Chapter 11 - A Great Day For Freedom (Part 2)

Ascending Stars

What Went Down

An End to Talk

The next day Tonic is back inside the sanctum and curious. He asks her why he was only allowed one day to think about the deal and is satisfied with the answer that she is busy and has many things on her mind. Having a solar outside her gate is a very distracting, despite ancient treaties. He's excited about the idea of saving a fifth of creation, but thinks he may be able to do more so he offers to be her harbinger. He could go ahead of her expansion and warn others of her coming. They could then flee or stay. Since she cares nothing about the people of Creation, just Creation itself, she likes the idea. He asks for another two months to think about it. Knowing that in three months she will have engulfed the entire Blessed Isle, Hereket readily agrees. However, she insists that he leave her borders and does not return until he has made his decision. Until that time, their official business is over.

The Friends and Family Plan

The circle meets back up at the training camp and begins to search for aid. While their sidereal instructors are too rare and valuable to go, they are welcome to speak with any of the students. A force of solars that powerful hasn't been seen this age, and the teachers are convinced that it will be enough.

The circle is not so sure, and they head to Yu-Shan to seek out divine help. First Tonic scours the city's infrastructure, building a map he uses to quickly get them an audience with Verumpira, Yu-Shan's ambassador to Hell.  Raistlin, conveniently, chooses to return to Palanthas and peruse the ancient tomes there to see if there are any spells that could aid their quest. Tonic glides through the streets and buildings of Heaven, his innate understanding of the courts guiding his words to the proper ears and his missives to the right hands despite the presence of some unseen group working to discredit his claims. He doesn't have time to seek out the saboteurs, and so simply presses harder to make sure their efforts are for naught. Before long he has arranged a meeting with Verumpira, Yu-Shan's ambassador to the demon realm. He also warns them not to bring any summoned demons. While not even Cecelyne can break the bonds that the ancient oaths create when a summons is performed, as The Law in Hell and the primary deity of Malfeas's twisted religions she could conceivably give commands that are both contradictory and conducive to the demons' current orders. Demons caught tight in webs of sorcerous restraints could be paralyzed or driven insane while those given freer reign could find holes in their orders that let them hurt the summoner's allies.

While his "friends" are away, Raistlin sends a beauteous wasp to Hereket, telling the soul of Cecelyne that he will summon and free a stream of second circle demons if the Sand that Walks will only hold back her expansion long enough to teach him second circle necromancy. Though she does not know it herself, she does know of several akuma and infernals who do, so she agrees to the deal and they seal it with the authority of Grit, Cecelyne's favorite Eclipse Akuma. She also sends messengers to her lower souls, instructing them to find a powerful Fiend to free her from the oath. She of course does not mention this to Raistlin, and the circle moves to quickly for help to arrive. Her choice to withhold her constant expansion of the infinite wasteland leaves her conviction shaken and breaks her access to her most powerful defensive charms, which will prove to be her undoing. Raistlin also convinces the Master of Orphans at Pasiap's Stair that he can deal with Hereket but will need an assurance of help against anathema in the future.

Back in Heaven Verumpira meets the circle, though he is incredibly busy with the Hereket affair and only came because they are seeking the same goal. When they ask if Verumpira might perhaps be able to broker a temporary cease to the desert's expansion the god is surprised. He thought that the peace treaty he'd recently learned of was brokered by them.  He won't help personally, saying he'd fumble over a sword and that a pen is his favored weapon. But he points them to Jaresh, the god of Pasiap's Stair. The teacher and master of war has both a strong reason and the ability to help fight against the demon. In the meantime Verumpira will continue working in Malfeas to learn what transpired and slow the demon's expansion. There are rumblings of larger things coming and his eyes and ears, plus those of his spies, are stretched to their limits.

They speak with Jaresh, the Foundlings' Pedagogue, and the god's strength is almost as plain as his imperious nature. The circle has no real plan, and the spirit refuses to join such an undirected cause. He will, however, deign to lead it if they will agree to follow his commands. They agree and return to Gem to meet with the Virtuous Five. Cassie's family is ready, willing, and able to help. Caramon is not happy about working with the brother who failed him so soundly, but he will do it for his new love and for Creation. The last of their group is Ahlat, who Cassie contacts via prayer and arranges a face-to-face. The god will help because it will spread his reputation farther and wider, though he cautions that his strength will be diminished on the Blessed Isle and his focus is on massive battles not small unit engagements.

When told he is not to bring any demons, Raistlin says he'll be happy to ferry them to the engagement but he won't be going in without his bodyguards. Perhaps awed by his strength or secretly hoping he'll die in the demon's sanctum, the circle convinces Bright Shield of the Mountain to go in his stead. The man is happy to go, since Hereket is laying claim to the Island he's already vowed to control. They get the dragon-blooded of Pasiap's Stair to agree to stage a simultaneous massive assault to hopefully draw away defenders, and the group sets out.

