The world of Therra is home to our brightest hopes and dreams, but there is also a place where our darkest fears and most terrifying nightmares make their abode...a place so horrible that not even the gods will speak of it.
What little knowledge we have is unverifiable and the sources not entirely trustworthy. Unfortunately the sheer volume of references across multiple cultures cannot be ignored, and this fills me with dread. These writings detail a never-ending purgatory—an abyss, if you will. It is a prison, a place where evil lies shackled but not dormant. This prison is designed to hold the most wondrous accomplishments of the gods, which are also their greatest embarrassments: the daemonic vaedziur.
Can this gateway be opened? Fortunately no way has yet been found, but I believe that doom abides within its hollow walls, ever scratching at them, seeking a way out.
- Aran Adamas the Grey, acting leader of the Pentacle
Light shone from an unknown source high above and lit with an eerie glow the perpetual rolling fog that hid horrors just out of sight. Occasionally quick, flitting movements were barely visible as flashing shadows against the gray backdrop, a glimpse of skittering forms that clacked against the hardened, gray, gravel-covered ground. The air smelled of ash and dust.
A bright figure stood in stark contrast with the rest of the scenery. Unlike the obscured outlines that hinted at a grim populace within this shadowy realm, the figure was a creature of the light. It floated persistently down what seemed an invisible path.
The being's body was made entirely of glowing, yellow energy and was clad in the armor of a warrior. Its head and arms were crackling orbs, while its body bore a metal chest piece that, at the waist, joined a flowing warrior's kilt. Its face and hands shone like miniature suns suspended midair, connected by golden strands of energy. The breastplate was stamped with the insignia of a double-headed, golden war hammer.
The entire realm gave it a wide berth. Creatures within the ashen fog did not impede it, and even the mist that pervaded the region seemed to avoid the blazing warrior.
Finally, after floating for many minutes, the warrior stopped and spoke in a deep voice that echoed as though it had originated in a cave.
“I have come for the vaedziur Kestrel,” it said.
There was a flurry of movement. Many claws began to scratch at the aura around the warrior but stopped almost immediately.
A path through the mist extended before the warrior, leading toward a sapphire-hued figure suspended above the fog in the distance. The warrior floated down the path toward the massive being.
The creature was suspended off the ground by chains of energy that stretched into the grayness above until they disappeared from view. A familiar mark branded the shackles; it was the same war hammer that appeared on the visitor's chest piece, and the energy binding the creature was similar in appearance to the warrior’s.
The imp hanging from the chains was humanoid, but his frame was squat and laced with powerful muscles. The creature's inky-blue skin was scaled and dotted intermittently with patches of feathers. His legs were long and sinewy, like a frog's. Prodigious machines built for springing and landing, they were stretched almost straight by the chains, which caused him even greater discomfort.
The prisoner’s face was broad and expressive, patterned with smooth scales that curved upwards. Large, curling horns floated just off the surface of his head and remained in orbit like a spiked crown of bone. Two round eyes as big as a man's fist stared at the visitor intently. The creature's wide mouth stretched from cheekbone to cheekbone, with angular, rotting teeth that spilled over his lower lip.
The single wing that protruded from one side of the imp's back drooped from disuse. The muscles that once powered the majestic appendage were atrophied. Holes dotted the membrane of the wing, making the once-impressive limb appear sad and decrepit. On the other side of the creature’s back was a bleeding stump where the matching appendage had been. Claws had raked across the remnant, leaving jagged gouge marks in a wound that was still bleeding. The creature was a picture of lost glory with a crown of thorns.
“Oh, me, oh, my! A servant to visit little old me!" The imp spoke in a gravely, malicious voice that hinted at insanity. "Why are you here, puppet of the golden God?”
“Lord Kestrel, the divine hammer has decreed that we seek your counsel,” the warrior responded in its hollow-sounding voice.
“You seek my counsel? After what your kind did to us...to me? Our imprisonment has gone on too long for forgiveness!” Kestrel snarled from his chains.
The warrior did not speak for a moment as it weighed what it was about to say. “Do you desire freedom?” it asked finally.
Struggling against the chains that bound him with a titanic effort that shook the entire realm, Kestrel roared in anger. His jaw unhinged, which caused his mouth to open almost vertical to reveal row on row of jagged teeth.
