Events post #318: The Second War of Night, Part XII: The Ritual of Lunar Turmoil

8/9/2022 at 14:37
Anonymous
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The Second War of Night, Part XII: The Ritual of Lunar Turmoil

Some months prior to the unfolding catastrophe of Sterion and the Second Night War, in Chakros of the Year 503, Rihrin Silverain, then Voice of the Duiran Council made a desperate prayer. Following a heated, passionate discussion with the rest of her Speakers and Ministers in attendance, the matter of ailing Dendara was the topic of the day, and those gathered resolved to use any and all means at their disposal to save it from the slow, cruel inevitability of death that was encroaching upon the Plane of Life.

To the Celestine went the prayer, a plea for aid projected into the ether with barely a spark of flickering hope that it would find purchase. To her surprise, the Celestine answered, His words stuttered and incomplete. Through careful deduction, it was concluded that He had promised to send an emissary when able, but had nothing else on the matter to say. Most, still freshly aggrieved by the Creator for His gambit with Oblivion and the Other, put aside the notion as a trifling fancy, scornfully dismissing the prospect of His aid as unwelcome, even should it miraculously appear.

Thoughts of Varian faded as war and tumult soon arrived, the present conflicts occupying virtually the entire continent's attention. The 14th of Ios came without fanfare, until the slight figure of Oskar Emerson, a pre-teen boy who had been evacuated to a home in the Itzatl by parents Stine and Kalena, strode with confidence into the Council, yelling his intent to meet with the Speakers and Voice. Confused and curious in equal measure, the request was granted and Duiran's leadership, along with a very perplexed Pentarch Kalena, met the boy at the Great Oak's core.

He declared that He - styled with Divine pronouns - was the promised Emissary of the Celestine. The commanding authority in the child's tone was near-impossible to ignore and, following orders to dismiss any non-Duirani, a meeting was convened in the Chambers of the Consulate. To a shocked and largely mute audience, Oskar-Varian sunk into one of the Speaker's chairs, as comfortable and at ease as a king in His too-large throne. He reaffirmed that He was the promised emissary, and stated that He had sent a fragment of Himself, to offer aid. He posed a question, then, asking what the Council would do for Dendara if they wished for Him to heal it. Inwardly, Oskar-Varian harboured thoughts of true concern for the Lirathyar - the Life Plane, a term first utilised by the apparition of Yanai, Elder Life.

Some hastened to say they would give anything, while others, mistrustful and wary, remained silent, inwardly conflicted and, in some cases, afraid. The Celestine explained that the death of the Lirathyar - of Dendara, whose slow extinction by shadow is known - would spell the end of all mortal life, and that He harboured no desire to see such devastating loss occur. Inwardly, He dwelt on past Planes of Life, His thoughts centring on seeds of renewal, replanting, rebirth.

When asked what would be required of them, the conversation turned toward what Varian termed His Counterpart. Referencing a perpetual struggle, some assumed Oblivion, but He swiftly corrected them, irritated by the term. The Counterpart was revealed to the the Eschaton, the Two Creators equally matched in an eternal battle for dominance. If He was to help, as He wished to do, Duiran would need to engineer a situation of such significance that the Eschaton could not ignore it, and would be forced to intervene. This, so said Oskar-Varian, would provide time and opportunity to act, to carve the rot from dying Dendara and transplant its healthy parts as seeds for another Lirathyar.

Questions followed here, enquiries as to what He meant by another, and as to whether the Night War ravaging the land did not constitute a sufficient enough calamity to merit the Eschaton's intervention. Oskar-Varian reassured them that He would utilise the healthy remnants of Dendara - including the Ancient Guardians, who would be unharmed - as the basis for a new plane, free of rot and the cracked Spiral that precipitated it. This, He said, is the basis of how new worlds were made in ages past. On the subject of the Shadow, He informed Eaku that Fundamental Darkness is of the Eschaton's design, and that the clash of Light and Darkness, the endless battle between Dejaani and Ohlsana, was part of Its vision, and It did not see it as a problem to be solved.

