Aboard the VSS Karamzina, Cero Drydocks, T'Sarae
[written by CollectorOfMyst, Scout & Opposition]
After talking to Oren and leaving a note for Tatiana, Viveca returned to her room to meet them. She shut the heavy, metal door behind her, taking a first look at what would be her new home for the coming months. She breathed a sigh of relief… good, they hadn’t gone overboard. Part of her had worried that it was going to be ornately decorated and overbearing, but surprisingly enough, her room was rather modest. However, the Inquisitor had been quietly warned by Mother Indira that this was originally meant to be her room, so truth be told it was bigger than Viveca would have requested. She wasn’t going to complain, by any means. She could tell a few edits were made before her arrival - they’d received her shipment of affairs. A closet was lined with uniform items and an assortment of clothing, mostly sleepwear. Two weapon racks and a few displays adorned different corners of the rooms; one carried several spears of varying lengths and tip-types while the other had several types of curved swords - sabres, falchions, cutlasses, and even an old khopesh that her “father” had sent her once. It was rather impractical as a weapon, being so old and produced from an inferior blacksmithing technique to modern styles, but it was really cool and she appreciated the gift.
She reached for a vent and opened it to ensure the room would have plenty of airflow before finally taking in her surroundings. The entryway of the room opened to a rather cozy, unexpectedly large floorplan. Her bandmates would probably be a little surprised when they arrived. Viveca wasn’t the type to need a lot of space to herself, but Mother Indira had given her one of the largest rooms on the ship. The metal deck of the ship was covered in laminate designed to appear as hardwood. Wood was preferable, but this was just fine, a couple rugs of intricate red and gold designs padded the floors.
Running perpendicular to the doorway was unmistakably a bar. Viveca blinked - no way did they actually put a bar in her room. She owed Mother Indira big time. Striding around the side to look on the shelves underneath, she found more than enough liquor, at least for herself, and a few sugary mixers. Fresh fruit was at a premium on the ship, so she would have to ask the galley for it herself if she wanted some, but there was even salt and several different types of glasses secured to the underside of the bar.
On the far end, there were a few cartons of cigarettes which Viveca had purchased and sent ahead of time to meet her here. Double checking her vent once more, she removed a pack from one of the cartons. Lighting one of the cigarettes up, she took a few minutes to enjoy the silence and solitude. The stick dangling from between her lips, she placed a tumbler and a bottle of scotch on top of the wooden bar. Two ice cubes and a splash of liquor later, she finally felt relaxed. Just five minutes, that’s all she needed, then Oren and Tatiana could come in. She placed the journal she had found on the desk and pulled out two more glasses for the others. Viveca removed her coat and hung it on a rack by the door before taking a seat behind the bar to wait for the others.
No sooner had she done so than a knock came from outside. Viveca sighed - oh, how quickly five minutes turned into ninety seconds. She rose from her seat and slowly made her way to the door, blowing one more puff of smoke toward the vent before grabbing the handle and pulling it up, the bars slid back, and a pale-faced Oren walked into the room. With a trembling hand, he showed her a piece of folded paper, and with a soft voice, he spoke to her.
“What does this mean, Viveca?”
Tatiana nearly stumbled from her feet as she exited the room. She felt as though she was struck by a plague, having an underlying sickening sensation all throughout her body. Was it her work or herself within which that cruelness found its origin? Tatiana would never know, nor would she truly want to. As she padded back through the labyrinthine halls towards her room, she pondered the thought of what was to come. Was it true that a storm like no other would obliterate the forward armada? Would the Karamzina fall in line and become the successor to the same fate? Again Tatiana was unsure. How often that was the case.
Tatiana struggled with the heavy steel door in her fatigued state, but it wasn’t long before she entered her newfound living quarters. She couldn’t have said that what she then saw was unexpected, but just witnessing the space that Mother Indira had created for her left Tatiana with an odd sensation. At first, she couldn’t place it. She just felt distant. The room itself was very homey: spacious, decorated and carrying with it an uplifting atmosphere. Tatiana couldn’t help but feel out of place. Luckily, she didn’t spend much time there. A note had been left on her mantle, more particularly a summons. It felt like ages since Tatiana had last talked to her friends in Warband Leviathan, and as much as she wanted to be alone, the eerie sensation that made her skin crawl in the room made her want to leave just as quickly as she’d entered.
