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  • Last Disciple

    Siberian Facility, near Tunguska

    Dr. Edward Richtofen

    September 20th, 1945


    “A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring.” 

    - Alexander Pope


    Doctor Richtofen was setting up the day’s experiment, pleased with his continued successes this past year. He had managed to solidify his deals with both the Americans and the Russians, with each side now making preparations to meet their terms of agreement while awaiting the final call by Richtofen. At a moment’s notice, Richtofen can give them the orders to take control of Group 935’s facilities and topple its leadership. Before this can happen, however, there are still arrangements left unmade. Richtofen had waited his whole life to make history, and he could wait just a little bit longer. Historians will look back on 1945 not as the end of a bloody, pointless war, but as the beginning of a new peaceful era.


    Doctor Groph’s updates on the Moon Pyramid Device have been promising, and it seems that it will be possible to open the gateway very soon. Finally, Richtofen will see the Aether with his own eyes. By then, Maxis will be removed from his position, and the Allies will split up Group 935, effectively doubling their resources and influence across the world. If the plan is successful, Richtofen will then be in a position to spread the Aether’s influence across the entire globe via Polarization Devices. 


    But, even the best-laid plans need a fallback in the worst-case scenario. For that reason, Richtofen has pursued an alternative means of reaching Agartha; A back door, so to speak. Richtofen had been once perplexed by the appearance of an American Western Town in Africa; However, after recent anomalies across Group 935 facilities, Richtofen now believed that time-space displacement was a factor in the town’s shifting. The massive 115 deposit found near the site came from the town itself, and the journal of Jebediah Brown shed light on the events preceding its movement through space. The blacksmith claimed to have been visited by two angels who provided him with knowledge to create numerous things, including the first iteration of the Pack-a-Punch machine and instructions to forge the Agarthan Device.


    Brown was a deeply religious man, and decided against pursuing the device due to its tempting powers. The creator’s greatest wishes would be made true in an instant. It could literally alter the fabric of reality to meet any request. Brown did, however, follow the angels’ orders, creating the first of three components: The Vril Vessel; The very object Richtofen had transported with him to Siberia, and the artifact which was nearly stolen by a strange man, apparently on the Shadowman’s orders…


    If Richtofen’s plan fails, which it will not… The Agarthan Device will be the way through. The final two components necessary are the Elemental Shard, a rock of Element 115 combined with the life force of four humans, and the blood of an Elder God, something the Shadowman may be able to help him locate. Even without the complete Agarthan Device, the Elemental Shard could be used as a means of infinite power and effective immortality. 


    Today, Richtofen would attempt to create the Shard under the noses of other scientists in the facility. Though he so loved taunting Doctor Yena with his knowledge on the subject, he could not risk the Americans finding out how to assemble the Device before Richtofen could find the final component.


    In through the laboratory door came Frederick, the newest test subject slung over his shoulder: An American named Dempsey. It was fortunate a subject highly resistant to 115’s effects was discovered after Pablo’s untimely death. Frederick tossed him onto a table near Richtofen. He had ordered the laboratory to be arranged around one central table, on it a slab taken from Der Eisendrache, and his three test subjects were comatose, lying flat on tables surrounding the slab.


    “Well done, Frederick. See to it that my letters are delivered to the postmaster, und you may go to your quarters.”


    The burly assistant seemed confused, “You do not need me to-”


    Richtofen approached him, reaching up to grab his cheek, shaking it as he spoke, “I need you to leave me be, Frederick! That is all.”


    He said nothing further, leaving the way he came in. Richtofen promptly locked the door, checking the time. A vast majority of the staff would now be in their quarters.


    Edward dimmed the lights, approaching the stone slab on the table. It was rectangular and engraved with markings of unknown origin. What stands out most about the slab, however, is the indentation in the center. It looked like a small circle with two larger ovals protruding from the sides, and a sharper point at each end. It was found attached to a tomb within the underground section of the castle. While the scientists initially believed it to be ornamental, they later realized the indentation matched exactly an indentation on the MPD’s interface panel. More surprising, these slots are the perfect fit for one of Jebediah Brown’s creations.


    According to his writings, the Vril Rod was ordered to be created by the “angels” using the same metal as the Vril Vessel. Though on the surface it appeared like brass painted gold, it was crafted using a type of metal of currently unknown origin. It resembles a mythological object in Hinduism known as a Vajra. The blacksmith was told that it could be used to transfer life force, or “soul energy,” and it is an essential component in creating the Elemental Shard.


    Richtofen reached underneath the table where a safe was being stored. He inputted the combination, and opened the safe to reveal the Vril Rod. He laid it down gracefully next to the slab.


