Palladium: Reason and Existence

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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