Palladium: Reason and Existence

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.

133. The Hell of Choice

With an eye cast over their shoulder, the group hastened south from Dawn, until two nights later at camp, Aurar broke trivial conversation to state “it feels like home”. As the company turned their puzzlement to the fallen angel, Emalf heard the whisper of an angel.

“Too much time has been lost. I have used innocence and gone to hear what was promised by ‘The Lowest of Character’ while there might still be time to understand. The doves will protect innocence as long as can be dared. I trust you to ensure that what is left behind will be safe”.

As the warlock relayed the words to his companions the dark horizon was cut by a pillar of crimson light. They reasoned Andrakasis had discovered his sojourn to Ell-Maine had set his plans back a year and used his daughter’s curse to access Hell to gain the answers from Lucifer that the Lightbringer had promised.

His missive bore an implied assumption that the group would must protect his daughter before the angels he had left the task were needed in Hell.

The group argued over the loss of time to back track the substantial distance to the girl as the first demons flew over their heads and Echo suggested that if Peril was capable of staunching the flow she would, yet the menacing window into Hell persisted.

In the end, as the flow of the denizens of Hell grew, they decided Peril was an immediate threat, and the passing moments only increased the lasting demonic footprint of Andrakasis’ choice on Palladium. Broadpaw cast his consciousness onto the night winds to call beasts that might hasten them to Peril.

Astride various animals large enough to carry them the group, with Emalf metamorphosised into a tiger to bear Orbray-Ell, the group rode for Peril.

Tens of minutes passed as they closed the distance, until the sounds of the wild night suddenly stilled. Their mounts danced in terror, trying to flee something only Broadpaw felt. As the druid gasped, Emalf felt Aurar slacken and slump against his broad feline back.

In dumb shock, Broadpaw mumbled that they were all dead, every animal life force, as far as his natural rapport could sense. Disturbing news coinciding with an inability to rouse Aurar. It took some insistence from Echo that they needed to continue for Emalf to give up trying to rouse the limp angel and carry her to the likely source of her condition.

Arriving at the shifting fall of Hell as it bled into Palladium, the group ignored the worsening manifestations of demon-kind as they rushed for their freedom. Near the outskirts of the disastrous portal were the forms of the three angels Andrakasis had left to guard his daughter, as comatose as Orbray-Ell.

The group forged into shifting cloud whose ebb and flow offered glimpses of two dimensions. Within they found the girl a veritable pyre of ebon flame. Some steps away, through passing dimensional pockets, the group spied the Crown of Forever.

As Emalf staggered against the supernatural torrent, the Crown vanished to materialise in Echo’s hand and be placed upon the girl’s head.

The maelstrom collapsed with a great tearing sound and a world eclipsed by the unnatural spectacle of Peril’s curse reasserted its mundanity. Illynis holding the girl, second thoughts took Echo and she reached out to remove the crown.
Supporting the girl as she roused in one arm, the incredulous paladin raised her shield against the summoner, knocking her to the ground. Undeterred, the Echo turned to other methods and as Illynis witnessed the crown begin to shift in unseen hands, she released the now conscious Peril and brought her gauntleted hand down on the crown to prevent its disastrous removal.

Though much of the force was borne by the girl’s head, Illynis felt the invisible creature whose inhuman clutches had worked for its mistresses goal. Sensing dissent running through the companions, from where Illynis stood over her, Echo appealed to everyone in earshot to see that the risks of following Andrakasis were worth taking to inform their future plans.

She alluded to the knowledge that Lucifer had promised them and to their ignorance of how Hell fit into the events gathering around them. The certainty that it had been created by the Old Ones and that its denizens no more wanted the return of those dread beings that the group themselves.

For all that the stakes of the moment were high, the voice that next cut the night raised them beyond anything as simple as a crown and a curse. As Illynis eyed the thin air distrustfully, hand firmly holding the crown in place, the Voice of Tolmet slowly led a stag into view. The priestess’ hand over the great beasts shoulder was gentle as it caressed undeath into what should have been a corpse.

She implored the group to give her Peril and that in return she would tell them the things they needed to know to survive what was to come. She laboured on the euphoria of knowing that soon her work would be done and she would be able to rest with the goddess forever.

But the group refused her taunts that for the “small price” of surrendering a cursed girl Madgellania could give them hope against the irony of trying to kill death.

When the group declined, she pulled Death’s Key from her robe and drew it effortlessly across the stag’s belly. Then she sank into the pool of blood and intestines without that for which she had come.

As the group pondered the consequences of a refusal they had easily made, Echo concluded that she could not rely on spontaneity to secure the groups cooperation. To best avert the future only she had lived through she would need certainty. As the others recovered from the altercation that had been, Echo led Natasha ahead on the road south. She took the moment to promise her that in return for the assassin priests support, she would make sure that the matter of Indel Kyura was resolved.

The two women, in private agreement then thought to return to camp find their way to where Fortune led the hopes of the world in the final stages of preparation for war against death.

A tearing with the pervasiveness of thunder drew their attention back to the place where the others should have been gathered around Peril. Instead they saw the armoured maiden staggering from a swirling darkness punctuated by deep red light. Something bordering on desperation rushed her steps away from an abyss that would usurp all her plans and steal valuable time.

Having put the plan to seek answers in the Hells behind her, Echo took a moment to process what was before her. One at a time, she saw the company lurch from the darkness, all except Emalf and Orbray-Ell. The summoner needed no time to deduce the impulsive warlock had taken her earlier insistence that crucial information was in Hell to heart.

With Broadpaw as dumbstruck audience, the Paladin tersely crossed the threshold of the dimensional storm, ignoring Echo and Natasha as they called after her. She fumbled through the shrubbery as it became clear that Emalf had caught Illynis by surprise when he snatched the crown from Peril’s head and cast it into the underbrush.

Echo feared for Emalf and knew that she had to try to convince his companions to join him for him to stand a chance of surviving what waited in the other world. She told ‘The Blade’ that she needed her support now and her promise stood.

Echo knew that these events bewildered Broadpaw. She knew that he understood least about what Emalf had done, but equally that the druid might be the key to their survival in ‘The Kingdom of Flesh’. Though he would resist the need for the sacrilege of blood magic, his power over a place that ran with rivers of blood might be greater even she imagined.

It did not surprise her when the stalwart orc heard her over the naysaying of the Paladin. Illynis adhered to a civilised honour that unnerved an orc in the service of nature.

Illynis made no move to follow them, she continued to rifle through the flora in search of the one thing that could stem the tide of Hell. From where two worlds came together, Echo shouted against the otherworldly cacophony for Illynis to join them. Deep down, Echo knew that someone had to stay, that without a strong hand, Peril would be Tolmet’s despite their refusal, but there was something deeply saddening in Illynis’ choice to once again stand righteously aloof from the rest of them.

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

132. Hell's Rising Suns

Natasha gave no consideration to where her companions might want to go. The memory of Indel Kyura, in the guise of an Acolyte of the God Glass, was the sole factor in determining their destination. They appeared with the precision of an assassin’s blade in the heart of the courtyard where ‘Nishaana’ had implored Ritual Leader Najellack to release her to join the Imperimundi’s army.

The courtyard milled with people. Temple staff, patients and merchants moving amongst the large array of stalls were overseen by a strong guard presence. A guard presence many time that of previous visits to the temple.

Far from going unnoticed, their arrival seemed to draw every eye. Norindial, unhurried and unconcerned with his surroundings simply wandered into the crowd.

That departure of the Mind Mage, and the attention directed at them was lost on Echo as she absorbed the place through every sense available to her. It was almost too much to accept that they had left a place where ‘Twilight was coming’ to a destination that somehow worried her more.

One particular detail sent thrills of dread through her as she reeled for what it signified. Without relief she recognised the niggling menace she had last felt in the Eastern Capital before setting out for Ell-Maine and Emalf hovered over the geography of Dawn.

She turned to Andrakasis with low, urgent tones and told him he should leave immediately because Satan was at Dawn. The once king of the East did not question the warning. Without hesitate he took his daughter’s hand and led her to one of the clothier stalls where his imperious stance and air of command did little to avoid attention.

The group watched as guards throughout the throng converged on the stall, expecting their ally might need their help, when there was an explosion of force from the telekinetic. Soldiers and passers-by sailed through the air as the protective sphere pulsed around a man that seemed as much Andrakasis, as when he had served Satan. The orb enclosing the him and his daughter rose from the clearing his power had made. His would be captors, in varying states of injury, climbed to their feet to see their quarry drifting out of the courtyard where sight could no longer threaten him.

Not all the guards had been focused on Andrakasis, but those that had approached the group were as distracted as the company themselves by the spectacle Andrakasis had made. An Enforcer stood officiously before them and demanded they accompany him to the Medicii Council to explain their relationship with the man that had just escaped.

