• The VOIDRUNNER'S CODEX is coming! Explore new worlds, fight oppressive empires, fend off fearsome aliens, and wield deadly psionics with this comprehensive boxed set expansion for 5E and A5E!

Aeon (updated 10/9/14)

Tal Rasha

Explorer
TREE
The demoness had warded herself in a heartbeat and retreated to a remote fastness, even as the tree had reached out to her mind and urged her to descend. She felt its consciousness pursue her, and she transported herself again. And again. She could not elude it.

Soneillon cursed, fled deep into a chthonic dream - a delirium of unbeing - and brooded.

Marvellous post, as always. This last part is especially stimulating. Tree seems to be concerned about the Aeon.

Oh, and the philosophical introduction to the post, the debate between Skadding and Brey, is complex and difficult to grok. It's one of the things I love most about this SH.

Noir said:
The fact that Mostin has not yet transcended a simple anxiety disorder is beyond me though. Is he too proud for cognitive behaviour therapy?
He's probably too busy with the whole `calamitous war against an army of immortals' thing.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Gulla

Adventurer
Are you suggesting that a paranoid mage with extreme high thoughts of his own abilities and worth should hire a lesser being of doubtable intellect to modify his mind? Doesn't sound likely to me ;)
 





"Are We Ready?"


**


Two miles to the north of Galda, the Sun was rising as squadrons of Templars hurried about their business. Mostin – floating inches above the ground - bent his thought northwest whilst eyeing the nearby Nwm suspiciously. The Preceptor stood before him, ankle-deep in mud and horsedung, and apparently enjoying the experience. A night of heavy rainfall and twenty thousand cavalry had turned the fields into a morass.

An hour before, Mostin – closeted within a secure shelter – had emerged from a reverie of motes with too many contradictors to even begin to make sense of. It was as though the universe – several universes, in fact – were being turned on their heads. And something had seemed to reach toward him through the Web. As if its ineffable divination had been somehow perceived. Impossible. He glanced around.

The Temple forces – swollen by more of the Illuminated of Morne, as well as Foide's skeptical vassals and the northern aristocracy of Ialde and Dramore – had entrenched at the southern end of the hills of Scir Cellod. In an ancient wood in a nearby valley, two scions – an Oak and an Elm – generated a power which encompassed the entire camp and a wide area beyond, excluding the enemy. The site was outside of Gihaahia's remit, but overlooked the Hynt Coched, the main artery which connected southern Wyre with the Thalassine cities.

Nwm had transported refugees who had fled to Nizkur or who had been reincarnated within its bounds; another ritual had opened a Green highway, speeding thousands – including the Wyrish Magi and many Temple grandees – straight into the midst of Eadric's already swollen camp. Mostin had found the ego dissociation which accompanied the trip unsettling.

Galda – a town of some eighteen hundred which lay beneath the aegis of the scions – was now visible in the dawn, and its campaniles, rooftops and walls thronged with armed sentries. Picquets and outriders were spread in a wide arc to the limit of the Trees' protection and about the town.

Beyond was subject to the depredations of two demonic magnates – Orcus and Pazuzu – and those amongst the remaining fiendish population which they had gathered about them. Both were operating without reference to their respective invokers, Prahar and Yeshe; they skirmished continually with both each other and with archons and devas under the command of two more archfiends, Irel and Shokad: episeme princes who had recently adopted a more Adversarial view. In the absence of any extradimensional movement, wind walking had become the preferred means of travel amongst all; despite their inferior numbers, in this the celestials possessed a distinct advantage.

Cirone, another quaint walled settlement some twenty miles further south, had been utterly consumed by Shvar Choryati, and it was near its wreck that Prahar had elected to establish his camp: a hemisphere of darkness which defied the attempts of both Mostin and Daunton to penetrate with their sight. In a separate bubble – warded with even more potent defenses – Rishih and Naatha had raised a magical beachhead with a large contingent of Anantam magi, supported by compactees and bodyguards, the armored Giants of Danhaan. Against the backdrop of both, loomed the unpierceable wall of night which was the Pall of Dhatri: somewhere within that was the unguessably vast main Cheshnite force.

Shvar Choryati had eaten its way approximately north, on an eccentric path which made frequent detours to annihilate farming communities. It would reach Galda in three days and the Wyrish border in five, assuming a stimulus of light didn't draw it directly towards the Temple encampment. How it would interact with the scions would hopefully not be tested: Nwm planned to eliminate it before it advanced so far. It persisted on the edge of his perception like a cancer which infected the World.

*

Mostin scowled. "Yet another power is rising in Nizkur. What do you know of it?"

Nwm shook his head. "Nothing."

"A fey; most ancient." The Alienist studied his face minutely; Mostin's paranoia was becoming more acute and more evident by the hour. He was beginning to remind Nwm of a caged animal.

