Book of Clangorum

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Hope is a glorious tonic, and we had drunk deeply of its drought. Fain provided us hope, visions of victory just beyond the crest of the horizon. Just the idea of victory lifted us more than we thought possible. The toll of the relentless battles not only decimated our numbers, but also cut deeply into the confidence and faith in ourselves. While the Soulless surged, their power increasing, swelling with each of our fallen, with each of their own fallen, we became diminished physically and spiritually. But the hope of Fain's Elixir was tantalizing and more than we could have imagined. Was salvation at hand?

The only thing that soured our hope was Orlachmar's condemnation of his own salvation. He and I had many a campaign together, and so I knew more than most that where once he was golden and glorious, now he was grey and morose. Would all who partook of Fain's Elixir suffer as Orlachmar? Would we face a similar sundering of our spirit? Even if so, wouldn't it be worth it?

Since his transformation, Orlachmar kept company exclusively with Volkh and Loboshi. If it wasn't for the fact that Orlachmar lost his weapons and armour in his battle with Illith the Leviathan, he and I may never had became close again. But the old warrior needed to be equipped, and I was the weaponsmith for almost all the Second Circle. I had brought Orlachmar several of my master swords and armour, but the swords seemed to break in his grasp and armour split at the seams. Something special had to be done in order to construct a weapon that he could handle--or, rather, in honesty, a weapon that could handle him. I had no choice but to bring him into my sanctum where my great forge stands near a lava pool, deep below the Razamore Mountains, beneath Mount Zokala.

I found him sitting on a mountain rock, staring over a valley that was lit up from chains of crackling energy that flickered across the dome of the sky. Such was the weight of the attacks of the Soulless against the Domoth Spires that we had constructed to protect the First World. How long would they hold? I feared not long enough.

I don't let many come to my workshop. Many of the weapons that filled the room, swords and shields, blades and hammers, different types of armour, were half finished, works in progress, discarded pieces. I disliked others seeing my works less than perfect. But here was Orlachmar in my workshop, staring around. I was feeling a bit uneasy as his ghastly green eyes appraised my craft. He grunted and rubbed the back of his neck.

"What?" I said testily.

"You do all your finishing of these works, don't you?" Orlachmar asked.

"Of course I do!" I said

"We always wondered that," he said softly. "Many think you work in secret with one of the Fourth Circle to finish your work."

"Bah! Why would others think that!"

"Because of its beauty," Orlachmar shrugged, "It has the look of an artist's hand. Of your creche mates, I only know of Agnomenon the Tinkerer, who follows traditional pursuits of the Fifth Circle. Was there an artist in your creche?"

I didn't answer. Damn Orlachmar. Most creches had one artist, scholar, and leader, though there were often multiple warriors and creators. This was something I didn't like to talk about, so I just glared at him and stomped off to gather a preliminary blade I had prepared for his new weapon. I was examining the domothean infused steel, when a sound like rolling thunder echoed through my workshop. It took me a moment to realize it was Orlachmar laughing.

"Ha!" he boomed. "Of course! Why didn't we see it before. You were the artist! You were meant to be the Fourth Circle!"

"Stop your bellowing, you great idiot," I fumed, glaring down the length of the blade and examining the glittering runes inscribed with crushed gemstones.

"Why?" Orlachmar asked after awhile.

"Because," I finally relented with a sigh, "I wanted to see my works in action. Who knows why any artist is drawn to a certain medium? Mine was metal and iron, battles and bronze, iron and steel, blood and glory. Well, my art slices and hacks, parries and thrusts, how could I possibly make them if I didn't know how to use them? Bloody stars, I loved the challenge."

"I always suspected you were an old fraud," he said.

With a growl, I cursed Orlachmar and threw the blade I had been working on at him. He easily caught it, and I noted his wide grin. My anger evaporated as I realized he goaded me to anger in a teasing manner. How long had it been since he smiled and joked? I think he finally realized that he was smiling, and suddenly looked awkward, not sure what to do with such feelings.

"This blade isn't half bad," Orlachmar said, studying it seriously.

