Author’s note: This is part two of a story I have decided, in the absence of better titling, to call Kronisk versus Kronisk. When last we looked, Corrigwen and Xi had found their way into a monolithic structure that represents the thoughts and feelings of Kronisk. What they do there next is the subject of this part…
If you have not read part one of this story yet, please do so now. This part will make a great deal more sense if you do.
Let us resume…
With that, the young Kronisk walked through a door leading into the halls. As they followed, Xi and Corrigwen saw Kronisk‘s form shudder and shimmer, as if the Human they saw was really some form of video projection with a tracking error. And then the Kronisk that Xi and Corrigwen saw resumed the form he had on Azeroth. The form that Xi was comfortable with.
After the shape-change, Kronisk did not slow at all. He continued through a door and into a room. Feeling they had no alternatives, Xi and Corrigwen followed, dashing through the doorway as the door closed on its own. And this new room was markedly different from the rooms that had marked the rest of the trip through Kronisk‘s consciousness. For one thing, the room had a window. A small window, high up in one wall, offering a fairly dismal, functional view of what appeared to be an afternoon sky, but a wall, nonetheless.
“Is that sky real?” Xi asked Corrigwen in a whisper. “I cannot tell, but something does not look right about it.”
Whereas Ursidae, and presumably Pandaren, had lesser sight than was the case with Humans, they had a keen sense of smell. Corrigwen, being Dwarvish, had the same kind of sight as other Humanoids, but with one marked difference. She saw better in conditions of low lighting than did a Human or Elf. So when she took a closer, more intense look at the window, she immediately knew something was wrong. The view outside of this window was artificial. Whether it was one of the photographs from a camera like Kronisk‘s or a painting, she could not tell, but that was certainly no sky.
Seated at the desk in one side of the room was the form of Kronisk that appeared on Kali-Yuga. The other Kronisk, the one that had led them here, was standing by the door.
(They cannot see us. They have no idea that we are here.)
Taking this shred of thought as a statement of fact, Corrigwen circled around the desk a little, moving to the side to see who the more ordinary Kronisk was talking with. At the opposite side of the desk was a woman. Noticeably, but not dramatically, shorter than the ordinary Kronisk, and a good deal more slender, her appearance at first caused Corrigwen to wonder if something terrible was not about to happen.
Xi found this woman’s speech peculiar. It was in the common speech that Kronisk had been using throughout her time in this odd place. But it was accented in ways both resembling and very different to how Pandaren spoke this common speech. Like all such variations, certain sounds were stretched, others clipped, and some switched. Looking at this woman, Corrigwen could discern who she was by the Asiatic characteristics. Although Kronisk had many memories concerning many different kinds and varieties of people, the less like Kronisk in terms of ethnicity or language the people became, the less they were represented in these vivid memories.
Kronisk had warned Corrigwen earlier that this would be the case with him. It was, in his words, the case with people of all types. People assimilated certain characteristics of the folk they regularly associated with into their consciousness. As Kronisk put it, he had met a wide variety of peoples from all over Terra during his boyhood. This doctor seemed to regard him as an uneasy curiosity, as a sort of assignment that really had no clear objectives or goals.
Corrigwen sort of knew how this story went. Xi, for her part, watched as the doctor spoke calmly and quietly with Kronisk. As the conversations continued, Xi noticed something funny. Every conversation, every brief exchange of words that Kronisk had with this doctor, seemed to have been stitched together. It was as if the memories of what had happened between conversations had been removed and placed somewhere else.
Both Xi and Corrigwen noticed a pattern of change in Kronisk‘s manner of conversing with this doctor from conversation to conversation. The first conversation found Kronisk in an incredibly antagonistic state. He was not angry with the doctor, but he did seem very upset that he was here due to a friend having called local services and passed his details along. The hospital was not willing to let him leave unless he took the medicines that they wanted him to take, and he was a little frightened of what these medicines might do to him.
But the doctor in front of him did something he did not expect at all. She tried to reason with him about what she wanted to do, and how she wanted to treat him. Rather than attempt to dismiss his concerns as paranoid, she appeared to acknowledge that Kronisk had a great litany of reasons to have them.
