Pharamne's Urn (updated 4/25/12) - Page 20




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  1. #191
    Opp.. I was aware of the yahoo group, not of the other. thanks!

 

  • #192
    I like BIG bumps and I cannot lie.....

    Please Sep. Post. Breath!



    J-man

  • #193
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    ψ Ignore Sepulchrave II
    The real update is after this one.

    Note that inconsistencies referring to eyelids have been removed


    *******




    She is magnificent, Nwm observed as the goddess rode down the babau. Drengh was a bloody blur, flashing red about her head. The Druid was in a state of perfect, dynamic meditation: they had honed their rapport to the point of a wordless, instinctive knowledge of intent, where Nwm had become the agent of her thought.

    Their quarry were diminishing in numbers: their leaders, and the most war-hardened among them, had been redeployed to another arena – a distant, violent conflict between two old enemies. Those that remained were diminished, and lacking the discipline enforced by the direct agents of Graz'zt's will, they had disintegrated into a violent rabble of clans, ruled by the most ruthless and cunning amongst them. They became easy prey for the bands of godlings and ancestors who rode forth to engage them.

    Of the Nireem, Ninit had proven the most difficult to relate to. She seemed oblivious to the needs of Mulhuk, and countenanced no argument which conflicted with her desire. She was utterly impervious to reason. Her passion was only to ride, and to hunt.

    Immediately, Nwm had adored her.

    He had allowed himself to become subsumed in her, and relinquished himself utterly. An act of devotion inevitable, he wrily observed, when any aspect of Goddess presented itself to him. But the communion which Ninit provided for Nwm led to a reciprocity which The Rider had not anticipated. She needed him in order to slay more effectively, and now she guarded and protected him. Ninit had grown accustomed to a lack of worship – her cult had been extinct for centuries. Nwm's adoration – when directed towards her – had stirred certain deific needs which had been suppressed for too long. Ninit craved worship, once again. And the details of Nwm's broader henotheism were irrelevant to the goddess.

    Nwm's mind reached out, connecting with the soil of Sisperi, and energy coursed through him. A profound agony – familiar and reassuring – fired every nerve in his body. His skin cracked like the bark of an ancient tree and began to bleed, green fire coursed over him, and a necromantic impulse of terrible potency exploded outwards from him in all directions. Demons dropped like flies.

    In his thoughts, Ninit smiled savagely.

    As the few remaining monsters winked out, Nwm healed himself of his self-inflicted trauma and mustered his strength again.

    You are weary, Ninit's voice echoed in his mind. Return to Mulhuk.

    Nwm bowed. He might have continued, but one did not gainsay The Rider. He would return to Mulhuk, and then make his way to Wyre and his appointed meeting with Ortwine.

    *

    When not hunting, Nwm would spend long hours instructing Lai and her handmaidens in the arts he had mastered. His favoured location was a courtyard graced with crystal trees, where a warm sun always shone in the afternoon; demonstration was his preferred method. And the knowledge with which Nehael had imbued him, he eagely disseminated. His role was paradoxical: both mentor and worshipper; teacher and priest.

    At other times, he and Lai would leave Mulhuk, and walk beneath the trees in the region of Sisperi which had been called Soan, where the Werud – a confederation of tribes who had venerated the Nireem – had once dwelt. The desolation was absolute, as all sapience had been extinguished by the tide of demons which had ravaged the world.

    One cold morning, not far from where Eadric had slain the babau Uort,* Druid and Goddess had come across the remains of a settlement, its inhabitants driven off or butchered a century before. The stench of death and decay still clung to the place; a pall of Abyssal misery, which might take millennia to clear. Nwm sat upon a moss-covered outcrop – all that remained of an ancient granary.

    "What of Saes?" He had sighed. "Little can proceed without her."

    "I have tried. She will not respond. The gate to Ruk is closed. She is mad. Bloated on Death.**"

    "You must persist. She may, in time, be persuaded,"

    Lai laughed drily. "You do not know her as I do. Another way must be found. But somrthing else has occurred to you."

    "There may be alternatives," Nwm said carefully. "There are tribes in the North of my world. Some may be willing to undertake the journey here. To begin afresh. But I will not decieve them: demons lurk around every corner, and I suspect Sisperi will never be rid of them entirely. How would they even understand an entreaty made by you or Rhul? And they would bring their own gods with them, Lai. It might serve only to speed your demise."

    "A chance I am willing to take."

    Nwm shrugged. "Others can come, and when they die, Saes will claim them. Trees can be awakened, and when they die, Saes will claim them too. Saes is the key – all other solutions are merely temporary."

    "If another could be persuaded to go and speak with her. Eadric perhaps?"

    Nwm shook his head. "It is unlikely. He has discharged his vow, and other matters concern him. And Saes might entrap him: Graz'zt would trade a whole world for the Ahma. I lack the necessary tact – or guile. No, I think Ortwine might be the answer."

    Lai's lip curled, and the sky darkened momentarily. "I will return to Afqithan, if I must. But I mistrust her."

