Nadox and the Mekhanite
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Credit to Perelka_LPerelka_L.

The sun rose, and Nadox wandered.

Where to, where from, in days of the Daevites it was a question of importance, a question begged by the still-aching wounds left by bloodied basalt, then begged by his duty to Ion, now begged by its own answers. Sometimes, Nadox wondered if it was still a question worth asking. When, why, what, how… all seemed a tad more important.

It mattered not. Libraries rose and fell with the seasons, ignorance and knowledge swelled in equal measure, patterns formed and pointed to the same mysterious ends. All of it, too slow beneath Nadox's feet, too fast for the pit of dread in his innards. Books only said so much, knowledge dripped into a canyon as mountains bled. But the landscape changed with time, and Nadox had time.

The sun set, and Nadox wandered.

Enlightenment, apotheosis, near-immortality… if such was the apex of being, an immortal drifter yet shackled to his own mutilated form, Nadox pitied the men around him. There were times when he longed to collapse into a ball and scream, stopping the world for the scant few seconds luck would allow him before existence continued, before the heel of an Archon inevitably crushed him against the dirt. To crawl into the darkest available corner and lie still for as long as he was allowed. Nadox was not proud of such times, nor their increasing frequency following Ion's disappearance.

Foraging, drinking, sleeping: such were liabilities, discarded on the path to apotheosis, base needs cruelly instituted by the gods on the lesser folk. Physically, Nadox walked without them; spiritually, some distant fragment of the Sufferer he once was looked jealously at the rare life around him. Did he miss the taste of meat, the chill of drink, the serenity of dreams? Or did he miss the hunt, the work one put into living from day to day?

Perhaps he missed his humanity. Perhaps he was still human. The All-Seeing saw all, every theory and every bit of evidence and every bit of contradiction. Extra veins pumping blood back into missing hearts, where arteries that fit perfectly wait patiently to nourish a thousand organs each.

Nadox's feet ached. He hadn't even been using them.


Telescopic eyes observed Nadox from afar, forming the unspoken bond between predator and prey. Nadox was not caught unaware; indeed, it was impossible for him to be anything but mindful. He heard the turning of gears, vented steam, the monotonous invocation of a broken god.

Nadox slowed his pace, steadily closing the gap between himself and his stalker without drawing suspicion. Closer, closer… the sound of a sword unsheathed, of accelerating cogwork and an engine burning with singular purpose. Curious, Nadox allowed his prospective assassin the first strike. The blade penetrated through his spine and bent his body to face the emerging stars - they would be rather beautiful that night.

“Die, Sarkite!" The Mekhanite's shout was tinny, echoed on itself. His transfiguration was incomplete. "By the infinite designs of Mekhane, you will be purged!”

Nadox’s sewn-shut lips nearly curled into a smile. It had been at least two millennia since he last experienced impalement. From the moment Nadox sensed his stalker, it was clear he had mistaken him for a lesser shepherd of the flesh.

Nadox endeavored to elucidate his attacker on the severity of his error.

Unstable flesh poured from the wound, a writhing mass far larger than his taut skin appeared capable of containing. Bones fractured and reconfigured themselves in support of new limbs. Sinewy tendrils tore away his former husk like an insect post-metamorphosis. A hundred fists took shape, whose fingers unfurled like a lotus in bloom to reveal a hundred unblinking eyes. He rose into the air, alive, exalted in the truth of his ascendant form.

Most would flee in horror or fall to their knees in worship. Nadox had already foreseen that this man was different. Undeterred by the display, the brazen warrior pulled his blade from the undulating vessel and continued his fight.

An amused curiosity stayed a hundred hands of flesh, enabling those of bronze. The Mekhanite tore, tore, tore, slashing and piercing at Nadox's rippling flesh, only to reveal yet more flesh. The fruits of his harvest reintegrated with Nadox, far too quick for his adversary's blade, yet curiously he fought.

But the Mekhanite's mind drifted towards his deific armaments, and Nadox decided he was done observing.

The first strike sabotaged the second, throwing the Mekhanite across the dunes. Regaining bearings left him only enough time to dodge Nadox's hundred handed charge. Nadox's next strike, a lazy backhand, split against his opponent's parry, the Mekhanite's buy for time as his armament charged.

