As this day dawned, the forces of darkness laid in wait to strike against the peaceful citizens of the City of the Sun.
And now, as the heavenly light, one-quarter of its face now shrouded in darkness, shines down from high above, the Solars are dispersed to the winds, scattered in their quest to save their people, to preserve the peace... to put an end to the dark conspiracy of the Broken Suns.
And so, it is from five far distant vantage points that the Solars' sights are united in a singular vision: a beam of harsh, sickly greenish light that suddenly fills half the sky, centered immediately above the southeastern district of the city -- and, a moment later, the immense, almost ear-shattering crack that follows it.
Imrama In an instant, Imrama is over the rail of the Fable once more, depositing the captured insurrectionist with some care upon the deck and making haste to collect his Circle-mates and address the latest of the city's calamities. ::My friends: who needs a ride to this fresh disaster?::
Spring: ::I am temporarily indisposed but will attempt to rejoin you shortly.::
Cerin ::I am over by the Cathedral, Imrama.::
Colapso 's voice sounds... odd. ::I... will walk.::
Imrama Calculating Cerin's pace against the motion of the Sun across the sky, Imrama sets the Fable on a course to meet the path between the Cathedral and the impact sight. The ship swoops low - just a head's height above the ground a few paces in front of Cerin, giving him all the opening he needs.
Imrama ::If you wish, Lucent. Are you alright?::
Lucent ::... no. But go, I will meet you there.::
Cerin leaps easily onto the Fable, barely breaking his stride. ::Lucent, your Cathedral and its worshippers are safe.::
Lucent ::... thank you, Cerin. Thank you... very, very much.::
Imrama wishes mightily for the time to ask after his friend, but none is at hand - for in the moment just after Cerin landed on her deck, the Fable of the Reconstruction has already reached its destination.
Cerin looks over the railing for a better look at the mayhem below.
The first thing one notices is the destruction: in this part of the city, the Aurora district, there were glorious buildings of art and commerce, elegantly painted streets and beautiful topiaries -- but now, everything within almost a four-block radius has been flattened, torn to pieces, and scorched by the blast.
The second thing one notices is the residual effect of that blast: how every human corpse, every uprooted tree tangled and twisted by the explosion, every deeply-buried animal carcass and tiny, smudged remains of a squashed fly or gutted fish, has risen up in the hazy green fog that still hangs over the area, eyes and veins glowing to match, and begun to march towards the edge of the effect region.
The remnants of the thing that did this -- the unfolded petals of a huge soulsteel flower, lying underneath the layer of rubble marking the building in which it had stood -- rank probably down at a distant third.
Imrama faces the scene in stoic horror, tears on his cheeks. "By the sky and everything in it, Cerin: I can still see all their names."
Cerin "Imrama ..." he says, his voice quiet. He can't think of what more to say. The second person at least who should have had words today. His own eyes, looking down, are cold. "Meru. Creation. Osa. If they flee that far, it will not be far enough to save those who organised this," he promises.
Imrama wipes at his eyes. "A great mass of our people have been murdered and zombified. I would prefer that Lucent were here to help address this, but in the mean time, do you have any alternative to loosing the canons on their hijacked corpses?"
Cerin "Not to magics on this scale in the time we have," he shakes his head. "I do not think even Zahara could unwork this."
From the corners of his eyes, Cerin sees, trudging down one of the nearby roads from his starting position far outside this region of the city: Lucent Copper Haze, his walk bringing him towards the site of the explosion.
Cerin ::Lucent ... please hurry:: He urges his companion. ::There are people here in need of the Sun:: "Lucent will be here, soon."
Lucent had been walking in slow steps, trying to center imself, trying to forget... but as soon as Cerin says so, something snaps, and he begins to run towards the trouble, the Malfean armor appearing around him in a haze of Brass and Glass! ::Coming!::
Imrama grimly lifts his right hand over his head, palm facing out, giving the sign to Gunnery Sergeant Kalupter to open the gun-ports.
The Fable banks and shifts, readying itself to open fire on Imrama's command.
Imrama drops his hand, and the Fable rains down combustive sunlight on the wretched husks below.
The cannons tear into the bodies below, cutting through the green mist and the thick stench alike, and though it tears the dead flesh of the creatures to bits, it seems to have little effect on the true problem: for the motive forces animating these creatures merely gather up the scraps into an approximation of their previous shape, and rise up to move forward again.
From within the rubble, the tiny zombies of roaches and locusts and flies begin to emerge with a horrifying, unearthly buzzing sound.
Lucent closes his eyes as he begins to walk into it. ::This is just like a poison. Or a disease. It will not harm me.:: He allows his presence to reach inside the mist, to touch everything he can, as far away as he can... "Rest." ... before bringing the Sun's holy fire, and hoping they are dead enough to burn!
zahara comes up from the cabin where she'd been securing the...diplomatic visitors, and catches sight of Cerin and Imrama's faces. Immediately she runs the last few steps. "What happened?"
Lucent's holy fire spreads through the air, burning away at the green mist, tearing with its sharp flames at the structures of death essence that hold together the horrifying zombies brought upon Solaria... and though their forms are tough enough that the fire does not devour them instantly, it might provide the opening needed...
