She’d heard fractions of their tale, half-remembered in splinters of memory. Memory had never been a gift she posessed.
She redoubled her focus, vowing defiance to the torpor that threatened to overwhelm her. Her Mistress ruled the lands of the dead, but she walked the lands of the living. This was here battlefield, these lands, hers, these people, hers. The lie almost tore her apart. Again she struggled against that insurmountable weight, dragging bloodied hands through the torn flesh and ragged wound that was left of her mortal mind. Around her the battle raged, but it was nothing, never. Life was struggle, pain, suffering, then death that brought all to the bosom of Her Embrace.
She recounted the tale. The Baron fled, Sora, dead. Good, he deserved it, he was always her favourite. Kaltharin too was lost. Taken by the serpents of law.
An orc’s screams as it died. New enemies, new allies. The stoic githzerai stood beside the furious sun-maiden. Both found together, prisoners of the astral plane. As she was. Their mistrust belied their ferocity in battle. Doubt each other all they wished, they lived and died beside each other’s blades.
She thrust herself deeper into her wounded psyche, forcing herself forwards, she new where this tale ended.
She felt herself drift beside them, as she had ever since they walked the dominions, the endless sea that washed upon her, its only shore her frail will. An endless burgeoning of life, of Truth, that yawned forever to the depths of being, transformed by its touch.
The chasm yawned. She fell into that endless serenity as awareness struck, streaming into her mind, opening her vision to all that was lost.
Chaos. So opposed to that endless unity that embraced the dominions, and yet at once the same. Its shifting banks bent to the lesser wills of elementals as the Final Sea was spun about the minds of gods and their immortal servitors. Each but the reflection of the other, one pure thought, the other raw living substance.
The Githzerai travelled to Sanzerathad, guiding her wards to their sanctuary. They were besieged by the Chaos, lost in an acidic mire, her wards on a broken plain where thunder pooled like rain, and lightning forced itself from its earthly prison to join its brothers in the winds.
Zim alone had walked forward, confident, crazy, without question the best choice to face a slaad. He began the bargaining as he should when facing a slaad. With treachery. Had he meant to give his companions like chattell? Probably. Their twisted path of insanity and bluffs wound about each other like the bladed chains of the shadar-kai, cutting each as they tied them to each other. A maelstrom rose behind the slaad, it’s will untrammelled by reason or respect. Zim just smiled.
She fled from the chaos as their words spun about each other in snarling lunacy. They danced like lost shades, maddened by despair, luring the unprepared into depths the mind could never escape. Her wards guardedly approached, bent to the task of escaping the mire that burned into the sides of the ship, while Githzerai smoothed the seamless construction by sheer will.
She didn’t know how the violence started, but what did it matter? Death was a single path, madness a never-ending ruin. They set upon themselves without recognition, each one’s madness unaware of the other. Her wards lost in their tiny lives, the slaad fractured between them all. It knew it though, had learnt the truth of its suffering through long ages of sorrow, and forgotten it all. So much the same as she, she yearned to quiet its broken heart. It thrust its mind upon the splinters of itself, drawing them towards each other, as each one turned its attention upon her wards.
Suddenly her vision shattered as reality converged upon itself. An explosion of consciousness drove her from lucidity, as the waveform rippled with untold violence and collapsed upon itself, tearing reality into sheer contrast with the dimly forgotten memory of the moment before, a new singualrity of perception, broken, immense, but perfect, true.
Her wards slipped from waking to their old awareness, beaten into submission, fallen, crumbling apart. She felt as if her heart would freeze in her throat, the loss overwhelming. The bled upon the creeping earth that licked towards their wounds, and the hope of this world began to fade.
The green-skinned newcomer, wise to the danger of this place, lifted a feeble broken hand, and her mind was swept away in an awful tide, a concussive force that reasserted the broken unity the slaad had wrought, as each becmae reflected upon itself, howling with the agony it inflicted. She saw the faint glimmer of gilden scales on a wooden card, and lost herself to oblivion.
She awoke in a frozen wasteland, the corpses of demons sundered by icy spears laying all about the stoic form of the desert nomad, impassive, stanfing alone against the onslaught, holding back a cloud of teeth and blood. He stood with freshly shaven scalp bare to the icy wind, fresh scars carved deep within his flesh in arcane runes that bore the mark of the spirit-talker. The concentration emanating from the others was immense, a focussed pillar of thought.