Now on the defensive, the Mekhanite jumped back, too close to charge yet too far to reach. He was stalling; Nadox would have known that even without the panic running off his mind.

The Mekhanite ran, and a rolling mass of flesh followed. It mattered not; Nadox was faster, no matter the Mekhanite's head start. Navigating the same dunes gave the far larger Nadox superior traction, superior navigation…

… and, as Nadox realized far too late, inferior turning.

The Mekhanite threw himself to the side, using his momentum to resume his retreat perpendicular to Nadox's trajectory. In the rush, Nadox misjudged his own movements, running a wide circle intersecting with the Mekhanite too early, an eccentricity that brought him further and further off the mark - but, regardless, the dizzying orbit had encircled his foe.

Nadox pulled in, spiraling steadily towards the Mekhanite. Regardless, the precision required left time for the Mekhanite to plan, to avoid his trample and buy more time.

As such, Nadox grounded himself to a sudden stop moments before he anticipated the Mekhanite's escape, rooted by a dozen hands… one of which came up to snatch his opponent from beneath the sands.

Again, Nadox had botched the timing; he had not traditionally needed to count in moments, he supposed. The Mekhanite slipped from his fingers, his base instincts searching for balance on his knuckles. He had a choice: drop, or remain still. It ultimately mattered little.

The Mekhanite jumped back, right into a swift clap.

Time froze for Nadox.

Nadox studied the Mekhanite's angle, the Mekhanite's form, the Mekhanite's trajectory, viscous in the desert air, flowing as pitch across a tongue. He studied the plates of his face, contorted in a desperate grimace. In frozen time, Nadox rolled the compound images through his mind, putting story to them, and only too late did he begin to study the armament pointed at his center of mass.

***

Pain.

Searing pain.

A pained wheeze escaped from Nadox's remaining maws, fruitlessly tearing at the stitches that bound them. Melted flesh poured down his body, still sizzling with heat. The force had driven him back, and with every minute movement more flesh sloughed off, staining the sand in reds and whites and browns.

Nadox's body screamed at itself. It screamed that Nadox was going to die; going to die over and over, over and over, over and over and over, that even though he knew he would survive, that he might as well have died.

Nadox retreated beneath the sands, and waited.

The cool sands beneath the surface gave time for him to think, time to plan. Whatever his body said was wrong; Nadox would live another day, but it was a thought that failed to ease his burnt and irritated flesh. Emasculation, suture, forced muteness, such aches Nadox had grown to ignore; deific fire was another matter entirely, and would remain one for however long Nadox took to regenerate.

The Mekhanite was a distraction. A waste of time, courtesy of the Archons. He had to die.

Tendrils of flesh dug into Nadox's surroundings, feeling for movements from above as the All-Seeing's eyes probed the minds of life above. The sudden shift in perspective sabotaged immediate comprehension, further hindered by freshly-burnt skin. A scorpion desperate not to be crushed. A bewildered serpent looking for food. A shrub, nearly dead. The Mekhanite. Myriad mounds of sand, each of which might or might not have been Nadox.

Sand shifted, and so did the Mekhanite. Animals burrowed and ran; Nadox felt such things above him, even as the pain obfuscated what stood above where. Clarity building…

Now.

Nadox emerged from the sand beneath the Mekhanite, swallowing him in a tangle of arms, tendrils, and sharpened bone. He payed no mind to the Mekhanite's resistance; such struggle was futile, wrapped in a cocoon of enveloping flesh.

The Mekhanite's brain was human, intact, a contrast to the cages and wires of beryl-bronze that connected it to his metallic form. A round peg of flesh in a bronzen square hole, one Nadox would be removing soon enough.

Nadox would not have been able to explain why he peeked into the Mekhanite's psyche.

Peering from behind the folds of the Mekhanite's brain was a man named Derdekeas.

Derdekeas was a Legate-Faithful to MEKHANE. He had been awake for three and a half fortnights prior, stalking Nadox from shadows cast behind the dunes, behind shrubs and rocks and trees. Curiosity paved the pathways of memory, a desire to meet a fellow wanderer. Betrayal, to find him an agent of the FLESH.

