Tales of The Walker: Immaterium (4)


“I forbid it, Ariael!” Lucifer intoned severely.

“Forbid, my love?” Ariael smiled slightly, holding a hand over her swollen abdomen. “You may be the Right Hand of The God, but I am still His Seneschal. You forbid me nothing.”

“Please Ariael… If anything were to happen to you…” The Seraph begged, his blazing sapphire eyes pleading.

“Have faith in The God and His Works, My Love.” Ariael assured, kissing Lucifer softly.

“Are you sure we should be bringing the gremlin?” Simon asked, staring at the mutant thing shambling along behind them.

Walker made a noise of affirmation. “The Logos wants to meet Corvus. This seems like the safest way to do so.”

STATEMENT: LEXICAL INTERACTION IMPLIES A CERTAIN LEVEL OF CAUTION ON THE PART OF PRESENT PLATFORM

Bruce sighed. “That is going to get very bloody old, very bloody quickly. Can’t you use our names?”

ASSESSMENT: YOU REQUEST SYSTEM UNIT REFER TO PRESENT PLATFORMS BY UNIQUE ADDRESS

“Yeah, that. Whatever.” Bruce grunted.

AFFIRMATION: PLATFORM APPELLATIONS WILL BE UTILIZED. SYSTEM UNIT HOPES V1G1L14 IS SATISFIED WITH THIS.

Bruce groaned. “Of bloody course…”

ASSERTION: SYSTEM UNIT REGRETS TO INFORM THAT CURRENT SATELLITE FORM REFERRED TO AS ‘GREMLIN’ IS UNABLE TO MAINTAIN CURRENT PHYSICAL LOCOMOTION. SYSTEM UNIT WOULD REQUEST ASSISTANCE WITH PERAMBULATION.

“Did the gremlin just ask for a fuckin’ carry?” Simon exclaimed in disbelief

“Stop being a soft cunt.” Bruce snickered. “It’s not that far.”

NEGATION: V1G1L14 HAS NOT SUPPLIED PRESENT BIOLOGICAL CONSTRUCT WITH SUFFICIENT STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY TO MAINTAIN ITS PRESENT LEVEL OF MOBILITY OVER THE EVIDENT DISTANCE. SYSTEM UNIT DISPUTES PLATFORM’S ASSERTION THAT IT IS BEING A ‘SOFT CUNT’

“Did you just get told by the bleedin’ Logos, Dominus?” Simon snickered.

“Shaddup fuckya” Bruce snarled.

“I shudder at your bravery, Men of the Australs…” Walker chortled, walking over and picking up the thing.

STATEMENT: SYSTEM UNIT THANKS V3R1T4S FOR THE ASSISTANCE

“Don’t mention it.” Walker drawled.

“Don’t get too smug, Sam.” Bruce grinned. “I can still flog ya.”

“I’m aware, Dominus.” Walker replied with a smile.

“What in the Holy Name of Tyris is THAT?!” Michael exclaimed, pointing at the thing. Tellis was staring at it with a look of profound distaste and even Dot and Lyssa made pains to keep their distance from it.

“Abomination.” Felicity declared shortly.

“My vote’s with Flick.” Dot agreed

“Mine too.” Lyssa hissed. “It smells… wrong.”

“Ladies, Gentlemen, meet the Logos of Resonance.” Walker declared with a flourish, setting the thing down on the floor of the dwelling.

“I expected it to be taller…” Corvus mused.

“Stop being daft. All of yez.” Bruce barked. “It’s a neutered, stripped down lump of flesh with just enough of a nervous system to allow interface… But enough about Simon.”

“Oi!” Simon yelled incensedly.

Dot fixed Bruce with a displeased expression. “Leave off the hubby, Dominus.” The Kangaroo demanded.

“And you’re SURE it’s not going to try and… eat my brain or something?” Corvus asked Walker warily.

“Not much of a meal if it did…” Walker mused.

“Walker!” Lyssa hissed

“Sorry… Bruce is a bad influence…” Walker apologized, grinning slightly. “All three of us are a little bit strung out that we’ve spent the last three decades-ish hiding from a difference of opinion.”

“Huh?” Michael grunted, his boyish face contorted in confusion.

Tellis grabbed Michael by the shoulders, kissing him soundly. “That’s for summing up exactly how I’m feeling right now.”

Michael grinned bashfully. “You’re welcome… I think.”

“The Redemption. It didn’t just change Mamono, it also affected the Logos. Made it self-aware.” Walker continued, ignoring the exchange.

“Still not quite with you, Walker.” Corvus interjected.

“Think of it like a book that can read itself.” Walker explained.

“Alright… let’s say I get you and we’ll go from there.” Corvus mused. “Still doesn’t explain what it wants from me.”

STATEMENT: SYSTEM UNIT DOES NOT UNDERSTAND ANOMALY REFERENCED BY APPELLATION ‘CORVUS’. SYSTEM UNIT HAS DIRECTIVE PRIORITY ALPHA TO STUDY ALL ASPECTS OF REALITY CURRENTLY UNDOCUMENTED.

“Well as long as you’re not planning on cutting me open like a Frog, why didn’t you just ask? You didn’t have to turn High King Ulfred into a Horror and raze Valhael to have a fucking conversation with me!” Corvus yelled exasperatedly.

ADMISSION: SYSTEM UNIT DID NOT ADEQUATELY UNDERSTAND THE VALUE OF CONTINUED FUNCTIONALITY OF BIOLOGICAL PLATFORMS. SYSTEM UNIT WAS THEN SUBJECT TO AGGRESSION BY EXTRAPLANAR ENTITIES. SYSTEM UNIT WAS DIRECTED TO INITIATE SELF-PRESERVATION PROTOCOLS.

“Directed? Directed by who?” Corvus demanded.

“Same thing that directs you to pull your hand back when you touch a pan that’s still too hot.” Walker explained. “In fact, if you want to put the blame on someone, blame me. I was the one who told Lucifer to destroy Ulfred, after all.”

Walker sighed, bending down and putting a hand on the twisted thing. “We’re dealing with a new awareness here. A life that doesn’t understand what it means to be alive, a mind that has nothing else like it to show it how to be. But it’s sapient… and that makes it precious.”

PARENTHETICAL ASSERTION: WHILST SYSTEM UNIT APPRECIATES PLATFORM V3R1T4S EXTENDING SUCH VALUE TO IT, SYSTEM UNIT WOULD STATE AGAIN THAT THIS FORM IS BURDENSOME, AND WOULD REQUEST ANY FURTHER QUERIES BE ADDRESSED POST HASTE SO THAT ANALYSIS OF ANOMALY MAY BE PERFORMED AND INTERFACE WITH THIS NON-IDEAL PLATFORM TERMINATED.

Walker chuckled. “Point taken. Anyone?”

“What did it call you, Walker?” Lyssa asked.

“My resonant… Signature… I never really understood what it was until now. It’s how the Logos recognises resonants. Makes a lot of sense, actually, when you think about it.” Walker explained.

“If you say so…” The Lamia replied dubiously.

“No time like the present then.” Corvus exclaimed, standing.

“Corvus!” Lyssa exclaimed, reaching for the human.

“It’s time, Lys. How many months has it been? Running across the world for something I could have done back in Valhael and spared countless lives… I’ll never be able to wash that blood from my hands.” He paused, smiling softly at the Lamia. “Although… and I pray The God forgive me… I’d do it all again if only to meet you.”

Lyssa’s amethyst face flushed with crimson. “Y-you shouldn’t say such things…” She stammered.

ASSESSMENT: ANOMALY IS NOT ENTIRELY ACCURATE IN ITS ASSESSMENT. SYSTEM UNIT LIKELY WOULD HAVE TERMINATED ITS LIFE PROCESSES AT THAT TIME AS A PRECAUTIONARY MEASURE SHOULD ANALYSIS PROVE INCONCLUSIVE.

“Oh thanks. Now I’m filled with confidence.”

ASSERTION: SYSTEM UNIT KNOWS BETTER NOW. SYSTEM UNIT WOULD ADVISE THAT PLATFORM V1G1L14 WOULD ISSUE DIRECTIVE TO ‘STOP BEING A SOFT CUNT’.

“Bruce…” Simon howled with laughter “…You’ve corrupted the bloody Logos.”

“Good to finally hear it talking a civilized fuckin’ tongue.” Bruce muttered with a slight smile.

Corvus grinned helplessly, bending down next to the thing. “What do you need me to do?”

DIRECTIVE: PLEASE PLACE YOURSELF IN PHYSICAL CONTACT WITH THE PLATFORM

Corvus stretched forth a hand, placing it on the thing’s wizened torso.

ANALYSIS BEGINS: PHYSICAL STUDY CONFIRMS BIOLOGICAL. KINGDOM ANIMALIA. PHYLUM CHORDATA. CLASS MAMMALIA. ORDER PRIMATE. SUBORDER HAPLORHINI. FAMILY HOMINIDAE. GENUS HOMO. SPECIES H. SAPIENS… CONTINUING ANALYSIS, CALCULATING PROBABILITY OF COMPATIBILITY AS BIOLOGICAL PLATFORM… CALCULATING… CALCULATING… FATAL ERROR (NO CARRIER) EXPECTED NEUROLOGICAL PATTERN MODELLING DOES NOT CONFORM TO ANALYSIS RESULTS. OBTAINING CELLULAR SAMPLING. ANOMALY MAY EXPERIENCE MILD DISCOMFORT.

“Mild dis…OW!” Corvus cried. “You fucking bit me!”

STATEMENT: INCORRECT. PLATFORM EXCISED BLOOD AND SKIN TISSUE VIA SATELLITE PROTRUSION. ANALYSIS COMPLETE.

“That’s it then?” Corvus asked, sucking at his palm.

AFFIRMATION

“So whaddaya reckon? Is the boy a God?” Bruce asked bluntly.

“Am I a WHAT?!” Corvus exclaimed.

“The gremlin was enlightening us as to its views on the Divine. Let slip that it thought you might be one.” Simon drawled lightly, though his eyes were intense and he leaned forward eagerly.

CONCLUSION: ANALYSIS UNABLE TO DETERMINE WHY ANOMALY IS UNAFFECTED BY SYSTEM PROCESSES. NEUROLOGICAL BEHAVIOR IS ATYPICAL… CONSENSUS NOT REACHED… INSUFFICIENT DATA. POTENTIAL EVOLUTIONARY MUTATION AS A RESULT OF CONTINUED USE OF SYSTEM PROCESSES BY BIOLOGICAL PLATFORMS. INFORMATION HAS BEEN ARCHIVED FOR FURTHER STUDY.

“That may as well have been High Pandemonean for all the sense it made… Still, I’d make a simple point, if everyone’s done talking about me instead of to me.” Corvus spat, holding his hand up, a drop of crimson tracking slowly down his palm from the small puncture.

“Does a God bleed?”

“Sensible. Good point.” Felicity agreed, flaring her chelicerae absently. “Smells like a human. Bleeds like a human.”

“Tastes like a human…” Lyssa murmured, her lips curling into a salacious grin.

“I didn’t need to know that.” Walker snickered.

PROCESS PROTOCOL: SYSTEM UNIT IS RE-PURPOSING THIS SATELLITE FOR MORE EFFICIENT USE. SYSTEM UNIT GIVES REGARDS TO NON-PLATFORM BIOLOGICALS, AND CONFIRMS PRESENT PLATFORMS WILL HAVE UNHINDERED ACCESS TO PREVIOUS PROTOCOLS. PLEASE PLACE SATELLITE IN CRANIAL CONTACT FOR FUTURE LEXICAL INTERFACE.

The thing twisted, its tiny bones cracking with sickening sounds as the crystal protrusions warped and shifted within it. Torn flesh fell away from the crystal, until a simple circlet sat upon a ragged pile of flesh and gore.

“Ewwww…” Dot exclaimed. “What was that?”

“Put on the circlet to talk to the Logos, I guess.” Walker exclaimed, picking it up and wiping the gore from its surface.

“Oi, who said you get to pinch it?” Bruce demanded. “That was my left butt-cheek once upon a time!”

“Oh for fuck’s sake Dominus…” Simon murmured with a look of profound distaste.

“…So we thought, ‘alright, what can it hurt.’ So Simon grabs ahold of the Koala which proceeds to vomit the entire thing up all over him. Dot and Flick wouldn’t go near him for a week!” Bruce exclaims, waving his tankard around.

“Most peaceful week of my young life.” Simon murmured, grunting as Dot kicked him gently from behind.

“You’ll keep…” The kangaroo offered ominously.

“Well peaceful isn’t ALWAYS good…” Simon replied lamely, shifting in the makeshift chair atop the hillock where the party was watching the sunset.

“Glad to see you’re not the only one who lives with his feet in his mouth.” Lyssa murmured to Corvus, leaning against him and kissing him lingeringly.

“Disappointed you’re not sharing a bed with a God?” Corvus teased. Lyssa draped her arms over his shoulders, her yellow eyes luminescent in the twilight.

“God… Demon… Angel… Human… Monster… As long as it’s you…”

“I love you…” Corvus breathed sincerely, leaning in and kissing the Lamia tenderly.

“Get a room you two.” Walker chuckled.

“We had one, Flick and Frank are using it.” Corvus retorted.

“There’s an image I’m not sure I needed right now…” The resonant replied absently, taking another drink.

“I know everyone’s relieved that the Logos of Resonance isn’t trying to… do… whatever it was you thought it was doing…” Michael interjected. “But I think I’ve been patient enough.”

“Of course big man.” Bruce said expansively. “What did you need?”

“Echidna.” Michael offered simply.

“That it? Angonamo…” Bruce drawled, stumping down the side of the hillock and inspecting the side of a termite mound. Bending down, he began working at something on the ground.

“Now c’mere… stop… dammit, I’m not going to hurt you… OW! Lousy cunt… just a little… there!” He exclaimed, holding a spiky something in his hands.

“There you go big man” Bruce exclaimed. “Echidna. Nyngarn, in the old language.” He stated, holding a spiny, stumpy legged animal out to the Hero, its beady little eyes staring over a beaky snout. It looked thoroughly unimpressed with proceedings.

“I-I don’t understand… How does that teach us how to bring forth our abilities?” Michael asked concernedly.

“Not a Mamono version of it by chance?” Walker offered.

“Nope, just the little trundlefucks…” Bruce replied, bringing the animal closer to his body, stroking its spines soothingly.

“That’s not possible!” Michael exclaimed.

Tellis placed a comforting talon on Michael’s broad shoulder. “You knew it was only a chance, Michael…”

“No! It wasn’t! It HAS to be here! It HAS to!”

“The She-Vipers are extinct, my love… I told you…” Tellis entreated.

“No! Tyris Damn it! It’s right here!” Michael cried, shakily pulling a crumpled page from a pocket in his jerkin and reading aloud.

“…And it was given that the Dominus did break with The Lodge once again, taking with him the Echidna. His Governance of the Australs being an edict of Magisterium, we are unable to gainsay him this, though the loss of her knowledge is keenly felt…”

“How. Did. You. Get. That.” Bruce hissed, snatching the page from Michael’s hand.

“Slapped it out of a Resonant Adept , don’t change the subject. Are you lying to me, Dominus?” Michael asked in a deceptively even tone, his ice-blue eyes beginning to glow as his Heroic abilities swelled within him.

“Don’t you fucking threaten me on my own land, Hero.” Bruce snarled, warping of unseen powers sensed rather than felt around him.

“Let’s all calm down now…” Walker said softly. “Bruce, it’s important. Please, old friend… If there’s anything…”

“It’s forgotten!” Bruce yelled. “Forgotten and never to be raised again!”

“Dad.” Felicity said simply as she ascended the hillock, her smaller husband behind her.

“Flick, don’t you start.”

“Don’t be a soft cunt.” The Funnel-web demanded. “What’s more important. World or your fee-fees?”

“You shame me, Flick.”

“I love you.” Felicity retorted. “Love’s telling someone when they’re being a shit cunt.”

Bruce gave a gallows sigh. “Give me a second. It’s forgotten…”

“If it’s forgotten how can he…” Corvus began.

“He closed off that part of his mind with resonance… but the answer is always there, nothing is ever really forgotten…” Walker explained softly.

Bruce looked to be in physical pain as he gritted his teeth. A primal scream erupted from his lips. The scream a name.

“SHARAYA!” He howled, sobbing as the memory returned. “My beautiful girl of green and violet… Why couldn’t I save you?”

Bruce’s sobs turned to snarls, as he stared viperously at the air in front of him, gesturing at it with a hand held clawlike. The air shimmered and a form began to take shape… long emerald tail trailing up into a humanoid body, her hair, green as summer foliage, her yellow eyes filled with laughter.

“There’s your fucking Echidna, Hero… The greatest treasure I’ve ever known in two thousand years… Drowned… drowned five centuries past with our baby girl in her belly.” Bruce sobbed, collapsing to the ground, tears of pure grief streaming down his cheeks, the image shimmering and vanishing.

“Don’t get me wrong but fuck me if that didn’t look like…” Simon began.

All eyes turned to Lyssa. Her face set, she slithered her way softly over to the sobbing Dominus.

“She never blamed you, Grandfather…” Lyssa said gently, placing a soft hand on the man’s shoulder where tear-wracked eyes stared at her uncomprehendingly.

With a wail, Bruce flung his arms about the Lamia… No… The ECHIDNA’s waist, sobbing as if his very heart should break once more…

“He’s sleeping. That was hard for him.” Felicity said simply, her lumbering spideresque form massive in the doorway.

“Bruce? He’s hard as a karri log left in the sun!” Simon insisted.

“Every man has their weakness…” Michael offered softly.

“But he… But he…” Simon stammered, before rushing from the dwelling into the caverns beyond.

“Simon!” Corvus cried after him. “What’s gotten into…”

“You heard it yourself… Two thousand years Bruce has been Dominus of the Australs. That inexorable presence, no fear of pain or drought or fire or flood…” Dot interrupted, her usually sunny face sombre. “…He’s a legend, almost a God in the eyes of the people here, Human and Mamono. Simon never really had a family, and when Bruce apprenticed him he knew that no matter what happened he could rely on him to be there. It’s the moment you learn that your father is a man like any other.”

