8/9/2022 at 14:39
The Second War of Night, Part XIII: Dia'ruis Eternal
And then Holbrook Hought died. As his heart was lifted from his chest and displayed for all to witness, the world stood rocked beneath a passing from which he would never return. To the Hunter she passed this gift, the twitching muscle still warm and wet to the touch as He brought it to His lips. Locking His gaze upon the burgeoning celestial body above, set to devouring it, releasing the internal reservoir of blood still held within so that it ran down His jaw, arms and chest alike. Driven into shock by the suddenness of Hought's death, the rooster companion he had kept company with for so long began to panic and run, only to granted a similar, swift end beneath the Hunter's jaws. The Voice wasted little time in making use of what remained of the now soulless corpse, quickly and efficiently carving out the eyes, bone, liver, teeth and flesh as offering to those that deserved; the Ancient Ones that watched, but were not yet sated.
It was then she stepped forward, posing a question to the waiting crowd: "Who will step forward, as a willing sacrifice?" No one assented more quickly than the Shaman Cinnamae, and though she moved forward at the behest of the Voice, Raest, the Heartwood Hunter, quickly called out in declaration; he alone would make this sacrifice, for who better deserved such an honour than one who had given his entirety in service to the Hunter. And so it was that Raest stood upon the altar looking out over the crowd, seeing not the preternatural visage of beasts, but the faces of a people that he had guided for centuries without complaint. Raest's decision solidified by Haern's request to serve Him this last time, the man that had seen so many sunrises and sunsets stripped himself bare to lay upon the bloody altar, calm in the knowledge of what it was he was sacrifcing himself for. Not a moment passed before lupine howls were heard throughout the Heartwood, and then the arrival of the pack was imminent. Drawn by the promise of blood and savagery of the magic that crackled in the air, the pack descended upon the prostrate figure of Raest, Hunter of the Heartwood, ripping his flesh and rending his tissue until naught but pieces remained.
Drawn by this frenzy of wolfish bloodlust, the presence of a seventh Guardian was briefly felt, and in the visages stirred a primal bloodlust, an urge primordial to fall to their knees and join the baying pack in their feast. The bowls, already burning with green fire, smouldered with renewed vigour, and the strength of the Guardians impressed itself on all present, empowering them with the might of the rhythm. Adventurers across the world felt their heads spin and the thoughts blur, their will sapped, drawn to feed the gathering vortex of ritual magic in the Heartwood.
The visages tore at the hearts of their namesakes, blood spraying wildly in all directions and, as one, consumed by primal instinct and hunger insatiable, howled a ferocious challenge to the moon, blood dripping from their lips. Drawing a ragged breath, the blood-daubed features of the Hunter regarded the moon with an apex predator's hunger. The Wild God threw back His head and beat at His own chest, His howl tearing free in an otherworldly explosion of sound that left all who heard it stunned and reeling with its violent reverberation. The clouds fled the sky; the earth shook; and the wind itself stilled to terrified silence. Then, frenzied ululating rose all across Sapience, thousands of lupine tongues coming together as one to howl in unison with the alpha. The emerald flames of the Guardians rose to encircle the hulking figure of the Hunter in Dendaric energies as His baying howl went on unrelenting, all the savagery and untamed ferocity of the wilds voiced in singular refrain. Instinctively, subconsciously, He exerted His will, the torrent of energy raging in the air drawn around and into Him, the will and energy of all present sapped to feed His storming well of gathering might.
The Witch of the Wilds led them once more in chant, and everything changed.
Draped in a vortex of green flames, the Hunter's howl abruptly ceased, and the silence left in its wake was as deafening as the sound which preceded it. Haern's already considerable frame grew taller, stronger, His rugged body stretched until it seemed He could touch the sky itself if He deigned only to reach out and try. Sprawling chains of dull anaxagorite manifested in His hands, fastened to the gleaming length of a colossal spear. Each link spanned the reach of a mighty oak tree yet they too were dwarfed by the Hunter's enormous size. He hoisted the Underking's gift with a roar of exertion, the Wild God hurling the spear into the sky, as the massive fetters uncoiled like an enormous serpent towards the moon above.
As the lunar sphere glared down upon the world akin to an immense, pupilless eye, Dhar's spear connected and the chains found purchase, chunks of lunar debris scattering like so much dust raining silver down from above. Haern clasped one of the massive links in a steady grip, and heaved, pouring all of His strength into the immense effort. The moon seemed almost to shiver from its position within the distant skies, trembling as immovable object strained against unstoppable force.
Swept aside, the eastern ocean roiled in protest and the tide rolled outward with unnatural speed, the inner reaches of the seaboard peeling back into the shape of a tremendous tidal wave. The burgeoning tsunami swelled to incredible proportions before crashing amidst a great bellowing roar, mile-high waves pouring inwards with coastal settlements, fishing villages, and the entire City of Enorian in their inevitable path.
