Through A Glass Darkly (short story)
Title: Through A Glass Darkly
There was nothing but a swirling fog in every direction. In all ways imaginable and inconceivable, all the same and all different, across all infinite possibilities. In all the manifold and subtle egresses of illimitable being, there was only nothingness, nothing but grey ethereal mists obscuring the mind. It was concealing not only vision, not merely sense nor sensibility, but the heart of the world itself. The flow of all magic. The fabric and the weave. The universal mind and the mind's eye. The Eye. Sleeping the sleep of strange and long forgotten aeons --- the ever watching and eternal eye, the ever troubled god king --- turning and turned ever away from his endless nightmares of the abyss.
Swirling eddies coalesced around his flowing form. It was the vaguest outline of a boundary between the thing and the surrounding, the thing and its own being, with no sharp point of demarcation between mist and shadow. The shadow and illusion bleeding into reality, the real bled away from substance to shadows. Within the tempest he could just barely see the clawed shape of his hand before him, the blackened vruul leather forming a void in the seething. It was not a wind, but a frothing, madness and foam.
It was here and he could feel it. The darkness. The endless unity of chaos. The violence in the heart of the rift that remained from the primordial age, the very deepest wound, bleeding through with unholy corruption and unimaginable cosmic horror. Black tendrils reached and washed over him, twisting and spitting him out, his form shuddering with blackest power. They writhed and screamed like tentacles being ripped from their suction, sealing his form as his every shred was torn to tiny pieces, reforming the diaspora of hazy tenebrous wisps to shadowy cohesions. Nothing. Nothingness. Formless, mindless. With and without body. Shadows passing by and the rustling of great wings.
Purple. Viridian. Ochre. Multi-colored dots appeared in the horizon, not in the vision but in the world itself. The feeling of presence folding self into self, suddenly wracked with violent contortions, ripples in the ethereal manifesting in notful waves and unsound shrieking. Grainy montage of color. Creeping doom and timeless oblivion. Dread.
I. The Last Gateway
Vast expanses of streaming light and nothing reached across the surrounding vistas, the inexplicable colors pulsing in unnatural rhythm of numinous cadence and sublimated terror. Hopelessness washed over vanishing dreams. In the flashing tempest was lit the ephemeral form of a darkly hooded warlock, floating in endless wandering through purgatory. There was only his thinned out abstraction, the memories of any fixed existence fading away, without any singularity of concrete manifestation. Others were there floating on the blackest seas of the infinite, the knowledge of their time and place swept away, swirling on the currents and massing together again as so much driftwood.
He was in the same moment himself beyond the gates as he was himself approaching the pedestal in the Cavern of Ages. There he was himself in the storms of the Drake's Shrine, and yet also himself in the fall of Vorn Ahvis, the rise of the Demonwall and the collapse of Maelshyve all around him. There he floated with innumerable other selves --- past and future lives, forms familiar and foreign, incomprehensible and unspeakably horrible --- himself fashioned of essence in other pales and realms of being.
Shadows and darkness engulfed him as the waves of irreality twisted existence in sickening distortions, the lightning that was not lightning illuminating the lost souls, revealing terrible webs of metal chain ripping through their absent expressions in eternal binding. These were souls of all those who could not choose, spent of all identity and memory. Shapes undefinable tugged at his attention in vying prophecies from beyond the Veil. He reached up and grasped the talisman hanging on his neck. He was the Dreadlord.
Blackness swallowed the prismatic, and behind him was not one gate, but many with untold guardians. Mirrors spun and popped in and out of existence below and above him, doorways opening and closing flew by in disembodied space, colossal stairs twisting into each other in labyrinthine and impossible configurations. Through doors unseen he passed as if flattened upon paper and stretched out upon globes. There were worlds of inverted geometry, endlessly nested fractal landscapes, maddening vistas where up is indistinguishable from down nor being from becoming. On the very horizon of all things, hurled from nether to the pits between voids, was the utter chaos. The Old Ones.
Tearing and shearing in the fabric of reality gave way to disorienting confusion and scorching pain. In one moment he was on jagged cliffs reaching impossible heights above infernal pits of lava, his six foot lashing tongue violating the sky as his black body acrobatically swung in back flips between spires. In the next his slimy appendages reached for miles in eerie dim-litted vales bathed in a bilious green, fungal tree-things with eyed branches skewering his contiguous form that bubbled into spores. The spores rose until the winged beasts blotted out the seven moons and stars. The sky fell. He floated as an emerald eye over an obsidian pyramid, hovering over dark jungles out of phase with rocky wastelands, shifting world upon world with blue figures wearing tunics of twelve pointed stars. They stood in semi-circles before black monoliths wreathed in energies.
There was a call from the abyss in this floating sigil. He was pulled inward between the lines of space, as if the Old Ones were drawn to themselves through the angles of time itself. He walked forward now on hooved haunches and onyx claws, snorting venomous bile from his proboscis, howling upward at an iceberg of torn earth with a faceless child staring back without eyes. Within the indentations grew more melting faces without eyes, swelling ever larger or falling ever inward, swallowing the sky in tears of blood.
Shadowy haze stared out through a thousand eyes, black venom drooling from his fangs. The voidlings linked him through the dim recesses between worlds, the dark vorteces tethering with the broken lands. The seething in the dimensional flux settled. There he was as a dark elven warlock, standing upon bones, a vast plain of spines and skulls.
Black rivers of pitch tortured the landscape, misshapen forms hulking in the distance under crimson skies. The ground bled as he walked past black skeletal trees and bridges of corpses, rocks crumbling as veneers over flesh, hollowed dolls and frozen faces in silent screams. Incarnadine mist and scarlet light rose from deep gashes in the earth. It was the Shadow Realm of the primordial being born from the chaos of the great war. The Maw of the Void. The Father of the Black Heavens. Vozhib gir mu Teur. Grak'na'Den. The Shadows. Althedeus. He closed his eyes and reached out his hand. When he opened them again he was holding a staff of bone, guiding his way forward as if to a beacon.
