Interlude 3 – Sion Eltnam Atlasia
There was a building that had yet to fall within the skeleton of a city that had been toppled by the Sandworm.
It still held three solid walls, one of which had a hollowed out opening that was once a door facing the center of the city. The fourth had been eroded by the decaying winds that had constantly blown against it. No different than how it rotted wood, weathered stone, and rusted steel that were exposed to it as well.
There, sitting in the corner with her back against the wall, was a young woman. Her untamed purple hair obscured her face like a curtain as she held her lithe hand out. That allowed the near-invisible microfiber to wind itself back into the bracelet that served to house it.
Her name was Sion Eltnam Atlasia. She was the last of the Eltnam name. And the last who bore the title of Vice-Director within the Atlas Academy.
Atlas had been an assembly of intellectuals, one of the three branches of the Mage’s Association. Predating even the Clock Tower, the alchemists within had dedicated themselves to seeking out an optimal future for humanity. To that end, they acted to prevent the end of the world foretold by the first Director long ago.
They had failed in their duties.
And, as of now, she was the last of the Alchemist of Atlas.
“I accounted for the probability of him resisting, but the fact that his PSI would allow him to forcibly disconnect the Etherlite was…” Her hoarse, yet soft voice trailed off as she assessed additional factors and their potential outcomes into her mind.
Memory Partitioning, the dividing of the mind into several rooms to perform different thought processes with equal devotion to a singular solution, combined with Thought Acceleration, the ability run those thought processes at an accelerated rate, meant she could take in and process data at a speed that was largely unmatched. She’d seen hundreds of ways the events of the battle could go and used that to move his body optimally to do so—going so far as to remove the limitations on it briefly, so as to maximize the chances of his survival.
Then he went and forcibly ejected her Etherlite, which had been connected to his central nervous system. That was the equivalent of tearing out a part of his body and should have fried both the nerves and the body itself inside out from being disconnected while it was still functioning. The fact that he had been alive at the end to be taken back was a small mercy, but the fact that the damage would transfer over to his real body meant that he’d be dead or invalid within minutes at best.
At least under normal circumstances.
“There’s a capable healer who can regenerate limbs, including nerves,” she told herself after arriving to the conclusion upon analyzing the addition information she’d assessed from his mind. “After a very short readjustment and rehabilitation period, he should be mobile and fighting fit. But the prospect of his cooperation, and that of his allies, is also minimal.”
The plan had been simple: To avoid a reoccurrence of what happened the last time she’d encountered the Drifters, as well as avoid being discovered by the Homunculi, she would remain hidden and then would leave a set of prepared thought processes in his mind, allowing him to draw the conclusions and contact the version of herself that still existed in the past. A black-box within his mind that would serve as a time capsule with her knowledge from the future. From there the timeline would branch—creating a timeline where these occurrences never came about.
She sighed as the Etherlite finished recoiling itself around her wrist, having taken in the data from her surroundings to ensure that she was alone. “There’s no other choice then. I have enough data on his behavior and thought process to go off for the next time he returns. It’ll be a little rough and the emulation might not be perfect, but as long as I can keep his PSI capable of reacting then depriving him of his freedom is a small sacrifice compared to the outcome.”
In truth, that should have been her goal from the start. She could have rewritten his mind and thoughts so that he would have done what she desired. It would have taken time to do so manually as she would have to guide the process, but with what she knew now it should be possible to have a program carry it out almost instantly.
‘Sion… If you go that far then it’ll undermine the very principles that you had taken up to this point. It would be cutting another string tethering you to your humanity.’
The warning came from the data stored within two of the remaining partitions of her mind. Her first friend and the only companion she had left in the world, Riesbyfe Stridberg, Knight of the Shield. Though her body had fallen in battle long ago, her information had been swallowed up during that event and she remained there until Sion had managed to take ownership of it during a special Summer in Misaki Town.
“I know that.” She curled up as though she felt a chill through the cloak and white uniform she’d stolen from a Homunculus, resting her head against her knees. “But I’m almost out of time, Ries. I was out of time the moment that last group arrived and I… I…”
She trailed off as she recalled the gravest sin she’d committed as both an Alchemist and Human.
Bitten by her ancestor, Zepia Eltnam, who had become a Dead Apostle Ancestor, Sion was also a Dead Apostle in the making. Ever since that night she had always been walking on a tightrope over a bottomless pit that was drowning in her vampiric urges and giving way to insanity. One slip was all it’d take and she’d tumble down with no way to climb back up.
Yet, she’d managed to hold out in her attempt to find a way to cure vampirism. For three years she had struggled in seeking out a cure and hunting down Zepia alone. There was no help, with her only able to flee from the Church and Atlas on borrowed time.