    "And she, you. But her mendacity may be your ally." He smiled grimly, and became serious. "She is no pawn, Lai. If she condescends to aid you, it will be on her terms."

    "I will send her a dream. It will be neutral territory."

    "It might be preferable if I speak to her," Nwm suggested. "We have a bond that endures across four lifetimes, and she knows I will not decieve her."

    "If you deem it best," the Goddess reluctantly agreed.


    **


    "I would like to extend my gratitude to the Assembly for allowing me to speak," the Alienist began. "My particular thanks to Daunton, for acting as my sponsor in this matter."

    They had convened at Mostin's – formerly Shomei's – estate outside of Morne: thirty-one mages gathered in an audience hall around a great, oval table, carved from ebony and inlayed with scenes from Irrenite myth. Some sat. Some stood, or leaned on staves. Most were human. Rimilin of the Skin was there: he sat alone, shunned by all others.

    Even Waide remained silent, aware that an untimely display of sarcasm might earn the ire of many of those present. Mostin – it was rumoured – was about to make some grand philanthropic gesture, and most were concerned that the Alienist was sufficiently eccentric to change his mind for no other reason than mild annoyance. Nothing should jeopardize this improbable event.

    Mostin's lidless eyes scanned those present as he fondled Mogus, the obscene, fist-sized pseudonatural which lived in a nondimensional space within his tunic. In sympathy, the orbs on his robe of eyes rotated in a disturbing fashion, fixing first one, and then another of those present.

    "Mulissu and Shomei are gone," Mostin continued. "Two great lights have left us – to whichever fates they have chosen for themselves. We are diminished. I am left with the burden of being the greatest living Wizard in Wyre, although perhaps not on this plane - something I will come to in due course. Many of you consider me both aloof and deranged, and I will deny neither. I am, however, indisputably, a genius."

    Waide sighed.

    Mostin ignored him. "Jovol's legacy remains with us, and if we dwell within the borders of Wyre, we must abide by it. For those of us with the resources – and I count myself fortunate in this regard – the option of continuing our conjurations is open, if we have another base from which to operate. I have erected my portable manse outside of Wyre's borders in order to facilitate this. This has proven controversial amongst some of you gathered here, as it might be claimed that it circumvents the spirit – if not the letter – of the Second Injunction. I am not alone in this regard, however."

    Mostin stared pointedly at the Hag Jalael, Rimilin, and Wigdryt – a smoke mephit.

    "This is a testing time for us," Mostin continued, "but we must not waver in our faith in Jovol's wisdom. His vision was more complete than we can appreciate, and he had access to methods which are now lost to us."

    A murmur rippled through the gathered mages. Rumour of the web of motes had been heard by all, although only a few knew of its true significance.

    "I am about to make several assertions which may, on the surface, appear contradictory or paradoxical. Let me posit a scenario," Mostin sighed. "As one who has experienced the power of the web of motes first-hand, this is not as improbable as it might sound. Jovol knew of the explosion of religious power which Tramst – the so-called Sela – exemplifies. He knew of an impending conflict with the Cult of Cheshne. Furthermore, he chose death – in violation of his own Injunction – as a course preferable to allowing a second conjuration of Graz'zt. He knew that a renaissance in Uediian power would act as the best balance on all other concerns. The entity who was Fillein, then Jovol, has self-incarnated again, in the guise of a fey named Teppu."

    The revelation left all of those present – except for Rimilin – dumbstruck. The brief silence was quickly replaced by thirty chattering voices.

    Mostin held up his hand, and a gong sounded.

    "Please allow me to continue," he smirked despite himself. An uneasy silence returned to the room. "There will be time for questions after I have spoken, but there are a number of other issues I would like to address first.

    "Most importantly, Teppu is not Jovol, at least in any meaningful sense, any more than Jovol was Fillein. I am unsure of the extent to which even his memories are retained. Teppu's agenda is not Jovol's agenda. He is driven by a different set of desires and philosophies, although there is, somehow – perhaps hyperconsciously – a commonality of purpose. This higher purpose is related somehow to Dream, and was partially illuminated by the oblique references that Jovol made to his understanding of the dialectical process.

    "If we deal with Teppu – and I suspect we must – we should not expect to enjoy any kind of special rapport. Teppu is Green. His concern is a complex of energies involving feys, nature spirits, the goddess Uedii, and the natural world – something which he refers to as the Viridity: a burgeoning node of elemental power centered around these principles. The Viridity may be arising as some kind of mediating effect to resolve the polarization of Oronthonian belief and the Cult of Nihilism from Shϋth.

    "Its effect in Afqithan superseded the designs of Oronthon's Adversary. Accordingly, I have designated it a Greater Infinity. Its relationship with Oronthon himself is unclear, as is the relationship between the two foci – the Sela on one hand, and Nehael on the other. When I inspected the web of motes the sympathetic energy between the two was astounding, which leads me to suspect that a higher order of Intelligence is at work – perhaps the same order which drives Teppu, perhaps not. In any event, the final turn of the wheel in Afqithan revealed the Adversary as nothing more than a cog in some transcendental purpose. He had no inkling of the Viridity, and knowledge of it was – or is still – shrouded from him."

