The Veteran laughs as another deadly strike tears into Nye'ddeth, sending the shrieking, writhing thing flickering back through the air. Besides him, one of the “angels” Ormid summoned darts close to it, its blades of ice and darkness biting with supernatural effect into the alien dimensions' boiling form.
“Come on!” Screams Llewellyn, “We've nearly got him!”
Standing a little away from main melee, Ormid struggles to take it all in. Apart from the wounds Nye'ddeth had suffered, everything else has been “re-set”; his allies wounds healed, their vigour restored, their cumulative wounds – physical and mental – forgotten. More to the point, none of them except himself, seem to have the slightest inkling as to how badly things had been going before, each one swapping boasts and merry insults to the lethal entity they battle, mocking its “weakness” and praising their own “awesome skills.”
“So this is the power of a God?” He whispers to himself, before summoning his magic to help end the battle...
20:35 – The very substance of the chamber resonates with the discordant screams and manic thrashing of Nye'ddeth, as its physical form is finally torn apart by the combined might of the newly rejuvenated party; mewling and slumping into itself as it loses its dimensional cohesion and fades into nothingness.
With the “death” of the sentient planar shard, the chamber in which they battle slowly reverts to its normal form; a scene of abject carnage replacing the distorted arena. The group find themselves in a vast hall, which was once some kind of construct manufactorum, complete with sunken bed within which artificers could work, vast cranes of complex construction, and reinforced benches and walls. Massive fragments of half-completed constructs lie scattered about the place, and in several areas, small alchemical fires sputter and fume, casting erratic shadows over the other inhabitants of this still, sickening place – the dead.
Twenty or more Imbuers lie in various states of undress and mutilation. Some are locked together as if they died during coitus, whilst others have clearly been the subjects of frenzied assaults. Still others have inflicted their fatal wounds upon themselves; throats gaping, eyes empty, their cold, rigid hands still gripping the tools with which they killed themselves.
A few are alive, though so traumatised and damaged mentally that they are unable to do anything other than sit, staring dazedly around them, smeared in excrement and blood.
However, one figure stands across from the group, panting in his pain, his hands severed. It is the Lir'Aelwyn. For a moment the group say nothing, wondering how he will react to them. However, he meets their gazes with calmness, and nods his thanks, his beautiful features darkened with pain.
“Y-you saved us.” He breathes suddenly, stumbling, “You. Saved. Us...”
For the last two days the group have helped Illithayne (the aelwyn and High Charismacist) establish contact with those Imbuers that fled when the Xixan intrusion began, and to tally and bury the dead. Many Imbuers have lost their minds during the intrusion, and will need constant care for the rest of their lives, but overall, at least a third of the school's mages have survived.
Illithayne has used a powerful scroll to restore his hands, though they are sore looking, raw things at present. He has also explained to the group how the intrusion occurred – telling them it was the result of tampering with a Xixian item sold to the Collegiate by agents of a Feyan group known as the Grey Philosophy (both Ormid and the Veteran scowl at this, remembering their own trials with that group of thieves and tomb robbers back in Laertaine's ruins, so many moons ago). He also explains that he tried to seal away the artefact by capping the rune circle that lead to the lab where it was being examined, and posting several guardians to prevent access – the Scaladar and Helmed Horror - though by the time he reached the lower labs, the opening ritual had been completed and Nye'ddeth had emerged into this dimension. Illithayne winces as he recalls his own battle with the planar shard, and almost breaks down as he recalls the constant assaults against his will by the “bridge glyphs”, breaking into a chuckle when he explains that in truth, the agony of having his hands cut off was like a balm compared to the constant, attempted violation of his mind by their sorcery.
Word has been sent by Rammanum to all the other schools, and it has been agreed that they shall all meet within the Imbuer's tower over the next week in order to plan how they will work together to activate the Settari Weapon – though there is already tension reported between several of the schools, the worst being between the gruff mages of the Helldazzlers and the mercurial casters of the Disciples of Change.
11/1/50 – 28/1/50 – Over the next couple of weeks a frenzy of activity envelops the tower, as groups of mages from the five schools arrive to learn of their part in the activation ritual. Initially this is a tumultuous time, with egos and philosophies clashing, and a simmering undercurrent of mistrust and arrogance bubbling away, ready to erupt into spectacular violence at the slightest spark. However, with Rammanum's help, Ormid manages to massage hurt feelings, and get the leaders of the various orders to concentrate on their similarities rather than their differences.
