Part 143: Sensory Stone of the Nameless One: Part 15Sensory Stone of the Nameless One: Part 15
Initially I thought it was thunder that tore through at the wall between Inner and Outer Curst, as if the chaos weren't enough without a Carceri storm ravaging the city. When we arrived at the epicenter, however, the crushed masonry and trampled bodies weren't the result of a tempest.
It was a battle between two fiends.
Agril-Shanak, who I had released from the grain silo...
And Tek'elach, so secretive huddled in the guts of Curst...
"Bar that, chief!" Morte cried out through the din, "Just let them kill each other."
We gave them a wide berth.
"Morte, I need you to tell me about those blob creatures we saw beneath the city."
"Blob... oh the lemures? Yeah nothin' special, chief. Just baatezu foot soldiers. Don't think we'll have to worry about 'em unless they swarm us."
"Morte is correct," Grace added, checking over Dak'kon's wounds, "They are among the lowest of the baatezu order. Mindless, obedient... and the smallest scrap of their flesh can regrow the whole. I had once observed a cornugon general gather a hundred thousand lemures, ordering them to swarm across a battlefield."
She shook her head, "They flowed like water, clawing blindly at the tanar'ri horde. Waves of amorphous flesh broke against the enemy as the ocean eats away the shore. Nine out of ten in the baatezu army died, but the ceaselessness of their attack won the battle. Afterwards, in a single day, the sea of lemures regenerated and the army was reborn for the next wave."
Dak'kon nodded, derision sharp in his voice, "I have heard of such stories among battle-brothers as well. These tactics underlie the savagery of the Blood War... neither the lemure horde nor their tanar'ri foes know what they do."
I shook my head, "We need to slide Curst back. Now."
"Speak fer yerself," Annah panted, "Some o' us need a breather between shivvin' fiends left an' right."
"We can't rest, Annah," my voice was hard, and she flinched as if cut by the edge in my tone, "Trias hasn't just condemned a city of traitors. He's brought it directly into the Blood War. Curst has become the launching point for a mass baatezu attack against the tanar'ri."
If Morte could've soiled himself, he would've right then. "Don't suppose there's a chance we can run like hell?"
"Yeah. Right this way," I pointed my blood-soaked dagger to the sound of battle, and took off.
"You know I hate it when you agree with me sometimes!" he called out, floating as fast as he could.
We had to redouble our efforts in securing Curst, and by a stroke of luck An'izius was dragged past me by two guards, the madness of desperation in his eyes.
"Please, stranger! You must help me! Convince the judge that my alleged crimes are no crimes at all!"
I ran up the stairs towards the makeshift gibbet, to the sour-faced little man who raised an eyebrow at my approach. He spoke in the tone of an overfed, arrogant nobleman. "Mind you, sirrah, that you're interrupting an official process, and watch your words carefully: I am a powerful magistrate here, and would hate for you share this man's..." He indicated the condemned An'izius. "... rather sorry fate."
"You can't execute that man. This sort of thing's why Curst slid into Carceri... and it's what we need to stop in order to get the gate-town back on the Outlands."
"Wrong? You quickly forget that I am a magistrate, sirrah. I, myself, decide what is right and wrong in this town!"
"You know this isn't right. Yes he conspired to frame another, but you know you're only going to execute him as a scapegoat. If you carry though with this, it'll only add to the chaos that threw this town into Carceri in the first place," I stabbed a finger against his sweaty chest, "We have to put an end to this madness so we can get the Curst back where it belongs... before we're all killed."
The judge furrowed his thick brows, forming a bushy, white 'V' over his eyes. He looked to me, then to the gith, then to me again. "Both clever and wise are your swaying words, sir... and I thank you for your timely aid. It is well appreciated, by this town as well as the accused. There shall be no more hasty executions. Guards! Release the man."
The people's eyes were glazed with bloodlust, their voices ragged from screaming hatred with the mouth of a mob.
"The bureaucrats! The bureaucrats!"
"What are we gonna do with 'em all?"
"KILL! KILL! KILL!"
The plump little official clawed at my kilt, mewling, "Please! Save me! They're trying to kill me just for doing my job! I didn't mean any harm! Can't they see they're the ones bringing this town to ruin? Please... you have to do something!"
The grizzled man leading the mob gave me a look of contempt. "Whaddye want, berk? Can't ye see we're busy cleanin' out the trash that got us into Carceri? We get rid o' this sod, we're golden. We're back in the Outlands, no problem."
"What's happening is that your mob mentality is nailing this town even more firmly to Carceri. Forgive him and work together to repel the evil that's overtaking the town, and chances are far better that you'll be 'golden.'"
"But he... he... Crap. All right. You got it." He raised his voice so the crowd could hear him, "Let him go! We got a whole city to take care of!"
