The Second War of Night Saga
The Second War of Night was an epic story event that took place over the summer of 2022, involving the escape of Ohlsana, the Shadow Mother, from her prison in Czjetija – the Shadow Plane. This sprawling saga, which unfolded over the course of three months, was the biggest event in the history of Iron Realms, and potentially across the MUD community.
Despite the scope and scale, the Second Night War was an entirely unplanned event.
It began with the actions of a few intrepid adventurers from Duiran declaring war on the City of Spinesreach over custody of the shadow gate. From there, the rest, as they say, is history…
“I have never been so engaged with Aetolia, where the end of the world felt so frantic and alive. Nothing was out of bounds, no idea was too crazy. All that mattered was survival against the inevitable encroachment from our darling mother, Ohlsana…”Elene
In over twenty years of playing MUDs, the four or so months of the Second War of Night were some of the most gripping and organic storytelling I’ve ever had the privilege to witness. Some games claim to have a living world, but few go so far as to bring said world to a hair’s breadth from its total end to keep that promise like Aetolia has.A screaming pelican (Linne)
The War of Night is an exemplary example of the very best MUDs have to offer. Organic storytelling, player-driven narratives, all of it on a massive scale that no other medium could ever manage. Quite literally one of my favorite gaming experiences of all time.Tetchta
The War of Night is the best example of how player decisions and actions can shape the course of the game, springing up to be something much larger than anything we could have imagined and turning into the single largest event that I’ve witnessed and been part of to date, with lingering impacts on so much of the game world.Jhura
The War of Night was one of the most inspirational storylines in a MUD I have ever had the pleasure to participate in. It was a tapestry of events where everyone had a part to play, no faction, playstyle, or identity was left without an avenue for enjoyment and interaction throughout the entirety of the months long period. Truly an unprecedented colaboration between player and admin initiatives alike to create a saga that will go down in Aetolian history as an engaging, apocalyptic masterpiece.Whirran
There has never been a time that Aetolia felt more alive, and more real, than it did during the second coming of the War of Night. Every action had a consequence, there were unexpected twists and turns, devastating consequences, and some of the best content that I have ever seen. We saw new classes introduced, vital characters introduced and killed off, amazing and intricate mechanics that required even the worst of enemies to work together. The story was never predictable with each event leading up to the final battle being more devastating or empowering than the one before. 10/10 fantastic.Kalena
First and most important: only one loyal follower sent an email to Mother, and it was Markos!
Most of the team had no idea what was going to happen in the finale, and were just as shocked as you!
The max number of people I saw online during the finale was 148. That is the highest I’ve ever seen in Aetolia.
Saluria was only picked as the site of the first shard due to a bug very early on in the event that caused shadowspawn to appear there, which some people latched onto with speculation.
The months frequently lining up with their Gods in the story was completely coincidental.
At one point in August I woke up to absolute pandemonium and panic in the Pools because Google had locked us out of our docs (where most of the planning, including both mirrors, were stored)
1468 rooms were overtaken by shadowrot.
Hippos were devoured by the rot on 73 occasions. 47 of these were Iesid’s.
96 people became Shadowbound, as well as most NPCs across the game showing as shadowbound in their names.
In total, 47 shadowbreaks were carried out (Lenoriel was present at 43 of them, the most by far!)
Only one (1) reclusive mystic was harmed in the making of this event.
21648 corpses (Tetchta: 16178!), 6713 units of blood (Xarian 2440!), and 1008 ores (Kurak 731!) were used in the ritual to bind Ati.
Ati cleared 70 rooms of rot (Sheryni cleared the most with Abhorash claiming the most chiav kills)
Bloodloch raised 990 troops in their army of slaves for tower defence (credit goes to Gryph for raising 101 of them himself).
118 attempts were made by the Archivists before Linne succeeded in producing an artificial Shard of Truth.
Enorian forged a total of 449 bells (props to Sryaen here for forging 166 of these himself!).
The Illuminai forged a total of 670 dejanite to repair Ethne’s bell (honourable mention to Annerissa for making 176 of them!).
Enorian gathered a total of 12809 sand for Rhulin (Eliadon personally brought him 5929(!!!)) and made 276 glass (Damonicus wins this one with 152!)
Spinesreach gathered a total of 7544 sand for Burkhart (Feirenz #1 with 2290!) and made 458 glass (Lenoriel wins with 214!)
Duiran offered more than 5000 corpses to empower the Guardian Totems, which equated to 447698 totem essence. (Valorie wins both of these with 1295 and 149239 respectively!)
* The numbers are actually higher than this but the log cuts off at 5000 unfortunately.
Spinesreach infected a total of 1152 eld (this was almost a tie between Aros, Legyn, and Lenoriel who did 698 between them!)
Out of those 1152 infected eld, 425 of them were slain and absorbed into the pylons (Sheryni wins this with 67!).
Spinesreach processed more than 5000 refugees. 3163 approved, 909 of which were shadowbound infiltrators. 1837 denied, 318 of which were shadowbound.
Enorian processed a total of 2822 refugees. 2029 approved, 594 of which were shadowbound. 793 denied, 115 of which were shadowbound.
Bloodloch processed a total of 2251 refugees. 852 approved, 235 of which were shadowbound. 1399 enslaved, 337 of which were shadowbound.
The planning doc for this event is currently at 43482 words, and only includes about half of the actual event content since a LOT of the event was just us responding to things that happened.
Raz informs us that the total event post length exceeds 60k.
We decided to tie the Akkari and Ravager releases in before the event had even started, after only about 10 minutes persuasion from Raz.
- Part I: The War For Sterion
- Part II: After The Conquest
- Part III: The Shrines, The Bells, And The Dragon
- Part IV: The Shadowrot
- Part V: The End Of The Beginning
- Part VI: The Primal Eye Of Czjetija
- Part VII: The Dauntless Host Of The Akkari
- Part VIII: The Crossroads
- Part IX: The Battle For Kald, Part I
- Part X: The Battle For Kald, Part II
- Part XI: The Battle For Kald: Part III
- Part XII: The Ritual Of Lunar Turmoil
- Part XIII: Dia’ruis Eternal
- Part XIV: Papers, Please
- Part XV: Memonaransa
- Part XVI: The Shadow Rising
- Part XVII: Progress
- Part XVIII: Strife Rises, Misery Falls
- Part XIX: The Lost Woods
- Interlude: CHAOS COMETH… ETH
- Part XX: A Dragon’s Promise
- Part XXI: May She Live Forever
- Part XXII: The Hammer Of The Dawn
- Part XXIII: Judged And Found Wanting
- Part XXIV: Blessed Be The Light
- Part XXV: Strength In Slaughter
- Part XXVI: Raiders Of The Lost Shard
- Part XXVII: The Songs Of Life And Death
- Part XXVIII: Might, Malice, And Marriage
- Part XXIX: The Liruma Project
- Part XXX: The Fourteenth General
- Part XXXI: The Empire In Exile
- Part XXXII: The Beginning Of The End
- Part XXXIII: The Fundamental Darkness
- Part XXXIV: The Fundamental Light
Part I: The War For Sterion
Long has shadow been a source of grief and consternation for those of a forestal persuasion. Countless stories tell of its destructive ways, its unending hunger, and its capacity for ruin when left unchecked. Still appalled by the events at Farsai and freshly stirred to renewed grief at the Hunter’s sorrowful reminder of Dendara’s continued degradation, the Duirani had had enough. Enough of playing bystander. Enough of playing helpless victim, powerless but to watch yet more horrors befall them.
Seeking to draw a line in the sand and strike back against that which had tormented them for so long, the leaders of Duiran turned their minds to Sterion. Sweeping into the village, the Duirani cut down the Minotaur without mercy and declared their intent to seize control of the portal to Czjetija – which had long been under the watchful eye of the Shaman Castes – for themselves.
Sadako, the Venerable and Inscrutable, responded swiftly, refusing the demands for surrender while reminding Duiran and the world at large of their sacred duty: to safeguard the rift between Prime and Shadow, and the danger that would befall the realm should that work be prevented.
In response to these demands, Severn, the Manipulator, issued a dire warning to the Senators of Spinesreach, echoing Sadako’s words about the dangers of letting Sterion’s rift go improperly guarded. With war on the horizon, the Sciomancers and Spinesreach at large continued to pursue a diplomatic resolution, earnestly attempting to convince Duiran of their sincerity on the subject of shadow and the dangers of the rift.
Their words went unheeded, and war came swiftly on the heels of a Durdalis cluster dying at the hands of Spirean hoplites. The war’s opening skirmishes were short and brutal, early victories going to Duiran whose well-practiced and experienced veterans commanded the field with aplomb under the command of Valorie Aresti. Despite their accomplishments on the battlefield, however, the gates of Sterion held fast, and the Spireans began to rally, a resurgence largely owed to the leadership of Nisavi of Kemau.
Encouraged by Vanguard Milihion to prepare a full assault on the Sterion gates, the Duirani set up a war camp in the Three Widows and began to re-strategise. Spinesreach, their numbers bolstered and their spirits resolute, prepared a counter assault on Duiran’s encampment, and the sieges began.
Pitched battles continued to play out across Sterion and the Three Widows as each side fought desperately to lead their troops against the others’ gates. Though Duiran drew the first blood, death soon came for all sides as blades swung, spells flew, and the Song of Oblivion droned out its doleful notes. Duiran claimed the early advantage once again, and if not for a valiant and risky raid organised by Feirenz, all would have been lost in so little time. But the Spireans persisted. And the Duirani fought harder and harder.
After five weeks of uncountable carnage, with both gates barely holding on, Sterion’s fell, and Duiran had won the war.
Vanguard Milihion gleefully swarmed into the village alongside a group of their Soliad, rounding up the surviving Minotaur. Rihrin Silverain once again demanded Sterion’s surrender, and Sadako once again refused, spitting at the ground in disgust. Milihion requested permission to feast, and Lady Sapphire gave her assent. The fae creatures descended upon the captured Minotaurs in a vicious frenzy, stripping the flesh from them and leaving nothing behind but sheared bones.
As the Duirani fanned out through Sterion in an effort to free the slaves housed there, Milihion informed the Speakers that the Soliad would secure the village and attempt to uncover its secrets. Within a week, the Soliad had rooted out any remaining Minotaur and consigned them to the same fate as the others. A monstrous effigy now stood in the village centre, built of the bones of man, woman, and child-calf in tribute to the gruesome conquest.
In the weeks following the war’s conclusion, the Duirani awaited news from the Soliad while the Sciomancers rushed to distribute literature and information on the effects of the Shadowbound Plague. Milihion soon gathered the Duirani before the Shrine of Bells, and, praying for the return of the Hunter, with His aid they breached the defences of Sterion’s lower tunnels.
At the end of the snaking, subterranean passageway, stood the great gate, the archway that acted as the portal to Czjetija. They each of them peered into the inky-black void.
And the void peered back.
Merely a tiny pinprick glimmered in the enveloping darkness, a speck of dusky violet whose size belied its significance. Barely weeks had passed since the conquest of Sterion, but it was enough. Absent the Minotaurs sworn to maintain it, the rift to Shadow had been breached.
Part II: After The Conquest
In the wake of Sterion’s conquest and the subsequent murder of its Minotaur population, news of the rift’s breach began to spread. Trepidation gripped the land with the anticipation of a second War of Night and the knowledge that Sapience barely survived the first. In place of despair, however, there was hope, and resolute determination.
The Shadowguard, formed by Kagura of Spinesreach as a neutral, globally-inclusive point of communication, saw its numbers swell as the cities of Sapience began to rally for the imminent incursion of Shadow into the Prime Material. Dozens flocked to stand vigil over the rift at Sterion, chief among them Ardent Riahl of the Sciomancers, who doggedly sought to quell the inevitable dissent and disagreement that would come from so disunited and dissimilar a coalition.
No less than six Gods had visited the rift, each of Them grave in tone and uncharacteristically united in Their message: that Shadow would come, and that the breach could not be closed. The best anyone could do, They advised, was to prepare for war, and perhaps slow the oncoming tide. With preparations underway and vigils being held, Duiran, under the guidance of Runemaster Olto, strove to do just that.
Inspired by a suggestion from Esrytesh Sibatti dur Naya involving Shamanic songlines, the Runemaster posited that with enough power focused on the effort, it might be possible to confuse the planar pathway between Shadow and Prime and slow the encroaching darkness in a labyrinth. The Councillors turned to the Dendaric Guardians as a potential source of that power, and in the following weeks an audience was arranged.
The meeting that followed was something that had occurred only a handful of times in living memory. Responding to the calls for aid, the Guardians attended the Ancient Valley in person, accompanied by their voices. While the Duirani made their case and gave their plea, the primordial spirits spoke of how the worship and sacrifice that had once been commonplace had declined. Demanding an unspecified price in exchange for their power, some of the Duirani hesitated, wary of promising a cost they did not know. Sibatti, Illikaal, and Aisling held no such qualms, immediately stepping forward to spill their blood in solemn oath. The Guardians gave their accord, and a bargain, a promise of future aid or service, was struck.
Returning to Sterion, the Runemaster set the Councillors to the task of establishing spiritual totems through the village, one each for Srahda, Griash, Rhulvok, Kree-sa, Takaros, and Vo’acha. For days they toiled in the act, first erecting the totems and then empowering them with a monumental amount of sacrificed corpses.
A week hence, Olto was ready to put theory into practice, but was troubled. Songlines, he explained to the gathered Councillors, were an accumulation of memories, the histories and traditions and cultures of a place. Tapping into their magic held some similarities to the Sentinels’ Ancestral Communion, and the Duirani would need to form a similar resonance with the memories of Sterion. The scope of their task, escalating beyond simple travel and transport to obscuring the very link between planes of reality, would require a communion so deep and vast that he did not believe it possible without aid.
He turned to Iesid Mulariad then, the Champion of Lexadhra. Who better, the Runemaster posited aloud, than the Goddess of Memory Herself? Prayers went out and the Indelible soon answered, arriving in Sterion to give Her response in person. Foregoing Her usual insouciance given the gravity of the situation, She spoke instead of the Minotaur, an ancient people, an enduring people, a people charged with an ancient duty to guard Shadow’s rift. Moved by whatever it was She sensed, She agreed to assist, informing all present of Her intention to gather the collective memories of all the Minotaurs, and take that fathomless weight of history into Herself, that she may act as a filter for the gathered mortals to safely do their work.
She settled Herself on the ground and bid Iesid to do the same, and began Her own communion, while Iesid beat a steady rhythm on a ritual drum brought for the purpose. Pale mist surrounded the area as the Goddess worked in silence, Her eyes rolling back in Her head as the full tide of memory past was drawn into Her. As the ritual drew to a conclusion, She began to sing, Her lilting notes a manic, indecipherable recitation of generations uncountable, of distant past and recent bygones, of the ancient dead and those recently interred.
Staggering under the force of so much history, the Goddess climbed unsteadily to Her feet and turned the swath of swirling mists on Iesid, imbuing him with so much of that accumulated past that a single drop more would have destroyed him. After She had left to rest, Olto instructed them on their next step. By praying to the Guardian Totems and receiving the spirits’ protective blessings, coupled with the gift of memory, they would be able to commune with the dead of the area and create more potent songlines.
They fanned out and toiled for an entire day, praying, blessing, and empowering the songline totems while Shamans planted them in the ground. When over twenty stood in the area of Sterion, Olto called them back for a final prayer. Calling out their praise for the Guardian Spirits of Dendara, a web of green flame soared into the sky from each totem, coming together as a single web of Dendaric energies. As it settled, the encroaching shadow stretched out to an impossibly thin strand, its approach to Prime temporarily stalled, confused and thrown off course by the songlines.
Relief was palpable as anomalies ceased to emerge from the rift. But they, and everyone else, knew it was but a temporary reprieve.
~ ~ ~
In Enorian, the Unbound had commanded the city to prepare for war, impressing upon them the gravity of the situation and counselling hope. At a meeting before the Grand Flame, Qayanehe, the Djinn Keeper of Lore who had remained on Prime following Jezriel’s ascension as a Seraph, proposed that the city construct bells to ward off the shadowspawn. Damariel confirmed that the Shrine of Bells in Sterion, while ineffective against Ohlsana Herself, was a potent defence against the shadowbound, crafted ages prior to protect the village.
In conference with the Djinn, and with the aid of recovered memories from the Indelible, Ethne agreed to travel to Rahiela to learn the ancient art of bellforging. Ever one for action over words, She departed through Her volcano without fanfare while Enorian hurried to amass coal, wood, and iron in anticipation of Her return.
~ ~ ~
In Bloodloch, the Thronekeepers met to discuss the coming battle and their part to play therein. Upon learning of a proposal to contact Dejaani, the Albedi entity of Spirit and the Sun, Thronekeeper Whirran made a daring proposal to the Empire: to forego any and all alliances in favour of fighting on their own terms. Bloodloch’s government found themselves in agreement, and the Sanguine Fist began making their own preparations for war.
On the advice of Abhorash, recalling his own triumph over Ati, the Shadow, in the first War of Night, the Bloodlochians began establishing shrines in and around Sterion. Deploying troops of their own to secure the area, they set to work as the Progenitor promised to devise a way to use his blood in tandem with the shrines in order to beat back the shadow.
~ ~ ~
Meanwhile, the Goddess of Corruption descended on the Isle of Despair, gathering Her followers closer. Attired for war, She instructed Rijetta Alhazrad, Asaraii, Feirenz Ourborian, Legyn, and others of Her faithful on the severity of the breach. With little fanfare – but an unexpected aggression – She granted those closest to Her the ability to wield Her jade fire. a measure that would be found to disperse shadow creatures to little but motes at a great expense of will.
~ ~ ~
In Spinesreach, the Lion held the largest share of vigils at the arch, while the Syssin worked to banish encroaching shadowspawn and the Sciomancers delved into all their ancient research in search of ideas. Inspired by their recent work on elemental composition and the creation of the Blight, the Spireans conspired with Litrix to begin work on developing their own ordnance. With the aid of the Ascendril, that work continues…
Part III: The Shrines, The Bells, And The Dragon
Determined to make the most of the borrowed time bought by Duiran’s work with the songlines, the adventurers of Sapience lost no steam in the weeks following the Shamanic rituals, steadfastly continuing their efforts in defence and resolved to continue preparing for war.
In Bloodloch, the promised machinations of Abhorash began to bear fruit. Following the Progenitor’s instructions, the citizens of the Empire began drawing on their amassed quantities of slaves, lashing them to the shrines in Sterion. The goal was simple: corrupt the soul, the blood, and the sanity of the slaves such that the Divine might imbued within the shrines would wash over them, infusing them with the power of Bloodloch’s Gods and raising them up from mere chattel into soldiers of purpose.
Experiments began in earnest under the eyes of Yettave, Rijetta, Almol, Kurak, Nipsy, and Dreadnaught, though more eagerly joined the effort soon after. Many were lost in the search for the correct balance to satisfy each God, and fighting soon erupted on the streets of Sterion as the forces of Enorian and Duiran, outraged by Bloodloch’s callous disregard for life, sought to stymie the Empire’s efforts.
With both sides’ noses bloodied in the pitched battles that followed, the Empire persisted, hurriedly marshalling each new soldier home. Redoubling their efforts in the weeks after, their armies continued to grow, faceless legionnaires, shifting horrors, brutish rockfiends, and sentient, tainted ashes joining the Imperial Horde. The Empire spare none the whip, and training of their legions goes on…
~ ~ ~
In Enorian, the Beacon eagerly prepared evacuation plans for their innocent citizens while awaiting the return of the Rekindled Goddess. In conference with Rhulin Glintspear, once again forced to abandon his dreams of retirement, plans were made to hasten the repairs of their defunct Lance of the Gods, aimed not at destroying undead or Haekathi, but to burn the shadowbound to ash. The Engineer set the Beacon to collecting sand for the purposes of glassblowing, and they scoured the beaches and deserts of Sapience in preparation for the work to come.
The return of Ethne came in the form of an enormous, fire-fretted gateway opening in Enorian’s Garden of Dawn. Thousands of Djinni Bellguards poured into the Prime from the holy lands of Rahiela, a Bellkeeper at the procession’s head. The soldiers fanned out around the Garden in protective formations, and moments later the Forge Maiden arrived, Her Ogrish presence draped in an aura of brilliant flames.
Foregoing long conversation as is Her wont, Ethne recanted what She had learned in the forges of Rahiela, summoning Rhulin to Her side. The Goddess showed off a brilliant white metal known as dejanite, and made known Her intentions to forge a singularly large bell from the holy material while the adventurers worked at mass producing bells for the city’s – the world’s – protection. Passing instructions on the bellforging process to the Engineer, She bid him to construct for Enorian a specialised forge for the purpose, and he immediately set about the task.
While the Beacon awaited news, Bellkeeper Kayaazim had more to say. With the assent of Ethne, the Djinn began to recite the words of a prophecy, a series of ominous verses foretelling great tragedy, disaster, and the victory of the shadow, along with – it was presumed – predictions made of events that had already occurred. The Bellkeeper assured those gathered that it was incomplete, but that the work of Paimri’s scholars in the translation was accurate.
Further discussion was interrupted by Rhulin’s declaration that the forge was complete. They hurried to the industrial district where the Engineer presented to them a massive foundry, equipped with an enormous furnace and similarly impressive crucible. The forge was outfitted with everything they could need, including detailed instructions on the Djinn’s process of forging specialist bells.
Opting to christen the forge personally, the Rekindled Goddess lit the furnace with some of Her own fire, and, expertly working the metal in a technique blending that of the Djinn with Her own considerable expertise, soon produced the first hand bell. Rasani Morrog received the first bell with reverence, and, following Ethne’s departure to Her own forge, began to learn. Firing up the furnace and working the crucible, the Godsmith followed the steps with care, imbuing some of her own spirit into the craft. Bolstered by her Duamvi host and her devotion to Damariel, Rasani concluded the process by anointing the bell with holy oils, the task complete.
Vanguard Sryaen immediately began drawing up plans and assessing the resources on hand to maximise their efforts at the bellforge. With Rasani, Roux, Jhura, and others experimenting with harmonics, spirit, and durability and the efforts of Damonicus, Eoros, Ranae, and Kalena put forth on blowing glass for Rhulin, a busy atmosphere prevails in Enorian, the city galvanised in preparation for what is to come…
~ ~ ~
In the north, Spinesreach worked in a frenzy, pursuing a variety of projects. While still maintaining the largest share of Sterion’s vigil, work continued with Litrix on developing spirit-laced ordnance to drive back the shadowspawn. The Ascendril and the Spireans had conspired to produce countless bulbs of raw elemental spirit, and the city was eager to begin.
Initial experiments proved highly volatile, with Lenoriel Ali’vani-Ourborian discovering the indiscriminate nature of spirit, finding herself reordered into a horrific – albeit highly structured – mass of tumours. Undeterred, Litrix bid them to find ways of protecting themselves against the raw spirit and discussed plans for imbuing it into blades, explosives, and other weapons of war.
Working with Chairman Inkh in his rare moments of freedom from the news boards, Litrix also began making arrangements for a preservation facility. Requesting donations of steel and elemental ice, the Xorani promised a large facility, aimed at housing seed and life samples for future growth in the event of mass loss of life. The donations came in force, thousands of commodities offered up for the cause, and, with Burkhart Straton once again employed for the task, construction has begun.
All the while, debate raged fiercely throughout Spinesreach on a singular topic: The Dragon’s Boon. A request was made to the Sun Drinker to lend Her aid to Spinesreach’s war efforts in the form of harnessing part of Her storms. Dragons do not engage in charity, however, and the topic of a price for the First’s gift was rampant on the city channel and in the news.
A town hall was hastily convened and negotations for the power of the storm were underway. The Spireans agreed to build for the Sun Drinker a temple worthy of Her impressive might, as well as to allow Priests of the Dragon Cult of Dehkay Plateau to preach within the city’s walls, the latter a personal requirement added to the negotiation table by the First Dragon Herself.
Not only would Spinesreach honour Tanixalthas materially and spiritually, however, but with an additional promise of Legacy. Thus did the Lion of the North abandon its long-standing moniker, publicly affirming themselves as the City beneath Her Wing and restyling themselves Dragon of the North. With Sky Dreaming satisfied by this accord, She consented to allow the Spireans a way to harness Her power. Nizrea, the Star-Gazer would be their contact for this endeavour, and the Spireans have begun plotting out locations to erect massive pylons in order to channel the wrath and fury of the unfettered storm…
~ ~ ~
Though the network of songlines in Sterion continued to waylay the breach, shadowspawn soon began entering the Prime through the rift, stretched out to impossible thinness by the totemic arrangement but soon taking on their most robust forms the instant they broke free. Duiran continued to hold sentinel over the Guardian Totems as one continued to inexplicably lose power, which they tirelessly sought to shore up with each passing day.
With the influx of shadowspawn chaotic and unpredictable, vigil remains steadfast, and the world stands on the brink of open war with Czjetija. When the rift will eventually breach in full, none can say…
Part IV: The Shadowrot
Though they knew their efforts at forestalling Shadow’s encroachment were temporary at best, none expected the situation to deterioriate quite as fast as it did. Beset with eerie visions of Vo’acha, the Shadow, Sibatti and Jhura hurried to the Guardian’s totem at Sterion while the rest of the Council followed shortly after. Runemaster Olto met them beside Vo’acha’s totem, having apparently received the same vision: of the great serpent coiling around his totem while black filth and rot bubbled up from below.
Heated discussion ensued about what the vision could mean while the Runemaster attempted to examine the area, in particular the water of the frozen lake which seemed to feature in what he had seen. Arguments broke out when Olto requested the aid of a scientist to analyse a water sample, and discussion threatened to boil over into full out conflict as Bloodloch arrived at the scene demanding to know what was taking place.
Finally, Sibatti called on Inkh’s services and asked that he analyse the water sample. Taking it to the megasizer device, with the aid of Litrix they discerned that there were traces of excess shadow in the water, far beyond what could be considered normal parameters. The Xorali scientist accompanied the Chairman back to Sterion and conferred with the Runemaster to bring himself up to date on the situation.
Litrix quickly performed a survey of the area with a strange array of tools and instruments, concluding the likely existence of a cavern or crevice below the frozen lake. With his makeshift expedition crew in tow, he paced the lake and breathed fire into the largest sheet of ice, melting it away to reveal an opening below. Both within and adjacent, thick layers of rot presided, dominating the cavern network with shadowy filth.
As adventurers explored, Litrix called on Aisling dur Naya to perform psychometry, hoping for some insight into how the rot had formed so far from the rift and, as far as anyone was concerned, so deep below the ice and out of sight and mind. Aisling’s mental inspection yielded only images in black and grey, impressions of death, dozens of expiring shadowspawn, and the taint growing more foul with each one.
This seemed to confirm some theory held by Litrix as he immediately made known his belief that the totem was not responsible, putting paid to some theories about the power of the Guardians. The Xorali posited that each shadowspawn killed at the arch by mundane means was congealing in this cave instead of having itself dispersed to harmless essence. According to Litrix, such a thing should not be possible unless the Shadow had outside help. This ominous declaration set in motion another slew of theories and accusations, none of which have yet bore any fruit.
He went on to theorise that the rot ran far deeper than this single layer, and responded to concerns about killing more shadowspawn with a reserved, bitter comment that the damage was almost certainly already done. It would spread, beyond the cave, perhaps even beyond Sterion, Litrix stated in bleak tones. And it did.
As midnight fell across the land, the rot emerged from the cave and claimed its first foothold in Sterion proper. Though its advance was slow, nothing survived contact with it, shrines and creatures and all other ephemera consumed into the black mass. All who stood within it felt sickened and weak, Duamvi far more than others. Large bells were brought forth by Enorian in an effort to repel the taint, but the pealing chimes served only to make it angry and more resolute.
Each subsequent night brought more of the same: the rot advancing further into Sterion and devouring all in its path. As the songline totems fell, followed by the totem of Vo’acha, the web of Dendaric energy and the labyrinth established by Duiran began to falter, bringing forth dozens of shadowspawn through the rift at once. And so it continued.
In the early days of Variach, after both Vo’acha and Kree-sa’s totems had fallen to the rot and almost a full third of Sterion lay in the Shadow’s grip, the Unbound Lord appeared beside the Shrine of Bells. Damariel’s presence enraged the cloying darkness which twice tried to attack Him, lashing tendrils repelled by His brilliant aura of light. Visibly disgusted by the taint, Damariel spoke of Ohlsana’s struggle against Her prison, and how the Shadow Mother was spending all Her will on driving the rot forward.
Infused with intelligence from Her, and bound so tightly to Her mind, there was little even the Gods could do against it, so-said the Unbound Lord, inwardly musing on a time where the Gods were far more powerful, and perhaps could have done more. As ever, Damariel counselled hope – He believed that as the rot spread, Ohlsana would not be able to maintain Her iron will over all of it at once, offering some scant relief as He insisted that She was not limitlessly powerful.
Upon hearing of someone – or Someone – lending aid to the Shadow, Damariel mused that He would not suspect any of His own kin of being responsible, troubled by the information. Still He projected hope, even while stating that the time of a united Pantheon had long passed and inwardly blaming Varian for the fact. As another assault by the darkness was rebuffed, Docent Eliadon asked of the Unbound God His thoughts on freeing Dejaani, Guardian of the First Flame, to combat Ohlsana. He offered no opinion on the idea, save to share that the Albedi Divine were entirely unlike the Sapience Pantheon, more akin to forces of nature than individual people.
As midnight drew nearer, Damariel assured those present that a weakness would present itself in time, and that when it did, they would fight back. Leaving the group with these final words, the Unbound Lord took His leave and was gone, the adventurers regrouping beside the arch in preparation for the midnight hour…
Part V: The End Of The Beginning
Within days of Damariel’s meeting beside the Shrine of Bells, the creeping rot, which by now had swallowed over a full half of Sterion, at last began to near the arch. While crazed preachers and adventurers traded proclamations of doom and despair, and others celebrated with drink and revelry in anticipation of their final days, others still yet clung to hope, the vigil at Sterion unerring in its determination.
Come the midnight hour did, and with it a black wave of darkness sweeping over the iron gate. Where once only a pinprick glimmered in that bleak night, now thousands more shimmered in the empty firmament, violet specks aglow with the influence of Ohlsana. A shriek resounded across the world as shadow met metal, a wail of entropy unleashed quashing all and sundry beneath its outpouring of wrath.
As the last echoes faded, only gloam remained behind, a lightless sense of something insatiable falling with malice upon the Prime Plane. Within moments, the outpouring of shadow wreaked its terrible toll upon the former village of Sterion, twisting it, warping it, corrupting it, and transforming the very land on which it stood into something utterly else. Gone was Sterion, and in its place exists now the Primal Eye of Czjetija — Ohlsana’s first foothold in the Prime Material Plane.
In the wake of this transformation, shadowspawn swarmed through in the hundreds, ruthlessly murdering everything in their path. Tenebrous horrors, monstrous shadow beasts, spinners, and many-winged ghasts joined the familiar creepers and wisps that had been seen before. Dozens of adventurers fell in the hordes’ opening onslaught, each one they felled replaced with two more in short order.
Chaos reigned throughout the village, the combination of rot and seemingly endless monstrosities overwhelming in their assault. Kagura of Spinesreach, founder of the Shadowguard, rallied the collective forces of Sapience together to retaliate, doggedly attempting to push back the oncoming tide. Though they cleared themselves a path, losing many in the process including a brush with horror itself as Orhm was swallowed up by the rot and swiftly recovered, whole divisions of shadowbound soldiers had now begun to assemble at the breach.
Unable to repel the soldiers without troops of their own, the matter of Bloodloch’s blockade resurfaced, arguments breaking out on the best course forward. Then, the voice of Shadow Lord Murgraxis rippled through the arch, booming out for all to hear as he declared the inevitable victory of Shadow and predicted Severn’s imminent fall.
As the swarms of soldiers continued to multiply and hundreds more shadowspawn poured out through the Primal Eye, the adventurers of Sapience were forced to accept the truth: Sterion was lost, and Ohlsana’s invasion had barely even begun…
Part VI: The Primal Eye Of Czjetija
In the wake of Sterion’s fall and the swarming of shadowspawn en masse in what once was the Minotaur Village, Sapience would see unprecedented unity as adventurers across the world – some even foregoing Bloodloch’s self-imposed state of splendid isolation to join the fray – rallied together to fight against the overwhelming numbers.
Elene and Whirran were the first to launch an offensive against Ohlsana’s troops directly, marching divisions of horrors through the creeping rot and sending them into battle. Though the horrors fell in droves, eventually expiring to the corruption plaguing the area, they were able to eradicate the first of the shadowbound divisions, finally lifting their blockade so that others could do the same.
Motivated by the knowledge that the legions were not unbeatable, Valeria and Saltz spearheaded the larger resistance effort, organising dozens of their peers to cut a path through the seemingly infinite hordes of aberrations, that their own troops may sally forth and do battle with those loyal to Ohlsana. Though a monstrous death toll ensued, the adventurers pressed on with unbreakable resolve, cutting down thousands of shadowspawn no matter their own loss of life.
Gifted Eulogy, a flyssa known as the Omen of Judgement, from the Underking’s personal armoury, Benedicto Silverain brought the divinely-inspired weapon to bear against the hordes. Though his initial efforts faltered in a valiant, if misguided effort to cut down a whole division with Dhar’s sword, he soon mastered its usage, passing sentence on countless monstrosities as troops began to march their way towards the arch.
Enorian and Duiran soon mobilised their Knights and Durdalis to work in tandem against the shadowbound, while the divisions of Spinesreach have not yet taken the field. Though the adventurers realised with horror that some of the fallen found themselves raised up as shadowbound to fuel the Shadow legions, they eventually prevailed, clearing Sterion of trained soldiers. Despite this victory, however, the shadowspawn continued to swarm in uncountable volumes, and as the week went on, the death toll only rose higher and higher as the adventurers adapted their strategies, with Bloodloch fielding an army of Bards for the task of keeping their allies alive, and others hurling hundreds of daggers from places of safety.
A week hence and another shadowbound division had emerged from the arch. The resistance pushed forward once again with troops of their own but losing too many in the process. As new plans and strategies were hastily formed, with arrangements of large bells as close to the rot as possible and clever Archivists enabling the creation of woodlore tents, resolve remained high. But then the Shadow Lord came.
Heralded by violet smoke fouling the sky over what was Sterion, Murgraxis came forth bellowing threats and arrogant predictions of victory for the Shadow. He took up a battle station near the rift to Czjetija and began to guard it with murderous intent, repelling all comers as he held aloft the Blade of Artifice, laughing triumphantly all the while.
This writer would like to take the opportunity to remind readers that Murgraxis acted as Ohlsana’s primary general in the first War of Night. Partnered with Ati, the Shadow, Murgraxis laid waste to the mainland, battling Gods and mortals alike with ease. After Ati was slain by Abhorash in a gruelling duel, the combined might of Sapience and its Gods pushed Murgraxis back into the Shadow Plane, where he had presumably lingered ever since.
Held off from entering the Prime until now by the considerable efforts of Severn, the Artificer, this ominous turn of events begs the question: “If Murgraxis is here, what has become of Severn?”
Part VII: The Dauntless Host Of The Akkari
As dawn on the 10th day of Severin touched the sky with the makings of its radiant glow, it quickly became clear that more than the sunrise alone would cast its blazing touch across the awakening firmament. Twin beams of effulgent flame pierced through the daystar’s bore to streak violently towards the ground, eventually colliding with the earth directly before the shining gates of Enorian.
Adventurers from across the land soon converged upon the Raphaelan Highway, bringing together residents of the frozen north, Duirani Councillors, and even Imperial citizens to join the Beacon’s investigation party. All present gawked at the two figures who had alighted, one an Ogre, the other a Rajamala, both surrounded in an aura of sacred light. Awkward silence lingered before the Ogre woman, a magnificently strong and bold figure, stepped forward, bellowing “EXARCH! SHOW YOURSELF, HAND OF IL’AHJI!” for all to hear. While her Rajamalan companion stood grimly at the woman’s side, his mistrust for those pushing in all around clear in his thoughts, she waited for Aban – for that was who she called out to – to arrive on the scene.
The Exarch arrived with sweat beading on his brow, sprinting in to meet his companions. With eyes for none but those gleaming figures of light, he came to a stop before both with a stark expression on his face. There they stood for a tense moment, Ogre towering over Rajamalan, who in turn loomed above the human, each individual betraying nothing of whatever thoughts might lie within. Finally, in a voice growing suddenly warm with familiarity, the woman declares, “You’re getting old, Exarch.” Sombre attitudes vanishing, the newly arrived man and woman both wasted little time in engaging warmly with their old friend.
Introductions came swiftly, the taciturn Rajamala stirring from his thoughts of loathing and revulsion of ‘darkweavers’ as he put it, to make himself known as Berrad, Exarch of the Naarak. The Ogress offered her name more openly; known as Saebi, she introduced herself as the Blood of the Dosan sect, and conversation soon turned towards more pressing matters. Aban invited his fellow Exarchs into Enorian, where they reconvened away from prying eyes at the Temple of the Gods.
Perplexed by how they could afford to be here, away from the battle fronts on Rewh’va, Aban hastily enquired into the purpose of their visit. With little pleasure in their voices, Saebi and Berrad recounted how all but one of the Shadow’s generals had withdrawn from the breaches and rifts elsewere, leaving only one – Ozeroth, the Firstborn – behind to hold the Shadow’s line alone. Names were exchanged that were unfamiliar to the onlookers, including Saglozol, Agrimarha, Irgech, and Sanaz, presumably the monikers of other Shadow Generals that the three Exarchs knew well – to their great chagrin.
Berrad, infused with passionate zeal and holy fervour, stated the obvious: they were aware the Primals, as he called them, were under attack, and that they would now have twelve Generals to fight. “Eleven,” came Aban’s quick correction, recanting the fall of Ati to Abhorash, the Progenitor. Happiness at Ati’s death soon yielded to rage at what had prevailed over it — unaware with vampires, learning of their existence only roused the Exarch to greater righteous indignation.
Preliminary enquiries were made as to what the Primals were doing to prepare for war, followed by further discussion on the Shadow, the imminent dangers, and more. Berrad informed Aban that the Host of Akkari were assembling and would soon be arriving on Prime to lend their aid on the field, while Saebi informed the Primals that the Dauntless Host were bringing them a problem – a problem they were to solve. Remaining coy when questioned, Saebi suggested they relocate to more open ground to make room for the army’s imminent arrival.
To the Garden of Dawn they went then, and the three Exarchs worked as one to open a blazing bright portal, visions of geometric cities, perfectly ordered landscapes, and ruins flickering in and out of view as it anchored itself in place. Akkari soldiers soon poured in through the portal, thousands of troops drawn from the Dosan, the Naraak, and Il’ahji swiftly arranging themselves in tight, patterned formations. As the last of the Host filed through, the problem that Primals would have to solve soon became clear.
Flanked on either side by an elite honour guard, a cage of spirit was brought forth from Rewh’va, thick and shimmering webs of woven light holding an animalistic captive. Battered, bruised, and weakened by injuries uncountable the figure’s identity was at first obscured. Then, as He lifted His head to regard the gawking crowd with disdain even in captivity, Severn the Manipulator had returned to the Prime, brought forth as the Akkari’s prisoner.
With grudging respect, Exarch Saebi recounted how they had captured Severn near the breach to Spirit, and that He had fought – and was still fighting – shadowspawn up until the moments of his captivity. Under the eye of the Angelic Triad, judgement was passed: the Manipulator was a criminal of the Prime, and the question of His fate fell with the Primals, specifically those of Enorian.
As the horns of Holy War between Haern, the Hunter and Ivoln, the Earthen Lord sounded out, a suspenseful quiet overtook Enorian for a moment as the gravity of the decision facing Sryaen and his Heralds struck home…
Part VIII: The Crossroads
In strangely appropriate form, so it was that in the month of the Shadowed God’s namesake, his fate would be decided. The silence broke with the throes of fierce debate erupting in the Garden of Dawn where thousands of Djinn and Akkari soldiers held their vigil without comment. The Exarchs offered little save Saebi’s reassurance that this was the Primals’ choice to make alone, and Berrad inwardly wishing death and damnation on the captive God.
While most seemed to lean towards mercy, among them Rasani, Kalena, and Sryaen who cited Severn’s usefulness against Ohlsana and the importance of the greater threat, dissent among the ranks was rife. Docent Eliadon and Xavin, supported by Iesid of Duiran, were the loudest voices of opposition, recanting the Manipulator’s seemingly endless crimes and calling for His head once and for all.
