A shadow on the heart of the Earth
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Location: Near where Broken Social Scene is gonna play on October 15th, 2010
9377 White Gold Dollars
|Posted: Fri Feb 17, 2017 6:28 pm Post subject: Lord Kevin's Watch
|(More TC fanfic stuff, with all the legal/moral/w/e caveats. We know who wrote the real stuff haha.)
The first of my Covenant-related story projects centered on Loric and Kevin. Why I gravitated towards a quasi-analytic historical reconstruction of the conflict with the Viles I don't know. I know the Viles/spawn were endlessly fascinating for me to read about, but then again so were plenty of other entities and forces in the series. At any rate, the ideas flowed well and seemed of a piece with the concept of the Land I had inherited from my reading. Like, these were the kinds of things that would have been happening, based on how the Viles acted in FR and so on and so forth. So not of course exactly what I said by almost any means, but just something along those lines.
For some reason, I tried to convey an image of Kevin's mindset, his "if"-obsession and so on, through this first story, even to the point of collapsing the entire later problem of the Demondim into an epilogue. Why? I knew why, deep down inside, I think, and even to some extent on the surface of my mind, and here's the reason:
Have you ever considered all the desiderata you'd have to account for in a satisfactory description of the Ritual of Desecration such as Kevin performed versus the Despiser? First off, it was not an explosion spell. It did not do to Gravin Threndor what the Illearth Stone/white-gold ring cataclysm did to Ridjeck Thome. It did not trigger an eruption in Gravin Threndor, unless maybe the Fire-Lions were the agents of the Ritual (seems dubious). At the same time, it has to kill Kevin when it does its thing, while being aimed at Foul. Also, it somehow severely ravages almost the entire Land, except presumably places like the forests or Andelain. Moreover, Kevin has to have some reason besides sheer desperation to invoke the Ritual. If it was just the despair, then really even the Blood of the Earth would not have daunted him. So, whatever the Ritual is based on is something that Kevin has to be able to at least deceive himself into thinking will be effective.
Oh and to top it all off, it has to have some obscure relationship with the Oath of Peace and all that stuff about Trell in TPTP.
Now, from my own private perspective, the entire story had a possibly even more difficult level to confront: why were the Demondim so dangerous? The description I came up with for the Vile war seemed extreme enough that the ability of the protagonists to resolve it would seem to imply that they would have had the ability to resolve the Demondim problem later. I mean, why wasn't the krill effective enough? For one, of course, although their solitary-seeming qualities would have had a better chance of precluding the Viles from invoking service from, say, armies of Cavewights or kresh, the Demondim are indicated as a more--social--species? Sort of? At least maybe the Demondim had great armies, too.
The difficulty with that, though, is that if it was just that there was some huge evil army threatening to destroy the Land, and the Ritual was meant to cover that army which would have, as mass collateral damage so to speak, devastated the Land, then we have no clear explanation for how the Ritual was to be directed at the Despiser in such a way as would not simultaneously shatter Kiril Threndor entirely.
Useless fanboy musings? Sure. But if you'd like a different take on the subject, I offer you the following.
LORD KEVIN'S WATCH
PART ONE: TREASON
Chapter One: Reveldark
For four times four years had the Demondim come forth from their inconspicuous darkness to wage war against the Land. Lord Kevin Landfriend had witnessed entire villages transmuted by violence and arcane malice into essential charnel, a ruin of life or being beyond healing: all the power the Demondim had ere wielded in the great defense of Revelstone during the crisis of the Viles now scoured the helpless Land and its people, ravaging them from creation.
Sixteen Demondim assembled on the horizon, each distinct to Kevin's Land-sight as it stretched out over the landscape from his high vantage in the Lords' Keep. Within this emanation of his aura, Kevin distinguished the signatures of evil inside each example of alienage, each a cancer or disease of its own special kind, a unique plague to be unleashed.
And with the bane of the night blotting out the hope of the stars, the Keep shuddered as if fundamentally defenseless.
"Yet they are leagues from here, and ponderous," one of the Haruchai uttered at Kevin's back. Vail, the Prover of the Vow of the Bloodguard, had spoken, surveying the impending evil as astutely as the Lord with his Staff of Law at hand. "It will be nigh three days before they arrive."
"Is this what comes of patience?" Kevin muttered, only in part to himself. "I must admit to some great distress at even such a delay."
"Your methods are merely untried," the Bloodguard said. "That they are such as might defeat the Demondim more readily than other methods have ere proven follows from the nature of what you have proposed. And it is a worthy attempt."
"Yet a tiring one, even were it to succeed. If I am stricken with such weakness as cannot hold against attack, and my strike only lays low some of these creatures..."
Vail turned his head with a hint of a smile locked in the jaws of his gesture. "In this case, to dwell on 'if' is to dwell on nothingness, High Lord. Either we make some attempt, the most appropriate attempt, or we accept defeat. We know that we will not accept defeat."
Kevin openly smiled. "Let us hope sleepless immortality is not the only power your Vow grants you," he said, settling his frightened eyes again on the ominous distance.
The Demondim in themselves were neither flesh nor spirit alone, but a mutilated amalgamation of material and spectral being. This aspect of their essence came from the revulsion of the Viles, who had despised their own pure incorporeal estate-had been called to such despite by another evil-and in siring the Demondim had elected to impart some measure of animal life to these monsters. Thus the monsters mimicked and mocked other animals, whose corpses they occluded within their ghostly hearts, splaying the corpses out in dire puppetry as the Demondim moved like a compacted swarm.
And though the krill should have been enough, Kevin had once thought, but for the strange men from the western mountains the Land would have fallen to the treason of the Demondim.
Vail and his host had sojourned from their homes in search of self-worth. This they identified or hoped for in the Lords of the Land, whom they had met and to whom they posed the challenge of mock combat, a festival of martial talents for which even the Warmarked in Revelstone would have by and large been unfit to participate in. Chuckling, Kevin had knelt to Vail, asking if the Haruchai would train some from the Keep and the wide Land in their ways, that a true contest might be entered into by all concerned, even if many seasons hence.
"How long?" Grinn, another of the mountainborn westerners, had simply asked.
"Ten times ten years," Kevin replied.
Blessed with the ascertainment born of the Land, even though they were born elsewhere, the Haruchai had comprehended the verity of Kevin's remark, and all of them, for the one and only time in their personal or even national history, had collectively blinked.
"Does this Land provide you with such bountiful life?" Vail had inquired.
"The Earthpower, the deposit or inheritance of the Creator, is sooth to us, a grace we are ever learning to be worthy of."
The "bane of the night" is the signature atmospheric element in the negative story. It is not the night itself that is baneful but something that happens at night due to the pollution of the Demondim. Indeed, the entire mass war with the Demondim is framed as occurring relative to a Demondim claim that their quasi-industrial activities ought to go on regardless of the environmental damage they cause (obviously not stated in those terms).
The Demondim produced the pitchbane by boiling their lore-delved vitriol, fanning the molten steam high into the sky, seeding the ether with clouds like assumptions of oblivion. During the day, these dark clouds disturbed, unsettled, horrified; but at night, their real power became clear. Behind them, evanescent though they seemed, the stars could not be seen at all, for without the sun to ameliorate their dire glow, the clouds gave off an eerie radiance made not of brightness but the void. The aura of this mordant atmosphere occluded the bounty of the heavens, and without the stars' solace something was being lost to the people of the Land in all the regions blighted by the pitchbane.