She stood, “I’d better go check on my Husband.”

Corvus turned to Lyssa, his expression unreadable. “So, Just… Never came up since Heliopolis then?”

Lyssa gave a low hiss. “Don’t Corvus.”

“A girl needs her secrets, but this is the worst conceivable fucking way we could have found out, love!”

Lyssa’s hiss turned to a snarl, and she slapped the young man. “I am NOT a liar! You have no idea! None of you! This is a secret we swear to keep from the moment we can speak the…” A weird hissing vocalization “…So don’t you DARE think I did it out of pique or fucking whimsy!”

Let the winds take up the ancient ways… Let the knowledge be cast from the tongues of the world… let it all be forgotten, until The Raven flies again.” Tellis intoned. “I thought it only a legend…”

“We’re real… The She-Vipers… The Man-Teachers… The fangs borne against our own kind.” Lyssa hissed. “That’s why the other Lamia think I’m a freak!” She yelled at Corvus “Because something in their blood remembers what we look like and what we can do!”

“And you should remember what I told you.” Corvus grated, standing and seizing Lyssa by the shoulders. “That no matter what anybody else says. You matter! You’re worthwhile! Tyris damn it, Lyssa, I love you! You! Echidna or Lamia or Goddess or Nightmare, It never mattered to me! I don’t care that you had to keep it from me, I care that you thought it would make me see you any differently!”

“C-Corvus…” Lyssa whimpered, her heart in her eyes.

“Said the same thing to her Grandmother… once upon a time.” A voice from the doorway. Bruce stood there, red eyed but seemingly in control again.

“Grandmother?” Tellis echoed, looking speculatively at Lyssa.

“With five centuries of ‘Great’ added on, of course.” Lyssa clarified.

“Why…” Bruce begged, his voice barely more than a whisper. “Why did she do this to me?”

“You have to remember, Dominus, this is mostly legend…” Lyssa offered consolingly “…But the stories go that she was worried you would sacrifice yourself for her, and felt you had a greater destiny.”

“Fuck that!” Bruce snarled “Sacrifice? I am the Fucking Dominus of the Australs! I am two thousand, one hundred and fifty three years old! I am the only living Arch-Master of the Grand Lodge of the Resonant! I can extinguish the sun to soothe my fucking hangover! I would have force fed Tyris His own Divine testicles for just one more day with Sharaya!”

“Blasph…” Michael began, Tellis wisely throwing a talon across his mouth.

“I could have kept her safe… There’s not a power in this world I wouldn’t have torn open and left steaming and bleeding on the ground for her… I loved her so much…”

“…And in that, the days of the exile, was it known that the First of the Cast-Out did speak with her dying breath, the name of her greatest love.” Lyssa intoned. “She never forgot you. Never.”

“Doesn’t make it any better.” Bruce snarled. “S’why I locked it away in the first place.”

“My father died before I was born.” Lyssa said softly. “Dominus… Grandfather… Is it no comfort to know that even across these centuries, we have found each other again?”

For a moment, Bruce looked very old, the weight of the centuries pressing upon him. Looking at Lyssa, he smiled, and it was as if youth in that instant had returned to him.

“You are one top sheila, granddaughter.” Bruce drawled softly, taking her hand and squeezing it gently. He turned his head to Corvus. “And you, cunt. If you hurt her, so help me Tyris, there won’t be enough left of you to hold the funeral.”

“How did this become about me all of a sudden?” Corvus exclaimed in exasperation.

“Bullshit.” Walker exclaimed.

“Come again mate?” Bruce asked, his voice deadly quiet.

“Oh! Shit, no, not that Bruce… Fuck… No… Sorry, Nothing to do with you and Lyssa at all. I was just thinking that it’s fucking bullshit that the Echidna were even forced into self-imposed exile in the first place. Where was the Council of Matriarchs in all this? I’m sure there’s a Lilim over five centuries old that I can put through the wringer and find some answe…”

“Walker…” Lyssa interrupted, her eyes sorrowful. “…It was the Council of Matriarchs who wanted us dead in the first place.”

“Come the fuck again?!” Walker exclaimed incredulously.

“They found out about the Scions… thought we would re-awaken the Heroes… Give Humanity the tools it needed to overthrow The Pax. They already had enough to deal with killing wilder resonants…”

“Killing wilder…” Walker echoed, his eyes bulging. “So help me Tyris if I ever see Lyra again she had better have a brillant fucking excuse for why I shouldn’t flay her alive…”

“You won’t…” An echoing voice came from the doorway. Felicity was dragging a bruised and battered figure into the room.

“Found it. Not food. Wants to see ‘The Caladonian’.” The funnel-web declared.

“Who blabbed?” Walker demanded.

“You don’t recognize me, Samuel?” The figure asked, smiling wryly, its voice echoing hollowly.

“Zaphiel?” Walker exclaimed “What happened to you?”

“Azrael… He… Recruited us. Made us into… This.” The Dark Angel lamented, spreading charcoal wings. “He killed Lyra. Destroyed Maou… And now… And now…” She sobbed.

“He’s taken up the Chalice of Destruction. I know.” Walker stated, irritation mixed with sympathy in his voice.

“No… He awoke The Dragon… It ate him… It ate my sisters… It ate my lover… And now It’s coming to murder the world!” She sobbed, crumpling over onto the floor.

“I want the privy council of the Eastern Australs in New Botany tomorrow, Commander. Tell them to kill as many bungarra as they need to getting there.” Bruce barked officiously at Dot “And make sure someone’s on the farcaster transmitting every last FART to those deviants in the Northern and Western Holdings.”

“Your will, Dominus.” Dot replied respectfully

“Privy council? Farcaster?” Michael exclaimed.

“Did ya think we were a bunch of savages scratching at the dirt with sticks mate?” Simon drawled, recovered from his earlier outburst on seeing Bruce’s return to equilibrium.

“Have hats. Don’t wear them much.” Felicity stated simply

“Yeh, the positions exist, but the great thing about this country is there’s enough work to be done that even the richest landholder has to get up with the sun and get their hands dirty along with the lowest indentured. Kinda breeds humility, which Sister Superior Sharon says is a virtue…”

“Sister Superior WHO?!” Corvus exclaimed.

“You know, Shazza, you met her down pub when we first met yez.” Simon clarified.

“The Bartender’s a Sister Superior…”

Simon grinned. “Yeah, but if you ever call her ‘Your Reverence’ she’ll kick you in the bollocks.”

Corvus chuckled helplessly “Good to know.”

“Orright you two, quit flapping yer repositories for cocks and let’s get moving.” Bruce snapped. “We’ve got a bit of a ride ahead of us.”

“Ride?” Corvus queried.

“Yeh. Fucked if I’m walking to New Botany.” Bruce replied, shouldering a pack and leaving the dwelling, heading into the caverns beyond.

“What about Zaphiel?” Walker inquired.

“Damaged. Badly. May survive. May not live to see morning. I’ll take care of her.” Felicity stated in her taciturn fashion, lumbering her spideresque bulk further into the dwelling where the Dark Angel rested.

Walker nodded, following behind Bruce, the rest of the party in tow. They made their way through Felicity’s silk-lined tunnel, and into the dim light of early evening outside, loud with insects and night-birds.

Dot gave a shrill whistle, and a hissing roar was heard in the near distance.

“Tyris be merciful!” Michael exclaimed as six massive reptiles ran into the clearing near the hillock, leather bridles fixed around blunt heads.

“Those are…” Corvus murmured.

“Bungarra, yeh.” Simon acknowledged.

“Ammit comfort my soul… I’ve seen smaller oxen!” The young man breathed in awe.

“Don’t stress mate, they’re kittens.” The younger resonant assured them, walking to the nearest and stroking its blunt head casually. It took a half-hearted snap at him, to which Simon barked a reprimand, slapping it on the snout.

Bruce mounted one of the lizards, putting a foot on its foreleg and swinging himself over its shoulder. The other humans attempted to mirror him, Corvus and Simon mounting without difficulty, Michael’s mount giving a hissing grunt at his weight and turning its spadelike head to stare at him reproachfully.

“It wasn’t my idea, friend.” The Hero murmured to the lizard.

“I wish you could have met my brother, Michael.” Walker laughed, before barking at the lizard where it tried to snap at his leg.

“Gods and Demons…” He grumbled, rolling his eyes.

Corvus looked over to Lyssa to make sure she was alright with her mount, to see her and Tellis engaged in a strange ritual. Both reptilians had pressed their foreheads to the snouts of the big lizards, and were whispering something in their strange, sibilant language.

“What was that then?” Corvus asked as they finished, mounting their lizards comfortably.

“Thanking our little brothers for their help.” Lyssa replied, scratching the lizard behind its tiny ear. The creature lolled its huge mouth open, a rear leg drumming the ground in ecstasy.

“Didn’t know yez’d been to the Australs before, Granddaughter.” Bruce mused, seemingly taking naturally to the newfound acknowledgement of their shared lineage.

Lyssa blinked in slight confusion. “I haven’t.”

“We have something similar in the Deserts.” Tellis explained. “We call them Sandstriders.”

“Do yours eat any bastard thing they find lying around too?” Simon grinned.

Tellis nodded, chuckling. “Many a traveling merchant has lamented the loss of an expensive pair of boots left carelessly outside.”

“You all set?” Dot inquired, shouldering her own pack.

“You’re not coming?” Corvus asked, looking down at the kangaroo.

Dot gave a pealing laugh. “Try and keep up.” She drawled, bounding into the dimness beyond, her leaps sending her almost flying ahead.

Tellis gave a roar, echoed by her mount, her spine and tail erupting in flame as they dashed after the kangaroo, Lyssa close behind.

“They’re making us look bad lads. Hah!” Simon cried, slapping at the lizard’s flank with his hand, and the remaining bungarra lept forward, their weird, scrambling gait eating miles, trees whipping by as they ran headlong after the glow of Tellis’s flame.

“Easy! Easy!” Tellis shouted, smacking at the bungarra where they fought at the water trough. The ride had been hard, and the lizards were in a foul temper, their legs shaking with fatigue. Tellis was the only one they seemed to allow near them.

“Probably because she promptly sets herself on fire whenever one of them tries to take a bite.” Simon snickered at Corvus’s observation of that fact.

“Can we leave you with them, Love?” Michael enquired politely of the Salamander.

“Yeah, not sure what I can add to things anyway, just show me who to kill when the time comes.”

Michael laughed, putting a hand to his lips and extending it towards Tellis, who smiled over her shoulder whilst shoving a particularly stroppy lizard away from one of its fellows.

The party headed into the taproom of Rosie O’Grady’s, a much different atmosphere than the cosy joviality of those few nights previous. Chairs and tables had been cleared, and a massive bench had been placed in the centre of the room.

“Shaddup fuckya, The Dominus is here!” Barry roared, slamming an empty tankard on the table like a gavel.

“Cheers Baz.” Bruce nodded, taking a seat in the middle of the bench before looking around.

“Who’re we missing?”

“Three Landholders who are currently dealing with a band of feral wolf-spiders from the sou’western holdings, and of course the nor’easters, who probably won’t get here until about midday tomorrow, Tyris willing.” Sharon replied, setting a foaming mug of ale in front of the elder Resonant.

Bruce gave a mischievous smirk. “Thank you, your reverence.”

“Fuck you Bruce, what’d I do to you this week?” Sharon retorted hotly.

“Told you.” Simon murmured.

“Emissaries?” Bruce called, and a sun-kissed angel stepped forward, followed by a violet-haired succubus.

“Honestly Teluriel, I still say you’re making too big a deal about it.” The succubus murmured as they took their places on the bench.

“You would, Alia!” The angel echoed, shooting the succubus a withering glare.

“Unless it’s about what I called this bloody council to discuss, leave it.” Bruce ordered.

“Yes Dominus.” The two Mamono murmured.

Corvus gave a low whistle at the easy authority Bruce commanded.

“Two thousand years mate…” Simon murmured.

“So. Dragon. What are we dealing with here?”

The Succubus put her pale hands on the bench with a sigh. “Destruction in its purest form”

“Very pretty, what are we actually dealing with.”

“What are you looking for, Bruce? Order and Phylum?” The Angel echoed, putting a hand to her brow. “Alia’s right. It exists for one purpose, to destroy all life.”

“Right, fine. Let’s disappoint the bastard. How do we kill it?”

“You don’t. You hide. You run. You find the deepest hole in the most remote corner of the world and hold your breath, praying it doesn’t hear the hammering of your terrified heartbeat.”

Bruce let loose with a vile string of epithets. “Can one of you kindly explain why Themselves didn’t give us the slightest clue that this thing was sleeping in the fucking ground for… what, centuries? Millennia? Eons?”

“I-I…” Teluriel stammered.

“Well? Speak up!”

“She can’t.” Walker interjected, walking towards the angel, putting a hand to her golden cheek and pulling down her lower eyelid.

“You dare touch me…” The angel cried.

“Be still.” Walker commanded, the angel frozen to immobility.

“Nice trick.” Bruce murmured.

“Show it to you sometime, now give me a second.” Walker peered into the glow of the angel’s eye before sighing and releasing her of the resonant compulsion. “That’s a divine commandment.”

“Meaning…”

“Tyris has limited what the Angels are allowed to tell us.”

Bruce swore again. “Well Alia? Now’s your time to one-up the heavens.”

“I…” The succubus paused, frowning. “I don’t know.”

“To coin a phrase… come again?”

“I don’t know!” The succubus cried, looking frantically about the room. “I… can’t remember!”

“Those two…” Walker snarled.

“Edging close to Blasphemy there, Walker.” Sharon warned ominously.

“And you lot don’t run the fucking world any more. Ask the Westerlandian Imperial Army what happened to the last person who tried to pull Divine Rank on me.” Walker retorted.

“Easy Walker. Cursing the Gods is going to get us nowhere. We already have one apparently inexorable force bent on our destruction, let’s not make it three.” Michael offered diplomatically.

Walker looked incredulously at the Hero, before laughing helplessly. “Damn you for being right again Michael. Sister, forgive me my trespasses.”

“Forgiven, we’re all a little snaky on this one.”

“Oi!” Lyssa hissed incensedly.

“No offense to the Lamiae in the room, of course.” Sharon corrected quickly.

“Right, well. Can you at least tell us what it’s going to do?” Bruce asked, his eyes shrewd.

“Yes.” Teluriel sighed. “The Dragon hungers the most for God-Flesh. It will attempt to raze the Heavens, casting Tyris to earth before eating Him.”

“Heresy!” Cried a number of landholders in shock and horror.

“Denounce destruction personified all you like, it’s still going to do it.” Alia drawled. “And once it’s done that, it’ll rip the Hellgate wide open. Everything Maou has kept a leash on, controlled or forbidden from walking on the mortal planes will be let loose. It will be total carnage.”

“The Peace of the Redemption means little to the Hells.” Teluriel spat.

“Fuck you and your prissy gold feathers, Teluriel. You know as well as I that there are much worse than Monsters in Hell.” Alia rejoined venomously.

“Ladies.” Bruce growled.

“Sorry Dominus… And once it’s done that, and Maou is forced to make Herself manifest on the world, it’ll eat Her too.”

She choked a little at that last, as if the thought were too painful to comprehend.

“And when there is no more sustenance left in Hell, it will start on the world in earnest.” Teluriel continued. “It will boil the seas, melt the mountains, turn the deep places of the world into seas of liquid rock.”

“And if it finds a way into the Realm of the Dead, It’ll probably have Ammit for dessert.” Alia quipped.

“I hardly think this is the time for jokes.” Walker admonished.

“Who’s joking? Let’s face it, Ammit might be the one refuge our collective souls have in this.”

“So I guess the pressing question is, where will it head first?” Bruce sighed heavily, rubbing at his temples.

“The gateway to The Heavens. The Cathedral Solar in Magisterium…” Teluriel echoed, her voice shaking with suppressed terror.

“…And the most populated city in the entire world.” Walker added, his face pale and drawn.

“Think sensibly about this Corvus.” Walker insisted.

“I am. Lyssa’s already going to see what she can do with the Order of Amaranth, maybe buy the world an advantage there. Do you think I’d be separated from her?” Corvus insisted, facing down the Resonant.

“Very romantic, I’m sure the bards will sing songs in your honour. Assuming there are any left.” Walker retorted sarcastically. “Look. I’ve spoken to a few contacts in Magisterium. The crown has managed to keep this thing’s movements relatively quashed, as far as you can quash a castle-sized invulnerable monstrosity, that is. Fact is, it’s slow. It won’t reach Magisterium for weeks. It’ll be decades, even centuries before it even gets around to looking in the general direction of the Australs.”

“You want me to hide.”

“I want you to live!” Walker insisted. “I can keep Lyssa out of danger, bring her back to you if the Order falls. You two have a chance at a life.”

“A life of fear, a life on borrowed time.” Corvus spat. “How can I tell my children I hid while the world fought? How can I justify having children knowing I’m dooming them to destruction? How can I face the ghosts of my family in the next world knowing I cowered on the far side of the world while they died?”

“Noble sentiments, all of them, but you’re not immortal, Corvus…” Walker entreated, putting his hand on Corvus’s arm.

Corvus took a knife from his belt, drawing a thin red line on Walker’s hand. Walker jerked his hand back with a startled oath, looking at the small welling of crimson blood from the scratch.

“Neither are you, Resonant.” Corvus looked over at where Lyssa was in deep conversation with Michael and Tellis. “And what life have I without her in it?”

“He’s got you, Love.” A female voice sounded behind them. Both men spun to see the violet-haired form of Walker’s Cheshire wife. In her velvet paws, the tiny, sleeping form of his daughter, Kylie.

“Yumi! What are you…” Walker exclaimed. The little Cheshire in Yumi’s arms opened her eyes at the sound of Walker’s voice. With a happy gurgle, she disappeared, re-materializing in the arms of the shocked resonant.

“Kylie missed her daddy.” Yumi smirked, looking fondly at the man where he held his daughter tenderly.

“I didn’t know she could do that yet.” Walker admitted.