"Nothing," Nwm reiterated. "But the Green is moving in torrents everywhere, so I can't say I'm surprised."

"Go on," Ortwine turned her head. "Fey rivals hold an interest for me."

"You flatter yourself," Mostin sniffed. "You pose as much threat as a gnat to one such as this."

"I prefer the gadfly metaphor. And no sidhe stands so far above me."

"I mentioned nothing of sidhe," Mostin sighed. "You are such a parochial queen."

"Currently, my parish is rather larger than yours," Ortwine smiled. "Speak more of this fey: do not let my witty quips distract you."

"That you are both so ignorant of events which reference your paradigm is a source of continual amazement to me," the Alienist grumbled. "This is no woodland sprite. It is rather…wild, in the instinctual, primal sense. The fact that it is present suggests massive change. It is masculine. It does not rise from the Tree-matrix, although its catenary is parallel."

"That sounds fine," Nwm nodded, distracted. Hlioth and Mulissu were becoming impatient. Mesikammi had already departed. "Are we ready?"

*

All but one of the demons – a babau lurking behind a ruined pillar – fled as the five entities manifested amid a green surge. Perhaps deities recently awakened from some hibernation, the power of their arrival caused the tiles in the courtyard to crack with a sudden growth of moss and lichen.

One, covered in a hundred rolling eyes, spied the babau and dominated it quickly.

Another, ragged and scarred, gestured toward a pomegranate tree which had long since been reduced to a stump. It immediately regrew its limbs and sprouted tender green leaves.

The third – an opaque, sylph-like creature who floated above the ground – swore profusely as she looked at the wreck of her former home. A number of obscene execrations were directed toward the eye-covered entity.

A fourth – apparently a female human of middling years – waited with a sour face. After a pause, during which the others collected their thoughts, she struck her staff upon the flags with a resounding crack. A brief but massive flurry of magical energy followed.

The last – a goddess with a curved sword – stared at the the artificial heaven above her, watching it shift and writhe like a thing alive. A wave radiated visibly out and away from the group, reordering the matrix of the real into a new form. Crumbled masonry flew back into place, and debris of all kinds vanished.

Mulissu's demiplane, restored to a pristine state, rested peacefully again beneath its blue vault.

"Do you want the demon?" Mostin asked.

Mulissu struck it with a spell, petrifying it.

"I'll take the statue," she said.

Nwm glanced around. "Again. Are we ready?"

Grumbles of assent.

Nwm evoked a spell, causing four more trees – an almond, an olive, a cypress and a deodar – to spring up within the courtyard. Within the trunk of each – and the pomegranate also – was a small wooden door, perhaps five feet high and two wide.

"Which is which?" Ortwine inquired.

Nwm sighed. "The olive leads to one in the palace at Fumaril; the almond to the elm at Mostin's cramped retreat; the pomegranate to a banyan in the garden of the Academy outside of Morne; the deodar to one similar near Deorham; the cypress to a tree near the entrance to the Claviger's cave. Mesikammi is accomplishing spirit bindings with genii at the terminal locations, to prevent passage for those who are not permitted. Here, I have chosen species most familiar to Mulissu, based on her childhood experience."

"And it is appreciated," the savant nodded. "Although I find it rather shady, and may need to adjust the illumination."

"And from here Mostin can reach outside of your miniverse?" Ortwine asked.

The Alienist laughed bitterly. "No. Hlioth annexed the plane. This is now a Green node."

"Then why else are we here?"

Mostin scowled, and gestured with his appendage toward Mulissu.

The savant smiled savagely. "I've come for my spellbooks."



**


"It is as wicked as I, or I'm no judge of character. Still, I like this not one jot."

Standing on a high balcony, Yeshe the Binder regarded Temenun carefully. The Tiger, in turn, was gazing down at a blackthorn which had sprung overnight to full height, next to a likeness of the disgraced Ugra, Angula.

"If this is Nwm's doing," Yeshe continued, "then it appears we have underestimated him."

Temenun remained sanguine. The Blackthorn, impenetrable to divination, was silent.

"What else?" The Tiger asked.

"Its parent tree has…annexed a large swathe of what was Angula's realm in the forty-fifth abysm. Gu-Analas which have entered its presidio have not exited. Planar breaches and reality maelstroms still rage around it, but it has established a quiescence in its immediate vicinity. Deeper, the Great Bhitis are assembling at the Veils. What is your intuition?"

Temenun smiled and bared his fangs. "If Carasch avoids the streets of Azzagrat – or what is left of it – for fear of a Tree, then the fact that we are not all dead is cause for celebration."

"This thing is so potent?"

"It is. But it deals in generalities; it is not concerned with the specifics of our actions. We're playing by its rules. For the time being."

