A blast of force and fire woke us. Likely from Wryan who’d had the second watch that night for our camp. I leapt out of bed, just in time to avoid the swipe of a bony scythe the size of a tree which tore through the tent canvas and my bedding before lifting the whole tent away, ripping away its tiedowns. I reached my senses out reflexively, so I sensed another scythe slicing in from the right and ducked. Marris was cleaved in half by the brutal swipe as she struggled up. I took off at a sprint away from the general direction the scythes seemed to be coming from, and I called to the dirt, air, and wood around me. The materials answered my call and dissolved into dust in whip like tendrils from the earth and trees that I rushed past. This matter chased after me in a cloud much bigger than my footsteps could ever have raised, ready to be formed to my purposes. I sensed I’d gained some distance from the monster, and turned.
The thing was all hard bone and magic. Numerous wide spade edged legs surrounded its shining core like a shield wall, and it held at the ready three long segmented limbs ending in the familiar deadly scythes. The spade legs were slicing forward in sequence as the monster built speed toward Wryan who floated among the trees with four swirls of matter rotating in the air in front of him. I rose in the air myself as two of Wryan’s matter swirls tightened their spins, flashed bright, and streaked towards the monster. The other magister immediately floated back to maintain distance, as one of his bolts shot straight and fast towards the monster’s bright core and the other followed an arcing path over the wall of its legs. I gathered more matter and shaped it into one great brown swirl above me. Wryan’s straight shot splashed into the creature’s foremost spade legs and the force and fire did little but rock the legs back and leave a blackened soot on the hard bone. Meanwhile the creature met the arcing shot with blurring swipes of its scythe arms, breaking up the force and flame before it could reach the core.
Wryan had paused in the air to draw some small dark objects from the pockets of his robes which he threw into his two matter swirls as he called up more matter from around him to start forming two more. The creature sliced on towards him. Wryan was adding some of his antimagic slugs to his next shots, small chunks of magic destroying material encased in an inert shell, one of the most effective tools in a magister’s arsenal. My own antimagics were lost in the tent, but I could help to give Wyran some time. I willed my large matter swirl to contract and ignite, and sent it forward with high speed and force. My large shot hit the thing’s spade legs harder than Wryan’s shot had and it had to pause to regain its balance. It didn’t seem to have been injured and after one of its scythe arms poised in my direction for an instant, an acknowledgment of my status as a threat, perhaps, it carried on towards Wryan.
There is a tendency, in a heated battle, for magisters to direct all of their expanded sense and attention toward one narrow area, in this case for Wryan and I, toward a vicious boney horror that had just slaughtered our friend. We train to reduce this sense tunneling, to set aside some small part of our attention to watch for certain threat indicators around us, but to achieve that successfully generally requires some preparation and focus. When a magister has time to prepare for battle, there is time to build enhanced attention structures and myriad weapon preparations which have historically made a unit of magisters able to challenge the Gods themselves. But there simply wasn’t time to prepare all of that this morning, and the creature might well have stealth abilities which had permitted it to sneak up on camp without giving Wryan time to alert us.
Regardless of the explanation, I was only alerted to the ambush when my call for more matter to prepare another shot met hateful, unyielding bone. I shot forward through the sparse and mostly barren trees and narrowly dodged the swipe of a scythe from a second monster. My heart felt like it would explode from my chest from the exertions of will, and I had to consciously force my body to take a breath. I reached sense toward Wryan’s position and encountered a wave of shock and pain from his dying mind. A scythe from a third beast had pierced his chest and his swirls of matter dispersed into brown disk clouds as the will which had called them disappeared. The third beast swiped its corpse laden scythe past a tree to dislodge its gruesome burden, and then all three monsters were converging towards me.
With no allies left and no weapon but my will, I flew. These hills were filled with dangers beyond the immediate threat of the scythe-beasts, and it is unwise to stay airborne here long even if it weren’t an exhausting means of transport. I flew up and over a low ridge and circled around a hill and down into a shear sided valley. It was probably only a mile from the camp but, it’d be a much longer hike, even for the shovel-legged scythe-beasts. I came down by a creek, gasping from the exertion of battle and flight. My mouth was dry and I scooped up some of the cool water without stopping to check if it was tainted. The water tasted sweet. I crawled up against a stone which blocked the early sun and put my back against it, crossing my legs in front of me. I closed my eyes and waited for my heart to settle. Not dwelling on the morning events yet. Not recalling the last mildly annoyed look on Marris face, nor the echo from Wryan’s dying mind.