    Waide could no longer contain himself. "Nehael is the succubus who started all this mess in the first place, am I correct?"

    "Not exactly," Mostin said smugly. "Nehael is no longer what she was. In fact, she may have never been what she formerly was – the Viridity is concerned primarily with the Now, the Moment. As such, what is past, and what is yet to come are in large measure irrelevant. According to that paradigm, all history is vacuous – and mutable."

    "This is mystical babble," Jalael interjected. "I had expected more from you, Mostin."

    "Indulge me!" Mostin snapped. "And Waide, kindly allow me to speak without further interruption. I am trying to contextualize my actions, not justify current trends in religious thought."

    Daunton coughed. "Perhaps you might be a little more succinct, Mostin."

    "Oh very well," the Alienist grumbled. He inhaled deeply, and thought for a moment.

    "Let me speak of artifacts," Mostin clearly enunciated the last word, and was not disappointed by the effect that it had on all of those present. "You have, doubtless, heard rumours regarding the web of motes. Its whereabouts is currently undetermined: its last known guardian was the demon Surab, who possessed Mulissu's daughter, Iua, and was responsible for the death of the Savant. The web of motes itself is unlocatable by any means available to me. Surab is mind blanked by some device. It is of paramount importance that we retrieve this object. There is hope: I have made a metagnostic inquiry of a Pseudonatural entity named Ghom which dwells beyond the middle region. I believe that Surab is unaware of the true nature of the web of motes. I also believe that Iua is still alive – her form, which is young and nubile, may be pleasing to the demon. Surab may be unwilling – or unable – to reenter Azzagrat, and has retreated to the unnamed regions between Hell and the Abyss.

    "Also, the chthonic demoness Soneillon spoke of something named Pharamne's Urn – an object of which she claimed ownership, but which had been appropriated by Prince Graz'zt at some point in the past. This item is of Aeonic potency: one in full possession of its powers – something which the Prince of Azzagrat is not – can create universes. Naturally, Graz'zt guards it jealously. Queen Soneillon could unlock it to a greater degree although, I suspect, she could not manifest its ultimate power: she was unusual for a demon in her command of ritual magic, something which is antithetical to the Abyssal mindset. She was also unique in many other ways." An ironic smile crossed the Alienist's face.

    Mostin paused to take a sip of tea, and was mildly surprised – and gratified – to find his audience utterly enrapt.

    "We are delicately poised," Mostin continued. "Currently, as I am sure even the most politically ignorant of you are aware, the Sela, Oronthon's proxy, is on the field of battle, south of Wyre's borders. Whilst Prince Tagur attempts to rally support for the campaign in secular circles, the Temple – and I trust we all recall that particular monolith – has effectively reformed, albeit with a more thoughtful perspective and without the stigma attached to the name Temple. I'll say the name again, for those of you who didn't hear me: Temple. It is the same band of lance-waving zealots as it was three years ago, and we must trust that Tramst has inculcated some measure of insight and tolerance in those involved.

    "This war is magical. The initial skirmishes – which have proven inconclusive – have demonstrated that the Sela is fallible in this arena. His purview is enlightenment – whatever that means to an Oronthonian – and not conflict. We must decide – collectively – a policy in this matter. We are, of course, bound by the Injunction, although we can act beyond Wyre's borders. But of the three main sects within the Cult of Cheshne, only one is technically subject to the law of the Claviger, and this has yet to be tested in practice.

    "A friend once described such a conflict as arcanoreligious and I scoffed at the term. I am, however, beginning to think he – now she – was correct. It is fraught with legalistic complexity, which the Injunction must adapt to – although I have no doubt that the Claviger itself can anticipate many of the vagaries. If I am a theurge, and I conjure a demon within Wyre's borders using arcane power, am I subject to the same set of laws as I would be if I used a divinely granted boon to do the same? And we should not doubt that the devotees of Cheshne are both willing and able to do these things. Their vision is apocalyptic, in the extreme.

    "This rather circuitous speech – and I apologize, Daunton, if I was less succinct than you had hoped, brings me to the main thrust of my argument today: there are mages and hierophants within the Order of Cheshne who wield considerable power. Possibly more than me, even. Their exact names, numbers and dispositions are hidden from us, but there are undoubtedly transvalent casters amongst them. We know only Anumid, who is their mouthpiece, and with whom Daunton was granted a brief audience.

    "Their veneration of Cheshne is absolute. They regard demons – even demonic nobility – in an entirely different light to those of us exposed to Oronthonian dogma. Ugras – fierce protectors – of ancient methods and teachings. This is their Truth, and who are we to gainsay it?

