“Laurence,” he said. “What has become of you?”
“Laurence Van Drake is no more. Just as Drogyn became Draconius, I am Wrath.”
“Very well… Wrath… what is the meaning of this? How have you come here, and why did you bring them?” He pointed a finger at us, and it felt as if we were being crushed under the weight of the world. Laurence answered by stepping in front of us.
“They have been wronged,” Laurence said. “I am here seeking Justice.”
“There is no Justice in hell,” Draconius said. Laurence bristled.
“I am here to correct that mistake,” Laurence replied. Draconius moved back from Laurence slightly. Intimidated? No. More likely perplexed. Perhaps intrigued.
“Very well, hell-god,” Draconius said, folding his arms tersely. “How have these… people… been wronged?”
“You sent the son of Death into our realm…”
“To help you, Laurence,” Draconius exclaimed. “We sent Borgamat, Darien, and Maerlyn to collect S’zeves and then aid you!”
“That may have been your intention, Draconius, but you know how good intentions often turn out for you.” These words wounded Draconius. Even I could tell that he was uncomfortable at the mention of Drogyn Martok’s early mistakes.
“You sent Darien with three tests in mind. You kept the nature of these tests secret, even from one another. Why,” Laurence asked. The angels surrounding Draconius looked uneasy.
“Darien’s worthiness needed an impartial test. We agreed that in order to judge him fairly, each of us should have our own method of determining his worth. So, we devised individual tests…,” Draconius looked to his left, as another of the three gods was approaching. Appearing as a giant bear with massive wings, Rys, the God of Nature was flanked by dozens of his own archangels.
“It was Veil,” Rys said. “I am guessing that his test was at cause for Laurence’s intrusion into Arcadia. Laurence nodded.
“Lau… Wrath, may I look into your memories,” Draconius asked. “I want to know what could cause you to so severely break the bonds of our covenant.”
“You may,” Laurence said. “But until there is Justice for MY people, our covenant cannot have meaning, Draconius.”
“Veil had no right to that sliver, Draconius,” Laurence said. “And his theft of it shall spell the doom of Infernia unless it is returned to our possession.”
“Veil! Come and face Justice,” Draconius shouted. From the distance, a wailing torrent of black energy soared skyward and came down, like a million ravens made of dark energy, to converge and form the wraith-like appearance of Veil, the god of Death.
“So,” Veil said to Justice, “The man who went into hell as a hero of his people now invades Arcadia, forsaking his people, abandoning his vows, and crying for the enemies of all peace in Wyrmshadow?”
“You had no right,” Laurence said, his power growing intense. His armor grew bladed edges, his wings sprouted barbs of flame, and he stomped on the ground so hard that the sky quaked and several nearby trees were felled.
“What of the rights of all those that have been wronged by Infernia throughout five-thousand centuries,” Veil said, unimpressed with Wrath’s bravado. “How many times are we to watch as denizens of Infernia endanger our world? How many times have Infernians been responsible for the mass extinction of entire races? Ask a high elf, Laurence. You can’t. They are extinct. Ask a gnome. You can’t. They had to escape the curse of Infernia by forsaking their very mortality and encasing themselves in false corpora, You came seeking Justice, Laurence? Gaze into mine works and marvel, young hell-god, for I brought Justice to your doorstep.”
“Not…” Laurence stepped forward, grinding his teeth, sending waves of energy outward with every breath, every gesture. ”...your…” Draconius slowly moved his hand to the hilt of his sword. Rys leaned backward slightly and held a great paw in front of his archangels. Veil’s prideful sneer faded a bit into a vague look of concern. ”...RIGHT!” Laurence smacked Veil in the face with his open palm. The force of the strike was so powerful that it cracked the stone ground at our feet and caused all but the gods themselves to fall over. Veil stumbled back from the force of the strike, more in shock than in pain, and felt his cheek with his hand. Fury grew across his face, and in a flash, black lightning coursed from his fingertips to form the shape of an enormous scythe. Just as he was about to strike at Wrath (who stood ready to take the attack), Draconius and Rys both got between the two gods. Veil stopped short of slashing Draconius across the chest, his black lightning scythe disintegrating as it neared the god of Justice.
“Draconius,” Veil said. “I thought you, of all…”
“No,” Draconius said. “No, brother. Wrath’s words are true. Justice is mine. You had no more right to commit genocide than Asmous the Foul. You are better than that.”
”...,” Veil was dumbfounded. His look was one of confused anger. “Rys, you have to…”
“Give back what was taken from them, Veil,” Rys demanded.
“No,” Veil said, and his archangels flanked around him. “Never.”
