Palladium: Reason and Existence

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.

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