Ilium, Book 1: Triple Point

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    ............................. ILIUM BOOK 1: .............................
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    ....................... TRIPLE POINT .........................
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    It was a miracle that the biting cold of the Pegulian north did not take Ilsa's life, yet somehow she made it back to the walls of Barvelle. She came to warn them, to give them a few days of preparation, but by the time she awoke from her comatose state it was too late to prepare anything.

    Everyone knew that the soldiers should not have found the city so easily. Coul and his soldiers had been expecting the desert forces to stumble through the frozen wasteland, wasting supplies and lives in a desperate effort to find a city that wasn't supposed to exist. Yet here they were, already pounding at the walls.

    Coul told himself it didn't matter. He had been prepared for the eventuality that Kaustir would find its way to their gates, and so what if this was a little sooner than expected? There was no way that Kaustir could shatter the stone skin of the city. Even if they did, they would be left to enter a few at a time, through narrow passageways that were heavily guarded. Even Kaustir didn't have the forces for that kind of siege, and the cold would eventually wear them down. The bombs from the Windfish fell flat against snow and rock tens of meters deep, their echoing vibrations scarcely felt as dull rumbling in the deeper parts of the city. Only Eirene's tower was destroyed, and the Archon was long since safely sheltered deep in the city.

    But the defenders had forgotten what it might mean that Kaustir had already known where the city was. They were completely unprepared when the Wraiths appeared in their midsts, through tunnels and entrances that few had known existed.

    The first few citizens fell with their throats slit. Then the gates cracked open, and within moments, Barvelle was lost to chaos.

    ~​

    K'Larr hefted the obsidian cube on scaley digits. His eyes were gaunt, stained with fear and paranoia.

    His tablet had not given him the power he desired. After all, it was not K'Larr that wielded the power, but the words inscribed on the tablet. He merely channeled it, simply borrowed it. And when he realized that, when he knew his own position in the ladder of power to be replaceable, he began to perspire. He developed nervous tics, stroking the tablet, incessently making sure it was in its leather pouch over his belly, while fretting how his motions were causing the lettering to erode. He obsessively avoided moisture, and stayed in the confines of his cabin, where it was cool and dark, hissing orders over a series of brass tubes, and handing over meticulous orders to couriers.


    "Hunting for fragments of wisdom, digging for shards of brilliance. How long have I sifted sand and silt hoping for something to come?" His voice rasped, although his ship was bathed in the steam wafting up from the steam engines on his ship.

    He gripped the obsidian cube, his scales tightening over the smooth surface like leather straps.

    ~​

    The Undertaker’s steps grew eager the more they walked along the dark caverns. They were close. Unknowingly, their target had passed near them once before and was now making its way to their inevitable meeting point. Its beastly mind moved by instinct, driven but its taste for flesh.

    The dark tendrils of fog suddenly wrapped their surroundings and Ash and the Kindly One’s visions distorted. The walls around them twisted and bulged as if the smooth rock were breathing and palpitating to the rhythm of several heartbeats. It wasn't something they could battle, nevertheless, the Kindly One rotated her blade around her in a dance that dispersed the dark fog. Her vision cleared momentarily but it wasn’t long before the cavern walls began to bubble and live again.

    “Your ears!” Ash urged, “Kindly One, cover your ears!” he did as he adviced though the walls to his right began to engulf him like a mass of shimmery dark intestines pouring out of a wound. The dark tendrils dissipated around him until they feebly reached around between his fingers and all that remained was a dark liquid ooze. His vision was back to normal however, he couldn’t know what the Kindly One was seeing nor could he afford to step into her range. The sword dance continued, occasionally hitting solid stone. The echo filled the corridors, each clash of metal and stone pressuring the Undertaker to act.

    With one stroke her sword made contact with a fleshy aspect of the wall, ripping it as it began to ooze the same dark liquid in Ash's ears. Her vision cleared and settled on the haggard looking Ash steps away from her darkened blade.

    A tremor rippled through the seemingly solid walls and from their path a feral growl echoed out. A simple glance of communication set the duo in motion. They followed the rippled stone into an open space where the creature Grimagar half stood half knelt at its center. It's jaw drooped awkwardly to one side, and its eyes moved madly around the space while dark liquid dripped from its ears. It was disoriented, and this was their chance.

    Ash gripped the fleshy ball between his index and thumb. It was a knotted, tormented piece, and it did not need Grimagar's blood to make it any more macabre. Behind him, the Kindly One was still working her sickle from the beast's skull, ruining what had been a sublime surgery.