Haern heaved at the anaxagorite chains for a second time, the power of the Dendaric Guardians still wreathing Him in its vibrant green flames. The moon, sped upon a wave of starlit canvas, began to descend, drawn as though by a magnet down the silverbright light of a path long forgotten. Unnatural distortion followed with its downsloping fall, the air quavering in denial. Though its initial motions were languid, even lazy, it soon gained an impossible speed, forced to heed the beckoning call of the Hunter's howl. It swelled with the catastrophic brilliance of a lunar light fantastic, filling the sky as it grew, becoming bigger and more horrifyingly radiant with each league closer it fell to earth.
The stars wheeled in the heavens as if alive, the brightest among them converging to frame the outline of a great celestial being, Its formless presence one of swirling nebulae and myriad shifting colours. Each cautious motion It made incited captivating stellar phenomena across the starscape, Its passage at once mysterious and sublime. As the Cosmic Being drifted in the direction of the plummeting moon, a second Entity coalesced, gaining immutable cohesion from the unknowable heavens. Silhouetted in sparkling silver, the featureless figure of the Celestine materialised, His unerring descent causing the world to shift around Him to permit His ingress. Barely allowing Himself a fleeting moment to look fondly over His Creation, Varian's expression turned to unreadable serenity, His blinding radiance lighting up the skies.
Creation yielded to the will of its Maker as Varian raised His left hand to pierce the veil of reality and reach beyond, the fabric of all that is, was, and will be keening a note of recognition at the Creator taking the ailing Plane of Dendara into His fatherly grasp. The once hale mass, vibrant green and bursting with fresh life in ages gone now writhed in the Creator's palm amidst a viscous film of foul shadow, rotting the wild landscape from within and without.
Violent storms began to rage across the continent, forks of brilliant lightning striking vengefully from within the moon-crossed skies. Torrents of unnatural rainfall lashed at the ground below, buffeted by fierce winds gusting wroth in all directions. Spared from the raging tempests by the wingspan of the First Dragon, Spinesreach dwelled in darkness beneath Tanixalthas's unfurling pinions as Pride Incarnate stirred irritably from Her slumber, Her temper roused to anger by the calamity unfolding all around.
Pressure built in the deep caverns of Bloodloch, the dormant volcano at their heart shuddering. The ground shook with every tremulous burst, low keening rising from the bowels of the earth. In Enorian, lightning strikes laid siege to the streets, spearing down from above to vent their wrath upon cobble and stone. And in the distance, the still-growing tsunami rolled its way ever closer, advancing with cruelly slow inevitability toward the coast.
The Creator's mere presence seemed to repel the unnatural weather squalling all about Him, for He remained unmoved and utterly serene, devoted to His work. With one tender hand He shaped new from nothing, and in the other He cradled life itself, carefully liberated from dying Dendara to be transplanted into the newborn Lirathyar He had made.
Sweeping landscapes rose and fell within His palm whilst He worked, the familiar lights of the Ancient Valley shimmering before He moved on to the next, countless tiny specks visible among the vast, foetid swath of rot devouring everything in its path in a chilling mirror of the plight which Prime too endures. He looked far to the east and drew forth wild foliage, and from the distant south came sun-blushed verdure; life in all its forms passing beneath His omnipotent eye, each creature and sprouting bud dutifully conveyed to its new, healthy home.
Wrested from its prominent position within the heavenly vault, the moon's descent continued without impediment, both the skies above and the populace below screaming a requiem of impending catastrophe as it inexorably traversed the night sky. Reaching out with kind hands to arrest the moon's imminent collision with earth, the Cosmic Being snapped Dhar's spear with effortless ease, a minuscule flexing of power leaving no doubt as to the depths of the Entity's well of might. The world lurched, sundered chains engineering a sudden release of tension while the moon, freed from its deathborn snare, began returning to its rightful place. Varian's timeless serenity faltered, consternation creasing His brow into a frown of disappointment for His interrupted works. He motioned to return whence He came, the sky shifting all around Him, and found His traversal heavensward hastened by the hands of the Cosmic Being reaching out to take Sapience itself in Its grip.
Haern bellowed His defiance to the Eschaton's act and, in that moment, a deep-rooted, primordial soughing fermented from the heartwood, as the Great Oak acquiesced to the Hunter's indisputable command. Awoken from natural slumber and silent observation by the desperate efforts of the Wild God, none were beyond its reach as its topmost eaves unfurled in a panoply of tremendous boughs and enormous limbs which, with an almighty CRACK of ancient bark and rugged branch, lurched skyward, swelling to envelop the lunar sphere and see the Hunter's will be done. Both Creator and Counterpart hesitated, statuesque figures of formless celestial wonder standing frozen in the skyscape. Bought time by the Hunter's daring intervention, Varian's serenity reasserted itself, His work nearing completion.
Still the frothing tsunami gained momentum, drawing yet more of the displaced ocean into its surging, torrential mass. As it drew nearer to Enorian, a lone figure strode calmly across the receding waters, the ever-shifting presence of the Maelstrom strolling out to meet the monstrous wave. Slyphe wore an almost child-like smirk upon Their features, a grin of excitement as the God prepared to act.