Over the course of a day or two, the good doctor politely, gently talked Kronisk into voluntarily ingesting the chemical supplements that she promised would improve his emotional and neurological processing of the real world around him. In quiet whispers, Corrigwen explained to Xi that the doctor could, if she were so inclined, simply have nurses hold Kronisk down and force him to ingest these chemical supplements. There was the possibility of later penalties or retribution for doing so, of course, but it would accomplish the immediate-term goal of getting these chemicals into Kronisk‘s system. The question that Corrigwen thought of was why she did not elect this option. The doctor was a relatively tiny creature, even compared to the form that Kronisk assumed on Terra or Kali-Yuga. She would need the aid of at least one nurse to accomplish this task.
But as Corrigwen watched the conversations unfold, she understood that this doctor was not as interested in doing the quick and expedient thing as she was interested in the best outcome for a patient. And just for a moment, a fraction of a second, she saw how Kronisk looked through the eyes of this doctor who was even possibly slightly younger than he was at the time.
He looked like a wounded, neglected, abused puppy through the good doctor’s eyes. And for a fleeting second, Corrigwen heard what this good doctor, and all sufficiently like her, thought when they got to understand enough of Kronisk‘s history.
(Why am I cleaning up this other idiot doctor’s mess?)
The environs and scene changed around them. The walls turned to what looked like blocks, much like a picture breaking breaking under what Corrigwen had heard Kronisk call “overcompression”. The blocks changed rapidly, both in pattern and colour, until they dissolved into fine detail once more. Looking around, Corrigwen could see only black walls with strange but indistinct patterns on them, a pillar in the middle of the room, Xi standing on the opposite side, and what looked like some sort of cube atop the pillar.
The cube was the important thing in the room, Corrigwen could see. It was completely black, with no visible moulding or fragmentary lines. The only clue Corrigwen had to the fact that its walls could be moved about was the orientation of faces that became visible in the surfaces when Corrigwen looked at it from certain angles. Many faces were visible in the surface of the cube, all of them contorted into expressions of fear and pain. All of them broken into fragments that were scattered over the surface of the cube.
“What could this thing be?” Xi asked, reaching out to take hold of the cube.
“Keep away from it,” Corrigwen barked curtly. She grabbed hold of Xi‘s paw and pushed it away from the cube. “If this is what I think it is, opening this box will have terrible consequences.”
And with that, the younger, more frail-looking version of Kronisk that had witnessed the death of Terra came into the room. No visible doors existed, and no other means of ingress were visible to Corrigwen‘s eyes. Which, given her sensitivity in low light, likely meant there were none.
As Corrigwen and Xi watched, the younger Kronisk strode towards the pillar. Already, black wisps of pain, fear, and separation could be seen oozing, steaming out of his skin. And as Kronisk took the box from the pillar, a second form entered the room. An impossibly tall and heavy one, with an impossibly lengthy and healthy impossibly white beard, even by Dwarvish standards.
Corrigwen knew who this giant Humanoid figure was. Xi dared not make any sound here. Although she had been told repeatedly that they could not interact with anything that took place in here, Xi could not help fearing attracting the attention of individuals. It therefore almost came as a relief when she heard Corrigwen‘s projected thought-voice telling her that Corrigwen believed they were seeing a scaled-down version of Odin.
Odin did not say anything to Kronisk. He simply pointed at the cube on the pillar in an insistent, demanding fashion. Shuddering all over, visibly unhappy and frightened, Kronisk picked the cube up.
The images changed again. Kronisk seemed to move at a pace impossible for any Humanoid. Rapidly, he moved the seams and panels of the cube in his hands, making thousands, or hundreds of thousands of changes to the surface. Silently, not seeming to move at all, Odin observed the entire process, not even changing expression. And after what seemed like hours, but likely represented months, perhaps even years, Kronisk succeeded in aligning all of the anguished, hurt faces on the cube’s surface. The shudder of imagery slowed down as he did so. Suddenly, the compression of time seemed to reverse, even to the point of slowing down.
As Kronisk slowly turned the final piece into the intended place, Corrigwen and Xi could hear a musical sound in the air. It was a string of notes, played on a deep-frequency instrument, a collection of four. The first three were quick notes, ascending and descending in a dramatic fashion. The fourth note was a prolonged, emphasised note, lower than the other three, and it sounded exactly as the final piece locked into place.
Immediately, the walls began to twist and change. Emerging from the walls with trails of black fleshy light behind them, several figures in black suits emerged. Kronisk staggered back a few steps, looking to and fro. Odin looked around the figures with a calm, placid expression, and nodded.
