Book of Orlachmar
"Line up for inspection!" I shouted, strolling down the line of the two hundred and fifty Elders assigned to my formation.
Only about a fourth of my formation were Warriors of the Second Circle. The rest were volunteers, Creators and Awakeners, even Thinkers and Artists. But we needed the force of all the Elders to mete out retribution and justice against the Heralds of Magnora, who we now called the Soulless Ones, in the wake of their decimation of almost all of the First Circle. Failure in this was not an option so no chances were being taken.
"We WILL be practising our formation on our journey to the battle, and by the time we reach the Soulless Ones, we WILL be the most efficient in the fleet," I roared. "Do I make myself clear?"
"We are Orlachmar's Beast!" they shouted in unison, referring to the nickname we called our formation. Bit silly, I know, but it promotes the teamwork necessary for a good formation to operate well.
"Then take formation, you sorry bunch of swamp scum!" I bellowed. "The Beast shall rise!"
With a wink at Loboshi, my adjunct to our formation, I flew into the air. Her wolves stalking behind her, Loboshi called out the names of the individuals in our formation in rapid fire. One by one, they would fly up next to me and form a link, then take formation. Finally, the formation was complete, and a globe of power surrounded each of us, further linked with shimmering lines of force. I suppose we looked like a bunch of grapes.
"Follow me, you weak kneed pups! The Beast needs more speed!" I shouted, dragging the others behind me.
The Warriors, of course, followed me with well-practised grace, while the others lagged behind. Pulling on the force lines that connected us, I yanked hard. Gasps of surprise trembled down our link net, and I yanked again - harder.
"What are you snail slow losers doing!" I screamed, sending the force of my thoughts through the link net. "We are supposed to be moving as one unit! Lyreth and Trialante, give me more power now! Raezon, if you don't start hauling your arse faster, so help me I'll kick it into gear!"
I felt them tremble, but they obeyed. This was tough going, I know, for it is not easy to be part of a warrior formation. One had to give up control to the focus - me in this case - and submit yourself to the collective will of the formation. It was harder for some than others, especially for the Thinkers and Artists. But once they learned to let themselves go, there are few better joys than being part of a formation.
As we passed into aetherspace, I flexed the bands of power that linked us, letting the power from the formation course through me. We circled several times around a piece of flotsam in aetherspace, until I was comfortable that the formation was acting in concert.
"Okay, Beast!" I shouted through the link net. "We're looking almost half good! Now let's show the others what we can do!"
The Beast flew to where the other formations were gathering, a deep pocket in aetherspace. There was a total of twenty-three formations, each led by a Warrior of the Second Circle. The only exception was Dracnoris who flew by himself and who alone was as large as a full formation. Never before had there been such a show of raw strength, as this force was made up of members of all the Circles. Never before were we all so united. Never before had there been such coordination.
Never before had there been such a need.
I moved the Beast up beside Krokano's Quake, the formation who held responsibility for carrying the few remaining First Circle members. We briefly sparred, sending a couple of flashy starbursts at each other, easily deflecting them. Joined by Slaay's Fist, Morgfyre's Mavericks, Clangorum's Hammer, Hajamin's Hounds, Terentia's Dagger, Thax's Rock, and other formations, we continued sparring and practising, letting those unused to being in a warrior power formation feel more comfortable.
Finally, it was time. Only a few Elders would be left behind on the First World, the rest of us would be travelling to the Void. With Krokano's Quake in the lead, we began the journey. We took our time, travelling towards the Void, continually letting ourselves practice and hone our formations into killing machines.
"Beast! Beast! Beast!" my formation would chant, and indeed I was very proud of how we came together in such a relatively short time. I came to appreciate what some of the other Circles brought to the formation. From the Fourth Circle, Lyreth and Trialante lifted spirits with song, Raezon and Gheasia of the Fifth Circle would provide us with useful intelligence, and even the few hamadhi of the Third Circle learned how to send their healing skills through the link net.