Knowing Emalf, and his friends would not be coerced by demands or threats, Medicii Elidor stood to the fore. Identifying herself, she demanded she be taken to the Essenser.

As Illynis pushed forward to support the word of a woman whose attire was not that of a Loreguard (but rather a pale version of the lustrous garb she had worn in Ell-Maine), Enforcer Dannis Mellesandre’s voice cracked through the words of the other Enforcer.

His affirmation of the Aurar’s identity gave the his peers pause, but the moment of silence was followed by reminders of the council’s orders regarding potential threats and information relating to known enemies of the Pearl Temple. As Mellesandre and the group argued with the Enforcers, a figure radiating confident power silenced them without anything more than his arrival.

In contrast to the immediate wariness that the man’s arrival had roused in both sides of the argument, Enforcer Pentemus Morden almost jovially ended the argument with the announcement that the Essenser had commanded the people at the centre of the disturbance be brought before him without delay.

If the other Enforcers wanted to challenge the newcomer, it did not show. They deferred to a man whose presence alone was an authority that dismissed all others. Enforcer Morden apologised to the group and invited them to follow him without delay the Essenser, and after momentary debate over whether that was what they wanted, they followed the man whose name they had first heard in connection with the attack on Hammerfall.

For a warrior whose entrance had washed all confrontation from the groups argument with the other Enforcers, he was strangely boyish and as he spoke to them. He confirmed that he had been successful in bringing the Hedron of Doors from Hammerfall.

He was almost casual as he deflected accusations over the circumstances surrounding its acquisition, asserting that the Essenser had attempted to negotiate the dangers of the artifact from his kin more than once. It had only been after the jealousy with which the dwarves had guarded the item whose twin had been confirmed to turn whole regions into craters, that Morden’s company had been sent to take it by force.

He explained that the dwarves had brought arms against them rather than peaceful words, and one of their number had commanded the frigid magic that had killed a Loreguard. By the time the Hedron was in Morden’s hands, the dwarves had killed all bar one of the company. Morden’s surviving companion had defended Morden’s flight and had never been seen again.

As the rest of the group had listened to him sceptically, Echo had missed the entire exchange. With each physical step, she felt her mind slide deeper into a mindscape of malevolence. She knew what she courted was dangerous and that she should be afraid, but she was not. She fought strangely comforting feelings as she ventured into the mind of the devil.

She ‘stepped’ traversed memories and concerns, using her own memories and psyche as keys to unlock the barriers protecting the inner most worries of an arch devil. As the knowledge flowed, she realised that each memory of her own used this way was surrendered to the dark lord of the Hells, informing his plans. Seduced by the allure of a mind somehow linked to her past, and a blind hope that she would learn something of immediate value, she surrendered information she knew could be used against her and her friends.

Finally, fear prevailed and she drew back from the ecstasy of the dark ponderings, coming to herself in the second courtyard of the Temple of Dawn.

When Emalf had broken away from Morden’s escort and into the crowd, the Enforcer had called counsel after the warlock’s back. Despite assertions it was not acceptable to keep the Essenser waiting, Emalf had continued wading through the crowd until he reached the wolfen on the bench.

The wolfen looked displeased to have attention drawn to him and seemed on edge as Morden ordered the guard to consolidate his charges and join the escort. Echo, sensing that Emalf would rebel against heavy handedness placed a placatory hand on the Enforcer’s neck to assure him that the group would deal with their warlock friend.

When her hand touched the warrior, all words evaporated with an outrush of air. Excitement and fear joined as she recognised Satan in disguise. She did not know from where she dredged the wherewithal to recover from shock so quickly, but she knew that none of her companions realised what momentary contact had taught her.

Satan, for Echo could not think of the facade without thinking of the reality, afforded them the opportunity she requested, but Emalf ignored their calls even as Aurar marched toward him. Satisfied that the summoner’s companions could not do as she suggested, Morden ordered the temple guard forward.

As tension escalated, the group prepared to defend the impulsive warlock, only to see a wall of fire rage to life between the Emalf and the wolfen (Karnath) and the guards descending on them. Obscured by the encircling flame, the group saw the Enforcers, no doubt using their Dawn Bridges, ignore the deadly flames as they plunged through.

A moment later, the flames were gone, along with the Emalf and the wolfen.

Walls of pearl away, the two had stepped in an explosion of flame from the scullery fireplace. Servants cowered and fled before Karnath explained that a Nogard presence existed in Dawn because they had reason to believe their masters age old enemy (Satan) was in the Temple.

After the hurried discussion in which Karnath’s words implied that Maneiad himself had returned to Palladium, the two left the kitchens in different directions. It was in that moment that Emalf remembered he had wanted to transport Karnath a much safer distance, but had found a powerful magical gravity opposing him. Worse, he was certain that fire travel would not allow him to escape the power of the Hedron.

Emalf found the group had been detained until he could be located. Witnessing Enforcer Morden had lost much of his joviality, Emalf saw nothing to be gained in explanations and said nothing.

Danger hung in the air around Morden in a manner that all except Echo attributed to imagination.

The group did not know what Echo had said to the Enforcer, but it had transformed immediate repercussion into barely restrained menace. She had looked at the Enforcer expectantly, her expression resembling the one she adopted to enact ‘The Tower of Wills’.

Emalf joined those waiting for him awkwardly and they made their way in relative silence to the Essenser.

Essenser Caddis Mallean seemed to have displaced the entire Medicii Council, taking their audience chamber as his own. Behind the heavy desk that had been Admonisse’s before him, he used quill and paper to scratch down notes that no doubt had implications for one or more civilisations across Palladium. A couple of steps to each side of where he wrote, were two of his reported four Enforcers. Enforcer Morden, once again a character of easy charm ushered the group toward the chairs that the Essenser provided his guests.

He seemed surprised, but unworried by the choice most of the group made to stand in the face of the Essenser’s hospitality, as he made his way around the Essenser’s massive bench to stand nearer than his peers to the man, behind the left shoulder of the most influential man in the world. His position implied that the fourth Enforcer would have mirrored his position to stand at the Essenser’s right shoulder.

The dwarf, who choose to stand as he worked at a desk his predecessors had sat at, looked up. Something fleetingly like relief ran through his eyes as he asked the company where they had been. His eyes lingering on Aurar Elidor longer than the others.

The discussions that followed were complicated with the surprise that Natasha’s manipulation of ‘prophecy’, in ignorance of some of the parts of the message involved, to return them to the mortal world had somehow cost them more than a year in transit.

The guarded responses that surprise begot soon nullified any preconception that the Essenser would favour them as friends. As his humour dissolved, the head of the healers of Dawn grew short when Loreguard Elidor would not tell him where she had been, and his mood turned dark when she reported that she did not have the artifact she had been sent with Mellesandre to the Pirate Isles to retrieve.

With a decidedly paternal manner, he told Loreguard Elidor her report would need further detail and review before she could be reinstated, but effective immediately, she was to surrender her Dawn Ring and place herself at the Medicii Council’s disposal.

He was given ominous pause when ‘model’ healer Elidor declined to do as instructed. Before his outrage could manifest, Enforcer Morden leaned close to whisper in the Essenser’s ear. The dwarf had taken a moment to bring his anger under control and turned his attention to the wider group.

Though his words addressed the angel’s companions, the first of them were spoken with his eyes on the woman that had refused a command from the organisation that she was supposed to serve. The words, like the eyes behind them, ran with suspicion, as he asked why the company had been travelling with an enemy of Dawn, and where Andrakasis had gone.

Between lines uttered in tones of condemnation, the group grew tired of dealing with a man overseeing a place they knew to be within Satan’s influence. At every new point of the interchange, the group continued the theme that Orbray-Ell had begun and rejected the authority before them. Rejection framed in accusation of wrong doing.

When the group retaliated with details of events in Hammerfall, the Loreguard line that ‘some things are too dangerous to be left in the outside world’ answered them. He said the dwarves of Hammerfall, his people, had chosen their fate by refusing to see peaceful reason.

The groups refusal to accept his response wakened the height of annoyance in the Essenser. Tired of arguments he deigned to hear in good faith, he declared that ‘some people were too dangerous to be left in the outside world’. The first hint of where their audience was leading.

Throughout the debate, Echo had never once mentioned to her companions who Pentemus Morden was. By the time it became clear Satan might take their words as provocation for godly retribution, she could not decide whether he would more or less angered by her identifying him to them.

One thought led to another, and before long Echo became alarmed. She remembered telling Andrakasis that Satan was in Dawn and realised that whilst Andrakasis may or may not consider them his ëfriends’, that he would never abandon any part of his powerbase to an enemy. That if he was forced to put a portion of his resources into play, that he would play to win.

