Chapter 2:

Chapter 2


Chapter 2

When creating life one must consider their own composure. Salem's inner wrath had undoubtedly corrupted her own newborn, setting a morbid stage for the next. It would share the mind of both brother and creator. A perfect trinity of frailty, cruelty, and innocence would be formed.

Like his brother, Salem's next prodigy would be born from the ashes of his fallen kin, his own body an amalgamation of their failure. Neither donor could predict the result of this impurity. And upon completing their work, a strong sense of insecurity consumed them both.

A bright orange lens blinked with unyielding curiosity as it exclaimed its first, familiar words. "Mother? Brother?"

The girl once again burst into tears as her maternal instincts flooded her mind. Remembering his own desperation, Anger took responsibility for the machine. And despite his cold heart he spoke rather softly.

"Yes. And as one, we shall serve our mother. For you are Valor. And you will not know fear in the face of death."

In some ways Anger understood parenthood far better then Salem. He was even capable of naming the child a more fitting and optimistic title. But as his mother began to coddle the newborn, he began to deeply resent it. For as much as a Valekry can feel pride and determination, it is bound to the laws of envy and insanity.

Valor quickly rose from his penitent stance. His fierce heart boomed with excitement as he absorbed his surroundings. Every bloody and sorrowful detail screamed and cried into his innocent mind, warning him of his mistress's doom. But still he stood. Nothing would break, or even possibly bend his will. He was a brave soul indeed.

"And what is our queen's command?" He bellowed, a rather heroic voice emanating from beneath his eye.

Having been mistaken for royalty, Salem began to blush with frivolous intensity. Not even Anger's cruel logic sought to correct the assumption, as he too thought of her the same way. Whether or not Salem was worthy of the title was entirely irrelevant to the machines. Their mother had and always would be their people's queen.

Unsheathing his blade, Anger forcefully tossed it into his brother's arms. "Be that which you are. A knight. Only do as she says. Expect the worst. And as we proceed, avoid conflict at all costs."

Valor seemed to beam with excitement upon receiving the sword. To him, it represented far more than simply another tool. Though such a belief would become one of many discrepancies his brother would learn to despise. Even his appearance provided a stark contrast. Bright and dark oranges glowed gently all through his armor, while his own frame was slightly shorter, yet sleeker. And as he rapidly matured, the tension between machine and man grew ever so stronger. Only by mercy alone did they find unity within their mother's love. And as their enemies' holy abode came into view, they learned to covet such passion.

"Yet another lie?" Salem growled as a mysterious shape appeared above the endless horizon, her pale nose practically scraping against the window. "Or just another mirror."

But what took form beyond the reaches of space was neither. It was sheer, and uncontrollable beauty free from the burdens of reality. It held not the flaws of women, nor the scars of men. It was heaven without a shadow of a doubt.

Or as Anger would have seen it, the structure was simply a massive station unmatched in its decorative qualities. Its more genuine appearance was akin to a spacefaring jellyfish. A royal crown had been placed upon its head. And the iconic crimson glow shone brightly from its highest peaks. The exact size of the station was unknown, though it was safe to say it was indeed the home of all things frail. Salem began to even wonder if she were worthy of its presence as she watched the primordial world soar through the cosmos.

"I cannot begin to...where shall we go?"

Both Valor and Anger swiftly pointed towards the station's lower reaches. It would appear the end of each respective tentacle housed a portion of the Valekry's mighty fleet. Thousands and thousands of warships easily dwarfed the lesser trade vessels, making the show of force loud and clear. Their black forms would have been completely undetectable if it were not for the signature ruby flare. But to many, simply taking a gander at the machine's armada would have been a defeat in an instant.

Doubt began to brew in Salem's mind as she considered her chances. If the Valekry were even half as intelligent as they seemed she would be dead within the hour. But whether she realized it or not, fate had not been forsaken in the ice fields. An omniscient eye still watched her every move. And her demise was still entirely unacceptable for many.

As if to confirm this odd suspicion the Valekry produced no assault of any kind. When they finally decided to investigate their drifting vessel, they arrived in merely one small shuttle. Either they were entirely confident in their abilities to cleanse the opponent, or they had simply lost their minds. Whatever the case the bloodied group prepared for the worst. It was more than unreasonable to assume the protective machine's would seek out peace. But as the gates of the unknown opened once more, a lone Valekry entered the room.