Without bothering to do much more than wash the blood and viscera from her skin and face, Tatiana stepped from the room. Her inquisitor’s coat looked as though it had been through each of the Varyan conquests. A close eye might even catch the subtle black-crimson tint to its originally muted colors. Tatiana’s very presence seemed to carry with it an aura of the death and pain the coat had seen inflicted in the past days. Maybe Tatiana didn’t notice. Maybe she didn’t care. Even she was unsure as she stepped further into the maze of hallways to seek out Viveca’s room.
Meanwhile, Viveca was staring placidly at Oren, who seemed to almost fall through the threshold. She motioned toward the bar.
“Is that your letter from Mother Indira? It means exactly what it says. We’re all facing a suicide mission if we don’t do something about it. I hope you used your time between graduation and now wisely, Brother,” She said, a small smile forming on her lips finally. “Because we’re about to have a very exciting few months. I would like Tatiana to get here before we start diving too deeply into our Good Mother’s message, so…” She pulled the journal she had found in the catacombs out of her things and placed it on the bar.
“Take a look through this, let me know if anything stands out to you… It’s proven itself rather dangerous, so don’t try to read any of the ciphered words out loud if you can help it. What’s your poison of the night, Oren? Or are you abstaining?” The Inquisitor asked, swirling her glass before taking a small sip and putting out the butt of her cigarette. Get here soon, Tatiana…
Oren opened his mouth to retort, but the words died before they even left his throat. Silently, he sat down, resting his forehead on the knuckles of his right hand. He… could understand where Viveca was coming from, there. If they were to meet, then it’d be best to pool all of their knowledge at once instead of having to repeat things when Tatiana arrived. Making a circle in the air with his index finger, two bottles - rum and water respectively - shifted forward on their shelves.
“I… so much has been going on these past few days, Viv. I have a thousand questions and I can only piece together the barest minimum... and I don’t understand any of it. First Iddin-Mar, and then Marius, and now this? I feel like I’m going mad.”
Oren paused, looking up. He swallowed a gulp of air. “I’m scared, Viveca.”
Tatiana took no pause at the door to her comrade’s room. Within just a second, she pushed the monolith of steel inwards, bracing herself as the groan of the metallic scraping resounded around the Karamzina’s empty hallways. Clasped in her hands, Tatiana carried Viveca’s note at her side.
Viveca lightly placed a hand on Oren’s before moving to the shelf to grab the bottles he had motioned for. Pouring him his drink, she sat back down, “Me, too… Don’t worry, we’ve at least got the knowledge that something could go wrong, we can work forward, right?” She asked, keeping her tone as calm and reassuring as possible. It wavered slightly - she was terrified too. Of the book, of the story, that Indira had told, and of a demise so shortly after their graduation. “We ca-” She stopped as the door creaked - good, now they were all here.
As Tatiana stepped into the room, she spent a long moment in silence, letting the air be pervaded only by the echoic creaking of the door as it soon shut behind her. Her solemn eyes lay upon her colleagues with a certain degree of sorrow locked behind them. Tatiana fiddled with the note between her fingers as she spoke. She made no attempt to tread further into the room from the door.
“It seems omens have become commonplace in the lives of those that tread our path…” Tatiana bit her tongue for a moment. “The future doesn’t look upon Varya’s servants well.” However much she tried to hide it, Tatiana couldn’t fully conceal the doubt that pervaded into her tone. With haste, she shook her head, switching to a more upbeat tone of voice. Facade or not, she was trying. “But never mind that. Sorry. It is good to see you two again…”
Viveca gave the best smile she could muster at the sight of Tatiana. It wasn’t much. She rose to her feet, “I agree. It’s bleak. You both have been through Hell the last few days, it looks like,” She gave a weak laugh, reaching an almost shaking hand for her drink. So had she, but by the looks of it, they had all experienced very different things. “I’m glad you’re okay, I’d hate to see the other guy,” The woman pointed out, looking her friend over before ducking behind the bar to fish out a bottle of rimerite.