As said in the first story, Kevin has a long-term interest in Glimmermere's magic.
"This is glimmerdraught," Kevin said, uncapping the vial and pouring some of it into the cup.
A lot of the story is framed as internal memory-narration from Kevin. It starts, then, by the time the Demondim as a group are waging war on the Land, but hearkens back to a scenario in which at first only a single one of the Vilespawn clearly turned to evil. To introduce this fact, the story describes a-Jeroth's appearance to the Council of Lords.
Kevin recalled that hour with uncanny horror. The stranger who sauntered to the Lords' Keep that bounteous evening had carried icons in his aura of prolonged agony and enormous potency. To Kevin's Sanctified audition, this stately man chimed as if with the glistening laughter of Glimmermere, wholly hale and meant for delight, if marred by the tragedy of his life.
For a-Jeroth, as he identified himself, had come from Flatmark Stonedown, a village nigh unto the eastern Land, known for a lookout post from which the villagers were wont to observe the great Sarangrave below. But such capacities for foresight had come to naught, for the Demondim had assailed the village of late, slaying many, taking others. So a-Jeroth, the Graveler of Flatmark Stonedown, had come to the Lords for aid. And he himself had aid to offer.
He might as well have been a hitherto entirely shrouded and Unfettered wizard, a magister of accomplishments either lost in the ancient recesses of Land-lore or unknown to the region from the foundations of the world. Lord Prelemore, the keeper of the ur-candle, showed a-Jeroth a magic of graveling such as few had yet mastered since its discovery centuries before: and the stranger astonished everyone by calling power from the burning stone that not only illuminated the chamber for the experiment like a simulacrum of a galaxy, but created new graveling from the molten wonder of the original ore. -The krill, too, enchanted a-Jeroth, who was heard at odd hours roaming Revelstone, speaking as if to himself in some dissociated form, speculating on the deeper virtues of Loric's crystal implement. An almost vengeful tone crept into his voice, Kevin had noticed once when hearing the shuffling stranger passing by the High Lord's chamber door, when he mumbled about the krill, as if a-Jeroth were secretly obsessed with using the weapon to massacre the Demondim.
Against them, the stranger spoke at length in daylight. "Trust no offers of theirs," he had said. To be sure, Kevin did not doubt the tale of Flatmark Stonedown. That some of the Vilespawn might have descended to such sin in that part of the Land, while horrible, was not inconceivable. The monsters' native soul-murk could well conspire with the special effluence of evil from the swamplands, brewing madness among the Demondim, overriding whatever compulsions heretofore kept the increasingly disturbing creatures from assaulting the other life of the Land. But a-Jeroth had implored the Lords to intervene against the Vilespawn ere such an assault should transpire, "For surely some or more of them are soon to wage war upon us all."
In those days-in those years, so many years ago-one indeed of the Demondim had openly betrayed the Lords, the Land, and the wide Earth itself. And a-Jeroth had been the first to learn of this betrayal, for which Kevin had thanked the stranger as if the High Lord had at last become friends with the Creator himself.
* * *
Nekrimah, Kevin knew, had been the most conflicted of all the Demondim. The First Author of its Enclave, the dire loremaster had generated the ur-viles and the Waynhim in part as an expression of its interior dilemma. The possibility of their reconciliation Nekrimah left to the turning of the ages, and neither Loric before him nor Kevin now had any right to imagine what those beings would come to ere the ending of all things.
But the loremaster Kevin did judge, with rage and dread.
One morning, a-Jeroth stormed into a session of the Council, rabid with horror. "High Lord! Hold of the Land's friends! Hark, for calamity without end is amassing."
As everyone else in the chamber stared at the stranger with credulous nightmare paling their gaze, a-Jeroth explained how a vision had come to him through the soul of the very Land. "I felt the power of Andelain itself, its special inner life and glory, in me, speaking. And under the shadow of Gravin Threndor, the heart of Andelain chimed the words of truth for me to speak in turn to you.
"Many of you know of the Power of Command. If you do not, know only this: it is a might not to be abused at all. And Nekrimah, the keeper of the great lore of the Demondim, seeks to abuse it utterly. High Lord, I must speak with you and all who are privy to the nature of the Power in question, but otherwise alone."
Then, he had flicked an eerie glance at Vail, and Kevin felt words surging in his mind, a phantasm of Haruchai magic. There may be spies among the Lords. Vail, I charge you with the task of finding these, if they are here, before harm comes to the Council. The malice of the Demondim is not the only evil whose advent is imminent.
So the chamber cleared of all but a-Jeroth, Kevin, Vail, Hamn, Lords Trintil and Ramhora, and the Loresraawling, Jarment Arkentia.
"I have confessed the truth of the world's creation by the Creator," a-Jeroth said to the others. "Have you?"
All who could had nodded or otherwise gestured assent.
"Then know this: brother to the Creator is the Despiser, he who would break the Arch of Life and Death, unseal the gates of Time, and bring forth the power at the ending of all things, to bind the world forever in the name of damnation and Despite.
"Cast down during the genesis of this world, the baleful one is the author of all monsters and banes upon the Earth. Much would the Creator wish to reach into the world and silence these evils forever. Yet if he were to make the attempt, the eternal ravage of his might would itself unmake the Arch and free the Despiser to avenge his incarnate agony upon the heavens."
Kevin also nodded to these things. "Such is spoken of in the gloamscript," he added. "Or by those who have worked at dreaming the dreams of Forestals."
"It is indeed those who would know best of this truth. As it is said, the Creator's heart is wrung with transcendent sorrow at the crimes of the Despiser in Time upon the Earth. Yet there is but one crime that might be committed such as would occasion the Creator to abandon himself and his will to transcendent despair. It is this crime which the Demondim loremaster seeks to commit."
The other Councillors almost all gasped-except of course for Vail and Hamn, who merely shrugged, and Jarment, who frowned.
"What is this sin that you fear?" Kevin had asked, imagining myriads of answers as he waited for a-Jeroth's reply.
"But one thing: that Nekrimah will drink the Blood of the Earth and Command the Forestals to kill the forests of the Land to the last."
Silence exploded from everyone then, even the Bloodguard, whose eyes did widen now.
"No," Trintil seemed to gibber after a few moments, "no, no, no, dear Creator..."
"Ah, creation!" Jarment sighed. "Is this the way our world ends, in such darkened faith?"
"No!" Kevin shouted then, erupting hope into the whispering dismay of the Council. "You must know this, as a gift from the Land or its god, in order for us to know it as well, that all might be saved from such an end. Tell us that we have a chance to stop Nekrimah before it reaches the Blood of the Earth."
"This is sooth," a-Jeroth spoke quietly after an enigmatic halt. "The Demondim is nineteen days from its goal, if my vision of its movement or essence is to be trusted or understood. That is the span of time in which we might intercept Nekrimah, or at least go to the site of the EarthBlood and stand guard there."
Kevin, in this story, sort of knows about the possibility of summoning someone from a different reality, into his, using the Staff. In fact, he actually tried to summon someone just like that, but it didn't work due to absence of a white-gold node in the circuit, so to speak. Instead he got this mysterious figure who referred to himself as "the Emir," meaning one of the Insequent, whose time-bending power got caught in Kevin's time-exceeding spell. Of course Kevin has no idea about the Insequent as such but just lets the Emir and a Waynhim named satori accompany him and Vail and a-Jeroth on a quest to the Blood of the Earth.
