Palladium: Reason and Existence

143. Malin Gar

Travelling with the army, the group witnessed the coven leader, Pandora Zayven ride headlong past them towards the head of the army. Echo could see what the others could not, that the woman was in full communion and was for all intents and purposes Satan himself.

The group hurried to catch the devil incarnate as he commanded Fortune’s palanquin bearers to lower the Imperimundi to the ground. Their hesitation cost them their lives.

When the group arrived Satan told them that everything that they and the army planned to do hinged on a pivotal gap in their knowledge and that any hope of success required that he speak with the Imperimundi about her illness.

In the confines of privacy bought with a circle of flame conjured by Emalf, they learned that Satan had been troubled by recognition as the Essence described his assessment of Fortune’s illness. He said that he had seen such maladies during his tenure as General to the Old Ones.

The Old One, Erva, had secretly inserted god killing beings in the army known as “Malin Gar”. The Malin Gar were apparently regular demons or mortals with a secret power to infect a god with a fatal disease through their link to their highest earthly avatars. He said that Fortune’s condition was a symptom of something much more serious and that the longer the girl lived, the greater the threat that the god would die.

He told the girl that she would have to choose between her own life and that of her goddess…. or he might accept the payment already given for Rashyr’s resurrection in exchange for Fortune’s resurrection instead. The theory being that the infection of her soul would die when she did.

There was some controversy that Rashyr would be abandoned, but the group had no currency that Satan would accept in exchange for returning both the girl and the healer to life.

After some apprehension, they came to accept Pandora Zayven’s words and Fortune planned a “Consultation” as a means of satisfying her God Glass peers and to seek the goddess’ support for what Satan proposed. The ritual was carried out under star light with the girl at the centre of 11 cultists each representing a possible truth over the conundrum.

The stars should have swelled and flowed and shifted colour to favour the a quadrant of truths… instead the heavens were deathly silent and that silence was taken as answer enough.

The group planned for Emalf to accompany Fortune, and the rest of the group would go after Peril before rejoining the army.

Before they set about to separate, Emalf asked Orbray-Ell to use the spare Dawn ring they still carried to form a Dawn Bridge between the warlock and the summoner so they could find each other and remain aware of happenings in both locations.

As the Emalf and Fortune accompanied the Healers to the door of the Hedron where death awaited the girl, Illynis turned up to ask Emalf what the Hell he was doing trusting Satan… he responded to Illynis’ critique by getting cold feet. Then as Echo realised plans might change, she attempted intervene.

Echo sought to use the Dawn Bridge to exercise ‘The Tower of Wills’ to directly control Emalf and stop him from making impulsive changes of plan. She would have succeeded except for the added protection afforded by his link to Orbray-Ell which allowed her to bolster his defences.

Free-will intact, Emalf commanded Orbray-Ell to teleport himself, Fortune and Illynis away….
Furious, Echo promptly told Pandora Zayven where they had gone through knowledge granted by the Dawn Bridge.

Emalf had not specified a destination and they found themselves in the throne room of Ell-Maine before Mastema.

After a moment of stunned inaction, Illynis pulled the invisible Castle Rake from her back and blew the throne hosting Satan’s agent off the platform. Then she tried to use message sensitive travel to deliver them away… Failing that Orbray-Ell, on Emalf’s instructions, tried to take them to the dying goddess, Aco, to assess their over all status in the struggle against Tolmet and probably Satan.

Odds stacked very much against it, Orbray-Ell did as was asked and they found themselves in darkness with Fortune telling Emalf it had worked. That the goddess was in the darkness and they had only to find her. The warlock told the girl to reach out and see how well her god survived.

She embraced the moon as she had done so many times before, the black mist parted on the abyssal platform at the heart of Hell and the 11 old one created telescope lenses gazed upon them from the darkness.

Fortune collapsed. Apparently dead.

Spying movement at the edge of the platform. Emalf ran to the edge and thought he made out massive thrashing tentacles in the blackness.

He was brought back to himself after what seemed like a hopeless eternity when Fortune touched his arm. Her first words were ‘Satan is a liar’. She went on to say her death had freed the goddess and the nearness to her divine (if weakened) power had allowed her to save the girl in turn.

Meanwhile, Echo and the group pursued Peril ahead of the army into the Baalgor. They witnessed the girl removing the crown for a few minutes each day as she fled south and west, her ploy seemingly successful in luring the wyrms.

Still Echo was not satisfied to allow the the girl to bear such danger. She decided to resolve the girls future there and then and set out to summon both Satan and Andrakasis the to settle matters and give the world “The General” it would need.

She only succeeded in summoning the father and had to satisfy herself with that. Andrakasis was annoyed to have been once again prevented from getting the answers he wanted from Lucifer. He was distinctly insensitive to his daughter’s safety and gave the impression that the world would benefit more from his own needs being met than those of a girl, an army and the gods.

142. Between the Devil and Death

The following morning the army remobilised to make the journey to the Baalgor with Rashyr’s murder the previous night, and it’s implications for Fortune, on many a mind. Without him, she was effectively the goddess’ avatar who didn’t dare use her power….but her doubts were so great that she could even survive the journey to Necropolis and perhaps she should just make whatever difference she could now by backtracking and attempting to deal with Shah Dallan’s corpse…the group’s counsel against this course was barely heeded because recent actions had so damaged her trust that they were working with her.

The group were also approached by Hymerra Ironvein with a story that they had detected Hedron connections to the army and wanted the group to help them storm the next opening to take the artefact for the dwarves. This discussion was held in a friendly fashion, but the group didn’t come close to promising to help.

It was also worth mentioning that before Andrakasis grew tired of pretending to be a prisoner, he had told the leaders of the army that if they wanted to reach Necropolis alive they would need to send a large enough force to their deaths at the southern extremes of the wasteland in hopes of distracting the Sandwyrms. Fortune doubtfully accept the group’s suggestion that she not sugar code her request for volunteers to go their death for this purpose.

Near the end of the session, the Essenser of Dawn and his entourage appeared amongst the army. It was in that moment that Echo realised the pain of her connection to Satan that grew worse with distance had completely subsided….indicating the devil himself was in the army.

She sought him out and found he had come for Andrakasis, hoping the man remained Fortune’s prisoner, but would settle for Peril, whom remained Landradis’ guest along with Rhonin.

Whilst Echo and Enforcer Pentemus Morden (Satan) did not come to agreement at that time, the next day, as The Essenser received consent to assess Fortune’s condition, the group supported “The Essenser’s” suggestion that Dawn may be able to return Rashyr to life. Essenser Mallean admitted he could not do what Rashyr had done for her, but allowed the unspoken reference of what Rashyr’s return would mean hang in the air as he stated the price where by Peril would be given to him and he would become co-command of the army and he would share the burden of militant decisions.

The groups role in this decision involved confirming for Fortune exactly who she was making a deal with and advising her she should go ahead with it.

The following morning Rashyr’s corpse was gone and Peril too was missing….though I think everyone was too tired to realise I alluded to where Peril was and it was NOT in Satan’s custody….

141. The Healer Dead

Following a couple of days additional travel the group were approached by a God Glass Cultist to join the cult and assist Fortune in the Web of Power she wanted to weave against Death and the Sandwyrms. An offer being made to virtually every member of the army from King to peasant.

The group declined.

Emalf learned of Andrakasis’ presence in the camp and decided to drop in on the ‘prisoner’ if he was still there.

He and the rest of the party arrived at the Imperimundi’s tent only to find all the major players in audience.

Fortune’s mention of her messengers failing to find the group to notify them (Emalf presumed the idiot had forgotten during his attempts to lead them into religious indoctrination) of the gathering saw Emalf struggle between confronting the messengers, passing through the audience to meet with Andrakasis and staying to participate.

The combination of every one from King Lastus to Hymerra Iron vein in disguise, Calibrey, a goblin elder of the monster races, general Arn/Ethimas and others prompted them to stay as Fortune covered the plans supporting army and the limited measures taken to prepare for further Cultist and future Sandwyrm attacks.

She solicited suggestions to these problems but no suitable idea was put forward.

Medicii Celine Vercad (a viscera appearing as a high ranking healer) commented on Rashyr’s inadequate healing and Fortune’s condition. She volunteered Dawn’s services, but found the group staunchly defending Rashyr and suggesting her capabilities were those of a charlatan.

They challenged her to heal the Imperimundi at that moment before them all, but Medicii Vercad indicated her illness would need greater review before healing would be possible.

King Jeshuan Lastus interrupted proceedings to ask when Andrakasis would be executed, and the group promptly turn their agitation at the king that has so often both provoked them and needed their help.

As they argued the former witch king, having freed himself emerged from the annex tent with his daughter whom had been visiting.

Jeshuan made the mistake of drawing his sword and soon found it telekinetically lodged in his gut. A condition that would have been fatal had not Medicii Vercad taken it in hand.

The man thought to be referred to as the general prophecy had overheard the council and opted to tell them what they needed to do before he ceased the farce of his incarceration.

He told them that Fortune has discussed many things with him whilst he had been her ‘prisoner’, but that he could not suggest the necessary steps to a child devoted to saving everyone around her as she would never pass them on to those experienced enough to see the merit of the plans.

Andrakasis explained they could not treat zealous enemies that considered death an honour like any other adversary. It was critical that they be defeated or killed on terms dictated by the army and not their own.

He went on to say that losses on the 10s of 1000s crossing the Baalgor were inevitable and they should accept and control what was lost. That they should choose the lambs to be slaughtered and send them to their deaths at the Sandwyrm feeding ground so the army proper might reach Necropolis relatively unmolested.

He suggested that fast riders would be ideal as mobility might prolong the time bought, but that in planning for the worst they should send enough fodder to the site to keep hundreds of wyrms eating it fighting over the scraps for weeks.

He said this was essential because the danger of the wyrms was great, but what the fear of them might do to survivors could defeat far more than their hunger. For every 1 person eaten, thousands could see and learn crippling terror of them… Better only the dead see them and the army morale preserved.

Then without waiting for questions he led his daughter to the exit and leaning towards Emalf asked that he keep her safe and he left.

Emalf stopped Peril from following her father as Echo rushed after the man to discuss matters only they would know.

2 days travel later the camp was attacked as never before but cultists. The group were awoken to find signs of no less than 6 nearby attacks underlay. The split up and moved to engage the groups of 30-50 cultists.

The cultists were clearly newer recruits and as dangerous as they were, they lacked the advanced magic of previous attacks.

As the battle continued, more fights spring up and before long it became clear the command tent was the focus.

Having littered the camp with Cultist courses, the group each began to fight/make their way toward the command tent.