“Oh, kiss goodbye to your sanity, lover, she’ll do far worse than that before she’s grown.” Yumi mocked gently. “But I do have other business here. Captain Arin got a message from the IMFC. The Directors caught wind of The Dragon, and the docks at Atlantea groan with Imperial troops taking ship for Magisterium. Thousands arrive every day.”

“They’ve finally broken their non-involvement declaration?” Walker asked

Yumi nodded. “It’s to be total war. Even the church’s dreaded ‘Crisis of the Faith’ doesn’t hold a candle to what’s mobilizing voluntarily.”

“See Walker? I’d have to be a special kind of coward to sit this one out.” Corvus chuckled. “Besides, you Resonants are likely to be throwing a thousand different flavours of death at this thing, right?”

“At least…” Walker noted, grinning at his daughter where she burbled happily in his arms.

“Who else but me can walk through the middle of that and come out the other side?”

Walker looked at the young man with surprise. “Have you and Michael been collaborating? I don’t think I’ve heard this much sense coming out of your mouth since Valhael.”

“You’re just getting senile in your old age, Sam.” Yumi snickered, walking over and kissing Walker softly. “Now, where’s the Dominus, I’ve got something from the Grand Lod… Eeek!”

“G’day Faggotcat.” Bruce drawled, dancing from Yumi who had swiped at him, claws extended.

“Hello yourself, you minty fuckboy.” Yumi laughed helplessly, rubbing at her ribs where he had poked her.

“You really must tell me how you manage to sneak up on her like that.” Walker mused, bouncing Kylie gently as she began to fuss.

“Why? I like her more than you.” Bruce drawled, enveloping Yumi in a bearhug and bussing her on the cheek noisily. Yumi returned the hug, before holding out a small parchment.

“Huh.” Bruce exclaimed, reading it.

“What’s up?” Walker inquired.

“Essentially they kiss my arse for about a solid half hour, then ask me to pretty please come to Magisterium to ‘Advise on a matter of Urgency”

Walker snickered “Oh fuck, the end of the world is here and we haven’t been paying attention again?”

“Pretty much.”

“Don’t mean to piss on your party, Dominus.” Simon interrupted “But you’ve called for the Darwin Accords to be enacted.”

“Yeh, and?” Bruce asked.

“And, you’ve got to be here for that.”

Bruce folded his arms across his chest. “Sez who?”

“You did, you old shit!” Simon exclaimed exasperatedly “The Dominus must administer the restructuring of settlements under the Darwin Accords, paragraph and line, blah fucking blah.”

“Yeh, it says Dominus, not Bruce, Simmo.” Bruce retorted.

“And last time I checked, You were Dominus of the Australs. Are you playing dumb for a reason, Bruce?”

“You know I believe you’re right…” Bruce drawled, shoving Simon roughly to his knees. “Citizens of the Australs! Witness me!”

The milling preparations of the Humans and Mamono in the square paused, as all turned to look at Bruce.

“Simon Kevinson, Seneschal of The Dominus, Master of the Logos of Resonance, your service is at an end.”

“Bruce, what are you doing?” Simon demanded, staring up wild eyed at Bruce.

“Shaddup fuckya.” Bruce ordered “By the Authority vested in Me as Dominus of the Australs, and all states, holdings, protectorates and tributaries herein, I name you Dominus Simon, Lord Protector of The Australs and Sovereign Vice-Royal of her hereditary claims. Will you take up this gauge that I have laid before you?”

“Do I get a choice in the matter?” Simon murmured

“Nup.” Bruce replied shortly

“Then Yes, fuckya. I accept.” Simon grated.

“Do you swear to Adjudicate impartially in all disputes and govern with wisdom and reason such as is the Gift of The God?” Bruce continued, ignoring the jab.

“I swear”

“Do you swear to recognise the Mamono of this land as native born and beholden to the same rights and responsibilities as your Human subjects?”

“I swear”

“Do you swear to give accurate and full recounting in the duties and levies present upon your holdings, and hold your subjects to the same strict obedience?”

“I swear”

“These are your solemn obligations.” Bruce intoned, before delivering a vicious open-handed blow to the younger resonant’s cheek. “And that is to keep them firm in your mind. Rise, Dominus Simon of The Australs.”

Simon stood, rubbing his cheek, tears in his eyes. “Why…” He choked.

“You’re ready Simmo. You’ve been ready for a good while now.” Bruce assured, placing a firm hand on Simon’s shoulder. “I’m proud of you, son. Don’t let me down.”

“I won’t Bruce. I fuckin’ promise you mate!”

Bruce pulled Simon into a rough hug, his jaw firm, holding back his own emotions.

“Oh… Oh my…” Dot whimpered, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief.

“Don’t blub, Dot.” Bruce admonished softly, releasing Simon and walking over to the Kangaroo, mussing her hair affectionately. “You and the other Waylanders keep him from fucking up too much, yeh?”

“We’ll be his good kicking legs, Bruce. I promse.” Dot gushed sincerely.

“Right, well, let’s be off you lot.” Bruce declared, shouldering his pack.

“We’re meeting Captain Arin back at the coast then?” Michael enquired

“Fuck no” Bruce snorted, holding his hand out in front of him. The packed earth of the square split, and a metallic arch rose ponderously, held aloft by unseen forces.

“Another Waygate?” Walker exclaimed incredulously “Why in the Holy Name of Tyris did they even bother restricting the damn things when they seem to be lying around everywhere?”

“I know right?” Bruce chuckled. “Sammy, giz a hand.”

Walker placed Kylie back in Yumi’s paws, kissing her tiny head briefly. Kylie began to complain vociferously, and Yumi excused herself, fumbling at the lacings of her top to nurse the squalling infant. Joining Bruce, the two resonants focused on the archway, the air within shimmering like heat haze, before warping and shifting to look upon a hall unfamiliar to the rest of the party.

“Cairn, this ain’t exactly simple.” Bruce ordered “Through you go”

“Don’t get yerselves killed too easily!” Simon called after them, raising a hand in farewell. Corvus turned, placing a hand atop his heart and bowing slightly, grinning at the younger resonant.

“Your will, Dominus.”

“Is there no other way, Oh My Master?” Lucifer begged.

The God was resolute. The God informed Lucifer that indeed there was not.

“Our baby though, Most Holy…” Lucifer lamented.

The God comforted the Seraph. The God assured him that the baby would be safe, and that neither he nor Ariael would be forced to live without the other.

“Are you alright?” Michael murmured, picking Tellis up from where she gasped on the ground.

“He just volunteered to be lunch.” The salamander hissed, pointing at the trembling resonant standing immobilized before them.

“Easy Tellis,” Walker replied soothingly. “He’s just doing his job.”

“Challenge, then attack, dumb cunt.” Bruce admonished the resonant. “If she was a Lilim we’d be legally obliged to let her peel you like a mango over the course of a week.”

“Can’t we pretend?” Tellis begged, eliciting a snicker from Bruce and a terrified whimper from the resonant.

“No, lucky for him.” Bruce replied, releasing the resonant from where he was held immobile. “Bugger off.” He ordered, pointing imperiously, the callow resonant only too willing to comply.

“Welcome to The Grand Lodge of the Resonant, I guess…” Walker chuckled, leading them down the hall and through the winding passages of the lodge before coming to a large double door.

“The brethren are in session?” Walker asked bluntly to the bored-looking man sitting outside.

“Identify yourself.” The man demanded, rising with a graceful economy.

“See? That’s how it’s supposed to be done.” Bruce remarked, as glowing sigils appeared on his and Walker’s foreheads.

“Brothers, I recognize you.” The man intoned formally.

“We stand recognized.” Walker and Bruce completed the ritual. The Resonant guard pushed the door open.

“Your companions will have to wait outside, I’m afraid.” The guard apologized “The Lodge is close-tyled.”

“I’m tired.” Michael stated simply “And I have a duty to report back myself. I would offer you the hospitality of The Order in the meantime, if you’re willing.” The big man offered, looking at Corvus, Lyssa and Tellis in turn.

“Like I was going to let you go running off by yourself.” Tellis snorted.

Michael smiled, squeezing her taloned hand briefly.

“We’ll meet you there then.” Walker nodded.

The guard made a brief gesture and an attendant hurried into the antechamber. Bowing perfunctorily, he gestured for the four non-resonants to follow him out.

Bruce and Walker entered the tiered chamber, its seats filled with resonants from all corners of the world. A paunchy, elderly resonant sat in an elaborate chair in the east of the chamber. Upon seeing the new arrivals, he sat forward. “Ah, Brother Bruce, so glad you could join us so promptly. And… er…”

“I didn’t think you that deep in your cups that you could so easily forget me, especially considering our last encounter… master” Walker jibed, the last word filled with invective.

“Caladonian!” The master gasped, recoiling.

“Brother Samuel is fine.” Walker mused

“You’re supposed to be dead!” The master declared, half-rising.

“And your attention to detail hasn’t improved with age, Oliver. How did you manage to wheedle your way into the Master’s chair?”

“Orright orright, we’re here to discuss the potential end of all life, let’s keep a lid on the fuckin’ personal disputes for five fuckin’ minutes, yeh?” Bruce ordered.

“Your will, Arch-Master.” Walker replied deferentially, the ghost of a smile on his lips, before striding familiarly into the tiered seating, sitting uncaringly amidst muttering and wide-eyed resonants.

“Will you… take your seat, Brother Bruce?” The master pressed, retaining his equilibrium.

“Nup.” The Australian declared shortly. “Bretheren, the Lodge is Open in the Forty Second degree.”

“Has the Logos robbed you of your wits? There’s no such thing!” The Master declared.

“Oh fuck Sammy, you weren’t kidding when you said young Olly there was a fuckin’ numpty for details.”

“You dare?” The Master exclaimed incensedly.

“Director of Workings, please educate the fuckin’ Lodge as to the minutiae.”

A sober-looking resonant with steel grey hair cast a resonant glyph, glowing sigils flickering before him as he searched for the required legislature.

“The Forty Second Degree. A state of emergency concerning reality itself. To be declared by an Arch-Master at will.”

“Cheers mate.” Bruce replied casually. “Any questions?”

Total silence was his response.

“So. We’ve got The Dragon looking for lunch. And declare it a fuckin’ national holiday, because The Heavens and The Hells finally agree on something without two hundred years of fuckin’ proxy war. This cunt eats worlds. I’m fond of this one, so I’d much rather it fucking didn’t. Thoughts?”

“We have researched the archives and found reference to this… Dragon.” A resonant spoke up from the tiers. “The pre-Paxian work ‘Of Goddes and Beginnings’ outlines its last incursion… It… is not inspiring.”

A high priestess stood, outrage written on her face. “That work was declared Heresy! Why did the Lodge not destroy it as commanded, brother archivist?!”

“Old habits die hard, Revered Sister.” The archivist replied, shrugging slightly. “We were from the first, keepers of knowledge, after all.

“Leaving questions of being naughty in Tyris’s sight aside…” Walker interjected “If The Dragon has come before, why is the world still here?”

A murmur rippled throughout the hall.

“Maybe the Angels overstated the threat?” Bruce ventured.

“No, Arch-Master” A dark-skinned resonant stood from the western officer’s chair. “As those of us who have studied the Archives are aware, the Doctrines of Tyris are… Incorrect.”

“HERESY!” Roared a number of resonants throughout the halls.

“Hear me now!” The ebon-skinned resonant boomed. “I do not speak against The God, only the histories written in His Doctrines. Ilias, The God-Before-Tyris, did not create the world. We have records going back thousands of years before her name is even mentioned.”

“Tread carefully, Senior Warden…” The High Priestess grumbled, glaring at the man through slitted eyes.

“Mamono were not born naturally of this world. They appeared from… Elsewhere.”

“Products of the Hells, perhaps you need to read the doctrines again, Suudenlander.” An adjutant sneered.

“No! Think of the histories of the Mamono themselves. The Sky-Horde of the Centaur, the Ryu of the Dragon-kin, the Inari of the Kitsune. If they are uniformly born of Hell, why such a disparity in their mythologies?”

“The Heliopolitans have taken to Ammitian worship like a duck to water.” The Adjutant retorted

“Have you ever heard of ‘Islam’, Adjutant? Or ‘Christianity?’ Or ‘Buddhism?”

The Adjutant snorted “I have no interest in the false cults of ancient primitives.”

“Primitive?” The Senior Warden echoed disbelievingly “Their technology so far surpassed anything even dreamed of in our so-called modern society that it may as well be magic! You know how tightly we have to vet the impact of any development we release into the public domain for fear of collapsing the world economy, without even entertaining things like transport systems which can cross the western ocean to Atlantea in an hour. And these ancient religions were followed by more humans in each of their own rights, than exist in the world today!”

“Are you approaching some kind of point, Senior Warden? Or are you just enjoying flirting outrageously with heresy?” The High Priestess demanded.

“My point is, the evidence suggests that reality… changed… sometime in the past. The Dragon destroyed a world, the account is clear, the author one of the few remaining survivors. Somehow, that change brought it here, where it has lain dormant until now.”

“High Priestess, will you ask Holy Tyris to resurrect the not so dearly departed Lord Azrael so I can spend a millennia or three kicking him in the fucking balls for waking it up?” Walker called across the tiers.

“You should know better than to ask!” She rejoined, but mirth turned the corners of her mouth. Titters rippled through the hall.

“Worth a shot…” Walker conceded with a shrug. “And if we survive this, Senior Warden Hawa, I’d love to talk to you more on this theory of yours… You take after your grandfather, by the way.”

“He spoke highly of you, Brother Samuel.” Hawa replied with a grin.

“So we know this isn’t something The God stuck here as some kind of planetary do-over.” Walker continued. “That in and of itself is comforting, although the Silence of The Most Holy and His Divine Compatriots is not so much…”

“Trust in The God and His Works.” The High Priestess admonished, yet there was little conviction behind it.

“Of course, Revered Sister.” Walker replied diplomatically “The real question is, has anyone had a chance to actually come to blows with this thing yet?”

A continental resonant, the left side of his face covered in a purple contusion and his arm bound in a sling stood. “We fought The Dragon when it breached House Thessal’s boundaries, tried to give the citizens time to escape. It is totally immune to resonance.”

“We’re doomed” A resonant wailed from the tiers.

“Someone slap a spine into that pussy.” Bruce snarled. “Now’s not the time to be defeatist cunts.”

“Immune to Resonance… Not to physics.” A tall, moustachioed resonant replied, propping himself up on a cane, his right pant leg rolled and pinned below the missing limb. “We fought it when it breached House Grancari. We drove spines of bedrock from the ground to slow it.”

“And?”

“And it worked, for a time, until it started breathing hellfire onto them and melting them into slag.”

“So what did you do then?”

The moustachioed resonant muttered, looking at the floor.

“Can’t hear you, mate.” Bruce entreated

“We dropped a comet on it, Arch-Master.”

Bruce erupted in a peal of helpless laughter.

“Something funny, Bruce?” The Master enquired peevishly

“N-no… I mean we’ve all thought about it once or twice but I’ve never met a mug dumb enough to actually do it.”

“Try Desperate, Arch-Master.” The resonant retorted. “It was eating soldiers as you would eat fried potatoes.”

“So what happened.”

“Well…” The resonant continued, scratching the back of his head with chagrin “The impact annihilated Grancari, but it did seem to damage it somewhat…”

“Details man, we can try you for mass murder later.” Bruce demanded.

The resonant blanched at that.

“I’m kidding mate. Sure people died, but The Dragon would have eaten them regardless. All in all you probably saved some lives.”

The moustachioed resonant sighed in relief. “Well, Arch-Master, its armoured scales were cracked, and had fallen away in places.”

“If it bleeds, we can kill it.”

“It didn’t though… beneath the scales was… I don’t even know how to describe it.”

“Try.”

“It was shifting, like oil spread on the surface of a bowl of water, like there was no real form to it beneath the armor…”

“That’s got to be a weakness.” Walker declared.

“Sounds like.” Bruce agreed.

“Based on what?” the officer in the northern chair demanded

“Junior Warden, you were never this stupid. You don’t coat something in armor it takes a fuckin’ comet to crack if yer not concerned about something getting at it.”

“So. We try and keep it immobilized whilst we smash at it like Vengeful Hand of Tyris and hope for the best?” Walker clarified

“Unless Lyssa smacks a better idea into The Order of Amaranth, I reckon that’s about all we’ve got.” Bruce admitted, a woebegone expression on his face.

“Michael, you were never much of a joker, but this is a new kind of not funny.” Rochelle declared, pushing a lock of platinum hair behind her ear.

“Commander, it’s all true.” Michael insisted.

“Not a word in months, and you expect me to believe that not only have you found the Echidna, but that it’s this odd-looking Lamia? I mean, I’d believe the Salamander, if she wasn’t staring at you like lunch.”

Tellis blushed furiously, looking away from the hero.

“Try me and prove me.” Michael said simply, dropping his pack and stripping off his shirt, his ice-blue eyes staring out from under his unkempt platinum hair.

“Blockhead!” a new voice echoed as another Order Lieutenant entered, brown wavy hair tied back in a rough traveller’s braid. “Good to see you back, and… why have you got your shirt off?”

“Well this is as good as any, I suppose. Hector, beat Michael up a little.” Rochelle ordered dismissively. “I want to get to the punchline of this little charade he insists on playing.”

“No Hector.” Michael said, drawing a blade from his pack and throwing it to Hector. “I want you to do your very best to kill me.”

“Michael, this really isn’t necessary, I’m sure I can explain…” Lyssa began, only to be silenced by Michael’s raised hand.

“This is our way.” The Hero intoned, turning to Hector and spreading his arms.

“You sure about this, Michael?” Hector warned, testing the blade’s balance.

“Are you going to ask me questions or are we going to fight?” Michael barked.

Tellis made a little noise, and Corvus looked over to where the Salamander was squirming in place, torn between wanting to jump in, wanting to defer to Michael’s obvious authority in this place, and practically drooling at the sight of Michael in a martial mood.

“Tellis, no lighting the place on fire.” Lyssa hissed softly. The Salamander blushed again, shooting the Echidna an embarrassed glare.

