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Forbidden Secrets of Astatine

Of all the elements on the periodic table, Doctor Asher Rosenhall was fascinated by astatine the most. A member of the halogen group, it is the rarest naturally occurring element. It is also extremely radioactive, having a half life of just eight hours. For thousands of years, humanity has tried to unravel its mysteries, but nature has thwarted their efforts.

Rosenhall was a scientist employed at Vega Prime’s Center for Chemistry. He helped develop new concoctions and compounds, studied strange stones from far-off planets, and peered into a microscopic world that the ancients could only dream of. When time permitted, he pursued his passion project: astatine. For the past 20 years, he tried to synthesize enough of it and preserve it long enough to study. He had failed so often for so long that his peers began telling him that his efforts were a waste of time and resources. Some even started teasing him. This only angered him and made him more determined to achieve his goals.

One night, shortly after Vega sank below the horizon, he had reached his wit’s end. No matter what he did, no matter how hard he tried, no matter how many expletives he shouted, astatine refused to give up its secrets. He sulked at his desk, which was covered in takeout boxes and empty cups. The bin near his feet overflowed with trash. His eyes were bloodshot. The sterile glow of his computer screen made his skin look paler than it already was. His bald head glistened with sweat. He thought about abandoning his dreams, but then he decided to employ unconventional methods. He looked online and found a digital copy of The Infernal Legions. He had known of the book for many years. He never paid it any heed, but in his desperation, he felt it might hold some solution to his predicament. He spent the next few hours reading it. Though he did not believe in the supernatural, he found the tome’s contents fascinating. Every chapter was richly detailed. The scientist convinced himself that perhaps these so-called demons dwelled in a different dimension or a parallel universe. Why else would the book offer so much information on these entities?

He looked through the section on Solomonic Demons and came across Foras. The book described him as a teacher of chemistry and a master of all the periodic elements. Surely, he would have knowledge of astatine. Asher cleared a space in the center of his office, then he grabbed a piece of chalk and drew Foras’ sigil on the floor. At midnight, he recited the incantation the book provided, and as soon as he finished, a flame materialized in the center of the sigil. The scientist stepped back as the flame grew larger and larger. It reached ceiling, then it swirled, scattered, and dissolved into the ether, revealing a tall humanoid figure. Its skin was made of obsidian. It was muscular like the statue of an ancient warrior. Its black armor was encrusted with large rubies. Carved onto its chestplate was a sigil which gave off a volcanic glow. Its face was featureless, save for a pair of burning red eyes.

The entity crossed its arms. Despite having no mouth, it spoke in a clear, bold voice. "I am Foras. What is your desire?"

Asher’s eyes were wide with awe. "I never thought that would work. Are you from a parallel universe? What is it like there? And how do you know my language?"

"Indeed, I am from a parallel universe, one of boundless pleasure, where everyone is equal. We are also beings of incredible power. We are able to peer into other universes and learn everything about them from a mere glance. That is how I am able to speak your tongue, Asher."

The scientist could barely contain his excitement. "This is fantastic. I must show you to my colleagues. We would love to learn everything you know."

"My time in your universe grows short. The quantum connection is weakening. Quickly, state your desire."

"Oh, right." The scientist looked down at his digital tablet, then back at the entity. "It says here you’re a master of the periodic elements. I specialize in chemistry, so perhaps you can help me with my work. I am studying astatine, but its secrets elude me. Can you tell me everything there is to know about it?"

"I will do more than that. I will give you the power to bend astatine and every other element to your will. Radioactive elements will become stable. Volatile chemicals will calm themselves when you command them. You will even be able to turn lead into gold. Imagine it, Asher. You will make unprecedented scientific breakthroughs. Everyone will be amazed. Your civilization will reach glorious heights. Your people will spread across the galaxy and beyond. Your name will be remembered forever. What say you?"

Asher grinned widely as he stared at his trembling hands. He lifted his head back up. "Yes! Please! Please give me this power! I must have it!"

"Prick your finger and place it upon the dotted line of this contract."

