The Offering - Tome of Chaos Story
Portia strode into the great hall, the thin fabric of her crimson robes trailing behind her. The deep groan of the doors parting reverberated through the vast chamber announcing her arrival. A pillar of quartz, half as tall as a man, floated noiselessly along behind her. A hundred paces away, near the chamber's far wall, a dozen motley figures stood in a loose semicircle before their tall, gray skinned lord. Beggars and beasts, but equally dangerous, she thought.
As the doors closed behind her, General Sloan glanced over her shoulder in Portia's direction and sneered. "The red witch,'' Sloan muttered. The half whisper was nearly silent but nothing escaped Portia's keen senses.
Throwing her hands wide as she strode forward, she apologized dramatically. "Pardon my late arrival, my lord, but the nature of my gift required time to retrieve it." She stepped to the side and gestured behind her at the approaching crystalline pillar, smiling as it came to rest before them. Lowering her hands, she glanced sidelong at Sloan. "The fabric is rosewood. Only the lace is red." Sloan recoiled, realizing her epithet had not gone unheard.
"You take liberties with my patience, sorceress," Silus spat. He was rubbing his temples. She noticed his mood. The war had been won. Sure, pockets of resistance remained, but nothing they couldn’t stamp out. The Splinterlands were his. And yet, he had grown increasingly withdrawn. She guessed he must be looking for something on this world; a quest apart from his will to dominate it. His violent episodes and outbursts had grown increasingly more pronounced. He was spending considerably more time in that medicinal pool of his, and she was determined to understand why. Her masquerade as his doomsayer was soon to pay off.
"Should you wish to remain a member of this war council, you will see to it that this does not become a habit,” Silus said.
"If you'll but look within the crystal, you'll see the nature of my gift." Portia said.
He approached the pillar, his eyes narrowing. As he drew near the quartz column, the murky outline of the form within resolved through the uneven surface. The hands were thrown up as if to shield itself from a blow, the face within was a mask of terror. "Dax Paragon?" Silus asked.
"He failed you, my lord." she said, quite satisfied with herself. "To the surprise of no one, he was double dealing with our enemies. When my spies learned of this, I had him… restrained, so I might bring him to you, to dispose of as you will."
Silus rubbed at his temples with his palms, a growing madness in his expression. "When will I be free of these betrayals and distractions?" Silus demanded.
"Not long now, my lord," Portia said.
Not long now.
Overcome, Silus dropped to his knees clutching his throbbing skull. Portia relished his collapse as the light in his eyes went. She smiled coldly and wondered at what dark vision now held him in its grip.
"Brother of Uul, and child of the void, I invoke thee!"
Straining against his bonds, the shackled titan raged again. "RELEASE ME!" Tremors shook the stones beneath them both. Mushtal's mind reeled with the force of the blow. Tears stained his slate colored face; his eyes rolled in their sockets. Overcome, Mushtal crumbled helplessly to the ground. Forcing a hand between his chest and the stone beneath him he struggled to push himself up, to meet the creator's gaze. The beast loomed imperiously over his collapsed form as he turned his face upward. Through starved and parched lips, he croaked a response.
"Hear me, demon. By blood and ashes, I invoke the crone's covenant." He was careful to speak in Old Clavican, the half-spoken, half-thought demonic tongue his witch-mother had taught him. Each sentence was a contract, each word a weapon. She had guessed this day might come and had trained him carefully.
The words hung in the air, a pregnant silence between them. The demon cocked its head to one side, the great horns curling the glowing fog into enormous slow moving whorls. All four eyes narrowed, a look of confusion passing over the great beast's face. As Mushtal's eyes met the beast's gaze, he trembled and an avalanche of pain washed over him. Endless rebirth into a life of torture in ice and flame. Countless lives. Eons of anguish. His mind emptied, and he fought to regain himself. Shaking his will free of the beast's connection, he set his jaw, and his mind returned just as the thing spoke.