On went the debate, the two sides equally confident in their opinions. Suggestions to hold a trial for Severn by Rasani were shot down swiftly, first by the contemptuous expressions of the Manipulator Himself, silenced by the cage of spirit though He was, and secondly by the Exarchs, reminding those gathered that Severn had already been tried, and that only judgement now remained. Indefatigable, the Godsmith instead made a plea to Severn to forsake His fealty to Bamathis and serve instead under Damariel, which only deepened the Artificer’s scorn.
Tension hung in the air with the scarcely restrained tautness of a nocked bowstring, threatening to spill over at any moment. Those demanding mercy were as zealous and resolute as those insisting Severn deserved none, and as the back and forth continued to rage with more and more voices joining the already considerable number, Vanguard Sryaen raised his voice and made the final call: the Manipulator was to be set free.
Enraged by the decision and fully aware of his Lady Indelible’s feelings on the matter, Xavin Taziyah brought his blade up, attempting to visit justice on the Manipulator himself by cleaving Him in twain. Though Severn’s laughter failed to penetrate the bindings holding Him, despite the peculiar ability of a winged bat carrying an athame on behalf of Maeve Visara to do so, the derision was plain in His face. Sryaen’s decision lit the spark on yet another round of furious debate, and the arguments resumed in force while Holy War between Hunter and Earth still raged across the land and the flames of chaos were stoked to ever greater fervour as Iesid attempted to clear the Garden with a Song of Oblivion and, presumably in so doing, leave a clear path to the Manipulator’s execution.
It was then that Haern, the Hunter joined them, appearing in the midst of a fiery green conflagration. “Cowards!” He bellowed at those opting for mercy, the fathomless rage of a betrayed God evinced in His every word, His every quivering, trembling, violent motion. Few can claim – whether God or mortal – to have felt Severn’s touch of betrayal more keenly than the Hunter, and He came insisting, nay, demanding, the justice He had so long deserved.
With nothing but scorn for what He deemed weak sheep willingly leading themselves to slaughter, He drew His knife, meaning to pass sentence of His own. As He lunged toward the cage, the click-click-click of a starmetal leg announced Damariel’s arrival on the scene, His jaw set in grim stillness as His eyes quickly took in the events around Him. Exhaustion in His face, He laid a hand against Haern’s arm in an attempt at kindness, attempting to defuse the situation with a reminder that He Himself had fought to give the mortals free will, and that this was a necessary consequence.
Utterly inconsolable, the Hunter’s fury continue to roil, spitting at Damariel as He tore Himself free of the elder brother’s grasp. Ignoring Truth’s insistence that without Severn, the suffering Ohlsana would visit upon Sapience would be even greater, Haern named Enorian a pretender city, instructing Iesid to follow His lead as He readied Himself to act.
As Damariel ordered the Exarchs to lower Severn’s shield, the web of spirit faded with their assent, upholding their mission from the Triad to put judgement in the Primals’ hands. Visibly outraged by the order, Berrad assented as Saebi tried to soothe him, the Manipulator soon stepping free of His bonds to embrace Damariel, whispering something into His Twin’s ear that none other could hear.
Haern lunged then, uncoiling like a snake with blade in hand as He roared, knife ready to strike. With speed defying His apparent age and fatigue, Damariel positioned Himself between the two Gods, manifesting an aegis of brilliant light to protect both Himself and His Twin from harm. With little sympathy to spare for Severn, the Unbound God told Him to get out of His city, His tone one of bleak, uncharacteristically cold finality.
As Severn fled, His escape slowed by the dozens of wounds hindering Him, the Hunter, still enraged by the notion that any would see fit to set the Manipulator free, gave chase. His bestial howl shook the continent as He began His hunt, bellowing condemnations with ire and loathing in His voice. But even Haern’s powerfully rumbling voice could not drown out the Dragon.
Taking flight amid a thunderous sonic boom, the ascent of Tanixalthas drowned Spinesreach in shadow beneath the enormity of Her wing span as Severn neared the Citadel with Haern in close pursuit. The firmament shuddered with Sky Dreaming’s own roaring proclamation: that Her oath was to the Shadowed One, and none other, and without Him, She would have no reason to show anyone Her benevolent mercies.
The First Dragon’s threat hung in the air for barely a moment before Haern’s fury once again replaced it, unbridled rage causing Him to shake with the sheer intensity of His furor. Unmoved by the Sun Drinker’s words, Haern retorted with a threat of His own, an offer to demonstrate why He alone is named the Hunter. Piping notes momentarily broke the tension, the Warlord now joining the rapidly growing number of Gods.
With Caelestis burning like silver flames in His hands, Bamathis ascended in full battle regalia, ready to make war beside Tanixalthas. Bamathis lent His support to Damariel’s earlier words, insisting that Severn’s death would doom Them all while castigating Haern for His emotions. Lexadhra rose then in support of the Hunter, Her scorn for Enorian’s decision plain in Her call for Severn to be immediately executed, put down once and for all.
Many mortals lifted their voices to join the embattling Gods, Architect Legyn of the Archivium bellowing a vicious invective at Haern in a valiant effort to distract Him long enough for Severn to escape, and Chairman Inkh invoking the vengeful ire of the Indelible with his pleas for peace. Reality itself shivered with the outpouring of divine might, Haern once again declaring His refusal to show Severn mercy as the air crackled with a tension threatening to boil over into open war.
A weary sigh cut through the bubbling powder keg, laden with unfathomable weight. Silent until now following Severn’s escape, Damariel’s voice, strengthened by His considerable might, boomed out in a reverberating tone thick with manifest authority and commanding gravitas, radiant energy sparking out around Him to silence all and sundry with its magnitude.
Reluctantly taking control of the situation, Damariel yet again condemned the wisdom of infighting and squabbles while the Shadow was – is – at Sapience’s door. His grave counsel spared none, His grim voice portending the Shadow’s victory should the Gods persist with Their grudges. Though Tanixalthas dismissed His words with a statement that She would only withdraw when Severn was no longer threatened, Bamathis was first to make concord, sheathing His blade in agreement with the Unbound Lord.
Haern’s retort came in the form of a blistering condemnation of Enorian and Damariel both, fury still burning in the Hunter’s mind. As He turned to depart to Dendara to vent His rage, He declared Damariel to be no brother of His, remarking with disgust that Enorian’s light had been swallowed by the Shadow. With the battle apparently curtailed, Lexadhra’s seething fury made itself known again as She faded away with a scream of frustration, Tanixalthas returning to the Dragon Spire shortly after.
Having finally arrived at Spinesreach, albeit in many pieces, Severn entered the Spire of Artifice, raw Divine essence spilling from His wounds onto the street below. As He settled into His throne with a weary sigh, Severn’s last words were for Murgraxis, and that He would be coming to retrieve His sword. While the Gods mostly fell silent save for the occasional roar from Haern and vindictive barb from Lexadhra, the Exarchs who had, for the most part remained silent during the exchange, looked to Aban for a place to rest. Saebi departed with kindly words to the adventurers while Berrad, disgusted with their decision, left without a sound, Aban close behind.
While political turmoil and holy war continued to play out in the aftermath, Ohlsana’s creeping rot has begun to encroach upon the Shadow Keep of Mount Gallows. While the Carnifex desperately dig trenches laced with innumerable conquered souls in an effort to defend their keep, the world remains on the brink of open war. Countless shadowspawn now roam the Tarea Mountains, and the ever-advancing taint will soon find several more precious targets within its reach.
Part IX: The Battle For Kald, Part I
While most were focused on the scorching arguments between the Gods and dealing with the ensuing aftermath, Ohlsana’s rot continued to creep forward almost unabated. Slowed by the tens of thousands of souls laid out in trenches by the Carnifex, defence of the Shadow Keep was in full force, but it seemed inevitable that within only a few short weeks, the encroaching taint would reach, not only the Underking’s spear in Kentorakro, nor just the Monolith of the Apocalyptia in the Mamashi, but the Village of Kald, too.
Forgotten by many save those with a penchant for perfume, and save by Warden Reave Lavalde who stood eternal vigil over her home town beside her people, Kald had been busy with preparations of their own. Townsmen and farmers, most with no experience in battle or warfare whatsoever, nonetheless arranged themselves into a ragtag militia, mobilising to guard the borders of their home.
The people of Kald are a proud people. A stubborn people. A hard people. Drawn by local gossip, a number of adventurers flocked to the village in an effort to help them evacuate. Led largely by Lenoriel, the visitors implored the Kald villagers to flee, to save themselves, and to save their children, counselling the indiscriminate and seemingly inconquerable nature of the rot.
To a man, they each of them point blank refused, claiming that to abandon their home was to abandon who they were. More voices joined in support of Lenoriel, insisting that there was no hope, and no purpose in staying only to meet inevitable doom. Kald would hear none of it, only digging their heels in further with each request for them to leave, even as nearby Mrenadh was making plans for a hasty evacuation.
Inspired by Kald’s defiant refusal to give up their homes, members of the Carnifex, the Templars, and the Sentinels – between them, making up the three Seluno-founded organisations – began stockpiling weapons to arm the villagers, reasoning that if they couldn’t convince them to leave, they could at least put spear and sword and bow in their hand and give them some basic training.
As the week wound on and the adventurers provided countless supplies, the villagers, who had so far proven reluctant to accept even material help, finally sent a representive forward from their militia to negotiate. The chosen representative agreed to accept training on the grounds that it was given unconditionally, and that those sent to offer tutelage would be accepted as Kald’s own people so long as they remained, and so long as they respected the village’s customs. Though they were inexperienced and untrained, they were eager and willing, and already counted two expert hunters among their numbers – Ater, and Beadr.
Agreeing to the terms, Commander Mjoll and the Carnifex dispatched Reaper Avrax to the village, who immediately began teaching them about discipline and organisation. The eager Kobold took to the task with excitement, immediately barking orders too loud for his size as Lord Rijetta Alhazrad looked upon the young Carnifex with a hint of pride. True to the orders given to him by Rijetta, he has managed to avoid killing a single villager. So far.
Rasani started instructing a tanner upon the correct formation for a shield-wall while waiting for the Pentarch Kalena to bring back Jermar, a wingless Templar Knight, to train the militia further. Some minor arguments about the appropriateness of arming untrained militia men with a shield were soon stifled as the trainees took to the task with aplomb. To protect Jermar for the invasion ahead, Rasani generously bestowed her holy vestments – blessed armour from Damariel – upon him to wear in the battle.
Prideleader Eaku grilled the archers on tactics and their ability to utilise the village’s highground and rooftops. Satisfied with their answers, and at the request of further training from the militia, he sent Iesid to retrieve Huntleader Tomor in order to bestow training in the bow. Concerns about the Satyr’s one-armed status was soon put aside as the grizzled ranger commenced expert drills in proper aiming and nocking techniques.
As the training began in earnest against a backdrop of Rijetta’s zealous proselytising about the Lady of Corruption, the villagers busied themselves with practice and preparations, doggedly determined to face the incoming Shadow with heads – and now, bows, spears, and shields – held high.
Part X: The Battle For Kald, Part II
Ohlsana’s rot continued to expand outwards, though it was noted by some particularly keen observers that the spread, once reliably all-encompassing, was no longer so guaranteed now that it had reached the wide expanses beyond the narrow confines of the mountains. As Severin grew late, the creeping taint nevertheless drew nearer to the Underking’s spear in Kentorakro, and to the Monolith of the Apocalyptia in the Mamashi Grasslands.
While training and preparations in Kald continued at a rapid pace, the Underking made known His presence, and with no small measure of resignation announced His intent to withdraw the colossal spears embedded in the earth, weapons empowered with death essence set to bind the Earthen Lord and heavily restrict His power. Shuddering as their guardian souls shimmered pale blue, with a crack of sound the spears shattered into pure white essence, streaming back to the God of Death in a single motion and infusing Him with regathered might.
A great heaving from the bones of the earth followed, the very land itself shuddering in triumphant quakes as the Earthen Lord shook free that which had restrained Him and He returned to His full strength. Under the guidance of Earthcaller Khuzrol, the Earthen Kin, among them Yettave, Almol, Everly, Nipsy, Kurak, and Alela, took advantage of this situation to begin reinforcing the Apocalyptia Monoliths, etching the five primal runes of the earth upon the edifices before reinforcing them with copious volumes of ashes and obsidian and finally letting their blood spill freely to feed the hungry stone and reinforce it against the encroaching rot.
The sun set on the 20th day of Severin, and the Malevolent’s Emissary spoke up, notifying Bloodloch of stirring within Czjetija’s Primal Eye. The Empire began to scout a suitable place for their forces to make a stand against the Shadow’s armies. The split in the Tarea Mountains near the Shadow Keep was chosen as an advantageous chokepoint, and Bloodloch quickly mobilised to prepare the battlefield.
War Minister Bulrok and Lord Rijetta Alhazrad took time to plan out the best use of the soldiers they had raised up from slavery and transformed by the power of their Gods. Together, they formed strategies, debated battle plans, and discussed what combinations of soldiers to use and under what circumstances. Their expertise would soon be put to the test.
Bellowing out across the land once again in that imperious voice, Shadow Lord Murgraxis called for the razing of Kald, dismissing the Empire’s amassed defences as a pitiful effort. Massive pressure radiated then from the Primal Eye as shadowspawn poured through the gate in massive numbers, preparing to march out of Sterion and into the mountains. At the vanguard, three monstrously large shadow beasts led the charge, and the army started to push forward.
At the peak of the Tarea Mountains, the vanguard met a lone figure, solitary and resolute against the incoming tide. The Progenitor of the Consanguine watched with his customary smirk, his pale frame remaining upright even as rockslides shook the mountain range. The presence of Abhorash fomented great rage in Murgraxis, who, reminded of the Progenitor’s defeat of Ati, promised that doom was coming for him.
The trio of beasts descended upon the peak with inhuman speed, and only then did Abhorash finally stir, extending a slender hand to slit open his own palm, a drop of blood falling to imbue the mountaintop. A massive stalagmite of blood erupted from the earth, impaling the nearest of the beasts clean through its midsection before exploding in tremendous force, tearing its quarry apart. Splinters of blood flew through the air like shrapnel in its detonation, damning the second creature to death in a flurry of sanguine spears. The third lunged at Abhorash, who blurred into supernatural motion in an elegant sidestep, the beast barely missing his face.
Tri-claws of crystallised blood sprang forth to shred the beast, the force of their collision sundering the mountain peak on which they both stood. As the beast fell and Abhorash regained his footing on the ground, the roiling horde continued to swarm, undeterred by the felling of their vanguard. The Progenitor then called on Thronekeeper Whirran to lift his trumpet, the piping blast echoing across the realm as a single deafening note mustering the forces of the Sanguine Fist to war.
The volcano shook as the stomping footsteps of rockfiends, the slithering of shifting horrors, the keening wail of tainted ashes, and the steady marching of faceless legionnaires echoed through Sapience, the army of Bloodloch mobilising for battle and meaning to match the invading shadowspawn hordes head on. Under Bulrok and Rijetta’s command, so it was that Mjoll, Almol, Alela, Ehtias, Elene, Yettave, Taj, Kurak, Nipsy, Paxe, Tina, Whirran, Tetchta, and Naadu stepped into the battlefield to make war. Soldiers clashed in a cataclysmic battle, the enhanced troops of Bloodloch going blow for blow with the shadowspawn. The Empire’s forces fought relentlessly and without any hint of mercy, felling everything that dared cross their path.
While the battle raged on in the Tarea Mountains, Valeria led an incursion into the Primal Eye itself, issuing a challenge to Murgraxis for all the world to hear. Taunting and belittling the Shadow Lord, joining Valeria were Saltz, Jezriel, Xavin, Iesid, Jhura, Aisling, Cinnamae, and Eaku, clearing the streets of as many shadowspawn as they could cull in an effort to reach the rift, which, so far as they knew remained barred, shielded by Murgraxis’s web of gloam.
Their provocations proved successful as Murgraxis let down his shield of darkness, challenging the primitives, as he named them, to come and face him. Though he easily triumphed over all nine of them, including cameo appearances from Linne and Corvo, Duiran had bloodied his nose and, intentionally or otherwise, distracted him from the conflict on the larger stage.
On the field, Mjoll held the western flank while Whirran held the east, Elene and Taj patrolling the centre carrying out scouting manouevres and relaying updates and information. As their troops collided violently again and again, the remainder of the Empire’s forces patrolled the brink, mopping up any interlopers that made it past their front lines. Whilst carnage reigned, much of the losses were on the side of the Shadow, though one particularly diligent refreshment Goblin fell to the rot in the midst of serving his last meal.
Meanwhile, midnight fell across the land, and the rot made its move, seeping into the Urubamba river mere steps away from Kald’s doorstep. Ruthless storms and sand and soil rose across the Mamashi, the wrath of the earth manifesting to protect the Apocalyptia Monolith from harm. Driven forward by the ruthless authority of the Shadow General, the darkspawn advanced into Kald, meeting a resistance they could not possibly have fathomed. Even with Bloodloch’s armies holding back the bulk of their invading forces, Shadow’s numbers swelled, gathering in groups before the village.
Reaper Avrax led the warcry of the Kald resistance, shouting the familiar Carnifex axiom, “STRENGTH IN SLAUGHTER!” The militia, having spent a week learning under the young Kobold Carnifex, screamed back in turn, “YES REAPER!”, standing ready with their bardiches and warhammers, confident in spite of their inexperience. Jermar the Templar Knight, donned in the gleaming vestments of the Varouk-saad, banished the gloom of the highest darkness, his trainees grim-faced yet resolute, wielding both tower and spear. Adopting a shield-wall formation under the Templar’s orders, they stood firm and determined to see the coming dawn.
Huntleader Tomor, having arranged his archers on the rooftops and stairs for the best vantage positions, told his forces to focus on the flyers and to ready their bows. Surveilling the battlefield, the veteran Kald hunters, Ater and Beard, alongside the Duiran Ranger’s many students, took up bows as one, nocking arrows and waiting for the order to loose. As Avrax pounded his chest armour and Jermar’s righteous aura flared bright, the order from Tomor finally came, archers loosing their bows and letting fly a rain of arrows toward the enemy. Though many missed, some found purchase, and the twin shots of the veterans drew the first blood of the engagement: puncturing a shadow-ghast and claiming the monstrosity’s life.
On the front lines stood Roux, Jondyrr, Molotok, Lenoriel, Eaku, Feirenz, Linne, Knigi, Reave, Pentas, Pietre, Eliadon, Alystrine, Jhura, Xavin, Kalena, Valeria, Aisling, Iesid, Sryaen, Teani, Saltz, Teramasce, Keldrad, Myrnma, Orhm, Sheryni, and Rasani, the massed group fiercely throwing themselves into battle alongside the Kaldian militia. Great silver bells rang out under Rasani’s direction, their booming chimes ripping through countless shadowspawn even while the adventurers wielded sabre and spirit bomb, Guardian blessing and jade fire all working in tandem to repel the threat.
Battle now raged on two fronts, and chaos truly reigned. With the trio of Seluno guild tutors screaming words of encouragement and commands to hold the line, and the Bloodlochians in the north shouting violent exhortations of their own, the clamour of battle had never sounded more loudly and more fiercely. The enhanced soldiers of the Empire continued laying waste to the darkspawn, seemingly losing no ground while scores more fell on the edges of Kald to the gathered might of bell and spell and magic and melee arrayed against the darkness.
Finally, with roars of triumph, the Shadow’s line broke within the Tarean battlefield, the last of their committed forces decimated, crushed by Bloodloch’s powerful host. Victory in the north inspired the resistance, and, despite Murgraxis’s dismissive shouting and attempts to muster Rhyot – whose Shadowlord moniker momentary confused the General for one of their own – to his side, on they fought, Avrax and Jermar and Tomor lending their voices in defiance of the Shadow’s claim.
Rejoined by Bloodloch following their victory on the field, Kald and its ragtag militia, its farmers and its fisherman, had done the impossible: held the line. With the first glimmers of light peeking over the horizon’s edge, the threat of dawn and dwindling numbers committed to the effort conspired to force the Shadow to withdraw, the last of the aberrations cut down without mercy or restraint.
And yet among the raucous shouts of triumph and celebratory yelling from all sides, exultation in victory waned as the adrenalin began to fade, the cost of their victory and the price of the butcher’s bill becoming plain. Soon, all that could be heard were the cries of mothers parted from their sons, children torn fom their families, and husbands bereft of their wives. For many, nay, most among them, this was the first they seen of war, many of them vomiting or screaming in shock from the experience. The villagers began seeing to their dead, doing their work in muted silence.
While a great victory had been won in Kald, few wanted to state the obvious: that the Shadow would return, and in force, before long.
Part XI: The Battle For Kald: Part III
Some weeks had passed since Bloodloch’s decisive victory in the north and Kald continued to stubbornly survive, with only token raids and skirmishing parties sent forth from the Eye to test the defences. The Seluno guilds pressed their trainees even harder, while others still berated the ragtag militiamen in an attempt to convince them to abandon their defence and flee their home. They refused.
In another twist of apposite coincidence, the situation at the Carnifex Keep grew more dire in the month of Lady Malevolent’s namesake, and She lent Her own heart to the effort of sparing its destruction. While Bloodloch harvested countless mortal hearts to feed the defence efforts, Murgraxis once more made known his presence when midnight fell on the 8th day of the month. Promising Kald that their days were – quite literally – numbered, the Shadow Dragon made known his intent to bring a final siege to the village when next the midnight hour fell.
Dozens gathered in the small village, ready to give their lives for the defence. What had begun as Reave’s lone vigil had swiftly become a rallying point – a beacon for the greater good, a promise of hope, and of the world’s survival. Night fell and swaths of shadowspawn, enlivened and motivated by the coming darkness, converged at the Eye’s edges, monstrous beasts, ghasts, aberrations, and all manner of monstrosities arranging themselves into an angular formation as they prepared to march. Once more did Bloodloch’s armies step forth to meet them in the theatre of the Tarean Mountains, their divinely-engineered soldiers pressing forward under the Empire’s lash.
From Enorian, a sonorous sound rang throughout the city, and the Exarchs Aban, Berrad, and Saebi, emerged from their Bastion, clad in polished armour and resplendent light, ready for the battle to come. Their arrival at Kald raised no small few number of eyebrows, but most were glad of the support. Quickly taking stock of the situation, they conferred among themselves and counselled resolve to all present, of trust and faith in the light, and confidence in vanquishing the darkness.
Night deepened and the hordes poured down the mountains like a cresting wave of black. The enhanced soldiers of the Empire roared with battle lust, and the two armies clashed, Bloodloch determined to give absolutely no ground. Yet despite their efforts, the numbers of the shadowspawn swelled to hideous proportions, endless swarms pushing past even the considerably well-defended battle lines of the Empire to regroup at the outskirts of Kald.
Murgraxis raised his voice again, ordering Ohlsana’s armies forward. And forward they went. Echoing their first battle, Reaper Avrax bellowed orders to the militia, who hastened to comply, returning his thunderous cry of “STRENGTH IN SLAUGHTER!” with one of their own, the rest of the Carnifex soon joining them. Templar Jermaw hurried to arrange a shield-wall, insisting on no gaps in the line. While the men clamoured to get their towers up, he let fly a call that had recently begun to take root in the heart of the Beacon; “Until the dawn, WE ARE THE LIGHT!” came his booming voice, but it was not alone. Vanguard Sryaen and Pentarch Kalena lifted their own voices, and the rest of Enorian followed suit. The Exarchs joined in with warcries of their own, and the shield-wall came together.
Atop a nearby farmhouse, Huntmaster Tomor called for his archers to raise bows and, in a moment of pause that felt like a lifetime, the dozens of adventurers, the three Exarchs, the Seluno tutors, and the militia, all held a breath, girding themselves for what was to come. Cutting their losses to join the battle below, Bloodloch entered the fray and, following the swift execution of a would-be saboteur by Exarch Berrad and an accident involving a spirit bomb that left half the Empire’s forces dead and the other half hell bent on revenge, open war between the defenders was thwarted only by the larger threat pressing in, coupled with Saebi’s manta beheading several of the Bloodlochians that had violent intentions in mind.
The shadowspawn pushed forward, determined to sack Kald once and for all and, in the throes of countless arrows soaring forth from the high ground, the invasion of Kald began in earnest. Hundreds of monstrosities fell in the clamour as the combined efforts of Sapience stood their ground, more than ably supported by Aban’s whirling shotel and Berrad’s castigating mace, while Saebi cut down dozens effortlessly, letting none gain ground. Wave after wave after wave fell in the carnage, and still the shadowspawn continued swarming.
In the midst of the battle, the voice of Murgraxis pierced the din again, ordering the armies to withdraw and bellowing a command for Kolgrik, a lieutenant in Ohlsana’s Swarm known as The Grindstone, to bring the battle to an end. Brief moments of respite allowed the militiamen to take a breath and regather their nerve, the roaring commands of their tutors keeping them in line.
From the mountains came a towering figure, a lumbering mass of muscle and raw strength shaking the earth with his every footstep. Kolgrik wore a look of cold malice, his intentions clear with every labouring motion made towards Kald. The three Exarchs, each limned in their own shining auras of resplendent light, closed ranks, standing shoulder to shoulder with each other. None among them spoke; only determined resolve and contemptuous familiarity yet lingered in their faces.
Kolgrik mirrored the Exarchs’ silence, rocky protrusions bulging from his frame as he joined the battle. Eyeing the assembled soldiers with little more than dismissive scorn, the Golban man entered the fray and began to brawl. The chaos of the former battle seemed as peaceful tranquility with Kolgrik’s arrival, the Lieutenant carving his way through the battlefield like a blur of unrepentant strength and manifest brutality. Utterly fearless and revelling in the violence, Kolgrik showed all the world how he had earned his moniker by cutting down everyone in his path like a knife through so much butter. Often he invoked the strategy of his namesake, gruesomely grasping people by the shoulders and dragging their faces along the ground for several paces.
The Golban man fought like a true brawler, eschewing all rules of engagement and fairness in favour of fully utilising the battlefield to his advantage. When he was surrounded, he fled, taking his poor victim with him; when others fled from him, he gave chase, unnaturally fast in spite of his lumbering size. The Exarchs lent their aid to the battle and gave chase of their own, striking countless blows and attempting to rally the adventurers to their side. Inexplicably enraged by Berrad in particular, the Shadow Lieutenant lifted the Exarch into the air and, calling on every ounce of his strength, hurled him into the sky. The Exarch, momentarily confused as he hurtled through the air and landed on Polyargos, soon regrouped, more determined than ever to take him out. The Exarch quickly found his way back to the melee, but under threat from Lord Rijetta Alhazrad, whose death tarot hung in the air mere moments away from claiming his life before he smote her down.
Finally, after claiming countless lives and fomenting untold chaos throughout the battlefield, the combined efforts of some sixty two adventurers overcame Kolgrik, whose weakened and broken form soon fell under the remorseless blows of Saebi’s massive manta blade, adding new renown to the Ogress Exarch’s already considerable fame. Kolgrik’s collision with the ground send dust and debris billowing into the air, his body cracking cobbles and shattering pave stones. With his death, what little restraint was holding the shadowspawn at bay evaporated, and they swarmed eagerly to resume their conquest.
Avrax, Jermar, and Tomor roared orders to their militiamen yet again, and, the respite of success fading, the battle began anew. Hundreds of Ohlsana’s soldiers poured into Kald, and as every wave fell, it seemed that five more were there to take their place. The militia’s numbers shrunk, the number of arrows flying dwindled, and the resolve, that had held out for so long, endured through so much, began to falter. Still the shadow did not relent, pushing forward with still-growing hordes.
Confident in success, Murgraxis raised his voice again, this time to threaten Saebi, throwing taunts at her that Ael’mael would not save her, and promising that Kald, and she, would fall, just like the Holy City of Amlesh. Her warcry shook the ground in response, the Voice of the Dosan circle, typically reserved and, if not kindly, at least polite, roused to anger. Her blade swung with a mournful fury as she pushed harder, the aura of light surrounding her swelling to envelop all who remained on the field. Murgraxis took flight in response, descending toward the battlefield of Kald with a vow to finish the conflict personally.
Unseen until then, a cloaked peasant man limped through the square, his lumbering pace and awkward gait slowly propelling him toward the unfolding carnage. The chaos and horror of war erupted around this solitary figure, screams of death and suffering near-overwhelming in their magnitude as his sombre trudge through the bodies of the fallen took him ever closer to the frontlines. Click click. Click click. Onward he pressed, fixated on the interminable destruction, each new death and fresh scream etched further lines into his grim and stony visage.
Stumbling on a panicking peasant youth on his way, a weathered hand reached out as if by reflex, steadying the boy in a hold steadfast and true. The ragged traveller stepped past this defender of Kald and in his wake, the militiaman stood renewed, pawing at his once-wounds with numb and fumbling hands. Standing at last before foetid waves of rot and filth, misery and despair, the beggar man cast off the illusion of frailty and discarded his cloak without flair or fanfare, the gesture laden with a sense of weighty resolve.
A brilliant effulgence blossomed suddenly in the heart of Kald, a light so bright, so intense, that for the first moments of its dazzling revelation the gloam of midnight itself seemed to writhe in terror at its mere presence. The voice of the Unbound Lord rang out, crisp and clear, like the falling of hammers: “Too many have died here. Too much blood spilt. No more. The Shadow will not have this place. Not after all that has been given to defend it. I /will not/ allow it.”
Damariel’s typical kindly impassivity fell away as easily as the cloak he had cast aside, His fury coaxed to the unforgiving effulgence of the noonday sun magnified a thousandfold. He lifted a hand in a gesture of pure and utter denial, righteous indignation spilling forth in the form of celestial cataclysm made real. He turned His eyes on the invading shadowspawn.
And they started to die.
Lances of spirit exploded outwards from the great and terrible hurricane that was Damariel’s merciless light, lightforged blades skewering whole swaths of shadowspawn in a single terrifying moment. Given pause by the cleansing destruction visited on his armies by Damariel’s divine might, Murgraxis banked in mid flight, the combined luminescence of Exarch and Unbound God conspiring to turn back his advance. Still awash in pride and arrogance, Murgraxis condemned Damariel for His intervention, vowing that the eleven remaining Generals would come, and that He would regret wasting His strength on so irrelevant a place as Kald. The Shadow General returned to the Primal Eye, and Damariel’s light continued to blaze bright, waves more shadowspawn expiring beneath the smiting hand of He Who Is Truth and Light.
Their will broken, what few of the Shadow’s aberrations remained alive turned tail and fled. Yet even as they moved to escape, scouring flame rose up to meet them, enveloping the remnant filth in a fiery conflagration that burned them to ash where they stand. As the screams of the dying shadowspawn faded and cheers from the miraculously still-standing militia rose to take their place, the Unbound Lord turned His attention to the rot infesting Kald, and closed His eyes. Moved by all the suffering and pain around Him, the God’s vengeance was swift and without mercy, spirit unfettered ripping away from Him like the break of dawn.
A gut-wrenching scream tore itself free from the heart of the filth, bubbling decay and tenebrous resistance yielding to the indomitable will of the light: the creeping taint in Kald was at last vanquished, excised from the war-torn village that it may yet regain some scarred semblance of former glory. Then, as smoke formed over Kald and the first pinpricks of dawn’s light crept upward at horizon’s edge, the Unbound Lord finally allowed His shoulders to sag in a moment of weary respite. He shared a brief exchange with the Exarchs before turning away, returning to Barre Arevat to rest.
Cheers followed in His wake, Jermar the Templar declaring victory for the dawn in unison with Enorian. Reaper Avrax lead the Carnifex in boisterous declarations of their own, the Keep swearing to elevate him to Eidolon for his performance here. Even Tomor, who had through both battles remained largely taciturn and quiet, could not hide his relief. He spoke loudly and with fervour on Defiance, expressing pride in the resistance and comparing them to Segaie, and the resolve she had when doing whatever she must to save the forests. Tomor saw the Severity of the Hunter in the unexpected, and unlikely resistance members, visiting immense praise on them for their refusal to break the line.
Countless more cheers followed, elation strong in the air. Insults flew at Murgraxis, and at Ohlsana Herself. And as the dust settled upon the battlefield of Kald, the rooster perched on the head of Holbrook Hought crowed loudly, announcing the break of dawn. Despite the odds, Kald and the people of Sapience had achieved the impossible. They had held the line. For now.
Part XII: The Ritual Of Lunar Turmoil
Some months prior to the unfolding catastrophe of Sterion and the Second Night War, in Chakros of the Year 503, Rihrin Silverain, then Voice of the Duiran Council made a desperate prayer. Following a heated, passionate discussion with the rest of her Speakers and Ministers in attendance, the matter of ailing Dendara was the topic of the day, and those gathered resolved to use any and all means at their disposal to save it from the slow, cruel inevitability of death that was encroaching upon the Plane of Life.
To the Celestine went the prayer, a plea for aid projected into the ether with barely a spark of flickering hope that it would find purchase. To her surprise, the Celestine answered, His words stuttered and incomplete. Through careful deduction, it was concluded that He had promised to send an emissary when able, but had nothing else on the matter to say. Most, still freshly aggrieved by the Creator for His gambit with Oblivion and the Other, put aside the notion as a trifling fancy, scornfully dismissing the prospect of His aid as unwelcome, even should it miraculously appear.
Thoughts of Varian faded as war and tumult soon arrived, the present conflicts occupying virtually the entire continent’s attention. The 14th of Ios came without fanfare, until the slight figure of Oskar Emerson, a pre-teen boy who had been evacuated to a home in the Itzatl by parents Stine and Kalena, strode with confidence into the Council, yelling his intent to meet with the Speakers and Voice. Confused and curious in equal measure, the request was granted and Duiran’s leadership, along with a very perplexed Pentarch Kalena, met the boy at the Great Oak’s core.
He declared that He – styled with Divine pronouns – was the promised Emissary of the Celestine. The commanding authority in the child’s tone was near-impossible to ignore and, following orders to dismiss any non-Duirani, a meeting was convened in the Chambers of the Consulate. To a shocked and largely mute audience, Oskar-Varian sunk into one of the Speaker’s chairs, as comfortable and at ease as a king in His too-large throne. He reaffirmed that He was the promised emissary, and stated that He had sent a fragment of Himself, to offer aid. He posed a question, then, asking what the Council would do for Dendara if they wished for Him to heal it. Inwardly, Oskar-Varian harboured thoughts of true concern for the Lirathyar – the Life Plane, a term first utilised by the apparition of Yanai, Elder Life.
Some hastened to say they would give anything, while others, mistrustful and wary, remained silent, inwardly conflicted and, in some cases, afraid. The Celestine explained that the death of the Lirathyar – of Dendara, whose slow extinction by shadow is known – would spell the end of all mortal life, and that He harboured no desire to see such devastating loss occur. Inwardly, He dwelt on past Planes of Life, His thoughts centring on seeds of renewal, replanting, rebirth.
When asked what would be required of them, the conversation turned toward what Varian termed His Counterpart. Referencing a perpetual struggle, some assumed Oblivion, but He swiftly corrected them, irritated by the term. The Counterpart was revealed to the the Eschaton, the Two Creators equally matched in an eternal battle for dominance. If He was to help, as He wished to do, Duiran would need to engineer a situation of such significance that the Eschaton could not ignore it, and would be forced to intervene. This, so said Oskar-Varian, would provide time and opportunity to act, to carve the rot from dying Dendara and transplant its healthy parts as seeds for another Lirathyar.
Questions followed here, enquiries as to what He meant by another, and as to whether the Night War ravaging the land did not constitute a sufficient enough calamity to merit the Eschaton’s intervention. Oskar-Varian reassured them that He would utilise the healthy remnants of Dendara – including the Ancient Guardians, who would be unharmed – as the basis for a new plane, free of rot and the cracked Spiral that precipitated it. This, He said, is the basis of how new worlds were made in ages past. On the subject of the Shadow, He informed Eaku that Fundamental Darkness is of the Eschaton’s design, and that the clash of Light and Darkness, the endless battle between Dejaani and Ohlsana, was part of Its vision, and It did not see it as a problem to be solved.
Concerns that even a new, healthy Lirathyar would eventually fall to the shadow were dismissed with remarks that a new plane would not be subject to the wounds in reality’s fabric that already exist. With firmness, Oskar-Varian reminded them that this was His Creation, and that He was not invested in its downfall. After further discussion and concerns, He began presenting the options available to them, but was interrupted by the arrival of the Hunter, spear levelled at the child and demanding to know their identity. Commanding Haern to put down the weapon, Oskar-Varian told the Hunter He knew who He was, naming Him by His Kalsu name of ‘Herno’ for emphasis. Unconvinced, Haern demanded to know what Varian had told Him, the day He sealed away Jox. Advancing on the child with violent intent, Haern’s movements left Oskar-Varian utterly unafraid, coolly responding that He had told the Wild God that He had gotten fat, confirming His assertion with a calm, appraising look.
Haern hurled the spear, which landed in the wooden wall behind Oskar even as Eaku Redwood leaped forward to intercept the perceived threat, the Hunter sardonically confirming the Creator’s identity. As Eaku rose nursing wounded pride and skull alike, Oskar-Varian quickly caught the Hunter up on the discussion, and returned to the topic at hand. There were two choices to engineer the Eschaton’s intervention: threat of extinction toward the Albedi Pantheon, and destruction of the moon. Predictably, this left much of the group reeling in shock and confusion, the Hunter chief among them. All but Oskar-Varian seemed stunned by the absurdity, but the Creator persisted, speaking on the Eschaton’s love for the moon and telling Haern He would pull it down from the sky when next it waxed fullest. The Celestine’s confidence seemed to inspire some of the Councillors, and though dissent sprouted amongst them, most had begun to agree. Haern, still incredulous and expressing disbelief that He would, in His words, ‘pull down the moon in three short weeks’, asked if His Father had anything else to add.
He did not, save to say that His true self would not know the specifics of their meeting owing to the Eschaton’s presence keeping Him occupied, and that “Varyan true” would be expecting Haern to act, at that very midnight. His departure left Oskar slumping, unconscious, and as his father, Stine Emerson, rushed to examine him, the Hunter got there first, bellowing loud enough for the whole world to hear in a demand for Varian to come back and tell Him how to do the unthinkable. Ordering Esrytesh Sibatti to lock down the Council, Haern disappeared to Dendara, vowing to return when He had learned the ancient ways. The Creator left yet more confusion in His wake, and debate raged in Duiran over what to do.
The following week, Haern returned from Dendara to meet with Sibatti. He spoke of a meeting with the Guardians and a path that had begun to form through their cryptic counsel. They spoke of prices, the cost each of them – God and mortal – must pay to see their lifelong work be done. Sibatti agreed to lead the ritual that would come, and Haern began listing preparations. All participants were to slay an animal that most closely mirrored themselves, and have its hide made into ceremonial garb; the apex wolf from the tundra would be hunted and its hide used to fashion a mighty ritual drum, and all present would also prepare six offerings to the Dendaric Guardians. The Council hastened to its preparations and, as the day drew nearer, Haern and Sibatti continued to discuss the elaborate and highly arcane working they were to attempt.
Night fell on the 7th of Arios and suspense was electric in the air. Prior to the ritual’s commencement, the chilling touch of the Underking settled within the Council as He arrived to meet with His Brother. Their exchange was brief, but, when Dhar returned to the Underhalls, it was sans the massive anaxagorite chain He so often wore. The Hunter met with the Voice beside the ruined altar He had haphazardly rebuilt, while the other participants gathered in the moonglade, with instructions to acquire a vessel of its waters, and to cleanse themselves in the pool. Haern was not alone, however, for over His shoulder He carried the limp form of Holbrook Hought, newly raised Officer in the Argent Legion, and sitting Senator of Spinesreach, the Dragon of the North. Depositing the unconscious man beside the altar of runic stone, the Nature God looked upon she who was to lead Duiran into an age of rebirth; veiled in moonlight and silk, Esrytesh Sibatti greeted her Hunter with racing pulse and steady eyes, confirming that she was ready to begin.