By the time we entered the Void, I felt very confident with my formation. Breaking through the barrier to the Void was an unpleasant experience, one I was well familiar with but others in the Beast were not. It was like diving into a winter river covered in ice. You crashed through a hard surface and then plunge into an achingly cold liquid, only to get swept along a powerful current underneath. It was painful and disorientating, and took awhile to catch your balance, but eventually you numbed yourself to the ache and learned to navigate the currents.
Then we swooped through the Void towards the Soulless Ones. Curiously, they had not moved from the site of the massacre of the first expedition, provoking much debate amongst the Fifth Circle as to why the Soulless suddenly stopped. The closer we got, the more calculations the Fifth Circle did, coming to the rather disturbing conclusion that many of the Soulless were double or even triple the size as when they encountered the First Circle. But that was no concern of mine.
"Hoooo!" I roared to the members of the Beast, my passion charging them up, and they in turn feeding their energy back to me.
"Orlachmar, we are your Beast! Hoooo!" they thundered back.
My concern was making sure my formation was acting as a single entity. And as we descended upon the Soulless, displaying the full glory of our power, I could only grin as many of the Soulless were cowed by our show of strength, backing away. Up close, they were a hideous bunch. The most dominant of the Soulless was known as Illith the Leviathan. She was so massive that the other Soulless orbited her like moons on a planet. Though there were hundreds of other Soulless, Illith's great lieutenants stood out the most, circling her massive maw. They were Draxbaylock the Black, second largest to Illith, as well as Zenos the Silent Death, Kethuru the Mighty, and Great Muud.
The formations of Thax and Terentia glided up beside mine and gestured to the left and right. I nodded and we spread out. Our strategy was simple. The twenty-three formations would surround the Soulless Ones like a shell, and then we would initiate the Daath Sequence, the most destructive force known to us, and release it into the centre of their mass. The shell outside made from our joined formations would contain the blast and concentrate it even further.
Immediately, however, we ran into the problem we knew we'd likely encounter. The Soulless did not stay nicely bunched in a clump and let us surround them. They found their courage and burst forth, striking at us from all angles. It sickened me that Illith swallowed the entire formation of Galantine's Claw in her first strike. Meanwhile, the rest of us were releasing blasts of pure energy and destruction, leaving a frothy wave of vengeance behind us as the lesser of the Soulless fell.
Though our anger and despair raged within our hearts, it was but a candle flame compared with the conflagration that was their malice. The sticky blasts of their vomit spewed forth like volcanic eruptions of acid and fire, taking several formations down. Even the Beast was struck, and the pain of several of my team dying hit me hard. But I couldn't think too hard on that; I had to forge onwards.
The battle was looking grim as we were having trouble manoeuvring to the point where we could surround our enemies in order to enact the Daath Sequence. Though it didn't appear as any thoughtful strategy on their part, the Soulless Ones rarely acted as a team and split apart in berserk frenzies. We lost at least five formations, but we were giving as good as we got.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Dracnoris the Dragon God fighting Draxbaylock the Black on his own. Raezon told us that Draxbaylock was his sister, which was at first surprising, but there were some physical similarities between them. We cheered as we saw Dracnoris eventually shred the flesh from Draxbaylock's bones, strips of her foulness floating away in the Void. Watching two primal gods fight was a humbling experience. Unfortunately, Dracnoris was severely wounded, and had to withdraw from the field of battle.
Half of our formations were desperately trying to draw the fight into a localised centre while the other half were trying to spread out around the battle to position themselves for the Daath Sequence. My Beast was one of those in the centre.
"Give me more juice, Beast!" I'd yell at my formation, siphoning the power that they didn't even know they had and using it to send blast upon blast of cosmic energies to tear apart the Soulless.
Finally, it came to a point where the outer formations were positioned as good as they could. Led by Krokano's Quake, we felt them join formations into a ring, and start the Daath Sequence. Now was the tricky part. We had to hold the Soulless within the centre of the ring long enough for the Daath Sequence to initiate, then fly out of there just before it climaxed so we wouldn't get caught within.