Then she ran across him.
He was the first person who’d extended a hand to her willingly after three years. To give her the encouragement to seek the aid of others. He’d changed her for the better, helping her put an end to the Night of Wallachia and bringing the vampiric urges to a stage where she could repress them. He’d given her the possibility of securing a new future and returned a fallen friend to her.
Yet, all she could do as she bid farewell to that person was to make a promise to come to his aid whenever he’d needed to.
And she couldn’t even keep that promise when the world as they knew it ended.
Her ancestor had told her in his final moments. Of why he’d become a vampire. One of the 27 Dead Apostle Ancestors. It was because he had beheld the answer to what awaited the humanity in the future.
It was a future of nothing but destruction that was upon them, and like a curse of destiny it was something that couldn’t be changed.
He wasn’t the only one who reached that conclusion. Ever since the first Director of Atlas came to the conclusion that the world would end, every Alchemist who’d worked towards trying to avoid it came to reach that same conclusion that the future was a dead end. No matter how many times they thought about, no matter how many simulations they ran, no matter how many countermeasures they tried to put into place to avoid the foreseen outcome, the future only grew worse—the time table was only sped up.
Yet, they persisted. Time and again they tried to avert that future, challenging fate for the sake of humanity. They challenged it until they were eventually driven into madness and insanity, or took their own life.
Atlas was known as a Den of Madness for this reason.
Zepia warned her that as one who bore the name of Atlasia, she too would fall into despair and give into madness to try and escape it. Her vampiric nature would take hold as she realized there was no hope, and she would drown in blood at that moment. Then, in taking in its dark taste and indulging in the revelry that was to be a Dead Apostle, she would truly be his successor.
She pitied him at his last moment, but she told herself that she would never become him. She would find a way to cure her condition and then find a new hope for humanity. Yet, when she first gazed upon the ash-colored sky that stopped the light of the sun from touching the ground, she understood in that moment exactly what he’d felt.
It was the end of the world that hadn’t been foreseen. An irregularity that hadn’t occurred in any of their simulations, bringing about a new end that hadn’t been accounted for. They had no measures against it.
Even so, she searched for clues. For information. The more information she had, the more confidence she would be in finding a way to save what was left of humanity and the world. She held onto that hope to drive off the all-consuming despair, banking on the satisfaction that was to be human when overcoming an obstacle to slake her thirst.
Her search left her scouring the globe for years. Hundreds of thousands of calculations. Experimentation on everything that she could with limited equipment, constantly being hounded by the artificial creatures known as the Taboo and the ones pulling their strings with only Ries to watch her back. The others who would be her allies—Atlas, the Mage’s Association, even him—had perished on the Day of Rebirth.
But, as Sion searched for clues and found none, hope waned. She grew desperate to figure out what had caused this. So she took a calculated risk and tried to infiltrate one of the towers that had been erected in this land—in his home country. They were the only structures that were left unaffected by the changes, made of an alloy that could somehow weather the erosion that befell everything else beneath the ashen sky.
She’d barely made it out alive, but she did obtain just enough information to know what was happening. Enough to know the Age of Man was over, and it was too late to avert it. As things stood, within another five years there wouldn’t be anything left of the world as it was on both a physical and conceptual level.
The fact that there wouldn’t even be a record to show that humanity existed was what truly threatened to break her.
Everything died in the end. But to die and leave no record of your existence for those that were to come was a true tragedy. Yet, that was what was occurring beneath her own two feet. The moment she’d reached that conclusion, there was only two things left for her:
Death as a Human or Madness as a Vampire.
It was only then, as she was on the verge falling off that fine line towards one side or the other, that a hand reached out to her once more.
His name was Tatsumi.
He claimed to have come from the past with his allies to save the future. A virtuous spirit like him, carrying hope for a future that hadn’t fallen. A light in the darkness of despair that even if this timeline would be lost, the past could be changed so that another branch in the tree of time could sprout.
Then they were attacked again.
And she’d snuffed out that light in the aftermath.
‘We need to keep moving. They’ll be after us soon enough, and you’re almost out of rounds for the Barrel Replica.’
As she began to walk again, Sion resolved herself to see things through to remain sane. She had done the unforgivable with Tatsumi and sacrificed the others that came with him. Her body’s state as a vampire while her spirit was barely tethered to what was left to her humanity were proof of that. But if she managed to get that knowledge back to the past then that was enough.
She would have fulfilled her duties as a member of Atlas. There would be another chance to change the reality of the future. Another chance to see her promise to Shiki carried out by her past-self. And then…
And then salvation would come for her.