There they found hundreds of cultists swarming from all sides of the tent and Echo came upon Pandora Zayven and her witches approaching the conflict. The coven leader seemed indifferent to the massacre taking place and instead focused on the summoner.

Pandora reminded Echo off her pact to return Emalf and Echo suggested coven help at that moment would go along way to winning the Imperimundi’s favour. When Echo assented, the witches entered the fray with devils fire in hand.

Pandora herself, entered communion with her master and brought the power of the God himself to the field. In moments scores of death cultists were consumed by the devils will.

Though the tent remained surrounded on all other fronts, the group entered the command centre to find it filled with cultists and corpses, but the cultists had begun withdrawing.

With each second more cultists cut the tent walls with their sacrificial daggers and flowed out of the tent in a malevolent stream.

Pandora sent corpses flying and aflame through the roof of the pavilion and Echo directed her to deal with the fleeing forces outside the tent.

The figure, currently synonymous with Satan himself, stepped in a trance like march outside the tent and the ground detonated in pillars of fire.
The group continued to the Imperimundi’s own chamber and there they found most of her guards dead and the girl sobbing “we’re dead” over Rashyr Gondvalla’s corpse.

Though The Blade attempted a communion that might allow her to raise the dead, the God eluded her and though Emalf commanded Orbray-Ell restore his friend to life, she was unable.

Echo saw the light of the moon draw over the tent, she knew the stakes of allowing Fortune to use her power and convinced the girl to stop.

As Echo counselled the girl and Orbray-Ell futilely tried to return life to Rahsyr, Emalf dashed from the tent. He would return later, making no mention of where he had been.

In the aftermath, Rashyr was still dead.

140. The Death of the in Between

The mobilised army stretched for 7 days as it crawled across the country side, closing the distance on the mountain range bordering the Baalgor. On the 3rd day the encampment was attacked during the night by Death Cultists and some of the soldiers were taken smotheringly back through the blood to a fate awaiting them in Necropolis.

The cultists exhibited powers that had not been previously seen by the group. A sensation that Tolmet would stop toying with the world soon was inherent in this revelation as such horrors as Life Drain and Blood Detonation were witnessed. In the confusion, Echo suspected that the cultists were deliberately shedding blood in a single concentrated area and feared they would create a massive blood portal to send through a Sandwyrm.

The group overcame the threat as General Arn and Illynis arrived on the field and Ethimas chastised Arn for his tardiness as Echo cut off conversation with Illynis telling her to focus on the wounded.

After the following days travel, the group discussed the attack with Fortune, Rashyr and Enchanter Endean. The girl was troubled that she could think of no way to keep Tolmet’s followers out of the camp and she feared their attacks would occur with increasing regularity as the threat of the army grew closer to Necropolis.

She reinterated that the single greatest obstacles before the army was that of the Sand Wyrms and the scathing wasteland sun. Fortune revealed that she and Brink Endean had realised that his power of magic suppression could also be used in reverse, and that though the effect was far weaker than that of the Hedron that with Brink and Rashyr’s help she continued to entertain the possibility that she could fend off the Sand Wyrms and/or the sun when the time game.

Pining again for what she had lost, she told the group that Blood Magic/Portals would not work by moonlight and that if she had had the Hedron still, she could have had the light of the moon follow the army. She even suggested she could have used the moon’s light to destroy any Sand Wyrms that attacked as she had the one the group had ridden through the southern oceans.

The group counselled her that she was a figurehead and that she should trust the strength she had inspired to form into an army to do what needed to be done. When the girl quoted the prophecies that fated her to fight these fights she was challenged with the possibility that prophecy could be changed.

Though Fortune did not believe this, for the first time it was revealed to the Imperimundi that ‘The Blade’ and Indel Kyura in concert were actively working on the prophecies surrounding the girl to try to change them.

Mention of the Hedron and Blood Portals had sparked Echo to consider the possibility the army could use some sort of magic transport to reach Necropolis, and using her ability to see the places where the veil between dimensions was thinnest, she turned her mind’s eye upon nearby instances.
Two distant instances dominated her perception through their enormity. The leyline nexus over Necropolis and the dormant Hedron held by Satan in Dawn, but dimly she perceived two other instances, both within the bounds of the army.

Following her senses to the third nascent portal, she found the Dwarven Weapon trader, Elgror Arlek with an escort of dwarves trying to avoid attention. One of them was Hymerra Ironvein carrying a rune linked to the Hedron that Satan had stolen from them in Hammerfall Hollow. The dwarves were in the camp looking for Emalf Eldritch to ask that he and his friends help them retrieve they Hedron from Satan when the rune they carried next became active. Echo did not give the dwarves an answer, only telling them that she did not know where Emalf was.

The following day, in frustration, Echo decided to try to summon Emalf again. She even considered asking Illynis to introduce her power of sanctification into the mix of dimensional circle magic (as had accidentally showed them a portal to the future once before), but discarded the idea. When her attempt at summoning failed, she turned her attention to the final place in which the veil between dimensions was thin, a detour that took her far outside the centre of the camp and into the tent of Pandora Zayven, Senior Coven leader of the Black Council of the Eastern Territory.

Pandora acknowledged that the veil between dimensions was thin around her coven members, but did not elaborate beyond reminding Echo that it was the covens that had summoned her to remove WitchBane from the capital all those years past. The reminder prompted Echo to ask if Pandora’s coven could summon Emalf, and Pandora agreed to try in return for Echo representing the witches in their attempts to gain legitimacy in the eyes of “The Most Powerful Person in the World”: Fortune (Pandora clearly intended to use Fortune’s influence to force the rest of the world to recognise the Black Council).

To facilitate the covens’ efforts Echo divulged Emalf’s true name to Pandora.

Having failed to find something that would transport the army, Echo turned to the prisoner in the annex tent of the Imperimundi: Andrakasis. There she expressed disappointment over what had happened to Shah Dallan and told him she was surprised he remained in the camp. Andrakasis replied that he had only done what he had done because she had asked him to, and that he remained only because she had requested his help.

He said that as important as Fortune’s effort against Necropolis was, that all of “this” was a distraction from the greater and more ancient machinations that he sought to track down through Lucifer and “The Third”. Echo told him he was free to leave.
Two travel days later, Emalf and Obray-Ell found themselves lifted from the purgatory they had been suspended in and delivered to Pandora Zayven’s tent. Pandora told Emalf that he owed her nothing and that Echo would pay his debt, but Emalf’s gratitude did not end there. They discussed other things they he might do for the covens, including the possibility of delivering Andrakasis and/or Peril to Pandora.

Emalf caught up with the group (and their news). He was angry at Shah Dallan’s death, and in the interests of keeping himself from doing something terminal he asked Orbray-Ell to keep Illynis away from him.
Emalf and Orbray-Ell told the group that something from Midworld had followed them and would eventually be free of purgatory. Orbray-Ell explained worriedly that she (and denizens of Ell-Maine) were frail before this alien creature.

They made their way to Fortune’s command tent and interrupted an audience including Illynis, General Arn, Battlemaster Nahtra Crane, Illynis, one of the viscera of Dawn and of course Rashyr and Brink. Leaving Emalf outside, Echo whispered in the girl’s ear that she should clear the tent for her next visitor and everyone except Rashyr and Echo were directed to leave.

In the next minutes Fortune’s crisis of personality over Emalf gave way to the reassurance of his presence. She once again described the problems facing the army once they reached the Baalgor and her measures to safeguard the supply train (one tenth of the army had been sent to the Temple of the God Glass to use “The Sending” ritual to send food to the army in rationed amounts).
Fortune went on to report that her scouts had indicated that the Death Cultists had adjusted their age old practice of feeding sacrifices to the Sand Wyrms at the foot of the Necropolis Plateau such that the place they might enter the Baalgor had become the most heavily Sand Wyrm infested part of the wasteland.

139. Battlefields of the Gods

Illynis approached the group to express her concern that disunity was jeopardising all they had worked for. She said what’s done is done and she wanted to try to prevent mistakes like those past from recurring. She went so far as to say that recent events have made it necessary for her to operate in isolation and that some of her choices may have been different if she had had confidants to talk them over with. She explained that the Mirror witch was her friend and the circumstances of the groups appearance/attack with Andrakasis on the MW in the witches’ own chambers was very damaging to the groups capacity to function.

It was agreed that there could still be benefits to working together, but that each would sacrifice the other for the greater good. Though this was suggested by Echo, it had always been true that Illynis would gladly sacrifice herself if the gain were pivotal.

Illynis went on to tell the group about her night time meeting with Madgellania, the death cultist’s confessions at having used the lance thousands of years ago before hiding it away and what it meant to have used the Baalgor Lance.

Illynis had since actively sought ways of removing the dragon’s corpse. Her first port, Andrakasis, had seen the man unwilling or unable to use his own power in conjunction with his daughter’s curse to transport the wyrm spawning blight to the Hells.

Instead, unaware that Emalf had taken the Hedron, the would-be prisoner had suggested to the Imperimundi that she had the means to deal with the wyrms. It was a suggestion made more dangerous by the girl’s fascination with destiny and Andrakasis’ seeming ability to shirk fate.

Illynis also warned the group that the MW actively campaigned the powers in the army to petition for Andrakasis’ death. She also remarked on the strange company she had kept throughout those events, saying that Micarleten Viger’s interest in her had melted and he had vanished after the events of that night.

Following Illynis’ visit, Echo attempted to summon Emalf from wherever he had gone to no avail.
The following day, Pylman Steeder, sent by Fortune, asked the group to assist in mobilising the army immediately. Something had brought urgency to the Imperimundi that would become clear later and following these errands, the group were asked to meet the Imperimundi at the dragon corpse.

Echo confronted Dawn where she alluded to the healers that they should convey her presence with the army to their master. She commanded the Healers to ready and mobilise immediately. Likewise, Ethimas Hidetaka attended the Western Empire forces and ordered General Arn to mobilise.
Shah Dallan’s corpse had bone cordoned off with a large perimeter and Fortune waited amongst her most devoted acolytes, Medici Rashyr Gondvalla, and Enchanted Brink Endean. She expressed grief at what keeping her alive was costing Rashyr, and whether he could endure the strain of keeping her alive for the long and dangerous march on Necropolis.

She said that without the weapon that Emalf had taken, she had severe doubts she could do what needed to be done and felt that ridding the world of the larval wyrms infesting the dragon corpse and the surrounding earth, was just as much a strike against Tolmet and one she could probably deliver with Brink and Rashyr to assist.

She asked the group to lead the army if destroying the larvae proved too much for her, but the group argued that the wyrms were young and there was time before they became a destructive menace like those that roamed the Baalgor.
They convinced her to leave with her army and do everything she could to remain in the land of the living until the day Necropolis fell.