“I don’t want to go first, if you don’t mind… Oren, I’d really like to hear about Iddin-Mar. I desperately wish I could have gone too, what did you find?” She glanced to Tatiana, sliding the journal down the table, “At leisure,” She added quietly, tapping the cover of the forsaken literature.
Oren paused as both women turned to him. Right. His would sound the simplest of the three, at least in concept. Taking a deep draught from his glass, he turned in the chair so that he faced halfway between Viveca and Tatiana. He cast one last look at his hand before beginning to speak.
“You both presumably know why I went to Iddin-Mar. I wanted to connect myself to the history there, experience it at least once. In hopes of forming a tighter bond with Mother Ziotea of your warband, Tatiana, I asked her to accompany me. I am grateful that I did that, now, because otherwise, I don’t think I would be alive and well here before you. Or perhaps I would - either way, I almost was not. So allow me to explain.
“On our journey north, we were met by a young soldier, Private Andrei Semenov. He didn’t look much younger than us; half a dozen years or so. Reportedly, he was to accompany us to Iddin-Mar - I didn’t question it. Two Omestrian-blooded Inquisitors headed for an old ruin ought to warrant something, wouldn’t you agree?” Oren shook his head. “Andrei wasn’t there for the Seminary, or the Clerical Branch, or even the Secular Army. Keep that in mind.”
“When we got to the ruins themselves, the Marian Gate was mostly deserted - just two soldiers, Sergeants Mikhail and Veena. They seemed surprised by our arrival, as anyone would be - we hadn’t exactly sent word.”
Viveca intently watched Oren as he recounted his story, nodding now and then. “Seems odd, though… a Private accompanying two fully-fledged Inquisitors to Omestris? Even if he was Secular or Clerical, what could he have possibly done to protect you or stop you from doing anything he was ordered to prevent..? Doesn’t seem like a very well thought-out excuse,” She pointed out with a shrug, taking a sip from her drink, waving her hand - she didn’t want to overshadow Oren, sounded like they had quite a few twists and turns to buckle in for.
“Well, my thought process - and his - was that if Semenov were not to return, that would be sign enough. When we made our way down, he attempted to… cosy up to me, I suppose. He showed me a pendant of some kind, with Mother Indira’s symbol, claiming to be… some sort of acolyte of hers, I suppose. I’ll tell you now that he wasn’t. So I told him to stay at the barracks - Ziotea and I went into the ruins alone. And in there, well...”
He bit the inside of his cheek, pondering what to say next. Should he tell them? He had no reason to lie to them… Mother Indira trusted them enough to let them in on her grim, though uncertain, fate. When he thought of Fie and Vahn’s faces, though, it made him hesitate. His eyes flitted to Mother Tatiana… the unknown in his equation… maybe the best option would be ‘not yet’.
“We met a woman. Lyessa al-Nors. Old, but an immensely powerful apostate, or ‘retired inquisitor’, as she put it. She… well, she surrendered her catalyst to me, in exchange for amicable conversation. I believe that Ziotea was… wary, as any of us should be, but I was more curious. And, well…” Oren took another gulp of his drink. “She told us things about Omestrian history… or even Varyan history, to look at it in another way, that have been all but forgotten, now. And about an azure circle, that every inquisitor of Omestrian blood sees in their vision at culmination… that is why I believe her. I saw that circle on my hand - almost engraved upon it.” His fist clenched, almost involuntarily, but enough to hurt. He carried on. “Ziotea claims to have seen one of her own. And I know that you must have seen one in yours, Viveca.”
Viveca nodded, “I most certainly did…” She shuddered, “I’ve only felt it twice… Once in the vision and once while looking through this book. A cold unlike any other followed it closely behind - in the vision, it was branded to my chest,” She explained, absently stirring her drink with one hand as the other rested gently upon the splotched mark on her neck.