    "We cannot hide from this. We must adopt a position – even if it is one of noninvolvement: something, incidentally, which I most emphatically discourage. I am not asking you to submit to my whim in this matter, but I do request that my counsel is acknowledged, if nothing else. Waide distrusts and despises me – and the feeling is entirely mutual. But we have agreed to go to the Claviger for direction in our antipathy for one another, because both of us realize that our personal feelings for one another cannot be allowed to interfere with the larger picture.

    "My appeal today is complex. First, I ask for help in recovering the web of motes. It is a tool which we can use to great effect – let me finish, Waide. Furthermore – as unlikely as this might seem – I owe it to Mulissu to see her daughter returned safely: I am rather fond of Iua.

    "Second – and I will preempt cries of 'foul' before they are issued – I believe, for a variety of reasons, that it is within our mutual interest to confine the Demon Prince Graz'zt. He is one of the chief Ugras and we run the risk of him being conjured by our enemies and sent against us. The prize, if we can accomplish this, is Pharamne's Urn – if we can get to it before anyone else. I am in the possession of a transvalent spell bequeathed to me by Jovol which I believe can accomplish this infallibly if I have the unqualified support of the Assembly in this matter. The spell – which is outmoded, and I suspect against which Graz'zt has developed defenses – can be modified. Even a demon of Graz'zt's stature cannot withstand our combined power.

    "Third, we must develop a coherent strategy to counter the threat from the Cult of Cheshne. We cannot be sidelined in this matter; neither can we allow ourselves to be overcome piecemeal, one-by-one. We must unite to address this danger. This runs counter to a thousand years of tradition, I know, but change is upon us. We live in a new world. We must adapt, or we will be broken. I have considered various possibilities as to how this can be accomplished, and I am willing to discuss them at length when the debate begins."

    Mostin took another sip of tea – which had gone cold – before continuing, He swallowed reflexively, as if in great doubt.

    "Word has probably already spread that I am willing to make Shomei's library available to the arcane community. This is so. But, in case any of you have doubts as to my earnestness in regard to the matters of which I have spoken – and my sense of urgency – I would like to go further. I have a well-deserved reputation for miserliness, I know, and this may come as something of a shock. So consider this as a display of enlightened self-interest.

    "I would like to turn over Shomei's entire estate in perpetuity to the Wizards of Wyre, as the starting point of a collective endeavour. I will donate my own library to the enterprise, and urge you all to do the same. I propose a repository of learning, and a testing ground for intellects as yet undiscovered. An Academy, if you will. We should embrace the Injunction, and display it above our gates as our Law, but also recognize it as our guiding principle. And I should like to nominate Daunton to be elected as our first President."

    Thirty-one jaws, including that of Rimilin of the Skin, dropped.

    When Waide had recovered his composure, he smiled bitterly. He knew that Mostin had finally won, and left his indelible mark on history.








    * This story may have to wait for some time.

    ** Saes, the Nireem goddess concerned with death, had allied herself with Graz'zt when the demon invested the plane, seeing an opportunity to augment her own power when the inevitable tide of slaughter followed. She gathered the spirits of all dead things to herself, swelling her strength, and guarded her prizes jealously. When Graz'zt withdrew his main force to defend Azzagrat, Saes sealed the entrance to Ruk, the underworld. Nwm's efforts to use remains he had discovered to reincarnate some of those who had died in the conflict, in order to repopulate Sisperi, were foiled: Saes refused to relinquish their souls.


    **

  • #194
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    ψ Ignore genshou
    Then... that means a real update is coming! Woohoo!
    'Genshou is the ruler of Genshouland and the creator of one thousand and one house rules; some of them good, some of them mediocre. Genshou likes cheese and root beer (but never together). Genshou is a young man who is always ridiculously cheerful. He has been described as a madman, a potato, and "cuddly".'

  • #195
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    ψ Ignore Sepulchrave II
    THE PROSPECT OF EMBASSIES


    In the aftermath of the Confrontation in Afqithan, Nwm the Preceptor assumed the form of a great raven and took to the skies. He surveyed the scene below: had it been any ordinary battle, a glut of flesh would have been his for the taking. But amongst the heaped corpses of demons and monsters, all carrion was foul. Ichor, not blood, stained the glades beneath the towering trees.

    Purposefully, he winged his way to where I lay dead upon the field: foes whom I had felled were scattered around. His pinions cracked once, and his talons came to rest upon a heap of varrangoin. I beheld him through lifeless eyes as he approached: my spirit lingered, unwilling to abandon my body.

    "A third time will I restore you," he cawed. "And a fourth and a fifth, if need be. We are in need of every ally which we can find. The seed must sprout. The shoot must be tended."

    Gently, he lifted me upwards, and screeched, invoking ancient goddesses who had slumbered for millennia, and whose names he alone knew. With a violent passion, life returned to me again.

    "How was death?" He asked.

    "Cold," I replied. I smiled, and exulted in my new form, relishing its power and subtlety. I cast my sight about, perceiving the interwoven lattice of life and magic which suffused the place. "This is your doing?" I asked.