Yeshe was grim. "We are outmaneuvered. My dreams are full of avalam jvalats*. Still, Dream is our best recourse. The weak link."

"I will give it some thought," Temenun purred. "In the meantime, we should abandon the compound. Mobilize all reserves. Relocate to Thond."

"Are you mad?"

"I foresee."

"I will take Fumaril first," Yeshe spoke steadily. "I won't have it sitting on my flank."

"Then be swift!" Temenun's eyes narrowed. "I anticipate their counterattack will be furious, and soon. First, they must deal with Shvar Choryati. That will require much of their strength."

"It will be an easy test."

"We shall see. I have yet to invoke the ward."

"There is a good deal which you keep hidden," Yeshe observed. "Now is not the time to remain jealous of your prescience."

The Tiger said nothing. Temenun was of Utter Shûth: twenty thousand years he could recollect. To him, the ascendancy of the Sun was but a recent phenomenon; he had witnessed far stranger and more ancient things. Ebony had been an ally for a while, long before, during the Ice in the North.

The Trees of the South held a greater power, he recalled. Or perhaps age and distance clouded his memory. All of Shûth had been jungle then; rich and verdant, and malign as Throile.

Yeshe turned her head, and a discordant clash of gongs sounded from deep within the Temple, signalling that Idyam, the demilich, was finally deigning to take counsel.

As if in response, Anumid's voice echoed in the minds of every immortal.

The Tree is no threat: I have seen beyond the Veils. In her mercy Cheshne spares the interlopers on her threshold, but she exacts a price: one will return; one other will join her. A Great One. Kaala-anala demands that you raise her pavillion. Henceforth, the Fires of Death will abide in the Temple. Visuit will attend her. Jahi and Yeshe may remain. The rest of you will continue your removal to Thond: you will pay homage.

"Indeed?" Temenun spoke softly, but those a hundred miles distant still heard him.

In this I am the Mouthpiece of Cheshne. I may not be gainsayed.

"Of course," the Tiger purred.


**


Eadric drew a heavy fur across the opening to his tent and turned to sit on a crude stool. An oil-lamp dimly lit the space: a ten-foot circle with spartan furnishings. There was no pallet; although he found the experience refreshing on occasion, the Ahma did not require sleep. Only privacy.

In his left hand, he held a sphere of adamant, upon the surface of which color might occasionally move; in his right, Lukarn, its light currently subdued.

He tapped the former with the latter, eliciting brief flashes of total illumination.

Show Yourself, the Ahma commanded.

The face of Prince Graz'zt appeared.

Eadric resisted the urge to smash the globe with his weapon and cut down the demon as he materialized. Instead, he breathed and slowly mastered himself.

"Times change. This will be our one and only conversation, Angula; or rather, you will remain silent and simply listen, as dialogue holds no interest for me: if you attempt to speak, I will annihilate you. That which you were is no more; you have exhausted your possibilities. You are no longer relevant.

"Now, I have a quandary; one you can probably appreciate. As the Ahma, I have pronounced death upon you: this judgment is infallible. Yet, at present, you persist; due in no small part to my being distracted by other, more pressing concerns. As you are also currently the property of Mostin the Metagnostic, it might be considered an act of legal trespass were I to smite you as you so richly deserve.

"Still, I am not inclined to commute this sentence, but merely suspend it on the basis of my friendship with the wizard and the fact that he recently saved my life again. Ironically, there are few others I would entrust you to: I am secure in the knowledge that Mostin can always out-think you, and that he cannot use you for anything that he couldn't find another way of doing anyway. This decision is pragmatic.

"This is your predicament: until such time as Mostin grows weary of your novelty and dispossess himself of you, your continued existence is relatively assured; at that point, your future becomes more uncertain. I will not exchange good Temple money to procure you, but moral persuasion might be brought to bear upon any subsequent owner to render you into the custody of the righteous. Assuming Mostin himself experiences no such urges. Here, then, are my words to you:

"First, as your moral instructor: use your remaining time to reflect on the eternity of suffering you have caused, and seek to experience one single iota of remorse: a task I deem at the very limit of your ability to achieve. I remind you of this out of duty, more than from any expectation that you will actually follow my advice.

"Second, as your judge and executioner: even were I persuaded of your contrition and moved to mercy, Prince Tagur reminds me that you are still eligible for the death penalty under Wyrish law, which makes no exception for your demonic status. I would, of course, enforce the decision of any secular court in this matter. This knowledge will make your moral quest more achievable as possible notions of reward or release will not distract you from your purpose.

