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  • The enigmatic streams of existence traced out into the infinite, Cordo conveyed upon them like a spectral current toward a boundless void. But it was not yet his time. A wraithlike hand plunged through the abyss to raise his weary chin and as suddenly as he had been displaced, he was swept back into the realm of physical entity.

    His eyes flickered open, like a newborn just crawling out from the womb. The world was no more than a smeared vista of darkened shades. A foul, metallic taste lapped his tongue, the lower half of his mouth dipped in a pool of blood resting coolly in a crevice. With each of his strained breaths its tranquil surface rippled outwards to swell along the wrinkles of the crag. Sanguinary bridges clung to his marred lips as he lifted his head as far as he could. The throbbing was unbearable. It felt as if some small creature was buried in his brain hammering obsessively.

    His palm pressed against an outcrop and, squeezing it as tightly as he could manage, he pushed himself up. Suddenly, his wobbling elbow gave out and he fell face first into the rocky chalice of his own life-fluid. Like chilled, melted iron it ran along the soft, undulating surface of his gums. It was nauseating, and as he reeled onto his side, coughing up blood and phlegm, a splitting pain shot through his torso, stemming from the apparent crack in his ribs.

    The agony was unbearable. His legs flailed as he moaned, until finally he was able to flip his body over and allow his lungs to fully exhale - A grateful release of compressed air. The rockscape of Haven’s sky began to take shape as he squeezed his eyes repetitively. Its sublimity was almost overwhelming, but the deep, chasmal silence sent a shiver up his spine only silence pervaded. There wasn’t even a slight breeze to break the hollowness which seemed to be engulfing him. There was only the chafing of the severed bone on his side each time his chest inflated.

    Sliding his aching arms along sharp crests, he brought his hands to his temples. The throbbing would not abate, but as his fingers peeled away the layer of filth caking his skin, rapid slides of memory began to filter through his mind’s eye.

    * * *

    (Flashback) ...The gnarled edge of a rock slammed against Cordo’s rib with a devastating crack. Fingers clawed and fists rattled. A welter of shrill and inhumane screams rang out, distorted by gurgling blood. Flesh tore beneath the pressure of gnawing teeth and then a blow landed on the side of his head. Then it all went dark....

    * * *

    It was so muddled… chaotic; a blurry expulsion of trauma leaving him only with a pervasive ringing noise, like the dull blade of a rusty knife was being leisurely dragged along the radius of his inner skull. With all his budding vigor he strove to dig through the torment, but it was then that a droplet of cold liquid slid beside his ear and clambered up to stew along the rim.

    Even in that state of disorientation he knew that there were no sources of water in his vicinity. It was blood, but it couldn't have been his. Pushing down with all his might he brought himself to lean on one forearm. He held his breath to try and alleviate the blistering pain in his side and began to follow the thin stream of blood until his neck could turn no more.

    His knees scraped along the earth, but he hadn’t the energy to scramble to his feet. Instead he dragged his enervated frame pitiably through the murk until an alien presence impeded him. The scraped backside of his hand ran sorely against a supple form. It was cool as the rock to which he had grown accustom, but the softness was so startling he almost slipped.

    Staring at the furrowed crag which hooked upwards to form Haven’s ceiling, he refused to look down and acknowledge the truth which was growing more and more undeniable. Then his quivering palm fell upon a tensioned patch of muscle, and it all unwound like the threads of an emotional tapestry.

    * * *

    (Flashback) ...His side crunched as a rock rammed against it, sending Cordo to his knees with a terrible gasp. “Get off of me!” She screamed as she flailed, but the brutes were too strong for her to handle. A swift kick to the side of her knee cracked her leg inwards. He gripped one of them by the wrist and launched him, the shriek muffled as he plummeted down the cliff-side. Her words were… indecipherable. Another pinned her down against the rock and wrenched her arms. Cordo could hear the snap of her shoulders. Her cries stung the air until there was nothing else…...

    * * *

    Cordo’s eyes began to well, his body so numbed by rage that the throbbing of his ribs and skull became negligible. Gently he slid his hands around her slender torso and propped her neck up against his bicep. Her head hung like a dead weight draped over through a sling. A stifling sense of vertigo overcame him. The grandiose walls of Haven seemed to be converging on him as if he were at the center of a vacuum, the ceiling crushing down until he could hardly draw breath. And it was only as his world smothered that he mustered the courage to look.