Illith was practically twisted in a knot, roiling to get her maw around another formation. Meanwhile I felt the Daath begin to build, a great emptiness that threatened to drown one in despair. Daath was the unmaking of the Void itself, sometimes called the Void of the Void. Within my chest I felt the climax approaching, a weird fluttering that was both painful and pleasurable. We had to leave now!
But as I looked down, there was Clangorum, Morgfyre and Oovanti trapped in the tendrils of Kethuru the Mighty, holding them down. These were my brothers of the Second Circle and I didn't think twice.
"HOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" I let out a yell that made every one of those stinking Soulless stop in their tracks.
Draining the last dregs of energy from my formation, I burst forth like a star and hurtled towards Kethuru the Mighty, tearing through him while grabbing Clangorum and Morgfyre but I wasn't able to hold onto Oovanti. We exited out of the centre of the battle just in time. The Daath Sequence climaxed.
The implosion was so great that all of creation shuddered, followed by a silence so profound that we could not help but weep. There were at least five other formations caught within the Daath, including Oovanti's, and looking around I saw our numbers were cut in half. That made almost three hundred thousand Elders lost this day.
But we had won, unequivocally. The Soulless Ones were gone, completely decimated. All that remained was a swirling vortex of emptiness and desolation.
* * *
Returning to the first world, there was no joy in our victory. Now was the time for mourning, and mourn we did. Songs by Trialante, Lyreth, Rhapsody, Jagrerox, and Mahalla, faded the evenings as Isune, Trillilial, and Drocilla, spun grey clouds into mourning patterns. Only then did the loss of Oovanti's formation hit me, my comrade who I should have saved. I couldn't help but think it was my fault.
As the months passed, we struggled to get back to some sort of normalcy, healing our spirits and seeking comfort in our victory despite its terrible cost. With so few of the First Circle left, the leadership spread themselves out as best they could. Aslarn went back to overseeing the integration of the Great Spirits of the Sixth and Seventh circles, along with Strom and Mythramus. Carsini and Eventru devoted themselves to the hamadhi, for the need for healing our spirits were great. Fain devoted himself to helping the Third Circle coordinate their studies. And Meridian?
Meridian was the most changed of us all, I think, with the loss of Amberle. He became hard and spent much of his time with the Second Circle, seeking battles wherever he could. The hamadhi said his spirit would heal in time. It was heartbreaking seeing him wandering the beaches and staring out into the oceans, whispering Amberle's name over and over.
Then it began again.
The Fifth Circle had been in a turmoil for days, and we knew something was wrong when Fain called us all back to Xyl's Tower. Gathered in the great hall, Fain stood on the dais with Xyl, whose usually vibrant skin was as dull as granite. Off to the side was Trillillial, who had obviously been crying. The rest of the Third Circle were seated in a semicircle behind them, looking grim. After we all arrived, Fain nodded to Xyl, who bowed his head.
"I noticed this anomaly several days ago," Xyl said. "This is the site of the battle with the Soulless Ones."
He gestured upwards toward his viewing crystal, which flared to life. It revealed a swirling blackness.
"This appears to be flotsam and reverberations from the last battle. But watch."
Probing further, he pierced through the darkness. There were gasps, and I'm afraid my voice counted among them. The Soulless Ones were back. And they looked stronger than before. Meridian bolted upright and we had to restrain him. Many of us demanded explanation.
"We have a theory," said Fain, raising his hand for silence. "Please let us explain. Xyl, continue."
"We noticed that the Soulless were stronger and larger after the first encounter," said Xyl. "They also did not move from the site of the battle then. Now, after we thought they were destroyed, they have returned. Again, at this same location. And again, they have not left this location. Why? We speculate that it was because they were feeding. Feeding off the essence of the fallen Elders as well as their own fallen."