    "In part," he answered, winging his way toward Irknaan's Fortress. "What now?"

    "I will remain here," I answered. "Afqithan is mine, now."

    He cocked his head. "That is a bold claim. How will you enforce it?"

    "With ruthless charm," I replied.



    *


    Nwm stood beneath the sagging boughs of a great deodar, a tree not native to Trempa, but rather one of a dozen imported generations earlier, by an aristocrat with a taste for the exotic; some forebear of Eadric of Deorham, whose name the Druid could not recollect. The late afternoon sun shone warm through the deep green of its canopy. He watched her approach, studying her carefully.

    Her poise and grace were effortless, and her natural footfall, silent. She wore the same, tattered cloak and stained jerkin that she always had, but bore a buckler of sidhe metal strapped to her arm, won in Afqithan from one of the thousands who had perished there. Her face – breathtaking in its beauty – displayed only the slightest hint of contempt.

    "Will this take long?" She asked as she drew near.

    "It may," Nwm replied. "Lai has a favour to ask you."

    Ortwine's eyes narrowed. "And what does your deific protιgι require of me?"

    "To embark upon a series of negotiations, with a goddess named Saes." Nwm replied. He attempted to sound casual. "It is better if I say nothing else. I am merely the courier."

    "Somehow, I doubt that," Ortwine replied. "Perhaps you think I might be less apt to view an old friend with suspicion?"

    "There is no joy left in you, Ortwine."

    "Let's just get this over with," Ortwine sighed.



    **


    As Nwm and Ortwine travelled to Sisperi, and Mostin addressed the largest gathering of mages for a century, Eadric sat confined with the devils Titivilus and Murmuur in the summoning room. It was the third day of the interrogation.

    Mostin had been irked by the fact that Ortwine and the Ahma had caused Titivilus to crumple so quickly: the Alienist had expected a more protracted negotiation. He had attempted for months to wheedle information from the confined Dukes, but had had neither the time nor the resources to develop a spell which would reliably subdue them: if an unprepared magick were to have failed, and a Duke were to break free, things would have become very messy, very quickly. One free would have become three free, and three of them together would have overwhelmed him. But the Wizard was relieved that he could – for a while, at least – avoid the two remaining Devils. He was implicated in the assassination of an Infernal magnate, and would enjoy the enmity of Dis until the end of his days.

    The Ahma and Titivilus had spoken of the Adversary's role in Afqithan, of the deployment of Devils under Azazel, of Murmuur's Tower – now abandoned on the demiplane and, apparently, inert. Titivilus had speculated at length regarding the Infernal decision made to support Azzagrat – a subtle balancing act, to prevent Orcus gaining supremacy in his war with Graz'zt in the Abyss itself.

    Many of Graz'zt's champions had perished, nonetheless, either in the Confrontation or shortly thereafter. Ainhorr, Cemdrei, Uort and a slew of others were no more. Melihaen had abandoned her master and fled to Throile, throwing in her lot with Adyell and the battered remnants of Soneillon's horde. Others had joined with Rhyxali, or Kostchtchie, or slunk away to Yutuf or Terkunuteng to lick their wounds, as their individual whim or interest dictated.

    In Zelatar itself, Ilistet had rallied Graz'zt's army and led a savage counterattack against the undead host of Orcus. The war ebbed and flowed, but a stagnant impasse – which suited Hell's designs – seemed inevitable. The Prince of Azzagrat was fighting a defensive war which might last for millennia. His power had been curbed, and his ambition thwarted. Nehael was no longer captive. The Ahma had won, though the victory was bitter and empty.

    Throughout the exchange with Titivilus, Murmuur had remained silent. Eadric regarded him with a mixed feeling, which included a grudging admiration. Here was a soldier, pure and simple. Loyal, steadfast, unwavering in his devotion to his beliefs, and utterly, irredeemably evil.

    The Ahma sat, and laid Lukarn unsheathed across his knees.

    "We have a few loose ends to tie up," Eadric sighed. "You may use surmise, but I will be alert to any attempted falsehood. If you try to mislead or prevaricate, I will annihilate you. Am I clear?"

    "Yes," Titivilus grinned.

    Eadric raised an eyebrow. The Devil already seemed cooperative. Did he think that Mostin's absence would make the Ahma more pliable, or was the prospect of his freedom causing him to be less opaque than normal? He grunted, and shifted his position.

    "Tell me of Shomei. From your skewed perspective."

    "Her soul is in a self-induced state of perdition. By rejecting Saizhan she made a conscious decision to consign herself to Hell. You have no authority in acts of individual volition."

    "I have as much authority as I choose to assume," Eadric grimaced, "but I agree that it would be pointless to try to rectify the situation." He remembered his own conversation with Shomei too well, as well as the words and actions of the Akesoli.

    "If you say so, Ahma."

    "Is she in Dis?" Eadric asked, irritated.

    "In Cania. Astaroth purchased her from the Akesoli. Perhaps neither Dispater nor Belial could meet their price: that is surmise, for the record."

