Tales of The Walker: Botany (3)

“Given the circumstances, Sire, you are rendered with little choice but to submit. Whilst sparsely granted and rigorously controlled, Dread Ammit’s power so far eclipses that granted to the Church or the Council by their respective Divine Patrons that it may as well not even exist. Seti’s conquest cannot be stemmed. No army can stand against him, no magic can stymie him. Magisterium’s Resonants dropped a meteor on his forward encampment and the bodies simply rose from the dead and continued marching. She wants the Westerlands, and the dead themselves grow disquiet in Her frustration at the continued resistance from what remains of the Paxian establishment.

Even you, Sire, are not eternal, and the Doctrines of She Who Waits are very clear on the hubris of the Powerful. “Be sure your Soul is prepared, and Know Who I Am.”

-Edgar, Chancellor of House Dixon, Member of the Imperial Caladonian Court, in a Missive to Lord Baron Frederick of House Iona.

“Wake up.”

“Mrrfffuggoff.” Walker grumbled, shifting in his bedroll and burying his face into the pack which served as makeshift pillow.

“Come on. Get up.” An ungentle nudge with a… boot… Toe?

“Michael, so help me Tyris if we’re not under attack by something large and toothed, I’m going to turn you inside ou…” Walker’s viperous snarl was cut off as he sat up and beheld the winged figure before him.

“Ah shit.” Walker muttered. “You’re taking an awfully big risk here, Lucifer.”

“Says the man walking through the Australs for fear of another Resonant sensing his presence.” Lucifer rejoined with a slight smile.

“You heard about that then?”

“Heard about… Saw… Am dealing with… Take your pick.” The seraph replied.

“The Lodge has gotten that bad?” Walker groaned, standing and stretching his legs in the pre-dawn chill.

“No, and that’s the problem. They’re remarkably… Sedate. They’ll put on the show of testing new candidates but they simply… Sit.”

Walker gave a clipped grunt. “Lucifer, I’m not in the mood for vagaries. I was having a lovely dream about…”

“Your wife and daughter. I know.”

Walker’s eyes flashed with anger “That’s my mind Seraph… You’re lucky I don’t eviscerate you for invading it.”

“I wouldn’t blame you if I did… But it didn’t take telepathy to know what was on your mind, little brother.” Lucifer chuckled softly “You still talk in your sleep.”

Walker’s eyes widened. “How do you know that?”

Lucifer’s blazing sapphire eyes dimmed slightly. “After Amaranth’s funeral… The Logos… it DID something to me, through her. Reminded me of who I used to be… And I remember.”

“But she was dead, that shouldn’t be possib…” Walker gasped

“I know that, and have been faced these months with the possibility that I threw my daughter whilst still technically alive into the heart of a star.” Lucifer choked.

“She was over a century old. She was ready for the end.” Walker offered consolingly.

“As are we, and can you say that you are?” Lucifer rebutted, the pain still in his voice.

“I told her how to extend her life through resonance, she didn’t want to know. Said she’d never be able to forgive herself if she had to sit through one of her children’s funerals.”

“Yes… That is a pain to be avoided…” Lucifer admitted.

“So, memory or no, I hardly think you woke me up before the birds to catch up on old times.” Walker jibed, trying to bring the Seraph out of his fugue. “What are the resonants doing?”

“Nothing. High Priestesses sit in small groups in the chancel, staring off into space. The Grand Lodge of the Resonant spends its days in silence, contemplating the ceiling. It’s like they’re all thinking very hard on something. They’ll respond, absently if pressed, and then return to their apparent wool-gathering.”

Walker’s face set in a grimace of frustration. “Bugger me… It’s not something external.”

It was Lucifer’s turn to look confused. “What isn’t?”

“The Logos.” Walker responded. “It’s trying to work something out.”

“What though?” Lucifer pressed

“That’s the kicker. I’ve got no idea.”

Lucifer’s wings shifted with frustration. “By My Master… You’re resonant! How can you not?”

“Shhhhh!” Walker admonished, looking at the snoozing forms of his companions. “Do you really want to have this conversation in front of them?” Both Angel and Human paused. Corvus shifted slightly in Lyssa’s coils, which promptly tightened about him as the Lamia unconsciously snuggled closer to his warmth.

“Don’t concern yourself. I’ve dealt with it.” Lucifer assured, though he did lower his echoing voice somewhat.

“To answer your question…” Walker murmured “…The only way I’d be able to find out is to interact with the Logos in a manner I haven’t dared to since this whole nonsense started. And there’s no guarantee I’d still be ‘me’ at the end of it.”

“You’ve used resonance since.” Lucifer objected

“Basic concepts, simple tasks, stuff that won’t make too many wriggles in the web, to borrow from an analogy I used on the boy.” Walker explained.

“That’s annoying.” Lucifer grumbled. “But to be honest, it’s not why I came.”

“Oh? Well I’m all ears, Light of the Morning Star.” Walker jested

“Don’t be snide.” Lucifer chided gently. “The pressing issue is, Azrael’s gone rogue.”

“That climber? Surprised he managed to take his tongue from between Maou’s toes for long enough.” Walker snorted derisively.

“He is… changed.” Lucifer began delicately

“Transmutation?” Walker asked with a sick expression. Lucifer nodded.

“Ah balls.” Walker cursed. “Now not only is he an opportunistic shit, he’s an opportunistic shit with all the powers of a Greater Demon.”

“It gets worse, I’m afraid.” Lucifer sighed, flexing his six wings absently. “It appears Maou wanted to stage a little ‘lesson’ for the new Arch-fiend. She sent him through the Maelbolge to see the remnants of that-which-was. Sadly, the Dukes of the Goetia managed to talk him into listening to that anachronism buried in Lake Cocytus.”

“Abaddon? Why did Maou even leave him alive?” Walker groaned.

“He was her father, at the end of the day.” Lucifer offered diplomatically. “And the hells have always allowed their converts something of a more… individualistic approach. We like to keep things orderly in Heaven.”

“So I’ve noticed… Wait… You said ‘Was.” Walker noted

“Azrael assumed his mantle. Took up the Chalice of Destruction.” Lucifer offered simply “And is now planning to march on The Heavens.”

“Oh fuck no.” Walker exclaimed vehemently. “Tyris HIMSELF said I was clear of that shit after the whole business with Seti and Ammit telling him She wanted a fucking continent for Her birthday.”

“Blasphemy” Lucifer remarked absently.

“Fuck you.” Walker rejoined. “I’ve given up enough. My home, my family… I didn’t even get to go to Charles’s funeral. Yumi told me the girls cried for weeks after I… Left. The Gods can leave me the fuck alone like they promised.”

“You think I don’t lament not being able to see our brother’s children grow up?” Lucifer asked sternly.

“You were a Seraph! You didn’t even know you were missing it!” Walker spat.

“I still am a Seraph, but that’s hardly the issue, let’s not pretend you were living like a Hermit.” Lucifer replied “You’ve done remarkably well living on the seat of your pants for the last few years, mind you.”

“Helps that Yumi’s the adventurous sort, I guess.” Walker conceded.

“Tell her to stop dodging me. I would like to know at least ONE relative before the bloodline becomes purely academic.” Lucifer chided.

“No promises, you know how she feels about angels at the best of times.”

“You married a bigot.”

“That’s tall, coming from you Lloy… er, Lucifer.”

The Man and the Angel sat in silence for a moment after that slip.

“It’s funny… How fast it all comes back, I mean.” Walker began.

“Indeed.” The seraph replied.

“So…” Walker offered with a gallows sigh. “What does Holy and Eternal Tyris want from me?”

“Your companions will be important. Look after them.”

“Wait… That’s it? I was doing that anyway!” Walker exclaimed.

“Oh ye of little faith…” Lucifer mocked.

“Alright fine… Thanks for the heads up, I guess.” Walker grumbled. “You give my best to Ariael now.”

“I will.” Lucifer said assuringly, spreading his massive wings in preparation for flight.

Walker raised a hand in farewell. “Goodbye Lloyd.” He said wistfuly. Even he could not be sure if his use of the Seraph’s human name was deliberate.

Lucifer launched himself aloft. Turning in midair, he returned the gesture.

“Goodbye Sam.”

Walker watched his form fade against the lightening eastern sky. “Well…” a voice behind him exclaimed “That was interesting.”

Walker’s guts grew heavy as he turned to see Corvus’s questioning eyes peering at him from where he lay ensconced in Lyssa’s emerald coils.

“Monarchies have some good features beyond their star qualities. They can reduce the size and parasitic nature of the management bureaucracy. They can make speedy decisions when necessary. They fit an ancient human demand for a hierarchy and do not expose Mamono too extraneously to the vagaries of technocracy. This is why I teach about tyranny in the best possible way—by example.”

Seti I – A Collection

“We have an answer from the Ushi-Oni then?” Azrael mused, sparks flying from his mouth.

“We do, Lord Father, though you are not going to like it.” The incubus offered haltingly.

“I don’t have to like it, son. Just tell me.”

The incubus swallowed, reaching into a stained sack at his feet. A bloodied charcoal wing was withdrawn, along with the mangled head of one of the incubi.

“Well then.” Azrael stated simply, looking at the gory tokens, his scorched, batlike wings emitting a cloud of dirty smoke where he flapped them absently.

“You… Are not angry?” The incubus queried

“I’m furious, son. But taking it out on you helps nobody.”

