Authors: Andrew Ly
GODS FROM THE MACHINE
Copyright © 2014 by Andrew Ly
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
For the girl who sparked my imagination
Gods From the Machine
1. The Beginning of the End
Nick made sure his parachute was secure on his back one last time before he pulled open the side hatch on the plane, exposing them to the outside world. A whistling gust of air hit him in the face like a brick, chilling and effectively breathing energy back into his body. The strong wind took care of his sweaty palms, leaving only the nervousness in the pit of his stomach.
The pilot flipped on the
flashing red lights overhead that signaled their arrival, “Parachutes on, boys. Get ready to deploy.”
Ready?” Matt shouted. His voice was almost lost against the wind.
Let’s find out.” Nick took one more deep breath then leapt into the darkness.
fell faster and faster, gaining full speed, but it became difficult to keep his eyes open. He couldn’t risk closing them, however, or he’d easily wind up crashing face-first into the ground or impaled on a sharp branch. A line of trees approached fast. Nick pulled the parachute open and gently glided down. When branches tugged at his clothes he unbuckled his chute and dropped the last ten feet, using his shoulders as a cushion to hit the ground and roll to absorb the impact. The execution was successful—almost perfect. Peter himself would be proud.
Nick straightened out and peered around the brush for Matt. He
’d jumped out right after him so he should have landed somewhere nearby.
Over here,” Matt called.
Nick glanced up
just as Matt dropped a few feet in front of him. He stood there in his full knight uniform: a long, white and gold trimmed coat whose hem ended just above his feet; leather black gloves and boots as well as a blue armband to mark his particular field of expertise. His personalized long sword hung at his waist. The Glenhaven Garrison’s symbols, a shield with two wings were sewn on both his shoulders. He looked magnificently heroic.
knight was a high honor, and had been held in that regard ever since the beginning of the Great Demon War over a century ago. Ever since, the world had been separated into three groups: civilians, demons, and Garrison knights.
The Garrisons themselves
were elite military academies set around the world. Their purpose was to produce knights trained in the art of demon slaying. The candidates usually came from wealthy families and were chosen at the age of six because their bodies needed to be molded and developed to perfection. Knights needed to be in peak physical fitness in order to combat demons effectively. This wasn’t the case for Nick, an orphan who lived within the Garrison walls long before he could say his first words.
You were quiet the entire ride. Are you sure you can do this? If you want, I’ll be fine going alone. I can call the pilot to pick you up and I’ll tell the old man we were both there,” Matt said.
No. Peter assigned this to both of us specifically. He had to have his reasons.” The possibility that he might finally get his hands dirty would be a welcome change. It won’t be like before, no, it’d be different this time. No way was he going down in history as the screw-up of the entire Glenhaven Garrison. Not Nick Emberson. Not ever again.
Whatever you say, man, but try to look more alive! I know you can be more enthusiastic than this!” Matt spun around with his arms open. “We’re in demon territory! You should be thrilled to be outside the shield!”
Nick nodded solemnly. Of course it would be easy for Matt to take this mission lig
htly. Everything in life seemed to come easier for him anyway. Nick glanced at him, his light, messy brown hair and hazel eyes complemented his round face, which made him conventionally attractive, but it was his charming disposition and sense of humor that made it easy for people to like him. He was also few inches taller than Nick, with the broad shoulders and muscular build of a finely tuned athlete. It was no wonder he became a knight so quickly, but then again, being the sole heir in the prestigious Cunningham family meant he had the added pressure of upholding a long line of established warriors. However, despite the reputation of his lineage, he never let it go to his head. He was the kindest and humblest person Nick knew, as well as his best friend.
is friend, Nick was just a soldier. Instead of wearing white and gold, he was supposed to wear the traditional and bland olive jumpsuit that classified soldiers. However, he took great pride in his appearance, and went with a more distinguished ensemble: a grey t-shirt, black mesh pants, and the standard black combat boots were all he needed on assignments. He also wore a custom black jacket of his own design, which was both stab-resistant and waterproof. It ended at his thighs, and all other unnecessary frills were cut out in order to be more efficient. It wasn’t as fancy as the knight uniform, but in his opinion it was more tactically intelligent.
For the most p
art, Nick considered himself quite plain looking, aside from having a nearly perfectly symmetrical face and a narrow, pointed nose. His thick hair was a very dark shade of brown, combed neatly to the side. He had auburn eyes and an angular facial structure with a prominent, square jawline. His already-light complexion was paler than usual and he had lost some muscle tone as a result of his poor living habits. It wasn’t his fault he had little desire to eat or sleep; everything was riding on this mission to be a success, which meant he had no room for mistakes. The anxiety it gave him was fuel enough to keep him going until he was finished.
According to the coordinates, Sir Marcus, along with his secret treasure, should be buried somewhere over there.” Matt pointed straight ahead, beyond the brush and swamp.
It’s too quiet. I was expecting a surprise,” Nick said.
Matt shook his head in disbelief.
“Let me get this straight, you’re unhappy because we aren’t getting ambushed? What did you expect, a greeting from a bunch of Hellbeasts? Or would a group of Dreadknights be better?”
I’m not looking to find trouble, I just didn’t think it would be this quiet.” Truth be told, Nick was more disappointed with the fact that he always stuck with the plain and simple assignments. For once he’d like to be challenged. Was that such an odd request? Ever since the disastrous incident in Fyria, Peter had been extra careful in selecting assignments for him, making sure they were so simple that even a toddler could handle them without much difficulty. It was almost insulting.
“Well, it beats being in Glenhaven.”