As the trees of the Deep warped and thickened, as their shadows transmuted into images of ossified ink, Kevin suffered from the disorienting darkness as if the Staff could not clear his mind at all. At intervals he summoned enough Law-fire to dispel the obscure mist, but in moments the incremental miasma returned, resumed its tenebrous intaglio upon the High Lord's granite heart.
What are you? a voice, as if made of oblivion, hummed in front of him.
Impossible... All dead...
Yet the Viles were wont to construct recursive forces, magics that fed on their own energies like an intangible ouroboros. When some had died, this spiral of power could have endured, and beings who had once been Dead and then as if never truly alive, had passed unto death and yet another un-Life.
"Dear Creator," Kevin whispered, prayed, wishing he did not know how fixed upon him the monster's attention already was. Without the krill he was uncertain how to fight this entity.
Its floating blood, made from translucent nullity, scintillated negation across or through the branches of the Deep's trees. In this way it was like a simulacrum of some deformed species of banyan, a revenant of leaves and lichen, liquefied decay. Unlike the Viles, the Vaynhim could not move. However, once within the tapestry of their presence, their violent loom, victims would find it as difficult as paralysis to escape from.
Kevin did not know how to turn around. The dire web had already caught onto his clothing, his skin. As if they were eating his consciousness, he felt the eldritch tendrils or vines secrete abstract ichor that dissolved through his body and settled into his soul, murmuring and masticating, promising mutilation as horrific as being flayed alive.
Clasping the Staff to his chest, bracing himself against the sense of formication and impossible magma, Kevin strained to speak the Seven Words.
As soon as they all passed his lips, the Staff glared its flame along all the High Lord's body, delivering him from the immediate assault, but locking him just as surely in place as the Vaynhim was. The fixed confrontation proceeded, then, with volcanic pressure, the darkness of the Vile-ghost haunting Kevin like the soul of the eastern lurker.
Hours or millennia might have passed. Lances of paresthesia impaled the High Lord's eyes. Flecks of obsidian delirium smashed themselves out of his throat. Thousands of howling hands grappled with his flesh, striving to pull him from the shield of the Law, from the halo of his hallowed fire. But with the steadfast grace of the Bloodguard whom he loved so mightily, Kevin resisted as the gloaming day gave way to night.
And for every star that appeared outside the aura of the full moon, a single chime of life and faith sounded forth from the depths of the forest.
The music assembled the Forestal's apparition slowly, a dirge transforming into jubilee, the paradox of sublime rage and delight. Caerroil Wildwood came to the Vaynhim and the lost Lord in a tide of dusk and dust, flowers dancing on his breath. At first he had no words for the interloper, only a subtle chant or echo of the lovers of silence. Then, observing carefully the Staff in Kevin's hands, the Forestal spoke.
"Defender of the Land, you seem in need of aid. Yet you trespass in a place not meant for humankind. You must be taken far from here, even as you are saved from this peril."
"Wait!" Kevin shouted as he felt theurgy building in the air, disentangling the Vaynhim-tendrils from his frame, carrying him aloft above the tree line as if to hurtle him from the Deep to unknown quarters. "I am on my way to Melenkurion Skyweir! Surely you know why I seek that place! You have surely felt the presence of Nekrimah in this forest."
But the Forestal denied the Lord's entreaty. "I have sensed no beings of such puissance of late save you, confused Lord. Do not mock my assistance. Depart in peace."
Then the wind drawing Kevin upwards became light, and the High Lord collapsed as if asleep as he was sent on a wave of power in a direction he could not comprehend.
* * *
By luck or grace, Kevin found himself being tended to by his ere distanced companions. Intuitively, he believed they were all to the south of the mountains amidst which Rivenrock stood. He had no idea how much time he-and his friends-had lost.
The sun was setting, and here, in the ashen southlands, the horizon slowly churned into plain black as the day passed. To the High Lord's palpable concern, Vail said, "It will be three more nights before the mad Demondim reaches the Blood of the Earth."
Of course a-Jeroth had nodded. "Nekrimah will easily evade Damelon's wards. And the watcher anciently set there departed during Loric's quest for the crystal matter of the krill. The Demondim may even know of a unique route to the EarthBlood. We must hasten and yet with caution."
Kevin missed something then, but what it was, he could not tell-did not heed, had not heeded enough to register its departure clearly.
In turn, satori gurgled unintelligibly, its fingers fiddling unhappily with the scepter or periapt it continued to dowse with the water it found nearby.
The trek through the mountains began with a warm morning that ascended to a wind-cold night. Ensconced in invoked graveling, Kevin and the others defied the wind, meeting sleep at ease. If dreams distorted or unsettled that sleep in those others, they did not assail the High Lord at all.
Wakeful, he led the party with a pride or dispassion he had of late felt weakly the few times he had felt such assurance in himself to any extent. Guided by power, by the grace of the Land, he wielded the bounty of the sky for his companions, driving the wind under their jumps and sprints, propelling them faster and faster towards Rivenrock.
The great reach commanded their eyes with its sheer shadow and heights as halfway through the second day of the remaining three, the party came to the entrance to the caverns leading from the EarthBlood.
Kevin desired not to undo Damelon's legacy, neither to even damage or diminish it by any means. And even in Nekrimah's wake the lore-door was entirely intact.
Vail shrugged minimally at the sight. Surprisingly, a-Jeroth said nothing.
But satori strode to the door, sniffing it in some way. Barking quietly, it decanted a cloud of power from its scepter or periapt, and as the floating droplets of vetref mixed with the suspended theurgy of the wards, sparks of further magic shot from the cloud, tiny lightning bolts forged from harmless fires. As if rotating on an impossible axis, the space around the door shifted in Kevin's Land-sight, metaphysically displaced.
The Emir smiled. "The ur-Dark endures to some degree," he said softly, in a tone of love or piety. "Its bulk can be interposed with the gravity of the substantial world, widening this world like a stone submerged in a lake. At least, that is what my knowledge suggests of this magic. By such means the Demondim bypassed Damelon's door, and the traces of that power Nekrimah left behind have been revived by the Waynhim."
While the disruption in the flow of natural space and creation could be sustained by Staff-fire, the party traversed the rift, a howl or hum of might crossing with them, then winking out as quickly as a fallen star.
* * *
The High Lord experienced the quest into the epochal Skyweir like a mirror of the passage of ages, as if one slant of the Arch of Time held fast here, was a road paved for Kevin, making straight his way towards doom and faith. No one uttered a word for hours, except Vail in indicatng desirable adjustments to their course. When a-Jeroth started whispering to him, Kevin at first thought himself to be dreaming.
"The Power of Command might well defy the Demondim as much as serve them, Lord," the lorn Stonedowner said, his tone as furtive as mist, and as soothing. "Have you considered what might be accomplished with such grace?"
When Kevin attended entirely to his interlocutor, he was unprepared for the inquiry and shrugged. "My father warned me to beware the EarthBlood utterly. Of all the beliefs I have inherited from him, though some may equal this one in strength, none surpasses it."
Nodding, a-Jeroth nevertheless continued. "Yet its uses must not be so easily dismissed, Lord. The Despiser works not only through the Demondim but through other beings. This should be evident enough. Some of these may exceed the Vilespawn, or even the very Viles of old themselves. Ought we not avail ourselves of all that can stand against such power?"