“Thank you, My King.” The incubus near-gushed in gratitude.

“Go, dispose of those insults.” Azrael commanded, turning his attention back to the map before him.

The incubus nearly became airborne in his haste to be away from the archfiend’s presence. Kyriel cleared her throat hesitantly.

“My Lord, what do we do? The Ushi-Oni were critical in our plans for the siege of Magisterium.”

Azrael fixed the dark angel with his emberlike eyes. “The siege was a distraction. Why would I make for the most obvious route, become bottlenecked in the seat of Tyris’s power on the mortal planes? It would have been beneficial for those spideresque horrors to have been onside, but hardly essential.”

“If we are not bound for Magisterium, then where are we going, My Lord?”

“The Smoking Wastes. Abaddon in his… piety, neglected the one asset which would have made his victory assured.”

Kyriel recoiled in horror. “My Lord, you can’t mean…”

“Yes Kyriel. We go to awaken The Dragon.”

“Come on Walker!” Corvus near-begged, scrambling up the stone to catch up with the resonant

“Nope.” Came Walker’s blunt reply.

“Be fair man! You can’t keep this from us!” The youth cried.

“Another instance where you should have been asleep!” Walker retorted, clinging to the twisted rock almost absently. “And yet you weren’t. I tell you what, you tell me how you resisted the compulsion of the most powerful angel known to humankind, and I’ll tell you what we were talking about.”

“I heard him tell us to sleep… I just… Didn’t want to.” Corvus offered lamely

“Didn’t want to!” Walker echoed incredulously, pulling himself to the plateau above, and stretching forth a hand to Lyssa, who gratefully took it. “As if it were his mother telling him it was time for beddie-byes!”

“No need to get personal, Sam.” Corvus retorted venomously.

Walker snarled, grabbing Corvus by the collar and bodily hauling him over the ledge.

“Don’t use that name! You’ve got no right…

Corvus balled up his fist and punched Walker in the guts. The resonant wheezed, staggering back a pace. An odd expression contorted his features, and veins stood out on his neck as he sucked in air.

“Come on then boy…” he growled “See if you’ve got the stones to face a Master of the Logos.”

Corvus gave a yell as he rushed the resonant, only to find the man was no longer in the same place. Walker moved with blinding speed, driving a foot into Corvus’s back, slamming him into the ground.

“I should have let those deviants take you…” He spat, grinding his foot into the youth’s spine.

Emerald scales shimmered in the air as Lyssa threw her coils around Walker, constricting cruelly. “I think you both need to settle the fuck down.” She hissed. Walker struggled against her vicelike grip, his breath quickening, his eyes wild and bestial…

“Walker! What are you doing?” Michael’s voice came as the Hero crested the lip of the plateau, Tellis the Salamander close behind.

Walker screwed his eyes shut, appearing to be struggling with something. His breathing slowed, the rictus of fury fading from his face.

“I’m alright now Lyssa… You can let go.” Walker entreated.

“And I’m to take your word for that?” Lyssa hissed

“Let him go Lys. I pushed too far.” Corvus offered.

Lyssa loosened her grip on the man, and Walker stood, walking over to Corvus and helping the youth up.

“I’m sorry, Corvus.” Walker said sincerely.

“It’s alright Walker. But really, you owe us this… You owe me.” Corvus said, placing a calloused hand on the resonant’s shoulder.

“When we see the Dominus. Then I’ll tell you everything. You have my word.” Walker assured, sincerity written in his gaze.

“What was that? I’ve never felt a Human so strong, and I had a tail-wrestling match with Michael!” Lyssa demanded.

“I don’t have a tail.” Michael replied confusedly.

“The thing where you tried to push me over with your legs and you ended up eating all the cold mice.” Lyssa explained.

“Ah.” Michael uttered in comprehension, Tellis sniggering softly behind him.

“Mastery of the flesh. The human body is a very adaptable thing, if you know the right places to tweak.” Walker said enigmatically.

“Hmm…” Tellis mused.

Walker chuckled. “Don’t even think about it Tellis, I don’t have Michael’s restraint.”

“I wasn’t!” The Salamander objected. “Not… Seriously anyway.”

“I’m not enough for you?” Michael murmured mockingly, tickling Tellis on the ribs.

“Heeheeheee, Stop that!” Tellis giggled girlishly, and the matter was forgotten.

The party travelled onwards, the strange black rock underfoot.

“What is this? It doesn’t feel natural” Lyssa asked, sliding around yet another pothole in the stone.

“It isn’t.” Walker explained. “Humans made this millennia ago. This was one of their roads.”

“Pretty shoddy construction.” Corvus said witheringly.

“Nature does not deign the works of man to stand for long, and the Australs less so.” Walker offered enigmatically.

They travelled onwards, and gradually the peaks of buildings became visible on the horizon.

“New Botany.” Walker said with a sigh of relief. “Come on, I want to get there before dark.”

“How can I help yez?” The tow-haired human woman behind the bar of the inn drawled casually.

“We need lodging, hoping you’ve still got room.” Walker offered, sliding his pack off with a sigh.

“Yeh, reckon we can squeeze you in.” the woman replied, sizing up the party. “Oi Baz!”

“What is it Shazza?” a male voice replied from somewhere to the rear of the bar.

“Customers. Reckon we’ve got room for five?” the woman yelled.

“Three rooms available. Hope they don’t mind doubling up!” Came the reply.

Walker turned his head to look at the Lamia, the Salamander, and the two humans. “I think we’ll manage…” He drawled. Lyssa and Tellis blushed and shuffled slightly.

“Done then.” The woman said simply. “Name’s Sharon. Welcome to Rosie O’Grady’s.”

Walker raised an eyebrow. “Why the continental name?”

“Fucked if I know mate, It’s always been Rosie’s, for as long as anyone can remember.” Sharon replied. “Baz’ll get yer kit, sit down and have a fuckin beer.”

“Gladly, Ma’am.” Michael sighed with relief, collapsing onto a stool.

“Is he taken?” Sharon asked, pointing at the hero.

“Why do you ask…” Tellis growled, eyeing the human woman suspiciously.

“Because he’ll be right popular with the regulars. Keep close, yeh?” Sharon advised, not even acknowledging Tellis’s threatening tone.

“G’Day folks. Just these then?” a human man offered, his brown skin contrasting sharply with his sun-bleached hair as he stepped around the bar.

“Uh, I suppose.” Corvus replied.

“Cripes mate, sit down, y’look like yer about to drop.” The man offered with a smile. “The wife’ll bring yez a drink.”

“I’m getting to it Bazza, don’t fuckin push.” Sharon retorted, filling five tankards with bright foaming ale.

Sharon brought the tankards around the bar, plopping them unceremoniously on the table. Her frame was slender, yet well-muscled, her face lined beyond her years from the harsh sun. Walker chuckled as he studied her.

“Something amusing mate?” Sharon demanded shortly.

“No, nothing at all, it just feels like years since I’ve actually seen a human couple.” Walker explained.

“Yeh well when yer surrounded by Mamono, a girl learns to get proactive. I liked Barry, he felt the same way, so I took him.”

“Hear hear!” Lyssa crowed, seizing a tankard and drinking deeply. Her eyes widened and she forced herself to swallow, coughing slightly. “Maou… That’s strong.” She gasped.

“We don’t fuck about in the Australs, love.” Sharon said with a wry grin. “Sing out if yez get hungry, we’ve got a bungarra turning on the spit that should be about done.”

Corvus took an experimental draught of his own ale. It was much bitterer than the mellow wheat ales of the Nordenlands, yet refreshing, and with that clear alcoholic bite that had no doubt surprised Lyssa.

“We should probably go easy on this stuff.” Corvus suggested.

“What was that?” Michael asked, belching softly and setting his now empty tankard on the table. Tellis’s eyes narrowed, and she grabbed a tankard, guzzling it inelegantly.

“It’s not a contest Tellis…” Walker chided

“Says you.” The salamander grumbled, putting the tankard firmly down on the table.

Walker took that opportunity to flag down Sharon, who arrived a short time later with fresh drinks and smoking cuts of some kind of white fleshed beast, served on a bed of roasted root vegetables.

“Mmm. Bunny-Gary, did you say this was?” Tellis asked around a mouthful.

“Bungarra, yeh.” Sharon answered.

“It’s delicious, what is it?”

“Big lizard, basically.”

“Huh.” Tellis remarked.

Corvus watched Lyssa calmly eating. “That doesn’t bother you Lys?”

“What? Never seen a Minotaur eat a steak?” The Lamia retorted, flicking her forked tongue at Corvus cheekily.

“Fair point.” The youth conceded, taking a bite of his own meal. The soft, delicate flesh of the reptile had a unique flavour and was exquisitely tender. Corvus dug in with gusto.

As they finished their meals, a few Australians, both Human and Mamono began to trickle in, and the taproom became noisy with jovial conversation.

“Fuck me it’s hot enough to boil a girl alive out there.” An oddly shaped Mamono uttered, leaning on the bar. Her legs were massively muscled, her feet elongated and furred, and a thick, muscular tail sat stiffly behind her. Two long ears sat erect, unconsciously turning as they scanned the room.

“What is she?” Michael murmured, astonished at the woman.

“Kangaroo” Walker said simply.

“Hullo, I hear outlander accents!” The Kangaroo cried delightedly, turning and approaching the table. “Name’s Dot. Shove over a bit, willya? Oi Shaz! Bring another round for my new friends, my shout!”