In that moment she became certain that Andrakasis could attack Dawn at any moment, she groaned inwardly as impetuous Emalf had broadly condemned the entire organisation of Dawn and asserted the Devil’s hand ruled Dawn.

Echo interrupted waning civility and unveiled threats, imploring the Essenser to see reason. Her address had carried a familiarity completely out of place for a woman that had supposedly never met Caddis Mallean, and rather than defuse matters her presumption caused the dwarf to glower more with each word.

Finally his grace was exhausted, he declared the group were amongst those too dangerous to be allowed to roam free in the world, and called for his guard to escort them to the forbidden vault in Dawn.

Emalf wasn’t about to be caged. He filled the area surrounding his friends with fire and swept them into the flame. In varying degrees of scalding, they appeared in Mellesandre’s own rooms. The group were taken aback when Echo revealed the identity of Pentemus Morden and how closely they hard courted destruction.

If they were alarmed that Echo had been so tardy with such crucial information, they were even more agitated as they argued over their escape from Dawn that Echo insisted she had to return to speak with the devil in Enforcer’s guise. Emalf blocked the door out of the chamber with a wall of ice, expressing anger that Echo would keep her secrets from her companions and then do deals with the devil.

Undeterred eyes possessed of a knowledge not of the current time told Emalf not to stand in her way. Without another word, she slipped out the first storey window to make good on what she had promised Satan.

She found Morden and the Essenser alone in the audience chamber, where she tried honour pledge to identify what I am to you, and what you are to me’ along with titbits from the future, as she knew it. She cursed her hollow memories as it became clear that she did not know enough of who she was or where she had come from satisfy the arch devil.

Inexplicably conflicted over her, Satan had her taken to the forbidden vaults, with the promise that he would gain for answers from her one way or another. Echo placated herself with the knowledge that she had done her best to do as she promised, and bought her companions time to escape in the process. The loss of her own freedom was a small price to pay.

Between the time when the door to the Essenser’s audience chamber closed and the the first shudders rocked the temple, Echo sent warning to The Blade for the group to keep moving because she Satan was no longer preoccupied with her.

In Mellesandre’s chambers the group were interrupted as they argued over what to do about the summoner and escaping, by the building as it heaved. It was in those moments they first considered taking from Dawn magical items to aid their quest or simply to deprive Satan of them.

As Dawn thundered, they made their way through the chaos to the vault entrance within the library. What guards they encountered obeyed Enforcer Mellesandre’s instructions to stand aside, and reaching the vault it was ‘Loreguard’ Elidor that convinced the librarian to admit them.

Within dark walls the antithesis of the light conducting pearl, the group were conscious that barriers designed to keep the world out, could also keep them in. The irony that they descended to the very place where the Essenser would have had them imprisoned went unmentioned.

Of the four sub vaults branching from the central stair well, the group paused at the first door to negotiate the lock. As ‘The Blade’ worked prophecy to open something that would not give way to the skills of common thievery, foot falls were heard descending from the library above.

With no place to hide and the door still barred to them, they stood in defiance of the Loreguard-Enforcer teams escorting a woman clad in red leather. Echo looked pensive as the light fell on her face, and surprised to find the group present, and moments later it was clear she was to be locked behind the very door that Natasha had plied the power of prophecy on.

Emalf commanded Echo’s captors to open the door and not interfere with them. Without the support of Illynis, Aurar and Mellesandre the guards would no doubt have brought to bear their famed might. Instead, when they hesitated before taking the action that was expected of them and the leader of the group chastised his subordinates has he leaped into action.

Aware that time was critical and Emalf needed her to help if he was to survive, something changed in her. What it was, none could put into words, but the entire company could see it in her eyes. It reminded Emalf of looking into the Nether Gate (what Andrakasis had called ‘Where All Things End’). In the fractions of seconds it took the thought to blossom, the Enforcer was gone.

Love her though he may, Emalf couldn’t help but shudder when she latter told him that she had removed the man from ‘The Message’.

Within the vault they found some of the casualties of Satan’s instatement of the Black Council in the Eastern Capital. Amongst the prisoners were Logica, Regent Lybual Nesai, the Dwarven Weapons Trader Elgror Arlek, and the former puppet king of the East. Logica and Lybual greeted the group with relief, even as they questioned the way the structure quaked.

Emalf immediately latched on to the Sequence members identity, remembering the many times her order had transported the group across space and time. But without her abacus Logica could not quantify the risk, much less transport them. So the company co-opted Echo’s former captors to gain entry to the other sub vaults to meet Logica’s needs.

Throughout the descent, the violence of the shaking escalated, and as more than one crack ruptured the stone of the stair well, the group knew that time was short. The building threatening to collapse, they scrambled to find what they sought, and various members of the group also kept an eye out for known artifacts that they either wished out of Satan’s reach, or thought might aid their cause.

In the end, what Logica needed could not be found. Reluctantly, Emalf turned to Auar Elidor and asked her to risk alerting the heavens by transporting them from the vault. Though the members of the group each found some strange item of dangerous magic they wished to take with them, Emalf insisted that all of it should be buried in what he hoped would be the rubble of Dawn. He told them that they would leave behind such destructive articles if they wished to benefit from Orbray-Ell’s power to save them.

Before the current of the Hedron’s power, Orbray-Ell’s celestial strength safely delivered all of them just outside the walls of Dawn where they could see the ominous red beam of light haemorrhaging demons as Hell itself bled into Palladium. The flagging angel explained that any greater distance may have seen them to the heart of the Hedron and Satan himself.

Assuming all would run from the doom in Dawn, it surprised the group when Mellesandre told them he had not given up on Dawn yet and would maintain a vigil from within the organisation for the time when Satan might be revealed and driven out. He told the group to hurry away and he would use the chaos to ensure that no one noticed them escaping.

That night Echo had dreamed of Satan’s confrontation with Andrakasis (see 132 Echoes Out of Time).

Also in this adventure:
Echo’s mind link with Satan yield the following information.

  • Satan knows a super natural power held sway over Dwellen. He has returned to Dwellen once in response to an attack by this force. He would like to identify the source, but other priorities prevail, and the established coven presence in Dwellen is significant.
  • Satan went to ‘The Cathedralis’ to be confronted by ‘The Oracle of Moonfall’. The cryptic wolfen had named the price of passage as too high for Satan to pay. She had mocked him about Mastema’s origins when he had asked how it was that Mastema had entered the light.
  • He had seen Lucifer once since that time. The defected angel had told Satan that Mastema had taken a place in Ell-Maine and sought a way to gain admittance for him.
  • Ritual Leader Najellack is a Viscera and is with Fortune. Satan is undecided what to do about the girl and finds her power/mastery of ‘the weapon’ alarming.
  • Najellack also reported that Fortune would soon lead her army to begin the long walk to Mt Nimrod/Heavenspire to recruit in accordance with the prophecies that indicated the monster races would join the civilised world to march on Necropolis. From there, she plans to march directly into the Baalgor and crush all enemies in her path. The news has prompted Satan to have the Essenser of Dawn send more ëHealers’ (many directly serving Satan) to join her so he might topple the girl and Necropolis both.
  • He has visited a few of the crypts where the defeated Old Ones were locked in slumber, before finding the culprit (Old One “Erva”) in the in the blasted sands of the Old Kingdom. There he witnessed for himself that an Old One was free of their prison. He knew Erva, and is certain that the creature, would have been driven to rise to a position of power. She would be one of the beings steering the world. He has scrutinised the actions of all the active gods, and found none of them particularly in keeping with the master he remembers. He is afraid in the manner of a terrified man grown from an abused boy that knows his tormentor is watching and waiting from the darkness. His terror exceeds this analogue with the knowledge that he has not gained the message and the ability to face Erva with like strength.
  • Satan, entertains the idea of awakening one of the other Old Ones to earn their favour and protection if he cannot attain the message through Mastema’s work. The idea would be a last ditch choice, but one of the Hedron Runes rests on the Smited Continent, across the sea, so he can access the Crypt infallibly and expediently should the choice precipitate.

In gambling for this information, Echo revealed.

  • Shah Dallan – the whereabouts and the possible alliance (Emalf and his communiques with the dragon)
  • The death of the Angel Queen.
  • Keeping the company of The Blade and who The Blade is.
  • The value and importance of Emalf to the future and to the outcome of the war.
  • Death of both Satan and Andrakasis – Tolmet winning the war and Echo’s future of Palladium.
  • Connection and interaction with the message – visions and having been in Ell-Maine
  • Mirror Witch as spirit/power – her whereabouts, who she was in relation to Satan and the connection with Illynis.
131. Without Mother

As the palpable light rushed between the shadows of shocked prefects to wash against them, the group witnessed many angels break and flee. Those with control of their primal responses invoked the message and vanished, whilst most simply scattered like a startled doves.