Derdekeas longed for a better, more rational world, under the guidance of MEKHANE. He longed for order, security… apotheosis? To end the reign of the FLESH, of Yaldabaoth and Scarlet Kings and that which made holes in the shapes of worms.

Nadox paused.

Derdekeas felt terrified, betrayed. In seeking companionship, he had confronted a Sarkite, a living legacy of the FLESH's corruption. What should have been a routine cleanse ended in its jaws, trapped in a cage of certain death. Not even the Holy Armaments of MEKHANE could save him.

Derdekeas was going to die.

Derdekeas did not want to die.








Nadox uncurled, spitting the Mekhanite Derdekeas out of his person.

***

Five times, the sun set. Five times, the sun rose.

Derdekeas was clever. He was strong, he was durable, he was deadly with blade and flame. He was tenacious and quick and fanatical, and yet most importantly, he was human.

Over the course of six days and five nights, Derdekeas engaged in a continuous assault against Nadox. Scorched glass, broken dunes, rivers of Nadox's blood, all marked the various assaults, engagements, one-man tactics and formations that outlined their protracted battle. Derdekeas fought with the ferocity of an army and the courage of a badger, a ferocity that waned with time while courage waxed.

On, most probably, the hour of noon on the sixth day, Derdekeas took the fourth step of a charge, missed his footing, and let himself fall supine over the sands.

The fire that had sustained his charge had diminished, retreating to his eyes. He could do naught but stare at Nadox. In his head, he lied to himself, told himself he wasn't afraid to die at the hands of a "worthy" servant of the FLESH.

Nadox simply stared back.

Slowly, steadily, he reformed. Bone snapped and viscera tore, compressing themselves into the impossibly small shape of a traveler. The shadow over the desert retracted to that of an average man.

Derdekeas laughed, and then he was unconscious.

***

Derdekeas awoke, three hours later, to Nadox.

Nadox admittedly hadn't been paying too much mind. His attention had been focused on several scrolls he bought at the last town over. The blade shoved through his head was almost quaint, really.

"You're awake." The flesh in Nadox's head contracted, gently spitting the blade out. "I trust you slept well."

Nadox blocked the next punch with his free hand. "Get out of my mind, Sarkite!" Derdekeas kicked at his side with halfhearted investment. It mattered not: his will to fight had outlived his will to kill, for the moment.

"Apologies, I can't." That scroll was almost useless. Nadox would want to sell it in the next town, once he finished taking notes. "I have no tongue."

Derdekeas merely snarled, kneeling down to look over Nadox's shoulder. "You speak my tongue, but your script… you are Daevite."

"By birth. Not by choice."

"You…" Derdekeas quickly stood up, catching himself as he nearly yelled in frustration. His next attempt to speak ended with a yell he failed to suppress. Derdekeas's next words came only after a few minutes more of pacing. "Enough! Who are you?"

Well, enough was enough. Nadox packed his research material back into its appropriate bag, and stood back up. "Klavigar Nadox, 'the All-Seeing'. If you'll excuse me," Nadox began to walk away.

Nadox had not gone but a single step before the Mekhanite attacked once more, with words rather than armaments.

"Klavigar! I am not done!" Derdekeas ran with the limited grace expected of desert-focused augmentation. If Nadox wanted, he could've reminded him just how useless that was in comparison to apotheosis. "Where are you going? To what ends?"

Nadox remained silent. Even without a tongue, what was there to say?

"Surely the All-Seeing Eye sees all. What's left to see?" Backwards, Derdekeas kept pace; Nadox's own pace enabled such mobile interrogation. "I've seen you. You revise nothing, write nothing, say nothing. You watch. But the Flesh is not simple: therefore, to what end?"

The sand beneath Nadox ran hot, a sensation growing stronger as he stopped. "Research. I am researching."

Even as Nadox stood still, Derdekeas moved, paced a circle around him like a hound, never touching sand for long enough to burn. Nadox felt his mind, easily as restless as his feet, racing between confusion and desperation, hidden behind a thin veneer of dogged curiosity, thinner than the plates of his skull. "Hah! Researching, says the All-Seeing Eye. Are you missing a piece of the puzzle?"