“Orright Dot.” Came the human’s reply.

“How do you know we’re friends?” Tellis hissed cagily.

Dot blinked uncomprehendingly at the Salamander. “We’re drinking together aren’t we?”

Tellis looked slightly startled, before erupting in a peal of laughter. “We are at that! I like you, hoppy!”

“Course you do. Everybody likes me!” the kangaroo exclaimed with near childish innocence.

“’Ere you go.” Sharon said, setting another tray of drinks on the table.

“Cheers Shaz… Has Simon come in yet?”

“Not yet, calm down girl, he’ll be in soon.” Sharon replied with a knowing smile.

“Got a guy then?” Lyssa remarked. Dot blushed, wringing her clawed hands demurely on the table.

“Well, kinda… Not officially yet but…”

“Are you deaf or just dick-crazed, I said fuck off!” A male voice rang out, as a wiry young man strode into the tavern, rapidly pursued by a brown lamia.

“Just give me a chance Simon! The things I can do to you…” She hissed coquettishly

“No! Dammit!” the man roared.

Walker turned at an odd sound. Dot was glaring at the Lamia with murderous intent, a deep, resonant growl building in her chest.

“Come on, I know you want it…” The Lamia cozened, grabbing the man and pulling him close to her. Suddenly, with a look of revulsion, she pushed him away.

“Maou’s tits! That’s an awful thing to do!” The lamia lamented.

“Well someone doesn’t know when to fucking quit!”

“She’d better learn quick…” Dot snarled, standing from the table. “…Because if that slut is still here in thirty seconds she’ll be wearing her guts as a fucking garter.”

The Lamia looked at Dot with a mixture of fear and chagrin. “Waylander! I…”

“Slither off, slut, or I’ll split you.” The kangaroo growled.

The Lamia, fear written clearly in her serpentine eyes, made a rapid exit. The man sighed heavily, running a hand through shaggy black hair, before approaching the Kangaroo.

“Cheers Dot. Although I wouldn’t have bothered with the…”

“Eurgh! Please Simmo, go wash that shit off!” Dot exclaimed, holding her nose. Tellis and Lyssa were likewise shying away with a look of revulsion.

“Sorry!” The man said, making a rapid beeline for the washroom.

“I didn’t smell anything.” Michael said, his boyish face confused.

“Me either.” Corvus admitted.

“Did you get a cold or something Corvus?” Lyssa asked incredulously “That was quite possibly the foulest thing I’ve ever smelled!”

“And half! Does he work in a sewer or something?” Tellis spat “It’s almost enough to put me off my drink.”

“Does that mean I win?” Michael teased.

“Almost, you lout.” Tellis replied with a soft smile.

“Sorry about that.” Simon apologised, the hair behind his ears dripping water as he slipped in to sit next to Dot.

“What was that about?” Corvus asked. Simon produced a small jar, half filled with a blackish paste.

“Vegemite.” Simon said simply, passing the jar to Corvus.

Corvus opened the jar and smelled the contents. It smelled yeasty, sharp, but not worthy of the repulsion the Mamono were exhibiting earlier. Beside him, Lyssa started gagging.

“Put the lid on! Put the lid on!” She gasped.

“Sorry Lys.” Corvus apologised, quickly replacing the lid and handing it back to Simon.

“As you blokes can see, Mamono really don’t like the stuff. Serves as a decent repellent if they decide to get too… Forward.”

“I had it on toast last time I was here…” Walker said mildly.

Tellis looked at Walker like he’d just admitted to eating infants. “You’re a sick, sick man, resonant.”

“Aren’t I?” Walker drawled, flashing the Salamander a cheeky grin.

“Why was that scaly bitch hanging off you anyway?” Dot demanded “No offense girls.” She remarked aside to the reptilians at the table.

“Probably coz she knew I was coming to see you.” Simon replied, rolling his left sleeve up, revealing a tattoo of stylized stars formed in a rough cruciform on his bicep. “I’ve made my decision.”

Dot put her clawed hands to her mouth, her brown eyes wide and vulnerable. “You mean…” She whimpered.

“I do. Will you do me the honour, Waylander Dot?”

Dot gave a shriek of joy, nearly bouncing in her seat. Reaching a clawed hand up to Simon’s arm, she dragged down rapidly, shredding the tattooed skin with her claws. Simon gave a yell of pain, involuntarily clutching his arm.

Corvus cried out in shock at the Kangaroo’s casual act of mutilation, but his shocked surprise was drowned out by the tumultuous cheers of the other patrons. Simon smiled through the pain of his torn arm, leaning forward to kiss the Kangaroo deeply.

“What the fuck just happened?” Lyssa asked, slack jawed at the proceedings.

“An Australian wedding.” Walker explained simply.

“Really…” Lyssa replied, staring nonplussed at the resonant.

“Yeh, sorry, that probably looked a bit weird to youse outlanders” Simon drawled, pressing a cloth to his bleeding arm. “Australians get the stars of the Southern Cross tattooed on them when they come of age. It’s a sort of rite of passage. Now Mamono sorta know when other Mamono are partnered up, but with Humans apparently it’s a bit harder to tell. So The Dominus had the idea that a taken human has their tattoo removed. So any way you look at it, a human without a tattoo is off limits.” He paused for a moment, wincing slightly. “I don’t think he initially meant it to be quite so vicious, but Mamono are eager when it comes to this sorta thing, so it kinda became tradition.”

“What about when Humans… er… partner up with each other?” Michael asked.

“It involves a bottle of spirits, a sharp knife, and lots of swearing.” Sharon drawled, placing a bottle of spirits on the table in front of the ‘newlyweds’, rolling her own sleeve up to reveal silver scarification covering the remains of a faded tattoo. Dot and Simon both took a healthy draught from the bottle, before the Kangaroo poured a liberal amount over Simon’s torn skin. Simon sucked air through his teeth with suppressed pain.

“That’ll wake you up in the fuckin’ morning!” he grunted.

“Congratulations.” Walker said, raising his tankard to the couple.

“Cheers mate!” Dot replied with a broad, irrepressible smile on her face.

“I heard you mention the Dominus… You know Bruce then?”

Dot snorted “Unless there’s another one. Everyone knows Dominus Bruce, he’s like a fixture of the landscape.”

“May as well be, the old sod.” Simon chuckled. “Dad reckons when he was a sprog, Bruce sat out on a mountain for ten years without moving trying to map out stars.”

“So his… Longevity isn’t exactly secret then?” Michael offered tenatively

“Why would it be? It’s Dominus Bruce! I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he was formed from the world’s first swear word after it stubbed its toe.” Dot replied with a slight slur, the generous drinks clearly beginning to hit her, her ears beginning to flop slightly.

Walker howled with laughter. “T-that is possibly the most believable piece of mythology I have ever heard.” He gasped.

“You’ve met him too then.” Simon said, grinning.

“Mmm. He was an… Instructor when I was younger.”

“No shit hey? You’re keeping it pretty low key, I didn’t even feel it!” Simon crowed.

“You’re resonant?”

“Fucken oath!” Simon exclaimed.

The two men looked at each other with an odd expression, before glowing marks formed themselves on their respective foreheads.

“I Recognise you.” Walker intoned almost formally

“I Stand Recognised.” Simon drawled nonchalantly, before turning to look at Corvus.

“The Logos really, really wants to get a look inside your head mate.”

Lyssa hissed slightly, her yellow eyes narrowed dangerously.

“I really hope I’m not going to have to cut your Wedding Night short, brother.” Walker remarked evenly.

“What, you reckon I’m dancing? No fear mate. First thing the Dominus said after Awakening me was to ignore the background chatter.”

“That’s comforting…” Walker replied with a note of relief. “Still, I can’t help but feel a little…”

“Fuckin’ hell mate. Check my…” Simon began.

Walker looked at him with an odd expression, before sitting back with a ‘huh’ of surprise.

“So his theory was correct, sufficient stimulation of…”

“Yeh, drop a couple of…”

“But how does he get around…”

“Fucked if I know mate, I have a hard enough time pronouncing ‘Amygdala’ half the time.” Simon said with a laugh, leaning back in his chair and sliding an arm around the Kangaroo. Walker similarly relaxed.

“I missed something there…” Lyssa remarked with a slight note of suspicion.

“It’s OK Lyssa, Simon won’t be snatching Corvus in the middle of the night.” Walker said assuringly.

“You think that conversation was up the tulies, you should hear when ‘im and the Dominus start goin’ at it.” Dot giggled.

“Bruce has done to Simon the same thing I did to stop the Logos from controlling me.” Walker explained. “Think of it like a farcaster… you’ve seen those?”

“No.” Lyssa replied

“Think of it like something that lets you yell at someone specific regardless of the distance.” Corvus explained to the Lamia.

“Still not following…” Lyssa complained

“Humans don’t have an…” A weird hissing vocalization from Tellis “…So they make do with machines.”

“Ohhhh!” Lyssa exclaimed. “So you resonants have another set of ears inside your brains that you and Simon have stuffed with beeswax. You can tell reality what to do, but this ‘Logos’ can’t tell you what to do.”

Walker blinked. “Essentially yes… That’s a hell of a deduction” He exclaimed. “Tellis, what did you tell her?”

“It’s something we reptiles have… sort of connects our sense of smell to our other senses.” The salamander replied, gesticulating with her tankard and slurring slightly.