    No amount of bodily pain inflicted could compare to how his soul shattered upon the sight. Her eyes were glazed open within half drooped lids; those beautiful, transient pools of a blue so subtle that they were like two sheets of burnished glass. Her jaw was slack, that smile he had adored all his life wiped away as her bloodied lips crookedly unhitched. All of the Humans of Haven had milky skin, but hers had been stripped of that certain vibrancy he had treasured. Splines of bluish veins spread like webs across her bruised temples.

    His hand ran through each silky strand of her brown hair. He tossed a tuft of it over her cheek, but it slid along her cheek as if it were ice. She was frozen in time - fused with the endless expanse of rock much like any mundane formation.

    As his fingers ran along her breasts and down her lithe figure, each bruise floored him with another flash of her suffering - blows pounding her ribs; sharp protrusions of rock scraping along her stomach as she struggled. Blood smeared along his palm as it slid down her thigh, and the image of her ravaging squeezed like a vice around his throat. He couldn't remember the last time he had cried, but his dreary eyes stung as tears uncontrollably leaked out.

    “Paige…” The name escaped his whimpering lips, but there wasn't another soul nearby to hear it.

    His hand wrapped beneath her limp legs, the other carefully position around her far shoulder, and with all his might he lifted her. A jarring pain scorched up the left side of his torso. He was able only to reach the edge of the precipice just before his knees buckled and he crumpled, his shins stretching precariously over the chasm. But he held her tightly, his muscles tearing as he hoisted her to safety.

    His feet dangled in the void as he propped himself to sit up, her head nestled in the cleft of his lap. There was no rushing of wind up along the precipice. Even facing out over such a tremendous plunge, in Haven it was always disturbingly stagnant. He tried to repress his tears, though he was not sure why. Perhaps he had thought the Keepers were watching; that they would punish him for his restiveness. Yet the more he caressed her cheek, the more he couldn’t help but break down.

    The realm of sculpted rock spanning from that promontory, undulating along a landscape painted by varying grades of shadow, was all he had ever known. Its primal loins bore him from the cradle as humankind was thrust back to its primordial origins. Dwelling in caves and darkness, there was so little worth living for.

    All he ever wanted lay wilting in his arms at that moment, and the desolation was excruciating. Like knives plucking at the sagging strings of his heart. He couldn’t stop staring outwards, trying to steady his breathing by rhythmically stroking her icy forehead.

    Suddenly, bluish light spilt through the great rift tearing across the rocky sky. It started out delicately, a slender crescent of radiance running along one side of the jagged maw. Gradually it began to blossom like a flower petal, creeping around the deep fissure. His arm squeezed the back of her neck as the luminance bloomed. This was what they had come to see, he remembered with complete clarity. For a short period, every so often in Haven, the gash of blackness usually speckled with nearly imperceptible white specs, would be intruded upon by beauty.

    An effulgent, roiling sphere of a thousand shades of blue peered around the fissure’s brow and light poured into Haven, illuminating the barren realm. The imperfections of its stony surfaces were splattered with blue, like an ocean of rock enclosed in a fractured globe. And as the edge of the dazzling presence skirted along the rift, the shifting refulgence provided his world with an unusual dynamism much like the roiling surface of an ocean.

    Yet all of it; all the crags and fingers of rock splaying haphazardly along the planes, seemed to spiral around the panoptical spire rising majestically from the center of a smoothened crater. Its curved form subtlety swooped upwards, a glossy, reflective surface standing like a crystalline column just below the great divide. It gleamed like a fluorescent gem, and at the very top there was a black sphere, swallowing the light like a black hole. The Tower of the Keepers – Guardians of Haven VII.

    “It is beautiful Paige… beautiful.”

    The promontory was flooded with the light, the warmth wrapping his body with balmy arms that soothed his pain. He closed his eyes as it kissed the sweat on his brow and licked the blood on his lips. The pain in his head subsided and all at once he came to a sudden recognition. What else was there to live for if he had already found perfection in her?