The figures stepped forward and formed a semi-circle around Kronisk. There were five figures, each with specific manglings and hideous deformities of their physical being. The tallest of them, the one standing in the centre of the semi-circle, had numerous perfectly circular holes punched into his skin. With one exception, each punched hole was exactly equivalent to the tip of Kronisk‘s smallest finger in area. The exceptional hole, situated in the man’s right cheek, was large enough to expose much of this individual’s cheek muscles.
Corrigwen tried to avert her eyes from this man, as the openings punched into his skin seemed to flex and move as he breathed. Then her eyes fell upon the woman who was at the leftmost point of the group. Her hair had been entirely removed, and that was the least of the frightening horrors in her appearance. Someone had opened her throat and removed most of the organs that converted the impulses in her brain into sounds from her tongue.
“The box,” the hole-headed man said in a voice that boomed with a subtle anger and a not-so-subtle authority. “You opened it. You must come with us.”
“It was not my choice,” the young Kronisk said to the horrid forms around him as he slowly stepped about in all directions. “I was told I had to open it.”
“Oh no,” the hole-headed man retorted in a manner that made Corrigwen wonder if he was being humorous or spiteful. “You chose this path long ago. You chose it when you blocked out the sun.”
As the hole-headed man finished the statement about blocking out the sun, the little woman with the missing vocal assembly let out a quiet, hoarse-sounding groan, licking her lips as the sound died down. Watching this, Corrigwen wanted to be sick. It was only Xi holding her shoulders that reminded her of where she was. Needless to say, the hole-headed individual continued his speech without taking any notice of Corrigwen or Xi and their reactions.
“You chose this path when you decided, only with age or neurology as qualification, that all life on your world was unworthy of life,” the hole-headed man continued. “Now you must come with us. Live in our world, experience its sorrows, taste its pains.”
“And what of the people who drove him to this?” Corrigwen suddenly bellowed in anger, startling every person in the room, especially Kronisk and Xi.
Corrigwen could not explain what she was feeling, but she had long grown tired of people looking down upon and judging Kronisk. Until now, she had only heard the version of the story that Kronisk had told her. That at some point in the dying days of Terra, he had made powerful efforts to provide certain groups amongst the populace with an avenue of escape.
The criteria by which he selected those who would survive was slightly selfish, for certain, and reflective of Kronisk‘s own prejudices. Why this would not be the case with anyone else was a question worth asking. Almost all of the animal species extant on Terra at the time had escaped, especially the Ursidae, whom Kronisk had even taken aside and encouraged to further evolve. But very, very few of the extant Humans above a certain age were spared his wrath.
The monsters standing around Kronisk turned to face Corrigwen. Regarding her with a strange curiosity, they visibly wondered what Corrigwen could have to say that would ameliorate the deaths of billions of sentient creatures.
“You tell him he chose what he has done,” Corrigwen continued. Feeling surges of anger and disgust through her skin, she asked herself if this was what Kronisk felt when others touched him without welcome. “When did he choose to be excluded from the world on which he was born? When did he choose to be deprived of control over his own life? When did he choose to live with the risk of people being murdered solely for showing him a basic level of kindness?”
With this last query, all five of the ghoulish folk Corrigwen was addressing visibly changed their stance and expression. It was as if she had hit a nerve, to use the very Human expression. And then, the leader, the man with many holes in the skin of his head, changed his stance and expression. It was as if he was regarding Corrigwen as an intellectual equal or sparring partner. As opposed to someone who had just come to put up a blind protest against him doing what he was ordained for.
“I will make you a deal,” the hole-headed man told Corrigwen.
“Please,” Corrigwen countered. “Dean has many stories in which devils do deals with mortals and search for ways to foul up the results.”
“So, he has shared the secret of his true identity with you,” the hole-headed man said after a long and hideous laugh. “Interesting. Perhaps I misspoke by using the word ‘deal’. No, what I had in mind is more what you would call a challenge.”
Corrigwen‘s expression soured. She had heard the word “challenge” spoken by many of Kronisk‘s colleagues, agents, or superiors. When these people said that word, they meant it in its true sense. A challenge entailed an objective that would push the pursuer to the limit of their capabilities, and possibly beyond.
