Tales Post 9 is the beginning of The Peacekeepers (Story Arc) and sees a fleeing Planestrider as she tries to escape mechs across the desert of Tatooine. She thinks she has escaped when she gets to Mos Eisley but she has, in fact, been lured into a trap as she passes through an invisible shield that removes all non-biological items that aren't native to this universe. She is then executed by her own doppelgänger from another universe; Iskendriel. Iskendriel, unhappy with her mission, returns to The Fracture, the home of The Peacekeepers, and requests a new mission from her handler, another doppelgänger she nicknames Isk. There she paid a visit to her home, Castle Camelot, which had been stolen from Earth during The Sundering, an event caused by Highemperor that resulted in the creation of The Fracture. After listening to Twinkle Starr, Iskendriel takes a transporter pad to The Heart of Yself, the central headquarters for The Peacekeepers and heads inside to meet the new team that Isk has put together. Isk herself is present in the room and she reveals that she has put someone else in charge of the mission.
The sandstorm whips across the empty dunes as the twin suns of the star system blast them with heat. This inhospitable landscape is suddenly intruded upon when a figure solidifies onto it, phasing onto the desert at a run. Each molecule rapidly generating itself into existence, causing the woman to appear pixelated until full formed. She doesn't stop running despite her new environment. She holds out her hand and a blaster rifle appears in it, pixelating itself into existence just as she had done.
There's a tremendous boom that roars above even the screaming sandstorm. Sand blasts in every direction as something very big breaks its way from another dimension into this one. The fleeing woman glances back and attempts a pre-emptive strike at the enemy mech. Her phase bolts hit the metallic frame, scorching it, but missing the window where the pilot is. While her shots, hindering by the sandstorm, have to be pinpoint, the mech's doesn't. The cannon opens fire and the explosive energy projectiles slam into the sand around the retreating woman. She zig-zags her way through the storm. Her goggles protect her eyes, but her bare golden skin is being constantly assaulted by each razor-sharp grain of sand. She slips.
The dune splatters sand everywhere as she rolls down its side clumsily until she reaches the bottom. She staggers to her feet and cooks up a better strategy. As she keeps running a suit begins to pixel itself onto her body - armour to protect against the sun, the sand and the blasts of energy coming her way. The pack on the back ignites and she is whisked up into the air. She turns, mid-air, and fires back with the phase rifle. The energy matter that escapes the weapon is a powerful energy ball that phases in and out of this dimension and into another, picking up more and more energy as it goes. When it hits the mech's armour it splashes like liquid and hisses with extreme heat. But the mech is designed to leap from dimension to dimension, its armour withstands the attack and continues to return fire.
She lands with a curse and keeps running, the helmet covering her face from the elements. The computer creates an overlay that indicates the nearest settlement. A small, backwater spaceport of some sort. Better than nothing as phasing into another dimension right now would probably be more dangerous considering her pursuers.
The mech unleashes its mortars, which fire into the air well above them. The woman changes her trajectory, hoping to avoid the marked spots that the mech expects her to be in. One mortar hits the ground with such force that despite the distance, she's knocked well off her feet and send tumbling through the air. She might have lost a limp if not for the powersuit she mirrored from another dimension.
She lands on the sand and skids along from her momentum. Lying on her back she opens fire again, hoping to get a lucky shot, but she misses, barely even able to see the shadow of the mech through the sandstorm. She scrambles to her feet again but as she does so she hears another crack roar across the desert. Another mech has joined the chase. She jumps up into the air, her rockets doing all the work, and below her a vehicle materialises, already in motion. She lands on it heavily and it dips closer to the sand with a whir of extra force. It quickly rectifies itself though and the speeder races across the dunes, outpacing the mechs long behind her. The speeder is long and narrow and she guesses it's a native vehicle of this world. It doesn't matter, it's fast and that is what matters right now. The town is coming up quickly.
But then reality snaps before her speeder. There's a block of space-time that looks like it's inverted upside down and is entirely black and white. While she phases like a fish through water from one reality to the next, these Peacekeeprs tear their way through it like it's paper. Her speeder skids to a right angle and tears off again just in time to avoid a quick burst of machine gun fire meant to shred through personnel at close range. She gets far enough away to dare changing her course for the town again. She's pretty certain that they won't follow her there, risking distorting the reality of other beings of this dimension. Whatever dimension it is.