The scythe-beasts’ shining cores belied their purely magical origin. Those things were built by the Gods or their clerics to battle against other Gods. This region had been the site of huge conflicts in the last great war of the Gods, and had been left a blighted wasteland after the fighting died down. That had been a over a hundred years ago, and the land had barely recovered. There were still leftover traps and pollutions, no less dangerous today then on the date they were placed, and some of the more monstrous warriors had gone feral and settled the territory, their descendants evolving to become this wasteland’s natives. Worse still were the constructs, like the scythe-beasts. These patrolled ancient paths in accordance with ancient schedules or simply lie in wait with orders to ambush any passersby. The Gods were rarely conservative in the creation of such machines, sometimes imbuing them with power matching that of demigods or otherwise giving them singularly powerful or insidious weapons to accomplish special missions. And rumors placed a few demigods or even gods hiding or bound somewhere in these treacherous lands.
It was one of these rumors that had brought us here. A tale of a demigod holed up in ruins. Not ruins left from the war, nor from some pre-war settlement. These were ruins from before the Hunger had washed over the world. The Magister’s Temple of Justice was built near such, and I’d walked among the alien seeming constructs and studied their works and methods. Such ruins provide the Magister’s best weapons against the Gods and their monsters, antimagic materials. These materials either ignore magical power or actively destroy it (and any living thing in general). The Gods’ power cannot directly act upon or defend against such materials, making them a great source of power for the Order of Magisters, and making them forbidden contraband among the Gods and their followers. It was mostly unheard of for Gods to wield such weapons themselves, and those instances which had occurred were decried as the most hateful betrayals, typically resulting in the rogue God’s rapid defeat at the vengeful hands of its peers.
This made this particular tale all the more intriguing. The previously unknown ruins were excuse enough to investigate, if only to secure another potential source of antimagics for the Magisters. But why would a demigod place itself so near a source of the deadly forbidden? The High Magisters wanted an investigation and so had I. I’d hoped to uncover some devious scheme or at least stock up on some antimagic weaponry. Marris’ motivations were more academic, hoping to discover something new about that lost ancient world. Wryan enjoyed adventure and exploration, but I think that he had come to discover more about Marris. But all of those hopes and goals had been destroyed, shredded like canvas by a boney scythe. Now there was little left to do but try to survive and escape to friendlier territory, and that is what I resolved to do up there with the cold stone at my back and the sound of the creek in my ears.
The scythe-beasts had different plans for me, however. I didn’t notice them as first when I reached out my senses to map out my new environs, but a nagging suspicion that they had some kind of protection against magical detection made me search not just for the monsters themselves but also for signs of their passing. I found no rhythmic thumping of the earth, nor suspiciously large eddies of air. What I did find was stones rolling down the hillside, below the path that I had flown over. It was odd thing to perceive, stones rolling down the hillside, originating from three concentrated points in a sparse line formation, with no associated disturbance. The scythe-beasts were very cleverly camouflaged from magical perception, but not perfectly. I was lucky to have noticed them, but unlucky in that they seemed to be tracing my flight path somehow, straight towards my little sanctuary, and their shovel legs were making pretty good time on the difficult terrain.
It was time to get moving. The more distance between them and me, the better. I located a path down from my position and I set off, mostly on foot. Bare foot in fact, and still in my thin sleep-wear. I called for wood fibers and wove them into soft shoes and garb. The quick clothes were rough, but I could tune them up as I went.
The scythe-beasts were tracking me without relying on any obvious physical evidence, so calling softly to the matter around me to hide the signs of my passage wouldn’t slow them down, but they aren’t the only danger here, and my earlier flight could have attracted the attention of more of the old battlefield’s remnants and denizens, so I took the precaution and picked my way down along the path of the creek, deeper into the mist-cloaked valley.
I set up my perceptions to watch for dangers around me, to track the scythe-beasts as well as I could, and to scout out the path ahead. The mists reduced conventional visibility, but that didn’t slow me down much. With my senses I traced the path of the creek to a lake below. Foliage grew well around the creek, but seemed to give the lake some space, suggesting fouled water. A seasonal outflow from the lake cut a path further down into the wider pass that we’d been following before the attack.