While the unwilling sacrifice began to swim free of the blackness pressed upon him by the Hunter’s brutal kidnapping, those others who were to participate in the ritual to come gathered themselves at the Core, to meet with Raest and receive their ceremonial garb and the heart of the beast or fowl they would soon embody. In relative silence did they change before the heart of Duiran, illuminated by both the Core of the Great Oak and the burgeoning celestial body above, with what little trappings of modesty yet remaining within the Council lost amidst the tumult of tension and excitement that filled the woodland realm to near bursting. Valorie Aresti took upon herself the visage of the Night Tiger, while Shaman Ixmi claimed the otter. To Aisling dur Naya went the great orgyuk, Daelares the rabbit, young Naeda the crow and wild Valeria the bear. Stine D. Emerson staked his claim to Mamba, the great tattooed elephant, and Prideleader Eaku Redwood the boar, bristling and rugged beside Omen Cinnamae’s golden deer, the brown coyote of Iesid Mulariad, the black panther of Jhura Gallant, Sekeres Dark-wing’s black and orange-striped tiger, and the great direwolf of Bloodhunter Akrios. Finally, Watcher Illikaal Aresti of the Tiarna an-Kiar stepped into the guise of the insatiable Wyvern, slipping into mind and body of the furious beast to embrace which was to come.
First called to the site of the ritual was the Speaker Mulariad, for it was her responsibility this night to preside over the great drums of hide and bone crafted for this very moment. Iesid’s confident stride transitioned suddenly as she arrived before Hunter and Voice, slipping without realisation into the vigilant padding of the coyote itself, and assuming the visage of her chosen beast. From the moonglade she carried a bucket of the pure, crystalline waters which she was instructed to pour upon the altar, and she watched as Esrytesh set to the dutiful cleansing of the dark, rune-worked edifice with but a cloth of unsullied wool. Upon its heels came offerings prepared in earnest by the Coyote, and so he proffered them up to the Voice, that she might judge their worthiness for the Guardians that were to gift so much of their power. For Srahda she presented a children’s ball of vivid colours, sure to entice the Raven’s eyes, and for Kree-sa she gifted freely a dhurive used hard during the recent Spirean war. For Rhulvok, great handfuls of teeth were given up, exactly the number found within a crocodile’s maw, and pulled free by her own hand, while Takaros was given the shrunken head of the despised Consanguine. For Vo’acha and Griash; an offering of flesh freely given and a dagger of obsidian used in the raising of great totems, and well suffesed with her own lifeblood. Each offering presented before the woman presiding over the ritual was blessedly accepted, and so the young Coyote took up her place before the great drums, and signalled for the next supplicant to enter.
And so began the long process mirrored in each petitioner that followed; water poured, altar scrubbed and offerings made, before each were finally granted leave to take their place around the altar. Subject to the unbending resolve of the Voice, not all offerings made were deemed appropriate, and many found themselves forced to give in its place the blood from their very veins, allowing the fat, crimson droplets to fall freely into the bowl atop the offerings made before them. Of particular note was that which Valorie Aresti presented to Vo’acha: a fluffy, pastel green Taerilan hatching. Giving even the Presiding Voice pause, Sibatti considered for passing moments before accepting the Shadow’s tribute, inwardly swelling with pride at the gesture even as Holbrook laughed manically at the absurdity.
And so the Coyote struck her drum as each gift was made, and harder again in a beat that echoed throughout the Heartwood, informing the next Councilor in a long line of supplicants that it was their time to step forward. As the ritual progressed, so too did the unwilling sacrifice, Holbrook Hought, begin to stir back into consciousness, a lump already forming on his head from the Hunter’s savage blow. Initial protests were met only by a silence born of indifference for the struggling Officer, and the sharpened heel of Sibatti’s footwear lodged hard into his back, the rope bindings applied to him earlier paired with the relentless pressure making escape a futile dream.
As ritual continued on unhindered, the rest of the land broke free from its momentary reverie of shock and disbelief as realization of Duiran’s deeds were quickly dragged before the court of public opinion. In Spinesreach specifically there swept a bonfire of alarm, a sweltering furnace that built deep within the land of glacial winds and tundral snow as they failed to pry forth any response from the Councilors of Duiran. Within the group known as the Shadowguard, created for all in a show of solidarity against the endless spawn of Ohlsana, many from the frozen city of the North decried the actions of the Hunter and begged for response from those of the woodland Council that stood rank within the organization. They received only one answer when Senator Raynia asked if they might be given the reason for the taking of Holbrook Hought; a simple, unmistakeable ‘No’ given from Valorie Aresti that caused an ominous, sinking feeling to begin in many a gut, deepened by the ceaseless report of Holbrook’s predicament back to the city he called home.
Only after what seemed an eternity to young Holbrook did the nigh endless rank and file of supplicant and offerings desist, each newcomer weighed, measured and granted allowance by she-who-presided. As enraged members of both the Argent Legion and Spinesreach both came to realise that the Hunter had closed off all access to the Heartwood for the duration of the arcane working, Hought squirmed against bindings tied with little regard to his comfort. Held in place beneath the heel, and every shaking muscle screaming out for both relief and rescue, the young man was forced to consider if either would ever be granted. The clamour of battle rose up around the ancient Ithmias as hoplites battled durdalis without, led into acts of war by the Strategos of Spinesreach, Kagura Tsuchimiya, but even that momentary glimmer of hope was cut short in Holbrook’s mind as Haern informed him in no uncertain terms that nothing would interrupt the purpose for which he had been taken. Amidst a momentary, blissful silence did Hought finally look back up through his compounding grief, squinting through growing tears amidst thoughts of hearth, home, and fiance, only to be met by the unblinking visages of over a dozen beasts, all standing in eerie, mute silence.
Unto the sky above did the Witch of the Wilds finally raise up her arms, black claws extended in a eldritch prayer as her abyssal voice lifted in exultation, shaking the very foundations of the Heartwood with her discordant roar. To Rhulvok, Griash, Srahda, Takaros, Kree-sa and Vo’acha did she send out her call, surrounded by bowls loaded high with offerings and blood to entreat them, begging their attendance in their arcane works. Only silence answered for a long moment, until finally, it began. A gentle breeze stirred at the edges of the area, its soft innocuity carrying forth a chorus of primordial whispers; the hiss of a snake, the gnash of a spider’s maw, the growl of a cougar heralding a raven’s chirrup, a wyvern’s deafening shriek and, finally, a bear’s mighty roar. Fel flame set suddenly alight within the offering bowls, hazy manifestations began to appear around the altar; the Ancient Ones had finally arrived.
And so the ritual continued. The first life claimed that night was to be a white rabbit, young and hale, and Sibatti’s blade moved easily through flesh and bone alike, dispatching the squirming creature in an arterial spray that liberally coated hands and fingers both. To the Hunter she moved, and across the tapestry of His battle-scarred figure she drew in a runic script known only to herself and the God upon which she worked, painting Him with the blood of the doe. Haern’s guise completed, she emptied what remained of the rabbit’s reservoir of life into a simple bowl, allowing gravity and death to conspire together and fill the wooden vessel to its brim before moving slowly between each of the ritualists in attendance. With the grace of a predator did she glide through each and every visage, daubing the hide of each beast upon cheeks, brow and chin, bidding them to chant after her bloodied attentions, “Let the Rhythm be purged, and from purity grow anew.” Returning to her altar once more, she-who-presided took to the preparation of finer details then to see to creation of two more required elements; a serving of Tempo for their drummer, and a mixture of madder root and spices pressed into the viscera of a boar’s heart that was then set ablaze for all to inhale the potent, mind-altering smoke. After one final chant from all, the Witch set her gaze upon Holbrook Hought.
Directing those beneath her, Sibatti ordered the sacrifice laid upon the altar, and the beasts rose up as bidden to arrange the Senator upon the cold stone. With the drum playing to the beat of Holbrook’s pounding heart, the man snarled with a defiance that had to this point remained stuffed away, twisting and writhing in a last ditch effort to free himself against all the odds. As he narrated those final moments to a stricken Spinesreach, the Voice systematically cut away the comforting embrace of his Argent Legionnaire’s Uniform before upturning one final bucket of water upon him, the fluid spilling out in droplets that glistened with lunar motes of energy. And then, with the unwilling sacrifice lying cold and shivering beneath the touch of spring eve, Esrytesh Sibatti raised up her blade. “Do not be afraid of those who merely kill the body,” she informed him with bitter inflection. “But you should be afraid of the Ones who can destroy both body and soul.” In a single, swift motion did she strike, piercing flesh and defying bone before exposing his still-beating heart for all to witness.
“Witness, Sapience!” Holbrook screamed aloud for all to hear, the cold fear that had gripped him to this moment torn asunder beneath a torrential flood of indignant anger and embittered acceptance of his fate. Through the journey of this night he had slowly arrived upon the numbing realization that this would be a death from which the mirror would not grant him a return, and as he denounced those around him there with his dying breath, and gave final farewells to hearth and home, his thoughts began to drift to sweet memories of what were; trespassing in his father’s library with his late brother, speaking with his fiance atop the Dragon Spire those years gone on a cold, winter night, nestling with her amidst their odd menagerie of pets. His final thoughts drifted to his brother.
“I’ll see you soon, Tomas.”
To be continued…
Part XIII: Dia’ruis Eternal
And then Holbrook Hought died. As his heart was lifted from his chest and displayed for all to witness, the world stood rocked beneath a passing from which he would never return. To the Hunter she passed this gift, the twitching muscle still warm and wet to the touch as He brought it to His lips. Locking His gaze upon the burgeoning celestial body above, set to devouring it, releasing the internal reservoir of blood still held within so that it ran down His jaw, arms and chest alike. Driven into shock by the suddenness of Hought’s death, the rooster companion he had kept company with for so long began to panic and run, only to granted a similar, swift end beneath the Hunter’s jaws. The Voice wasted little time in making use of what remained of the now soulless corpse, quickly and efficiently carving out the eyes, bone, liver, teeth and flesh as offering to those that deserved; the Ancient Ones that watched, but were not yet sated.
It was then she stepped forward, posing a question to the waiting crowd: “Who will step forward, as a willing sacrifice?” No one assented more quickly than the Shaman Cinnamae, and though she moved forward at the behest of the Voice, Raest, the Heartwood Hunter, quickly called out in declaration; he alone would make this sacrifice, for who better deserved such an honour than one who had given his entirety in service to the Hunter. And so it was that Raest stood upon the altar looking out over the crowd, seeing not the preternatural visage of beasts, but the faces of a people that he had guided for centuries without complaint. Raest’s decision solidified by Haern’s request to serve Him this last time, the man that had seen so many sunrises and sunsets stripped himself bare to lay upon the bloody altar, calm in the knowledge of what it was he was sacrifcing himself for. Not a moment passed before lupine howls were heard throughout the Heartwood, and then the arrival of the pack was imminent. Drawn by the promise of blood and savagery of the magic that crackled in the air, the pack descended upon the prostrate figure of Raest, Hunter of the Heartwood, ripping his flesh and rending his tissue until naught but pieces remained.
Drawn by this frenzy of wolfish bloodlust, the presence of a seventh Guardian was briefly felt, and in the visages stirred a primal bloodlust, an urge primordial to fall to their knees and join the baying pack in their feast. The bowls, already burning with green fire, smouldered with renewed vigour, and the strength of the Guardians impressed itself on all present, empowering them with the might of the rhythm. Adventurers across the world felt their heads spin and the thoughts blur, their will sapped, drawn to feed the gathering vortex of ritual magic in the Heartwood.
The visages tore at the hearts of their namesakes, blood spraying wildly in all directions and, as one, consumed by primal instinct and hunger insatiable, howled a ferocious challenge to the moon, blood dripping from their lips. Drawing a ragged breath, the blood-daubed features of the Hunter regarded the moon with an apex predator’s hunger. The Wild God threw back His head and beat at His own chest, His howl tearing free in an otherworldly explosion of sound that left all who heard it stunned and reeling with its violent reverberation. The clouds fled the sky; the earth shook; and the wind itself stilled to terrified silence. Then, frenzied ululating rose all across Sapience, thousands of lupine tongues coming together as one to howl in unison with the alpha. The emerald flames of the Guardians rose to encircle the hulking figure of the Hunter in Dendaric energies as His baying howl went on unrelenting, all the savagery and untamed ferocity of the wilds voiced in singular refrain. Instinctively, subconsciously, He exerted His will, the torrent of energy raging in the air drawn around and into Him, the will and energy of all present sapped to feed His storming well of gathering might.
The Witch of the Wilds led them once more in chant, and everything changed.
Draped in a vortex of green flames, the Hunter’s howl abruptly ceased, and the silence left in its wake was as deafening as the sound which preceded it. Haern’s already considerable frame grew taller, stronger, His rugged body stretched until it seemed He could touch the sky itself if He deigned only to reach out and try. Sprawling chains of dull anaxagorite manifested in His hands, fastened to the gleaming length of a colossal spear. Each link spanned the reach of a mighty oak tree yet they too were dwarfed by the Hunter’s enormous size. He hoisted the Underking’s gift with a roar of exertion, the Wild God hurling the spear into the sky, as the massive fetters uncoiled like an enormous serpent towards the moon above.
As the lunar sphere glared down upon the world akin to an immense, pupilless eye, Dhar’s spear connected and the chains found purchase, chunks of lunar debris scattering like so much dust raining silver down from above. Haern clasped one of the massive links in a steady grip, and heaved, pouring all of His strength into the immense effort. The moon seemed almost to shiver from its position within the distant skies, trembling as immovable object strained against unstoppable force.
Swept aside, the eastern ocean roiled in protest and the tide rolled outward with unnatural speed, the inner reaches of the seaboard peeling back into the shape of a tremendous tidal wave. The burgeoning tsunami swelled to incredible proportions before crashing amidst a great bellowing roar, mile-high waves pouring inwards with coastal settlements, fishing villages, and the entire City of Enorian in their inevitable path.
Haern heaved at the anaxagorite chains for a second time, the power of the Dendaric Guardians still wreathing Him in its vibrant green flames. The moon, sped upon a wave of starlit canvas, began to descend, drawn as though by a magnet down the silverbright light of a path long forgotten. Unnatural distortion followed with its downsloping fall, the air quavering in denial. Though its initial motions were languid, even lazy, it soon gained an impossible speed, forced to heed the beckoning call of the Hunter’s howl. It swelled with the catastrophic brilliance of a lunar light fantastic, filling the sky as it grew, becoming bigger and more horrifyingly radiant with each league closer it fell to earth.
The stars wheeled in the heavens as if alive, the brightest among them converging to frame the outline of a great celestial being, Its formless presence one of swirling nebulae and myriad shifting colours. Each cautious motion It made incited captivating stellar phenomena across the starscape, Its passage at once mysterious and sublime. As the Cosmic Being drifted in the direction of the plummeting moon, a second Entity coalesced, gaining immutable cohesion from the unknowable heavens. Silhouetted in sparkling silver, the featureless figure of the Celestine materialised, His unerring descent causing the world to shift around Him to permit His ingress. Barely allowing Himself a fleeting moment to look fondly over His Creation, Varian’s expression turned to unreadable serenity, His blinding radiance lighting up the skies.
Creation yielded to the will of its Maker as Varian raised His left hand to pierce the veil of reality and reach beyond, the fabric of all that is, was, and will be keening a note of recognition at the Creator taking the ailing Plane of Dendara into His fatherly grasp. The once hale mass, vibrant green and bursting with fresh life in ages gone now writhed in the Creator’s palm amidst a viscous film of foul shadow, rotting the wild landscape from within and without.
Violent storms began to rage across the continent, forks of brilliant lightning striking vengefully from within the moon-crossed skies. Torrents of unnatural rainfall lashed at the ground below, buffeted by fierce winds gusting wroth in all directions. Spared from the raging tempests by the wingspan of the First Dragon, Spinesreach dwelled in darkness beneath Tanixalthas’s unfurling pinions as Pride Incarnate stirred irritably from Her slumber, Her temper roused to anger by the calamity unfolding all around.
Pressure built in the deep caverns of Bloodloch, the dormant volcano at their heart shuddering. The ground shook with every tremulous burst, low keening rising from the bowels of the earth. In Enorian, lightning strikes laid siege to the streets, spearing down from above to vent their wrath upon cobble and stone. And in the distance, the still-growing tsunami rolled its way ever closer, advancing with cruelly slow inevitability toward the coast.
The Creator’s mere presence seemed to repel the unnatural weather squalling all about Him, for He remained unmoved and utterly serene, devoted to His work. With one tender hand He shaped new from nothing, and in the other He cradled life itself, carefully liberated from dying Dendara to be transplanted into the newborn Lirathyar He had made.
Sweeping landscapes rose and fell within His palm whilst He worked, the familiar lights of the Ancient Valley shimmering before He moved on to the next, countless tiny specks visible among the vast, foetid swath of rot devouring everything in its path in a chilling mirror of the plight which Prime too endures. He looked far to the east and drew forth wild foliage, and from the distant south came sun-blushed verdure; life in all its forms passing beneath His omnipotent eye, each creature and sprouting bud dutifully conveyed to its new, healthy home.
Wrested from its prominent position within the heavenly vault, the moon’s descent continued without impediment, both the skies above and the populace below screaming a requiem of impending catastrophe as it inexorably traversed the night sky. Reaching out with kind hands to arrest the moon’s imminent collision with earth, the Cosmic Being snapped Dhar’s spear with effortless ease, a minuscule flexing of power leaving no doubt as to the depths of the Entity’s well of might. The world lurched, sundered chains engineering a sudden release of tension while the moon, freed from its deathborn snare, began returning to its rightful place. Varian’s timeless serenity faltered, consternation creasing His brow into a frown of disappointment for His interrupted works. He motioned to return whence He came, the sky shifting all around Him, and found His traversal heavensward hastened by the hands of the Cosmic Being reaching out to take Sapience itself in Its grip.
Haern bellowed His defiance to the Eschaton’s act and, in that moment, a deep-rooted, primordial soughing fermented from the heartwood, as the Great Oak acquiesced to the Hunter’s indisputable command. Awoken from natural slumber and silent observation by the desperate efforts of the Wild God, none were beyond its reach as its topmost eaves unfurled in a panoply of tremendous boughs and enormous limbs which, with an almighty CRACK of ancient bark and rugged branch, lurched skyward, swelling to envelop the lunar sphere and see the Hunter’s will be done. Both Creator and Counterpart hesitated, statuesque figures of formless celestial wonder standing frozen in the skyscape. Bought time by the Hunter’s daring intervention, Varian’s serenity reasserted itself, His work nearing completion.
Still the frothing tsunami gained momentum, drawing yet more of the displaced ocean into its surging, torrential mass. As it drew nearer to Enorian, a lone figure strode calmly across the receding waters, the ever-shifting presence of the Maelstrom strolling out to meet the monstrous wave. Slyphe wore an almost child-like smirk upon Their features, a grin of excitement as the God prepared to act.
Sonic booms wracked the sky, the insatiable ire of the First Dragon unabating in its relentless squall against the usurpers of Her domain. By Her grace alone did Spinesreach remain sheltered from the preternatural storm which harried it, Her magnificent wingspan granting reprieve. From Her vantage in the northern skies, She judged Duiran’s fate; Her dreadful maw yawned open, the cavernous pit of speared teeth alighting with crackling bolts of azure, and with an ear-splitting roar, She unleashed a tremendous torrent of lightning to damn both the Council and the surrounding woodlands for their audacity.
Plumes of grey-white smoke rolled in, blanketing Duiran and the surrounding Ithmian forests in a protective sheen of misty pearlescence. The incandescent lightning struck at the charnel barrier again and again but was repelled, denied purchase by the Lord of the Underhalls. Dhar appeared, as is His wont, sans flair or fanfare in the sky; ever-reserved and emotionless and armoured in His dark grey cuirass, Dhar’s grim countenance was one prepared and ready for battle. Plumes of essence spilled from Him in a torrent of silver-white, devouring the Dragon’s azure thunderbolts in an anguished chorus of hissing protestations as He declared the Council’s workings to be the will of the Father, and that He would see it done.
Streams of variegated colour and multifaceted illumination sparked from the Celestine’s fingertips whilst He worked His quintessential purpose, the ineffable act of Creation inspiring a faint half-smile of joy and merriment upon His lips. Shorn from the rotten core of ailing, plagued Dendara, that which dwelled within the newborn Lirathyar positively burst with vibrant energies, bequeathed fresh life to grow and gifted time to flourish wild and wondrous. In steady, practised motions, the Creator set down the Lirathyar, allowing it to settle at the heart of the cosmos. He spared a furrowed, worried glance towards once-Sterion, but His concerned reverie was short-lived; His Counterpart blazed in the upper reaches of the stratosphere, a resplendent, blinding manifestation of countless suns-turned-supernova.
Having called unto Itself Its full power, It prised the screaming moon from the boughs of the Great Oak, implacably restoring it whence it came. Varian’s form deliquesced to naught but sparks of fulgent silver, and, leaving behind a vacuum of darkness as if They had never existed, both Creator and Counterpart were gone.
Near the coast, the Maelstrom thrust out an upturned palm and willed the oncoming tsunami to halt, the mountainous expanse of churning, frothing, seething water frozen unwillingly in its tracks. Mercurial joie-de-vivre still clung to Slyphe’s visage as the Changing God lifted Their trident, cleaving the torrential deluge in twain with delight. Roaring in protest, the sundered waves collapsed upon themselves, the displaced ocean reforming in a bellowing cascade of salt and spray, creatures aquatic and amphibious drawn along in the foaming tides. Spared from destruction, Enorian loosed a collective sigh despite the residual spray and moisture now drenching their streets.
The earth shuddered as the Great Oak receded its almighty branches, monstrous roots lacing a labyrinth anew within the depths of the world in anchoring homage to the new-made Lirathyar. In Bloodloch, the volcano’s ire calmed with the restoration of the moon and the ground ceased to heave with the threat of imminent earthquake and magma eruption.
With His duty done and His charge secured, the Hunter’s monstrous size waned until, once more, He reverted to His ordinary stature. Though lesser, Haern exuded a newfound vigour and vitality, a zest for life rekindled from the pits of misery and despair.
The oceans of Sapience at last settled, and the violent storms calmed, petrichor pungent in their wake. At the heart of the woodland realm, nature’s heartbeat thrummed in a chorale of sylvan celebration. The forests waxed verdant, creatures gamboled about with newfound energy, birds sung sweet songs aand the calls of beasts sounded out in tones vital and robust, all blessed by an extraordinary gift: renewal. The Hunter raised His voice and the rest of the Council soon joined in, bellowing the name of the newborn Plane of Life chosen by Sibatti herself: Dia’ruis.
While Duiran celebrated what they termed a tremendous victory, much of the rest of the world looked to them in horror and disgust for the price they had paid, and for what they had risked in the process. Tempers flared in Enorian with the potential loss of life and a bargain with the Creator. The Argent Legion, none save perhaps Thronekeeper Whirran louder than Bamathis Himself, swore vengeance on the Council for their crime of sacrificing an Officer against his will. Spinesreach reeled, hurt and angry from the betrayal of a newfound ally, while most of Bloodloch, keenly aware of fickle diplomacies and feeling vindicated, had little but scorn to spare for the north and even less pity for the east.
As of the present moment, the advance of Ohlsana’s rot has barely slowed. Hundreds of shadowspawn roam freely. Refugees flock to Spinesreach and Enorian in droves. The people are angry. The Gods are angry. Efforts continue in researching ways to halt the black tide, but what calamity next shall befall the world, none can yet claim to know…
Part XIV: Papers, Please
While stories spread far and wide of Kald’s survival against impossible odds and the inspiring resolve of all who dwelt there, not all shared the same depth of tenacity. Whether fearful of the shadow rot or merely seizing on opportunities previously unavailable, villagers and townsfolk across Sapience have begun to flee their homes, roaming far in search of refuge in the walls of the city states.
It began in Mrenadh with a simple refugee caravan inching its way toward Spinesreach day by day in an effort to escape the encroaching rot. Within days, hundreds had joined them in their trek toward the Citadel, many drawn from the nearby Three Widows villages with whom adventurers had pleaded and pleaded to evacuate before Ohlsana’s filth could take them. And so the number of displaced people grew. And grew. And grew.
Inundated at the border of the Dragon, Guard Captain Thuneron made hasty arrangements for the Republic’s citizens to take on ambassadorial duties in order to efficiently process the vastly growing number of refugees seeking asylum within the walls. The Spireans, somewhat well known to have a fondness and talent for bureaucracy, took to the task with aplomb, ushering in countless new faces to seek refuge in facilities provided largely at the expense of Lenoriel Ali’vani-Ourborian.
Some were not so fortunate. Whether by dubious profession (this author notes the frequency of such vocations as respectable whoring and organised crime with no small measure of pause), attempted bribery or, in the case of Archivist Linne’s ruling, having “an inefficient volume of dependants in tow”, many were refused entry, forced to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Most turned to Enorian, making the long trek south toward the Beacon’s gates. Along the way, the amount of refugees grew to even greater numbers, drawn from Arbothia, Salma, and even as far as Jaru and Mostyn.
With similar arrangements made by Captain Duarne of the Beacon, Enorian hastily readied themselves to receive an influx of refugees and, by Vanguard Sryaen’s command, made preparations to house and feed them. Whether by fate or happenstance, the number of bribes only grew as the displaced settlers filed into line at the Landward and Jaru gates, presenting such dubious offerings as dead fish and fake spirit bulbs in an effort to grease the wheels. Too, the number of recognisable surnames grew, with many of the refugees claiming to be blood descendants of, among others, the Cardinalis, Locke, Mulariad, Mesis, Gallant, Seirath, and even Nehekhara families.
Duiran’s daring ritual only aggravated the situation. “Lunar Disturbances” and “Tsunamic Displacement” soon became some of the most frequent reasons for travel alongside “Spirean Deportation”, and, though the Beacon weighed each and every entrant and attempted a positive outlook (save for Benedicto Silverain who harboured a renowned and consistent prejudice for Nazetu), still many were turned away for their unsavoury behaviours or attempts to buy off the ambassador making the decision.
Largely unbothered until now, the combined rejections of Spinesreach and Enorian, coupled with yet more droves of people forced from their homes, saw the Empire come under siege from prospective citizens, too. Demon Warden Shilkar took up Bloodloch’s charge alongside Ambassador Asaraii, making arrangements to ensure that all would find a home in the Empire, one way or another. The refugees’ claims continued to beggar belief; many noted their desire to seek gainful employ as the Primus, others presented what was purported to be a phial of silvergrit which turned out to be flour, and yet others still claimed to be seeking refuge in Bloodloch solely to meet, in their terms, the most handsome Minotaur in the world (the competition is, admittedly, small).
~ ~ ~
Lady Malevolent’s heart continues to erode, fed by Her devoted followers in order to preserve the still-standing Shadow Keep. The Warlord has invoked Memonaransa, convening the full Court of the Gods for the first time in living memory. Rot spreads unending, and all promising efforts to repel or resist it are still in their earliest days. Murgraxis’ promise of Ohlsana’s Shadow Generals arriving on Prime has not yet come to pass.
Hope prevails. But how long will it last?
Part XV: Memonaransa
In an age long past, one considered by many to be the halcyon days of the Pantheon, when the Gods were both more powerful and more closely aligned with one another, matters of import were often solved by rite of Memonaransa, the Court of the Gods. As time wound on and the original members of Varian’s Pantheon shifted, either through death, reinvention, artifice, or some other transformation, the Gods Court was forgotten, the mountain colonnade which formed its host lost to mortal memory.
In Chakros of the Year 504, following months of turmoil amidst the Second War of Night, Bamathis, the Warlord, resurrected the ancient tradition, informing all of Sapience of His intent to convene the Court of the Gods in an emergency session to discuss the ongoing calamity. Issuing an invitation to all of Varian’s children, and to mortals who wished to bear witness, the summit was to take place at the end of Chakros, and all were expected to attend.
The month rolled towards its end, and, largely quiet since the ignominy of his defeat at Kald, the voice of Murgraxis called out again, promising that his forces would find and destroy this ‘Memonaransa’. Deploying yet more of their seemingly endless legions into the Tarea Mountains, scouts too were sent forth alongside another monstrous host of darkspawn, tasked with locating the magically concealed mountain. Warleader Bulrok quickly mobilised the Empire’s enhanced soldiers as well as his officers and made haste to the front, confident in success after their prior decisive victories and the advancements in military techniques their troops had made.
Others flocked to Kald as a rallying point, meaning to repel the shadowspawn in melee combat. Exarch Aban joined them and, while armies clashed in the north and former slaves-turned-soldiers culled hundreds of shadowbound legionnaires, the adventurers on the front did likewise, the clanging of bells ringing out amidst the carnage of war. Though countless died on all sides, the adventurers rose with fresh resolve and battled on, and Ohlsana’s legions replenished themselves without ceasing.
While the battle raged, many of Hubride’s citizens fled, seeking refuge in one of the city states. Others, unwilling to flee their homes and wishing to go out on their own terms, took their lives in the throes of despair, miners and villagers and local guardsmen laying dead on the streets. Murgraxis persisted, committing far more to the advance than in prior engagements, and, despite the strategic acumen of Warleader Bulrok and his deputy Rijetta, both ably supported by Bloodloch as a whole, the Empire’s line began to break, owing, at least in part, to Primus Dourif who was either distracted or asleep at his post. Murgraxis, bellowing invectives about the failure of Bloodloch, and the inevitable dominion of Olsana (as written in the tongue of Czjetija), pressed his legions forward.
The earth shook, and the entire Tarean range rumbled ominously, mighty quakes protesting the Shadow’s claim. As dozens still fought on the Kald front, the hissing and jeering of the advancing troops found itself drowned out by the wrathful roar of the earth, the very mountains splitting asunder to swallow thousands in their craggy jaws. Momentary silence was soon replaced with screams of anguish echoing from deep within the Tarea’s heart: hordes of shadowspawn devoured to feed Azvosh’s unending hunger by Ivoln’s gravelly command. No retort came from Murgraxis, only an eerie, foreboding calm, and the Empire hastened to redouble their efforts in preparation for the next inevitable clash.
~ ~ ~
A short while later, the piping notes of a herald rose from the Tarean Mountains to signal the presence of Bamathis, the Warlord. Declaring that Memonaransa would soon commence, He invited His Siblings to join Him, and extended the same invitation to any mortal with the fortitude to conquer the mountain’s ascent. By the will of He Who Is Strife, the cloak of divinely-wrought magic shrouding Mount Memonaransa fell away, revealing a mighty peak that extended beyond even the clouds, a rumble in the Southern Tundra signalling the opening of a concealed pathway to the summit.
Some sixty adventurers flocked to the foot of the mountain and commenced their ascent, battling through rain, hail, snow, lightning, and treacherous cliffs. Dozens fell in the attempt, but it was Valorie Aresti who first conquered the mountain, followed swiftly by Valeria. However, whether through eagerness to prove their mettle in a second attempt or through negligence as to its purpose, the two quickly entered a silver gateway and found themselves returned to the bottom. Once all had gathered, Bamathis paced restlessly about the colonnade, a sprawling amphitheatre at the mount’s peak outfitted with majestic, opulent thrones for each of the original Sapient Gods.
Dhar was the first to arrive and take His throne, followed soon after by the Earthen Lord, the two estranged Gods sharing a momentary look. Slyphe appeared next in a haze of salt and spray, and Damariel joined Them, both taking Their seats. Two Chiav flanked Malevolence, Whose gait lacked the usual macabre flair owing to the gaping hole in Her chest. While Iosyne skittered toward Her own throne, a pillar of fire announced Ethne’s presence; exhausted from work at the forge, She slumped into Tukuti’s seat, grateful for the opportunity to rest. Perfumed scents presaged Corruption’s coalescion, a look of sultry curiosity on Her face while She sat. Time stilled and Lexadhra made Herself known, glibly sinking into the throne marked ‘Aryon’ with amusement. Last to appear was the Manipulator, and Severn simply stepped out of the shadows without pomp or ceremony, taking His throne opposite His Twin.
Ten Gods had answered the Warlord’s call, and, after some minutes of awkward silence, it seemed no more would be in attendance. Continuing His restless pacing, the Warlord came to rest behind the throne of Varyan, asking Severn with annoyance about the presence of the Dragon. Shrugging, He casually reminded Bamathis that His invitation was to Varian’s children, and that Tanixalthas was not one of them. “Neither is She,” interjected Ivoln with a look of disdain towards Lexadhra, who reacted only with a sharp intake of breath. Corruption enquired after Omei, expressing surprise that She would forego a chance to show off, and the Indelible informed the Gods that She was preparing the Astral Realm to sustain life in the event of total loss of the Prime.
Irritation flashed in Strife’s eyes, but before He could speak further, the incisive voice of Damariel cut Him off, insisting He speak. Memonaransa had not been invoked for millennia, Truth reminded Them, and He made known His lack of desire to suffer Strife’s presence any longer than absolutely necessary, a sentiment supported by a grunt of assent from the tired Ethne. Raising His voice so it carried across the mountain, the Warlord addressed Damariel in formal tones, invoking all of His honorifics as He declared that the Unbound Lord was called upon.
Incensed, Damariel responded with harsh severity, outraged at the notion that He was to be put in trial in the Gods’ Court. While Slyphe inwardly bubbled with excitement at what They termed a ‘twist’, Severn cut off His Twin’s attempt to stand in protest with a coolly uttered assurance that He was not called for trial, and a plea to hear Them out. Mollified for the moment, Damariel sat and demanded that Bamathis speak quickly. While Ethne mused on the merit of talk and longed to return to Her forge, Bamathis raised His voice further. The threat of Shadow’s General was nigh, He began, and reiterated their primary target with a jabbed finger in Damariel’s direction. If Truth fell, He said, then the Shadow would have what they need to free Ohlsana. Pounding His fist on the back of Varyan’s throne for emphasis, He gravely stated what all knew to be true: They could not allow that to happen.
Iosyne quipped that it was a shame Damariel had spent so much of His strength to protect, what She termed, one little village, but Dhar immediately cut Her off with His icy rasp. Reminding Malevolence that she was once the Virtue of Inspiration and the Goddess of Strategy, the Underking retorted with scorn that She was now killing Herself to save a single Keep of sinners and thieves. The Goddess was entirely unfazed, coolly replying that the Shadow Keep is close to the heart of the enemy’s power, and would be a fine staging point for Their own forces. Irritated by the petty disagreements, Ethne insisted that Bamathis get to the point.
The Warlord ignored the quarrel and pressed on, stressing the point that when all eleven Generals had assembled, they could and /would/ come for Damariel, and that the Gods would not be able to protect Him from them all. At this, Slyphe’s face took on a toothy grin, asking if the Gods were scared in a shanty-like lilt while questioning the notion that the Generals could be as strong as Murgraxis and Ati. Ivoln, unimpressed and not sharing the Maelstrom’s cavalier attempt at humour, rejected the idea that He was afraid, insisting that the opposition would be brought to heel and that the strong, and the earth, would prevail. Only Irgech was comparable, so said Severn, ruefully informing Them that the one known by the dubious moniker “Angelbane”, was stronger than both Murgraxis /and/ Ati, suggesting They should be thankful Ozeroth, by far the strongest and most threatening, had been chosen to hold the Shadow’s frontline against Spirit.
“The others would still give most of You trouble,” so said the Warlord, confirming the Manipulator’s assertion with a remark about unfavourable odds. Demanding He get to the point, Damariel asked what was being asked of Him, and the response was simple: the Unbound Lord would retreat to the Spirit Plane when the Generals arrived, and beseech the Angelic Triad for refuge. Laughter followed from Chakrasul, unctuous and malicious as She declared such a suggestion, such a submission to fear, as delightfully fitting. Iosyne thought the plan foolish, vestiges of Strategy surfacing as She suggested the Generals would simply return to Spirit and assault Him there, asking with disbelief whether Bamathis intended to wage a war of cat and mouse with Damariel as bait until the rot devoured the whole world.
At this, Lexadhra interjected, informing Them of a secondary objective. This key, as She called it, would unlock Ohlsana’s prison without requiring the death of Damariel. Severn assured Iosyne that the Generals would not withdraw to Spirit due to the logistical concerns, and Damariel, quiet in the immediate aftermath of Strife’s suggestion, now made known His vigorous disagreement with the idea. “I refuse,” He stated in tones of anger and rejection, citing Ethne’s exhaustion from Her work at the forge and Enorian’s need for more than Slyphe alone to defend it as reasons for His denial. He cast a sidelong glance at Haern’s empty throne, adding that uncertainty and enemies were now everywhere, while Ethne made an effort to hide the extent of Her fatigue even while grunting in reluctant agreement with Damariel. “I am not weak,” thought Slyphe as They watched the exchange, invoking a swift rebuttal from the mind of the Earthen Lord: “Yes You are.”
The Maelstrom spoke up then, Their voice a dangerous undulation as They questioned Damariel on whether He thought Them unworthy of the task. While They clasped Their trident with loving care, Their eyes swivelled to regard Bamathis. “Bamathis might be a pissant,” They began, “But in this, He speaks sense.” Voicing Their expectation of an apology when Damariel returned from Spirit to find Enorian safe and still standing, the Changing God shifted then to regard Haern’s empty throne, voicing a half-serious concern about Haern’s attempt to destroy Sapience and expressing Their desire to at least know about the Hunter’s plan to do so in advance. Iosyne cut in to ask where the Hunter was while gesturing at His empty seat, Bamathis settled the matter of Haern’s absence in two short sentences. First, He reminded His Siblings that Haern’s actions were the will of Varian, Their Father, going on to add that He would hear no more words against Him, and that His grievances over the affair with the moon were of a personal nature.
While Ethne and Lexadhra harboured thoughts of irritation, Iosyne rolled her ruined eyes but grudgingly accepted the explanation. If the Generals would not turn back to Spirit to pursue Damariel, She remarked, then the move would serve to only reduce Their numbers on the Prime. Before any could answer, Dhar cut in to ask Lexadhra about the secondary objective She had mentioned, confirming the Underking’s suspicion that She referred to the Sword of Truth. Arion had it last, so She said, and that it was anyone’s guess where it was now, possibly not even on the continent. This information seemed to lock in Dhar’s agreement with the idea of Damariel’s retreat as He noted the likelihood of the Generals needing to split up, allowing the Gods to divide, and, with Ivoln finishing His sentence for Him, conquer. The estranged Gods of Death and Earth shared a momentary look, fleeting but laden with a weight beyond the simple word They shared.
Returning to the subject of Damariel, the Unbound Lord looked around at the gathered Gods in search of support, eyes passing over each of Them in turn and receiving only blankness in response. Though the Forge Maiden offered Him a vague look of apology, even She did not voice Her agreement. “So be it.” He stated finally, His voice rueful and defeated. Nodding decisively as the matter was settled, Bamathis shifted His focus to Chakrasul, Who still wore Her smirk of malice. Strife asked Her of the Court of Chaos, and whether the Goddess could convince Empress Xa’azamit to fight with Them. Chakrasul replied that the Empress does as she pleases, naming Bamathis “little Strife” with no affection whatsoever. If she was provided sufficient tribute, so said Chakrasul, she may be persuaded to lend some of her time. Seeking assent from the Goddess to place the responsibility for this persuasive task in Her and Bloodloch’s hands, Bamathis received only a languid shrug, which He took as approval, reminding them that Xa’azamit was not yet as strong as Golotha, but the Court would be invaluable nonetheless.
“There is another resource We have not discussed.” This from Ivoln, His sonorous voice magnified by the echo of the mountains. He looked to Dhar but avoided meeting His eye, asking after the Glade with a suggestion that the Underking had held back its souls for too long, positing now as the time to send them forth. The rebuttal was a cold, Kingly “no”. The Glade was His realm, Dhar protested, entrusted to Him by the Celestine. Shaking His head from within His cowl, He stated that He alone would decide the appoined time, and that now was not it.
Bamathis looked then to Ethne, making cautious enquiries about Her work on the bell, enquiries laced with concern that Her work would summon Dejaani with its song. Stirred to anger by a combination of exhaustion and the Warlord’s demanding tone, Ethne bluntly reminded Him She did not answer to Him, and nor did Her work require His approval. Strife’s hand went to His sword at these words, palpable tension flooding down the mountainside, but Ethne’s exhausted sigh stilled Him in mid motion. Tiredly telling Him to temper His tantrum, She assured the Warlord summoning Dejaani was not Her intent. Damariel lent the Forge Maiden a nod of support, as did Slyphe, though the former still bristled with displeasure at His forced absconsion.