Oren nodded at her, even as his eyes tracked her hand to the mark. But here came the part that he shouldn’t dare utter. Even though he knew it to be true, it was heresy against the Church he served and the God he owed his loyalty.
“...What she told us last, is what we need to think about… We know that Lanostre devoured C’eione, the Right Hand that held her. We are told that Varya consumed Risgyn the Right Leg, Retmis the Left, Phiiuss the Eyes and Kirana the Soul, while T’sarae and Muraad watched on, and that Omestris awakened around this time. What Lady Lyessa revealed to us… she told us about another god… the brother of Omestris. The Shield, Asherahn. A being that burned with the hate of the Fire Titan… and how he planned to betray his sister. How T’sarae, Varya, Muraad and Omestris united against him, to imprison him… and how he might still be influencing Omestrian Inquisitors through our Aspects.”
“Another god…” Tatiana interjected briefly, but soon trailed off again. The thought of the Broken Pantheon splitting even more made her head hurt, but it also offered insight into what may have been before her at the glaciers of Lanostre. “Sorry. Go on.” Tatiana shook her head, then gesturing to Oren.
The pale inquisitor bowed his head towards Tatiana in turn. “…but I am inclined to believe her. Because on our way back through the garrison, we… well, we were attacked by Seminov, Mikhail and Veena. But not as I thought they were… I can’t quite explain it… they were almost like demons - but also not. Armoured bodies that our weapons could not pierce. Crystal arms that were more blade than limb. I admit to being shaken by their appearance - and by how close I came to death.”
“The crystalline warriors… More godlike entities… We’ve dealt with very similar things in Lanostre.” Tatiana’s mind once again began to wander as the fog of her mind overcame her will to offer any words. She half expected to fall back into another sort of trance-state with all the talk of the demon-like creatures. Glimpses of the memory rushed back to her, and for a moment, Tatiana felt as though she could once again see the fell creatures and their reinvigorated form in her dream-state.
“I believe they come from the East— the creatures, I mean. I don’t know what they are, but demons never before identified inhabited the Glacier. They were harbingers of the Varyan fleet’s demolition…” Tatiana bit her tongue. The aching pain cutting through her head gave her pause as she tried to recall the most important details of her journey with Galahad and Astraea. So much had happened that she was unsure of how to sift through important and unimportant bits of information. Regarding her time around Polarpike, though, Tatiana was apprehensive to even mention it.
“Much… Very much has happened with regards to the Varyan troops and inquisitors stationed at Lanostre, but we should also discuss our other business. Has Indira given word to the two of you?” Tatiana palmed the letter in her hand with the seal of her mentor. A part of her knew how much she failed to offer her fellow inquisitors. Another part of her recognized that she was redirecting her focus for a reason.
Viveca drummed her fingers slowly on the bartop, her brow furrowed in thought as her eyes would glean the cover of the forsaken tome apprehensively. “I did not receive a letter… She told me the story in person and bade me to find you two once we arrived to the ark. What Father Creid saw may be our very same fate if we don’t find a way to stop it… or prevent it. Because nothing we say is going to keep these arks from taking off,” She pointed out, running a hand through her hair.
“I haven’t read the letter, but Mother Indira told me everything they saw… She dubbed it Vai’roth… I’ll save you the time, because it took me a moment to figure out, it’s Omestrian for Hellfire.” She shuddered at the words, “It came from somewhere in the sky, so fast… so imperceptibly fast, it decimated the ark, causing destruction at every turn, disintegrating all in its path. She said it took but moments… The way she described it made it feel so real - as though the thought alone of looking at it was enough to cause a severe burn.” The Inquisitor reached to the back of her head and carefully brushed her ribbon, reassuring herself.
She sighed, “If we’re to do anything about this, we only have today to gather what little resource we can find. We’re on our own starting tomorrow. And that armada was doomed before the blueprints were even complete for its creation.”