My senses detect life around me. Some of it familiar, some less so. I pause to investigate some suspicious movements parallel to my path. They pause as well. My mundane senses feel the morning chill, the mists reduce visibility, and I smell wet cinder. My magical senses detect the motion of a body a little under the size of an average human, but no heat, no breathing, no heart beat. It stays still, I sense a wariness, but the other will detects my own and blocks me out. Something with some intelligence. It makes no hostile move. I continue on my way. The watcher doesn’t follow. If my companions were still with me, I would investigate further, but now that I’m on my own and on the run, I decide it’s not worth the risk.
After I go a short way the unknown thing sends me an image. It is of myself, looking somewhat nobler than I suspect I currently do, with a mossy skeleton standing before me with palms up and open, and with its arms spread. This was no mere animal. The image suggests a request for a peaceful meeting, and also suggests that my new pursuer was some type of reanimated skeleton. I’d seen many types of animated skeletons, ranging from mere magical puppets to real lichs with their full and dreadful intelligence and magical powers intact. In between were various sorts of magical constructs with varying degrees of intelligence and power. Crueler Gods sometimes amused themselves with creating weapons, traps, and servants from the remains of their enemies. This creature could be a significant threat.
I send back some images of my own. Me sternly pointing away, and the mossy skeleton walking away, and then an image of that first scythe-beast as it had looked on its march towards Wryan. A dismissal and a warning.
I receive a response in the form of an image of myself and the mossy skeleton hiding behind a boulder as the scythe-beasts passed. Another image comes of the mossy skeleton beckoning me down a path to a golden bright valley. I sense that the unknown thing is approaching me again. Another image comes of me lounging on a throne among riches, being served wine by the skeleton. The thing picks up speed in its approach and I block it from my mind, and sprint out of its path. As it leaps with an unearthly roar to my former position, searching for its prey, I see its true form.
My new foe indeed consists of mossy human bone, but quite a few liberties were taken with the assembly. This construct is like a large cat in shape and movement, but its body is all closely packed ribs and limb bones, and its back and sides had ridges of sharpened bone ends protruding outward. Its head swivels around searching for me and I call up a small stone and fling it away from me. When the stone clacks against a larger stone outcropping, the thing’s head locks on the direction of the sound and it opens its maw and roars again. The head consists of three split skulls which part to reveal rows of sharpened flanges and carpals, which spiral down into the hollow core of the monster, promising an unfortunate fate for any flesh which enters there. It bunches its body up and flings itself toward the sound of the stone.
I call for more stone, thick invisible cords like roots writhe out from me, dissolving stone into thick dust clouds where ever they touch it. The dust flows to me and I will it to condense in the air into tight
spheres the size of my head. The creature is hunting for me again, and a zephyr clears enough of the mist to reveal me to its visual senses. It bounds towards me and I fling two stone dust spheres at it. They hit, but do not bash or explode. Rather I will them to expand a little as they make contact so that they pass around the creatures bones and then I tighten them again. The sudden weight knocks the thing down, and I send more dust, piling mass on it. It struggles in vane. I call to the matter below it and ask it to dissolve into dust and vibrate. The thing sinks deeper into the stone dust column that I made for it. I release the dust now, and it all goes still. The only sign of the struggle is the odd patch of grey dust before me in the stone, and the void root pattern of my matter gathering carved into the stone around my feet. My senses detect tiny vibrations as the newly entombed construct struggles vainly to move inside its dust locked tomb.
I am terribly tired now. My head is swimming. I can’t reach out my senses to check on the progress of the scythe-beasts behind. I stumble on, down towards the lake. Away from the known danger, but perhaps toward more horrors.
I pause to take water from the creek. The cool wetness feels good, but it does little to settle my frayed mind. I see some light bruising on some of my exposed skin. Extreme exertions of will for a magic user have been known to cause breakdowns of the mind and body. Fits of rage or despair or states of disassociation are relatively common. Breakdown of internal connective tissue leading to bruising, however, is less so and indicative of a worse case. These thoughts swim past my mind’s attention without attracting it. It simply didn’t matter much. I’d flown today and fought in two surprise battles, and if need be I’ll fight again and fly again. As I think that, I imagine calling the matter around me to fight again, and the mere imagining sends a lance of pain into my forehead. No matter. I have to keep moving. I tell my body to lean a little so that I can pull a leg out from under me so that I can plant it and haul myself back up. Instead, my leaning just seems to keep on going and I find myself lying on my side on the stone near the creek. Suddenly the thought of standing just feels so wrong, and I close my eyes. What was I thinking trying to move from this spot? I lose consciousness.