In this conversation, Fortune revealed that some of the end game prophecies had referred to Fortune as ’The First Battlefield of the Gods’, implying that the time of her death was a determining factor in which of the gods prevailed in the war to come.

She went on to remind the group that if Necropolis did not fall before ’The Will of Tolmet’ came to the battle (Madgellania is known as ’The Voice of Tolmet’ or ’The Herald’) that the battle they approached would be lost before it began.
She said that then ’The Will of Tolmet’ would be ’The Second Battlefield of the Gods’.

138. Volition

The calamitous descent was heard, felt and seen throughout the entire army. Tents, people, livestock and whatever else was in it way were crushed and ground from the surface of the world by the quake like impact. As people tried to help the wounded or fled the site, the unharmed beast simply lay still, claimed by an unnatural slumber. Though no one could see them, all in the vicinity felt the oppressive power of ten thousand spirits working to undermine the dragon’s will.

Most people moved as far from the gargantuan creature as they could, but there was one who heard the news and went to investigate. Illynis of Dawn surveyed the monster and as she drew near, she realised an unprecedented opportunity to remove this dangerous, uncontrollable power from the gambit for creation. Great power, driven by whim, was useless to enemy or ally and perhaps destructive to both.

She would not allow the future of her world to be left to chance, and it was then that she took in hand a weapon she had promised Emalf Eldritch she would never use. With “The Baalgor Lance” in hand she made to climb the beast and see if the weapon said to have wasted one fifth of the world could slay a dragon.

As she had climbed on to its talon, to her surprise, she found the dragon had a sword she had once used strapped to the inside of one of its “fingers”. She liberated the blade and climbed through a dizzying invisible mist of dream spirits until she found herself atop its back. She analysed the scales and spines at the back of the creatures neck and climbed to the point she judged neck joined with head. Then anchoring herself between huge spines, she plunged the lance into the dragon.

Though a single sting from that terrible weapon had already condemned the monster and much more, she went on to ply Castle Rake against it. With each blow she had cut through many dream spirits to reach the reptile in sway.

After the dealing with Shah Dallan, the group had continued their walk toward the fringes of the army, when Andrakasis had first become aware that some of his dream spirits were dying. Mentioning it to Echo seemed to awaken something in the Summoner. Where no trace of memory had been before, she recalled exactly what was about to happen.

She knew that she stood no chance of reaching the scene before Illynis had completed the deed, but she rallied the group to turn and hasten back in the direction from which they had come. In anger and despair, she let their pace slacken when she felt the dragon’s life pass from Palladium.

They weren’t to reach the dragon at all that day, for other events ensnared them. On the make shift road, they were confronted by Battle Master Nahtra Crane and Enchanter Brink Endean with an entourage of the Imperimundi’s guard.

Battle Master Crane explained that a large number of influential army leaders had become aware of Andrakasis’ presence and demanded that the Imperimundi represent justice for the crimes of the “Witch King” against virtually every nation of Palladium. Towards this end, Fortune had sent the entourage to escort Andrakasis and the group to her amphitheatre and the audience popular demand required.

The man that had once ruled the east seemed unthreatened by the assertions and as Echo sent “The Blade” and her familiar to investigate the scene of the dragon’s death, she led the remainder of the party in accompanying Andrakasis to something that could be worryingly close to a trial.

With Shah Dallan’s death, Illynis’ mind had settled on the mundane things that had been the core of her existence. The death of the dragon had been a kind of “greater good”, but what came next soothed her. Many knew her from her months with the army and those that didn’t instinctively understood her authority.

Dressed in splashes of the black blood of a dragon, she directed tents be erected for the wounded and proceeded to engage in the healing herself. In this time she became aware of a thin, distantly familiar man, shadowing her. He offered help proactively and supported her in each of the things he recognised needed to be done.

The man, Micarlaten Viger, had a dubious past, but in her own experience he had been only helpful. There had been a price for his help, but it had been something few would want that had been easily given to him, and she had the feeling as he helped her once more that there was genuine gratitude in him.

Though she seethed that the “Healers” of Dawn she knew served Satan also managed the wounded, as matters gave way to her guiding hand, Viger suggested gently that they should make their way to the amphitheatre to witness the Imperimundi’s address.

It was something she knew Landradis would approve of, for it was because of her that the audience had been called. Though the Mirror Witch was far away, her “captured” vessel, Consort Odeesia Malchrist had allowed her to subjugate more of the army than even Illynis knew. Whilst the petition taken before the Imperimundi had been represented by dozens of ranking officials from all over the world, it only happened so quickly and unanimously because one woman had wanted it.

She gave parting instructions to the healers and took the reassuringly mysterious wizard with her to the amphitheatre after accepting his offer to make the Lance invisible to avert misuse, theft or questions.

Natasha had arrived at the site of the dragon’s death before Illynis left, but she wasted no time looking for the paladin. Instead she waded through the much thinned crowd and turned her eyes upon a corpse that made a silhouette to rival a small mountain. Superficially, she could see the blood had drained from it and spread cross the earth, far more blood than she had ever seen in one place.

Dragons were rare and this one had been unlike any of the others she had crossed paths with in her long life, or in the prophecies of the other blades. Its blood had turned the earth a disturbing black and she could see all people stayed well clear of it. It already smelled faintly and it emanated a shadow of the menacing power the dragon had commanded with its presence.

“The Blade” turned to a nearby man, probably hoping to steal moments when he wouldn’t be observed to loot the dead that had yet to be taken into the care of the healers. She offered the man gold in exchange for stepping onto the blackened earth to check for perils.

The man complained that its touch on his feet itched and burned, but he was not immediately scathed. His dim, almost meaningless prophecy, also seemed unscathed.

Her first fear disproven, she continued a little longer to breathe the disconcerting odour and looked beyond the land breaking beneath the dragon’s body. Naked eye saw only a carcass, but the prophecy surrounding the dragon was something entirely more unnatural.

Knots of prophecy writhed within the scales. A terrible, hungry chaos that would eventually rupture the fading membrane of life and escape into the world. Whatever was inside the body would be a threat to match or exceed that of Shah Dallan himself and looking upon it gave her little insight into its nature or how to stop it.

Pensive over how much and how little the scene had showed her she almost missed the most obvious of powers that had taken hold in the blackened soil. As the shadows grew long in the afternoon sun, the glint of red caught her eyes, and a few moments more showed her that the black around the corpse teemed with rats. Their eyes, red with the sight of the death goddess gazed back and Natasha remembered Indel Kyura’s death once more.

As she turned to make her way to the amphitheatre, she whispered what she had seen to the familiar and sent it back to its mistress.

The twenty rows of benches and the open grass centre of the amphitheatre were packed with hostile eyes that regarded Andrakasis as he casually kept his daughter near. Every part of the army seemed to be represented, from Byzantium, to the monster races, to Timiro. Their escort joined the other guard at the base of the stair leading up to the Imperimundi’s high seat.

The Imperimundi sat fragilely in her makeshift throne with Rashyr’s hand on her shoulder as she detailed the nationalities of the petitioners and their charges against the man that had been the “Witch King”. She explained that her army looked to her for a justice that had been denied them two and a half decades ago and that she empathised with their concerns.

Throughout her oration, the times her eyes made contact with the group there was something in them that had not been there before. She had always been a fiery girl, but this time there was fire in her eyes directed at them.

The unspoken accusation was there. Whether she was offended by their doubts. Whether she knew they had been planning to leave the camp. Whether she blamed them for bringing Andrakasis into the camp. Or whether she had decided Emalf’s contemptuous words reflected their own feelings.

She invited the group and the accused to respond, and Andrakasis asserted that the past was decades gone and he had other priorities. Echo bartered words she hoped would diffuse the situation and Ethimas suggested that everything he had heard about the infamous “Witch King” suggested that the man sat idle before their judgement by his own volition.

For a child, Fortune was exceptionally good at sating the crowd without pandering to them. After having validated their claims with surprising depth, she reminded them why they had gathered. That whatever war had come before, there was another with a far more insidious enemy, one that would one day come for them all.

Well versed in portends of her own coming, Fortune clearly knew that even the most ignorant of her petitioners knew the prophecies of “The General of the Great War”. A man that most people believed was Andrakasis.

She took the point and with it she took the decision from them. She told them that fate, and they themselves, had charged her with ending the struggle with death. Even if the very war she led them too was not “The Great War”, she asserted there was no question that conflict was coming and that what they had asked of her jeopardised the outcome if Andrakasis’ prophecy was true.

She told them that they had chosen her to lead them against the true enemy. Towards that end she would not allow the size of the gathering to threaten her objectivity. She would assess the truth of Andrakasis’ identity in private and the army would respect her decision.

The ultimatum, possibly because it was not a final decision, went down surprisingly well.

Illynis had arrived during the audience and loomed over those others that were present as she broke etiquette and remained on horseback. As the guards ushered the enormous gathering from the amphitheatre Illynis and Echo found themselves before each other for the first time since Shah Dallan’s death.

Whilst the general populace left peacefully, Echo was not about to allow Illynis to ride away without explaining herself. From somewhere deep within, a part of her spoke that she had always feared, something that took greater hold of her with each passing week. But when it spoke it struck the paladin like a blow.

Uncharacteristically, Illynis obeyed the command and dismounted her horse. Rather than face the tirade she knew the Summoner would force on her, she tethered her mount and headed toward the chamber where they had all been invited to assist the Imperimundi in coming to her decision about the “Witch King”.

Instinctively, she raised her shield with violent speed as the other woman attempted to take her arm to wrench her around. The blow staggered Echo and she narrowly kept her feet.

Echo accused her of damaging the future for them all. She lamented the difficulty she had in reconciling her memories of Illynis’ import to the future with a dead feeling at her heart that meant Shah Dallan would never play the crucial role she knew the world needed him to.

The Paladin was unmoved as she disputed the Summoner’s assertion that the dragon could be harnessed to any purpose but its own. She reminded Echo of what the dragon had done to the people that had previously tried to use it…her own people, and of the personal loss the dragon had inflicted on her (of the guardian angel and the Loreguard she had shared the light of her soul with) for the petty reasons of her elven linage and its own avarice.

Though the accusations did not abate, Illynis continued on her way where she coerced the Imperimundi’s guard into admitting King Lastus and General Arn to the audience against Fortune’s instructions.

If being the subject of discussion had bothered Andrakasis at all, he hid it well. He was not openly obstructive to any part of the Fortune’s cause, but no part of it awakened enthusiasm in him either. He supported the removal of Tolmet’s grasp from the world, but what he really wanted were the answers owed him by Lucifer and a terrifying vengeance upon he and Satan both. Left to his own devices, Andrakasis would get to Tolmet when he had done with them.