“Veil,” Draconius said in a gentler tone, “you would risk another war over this?”
“Yes,” Veil said. “I damn well would. Something has to give, Drogyn. Infernia can’t threaten Materia anymore. We can’t continue…”
“What if I could guarantee that,” Laurence asked. Draconius, Rys, and Veil all looked at him.
“What if I could promise that Infernia would never again interfere with Materia?”
“You’re bluffing,” Veil said.
“I will kill Asmous the Foul,” Laurence said. Everyone was shocked by the very idea of it. “I will kill him, dismantle his Legion, and free the people of Infernia from his tyrannical rule. Without Asmous, there would be no threat from Infernia. Would this satisfy you, Veil?”
“Certainly,” Veil smirked. “If you could do it. But you and I both know you cannot make good on this, Laurence.”
“Wrath. And leave the details to me. Give me back the sliver, and in return, I will destroy Asmous and institute a policy of non-interference between Infernia and Materia.” Veil looked to Draconius and Rys, after a few tense moments, he looked to Laurence again.
“Very well, Wrath,” Veil said, reaching into the folds of his robes and producing a black orb, within which we could barely make out the presence of the stolen sliver. “You have one year to destroy Asmous the Foul. After that, I am within my rights to declare holy war on you, your realm and anyone who stands with you.” He glared at Draconius and Rys. “Anyone.”
Veil left us, and once he fully disappeared over the horizon, the atmosphere changed dramatically. I still could not get over the sight of Laurence Van Drake physically striking the god of Death. Coming to terms with the deal Laurence just made, with the fact that we had just one year to kill the most powerful being in Infernia, perhaps even the most powerful being in all of existence, was difficult to say the least…
- Rys asked how Laurence found his way into Infernia, and Laurence revealed that he learned of the hidden passage into the Gates by communing with the lingering essence of Draconius that remained within the mind of Darien Vale. When Rys asked how Laurence was able to manage such a thing, I came into the discussion. I explained, in brief, that I gave Laurence access to Darien’s Inner Sanctum, and from there, Laurence was able to gain knowledge of the passage.
- Draconius revealed that the secret passage was created by previous iterations of the three elder gods in order to facilitate the surreptitious comings and goings of an Arcadian agent. It was revealed that this agent had both angelic and demonic lineage, the only half-angelic/half-demonic creature to ever exist, and perhaps the last. This agent was charged with the duty of planting a mana tree in Infernia, right where the city of Glyph now stands. In planting this mana tree, they hoped to give Infernians an alternative source of power, mana, as opposed to the aether that Asmous the Foul provided to his loyal minions. In this way, they would grant the enemies of Asmous the power they would need to rise up, and create an incentive for more Infernians to turn against the Legion of Asmous.
- Their agent suddenly disappeared, however, and soon, news reached Arcadia that his plots were discovered by Asmous, and that he had been “dealt with.” It was at this point when Draconius revealed to us that this agent was none other than Niska himself! After a bit of expository discussion, Draconius revealed even more startling facts to us about Niska. Niska had two children of his own. One of these children was sent to live with the Idrahli humans of Materia, the other placed in the care of the Pyleans in Infernia. The Materian child grew to become to patriarch of the Vondroghn Clan, which would later be renamed the Van Drakes. The Infernian child would grow to become the great and legendary hero of Pylea, the Groosalugg. So it was that we learned the reason for Laurence’s ascent to godhood in Infernia. He was descended from Niska, who was both angelic and demonic. When he went into Infernia, he was returning to the source of his family’s hidden power, and the more time he spent there, the closer he came to becoming what he was always destined to become.
- Even as we struggled to come to terms with those startling revelations, Rys expressed confusion over the nature of soul slivers. He knew that the souls of Infernians were destroyed after the body died, but he did not know that fragments of these souls lingered onward thereafter. Daegys held the sliver of his sister up for Rys to examine. Daegys asked if there was anything that could be done for her, even if not to make her whole again, just to make her happy. Rys said he could promise nothing, but that given time, anything was possible. Daegys let his sister’s sliver slip from his wrist, and he watched with growing hope as it wriggled around, hopped into the flowing grasses, and immediately began to frolic and play as she did back in Cylia’s sanctuary at the Standing Stones.
- Rys then went about examining the sliver that Veil stole, the catalyst of the zombie invasion, and the reason for Laurence’s incursion into Arcadia. After explaining that Glyph was a massive runometric equation, Draconius said that he wished to consult with Melchior Martok, the world’s foremost authority on Runometry. He made his descent and return in an imperceptible instant, returning with Melchior Martok, who seemed wholly used to such journeys as this. Melchior explained that due to the existence of aether, Niska must have needed to use Runometry to create a safe area to plant the mana tree. The equation pre-existed the city, which was built around the glowing orbs. Whatever happened to Niska, which rendered him into the vampiric monster he became, created the zone of darkness around the city.
