Chimes Broken
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sunset.jpg

« There is the sun and it is nuclear and it is nothing more. There is the sun and it is nuclear and it is nothing more. There is… »

"They're still keeping this up?"

Across the dirt road running past the Temple of His Radiance amass the swarm of what Sunspeaker Yaling Yu can only assume to be "protesters." Signs lay across beaten up vans, wires snaking from them to power the masses of loudspeakers that blast the same relaxed voice. That same damn message.

Yaling bares her teeth. "Apparently so."

Since yesterday these non-believers kept it up. 37 hours and counting. She's not sure how they even found this temple in the first place — this is miles from the nearest town, deep into the forests, and that's as run down of a place as you can get in the Chinese countryside. Nobody should be able to get here, let alone foreigners.

Firestarter Zhi Hu sighs from his position next her, tugging up his jade-encrusted cloak to cover his head and turning to return to the temple. "It is what it is. Let's go back. Tending to the Radiant Eye is more important than focusing on nuisances."

"Fine." She doesn't turn.

Something is wrong with the non-believers. Nobody is holding their signs any more, the ones decrying the Children of the Torch. The only talk is quiet mutterings. Each of them are wearing something under their clothing. Armor?

"Sunspeaker?"

She doesn't turn. She snaps her fingers again, again. Like flint against stone sparks light up in her palm, resting and building with each successive snap, snap…

"Sunspeaker."

The fire is already building, and with enough snaps it'll take just one flick to careen it at the—

"Sunspeaker." He grabs her shoulder.

"Right, yes, inside."

The sparks go out, she turns around. They trod down the path to the temple entrance, reaching the vast wooden doors, turning the handles.

The loudspeakers shut off. Silence hits.

"Wait," says Zhi.

Pause. For a moment they stand there, waiting for any new sounds to enter. None do. No jeers, no new broadcasts. Nothing. Tentatively, Zhi steps from the handles, tugging his hood back down.

He spots glinting steel.

BANG.

The bullet lances Zhi's head before he can raise an arcane barrier. Scarlet whips from the wound. His body collapses against the doors. A smoke trail points to the canopies behind the non-believers. Broadcasts reengage. Yaling spins and SNAPS two orbs of flaming radiance over her fists, charging forward and winding her arm to launch solar fury—

A wall of gunmetal faces her. The non-believers are armed.


SCP-1428-2 crumbles. Explosive charges blow out the centuries-old support pillars, ceiling crashing down onto the three-armed statues in plumes of black, dead dust. Guards panic and trip the emergency signal. Patrols through the ruins and enveloping woods are initiated but in the first moments of investigation they meet volleys of slugs and rifle rounds. It comes from all sides — it can't be avoided.

When Foundation personnel pull in the next morning there is nothing left to recover. Temple gone. Security shot dead. Among the oldest Children of the Torch relics; destroyed.


« There is the sun and— »

Propaganda cuts off to the firing of assault rifles. Bullets pulverize the walls of the temple's opening hall. Lead thunders against the avian statue Yaling Yu hides behind. Its wings snap off. She scrambles out under a hail of wooden shrapnel. Walls of flame shoot up in a barricade that evaporates the bullets the non-believers fire and she ducks into the nearest hallway. Wax leaps from her fingertips. It flashes. The hallway entrance clogs with burning feathers.

Sprinting past rows of sun imagery and tripedal crows, the skeletal bird head on her belt chirps. She raises it to her head.

"They're breaking through." Defender Jiang has to shout over gunfire to be heard through the speaker.

"Have they touched the Radiant Eye yet—"

"No but they've bust into the antechamber. Fire-breathing and sun rites can only hold them off for so—"

Rumbling. Lanterns shake overhead. They can't get the Eye, that divine weapon. They can't.

"Tell me that they won't be able to reach it, tell—"

"—and it is nothing more— can't keep talking, they've broken in—"

The head clicks silent. Yaling desperately presses the keys on its side, praying to the Radiant Father that all will be well, but nothing comes through. She reaches to hook it back on her belt but the walls explode. A concrete-plated van slams through, gunner leaning out to face her.

The propaganda blares. Her eyes blast solar coronas.


Miles away in a sterile containment chamber SCP-1428-1 goes limp. Its wings fall, its head slumps, the last sparks drip from its eyes and fades on the floor. With a whirr the chamber doors widen. Agents garbed in lead and wielding Gieger counters amass around the bird. There is a pulse, enough to suggest continued life, but the neural scans find the brain deep into a coma. No more radiation flows from its wings.

In an old steel box SCP-2814 quietly loses its flames. Further off SCP-2995 dims. The sun falls across the sky.


Molten van fragments tumble through the antechamber, pulverizing the non-believers in its path. Yaling runs past the carnage and into the Radiant Eye's chamber. On its pedestal the Eye, glass and jade lens ringed on its sides by three golden arms, remains intact. Jiang lies at the pedestal's base, helmet and head blown in half. More bodies of the Eye's defenders surround him.