    "For what purpose?"

    "She is a valuable prize," Titivilus smirked. "And the Grand Duke has an eye for the spirits of powerful mages."

    "As currency?"

    "To gloat over. Perhaps he will offer her unlife, for her immortal service. Pacts can extend beyond death, Ahma. Before you smite me, I should tell you that that is also surmise."

    Eadric suppressed a shiver.

    The Infernal Duke smiled. "The inducements offered by a Devil such as Astaroth are hard to resist," he persisted.

    "And the web of motes, Titivilus?" Eadric asked, ignoring the goad. "Where might that be?"

    "Frankly, I'm disappointed that Mostin has not contrived a spell to locate it. Find Surab, and you'll find the web. I do not know its location."

    Eadric thought for a moment.

    Titivilus spoke. "There is other information that I would like to impart to you. It is freely given."

    "Or rather, the price is invisible," Eadric said stonily.

    "Quite. Do you wish to hear it or no?" Titivilus gloated.

    "I suppose I must."

    "My mandate as your tempter was revoked some time ago. Before my embassy to Azzagrat, in fact."

    "Why?" Eadric was suspicious.

    "I do not know."

    "Surmise!" Eadric snapped.
    .
    "To make way for one whom my superiors felt more suited, I assume. Or perhaps it was an abandonment of the task altogether."

    "You failed, then?"

    "I thought I was doing rather well. No matter. Are we finished, now? Will you kindly release me?"

    "I regret not. I fear that I have mislead you."

    The Ahma prayed briefly, buoying himself with Oronthon's power. Unholy auras flickered in response within the thaumaturgic diagrams as the devils anticipated Eadric's intention. Lukarn gained a silver sheen, and then the Ahma spoke a holy word. The devils' confining circles were shattered under the assault. Titivilus screamed silently, transfixed, as light overwhelmed him, but Murmuur withstood the barrage.

    Incoherently, Titivilus struck Eadric with a quickened feeblemind and attempted to dispel the dimensional lock placed by Mostin on the chamber, but failed. Murmuur lashed out with a rapid meteor swarm and leapt at Eadric, smiting him with as much vile power as he could muster.

    Titivilus, paralyzed, fell quickly to a series of brutal strokes from Lukarn.

    Eadric stared at Murmuur, who remained defiant. Unexpectedly, compassion welled up within the Ahma. He had no choice but to act upon it.

    "Yield!" Eadric's voice thundered in the confines of the summoning room. "Submit to my mercy. You are no match for me."

    More blows were exchanged, and each hewed through the armour of the other. Murmuur staggered uncertainly.

    "Yield!" Eadric demanded.

    "I cannot," Murmuur smiled sadly. "We are forever lost, Ahma. Do you not yet understand?"

    Lukarn fell three times, and the duke dropped to the floor.

    Eadric closed his eyes as his mind contained the magnitude of his deed. The line had finally been drawn. There would be no more negotiation.


    **


    Lai sat cross-legged before a fire pit, in which a ruddy flame flickered. Runes lay cast about her, and her handmaidens fussed nearby, pouring nectar into bowls of exquisitely carved wood. She regarded Ortwine carefully, anxious to avoid a conflict.

    Nwm, who stood nearby, was clad only in a simple green robe tied about his waist with a length of rough hemp. He scratched the dirt at his feet with slender staff cut from a young hornbeam, and avoided Ortwine's glare. His beard and hair seemed inordinately long to the sidhe, as though their cultivation might somehow hold the key to the mysteries into which the Druid had been initiated. A faint aura of Green surrounded Nwm – the dwimmerhame which protected him from hostile magicks. His hands and forearms were scarred from the massive backlash energies he routinely employed.

    "You are welcome here as an honoured guest," Lai said smoothly, "and what is ours, is yours. Please sit."

    Ortwine scowled, and lounged casually, resting on her left arm. Nwm coughed, and kneeled next to the goddess.

    "Let's get straight to the point," Ortwine smiled coldly. "Nwm tells me that you wish me to act as your messenger. You wish me to enter the abode of the Goddess of Death – I have not forgotten who Saes is, Nwm – in order to strike some kind of bargain."

    "Yes," Lai nodded. "To secure the release of the spirits which she has hoarded."

    "This is no small task."

    "Indeed," Lai admitted.

    "If I were to agree, it would require sizeable recompense. What do you think that such an endeavour – if successful – is worth, Nwm?"

    "I am gratified that you retain your mercenary tendencies," Nwm said drily.

    "Do you have a price in mind?" Lai inquired.

    "Divinity is acceptable to me."

    Nwm guffawed. His expression changed to one of incredulity, when he saw that Ortwine was serious.

    "You are a sidhe-queen, Ortwine! What more can you require?"

    "Homage is pleasant, Nwm, but I think you'd agree that worship would be preferable."

    "It is not within the power of the Nireem to grant you what you seek…" Lai began.

    "Then you'd better find a way, goddess, because until you do, there will be no deal."