“Beyond that door lies four things,” the hole-headed man told Corrigwen as he pointed behind him. “Three of them are aspects of himself that he embraces, or would like to. The fourth is an aspect that he has tried to shed so many times, and so thoroughly, that mere mention of it will make him scrub himself until he bleeds.”
The woman who was bereft of most of her vocal assembly let out a soft string of wheezes and groans. This, presumably, was what passed for a laugh.
“You will meet with them, and join with them to discern a solution to the problem they have with one another,” the hole-headed man explained. “All represent the good and evil within the man you invest so much of your emotion in. And one is the thing that anchors him to all that he wishes to have never been.”
With that, the ghoulish, mangled creatures bowed their heads, and made no further sound of any kind. Looking them over for a long time, Corrigwen could not discern whether they were breathing. Walking around them, Corrigwen turned and looked behind her. Xi was standing before this group of hideous apparitions, her hands pressed against some sort of invisible surface.
“It appears that I can go no further with you, Corrigwen,” Xi said. “The challenge before you is to make the right choice.”
Corrigwen nodded sadly, bowed slightly at Xi, and completed her walk around the black-suited figures. Reaching the door, she slowly pulled it open and walked through. As she walked through, she thought of everything she knew about Kronisk, the peculiar Human man she had witnessed landing with a thump in the middle of an Azerothian field. The Human that had drawn her as much into his own world as she had helped him to understand about hers. And walking into this next room, she began to believe that she could guess at what she was about to see.
On a black platform, as wide in area as the eye could see, Corrigwen found herself standing. Her first impulse was to simply pick a direction and run in it, but the people she was seeking had come to her. Three Humanoid figures, all remarkably different, moved toward Corrigwen at a fairly even pace, as if trying to appease and investigate her at the same time.
One of the figures was of a similar height, if slightly shorter, to the Kronisk that Corrigwen saw on Kali-Yuga. That was where the similarities ended. This figure was a great deal more slender, and immeasurably more feminine. Her pallid white skin was offset by attire so black that light disappeared into it. Said attire, adorned with the occasional glowing stripe or segment of cell-like shapes, clung tightly to a slightly slim but very beautiful frame.
Knowing where she recognised this figure from, Corrigwen turned to the next figure in the pack. From the jawline, the visible mouth, Corrigwen could discern that this figure was Human. Every other part was covered in metallic plating. Whomever, whatever, this metallic figure was, Corrigwen knew he represented something important in Kronisk’s consciousness. Listening to the deep metallic thumps of this machine man’s feet against the floor as he approached, Corrigwen guessed for now that it was Kronisk‘s determination to do what he felt was right, no matter how difficult it was.
The third figure approaching Corrigwen now was an ordinary-looking man. He was slightly taller than the Kronisk that Corrigwen saw on Kali-Yuga, and had a very similar structure of the upper head. A hard-edged forehead with piercing, angry-looking eyes. It was not until this man stood a few feet from Corrigwen that she could see the irregular circle of scar tissue in the middle of his forehead, just above the eyebrows.
“It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Lady Corrigwen,” this scar-headed man told Corrigwen. “From in here, we have watched you with the master.”
“What are you -“
“No time to explain,” the scar-headed man interrupted Corrigwen‘s bewildered query. Ominously, he finished, “We are not all here yet”.
And a fourth individual joined the group. Corrigwen looked at this person, and could not for the life of her recall having seen them or heard Kronisk describe them before. When they drew closer, Corrigwen continued to watch them, and still could not understand who they were. The Human that appeared before her was about five and a half feet tall, maybe slightly taller. Like Kronisk, he had a wide torso with thick limbs. But there was little resemblance in this Human’s face or skin.
And that was when Corrigwen finally noticed the sound coming from behind her. For the entirety of her time here, a soft, gentle sound had issued from a space behind her, where all of these aspects could see it. Turning and taking a look, Corrigwen gasped with horror when she saw where the sound was coming from.
Sitting behind Corrigwen this whole time, watching the proceedings, was the ghostly visage of a boy. Only it was not so much a little boy. In physical shape and size, this thing was roughly the same as Corrigwen imagined the nine or ten year old Kronisk, based on some things he had spoken or written of earlier. But the boy’s appearance was not that of a nine or ten year old.
