Book of Aslarn
Ah, back in the jungles of Jojobo, I watched Little Sun playing among the lions and gazelles, chasing one and then the other. I noticed the lions were becoming agitated by this mischief. I swept Little Sun up into my arms, because Great Lion Spirit was just beginning to take notice.
"What you be doing now, Little Sun?" I asked him. "Your big ole body is way up in the sky overhead, why you send this bitty part of your spirit down to chase the poor little lions?"
"I'm lonely!" cried Little Sun. "All up in that big sky, there's no one to play with!"
"Well, that not be true!" I said. "What about Spirit Moon? There she is peeking up over the horizon!"
"She hardly comes around!" complained Little Sun, though I felt his curiosity reach out to sense Moon Spirit coming up over the mountains.
"And what about Spirit Night?" I asked, teasing him. "She's just around the corner!"
"I never see her!"
"I hear she's very, very beautiful, Little Sun! I think you'll like her if you meet her. Or aren't you fast enough to catch her?"
"Oh, fast I am! I'll catch her!"
The glorious golden body I held, which was Little Sun's projected spirit, melted away as his consciousness flew back into his celestial body in the sky. I shaded my eyes and grinned as he began to travel a little faster across the sky. Chuckling to myself, I made sure the little lions weren't too upset, but they were washing themselves and pretending nothing had happened. I sensed Great Lion Spirit was already forgiving and forgetting Little Sun's antics, as he stretched out to enjoy the lazy heat of the afternoon.
We'd have to keep an eye out for Sun Spirit. As with many others of the greater spirits when newly awakened, he tried to play with the lesser awakened spirits or with the lesser creations of the Seventh Circle. He'd have to learn to curb himself, though I sensed our hands would be full with this one. His spirit was both arrogant and rambunctious - indeed, reminding me when Great Lion Spirit was formed. These two would eventually either end up being great friends or heated rivals!
Who could blame Little Sun for wanting to play with the lions? These great lovely cats created by Lorella of the Seventh were both gorgeous and arrogant, playful and terrifying, loyal and so full of pride. Oh, within the jungles there were many fine creations, some of the most artistic and creative works of the Seventh Circle could be seen in the many kinds of monkeys and florid birds, the long necked giraffes and graceful gazelles, the colourful boa constrictors and enormous elephants - but it was Lorella's great lovely cats that were my secret favourites.
Walking among the little lions who rubbed up and down my legs, I couldn't help but feel immense pride in the jungles of Jojobo. I was determined to treasure as much time as I could here before being called back to Xyl's spires when the mission to the Heralds of Magnora departed. Though most of First Circle were going on that important mission, I was not one of them. Unlike Amberle or Meridian, who focused on the needs of the warriors and hamadhi who roamed through the planar sheaths, or like Migana or Fain who oversaw the projects of the artists and thinkers, I chose to oversee the Sixth and Seventh Circles, helping coordinate and balance the spirits they awakened and creatures they created. There were only a handful of Firsts who chose this duty, and I was proud of what I did.
Most of the Firsts would be part of the mission. Indeed, only about two dozen of us would remain behind. There wasn't a lot for me to do at this time, which is why I came back to enjoy my time in the jungles. The other Firsts were being trained by the Second Circle in the risks of travelling beyond aetherspace and into the void itself. Since Xyl still hadn't returned from his quest to find Dracnoris, Fain oversaw the Fifth Circle, mostly Raezon, Roark and Gheasia, as they constructed a crystal prism from which the mission could be viewed through Meridian's link with Amberle.
None of us knew what to expect, of course. We guessed that the Heralds of Magnora may harbour some resentment against us, but who were they really? We hadn't seen them in aeons, and their closest kin, the primal gods amongst us, were lost in their third circle meditations. Our emissaries to Dracnoris and Keph still hadn't returned.
The time finally came for me to bid goodbye once again to Great Lion and Little Sun and all the rest of the spirits and creations of Jojobo. I was called back to Xyl's spires to the First Circle assembly. I was rather surprised to see that the mission, of which there were three hundred and sixty five members of the First Circle, had decided to travel in a power formation called the Finger of Fate. Though I was no expert on Second Circle hunting formations, I seemed to recall this was one of the most deadly formations.
"The Finger of Fate?" I asked Krokano, one of the warriors of the Golden Circle. "You be leaving nothing to chance, eh?"
"It was a compromise," Krokano said. "Since it was decided that this mission wouldn't contain any of the Second Circle, we insisted that they should at least meet the Heralds in a formation that could easily be defended. Truth be told, I still do not like having none of the Second Circle on this mission."