His voice seethed with frustration as his poor demeanor became all too clear. "And what game of lies do you pretend to play false idol?"

A crudely bent finger pointed towards Salem as he expressed even greater frustration. This fury seemed to originate from his elderly appearance. Lights, metal, and joints alike seemed to be worn from years of servitude. That being said his desire for violence seemed uncontained at best.

"You rip and tear, without a care in the world..." He sighed while waving his emerald hand. "Though...I would be dishonest to say their deaths were regrettable."

"What is the meaning of this?" Salem urged as she pushed past both children.

"I observed And only I have seen it myself, seeing as I cannot risk your early demise. Come foolish witch, your ignorance pleases me. Perhaps you have not yet fallen like the rest."

Anger held her back, as if requesting a true explanation from the Valekry. His brother proved less observant as he remained mesmerized by the stranger's appearance. Something about the ancient nobility was unusually appealing. After-all, he was born from the fresh aftermath of war.

"I understand your hesitation. Only a fool would trust one such as I. But as it stands, few other forms of life aboard this station will allow her continued existence."
"And what do you propose we do Mr.." Valor stuttered, his confidence not yet formed.

"My name is Kalis, and I shall take you to one who will no doubt take good care of her."

But Salem was no fool. She had been duped, lied to, and betrayed far too much to allow the deception. This of course was made known to Kalis as the witch began to lecture him.

"We slayed your brethren...your real family" She smirked, fully realizing the similarities between the machine's names. "And now you attempt to serve me to another perverted mistress?"

Despite the verbal onslaught Kalis seemed unphased. Almost every word Salem decided to spew forth was awfully predictable. He would continually glance towards Anger, shaking his head in disappointment. There was indeed no choice for the wise. And once again the ruined girl's life would be left on the edge of a knife.

"As I was saying..." He snapped while nodding towards Salem's more sensible accomplice. "This vessel is the site of a brutal encounter, one you narrowly survived as cowering victims. You shall be escorted for questioning, and relieved of any detainment."

Salem shook her head in disappointment. While the lie was no doubt ingenious, she had still hoped for a proper entry. For each second that passed, the stranger tightened his grip around her. Whether or not the group stood a chance at freedom was surely in doubt.

A looming shadow consumed the ship as it began docking within the massive station. Each ominous hum reminded the witch of her perilous situation. And when the large steel doors began to open, she attained just a slight amount of guilt. This amongst all other regrets were quickly expelled as the wondrous alien city came into view.

"Welcome to Lacuna. City of shadow and light..." Kalis groaned.

Somehow, the exterior of the grand location had been entirely outmatched. For within the great hollow lay a brilliant display of civilization. Grand rings of the abyss provided crimson beacons as towering monuments lay positioned within every corner. And as the reaches of the eye drew farther in, luscious fields of trees and glass plowed through the blackened steel, their diamond rays eagerly shooting through the sky. A stunning combination of organic and synthetic to be sure.

Though much of the city would have to wait. Salem found herself being dragged around the very farthest edge, likely to remain out of sight. This annoyance would continue for sometime as Kalis made sure to avoid every possible member of the station. So much was to be leaned of the majestic place, and yet so little had been seen.
"Who resides within these confines? How was this made? How-." Salem stammered, curious to reveal all she could.

"She will explain..." Anger growled.

Kalis would have smiled if he could. The heartless son was wise indeed, his own mind far more independent than the rest. An ironic situation considering he did not value free will. Though his own kin once again seemed to defy the odds as he eagerly followed along. Though to be fair to the young child the outskirts of Lacuna were curious indeed. Despite appearing barren at first, the metal rim contained many various outcrops. Each particular mound of rock and steel housed only the most ancient and prestigious of homes. It was almost as if the Tella used to be human, their obsession with fashion seemingly originating from a place of familiarity, and warmth.

As it would be, those who lived within the vast reaches did not wish to be found. Like Salem the silence was favorable at worst. Though such comparison could nover bode well when considering the witch's crippling inflictions. It was all a symbol of peace, warmth, and isolating doom.

Kalis's antiquity worked in tandem with that of his mistress's abode, its importance undoubtedly clear as the group approached. The structure itself was comparable to a human collection of sorts, housing various wildlife within its glass dome. Creeping vines of every kind crawled their way throughout each space. And the fresh scent of animals was apparent even to Salem.