"Perhaps one day..."
"There is a creature, far to the west-or the east, or the north, or the south-out in the wide world, far coverted in the deep shadows of the Earth," a-Jeroth once more proceeded. "It is a holy thing, of the essence of the Creator of Life. With the Power of Command, you would be able to rouse this great being, release its puissance against the Despiser himself."
Smiling suddenly, the Emir came up to the High Lord and the Graveler. "Ah, a-Jeroth, must you be taught the danger of such wishes? When the Snared One blighted the Earth in the beginning, one of the means by which he did so was by altering the Power of Command so that it would not find purchase in the pure intent of its wielder, but in a labyrinth of obscurity, of meanings twisted, misaligned. This is why it is so perilous. And the Despiser would rejoice as much, if not more, in the accident of service rendered unto him by the corruption of the Power of Command, through its invocation by a Lord or other such figure of good will, as he would in the open service of creatures like the Demondim. For inspiring others to loathe themselves, deceiving them into punishing themselves: that is at the heart of Despite."
The Graveler shrugged winsomely. "Ah, dear Emir of mystery, forsooth do you speak. Even if some powers we might desire to awaken on our behalf, there are also those we would rather allow their endless rest. And I would not know how to trust the EarthBlood, to choose between such things aright."
After that the party proceeded in mute wonder for a time. The pressure of the Skyweir strained Earthpower from its own deepening roots, stinging Kevin's Land-sense like a dish of increasingly exquisite flavor. An evanescent moisture worked itself out of the rock, trickling around the High Lord's company like whispers from the serenity of the dead.
This hymnal moisture became concentrated in rivulets that flooded together in the form of a majestic, incarnadine lake.
On the near shore, standing like a lamb about to be slain, was Nekrimah.
"Hark, Landlings!" the Demondim said affably, cruelly. "I proved less clever than I had expected myself to. Ah, but such is the cost of madness and genius, that lesser questions we lose the means to answer. So I cannot cross this blessed lake.
"I doubt, too, that you would deign to enlighten me on this score."
Kevin assumed a defensive stance, within his mind as well as without. Half-thrusting the Staff out, stamping it upon the Bloodstained rock around him, he looked at Nekrimah warily.
The lore-monster appeared as hale or whole as the Vilespawn could, which was to say only externally at best. Yet the least natural or corporeal aspects of its presence exuded globules of incarnate decay, stretching and winding around the puppetry of flesh leashed to the Demondim's spirit, here. These orbs of putrescence intangibly plashed against the rock, conveying the miasma of the possessed.
"A Raver has him," a-Jeroth announced.
"Ah, little Graveler!" Nekrimah nearly shouted, squealed. "As if an age since last we met, does it not seem?"
Kevin and Vail exchanged a quizzical look.
"He was one of those who killed the people of Flatmark Stonedown," a-Jeroth muttered, containing his rage.
"'Killed' is not the right word for all that I did to them," the Demondim countered. "Some were taken and... altered. The ur-viles and the Waynhim were not fabricated out of mere air, you see. Humans and kresh, the children of slime who boil forth from the detritus of the southeast on occasion, and myriads of other kinds of living beings contributed by the lore of their essences to the derivation of the Demondim-spawn."
To that, the Waynhim with the High Lord's party barked a guttural rejoinder of its own.
"Ah, satori!" Nekrimah bubbled. "Speak of you devils and so you appear."
The Waynhim waved its scepter or periapt like a threat.
"Stand down, friend," Kevin said to Nekrimah. "You are entirely outmatched. I would not destroy one whom I once defended the cause of creation with. Neither would I slay the helpless. Return with us to Revelstone, and we will answer in a better way for the ill of your mind."
"You are without the krill," the Demondim said.
"Yet we have a Sunsword," the Emir argued, brandishing the object as he untied it from his belt, "tied to Loric's dagger by the glory of orcrest and lianar."
To that, Nekrimah answered with a moment of silence.
It was a-Jeroth who broke this. "Permit this monster no more of life, High Lord. He can never be redeemed. The only purpose he has is to accept punishment."
As the Graveler spoke, Kevin found himself distracted, not only from a-Jeroth's words but the entire plight of the High Lord's company. Instead, he started to let his eyes slide reverently over the picture suspended on the atmosphere of sheer existence in the cavernous distance ahead of him. The lake stretched out like a baleful welcome, an embrace of hunger so profound it could not be satiated by death or life. As if the Skyweir were sentient here, the red water sang the scent of power against the walls, over the near shore, captivating Kevin.
"You cannot cross the lake," the High Lord reiterated. "Nekrimah, your plan comes to nothing before you can even attempt it. For you also must know that the Power of Command would not be sure to give you the servant or service you desired from it."
"Ordering the Forestals to murder their charges is a fairly specific Command," the Demondim said, also looking longingly at the red lake. "I remain unconvinced that it would not accomplish my deeper purpose."
Sighing, Kevin held the Staff of Law back to his chest, feeling disarmed in some sense. "Nekrimah, that purpose especially I must not permit you to achieve." He readied the Staff for coercion.
But then a-Jeroth flicked a gesture of contempt at the Demondim-
-who deflected the bolt of theurgy into satori.
Gibbering abruptly, slavering, the Waynhim cavorted towards the eerie water as if possessed. Indeed, that is what had become of it: one of the Ravers-Kevin discerned two here, both heretofore entombed in the one Demondim-had soaked into the creature, and without warning it plunged its obscure scepter or periapt into the lake.
Kevin had time to cough, to choke, before the blast of alienage and miasma that poured from the magic object surreptitiously slid back, out over the lake, into which it descended like the corpse of the sky.
"No! No," the High Lord shouted, coughing out more pitchbane. Vail, who had inhaled none of the dark cloud, grimaced nevertheless. But the cloud's decay exceeded the velocity of the Staff of Law's fire, and Kevin could not prevent it from merging with the aura of the EarthBlood.
"At least if I pollute this place, after an age this pollution shall leak into the source of the Power of Command. Then no one, however lore-clever, will be able to use it without that use being turned to ill. Grant me this triumph, at least, ere-won friend of mine."
But to the mendacious Demondim Kevin replied only with dismay. "You must stop this! Call satori's treasure back!" Coils of Law-flame could not reach through the tang of the EarthBlood.
Barking again, riven of possession, the Waynhim loped violently into Nekrimah. The two fell into the lake.
Shielded-if for no more than mere moments-by the concussive outpouring of their strange magicks, the scions of the Viles sank far beyond sight, their existence revealed only through the churning of the crimson expanse above them, seething like an ocean of molten oil trying to hold a continent of pure ice.
As the explosive duel ended with both combatants' drownings or devourings, the toxic scepter or periapt shot up from the lake and landed well past the near shore, spewing no more sickness.
In the first story, Amok is explained, sort of, as a sort of reverse-image-absence relative to Glimmermere. That is, just as the lake does not necessarily reflect what is there, it can be used to reflect that which is not, except this makes what was not there into something real. And the Demondim exchanged knowledge of this with Kevin, giving to Kevin in turn their aid versus the Viles. But ultimately it was all for a very terrible reason.