"It is out of the question," said Amberle, overhearing us. "How would it appear to them if we sent warriors as our first encounter? We do not mean to frighten them."
"We are sending out the almost entire First Circle," observed Fain, "that's intimidating enough. Besides, I think over three hundred of us could deal with any unpleasantries if it came to that."
"Which it will not," said Amberle.
"Nevertheless, there could be dangers," said Krokano. "The Finger of Fate will at least offer minimal protection."
"It be prudent," I said.
I could tell that Amberle had argued against even that, but she merely sighed and nodded. As the rest of us gathered, we grew more and more festive. The Keepers of the Songs of Creation, a group of the Fourth Circle devoted to the music of creation, began singing and leading us in intricate dances.
Then the mission members floated up above the crystal spires. It was an impressive sight as they sent forth beams of power and began linking into the formation known as the Finger of Fate, each of them glistening in robes, some redolent in ornate splendour and some elegant in their simplicity, some wore crowns or circlets upon their brows, some wielded symbols of power in their hands, from delicate rods and crosses to crystal ankhs and orbs of power.
The Finger of Fate formation consisted of six rings, the outer ring one hundred strong, the next ring seventy-five, and so on until Amberle herself stood alone in the centre. As they floated upwards, connected with lines of power, Amberle took the lead point while the other circles lagged behind, forming a glittering cone behind her.
Back in the main chamber of the central spire, Meridian stood alone on a raised platform. Fain directed the Fifth Circle to empower the crystal sphere which hung above Meridian. Within that viewing sphere, we could share Meridian's connection with Amberle, as they were joined by blood and love, sibling mates. The crystal immediately glowed pink with their affection, and their thoughts vibrated off the crystal, confident and determined.
Thus, the Finger of Fate launched itself into the aethers, intent upon their mission to the Heralds, while the rest of us gathered in the central chamber to view the progress through the viewing sphere. Most everyone was gathered from all the circles, and we were filled with hope and excitement.
The journey was uneventful until they approached the Void. Here, they slowed and the crystal viewing sphere darkened slightly, reflecting Amberle's trepidation. The Void was a vast emptiness, devoid of even the energy that flowed through the aethers, impenetrable in its vast isolation. The Void was often described as cold and harsh, but those are only the most pale of metaphors. The Void has no physical temperature, neither hot nor cold, nor comfortable. Furthermore, it is vaster than imagination, for that which does not exist far exceeds that which does. The Void itself is anathema to existence, for it is that which is nothing and a painful place to even travel through, for form and spirit rebel against existing in a place where they do not belong.
Perhaps the greatest mystery is why that which is empty is not empty, for as the Second Circle knows more than any of us, there are beings that inhabit the Void. We call them the Abominations. Perhaps some are cast off creations of Dynara, perhaps some are improbable manifestations of the Void itself. Many certainly are mutated half-formed who travelled into the Void and became undone and remade in their insanity. Rarely would we willingly travel deep into the Void, except perhaps to chase a renegade half-formed or perform some research project.
Back in the main chamber of Xyl's spires, we collectively experienced the Void through Meridian's link with Amberle, feeling waves of her pain and nausea, though blunted through the viewing sphere. We helped Meridian send Amberle strength, and felt her resolve harden. Thus, she led the mission into the depths of the Void.
The journey itself took months, and none of us left the chamber, sharing the travails of our siblings through Meridian's link with Amberle. Without that link, they would have been lost to us, as their trail back to reality faded away. I know not what it must have been like for them, none of us had ever experienced such a long time in the Void before. Just travelling with them vicariously through the viewing sphere was exhausting and draining enough.
Finally, they approached that dark spot where Xyl first saw the Heralds. If it wasn't for Xyl's devices that he constructed to prove the existence of other realities beyond the Void, I doubt we would have noticed the Heralds until they breached into aetherspace and were encountered by a Second Circle patrol.
The viewing crystal reflected everything seen through the eyes of Amberle, and we now saw the Heralds up close. They were ablaze with a swarming darkness, much larger than we had imagined, almost dwarfing the glittering Finger of Fate. Within the centre of the mass were about a dozen gargantuan beings, clearly the leaders of the Heralds, and they moved forward and hovered near the Finger of Fate. Amberle was not deterred, and allowed the great alien beings to study the Finger of Fate.