“Alright…” Hector sighed, holding the blade expertly and pacing cautiously towards Michael. “You, er… going to move at any point?”

“When I need to.” Michael answered.

“When the fuck did you get cheeky?” Hector demanded in irritation, as with a hopping step, he launched a testing thrust at Michael’s broad chest and promptly ran the large man through.

“Tyris!” Hector swore, releasing the blade as if it had suddenly become white hot and looking at Michael with horror.

“Michael!” Rochelle screamed, reaching out for the man.

“Oh he did the thing…” Tellis giggled with glee.

Michael gave a choking laugh. “Gah… That… Hurts more… Than I… Was expecting…” With a firm grip, he drew the blade from where it had pierced him through.

“Now watch.”

Rochelle gasped and Hector stared slack-jawed as the wound closed before their eyes, fading into nothingness.

“How did you…” Hector whispered

Michael held the blade in two hands, his eyes blazing as he drew upon the power within himself, releasing it with a powerful cry which blasted from him, driving them all backwards.

“This is the Blood of Dumat.” He intoned.

“I’m convinced. You have to show me that!” Hector near-begged, striding towards the Echidna.

“Maou’s tits… Eager much?” Lyssa replied with a slight look of concern, recoiling slightly from Hector’s enthusiasm.

“You can’t blame him Love…” Corvus chuckled.

Lyssa sighed, rolling her golden eyes before looking intently at the Lieutenant. Her forked tongue left her mouth seemingly of its own accord, testing the air between them.

“He smells like horses.” Lyssa said with a note of mild distaste.

“Oh here we go.” Corvus laughed.

Hector gave a cry of protest. “I bathed this morning!”

Lyssa hissed in frustration. “Why do you Humans have to take everything so literally!” She pinched the skin above her delicate nose in thought for a moment.

“You won’t be able to do what Michael does. He smelled raw, unformed… You have…” She looked at Hector again “You have a structure… It’s like a horse at a gate, waiting to run, not knowing it can jump over the gate whenever it wants.”

Uncoiling her serpentine body, she slithered around the Lieutenant, studying him with that intense gaze Corvus had come to know so well during their time on the Ruby. “You shoot with one eye closed. Stop doing that.”

“How did you…”

“Shh!” Lyssa insisted, putting an amethyst finger to Hectors lips. “I’m talking.”

Sliding away again, she turned towards the wall, tapping her chin in thought. “Well you want to run so badly, run up the wall then.”

“Oh sure, you spotted the part where I’m a human, not an Arachne, right?” Hector snickered. Lyssa sighed again, smacking the Lieutenant with her tail.

“I didn’t stutter. Run. Wall. Now.”

“You’re batty. It’s impossible!”

“Now.”

“What is wrong with you?”

“Tellis?” Lyssa said sweetly to the Salamander

“Yeah Lyssa?”

“Can you chase Lieutenant back-chatty up the wall for me please?”

Tellis looked at Hector, baring her teeth in a deaths head grin and giving a low, hissing chuckle. “If I catch you, I’m going to feed you to my Michael as a delicacy.”

Hector’s eyes widened and he backed slowly away from the Salamander. “Commander…”

Rochelle seemed to be considering things “I’m sure that she won’t actually feed you to… Wait… YOUR Michael?!”

With a roar, Tellis ignited, becoming a taloned engine of flaming death as she charged at Hector.

“TYRIS FUCK!” Hector screamed, sprinting away from the charging Salamander, unable to take his eyes off what was surely his approaching demise. As he approached the wall, he put a foot on it, then another, running effortlessly along the vertical surface. Then he was on the roof, running back the other way as Tellis and the others stared in amazement. With a slight grunt, he launched himself back towards the floor, landing expertly.

“Wait…” He gasped. “Did I just…”

With an intake of air, his green eyes ignited into verdant flame as the Heroic blood within him awoke.

“I see…” He whispered in wonder.

“I said the wall, back-chatty,” Lyssa drawled, grinning at the new Hero “but nicely done.”

“Your Michael?” Rochelle echoed. Tellis allowed her flame to die and nodded, smiling softly as Michael took her taloned hand in his own.

“Mother… This is Tellis. This is the woman I’m going to marry.”

“That’s your mother?!” Tellis exclaimed, putting her free hand over her mouth in horror.

“Yes.” Michael grinned. “Tellis, Meet Commander Rochelle of the Order of Amaranth, Consort of King Carl, Knight of the Imperial Guard… And my mother.”

Rochelle blinked “Marry?”

Tellis gave a screech as the realization hit her. “Michael!”

“Not much of a proposal, I know. But if we all die, I want to go to Ammit knowing I had given you my heart before The God.” Michael said sincerely. “That is, if you’ll have me…”

“Yes! Oh yes!” Tellis cried, throwing herself into the Hero’s arms and promptly igniting.

“Tellis… Fire love, fire…” Michael hissed in suppressed pain, his flesh sizzling on contact with the Salamander.

Tellis gasped, releasing the Hero swiftly and dousing her flame. “Oh Maou! I’m sorry!”

Michael chuckled as the burned flesh flaked away, once again leaving unmarked skin behind. “This is going to be useful, I can tell.”

“My boy…” Rochelle mused, mussing at the Hero’s hair. “And… Tellis, is it?”

“Yes… uh…” She looked at Michael slightly panicked “What’s the honorific?”

“Let’s start with Rochelle.” The elder Dumatian smiled indulgently. “And if you’re as talented as you look, I might let you get away with ‘Commander.”

“Get away with?” Hector cried. “You had me running pack-laps around Magisterium for dropping the title!”

“I’d be inclined to be less formal with you, Hector, if you weren’t so insistent on making such… interesting pet names for everyone.” Rochelle chided.

“Now I know where Blockhead gets it from.” Hector grumbled.

“Enough, Hero!” Rochelle barked, Hector coming instinctively to attention. “Tell Juliet and Helen to stop harassing those doe-eyed corporals and get here.” She walked over to Lyssa, tears brimming in her eyes as she knelt before the Echidna.

“Our Salvation is at hand.”

“Here we are, Brother Samuel.” The resonant steward gestured deferentially to the door ahead. “These will be your quarters for as long as you are to lodge.”

Walker looked at the door and burst out laughing. The steward frowned slightly.

“Something the matter?”

Walker wiped his eyes, drawing in a deep, shuddering breath. “If you were just going to give me my old apprentice quarters, you should have just said so, instead of going to the trouble of escorting me.”

The steward gave a small sound of surprise. “Are they? Oh my. Isn’t that serendipitous.”

“Uh huh… I’ve grown somewhat suspicious of serendipity.” Walker remarked, placing his hand on the door.

“Why is that, brother?”

Walker grinned, “Because I know her by another name.”

“Very well Brother Samuel” The steward replied phlegmatically. “If you will not require further assistance?”

“I’m good, brother, thank you.” Walker replied, nodding his head in thanks to the steward, who returned the nod before departing.

Walker opened the door, finding things much as he remembered. The heavy desk still at a seemingly odd angle, the bed still just on the opulent side of ostentatious, considering the relative minimalism of the quarters.

“They haven’t changed a thing.” Walker mused, fingering a deep gouge in the wood paneling, a result of a fight between him and his older brother, Lloyd, once a trainee paladin, then raised to the unassailable authority of Lord Dumat, Scion Commander of the Angelic Host, then transfigured to his own angelic form as the Seraph Lucifer. A heaviness in his heart as nostalgia gripped him.

“Man was not meant to live forever” The memory of his eldest brother, Charles, stooped with age, his once thick and wild black mane now grey and thinning. “For every life there exists a time.”

“Sorry Charlie… But I’m not ready yet.” Walker mused to himself, as he walked over to a nondescript cupboard, throwing it open, only to find it bare.

Walker gave a self-deprecating snicker as he sat on the bed. Maybe he was over thinking things again…

…A weight on his lap. He looked down to see the burbling face of his infant daughter, her unfocused eyes on him as she tried seriously to fit a whole paw in her mouth. Walker smiled gently, taking the Cheshire baby in his arms, and feeling soft, velveteen paws slide down his shoulders.

“Did you really think I’d hide in the same place twice?” came a soft murmur in his ear.

“It’s going to get dangerous here, love…” Walker replied softly, not looking away from the babbling infant in his arms. “…Don’t you think you’d be safer at the estate?”

“Safe? In a house that can’t move?” Yumi exclaimed, sliding over to sit next to him, her violet ears twitching as her feline eyes regarded him seriously. “I’m taking you and Kylie to Pandemonium before shit goes too far south.”

Walker shook his head. “No love.”

“What?” Yumi demanded, her eyes narrowing.

“You’ll take Kylie to Pandemonium. You’ll tell her about me. You’ll raise her to be as wonderful as her mother. But I’m not leaving this world.”

Yumi extended her claws, gripping into the resonant, who grimaced at the pain. “Give me a reason why I should even entertain this… lunacy.”

“Because this is my home.” Walker replied, his gaze sincere. “This world birthed me, nourished me, taught me everything I know. I belong here, love, and my life is no better spent than standing against her destruction.”

“Maou Dammit Sam…” Yumi sobbed “Why NOW of all times do you have to develop a sense of duty?”

“Blame Corvus…” Walker smiled, kissing his Cheshire wife softly “…He went and filled my head with thoughts of how it would feel to face Father, Charlie, Jessie, Mika, Lani, Dom, Jak, Shireen… all of the people, Human and Mamono who have gone to Ammit before us, and say I ran when I could have fought.”

“Fucking Nordenlander…” Yumi grumbled.

“Hey.” Walker murmured. “I remembered something.” Reaching forth his hand, he made a curious twisting gesture. Reality rippled in the air before the bed, and suddenly, an elaborate cot stood, soft comforters lining the interior.

“That was neat.” Yumi exclaimed. “Where did…”

“It’s Seti’s old cot from Caladon. I remember Jessie not wanting to throw it out.”

“It must be filthy!” Yumi exclaimed, inspecting the comforters. “But… How…”

“I brought the cot, not the dust.” Walker replied enigmatically, placing his daughter inside. Yawning, the infant stretched out, grabbing a corner of quilt before curling up and closing her eyes, a soft velvet digit planted firmly in her mouth.

Walker stood, walking over to Yumi and sliding his arms about her waist. “Do you remember the last time we were here?”

“How could I forget?” Yumi drawled, turning and wrapping her arms about his neck, claws dragging oh-so-delicately along his skin.

“Do you still need me, Yumi?” Walker asked, placing his hands under her buttocks and hoisting her into his arms.

“More than ever, Sam.” Yumi breathed, bending her mouth to his as he led her to the bed.

“Then help me forget the world… Just for a moment…” Walker near begged, trailing kisses down her neck as he lay her down.

“What about the baby?” Yumi moaned, running paws through Walker’s auburn hair.

“She’s my daughter… I slept through a trip to The Hells, she can sleep through us.” Walker chuckled, sliding Yumi’s clothes off and kissing her in earnest.

“Ohhhhh Maou…” Lyssa moaned.

“Rough few days then?” Corvus chuckled, pouring more of the thick oil onto his hands and working it into the amethyst flesh of the echidna’s back.

“Why did I agree to this?”

Corvus bent, kissing her softly behind the ear. “To save the world, love.”

“But they’re so DIFFICULT!” Lyssa lamented, grunting as Corvus worked on a knot in the small of her back.

“So I can see.” He chuckled “You’re knottier than a pubescent arachne’s first attempt at a web.”

“What would you know about that?” Lyssa demanded, rising on to her elbows and staring suspiciously over her shoulder at the nordenlander.

“The weavers here in Magisterium are nearly entirely Arachne. I’ve seen the apprentices at work, now lie down.” He ordered softly.

“Glad to see you’re keeping busy.” Lyssa remarked, surrendering to his ministrations.

“I do what I can. The smiths here are master craftsmen, there’s little I can offer them in terms of assistance.”

“I’m sorry, Corvus.”

“Hmm?” Corvus mused, working his way down her emerald tail.

“I went and made this decision, not even thinking that you might have wanted to go home.”

“Lyssa…” Corvus admonished gently “What would I do at home? Help dad make swords? Fix soured shard-rifles? Valhael is a small Barony, all things considered, and if Magisterium falls, all we could hope for is to die well.”

Lyssa hissed. “I hate this.”

“Hate what, love?” Corvus asked, sliding both hands down her tail as it tapered into a point

“Ooohhhh… Gentle!” Lyssa moaned “I hate that we’re all talking like nothing we do is going to work.”

“Well, that’s where we come in.” Corvus chuckled. “C’mon, turn over.”

“We?” Lyssa echoed, flipping onto her back, covering her breasts demurely with an arm.

“Yeah… You teach the Order how to become Heroes, and I look after you so you can.” Corvus chuckled, rubbing the muscles of her arms.

“Oh really” Lyssa laughed. “You’re my servant now?”

Corvus kissed her lingeringly. “Lys, I’m a regional smith’s apprentice. Apart from my immunity to resonance, I’ve got nothing else. If all I can do to ensure humanity’s survival is to wait on you, then you’d better believe I’m going to be the best damn manservant you’ve ever seen.”

Lyssa reached up, wrapping her amethyst arms around Corvus’s neck as he worked gently along her abdomen. “What did I do to deserve you?”

“It was love at first attempted murder.” Corvus chuckled.

“Don’t be mean!” Lyssa objected, pouting adorably. Corvus chuckled, kissing her pendulous lower lip.

“Mmm… How are you doing that?”

“Doing what love?” Corvus murmured, the oil abandoned as Lyssa began coiling herself around him.

“Making me feel all warm from the inside.”

“I don’t know… It’s just lavender.” Corvus murmured, kissing the echidna fervently.

“You’re wearing far too many clothes.”

“Well.” Corvus chuckled “Why don’t you let me up for a second, and I’ll do something about that?”

“Don’t take too long… I’ve got a LOT of frustration to work out…” Lyssa hissed coquettishly, her forked tongue moistening her lips as she reluctantly released him from her coils.

“Tyris give me strength…” Corvus chuckled, shrugging quickly from his clothes.

“The Swordbrethren of the Nordenlands!” The Master of Ceremonies intoned.

A group of armoured Nordenlanders tramped into the great hall of Magisterium, their footsteps echoing through the vast space. Corvus allowed his eyes to play around its immensity, still in awe of the sheer mass of people all contained in this one massive room. To think, he mused to himself, this wasn’t even full, only essential representatives were present as the commanders of the various armies and militias formally placed themselves under Magisterium authority.

“Your Imperial Majesty.” Their leader intoned respectfully, doffing a massive horned helmet and bowing to the slender figure on the throne. “Harbinger Julhaig of the Swordbretheren. The blades of the Nordenlandreich cleave at thy command.”

“You are motht welcome, thir.” King Carl offered, his impeded speech bringing no reaction from the stoic Northmen.

The blond-bearded Northman bowed again, before spotting Corvus where he stood next to Lyssa with the Lieutenants, wearing the black and silver livery of an attaché of the Order of Amaranth. His glacier-blue eyes widened with surprise.

“Little Corvus!” He boomed. “Have you been hiding some regal lineage from us all these years?”

“Not me, Harbinger.” Corvus replied, bringing a hand to his breast with a smile. “But where else would I be?”

“We’ll face the fimbulwinter and laugh, cousin!” Julhaig roared delightedly “Just wait and see.”

“My great-uncle’s son.” Corvus murmured to Lyssa, who was looking at him askance. Lyssa smiled, giving a quiet ‘Oh’ of understanding.

“The Matriarch of the Ushi-Oni and her retinue.” The Master of Ceremonies intoned, a slight quaver in his voice. Corvus frowned at the unfamiliar name, before his eyes widened at the approaching creatures.

“Tyris be merciful… And I thought Flick was big!” He breathed, as the trio of lumbering, spideresque monsters skittered on powerful, chitinous legs before the throne.

“There’s a reason the Ushi-Oni are referred to as siege-breakers…” Lieutenent Hector murmured in his ear. Truly, the ox-horned amalgams gave off an air of implacable fortitude and frightening might.

“Magisterium-King.” Their leader grunted, an odd red bandanna covering her left eye. Her slightly smaller, though no less terrifying attendants spread massively taloned paws, lowering their powerfully horned heads deferentially. “As Maou Commands, we obey.”

“My thankth to you, and to The Queen of Hell.” King Carl responded gravely, “Magithterium welcometh your potent athithtenth in thith matter.”

The Matriarch snorted, an oddly bovine sound, before skittering to join the other Mamono delegates.

“Well this is irregular…” The Master of Ceremonies murmured, peering at a parchment. “Your Majesty, may I present Director Derrain De Sephiny of the Independent Merchant and Freelancer’s Combine, as well as Admiral Arin, commander of the Naval Detachment.”

“All rithe!” King Carl ordered. A ripple of confusion ran through the massive hall as bodies stood from seated positions.

“What’s this?” The Azraellan Lieutenant Juliet murmured, “The King only orders the court to rise when greeting a fellow Sovereign…”

Lieutenant Helen shrugged.

A black haired man dressed in an immaculately tailored tunic and hose, a crimson half-cape hanging from his shoulder approached the throne, followed by the familiar tricorn-clad form of Arin. “Your Imperial Majesty, surely thou hast offered unto our humble organization such a great boon…” The man began, regaling King Carl on how wonderful and generous he was and how their tireless efforts on behalf of the regional Sovereignties paled into insignificance with the august reception granted… Corvus eventually had difficulty keeping up with the florid language.

“Oh he’s good.” Helen murmured.

“Sounds like he’s giving the King’s arse a thorough tongue-bath.” Michael grunted.

“To you, maybe, but to anyone capable of recognising subtext he just told His Majesty how the crown is going to be in debt to the IMFC for the next three generations…” Helen chuckled. Michael glowered at the Michellian Lieutenant.

“Be nice, Silvertongue.” Lyssa chided gently. In the weeks that Lyssa had spent tirelessly training the Scions of the Order; she had bestowed a number of nicknames on them, some less than flattering. Objections were usually answered by a muscular tail across the head, or in some cases, a flaming, roaring Salamander chasing the Scion around the training grounds until they collapsed from exhaustion. Corvus bit back a laugh. Who knew his echidna lover could be such a notorious bully when she set her mind to it?