Coughing, a-Jeroth grinned. But his teeth seemed carious, citadels of lies. As he downed the flask of glimmerdraught, the Stonedowner started to shine like the lake of splendor in Revelstone's ambit. But this radiance was abnormal, unreal, immoral. It was...
Like the lore used to create Amok.
Surveying a-Jeroth patiently, Vail asked as if it made no difference, "Graveler, why are you known by such a title? Are not the adepts of stone in the Land called by the name of the Gravelingas?"
And a-Jeroth's aura erupted with malevolent fire.
Everyone else save Kevin was driven back, near to the crimson lake. Though they staggered, fear of that doom compelled them forward, into the reek of necrotic attar shrouding the malignant Graveler.
But in truth he was no such personage, the High Lord now knew.
As the shroud passed from the scent of occluded carnage to a shameless darkness, an arrogance of obliterated light, a-Jeroth's form became distinct again, fit to the contours of the mutating cloud. Smirking brazenly, the man or god stood much taller than he had before, a mockery of Giants and mountains. Lines of blurred substance limned his presence, coruscating from his eyes, his mouth, his hands. Hatred like eternity held his poise captive, the absolute discipline of Despite.
"There is irony in this moment such as you will never know," a-Jeroth stated pleasantly, horribly, as he settled his obscure, rancid eyes on the High Lord. "But now consider also what danger you are in."
"None," Vail announced, but for the first and only time in his life, to Kevin's deeper sight, the Bloodguard captain tensed as if faced with the corruption of Kenaustin Ardenol himself.
The wicked being smiled. "Know you not my true name, little guardian of the Lords? I am your purest adversary, the antithesis of all that you have ever Vowed."
"You are the Snared One, the Gray Slayer, the Despiser."
This was said by the Emir, upon whom the others then concentrated.
"Yes," a-Jeroth answered the accusation at last.
Grimacing from the effects of the attar, Kevin choked an answer forth of his own. A better one, he had time to think somewhere in his heart. "Yes, that is what and who you are, friend."
Impressed by his sense of peril, the High Lord captured his sense of betrayal in a fence of panic. That occluded, hideous claim of a conspiracy among the Lords, such as a-Jeroth had uttered to the very Haruchai, nauseated Kevin to consider-alongside all else of mendacity such as he intuitively recollected of the Lords' exchanges with the Despiser-but too much was now at stake for him to reel in moral dismay, here.
"Friend? It is far from true that you might be the friend of all, even one such as me. Mock me not with such fey fantasies." The Despiser seemed to desire to pace, yet without a purpose in doing so. "Fortunately for you, it is not within my power to drink the Blood of the Earth. Nevertheless, I have contrived a chance at your demise in this place."
As a-Jeroth said such a thing, he made a strange gesture in the air, before the High Lord and his companions.
Sprawling to the ground as if crippled, the Emir contorted in horror.
Imploded, spiritually if not physically, as the two Ravers rose from the lake and ensorcelled themselves into him.
Smiled, as he stood up again.
"Pathetic ones," the Ravers said, "finding yourselves thus trapped, what shall you do?"
With the Emir's right hand, they drew power from the lake-fragments of the lake itself-like missiles fired at Kevin's company.
But Kevin's wisdom was as oracular as discursive, and he might as well have foreseen this assault as he defied it by drawing so much more from the lake of his own accord.
Raging like the Worm of the World's End, the EarthBlood tide struck the Emir's missiles with a splash of force that quickly collapsed in on itself, engaging the dual floods in a spiral of effluence and peril. As the waters lashed against each other, driven towards opposed dooms, they boiled and steamed, misting a corona of death upon the cavern.
Kevin held the mist back with Staff-fire, risked disaster as he defended the Emir's body with a second stream of the same, both diverting his influx of focus from the river of the Blood of the Earth. The engorged mass of the Ravers' volley hissed and pulsed as if it were being murdered, slavered insentient and dire towards its goal.
The High Lord thought he might die. If Kevin directed the Staff-fire in full towards the Emir, or rather the Ravers in him, the timely man might be freed of possession. But then the globules of desolation churning against the Staff's resistance would race towards Kevin and his friends, and they would all die.
or if not...
As he tried to redeem the Emir, Kevin braced himself for the impact of the lake's quarry.
And as this impacted, it struck first upon not the Lord but the Staff.
Whether it had been made for such things Kevin did not know. However, like a god of thirst finally quenched, the Staff absorbed the globule that hit it, and a bayamo of glory trumpeted from its heels.
Both a-Jeroth and the Emir staggered, the latter at once delivered from the Ravers. Kevin's river ran innocently back into its source, colliding with no one. But Kevin himself ran to that source and submerged an edge of the Staff in this, channeling diluted but awesome splendor, empowering himself to defiance.
As if basking in the High Lord's glow, Vail attended to the Despiser. "It seems that you are once more entirely outmatched, interloper. Depart. We will deal with you at a time of our pleasing."
And so for whatever further dialogical reason, the Despiser does depart, or the good guys escape, or whatever, and years and years and years pass, leading to the war with the Demondim and their armies. In reply to this, Kevin takes the krill with him on a second adventure, with Vail and some other Bloodguard and the Emir, and they end up with some Ranyhyn at this point too, and head east.
Three of Horrim Carabal's tentacles the Demondim had severed and preserved, brought to Landsdrop on their skeleton-machines. Some form of cannon leveled volleys of vitriol against the stretch of rock that the tentacles also assailed, hammering cacophony across the valley like echoes of the final crime of the Earth.
When the Emir perceived the ravage of Landsdrop, a look passed over his face such as Kevin had never seen even on those about to die. As quickly as divine revelation the time-lost man wheeled on the High Lord, shouting, "We must stop this at once! Nothing else matters! Even if we die!" Then he assumed a poise as if ready to sprint as soon as he believed that Kevin would follow him just as unhesitatingly.
But Vail directed a skeptical poise of his own at the Emir, the Bloodguard's intuitive distrust of the strange personage accenting the occult lilt of his people's tone. "Stranger, it is not within our power to surpass all those Demondim and their ur-viles and other weapons, as gathered below the great cliff. Not as we yet stand."
And Kevin, intuitively guessing or revealing to himself part of the truth, added, "And whatever power we might bring to such a fight would perchance only add to the terror rising in the rocks. What is it that we ought to prevent?"
The Emir shuddered while suppressing his panic, but he could not restrain the tremor in his voice at all. "It is a legend-a principle-of my people, a story almost none in the Land have ever heard. You have not heard it, wise Lord. But if the Demondim seek to cause an earthquake in this place, then they seek to rouse the desolation of which I speak. Such an awakening would be the worst of all evils these Demondim could ever commit upon this Earth, save for that which you defied in the twisted will of Nekrimah."
Kevin detected no dishonesty or madness in the Emir. But the High Lord had long learned to doubt his own wisdom, to think that even its shadow might be cast by a false light. "If such is the intent of the Demondim, here, then there is another way to fight them than by direct combat."
So the team heads towards a major fault line-kind of thing or whatever in the area and concentrate a lot of healing/reinforcing energy into it. Then they end up going to Muirwin Delenoth and fighting a particularly extreme example of Demondim magic.
"There is no hope for you," the Demondim loremaster chittered, standing aside.
Behind the Vilespawn flame sputtered, blared, caressing a shape of majesty and desecration.
Sealed by scores of Demondim-wards, a Fire-Lion, possessed by a Raver, approached Kevin.