The Imperimundi left no one in doubt she intended to decide the fate of the man. A situation that Andrakasis seemed to find amusing and something the group knew all too well was almost certainly dependent upon his consent. Should he choose to resist, many would die at his hand and his daughter might unleash Hell on the army.

Illynis stood in the room distractedly. She had no love for the former “Witch King” and would not go out of her way to help him, but she found being within the command tent tedious beside her other concerns. She knew that Landradis had orchestrated the trial and felt that her contribution was not needed.

As Echo addressed the Imperimundi and her attendees, Illynis’ mind kept returning to the dragon and the instrument of its death. Foreboding rode her mind at the memory of the creeping blackness such that she did not at first notice the rodent regarding her.

The rat was in plain sight, yet no other saw it. As the animal paused to look back imploringly before moving to leave the tent, Illynis excused herself wordlessly, barely noticing that Micarleten Viger followed.

She and the wizard followed the creature into the night. It led them back into the thick of the army and was joined by many other rats as they made their way to the edge of the blackened earth around the great corpse where Madgellania awaited her in the moonlight.

The Voice of Tolmet had always been distant and cold. She had talked to the world at large and never to individuals, and much of what made her instantly seem the enemy had been her alien silence and lack of acknowledgement. Yet in that moment the woman’s gaze met Illynis’ and the sadness it conveyed might have stolen her breath were it not dominated by an almost maternal pity.

Madgellania sympathised with Illynis as the previous wielder of “The Baalgor Lance”. She said that she had used the lance on the goddess’ instruction without realising what it would mean for the future. She had gone about her other charges for more than decades before she had even become aware of the waste growing from the place where she had wielded the weapon.

She was to discover that “The Baalgor Lance” was an Ovipositor ( made of bone from some kind of gargantuan creature. The lance impregnated its victims with the eggs of Sandwyrms and that the Sandwyrms were possessed of an insatiable hunger and near complete immunity to all attacks.

Madgellania had settled and founded Necropolis not because it was the will of her goddess, and not because the wasteland was impossibly defensible, but because if she failed to take responsibility for the creatures she had made, they would travel as far as their hunger took them. The cultists of Necropolis revered blood and sacrifice, but their need for blood was largely a result of the exponentially growing hunger of the maturing Sandwyrms.

The Baalgor was a wasteland because the Sandwyrms’ subterranean passage destroyed the surface wherever they passed, and that wastelands size was contained by millennia of feeding the Sandwyrms at Necropolis from the blood sacrifices of the cultists. Should the sacrifices end, Madgellania suggested the Wyrms would traverse and ravage the entire world in their search for blood.

Madgellania told Illynis that she abhorred the Lance that had ruined her life and had hidden it long ago. It should never have been found or used again….only it was. She told Illynis that Necropolis could not and would not take responsibility for the larvae growing within Shah Dallan’s corpse. She said that that duty should be shouldered by the one whom gave them life and that the world would not see her sacrifice, only the monstrous wyrms, their destructive power and the lives they would need to be fed.

She said that the only thing she could do for the Paladin was to take the Lance once more and place it out of ignorant reach.

Micarleten Viger looked on anxiously as the lance was given to the avatar of Death.

137. The Descent to Death

Echo stood transfixed before the vista of Fortune at the focal point of the eyes of Hell. She was suddenly taken by a déjà vu that bordered on memory. She imagined a massive reptilian eye as it flicked open to reveal a slitted yellow iris flecked with red. She felt its waking with primal fear. Fear for when and what instincts would interfere in the world’s plans.

Yet the beast was only one fear, for almost as if they were of one meaning she could see a white robed man stepping from the black fire of the portal from heaven Spire and onto the abyss. A man that she had known. A man that was not a man any longer. A man whose design belonged to an echelon of creation that might care nothing for Palladium and its mortal inhabitants.

In the wake of Fortune’s distress and Emalf’s desertion, those assembled on the platform looked on in shock. Some still peered warily into the darkness, but the enormous glassy eyes were nowhere to be seen.

Slowly, some of those gathered begun to murmur of the meaning of what had transpired. It was only when Medicii Rashyr Gondvalla gasped and began to frantically ply his art against the girl he had kept from the brink of death for impossibly long that attention returned to Fortune.

‘The Blade’ watched as he performed what should have been an unremarkable act of healing. She was accustomed to feeling the passage of life as the Healers granted Dawnings to their patients, but this was something different. As she watched she became aware of the near absence of fate swirling around Rashyr and knew that a man made Loreguard to Andrakasis and entwined in the prophetic juggernaut that was Imperimundi Fortune should have teamed with all the trappings of destiny.

She watched in awe and horror as a woefully small fragment of the man’s potential ceased to orbit him and trembled on the brink of the gravity of a healing Natasha had never dreamed was possible. As the intrinsic and critical part of the man teetered, Natasha couldn’t decide whether to admire or pity the man that was emptying his soul into a girl almost certain to die at the hands of the Blade Kyura.

She saw the flow of prophecy, not just a communication, but a complete transfer of that part of the man’s place in the message to the girl. She saw the terminal light she knew should have passed into the Nether Gate at the time of death as it rushed into the girl. She saw its warmth crawl through her flesh briefly before the blankness of disease smothered it once more.

Exhausted, Rashyr wordlessly held out his hand to his friends and members of the group joined the Healer’s sacrifice. Surrendering a part of themselves that had not been, and now never would be.

Fortune did not awake that day, but Rashyr’s relief spoke volumes about her chances of recovery…”this time”. The gathering of ranking members of the girl’s army had made their way back through the black fire that delivered them to the chamber of the God Glasses of Heaven Spire. There Ritual Leader Kormon had insisted the assembly push ahead as he stayed behind to realign the archaic telescopes to prevent Hell from following them back to the mortal world.

Above the cloud line they descended in peace from the neck of the tallest of mountains. Though day prevailed outside, they walked in the shadow of an angry moon begetting full eclipse upon them. In the days that followed they would continue down the treacherous slopes with the broken girl across their backs.

These moments of anxious peace allowed the archer Ethimas Hidetaki to insinuate himself into the party of women. With movements and motions suggestive, he was a man of incisive interest that gave away little of his own motivations as he kept strangely close company with Echo, Natasha and Illynis.

He seemed keen to understand what the group made of events on the platform in the abyss and distanced himself from the others that had followed the girl up the mountain with him in the first place.

Some days later, with the unnatural moon having drifted back to normality and the cloud line above them, as it should be, the group spied the ramshackle constructs and caves of the monster races that had once believed the fire giants near the pinnacle of the mountain were gods. But the group and the realisation of the world’s prophecies surrounding death had reformed their focus to the coming of Fortune and her army.

The ascendant party had spared little time to converse with the elders of the monster races, but Fortune had invited them to send representatives to accompany them and promised they would be welcomed into the cause of the gathered army when she rejoined it.

The broken girl lacked the strength to hold audience with the monsters and instead Kormon Somiah represented her as most of the remainder accompanied the group down the feet of the mountain, across the river and into an encampment that stretched as far as the eye could see.

The army was a truly global force and the banners of every kingdom the group could think of were represented to one extent or another. Clearly evident tension blanketed the force, but it was not the army itself that drew Natasha’s attention.

It was rather the staggering weaves of prophecy woven throughout. It was a kaleidoscope of destinies waiting to be realised and it should have been utter chaos, but it wasn’t. To the limits of awareness, her mind’s eye could see tightly drawn prophecy oppressed the chaos in an orchestra so intricate that she could barely make out even the thickest strands of fate. Everywhere there were glimpses of Fortune herself, yet the colour of her prophecy was twisted a subtly different shade to what ‘The Blade’ had observed gathered around the girl.

On first perceiving the twists of fate, she had worked to isolate even a single dominant thread. Her success was limited as where the knots of prophecy intertwined she would lose one and pick up another that was disturbingly similar. In the end, it was the commonality of the threads that allowed her to recognise the work of a Blade, even if it was not that of Panath.

The group were given their own tent, but no sooner had they dropped their packs than they received invitations for audience with both Imperimundi Fortune and King Jeshuan Lastus of Timiro. Though Illynis, whom camped with the Timiroan contingent had returned to the King and Peril, the group chose to see the girl first.

They found her distraught in the privacy of a command tent from which all her vassals had been dismissed. The ever present Rashyr Gondvalla fussed over poultices, potions, ointments and assorted parchments. For all the fuss it was clear that his mind and attention was on the girl’s well-being.

Fortune was puzzled and distressed over the lack of faith shown by her friend and father figure, Emalf. Echo’s attempts to placate the girl only betrayed her own reservations about the girl’s chances for surviving to complete her quest to end Death. The Imperimundi struggled with how she would get the army across the Baalgor to Necropolis, indicating that her plans to keep the worst of the sun off the army using perpetual eclipse and hide the army from the Sandwyrms using the cloak of Aco had been predicated upon the power of the Hedron Emalf had taken.

In the absence of suggestions from the group she theorised that a rapid indoctrination of any soldiers interested in joining the God Glass may allow her to use her subordinates to form a web of power with her at the centre. She hoped their combined strength under her guiding hand might facilitate her original plans.

They left the girl in improved humour, humour that she may not have held had she known that the audience had convinced the group that they needed to reach Necropolis ahead of the army and deal with the threats there themselves.

They were escorted from the Imperimundi’s presence by a rising acolyte by the name of “Nishaana”. From the first step, Natasha had sensed how the unfamiliar woman moved through prophecy, and when they followed her out into the open air and between the large pavilions of the command tents, Indel Kyura revealed herself.

Where moments before she had walked amongst the ropes of prophecy surrounding the Imperimundi, her route had taken her blatantly from that obfuscation. Each subsequent stride saw the ambient threads thin as the ones surrounding the assassin emerged. “The Blade” knew instantly that the “acolyte” had woven far too much prophecy for Natasha to unravel and equally that the prophecy was laced with myriad layers of redundancy to the point where any attempt at direct confrontation would kill them all.

Leaving her unlikely companions far enough away that they had the slimmest of chances to escape if the assassin engaged, she listened in horror as Blade Kyura’s words revealed the extent of her delusion. Not only was it part of her prophecy to kill the head of her order (Natasha herself), but she claimed that part of prophecy was left to her own choice.

Panath was a prescriptive god. The only things left to choice were additions, not the sacrilege of veto by his underlings. And yet, Natasha felt that the confusion of prophecy ensnaring the army probably would survive multiple such contradictions and remain incalculably dangerous.

As the assassin proposed to let a discarded Blade live in respect for years of service they had shared and the camaraderie, Natasha saw her chance. Reminding the fallen Blade that she had served with her for so very long, they had shared dreams of those the god wanted dead and they had respected each other without reservation.