Finally she sees the threshold of the town. The mechs have ceased firing, not even their mortars are screaming down now. The sandstorm is lessened here too, protected by the buildings. As she passes past the first two buildings on the speeder she slows it down. She'll need to find somewhere to lay low for a while.
Then she passes through an invisible shield. She couldn't see it but she felt it. It was like it checked every molecule of her body. Checking what belongs to this dimension and what doesn't. The speederbike, her powersuit, even the clothes on on her back - it all disappears in the blink of an eye and she's sent sprawling onto the rough sand that rests upon the hard concrete floor below it. She winces with pain as her skin is scraped. Everything but the biological components seems to have disappeared, even the jewellery that had hung from her ears.
Iskendriel: "I-I'm alive?"
The golden-skinned woman turns just in time to see another woman with a gun poised at her head. She looks into the all too familiar eyes.
The gunshot rebounds through the town's walls. In this town it only generates a bit of attention before everyone shrugs and gets on with their own business. The second woman tucks the gun into the holster on her hip and nudges the dead, naked woman on the floor.
Iskendriel: "The target Iskendriel is dead. Request clean up."
She kneels down to look at the woman's face. She has to admit to herself that this mission was not a good one. Assassinations never are. But she knows better than anyone that the woman couldn't possibly be contained and given her record she couldn't be recruited or controlled either. She removes her trench coat and throws it across the naked torso, giving her back a modicum of dignity. She strokes the golden skin of the dead woman's cheek with her thumb. She's never seen herself with such pretty looking skin before.
Iskendriel: "This is Iskendriel, I'm returning."
A boom ricochets through the town as the cleanup crew arrive and Iskendriel phases out of this reality, leaving the planet Tatooine and her alternate reality's corpse behind. Nobody in the town of Mos Eisley will think much of what just happened, used to seeing gods and the like go stomping through on their way to meet with The Big O or whatever their business is here.
The world pixelates into her view, just as she pixelates into it.
Castle Camelot looms over her field of view as she looks up at its elegant façade overlooking the rest of the world around her. She turns and walks along the blue-stoned path that leads from The Fountain of Aletheia up a spiralling stairway from one floating island to the next one above. As she ascends the blue steps she glances over the ledge at the landmasses below. They're everywhere, floating segments of reality that was ripped from their former existences by The Sundering of reality. As one of The Peacekeepers for The Imperium she is well aware that The Highemperor of The High Empire is the blame for this. Unless it was another dimension's Highemperor. Maybe it was all of them. The maths of the matter usually escapes her.
The Fountain of Aletheia had been taken from her own dimension, her own reality, which is why she likes to phase in here at that location. It's safe. Phasing into The Fracture is a dangerous game but she refuses to force her way through like the other Peacekeepers. It seems so undignified. She ballet dances while the others are moshing through the Multiverse.
When she gets to the floating landmass above she can look down upon the fountain in all its stillness. Though water flows from a spout and drains down into the basin, the motion causes no ripples. The water merely meets itself and instantly merges - giving the water a mirror like effect as it stands utterly still. Iskendriel remembers that the mirror had stood as a monument in her own world before The Sundering snatched it out of reality. Even when The Sundering was repaired and reality restored, pieces were never returned to where they ought to be. In the NeSiverse, Castle Camelot doesn't exist where it once was. In her own universe the Fountain of Aletheia is also gone, a lost monument never to be seen again.
When you break reality you can never repair it completely. Like a broken teacup. You can glue the broken piece back in, but it's never quite the same again. The chips that are missing are all here in The Fracture.
When Highemperor sundered the NeSiverse the fractures rippled out across the dimensions, splitting every variant of the NeSiverse. Every different time stream, every different version of reality, all of them were broken. Once restored hardly anybody remembered it ever happened. From men to gods, it was forgotten as though it had never occurred. Lost locations were explained away as being lost to time, destroyed or taken away. Lost people were presumed dead.
Iskendriel had only visited her own reality once since being brought to The Fracture and she found that she'd been forgotten, only a gravestone marked her existence there. Now she lives beyond that.
Now she has a damn castle.
Castle Camelot once belonged to King Arthur and then his son Prince Llacheu on Earth. Iskendriel doesn't know who they are but they seem to have been important people. She wonders what kind of explanation they came up with for why their castle was gone. Aliens probably. That's the usual excuse.