    **


    Eadric felt edgy. He looked from the highest window of the Steeple, casting his gaze south and east in the direction of the Sela's forces – although they were two hundred leagues beyond the limit of his vision. Below, lights and campfires were kindling amid a sea of tents – not warriors and soldiers, but pilgrims who had made their way to Deorham in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Ahma, and to walk in holy places. He turned to Mostin, who sat preoccupied in thought. They had touched briefly upon the topic of the Cult of Cheshne, towards whom both now earnestly bent their will.

    "What are they doing? Why do they not act?"

    "The Hierophants are devising and casting spells," Mostin grimaced. "Very potent spells. This takes time."

    "And then?"

    "They unleash the storm."

    "Could you perhaps be a little more specific?" Eadric inquired.

    "Opening a gate is child's play to these mages, Eadric. They compact demonic nobility. Bhνtis and Ugras."

    "How long do we have? Who will they send?"

    "I don't know. If it were me, I'd start with a few balors. Just to get things warmed up – pardon the pun. When that happens, you'll know that the big spells are ready – they won't begin before they're prepared. I think we have a month or two, at least."

    "Can we counter it?"

    "If we pool our resources. A grand alliance, so to speak."

    "And the Injunction?" Eadric looked sceptical.

    "Only applies within Wyre's borders." Mostin's eyes suddenly narrowed. "Which is why the Assembly – which is demonstrating as much inertia as I expected – needs to come up with some solid offensive strategies. Fast. I would like to speak with your Sela. Can you arrange it?

    "Er…yes," the Ahma looked surprised. "I had intended to leave for the South in two days. Can you wait?

    "No," Mostin shook his head vigorously. "How about now?"

    "There is αuda tonight and tomorrow – blessings which I am duty-bound to bestow, when I can. And I'd like to speak to the thaumaturge, Sineig – Canec informed me earlier that he has made the journey here from Gibilrazen on foot."

    "The Irrenite? He is rather controversial, I hear." Mostin seemed amused.

    "And becoming increasingly popular. He has quite the following."

    "People like sex," Mostin shrugged. "If you include it in your praxis, it's bound to generate a lot of interest. And if you make intercourse with demons a central tenet, you will attract a certain kind of devotee."

    "He is treading a dangerous path," Eadric sighed.

    "But one not without precedent," Mostin replied drily.

    "My religion has been transformed beyond all recognition," Eadric groaned. "And I am responsible for much of it. Most cannot grasp the teachings which Sineig presents. Many of those who follow his example will be broken."

    "But a few will shine," Mostin insisted. "They choose, Eadric."

    "Choice is overrated," Eadric sighed.

    "It is preferable to spiritual despotism."

    "Is that an ethical stance I detect, Mostin?"

    "Only insofar as it applies to me. Now, can we leave?" Mostin nagged. "I'll have you back within an hour."

    Eadric nodded.


    **


    "I require celestial sponsorship," Mostin sniffed, looking at Tramst. "My pseudonatural servitors are not suited for routine defense, and require a great deal of effort to summon and control. I have alienated many fiendish allies, and lack a versatile pool of potential compactees. I also suspect that Dispater may have placed a sizeable contract on my head, or will shortly. Can you help?

    Eadric gaped. The Sela seemed amused.

    "How do you propose that I might do that?"

    Mostin sighed. "Obviously, to sanction my gating of celestials and to waive any normal fees that I would otherwise incur for planar bindings. I don't see what the problem is. We're on the same side, here. I would stipulate only that celestials who serve me refrain from displaying their wings, or change them to something less offensive – those of bats or insects are acceptable."

    "It is not within my remit to make compacts."

    "That's absurd," Mostin waved a hand. "You're Oronthon as well as Tramst, aren't you? Just expand your remit."

    Eadric groaned. "Sela…"

    Tramst held up a hand. "I know." He turned to Mostin. "I appreciate any agency that you might provide, Mostin, despite your motivation. But you need to adopt a more conventional approach in this. I cannot ease your path to power, can I? How would that be of benefit to you? Perhaps you should speak to a celestial?"

    "It is precisely in order to avoid their blinkered perspective that I am talking to you," Mostin groaned. "I do not require moral instruction."

    The Ahma coughed politely.

    "Oh shut up, Eadric. So the answer is 'no,' then? Must I look to another source because the Sela is unwilling to help me help him?"

    Eadric turned beet red, and opened his mouth to deliver an angry admonishment. Once again, the Sela raised his hand, staying his words.

    We teach according to the wisdom of those who hear.

    "I do not deal with the conventional, Mostin," the Sela was imperturbable. "But allow me to speak for Enitharmon: if you demonstrate your commitment, I have no doubt that it will be regarded favourably by those high in the celestial host. I believe that Jovol and Rintrah enjoyed good relations."

    "Commitment?" Mostin asked suspiciously.

    "You would need to refrain from routinely invoking fiends."

    "And their pseudonatural analogues?"

    "The host would not recognize such a distinction," Tramst smiled.

    "And other pseudonaturals?"