Within a mountain of boulders and limbs was a cave where he stood expressionless before a pool of blood. He tilted his head as the eyeless child peered from its depths, the blood eventually forming into a humanoid torso, herself a dark elven woman staring back into him. Her face changed into his own as he gripped the dark obelisk crystal around his neck, its shape changing into a brilliant red soulstone suspended by a frayed leather cord. He stared back at himself from the sanguine pool and sunk into its depths.
II. The Dream Quest
The hooded figure now stood in the shadow of Melgorehn's Reach, the sky storming high above and Lake Eonak stretched out before him. The frayed leather cord around his neck hung down with terrible weight, its glistening black eye hissing with bubbling ichor. The lake was covered in writhing black shadows, then returning to water again in false oscillations. The sky was at times raining blood with dark shadow revealing thousands of silver eyes, while at others bleeding with citrine and celadon hues. Black sigils floating upward, other times golden runes. Chilling laughter and hollow metallic tones. Red portals and blue, demons and elementals. The air hummed with archaic power.
The warlock muttered under his breath, chanting strange incantations making the eye blink. Echoes from his mind reflected off the lake: "The Ithzir of Kol'Tarsken are the inflection, the Eyes will be the beacons." The surroundings suddenly ripped away in a disorienting flash, a horrible shrieking sound and the saturation of ozone in the air.
Storm clouds hung over the docks in a grey overcast sky, midshipmen tying knots to the mooring. The salt on the air was palpable, and the scene vaguely familiar. Laughter and bawdy humor sounded from the ship. The warlock tilted his head listening carefully. Old dialect. Not Kannalan. The mouth of the Tempest River. In the distance he spotted a frigate flying a golden chalice on a field of green, the Chastonian crest before the fall of Toullaire to the cataclysm of Ba'Lathon. Shanty singing broke out on the deck above, something about a bar wench and the barnacles. Stomping down the gangplank came a pair of ragged scallywags, drunk off rum and boisterous enough to float the ship.
"Ole Blackhands bettah watch 'isself!" The middle aged human cackled. "With them Chastonians o'er thar, he moight loss his arms!" The scurvy runt with him laughed. "Ooh! The Archmagis whatsits gonna git him fer droppin' 'is anchor in 'is daughter! What evah 'appened to 'er anyhow?" The other waved him off. "Aw bollocks! I donnae belieb she right ever existed! How 'e ever gonna 'ave the chance to give the magick touch on a magister's daughter? Prolly burned 'is hands off from robbing a blacksmith!"
The warlock narrowed his eyes and chanted darkly. The world dissolved in a transient montage, whipping forward to a city with blasts of elemental waves from its walls, shifting yet again to a chaotic wasteland with a crescent glowing in the night sky. He kicked into the wracked soil with his boot, dislodging a round protuberance from the dust. He held it up and stared into it, it was an amulet of black coral. Images rippled in the skyline briefly before fading. Chaston speaking from the Colossus. The obelisk of blood marble. Naimorai under the Reach. The scenery shifted to a wasteland of sand, a small band of black-veiled Tehir staring up into the night sky, a bright green star falling to earth.
Following the star with his eyes there were now early imperials first discovering the Sea of Fire with its strange monoliths. Bitter winds now swirled blinding snow, starving Hendoran soldiers struggling in a wasteland of ice, the Witch Winter of the Ice Queen. The ice reflected the searing glare of the sun, now tinged in a green light. Looking back up was a Krolvin clutching a glowing emerald orb that then floats in the air. The coastal cliffs are encased in a frozen shroud. It melts after an explosion in the sky.
The surroundings warp with rippling waves of irreality, the rain halts briefly and returns to the sky, birds flying backwards before resuming their sidereal motion. The warlock twisted the black eye in circles, reorienting the frame of reality. There was now instead an onyx eyed Krolvin sieging Glaoveln from his brother. The Warbringer rises as the Starbringer falls. Now on the deck of a warship battling with an imperial fleet, his forearm replaced with a tentacle and demons scouring the skies. His fleet is then kidnapping and enslaving victims from Wehnimer's Landing, his arm concealed with a blood red gauntlet. Kragnack serving a red robed summoner. The time itself is out of joint.
Time swirls and snaps. White cloaked figure slaughtering slavers on the Frontier's Heart, a false victim accusing the mayor pretends to be one of the lost. Distortion rips again backwards. The pillar buries itself in the black sands. Now a pillar rises from the sands, morphed and melted flesh stripped of bones, tatters of white cloaks. The warlock is suddenly floating backwards through the air past the bone pillar on the cliffs above, the sky filled with crimson and yellow cocoons, the children within erupting as winged fiends and blue things with green eyes. Portals rend the heavens. Bone pillars shoot crimson beams into the clouds and flash imprisoning a white cloaked man, pylons fire at portals and exploding ships of urnon golems and floating pyramids. Melgorehn's Reach lingers fixed in the background as the landscape whirls in a temporal vortex of paradox.
He clasps his hand over the black oozing eye hanging from his neck and utters "Stop." This was a fitting nexus in the akashic records from which to interrogate the historicity of the material world. His eyes burn with flames of balefire as he twists his hand before him, bursts of ethereal light brighten the area and essence pools into the surroundings. The air ripples with fractured moving images. The demonic pillar burrows into the black sands in one visage, while another shows Granthem falsely confessing in an alley with a murdered body and a woman with black hair and green eyes, which then morphs into Granthem waking up on Glatoph surrounded by town guards turned inside out.
The voice of Naimorai faintly echoes "I turned him inside out" with a cackle in the wind. The intrusion of thoughts and memories not his own flow into his mind. Naimorai placing two worms in a forehead, a man swallowed by shadowy tendrils. Maggots writhing under Raznel's skin. Brieson applying salve to Gavrien and his hair falling out as maggots.
His hand clenches into a fist and the image ripples to Granthem waking up in the snow outside Moot Hall with no memory of how it happened. His voice is darker and deeper now. "Why, precisely, are you following Granthem?" Cacophony. "There are always murders." "You would be one of the most suited, for that which is to come." Fragmentation. "Congratulations." He frowns at the white soulstone around his neck, shattering it to reveal a white eye that turns black. Glethad is speaking to Magister Svala in the dungeon under the Outpost. Town Square. Glethad is writing notes in Faendryl. He walks under a yellow sky. Faint whisper in the darkness. "Iebri lovib keke. In-gtomtei huieb."