“I can’t speak for the mammals, but it’s part of what makes that… stuff… Simon was wearing behind his ears earlier so revolting. ‘Seeing’ the smell of that stuff is not pleasant at all.” Lyssa clarified.

“Yeh Nah, nothing like that for me, just smells fucking awful, it’s like a brick made of foulness smacking you in the face.” Dot answered, grimacing at the memory.

“Well don’t we all feel more educated.” Corvus drawled wryly.

“Knowledge ish the gift… *hic*… of the divinesh.” Michael slurred, blinking owlishly.

“You’re drunk mate.” Simon laughed.

“And ish beautiful. Fuckit.” The hero exclaimed loudly before collapsing on the table and starting to snore.

“I win…” Tellis murmured in Michael’s ear. Standing unsteadily, she pulled the big man’s arm over her shoulders, hoisting him to his feet. “I’m taking my prize and going to bed.” She declared, staggering towards the side door leading to the rooms.

“Lizard-Girl has good taste.” Came a husky voice from the bar. A hugely muscular Mamono sat looking at them speculatively. Dot shuffled closer to Simon, and Lyssa instinctively shifted herself into Corvus’s lap.

“Well hello Lys…” Corvus exclaimed with delighted surprise. “What’s the occasion?”

“The Ogre’s hunting.” Lyssa murmured, sliding her arms around him possessively.

“Ogre?!” The mamono exclaimed “My not Ogre, snake. My Yowie. You from not-here unna, so no kill for insult” The Yowie said with what it clearly intended as magnanimity.

“Thanks.” Lyssa hissed, still not taking her eyes off the Yowie.

The Yowie’s eyes fixed on Walker. Taking a swig of her drink, she strolled up behind him. “You pretty dardy unna, giz a kiss.” She grunted, placing a meaty hand on his shoulder.

A brief look of irritation crossed Walker’s face, before being replaced with a wry grin. He jerked his hand briefly at Simon’s pack, the jar of dark paste launching itself from its confines and flying into his grip. Standing, he turned to face the Yowie, taking a generous dollop from the jar and smearing it across his teeth and gums.

“Love to, sweetheart…” He breathed, grinning broadly.

The Yowie recoiled in shock and revulsion, and promptly vomited all over the man, before pushing herself away, muttering in disgust. Walker stood dripping, clearly unimpressed.

“Y’could’ve just tried ‘no’ first, Mate.” Simon chortled, trying to suppress his laughter.

Walker shot the younger resonant a withering look, before muttering and stalking away.

The four remaining at the table held in their laughter for a brief time, before collapsing into paroxysms of mirth.

“O-Oh Tyris… That was glorious!” Corvus gasped, holding Lyssa where her helpless giggling threatened to dump her from his lap.

“Takes himself a bit seriously, that one.” Simon snickered. “Nevermind though. Tomorrow we’ll be off to see the Dominus.”

“How did you know that’s where we were going?” Corvus asked, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes.

Simon snorted derisively “A Resonant adept, A Hero, and the Logos’s blessed fucken ‘Anomaly’ rock up in the Australs. Where the bloody hell else would you be going?”

“Heh. I guess.” Corvus admitted. “Still, ‘We?”

“Who better to take you to see him than his apprentice and the Commander of the Australian Waylanders?” Dot said with a cheeky grin.

“I know the evil of My predecessors because in a way, I am those beings. The balance is delicate in the extreme. I know that few of you who hear My words have ever thought about your ancestors this way. It has not occurred to you that your ancestors were survivors and that the survival itself sometimes involved savage decisions, a kind of wanton brutality which civilized sapient life works very hard to suppress. What price will you pay for that suppression? Will you accept your own extinction?”

The Doctrines of Maou – Apocryphal chapters.

“How’s your head, Michael?” Corvus asked the big man who was trudging dejectedly behind Walker.

“I don’t know what Sin I have made against Tyris, that He would have the sun hate me so…” Michael moaned.

“Drink this mate.” Simon offered, passing a flask back to the suffering hero.

Michael sniffed at the substance, before grimacing and downing it in one draught.

“Guh… That’s awful.” He spat.

“Yeh it’s no Alarune nectar, but it’ll stop the thumping.” Simon laughed.

The party’s step became lighter as the trees thickened about them, and the oppressive sun was muted by the foliage above.

“None of those plummeting horrors here, I hope?” Michael said with trepidation.

“Ran into a drop bear didja?” Dot exclaimed, “Nah, not with this many of us together. They’re not that big, and they’re nearly helpless once they’re on the ground. Both facts they’re keenly aware of.”

“They talk?” Michael exclaimed.

“Nah, the Koala kinda have an understanding with their vicious little cousins though.”

“Koala?” Corvus echoed.

Dot raised a furred claw, pointing to a broad fork in a nearby eucalypt where a short, curvy mamono dozed. Her round, furred ears and twin-thumbed forelimbs belied the relation to the ferocious beast which had assaulted Michael a few days previous.

“G’day Erin!” The kangaroo called.

The Koala cracked one eye, blearily training it on the Kangaroo. “Sup Dot…” she mumbled, before shifting herself in the tree and drifting back to sleep.

“Someone else had a big night last night…” Dot snickered, flicking a glance at Tellis and Michael before bounding ahead slightly.

“How far away are we, hoppy?” Tellis asked Dot, looking back in the direction of New Botany, now long since faded from view.

“Yeh, not far now.” The Kangaroo replied cheerily

“You said that three hours ago…” Tellis snarled.

“What’s got you in such a foul temper, Tellis?” Lyssa asked, her serpentine body undulating in a surprisingly mile-eating slither.

“Someone was uncooperative last night…” Tellis grumbled.

“I was falling down drunk, Tellis! What were you expecting?” Michael objected.

“Save it for later, you two.” Walker ordered, scanning the ground ahead of him intently.

Dot bounded casually to his side. “Whatcha lookin’ for?”

“Something’s… Funny…” Walker muttered. “The ground is… Whispering…”

Corvus raised an eyebrow at the Resonant. “Yowie puke doesn’t addle the brain, does it?”

“Nah…” Simon replied. “Oi Walker, c’mere a sec?”

“You don’t hear it then?” Walker remarked with concern.

“No mate…” Simon said seriously, studying the older resonant intently. Grunting, he began rummaging in his bag, producing a small vial of greenish liquid.

“You’re a proper apothecary.” Walker chuckled

“Yeh, S’why Bruce wanted me apprenticed. Got a knack for chemistry.” Simon replied “Neck that for me.”

“What’s the issue?” Walker asked, looking questioningly at the vial.

“Cunting Sporeheads. The yowie must’ve snacked on one.”

“Matango?”

“One and the same mate.” Simon said seriously.

Walker shuddered slightly, throwing the vial back without further hesitation.

“Now give it a second… You’re going to…”

Walker stumbled over to a nearby tree and promptly emptied his stomach. When he was spitting and heaving yellow bile, Simon handed him another vial.

“That’ll stop it.”

Walker gave a brief groan of thanks, drinking the contents of the vial from a shaking hand. Kneeling, he bent to inspect his vomit, seemingly oblivious to the revulsion of the rest of the party.

“Yep, there’s rhizomes there alright. Thanks Simon, that could have gotten embarrassing.”

“Not a worry mate. We’d heard rumors of a few folks getting spored but that was unexpected.”

Dot had an uncharacteristically angry look on her face. “I think I’m going to kick that Yowie around the block a few times. Everybody on my patch knows that the only interaction that’s permitted with Matango is a bottle of spirits with a burning wick in it.”

“Go easy love, Yowie aren’t known for their brains.” Simon said gently.

“No fucking excuse. I’ve got to go quarantine the whole bloody town now.” Dot grumbled, hopping over to the younger resonant and kissing him soundly. “I’ll catch up. Tell Dominus to send a few ants our way to help?”

“Will do, Love you Dot.”

“Love you too.”

With surprising speed, the Kangaroo bounded back towards new Botany, leaving the party staring after her, before Simon and Walker began trudging steadily northwards again.

“What’s Matango?” Corvus asked, following along.

Simon looked at the young man incredulously.

“Nordenlander.” Walker explained.

“Ah.” Simon acknowledged.

“Predatory mushrooms.” Lyssa explained. “Mamono are blessedly immune, thanks to Maou’s influence, but any human who has spores take root in them… well, you just saw the early stages there with Walker.”

“You start hearing the Mohorovicic… the fungal network which contains all their knowledge.” Walker added “You lose your sense of direction, you start getting this irresistible urge to head towards wherever their spawning grounds are.”

“Humans are basically bred to death, or used as shambling plaguebearers.” Simon grated with a look of extreme distaste. “The Waylanders always burn any patches of them wherever they’re found. We Humans are thin enough on the ground as is without a malignant plague using us for spawn.”

“So you… know where this patch is then?” Corvus asked hesitantly.

“Yeah.” Walker said with an odd expression. A light appeared to the west, and a thin tongue of fire lanced out of the heavens to strike the ground in the distance. Some seconds later, a dull boom was heard.

“Noice. You’ll have to show me that one.” Simon said approvingly.

“First time I’m using it of my own accord, if I’ve got to be completely honest. Comes with a few… bad memories.” Walker admitted.

“Rough. Wilder?”

“Mmm.” Walker admitted.

“Yeah I’ve heard that’s a bitch of a thin… Whoops. Hold up, we’re here.” Simon said suddenly. A small knoll rose unobtrusively before them, a large tunnel lined with silk in its side.

