Background: This story was an entry in a writing contest. The prompt was “Mazes”. It lost by a slim margin. Setting-wise, this was an experiment with another world that I’ve been toying with for a very long time. Entity was the first piece of fiction in this world since a recent reset of the entire canon.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Date: 12:15 4-18-157
Subject: Got something new for you.
Internal Affairs has started to declassify documents related to SANGUINE SKIES, that infamous and disastrous operation the Halseth Regional Department ran last summer. Our unraveling of Halseth’s…problems has been a never-ending nightmare. You know how the public perception of the Agency is that we’re a bloated, over-reaching, paranoid organization that piles lies upon secrets upon cover-ups? Turns out the Halseth Department is exactly like the boogeyman the media sensationalizes us to be and SANGUINE SKIES was just the catalyst to bring this all to light. Well…most of it.
But for such a vast shit-show, the actual details of SANGUINE SKIES are rather boring and nothing you nerds over in Research & Lore would care about.
Except for this one thing.
I’ve attached a transcript from the debriefing of a Halseth Field Agent that got caught out in the Wilds when the Talish shot down their transport. Their mission went beyond the second Line of Consistency up north. Yeah. Where shit gets weird. I’ve pulled page six to ten into this message, which is where the interesting stuff is. Halseth’s cover-up of this specific mission went pretty deep, for some reason. The Agent and Interviewer identities are redacted and I’m still looking for the audio file of the debriefing.
Anyway, this guy (gal?) had an experience out there, a record of which I’m sure R&L would like to stash away in the archives.
* * * * * *
Field Agent [REDACTED]: So, the next morning I woke up inside a crystal box.
Debrief Interviewer [REDACTED]: Pardon? You just said you made camp in a grove of trees.
Agent: Yeah, well, there’s a reason it’s called a Band of Inconsistency.
Interviewer: The landscape doesn’t change overnight.
Agent: It does when you stumble into an area claimed by an Entity.
Interviewer: …I see. Please continue Agent [REDACTED]. Be specific.
Agent: Gladly. Permission to be poetic?
Agent: I woke up in a box of translucent blue-white crystal. Let’s call it a four meter cube. No ceiling, open to the sky. The ground was too-nice grass, like a pro ball field, but a bright sanitized white. The walls were smooth, almost slick to the touch. Climbing up and out wasn’t possible. The sun was just getting up, the light of dawn cutting through the walls and splitting every which way, tossing prisms and beams and reflections around like nothing I’d ever seen. Would have been impressed if I wasn’t so pissed about being caught by an Entity.
Interviewer: You knew it was an Entity immediately? Not a Wilds Wielder trap or—
Agent: A Wielder would have just killed me. It was definitely an Entity. There was no other explanation. We get some training for the weirder stuff out there, but it’s mostly academic and hearsay from the Rangers. There’s a list of rules of what to do. That’s all we can really prep. Can’t exactly set up a training run at the Farm, you know?
Anyway. With the sun up I could see through the walls. The crash was still in sight to the south. I couldn’t have been more than a dozen meters inside its…domain? Zone of influence? Whatever. The other three walls were blurs of murky light with only vague impressions of the land beyond.
Interviewer: If you were that close to the crash site and the edge of the being’s influence, why not cut your way out? It was obviously a magical construct. You had your wake-blade and A-MAG rounds for your sidearm, correct?
Agent: Bad idea. One of the rules for dealing with Entities is never upset them. They have a child-like intelligence paired with the ability to reshape their chunk of land at will. If you get violent, they get violent right back. If you go along with whatever game they’re playing they’ll usually let you go once they get bored or satisfied. Normal humans like us are novelties to them. A Wielder, Talish or wild, would just use their own powers to assert temporary control of the area, reshape it, and leave. They don’t make good playmates. We do.
Interviewer: Fair enough. So what was its game?
Agent: Heh. It was a god-damn maze and I was the lab rat. When I was looking at the crash site, my host opened a doorway on the opposite wall. I didn’t notice it at first, masked as it was by the wall beyond and the ambient luminescence. I poked my head through and took a look around. Left and right were the same. With no other options I said what the hell, grabbed my pack, and set off to find the center or exit or whatever goal it had planned for me.
The maze itself wasn’t the most creative in terms of design. All right angles and laser-straight passageways. But the crystalline walls varied in opacity, from glass window to cloudy marble. You’d think a maze with sometimes see-through walls would be easy, yeah? Then you hit your first near-invisible dead-end. The fifth time that happens you’re pretty sick of it.