Flying ahead of them is an agatae. The beauteous wasp was sent by Raistlin and has complete plans for their impending attack so that the Sand that Moves can be ready. Months later J'keth, the sorcerer's living armor and also the first peronelle, will report the actions back up the chain. The Ebon Dragon will smile wide at the depths of his minion's initiative, cunning, and downright treacherous nature that would have him both aid and betray both sides for little more reason than his own entertainment and revenge.

Sanctum Smackdown

Raistlin orders his swift spirit to carry their wagon around the perimeter of the vast desert that Hereket has created and he runs the numbers in his head. The geomantic center found, he sends the spirit racing towards it. When they get there it looks like Hereket knew they were coming as she has amassed an army of blood apes wearing living armor, agatae, and more. The defenders of Creation jump off and Raistlin orders his spirit away and out of reach of the enemy's archers. On the ground they duck and weave through the battle, killing demons but primarily focused on determining which of ht many sinkholes leads to Hereket's sanctum. Sejjeto finds the right one, noticing the haze around its edges, and tonic snaps out the spell-capturing cord that Professor Lu Cheng loaned him, Moments later the spell is released and the twelve of them are inside,

In stark contrast to the chaos of the war that raged outside, the inside of Hereket is a peaceful but blasted desert. Though the terrain is the same, where once there were thousands of angry demons now there are just three. Lucien they recognize as he's done stints as Raistlin's bodyguard. Hereket they also recognize from Tonic's description. The last demon is Toioiz, also known as Justice in Absence. A child of Hereket, Toioiz is also a mirror of her. Where the Sand that Walks represents the infinite expansion of entropy and the never ending wasteland that is Cecelyne, Toioiz is the spirit of devouring. His body is also made of sand, but where Hereket draws upon the desert floor to enhance herself, Toioiz draws it into his eternally imploding form where it falls into his core and disappears forever.

Without a word the battle is joined and Devon leaps straight for Hereket. The Sifu Staff sings as it cuts through the air and the sand that is Hereket but her body simply slides aside and then reforms. The other solars and gods divide themselves up into two groups to battle Lucien and Toioiz, while the circle focuses on Hereket and Jaresh holds back to coordinate the various assaults as needed. Hereket stays true to her existence as the epitome of expansion and begins to rapidly grow. She also lashes out with hardened glass spikes, but Devon's body is too hard for her to pierce. Hain's knives fly but he can't strike home and the same is true for Tonic's fiery solar cannon. Sejjeto and Jaresh take turns coordinating the flow of the battle and Hereket takes a minor hit here and there, but she grows so fast it's impossible to tell.

Tonic's last words are "I'm probably about to die." He's been practicing how to combine the effects of multiple charms into a combo, but he hasn't quite mastered it. Still, he knows he has to destroy Hereket. While his goal is to Be the Change, her idea of change differs greatly from his and he can't allow her to have her way with Creation. He focuses, aims, and unleashes a magical flurry of shots backed by principal of motion and Azure Abacus Meditation. fireballs with contrail home in on the demon's weakest points and blast away at her, but his prophecy comes true. Hereket, now over forty feet tall, grabs the eclipse in a massive hand, drives a spike through his stomach, and places another one to his throat. "Agree to our prior arrangement or die." He refuses and the spike goes through his throat. She lifts that arm in the air and shakes his lifeless body off.

Sejjeto and Hain realize they cant hurt Hereket, but they can hurt her children. So they break off from one fight and join another, kill Lucien and freeing up more bodies to throw at Toioiz. Shortly Toioiz falls, too. Hereket focuses all of her rage onto Devon and her strikes slam home. Most of them do no damage whatsoever thanks to adamant skin technique, but her touch is also a powerful source of random demonic corruption. Ironically his life is saved by that corruption, as what would have been a killing blow mutates him into a monstrous rocky creature over ten feet tall. Seeing his new body she decides that he will make an excellent tool and stops attacking. He continues striking at her, but she begins targeting Hain exclusively. It is Hain who destroyed her beloved son Lucien and is trying to destroy another of her kids. He is an almost impossible target but she knows that nothing escapes entropy forever and continues to flail away with punches, kicks, grabs, and spikes. Eventually she overwhelms his defenses and the man is turned to paste as she pretends that she is Little Rabbit Foo Foo and he's a field mouse.

Moments later Hereket herself is dead, and a wail rises up from every demon in Cecelyne's line all across Creation and Malfeas. No longer the embodiment of an infinite prison, the sands of Cecelyne draw in on themselves until the desert is just a strip of land around Malfeas a mere five feet wide. No longer does it take five days of travel for a demon or a mortal to cross. Instead the five feet take five hours to cross, and those five hours are spent baking under the intense glare of Ligier's light. The amount of ground under foot stays the same though, and so that means that a being trying to cross those five feet is exposed to the same amount of sun in five hours that he would have seen in five days before. It takes the demons and the foolish mortals time to learn of this though, and some are burned to death on the journey.

As the sanctum crumbles around them they leap into the sinkholes to return to Creation. Demons flee or attack in rage as the sky roils with the angry clouds of an impending storm. Lightning strikes made of fire light the ground as small rocks pelt the solars .Raistlin is nowhere to be seen, and  Sejjeto recognizes the signs of an impending strike from the Sword of Creation. Someone has activate the Imperial Manse and they're all in danger of dying.