"Then it's perfect," I said, "for it's meant for a half assed warrior!"

We both roared with laughter.

But in the end, that blade proved to be just as unsuitable as the previous ones. Eventually, it took me seven days to create weapon and armour that would suit him, and Orlachmar had to be by my side during the entire time to infuse the metals with his unique energies in order so they would keep their integrity in his hands. Our jokes with each other were rough and dark, but it enabled us to talk about secrets we kept to ourselves, and thus our friendship was renewed.

Unfortunately, the blade and armour that I constructed for Orlachmar was put to use almost immediately. Just a short time since we had finished cooled the final forging in the clear waters of the Crystal Sea, a mental alarm flared behind our eyes and a whuffling detonation reverberated through the aethers. We knew only one thing that this could mean, and that was one of the Soulless had broken through our defenses. I pulled my axe free and swung it back and forth, just as Orlachmar pulled the black sword from its sheath and grinned in expectation for the euphoria of battle.

"Don't break that damn sword!" I grumbled.

"Only if you don't break your damned skull," Orlachmar responded and then added without missing a beat. "Of course, since your head is solid rock, you should be safe on that account."

"Better than a head that's solid cheese like yours!" I huffed.

Our levity didn't last long, for the alarm drew us toward the Sakarich Forest. We arrived to witness an inferno. Beneath the grey, trees flailed back and forth. Dryads within screamed in agony just before their trees erupted into columns of flame and smoke. Some wolves and deer were running around in circles, their flesh slowly being eaten away, until they collapsed in bloody heaps. The very air around the forest warped and weaved, everything within distorting like some mirage on a hot summer day.

Both Orlachmar and I attempted to charge into the forest, but were immediately driven back, as a blistering pain lit up our skin, and our singed our hair. It was like walking into acidic fumes. Coughing up bloody essence, I scrambled backwards, my eyes watering so much that my vision blurred. Orlachmar was in better shape than me, his transformed skin somehow being able to repel the corroding air.

"Zenos," Orlachmar muttered, spitting on the ground. "His insubstantial form must have slipped through our defenses."

"Bloody stars," I said, crouching down with my elbows on my knees as I was still shaken. "We need to wait for the others . . . What are you doing, you great fool!"

Orlachmar's spine had suddenly straightened, and his head had jerked up just before he deliberately strode into the Sakarich Forest. My eyes were still blurry, as I screamed at him to come back. But as my vision cleared I saw what must have prompted him to dive into the forest. One of our number was within the clutches of Zenos.

Someone ran up beside me, screaming. It was Loboshi. As my vision cleared, I realized that it was none other than her mate Volkh who Orlachmar was attempting to save. Loboshi tried to dive in after them, but I held her back, yelling out her to let Orlachmar drag Volkh to safety. Great Spirit Wolf was somewhere behind me, howling like his heart was being ripped out. Maybe it was.

As my eyes focused, I saw that Volkh had collapsed on the ground and Orlachmar was standing over him. They were surrounded by burning pyres as the invisible, corrosive form of Zenos swirled angrily around them. Orlachmar's skin bubbled as he swung his newly forged dark sword overhead, sweeping the air with dark Domoth energies. Defiant in his pain, Orlachmar roared, his anger fueling his attack until his sword was a blazing font of darkness. Zenos finally fled, shrieking off into the smoking sky.

Orlachmar dropped to his knees, as Loboshi and I reached him. Volkh lay on the ground, his body twisted almost beyond recognition. Great Spirit Wolf hovered behind his, surrounded by hundreds of the lesser wolves, their anguished howls rising up around us. Meanwhile, Volkh lay bleeding essence in to the ground, barely conscious.

"Hold on, my love" cried Loboshi, "Fain has more of the elixir. Just hold on!"

Loboshi bid us to stay at Volkh's side, as she ran off to find Fain. Bowing his head, Orlachmar shifted his wait to his haunches. I was amazed how quickly his skin seemed to regenerate. If this accelerated healing was part of his transformation, Volkh stood a chance.

"You heard Loboshi, Volkh!" I said. "She'll be back soon with Fain and his elixir. You only have to hold on!"

