The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CLXXVIII – The Darkness Rising

While Charles was frantically running about Yu-Shan trying to get his many projects organized, set up, and coordinated there was trouble brewing in the middle east.

Wings-of-Decay smiled a mirthless and predatory smile – although the twist of his lips did not reach his eyes. The harvested souls screamed in soon-to-be-endless torment as the smelters turned their agonized features into mere frantic patterns of light across the liquid soulsteel, the raw material which would rebirth the Neverborn once more. Death-of-Whimsy had been right; those foolish pilgrims of the Haiji and the fanatical groups that offered up steams of blood and their own lives and souls in the cause of “law” still believed, and feared, enough to form good raw materials. Nothing – much less some noble-minded idiot – could be allowed to interrupt the stream of souls to the forges.

The darkness swirled, taking form and solidity as his cloak and armor, as Wings-of-Decay stepped across the barriers and into the living world. The mass executions provided such an easy gate…

With Ruki secure, at least in body, in the Hanging Gardens beyond the Labyrinth – and with contact information awaiting her when she woke up – Aikiko decided to leave Leo’s wondrous city. Since his conquest – which (perhaps not surprisingly when up against a mortal kingdom) had apparently encountered little effective opposition there were a number of gates available to use. Aikiko had little desire to return to Saudi Arabia – or perhaps now Leon’s Arabia, or New Babylon – even using a stone of gender transformation, but work was work, and the situation was serious!

She picked up suitable clothing along the way; it was easy enough to get in Leo’s Hanging Gardens; the shops were close to Adenic in variety! For that matter… a few pointers on acting appropriately, and swearing the Oath of “In the Style of the Renaissance Masters” would be useful too – although none of that would take very long.

Aikiko slipped away from the gate quietly, drew her charms about her, and quietly vanished into the city – ignoring the whispering Raksha onieromancies that attempted to manipulate her towards being “reasonable”…

Wings of Decay snarled… the fool mortals had no idea of what was going on – they never did! – but it was obvious enough that some meddlesome Raksha was fooling about! The whispers of a high-end Onieromancy targeting the mortals was plain enough – and the fanaticism they needed was fading as the influence of the Wyld touched minds long closed and opened them to whims and fantasy! The meddler had to be located and disposed of, their raw materials restored to unthinking fanaticism, and the great work completed! Of course Raksha were more Death of Whimsy’s area of expertise than his…

In the palace, Leon smiled over a rippling pool, his thaumaturgy had filled it with the image of his new kingdom – and revealed his spreading influence. Already the city was firmly under control, a sizable number of the more… obdurate… fanatics had become useful creatures, and the citizenry was accepting the coup as just another change of overlords – and nothing to be concerned with. The rising tide of prosperity that the Grand Seal of Solomon was inducing for those who accepted his rule was not hurting either; the oil-wealth had never been allowed to flow down to the lower classes, and so the improvement in their situations was quite noticeable – if only because there were a whole lot more pack animals around, acquiring a whole new outlook on life while they were working. He would have to consider what the best form of influence would be to exert on the pilgrims of the Hajj – but in the meantime, a bit of self-indulgence with his new harem called!

Deep in an exceptionally gloomy portion of the Underworld, seated on a long dead world, Death of Whimsy brooded. His infiltrator on Earth had reported an almost-inconceivable thing… Oneiromancy of that power and range was not supposed to operate so openly, or be set up so easily, on Earth! Had the !@#$% (if thankfully rare!) Exalted of Fate – and for that matter, of the Moon – been so occupied with extraterrestrial matters that the intrusion had gone unnoticed? Either way, it was meddling with his plans! The pesky Raksha, so tied to chaos and narrative, were always so hard to predict… The Deathlord (not a ghost imbued with the remnants of a late deva, but a technically-living man bound to the memories of Oblivion through a corrupted exaltation) – rose from his seat. The defenders of Earth were clearly distracted at the moment. Perhaps it was time to step up his operations further. After all, if a foolish Raksha could set up a potent oneiromancy without trouble, surely his servants could open up a shadowland. Such breaches had not occurred on Earth since the Second World War – and even then had not gone to his liking due to the blasted Silver Prince – but he still remembered the technique of converting a waypoint in Creation to a Shadowland using the sacrifice of Raksha. At least that way the blasted things – and the energies of chaos they brought – could be of some use!