The boy’s skin was sallow, and bulged in all of the places skin did in those who had been seriously underfed for too long. An offensive smell wafted from the boy, something that Corrigwen had never smelled before even when visiting the farm her parents maintained. It was a smell that she had only heard Kronisk describe in words. It was the smell of fatty acids coming out in the sweat, and other fluids, that seemed to stream freely from the boy’s ill-looking skin.
Corrigwen tried to reach out to, or speak to, the boy. To get some sort of hint or sign from him. But the boy only said one thing as Corrigwen started to approach him.
“My hand brings doom,” the child said to Corrigwen.
Turning back to the foursome of aspects that stood nearby, Corrigwen started to try and ask what was going on. That was when the machine man spoke. His voice boomed and echoed with a mechanical modulation, as if he and a second, much bigger machine, were saying exactly the same things at exactly the same time.
“You must choose,” the machine man told Corrigwen. “One of us must be excised from the master. And another must go with them.”
Corrigwen could not believe what she was hearing. She had a very good idea who three of these people were. They were Kronisk‘s mind, or the most important pieces thereof. His sense of justice was represented by the machine man. His sense of emotion and compassion were spoken for by the woman in the odd-looking suit. And his hatred, his vision of all that was wrong in the universe around him, was the scar-headed man with the perpetually mean expression on his face.
Which raised the question. Who, or what, was this man who had come after all of the others? And why did Corrigwen have no idea who or what he was? Without that vital piece of information, how could she decide which of this group had to go?
And the child. Could he be removed? Or was his apparent sickness the result of these people being here?
Closing her eyes and clenching both of her hands into fists, Corrigwen tried to feel out for the minds or individual consciousness that these aspects possessed. The child only made cries of desire to live differently, to not be in his current state. That was hardly unexpected, given what he appeared to represent. Interestingly, three of the aspects that were around Corrigwen were simply voids. They had no real thoughts, and Corrigwen understood that this was because they really were aspects of Kronisk. What he thought or felt, they filtered in some manner. But one of them did not. Whatever the fourth was doing, they were not filtering or sublimating Kronisk‘s neurological processes at all.
Straining, trying to discern the flow of energy in the manner that Kronisk had taught her a little while ago, Corrigwen tried to shift her consciousness. Different energies flowed from the aspects. Not so much energies of thought or feeling as energies of processing and consideration. And that was when Corrigwen noticed that the energy flowing from the child was moving very differently between different aspects. With the exception of the fourth, the squat little man, the energy flowed freely in both directions between the child and the aspects. The child had things he wanted the aspects to address, and three of them did their best to serve his needs.
The fourth aspect was like a blocked vein or artery, in a strange way. The conscious energy flowed from the child towards the aspect, but nothing came back. And the flow of energy from the child was weakening, draining. Corrigwen already knew that the child could not stop the flow, not without the aspect having been removed.
During an excursion to Kali-Yuga, Kronisk had taught Corrigwen about spirit blades. They were channelings of energy from the inner reservoir that every spirit-wielder had. Through a conduit, the spirit-wielder could form the energy into some form of weapon to fight against any aggressor. The usual choice was a sword, as a blade of pure energy was useful for absorbing any incoming energy. But on one occasion, Corrigwen could remember Kronisk forming such energy into a whip.
Conduits were almost always constructed in the form of a sword handle. And together, Kronisk and Corrigwen had constructed one as a sort of teaching exercise. The core inside was a rod of pure Aniduris that had been energised with the spirit from its wielder. This was why only spirit-wielders, and only a small number at that, could make use of this weapon. Energising a rod of Aniduris was an energy-intensive task.
Corrigwen had often wondered why Kronisk was so keen to leap to defend her from aggressors that he knew perfectly well she could destroy on her own. Oh, she knew part of it was just a typical masculine instinct to protect the woman one loved. That was natural. Her own father had displayed this instinct on the occasions when the farm was under threat. (Kronisk had privately been chuckling for hours after Corrigwen‘s father had introduced himself with the name Thorin. It was not until he showed her one of the stories he had read extensively as a boy that she understood why. Fortunately, Thorin the father of Corrigwen and the Thorin in this story had very little in common.)
Corrigwen had never been introduced to what Kronisk called his male parental entity. Just the use of that phrase made it clear to Corrigwen how Kronisk really felt about that person. Could she now be looking at that person? Corrigwen did not know, but the reverence that she knew Kronisk paid the other figures, evident in one or more aspects of how they appeared now, made the decision easier.