Cerin "A necromantic ... device was set off. It tore Aurora apart and then animated the scraps together," his voice low. Cold anger, abstract grief and a revulsion at the senseless uglyness of it all leak out over the Unity he shares with Zahara. "Fire again, Imrama. I think Lucent is disrupting it enough. My love, if you could call on your sorceries ..."
zahara As she reaches the rail, Zahara takes in the situation at a glance, even before the others speak. Anger flares in her hotly and the thoughts she'd had of working with the Black Suns flee her mind before she can hunt them down and slay them. "I see," she says, and her voice is cold contrast to the fire in her eyes.
Lucent "Not enough." He continued to reach, burning everything, spreading his arms, tears on his eyes. ::I cannot burn them. They are too animated, I cannot burn anything that still has flowing Essence... and there are too many... just do SOMETHING!:: He shouts to them through the rings, ::Burn them, destroy them, grant them release. Those are our people...::
Imrama Once more, the batteries of the Fable unleash the fury of the Sun on the churning mass of carrion and Essence.
zahara Without further ado, she begins her chant. Her golden tattoos glimmer then burn, highlighting her form with more and more sunlit fire as the runes pouring from her lips swirl about her in the air to form the spell. Faster than she has ever done so before, she barks out the last word and gestures sharply, the essence thundering down into the ground, to emerge with a great cracking and heaving of ten tentacles of magma.
Cerin draws back his bow, and strings a mote upon it. This he lets fly, stringing another, and another and so on. He isn't aiming for the people. The cannon and Zahara's sorcery will deal with such large targets. Instead he aims for the dogs ... the cats ... the birds ... the mice ... the insects. A drop of sunfire landing on each individually.
Lucent stands still and untouched among the destruction like a boddhissatva in hell.
From above, the holy barrages of golden Essence tears downwards, vaporizing the dead flesh held prisoner by the necromantic effect, working in tandem with the Sun's fire to cleanse the area, to eliminate the poison...
At first, the zombies seem to struggle mightily under the onslaught, but after a moment, even this powerful magic gives way, and the bodies slump, then disintegrate.
Then, after just a moment, the air's amenability to the cleansing fire seems to grow immeasurably, and the green mist throughout the shattered region instantly catches fire, a vast conflagration scorching every surface, utterly destroying every body, reaching through even into the spirit world to send the spirits to their final rest...
And rising up, an immense rising cloud of flame and mist, to break open at Lucent's feet and scorch upwards in thin, spiralling streams to dissolve in the heavens.
Lucent looks up amidst the flames, muttering an apology to all those he failed to protect. ::Who. Did. This?::
Imrama ::Fools and monsters,:: Imrama draws his repeaters with a terrifying gleam in his eyes, and still a single tear. ::Fools and monsters who do not know what my friends and I are capable of.::
The city of Stygia.
The district of Monarch's Way hangs above the Mouth of Oblivion like a tantalizing morsel teasingly offered to a starving dog, the wear upon its rough-hewn buildings belying the fact that they were far newer than the rest of the city, rebuilt from the ground up after an endless flood of spectres had razed the district to the ground.
At its center, there is a great pillar, miles across, and atop it sits the greatest invention of all Netheos: the great Calendar, cast by the powerful ghosts of the Dual Monarchy, that lets time flow within the lands of the Underworld.
The device is too complicated for any human to take in at a single glance; innumerable thousands of tiny brass wheels, vast obsidian ramps, spinning lenses, and other inscrutable devices all churn together in time....
And without and within, in a single, orderly line, its bobbing and weaving hidden within so many intricate knots deep within the machine that no observer would think such a simple pattern could exist here, tick along a series of identical, orderly spheres, towards a central chamber, where each one is consumed and a new one birthed in its place...
A series that is perfect... save one.
Somewhere in Port Calin, there is a bar called the Bloodied Ox.
And somewhere in the Bloodied Ox, there is a man called Welter Vivas.
Welter was not a complicated man, or an important one.
He had fought, in the war. Had a few scars to show for it, but more importantly, the power he had been granted by a god too busy hiding, he was sure, to chase him down now.
Life had been pretty rough for Welter for some time now. He had lost his money, his land, had to wander around as a vagrant. Not so good.
But things were starting to look up now. He'd come into some new money. He'd bought a share in a Guild caravan that had met with surprisingly good results. Yep, all told, things were looking up for Welter Vivas.
He holds up his glass -- his fourth -- and begins to toast to the bar -- in general, for no one in particular is listening to him.
"Tooo... suchhesss," he says. "And to--"
But he stops his toast, then, for something happens to him.
He stands there for a moment, looking unsteady and quiet...
And then, suddenly, he begins to cough, uncontrollably. Harsh coughs, rough, racking.
He coughs and coughs until he can't even keep his hands in front of his face, and he keels over onto the table, still coughing; and liquid, at first specks, and then trickles, and then rivulets; at first brilliant red, and then thick, sludgy black, comes out of his mouth with each cough...
Until, finally, his coughs begin to subside, and -- with everyone at the bar, by this point, staring at him -- a glassy-eyed Welter expires.
And as a ghostly figure stands for the first time amidst the bar, looks at the suddenly plain marks of raging Essence infection on its now-dead body's face, watches the tendrils of infection subtly stretch out from that corpse, it thinks: maybe things aren't looking up for Welter Vivas after all.
End of Chapter 15.