He sent for his communicative mirror to issue his orders.

Death of Whimsy deployed a platoon of war ghosts specializing in reconnaissance (with various sensory equipment), a squad of ghostly assassins, and a regiment worth of ghosts (granted physical forms through his own charms), war ghosts, nemissaries, and a small squad of necrotech power-armor elites for a total of nearly three thousand troops with orders to compromise the operations of this Raksha – an especially important goal since he seemed to be dedicated to improvement and not just to enjoying himself or eating.

While that outnumbered Leon’s Raksha troops by a considerable margin, Leon’s troops were backed by powerful artifacts, oaths, and onieromancy, had modern heavy weapons, and had various advantages of their own.

The gradual rise in clashes proved frustrating to Death of Whimsy’s commanders; the Raksha troops were unexpectedly difficult to eliminate. They ALL seemed to be capable of summoning up massive (and uselessly soulless) reinforcements – and when they WERE eliminated, nothing seemed to be left behind and their wyld energies were not released (since they just reformed in Mothra Leo). On Leon’s side… troops of wraiths were somewhat hard to deal with, although not impossible – and occasionally one would fail to reform once disrupted and would go to Lethe. More importantly… it swiftly became apparent to the Raksha that the Wraiths came from a relatively small number of sites – which could be targeted, warded, and otherwise hampered.

For the moment… it was a stalemate.

Meanwhile, Leon was indulging himself with a couple of his new concubines and occasionally teasing his kitty-servant with a piece of string when the reports started coming in.

(Felix) “Mrrow! Mrrow! Got it Master! (Tug-Tug-Tug) MINE!!… Ooooh! More String! Must get!”

The girls were putting in some pro-forma protests, which Leon pretty much ignored. They’d get over that very shortly!

(Leon, noting the disturbance sin his scrying pool) “What’s going on out there? Where have these centers of resistance come from?”

He took a quick divinatory look with a bit of clairvoyance!

Aikiko was a bit appalled to find that she’d wound up in the middle of a supernatural war zone. She didn’t manifest Skoll yet though. That would make it awfully hard to blend in to the holy city – and it would almost certainly make her a primary target. Instead, she kept her distance and attempted to use Skoll’s artifacts to map out the flashpoints of the battle. That was difficult while he was in another dimension – but not entirely impossible… It looked like there was an entire underworld invasion going on, targeting the Palace and several major mosques – and ignoring a lot of the conventional city-control targets. The Raksha were mostly throwing swarms of heavily armed phantom troops at the wraith bridgeheads to keep them on the defensive – which would probably work until some major leaders arrived…

She passed what information she could get on to Leon.

(Leon) “A Wraith Army? What a pain! You two, wait here! I’ll be back to enjoy you a little later! You servants, look after them! You… oh here, have the entire ball of string… So… it could be some cult, or a mortal or near-mortal mage, or some such – but a Wraith Army is a bit much for one of those to have on tap. Any insignia or anything? Battlecries? ANY clues?

(Aikiko) ““Calcification!” – and they’re carrying a LOT of cold iron for ghosts; they normally don’t encounter raksha at all. Their insignia seems to be tattered, decaying wings absorbing the five rasksha graces.

Hrm! Leon had heard of that one! Lots of complaints from freeholds in the western reaches of space. That was the insignia of Wings of Decay, a notorious Daybreak Caste. He was noted for raiding freeholds, killing the slaves, and enslaving those Raksha who were too weak to resist him. Blasted Abyssals! Still, he could not allow THAT to stand on Earth!

Leon deployed Humbaba to drop rains of fire on the ghostly bridgeheads, used his scepter to call on the Soul-Collectors to carry any wraith-troops that they could to Lethe – and personally took the field!

He also give the two concubines a kiss each on the way out, thanked Aikiko, and passed that information over to her.

