Cracked sunlight spills through rusted bars, flecks of dust and ash dancing in her rays. She spills along a pressed stone floor, immaculate and level, inching across it, reaching for the far wall. She creeps and claws for it, yet the shadows curl toward her. The suffocating black surges toward the light, yet peels and burns away, a silent scream churning through its mass every time. Yet, even as it coils away, new tendrils fill its void, and it seeks to take the light again.
Here, in one of the edges of the shadow, pale yellow eyes watch the light with indifference. Long, spindly claws rest on the tucked knees of the creature, a pale platinum coin dancing between the fingers of its left hand. Friends of the dark would see the sharpened teeth and strange teal skin and smile as it gives way to a fine dress shirt and satin vest, a gold chain linking a rib pocket to a simple leather belt. The businessman sits with his sleeves rolled up, resting on gray khakis. The patent leather shoes are a bit scuffed from years of foot races and brawls, but every blood stain has been buffed out.
The creature stares at the far wall, then shakes his head and begins to chuckle. A low cockney drawl dribbles out, "Ye really not gonna' say nothin'? It's yee fault they picked me. Ye done got yerself killed, little git."
The far wall does not respond, but the other looks insulted.
"Wut you on about, gittle? Yeah? You tell me the name a that weird tree or I'll bring ye back and kill ye all over again!"
A door creaks open beyond the bars and a bundle of heavy footsteps approach.
The face in the dark turns pleading...than resolute. The voice changes, becoming lighter, and more direct. "See you soon, then, traitor. I'm sending it now." He then takes the coin - a simple thing inscribed with a spear on one side and a gear on the other...though the gear clicks once to the right - tapping it once on his wrist. In a tiny flash of smoke and mirror, the coin is gone, and the prison door unlocks...
Morning clouds crackle with rolling thunder above the Winged Citadel. Rows upon rows of assembled Faith wait in the chill of the dew, their hoods and masks obscuring expression. A few whispers spill through the ranks, but all sound stops as the far oaken doors open, the dark yawn of a staircase being revealed.
The sound within begins like a grating whisper - metal dragging on stone. It elevates to a strange hiss and a few of the Faith shift uncomfortably. A rhythm of clinking heavy plate begins the procession within, yet only dense shadows meet their eyes. The metal rhythm is joined by many more, and a chorus of approaching machines begin to echo up the staircase and then...silence.
A torrent of flame seethes out from a slitted helm, scorched red feathers its ornament. A few of the Faith are startled as gasps spill through those assembled. The helm's owner is Gairos Xalim, the new Captain of the Zaharian Blades. His raspy laugh emanates from within the helm as his long tattered cloak of crimson seems to move on its own. He straightens and marches confidently forward, followed by four other Blades flanking a well dressed teal goblin in fine shoes. The little business man sneers up at his guards.
The procession stops about midway through the crowd and Xalim continues to the Citadel's precipice. There, he approaches a man of dark purple skin and silver hair.
This Drow wears robes similar to the Fathers of the Severed Wing, but the garb seems older. The robes most resemble the hakama of old, with layered shoulder ornamentation to beautify the coat. A black doublet frames the familiar, but more intricate design of the Severed Wing crest. Cinched in places to support movement, with fibers of adamantine, the entire ensemble favors dark blues, grays, and black, with a stark crimson fabric that flows through the interior of his garb. His silver hair is long and pulled back into a single braided line.
The Drow turns a patient face to the spiked armor visage of Xalim...and smiles kindly. He turns to face the goblin. Warm, green eyes regard the creature. He waves a hand to the Blades assembled, and they step back, giving ample room to the two. The priest descends confidently, but without haste, bowing to the goblin. "Mr. Scab, was it?"
The goblin smiles, then glares at the priest. "Why don't you get on with whatever divine judgement you have planned, and we can skip the pleasantries. I'm a busy man."
The Drow's expression does not sour. In fact, he smiles. "A man who values efficiency. I can understand that. Very well." He does not address the crowd in any grand way. He simply continues speaking, his voice amplifying suddenly, but he is still speaking to the goblin. "Master Scab. You are a creature who deals in the currency of flesh and blood. You have accepted payment in the form of pounds of flesh, vials of blood, and promises of children and meat. In the old times, we would call you monster and hire a plucky band of adventurers to kill you; but here, you were given an economy to exploit."
The goblin laughs, and spits at the priest's feet. "I have served this city and its people since before you were conceived, and I have outlasted many tired speeches from all forms of deified deviants. I have outlived the fall of empires, and I will outlast you. You're just a priest bound by laws and belief. I have broken no laws, so while my lifestyle may make you uncomfortable, no punishment awaits me. The economy bears what it can, and I serve the people that fuel that economy."
