Chapter 1: A Meeting In Madness
The intruder had defeated or circumvented what traps he'd encountered easily enough. It was the numerous instances of deadly sorcery hidden within the glassy gray floor, walls, and ceiling of the ancient tomb that had proven themselves insidious obstacles. The would-be tomb raider was capable of shredding the complex configurations of standing Essence maintaining each spell. The cost to destroy sorcery in such a fool-proof manner was not insignificant however. Therein lay the true peril of the sentinel spell-work. There were many beings in Creation's Eastern quarter possessed of both the inclination to rob a tomb such as this, and the power to break spells of the Emerald Circle. The number of entities capable of performing the feat again and again was smaller, but still significant. Few of that number could shatter so much sorcery without utterly exhausting themselves however. Leaving such a spell-breaker without the resources to overcome whatever dangers remained between them and the prize protected by the tomb. Exactly as those who'd designed such sepulchers hoped to catch those naturally drawn to them. The rightful owner of the crypt's contents had known all this long before entering. Exhaustive research, hard-won experience and...another, far more unique source of knowledge had all indicated as much.
The tall, lean and rangy-framed thief had simply failed to prepare himself for the emotional experience inherent to the only viable solution to the sorcerous challenge. "Six Yozis-Bedamned-Hours!" Davion had silently raged. Six mind-numbing stop and start hours of systematically locating, tripping and then escaping the sorcery as it roared to life. Struggling all the while to use as little Essence as possible to escape the unleashed magicks. Now, covered in the cooling sweat of sustained exertion, he stood before a nondescript door. Behind him lay four hallways, the blackened, slashed, pitted and melted surfaces of which standing as mute testament to the hate-laden conviction of the crypt's designer.
Three examinations of the door all told Davion the same thing. "It either isn't trapped, or the nature of the trap precludes its discovery while it remains inactive" the Child of the Burning Moon mused pensively. As he considered the door, he considered also his reasons for coming to the depths of this treacherous funerary monument. Within his dreams of another man's life and death had been the promise of something he badly needed. Something which called to him, as much for his own as his need's sake. The determination borne of that need had driven him relentlessly throughout years of searching. Yet he remembered also the oft-repeated warning of his sifu. You are nearest failure when you stand on the cusp of success. Nearest total defeat while just short of complete victory. It is the river dragon you don't see that will drown and devour you. The words of his venerable sifu lingered in mind, as he brushed long, straight and pine needle green hair from where sweat had matted it to his forehead. Then he tapped his Silver Lunar Resolution for Essence. The dark green; long-sleeved shirt of essence spider silk and brown slacks the seeker wore disappeared. Replaced by light, flexible and form-fitting plates of white bone armor via Armor-Forming Technique. Finally, the warrior opened the door.
Nothing happened. No torrent of lava rushed at him. No great structural collapse threatened to crush him. No rush of oncoming sorcery attempted to rend life and limb. Just a doorway, opening onto a large rectangular chamber devoid of construction or ornamentation. The apparent emptiness of the room before him coupled with the door's lack of security to significantly increase the unease Davion was feeling. He studied the portion of archway previously concealed by the closed door, yet found nothing to justify the sense of immediate peril tingling within him. Finally, faced with leaving empty-handed as his only alternative, he stepped through the doorway swiftly and decisively.
The jade-steel slab dropped in absolute silence. Its descent somehow lacking even the minute resistance of air being displaced along its leading edge. The complete lack of sensory cues during the plate's fall, and the indirect nature of the threat posed by the deadfall meant the Lunar discovered he'd been trapped the same time any other scavenger-lord would have. When the resounding crash of the great deadfall violently coming to rest just behind him reached his keen ears.
Human nature insisted he should look in the direction such a loud noise came from. Brutal and protracted training reminded him his back was now effectively to a wall and everywhere ELSE needed to be scanned for threats first. The fraction of an instant not lost glancing over his shoulder due to that training saved the Lunar's life. The hulking figure appeared out of thin air on his right in mid-swing. A tiny part of the Full Moon's mind noted the Erymanthus had somehow defeated the Wary Swallow Method that should have warned him of the gorilla-shaped Demon's surprise attack. In the fraction of a second he had before the blow fell, the Exalt jumped straight up. Instead of the skull, the ape-demon's great fist struck the bone plating covering his chest. The force of the blow blasted the Exalt from the air. Driving the warrior back into the alloyed plate behind him with a great Thud.