    Next, Edward stepped towards the door, looking outside to ensure he was not being watched. He pulled a key from his jacket pocket, opening a nearby closet full of equipment. Shoved towards the back of one of the shelves was an urn-like object with Apothicon engravings around the rim. This artifact was also recovered from the castle, and through testing on rats, it was discovered to have similar properties to the MPD’s energy canisters, being able to store life force.


    The artifact was placed on the table as well along with a small rock of Element 115 taken  from the Tunguska meteor. Richtofen wringed his hands together in excitement, but also with anxiety. Though the voices in his head encouraged him and seemed to confirm the accuracy in his methods, it all seemed so… unscientific. Jebediah Brown’s writings described what came next as a “ritual to curse one’s self through the embracing of sin and vice.” Richtofen chuckled at the quaint man’s superstitions, but acknowledged there must be some truth in the knowledge bestowed to him by the Ancients. This would be like no experiment he had ever conducted in his life.


    Without access to a fourth individual, Richtofen decided part of his own essence would be used to create the Shard along with his three test subjects. It seemed almost poetic, with his volunteering to take part in the first human teleportation six years ago. Progress requires risk, after all.


    The next step in preparing the experiment was arranging each human soul alongside a ritual object; Something closely associated with the person, something that represents the wrongdoing in one’s life. This very well could have been the barrier preventing Richtofen from using his three prisoner-of-war test subjects, however, he was able to pull some belongings from storage that were found on their bodies after they were captured. They would act as perfect ritual items.


    The American subject, this “Tank” Dempsey, had a letter in his pocket from a former friend forgiving him for past transgressions; It was regarding some woman that each of them was attracted to. “Tank” may be guilty of lust and coveting another man’s lady, and he became a soldier to escape the guilt. Coincidentally, that other man happened to be the one and only Peter McCain. Richtofen found the cruel irony that the two would never meet again as friends to be quite amusing.


    The Japanese subject, Takeo Masaki, carried with him at all times his family’s sword. According to Doctor Okitsu, Takeo was once the right hand of the Emperor of Japan. Such a fall from grace, it almost brought a tear to Richtofen’s eye. Almost. As the Emperor’s hand, his blade was used to execute enemies of the Empire and surrendering combatants during the war. His katana is stained with the blood of hundreds, perhaps thousands of souls.


    The Russian subject, Nikolai Belinski, wrote in his journal tales of glorious victory and thoughts of chronic depravity and cruelty. He was a deeply troubled mind with a passion for Russian literature. As his journal progresses, his prose grows darker. Eventually he chooses only to write about those whom he kills, fellow Soviet or enemy German. There is no passion in these kills, only grotesque descriptions harboring no emotion. His final days consist only of ramblings, barely coherent, that describe events that are impossible and people that never existed.


    The hardest item of all for Richtofen to locate was one for himself. Edward is a man that holds no regrets; There is nothing in the past worth changing, as it all inevitably leads him to his destiny. He eventually decided on his own diary, his one safe space from a world that does not appreciate him. There are many dark thoughts that may be construed as “sinful,” but Richtofen knows that writing them down was necessary to maintain a clear mind.


    Each of the items were placed next to the comatose bodies, with Richtofen’s diary resting on the table next to him. The final step in preparing the ritual was placing specific Apothicon symbols on the central platform around the Vril Rod. Some of these symbols Richtofen recognized from his time studying their language, others he did not. He did not understand the importance of simply painting these symbols out onto the table, but he wanted to follow the instructions as closely as possible.


    Richtofen turned the page in Brown’s journal, beginning the ritual. He moved the Vril Rod close to the slab’s surface, and it was quickly pulled into the slot as if it were magnetized. A spark of electricity flourished before dissipating. So far, so good.


    Nethurgast Net Zor’arkoth.” Richtofen awkwardly spoke the alien language scrawled out on the page. He glanced around at the bodies, then to the ritual table. Nothing so far.


    He spoke slowly, being sure to enunciate the strange sounds clearly, “Estnagor. Est-astool. Estamat. Estulla.” 


    As he uttered the final phrase, he noticed that the symbols painted onto the table began to glow a bright, ruby red. The sigils then slowly rose into the air, leaving the painted version behind. They simply floated around the table, mesmerizing Richtofen. He tried to reach out and touch one, feeling a burning pain in his hand as he came too close. He decided to continue the ritual.


    Esthtuk estoom.” He continued, “Shub-zaroom asteon.


    More of the sigils began to rise, circling the platform at a more rapid pace. Inside the slab, the Vril Rod’s center began to glow a similar shade of red. Richtofen began to sweat as the room’s temperature rose. It was a heat like he had not experienced in his entire life.