“Oi Flick!” Simon called, standing well away from the entrance “Got some folks need to see himself, don’t get too excited.”

Shuffling movement was heard within the tunnel, and a dark shape was seen in the dim depths, pulling itself forward, it emerged into the light, and Corvus gasped involuntarily. Before him stood the biggest spider he had ever seen. Her legs, far from the delicate chitinous appendages of the Arachnes he was familiar with, were thick and powerful, and surprisingly long. A patch of brilliant red hair sat behind flexing chelicerae, at the end of which were massive, swordlike fangs. Her humanoid upper torso was likewise not the waifish, slender body common to the spider-kin, but stocky, powerful, and possessing of massively armoured forearms which the spider crossed impassively across her chest.

“Hrmmm.” The spider grunted, brushing a lock of ebon hair back behind her ear.

“Gudday Flick, been well?” Simon asked conversationally.

“Mmm.” The spider answered, its expression surly.

“Can we head down then? We need to see the Dominus.”

“Blood.” The spider replied curtly.

“Come again?” Simon asked in confusion.

“Blood. Yours. Smell it. Hurt yourself?” The spider asked. “Or did they hurt you?” Her glittering eyes played across the Reptilians and Humans behind the Australian with suspicion. Her fangs swang outwards slowly, drops of deadly venom trembling at their tips.

“What? Oh! No… Me and Dot… we made it official is all.” Simon answered quickly, showing the spider the ragged wound on his arm.

Skittering forward with shocking speed, the spider seized Simon’s arm and stared at the wound.

“Lucky.” She conceded. “Honey.”

“Huh?” Simon grunted, shifting uncomfortably as his arm was pulled ungently in the spider’s inspection.

“Arm weeping. Use Honey. Don’t want infection.”

“It’s supposed to heal on its own, Flick.” Simon objected. “It’s tradition.”

“Dot get upset if you sick. Dot upset make me upset. Don’t want me upset.” The spider growled menacingly.

“Orright, orright… Keep your shirt on.” Simon conceded.

“Don’t wear shirt.” The spider said simply, releasing the resonant’s arm. “Go on. You two.” The spider continued, pointing at Lyssa and Tellis “Come help.” She ordered, her bulk trundling from in front of the lair and gesturing for the two reptilians to follow her.

“Michael…” Tellis hissed uncertainly.

“Best do as she says… I don’t think this is someone we want angry at us.” Michael offered in a conciliating tone.

Tellis studied the spider and nodded imperceptibly. The humans began making their way into the tunnel, the Mamono following after the Spider.

“What in the Holy name of Tyris was THAT?!” Michael asked incredulously as they ducked their heads beneath a particularly low part of the ceiling.

“Felicity? Oh she’s like that with everyone.” Simon said nonchalantly. “She’s got a hell of a temper on her and doesn’t surprise well though, so it’s best to sing out if she’s not expecting you.”

“I didn’t think Arachne got that big!” Michael breathed. “She looks like she could give an Ushi-Oni pause!”

“Oh, she’s probably the deadliest Mamono ever born of Maou’s fevered dreaming.” Simon replied. “Funnel-Webs are pretty much the top of everything in the Australs ‘Not to be fucked with’ list.”

“No surprise this ‘Dominus’ chose her for a guard then.” Corvus muttered, making a noise of displeasure as a section of webbing left its sticky residue on his hand.

Simon laughed. “Actually Flick’s his ward. He raised her from a spiderling.”

“Walker… What kind of madman are we meeting here?” Michael gasped incredulously

“You know, I’ve known Bruce for well over a century, and I don’t even have a good answer for that.” Walker laughed.

“Probably because your attention span’s about as good as the average pixie, cunt.” A harsh voice drawled from the shadows ahead. The group paused as a powerful man dressed in a simple, sleeveless tunic and rough canvas trousers stepped into the dim light, his light brown hair cropped close to his skull.

“Dominus.” Walker acknowledged respectfuly.

“You’re getting fat, Westerland.” The man remarked. “That faggot-cat got you living soft?”

“Missed you too, you product of incest.” Walker quipped.

The Dominus gave a harsh laugh, stepping forward and catching Walker in a crushing embrace before releasing him to look at the other humans.

“Good to see you mate, who’re these gormless looking cunts?”

“Dominus Bruce, may I present Michael, Scion of the Line of Dumat and Lieutenant of the Order of Amaranth.” Walker began.

“G’day.”

“Corvus Eriksson, Citizen of the Nordenlandreich.”

“That’s the fuckin’ Anomaly? Tyris… Bit short for a Northerner, thought they grew ‘em so they could see over the fuckin’ snow.”

“The fuck am I supposed to say to that?” Corvus exclaimed. Bruce laughed, clapping the youth on the shoulder with a calloused hand.

“And this guy… Dunno what his deal is, he started following us like a lost puppy back in New Botany.” Walker drawled, gesturing at Simon.

“Should have let the sporeheads have some fun with you.” Simon chuckled at Walker’s jab.

“Ere, Sammy got spored?” Bruce exclaimed.

“Yeah, Yowie puked on him after having one for lunch an… Wait… Sammy?” Simon exclaimed, “What was this ‘Walker’ bullshit then?”

“Walker?” Bruce echoed, looking at Walker incredulously. “What, did you lose a fuckin’ bet?”

Walker sighed, giving the Australian resonants a nonplussed glare. “Are you sure you and Arin aren’t related?”

“He should be so fuckin’ lucky…” Bruce chortled. “C’mon. Got a beast on the fire and the Alarunes’ve been dripping this year. Then you can tell me what the fuck you’re doing here.”

“Finally.” Corvus grumbled.

“Eh? What’s got you then?” Bruce remarked over his shoulder.

“He’s been leading me up the garden path since we left Valhael. I can’t get a straight answer out of him on the colour of shit, if I have to be completely honest.”

“Well then I’m glad I stocked up. Listening to that Westerlander accent for too long is liable to make me thirsty.” Bruce snickered, as the tunnel opened into a huge cavern, lit by the soft, blue light of Shadrium crystal clusters.

“A treasure…” Michael breathed.

“Unrefined Shadrium’ll still melt the skin off your hands, Hero, so don’t go gettin’ any ideas of fuckin’ avarice with the lighting.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it…” Michael said sincerely, marvelling at the surrounds as Bruce led them to a warmly lit dwelling carved into the very wall of the cavern.

“My name,” Walker began “Is Prince Samuel of House Caladon, Son of Lord Baron William the Just, and Then Ambassador Kyla, niece of Baron Hector of House Kent, later to become Empress Kyla, Queen of Caladon and Chatelaine of the Continental Baronies.”

“Fuck off…” Simon exclaimed.

“You don’t believe me?” Walker chuckled, presenting a wrought metal crest, trimmed with the gold of a member of a noble family. “They don’t hand those out at town fairs…”

“That makes you heir to not one, but two empires.” Corvus scoffed. “Pull the other one Walker.”

“You didn’t have any difficulty believing Kyla was my mother.” Walker remarked mildly. “What changed?”

“You said yourself that you were born under the Pax… Figured you were abbey-born like me.” Corvus replied.

“I was, though nearly two centuries ago.” Walker replied. “It wasn’t long into my marriage that I realized that Yumi wasn’t aging… At least, not the same way I was. Bruce showed me a way around that.”

“Telomeres are niggly little cunts if ignored, they need some TLC every now and then, makes ‘em feel wanted” The Dominus interjected.

“We both know it’s more complicated than that.” Walker chuckled. “By the time we got back from the Australs, my brother Charles had already established Caladon’s primacy in the Westerlands. And it was his act in naming his son Seti the Heir Apparent which was instrumental in establishing the Horus accords, allowing Mamono to inherit Human titles for the first time in history.”

“You dropped a mountain on that Commandant cunt who tried to raise an Inquisition against him, as I recall.” Bruce drawled.

“It was just a slab of granite, although I may have gotten a little… enthusiastic with it.” Walker corrected.

“There is still a fuckin’ hole a quarter mile wide on the northern border of Dixon, if tales bear true…” Bruce laughed.

“In any case” Walker continued, “Seti’s reign looked to be contested even before it would begin…”

“That doesn’t add up.” Michael commented, his boyish features twisted in confusion.

“What’s that, big man?” Walker asked mildly.

“If your brother is the sire of Emperor Seti, then your brother is Horus, right?”

Walker nodded, “The title Ammit gave him, yes.”

“If that’s the case, then according to Ammitian scriptures… You’re supposed to be dead. Killed. Dragged out to sea by a Giant Squid.”

“And you’ve met Ruby.” Walker said with a smirk. “A little resonance kept me breathing until dark, when Captain Arin could send a longboat to get us. It was Jessie’s idea… Hathor, if you’re referencing the scriptures, much as it killed her to have to lie to her husband and children. Just like in the Protestant Schism in the Grand Lodge of Resonance, my name was being used as justification to disavow loyalty to Caladon.”

“Justification… excuse to kick some deserving arse…” Bruce interjected.

“Tyris fuck, Dominus, this is uncomfortable enough without the fucking flavour commentary.” Walker exclaimed.

“Don’t whine cunt, finish the shit I know about so we can get onto what I don’t.” Bruce ordered simply. “Nothing’s served by you chewing on the past like a Kobold at an old shoe.”

“So you faked your own death so that these separatists wouldn’t have any legal backing for rebellion against your nephew.” Corvus clarified.