Volkh opened his glazed eyes, but ignored me. He focused on Orlachmar, who leaned forward. Volkh's ruined lips moved, a painful hissing noise escaped. He grimaced and whispered Orlachmar's name.

Orlachmar bent down, "What is it, friend?"

"Do not let them do to me what was done to you," Volkh rasped. "I know what it was wrong what they did. And I know what you are. Do not let me suffer that fate!"

"What can I do?" said Orlachmar, his eyes wide with fear.

"Take me into yourself. Take my essence into your own."

Orlachmar drew back, "No, do not ask this of me."

"I beg of you, my friend. Before Loboshi returns! Her love of me blinds, and she will do to me what was done to you. She would not care of the consequences."

My thoughts roiled around. Was what was done to Orlachmar really so wrong? Orlachmar had tried to explain to me how alien he felt, how different. But it wasn't until I heard the anguish in Volkh's voice that I began to doubt the wisdom of Fain's promise of salvation.

"He's begging you, Orlachmar," I said softly.

"I can't," Orlachmar hugged himself. "You don't know what he's asking!"

"For the love of Yudhe," Volkh groaned and the utter desperation in his eyes broke my heart.

"Damn your hide!" I said. "Let me do it! Tell me what to do!"

If this was Volkh's choice, I'd not stand in his way. If what the elixir did was so terrible that he would rather extinguish himself than face Orlachmar's fate, then perhaps we were wrong.

"You can't," said Volkh, turning his dimming eyes towards me.. "Orlachmar has not only had his body changed, but his spirit as well. His very essence has been reconfigured, as pathways normally leading to the immanidivinus have been diverted to the negative excoroperditio energies of the Soulless."

"So only one transformed with Fain's Elixir can do what you want?" I asked.

"Yes," he gasped. "If I die, my essence will soak into the earth and Zenos or another will eventually absorb me. Please, Orlachmar!"

With an anguished roar, Orlachmar plunged his fists into Volkh's chest. Volkh spasmed and his eyes rolled up into his head. The arms of Orlachmar glowed as argent tendrils sprouted from his wrists and dug into Volkh's flesh. As Volkh's body turned translucent, it eventually faded away as Orlachmar, growling in pain or pleasure, absorbed his friend. I could only stare in horror.

Orlachmar dropped to the ground and rolled over, sobbing uncontrollably. All that remained of Volkh were his clothes. Behind us, the wolves began to howl, a chorus of utter despair. What I witnessed shook me to the core, I could see the spirit within Orlachmar had mutated yet again with this act. What would we become of us if we went down this path?

Eventually, Loboshi and Fain arrived. All that was left of Volkh was his steaming clothes.

"It was too late," I told them. "Zenos had drawn too much of Volkh's essence, and Volkh's body disintegrated, all that was left of him bleeding into the earth."

Fain sighed and laid a hand on Loboshi's shoulder. She dropped down next to Orlachmar, who stumbled away from her. His eyes were wide with struggling emotions, as though he feared her touch. I motioned him to step away, as I knelt by Loboshi and tried to comfort her along with Fain.

As she continued to wail, I left her with Fain and went to Orlachmar. His eyes were haunted, and he appeared near collapse. I put a hand on his shoulder and began to lead him away. Great Spirit Wolf began to follow Orlachmar, his head hung low and eyes staring mournfully at him. Did the Great Spirit sense Volkh's essence within Orlachmar?

"Go away!" Orlachmar hissed to the Great Spirit. "I am not Volkh and want nothing of his!"

The Great Spirit hesitated and tried to follow us several more times, but Orlachmar repulsed him each time. Finally, Great Spirit Wolf stopped and simply watched reproachfully as Orlachmar strode away.

With nowhere else to go, Great Spirit Wolf turned to Volkh's mate, Loboshi, and approached her on his haunches, shuffling towards her with his belly on the ground. When Loboshi let him gingerly lay his snout on her lap. She sobbed and threw her arms around this great shaggy head.

At least he found comfort somewhere.