I had the sun for direction, but that was a poor tradeoff. Almost better if it were cloudy. Hell, maybe it was and the weather was part of the Entity’s influence over that area. The sunlight and walls conspired to create layered, multiplied reflections all around me. I started chasing passages or turns that weren’t there, pure phantoms of refracted light. I had to commit to belief in a specific optical illusion to make any progress. Or not. All together it gave me a splitting headache.
I made notches in the corners with my wake-blade to keep track of where I’d been. Cut through the crystal like butter, carving out little hand-held pyramids of white crystal. The small cuts didn’t seem to upset the Entity and I could use the pieces as the proverbial bread crumbs for backtracking. I tried to keep one but it disintegrated as soon as we got back under the Field. Should have figured that would happen. You guys wouldn’t have let me keep it anyway.
Interview: That’s correct. Did you have any interactions with the Entity?
Agent: Not directly, no. At times, when I grew frustrated, I think it fudged the maze, opening new routes for me to find when backtracking. Spots I knew didn’t have a turn there before. But I never spoke to it or made direct contact.
Interviewer: Agent [REDACTED] when was your last test for magic latency?
Agent: Don’t you even start with that. I’ve been an agent for [REDACTED] years. I’m a null case. To even suggest I was Manifesting is offensive.
Interviewer: Answer the question.
Agent: Four months ago. Routine check-up. All clean.
Interviewer: I’m just being thorough. Our knowledge of Entities is limited. Please continue.
Agent: Yeah, sure. I took a break around noon. The high angle made the reflections worse, turned the whole place into a searing white blur. I wrapped a cloth around my eyes and ate survival rations blind. Got moving again once the light faded to a tolerable level and began to make real progress not long after. It was apparent I was heading for the center of the maze, the murky outlines of the terrain outside had become rare by the afternoon. I started to see glimpses of a structure through the diffracting crystal walls, a pedestal in a courtyard. Such fleeting views came through windows of clarity in the intervening walls. I’m not sure if the Entity was being cruel and having a laugh or trying to keep me motivated. Both, I suppose.
I hit a lot of dead ends for a while there, making me lean toward cruelty over motivation. Got to the center at sunset, though I suspect the Entity delayed my progress in order to time my arrival for maximum dramatic flair. The crystal walls caught the sunset in their curious way and turned the passages of the maze into a channels of sculpted fire.
The center was a courtyard with clear walls and a chest-high pedestal in the middle. A crystal orb about the size of my head was perched on it. It was the only thing in the maze that was dark: black crystal that swirled with stars inside. I touched the orb. It felt like it was made of the same stuff as the maze itself. Nothing happened. It was stuck to its mount, so I couldn’t move it. That was all there was to see in the middle and the way I came in was the only break in the walls.
Interviewer: There was nothing else?
Agent: Nothing. Suffice to say, I was done with its game at that point. I took a few steps back, drew my gun, and pumped four A-MAG rounds into the orb. Four pulses of chemical green flashed through the entire maze. Gotta admit there was a little satisfaction in actually affecting the place, if only for a few seconds. The orb was unharmed somehow. And then…and then…
Interviewer: What happened?
Agent: The counter-magic energy recoiled back as if I shot an unshielded Wielder. Got hit with some feedback that knocked me on my ass.
Interviewer: And the A-MAG cartridges?
Interviewer: Are you certain? No draining of energies?
Agent: They were empty. I brought the cartridges back to prove it. The shots probably like tickles to it. After that I guess it was done with me, a clear path straight out of the maze opened and I walked out. Not much else to report. I returned to the crash site to see if the scavenger critters had cleared out and the rescue beacon was still going. The maze stayed up on the hill for a few hours, bleeding residual light until well after dark. It shifted back to a forest by morning. The extraction team can confirm that. They showed up around noon the next day.
Interviewer: Thank you Agent [REDACTED]. That will be all for now.
* * * * * *
So here’s the kicker, Yana. The salvage crew sent to the crash site a week later brought some high-gain scanning equipment to check for the Entity. Might as well pin it on the map, right? They found no evidence of an Entity. Zero. They can’t move and there’s no way four A-MAG shots from a pistol would kill one. You got any theories on this?
I’m trying to ID the Agent but the SANGUINE SKIES files are scrubbed of his/her presence. I think the transcript was an oversight. Given how deep Halseth’s cover-ups and side ops go, R&L might want to make a few backups and hard copies of this, yeah?
I’ll let you know if I find anything more.
Mystic Suppression Agency
Copyright © 2013 by Michael L. Watson