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Book of Igaso

 

Part 1

Part 2

I am Igaso of the Crimson Eyes. I am a warrior, Second Circle through and through, but I'm also just a soldier. I have always been and always will be. I don't have the intelligence of Kalikai or the craftiness of Morgfyre or any quality which makes for a brilliant strategist like them. I certainly don't have the type of charisma that inspires any great loyalty, like Hajamin or Ivanko. A few like Shikari or Malik are simply loners, preferring to forego the closeness of a cadre. But not me. I follow orders and don't ask questions. And that's the way I like it. I keep my nose clean and sword cleaner.

Ologri, Braun, Panamandius and I smiled darkly at each other as Kalikai paced back and forth, a sure sign that her mind was working faster than a void spawn running. The firemead burned hotly in our bellies, and our bloodshot eyes glowed as red as our crimson armour. Yeah, why do you think they call us the Crimson Eyes?

Eventually, Xyl glided towards us, his expression frozen in perpetual disapproval. His crystalline form was angular and pulsated almost erratically. That was the most worried I'd ever seen him. He paused and frowned at Kalikai, who guffawed and swaggered towards him.

"Well, Crystalcakes?" she asked. "Where's that list of unborn crèches?"

"Are you certain Fain would meet in one of the unborn realms?" asked Xyl, handing Kalikai a translucent foil glittering with runes.

"Nothing in creation is certain, Crystalcakes," said Kalikai, scanning the foil and pursing her lips. "But that's what I'd suggest if I were advising Fain. Now, then, I need you, Roark and any other trusted Fivers to be gather as much intel on these unborn planes as possible. I want response factors, dimensional potentialities, the works. Priority goes to matching vibrational helixes exactly."

"This is a lot of work if you're wrong and they're not there," Xyl said.

"Don't you Fivers say that data gathered is never wasted?"

Xyl flared red and shook his head, gliding quickly away. Kalikai laughed loudly and came to us, clapping each of us on the shoulder.

"Ok, Eyes," she said. "I'm sending you to a place called the Vortex, an extremely out of the way plane. Call it a hunch, but I have a feeling that's where we'll find our lost lambs. This is more than recon duty, mates. This is deep cover, go in hot and drop, just like the Scaramouche caper. Understood?"

"Kalikai, aye!" we yelled. "We're your Crimson Eyes!"

"I'd go with you, mates," she said softly, "but I've got to gather reinforcements. Iggy, come here. I want a deep link."

I came forward and stood in front of Kalikai, who grabbed the back of my neck and pulled me forward until our foreheads touched. She sent a stream of immanidivinus into my mind which I grasped firmly. As our thoughts briefly intertwined, I felt Kalikai touch upon my deeply hidden despair. Quarilia, my lover and comrade, was still missing. Her loss was like a black hole within my soul.

And likewise, as the deep bond formed between, I felt Kalikai's fear and anger. She hated what we had to do, turning against our own, and she worried what would happen to the Crimson Eyes. She wanted to join us but knew she couldn't. I wondered if that was partly why she became so intoxicated. Was she a soldier at heart, forced into the role of a general, the head of the Crimson Eyes, because of her brilliance rather than ambition? Were the decisions that she had to be make easier when part of her was numb?

"Good luck," Kalikai whispered in my ear and squeezed my arm.

With the deep bond linked between us, Kalikai would be able to track me. We formed a simple diamond, Ologri to my left and back, Panamandius to my right and back, with Braun closing the circuit at our rear. We pierced the veil and rose up through the aetherial vibrations, moving to match the resonance identified by Xyl, the plane called Vortex.

We solidified in a weirdly protean planescape where the land itself constantly formed and reformed on itself. This was one of those planes which Dynara, may she return soon, never completed. Some of the hamadhi had studied them, seeing if they could form new sentience beings from the primordial matter, but after so many aeons on their own, the demiurge nodes were deemed to have evolved to a point where they were forever stuck in a constant mode of evolution and devolution.

"Look at this thing," said Ologri as we passed one such node of pulsating flesh.

"Must be where Dyna meant to raise a half-formed," said Panamandius. "Just think, Olo, you started out just like that!"

"Too bad, you still smell like that," said Braun with smile.