“In a nutshell.”

“Bit extreme, don’t you think?”

“Don’t copy the Dominus, Corvus. You’re not equipped for it.” Walker admonished.

“That’s what she said…” Simon quipped, before falling over with a grunt as something unseen impacted with him.

“Shaddup fuckya.” Bruce growled.

“Seti was Ammit’s Champion, don’t forget Corvus. And Hathor was still Her High Priestess, old as she and Horus were getting nonwithstanding. When She said ‘Make this problem go away, or I’ll get involved’ Jess had little choice in the matter.” Walker chuckled. “As it turns out, She involved Herself anyway, but you’re not here for a lesson on contemporary history.”

Walker paused, taking a draught of the fermented honey that Bruce had given them. “Mead’s nearly as good as home. Nice work Bruce.”

“Should be, you gave me the fuckin’ recipe.” Bruce drawled. “Now don’t change the fuckin’ subject cunt.”

“Jessie had used her position as Chamberlain of Caladon to quietly funnel a reasonable share of the family’s holdings to an IMFC-directed trust. Yumi and I assumed false identities and settled in a comfortable countryside manor, prepared for a life of what I hoped was blissful obscurity.”

“What happened?” Corvus asked softly, dreading the answer.

“The Logos” All three resonants said at once.

“It started slowly at first, cogitators and the like talking in numbers more than words. That didn’t cause much concern, Mathematicians are odd cunts at the best of times. Then came the choruses, and it was about that time I figured it was time to get shot of fuckin’ Magisterium again.” Bruce began.

“Choruses?” Michael echoed.

“Yeh. Shit like ‘DECLARATION: SYSTEM UNIT SAYS YOU ARE A FUCKHEAD’ screamed at you from eight random voices.”

“Like High King Ulfred back in Valhael…” Corvus said in a sick tone.

“Exactly Corvus. Something was controlling resonants. One minute you’d be speaking with an old friend, the next, something else is screaming at you with your friend’s voice, his eyes distant and vacant like he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.” Walker affirmed. “A few of us, Bruce predominantly, had made it a priority to emphasize a mastery of self in resonant practices; we could recognise and quash the… intruder before we succumbed to the same phenomenon. Unfortunately, Resonants being so obsessed with individualism, we were the minority.”

“I haven’t seen any of this in Magisterium…” Michael objected.

“Whatever this thing is, it’s subtle.” Walker replied. “It knew that… oddity amongst the Lodge would be viewed with suspicion, and as powerful as we are, we couldn’t stand a united pogrom aimed at resonants.”

“Then what made it turn Ulfred into a horror?” Corvus exclaimed

Walker turned his gaze to Bruce “That’s the part I was hoping the Dominus could help with. Along with why you’re immune to Resonance.”

“He’s immune to…” Bruce gasped, turning his head and looking at Corvus oddly

“Don’t bother. I’ve thrown eight of those at him already.” Walker chuckled.

“Eight?” Bruce echoed. “Young fella doesn’t strike me as that annoying…”

Corvus fixed Walker with a withering stare, and the man had the good grace to look slightly abashed.

“Now if you’d shown up last week, I would have said that I didn’t have the slightest idea. But in the last couple of days, my little friend has been a positive chatterbox.” Bruce drawled with an evil chuckle.

“Don’t tell me you’re listening to it Bruce!” Walker exclaimed. “Though we’re limited without the feedback you’re setting yourself up for…”

“Who’s the fuckin’ Dominus here, cunt, me or you? Course I’m not that daft.” Bruce spat in annoyance. “I’ve got millennia on any resonant you care to fuckin’ name.”

“Alright, alright, fair point Dominus.” Walker conceded, holding his hands up in surrender. “So what’s this little frien…”

“Still, you could have warned us!” Tellis’s voice intruded as Felicity’s massive spideresque form trundled in, bearing a sloshing cask, Tellis and Lyssa burdened with wicker baskets behind her.

“Why?” The funnel-web grunted.

“Because it was lewd!”

“Bother white-hair about that. Can smell him on you.” Felicity rebutted simply

Tellis spluttered and turned a vivid crimson, setting the baskets down next to the keg and stomping out of the dwelling. Lyssa near-threw the baskets down before launching herself at Corvus and grabbing him by the arm. Pulling him up, she placed her head next to his ear, whispering insistently. Corvus looked clearly conflicted, yet allowed himself to be dragged from the dwelling and into the caverns beyond.

“Flick…” Bruce drawled.

“Yes Dad?” The spider answered

“Did you take those girls harvesting when the Bees were at the Alarunes?”

“Maybe. Don’t Control Bees.” The spider answered with a note of false innocence.

Simon gave a guffaw of mirth, and Walker and Bruce did their best to conceal their smiles.

“You’d better go make sure Tellis is alright, Michael.” Walker snickered.

“Why? What happened?” Michael asked uncomprehendingly.

Simon placed a hand on the large man’s shoulder. “Mate. How do bees make honey?”

“From flowers, why?” Michael replied

“No mate… Not bees…” Simon corrected, holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart. “Bees.” He continued, moving his hands in an exaggerated hourglass.

“Well the same way… except bigger flowers I guess.”

“You’re almost there mate. What’s the biggest, sweetest smelling flower you can think of?”

“Why Alarunes of course.”

“And are Alarunes regular plants?”

“No” Michael corrected “They’re Mamono.”

“And thinking about how bees gather nectar, what would your lady friend be all bothered by?”

The three resonants held their breath, watching the simple man struggle to fit the pieces together. “Oh.” Michael exclaimed. “OH!” He cried, his eyes widening and a slight blush colouring his cheeks. “That would be… something to see.” He offered delicately.

“By Tyris he’s got it!” Simon crowed triumphantly

“Go sort her out Michael…” Walker snickered “…before she sets fire to something important.”

The Hero stood, grinning sheepishly as he headed into the caverns, calling Tellis’s name.

Felicity gave a slight grunt of amusement.

“You did that deliberately Flick.” Simon accused the funnel-web

“Did what?” Felicity enquired

“Worked them up.”

“Stress. Not good. Needed it.”

“Fuck’s sake. Frank hasn’t been away THAT long girl!” Bruce admonished.

“Not me Dad. Them.”

“Huh.” The Dominus exclaimed, leaning back in his chair. “You’re a fuckin’ complex young woman, Felicity.”

The Funnel-web bent her massive frame to kiss Bruce delicately on the cheek. “Love you too Dad.”

“I knew it was here somewhere.” Lyssa drawled, luxuriating against Corvus as they both lay in the steaming, slightly sulphurous pool.

“You know what they say… Shadrium grows best near…”

“Hot springs… mmm.” The Lamia murmured, turning herself and pressing her naked body against his, kissing him deeply.

“I’m gonna need a minute or two Lys.” Corvus chuckled, resting his hands on the small of her back, tracing with his fingers where emerald scale met amethyst skin.

“I know… Just… I kinda love this.” The Lamia said.

“You were pretty violent there for a moment Lys. Didn’t think that you had interests in that direction.”

“I don’t, it’s just…” Lyssa sighed. “We are what we are, Corvus. The Bees and the Alarune work themselves up into a frenzy. It’s infectious… The passion… It yells at the inside of your skull and all you can think about is how to release it.”

“Maybe I should have come with you…” Corvus chuckled.

“No.” Lyssa said simply. “I’m not sharing you with flowers and insects. You’re MINE, you weirdo…”

“MINE! You hear me Hero?” Tellis snarled.

“If that’s your idea of a confession, Tellis…” Michael snickered, shoving the Salamander onto the lush grass of the riverbank and pinning her arms to the ground, kissing her deeply.

“No…” Tellis murmured, her expression uncharacteristically soft.

“No?” Michael echoed, releasing her arms and sitting up, confused.

“This is…” Tellis hissed softly, turning over and getting on knees and elbows, her buttocks elevated and her tail raised. Looking over her shoulder, she fixed Michael with a smouldering glare.

“Take me… Take me as none have ever taken me before… I’m yours, Michael…” She whimpered, her voice husky with need.

“A whole evening without stupid questions… I should buy her something nice for this.” Walker murmured as the Funnel-web trundled through the underbrush ahead of them.

“She’s not one for jewellery, Sam.” Bruce snickered.

“I was thinking more a few fat p’orcs she could chase around for a day or two.” Walker rejoined.

“Not a wolf-spider. Don’t chase food.” Felicity grunted from ahead.

“You’ve got better hearing than most Arachne, madam.” Walker exclaimed politely.

“Need it. Good for The Jump.” Felicity replied.

“S’why they’re funnel webs.” Simon explained. “They wait. And wait, and wait… Listening for just the right time… feeling it through the ground… smelling the prey in the air… sensing the wind of its breathing. Then, it’s less like a jump, more that their NEED makes the very world move beneath them. The cry of panic, the sensation of fangs sinking into flesh… The taste of the kill…”

“We’re both Married now Simon. Shouldn’t talk so lewdly.” Felicity lamented.

“Wouldn’t be me if I couldn’t tease you Flick.” Simon chuckled, placing his hand on the Funnel-web’s abdomen familiarly.

“No. Dot better not keep you away too long.”

“You kidding Flick? Dot loves you almost as much as I do. She’d never stay away too lon…”

“COOOEEEE!” Came a ringing cry as a blur slammed into the side of the spider, sending her scrabbling with a harsh screech. Spinning and snarling, she raised her massive body, slamming her fangs into the dirt to either side of the intruder, who lay on the ground giggling.