A ball of fire appeared between them and transformed into a piece of paper. Tiny lettering was scrawled across most of its light yellow surface, but Asher paid no heed to it. The scientist looked around and spotted a thumbtack. He grabbed it and slowly pressed it down upon his finger until it punctured the skin. A tiny ball of blood rose from the wound. He placed his finger upon the dotted line, leaving behind his bloodstain. The paper then burned away into nothingness.

"It is done," Foras proclaimed. "You now have power over the periodic elements. Proceed to your laboratory and bombard a block of bismuth with alpha particles. Astatine will be formed in copious amounts and remain stable long enough for you to study in great detail. Go now, for fame and glory await you."

The entity vanished in a shroud of fire. The room was dark once again. The silence was broken by the soft blowing of the air conditioner. The stench of smoke lingered. Asher was still astounded by what had just transpired. He wanted to summon more of those so-called demons, but he already planned to make himself famous in another way. After regaining his composure, he walked out of his office and made his way to the atomic physics lab. It was common for scientists at the facility to stay up late working on various projects, so the doors to the labs were left unlocked until the last person left. Asher was the only person in the building at that time. He arrived at his destination and approached the cyclotron, a miniature particle accelerator. He placed a block of bismuth in the center and activated the machine. The alpha particles emitted a faint blue glow as they spiraled through the chamber.

Asher glimpsed at the monitor. The sensors started picking up astatine atoms. He grew anxious. He knew that halogens get darker with increasing atomic weight. Fluorine is nearly colorless, chlorine is a yellowish-green, bromine is a reddish-brown, and iodine is a deep purple. Therefore, he expected astatine to be jet black. The machine had not yet produced the desired element in any significant amount, but he also knew that he had just started, so he remained patient.

Five minutes passed. His eyelids grew heavy, then he gasped. The computer picked up a surge in the amount of astatine. Dozens of atoms became hundreds, then thousands, then millions. In short order, the entire block of bismuth had been converted into that elusive element, which took on the form of a black fluid. The scientist grinned wide. He began to chuckle, and that chuckle became maniacal laughter. Everyone sneered at him, telling him that his side project would always be a dead end, but who was laughing now? Soon he would get the respect and recognition he deserved. People would forever remember him as the one who uncovered the secrets of astatine. And why stop there? Why not outdo the alchemists of old and turn lead into gold? Everyone would see him as a god. He would make himself the wealthiest man to ever exist. The possibilities were endless.

A loud beeping derailed his train of thought. The mass of black fluid inside the chamber began to grow. The scientist looked at it quizzically. He tried to turn it off, but the computer locked up. He unplugged the machine, but just as he did so, the chamber broke. The astatine spilled onto the floor and continued to swell in size. He sprinted to the doors and tried to open them, but they would not budge. His heart pounded in his chest as he watched the dark substance fill the room. Becoming desperate and not knowing what else to do, he shouted, "Stop! I command you to stop!"

The astatine did not listen. It wrapped around him as quickly as a snake ensnaring its prey. Try as he might, he could not free himself. As he frantically looked around, he saw Foras floating in front of him.

"Such knowledge comes at a cost, Asher," the demon said.

The scientist screamed as the black fluid enveloped him. His body was broken down into its individual atoms, which were then converted into more astatine. The amorphous mass smashed a nearby wall and glided its way down the street, dissolving every parked car in its path.

Even though it was 1 in the morning, a large crowd of people still partied at one of Symphonia’s Landing’s nightclubs. Fueled by drugs and alcohol, they frenetically moved their bodies to the booming electronic music and bright flashing lights. They were oblivious to the mass of astatine that was fast approaching. It smashed down the front doors, sending shards of glass everywhere. As soon as the crowd realized what was happening, they screamed and scrambled for the nearest exits. Many fell and were trampled. The dark fluids washed over them, leaving behind nothing. The survivors flooded out of the building and started warning others of what they had seen. Within a few minutes, the whole city was in a panic.

