9/24/2022 at 3:33
The Second War of Night, Part XXXI: The Empire in Exile
Following the shocking revelations of Iosyne's treachery and Her subsequent handing over of the Shard of Truth to Irgech, the world reeled in response. Those displaced from Her order mourned the vanished Goddess, but none more closely than Xenia Seirath. Driven wholly by devotion to the Malevolent, Xenia desperately sought some hope for Her redemption, meeting with Her Emissary, Baalziel, to discuss the options.
Baalziel speculated that Iosyne could potentially be saved and that Her heart, separated from Her body for some centuries, meant that a piece of Her was potentially uncorrupted. If efforts were to be made to save the Goddess, so said Baalziel, then Xenia would first need to convince the Lady's former allies - now enemies - to assist. Xenia predictably set about this task with fervour, but much of the Empire did not concur. Many, the Tyrant and most Thronekeepers amongst them, determined Iosyne to have been too weak to resist becoming Shadowbound on two separate occasions and, by the Goddess' own laws, should not be saved even if the opportunity arose, and thus far no signs that it would have presented themselves.
Iosyne remains at large, Her activities and intentions as yet unknown. The Empire remains unsympathetic.
~ ~ ~
Meanwhile, Bloodloch found themselves temporarily relocated to their military outpost of El'jazira, a serviceable place albeit lacking all of the facilities and comforts of their native city state. In the week following the unveiling of Iosyne, the displaced citizens attempted to hatch a plan when they were joined by the Progenitor, a bloodsoul stone in one hand and a nascent chain of iron and gold in the other. Presenting these relics to those gathered, Abhorash referred back to the gang of thieves who had located the Shard of Truth beneath Arbothia, and outlined a plan of his own.
Information gathered from this crew of burglars alluded to methods by which one could tamper with the Orrery of the Spheres, a subject Abhorash himself was already well versed in. He explained that, prior to the city's conquest by Iosyne and Her Chiav, he had intended to utilise these plans to draw Ati, the Shadow, back to the Prime through the Orrery and enslave it to the Empire's will. Now, circumstances had changed.
Before pressing further, Abhorash commented on the Empire as a whole, noting that an Empire of one city is hardly worthy of the name, and declaring his intention to aid the Sanguine Fist in the construction of a second city state, making them an Empire in more than just word. For the time being, however, Abhorash proposed conducting a ritual to draw, fuse, and bind Ati in order to recapture the lost city.
Instructing the Dominion to prepare a ritual of blood, he informed them they would need to fill the stone he had presented with souls and blood offerings, and to embellish the chains with additional links. Efforts proceeded apace, and the mood in El'jazira was surprisingly buoyant given what had only so recently transpired. The Carnifex worked at gathering souls, the Dominion spilled endless blood (praise must go to Xarian here for relentlessly taking up the task), and the Teradrim bolstered their chains. Shilkar, however, had her mind on other things.
Having carried out an audacious rescue of all the refugees enslaved by the Empire's ambassadors, the Demon Warden set about organising them into divisions. The untrained and terrified rabble lined the streets of El'jazira, timidly awaiting training. Shilkar organised the Empire to instruct them in a plethora of fields - first they learned courage, then strength, discipline, and efficiency. Next came instruction in offensive and defensive techniques. Teradrim and the Blood transformed many into the undead and vampires to bolster their strength. Forgers armoured them, and Thronekeeper Whirran yearned to ply them with silvergrit to the chagrin of his fellows. Slowly but surely, the ragtag band grew in skill and strategy, and Shilkar deemed them ready to march.
Abhorash worked at the Orrery of the Spheres, inverting its flow in order to pull the Ati fragments scattered across the planes back to the Prime. In the north, the slave troops deployed to the Tarean front were recalled back to the outpost and organised into legions. Too, the Earth rent asunder under Ivoln's command and warbands of Earthen poured through to El'jazira, bolstering the Empire's military might ever further. Anticipation built for the ritual and the re-capture, and time passed rapidly.
Late Ios would see the day finally arrive. Abhorash called the citizens to a remote laboratory in the depths of Farsai, explaining that, prior to its return back to the Eye, General Saglozol had toiled at the effort of restoring Ati, and had drawn many of its essence fragments back to the ruins. Some 35 people were present and prepared, the bloodsoul stone sated, the earthen chains strong and resilient. Among them stood Asaraii, Dourif, Maeve, Paxe, Galilei, Sheryni, Yettave, Aren, Akarn, Xai, Dreww, Sethra, Tybereus, Mazzion, Xarian, Bulrok, Almol, Kurak, Mjoll, Rijetta, Whirran, Elene, Ehtias, Tina, Azarae, Gryph, Orhm, Taj, Xenia, Tetchta, Teramasce, and Daebach
Abhorash stood at the centre of the chamber and instructed the Blood Council of the Dominion - Dourif, Asaraii, and Maeve - to begin. Three voices lifted in chants of ancient Kalsu, before they worked as a trio to draw a ritual circle of blood and sand around Abhorash. Next, all present worked together to draw the remaining errant essence from all across Sapience into the circle. As it streamed in, Abhorash directed the Blood to lift their voices in chant and fuse the pieces of Ati back together.
When this was done, he looked at Dourif with a grave expression. The next step was to draw the piece of Ati in him, out, and merge it with the whole. Again the Blood Council took up the task, carefully extracting it and infusing all the essence with a drop of his own highly powerful blood. As the amalgamated essence stirred, the Carnifex set loose the thousands of soul fragments they had gathered, and began stitching them together. As they toiled, the singular whole began to take shape, until Abhorash was surrounded by a storm of blood, essence, and soul magic whirling like a maelstrom around him. He looked now to the Primus, charging him with animating the remnants of Ati. Dourif frowned in concentration and exerted his full power over the blood, willing the disparate souls to merge with the essence and regain something resembling life.
Tortured screams rang out as the Primus succeded in his task, and the Teradrim hastened to enwrap their newly conscious captive in the heavy chains they had laboriously forged. Still it resisted, and all present exerted wills of their own, attempting to dominate Ati and bring it under Imperial control. Though the effort was painstaking and difficult, the Empire prevailed, and Ati, now broken and subsumed by Bloodloch's will, yet screamed.
The citizens returned quickly back to El'jazira and began deploying their troops into the desert. Under the command of Bulrok, Bloodloch began a siege with Ati at the head of the vanguard, parading their slave for all to see. Into the seized city they poured alongside the Progenitor, commanding Ati to eradicate legion after legion after legion, and to devour the rot threatening to consume the entire cavern network.
For a quarter day or more they fought, laying siege to their own home in a valiant attempt to bring it back under their own control. As dozens fell in droves to beast and spinner and armed Chiav alike, Abhorash personally cut down hundreds, clearing a path for the citizens and soldiers to march through. All the while, Earthen hymns rang across the caverns, the warbands of Azvosh revelling in the glory of war.
When at last the final invaders fell, the Empire summoned Ati to the Alcazar. Without pity or mercy they shackled the Shadow - the Subjugated Son - with chains and immediately began to celebrate their victory. Abhorash, nonchalant and wry as ever, reaffirmed his intention for the Fist to build a second city, promising to share more with them at a later date.
Most of the denizens, naturally undead or vampiric and forced to regenerate elsewhere in the initial siege, safely returned to the city. One noticeable exception was Hafydus, the living Minotaur bartender - yet another Minotaur sacrifice in the War of the Night.
Penned by my hand on Kinsday, the 21st of Ios, in the year 505 MA.