"Cut the chatter," I said. "Kali gave us orders and we're gonna follow them to the letter, right? Now, hot and drop!"

The four of us channelled lower domothean powers inward, and formed a reservoir of pure energy which we gathered within the centre of our formation. Pinching off a portion of the energy, we let it drop and sink into the primal landscape. Not many knew of this manoeuvre, being that it was developed by Kalikai. Let's hope it would be enough if things got tricky.

"Anchor set," I said. "Let's go see if Kali's hunch was right. Remember, we're deep cover, doing a routine recon. Don't drop formation and brace yourselves for anything."

Drifting through the Vortex, we entered pockets of protocreation where other pots of flesh lay waiting for the hand of Dynara that would never come. Each of us had our hypersenses extended, but the plane was empty. Granted it was hard to discern much since the life presences were pulsating off the charts. After we went through the entire plane top to bottom, it looked as though Kalikai's intuition failed her this time.

"It's empty," said Panamandius with a snort. "Figure Xyl would send us on a wild spawn chase."

Then the trap sprung.

They were good, I've got to give them that. Kalikai wasn't the only one with a few tricks up her sleeve, and this ambush definitely felt like one of Morgfyre's specialities. We never felt the vice close, but streams of power suddenly flowered around us, enveloping us in a coruscating bubble of fire and ice.

"What's the meaning of this?" I yelled, gamely pushing against the barrier.

Thirteen figures manifested in a ring around us. They were dressed in voluminous robes and wearing masks. Of course, we knew who a few were. Fain was the one in the red mask, while Lisaera wore the silver mask. We could guess that the one in gold and black stylised like a ferocious tiger was Morgfyre.

"Did I hear someone mention Xyl?" asked Fain, hidden behind his mask.

"What'd we happen upon? A masked ball?" I answered.

"Well, well," Fain said, his voice venomous and harsh. "Igaso, isn't it?"

"Aye," I answered. "And who be you?"

"I'll ask the questions," he said coldly, "What are you doing here?"

We stared at each other for several moments. Then, I shrugged and said, "What's it matter? Xyl was testing a planar entropic modulator which is supposed to scan the outer cosmic planes for excoroperditio vibrations."

"You're searching for the Soulless ones?" said the figure behind a midnight blue mask. "The Soulless have never been on the outer planes. Why search for them here now?"

"Don't know. I just follow orders."

"It's a trap," said Morgfyre, pulling off his mask. "We should kill them quickly and then disperse."

I didn't like the sound of that. Morgfyre was looking at me with golden eyes that shimmered with desire. No, not desire. Hunger. And was it just me or did his face tremble as though it were made of putty?

"Let's not be rash," said the Silver Mask. That was Lisaera, our insider. Good, we had hope. "They may know something. They must be interrogated."

"I said I smell a trap!" hissed Morgfyre.

"Sorry, my dear," said Fain to Lisaera. "But I trust Morgfyre's intuition in these matters. Something is definitely wrong. They must disappear quickly."

"And waste not, want not, no?" said a sultry voice from the lavender mask. "All that lovely essence they hold. And I'm so hungry."

Okay, this wasn't going exactly as I had in mind. They were suggesting eating us, weren't they? That's what it sounded like to me. Ologri, Braun and Panamandius seemed to agree, for I felt their unease growing through the bonds of the formation. Oh, Quarilia, my love, is this what happened to you?

The energy web around us began to close as the twelve masked figures -- Lisaera held back -- stepped towards us. I couldn't believe how much power they were bringing to bear. It would rip us into a hundred pieces. But Kali prepped us for just such a scenario. Sometimes I wondered if she could see into the future.

Just as the energy web rushed in a final contraction, we detonated the reservoir of energy carried within our formation. As the explosion ripped into the masked figures, we rode the backlash back to our anchor point.

"We got them!" said Ologri, his green eyes glowing.

"Don't get your hopes up," I said.

Flares of energy shot up into the sky from where the explosion emanated, streaming straight towards us. We didn't have time to do much but raise some shields. As the streams wrapped around us, thirteen figures rose up into the sky and came flying towards us. We had no time to rebuild a reservoir or drop another anchor, so that trick was used up. Looked like an old fashioned brawl with odds that didn't favour us.

