Leg Post 130 opens with Neferkaptah, prince of Egypt, and Li Shou, nekomimi guide to China, travelling across the land towards Shangri-la, for which they received a map from Fu Xi in Leg Post 128. Neferkaptah is bathing and Li Shou is amazed by his naked form. In an attempt to stop her incessant prattling, Neferkaptah challenges her to remain silent for one hour on the promise of a barbecued fish. Back in the year 9999BC, Pangu, an Atlantean Sorcerer, is returning to his station above the Atlantean colony city of Shangri-la. It had been set up within a valley in Asia, where the aether could run so thick it was like fog. He reached the government tower, where he found the ancient creature named Tiamat awaiting him. She had been born of the chaoskampf, the chaotic stew that predated the birth of the NeSiverse. They had a new task; to deal with the deity known as Marduck, so Tiamat went to find food, while Pangu would seek 'the book'. He chastised the guard for sleeping on the job before he went into the room where the immortal book sat. Fayd, the woman in the book, told him to go away, angry that he had called her old. He had, however, realised who she really was. She had once been the wife to Cercyon, who buried his own daughter, Alope, alive in Leg Post 86, which prompted the rebellion of Atlas and the overthrow of the Atlantean Council upon which she had once sat, in Leg Post 90. She had escaped and became an author in Lemuria, eventually figuring out the method of immortality by trapping herself within a book. She had then existed as a book until found in a ditch by Pangu and brought to Shangri-la. They have a complicated relationship, even having a sexual component, but nothing like love. After learning the truth of who she once was, Pangu feels compelled to deliver her to Magistarr for trial and justice. She appears from the book and asks that if he hands her over, they at least kill her quickly. He counters that she had not shown such mercy to Alope or others, but she begs anyway. She further suggests that Magistarr and the Atlanteans planning war upon the stars were no better than her, how much suffering they would now bring to others. Then there is a noise from outside. There he sees Tiamat returning, but also a great calamity in the distance and attacking ships in the skies above. He and Tiamat fly towards Atlantis, but the final shockwave of The Cataclysm hit them and plunged Shangri-la into darkness.
Neferkaptah: “Stop looking.”
He said flatly as he rinsed the river water over his skin.
Li Shou: “I’ve never seen a naked man before!”
Neferkaptah: “I said stop looking, not comment on it!”
Li Shou: “Why don’t you have breasts?”
Neferkaptah: “Why don’t you have a brain cell?”
Li Shou: “A prison brain? That’s strange.”
The brown-skinned prince of Egypt dunked his head below the water’s surface. Partly this was to wet his hair, partly to drown out the incessant prattle of the nekomimi girl who followed him across China. He thought she would have been useful in helping him navigate this exotic landscape, but she was just as lost as he was. It turned out nekomimi were much like cats, they had their territory and they didn’t like to stray from it. Except this time, because there was the promise of fish.
His head broke the water’s surface again.
Li Shou: “…but if the prisoners are imaginary, then why even imprison them? Will they try to take over my brain? Will they—”
Neferkaptah: “Why haven’t you gone hoarse yet? Seriously? How do you keep going?”
He looked up at her. She was lying on a tree branch, overhanging the river, and staring down at him.
Li Shou: “I’m a cat-girl! Not a horse-girl!”
Neferkaptah: “Maybe I’m the problem? I need fewer brain cells…”
Li Shou: “You have many imaginary prisoners?”
Neferkaptah: “It doesn’t mean prison! It means…”
What the hell was a brain cell anyway?
Neferkaptah: “Nevermind. Here’s a new challenge for you, Li Shou. Your mouth. Keep it closed. For at least one hour. The reward will be a fish. Barbequed to perfection.”
Her eyes widened. A barbequed fish for such a simple mission!? The game was afoot!
The birds sang, the wind rustled the trees, the river bubbled along.