Sliding down the wall to land on his feet unhurt, Davion sized up his enemy in a moment. The blood ape was larger and heavier than others of its kind he'd seen. The half-ton monster would be over eight feet tall, if it ever stood fully erect. The bristly; rust-red fur covering the creature's form was gray; almost white in places. Many of the bone spikes protruding from the Demon's brow and forearms were significantly longer and thicker than average, yet they were also yellowed, chipped, and even broken in places. All traits indicative of a longevity rarely seen in a species infamous for its love of bloodshed. The warrior recognized its advanced age meant the Demon was an effective killer with a talent for survival. "It'd have to be, to have lived so long in the hell of Malfeas" he thought.
Wary since realizing the Demon was more than it appeared to be, Davion moved decisively to widen the distance between them. Seeking to keep him hemmed in and with his back to the wall, the blood ape used the advantage in reach conferred by its inhumanly long arms as it worked to do the opposite and catch its prey in an inescapable bear-hug. The hulking being was surprisingly fast for something of its size and build, but the Lunar escaped the attempted clinch by adroitly ducking beneath an outstretched arm, and then seamlessly transitioning into the forward roll that carried him past the huge gorilla-shaped creature. Reaching the center of the room, the agile Lunar used his remaining momentum to gracefully regain his feet, facing in the Erymanthus's direction. A sudden suspicion brought a grin to the wiry Exalt's face.
"Before we continue attempting to kill each other, I would have the name of the venerable Erymanthus opposing me. What say you, warrior of Malfeas?" Davion requested. The Demon paused in its advance, a speculative expression giving its coarse features an intelligent cast they hadn't previously possessed. When it finally spoke, it did so in Old Realm, the language of the First Age and the tongue of Gods, Elementals and Demons.
"You face Drekhal Bronzehand, weapon of the betrayers. I resent the interminable nature of my binding, so I am willing to kill you swiftly, if you submit now. I shall even wait until you are dead to begin cracking your bones for their marrow. Now, what say you?" Drekhal offered, its voice inhumanly deep and full of faintly echoing cracking noises.
"Thank you, Drekhal Bronzehand. I will remember your name, and call upon you the next time I need a skilled fighter willing to get his hands dirty. Until then, BEGONE DEMON!" Davion finished with a roar, making the occult gesture-mudra of Victory Over the Primordials with his left hand. His Full Moon caste-mark glowed fiercely, its silver radiance setting aflame the intricate web of Moonsilver tattoos which had just appeared atop the bone plates currently covering the Lunar's body. The silver-white corona of light shone with a steady intensity from the Chosen of Luna, who bared his teeth in a snarl of mental effort which displayed his prominent canines. The determined Exalt's will clashed with that of the Demon's for one very long; very tense minute. Then the reality of the blood ape's heavily muscled body was consumed in emerald fire, as the Erymanthus was cast out of Creation and back to its home in the hell of Malfeas.
His caste-mark still a blazing brand of silver on his brow, Davion turned and stalked to the door at the far end of the chamber. Wise now to the architectural genius that had deceived him, he ran his hands slowly along the upper portion of the archway framing the door and concentrated. The argent light surrounding him grew brighter, then he nodded to himself; satisfied to find no deadfall or other traps waiting for him. The door opened onto a chamber lacking the illumination of the brightly glowing crystals present in lieu of torches throughout the rest of the tomb. The Lunar found himself smiling despite his frustration, as he found the silvery white radiance coming from the roused anima that marked him an Exalt useful, rather than troublesome or life-threatening for a change.
A smile which died the instant he stepped into the room. The coffin was the same shiny, gray, marble-like stone as the slab it rested on. The same featureless and unadorned stone from which this chamber in particular, and the entire tomb in general, had been constructed. "In fact, now that I look closer...Yeah, even the polished appearance of all this stone is completely incidental. I've seen stone like this before. No wonder I didn't see a single curve anywhere. They raised this tomb quick and dirty, using bound Elementals. The damned death-traps and hidden spell-work were the only things the damned snake-bloods put any effort into" Davion recognized. That recognition made him sad, angry,...and ashamed of the hypocrisy inherent in his feelings. "How many times have I given a First Age or Contagion-era ruin no more thought than what I could glean from it? The hungry ghosts were rather emphatic reminders of the great many people who'd died horribly in those places. Yet I blithely treated the homes and businesses of the people they came from as nothing more than locales to loot. Only to get upset when a man I admire wasn't given his due?" he asked himself, shaking his head in disgust at the double-standard.