It's slow and at times frustrating work, but slowly and surely, the disparate schools begin to come together, eventually deciding for themselves that they can benefit from sharing at least some theories and plans. News has also got out that the most potent schools of magic are coming together to form a “Unifying Order”, and over the weeks a number of other schools of magic seek to gain “entry” into it – an idea that many feel may be worth exploring once the threat in the North has been ended.
Rammanum is a source of both endless gratitude from the group, and some discomfort, for “she” is not at all what anyone was expecting. Where she had given the impression of a human female when speaking in their minds, in the “flesh” she is something very different. When she first arrived, Ormid went to greet her personally, accompanied by the rest of the group (save Shadevia, who has become ever more isolative, and is seen less and less by everyone). He struggled however to keep his surprise hidden, when he discovered that Rammanum occupies an intricate artifice body, made from thousands of thin “bandages” of rune inscribed metal, and that even in person she speaks directly into his mind.
Time passes in a blur, and with all the great minds of the gathered mages poring over the divined plans of the weapon, they begin to understand both how it works, and how to fire it.
And then, suddenly, it's time to do just that.
29/1/50 – 14:50 – Within a great hall the collected mages of the five guilds assemble before the rune-struck horns of a portal pylon, whilst Anton Azvierre and several of his disciples begin the ritual to activate it. The air thrums with both potent magical energies, and a sense of epic expectation; the silent momentum of incredible events that will forever change the destiny of the world. Held aloft by potent rituals, the group look down on the serried ranks of mages, and hope that they are going to be able to work together as they have practised so often over the last few weeks, and fire the weapon successfully at its vast target thousands of miles to the North.
Crawling lines of coruscating energy snakes up the pylons, and arcs from the tips towards each other. As they meet, there is a loud, flat, bang, and a drop in the air pressure as a gateway is forged between the tower and the outskirts of Leskin Holdt's camp, a roar of shock echoing from within it, the alarmed voices of his students joining the chorus.
14:51 – 15:06 - Moving through with practised discipline the mages emerge into the steaming heat and oppressive humidity of Anathar's jungles, moving with confidence to their allotted posts. Leskin and his students rush out to meet them, their eyes widening in shock as they spy the multitudes of potent spell casters heading their ways.
“What the hell?”
Then he sees the group, floating above them, Llewellyn waving madly and giggling. For a moment Leskin doesn't recognise them (they have changed so much both physically and intangibly since he last saw them – which to him was only an hour or so ago). However, he then spots the warforged, and his anger melts away in a wave of sheer disbelief.
15:07 – 15:17 – Whilst Leskin and his students stand dumbstruck, the mages move to their respective areas. The magi of the Binding Circle seek the glyphs of the outermost circle, the Disciples of the Change, the next circle in, and the Helldazzlers the innermost circle. The diviners of the Cabal of Ubiquitous Sight take up positions around the central mechanism, which is manned by artificers from the Imbuers Collegiate.
Above them float the group, and the leaders of the five schools, each ready to shout advice if and when it is needed.
From the volcano echoes distant rumbles, and the group smile, remembering their terrifying journey through its deadly guts, racing against time to find their goal before their protective spells wore off. Above them, the sky is covered in thickening cloud, and thunder growls with ominous portent from their depths.
“All right,” Breathes Rammanum's telepathic voice, “it is time. Brothers and sisters, begin your work.”
For a moment nothing seems to happen. Then, on the outer circle, the conjurers begin to enact rituals of summoning, the air crackling with energy as they open portals to the nearest elemental dimensions, their potent spells seeking out and dragging forth beings of primal, ferocious elemental might.
Flames of fabulous, impossible colours jet upwards with semi-sentient roars, and shrieking maelstroms of aeolian rage bubble and blister as the first spirits are drawn into this plane. Numerous cracks emanate from other glyphs as invisible but grotesquely powerful earth spirits are summoned, whilst eruptions of frost, acid and lava herald the arrival of other, equally potent entities. Thunder rumbles again above and below as nature responds to the epic magics being unleashed, and each binder fights hard to maintain their concentration and to correctly fulfil their part in this weapons firing.
Soon the entire outer circle is awash with a curtain of seething elemental spirits, barely held in check by the desperate and masterful castings of the Binding Circle magi, signifying that it is time for the Disciples and the Helldazzlers to do their parts.