- A mana tree creates energy and life from nothingness. The only remaining mana tree on Materia is the one in Sud Ilras, but once, there were thousands like it, with the greatest of them, Yggdrasil, planted at the center of the lands of the Nasnoi, Nas’Nos. Niska planted the tree, and it began the process of drawing life to the lifeless lands surrounding it, producing mana under the protection of the glyph equation. But then, something must have gone wrong. The dead of Glyph were reanimating because the equation meant to protect the mana tree was corrupted. This sliver was at the heart of where the mana tree once stood, right where Lord Niska, the wretch that was once meant to be the savior of Infernia. Now, with the equation being destroyed by the zombies, simply returning the sliver to its perch would not suffice.
- In examining the sliver, Rys realized that it was a part of Niska’s soul! It represented his conscience. Niska used runometry to create the equation, and if we could somehow return his conscince to him, we may be able to get him to repair the damage and stop the zombie apocalypse from spreading outside of the city. But would that really work? And how would we even be able to restore a sliver to the rest of Niska’s fractured soul? Melchior had no answers. Daegys suggested that Cylia might be able to figure it out, as the person most familiar with slivers in all of Infernia.
- A few other ideas began to percolate among us. If we could not save Glyph, how could we ever possibly expect to succeed in our quest to destroy Asmous the Foul? Did Cylia’s sanctuary have anything to do with Niska’s failed mana-tree? Elosian brought to light his bewilderment that he is related to Laurence. The fact that Laurence turned out to be the Sylvres (the foretold savior of Infernia) was no longer so difficult to understand.
The Dust Settles
This was the most overwhelming day of my life. Now, at least, we had direction. We made a deal to kill Asmous the Foul within a year in exchange for the freedom to decide our own destiny without interference from Veil. Laurence proved, as if he had to, that he was indeed a god worthy of standing alongside Draconius, Veil, and Rys. And speaking of Rys… maybe this is the chance I have been hoping for…
The chance to, once and for all, commune directly with the god that saved me from my monstrous past and set me on the path to peace.
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Chapter 1: The Dreamers in… Hellbound
Chapter 2: The Dreamers in… Life In The Cauldron
Chapter 3: The Dreamers in… The Waking Nightmare
Chapter 4: The Dreamers
Chapter 5: The Dreamers in… Escaping The Cauldron
Chapter 6: The Dreamers in… Wrath of the Beholder
Chapter 7: The Dreamers in… Hounds of Hell
Chapter 8: The Dreamers in… Hideous Laughter
Chapter 9: The Dreamers in… The Tomb of Caenus Graymane
Chapter 10: The Dreamers in… Allure of the Wispwaters
Chapter 11: The Dreamers in… Goodbye, Impy
Chapter 12: The Dreamers in… Sole Survivor
Chapter 13: The Dreamers in… The Iron Fist
Chapter 14: The Dreamers in… Battle at the Ancient Wall
Chapter 15: The Dreamers in… The Long, Hard Road
Chapter 16: The Dreamers in… Hunted
Chapter 17: The Dreamers in… On Fields of Ancient Dead
Chapter 18: The Dreamers in… The Woods of Woe
Chapter 19: The Dreamers in… Divine Intervention
Chapter 20: The Dreamers in… The Standing Stones
Chapter 21: The Dreamers in… Cherished Memories
Chapter 22: The Dreamers in… Hero of the Night Sword
Chapter 23: The Dreamers in… Well of Slivered Souls
Chapter 24: The Dreamers in… Dreams of a Lost World
Chapter 25: The Dreamers in… What Might Have Been (Part 1 of 2)
Chapter 26: The Dreamers in… What Might Have Been (Part 2 of 2)
Chapter 27: The Dreamers in… Shimekiri Sankatte (Part 1 of 2)
Chapter 28: The Dreamers in… Shimekiri Sankatte (Part 2 of 2)
Chapter 29: The Dreamers in… A Long Black Day
Chapter 30: The Dreamers in… No Justice In Hell
Chapter 31: The Dreamers in… The Soothsayer’s Tower
Chapter 32: The Dreamers in… Harrowing Revelations
Chapter 33: The Dreamers in… Tonight We Dine In Hell
Chapter 34: The Dreamers in… The Dead Rise To Claim Us
Chapter 35: The Dreamers in… Wrath
Chapter 36: The Dreamers in… Shadows in the Distance
Chapter 37: The Dreamers in… Through the Gates and Into Heaven