As she gapes a non-believer plunges a makeshift bayonet at Yaling's neck. She spins and more sun rays exit her corneas but the non-believer has a shield on his armor, redirecting the energy into the ceiling. The bayonet misses. She kicks his legs out. He fires his pistol. Misses.

Breathing in, her right hand ignites into a flaming avian claw. Thrusting downwards she rips the bayonet from his grip, tears it in half, stabs it into the ground where he was before he rolled away and drops to avoid another pistol shot. With a split-second spell Yaling apportates behind him. Her right hand's talons meet skin, piercing through his neck.

Heat floods arteries and spinal tissue. His neck pops.

Two more vans break through the walls. This is too much for her to hold off — she needs to resort to extreme measures. Yaling floods more heat into the dead attacker, sliding his spinal cord from the melting flesh and raising it high. She breaths and the spine sublimates and ionizes and its a javelin of light that soars from her grip and lands dead-center on the Eye. Ancient mechanisms click. The light is absorbed. Yaling barely has time to jump out of the way as the Eye blasts a laser that shoots past her and into the vans. A second is all it takes for them to be incinerated.

The mechanisms click again, Eye deactivating. Just as she thinks that those had to be the last of them the propaganda reignites, smoldering antechamber filled with another row of non-believers. Guns trained solely on Yaling inhale round after round of ammunition. The ring of flames she casts keeps her safe but she isn't all-powerful. Fatigue already creeps its way into her psyche.

She stands in the ring, praying that the rest of the temple's defenders can arrive.

She waits.

Realization hits.


Temples across China empty. Foundation agents watch as Children of the Torch adherents stop their rituals, drop their sun- and bird-modeled trinkets, exit the premises of their sacred grounds to return to the rural towns they live in. Undercover Agent Yan Guan, sticking to their disguise, pursues the nearest Firestarter, asking.

"How can you abandon your duties like this?"

"I have no duties." A shrug.

"Do you not want to reawaken our Father?"

"Nobody needs awakening."

"So what of the Radiant Father?"

The same question is posed by dozens of other undercover agents to dozens of other adherents. The answers are all variants on the same:

"The sun is the sun. It is nothing more."


The IED blows a hole through the ceiling. As the columns holding the ceiling come down Yaling breathes in the ring of flames, flowing through her body and into her very nerves. A second IED is thrown. Yaling glows. Three wings of solar radiance flare from her shoulders and in a streak of plasma she launches skywards.

The non-believers, the IED, and the whole temple complex drop beneath her. The forests widen to the horizon, stretching past the lowering sun. She jets eastwards. The other temples have to be warned. If it's too late for warning, then they need aid. If it's too late for aid…

Pitch-black daggers of light stab through her retinas. She shrieks, losing concentration and nearly slamming into a wheat field before swerving back up. The daggers fade from sight but something is stabbing just as hard into her head, into her mind.

There is no Radiant Father.

Falling again, she regains composure inches above the roof of a farm. There is a Radiant Father, a Father of life who left the sun as his sleeping form. How could she think—

You are worshiping an imaginary concept.

Dodge a telephone pole. Launch higher into the air, keep farther from the ground—

What proof do you have? You have not seen his "Radiance." What you see is regular sunlight.

Crashing into the clouds, clutching her head, gulping in the chilling air—

Flight like this is impossible as well. You would have died several times over at this altitude, and that's ignoring the speeds you are moving at.

Earth spins around her. The knives are all-encompassing and somewhere behind them is a broken face, a face in a jar in a laboratory flashing in her vision. It's impossible to ignore.

Please understand, all of this is an elaborate lie.

Yaling screams.

There is the sun and it is nuclear and it is nothing more.

"It is nothing more—"

She hits a radio mast. She is skewered against it.


Thousands of miles in solar orbit, a satellite spies movement, a shifting under the sun's surface. The photosphere ripples, coronas drifting out, unseen shapes pressing against the layers of superheated gas. As soon as it comes it ends. There is nothing more.


RUBIE agent Aldric Lémieux stands atop the collapsed Eye chamber, taking in the scent of the blood and cinders as he stretches his arms. Rubble shifts to his right, a still surviving defender of the temple pushing out in a burst of flame. Sighing, he squeezes the trigger of his fire extinguisher/rifle hybrid, then pops a hole clean through the head. It was a shame, really. They could've been so close to seeing past the Irrationality of their beliefs, past it and into the tranquil seas of Rationality—

A hand tugs on his leg. The defender is still alive, hole between his eyes seeping magma across a scorched face.

"W— why," he rasps out. "Why do you do… this?"

"Because you are wrong."

Crunch. He pulls back the heel of his shoe, dusting the cerebrospinal fluid and viscera off on a wooden plank. Shame.

Just ahead a cluster of agents heaves the great Eye out from piles of wood, kicking off the viscera and corpses weighing it down. It is intact, just as was hoped. If it is true that it can harness the power of the sun in all its might then it will be the perfect weapon in the fight for logic. Once scientific study can be completed, of course. The sheep that were the pious won't know what will have hit them.

He whispers a brief oath to Gödel and Sagan. Smoke from temples miles away stains the sky. The last lights of the setting sun glare across the horizon.

The dawn of reason is at hand.


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