‘The Rules Have Changed’
No emotion was shown as these words were spoken, belying the cataclysmic possibilities their meaning possessed. The speaker remained silent, waiting for the recipient of this news to respond. It took a long while, but time was rarely of consequence to these beings.
‘Does the Celestila know?’
‘It is beneath their concern’
It always was. The highest Pantheon of the gods were forces of neutrality. The struggles and triumphs of good and evil meant little to them in their constant maintenance of the Insuma: the Ultimate Balance of the universe. They left these ‘minor’ adjustments to the care of the Celestela and the Celestula, the levels beneath them.
Kalganos turned his gaze to the vast world turning with a majestic yet deceptive slowness beneath them. Here, on the edge of reality, it appeared slightly translucent. An observer from the Prime Material Plane though would have seen the two demigods as the unreal, insubstantial ones.
White eyes the size of seas that burned like the heart of the suns took in the glittering oceans and vast continents visible beneath the swirling weather patterns, with thermals and cold sinks he could see in drifting reds and blues. Amongst all these colours he could see magic, wild and untamed, its hue nameless, permeating all that lived. But even from up here he could pick out the sickly taint of demon magic mingled in with this, its unwelcome presence a dangerous canker. Those same eyes had witnessed not just the creation of this world, but also of the stars that shone down upon it, of the very universe in which it existed. The First Dragon, Father of Dragons had fought against the nothingness of Chaos for the sanctity and safekeeping of this world before the New Gods had ascended. He could have joined them in godhood, but had chosen otherwise.
He returned his gaze from Tymaera to the first speaker, a skeletal figure framed against the blackness of space. Without the bright glare of the world to outshine it, he could see the dim flow of the ether swirling lazily about their beings and then twisting and diminishing away into the void. The Lord of the Dead continued to await his response with the patience only those who have chosen to forego the mortal coil possess.
The empty sockets of Ra-Sep-Re-Tay’s eyes set in a horned, animalistic skull, glimmered with the faintest flicker of greenish light. Were he to look upon Tymaera Witchsight, the sight of the dead, would reveal a very different view of the world. It would show him the tiny glimmers of living souls, and the dimmer shades of the undead and the lost: corpselight. The flow of life and death would be his to see. But his gaze was not on the vast planet. Instead he continued his steady regard of the vast cyan dragon before him, larger than a world, his tail lost in the depths of the void.
Both demigods were as ancient as time itself, but had met face to face on only a handful of occasions, and only when need was dire.
‘What tidings do you bring, then?’ asked Kalganos at length. One thing you had to remember about dealing with the dead was they rarely volunteered information without first being asked.
‘Anshu asked my allegiance’.
The sudden glare of the First Dragon’s eyes would have withered a lesser being away to nothing. It was not the place of the gods to call upon the demigods. It was up the demigod in question who they chose to allign themselves with and even then it was entirely of their own volition. The gods were forbidden to seek such counsel. This freedom was part of the reason why Kalganos had refused deification.
Seeing the baleful look, Ra-Sep-Re-Tay decided to furnish this statement with further detail, ‘I refused. The benefits were great, but short term at best and I will not relinquish any of my power to her. She did not seem pleased by this’. He added with a note of something that could almost have been humour in the disharmonies of his hollow, echoing voice.
Anshu, serpentine goddess of her chosen people the hssaar, spent a lot of the time being displeased and exacting her revenge. However, for the Lord of the Dead to comment on it, it must be serious this time. Kalganos nodded, ‘A wise decision, but why did she want the legions of the undead at her side?’
The obvious answer was that she wanted to boost her legions to further her conquests, claim more souls for her own and become more powerful, perhaps even enough to challenge Malesanith, God of Dusk and all-around major evil god. Ra-Sep-Re-Tay was intelligent enough to know this was not the answer required. What Kalganos wanted was to know who she was planning to move against. The demigod’s answer came as a surprise,
‘She will move against you. She wants the dragons,’ he did not need to include that with Tymaera’s most powerful race under her sway, Anshu the Mother of Lies would be unstoppable.
The constant in-fighting of the lower Pantheons was subject of innumerable tales and folklore amongst the mortal races. However, since the dawn of time, they were restricted to the Pantheons alone. If a demigod was alligned with a deity then opposing gods could move against them, but never when a demigod was sided with no one. It was a most ancient law that protected the demigods and now threatened to be broken.
Through the red mist of his waxing anger, Kalganos could see the terrible things this would lead to. The ultimate consequences could be catastrophic. Demigods were not permitted to meddle in mortal affairs to any extent unless approached by one of their own minions through carefully stipulated means. But if he were to abide by this then he would be near powerless against her. However, ‘Not permitted’ did not mean it was not possible. It meant that, if discovered, then the Powers that Be would cast the offending demigod down from immortality and their place of power.
‘We would have to be subtle about it’ he said, voice low. This was unnecessary, since here, beyond Tymaera’s atmosphere and right on the edge of Reality, the two demigods were all but non-existent so far as the rest of the universe was concerned.
Ra-Sep-Re-Tay’s skull merely nodded in agreement before each faded away, returning to their respective dimensions. The ether flowed into the place they had occupied, erasing all trace of their passing.
A storm was blowing across the Great Desert. The hot, wild wind screamed as it whipped the sand into deadly abrasive clouds, smoothing down rock and howling round the segmented, needle-like formations and through the canyons of long-dead rivers that occasionally punctuated the vast, undulating expanses of rolling dunes.