    The pleasant, blue rays further embraced him as he slid timidly towards the edge. Just as all his weight shifted to his arms and the descent loomed, the gloomy nature of Haven made its renascence. And there he held himself, so genuinely wanting to join her, but unable to take that final thrust. Teetering there on the precipice something kept him from succumbing to sorrow. It could have been a desire for more; to see that shining blue orb up close or all the other wonders of the universe it accompanied. Or maybe it was the all-seeing eyes of the Keepers holding him at bay. But in the end it was simple. It was Paige, and it took his impending suicide to remember the woman he had loved since he was old enough to contemplate the emotion.

    The last vestiges of the outlandish illumination faded, revealing Haven’s true nature - that grim netherworld to which his species was relegated. That the place could even be contrived as some form of paradise was laughable. Humans were damned beings, and for whatever sin it was they committed, the Keepers held them in contempt half a galaxy away from the utopia that was Earth.

    It was at that moment, as Cordo began to curse them under his breath, when a spark flushed through him like a sudden fever. That tower, then an ashen stronghold barely visible through the murk, bore secrets and powers which he could only begin to conceive. The clans told tales of the Keeper’s powers, but he had never bore witness to it..

    “Perhaps they can save you.”

    Humans were never to near the sanctuary of the Keeper, but as the darkened spire lingered in his vision he decided he would test their abilities. His next step resolved, he gently placed her head aside and shuffled with his knees to her torso. Her body rolled onto his arms as they scooped beneath her, and he dug his feet into two niches’ to gain traction. Straining with all his might he began to lift, his muscles scorching with white-hot fire until a shooting pain caused his arms to once again give out.

    She tumbled out of his grasp, her skull slamming against sharp protrusion. Sprawling quickly, he reeled her in as her legs whipped over the edge and she nearly plummeted. Rocks scraped off the precipice, their clatter echoing all the way down.

    “I have you Paige!” He whimpered as he held her against his anxiously heaving chest, “Don’t worry...” Blood oozed out of the cut on her head, soaking his fingers as he turned her over to cradle her again. “I won’t fail you,” He snarled as he tore off the sleeve of his tattered, cloth smock and stuffed it between his grinding teeth. Then he wrapped her again tried one more time. He had never experienced such torment as what it took to sling her over his bony shoulder. His rib felt as if it would stab through his flesh and his veins swelled, but somehow he remained conscious.

    Standing still for a while until his wobbling legs steadied, the pain began to subside just enough to keep him from passing out. That first step was the longest of his young life, but when his second foot touched down and he did not crumple, he merely released a sigh of relief and took another. It became an agonizing routine - one foot after the other, just like when he first learned how to walk.

    The descent was treacherous. Down the narrow path from the highest regions of Haven he moved with careful diligence. The serpentine ramp weaved through black caverns and along slender arches of rock like gnarled fingers - twisting and turning all the way down into a ravine.

    His body was so exhausted when he reached the bottom hours later that he almost keeled over. He was at the misty gash along the frills of the cliffside known as the Breath of Haven - a forest of jagged stalagmites smothered beneath a thick canopy of fog. It was the only place he knew of without stagnant air.

    As he pressed onward, his wounds were soothed by the heat emanating from the sunken caverns flanking the ravine. They were organized like a carved arcade, too organized to be something natural. There was a simmering noise emanating from deep within them. It sounded like the very ground beneath his feet was exhaling, the hot steam of Haven’s breath wafting out.

    A gust of rotting flesh filled his nostrils. He gagged as he stumbled into a stalagmite, trying to keep from coughing out loud. Paige’s body helped to keep him balanced as he covered his nose and battled the nauseating feeling in his gut. Beyond the arches were the hallowed grounds where the dead of Haven were brought to burn. The gasping furnaces within charred piled corpses until their embers floundered about his feet.

    Such was the fate of those who were not chosen by the Keepers to be released unto the stars. It was a fitting demise after a life of darkness and despair, however, so long as he still drew breath he would never let her be taken by the hissing flames.

    “I’ll miss him,” a solemn voice echoed.

    Swiftly, he pulled himself around to the either side of the stalagmite and peaked around the corner. Two emaciated silhouettes of men emerged from the passages, wallowing mist coiling about them like snakes as they approached him.

    “May he bathe eternally in the light of the Keepers,” The other man recited as they stepped just in front of Cordo’s cover.