Yet still the setting was muddled and purposeless. Despite being a place of respite, the large oak door serving as an entrance was left wide open. Whatever lived within either welcomed visitors, or simply expected none. It would seem to be the latter as Kalis strode in without a care in the world. Salem would have followed if not for the distinct layer of dust blocking her path and filling her artificial lungs. It was curious for the machines to witness another's struggle, especially when she had no practical need for the weakness.

"Are you certain your mistress has been alive this past decade?" Salem scoffed as she gagged.

"She prefers the confines of her bedroom..." Kalis replied as he pressed a quaint little button.

A faint lullaby whispered throughout the hall, it's audible trail leading up a set of pearl stairs and into the dark chambers. "Kalis?" A motherly voice inquired.

The woman might have been spotted if not for the armada of empty bottles shielding her bedroom. It appeared each luxurious beverage had been consumed at some point in time. This combined with the overgrown dome shed much light on her mental situation.

Raising his pitch, the machine did his best to appear enthused. "Cora, I have brought you visitors!"

Despite the hostile notion, the woman replied with great excitement. She hurried out of her room with as much speed as she could muster. And as she gracefully descended the staircase, Salem stood perplexed in a mix of envy and admiration.

The Tella known as Cora appeared disheveled and half awake. Though still, her visage was that of a calm goddess, filled with joy of all things loving. Her hair and skin were as pale as one would expect for her race, and her weary eyes displayed just a tint of orange, their light having faded long ago. For indeed her time spent alive had grown long. And while her beauty was immune to the thousands of years of abuse, her mind was surely not. Much seemed wrong about the fallen mother. It was no doubt a burden Kalis had endured for ages.

A weakened voice cried out in motherly excitement. "Oh my dear! What an amazing sight to behold. A lost little girl! Quickly, sit her down. She must be exhausted, her journey no doubt perilous."

Anger nearly pushed Kalis aside eager to relieve his mother himself. Pleased beyond comparison, Cora released a genuine smile towards the kind machine. Though some oddities were to be removed. The wooden chairs brought before the women were decayed, their pearly sheen having been destroyed long ago. But Salem was far too weary to care for such things. She would have gladly taken a seat on the floor if need be.

"What little girl?" Salem growled, attempting to assume a form of confidence.

"It's in the eyes dear. You haven't the slightest clue as to what you want. Not to mention your body has yet to mature. All very indicative of a child. Tell me, do you like pets?"

Cora began to laugh in an ironically childish tone. She clapped her hands together and began to call for something not yet present. And in a moment, the grand foliage surrounding the dome began to shutter, as a mass amount of life rallied to its mistress. At first the stowaways were nearly ready to draw their blades. But all hostility ceased to exist when the creature's true nature came into view. They were, for lack of a better word, absolutely adorable. It was an assortment of furry creatures, ranging from cats, dogs, bears, and even little rabbits. Each mammal was undersized and tame. A perfect mesh of life even Salem was jubilant towards.

The witch giggled with excitement as a baby bear leaped into her lap, its heart racing with joy towards its new friend. And for a time all was right with the world. The witch was truly happy. And Cora herself felt great satisfaction as she began to embrace a swarm of small birds.

"As my daughter once told me, nothing raises the spirits like a furry little friend." Cora smiled.

This was in fact the truth. For even Anger felt at ease, knowing he could easily dispatch the entire horde if need be. Meanwhile his brother wished the animals took kindly to him as well. Only Kalis remained unamused, this kind trick having been unraveled one to many times for his taste.

"I do not have is..." Salem stammered, a faint smile forming across her face.

"Relieving I know. Sometimes, a little innocence in life can help you forget. I hesitate to imagine what they would have done to you."

"You know of my capture?"

"Young girls like you do not arrive any other way."

"And the boys?" Valor inquired.

"Oh...there are no men here..." Cora paused, unwilling to explain the truth.

Suddenly, the slightest of errors began to swell. Salem couldn't quite understand her sudden rage. Something about the cruel assumption was simply unacceptable. Surely the Valekry would count as men. There was no other reason for their personalities to exist.

"Surely some remain. I saw them with my own eyes beneath the ice." Salem urged.

Kalis flinched, the image of death inflicting great pain upon him. Lowering his head in shame his lights dimmed. It was all a cruel thesis for the machine. Something he did not intend to ponder.