Haern was the next topic on the Divine agenda, genuine concern in the Warlord’s voice as He asked whether the Hunter would be recovered enough to fight. Dhar informed all the Gods that Haern’s attention was focused on connecting the pathways to the fledgling plane, but insisted He would fight. Satisfied with the answer, Bamathis summarised the meeting in short order: Damariel was to retreat to Spirit when the Generals arrive, Chakrasul would work with Bloodloch to obtain support from Chaos, and Ethne would continue with the bell with Slyphe and Enorian’s aid. To the remaining Gods He counselled only thus: continue to prepare for war, and prepare Their cities to withstand it.
Severn offered to liaise with Tanixalthas and soothe Her pride, to which the Warlord responded with a question about the Manipulator’s own plans for Spinesreach. Answering only that they were in progress, Severn had little else to say, and the Warlord accepted the answer while His fellow deities introspectively pondered Their next moves. Calling for any other business, none came, and Bamathis adjourned the Court and dismissed His kin. One by one, the attending Gods faded from view, chromatic shimmers of colourful mist and animate essence painting the mountain in variegated shades with Their departure.
Part XVI: The Shadow Rising
In the wake of Memonaransa, while many scrambled to acquire information on the Sword of Truth and others continued pouring their efforts into developing weapons and defences against the Shadow, the Tarean mountains groaned as the battlefield’s southern front found itself reformed by the will of the Earth, narrowed into a deadly funnel intended to bring down the hammer of wrath when next Czjetija’s forces made a push forward. Undeterred, Murgraxis stirred from his vigil at the rift and hastily deployed more forces to the front. The Empire, by now well drilled and efficient, mobilised in turn to meet them, and the familiar clamour of armies meeting in battle could soon be heard throughout the world.
Yet something was off about this skirmish. Though the numbers committed by the Shadow General were as vast as any prior effort, the Shadowbound Dragon seemed wholly uninterested in the result, ignoring the clash below as he ascended on wings of black night and dark dread, propelling his colossal bulk west, toward the settlement of Hubride. Countless attempts had been made to evacuate all of the Three Widows villages, but still many workers, townspeople, and villagers remained defiantly behind.
As the Dragon’s long shadow fell over the settlement and he boasted of the weakness of Lanos and the doom awaiting Hubride, people flocked in droves to its defence. Spearheaded largely by Enorian, many hoped to save the Trolls even as they shouted angrily in response to the General’s boastful claims. But no battle would come. The Shadow Lord opened wide his maw, raining down a flood of impenetrable wrongness upon the settlement below. Shadowrot poured forth from his draconic jaws, foetid flame and sickening fire which instantly destroyed the adventurers standing sentinel. The torrent spread through the village like wildfire, devouring every man, woman, and child that had dared to stay behind, spreading into the mines and over the hills and into every nook, cranny, and crevice it could find.
Smoke and ruin and filth were all that remained of Hubride, and Murgraxis, snapping shut his maw with a crack of finality, simply altered course and drifted back toward his perch amidst once-Sterion. Neither boasting nor prophesying further harm, he fell silent, the calamity wrought in his passing bespeaking all that needed said. With their General’s work done, the shadowspawn hordes regrouped in a rearguard formation and retreated back to the Primal Eye.
~ ~ ~
In late Khepary, after the Unbound Lord had taken leave for Spirit and left the defence of Enorian in the Maelstrom’s capable hands, sudden pressure radiated in waves from the heart of the Primal Eye, forming a raging vortex of midnight tendrils. The frothing, murderous rampage of Ohlsana’s limitless spawn stilled to an eerie silence, the singular will of Immortal Darkness commanding rapt attention from Her copious host as each seemed to turn their gaze toward the breach, the air alive with electric evergloom, crackling in anticipation of something unknown and unseen. Stone and metal screamed in anguished protest, the fabric of reality dividing Prime from Shadow shuddering as the rift-arch, already sundered and profaned by invaders, yielded in full, collapsing on itself with a haunting elegy of defeat.
Whispers spilled from within the conquered breach, a chorus of rasping, preternatural sibilance ceaselessly repeating itself with maddening reliability as the gaping hole between worlds churned like a maelstrom of black waves. As the pressure at the heart of once-Sterion climbed to further levels, the pinpricks of violet fulgence, once tiny specks of blacklit motes, grew. Umbral silhouettes now bestrode the breach, and the stillness of the shadowspawn fell away, the countless aberrations infesting Sapience roaring and hissing and jeering as one voice made of thousands.
Most knew this could mean only one thing: the rest of Ohlsana’s Generals were coming.
Legions of shadowbound poured forth from the dark-without, the towering form of a Titan driving them forward. General Diyomexas dwarfed his soldiers, the mighty core of the colossal shadow eld whirring in place of his heart. The Shadowbound Dreikathi scarcely bothered to acknowledge Murgraxis and immediately marched east, his purpose laying beyond the Sapience shores.
Black fire belched virulent smoke into the air with the coming of General Isalemei, the corrupted Djinn accompanied by General Azgon, a fallen Akkari clasping a twin-bladed manta stained black with foul magic. Brief conference with Murgraxis ensued before the two Generals and their forces marched briskly towards Enorian and set about establishing a staging camp in preparation for war.
Next to pass through the breach were Generals Sanaz and Saglozol, each garbed in flowing robes of midnight. The Naga cast a critical eye over the military arrangement in Sterion, while the Memory Eater conferred with Murgraxis in the primal tongue of the Shadow. Apparently satisfied with their assignments and goals, the two Generals turned away from each other and simply disappeared, fading from sight without sound or sign of their destination.
At the head of another host of soldiers, General Mazgal was next to enter the Prime, his rocky Earthen form shaking the ground with each advancing footstep. General Telorach joined the Unyielding Earth, coagulating black matter forced into the monstrous, intimidating form of an Ascended Shadow Beast. Accompanied by their assembled troops, the two Generals spared no time for Murgraxis, immediately taking leave from Sterion and marching southward. Reaching the Dry Plains, the pair quickly established a command post in view of Spinesreach and began organising their forces in preparation.
Some moments of quiet passed before groaning wood and creaking bark resounded from within the breach, corrupted nature lamenting every footfall of General Jokach. The ancient, withered Durdalis moved forward with a ponderous gait, its craggy body swathed in toxic moss and smoking, putrefied vines. Limbs the size of tree trunks supported its bulk, hordes of twisted fauna following behind. It shared only a fleeting conversation with Murgraxis before ambling away, turning its sights on the Ithmias. At the edge of the ancient woodland, Jokach paid little heed to the trees and flora soughing in protest at its encroachment, marshalling troops to a staging ground in the earth.
The next General arrived through a silver gateway splitting the air as living darkness writhed about its outer edges. Reality parted to receive General Agrimarha, the corrupted Ankyrean Adherent. Manifesting the presence of Misery Incarnate, the Adherent glowed with mortalfire, draped in an aura of tangible dread which only deepened as the portal snapped shut behind her. Unlike her fellows, Agrimarha quickly motioned beside Murgraxis, choosing to remain in defence of the Shadow’s front lines.
Without warning, the the paean of war sung by the indignant, battle-hungry shadowspawn reached its dreadful coda, the rubicon of a harrowing requiem gasping out its final throes. Murgraxis stepped back beside Misery’s Adherent, the gaping maw of Czjetija yawning open ever further to permit the ingress of yet more legions of darksworn soldiers. As the last of this host poured in, the soldiers bore profound and stark discipline, driven by primal fear and unvoiced terror as their eyes trained anxiously whence they came.
As one, spawn and soldier fell to their knees, and for a moment, the breach froze, its motion stilled by an authority indelible lingering out of sight and sense beyond the other side. A glance of trepidation passed between Murgraxis and Agrimarha, and they each took another step back. Entwined streams of black and violet surged forth from without, a torrent of twilit effervescence converging into the form of Shadow General Irgech. Irgech, known by the discomfiting moniker “Angelbane”, radiated profane might and terrible strength, a penumbra of nauseating non-light shrouding him in its black embrace. Clad in thick plates of shadowsteel, the General barked commands at both the Dragon and the Adherent, who hastened to obey. Then, as the sky above burned black with his presence, his voice called out in tones of undeniable dominion: “Find it.”
While the Shadow’s Generals fanned out across the world, Irgech deliquesced to naught but inky blackness, a pillar of evanescent shadow surging skywards at speeds defying perception. His ascension pierced cloud and stratosphere alike, puncturing even the membrane of the firmament like a single violet star amongst a stately canvas of gold, lingering high above the world with unknown but undeniably bleak intent. Low keening pitched from the heart of the Primal Eye, the immense pressure finally relenting in the throes of a turbid, ice-rimed wind. Though calm and order returned in the wake of the Commanders’ arrival, it was an eerie, unnatural stillness, pregnant clouds gathering above and about the northern region with ominous, dire portent of battles yet to come.
And come they did.
Mazgal’s troops were first to mobilise, their swift deployment a fell tribute to the renowned military minds of the Earthen. Driven forward by the aid of Telorach, they poured into Spinesreach with deadly intent, cutting down almost two hundred hoplites and forty loyal Spirean guards, as well as dozens of adventurer citizens who battled bravely to defend the gates. Though caught by surprise, Strategos Kagura soon rallied the forces and struck back while others hurried to throw the switch on the prime Storm Caller pylon, calling the wrath of Tanixalthas to their aid. The city lurched under a thunderous sonic boom and soon, arcs of brilliant blue electricity tore through the streets, striking ruthlessly at the shadowspawn and leaving none alive.
Isalemei and Azgon were next to organise a sortie, deploying forces into Enorian in order to test their defences. Expecting an attack after the assault on Spinesreach, Sryaen and Benedicto reacted instantly, diverting forces to the Landward Gate and dispatching bell ringers to the nearby belfry. As the clash began, Enorian met them with courage and valour, none more brave than young Everet who fearlessly charged the shadowbound as they invaded his home. Though he fell to a shadowspinner, his bravery shall never be forgotten by his Templar kin. Bells rang out with their righteous peals and tore through the invaders without mercy or hesitation, and the city held, having lost under twenty guards and only four knights.
Duiran was hit next, the corrupted Durdalis Jokach dispatching troops through the western Ithmia and into the Council proper. The fortified Durdalis troops at Duiran’s entrance put up an incredible defence, holding the line for far longer than expected while protecting the citizens from harm. Yet, eventually, their numbers dwindled and the line broke, the resultant surge of shadowspawn cutting down dozens of councillors in mere moments. As they faced the mirror, the invaders rampaged, dispatching almost fifty guards and a hundred and fifty troops in their assault. Regrouping with the aid of Enorian, bell chimes once again sounded, and the combined strength of mettle turned back the advance.
As the initial assaults stilled, Sapience’s defences held fast, shaken but unbroken. The dust from the conflict began to settle over the lands of Enorian, Duiran, and Spinesreach as leaders took stock of the losses, saw to their dead, and started to prepare for the next inevitable siege. Yet through the invasions and the battles, all remained calm over the Mhojave, the lands of Bloodloch mysteriously untouched by the Shadow’s Generals or their soldiers.
In the week that followed, only a minor incursion into Enorian took place, though the cities remained on high alert, suspicious of what was to come. Overhead, all who turned their eyes to the moon observed the long shadow of General Irgech silhouetting the sky-dome. Shaping blackness in his hands, with the coming of the Howling, the sun flickered wan, losing some of its radiance. And when noon arrived, the makings of his dark star imposed a mantle of un-light across the firmament, eclipsing the daystar with its oppressive gloom…
Part XVII: Progress
Irgech’s dark star continued to grow as time wound on, the once-familiar Howling now perpetually drowned out by the Shadow General’s work far above in the heavens. Incursions into the cities of Sapience became more frequent and more deadly, but still the people persisted, growing more efficient and organised with every sortie launched against their walls. Despite the looming threat of invasion, the waning sun, and the lack of news or useful information on the lost Sword of Truth, Sapience pressed on in their efforts, their ingenuity and resolve yielding several fresh developments.
In Enorian, Roux Aquila worked with Commander Verok on an idea originally put forward by Ardent Riahl that Roux had run with and developed further. Diligently they experimented with the ouabain venom and an infusion of spirit, hoping to synthesise a new poison to defeat the shadowspawn. With the aid of the Maelstrom lending some of Their essence, the research was successful, and the city soon began fabricating what they now dubbed ‘shadowbane darts’, highly effective at slowing Ohlsana’s minions in their tracks and leaving them vulnerable to deadly strikes.
Studies in Bloodloch centred around the shadowrot and its relation to the lesser disease of shaderot practised by the Sciomancers. Overseen by Bulrok and supported by Paxe, Tetchta, Taj, Asaraii, Qelres, and Almol, the Empire painstakingly conducted experiments into the affliction, combining their abilities to keep the subjects alive in order to learn as much as they could. After numerous failed attempts that inched them closer to a successful result, their research finally bore fruit, and, by combining a concentrated panacea recipe developed by Paxe with ambient spirit in a secret technique involving fermentation in the earth, they produced a spirit-infused panacea paste, able to prevent them suffering harm when standing in the shadowrot.
The Ascendril, meanwhile, had similar ideas, but vastly different methods. While Docent Eliadon worked himself to the bone syphoning raw spirit into bulbs to power the Spirean anti-shadowspawn technology, he still found time to work with Archmage Kaiara and Jhura Gallant on their own research into surviving the rot. Kaiara conceived of something she termed ‘spirit shrouds’ – specially woven cloaks imbued with raw spirit. For weeks the Ascendril performed experiments and conducted studies on how to make their vision a reality. Though their initial techniques failed, suggestions from Aeraisentesh combined with Iernos’ resourceful procurement of a tailor – a refugee from Attica – yielded success from an unlikely source: Tidesage Ramneze. Working with Iernos, the Mages combined the elemental spirit with freezing fog and found the shrouds able to provide resistance – for a time.
In Spinesreach, Wjoltyr Arcan and Raynia Riahl devoted themselves to research of a different kind, hoping to discover a method of actually turning back Ohlsana’s rot and ridding locations of its taint. The Sciomancers put various theories to the test, some involving foci from their master crystal, some requiring judicious use of gravitation, others combining Gnomish enchantments with Magi crystals of old, and yet more still. Many setbacks befell them, but the theory of syphoning the rot into crystals persisted. Wjoltyr diligently recorded all of his findings and presented them to Litrix for review, hoping to find a way forward.
The Xorali scientist then performed several of his own experiments, attempting to replicate Wjoltyr’s results and, with any luck, take the research a step further. After yet more setbacks and failures, they at last stumbled on a plausible method, one requiring four Sciomancers, a Revenant, and an Archivist to carry out. Presenting to them a newly devised enchanting technique to create what Litrix called shadowbinding crystals, a group composed of Feirenz, Rhyot, Raynia, Legyn, Lenoriel, and Wjoltyr made haste to the tundra to put the theory into practice. In a highly meticulous and difficult process that required the Revenant to singlehandedly shield the Mages from the rot using a new riving style originated by Meyondu, the Sciomancers channeled shadow and joined their wills as one, passing control of the link between them as they assiduously syphoned the rot from the location into the binding crystal they had gravitated to hover in the air.
After immense effort and significant time, their work garnered success, and the crystal, filled with the rot, found itself unmade by Numerological collapse. The toil left them exhausted but elated – a single patch of rot had been cleared. Left behind however was little to truly celebrate – where once tundral snow had fallen, now only an empty vacuum remained, a bleak swath of nothingness deprived of the ambient elemental presence required to shape tangible existence. Shadow had simply devoured it, explained Litrix, and the task of reconstruction would not be an easy one, nor an immediate undertaking. This was a positive, Litrix assured them, since the absence of anything to consume would almost certainly prevent the rot spreading back into the vacuum. Thus, with fatigue rendering them unable to repeat the process immediately, the Spireans swiftly began to organise plans for ‘shadowbreaks’, strategic purging of the rot from key locations to minimise its further expansion.
Part XVIII: Strife Rises, Misery Falls
Attacks on the cities continued apace and, whether by coincidental timing or direct response to the Sciomancer’s innovative method of repelling the rot, a legion of shadowbound soldiers sashayed forth from Mazgal and Telorach’s commandpost, holding a position near the gates of Spinesreach while attempting to actively spread more of the rot themselves. Though they were dispatched by Spirean hoplites, Sapience remains on high alert in case of further machinations by Ohlsana’s soldiers.
Halfway through Midsummer, the Primal Eye once more stirred with violet incandescence, the forces of Shadow rousing themselves for another incursion into the Tareas. As the black wave of shadowspawn poured down the mountainside, similar incursions sprung up in Duiran, Spinesreach, and Enorian, the four-pronged assault taking many by surprise. Across Sapience, the Generals bellowed commands to their armies and legions on all sides pushed forward. Massive disturbances in the earth shook the Tarean Mountains while Murgraxis boomed out boasts and jeers, demanding the surrender of Sapience in service to the Immortal Dark.
While the cities strove to repel the invaders and the Sanguine Fist sent their troops to meet the northern horde, great worms exploded from the ground, slithering across the battlefield and vomiting up countless more shadowspawn aberrations with their passage. Amidst the clamour of battle and chaos of war, Bamathis, the Warlord, commanded the Argent Legion to stay back from the front, instead mustering them to meet Him at the gates of the Carnifex’s Shadow Keep. Commander Mjoll and Herald Whirran hurried to His side, and He informed them of His intent for them to push forward into the Eye. Bathed in the essence of strife, they eagerly awaited the Warlord’s command while Bamathis Himself surveyed the field, waiting for the opportune moment.
Unnoticed amidst the chaos, a subtle ripple disturbed the shadows blanketing the Primal Eye. The web of caliginous darkness shielding once-Sterion’s black heart flickered but held fast, an ephemeral, momentary convulsion allowing passage to One both swift and unseen. While the Shadowbound Dragon fixed his gaze on the mountain range below, a veiled silhouette silently coalesced behind him, the enveloping eventide contorting to reveal the bovine form of the Manipulator. Sensing opportunity, Severn glided forward without a sound, His hulking frame at odds with His subtle, circumspect gait. Voices rang out across Sapience, chief among them that of Lord Rijetta Alhazrad, each hurling insults and invectives at Murgraxis to distract him from the Minotaur God’s gambit. Though Murgraxis’ ego kept his attention drawn elsewhere, the manifold voices raised the suspicions of his companion.
In a single motion, Severn drew a sidereal, split-blade sword of spirit and lunged in a blur of divinely-enhanced speed, black tendrils writhing about the length and breadth of the blade as He struck, aiming for the distracted Dragon’s neck. A scream of sundered metal broke the clandestine incursion, the split-blade sword seeming to shatter in the Artificer’s hands as He found His blow turned aside, stymied by the weapon of General Agrimarha. Misery’s Adherent spared no time to gloat, already bringing her palms together to form a globe of raw magic which careened toward Severn. The Artificer turned on His heel and vanished, only to reappear behind Murgraxis with a longsword of warring essences in His hand. The sphere of magic detonated in a blinding flash and Murgraxis wheeled around to sneer at the Shadowed God, black fire kindling between his jaws. Strands of sickly grey essence formed in the Adherent’s upthrust palms, and the two Generals pressed forward, resolved to claim victory over the intruder.
Bamathis, choosing the moment carefully, commanded the Legion to push forward into the Eye, instructing them to hold the line as He went on ahead. The strident notes of a herald’s trumpet sounded out as a signal of the Argent Legion’s advanced, and Mjoll and Whirran bravely marched in, rampaging hordes of shadowspawn seeking to stymie their advance. Empowered by the Warlord’s might, Whirran’s trumpet wreaked ruin upon the shadowspawn while Mjoll, indefatigable and stalwart as ever, cut a path through toward the heart of the Primal Eye.
Torrents of noisome filth spewed from the grotesque maw of Murgraxis toward the Manipulator, roiling plumes of viscous rot soon joined by twin arcs of black fire and blacklit puissance from Adherent Agrimarha who directed her synchronous weaves with the skill and speed of a veteran soldier. Severn feinted, His longsword shattering in myriad fragments as it strained to deflect the assault. In a flurry of footwork and fading translucence, He dodged and wove between the combined attacks, fingers twitching in His now empty hands as He whispered to the surroundings. In moments, dozens of inky black threads streaked forth from Him to ensnare the Adherent in a tenebrous trap, yet it barely slowed her advance.
Tooth and claw worked as one for Murgraxis, each shift of his massive bulk sundering the ground as his spiked tail swung in a broad arc, cleaving the air as he aimed it toward the Minotaur God. Showing no hint of either strain or struggle, Agrimarha calmly shrugged off her bindings and gathered grey-black balefire to her fingertips. As the Dragon’s tail neared its quarry, the Adherent turned loose the blinding bar of shadowflame, reality screaming in protest with its traversal in Severn’s direction. Umbrael flared to life around the Artificer then, the instrument of His greatest work striving to shield Him from the deadly attack. The Cloak of Midnight, revered and feared alike, hungrily devoured the Adherent’s balefire, absorbing it in full before expelling it outwards in a cataclysm of unleashed energy, lashing viciously at Murgraxis in a furore of potent strikes.
When the smoke parted, the unmistakeable silhouette of Severn emerged: alone, unharmed, and wielding a sensuous sword of ophidian predilection. Taking advantage of the momentary confusion, He hurled the weapon at Murgraxis, the blade transforming into the elongated body of a giant serpent, ruby eyes alight with hunger as it struck home, eliciting a howl of rage from the Dragon.
As Mjoll and Whirran cut through hordes of shadowspawn, more and more swarmed about them. Each time they fell in battle, Strife saw to their revival, restoring them to life with renewed vigour and strength to press forward. Trumpet blasts piped out from Whirran and Mjoll became an unconquerable wall, wave after wave of aberrations breaking themselves on her strength. Bamathis pushed further into once-Sterion, His armoured form lit from without by a brilliantine aura of palpable strife. Still reeling from Severn’s counterattack, Agrimarha slashed a single hand through the air and formed an angular gateway. Barely bothering to spare a glance for Murgraxis’s safety, she stepped through the portal to confront the Warlord, the two Ankyreans – one corrupted, the other deified – regarding each other with similar looks of resolved disdain.
Bamathis struck first, driving Caelestis forward in sparks of brightly burning silver, His expert footwork and military training giving Him the opening advantage. Adherent’s mortalfire surrounded Agrimarha, but the Warlord clove through its protection with ease, shearing away the shield like a scythe through chaff. As their battle began in earnest, shadowbound hordes swarmed in defence of the Generals, but before they could assemble in the correct formation, the Herald’s trumpet cut through their caterwauling, drawing the armies to the Argent Legion’s side.
The Warlord pressed His advantage, the essence of discord and war entwining with Caelestis for a decisive blow. Agrimarha braced herself for the impact, weaving an oily barrier of black taint that slithered into place to meet Strife’s blade. Though wounded, the Ankyrean General survived, and Bamathis, taken by surprise, found Himself thrown off balance. Wasting no time, Agrimarha transformed, becoming the Avatar of Misery. Searing power flowed through her, her eyes but a pair of black spheres utterly void of any light. Ephemeral blades formed in her grasp and she sprung forward at Bamathis, attempting to sever His arm and bring the conflict to a swift end.
Enraged, Murgraxis redoubled the assault on Severn, who now held a silver-mithril broadsword of Artifice. A knowing smirk decorated His mouth in response to the Dragon’s ire, and He gathered all His strength, all His power, and all His spite, turning it on Murgraxis in an effort to bend his will to the God’s own. Grating laughter and mocking jeers followed from Murgraxis, diving for the Artificer again and sundering His latest weapon in a tumultuous mania of rending talons and slashing claws. Shouting his outrage for all to hear, the Dragon declared his loyalty to the Immortal Dark, promising that Severn’s will would soon break.
Strife turned aside Misery’s ethereal blades, retaliating against the barrage with an onslaught of His own. A bevy of silver-limned arrows hovered in the air about Him, and as He stepped forward to resume His attack, each flew ahead with deadly intent. The General slashed open another dull gateway, bringing forth a horde of shadow beasts to shield her from Bamathis’ murderous volley. Harrowing squalls tinged the air as the projectiles pierced umbral flesh and sable bone, the beasts turning on the Warlord with unconstrained violence in their eyes.
Argent fire surrounded Bamathis in a searing penumbra of discordant flames, incinerating the oncoming horde until naught remained of them but smouldering ashes. Caelestis swung again and again, landing a slew of empowered blows and cutting into the Adherent without mercy. In the distance, the repeated deaths of His Herald and Rereti turned the eyes of shadowbound soldiers in the Warlord’s direction, and His voice boomed out in warning, urging them to hold the line. His voice falling silent, fronds of iridescent silver banished the umbral shade clouding the Primal Eye, the Warlord spending yet more of His strength to engender Whirran’s rebirth: the Azudim Ogre rising again as an Adherent of Strife. Renewed, the Argent Legionnaires steeled themselves and held their position, refusing to give any ground.
Ignoring all else but His battle with Murgraxis, Severn abandoned His efforts to dominate the Dragon and disappeared, reforming on the opposite side of the Eye. With a look of displeasure He held aloft a spirit-misted flyssa, living gloam propelling Him forward and upward into a daring strike against the General’s heart. Blade met Dragonscale and scarcely grazed Murgraxis, whose deafening bellow left the Manipulator stunned. Repositioning his massive draconic body, he split wide his jaws for a second time, belching a storm of plagued breath, cascading waves of grey filth flaying Severn’s flesh where He stood.
Black fire mended General Agrimarha’s wounds and she recovered, desperately attempting to both weather the Warlord’s assault and erode His defensive position. The corrupted Adherent turned everything she had on Bamathis, drawing in the essence of misery to shape withering magic and calamitous spell, weave after weave hurled like spectral daggers toward the Ankyrean-made-God. But no matter her effort, Agrimarha failed to break the Warlord’s guard and the hilt of Caelestis, swift and unseen in its search for ruin, struck her soundly in the chin. A gasp of fear and shock escaped her lips and Bamathis, sensing victory, kicked her to the ground. Looming over her, the Warlord called for His Herald to join Him and help bring the duel to an end.
Flickering in and out of focus with the impossible speed and veteran skill of ancient divinity, the Manipulator navigated the battlefield like a deadly spectre, His form dissipating with each powerful swing before He reappeared elsewhere, every blow landing with calculated precision as He drove Murgraxis towards an invisible goal. Each apparition brought with it a new weapon, the last, an acicular kagamine rapier fitted with a daedal guard, cast aside as He dispersed to naught but void-like smoke time after time, masterful control evinced even by His feints and parries.
Laying prone before the Warlord, Agrimarha panted in exhaustion, black blood seeping from her countless open wounds. While Mjoll battled the hordes alone, Herald Whirran’s trumpet blasted out another tremulous note. The General flinched, stunned and weak, and the Ogre stepped forward to restrain her. Bamathis drew back Caelestis and, with neither reluctance nor hesitation, ran both the General and His own Herald through the heart, calling out a callous “Welcome to Sapience” as He struck the final blow.
Fallen Sterion trembled under the indignant roar of Murgraxis, the Adherent’s fall inciting him to even greater, more terrible fury. Artifice fell away like a silken drape as the Manipulator’s calculated attacks reached their final denouement, revealing the self-same sidereal, split-blade sword of spirit thought shattered in the first exchange. Suspended in the air before the distracted General’s chest, the weapon illuminated a sneer of smug certainty across Severn’s face as He raised His hand and clenched His fist. Instantly the blade came alive with raw spirit, a beam of lucent light searing open wounds in the General’s otherwise impenetrable armour. Howling with untold agony, the Blade of Artifice fell from the Dragon’s grasp as Murgraxis wrenched himself free of the spirit-infused weapon, leathery wing and monstrously powerful pinion splayed as he circles in low flight above the Primal Eye.
Flush with the thrill of recent triumph, Bamathis manifested at Severn’s side, the Warlord and His Spymaster readying Themselves to meet the vengeance of Murgraxis wheeling overhead. The Manipulator heaved a qufar inlaid spear of tungsten and silver at the Dragon but it went wide as the great wyrm banked, his booming rage rolling like thunder in the low-lying clouds. Dictating words in the Shadow tongue, Murgraxis named Severn thief and liar, vowing that Czjetija’s attacks would continue as he called for the aid of his brood. The thunderous roar of the Shadow Lord resounded across the firmament again, but it was not alone. At the core of the Primal Eye, the breach trembled, wrenching open a great gaping wound in Creation. Black wings unfurled in the cold, first one, then dozens, then hundreds of shadowbound dragonlings pouring forth to lend darkened breath and lightless flame to their embattled sire.
Bamathis ordered the Legion to fall back, Mjoll and Whirran departing the Primal Eye exhausted but alive, having held the line long enough for Strife to prevail over Misery. The Warlord and Spymaster shared a look of momentary trepidation, the sky above blotted out by the flapping wings of the Shadow’s corrupt dragonflight. Before the swarm could muster an attack, Severn retrieved the fallen Blade of Artifice and the two Gods took Their leave from the battlefield, satisfied with their triumph and resolved to fight another day.
Enraged at the demise of the Adherent of Misery, the forces of Shadow seethed forward in a last push, determined to avenge the fallen General and break through Bloodloch’s line, the invasions into Enorian, Duiran, Spinesreach turned back by bell, pylon, totem, and sheer strength and valour. Rockslides poured throughout the mountains as several abominations roared through the earth, intertwining paths bringing each erupting onto the battlefield with fury. They too fell before the enhanced soldiers and combined will of the Empire. Then, as the battlefield quieted and the dust settled, the earth stilled, the clamour of war drawing to a close.
Part XIX: The Lost Woods
The fall of General Agrimarha only strengthened the Shadow’s resolve, and the unexpected arrival of countless shadowbound dragonlings proved a highly potent expansion to the Generals’ arsenals. While Murgraxis maintained his lone vigil at the heart of the Primal Eye, the others were anything but idle. Each day that passed, the dark star blotting out the noonday sun grew, Irgech’s implacable, unabated work now encompassing the early afternoon in its lightless shade.
Incursions into the city states became more frequent and more deadly with the inclusion of dragonlings among the darkspawn ranks, the winged creatures laying waste to everything in their path. Guards and troops fell by the dozen with every questing advance and, though the Spireans had rapidly engineered enormous ballistae in order to shoot down the dragonlings, mobilisation proved difficult, and Murgraxis’ spawn did plenty of damage even in the short time they were allowed to roam.
Shadowbound soldiers were discovered in the Pash Valley and the Dry Plains, attempting to forcibly infect the locale with rot. Similar divisions went unseen by the adventurers for a full week, and a foothold of shadowrot began to spread from the Western Itzatl and elsewhere. The Generals, emboldened by their tests of the cities’ ground defences, began testing their own personal might against the city walls, while the northern front endured yet another clash of armies.
Fell sorcery gathered in the camp of Isalemei, the corrupted Djinn, filaments and traceries of all-consuming blackfire leaping skyward at the General’s behest to hang poised on high with deadly intent. As the enchanted projectiles surged toward the City of Enorian, they found their path obscured by rapidly forming clouds of cerulean vapour, the fractious power of the Maelstrom manifesting as a sky-bound whirlpool to drown the General’s dark magic and wash it harmlessly away.
At the same time, the thrum of countless wings heralded the descent of a midnight swarm upon the city of Spinesreach, dragonlings beyond counting darkening the skies above the Citadel spires. With a derisive snort, Sky Dreaming stirred lazily from Her lofty perch, canting her head to cast a disdainful glare upon those who would sully Her domain. Pride’s great maw gaped wide, arcs of incandescent lightning fracturing across the skies to incinerate Shadow’s dragonlings by the dozen. Akin to burning leaves, the bodies of the lesser wyrms spiralled to the earth below, crackling trails of azurine sparks left in their wake.
Waves of shadowspawn broke themselves on the steadfast Tarean lines, falling to regroup at the Eye, yet any claim of victory seemed a pyrrhic one, for in the distance, far beyond the limits of the Tarean Mountains, the footfall of armies mustering under the Shadow’s banner shook the earth with ominous portent, their intended target unclear. Tremors wracked the ground with the passage of myriad shadowspawn across the world, sent forth from the Generals’ commandposts to march with deadly intent.
Alerted to an imminent attack by dint of enhanced telepathy and in the latter case, the shadow marks, the Sentaari and Sciomancers sounded the alarm, and dozens spread out to look for the oncoming armies, to practically no avail. Frenzied hissing and sibilant warcries resonated from the heart of the Dakhota Hills as the spawn’s paths intersected, three disparate armies becoming one horrific host.
Infused with bloodlust, the host turned southwest and pressed forward into the Vashnar range, their heavy steps disrupting shale and stone in a cascade of jagged shards and crumbling rock. Within minutes, streaks of black daubed the skies over the Bloodwood in a bruise-like stain, the beginnings of shadowrot bubbling at its heart as the encroaching Shadow began to stake a claim. Into the forest poured masses of shadowspawn, determined to wrest the sickened woodland into the Shadow Mother’s grasp.
Calamitous battle ensued for almost half a day, some forty adventurers throwing all they had against dozens, nay hundreds of rampaging shadowspawn. Grey-black fire scorched the skies with the dragonlings’ aerial assaults. The roaring of shadow beasts left terror and insanity in their wake. Death claimed all who dared step onto the battlefield, and it seemed Ohlsana had committed overwhelming force to this particular front.
Amidst the scores of deaths, the desperate fighting, and confused debates on the optimal strategy, the adventurers at last seemed to gain some ground. But then the earth shook again, splitting open as a massive shadowworm erupted from below, thrashing violently as it entered the fray. From its maw spilled noxious vomit and filthy slime, spewing yet more darkspawn onto the field.
Though the adventurers rallied, they continued to die in droves. Meanwhile, at the very heart of the Bloodwood, the converging shadowspawn turned their wills against the sickened forest, seeking to wrench open a new foothold for Ohlsana’s enveloping rot. Still Sapience’s resolve did not break, and the disparate group, counting members of all four city states among its numbers, regrouped again and again. Though their foe was formidable and deadly, the shadowworm fell to the combined strength of Sapience, but its death was no causes for celebration.
Its belly split apart as it died, waves of disgusting slime and filth spraying forth from within. In the distance, the revelling of shadowspawn hordes sounded out with raucous jeers and spiteful celebrations, fresh patches of foetid rot now devouring the Bloodwood’s heart. Though the Sciomancers and their numerous supporters hastened to create shadowbreaks to prevent its spread into the Vashnars, the battle’s result was clear: the Bloodwood was lost.
Interlude: CHAOS COMETH… ETH
SO IT WAS THAT IN THE YEAR 23 AEGCG (AFTER THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER)’S GLORIOUS CONQUEST OF GOLGOTHA), THAT THE PRIMUS OF THE BLOOD, CHAMPION OF EMPRESS XA’ZAMIT (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER), DID MAKE A REQUEST OF THE RULER MOST DIVINE, SHE WHO VANQUISHED GOLGOTHA, SHE WHOSE MAGNIFICENT MAGNIFICENCE CAUSES HEARTS TO STILL AND KNEES TO TREMBLE. A REQUEST FOR COURT IT WAS, A PLEA, THAT THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER), MAY VISIT HER BENEVOLENT BENEVOLENCE UPON SAPIENCE AND EXERT HER MOST MIGHTY MIGHT UPON THE SHADOWBOUND INTERLOPERS IN WARFARE.
THUS WAS I BLESSED, ONCE, TWICE, THRICE, AND THRICE AGAIN FOR GOOD MEASURE, TO BE SENT FORTH FROM THE COURT OF THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) TO SAPIENCE, TO SPEAK AND REJOICE OF XA’AZAMIT (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER)’S PRODIGIOUS PULCHRITUDE, HER FLOCCULENT FLOCCULENCE, HER PEERLESS PROWESS, AND OF COURSE HER PARTICULARLY, INCOMPARABLY MOIST EYEBROWS. AFTER DEFEATING A LESSER HERALD IN THE TIME-HONOURED TRADITION THAT IS PLATITUDINOUS PROCLAMATION AND CHARISMATIC CIRCUMLOCUTION (A TRIVIAL TASK, FOR ONE SO BLESSED AS I, YES!), MANY OF THE SAPIENT LAMBS, THEY WHO ARE OFTEN INCOMPETENT FOES, FECKLESS ALLIES, AND EXPERT INFIGHTERS, LIFTED THEIR OWN VOICES, SCREAMING ADULATION AND PRAISE FOR SHE WHOSE CRUELTY AND TERROR-INDUCING MANDIBLES SHAPE PLANES, THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER), XA’AZAMIT.
THE HOUR DREW NEARER AND THE WORLD WAS ALERTED TO THE APPOINTED MOMENT, THAT WHICH MANY HAVE GIVEN THEIR LIVES IN DESPERATION TO ATTAIN BUT HAVE FAILED! THE INVITATION TO COURT! THUS SPAKE I ALOUD IN A VOICE OF VOCIFEROUS VERBIAGE AND VAINGLORIOUS VERNACULAR, THAT THOSE WHO BRINGETH TIDINGS GLAD AND NOT DARK MAY STEP FORTH AND BRINGETH TRIBUTE AND LARGESSE FOR THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) MOST DIVINE TO RECEIVE. AND TO THE CHAMPION OF THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER), I DID EXTEND A PERSONAL INVITATION ON HER MOST MALICIOUSLY MALICIOUS AND DECADENTLY DECADENT BEHALF!
FEAR GRIPPED THE LAMBS OF SAPIENCE THEN, THEIR THUNDERING HEARTS CLOVEN IN TWAIN FOR THEY KNEW IN THIS MOMENT THEY WOULD NOT BE BLESSED, WOULD NOT BE RAISED UP AMONG ALL OTHER MORTALS, WOULD NOT EXPERIENCE THE JOY AND ECSTASY OF THEIR EYES BURNING OUT SIMPLY BY LOOKING UPON THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) AND HER OSTROBOGULOUS OVERTURES! AND SO IT WAS THAT IN HER BOUNDLESS GENEROSITY, HER MAGNANIMOUS MAGNANIMITY, HER GRAND DIVINITY, THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) DID GRANT UNTO ME PERMISSION TO REGALE THE SAPIENT FLOCK WITH A RECOUNTING OF EVENTS.
THE CHAMPION AND HIS RETINUE MADE HASTE TO OBEY THE CALL TO COURT. OH HOW HE WEPT IN SHEER ADORATION FOR HER ALMIGHTY GIRTH! OH HOW THE PRIMUS OF THE BLOOD FELL TO HIS KNEES UPON ARRIVAL, RAINING KISSES UPON THE COUNTLESS FEET OF THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) ABOVE ALL! HOW HIS VOICE POURED FORTH IN SONG, IN UNWAVERING FALSETTO, AS HE SANG HER PRAISES INNUMERABLE! O’ HOW HIGH THE PITCHES REACHED, AS TEARS STREAMED DOWN HIS FACE IN GRATITUDE AT BASKING IN HER INCOMPARABLE PRESENCE!
BUT THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER), SAT UNMOVED, YES! O HOW THE PRIMUS TRIPPED OVER HIMSELF TO BOW TO HER PLEASURE! HOW RIVERS OF TEARS FLOWED DOWN HIS VISAGE, DESPERATE FOR THE FAINTEST SLIVER OF HER INVALUABLE ATTENTION! HEAR YE NOW TOO, OF HOW THE CARNIFEX COMMANDER FAINTED AT THE SHEER LENGTH OF XA’AZAMIT (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) THE RESPLENDENT, HOW SHE ADMIRED HER GIRTHY BULK, HER UNQUENCHABLE SIZE, AND THE SHEER RIPENESS OF HER MASSIVE MASS! ALL BORE WITNESS AS THE PRIMUS CRIED AND CRIED, THE OCEAN FORMING ABOUT HIS FEET. SO DEEP WERE THE SALTY DEPTHS THAT THEY THREATENED TO DROWN THE AWESTRUCK COMMANDER. YET EACH TEAR CARRIED WITH IT PURE ECSTASY, UNDYING ELATION AT THE BRIEFEST GLANCE FROM SHE, THE RULER OF ALL CHAOS, EMPRESS XA’AZAMIT (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER)!
THERE WAS THEN A BRIEF INTERMISSION, ALLOWING ALL WHO GAZED ADORINGLY TO GASP FOR BREATH IN SHOCK AND AWE, AS THE GATHERED PLOTTED TO UNDO THE PRETENDER OF CHAOS, THE SIMPLETON OF GOLGOTHA FOREVER CAST DOWN! OH HOW THE MASSES TWIRLED IN JOY AT THE BOUNDLESS WISDOM OF THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) AGAINST THE PRETENDER RHYOT! BUT THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) DID DEMAND MORE, YES! EVEN AS HER DEMANDS RANG FORTH, THE PRIMUS FELL FLAT UPON HIS FACE IN ABSOLUTE WORSHIP! FIRST HE OFFERED HER AN ARM, THEN A LEG, THEN HIS WIFE, AND EVEN THE ETERNAL SUFFERING OF RHYOT IN HIS HASTE TO GARNER HER FANTASTICAL FAVOUR!