"They were dead!" screamed Meridian. "We all saw them die! The Daath Sequence leaves nothing behind."
"I would like to answer that," said Mugowumpois, standing up. With a nod from Xyl, she took the dais. "There has always been a theory that Dynara was an aspect of the cosmos, and was the embodiment of creation, if you will. Meanwhile, Magnora was her opposite, the embodiment of destruction. When they left our reality, these forces also disappeared from the cosmos itself. In other words, nothing is created and nothing destroyed. Life and death has not existed since their disappearance."
"That is insane," I shouted, unable to hold my silence. "We have killed many of the insane half formed before! We have battled abominations of the Void. You cannot tell us, the Second Circle, that death does not exist. Why have we not heard of this before?"
"This is simply a theory, of course," answered Mugowumpois coolly. "A theory debated amongst ourselves many times, but not shared with the other Circles since we were never able to reach a consensus. But in light of this development, we think it is most probably true. Tell me, Orlachmar, you were the one who defeated the Grue of Kallakok? You killed it in the plains of the nacrescape, yes?"
"That is true," I said, remembering that filthy abomination with a dozen arms and twice as many mouths.
"And what was found a century later in the nacrescape?"
"A century later?" I thought back, then remembered. "The Bluegill Moll was found there, another abomination which we also put down. Are you saying that was the Grue?"
"So we believe. The essence of the Grue was never destroyed, even though its physical body might have been. It rose again as the Bluegill Moll. A century from now perhaps, he'll rise again, this time in a new form."
"What of the Seventh Circle?" I asked. "We all know they create! There goes your theory!"
"Do they truly?" asked Mugowumpois, then turned to Bollikin. "Do you truly create new life, Bollikin?"
"Erm," said Bollikin, glancing around and leaning against his companion Tae. "No, I guess not truly. We infuse a portion of our own spirits within our creations."
"There you go," said Mugowumpois with a glance at me. "And of course the Awakeners awaken those creations that Dynara infused with spirit. No, nothing is truly created."
Stepping down from the dais, Mugowumpois nodded to Gheasia, another of the Fifth Circle who was the mate of Raezon. She was tall and thin, with pale skin and a jet black hair pulled and tied back in a severe bun. She stood up and turned to face the rest of us.
"The bigger question is why do we create at all?" said Gheasia, her voice brisk in the manner of a lecturer. "The Elders cannot procreate, yet many of us desire to have progeny. Why? We submit that we are children of Dynara, and as such we reflect her greatest desires. To create anew, to protect those creations, to oversee those creations, to simply be around those creations. In the First World of Lusternia, we come closest to being able to actualise these desires, each of us in our own way.
"And, just as we reflect the impetus of creation, so do the Soulless reflect the impetus of Magnora: to destroy. But nothing can die since Magnora no longer exists, just as new life cannot be created since Dynara does not exist. Thus, both the Elders and Soulless are frustrated, unable to realise their innate desires, but each finding an outlet in their own way. For the Soulless, if they cannot destroy, they consume. They consume the essence of our fallen, their fallen, it does not matter, growing larger and larger, stronger and stronger. If left to their own devices, they'd consume everything in creation, even each other, until only one exists."
"Thank you," said Fain, taking the lead from the Fifth Circle who could go on and on if allowed. "For whatever reason, the Soulless did not die but spontaneously resurrected, much faster than any half formed could. Not only that, the essence of the our fallen brothers and sisters must have been scattered in that locale. The Soulless have been feeding on that also, and we think the stronger of the Soulless have even been feeding on the weaker of their own brethren."
"Then we'll kill them again!" I shouted, and the others of the Second Circle stood up and stomped their feet.
"Please," said Fain wearily. "Hear the rest. The Soulless coming towards us are a dozen times stronger than what we faced before, while we have lost half our numbers. Also, what Xyl has shown you is a recording. We estimate that they have consumed whatever there was to consume at that site several days ago, and they are on the move here. To Lusternia."