Concerns that even a new, healthy Lirathyar would eventually fall to the shadow were dismissed with remarks that a new plane would not be subject to the wounds in reality's fabric that already exist. With firmness, Oskar-Varian reminded them that this was His Creation, and that He was not invested in its downfall. After further discussion and concerns, He began presenting the options available to them, but was interrupted by the arrival of the Hunter, spear levelled at the child and demanding to know their identity. Commanding Haern to put down the weapon, Oskar-Varian told the Hunter He knew who He was, naming Him by His Kalsu name of 'Herno' for emphasis. Unconvinced, Haern demanded to know what Varian had told Him, the day He sealed away Jox. Advancing on the child with violent intent, Haern's movements left Oskar-Varian utterly unafraid, coolly responding that He had told the Wild God that He had gotten fat, confirming His assertion with a calm, appraising look.

Haern hurled the spear, which landed in the wooden wall behind Oskar even as Eaku Redwood leaped forward to intercept the perceived threat, the Hunter sardonically confirming the Creator's identity. As Eaku rose nursing wounded pride and skull alike, Oskar-Varian quickly caught the Hunter up on the discussion, and returned to the topic at hand. There were two choices to engineer the Eschaton's intervention: threat of extinction toward the Albedi Pantheon, and destruction of the moon. Predictably, this left much of the group reeling in shock and confusion, the Hunter chief among them. All but Oskar-Varian seemed stunned by the absurdity, but the Creator persisted, speaking on the Eschaton's love for the moon and telling Haern He would pull it down from the sky when next it waxed fullest. The Celestine's confidence seemed to inspire some of the Councillors, and though dissent sprouted amongst them, most had begun to agree. Haern, still incredulous and expressing disbelief that He would, in His words, 'pull down the moon in three short weeks', asked if His Father had anything else to add.

He did not, save to say that His true self would not know the specifics of their meeting owing to the Eschaton's presence keeping Him occupied, and that "Varyan true" would be expecting Haern to act, at that very midnight. His departure left Oskar slumping, unconscious, and as his father, Stine Emerson, rushed to examine him, the Hunter got there first, bellowing loud enough for the whole world to hear in a demand for Varian to come back and tell Him how to do the unthinkable. Ordering Esrytesh Sibatti to lock down the Council, Haern disappeared to Dendara, vowing to return when He had learned the ancient ways. The Creator left yet more confusion in His wake, and debate raged in Duiran over what to do.

The following week, Haern returned from Dendara to meet with Sibatti. He spoke of a meeting with the Guardians and a path that had begun to form through their cryptic counsel. They spoke of prices, the cost each of them - God and mortal - must pay to see their lifelong work be done. Sibatti agreed to lead the ritual that would come, and Haern began listing preparations. All participants were to slay an animal that most closely mirrored themselves, and have its hide made into ceremonial garb; the apex wolf from the tundra would be hunted and its hide used to fashion a mighty ritual drum, and all present would also prepare six offerings to the Dendaric Guardians. The Council hastened to its preparations and, as the day drew nearer, Haern and Sibatti continued to discuss the elaborate and highly arcane working they were to attempt.

Night fell on the 7th of Arios and suspense was electric in the air. Prior to the ritual's commencement, the chilling touch of the Underking settled within the Council as He arrived to meet with His Brother. Their exchange was brief, but, when Dhar returned to the Underhalls, it was sans the massive anaxagorite chain He so often wore. The Hunter met with the Voice beside the ruined altar He had haphazardly rebuilt, while the other participants gathered in the moonglade, with instructions to acquire a vessel of its waters, and to cleanse themselves in the pool. Haern was not alone, however, for over His shoulder He carried the limp form of Holbrook Hought, newly raised Officer in the Argent Legion, and sitting Senator of Spinesreach, the Dragon of the North. Depositing the unconscious man beside the altar of runic stone, the Nature God looked upon she who was to lead Duiran into an age of rebirth; veiled in moonlight and silk, Esrytesh Sibatti greeted her Hunter with racing pulse and steady eyes, confirming that she was ready to begin.

While the unwilling sacrifice began to swim free of the blackness pressed upon him by the Hunter's brutal kidnapping, those others who were to participate in the ritual to come gathered themselves at the Core, to meet with Raest and receive their ceremonial garb and the heart of the beast or fowl they would soon embody. In relative silence did they change before the heart of Duiran, illuminated by both the Core of the Great Oak and the burgeoning celestial body above, with what little trappings of modesty yet remaining within the Council lost amidst the tumult of tension and excitement that filled the woodland realm to near bursting. Valorie Aresti took upon herself the visage of the Night Tiger, while Shaman Ixmi claimed the otter. To Aisling dur Naya went the great orgyuk, Daelares the rabbit, young Naeda the crow and wild Valeria the bear. Stine D. Emerson staked his claim to Mamba, the great tattooed elephant, and Prideleader Eaku Redwood the boar, bristling and rugged beside Omen Cinnamae's golden deer, the brown coyote of Iesid Mulariad, the black panther of Jhura Gallant, Sekeres Dark-wing's black and orange-striped tiger, and the great direwolf of Bloodhunter Akrios. Finally, Watcher Illikaal Aresti of the Tiarna an-Kiar stepped into the guise of the insatiable Wyvern, slipping into mind and body of the furious beast to embrace which was to come.

