Chapter 8: The Merging Of Flesh And Fire

Isolated within the Mall’s grand frippery, Lexter Adept despaired. There was no escape. Defense was illegal. Doom was imminent. His mind wandered toward guilt. Randall Dohan was a great and cruel benefactor who had provided him the only two things he loved: the 7 Worlds and Europa. These were mutual passions the High Overlord of Terracon could not abide.

Had Dohan chosen this action but a week prior, a round of Smart-but-not-so-smart fire might have been welcome. Lexter Adept wept, marveling at the tragedy inherent in a change of perception. Acceptance was the only eventuality. It would lead to his exit from the grand frippery where his executioner waited.

“No,” he intoned menacingly like a growl. He sat up. Memory of blood and battle stoked his fury. The pity of lost decades required rectification. A hopeful future beckoned. Tears still streamed from his eyes, but his heart thundered like a paladin’s.

There were spells to cast in shadow and props to obtain to aid in negotiation. He concentrated on his field of vision, opening windows.

First, he searched for updates. IEDs stole the flesh and bone of his knees in the years before Tehran burned. The military replaced both with plastic, mesh, metal, and nanoflesh. Updates came at a discount during active duty. Civilians paid full price. Adept kept his settings at retail clerk, the lowest priority for updates, while investing the savings in off reality accoutrement. Links formed instantly between his debit account and the software provider. He marked the setting at militia grade.

Second, he connected to a piece of wardrobe. There was nothing about his work uniform that could be described as smart. Buckian’s preferred that its employees did not deviate from its highly successful esthetic. Lexter Adept wore his jacket to provide a sense of control. It was his. The fabric transformed into templates of his choosing. It was representative of him. And in those moments when the job felt too oppressive and the 7 Worlds so far away, it helped to see a piece of his reality in the retail space.

The Mall and the domes kept their atmospheres set to undeniably pleasant. Lexter Adept had never been so temperate and often existed in a front of irony. Like so many mornings before it, he entered the train with his jacket set on trench coat, long and gray. He usually adorned it on his breaks, standing far away from the Buckian’s entrance, smoking. Europa’s presence changed that ritual. He felt less like hiding when she appeared.

At that moment the jacket sat atop his desk in the office at Buckian’s. Its left sleeve dangled before the drawer where Lexter Adept hid his paranoia and post traumatic stresses. Reentry into the Norm was difficult for any veteran. The game helped funnel his aggression, but it did little for his sense of doom. A voice screamed loudly in his head that enemies were in every shadow; an attack was imminent; something was about to explode.

So many objects, real, animated, and projected, attacked the senses in the Sad Reality that new lines of repressive chemicals had to be concocted just to allow the veterans to function. Lexter Adept preferred the reliability of marijuana and a pistol in his pocket. It quieted the voice to know it was there: Just in case. Just in case.

Entering the third decade post-Cataclysm, he began to get absentminded, leaving the damn thing at work. The lack of the need for it became a comfort and he left it in the drawer. There it waited.

It took some verification for him to control the trench coat beyond the constrictions of the template. Threads began to unweave and move like tendrils towards the combination pad attached to the drawer.

Tap…tap…tap.

The drawer opened. Unimpressive in size, but high enough in caliber to prove an effective negotiating tool, the gun vanished beneath a veil of coiling smartfiber. Now armed, the coat slid off the desk and began to crawl, wormlike, to the Buckian’s main entryway.

Third, he tried to establish a connection, but the link manager listed her as offline. A quick consultation with his friendfeed showed her at the food court emitting a vital glow, so he tried repeatedly without success. The same message rebuffed him: Europa Dohan is currently offline.

Fourth, he hacked the camera cloud. His image filled the newest window. Even then at the most crucial of moments the sight caused revulsion. Lexter Adept shook off the insecurity. An important message required recording.

“I don’t know why I can’t reach you. I don’t know what he’s done. But, he will not win this day.

“I’m sorry, Europa. I’m sorry it took this moment to make me whole. I fought so much and survived so long during Cataclysm that I had nothing left for the after. None of us did or we wouldn’t have let the world turn out this way. Besides, we figured we had plenty of time to fix things. But, now I don’t. I have right now.

“Forever made me lazy in the Sad Reality. All of me went to Paladin. Nothing left for Lexter. There was really no reason until you. Until now.

“I love you, Europa. I’ll hold you in my arms and tell you soon. But, I needed to tell you now. No one will keep me from you. Not your father. I’m sorry. I’ll try not to hurt him too badly. With luck a little pain with get him to drop his insurance claim.

“My upgrades are complete. This will not be so different from the first time I saw you. I will see you shortly, my love.”

At his command the message pixelated and vanished from his field of vision with a swoosh. It traveled through the air, his heart on wings.