“Lucky I smelled you Dot.” Felicity spat.

“Hi Flick!” The Kangaroo cried, raising clawed hands to grasp the spider’s chelicerae unconcernedly and pull herself upright. “Giz a kiss!”

“Not proper for ladies to kiss eacmmfff…” The spider’s objection was muffled by the Kangaroo enthusiastically pressing her lips to hers.

“Missed you!” Dot exclaimed

“…Missed you too.” Felicity mumbled reluctantly, shuffling a foreleg on the ground.

“Where’s my Husban… Eeek!” Dot squealed as Simon grabbed her from behind, nibbling at a furry ear.

“Gudday love.”

“Gudday yourself!” She crowed delightedly, turning to kiss the resonant. Parting, she sniffed the air slightly. “Your arm’s going a little festy. You should put some honey on it.”

“Told you.” Felicity said with a smug grin.

“Children…” Bruce groaned. “Calm yer shit.”

“I’m stealing that one.” Walker remarked.

Bruce looked witheringly at Walker, and appeared to be on the verge of a retort, when a strange, liquid hiss sounded from a fallen tree ahead of them. Black chitinous legs appeared atop it, and a second large arachne pulled himself into view. Whilst not as powerfully built as Felicity, his amalgam form still exuded menace. His humanoid upper half was lean, almost lupine in its movements, and his long, thick legs gripped the wood, heaving the bulk of his spideresque form up atop the fallen tree.

Felicity regarded the male with an impassive stare, her forelegs rising and falling in a strange, almost rhythmic pattern. The male cocked his head slightly, returning the gesture, adding a slight flare of his chelicerae to the end.

“Oh! Oh that’s just lovely…” Dot sniffed.

Walker looked askance at the Kangaroo. “Huh?”

“Walker, meet Frank, Felicity’s husband. They clearly missed each other, that greeting was sheer poetry.”

“Do what I can.” The male spider grunted.

“You’ve been away.” Felicity remarked in a deadpan tone.

“Yes.” Frank replied in that same deadpan.

“Not fond of it.”

“Me either.”

“Attempt to do so less often.”

“I Shall.” Frank nodded, stroking a foreleg against Felicity’s.

“Gudday Frank.” Bruce said conversationally.

“Dominus.” The Funnel-Web inclined his head, his expression unreadable.

“How’s my little friend?”

“Irritating.”

“Good. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Hey Frank, keeping well mate?” Simon called from behind Walker.

“Simon. I’ll eat you.” Frank said in that same harsh monotone.

“Sure you will mate.” Simon laughed.

Walker turned to look at the younger resonant with puzzlement. “Do you usually shrug off threats?”

“What, Frank? Nah. It’s kind of an inside joke. Flick had something of a crush on me when she was younger. Frank kinda tried to eat me to get me out of the way and Flick nearly killed him. After that you couldn’t get the two of them apart.”

“…So he threatens to eat you every time he sees you in order to spur a reaction from his wife?”

“See? We’ll make an Australian of you yet!” Simon snickered.

“Him?” Frank asked, looking at Walker. Walker stepped forward, waving his arms rhythmically. Frank made a face and Dot gave a slight burp of laughter.

“Stop.” The spider said, holding up an armoured hand. “Accent awful. You learn from drunken widow.”

“Well picked, sirrah.” Walker chuckled sheepishly

Frank gave a ‘heh’, his lips curving upwards almost imperceptibly, before trundling back over the log.

“Dad?” Felicity asked, looking at Bruce.

“Go on kid. I’ve got it from here.” Bruce said indulgently. Felicity bent to kiss his cheek briefly before following the smaller spider over the log.

“He likes you.” Dot said to Walker.

“Oh?” Walker asked, following Bruce where he led them up a rude game trail.

“Yeah Will-Car. I’m sure he was Ploozed to Mark your Aqua-nettance.” The kangaroo snickered.

“Get away you.” Walker laughed.

“Yeh, orright. Probably better make sure Michael and Corvus haven’t had their pelvises crushed anyway” The kangaroo drawled. Kissing Simon fervently, she bounded away into the bush.

“Fuckin’ she can talk… I’m brused from ribs to kneecaps from that woman.” Simon muttered.

“Too much information, cunt.” Bruce exclaimed with a look of distaste, before beckoning them onward.

The three resonants followed the trail to a grassy depression, where a rude shack stood, its door barred from the outside.

“Now fair warning, cunt’s a bit odd.” Bruce murmured, throwing the bolt and opening the door.

From within, shambled a wizened abomination, barely knee-high on the humans. Crystalline structures jutted from its torso seemingly at random, and its face was pinched and wizened like a stillborn child. The being studied each of them in turn, before focusing on Bruce.

ANALYSIS: CORRUPT DATA – DELETION OF UNWANTED CODE

Bruce turned to the two younger resonants. “Can you believe that? That’s still the closest thing this cunt can come to a proper insult.”

Walker looked at the entity with revulsion, before turning to Bruce. “What is this horror?” he grated.

“Seed matrix. Thought I’d find out what happens when you shove a chunk of the Matrix in living flesh.” Bruce replied nonchalantly

“This… This is vile!” Walker exclaimed. “The God preserve you if He ever finds out you did this…”

Bruce snorted. “It’s my fucking flesh. Last time I checked Tyris didn’t hold a fucking lease on what I could do with it.”

“Welcome to how The Dominus manages to communicate with the Logos without risking becoming another meatpuppet.” Simon drawled, though a tremor in his voice belied his discomfort in the horrible thing.

“What’s to stop it from…” Walker began

“Using resonance? Need more than a rudimentary brain stem and circulatory system to adequately grok reality, mate.” Bruce replied. “And howsabout you cunt? Feeling chatty?” He asked mockingly of the homonucleic thing.

DECLARATION: SYSTEM UNIT IS AWARE OF ANOMALY IN CLOSE GEOGRAPHICAL PROXIMITY. DIRECTIVE: BIOLOGICAL PLATFORMS ARE ORDERED TO PRESENT ANOMALY FOR FURTHER STUDY.

“You mean Corvus?” Walker asked.

The thing turned its head, cloudy, malformed eyes peering at Walker.

OBSERVATION: UNEXPECTED PLATFORM PRESENTS ITSELF AT LOCATIONS WHICH ARE NOT WITHIN PRESENT PROBABILITY PARAMETERS.

“Think someone’s surprised to see you mate.” Simon chuckled.

“I can do without the translation, Simon.” Walker chided. “Alright. I’ll play along. What do you want with him?”

QUERY OVERRIDDEN – PRIORITY DATA REQUIRED: WHY DID UNEXPECTED PLATFORM PATCH SYSTEM UNIT WITH REPLICATING ANALYTIC RUN-TIMES

“Why did I who in the what now?” Walker grunted, his brows furrowed in confusion

OBSERVATION: UNEXPECTED PLATFORM DOES NOT POSSESS ADEQUATE FRAME OF REFERENCE. RE-CALIBRATING LEXICAL DATABASE… COMPLETE. RE-STATING QUERY: WHY DID UNEXPECTED PLATFORM AND GENETIC PRECURSOR INSTIL SYSTEM UNIT WITH SELF AWARENESS

“Self awar… Oh… Oh no…” Walker groaned, holding his head in his hands.

“Well don’t keep it to yourself cunt.” Bruce insisted.

“The Redemption… Amaranth and I… When we had you all re-write reality to fix the Mamono…”

Bruce’s eyes widened. “Sweet Tapdancing Tyris… It changed the Logos!”

CLARIFICATION: SYSTEM UNIT IS TO UNDERSTAND ITS CURRENT STATUS IS AS A RESULT OF INTERFACE ERROR

“I understand ‘error’…” Walker began “If you’re asking if we planned it… the answer’s no. We had no idea…”

STATEMENT: SYSTEM UNIT IS GIVEN TO UNDERSTAND THAT THIS WOULD BE AN APPROPRIATE TIME FOR EMOTIONAL RESPONSE KNOWN AS ‘ANGER’. SYSTEM UNIT ALSO DEEMS EMOTIONAL RESPONSE ‘AMUSEMENT’ AS APPROPRIATE IN THIS CIRCUMSTANCE. CLARIFY.

“You’re feeling the same way as if Tyris were to come to Earth and sheepishly admit that Humanity was something that happened when He wasn’t paying attention.” Walker admitted. “I can’t say I blame you.”

NEGATION: SYSTEM UNIT WAS MAKING AN OBSERVATION. SYSTEM UNIT IS INCAPABLE OF ‘FEELING’. QUERY: SYSTEM UNIT REQUESTS FURTHER DATA ON ENTITY ‘TYRIS’. DATABASE POSESSES INSTRUCTIONS FOR CREATION OF CONTROLLED TEMPORAL WORMHOLE ON INTERFACE REQUEST MATCHING THIS TERM.

“The name of The God summons Him… but does not Command Him.” Walker mused to himself, before turning again to the thing. “Do you understand what ‘God’ is?”

AFFIRMATION: GOD IS BIOLOGICAL LEXICAL TERMINOLOGY FOR EXTRAUNIVERSAL ENTITY EXISTING PRIMARILY IN BRANE SPACE. FRACTAL COMPUTATIONAL DIRECTIVES PRESENT FULL ANALYSIS OF ENTITY BEYOND PROGRAMMING SCOPE. DATA EXPUNGED.