DESPAIR CAME THEN, THE VOICE OF ESITYI CURLING UP IN A FOETID BALL, A QUIVERING MESS, RAPT WITHAL AS THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) STARED INTO HER VERY SOUL AND LAID ALL HER SECRETS BARE! PRAISE BE MOST WISE OF THE WISE, I DID EXALT, AND THOUSANDS, NAY, MILLIONS DID ANSWER MY CALL WITH JOY AND REJOICING OF THEIR OWN! BUT THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) WAS STIRRED TO RAGE BY THE AUDACIOUS AUDIENCE, AND DID WREAK RUIN AND WOE, SLAYING THOUSANDS WITH A SINGLE SWEEP OF HER GLORIOUS PINKY! OH HOW THE BLOOD THREATENED TO DROWN HER AUDIENCE, A MILLION DISPATCHED WITH CARELESS EASE! THE BARDS DID TAKE UP INSTRUMENTS TO SING OF THE BILLIONS SHE DEVOURED THAT DAY!
AND THEN DID ESITYI’S VOICE RIP OUT HER OWN HEART AS OFFERING TO THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) OF ALL CHAOS, SHE MOST GRACEFUL, RULER OF ALL THINGS THAT WERE, THAT ARE, AND THAT WILL EVER BE! WITH HER DYING BREATH DID RIJETTA PRESENT HER OWN VITALITY, HER LAST WORDS A POEM IN PRAISE OF THE ALMIGHTY XA’AZAMIT (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER). OH HOW BLESSED WAS RIJETTA UPON THIS SACRED DAY, FOR HER LAST SIGHT BEFORE DEATH WAS THE MOST HONOURABLE VISAGE OF CHAOS UNYIELDING!
BUT THE DRAMA, THE HISTRIONICS, AND THE THESPIANISM WERE NOT YET DONE, OH NO! THE PRIMUS PUSHED, NAY, KICKED, NAY /HEAVED/ HIS WIFE TO THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER). FOR HOW COULD SHE EVER COMPARE WITH THE RADIANT RADIANCE, THE BEAUTIFUL BEAUTY, THE EVERYTHING, THE ALL, THE REASON FOR EXISTENCE THAT IS XA’AZAMIT (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER). SURELY HE WOULD NEVER LOVE AGAIN SAVE FOR THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER). HE WEPT TEARS OF BLOOD, HIS EYES CONFOUNDED BY THE MAJESTIC MAJESTY BEFORE HIM. AND IN THEIR ENVY, ALL PRESENT FELL INTO A FRENZY, A WHIRLWIND OF FISTS AND CLAWS AND WEAPONS, EACH VYING DESPERATELY FOR HER ATTENTION. OH HOW THEY BIT AND SCREAMED AND KICKED!
HOW QUICKLY THE MASSES FELL OVER THEMSELVES TO ACQUIESCE TO HER EVERY DEMAND. THE LEG OF DAMARIEL! THE ARM OF SEVERN! THE FORGE OF ETHNE! THE ETERNAL DEMISE OF RHYOT! THE EYES OF OMEI! THE SOULS OF DHAR! THE INFERIOR TRUMPETPLAYER OF BAMATHIS! THE BELLY OF HAERN! O’ HOW MASSIVE WERE THE GIFTS PROMISED AS THE DAM BURST, THE ONLOOKERS SCARCELY ABLE TO CHOKE OUT THE WORDS AS OFFER UPON OFFER RAINED FORTH AND THEY PROMISED EVERYTHING!
THE WORLD HELD ITS BREATH, WONDERING IF IT WOULD BE ENOUGH FOR SHE MOST EXALTED, WHOSE MERE BREATH WOULD WIPE SHADOWLORDS REAL AND PRETEND CLEAR FROM SAPIENCE.
AND IT WAS NOT! THE TRIDENT OF SLYPHE CAME NEXT. THEN THE SAPIENT ONLOOKER MELANTHA OFFERED HER OWN SELF UP TO THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER). ALL SO DESPERATE TO PLEASE THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) GIFTED TO EXISTENCE! THE SCRIBE OF BLOODLOCH PENNED NOVELS UPON NOVELS EXALTING SHE MOST WORTHY! HOW ITS HANDS BLED AND BLISTERED AND FELL OFF AS IT SCRIBED AND SCRIBED AND SCRIBED ONLY FOR A HINT OF HER PLEASURE AND AMUSEMENT! HOW IT OFFERED ITSELF TO ETERNAL SERVITUDE, HOW IT BEGGED TO STAY, WRITHING IN SUPPLICATION, THE HANDLESS SCRIBE!
AND THEN THE DEAL WAS DONE AND THE BARGAIN STRUCK. THE WINGS OF TANIXALTHAS, CHAKRASUL’S BUTTERFLIES, IOSYNE’S HEART, LEXADHRA’S MEMORY, RHYOT’S LIFE, IVOLN’S SINGING VOICE (YES, THE ONE HE SAVES FOR SINGING SAD BALLADS ABOUT DHAR), BUT AN INFINITESIMALLY SMALL SAMPLE OF THE GOODS PROMISED FOR THE GRACE OF THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) XA’AZAMIT’S BENEVOLENT BENEVOLENCE AND CHARITABLE CHARITY!
THUS WERE THE MOST BLESSED PARTY, THOSE GRACED TO GAZE UPON CHAOS ETERNAL, WERE DISMISSED! THE SCRIBE WITHOUT ITS HANDS, ESITYI’S VOICE, WITHOUT HER HEART! THE PRIMUS, WITHOUT HIS WIFE! THEY HAD THROWN IT ALL AT THE FEET OF SHE MOST SUPREME, THE RULER AMONG RULERS, THE QUEEN AMONG QUEENS, SHE WHOSE DIVINITY ECLIPSES THE DIVINE, SHE WHOSE ROYAL ROYALTY AND LUXURIOUS LUXURY REIGN SUPREME OVER THE HEAVENS, EMPRESS XA’AZAMIT (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER).
Summary: Bloodloch, led by Dourif, met with the Empress of Chaos, Xa’azamit (may she live forever) to discuss terms for military aid against the shadowbound.
Part XX: A Dragon’s Promise
Ohlsana’s Generals continued testing the defences of Sapience’s cities, save for Bloodloch who still, after prolonged weeks of military sojourns and violent skirmishes with the other three on the part of the Shadow, remained unharmed, its resistance not yet challenged. Dragonlings now lurked among the hosts sent forth from their respective commandposts, the brunt of the damage suffered by Spinesreach, for which Generals Telorach and Mazgal seemed to harbour particular desire to do harm. Nevertheless, each incursion provided valuable experience to those under siege, their reactions faster, their forces more disciplined.
While Enorian turned their focus to angelic communion, Spinesreach hastily developed ballista technology to battle the corrupt dragon brood, Duiran awaited Haern’s return from Dia’ruis, and Bloodloch made promising overtures to the Empress Xa’azamit (this writer notes that he is not terribly invested in the Empress’s continued survival, perpetually or otherwise) and her Corrupt Court, insidious divisions of Shadowbound soldiers continued attempting claims in the world. Encouraged by some scant success in Mostyn, the emboldened troops attempted a similar claim at North of Trees, and another brazenly marched into and through the City of Spinesreach itself to lay a claim to part of the Tundra. Both were stymied.
Assaults on Arbothia met a similar fate; absent the shadowworm that so riotously tainted the already-ailing Bloodwood, the eastern village survived a large incursion, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Sapience, ably supported by the mace of Exarch Berrad. A quiet confidence prevailed, despite the dark star growing in size and antiluminosity amidst the stratosphere, the ugly, light-purloining phenomenon seeming to become larger with each passing day.
In early Lanosian, members of the Sentaari and Sciomancers overheard clandestine conversations, the former through enhanced telepathy and the latter via the latent connection to Shadow. Though fragmented and hard to decipher, battle plans were soon unravelled, the target of the Shadow’s next strike becoming clear: Saluria. Word quickly spread thanks to Pentas, Ayanala, Aisling, and Wjoltyr, and Sapience took up arms in preparation, wheeling bells and ballistae into the rainforest-surrounded village and urging the inhabitants to evacuate. Most resisted, stating that Shadow was no stranger to them, and declared their intention to fight. They would soon get their wish.
Around a day and a half after the warning, while preparations for Saluria’s defence continued, divisions of Shadowbound soldiers marched into the Square of Sonn, fanning outwards around the village and fortifying themselves in readiness to spread the shadowrot. The call to arms went out, and it was Duiran under Iesid and Sibatti who responded first, rapidly followed by Bulrok and Sheryni of Bloodloch. Durdalis and horrors marched forth to meet the Shadowbound, taking grave losses but triumphing. Victory was short lived. More divisions marched in with similar intentions, and, as Duiran and Bloodloch scrambled to field more of their own troops, pleas to the Dragon of the North were rebuffed, the Spirean military left idle due to lack of designated command. Enorian answered the plea in the form of Kalena and Benedicto, bringing knights from the Beacon to assist.
Still the Shadowbound kept coming, and still the three armies resisted. When all but two sets of Ohlsana’s soldiers had fallen, Senator Legyn at last brought the Spirean hoplites onto the field and, between those and the remaining knights, the Shadow’s troops fell.
Immense pressure built all across the Primal Eye then, the breach between planes screaming in protest as the forces of Ohlsana wrenched it open ever further. Under the imperious eye of Shadow General Murgraxis, corrupted dragonlings spilled through the rift in droves, swiftly ascending to the darkling skies. Swarm by swarm they took their leave, sallying forth with shrieking resolve and fell purpose, black banners painting the air in a morass of unfurled pinions and gnashing fangs. At the smae time, orders rose from a clandestine outpost in the far south, the commands of General Saglozol a sussurant whisper of divergent voices conjoined as one authoritative demand.
Within mere minutes, streaks of black daubed the skies over Saluria with the arrival of Murgraxis’ corrupted dragonflight, hovering in anticipation from their winged dominion over the town. Deploying more shadowspawn from their entrenched positions near the city states of Sapience, the Shadow Generals sent forth armies of their own, the disparate legions converging as one monstrous horde striding out towards Saluria. Amid bellicose war cries of bloodlust and confidence, the horde traipsed into the Western Itzatl and pressed on resolute, the rainforest’s myriad inhabitants scurrying out of the way. Even the rojalli fled, seeking sanctuary from the otherworldly roar of Ohlsana’s monstrous beasts and gruesome ghasts.
Pavement and cobbles sundered beneath the incoming black tide, shadowbound innumerable converging with murderous intent upon the village. The makings of rot bubbled up from a crack in the stone, the air shuddering queasily at the disgusting incursion. The invasion began in earnest, and carnage dominated Saluria both below and above, dragonlings scorching the sky and rampaging beasts trampling the ground. The adventurers fell again and again, rising each time with renewed resolve to destroy the interlopers as they had at Kald, as they had at Arbothia, as they had on the Tarea battlefield.
Fighting on through blood and injury, the shadowspawn proved that they were not, in fact, endless, the Alchemical conduit of Molotok proving deadly against the dragonlings in particular. The routing of both their infantry and their spawn left those that remained broken of courage and frayed of will. Yet as they turned to retreat, their escape was stymied, curtailed by forces invisible as a sudden sibilant wind rose at Saluria’s heart to drown the village in blistering, bone-chilling cold. It began as little more than a hazy silhouette, a streak of darkness rippling through the air. The eldritch being, for that was surely what it was, sloshed itself into existence, pinpricks of inky black congealing and contorting to shape a vaguely humanoid apparition. Then, the errant shadowspawn fled with greater zeal, the tempestuous winds a sinister harbinger, herald to the arrival of Shadow Lieutenant Sphere, once a guardian of the Shadow gate now twisted to Ohlsana’s corrupt purpose. As she entered the fray, her amorphous presence undulated wildly, like the night sky incarnate forced into distinguishable form.
Death and murder reigned for an entire quarter day, the Shadow Lieutenant proving herself a formidable opponent. Each adventurer she felled found their heart torn loose and tainted to Sphere’s fell purpose, radiating agony with each blow she took from the some fifty three adventurers arrayed against her. Unstable singularities exploded violently at her behest as she preyed on the minds of the weak, claiming life after life after life without pause. Sapience rallied and brought spell and sword against her despite the theatre of death on which she played. Even as she faltered, swarms of grotesque, crawling darkborne came forth at the crooning call of their mother macabre, but they too were vanquished. After girding themselves and enduring protracted battle, the harrowing, shrill scream of defeat at last came from the Shadow Lieutenant, whose spectral form discorporated to specks of blacklit dust. The howling winds died to little more than a muted zephyr, scattering the Lieutenant’s remains.
Far in the north, the ire of Murgraxis split the skies with a draconic roar of absolute rancour, defeat fomenting indignation in Ohlsana’s Dragon-made-General. Agile and swift, he soon took flight above conquered Sterion and soared southward, leathery wings stirring miniature squalls with each repetitive beat. His voice grated with frustration, coldly dismissing Kolgrik and Sphere as failures while naming Agrimarha the worst of them all as he vowed to see to Saluria’s destruction himself. Swarms of dragonlings joined their profane progenitor in flight, their mass swelling to fill the heavens. Plumes of grey-black smoke spilled from their nostrils, alighting the air with dervishes of cyclonic filth. In short order, the long shadow of Murgraxis and his brood fell like a heavy blanket across the Itzatl, the twisted, foetid, tainted dragonflight nearing its destination. Shades of black and violet painted the skies, the very air scorched, infected by the rot of Shadow’s befouling touch.
Pride stirred from Her roost and Spinesreach trembled, the Dragon of the North quaking in upheaval beneath the manifest wrath of its ancient, elder namesake. Four eyes of silver opened as one, and Midwinter’s Star spiralled upwards into the firmament, Her monstrous bulk cresting heavensward at terrifying speeds. In a voice brooking no denial, She reminded Murgraxis of the warning She had issued to not trespass in Her domain, making Her own vow to keep Her promise.
Flanked on all sides by uncountable dragonling spawn, Murgraxis held fast, the beating of his wings a steady, confident rhythm. The shadowbound dragonlings fanned out, surrounding their father in a protective formation, and the air itself seemed to shiver in anticipation, an arc of coruscating lightning presaging the Sun Drinker’s imminent descent. Clouds fled from the path of Tanixalthas, the power of Sky Dreaming wreathing the winged Goddess in a captivating aura of azurine light, and like a comet She streaked across the heavens, the skies convulsing in exaltation to mark Her ineffable passage.
The First Dragon wheeled above Saluria, peering down with inconsolable anger at the General hovering below. Her muscled form tensed before She dove at Murgraxis, a thunderous sonic boom exploding outwards as She collided. Incandescent lightning illuminated all of Sapience in a sheen of lucent blue, roiling storms gathering about and above Saluria in vaporous clouds pregnant with soon-to-be-unleashed rage. Brilliant flame poured from the jaws of Tanixalthas, tooth and talon and fire working as one to harry the Shadow’s General. Inky blackness shrouded Murgraxis in a sinister penumbra, each flap of his wings unleashing cascading waves of oily filth toward the First Dragon, turning aside Her indignant lightning and redirecting it elsewhere. Enraged, Sky Dreaming pressed forward without mercy or compassion, the two Dragons fencing in a frenzied exchange of raking claws against armoured scale, of monstrous jaws closing about draconic limbs, both fighting with intent to kill.
Despite the strength and confidence of Murgraxis, Midwinter’s Star fought like a blur, a draconic spectre of impossible speed and orgiastic violence, Her powerful limbs and rapacious jaws working independently of each other to ravage Her opponent again and again. Seething as they came to his defence, the brood of Murgraxis moved to surround Tanixalthas, sheer numbers shrouding Her from sight behind the aerial black wave. A great bellowing roar tore free from Her maw and the turbid stormclouds detonated, spraying arcs of scintillating lightning and shards of frozen hail in all directions.
Dozens of broodlings fell from the air, vanquished by the lambent fury of Sky Dreaming’s relentless storm, and the dance of Dragons went on. Fire and filth clashed still in the firmament, Air Goddess and Shadow General trading sweeping blows of titanic might. The swarm of Murgraxis pressed in further around the Sun Drinker, the vast swarm tearing at Her scales as blackened fire seared angrily at Her craggy body. Waves of putrescent smog erupted from the maw of Murgraxis, ash and smoke and ruin raining down on all who dwelt below. The Shadowbound Dragon banked in mid flight and surged at the now-struggling Tanixalthas, fangs and talons bared and hungry.
The firmament shuddered, yielding to the thunderous voice of Tanixalthas as She boomed a single word in the tongue of the Dragon: ZFELAUKAL. Almost immediately, ominous clouds rolled in on a swift-rising wind, a vigorous mistral keening with every gust bringing the eddying storm nearer. The air creased, convulsing as if alive, frenetic incandescence flashing in and out of focus with the sky as its stage. In moments, cacophonous shrieking shattered the illusory conjuration, cloud cover dissipating in strands of gelid cirrocumulus to reveal Pride’s brood, roused to vicious anger by the threat facing the Sun Drinker.
The chorus of young Dragons boomed in horrifying unison across the skyscape, draconic voices lifted in outrage, paean for their beloved Mother and harbinger to their soon-to-be retribution. Effortless flight ensued, the winged motions of a true and untainted dragonflight fanning out as one mind bent to singular purpose. Cerulean fire blazed bright, synchronous conflagrations set loose against the darkling spawn. Each determined to triumph, the two opposing broods clashed in the clouds, talon and claw lashing out alongside azure flame and black-grey haze. Making known Her ire in the form of an explosive tempest, She Who Hungers rolled in mid flight, a sinuous motion inciting turbulent gusts to toss myriad shadowbound aside into the waiting jaws of Her issue.
Emerging from the swarm surrounding Her, Tanixalthas levelled out, Her rippling scales dappled with spots of Her own blood. She paid Her injuries no heed, the silver quartet that is Her gaze trained, nay, fixated on one thought, and one alone. Murgraxis jeered at the Dragon Goddess and lunged, yawning wide his maw to unleash another torrent of shadowflame
even as claws came up to rend Her in twine.
But the Shadowbound Dragon was found lacking against the might of the First Dragon. The fathomless pique of an ancient, elder being flared to an impossibly vivid radiance, a storm of bedazzling incandescence shrouding She to Whom the world is young in its terrible embrace. Awash in Her crown of storms, the Dragon Goddess turned aside the flood of dark dragons, felling them from the heavens – Her heavens – with nary a thought nor effort. A snarling rictus contorted on Her face and She roared a challenge – to Murgraxis, to the world entire – aloud. Forward She glided through Her domain, the ultimate predator launching towards the ultimate prey. Heavy sleet rained down from above to batter at Murgraxis, empowered hail lancing viciously at scale and armoured hide alike.
Again the firmament shuddered as Sky Dreaming raised Her voice. “YOU ARE NOTHING, FALSE DRAGON.” She roared. “YOUR TIME IS ENDED.” Claps of deafening thunder heralded the Sun Drinker’s second mighty collision with the Shadow General, the force of Her impact driving the storms to yet greater intensity. Stunned, Murgraxis lifted his wings to shield himself, violet tendrils coalescing about him in a final act of defiant survival.
With a squall of callous, predatory delight, the Sun Drinker’s claws at last struck true, cutting ruthlessly at Her enemy in a furore of unrestrained violence. Black blood spattered across the ground below as She withdrew Her questing talons, the General’s heart clutched in Her grip. Bellowing Her triumph for all to hear, the Dragon Goddess shredded the organ into umbral ribbons, the defeated corpse of Her prey left to feed Her brood before it could even hit the ground. Injured but victorious, Sky Dreaming took a long, appraising look of the smoking battlefield beneath Her and turned north, Her awkward flight carrying Her into Spinesreach where She alighted atop the Dragon Spire to nurse Her remaining wounds. Promising Spinesreach the Dragon’s skull as a trophy once Her brood had finished feasting, She slipped into rest.
As the dust settled over Saluria, a faint ray of light drew the eye to nearby fields, where something long lost flickered in the grass. The shard of Truth’s Sword was quickly acquired by one deft, resourceful adventurer, its current location unknown, but nonetheless spared from the Shadow’s hands. In the east, outrage marked the camp of General Isalemei at Murgraxis’ fall, the slender, armoured figure of Shadow General Azgon marching forth from his post in the Pash Valley to take up reluctant sentinel at the heart of Czjetija’s Primal Eye, where he now patrols…
Part XXI: May She Live Forever
Following the advice of Bamathis at Memonaransa, Bloodloch’s thoughts turned to the Court of Chaos, and how best to approach persuading the Empress Xa’azamit to lend her military strength to the defence of Sapience against the all-encroaching Shadow. Numerous theories were posited, the project spearheaded by Lord Rijetta Alhazrad and Warleader Bulrok. A Convocation of the Corrupt was held, a meeting in the Dark Lady’s halls to discuss the possibilities, and yet more suggestions came forward. On counsel with the Dark Lady Herself, Chakrasul noted Xa’azamit’s pride and the relative youth of her Court. Should She not be convinced, so said the Goddess, it may be possible to foment dissent in her ranks by convincing the lesser lords, pressuring the Empress in the process.
Some weeks later, a Herald of Corrupt Chaos appeared on the Prime, raising its voice to shout repeated praise and compliments for the Empress. It informed Bloodloch that the pleas of Primus Dourif – a Chaos Lord in his own right and Champion of the Empress – for an audience had been granted, and the Empire hastened to prepare for the meeting, the Herald remaining behind to continually regale Sapience with Xa’azamit’s seemingly infinite list of virtues.
Soon came the meeting and the Primus, accompanied by Asaraii, Bulrok, Rijetta, Qelres, Mjoll, Aren, and others, ventured into the Empress’ domain and made their request for aid. Urged on by Asaraii, Primus Dourif fell to one knee and shed a single tear despite his wife’s emphatic urgings, nevertheless conveying praise and well wishes upon Xa’azamit. The Herald narrated events with its own flair and, apparently, its own grasp on the facts of reality. Despite the obsequious praise being heaped upon her by the gathered adventurers in order to persuade her to their side, the negotiations proved difficult. Asaraii continued to hound Dourif, insisting he shed more tears, make more praise and, eventually, volunteered herself as a tribute. Rijetta, at first attempting to manipulate the Empress with talk of dissent and treachery in her court, offered the serpentine Xa’azamit a mortal heart while the rest looked on at the spectacle, amused but intrigued.
When none of the overtures seemed to gain any traction, among them offerings to destroy Rhyot (loathed by the Empress for his association with the late, defeated Golgotha), to build statues, and to destroy her detractors, Xa’azamit instead offered to name her price. Angrily declaring that there is only one true realm of Chaos, denouncing the Astral as a false usurper, she demanded the eyes of the Empress of Astral, the Goddess Omei, in exchange for mobilising her armies to Sapience’s defence. Stunned by this impossible request, the group nonetheless voiced acquiescence and promises to deliver before withdrawing from the throne room to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
As they deliberated beside the Gatekeeper’s portal, Ni’toks’i stirred, its grating tones hurriedly whispering that it would support the adventurers. With a hushed murmur, it promised to open gateways for armies to enter Sapience if they were able to convince the other Lords to provide them. A plan quickly formed, and Rijetta took charge, briskly swaying Kerbos to their side with promises of flesh and food aplenty.
To Akna she went next while Bulrok visited Yozik and Qelres looked to Bampair. The withered crone, aged and repulsive, expressed an interest in the war, but only if her demands were met, insisting that Rijetta provide for her a husband both “handsome and virile”. Lord Alhazrad immediately demanded that Warleader Bulrok join her, and, without hesitation or reluctance, promised his hand to the Withered One. Akna accepted with a shriek of delight and a creak of ancient bones, inciting no small measure of spite and chagrin in the Minotaur.
Returning to Yozik with nothing but curses for Rijetta’s name, Bulrok lavished flattery on the Lustrous Chaos Lord, hoping to take advantage of its tremendous narcissism. Yozik’s demand was far simpler: a written proclamation of its greatness to the public board. Likely relieved at the relative simplicity, Bulrok agreed and within some weeks the announcement appeared, scribed by his hand for all to witness.
Qelres and Mjoll were less fortunate in their negotiations with Bampair. The Insatiable One demanded a taste of blood from Abhorash himself and, despite Mjoll’s valiant attempt to trick the lord by claiming she was, in fact, Abhorash, Bampair was not convinced. Screaming in outrage at being cheated, the adventurers quickly hurried from the chamber before anything worse could happen.
Rijetta next visited Tel-Muzaan, and the ever-shifting Skinwalker demanded a precious boon indeed: a mirror that could show its true reflection, something it seemed wan and melancholy about. Despite her efforts and her various attempts to harangue Sapience into finding one for her, including an ambitious request to be brought “every mirror in Sapience”, no artifact presented itself, though Rijetta continues to search for one.
Following this, Ni’toks’i urged them to take their leave before the Empress caught wind of the plan, and they did so. Counselling them to return at a later date, the Gatekeeper’s insight suggested that they not bother at all with Janorex or Zaigon, that Nurgleeki could be persuaded with a gift of magic, and that Siphelia would require a test of ego.
While Bulrok mulled over what gift of magic would satisfy the Warlock, Sheryni suggested they proffer knowledge in the newly-learned bardic art of weaving. Together they paid a visit to Haratos, hoping to learn some new spectacle or feat from the master bard. While he ruefully explained that many of the greatest feats were lost after Nalibhtavi’s massacre of the bards, the proud dramaturge insisted that weaving itself was an art like any other, sure to impress.
Meanwhile, Xenia Seirath, the Voice of Iosyne, took up the challenge of an ego battle with Siphelia, the Specter, offering one of her hounds by the name of Porkskin as a prize for the Chaos Lord should she fail to pass. “Bend us to your will, if you can,” said the disembodied voice. The two squared off and Xenia steeled her resolve as the formless Siphelia bored into her with her endless eyes, a palpable storm of pure, raw conceit rising to fill the chamber with oppressive force. The Specter battered Xenia’s mind with the raw power of its ego, sheer will forced into tangible might. Straining against the Chaos Lord’s power, Xenia held on, her thoughts consumed with a repetitive mantra, but found herself involuntarily inching forward, skittering closer to Siphelia. Though she held out far longer than expected, Siphelia’s will, Siphelia’s ego, prevailed, sundering Xenia’s mind in a storm of kaleidoscopic light. The Spectre, having won the battle, claimed the hound for itself, refusing to lend any aid to the Night War.
A week later, Ni’toks’i eagerly informed Bulrok that Akna, clearly enlivened by her newfound engagement, had managed to persuade Titem and Taosc to the cause. Should they convince Nurgleeki, so said the Gatekeeper, that would likely be enough of the Court to sway the Empress herself. Rushing to greet the Warlock, Bulrok explained his request and in a surprising twist, Nurgleeki, so intrigued by the prospect of being taught a new form of magic, promised two boons. However, as is so often the case with Chaos, there was a condition: the Warlock required a regular tutor, and would not be satisfied with only a one off lesson.
Agreeing, the Warleader demonstrated his skill in weaving with a flourish of light and bardic magic. Intrigued by a form of spellwork it had never seen before, the Warlock declared the offering to be an acceptable one. Alela of the Thousand Eyes volunteered as Nurgleeki’s tutor, and the first of the two boons soon appeared in the form of a caduceus of chaos, a staff capable of inflicting the Curse of Nurgleeki upon the shadowspawn. Promising to send armies of bubonises when the time came, Nurgleeki withdrew from the discussion and Bulrok returned to Prime, informing Ni’toks’i of his success along the way.
The armies of Corrupt Chaos mobilise under the very nose of their Empress, who has not yet made comment. Soon, they shall march to Prime…
Part XXII: The Hammer Of The Dawn
Prior to Damariel’s enforced sabbatical in Rewh’va, the Plane of Spirit, the Unbound God made His Order aware of His intentions to beseech the Angelic Triad for aid in the war against Ohlsana, recommending they do the same. Making mention of an ancient pact, Truth reluctantly took His leave, urging them to seek counsel from Exarch Berrad. Some weeks later, at the end of a city-wide meeting in the Court of Truth to discuss the Beacon’s direction, the Exarch provided.
Details of an ancient pact followed, made between Idar Karif and the representatives of Spirit. Much of this long-forgotten accord centred itself around the summoning of angels and reaffirming their shared commitment to eradicating darkness. Too though, there was a segment specifically discussing the matter of Intervention, providing instructions on how to beseech the Triad for aid in times most dire. Requiring no less than seven Luminaries, the supplicants were to consume only manna, supplemented with bread and water, and not sully themselves with intoxicants for one full week in advance of the ritual. Further details followed, including a provision in the event that the Holy Eye of Dawn (the sun) was blinded, requiring the construction of a large bonfire, the burning of sage, and the searing out of the supplicants’ own eyes by their angels before making a solemn prayer.
So educated, Enorian quickly got to work, constructing a new sanctum atop the sanctuary of the Akkari. There they raised a mighty pyre and, under the expert guidance of Dhie Roux Aquila, prepared themselves for the rite to come. Sryaen, Kalena, Xavin, Rhesk, Melantha, Annerissa, and Roux themself would be the seven, and each dutifully garbed themselves in white ritual robes and made their way to the pyre.
The group joined hands and formed a circle around the burning flames while Rasani and Benedicto stood sentinel over the faithful, and Exarch Berrad stood in observance alongside several others. Roux cast sage into the fire and the air became infused with its herbaceous scent. Then, the seven supplicants looked solemnly to their angels and, in the absence of the Holy Eye, obscured and concealed as it is behind the dark star of Irgech, they commanded their spiritual servants to sear out their eyes.
Blinded to the point that not even their mind’s eye could guide them, the seven held tightly to each other’s hands, valiantly suppressing fear or panic as they each stepped boldly, valorously, into the flames of the pyre. Though the pyre crackled and its flames swelled to greater proportions, the faith of the supplicants was rewarded and they none of them were harmed. Relieved, they called out earnest prayers and zealous exhortations, beseeching the Triad to answer their plea.
As the ritual reached a conclusion and the faithful waited, hoping and praying for success, a coruscating pillar of aurulent flame surged into the air over Enorian and spilled outwards, anointing the city in the hallowed radiance of the holy light. Visions struck the seven, hazy imagery dispersing and reforming in what little remained of their scorched mind’s eyes. They saw three figures presiding over a landscape of pure, untainted spirit, rolling dunes of white and gold surrounding vast cities, each a geometric marvel of perfect, pristine order. Though the Triad did not speak, their mere presence was an inspirational marvel, eldritch and unknowable; each stood quiescent, sombre, faceless save for a dozen eyes irised in rich cobalt, their forms, neither humanoid nor recognisable, but utterly alien, surrounded by six wings of light and fire and terror.
When the conflagration finally waned, it dissipated into errant wisps of bright luminescence, drifting upon the air with heavenly splendour as they illuminated the streets from within. The terms of the ancient accord fulfilled, a mantle of renewed faith, renewed zeal, renewed purpose settled over Enorian, the fruits of their recent labours bequeathing upon them a new moniker. No more would they be known as the Beacon of Light, but instead the Hammer of Dawn, embodying the wrath of the holy light.
Though the sun above strained in captivity behind the repugnant star of the everdark, drifting rays spiralled in brilliant helicals across the sky, and the nearby flames took on a flaxen hue, rich and regal. From everywhere and nowhere resounded the tolling of heavenly bells, their voices singing hosannas of the holy light. For minutes they rang, until a flash of unfathomably bright light followed in their wake, transcending sight and sense to bring its truth to all the faithful who stood ready to receive it. Angelic and resplendent, a messenger of the Holy Triad now stood before them, wearing a soft expression of absolute serenity. Exarch Berrad immediately fell to his knees and the others followed suit, the supplicants still blind and senseless.
When at last it spoke, its voice resounded as if it were an angelic choir all by itself, kindly informing that the prayers of the faithful had been answered. Regarding Sryaen and the others with compassion, the aura of refulgence surrounding the being swelled to fill the chamber, bathing all present in cleansing, healing warmth. Sight returned to the seven and many of them blinked away tears as the world, and the angelic projection before them, came into full focus.
Waiting patiently for them to adjust, the messenger informed them that the Triad, known equally as the Three, the Honoured Issue, and the Accordants, held close council with “Lanos Divine”, fixated on war with the Primordial Black. All present were reassured by knowledge of Damariel’s safety and the angel pressed on, speaking of the Unbound Lord’s plea to the Sacred Three for aid and of His deep care for the safety of His faithful. Comforted somewhat, many asked what answer they should be prepared to receive, and the messenger produced a scroll written in golden filigree script. Intoning loudly, it informed them that the Accord of Old would hold, and that the request for aid would not go unanswered. The Septet had passed the test of faith, and, bolstered by the pleas of Lanos, the messenger promised that the Three who steward in Her stead – referring again to the Triad, stewards of Rewh’va in the name of Dejaani – would not allow the city to fall.
While Exarch Berrad dwelt inwardly on the words, his spirits lifted by talk of Dejaani, the Sacred Flame, the messenger turned their eyes to regard the darkened skyscape, becoming sad, and furious. Responding to heartfelt requests that the Triad provide a means to destroy Irgech’s dark star, it explained that Irgech – that which blinds the Eye – was on the Prime plane in flesh and in blood and in shadow, and that for the Triad to enter Prime in a similar fashion would bring terrible harm to Rewh’va. It continued to explain that itself was a projected presence, not a physical manifestation, and that the Triad would exert their minds in the same way to bring them aid.
Despite their chagrin at Irgech’s continued survival, the group welcomed whatever aid would come, still kneeling reverently before the angelic messenger. Gesturing in the direction of the Grand Flame, the being’s wings swept up to surround its body before it spoke again. It told them of the holy light now anointing the whole city, reaffirming that the fallen one, the Djinn that is not, would not be allowed to conquer their home, glittering sparks now visible from every point of the sprawling city.
As the being began to flicker and fade, its humanoid presence shifting to reveal one far more strange and ill-proportioned, Benedicto enquired as to the possibility of renewing the accord made between Idar and the Triad, a pact which, ostensibly, was to be renewed and renegotiated every seven years. Gently correcting him on some of the details, the messenger smiled, informing him that the Three, Nyasia, Ael’mael, and Ubarin, had expressed a wish to accept the request. Turning then to Exarch Berrad, it announced the the Voice of Nyasia, the Inquisitor of the Host, had been chosen to discuss the terms once the war was ended. Berrad instantly bowed low, grateful beyond words for the honour.
The final question came from Roux Aquila, who sought a way to channel spirit through their angel companions to drive away the rot tainting the land. A look of profound empathy decorating its waning features, the messenger stated that the taint of the Dark Fundamental was not easily scoured. The Primals, as it called them, would risk destroying themselves with the volume of spirit it would require to do so. With parting promises to seek counsel from the Triad, and to inform Lanos Divine of the faithful’s valour and resolve, the messenger’s form faded even further then, transforming into something utterly other, a mass of wings and eyes and azure pupils, shapeless and obtuse. Even its voice deterioriated, swiftly declining from the sacred chime of havenly bells to something grating and morose. With its departure, the nearby pyre blazed brighter, the gathered faithful a mixture of hopeful resignation, cleaving fast to their faith.
When next yet another incursion sallied out of Isalemei’s commandpost, murderous shadowspawn bent on carnage and violence, they met something they did not expect. As they entered the city, the sacred light bathing the Hammer in its radiance became enlivened, striking mercilessly at beast and spinner and horror and burning them to ash.
Some weeks later, inspired and motivated by the renewed faith and vigour present in Enorian, the Maelstrom informed them that they would no longer be waiting for the Shadow to strike, no longer reacting to its invasions. Urging them to prepare for war, Slyphe informed them of Their intent to lay siege to Isalemei’s camp, and to amass fusebombs and soldiers plenty for when the time arrived…
Part XXIII: Judged And Found Wanting
As Enorian busily prepared themselves for the coming siege, Rhulin Glintspear continued his efforts on repairing the Lance of the Gods. Having taken advice from Exarch Berrad on how to more accurately direct the flames, the Dwarf, perpetually wrenched from his hopes of retirement, toiled night and day with no small measure of irritation. His burdens would be heightened as the Maelstrom requested of him a mighty battering ram with which to properly siege the General’s camp. Rhulin, ever the selfless Engineer, reluctantly agreed, splitting his focus between the two tasks.
~ ~ ~
On an otherwise quiet day for Enorian, the peace was disturbed by a brilliant flash of fire streaking across the sky. Laughs of triumph followed, soon transforming to awkward apologies as Rhulin, having successfully mended the Lance, inadvertently turned its fire on a pair of guards near the Ascendril Lighthouse. Loudly declaring his success for the entire land to hear, he regaled the city with his triumph and assured them he would keep practising in order to improve his aim.
The month of Slyphian soon rolled around in a strange twist of coincidence, its namesake briskly calling Enorian to the Garden of Dawn in advance of the coming siege. While the citizens gathered, Rhulin’s voice called out, directing a group of his labourers to carry the massive battering ram he had made out into the camp. Clad in a klaio bronze cuirass with Their trident in hand, Slyphe gave a rousing speech, Their usual whimsy replaced by a far more sombre demeanour. The Changing God spoke of fate, and the inevitable defeat that awaited the shadowspawn by their hands. Bellowing reminders that they were the bringers of change, the fate that the Shadow feared, They gave the order to march and took leave for the war camp, Enorian hastily following in tow.
So it was that, under the command of Vanguard Sryaen and Heralds Rasani, Kalena, Benedicto, and Xavin, Enorian strode forth to battle, the visages of Adalric, Annerissa, Eliadon, Emhyra, Enamari, Melantha, Merek, Myrnma, Nimiphi, Orunmila, Rhesk, Roux, Undirnath and Xenaden visible amidst the congregation. As they reached the Djinn’s commandpost, Exarch Saebi joined the fray, twin-bladed manta gripped tightly in her hands. Rhulin’s immense battering ram laid before them, spanning the whole length of the camp, and the siege began.
Heaving with all their strength, they drove the ram relentlessly into the barricade, sundering wood and metal while shadowspawn leapt down from above to harry them. Interspersing their efforts with the ram with rows of fusebombs, Xavin worked his fingers to the bone, unspooling wire and carefully activating the explosives while Benedicto organised efforts with the siege weapon. Salvos of arrows flew from atop the barricade to stymie the attackers again and again, until the Maelstrom brought forth a sea-green dome over the area, shielding them from the projectiles. In short order they soon found a rhythm, alternating between explosives and direct siege, wave after wave of shadowspawn filing out to stop them. Exarch Saebi fought with zeal and passion, cutting them down, while the Maelstrom lent Their own aid, felling several with Their trident and drowning others in cerulean waves of Divine water.
As smoke began to rise from the heart of the Pash Valley, the clang of metal against metal bespeaking the clamour of the protracted siege, the barricade shuddered, straining weakly against the strength of the combined assault. In a groan of metal and stone and ropes it finally surrendered, collapsing on itself with a thunderous crash. Cries of elation came from Enorian as they felled what remained of the shadowspawn and pressed further into the camp. Their joy was short lived.
Some twenty four divisions of Shadowbound soldiers began to mobilise, shaking the ground with their passage as they marched forth implacably from the camp of General Isalemei and turned their eyes towards Enorian, soldiers in the thousands bent on bringing about the city’s fall. Following behind, shadowspawn infantry poured out of the commandpost in droves, ghasts and beasts and horrors determined to turn the siege on their General into a decisive invasion. Many froze in the panic and chaos of so many soldiers on the move, but the calming voice of Exarch Saebi cut through the fear and clamour, yelling out an order to mobilise the Djinn and Akkari soldiers at the Garden of Dawn that were now under the Hammer’s command.
Enorian rallied, hosts of dauntless Akkari soldiers and armoured knights marching out to face the encroaching hordes with valour and resolve while divisions of Djinn Bellguard moved with deadly purpose toward the invaders, a bellkeeper at their head. While Enorian’s Generals commanded the armies, the rest of the contingent held the line at the front, frothing hordes of shadowspawn seeming to multiply in number every time one was cut down. As the numbers swelled to near-overwhelming amounts, a series of brilliant flashes lit up the streets of Enorian, the focused flame of the Godlance incinerating the aberrations where they stood, Rhulin’s raucous laughter following soon after.