Ten Bloodguard attacked instantly. How they defied the magma glory sloughing from the Fire-Lion, Kevin had no idea. He supposed that he was wielding the Staff to shield them, but he was so entranced by terror and disgust together like lovers dying from their passion that he knew only that he acted on instinct as he backed away from the deluge of flame stalking towards him. Whispering or dreaming the Seven Words, the High Lord prepared to run.
Roaring, the Fire-Lion primed itself to bolt forward.
Without warning the krill appeared and erupted like the Creator's insanity in sealing Despite upon the Earth. Kevin had time to realize that Wraiths were circling its hilt, lending their essence to its contradictory constituencies, before the light transformed into a pillar around him, then an eruption.
"We Vowed to serve you," Vail was saying, holding the pillar of light by its heart, "but that we eschew arms is only a custom of ours, not a requirement. I will wield the krill."
Thus the present Demondim are defeated, leading to a major pivot in Kevin's guilt.
The Vile-miasma engraved like negative intaglio into the substance of the Demondim melted in the glare of the krill, and the creatures collapsed, unable to sustain the moral weight of the corpses whose deaths they raped to wage their war with the Land's life.
Cowering, stamping backward, the possessed Fire-Lion growled malignantly.
"To me," Kevin said, addressing Vail and indicating his father's dagger.
The Bloodguard hefted the krill to the High Lord without question.
Tears appeared, sterling despair, in Kevin's eyes as he advanced on the corrupted scion of Gravin Threndor. He believed he knew what he would have to do. Or, if he did not permit himself the guiltlessness of that thought, he believed he knew what he was going to do.
Kevin and Vail specifically journey deep into the bone-strewn region, and the Despiser appears again.
A blanket of dire attar fell on the open plain, the miasma of a decaying sky. Silence punctuated by the tension of guilty screams choked Kevin's concentration.
"Lord a-Jeroth," he breathed, inhaling the cloying pride of the Despiser's presence.
The tall, oblivious figure at the center of the attar came up to the High Lord pleasantly, peacefully. "Thus it is that all things conduce to my designs, whereas you are eternally anile, fallen Kevin." Then, with a flick of his eyes or his mind, he fixed a seal on one of the Wraiths, and the floating Raver howled gleefully as it descended into the Andelainian host.
As the Wraith writhed under the effort of resisting possession, the Raver's power leaked into the krill.
Far in the distance, Kevin and Vail discerned scores of Demondim manifesting from the osseous sea. Horrors of incomprehensible majesty and alienage melted together and flowed into more mundane forms before dissolving into a sludge of madness that regrouped as the ages-lost soldiery strewn throughout Muirwin Delenoth, then commenced the entire amorphous self-torture once more, over and over, a churning of incarnate charnel.
"I will permit that you might know all the names of your present doom," the Despiser began. "First, of course, is your own sin. You have slain one of the treasures of Mount Thunder, a pure bastion of the Land's providence. Thus you contribute fundamentally to the desecration of your country."
Kevin steeled himself against the accusations, but only because he had already made them himself.
"But more than this you do not suffice to endure or transcend," a-Jeroth continued, his words dripping like the ichor of contempt. "Behold! And you have, indeed, beheld the horizon, the Demondim assembling unto your demise. With the krill corrupted, you cannot use it to defend against them."
Vail incrementally indicated a frown. "There is no other threat than this. And guilt is not a threat in the first place."
"You are as foolish as the groveler-Lords," a-Jeroth said, failing to look at the Haruchai as he denigrated the man. "All the Land has become a web of my being, the trap of my judgment. A midden of hope. There are others who may be called against you. Do you think to exalt your puerile intellects against a true god's? Your humiliation will be only the beginning of your punishment."
But Kevin could not imagine how other horrors might lurk on the threshold of the Land's cataclysm. All the darkness that locked the stars away, above and within him, appeared to him to have been soaked like blood into his life. No other wound he could conceive of made him drink of its grief.
The Ranyhyn slammed together into the Despiser.
Reeling, a-Jeroth slurred curses at the horses.
Kevin bent in dismay, appalled and wild. "We must run!" he decided. "Graylyhym, to me!"
The great horse bolted to the High Lord. Vail leaped to Vaalyhyn's back, holding the distorted krill.
As the screeching, chittering holocaust of the Vilespawn carefully mounted behind them, the High Lord and the Prover of the Vow departed Muirwin Delenoth. They heard a-Jeroth speak to them as they ran.
"I offer you one last chance to come palaver with me, Lord Kevin. I will await you in Kiril Threndor six times six turnings of the moon. There, I will allow you to argue the plight of the Land. I am not a wicked master, who punishes for no purpose. I am the keeper of discipline and the author of justice.
"Know that if you come that I will try to betray you."
* * *
Apart from the Despiser, the Raver-afflicted Wraith proved strong enough to fend off its would-be possessor. With Kevin feeding it Staff-fire, the Andelainian sprite shunted the evil spirit from its own flame, the specter darkly growling as it was hurled behind the horses, too slow somehow to keep pace with the glory of the Ranyhyn.
Despite the ease of this victory-this mere accomplishment of momentary survival, in the face of a crisis Kevin could not anticipate-the High Lord felt no solace in the act. He had killed a Fire-Lion. Would he have tried to kill the Wraith, if he had thought that would redeem the use of the krill to Vail or himself? What or who else would die in order for the Land to be saved?
How could the Land be saved by any means, good or evil, at all?
Pitchbane-cruelty marred the nights out of Muirwin Delenoth and the southeastern Land. But here the dire sky-loam admixed with the pollution of the Sarangrave, and a Bloodcloud gestated, shedding tears of pain upon Kevin's host.
Though presumably empowered in an innominate manner by the alien bones, the pursuant Demondim either lagged carelessly or were, in any event, incapable of catching up with the Ranyhyn. So Kevin wrestled only with the question of a-Jeroth's dire offer. Parley once more? To what end? Could the Despiser know of the Ritual...
He had to, the High Lord suspected. His time in the Council, masqued and limited though it had seemed, had given a-Jeroth many chances at hints, at least, of the deeper lore possessed by the Lords. The terrible potential, the two-edged sword of destiny or fate. The icon of the wild magic. The Power of Command...
If a-Jeroth could have sent Nekrimah to that end, then surely he would know of all other lesser matters as well. Kevin believed, then, that the Despiser knew how powerful Kevin was-and could be.
Shuddering, the High Lord wondered whether the Despiser was able to perform the Ritual of Desecration himself.
As the escape became a return to Revelstone, the other Bloodguard and the Emir rejoining the two who had faced once more the Despiser, and as the scarred but blessed Land unfolded brightly once more before the great horses and their charges, Vail voiced his thoughts aloud to Kevin. Having wrapped the krill in cloth as sovereign as cerements, foregoing his lapse in Bloodguard aversion to weaponcraft, the Prover of the Vow made his own offer to the High Lord.
"I would not palaver with Corruption," he said simply at first. "And certainly not in his apparent abode."
"I would not deny your implied reasoning," Kevin said. "But I must face him."
"You know not that he will be where he claims he would," Vail argued. "Doubtless all that a-Jeroth says must be doubted. He is the essence of distrust, of needless rage and hate. He has no desire to prove himself to you, Kevin."