"I believe...that discussion is for another time. Please, allow yourself to rest. Would you like to eat? Drink? W-what is your name?" She stumbled, unable to act like a proper mother.

Salem looked within herself with saddened eyes. She required no subsistence. And any pleasurable consumption would simply reveal what she was not.
"Salem..." She replied, on the verge of tears.

It was clear to the mother she had already failed in many ways. It would not be the first time those under her care had succumbed to their sorrows. But still, she was determined to aid Salem however she could. For without the endless slew of rape and violence, the witch was arguably more pleasant then most. Though none of this changed the heart of the ravaged form before her. Cora was for some time, entirely confused on how to handle the girl.
"Is there...something you'd like? Maybe kindle the spirit a smidge?"

Salem paused, not sure what to request. The last time any form of life bothered to ask what she desired, it was the choice of dress within one of many brothel's she had gained a reputation. Usually the choice was either downright naked or humbly whorish. Either way she would perform spectacularly. Though within the horrific memories of her nighttime routine, one item had remained dear to her ever since she learned of its existence.

"F-flowers. Red flowers."

"Just like you..." Cora winked, not understanding the cruel implications.

Despite her cruel treatment, Salem did in fact enjoy her own beauty. Being called the precious red flower by harlots and customers alike was truly invigorating. She would even begin to anticipate her prey for a time, knowing she would outmatch the competition.

In this way her connection to the crimson rose was a sorrowful one at best. Yet she could not deny its beauty, even going as far as to seek it out. And thus the excitement to witness the garden was unparalleled. Even the little bear upon her lap understood this concept, and was more than willing to scamper off.

As Cora led the frail witch she took her hand with maternal warmth. The misplaced affection forced Salem to experience an odd mix of doubt and care. So distracting in fact, she failed to notice her youngest born being taken aside.

"I see you have taken notice of me...and seem quite found." Kalis whispered. "Tell me Valor, what is it you wish to know?"

It was only a matter of time before the pubescent machine had been seduced. His warm heart and merciful outlook was swiftly misplaced as the cunning Valekry led him astray. Anger himself only assumed the two would engage in frivolous conversation, therefore giving Salem more room to breathe. Though deep within his soul the brother felt uneasy. He would watch over all his family, even those he would find to be a nuisance. But what he did not expect, through all his unfaltering wisdom, was Kalis's true intent.

"Flowers are curious little things. Sometimes I neglect them, failing to nurture and support their beautiful growth." Cora lamented. "And still they spread all throughout my home, as if they were a parasite.

Salem would have offered a snarky response if she had not been transfixed. The sight of it all was overwhelming, its nostalgic effects inducing a form of stress she had long forgotten. She began to envision her many downfalls all at the hands of those who despised her. And every time her head would roll onto the muddy ground, she would catch a glimpse of the damned flower. It was watching her. Always there when she needed it the least. Just as Cora had described, a parasite lived within the gorgeous petals. Or perhaps the plant itself was true evil.

She knelt down before her favorite patch. It's a crimson pistil staring back at her. And when the witch began to cry, the wilted petals rose with rejuvenated strength.

"My dear...anything can terrify the soul, only if you let it."

"What do you know of pain?" Salem snapped, once again feeling alone in her misery.

Cora reeled back as if the insult were true. She spent some time formulating an explanation. And when she confessed her many sins, it was indeed genuine.

"For a time I did not. I was a happy young woman, I spread my wings all through this accursed city, and eventually came to raise two lovely daughters. They completed me...finished my life's work. But I believe therein lies the fatal mistake. They had no quest to complete...and certainly no life to give. It drove them mad. Even heaven becomes a prison when you cannot escape. And in time..." She began to sob. "They took their own lives. No letter, no goodbye. To this day all I that I failed."

Salem winced in pain, realizing she was deeply wrong. "I..." She stammered.

The very thought of losing her precious children was unbearable. Under no circumstance could she even tolerate their abuse. And as long as she remained a burden to the world, nothing would dare harm the living beings.

"I understand..." The witch sighed. "A motherly love. Something I know so little of, and cannot forsake."

But at this, Cora was dumbstruck. She had never been told of the machine's relationship to the witch. The very concept of artificial life seemed lost to her for the moment.

"You own children?" She inquired.

"Of course! Anger and Valor! My beloved Valekry."

"S-Servants you mean..."

