Toth had grown older, that much was certain, and he was a lonely man. Seven years in the Fade had seen him grow from a youngling hardly larger than the training blades to a taller and definitely more imposing individual. But he had grown to be a lonely man; for where he dwelt was not a lovable place. It was an endless plain, much like a desert at times, and other times tundra-esque. Quite literally, it stretched to infinity in all directions-a hardly hospitable place, covered with small scrub and no other life aside from the Sicarii’s lamasery. Despite the utter flatness of the place, there was almost no wind; just utter stillness and unnatural, unholy tranquility. It was never night, and never day-a perpetual dull groan whispered across this twilight landscape as what little wind there was whispered through the sand and shrubs. It sounded to Toth, who watched it patiently from his chamber window, like the voices of the dead, and it was this halfway place with its halfway winds, halfway days and silent moans that the Sicarii called the Fade. There were no insects chirping, no birds singing, no sounds beyond the moaning of the sands and the sound of feet falling upon them.
His fascination with the Chronethium had never waned; he had isolated himself, to a degree, by entertaining the notion that it, and the Editors who crafted it, might not be as mythical as his peers believed. He was the odd man out in the Fade, at least among the apprentices. His teachers sensed a certain emptiness to his eyes, but really, this was the reflection of the Fade, and the teachers felt this. Some-most really-simply grew oblivious to the deafening silence that lived here; a few grew to feel it like a song, and then Toth felt it like a mirror; reflecting back into itself to infinity, much like the infinite horizon stretching off into the unknown. It reminded him that even beyond this strange land, there were infinite unknowns; a belief which unbeknownst to him even the Editors would have smiled upon.
All training was held within eyesight of this barren compound; it looked ancient, and it fit into the place like it had always been meant to be there. Its low rock walls were not meant for defense-none in the Sicarii’s history had found a way into the Void-but more as a means of holding everything together. Beyond that foreboding horizon lay again this tiny outpost; it was as if the infinite were circular, and those that headed west would rapidly reappear in the east once they vanished over that horizon. He would sit atop the parapets reflecting and perusing records and tales from the White Library, and in this twilight land he filled his mind with wonder. The days he spent training in the physical arts, and once that cycle was over he would settle into a parapet and read.
More stories of the Chronethium came to the attention of the Sicarii over these seven years, though its reputation as a false thing had never changed. The sources were always, ALWAYS second hand, but there was an unusual consistency to them now; while other facts about these mysterious Editors would contradict and disagree with themselves to a nearly incomprehensible degree, the Chronethium Accounts, as they came to be known to the Sicarii, all told the same story.
It was guarded, the accounts would say, aboard a lost ship of the damned by a figure known as the Keeper of Deceits; a treacherous yet noble figure who had sacrificed his life and many more to contain a great power that was meant for those who were not worthy. It had been stolen from an unnatural domain and hidden away somewhere in this galaxy where the sands of time could not reach it.
Tomorrow, Toth would graduate the Fade. He would take a new name, and a new purpose, and he would stretch his hands out across the galaxy in search of the Chronethium.
“Temporal intelligence suggests that the enemy is preparing to launch a counterstrike against those of our command at these coordinates,” the ghost announced to Dorin as holographic representations of a particular star system flickered over the chamber. “The Council of Five is directing you to prepare for defensive actions and tacitly assist the Immortal Empire in minimizing casualties-“
Prime Admiral Dorin frowned at the apparition. “I take it the emissary has notified their overlord of this development?” As much as she enjoyed the notion of finally having proper combat, the terms involved displeased her.
“That is correct.” The apparition replied.
“Well then, if I might ask,” Dorin prefaced her question politely enough, but her words were laden with acid ideas, “why should I risk the lives of my fleet defending our command when they have more than enough ships to do the job themselves? They know when the enemy will arrive, and roughly how many ships they will bring. They know what direction they will be coming from. They have numerical superiority, excellent defensive installations, and no chance of being caught by surprise. There’s no need for me there. Instead of being held back to guard worlds that aren’t even ours, I should be receiving orders to commence offensive operations into the heart of this dead empire.” Her tone remained calm and composed, but a touch of resentment remained ever obvious.
The phantom answered without pause. “We are almost at that point now, Prime Admiral. The Killer of the Dead has spread well throughout the enemy’s fleet, but the Zel situation remains unresolved. Once the council has nullified that threat, and once you have assured that further expeditionary actions by the enemy into Immortal Empire space are more carefully considered, you will have the council’s permission to begin your campaign in earnest.”
Dorin’s weathered face didn’t change all too much at this news, but her jaw shifted ever so slightly forward before she inquired to the spectre when that might me.