While watching him emerge from the Mall’s grand frippery she recalled the Fire Dwarves. The creatures staged a revolt and attacked the caravan of the High Maiden of Terracon, hoping to win a hostage. Paladin, he who wanders the 7 Worlds, came upon the battle unexpectedly. A horde of Fire Dwarves spewed their magma, driving the mighty warrior into the caverns of the Whistling Mountains.

They did not expect the Paladin to have acquired secret knowledge of the caves during his endless journey. They did not see when he appeared on a higher plain.

With all eyes focused on the entrance to the grand frippery, Lexter Adept crawled through its lattice innards to the aerie. The quarters were tight but offered a great enough distance for the run he required.

Upon hearing his approach, the Welcome Eagle climbed deep into the lattice work, trembling in the shadows of its home. Had anyone cared to ask the creature after the event it could testify to the marked change evident in the Buckian’s HI there in that tight space. But such queries never came.

Paladin emerged from the highest cave on the Whistling Mountain. Without thought or hesitation he ran to the edge and leapt toward the battle hundreds of feet below.

None of the occupants of the 4th floor food court heard the pound of slip resistant sole against metal as Lexter Adept ran with the speed of his new settings. He reached the edge of the aerie, leaping without fear or hesitation.

The mighty Paladin spun and spun in the air, dragging his curved and razor keen scabbards from their sheaths. The Fire Dwarves detected his intention and hurled their magma skyward, but the Paladin proved elusive.

Lexter Adept gained velocity while he passed the 6th floor, the 5th floor. A volley of Smart-but-not-so-smart fire exploded against the Mall’s grand frippery, confirming his suspicion that the High Overlord of Terracon was no expert in the weapons of the Sad Reality.

He passed the 4th floor to the 3rd. Buckian’s lay within his sight. He could see his trench coat waiting in a heap in the entryway. He required only seconds.

In her memory, Europa Dohan held the Fire Dwarves at bay with her mysticism, but their numbers would eventually overwhelm her power. Her mind raced for a strategy as their magma began to pierce her defenses. She heard many of her attackers cry, but it was not the sound of impending victory.

The intensity of the assault relented, allowing her a glimpse of her assailants. Their eyes pointed to the heavens and they lit the skies with fire. Her eyes found him falling to earth, appearing like a beautiful demon from the deepest hell by the light of her enemies. And at that moment she fell in love.

Held by unseen hands, she watched Lexter Adept tumble through the air of the Sad Reality. Crippled by the device on her chest she could not even laugh as the volley of Smart-but-not-so-smart fire her father unleashed again missed its target.

She could not even scream when a second volley fired by an invisible marksman standing beside Randall Dohan found its mark. She couldn’t even struggle when her invisible caretaker moved her head to see the results.

The video of the death of Lexter Adept made for glorious entertainment. The feeds archived gore and murder endlessly, but were starved for fresh carnage. A hack of the camera cloud offered any connoisseur of splatter porn satisfaction.

The first round hit struck his midsection. Commenters on the video took to slowing it down and zooming in to show the expression of genuine surprise on Lexter Adept’s face seconds before the second round vaporized it.

He received his 15 minutes, literally, for that’s when the popularity of the video began to wane. Some of the talk shows used it later, again zooming in and laughing, but nothing on the feeds stayed very popular after the first 15 minutes.

Some so called journalists and personalities sought comment from Randall Dohan for his part in the action. The journalists asked serious questions about his relationship to the slaughtered Buckian’s HI while the personalities wanted to know how he could possibly be such a bad shot. Analysis of the video showed clearly that the fatal rounds came from another gun.

Randall Dohan offered only a blanket “no comment” while waiting for those 15 minutes to pass. Though he never stated it, he felt extremely sated by the death of Lexter Adept. From his perspective, as the owner of the policy all shots fired technically belonged to him. In his more liberal days pre-Cataclysm, he looked upon the wealthy who abused their policies with scorn, but, decades later, he understood the motivation. It was incredibly reaffirming, and he contemplated a repeat at the next moment angst stifled his mood.

Word of the death of the Paladin trickled to the 7 Worlds. Lexter Adept steeped the profile behind his avatar in deepest privacy, but, in the early days of the game, a few knew him for all he was. They recognized the name attached to the video that circulated on the feeds. They lit mourning pyres and sang the poems of his exploits.

A story spread of a love between the great warrior and the High Maiden of Terracon. It told of the wrath of her father, the High Overlord, who banished Paladin to the ultimate darkness.

Citizens mourned from world to world, but many of their numbers scoffed. Legend told of the many deaths of Paladin, keeper of the 6th order. He was merely walking alone once more, but he would return as he always did to protect the 7 Worlds. In this they put their faith and waited.

As for the High Maiden of Terracon, she received her own legend. They said she wandered the plains of her secret realm called Lopex Minor, tending to the unicorn herds. They say she turned her talent to new magics of her own scripture. It was in her castle that she waited or mourned her love, depending on the story.

But, in the reality of the 7 Worlds it was there she plotted.