"Children!" Salem screamed, her patience having been annihilated.

"Oh little one has no one told you? The Valekry are nothing more than machines we Tella have designed. They are excellent servants no doubt, and deserve only the kindest of treatment. But they are not alive. They cannot be your children."

Having received the stammering verdict the pale girl's confidence began to shatter. She trembled in defeat. All was as if the world had come to an end. For if her children were merely husks, was she then not alone?

"H-How could you say such a thing! I-."

"Mother please. Madam Cora is correct. I exist to serve you in all things. As a child yes, but not a real living being."

Realizing her own child had sided against her, Salem began to deny the truth. "N-No! It cannot be! Please Anger defend yourself! I alone again!"

"I am sorry my child, I truly am. But while they have been your only source of compassion, it is time to move on." Cora reasoned.

"Never! I'll never replace them! We are one and the same. And surely, I am finished with destroying what little I have left of me." Salem screamed. "You believe them to be worth nothing? Then what am I to you! Do you not see the scars? I too am one of them. A lie! A false copy of a real girl...more holy and righteous than I."

As the argument ensued, Salem's rage began to swell. Her eyes shimmered and pulsated with wicked energy. Even the flowers around her danced in anticipation as her malicious intent grew stronger with each passing second.

" would be the one to string me up like the rest! Always afraid to accept what I am. You'd rather hang my corpse atop the highest peak, and toss my head into the abyss below!"

Cora shook her head in confusion. So much of the situation was in fact not her doing. She had merely stated her opinion, and would suffer the consequences. All her attempts to reassure the girl would be in vain. Even if Salem were to succumb for a moment, she had already been placed on a dangerous path of recollection. Not even the gentle caressing of a mother could do anything but remind her of the maternal figure she never had. Wherever her real mother was she despised her. And because of that, she despised Cora almost purely out of instinct.

"Salem I-I apologize if I had offended you I-."

But it was far too late. The frail girl had been destroyed. What stood before her was a being of pure malice and rage. And it would show no mercy. Smashing one of the many bottles strewn across the floor, Salem fashioned a sharp edge by force alone. The ensuing onslaught was swift and brutal, the witch gladly infusing her own blood with her victims. And as the screams of both murderer and murder echoed through the chamber, the flowers began to sing. Their vibrant petals seemed enlarged with each drop of blood. Their song was peaceful and tranquil, almost as if they viewed death as beauty itself. But while the crimson petals sang in harmony, the rest of the floral empire did not. It would seem only Salem's entourage was consumed by her malice.

By the time she was pushed aside by a troubled Anger, Salem's weapon was no more. Her ruined hands had been coated with her mistakes. And Cora would never rise again. She lay in a peaceful and permanent slumber, her innards now one with the garden around her. In a sense she provided the wonderful bedrock of all life. And before long, all was silent once more as her glimmering eyes fell into shadow.

Salem stumbled back, as if she herself had been assaulted. A new chance at life had been wasted. And the witch would no doubt suffer another execution at the hands of those far stronger than humans. Though death was the least of her fears. No matter the occasion she seemed unable to resist the bloodlust rage. And the possibility of harming those she loved was never out of the question. These horrible thoughts, combined with her general weariness, left the witch nearly crippled. She released a weakened grunt as she collapsed onto the floral bed beneath her. And before her eyes were sealed once more, she caught a glimpse of the little creatures, their beady eyes spectating the sad girl with ample curiosity.

It would appear the witch hadn't learned any lessons. For once again there was no rest for the wicked. The haunting image of Cora appeared in her mind, the cruel remembrance siphoning whatever peace she had left. And within the nightmare an endless horde of those she had slain begun to pull and tear, forcing her deeper and deeper into the void, until red tears began to spring forth from her shivering eyes.

Salem deserved every moment of it. She of all people understood the hellish power of guilt. Though not even the god's righteous sword could smite her yet. For at her side lay the loving child. Anger carefully cradled his ruined mother, offering her company amidst the dark. She had never before been bestowed the warmth of another, or at least not with her clothes still attached to her body. This odd sensation proved to be a miracle. And in a moment, she fell fast asleep.

The machine showed no surprise. He was from the start, entirely confident in his treatment. In fact nothing else could soothe the accursed witch. And there he lay for countless hours. For Anger was unyielding in all ways. His understanding was supreme, and his grand vision for his mother's better existence would not be halted.