The man in grey sat on the rooftop and waited. Beneath him, the city spread endlessly, an ocean of lights and color under the night sky. On the balcony below, a party was nearing its conclusion; slightly drunken couples making their goodbyes and wading their way home, the hostess surveying the mess they left behind them and sighing. The wind was fierce this high up, and he had to hold tight to his hat to keep it from carrying it away. The sounds of the metropolis were comforting, familiar. In that moment, he was at peace, though he knew it wouldn't last. He relished this small instance of freedom. Life is made in small hours like this, he thought. This place felt so familiar, yet he couldn’t recall ever being here before. Then again, his memory wasn't what it used to be.
It is time.
The Breath of the World came the way it always did—sudden, silent, and irresistible. The words reached his mind without ever passing through his ears, but this ceased to surprise him years ago. A servant of the Breath learns to cope with surprises, or else he didn’t get to keep his mind for very long—while the Breath prefers its agents thinking on their own, he knew it wouldn’t hesitate to take matters into its own hands if it needed to. He had learned that the hard way.
An Aspect requires your attention and my judgment. I will show you the way.
It was time to go. He made his way to the stairs leading down from the roof and into the service halls. The presence of the Breath led him through twisting corridors and empty, derelict apartments, ones that had no right to exist in a classy part of town such as this. This was, of course, because they didn’t. As he followed the Breath’s instructions, the quality of the air began to change—the damp, cool northern European air became much drier and dustier. Sunlight began shining through the cracked windows and grimy skylights of the industrial complex he was making his way through, though it was night when he began his trip, seemingly only a few minutes ago. Turning a corner, he felt a crunch under his shoes—dry bones. He didn’t want to know who they belonged to. They might have been his.
Others are searching for the Aspect—the servants of the crescent and those who seek to contain.
At least now he knew where he was going—Iran. His past encounters with the ORIA were often less than civil and ended badly. Mostly for them. Still, the vicious bastards were certainly a force to be reckoned with on their home turf. He was actually relieved to hear the Foundation was here as well—he would much rather leave an unworthy Aspect in their hands. While they were just as ruthless, at least he could respect their goals. He saw what some of the Aspects could do, felt them rend his flesh, tear at the fabric of his mind with mental claws, saw them open doors to places that should never be. And those were some of the more pleasant ones.
You are here.
It seemed he was. The last hallway led to a ladder ending in a metal hatch. He climbed out and surveyed his surroundings: he was standing in a vast salt flat, stretching to the horizon in all directions. Aside from the hatch, the landscape was entirely featureless. “Just lovely,” he muttered, forgetting himself for a moment, “You led me to the middle of Dasht-e Kavir. This is one of the largest, emptiest deserts in the world, how the hell am I supposed to find anything here?” A shock of intense pain ran through his body, and he collapsed to the ground, the salty dust staining his suit.
A favor was granted. You will obey. West, towards the twin mirage.
Grunting, he picked himself up and started walking. That was a mistake, and he should have known better by now—The Breath of the World had no patience for complaints. His outfit was ill-suited for the fierce heat of the salt flats, and his hat provided little protection from the sun, but he persevered; the Breath protected him from dehydration and sun stroke, but did nothing to keep him comfortable. When he spotted what he assumed to be the twin mirage, he was sweating profusely and his tongue felt like parchment. If the Breath hadn’t told him about it, he would have missed it—it was just two patches of slightly simmering air, which did not disappear the way a normal mirage would as he approached them.
The Aspect lies between. The others will be here soon, guided by the Manticore.
He had to hurry. While the Breath offered him protection, he was far from invincible, and though he could fend for himself, he couldn’t handle an entire ORIA detection squad or Mobile Task Force on his own, not for long at least. He moved into the empty patch of air between the mirages, and found himself standing in an enormous doorway, sixty feet tall at least.
The sarcophagus. The Aspect lies within. It is time to judge.
Colonel Abtin Arjmand was not a happy man. This entire expedition was a complete and utter disaster. First he had to drag an entire platoon to this arid wasteland to search for some heathen mythical beast, and after they finally found it after a month of searching, it devoured half his men before revealing the information they needed. Now, he and his remaining men had to leave their vehicles behind and spend half a day trudging in the salt flats on foot, searching for some half-invisible gate. This artifact had better be worth it, or else he was going to have some words with the research department. Words like “fire!”