    "They would make no distinction there, either. As such, these entities would be acceptable."

    "I will abide by these terms for the nonce," Mostin said grudgingly, "although giving up the daemons will be a wrench."

    "They are not terms, Mostin, and I am in no means acting as guarantor. But if you are seeking to curry celestial support, it is traditional that one show willing in certain areas. You might also aid the Ahma in his coming task."

    Eadric cocked his head. "I have a task? That will be a refreshing change to determining my own fate. What is it?"

    "On Nehael's initiative there will be a nonpartisan embassy which represents all Wyrish interests, spiritual and secular. You must parley with Anumid: we must attempt to resolve this peaceably, even if is doomed to fail. Both Prince Tagur and Daunton have agreed to the effort."

    The Ahma swallowed reflexively. "And is my role to be religious or mundane?"

    "Both. You are the Ahma and the Earl of Deorham."

    "One high in the Order – a former Templar – would be of aid to me. Sercion or Brey."

    "I can spare neither," the Sela said simply. "Nor would I, if I could. They are too unformed for such a task."

    "There are no others," Eadric grimaced.

    "Amongst the living."

    Eadric was dumbstruck. Must I break every rule?

    You are the Ahma. You do what needs to be done. If you cling to outdated dogma, then what hope do we have?

    Must I slay you, as well?

    Time will tell. The Sela smiled.

    "And you also expect me to embark on this futile mission?" Mostin asked.

    "Your presence would demonstrate a degree of cohesion; a unity of purpose."

    "Which we do not possess," Mostin snapped.

    "Yet," Tramst replied. "I remain optimistic, however. I think it is fair to suggest that all desire it, but none are quite sure about how to realize it."


    **


    The tomb and reliquary of Saint Tahl the Incorruptible were situated in a small chapel adjoining the Great Temple of Morne, and were reached from the main transept through a wrought iron gate which always remained open: the faithful, who sought Tahl's intercession, could at any time offer prayer to him.

    When Eadric arrived, only a single petitioner kneeled in quiet contemplation. By her ascetic appearance – she wore little more than rags, and her hair and nails were long and filthy – the Ahma judged her to be an Urgic pilgrim from eastern Trempa or Ardan. Or rather, she would have been one, before such distinctions had become irrelevant. The air of the chapel was thick with incense, and slender candles burned steadily upon a small altar.

    She gaped as Eadric lit a taper and kneeled next to her. "Ahma, I…" she began to whisper.

    "I'm sorry for disturbing you," Eadric bowed. "What is your name?"

    "Beka, Ahma."

    "I would have you be a witness, Beka. If the later interpretation of events becomes fraught with untruths and idle speculation, you will remember what happened here. You are charged with preserving an accurate account. Will you accept this responsibility?"

    "Ahma, I…"

    "If you wish to leave, you may. I would prefer that you stayed, however. Will you indulge me?"

    The pilgrim nodded dumbly.

    Eadric stood, and removed his gauntlets. Reaching out, he ran his hand over the face of the marble effigy of Tahl: a figure lying in quiet repose, hands clasped upon the quillons of a greatsword, upon the lid of a sarcophagus. He mustered as much strength as he could.

    Eadric hefted the lid, pushed it sideways, and lowered it carefully, so that it rested against the side of the tomb. Inside were a scourge, a sword, and a wooden casket, almost pristine. Eadric prised it open, gagging at the stench which rose up to greet him.

    Beka turned her head away, aghast, and held her breath.

    "In these days, even the dead will have no rest," he intoned.

    There was a momentary flash, and Tahl's decayed form changed abruptly. His eyes opened.

    "Ahma?"

    "My apologies for interrupting your bliss, Tahl. There is much to be done, and I need your help."

    "Of course," Tahl smiled. "Where is my armour?"

    "Sercion wears it," Eadric laughed. Tears streamed down his face.

    "Is the Sela here?"

    "No. That meeting will have to wait."

    "I am the first?"

    "You will not be the last." Eadric nodded.

    "Who is next?"

    "Rede," the Ahma looked pained.

    "He has become wrathful. A spirit of vengeance."

    "So much the better," Eadric smiled grimly.


    **


    She was waiting quietly for the Alienist when he returned to his manse. When he saw her, blood hammered in his temples, and he briefly contemplated whether or not to flee. His arcane sight revealed no detail about her, impenetrable as she was to divination. Nonetheless, he knew her. Power radiated from her. The Claviger had magnified her.

    "Am I to be arraigned?" He asked. "Eliminated?"

    "You will make some tea," Gihaahia said with a wicked smile. "And then we will discuss the finer points of the Injunction."

    "Do you take milk?" Mostin breathed a sigh of relief.


    **

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  • #197
    You know, a new entry in the Tales of Wyre is enough of a warm fuzzy that I've completely forgotten the agony of several days without any ENWorld at all. Bravo! Amazing stuff as always.

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  • #198
    Holy crap! Worth waiting for, as always!
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    Burma-Shave

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