    He uttered the final words: “Arkeon. Kareon.


    Four curved beams of bright blue light emanated from the Vril Rod, lodging themselves in the chests of all four bodies in the room. Richtofen was so shocked by the sensation he dropped the journal, falling back onto the table he was resting against. He began to feel weightless, flailing his arms around in a panic, a twinge of fear in his mind that he may have taken the experiment too far. The test subjects had also risen into the air, their eyes wide open, but their minds still unconscious.


    One of the sigils drifted away from the center of the room, following the beam of light towards Richtofen. He could do nothing to fight back as the symbol came closer and closer into his face, the red light blinding his vision. For a moment he could feel only the heat, then, he felt nothing.


    The world around him was black, but he could now walk on his feet. He felt an intense pain in his head that did not seem to go away. Here, the voices were completely silent. For once in a very long time, Richtofen felt lonely, and he savoured it.


    He hypothesized: Could he still be in the lab, unconscious, in some kind of deep dream state? Is this another dimension? Some created realm of his imagination? … Could he have destroyed his own dimension?


    Richtofen glanced around, disoriented. He searched for any sign of light. He focused his eyes in a single direction, noticing what looked like a brown dot. After pacing towards it a few steps, the dot grew larger, and appeared more rectangular. He soon recognized that it was a wooden door; Its paint was chipped and the handle removed. Edward jolted back as he realized there were a pair of tiny eyes above the door. His vision began to focus on the eyes, and he realized they belonged to a raven, whose silhouette was now completely visible, resting on top of the door.


    Edward approached the door again, only for the raven to fly away and the door to fall, revealing some kind of room through the rectangular portal. He stepped into the room, glancing around at its features. Furniture was flipped over or completely destroyed, and there were holes in the walls leaking in moonlight from outside. He could hear a group of men talking in the other room.


    “What are you gonna do, Tank?”


    “We’ve got no choice, Smokey. You know what has to be done.”


    Richtofen peered into the other room, meeting eyes with one of the men, who stared blankly back at him. It was an American marine, who seemed almost to be looking through Edward. Richtofen walked further into the room, realizing that none of the men could see him.


    “We could just let him go, he won’t tell anybody anything. He was trying to run away!”


    A third man chimed in, “We don’t know that, Smokey.”


    The Marine he recognized as “Tank” Dempsey stood up, speaking to the other three men in the room, “The decision has been made. We can’t risk him going back to the Asylum and exposing us. It could put Peter in danger.”


    The man known as “Smokey” sat silently, shaking his head and putting his head in his arms, while another comforted him.


    Dempsey walked into another room, coming back momentarily with a man in a German military uniform, his eyes and mouth covered by a bandana, and his arms tied together with cloth. He struggled with Dempsey, trying to escape, muttering in German through the gag in his mouth.


    The fourth man who had been staring in Richtofen’s direction stood up, taking a pillow from an overturned couch in the corner, “There was no other option, Dempsey. Pernell gave us orders to-”


    “Shut the fuck up, Gunner.” Dempsey ripped the pillow from the man’s hands.


    Dempsey pushed the German captive towards the room that Richtofen had arrived from, shoving him to the ground. He shut his eyes, muttering something under his breath, before placing the pillow against the German’s head and pushing his pistol into it, pulling the trigger. The German quit struggling, going limp.


    Dempsey approached the two men sitting in what was once a living room, leaning over to say, “We’ve got a job to do. Let’s get some shut-eye. We’ll need to be ready for tomorrow’s mission.”


    The floor below Richtofen gave way, and he tumbled downward into the black abyss. He landed on his chest, yet felt no pain. He rose to his feet once again, finding himself inside some sort of hangar. There were several British Royal Air Force planes and a group of British and Dutch pilots gathered near a doorway. They all seemed tense, chattering so much that Richtofen could barely understand them. Like before, they could not see him.


    Suddenly, the nearby door swung open, pouring in light. Before the pilots could respond, a cloud of fire engulfed them. Those not instantly incinerated by the flames screamed in tortured agony, some trying to wipe away the substance coating and burning their flesh, others simply stumbling around, their brain in shock after all nerve endings fizzled out; But all eventually fell.


    Through the doorway came Takeo Masaki, wielding the flamethrower which took these men by surprise. He stood over their charred corpses, mesmerized with a twinge of regret in his eyes. This seemed to fade as several Japanese paratroopers walked in after him, fanning out and exploring the hangar. Takeo barked some orders, before kneeling down in front of the bodies, shutting his eyes and uttering a proverb.