Sonic booms wracked the sky, the insatiable ire of the First Dragon unabating in its relentless squall against the usurpers of Her domain. By Her grace alone did Spinesreach remain sheltered from the preternatural storm which harried it, Her magnificent wingspan granting reprieve. From Her vantage in the northern skies, She judged Duiran's fate; Her dreadful maw yawned open, the cavernous pit of speared teeth alighting with crackling bolts of azure, and with an ear-splitting roar, She unleashed a tremendous torrent of lightning to damn both the Council and the surrounding woodlands for their audacity.
Plumes of grey-white smoke rolled in, blanketing Duiran and the surrounding Ithmian forests in a protective sheen of misty pearlescence. The incandescent lightning struck at the charnel barrier again and again but was repelled, denied purchase by the Lord of the Underhalls. Dhar appeared, as is His wont, sans flair or fanfare in the sky; ever-reserved and emotionless and armoured in His dark grey cuirass, Dhar's grim countenance was one prepared and ready for battle. Plumes of essence spilled from Him in a torrent of silver-white, devouring the Dragon's azure thunderbolts in an anguished chorus of hissing protestations as He declared the Council's workings to be the will of the Father, and that He would see it done.
Streams of variegated colour and multifaceted illumination sparked from the Celestine's fingertips whilst He worked His quintessential purpose, the ineffable act of Creation inspiring a faint half-smile of joy and merriment upon His lips. Shorn from the rotten core of ailing, plagued Dendara, that which dwelled within the newborn Lirathyar positively burst with vibrant energies, bequeathed fresh life to grow and gifted time to flourish wild and wondrous. In steady, practised motions, the Creator set down the Lirathyar, allowing it to settle at the heart of the cosmos. He spared a furrowed, worried glance towards once-Sterion, but His concerned reverie was short-lived; His Counterpart blazed in the upper reaches of the stratosphere, a resplendent, blinding manifestation of countless suns-turned-supernova.
Having called unto Itself Its full power, It prised the screaming moon from the boughs of the Great Oak, implacably restoring it whence it came. Varian's form deliquesced to naught but sparks of fulgent silver, and, leaving behind a vacuum of darkness as if They had never existed, both Creator and Counterpart were gone.
Near the coast, the Maelstrom thrust out an upturned palm and willed the oncoming tsunami to halt, the mountainous expanse of churning, frothing, seething water frozen unwillingly in its tracks. Mercurial joie-de-vivre still clung to Slyphe's visage as the Changing God lifted Their trident, cleaving the torrential deluge in twain with delight. Roaring in protest, the sundered waves collapsed upon themselves, the displaced ocean reforming in a bellowing cascade of salt and spray, creatures aquatic and amphibious drawn along in the foaming tides. Spared from destruction, Enorian loosed a collective sigh despite the residual spray and moisture now drenching their streets.
The earth shuddered as the Great Oak receded its almighty branches, monstrous roots lacing a labyrinth anew within the depths of the world in anchoring homage to the new-made Lirathyar. In Bloodloch, the volcano's ire calmed with the restoration of the moon and the ground ceased to heave with the threat of imminent earthquake and magma eruption.
With His duty done and His charge secured, the Hunter's monstrous size waned until, once more, He reverted to His ordinary stature. Though lesser, Haern exuded a newfound vigour and vitality, a zest for life rekindled from the pits of misery and despair.
The oceans of Sapience at last settled, and the violent storms calmed, petrichor pungent in their wake. At the heart of the woodland realm, nature's heartbeat thrummed in a chorale of sylvan celebration. The forests waxed verdant, creatures gamboled about with newfound energy, birds sung sweet songs aand the calls of beasts sounded out in tones vital and robust, all blessed by an extraordinary gift: renewal. The Hunter raised His voice and the rest of the Council soon joined in, bellowing the name of the newborn Plane of Life chosen by Sibatti herself: Dia'ruis.
While Duiran celebrated what they termed a tremendous victory, much of the rest of the world looked to them in horror and disgust for the price they had paid, and for what they had risked in the process. Tempers flared in Enorian with the potential loss of life and a bargain with the Creator. The Argent Legion, none save perhaps Thronekeeper Whirran louder than Bamathis Himself, swore vengeance on the Council for their crime of sacrificing an Officer against his will. Spinesreach reeled, hurt and angry from the betrayal of a newfound ally, while most of Bloodloch, keenly aware of fickle diplomacies and feeling vindicated, had little but scorn to spare for the north and even less pity for the east.
As of the present moment, the advance of Ohlsana's rot has barely slowed. Hundreds of shadowspawn roam freely. Refugees flock to Spinesreach and Enorian in droves. The people are angry. The Gods are angry. Efforts continue in researching ways to halt the black tide, but what calamity next shall befall the world, none can yet claim to know...
Penned by my hand on Tisday, the 23rd of Arios, in the year 504 MA.