"Greetings," said Amberle, projecting peaceful intention through her thoughts. "We come in love and friendship. We know you reach towards the First World, called Lusternia, and bid you welcome."
For those of us back in Xyl's spires, Amberle's confidence shown through the viewing crystal as a deep amber. We watched and waited as the horde of Heralds kept spiralling around the Finger of Fate, like curious animals circling around an unknown stranger. An uncomfortable silence stretched as we waited for their answer.
Finally, one of the Heralds unleashed a blast of mental images: amusement, curiosity, hatred, and most of all hunger. A great gnawing hunger that shot through Amberle, and was reflected through the viewing sphere at us as a wave of voracious blackness that brought many of us to our knees.
Before Amberle could reply, other Heralds struck out at the rings with a suddenness that none of us suspected. Shouts erupted in the chamber as we demanded to know what was happening. Was this communication? An attack? Did they think we were here to harm them? Amberle's own confusion ricocheted mentally around the chamber.
The gargantuan Heralds drew back, and the smaller ones rushed forward, letting out of a collected fetid breath before pouncing upon their prey. And their prey was Amberle. The viewing sphere suddenly bathed the chamber in cascading ruby light, angry and bright. Amberle's scream scorched the crystal of the viewing sphere as the Finger of Fate inverted to protect her. The Finger of Fate was no longer in a cone formation but rather the outer rings were gyrating around Amberle, cutting off the relentless attacks on her. A cheer went up from the Second Circle, who were congratulating themselves on their foresight in instructing them how to use the Finger of Fate formation.
The other Firsts in the chamber with me looked stunned and shaken. Fain had retreated into the arms of his mate Lisaera, while Meridian was certainly in no shape, having fallen prone upon the dais. Someone needed to take control of the situation, so I stepped forward and took charge.
"LISTEN TO ME!" I roared, my voice causing the crystal to vibrate. Silence followed and I pointed to Meridian who was kneeling and panting on the dais but no longer writhing in pain.
"We have been struck, the psychic link has whiplashed us all," I said, "but we will not dissemble! Meridian maintains the link and our brothers and sisters have repelled the attack. Second Circle, step forward and report!"
"The multiple rings are part of a defensive formation," said Terentia. "The spherical shield is almost impossible to breach."
"But they cannot hold that for long," said Morgfyre. "Eventually they will tire. They need to retreat!"
"They're surrounded," said Krokano, "They must begin the daath sequence!"
The rest of the Second Circle collectively gasped in shock. I looked around and they were staring incredulously at Krokano. Meanwhile, Amberle and the others still held the spherical shield, deflecting the attacks that were sent relentlessly at them. But for how long?
Slowly Hajamin nodded and said, "Daath."
"Is there no other way?" asked Morgfyre.
"What is it?" I asked, impatient at this uncharacteristic uncertainty among the Seconds. "What is this Daath Sequence?"
"You may know it as the Breaker of the Cosmos," said Hajamin, who looked down at his feet as if embarrassed for them all.
Of course, I had heard of the Breaker of the Cosmos, a formation so powerful and deadly that it was only ever enacted once by the Second Circle - who vowed to never use it again. It was a dark time in our history. A cosmic plane had been discovered that was so foul and corrupt, it was determined that we could not allow it to exist. The Second Circle had developed a new formation called Breaker of the Cosmos, which was used to annihilate the entire plane and everything living there. Debate still raged over the ethics of that event.
"Can they do it?" I asked softly.
"When it was done before," said Terentia, "it took two hundred of the Second Circle. They have over three hundred in the Finger of Fate. It should be possible!"
"Could they destroy the Heralds?" I asked.
"It is the ultimate offence," said Krokano confidently.
"Meridian!" I shouted, coming to a decision quickly. "Tell Amberle to begin the Daath sequence! Have her pass instruction to the others!"
I wasn't sure if he heard me, for his eyes were closed as pain and agony literally steamed off his skin. But eventually he gritted his teeth and nodded.
"Daath sequence!" he repeated, and the Second Circle began a chant with him, "Daath! Daath! Daath!" Their chant pounding Meridian with mental instructions on what to do.
Meridian gasped and was able to pull himself up to his knees. He shook his head and opened his eyes, staring beseechingly at me.
"Amberle refuses to order it," said Meridian. "She thinks the Heralds misunderstood our intentions. She wishes to try to communicate one more time."
"Is she insane? We cannot allow it!" I said.
