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The guard threw Ahdamos to the ground, and he looked up from his position on the floor of the throne room. He reached back, rubbing at the sore spot on the back of his neck where he had been gripped, and cursed himself for a fool.
The guard, streams of Essence filtering around him, approaching the being that stood, looking out over the great mountains of the North. Four arms were crossed behind its back, and another absently rubbed its chin. Two more calculated figures on an abacus, with yet another reaching down to write the results on a tablet that a minor godling was holding for him. The guard unwrapped the gleaming sword that had been taken with Ahdamos, and an empty hand took it, turning it over and over as the great guardian looked down on it. Finally, he turned around, his arms still busy as he smiled.
â€œWhat an interesting toy, mortal. Do you know who I am?â€
The captive nodded, his gaze fixed firmly on the floor. â€œYes, master.â€
â€œAnd I am?â€
â€œYou are Mokrelus, master.â€
â€œVery good, mortal. And what does that mean?â€
Ahdamos risked a quick glance upwards, enough to see the curved smile on the behemothâ€™s face. â€œIt means that you are the caretaker of the immortal races, master.â€
â€œHm.â€ Mokrelus turned again, gesturing his guard over. If not for the prismatic streams surrounding him, and the bronze cast to his skin, the guard would have passed for any other human toiling away in the great plains. He approached Ahdamos, and pulled him to his feet. â€œThe immortal races. Howâ€¦ droll. No, mortal, that is not entirely correct. I am the Caretaker of all things. The divine guardian of Order, the supreme overseer of gods and beings alike.â€ The guard smiled faintly. â€œDid you really think I was ignoring you? Humans. So pointless. So weak. A simple servant race for the Dragon Kings, toys made to help the gods go about their tasks. And yetâ€¦ so numerous already, after so little time. And so. Very. Dangerous.â€ His smile faded, and he shook his head. â€œYou thought I didnâ€™t know. They do not call me Hundred-Handed for nothing.â€
Ahdamos waited into the pause, until it was obvious that a response was expected from him. â€œYou are named for your many arms, are you not, master?â€
â€œOh, yes.â€ Mokrelus chuckled. â€œMy arms reach everywhere, mortal. My Shards watch, and what they see, I see. What they hear, I hear. And what I think, they do.â€ He brought up the weapon, turning it over his hands. â€œTell me, child of the dust and the clay, what exactly is this?â€
â€œUmâ€¦ itâ€™s a sword.â€ Ahdamos licked his lips nervously. â€œItâ€™s sturdier than a spear. You use them to fight, and you canâ€¦â€
â€œI know what metallurgy is, insect!â€ The guardâ€™s fist lashed out, knocking Ahdamos to the ground, and then pulled him up by his hair, holding him steady as Mokrelusâ€™s eyes narrowed. â€œAnd I know orichalcum when I see it. ANDâ€¦ I know that the Dragon Kings are the only ones who use it. And they do not forge swords.â€ He shook his head. â€œWhich brings us to this ridiculous toy before me.â€ The sword flicked out, and the guard stepped back. Ahdamos caught it in one shocked hand. â€œShow me.â€
The guard stepped forwards, his hands forming magical power as he shaped power in a manner that Ahdamos had never seen. A moment later, great brass claws arced out from his hands, and he set himself back into a fighting stance. Mokrelus smiled, stepping backwards.
â€œFight him for your life, insect. Show me your golden toy in action.â€
Ahdamos charged forwards, his sword already swinging, and met the guardâ€™s claws in a shower of sparks. He leapt, somersaulting above the guard, as a claw swiped across his back, tearing the simple fur coat he wore. Thousands of strands of Essence gave as he landed, spinning in time to barely block another strike. The guard pressed forwards, and Ahdamos was forced to step backwards under the assault, his sword desperately moving in defense.
â€œEnough.â€ The guard stepped backwards, his claws lowering, and Ahdamos paused. â€œIs that it? Everything?â€ Mokrelus sighed, shaking his head. â€œPointed metal and the indomitable human spirit. These are the things that the gods think will destroy our Makers. Is that truly everything?â€ His eyes burned, and Ahdamos gaped. â€œShow me, Ahdamos. Show me your Exaltation!â€
Ahdamos stood frozen, his eyes wide. It was over. Ruined. How could he know? Mokrelus saw him, and grinned. â€œAh, you finally see. Do you remember your precious Malika?â€ Ahdamos looked over to the side of the room, as a woman stepped forwards. Her expression was blank, and sparks danced around her. As his world collapsed, he could hear Mokrelus speaking. â€œI told you, foolish boy. I have Shards everywhere. I know what she knows. And now that I know your limits, I will tell my masters theâ€¦â€
Ahdamos let all of his power blaze forth, lifting his sword over his head as the full power of his Essence blazed forth, the great Charms that he had laboured to learn under the patronage of the Sun pulsing through his sword. He cleaved through the first guard in a single swipe, a great strix rising from his shoulders as he brought the weapon around towards Mokrelus, who raised the abacus to block.
The blow shattered the wooden frame like a pale twig, but its force was blunted and turned aside by Mokrelusâ€™s easy motion. Even then, a great red line was left across the behemothâ€™s chest, and he chuckled. At the same instant, two great fists came around to catch the blade and wrench Ahdamos forwards, as two more slammed into the Exaltâ€™s body. Mokrelus lifted Ahdamos and tossed him across the room, striding forwards.
â€œImpressive, boy. Given another hundred years, you may yet be strong enough to destroy the Primordials. I concede the point. However, I must have something to bring to my masters. A rogue god, perhaps. Yes. You are a mortal given Essence he could not control.â€
â€œWâ€¦what?â€ Ahdamos tried to raise his hands, as Mokrelus stood above him, grinning.
â€œI am the Caretaker, boy. The Primordials use this world as their toy, and they will, inevitably, break it. This little encounterâ€¦ I need to know if the gods will actually be able to pull off their insane coup.â€ Mokrelus paused, rubbing his chin. â€œThey may yet, so your secret will be kept. But I am not convinced. If the gods succeed, I will take my place at their sides. If notâ€¦ well, if not, there is no harm done to me.â€ He smiled. â€œWhich leaves us at you.â€ He turned away, and Ahdamos saw Malika advancing, holding his daiklave. â€œYour little incident must be covered up. And the easiest way to do that is with a body. Your Shard will recover soon enough, and your soulâ€¦ well, that is unimportant.â€
â€œYou canâ€™t sit on the sidelines, Mokrelus.â€ Ahdamos yelled as he tried to stand, but two more guards held him down. â€œYou would be welcome at our side, but if you try to play both sides, you will fall to them.â€
â€œFoolish boy.â€ The words came from Mokrelus, but with the voice of Malika. â€œI see all, hear all. I will outlive the fall of the Primordials and gods alike. I will outlive your species. And I will most certainly outlive you. Goodbye, child of clay.â€
Ahdamosâ€™s last sight was Malikaâ€™s face, as the daiklave drove downwards towards his chest. Although her face was curved in a perfect likeness of Mokrelusâ€™s sly smile, tears glittered in her eyes.