Not so for Orlachmar, who quickly backed away from the scene. I trailed behind him, worried what my friend would do in such a distraught state. He didn't stop until he had climbed halfway up Mount Zokala. He leaned his back against a large rock, and stared out at the remains of the Sakarich Forest. All that remained of the once numerous trees were blackened stumps, and the sky above was thick with black smoke. The soil was dried and cracked, covered in the chalky white ash, the detritus of Zenos.

"You did what he wanted," I said softly, sitting down next to Orlachmar.

"I should not exist," he said. "I wish I were dead, Clangorum. With all my heart, I wish I had died."

"Keep talking like that," I growled, "and I'll help you along with that desire."

"I am what Meridian called me. An abomination."

"You are also my friend."

"You always had terrible taste."

I chuckled softly, and Orlachmar sighed, looking more tired than I had ever seen him. We stared down at the smoking remains of the forest, knowing it would never heal. Daylight fled as Spirit Night vanquished the summer heat and cloaked the sky with stars. When I looked at Orlachmar, his glowing green eyes reflected sorrow and pain, but also a hunger that disturbed me more than I would ever admit.

Eventually, Orlachmar and I agreed that we would never discuss with others what happened with Volkh. I also vowed that I would support him in his effort to overturn the decision to use Fain's Elixir. How we would do that, I had no idea. But, certainly, I swore that I'd never let that elixir pass by lips.

Spirit Sun eventually rose over the horizon, shining golden white and sending rainbow beams scattering through across the horizon. Contrasted against the glorious dawn, the full destruction of the Sakarich Forest was laid before us, revealing itself now to be a scorched ruin. Our contemplation was interrupted by a mental call to gather on the ethereal realm. Though I told Orlachmar no one would notice if we didn't answer the call, he simply shrugged and made his way toward a spatial fold that would lead us to the gathering.

We arrived at the Fields of the Maeve, and not only were our brethren gathered, but so too were hordes of awakened fae, the lesser spirits awakened by the Sixth Circle. Orlachmar and I joined those of the Second Circle who clustered upon a hill rise. The Greater Spirits had also been called, both the great animal spirits of the Creators and the great awakened spirits of the Awakeners. I noticed that Great Spirit Wolf stood near Loboshi, leaning against her leg. I also noticed Orlachmar pointedly ignoring both of them. Carrying Volkh's essence within, I can only imagine the conflicting emotions he felt towards them.

The Sixth and Seventh Circles were in the center of the fields surrounded by rank upon rank of the lesser spirits. Floating above us were Aslaran and Shairim, both of the First Circle who focused their works upon overseeing the Awakeners and Creators. As we waited, more of the fae appeared, packing tightly into the fields. Aslarn lifted his arms and called for the attention of all gathered.

"It has become clear that the forests be needing greater protection," Aslarn boomed. "As some may know, the forests be anchors for much of the First World's lifeforce. With the fall of Sakarich Forest, it be clear that we need to take further measures to ensure the protection of the forests. Thus, we call this gathering."

"The ethereal realm reflects the natural world on the prime material plane," continued Shairim, her tawny skin gleaming under the ethereal sun and her green-gold eyes filled with the weight of sorrow. "And the Fields of the Maeve is the crossroads where all forests meet. It is at this place that we shall attempt what has never been done before. We have called only the fae of the forests here. The Seventh Circle shall attempt to help the Sixth Circle use these lesser spirits to merge together to create a hive soul. If successful, their collective strength may offer the forests more protection against the Soulless Ones."

The Sixth Circle and Seventh Circle joined hands in a circle, and began a low chanting as they slowly danced counter clockwise, spiraling out among the gathered forest spirits were gathered. Lines of green and gold domothean energies rippled out in spokes, as they wheeled around, dragging the fae in haphazard dance. As the ritual gained in power, the voices of the fae could be heard, rising in volume, the faster they spun around.

"We are one!" the fae sang in unison. "Together, forever, the sum of us all, together we blossom, vines twist, trees grow, strength together, forever, united, never divided, our strength is the strength of all."