Andrakasis’ celestial prisoners maintained their protective circle around the assembled as a handful of angels took it upon themselves to do as their queen would have, and punish the mortals for their countless sins. Heedless of the dangers, Emalf pushed between the guarding angels to stumble toward the place beyond the light where Orbray-Ell had stood as her ‘mother’ was cut from creation.

Illynis struggled against the swell of pain that had come with the Queen’s fall, and looked for the comfort of Norindial‘s power in the old man’s eyes. The Mind Mage’s visage was beset with concentration, and Illynis hardly heard the words as the man whose help she had sought whispered the words that justified what he was doing: “I came here to make a difference”. Illynis felt her mind crumble before his psychic assault and she was reduced to a small voice in a mind that another had stolen.

She knew that Norindial felt none of her vehement resistance as her mind enacted his command to transport them to the dead Queen. Perhaps her fury was the reason the message ran beyond her grasp, but the message would not bend and fold to do as he asked, and the aged spy took her arm roughly to lead her between the protecting angels and into the fray.

Retribution bubbled at the edge of Norindial’s control. The inaudible promise of a woman of honour as she pledged what he made her do would not go unpunished. She watched as the enemy angels turned alien powers upon her friends and herself, hoping against hope that the Mind Mage would fall.

Echo knew the others did not feel what she felt, that something final was nigh, and that they could not be in the Halls of Judgement when it arrived. Before her, Andrakasis surveyed the battle and commanded the angels to commence a slow advance on the throne, that the company might not be so divided. As he did, Echo felt the need to shout into the chaos of sensory stimulation, though it held none of the sound of the mortal world.

She screeched in a manner she knew all could hear, “We have to go. Now. What was your plan?”. Andrakasis looked back at her before affirming her suspicion. With a hesitantly glance at the tormented girl that clung to his arm, he indicated his final recourse would cost him something he had only just regained.

A moment after Emalf stumbled past the dazzling fountain, Illynis and Norindial were standing behind the slumped shock of Perath-Ell at what he had one. Some of the hostile angels engaged Andrakasis’ slaves in efforts to reach the man himself, as the remainder of the party moved to take their fate into their own hands.

Something reckless and final crawled through the scene. Something that all were aware of, but bore deeper meaning to Echo. A voice, distant yet ubiquitous, warned that ‘Twilight is come’.

Stepping from safety to pursue Emalf, ‘The Blade’ witnessed the avatars of prophecy as a disproportionate number seemed to turn on her. Echo, with a similar goal of reaching Emalf, was just steps behind the assassin, but never questioned how the angels ignored her in favour of Natasha. Nor did she doubt for a moment that the Blade of Panath would survive all the hosts that might confront her.

Oblivious to Illynis’ predicament, Echo tried to pass close enough to touch the Paladin and the spy before finding her path blocked by a part of the message set on avenging the death of the angel Queen. She flinched as the prefect reached past her to engage the Paladin and wondered at what fate saw the assassin and the knight take attacks she felt sure she deserved.

Norindial was the epitome of determination. Across the link he had made, he emphasised the shortness of time and commanded the Paladin commit herself entirely to the task of braiding the deathlight through and around him. She fended of the blows of the angel distractedly as the fullness of her attention turned upon the part of the message flowing from where one of the oldest beings that had ever existed had been.

At first the light did not move, and Illynis invoked the memory that had changed everything she had ever known. Though her shield was in her hand, and she did not look into it, she remembered the moment she should have died, the moment when Shah Dallan’s wrath had drawn breath, when she had glimpsed a being made of light upon the inner of her shield.

With the memory, the message spoke to her in a manner she knew Norindial could not comprehend through his possession. Through it she could see the limits of his control and the consequences of his plan. She could see a light originating from the message itself whose fire had fuelled the ‘Mother’ of angel kind and knew that the knowledge in that shaft of light would burn Nordinial’s mind from existence.

The message spoke to her of the possibility she could diffuse the flow to something he might survive, but in a haze of fury, she dismissed the option entirely. Instead she invoked the anger, fear and loss of the moment her guardian had been unmade, and used it to funnel everything that had been the angel Queen into the fragile husk of a man.
Emalf found Orbray-Ell unconscious and hanging partially off the edge of the platform defining ‘The Judgement Hall’. Seeing the detonation of light had cast her almost into oblivion, he cradled her fearfully as he probed the link that joined them for signs that the death of her ‘Mother’ had not been her end also.

The answering glimmer at the edge of his mind wet his eyes and he struggled to his feet with the angel in his arms as Echo reach them. ‘Twilight is coming’, she said with breathy desperation.

Whilst there had been an eerie gravity to what the summoner had said, Emalf‘s eyes did not linger on her. Rather shock stole his next steps as he saw the light of the ’Mother’ passing through Norindial. It wracked the old man’s body with the violence of a lightning, whose grip was not instantaneous, but seemed to endured the length of creation. The thought of storm light seem kind by comparison.

He watched what he was sure was a life force being washed away on a current of knowledge so potent than the gods would fare no better.

Alert again, Illynis heard Echo’s raised voice crying still that they needed to leave, immediately. But Illynis knew that Norindial had prompted her to expend too much of herself, she watched the message pass her by and could find no point of purchase in the fast moving flows that would not risk her continued existence.

Then Norindial came to himself. The psychic wave washed through the eddying message and joined their minds as it had done before. With the link came the knowledge that message sensitivity had gotten the better of Illynis. Without word, the Mind Mage, impossibly alive turned his expectation through each member of the company until it came to rest with ‘The Blade’.

Natasha knew that the message and prophecy were one and the same, but the message, as it existed in the sphere of cloud, was different to the flow of prophecy across Palladium. She felt the skeins of creation move as would a waterfall compared to the convections of the stagnant pond of the mortal world.

She could almost intuit their timing, almost grasp the threads, but without Illynis’ direct connection she knew only enough to be certain a dangerous number of threads eluded her. In the face of the all-pervading warning that ‘Twilight was coming’, she abandoned the instincts that could make prophecy conform to her will and adopted the methodical training of the disciples of Panath. Doing so brought none of the certainty of prophetic intuition, but helped her deduce a safe hypothesis of which threads could effect the desired result.

Then blindly trusting that the alien flows would not interfere, she recklessly attacked prophecy with the will of one long versed in getting the world to give her what she wanted.

130. Curation

They stood in the radiance of the transport from which they had stepped, absorbing a scale that only Ell-Maine had shown them before. The Cathedralis on Palladium had been a building of confused limits, but the one that greeted them on arrival was an open expanse that they knew exceeded the concept of horizons.

Colosseum like walls loomed from every approach at a distance that prompted the mind to measure them against mountains encircling a massive valley, but the memory of mountains was found wanting. Impossible clarity seemed to infect distant arches that comprised the encircling walls as they made intermittent appearances through the eddying clouds that spilled from all around. The pillar of light at its centre, the ‘colosseum’ walls stretched the extent of imagination. The colosseum walls appeared as a protective collar for the brilliance as it reached limitlessly above and below where they stood.

As Illynis cradled her head in her hands, Peril looked about their surroundings with a growing sense of alarm. She mumbled weakly that ‘it can’t be real’, ’it’s not right’, and ‘we should leave before the darkness comes’. On questioning, her companions reasoned that Peril had dreamed of Hell when sleep had amplified her role as gate way to that place, and it took some reassurance to convince her that they did not stand on the precipice of her nightmare.

Uncertain where to begin, Andrakasis summoned the eleven angels bound to him. They did not step from the pillar of light as the company had, but instead materialised in a sudden flare close to the once Witch-King. After instructing the his angels to prevent the group from being detected, Andrakasis queried after the likely place where first Emalf might be held.

One of the angels responded by asking whether Andrakasis wished to find ‘what you see’, or ‘what is connected to the message’. After a worried pause Andrakasis soon found other voices contributing to the discussion of this unexpected juncture. The celestials answered the questions put to them perfunctorily, clarifying that Emalf almost certainly had been forced to remove his ‘reference’ from the Message, and that the reference would have been used to control him (whilst ensuring he could do no harm to the Message itself).

Worried that an ‘unreferenced’ ‘what you see’ of Emalf may be unable to function when they found him, they focused on the Emalf’s their friends connection to the message first. Andrakasis was ominously silent when his angels announced with indifference that they lacked the privileges to access the ‘Event Horizon’ where the ‘references’ were kept.

The General’ listened tersely as his captive celestials revealed an inconclusive possibility that Emalf’s body was held in a place known as ‘The Respectus’. The unhelpful angels then advised they could not lead the group the unknown (probably great) distance to the holding place because they did had never navigated Ell-Maine by crossing the distance between origin and destination. Instead, they simply were where they wished to be, when they wished to be.