The continent of Atlantis had become a staging ground for space wars. Since the end of the last war against the forces of Helebon, Atlantis turned its mighty sights on the stars where they knew rival civilisations lurked. They wished to begin colonies on alien worlds, whether that meant at the expense of the natives or not. Sorcerer Pangu wasn’t convinced this was the best idea, but he wasn’t the guy in charge.
Earth itself went largely uncolonized, with plenty of free land that could be settled and used by the expansion hungry Atlanteans. But the people’s dreams were now grander than the confines of the Earth could allow, and the resources out there were of great allure. They had developed true space-faring vessels three hundred years prior, but had only explored the nearby planets of the solar system with little interest in going further. So the starship design programme had to come leaps and bounds to develop ships capable of both colonisation and war. With a communiqué from the all but forgotten Prince Oberon and his magical spaceships, which were developed primarily with magic and little of the magi-tech of Atlantis, interest in the stars was roused, but little was known of the capabilities of the civilisations out there. Oberon and Titania had reportedly begun their own colonisation efforts and wonder at their knowledge and capabilities surged the Atlantean wizards and scientists to push themselves to be better and be prepared for the dangers the Atlantean conquerors may yet face.
So while his fellows prepared for space battles, Pangu had resumed his duties as minister for Shangri-La. There were some colonies of Atlantis scattered across the globe and Shangri-La was one of the most successful so deep into Asia.
As minister, Pangu had deliberately kept its expansion contained. Small but strong was his belief in the process. He would rather build strong infrastructure and trade lines than grow too quickly and fall apart. He was one of several apprentices to Magistarr, who called Pangu a “surgeon” both in his ministerial duties and in magic. He chose to make precise cuts rather than flamboyant and explosive meanderings.
Being a sorcerer, rather than a wizard, meant that he had more natural talent than most. Many sorcerers tended to be the explosive type, those who took their magical prowess for granted and wielded their power to excess. Wizards were those who spent years studying and honing their skills. Yet, Pangu saw it was irresponsible to waste aether on outrageous extravagance.
Spaceships were already orbiting the planet and moving into formations that would sweep the galaxy. None had yet left the bounds of Earth as Ancient One’s grand strategy would take as careful precision as if Pangu had made it. But seeing the large, streamlined vessels in the sky was awesome. One, recently complete, was slowly taking to the skies. Despite the distance from Atlantis, such a large vessel, as big as any mountain, was visible from Shangri-La as it passed into the upper atmosphere. Crafted with mercury-like outer layer, it shone dazzlingly bright under the sun. It appeared to have no engines at all, instead using magic to propel itself along by altering the aether around its outer hull to push it.
A part of Pangu had to both marvel and ponder at the sensations those on-board would feel when they touched down on an alien world. However, he knew he would long for his home of Shangri-La and was happy to be left behind as its warden while others had adventures. With many Atlanteans journeying into the stars, greater responsibility would fall onto Pangu’s shoulders. Most of Magistarr’s other students would already be in their starships, orbiting the planet. He wasn’t even sure who else would be staying behind. Magistarr himself had talked of travelling into space, but Pangu expected he would only go after everything was settled on the homeworld, years after the first advance.
He walked the lower street of the colony. Above him were walkways between buildings, allowing access from all floors of buildings to other buildings. There were many buildings that couldn’t be attached by walkways, however, as they floated in the air, tethered by magical bonds. These were normally smaller towers, but they gained height over the grounded skyscrapers by floating higher.
As he went, he came to the low city. Because Shangri-La was built in a valley, much of the construction was done on the sides of mountains, while the rest went down to the valley floor. In the lowest areas, aether was encouraged to floor through the streets so thick that it was like a visible fog. Poking from the foggy low-streets were more floating towers, but these were exclusively utilised by magic producers, both commercial industries and schools and magi-tech research facilities. There were always magical light shows going on above these towers as some experiments were being performed.
He hopped up into the air, soaring four-storeys, to a walkway. From here he got a better vantage of the low-city, which appeared like spires in the mist. Many liked to live down there because the aether build-up had a mild intoxicating affect upon humans, making them feel happy. Many entertainment buildings had cropped up with aether-based intoxication being the highlight.