Having been so personally addressed by Vail, the High Lord sighed. "Ah, Vail, but I even now seek to prove myself to him. If the Despiser is compelled to bear witness to the loveliness of the Land, shall he not repent? Can I not hope for his redemption?" Or his destruction?
"Corruption in itself is as irredeemable as it is indestructible," Hamn claimed suddenly. "It can only be endured. This is the Law of the Vow. But thus can it be endured forever. We are the Bloodguard. We are all the Provers of this. Let us find the Despiser's true demesne and raze it from the Earth."
Hamn's abrupt suggestion stunned Kevin. "What? Where? Do you know...? And how...?"
How, indeed? The idea is not, in the end, pursued. Instead Kevin is debriefed about the situation at Revelstone during his second adventure. This all convinces him to finalize the plan involving the Seven Wards, the deposit of Loric's dagger in Glimmermere, and so on.
"For a turning of the moon we repelled the Vilespawn easily," the Proofmark said, sighing with internal anticipation, the promise of regret. "At length a light shone from our glaives of orcrest, such as did sunder many of the Demondim with the brightness of its advent. And in that light, the Cavewight army shuddered, fleeing until corralled by its alien leaders, yet fighting with ever-diminishing passion and strength."
"A swarm of Wraiths gave of itself to the krill," the Emir said. "Such energy was translated throughout the web of Sunswords, lending them the reflected might at the tapestry's heart."
"Indeed, and some ill influence on the krill must account, thus, for what transpired soon after.
"For in a broad day, we strode out to meet the Demondim with pride and an offer of peace. Perceiving them as helpless before the sum of our magic, we made sure to display the Sunswords, that the creatures would not doubt their position at all. In this we erred.
"As we reached the Demondim encampment, a poison or sickness afflicted the host of orcrest, diluting, silencing, and perverting the light they channeled from their distant reservoir. Each ray of the new radiance, as it lanced the Demondim, empowered them in an unholy manner, exalting some once-latent faculty, one that when exercised unleashed further rays, of desolation, upon us. The fury of this power was dreadful to behold at such close range, for even though some among the enemy there encamped were torn to pieces by that power, this deterred the enemy not in undertaking to attack in such a fashion, and three thousand of the Revelmarked and the Bloodguard died in that one hour."
Kevin groaned in sympathy and the vertigo of implied madness. Trying to comprehend the horror of his beloved people's demise, he learned only more and more of despair.
"Then, with as little forewarning as before, but shortly later, the Sunswords turned their rays to a different light once more, the first one that especially did shine therefrom. The Demondim, seeing this, departed in haste. Thus we have endured until you returned unto us."
Vail looked as concerned and implicitly querulous as ever, but said nothing.
The Emir looked towards where the Demondim had been encamped near Revelstone, ere their departure. "More are coming, of greater form. If a-Jeroth comes with them, the krill will be useless in our defense. Unless it can be safeguarded..."
"That is a strategy worth much consideration," the High Lord said. "Loric my father was as wise as ever may be wished of one man in one age. I do not believe he would have lacked foresight into such a matter. Though we knew the Despiser not in those days, or knew him only as a parable for our own potential for Despite, we did know of the Ravers. Perhaps not by name, or even the general idea of them, but their presence we did discern clearly. That demons and possession are of the aegis of evil, Loric surely prepared his weapon out of belief in."
... Arkentia discovered the answer by a turning of the moon. "We must submerge the dagger in Glimmermere," he announced to the Council. "Thus will it be both empowered unto the work of the Sunswords while shielded from all influx of ill."
... Fortified by copious glimmerdraught that attuned them to their altered Sunswords, the warriors went into battle.
Unlike the Wraith-fire, the light blazing from the krill-mirrors here was softer, more transparent, ghosts of candles or stars. It did not destroy the Demondim directly: it healed their inherently wounded bodies, rooting them to the Earth, growing them into things like Gilden trees or the Sarangrave Flat. Sustained by the forces of the lomillialor at play in the Sunswords, these verdant transformations shook angrily before falling into an impregnable sleep, the dirge of lost forests and their winds.
... Kevin felt then that we would always weep, whatever came of this war.
In their bizarre, harmful hands, the foremost among the Demondim loremasters who had gathered nigh unto Revelstone held necrotic croziers, like the massacred brothers and sisters of the children of the krill. When these struck the Sunswords, a jolt of malformation shot through the orcrest weapons, destroying not their matter but their shape, reducing them to disjoint Sunstone and lianar. Useless as channels for Loric's legacy, these left their possessors under a tide of massing death.
Eventually the threats of Demondim pollution, war, and so on push Kevin over the edge, so to speak, and he heads out to face Lord Foul at last.
Even now, under their mocking shade, Kevin wanted to turn to them, all of them, shout, cry, implore them to flee. Do you not know that he is lying to you? Do you know not that you will all die? I am going to kill the-
He refused to complete that thought, held it fast like a poisoned arrow aimed at his broken heart. Instead, he let his loathing for the Demondim, for their atrocities and mendacity, overcome his compassion, and he remained silent as the monsters' eerie eyes followed him into the awesome mountain.
... Entering Kirl Threndor, Kevin almost screamed. He would have turned and fled, but he knew the Demondim behind him, on the far outside, would not let him live. Kevin did not know why the Despiser was letting him live.
Here the attar was indistinguishable from the granite air, unambergrised and unalloyed ravage hanging suspended like the last choking breath of the dead. And the blurring of the stone, the efflorescent ambiguation of its solidity, converged around a dais at the chamber's center. Energy seethed from the dais, hurricanes and earthquakes compacted into the shadow of an empty, infinite smile.
But standing beside the Despiser was the Fire-Lion Kevin had slain, animated by the alchemy of the Demondim, twice-possessed, thrice-desecrated, utterly betrayed.
Reeling as if from an army of mortal wounds, Kevin halted halfway to the dais. Whispering calamities danced along the chamber's walls. Each stalactice glistened like the jaws of a decaying hell.
"Well come you are, great Lord of the Land," a-Jeroth announced. "I have ever believed that the Lords were capable of cunning and insight, even enlightenment and apotheosis. If you will but learn to serve me, I will make you wise in the ways of deity and glory."
Leaning on the Staff like the last friend in the world, Kevin refused to kneel at all to the false Lord. "Do not mock me, Despiser," he said. "I cannot serve what cannot prove itself to me. You are the Prover of nothing."
"But I am the author of many other things," a-Jeroth countered. "Come now, disparage me not so quickly. Know you not that I am a gentle master to those who are faithful to me? Have I not rewarded the Demondim with greatness beyond measure? Or else why do you fruitless Lords quail before them?"
"They have sought to unleash the ending of all things!" Kevin shouted, slamming the Staff down in a fit of panicked passion. "At Landsdrop, but for me and mine, they would have roused an abomination from the depths of the ages, an eternal bane such as would have riven the Earth. Even if you did not teach them of that evil, surely you knew they sought it."
"Ah, but the Demondim could never have accomplished this goal," the Despiser said, catching Kevin off-guard. Limned in putrescent light, a-Jeroth paced across the dais, the mutilated Fire-Lion perched like heraldic statuary behind him. "The bane your companion thought they might summon forth lies far too deep below the seal of the upper Earth for even such work as of the Vilespawn to reach. Sooth it is as well that this power is not like the other curses etched into the ancient foundations of creation. I did not bring it forth of my own substance. I instilled the desires within it that guided it into the Land, drove it into the aegis of Landsdrop and the cavernous realms below; but its might is its own. And it would oppose mine if awakened entirely.