“Sir! I think I found something!”
Arjmand hurried to where one of his lieutenants stood, and the young man pointed to a patch of shimmering air. “This mirage is acting funny. It isn’t fading, no matter how close I get to it.”
“Good man, I think this might be it. Rally the men, we go inside.”
If nothing else, at least they’ll get out of the sun for a while.
Agent Gladstone watched the Iranians disappearing into the mirage. He and his men were using some state-of-the-art camouflage, which was the only thing keeping them alive. Staying hidden on a salt flat was next to impossible, and he doubted anyone else was capable of it. The Iranians led them right to the location of the possible SCP object, though this left them in a problematic situation—the Iranian colonel had three times the manpower at his disposal, and though Gladstone knew the men of his task force were the best in the business, he didn’t like these odds. Plus, the Iranians were already inside, and if they went after them, they’ll be discovered. He could wait for them to leave and ambush them then, but that meant risking damage to the SCP object, or who knows what else if the object was dangerous. No, he had to try disposing of the Iranians before they got their hands on the object, and he had a plan.
“Turner! Get that drone of yours ready. We are going to have a good old fashioned fox hunt.”
The man in grey crossed the vast hall that lay inside the mirage, making his way towards the sarcophagus. It was massive, far larger than any man could ever need, or so he thought until he removed the cover. The skeleton inside was enormous, at least three times the size of a normal man, and around him were various weapons, even the smallest of them too big for an ordinary man to use comfortably. None of them were the Aspect, so he continued his search. Eventually, he noticed something that stood out, a small piece of softness hidden between the rough edges and metal. It was a piece of dry parchment, a scroll, wrapped around what seemed to be a child’s toy. Curious, the man in grey inspected the old scroll:
“Here lies mighty Rostam, Son of white-haired Zal, too great for his mother’s womb. Here lies fierce Rostam, tamer of Rakhsh, performer of the Seven Labors. Here lies fool Rostam, willing slave to the coward Kay Kavus. Here lies cursed Rostam, slayer of Sohrab, his son. All who defiles this final place of rest shall share his fate.”
The Aspect is in your hand. The toy. Judgment is upon us.
The man in grey never understood exactly how the Breath of the World judged the Aspects. There didn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to which Aspects it deemed worthy and which it rejected. He’d seen it accept seemingly worthless ones, like that weather vane that wouldn’t be moved by wind, and deny ones of immense power.
This Aspect is abhorrent in my eyes. Remove it from my sight.
And that was that. All this effort, for nothing. Once an Aspect was deemed unworthy, the Breath lost all interest in it. It was time for him to leave.
Colonel Arjmand couldn’t believe his eyes. A palace, hidden in a mirage, amazing! He’s been hunting those damnable relics for years, and he’s never seen anything like it.
“Men, I want this place combed. That beast told me there is an object of power here, and what it looked like, but not what it does. Just be careful, we don’t know what this thing can do.”
His men did as ordered. Arjmand reached for the chain around his neck, feeling the comforting weight of the object that hung from it. He knew the price of using it, but having it around still made him more confident. If anyone tried to take what was his, they would pay dearly.
“Sir, I think I found it! Here, in the sarcophagus!”
“Let me see. Yes, this seems to be it! Prepare the carrier unit, we leave immi—”
A sudden buzzing noise. Arjmand looked up just in time to see a small remote drone drop a payload of grenades on their heads.
“They’re all down, Sir. The payload of stingers and flashbangs knocked them out cold!” Turner said, looking up from his pocket monitor for the drone.
Gladstone grinned. They didn’t call his task force “The Mirth Busters” for nothing. He almost pitied the poor bastards—they just spent a month looking for the SCP, and when they finally found it, BAM! It was gone again.
“Alright, move in. I want the object secured and the Iranians neutralized.”
Colonel Arjmand barely managed to get a hold of his talisman before the grenades took down his men. He knew he was sacrificing much by using it, but he hardly had a choice.
They were going to pay for this.