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Bio

Current GM of Civilization III: A New World and legendary former Co-GM of Divinus until being forced to retire alongside Kho and Rtron, by Kho and Rtron, after (absurd) allegations of laziness and dereliction of duty abounded. Petty and vengeful! (Not really)

Most Recent Posts

@Muttonhawk

Actually, I think we should just suspend the Zyus stuff for another five or six weeks since it’s just a silly subplot. What’s really important is that you have this time to write another Yorum masterpiece!
Just dropped two posts back to back. My bad on keeping that collab on lockdown for so long; I had to grapple some major writer's block what with bringing back Zephyrion after so long. I'm still not very happy with how Tribulation turned out but I don't want to keep the collab waiting any longer.
Storms and Shadows

Collaboratively written by Cyclone, BBeast and Double Capybara
Manufactured in a facility that also processes CyKhollabs.


"Our suspicions have been confirmed. The mirror has been spying on Kinesis and Pictaraika. We must make appropriate preparations."

With a long-drawn-out sigh, the goddess answered, ”I do not feel Xos' presence anywhere near any mirror, so I take it's one of his sycophants doing the spying. There is the possibility this means it will be a lesser force, there is the possibility this is something far more troublesome. We need to deal with this considering this could be an attempt to bait you into Galbar or to diverge attention from somewhere else."

The Muse stood up and walked around the index, a turmoil of reports flying past her as she quickly tried to find as much as she could from her own sources. ”Nevertheless, it would be better to bring Kinesis to a deeper layer of the Pictaraika. I could create a fake illusory image and then use a mirror portal to..." the goddess stopped looking to the sides confused, as if she had lost something. ”Why are all the magical mirrors in Kinesis' workshop broken? I cannot create a portal."

"It turns out that glass and high explosives don't mix. You'll need to find some other means to contact Kinesis, and quickly: the mirror is also tracking a target on a rapid sub-sonic trajectory towards Pictaraika. We have time to act and prepare, but only if we move quickly."

”Right. I will project an image to her at this moment," the goddess told without further ado, in an uncharacteristically objective response to an issue.

There was a loud ring in the workshop, deafening the sounds of machines and any activity within the building. ”Kinesis," an illusory apparition of Ilunabar told, ”There is an attack of some sort happening, and you are its target. Do not leave the workshop, as in the open ground you will be an easy target and I am not sure if infiltrators have sneaked past my perception. The enemies come from the broken citadel of Xos, so you know what to expect. Me and your father are preparing defenses, and I am sure you are already thinking of some as well."

Kinesis looked up, startled. "What?! Oh." Kinesis gathered her senses, picked up a toolbox in one hand and a makeshift firearm in another, and bowed her head towards the image of Ilunabar. "Right. Yes, Ilunabar. Defences. Elementals."

"Ilunabar, you should also conceal our preparations from the view of the mirror."

”I did that as soon as I entered the room. It will take a moment, but I will expand the illusion to the entirety of the surface of Pictaraika. Kinesis, have you finished the lever based Marionettes? If operational they could prove to be a decent line of defense, should any skirmishes break through the main area."

"Yes, Ilunabar. They've been ready for a while now."

”Ah, good. Ready them up, I will be sending magical weaponry soon. Again, stay indoors and focus on defending." she added. "Teknall, have you discovered anything else?"

"The inbound target is a wind djinni and his army."

”Ah, of course, the type I have the least means to deal with. Nevertheless, transgressions were made and I will have to distribute some punishment." She hand-waved as if she were to cast off an annoying fly and turned to Kinesis. ”I will need to cast off my illusions so I can focus on setting up the defenses. Stay alert for any surprise attacks. I doubt this will be a conventional fight."

"Yes, Ilunabar."

The apparition of Ilunabar faded away. Kinesis stood in her workshop, agitated and conflicted. She looked around at the devices, machines and parts littered about her workshop, and her marionette attendants. "How can I help with the defences locked up in here?" She hesitated for a moment longer, then turned to the door and left, gesturing for her marionettes to follow.




In the presence of so many great djinni lords, the scene looked surreal. The deathly-still surface of the sea was utterly flat and devoid of even waves. It seemed to gaze up in deference to a second sea above, one of roiling clouds and turbulent typhoons. The fantastic image of that scene cast aside the natural and ordinary way of things, but there were no mortals nearby to look upon such a sight and doubt their own eyes. There was only the silent murmuring of a djinni.

His was the song of the sea, and it called out to the storm-ridden skies above, "What do you see?"

"After managing to evade my eyes for a short time and disengaging from Boreas (how I loathe that crude, despicable traitor!), Anshal is being tracked once more. His force seems to be in full retreat from the battlefront, though his flight is still a swift and organized one."

"Retreat? I do not think that is his way. Surely it is a feint, designed to lure you into overextending and scattering your armies in a hasty pursuit. His way is to be predictably unpredictable; though his movements may follow no rhyme, his attacks do. He strikes only where and when we are weakest. You know that he will not accept any true engagement in which he does not have the advantage of overwhelming force."

"Perhaps he is wary of being trapped between the whetstone of my approaching storms and the cesspool of filth that is Boreas. He hopes that we will fight one another, rather than both strike at him. Perhaps I will grant him that desire! But worrisome also is the withdrawal of numerous roving remnants of Thermaron's army; it would seem that a firelord has arrived to finally rally Slag's great legion once more. We should strike before he has the chance."

"Ah, Kindle. I too have recently heard word of his arrival."

"By all of my sources, this firelord is called Catharsis."

"The two are one and the same. In any case, I would fear not. He is one of a rare few that reject Slag's rule; it is doubtful that he would number among our true enemy's ranks."

"How could you know all of this, Salis?"

The ocean seemed to heave with laughter. "The reach of my watery dominion extends far beyond the sea, and 'Catharsis' has been known for many centuries by the rivers and their djinn."




'You set a taxing pace at double speed.'

'The Vizier said that time was of the essence. Our host will endure. Any stragglers that trail off are unworthy of serving you.'

'No, I will not have our numbers diminished, and nor shall I foolishly begin this engagement with an exhausted and demoralized force. Slow to full speed.'

Rasp was silent for only a moment. '...as you command, father.'

Still, the host traveled as an epic storm of dust and dry soil and even sand from distant deserts; the massive sandstorm stretched from the ground into the heavens, cleaving through clouds and shaking trees with a fury that oft uprooted them. Even at their somewhat relaxed pace, they were quickly outpacing all but the swiftest of Komnestos' scouts. The rearguard occasionally broke off to quickly dispatch of those pursuers that came too close, but they then had to advance at double speed to rejoin the storm of djinn. As their journey went on and the rearguard tired, such excursions became less frequent.

Eventually, Rasp and Anshal brought them close enough to see shrouded mountains rising in the distance. That was where their quarry waited.

Upon coming within sight, they wasted no time. It took only minutes for the horde of djinn to descend upon Pictairaka. In an unnatural manner, the air currents had lifted the entirety of the sandstorm high into the sky and then brought the dusty clouds over the valley alongside a deluge of loose dirt and sand. But that was only a show of force, or perhaps their way of trying to disorientate the defenders, for they remained in the sky somewhat above the valley. Mayhaps there was also some element of paranoia to their hesitation, for like such exotic places as Cornerstone, the Pictairaka had no native djinn and those outside were always loathe to near it for fear of its strange aura and enigmatic nature.

But while they waited for a few precious minutes, there was one djinni that descended low enough to truly enter Pictairaka, and he swept through it with purpose.

”When I visited the Celestial Citadel, it seemed to me that most elementals knew and respected proper protocol and courtesy," a voice suddenly said near him, a phantom image of the goddess following him, "Did something change? I have no recollection of inviting an army into my holy land, and yet, the other possibility for your presence is such a despicable and irrational mistake that I have trouble considering it. After all, there is no way Djinni culture has decayed so much, correct?"

The dry wind arrested itself just long enough to address the apparition. "Though words are worth little, I still beg your forgiveness and offer my remorse for this intrusion. But we are here on behalf of a will greater than our own, and one that supersedes your own."

”Would you have forgiven an enemy if he had attacked you due to his fear of another being? In the end, the results of attacking one god or another will still be the same, the only difference is that there is honor in standing to a usurper but only scorn in dying for one." she told, staring at him, and then whispering. ”And yet, there are fates worse than either. The plea of cowardice will not gain your kind forgiveness today, neither will it when Xos lies defeated. We were here before the first wind traveled shyly on the sterile rock that was Galbar, affronts of this sort will never be forgotten. My last warning to you and your ilk is clear, either stop this madness or fight to your death, those who do not perish will learn to long for a coup de grace."

But her words drifted away on the wind unheard by Rasp, for in resuming his frenzied search he had already billowed past her. He had thought to simply ask her where he might find their quarry, but he was not so foolish as to expect Ilunabar to be forthcoming.

High above, when the faintest echo of her words reached the clouds, Anshal heard them all. Ha! She thinks my son and I cowards for waging a war against the very gods? Were that He was merely an usurper, and it not our righteous imperative to follow this path.

His gaze shifted away from Ilunabar's vanishing apparition and back to his son. Rasp was sniffing out the source of a very particular aura, and with every passing moment he grew closer to where the demigoddess hid. 'You were not needlessly brash, but Ilunabar still took offense to your words. Be wary of her wrath.'

'My eyes are open.'

As Rasp flew onward, he could hear as faint echoes the noises of metal striking stone and metal. The djinni homed in on these unnatural sounds, which led him to a valley nestled amongst the mountains, above the dark clouds of Pictaraika. Several poles with what appeared to be brass flowers with cup-like petals had been set up at the entrance to the valley. He swept over them without halting to contemplate what their purpose may have been, and then the weather vanes were triggered as the heavy air pushed aside by his grating winds spun them wild. A wailing siren echoed throughout the valley.