Perhaps it was folly to have spared Derdekeas. If so, it was sustained, a mistake days in the making, a flaw in his understanding of Ion's words. Momentary anger, otherwise?

The sand burnt.

"Alright. I think you know." Derdekeas stopped, miming a smug superiority he didn't really feel, before pacing again. "You have the piece. But, ah, you've fitted the puzzle incorrectly!"

Nadox continued on, only half out of duty, and half out of courtesy to Derdekeas's near-melting feet. "You've seen the signs. There's something beyond the flesh, salvation outside of it." The sand beneath Nadox was less granular than before. Some part of him wished for an outcrop, an escape from the heat. "But ah, machinery is a trapping of godliness. Capitulation to a higher power than yourself or Ion."

Nadox stopped.

"You think you've conquered Flesh. But," Derdekeas held up a finger. "Flesh has conquered you. You wallow in it, wrap yourself in its excess like an Archon, and-"

Nadox blinked, and found himself pointing a barb of sharpened bone at Derdekeas's throat.

Through Derdekeas's mind's eye, Nadox saw instead what appeared to him to be a Daevite priestess, wielding a blade of crimson-stained basalt.

Nadox's armament fell to the side, and Nadox walked as fast as he could.

***

Nadox needed not heat, nor rest, nor much of anything gained by curling up against a fire under a rare outcropping of stone. And yet, here he was.

The heat would not last; an ironic development, starkly illuminated by the cold of the desert. Too little a shrub in sight to fuel the flames, and Nadox was not certain he'd be willing to offer up fat to such a temporary and superfluous cause. Nadox was going to live, whether everything else did or didn't.

He closed his eyes.










"… hello again."

Nadox's physical eyes remained closed.

For a scant eternity, only Derdekeas's soft clicking broke the thin silence of night wind and crackling fire. Nadox remained where he was, curled like a fetus against the fire.

"… I apologize. I should not have threatened you."

Derdekeas's mind raced, even as Nadox restrained himself from looking too far inside, lest he rediscover the memory. "I… suppose I…" Over the wind but under the fire, Nadox could hear the soft ruffling of Derdekeas's travel cloak as he sat. "I'm sorry. I… there was no need to antagonize you. As I did."

"You… don't need to apologize, Legate." There was a genuine sorrow in the back of Derdekeas's mind, a genuine atom of intoxicatingly rare compassion, hidden among the confusion. "You didn't know."

"I… I suppose I don't."

The two sat very still, until daybreak swept the fire's last embers to the winds.


For the next few days, Derdekeas was silent, his mind withdrawn. Nadox tried not to pry, but it was as asking one not to stare at the moon as they watched the skies. Derdekeas's thoughts were a poisoned oasis in a desert of nothing.

Nadox walked, and Derdekeas trailed behind. His faceplate, near expressionless in its make, barely cast gaze high enough to follow the movements of Nadox's robes. Derdekeas made little noise, but for the listless grinding of moving parts. Nadox had spared him, and he walked as a dead man regardless.

… the roads. Nadox had somehow lost track of them.

Several more days of wandering. Derdekeas said little; affirmations and negations to questions of need, half-hearted advice on which horizon to walk, soft-spoken Mekhanite prayers that gradually lost meaning. He barely kept pace, hardly kept track…

When the two finally arrived at the next town, Nadox had expected Derdekeas to look happier, had expected a change of scenery begetting a change in attitude. And yet, Derdekeas simply looked listlessly at the ground, now paved and heavy-trodden, a melancholy passenger to Nadox's odyssey.

***

The same passage. Nadox had just read the same passage.

The small building that passed for this town's library was empty, save for Nadox and Derdekeas. Its denizens took their business outside the walls, quietly or otherwise insulated from Nadox's study. Derdekeas sat in a far corner, moving little and speaking less. Ultimately, it left Nadox with the perfect environment for study, an opportunity that, try as he might, Nadox ultimately squandered on the same passage.

Derdekeas. He had changed something, a misplaced step in the process of research. Or was it the dynamic as a whole?

Nadox closed his eyes.