Beneath the peaceful starlit sky the storm raged through ancient ruins, further erasing the marks of failed civilisations. The apparent focus, where the sands were driven like a billion tiny arrows, jutted proudly above one such set of ruins, lording over them like a victor over their vanquished opponent. The black obelisk seemed almost to rake the heavens with its point as it stood unaffected by the sands. But this was only the tip of the structure.
Far beneath the inhospitable surface the base of the obelisk was planted firmly in the very bedrock of the land. It ended in a huge cavern lit by torches, candelabras and a golden pool of burning liquid. The air – even before it disappeared into the shadows at the roof of the cave – hung thick and heavy with incense. The stalagmites that jutted far toward the roof had been painstakingly carved with the histories of great battles between different races, and between the gods and goddesses themselves. In particular they showed the cruel victories of one certain race, and one certain dark goddess. Great serpentine statues lined the cave walls, which had been carved, smoothed and covered with hieroglyphs.
This was a sacred place. It was also a place of blood and horror. A place of sacrifices made to a malignant power. So ancient it dated back to the Age of Dust, this was the temple of Anshu, Goddess of Lies. The Deceiver.
Alone, a solitary figure slithered across the flagstones. Where she moved they had been worn smooth by the same journey, made every day for longer than living memory could tell. There were no guards here. They were not necessary; not where the goddess’s power was so strong.
A mile below the surface Nresha, High Priestess of Anshu and the most important member of Hssaar society next to the Pharaoh (perhaps even more so), made her daily journey into this most scared place to commune with her goddess.
The cavern ended at the very foot of the obelisk. This was the only exposed face, the rest surrounded by rock. The material of which it was created was unknown, but the surface shone, kept highly polished by some unnatural means for no slaves were allowed in to desecrate the sanctity of this holy place. The only decoration on this wall of black was a huge statue, nearly 40 feet high, based on a raised platform. It had the body of a female hssaar but with two vast bat wings sprouting from its back and two heads. One bearing the crown of the Pharaoh, the other the sacred circlet worn by the High Priestess. It had two sinous intertwining tales and six arms, each hand holding a different object of significance: an upside-down ankh, a blooded knife, a fire burned in one upright palm, a sceptre with two golden bangles and a serpent rearing to strike. The last hand was empty save for a ring on one long, clawed finger. The sinuous, but graceful curves made the statue both repulsive but somehow overly compelling at the same time. It was the image of Anshu herself.
Before the statue, on a raised dais stood a round hemisphere of gold, 3 metres in diameter and held upon six legs sculpted to appear as muscular hssaar warriors holding the great dish upon their backs. Their coils rested upon vanquished foes. The huge bowl contained blood that burned with a smokeless yellow flame.
Nresha came to a halt before the dais and looked up through the flames at the statue towering above her. She bowed her head to the figure in reverence, then approached the golden cauldron. In one ancient, wizened hand she held a golden casket. In the other a vase intricately decorated and inlaid with priceless gemstones.
Speaking words of prayer she poured the fresh blood from the vial into the cauldron. Setting the empty vessel down she bowed again, then opened the box and took its contents in her hand. The heart of a child. Taking the curved ceremonial knife from the folds of her pure white robes, she cut off and ate the right half of the heart then tossed the rest into the flames. She smeared the blood that was left on her hands across her face and then backed away from the bowl and prostrated herself upon the ground.
‘The soul, heart and life of an innocent. For your glory, my goddess,’ she whispered.
A hot wind filled the cavernous temple. It built up and howled around the pillars, sucking like a vortex toward the face of the obelisk. No longer shining, it had become an inky void. A gateway to another place. The statue moved, taking on life, and then dim shades of colour. The avatar of Anshu looked down upon her loyal servant with eyes burning a terrible, pale icy blue that froze the soul.
Throughout, Nresha did not raise her head, to do so would result in Anshu’s wrath and death. But she knew what was happening. She also realised her goddess was displeased if she was making an entrance such as this. Though the unnatural wind howled in a screaming creshendo, the priestess heard the voice of her deity in perfect clarity.
You will scour the land and purge the curse of the undead.
‘It shall be so, my goddess.’ Nresha whispered meekly. She was almost overcome by the exhileration she felt at being in the presence of such huge power. She did not question the order. Not just because she did not dare, but because she knew better than to do so. The anger in the goddess’s voice both terrified and excited her.
You will recruit more forces to do this. The Hatching Pits must also be found. Do not divert those scouts from that task.
Nresha nodded again, eyes to the floor. The Avatar towered above her, its two heads staring down at her. She could feel the gaze of its two pairs of eyes burning into her soul. The anger wasn’t quite so forceful now though.
There is a tool you shall bring to me, my child. An artefact of use in the fulfilment of my goals. It is a disc formed of two; one of gold, the other of calerium, inscribed with runes you cannot see. It lies far north of here, in the Human kingdom of Thelaon. My worshippers there will serve you.
‘It shall be done, High One.’
You are my chosen people. I will have you rule this world as I will rule the Pantheon. Be warned. There has been an alliance made against us. The Lore of Godhood prevents me from destroying this directly, and from telling you who would dare move against our might. You will know the fruits of this alliance when they come and you will destroy them.
Now go. Do my bidding.
To be continued...
All characters, places and anything else portrayed in this story is copyright 2004 to the author, Isabelle Davis (Drakhenliche), and may not be used without express permission. Meccha/Soul (c) Elsa Lai 2004
Comments, questions, whatever, can be addressed to me at the www.NecroDragon.com forum.