The Drow smiles, warm and inviting. "Brave words for one so small, and yet, so wrong." He begins to pace slowly around the goblin, each step echoing off the fine marble floor. "You have conspired with scatterscales, gifting illegal materials to the Tyrium Court. You have aided and abetted known Spirals in the population of this city. You have smuggled citizens from their responsibilities, to meet their ends upon the Fringe. And you have ushered in new creatures to replace them. You have even...taken the flesh of a Scorched One as payment for your services."
"I still fail to see what line I broke, Mr. Priest man."
"Ah, you speak of the city's laws. The Code that governs our civility, our property, our capital. It is a doctrine writ upon the backs of mortals and men. It is not my code. I serve something infinitely more pure. The Will of the Seven Wings. The Old Code."
Scab the Goblin stares daggers into the priest. "Daniel Miller followed the Old Code. He served the people, and gave us the tools to ensure that no creature would be cut off from the realm of magic. It belongs to all of us - I honor his memory with my existence. If you follow the Old Code, then you must respect this honor."
The Drow listens with patience, then smiles, gazing out over the city's many spires, his eyes resting on the desolate Utriena. "Ah, Mr. Miller. A treasure to us all. It was his anecdote that spurred the first of us into Faith. ...It was a great pain to learn of his treachery in the Flesh Markets and to know his name as the first of the Spirals. His immolation would be a heavy weight to bear for anyone." The Drow turns to look Scab dead in the eye. "Especially one of his blood."
Scab feels his eyes widen in stunning realization. "...You." He opens his mouth to say more, but a dark hand closes around his throat as Primus Father Tehken closes the gap with speed and precision.
"I close your throat to save your breath. Lest you say something to anger the Last Gods." He easily drags the goblin from his kneeling position toward the edge of the wall. "I am neither judge nor executioner. I am merely a conduit." The priest lifts the goblin up over his head, dangling him over the precipice of the Winged Citadel, his squirming back to the shifting clouds of the morning. His feet kick and sputter, like a broken engine trying desperately to turn over. Father Tehken calmly and patiently looks into Scab's eyes. "The Dawn will decide your worth. Shopkeep or conspirator, Booklender or imperator...Servant or Spiral."
As if on cue, a crack of thunder booms overhead, a flash of lightning marking the day. The clouds darken, a swirling pool of gray forming overhead. Tehken turns his wrist, forcing the goblin to face the clouds. Angry wind begins to buffet his face...then a single ray of sunlight warms it. Like a lance of purity surrounded by gloom. "Thank you... Thank you." Scab sobs.
But then the light fades. Just as quickly as the sliver came, it is choked away. Howling wind and hail and sleet begin to hammer the roof of the Citadel. Tehken turns the goblin back to him, still held aloft. "The Dawn has spoken."
Father Tehken gives a solemn smile. "From one of the Old Guard to another, I will remember you." He lifts the goblin up a little higher.
"Hold on, I-
The goblin's body explodes in radiant flames, as if the ignition came from within. His screams of agony echo along the stone as some of the Faith turn away. Many others watch in dread fascination.
In but a few short moments, his body is ash. Tehken stretches his hand, a blazing tattoo on his palm fading with golden light.
"I am not a being of verbosity or diatribe. I am, however, one not to ignore deeper meaning when it presents itself. After 27 days and nights of storms and clouds, this morn marks the first ray of sunlight you have seen. So I come to you not as a purveyor of martial law, but as an act of Providence. Serve me or hate me, I will be gone in seven days. And by this measure, that is all that is required to return my city to its Age once more." Calmly brushing the fresh ash from his palm to catch the wind, the man stands at the citadel's peak a moment longer. "Let no Spiral take refuge. Let no citizen hold quarter for them. There is a sickness in my city." With a flash of silver in his eyes, he turns his gaze to assembled Blades, and the horned helm of their new captain. "Captain Xalim, your station calls you to protect the nobility under storm's reign. Does this include the parasites that seek to kill it from within?"
A rasping tenor flows from under the helm, like scraping a rusty knife across a whetstone. "I was a doctor on the Fringe before I joined the service. I found my Angel Of Irons there. And even She, in her divine wisdom, understood that the only way to deal with a blight of disease, was to carve it from the body." Steam exhales from between the slits of the helm, the red tattered cape moving with no wind. "I ensure the future of the Tyrium. A cancer in any House threatens the survival of our entire Court." Xalim takes a step closer, a raspy, labored breath sucking in through the helm. "Heh. I will be your surgeon, and the Blades my scalpel."
Seventh Father Zakarum Tehken does not smile, nor does he blink. "Then your Blades should visit the Den in Spyrelight currently under repair; I’m sure they’ll appreciate the help." He regards the clouds, shifting once more to blot out the sun. "And you, Ser Captain..."
“Find me the Ferryman.”
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