Transport by thought proved as elusive as everything else the angels had said because the angels believed the use of such power would alert the Prefecture to the intruders. Seeking a solution, he was surprised when the pained visage of Illynis interrupted, remarking that the ‘voices’ had grown far louder, and many hovered at the edge of her understanding, yet she feared that if she allowed herself to ‘hear’ any one of from the fray that she would be ‘deafened’.

Even though she dared not listen to the nebulous individual consciousness’s bombarding her, there was something in the hubbub that piqued intuition. She felt that ‘The Message’, or whatever it was, was trying to show her how to interact with it, how to use it. She had reached a point where she imagined a way that she might be able to control where ‘The Pillar of Light’ took them.

In the same breath, she claimed that ‘The Pillar of Light’ was strongest where naked eyes could see it, but that the light itself seemed to permeate every corner of Ell-Maine and Palladium and she believed she could use it to travel to any place where it existed. Alas, her unlikely revelation bore the caveat that the transport worked by an individual relationship with the ‘Pillar’ and that she did not think she could act as proxy for her companions if they could not ‘hear’ and use the light themselves.

Norindial observed that through his attempts to shield her from the message, he was seeing enough of the Paladin‘s mind to inspire a theory. He suggested that the entire company might be able to use Illynis’ ‘Message Sensitivity’ and intuition to make the choices they needed to transport themselves through a psychic connection he would endeavour to hold amongst the company.

Though Illynis struggled for the first minutes to engage the message, Norindial’s plan worked. It was of great relief to the elf’s companions when the mind mage allowed is waning strength to give out and relaxed the bonds joining their minds.

They found themselves in a large, circular chamber of dimensions, whilst enormous, that did not defy comprehension. The walls were fashioned of something like faceted crystal bricks that filled the room with divine light, despite their opacity. Some among them knew that ‘The Respectus’ was a single room removed from the ‘Judgement Hall’ where the Prefects deliberated on matters that impacted everything everywhere.

Quietly they surveyed marble pedestals arranged in a manner that seemed orderly, but did not conform to any geometric description that came to mind. The pedestals were difficult to count, and there was a sensation that their number had not been built, but rather they might have manifest to conform with prevailing need. The most they could count were eleven unoccupied pedestals and four raising life-like static figures for exhibit.

They recognised Emalf Eldritch and Lucifer amongst those displayed. As the companions spread out to investigate, Andrakasis stood momentarily to muse over competing agendas. He might have attended the statue of the betrayer angel, Lucifer, were it not for his daughter’s protest as she turned toward the [[:emalf | warlock]] that had numbered amongst the few that had survived her and not turned away.

On inspection, they knew with certainty that the being resembling Emalf in stasis atop the plinth was their friend. Beneath his feet was an unmarked crystal plaque embedded in the marble. On touching it, their minds burned with memories.

They saw the young warlock under the tutelage of Mynstriall in temple flame. They saw his life turn to adventure with the coming of Karnath in chains under Illynis’ hand. They saw the revelation that Karnath should be free and the struggles against the slave trader, Callas Obrahim, a man whose legacy influenced the warlock‘s life as much as far greater powers. That singular man had brought down first boyhood innocence, then the bond between the angel and the one she guarded, and ultimately the harmony between an angel and her kin. They saw the discovery of her disobedience, and Emalf’s testimony turned against the being that had given him hope. They saw him lose the angel and replace her with a rage that the world bore until the day the warlock found the mortalised angel born a human girl. They saw the girl stolen from the malevolent reach of Tolmet, for a short-lived reunion, undermined by the memories surrounding Emalf his proximity awoke in her, exposing her corruption to the scrutiny of Ell-Maine anew. So Emalf had lost Aurar again, but having found her where the celestials had hidden her once, Emalf clutched at the hope he would find the angel girl once more. It was his reason to stay in the light.They saw Emalf recognise the grown Loreguard Aurar Elidor in the halls of the Pirate Master. They saw the two conspire to be together. They saw the boyish naiveté return to Emalf’s eyes, and Orbray-Ell’s terror as she took the warlock to make unattainable peace with her ‘Mother’. It was understanding of the man packaged in the instant it took to the name Khalidah Vesta’.

Though any of company could witness the warlock this way with a touch of the crystal, only Illynis saw enough of how that story meshed with the stuff of Ell-Maine to cause the crystal to eject from the pedestal. Taking the light filled crystal in hand, she looked up to the source of the waylaying trouble that had brought her to the cloudscape. Emalf looked back at her in absolute horror.

Before long it became evident that Emalf’s static body had existed whilst his mind was engaged by the message in a manner synonymous with heaven. The warlock had ‘lived’ a lifetime with ‘Orbray-Ell’ in a realisation of every dream his soul had craved, only to be told it was not ‘real’. The man, reduced to the naive boy the crystal had shown them, may have continued to insist that he be returned to his ‘life’, had Norindial not told the warlock that whilst he swooned in the unreal world, that Aurar led the lonely, persecuted existence her Ell-Mainic peers imposed upon her.

With the restless Emalf again by their side, they turned their attention to Lucifer. Touching the dark crystal yielded no story, just a warning: ‘The highest of crimes, the lowest of character. Here be ’Kavad-Ell’, the example none should follow’. None knew if any history existed between Panath and ‘The Lightbringer’, but Natasha turned contempt upon something she would rather see remain a statue. Broadpaw objected profusely and debate was raised about whether the angelic betrayer should be freed.

Andrakasis allowed the exchange to play out, but it was clear from his demeanour that he was not finished with Kavad-Ell, and he could not get what he wanted from him whilst he remained bound. He sweetened something that all knew ‘The General’ did not see as negotiable with the observation that whilst his angelic prisoners lacked the ‘privileges’ to access ‘the library’ that Emalf had been forced to remove his crystal from, that Kavad-Ell had been part of the angel hierarchy and stood a better chance of being able to assist.

Illynis ‘listened’ carefully to whispers that verged on shouts. She let the message guide her, her mind navigating the labyrinthine systems the angels had sealed with the dark crystal that formed the plaque on Lucifer’s pedestal. The Paladin galvanised herself against the flows of information as it washed through her, she knew she courted insanity as she allowed most of the threads to slip by, only interacting with the ones that the message itself seemed to differentiate for her. After millions of lives, millions of experiences, Illynis remembered to breath and the black slate came away in her hand with a shock of knowledge rippling through Ell-Maine; a jolt in the ether she knew to be some sort of alarm.

The unearthly beauty of ‘The Lightbringer’ seemed to swell as the spark returned to his eyes. If he was surprised by the company that had come to free him, he said nothing. His gaze lingered on Echo piercingly, and the summoner fought an unfamiliar urge to avert her eyes. So invasive was the scrutiny that it was only as his regard released her that she realised she had been about to invoke ‘The Tower of Wills’.

When celestial eyes finally rested on Andrakasis, it was through a ring of eleven angelic guards preventing the elusive ruler of the Second Hell from fleeing. Lucifer’s words, sown with honey, implied that he had been expecting Andrakasis to free him, and the group were reminded of the story Andrakasis had brought them upon first asking for their help in securing the prisoner exchange.

The mirthful glow in Lucifer’s eyes confirmed that he had tricked his angelic interrogators into searching for ‘the answers you seek’ in his Citadel of Light. He had left the clues needed to deduce how an angel might be corrupted enough that the citadel’s capacity to ‘trap light’ would no longer recognise the angelic purity as reason to cage them. Andrakasis had understood the clues, and in so doing had concluded that Lucifer’s light was tarnished by a secret role as Guardian (angel) to Satan himself.

The once Witch-King had been tempted by answers that begot still more questions. It had been through those questions that Andrakasis had recognised the role of ‘The Third’ in his life, and in the lives of countless others that had moulded the world as it was. Andrakasis had determined he would force Lucifer to reveal what he knew of ‘The Third’, and so had set about to bring the imprisoned angel before his mercy.

Lucifer, poised for the questions he had given Andrakasis to ask, and surrounded by Andrakasis’ angels, volunteered that in the safety of ‘The Citadel of Light’ he would answer all questions put to him. The answering command of the man who had been King offered no recourse to his prisoner, his manner exhibited no nuance of concession as he instructed Kavad-Ell to transport them to ‘The Library’ where Emalf’s crystal would be returned to its place.

Guile was replaced with impatience and the company found themselves in a new place.

The chamber was a contradiction, somehow large and small at the same time. Each of the group saw their surroundings differently. To Emalf it was ‘The Library’ he remembered. To Echo it was an array of summoning circles, each holding a demon ready to speak the secrets of all things. To Broadpaw it was the grandest of forests, defined by trees as old as time. To ‘The Blade’ it was a an array of endless pallets occupied by the sleeping agents of Panath; their dreams visible prophetic threads awaiting her attention. To Illynis it was the legendary elven city of ‘Mater Familias’, overflowing with aged elves whose long lives and attention to lore held every answer she had ever sought.