Natasha implored Indel to trust her just once more so that she might show here the truth in the encampment. It was a flaw that could not have existed in the prescriptive contract of Panath, but whatever had usurped Blade Kyura’s purpose had offered her the freedom to use her own extensive experience to extrapolate on the prophecy given to her.

The true “Blade” of Panath shared the dream contracts of her blades. Natasha may not have witnessed what had happened on the abyssal platform, but she knew that Indel had died. She had felt that thread of prophecy’s backlash as death had severed it and true service has been ended. Moreover, she had benefited from her time with Emalf Eldritch, a man whom Tolmet had a disturbing interest in.

Natasha took those prophetic events and showed them to Indel. From Emalf’s vision, she showed the woman her own death, validated it with the back lash that had struck her and reinforced it with Panath’s own direction that the highest of his Blades investigate.

When the vision subsided, Indel Kyura was silent. A part of her had broken with the realisation she had failed her god and allowed herself to be subverted against what he stood for. She asked forgiveness and sought solitude to search her soul for worth and purpose, but Natasha could not allow more time to be lost.

With a dizzyingly complex prophecy running throughout the camp, Panath had to know what it was that Indel Kyura was to do under Tolmet’s sway. It was barely a surprise to discover her target was Imperimundi Fortune herself.

The Blade’s revelation served only to deepen the groups conviction that they must reach Necropolis as soon as possible. Uncertain how to achieve that goal, much less anticipate or prepare for what would await them there. Echo insisted they needed Andrakasis.

So, in the privacy of their tent, Echo set about drawing summoning circles as intricate as anything she remembered. At times she did not know where the symbols came from, but where conscious thought had not answered, the memory of a memory of a dream gave her what she needed, and when she was finished she poured her soul into the magic.

Throughout the summoning she saw snippets of things that the man had experienced, things he was experiencing and perhaps things he was yet to experience. They were distinct chapters of his life, great moments spent in another world looking for an angel playing at god.

Her demand time and space deliver the man they had left to the fate Lucifer had planned for him was answered and Andrakasis manifest in the circle. Disorientation passed and on learning he was no longer in the Hells, the former Witch King was annoyed that Lucifer had once again eluded him.

From prolonged discussion with Andrakasis, it became clear they were at a loss for what to do when they reached Necropolis. The once King of the East promised to ponder the situation, but his only immediate, and probably self-serving suggestion, was that if they took nothing else to Necropolis, they should take Peril.

They found the King Lastus’ tent in a “war council” populated by world leaders that were concerned at the ominously slow pace with which the army moved and the Imperimundi’s lack of explanation. The group commenced a heated criticism of the assembly, but the outrage quieted somewhat as the assembled one by one realised who was with the group.

The conversation had little opportunity to shift toward the topic of a man they clearly considered a war criminal, for Andrakasis cut through it all as he asked after his daughter. When Illynis parted the curtain to see what the disturbance was, Echo warned Andrakasis that the Mirror Witch would be with his daughter.

Dismissively, the man strode toward the entryway and as he did a tension rose in him and erupted in a shockwave. The sound of shattering glass rang loudly from Odeesia Malchrist’s chamber.

The heavily pregnant woman struggled to sit up as they crowded into a tent normally reserved for the kind of intimate meetings that no doubt often ended with the attendee leaving short a reflection. The room was strewn with shards of glass and the half dwarf Rhonin fussed over Peril whom had been quite close to one of the mirrors that Andrakasis had shattered.

Odeesia was livid. If she was at a power disadvantage, she compensated admirably with valid attacks on the groups character. She reminded them of the agreement they had entered with her that they had forfeit at the first opportunity; when the Covens had attacked in force and her power over the palace struck down (the group knew this had been achieved by Satan using the Hedron of Doors), they had ignored her call to attend to Emalf and Orbray-Ell in Ell-Maine.

She went on in a condemnatory tone to tell them that the next time they come before her, they pre-empted their entrance with an attack on the source of her power and follow it up by bringing the man before her that killed her husband, stole her daughter and throne and oppressed her entire Kingdom before delivering her granddaughter into a life cursed beyond anything recorded in history.

Echo felt the sting of truth in the accusations. She knew things could have been handled better, but she did not regret the course they had set. As Illynis looked on with disapproval verging on hostility, and Echo bore the brunt of Landradis’ verbal assault, Andrakasis had closed the distance to his daughter.

For all the absence and failing her father may have represented, the cursed girl was pleased to see him. Her greeting was indulged only briefly before Andrakasis told Peril and Rhonin that he wanted them to come with him and the group and they would need to decide immediately.

The group, the war criminal, the cursed girl and her childhood love left the tent together. They hurried through the camp knowing that it would take more than a day to walk clear of the army and much could go wrong.

Only hours later the great shadow passed over them. Echo knew immediately that it was Shah Dallan, and with the knowledge came additional memories. In less than a second she remembered he had awoken in Hell and flown the length of the pillar of light to find the power that Fortune had activated on the viewing platform over the abyss. He had arrived too late and found those assembled on the platform around the girl were gone, leaving behind only the fragile scent of mortality blessed with power that should be his.

Shah Dallan had once again ridden the light to travel from the abyss through eleven levels of Hell and passed through purgatory. He had emerged in the dusty, cold grey craters of the moon and set out on the flight across space to reach Palladium.

Echo knew that any number of important pieces in the war to come would be frivolously destroyed in the dragon’s search for the power it had sensed in the abyss. Equally she knew that it would rage when it did not find it because Emalf had taken it away. The entire future subject to fury and whim.

She turned to “The Blade” and asked if there was a way for Panath to stop the dragon, but Natasha had no response. And so she turned her attention to the only other power amongst them she imagined might have means of stopping Shah Dallan. Andrakasis told Echo he did have a measure in place that might work, but that he doubted enough of the people of the East were in the army to make it work.

Grasping at what she could, Echo asked him to try. In the open air, Echo drew the circle the telepath had shown Malayek drawing in the past. He stood in the completed circle and called to those of the army that had been in the East at the time of the Dream Siege, or those descended from them.

Perhaps if Echo had known what would come next, she would not have asked the man to help. Nearly ten thousand spirits born of the dream siege seized control of the souls they inhabited and sought to cut themselves free. Nearly ten thousand men, women and children horrified those near them as they took the weapon nearest them in hand and ended their lives.

The awakened Spirits shed flesh as if they were cocoons, and each leaving a corpse in their wake they streaked invisibly into the heavens toward the dragon circling the encampment.

One or even a hundred spirits would have been a laughable assault on a beast of such scale, but ten thousand overwhelmed it. The spirits swarmed around it and as they infected its will the dragon sagged from consciousness and the sky and crashed into the tents below to claim still more lives.

136. Speak of Devils and Angels

As the Bishop worked for them behind distant closed doors, the building shuddered. People of action that they were, the group set off in the direction of the quake.

The public behind them could be heard screaming as the group hurried toward the continued explosions. Across a courtyard they could see ornate doors leading into the central chapel of The Vatican. Pillars of light were plunging from the heavens, through the roof of the Sistene Chapel to light up the gap between the ajar main doors.

As they drew near, they realised a child they could not quite focus on was standing to the fore of the doors. The cherub looked up at them, its innocent smile punctuated by a backdrop of human art framing a struggle between “good” and “evil” in the chapel beyond. It implored the group to leave Andrakasis to his work in the Kingdom of Light. In return, they would have their answers from Lucifer immediately.

Alternatively, they could go to the aid of a man that had not always been their ally, and gain audience only when they had collectively triumphed over the false gods of the Kingdom of Light.

The group accepted, and the cherub closed the doors on a man that would have to survive an entire dimension alone. As the angel opened the door again, the child was replaced with the four winged majesty of Lucifer himself.

Beyond the newly opened doors was another world, parallel to the one they had been able to see before. Some would have called it “heaven”, but the group knew that they looked upon the level of the Citadel of Dis at the heart of the Kingdom of Light.

Seemingly relaxed and guileless, Lucifer imparted details that built on Rhonin’s studies. He told them, in a melancholy voice, that whilst he had been occupied as a prisoner first in the dungeons of Caer Ithom, then in Ell-Maine, his celestial lieutenants had each usurped one of his faces to oppose the rise of “The Beast”. They liked the authority of those positions, though it was never theirs, and they refused to recognise Yahweh’s rule.

Lucifer said he could not devote the uninterrupted time necessary to depose or destroy them without risking the entire Kingdom. He professed to love his world, but knew that he ignored Palladium at great peril to himself and the things dearest to him.

Though the words ran with truth, the group knew this was a being that manipulated others into solving its problems. It would only risk itself when all recourses were lost.

So it was that Lucifer had chosen to lure Andrakasis to the Kingdom of Light. A man he now knew ‘The Third’ had groomed to destroy angels. Having killed enough celestials to be synonymous with the prophecies of ‘Angel Slayer’, and fresh from overseeing the demise of the Angel Queen herself, Lucifer believed him uniquely suited to the task at hand.

The fallen witch-king would turn to the obvious powers of the Kingdom. In each case when he found an Angel in pretence of godhood, Lucifer was confident the man’s frustration would turn his will to the usurper’s demise.

The transition to “Heaven” so sudden that even ‘The Blades’ primed perceptions could not gauge its threshold. The Citadel of Dis blazed with the light of The Message conducted through the pillar of light at its heart, refracted and dispersed uniformly throughout a place more still like Ell-Maine than the Citadels manifestation in the Kingdom of Flesh.

Surrounded by majestic crystalline walls, Lucifer glided about a chamber as absent as it was present. Before the semblance of a window, Lucifer sighed. Seemingly saddened by the events outside the walls of Dis, he looked down on the world below that he intended Andrakasis to put right, and confessed that he had made the Kingdom of Light as solace for all that his life had kept from him.

He said that he had “forgotten the face of his father” and that he had made the Kingdom in the likeness of what he imagined the creator might have done. He had made it for a daughter that did not know he existed, whom he had surrendered to keep safe from Ell-Maine and Hell. That daughter was ‘Mastema’ and Lucifer wanted to the Kingdom of Light to be his legacy for her. Her safe place where she might “remember the face of her father”.

Without reference to why he had divulged such information, Kavad-Ell became serious. He recounted why the group had come to him and promised that he would do as he had said. He confirmed that even as he had been manipulated by ‘The Third’, he had shadowed the man across time and the volumes of history. Though angels transcend time, he had found that through some sort of device, from the time of “ The Message Thieves”, “The Third” was able move more freely even than an agent of the Creator.

