It was soon to be her turn. Although she'd disguised the fact from Makoto and the other visitors, she was still dependent on the PowerKey Staff. Without winding, she would eventually cease to function. She could have returned to the stasis chamber, to have preserved her existence... but, no. Standing before Yuba's neatly tended grave, she decided this was for the best. She no longer needed to guard the Trigger of Destruction, since it too had been destroyed, and with Yuba's passing she no further need, or desire, to continue existing.
She had wandered the empty halls of their lab, and their old living quarters, counting down the days until she no longer had to keep this lonely vigil. Now, nearly two months after Yuba's death and the end of Kalia, her time was at hand. Kneeling down on the soft earth, she looked up at the sun, still high in the sky. By the time it touched the horizon, she would no longer be able to move. Within days, she would have run out of energy altogether, beyond hope of reactivation -she would be dead. At last she would be able to join Yuba in the afterlife (of this she had no doubt -it was he who showed her that, artificial as she was, she did have a soul).
Lying the PowerKey Staff down across her knees, she reflected on how they first met, and how he'd freed her, the DemonGod Ifurita, from the bonds of her programming, and how they fell in love.
* * *
Yuba Yurias was a native of the Empire of Creteria, in a world and dimension quite apart from El-Hazard. A bright and ambitious youth, he'd advanced his way through the ranks of the Engineers Guild, becoming one of the many staff members who tended the Spring of Life, the source of Creteria's power. It was only much later that he understood that this Spring, an artifact from ancient times, was a dimensional furnace, the power source for a weapon known as the Eye of God.
Being young meant being delegated the rather crappy, even dangerous jobs that the others didn't want. The details of the accident are hazy at best, if accident it was (who was that strange, bug-eyed old man he imagined seeing?), but somehow he'd come into direct contact with that dimensional energy. All anyone saw was a body disintegrating in a flood of white light, no doubt assuming he was dead. In fact, he was only transported.
The world Yuba now found himself, El-Hazard, was very different from the cold tundra and ubiquitous factories of Creteria. Stranded in the middle of the desert, he wandered until he collapsed, saved from death only by the intervention of a passing caravan of nomads. They took him in, fed him, replaced his engineers overalls with proper tribal robes, and even taught him some of El-Hazard's lore. Yuba was obviously an outsider, but these people only assumed he was a foreigner from another land, not another world. It would have been nearly impossible to explain. But, once he'd come to realize there was no immediate hope of returning home, he began to look more and more like the tribesmen he travelled with. His skin naturally darkened, his sandy blonde hair grew long, and he cultivated the goatee beard that seemed extremely common in this land. Travelling the old spice roads, he took the opportunity to delve further into his studies of the ancients that once ruled El-Hazard .There were so many similarities between the technology of those old civilizations and that of ancient Creteria. Perhaps this world existed in parallel -from which it would follow that here too must be a Spring of Life, and thus a way home.
There were few clues. The Eye of God, this strange artificial satellite that hung low in the sky, was completely beyond reach. But there were some archaeological sites that offered hope, and there were rumours of ancient weapons left over from the war that wiped out this old civilization. He had now spent three years in El-Hazard, and had become weary and on the verge of defeat. He would certainly admit that the longer he lived here, the more agreeable it became, but he knew also that he didn't belong; it simply wasn't home. Or, perhaps the quest had become his only purpose in this new life. Regardless, he had reached the point of desperation. He'd begun to wander the most lonely and desolate of places, gradually cut off from the flow of society. Following the trail of some half-remembered clue, he walked into the barren steppes of the western mountains. His supply of water and rations dwindling, he became increasingly lost.
Then, he found the garden. Well, not so much 'found' as stumbled into. In any event, where there was once a stone wall was now an oasis of lush green trees and plants. Looking back, he could see the stretch of desert and rough mesas he'd travelled, tinted a subtle shade of blue, as though a translucent screen were in the way. It was easy to believe at that moment that he was hallucinating, a creation of his too fevered mind.
Picking his way through the brush, he soon came upon a pool of clear spring water. Only after kneeling down and plunging his face into the cool water did he realize this was indeed very real.