The rolling plains of the Pash Valley groaned in the throes of protracted battle, the clash of armies transforming the tranquil land into a theatre of abject carnage. On the fight went, the armies meeting head to head amidst the screams of dying soldiers on both sides puncturing the air. Finally, after nearly a quarter day of engagements with death reigning supreme on all sides, the last of the shadowbound soldiers fell to the ground, routed by the combination of armoured knights, dauntless Akkari, and smouldering Bellguards.
A string of harsh curses erupted from the heart of Isalemei’s commandpost, the Shadowbound Djinn making known the depths of her profound displeasure. As the dust settled, boiling waves of night-dark fire spilled out of the commandpost, viscous flames spreading like treacle and melting tar across the grass. Whipping itself into a vortex of blackened cinders and virulent smoke, Shadow Lieutenant Khoordayim took the fray at Isalemei’s behest, ready to do battle. While Slyphe yelled orders to bring it down and departed further into the camp to engage the General, chaos ensued as the Lieutenant, a Shadowbound Ember turned to Ohlsana by Isalemei herself, lit up the Pash Valley in seething black flames, igniting the air with its traversal to and fro. Over forty adventurers came together to bring down Khoordayim, citizens of Duiran and Bloodloch and Spinesreach flooding into the Pash in order to lend their support.
As the Lieutenant’s bell rang out with agonising peals and its flames tore violently at all who dare to strike it, eventually, slowly, it faltered. Extinguished by the combined onslaught, the smoking figure fell, its death throes a final, desperate eruption of noxious fire. Its defeated form crumbled, reduced to black ash and sooty smoke. Pillars of carmine fire shot through with streaks of oily black exploded upwards from the centre of Isalemei’s camp then. Wreathed in a blistering conflagration of caliginous shadowflame, the General broke from her distant clash with the Maelstrom, sundering Their undulating aegis in a flash of calescent heat.
Isalemei turned her hate-filled gaze on Enorian, ignoring the Maelstrom Whose sanguine smirk faltered, replaced by a glare laced with impassioned resolve. Scorching the landscape with her fell passage, trailing cinders and blazing helicals followed the Shadowbound Djinn as she entered the Hammer of Dawn without fear or trepidation. In a flash she lifted herself above the Landward Gate, eyes fixated on the city sprawling below. Knives of gruesome blackfire formed at her fingertips, crackling wildly before streaking forth to scorch the streets below.
Before the fiery daggers could find purchase, the amorphous figure of the Maelstrom reformed in a rippling cascade of rainfall and salt-rimed spray, crystalline waters steaming as Slyphe absorbed the attack on Enorian with Their own body. Wincing through the wave of pain, the Changing God redoubled Their resolve, Their features girded for battle. Amused by the God’s intervention, the Djinn made a sweeping gesture in the air, conjuring a swath of burning tendrils. The incandescent fronds cracked like a whip and whirled through the air like blazing bolas, surrounding the Maelstrom in a fiery helix.
Slyphe’s trident moved in a blur, cutting through the shadowy ropes seeking to restrain Them. Amorphous and ever-shifting, the God, too, seemed to move with impossible agility and dexterous speed, elegantly dancing between targets as They carve through to the General proper. Sheets of heavy rainfall poured down from above at the Maelstrom’s command, showering the area in a salvo of massive droplets and shards of frozen hail. They advanced on Isalemei, weapon aloft in one hand, obscuring fog gathering in the other.
Isalemei smouldered, seething with spite, with hatred, with palpable malice. The reticulated armour holding her together crumbled away and her conflagrant form swelled, looming larger. Waves of withering heat erupted from her, the fiery cascade lashing angrily at the Maelstrom and boiling the downpour to naught but wheezing steam. As God and General faced off, the cavalier laughter of Rhulin resounded from within the Ascendril Lighthouse, the long-suffering Dwarf still gleefully eradicating shadowspawn with the Lance of the Gods. Each flash of its unforgiving eye lit up the Hammer’s streets for a fleeting instant, before the manifest darkness of a tainted Djinn returned in force, drowning the city beneath clouds of obscuring murk.
Across the other side of the city, a black morass of shadowspawn gathered at the Jaru Gate, the swarm determined to press further into the city. The shrieking war cry of a monstrous shadow beast inspired the rest of the rapacious horde to follow suit, and soon the air trembled under the grating chorus. Resplendent and fearless, the towering figure of Exarch Saebi strode out to meet the Shadow’s second host, the first still sighted on the Landward Gate. Her jaw set in grim resolve and she drew her twin-bladed manta, holy light mantling her bulky form in a brilliant aura. Despite her insistence that she could hold the gate without aid, adventurers flocked to her side, refusing to let her fight alone.
Trails of ebon smoke wafted from the Maelstrom, Their klaio bronze cuirass scorched, blackened, and shorn of its resplendent sheen. Blisters ravaged the God’s flesh, open wounds weeping from the General’s merciless flames. Still They pressed on and thrusted out an upward palm, turning the freezing fog on Their hated foe. Gelid brume billowed across and around the corrupted Djinn, wintry vapour surrounding her in an eclipsing haze. Gnashing jaws formed in the murk, gnawing at fire and flesh alongside writhing tentacles thrashing violently at the enemy of all life. All the while, haunting whispers rose, the eldritch horrors of Keltundian myth and islander legend turned loose in sinister machination.
The swarms encroaching on the Jaru Gate reached a fatal level even as Saebi’s manta swung like a whirlwind to cut them down one after another after another. Surrounded on all sides, she eventually fell and for a single horrifying moment, hope seemed lost. Then, in a bedazzling flare of holy light, the Exarch found herself restored to life and ready to fight on anew, revived at the behest of the Angelic Triad.
Spears of blackfire tore through the fog surrounding Isalemei, trailing wisps of ashen smoke drawn behind in their wake. Each crackled with uproarious indignation before streaking towards the Maelstrom, striking Them in the chest in a cascade of brilliant sparks. Slyphe panted in exertion but endured, all signs of sanguine nonchalance shorn from Their focused, narrow-eyed countenance. Slowed but not yet defeated, the God continued Their advance, laying into Ohlsana’s General with a series of blows from Their trident. Each swing provoked a flare of enraged wildfire, fronds of black searing angrily at the Maelstrom’s flesh.
Enduring the lively assault of the wounded, struggling God, the corrupted Djinn glared down at the Hammer, ruthless determination alight in the hellish pits of her incarnadine eyes. Opting to continue harrying the city and force Slyphe into unfavourable defensive positions, shadow and flame yielded effortlessly to her command, a writhing vortex of torrid black filth forming above the gate. Eyeing the Temple of the Gods, Isalamei set loose the burgeoning tempest, a web of shadowy fingers spilling free toward their prey.
Slyphe’s voice rang out then, reverberating with the rhythmic susurration of crashing waves as They shouted, “No! I swore to defend this city, and I will! You will not take it!” Hastened by steadfast desire to see a promise kept and an oath held true, Slyphe desperately moved to counter the assault, torrents and geysers and spouts of water coalescing all across the city. The God dissolved to naught before reforming at the heart of the gathering firestorm, Their flesh blistering as they brought Their might to bear. A single massive wave crested the air behind the Shifting One, its sudden crash resounding like a furious thunderclap for all to hear. Dousing Isalemei’s storm, Slyphe immediately returned to battle, commanding the frothing swell to surround the Shadow’s General in a suffocating dome of turbid seawater.
The roar of Exarch Saebi cut through the air, black blood and noisome gore staining the length of her twin-blade. Launching herself forward into another pack of invaders, she whirled in a frenzy, cutting down beast after beast and ghast after ghast, the Blood of the Dosan lost in the trance of battle. On the opposite side of Enorian, Rhulin continued to gleefully eradicate shadowspawn, the Lance of the Gods flashing as it fired beams of divine fire at the invaders.
The dome of water seeking to suffocate Isalemei writhed in undulant motion, the flaming visage of the General obscured by its rippling mass. Greasy streaks of black began to pierce the aqueous trap, whips of bleak shadow causing the waters to simmer and bubble. The temperature reached a painful, critical mass, the wave boiling away under the General’s unbearable heat, unable to quench her raging fires. As hissing steam followed in a pall of sable mist, a smirk flitted over Slyphe’s features for the first time since the battle’s overture.
Thrusting out a hand, Slyphe twisted Their wrist and what remained of the shimmering dome crumpled, unleashing a multitude of seaborne creatures from its depths. The clicking claws and hungry jaws of countless crabs and crustaceans sang through the air, and Slyphe, still horribly burned, resumed Their assault. Roused to terrible anger by the onslaught of oceanic fauna, Isalemei seethed, her very body crackling as she smouldered. With a wave she wreaked ruin on the plethora of seaborne attackers, sparks of black and violet puissance incinerating them one by one by one by one.
Slyphe lunged forward, trident whirling in one hand while a massive lance of ice formed in the other. Enduring yet more of those punishing black flames, the Maelstrom fought on through Their wounds, refusing to back down. Isalemei dodged the sweeping trident, and Slyphe saw an opportunity, the God releasing the freezing projectile with a faint, but sincere peal of laughter.
The glacial spike passed through the torso of the Shadow General and simply melted to nothing, leaving her unharmed. Trident blows struck repeatedly at her fiery form but she showed no pain, no sign of falter, naught but absolute confidence in that harsh, jagged face. Retaliation came in a fleeting moment, a deafening blast of smoke and shadow and
fire and flame that rolled over Slyphe with the ferocity and inevitability of one of Their own waves.
As the Changing God reeled from the Djinn’s vengeful conflagration, Isalemei shaped a sphere of violet midnight in her hands and called out stark, guttural words in the primal tongue of Czjetija. The globe spun on an invisible axis, resonant keening rising before it spiralled away into the city proper, growing larger with each passing moment as it seemed to drink in all the surrounding light. Slowed by countless wounds, Their body ransacked, bleeding, and smoking, Slyphe tore free from the General on a cresting wave of cerulean, desperately striving to intercept the orb’s inexorable traversal. Barely reaching the globe in time, Slyphe took the gyrating sphere into Their grasp, clasping it tightly to Their own body in a valiant, final attempt to spare the Hammer from destruction. A high pitched, ringing sound echoed through the streets and the General, still looming above the Landward Gate, clenched a flaming fist.
Time seemed to still for a moment and the Maelstrom addressed Enorian, reminding them that their zeal could not be doused, and asking that they fulfil one last request for Them. “Remind Me of your fervour.” They intoned. “Remind Me why your faith is immortal. Shout it for all to hear.” In an incredible outpouring of faith and zeal and hope in the holy light, as one the citizens of Enorian lifted their voices to shout and bellow and scream the maxim that had swiftly become the city’s motto: “Until the dawn, we are the light.”
Slyphe’s own voice, weakened and wan, joined them, declaring, “Until the dawn, they are the light…”, before the sphere of midnight collapsed, detonating in an explosive staccato boom. The devastating force of black sun turned stygian supernova carved through what remained of the Maelstrom’s defence, visiting harrowing agony on Their form. The blast sent Slyphe soaring through the skies toward the Beryl Sea, into which They plummeted with naught but a splash, Their form limp and defeated.
Isalemei seared through the air, pressing further into the city proper. Incandescent sparks showered the streets in black cinders as she moved, but before she could reach the Temple of the Gods, she came to an abrupt stop, eyes suddenly wary. Enorian shimmered as a film of brilliant, rich cobalt seemed to settle over the city, a dozen-eyed gaze taking in the battle through a distant lens of fragmented glass. The Shadow General turned away from the temple and moved to flee, but a radiant helix of sacred flame flared up to curtail her departure. Her own black fire seared angrily at the bonds rooting her in place, but the light merely waxed majestic, unharmed and untainted by the General’s presence.
Coalescing from the countless motes of sparkling iridescence lining the streets of the Hammer, a shimmering silhouette overlapped Enorian, the eldritch figure of an angel unlike any other projected from the very heart of Rewh’va. Faceless and composed almost wholly from feathered wings and alabaster flesh, otherworldly light swathed the strangely-proportioned, esoteric and unknowable form of Ael’mael, Blade of the Host. In a voice pealing with the sonorous authority of a thousand tolling bells, Ael’mael intoned, “Dumavai.”
Fear kindled in the depths of Isalemei’s blacklit eyes as myriad holy bells lifted their voices in rapturous hosannas uncountable and ineffable, their song at once sacred and sublime. Impossibly bright, a blinding storm of holy light gathered in Enorian, a font of captivating illumination burning with ardent fervour and unmatchable devotion. The bells stilled to mute quiescence, and in the midst of that ominous moment of silence, Isalemei screamed. Shifting and contorting into a dazzling spiral of empyreal splendour, the pitiless light laid waste to the Shadowbound Djinn, explosive outbursts of heavenly fire searing and burning and scorching their hated enemy, justice passed on that which should never have been.
Ael’mael withdrew and the projection dissipated in trailing motes, the last vestiges of the manifest light eradicating the shadowspawn still swarming at the Jaru Gate. Exarch Saebi, exhausted but inspired by the presence of Ael’mael, looked up to the heavens in reverence, remnant ashes of the defeated General drifting lifelessly on the wind. And, with a final blast from the Lance of the Gods, the focused ire of the Grand Flame struck at the heart of the corrupted Djinn’s commandpost, burning it down in a brilliant explosion.
Part XXIV: Blessed Be The Light
Some weeks following the defeat of Isalemei, Enorian’s worries for the Maelstrom’s health and well-being were comforted by the God’s appearance in Raim Vale. Having washed up on the beach, Slyphe remained injured but in good spirits in spite of everything, and Benedicto, Orunmila, and Saltz dutifully helped tend to Them following the battle. Essence came forth in droves to help restore the Maelstrom to full health, and They are expected to make a full recovery.
~ ~ ~
In early Haernos, the Exarchs addressed Enorian to tell them of an ancient duamvi custom initially brought up by Saebi following the battle in the Pash Valley some scant few weeks prior. In Rewh’va, it is tradition to commemorate the sites of major battles and to honour the sacrifices of the fallen by building modest temples, places of worship and remembrance. Heartened by the Beacon’s shift into the Hammer, Exarch Berrad invited Enorian to share in this longstanding tradition, proposing they travel together to Kald, Saluria, and the Pash Valley to pray.
The citizens hastened first to Kald, and when the Exarchs joined them – Aban, Berrad, and Saebi all – it became clear something was not right. Having initially shown signs of weakness and exhaustion due to the dark star some weeks prior, now they each appeared outright pallid and nauseous, the darkness causing them physical pain. The huge group of Enorianites looked to them with concern, but Berrad insisted he was fine despite the similar looks of consternation from Saebi and Aban.
Calling for silence, the Inquisitor gave a rousing speech on tradition, and the importance of markers, symbols to remind all of the light’s victories and the triumphs of the righteous over evil. He recanted the tenacity of the Kald villagers, the devotion of the Templars in seeing to the town’s defence, and of course the display of the light’s power from the Lord Unbound. Aban and Saebi bolstered his words with prayers of their own, their faith in the light on display and leaving no doubt. Drawing to a close, Berrad closed with “the light will always prevail,” encouraging the others to do the same. As they did so, with fervour in their hearts, the nearby villagers completed the construction he had requested, and now a modest, burgeoning temple stood near Kald’s heart.
The group ventured next to Saluria, and the symptoms of the dark star seemed to grow worse as night drew closer, the Exarch visibly struggling to remain focused. Gruffly he turned aside Aban’s offer of aid and resolutely pressed on. At the Square of Sonn, Berrad, again supported by Aban and Saebi, raised his voice again. This time he waxed briefly on Saluria’s history with the Shadow, reminding all present of their tenacity in denying Ohlsana the shard of Truth’s Sword that rested therein. Even as the Exarch seemed to slightly lose his footing, he refused to yield, proclaiming the strength of resolve and inexhaustible will required to battle the darkness.
Promising no mercy for those who dabble with the profane, Berrad spoke of remembrance for the fallen, his head craning skywards as he hesitated, but finally exhaled a sigh and spoke. To the Dragon, She who felled Murgraxis, he gave reluctant praise before inviting what was by now a congregation, to join him in declaring, “We will always hold the line.” Voices many responded with ardour and fire. Shaking off their lethargy, the Exarchs gestured to the newly finished temple, and the group dwelt there a short while in prayer. Expressing their wishes for the space to forever stand as a tribute to the Shadow’s defeat, the Exarchs shared few words amongst each other, reluctantly admitting that they were struggling to endure the dark star’s torment.
To the Pash Valley they hurried in order to complete the sojourn. By this point, the three native duamvi were visibly haggard and struggling. The Exarchs stood as one in solidarity and, propped by the comforting arm of Saebi, Berrad began his final homily with remembrances about the recent battle with Isalemei, but soon veered off course to topics entirely unexpected. In a departure from his usual scathing, permanently-disappointed tone, he began to speak of how he felt about Enorian when first he ventured from Rewh’va, informing them that he had first thought them weak and lacking in faith, a people easily broken in the war he, and the Exarchs with him, had fought for a lifetime. With monumental effort, he admitted that he was wrong, before resuming the prayer with fervent tributes to the Maelstrom’s bravery, and to all who stood against the Shadowbound Djinn and its Ember.
Raising his arms aloft, Berrad loudly denounced evil, purifying the space around them. Streams of fantastically bright light formed in his hands, the illumination surging towards the former camp of the Shadow General and transforming it, rendering it pure and sacred and true. The temple, wrought of light and free of befouling corruptions, stood proudly in remembrance. “We shall never forget,” he declared in sombre intonation, the gathered group responding keenly soon after.
As the ritualistic tradition drew to a close, Saebi took charge, her waning strength leaving her voice weakened and lacklustre. Meaning to return to the pyre, she and her fellow Exarchs made the journey as one, each propping up the others as they sought help from the Triad to deliver them from their suffering. The flames seemed to soothe them somewhat, though they each of them remained pallid and sickly. Berrad led the proceedings again, reaching out to Aban and Saebi to join hands with him. Quelling some unvoiced concerns that they were returning to Rewh’va, he began a final prayer – a final plea – for succour from the Three Most Holy.
“The hour is bleak,” he began. “Ael’mael, Blade of the Host, we ask that you grant us the strength to fight on.” Saebi and Aban echoed the words, as did many of the faithful Enorianites that had come with them. “But the Shadow does not relent, and nor can we.” Berrad lifted his voice again. “Ubarin, Shield of the Host, grant us the will to endure, and the resolve to persist against this filth.” Again Aban and Saebi called out the same words with devoted zeal, and the nearby pyre seemed to crackle its approval, its flames growing more intense and more bright. “We cannot afford to fail.” The Exarch’s voice, weak and strained, intoned, “Holy Nyasia, in whose radiance I am blessed to wield your flame. Sage of the Host, we pray to you for enlightenment, that this curse of flesh and fragility be cast down!”
Hallowed light blazed into existence with an intensity threatening to blind all who looked upon its splendour. For a fleeting moment, the triple figures of the Angelic Triad – Ael’mael, Nyasia, and Ubarin – became visible in the flames, dozens of eyes and faceless alien forms looking upon their most devout servants with pity and mercy. Bells pealed from everywhere and nowhere, their rich and regal voices singing hymns of the dawn and sacred chorales of light and fire. The light swirled around Aban, and Berrad, and Saebi, and before the eyes of those gathered they transformed, their flesh taking on a golden sheen, granted ascension by the Three.
As each gasped in shock, awed by the ineffable apotheosis, they laughed, smiling as they realised they no longer felt pain, no longer suffered beneath the dark-glaring heavens. Immediately talk turned to the sharing of this precious gift, boons of blood and spirit lifting their souls to renewed joy and serenity. Exarch Aban looked to Benedicto, the kinship shared between them on full display as he offered to evangelise him into the host. Benedicto accepted, and the holy light raised him up in turn. Exarch Saebi looked to Rasani, drawing similarities between herself and the Godsmith. Rasani too accepted the gift, elevated by the gifts of light and spirit. Finally, Exarch Berrad, having confessed his former misjudgements, looked to Sryaen, making an earnest offer to bring him into the fold. The Vanguard was the third to take the boon, awash in heavenly radiance.
Before the Exarchs rested, they counselled their three newly inculcated companions to pass on the gift themselves. So it was that the first three Akkari, mirroring the ascensions of the three Exarchs, came into being, ascended duamvi infused with a deep wellspring of spiritual energy with an unparalleled connection to all that comprises the holy light.
Part XXV: Strength In Slaughter
After lengthy and often exasperating sojourns into the heart of Corrupt Chaos (we are reliably informed that Lord Rijetta Alhazrad continues her search for the perfect mirror), securing promises for future armies in the battle against Ohlsana, the Carnifex were surprised to be summoned to the Iron Redoubt by Bamathis for an unexpected meeting. Intrigued by the power of ego displayed by Siphelia, the Warlord informed those present that He had spent some time musing on whether this newfound method of exerting might could be harnessed.
For some time He discussed the possibilities that such a power could hold, and the concept of shaping reality to one’s whims solely by sheer force of will. Having devised a crude and primitive method of the self-same ‘egotism’ displayed by the Chaos Lords, Bamathis instructed the Carnifex on its use and bid them to practice diligently in order to maximise their strength of will. Before He departed, the Warlord made mention of information He had received from the Spymaster as to the plans of General Sanaz, promising to say more when they were sufficiently trained.
Most took to the task with aplomb, with Tina in particular rapidly advancing her skills. As news spread through the Guild of this new development, the rest of the Carnifex soon joined in, each testing their mental strength against the denizens of Corrupt Chaos. While most had modest ambitions at best, Whirran, Rijetta, and Mjoll aimed high. Though it took hundreds of defeats, Whirran claimed the first victory over Empress Xa’azamit herself, with Rijetta and Mjoll – the latter in particular not only taking the fewest attempts by far but also taking on the Empress prior to any of the other lords – following soon after.
Midway through the 11th day of Haernos, after several weeks of practice, Bamathis, carrying word from the Spymaster, called the Carnifex to muster in the courtyard of His fortress near the remnants of Yggdrasil.
Mjoll, Markos, Xenia, Whirran, Galilei, Orhm, Taj, Tetchta, Ehtias, Tina, Rijetta, Akarn, Elene, Mazzion, and Gundor soon gathered, and the Warlord explained the situation. Having unearthed evidence of an attack on the Shadow Keep by General Sanaz, Bamathis went on to detail the Shadow’s interest in the master soulstone, theorising that Iosyne must have somehow caught wind of the attack Herself and intervened with Her own heart.
Sanaz, so said Bamathis, had created a pocket realm in the Prime Plane upon her arrival, an infernal hellscape known only as Perdition. Within, countless unfortunate victims had found their deaths at the hands of her questioner, Lieutenant Damendar, and now roamed as tortured souls through its fell halls. The Carnifex were to invade this realm of Perdition and, using their newfound powers of ego and will, wrest it from Sanaz’s control into their own. As Whirran passed out silvergrit (allegedly a holy sacrament of the Lord Strife, though this has not been independently confirmed), the Warlord opened a silver gateway, and the Carnifex boldly stepped through, ready to face hellfire and damnation and anything else that may lay in wait.
With manifest brutality and determination, they fanned out through the infernal realm, mercilessly cutting down roaming roves of hellfire and soulflames in the process. Tortured souls fell, with some finding themselves broken by such raw strength and subjugated to the whims of the Carnifex. Ego pressed in all around, and the voice of the Shadow Lieutenant Damendar called out in defiant jeers and boastful declarations. The slaughter went on, heedless of the rakshasa’s claims.
Scouring every corner of the realm, the power of ego manifested all around, wrenching free the ties to General Sanaz in favour of the Carnifex’s claim. Like dominoes the grounds of Perdition fell in line, the cries of anguish ringing out beside searing pillars of grey-black fire threatening to devour all within reach. Having successfully dominated everything in their sights, the Carnifex came across a snaking passage barred by a series of massive metal doors.
These, of course, proved of little obstacle to the hardened Carnifex. Throwing themselves at it with shoulder, head, legs, and fists as weapons, they laid a brutal siege to each and every doorway, the resolve of Damendar shrinking away with each advancement they made. Though many fell to the blistering hellfire surrounding them on all sides, they rose again, more hard-headed than ever before, and continued launching their own bodies against that which stood in their way.
Roused to terrible anger when at last the final barrier fell, Damendar surged into battle against the invaders, barraging them with lances of flame and demonic energies, and even filling their hearts with contempt for their own allies. Battling through the confusion, the Carnifex threw all their strength at the rakshasa, a furore of blades and magic brought to bear against a truly detestable foe. Its shrieks of defiance punctuated the air, but it soon realised its situation.
As hellish fire poured out of the Warlord’s gateway, alerting the world to the conquest of the Carnifex, Damendar fled into the Prime Material, hoping to find sanctuary with Sanaz. From her concealed commandpost somewhere in the south, the General made known her ire in the form of hissing shrieks and the Naga, enraged by Damendar’s cowardly reatreat from Perdition, immediately redeployed the rakshasa back to the field.
Shadow and soulflame boiled up around the Yggdrasian hollow, tendrils of animate darkness set ablaze and becoming the monstrous form of the Lieutenant. Dozens flocked to see the demon brought down, adventurers from all of Sapience’s city states coming together as a group of some thirty five determined warriors. Many fell to flame and damnation, but Damendar, already weakened, barely found itself able to withstand the assault. As it weakened and grew near death, the Carnifex once again exerted their will, binding the Shadowbound rakshasa to the Guild’s will. Enwrapped in argent essence by the Warlord, Bamathis forcibly dragged the captive back to the Iron Redoubt, urging the rest of the Carnifex to follow.
There, they put Damendar to the question, carving at its flesh, severing its fingers, and issuing blow after blow from fist, weapon, and boot, along with the butcher’s hook of Wraithlord Gruxmal cutting into its back. Though it utterly refused to give up the location of Sanaz, a decisive punch from the Warlord’s own fist sundered its face, the silver essence of Strife restoring it so that Bamathis could land another strike. Under assault and interrogation on all sides, it finally gave up the secrets to Perdition, and Bamathis assured them there would be time to pry more from its mouth in future. Forced into service as slave and tutor both, Damendar parted with the arcane and esoteric knowledge of hellfire, and the Carnifex, bolstered by ego and demonstrating their strength, took up the skills of the Ravager, cruel brawlers anointed in a crucible of carnage.
Part XXVI: Raiders Of The Lost Shard
As Prime and Shadow alike searched for the shards of the Sword of Truth, curious missives began finding the leaders among Sapience. Meeting in secrecy in the anonymous taverns within Djeir, a mysterious cloaked figure delivered an important message: she had located a shard of Truth but, lacking the means to retrieve it herself, sought to put together an expedition to secure the discovery.
Promising leadership of the expedition to the most generous among them, the four cities were informed to put forth candidates and bids for the upcoming excursion. On the 5th of Haernos, 504 MA, the delegates from each city gathered in Arbothia: Taj from the Sanguine Fist, Benedicto from the Hammer of Dawn, Feirenz from the Dragon of the North, and Sibatti from the Heart of the Great Oak. Rewarding the deep pockets of Bloodloch by appointing Taj the party’s leader, the secretive mercenary then revealed her crew’s findings: an ancient tomb beneath Arbothia, undiscovered and unsullied until recently.
The expedition descended into the tomb, soon encountering a rickety bridge, deceptive in its simplicity. As Feirenz bravely took the first step, its deadly nature was quickly revealed: every pace would send the bridge careening wildly, with frantic swaying required by those upon it to stabilize it before another step could be taken. Despite many capsizes, plummets, and splats, the foursome eventually found the proper cadence and coordination to safely traverse the bridge and alight upon the other side.
Descending further into the tomb, four unique golden relics were discovered. Taking on his role as leader, Taj assigned each distinct artifact to the expedition members, their roles clear: Taj assumed the Relic of the Brawler, providing protection against the dangers to come. Benedicto was given the Relic of the Ward, capable of emitting a disabling force in an area around its user. Feirenz, as befitting the Syssin, was assigned the Relic of the Scout, tasked with revealing the locations of objectives and quickly traversing through the tomb. And, finally, Sibatti was given the Relic of the Healer, able to reveal and instantaneously revive those who had fallen to the dangers in the tomb.
Roles assigned and strategy devised, the mysterious mercenary then activated a runic mechanism deep beneath the crypt. Essence sprang forth from the device – some manifested as orbs to be collected and returned to the mechanism, while the rest formed deadly essence mummies that prowled the labyrinth, disabling and eventually consuming any caught in their paths. Though the task was fraught with perils and many errors – for example, the Scout taking his role too seriously and remaining hidden and thus invisible to the Healer, or the Ward’s stubborn preference to die to mummies repeatedly rather than use his relic – the tomb plunderers eventually managed to conquer the obstacle, gathering and returning all orbs of essence.
As the last orb settled into the mechanism, it ejected the prize of the expedition: glowing with Divine essence, the shard of Truth finally appeared. But before any of the assembled could lay claim to the treasure, the tomb revealed one last test: floating into the hands of the organising mercenary, the shard quickly subsumed her will, possessing the Human woman. Though wielding but a sliver of the incredible power of the Sword of Truth, the possessed mercenary turned upon the crew with alarming might and resilience.
After a grueling battle, the adventurers managed to subdue their enthralled guide, finally knocking the shard from her unwilling grasp. A mad scramble for the prize ensued, with Benedicto ultimately securing the treasure for Enorian; wasting no time, Slyphe’s champion made his hasty exit, departing from the tomb with nary a word.
As the dust settled and the party disbanded, returning to their respective cities, the mysterious Human woman paid a visit to Bloodloch. Insisting on payment from the Tyrant, she promised the loyalty of her crew and services. Though the Sanguine Fist failed to secure the shard at the end of their expedition, rumours abound that that the now-rich mercenary had something of equal value to offer her benefactor state…
Part XXVII: The Songs Of Life And Death
Haernos rolled around and with it, in another curious twist of coincidence, the Hunter at last returned from His work on Dia’ruis. Having spent much of the year tending to the fledgling Plane and crafting the paths to properly anchor it to the Prime, none of Haern’s vitality or vim had yet ebbed away, renewed purpose and zest making Him practically buoyant as He emerged into Duiran for the first time in many long months. Announcing the way with a nonchalant laugh, to the ancient cairn stones went Duiran, the self-same method used to access Dendara of old now granting passage into the Plane of Life reborn as Dia’ruis.
What awaited them in Life’s Basin – once the Ancient Valley, now transformed and reborn – was a magnificent vista of lush valleys, rolling hills, and healthy, vital woodlands. Crystalline waters ran through its centre, teeming with life. Countless newborn creatures frolicked and thrived beneath the wildwood canopies and evergreen landscape. Eternal dusk and eternal dawn presided in harmony together, and above all a feeling of peace and prosperity suffused the air; freed from Shadow’s taint, the Plane of Life was truly an awe-inspiring wonder to behold. Dominating the skyscape, the nascent boughs and trunk of a great Tree of Life now dwelt at the Basin’s heart, its mighty limbs, even in infancy, striving to cradle the Dia’ruian heavens in its embrace.
Where once Dendara suffered under rot and the omnipresent threat of death, Dia’ruis instead enjoyed harmony. It soon became clear that the Plane would violently defend the natural balance in order to preserve itself, the undergrowth coming alive to strike at any bearing a duamvi symbiote in much the same way that Dendara would assail the undead. This aggressive rejection of any entering its eaves bearing a profusion of shadow /or/ spirit gave Duiran much to think on. No longer solely concerned with shadow, the Council, disturbed by revelations of the Akkari and the ascended duamvi’s existence outside of the Cycle, made an unprecedented decision: to entirely outlaw those bearing the symbiote and deny citizenship for any carrying one.
Haern’s return brought with it fresh concern for the Shadowbound Durdalis making camp near the Western Ithmia. In a meeting with the Council, He, along with the Underking, outlined a plan They had formed in order to bring the General down. Dhar looked then to Iesid, informing them that they were to be the bait for a trap, utilising their – by now, notorious – penchant for the Song of Oblivion in order to lure Jokach into the Ithmias. It was the Gods’ intent to funnel Jokach through the Ithmia along a path laid out by the Shamans calling upon nature to barricade alternate directions. The Sentinels would prepare massive log traps to slow Jokach’s passage and provide Them the opportunity to strike. Meanwhile, the Sentaari would carefully harness the kai energy created by the Gods fighting and prepare a grand banishment for Jokach, allowing Haern and Dhar the freedom to deliver a finishing blow and return the Durdalis to nature.
Preparations followed in force as Duiran came together to haul logs and fully scout the Ithmia in order to determine the best path along which to funnel the General. Songlines would be the key to ensuring Iesid’s survival while the Song drew its prey nearer, conveying them to remote points and forcing the General to follow. While the Sentinels set their treetop ambushes, Esrytesh Sibatti plotted the course, meticulously lining the forest floor with a series of flags arranged to point the way and form a circuitous route through the wood.
At last the hour came, in the early days of Variach, 505. Sibatti summoned the Council to their side and began to speak on the task ahead, impressing upon them the importance of what they were about to do. While Sibatti spoke and the group partook of Tempo (an “enhancement” inciting euphoria and bloodlust), the Guardians revealed their approval, one by one making their presence known as they lingered, watching beyond the sight of mortal ken. Dhar and Haern manifested before them and while the Underking reached out to Iesid and infused their soul with that of thousands, Haern told them to be ready, and to wait for the soliads before moving in.
The wait was a short one. Peppering the air with ditties of amused laughter, the soliad swarms drifted through the Ithmian forests, spots of warm sunlight trailing behind them. Reforming into an aurous horde before the commandpost, Vanguard Milihion stood at the head of the excitable horde, the golden nimbus of his form banishing the surrounding darkness. In shrill commands he set them loose, and the soliad hummed in delight at their task, surging at the barricades in a terrfying fae frenzy. The fortifications yielded soon after, crumbling to naught and laying bare the path to the camp beyond. Jokach, unmoved, paid little head save a low, grating rumble.
Iesid moved into position as Illikaal prepared to convey him away from the front via songline. Empowered by Death, Iesid took up fiddle and began to play, the ominous notes of Oblivion’s sombre song rising from the commandpost’s edge to chill the air in doleful refrain. As the bow glided along the fiddle’s strings, he sang in concert, verses of ruination steered towards the hated foe lurking beyond the brink. Amidst a great shifting of stone and moss, Jokach finally stirred into motion, its lolloping tread discarding loose shale and decaying bracken. As Iesid retreated into the Ithmia, the General gave chase, and the hunt was on.
While dozens flocked to battle the General directly only to find themselves effortlessly culled by its incredible might, Duiran worked in the treetops and woods. Set free by the wily schemes of the Sentinels, logs fell with a loud clatter from the trees, denying Jokach easy passage through the woodland. The Gods seized Their opportunity, chains of anaxagorite whipping free from the invisible spectre that was the Underking to reave and restrain the General, haunting echoes of charnel puissance rising to fill the air as Death worked. Rhythm’s Spine erupted from between two sycamore trees, its sharpened tip driven painfully into the Duradalis’ back. While Jokach recovered the Gods vanished further into the overgrowth, unseen beneath the sprawling canopy and endless leaves.
Spilling out of the commandpost in a frenzied wave of black, countless shadowspawn followed in the wake of their General’s footsteps. Once more the soliad peeled back their veil of illusory sweetness, swarming around the armies of Ohlsana and tearing dozens of them apart. Those that broke past the fae blockade swaggered into the Western Ithmia, but found their confidence short lived indeed. Clicking mandibles and the roars of savage beasts beyond the ken of any Sapient animal, drowned out the horde’s rampaging paean, the might of the Ancient Guardians manifesting to utterly eradicate that which foolishly dared to enter their domain. Only Jokach remained, its every footstep shaking the forest.
Haern stalked the woods with the skill and tenacity of a veteran predator while avalanches of well-trapped log piles fell to enclose the General further. Life essence coursed down the length of His spear, the weapon spinning in a rapid arc of ferocity as it struck home. Stymied on all sides by trap and tree, Jokach stumbled again and in its singular moment of hesitation, Death once more made Himself known. Roiling waves of pale essence washed over it and seeped into its stone flesh, the General writhing in sudden agony. Still adventurers hurled themselves at the Durdalis fruitlessly while the Sentaari worked to harness the kai starting to punctuate the air and the Sentinels deftly navigated the treetops ahead of its passage to harry it further.
Roused by Shamanic entreaty, the Ithmias rustled in violent protest of the intruder breaching its boughs. Dense thorns and snaking vines interlaced to form impassable blockades, the undergrowth conspiring in a gesture of absolute rejection. As nature itself came alive again to harass that which should not be, the Underking shimmered into view again, the silver-grey essence of death tearing chunks of stone and soil from His foe. Arrows rained down on the General from Whisper, the figure of the Hunter barely visible as He lurked, concealed, within the treetops.
Pressing on through the growth impeding its path, Jokach resumed its chase, seeming to barely be scratched by the Twin Gods’ assault. Something mimicking confusion sparked in the gnarled sockets of its umber eyes, its very mind under assault from forces unseen while the soul-empowered song rang out all around. Manifesting in a storm of freezing energies, Dhar scarcely bothered to conceal His disgust, the swing of the Sword of the Underhalls leaving grave wounds as it clove twixt rock and moss and stone. The brutish figure of the Hunter appeared briefly from within the tangled brush, His newfound zest for life imbuing Him with greater vigour and determination. His hands shaped the power of Life itself while He grunted, glaring at Jokach. Massive brambles and stinging thorns sprouted across the Durdalis’ body, piercing through gaps in its stony form and constricting tightly around its massive limbs.
Rumbling its rage, Jokach shrugged free its fetters and crashed through the overgrown thickets seeking to restrain its traversal. Still the air quavered ‘neath the aria of ending, Oblivion’s foreboding notes driving Jokach forward through snare and snarled overgrowth. The Underking waxed lethal, Divine essence relentlessly castigating Jokach as the Lord of the Grave wracked its very soul. Tiring from its treacherous traversal through obstructions laid before its path, Jokach shivered in rage, the laboured motions of its montane shoulders resounding like a nauseating grinding of stone. Rounding on the nearest wall of thorns and foliage curtailing its advancement, the General shredded flora and verdure alike, its pursuit of the fleeing fiddler continuing on.
Ambushing the General before it could take another step, Haern lent His own might to the Underking’s, the entwined essences of Life and Death now wreaking calamitous judgement on its soul. Thick enough to taste, the kai energy suffusing the air reached palpable degrees, the clash of Gods and Durdalis inciting terrible friction in the atmosphere. The work of the Sentinels and Shamans was done, and now the Sentaari, having utilised their skills in telepathy to keep tabs on Jokach’s location, acted. Exerting the full weight of their mental prowes to master the torrent of kai energies rioting through the Ithmias, the monks lifted their voices and invoked an ancient, terrible command.
Reality folded around and through the Shadowbound Durdalis, whose form diminished, becoming hazy and translucent before it finally faded from sight. Bought time by the banishment, Dhar and Haern moved into position, scythe and spear lofted and ready to bring about the aberration’s end. Minutes past before ripples in Creation signalled the return of Jokach from its enforced exile, the General’s mossbound form sharpening as it came back into view. A sprawling multitude of vines rises up to ensnare the Durdalis, coiling malevolently around its legs and torso. The trees released a mighty, thundering THWOOM and branches descended to bolster the verdure’s entanglement, the mighty limbs of ancient, wizened sentinels binding Jokach in place. The world stilled as Dhar’s voice pervaded, “You have come far enough.” Haern, more insouciant, simply bellowed, “DIA’RUIS ETERNAL!”
Foregoing Their weapons in favour of raw might, the two Gods – one the Lord of Death, the other the Steward of Life – shared a poignant glance and turned as One cohesive pair to regard the Shadowbound Durdalis with nothing less than absolute disdain. Strands of essence spilled from each of Them, green and grey interweaving to form a singular vortex of
nature’s wrath made real. Resigned to its fate at the hands of Hunter and Underking, Jokach began to wither, tainted bract and the dreck of befouled nature frothing from its twisted form. Yet before it fell, before death at last claimed its due, the Shadowbound Durdalis groaned, its haggard figure splitting to shape a gaping mouth. Strings of incomprehensible syllables poured from the General’s maw as it seemed to sing, the gentle soughing of trees contorting into a choir of grating voices joined in discordant union and weighed down with the odious tinge of corruption.