He said that he believed that “The Third” had been a man the group knew as “Omegaden”. That this man had sought validation that the answer to the failing “[Sequence | matrix]]” was zero, and had scoured time for the knowledge. Lucifer speculated that he had come to rest at a time before the First Great War, shortly after the success of the Old Ones in their theft from Ell-Maine.

He had found his answer with one of the Thieves, and in it a loyalty that would span eons.

Lucifer went on to affirm that whilst some parts were speculation, he knew beyond doubt that the Old One had planned for the defeat of its kind. He even suggested that the Old One had orchestrated their defeat so that it would not have to share reality with its peers. Subterfuge gave it the freedom to complete its plans. So the thief allowed itself to fall with its brethren with the knowledge that faithful Omegaden would awaken them only decades later.

Omegaden had not stopped in the time his master was locked in slumber. He had moved throughout time, writing the prophecy and history required to create his master’s future. A time when he had gone by many names, including ‘Ohm’.

He had written prophecies for countless religions. Presumably through his knowledge of the future and his intention to later manipulate events to conform to those prophecies. He had created the foundation of many of the world’s religions. His words, under one name or another, remained sacred canon Palladium over.

The Third had been instrumental in the defeat of the Old Ones. Through him, Lucifer had conceived the plan that co-opted Satan into betraying the Old Ones. Through him, the first attempts at an Angel Slayer had been realised, and though the first dozen such men had been obscure failures carefully erased from history, eventually Andrakasis had succeeded in removing the Angel Queen.

Lucifer shuddered as he expressed his certainty that so much of what had been done had been expressly to break the governance of Ell-Maine. He was both terrified and relieved that Mastema herself presided over the place at the current time, and knew his daughter would not surrender the Sphere of Cloud easily, even to an Old One.

Lucifer shared much. Whether he shared everything or not was known only to him, but the conversation was cut short when he suddenly became distant.

The angel, come arch devil, refocused on his guests to say that his alarms had been triggered. ‘The Third’ was in the abyss at the heart of the Hell’s. He told the group he could not allow the opportunity to pass, and in the interests of keeping attention off himself, they would have to make their own way there.

He advised that the transport of light would respond to them, and that they could bypass flesh to access the abyssal transport directly.

It was an eerie journey in which Emalf was reminded of his last visit to the place. With the passing of Satan from power, and the joining of war over flesh, the activity in Satan’s soul laboratories had all but halted. The handful of Viscera encountered were easily eluded and the group found themselves at the obsidian doors barring them from the abyss.

Where Fortune had opened the doors that other time with a touch, the group struggled with the monumental task of moving them. As they did so, a vaguely familiar voice called to them.

Copernicus of the Sequence greeted the people that had left him for Andrakasis’ mad assault on Ell-Maine in a place the antithesis of the celestial home. He observed that time was short and that others were already on the abyssal viewing platform. Together they forced the doors open just enough to slip through.

On the platform was a significant gathering of familiar faces amongst strangers. Rashyr Gondvalla, Illynis of Dawn, and Ritual Leader Najelleck looked on as Fortune herself ascended the stairs to the circular plateau at the centre of the platform.

The rakish-thin girl moved with a nervous trepidation that was palpable more than one hundred metres distant. On the plateau where Emalf had “seen” Indel Kyura left for dead by Madgellania, the girl stooped over a flower like pedestal just like what the group had seen in the Temple of the God Glass and Heavenspire. A bizarre metallic flower with the form of half a dodecahedron.

The girl placed the Hedron of Doors in the cup that had been clearly made for it. Her shoulders slumped at the sight, but she was not done.

As the girl again stood upright, Emalf had broken into a run toward the girl. His companions had rushed after him, only to stumble and flail in horror as they saw the gigantic glassy eyes emerging from the dark.

Where at first the onlookers imagined a malevolent beast reaching out of the abyss to destroy them all, they were speechlessly relieved as every one of the eleven giant eyes trained themselves equidistantly upon the withered girl as she burned with the ‘invisible fire’ of the active Hedron.

As they glowed it was suddenly apparent that they were not eyes at all, but lenses. Lenses containing a view of an entire quadrant of the sky. As the brilliance promised to grow blinding, the girl cried out in fear, snatching the Hedron from its place on the metallic flower, she collapsed as the telescopes retracted again into the darkness.

Emalf and Orbray-Ell reached her only moments before [[:rashyr | Rashyr. Blinking through a haze of tears from her place on the black stone, Fortune stared dumbly at her warlock friend and reached out her hands imploringly.

The girl may have hoped for the solace of a hug from the man that had been saving her since before she was born, but instead he wrenched the Hedron from one of the hands outstretched with yearning, saying “Little girls should not play with such toys”, and in an explosion of light Emalf, Orbray-Ell and Copernicus were gone.

So much attention had been on the girl and the warlock, that no one paid heed of the mathematician as he had come within arm’s reach. The barely known mage slid beads the length of his abacus to twist the matrix to his will. Time dilated and as the Hells had stood still, Copernicus questioned Emalf on what it was he was doing.

As the fire of rage, that this necessary deed might be thwarted burned in the warlock, Copernicus listened. Satisfied he gave the warlock and the angel his assent tried to withdraw.

Though they would become separated in the vortex, the Sequence member would be unable to extricate himself from the power of an angel in such proximity to the Hedron of Doors and would also fall through the gaps between worlds.

135. The Purpose of The Beast

They awoke in a large dark chamber constructed of dark stone slabs. In large bronze bowls burned a scentless liquid. By the light they could see the room was strewn with bones they recognised as belonging to demons and humans. Orbray-Ell stood protectively between the rousing group and a dark skinned primitive at the fringes of the light.

At first the group found themselves at odds with the man. His foreign language sounded menacing and it was only when Emalf activated his “Pendant of Tongues”, that Dzuyi’s words matched his worried body language.

The tribesman uneasily encouraged the group to follow him to an audience with “The Beast”. He seemed terrified that “The Beast” would be angered as he had with the last visitor to arrive. A man they knew from the description must have been Andrakasis. Unhappy with the nonsensical answers that other tribesman had given him, the former witch-king had gouged an eye from the man and used it to learn what he could from the man.

Andrakasis had then avoided all other contact in the temple and the primitives had lost track of him outside.

The group were wary of meeting “The Beast”, but the insistence of the dark skinned native that “The Beast” would have the answers they sought overrode caution. Dzuyi guided them through dark corridors in which no other being was seen and out into blinding light. There they stood on a platform sporting steep stone steps down to the forest at ground level.

As they moved away from the Aztec pyramid and into the wild green, they realised that the inside of the temple had reverberated with dimensional echoes of the Kingdom of Flesh. Yet somehow, the sloped stone walls locked away that tide of evil, keeping it apart from something wholly different.

This “Kingdom of Light” was bright and teeming with life. Overlaying all things was an ubiquitous sensation that Kavad-Ell was present. In every being, in every plant, in every inanimate object. Orbray-Ell was convinced that he had personally “created” almost every part of the world in which they walked, and whilst it had no doubt grown apart from his foundational plan, his mark remained glaringly evident.

Some minutes later they were conducted to a solemn tribal gathering. The occasion brimmed with formality as the group were led along an aisle of devout men and women to the simple throne at its end. The groups eyes at first missed the throne, pausing instead on the stained stone block before it.

Dzuyi shifted uneasily at their pause, saying nervously to Emalf, that they must not anger “The Beast”. The Pulyah (witch doctor) hovered in trance at the shoulder of the Qeqchi (leader) as the decorated man stood to bellow words that only Emalf understood. The warlock relayed what he understood and the group seriously entertained preventing the clear intent of the Pulyah to sacrifice a villager as an offering to “The Beast”.

In their minds, as the Pulyah leant on his walking stick to select the chosen, the impending barbarism vied with the likelihood that “The Beast” would have information they might be unable to otherwise learn. Whether it was shortness of time or dissenting opinions, they watched as the man given to “The Beast” in trade for their audience made his way to the block and had his head removed.

Blood gushed into a bowl beneath, and in a manner disturbingly like that of Tolmet’s followers, the Pulyah revelled with his hands in the blood, and used it to mark his face.

The feeling of dark power gathering crept across the assembly as the Pulyah limped with his stick back to the throne. There the age fell away from him and he stood straight and tall with vital youth like that of a great warrior in his prime. When he turned to face the crowd his eyes were abyssal orbs looking back.

When the possessed man asked whom sought audience, Emalf answered with a question in like tones. Nature itself seemed to exhale as the guttural whisper pierced their consciousness. The shaman “said” only three “words”, and whilst the first was an equivalent for “I AM”, what came after was a word that was many titles with many meanings and evoking many emotions.

With that last “word” “The Beast” called itself by the name of every evil of an entire dimension (Abaddon, Accuser, Adversary, Angel of Light, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Anointed Covering Cherub, Antichrist, Apollyon, The Beast, Beelzebub, Belial, Dark One, Deceiver, Devil, Dragon, Enemy, Evil One, Father of Lies, God of this Age, King of Babylon, King of the Bottomless Pit, King of Tyre, Lawless One, Leviathan, Liar, Little Horn, Lucifer, Man of Sin, Murderer, Power of Darkness, Prince of the Power of Air, Roaring Lion, Ruler of the Darkness, Ruler of Demons, Satan, Serpent of Old, Son of Perdition, Star, Tempter, Wicked One, etc).

With the uttering, there was silence. The group paused to absorb something that could surprise even their experience. Orbray-Ell muttered in quiet tones that this being was not the Lucifer they sought and that she could not discern what he was or how dangerous he was. What she knew was that she would not take whatever it was lightly.

As they regathered their thoughts and described Kavad-Ell, “The Beast” answered that the one they sought was “Yahweh”. Such a realisation brought a hunger to the possessed eyes and the inhuman Pulyah demanded the group surrender “The Key to Heaven” when they found it. A lofty title that Emalf led “The Beast” to believe belonged to Natasha.

With an expressionless pleasure emanating from it, the alien evil extended a hand toward the warlock, saying “You will deliver me heaven”. Then as Emalf’s chest, and the clothes atop it burned in the shape of a large clawed hand, the shadow seemed to wash out of the Pulyah. The dark wind blew through every one of those gathered to witness the audience, and when it reached the group, it swept them across the world.

The group found themselves on stone steps outside the world’s largest gothic place of worship. Standing a few steps shy of the large doors leading into the Cathedral of St John the Divine, the group took in the New York skyline, the cars, and the odd attire of the people.

One woman, amongst others stared at the group as she ascended the stairs and Emalf asked her where they were. “Deborah” responded cryptically of a Church in New York 2012 as she absorbed their appearance.

Suddenly concerned that the fire of the world would not answer his summons Emalf instructed Deborah to stand still as he commanded a raging ring of flame around her. Deborah, screaming and people the length of the street reacting in one way or another, Emalf let the fire subside.