The traitors began to descend upon us, twelve darkly glimmering figures shooting towards us like angry comets. The thirteenth figure was Lisaera, who hung back. This looked grim but we bolstered and prepared to meet their deadly formation.

Just then a portal opened up before us. The twelve figures slowed down and hung back. Kalikai was framed within the portal, smoking a pipe. She looked at me and winked, and I felt a tiny tweak between us. The deep bond dissolved, having done its work by leading her to us.

"Kalikai, aye!" we yelled. "We're your Crimson Eyes!"

At the head of the traitors' formation was Morgfyre, his face contorted in rage. He blasted Kalikai with a stream of balefire. Surprise registered briefly upon Kalikai's face before she was engulfed in a white hot sphere that blazed with a furious incandescence, enough to obliterate mountains. When the glow died down, she stood there with her head cocked, still smoking her pipe.

"Morgpie!" Kalikai laughed, "Is that all you've got?"

As Kalikai pushed forward, it became clear that she was at the tip of a massive formation, which had absorbed the blast and siphoned off the power. Other warriors followed behind her, hundreds strong.

"Retreat!" seethed Morgfyre. "I told you it was a trap!"

But when the traitors tried to open their own portals to escape, they found themselves flailing in the air. They snarled and turned around like a caged beast, but already Kalikai's formation was spreading out around them, locking them in an impenetrable field.

"Can't leave?" asked Kalikai jovially. "It's a dimensional scrambler, at least that's what Xyl and Roark call it. Fancy, ain't it? Oh, you may be able to eventually break through, given time, but, Morgpie, time ain't something you got in abundance."

That ended the battle. The traitors knew they were defeated and let themselves be bound. Just as we were making sure they could be transported safely, a flash of blue light exploded near the open portal.

"I got it!" shouted someone triumphantly.

We looked over and found the voice belonged to Roark of the Fifth Circle, who stood proudly over a cage of flashing colours. Inside was the small Soulless One known as Nemach.

"This was an experimental trap," explained Roark. "My theory was that a hyper-attenuated immanidivinus field could force the excoroperditio aura around a Soulless One to manifest and its power siphoned back in on itself, creating a permanent prison. Of course, it wouldn't work on the larger Soulless Ones, but..."

"Let me go!" screamed Nemach, smashing himself against the cage. "I know you now, one called Roark! I know you! I have watched you from the folds between space and know your secrets."

Blinking in surprise, Roark stepped back, clearly shaken by the ranting of Nemach the Soulless. The cage wobbled and trembled as Nemach turned into a swirling mass of black smoke.

"I know what you have done to my kind!" screeched Nemach. "I know what your secrets! My destiny will be to destroy you, devour you, unmake you!"

Quickly adjusting dials on the top of the cage, Roark caused a field of scintillating static to engulf Nemach, silencing it within the cage. I never thought to see the normally stoic Roark to look so unsettled. What secrets did Nemach know about Roark? Well, I recalled earlier in the wars, he had worked on immanidivinus rifts in aetherspace at the same time some of the smaller Soulless Ones disappeared and Roark suddenly stopped his projects. Was there a connection? Sometimes it's best to let things lie.

"You did good," I said to Roark. "And don't worry, we'll make sure this one never bothers you."

Roark nodded uncertainly and let others transport Nemach off the Vortex Plane, followed by the twelve traitors, bound and unmasked. As he was being led away, Fain noticed that Lisaera wasn't bound; rather, she was rather standing next to Meridian and Elfenehoala. At first, he was confused but then realisation began to flash across his face.

"What have you done, Lisaera?" Fain yelled. "You have doomed us all! We could have defeated the Soulless! You and I would have ruled the cosmos side-by-side! But you betrayed us! You betrayed our love!"

"You are the traitor, Fain," Lisaera said softly, held protectively by Elfenehoala. "I only did what must have been done."

"You will pay for this, Lisaera," Fain said coldly. "You will regret what you did here today."

Turning her back on him, Lisaera walked away with Elfenehoala shooting Fain a venomous glare. Meridian folded his arms and stared at Fain, as though challenging him.