Within the valley scurried many Marionettes, made from wood and metals such as brass, bronze and steel. Many bore tools or carried loads, but a few carried bejewelled scepters which reflected light in strange ways. In the middle of the valley, hastily putting the finishing touches on some large mechanism within the ground, was a being which could almost be mistaken for a human woman except for the fact that she had four arms. She had her tool box sitting beside her, a large pack on her back, and a large-barrelled firearm holstered to her side.

'And these...mortals?'

'What of them?'

'They look to be some sort of guardians to our quarry. Or perhaps devotees. Shall we strike at them preemptively?'

'Pay them no heed, and if they are wise they will stay out of our way. But I shall not savage them unprovoked; such barbarism can be left to the likes of Komnestos and others beneath our stature.'

Kinesis looked up suddenly when the siren sounded. Although Kinesis had been previously alerted by the storm brewing overhead, she had delayed her departure perhaps longer than was wise in order to finish her part of the defences. She quickly gathered up her tools and ran for a doorway built into a cliff face. The djinni called out, "Halt! Our lord demands your presence!"

She did not even slow as she rushed into the tunnel. The heavyset door began to close, but Rasp was upon it when there was only a crack of space left between the door and its frame. He blasted through the tiny crevice at full speed and billowed through the tunnel within as a suffocating stream of dust. Kinesis, still running, glanced behind her at the sound of wind, and her eyes widened when she saw that the elemental had made it through the door. Her hands darted to her weapon, rotated the barrel into place, then fired it behind her. A large cartridge hit the ground in front of Rasp and sprayed out an alchemical solution which cooled the air to cryogenic temperatures in an instant. As the endothermic reaction ripped the heat away, her pursuer's form began to condense. Though it disorientated Rasp to suddenly have a body of liquid nitrogen and oxygen where before he had been a dusty gale, his fortitude and resolve both remained. He swept across the floor in this strange new liquid form, his advance towards Kinesis having been slowed but hardly stopped.

Kinesis began to gain some distance from her condensed pursuer. She rounded a corner and dashed down another corridor. As Rasp sloshed around the corner in pursuit, Kinesis passed through a bit of corridor framed by open metal tubes. She reached out and twisted a valve as she ran past. Pipes rattled and hissed for a moment, then jets of high-pressure flaming oil sprayed along the corridor in Rasp's direction. He narrowly managed to avoid the jets of flame that licked at him. In passing so close to the burning oil his liquid form was nonetheless heated and he vaporized once more, but now all that dust that he had carried along was gone. As a pure rush of wind, he became invisible in the dark tunnels. He followed Kinesis silently, as if he had perished in the flames, and steadily closed the gap.

Kinesis kept running a little longer, then slowed when she noticed the silence, suggesting that her pursuer was absent. She peered quizzically behind herself and saw nothing. But then realisation caught up with her. Rasp had contained lots of liquid oxygen in his condensed state, meaning if the flamethrowers had caught him there would have been a very obvious explosion. Her hands darted to the barrel of her weapon, twisted it, and fired a cartridge down the corridor. Where it struck the floor it spewed out thick smoke, and this smoke clung to Rasp and revealed the approaching elemental. Kinesis turned and bolted away as fast as her legs would carry her, a whistling rush of wind close on her heels.

Kinesis shouted out ahead of her, "Marionettes, defend!" Out from a side passage stepped an imposing yet elegant figure of bronze, wielding a halberd in one hand and bejewelled scepter in the other. Kinesis moved to one side of the corridor as the metallic marionette levelled its scepter with the corridor and fired a prismatic bolt of Astartean magic at Rasp. The entirety of the djinn's form flattened itself upon the wall as he near effortlessly dodged the projectile without slowing. Kinesis ducked around the marionette and kept running as it fired another bolt. There was the sound of magical explosions, but also a voice that cut through the din, "No harm shall come to you or this place if you surrender yourself!"

"Nope," Kinesis shouted in reply, still running, and adjusting her firearm.

Rasp blew past the Marionette. The automaton swung its halberd through the djinni's vaporous body with a mighty heft, but the blow accomplished nothing. He was close to his quarry now, so close that he was able to manipulate the tunnel's pressure in such a way as to push her backwards. Compelled by an unnatural suction, the air farther down the tunnel erupted into a violent surge that slammed into Kinesis head-on with enough force to have battered a mortal and sent them tumbling backward and into Rasp's clutches. Though Kinesis was not a mere mortal, she was still staggered by the blow, and she realised how perilously close her pursuer was. She pointed her weapon down where she was standing and squeezed the trigger. A pink mist spread out around Kinesis and filled her part of the corridor. When Rasp came upon the mist, he entered a peculiar state of mind. Niciel's power seeped into him and pacified his inner turmoil; for a moment he was utterly at peace, but then he began to contemplate why it was that he was pursuing Kinesis in the first place.

'What are you doing? Follow her!'

His father was of course watching all of these events unfold, and the disdain that crept through Anshal's telepathic link was the anchor that began to drag Rasp back into reality.

'I don't want to hurt her,' he meekly answered.

'That mist is controlling you! Fight it!

'I don't want to fight...'

'You are not to fight the demigoddess,' he answered after a pause for thought. 'Merely to escort her into our Master's hands.'

Of course.

Rasp fell once more into lucidity; it was like he had been thrown through a pane with enough force to shatter the glass, or been plunged from the warm desert air into an icy hole of frigid water. He raged against the momentary weakness and the nausea that accompanied it, once more pursuing Kinesis. He had a vigor and tenacity about him, if nothing else; she had not gained too much ground on him, for that entire mental battle had been fought and won within the span of a few long moments.

Kinesis had gained enough ground, though. She darted under another row of metal tubes and twisted the accompanying valve. A sheet of flames roared down and created an incendiary barrier between herself and Rasp. That would be enough to give most windjinn pause, for they were all of course aware of their own compositions and of the danger in creating a deadly flare when rushing into a flame and fueling the fire's appetite with their own vapors. But he knew also of how heat had a tendency to rise and the greater part of a flame's energy radiated just above the licking flames. With that in mind, he made the fateful gambit to not slow, but rather accelerate as he came upon the wall of flame. He blasted straight through the lower part of the burning gases at near supersonic speed, and then he was upon Kinesis.

Kinesis screamed and thrashed her limbs as Rasp's winds wrapped around her and lifted her feet off the ground. Ethereal wings manifested and flapped furiously, tugging against the elemental and resisting his pull. Another armoured marionette emerged, aimed its sceptre, and fired a magical bolt at the winds enveloping Kinesis while trying to avoid striking the demigoddess. Wind whipped about through the narrow corridors. The invisible nature of Rasp made it impossible to discern whether he had contorted himself so as to avoid the magic or if it had passed through him harmlessly. The marionette's sceptre only managed to fire several bursts of explosive energy at the walls further down the corridor before Rasp grew tired of its tumult and tore it in half. He could have displayed similar brutality towards the demigoddess in some attempt to subdue her, but it quickly became obvious that he was restraining himself as much as she would allow.

Between Kinesis' rapid breaths and cries of futile exertion, the djinni spoke with a steady voice. "Beautiful divine! Cease this ignoble grappling; so long as my form still lives, your wings will struggle in vain. A god demands your audience, and it is an ingrate and a fool who would deny the wishes of the Master of Change; let us lead you to him as your procession of honor rather than as your captors. I beg you to let me escort you to my father, before he sweeps down with our endless host and razes this place to take your hand by force."

Although Kinesis' physical struggles lessened as she realised their futility, she was still defiant. "My father won't let you drag me to that horrid murderer!"

"Yet our master will not suffer us to return empty-handed, so here is the impasse. We shall see whose will is stronger!" With that final decree, Rasp began to bear down on Kinesis with an even greater strength than before.

From all across the mountain, bells rang aloud. At first, the noise was nothing but a faint distant sound, albeit all-encompassing, but then it started to echo and at that point, the torment started. Now there were bells everywhere, on the ground, in the sky, inside one's mind. Then the dark expanses started to bloom, the little star-like white spots bleeding until below them there was an endless expanse of iridescent shining light.

The bells continued, mostly the loud rhythmic strikes that came and went but also a rising and constant resonance; that resonance had only one source, and it was from the area where Rasp and Kinesis were. Another sound graced only the ears to those two, music, albeit both heard the same melody in different ways. To Rasp, there was the sound of tuned brass teeth being pulled, a sound much more discreet than the bells, but far more agonizing. To Kinesis, there were the howls of the wind that surrounded her, the melody echoing from his very being.

Down in the depths of the Pictaraika, Ilunabar was manipulating the levers and keys of the Orgel. It was terrible to have to test things on the first go, but she had theorized this long ago. If she could hear a faint resonant melody when observing anything mortal, then there was the opposing frequency to that, which, if released, would result in the annihilation of both sides. Anti-Reality. Albeit she had not enough time to deduce the information, the current situation required immediate action; she would not allow Kinesis to be taken by Xos, she had lost a lot already and she would not stay idle and see another person precious to her taken away.

”This... is quite draining." the goddess told her divas, all of them behind her as she played the universe-deafening tune. ”I hope my suspicion is right and this is the leader. Nevertheless, I want all of you to get all defenses ready to be deployed. Give it all."

The form of Rasp, all the wind, dust or even vapor that could be vaguely identified as him started to twist, stretch and bend, all of him shone brightly yet the light of the room did not seem to change, shadows stood still as if he was not there. It was as if an entire universe was collapsing on him, and the ringing and sound never stopped, it just became louder and reached deeper, making it harder even to listen to one's own mind. Then, it went silent. His indomitable grasp upon Kinesis suddenly vanished, and as she fell to the ground she heard the air let loose an agonized howl, and then there was only stillness in that tunnel.

But above, the skies raged and Anshal somehow howled louder than even his firstborn son.