    By the beast's feet Alisah kneeled agape with shock. The lumbering goliath had appeared invulnerable to the other denizens of the labyrinth and yet in an instant he had been slain by the two treekin. She felt strangely sad for the creature who regardless had not even acknowledged her existence in the brief time she had trailed him and, like her, was a condemned criminal of the realm. She turned away as Grimagar's head thumped against the floor as the Kindly One wrenched her weapon free.


    "Leave." The sickle narrowly missed the fairy's wing and sent her fluttering away by reflex, back into the darkness of the maze.

    Ash enclosed the artifact in his fist. "Let's go."

    ~​

    Vydus slipped in and out of consciousness, his mind jumpstarting against the mounting fatigue. He could not feel his legs submerged in the quagmire by the tree near the Shartan's gates or the hand still gripped tightly around his sword.

    The Lost Band were far away. He could only pray the Invader's eyes remained fixed on them, away from the lone lieutenant and the great prison.

    Carve the path... Carve the path...

    Tattersal's words reverberated round his brain. He hoped he'd done enough. Summoning the last of his energy, he pointed towards the Shartan's gaping maw. The moth on his fingertip alighted and swam in his eyes away from him and both succumbed to darkness.
     
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  3. "Did you know that this once belonged to Kairos?" Tattersal held the pulsating green ball up to the light. "Kairos is nothing more than a simulacrum of Ilium, and a poor one at that."

    "She made him from mud, and he was so ugly that she put roses in his eyes, a daisy in his mouth, and daffodils in his ears. Thus he was able to see, command, and hear the stewards that she later fashioned to watch over our sacred land."

    "But a kin made of mud is still just, in the end, made of mud. He will dry and crack over time and Ilium's pieces will fall from him. Kairos did not even know he was dropping them as he traveled Viridos to spread her word."

    "I knew. I followed him and saw him fall apart. And I picked up his pieces, and put them away for safekeeping."

    "The Riven tree kin will inherit Viridos. Not the ones from the mud; the same poisoned mud that we are clarifying so that Viridos may be worthy of Ilium again." He tilted his head back and swallowed the green egg.

    SOMEWHERE IN AN ILIUM-FORSAKEN MOUNTAIN RANGE ...​

    "I'VE BEEN SUPPRESSING AND GUIDING YOUR CIVILIZATION FROM THE VERY BEGINNING. YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS ARE MY ACCOMPLISHMENTS, YOUR DISCOVERIES CRUMBS I LEFT, YOUR MORALS MY ETHICS."

    The Ghoul Sage laid out the path for Pegulis, laid down a crumb trail of lizard gizzards for them to follow like a Forlouis? The Ghoul Sage had hatched a plan for all of Sunne after the Cataclysm? Like fuck! He was not a fish in a glass bowl! Medwick furiously chewed sprigs of White Claudia, and the flowers in his mind jostled his first lessons in alchemy:

    The sage poured salt into the pot of boiling water. Scoop upon scoop disappeared. The children were awestruck. Surely by now there was more salt than water!

    "Now watch." They had gathered again, some hours later, when the pot was cold. "There is more salt in the water than what it can hold. It exists in the most fragile of balances. The tiniest of disturbances will cause a incredible change."

    To his students, he seemed to be pinching nothing. In between his forefinger and thumb he held the tiniest crystal of salt. He snapped his fingers, and salt flowers bloomed in the water.

    "Sunne, after the Cataclysm, is likewise in the most precarious equilibrium." In Barvelle, politics, history, and alchemy were freely mixed. "Their bodies are still smoking, bleeding, and rotting. We are too afraid to touch their Divine Weapons."

    "So the first brave enough to wield one will begin the avalanche of change."



    The sweet, pungent aftertaste of coca leaves mixed with the harsh sting of White Claudia in Medwick's mouth. The taste varied with dosage, and he was chewing a lethal amount.

    His run thundered and vision dimmed at the edges. His heart thumped fever hot and fingers icy cold. On through the hallways he stumbled, his mind dimming but still lit with white hot purpose. His appetite had long left him, but now his limbs demanded energy and the stomach rumbled. Death filled his body but Medwick did not allow himself to be extinguished.