A slim man stood on a parapet, clad in flowing robes. His face was dark with anger, and he shouted at his subordinates as they moved with brisk efficiency. "Hurry it up, scumbags! We only have so much time to make a sacrifice!"
"What are you doing?"
He looked back at us with irritation sketched across his features. "I'm capitalizing on the chaos, berk. Now's the best time to take slaves, while everyone's worried about putting the town back into order. If you'll excuse me, I've got business to attend to." He turned back to his men.
"Too many people are adding to the chaos and evil done to each other. If you would have your men aid in the defense of the town, you might shift the balance again."
He called out to his men. "Stop what you're doing!" He looked at me thoughtfully. "So you're saying we won't need a sacrifice to the gehreleths?"
"Of course not! This entire town will be a sacrifice unless you work with the other citizens."
He cursed. "Just my luck. Had quite a haul, too. Okay, boys, set 'em free! We got us a town to save!"
The fighting was dying down, the chaos was being contained. Men were being hauled down the streets, broken and bleeding, but thankfully alive. Men who just a day ago would've glared with suspicion gave thankful nods to one another. Hands that once held knives ready for a neighbor's back were clasped to haul the wounded from the wreckage of buildings. In the distance I could see the heads of Agril-Shanak and Tek'elach on pikes, grimacing at each other in hatred even in death.
A dirty man, hunched and crabbed with age and darkness, shuffled over. His lank, greasy hair flew from his shoulders as he looked around. It was the same hermit we'd met underneath Curst. When he spied us he blurted out, "Kyse the caretaker told me you'd be along. You've done a fine job of weakenin' him... the town's chaos is subsidin' and his plan ain't workin' so well. Head up and finish the job."
"How do you know this?"
The earth trembled then, like the cold shudder before a sneeze. Something new was in the bones of this city. It was beginning to recover the sepsis that had infected it. Curst was just on the edge of shifting, with one last barb holding it back.
"I can feel him up there, waxing and waning like a burning moon. I can hear him wondering when you will come. He aches for confrontation."
I looked upward to the balcony on which he stood, ribbons of divine fury spreading like morning mist, "Then he'll have it."
We were far from the first to break in. With the doors smashed in from the back, a herd of wild sohmien had were stampeding through the hallway. Looters stuffed sacks full with anything, too panicked to care about the crash of porcelain breaking or metal denting. It was no longer about greed, but base instinct running wild once all control was lost.
We put them down like rabid dogs.
The second floor was more bothersome.
Curst guards, corrupted or decieved by Trias, stood guard for the Deva. The four we dispatched with ease. Those in the next room were beset by other foes.
Gehreleths, rabid with hunger, were surrounded by the traitors of Curst. The massed throng of clashing demon hide and rusted steel was deafening, and the confusion blinded them to our presence. They gave us marginally more trouble.
Finally, each footstep bought with blood, we ascended the staircase to the upper levels.
Beneath the stink of blood was the dry, brittle smell of bureaucracy. Perhaps it was a proud city, long ago. Once-lavish blue marble was set in the floor, now scuffed and scratched. A ceremonial gong stood covered with dust and dented. Faded banners, once heralds of the city's pride, were now stained with streaks of blood: the final indignity to Curst.
A dying guard lay moaning on the floor. His armor had been thoroughly savaged, the flesh underneath it looking as though it had baked in the heat of a thousand suns. He gasped up at me from the ruins of his face, "The deva... is strong. Do not enter... until you can... defeat him." He died quietly, before Grace could reach him.
The heavy iron door crashed to the ground, smoldering and dented. I lowered my hand and we approached Trias, weapons drawn.
He gazed out over the expanse of the city, the small guttering battles dying out like the embers of a passing forest fire. Once from these peaks you could see a blue and cloudless sky draping over desolate desert sands. Now a dome of red and black smothered the jagged landscape of snaggletoothed peaks, stones dry and cracking as if they were waiting to be wetted with new blood. The acrid stink of the air, like a hot grease fire, stung my nostrils.
And there, pristine and pure and ringed with a storm of opalescent light, stood Trias. He was an island of cold serenity, divinity made flesh. All that marred the perfection of his form was the dead clatter of his wings, yellowed bone rattling in the noxious wind.
"What do you hope to accomplish here?" Trias' voice resonated as he looked out over the city. The fires of the damnation below flickered hot in his eyes, like the light of forge-flames on a blacksmith's cheeks. "Much good you have done in such a short time, mortal. It shall not be enough to keep these traitors from realizing the depths of their folly."
"Why did you lie to me?"
Even with his plans gutted he still spoke grandiosely. If Trias were a lesser being he would've sneered. "You were in need of direction. The price of your need was betrayal. How is that you believe that you have earned the right to any truths in this life or the next? Such arrogance. Indeed, it was your duty as a lesser being to free me. I owe you nothing, and it is what I have given. I gave you more than you deserved. You freed me to help yourself."