It was like a nightmare we couldn't wake from. We were weaker and the Soulless were coming back stronger. Even if we did manage to kill them again, they would only resurrect stronger than before. But we could not give up, even though it seemed hopeless. Again, we must prepare for battle.
This time, the Soulless Ones were on the offensive and our first order of business was mounting a defense. Meridian led us to create barriers in aetherspace around Lusternia, layering shield after shield so the Soulless wouldn't breach into the First World itself. It was a formidable defense of which I was a part - a formation of the entire Second Circle with interlinking shields that we fed with our own power and essence.
In no time at all, just as we finished constructing the defense, the Soulless were rushing towards us, hurtling themselves at the barrier. Illith the Leviathan had returned again as the largest and strongest of the Soulless, her massive serpentine body stretching behind her in a seemingly endless mass. Just her alone battering against the barrier, was too much to withstand.
The Leviathan broke through.
The other Soulless, including Zenos the Silent Death, Kethuru the Mighty, Great Muud and Crazen the Greedy, were not able to pass beyond our barrier, but Illith had to be stopped. Meridian roared with anger, ordering me, Tauro and about a dozen other Warriors of the Second Circle to follow Illith down to Lusternia.
We weren't able to get far. Illith the Leviathan had entered the oceans and disappeared deep into the surface. We suspected she was going to try to break the core of the world. Unfortunately we were unable to track her. Meridian had joined us and was in a rage, diving deep into the oceans but also unable to find her.
"Keph!" Tauro suddenly cried ecstatically. "She is heading to Keph of the Thousand Eyes!"
"Can we warn Keph?" I asked.
"Ha!" laughed Tauro. "We should be warning Illith! You have not met Keph as I have. Keph will know what is coming and I would not wager against her!"
And indeed they did clash for a hundred days in battle. We tried several times to help Keph, but were repelled by either their struggle or distracted by the attacks of the other Soulless. As they fought, earthquakes rocked the land, mountain formations rose and fell, and the oceans boiled.
"One is rising!" shouted Meridian, who had been patrolling the oceans. "To me! To me!"
Enormous gouts of steam was rising out of the ocean where Meridian was hovering. Joining him, we could do nothing but wait. Who had won? Illith or Keph? Before I would have had doubts that any one being could defeat Illith, but then I had seen Dracnoris defeat his sister Draxbaylock.
It was Illith who bobbed to the surface in a froth of roiling blood. Meridian cursed as Illith rose up out of the waters, snapping at him. The Leviathan seemed slower, however, and it soon became apparent Illith paid dearly for fighting Keph.
Illith the Leviathan had been cut in half. At the cost of the life of Keph of the Thousand Eyes.
"No!" Tauro cried out, then turned to Meridian. "Perhaps Keph is still alive?"
"I sense nothing beneath here," said Meridian, circling around the flailing Illith. "Keph must have died."
"Then let us finish up what she has begun!" I shouted, and dove at the Leviathan with my sword leveled at her eyes.
It was too brash a move, led by emotion more than strategy. Illith snapped forward in a sudden burst of speed. Her maw neatly snapped me in half before I even realized what she was doing. Cursing my own stupidity, I could only look down at my torn torso, my essence bleeding out of me. Would the Soulless come and consume me, make me part of their own? Or would my essence seep into the First World? I could only hope it was the latter.
"Hang on!" shouted Tauro, who had caught what was left of me. She kept urging me to hold on as she rushed to those who could heal.
But I knew nothing could survive such a wound. Darkness slowly crept up on the corners of my blurring vision. I was ready to go to the true void, where consciousness faded into nothingness. Maybe, as the Fifth Circle said, my essence would resurrect as a new being. It was an odd last thought.
"Hold on, Orlachmar," said Fain, sounding from a million miles away. "We have a plan! We can save you!"
I am beyond salvation. It is time for me to know nothingness, to join Yudhe in oblivion. Even the darkness fades.