“Soon,” the ghost replied.
The Drake throne room was massive half circle chamber. Above its vaulted walls were distant panes of glass, and along those walls were rows upon rows of balconies. Five great doors, facing the different directions of the compass, were methodically placed about the chamber, and in its center the mighty drake King Helios sat waiting, watching the worlds around him spin via a floating screen.
Outside this mighty chamber, a visitor waited patiently. The guards were not inclined to allow visitors to the King; such was their job, after all. But she leaned slightly against the outer door as she waited for their approval-they would approve her, she suspected. Kings tend to be curious creatures; sometimes more paranoid than others, other times more aggressive, yes, yes...but she waited patiently to be summoned.
The entryroom to the great hall was a mighty chamber all unto itself, with a marvelously high vaulted ceiling of glass and intricate carvings into the tiles along the walls. There were scenes of battle carved into them, and then scenes of daily life in the palace. Gently, she ran her fingerrs through the carvings, feeling the stone's texture beneath her fingertips; they were well smoothed by age, and tiny amounts of sand lay in the crevices of the carvings, indicating their great age. She contemplated how pleasant it would be to go back and see the construction process; for these were clearly the work of master craftsmen.
With a sudden sense of anticipation, she glanced up towards the doors.
High King Helios, a massive dark red drake in heavy gold and white armor sits calmly on his throne, his crest in a similar fashion to a roman helmet plume stood high on his head. His club-like tail swinging gently from side to side across the ground, watched as the image of the entry room hung before him. It showed an empty room, and he looked at it skeptically as the guards had spoken of an unfamiliar visitor. Their eyeless bronze colored helmets followed her every move as they gripped their staves anxiously, as though waiting for something to happen. "Let her in" Helios said, seemingly to himself. the massive door opens on its own to allow the visitor in. the guards relax their stances but continue to watch the stranger, not muttering a word.
She waited for the doors to swing open fully before moving away from the far wall towards the open doorway. They were massive, solid doors, and they swung with incredible slowness open, and as they parted they gradually gave a wider and wider view of the chamber beyond. It was a duly impressive thing, and she restrained a grin at the grandeur of its architecture. She would definitely have to travel back to when they were building this palace, she thought to herself as she removed her fingers from the carved facade and moved towards the center of the doorway. The palace must have been quite a feat for this species.
Without any great speed, she moved smoothly through the doorway towards the king and his imposing guards. They were rather large creatures, and she appreciated their bulk. Large things tend to demand serious attention, and she had no qualms with giving them that.
As she entered the room, the King saw a very small creature-more or less normal by human sizes, but hardly anything as formidable as a drake. She moved not so much gracefully as simply like the air wasn't there around her to slow her down; but that is not to say that she moved in a hurried manner. But her eyes were remarkably clear and cutting, and as she slowed to a halt in the chamber, she gazed up at the king with an unsettling degree of emptiness. He could sense movement within her, great degrees of it, all stored up and waiting for a calling, but outside she was uncannily tranquil.
She bowed slowly before him, keeping those clear eyes of hers trained up at the dragon's head.
The screen in front of him flickered from existance as Helios shifted to a more upright position and looked down on her with a friendly smile. his white, dog-like teeth and fangs shined in the light. "Welcome to my court, little one." he said in a deep but soft tone. "I apologise for the wait, but I wasn’t expecting any company today."
While the king's voice was deep, his little visitors was not. It was a rather light and airy thing, almost like a breeze had a voice in that vast chamber.
"The wait was of no real consequence," she said in a voice that sounded more like a coo than anything else. "I am patient enough for such things." She was a pale, bald little thing; but those eyes made the king wonder. They were the only potentially fierce thing about her, it seemed; her clothes were not those of a warrior. They seemed to mask whatever countours her body had, and she for all intents and purposes seemed fine with that. She was the sort of person who liked to fade away, after all; she only stood out when time and purpose dictated it, and while she was apparently rather underguarded in this point, it was a well calculated move on her part.
"I come following a particular sort of man," she said, an unexpressed frown racing across her mind. Man? He was no man, not even when he was alive. She reached into a pockcet and withdrew a silver disc, from which tiny legs extended as she sat it down on the floor. The disc unfolded like a flower blooming, and from its center a holographic projection rose into the room.
Helios leaned in closer to get a better look at the image. "Hmmm....I'm afraid I’ve not seen this man before... in fact, I’m rarely visited by guests of non drake races. What makes you think he's been here? And might I ask why you search for him at all?"