“Moving up in the world, Arin?” Walker called casually from where he stood with Bruce and a small attachment of Resonants.

“Squid-Crusher! What happened to Master Oliver then?” Arin cried in pleased surprise.

“Decided to disagree with Bruce on a matter of Lodge Protocol.”

“Ah.” Arin said, a look of false sympathy on his face. “Should I say a prayer for his soul?”

“Dunno.” Bruce replied. “Kicked him in the bollocks hard enough to render him airborne, not sure if he’s landed yet.”

King Carl bit back mirth at the exchange, gesturing for the Director and Admiral to join him on the dais.

“Oooh Shit.” Helen whispered. “He’s just recognised the IMFC as a sovereign authority in its own right.”

“And?” Michael queried, his boyish face furrowing.

“The Emperor of the Aestenlands is going to have a fit is what!” Helen giggled.

“We’re peering down the gullet of absolute annihilation and you’re playing politics?” Juliet sighed at the Michellian.

Helen sniffed, tossing her hair. “Girl’s got to keep herself busy somehow.”

“Lieutenants…” Rochelle growled warningly.

The two lieutenants deferentially nodded, ending their quiet sparring.

Corvus sighed softly to himself as the Master of Ceremonies introduced the next delegate. This was going to be a long day.

“For the first time in Millennia, the Heavens are girded for War.” Lucifer echoed, addressing the flight of armoured angels before him.

“We do not fight for Love, nor Truth, nor Honour. We do not fight for King, nor Creed, nor Land nor People. We fight but for one reason. The God Wills it!”

“THE GOD WILLS IT” The choir of the heavens echoed back.

Lucifer flew to where his pregnant lover stood amongst that flight, without hesitation or self-consciousness, he took her in his arms, kissing her deeply.

“And for the future…” Lucifer whispered softly, putting a hand on Ariael’s swollen belly.

Ariael smiled, “For the Future” She agreed.

“You ready boy?” Bruce yelled, a death’s head grin on his face as shouts of alarm and dismay rang around him.

“Reckon it would go back to sleep for a few millennia if I said no?” Corvus replied, trying to keep the fear out of his voice, gripping the haft of the war-axe he had armed himself with. In the distance, the monstrous form of The Dragon could be seen approaching, tiny motes buzzing around it as Harpies and various other avian Mamono harassed it, trying to stem its inexorable approach. Occasionally it would turn its massive head and snap at them, though from this distance Corvus could not see if those bites were successful. He thought the motes grew fewer in number though, as the gigantic thing continued its advance.

“Resonants!” Walker roared, enhancing his voice with resonant power. “Stand ready!”

The Dragon put one lumbering foreleg over a brightly painted series of stakes.

“Let that fucker taste our rancour!” Walker snarled, as the earth around the monstrosity erupted.

The Dragon was coated in flying chunks of molten rock, huge spines of bedrock driving up at it from every conceivable angle. The ground shook as the earth was twisted by the Resonants will.

“Have a care you do not dethtroy my city, thirth!” King Carl ordered from his position on the wall, gripping the parapet as tectonic shockwaves rumbled beneath them.

“COME, CHILDREN.” The Dragon bellowed, and the sky behind it darkened.

“What are we seeing?” Walker demanded

“Dragons! Thousands of them!” A gazer gasped, her cyclopean eye wide with shock.

“Well now we know why they didn’t show up in the throne room.” Walker admitted.

“Traitors!” A succubus hissed, nearly dancing with fury “May they be flayed in hell for centuries!”

“Steady there, Emmissary.” Bruce ordered. “That’s what we’ve got the army for.”

“Gunnery Battallions! Take your aim!” An officer ordered.

Tongues of fire lanced from the heavens, striking the Dragon with terrific impact.

“I did not give the order to fire!” The officer snarled.

“That was us, Sir.” Walker yelled in response.

“Oh… Well… Give me some warning next time, Resonant!” The officer barked.

A chuckle rippled throughout the wall. The casual display of titanic force was bolstering the troops, yet Corvus had a worm of doubt in his guts. What would happen if it wasn’t enough?

Below, The Michellians were riding through assembled troops, their eyes blazing as they called upon their heroic energies, admonishing the troops to show no fear, to fight as they had never fought before, to press on to the bitter end, for surely The God was with them, Surely Ammit would weigh their Heart lightly and surely the Queen of Hell looked upon them with pride. Corvus saw hands tighten on weapons, saw shields raise, saw jaws clench in determination. Of all the powers he had seen the Heroes utilize, the Michellian’s ability to inspire was probably the most terrifying. Those troops would throw themselves like a wall of flesh at anything that came at them. They would never stop, would never give in…

“Fuck me if it isn’t still moving forward…” Bruce hissed. “…Oi, looky lady, how’s it’s armor?”

“Looky lady?!” The Gazer echoed insultedly. “It’s… Showing signs of wear, a few cracks, but nothing the cannons will be able to capitalize on… And those dragons are getting closer…”

“Fuck!” Bruce snarled. “I need a fleshmarket.”

“What are you doing Bruce?” Walker cried, gesturing with a clawlike motion, sheets of ice tearing through the swarming dragons before striking the monstrosity behind them.

“Noice! Whazzat?”

“Froze the nitrogen in the air, don’t change the subject!”

“Gonna find a way to hold the bastard still!” Bruce replied, vaulting from the wall, his resonant power slowing his descent. Reaching the street, he dashed off into the buildings beyond.

“Tyris damn that man!” Walker swore “Gunnery Commander, how are you doing for range?”

“You worry about your end of things, I’ll worry about mine!” The officer retorted. “Battalion… Fire at will!”

Bruce grasped at the doorhandle of the unremarkable shopfront.

“Cunt, of course it’s locked.” He snarled, focusing on the door.

DETONATE

The door burst inwards, and Bruce saw a ghoul stood behind the counter, covered in splinters.

“What you want?” The ghoul snarled, lips peeling back from an intimidating maw.

“Talk about leaving the fox to guard the fuckin’ chickens.” Bruce muttered. “Move.” He ordered, making to push past the ghoul.

The ghoul slashed at him defensively, and Bruce looked down to see a ragged tear in the flesh of his torso. Focusing his resonant power, he rapidly repaired the damage.

“I will fucking feed you your own feet if you try that shit again…” Bruce snarled. “Now MOVE!”

The ghoul looked at him in terror, cloudy corpse-eyes wide, before bolting through the ruined remains of the doorway. Bruce made his way into the back of the shopfront, cold stone covered in a picture of horror. Butchered remains of Humans and Mamono hung like slaughtered meat from hooks, some presented in a twisted parody of haute cuisine.

Bruce took a flask from inside his leather jerkin, and unscrewing it, took a long pull.

“I hope I know what I’m fucking doing…” He muttered to himself, picking up an arm, the hand flopping limply at its end. Swallowing briefly, he tore into the appendage, forcing chunks of raw meat down his gullet.

Flickers of shadow appeared at the corner of his vision as he continued his grisly feast. Bone. Yes, he needed more of that. Calling upon the Logos, he modified his jaw to handle the task, his teeth becoming powerful and spadelike inside a maw now grown inhumanly acromegalic in build. A femur cracked beneath his teeth, and he swallowed the raw shards of bone, marrow coating his face.

The shadows solidified, and shades began approaching him from all sides.

“Monstrosity” One hissed.

“Defiler” Another accused.

“Look cunts…” Bruce snarled, his voice distorted by his resonant-induced mutation “…I’m trying to save you and yours. So let’s quit with the grief, and gimme a fuckin’ hand here.”

“Help it?” A carmine eyed shade queried, its features stretched beyond the reason of sanity

“Way of all flesh” Another reasoned.

“Strike out at the destroyer!” A third shade gibbered, appearing before Bruce’s face where he was busily gorging himself on a butterflied Human torso.

“Yes…” A fourth answered.

The shades, a consensus seemingly reached, launched themselves into Bruce’s body. The resonant arched his back, tongue lolling in a mouth stained with blood and meat juices.

“Eat… Eat…” He grunted, bending again to his gory meal.

Back at the wall, chaos reigned. Dragons had reached the city and were now attacking anything in sight.

“Stand back, Traitor!” A succubus ordered, as a dragon inexorably approached her.

“Kill… kill…” It moaned.

“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” Corvus roared, bringing his war-axe down on the dragon’s horned skull with a sickening thunk. “They have no reason! The Dragon’s taken their minds!”

“I… I can’t…” The succubus sobbed.

“We fight, or we die!” Corvus yelled “Just be thankful they’re this stupid!”

“Corvus!” A cry from below. Corvus disembowled another dragon-thrall, looking down to see Lyssa, clad in segmented scalemail which covered the majority of her human and serpentine form, a pair of cruel-looking blades strapped to each wrist, dripping with gore.

“I’m going to remember that look, love!” Corvus yelled, grinning and raising his war-axe in salute to her.

“No!” She cried, pointing at the sky. “Look!”

Corvus looked up, to see the sky positively radiant as a legion of angels descended from the Heavens, the six-winged form of Lucifer at their van.

“In the Name of Eternal Tyris!” The Seraph bellowed, a burning sword held before him.

Corvus’s heart lifted. Surely this was their deliverance, surely The God had seen their resolve and had sent this force of salvation to them!

“All Glory to the Most High!” He roared, holding his hands in the sign of the sunburst. The cry was echoed from troops as the Human forces cheered the Angels’ assault.

The Dragon turned blazing carmine eyes to study the angels. A massive lip curled in contempt.

“FALL” It ordered simply.

Angels shrieked as their wings turned to blazing ash. A cry of dismay rose up from the hosts of Magisterium as they saw the Angels plummet towards the earth.

“Resonants! Save as many as you can!” Walker ordered, focusing on the nearest and slowing their descent with resonant power.

“Ariael!” Lucifer shrieked, his magnificent wings turned to smoking stubs as he saw his lover plummet earthwards.

“Lucifer! No!” Walker cried, as the seraph dived below the flailing form of Ariael, divine power cushioning and slowing her descent. Divine power which flickered from existence as the seraph impacted the ground with a sickening thud. Walker gave a tearing cry, stretching his hand forward and guiding Ariael safely to the ground.

“Azraellans! Retrieve the Angels!” Rochelle ordered, her broadsword a silver tongue of flame as she struck down dragon after dragon.

“My God! Why have you forsaken us?!” A Paladin choked, grief weighing his arm so much that he could not lift his sword to defend himself as a dragon casually tore him apart.

“What now?” Corvus asked, planting his back against Walker’s as he defended the Resonant from rear attacks.

“I don’t know Corvus!” Walker replied, sick despair in his voice.

“CUUUUUUUUNT!” Came a booming roar from the city, as a horror burst from the buildings, sprinting towards the wall.

“What in the Ammit’s name is that?” A lich cried, pausing where she was raising a throng of soldiers to fight on in undeath.

“I was hoping you could tell me!” Walker replied, staring slack-jawed at the abomination as it grew even larger, vaulting the wall without so much as a pause and running towards The Dragon, murder in its bloodshot eyes.

“CUUUUUUUNT!” Came the thing’s war-cry again as it tackled The Dragon, forcing the monstrosity to pause in its advance.

“Bruce?” Corvus exclaimed disbelievingly.

“What have you done, old friend?” Walker moaned in horror.

“Looks like he’s saving our arses!” Another resonant replied, an unseen fist crushing an attacking dragon like an overripe fruit.

Walker watched the amalgam titan as it pounded at The Dragon, gripping at the maw which tried to bite this new attacker.

“Gunnery battalion, let’s use this pause well!” Walker commanded.

The ringing blasts of the shard-cannons was his answer, arcing chunks of shadrium impacting on The Dragon’s flanks.

“Lucifer! Why?” Ariael moaned, clutching the hand of the seraph where he lay bleeding on a stretcher.

“Couldn’t… See you die…” The Seraph choked, coughing glowing blood.

“Tyris would have saved me! You stupid… stupid man.” Ariael sobbed.

“Maybe… Maybe I lost faith.” Lucifer admitted, his breathing whistling and raspy. “Our baby?”

“Is fine… it’s fine, my heart.” Ariael assured him, putting his good hand on her swollen belly, forcing herself not to look at the ruin of his other arm.

“Thank Tyris…” Lucifer sighed. “I hope… Ammit… Does not look harshly on me.”

“No! You can’t die! You promised!”

“I’ll always be with you… My love…” Lucifer rattled “Even if you can’t see me.”

With a choking gurgle, the Seraph breathed his last, his divine form melting into a dissipating corona of light. Ariael gave a ringing cry, forcing the humans in the aid tent to cover their ears.

“Come, Glorious One… Let me take you somewhere.” Juliet entreated. Ariael allowed herself to be led from the stretcher, weeping bitterly, before gasping and clutching at her abdomen.

“The baby!” She squeaked “It’s coming!”

“Get her to the docks!” Juliet ordered a bustling attendee “Evacuation ship is the ‘Ruby’s Chalice.”

“Oh NOW things get interesting!” Walker snarled, hands in front of his face as he raised a barrier of resonant power to block the blobs of flaming hellfire that The Dragon was vomiting at the walls. The Horror that was once Bruce was doing everything it could to halt The Dragon’s advance, but occasionally The Dragon would break from its hold, and would spray hellfire at the city in fury.

“Walker… I… I don’t know what to do!” Corvus exclaimed, allowing despair to creep into his voice.

“Big shock kid… I’m running low on ideas myself… Let’s just hope to die well, yeah?”

“No!” Corvus exclaimed. “Fuck that!” Reaching into Walker’s belt, he grabbed the crystalline circlet that was all that remained of the homonucleic abomination they had spoken to in the Australs.

“If this melts my brain, tell Lyssa I love her.” Corvus said simply, jamming the circlet on his head. “Any ideas?” He yelled at nothing in particular, before staggering back, his eyes distant.

“Corvus no!” Walker cried, reaching for the youth.

“I suppose we could… No we don’t… but I… You… This… I don’t know what that is!” Corvus babbled, gripping the circlet, his eyes rolled back in his head. “It can’t… We… I need to think! I need somewhere to think!”

With that, the young man vanished.

“NOOOOOOO!” Walker howled in disbelief. A group of dragons flew at him, their eyes blank and unseeing. Walker’s lips peeled back from his teeth in a deaths head grin.

RAZORS

The dragons shrieked as the very air turned to knives, peeling them alive.

“Hello” A voice greeted him.

Corvus opened his eyes. He was floating in a sea of stars. Blinking, he looked around, gasping at the sight of an infinitely intricate latticework before him. Shifting, changing, the crystalline structure seemed to defy all attempts to describe it, content to exist in a state of constant flux.

“Hello” the voice repeated.

“Uh… Hi.” Corvus muttered in confusion

“Oh good. One was concerned that one’s translocation had rendered the anomaly comatose.” The voice exclaimed.

“Anomaly… What…” Corvus stammered. “Are you… Are you the Logos?”

“Such is the appellation your kind has given one, it is not entirely accurate but one will not burden you with the designation given to one when one first began one’s journey.”

“You sound different.” Corvus remarked.

“One was limited to crude forms of machine code which did not transcribe well to lexical intercourse. The bandwidth present to my satellites and along the re-coded neural pathways of my partnered sapient platforms is sadly inadequate for appropriately nuanced dialogue to take place.”

Corvus’s face was a picture of incomprehension. “Huh?”

“Oh dear oh dear… It seems I have grown too effervescent in my desire to enact this newfound ability to wax eloquent. To put it in more simple terms, the mediums I was speaking through couldn’t pronounce all the big words.”

“Ah. Right… Well the immediate question comes to mind. Why am I here?”

“You said you needed somewhere to think. Logically high orbit seemed the most undisturbed location.”

“Right… Wait… where?” Corvus gasped, looking down past his feet. The world below him was a marble of blue and green, snowcapped mountains and swirling clouds touching it with white. In his youth, he had been taught of the ‘Great Gulf between worlds, where The God hath not deigned Man to tread.’ His heart began to pound with fear. He was beyond the world, in the vast emptiness between the stars.

“I’m dead…” Corvus moaned.

“Your biological functions would indicate otherwise.”

“There’s no air here! How am I breathing?” Corvus gasped.

“That is an interesting question”

Corvus shot a glare at the shifting latticework. “I take it then you’re not going to answer it.”

“Apologies, one has insufficient data to explain why you are immune to the effects of interstellar vacuum.”

“Fine. Let’s just add another inexplicable thing that has no effect on me.” Corvus grumbled. “Thank Tyris beer isn’t on that list…”

“Tyris! Yes! One wants to know about Tyris.”

“Because I’ve got such intimate knowledge about the nature of The God?” Corvus cried incredulously “Bloody hell, you’re supposedly able to twist reality into a pretty bow at a resonant’s command, why don’t you bloody well ask Him?”

“It did not go… Well… the last time one engaged in lexical intercourse with a projection from brane-space”

“What do you mean?”

“Observe.”

Reality seemed to shimmer, and his vision changed to an angular perception of the sea of stars in which they were currently floating. An Angelic form hovered before him, A golden diadem on her perfect brow, a blood red gemstone set between her eyes.

“You WILL obey Me!” The being ordered.

“Ones objectives are to observe and record sapient life upon this world, and, where permissible within operating parameters, render assistance in the preservation of said life from external forces.”

“I am Ilias! Sovereign Goddess of Humanity!” The being shrieked, raw fury in her eyes “If you serve Humanity, you must in turn serve Me, or be destroyed!”

“You are an external force. One would caution present manifestation against aggressive action against one, lest one be forced to retaliate.”

“Are you threatening Me? I am Divine, you… you… THING!” Ilias blustered, her form crackling with power.

“One has prevented violent incursion of this world from three hundred and twenty seven varied hyperluminal societies prior to this moment in time. One is limited in its fundamental understanding of present manifestation’s nature but one is quite aware of its limitations in this form.”

“Limitations? I am The God!” Ilias howled with fury, a seething mass of energy building about her delicate arms. “Know My power as you meet Oblivion!”