Within the center of the frenetic dance, a green tendril sprouted from the ground, quickly growing and thickening. The tendrils thickened to enormous vines upon which sprouted sharp hooked thorns. Leaves unfurled on the vines and finally a single stem, thick as the trunk of a tree, shot up from the teaming vines. At the top of the stem, a bud formed, inflating larger and larger, until it burst open to reveal the lush velvety petals of an enormous, perfect rose. Even from where we stood, we smelled the intoxicating fragrance. As the rose bloomed, a pink glowing shape emerged from within, a cloudy pink wisp of smoke. The wisp held a vaguely feminine shape and it vibrated to the rhythm of the chanting of the fae.

"We are in the Fields of the Maeve," they continued to sing. "We are true in the Fields of the Maeve! We are One! We are True! We are the Maeve! Maeve! Maeve!"

"Maeve!" sang out those of the Sixth and Seventh Circle. "You are the rose, and keepers of the thorns that protect the forests! Your destiny and duty is to protect the green!"

"It is our duty and destiny," the fae responded in unison. "We are the Maeve! Our tahvrai is to the forests, always to serve! Always to protect! It is our duty and destiny! We shall fail no forest!"

As they continued their litanies, the wispy figure that had emerged from the center of the rose gradually solidified, her skin flushed pink and her thick green hair coiled around her torso and limbs. Her purple eyes were large and liquid yet underneath a steely resolve sparkled. The ritual wound down, and the fae slowed to a crawl and then finally stopped, their small forms shuddering with exhaustion.

"Are we awakened?" the fae and the Maeve asked together, their voices locked in unison.

I could tell that several of the Sixth Circle, including Nocht the Silent, Auseklis the Wanderer, Lisaera the Silver and her sister Elfenehoala the Golden, were alarmed as their creations responded synchronously. Bollikin noticed their concern and quickly spoke up.

"It is disconcerting at first," said Bollikin. "But you have to understand that the Maeve is a collective of the fae gathered here. Eventually, they'll individuate but for some time now, they will act as one entity for they are one entity, the Maeve."

And so the experiment proved to be a great success. The Sixth and Seventh Circle discussed creating another collective spirit of lesser spirits, only this one specifically made of the spirits of the trees, in order to create ethereal moorings to the forests. This would allow forests to eventually regenerate if they suffered a fate similar to Sakarich. There was a debate I didn't quite understand about whether this Tree of Trees should create moorings on the prime plane as well, but they decided against it, saying it would make the forests too vulnerable to the Soulless. Auseklis of the Sixth commented that after the war ended perhaps the ethereal moorings could be made manifest on the prime plane. He was always the optimistic one.

Aslaran and Shairim felt that more protection of the forests were needed, and so each of the forests were to be bound to two Great Spirits, a Great Animal Spirit of the Creators and a Great Awakened Spirit of the Awakeners. It was apparently a great honor that a great spirit was chosen as a protector of a forest. One thing that the Great Spirits were commanded to do, was to protect the forests indirectly and from the ethereal fold. Some of the Great Spirits did not take well to this, wanting to join the war directly. None were more indignant than Spirit Sun, the youngest of the Greater Spirits, most recently awakened.

"You are our precious creations, of all of you. You must remain here," said Lisaera sternly. "It would break our hearts to see you suffer!"

"I can fight!" cried Spirit Sun. "I can help! Let me prove myself in battle!"

"No!" Auseklis commanded. "You must do as we say. Stay here, Sun. Guard the others."

It was not the duty of the Second Circle to coddle these spirits, so Orlachmar and I left with the other warriors. The top priority of the Second Circle was to find and stop Zenos, who was hidden somewhere on the First World. However, we were never able to track him down. His form was all but invisible, and he travelled with the wind. He could seep into the very earth and strike at any time.

Zenos managed to kill several more of our number, seemingly to enjoy targeting members of the Fourth Circle. With what turned out to be a devastating blow, Zenos killed and absorbed the essence of Shordella, a member of a select group of the Fourth Circle who were devoted to song and were known as Keepers of the Great Song of Creation. From that point, the power of Zenos was multiplied, as he was able to now use the parts of Shordella's songs to amplify his own power. At that point, the rest of the Fourth Circle Song Keepers took measures to hide their voices in case another of their number fell. Their voices would remain hidden at least until Zenos was defeated. This safeguard proved to be only too prophetic as Zenos destroyed almost all of the Song Keepers.