Once I had seen the lemures gathered, the Baatezu hiding beneath the city, the pieces had all fallen into place. "There's a portal to Baator in Curst, isn't there?"
He turned to me then, face calm, the slightest quirk of his lips the only outward sign that he was impressed, "Very good, mortal. The pox that has eaten away at your mind has left some faculties intact, at least. Yes, there lies a portal to Baator, in the arch to the inner city. Long has it lain forgotten, the key known only to a select few sages, who now lie dead. Only I hold the key."
"And by bringing Curst directly to Carceri..." I continued, "The baatezu can bypass any of the tanar'ri defenses along the borders of the Gray Waste. You've created a new launching point directly into the heart of chaos."
"A temporary advantage," Trias said dismissively.
"Why have you done this?"
"A city of betrayers have been betrayed and received what they have deserved. There is no 'why'. It seals my compact with the Lower Planes. The greater good is served."
"You made a compact with the Lower Planes?"
"One cannot scale Mount Celestia without an army. The composition of that army is of importance to me. It is much easier to hire such creatures than force them into an attack."
My eyes widened, "You're going to attack Mount Celestia with fiends? Is consorting with them not against your nature?"
The deva's face darkened. "I am doing this to redeem the name of Good!" he snarled. "While the generals of the Upper Planes cower behind their golden gates and feed a brutal war that devours the innocent, I will bring them into confrontation with what they fear most, and through that confrontation, they will overcome their fear."
"Do you think that you can end the Blood War by taking it to the gates of Paradise?" Fall-From-Grace stood straight, hands folded, "The evil in the Lower Planes is nigh-infinite. The legions of the Baator and the Abyss reflect this. Before you arm yourself with nothing but pompous arrogance, you should remember the terrible power of infinite evil focused toward a single goal. Do not give them an excuse to take the Blood War to the Upper Planes or the multiverse will suffer.""
"You assume much of their chances, tanar'ri. An idea whose time has come is stronger than any army. And what know you of military tactics, temptress? Your skills lie in other pursuits." His eyes traveled over her body. "Leave strategy to those of us who understand it."
"One can learn from all things, if one is perceptive enough, my lord," Grace bowed her head, "One would do well to remember that a wise man takes every opportunity to learn."
"You are a mystery to me, tanar'ri. This is, I am sure, precisely as you wish it to be."
I shook my head, "Do you think to solve this problem by betraying your homeland?"
"I shall speak of betrayal to you, human. Betrayal is an abandonment of the war against evil. Betrayal is cowardice, selling weapons to your adversaries out of fear that they might stop killing each other and turn upon you. Betrayal is refusing to lead by example. Betrayal is letting the fiends run rampant through the Planes until evil has corrupted all hearts. Ask not why I scale Mount Celestia and seek to set fire to its comfort-laden slopes with war. It is no betrayal."
"You would taint the essence of good with evil incarnate. That sounds like betrayal."
"There are many definitions of betrayal. One must live long enough to experience them all. Even your life, were it not fraught with forgetfulness, does not have the range of centuries necessary to appreciate them. Such a betrayal is no betrayal at all."
A long, pregnant silence hung between us, until my words pricked it like a bubble, "What really happened to your wings, Trias?"
"Baator's fires burn hot indeed, but they are candles compared to a father's anger," he fluttered the burnt shreds of his wings. "There is no pain like being cast from Mount Celestia."
"So you're fallen, then? Why should I believe any of your words?"
"Speak not to me of treacheries and falling, mortal. I am willing to sacrifice even myself that Good might triumph."
"That's noble, Trias, but what gives you the right?"
"I am here. I see the evil. I am willing to act on it. My will gives me the right."
"One's will does not give one the right. Stand down, Trias. You can still be redeemed."
He scoffed. "You are not one to speak of redemption, mortal. You reek of evil; your words are snares and lies. No, this plan shall continue, and we shall see Heaven's gates burning, by and by."
"Then we shall fight."
"It has been a long time since I have wielded my blade against another. We shall duel, you and I."
Trias' blade burst into a cold blue flame in his hands, and he struck at the ground. The mortar reverberated like a gong, stone cracking like old paint. Horned sohmein burst from the floor, slavering with carniverous hunger. Their fangs dug into my flesh, threatening to drag me down with their weight. They were no true match: Dak'kon beheaded one in a single blow, Morte bounced between them tearing back with his own teeth. Nordom's bolts pierced between pupil-less eyes, and they toppled mid-gallop while the ones behind trampled over their corpses.
We could deal with the sohmein well enough, but Trias was using the horde to buy himself time. He'd encased himself in blue planes of force, was ringed with shields and barriers against blade and magic alike. Lightning lanced from his blade, and bolts criscrossed arced through the air over the heads of the stampeding sohmein. Annah's punch-daggers caught the first of it, and she was flung past. Nordom's limbs rang with an unnatural clangor as another bolt cracked through him.