First called to the site of the ritual was the Speaker Mulariad, for it was her responsibility this night to preside over the great drums of hide and bone crafted for this very moment. Iesid's confident stride transitioned suddenly as she arrived before Hunter and Voice, slipping without realisation into the vigilant padding of the coyote itself, and assuming the visage of her chosen beast. From the moonglade she carried a bucket of the pure, crystalline waters which she was instructed to pour upon the altar, and she watched as Esrytesh set to the dutiful cleansing of the dark, rune-worked edifice with but a cloth of unsullied wool. Upon its heels came offerings prepared in earnest by the Coyote, and so he proffered them up to the Voice, that she might judge their worthiness for the Guardians that were to gift so much of their power. For Srahda she presented a children's ball of vivid colours, sure to entice the Raven's eyes, and for Kree-sa she gifted freely a dhurive used hard during the recent Spirean war. For Rhulvok, great handfuls of teeth were given up, exactly the number found within a crocodile's maw, and pulled free by her own hand, while Takaros was given the shrunken head of the despised Consanguine. For Vo'acha and Griash; an offering of flesh freely given and a dagger of obsidian used in the raising of great totems, and well suffesed with her own lifeblood. Each offering presented before the woman presiding over the ritual was blessedly accepted, and so the young Coyote took up her place before the great drums, and signalled for the next supplicant to enter.

And so began the long process mirrored in each petitioner that followed; water poured, altar scrubbed and offerings made, before each were finally granted leave to take their place around the altar. Subject to the unbending resolve of the Voice, not all offerings made were deemed appropriate, and many found themselves forced to give in its place the blood from their very veins, allowing the fat, crimson droplets to fall freely into the bowl atop the offerings made before them. Of particular note was that which Valorie Aresti presented to Vo'acha: a fluffy, pastel green Taerilan hatching. Giving even the Presiding Voice pause, Sibatti considered for passing moments before accepting the Shadow's tribute, inwardly swelling with pride at the gesture even as Holbrook laughed manically at the absurdity.

And so the Coyote struck her drum as each gift was made, and harder again in a beat that echoed throughout the Heartwood, informing the next Councilor in a long line of supplicants that it was their time to step forward. As the ritual progressed, so too did the unwilling sacrifice, Holbrook Hought, begin to stir back into consciousness, a lump already forming on his head from the Hunter's savage blow. Initial protests were met only by a silence born of indifference for the struggling Officer, and the sharpened heel of Sibatti's footwear lodged hard into his back, the rope bindings applied to him earlier paired with the relentless pressure making escape a futile dream.

As ritual continued on unhindered, the rest of the land broke free from its momentary reverie of shock and disbelief as realization of Duiran's deeds were quickly dragged before the court of public opinion. In Spinesreach specifically there swept a bonfire of alarm, a sweltering furnace that built deep within the land of glacial winds and tundral snow as they failed to pry forth any response from the Councilors of Duiran. Within the group known as the Shadowguard, created for all in a show of solidarity against the endless spawn of Ohlsana, many from the frozen city of the North decried the actions of the Hunter and begged for response from those of the woodland Council that stood rank within the organization. They received only one answer when Senator Raynia asked if they might be given the reason for the taking of Holbrook Hought; a simple, unmistakeable 'No' given from Valorie Aresti that caused an ominous, sinking feeling to begin in many a gut, deepened by the ceaseless report of Holbrook's predicament back to the city he called home.