Still, the emotions wouldn't go away. Making his way to the sarcophagus, the bronze-skinned Haltan found himself whispering "I'll make them pay, Argent Lion. I have made them pay. I know Glennaela wasn't a monster, no matter how many Immaculates preach otherwise. I...I wish I remembered more, but I remember enough to hope I become half the man you were before my time is done. I'm sorry about this, but Creation is in deep, deep trouble. I need the weapon Glennaela made for you. It's my sincerest hope you've long since passed into Lethe, but on the off chance you haven't and you can hear this, I apologize for what I'm about to do. They have to be stopped, Khyzin. I'm the only one on Creation's side with the full picture, at least so far as I know. I have a plan, but I need all the help I can get. I need the Thorn, my long-ago predecessor" Davion explained with passion.
The coffin lid slid aside easily and almost soundlessly when he pushed. The Lunar let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding when his gaze locked onto the object he'd spent the last ten years searching for. Reverently, he reached into the coffin and removed the weapon his dreams of another man's life had lead him to. At first glance, the Iridescent Thorn could be taken for an unusually short daiklaive with a strange hilt. It wasn't until the Silver Blade attuned the weapon that the truth became apparent. Fashioned mostly of Moonsilver, its haft lengthened to its full four foot length to balance the twenty-inch double edged sword-like blade the Dire Glaive ended in. The alloying Starmetal made to flow like Moonsilver using First Age methods gave the weapon half its name, while the masterful thorned-vine filligree of the haft and water-marked onto the blade explained the other half. Completing the attuning process, the Full Moon's intuitive grasp of the deadly First Age weapon's nature and corresponding capabilities caused his eyes to widen. "The dreams under-sold the Thorn" he murmured in realization. Still, the nagging sense the other shoe had yet to drop continued to dog him. He was so entranced by the Iridescent Thorn, he almost missed the small metallic glint amidst the dust of the remains. Reaching back in, he extracted ring of smooth Starmetal. The ring's plain setting housed a large white stone, polished to a high sheen, with depths that seemed to shift like the clouds in the sky. Thinking it an odd find, yet unwilling to commit the Essence to attune it at present, Davion tucked the ring away in Elsewhere. With one last look to ensure he hadn't missed anything else, he turned and made his way from the burial chamber.
Standing before the jade-steel plate again, the Lunar confidently fed a mote of Essence into the Thorn. The glaive's edge now limned in a green-white light, he struck diagonally downward from right to left. The blade of the Dire Glaive bit deep into the plate, completing the cut with only minimal resistance. The green-white energy quickly flowed like liquid from the blade, into the resulting furrow. Acrid white smoke smelling of something like ozone billowed from the cut made. Ten seconds later the upper triangular portion of the several inch thick slab fell inward to land with a crash, leaving the marble floor spider-webbed with cracks four feet from the once more usable portal. Smiling delightedly, Davion was about to slip through the opening made by his new weapon, when he suddenly slapped his forehead. He held out his free hand and summoned from Elsewhere a triangular-faceted garnet and perfectly smooth emerald orb. Hearthstones he'd had no settings for since his amulet was destroyed three months earlier. The two Hearthstones fit perfectly into the pair of settings in the haft of the Thorn, as if the settings were designed for them. Nodding his satisfaction, yet chagrined by what was for him an extremely uncharacteristic lack of attention to detail, Davion slipped through the opening and into the tunnel beyond.
Returning to the tomb's entrance took over an hour at the leisurely pace the Lunar negotiated the hallways ruined traps. By the time he reached the entrance, his anima slumbered once more. The returning Essence from the fitted Hearthstones partially allayed the feeling nagging at him, but could not dispel it entirely. "The full moon is enough to put me on edge, of course. I lost it last month, when I killed those ravagers, but..." Davion thought with some trepidation. Before stepping from the tomb, he again tapped his Silver Lunar Resolution. As he'd suspected might happen, given the anticipated full moon, Wyld-Sensing Instincts reported the Wyld had surged Creation-ward since he went inside. The tomb was now a Waypoint of the Middlemarches.
Emerging into the open air, Davion gritted his teeth at the momentary upwelling of emotion as the full moon's light touched his flesh. The feeling receded an instant later, but the reminder of what it portended set the fighter even more on edge than he'd already been. Remembering the warning he'd viewed, he looked about the area carefully. He felt the other shoe drop, as a slender man man of supremely self-assured bearing, dressed in the blue jade armor of a Wyld Hunt Venerer, appeared from within a shadowy distortion some ten feet away. He was followed by five Dragon-Blooded in jade armor of various colors and types. The Lunar didn't recognize the supposed lord of the Wyld Hunt, or the four Dragon-Bloods fanning out behind the oldest of their number, but the most senior of the Terrestrials was one whose face he knew. Author of a hundred senseless massacres, and lover of serial rape and arson as a "tribute negotiating tactic"...Sesus Chenow, the chief enforcer of House Sesus in the Threshold, was a monster in the shape of a man.