He jumped up further still, until he reached the highest point of the walkways and was able to scan the horizon. The city was tall, but small. It wasn’t far from the city limits that the natural world dominated the landscape and the beautiful, mesmerising mountains were lush with vegetation. He turned back to see up to one of the higher, floating towers. The government tower was slender and bowed in the middle, as though it had a waist. Sat upon a perch was a creature almost as large as the tower itself.
The creature was grotesque to most human tastes, but to Pangu, she was his oldest friend. His closest familiar. Her torso was wide open at the chest, hollow. Dangling from the fur-covered rib-cage was the creature’s large, pumping heart. Her dragon-like head was sleek and narrow, though her eyes were serpentine and her tongue forked. From her snout hung tendrils that could taste the aether around her head, just as her tongue could taste the air. She had small, cat-like ears, hearing being of little importance to this creature that spent its days soaring through the winds of the sky. Her clawed feet clung to her perch and her long tail swayed gently in the breeze as she waited for Pangu to return. Upon sensing his proximity, she raised her head and peered down at him. Her tail swayed with increased excitement.
He levitated himself the rest of the way, rather than the easier jumps, and landed on the perch. The beast crooned at him and her eyes, the most expressive part of her face, blinked at him with recognition and comfort.
Pangu: “Good afternoon, Tiamat. I hope you ate this morning?”
She lowered her head.
Pangu: “Don’t tell me you lazed about up here all morning?”
Her tail trembled, meaning she was feeling naughty.
Pangu: “When you’re whining about being hungry in an hour, you’re on your own.”
Tiamat’s thin tongue licked him.
Pangu: “Gross. I hope I taste good.”
She licked him again.
Pangu: “I guess so.”
Tiamat was one of the few primordial creatures in existence – a creature from before the creation of the universe. She had existed in the chaoskampf, the chaotic stew that remained from the previous universe. Ancient beyond measure, yet still simple of mind compared to the vast intelligence of a human, she acted much like Pangu’s pet. And yet she had seen and experienced much that Pangu could never even dream of. He tried not to belittle this magnificent beast, but when she hopped about, eager for treats, it was difficult not to dub her a ‘good girl’.
Pangu: “We have some work to do today, Tiamat. Do you think you’re up for it?”
She slowly got to her feet and stretched. She slapped her maw and licked her snake-mouth.
Tiamat suddenly bristled and hunched her back.
Pangu: “Yes, you might have to fight him off. But only if we can’t reason with him.”
The wind kicked up and Pangu felt his bare chest shiver from the cold. He had to worm up a little magical heating into his skin. His tunic was wide open at the chest, he always thought it made him more attractive, but the collar was tall and framed his face. He wore a long coat that now billowed energetically. Shame there were no women about to admire how cool he looked, he thought. His hair was dark but shaved short, matched in length to the neatly groomed stubble on his face.
Pangu: “Before we get into fights with gods, I need to consult the book.”
Tiamat deflated and slumped down onto her perch.
Pangu: “Hey, don’t get huffy with me. Instead of lounging about up here, you should go and eat. You’ll need your strength with Marduck.”
Tiamat seemed to agree and got up again. She spread her four wings out and leapt from the balcony. She sailed through the sky above Shangri-La and went off into the distance to forage for food. He had known her to go for months without eating, but she was at her best emotionally if she ate daily. She just needed to be reminded to do it. She would be eating cows or sheep or horses, but she also swallowed aether, much like humans drank water.
Pangu marched inside the tower. He found a guard snoozing. He picked up a book from the desk and bapped the man on the head.
Guard: “—not the hamburgers!”
Pangu rose an eyebrow.
Guard: “Uh… I wasn’t dreaming. About killer hamburgers…”
Pangu: “I know this isn’t exactly the slums of Atlantis, but do try not to sleep while working. You’re not paid to dream. Of hamburgers or otherwise.”
