Almarduk
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The sun is setting.

Well, not really. It's always setting. Allie can always see it from her room in the top of the tower, right above another taller tower a few hundred meters in front. That's Lex Talionis, the terribly-named "base" of the Wanderers in the Ancient City. It's a dark, ruined pillar about two dozen meters wide, crowned by the Sun's rays.

A curious idiosyncrasy of this peaceful Limspace is how dim the Sun's light is. One could look straight at it without feeling anything but a mild itch, which made it seem more like a yellow disc in the sky than a real star. The heavens always had a dark gray tone over their familiar blue, despite the scarcity of clouds and their complete immobility. It always gave Allie the impression that she had her sunglasses on. She'd still try to take them off sometimes.

The sights from her window were just as beautiful today as any other day, but she didn't feel like sightseeing. Huddled on top of a miserably bunk — not miserable because it is tattered or old, but because it keeps giving her neck cramps —, her fingers danced around the screen of what had been affectionally nick-named a tablet, despite being far more similar in dimensions and weight to a concrete brick. More scientifically-minded Wanderers had called them Precursor Terminals — an umbrella term for a variety of similarly unwieldy devices of varying size, of which the smallest happened to be what Allie held.

Not much movement, today. — She tells herself, own voice slightly shocking her amidst the unbroken silence. She monitors the thin white letters over the black screen of the tablet for any change, occasionally tapping on a pair of left and right arrows at the very top. Other times, she taps a circle inbetween them, briefly erasing the text on the screen before it is slowly written again.

A crafty group of Wanderers had set up an empty directory — AAAAA_help/clsys — to act as a sort of public bulletin board. These directories would allow anyone with a Terminal (except the smaller ones) to upload a titled text file to an intangible network, then publicly displayed and accessible to anyone else with a similar device (even the smaller ones).

The AAAAA_help directory — the first 5 As were there to make it display above the hundreds of thousands of others, most of which weren't even in English — contained around 560 sub-directories, each of which corresponded to an inhabited Limsystem. Each of the sub-directories could hold up to 100 short files, and were dedicated to requests of aid from other individuals lucky enough to be able to. None of them really mattered to Allie except for one: clsys, which stood for the ignominious Collapsing System.

Although there was no shortage of empathic individuals with the ability to provide such aid, the rarity of these Terminals made requests rare. Turns out most people who had them were already well-off.

Then — a subtle change in the screen. A singular new line of text appears inside the empty black block in the middle of the screen.

< O >

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2KDD6159F3JAE/AAAAA_help/clsys:

AAA_how_to_use ---- "Open this file first. This is simple tutorial & ruleset for loca"…
AAA_need_companion ---- "would like to request a companion to pass the night with, prices"…

>need_battery_ashen_tomb

party_on_lost_iumalsk ---- "ERR: file removed"


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In URGENT need of a pair of entangled batteries (type C, thin tube appearance) to power local Terminal. Location: Ashen Tomb limspace under belltower north-west side of cavity. Be there ASAP, current level 11%. Personal directory 2KDD6159F3JAE/AAAAA_personal/mark&horacio announce presence there.






That seems simple enough. Allie's went back and forth between Ashen a few times, if not for a while. She wonders if there's a battery like that in Lex Talionis. There is a lot of stuff there, but most of it is busted or useless. Maybe I'll need to ask Anthony. God I hope no.

She gets up from her miserable bunk — not miserable because it is tattered or old, but because it keeps giving her neck cramps. The feeling of the dust-covered brown brick floor on her shoes is comforting. The sight of the empty doorway giving way to the crumbled part of the brown wall on the other side of the room is less so. She would prefer not to look at it, but there isn't much else to look at.

The backpack is heavy, made twice so because of the tablet in it. The rest of the weight are aeons-old sandwiches, somewhat cleaner and less ragged clothes, and two great bottles of water. Those bottles still have a faint clue of a cheap plastic sticker once glued to the side.

Allie passes through the doorway at a snail's pace — maybe Mick's sleeping, the poor old devil — and starts climbing down a set of rusty iron stairs. The ceiling above her is busted, the broken bricks blocking entry to three of the six cells on the top floor. Neither Mick or her have bothered cleaning it up.

She descends past a pair of floors — passing Mick's room and finding it empty, allowing her to fasten the pace — and jumps off the stairs. A wide archway here leads to a brick bridge, the same brown color as everything else. The sun draws a semi-circle before her. On the other side of the bridge is Talionis.

It takes about a minute to cross to the other side and finally stride inside the tower, every long step accompanied by a little unwillingness. Please let me find the damned battery without talking to Anthony.

Every floor of Talionis is a wide, empty circumference stuffed to the brim with junk of all kinds — none useful. The taller piles tower above Allie by at least one meter. One could get lost for days looking for something in specific, but she already knows the good stuff isn't there — it's on the very top floor.

And that's at least a hundred meters above her.





She steps past it: the sunlight should be blinding, warm, but it feels dim. A forest of ruined towers stands between her and the horizon. They grow like trees, reaching toward the cold sun, and the smaller homes and forts in-between them are bushes drinking what drops of light come through the dense mesh of trunks — not of plant matter, but of something that seems to have been human, once.

The emptiness is staggering. It swallows Allie whole. Out there, in the titanic expanse in front of her, there's no more than a few dozen people, six of which she's never met. It'd feel worthy of self-pity, hadn't she chosen to live apart of the three other people who live close to her.

She counts the teeth in the necklace hidden under her shirt. Two molars, five fangs. Howler's Fifth. Neither a good or a bad omen, but certainly a sad one. This month's not for lone digging, and that's for sure. I should meet people and make friends. Friends that can take me out of this damned rotting System.

Without noticing, she steps into a darker semicircle — about a meter away from the entry of Talionis. Her teeth clench slightly on the right side. The massive tower in front of her is intimidating.

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