The darkened skies were clearing as the gnawing swarm fled their dying brethren, encased in the ice, and a new vista opened before them all. Sanzerathad beckoned. The strength that emananted from this place was palpable, the pure directed force of a thousand minds, united in a single will that spoke to the chaos and proclaimed, this is so.
And so it was.
Their words of greeting, parting, she cared not. At the centre of this place lay a grove, in the centre of that grove a life if fire burned with the light of knowledge. It was he they sought, he who would bring them home.
It seemed to drag into eternity as they deliberated, weighing themselves down with petty gifts of Githzarai artifice, their elder’s mind brushed her own, deliberate, yet passing. He spoke of her, as they had spoken in the True Depths of the Endless Shore. And then her wards stepped tyowards their goal, and turned their attention upon the Sahaar, the planeshifter of Sanzerathaad.
The ritual tore her asunder as the world convened, her fragile force of will that clung so tentatively to the presence of her wards. She could feel them rushing towards the cold horizon of the plane above, as the space between the worlds was folded upon itself.
Her Mistress was beside her here, she could feel it, the presence that rested within her always grown to a crecsendo, the ringing of a thousand bells, their music sweeter to her than the breath her body had forgotten, lying comatose in Idria’s hall. Her mission flooded upon her with renewed strength. No. No this wasn’t right. The raven perched upon her shoulder wept tears of blood. No. The music screamed at her, the bells discordant, agonising. No. Why would her mistress forsake her in her time of .. No. the blood hammered in her ears, throat, heart, as her body was torn between the veils, agony suffused her every gasping mouthful. No, he shouldn’t be here, she had tried, tried so hard but failed again, caught up in that struggle, was that why her mistress condemned her to living sufferance? Why was he here, hadn’t she failed? She hadn’t failed, why would she say that, what was wrong with her? The blood pounded in her ears as the bells became screams, wails, terrified and urgent, but she had triumphed, torn him from the unholy grasp that bound hat pathetic creature to the spirit within. Tal’Lorvas? He … NO. This was not Tal’Lorvas, he was gone to Arvandor, it was, NO! A thousand chains erupted all about her, and for a single moment the bells rang clear. Her covenant, her purpose, her life flowed from her in inky rents that tore with jagged spines upon the flesh of the Sea. A darkness clawed at her, touched the part where she had enfolded Tal’Lorvas in her Mistress’ embrace as she screamed defiance and rage, the chains binding him to her Mistress wound about them both as a sickness washed through her, revulsion at its touch burned within her as she retched, grasping towards the edges of her obscured sight, and she screamed. Screamed with an agony that knew itslef too well, screamed as she watched herself fall into the trap like a fool, screamed as she saw her inevitable prison, bound ever tighter upon itself, avery struggle meaningless, drawing her inexorably into the void of a horror that she railed against with every fibre of her being, as undeath seeped into her every pore. She screamed, screamed as she saw herself broken and screamed as a part of her smiled, revelling the transformation, revelling the pain, seeking only power and control and lashing out with pain and fury at everything about itself. Her hate washed upon her in an endless drumming rythym that broke everything else in her mind but the beating grating screams of suffering and misery, of the dead that couldn’t die.
She cast her hate aside herself, a monstrous winged thing, a vessel of hunger formed about the emptiness of undeath, and she smiled, a rictus grin that knew only sorrow, joy could never touch those lifeless lips. The darkness watched her, and she watched it back, reflecting itself with grim mockery whilst a distant storm raged, psychic tendrils whipping across her mind, ever softly, the silent screams of the forgotten and oppressed, the famine death that never rose above a whisper, tearing itself apart with the very will that sought to live.
Ellariel shuddered, far distant now, on rainswept parapets of earth and stone. In death her mistress returned, ever waiting, but every life left fresh scars upon the broken mind. She had come so close to tearing them apart, her wards, so close to ushering them into the hands of whom all life and death despised with equal fervour. As those manifestations of rage and psychosis had been purged by the fire that swept from the sun-blessed maiden, Leta, Amaunator’s morning ray, bladesworn of Pelor, her broken form had been reshaped about the will of her mistress, yet even then she had almost condemned them, as the dark presence clung to the vessles surorunding her, had almost consumed the will of this newfound ally, the Githzerai Bjork, had not the enigmatic face-dancer, the shadow-walker, been able to commend him to the void, containing that fury long enough for the exorcism to begin, so that the lost scion of the sands might plunge the knife that emptied free his spirit while the spirit-talker herself mended his torn flesh. The darkness contained, the demonologist-sahaar delivering them safely to that pit where she awoke, naked, bleeding, whole.