"I won't forget you either, Meridian!" Fain yelled. "Or your part in this, Elfenehoala! All of you will pay for this deed! All of you! Do you hear me! You'll pay!"

Those were Fain's last words before he passed through the portal. The traitors were taken to Mount Dynara, the tallest mountain on the first world, which stood over an enormous basin. Mount Dynara was more than just a mountain but was the focal point of the energies of Lusternia, the heart of the First World as it was sometimes called. We used it often as the base of our operations because it held such power. Indeed, Xyl had created his towers atop it to tap into its potential. Thus, it was here we were able to hold the Twelve Traitors, as they came to be called, in a stasis field deep within the mountain.

A Triumvirate was formed to investigate the Twelve Traitors. A Triumvirate always consisted of three members of the Third Circle, specially chosen for their wisdom to be arbiters for crimes amongst the Elders. The Third Circle had two branches, the hamadhi who were the healers and caretakers of the half-formed, and the deep meditators, who were rarely seen but rather spent their time contemplating the mysteries of the multiverse. It was generally from this latter group that individuals were chosen to be on a Triumvirate. There were only five other times in our history that a Triumvirate was formed. It took several days for the Third Circle to choose the Triumvirate for this trial.

First was Hoaracle the Forest Dreamer. Before the war, he spent his days wandering from forest to forest, taking root in each for centuries, meditating upon the life within. He looked ancient, with a mossy green beard, and brown skin creased and weathered like old bark. It was said that during his deep meditations, you couldn't be able to discern him from the trees around.

Second was Mysrai of the Mysterium. We were never sure of Mysrai’s true form, for Mysrai changed gender, weight and height as though they were clothes. The only constant were Mysrai’s eyes which were always enormous pools of darkness within which flickered a field of shifting constellations, as though you were looking into the vastness of space. Rumour had it that Mysrai wasn’t even a stargod, but rather was one of the ancient primal gods who had the ability to change shape. I recall asking Mysrai once what his or her true form was, but Mysrai only laughed and said, in that weird, echoing voice, that any who saw the true form of Mysrai went mad. For the Triumvirate, Mysrai appeared to be a short, shapely female with long aubergine hair tied back in a fierce knot, and swathed in a robe that shifted from colour to colour.

Third and last was Jadice of the Ice Plains. Rarely seen, she secluded herself in the deep wastes of the north, among the ice and snow. She was the enigmatic sister of Xyl. But where Xyl was opaque, she was clear, Where Xyl was angular, she was smooth. Her eyes were glowing gemstones, hard and cold, and her movements were oddly slow, like ice melting and reforming.

For several weeks, the Triumvirate investigated the Twelve Traitors. They interviewed Elders from every circle. At times, we found them visiting sites across the First World. They tracked down associations and made inquiries. Finally, they announced that they were ready to pass sentence on the Twelve Traitors.

We gathered on the top of Mount Dynara, surrounded by the towers of Xyl. The Triumvirate sat on a raised dais, Jadice in the center with Mysrai on her right and Hoaracle on her left. Below them the Twelve Traitors had been brought up, bound by glowing bands of power. Every Elder was in attendance, whispering among each other. I stood with the Crimson Eyes. Even Kalikai looked sadly sober for this event.

"Judgment has been decided," Jadice said, her crystalline voice sharp and clear. "Bring forward Fain."

Still wearing his Red Mask, Fain was lifted up to stand before the Triumvirate. Hajamin and Terentia were on either side of him. He stood proud and regal, defiant to the last. Jadice simply stared at him.

"First and foremost, there is Fain of the First Circle," said Jadice. "You are accused of willfully ignoring the clear directive of the Elders to cease production of the Forbidden Elixir. Further, not only did you coerce members of the Fifth Circle to continue production of the Forbidden Elixir but you, yourself, imbibed it, perverting your own nature. The consuming of the Forbidden Elixir is hereinafter called a Rite of Abomination. And as if that wasn't enough, you recruited Elders to your cause, conspiring with them to subvert every Elder Circle to your ambitions by introducing them to the Rite of Abomination. Further, you have trafficked with the Soulless One known as Nemach, feeding it the essence of the Elders in return for its own essence in order to create more of the Forbidden Elixir. Finally, our investigations revealed you have murdered or caused to have murdered other Elders who refused to join your conspiracy, their essence being used as another Rite of Abomination. We judge you guilty on all accounts and sentence you to exile. From within the fulcrux of Mount Dynara, the Fifth Circle has built a portal which will jettison you so deep into the Void that you will be lost within darkness forever and ever. Do you have any last words?"