Choreographed to perfection, both groups begin their chants, whilst the Imbuer's activate a number of sub-systems within the weapon, the vast stone circles starting to move around so the triangles within which the glyphs are carved move to align. Lightning flashes above, and the hell light of the volcano seems to grow in response. The smell of magic and torn earth fills the air, mingling with the reek of ozone and sulphur. It seems to take the triangles forever to slot into place, and several of the binder's seem on the brink of collapse; blood running from their eyes and ears as their bodies begin to tear apart under their castings awesome momentum. However, with a click the circles of stone move to their correct alignment, and at once there is a deep Whoom of power, felt in the bellies of every living thing within miles, as the energy of the bound elementals suddenly rushes through the mystic connections within the weapon, towards the waiting transmuters, lighting a fine filigree of runes and sigils previously hidden on buried spans of the overall structure with brilliant, razor-sharp light.
At once the transmuters are engulfed in searing waves of raw, chaotic, elemental power, and several are killed outright, their bodies consumed by its fury. However, enough survive and remain conscious to take on that terrible, killing energy and to harness it within the matrix of their own epic rituals; focusing and refining it into something that can be channelled into the weapon – something that the invokers can craft and direct with the needed control and precision.
More glyphs awaken between the middle and inner ring as the refined power surges towards the Helldazzlers, hitting them like a tidal wave. All of them accept the agony with a grim smile, and welcome the fury of its charge. With deep voices chanting in unison, they take hold of the focused power and begin to weave it into an even purer, destructive energy – a raw invocatory power that will, when directed towards the weapon, awaken its terrible, sleeping wrath.
It is at this point that the air above the weapon flickers and glows, the auroral light soon condensing into a vast sphere, within which floats a scene glimpsed by the group so long ago...
...The monstrous Ziggurat of the Gennamene, slowly emerging from the impossibly vast dimensional rift, atop its support disc of spiked, dark metal, surrounded by alien tempests of brutal, killing cold...
“Target sighted.” Sighs Rammanum into everyone's minds, “Portal boundaries clear and locked. Prepare to initiate firing phase.”
Beneath the group, the weapon looks like some fantastic firework – lit by the multi-coloured energies and crystalline fury of its activation rituals, whilst all around the storm gains strength as the fabric of reality buckles and stretches under the awesome weight of the magic blazing in this place.
“It's time.” Whispers Ormid, his eyes filled with tears.
“It's incredible.” Replies the vyrleen quietly.
And then reality is briefly torn apart.
With the target clearly in sight, courtesy of the diviners own epic castings, the weapon is brought to bear, and at last the Helldazzlers can give up their terrible, agonising burden. Lances of glassy, near colourless power thrust out from them and converge simultaneously upon the central mechanism, where the Imbuer's work their own spells of activation, taking the catastrophic might and focusing it through the weapons ancient systems.
In a heartbeat the weapon awakens, and sends an impossible amount of dimensional energy through the skin of reality. Far to the north, guided by the diviners and the imbuers skills, amidst the freezing hell of the war front (now evacuated thanks to warnings sent out by the group to the forces there – timed so's as not to alert their past selves to what is going on), the primal energies of creation are suddenly generated within the portal through which the Ziggurat emerges, as another portal is forged there by the weapon. Resonating, and gathering even more energy through Kelter's First Principle, the vast portal flashes suddenly with blinding, silent radiance, before it collapses in a terrible, devastating release of power hundreds of thousands of times more powerful than anything unleashed since the Primal Wars.
For a moment all sanity flees as a chaotic mass of mangled gravity, buckling dimensional boundaries and brute physical energy are unleashed in a blast hundreds of miles across.
Back at the weapon, the entire area is bathed in agonising heat as it overcharges and burns out, a hurricane of screaming tempest winds, madly jagging lightning and mind-shattering noise erupting from it in a burst, throwing everyone from their feet, blowing apart the weapon and levelling the camp and surrounding jungle for hundreds of feet in all directions. The view of the Ziggurat is lost in the maelstrom of unleashed power, though the last image that hangs there shows it fragmenting into a million melting shards under the ineffable deluge of primal, consuming energies released by the portals collapse.
Agonised and disoriented, the group are scattered by the local eruption, and for a moment all fear they have gone deaf and blind, their senses briefly overwhelmed by the brightness and volume of the power that has enveloped the weapon site. However, after a short while their senses return, and they hear the ragged cheering and slowly increasing laughter of the mages at the success of this wild, incredible mission.
Around them, with the massive release of magic over, nature exerts its own fury, and a massive thunderstorm breaks out, sheets of hot rain slamming into the battered and bloodied mages and cringing, terrified students of Leskin's camp.
Finally, after so many adventures, the group have succeeded. The weapon has been fired, the Ziggurat erased – and the first seeds of what will become the Unified Order sown.
But this, in truth, is only the start of their most challenging adventures...