He turns his head and watches the Outpost vanish into thin air. Images of Granthem pass by with a disembodied voice saying "I did not expect it would return" and "I have no wish to see the Ithzir conquer this world." Thadston and his men are now hiding in a shrine with a blood marble altar. The Ithzir will not approach them. The Hendorans fade and become replaced with a praying Deacon. Shadows bleed from the wall and his flesh is burned with ice and darkness. The shadows engulf the surrounding, the warlock emerging from them through the skin of a dark elven woman, sifting through the rubble of the human fortress which is now under Liabo with Sir Michol in command.
He thrusts his hand out openly causing the shifting to halt immediately and slowly clenches his fingers into a claw as his eyes burn brighter. He watches as Alisaire handles a seemingly unused mithril sapphire-hilted dagger, the guard resembling hawk wings with the pommel representing a mithril orb clutched in the claws of a hawk. He mutters utter his breath, "What are you doing here in the Hendoran Outpost, Hall of Mages crest, with that six hundred year old Chastonian banner from before the fall of Toullaire?"
"This is all wrong..." he seethes, scowl creeping down his face, as another voice echoes around him. The time slipped a year earlier, two months after Harrower Ersix. "Must there always be plans?" The air crackles with power. "What good is endangering a world, with nothing left behind? Surely I am no threat." Grishom passes a ridgeweaver spider to Riend's shoulder with the sand blowing behind him. Moments later Riend is urging Thadston to not try imprisoning Glethad. The image turns pitch black and there are only sounds. "How much power I can exert, and at which distance, and for what length of time." Cryheart then appears saying, "But the Outpost has an Imperial Drake."
"This is not the Drakes's. Nor Svala's. This is half a year wrong." Citrine hued and liquid filled objects begin appearing. Celestial globe, star chart, astrolabe. Stardial with pale yellow sigils like the golden runes that appeared in the night sky. Maps of Old Ta'Faendryl and the stone monoliths of the Sea of Fire with a large crumbling city in the center. Blood-inked astral map emphasizing constellations half a year apart. "The First and Jastev's Crystal..." he muttered as he watches blue-robed mages flee a wormed monstrosity upon ashen soil as the Reach storms, followed by a Jastevian crystal and a scrying bowl next to white gear-covered prisms "... Grandfather's Eye and The Ur-Daemon."
"The storm is coming. Precisely as I predicted, but earlier than my original calculations." He shakes his head with the voice still ringing in his ears. "Will I even maintain my hold, when we are separated by planes? I wonder." The small tattered parchment of a woman with azure eyes, silver robe, and blue phoenix pin hovers before his eyes. The image shifts to Saraphene cut by Raznel, who takes her form with the blood. "What else was left for us?" He clenches his fingers into a fist and pulls down with his forearm.
The surroundings blur and bleed away until the warlock finds himself standing in the alchemist workshop of the Hendoran Outpost with a crowd. "Pylasar has essentially recused himself from this ordeal, but has given me a few things to pursue. Especially when it comes to Raznel." Lord Brieson came into focus as the sound of his words resonated on the fabric of temporality. "I acquired some items left behind, here, of all places. We presume by the witch. Sir Thadston and Sir Michol had them safely stored, not even opened, until I had time to get here. I have them all in a pack." Reverberating echoes saturated from all directions. "Left behind, here, of all places. We presume by the witch."
Mirages began forming in an anfractuous slither out to the horizon, the thread of historical web manifesting in a sequence of events. The sights and sounds out of time pulled inward and engulfed the surroundings in a pageant of scenery. First a girl with an eye patch playing pirate, struck by an arrow and aging rapidly. Prison cell with the supposed assassin Vinswith, mad and transformed to resemble Archales and Wolfloner. Incitement to violence, Chaston Griffin, Raznel toying with his head. Everblood Blameless.
The scenery slid back into its original frame with Brieson in the alchemist workshop. "However, I am still of a mind that, Larsya's blood is needed." The blurry image of Brieson wavers back into focus. "Epochxin is blood. Yes, a poison, venom. Which, in essence, it is. But they claim it is blood. Which is why, Larsya's blood is important. It is, essentially, Epochxin." The imagery ripples and distorts. Brieson explaining that Larsya herself does not have enough blood, they will need to harvest epochxin from the Southron Wastes. More warping. Brieson asserting he believes her blood is still necessary in spite of having samples of Everblood. Magister Svala proposing a cancelling effect with epochxin.
"Pylasar has told me, that while he does not know of any cure or counter to Everblood, he seemed to recall some details of a time in the Southron Wastes..." followed by fractured rippling "... Pylasar did not suggest this, but given the information he told me, the blood of these demons may well be Epochxin." The ichor soaked eye around his neck appeared to swell and float to a scene of its being assaulted in the wastes with a glass coffin in the background. "Beacon. A watchtower ushering them to her."
"The trick to luring them out? More Epochxin. Their scent. Their blood. Larsya." The voice of Brieson wavered again over the word "beacon" and came back into focus. "I've also done some additional research from some of the tomes I carried back from Nydds... one, strangely authored by two Faendryl brothers." Demonic Dark Elven texts. In Nydds.
The warlock raised an eyebrow and muttered, "The Erudites? Or planted?" It was as illegal in the human empire to possess such a text as it was illegal for it to leave the Faendryl Empire. Why would Brieson have it? "We believe the salve is, well, a blessing two fold. Entering the blood stream, it can revert Everblood..." echoed Brieson at another point in the flow of images, "... which means we have a means to end the Blameless." In one moment there is Drangell being struck with tar coated blades and melting into sludge, followed by the falling Blameless crusaders, then bloody Chaston collapsing as tar while detonating a blood marble obelisk glowing with incarnadine runes.