"The covenant is not to be invoked without a sovereign's blood. Are you his servant and sacrifice?" The voice was a slow moving earthquake, like mountains shifting across fault lines.
"I am not," said Mushtal, the words a visible force in the air before him.
"Then you die for nothing," the titan growled, and raised a clawed fist as if to crush him
"Wait!" said Mushtal, throwing a hand up feebly. "I am both king and god, and by my sacrifice, the covenant is made." He was careful to use the exact wording he was taught. One misstep and the bargain would fail, his soul forfeit.
The beast stepped back, annoyed. The great chains groaned with his movement. "You, man-thing!? Are worshipped?" Displeased, the beast growled, and the floor of the chamber shook. "By what apotheosis did you ascend?"
"By sacrifice. Ten thousand souls were offered to me as I took my throne and by their worship and death I was crowned god and king."
Pausing, the titan sniffed the air. Seeing the man anew, the demon's expression shifted as he considered the offering. "Ah, indeed. The scent of your ascension is fresh, godling. You know the first tongue and the covenant of old. I, brother and child of the void, have been bound since before the first stars burned. Long have I endured in the dark. Long have I waited. I will honor the covenant, and by your sacrifice shall we both find release."
With some difficulty, Mushtal stood, looking again into the demon's eyes. The sensation was an avalanche of boiling ash and burning sand. He forced the beast out of his mind as the creature spoke again.
"I can taste your will, Godling. Your rage is old and bitter as blood." The monster grinned, its mouth a pit of razors. "Your world dies and you wish death upon death, but do not yet understand the path you have chosen. Do you know the price of the pact? Are you ready to give it?" Mushtal turned his head away, and let his eyes fall shut in a final moment of hesitation. He felt the fear swell up inside of him, but his will remained strong. He nodded.
"Yes!" the beast cried. The chamber shook. "I have waited in the outer darkness for your coming. By the offerings of the pact, I shall be free!" It laughed, the sound of water thundering from high cliffs.
"I have brought the offering, but can you guarantee you possess the power to grant what I seek?" Mushtal asked.
The great maw curled again into a horrible grin. "I am the unmaker, the scythe to harvest creation. I foresaw the end before the great beginning and have stood cloaked in the dark these long years hungry to fulfill my terrible purpose, waiting as stars were born and died. I burn to fulfill your wish because it was the purpose for which I was created." The force of the will in the words the demon spoke warped the air between them and shimmered like heat on desert stones.
"Then let the bargain be struck." Mushtal said, the weight of his hunger and fatigue suddenly rushing back in on him.
"Ten thousand lives for ten thousand years!" The voice was a roar. It laughed again, and the light of its eyes blinded Mushtal, though he could not look away. The creature raised its fists, and a great green flame surged from the stone, high into the air, searing the darkness. "In the name of the crone!" it bellowed. "Shed the name given to you by your witch-mother, speak your true name, god-king, approach, and present the tokens of the pact."
The sound of his pulse in his ears made the roar of the flame sound distant. This close, the heat from the column of fire was nearly unbearable. Mushtal had known the covenant meant death but what else could he do? He thought of his dead children. His dead wife. His dead witch-mother. His brother Sengasu. A world dies and the gods are silent, he thought. Even through his exhaustion, he was sickened by the pointlessness of it. This must end. There was no turning back. Careful to follow the exact wording he had been taught, he stepped forward and spoke, his true name
"I, Silus, invoke the covenant." He drew a rough hewn bone blade from his belt and held it high over his head.
"I submit as sacrifice, a dream's egg." He reached into his ragged tunic with his other hand and withdrew a black egg the size of a fist. It cast no shadow and reflected no light. They had stolen it from the swarm in the dreaming, and it was for this that the fiends had nearly consumed him. He cast it into the flame.
"I submit as sacrifice, a king's blood." he said, drawing the jagged ivory talon down the length of his forearm. Thick bands of arterial blood ran freely from the wound, runnels spilling from the gash and gathering at his feet.