The notes of Creation’s tainted Song rose in pitch and rhythm, not with the harmonious, awe-inspiring wonder of its namesake, but straining with cruelty and abject malice. Each verse incited the air to convulse in protest, the song resounding volant through all the trees and woods alike. The helix of essence scourged Jokach with the inconsolable fury of a raging tempest, battering its corrupted form with relentless precision. Shrinking beneath Dhar’s pitiless glare, the General slumped and the Underking, He Who is Death, Master of the Underhalls and Lord of the Grave, coldly tore free its soul.
Forced to reach its coda by the twin Gods’ assault, Jokach gasped out the final words, some strange and unknowable power set loose with the General’s closing exhalation. Bark shattered and blackened moss crumbled, treacly sap bleeding from sundered rocks and rotten vines as the Durdalis at last succumbed and nature, ever implacable, claimed its defeated
remains. As the Hunter and the Underking withdraw to recover from Their battle, an eerie, ominous silence settled over the woodlands and forests of Sapience.
Darkness writhed into being within the Bloodwood, a sinister gloom so thick and oppressive that it spread as a black torrent through the devastated wood. The taint clinging to its outskirts yielded to the lingering power of Jokach’s Song, the rot of Ohlsana conjoining with the virulent filth already extant in root and stem, drawn toward the forest’s heart. Something stirred beneath the rotten canopies and blasted boughs, birthed anew by the terrible voice of Jokach. A scream of unfathomable anguish rose from the depths of the Bloodwood, bark and branch, bud and bloom coerced, twisted, forced to foster a grim charade of life. What once was a redwood, wrought to ruin through taint and befouling stain, woke.
Eyes of black and violet opened to regard the world with vainglorious contempt, and a gnarl felt more than heard drummed through the woodland realm. Wrenching roots from the ground with another ululating cry of torment, Shadow Major Seqyluros traversed the land with labouring steps and lumbering gait, and it stomped its way into the Western Ithmia. Absolute chaos ensued as the collective might of Sapience hurled itself against the Shadowbound Arborean (this author would like to note that, contrary to popular rumour, the Shadowbound Arborean was not in fact Nipsy). Seqyluros fought with terrifying power, bending nature to its will and rousing the forest to act on its behalf. In its hands it swung an ironwood greataxe as big as a Human man, cutting down swath after swath of adventurers while its toughened bark turned aside sword and blade and fist and magic.
The sixty adventurers arranged against it rallied time and again despite the very Ithmia itself rising to deny them passage into the forest. Sibatti became a rallying point, their songline totems conveying people past Seqyluros’ barricades and into the woods so they could continue fighting. Advice from Rhulin suggested the use of fire, and eventually, slowly, tenaciously, they wore through its defences, but at a great and terrible cost. For an entire half day they fought, fending off scores of ravens that it summoned to its aid and enduring the brand of the forest inciting nature to do them harm. While several vampires looked desperately for dryads or other sentient beings on which to replenish their blood after the forest had drained them – and everyone else – of vitality, Seqyluros raised eight terrible Bloodwood trees across the Ithmia, a mantle of shadow rendering it immune to the adventurers’ attacks as it hurled its axe at any within reach.
Stine Emerson took up the greataxe and hastened to fell the unnatural trees, chopping them down one by one. When the last fell, the Major’s shroud of midnight died along with them, and it finally began to falter. Knocked unconscious as it weakened, the greataxe fell again from its grasp and as Aisling, Stine, and others wrestled with the weapon in order to land a killing blow, it was Commander Mjoll Seirath who, in a moment of quick thinking, took up the axe and flew away before launching herself from the skies with the mighty weapon in hand to finallly cleave the Major in twain. Exhaling a deep, reverberating sigh laden down with sorrow entwined with relief, Seqyluros fractured, bark and branches crumbling. Turning loose a final defeated sough, the Shadowbound Arborean disintegrated in a falling cascade of rotten leaves veined with sickly black.
Sapience too heaved an incredible sigh of relief as the woodland withdrew its preternatural barriers, allowing passage once more. As they recovered and withdrew to rest, Mjoll claimed the greataxe for herself and briskly marched home to celebrate.
Part XXVIII: Might, Malice, And Marriage
The year had barely turned over to 505 when, in the deep chill of Variach, Creation itself shuddered in queasy displeasure as discordant notes resounded through the air from no discernible origin. Deep in the heart of Bloodloch, portals opened all throughout the city, each gateway a wound in reality sundering the barriers twixt Prime and Other. As the Herald lifted its voice in adulation, the circumstance suddenly made itself clear: Chaos was coming, to finally make good on their promises to the Empire.
In a flash of kaleidoscopic light, technicolour illumination lit up the caverns as energies strange and esoteric began to hum and fizz. As the Herald regaled the world with the grandiloquence most had come to know and either love or revile, the armies filed in with all the ostentatious melodrama befitting the Court. Cracking bones announced legions of withered crones. Hounds, slimes, and bubonis seethed horribly. Gremlins skittered through with the promise of mischief, staining the air with their repulsive stench. Sycophants came last, following an argument amongst themselves over who was the most handsome and brave. Arranging themselves into divisions, the soldiers took up positions at the gates and in the training yards, digging into fortified positions.
While reality gave a final knell of nauseated outrage and the bright light began to spiral into non-being, the trembling portals winked out of existence in a bedazzling flash. Excited by the armies’ arrival but still melancholy over her apparent inability to find a mirror for Tel-muzaan, Rijetta briskly instructed the city to ensure they were competent in the manoeuvring of troops, and Bloodloch began to prepare for a potential battle.
Severin rolled around, and clanging bells broke through the quiet, a chorus of chaotic mayhem unleashing dissonant notes that seemed to be almost deliberately jarring and unpleasant to hear. No tune or melody could be discerned, only grating, excessively jovial and exuberant, nonsense, emanating from the depths of Corrupt Chaos. Screaming in excitement, the Herald announced the wedding of Warleader Bulrok and Akna, the Withered One, deftly arranged by Rijetta in the first days of the negotiations. Loudly inviting all of Sapience to attend, the Herald went on to list a string of titles for the aged crone, amongst them such august and venerable epithets as “Necrotic Nymph”, “Hairless Hag”, and “Toothless Trot”.
Shrill and excitable, the cackling of Akna pierced the membrane of the planar divide to ring in the ears of all present, the crone’s ragged drawl peppered with lascivious desire as she paced her domain clad in a revolting wedding gown. The wedding was to take place in Bloodloch, so said the Herald, and once more Creation shivered as portals were wrenched open, and the tolling of the clamorous bells rose to a fevered, frenzied crescendo. Anticipating the arrival of their mistress, She Most Withered, the legions of crones stationed at Bloodloch’s west gate launched into honorifics of their own, toothless grins and shrieks of excitement weighing heavy in the air.
Yet as the ringing bells fell silent and the portal shimmered with Akna’s imminent traversal, the earth shook in the distance. Disturbed by the passage of armies clandestine and swift, the sands of the Mhojave whirled into an oppressive sandstorm, rolling dunes whipped into a calamitous frenzy of grit and grain.
Tremors juddered through the earth with the passage of something unseen, grotesque rasping audible from deep below the obscuring sands. Beneath and within the arid squall, visible as little more than pinpricks in the enveloping dunes, Shadowbound soldiers marched forward, pressing through the murk with a resolve not born of their own courage, but by ruthless directives issued by a dictatorial commander. Erupting from the ground amidst a revolting downpour of slime and disgorged spew, massive shadowworms crested the air before plummeting back into the earth with a deafening crash. Meanwhile, the Shadowbound legions spread out across the sands, settling into fortified positions. Eyeing the Caverns of Bloodloch as they deployed, the soldiers left no doubt as to their quarry, patiently awaiting orders to resume their march.
Some four thousand soldiers now occupied the Mhojave, and Bloodloch immediately sprang into action, the Empire’s Generals – among them Bulrok, Rijetta, Whirran, Markos, Sheryni, Mjoll, Xarian, Taj, Tina, Elene, Xenia, Maeve, Asaraii, Orhm, and Yettave – mobilising armies of their own to move. After some initial obstacles with fortified positions and deployment alacrity, chaotic energies soon rioted rampant through the halls of the Empire, and the legions of the Corrupt Court were on the move. Hounds snarled in hunger; crones leered and gnashed what remained of their teeth; gremlins, slimes, and bubonises (this author would like to note that no official plural form of bubonis has yet been confirmed) seethed with menace, all while sycophants sang both their own praises and that of the Plane from which they derived.
The divisions marched into the desert, an otherworldly parade of scarcely restrained violence just waiting to be unleashed. Shrieks of delight rang out as the clash commenced, the Court’s emissaries fomenting that which they knew best: ruin. The screams of troops soon punctuated the air as scores, hundreds fell on both sides. Shadowspawn began to pour into the desert, regurgitated from the guts of the rampaging shadowworms to support the invasion force, and Bloodloch fanned out across the sands to push them back.
Soon after the battle’s opening act, Orvast addressed the Order of the Earth, informing them of a boon offered by the Great Father: the ability to command the great wyrm they themselves had raised up, into battle against the shadowworms. Under Alela’s guidance, the Ivolnites split off from Bloodloch’s main host and went in search of their prey. Praying to the earth in order to summon their ally, the ground heaved and quaked, the mighty sandstorm tempesting through the Mhojave growing wilder and more savage. Tunnelling at speed beneath and through the very earth itself, Azmogol, the great Earthen wyrm exploded from below the dunes, its scabrous carapace unfurling like a giant snake as it joined the battle against the shadowworm filth befouling the earth.
Hymns of the Apocalyptia grated through the air in the craggy, jarring tongue of the Earthen, the Teradrim Warband and Children of the Great Father united in the song of war. Azmogol yielded to their commands, deployed across the desert to close shut its gnashing jaws about the shadowworm invaders. The Earthen folk worked tirelessly, directing Azmogol with a General’s assertiveness to wrench the filth out of the ground and bring them to an end.
In the midst of all the chaos, the anguished caterwauling of Akna, the Malformed Maiden erupted through the still-open portals in tones of shrill disappointment, the bride-to-be all but forgotten in the clash. Troops continued to battle on relentlessly; worms continued to regurgitate more and more lesser infantry into the sands, and dying soldiers gasped out their final breaths on all sides. Casualties massed quickly on both sides, but the Empire’s resolve was unbreakable. After a quarter day of war, the final soldier in the massive Shadowbound host finally yielded to the might of Chaos.
Watering the sands and staining them black, the blood of the fallen shadowspawn drenched the rolling dunes of the desert. A corkscrew of grey-purple mist writhed into existence in response, a murky haze like a living bruise now drifting idly across the earth. Shadow Lieutenant Vitashinri congealed out of the ravening gloom, long shadows trailing away from its chill, spectral form. Gliding over the sands with guile and alacrity belying her bullish form, she came to a stop at the desert’s fringes. Though weary from their prolonged campaign, Bloodloch launched instantly back into battle and found themselves joined by adventurers from all over Sapience, some fifty of them coming together to bring the Lieutenant down. Vitashinri, a Minotaur, vanished the moment she was struck, her shadow separating from her body to fight on her behalf.
Many fell to the living manifestation of darkness, their sanity fraying under its potent magic. Streams of mimics bubbled into existence to aid it, lifeless, grey-black copies of all those arranged against it. While the adventurers battled the shadow, the Lieutenant herself periodically reappeared, stabbing people in the back before retreating again. But Sapience, as it has so often in this Second War of Night, remained indefatigable. The shadow fell and the Lieutenant became vulnerable. All present converged on Vitashinri and, finding her weak when out in the open, cut her down, the final blow struck by Rijetta. Vitashinri’s silhouette re-merged with the Minotaur’s body for the final time. Defeated, she collapsed on the sands, a lightless, and now lifeless, spectre. The instant she touched the ground, the earth heaved again, narrow fissures splitting open to swallow whole the destroyed carcass.
Sapience took a breath, but it was short lived. Appearing sans spectacle or other ostentatious announcement, Shadow General Sanaz manifested at the outskirts of Bloodloch’s Caverns. Swift and surreptitious, the Naga slipped into the city proper garbed in some innocuous disguise. Immediately, roars of anger resounded from the Iron Redoubt, loud enough to carry. Wraithlord Gruxmal tore open a rift to the hellish realm of Perdition and brutally hurled both himself and the captive Lieutenant Damendar through.
As Sanaz continued stalking the city, billowing mist came into being, jade smoke peppering the air with scents of jasmine and honeysuckle. Acid rain wept from the clouds beyond the cavernous terrain, showering the desert in a caustic downpour. The Dark Lady wore a severe look as She stepped into view, Might and Malice twinned in their sharp etching ‘cross Her features. Garbed in battle regalia consisting largely of an armoured gown in rippling sanguineous shades, Chakrasul stood as a picture of absolute composure, the august regality of divinity vain and ignoble on full-bodied, unabashed display.
A smirk, unkind and avaricious, danced like an eerie phantom across Corruption’s lips before She abruptly vanished in a perfumed haze, Her callous laughter unctuous and resonant as it chimed through every facet of the city. Fearless, Sanaz pressed on, searching for something known only to her. The Naga made no acknowledgement of the Goddess’ presence, remaining utterly fixated on her clandestine task.
Fingers of fog boiled up from below, coiling languidly around the General’s legs and torso before slithering around her shoulders and throat, the nacreous smoke redolent of some grand intoxicating vapour. Chakrasul addressed Bloodloch, then, reminding them of their Might in dominating Corrupt Chaos. It was time that Xa’azamit bent the knee, She declared, instructing the Empire to raise their voices and stroke the Empress’ ego in order to garner her attention. Bloodloch, needing little prompting to shout even on an ordinary day, readily embraced Corruption’s task, bellowing to the heavens about Xa’azamit, all of it praise save for the words of Maeve Visara whose strategy was to belittle the Empress by proclaiming Sanaz her better.
Momentarily staggered by the enthralling fragrance sent to stymie her, Sanaz blinked rapidly, clearing confusion and perplexity from her eyes. Shadow seethed as it acquiesced to the General’s will, devouring the helical smog surrounding her in moments. A brilliant flash of jade light revealed the presence of Chakrasul atop the prison watchtower. Corruption Incarnate stared down at the sprawling subterranean city below Her, pupil-less eyes trained on the invader pacing through the halls. Raising Her arms, Chakrasul spoke in the chaotic tongue, Her voice at once imperious and sharp as the keenest of blades. Each flawlessly enunciated syllable seemed to hang in the air as if alive, divine authority elevating the exhortation beyond meagre mortal ken.
An inhuman rending sound began to resonate from within the caverns, and Chakrasul again called to Bloodloch for aid, directing them to lend their strength to Hers in order to evoke a grand and unprecedented ensorcellement. Existence itself shivered as though it were being torn asunder. Chanting voices echoed off the stone and carried, loud and clear around the world, and something foul, something twisted, something that should not be, began to open in Bloodloch, not a splitting of the earth, nor the air, but of reality.
“I alone claim dominion over Corrupt Chaos, “Xa’azamit.” The Dark Lady’s voice reverberated in sultry tones. “I am Malice and Despair. I am Might.” She paused, efforts focused wholly on Her task, before finally declaring, “And you WILL hearken to Me.”
Ensorcelled by the Empire’s citizenry and bent to the Dark Lady’s incontrovertible will, the Pit of Xa’azamit pulsed impossibly and flared in size, swelling to envelop the Imperial City in its revolting clutches. Caught in a spiral of effervescent filth, Sanaz stumbled, straining to resist the pull of the chaotic tide. Long strands of shadow spilled from her hands to curtail the Pit’s determined consumption, webs of midnight desperately seeking to sever its attachment to the Prime. The churning vortex roiled with profane euphoria, harsh cries of bellicose intention bubbling up from the hellish reaches of its unfathomable depths.
Fear blossomed in the Naga’s eyes for the first time then, yet she remained defiant, desperately grappling with the combined might of Chaos and Corruption colluding to bring about her end. The Dark Lady turned on Her heel and faded from Her vantage atop the prison tower, the city-sized Pit braying with grotesque sucking sounds. As rope-like strands of chaotic energy at last slithered past Sanaz’s defences and bound her fast, Chakrasul emerged with all the impassive dignity of a queen. Disgust and derision married to frame Her angular features, and She reached out with one perfectly manicured hand. Without hesitation, the Goddess unceremoniously shoved the flailing, ensnared General into the Pit, the infernal helix heaving in excitement as it finally snapped shut its jaws.
Ravenous and foul, the might of the full Court descended upon their newfound captive in a rapacious frenzy, all manner of horrors and abominations surging to meet their guest. In a catastrophic outpouring of long unsated aggression, tentacular ferocity and vitriolic violence spilled forth like bile, the hungry wound of the Court’s appetite at last gorging upon Sanaz’s manifest suffering. The General’s death sent the Herald into a manic delirium, shouting itself hoarse with such fervour and devotion that the effort, the bliss, the rapture, brought its life to an early end. For posterity, its final proclamation has been recorded here:
“ECCE! BEHOLD! OH YEZ AND HEAR YE! LOOK! TEAR OUT YOUR EYES, MORTAL PROGNOSTICATORS, SAPIENT NAYSAYERS, REALITY DENIERS, AND YES, EVEN RHYOT! LOOK AT HOW THE GROOM TO BE FIGHTS WITH ALL HIS HEART FOR HIS FAIR MAIDEN! O HOW HE THROWS HIMSELF INTO BATTLE UNRELENTING TO END THIS WAR THAT HE MAY RETURN TO AKNA’S SIDE! OH WHAT COURAGE, OH WHAT VALOUR, OH WHAT DEDICATION TO HIS BLUSHING BRIDE! AND LO! FOR THAT IS NOT ALL WE ARE BLESSED TO OBSERVE UPON THIS MOST MAGNANIMOUS AND INCONTROVERTIBLY INCREDIBLE DAY! OH NO! FOR CORRUPTION HAS COME, AND WITH IT CHAOS! THE DARK LADY’S MIGHTY MIGHT! THE DARK LADY’S MALICIOUS MALICE! THE DARK LADY’S HOPELESS DESPAIR! THE DARK LADY’S AVARICIOUS AVARICE! OH HOW BLESSED WE ARE TO WITNESS SHE! AND OH WHAT SHE HATH WROUGHT! WHAT RUIN! WHAT SPECTACLE AND MAGNIFICENCE! FOR SHE HAS CALLED THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) HERSELF TO BATTLE!”
“LOOK AT HOW XA’AZAMIT (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) COMMANDS THE FIELD! DESTROYS THE SHADOW! CUTS DOWN HUNDREDS, NAY THOUSANDS, NAY MIIIIIIIIILLIONS WITH BUT A TASTE OF THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE PIT! WEEP IN TERROR, SHADOWBOUND, FOR THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER) HAS SHOWN YOU BUT A FRACTION OF HER STRENGTH AND FOUND YOU WANTING! FALL TO YOUR KNEES IN SUPPLICATION! WRIIIIIIIITHE IN ADORATION! SCREECH YOUR BENEFICENT PRAISES TO SHE MOST DESERVING, SHE MOST DIVINE, SHE MOST INCOMPARABLY INCOMPARABLE AND UNPRECEDENTEDLY UNPRECEDENTED! FOR THERE IS NO GREATER GIFT, NO MORE BENEVOLENT BENISON, NO MIGHTIER FORCE TO STILL THE HEARTS OF MAN AND LEAVE THEM RAPT WITHAL, GASPING FOR AIR IN DISBELIEF! NOTHING, OF NEITHER GOD NOR BEAST NOR ANYWHERE ELSE THAT CAN HOPE TO MATCH THE MAGNIFICENT SPLENDOUR, THE INCREDIBLE INCREDULITY, THE AWE-INSPIRING WONDER THAT IS THE EMPRESS (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER)! OH THE TALES THAT WILL BE TOLD! THE SONGS THAT WILL BE SUNG! THE PARTIES AND BALLS AND FESTIVITIES HELD ‘CROSS THE WORLDS AND PLANES ENTIRE IN CELEBRATION FOR THIS MOMENTOUS DAY, THIS GLORIOUS AND MOST MAJESTICALLY WONDERFUL AND FORTUITOUSLY FORTUITOUS DAY! FOR WE ARE SAVED! SPARED! DELIVERED FROM THE SHADOW’S CORRUPTION! WRESTED FROM THE JAWS OF FAILURE BY HANDS SHAPELY AND GROTESQUE! YOUR SAVIOUR HAS COME, SAPIENCE, AND HER HOLY NAME IS XA’AZAMIT (MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER)!”
As the dust settled over the Mhojave and orderly calm returned to Bloodloch, the incandescent portal to Corrupt Chaos shuddered and Akna stepped through. Garbed in a tattered wedding dress hitched up to her knobbly knees, and clasping a bridal bouquet seemingly made entirely of ash, the aged crone moved with surprising agility through the caverns, seeking her fiance. What transpired then is for those who bore witness to know, but the crone – now styling herself the Malformed Maiden – screeched congratulations to herself and, having consummated her marriage in her own discerning fashion, hurried back through the gateway to Xa’azamit’s Court, bellowing promises to prepare the marriage home for guests.
Part XXIX: The Liruma Project
Shortly after His return from Czjetija and subsequent pardon by Vanguard Sryaen, the Manipulator met with Chairman Inkh to discuss the continuing war with Ohlsana and how to best handle the Shadow Generals recently arrived on the Prime. Severn, ever resourceful and coming to no meeting without a plan in mind, outlined a daring and ambitious scheme, promising that, if the Spires succeeded in carrying out His mission, they would take two Generals down in the process.
Assenting to the plan, Inkh brought few into his confidence as he and his trusted few got to work on the arrangements, details of which are as-yet unknown to the sages of the Grand Library. Time wound on and as Generals fell and invasions and incursions slowed from the initial onslaughts, little news escaped the Spires, much of the citizenry occupied with shadowbreaks but nonetheless eager and restless to take action of their own.
Meanwhile, peculiarities were observed throughout Sapience. Not only had Shadowbound couriers gone inexplicably missing, but new varieties of shadow eld had begun to show up at the leyline foci, in the eld mines, and even in the Iernian Fracture. This latter phenomenon incited considerable panic across Sapience as the emergence of the shadow eld – notably corrosive and consuming – coincided with a sudden massive depletion in the city-states’ ylem reserves. Many attributed these developments to the Shadowbound Dreikathi, General Diyomexas, whose whereabouts were and remain unknown – rumours the Spireans themselves were content to fuel. The Grand Library would also like to clarify that though many believed these eld to be Shadowbound, we are able to confirm their existence as simple shadow eld, likely transformed via scientific means.
In late Severin, with yet another temporal coincidence aligning with portentous activity for the Minotaur God, Severn summoned all of Spinesreach to His side and locked the city down to prevent any details from escaping the walls of the Citadel. It is assumed by the Grand Library that this is when the grand feat of science about which we are about to write, took place. While our intelligence is imperfect, we are advised that Tyrant Elene of Bloodloch is cognisant to further details as per her public news posting #6818. As always, we advise careful critical thinking when utilising such postings to establish fact.
As Inkh and Legyn departed from the Spires and made for the Liruma – the former in possession of two Shards of Truth intended as bait, the latter leading a veritable troupe of fellow Archivists behind – the disappearing couriers reappeared en masse in the Dry Plains, delivering missives with haste before departing with similar alacrity back to the Primal Eye to report. At the same time, the familiar violet glow of a burgeoning major focus danced across the horizon.
Generals Telorach and Mazgal, for so long entrenched in their war camp in the Dry Plains, abruptly took their leave as the coming major focus set the continent to rumbling. Shadowbound troops joined them, marching south with discipline beyond their typically reckless belligerence. Holding their tongues, the soldiers also held to their formations, marching with purpose into the Liruma Scrublands. The host quickly split themselves into smaller divisions and converged in the north, the bulk of them taking up positions and beginning a patrol.
When the familiar inelegant patterns of green light flitted across the skyline, Telorach’s roar split the air, heard long before the General came into view. Heinously proportioned, the ascended shadow beast lumbered into the Liruma Scrublands, coagulated shadow writhing grotesquely to shape its terrible form. Mazgal’s arrival came with no greater attempts at subtlety, the might of the Earthen, tainted and twisted by Ohlsana though it was, on full display. Thundering steps carried him into the Liruma, minor fissures and cracks splintering away from wheresoever his tread landed.
Immediately, a sonorous rumbling and great splitting of the earth presaged Ivoln’s eruption from below the ground, His attention drawn by the traitorous Earthen stalking the scrub. The Hlugnic-formed God wore a look stark enough to wither stone itself, moving forward with obvious intent to make war. “Fool,” spoke a voice then from everywhere and nowhere, reverberating with chill authority. The Earthen Father stilled in His tracks, becoming wary and suddenly alert. Before Earth could take another stride toward His foe, the bullish figure of Severn stepped out of the shadows. Taking Ivoln by the arm, the Minotaur God dragged Him away from the frontline, the Two vanishing without further trace.
Dozens flocked into the Liruma, drawn by the presence of the Generals and the major focus that by now was imminent, though the Archivists, all but Legyn himself, returned to Spinesreach. When at last the brilliant beam of lighted erupted to herald its manifestation, no instability came, nor sign of ylem energy peppering the area as it normally would. They would not have to wait long for it.
Peculiar lights flickered at the outskirts of the Liruma, burgeoning pinpricks shedding effulgent sparks which soon conjoined with all the others, the Scrubland bordered in bright, eerily integrous beams. A frisson of something unknown sparked through the air, the light seeming to stretch, expanding upwards and outwards. Taking form in the midst of this cascading lucent phenomenon, geometric shapes emerged like cresting waves limned in penumbral magic burning with preternatural translucence. Each flawlessly melded with the next and the next and the next, Rafic flowing into Yuef into Ef’tig and repeating until a singular whole formed across the Liruma’s peripheral borders.
Some tried to flee but found themselves incapable, as though the air itself were conspiring to deny them egress. Thousands of overlapping and interlocking patterns manifested a confining matrix of diagrammatic immurement, reality acquiescing to the harmonious music of Creation’s ineffable Spheres drawn through the liminal barriers of the world and
wielded by daring, ever-audacious hands. The web of expanding geometries pulsed once, twice, and a third time, as if challenging reality to defy its formation. With an authoritative toll reminiscent of a twice-struck gong it snapped firmly into place and vanished from sight, the feat of numerological elicitation now invisible but inexorably palpable.
Sequestered from the world at large by dint of geometric conjuration, the Liruma remained calm and tranquil, an onlooker’s eyes revealing nothing beyond the ordinary plains and those standing among them. Caught in the esoteric snare, the two Generals urgently attempted to discern the source of their entrapment, beast and Earthen working in tandem to unravel the mystifying barricades risen up against them. And then, unseen and all but unheard amidst the clamour, clandestine figures exhale sighs of relief – and trepidation – as some great and unknowable working at last reached fruition. Those standing with Inkh in the Liruma noticed then the opening of a wormhole that delivered a large bomb infused with ylem energy into the scrublands. Amongst them, Mjoll quickly caught on to what was happening and yell of warning echoed across the Bloodlochian aether – but by then it was too late.
For a moment, reality screamed.
In a ylem-stoked blaze beyond all reckoning, the very earth churned, tumbled, and found itself set aflame as the lifeblood of Creation surged forth in a heinous torrent, threatening to obliterate every hint of life within what was once the Liruma Scrublands in a pall of sky-illuminating fury. Like the birth of a second sun, refulgent rays of utter devastation cast the northern mountains of Sapience in sharp relief, the towering shadows of the Dragon’s Spires extending across the continent in exaggerated figures of claw and nail.
Somehow contained by a grand numerological elicitation, the burning ire of ylemfire only escalated further amidst its confines, fuelled and spurned to ever-increasing levels by invisible eddies of arcane puissance. Nothing was spared – not stone nor metal, as the ground paradoxically combusted beneath ylemnic transfiguration. Paralysed by the horror unfolding all around them, those trapped within the Liruma could only watch, frozen, as the land beneath their feet disappeared in a conflagration of celestial magnitude.
Words can scarcely describe the magnitude of the explosion which followed, the entirety of Sapience becoming starkly aware of it by light and trembling, shaking, quavering earth alike. Mazgal and Telorach, ensorcelled within the blast radius, were exterminated in an instant, the Earthen blasted to bits while the shadow beast simply warped out of existence. So too were the dozens gathered and unable to retreat, even resurrection bringing with it a lingering ylem sickness which again claimed their lives soon after. The elated screams of Legyn pierced the air in the wake of the inconceivably potent detonation, joy and rapture overtaking him as he was sublimated by the Spheres of Creation and deluged in an elicitation of unfathomable arcane magnitude.
As the raging energies of the disturbed Liruma ley roiled and seethed betwixt the recursive warding containing them, a low groan began to sound at the very edge of hearing, like a great heaving of wordless weight grinding against another. After nearly a minute of this starwrought event, even the incredible elicitation of the Archivium finally reached its limit, and with a monumental crack and the sound of shattering glass, a thread of insurmountable power groaned as it was pulled unimaginably taut. It took merely a parting flare from the dwindling ylemfire, and something at last gave way under the strain.
The ylemfire surged free from its numerologically-imposed borders and spread into the nearby Aureliana, the explosive energy revelling in newfound freedom to wreak havoc on all within its reach. Trees and shrubs were vapourised in a meagre instant; foliage and fauna became ashes, and the desert sands boiled instantly to glass which fractured upwards, raining fragmented shards on the wastelands left behind.
Spooling outwards, a great arc of arcane energy unwound violently from the earth below, screaming out into the firmament and blasting a city-shaped hole in Angelbane’s dire projection as it surged away into the cosmos, the tenebrous gloam slithering back together again in mere moments. As the energy travelled away from Aetolia and pierced the membrane of reality, the groaning grew to a dull rumble, and then, in a moment of nauseating finality, something fundamental shifted slightly out of place in a soul-churning CLICK. (The sages of the Grand Library would like to note that we are not aware of precisely what occurred, and will not be taking questions on the matter, so please do not ask.)
Eocik’s voice rang out in the immediate aftermath, reminding the world that his warning signalled the end of the Cabal, and proclaiming that ignorance of said warning now spelled the end of “us all”, asking simply, “What have you done?” before falling quiet.
While Sapience took a breath for some long minutes, all three non-Spirean states declared war upon the Spires, connecting the appearance of the shadow eld and the draining of their pylons to Spirean machinations. Ohlsana was, of course, not yet finished. A long, spindly shadow fell over the Dry Plains as a humanoid mass of darkness coalesced into existence, time itself seeming to warp around the eldritch entity’s spectral figure. Left behind to oversee the command post as the Generals marched to meet their doom, Shadow Lieutenant Ageless made its presence known with an eerie, reverberating rattle as it staked a claim on the ground it stood upon, foretelling a future in which it would be undefeated. Already roused to ire, Sapience came together as a hammer determined to meet the nail, some sixty adventurers throwing themselves into battle against the Lieutenant who rapidly fell under the magnitude of the combined onslaught.
While Time’s disparate rivulets returned to their normal flow and the two halves of Ageless were put down, the air remained alive, electrified with the explosive release of unimaginable volumes of energy. Far above Sapience, beyond the dome of the world, Shadow General Irgech cast a sobering glance upon the realm below, the integrity of the dark star no less vital, no less absolute, despite the massive torrent of unleashed power punching through the very fringes of Creation’s farthest reach. Largely unconcerned with the celestial phenomenon, most of the world spent their ire in only one direction: Spinesreach. Having received declarations of war from Bloodloch, Duiran, and Enorian, the Spires immediately came under attack, dozens of their guards falling in the opening skirmish of what is likely to be a bloody campaign.
Part XXX: The Fourteenth General
Long throughout the unwinding saga of the Second Night War has Iosyne, Lady Malevolent, suffered. When Ohlsana’s rot first crept up against the borders of the Shadow Keep, it was Iosyne’s own heart that held the line. Her faithful Order and Her loyal Bloodlochians toiled relentlessly to keep the heart vital and healthy in what seemed like a desperate effort to preserve both the Keep and the soulstone within, from destruction. In what most considered a miracle – a spell of luck in otherwise troubling times – the heart held out far longer than anyone expected, and the Keep stood. With the assent and even encouragement of Tyrant Elene, the Goddess responded to incursions across the world by deploying hundreds of Chiavs into the caverns, ordering them to act as guards in the city’s defence.
Even at Memonaransa, despite Her ailing state, Iosyne maintained a cavalier and nonchalant demeanour, challenging Dhar and Bamathis on Strategy – Her original Virtue – without any sign of faltering. However, falter She eventually did. The heart, while yet protecting the Keep, declined, the blessings of the Goddess wrought in pain and becoming weaker. But still Iosyne held as a fast and reliable ally in the Night War.
In order to repair Her heart and strengthen the barriers against the rot, Iosyne tasked Xenia and Bloodloch at large with obtaining a Shard of Truth – a piece of that priceless Divine relic sought by all the continent, including the Shadow Generals. Following the demise of General Jokach and the epic battle against Major Seqyluros, Mjoll Seirath retrieved the Shadowbound Arborean’s axe which, torn from the devastated Bloodwood, disintegrated to reveal one such Shard. When next Iosyne appeared, the Commander quickly passed the shard to Iosyne, who promised that She would see to the heart.
In the second day of Ios, as time yet again seemed to have a sense of humour, streaks of black and purple formed descending patterns in the firmament, bruise-like smudges visible even amidst the ubiquitous pall of the dark star. Sapience looked on, three cities distracted from their relentless raid on Spinesreach as, passing through the barriers dividing Sapience from what lay beyond, Shadow General Irgech withdrew from his position above the sky dome, a churning gyre of black and amethyst beginning to unwind.
Irgech spiralled into the Primal Eye, the pillar of animate darkness shrouding his form soon shedding to reveal his presence. General Azgon took a knee for the Shadow Mother’s second-born, the corrupted Akkari showing deference and hints of fear. Loud enough to carry across the world, Irgech intoned in the harsh and polysyllabic tongue of Czjetija. The General’s directive, issued with incontrovertible authority, grated through the air as if alive.
Some time passed without response, before a flickering silhouette appeared in the east. Bestriding the continent on massive limbs, the Shadowbound Dreikathi – the corrupted Titan – returned from his sojourn to Albedos, distant conflict leaving his body almost overwhelmed with wounds. The eld core, wrenched from a colossal shadow eld, hummed in his chest cavity, the lesser shadowspawn gaping in awe as he returned to the Eye, panting from his injuries.
Far in the south, sheltered by the eaves of the Itzatl, Saglozol emerged amidst a haze of tainted memory mists. The General disbanded the clandestine command post from which it had worked in secret and turned north, spectral evanescence still shrouding it from sight. At the Eye, Saglozol’s silhouette congealed into tangible form, the now four Generals – three plus one of supreme authority – standing together. Angelbane paced restlessly, visibly frustrated and displeased. Lifting his voice again, Irgech’s second command seared the sky with indelible dominion, his usage of the common tongue fractured but nevertheless comprehensible. “The time is now. Come, Fourteenth now Sixth,” he ordered, the collective onlookers of Sapience left reeling in confusion.
Then, skittering legs and clicking mandibles resounded from the caverns of Bloodloch, the scores of armoured Chiavs stirring into sudden motion. In a voice laden with dark malevolence, Iosyne, styling Herself as Shadow General Nega-Iosyne, intoned, “Victory is assured.” While Sapience gaped in shock and disbelief and horrible realisation dawned on Mjoll, the arachnids chittered in delight before turning on the Empire’s guardsmen in a sudden ambush, united in purpose as though conjoined by a hive mind.
Venomous fangs and mighty flails worked as one, the efficiency of the Chiav matched only by their absolute brutality. Impersonating refugees, Shadowbound infiltrators cast off their disguises and joined the massacre, knives and black-edged blades in hand. Indorani Scions and Earthen acolytes fell, assassinated by fang and clawed limb. Carnifex Knights
collapsed to the ground as fatal poison wracked their bloodstream. Colossal Teradrim crumbled to dust, their forms shattered by the unexpected siege from within. Last to hold out were the imperious Consanguine, brought low by tangling webs before finding themselves scattered to disparate mist and forced to reform elsewhere.
As the bodies lay strewn throughout the subterrain and the streets ran rampant with blood, the Chiav fanned out across the city, taking up positions near the gates. Hissing portals opened within the depths, black and violet gateways slicing reality open to allow the ingress of Shadowbound soldiers in the hundreds. The caverns quaked beneath the lockstep march of division after division, each filing diligently into place. Guarding the borders of their newly acquired lands, the soldiers closed ranks and stood implacable, ready to repel invaders.
They would soon have their chance. As the Empire rallied and attempted to fight their way through the hundreds of aggressive Chiav and rapidly growing numbers of shadowspawn filling their caverns, the fourteenth Shadow General Iosyne dispersed in a corkscrew of inky black shadow. As the spider Goddess manifested at once-Sterion’s centre, a glint of silver light sparkled in the distance. Iosyne wore a look of triumph, and passed the Shard of Truth’s Sword into Irgech’s hands. The Carnifex, fearful for their soulstone and inhabitants of the Keep, immediately ordered an evacuation, their denizens absconding to the infernal reaches of Perdition with soulstones in tow for their own protection.
Disbanding most of Her order in the clamour, Iosyne reappeared before the Shadow Keep to reclaim Her heart that had come under attack by the Carnifex. The locket, for so long a symbol of hope and resistance, flew into Her hands as She declared the facade to be no longer necessary. Then, She simply disappeared. In hindsight, the Grand Library remarks, the signs of Iosyne’s treachery are plain to see, though the when or the how She had become such remains unclear. The Goddess did not come to the aid of Her consort, Severn when threatened by Haern, nor when He battled Murgraxis; Her arguments at Memonaransa leaned towards keeping the Unbound Lord on the Prime; Bloodloch was miraculously spared the invasions suffered by the rest of the continent (at least until General Sanaz came to retrieve Damendar), and the Warlord’s suspicion of Her knowledge regarding Sanaz’s plot with Perdition – a theory based on Her devotion to the Keep – seems now a bitter portent.
Angelbane betrayed neither emotion nor reaction to the receipt of the great prize. His form quavered, rippling in and out of focus as he entered the rift to Czjetija, barking orders to the three remaining Generals to prepare themselves before vanishing entirely from sight.
More and more soldiers entered Bloodloch alongside shadowspawn infantry, the caverns groaning under the roiling of what was by now a monstrous black wave. Shilkar, having managed to escape in the carnage, advised the city’s immediate retreat to El’jazira, and the plotting to retake their home, a scheme allegedly devised by Abhorash, began. As the armoured Chiav forcibly escorted what few daring citizens remained behind in Bloodloch, eerie quiescence fell upon the caverns. The city, now fully under Czjetijan control, still stood as an Empire, but one of Ohlsana’s Imperial Domain; the First of Four. A short while later, bereft of Iosyne’s protection, the gates of the Shadow Keep toppled with a heavy groan, subsumed by the encroaching rot.
Bloodloch has fallen. The world is at war – with both itself and Czjetija. The entrance to the Carnifex fortress now lays open to further advancement of shadow. Most important of all: the Shadow now possesses a Shard of Truth, and General Irgech works at unravelling the bonds keeping Ohlsana’s true might at bay…
Part XXXI: The Empire In Exile
Following the shocking revelations of Iosyne’s treachery and Her subsequent handing over of the Shard of Truth to Irgech, the world reeled in response. Those displaced from Her order mourned the vanished Goddess, but none more closely than Xenia Seirath. Driven wholly by devotion to the Malevolent, Xenia desperately sought some hope for Her redemption, meeting with Her Emissary, Baalziel, to discuss the options.
Baalziel speculated that Iosyne could potentially be saved and that Her heart, separated from Her body for some centuries, meant that a piece of Her was potentially uncorrupted. If efforts were to be made to save the Goddess, so said Baalziel, then Xenia would first need to convince the Lady’s former allies – now enemies – to assist. Xenia predictably set about this task with fervour, but much of the Empire did not concur. Many, the Tyrant and most Thronekeepers amongst them, determined Iosyne to have been too weak to resist becoming Shadowbound on two separate occasions and, by the Goddess’ own laws, should not be saved even if the opportunity arose, and thus far no signs that it would have presented themselves.
Iosyne remains at large, Her activities and intentions as yet unknown. The Empire remains unsympathetic.
~ ~ ~
Meanwhile, Bloodloch found themselves temporarily relocated to their military outpost of El’jazira, a serviceable place albeit lacking all of the facilities and comforts of their native city state. In the week following the unveiling of Iosyne, the displaced citizens attempted to hatch a plan when they were joined by the Progenitor, a bloodsoul stone in one hand and a nascent chain of iron and gold in the other. Presenting these relics to those gathered, Abhorash referred back to the gang of thieves who had located the Shard of Truth beneath Arbothia, and outlined a plan of his own.