The military caught wind of what was happening and sprang into action. In short order, they spotted the sprawling black mass in the industrial sector. The glistening thing swallowed whole trucks effortlessly. Helicopters fired a flurry of missiles at it, but it shrugged them off. An APC parked in the middle of the road and a squad of soldiers rushed out. They struck the amorphous blob with a barrage of laser fire, but it proved useless, for it absorbed all their shots. It rapidly moved forward and engulfed them, then it continued down the street.

Upon hearing what had just happened, the military took drastic measures. They deployed an experimental armored vehicle with a freeze ray mounted on the top. It moved into position and took aim. Condensation dripped from its cold copper coils. It made a loud humming as it charged itself up, then its giant gun shot a light blue beam which crackled in the warm air. The crew hoped the blob would be frozen in a giant ice block, but those hopes were quickly shattered when they saw it continue its approach. They tried to drive away, but it caught up to them and destroyed them. It then moved across the steel bridge towards the Graveyard of Dreams.

A crowd of vagrants gathered at an intersection to gawk at the anomaly. Their minds were so fried from constant drug use that they didn’t even react when the black fluids washed over them and shattered their bodies down to the atomic level. The criminal gangs in the area didn’t appreciate a giant mound of sentient fluids killing off their clientele, so they ran into the streets and emptied their magazines into the entity’s glistening form. Their anger became confusion as they wondered why their weapons had no effect on it. Their confusion then transformed into terror as the black fluids consumed them.

The astatine flowed down the streets, devouring all in its wake, until it reached the old cathedral. The heavy oak doors opened and out stepped Father Patrick Murphy. He was a tall man with short gray hair, a chiseled jaw, and a heavily wrinkled face. Despite his old age, he remained sharp. He gazed upon the dark liquids with his keen green eyes and knew that this substance was of unholy origin. The anomaly approached him, and he approached it with his hands behind his back. When the fluids were barely a foot away from him, he pulled out a crucifix. The entity recoiled in terror. Its liquid body rippled, twisted, and turned. It gathered itself into a sphere, then launched into the sky. As it went higher and higher, it began to glow with a red light. Once it had left the atmosphere, it exploded, briefly lighting up the city before fading away.

At the break of dawn, Symphonia’s Landing was up in protest, furious over the death and destruction wrought by that science experiment gone wrong. That protest quickly turned into a riot when police tried to break it up. As government officials cowered in the capitol building, the military went in and swiftly crushed the riot. Such incidents had happened so many times in the past that they were intimately familiar with how to handle them. One week later, Father Patrick received a visit from a police officer and a scientist. They told him they were investigating the anomaly and knew it was last seen at the cathedral. When asked, he told them what he had experienced. They looked at him skeptically.

"Why would it react to the crucifix in such a way?" the scientist asked.

"Because it was unholy," the priest replied without hesitation.

The man of science scoffed. "Such descriptors are unscientific. I’m sure there’s a much more reasonable explanation."

The priest was used to the people of Vega rejecting any notion of the metaphysical. Feeling it fruitless to argue, he said, "In any case, may God help you uncover the truth."

The officer and scientist shrugged lightly and went on their way.

Asher regained consciousness and found himself trapped inside a chamber made of red crystal. It was so narrow, he barely had any room to move his arms. The stench of molten rock was all around him. His mouth was dry, sweat covered his entire body, and all of his organs ached. The walls of the chamber were thick, but still translucent. He leaned forward as much as the tiny chamber would allow and saw a large circular room made of that same red crystal. Standing in the center was Foras.

"Do you know where you are?" the demon asked.

It was then that the man of science realized the truth: God is real, demons are real, and this is Hell. In that moment, his atheism was shattered like glass. He began pounding on the crystal walls, begging to be let out, but his cries fell on deaf ears. The air inside his cell became hot as magma, and his entire body seared with pain, a magical pain that did not leave any burns or blisters, a pain more excruciating than any he had known in life. As he screamed and writhed uncontrollably, he wished he could turn back time and stop himself from making a deal with one of Satan’s minions. He wished he had never let himself be blinded by his desire to know all of nature’s secrets. But those wishes would go ungranted.


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