There is a crashing sound. I roll over even though my whole body hurts, and I open my eyes. There beside my a pale red tree is sticking out of the ground. Not a tree. I roll again, harder, but too late and a second scythe scores my back and pins my shirt. I will the shirt to fall apart and lurch up, and leap into the air in an impossible jump to avoid the swing of the third scythe. I take on altitude and see the three scythe beasts with their scythes held in the air in their ready position, with the points towards me, as those unstoppable bone shovel legs carry them forward.
My head hurts, and I feel woozy. I shouldn’t be flying. Blood drips down my back. I fly over to the high edge of the valley and land on shaky, numb legs. The pins and needles feeling in my feet almost brings me to my knees. But I turn and watch. The God-made constructs try to scrabble up the steep wall to reach me, but the stone is too shear, and their sharp edged legs can neither puncture it nor find purchase. They don’t stop. They just keep trying to pull themselves up, lose hold, and slide back down. Over and again.
It’s colder up here and there is a breeze. The fog of the morning has been swept away and I can see the lake below. The sun is getting low, it is late in the afternoon, and the peaks and ridges cast long shadows over the lake. I can see something strange on the lake edge, where it drains down further down into the pass. Huge outcroppings of old world stone. More than I’d ever seen. An ancient dam. With a great jagged vee cut down its middle by ages of water outflow from the lake. An undiscovered ruin. The one that had inspired the cursed rumors that had brought us out here.
My arms and upper body now show large bruises. My brief, involuntary rest had done little to heal me and I’d had to fly again. I ripped off a part of a pant leg and hung it over my back. I willed the matter into my wound. and it stopped up the bleeding and formed a crust to keep out the elements. The exertion of will sent lances of pain into my forehead.
The scythe-beasts keep trying to scrabble up to me. Over and over.
The path along the ridge is rough. I see no way to climb down, no way off this cold, inhospitable ridge. The constant throbbing of my head warns me against extending my senses to search better. I struggle forward, slowly, deliberately.
I spot a strange bird rising up the cliff face. White, and round. It hovers in the updraft. I test some of my weight on the next rock and pause. No. Birds aren’t round. I look back towards the hovering skull and it moves a little closer and revolves around me to my front. It’s not fast, not threatening, but it keeps its eye sockets locked on my eyes as it moves. I am its focus. I’m too weak for another fight.
Too weak for another flight. But I’ve no choice. I call to the matter around my feet, sending out weak thin roots to dissolve the stone into dust.
“Wait.” The voice is only in my head. “You are injured, Magister, and willsick. I’m not here to fight.”
“What… then?” I send back. The effort pains me.
“I think I will help you. It’s been so long since I’ve spoken to another member of the Order. Though… perhaps I am no longer considered so. Have you heard my name? Do you know High Magister
Revak?” The voice sounds so calm and pleased. It’s jarring to hear such in my present situation.
“Revak? Not sure I believe it.”
“Believe it, young one.” The voice has a hint of reproach. “Now, permit me to heal you.” I feel the will probing at my flesh. I don’t actually grant consent so much as put up a token resistance. The other’s will is incredibly strong. I’m not sure I could actually have stopped it at my full strength. Permitting other magic users to meddle in one’s flesh is extremely dangerous. One need only to see the void root structures that I’d carved into the stone at my feet to understand why.
The being calling itself Revak wills my flesh to heal. The reduction in pain is disorienting. It becomes a feeling of warmth. I sit, and lower my head. Revak is reducing my adrenaline, and rebalancing my hormones to drive me towards sleep. This sleep is welcoming, and I embrace it.
I awake to the smell of wood. I’m in a bed. Warm and soft. Brown blankets lay over me. Lifting them away stirs up more of the wood smell. It’s the fibers of the mattress and blankets, recently reshaped from living wood. The room is pitch black. I reach out my senses hesitantly. There is no pain from the exertion, but I’m suddenly aware of hunger and thirst. The room’s stone has the tell-tale serpentine patterns of willcarving. There is a single exit passage that curls down through the bedrock into a larger chamber. My senses feel an absence in the large chamber where there should be more stone. It’s how the stone of the ancients feels to magical senses, completely absent. My senses brush against something else down there.