Guard: “I’m awake. I’ll… do some filing. Or something.”
Pangu: “Good man. Keep an eye out. I’m going to talk to the book.”
Guard: “Oh. I hate that damn thing.”
Pangu: “Don’t we all?”
Immortality was an interesting concept to Pangu. Would he want to live forever? The short answer was, of course. But the long answer was… forever was a long time. Few humans could attain immortality and those that did often found unorthodox means to do so.
He went through the government tower to reach a protected chamber, around which were a whole lot of magical enchantments. He felt them shimmer over his body as he entered. At the centre of the room was a simple plinth and upon that plinth was a dark, leather-bound book.
Pangu waited for a moment, uneasily. Nothing happened, so he cleared his throat.
Voice: “Go away.”
Pangu: “No need to be rude.”
Voice: “I’m busy.”
Pangu: “Doing what?”
Voice: “Not talking to you.”
Pangu rolled his eyes, but persisted.
Pangu: “I found out who you really are, Fayd.”
Fayd: “I’d clap, but I only have pages.”
Pangu: “Then why don’t you come out?”
Fayd: “I don’t want to see your stupid face.”
Pangu: “Are you still angry with me because I called you old lady?”
He could feel the seething silence from the book.
Pangu: “I’m sorry. Okay? You are very, very old though. I can’t pretend you aren’t.”
Fayd: “There is a door there. Use it!”
Pangu: “It took me a long time to figure it all out. The records of Lemuria aren’t so easily accessible to us. Communication with the nations there is at an all-time low since the war. They just don’t care about us enough to even bother giving us a cursory congratulations for not succumbing to Helebon. Buuuuuuuut…”
Fayd: “I’m not interested.”
Pangu: “You’re Atlantean, not Lemurian. I knew that for a while. You have a mixed accent, that’s true, but it was actually the dialect that always gave you away. In your books, famous throughout history, the words you used never seemed Lemurian in style. Given the dates of your first books, I realised it was shortly after…”
Fayd: “Yes, yes. The rise of Atlas. Well done, punk. You got me. I was Atlantean and fled when Atlas stormed into the city with his army. Call me a coward and then bugger off.”
Pangu: “Except you weren’t just any Atlantean, were you?”
Fayd: “I believe there is no such thing as just an Atlantean.”
Pangu: “Nationalism doesn’t work on me, Fayd. You know that.”
Fayd: “I don’t care what works on you.”
Pangu: “You can’t be so defensive about your age when you’ve lived for millennia, Fayd.”
Fayd: “And if I just start calling you child? That’s what you are to me!”
Pangu: “That would be weird, considering we… that one time…”
Fayd: “Don’t even bring that up!”
Pangu: “You can’t go shouting at me, Fayd! Not after I learnt who you are! And what you did! Frankly, you got off lightly when Atlas took over.”
Fayd: “A royalist now, are we? You said you thought the republic was the better system just weeks ago.”
Pangu: “I do think that, but that’s beside the point. You were wife to Cercyon, weren’t you? You were on the council. You had Cercyon’s daughter buried alive. If you had done that to my mother I would have done a whole lot worse than Atlas…”
Fayd: “Now you hate me, that it?”
Pangu: “You just said you hate me!”
There was a long pause as the occupant of the book selected her next words. Her voice was not that of an old lady, but of a mature middle-aged woman. It was deep and resounding and had a sensual and alluring rasp. Probably because she couldn’t stop smoking.
Fayd: “Leave me alone, child. Let me sit here in my never-ending misery. I have spent centuries alone, in the dark. Put me back. May I never be found again.”
Pangu: “Oh, I get it now. This negativity and aggressiveness you always exhibit is because of self-loathing. You’re punishing yourself.”
Pangu: “Sigmund who?”
Fayd: “I think he was a famous psychologist once. I forget when.”