Yet, whatever ‘The Library’ was, some of the group were aware of an undercurrent. Another confusingly real view of a reality overlaid by what Lucifer called the ‘interface’. The alternative to the ‘interface’ was a great circular chamber with a marble floor that sometimes seemed more like the endlessness above them than anything solid. Its walls stretched beyond sight, drawing the chamber into something like a cylinder of inconceivable scope. The encircling boundaries were not broken by mundane doors or windows. They defied classification as walls and they seemed to be built from crystal slates (akin to the one the Fire warlock carried), and bound in mortar made of light.

Lucifer looked disdainfully at the group as they discussed how best to find the place where Emalf’s crystal should be replaced. He condescended to remind the group that only Emalf was likely to find his place in the ‘interface’ within their lifetime and stood in waiting as Emalf did what they had come to do.

When they again stood again before the fallen angel he enquired, in a tone that suggested omniscient indulgence of mortal conventions, after their plan. Andrakasis offered no details to the tempter, saying only that he would see the Angel Queen dead before he put the cloudscape behind him. Lucifer, clearly disturbed by the prospect made ready to leave, but found the eleven angelic prisoners joined in a cage of light around him.

As Kavad-Ell challenged the foolishness of seeking out the Prefecture without a plan sponsored by the Creator himself, the betrayer found the entire company united in their distrust. Andrakasis told the him that he would be permitted to leave in exchange for what he knew of ‘The Third’.

Lucifer refused the ultimatum. He told the company that their presence in Ell-Maine was known to the Prefecture and that they did not have time to hear tales of ‘The Third’. He said that he would have no part of the pretention to slay ‘Mother’, but that were he set free, he would surrender all he knew of the ‘The Third’ to them in the ‘Kingdom of Light’.

When Emalf suggested that Lucifer could not run from Angel kind, beauty ran with contempt. He reminded the company that whilst any Angel could enter ‘The Kingdom of Light’, that only a tainted Angel could leave. Andrakasis had ‘freed’ his prisoners through a variation on the Guardianship angels held with the sacred regard of all work believed to be directly in service of ‘The Message’.

His disdain grew as he related the reverence surrounding of the sojourn of guardianship. A union considered so sacrosanct, that interference would only come when the message itself was laid bare before those that coveted it. Should the Prefecture, knowing what the Lucifer’s dominion was, take guardians from their rightful post, they did so with no hope that those angels would serve again.

The ‘Light Bringer’ clearly believed no threat would come for him from Ell-Maine in the Hell of his own choice. Eyes distant as he finished his argument, Lucifer repeated his assertion that there was no time for answers as the celestials closed on them. If the company wanted knowledge of ‘The Third’, they would have to allow him to escape Ell-Maine so that the answer could await their interrogation in Hell.

Throughout the exchange, the company had become increasingly aware of their surroundings. Supported on a ‘viewing platform’ suspended over the singularity at the heart of the angel home, they witnessed the brilliance washing past. At first glance, it seemed to radiate from a core of continuous hard light, but those that turned mind to question what the eyes saw, caught glimpses of countless columns of light (columns like the one in which Emalf had replaced his reference) orbiting the abyss with such speed that they might all exist everywhere simultaneously.

The ambient light seemed to flow from ‘above’, converging on the singularity hosting ‘The Message’. Tides of light swirled and eddied before breaking on the shoals of Ell-Maine, but the light was only the medium, and those that saw what Lucifer had surveyed in his distracted monologue. A medium that host to reality spawned memories rushing to the place where all things end.

Beyond the aurora, yet paradoxically in its depths, was the place where the sum total of the existing worlds knowledge came together and was fountained through a hole in the platform into the shifting light below. Moments of the world as it was being seen by those that lived and dreamed transcended the blinding fold:
1. They saw an army of Forest Guardians marching through the darkness of Godling Wood, the bodies of blackened faeries scattered amongst the debris like a silent plague of locusts.
2. Explosions in the palace of Dwellen, corpses littering Palace Road, the courtyard and throne room Corridor. Robed coven members and their demonic allies patrolling their handiwork triumphantly.
3. The army of tents outside the City State of Dakar sprawling with a size to challenge the relevance city itself.
4. A smaller army amassed at the pearl gates of Dawn.
5. The intimate exchange of ‘Acolyte Nishaana’ in the central garden of Dawn, as she implored Mistress of the God Glass, Najellak to give her leave to join the Imperimundi in Dakar. Through the obfuscating twists of tortured prophecy, Natasha identified Nishaana as Indel Kyura.
6. The Federation City of Tortuga in ruins. A status the group hoped was preceded by Pirate Master Lesondiss’ arrival to lead the community to a new site for the Pirate Capital.
7. Phi, thin beams of red light rising to the heavens. The places where Peril’s legacy caused the wounded dimensions to continue to haemorrhage. The city below broken before a fury that had not visited when the group was there. Demon bodies everywhere, but living demons too moving through the rubble, in the inland sea and headed into the wider world.
8. The Temple of Self/Cathedralis in the Land of the Damned. A giant woman of striking beauty and authority striding along the banks with an entourage of demons. The zealots on the shores turning their attention casually at first from the lake borne temple before being swept into Mastema’s will.
9. A great dragon of size beyond imagining. Atop the twilit tip of a massive spire rising out of endless sea. Shah Dallan stirs.
10. The confounding vision of a dark reflection of the viewing platform on which they stood. Over the central stair on the ‘other’ platform a spark of black light burned. A robed figure with a single symbol on their back moved from the edge of the platform and stepped into the invisible fire.

Accepting Lucifer’s argument, the betrayer was allowed to leave and the company made ready for the Prefects and their judgement. All attention turned again to Illynis through Norindial and through her insight the seeming chaos of the message resolved into the celestial filled Judgement Hall. The Prefects lined the bench at the foot of the stairs raising the Queen’s throne above the assembled.

Emalf and Echo challenged the Queen’s punishment of Orbray-Ell and the warlock. A challenge that seemed increasingly an analogue for the question of the Angel Queen’s oversight of the message itself. With the angel Executioner Perath-Ell at one shoulder, and the ‘untrustworthy’ Orbray-Ell safely at the other, she gave the pair the briefest insight into the impossibility of her charge and the light it cast all other things in. She cited experience dating from creation itself and made no apologies for being able to do what needed to be done.

Andrakasis had been oddly silent throughout the exchange, his mood radiating dark judgement in contrast to the light of the Mother of the angels. When he spoke it was in low tones that cut through other chatter, he told the celestial mother that he had been to all the dimensions of Hell and that what he had learned should be heard by the Queen to the exclusion of all others, including the Prefects.

The Queen’s gaze was withering as it fell on the Witch. Her countenance of superiority galvanized as she recounted how Emalf Eldritch and Orbray-Ell had told her he planned her demise. With complete conviction she denounced any possibility that a mortal could harm her, even as she admitted precaution dictated that none of the mortal trespassers would be allowed close enough to enact the plan that Tolmet had attempted through her hold on Andrakasis.

The once King of the East warned the Queen again, saying that hearing what he had learned in the Hells held such sway over the enduring Message that it could only hope to be addressed should the Queen learn it in isolation of her Prefects. A strange sympathy entering his voice, he pledged compromise, that he would pass the message to a single Angel of the Queen’s choosing to carry it to her ear. He bade her choose her agent carefully, lest all be lost.

Though it was nothing like the human reaction, the group could only call the Queen’s nod, to Perath ‘concern’. The Angel Queen’s dark right hand drifted between the prefects and came to loom over the witch king. The king looked up at the executioner and with a flick of his head commanded the angel to bow his head that he might hear what was to be said. The moment of utter silence revealed none of what was imparted, and it was over in the space of what could not have been more than a sentence.

Perath’s face seemed taut, somehow robbed of it strength as he waded through the expectant glares of the Prefecture to stand before his Queen. As his journey drew to a close, eleven angels manifest around the group, and as all eyes turned to observe the unexpected intrusion of Andrakasis’ prisoners, the unsuspected twelfth prisoner summoned the executioner’s scythe to his hand and buried it in his ‘Mother’.

It would only be after the detonation of light that the angels would realise what Perath had done, and none would understand why.

129. The Temple of Self

The group were divided on whether they should head toward the besieged city, or the active Hedron. Ever the soldier of action, Illynis pressed the group to head for the Palace and worry about everything else when they got there.

Being late in the day, and having had no chance to rest, the driven Paladin reluctantly fell in with the wishes of her companions as they readied the barn on the property to which the Mirrorwitch had transported them for their night of rest.

