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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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.