ground, the largest, mostly intact star ship that had grounded itself so many centuries ago, had been the Divinity. While it had been over a year since the mad AI Unity had launched its attack on the city, the people of Starfall still had lingering concerns about any unusual activity from their looming neighbour.
What concerned Bliks wasn’t the blast, but where the blast had occurred; secondary engineering. This was the area that had allowed access to the interior of the Divinity, but more worrisome, where Unity’s overlord robot had been preparing to launch a shuttle into orbit as part of it’s plan to forcibly convert all of Golarian. The guards at this level hadn’t reported any unusual activity but were now not responding to her commset. Having grabbed a pair of magnification goggles, she rushed to the roof of the Palace of Fallen Stars, and caught the barest hint of a contrail followed by a sudden if distant burst of light.
Something had been fired from the Divinity and, as she subsequently learned from robotic observers around the city, had exploded high above Numeria. And to top it off, the guards at the engineering entrance had finally reported in, claiming that there were three people, all claiming to be Ve’Dien, in their custody.
All of this had come at an inopportune time. While Hex and Ernyo were in town to meet with the Tribal and People’s councils, taking care of much of the day to day hassles she often had to manage in their absence, Bliks herself had been doing some delicate technological experiments as well as the arduous task of creating a Numerian military. Prior to Hex’s administration, their nation’s defence had been mainly orchestrated through whatever tribes the Black Sovereign could control or directly through the mainly robotic forces of the Technic League, but any weakness in the Black Sovereign or infighting in the Technic League could easily divide them. What Bliks determined Numeria needed was a professional army, and creating such an army, let alone working out its funding and political considerations, had been a balancing act that didn’t need unknown factors to be thrown in.
And while the Ve’Diens weren’t a political consideration, the blast threw her negotiations into disarray. There were calls for increased patrols over the surface of Silver Mount, and opposing calls for either shutting down all access to Silver or sending the nascent army into the Divinity to ensure complete control, regardless of the risks involved. So it had taken a week of concerted effort, backroom conferences, and late nights to smooth over ruffled feathers, calm frayed nerves, and return Starfall to a relatively calm state. Only then was she finally able to meet with the Ve’Dien trio.
Bliks had ordered that they be ushered to the Palace of Fallen Stars under a shroud of secrecy and given rooms far from the circulation of the general staff. When she finally did sit down with them, she found their tendency to finish each other’s sentences and handing objects to one another without looking or asking, both fascinating and unnerving. And while they all looked like Ve’Dien, she had been merely a human, and now there was both an android and translucent cloud versions of her.
“It’s so good to see you again Mistress”, the android said. The android looked just like Ve’Dien, save for the faint tattoo like circuit tracery on her skin, but dressed as she had done when she had been Blik’s personal cohort; a many pocketed long coat, with tools filling those pockets and spilling out across bandoliers and hanging from belts. She had been Bliks’ personal confessor of inventiveness, an emissary sent from the Temple of Brigh in Torch over two years ago … and had died at the hands of Furkas Xoud in the Choking Tower.
Bliks shifted in her seat. “I’m sorry I had to keep you waiting so long, there were … affairs of state that needed my attention.”
The human Ve’Dien smiled. This was the Ve’Dien that Bliks had remembered most recently, the one that had disappeared into the depths of Silver Mount, that she had presumed had died. Her garb was far more daring, a form fitting white and red jumpsuit of Androffan technological armour with added flared sleeves. “We understand, the rise of the herald must have been disturbing.”
“The herald?”, Bliks blinked in response. “You mean that shuttle?”
“Oh yes.” This time, the translucent Ve’Dien spoke. Bliks knew that it wasn’t merely a vapour or a ghost, but a cloud of nanites holding themselves in a humanoid shape. The shape, while clearly representative of the human Ve’Dien, appeared to be more clockwork in profile, and Bliks could see internal workings, shifting, ticking, and ratcheting against one another. She had seen the clockwork automata of Alkenstar City, but never seen through one before. “Before events proceed, our goddess will need a new herald.”
Bliks mused on this for a moment. While Ve’Dien had once been a priestess of Brigh and this translucent creature clearly had the shape of her holiness, the human Ve’Dien had seemed to have given up her faith for something more spiritual.
“Why would the Whisperer in Bronze need a new herald? What is there that couldn’t be protected by the Latten Mechanism, advocated for by Karapek, or created by Salometa?”
“Mistress,” the android said, “you yourself spoke of a new era, which you seek to start as flint sparks a fire. You called it the Age of Numeria, but it will not be what you think, it will be not an age for any one people.”
“And so the goddess called to Casandalee,” the human Ve’Dien continued the android’s thought, without a pause.
Casandalee, the android who Unity had sent forth centuries ago, who had abandoned her master to seek freedom, and who, before her death, copied her mind into a matrix. And whose body, after her death, had transformed itself into Bliks’ friend and ally, Hex.
The translucent one said, “And we were both her guides along the path and the trail markers she left behind.”
“There will come a time,” the human one said, “Where you will feel the need to choose. To choose between flesh and bronze. Others will not even see it as a choice. They will be either flesh or bronze and will broach no encroachment of the other.”
Only now did Bliks realize that the android had stood and was resting her hands on the human’s shoulders. “Mistress,” the android said, “you must be the lock, the gate, and the key.”
The suddenness of the descent into imagery took Bliks by surprise. Looking around she saw the lights in the room had unexpectedly dimmed; years of adventuring immediately kicked in. Something was wrong, seriously wrong. She stood with a jerk.
The three Ve’Diens had started to merge. The android’s arms were now deeply sunk into the human’s shoulders and those two were now shrouded by the translucent one’s shape, itself both digging into and taking gear shaped pieces bloodlessly out of the human’s body. They spoke with one voice, a grinding and screeching of gears just before they sheared off, “Open the way to eternity. Or howl in the dark. Howl in the dark. HOWL IN THE DARK.” The room now seemed to slip out from under her feet, and she called forth a simple spell of displacement, something to get her out of there.
But she did not move. And the room did not move. And the lights were not dim. And the Ve’Diens were gone.