“We’re looking for Lucifer”, said Echo to Deborah. The woman observed her skin tight leather and processed the name “Lucifer”, before warily trying to remove herself from conversation with the group.

Surrounding the alarmed woman, the group grew fascinated as Deborah tried to stave off what they might do next with a stammering of words. She commented timidly that their magic, the revealing clothes of their women, and the one they sought did not belong in a place the people came to worship God. The mention of God gave the woman what she wanted, as the curious group focused their attention on the double doors and the church inside.

In the entryway parishioners flinched from them as they stared inquisitively at the religious symbols decorating the walls. As Emalf questioned the significance of the ornamental crucified man mounted above the arch leading into the church proper, he realised Deborah had used their distraction to escape.

An officious man dressed in well-made robes strode through frightened people. He boldly counselled the group against making the trouble in the house of God, and asked them to leave in peace. The request was answered with questions over the Bishop’s authority to command them, and on hearing the man was a member of the Clergy, Emalf demanded a demonstration of power.

Emalf did not like the confused priest’s incredulous assertion that god did not work that way. Taking Haltecere in hand he flicked the blades agile edge across a parishioners arm and commanded the “Bishop” to prove his god and heal the woman.

Bishop Ercharez, outraged and afraid, bellowed at the group to leave as Emalf, with utter calm, called the Priest a charlatan and nodded to Orbray-Ell. As the [[:orbray-ell | angel] in mortal guise moved toward the woman, Emalf asked the priest what use was his God if it would not grant him miracles.

The entire congregation watched in terror as Orbray-Ell, beginning to glow, placed hand upon the woman’s wound and reversed the damage.

The display of power changed everything. Not a single parishioner had ever seen anything like it. The Bishop gasped and inspected the woman for traces of her injury before turning to Medicii Aurar Elidor and addressing her with reverence.

His words were cut short when Echo told him that he must direct them to Lucifer.

In the time since shortly after the groups arrival, the people outside had first fled and then begun to be replaced. On the steps, a woman stood with her back to the cathedral as a man holding a camera filmed her. Her assertion that “In a scene akin to events in LA two days past a group of anarchists has stormed the Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York. Live on scene, the struggle between church and devil worshippers takes place beyond these very doors”.

Hearing her words, Emalf turned to the Bishop to ask what happened in “LA”. From the cleric’s description they deduced that Andrakasis had attacked a church in “The City of Angels” demanding for the world to hear that Lucifer “show himself”. Whilst the assault had taken place between services, there had been innocents hospitalised.

Emalf wanted to hear the words from the source. He stormed back out the entry way, his companions in toe, as a number of cars with flashing lights screeched to a stop in the street. He was bewildered as the woman answered his questions with questions and his patience vanished when the black uniformed “police” charged up the stairs and begun shouting at them.

“Monkey Nuts!” the warlock roared as light exploded from him. All those unaware of the long standing code flinched with their hands to their eyes as Echo invoked her power to summon the weapons from the hands of the disabled “police” to her own. If Natasha saw the blinded men had been disarmed, it did not deter her from the lightning quick motion that brought dagger to hand and cast it at them.

One dagger became many, and as bodies crumpled to the concrete, the Bishop came running from the cathedral yelling to prevent further casualties. As more sirens gathered in the distance, the Bishop found himself leading the group, and the reporter they would not release, into the sacred building.

The reporter, “Madeline Eves”, was afraid and confused that the group thought she would know more than she had “reported”. She described the infamous attack on St Stephen’s Cathedral in Los Angeles and said that she had not reported on the incident and probably knew less than the Bishop.

Echo and Emalf, determined to track down Andrakasis, insisted the Reporter and the Bishop take them to St Stephen’s. The Bishop, who seemed to continually transition between states of incredulity and wonder at Orbray-Ell, volunteered the Catholic “jet” after the reporter mentioned “planes”, “911” and “security”. He hurried to his office to get the keys for his “car” as the noise outside the cathedral grew.

As the party made ready to leave, a short dark skinned man confronted them. They were to discovered that Chaisaine’s elusive son, Rhonin, had been a refugee in the Kingdom of Light for years after falling victim to Peril’s curse. Had had learned something of the Kingdom and after seeing reports of Andrakasis’ attack in L.A., had been ready when reports of the group’s actions had reached him.

Wanting as much to help as to get home, he slid in with the group with an ease that marked him his mother’s son.

The drive to the airport was not without incident. Between traffic jams and transport that stood still, the group simmered on the brink of taking matters into their own hands. Perhaps they would have, had Rhonin not been present to tell them what he had come to understand about the world that Lucifer had built.

Having spent years studying volumes of history, religion and philosophy as an assistant librarian in the New York City Library, he told them he thought that Lucifer had fashioned the dimension in the void left by the defeat of the Old Ones. That he had made or exploited a place that was a prison for angels into a world at his mercy and then recruited or duped other celestials into helping him govern it.

Rhonin speculated that the devils birthed in the Hell Womb destined for the Kingdom of Light had not been a problem at first, but then Lucifer, the being the Kingdom knew as “Yahweh”, had left it without warning.

By his reckoning, Rhonin supposed that had been at the time when Lucifer had conspired with Satan to entrap himself with a prefect of Ell-Maine to learn more of the message. A scheme that had kept him away from the Kingdom for more than one thousand years. Rhonin believed that the people of the kingdom knew this tumultuous time as “The Dark Ages”.

Rhonin was not completely clear on what had transpired in that time, but it was evident that the beginning of the first dark age marked he rise of “The Beast” from obscurity to true influence. It could not be an accident that only a century later clear indications of godly interest had answered “The Beast”.

Knowing that Lucifer was imprisoned at that time, Rhonin surmised that one of his celestial lieutenants had taken up the guise of Yahweh to combat the spiritual following that “The Beast” had accumulated. In the following decades, other deities rose to the fore that seemed parallel to that of Yahweh, but known by other names. Rhonin believed these “deities” were Lucifer’s other lieutenants each combatting the rise in power of “The Beast” by another guise.

It was a long and scholarly analysis of the history of more than one world, and one that described no evidence of the return of the “real” Yahweh.

St Stephen’s Cathedral bore the scars of Andrakasis’ frustration. Closed for repair, the group may not have known about the side entrance to the church had Bishop Ercharez not been with them.

They were welcomed by Sister Mary Ephresia. She told them that as much as the building was damaged, it was the injuries sustained by the minister that kept their doors barred. She did not volunteer the details of the attack, but on request she described the black clothed man in the cape, in whom the Minister had seen ‘a lost soul’.

The priest had approached the man to be answered by the demand to know where Lucifer was. “Father Simmonds” had tried to console Andrakasis and help him find the answers he sought inside himself, but the protagonist had become demonstratively angry and showed the first signs of supernatural power. Baffled by what to tell him, the Priest observed that he doubted even “the Vatican” would satisfy his questions.

What had begun as a feeling of power had dashed them to the ground as Andrakasis had called the Father “the worst kind of deceiver, someone that answers questions with questions, deceiving themselves into thinking they know of what they speak. You are no more use to me than a liar and I do not have time for useless things”.

Sister Mary Ephresia had broken then. Through tears she had described how the monstrous man in black had pulled the clerics eye from his skull and crushed it. It was small solace that the action seemed to soothe his rage and he had left as suddenly as he had arrived.

According the Bishop, the hospital was not far. So the group, wanting to know as much as possible of what Andrakasis had learned from the holy man, delayed their return to the airport to check on him. The group laboured on the odd odour permeating the hospital and the oddity that the Bishop called an “elevator”.

In every way the corridors were both less welcome and less effective than their analogue in Dawn and rather than being a place of life saving spiritual fulfilment, the hospital was just a place for the sick and wounded. The object of much attention, the strange company ignored the scrutiny and through the Bishop’s authority found themselves as the bed side of the injured man.

Business like, they did not dally with explorations or try to talk with the unconscious man. Emalf beckoned Orbray-Ell and Bishop Ercharez saw his most potent miracle yet. The man, almost completely restored had awoken in the midst of the process to see the winged woman aglow with her power. Though what she had done eclipsed months of rest, her first words were an apology that she did not have what she needed to return his eye to him.

Father Simmonds gazed at her in wonder as the group questioned him. His answers gave them little new, apart from to confirm the belief that his assailant would be bound for “The Vatican”.

Two car rides and a flight later (at the expense of the church), the group arrived in Vatican City, where the Bishop negotiated their admission from the regular tourist areas in the operating centre of the Catholic Church. Whilst the complex’s public security team had been easy to pass, the inner circles proved less receptive to the Bishop’s efforts to gain them audience with “The Pope”.

Bishop Ercharez, clearly concerned about what the group might do in the holiest of places, told them as explicitly as possible that he would need to engage in careful negotiation to gain a slot in the Pontiff’s busy schedule and that the best action they could take would be to wait patiently – “without causing any disturbances”.

134. Pillage and Pilgrimage

She sighed at the cold annoyance of the elf and found herself suddenly falling.

They had entered a dark kaleidoscope of cloud. The gods moved the eyepiece with dizzying speed as glimpses of two dimensions passed before them. The moment when solid ground had given way to free fall escaped definition as they plunged through layers of dark fog separating worlds.

The fall began amongst a nothingness whose vastness denied their relevance. As disconcerting as the subliminal aspersion against their importance was, as one dimension fell away, the other asserted dominance.

What was on one side a sleeping girl that burned with the power of Hell, was a dimension wide maelstrom in Hell. The plummeted through angry clouds that had nothing to do with water and were dashed across a ‘sky’ that was not a sky.

Below them, flesh came into focus. Rivers of blood divided a landscape of skin and bone. There would have been no grace to their landing without Orbray-Ell. The angel’s influence over flows of power saw them survive something that could have crushed their mortality to find themselves on the banks of a crater.

As the storm subsided and some small thought was given to the hand that had replaced the crown upon Peril’s head, they could not ignore the enormity of the power implied by the scar on the landscape. An incinerated dermal layer, cauterised blood and the bone shattered beneath.

They regrouped and confronted Echo with her assertions that answers lied in Hell. She responded that the clearest goal lied with finding Lucifer in the Kingdom of Light and that in the Great Citadel (visible from every corner of the world) of Dis. She reminded them there was a transport of light that could move them between the Hells.

So it was to the seat of Hell’s power that they turned.

It took them nearly an hour to ascend the bank of the crater to observe the organic wasteland before them. Above blood, skin, mountains of flesh, craggy spines of bone and copses of monstrous hair (akin to trees), the Citadel loomed as a silhouette both out of reach and seemingly large enough to touch.