Above Castle Camelot is a landmass that is covered in ocean. It's weird to see a whole island with nothing but water on it. The water cascades over the edge of the floating island and down onto Camelot in a light drizzle upon its right towers. The water of the island never runs out because according to its own perception of reality - the water is supposed to be there and so it is. Even if it falls off, it reappears there because it's supposed to be there. This makes The Fracture forever unchanging. Even if something is destroyed by The Peacekeepers, it will reappear just as it once was. This put an end to any renovation attempts anyone made pretty quick. The Fracture, however, isn't so small. Millions if not billions of floating islands are all cluttered around, with no specific estimation of up and down either - meaning that the island over to the right of Castle Camelot looks like a map.
Even the air of The Fracture is torn from other realities but it has its very own fragrance. It smells like ginger. Apparently broken reality smells like ginger. Nobody can explain it. Mostly Iskendriel is just thankful that it doesn't smell like ****e.
She approaches the castle. She alone lives here. There's plenty of impressive monuments to go around The Peacekeepers, she only chose it because it's next to the fountain. Though changing the castle is impossible, adding things between islands is easily done; hence the stairwell. She even had the stairs made in blue to resemble the stone designs of her homeworld. It's the little things that count.
She strides into the castle, greeted by the main hall, and skips up the stairs. Though she's happy to be home she feels awful. Killing is not a fun job and killing herself is even worse. She is, in most realities, a planestrider. She doesn't really know why this has happened, it's like her reality pattern is just set to this course. This means if versions of herself become a liability there's rarely any option beyond death. So far she's killed four versions of herself. The fourth was no easier than the first spiritually. To make it worse, with each kill she makes, she grows stronger. She feels it. The dimensional power surge into her as she assassinates her alternate self. Makes her better, faster, stronger. Not just her, but all alternate versions of herself.
So when a holographic image of herself appears, she isn't surprised.
Iskendriel #2: "I hope it was painless at least?"
Iskendriel keeps walking and the hologram floats along after her like a ghost.
Iskendriel: "Yes. But--"
Iskendriel #2: "But what?"
Iskendriel: "She was naked and lying in the dirt. Not a nice way to go..."
The other version of herself saddens as her empathy kicks up a storm. Seeing Isk, as Iskendriel calls her, so upset makes Iskendriel more upset too. There just isn't a better way of executing a planestrider than through trickery. Remove everything from alternate realities that they've acquired and render them without power. The reality net she set up between those buildings did just that and left her alternate self temporarily powerless as everything extra-dimensional was taken away.
Isk: "That's awful."
Iskendriel: "Just be thankful you sit behind the desk while I have to do the dirty work."
Isk: "It doesn't mean I can't be upset! Just because I wasn't there! I do feel it, you know? The moment it happens. And I feel terrible because it feels... good. You know?"
Iskendriel: "I know!"
Iskendriel: "I know..."
Isk: "I think you need a new mission to take your mind off of it."
Iskendriel: "Agreed. Get one set up. Make sure the team's a good one. All I had on that last one were mech jockeys."
Isk: "Right oh."
A cursory glance at the two women would have given the casual observer no indication that the two women were the same woman. Isk is wearing brightly coloured yellow tye dye robes with a thick black sash at the waist. The robes are so thick that it would make her look fat except that she has a small head poking out with a slender neck. The shoulders of the robe are also black with padding, but the rest is white with the bright splashes of yellow. The uniform for all Imperium personnel is simply black and one other chosen colour. Iskendriel feels that Isk is pushing the boundaries with having the yellow tye dye as technically that's black, yellow and white but nobody has chastised her for it and so she's been left to it.
Isk's hair is bright green and worn in thick, messy dreadlocks that are loosely tied at the back of her head. Green is the natural colour of hair for her species as is marble like white skin. On her face are a pair of thick-rimmed spectacles those glass is tinted green to match her hair. The hologram sits down but since the projector only picks up the person and not their surroundings, it looks like Isk is sitting on the air - further adding to her current ghostly qualities.
Isk: "You should really put a formal team together, you know? A permanent team that you operate with."
Isk: "It'll be much healthier for you! I have a lot of Peacekeepers that would love to work with you--"
Iskendriel: "Did you make another list?"
Isk's shoulders hunch, as though making herself smaller will help her hide.
Isk: "It-it's a very small list. Just of possible people--"
Iskendriel: "Isk, you're such a kumquat."
Isk: "Don't call me that."
Isk: "Don't call me Isk! My name is Iskendriel~"
She practically sings her name. Isk has always been able to make their name sound far more poetic than Iskendriel feels it is.
Iskendriel: "It's too confusing for us to have the same name. So you're Isk."
