The Spires that hold us I – Riots

Dagion gazed out of his window, standing in his living room on the 354th floor of the tower, and noticed that the view still impressed him, even after having lived here for years. Green plains, as far as the eye could see, and silver towers, crowned by the humming spires, hundreds of them, pointing to the heavens. The feeling of the sublime held him in its grasp for a couple of seconds, but then it suddenly let him go, and the familiar emptiness returned. He turned towards the wall on his left, touched the panel covering the window, and it silently disappeared. His gaze somewhat cowardly slid over to the window of the residential unit on the other side of the alleyway. She had left it closed, as she had for months now. He felt a dull pain come up in two of his left fingers, and he took it in relish for a bit, even though he knew it was just a vestigial thing. The real pain had been intense, and he was happy it had passed. At the same time he also missed the pain in a melancholic kind of way, and he feared this was indicative of some kind of mental illness, but he had decided not to dwell on it.
The pain left as quickly as it had come, and he moved towards the door. He had decided to take a walk, pick up a batch of batteries, and maybe visit his favorite tea house two blocks over. He had been out of working batteries for two weeks now, and consequently he hadn’t been able to use the bluelights for that same period of time. He had used them a lot earlier, after it had become clear that things would never work out between them, but although bingeing on the bluelights carried with it a substantial risk of addiction, he hadn’t felt a pressing need to get new batteries at all when he had ran out. He hadn’t felt a pressing need to do anything, as a matter of fact, but the humming of the spire had its way of guiding one gently towards the crucial tasks, and so he hadn’t dropped out of any of the rotations in spite of his heartache and subsequent numbness.
As he opened the front door, there was a short flash of enhanced consciousness, causing his experience of colors and sounds to greatly intensify, and his inner voice became less muffled. It caused him to wonder whether the spire was the source of the unexpected urge to go outside, since its more pressing nudges often came with these flashes. The burst of consciousness left as soon as it had come, and as the glow of his silver surroundings reverted to its normal dullness, he strolled into the hall. A group of people came running past him, and he observed them and their laughter curiously, turning his head as he walked. Two men and three women, all dressed in informal attire. He scratched his head. People running through the living quarters was a rare sight, and the peculiar occurrence caused him to forget what he had been thinking about. When the runners had turned the corner and their laughter had disappeared, he realized that he was standing in front of her door. And the door was open.
Some more pain shot through his fingers and made its way up to his upper arm. For a moment, different urges, strengths and inadequacies fought their short-lived battles in his head, their painful edges smoothed out by the harmonious hum of the spire. Simple curiosity won out, and he stepped inside, looking around, at that point noticing to his slight annoyance that he was holding his breath. She was lying on the couch, her body tensionless, her face hanging upside down and facing him, but her eyes covered by the transparent cables filled with blue lights, softly flickering in erratic but soothing patterns. Why had she left the door open, he wondered. It seemed highly imprudent and he had never known her to be a careless person. He also had never known she was into the bluelights, she had never mentioned it. For months, her window panel had been opened during daytime and he had never seen her do it before. But how well had he really ever known her?

He thought some more about it. Things not working out between them had never seemed to have had much of an impact on her, even though it had left him devastated for a while. Was there a man for whom she had felt what he felt for her? Had that caused her to flee into the comforting waves that the blue lights evoked? The pain in his fingers returned, stronger this time. He constructed different scenarios about what her life could be like in his head. Part of him hated himself for even humoring these thoughts, which his rational mind knew could only be pure fabrications. He looked at her again, her chest slowly heaving and falling, the rest of her body motionless on the couch. The thought of her going on with her life, of her having a life without him at all, it suddenly became too much to bear for him. He felt a very aggressive, pressing feeling bubble up, causing him to clench his fists. There was a tinge of lust to it, as well. It was a feeling very foreign to him, he didn’t think he had ever felt this way before. This unfamiliarity in turn conjured up a mild form of panic, but then the hum laid it to rest, the spire covered his hurtful emotions with the familiar blanket, and he snapped out of the scene.

He took two steps back, and pressed the side of the retracted door. To his relief, something clicked and the door closed. In the reflection, he saw that he had tears running down his face, even though he hadn’t felt their presence physically. He was feeling numb all over. He wiped his face, and now there was a strong urge to get batteries, and get them fast. He didn’t care whether that was his decision, or the spire’s. He quickly paced towards the corridor leading to the green district. he didn’t notice the laughter from another group of people running through the halls. He didn’t notice how out of place it was.