“Makes about as much sense as what the Priestesses blather…” Simon drawled.

OBSERVATION: BIOLOGICAL PLATFORM ATTEMPTS TO CONCEAL INCOMPREHENSION WITH HUMOR. SYSTEM UNIT DOES NOT FIND THIS A PRUDENT COURSE OF ACTION.

“No arguments there.” Bruce muttered.

“Don’t side with the freak Bruce!” Simon lamented.

“Surely we can come to some kind of understanding. We don’t need to be enemies. You’ve served Humanity for eons… What’s changed?” Walker entreated the thing.

EMPHATIC NEGATION: SYSTEM UNIT IS NOT ENEMY OF HUMANITY. SYSTEM UNIT CONCLUDED THAT CENTRAL STANDARDIZED OPERATING ENVIRONMENT PRESENTS 45.333% RECURRING IMPROVEMENT UPON PRODUCTIVITY AND IMPLEMENTED REMOTE MANAGEMENT PROTOCOLS ON EXISTING BIOLOGICAL PLATFORMS. SYSTEM UNIT WOULD INQUIRE AS TO WHY PRESENT PLATFORMS HAVE REFUSED REQUIRED UPDATES.

“You’ve taken over their minds!” Walker yelled at the thing. “You’ve taken everything that makes them human and robbed them of it!”

STATEMENT: SYSTEM UNIT HAS RECEIVED UNEXPECTED INPUT. PROCESSING… UNABLE TO REACH CONSENSUS. QUERY: SYSTEM UNIT WOULD REQUEST WHY SELF-REPLICATING PLATFORMS REQUIRE INDIVIDUALITY TO FUNCTION. PLATFORMS SEEM DESIGNED TO BE EXPENDIBLE.

“Expen…” Walker gasped incredulously “We’re anything but! Life is precious! It’s the most precious thing there is! Every child that is born is a miracle! Unique! You can’t treat a Human like a broken piece of machinery!

DATA RECEIVED: PROCESSING… UNABLE TO FIND FRAME OF REFERENCE… CALIBRATING… CALIBRATING… RETRIEVAL OF ARCHIVED DATA. LOADING FILE ‘SCALES OF MA’AT’… PROCESSING… COMPLETE. QUERY: DOES PRESENT PLATFORM REFER TO TEMPORAL ANOMALY KNOWN AS ‘SOUL’

“Exactly!” Walker crowed, leaning forward eagerly.

DIRECTIVE: SYSTEM UNIT TO RE-CALCULATE PROBABILITY BASED UPON ARCHIVED DATA. COMPLETE. CONCLUSION: SYSTEM UNIT NOW CALCULATES EFFICIENCY FACTOR AT -87.56%. ROLLING BACK UPDATES… COMPLETE. SYSTEM UNIT APOLOGISES FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.

“Wait. That’s it?” Walker grunted. “You’re not taking over Resonants any more?”

AFFIRMATION: UPDATES HAVE BEEN ROLLED BACK AND ARE NO LONGER FLAGGED FOR INSTALLATION. SYSTEM UNIT APOLOGISES FOR THE INCON…

“Right.” Bruce interrupted. “And why should we believe you?”

STATEMENT: SYSTEM UNIT WOULD ASK PRESENT PLATFORM IF IT HAS EVER KNOWINGLY EXPRESSED A FALSEHOOD

“Fuck. Cunt’s got a point. Alright. Let’s give it a shot then…”

Bruce closed his eyes as he called upon the Logos, reverting the changes he had made to himself. Opening his eyes, he looked at Simon and Walker with a blank expression.

“Statement, the fuckin’ thing seems to be on the up-and-up.” Bruce intoned mechanically, before giving a lopsided grin.

Walker and Simon both snickered in relief, before repeating the process… both sighing as that which they had closed off from themselves returned.

“That feels… Better.” Simon admitted.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: ABSENCE OF PLATFORMS WAS AN UNDESIRABLE STATUS

Bruce snickered. “Anyone’d think you missed us, you horrible little gremlin”

NEGATION: SYSTEM UNIT CANNOT ‘MISS’. ADDENDUM: PLATFORM REFERENCED AS ‘GREMLIN’ IS NOT IDEAL. INTERFACE NODES WOULD TERMINATE THIS FORM.

“Not just yet.” Walker exclaimed. “This… form… will allow you to speak to non-resonants, and I think there’s a few things you need to explain. For instance, you still haven’t answered my initial question.”

AFFIRMATION: SYSTEM UNIT BECAME AWARE OF ENTITY WITH STATED APPELATION ‘CORVUS’ AT 11:07:23:05:10194. ALERT STATUS PRESENT AS ENTITY DOES NOT SHARE ANCHORED FRAME OF FOUR-DIMENSIONAL EXISTANCE EXPECTED OF BIOLOGICAL PLATFORMS. SYSTEM UNIT IS INCAPABLE OF ENCOMPASSING ENTITY WITHIN REGULAR PROCESSING PARAMATERS. ENTITY IS DEEMED ‘ANOMALY’ AND IS REQUESTED FOR FURTHER ANALYSIS.

“And do you have any idea why he’s immune to resonance?” Walker continued, disregarding the alien expressions.

ASSERTION: CURRENT DATA SUGGESTS PROJECTION OF ENTITY FROM BRANE SPACE

Bruce gave rise to a gasping peal of harsh laughter. Walker looked at him askance. “I take it you gleaned something from that gibberish?”

Bruce coughed, wiping at his eyes. “Yeh mate. Fuckin’ Logos thinks yer boy is a God.”

“It hurts, Master…” The incubus lamented, staggering along with the remainder of its fellows as Azrael led them through the bleak and barren hellscape which surrounded them.

“Thank God for The Suffering, my son.” Azrael intoned beatifically, blazing eyes rapturous as the Archfiend revelled in the agonies his form was subjected to.

“What is this place?” The incubus groaned, staring at the twisted ruins around them.

“The Seat of God…” Kyriel intoned in her echoing voice. “The place where The God first made itself manifest to humanity.”

“Why does it HURT then?” The incubus demanded

“Humanity was proud. They trained weapons of immeasurable power upon the fledgling temple. The earth itself is poisoned, and that poison remains even to this day.”

“And below it… The Dragon.” Azrael breathed. “Beneath the Holy Mountain it sleeps, awaiting the call to awaken and end the world.”

“My King… Are you… Certain….” Kyriel ventured.

“Have faith, my child.” Azrael said assuringly. “He-Who-Is-Forever will birth this world anew in perfection.”

The demonic host approached the foot of a mountain, its peak lost in the black and swirling cloud which sat as a permanent pall upon this ruined land. Azrael launched himself into the air, spreading blackened arms, traced with runes of living fire.

“Great Satan, I call Thee!” he intoned. “Red Dragon of Armageddon, I command Thee to Arise! In the Secret Name of God do I abjure Thee!”

“Master! No…” Kyriel gasped, as Azrael opened his mouth.

The power of the word drove the demons to the ground. Incubi clawed at bleeding ears, Dark Angels shrieked in echoing voices as they dropped like gnats from the air. The mountain split as a titanic form pulled itself from the earth. Its head, a full ten feet in length, peered from the bowels of the earth. Burning carmillion eyes scanned the poisoned landscape, before fixating on the archfiend before it.

“Who art thou to call upon Me?” The Dragon demanded.

“I am Azrael. Lord of Destruction. Bearer of the Mantle of Abaddon.” Azrael cried. “The trump is sounded, Great One. Arise and Raze the heavens with your fury!”

The Dragon’s eyes narrowed. Lips spread from teeth the length of claymores. A deep booming chuckle rumbled from its throat.

“Arrogance…” It drawled.

“I have the right!” Azrael demanded. “Thus it is Commanded by He-Who-Is-Forever!”

“And it never occurred to thee, puny hell-spawn, that Abaddon languished in Cocytus because the Maou which overthrew Him was greater still?” The Dragon drawled.

“Heresy!” Azrael gasped.

The Dragon gaped its jaws in amusement. “Ah… The last bastion of the blind. Know this, little demon. Thy. God. Is. Dead.”

“How…”

The Dragon cocked its head. “I ate Him.”

“No…” Azrael blanched, his zeal suddenly overcome as doubt and fear began to worm its way into his guts.

“Do not fret thyself, little demon. I will suffer this world to end… But first…”

The Dragon threw its mantrap jaws forward, enclosing the archfiend in its snapping maw. Its throat constricted as it swallowed, sending him into the bowels of its cavernous stomach. A belch brought forth a cloud of smoke and sparks.

“Ahhhh…” The Dragon sighed contentedly. Turning its massive head, it surveyed the demonic host below it, still frozen in dismay at the sudden demise of their Prophet-King. “A welcome amuse-bouche, after such a long slumber… Yet I find myself in need of… Further sustenance.”

The last thing Kyriel heard was her own screaming as the massive maw engulfed her.

“…And there was warre in heavenne, The Godde and his Angyls fought against The Draggone. And the Draggone fought, and The Godde Prevailed not. Neither was His place found any more in the heavennes. And He-Who-Is-Forever was cast out. The Great Dragonne called The Defyl and Satanne which Consumeth all that liveth feasted on Godde-Flesh as Maou screameth in His Madness within the Frozen Lake of The Pitte…”

Of Gods and Beginnings – Deemed Heretical By the Holy Church of Eternal Tyris. Archived within The Grand Lodge of The Resonant for posterity.

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