“Ah, you’re awake, young one.” Revak’s voice sounds in my mind. “Come down and join me.”
“Is there any light?” I ask.
“Hmm…” Revak pondered the question as if it were an unexpected oddity. “Yes, I can do that.” Light crawled up the passageway into my bedchamber, emanating from a line on the ceiling that spirals into the center of the room.
I stand. My muscles are sore, and my skin retains the darker blotches but not the tenderness of fresh bruises. I get up and will the blankets of the bed to become my shoes and clothing. I move down the passageway, following the light. I send to the skull, “How long have I been here?”
“I’ve been tracking the time closely since you arrived.” Revak sent back proudly. “I know you need regular sustenance, and I’ve watched over you for two days.”
I paused in stride. “What of the scythe-beasts?” I asked, and included an image of the things’ vain attempts to scrabble up the cliff.
“I’m not sure…” Revak replied, concerned. “I’ve never seen those.”
“They employ some sort of veil against magical senses,” I continue to walk toward the main hall. “But they can be seen and heard easily enough as they try to slaughter you.”
“That could explain why I do not know them, and perhaps why I get so few visitors.” Revak sounded pensive. “I rarely employ such physical senses. No matter. There is no danger to you here.”
The passageway opens up to the main hall in front of me. I step out and see a huge hall, half carved from magic, and half formed of the pale ancient stone. The magically carved half is illuminated from above, but the light stops at the ancient stone and as it fades to black down the ancient hall, I can only barely make out large shapes in the center. Down the magically carved extension of the hall, I see an astonishing array of giant, nearly silent machinery formed of stone, bronze, steel, silver, and gold.
“The ancients used this place to harness power from falling water.” Revak explained. “I do the same, but much more modestly.”
“How long have you been here? Are you truly the High Magister Revak, Lich King?”
“Lich King? Am I called that now? I never liked the term Lich. I invented this method of transformation to further my scientific pursuits. I fought with your forbears against those rebels who copied and perverted my techniques and styled themselves necromancers. Is it not remembered so?”
“Mostly it is not.” I pass further down the magically carved portion of the hall, past machines whose purpose I cannot determine. “Newer histories list you among them, but your name is carved among the honored names on the walls of Justice’s sanctum, set there by the Goddess herself.”
“Justice” Revak’s voice in my mind sounded reverent. “How is our beloved Goddess?”
“Justice is dead.”
“Impossible.” Revak commented.
“The Goddess was gravely injured in the last war, and though she survived, she did not return to her former glory, and instead faded away over time. One day her body was found still and unresponsive.
The Order is holding her body pristine in her sanctum. Officially, it is a wake ceremony, but it has been decades. She has passed on.”
“You’re wrong.” Revak stated, matter of factly. “Justice will not die as long as the Order persists. And we remain, do we not?”
“I know of no link between between the survival of the Order and the survival of Justice. What have you been doing here for all of these years? Why have you not tried to return to the Order?”
“I’ve been studying and creating. So many beautiful problems and questions about the world have I explored and solved over the ages, but just now… Well, come and see.” The hall widens into a large workshop area, and the area behind it branched into multiple storage rows, the ends of which I cannot make out. A body lies on a large stone table before me and a giant thin figure in a shimmering black robe leans over it. Thin, dark, metallic arms stretch out from the sleeves of the robe and hover over the body, and the skull of Revak floats under the hood of the robe. “Your presence here has been instrumental. It’s been some time since I studied a working human body, and there were things I’d not realized. Such a complex system. Truly fascinating.” The skull rose slightly. There were no eyes but I got the impression that Revak was now looking at me.
I clear my throat. “Is this not a human body?” I ask out loud, studying the form and thinking that Revak certainly was not striving to distance itself from necromantical stereotypes. The body is of a young adult. Perhaps beautiful in other circumstances, but just too cold and still here on the slab to be anything other than disturbing.
“I think that I have found, among these ruins, traces of the First People. Not the ruins themselves, of course. I mean tiny, fragile traces of their bodies. Mostly too damaged by time, but some very few
are complete enough.” Perplexed, I extend my magical senses to the still form, and hit a solid wall. Just as the ruins of the ancients, this body is antimagic. My mouth drops open.