"And as the final offering I submit as sacrifice, a god's ashes." With that, he stepped forward, a scream forced from his throat, as unimaginable pain flooded into his mind. He fell to his knees as the flame engulfed him. His skin boiled and the meat sloughed from his bones. The beast laughed maniacally, stones tumbling from distant places as the chamber shook violently. His sinews smoked and his bones cracked from the heat. Far away he could hear his own screams until smoke and flame emptied his lungs of breath.
And yet… he did not die.
He was aware of the pain, but it became distant and abstract like a storm on the horizon. He looked down through smoldering eyes and saw his sinews knitting themselves back over the exposed bone. Flesh returned as slithering ropes of gray integument wove their way back across his glistening viscera. He was born again; a being remade. He marveled as the last of his flesh returned to his hairless body. He was a child of the burning void.
The demon spoke, the sound akin to a landslide. "Your first gift. To see as I do. Behold, my form at the end of all things!"
The flame died away and Silus stepped clear of the ashes, wondering at the tethers of chaos snaking their way into his chest. It felt like great black larvae burrowing into the very core of him, a thousand mouths consuming the last of Mushtal, suffusing Silus with power. With fresh eyes he raised his gaze to the black beast in the shadows and saw him anew. The chains were gone. The fog had lifted. The demon was a radiant blinding celestial. Silus shielded his eyes with his hand.
"The second gift, to live as I do. Bound by the covenant, so long as I live, you cannot die." The beast grinned again, and light poured from its mouth. "My third gift is the void and rift itself. Take the stones at your feet. By them, my voice will reach you, and by them, you will cast your army across countless worlds. I will teach you the way."
"Rise, Godling. By your sacrifice and the contract of invocation, I am free and you are reborn… though our work has just begun. You shall raise an army to storm the gates of creation. Follow the lines of power that connect all worlds to find the source to which all things are bound. We shall call Uul through the rift and by consuming the source, we shall cast down creation into the fire of the void. From the ash of the old you shall forge a world governed by our own will. Your witch-mother will live to see your children play again at your feet.
Silus' eyes flashed and he lowered his hand, growing accustomed to the demon's towering blaze. His hands became fists and he stepped forward, eager to begin.
"Patience, man-thing. Though we must draw Uul to the source, the Anchor must be destroyed before the world may be consumed. Only then can reality be untethered from itself and be devoured by the mouth of the void."
Emboldened by his new form, Silus spoke, demanding, "How long must I wait, demon, for this vision to come to pass?"
The titan's eyes narrowed and the great jagged mouth curved into a smirk.
"Not long now, Godling."
Not long now.
Silus’ head snapped back, and he gasped, nearly swallowing his tongue.
“My lord!” his acolytes called out, rushing to his aid. “Are you well? Was it a vision? What did you see?”
“Get away!” he lashed out. Staggering to his feet, Silus attempted to regain his composure, but his strength had been sapped from him and he crumbled back to the ground.
“My lord, Silus, please, allow us to help you,” Portia spoke as she reached out for his hand.
He took it while growling the words, “Where is my doomsayer?”
“I will fetch him for you.” Portia helped Silus to his feet, and he steadied himself. She made her way towards the doors of the chamber. “Wait here in the meantime. Relax, my lord. Relish your victory. The conquest is yours. It is time to celebrate!” Just before exiting the room, she turned back, looked at Silus and said, “For you have everything you could ever want. Isn’t that right?”
Silus gave no answer, as she exited the room, the great doors groaning shut behind her.
Collect special Limited NFTs related to this story at https://www.splintertalk.io/nfts/
Story: Jeremy Stanton
Editor: Sean Ryan
Narrative Lead: Joey Shimerdla
Character Art (cover): Candycal
Illustrations: HPL Game Design Corporation
Graphic Design: Tamer "Defolt" Oukour
Voice Acting: David Dahdah
Ending credits song: AfterSound
Post Production: INFLUX Pictures
Creative Director: Nate Aguila