Aikiko had to admit that that wasn’t good! She might have to bite the bullet and don Skoll – perhaps with wings. That way she could quite plausibly pretend to be an angel, support the troops, and protect the holy sites!

She encountered a lot of firepower – but very little that could affect her at all through Skoll and her Behemoth Cloak. A few Arcanoi effects took a couple of motes to resist, but stunting kept her mote pool up. Leon – for the most part impossible to hit, easily charming his weapons to strike down wraiths, and surrounded by his raging fire-lion aura, easily cleaved his way through the ghostly lines – but hasty reports of that kind of resistance soon brought the leaders out to play.

Wings of Decay – a relatively youthful elder with a massively powerful ranged artifact laser, masterful necromantic knowledge, nearly as much sorcerous training, and a nasty plethora of anti-raksha effects – emerged to target Aikiko.

(Wings of Decay) “Burden of Death, Blood of the Fallen, and Pyre Flame, Imbue my weapon with the death of a thousand and strike down this interloper!”

And he fired a blast at Skoll laden with hundreds of deaths, to boost his damage a great deal indeed… In the face of that ravening blast (A high-end necromantic boost, resulting in about 800 damage levels) Aikiko relied on Seven Shadow Evasion – concealing her use of the charm to make it just look like he’d missed as she bent down to grab a puppy!

(Aikiko) “You need to be someplace safer!” (And Aikiko cheerily stored it away).

(Puppy) “Yip?”

(Wings of Decay) “Confound it!”

He fired another similar-but-weaker (only about 400 damage levels, since he had just used up a lot of the death-potential in the immediate area) blast. This time Aikiko opted to simply tank it; with the Behemoth Cloak limiting the damage to two health levels, and her enhanced (and then doubled-up) health she wouldn’t be taking enough of an injury to hinder her – and concealed Seven Shadow Evasion was expensive!

(Aikiko) “Ow! Who did that?” (She rubbed her chestplace, where the blow hit. It had left a singe mark!)

(Wings of Decay) “What? How in the Void could you just… shrug off that attack without using a Charm? Some Lunar with a knack in Construct Forms perhaps? No matter!”

He launched a blitzkrieg of horrible (stored) necromantic spells, trying to poison her, drain her soul, cast her into the void, and remove her armor – half of which bounced from her passive defenses anyway and the rest of which could be easily negated by her Cloak and a few motes…

(Aikiko, combining Leaping Dodge Method and Seven Shadow Evasion to hop up on a nearby building) “Hey, let’s play tag! You’re it!”

Then she took flight and attempted to draw him out of the city. Wings of Decay… summoned a mighty bone warstrider around himself and pursued her. It could be a trap of course – but he had little fear of that and his armored opponent hadn’t used an offensive power yet…

She pulled him out into the desert, where the collateral damage probably wouldn’t be so bad.

Wings of Decay was a powerful necromancer with many stored spells, the ability to become insubstantial, and several other escape effects – and his gun was deadly even without massive boosts – but his bonestrider wasn’t as strong as Skoll, even if he had used Void Circle Necromancy to summon it. Besides, Aikiko had four Coatl to throw spells and help out.

It was still the nastiest fight Aikiko had ever been in. Nearly all her previous opponents had been near-mortal, mortal, or raksha at the worst.

Wings of Decay was overconfident at first – but that passed as swiftly as he had closed with his small opponent when Aikiko punched his Bonestrider into the air, sending it hurtling into an oasis. The impact left the landscape feature nothing but a muddy crater surrounded by shattered trees – and Wings of Decay had actually had to use a charm to avoid serious injury. His necromantic horde faired little better, being sliced down by cutting planes of energy… where in oblivion could you mount THAT weapon in human-sized armor?

Still, it was easy enough to brush aside the mystic chains and the lightning storm the pest sent his way, such spells would have been a challenge for his lesser minions (indeed, the battle reports were saying that they WERE – at least one, and most likely two, mages of similar power were opposing his troops; those would have to be dealt with!) – but they were no match for the skill of a true master…

The serpentine branching chasms of the Devouring Earth quite failed to swallow up his opponent – but left the pest in flight, and without cover – a prime target for fullisades of laser blasts. As a bonus, the fool concerned himself (perhaps herself?) with rescuing bystanders and stopping the chasms before they reached any major landmarks – allowing even more additional free shots!