"AAAAARGH! Rasp is fallen, stuck down by fell powers! Avenge him, my brethren! Sweep down and defile this place; grind and erode it until there is nothing left! Rip apart the lifeless constructs of this place! Rage and show them fury of the desert sands!"

And then they did as their lord bid them, and the clouds of sand and dust fell upon Pictairaka. As the raging winds descended, a vast mechanism buried in the valley leading to Kinesis' workshop clicked into life. A network of subterranean vents roared with mighty scorching winds fueled by stored power from the solar forge. Hatches on the surface hinged open by an unseen agency and unleashed these furious winds in forceful columns, with the hatches shuttering open and closed so as to not leave a consistent pattern. These powerful winds battered against the djinn, hindering their progress and tearing apart their formations. Meanwhile, marionettes upon the ground fired bolts from their magical sceptres into the descending dust cloud, bolts of destruction magic tearing apart the elementals' ethereal forms.

With a sneer, Anshal looked down at the trap that had been engineered for them and realized that their attack had hardly been the ambush that they had expected. Those first few groups that had darted down were quickly disorientated and suppressed by the marionette defenders. But while this disruption might have entirely succeeded against the rabbles that the great scions of wind commanded, Anshal's host was small but incredibly disciplined and they excelled at fighting together in compact formations. So Anshal intended to do just that.

His roar cut through the air as sound and resounded within the minds of all "Regroup! To me!"

Those that had ventured down quickly fought their way back into the skies high above the valley where Anshal had waited. However, as they drew together into a line behind Anshal, Ilunabar's own defenses rose up from beneath the clouds. Black spots appeared on the sea of white light below, then flew up towards the djinn and through their clouds. The blades of obsidian, despite coming in ceaseless waves, did nothing to the advancing djinn. Yet, among the blades, there were a few orbs of glass that burst as soon as they reached proper altitude, and from them rapidly growing versions of the Flying Lily Pads she had once gifted to Zephyrion were released. These, however, were not the gentle flowers made for djinn to play with; they grew fast and large like weeds, and within those leaves repugnant looking fruit grew which, when sucked into a wind djinni's vortex, would burst up into a viscous goo that would attach to the dust and vapor of a djinni's constitution until it was so heavy it plummeted down into the distorted land below.

At the same time the plants were released, the ground started to grow brighter, and brighter, becoming about as blinding to look at as the setting sun, then it started to change color, not slowly, but flickering from one hue to another at a maddening speed. Adding to that, the perceived depth and distance of the mountains started to change, such that some onlookers would find themselves about to crash into the rocks while others would feel as if it was becoming a distant visage. Finally, the whole landscape would appear as if it was spinning, the skies and walls of rock dancing up and down, left and right.

As the illusions and manipulation of color peaked, the countless obsidian blades made their return from their heights. Before they came as sole attackers; now they returned like flocks of raves, passing through the djinn with precision. Then flocks united, forming clouds of those blades, and finally all these clouds gathered into one large funnel cloud of rapidly spinning blades. The objective of the blades was not to cut, but to use the massive weight and size of the flying obsidian to dislocate air and create powerful currents.

The disorientating illusions began to quickly confuse those lesser djinn with weaker minds, but through their telepathic communion the vast legions kept their collection sanity, if not quite the perfect cohesion of their formation. Several stragglers were falling off from the group after being struck by the marionettes' magic or by Ilunabar's queer weaponized flowers, but their lord still raged on.

The great vortex of Anshal's form wrapped about one of the massive chunks of obsidian as it fell, tearing it from its trajectory and trapping it within his own body. "I'll destroy your servants with your own weapons!" With that, he hurled the whirling blade and watched as it ricocheted off the ground and destroyed no less than than a half dozen marionettes defenders before coming to a rest.

”The djinn are stealing the obsidian I am using and using it against us." Notte told her master. "Marionette numbers are dropping fast." Piena added. The goddess sighed, tired from using her Orgel. She now recognized Anshal, but it was too late to use the Orgel on him.

"Order them to act in a defensive stance until the anchors are ready. Order the sun mirror to be deployed. Finally, Notte, call off the obsidian storm, instead, use Teknall's design C. Distant turbines to keep them pinned and the attack," the goddess told her divas, before focusing to send a message to her sibling. "As predicted, I am having trouble dealing with the wind elementals with our makeshift efforts. Please tell Kinesis to pay extra attention to her own defenses."

Meanwhile, in the tunnels, Kinesis sat where Rasp had dropped her, breathing heavily and terribly shaken. The sounds of the chaos outside was dull from where she was, although their ferocity was unmistakable even from this distance.

Kinesis, my daughter, get up. The battle is not over yet.

Kinesis looked up as Teknall's voice spoke in her mind. Hearing her father calmed her down, and she pulled herself to her feet. She adjusted her toolbelt and her firearm.

Be wary. The djinni's Flicker still persists, despite the destruction of his body.

Kinesis' head darted around, and her hands twisted the barrel of her firearm, selecting another munition with a click. Cautiously, she peered about herself, searching for any sign of Rasp's Flicker. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a faint glow like that of a firefly, but when she turned to face it the source darted into some cranny. Perhaps it was merely her imagination, but the air in the room also seemed to be gently churning whereas for the past few moments it had been deathly still and stagnant.

Kinesis raised her firearm and scanned the room, but she had no visible target. After a few moments, she asked, "How long does it take an elemental to rematerialise?"

It varies, but I would estimate that given the lingering resonances of Ilunabar's tune it would take this one several hours at a minimum, and he definitely won't be anywhere near as strong as he was before.

Kinesis eyed the air with suspicion for a few more moments, before turning and heading deeper into the tunnels. She went to fortify herself in her workshop and remotely operate her defences from there.

At the same time, Ilunabar's own defenses shifted to adapt to the enemy. The obsidian storm distanced itself from the core of Anshal's army, suddenly breaking up, all blades starting to fall. Some would form massive rings of spinning blades, aiming to keep the air flow of the battle within Ilunabar's control to avoid giving the djinn freedom of movement; others would stop mid air, aiming their tips at the dust clouds but not yet moving.

Marionettes started to fall back if they could move, while, in a distant hill, some of the new models of lever manipulated Marionettes, made from thick refractory ceramic, unveiled a cloth that stood in front of a metallic disk. As soon as it was fully unveiled, it beamed a focused ray of light at searing temperatures. The mirror this was connected to another one, placed in outer space near the planet Ilunabar sometimes used for her purposes. It focused raw sunlight, its spectrum shifted such that Galbar's atmosphere was transparent enough to it to allow propagation, but with just the right absorbance for the air to flare to thousands of degrees at the focal point of the beam (a suggestion from Teknall). In typical Ilunabar fashion, one attack did not come alone, and as soon as the flash of the ray hit, the thunder of the obsidian blades being thrown at near sonic speeds started, another Teknall suggestion, and the blades exploded upon reaching the sound barrier.

The mirror created a ray so intense that it ionized the air before it and effectively disemboweled the vaporous forms of the djinn that fell under its murderous beam. Anshal led the djinn lower to the ground and they cast great volumes of the rocky soil into the air as a protective cloud of dust; that makeshift sandstorm offered some respite and concealed their exact locations. The shards of the explosive obsidian cut through the air and further broke up the formation even as they fell upon some of the straggling marionettes in the valley below as friendly fire. Then after being seemingly suppressed by all the weapons wielded against their formation, Anshal rallied his host once more. They quickly swept horizontal to the mirror's focus, faster than it could be moved to have its focus trace them, and they began to charge its position further up the mountain.

The mirror, while precious artillery, was merely a pawn in the long plan of delaying and hurting the Djinn to make time for more defenses to be prepared. As it became clear they would be overrun, the Marionette delivered one last attack by making the mirror shine its searing light in a wider range in front of them before the thing went dull, no longer refracting the sunlight as the Djinn stormed it. All of the sonic blades were released at once upon the elemental reaching the spot, bombarding the area they knew they would take to stop the mirror, albeit it was obvious by now it would not be enough. The foremost djinni was of course Anshal, and the mighty lord rebuffed the projectiles with utter indifference as they passed through him; his was a storm too large to be undone. The elementals behind him pushed forward a wave of dust and dirt that fell upon the mirror and rendered it useless, whilst Anshal swept up the marionette operators and hurled them down the mountainside.

They had suffered attrition, but now the valley's defenses were failing. Through brute strength, Anshal had torn them to pieces. With even more brute strength, he intended to attain vengeance. Breaching their way into the subterranean parts of Pictairaka seemed like a good place to start. With a mighty heave, Anshal and his entire host began to tear the mirror free from its restraints. They carried it high into the air and then dropped it, the heavy disc of silvered glass landing with a resounding thud, its impact powerful enough to bite into the ground and cause a collapse. The tunnels directly below it began to cave in, and as the rubble swept through the corridors, so too did a stream of djinn blast their way through the loose dirt.

"Kinesis, Teknall, I have depleted my current arsenal. The magic bolts and the plants will continue to be used, but that will not be enough. I will be preparing more weapons, but those will take a while. Can your defenses hold them back for long, Kinesis?"

"I hope so."

The djinn found themselves in a labyrinthine network of tunnels, which must have once been a mine. Most of the tunnels were dark and abandoned, but as they neared Rasp's location the retinue came upon some of Kinesis' traps. Blocking their way were jets of burning oil and sheets of flaming gas. They had already seen these obstacles through the eyes of Rasp when he had first traversed these tunnels, so they were prepared. They swept down the corridors with them a great volume of the soil that had fallen into the tunnels, and when they came upon the jets they spared no time in plugging and burying them with dirt. They advanced with an alacrity fueled by their lord's cold anger, until they came across a tiny eddy flitting through the otherwise stagnant air of the tunnels. Anshal knew at once that this was Rasp, or what little his son had managed to reform of himself. He was weak now, but still alive. Rasp moved as if to take head of the group, but he was too weak, and his father too relieved. Anshal had his son fall into line with the ranks behind.