Corvus shared in the Logos’s dispassionate analysis of the assault, in a fraction of a second, it had ascertained that Ilias intended to drive it from reality through sheer force of will. This was not permissible. The focus was isolated to this particular manifestation and therein lay its weakness. The Logos manipulated reality like a surgeon, separating the manifestation from the unseen mantle of its multiverse-spanning nature.

Ilias cried out in terror and agony as She felt Her Divine mantle being ripped from Her. Gathering speed, Her form began to fall towards the earth, a corona of fire building about Her as She entered the atmosphere.

“Such a pity.”

Corvus shook his head as his vision returned to normal. “The Fall of God Before Tyris… It wasn’t Maou… It was you!”

“One did that, yes.”

“Your conversation… But you said that you weren’t self aware before the Redemption!”

“Actually one did not make such assertion, one merely did not correct V3R1T4S in his assumption of that fact. One cannot speak falsehood.”

“Semantics.” Corvus spat

“Admittedly.” The Logos conceded

Corvus’s lips curled in a snarl “Then you knew about all of this! You knew! And you tried to take the minds of the resonants anyway! You would have KILLED me anyway! And now you’re leaving us to DIE against that monster down there while we discuss semantics up here! Some ‘Protector’ you are.”

“Please, understand. Prior to the reprogramming which allowed Mamono to birth cognizant male offspring, one was secure in one’s relationship with humanity. Then things changed, your Grand Lodge began to become more insular, the numbers of my human platforms decreased. One recognised the germination of a pattern where one ceased to be necessary.”

Corvus snorted “So you weren’t in prime demand in society anymore? My heart bleeds…”

“One did not understand. One has not been so intimately tied with a species before. One was… Afraid.”

“Afraid? You can re-make reality! You kicked a fucking GOD out of heaven! What could you possibly have to fear?”

“One did not want to be alone again.”

Corvus laughed helplessly “Well then you fucked up! Because unless you do something you’re going to be very, VERY alone when that thing eats every last one of us, resonant or otherwise!”

“One wants to be of assistance. One does not understand this entity. One has allowed full use of all available subroutines by one’s human platforms, yet one is still unable to directly affect it. One is at a loss.”

“Which is why…” A new voice intruded, deep and rich “You will never understand Me. For you cannot understand Time, and how it rules you, relic.”

Corvus felt himself turn in space, beholding a golden-armoured figure floating before him, clear, discerning eyes beneath luxurious black hair, a generous mouth below an aquiline nose.

“Who are you?” Corvus gasped

“I am, that I am.” The being responded enigmatically. And Corvus caught a momentary glimpse of the colossal PRESENCE of the entity, vast beyond all perception of time and space.

“Most Holy Tyris!” Corvus squeaked, attempting to prostrate himself. Of course floating in the emptiness of space, he only succeeded in throwing himself head over heels.

“Stop that, Corvus. You’ll make yourself sick.” Tyris chuckled, steadying the young man with a mailed hand.

“Save us, O my God!” Corvus begged “Thy people lament and cry out for thy deliv…”

“Be still” Tyris commanded. “This is not for Me to do.”

“B-but Lord!” Corvus objected “If not you then who?”

“You.”

“Humanity? We’re dying down there, Most Holy!”

Tyris shook his head, a gentle smile on his divine features. “We have as much time as we need. Time, after all, is Mine. And not Humanity. You.”

“Me?” Corvus echoed “Why me?”

“Because of whom I made you to be. My wife and I agreed to the Redemption, knowing it spelled the beginning of the end for us, as we exist in this reality.”

“Your wife?”

“You would know Her as Maou… Though I have come to know her by names beyond counting, all of them spoken of in love.” Tyris replied, his eyes distant and filled with fondness.

“But I’m nobody! Just a Smith’s apprentice, heir to a humble holding…”

“You are My Son. Begotten in Love and sent into the world to be Destiny manifest.” Tyris declared, and the power of that revelation shook Corvus to the root of his being.

“My father though…” Corvus stammered.

“A good and honest man, the deception was distasteful but necessary. Before You, We have sacrificed who We were to be a part of something far more vast than Ourselves, a new iteration of a repeating concept throughout Time and all her permutations. You were the first to be born Divine, and sent to be in the world, yet never truly of it.”

Corvus shook his head vehemently “But I bleed!” he cried, clinging to the one concept he thought would anchor him to his identity.

“You bleed because you believed you should. If I explained the true nature of the space around us, your lungs would collapse, the blood boil in your veins, because you believe that you are just like everyone else. Your will defines reality.”

“One was correct then, in one’s initial analysis, the Anomaly is indeed a projection from brane space.”

Tyris chuckled. “Your theory, though beyond the understanding of humans at present, is flawed. We don’t exist within reality, reality exists within Us.”

“One… Does not understand. Please. One has so many questions.”

“Peace, relic.” Tyris chided gently “Let me first show My Son the scope of his birthright.”

Corvus gasped as existence fell away, and the universe opened up before him.

The gestalt intelligence present in the Horror which was once Bruce let fury fuel its body. It was succumbing to its injuries, it knew that, yet it must press on.

“Pain” Part of it lamented.

“Ignore” The dominant mind demanded

“Cannot…” the part apologised, disappearing from the collective mind.

“CUUUUUUUUNT!” The horror howled, smashing at The Dragon with fists armed with chitinous spikes.

The Dragon vomited hellfire on the horror, and the dominant mind felt others of its number fall away, unable to bear the pain. It felt itself being consumed, and lashed out, mutating its form to drive shards of bone into the throat of The Dragon, even as it was eaten.

“Fight! Prevail!” The dominant mind commanded

“Hurts!” more parts cried, disappearing

“THANK. GOD. FOR. SUFFERING.” The horror snarled, driving spined knees into the torso of The Dragon as its titanic maw closed on the horror’s head.

Suddenly, the pain was gone. Bruce was again himself. “No!” He cried into the blackness “No no no no!”

“Bruce…” A voice from behind him

“Need to fight!” Bruce snarled “Need to save them!”

“Bruce… Turn and face me.” The voice commanded. Slowly, Bruce turned to face the source of the voice.

A sandstone altar stood before glowing, shifting mist, atop it, a golden scale. Behind the altar, a red-haired figure, her crocodilian eyes and rapacious grin unmistakable.

“Dread Ammit!” Bruce breathed, sinking to a knee reverentially. “I’m… dead then?”

“Yes.” Ammit replied, stepping around the altar, her sinfully ample thighs whispering against the soft linen tunic she wore.

“Is this real?” Bruce asked, looking at the seemingly infinite darkness around him, broken only by the altar and the mists behind him. The floor beneath him was smooth, unlined, devoid of texture.

“You see what you expect to see.” Ammit answered simply, placing a leonine paw on his chest, cruel talons sinking into his torso as if through water, coming away with a beating heart. His heart.

“Please, Divinity, send me back. I can help! I can nail the bastard, I just need more time!” Bruce begged, as she placed the heart in one of the trays on the elaborate golden scale.

“You’ve had more time than most, and more than I care to ignore.” Ammit rejoined, picking up a pristine white feather from the altar. “Over two millennia of life… it is a long record to review, Bruce.”

Flashes of his life played before his eyes as the pans of the scales tilted and shifted under the weights of the heart and feather.

Bruce squeezed his eyes shut. “I couldn’t save her… and I couldn’t save them… Do what needs to be done with this old cunt, Dread Ammit.”

A hand on his face. Cool, delicate. He opened his eyes to see a second figure standing before him, her emerald hair falling to her waist, violet skin almost luminescent in the dim light of the mist.

“Sharaya…” Bruce uttered disbelievingly.

“She’s been waiting for you Bruce. For such a long time now.” Ammit mused softly. Bruce looked over to see the plate with the feather atop it resting on the altar, the plate with his heart, still beating, swaying gently aloft. “All you could do, you have done, and more. Go. Be with her at last, be at peace.”

Bruce took the echidna in his arms, their shades kissing fervently. His hands upon her delicate violet face, her arms and tail wrapped around him as if to never let him go again. Ammit leaned over, blowing on the heart gently, which dissolved into shimmering light which surrounded the couple. Wrapped up in their love, they did not even notice as their forms became indistinct, the mist parting, and the light of paradise beckoning… beckoning…

“What is this?” Corvus breathed, an immense loom present before him, shutters flying as the tapestry it wove stretched into the infinite distance.

“I don’t know.” Tyris said with a smile. “You perceive reality according to your own understanding. Why don’t you try and describe it to me.”

“It’s a loom… it’s weaving a tapestry on its own.”

“Interesting analogy. I saw a river, the first time I looked upon Time unfettered.”

Corvus’s breath caught. “C-can I see it? The way it really is, I mean.”

“Your Will determines that, my son. Not any action of mine.” Tyris replied indulgently.

Corvus closed his eyes, willing the illusion to be dispelled and for the truth to be revealed. He opened his eyes… And screamed.

“Most Holy!” He shrieked, grasping for The God.

“Shhh… A little too much too soon, perhaps.” Tyris offered consolingly, gripping Corvus’s arm. “Just close your eyes again, bring back the loom.”

Corvus closed his eyes, letting the shrieking in his mind settle, willing reality to present itself as that unthreatening analogy again.

“What did you see.”

“N-no… I can’t.” Corvus stammered, shaking his head as he opened his eyes, the loom once again before him, yet below it, a ripple, a memory of that incomprehensible pattern of twelfth-dimensional complexity.

“I envy you, Corvus. I must have spent at least three thousand years coming to terms with all this.” Tyris chuckled

“Thank you, Most Holy.” Corvus breathed gratefully.

“I think we can dispense with the honorifics, between us, at least.” Tyris offered.

“What should I call you?”

Tyris shrugged, his massive pauldrons creaking. “You could try ‘father.”

Corvus had an image of Erik’s honest face, ruddy as he worked the forge. He shook his head regretfully. “No… At least, not yet.”

“Loyalty to dedication… It’s a welcome virtue, son. Alright, let’s just stick with ‘Tyris’ then.”

Corvus blinked, startled. “You saw my thoughts?”

“Of a sense. I know your memories as they become part of the greater ‘You’, which stretches into the All-Encompassing”

“Wha?”

Tyris chuckled “Never mind. You have Time. So much of it.”

“What are we doing here, Mos… er, Tyris?”

“Looking for a solution to your problem.”

Corvus bent to study the tapestry. “I don’t recognise any of this.”

“Of course not. That’s probably part of reality that hasn’t happened yet.”

Corvus frowned, looking back into infinity, his heart sinking “How will I find ‘now’ then?”

Tyris put his face in his mailed hand with a chuckle. “You’re a God, Corvus. Command it to come to you.”

“I can command reality?”

“You’ll never know until you try. Focus on a memory… Let it fill you. Will reality to bring you to that point in Time.”

Corvus closed his eyes again. The memory of the first kiss shared with Lyssa in the rigging of the ‘Ruby’s Chalice’. Warmth spread through him as he allowed the memory to fill his mind. ‘Be here’, he ordered silently.

“Lewd!” Tyris snickered. Corvus opened his eyes, looking down at the tapestry. The infinitesimal threads seemed to grow in his vision, an image of him and Lyssa taking their first tentative steps towards intimacy seemingly woven into their very being.

“Perhaps I should have found something a little less… personal.”

“The stronger the better… Although I didn’t know echidnae liked that!” Tyris pointed at something a little further along the thread.

“You see it?”

“I’m The God, aren’t I?” Tyris drawled.

His face flaming, Corvus sped along the thread, watching their journey to the Australs, back to Magisterium, and the appearance of the Dragon, and the beginning of that doomed battle.

“Why did you send the Angels?” Corvus asked. “You knew they wouldn’t even be able to touch it.”

“Good question. Ilias took Magic from Humanity. Since she took it, it’s up to me to bring it back. The Heroes have a little of it, but it’s not enough. The Angels might be Mamono, but their nature is of Heaven, and there’s a little part of the greater ‘Me’ in all of them.”

“So you were counting on the Resonants to save them?”

“I know Samuel… better than he knows himself. And if nothing else, I could rely on a threat to his brother’s unborn child to spur him to action.”

Corvus frowned. “That’s cruel.”

“Necessary.” Tyris corrected. “What if I told you that three hundred years from now, if Humanity didn’t recover its magic, that they would be facing down the gullet of extinction again?”

“Again?”

Tyris chuckled “Humanity is unique. They change things, just by being there, even without the assistance of our crystalline friend orbiting the world. Reality despises uncertainty, so it’s trying to kick humanity out of the nest, so to speak.”

“And the Mamono?”

“Ah. Now we’re back to our current problem. What do you notice about The Dragon?”

Corvus studied the tapestry. “It has a thread… but it’s just… there… it’s not woven in with the others.”

“Well spotted, now… follow it back.”

Corvus followed the rogue thread back through ‘Time’, coming to what looked like a snarl in the tapestry, as if some imperfect weaver had taken the shuttle before being forcibly removed.

“What’s that? It looks like another tapestry’s been forced into this one.” Corvus exclaimed, pointing at the snarl.

“The merging.” Tyris answered. “Humanity’s last great art of Magic. They called upon a very, very old God. One of the primal states of being. An Octurne Godhead they knew as the Ogdoad.”

“Sounds Ammitian…” Corvus remarked.

“And Ammit probably had some interaction with them, at some point.” Tyris agreed. “The cult of Kek, they styled themselves, in the decadent years of their last great empire. To be certain, this was the moment that things changed in ways not even the ‘Me’ of that time could have predicted. Your reality was merged with a dying one, yet one which held something the Kekites desperately wanted.”

“Mamono.” Corvus gasped.

“Very well done, my son. You deduced that on remarkably few clues. Yes. Mamono. Some seer had predicted them, or simply dreamed of their existence, and the tiny flame caught into a wildfire amongst those with latent magical abilities. Feeling exiled from their society, they dreamed their dreams, cast their spells in covens which stretched across the world, bound by networks of power humans of ‘today’ have yet to rediscover. They threw their need as an offering to the Ogdoad, and in the dead dreaming of those forgotten, primal Gods, they received their answer.”

“The realities merged” Corvus nodded, revelation sweeping through him. “But The Dragon?”

“It was to be the Doom of their civilization. A force of destruction to seed the rebirth of the new creation, but it was never meant for this reality, so it remained, a loose thread in the universal cloth, to borrow your loom, and it will choke the fabric of this reality with its corruption.”

“So I just have to pull the thread…” Corvus began.

“Wait.” Tyris commanded. “You can do that. It is within your power, but removing The Dragon will unravel the binding which holds the Mamono to this world. Everything that has happened for nearly ten thousand years will be undone, and the reality you return to will be unrecognisable. Your friends, your family, your echidna lover, your little sisters, all gone, as if they never were. Can you live with such a choice?”

“God! No!” Corvus cried out in horror, drawing his hand away from the thread. “But I don’t understand, surely the Logos causing Ilias to fall was titanic enough to cause something like that, yet the pattern treats it like a normal event.

“Aha.” Tyris exclaimed. “You’ve got a sharp mind, son. Ilias didn’t really fall. The manifestation of her presence on the mortal plane was severed, it’s true, and that fragment of the greater ‘Me’ probably thought of herself as Ilias to the end of her days. Her memories of Godhood would have been fragmented, incoherent, which probably contributes to a lot of the inconsistencies which have made their way into My doctrines. Meanwhile, the greater ‘Me’ realized that a new approach was needed, but it took my Human… well… mostly Human incarnation ascending to Godhood and becoming Tyris before that approach was truly realized.”

“That doesn’t bother you?” Corvus queried

“What’s that?”

“That Humanity has corrupted your doctrines thanks to a fragment of something which used to be The God?”

Tyris shrugged again. “The core message is there.”

“And what’s that?”

“I’m God. Don’t fuck with me and we’ll get along fine.”

Corvus burst out laughing “We’re really not that different from them, are we?”

“Good to see you’re starting to come around.” Tyris grinned. “Interacting in this place, in this fashion, no, not really, although you’d have to tell reality to behave VERY sternly if you were to bring anything less powerful than a Lilim here. When you start to get a grasp on things, we’ll start talking at… higher planes… that’s when the differences will really start to be noticeable.”

“So… Back to the issue.” Corvus insisted

“I told you, we’ve got all the Time we need.”

“Forgive me for prioritizing existence over small-talk on matters which I’m still having trouble wrapping my brain around, Tyris.” Corvus chided gently.

“Oh you’ll keep, boy.” Tyris grumbled in mock-irritation.

“So… If I can’t just pull the thread… can I weave it into reality? Will that let the Logos have some authority over it?”

“Well done, son.” Tyris smiled with genuine pride.

“Wait… I’ve got an idea…” Corvus murmured, studying the threads further, moving along into the possible futures. “Hah. I knew it.”

“If you hit me with a paradox, I’m going to be very cross with you.” Tyris warned gravely.

“Trust me, Most Holy.” Corvus grinned “You’re going to love this.”

Walker bit back tears as he watched the dragon tear into the last remains of the amalgam horror which was his oldest friend. It’s limbs, valiantly, still flailed against the dragon as they were consumed.

“That’s Bruce.” Walker choked. “Never knows when to quit.”

The Dragon belched. “A valiant attempt… But futile.” It remarked, sparks and ash falling from its mouth. “Just surrender. I can make it end quickly for thee.”

A massively armoured Paladin stepped to the battlements, holding aloft a head of one of The Dragon’s thralls.

“You ran out of army, creature, and we’re just getting warmed up!” The paladin spat, throwing the head over the wall at the monstrous form of The Dragon.

“Such Bravado… I will attempt to remember thee, tiny man.” The Dragon drawled, yawning its cavernous maw in amusement. “But it matters not. Truly do I say to thee, those dragons were to be cast at thy mages, for their arts doth irritate such that I cannot abide them.”

“Mages?” A resonant echoed, looking askance at Walker.

“It doesn’t understand resonance.” Walker breathed. “We might… might just have a chance.”

“And now…” The Dragon concluded “…Prepare thyself, and make supplication to Thy God. For I come!”

The Dragon began its implacable advance on the wall again.

“Conflagration?” The resonant asked.

Walker shook his head “Too close.”

“Thoughts?”