Wait, the pest still had time to hurl fireblasts and compulsions, fire old-style artifact weapons, and STILL raise wards? And still had enough power to resist his attacks?

(Wings of Decay) “Theon-Dammit! What in OBLIVION are YOU?!?”

Aikiko was not finding this easy! Sure, the Coatl had their own magics, Charles’s geomancy protected her from many effects, and she could be fed additional power from Aden – but this fellows high-essence charms, arsenal of stored spells, and constant laser barrage were wearing down the Coatl’s reserves. Still… Evidently this bastard was in trouble too!

(Aikiko, feeling cocky at the moment and leaning right into the bonestrider’s skull-face) “I’m a Solar.”

(Wings of Decay) “What? Have you been hiding under a rock for the last two ages? the Solars are long gone or transformed!”

Tentacles of blood lashed out, attempting to drag Aikiko into the Shadowlands – only to run into a quick Coatl Warding.

(Aikiko) “I’m pretty sure I’m one! Ew… stop using that gross necromancy!”

(Wings of Decay) “Ah! Something is in there with you!”

Could a Solar possibly use Cosmic Knight armor? It certainly looked like it! And he was running low on motes! Surely no single opponent…

(Aikiko) “No, I’m in the suit of armor.”

(Wings of Decay) “Fool! As if I could not see that other creatures are performing these aggravating secondary spells! This is not the end of this! Next time I will be prepared to fight a committee!”

(Aikiko) “Okay then!”

Hoo boy. She might need more than the Coatl for that.

Wings of Decay used some hideous necromantic transport effect to remove himself from battle… in the meantime, things have not been going so well for his wraith legion! The ones who hadn’t been sent to Lethe hadn’t yet been routed – but they were wavering at best. Leon had had a little time to get involved directly before Death of Whimsy had turned up…

Leon was surprisingly straightforward… for the most part it was “radiate his solar-lion-lightstorm aura to push the penalty on any action opposing him to -23 dice and smack people at a great rate (melee attack: Syldian, Acc 31, 26B/3, Rate 4, O, P) with any necessary enhancements (like hitting immaterial beings) supplied by Thaumaturgy. Meanwhile, his Sirrush would spit fire at opponents”. If he needed to hit a larger area, the first fallback was Thaumaturgy. Defensively he mostly relied on the damage-limiting effects of his Behemoth Cloak, his per-location (and greatly enhanced) health tracks, his geomantic keyword defenses, and his three-per-scene perfect blocks to conserve health and motes – if necessary.

Death of Whimsy was also dreadfully straightforward and physical. His mastery of the Dark Messiah Style was virtually unstoppable, his ability to slay many Raksha at once was most formidable, and his armor was solid (also roughly equivalent to a Behemoth Cloak). He had a solid grounding in Sorcery and Necromancy. Entropy was his cloak; commoner raksha calcified immediately when he was near, and even the nobles normally fled before him. He was a most unappetizing meal for any unshaped, too!

(Leon, dodging Death of Whimsies first strikes readily and resisting his calcifying aura) “Hah! At it’s heart, still order is founded upon Chaos! Even the humans have learned as much by the doctrines of Heisenberg!”

(Death of Whimsy) “Will you STAND STILL!? You are no mere noble – so damnably hard to – WILL YOU STOP DOING THAT!”

Leon was mostly simply hammering on Death of Whimsy – but he did indeed have plans… He was stunting a solar-circle level containment to keep Death of Whimsy from escaping and a perfect privacy defense to keep his secrets from being revealed. If he started getting seriously pressed he would summon a bunch of duplicates of himself and keep hammering away.

That turned out to be necessary pretty quickly – even if Death of Whimsy was having a fairly hard time overcoming that dice penalty.

(Death of Whimsy) “Grr!”

He glowed with baleful black Essence that made Leon’s eyes hurt. It lashed out at him – some sort of shaping effect designed to corrupt his narrative! Unfortunately for Death of Whimsy… the shaping effect shattered harmlessly on Leon’s Adenic defenses.