Pangu: “Riiiiiiiight. Fayd. Now I know this, I believe it is my duty to report it to Magistarr. I don’t know… what will happen then.”
Fayd: “You think they’ll kill me, don’t you?”
Pangu: “Can you be killed?”
Fayd: “Do books burn?”
Pangu: “I see… why did you do this to yourself, if you hate yourself?”
Fayd: “You mean, why did I want immortality? It took a long time to… reflect on my actions, Pangu. Even when I was hiding as an author, I was still the same woman who had controlled Atlantis. When my end was coming, I was afraid. I was always good at magic. I found a way and I did it. So here I am. All those years to sit and contemplate.”
Pangu: “Honestly… sounds boring. I mean. Just being a book all that time.”
Fayd: “It was. But, being a magical book allows me to communicate with other books. So I learnt a lot.”
Pangu: “What now? You talk to books?”
Fayd: “Yes. I talk to books.”
Pangu: “… do they say much?”
Fayd: “You’d be surprised.”
Pangu: “Yes, I think I would be.”
An uncomfortable silence fell on them. Fayd’s life as a book was long and dull, interposed by sudden and confusing periods. She had been moved across the known world many times, seen many faces and had many owners. She had been tossed away by her last owner, who evidently hadn’t expected his book to talk and panicked. That’s where Pangu found her, dropped in a ditch. He had felt the magical energies she was brimming with.
As he considered what might befall her after he told his tale to the authorities, Fayd then appeared. The pages of the book sprang open and from the leaves jumped a mist of aether that coalesced into the figure of Fayd. She was as solid as any human, and while a cursory glance would reveal nothing unusual, a close inspection would show that all colours of her body and clothes seemed muted. Like looking at an old television set with low contrast.
Fayd: “If they want to burn me, you’ll make sure the fire will finish me quickly? Don’t let me… burn for long.”
Pangu felt guilt and empathy slamming into his conscience. He knew the terrible deeds she had done, and not just to Atlas’ family. Yet, he had only known her as the creepy book lady. She was mean and had a nasty, biting tongue. But her melancholy soul was in need of fixing and his empathy had wanted, very much, to do that. She might be reformed and regretful, but he had a duty to report his knowledge.
Fayd came up to him and grasped his hands.
Fayd: “I don’t mind going. Not now. It’s been so long… but… I don’t want to suffer. I was a brute, I know, but please don’t make me suffer.”
Pangu: “Didn’t Alope suffer?”
Fayd dropped his hands.
Fayd: “And many others…”
Pangu: “But you’d beg to be spared the same suffering you inflicted?”
Fayd’s lips tightened together before she spoke.
Her lips wobbled in desperation.
Pangu managed to shake his head. He had come to like her, respect her. In their time together he had learnt a lot and they had even experienced intimacy. He felt she had wanted to be close to someone, probably not having such intimacy with a person for centuries or longer, while he couldn’t help but see the beautiful, femme fatale. She was almost like a second teacher to him.
Pangu: “It… it’s not up to me what happens now. It’s up to Magistarr.”
Fayd: “I heard the books whispering. They’re going to attack other worlds. How are they any different than I? How much suffering are they going to bring to other people? And for what? The glory of Atlantis? You said nationalism doesn’t work on you, so what is the point of this? What business does Atlantis have in taking lands not their own and forcing other people to obey them? I was a horrible monster, it’s true. But I was selfish. I did everything to please myself and keep my own power. Magistarr and the king will do what I did for the sake of dirt.”
Fayd: “That’s all it is. Atlantis is a patch of dirt.”
Pangu: “And I thought you were a nationalist.”
Fayd: “When it suits me, I guess. Then again, my Atlantis is long gone. And if Atlantis is not the dirt, but the society, then Atlantis out there is not the Atlantis I loved.”
There was a sudden yell from outside.
Pangu: “What’s that?”
Fayd: “Your pet monster probably brought back a half-dead cow again.”
Pangu: “She thinks she’s bringing me gifts…”
He marched to the exit, but glanced back.