Now the crowd has changed again to a slightly future event, with Brieson holding a vial of bubbling black liquid, speaking of stopping Larsya's aging caused by the epochxin. "Yes, I'll be applying a modified version of the salve. Boiled, and a few minor modifications." He clenches his fist to freeze scene and scoffs. "Larsya was fashioned into an epochxin blood bank and the cure for it all was left in the Outpost. The counter-agent to her progression is a processed form of the very salve to cure the half-elven sickness because it is a primal blood anti-venom. Meanwhile this tar just happens to also destroy the Everblood? And Brieson was led by the nose to it by Pylasar and Raznel?"
The procession of imagery slips backward in time to the pack being opened and items removed by Shinann. Hex doll resembling Kayse, wooden wand, surgical eyeball scoop, a white Koar symbol, unpresence pin, blood marble pins. Items of vellum. One a Luukosian Order contract involving Alisaire. The other blood-stained, alchemical procedures. The warlock froze it in the air and read the ingredients. "The primal blood is the key reagent for essence of Everblood, which in turn makes the tar-like black salve countering the disease and the epochxin? This would only make sense if primal blood was the base component of all three things. The poisoned arrow must have been based on the blood."
The warlock shook his head as an image appeared of Brieson holding the vial of tar-like black salve, which he was already attempting to invent with hints and insinuations, while the solution was present the whole time in Larsya and an unopened pack left by Raznel. "These people are blind. There are no paradoxes when dealing with time travelers."
Scenes of half-elven blood in concentration camps bleed into the image of a lair of half-elven corpses and Chaston detonating in Talador instead of Tamzyrr. The surrounding shifts to below Melgorehn's Reach, Naimorai striking people from the shadows, trapped in Toullaire before its annihilation into the Wizardwaste with Chastonian banners in the background. "Knowing it all in advance was foul play, my young student. So. This was all a ruse to fashion the Bleaklands. Have you seeded it for the Blood Harvest?" The scene changes to three Imperial Drakes slaying the Chaos Lord, whose legion has fallen of wasting sickness, followed by sick Reannah and Dennet denying the Talon is related to Tyrgh. Echoes pass of "artifact of chaos", the Arcanum and "blood infused weapons", black coral amulets, Quinshon saying the Talon is not to pass through the Shadows.
The warlock reached both arms into the air forming dualities of imagery. Larsya sustained by the power of Melgorehn's Reach in one year, then Reannah sustained by it the year after. Larsya struck with a magical poisoned arrow of epochxin in one year, Cyph struck with the Mularosian Long Suffering the year after. Larsya in the glass coffin, Cyph in the glass coffin, Rodnay in the glass coffin and again in the Bleaklands. There is a glow of violet. Cyph uncontrollably burning people and Naimorai accidentally killing and blistering with touch. "Did you destroy Toullaire to make the Talon absorb its chaotic properties? Have you destroyed your own family for the sake of manipulating your own origins?"
He turns his palms upwards and two images appeared in hazy mists. One was the Talon in a basement engulfed in flames, then an Archmage of the Arcanum sealing it away, followed by the Hall of Mages discovering it in the Wizardwaste and Dennet bringing it to the Swale. In the other was a ship with rhimar chests of plinite set in flames, followed by Pylasar infusing plinite into pylons to assault the Ithzir, then Grand Magisters Dennet and Octaven coming to the region for their stolen plinite and Dennet infusing it in his pylons. These events hinged in himself. It would have been derailed had he acquired the Talon first, and had the town listened to him about wards instead of the stealing.
"The Bleaklands were a necessary condition for her own creation. The Talon was working with its preternatural similarity to the Wizardwaste itself." It was in her own historical past that these affairs ended shortly before Naimorai arrived to Darkstone Bay, so the means of ending the Blameless and the plague were planted from the beginning. "How much does Quinshon know? Did you make him yourself to become your blood father?" Quinshon appeared in one image claiming to have removed Cyph's traumatic memories, while in the next Cyph is apologizing to the dead girls from these memories while his mind fails. Quinshon whispering into Carenos' fractured mind, who inexplicably knows about the Talon and Naimorai's true father. Echo of a report that there was a real Carenos who was dead. Quinshon implanting false memories in Hapenlok which fail, the body of Michol left with a hex doll to be found too conveniently in the burrows and another at the docks. Raznel using him years earlier. Naimorai writing "the poor halfling."
Shadowy tendrils wrap around Lord Osment from under the burnoose and devour him. "Failing on purpose, were you, Black Shaman?" Time seems to slow down for a moment before snapping back into focus. Osment clenches his fists, sparks of blue-white energy dancing along his kroderine gauntlets, a blast going wild at an indistinct figure burning them. The imagery morphs into white steel gauntlets with glowing runes. The echo of the warlock saying he would lure him into a temporal rift, then standing in a temporal rift, a white cloaked figure injecting Cruxophim with an anti-magical serum. Now Osment, thirsty for water. Wayside Inn. "The world is full of injustice. I would be here forever."
The warlock raises an eyebrow as the star field of the temporal rift returns to the ghostly white-cloaked figure making Cruxophim look at his own past. Time and space swirl around the gauntlets, the whole vista shifting around him to the krolvin fleet of Kragnack wracking the Estorians with demons in the War of Shadows. Ghostly white faced warriors fighting with krolvin in arctic waters in ships set with marble sparrow figureheads. There was now a manor burning from the sight of Antler Rock, Alendrial DeArchon standing on a ship with Stephos. There she was with Rinhale in the woods, now his body without the black coral amulet, being loaded in a crate to be sent back to Idolone.
The warlock turns his wrist and the scene shifts back to the rune chamber, Osment and Quinshon now gone, Naimorai no longer with a bloody palm or worms. "Transfering her spirit into another body..." the voice of Naimorai brings her into focus, "Blood, and spirit, and mana may be needed in its completion." The scenery shifts to North Docks as battle rages on with the forces of Octaven. Voice whispers in his mind as a silver sigil floats above him. "Your assistance will not be needed in the ritual, we do not wish to risk your involvement being known." Echoes of Quinshon claiming he would not be able to sense out the mages in the battle silhouette him dissuading conspirators during it.