“You mean… but how?” My voice is raspy from disuse. “How could you even study those tiny remains that are invisible to magic, let alone make this?
“Machinery was the key. Young one. The antimagics do not respond normally to magic but do respond somewhat similarly to other physical excitations and forces which can be produced by our matter. I’ve mastered these forces, and I use them to shape wonders from antimagic materials. Most lately this.” The dark metal hands open and spread over the still form. “It’s not really one of them. I modified the structure and mind to permit it to be created in this form. But… I believe that I’ve designed it properly so that the children of ones such as these would be real First People.”
“Is it alive?” I reach out hesitantly. Revak does not move. The body is as cold as it looks.
“Not just yet. Would you like to see me awaken it?” I am curious. Hungry and thirsty, too, but mostly curious.
“Me too.” Revak’s robe drops to reveal a thin metallic form like the arms, but containing mechanical belts and gears and rotating elements which now spring to life with a significant whirring sound. Revak brings his hands near eachother, and as the whirring builds a blue arc forms between his nearest fingers with a snap and a flash of light. It disappears almost immediately but then restrikes, disappears, and restrikes again, lasting longer now. Revak pulls his hands apart and the arc dissipates. The whirring continues and as he lowers his hands toward metal disks that are inlaid in the table, thin arcs leap up to meet them, growing thicker until true contact is made and they disappear. Now the slab starts to glow blue in strange patterns that I cannot recognize. I feel a warmth from the slab and a static charge that causes my hairs and the fibers of my clothes to rise towards the body. I step back from the unknown mechanisms and energies before me.
The body on the table rears up and gasps, eyes wide with fear. Suddenly there is an otherworldly sound tearing through the air. I will the air around my ears to be still, but I still feel the vibration in my bones. I cannot pinpoint a specific source. The person on the table is screaming in pain. I move towards the great hall, hoping to escape the sound, but it seems to be the same everywhere. Revak swivels his skull around and places his mechanical limbs defensively around his creation. “What is this?” He asks in my mind.
The sound abruptly stops. The table top under the screaming person begins to change, as do Revak’s shielding arms. A reflective silver spreads down into the stone from the table and up Revak’s arms until it reaches the shoulder joints where it branches down his body and up to his skull where it slows, but still intrudes into his bones. “Oh no.” Revak sends. “Oh no.” The new metallic shine of Revak’s arms begins to fall off in large chunks which seem to leap towards the awoken First Person. I can see that liquid-like metal chunks from the table top do likewise and the First Person starts to thrash. Where the poor person scraps off the mercurial substance there is blood, and large chunks of missing flesh.
I’ve seen this silvery substance before. This is the all-consuming Hunger. But I’ve never seen nor heard of The Hunger appearing in this way before, nor it being so aggressive. The whole table is silvery now, and the shine is spreading out into the floor. Revak’s whole mechanical body is now silvery and leaping off in chunks. Revak’s skull has floated up and away from it but the silvery Hunger is still eating his bone. His jaw falls away. “I’ve made a terrible mistake, young one.
You must flee.” The liquid metal on Revak’s skull starts to burn with white hot flame. The old magister is trying to purge the deadly contamination. The thrashing of the First Person subsides as it sinks fully into the mound of deadly silver that used to be the slab. The silver spreads across the floor towards me.
I take off running towards the great hall. I don’t see whether Revak’s defensive efforts are of any use, but the light from the ceiling dims and I can hear some of the machinery in the hall ahead screeching and crunching as the will that drives them disappears to distraction or death.
I use my magical senses to seek out carbonaceous matter around me, ignoring my flesh and clothes, and I call for it to gather well above my head and swirl into a slowly burning sphere that casts light around and before me. Most of the shadows on the walls move backwards as I weave through some broken ruins of a great bronze wheel. Others move forward like searching tentacles. Great thick rhizomes of The Hunger chase after me. I reach the ancient antimagic stone portion of the hall, and The Hunger does not slow. Ahead of me there is an enormous mass of red oxidized metal.
The Hunger is closing in. I dodge around the metal ruin and leap over a Hunger rhizome only to plunge down through a break in the floor into a horizontal shaft. I catch myself in the air, I glance right and see the way is blocked by some large mass of rust. Hunger rhizomes have followed me down so I fly off down the shaft to my left. The shaft angles down and I see some natural light ahead. The Hunger rhizomes fully choke the shaft behind now as I plunge down at high speed.