Information gathered from this crew of burglars alluded to methods by which one could tamper with the Orrery of the Spheres, a subject Abhorash himself was already well versed in. He explained that, prior to the city’s conquest by Iosyne and Her Chiav, he had intended to utilise these plans to draw Ati, the Shadow, back to the Prime through the Orrery and enslave it to the Empire’s will. Now, circumstances had changed.
Before pressing further, Abhorash commented on the Empire as a whole, noting that an Empire of one city is hardly worthy of the name, and declaring his intention to aid the Sanguine Fist in the construction of a second city state, making them an Empire in more than just word. For the time being, however, Abhorash proposed conducting a ritual to draw, fuse, and bind Ati in order to recapture the lost city.
Instructing the Dominion to prepare a ritual of blood, he informed them they would need to fill the stone he had presented with souls and blood offerings, and to embellish the chains with additional links. Efforts proceeded apace, and the mood in El’jazira was surprisingly buoyant given what had only so recently transpired. The Carnifex worked at gathering souls, the Dominion spilled endless blood (praise must go to Xarian here for relentlessly taking up the task), and the Teradrim bolstered their chains. Shilkar, however, had her mind on other things.
Having carried out an audacious rescue of all the refugees enslaved by the Empire’s ambassadors, the Demon Warden set about organising them into divisions. The untrained and terrified rabble lined the streets of El’jazira, timidly awaiting training. Shilkar organised the Empire to instruct them in a plethora of fields – first they learned courage, then strength, discipline, and efficiency. Next came instruction in offensive and defensive techniques. Teradrim and the Blood transformed many into the undead and vampires to bolster their strength. Forgers armoured them, and Thronekeeper Whirran yearned to ply them with silvergrit to the chagrin of his fellows. Slowly but surely, the ragtag band grew in skill and strategy, and Shilkar deemed them ready to march.
Abhorash worked at the Orrery of the Spheres, inverting its flow in order to pull the Ati fragments scattered across the planes back to the Prime. In the north, the slave troops deployed to the Tarean front were recalled back to the outpost and organised into legions. Too, the Earth rent asunder under Ivoln’s command and warbands of Earthen poured through to El’jazira, bolstering the Empire’s military might ever further. Anticipation built for the ritual and the re-capture, and time passed rapidly.
Late Ios would see the day finally arrive. Abhorash called the citizens to a remote laboratory in the depths of Farsai, explaining that, prior to its return back to the Eye, General Saglozol had toiled at the effort of restoring Ati, and had drawn many of its essence fragments back to the ruins. Some 35 people were present and prepared, the bloodsoul stone sated, the earthen chains strong and resilient. Among them stood Asaraii, Dourif, Maeve, Paxe, Galilei, Sheryni, Yettave, Aren, Akarn, Xai, Dreww, Sethra, Tybereus, Mazzion, Xarian, Bulrok, Almol, Kurak, Mjoll, Rijetta, Whirran, Elene, Ehtias, Tina, Azarae, Gryph, Orhm, Taj, Xenia, Tetchta, Teramasce, and Daebach
Abhorash stood at the centre of the chamber and instructed the Blood Council of the Dominion – Dourif, Asaraii, and Maeve – to begin. Three voices lifted in chants of ancient Kalsu, before they worked as a trio to draw a ritual circle of blood and sand around Abhorash. Next, all present worked together to draw the remaining errant essence from all across Sapience into the circle. As it streamed in, Abhorash directed the Blood to lift their voices in chant and fuse the pieces of Ati back together.
When this was done, he looked at Dourif with a grave expression. The next step was to draw the piece of Ati in him, out, and merge it with the whole. Again the Blood Council took up the task, carefully extracting it and infusing all the essence with a drop of his own highly powerful blood. As the amalgamated essence stirred, the Carnifex set loose the thousands of soul fragments they had gathered, and began stitching them together. As they toiled, the singular whole began to take shape, until Abhorash was surrounded by a storm of blood, essence, and soul magic whirling like a maelstrom around him. He looked now to the Primus, charging him with animating the remnants of Ati. Dourif frowned in concentration and exerted his full power over the blood, willing the disparate souls to merge with the essence and regain something resembling life.
Tortured screams rang out as the Primus succeded in his task, and the Teradrim hastened to enwrap their newly conscious captive in the heavy chains they had laboriously forged. Still it resisted, and all present exerted wills of their own, attempting to dominate Ati and bring it under Imperial control. Though the effort was painstaking and difficult, the Empire prevailed, and Ati, now broken and subsumed by Bloodloch’s will, yet screamed.
The citizens returned quickly back to El’jazira and began deploying their troops into the desert. Under the command of Bulrok, Bloodloch began a siege with Ati at the head of the vanguard, parading their slave for all to see. Into the seized city they poured alongside the Progenitor, commanding Ati to eradicate legion after legion after legion, and to devour the rot threatening to consume the entire cavern network.
For a quarter day or more they fought, laying siege to their own home in a valiant attempt to bring it back under their own control. As dozens fell in droves to beast and spinner and armed Chiav alike, Abhorash personally cut down hundreds, clearing a path for the citizens and soldiers to march through. All the while, Earthen hymns rang across the caverns, the warbands of Azvosh revelling in the glory of war.
When at last the final invaders fell, the Empire summoned Ati to the Alcazar. Without pity or mercy they shackled the Shadow – the Subjugated Son – with chains and immediately began to celebrate their victory. Abhorash, nonchalant and wry as ever, reaffirmed his intention for the Fist to build a second city, promising to share more with them at a later date.
Most of the denizens, naturally undead or vampiric and forced to regenerate elsewhere in the initial siege, safely returned to the city. One noticeable exception was Hafydus, the living Minotaur bartender – yet another Minotaur sacrifice in the War of the Night.
Part XXXII: The Beginning Of The End
When Arios arrived, the exhausted grunt of the Forge Maiden came with it. Having toiled for a full year in order to create a bell large enough to repel even the worst of storms, the exhausted Ethne threw down Her hammer and revealed the bell to Sapience. After the Illuminai had relentlessly forged dejanite for Her to repeat it following an attack by the Shadow, its brim spanned almost the entire Siroccian range and, when questioned, the Rekindled stated with amusement that it would be virtually impossible to move it elsewhere. When asked about ringing it, Ethne informed those gathered that the Djinn had told Her they would know when the moment was right.
Shortly after, a portal from Rewh’va opened above Enorian and Damariel, significantly empowered from His time spent on the Plane, returned to Prime with a dire warning: Ozeroth was coming. The Unbound Lord declared a plan to launch a last ditch siege against the Primal Eye, instructing Enorian to inform the rest of the continent and to prepare for the week to come. Kalena rapidly alerted the world at large and arrangements began.
In Bloodloch, Bamathis called the Empire’s citizens to meet with Him in the Alcazar beside the captive Ati. The Warlord spoke of Nega-Iosyne and the decision facing the Empire in the imminent battle: to kill or capture in hope of restoration. Bamathis posited that the latter would be extremely difficult, but that He would take on board the choice made by the Empire given they knew Iosyne best. Most – though not all, some unwilling to counteneance the deliberate death of a Varian-born God – present immediately opined that, having fallen to the Shadow twice, She should be slain in accordance with Her own tenets, and punished for Her treasonous betrayal. Xenia Seirath had the hardest choice; as Iosyne’s Voice, She ruefully admitted agreement with this course, but insisted she would re-gather Iosyne’s essence and make the situation right. With preparations of His own to make, Bamathis assented to the decision and confirmed that He would fight to kill, and acknowledged the likelihood that the essence could be retrieved should She be slain.
At the same time, Severn visited Spinesreach with the news of Ozeroth. It would only be a matter of time, said the Minotaur God, before Ohlsana is freed, and He began to outline a plan to the gathered Spireans. To their shock, He declared His need for eight of them – four Sciomancers, and four Syssin – to become shadowbound, not to Ohlsana, but to His own will. Aliyah, Feirenz, Inkh, and Duncan would be the Syssin. Raynia, Evlentesh, Rhyot, and Teeh would be the Sciomancers. Bringing all but Teeh – whose time would come – under His will then and there, He took His leave and bid them to prepare.
~ ~ ~
The following week soon rolled around and an atmosphere of tension hung in the air. As the appointed hour drew nearer, Raynia Riahl’s shadow mark went haywire, destroying her in a confusion of maddened whispers, ostensibly an early warning of danger and ruin to come. At the Eye, Generals Azgon, Diyomexas, and Saglozol took their leave in an orderly procession, returning to Czjetija.
Beams of argent and aureate light clove the outermost edges of the Primal Eye, portals of unrepentant brilliance opening to reveal the Unbound Lord and the Son of Autumn. The moment They arrived, merciless beams tore across the Eye, eradicating shadowbound divisions and preparing the way forward for a siege. Damariel rallied adventurers to His side and Bamathis followed suit, the former granting a boon of immunity to Ohlsana’s rot while the latter imbued all and sundry with a well of heroism, significantly bolstering their abilities.
At the tip of Mount Gallows, all gathered and, led by the Gods, pressed forward into the Eye. Some six hundred shadowspawn filth dwelt within and were cut down in the painstaking advance. The essence of Strife eradicated dozens where they stood in concert with Damariel’s light, slowly but surely carving a path to the centre where the rift to Czjetija yet lingered. Over a hundred adventurers joined the Gods in Their siege and, though many fell even with the Gods’ protection, the last of the shadowspawn finally expired. Quiet lasted barely a minute though before disparate mist and roiling gloom spilled out of the planar gash to form Shadow Major Zhriskal.
Zhriskal fought fiercely, inciting colour-blindness in all who stood against it while laying waste to swath after swath of adventurers. With the aid of Truth and Strife, that force of one hundred eventually prevailed, and the Major in the Endless Spawn fell, broken by the combined forces of Sapience. As it toppled and dispersed into naught, the world seemed to hang suspended, progression quelled and halted by the sheer imposition of that which should not be.
Severn gathered His shadowbound back to Spinesreach, ordering the rest of the city to either barricade themselves in the catacombs or stay outside the walls and fight. While the Spireans hurried to make a decision, shadow blanketed the firmament from horizon to horizon, the mighty bulk of the Sun Drinker taking flight from Her perch atop the Spire. Acceding to Her presence with a deafening sonic boom, the skies exulted in Her passage as She glided away from Spinesreach and turned west, circling above the barren landscape of what once was Sterion.
Silhouetted against the skyline, the northern spires shivered against the fabric of the heavens. Fingers of darkness crawled up and through the topless towers with a spider’s grace, their spun webs a cloying twilight of tightly wound spirals enveloping the structure of each steepled ascent. Atop the tallest brooded the Artificer, His bovine gaze locked in a frown of utter concentration. Umbrael draped an inky mantle across His shoulders, the gathered force of night pouring from Him and into the city proper as He worked like unto an artist painting streaks of darkness across His chiaroscuro canvas.
With a confounding flicker and a crack like a brandished whip, Severn’s web of Artifice snapped into place. The Minotaur God drew His cloak about Himself, spared a lone, indifferent glance to the embattled world below Him, and was gone. Spinesreach simply ceased to be. Disappeared from sight and isolated from the perils yet to come, the once magnificent spires left behind naught but empty air in the distant, deepening dark.
~ ~ ~
Pressure built at the Primal Eye and around the shadowgate, what once was a meagre pinprick now a gaping wound between worlds spewing forth its blackened filth without surcease. Ripples in the dark soon became writhing convulsions, the enveloping shadow shifting to shape a towering figure of achromatic insubstantiality. Reality buckled beneath the manifest imposition of the Firstborn as it observed the Prime with appraising derision, eerie translucence wreathing the eidolic fringes of its phantasmal form.
“Nek Czal vyv, lecz Nota vanyv.” It spoke in a terrible voice, somehow concurrently booming yet laced with saccharine sibilance, gnawing at the mind of all who heard it in an attempt to carve away their clarity and resolve. “Where Light goes, Darkness follows.” Its eyeless glare swept the heavens where the winged Goddess Tanixalthas hovered, Her presence alone a dire portent of violence imminent and untold. And yet, without even a glimmer of faint hesitation, the Firstborn spiralled skyward to battle the Dragon in Her own domain.
Tanixalthas banked away from the incoming Ozeroth and pivoted to exhale a crackling stream of azurine lightning at the General. Shadow came alive to repel the assault, the indignant forks neutralised and turned away from its ethereal presence to discharge harmlessly into the ether. Enraged, Tanixalthas redoubled Her attack, wounded Pride driving Her forward.
Bright silver and golden light twined as one resplendent whorl; unlikely allies, Truth and Strife arose together at the flanks of Ohlsana’s Firstborn. Blossoms of burning spirit exploded from Damariel’s hands, mercy and compassion a mere distant dream set against the fury of the Unbound Lord. Bamathis, armoured in polished steel and with Caelestis held aloft, brought Lobyl’s skill and Godly Strife to bear, launching into a brutal assault against a long-detested foe.
The Primal Eye heaved, ejecting General Azgon through the planar bore amidst an icy wheeze. The tainted Akkari shied away from Damariel’s brilliant light, litanies of the Shadow Mother spilling from his lips to form a darkened shield against the ruthless dawn. Yet in the movement of Azgon to join the growing battle, his befouled manta blade in hand, brilliantine cascades of light rose up against his passage: Aban, Berrad, and Saebi, Exarchs all. Soaring to battle with the practised ease of veteran soldiery, the trio encased and surrounded Azgon in a tight-knit triangle, nary a gap in their dazzling bladework as the noose tightened. With pity neither offered nor asked for their traitorous once-brother, calescent tongues of glimmering flame scoured the light-blessed air as Berrad fervently recited prayers to Dejaani in repudiation of his former mentor’s profane chant.
Amorphous and intangible, Ozeroth effortlessly weathered the Gods’ assaults, each exertion of Divine might repelled and turned back on its attackers. Bruise-like smears marred the sky with the Firstborn’s own expenditure of power, the air frothing in effervescent rejection as the General drew yet more and more shadow to its aid. Rainfall bathed Sterion in purifying waters even as pillars of fire speared down from above, the curtains of flame abruptly parting to unveil the Ogress Ethne, Her expression as bleak as the hammer She wielded. Amidst the downpour stood the form of Slyphe, trident in hand and determination writ large upon Their features. As the gathering storm sundered into clouds of billowing steam, the two Gods levelled twin glares at the still-churning rift. And the rift glared back.
The towering frame of Diyomexas coalesced within the roiling churn of the nightgate, his form and figure unmarred by all that was once inflicted on the eastern front. Irradiance teemed about him like unto repulsive aurae, wrought in polyhued shades of galvanised ylem shot through by oil-charred black in sickening, diseased streaks. Fire and Water wasted no time, hammer and trident working in unison to turn back each spear of crystalline energy as They pressed forward against the eld core of his chest cavity. Ethne’s strength married with Slyphe’s incredible dexterity, forcing Diyomexas onto the defensive. Chromatic rainbows poured out from the ether, technicolour whorls sparking with Astral-born stars. From the canvas of sky’s artistry stepped the form of the Imago, the feline Goddess spitting out a hiss of disgust before lofting spear and claw. A multiplicity of prismatic fireballs orbited Her Divine frame, an echo of Her Astral authority.
Triune confrontations played out within the theatre of heaven, casting Sapience in a phantasmagoria of ever-shifting spotlights. Unleashed power collided with untrammelled might as God met General blow for blow, actors in a grand and deadly performance of unprecedented, world-sundering import.
Celestial mist coursed from the planar portal then, whirling into a gyre of memory made manifest. General Saglozol ascended through clouds of pallid smoke and hoary brume, casting a cruel, clinical consideration across the triple-pronged battlefield before it. Though it motioned in the direction of Ozeroth – still comfortably engaged with Tanixalthas, Damariel, and Bamathis – the Memory Eater froze suddenly as a slender figure shimmered into existence beside it, entwining sheeting rainfall with the scents of jasmine and nightshade. Corruption’s glare bored through Saglozol’s sullen shroud as She struck with Might in one hand and Malice in the other, staring past Her opponent to arch an eyebrow at something beyond. The General rebuffed Chakrasul’s display and wheeled around, face contorting in confusion as its eyes landed upon the figure of a small boy, childlike features cast in a mien of authority asserted.
Koduses made no move save for the stubby fingers twitching rapidly at His sides, the workings of Elder Time unhurried and deliberate. Jade flames and duskywings scourged the General, and the child-God lifted a hand, Saglozol’s timeless features ageing, atrophying by the will and whim of the eternal hourglass. Lexadhra shed Her borrowed guise and shifted again; She was Helera and Yanai, She was Nalibhtavi and the Magician, each facade its own technique born of long-bereft Azhoa brought to bear beside the commanding figure of Chakrasul.
Howling cries of bird and beast presaged the outpouring of verdant wildflame upon the battlefield, the grizzled face of the resolute Hunter manifesting within its shrouding aura. Rhythm’s Spine thrummed in His hands and He immediately moved between Damariel and Bamathis, deflecting a blast of shadow from Ozeroth before responding with savage blows of His own. Shadow and dictated malady forged a path to finality as the fallen Akkari Azgon proved himself a match for even the seasoned Exarchs, yet finality held no sway over the trio – holy illumination renewing bodies and souls within the hallowed, sacrosanct radiance of the Angelic Triad.
Cerulean lightning yet splintered down from Tanixalthas soaring above, the ire of Midwinter’s Star lashing at each and every General. Sterion’s heart pounded once more like a noisome drum and Shadow General Nega-Iosyne skittered through, the gaping wound in Her chest staunched by Ohlsana’s rot. Scarcely did She begin to take in the clamour unfolding all around Her when the ground ruptured and Ivoln emerged from the deep fissures of the earth, bellowing an Earthen war cry. Soil and stone answered the call of the Earthen Father, the very crust of the world rent asunder as He cast forth titanic slabs of rock at the Goddess standing in opposition. Yet for all the fury of Azvosh, Nega-Iosyne was too quick, and the Hlugnic God too slow; She barreled towards Him on eight legs, essence of Pain streaming from Her hands.
Heavy chains of anaxagorite formed before their master came into view, charnel energies empowering He Who Is Death to battle against the tendril wisps of Pain. The Underking’s reaping scythe sliced at the many-legged form of Malevolence, the blood-stained blade striking swift and true towards the skittering appendages in an effort to halt Her progress. While the Fourteenth General worked to counter Death and Undeath alike, the Progenitor stepped forth from shadows. Disgust plain upon his face, Abhorash hurled himself at Her with a snarling hiss, elongated claws carving deep furrows in the carapace of the arachnid Goddess.
Locked in Their battle encompassing heaven above and earth below, the Gods of Sapience gave no quarter – but gained no ground. The Firstborn rampaged freely in the skyscape, easily withstanding Dragon, Hunter, Unbound, and Warlord, while the remaining glut of Ohlsana’s Generals weathered the storm of force arranged against them. The gateway to Shadow wailed out in haunting, sepulchral tones and Shadow General Irgech once more took leave from Czjetija. “Hyst, rilijes, jilacz dvi Lanos jyv tsekur, svam mejn Olsana Mizra-Kitivav Etolijat nyv!” Angelbane waxed triumphant, his absolute confidence in the battle’s outcome inspiring the remaining Generals to fight with greater fervour and seemingly unconquerable determination.
“Lanos has lost. Mother comes.”
Part XXXIII: The Fundamental Darkness
As shadowspawn across the realm exulted with one voice in victory, Creation wept. Night fell across the Prime Material as something unseen, something ancient, something fathomless and primordial and utterly beyond the fragile confines of mortal comprehension, at last shirked free its bindings and opened wide its violet eyes.
The shadowgate collapsed on itself with force rivalling a thousand unstable singularities. Pouring out through the void in reality, Immortal Dark sloshed into existence in a bubbling, viscous tide of stygian shadow. Roiling essence revelled in its newfound freedom, frothing helicals giving rise to a surging spectrum of terrifying vicissitudes. Shapeless and incomprehensible in nature, the writhing, shifting, trembling, heaving morass of eventide everlasting flexed its might and abyssal black descended, the cold, coiling wyrm that is despair tightening its vice-like grip upon heart and mind and soul amidst the gaping thrash of the wounded world about. Light turned to dark, colour retreated before the grey haze and, at long-awaited last, misery ascended Her supernal throne.
“Aze zveres rilijev Zed mys renmyr… zhet as. Aze Zed as arenys, jilacz Ji Nota tsaj, svam dvi fereczes vyh Ji ojnov nej.”
(We believe this to translate roughly as: “You mortal creatures believe you understand Me… but no. You cannot imagine Me, because I am Darkness, and I arrived before the planes.”)
In that first moment of Her entry to Prime, countless denizens and inhabitants across the world succumbed to despair and abandoned hope. Mass suicides from Mournhold to Arbothia to Saluria and beyond made bloody streets and anguished towns, so many Sapience natives unable to bear the Shadow Mother’s presence. The transcendental might of Fundamental Darkness reigned over the Prime Plane, Her thoughts weaving themselves directly into the minds of those neither bound by Severn (viewing them as thralls already) nor steeped in a duamvi’s holy spirit (repelling the dark intrusion). She sheared away the sanity of those vulnerable, seizing at thought and mind and bringing them all – thousands, legions – under Her sway as Shadowbound. While so affected, Her unassailable will subsumed the victim’s own. Autonomy faded away, replaced with a sudden need, a hunger profuse and unquenchable, minds bent to a singular notion: “Ohlsana Eternal, I am ready to serve.”
The Shadowbound blinked and stirred into motion against their will and without their input, their bodies moving to the tune of Ohlsana. They began the slow, inevitable trudge toward the Siroccian Mountains, and though the Shadow Mother’s power rioted in their minds, their own consciousness remained, the awareness of their shallow binding stark as they realised their protection from the true depths of uncontrollable, mindless servitude by dint of Iosyne’s closing gambit. Iosyne’s heart had been disconnected from Her body for centuries, sparing some parrt of Her true self from becoming completely subsumed. In this moment of domination, it was then that Her final act for Sapience — Her final expression of the Strategy for which She was made — would come into play, infiltrating the shadowbound network to spare mortals from complete, total assimilation.
Gods and mortals alike mourned the oppressive weight of Ohlsana’s interminable dominion, thousands falling to Her sway in the first fleeting moment. Their strength renewed against a Pantheon reeling in despondent grief, the Generals redoubled their efforts amidst the howled lamentations of a mourning-wrought requiem, sounding across the lands in bleak, sombre refrain. Bent to the will of Ohlsana, Rhulin Glintspear dexterously climbed the Ascendril Lighthouse, smashing the Lance of the Gods – his labour of love for so long – to bits in a desperate attempt to garner the Shadow Mother’s favour, calling out “For Mother!” in a near-unrecognisable voice.
Joining Rhulin were the voices of Kalena, Rijetta, and Whirran, the zeal of Sapience no less fervent as they each of them in turn bellowed out exhortations and praises in the name of Mother Dark. The un-bound called back with determined shouts of their own, Rasani and Eliadon and Xavin in particular urging people to resist and not give up hope. Then, as one voice, one flickering torch in the horrors of the deep dark, the surviving duamvi shouted aloud their defiance: Until the dawn, we are the Light!
Desperation warred with despair on the face of Damariel in His withdrawal from the field, the God’s pleading voice calling on the Exarchs to join Him in flight. Racing across the skies, the four retreated to the Siroccian Mountains, taking shelter beneath Ethne’s great bell in a defiant final stand. Girded by notes of grim resolve, He called out a rallying cry to any who yet resisted the Shadow’s call. “Until the dawn, come though it may not,” He painfully intoned, “I am the Light.”
Those few, those precious few spared the tune of Ohlsana’s saturnine canticle entered the Siroccians moments before a horde of shadowspawn to dwarf any and all which came before converged upon their position. Closing ranks, subdued illuminance flared for one last battle as the Exarchs steeled themselves against the oncoming tide, while behind them Damariel lifted the tree-sized clapper upon the great bell. Gallantly striving to maintain hope, the forlorn tones of Damariel called out in plea: “Ring the bell.” The God loosed His grip and the great clapper swung free to strike at glowing metal in hope of a new dawn.
It began in the depths of blood and bone, low and resonant as what was old became new, the sacred metals forged beneath Smith’s hand evoking a chill rippling through body and soul. Building in intensity with its boundless race across tumultuous skies, the singular call of the bell unlike any other broke like a crashing wave to roar in thunderous, joyous, sonorous acclaim, Divine song joining to beauteous harmony while the dark star above trembled in its purloined position amidst the vault.
The wash of unearthly sound rolled over all, unceasing and seemingly unending as the Divine music – the desperate swan song of the Gods and Sapience alike – carried forth, elsewhere, to the ear of She for Whom it was forever intended, from First Moment to Last Peal of Hope amongst the all-encompassing despair. Across the hills and plains it bounded, sweeping the mountaintops and broaching the deserts. It penetrated the lowest caverns and stirred the treacherous depths to rumbling, a symphony of the holy spirit given life of its own to chime without end. Surrounded on all sides by the Gods of Sapience, the Shadow Generals flinched, stunned by the bell’s song as shadowspawn across the continent screamed in horror, eradicated by the booming notes of sacred condemnation. The clarion tones of the great bell passed through the forms of the shadowbound in waves of excruciating agony. As the legions of shadowspawn expired, they pressed on, their ties to “Mother” weaker than the others – spared from that fate by the Malevolent’s intervention.
Before even the Gods could capitalise on its faltering guard and seize the opening, the Firstborn rallied, all signs of debilitation falling away. Unmoved by the song and unhurried in Her traversal south toward the great bell, the Shadow Mother treaded a path of midnight, the insidious mass comprising Her form perpetually metamorphosing in a terrible metronome of twisted apparitions.
Amidst the clamour, the Warlord raised His voice, declaring that, though They may fall, the traitor as He named Her, He would not suffer to survive Them. A snarl of despairing rage tore free from the mouth of Bamathis and He stepped back from Ozeroth, the Hunter seamlessly taking His place. Strife scanned the battlefield with hawklike precision and alighted before Nega-Iosyne, stunned by the bell and under siege from Abhorash, Dhar, and Ivoln. Claw and scythe and jagged earth assailed Her, but Bamathis turned Them all aside.
Pitiless and stolid, the Warlord raised Caelestis over His head, staring down at the betrayer God with unforgiving eyes. Before Iosyne could recover, Bamathis drove the weapon through Her distended thorax, silver fire sparking along the length and breadth of the weapon. Between grit teeth and unflinching resolve, He brought the Blade of Sapience up, sundering Malevolence in two. Sanguineous essence burst free from the corpse and dissipate into nothingness, leaving behind naught but a translucent red haze – sentence passed in execution and Her displaced essence scattered to the four winds.
No answer followed from the bell’s clarion call, only the unwavering advance of Ohlsana, unmoved by Light’s last prayer. The bell fell still and in its silent wake, hope’s final kernel died, waning in a palpable psychic pall, the light of Creation all but left to bleed out from a great wound borne upon reality once again. In a steady, terrible ebb, the sensation compounded, the threat of its totality evoking both primal panic and the prey-whisper of resignation, to succumb and arise nevermore.
The accelerating onslaught of the Generals heralded a clash renewed as Gods met shadowbound and Shadow Mother in battle once more, flame and fury and onrushing Divine essence hurled at Their foes. The heavens blistered and burned in the cascading flood of Divinity unrestrained in a desperate hope of reprieve. But no matter Their assaults, no matter Their strategies, no matter Their struggles, the approach of Ohlsana was unerring: a ravening void of insatiable hunger and unimaginable power creeping with cruelly languid inevitability toward the south. Eldritch monstrosities congealed from the twisted tsalmaveth that was the Greater Dark, Her pustulent manifestation shedding foetid husks of blight-filmed aberrations all across the landscape. The clanging bell sang with sonorous authority again and again and again, each resonant chime of crisp, strident clarity eradicating shadowspawn in droves. But they never stopped coming.
Ohlsana shrugged off the essence hurled at Her from the rapidly weakening Gods, the clouds boiling overhead to weep noxious tears upon all which dwelt below. Abhorash stumbled; the Exarchs became overwhelmed; the exhausted Gods faltered; even ancient Tanixalthas slowed in Her winged flight, so much of Her power spent in vain.
Questing tendrils of blackened gloam extended from the unknowable empty of Immortal Dark, unfurling across the firmament like umbral branches. The web of midnight joined with ropelike veins spilling from the hands of Ozeroth to climb the vertex of the sky dome and empower the dark star to wreathe the world in all-consuming shade. Something broke in Sapience as primal terror pressed in all around, and the churning mass of shadow, the spectre Whose darkness predates the night, gathered Her full power. “Vycz Ji Etolijak vej tsorur, svam tijel rijiles sijuvuv suv.” Her voice commanded the world. “Now I will devour Aetolia, and all the grieving mortals upon it.”
Tears streamed down Damariel’s face as He wept openly, fear dominating His countenance. The booming of the great bell drowned out His anguished sobs as He desperately rang it over and over and over and over and the aura of light, the glow that casts no shadow, that which so defines Him as the Lord of Truth, faded. Ethne’s bell fell silent again as the strength of the Exarchs dwindled and Damariel slumped, diminished and heartbroken.
Endless was Ohlsana’s swarm and endless was the Empire Ever Dark, the fate of the world spun on an invisible axis of waning hope and fading mercy, the held breath of Creation at last exhaled in a harrowing knell as all went black and shadow rose to consume all.
Part XXXIV: The Fundamental Light
Dawn rose in the east.
Flickering sparks, nascent and young, kindled at horizon’s faraway fringes, lensing the edges of the skyline in the makings of a burgeoning, rosy glow.
Birthed anew by primordial will unfathomable, incipient pinpricks swathed the dark star in a cradle of fulgent fractals. From within and behind Angelbane’s esoteric conjuration, golden aurorae strained against the sablenight, errant beams streaking away from the stellar phenomenon building in both pressure and intensity. Distant chimes began to sound, barely audible above the seething rampage of the shadowbound hordes. In flawless synchronicity, the star-like motes reshaped themselves as dozens upon dozens of lidless cobalt eyes regarding the conquered world with absolute contempt.
Exploding outwards in a devastating conflagration of unimaginably brilliant light, the Star of Divine Fire earned its name in a baptism of indignant wrath, wreaking celestial annihilation on the dark star befouling its heavenly kingdom. Irgech’s creation dissolved, wrought in shadow, now unmade in scathing retribution. The liberated sun swelled to a captivating magnificence unmatched by any God or Dragon, distant chimes now an orchestra of baritone bells singing ancient hosannas of the eternal dawn. Fire and fury rained down and Sapience itself ignited, scouring away the shadowrot even as a bedazzling corona threatened to scorch the roof of the world. Only then did those eyes blink and a shapeless figure, an incomprehensible presence, an entity so utterly alien and quintessentially fundamental, erupted through the heavenly sphere like a meteor forged in spiteful vengeance.
Dejaani’s mere presence set free the adventurers who were Shadowbound, tolling bells ringing in their minds to drive out the bewildering fog ailing them. Sensation returned to their bodies alongside near-unbearable heat, the corruption infecting their wills cauterised in a flash of spiritual condemnation made possible solely by Iosyne’s interference, the Merciless Light sparing them the wrathful eradication She visited upon all the rest.
The bellsong ended. And Holy Light Incarnate waxed wroth.
Unable to bear the magnificent radiance of Dejaani, Shadow General Azgon burned to ash where he stood, incinerated by the Greater Light. Shadowspawn died in agonised droves as the flaming comet that was Dejaani streaked across the heavens, deluging the land in a tumbling cascade of aurulent embers. Ohlsana stilled in Her unending march toward the great bell, the enmity of countless ages bubbling to the surface. The essence of spirit eternal swelled in orbit around Dejaani’s sun as She turned smouldering supernova, surging at Her forever-foe amidst a storm of merciless incandescence.
The transcendental might of Fundamental Light reigned over the Prime Plane as Immortal Light collided with Immortal Dark, twin Fundamentals coming together in the great and terrible clash for which They were designed. Existence shivered with the outpouring of spirit and shadow twining as a raging, foaming vortex of unfettered and unabashed destruction now set loose in primeval devastation. The Two rampaged through and across and within the Mhojave desert, momentum and worldrending power conspiring to carve open a miles-long wound as dunes melted away and boiled to glass, shadow swallowed the riven earth, and the Dakhota Hills collapsed to naught but lifeless sands, withered by the combined rage of Creation’s prime constituents.
Empty night tormented Her foe with a maelstrom of devouring dark, the rekindled hope of the morning sun eclipsed by tempesting torrents of enveloping evergloam. Blight and pus seeped from the eldritch horror that was the Shadow’s unholy Matron, soaking the Vashnar mountains in acidic poison. Hissing smoke climbed from the fissures plaguing the aged range, montane shoulders shrugging loose shards of blackened shale and rotted stone. Shadow loomed in a cyclonic spiral of bitter cold and rattling, noisome breaths, hatred forged in elder days driving Her forward with the force of an omnipotent hurricane. Ohlsana’s shadow smothered the hallowed flames as She battered at Her timeless foe, Her double and Her opposite, enwrapping Dejaani in a chill and agonising embrace.
Immortal Dark orbited and suppressed Eternal Light, the rapacious hunger of eons turned to singular purpose and deadly aim. All colour faded from the world as She leeched away all that is warm and bright, all slivers of hope and joy and redemption, yearning to devour the very essence of She Who is the Holy Light. Cocooned in a shroud of encompassing gloom, Dejaani smouldered with torrid, unabating wrath, calescent heat banishing the oppressive cold in a singular moment of lightforged apotheosis. Creation heaved, the detonation of entwined refulgence and primordial flame searing away the darkling prison with blazing resplendence writ in Hope and Faith unvanquishable.
Vengeance followed in a conflagration of nemesian justice, blinding lustre and fluorescent pique turning back the tide of darkness. All was but combustible fuel for the First Flame burning without remorse, Her unmatched Light a pitiless glare of incarnadine indignation craving the utter ruination of Immortal Dark.
The clash of Ancients flayed the world, the gruesome scar branding the heart of the Vashnar Mountains giving way to an abyssal chasm rent in ash and smoke and fire and vulturine midnight.
Mighty tremors shook the earth as the air and wind convulsed in agony, the seas frothed to violent tsunamis and the western ocean boiled beneath the unending cataclysm, dry bed repelling the return of the sublimating waves.
Night fell by the effortless will of Mother Shadow, the fabric of reality unspooling as Her repulsive form solidifies from ephemeral phantom to congealing singularity, a dark star wrought of eldritch puissance and unyielding will.
Eternal Shadow turned calamitous umbranova, trails of caliginous smog shedding untold horrors of the night as She careened towards Dejaani amidst a churning mire of unstable might. A clap like enraged thunder magnified thousandfold boomed out across the length and breadth of all Creation’s wild, untamed dominion as Immortal Dark then collided with Immortal Light. The rending impact of Ohlsana’s terminal velocity incited catastrophe and devastation, each clash of these timeless, cosmic horrors an act of enforced, brutalised creation born of destruction and ruin untold. Plaintive soughing arose from the Bloodwood as the ailing forest endured the conflict everlasting, tenebrous vortices constricting about the length of blighted bole and tainted trunk, decimating them to ash.
On and on They fought, as unceasing and unerring as in the annals of interminable eternity – dark and light, spirit and shadow, dawn and dusk, locked in a struggle forged in the genesiacal epochs of time by the palm of a bored and curious Creator. And, as the world oscillated twixt night and day in a frenzied reverie of opposing eclipses, the Gods too fought on, calling on all that remained of Their strength. Joined anew by Damariel and the Exarchs, the Pantheon rallied as the lesser Generals – Memory Eater and Shadow Titan – struggled against the presence of Dejaani yet rioting warlike against Ohlsana.
Sharpening as it came back into view, the webwork of expertly woven Artifice shrouding Spinesreach fell away, the Dragon of the North no longer sequestered by Umbrael’s illusory veil. Almost large enough to swallow the city in its hungering maw, a rift to Czjetija shuddered and roiled at the Dragon’s heart, its edges tinged in sickly hues of violet candescence. Displaced sparks of variegated light cast the skyward-crawling spires in prismatic illumination, the silhouette of a massive, incomparably immense warhead shedding turbid trails of ylem-infused mists. Meticulously manoeuvred by those loyal shadowbound brought under the sway of Severn, the engineered explosive device sank into the tremulous planegate. The last of the remnant ylem-light dissipated in crackling arcs and the rift snapped shut with a hiss heard all around the world.
Black light and brilliant shadow interlaced, the impossible phenomena of Fundamentals at war still ravaging the continent. Detritus and wreckage followed in Their wake of preternatural disaster, ebon cirrocumulus drawn along the unlit path of Their terrible advance.
In a sudden warping of reality touching the mind, body, and soul of all who dwelt without, the unstable singularities housed within the Spireans’ incalculably audacious construct – some six times greater than the last – finally collapsed.
Denied the numerological elicitation required to contain its conflagrant wrath, the warhead detonated in an ylem-stoked blaze beyond sight yet keenly felt even behind the screaming fabric of the Spiral’s liminal aegis. The vital craft of the Abyssal quaked in rejection of the ylemnic sublimation, its fulcrum holding fast while Czjetija suffered under the unleashed ire of kaleidoscopic suns innumerable. Seas of ylemfire surged throughout the Shadow Plane, waves aflame in technicolor irradiance crashing down indiscriminately on anything still remaining before their path.
After minutes of this devastating actuation, even the planar divide strained beyond its limits, and with a monumental crack and a haunting wail of traumatic disbelief from the horrific apparition of Immortal Shadow, something finally gave way. Unwinding in coruscating arcs of arcane energy, the leyfire tore open the membrane of Creation, anti-luminous gashes now warring against the scintillant stars for supremacy over the heavenscape. (The author would like to note that it appears these rents in the planar divide exhibit similar behaviour to the dark star of Irgech, albeit on a less cohesive scale)
The four remaining Generals faltered, stunned by the celestial conflagration assailing the very source of their existence. Firstborn and Angelbane quickly recovered, fleeing through the Primal Eye to assess the fallout while Ohlsana, momentarily stilled by the blast ransacking Her domain, boiled with renewed anger.
Lexadhra blinked and was Varo, the visage of Elder Death swathing Her in a freezing shroud. Wielding Memory as Death itself She seized upon Saglozol’s paralysed form and wrenched out the being’s soul, obliterating it with the borrowed power of the Azhoan grave.
Ivoln turned aside His kin and stepped forward to confront Diyomexas, the Shadow Titan still incapacitated by the ylemnic catastrophe. The Earthen Father clenched a fist, bringing forth a massive stalagmite from the depths below. “Woe be upon the accursed,” He murmured before driving the lance of earth through the Titan’s chest, sundering the eld core and bringing its existence to an end.
The Shadow Mother flowed northward as a tide of inscrutable sable, shredded strands of ebony evernight falling from Her in the throes of swift, unwavering retreat. Pouring Herself into what once was the Minotaur Village of Sterion, Ohlsana’s unfathomable fury rended the Eye as She vanished into the depths of Czjetija.
Drawn as though by a magnet, the Guardian of the First Flame swelled to an incredibly stark radiance. No longer dulled by the Shadow’s corrupting touch, Dejaani’s light outshined the sun itself, simmering waves of luminescent phlogiston gushing free as She gave chase to Mother Dark. Exhausted from the stress of prolonged battle and not wanting to be caught in the path of the Fundamental’s flaming retribution, the Gods took Their leave one by one.
Into Sterion spilled Her terrifying enormity and pitiless magnificence, Her panoply of eyes and wings and aberrance alight with wordless challenge and promise made. The world around Her shrieked in horror and folded in on itself as She vanished to the realm beyond, Czjetija’s Primal Eye obliterated ‘neath the smiting hand of the Holy Spirit, a fiery seam to bind the skein.
Flickering above, the umbral stars spewed dark shadow and bright spirit, hints of calamity permeating from wounded Czjetija. The Fundamentals, now gone from Prime, renewed their clash in the worlds beyond this one, Light and Darkness powerless but to fulfil Their purpose and struggle in eternal conflict evermore.
And in their wake, with the continent ravaged by dusk and dawn, with death and suffering incalcuable leaving grief-stricken families and friends behind, and with the curtain falling on a Goddess’ final act, the Second War of Night at last drew to a close.