Unslinging his pack, Yuba sat on the grassy shore of the spring, examining his new surroundings with fresh clarity. However it was managed, this oasis existed in some sort of shielded isolation, unseen from the outside. Even the temperature felt cooler. And these plants, they weren't quite like anything he'd seen before in all of El-Hazard. There were the tell tale signs of wildlife too, of bird calls and insect chatter. But what really caught his attention was the short stone obelisk that sat not too far away. The more he looked, the more he realized that it wasn't stone at all, but some sort of smooth dull metal, lined with angular grooves. It was artificial, a relic.
Quickly rushing over to examine it, he gingerly touched the unblemished surface of the eight foot tall structure. Although he never understood why, he had an affinity for the technology of the ancients, a kind of biological sympathy. He could often divine something of their nature, if not re-activate them for a time. Having never had this ability before coming to this world, he could only assume it was a bizarre side effect of his dimensional journey. Closing his eyes in concentration, he endeavored to get some sense of this object, but ultimately there was no response. He only got the sensation of great weight, a heavy leaden feeling in his stomach. This must only be an incomplete fragment of something buried underground, something much larger.
Cutting a path through the tall grasses, Yuba could spy more of these obelisks, scattered about the landscape in a seemingly random order. He couldn't decide if they reminded him of tombstones, or great fangs sprouting from the earth. But it was when he discovered the shrine that his excitement truly crested. Cut into the side of a cliff, it's spired architecture was clearly a trademark of the ancients. And it was completely intact!
At first, the empty stone carved rooms he found within didn't offer much room for hope, nothing that could be connected to those dead relics outside. Then, his explorations finally bore fruit; a blue paneled door that was plainly marked with the eye symbol of the ancients. It was shut tight with no visible means of opening it, but just the touch of his hand was enough to re-activate the long dormant circuitry, causing it to glide smoothly up into the ceiling. A long electrically lit corridor led to what appeared to be a small control room, rather like that of the Spring of Life. Nothing was operating, not a single display lit, but it was clear to see that they could. However, it was what he found in the next room that nearly stopped him in his tracks -a body.
She was encased in what was best described as a glass casket, set on a raised dais. Her dress was something akin to tight fitting pajamas, with a short sleeved open front tunic and long gloves, all set in light violet and black colours. Her skin was so pale and white that at first he thought she must be a corpse, but on closer inspection he realized otherwise. Her hair was long was long and wild, off-white as if perhaps she might have albinism, but that too didn't seem to be the case. Her skin had the smooth flat shine of something inorganic, liked glazed clay or porcelain. And surely no corpse could have remained intact for so long a time. So, she was a statue then? A religious icon, or some life sized doll created in the image of a once important figurehead. She was certainly beautiful enough, her face quite placid in it's state of perpetual slumber. Gently touching the glass with his fingertips, he was surprised to feel the thrum of power, followed by a high pitched audible whine. White lines of light came to life on the dais, and some unseen mechanism could be heard clicking into place.
Yuba stepped back, unsure of what he'd set into motion. The dais slowly lowered until the top was level with the floor. A circular panel in the ceiling snapped open, and a long ornate rod thrust down, hanging like a spike. It was at least as tall as he was, it's shaft primarily steel grey, with twin crystal blue orbs set near the lower end. The bottom was shaped vaguely like a handle, though it's appearance also reminded him of an axe blade.
When nothing further happened, Yuba felt safe to approach once again. He glanced from the hanging rod to the casket, feeling there must be some connection between the two.
"Only one way to find out," he murmured to himself.
Taking hold of the rod by it's stylized handle, he again felt the surge of power as it responded. The blue orbs crackled with electric light, and then the whole assemblage came loose from it's mooring in the ceiling. It was heavy enough that it nearly bowled him over. But, this was only the first stage in this new set of reactions. With a very quiet hum, the glass panels of the casket slid away into the body of the altar. Then, just as silently, the woman was lifted by unseen means until she was standing on her feet before him. She was still locked in that state of unreal sleep, only now she was erect, hands dangling at her sides rather than folded over her chest. She was so life-like, he half expected her to awake at any moment.