The morning was to try the elven maiden still more, for Emalf and Aurar were inexplicably gone (See 129 Misplaced Hopes for Redemption). Annoyed that Emalf should go missing at a time when so much challenged their allies in the East, and Dawn threatened to take the Hedron into their invasive ‘protection’. She argued her past experience with Emalf showed he was quite capable of looking after himself, and that he would find his way back to them when he had done what he had set out to do.

As the rest of the group hesitated in the absence of the man whose fire seemed always at the centre of what they did, ‘The Blade’ interrupted. With calm determination, she told the company that she was certain that Emalf would not return (See 129 Fear of Judgement) without help, and that she needed Emalf to complete Panath’s work. She left unspoken the convention of mortal friendship that should sweep the rest of the group along to help her.

Echo did not pause. She knew the impulsive Warlock, whose trust she had worked to earn, was as essential to the future as Illynis herself. But more than that, Echo realised she worried over Emalf in the way Natasha hoped she would; as a friend.

Compounding these thoughts was the conviction that Satan’s hand was in the events spanning Hammerfall, Dwellen and Dawn. She doubted they were ready for what awaited then in those places, especially divided.

Illynis, feeling she knew Emalf better than the two women she did not fully trust, reiterated her point, and as discussion continued she became disgruntled at the persistent opposition. She left the group debating in the barn, to seek the farmer and purchase a horse to expedite her journey to the Eastern Capital alone.

Within the barn, the remainder of the group analysed their options for reaching Ell-Maine to save Emalf and it was soon agreed that Andrakasis was the most likely to know how to find and free Emalf. Accepting the possibility, Echo communicated with Norindial by mysterious means (whom was with Andrakasis aboard Portalinac) culminating in a plan to find their way back to the circle in Hammerfall and have Malayek activate the magic transport.

Minutes later, Copernicus had calculated the journey to Hammerfall with meticulous attention. He worried at the formulae for some time and hoped redundancy built into his calculations would counter his lack of experience in transporting groups. As they made ready to leave Echo was reminded that Illynis was making ready to leave for the Eastern Capital with a different objective.

Refusing to let that moment become the point in history where the company lost its way, Echo interrupted Illynis as her frustrated knocking went unanswered by the farmer previously traumatised by Copernicus. Echo implored a woman that she knew she would always struggle with, even in a future she remembered with the hope it might never come to pass.

It was only grudgingly, that Illynis surrendered to consensus, and the group were transported by Copernicus’ power to rendezvous via Malayek’s magic. Aboard Portalinac the group learned the tests that had challenged Andrakasis in the past day. Having proceeded to the site where the Prefects had agreed to meet, he had endured as many hours as patience allowed before concluding that the Angels were not coming. The news that Emalf Eldritch made the follyful journey to Ell-Maine to warn the Queen of the plan against her life explained matters and placed the former Witch King in a dubious position.

Typical of the man of plans, he gave every indication he had not forsaken his goal even as he imparted the minimum of details to those that wanted his help in rescuing Emalf. With his plan to lure the Angel Queen to the mortal world for the exchange in tatters, he theorised an alternative based upon the supposition the legendary Citadel centred in the lake at the heart of the Land of the Damned, was an entry point to Ell-Maine that had gone unused since the time of the first ‘ Great War’.

He believed that if they could pass the unknown trials inherent in the journey, that they may arrive in the landscape undetected. The plan was not what the group had expected. Nor, from the Message Orbray-Ell had left, had Emalf’s guardian expected such an approach.

They had been presumed that Andrakasis would force his eleven angelic prisoners to take them to Ell-Maine in a manner that was almost certainly akin to the one Orbray-Ell had used to transport Emalf. But Andrakasis had believed that the Prefects wished to avoid the dialogue, that by his wife’s justice, he would impose upon them. An imposition dependent on overcoming any defences raised against him to reach his goals before they might flee.

Andrakasis had chosen subtlety and surprise. Rather than face the hostile host to gain the access his objective required, he would arrive by a means so obscure that even he was not completely confident it was not made in myth. He would then command his celestial prisoners to hide them as they made their way to their goals.

Portalinac was set down only hours shy of a Citadel none of the mortal or celestial company was familiar with. As jungle gave way to lake, they caught their first glimpse of a structure so large that no mountain in sight could compare. Its detail lost in distance, left the hazy monolith to rise out of water stretching beyond the visible horizon, it seemed more silhouette than substance.

They traversed the lake bank for some hours before the ramshackle buildings of an equally ramshackle community came into view. Amidst ruins and tents in varying states of existence, the group observed inhabitants that seemed to have no care for their surroundings beyond the distant Citadel that more resembled an impossible mountain than something built.

They stood amongst the refuges, upon he banks, or up to their knees in the water of the lake. Showing no awareness or care over the groups passage. Stupified rapture beamed from eyes unerringly trained on the unearthly structure atop the lake.

Surrounded by devout silence, Illynis became aware of a tide of voices teasing the edges of her senses. The perception rang with the promise that a limitless throng of voices seemed to talk to her all at once, though she could distinguish no speaker from the myriad others woven around them. She was torn between a desire to resolve individuals amongst the limitless whispering, and a fear that should she find herself amongst the owners of those voices, that they would blot out self-awareness and leave her at the mercy of a confounding furore.

It took a morning of walking around the lakes edge for the bridge to come into sight. It was a dominating platform suited to giants the likes of which had almost certainly never walked Palladium. The intricately decorated marble and flecks of crystal formed a walkway wide enough for armies to cross side by side, but they would do so without any hope of seeing over the stone walls at its edges, much less appreciating the intricacy of the protruding adornments overhead.

Near where statues loomed at the non-existent gates to the bridge, the group observed crimson liquid spilling into the water from a fallen zealot. Somehow unseen previously, the footnote to a life ended took form. They knew she had been there all along, that figure of sombre beauty standing and gazing before the mammoth silhouette on the lake borne horizon.

The bestial headdress turned ominously toward them and Madgellania glared into Andrakasis’ eyes. She berated the fallen King’s decision to share a burden that should have been his alone, saying that if he could not explain to his would be accompli what they entered into, or they could not grasp it, that ‘their loss will set the world on its course more truly’.

Then ‘The Voice of Tolmet’ warned the man few had survived threatening; ‘Do not fail me Andrakasis. Should my word prove better than yours, you will lose everything’. ‘The General’ seethed before the insinuation, allowing his expression to answer her demand.

Then Madgellania’s attention shifted. She turned in a combination of reverence and mockery to join one of the devout where he stood ankle deep in the water of the lake. Gazing at the monolithic shadow on the horizon, he did not react as one of her arms encircled him tenderly. Her other swept up with unassuming gentleness, Death’s Key in hand.

Watching the man’s awe transition, without struggle or remorse, from the sight on the lake to a world that only the dead could see, it was hard to discern a difference between his prior devotion, and he embrace of death that followed.

On a bridge fit for giants, the group saw few others headed back to the shore. They were to discover on a walk that took the better part of the time between sunrise and sunset the ‘crossing’ was more a ‘journey’ than a simple string of steps. As the trip was made, it became clear that the locomotion was more a thing of mind than of body. Had they embarked upon the pilgrimage alone, as most of the obsessed on the shore did, no one would have been there to help a solitary mind as it became lost in a place that defied reason. The certainty of friends whose focus never wavered from the great silhouette they needed to reach was what allowed the entire party to gain a place they might, as individuals, have found unattainable.

Where bridge met the unearthly monolith there were no visible doors, just a sensation that it was a place of alluring, but final choice. Allure so great that the company, like most that passed through, found the ‘finality’ before them lost in the feelings and promise of the place.

Within was a confusion of perception. Ceilings so high and walls so distant, that they should be lost from sight imposed upon onlooking eyes glorious intricacies crafted by immortal architects. They were infused with a conviction they were in the largest building in existence, yet when they looked directly at the walls and the ceiling, they could see the world outside with haunting clarity. A world of life ghosted through walls.

Though the overhead stone challenged the limits of Palladium, absolute certainty rang through the mind that thought there were no steps, no walls and little else beyond other mortal souls, that the ceiling an infinity above them did not encompass the full height of the tower standing before them. There were other ‘places’ above and below that could not be justly called ‘levels’.

Throughout the sprawling interior of a building that was not a building, and a citadel that seemed more a temple with each passing moment, was a wide scattering of individuals from many different peoples. Some wore the insular stare of their counterparts on the lake shore, fixated on something that they alone could see, whilst others moved with varying degrees of certainty around the temple in unending search.

They knew time passed, but nothing marked its passage in the suspension that hung throughout the temple. Peoples busied themselves alone on tasks that no onlooker could explain. They moved with purpose, and they stopped with purpose, in a manner disturbingly reminiscent of the groups own passage through the temple.