"Such a battle I desire to avoid more than almost all others," and here a-Jeroth struck Kevin as acutely honest, such as no capacity for deception might approximate. "Within Time, I know not the outcome of such a thing. Such a risk, rare as it is, exists. And this mere existence suffices for me to eschew all designs such as would lead to this bane's release."
Yet by now Kevin had made his ultimate decision. He was alert to the flickers of contradiction passing through his mind as he listened to the Despiser. It was true: the Despiser might not have wished for the Demondim to do as they had at Landsdrop. Yet he had already allowed them to commit atrocities beyond rectification, ones he must have surely been just as complicit in. And the pu
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And the purity of the Despiser's evil was altogether clear when focused in this isolate abyss. What had been done to the Fire-Lion proved this if nothing else did. The High Lord knew what he could, and believed he knew what he should, do.
"There is one condition on which I will serve you," Kevin began. Whether he was lying he did not know; it was possible that what he said would become true. "In the lore of the Law, we the Lords of the Land have achieved a power greater than anything else ever wrought of our own accord. If you give me your strength, the sum of it, and yet survive the Ritual of Desecration such as I shall unleash upon you, then and then alone will you be my master."
Laughter gyred from the Despiser, drenching the eldritch disturbances in the cavern's atmosphere with a greater chiaroscuro of coiled malice. "Why would I be of such aid to you, little Lord? Know you not what kind of god I am? Dare you to avail yourself of such lore and might? Do you believe that you would wish to live if you knew all that I know of creation and Despite?"
The High Lord was no good at lying, but he did not need to be good at such a thing, here. "I do not believe you will endure my assault, a-Jeroth. Nothing in Time can defy what will be done to you. Do you speak of punish and avenge? You will be punished and the Land will be avenged, utterly. You are in sooth a fool if you agree to aid me."
To this, the Despiser had no quick answer. Menacingly silent, he then ceased to pace the dais and stared squarely at the High Lord. "You honor me greatly by refusing to waste my time with puerile attempts at mendacity. But I wonder why it is that you believe this Ritual should avail you of my end? Again, do you not recognize that I am equal to the Creator in all things?"
The High Lord sighed. He did not doubt himself at all. So he admitted, "The Land itself participates as if a living thing unto itself, in this Ritual. You cannot hope to withstand such might. This is the secret key to your defeat, sealed with you by the Creator, unlocked by the Council of the Lords. Or else what good would it have done to place you within Time, if your evil would continue as unabated as before?"
The Despiser did not sigh. Did he ever doubt himself? Kevin hoped not to have to ever know. But the High Lord would be unable to know anything more, soon enough. Anything at all.
The flame pouncing to the dais from the shoulders and tail of the Fire-Lion burned like the embers of a massacred world.
"So you prove to me, groveler-Lord, that you are unaware of what is at stake in your choices, to say nothing of the choices of others. I will do as you ask of me, if only because I need not betray you to achieve my goals, now, for you have chosen to betray yourself, and Time and all eternity as well. Behold the hour of your doom, and remember it as you perish from the Earth. Suffer in the knowledge that your pride in this instant will have been exceeded by horror beyond your integrity to withstand as I triumph over your falsified life."
And the Despiser held out his right hand.
Kevin walked onto the dais, allowed a-Jeroth to hold the Staff with him. The heat from the Fire-Lion would have scorched the High Lord, but he was invoking the full glory of the Staff, engulfing the dais in his own pure blaze. Still the Despiser seemed willing to smile.
Together, the man and the god began to chant the Seven Words. As if he had already known how to perform the Ritual, a-Jeroth spoke the Words as soon as Kevin did, without having to wait for the Lord to reveal his intent. What this meant, Kevin knew not.
But the Seven notes in the language of the song at the Land's heart played flame upon flame into the crescendo of the Staff and its living majesty. Ascending an inner ladder, the weapon of the Law purled like incarnate graveling, sparks of splendor cascading from its gyring shadow, hauling power from the very stone of Kiril Threndor, focusing it into the High Lord.
Kevin reflected all of it through the chamber's edges, lancing might like mirrored sunlight into the sky.
And the far edge of the Land trumpeted its call to his defense.
Whether a-Jeroth knew that the tremors deluging the upper largesse of Mount Thunder were not an earthquake, Kevin could not say. But the Despiser did not appear concerned as the chamber shuddered in mounting fury, as if the mountain's core were afraid of what was coming.
Might erupted, awesome and dire, from the pure Land.
Because of the Forestals, the forests were spared. Glimmermere, too, endured unmarred. But almost everywhere else destruction etched itself into and out of the rock, a plague like desecrated orcrest scouring the realm from horizon to horizon.
Because Andelain overflowed with the grace of creation, the deposit of the Earthpower, it did not shatter almost at all during the Ritual. But the Ritual was known as it was for being the antithesis of that performed for Sanctification. So instead of strengthening the love of the Land's innate treasure in the performer, it wrested this treasure by force from the Land, trammeled it through the wielder into that which it was invoked to annihilate. Therefore the blessed Hills added to the fire coursing from the Staff now, torn from across the Land, hammered into the Despiser.
Who held fast under that glare of sacrificial light unharmed.
But Kevin could no longer even think of restraining or retracting the Ritual's performance. Too much theurgy converged within him-from the Staff, the Law, the Land, and from a-Jeroth. Even the profaned Fire-Lion seemed to contribute energy to the Ritual. Terrified and certain as only the damned must be, Kevin poured his last will into the song of this test.
Devastation raged across the Land entire as great quarries of the Earthpower found themselves drained from the rivers and soil, the plains and mountains, in which they had so long slumbered. Borne along like fragments of a simulacrum or blasphemy of wild magic, the storm of incandescent loam struck into Mount Thunder, washing over the Demondim, corroding them as if they were made of dying acid, absorbing the mire of their being as they perished.
The alluvion of magic accumulated from the diverse theurgies of the Land. Gravity from the mountains, speed from the rivers, abundance from Andelain, vestiges of the EarthBlood in hurtloam, exultation in aliantha, the chrism and serum of lakes and skies, the shadows of trees and the weeping of isolate stones. Clarion glory soldiered from the Colossus of the Fall as light like zeal raptured mass from the host of dust encompassing Doriendor Corishev. Even at this distance, Kevin felt the calamity of Kurash Plenethor detonating, unloading pillars of Earthpower in the High Lord's direction.
When Kevin knew that the flood would soon reach Kiril Threndor, he gave himself to a final prayer as he sputtered the Seven Words for the last time. Meeting the Despiser's gaze evenly, he tried to smile, to interpret his despair as hope. But in the other's eyes the High Lord saw no reason for hope. The Despiser was not afraid: not because he believed he would survive the Ritual, but because he believed that it made no difference whether he did, for his victory was in some way assured either way.
For a few seconds, Kevin questioned himself. Would enacting the Ritual of Desecration on such a scale as he was prove no better in the Creator's eyes than what Nekrimah had sought to do? Would not Kevin's crime far transcend the Demondim's, both in design and effect?
I have taken him into myself. If I destroy the part of him that is within me...
Then the rest of the power Kevin had invoked collided with the Staff of Law and became a nova of heartbreak, shining desolation forth like the immolation of the universe.
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