Just what did it all mean? Clutching the heavy metallic staff he'd liberated, Yuba walked slowly around the figure. It was nearly a foot taller than he was, with a shape that would be considered voluptuous if she were a real woman. There were a few other details he hadn't noticed before. Even though she was wearing long black gloves, her feet were incongruously bare. What he originally thought was an ornate headband, with a backward facing gauze veil, he saw now was integral to her head. Mounted with two half-spheres, the red metal was grooved in a way that suggested the head of a screw. A very strange artistic choice, he wondered why she'd been given such an obviously artificial feature when the rest of her appeared so human? Unless there was more to her purpose than pure ornamentation. The implication took hold of him; could she too be part of the machinery?
Gingerly touching the cool surface of her cheek, he mentally braced himself for a reaction. Nothing overt happened, but there was no question he could detect some latent power within her. The potential behind that power was so deep, it was looking down into a bottomless pit.
"Do I dare switch you on," Yuba wondered aloud, walking around her again, "and how do I do it anyway?"
That's when he noticed the hole. It was placed just above her buttocks in the area of her lower back, outlined with the familiar single-eye symbol. It was about a quarter inch deep, with three small holes inside, all of it coloured a dull gold. In fact, it was the same colour as the tip of his staff he'd retrieved from the ceiling -a tip which was mounted with three small needle-like prongs.
"Mystery solved." He frowned, fingering the shaft of the staff. Now the other question; was it wise to follow through? Just what exactly was he messing with here? The wise choice would be to hold back, to gather more information first before doing something potentially dangerous. On the other hand, what did he have to lose? This was the closest he'd come to finding a link that would enable him to get home since he'd arrived three years ago. The choice was virtually inevitable.
Levelling the staff, Yuba lined it up then shoved the end firmly into it's intended socket. He was suddenly struck by the phallic symbolism of the moment, but quickly put that out of mind. He could feel the electric tingle of circuits meshing, systems synchronizing with each other, but nothing more. Then it occurred to him why the staff's handle was shaped the way it was; it was a turn key!
Firmly grasping it in both hands, Yuba turned the handle a full 180 degrees. The orbs mounted on the shaft crackled with internal electrical discharges, and he could feel that same energy filling the body of the statue. At first he thought she was yet another link to a some greater piece of machinery, but this evidently wasn't the case; she was the final piece of this strange puzzle.
Continuing to turn the oversized key, he could sense movement now, a subtle impression that quickly became increasingly obvious. The body spasmed, limbs twitching at the end of each rotation. Finally, the handle could be turned no more. Clear blue eyes flashing open, it stepped forward, breaking contact with the staff.
Yuba stared in astonishment as it turned to face him. Her expression was as cold as it'd been in sleep, but it's eyes betrayed a certain intelligence.
"I don't believe it," Yuba gasped, "an autonomous machine. Incredible! Do you have a name? Can you communicate?"
It blinked at him, then answered, "I am called Ifurita, greatest of the DemonGods ever constructed." It's voice was deep and lacking in intonation, but otherwise sounded surprisingly human. "I am commanded to obey he who possesses the PowerKey Staff."
"The 'PowerKey Staff'," Yuba repeated, looking at the device in his hands, "you mean..."
"However." Ifurita suddenly lunged forward, stealing the staff from his grasp. "My primary function is to guard the Trigger of Destruction, and eliminate anyone who would enter the garden that holds it. Awakening me is the first stage to activating the Trigger of Destruction; and so, now, I must destroy you."
Turning the staff over, she levelled the tip at his chest as if aiming a rifle, the end glowing with naked white energy. Yuba might not have had the time to assimilate everything she'd just said, but he knew well enough to know his life was at stake. Diving to the right, he narrowly escaped the blast which exploded an impressively large hole in the far wall. Blearily looking up from the floor, he watched Ifurita turn to him, her expression completely impassive, levelling the staff yet again. Yuba quickly scrambled to his feet, making it past the door into the control room.
