Palladium: Reason and Existence

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.

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