“Sir, please come with me,” Corrigwen said to the short Human man. “Your presence here is not wanted.”
Much to Corrigwen‘s surprise, the Human challenged her about this. Even as Corrigwen took the sword handle and readied it, she could read something extraordinary in this Human’s expression. He clearly had not the slightest idea that Kronisk wanted Corrigwen in his life for as long as she wished to be there, and would sooner kill him than see a hair on her head harmed.
“I am here because I am needed,” the Human said to Corrigwen as he drew what appeared to be some sort of sword.
That made up Corrigwen‘s mind even further for her. The disease thought he was vital to the host, and would tolerate no argument in the matter. Raising the spirit-blade, Corrigwen parried a strike from the Human. The impact of the attack was surprising. This Human was a good foot and a half taller than Corrigwen, but if the faint feedback of force she felt through the sword’s handle was anything to go by, she was if anything slightly heavier.
During the assembly of her spirit-blade, Kronisk had told Corrigwen a few secrets about close combat that one would hardly expect to hear from a Mage. Being significantly shorter than one’s opponent was a disadvantage, sure, but it could be turned into an advantage in one manner. All Corrigwen needed to do here was close the distance between her and the Human in front of her. He could strike at her with plenty of force if he kept her at his arm’s length. But if she got in close enough to put her hand on his body, it would dramatically cut the efficacy of his attacks.
And so, Corrigwen fought in a manner that she never before thought she would. Exchanging blows with the Human was relatively easy. This Human, whomever taught them to wield the thing in his hands, they had not taught him that there was more to fencing that simply getting a blow in quickly or with greater force. Or maybe this Human simply viewed her with contempt because she was important to Kronisk. Either was just as likely. But as she continued to edge closer, the Human’s sweeps and parries became more desperate, more frantic.
And then, bringing her sword up in a brief feint, Corrigwen smiled with satisfaction as the Human moved to counter it. As Kronisk had once suggested to her as a technique, she quickly changed the movements of her wrists to send the blade in a downward arc. The shimmering blade of light quietly sliced into the Human’s leg and promptly put him on the floor.
Corrigwen raised the spirit-blade above her head, ready to bring it down upon the Human at her feet. The idea that one of the aspects had to be excised, and another to go along with it, had escaped her for the time being. Then she heard a voice, an odd one, call out at her to stop.
Keeping one eye on her fallen opponent, Corrigwen turned as much as she could to see who was calling at her.
The other three aspects that had appeared in this place had moved to one side. The child, the image of the sickly, seemingly dying child, had risen to his feet. Holding his hand was an elder Human man. This elder appeared very much like the Human lying at Corrigwen‘s feet, but with many significant differences.
Probably the most significant difference between the elder, the Human at Corrigwen‘s feet, and Kronisk, was the sound of his voice. The Human at Corrigwen‘s feet spoke with a very netural, flat voice that almost sounded rehearsed, even calculated to forget something. Kronisk‘s voice was always littered with faint little tinges of accentations from multiple cultures. Kronisk had once shown her pictures and maps of the place where he had grown up, and pointed out how many different groups or factions had lived in the area.
The elder’s speech so strongly resembled that of a Dwarf that Corrigwen immediately knew the general area of Terra that he had grown up in. Watching the elder come forward, Corrigwen was also struck by the attire he wore. Although she did not recognise the markings or insignias, this man had clearly once been in the military of one nation. Military service had clearly not done this older man any favours. Corrigwen had seen many people come back from battle. Most tried to smile and wave triumphantly to the people who came to witness their return.
But Corrigwen was old enough to have seen enough Humans and Dwarrow return from battle, and see them as they went about their business after celebrations. They never moved, saw the world, or spoke quite the same way after battle as before. Truth be told, they never had quite the same energy around them, either. This elder man who so resembled both Kronisk and this arrogant aspect had the same look and spirit about him as those returned warriors.
“Ah thank ye for taking the time to understand me grandson,” the elder said to Corrigwen, bowing slightly. “Sadly, ah never had a chance to know him. The illness of me spirit took me before he were ever born.”
The aspect, the one Corrigwen had no idea of the connection to Kronisk of, got to his feet. Shambling and wavering slightly because of the sizeable tear in his leg, the aspect stood and looked directly at the elder.