Silently she collected the disk. The answer, in all its brevity, had been very informative. She was still learning how the man thought; to her, it would have been most prudent to deal directly with the leader of the drakes, but then again her people had called him The Demon for a reason. He would rather serve in hell, she suspected, than reign in heaven.
"His timeline weaves through this...neck of the woods, I suppose you might say." She smiled slightly at her own words; neck of the woods. What a quaint phrase, rolled off the tongue rather sweetly...she turned her attention back to the king.
"I seek him out of private purposes, your majesty. I wish to understand that...man," she said after a hesitation unusual for her, "in order that I might add myself to the balance." This was true; after all, in order to defeat ones enemy swiftest, it was desirable to understand how they thought; and to understand how they thought, one had to understand what made them think they way they did. She rapidly was learning about Chaw'Haust; and it benefited her, even when her theories were wrong. The king was not lying; she would have been able to smell the thought on his breath had he done so, courtesy of her Heraldic genetics. But if he had not done so, then it was only logical that he had started at the other end of the spectrum.
"Who opposes you, your majesty?" She asked inquisitively, recalling the guards she had passed on the way in. "You would not need guards if you had no fears for your safety. Someone must oppose your reign."
Helios's smile dimmed at this statement, slightly shocked and even impressed by her observation."Chaos is unpredictable, little one. One must always be ready for it to strike."
She tilted her head to the left slightly as she contemplated his words. Chaos was mostly unpredictable, yes, in a linear sense. It was strange to wrap her head around the notion--wrap her head around, what a strange phrase-- that most races didn't wake up knowing things about tomorrow. But to who, chaos was just...background noise. Pies being dropped because the tin was too hot, glasses sloshing over their rims because a stride was miscalculated...given enough time, chaos took on a rhythm all of its own.
She look up passed the king's body at the glass ceiling above them. It seemed unreachably high, high enough that it could accommodate the drake's large bodies. Beyond them, thin whisps of clouds darted across the amber sky. The sun was setting, and everything in the chamber had a red glow to it.
"Chaos is simply a convergence of seemingly random events." She said aloud, more towards the clouds than the king. "It can be triangulated if you have the time and patience to do so." Her voice was almost unsettling in its smoothness, and she turned back to the king with an almost expressionless face.
"You would not name your enemy. If you will not name him, will you tell me why you are afraid to speak the enemy's name?"
Helios’ smiled softly but there was a sadness in his voice."Unfortunately, I did answer your question. and even more unfortunate, I understand what you speak of all too well."
She paused for a moment-a short one at that-before a suspicion of comprehension leapt upon her like a lion. It's worth mentioning that this was rather imperceptible; she could have dealt with a lion without too great a fuss, after all, for she was Heraldic and had been around the block longer than there'd been a block to go around...but she was not sure of it entirely.
"The man I am stalking across the heavens is an agent of chaos. It suits me that I might find his master. Will you direct me to him?" She wasn't sure it was a him; it could be an it, or a she, or who knows what other sort of title...but the notion was there.
Helios paused a moment before answering, glancing at a mosaic on a far off wall then back at the visitor, but he still retained a calm presence. “Sadly, I cannot. Much of what you search for cannot be found unless it wishes to be. It is history best not remembered."
She paused; to press the issue further would detract from her purpose here. His trail could be tracked, but it would take longer than she would prefer. It was simply impatience really; she had all the time in the universe to accomplish the task.
"History." She repeated the word easily. It was an odd concept, as many things were. "I apologize for taking your time, King Helios. I would stay longer, but my journey shall not end for some time." She bowed, and turned back towards the door, her eyes falling upon the mosaic as she did so.
The mosaic depicted a younger Helios and two other drakes of similar age in battle with a nightmarish creature hidden in shadows and surrounded by destruction. It raged with twisted features, long fangs, and glaring golden eyes looking down upon the three young drakes, and her, ready to strike. Under the mosaic were the words "no hope".
She didn't hesitate before the mosaic, but appreciated it in passing; rather garish compared to the more subdued scenes in the great hall. But its theme and content were evident enough, and she could put two and two together without too much trouble.
King Helios would not aide her in her hunt. Of course, perhaps he had glanced upon the mural deliberately, in which case she silently thanked him for that gesture. But regardless of will, the deed was hers alone to commit, and as she left King Helios' court, and the doors began to close behind her, she was thinking about chaos.
She was a chaos of memories; in a few minutes, the king and his guards would forget she had ever graced them with her presence, however insignificant that presence had seemed. Chaos was simply the way things worked--and it was at this moment that another insight struck her in regards to the man she was stalking across the cosmos.
And yes, not a dragon, but it had a nice ring to it. Last scene made by cooperation between LordNaegotros and myself.