He thought of Ion. His merciful gaze, his soft-spoken confessions and his rhetoric of torn flesh and rebirth in viscera. Of the half-dead wasteland where they last spoke. Nadox thought of his perfect, beautiful form, and of the hideous nascent Archon that gestated within. Of how his Klavigar, lost without the guidance of the perfect surgeon, had scattered to the wind. Of the final question left behind.

His mind wandered to his travels, of the gradual decay of his surroundings. Of hungry cicadas, screaming clouds of violet vibrations, and a myriad of their vicious peers.

He thought of what he saw in the folds of Derdekeas's psyche. The passion. The need for change. The common enemy.

"Derdekeas."

Nadox was answered with the tinny grind of metal.

"Care to join me?"

"I…" Derdekeas stood, already a significant improvement in his situation. "What do you mean?"

"In research." There was no easy way to covertly vomit the collection of documents Nadox kept in his person, at least in company. Still, Derdekeas had seen more than his share of Nadox's insides, leaving comparatively little shock to be had.

Derdekeas approached with caution, a caution Nadox thought inappropriate given the past several weeks, but nonetheless a caution. At some invisible precipice between himself and the table, Derdekeas stopped.

The air was still, the wind calm.

"… you'll forgive me for my caution."

Dying sunlight reflected off the fire in Derdekeas's eyes.

"I already do."

The dusk passed with stories of the old gods, and those who lived beneath them.


The sun rose, and Derdekeas followed Nadox.

"… I recognize that."

Nadox continued his craft, though his mind's eye looked up. "A simple hinged joint."

Derdekeas's face had been replaced with bronze, without the necessary muscles to squint. Even so, Nadox could feel the muscle memory of the flesh that once was attempting to do just that. "Right, but… the structure. As a whole, I recognize the structure, how you've built the arm. My own innards appear nearly identical."

A pause. Nadox examined his own handiwork, comparing it with the internal anatomy of Derdekeas.

Nadox continued.

Derdekeas crouched to face their patient. "How do you feel?"

The little shepherd boy felt many things, or at least, Nadox felt many things through the shepherd boy's thoughts. Bewilderment, at his brand new arm. Fear, that either of them may demand an unspoken price that could not be paid. Gratefulness, despite the circumstances. All bled into apprehension, what to do now that his limbs were whole again.

As his mind turned to the thought of repayment, Nadox turned and walked away.

The sun set, and Derdekeas walked with Nadox.

The book, predictably, was written in a different tongue to the last library, days away. Not that it mattered; language was a barrier Ion had thrust Nadox over long ago. From the thoughts bubbling on the surface of his companion's mind, Derdekeas was not quite so fortunate.

Nadox took note of the signs, the histories, the pieces of possible solutions, compiling every scrap into a written record, a library in miniature, a personal schema against the Archons. That it was in Derdekeas's tongue was convenience; that was what Nadox told himself, even as the muscles of his digits struggled to adapt to the new alphabet.

As Nadox researched, recorded, reviewed, Derdekeas read, read, read, tried to read. There was a limit to his comprehension, a language barrier he could not cross. Frustration radiated from his mind, tainted with… disappointment.

Nadox closed his eyes; all of them, but the ones needed for the task at hand.

Minutes passed. Hours.

He had been reading a scroll on ancient rites, dedications to crowned cicadas and holes in the shapes of worms, when Derdekeas collapsed onto the seat beside him. "Nothing! I learned nothing. I cannot read this script."

"I'm sorry."

"Right. Right." Derdekeas simply stared at the table upon which Nadox read. "… it's been several fortnights. An hour of rest?"

Dawn would be soon, if Nadox had to guess. Best now. "Do what you need."

Derdekeas leaned against Nadox, and let himself dream. His chassis was warm.

The sun rose. Nadox and Derdekeas walked.

"Thank you again, so much, for your kindness." The fat man before them, who had plead with Derdekeas to help him fix his cart, wanted to kill both of them. Ill intent boiled off his head like a ruptured cyst. He intended to do so in service to the Scarlet King. Nadox found it all very quaint.

He would fail, of course. His poison would constrict the heart, of which Nadox had several and Derdekeas one of bronze. Once that failed, he planned to eviscerate them with novice magicks and parlor tricks. The farce would most probably end when Nadox would swiftly decapitate him with a keratin blade, after which he would consume his flesh and be on his way. That was if Nadox played along; he had far more important business to attend to, compared to humoring the follower of a fellow deific eunuch.