Only after what seemed an eternity to young Holbrook did the nigh endless rank and file of supplicant and offerings desist, each newcomer weighed, measured and granted allowance by she-who-presided. As enraged members of both the Argent Legion and Spinesreach both came to realise that the Hunter had closed off all access to the Heartwood for the duration of the arcane working, Hought squirmed against bindings tied with little regard to his comfort. Held in place beneath the heel, and every shaking muscle screaming out for both relief and rescue, the young man was forced to consider if either would ever be granted. The clamour of battle rose up around the ancient Ithmias as hoplites battled durdalis without, led into acts of war by the Strategos of Spinesreach, Kagura Tsuchimiya, but even that momentary glimmer of hope was cut short in Holbrook's mind as Haern informed him in no uncertain terms that nothing would interrupt the purpose for which he had been taken. Amidst a momentary, blissful silence did Hought finally look back up through his compounding grief, squinting through growing tears amidst thoughts of hearth, home, and fiance, only to be met by the unblinking visages of over a dozen beasts, all standing in eerie, mute silence.

Unto the sky above did the Witch of the Wilds finally raise up her arms, black claws extended in a eldritch prayer as her abyssal voice lifted in exultation, shaking the very foundations of the Heartwood with her discordant roar. To Rhulvok, Griash, Srahda, Takaros, Kree-sa and Vo'acha did she send out her call, surrounded by bowls loaded high with offerings and blood to entreat them, begging their attendance in their arcane works. Only silence answered for a long moment, until finally, it began. A gentle breeze stirred at the edges of the area, its soft innocuity carrying forth a chorus of primordial whispers; the hiss of a snake, the gnash of a spider's maw, the growl of a cougar heralding a raven's chirrup, a wyvern's deafening shriek and, finally, a bear's mighty roar. Fel flame set suddenly alight within the offering bowls, hazy manifestations began to appear around the altar; the Ancient Ones had finally arrived.

And so the ritual continued. The first life claimed that night was to be a white rabbit, young and hale, and Sibatti's blade moved easily through flesh and bone alike, dispatching the squirming creature in an arterial spray that liberally coated hands and fingers both. To the Hunter she moved, and across the tapestry of His battle-scarred figure she drew in a runic script known only to herself and the God upon which she worked, painting Him with the blood of the doe. Haern's guise completed, she emptied what remained of the rabbit's reservoir of life into a simple bowl, allowing gravity and death to conspire together and fill the wooden vessel to its brim before moving slowly between each of the ritualists in attendance. With the grace of a predator did she glide through each and every visage, daubing the hide of each beast upon cheeks, brow and chin, bidding them to chant after her bloodied attentions, "Let the Rhythm be purged, and from purity grow anew." Returning to her altar once more, she-who-presided took to the preparation of finer details then to see to creation of two more required elements; a serving of Tempo for their drummer, and a mixture of madder root and spices pressed into the viscera of a boar's heart that was then set ablaze for all to inhale the potent, mind-altering smoke. After one final chant from all, the Witch set her gaze upon Holbrook Hought.

Directing those beneath her, Sibatti ordered the sacrifice laid upon the altar, and the beasts rose up as bidden to arrange the Senator upon the cold stone. With the drum playing to the beat of Holbrook's pounding heart, the man snarled with a defiance that had to this point remained stuffed away, twisting and writhing in a last ditch effort to free himself against all the odds. As he narrated those final moments to a stricken Spinesreach, the Voice systematically cut away the comforting embrace of his Argent Legionnaire's Uniform before upturning one final bucket of water upon him, the fluid spilling out in droplets that glistened with lunar motes of energy. And then, with the unwilling sacrifice lying cold and shivering beneath the touch of spring eve, Esrytesh Sibatti raised up her blade. "Do not be afraid of those who merely kill the body," she informed him with bitter inflection. "But you should be afraid of the Ones who can destroy both body and soul." In a single, swift motion did she strike, piercing flesh and defying bone before exposing his still-beating heart for all to witness.

"Witness, Sapience!" Holbrook screamed aloud for all to hear, the cold fear that had gripped him to this moment torn asunder beneath a torrential flood of indignant anger and embittered acceptance of his fate. Through the journey of this night he had slowly arrived upon the numbing realization that this would be a death from which the mirror would not grant him a return, and as he denounced those around him there with his dying breath, and gave final farewells to hearth and home, his thoughts began to drift to sweet memories of what were; trespassing in his father's library with his late brother, speaking with his fiance atop the Dragon Spire those years gone on a cold, winter night, nestling with her amidst their odd menagerie of pets. His final thoughts drifted to his brother.

"I'll see you soon, Tomas."

To be continued...

Penned by my hand on Tisday, the 23rd of Arios, in the year 504 MA.
SibattiValorieIesid
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