(Leon) “How rude!”

The seven Leon’s launched three assorted magical attacks, while four continued to hammer Death of Whimsy! He struck back with a flurry of lightning-fast guantlet strikes, so charged with dark power that the very foundations of the buildings around started to crumble as the earth howled in protest. Two Leon’s staggered back for a moment from the sheer force of the impacts – but the various horrific effects that were included failed to bite…

Death of Whimsy struck at the quivering ground, toppling more buildings – and summoning forth shadowy tendrils to grab the Leons and his troops!

One of the Leons Wyld-Stunted another solar-circle level effect to sheer them off.

(Death of Whimsy) “Argh! What are you, an Ishvara!?”

(Leon) “Most would see us that way! What, did you think I’d be willing to fight one of your bunch out of simple egotism?”

Leon spun a secondary containment; he couldn’t be having this fellow escaping – unless he used that “jump through oblivion” thing, which might kill him anyway. The “other Leons” threw in a cascade of lightning, set the ground under his feet moving apart rapidly to force balance checks or more mote-spending), started heating his armor, summoned a trio of mighty dragons to blast him, and all while a pair of Leon’s continued beating on Death of Whimsy – going for flurries.

Another massive series of attacks from Death of Whimsy… resulted in minor injuries to the body parts of various Leons and a great deal of damage to the surrounding city. Leon… prepared a solar-circle level preserve-soul-from-oblivion effect (just to be nice) – as well as a similar effect to send the corrupted Exaltation to Lytek, instead of letting it return to the Underworld (or however that worked these days).

That involved containing an Oblivion Bomb, blocking a resurrection effect that would have brought him back at the Mouth of the Void, and wearing him down with a concentrated effort – but the swarm of Leons was simply too much for a single Abyssal to deal with. Still… Leon was very glad that there hadn’t been two of HIM!

He did some repairs on the city on the way to clearing out the last of the wraiths – and called Aikiko to check up!

(Leon, cheerfully) “That’s one dealt with! How are you doing?”

(Aikiko) “Whew… mine ran away.”

(Leon) “Ah well! Perhaps you can deal with him another time! Still a considerable victory I think!”

(Aikiko) “Yeah… what about yours?”

(Leon) “I put up an entrapment effect first, and another during the fight – and a few related effects. He proved unable to escape me!”

(Aikiko) “Ha!”

(Leon) “I tried to send the corrupted exaltation to Lytek… You might wish to check with him to see if it worked!”

Aikiko did… and it had, much to Lytek’s shock.

(Leon) “Would you care to celebrate a bit?”

(Aikiko) “Are you kidding? I bet you throw good parties!”

Aikiko… was mildly startled at Leon’s collection of naked ex-princess concubines, eunuched ex-princeling attendants, and similar indulgences. She knew they were harems up in Yu=Shan of course, but she hadn’t really seen it in person before! Still, It DID promise to be one heck of a party!

(Aikiko) “Whoa. You’re taking this harem thing seriously.”

(Leon) “Ah well! By the local standards I suppose I should have executed most of them! But why not let them live in the palace and serve me?”

(Aikiko) “That’s… still a little weird. Did you tell them this was what you were doing? At least they’re not dead.”

(Leon) “Tell them? (Leon looked a little blank; what was she talking about? They’d been captured, then mercifully taken to be inducted into the harem rather than into the yard to be lined up and shot. If they’d preferred to resist becoming harem inmates and attendants enough to be shot instead they could have done so readily enough!) I think they know!”

(Aikiko) “Ah. It’s like that…”

Yep, definitely a powerful Raksha; what was his was HIS.

(Aikiko) “Eh, let’s party. I could have died back there!”

And Leon was a pretty nice guy for a Raksha, so why not?

It really was a great party… Leon made a casual pass at her, but he had plenty of cute young women now – there were six following him about – so it really was very casual. Aikiko passed for now. Admittedly, it would be hard to find a more attractive partner outside of other dimensions, or perhaps space – but he was obviously going to be available later if she ever did want to take him up on it and a more natural relationship would probably be better to start with!

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