    He held his breath, worried that his wheezing would be heard. Paige’s body couldn’t be discovered. The Clans were spiritual assemblies, wholeheartedly dedicated to their guardians. Bodily remains were considered a votive offering, and to keep her from that end was to invite a fate worse than death.

    He could hardly to concentrate on their conversation as they passed by. Stopping his journey had only served to make the pain more excruciating. He pictured her smile to try and keep from collapsing; the way her slender lips rose in a way that didn’t reveal any teeth because she was too bashful. Her face may have been gaunt but her cheeks were always flushed pink with life. And those eyes - He could get lost in them… forever…

    Cordo’s eyes sprung open and in a frenzy his vision darted until he realized he was completely alone. Well, not completely alone. Paige’s body rested across his lap as he was slumped against the rock for however long it had been. He yawned and shook his body until a coat of ash dribbled off. The air was foul, but he had grown accustomed to the stench. As he ran his hand through her hair he took his time remove every bit of filth. His lower lip quivered as he recalled her contagious giggle, but he had wasted enough time.

    Lifting her the second time was far easier; however he still winced as he balanced himself against the stalagmite in order to drape her over his shoulder. His clan was in the opposite direction, but there was a passage he knew of - one which cut through the center of Haven and would release him at the doorstep of the Keeper’s tower. It was a forbidden path, frequented only by heretics and exiles.

    The spine, as it was called by his clan, was nearby, earning its name for the unsettling array of cambered formations lining a long, shadowy trough. He had heard tales of the debauched men who dwelled in the veiled hollows there, but it was the only choice he had not to get caught. Cannibals littered the darkest furrows, driven mad by hunter and despair.

    Plunging through a wall of fog, clinging to his arms until each wisp snapped with white billows, he arrived at the mouth of the boundless trench. He was all at once struck with terror and awe. The daunting passage, littered with toothy projections and perfidious overhangs of rock ready to collapse at any time, was filled with a kind of silence that made all others seem pleasant. There were layers of darkness, and he would have to cross the lowest, buried beneath the world he knew like a waking grave. The droning of Haven’s furnace was gone as well the soft purring of mist, leaving him to contemplate the pain behind each strained step of his beleaguered legs.

    A congealed clump of blood splattered on his shoulder. He lurched, his head snapping around to see a man impaled on a jagged stalagmite pointing to the promontory where Paige met her ill-fated demise. The body had slid down halfway like meat on a skewer. Its eyes gaped as its bloodied mouth hung loosely. Bones splayed through the flesh and sinew around a massive hole in its chest, entrails dangling from it and sticking to the rock.

    Cordo couldn't help but snarl as he passed beneath the corpse, wishing that all the others had joined it on the spit. But it was pleasing sight nonetheless. He only hoped the man had spent a long time writhing upon the stake in anguish.

    Rubbing Paige’s back proudly, he delved into the spine. He had never walked it before and he felt as if he were shambling down an esophagus into the belly of a nameless beast. Even the ground was serrated, ruptured with faults and thin rifts through which diffuse red light smoldered. It was petrifying, but it didn’t matter. There was no torture which could be worse than what he had already felt, at least he hoped so.

    His eyes danced as he trudged onward. The swelling crags running on either side of him were broken by shard-like boulders and punctured with porous cavities. The repressive sheets of blackness ran grew darker, if that was even possible. Even far above there was only the blackness of the great rift. The only prospect of hope were the almost imperceptible stars, many lifetime’s away, twinkling haphazardly betwixt Haven’s jaws.

    As he trudged onward his eyes danced. The undulating crags running on either side of him were broken by sharp shards of rock and punctured with porous cavities. Repressive sheets of augmenting darkness ran through ominous crevices and along tapered ridges. Even above there was only the blackness of the great rift. The only hope of surviving was provided by the almost imperceptible stars, many lifetime’s away, twinkling haphazardly betwixt Haven’s jaws.

    Then, suddenly, a blinding blue spotlight shot over his head, stopping him dead in his tracks. It was a feeder humming above the spine, bearing a cloth bundle of food in its grasp. He opened his mouth to call to it, but only air wheezed out as the insect-like droid passed by. Its bulging, segmented eyes glinted, but it paid him no heed. He wasn’t even sure of they could hear, but he would have done almost anything for just a bite of the toughened meat it carried to nourish his clan.