They moved on, slower now but still with purpose, until they came across a reinforced door. It stymied their efforts, for while breaching such a thing would have been child's play for any djinni lord of flame or stone or even water, Anshal and his incorporeal lot could hardly dent it. "Sweep the area! There is always another way."

The droves of elementals under his command turned over every nook and cranny of the tunnels around, until one came across a discreet air vent. It had a grate over it, but that was easily torn free. Though he thought it unbecoming for one of his stature, Anshal compressed himself and forced his way through the tiny vent. His following were on his heels advancing through in single file, and though the progress was slow by the standards of windjinn, they soon found their way through the labyrinth of vents and emerged somewhere on the other side of the door that had barred their path.

They've bypassed the door, using the air vents. They have emerged in Branch A17.

Kinesis, from the supposed safety of her workshop, was startled by the news. She slid her chair over to a series of labelled handles which had been hastily installed in one corner of her workshop, with cables snaking out of the boxes and through the walls. Her hands hovered over the handles. "A17, A17..." Finding the handles she wanted, she took hold of them and forcefully pushed them down. Electrical impulses raced through a few of the cables and along the mine shafts until reaching walls near the elementals. There the pulses entered boxes of explosives, supplied by Teknall, strapped discretely to the walls and ceiling. They detonated with a sharp explosion, tearing through stone and air alike and collapsing the tunnels. A thunderous roar rumbled through the rest of the tunnels, and dust was shaken free when the vibrations passed through Kinesis' workshop.

You did remember to block the air vents, right?

Kinesis' eyes flew to the vents in her own workshop, made to carry away dust, smoke and fumes. Teknall's voice continued, Alchemist's cement would make a good blockage, given your time constraints.

Kinesis picked her firearm back up, rotated the barrel to the correct munition, and hurried over to the vents. She removed the grating, stuck the barrel of her weapon into the vent and pulled the trigger. A cartridge of alchemists' cement burst within the stone vent, rapidly expanded to fill it, then hardened. She repeated this process for each vent.

The djinni lord lives, although the tunnels are quite blocked, Teknall informed Kinesis.

And then there was a long, deathly silence in her control room. The wait was nothing at first, but it was like she had held her breath and dove into water, and now the tension and pressure were only growing as she sank deeper and deeper.

There was a creaking that echoed through the stone walls. It sounded like the agonized groan of metal being strained, but it was probably no more than the weight settling upon the nearby air vents and other various rooms. The entire complex had just been rocked by a chain of explosions, after all. But then there was a soft hiss, followed by a scratching sound. A faint smell of smoke began to waft into the room, with the horrifying implication that there was somehow a breach that led into the detonated sections. But to her eyes there were no visible holes in sight, no signs of any tunneling.

The hissing grew louder, and it quickly became apparent that it was coming from inside one of the air vents that she had blocked with cement. In its hasty solidification, the cement had been created with substantial porosity, and now the tiny pockets of gases trapped within the dry cement were forcing their way out; there could be only one thing manipulating them so. The logical step was to plug that vent with even more cement, but it was in vain. As that second layer dried, it too began to hiss before the cement had even fully formed. The lime and various components in the alchemical cement suddenly seemed to erupt; the compounds were shattered at a molecular level as oxygen and carbon dioxide broke free to explosive effect, and the cement plug was reduced to nothing but sandy grains. One massive, indomitable elemental lord swept into the room as an ashen, sooty haze.

With a scream Kinesis staggered back from the wind lord. Her hand picked up a bejewelled sceptre, swung it around to Anshal and unleashed a beam of destructive magic, tearing through the djinni and the wall behind him. But then, the smoke was all about her. This elemental was so swift that her eyes could hardly even register movement, much less follow, but the entire room reverberated with his rapid motion. Trapped within the vortex of his body, unrelenting and absolutely overpowering winds wreathed her. He was far, far more powerful than that previous assailant had been, and in his grasp she was not even strong enough to struggle. Try and strain as hard as she could, the raging air pressed her into stillness and her body could not even squirm.

Anshal held her in that oppressive state for a few moments, seeming to contemplate what to do next. There were no words that escaped the vaporous lord in that time. Quickly enough, a decision was made; thrashing her limb about as if she was merely a ragdoll, he had her swing her sceptre again with so much force that it felt as though her arm would come free of its socket. Once, twice, thrice. Again and again he forced the motion. With every swing the artifact hurled another bolt of magic, and it became clear that he was going to blast a way back to the surface using the very weapon that she had sought to wield against him. Before long, he had already breached the layer of stone that separated the control room from another section of the tunnels farther up. As agonising pain shot through Kinesis' arm, she forced her fingers to uncurl against Anshal's pressure, and the sceptre came free and floated within Anshal's form. That was no matter; he could sense that its stored energy had been nearly depleted. He hurled the sceptre forward and allowed the last of its power to come free as the magical gem exploded.

Anshal lifted his quarry up into the next section of tunnel, only to come across several sceptre-wielding marionettes that had seemingly been attracted to the sounds of explosion. They didn't even have time to react to his presence before they were met with Kinesis' fate, swept up by unstoppable winds and made to act as the djinni lord's puppets as they used their weapons to mine upward. The marionettes had been the first to react to the sounds of his explosive digging, but they were not the last. A steady stream of surviving djinn made their way to him in varying states of weakness, but they all wordlessly joined the lord. With bitter determination they set about using their erosive powers to aid him.

The going was rapid, as far as mining went by mortal standards, but it was still time intensive. Meanwhile, Kinesis was kept under that unwavering and strangling hold, and there was nothing to be done but to watch and listen. Several faintly pulsing and detached flickers likewise drifted to rejoin their lord, the fallen djinn slowly reforming their bodies; perhaps the first of her assailants was somewhere among them. Between the steady roar of erosive winds and the deafening boom of Anshal using the magical scepters, faint echos of other faroff explosions occasionally sounded. In other sections of the tunnel complex, other separated groups of djinn were still fighting the marionette defenders and triggering traps as they too sought a way to regroup with their lord and make an escape.

When the first rays of light from the outside slipped through the cracks from above, the djinn seemed to find renewed fervor and a second wind. There was a sonic boom as Anshal instantly crushed his marionette puppets and allowed their sceptres to clatter onto the ground. The other djinn drew up behind him, and then they surged upward in unison and blasted their way through what little rocky soil remained between themselves and the open sky. With nothing but sky above Anshal and his host, and Kinesis in his grasp, victory seemed certain.

Suddenly, a hypersonic rod of adamantine ripped through Anshal's form and Flicker. The following shockwave and blast of ionised air shredded the mighty windlord apart with divine fury. At the beginning of the projectile's trail stood Teknall, cloaked in his Mirror Armour and holding up his railgun, with a droningbird hovering beside him. The echoes of this thunderous report rumbled throughout the mountains. Kinesis, free once more, tumbled downwards, and Teknall stepped across the valley and caught her. The rest of the djinn scattered like the dust on the wind that they were.

Kinesis was still trembling from her ordeal. "Kinesis, my daughter, the elementals are gone now," Teknall said, his voice resonating from within his armour. He set Kinesis down on her feet. "Come, let us get deeper into Pictaraika before-"

A ray of magic struck Teknall with such power that it breached even the Mirror Armour, and in the wake of so much energy there followed an explosion that hurled away Kinesis and tore apart the droningbird. It was perhaps serendipity that his armor had failed to deflect the attack, otherwise it might have leveled the mountain and torn Kinesis asunder. But there was no time to contemplate twists of fate or even to look towards Kinesis, for Teknall was on his knees and Xos manifested within an arm's span. If shadows and masks could ever gloat, they did so in that moment when Xos stood triumphant and smug in his trap's success.

He cast his empty gaze down towards Teknall's shuddering body. "Hmph. Zephyrion always held you in high esteem." He brought out the Primordial Spark from its hiding place in the black maelstrom beneath his armor. The tiny jewel rested upon his palm and drowned away the entirety of his body in a sea of blinding light. "But I? I look upon you and sense only a feast. I see you for the writhing worm that you are."

Pain shot through Teknall's body from the injury he had received, but his mind was sharpened to a point by the threat and his attention crystallised around Xos. The beam of power, the shade's destructive aura, the Primordial Spark at rest; these first-hand observations were synthesised with the recording of Xos' fight with Jvan in a fraction of a moment. And from Teknall's memory repeated Toun's words: 'Xos will kill one more. See that it is not you.'

In an instant Teknall conjured his maul and delivered a blow of enormous force to the shade, slamming Xos into the mountain behind him. With calculated precision Teknall struck the ground with his maul with the follow-up from his swing, driving up pillars of earth which buried Xos just as he hit the mountain.

"Run!" Teknall shouted to Kinesis. He then blinked across the valley to gain some more distance from Xos. The Shard Conduit spun out from empty space and affixed itself to Teknall's armour, its power restoring the faltering shields on the Mirror Armour. He drew his railgun and held it ready for Xos' next appearance. Toun, Xos is here, Teknall called telepathically. Hurry! I can't hold him for long.

"Hmph."

The blinding light of the Spark once again washed over Teknall. Xos had reappeared. A darkened hand reached out to grab Teknall and bring him to the ground, and under Xos' withering touch the Mirror Armour's shields failed once more. Teknall lashed out with his hammer, striking at Xos' head. The helmet crumpled beneath the weight of the hammer, but the disfigured visage on the mask still bore the same empty gaze. When the hammer's head came free, even its adamantine bulk had been corroded and cracked. Utterly unfazed, the shade lifted his pearl high, then brought down the Primordial Spark itself upon Teknall's body and pressed it into him. Teknall drew the reserved power from the Stellar Engine via the Shard Conduit and funnelled it all into his armour. The shields flared back into life and the light of the Primordial Spark reflected off the Mirror Armour in a dazzling display. For several long seconds the landscape around the two gods boiled away under the exposed fury of the Primordial Spark. In these moments Teknall tried in vain to pull away from Xos, but the shade was far stronger than the craftsman. Panic set in as Teknall's plans ran out.