The gods dematerialize and those with unassailable defenses have nothing to fear. Devon takes advantage of his new massive rock body to toss Cassie, Sejjeto, and Caramon to the ground and cover their frail forms with his. In the end all but Bright Shield of the Mountain and Conrad survive, the former having been killed by Toioiz and the latter by the manse's strike.

The Empress Returns
Larger version
In the wake of the blast the silver sands are all destroyed, the landscape is blasted to ruins, and a mile high likeness of the Scarlet Empress with the Imperial Mountain behind her straddles a mount top in the distance. Her words are clear to all, despite the trailing rumbles and ringing ears left behind by the cataclysm. "Stand and bear witness to the Scarlet Empress, only heir to the throne of the Blessed Isle. All Dynast troops are hereby ordered to lay down their arms. Any faction which refuses will find itself destroyed utterly, not unlike the scourge which went undeterred through Juche Prefecture and almost brought down the Stair itself. That most sacred home for Lost Eggs came within a breath of cracking because of your in-fighting. You ave lost sight of why the Realm exists, and I have returned to ensure that does not happen again."

"The head of each prefecture and ministry is commanded to appear in the Imperial Palace two days from now, where sins will be counted and reckonings made." With that, the image fades as quickly as it came.

The sands that wrapped around Devon and formed a hardened shell eventually crack and fall away. Underneath his new skin is pink and soft, but his body is still as large. He is forever changed, lending credence to Gem's fears of a Tyrant looking to rule them.

Most of the houses and principalities accede to the empress's demands immediately, but House Mnemon does not, which is surprising as it is led by Mnemon herself, the daughter of the Scarlet Empress. The empress sends troops to subdue them, resulting in a small scale civil war that covers lots of ground. Though it extends to almost every corner of the Blessed Isle, the battles are small. When it is done, the lands have been hurt by the use of first age weaponry, including a Box of Storms that was opened in the streets of Arjuf. The city was all but destroyed and the Sword of Creation used to seal te shadowland created there.

The empress returns to the Imperial Citadel and begins weeding out the forces of sedition. Courts review all actions taken since the empress left, and those found guilty are executed. Paranoia propagates patriotism, except where it doesn't. In those cases small and quiet groups of anti-government protesters spring up. Some speak out and are silenced (not always with death), while others work underground to weaken the government's holdings. Mnemon goes into hiding and is rumored to be the mind behind the Righteous Orphan Revolution.

Public works projects begin massively restructuring the flow of the land to create more wood-aspected demesnes in order to feed the people left hungry by Cecelyne's destruction of the prefecture around the Stair and the empress's subsequent use of the Sword of Creation. Many manses are destroyed by the work, upsetting many nobles. But the Empress points to the strengthening of the people as justification for the weakening of the Dragon-Blooded. It has always been their place to be the stewards of Creation, and that includes humanity. The area where Cecelyne was is too damaged for mortal works to heal, so the Empress herself casts grand sorceries to restore it. It takes her many months, and the damage is too extensive to be fully healed, as evidenced by strange and ominous shapes of flora and the strange shadows they cast.

Peleps Deled is appointed the head of the Wyld Hunt and he brings it to renewed life with vigor and verve. Suspected Anathema footholds across the Blessed Isle are attacked, though Palanthas is left strangely untouched. Several new recruits appear at the academy, driven there by the increase activity of the Hunt.

The Mask of Winters immediately withdraws Juggernaut and his forces, fearing the Sword of Creation. The Silver Prince's holdings are much farther from the Blessed Isle, and the Sword of Creation will do great damage to the isle if it fires that far away. He reckons that if he does not push her, she won't risk pushing back. At least not yet.

The World - People, Places, and Things

My People,

The Blessed Isle labours under a curse. Our families are put to the sword or the fields. Our property is taken to fix the whole that was created when the Empress left us a decade ago. If you obey out of fear, do so no longer. The Red Mother's charms hold no sway over anyone who did not fall from her tree, and we can remove that bond.

Whisper your desire to the night sky. We will find you. We will free you. And together we will free the world.

Atomic Remembrance,
First Voice of the Righteous Orphan Rebellion

The demons have stopped trying to destroy the walls and are now affixing some sort of apparatus to the outer walls. Also, while the belief was that all demons in the city broke their bindings, the truth is that it was only those that had been summoned by thaumaturgy. The ban against sorcerous summoning can be rescinded, but all licenses allowing non-sorcerous summonings should be revoked. 

The demons outside the manse have been moved to the back of the queue. Bal-Karaz assures us that the Empress has assured him that they pose no threat. We've seen the manse's defenses turn hordes of them to statues or vaporize them with lightning and they cannot penetrate its walls. You have new orders.

Now that the All-Seeing Eye has been declared an arm of the court of inquiry we report directly to the Minister of Reconstruction. Her orders are to infiltrate the Rioutous Orphan Rebellion, find their leader, and report back. "Whisper your desires to the night sky" as the fliers say, and let us pluck this weed before the garden knows it's there.