    He stood, watching as it vanished and all light went out. A cruel jest to test his resolve, but he continued on, taking one slow step at a time until time ceased to exist. There was only the unrelenting pain riddling his body until finally numbness began to take hold.

    With his feet dragging along, he stared blankly forward through the sweaty strands of hair clinging to his forehead. The crippling soreness in his side became no more than a point of irking pressure. A constant reminder that there was life in him yet.

    His lungs began to compress and the usual steady thumping of his heart was grinding to a halt. But then something extraordinary happened. The dismal white glow of the Keeper’s spire became visible through the gloom.

    “Look Paige,” he coughed as he feebly lifted his quaking arm to point, “We’re almost there…”

    “A tasty snack for yourself?” A deranged voice echoed from the narrows of a lofty niche. Cordo’s head spun until he spotted the silhouette of a man crawling out onto a promontory on all fours like an animal. “She looks fresh!” The cannibal barked excitedly before breaking out into a hysteric, manic cackling.

    “Stay back!” Cordo growled weakly and carefully slid backwards.

    “Want her all to yourself!?” The man’s laugh was bereft of sanity. He clambered out from his ridge, skulking like a beast down the fractured planes.

    Cordo could only make out the tarnished scars running over a balding head. “Stay back Cannibal!” A coarse surface grazed against his back as he could retreat no further.

    The cannibal approached, hunched over with his lean fingers dangling just above the ground, when a shaft of red light illuminated him. His face was so gaunt that Cordo could see the serrated tissue and veins surrounding sunken eyes that could hardly look straight. The very bones beneath his skin showed as he was stripped bare and crusted with a layer of soot.

    “Just let me have a bite!” The cannibal chomped his teeth ravenously, that maniacal laugh resonating as he paced back and forth licking his lips.

    “She’s not for eating,” Cordo turned his body so that his free hand was facing the man, trembling both in dread and exhaustion.

    The cannibal’s deranged grin quickly shifted to a grimace, his creased face furrowing as he bore his sharp, corroded teeth. “Why should we let the Keepers have her!?” He snarled, grasping her dangling hand and yanking.

    The force was too much for Cordo to withstand. She tumbled off of his shoulder, pulling him to the ground with her where his rib slammed against a protruding ridge. He screamed in anguish, writhing on the ground as the bone pierced his skin.

    The cannibal huddled over her prostrate corpse, and out of the corner of Cordo’s eye he could see a drooling mouth of sharpened teeth wrap around her arm. Rage flushed through his body like a gathering storm and before he even knew what happened he sprawled. Blood sprayed as the cannibal’s teeth ripped off a chunk of her flesh, but Cordo’s hands found the man’s neck as he tackled him and squeezed until he shook. The cannibal gurgled blood and flailed, smacking Cordo’s broken side, but the pain only strengthened the grip.

    Then, out of the darkness another set of hands sprung out to tear Cordo off and fling him into the crag. A shadowy figure came at him as he struggled to stand, a fist slamming into his jaw with an audible crack. Stammering along the wall, hot breath breathing down his neck, his groping fingers found a loose fragment. Long nails dug into his back as the other grabbed him, but he quickly spun, the rock smashing into the second assailant’s temple and knocking him off his feet. Then with a roar his arm crashed downwards, splitting the man’s skull like sack of rotten fruits.

    Cordo panted wildly. His fingers dug into the weapon as the first cannibal hissed and kicked Paige’s limp body aside. Then the man charged with a mad hate in his eyes. Cordo went to brace himself but his foot slipped. The cannibal went to jump on him, and with his eyes half closed he swung blindly from the ground. The rock slammed his attacker’s knee, causing it to brutally snap inwards. An inhumane shriek resonated as the cannibal grasped his shattered limb and flailed.

    Cordo took one step toward ending the man’s life when a sudden feeling of faintness brought him to his knees. The rock slipped from his grasp, the world spinning so rapidly that he nearly vomited. He went to place his hand down where the silky touch of her hair garnered his awareness. Still brimming with adrenaline, he heaved her over his back.

    “Come back here!” the cannibal groaned, but Cordo decided to leave him to his anguish. He began to run, run as fast as his drained legs could carry him. The pain inundating his nerves made it too hard to focus his vision, but he knew where he had to go. The cannibal’s bloodcurdling screams echoed through the darkness, but it drove him onward.