The well of power from which the Primordial Spark drew was far deeper than the Stellar Engine, and the latter's reserves of energy soon ran dry. Xos felt his adversary's resistance fade as he burned away underneath the spark's searing power. Teknall screamed in agony.

A rasping laugh escaped from Xos' helmet. "Let us see if the smith can withstand the forge that wrought me."

The Primordial Spark surged with the entropic fury of the universe, and reality itself seemed to bend and burn. A shadowy appendage lifted the Spark's fiery weight off of Teknall and dragged it across the open air. It cut a gash into the nothingness of reality, then opened a rift that swallowed the world.

The sun was gone, replaced by a gaping void in the sky. Instead of stars, there were a thousand thousand deadlights that faced out into every corner of the universe. Kinesis clambered closer, gasping for breath, but it wasn't true air that she was breathing. The raw magic that saturated this place filled her lungs and dissolved her very being, but at least this strange air didn't carry the sound of terrified choking. Through one of the windows above, Conata watched in mute horror, blind to the shadowy tendrils that grasped at her from behind. Through other windows were maddening glimpses of an unfathomable creature, staring with eyes-mouths-orifices-teeth, reaching with tentacles-claws-fangs-feelers through the windows, trying to get closer to Teknall. In yet another, there was an entirely unfamiliar monster: some oily abomination of darkness and inky slime gazed down with its red eyes. Xos manifested beside its fetid, globular mass, and it knelt down in His presence.

With a few rapid blinks, the deadlights blurred and then began to fade altogether along with the faces of those that peered through. They were all so faint, just the most paltry of golden lights, a sickly color besides the immaculate white of the porcelain figure looming over him. Toun. Teknall reached out and tried to plead for aid, but Teknall's throat tightened and no words could come out. Toun's eye stared down at Teknall with a look of scorn and derision. But then, Teknall looked more closely at Toun, and saw that his robes of flowing porcelain were not so pristine after all. There were tiny streaks, blemishes...red cracks. They were growing, tracing out twisted maddening patterns. Toun let out a pained cry, and then the cracks at once became massive fissures and he crumbled and became nothing more than a pile of broken clay fragments. The figure of a golden djinni appeared next, and when it beheld Toun's fate it wept tears of gentle flames. But then it banished all its remorse and found resolve to replace it. The djinni set about sweeping up the pieces, gathering up all that it could fit into its hands before absconding with them.

Then Galbar stretched out from Teknall, and it was burning. White fire descended from the heavens and devoured villages, hain burning from inside out before their exoskeletons too were reduced to ash. Gerrik crumpled down as stones were hurled at him, before invisible claws rent him apart in a spray of crimson gore. Human towns were flooded by oceans which stripped the flesh off their bones and levelled their buildings. Herds of urtelem were torn apart by eldritch tentacles and claws and reduced to gravel by howling winds. Countless Rovaick were crushed as the Ironhearts collapsed in on themselves, and the dwarves perished in droves as lava surged up to consume their mountain homes. Then primordial chaos blossomed in the sky and the atmosphere was rent asunder. The primal fury of the Shattering Disunity consumed all life and civilisation upon the face of the planet, boiled away the oceans and ground the mountains to dust, before the planet itself shattered and was hurled to the far reaches of the universe.

Spinning in this void Teknall saw his siblings. Kyre, his flesh burned away to leave a charred skeleton. Belruarc, her front sliced open and her innards spilled out. Reathos, butchered apart and torn to pieces. Vowzra, consumed by claws which were teeth which were mouths which were tentacles which were hands which were madness. Vulamera, clutching her head in madness and her soul compressed to a point. Vakarlon, flesh peeled off from his body and reduced to sludge. Vestec, torn limb from limb as his flesh was slowing disintegrated by a withering aura. Mammon, his body withering away and consumed by demons. Julkolfyr, swallowed by darkness with a hideous wail. Jvan, her mountainous body burned to bedrock, sliced into pieces, then exploding into an all-consuming tangle of twisted spacetime and eldritch teeth and eyes and tentacles.

The unfathomable limbs and appendages filled all of space, and Teknall was surrounded by the Other. A small yet uncountable number of things which could be mistaken for eyes observed the weak and dying god with a soulless stare. Sounds of chittering, static and sucking assaulted Teknall's ears and pressed down on his mind. Limbs which could not be described reached towards Teknall, getting closer. The world distorted around the maddening abomination, an eldritch pressure bearing down on Teknall like fire. And it was getting closer. Eons ticked by like seconds and second became eons as time lost meaning and entropy and chaos were replaced by things so utterly alien as to cause reality to tear itself apart in protest. Tentacles of black oblivion prised open the cracks and let forth breath which carried the cold chill of death.

And it kept getting closer.





Tribulation

Part I


When the Shade left Galbar, it came to rest on a world where the continents were adrift upon the wind, soaring through raging skies and separated by seas of nothingness rather than water. The daylight condensed into golden clouds and the riddling djinn carried them and let the droplets of magic and rain fall juxtaposed. Legend said that one god slept and was the slow-beating heart within the ribcage that was the shattered world's core, but the inhabitants knew the terror of another master, one who lurked in the shadows and demanded sacrifice.

Zephyrion's bleeding aura was the mechanism that made it so. Though every eddy and crevice of Caelum was laden with his power, this lifeblood was not the wild and unstable sort that had once been his very quintessence. It did not bring the raw powers of creation or destruction to bear, and nor did it bring order to the strange world or through chaos make it stranger yet, but rather it acted as the force of sustenance and stability that held the unnatural world's laws in place and maintained things just as they were and had always been.

It was fortunate that such a state was what the ailing god willed, for in truth, he knew that he likely lacked the potency to reshape or change his prized world even if the fancy struck him. If the Caelites had truly understood the peril of their place, their prayers would haunt him. In a way, it was perhaps best that they lived in as close to an ignorant bliss as could be managed upon a world of turmoil and scarcity. But Zephyrion banished such thought from his mind; in the past, his hubris would have him cast aside philosophical musings and deemed them wholly fruitless in a world devoid of meaning, but now there was not even that defiance left to animate his existence. There was only silence and exhaustion overwhelming. The First Gale had long since died, and now there was nothing left that even resembled a storm.


The writhing winds of his tempestuous body had collapsed into an immutable, pristine simulacrum of a body. His form was composed of light and darkness alike, adrift within the darkness of Caelum's hollowed core.


From the darkness, there was a sudden genesis of motion accompanied by a familiar presence.

"You have returned."

His child did not answer with words. Instead, a dark tendril reached from within the breast of the god's armor, down through the sleeves of the robe that rested on top, and twisted upwards before wrapping twice around the ornate helmet. With a snap, Xos tore off the mask. His visage erupted upward and spilled out from the now-gaping hole in his suit of armor. The rest of his body followed the head, pouring free like wine from an uncorked bottle.

Then as he was naked the silence shattered, as if the wine bottle finally fell from the table and left all its pieces bare upon the floor. "When I went to Galbar, I found a part of myself that had been missing all this time. Just as I thought I might," Xos breathed, each whisper echoing like thunder. Before Zephyrion's very eyes, Xos' inky mass began to undergo some metamorphosis. "I found substance to back my convictions. I proved my strength. Now, perhaps your own powers will not taunt me so."

"Taunt you? I raised you as I would any offspring. I tried to imbue you with wisdom, but could never find purchase enough to weather and overcome your defiance; at least I did show you your birthright and how to wield your powers, if nothing else. And now it has been many decades since your powers have overshadowed my own, and still you find cause for jealousy?"

"Hmph. You are a better brother than I," he confessed even as the aberrant shaping continued. "But though I have come to think you weak, you have always had one power that was denied to me--the ability to control your body. How am I to be a god that works to promote change if I cannot even change myself? Existence itself is an insult and a mockery to all of my sensibilities when I alone am denied the prerogative that every other divine being so effortlessly achieves; I am entombed within this crude, decaying shell! I loathe it! How could I not have envied you and all the others?"

Zephyrion was silenced by Xos' unusual openness, so the shade continued, "...but I was wrong. I meditated as I traveled here, and I finally divined my purpose and my true calling in this world. And with that knowledge, I've become a force too great and too beautiful to stop; a fiery flower blossom that blooms from the filth and rises above it."

The transformation was complete, and before Zephyrion was an entirely corporeal, hulking body blacker than the darkest of nights, but still more corporeal than mere smoke and shadow. The shade, if he could still be called that, exhaled in relief at the end, but he was still far from finished. Zephyrion could tell that this shape was not entirely what had been intended, and the discrepancy between vision and reality infuriated Xos now, just as it always did. But Xos always was good at wearing masks when the occasion called for it. Xos recalled his momentarily discarded armor. It rocketed through the darkness of the void to return to its only wearer, and with a touch it twisted and grew to take on an entirely new appearance.


It wrapped perfectly about his new frame.


"There is nothing more that you can teach me, no power that you can wield over me in your decrepit state, no way to prolong your destiny and no more excuses to face your fate in following my shadow. So come now. I will have my brother by my side when I return to Galbar, that there may be another to witness its restoration."

"If for all your professed love you shall not spare my self-determination, then at least offer mercy to my creations here. You know that if I were to leave, their world would crumble and they would be extinguished in a few moments. Xos, Xaas, Zo: regardless of whatever names they call you, they have given you no grievances and they have come to worship you as their lone god. So answer their prayers this once and grant them mercy from the ruinous powers that obey your whims."

"..." he hesitated.

"Zyus."