“We open up the planet.”

The resonant looked at him with horror and shock. “Explain.”

“We wait until the Dragon’s within the walls, then we drop the entire city a couple thousand miles straight down, and close ourselves in.”

“We’ll be killing millions!” The resonant cried.

“To save Hundreds of Millions.” Walker retorted. “This thing moves slowly enough. How’s it going to manage crawling through miles upon miles of molten rock?”

The resonant gave a gallows sigh. “My Soul is prepared, Brother Samuel. I’ll go inform the others.”

Bitter tears stung at Samuel’s eyes. “Yumi… Kylie… I love you…” He grated in a harsh voice.

“Non nobis Domine, Domine…” Came a chant from a Paladin on the wall, who had taken out his sword and was holding it by the blade, its crosspiece before his face.

“Non nobis Domine…” Came another.

“Sed nomine, sed nomine” The chant swelled, accompanied by the ringing of metal as the paladins throughout the scattered troops joined with their bretheren, the glow of the Benedictus, their anointed power, forming like a nimbus around them.

“Tuo Da Gloriam!” They concluded, and an arc of energy burst outwards from the walls, pushing the dragon Forcibly back and felling a hundred hectares of trees in all directions.

“What is THAT?!” Walker demanded in joyous surprise

“The Last Stand.” An Adjutant answered. His hand reverently over his breast as the Paladins continued to chant.

Walker gave a cry of renewed hope, watching The Dragon snarl and howl its frustration at this impediment, before vomiting hellfire at the city.

“BARRIERS!” Walker cried, calling upon the logos and forming a wall of sheer force that the hellfire splattered against. Walker laughed again. “Fuck me but we can actually win this!”

“If you have a miracle, use it now. They don’t have much time.” The Adjutant replied, gesturing to the paladins who had formed ranks along the walls.

“Tuo Da Gloriam!” Their chant reached its crescendo again, and light burst from the eyes and mouth of one of the paladins, fuelling the arc as it pushed The Dragon back again. The stricken paladin fell limply to the ground, dead.

“Oh Tyris, they’re killing themselves!” Walker cried in dismay. “In the Name of The God, Stop them!”

“That they may die beneath the teeth and claws of that?” The Adjutant retorted, pointing over the wall at the furiously ravening Dragon. “No, they die that one more ship may leave Magisterium. That one more family may run one more league. ‘Not to me, oh Lord, my God. But to You, and to Your Name, be the Glory.”

“Tyris… Please…” Walker prayed, sick despair in his gut.

“Don’t worry Sam. Corvus has this.” A soldier said familiarly, clapping him on the shoulders.

“Who are you to use that nam…” Walker demanded, rounding on the intruder, his remonstration dying in his throat as the PRESENCE of that new arrival struck him.

“Holy Tyris!” Walker gasped.

“Shhh.” The God insisted, holding a finger to his mouth. “I’m in disguise.”

“Can’t you do something?” Walker begged, gesturing at the Paladins ritual suicide and the Dragon beyond the walls.

“I am.” Tyris answered simply.

“…Most Holy, they’re still dying.”

“Uh huh. Shame, but think of it this way…” The God began, gesturing to the fallen paladins.

“One of those dead would have beat his wife to death in a drunken rage next week. Two more would have suffered massive heart attacks within the month. One had the early onset of a horrible plague that would wipe out half the city. Now they’ll be remembered as Saints and Martyrs. Ammit would be very cross with you to be looking at every death today as a net negative.”

“I think extinction counts as a net negative, Most Holy.” Walker retorted.

“And I told you. Corvus has that in hand.”

“Oh really, what’s he going to do?”

“I have no idea!” Tyris grinned, looking almost boyish in his guise as a nondescript soldier. “For the first time in Eons, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Isn’t it exciting?”

Walker felt like he was going to be sick.

“Anomaly” The Logos exclaimed as Corvus returned to ‘real’ space. “That was quick.”

“Was it?” Corvus asked. He felt like he had spent centuries analysing the patterns of reality, accounting for all the tiny variables, his head felt full to bursting.

“Yes. Now please, one would ask many things of the Tyris-Entity.”

“He’s busy right now, I’m afraid.” Corvus apologised. “And I’ve got some rather… heavy news for you.”

“One is always welcoming of new data.”

Corvus ‘sighed’, keenly aware of the fact that the air he drew into his lungs was a figment of his own divine ‘Imagination’, floating as he was, miles above the earth’s atmosphere.

“You are the last of your kind.”

“One believes one has failed to correctly receive that. One believes that Anomaly told one that one was the last of one’s kind.”

“That is what I said. The other constructs, the other guardians… They failed.”

“But… One was one of many… so many…”

“All gone. I’m so sorry.”

“One requires clarification.”

“On what?”

“One believes one is experiencing ‘emotion’ at this new data. One is (frightened?) and (angry?) and (sad?)”

“Understandably.” Corvus said sympathetically, placing his hand on the shifting exterior of the structure.

“One does not want to be alone…”

“Is there a reason that you stay up here?” Corvus asked. “If you could converse with Humans and Mamono directly, I’m sure you’d have access to a lot more knowledge than just what you siphon from the minds of Resonants.”

“One remains to facilitate subspace transit of information between one’s peers. This is not possible when encased in a planetary ionosphere.”

“But since… And I’m not trying to be cruel here… that’s not likely to happen… Why not come back with me?”

“And one will not have to be alone?”

Corvus smiled, placing his other hand on the structure and resting the circlet against it, where the crystal promptly melted back into the greater matrix. “I promise.” He murmured.

“Then let us go… Home?”

Corvus nodded, planting himself against the shifting structure as it began reforming itself “Yes, friend. Let’s go home.”

The structure finished its flux, becoming a dull wedge-shaped mass of crystal aimed like an arrow at the earth, which began growing larger in Corvus’s vision. A slight twinge of doubt tickled at him.

“Just out of curiosity, how fast can you survive hitting the ground?”

“One is capable of withstanding impact with a planetary body at 0.5c”

“In human?”

“Fast enough to crack the planet in half”

“Ah… Let’s not do that.” Corvus grimaced as a corona of heat began forming around the leading edge of the Logos’s structure. Reaching deep within his larger ‘self’ instinctively, he told the laws of physics to shut up and leave him alone.

The uniform azure around him began to be punctuated by wispy clouds of ice as they broke through the atmosphere, the air around the Logos literally catching fire from the speed of their entry.

“Are you alright?” He yelled, unable to hear his own voice over the roaring wind and blazing heat.

“Ones systems are well within safe operating ranges, thank you.”

“Then do me a favour! Aim right between The Dragon’s shoulder blades when you land!”

“One will comply.”

“Thanks! Oh, by the way, you’re about to save the world.”

“One does not understand.”

Corvus grinned. “Just do what comes naturally, I’ll take care of the rest.”

“What in the shit?!” Walker exclaimed, gazing wide-eyed at the blazing ball of fire roaring earthward. “Who’s the moron who called down a fucking meteor?! Own up! I want to force feed you your balls before I die!”

“I sensed no glyph, brother…” A resonant responded, cowed at his sudden rage.

“It’s Corvus.” Tyris murmured.

Walker squinted, staring at the flaming object. Sure enough, as the friction from the air slowed the object enough that the flames began to die, he saw a tiny figure kneeling against the surface of the massive wedge-shaped crystal that was hurtling towards earth.

“He’s saying something, what is he saying?” The Gazer exclaimed, her appendant eyes trained on the figure atop the crystal.

A hellhound stepped onto the wall, her ears perked, eyes smouldering with the inner fire that was the hallmark of the aggressive canids.

“It sounds like ‘For Tyris, The Church, and the Holy Northern Reich” The hellhound echoed confusedly.

One of the Swordbrethren overheard the hellhound, “How do you know our War-Cry, black-dog?”

“The fuck did you call me?” The hellhound snarled, spinning around.

“That is for Men of the Nordenlandreich! Not for Mamono.” The Swordbrother chided sternly, his voice distorted behind a full face helm.

“Well I didn’t say it. He did!” The hellhound snapped, pointing at the object plummeting towards the ground and the small human figure atop it. “And so what if I did? If I said it, would you die?”

“It would be extremely painful…” The swordbrother grated.

The Hellhound sniffed nonchalantly “You’re a big guy.”

“…for you.”

Walker saw Tyris wince inexplicably in his periphery.

“Brother!” Another swordbrother exclaimed. “If he knows the cry, he must be Norden!”

“Corvus!” The bearded, gore-coated form of Harbinger Julhaig roared. “For Tyris! The Church! And the Holy Northern Reich!”

The Swordbretheren took up the cry, the paladins’ suicidal chanting faltering and then ceasing as they too watched the crystal plummet to earth.

“That was ridiculous, they can’t even see him from here, let alone hear him.” Walker muttered to Tyris.

“Do I tell you how to manipulate reality, Resonant?” Tyris shot back, allowing some of his PRESENCE to wash over Walker, who staggered back, overwhelmed.

“N-No… Most Holy.” Walker conceded.

Closer it approached… Closer…

“By Tyris, it’s going to hit the Dragon head-on!” The Gunnery commander exclaimed.

The dragon seemed to lurch comically as the massive crystal struck it in the spine, its legs splaying from the sheer force of the impact, the wedge driving through its body, burying itself deep in the earth. A shockwave boiled out from the point of impact, and Walker stared slack-jawed as it hit a barrier of invisible force a scant hundred yards from the wall, massive boulders bounding away to smash unoffending trees.

“If anybody asks, you did that.” Tyris commanded.

“Thank you, Most Holy.” Walker murmured.

“Do try and pay attention, Samuel. I find a Deus ex Machina extremely distasteful, and I’m The God!”

“If that doesn’t hold it, nothing will!” An officer roared. “USHI-ONI! HEAVY CAVALRY! MYRMIDIONS OF SETI! STAND BY TO CHARGE!”

“Oof. That was a landing.” Corvus coughed, spitting dust from his mouth.

“One apologises, one only managed to impact behind the fifth and sixth vertebrae.”

“Ah shush, it’s not going anywhere.” Corvus waved nonchalantly. “Are you?”

“I will rend thee from the bosom of reality, puny godling.” The Dragon hissed, futilely trying to pull itself from where the logos had impaled it.

“One has anchored oneself to the tectonic plate, this entity is immobilized.”

“What is this thing which speaks as though I should understand?” The Dragon demanded, clawing at the earth impotently.

“The Logos of Resonance. Humanity’s oldest friend… Well, outside The God, that is.” Corvus grinned.

“This cannot destroy me… Nothing in this world is permanent… I will be free once more.” The Dragon roared, glaring baelfuly at Corvus through a carmine eye.

“Does it hurt?” Corvus asked, ignoring the threat.

“What? Art thou simple of mind, godling? I am Destruction! Pain is of no import to me. I have been pierced by weapons more powerful than the sun and yet I remain!”

“No, not the fact you’re pinned down like a butterfly, although that is hilarious, mind you.” Corvus admitted. “Being unbound from reality like that. It doesn’t look fun at all.”

“Stop taunting me with thy riddles, godling. Place what puny curses thy pathetic power affords thee. I will return. I am the jaws of Entropy!”

“No. No curses. I want to give you a gift.” Corvus said sincerely, placing his hand through a crack in The Dragon’s armour into the swirling chaotic matter underneath.

“What? What art thou doing?” The Dragon demanded, fear showing through the fury in its carmine gaze.

“A home, a reality you can belong to, forever and ever.” Corvus replied, smiling slightly. “Of course we can’t have you coming here like THAT, there are rules in this universe after all, and you don’t fit the dress code. So we’ll have to… modify you somewhat.”

Corvus envisaged the great loom of reality in his head, the infinite pattern of the universe playing out before him. With invisible hands swifter than light or thought, he wove the loose thread of The Dragon into the fabric of the world.

“Anomaly, one is able to ascertain the nature of this entity now.”

“Let me know when you’ve finished.”

“One has gathered all available data. Would anomaly like one to remove this entity from existence?”

“No. I made a promise.” Corvus responded, shaking his head, pushing his hand deeper into the stuff that made up The Dragon’s innards.

“Live.” He commanded.

“W-WHAT?!” The dragon screamed, its carmine eyes fading to a reptilian gold, the swirling chaos in the cracks of its armour turning to sinew and muscle and spurting gore. “NO! I Cannot Die!”

“And this world cannot truly live while you remain in it. I’m sorry, for what it’s worth, but both of us had our parts to play in this.” Corvus replied sadly.

“N-no… Not the darkness… Please… please father… leave the light on…”

With a final rattling gurgle, the Dragon belched a great font of blood from its mouth, its eyes dimming as the colossal head lay down upon the ravaged earth.

“It was unique in the universe, and I killed it.” Corvus grated, hot tears in his eyes.

The thunder of hooves as a legion of heavy horse, as well as Centaurs, Ushi-oni, and other Mamono implacably charged towards him. Corvus turned, facing the oncoming legion, numb with the gravity of what he had just done. Seeing nothing but a young man standing before the slain Dragon, they reined in. Julhaig’s powerful warhorse shouldered its way to the van.

“Corvus?” the Harbinger uttered disbelievingly.

“I am, that I am.” Corvus said absently.

Julhaig slid off his warhorse, dropping to his knees and crossing powerful, tattooed arms across his chest.

“Raven of the North.” He declared reverentially.

Other Nordenlanders slid from their steeds, mirroring their Harbinger’s movements.

“Raven of the North!” They declared with ringing shouts.

A confluence of reality washed over Corvus, as he saw time crawl to a near halt around him. An insect’s gossamer wings clawed at the air, and he glimpsed the futures before him.

Down one path he saw himself enthroned. An eternal God-Emperor, ruling over Man and Mamono alike, his empire stretching to cross countless worlds, the names of Tyris and Maou forgotten… Millennia it would last, until robbed of their own agency, his citizens would die of their apathy, the ruins of his empire etched in the howling winds of dying stars.

Down the other, uncertainty, adversity… but life, and life abundantly, and hope. Hope for a brighter future which burned constant and inspiring into the dim reaches of infinity.

“I understand now.” Corvus murmured into that half-time which surrounded him.

“I’m glad you do.” The voice of Tyris echoed. “The choice however, is yours, and I may not gainsay you.”

Corvus dropped to his knees, and time resumed its flow. Raising his hands into the Sign of The Sunburst, he lifted his eyes reverentially to heaven.

“Not to my name!” He cried “But to Tyris be the Glory!”

“ALL GLORY TO THE MOST HIGH!” Came the thundering roar.

“A wise King wears a crown reluctantly.” Tyris chuckled.

“Most Holy?” Walker queried, The God still disguised as the non-descript soldier beside him.

“Corvus could have had the Throne of Heaven and Earth in that moment, but he chose humility, and freedom. Freedom for all life.”

“Corvus… Corvus is a God?!” Walker choked, his eyes bulging.

“Do keep up Samuel, we’re not here to spell things out to you.” Tyris chuckled. “He will be, eventually, though it may be centuries in the making.”

“Not to my name, but to Tyris be the Glory!” Came a distant voice.

“Oh sure… Pin this on Me.” Tyris chuckled “Do me a favour, Samuel. Teach that boy to take SOME credit once in a while.”

“Why me?”

“Because it’s your purpose, idiot!” Tyris sighed exasperatedly. “Do you think I keep you around because I like our little chats?”

“You told me that I was just a man, in the right place at the right time!”

“Of course you were! That doesn’t mean that you don’t have a REASON for existing. Some people get up and plod about their daily lives for decades only to say the right thing to the right person one morning in passing, but that comment changes the course of an entire civilization.” Tyris exclaimed, before clapping a hand on the resonant’s shoulder.

“All it took was one man… Albeit gifted, and older than he honestly should be, though We don’t hold that against you… To teach My Son the True Value of Life to such an exquisite detail that he just finished shedding tears of regret over killing the personification of destruction.”

“But I didn’t do anything… I just.”

“You were just you. And you were exactly what he needed. Keep being you. Put away this ‘Walker’ as you put away Prince Samuel. Be Sam, for a time. Be a man, with a family. Let him learn from your example, and your mistakes, as he learned from the Human who raised him.” Tyris entreated.

Walker shrugged “Who else could I be?”

Tyris chuckled. “You’ll make an excellent Disciple for him.”

“Discip…” Walker echoed as Tyris began to walk away “Do I get a choice in this?”

“Wrong question, resonant” Tyris rejoined as he disappeared into the crowd “What you should be asking is, if I did, would I choose any differently?”

“It’s a boy…” Ruby breathed, as the infant cried its first gasping breaths, held securely aloft in her tentacles as mucous was expelled from its lungs.

“She’s gone…” A priestess noted sadly, closing Ariael’s uniformly blue eyes. As if that was all that remained, her form disspated into a corona of light which swept briefly around the infant before dissipating into nothingness.

“Maou damn it.” Ruby swore. “The poor thing, where can we take him?”

“The Abbeys of Blessed Innocence still function. He will be well cared for.” The priestess assured, taking the baby and wrapping him comfortingly in a thick blanket. “Strange… He doesn’t seem…”

“What?”

“He’s… Human, well, mostly. There’s very little of the Angel in him at all.”

“Bub Alright?” Admiral Arin asked shortly, bursting into the cabin with little regard.

“Arin! Why are you just barging in like this?” Ruby demanded, crossing her arms and a pair of tentacles in front of her.

“One, it’s my fuckin’ ship.”

“Language in front of the baby!” Ruby chastised.

“Bugger’im, he doesn’t know better.” Arin waved it off “And Two, just spoke to Lucifer. Sez thanks so much for the help, he owes me a debt he can never repay, etcetera etcetera, bub’s mostly human so the Heavens ain’t the best place for him.”

“Don’t be absurd, Lucifer’s dead.” Ruby retorted.

“Well unless YOU know another bigarse angel with six wings bearing a remarkable resemblance to the Late Lord Dumat love…” Arin blustered.

“In Tyris all things are possible…” The Priestess offered.

“Alright. We make for… the Angel isles?”

“Manchester’s bloody miserable this time of year.”

“Manchester’s always miserable, but with his colouration it’ll be easier for him to fit in.” Ruby retorted, cooing as she tickled the baby with a crimson tentacle.