“Ye have turned me grandson into a monster,” the elder said to the aspect. “Bad enough that when neither of ye knew what he was, ye helped them torment him fer it. Worse still, when ye did know what he was, ye just sat there and refused to help fix the problem.”
The aspect began to open his mouth, presumably to offer some kind of retort. Corrigwen saw in the elder’s spirit and expression that it was probably better to just shut the hell up.
“Dragging him back and forth between places he hates fer hours only to hear there were nothing fer him,” the elder continued. “Ye call that helping fix the problem? Let me tell ye what yer son called it until the day he killed a planet, me boy. He called it trying to break his spirit.”
The elder motioned over the other aspects as he approached the one he resembled. Standing so close that Corrigwen’s smallest finger could not fit between their noses, he continued.
“Ah am taking this coward away,” the elder said to all around. “He and ah will form part of the boy no more.”
The unwanted aspect tried to protest. Again, the same rhetorics about how he was an essential component of “the boy”, how he would be missed, how he was vital, and so forth. Corrigwen had heard it all in the vacant space between the unwanted aspect’s ears. Even when this thing had convinced itself that it was trying to help, or be a positive thing to Kronisk, the empty space inside its skull always put itself first. What was easier for it to do? What was more preserving of its own place in the world? In spite of how the most overriding thought on Kronisk‘s mind was “how do I find myself a better way of life?”.
The other aspects protested. The machine man, the scar-headed man, and the futuristic woman all protested that one of them was supposed to go.
“That may be true,” the elder barked at the other aspects. “But ah came to do the grandson I never met the favour that someone should have done him before he was born. To never have this… is it normalistic, the boy says?”
Corrigwen had to rack her brain for a second to understand the elder’s meaning. The word “normalistic” was one that issued from Kronisk‘s mouth on occasion. Corrigwen still did not fully grasp its meaning, but she knew that in context of people, it meant one who could not tolerate others having a different view of their own life. Or how it should be lived.
“Yes, I believe that is the descriptor Kronisk uses,” Corrigwen confirmed.
“Kronisk,” the elder repeated. “It is an interesting name. Anyway, his dearest wish has been to never have this sod’s inability to comprehend that others might wish to live differently locking him into a cage. Well, ah have no idea how long he has wished this for, but what ah see around me tells me he would have liked me to do this a loooong time ago.”
Corrigwen nodded in understanding, and stepped aside as the elder strode towards the unwanted aspect. The look on the unwanted aspect’s face was priceless. It was as if he truly did not comprehend that Kronisk saw him in much the same terms as one of those clumps of multiplying bad cells that Kronisk had once told Corrigwen about. And when one found one such clump of multiplying bad cells anywhere in their body, whether it was in the skin, brain, or lungs, one adopted a singular goal. To get the clump to leave, by whatever means was available and necessary.
Grabbing hold of the aspect by the face, the elder sneered at that aspect and said a short string of words that Corrigwen did not perfectly hear. They were too heavily-accented, and too angrily-spoken, to really be discernible. But having heard both Kronisk and one of his favourite fictional characters speak the same conjunction of words, she understood what the elder was saying in spite of the intangible blur of syllables. You are coming with me.
Protesting, the aspect struggled to resist the embrace of the elder. Protesting, the aspect began to melt into the elder. Protesting, the aspect disappeared into the elder. And with a final whine of protest that was in the aspect’s voice, the elder, after mouthing a farewell at Corrigwen, exploded into a blinding flash of light.
Corrigwen fell into a sitting position. Unable to understand what had just happened in front of her, she was grateful when the other three aspects knelt around her. Helping her to her feet, they led her in one direction towards a large door.
“I… do not understand,” Corrigwen told the aspects.
“Understanding is not important,” the machine-man aspect said to Corrigwen.
“You have done a good thing here,” the scar-headed aspect told Corrigwen.
“In order to change into something good, things that are rotten need to be removed,” the black-suited woman explained. “That is what happened here today.”
Opening the door and leading Corrigwen through, the aspects led her into what resembled a cathedral. At the rear, sitting in a pew near the exit, was the Kronisk that appeared on Kali-Yuga. The default shape, as it were. Only this was not quite the same person. His appearance had changed in a subtle fashion. The large curved slice mark in the right cheek, and the shallow pit where his right cheek should have bulged out slightly, were gone. The hair on his head had grown beyond the tiny stubble it was normally kept in, and it did so evenly, not in the patchy and irregular pattern that Corrigwen had previously seen.