The warlock twists his hands and murmurs, "Raznel knew in advance the pylons would be destroyed during the ritual and that the hostages would not work. You knew this, did you not?" Quinshon now appears in the rune chamber with an unconscious Lord Osment, asserting scrying cannot work in this room. Another scene forms next to it of Rodnay providing vision into the chamber and sensing Dennet through it when he removes his cracked obsidian ring. "Why would either of you know about the Ithzir? Is he one of yours, Grishom?" Quinshon quietly speaking. "You are still a boy, Rodnay. Now is not your time. Not yet." "Was he fashioned for a purpose, will he be the Blood God?"
Grishom Stone appears in red robes as cocoons float in the air of children transmogrified into extraplanar hybrid winged fiends. The image now splits to show different colored cocoons hatched to show blue children by the Reach forming a twelve-pointed star of energy between them ripping open a portal to the Ithzir world of Kol'Tarsken. The orphan Rodnay appears in a tent in the grasslands surviving while those around him weaken to death. Rodnay announcing a coming Atonement. Rodnay unconscious in the Bleaklands. Rodnay's blood needed for the ritual. Rodnay asserting the future death of Reannah. Rodnay leading into the rune chamber and Quinshon fleeing. Rodnay living in the Reach.
"I must now go to my next home. It is calling me. We are nearing the time." He listens to Rodnay speak of his evolution and this not being his final form, when the ichor eye around him shifts from the primal form to that of an oculoth. The warlock feels outside himself and realizes he is now looking at Harrower Ersix wearing an oculoth eye before the shadowy blood maw two years earlier. "This is not from your world, I do not think. The maw, is not the ending. I would propose, it is the beginning, of its evolution."
Pylasar nearly sabotages the blood maw ritual with people throwing their crystals too early. Harrower Ersix drifts his portal past intermediary planes for moving the maw --- the Confluence, Grik'tyr, an Ithzir world --- when he reaches the Shadow Realm the portal becomes stuck and shadows begin evaporating off the skin of those present who had previously been to it when Althedeus fell. Ersix is perplexed and asks them, "Are you... cursed?" The warlock raises an eyebrow. The black veins on them were vanishing as the shadows floated to the portal, while he saw the black veins of half-elves in the reflection of the blood maw. Black tendrils of anti-mana crawl through the air. "I cannot shift it again. Whatever has tainted you from that world has pulled us closer to it. I had hoped to find a less dangerous valence to transport the maw."
"Was this ever a real choice, or was the maw manipulated to where it would be useful later?" In one moment the maw is moving from the Shadow World into the Deadfall through a sky portal and wildlings seal the forest in with druidic magic, in the next ancient Sylvans seal in the Heart of the Wyrdeep to prevent Althedeus from entering this world. Time ripples forward a year to Brieson speaking of the Ilvari. Granthem is seen walking into Moot Hall. The lunar alignment happens and complications due to the Confluence cause the ancient druidic wardings on the Red Forest to fail. Exploding crate nearby of Grishom clones covered in the same residue as the maw and trees.
The warlock is now standing on a vast plain of grey ash under a warm but arid grey sky. There are tiny oily black saplings emerging from the ash, and exploding grey spores floating through the surroundings. "This is after the Deadfall was sealed." He tilts his head up as storm clouds form above him, and the sky opens in tears of blood. The ground twists with black gnarled roots and the forest begins growing. Haunting church bells peal in the distance. Suddenly the clouds scatter, an enormous yellow eye hanging in the sky, fiery rainbows of color breathing across it. The warlock stares back at the eye as jagged spires rip upward. The land shatters and breaks away into nothingness.
IV. The Dread Seers
The endless terrain of grey earth, fragmented and caked in ash, crumbled in an avalanche of debris and sulfurous scent. The dust clouding the ink-whorled sky blackened until there was only the unrelenting gaze of the Eye against a field of infinite darkness. The constellations held no fixed nor familiar pattern in their paralytic sub-human dancing, only disorientation, under strange and unknown stars, gibbering a song of shrieking and ululant madness known only to the formless horrors of the outer void. Gaseous polyps of shapeless un-things and undulating lurkers waxed, through gibbous phases of mindless aeons, cruel portents which drowned sense in blinding unsound drumming.
Through the sentient blackness he fell in suspense out of time, unspeakable eternities passing before his eyes in the primordial ichor outside creation, as horrors both nameless and cryptical berthed upon worlds incomprehensible were born and died in their foul cycles. Witnessing himself out of time from arch to archway in unholy ouroboros, as if in a high chamber of madness and utter chaos, he coalesced form upon form in hyperbolic orbit about the ecliptic. The stars vanished in the closing eye of the unseen monolith.
He fell through the rift in sightless dreaming, forming as blackest speck on the horizon. The world tree passed as a heat map of planar waves, the ideal forms of triangles and squares and triskele in timeless superposition, blood eagle morphing from falcon to aivren. He floated through bloody geysers and over rod filled pits, enormous skeletons and speared serpents, past long lines of hooded supplicants. In surreal places of unchanging quality the orientation of directionality shifted with planes churning in indigestion, the circles expanding and falling within deeper circles, the hyperbolic and elliptic cancelling as some singular unity in the cuts of still higher dimensionality. With incredible high-frequency pulsing in a pitch that might shatter glass, the air rips like a seam stretched too tight, and he rides upon enormous crawling things through rippling landscapes.
Through the dark clouds he came upon a long field lined with rows and rows of long metal poles, each of which was situated near a stone door. The warlock's eyes went black as he chanted in a dark, forgotten tongue, some terrible rite not of this world. The forbidden ritual of unlearned and foreign memories followed with profound instinctive motions of the blasphemous key, and the disorienting loss of meaning of location and fixedness in time and space flooded with vertigious nauseousness. Lightning struck the pole before him, and as it absorbed the power, the nearest door slowly swung open. He walked through it into the black stone passage beyond, and the door swung closed behind him.
He rose as sanguine liquid from the pool of blood, staring back into his eyes burning with black and viridian flames, with the smoky eye around his neck transforming back into a brilliant red soulstone. His vision now faced the wall opposite himself and the dark elven woman. A hauntingly fragile voice echoes through the area, immediately recognized as Aralyte's, although her lips remain sealed and her feystone eyes shattered. "I...tried. Hope is lost. There is no way back..." With the black eye now on the top of the twisted ithzir bone staff, twenty-legged astral spiders crawling in and a demonic growl heard in the shadows, he chanted in the Ithzir tongue: "Te klaloc cra issar le tenek sra!"