"I do," growled Fain.

"Remove your mask first," said Mysrai, whose voice weirdly echoed around us.

At a nod from Mysrai, Terentia made to remove Fain's mask, but he jerked away. With a gesture, Fain waved a hand before his own face and the mask faded into nothingness, revealing his handsome features.

"That is not the face of Fain!" yelled Krokano from the audience.

"Step forward, Krokano," said Hoaracle, his voice a low grumble like rocks rolling in a stream. "What do you mean that is not his face?"

"May I approach the prisoner?" asked Krokano, his huge one eye shining with preternatural light.

"You may."

Rising up before Fain, who glared at him, Krokano passed his hand in front of Fain's face. Fain's face shimmered and the mask reappeared. There were murmurs from the audience. Did Krokano just put the mask back on Fain?

"It is his face that is an illusion," said Krokano. "This mask is not a mask but his true face. Look upon the true face of Fain!"

"Your outer form reflects your inner self now," said Mysrai. "A fascinating and oddly poetic side effect."

"It is a small price to pay!" yelled Fain. "We did all we did to win the war against the Soulless! And we almost succeeded! Banish us now and you will doom all of creation!"

But Fain's words fell on deaf ears. We were all stunned by how he had transformed. Next, Jadice called forward Raezon and Gheasia. Dressed in matching midnight blue robes, they held hands, but that was the extent of their emotions. Their pale faces were impassive. Hoaracle placed several powerful weapons and artifacts on the table before them.

"Next, we have the creators of the Forbidden Elixir, Raezon and Gheasia of the Fifth Circle," said Jadice. "From the beginning, you have joined Fain in the conspiracy to disregard the directive of the Elders in producing the Forbidden Elixir. You have partaken in the Rites of Abomination, imbibing the essence of both Soulless and Elders. Our investigations have uncovered other creations which were never reported to the Elders and used to further the aim of the conspiracy. Some of these items include what you seen on the table here: the Singoah Weaponry, armaments fuelled by the essence of the Soulless; the Hyringex Collar, an artefact used to trap and hold Elders; the Morokeche Seat, apparently used to torture Elders; and other suspect corrupt instruments whose purpose we have yet to determine. We judge you guilty on all accounts and sentence you to exile into the Void."

Next, the Triumvirate called the five who were warriors of the Twelve Traitors. I was ashamed that the greatest number who had supported Fain came from my own Circle, but then again, I was not too surprised as the Second Circle had been most vociferous in their support of Fain from the beginning.

"The conspiracy included several from the Second Circle," said Jadice. "You five warriors have together become known as the Dark Cadre. First among you is Morgfyre the Merciless, the leader and tactician, who by all accounts has consumed more essence of Soulless and Elders than any other in the conspiracy. The rest of the Dark Cadre include: Thax the Machine whose form has been so altered by Malmydia that he is all but unrecognisable; Ivanko the Cruel who by all reports has delighted in torture and causing pain; Slaay the Hidden, named thus for we are just beginning to uncover the full extent of his spying and other clandestine activities; and, finally, Bloody Gruenella, whose penchant for pure destruction and mayhem is without bounds. Together, the Dark Cadre has subverted military operations for their own agenda, including isolating individual or small groups of Elders for either recruitment purposes or, more likely, to feed on them. We judge you guilty on all accounts and sentence you to exile into the Void."

The Dark Cadre roared then and tried to break free, but the bonds held them tightly. Next, Malmydia was called forth. She was of the Triumvirate's own circle. If they had any sympathy for her, they did not show it. She was the plainest of the Twelve, her hair tied back in a simple bun and wearing a plain grey dress. Her eyes were lowered and lips pressed together tightly.