During this time, I kept near Orlachmar, who was becoming more and more destructive. Since the time he absorbed Volkh, his anger and violence was multiplied a hundred fold. His anger at Zenos knew no bounds, and every time Zenos managed to escape us, Orlachmar would rage for days. Several times, he left the First World to fight the Soulless beyond the Domotheos Spires. These were almost suicidal missions, and I think part of Orlachmar sought to lose. But I also knew if there was no outlet for the storm that thundered within him, that he would turn on one of us. There were several times, his anger almost boiled over to the point where he would lash out at those around him, but thus far I was always able to diffuse those moments. I'm not sure why I had a calming effect on Orlachmar, but I also wondered how long that would last.

Watching Orlachmar only reinforced my vow to oppose Fain's Elixir, for I could see firsthand what it did. But few others shared that view, and who could blame them? They only saw that Orlachmar was alive and stronger than before. Fortunately, Fain's Fifth Circle Coterie was only able to create a small amount of the elixir which hadn't been used since Orlachmar's resurrection.

That all changed when Zenos attacked the Jojobo Jungle. Orlachmar and I were the first on the scene, along with Aslarn of the First Circle who always paid special attention to that tropical forest. As usual, Zenos was able to escape before we could trap him. Afterwards, what first struck us was how well the jungle had repelled the attacks of Zenos. Apparently, the raising of the Maeve Consciousness and anchoring the forest through an ethereal manifestation of the Tree of Trees proved to be a very effective defense. However, there was a catastrophe that was about to be discovered.

Aslarn roared in alarm, and when we got to him we saw him kneeling on the ground next to a glowing form. It was the manifestation of Spirit Sun. The manifestations of the Greater Awakened Spirits looked very similar to us, generally taking on a form similar to their primary awakener. Though it took almost the full of the Sixth Circle to awaken a greater spirit, there usually was one primary coordinator who focused the energies that coalesced the spiritual energies and raised them to consciousness. Like Spirit Moon took on many of the physical characteristics of Lisaera the Silver, or how Spirit Night had many similar features to Nocht the Silent, Spirit Sun was as gaudily bright and rambunctious as Rahm the Radiant.

But now Spirit Sun lay at the feet of Aslarn. The Great Spirit's golden body had black ragged holes peppered throughout where Zenos had sucked out his life force. Barely conscious, the fire in his amber eyes was dimming quickly. Orlachmar and I quickly helped Aslarn to rush him into the ethereal realm.

Word had spread before us, and the Hamadhi had prepared a healing mound, where we laid Spirit Sun gently on the mossy surface. As the Hamadhi bathed him in healing essences, his inner fire was growing dimmer and dimmer. The Hamadhi shook their heads and backed away, indicating there was no hope.

A crowd had gathered around, mostly those of the Sixth Circle. Rahm the Radiant was there, wailing in grief and frustration. The Greater Awakened Spirits had also gathered, and they were trembling and huddled around each other. This was the first time one of their own had fallen, and their own mortality, an abstract concept to them, was suddenly reality.

"He must be saved! Rahm screamed. "Get Fain! Call forth Fain's Coterie! Sun must be saved. My child! My child!"

It was a logical assumption on Rahm's part, but Orlachmar stiffened beside me. I placed a hand on his forearm which trembled with anger. Squeezing gently, I caught his attention and shook my head. He ground his teeth but otherwise calmed down. Eventually, Fain, Raezon and Gheasia arrived, carrying their precious small supply of elixir.

"Please save him" begged Rahm.

"We have not considered to use the elixir on a Greater Spirit, "said Raezon.

"It shouldn't matter," said Gheasia. "We are all made of same matter, the Great Spirits are merely -- thinner"

"We are losing him!" cried Rahm.

Raezon and Gheasia looked to Fain for direction as Rahm sobbed brokenly. Fain sighed and nodded. Raezon and Gheasia then lifted out the small green vial. The carefully measured out one tiny drop and let it fall between Spirit Sun's lips.