Brilliant red orb expands from his neck into the cavern in a ten foot diameter, then rips open into an enormous tear in a blinding flash. The warlock is now standing on the shore of Lake Eonak, which darkly ripples with a storm cloud swirling above it. He lowers his arms from their raised position. The eye on the staff has become stark white, and his necklace is now a dark obelisk crystal. He chants sending a bolt of energy arcing into the air at an unseen target, the glow forming a large rectangle in its outlines.
He is now standing in the swirling fog on top of Melgorehn's Reach. He reaches out and touches the demonic carvings on a hidden ancient monolith, their stone claws clutching into a mist shrouded krodera orb with veil iron veins. His form is sucked into the void between spaces with a piercing shriek, pulled with forces from one world to the next, until ultimately he is surrounded by brilliant energy and emerges bodyless from a crystal dome on a foggy jagged plain of broken rocks and hooded figures with huge flying bugs. The mountains around him are cold and desolate, boulder strewn with sheer vertical cliffs, while he is sucked upwards ever higher into the sky to a great beetling mass.
In the somnolence of anxious dreams and doomful perdition, looming ever closer a hideous demonic face emerges high on the wall of a mountain side, until he passes through its enormous eye shaped window into a wide hallway. With blinding speed his awareness flies down the vast corridor and whips around a corner, colliding into a tall stone jar, his vision immediately followed by pitch and utter darkness. Time passes slowly in a black and dream-like stupor, the eerie nothingness broken only with nightmares of vast far flung cosmic vistas, until a malevolent presence of devouring horror creeps into the edge of consciousness and wakefulness is forced upon him with overwhelming dread.
He punches the stone lid from the masonry sealing the jar, emerging from the urn covered in a foul black fluid with a disgusting smell. With effort he steps out of the urn and stretches himself out, black rivulets streaming down his vruul leather with a great battle axe in hand, his mind oppressed with esoteric and forbidden knowledge.
Walking down the wide corridor he comes upon the dark chapel with a large statue of Marlu himself standing upon a pile of skulls. The palpable feeling of malevolence was all consuming in the vaulted chamber, the walls adorned by hideous frescoes, depicting black robed priests performing dark rituals and human sacrifices. Swirling columns of cold dark shadows wander by him harmlessly as he lopes past the huge throne and raised dais, continuing on to the broken altar and smashed stone faces with the cracked bronze gong. He walks through an ancient tapestry into a hidden secret room lined with tall stone jars, and then stares straight ahead into space itself as if at something hidden.
When looking straight upon the empty air the ancient monolith comes into focus. With an arc of energy shooting from his skin to the krodera orb there is a blinding flash and the smell of sulfur. He now stands in the middle of a pentagram in the Sheruvian summoning chamber. Leaning over the worktable is a shadowy hooded dark elven warlock, wearing a dark obelisk crystal with an archaic symbol around his neck, bolts of energy reaching continuously to his gauntleted fingers from a krodera orb on a vaalin filigree stand. His glowing green eyes once again turn black as the sparks halt. He turns slightly to acknowledge a caped man with coal black eyes and a malignant sneer.
"Why are you interrupting my work?" He coldly asked the Sheruvian warlock. "I am harrowing the nightmare realms with the dread seers. This is too dangerous for your idle distractions." The warlocks were standing mere feet away from the hulking greater vruul still standing in the center of the summoning circle, its eyes burning an eerie green glow and the battle axe firmly in its grip. "These monoliths have yet to be fixed, you failed to acquire the Talon of Toullaire, the cambion is within reach yet you will not grasp it. Still you waste your time with that ridiculous town. Word has traveled to our ears that you do not even hold power with your own. Now you presume to demand things?"
"That ridiculous town is the knot in the tapestry of world history," the hooded figure replied with an indifferent detachment, "it is the nerve center and the weave, and it is ever more under my thrall. Make no mistake of its relevance for that which is to come. All things that matter flow through it. There is a providence guiding the Talon to the Emerald Sun. Heed what I may learn of the Sentinels of Kol'Tarsken before the rise of the Blood God. Obey my will in these matters. Question my methods at your own peril."
With that a number of Sheruvian harbingers entered the summoning chamber, wearing full plate with black steel claidhmores, flanked by a dozen monks wielding tiger-claws and jeddart axes. The fanatical chosen worshippers of the nightmare god. What does the Jackal truly know of nightmares? He merely glimpses the horrors beyond the pale. He gives nightmares. The Ur-Daemon are nightmares. Slight smiling crept up the dark elven warlock's lips, turning into a malicious glee as he stares into the eyes of his hosts.
He mockingly asked: "Is that so?"
With a malevolent glare he raised his gauntlet, the eerie green orbs of the vruul suddenly glowing with intense brightness at the guards, and all of the harbingers and monks at once made blood curdling screams in utter terror before immediately collapsing to the ground dead. "Is that the price of presumption?" He turned his palm and lowered his hand, the hulking vruul bringing its battle axe down with its fierce black muscles, holding it near the neck of the Sheruvian warlock. "Allow me to repeat myself."
"You presume to know what you do not understand, and understand what you cannot comprehend."
The Sheruvian coldly hissed, ".. Xorus... you dare...."
"I wish to speak to the High Priest. These books in your library do not tell me what I desire to know..." the dark elven warlock continued with a kind of blithe indifference, in a disturbingly serene calm and equanimity, "... it would be much simpler if I made an arrangement similar to the grand barter in Solhaven. I would just as soon ask Morvule. But as I hear it that is now impractical. Rumors. So unreliable. If you are unwilling to obey, of course, I am sure our friend here can persuade your Elder in his bedchamber."
"Go. Go now..." he sighed almost wistfully, "... while you can still walk." The Sheruvian warlock began being surrounded by an eerie dark haze, threatening to engulf him as it rose from the floor. "You best hurry." Gruesome slashes ripped open on his abdomen as he screamed and stumbled back. "It will be a longer walk back from the crystal."