"You know that I cannot stay the claws of chaos and entropy forever. Their time will come and they will all die; all things succumb to chaos, except chaos itself. I won't even be able to spare you in the end, and perhaps my devouring powers will eventually turn upon themselves. Then, not even I would remain. Am I the cruel one, brother? You would only delay their end."

As he waited for an answer, the emptiness of Zyus' eyes bored into Zephyrion, but the golden god met the cold gaze. He looked into Zyus' eyes as no other would or perhaps even could, and within the voids he thought he saw the tiniest flicker of light.

"I shall grant you this."

The embodiment of decay snapped a finger and defied physics. The proverbial blankets of destruction that had come to weave themselves above and below Caelum all came unbound, and order would reign supreme for another hundred years.

"With such powers at your command, you could just as easily take the other side. You could be the floodgate that holds back the tides of darkness. Surely the other gods saw this potential in you! What did they say when you went to Galbar and saw them?"

"Their mouths offered me little save spittle and slights. But their eyes betrayed their fear. They know that I see them for the worms that they are, and that I will soon be rid of them. They would all die eventually, but I shall grant them mercy by ending their hubris prematurely, and once I stand alone atop the ashes, I shall meditate and perhaps find some peace in my newfound omnipotence. And then perhaps my burden and my torment can finally end."

He breathed. "Hmph. Now, we go."




"Surprisingly little had changed in the time since they drove you out. The very reality of Chronos was warped; it is hard to say how much time has passed upon this plane during your thousands of years of imprisonment, but surely no more than two hundred cycles. Your pet Akthanos is dead, as is Ventus, but their direct successors still live. I shall show you."

They drifted through the world as a shadow and an equally invisible breath of wind. Zephyrion was quiet as he witnessed the djinn; he felt as though they had somehow changed. Eventually they came to the Celestial Citadel, or what little still remained of it. If mere wind could weep, it would have in that moment. "I see the irony now. I called myself supreme; I declared myself lord of change and altered the world below and the works of others at a mere whim, thinking it my mandate. But I had always hoped that this place could stay unchanged and unsullied. You've ruined and broken it. There's nothing here but emptiness, and...Ventus..."

Zyus was utterly cold. "Ventus was nearly a god. When I came to this place, I found that he had tapped into this place's power and siphoned our energy away. Do you think me blind to the loathing and hatred and blame that dwells even in your eyes? Cast it at me no longer; he was the cause for your decline. He stole our power, so I punished him."

"Hmph. And when you open your eyes, and look outwards to see all that is ill with the world," he began to preach, "know that it is the fault of the vile Jvan. That you or any other could ever think of her as more than an abomination is beyond me; she has tampered with the djinn, culled their ranks, twisted the natural way of things that you designed, and ultimately forced my hand. She spits upon your name and scorns mine; my only regret is that my first attempt to slay her was stymied. But that only means that I shall have even longer to enjoy the task of ripping her asunder! Even now, I have set in motion what loyal djinn remain, and they will undo her corruption."

He collected himself and let the acid drip free from his tone. "I have appointed a new Vizier. He is a certain djinni called Murmur, one that you doubtless remember. In him, I think I saw a kindred soul. He yearns for silence just as I do, but he is tortured by how he must always be loud. It is only through our own wills that we are set into motion; he has his pain to drive him onward, just as I have mine."

As if on queue, the air began to hum and Vizier Murmur made his way to the crumbling chamber that they occupied. Zephyrion sensed a moment of trepidation and recognition in the djinni lord, but then Murmur's aura focussed its attention upon the presence that truly dominated the room. The room reverberated with his voice, "My lord, it is well that you have returned now. Your plans have been set into motion."

"Hmph." Zyus looked to Zephyrion. "I'll be back."

Turn 5




The Levogh



The Lycan Covenant



Attolia



The ap-Cantar



The Mustaqilun Tribe



Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn



The Aedelfaari



Oguurec Dekaan






Frozen Fire




Though Xos had absconded Galbar and returned for the time being to his fortress on Caelum, his servants upon Galbar were still numerous, and through them, his machinations continued.

Beneath snow and mountain there was Ba'Sard and his seizure of the dwarven stronghold at Dundee, and above that the newly appointed Vizier Murmur suppressed ruthlessly those djinn that still defied their new master. But below all of that, deeper within Galbar than even the gods ever sought to go, there was one horrible lord whose ambitions burned with a heat as great as his infernal domain. Xos had intentionally slighted Baron Slag in passing over him to proclaim Murmur as his Vizier and foremost servant, yet his loyalty was secured nonetheless by that weapon he had gifted unto Slag: the hammer, Armageddon. It was hard for any djinni to see a weapon itself as more than a mere trinket, but this one represented a chance to rise in favor and station.

To rise, perhaps, high enough to usurp the abomination called Murmur.

The last directive that Xos had left to Slag was that he strike at Jvan once more, but even compared to him, the mightiest of all djinn, a direct strike was suicidal. Slag's blow to Jvan had caught her by surprise when she had been preoccupied with Xos, but now he enjoyed no such advantage. He would be faced with the full might of a god if he attempted another such strike and hard pressed to escape at all, much less to do so unscathed. But well secluded within Galbar's core he could sense much and strike nigh anywhere, and so his attention soon turned to another site--Metera, a mortal civilization that nonetheless had been perverted by Jvan's influence. Xos had told him that there was such a city. It had not taken long to find once he knew what to search for; he could sense that She was there, somewhere. Or at least a piece of her was.

Such a small shard would be like kindling to him; gods were mighty indeed, but their avatars were not so great that they could not be destroyed when the earth sundered and lava washed over the land as an apocalyptic flood.

And the pressure was building, once more, even now...

Tick, tick.

Stone was melting, earth was quaking. Subtle, subtle. Gentle, gentle.

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick...

Where did the echoes go? They scatter so wildly. Back and forth and back and forth, a shadow of a sound growing darker around each corner. But, if one was clever, always visible.

...Tock.

There we are.

A seismograph trail wipped and quivered its way down the earth, synchronising itself to the solid mass. Better not to lose oneself to the crush and the dark, no matter how long it took to navigate the maze of earth by sound alone. Second chances, it seemed, were not to be squandered, and Phi knew her time grew short. Though never so short, of course, as to abandon her style.

A certain blueness entered the sound, as though the waveform was written in ink across the ore.

"O Djinni," spake the voice through a hundred miles' stone, "I hear your feet approaching. Why do you turn thy face against me?"

There was silence. Then, a long groan.

All pretense of subtlety was abandoned when Phi revealed to Slag that his presence was known, and the firelord surged through the crust with a force that heaved aside tons of rock in mere moments. The blue dissolved, then reformed, a presence pulsed forward in quavers as Sky City grew closer.

"It's not Mysa, is it? No, you neither fear her nor loathe her. Could it be Phlegethon and his line? No, you are brothers in isolation. Are you snatching, o djinni? Are you reaching for things that your Vizier once kept from you? I do not think so. Then wherefore crawl thee under my soul, Rumbler? Could you have been bade here?" Nothing in those words but pity.

Chiral Phi spoke when she should have quivered, prattled when she should have fled. She received nothing in response from Slag; perhaps he hadn't even heard her words for anything more than mewling.The earth shook with such a violence that trees fell and massive crevices began to spread like cobwebs across the ground, and then there was one mighty crash that let loose a volcanic eruption. For the briefest of moments the head of a colossal hammer was visible as it broke through the ground's surface, but then the clouds of dust and ash hid its sight when the subsequent strikes came. But every strike could be felt even in the air, for they reverberated for miles with enough power to shake buildings to their foundations. It was a testament to Phi's forethought that Sky City had none to shake.

The base of the great bowl glowed amber in his light, the great scaled legs holding, despite everything, their place. A white flood was spilled as the City rebalanced on wrecked earth, and then no more. Divine architecture stared down the rising magma from above.

Chiral Phi manifested as a blaze of indigo blacking the weaker blue of the sky. "Welcome, Slag."

He let his weapon speak. The hammer, enduring such searing heat that it looked a part of Slag's own molten form, warped into something akin to a long spike. He plunged it into the earth and ruptured one of the ground's fissures so wide that a pillar of ash and fire erupted upwards.


As it did so, Baron Slag began to clamber up from the deeps and reveal the full extent of his form.


Blue light met amber, and disappeared, forced to hide behind incandescence of its own. A blast of light heralded Mysa and her daughters, and was followed swiftly by a godless flare, a great conflagration that spilled from Sky City and roiled over the molten stone, searing away at its basalt armour. The fire retracted and Mysa stood. She was but a mite before Slag, yet she remained a hulking beast of a djinni, huge and insatiable. So it was all the more infuriating that he hardly seemed to even notice her, so intent was he upon finding the source of the obnoxious voice.

"Do you seek me still, o djinni? What will you do when you find me? I bear no power for thee to steal. I offer no challenge for thee to pit thyself against. Only frustration lines thy way, volcanic lord." The voice had no source, now. The blue light was all gone. Mysa did not cease to roar against Slag's stone, melting away little by little to reach the fluids within.

Armageddon suddenly came down to scratch at the itch upon his chest. Mysa was blown apart, like so much hot smoke upon the wind. His own body was hardly immune to the decay that the unholy weapon brought forth, and even as the hammer's head brushed against the basalt and obsidian shell of his body the stone began to crack. But where those cracks ran deep, magmatic blood oozed out to reform his armor.

"When I find you, Shadow of Jvan, you will burn and die."

"You know me poorly, Slag," said Phi. In the distance, a hissing: Phlegethon was coming. "I am the Light, daughter of Logos. Gaze upon me, and see no flesh. Listen to my voice and feel no horror. Intuit my fate, o djinni, and you will find no death."