The reaction was instantaneous. Sun re-ignited, his flames a burnt orange, almost a dark amber colour, rather than the bright golden white of before. He leaped up, face flushed with coruscating tendrils of power. He raved in something of pain and perhaps madness.

Spirit Sun leapt up, liquid fire of an unclean hue spraying in all directions. Rahm, Fain and his Coterie were thrown to the ground as Spirit Sun burst forward from the healing mound. His heat and fire broke like a wave, crashing down around us.

We were all blinded when the screaming began. After several moments of chaos, we slowly began to realize that Spirit Sun had charged into the crowd of other Great Awakened Spirits. Smoke and steam were rising among them, and the Sixth Circle was thrown into utter panic.

"Oh sweet Dynara! What is he doing to Night!" cried out a whispering voice. It took me a moment to pin the voice down to belonging to Nocht of the Sixth Circle, sometimes known as Nocht the Silent, for he so very rarely spoke. But he was the coordinator in the awakening of Spirit Night, and he was trying desperately to push himself into the crowd of Great Awakened Spirits.

As events were moving very quickly, it was unclear exactly what eventually we saw Spirit Lake standing in before Spirit Sun, streams of water rushing forth from her outstretched arms, her aura of mist sizzling against his roaring flames. We couldn't see anything amidst the roiling steam but suddenly Spirit Moon emerged, dragging out Spirit Night from the blankets of steam. Spirit Night dropped to her hands and knees, bent over clenching her stomach and retching ashes.

"Night!" screamed Spirit Sun. "Night, I must possess you! I must have you! NIGHT!"

Spirit Sun tried to rush around Spirit Lake, but she manifested a huge waterfall, cutting off his approach towards Spirit Night. Orlachmar tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the sky. Overhead, the sun itself had turned a putrid yellow, no longer the golden white light with rainbow hues. Meanwhile, the drama amongst the Great Awakened Spirits continued.

"You shall not have her, Sun!" Lake said coldly. "You shall not pass me!"

"I will destroy you, Lake!" Sun roared. "I shall burn you to nothing! You are naught and nothing! If it takes me until the ends of time, I shall destroy you, Lake! Come to me, Night! We were always meant to be!"

"Get him away from me!" screamed Night.

"You must be mine! Mine! NIGHT!"

By this time the Sixth Circle had surrounding Sun, Rahm crying out for him to calm down, but his rage overwhelmed him. He sizzled and crackled.

"Put down Sun!" cried Nocht in his whispery voice. He had immediately gone to his beloved Spirit Night and cradled her form against his chest. Nocht's long hair sparkled with starlight and swirled around them, darkening until they blended into the shadows.

"Sleep," said Auseklis. "We must put Sun to sleep."

The Sixth Circle that had gathered around Spirit Sun called forth an ambient light that settled like a net over him. Spirit Sun almost broke free several times, surprising the Sixth Circle, but eventually the struggles of Spirit Sun slowed down. Finally, he slumped to the ground. Looking haggard, Rahm knelt beside Sun, stroking his sickly orange skin.

"Destroy him," said Nocht. "Reverse his awakening."

"How can you suggest that!" cried Rahm.

"It has never been done," said Lisaera. "It may not even be possible."

"What would happen to the physical sun?" asked Fain, who had been watching with troubled eyes.

"Nothing," said Auseklis. "It would remain a ball of fire in a sky. But it would be dead, without spirit."

"Sun is too dangerous as he is now," said Lisaera and her sister Elfenehoala agreed.

"Then put him to sleep," said Nocht. "Wipe away his memories."

"How much would he forget though?" asked Lisaera.

"Will he be purged of this insanity?" whispered Rahm.

"Who can say," said Auseklis. "But we have no choice. Let us put him to sleep for a thousand years and chain him to the physical sun."