This was insane! Not only did he have to wrap his mind around the idea of an autonomous mechanical woman, but one who blatantly intended to see him dead for the mere act of activating her!
In the short gap of time before she stepped forward from the doorway, he recalled an obscure legend about a 'DemonGod Ifurita'. In the era of the war that ended the civilization of the ancients, this demon laid waste to entire nations before being sealed on an island beyond the Holy River. He'd never guessed that the DemonGods were machines like the Eye of God; but, surely, this was entirely the wrong resting place for that Ifurita. And he'd never heard of any mention of a Trigger of Destruction before.
The mechanical woman stepped past the door, less than a meter from where Yuba was crouched against the wall. Whatever she was, there wasn't much time to think. He only knew he had to get that staff out of her hands.
She turned her head in time to see him lunge at her, arms outstretched. Successfully grabbing the staff's length, he believed the element of speed and surprise would enable him to wrench it away from her, but her innate strength stopped him cold. Even though he was brought up short, frozen in his tracks, he felt himself continuing to lurch forward. There was a deeply sickening sensation in the pit of his stomach as he lost his sense of time and place. His vision blanked out, narrowing to a small bright point.
Still falling forward, that bright point gradually grew in size, as if he were travelling through a dark tunnel towards the inevitable exit. The feeling of speed increased, and suddenly he was engulfed in bright light.
"It looks like she's active."
Testing each iris in turn, the figure to the right now switched off the penlight. He was joined by another, taller man, who frowned in obvious distaste. Both were dressed in a manner completely alien to Yuba, though the insignia each wore on their lapels strongly resembled glyphs he'd seen during his ruin explorations.
"If we found out where they hid the key, we wouldn't have had to put this monstrosity together."
"Be glad we still had the parts," the first said soberly. "Making her part of the activation mechanism means they can't use the Trigger without going through her first."
Picking up a slender black cable, he affixed it somewhere behind Yuba's field of view.
"Can you hear me, Ifurita?"
"I'm going to download your orders, which will reside in your latent memory. Then I'm putting you into stasis. With any luck, you'll never need be awakened. Ever. Goodnight, Ifurita."
Everything suddenly went black again.
Yuba let go of the staff, finding himself back in the here and now. Ifurita stepped back as well, her previously emotionless face now etched with confusion.
"How is it possible," she said. "My memory is closed to access."
"Your memory," Yuba repeated with some awe. "That's what that was. I was seeing through your eyes. Amazing."
Then the realization hit him with a sudden flash.
"Your memory... that was it," he said, "I couldn't sense any more. That was the entirety of your memory. You've existed for thousands of years, yet you've only been alive for a mere handful of minutes."
Ifurita's frown hardened, levelling the staff once more.
"Explain your connection and access to my memory," she demanded.
"I don't know where to begin," Yuba admitted, "I can only tell you that those people who built you, the civilization that made your technology possible, has been extinct for millennia. We don't even know the name of the countries they fought for when they wiped
themselves out with the Eye of God."
Ifurita gave no indication of whether she believed him or not.
"You can see for yourself," Yuba said, motioning towards the corridor. "Except for this garden, everything around here is desert. The Eye of God still hangs in the sky, the only intact relic of what you once knew as your world; well, so much as you knew it at all. Sorry, guess I'm not very good at explaining. I'll show you. Whether you kill me now or later can make no difference, and you certainly have nothing to lose."
Much to Yuba's relief, she nodded her assent.
* * *
Standing side by side, they looked out over the barren wastes from the well defined edge of the garden.
"It's like that for miles. In fact, much of El-Hazard consists of desert, at least from the parts I've travelled .But there are some beautiful countries out there, if you want to see. You're a very unique person, Ifurita. It's like your a visitor from the past. No, more like a new born child, with an entire world to discover."
Ifurita shook her head.
"No, you're wrong," she said solemnly, pointing up towards the faint image of the Eye of God over the daytime horizon. "I'm more like that satellite. I'm a machine, a weapon of war. I am not a person. My design and purpose are clearly defined; to guard this garden and the Trigger of Destruction. I will not travel from this spot."