I hit the edge of the shaft and burst out into the sunlight over the lake. I gain some altitude and glance back to see if The Hunger still pursues me. It seems to have lost interest in me, but the huge silvery rhizomes are spreading out from the shaft and in a larger mass from the ridge which had once held Revak’s laboratory. The mass on the ridge grows so large that it compromises the hold that the ancient stone had to it, and that whole half of the dam shudders and topples over and down towards the pass below. The damage triggers a roar of water as the tainted lake drains down to half its normal size before The Hunger rhizomes slump over into the gap, stopping the flow, and begin growing rapidly out into the lake and down towards the pass.
I fly towards the far shoreline, and my heart falls as I saw the accursed scythe-beasts churning out into the water towards me. As I fly overhead they turn in pursuit. I fly up towards the ridge on the far side of the lake from the massive dam. It is a long way and leaves me fully drained by the time I alight on the high stone and turn to watch.
The great silvery rhizomes of The Hunger keep spreading in all directions. The scythe-beasts that had been my nemesis and impending doom are shattered by the thick reflective roots as though they are nothing, and the searching rhizomes continue up the ridge toward me.
I take to flight again and make it to the next ridge, gasping for air, and stumbling as I land. I turn and watch the ridgeline I’d just left, hoping that The Hunger would just stop, that its end here would be as rapid and bewildering as its beginning. When I regained my breath I notice a stinging pain in my shoulder and see to my horror a pattern of small holes that had been eaten through my shirt. I will the shirt to part and see my flesh below is marked by little metallic patches with thin silvery rhizomes spreading out from them. I will my shirt apart and gather it on the spot before igniting the mass violently. The burn is excruciating. The damaged flesh is charred black and it is impossible to tell if I’ve destroyed the contamination. The air seems to darken past the far ridge which now shields me from the lake, as if The Hunger has taken on some dreadful cloud form. The rhizomes peak over the ridge and down into the valley before me. I turn and see another large pass behind my current perch.
My head hurts nearly as bad as my screaming shoulder when I imagine flying to the next ridge, so this time I take to the air in a more conservative way. I prepare a wide cushion of air below me and glide it down and along this new pass. The new pass is long and my glide runs further than I hope. I pick a nice spot of soft grassland to land in and crash down. I hit much harder than I intend and flip onto my back. Everything hurts, and once again I can’t hold on to consciousness.
In a pristine room, formed entirely of non-homogenous translucent and white stone with ragged swaths of scarlet and gold, like ribbons frozen within, a robed woman lies motionless on a raised slab of stone. An old man kneels before the slab with head bowed, silently willing the Goddess to rise as is his habit this time of day. He hears an intake of breath from above and raises his head to see the Goddess suddenly standing, staring beyond the stone wall before her as though it were a lens. Her robes morph silently into polished, mother of pearl plate armor with a robe with the same shifting colors. Her hand lifts gracefully from her side and a burning long sword unfolds from the air. Her head moves slightly down and towards the old man.
The voice of Justice carries force with it, as though it were produced by some enormous instrument, but it does not deafen. “I have felt your faith, Olin. I feel that an ancient enemy has risen, and I must to war. Will you rouse your Order to join me?”
A cloud of dark dust descends from the swirling storm clouds over the city. Lightning occasionally lances down, but there is no rain. The cloud begins to gather on the balcony of the keep in the city center. A humanoid form emerges, its flesh dark and writhing, as though formed from hundreds of ink soaked humans crushed together and striving to escape. Dread stares into the distance, and then enters his private quarters. Sorrow stares past him, her flawless face unmarred by expression. Her words seem to echo with an emptiness, a vague sense of falling eternally. “The Hunger returns, and again we must destroy it.” Her robes swirl slightly in the air around her as though it were as dense as water.
“Hmm.” The rumbling agreement of Dread recalls the face of a dying lover.
“Captain on deck!” A crewman cries as Endeavor strides into the cabin and up to the large wheel.
“You are relieved, helmswoman.” The mustachioed God decrees with a pleased smile and bright eyes. The helmsman steps back and the God seizes the wheel with large gloved hands and begins to heave it around. “Full steam and signal alert stations! We’ve a fight on our hands now!”
His huge ship turns and steam bellows from the pipes amidships. Through the thick glass in front of him, Endeavor sees a wave crash over the bow, and he launches into a sea shanty.