It watched the procession patiently.
The details were blurred and the focus wavered from time to time but that was OK. It was a price it was willing to pay to stay in this form. It needed to observe.
The scent of fear and nervousness was palpable and oh so, so, exciting! Seeking out the fresh ones hardly required any effort any more. It had almost become second nature, as easy as breathing, even. It could feel the nervousness which they disguised underneath hushed conversations and the fear which escaped through their ragged breaths. It could probably draw it out if it wanted to, paint in thin air with a million different strokes, each as vivid and clear as the realities unfolding before them. But it should probably check on the existing cogs first before it got overexcited. It wouldn’t do to lose progress.
It shifted, now overlooking the bulk of the rows stretching to the entrance of the hall and housing the majority of the larger, bulkier and more animated occupants. The nervousness was less here. Not quite absent, but noticeably less than the fresh ones. The vacuum was filled, instead, with hopes and aspirations, envy and hatred, pride and fear! Yes, the inescapable fear. No matter how brave, a trace of it lingered in all entities, waiting to be cultivated. But it didn’t need to sense the raw streams of emotions for this task, it wasn’t necessary. Even with the blanket of suppression, it could identify the Chosen.
Crusader. He was looking well. Bulkier, stronger, and more arrogant. Almost perfect, but it wouldn’t let its guard down on this one. He was a crucial piece, perhaps the most crucial one, and he needed to be sculpted with great care. Still, it didn’t need to worry too much about him.
Cobra and Spider were also progressing steadily. The trick here was to get them to work together, because they would start to impede each other’s progress soon. That was the difficult bit, putting a fish on land and a cat in water. Maybe a little boost of poison? It was almost tempted to giggle but managed to hold back. It would plot the paths for these two later, there was more important work to do right now and time was of the essence. It would need to escape before they let the Killer in.
Killer: the bane of its existence, the one thing it couldn’t survive against. But there was no time to dwell on such things, it hard work to do.
Vehicle was different, but the change was not a physical one. Something else was wrong, horribly wrong in fact. It sent instructions to its minions for further inspection and information started flooding in immediately. Most of it was nonsensical, data that was useless or unhelpful in this case. It skimmed past the irrelevant streams of information: Habits, routines, experiences. Not helpful. But it soon found the cluster that was of interest. A moment later, its suspicions were confirmed by the one word it had dreaded to find: Submitter.
It cursed. The Vehicle was essential, and it had worked hard on sculpting it. Would it be better to continue working on this cog, damaged as it was, or find a new one? It could try to bring the cog out of Submission but there was no guarantee it would be successful. On the other hand, it could find a new cog but there was no guarantee one would be found in good time, one of substantial malleable quality anyway. What to do? It would decide later.
It resumed inspection of the remaining cogs: Ripple, Fissure, Fog, all progressing as planned. Ripple was experimenting with Fissure. They seemed to have bonded very well. Good. A check on Fog revealed he hadn’t suspected anything. Perfect. All that was left now was for Ripple to ‘open the floodgates’. It was tempted to chuckle again.
Warden was wavering, a little incentive was needed there. A little incentive of the passionate kind, it mused to itself. It had always wished to find more cogs like Fissure, but that was looking less and less likely. It would make do with what it had. It had to actually, since there was no alternative.
After completing the primary inspection, it spent another quarter of an hour observing and making plans for the remaining cogs. That was the boring part done, which meant it could now move on to the next phase. Even in its secondary form, it felt butterflies in its stomach in anticipation of the next task.
It shifted so that the fresh ones were in clear view once again. The rising tide of fear, the cascading landscapes of hope, the bubbling ocean of anxiety, it was all so exciting and it could hardly contain itself! But it mustn’t lose its senses, it reminded itself. There was work to be done.
It liked this part the best, the probing of the unaware, the twisting and turning of levers to churn out realities. Their dreams and hopes lying before them like a kaleidoscope, stretching out into eternity. The visions were hazy and disjointed, sometimes ending prematurely whilst at other times, merging seamlessly into new and seemingly arbitrary streams, but it had years of practice: practice that had made it good at connecting the dots.
It noticed the shuffling overseers as the doors were slammed shut after the last of them had entered. It needed to hurry, they would let the Killer in any second now and it had no plans of going out in a flash just yet!
OK, that was too much, it really had to stop or it would crack itself open.
It had to choke itself not to laugh maniacally this time. Soon after, it managed to compose itself once again, remembering the task at hand and the very serious threat from the Killer. It must focus.
It analysed the pool as streams of information poured in from all directions. So exciting. So many broken paths, perfect! A little push here, a little bit of incentive there and they could become cogs. Such fun! But which ones to mark was the question…
Spiteful, proud, cunning: Fox. Marked. There were interesting possibilities with this one. Maybe the next phase will occur this year after all.
Despair, hatred, animosity: Striker. Marked. The more the merrier, it grinned.
-, -, Nothing. It was confused. It couldn’t read this one at all. Interesting. But it was running out of time, so it stored the impressions for later analysis.
Despair and hope… together? That didn’t make sense. Had it read that right? Wants to protect, and something else… Something that shouldn’t be there. A door that should be closed. Interesting. Puzzling, but interesting nonetheless. Forest? Maze? No, not quite. Protector? Changer? No, still not there.
Catalyst? Yes, yes that made sense! Marked. Maybe it would keep this one for itself. It was so excited by now!
The overseer lord began to move towards the platform and it knew its time was up. It shifted again and saw the pathway before it. Clear. Then it noticed an anomaly, right there in the first row: someone who shouldn’t be sitting there by any account.
It wasn’t one of its own, but it recognised it anyway.
It was amused. Things were about to get interesting. It cast a final glance, smiled inwardly, and then shifted out of the hall and away from the encroaching Killer.