The great star chamber of Rathess shuddered for a moment, and then one wall exploded inwards as Filial Wisdom exploded through the wall, crashing to roll along the ground for a few moments before coming to rest in a pile of rubble.
â€œThis is impossible.â€ Wisdomâ€™s anima burned gold around him, his Essence all but spent in attempts to defend himself. â€œI am the Goblin King! I have ruled Rathess for a hundred years â€“â€
â€œAn unfortunate oversight.â€ Smoke obscured the figure stepping through the hole in the wall for several moments, but his voice was unmistakable â€“ high and child-like, with the sound of bells echoing in each word. Filial Wisdom grabbed a column fifteen feet high and tore it from the ground, swinging it with all his might â€“ it shattered against the monsterâ€™s skin. â€œYou do not even deserve your Exaltation, let alone this mighty place.â€
Wisdom staggered backwards as the creature moved with sudden, blinding speed, crossing the room in a moment to grab him by the throat and lift him into the air. â€œYou poor, pathetic fool. Did you think that your bond with the Leech-God was enough to save you, when you have taken no steps to save yourself?â€ Filial Wisdom, eyes bugging, looked at it without comprehension, and the beast snorted in disgust. Moonsilver claws threw the Solar to the floor in a shower of stone chips, and a great cloven hoof stepped on his chest as he tried to rise. â€œThe Dragon Kings, you little idiot.â€
â€œWhatâ€¦?â€ Filial Wisdomâ€™s voice was faint as he tried to push the leg off it. It was like wrestling a mountain.
â€œYou have been sitting on a weapon that could clear the East of foes, properly prepared and aligned. Ten thousand Dragon Kings, once the great allies of the Solar Deliberative.â€ The monster chuckled melodically, the voice at odds with its appearance, and began to push downwards. Stone cracked and split as Filial Wisdom struggled. â€œNow they will serve the will of the Yozi, even as they once fought us. It is a marvel of evolution that they might rise again.â€
â€œWhoâ€¦ are you?â€ Filial Wisdom gasped out the words, still uncomprehending. How could this be happening?
â€œMe? I am Ma-Ha-Suichi, Warlord of the East, champion of the Silver Pactâ€¦ and the Conduit of Szoreny, the Brass Forest.â€ Ma-Ha-Suichi laughed, and gave a final press; Filial Wisdomâ€™s chest exploded inwards, coating the floor in blood. â€œAnd I am your executioner, failed Goblin King.â€
Amaryllis, Goddess of Perfumed Flowers, looked around the table at the gathering, and then turned her attention to the Emissary of Nexus. â€œEmissary, I see only a third of the Council present. What is the meaning of this?â€
â€œWe face a grave crisis.â€ As usual, the voice of the Emissary was flat, but today there was a hint of something else behind it. Concern? Amaryllis tried to remember if she had ever heard him worried before. â€œThe Conduit of Malfeas is in Nexus even now â€“ and he has drawn close to half the Council into his control.â€
â€œConduit?â€ Arys Shen, a hierarch of the Guild and one of the few mortals present, raised an eyebrow.
â€œAn Exalt who has aligned his nature with the Yozi. He seeks to control Nexus completely.â€
â€œI see. And half the Council has been corrupted?â€ Arys frowned thoughtfully. â€œThis is a serious problem.â€
â€œIndeed, Hierarch. You represent everyone on the Council that I can trust never to give in to the Conduit.â€
Amaryllis nodded, rubbing a hand through the entwined stems and petals that made up her hair. â€œI presume you have a plan of action for stopping him?â€
There was a short pause, and then the Emissary spoke again. â€œAh. I see the confusion.â€ He raised his arms, and quicksilver fire began to rain forth, moving with unerring accuracy and speed towards the Council. He raised his voice only slightly, above the screams. â€œI do not seek to stop the Conduit. I only brought you here to die.â€
Moments later, it was done, and the Emissary, Conduit of Malfeas, looked with some satisfaction over the charred remnants of the holdouts in the Council. Now the greatest city in Creation belonged to Malfeas â€“ and to him.
Saloy Hin, General of the Seventeenth Imperial Legion â€“ though in truth the Seventeenth was simply his legion now, body and soul â€“ walked through the towers of his new home, making his way to the top of the great tower. With a flicker of Essence, he opened the door, letting it seal behind him as he entered the observatory.
First, he glanced down at the star patterns, ancient and unknowable, etched into the floor. Four glowed with a darkness that seemed to swallow light, and Saloy murmured to himself. â€œYes, four Deathlords for four of the Neverborn. A victory for the rest of us that there are not more.â€ He looked up at the sky, and then tilted his head thoughtfully and sighed. â€œAh, Isidoros has failed. Unfortunate.â€ The stars that represented Isidorosâ€™s power were faded and dark, tied once again in Malfeas, and Gaiaâ€™s stars shone bright with the power of her new Conduit. It took only a moment to see that Chorifa, as well, has lost her Conduit. It was unfortunate â€“ Isidoros and Chorifa would have been valuable additions to the alliance that Malfeas had formed, and Hin had every reason to support that alliance.
He let Essence form between his fingers, and it took the vague shape of the Emissaryâ€™s mask, flying up to hover in the air before him. Hin spoke first. â€œGreetings, Malfeas. I have bad news â€“ Isidoros has fallen.â€
â€œThat is unfortunate, Thari.â€ As usual, they conversed with the names of their patrons rather than themselves. There were days when Hin could barely tell the difference, now. It was an invigorating feeling, if somewhat frightening to a tiny part of him. â€œHe would have been helpful to us; we could have conquered the North easily.â€
â€œTrue, but we still have Ghroth and He Who Follows In His Wake. Between them, I think they will manage Biraszha Haisz and the remaining Exalts in the area.â€ Hin tapped his chin thoughtfully. â€œI am more concerned that Gaia has entered the Competition.â€
â€œWe always knew it was possible â€“ and Autochthon has yet to arrive. She is only one; she can do little to affect the outcome.â€ The Emissary seemed pleased behind his mask. â€œWith myself and Szoreny in the East, and you in the South, we will have time enough to spread a net before the others can. Our alliance is strong, and we will triumph.â€
Hin nodded, letting the connection fade, but he had concerns. Five Conduits were a powerful force, but he would have preferred seven. And he feared that Malfeasâ€™s confidence, when it came to Gaia and Autochthon, was misplacedâ€¦