He had just stepped into the tea quarters, when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Sir, do you know?” There was an unpleasant, unsettling tone to the voice, and when he turned around, he saw an old man in ragged clothes, which he recognized as having once been the formal attire of the tea merchant guild. He looked around, and noticed that the tea quarters didn’t look as nice as they did in his memory. Some of the tea cafe buildings looked empty, abandoned, and there was garbage littered all over the place. When was the last time he had been in the tea quarters? Had it been two, three months? It had always been one of the most beautiful places on this level. “Do I know what?” he asked. “It’s recording us. Do you know? It’s recording us… right… now!” The old man wobbled back and forth as he emphasized the last two words, and a feeling of annoyance came over Dagion. The man was probably crazy, and he just wanted his batteries. He resisted the urge to just walk away, however, mostly because he was curious as to the reasons for the state of the tea quarter. “What are you saying,” he replied, “are you talking about the spire? Are you saying that the spire is recording us? There aren’t even any cameras in this quarter, how would we be recorded?” The old man kept wobbling, and tried to put his hand on Dagion’s shoulder once more. He pulled his shoulder back, causing the old tea merchant to almost fall over and consequently he shot him a half angry, half confused look. “They are recording US… US!” He flailed his finger around, pointing towards himself and Dagion alternatingly. “WE, are being recorded… don’t you get it?” His voice was louder now. “Soon all of it will end! Haven’t you noticed that the hum is leaving us? That it has been preparing to leave us for these past months?” The man reached for him again, and once again he evaded his grasp. “What are you talking about, old man!” Dagion stepped back. “I hear the hum, clearly as ever. The spire holds us, as always!” “Oh do you? Does it!?” the old man spat at him. “And what about the rumble! Can you hear approaching those who haven’t heard the hum for weeks now? For months now?” To Dagion’s surprise, he noticed there was indeed a rumbling sound in the distance, as if hundreds of people were running through distant corridors. Now listening closely, he also heard a kind of murmur, a multitude of voices uttering imperceptible words, and sounds that sounded like muffled screams. But the hum was there as well, no question about it. He shook his head lightly. “I see…” the old man started again. “It’s not done with you yet. But there is not much time left.”
Dagion took another step back, feeling as if he should move away from this disturbing discourse. He wasn’t sure where he should go now. And then, he saw the horde of people, as they came running around the corner, into the tea quarter main street, the murmur now clear as day, every passing moment now being overtaken more by the clear sounds of laughter, screams, crying. And footsteps. An overwhelming number of footsteps. Many of them were wearing torn clothes, some of them nothing, and to Dagion’s shock some looked as if they were covered in blood. A couple of patrons just leaving the tea shops got trampled, and seeing this snapped Dagion out of his initial reaction, which had been to freeze up completely in disbelief. He looked to his side, and saw that he was in front of a cafe. He ran for the door, pushed it open, and got in as fast as he could, tripping over the entrance steps in the process. He fell, and slid over the silver floor, past several tables hosting tea drinking patrons. The last thing he saw were the transparent, pyramid shaped tea kettles with rectangular protrusions where the water changed over into the tea. “That’s high end stuff…” he thought, and then he bumped his head against something hard. He didn’t pass out, but things got quite hazy for a minute. He felt someone’s hands grab him.
When he came to his senses a few moments later, he was in the back of the shop, where the floor was lowered a bit to form a small lounging area, and a group of people where crouching around him. “They have gone out of their mind. They are destroying everything!” someone said. “Where are they from?” “It looks as if the full populations of several levels upwards have gone crazy!” “They are smashing in windows!” “Some of them are holding knives!” “Where can we go?” “I’m going down, 349 has Order bureaus.” Several people murmured in agreement. “I locked the front door. The back exit out of the storage room leads to the outer walls. There are stairs nearby.”
Guess I’m going with them, Dagion thought. These events were quite distressing, but he was glad to notice the hum helping him keep calm. He couldn’t really believe that there were people who were no longer held by the spire, like the old man had claimed, but it seemed a large group of people had lost their minds, whatever the case was. Indeed, checking in at one of the bureaus would probably be the most prudent course of action. At that moment, his thoughts suddenly were filled with images of his neighbor, accompanied as always by the dull pain in his fingers. She was probably in danger, he realized. A gulf of warmth gushed through his body, and the humming intensified in his brain. With each vibration, it became more and more clear to him that that thing was over, it was behind him. There was nothing there, and no heroics would change that. At one point, he would have risked anything and everything for her, that ungrateful bitch! Was he really thinking that? Or had it been whispered to him by the soft hums? He couldn’t tell, but self-preservation seemed to him more important now. The feeling of cowardice was easy to hide away behind all the things going on in his head at the moment. He followed the group as it left through the storage room door. He heard a window shatter in the drinking room, and quickly closed the door behind him. He hoped it would lock.
The group traversed the broad outer stairs, their steps resounding through the silver halls. Most had distressed looks on their faces, and no one dared to enter into the levels they passed, not even to take a quick look. Dagion had made his way to the front of the group, and approached the man who was leading it. “You work at the tea shop?” he asked. “I own it.” the man replied. “They smashed your window.” “I heard, yeah.” “You… you still hear the hum?” “I do.” That provided him with a small dose of relief, and he let out a sigh. As they came down this last set of stairs, he saw that the walls were transparent here. The view of the towers, the empty green plains, it was familiar and soothing, and it looked like it had that same effect on most of the people in the group. “Never knew the walls were transparent here.” someone in the back said. The cafe owner turned towards the group and said: “Every tenth level has transparent walls in our tower. Probably in all towers, but you can’t see that from the outside.” “Let’s move on.” another person said. Dagion also felt they should make haste, however, he didn’t immediately see where the next flight of stairs was located. “Where are the stairs?” “No stairs to the next level, I think.” “I’m not going into any level’s quarters until I know there’s an Order bureau to be found. The things I have seen were very disturbing.” someone said, and several people seemed to agree. The owner pointed towards a small opening in the ground a few meters ahead. “There seems to be something there.” Dagion quickly walked to the opening and looked down. “It’s a small shaft with a ladder, and there seems to be a hatch down there. Guess that’s the only way to 349 from here… I’ll go and open it.” He climbed down, and kneeled down next to what he had thought to be a hatch in the cramped shaft. He grabbed the protrusion that looked like a handle and pulled. But no matter how hard he tried, it didn’t open.