When the last of the Sheruvians had bloodily fled or vanished in sickly crimson auras, he finally gripped the edge of the long vaalin worktable, holding himself up as he all but collapsed on it. His head was throbbing with the vast sea of uncorrelated contents of his mind, begging for retreat to a placid isle of ignorance. The dissociated knowledge of the horrible unknown is discerned only in the reorientation of thoughts and disciplines straining to be separated. Consciousness has taken forms and powers over the aeons so great and inconceivable that to directly apprehend them would shatter madness itself. The glimpses of the dread truth come from the flash insights dispelling the accidental.
His hand trembled on the cold vaalin as the sweet sulfurous scent of the incense burner settled his disorientation. The ancient hand-woven tapestries slowly stopped appearing to be in constant fluid motion, the scenery becoming almost fixed except for passing breezes. The visions had manifested in the form of temporal flux this time; the subject matter, perhaps, or the inflection having been anchored on the storming of the Reach. The inconsistencies and contradictions in history reshaped his latent memories.
"Malluch must have used his seer abilities to hear my plan for luring him into the temporal rift." He reflected as his perspective began refocusing from the onslaught. "He will be trapping Cruxophim and injecting him with a serum. It is.. fitting, yes... he will tell me it is fitting." Something was not right. It was as if a catastrophic change in the structure of time, some vergence in the metaphysical substrate of temporal magic was imminent on the horizon. "Goblyn?" Goblyn. The roof of Moot Hall. The Library of Biblia.
He exhaled slowly and shook his head. Quinshon must be one of them, but he is not one of them. He is out of the fold and possibly folded. It cannot be any other way under these omens. The question is how Raznel --- if indeed it is "how" and not "if" --- switched from Naimorai's certainty in opposing Grishom. The girl lacked guile and cleverness in her youth. Incompetence masking subtle manipulation, subtle manipulation as mere illusion for incompetence, it was either nested manipulation or foolishness. The world historical shifted and reassorted in his mind, old questions lost and gained importance in the web. Grishom will end his silence soon and knock through these cobwebs.
It was like trying to predict the moves on a board perpetually shrouded in mist, reaching across some vast scale with unknown boundaries, while inferring the rules only from the actions of those trying to trick. Three decades ago following the death of the Chaos Lord he had failed to discover the Talon. It was no accident that the Hall of Mages found it. There was a fixed point in history that had yet to reveal itself. He had anticipated the temporal paradox, the way it would happen, the ritual under which it would happen. It was only a straight forward step of induction that Naimorai's condition and blistering touch would progress to the boils and scabs of Raznel. It was in the end all his fault.
"No matter..." he murmured under his breath while moving his papers around on the worktable, "... this much was manipulated by inevitability." There were palimpsests scrawled with chaotically jumbled runes of highly esoteric origins mixed with burnt up husks of parchment. Upon one blood inked papyrus was a pentagram representation of the configuration formed by the bone pillars. It was marked with the words "morphogenetic field", "spirit born of death", and "recapitulation of the inchoate embryo."
He reaches over and picks up his notes on the philology of the Tehir language and its inconsistent deviations from the Common dialect. He was identifying foreign artifacts in their dead proto-language with the assumption that somehow the Sea of Fire had been influenced by the Ithzir. There were speculative notes suggesting that the "Emerald Sun" was an Ithzir artifact, possibly pertaining to their warding of the Shadows. Its earliest presence in this plane perhaps having been through the Faendryl in the annihilation of the Ashrim, making its way somehow to what later became the Sea of Fire and creating it through devastation. There was a map circling its monoliths labeled with "Ithzir?"
There were a series of word diagramming charts converting out of the peculiar Tehir dialect. His premise was that Ithzir words were gradually morphed into the pronunciation differences from lack of contact. The terms "Bir Mahallah" and "Tosuk'dusalla" were singled out as not truly being consonant with the dialect. The extended "ll" sound does not exist in it, nor does the "s" phonetic representation. Tosuk'dusalla is the devourer morduska of the sands, the so-called "Father of Storms", which properly spoken would be "Vozhib uv Vublz." He circled the "alla" in "Mahallah" and "dusalla", charting over to the Ithzir suffix "-tali", with the note "glottalized k" and the Ithzir word "Maktali."
The phrase "Tosuk'du" was shifted out of the dialect as "Grak'ea" with a line crossing out the "s", then a line correcting this "ea" to the Tehir "ei" meaning "death", so it reads as "Grak the Death Storm." The Ithzir term "Grak'na'Den" is connected by an arrow to "Vozhib gir mu teur" in Tehir, meaning "Father of the Black Heavens." The word diagram traces these aspects down from "Bir Mahallah" as meaning the "Ring of Storms (Here)". Next to the city on the map is a ring of monoliths called the "Fovgroq" which literally means "Vast Claw." Below that he has written "Loq uv zhi Gir" for "Maw of the Void" with a question mark over the arrows between the Tehir "loq" for "maw" and the Ithzir "lok." Elsewhere he has drawn the "rak" in "Grak'na'Den" to the word "Iorak", the archaic term for Melgorehn's Reach, the entry point for Althedeus into this world.
"The Sentinels of Kol'Tarsken refer to the Star of Khar'ta as the 'Emerald Sun'..." he murmured quietly to himself, "... curious. Krentuk referred to himself as the Starbringer for it, who in burning death becomes the Lightbringer." Would that make the Beast who desires the night, their Czagprozdmordg which means "bringer of fear of death and night", the primordial we call Althedeus? He paused for a moment. "If this artifact of storm and ice --- whose home seems to be the Sea of Fire and may well have been the cause of the Witch Winter several centuries ago --- was also the means by which the Ithzir blinded Althedeus from their worlds, will his corruption of it with blood and shadows ultimately have the opposite effect for bleeding through the veil between our world and the Shadow Realm?" Is that how the properties of Kol'Tarsken bled through the mana storm?