"Malmydia of the Third Circle, you are charged with joining the conspiracy and participating in the Rites of Abomination," said Jadice. "You are also charged with grotesque medical experimentations using the essence of the Soulless, culminating in the complete transformation of Thax the Machine. While performing your experiments, you have exhibited acts of extreme cruelty upon many Elders, and in the course of those experiments you have mutilated Fininkora the Fair and are suspected of killing at least three others for their essence. Further, investigation has revealed in your laboratories the creation of several diseases maliciously created to debilitate and harm the Elders. We judge you guilty on all accounts and sentence you to exile into the Void."

Next, they brought forth Manteekan, one of the Awakeners. He was tall and thin, draped in white robes and with flowing white hair. His pale eyes were like shards of ice. His long fingered hands trembled slightly as he bowed to Jadice.

"Jadice, my dear," Manteekan said softly. "I hope for the sake of our past that you will look temper your judgment against me."

For the first time, Jadice showed emotion as her features briefly blurred, like light glancing off a glacier. But she simply inclined her head towards Manteekan.

"Because of our time on the Plains of Ice, I have recused myself from passing judgment on you," she said.

"Manteekan of the Sixth Circle," said Mysrai. "You are charged with participating in the Rites of Abomination and, further, using the Forbidden Elixir in your awakenings, creating twisted beings, such as the banshee, grimalkin, redcaps, bogies, barghest, agropelters, hodekin, gumberoos, spriggans, whimpuses, tripoderos, snow wassets, slaugh and squonks. A council of the Sixth Circle will convene to choose which of these twisted fae are salvageable and which shall be entombed deep underground in eternal sleep. You are also accused of subverting the fae of the Icewynderkyl Forest, causing the entire forest to become corrupted and lost. We judge you guilty on all accounts and sentence you to exile into the Void."

As Manteekan was led away, Blooredi of the Seventh Circle was brought forward. Though I never knew him well, he seemed to be as changed as Fain. Grotesquely huge and hulking, his skin was a green bubbly hide and his head was so massive that the weight of it caused him to hunch forward. His massive jaws were distended, revealing curved teeth. He drooled heedlessly and his eyes were small beady red orbs.

"Our investigations reveal that Blooredi of the Seventh Circle was not recruited but rather sought out Fain," said Jadice, "to acquire the Forbidden Elixir and engaging in the Rites of Abomination. You have created or corrupted a host of creatures, notably including scorpions, crocodiles, several varieties of snakes and spiders, and many of the saurian beasts. The council of the Seventh Circle has pledged to reform all these creatures, or to isolate them in hidden sanctuaries if rehabilitation fails. It is also understood that you helped Malmydia with the development of diseases, perverting plants and animals into carriers of plague. We judge you guilty on all accounts and sentence you to exile into the Void."

The last of the Twelve Traitors was then brought up. Drocilla was of the Fourth Circle, and none of us were clear exactly what her crimes were. What could an Elder from the artist circle do? She was strikingly beautiful, her hair a hundred shades of burnished gold. Her skin was a tawny tan, and her luscious red lips were slightly parted, revealing snow white teeth. Her lavender eyes were huge, and her body was curvy and voluptuous. She stroked the hollow of her neck, and the scent of spices and musk drifted through the air. The interest of the Elders was palpable as everyone leaned in towards her.

"Finally, Drocilla of the Fourth Circle, you stand accused with the others of engaging in the Rites of Abomination," said Jadice who had to pause when Drocilla sighed heavily. "Although we cannot find firm evidence, it is speculated that you had a hand in the disappearance of several Elders, including Havi, Quarilia, Morshaq, Li-varili and the entire Blue Hand cadre. Indeed, we are most concerned that there is a swath of Elders who evidently met with you but have no recollection of these meetings. It is troublesome that you have left of trail of Elders with apparent amnesia and faulty memories. We judge you guilty at least for engaging in the Rites of Abomination and on that evidence alone, sentence you to exile into the Void."

Quarilia? She was responsible for Quarilia disappearing? Perhaps for her death? Quarilia was the heart of my heart. Drocilla was responsible. My face turned hot with rage as I stepped forward but Drocilla's beauty was so great that it hurt. She stood there with her hands clasped at her breasts.