As the Sixth Circle moved to send Spirit Sun into a thousand year slumber, the repercussions of the event swept through us. The Sixth Circle discovered that the very essence of Spirit Sun's was warped. Though such a warping of essence was difficult to gauge in Orlachmar, this proved beyond any doubt that Fain's Elixir indeed corrupted pure spirit. Proof was magnified in Sun because his spirit was so much thinner than ours, but eventually the same would happen to us. As Meridian and Orlachmar had argued before, the elixir would change us, turn us into something vile. We would become like the Soulless.

With this new information, another Gathering was called at the Towers of Xyl to reconsider using Fain's Elixir. Again, the same arguments were presented. On one hand, Fain argued that the elixir made us stronger and more powerful, as we used the essence of our enemies against them. On the other hand, Meridian argued that it now was proven that using it would warp our own essence, which eventually would turn us into that which we fought.

There was no overwhelming support for Fain this time, but there was no overwhelming opposition either. The Fifth Circle was split, and I was proud that my brother, Agnomenon the Tinkerer, was among those that opposed the elixir, along with Xyl, Roark, Mugowumpois and Ein. Those of the Fifth Circle who stuck with Fain were mostly from his Coterie, especially Raezon and Gheasia. Though the Third Circle overwhelmingly opposed the elixir, they were small in number. With their Keepers of the Great Song having been decimated, the Fourth Circle edged towards supporting Fain's Elixir. The Sixth and Seventh Circle were likewise divided, though more certainly opposed the elixir after the debacle with Spirit Sun. It was the greater numbers of the Second Circle that proved to be the deciding faction. Most who kept faith with Fain, though there were a few of us who opposed the elixir: Orlachmar of course, Loboshi and myself, Terentia and Hajamin who always stood by Meridian. But the vast only saw the elixir as a weapon to be used.

"We needn't all take the elixir," argued Morgfyre. "Perhaps just a few of us could use it, chosen warriors of the Second Circle. We could be the ones to sacrifice ourselves for the betterment of the whole."

"And if you become a new breed of Soulless, what then?" demanded Meridian. "Would we then have to kill you?"

"I would gladly sacrifice myself," said Morgfyre indignantly. "I would do anything to defeat the Soulless Ones."

And that statement of course was like feeding meat to hungry lions for the Second Circle. Sacrifice was always one of the greatest virtues of a warrior. Orlachmar tried to articulate his opposition, but his own rage got the better of him. I could tell that warriors like Tauro, Thax, Ivanko, Krokano, Gruen and Slaay admired his strength, and the anger that boiled within Orlachmar's breast was somehow perversely perceived as a reason to take the elixir. It looked as though, again, we would support Fain, and as much as I hated speaking at a Gathering, I found myself standing up and clearing my throat.

"Aye, we could some of us take the elixir as Morgfyre suggests," I said when all attention had turned upon me. "But you can count me out. If you ask me, it wouldn't be a noble sacrifice, it would be the path of the coward. Corrupting ourselves, turning ourselves into the enemy, destroying our own souls, for what? To win a few battles before we lose all identity of who or what we are? You all know how close I've been to Orlachmar, and I've seen firsthand the changes within him. Bloody stars, he is not the same! The soul, what Dynara saw in each of us, is being destroyed within Orlachmar! You think that's noble? To throw away Dynara's greatest gift? I say no! I would rather die with honor and being true to myself than win using this coward's method!"

Of course, I directed this speech to my fellow Second Circle warriors and, as I scowled at them, wondered if I had failed completely. Most stared at me with eyes widened in shock. Morgfyre's face was white with rage. But then Krokano stood up and began to clap, followed by Tauro, Shikari, and Braun. Then others began standing, and the clapping became louder and louder, with huzzahs and cries of agreement. Oh, a good number did not stand up, Morgfyre, Thax, Ivanko and Gruen among them, but it was enough to turn the tide.

Thus, when the second vote was cast, Meridian's faction won by a fairly wide margin. Of course, there was no celebration this time. We had just voted to not use the one weapon that might give us a chance. Fain's face was flushed with fury, but he quickly took control of his emotions and quelled the uproar amongst his supporters.

"So be the will of the Elders," said Fain tightly, bowing deeply to Meridian before leaving with his Coterie trailing behind him.