V. The Blood God
"Quinshon may be intending to siphon it all out of the Galestone using the Talon..." he pondered for a moment, "... or will Grishom be siphoning it all into the boy?" Pity they did not give him the boy after the incident with Ithzir. It was clear that Rodnay was made using Grishom's blood magic. He would have been valuable blood to trade for power. Though perhaps Stone will be willing to assist his work on the Beast of Teras Isle without extortion. The warlock gazed into the rhythmically pulsing krodera orb gripped with vaalin daemonic claws, the dull red glow bringing dimly remembered images of the Star to his consciousness. Grishom must have transformed it with his blood magic.
"Whatever he was attempting to do with Archal.. Aetheri's blood on the Eye of Ta'Ashrim..." he reflected idly while trying to shake his lingering disorientation, "... did not work, presumably the souls said to be trapped within it. The Ithzir must have revealed another way. It would be best to scry on it now while they are all still licking their wounds."
He took a mortar and pestle from the latched glaes panels and removed a shard of oblivion quartz from his ebon cloak. He began grinding it with essence of writhing dreamvine extract, taking care to not look directly into the crystal. When the powder was sufficiently fine grained he poured it into a phial, then walked over and emptied it into the incense burner. The incandescent globe suspended from the ceiling flashed with its eerie glow, wisps of smoke wafting from the wall and sparkling ash blowing out. He held his hand out over the orb close enough that it began pulling him toward it. Pale blue bolts of lightning arc to the fingers of his gauntlet as his eyes turn dull red and flashing sickly green.
The orb on the worktable pulses once with a deep crimson light, its power reaching out and overwhelming the senses until his mind fills with the image of another place, far away in the waking world and yet not quite on the material plane of existence itself. The faint smell of burning flesh lingers in the air. It was the town square of Wehnimer's Landing, except the tree is being rapidly consumed in flames, everyone covered in burns and screaming in suffering. The healers weeping helplessly. It was beautiful.
The warlock chanted darkly and the smoke wafting from their flesh formed into black sigils. The town square slowly filled with streams of hidden runes that pulsed with scarlet power. He was able to feel himself as a disembodied presence being sucked into the invisible ancient monolith in the Sheruvian summoning chamber, shifting between the fell chasms and interstitial spaces between worlds, moving from one channel to the next like the veil piercing obelisks of the Ithzir. He could feel his body worlds away hovering his dark obelisk crystal over a map of the Sea of Fire, the one representing the monoliths around the fallen central city that was left behind with Grishom's notes in the Outpost.
His awareness passed from the monolith in the mountain clouds before being pulled toward hungering pits of darkness. To the north the black rivers of Shadow Valley beckoned him their overwhelming nightmares and the underworlds beneath Castle Anwyn threatened to imprison him in the vale behind the mirror. Toward the east the black ichor of the Red Forest called upon him in so many times and places with its hidden demonic power. His soul was then pulled backwards to the west toward the pillar in the Black Sands, then across the Great Western Sea to Teras Isle, finally into the tortured chamber of malice incarnate and hateful weeping imprisoned in its cage of glaes and veil-iron.
Through the maw of the Beast he rose through a veil-iron obelisk in the museum, from which he passed to the blood infused obsidian of the soul chamber of Lich's Landing. Through a hidden monolith beneath the town he passed back through to the mist shrouded spires in Darkstone Castle, before being drawn south to the crystal sphere in the Obsidian Tower. He was pulled now further south to a great tower of bone rising from a foggy valley, further toward a hidden shadowy force of darkness beneath Solhaven.
He took his solace instead through an underground Luukosian Temple, passing through to a sanctum corrupted with still more ancient darkness. He emerged from this unholy place in the harsh desert sun, flying over the sandstorms of the desert from one strange monolith to the next. He was drawn toward the center of the Sea of Fire until he reached a vast claw of huge black monoliths, casting shadows far out into the distance over the blistering sand. Their surfaces were void black and hypnotizing with periodic whorling of ethereal lights. It was here and now it was not. He was here and now he was not. The warlock dropped his crystal to the city on the center of the map.
Through a glass darkly the warlock stared into the abyss, one crimson orb into another, his mind pulled forward to the fallen city in the wasteland. The krodera and veil-iron orb burned with power around his gauntleted hand, its anti-magical fury clashing against the bloody power hidden in the veils. His surroundings morphed into a spherical chamber of obsidian with a macabre throne and countless corpses of black hair and sea blue eyes. Faceless men ambled in the darkness just as the boy had first been in his vision leading him into the shadow realm. Through a deep hole in the ground rose a dark pillar of blood and shadow, forming a hideous pedestal for a mist shrouded crimson orb floating just on top of it.
He forced his way toward the pillar as his skin ripped open and flayed away leaving exposed muscles. Intense power surged as the forces clashed between the orbs, immersing everything in a blinding red flash between them. The warlock was suddenly ripped back into the Sheruvian summoning chamber, his eyes turning black again just as the power backlashed into him with bolts of crimson lightning. His body was flung back toward the tapestries and over the summoning circle where he abruptly vanished in thin air.
In the next moment he was standing once more in a damp, misty chamber with an eerie green pallor, in the same instant as if he had never left at all. His arms were still raised in the invocation of an instinctive ritual known only unconsciously before a large round stone covered with runes that rotated like a coin around a pitch black portal. These runes spiraled in a maddening jumble overwhelming his mind, with the arcs of energy lashing back at him sending him flying to the hard floor. The warlock started chuckling under his breath while on his back, home in this evil and forgotten place, giving way to chilling echoes of dark laughter. There were so many nightmares yet to be dreamed. And he was the Dreadlord.
Behind the Scenes
This is a first-person vignette for the player character Xorus, illustrating his "dread seer" methodology of what is essentially astral projection. It shows him "harrowing" the outer planes in a kind of enhanced meditation to reorganize his memories and understanding of historical processes. The details mostly center around things relevant to the Wehnimer's Landing Storylines between 2010 and 2018. The exact timing is not clear except for it having taken place before the vigilante Rone went into the temporal rift and the Chronomage teleportation review, while set between the Keeping up with the Kestrels and Witchful Thinking storylines. It is set later in history than the Daemons of Future Past vignette, which may or may not have actually happened, which was set shortly before the death of Dennet Kestrel.