    Through the soft blue-teal passages,

    the bioluminescent fungus in the cave walls,​

    slipping on the blood-slick passages and the screams,​

    He arrived at the secret location, directly below the General Assembly, the sounding chambers where the Inner Sages once debated with their mnemonic meditation. It was now locked, the stone doors twice as thick and fortified with a dense layer of enchantments. His fingers found a thermic gem and he placed it into the crack under the sealed door, tamping the glowing rock with the handle of his sword. He was already deaf and nearly blind, so as the exploding gem lifted the rock-door from its fittings he only felt the heat.

    Past the smoke he stumbled and committed the only murder of his life, including all of his future deeds. In front of him slumped a Sentinel of the Sphere, a young creature cut in half by the blast. The sentinel's questioning eyes would be burned into his memory for all time.

    Just not right now. He reached forward with his sword hand and only found a bloody end. With time running out, he seized the Libras Sphere with his left hand and slammed it into his third eye, the focal chakra.



    From his feet spread the fractal of understanding.
    [​IMG]
    The universe curled into a ball and he held it in the palm of his hand.
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    He shattered into microscopic fragments careening to the edge of creation
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    and reassembled as the five-and-eighty-first reincarnation of Knowledge
    [​IMG]
    the omniscient but powerless Libras.
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    With knowing everything came understanding of the futility of all action.
    But he was not quite Libras yet, and there were things he needed to correct.
    He traced molten footsteps out of the chamber.​



    Kaustrians poured through Barvelle's gates, sortie doors, and hunting holes like water. Where they flooded, they left behind a red wake, a bloody surf of flesh and parts. Some of the Barvelle militia were dragged along by their guts, screaming as their viscera was pulled out by dagger teeth.

    Deep in the city, The Archon of Pegulis stood alone in front of the entrance to the General Assembly chambers. Within hid the old, women, and children. In front of her were scattered charred, frozen, and shattered corpses - or dirt, it was hard to tell. Spent thermal stones were littered in a circle around her. Another horde came, and hundreds of gems poured from her sleeves as she vapourized them with force of will. But for all the gems she spent, more of the mad dogs came. Blood dripped from her ears and nose.

    From behind strode Medwick clothed in divine fire. With a sweep of a hand he cleared away the first way of Kaustrians, leaving nothing but white bone. The desertrats flew towards them and he scattered them as dust. After the fifth wave the Kaustrians began to know fear, and it slowed their every step, although the crush of the ranks from behind mercilessly propelled them into Medwick.

    Lut-Lukesh watched from his windfish as an incandescent shockwave turned his entire vanguard to snow, and scattered his fleet of airships like paper to the wind. As he blew backwards to the Chersonese, he spent so long worrying about what to worry about first that he did not notice what waited him in New Zirako as his windfish plowed into the dirt. He emerged bloody, climbing over the corpses of his soldiers, and nothing kind greeted him here either.

    [​IMG]

    The Prosperos boiled and from the steam emerged the attendants. At the dawn of creation, the Gods shaped much of the world - but they grew tired of their task. They were not concerned about the details, so they forged descendants who busied themselves with such things. The descendants in turn also did the same, and the cycle continued until the humans were created, who only lived one hundred years and were obsessed with the tiniest, most insignificant things. The Nocturnes were said to be one generation above.

    The attendants, somewhere between the Gods and humans. They held spears of fire that could melt and reshape mountains. They were the ones that carved the Prosperos River and dug out the basin into which it emptied. And K'Larr held the tablet upon which was the recorded the language of the attendant's makers.

    הוַיַּרְא יְהֹוָה כִּי רַבָּה רָעַת הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ וְכָל
    יֵצֶר מַחְשְׁבֹת לִבּוֹ רַק רַע כָּל הַיּוֹם:
    ווַיִּנָּחֶם יְהֹוָה כִּי עָשָׂה אֶת הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ
    וַיִּתְעַצֵּב אֶל לִבּוֹ:
    זוַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶמְחֶה אֶת הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר בָּרָאתִי
    מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה מֵאָדָם עַד בְּהֵמָה עַד רֶמֶשׂ
    וְעַד עוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם כִּי נִחַמְתִּי כִּי עֲשִׂיתִם:​

    He spread his arms and wailed the foreign tongue, a messiah calling to his disciples. They walked along the shore and turned it to glass. K'Larr alighted from a dinghy, flanked by the titanic world-shapers and backed by swirling lights burning the sky over Viridos. "Tell the Czar that I have a business proposition."


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    Viridos was covered with the corpses of the moirgut, sloughing off aux. Tattersal coughed. There was a strange sort of knot in his throat. "Now ... about Kaustir."



    END OF CHAPTER 9
    END OF BOOK 1
     
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