Glenhaven was the city where he lived and was known as the
“center of the world,” but other than housing his Garrison, it was a rural and forgettable place. The quiet town saw very few visitors, and for most of its inhabitants, it was a place for retirement or seclusion. It was boring and lonely, but sometimes Nick envied the people who were allowed to live normal lives. Part of him wished he could have just been born as a regular kid, instead of flying miles outside his hometown in search for buried treasure in a dead knight’s tomb. But then again, he realized, those kids probably dreamed about leaving their safe little city and finding adventure. This used to be impossible because of the demons, but as technology and time progressed, it soon became a reality.
During the Second Coming, the last major war twenty years ago, a Garrison from a different country had dev
eloped a protective barrier known as the Holy Shield that warded demons. Though the shield restored some semblance of civility and normalcy, a part of Nick feared for the day that the demons would break through and rise again.
They walked for a while, trekking through mud and shallow swamp before finally reaching a small clearing covered in roots.
Not just ordinary roots, but those that appeared as if they’ve been growing here for years. They looked to be a type of demonic plant by the way they expanded and compressed, as if sucking the oxygen around them. They were easily four feet in width and ran rampantly, blocking the entrance to the tomb a couple meters further down the path.
My wolf was starving the whole way here. I think maybe we should let him feast.” Matt grinned, brandishing his sword. His “wolf” was actually short for
, a custom-made long sword crafted by one the finest whitesmiths of their Garrison and imbued with holy properties. It was a beautiful blade, passed down from generations of Cunninghams. At the bottom of the hilt, a molded grey wolf’s head bared its ferocious fangs. Each knight, from whichever class they chose to study, was given a standard weapon as a token upon completion of their training. However, for those who had achieved knight status, like Matt, they were given the special honor of choosing any weapon they wanted. Nick was never allowed to even touch a sword before, so the conflict of choosing between different weapons never came up.
Matt stepped back and
, with a grunt, cleaved the thick root into two like a knife splitting butter. The plant let out a high-pitched screech. It flailed in the air a few moments before falling dead, oozing dark green liquid. His nose flared and he recoiled in disgust. Nick held his breath and covered his mouth. The last time he took a whiff of a demonic plant’s blood his stomach churned for days.
Cursed vines. I knew this plant looked too wild. The demons must have placed it here to stop us from reaching the tomb,” Nick said.
Well, they’re not doing a very good job.” Matt slashed on through with ease. “If they wanted to keep us out they should have put something with more bite instead of bark.”
’t help but chuckle at the lame joke. Eventually Matt’s cutting efforts opened a path leading to the entrance of the tomb.
Okay, so the plan is to go inside, open the chest, grab whatever is in there and get out. No mistakes. Got it?” Matt said.
Of course.” Nick brushed stray foliage and thorns off his jacket. It was the same when they discussed it at headquarters and it was the same on the plane. They walked through the entrance to find a single lit torch clung close to the right wall, ripe for grabbing. How long the flame had been lit troubled Nick. He didn’t like the idea that there could have been other visitors before them.
So what do you think the Supreme Commander would want with an old relic?” Matt asked as they walked down the narrow stone path.
I don’t know, and I don’t care. Orders are orders and I plan to stick to them,” Nick said.
“I guess, but it’s just like old Pete to make us jump through unnecessary hoops to teach a lesson. Seriously though, why now? Why not just leave this thing to collect dust?” Before Nick could reply, he extended his arm over Nick’s chest, and pointed a distance in front of them. “Speak of Ozarael, I think we’ve found it.”
n plain view sat a large chest covered in dust. Behind it was a giant tombstone marked with the words
Sir Marcus, the Orator.
It was a befitting name from all the tales Nick had heard of him, the legendary knight who was said to have stood fearless before every demon, never cowering even in the face of impossible odds. It was said that during the final struggle, many knights had lost their morale, but his passionate words alone gave hope to thousands of soldiers, guiding them through several successful battles and turning the tides to victory. Unfortunately, he died just before the Second Coming ended, never able to realize his contribution to mankind’s survival.
smiled proudly. “One of the greatest knights in Garrison history.” He whipped out an old key he was given for this mission and opened the chest. At the very bottom was a golden cloth wrapped around some objects. Matt shook it open; two shiny pieces of metal tumbled out. It was a sword—no, a broken sword. He lifted the hilt piece in the air. “This is it? We came all this way for this?”
Just grab it and let’s go.” Nick sighed. He couldn’t even hide his disappointment. It was too good to be true. After he screwed up the last mission he knew there would be consequences, but to get assigned to something like this was the worst thing imaginable. It was actually degrading how he had become nothing more than a glorified errand boy. As they were halfway along the corridor, a small rumbling shook the ground. Dirt poured on them from the ceiling like sand trickling down an hourglass. Stone bricks followed shortly, pounding the earth like cracks of thunder. The tomb was collapsing on itself! A trap placed for unwanted visitors.
towards the exit. Matt tripped. The sword pieces flew from his hands and clattered against the wall.
The sword Nick! The sword!” Matt cried, as the stream of dirt was catching up to them.
ick snatched up the sword pieces. As his fingers wrapped around them, the pieces began to glow white-hot. He turned back to help his companion back to his feet and they dashed towards safety. Nick bit down hard on his lip to hold back from screaming, making sure he kept his vision straight enough to cross through the entrance before the brown earth caved and buried everything.
heaved the sword pieces to the ground. His hands were charred and smelled like an overcooked steak. They stood in a small clearing, on a grassy knoll next to the pile of rubble that was once the tomb.