Isk: "Why do I have to be Isk!? Why can't you be Isk!?"
Iskendriel: "I hate being called Isk."
Isk: "I hate being called Isk!!"
Iskendriel starts flipping a switch on her PIP through which the hologram is being projected. The image of Isk starts to flicker on and off.
Iskendriel: "Oh no! Looks like there's interference."
Isk: "Nothing can-- ause inter--ence and y-- know that!"
Iskendriel: "I'm losing you. Oooh nooooo..."
Isk: "I ca-- see you-- ing that!"
She leaves it off now.
Instead she turns on some music. Twinkle Starr starts singing, her holographic visage appears in the room and dances around. Flashing lights and rainbows start to cascade about her as she reaches the bridge of the song. All the while Iskendriel is getting changed. Her bedroom was once the bedroom of Queen Guinevere before she left Earth. All of her old dresses are even still in the wardrobes, but that's only because Iskendriel couldn't throw them out as reality has ordered that they remain forever there. Why her son had left his mother's room untouched often confuses Iskendriel but what does she now of family relationships. She was never born, she was made. In her own reality her kind are known as The Scourge and are hunted down and killed whenever they appear. Isk once told her that her kind, in Isk's reality, are called The Lightbringers but Iskendriel knows the little kumquat is lying through her damned teeth. Forever trying to improve the morale of everyone around her, Iskendriel loves hating on Isk for her positive vibes. That's why she keeps her as her handler. Through all the insults and jibes, Iskendriel loves Isk for who she is - a better version of herself. A version of herself she wishes she could have been.
But she isn't.
She isn't a normal, happy alimean. She wasn't born that way. She was born different. She doesn't have the white skin of her kindred, nor the fanciful green hair.
She throws on the black trench coat. It's thin leather so it doesn't keep out the cold but it looks cool and that's what she wants. Trench coats are oddly popular for Imperium uniforms so she feels right at home. Her hair is black and she keeps it cut roughly short, growing just beyond the ear. She has a long fringe that sweeps over one eye. Had she been born on modern earth they probably would call her an emo. Except she doesn't have the skin for it. Her skin is ashen. Completely grey. Even to the touch it would feel as soft as ash, like it might fall off given too much pressure. There's a thin red line at the bottom of her eye socket - a thin crack in her skin that reveals molten red. Her irises are, like wise, red. A trench coat is also a practical choice, reducing the possibility someone might see the cracks in her skin that dominate her back like cracked earth. They're often painful but medication keeps the pain in check. She wonders if the cracks will one day spread, consume her chest, her legs, her arms and then her face. She is already seen as a monster by many, with that cracked visage she'd be hideous too.
She takes out a cigarette.
Very few people have given comment to the irony of a woman that looks like ash would smoke, mostly because they're afraid of what she'll do to them. The blazing light display of Twinkle Starr distracts her from what she'd had to do today but she knows the guilt is going to leech at her all night. Possibly all year.
She stalks out of Castle Camelot and finds the transport pad. In The Fracture teleporting is highly dangerous because you could end up teleporting yourself into a building or landmass and never realise until it was too late. There's no safe guards here, reality of each island obeys its own rules and those rules may well blast you to pieces if you break them. Instead the airway was set up so that people could fly between islands, even if they can't fly normally. She stands on the transport pad and the wind below her picks up she sees the wind tunnel begin to form around her.
The wind tunnel shifts above her and then she is blasted up at a tremendous speed. She keeps her arms and legs in at all times. These things aren't entirely efficient and people have been expelled from them to wind up floating about The Fracture waiting to be picked up by someone in a aircraft. She zips through The Fracture, able to see dozens of landmasses everywhere, all of different shapes and sizes, weather patterns, landscapes, structures. Then her body is flipped by the current and she knows she's nearly there.
She lands and braces with her legs. The inexperienced airway user often falls to their knees at the unexpected impact but, knowing it's coming, she lets her knees bend gently and then erects herself. She casually slips the cigarette from her lips and relights it.
She looks up. The building that stands before her is an impressive sight. Apparently it was once underground, accounting for the presence of landmass both below and above it. But here it now stands exposed. It appears as two pyramids, one from the bottom and one from the top where they then meet in a narrow bottleneck in the middle. The material of the object is a peculiar black material but there are hundreds of windows all lit up, creating beads of yellow and white light all over the structure. She doesn't know anything about the world it originates from, or what reality for that matter, but gravity forces people towards either landmass. Around the central bottleneck people would actually begin to float, trapped between the gravitational pull between either landmass.