    Her uneven weight made him wobble reached the end, but just as he was about to topple his foot slammed into a lip. Their bodies spilled down the gentle slope of a crater before grinding to a halt as the incline began to soften. He lifted himself onto his hands and knees where he began to cough up blood and dust. Then he crawled along the ground to her and began to roll her toward the crystalline spire just at of his reach. One flip at a time he pushed her, his arms about ready to rip out of their sockets.

    He reached under her one last time, lifting her body forward until it pressed against the base of the tower. Cradling her from his knees he looked up as far as his neck could bend and garnered what little vim he retained. “Keeper!” he rasped. Barely able to lift his weak fist beyond his shoulder, he slammed it against the surreal surface. Only rattled air escaped his lips as he tried to yell again and was received only by a lingering silence.

    Pulling her face to his own, he began to weep, but just as his fragile mind surrendered all hope, the very gates of rapture unsealed. A metallic tentacle slid out through the surface as a hole spiraled open as if it were liquid. At eye-level was a three pronged claw, and he hadn’t the energy to cower as the smooth appendages wrapped loosely around his face. Blue light pulsated down them as the slithering arm torqued his head back and forth. Then it released, receding back through the wall and leaving his jaw tender.

    A slit ran up the surface, peeling back to reveal a widening maw of blinding white light. The ethereal luminance reached out to swallow him, and all the while he squeezed her body fearing if it was the end. The light was like nothing he had ever experienced before. Even the azure star which he had seen paled in comparison. He squinted to try and discern something, yet it was a presence more engulfing than even the most extreme darkness.

    (Voice in his head)"You are a brave, Human Seda of Haven VII. These grounds are forbidden to your kind!"

    There was a sudden pinch on his brain. The words seemed palpable, yet he had heard nothing around him.

    (Voice in his head)"Yours is most peculiar species. I have known so forms of life, but none have astounded me quite like yours."

    Thoughts not his own echoed through his skull. It was a voice neither male nor female; neither sentient nor synthetic, but resonant with all entities. It was both silent and powerfully imposing; the words of a god. Unknowing, Cordo had seemingly beseeched upon the gates of some form of heaven.

    “Keeper…” he mouthed, far too shattered and awestruck to muster words. “Please… fix her…” And that was all he had left. His body slumped down over her, completely drained and ready to wither when suddenly his limbs twitched as he felt his muscles tense. He trembled uncontrollably as his mind was pried open and shuffled through like the pages of a book. His eyelids flickered. Indiscernible, alien thoughts raced through him as his entire entity body was tapped into.

    The tops of his feet grazed across the smooth rock and before he knew it he was completely suspended like a puppet on taut strings. He tried to look down at her, but he couldn’t move his head. Only his eyes remained his own, but through the suffocating lightness he could still see almost nothing.

    (Voice in Cordo's head)"Curious. You do not fear me at all…"

    Then, through it tread a murky silhouette. A form came just before his levitating frame. Sticky amber eyelids closed horizontally and then revealed eyes which smoldered like perfect, radiant amethysts.

    “Please…” Blood dribbled from his mouth. The jagged fracture of his rib sliced further through flesh as his arms were forced to stretch upward. Bathed in whiteness, he could hardly make out any of the Keeper’s features as it began to round him. What he saw was a mess of slithering tentacles, draping down the back of its head in a slimy tangle. And despite being held in place a few feet off of the ground, his eyes were on the same level as the towering being.

    (Voice in Cordo's head) "A Millenium I have endured, but still I am perplexed by this feeling you Humans covet so dearly. For all your species’ broad spectra of personalities there is, in each of you, this incontestable pursuit for connection to a single other."

    The tentacles wiggled more intensely as the transient voice resonated. Cordo felt something grazing along his protruding bone, or at least thought he did, but there was no pain. His body was not his own. Then, in his peripheries, he saw the rib start to jiggle. A flap of his skin opened without a trace of leaking blood, and the bone slid through it. Like two pieces of a puzzle, the fracture set and his flesh was instantly mended.

