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.