Iskendriel saunters along the path towards the building. The path has been shaved into the stone. Here are there are gargoyles carved into the rock depicting, she imagines, some kind of demons or angels or whatever other religious nonsense the people believed in when they made this place. The Heart of Yself, it was supposedly called. Now they just call it The Heart, perhaps retaining the concept of it being the central locale. Only now it is The Heart of the Peacekeepers.
The history of The Peacekeepers is a long one and Iskendriel is no historian. She just knows that from The Fracture emerged a whole branch of The Imperium. As The Imperium exists well beyond the NeSiverse, when The Sundering broke up that universe The Imperium took note. Their investigations into the matter eventually unveiled The Fracture and prompted the very concept of The Peacekeepers as The Imperium was keen on not making the same mistake as The Highemperor had done. This place was chosen for its size, being one of the larger structures in The Fracture that was found early on.
She tosses the stub of her cigarette to the floor. The cleaners would come and collect it in a few hours. Get the stupid droids doing their damn jobs.
As she walks up the steps, she's now surrounded by lots of other Peacekeepers from the different departments. The pencil pushers, the enforcers, the scholars. Everyone is heading in or out of The Heart. Someone calls her name and she gives them the obligatory open palm gesture to indicate she acknowledges their acquaintance. Beyond that she keeps going.
Her PIP vibrates as she enters the main hall, which is a black, glossy affair. A text message from Isk tells her a team is being assembled on floor ninety-three. Iskendriel grumbles. Isk is forcing her to go all the way to floor ninety-three out of spite for the kumquat comment. She pretends to be all sunshine and rainbows but there's that vindictive streak. Isk's great vengeance. Iskendriel had watched that Kill Bill[Ext 1] movie once. That's what's in store when Isk snaps.
While the floor and ceiling are black the walls are dark grey, except the turbolifts which are white. She gets into one after giving the other people in the lift a quick glance. Nobody she knows. That's a relief. It's always a pain having to stand in a lift with someone you sort of know and they insist on small talk - always ending with the "we should get together sometime" even though neither of you intend to do anything of the sort. Or at least she doesn't, bugger what the other guy wants.
She, like the building, is two-toned. Only instead of grey she wears stark white. The skin of white that her skin was when she was a baby. So white she would make snow jealous. Her tall boots, the tight trousers and the top. The lift is the same black gloss as the floors, made from the same smooth and soft material. It's like the building was even designed by The Imperium. Probably the colour scheme is the real reason they chose this place because the gravitational fields can make it a damn pain the higher you go.
Even on floor ninety-three she feels lighter as the upper gravity field is starting to tug, while the lower one is gripping.
She looks down at the map display which indicates the designated room that Isk has marked out. She follows it around, glancing at the strangers and the rooms until she makes it to the indicated place. The double doors are already open and she finds that Isk herself has decided to attend the briefing.
Iskendriel: "What're you doing here?"
Isk: "I just wanted to check and make sure the team is, you know, solid."
Iskendriel glowers at her other self.
Iskendriel: "This better not be your stupid dream team list again. I told you--"
Isk: "If you don't like them then you don't have to keep them. But if it works, and I think it will, then you might want to use them again! What's the problem?"
Iskendriel moves around the central table, which is made of polished oak. The table is an addition to the room from outside. Fortunately the rooms in this place were all completely empty when it arrived in The Fracture. Apparently they were meant to be places of introspection where one would lie down and stare up at the mirrored ceiling. Iskendriel prefers the other school of thought which is about sex perverts coming in here to watch themselves shagging.
Iskendriel: "Fine. Whatever. I swear I'm going to get a new handler one day."
Isk: "You always say that."
Isk sits down on her own eggcup swivel chair and Iskendriel watches her suspiciously as the woman starts tapping something into her PIP.
Iskendriel: "What're you scheming?"
Her response is far too quick and far to earnest.
Iskendriel: "I don't like surprises..."
Iskendriel moves around the room and leans on the table next to Isk. She draws her face closer and closer to Isk's, waiting for her to break.
Iskendriel: "What aren't you telling me?"
She stares forward, trying not to look into Iskendriel's eyes. Her shoulders are hunched and her body stiff. Iskendriel slaps her hand onto Isk's back. She squeaks with surprise and then blurts out;
Isk: "I tasked someone else to be team leader for this mission."
Iskendriel: "You... little.... kumquat!"