    (Voice in Cordo's head)"Of all the things in this universe there is nothing that perplexes me more. You are on the brink of death yet you mind is fixed on saving one who is not of your own entity… I could not fathom…"

    Four long, bony fingers pressed against his chest. Somehow, through it, he could feel himself in a more profound way than ever before. Every ounce of blood gushing through his veins was traceable; the valves of his heart opening and closing. The nerves threading through him were like electric cords, tingling all the way down to the tips of his appendages. The tissue of his lungs expanded as air wound lovingly about their chambers.

    Then the fingers left him and that euphoric high of sensation vanished. The Keeper moved around behind him and for a moment there was nothing. That was until Paige’s body began to lift off the earth like a ragdoll. Her face came just before his, his vision beginning to return as the lightness subsided. The blood staining her supple skin evaporated, and then her eyes opened - those serene reservoirs floating like oases amongst the rock.

    Cordo wished with all of his being to reach out and stroke her cheeks, but his arms were paralyzed. The knots in her hair unwound, each lustrous strand tumbling down over her slender shoulders where her white skin bloomed like a beacon.

    A formidably toned and lengthy arm extended passed him, with a rusty, moss colored membrane that was textured like thinly grained sandpaper. Four giant fingers fell upon her unmoving chest and her skin seemed to ripple outwards from each point of contact. Images shuffled through the deepest sanctums of her eyes, and as Cordo stared into them he could see into the depths of her soul where only his memory dwelled.

    (Voice in Cordo's head) "What a regrettable fate, there is such promise in this one."

    He was released, gently descending until his knees scraped against the ground. She hovered over him until the Keeper’s arms cradled her. Then he realized that had regained his own constitution, the muscles along his entire body tingling as if they had merely been asleep. His arms trembled and slipped each time he attempted to regain balance, like he was blessed with new parts he had not yet learned to use. All the agony in him was vanquished, and that sudden sense of numbness was more chilling then the pain had ever been. He was no longer too frail to speak, yet in the presence of such power he had lost grip of his own tongue.

    His hand grazed along the bottom of the Keeper’s legs. They were lean and muscular, shades of violet streaming down the outer thigh and blending flawlessly with the usually russet-green skin everywhere else. Bowing backwards significantly compared to a humans, they extended into narrow feet that had three, long toes with sharp, bony talons. A hinged one on the back hooked down from the upper ankle to provide support.

    (Voice in Cordo's head) "The Children of Earth are chosen. Fear not, human, her ascension is not yet concluded. Her soul is tethered to the Rift."

    Cordo reached up toward her glowing body, his arm quivering. Her hand dangled, and he grasped it, pulling her arm rigid as the Keeper began to move toward the blinding entrance. Tears flooded from his eyes, percolating along the soffit of his upper lip.

    The Keeper’s enormous hand then gently wrapped around his wrist, it’s boundless energy surging through him. And with a tenderness one would never expect from a god it unhinged his fingers from hers and gently set his arm down.

    “I love you…” he mouthed as his limb fell against the rock. Whatever came next, he had no -

    Without warning, his ankle was unexpectedly yanked and his head slammed forward before he could brace the fall. Quickly spinning over, he caught a sharp rock just before it severed his jugular.

    “You think you can escape me!” The same deranged cannibal snarled through his knees, saliva dripping from his mouth onto Cordo’s face. The weapon dithered violently over him as they tangled, hissing and grunting before the Keeper’s Spire.

    Despite his resurgence Cordo was still getting used to his strength, finding himself pinned down with ease. Nails scraped along his bare shoulder and the rock began to bore into his chest. Struggling as best he could, it sank deeper and deeper. The cannibal roared, pushing down with all of his insane might until Cordo’s lung was punctured.

    Then, the rock still buried in him with blood oozing around its edges, the man was swiftly thrown into the air by no fault of his own. Twisting and growling voraciously, the cannibal’s damaged leg flailed as he broke into a maddened riot. A shadow of wildly flapping tentacles extended over Cordo, as the Keeper returned.

    “You have devoured all hope!” the cannibal howled and just as his mouth shut, his body exploded into a mess of blood and guts. Chunks of innards showered down like unsanctified fountain. Cordo wanted to gasp, to speak out to the Keeper, but the rock in him pierced too deeply. Doused in red, he fainted, his mind giving way to blackness…

    (Voice in Cordo's head) "It is your time now to ascend beyond the rocks of Haven… Cordo…."
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