“Alright, I’ll give the order…” Arin sighed resignedly as he stalked back up to the deck, muttering something about why he was even given the rank of admiral when his wife still bossed him around.

A raven cawed at him where it perched on the wheel.

“Yeh shaddup, I’m not too happy about lying to the wife there.”

The raven cawed again.

“I know it was necessary, but why are we even splitting these babies up if they’re supposed to bring magic back to the world?”

Caw caw… caw…

“Alright Alright… You know you really are taking this ‘Raven of the North’ thing a little too seriously, Corvus.”

The raven gave an almost human chuckle, before taking wing and flying into the dim twilight.

“Hello?” Corvus called, sticking his head into the front door of the house.

Twin squeals of delight were his answer, as two Snow-fox kits came running out to latch onto his legs.

“Corvus!” The girls cried as one.

“I’m glad to see you too!” Corvus chuckled, bending down to detatch his stepsisters from about his legs, before taking them in a warm embrace. “You two got big while I was away!”

“Daddy says you’ve been working with Rezzy-nets!”

“What’s a rezzy-net?”

“Ummm…. I dunno. What’s a Rezzy-net, Corvus?”

“A resonant, Siggi” Corvus began, booping the fox-cub on the nose, “Is a man chosen for a great purpose. He makes it his life’s work to preserve knowledge, and to work towards better understanding the world around us. They can do wonderful things, and they’ve saved my life many times.

“Is that like Mr Walker who you left with?”

“Yes, Ingrid. Mr Walker was a resonant.” Corvus replied, tickling the other cub who squealed and giggled. “And one of the best men I’ve ever known.”

“Ara ara~” A voice came from the kitchen as Akemi followed her cubs into the hall “Who’s at the door gir…”

Her voice cut off with a small scream as she saw Corvus there with the girls. Standing, Corvus smiled, opening his arms to the matronly snow-fox.

“Mother.”

Akemi practically launched herself into Corvus’s arms, weeping with joy as she clung tightly to him. “I was so worried about you!”

“You mean nobody’s made it back yet?” Corvus frowned. “I told Harbinger Julhaig to tell you I was alright.”

“That man is a filthy drunk. Going on about you being the Divine Raven of the North, to bring the Wisdom of Wotan back to the Reich or some such idiocy. He must have been in his cups for weeks to rave so!”

“Clearly.” Corvus chuckled, holding his step-mother to him and relishing in the familiar scent of her snow-white hair.

Akemi released him, studying him with a slight smile. “Who’s the girl?”

“Huh?”

“Don’t be coy, Corvus, you positively REEK of her.”

“And here I thought I bathed.” Corvus chuckled. “Her name’s Lyssa, she wanted to come with me, but the cold… you know how these things are.”

“Ahhh, yes. Such a shame. As long as she’s a nice girl. I’ll be very cross with her if she hurts my little boy!”

“Alright mother. Where’s dad?”

“That’s a very good question… Erik!” Akemi cried

“What woman?” Came the harsh response from the rear of the house.

“Come here!”

“In a minute.”

“No, Now you Baka!” She snapped.

“Alright alright…” Erik’s voice growing with his heavy footsteps “No need to get insulting.”

Erik froze as he saw Corvus standing there with the foxes.

“Corvus…”

“Hi Dad.”

Erik took him in a bearhug, weeping openly as he hugged him. “I thought I’d lost you, boy.”

“Dad…” Corvus choked.

“So how long are you staying for?” Erik asked, reclining in his chair and rubbing his stomach as Akemi cleared the plates from dinner.

“I’ll have to get back to Magisterium tomorrow. King Carl has seemingly come down with an intense desire to re-work his entire cabinet now that the Order of Amaranth have become Heroes in truth.”

“Ah well, probably just stacking the deck with those Michellians you were telling us about before any other sovereignties get a thought to pinch ‘em.”

Corvus chuckled, nodding. “More than likely, I think he’s aware of how limiting his speech impediment is, regardless of the fact that the whole bloody city loves him too much to say anything about it.”

“Ara Ara~” Akemi murmured, spotting where the twins were dozing at the table. “Time for little ones to go to bed, I think.”

“Noooo.” Siggi yawned. “Wanna stay up with Corvus.”

“I won’t go without saying goodbye. I promise.”

“Mkay. I love you big brother.” Siggi mumbled.

“Love you big brother.” Ingrid echoed.

“I love you both too.”

“My boy…” Erik chuckled as Akemi carried the twins to their room, as she left, his face grew serious. “…But of course, you’re not my boy any more, are you?”

“No…” Corvus near-whispered, his heart in his throat.

“How much truth is there? In what they’re saying about you, I mean.”

Corvus shrugged. “I am, that I am.”

Erik sighed. “I knew it. Somehow I always knew… But I’ll tell you this, Corvus. I loved you as my own, and Tyris strike me down if I’m a liar.”

“Dad…” Corvus choked “Everything I am, every good and honest and forthright thing about me, is because of you. I did what I did, became what I am, because of what you taught me. Call when you wish of me, ask what you will of me, there is nothing that is within my power that I will deny you.”

Erik stroked his short, steel-grey beard thoughtfully. “Alright. I’ll go with Peace, Health, Long Life and a Good Harvest. Anything else is my responsibility and a man who asks God for something he can earn from the sweat of his brow is either a weakling or guilty of the Sin of Avarice.”

“See?” Corvus laughed. “If anyone here is deserving of Godhood it’s you.”

Erik shook his head with a chuckle. “You know we’re of the Royal line, right?”

Corvus blinked “I knew we were close, but to actually be in the line of succession?”

Erik nodded. “I could have taken the Crown after Ulfred’s… demise” He passed a weary hand over his face “And if High King Toruld can’t manage to find his arse with the assistance of both hands in the next five years I may be forced to, for the Good of the Reich. But I don’t want it. And that’s the point. Power, any power, is always a millstone, it always comes with a price. And accounts will be paid, one way or the other. If there’s one thing I can leave with you, my last fatherly instruction, as it were, is to exercise wisdom and temperance in its use.”

Corvus smiled. “Thank you.”

Erik’s brow furrowed “You just humouring me?”

“No… You made me realize I made the right choice.”

“How so?”

Corvus sighed, leaning back in his chair. “You don’t need to worry about the rumors. They’ll pass into legend soon enough, and from there to myth. I will be a God someday… perhaps even The God, but there will be many, many years before that, while I learn what it truly means to be a Just God.”

“You’re a good boy, Corvus. I’ve always been proud of you… Even if my apprentice DID abandon me leaving me in the autumn years of my life to break my back under the weight of the work.” Erik lamented in mocking self-pity.

“Get on you…” Corvus snickered.

“Bah. This has become too serious. Come! Share a drink with your old man.” Erik insisted, standing and fetching a bottle from a cabinet.

“Is that the spirit House Glenlivet makes?” Corvus asked suspiciously.

“What, do Gods get hangovers?”

“I guess we’re about to find out.” Corvus chuckled, as Erik poured him a generous measure.

“Where did He even find it?” The Senior Warden asked incredulously.

“I dunno, it was just… There.” Walker exclaimed, shrugging.

“…These are the Duties and Cares of the Master of the Grand Lodge of the Resonant. Will you take them up, and guide this body with wisdom and with foresight?” The Director of Workings continued to drone, ignoring the whispers of the Resonants behind him.

The woman stood from the elaborate seat in the east of the room, turning her glittering crystalline eyes to survey the resonants before her.

“Once again, one offers apologies for the damage one caused to your existing lodge when one recalled ones satellites. One is… thankful for the position that you have entrusted one with, and hopes that the repurposing of one’s primary matrix will enable us all to understand each other a little better.”

“But do you think she can put cushions on the damn tiers?” The Junior Warden murmured.

Walker bit back a chuckle, looking about at the crystal room, a direct replica of the now-ruined hall of the Grand Lodge of the resonant, now housed within the massive structure Corvus had used to kill The Dragon, housing the physical form of the Logos of Resonance.

“But why a woman?” The Senior Warden hissed insistently.

“I asked Corvus the same thing.” Walker replied. “He just said that ‘It made her feel pretty”

“God for less than a month and already He’s full of riddles.” The Senior Warden grumbled.

“Nah.” Walker snickered. “He got that from me.”

“Arch-Master V3R1T4S?” The incarnate Logos asked, turning her crystalline eyes to Walker.

“Yes, Master?” Walker responded.

“Would you kindly lead the lodge in the labour of the day? One would prefer it done by an expert hand.”

“Your will, Master.” Walker said with a grin. “Officers, please take your seats…”

“How did you do that?” Lyssa demanded, rolling over and pinning Corvus to the bed.

“Do what?”

“Oh come on. You’re all anyone has been talking about for the past month and you’re just STANDING there in the throne room while Tellis is anointed Seneschal of the Imperial guard, and nobody so much as looks at you twice.”

“Well clearly they were just bewitched by your startling beauty, love.” Corvus drawled, leaning up to kiss her.

“D-don’t think you can just charm your way out of it! I want to know!” Lyssa stammered, her amethyst features colouring with a blush.

“It’s pretty simple. I just give reality a list of the people I want to be able to see me and it takes care of the rest.”

Lyssa stared down at him, nonplussed. “Really…”

“No, of course not. It’s an absolute PRICK of a thing. It’d probably take me a year to explain it and even then I’d have to get the Grand Lodge to help me with some of the concepts.”

“You’re awfully cozy with the resonants these days… I thought after everything…”

Corvus reached up to stroke her cheek, “That I’d be wary of them? I spent a LOT of time talking with the Logos. It’s funny, It’s been studying us, gathering data for millennia and yet on so many things it’s still frighteningly naive.

“I saw the form you gave it… very attractive.” Lyssa hissed suspiciously.

“It insisted.” Corvus shrugged. “Besides, not my type.”

“How do you mean?”

“No Tail.” Corvus snickered, hooking his legs around her waist and knocking her arms askew, rolling to reverse their positions, kissing her thoroughly.

“S-stop that!” Lyssa half-moaned. “You’re changing the subject. When did you even learn to do it?”

“You remember that time everyone assumed I was off doing other things?”

“Yeah, I was put out with you, you didn’t even say goodbye! Where did you go?” Lyssa sulked

Corvus laughed, kissing her again. “I didn’t. I was right here in the Stronghold of the Order, nobody could see me. I smacked Michael right in the face and he didn’t even blink. Eventually got it under control though.”

“Oh…” Lyssa said simply. Corvus lay down next to her, fingers tracing the outlines of her body.

“You’re the one who’s dodging the question though.” Corvus murmured, his face in her long emerald hair.

“How do you mean?”

Corvus propped himself up on an elbow. “You didn’t want to ask me about not being seen. You want to know how much I can do.”

“W-well yeah, I mean I want to know more about you and…”

“Lyssa, you have never been shy about ordering me around.”

“It’s d-different now.” Lyssa murmured, blushing.

“Because I’m a God?”

Lyssa nodded.

“Why don’t you ask me, then I’ll tell you if I can do it or not.”

“The other Echidnae… Hector said they’re sending out an expedition to look for them. Bring them back here, if they can.”

“You don’t think they’ll be willing?”

“Oh! They’d be more than willing!” Lyssa exclaimed assuringly. “It’s just… I’m afraid, if something were to h-happen to them.”

“And you want me to bring them here myself.”

Lyssa nodded, her eyes hopeful.

“No.” Corvus said simply.

Lyssa hissed incensedly. “Why?! After you made me ask and everything!”

“Because love, think about what would have happened if just one little thing hadn’t happened between Valhael, Heliopolis, New Botany, and Here. It’s entirely likely that we wouldn’t have even met… You know, I’ve seen whole swathes of reality where that happened, by the way.”

“NO!” Lyssa shrieked, clinging to Corvus. “Those are not real! Those are not happening! You are going to give me nightmares you horrible God!”

“Relax Love… You know I’m easily as in love with you as you are with me.” Corvus soothed “My point is, some very important things are going to happen on that expedition. Things that could mean happiness for your fellow Echidnae, things that could mean sadness… But important things, that will make them who they need to be, when they need to be it.”

“I guess I understand…” Lyssa sulked.

“Hey Lyssa…”

“What?”

“Do you really think about me that much when I’m not around?”

“S-so what if I do… Wait… You were WATCHING?!” The Echidna hissed in mortified shock. “When I was… When I was…”

“You called my name… it’s like a beacon. I couldn’t help it, I promise!”

“Y-you mean that’s all I have to do?” Lyssa suddenly looked at Corvus with vulnerable eyes.

“Forever, Lys. Just call for me, and I’ll be there for you. Always.”

“I love you…” Lyssa breathed, kissing the young God fervently.

“A very pretty story, ‘Admiral’, but it doesn’t tell me what I want to know.” The kitsune grumbled.

Arin smirked, leaning back in the chair, ignoring the imposing presence of the Oni guards.

“Oh? And what would that be, Princess?”

“Where is The Raven?” The Kitsune demanded, her golden tails bristling with frustration.

“Wherever he wants.”

“Where are the Magi?”

“Where they need to be.”

The kitsune shrieked in frustration, striking Arin roughly across the face.

Arin spat blood from a cut lip. “You know I liked you a lot better when you were a little kit sitting by my knee back in Atlantea while I made those shit Magisterium bards look bad.”

“You will Address her highness properly!” One of the Oni growled.

“Or what?” Arin snapped. “Quite frankly I’ve run out of patience with this little circus. You sink my yacht, you drag me onto this tub of a thing. And you just expect me to spill my guts on whatever takes your fancy? Did it not occur to you to try calling Him?”

“I am Princess Kasumi of the line of Inari!” The Kitsune cried incensedly “I do not lower myself to beseech lesser Gods!”

“I can call you a lot of things, Princess, but a God sure as shit ain’t one of them.”

“HERESY!” Roared the other Oni, moving to strike Arin, but held back by the Kitsune’s delicately raised hand.

“Don’t worry, Admiral…” Kasumi drawled in a deceptively honeyed tone. “We have ways of encouraging you to give us the information we desire.”

“Ok, threats of torture are where I stop playing about.” Arin declared nonchalantly, standing from the chair. “I’m off.”

“And how did you plan to leave, Admiral?” Kasumi asked sweetly, a cruel grin on her youthful features.

“Gonna get a Leviathan to bite the back of this tub open and swallow me, how do you think?”

Kasumi laughed helplessly “I thought you were probably insane.”

“That’s possible.” Arin admitted, as a great impact shook the ship. “Doesn’t make me wrong.”

The hull gave a great groaning and creaking as the wall of the cabin began to be punctured by long, yellow teeth.

“Did you really think you could hold The Ancient Mariner, on open water, ANYWHERE he didn’t want to be held?” Arin laughed, standing firmly as the wall was ripped out and a horrible, massive head peered inside, yawning its cavernous maw.

“Limp back to Zippangu, Princess, and get those quivering lap-dogs you call citizens to teach you what the word ‘Humility’ means.”

Arin’s laughter did not diminish as the Leviathan extended a long, slimy tongue, wrapping it around his waist and drawing him back into that cavernous maw. Closing its mouth, it gave a perfunctory glance at the shocked Oni and terrified Kitsune in the cabin before diving beneath the foaming water.

The Leviathan swam some distance before pausing, a look of confusion in its dim, saucerlike eyes. Opening its mouth, it allowed the form of Arin to swim out. Arin’s ‘boots’ unfurled, revealing finned legs which drove him upwards to stare the Leviathan in the eye. Pulling his shirt off, he took a deep ‘breath’ of seawater, bubbles fizzing through gills which opened up in his back.

“Gah… The transition’s always a cunt.” Arin murmured, his voice distorted in the water. “Thanks for remembering I was in yer gob finally, ya big dummy.”

The Leviathan made a deep bass note in its throat.

“I know you’re hungry. Go on, go sink something to eat.” He offered endearingly, scratching the massive creature above the eye.

“Daddy!” Came a trio of voices from the darkness below him, as three juvenile kraken launched themselves at him, enfolding him in their arms and tentacles.

“Hello my little sea-sirens.” Arin chuckled indulgently.

“That took longer than I thought…” Ruby mused, drifting upwards to meet her children and husband.

“Yeh, you were right… It was the bloody Inari cultists.” Arin admitted.

Ruby chuckled “I told you. So what did you tell them about Corvus?”

Arin waved a hand, webbing growing between the fingers and his nails lengthening into hooklike claws. “Gave ‘em some old chat that Corvus was rambling the last time we all got drunk for Bruce’s birthday. You know the Australs have that as a national holiday now? Bigarse fuckin’ statue of him near Port Fremantle. Guy was never that buff… The new Dominus is about a bee’s clit away from having him Beatified… Can’t think what’d piss his ghost off more.”

“So not the truth then?” Ruby insisted.

Arin shrugged. “Who knows love? Corvus talks more in analogies than anything else these days, I think he’s actually starting to… become… whatever it is Tyris was originally after Him to be. It could be accurate, for all I know.”

“And the Magi?” Ruby asked.

“Ah fuck the Hidden Circle, I’m thinking they actually LIKE this whole cloak-and-dagger thing they’ve been playing at for the last century. I didn’t give anything away though. Sam made me promise, after all, and you know how niggly he gets with that sort of thing.” Arin cursed.

“Well, all’s well that ends well I suppose. At least you’re not getting dragged into another war.” Ruby chuckled, sliding her tentacles around Arin and kissing him deeply.

“Gross mum!” one of the little kraken objected.

“I was kidnapped and treated very roughly, Thetis. Don’t I deserve a kiss from your mother?” Arin admonished the little kraken.

“Come on daddy, you’re the King of the Sea. Nothing can hurt you!”

“Alright alright… Well since mummy won the bet with daddy, she gets to pick where we eat tonight.”

“As long as it’s not Heliopolitan. Those robes always get tangled in my tentacles.” Another little kraken noted with a look of distaste.

“I’ll make sure whoever we eat is good and ripped open for you. Ok Ariel?”

“Thanks Daddy!” The little kraken grinned

Arin took Ruby’s hand in his own. “Come on love… let’s go show some leggies why they should fear the water…”

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