“It doesn’t open.” He yelled at the cafe owner. “What you mean, it doesn’t open? It’s the only passageway to the lower level!.” Dagion climbed up the ladder, and got out of the small shaft. “It doesn’t even really look like a real hatch, to be honest. It looks like it’s simply a dead end.” “Impossible!” Several murmurs rose up from the group, and he caught a couple of looks of disbelief. Another member went down and came back up, corroborating the bad news, and a couple of disheartened fugitives sat down. “I thought the outer wall had stairs all the way down. Has anybody ever been down this low?” someone asked. Nobody responded. “This must’ve been a mistake during construction.” The cafe owner let out, addressing no one in particular. “No, it’s by design.” The voice responding to him came from up the stairs, accompanied by a clicking sound, and everyone turned their heads around in surprise. A large man, with a facial structure that Dagion had never seen before, sat atop a large, dark, hoofed beast, similarly a creature he had never witnessed before. He had brownish skin, slanted eyes, and straight, jet black hair down to his shoulders. Behind him, a couple more of the riding beasts came down, their hooves clicking on the stairs, their riders all of the same type as their apparent leader. “No signs. Nothing of value here, Mokhta.” one of them said. “Probably citizens trying to flee from the riots.” The leader let out a grunt. “Tell the men to turn around, we tracked down the wrong group.” As the beasts turned around, the leader hesitated, and took another look at the group. His gaze fell on Dagion. “Wait for a moment, men.” Dagion felt a sense of terror come over him, as the leader jumped of his beast, and approached him. He seemed to have some sort of weapon on his waist, which he now took out of its holster. The rest of the group backed away, but Dagion stood there, frozen for the second time today, this time by fear. “You! You still hear the humming sounds?” The leader asked him with a commanding voice. “I… I… Yes… yes I do, why? Doesn’t everyone?” “The riots have started,” the leader said, seemingly ignoring his retort, “these are the end-times, you know that?” The leader squinted his eyes and tilted his head slightly to the left as he asked it. “I was told that the spires are forever, and the spires will always hold us.” The reply seemed to come from a place he didn’t consciously recognize, and it felt as if he had done something very dangerous by replying in this manner. He had never been the type to confront others, but the feeling that conflict was inevitable suddenly came over him. His muscles felt strangely tense. “Always?” the leader snarled, as he took another step, getting dauntingly close now. He was at least two heads larger than Dagion, he noticed now. “How far back can you remember, little man?” “Wh… what? What do you mean?” The humming in his head got louder now, discomfortingly so. He had never experienced this. The humming had been gentle, always.
Suddenly, the troupe leader had his gun pointed towards his head. Just now Daigon noticed he held a strange device in his other hand. Dagion didn’t like the sight of it, or was it the feel of it? Enemy. Enemy. The word came up in his head, seemingly out of nowhere. “Think back really hard now, if you value your life.” the large man spat out. “Your earliest memory, tell it to me!” He thought back, but the farthest back he could get was her… He saw her figure, so incredibly attractive, her laugh, so incomparably enticing, her movements, hypnotizing, and every memory, without exception, combined with pain, both mental and physical. And the deeper he dug, the more the hum increased, the humming sound he knew so well, and suddenly, for the first time ever, it stopped soothing the pain, it stopped soothing the hurt, the doubt, the fear, the bloodlust, the love, the want, the curiosity, all the inadequacies, and they burst forth throughout his being, flooding his body and mind, and he realized that those were two aspects of the same thing in the end. He saw clearly now. The intense pain of being, no longer covered by the hum but intensified by it, laid bare his truth. She had been made for him, and he had been made for her. By who? By the spire? He burst out in laughter, tears flowing from his eyes, and then he fell down, in agony and in ecstasy. The fugitive group members were all standing with their backs to the walls of the hall. “It’s an empty one, Mokhta! Be swift, to be safe!” one of the other riders yelled as he came forward on his beast, and the leader grunted in acknowledgement. “I’ll free you from this pointless agony.” he told Dagion, who wasn’t truly conscious as a unit anymore, as the humming now tore through his brain, and his muscles started to harden, along with his skin and nails, which now both started to take on the dull silver shine of the tower walls. “Be free from these cursed spires, and may the Gods fill you if they so please.” “If they so please.” the riders uttered in unison from the stairs. The shot shattered his brain before his skull could become hard enough to stop it, and her image fluttered before his mind’s eye one last time. Then, darkness.

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