As they ventured deeper, the group grew more concerned about Illynis. At times she stopped to press disciplined hands to eyes that had no memory of fear. Yet what crept insidiously through her peeled back courage and ignited something like terror within her eyes. Looking from the mindlessly devout to the tortured companion, Echo suddenly recalled the words to describe the condition; ‘ Message Sensitive’. The descriptive in isolation of meaning bore no insight on treatment, and Echo vainly suggested that Norindial establish a psionic barrier to shield the Elf from what plagued mind and soul.

His efforts allowed the Paladin to acknowledge them, but her eyes remained distracted. Her expression implied a siege of isolation. Of walking the borders of loneliness surrounded by the unacknowledging others. They wondered whether any of them could have held on to reality without companionship. Or whether the hum of curiosities besieging perception would have claimed them as well.

After a time that might have been longer than the journey across the bridge, that might have been longer than lives culminating in arrival at the threshold of that platform over sacred water, the group came upon a Pillar of Light that pierced a ceiling lost in infinity, and a sky, that seemed simultaneously beyond and before the enigmatic roof.

At its foot, an aged wolfen wise woman leant on her cane as she watched them approach. She was the singular ‘other’ in all the temple that remained obviously capable of measuring what she saw against memory of the material world. Momentary alarm coursed through those that remembered ‘The Chaos Wolf’, Entropa Dell. The Wise Wolf that had followed Andrakasis’ plans as king across borders and incited her kind against Byzantium.

The Wise Wolf before them was not Entropa Dell, and she ceded that she was once known as Megranis, the Oracle of Moonfall. McSpade remembered tell of the most prescient of all the Wise Wolves, the wolf that had prophecised the juggernaut that had been ‘The Great Predator’, Witch King Andrakasis, and his fall from power. She was also reputed to be one of the only Wise Wolves whose divinations had been specific enough to turn battles amongst the clans, and wars against the enemies of the wolfen.

The passage of time ran the length of her in black fur turned grey. Her eyes too seemed to have the colour drained from them by age. Their odd pale blue greeted each of the company as she invoked obscure titles that might have been simple handles, or have signified something she had ‘seen’. She named ‘The Great Predator’ (Andrakasis), ‘Sanguinary’ (Natasha), ‘The Wilting Chrysanthemum’ (Norindial), ‘The Lost Self’ (Echo), ‘The Martyr’ (Illynis), ’Nature’s Guide’ (Broadpaw), and ‘The Lone Wolf’ McSpade

Yet for all the future she reputedly knew, the caution she issued against entering the pillar of light did not seem to come from foresight. She said that none, bar herself, had seen what waited on the other side of the light and emerged again. Observing their unwavering determination prompted her to advise that the price of passage was ‘identity’. She said that in order to use the light, they would need to irrevocably surrender their closest secret.

Then, as though the vague warning were a trigger for something more, her visage filled with breath stealing certainty. Looking at Andrakasis, she said, ‘You think all the import rests on the identity of ’The Third’, but for you, and all that rely on you, more depends, oh predator, on your realizing that ‘Angel slayer’ and ‘The General’ are not what you think. Without understanding, those titles will lead you to failure, and your end’.

It was inexplicable that such a provocative statement should seem final, but none of them tested whether Megranis knew more than she had said. Instead, they turned their attention to the light lancing into eternity through the building Megranis called ‘The Cathedralis’. The pillar somehow seemed so pure that the word ‘light’ was humbled before it. Perhaps it was this untaintedness, perhaps it was the memory of a similar transport of light in Hell, or perhaps it was the personal stakes Emalf’s actions and Andrakasis’ plans had brought into play. Whatever the reason, none of them considered how the impact of Peril’s Curse on Phi, though a thing of destruction, so resembled what they were about to enter.

Yet where Peril’s Curse had been a force with voracious hunger, feeding indiscriminately on two worlds from a single point in the matrix, the Pillar of Light at the heart of ‘The Cathedralis’ was selective about who could pass, and those that did would have exposed their defining secrets.

Illynis felt something like thunder strike as Echo entered the light. From the undying noise that Norindial’s power was struggling to contain, raised a coherent ‘voice’ that brought with it flashes that the Paladin could only assume were parts of the summoner’s enigmatic past. She saw confusion as Echo had arrived in fire within the summoning circle of the Covens of the East. She saw Vialus Armigon’s hopes for Echo transform into fury. She saw Echo flee and find the recent past alongside the group. But Echo’s story was punctuated by her uncertainty, and the few memories she had reclaimed, and interspersed with a bleak despair rooted in the doomed future she had come from. It was understanding of the woman packaged in the instant it took to ‘hear’ the name ‘Maaney Mastel’.

Norindial’s entrance heralded a lifelong allegiance to a distant monarch and the kingdom she lorded over. Unrest plagued the memories of the coming of the Witch King, particularly over the spies choice to avoid returning to the Eastern Capital for fear of the ravenous dreams that had fed on his psyche. A choice that had spared him the fall of an empire, but not the guilt that he had been absent when needed. As the Queen had reassumed the throne and conceived the plan to stage her own death to entrap the Covens, it was guilt that kept the spy’s fortunes tied to a woman whose ambitions he came to view as merely territorial. It was understanding of the man packaged in the instant it took to ‘hear’ the name ‘Dion Ranil’.

Illynis watched with interest as Natasha entered the light. Through the pain of the noise eroding her will, she focused on the chance she might finally know the fullness of what ‘The Blade’ and Panath planned. What she witnessed was unlike anything that had gone before. It was a flow of information beyond anything a mortal could process. It was uninterpretable understanding of the woman packaged in the instant it took to ‘hear’ the name ‘Panath’.

Broadpaw’s simple aspirations around Godling Wood spoke of a relationship with the Wood that left Illynis envious of the peace the Orc had known for much of his life. Broadpaw had never known loneliness, had almost never known fear or regret, for the Wood itself had been an indomitable support system from which he had drank the strength of those others selflessly devoted to it. In many ways, Broadpaw’s story was the hardest to accept. He was a being that had known utopia, and lost it. The moment of intuition his entry into the light had seeded inside her was enough to wet her eyes. It explained much about his loyalty and a mission to make the world safe for the wood again. It was understanding of the Orc packaged in the instant it took to ‘hear’ a name befitting the trust that only Godling Wood could have supported; ‘Obrekice Broadpaw’.

Illynis did not really want to witness McSpade’s life. She was unsurprised by his early potential, the cursed choices he had made, or disrespect that had stolen his chance to realise his potential. She saw his cousin made a slave under her hand, and his refusal to give up on Karnath against hopeless odds. In contrast to Broadpaw, she saw him join an adventuring party that could surround him and leave him feeling alone in their number, and she saw him lose Karnath again. So much prejudice and loss. It was understanding of the Wolfen packaged in the instant it took to ‘hear’ the name ‘McSpade Dell’.

Illynis had followed Andrakasis’ life intimately in prior quests to oppose him. She saw his troubled beginnings, his encounter with ‘The Man of the Symbol’ that led him to search for Satan. The slaying of his first friend; the Monk Zayla, so that Satan’s guide could take her form. The plans and sacrifices that conquered a city and then the better part of a world. She saw the great man’s pledge to his wife synergise with his debt to Tolmet to break his loyalty to Satan. She saw the death of Valyndria and the birth of Peril, and she saw a stomach turning horror as Andrakasis had been tortured in Hell in the hopeless position of being without the knowledge his tormentors craved. She saw him describe his plan to enable Satan’s peers against him by informing them of the loss of the weapon he had wielded against them. She saw ‘The Voice of Tolmet’ iterate the details of Andrakasis’ debt to the goddess, and she saw his promise to kill the Angel Queen. Every insight was painted in unwillingness to accept the boundaries of mortality, of determination to enforce his personal justice upon the worlds that had wronged that which was his; Valyndria and Peril. It was understanding of the man packaged in the instant it took to ‘hear’ the name ‘Andon Marcus’.

Trailing her father’s hand was Peril. Illynis had prepared herself to witness the unspeakable hardship of a girl born cursed, but a girl born unnamed, fathered by events moulded by ‘The Third’, The Crown of Forever, Satan and the Hedron of Doors, must have been an anomaly Ell-Maine had no answer to. Illynis felt the voices stop, voices incessant since having entered the proximity of the lake surrounding ‘The Cathedralis’. The cessation should have been a relief, but reality, both in Ell-Maine and on Palladium turned faint (like frosted glass) in a manner visible to all observers (not just the Message sensitive one). It was a scenario the company remembered from times when the wearer of ‘The Crown of Forever’s life was at risk. With it came an alien ‘sound’ instinctively associated with something breaking.

Illynis stood alone before the pillar as the Oracle’s eyes looked on quizzically, and a moment later remembered events played through her mind’s eye. All of it had brought her to where she was, and seeing it again served only to reinforce her resolve. It was understanding of the Elf packaged in the instant it took to ‘hear’ the name ‘Liselle Cramlien’.


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