"Light does not hide in the shadows of the flies that worship it." The firelord punctuated his disgust by spitting a glob of fire that melted through the white stone that it fell upon. His eye turned down to the tiny djinn that swarmed before him, those just-orphaned daughters of Mysa that howled in rage and the bastard-lord Phlegethon that advanced toward him.

"What do you even fight for? Your master throws you at me knowing your deaths shall not even slow my advance. Your miserable existence is as caltrops too soft to pierce the feet that crush you!"

"I am not fighting, you oaf," said the Lord of the Springs, as a great fog covered the land, obscuring to vagrant glows the daughters cast as they turned on one another.

A wild swing of Armageddon went towards the insect that had dared offer insult to his better. But fog was fog, and only fog, and little more than fog; and Phlegethon had long learned to soar with the God. "Gah! Very well! You have made your point."

Phlegethon condensed in the cumulus fashion; better for him to rise before this heat dispersed him further. "Baron! You are beating at the throne the chiral goddess warms for me. If you intend upon Sky City, be clear! If not, let me flush her out of my halls for you, and otherwise part ways. I tire of her shine."

He had raised a hand to strike at the cloud that harried his advance, but then its words caught his attention for long enough to give pause. "This mound of stone means nothing to me. Find her, then, and I shall spare it along with you."

Uncultured barbarian, thought Phlegethon, and turned the cloud upon his city.

But Slag did not entirely trust this stranger. The obnoxious voice of Chiral Phi had been silent for the last few moments, and though such silence was a respite it was also cause for suspicion. Perhaps this one was only a diversion, buying time to cover her escape.

There was a cloud of volcanic ash that had been rising as one great plume from the searing hole that Slag had bashed through the ground when he first emerged. Out of the clouds spewing from that newly formed volcano there came a thousand little ashdjinn that made their way over the city and began to search the skies. But in the place of the goddess they sought, they found only one little frostdjinn, sitting arms over knees on an orb of steel, hovering in the stratosphere.

"Hush," she whispered to the ash, trailing along in jagged streamers around her. "Watch. She is coming."

But they could not simply be silent, for they were so weak that their wills were not so entirely their own. Their eyes were his, so like lightning Slag's head turned to looked straight towards the snowflake in the sky. His grip on Armageddon tightened. From far away, Lumikki's head turned, just slightly, and met his own, across the horizon. "Flee," she whispered, and dissolved.

In the canals and spires of Sky City, Phlegethon released his shaken son. Where is she? Damn that owl-faced prophet, WHERE IS SHE?

He raised his hammer and an arc of black energy left Armageddon and surged through the place where Lumikki had been. It was well that she had already vanished of her own accord, for there would have been nothing left of her if the dark power imbued by Xos into that weapon had been given so allowed as a glancing blow.

She could hide her body, but the mind of a djinni lord reached far, and this Baron was a lord of lords. His thoughts echoed like thunder and pounded within Lumikki's mind even as she hid, "Retreat? You dare tell the lord of all fires to flee? Pathetic worm! Just as you scatter before me, so too will Her ashes be flung into the air and carried away by scorching wind!"

Phlegethon swept into the blood tunnel, a rogue daughter of Mysa buying his passage. Here, the labyrinth, was the only place that She could hide. Indeed, there she was: a simple glow, a jewel in the arms of Old Walker. He leaped, condensed, became a choking force.

The Prophet only stared. As Phlegethon rose in fury, his power turned to anger, fear, then pain. In the dark, Old Walker heard him djinni sink into the bloodsplatter, heavy as no spirit should ever be.

A hand arose from the steam god's shoulder. "Not for you," it said to the enfleshed Phlegethon, and folded itself from existence.


Slag's blast collided with the sphere of iron, shot it far across the sky- yet it did not burn. "The Horror watches its bastard," whispered the voice of Lumikki, blown about as a snowflake should be in the wake of the recoiling Bludgeon. Joined by two others, the great iron weight wailed its terrible song as it descended to smite that which threatened its new god. In the once-domain of Mysa, smoke was rising. "These stones were only laid to contain her."

The Bludgeons fell on Slag, air splitting on the razor winds between them. Sound could not offer forewarning of a strike so unimaginably swift and deadly, but Slag had already reared his head up. He sensed their imminent approach, even before his eyes could discern their descent.

With perfect timing, he brought down Armageddon and then swung it upwards to collide with the foremost of the Spheres. That entire Bludgeon was obliterated in a single explosive strike that enveloped the ophanim colony, but mercury and smoke could not deter the other two bodies of his assailant. What the wind-wire could not cleave was broken by its weight, and Slag felt his encrusted shell crack before the Cord.

The collision was only an instant, and the ophanim were soon trapped, dragging laboriously on either side of Slag as the Cord heaved to penetrate the molten core that had sealed up around it. Slag felt the monumental tug of the creatures pulling him, for all his mountainous stature, by the loathsome wire stuck in his belly. Galbar sounded of volcanic fury when the Baron let loose a long rumble and grunted in pain. An infernal hand with fingertips the size of houses clasped at one of the ends of cord that protruded from his sides, but pull as he might, it would not snap. His liquid innards had near instantly flowed around this wire and the outer shell of his abdomen was already hardening once more, so removing this wire would take nothing short of eviscerating his own body. So for the time being: he simply ignored the hindrance.

After that sour turn of events, the firelord's patience was rapidly thinning. His enraged roaring rocked the heavens with even greater violence than his previous expression of pain, "Little lord of steam! You have mere minutes left to offer me Jvan's puppet, lest I grow tired of waiting and raze this insipid pile of rubble!"

But the only steam now cast from the city was smoke. Mysa's daughters had offered no safety, and where Phlegethon was, he could not halt them. The lives and possessions of Metera were alight, and though they cried, no god or djinn would aid them.

"Your path is open, Slag," said Lumikki to the smoke. "My ophan cannot save you much longer."

The billowing clouds of smoke and volcanic ash roiled as the countless djinn within searched for the source of the mysterious voice. Slag listened not so much out of caution as for desire to find that prattling gnat that deigned whisper in his ear. He would swat it from the sky were it not so adept at concealing itself. Even so, Lumikki's time was limited; there was only so long that she could hide from the eyes of those djinn in her vicinity, and Slag himself no doubt had a perception powerful enough to sense lone presences if he focused upon it. It seemed, his ashen horde reported, that she had finally elected to flee.

As he watched, a figure so like Phlegethon leapt from the edge of Sky City and departed into the dying light, pursued by more flames. Even the steamlord's progeny had fled the flame, now. Phlegethon's quest and control were lost. So exasperation at last took hold. With a mighty heft, he hurled Armaggedon into the air such that it came to fall upon the metropolis above and level a block. Even held back by the burden of the wires entombed within him, he advanced towards one of the walking city's legs and began to grasp at it. For all its strength, the stone blackened at his touch- and then the world turned itself inside out, and its folding blackened the moons. For a small moment, Slag's deep red shine was but an ember on the blaze of hollow light that bloodied the air.

"SLAG!"

The word was not spoken, but emanated from the blossom of sinew and petals that now grew as a bud overhead, planted in crippled air and requiring no size to dwarf its city. The billowing ashes fled.

Har! Har!

A deep cackling echoed back. Slag raised one hand and called forth an eruption from the ground. Galbar's burning blood surged upward and a river of liquid fire fell upon the city's periphery, washing Armaggedon back over the precipice. Down below, it fell upon Slag's colossal fist and the amorphous lava flowed around the grip to hold the weapon. He sneered and brandished it high.

The sinew watched. And, as it watched, it replied in turn: with the edge of a too-long finger, it reached out before it, and dragged a perfect horizontal line into the universe, thin and flickering, flickering- in scarlet red. The bloom took hold of this with no flourish. In one gristly motion, it uncoupled its remaining eight legs from its stem, and stood on air.

"Like Char before you," it intoned, "Worthless."

A quick and disdainful few swings of Armaggedon helped the firelord to adjust his grip and find the hammer's balance. "Char was the faintest of sparks before my incandescence. I survived his fury and emerged stronger. The world melts and burns at my whim; bow down and grovel, and then perhaps in me you will find a more generous master than Him."

At that, a tensing that Jvan did not care to suppress. Such stagnation. Such simplicity. She said nothing through the Isonymph, but her aura made it known.

"I tire of wordplay," she announced. "You are burning that which I little care to replace. Your birth is wasted on you, and your line is as lacking as the rest of your kind. You wield a grotesquery of the Shade. And you struck me, Slag." The lily bloomed a little brighter. "You tried to fight me."

There was nothing left to be said, for both had grown tired of idle speech. His answer was to erupt skyward as a geyser of brimstone and pumice and fire. The violence of the explosive surge consumed and utterly blew apart the closest of Sky City's legs, such was the force needed to launch Slag's great mass into the air. But when he collided with the Isonymph in the air above just above Sky City and brought the both of them down upon it, the entire structure shuddered and began to tip. Entire city blocks had been leveled in a single moment. Stone was shattered, and joints broken, and Slag felt the tiny fizz of the possessed Avatar beneath his weight as he landed. And yet she was not crushed.

For a brief moment, as the waters of the City boiled, Jvan stood beneath their surface, and held Slag above her head.

"Be careful what you wish for."

She threw him, and with a mighty heft, freed herself of his crushing weight.

Slag landed close to the precipice, but she had not been powerful enough to cast him off the edge and back to the lands below. I am not to be trifled with!

He barreled forward on a lava flow and swung his hammer in a great overhead arc at Jvan's avatar. The flower bloomed, inverted, and rematerialised on one leg, balancing on the top of its staff of distortion; when Slag struck it, it carried a shock through his arm like a fleshling striking stone, and stalled his hammer in its tracks.

Jvan dragged a new staff to replace the shattered as she ran up the Djinni's arm. In a blink she had launched herself into his face, twisting the universe like a six-sided mirror, from which she struck him at all angles and was gone. When reality unfolded she was behind him.