"There's must be something, anything, I could do to repay you." Nadox was surprised, at least. Worship of the Scarlet King was traditionally restricted to the Daevites; its spread this far south suggested dreadful things, especially in absence of the coastline. The work of Archons?

Bone merged and tore beneath Nadox's robes. Nadox silently prayed to Ion, and-

"It was nothing." Derdekeas had already finished repairs. "You owe us nothing. Farewell, and good travels."

Derdekeas turned to walk away, and Nadox couldn't help but follow.

"Is he still following us?"

The fat man, Derdekeas meant. His ill-intent was conspicuous enough against the backdrop of Derdekeas's warmth through the void of the wilderness; Nadox had not gotten around to killing him, yet. Later, perhaps.

Later, perhaps.

Derdekeas would stop as dusk broke, out of misplaced courtesy. It mattered not; the fat man lacked the capacity to kill either of them.

His approach was cautious; Nadox knew he knew that they knew of him, knew and could guess at his intent. The man supposed, and Nadox and Derdekeas knew, that such an attempt would be futile. Ultimately, however, Nadox did not know why the man continued his approach.

Heat and exhaustion looked to be wearing on him with each step, but the man continued regardless. His dedication was impressive, nearly compensating for his inabilities. Nearly. But Nadox and Derdekeas had time, while the man's mortality had been slowly robbing him of such from the day he was born.

Time ran out a dozen paces from Nadox and Derdekeas, and the man collapsed. He would die soon. The two of them would do well to leave him to his fate.

Nadox spotted Derdekeas reaching for his waterskin.

The sun rose, and Nadox, Derdekeas, and Fang walked.

As Nadox meted out the coins necessary for provisions, his mind began to wander. It did that these days.

The two, now three, were losing pace. Looking back on his travels, Derdekeas had eventually signaled a suspicious uptick in progress; even so, the addition of a third appeared to have spoiled that. How much so, Nadox was unsure. Measures of abstract were rarely quantifiable, especially when Nadox himself seemed to be lacking the full context of the work ahead.

The days… the days were not growing shorter, Nadox realized. He had just been forced to pay more attention to them. Derdekeas had a clock that ran in months; Fang, hours. If the toll of time was to be decried, it laid firmly on the lodestone of Fang. The easiest solution would be to kill him, and continue without him. That, somehow, was also the hardest.

With renewed attention to the sand through the sieve came the realization of the grains falling around his fingers. Days shone brighter. Sand ran hotter. The pleasant nausea in Nadox's stomach, a nausea he hadn't quite noticed until late, roiled fiercer yet. Intensities he hadn't felt since Ion, since Nadox had fought with someone at his side, since he had done more than just walking, reading, writing. Reunion with the complex depths of being.

When Nadox moved, he left footprints, displaced grains, a slithering track. Nadox left an imprint. Had he always left one? He must have. He must.

Nadox thought back to Derdekeas. He found that his thoughts did not examine, compare, attempt to decrypt. Nadox merely thought of him, and felt fortunate. Daevite twine tore at the edges of the holes it threaded through; it could not stop the curl of his lips.

With the transaction concluded, Nadox walked back to his friend and follower.

The sun rose, and Nadox, Derdekeas, and Fang walked.

When the sun next rose, Nadox, Derdekeas, Fang, and Jungsai walked.

One day, the sun rose to Nadox, Derdekeas, and their fellow travelers.

Later, the sun rose to Nadox, Derdekeas, and their followers.

Soon, friends.

Acolytes.

Family.




















The sun set.

Nadox sat alone.

Around him, followers set up their tents, counted their provisions, prepared for the coming night. A select few stayed awake, studied, theorized. Võlutaar mingled with Mekhanite, mingled with insomniac and spirit and those passionate enough to sacrifice sleep for progress. Quietly, the world continued to turn for another night.

Derdekeas sat across from him, transcribing lessons, schematics, all he had gleaned over the day. Connections Nadox had overlooked, conclusions divergent of the arguments Nadox had drawn, pieces of the puzzle, to synthesize with what was already written.

For the first time in centuries, Nadox allowed himself rest.

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