A nagging at the back of her mind caused her to turn back to Oren, “But you mentioned Asherahn, right?” She asked, resisting the chill down her spine at the word, “Look at this. Be careful,” The Inquisitor warned, pulling her tome’s cover aside and flipping pages until she came to the one with the circle etched on it. The word Ashe-rahn was written inside. “When I read this, a terrible cold enveloped my body… I froze, literally, almost completely encased in ice…” Viveca sighed, “It was horrifying, I’ve never been so helpless to death… I was certain I was going to die in the archives… I found the book with a family in these strange sarcophagi. And on the way here, I found this too.”
She flipped a few more pages and revealed the image of a brilliant white sphere colliding with an azure dome, shaped as a perfect circle encapsulating a cityscape. “I have no way of knowing for sure… But what do you two think? This here,” The woman pointed to the city, turning the book so they could see it, “Looks like Iddin-Mar. If I had to guess, at least, it’s the only city I could think of it being anymore. And this,” She moved her finger to the sphere, “I don’t really know… I wonder if it isn’t Sydon-Mar, but that doesn’t make much sense… If it is, how was Iddin-Mar protected and how did Sydon-Mar end up so far to the North? Lastly, based on this azure circle business we’ve all been looking at… the dome protecting the possible Iddin-Mar, could it be a blessing from Asherahn? Thoughts?”
Oren studied the picture for a moment, before a stray word flashed through his mind; fallen. Lyessa had called it the ‘Fallen Star’. And he shook his head. “I believe not, Viveca. Or if it is a blessing, it has since become His curse. The woman spoke of it as the Fallen Star - and, if I am correct, its trajectory could have been what made the Scar, before resting at the northern end… and eventually becoming Sydon-Mar. What this ‘Star’ truly is or how it ‘fell’, I cannot say. But we only have half-truths and fragments of the past to go on…”
Tatiana tapped her hand idly on the countertop. She almost seemed imperceptive to her own movements as her thoughts had swallowed her whole. When she finally seemed to break away from her listless gaze off into distance, she spoke in a low and quiet voice, as though talking to herself. Tatiana’s tone soon picked up, though, her random thoughts finally starting to offer pieces of a solution.
“Hellfire…Vai’roth… There must be a way to escape it. That place—the east— there must be a cause of it there.” Again, Tatiana took a long pause in her speech. She wrestled with herself in an attempt to force herself to reveal more detail about the events at the Black Glacier. “I may have some insight into what lies beyond. Perhaps not the cause of the ‘Vai’roth’, but about what’s behind it.” Tatiana’s eyes flickered open and shut a few times. Her mind wandered to her vision at the Glacier, or at least she tried her best to recall it as perfectly as she experienced it.
“There’s something, or someone rather over there. A people— a society even. I saw them through the strangely new demons at the Glacier. One of our colleagues at the Red Seminary is even there… I think. Father Dara, the other summoner. I’ve been wondering since first reading Indira’s letter… They must be controlling or at least aware of this ‘Hellfire’s’ causes.” Tatiana still had not met the gaze of the Leviathan inquisitors until that point. Just as her eyes flashed over those of Oren and Viveca, however, they just as quickly flicked away to stare at the empty glass before her.
“The people over on that other side, they even spoke to me. They were a king and queen on wooden thrones… They—and Dara—could be related to whatever eradicated the first armada.” Tatiana sighed with finality. “I don’t know. It was like our visions at the Seminary… However crazy that may sound.”
At this, Oren let out a hollow smile. “Everything that we have been discussing sounds insane, Mother Tatiana, if not heretical. Fire, and dead gods, and demons of the like that no one has ever seen? We have no answers, no explanation, and we haven’t the time to search for them… not here, in any case.” His smile dropped, and he stood, turning away from them to face the window, looking out over Cero. “...So what are we going to do? We cannot keep this to ourselves, that much, I am sure of. Father Galahad will need to know.” He thought back to Ziotea’s insistence on letting her warsiblings know what was going on. “...And perhaps a few others.”
Viveca drummed her fingers on the table once more in apprehension, finally putting her cigarette out in an ashtray. She picked up her glass and refilled it, offering more to anybody who needed a drink with her to cut the tension. She listened to each of them in turn, absently pulling the ribbon from her hair and weaving it between her fingers in different patterns. It helped distract her and, more importantly, kept her from lighting more tobacco as the conversation only festered more anxiety.