    The paratroopers returned with prisoners of war, lining them up on their knees before Takeo. Takeo brandished his sword walking parallel to them, striking fear in their hearts. One by one, he killed them after they failed to answer his questions.


    Again, the ground caved in, dropping Richtofen further into the blackness. He fell face-first into a deep layer of snow. Planes whizzed overhead, and Russian soldiers were shouting in a nearby foxhole. A whistle blow was given, and the entire platoon charged forward past hollow structures and rubble. From this distance, Richtofen could only hear the screams and the sound of machine gun fire.


    Another platoon of soldiers soon filled the previous one’s place in the foxhole, ordered by the commander with his whistle. Among them was Nikolai, his face stricken with fear and doubt. The commander looked on to the men he had ordered to charge ahead, as he noticed a single survivor returning towards their location, his leg badly wounded.


    The commander barked an order towards the straggler, who did not respond. He issued a second order, but the soldier kept running back towards the foxhole.


    The commander removed a handgun from his side, taking aim at the retreating Soviet. From the foxhole, Nikolai shouted to the commander, but he only responded with a pull of the trigger. The straggler went down quickly, his face planting into the thick snow.


    In a blind rage, Nikolai leapt from the foxhole, his rifle’s bayonet pointed directly towards the commander’s belly. He planted the bayonet into the commander’s body, sending him to the ground, the pistol tossed aside. Nikolai placed his entire body onto the commander’s chest, pounding his fist into the commander’s face, bloodying his own knuckles from the commander’s teeth. After five swift punches, Nikolai pulled a knife from the commander’s belt, plunging it into his heart. Again and again, without an end in sight. The commander was already dead, but Nikolai continued pulling the blade out of his chest, and sending it back in with all his strength. Five men from his own platoon had to pull his blood-soaked body away as he continued to scream.


    Richtofen fell through the snowy void, tumbling for a final time onto a stone floor, one he recognized very intimately.


    “You are a madman. I’m sorry, old friend, but Maxis will hear what you have done. Step back.”


    No. Not today. Not here.


    Doctor Wagner walked past the frazzled and anxious Doctor Richtofen in the middle of the room, dialing a rotary phone and picking up the receiver.


    Richtofen did not even stand up, knowing what would come next. He watched with a great pain in his chest as his past self removed the knife from its sheath and approached Wagner.


    He grabbed him by the shoulder, pulling his body away from the phone. Richtofen could see the conflict, the sadness in his own eyes.


    “Edward, what are you… No!


    The knife pierced Wagner’s chest. He gasped, blood spurting from his lips and arms flailing, attempting to push Richtofen away. The two slowly descended, blood soaking the floor.


    Edward watched on, his feelings not those which he expected. Though he could see the pain and anguish in his own eyes, now he felt differently. He found it almost… amusing. After so long, he could look back and see the choice was obvious. Wagner was nothing compared to what Richtofen would soon achieve. His death, this memory… It meant nothing. Richtofen began to giggle, transitioning into a full-on fit while his other self lay covered in blood just a few feet away.


    His cackling echoed off the castle walls as they slowly began to fade away, revealing that Richtofen was now within the laboratory again. There was a heaviness in his chest, and he could barely stand on his own legs. He glanced around towards the test subjects, all lying still as they were before. On the central platform, the Vril Rod emitted a single burst of energy which flew into the air, before falling back down towards the urn placed nearby.


    Richtofen hobbled over towards the urn, peering inside at the bright blue essence contained within.


    For the final step in creating the Elemental Shard, Richtofen removed a drill from his tools, cutting a tiny hole into the 115 rock. He pulled the life essence into the injector, now a liquid-like substance, then carefully emptied it into the rock.


    The blue ore of the rock shone brightly, and it soon began to float into the air. Richtofen stepped back, watching the process take place. The entire rock was compressed by the bright blue glow, so bright he could not look at it directly. With a flash of light, the heat returned, giving Richtofen a momentary burning sensation. All the glass in the room shattered, from scientific instruments to the windows. The light was blinding; Edward could see it through his eyelids despite keeping them closed.


    Nearly a minute passed before the light began to dim, and Edward could finally gaze upon his creation. What was once a processed rock of 115 now appeared as a beautiful, blue shard of glass.


    As Richtofen gazed into it, he saw light and darkness, the forces of good and evil fighting for the fate of the universe. All of time, many times, a menagerie of life and death, both constant and withering. The past, the present, the future, all existing at once. Whirlwind storms, hellish rings of fire. Souls asking to be freed, mirrors to step through. The Aether, in all its glory.


    Now, Edward, you finally see your potential. Power beyond your imagination. Your eternal reward awaits you.


    Edward fell to his knees, “I know now what I must do.”

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