Sitting at this Kronisk‘s side, speaking in an animated and cheerful way, was the child that Corrigwen had seen at the site of the earlier confrontation. The child no longer looked so sick, and this was reflected in how he spoke.
Corrigwen took a seat on the other side of Kronisk. Greeting him in Kali-Yuga Dwarvish, she was pleased to hear him return the greeting with a poetic sort of emphasis.
Corrigwen was not sure how it happened, but the next thing she knew, she was in Kronisk‘s house near Stormwind. Lying on a soft, cushioned bed in front of her was Kronisk, the tall, oddly-haired Kronisk that he had been shaped into as part of the parameters of his mission on Azeroth. Sitting beside Corrigwen in a meditative position was Xi, who started to breathe harder and open her eyes when Corrigwen saw her. As Xi stood up, Corrigwen looked over at the seemingly sleeping form of Kronisk.
Xi regarded the Human asleep on the bed with a new curious regard. Some time ago, when she had come to the Eastern Kingdoms, she had suddenly tasked herself with learning the histories and cultures of several different peoples. The Humans and Dwarrow had proven fascinating, especially when they had come to her, asking to learn the ways of the Monk.
But Kronisk had proven quite different to the rest. He did not wish to know anything concerning the ways of Monks. He wanted to know more about the cultures and thoughts of the Pandaren people. And at first, Xi had been reluctant to speak with him. The immense size of the form he appeared in on Azeroth, at least immense by Human standards, and the haunted look in his face, they both spelled trouble.
Xi was a bit surprised when Kronisk showed her an image from one of his strange devices. In this image had been a smaller, heavier-looking man that Kronisk assured her was really him, a slightly smaller Human woman that he told her was his apprentice, and a small group of bears.
What Kronisk had said about the bears really took Xi by surprise. Kronisk had told her that, in an elongated way of speaking, the two large male bears were his sons. He had taken what he called “genes” from himself and the Human woman in the portrait, mixed them with an Ursine base structure, and incubated them in his laboratory until they were born.
This told Xi two things, both of them difficult to keep to herself. First, that Kronisk was from another place where science was more developed and powerful. It took some explaining, but Xi understood the role a gene played in creating a lifeform. To be able to manipulate and change these things was a great and possibly terrible power, indeed.
The point was that as unique as Pandaren were on Azeroth, there were species in the cosmos with great similarity to them, and Kronisk had made it his business to communicate with them. He regarded their advancement as paramount. That made him someone that the Pandaren could stand to have on their side.
Watching the Human Mage now, Xi wondered about where he had come from. The places he had seen, the people he had fought with. What kind of horrible, terrible world did a person have to originate in to have so much anguish flow through their veins? What could have turned the horrendous visions that Xi and Corrigwen had just seen so much of into the walls and reality of within?
And as Kronisk opened his eyes, speaking a word that sounded Dwarvish but unlike anything Xi had heard a Dwarf say before (Inuria), Xi believed she grokked what drove Kronisk on his mission on Azeroth. Wherever there was a helpless individual in distress, he wanted to be there to break down whatever stood over them. Wherever there were people unable to express the things that drove them, he wanted to be there to open even the most silent avenue.
And that made Xi incredibly curious about his view of the Pandaren as a whole. Had millennia of suppressing or diverting feelings and instincts made them more vulnerable to the chaos that was now sweeping their lands? Or was this fierce, even hateful man simply justifying the near complete lack of control he had to himself? Xi had a mind to suggest to other Pandaren, especially ones like Taran Zhu, that sitting down and talking with Kronisk about all of these things, much like she had seen him do with a Human woman that he clearly held in high esteem, was the best course of action.
When Kronisk sat up, and Corrigwen embraced him, Xi excused herself, telling them she had to report to other Pandaren. As she left the house, she heard Kronisk‘s booming, bassy voice. What he said was clearly addressed to Corrigwen, but his ensuring that Xi heard it meant he wanted her to hear it, too.
“Thank you,” Kronisk told Corrigwen. “For helping fight the things I never wanted to be.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I am presently titling Kronisk versus Kronisk in the absence of a better title. All questions, comments, and criticisms can be directed to the contact page you see in the top bar. Or left in comment form here. I am not terribly picky, of course.