“Nothing anybody has said sounds so crazy when we’ve all experienced some form of incomprehensible bullshit in the last few days. I agree that we should talk to some more people about this… Ziotea probably deserves to know. Tell who you will, everybody has something to give, but we also don’t want to sow chaos if we can avoid it, right?” She bit her lip, staring at her drink as the lone ice cube swirled around the glass in her hand. Her amber eyes remained fixated for a moment. Now came the hard part - deciding what they could possibly do about it with what they know now.
Viveca took a long inhale, shuddering slightly as she let the breath out. “I don’t like this - what I’m about to say… But Tatiana, I feel like you’re one of few people who can help with the hypothesis. You know I’ve never had much… flashy power with my ether… But maybe your experience with summoning can lead to something here. Like I said before, I called forth some wretched power from that forsaken tome. Perhaps it was lack of experience, perhaps it wasn’t summoning at all, I know nothing of curses nor summoning, but do you think it’s worth looking into? If it can be controlled, maybe it has something to do with this shield and if I’m not the only one who can do it, we might be able to use it among other things.” She placed her glass back on the bar and pinched the bridge of her nose for a moment, shaking her head, “I really don’t know, and I really don’t want to try, but if it could help and I wasn’t alone, maybe I could try to do it on purpose.”
“Are you willing to take the risk?” Oren asked quietly. When Viveca looked up to answer him, she saw a glint of steel behind his eyes, and the hand that held his drink was white-knuckled and shaking. “Are you? I am not. Whatever this… book, this thing did to you; you said it almost killed you, and you want to try again? If it is tied to Asherahn, and I believe it is, then it is more than simply dangerous.”
Viveca met her old friend's eyes, solemn for only a brief moment before a renewed determination fortified her gaze. “We have very little choice than to experiment if this is our fate. I've a few scars from the ice, I pushed it down once, with help I'm sure it's worth looking into. If it can stop this, then we have no choice.”
The two stared at each other for a few moments, an unspoken battle of wills passing between them, before Oren broke away. “So be it. Tatiana?”
Tatiana eyed the glasses spread across Viveca’s bar despite her empty hands. In the end, she recognized the thirst not for any one spirit, but for an escape. Tatiana turned around in her seat, examining the rest of the room instead. She pondered the question that Viveca proposed to her. Could her summoning succeed in finding a solution to the hellfire? While her odds didn’t seem likely, Tatiana hadn’t yet found a problem that her and her abilities couldn’t solve.
“I would try to assist with the book should you believe I can help... What would you have us do?”The thought of her warband within the mighty Karamzina braving the endless cold was foreboding alone, but what Tatiana saw of Dara, of the demons, of the strange king worried her even more. The Vai’roth was just one more problem to add to the mix.
“Perhaps there is something we can do to stop it…” Tatiana stopped at that thought. She didn’t have any particular strategies in mind. Her absent gaze must have telegraphed that. “Perhaps those that traveled before us will have somehow stopped the threat. We won’t know for sure until we set off— until we run into it…”
Tatiana’s thoughts traveled back to her strange encounter on the bridge to Polarpike. She wondered if the solution was in the hands of the inquisitors. She wondered if perhaps the message received from the foreign emissaries could be a solution on its own. “I may find a way yet… One of us must.” Tatiana balled her hand into a fist as she spoke, determination pervading onto her rather stalwart expression. “We ought to start looking—sifting through what we know, what we’ve learned, and so forth…”
Tatiana nodded her head at her own words, rising from her seat as she did so. “There are things I could study, things I could explore. No matter where the solution is hidden, perhaps we shouldn’t be looking for it in drinks.” Tatiana eyed the door before looking to her colleagues for their input.
Oren looked at his glass - though a fair portion of it was empty, the dregs of his drink still swirled at the bottom of it. He looked at Viveca. He looked at Tatiana. “...I think I have a plan.”