2:1

“But it is the same with man as with the tree. The more he seeks to rise into the height and light, the more vigorously do his roots struggle earthward, downward, into the dark, the deep – into evil.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Like a billion falling stars in the darkness were the sparks ignited by the obsidian shards hitting his armored feet and legs. He held onto the reinforced energylamp as he hung from the creaking wire and spun in the howling wind. Neriko put in the breathing apparatus’s mouthpiece and closed the solid visor of his helmet. He rendered himself blind so that the winds of ash and volcanic glass could not. His armor shook and shivered as he descended through the storm. The shards clattered against the tempered steel with ever-increasing intensity. He tried to count how long the descent took but lost track after six hundred. That was merely the beginning.

Then everything became silent and still. A shockwave went through his body as he touched the ground and shattered the obsidian crust beneath his feet. He stood there for a moment in his glass-blasted armor covered in volcanic ash. The oxygen tanks on his back had survived the onslaught. And thus had he. Everything was eerily silent. He opened his visor and looked up at the Radiance. Through shards and shadows, he saw its flickering lights, high above. The only reminder of there being another world. A world not made from glass, ash, and ice. He spat out the mouthpiece and turned toward the middle of the crater. The wire continued coming down from the clouds and coiled upon itself on the ground. He grabbed it and dragged it with him toward me.

The obsidian crunched under his feet with each step and rustled as the wire was pulled through the shards. He found me in the epicenter and kneeled and placed the energylamp on the ground beside me. The light fell upon my rippling surface. He watched me in awe. The wire stopped for a moment and began uncoiling from the ground. He unfastened the cylindrical container from his hip and unscrewed the lid and put the container on the ground. The object of his dreams for so many years was before him. He removed his gauntlet and picked me up into his hand. I was cold against his skin. He felt the change in weight from the wire being lifted but was too mesmerized to realize.

Suddenly the wire pulled him away. He scrambled for the gauntlet and got hold of it. Everything else was left behind. He put in the mouthpiece and closed the visor. The shards clattered against his armor as sparks jumped from the steel. Above him, the wire burned like a torrent of fire. He felt a sting in his hand. Then another. He was about to put on his gauntlet when he realized it was impossible in the strong winds without dropping me. The choice was between losing his limb or his dreams. He let go of the gauntlet and held me hard with his armored hand. The other he sacrificed to the obsidian as he ascended into the heart of the storm. His screams were silenced by the mouthpiece and the wind. Soon there was no more pain. There was nothing left to feel.

He came out of the storm and the darkness. His armor steamed in the cold from the kinetic energy of the obsidian hitting the steel. The men operating the crane saw him and shouted for the others to help him aboard the airship. Their voices were muted by their breathing apparatuses. They lifted him the last bit and swung the crane around as the severed arm spurted blood that immediately froze in the air. The droplets fell like crimson hail onto the deck and rolled away. They lowered him to the deck and uncoupled him from the wire coiled around the immense drum. The end of his severed arm had frozen and bled no more. They managed to lift him despite the heavy armor and carried him to the bridge. The warm pressurized air reacted with the cold outside and formed a cloud when they opened the hatch. They removed the oxygen tanks and laid him on the maptable.

Where’s it? Neriko called out as they removed his helmet and took out the mouthpiece.

Where’s what? One of the men answered.

Where’s the Sphere?

You’re holding it, Captain. It’s in your hand.

A look of relief fell over his pale face as he lay on the table with me on his chest like a mother holding her bloody newborn. Shivering and tired from the fight. The ship’s healer came barging through the hatch carrying with him a leather bag of tools. He stopped and looked at Neriko for an instant.

He has no fucking hand! Can’t you see that? Osnar said.

The healer hurried to open his bag. Things fell onto the floor as he rummaged for a tourniquet. He found it. One of the men held the destroyed arm elevated for the healer to do his work. The frozen blood at the end of the stump had thawed. He bled heavily. A puddle formed around him and soaked the map. Soon the blood sprayed with every heartbeat.

It won’t work, The healer said. There’s nothing outside of the armor to put the tourniquet around. We’ve to remove the armor. The bleeding is getting worse. Quickly now before he bleeds out! Remove the armor!

How does it look? Osnar asked the healer.

He’ll lose his hand, He said.

He’s already done that, Osnar said. Will he survive?

Yes, The healer said. He will. I think he will. Probably.

Is it safe to move him? One of the men said to the healer.

Yes, but don’t move him more than what’s absolutely necessary. Keep the arm elevated!

They began removing Neriko’s armor by turning the locking mechanism on his chest. It clicked. They lifted him to his feet. One man holding him by each arm. A third opened the back of the armor. A fourth tried to remove the gauntlet so that they could pull his arm through the bracer.

You must let go of the thing, Captain, The man said and tried to open Neriko’s hand to take me from him. It did not budge. You must let go so that we can remove the gauntlet and the armor, Captain.

Neriko, Osnar said and looked into Neriko’s unfocused eyes. You must let go of the Sphere so that we can remove the armor. We must put on a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

Neriko said, There’s an steel chest under a cloth in my quarters. Standing in the corner, chained to the floor. It’s unlocked. There’s a bag in it; bring it to me, Osnar.

A moment later, Osnar returned with the black bag. There was ice in his lashes from the short moment spent outside. He opened the bag for Neriko that dropped me into it. The men immediately removed the gauntlet and pulled him out of the suit. They laid him down on the bloodied maptable again and the healer put on the tourniquet.

Tie it shut, put it in the box, lock it, Neriko said as he stared at the ceiling. The key is in the box. His face was even paler. His gaze was distant. Don’t touch the Sphere. Never tou…

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