"Third, as one injured personally: my forgiveness, or lack thereof, is inconsequential. I am one of countless wronged, and to forgive is not my function – I am the Ahma. Nonetheless, I will cite my father's murder, the assassination of Cynric of Morne, and the abduction and torture of Nehael as those crimes which wounded me most grievously. If that knowledge stirs some measure of satisfaction in you, I refer you back to my first article of advice.

"If you have words, you may now speak. Please be concise in your delivery: I have many matters to attend to."

From his prison, the demon Graz'zt stared impassively at Eadric.



**


From a vantage point where Dream and Void and Madness met, a place where apparitions strove to manifest, and tendrils of unknown purpose writhed in the dreams of chthonic deities, the demoness Soneillon watched, and waited. Few immortal psychoses could reach so deep.

Black fire had kindled at the Veils of Oblivion, ascending in liquid sheets which incinerated all vestige of Being to reveal a vast, glorious emptiness. An ocean of nothingness which promised a final end to all suffering.

After what may have been eternities, on its margin a terrible shape began to form. In revulsion, it twisted at its own substance: a forced reification, effluxed by Unbeing itself, or its shadow to some unknown degree. Flame and death surrounded it. It demanded obedience.

The demoness abased herself.

With a passing thought, Kaalaanala – the Primordial Fear of Destruction – annihilated Soneillon in an agony of unguessable magnitude; moments later, the demoness arose again from the Void. The passage had left her sated and subdued. Soneillon swayed drowsily; she was permitted to enjoy the sensation only briefly.

A thought which was a command was turned toward her. Soneillon hurried to obey: locate the goddess Visuit in Dream and bring her to Azzagrat.


**


Nehael stood beside the Tree, feeling the texture of its bark with her fingertips. Nearby, Rimilin of the Skin slept with his face pressed to the moss. The goddess looked up to Teppu, who sat in the Tree's lower branches.

The sprite grinned. "A great Bhiti is coming. Do Uedii and Cheshne send ambassadors or exchange hostages?"

"Is there a distinction?" Nehael asked. "Some equilibria must be bought dearly. She will remain in the Temple in Jashat. Her actions are circumscribed."

"Within which bounds?" Teppu inquired archly.

Nehael sighed. "She cannot leave the Temple. She may act to the limit of her natural senses."

"With impunity?"

"With impunity."

"Then Jashat cannot be assailed."

"Realistically? No. At least, not at present."

"You might want to inform Eadric of this tidbit."

"The Ahma has achieved his objective to a large extent thus far: keep Wyre safe. This is his principal charge. He will make no ill-informed assaults beneath the Pall of Dhatri."

"And the Wild God?"

"Has yet to show himself."

"Does he have a name?"

"Hummaz."

"I like it. Did you choose it?"

"No. He did."

"Can you placate him, should his mood become violent?"

"I doubt it," Nehael smiled grimly.


**


Nwm groaned wearily, and looked around him. Sixty spellcasters, including the wizards. Waiting.

Mostin had called proceedings to a halt. That odd cluster of pinkish-brown motes he had previously observed had suddenly made sense.

"You'll have to try something different," Mostin said. "Temenun has warded Shvar Choryati"

"All other divinations run to the contrary," Nwm sighed. "Why must you always be so special?"

[Mostin]: Because Temenun is considerably more subtle than the Temple oracles. Fortunately, I am subtler still. You cannot stage a direct magical attack of any kind.

"Ngarh!" Nwm snarled. "Find me a meteoroid. Not too big."

"Not so big," Mesikammi nodded sagely. "They go very fast."

The Alienist scowled and concentrated. Ten minutes elapsed.

[Mostin]: Here's one.

Nwm exhaled. "Alright. Are we ready?"

Mostin had expected more preparation from Nwm; at least an idea. Vectors. Something. There was a huge surge of magical power and a sense that his reservoir might be sucked dry, accompanied by another dissociation which Mostin found disturbingly euphoric. A backlash of green lightning coursed over all present, arcing between them and burning them.

There was bright flash on the horizon. Silence. Even those who were otherwise insensitive to such things felt a breath of release as millions of souls were liberated: all of those whom the Eater of Life had consumed in its unguessably long history.

Around a minute passed before the noise of the impact struck them: a growl like distant thunder. A breeze began to stir, and quickly stiffened.

"Very impressive," Mostin conceded.** "That almost counts as deicide."

Nwm groaned, and shook his head.

Even as he had erased Shvar Choryati, the very source of that shadow – or so it seemed to the Preceptor – had announced its arrival within the Interwoven Green with an expurgative necromancy: a spell which slew everything which remained alive within two leagues of Jashat which was not sworn in body and soul to the Dark Goddess.

Kaalaanala, the Fire of Death, abode in the Temple of Cheshne.








*"Those which glow abominably," a term for powerful celestials.
**Epic conjuration/400d20 bludgeoning damage! Yay!
 




Remove ads

Top