Knowing mundane travel would draw less attention, they made their way in the direction of the monolith. Hours later the crater could still be discerned in the distance, the Citadel looking no closer, they spied far off figures whose path might cross their own as they seemed set for the crater itself.

Choosing caution, the group veered off course to elude what were likely to be demonic denizens. Some hours later a pulse of light, brighter than the others that had seemed like distant lightning flashes emanating from a point suspiciously close to where the crater must have been.

There had been no sign of clouds in the sky since the perilous storm on which they had ridden the dimensional divide, until a black blemish gathered in the distant sky. A blemish that grew to dominate the horizon that was accompanied by a disturbing primal hum that steadily grew into a roar.

Echo looked into the mass as she recognised the demon locusts comprising it. “Beelzebub” she said absently in response to the hundreds of thousands of dog sized insects passing over head. When some of the demonic host broke ranks to investigate the group, battle was joined. Though the half dozen locusts were subdued quickly, their individual deadliness was punctuated by the sheer number of their brethren.

Observing a horizon wide wave of pestilence with no indication of its end, the company knew that they could not remain exposed in sight of the demons. Frustrated with walking in a manner that had borne them no closer to the Citadel, Emalf asked Orbray-Ell if she could transport them away. A question that prompted them to puzzle over where they would go, as the demon locusts clearly were bound for the Citadel themselves.

In the same breath as she told her love that she could transport them, she conceded that any eye looking for them would recognise her power. The second statement eroded consideration for the first, but there was no denying that none of them would survive their current plight when the next wave of demons came for them.

The Blade’ of Panath shouted over the roar of demon wings. Saying that she knew someone that would certainly know the status at the Citadel and the wider Hells. That whilst this being could not be taken as an ally that they might help the group, if only inadvertently.

So it was that Orbray-Ell took the risk of using her celestial energies to transport the group to ‘The Hell Womb’. They arrived in a flare of light atop red liquid. As the surface tension of the blood broke beneath their weight, the company fell into the warm viscous liquid to flail messily and make their way to the bank.

For Broadpaw is was a most alarming exercise, and it was almost without realising that he had channelled the energy of the blood and commanded it to return them to the surface.

They walked atop the lake, vision tinged in red and an air of primal hysteria gnawing at their composure. As the shore neared, they noticed the many hundreds of bodies struggling from the crimson depths to stand upon firm flesh. Odd pieces of debris dotted the lake top, at various points resembling unmoving bodies or floating eggs.

The banks were lined with demons, most looking bewildered, but some few directing the confused host toward the fortress atop the mountain. The building was enormous by earthly standards, but seemed mundane against the ever present back drop of the Citadel of Flesh whose limits defied the eye.

If Natasha had been reluctant to mention the option of attending the ‘Hell Womb’ before, her wariness of the place was manifold amongst the demon young. She made no effort to clean the mask of blood from her as the group joined the throng to journey along the base of the massive walls and kept her hood drawn.

As they walked, one of the elder demons answered questions and they learned that ‘The Hell Womb’, or ‘The Bleeding Mountain’ was the largest surviving birthplace of Demon kind. Infernals rose from the blood, were given some small guidance and direction before they began their pilgrimage to the symbol of their choosing.

The honour of reaching the symbol would bring with it lifelong servitude to one of the Kingdoms of Hell.

Challenged at the gargantuan doors leading into ‘The Bleeding Keep’, the group were to discover that gaining audience with the Mother of Demons was not normally a simple matter of request.

Just as it looked like they would need to reformulate their plans, Echo interrupted and said no more than the others before her. The reaction to the summoner’s quiet words was immediate and as they made their way down the long corridor, Natasha had become all but unrecognisable. It defied logic that her much vaunted prophecy could be made to change appearance, but beauty, grace and menace gave way to an utterly forgettable façade. If the assassin’s companions were alarmed, they did not show it.

Countless demons went about disturbingly civilised business within the walls. Some travelling to and from the Mother’s audience chamber. Others simply lining the corridor to glimpse those important enough to see or be seen by her.

The corridor gave way to an enormous gothic interior where scores of demons and devils stood or sat as they talked in a manner that belied the nature their kind was known for. Atop the throne at the centre of the court of Infernals was a ‘woman’ whose youthful exterior showed none of the mortal marks her age long existence must have carried.

She received the group with a maternal cordiality that expected respect and obedience. Her tone, as much as her words, implied her protection and assistance even as its edge served as warning against angering her.

Echidna, The Mother of Demons, advised the group against intentions to travel to the Citadel of Dis. She explained that since Satan had been deposed more than one arch devil had made a play for Hell’s seat. Asmodean from within controlled the citadel, for all the good it did him, as Beelzebub and Armageddon whittled away his defences.

Echidna’s role, as first custodian to those excreted from ‘The Maw’, maintained a neutrality that had kept her free of any of the protagonists. They knew that the Hell Womb itself had more influence over the allegiance of the hatchlings than the Mother did, but she had none the less refused petitions from more than on arch devil to take steps that would have led to her own destruction, and perhaps the womb itself.

As Emalf and Echo asked after alternative means of reaching the Kingdom of Light, Echidna’s attention shifted. The ancient creature drew in a hiss of rage as demonic insight pierced ‘The Blades’ apathetic disguise.

Spines rose along the length of appendages all too like green petals and she seemed to swell. The green of the petal like appendages bloomed a burning red as she lunged forward, and countless spikes erupted from her. The stakes sprayed the room around them as Orbray-Ell summoned a celestial barrier to protect them.

Demons struck by the floral debris staggered before the barrage, then as they seemed about to recover, they collapsed.

Natasha, with no visible effort discarded the disguise that was not a disguise. The blood of the womb to fell from her clothes and she stood resolute before what was to come. Her companions, uneasy as they sometimes were over the identity of their companion, rallied to resist more than they were likely to survive.

As the threat gathered before them, something familiar welled up within Echo. A feeling like she had dealt with Echidna’s anger before. Before she knew what she had done her hand was outstretched and her voice bellowed the command to “STOP!”

It was not accompanied by the meditative disciplines of ‘The Tower of Wills’. Instead, it was effortlessly natural. The demons would obey her, because they had no choice.

Just like that, it was so. The assembly was silent as Echidna, inexplicably cowed, glowered at Natasha. It would become clear later that Echidna may have been ‘Mother of Demons’, but the only off spring that had truly been her own had fallen prey to a contract with Panath. ‘The Blade’ herself had killed Echidna’s son.

Echidna trembled at what she was denied, demanding the group leave immediately. Echo reminded the Demoness that they had come for direction, and they would have it. Again, just like that, it was so. Echidna nodded, gesturing at the door.

Outside the Bleeding Keep, the group were met by a goat-like man calling itself ‘Baphomet’ (though Echo knew it was also known as “The Goat of Mendes”). Baphomet, when queried on how he would get them to The Kingdom of Light took the time to present an analogue to the dimensional relationship between the Hells.

He sketched twelve concentric spheres, saying that the space between each spherical layer represented one of the Kingdoms of Hell straddled by the innermost ‘Abyss’ and the outermost ‘Purgatory’.

From the Kingdom of Flesh he drew a shaft that transcended the Hells, piercing each layer into the next. He called this “The Citadel of Dis” and said that its manifestation in each of the worlds was different, but the seat of power in every level of Hell was part of a single larger construct that transcended them all.

He went on to mark the archaic symbol for all things across Dis on every level, before scratching down likenesses of the other symbols on the eleven corresponding sides of the Hedron of Doors at regular intervals around spheres. Through each symbol he drew a line crossing the boundaries to other layers of Hell with the caveat that the positioning of the Symbols could change in a manner similar to rotating one of the concentric spheres relative to the others.

It was said that at one time each of the Symbols had joined all the levels of the Hells, but some of the arch devils had locked down the symbols so that only the symbol represented by Dis could access every other layer. The remainder could only access Flesh and the dimension aligned to their symbol.

They would find the way to The Kingdom of Light at the symbol of the Rising Sun; The Symbol of Dawn.

Against the goat man’s advice the group insisted Baphomet lead them safely to the Citadel of Dis. Strangely agreeable to whatever Echo said to him, Baphomet did as he was bade.

Having learned that magical transport was dangerous, it was some days travel toward the unending tower before they crested a range of fleshy hills. From on high they saw the plateau, which would have taken days to traverse, in which Dis stood. It was filled, as far as the eye could see with the monstrosities of more than one plane of Hell.

Baphomet quietly told the group that they looked upon the efforts of Armageddon, Beelzebub and possibly Mephisto, to displace Asmodean from Hell’s seat of power. He told the group that the Citadel was all but certain to fall at some point in the future.

The sea of evil raged and flowed against itself and against the walls of Hell’s capital. It was a sight that not even reckless Emalf would brave. One that Echo knew, with conviction would swallow them and spit them into a purpose not their own. She knew that whatever power she had over Hell could not stand in the face of all that moved around the tower, and she feared that amongst that focus of devilry were powers that might bring her to heel, as easily as she had unexpectedly subdued Echidna’s court.

Baphomet, true to The Mother of Demons’ word, delivered them to the city of Zion, even if he did so with a contingent of the demon army distantly pursuing them. Though it bore no obvious relation to the place that Emalf had dreamt of, there was something oddly ‘holy’ about it. The white city rose from a dermal plain and beamed with a pure whiteness unlike any of the exposed bone piercing mountains of flesh.

As they approached they saw it’s alabaster beauty fall away before the sorrowful aftermath of siege. Most likely at the instigation of Asmodean to stay Satan’s long-time ally (Lucifer, the Lightbringer) from intervening in the usurpation of the Throne of Flesh. The city portals supported no gates, the walls had been breached in numerous places, and the buildings were in varying states of ruin.

Baphomet adopted a guarded alertness as they walked the streets, saying that the Hedronic Pillar had been activated within the past few days and its activity may have drawn dangerous eyes. The steady pace of caution was tempered by the knowledge that the minions of whatever arch devil had seen them overlooking the plateau at Dis gained ground with every moment.

It was then, with relief, standing at the juncture of the intersection of many roads forming the spokes of the wheel shaped city, that Baphomet declared they had arrived. Gazing at the crumbling cathedral at the cross roads, their demon guide told them that he hoped they knew how to wake the pillar, or they might not escape Zion. Then he simply turned and strode into the streets of the city.

Within a cathedral punched with gaping holes in its walls and ceiling, the group examined the place of worship and the altar at its centre. Though Orbray-Ell offered to wake the light, Emalf would not allow it with the knowledge that her power would be a beacon to her enemies. So the groups hopes fell to Natasha, the assassin priest whose goals and loyalties remained contentious.

The pillar awoke and they soared. In an instant of light they travelled on a tide of power matched only by what they had felt in Ell-Maine.


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