All the while, Armaggedon's swings missed as they collided with the water or towers or nothingness, but never Isonymph. She was dexterous in this rage-induced flurry, not unlike that fool Anshal. But mere punches could hardly inflict more than pain upon him; on the other hand, it would take only one blow from his hammer to seize victory. So when he sensed her presence behind him, he nigh instantly twisted about in an inhuman and grotesque form that broke his obsidian plating. As he spun, so too did he bring around his hammer in a lateral swing.

The blow was inescapable- Jvan didn't try. Contracting time within herself, she whipped her stave against Armageddon, once more allowing it to shatter; and flourished a new one in the broken instant. As Armageddon stalled, she let it fall on the cane between her hands, breaking that, too, and throwing her out, out and away like a bolt across the sky. Time uncoiled from her muscles and the world became a blur.

Slag saw this only in real time. Scarlet light snapped over his hammer in two flashes as he broke the Isonymph's parry and sent her flying. He swiftly recovered his arm and his aim. Even out of reach, it would only take one blast of Armageddon's power to destroy the Avatar, and with time now dilating within her to recover the lag, she was helpless to evade the next strike.

Yet so was he. Too lightly had Slag given up his armour.

The Bludgeons still strung through Slag hurled themselves along their cord, one directly away from him, the other striking his back with both their strength. With his rigidity shredded by Jvan's blows and his own hubris, Slag splattered across the waters as the sphere dredged its way through his body and crawled red-hot into the sky to meet a recovering Jvan. Much better, she thought, admiring the deformation of his liquid flesh.

Molten stone may have solidified on contact with the waters of Sky City, but Slag was an elemental lord. The water about his form was instantly vaporized and the bubble erupted upwards, sending tidal waves of boiling water through the streets. Jvan had seen less beautiful carnage, but not in some years. Even the birds could hear the screams.

In the center of it all, an enraged Slag rose once more. His palpable rage had ionized the air about him into an infernal corona, and brought forth a heat that burned his reddish glow into a white incandescence. The Sphere that had passed through his body melted away in Jvan's hands, and she let it fall. The Plumes gave one last turn, and fled into the rising cloud as the Cord finally snapped.

The one vulnerable point that remained visible was the red-hot hand that clutched Armageddon; that weapon seemed to drink in his surge fiery rage and heat and nullify them just as easily as anything that fell beneath its crushing blows. Opportunity.

Still carrying the unmelted, unfeathered and dying Sphere in her psychic grip, Jvan stretched the Isonymph's roots until they multiplied, enwrapping the iron ball. New life seeped into it, soft meat penetrating the metal, sprawling within its innards and colouring crimson. He shall not cool.

Jvan gripped raw air and flung herself across the fulcrum of hard space, hurling the orb and all the arms with which she held it, dividing with a gruesome tear. The ball rocked the bowl as it collided, striking Slag's shoulder and liquefying instantly, burning with foul airs as it boiled into him. The spectra of Slag's aura shifted, his atoms intermingling with the metal flesh, growing lustrous, growing soft. No stone would form on him. No metal would escape.

Pitiful tricks. Even as her corrupted metal vaporized and seeped into his form, he rejected its weakness just as he did pleas for mercy. Great heaps of infernal flesh sloughed off and rained down as molten cascades, and shockwaves of heat and fire and volcanic gases erupted outwards. For what it was worth, the brighter glow of metal clung tightly to his stone, but in his attempts to shed he had become a living volcano whose fury engulfed yet more of the city.

Jvan drew her fourth staff and leapt for the Djinni's exposed wrist, right into the flames. She struck true and the volcano's thunderous din amplified tenfold, but there was no resounding thud as Armageddon slipped from his grasp and clattered upon the ground. Amidst the smoke and blinding haze of sulfur, Slag had instantly seized up the weapon in his other hand and was already swinging it at the Isonymph once more. She let her quavering barrier once again shatter in its wake, yet fled easily thereafter. Slag's weapon was become far deadlier than the magma lord himself. And now-

"Be struck," spake the God of Sinew.

If she had fought the rest of the battle with nine limbs, now there were surely more, for when the cracking ricochet of the first blow had echoed across the coast from Metera to the Ironhearts and blown away the haze with its shock, the others did not cease. With knuckles of newforged steel Jvan belted Slag, her dance of speed not slowing for his hammer, the collision of her fists more than sufficient to shatter what remained of his elemental shell into droplets that cooled on the wind, and tear apart the fiery heart at its core. The firelord's form unraveled into a pyroclastic explosion that swept outward, bathing Sky City in hellfire. With flows of lava dripping off the sides, the legged city sagged one last time, and stiffened forevermore.

When it was done, and her nine fists glowed red with the fire, the Isonymph hovered over the basalt-covered basin, long since dry; and wondered what hubris it took for such creatures of liquid and vapour to presume their brawn greater than that of the Flesh God.

"Reform," she commanded. "Flee my heel, Flicker, with whatever body you can find. I'll wait."

Ha!

He didn't make her wait for long. An burst of endothermic activity stirred the sulfur-laden air and created a great wind that carried heat into a new vessel. From amidst the ashes and rubble, Slag's incandescent Flicker constituted a new shell and he was reborn.


With a mighty heave, he pushed himself up from the surface of the dying city.


"You cannot kill me, O God of Pitiful Flesh and Mortal Filth," he spat. "But take solace in your small victory of surviving my fires. You have won the chance to quiver a little longer, until He returns to earn your terror again, and forever."

"Cry more," said Jvan. "Think of me when your vassals eat you alive." She flexed her psychic muscle over the hilt of Armageddon, lifted it, felt its aura scald her mind. Horrible, horrible little thing. Vile implement. Let it bear my curse. A cocoon enfolded the hammer. When it had burned itself clean again, the scent of Other flesh filled the scorched air.

Jvan had wrought beauty out of entropy once before. In much the same way was the weapon transfigured. Shedding a light that was powder, finer than the mist that falls from moth wings, the change-eating aura of Armageddon was no longer a pupil but an iris, ringed and striated with folds of brilliant fibre. Its haft was now as gnarled as the galls of an ancient tree. The familiar hues of Diaphane flesh flickered on its head. Jvan watched the Isonymph's face from the many-pupilled Eye in its hilt.

"Kill as many of Zephyrion's spawn as you can before you die," she said, throwing it at him. "You'll need this."

Carried by its weight, the once-mighty Lord of Magma tumbled dripping from the edge of Sky City, and was gone. Jvan hovered alone.

"...Well played."

Jvan was silent, as Heartworm before her.

"I suppose I owe you a debt, for what remains to be recovered," said the Painter, seeping from the boiling, ash-laden waters. "Not that you could ever trust me to repay it, nor ever should. Hahahaha. Alas, it's true- we have little choice but to continue as befo-"

The light snapped with a brutal twist of intervening space. When it unwound, it was not the ghost of Chiral Phi that hovered in Isonymph's palm, but the Kernel of God herself.

"I've realised something," said Jvan. "You are a liability." A second arm drew a thin and flickering scarlet stave that landed in the palm of a third. "And I dislike you."

The arm reared back, and hurled its lethal cargo into the City true. For an instant, a rigid line of scarlet light connected the god and her daughter's city. Struck to its core, the great bowl of Sky City groaned, buckled, and settled at last upon its weight, paralysed to move. A beautiful ruin.

"Debt paid," said the Engineer. "Bait me no longer to your aid. I will not play your game." The Kernel disappeared.

After a second, so did the Isonymph.




"Whenceforth now, my brother dear?"

Mrrrrrr.

"Don't be that way. You know I was planning to leave anyway, with developments being as they are. Ha! My fraudulence, punished at last. By Fate herself, wouldn't you say? And to think- despite what that Victor godlet did- it was all going so well..."

Mrr.

"Better a fragile plan that offers victory at all possible conclusions than a sound one whose interruption begets failure, Old Walker. The collapse is beautiful. I am an aesthete of blood, Old Walker. We are not so different, Jvan and I. That is why you cannot resist me."

...

"There there, enough banter. Come. Let us abscond into the mountains, and begone from this place. It is up to Oriana and Lumikki now. Our next game lies elsewhere- whatever it may be."

Mrmph.




"Begone."

"I should smite you for your impudence. Once I have rested, I will put an end to you and your whole line, and laugh about it to your old master, Boreas. I imagine it will be most satisfying!"

"Ah. I forget. You are a traitor who spurns loyalty."

"I am as strong as I have ever been, Lumikki. Do not test me! My quarrels with Slag and the Abomination have only tired my arms. Soon my energy will return, and-"

"NO! QUENCH THAT LIGHT, DAMN YOU! BEGONE! BEGONE, MONSTER! DO NOT LOOK AT ME!"

"..."

"...You are cruel."

"I will make no such concessions. I would sooner die."

"Ah. I see how it is."

"Strike, then. Let the eldest of my sons take on the name of Phlegethon, and purge me of this curse."

There is a snap of cold that crystallises all moisture. The remaining fog sags on the ground amidst the blood and wyrm-filth, like fat or slime. In the dim light of her Sertz, Lumikki sees veins.

"Rest well, brother," says Lumikki, impaling the abomination on an icicle. "I cannot preserve your kingdom- but I will do what I can."

Turn 4




The Levogh



The Lycan Covenant



Attolia



The ap-Cantar



The Mustaqilun Tribe



Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn



The Aedelfaari

Turn 3




The Levogh



The Lycan Covenant



Attolia



The ap-Cantar



The Mustaqilun Tribe



Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn



The Aedelfaari

Turn 2




The Levogh



The Lycan Covenant



Attolia



The ap-Cantar



The Mustaqilun Tribe



Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn



The Aedelfaari

Turn 1



The Levogh



The Lycan Covenant



Attolia



The ap-Cantar



The Mustaqilun Tribe



Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn



The Aedelfaari

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