But we saw on the viewing sphere that the spinning gyrations of the rings were already slowing. Amberle was once again preparing to communicate with the Heralds. Back in the chambers, the Fifth Circle now surrounded Meridian, raising crystal grids around him to blunt the psychic connection with Amberle to protect his mind. Meridian was able to breathe easier and shakily stood up, though tears still streaked down his cheeks.
"Please, Amberle, don't do this," he sobbed. "Come back to me, my love! My heart! Do not do this!"
The image of Amberle magnified in the viewing sphere and she smiled. Her magnificent violet eyes filled with love and compassion.
"Do not fear for me, blessed Meridian," she answered. "You are the soul of my soul, but you know we must at least try. It is the moral thing to do. And if we have no morality, what else do we have? Is it not our righteousness that defines us?"
The thoughts of the other Firsts in their rings formations echoed back and affirmed Amberle. I sighed and bowed my head in humility at her grace. The rings stopped gyrating and again they pulled into an inverted cone, with Amberle at the tip, projecting peace and love.
Just at that moment, the southern back wall of the chamber blew out backwards. There were screams of astonishment. Were we under attack here in Xyl's tower? But, no, hovering in the center of the hole was the massive head of Dracnoris. Tae, Xyl and Bollikin were perched on his shoulder and jumped into the chamber.
The Dragon God was always a fearsome sight to behold, fire leaking from his nostrils and his teeth glistening like swords. Unlike the rest of us, he was a primal god, closest kin to the Heralds. He was one of the first few who Dynara chose to keep by her side, one of the oldest souls in creation and certainly one of the wisest.
And his eyes were wide with fear and dread.
"Call them back!" Dracnoris roared. "You cannot speak to the Heralds! They only have one desire and that is to consume! I can sense my sister, a Herald herself. She is nothing but a fathomless hunger. Her very spirit is a psychic leech, and she laughs. They all laugh! They can think of nothing but to destroy us. Call back the Star Gods!"
Meridian's face fell, as he began relaying Dracnoris' message to Amberle. The Dragon God narrowed his huge eyes, quickly taking in everything that was happening in the viewing sphere. Quickly realizing that he was too late, he shrank back, his ears going flattening back against his head, reminding me of how lions looked look when threatened.
Whether Amberle heard the warning or not, she was already reaching out towards a huge amorous blob of gibbering madness. I suspect she would have tried to communicate regardless. We will never know - for at that moment they attacked in force.
Massive colours of darkness wrapped around Amberle, pulling her forward. The rings tried again to gyrate and protect her but this time the Heralds were ready. They leapt forward, like a starving pack of scavengers and tore into the rings, breaking them apart. Of course, these rings were made up of hundreds of the First Circle, and what we were watching was their utter decimation.
Two rings managed to begin their gyrations but it was too little and far too late. Amberle was screaming, her agony breaking through the crystal dampers and sending Meridian once again to the floor on the dais, writhing in pain.
We watched helplessly through Amberle as the creatures tore into our brothers and sisters, maws opened with dripping fangs, their minds unleashing waves of unfettered hunger and malice. The Finger of Fate was broken as dozens of lesser Heralds threw themselves at the rings of power, breaking them apart through their sheer mass. Then the greater Heralds came forward, stripping away flesh to bare the spirit beneath, then shattering the inner souls like brittle glass.
"Break the link!" screamed Raezon, "For the love of Yudhe! Break the link!"
Roark met Raezon's eyes and nodded. Together, they shattered the transmitter and left Meridian screaming and flailing on the ground.
"Amberle! Amberle!" Meridian screamed over and over, as blood flowed from his eyes.
Though Amberle's screams were echoing through the chamber for what seemed eternity, the viewing sphere was broken. The Third Circle hamadhi healers rushed to Meridian, blanketing him with soothing energies. We were all stunned, myself included. Lisaera was cradling Fain's head against her bosom. Most were sobbing and screaming in sympathy. The Fourth Circle was practically dissembling. Only the Second Circle were galvanized, preparing for battle and planning strikes, but there was no order or organization and their fractious plans had no reason.
All I wished to do was run away, back to the jungles of Jojoba, to play with the great cats and help teach Little Sun what it was like to be awakened. But none of the other Firsts were in any shape to lead, and the Second Circle was preparing to rush off without plan or reason. Would I ever see beloved Jojoba again? I gritted my teeth against despair and roared.
Eyes turned to me, the Second Circle standing at attention. The other circles gathered around, looking beseechingly at me, hungry to know what to do. And so I did what I had to do, what duty demanded of me.
I prepared the gods for war.