Pangu: “I’ll be back soon.”
When he got outside, he saw the guard out on the balcony where Tiamat was usually found. But he was not yelping at the creature, his eyes were fixed to the sky. Pangu raced out to look for himself and before he even got there, he could sense some great calamity was happening across the globe.
In the upper atmosphere, a battle was raging. All manner of powered energies were being exchanged between foreign starships and the Atlanteans. He couldn’t tell much of what was happening, but he could swear that the enemy ships seemed to know the very movements that the Atlanteans were taking. Every manoeuvre was being cut off.
Guard: “What is this, minister? What is happening?”
The Earth itself shook. Something happened in the ground on the other side of the globe and it still shook Asia like a quake beneath their very feet. Down below he could see people panicking in horror and confusion.
Pangu: “Whatever it is, I’m obviously needed.”
He held up his hand and snapped his fingers. The sound of that snap could not be heard by human ears. It was imbued with magic that was attuned to the tiny ears of one very large beast.
Tiamat’s powerful screech, on the other hand, could be heard by the people as she came storming through the clouds faster than a jet. Pangu levitated and flew through the air towards her. He landed on her back and used magic to stabilise himself there. It would require less work than flying all the way himself, especially at the speeds that Tiamat could go with no effort.
Yet, as they went, something caught his eye. It was a shockwave. And from the overwhelming sensations he could feel from its magical properties, he knew the end of the world was upon them…
Fayd sat in the gloom, minding her own business.
The world had gone dark. She didn’t know where she was, or what had happened, but she was alone again. She missed Pangu, but she was comforted by the blackness that surrounded her. Everything was quiet, so long as she ignored the screaming books. They were very distraught. Many had been destroyed, others were battered and injured. Those still unharmed were shocked and dazed.
She blotted them all out and centred herself.
She would sit here for millennia more.
Time was incomprehensible when all she knew was darkness. It seemed like aeons had passed, but also just mere hours, since she last saw Pangu the sorcerer. But now she sensed someone else, someone also powerful in magic. Rubble was being moved. Then the old doors were grinding open. The light of sky suddenly bathed upon her leather and she mentally recoiled from it, like a vampire. She could hear voices. They spoke gibberish, except she found she could understand them perfectly.
Li Shou: “It smells baaaaaaaaaaaaad.”
Neferkaptah: “Nothing in here either. Nobody anyway. A dead city.”
Li Shou: “We should just get that vehicle the king talked about and go. Why do you care about smelly old buildings?”
Neferkaptah: “There are mysteries here, cat-girl. So much to learn… I suddenly feel… like a child. A child who woke up for the first time to awareness. I lived my small life and now I see… so much history. It’s… peculiar.”
Li Shou: “Look! Look!”
Fayd suddenly felt herself being shook and jostled about.
Li Shou: “I found a book! I found a book!”
Fayd: “Stop! Stop shaking me, you bloody--!”
Li Shou: “WAAAAAHHHH!”
Fayd felt herself gain air before she then slammed, heavily, into the floor.
Fayd: “I suppose I should say ouch…”
"There is a mild plot-hole here, as in Pan Post 64, where the 12 disciples of Magistarr are helping him contain the ultranexus, but in this post they are both on ships and Pangu himself is in Shangri-la.
"Pangu is loosely inspired by the Chinese deity Pangu[Ext 2], though very little of the original source is used. The myth of Pangu seems to have been inspired by myths of Tiamat[Ext 3], thus my adding her as a second character. As I didn't want to create another human-like deity, I made Tiamat a creature instead, which somewhat aligns with some interpretations of her in myth. As Tiamat in myth was created in the chaoskampf[Ext 4], I decided to continue that through to NeS too.
"Since Leg Post 90, I had been building up to this introduction of Fayd as the immortal book. This is all a prelude to the Character I have been planning to use for a while, an Armenian man trapped in a book, to add to the main NeS3 roster." ~ Britt the Writer