"I am innocent," said Drocilla breathlessly. She turned to look beseechingly at everyone crowded around her. "We are all innocent. These alleged crimes are all either falsehoods, gross exaggerations or, at the most, misunderstandings. Please, you cannot banish us for trying to win this war! Fain has been a compassionate and fearless leader who sought only what was best for us. Please, listen to me! Let us go! Free us! I beg of you!"

Of course, we couldn't banish Drocilla, could we? How could we be so blind? She stood before us, the epitome of innocence. She was innocent, right? Something nagged at the back of my thoughts. Drocilla was so beautiful. Even the Triumvirate was nodding together. Some of the Elders had begun chanting, "Free them!" The scent of spices and musk was so strong that everything seemed to move in a haze. But there was something I was forgetting.

Quarilia, my love. I could not forget Quarilia, the heart of my hearts. And Drocilla was responsible. It took great effort, but I shook off the languor that was enveloping me. Gritting my teeth, I walked forward. Drocilla looked beseechingly at me, her liquid eyes threatening to drown me in their intensity. She smiled softly as I stood before her, lifting her arms as if expecting me to untie her bonds.

"LIAR!" I screamed, filling my voice with the power of immanidivanis. "You killed Quarilia! You deserve to be banished! You are a traitor to everything we believe!"

And just like that, Drocilla's spell was shattered. Looking at her again, it was as if a veil had been lifted from our eyes. Her hair was simply pale and her skin sallow. Her lips were the colour of liver and her eyes shone with cruelty. Did I really just think moments ago that her beauty knew no bounds?

Drocilla snarled and turned around, seeing the shocked faces on the audience. She pressed her lips together, then smoothed out her features, stroking the hollow of her throat. The scent of spices and musk began to fill the air again.

"You are right, Igaso," Drocilla breathed, though she did not look at me. "Perhaps Fain did lead me astray. Perhaps the others did commit crimes. But I am innocent! Banish them if you must, but free me!"

Suddenly there was a loud thunderous clap that shook us all. Drocilla cried out, clawing at a black collar that had suddenly appeared, clasped around her throat. Before her, Jadice was holding a black sphere.

"Enough," said Jadice. "Drocilla, I have bound you with an object designed by Raezon and Gheasia. The Hyringex Collar will stifle your access to power. And this," she held up the black sphere, "is the only key that will unlock the collar. You may be the most dangerous of the Twelve Traitors for the powers you've developed, and therefore you shall be forever restrained."

"Let her go! Free Drocilla!" shouted an Elder in the audience. Braun, Shikari, Tauro, Placia, Charune and others began taking up the chant. "Free Drocilla! Free Drocilla!"

"Quiet!" shouted Hoaracle. "Obviously, Drocilla's influence is stronger than we imagined and has been embedded in several of you. I do not trust where this will lead us. Let me hide the Hyringex Key so none will ever find it. No one knows the deep, hidden places of the First World better than I."

Jadice looked at Mysrai who nodded, and then she handed the Hyringex Key to Hoaracle, who glared at Drocilla as the key disappeared within the folds of his robes of leaves. The Twelve Traitors were brought together, and we led them deep into the recesses of Mount Dynara.

The Fifth Circle had prepared a portal to the Void, a swirling plane of darkness. One by one, the Traitors were sent into the Void, so deep and far, that they would never be able to return to the First World. Nemach the Soulless followed them soon after. Never before had such a punishment been meted out, and afterwards there was an emptiness in the air among us.

Did we lose the greatest Elders of all the circles? I don't know. Certainly, they gave us an edge in our war against the Soulless Ones. Fain's ruthlessness. Morgfyre's brilliance. It was clear even to me that they had turned the tide. Could we learn from them?

The Crimson Eyes met afterwards to drink firemead and just to be together. I drained my firemead and slammed the empty tankard on the table. My eyes met the eyes of Kalikai, which were blurry and sad. She knew. We all knew. This was no victory. This was banishing a part of ourselves, a part that had become sick and twisted.

I drank some more, trying not to think. Thankfully, I'm just a soldier, a warrior without ambition. I don't need to make decisions, I don't need to think. I just follow orders.

What small comfort there was to that, I reached for it and drank again.