“You would let me, one of the four vaedziur lords, go free? Do you comprehend the torment that will follow when I set my brothers and sisters loose? Your world will be wiped clean! All traces that make it unique will be erased, and we will return it to the original fabric from which it was created. This I promise!” he howled and then collapsed back into the embrace of his chains.
“Dol’ron has granted me leave to free you, and you will be given the opportunity to set your people free of their shackles,” the warrior offered.
Kestrel smiled at the thought. “Is this genuine? Are you offering us the chance to remove our bindings? Is this a cosmic joke?” He examined the warrior for a moment, and its humorless demeanor seemed to soften. “Hmm...what if you are telling the truth?” the vaedziur wondered, and his round eyes narrowed.
The warrior bowed his head again. “Your vessel will be Diametries Malus Aequitas, the First Speaker of Dol’ron. He has been informed of the sacrifice he will make and has begun preparations for the first step of the ritual to remove the gate guardian from service in order to free your people,” the warrior uttered gravely.
Kestrel cackled and nodded approval. “My, you are thorough; one would almost think that this had long been planned.”
The warrior raised an arm and pointed in Kestrel's direction. The war hammers stamped on the chains that held Kestrel glowed brightly, and then the chains shattered, sprinkling the ashen ground with glowing particles that disappeared moments later.
Kestrel landed with catlike grace. Many millennia of imprisonment had not dulled his reactions. The vaedziur crept toward Dol'ron's servant, and the gray, graveled ground smoldered with cobalt flame where he stepped.
“One of my kind has not entered the mortal realm since our imprisonment. Leaving would require special guidance, granted by Dol’ron himself. Do I have it? Can more of my brothers and sisters come along?” Kestrel asked.
“You have his blessing—but only you,” the warrior responded. "Any more would draw unwanted attention from the gate guardian."
The imp approached and carefully traced the edges of the warrior's armor with his impressive claws, then dug one lapis-colored nail through the servant's breastplate with ease.
“I can kill you now,” Kestrel said, almost smacking his lips with obvious pleasure at the notion.
The warrior was stoic and unmoving.
“Send me to the city of the damned, and I will perform the ritual to unbind my people,” Kestrel commanded, removing his claw from the armor.
An orb of energy from the warrior's arm floated out and expanded into a flat plane till it formed a perfect disk. Then it began to swirl in on itself and revealed on the other side that it was a portal suspended high in the sky of another realm. It overlooked a healthy, rolling forest that ended at the foot of a large, white mountain with a city in the distance.
Kestrel grinned with barely contained enthusiasm. He sprang toward the open portal but stopped halfway through. Both clawed hands rested on the rim of the gateway and charred the portal disk where they touched it.
“The benefits that my people will reap are evident, but what does your god hope to gain with the destruction of the mortal realm?” The warrior held its tongue.
Kestrel continued with striking insight, “Of course, Dol’ron cannot act directly outside its mandate. Your god can, however, close its eyes to injustice. And so it seems that justice is blind...,” Kestrel said astutely, “...but mayhap not blind enough to consider what might follow us through when we are free.” Then he jumped through the portal.
On the other side, Kestrel transformed into a midnight-blue shadow, and the only evidence of the vaedziur's passing was the dark silhouette that swept over the clouds below him.
The warrior broke contact with the portal. “Lead me to the other three vaedziur lords,” the warrior said to the fog around him. "We have much to discuss." The fog parted to reveal a new path, and the warrior left as the portal began to close behind him.
Even when the warrior was long gone, the portal was not yet closed, but the remaining denizens of this plane of existence knew full well that to pass beyond it would mean certain death.
Another figure now materialized next to the portal. This was a monk-like being in long, flowing robes that glittered like the stars of the night sky. His hood was pulled down in such a way that nothing could be seen inside it, save piercing green eyes the color of jade.
The monk raised a robed arm, and a pure, white mist flowed out of his sleeve to form the hazy outline of a body, which hovered just in front of him. The figure of white mist kneeled in respect and then raised its head to reveal matching forest-green eyes of its own. It exited quickly through the closing portal, just as Kestrel had done. The monk then bowed his head and silently disappeared back into the fog.
- End of Episode -
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