The landscape began to move.
No, it wasn't the landscape. Two armies clashed in the distance, spread like a field of swarming ants. The baatezu had poured out from the city to secure the surrounding area, and what few defenses the tanar'ri had were being overrun by the lemures. Flabby pink bodies seemed to blend against one another, mixing and merging like the brew of a cauldron, washing the stink of chaos clean from the rocks of Carceri as the ocean ate away the shore.
We needed to end this.
I shoved outwards, knocking the herd aside with a hemisphere of violet force. If I could focus just right, gather the threads together... raw energy alone wouldn't be enough.
I reached out with my consciousness, felt the heavy clutter surrounding us. Not enough mass to do enough damage.
I extended my awareness further, to the bricks and mortar of the building itself. Still not enough.
Up and out I stretched, my consciousness thinning, mind threatening to snap at spreading it so far. Just along the edge of my limit I could feel it, like I was scraping it with the edge of a fingernail. That... I think that could work.
I squeezed the raw threads of force upwards, fountaining it into the sky. The crack of it, loud as a thousand thunderbolts, shook the balcony and threatened to split the building in half. A few stray sohmein were draw into it. A few were flung a dozen feet into the air before they crashed down again, spines shattering like twings. Others were flung from the balcony. Happy coincidence. Up it went, a pillar of violet force piercing the sky.
The great asteroids floating in the void rolled, quiet and serene in silence...
The shattered remnants rained down on us. My focused was stretched, but I was able to protect my allies from the brunt of it. Apple-sized stones rained down, tearing through mortar and flesh with equal measure. Sohmein burst apart into clouds of blood and broken antlers. The balcony lurched, the metal framework supporting it twisted like stretched sinew. Even behind his shields Trias flinched as meteors exploded against those crystal planes, white-hot flames from the stars themselves.
The thunder of the storm echoed in my ears, and deafened as I was the silence seemed all the more profound. Even Trias seemed shocked, and his eyes widened further as he stared, blinking into the distance.
All that remained of the lemure army was a greasy black smear. Few scraps would remain intact to regenerate.
Dumbstruck, Trias wasn't prepared when a plane of karach carved a long scar across the blue plane of his shield.
Another two, from Annah's punch-daggers came from behind, blades aching to dig into his back.
Above, Morte happily bounced away, a cobweb of cracking blue crystal growing with each blow.
I'd had enough energy in reserve... and a final burst of concentrated force streaked over Dak'kon's shoulder as I sped towards the fight, shattering the barrier, shards splintering into blue-white light as they fell. Trias stumbled back right into Annah's daggers, and she twisted them with a sneer. A twist of Dak'kon's blade and Trias' palm was slit down the middle, between two fingers. His heaven-forged blade clattered against the stones.
He fell to his knees, blood spilling from his lips as I pointed the tip of my dagger beneath his chin.
"I yield to you this hour, mortal. My imprisonment has weakened me... in my state, I am no match for you," he said smoothly. Pride still shone in his eyes until Annah ripped the blades from his body non-too-gently, milking out a cry of pain.
"Trias, even if you were in your full glory, you'd be no match for me. Now tell me what I need to know."
"Stay your hand, mortal. You came to me in search of knowledge that is known to me alone. No one else in the Planes may speak of what I am to tell you. If you truly wish this knowledge, you must promise to spare my life."
Dak'kon's eyes narrowed and he kept his blade at Trias' neck, an executioner readying himself.
"T'chah! 'e's lied ta us a-fore, how do we know 'e won't again?" Annah snarled. Her hair was a mess an stood on end from the blast of lightning she took. With that tail whipping back and forth she looked like an angry alley cat.
"It would be prudent to hold," Grace said, resting a hand on my shoulder, "We know Trias for what he is now. If his answers don't set us on the path you seek, we know who to return to for the truth once more." She directed a calm but piercing gaze at the deva.
I nodded, and pressed the tip of my dagger once more into his chin to accentuate my point, "All right. I vow to spare your life if you give me the knowledge I seek." With that, I withdrew my blade. Dak'kon did likewise, and Annah's lip curled before she followed suit.
Trias stood, ignoring the grave wounds he'd suffered. "The portal to the place you seek lies within the torus above the spire, in the city of Sigil, the City of Doors. In that city, there is a place where the dead of your kind are taken..."
I blinked, "You mean the Mortuary?"
"It is where you awoke of late, is it not?" he almost smiled, "The planes seem filled with such ironies of late. So close you were, then..."
"What is the key?"
"The Fortress of Regrets is mortared with tears, and like calls to like. To enter the Fortress, you must contribute something to it. When you pass near the portal, should you carry regret in your mind, you will feel the presence of the portal, like the cold embrace of death."
"While this chill bathes you, you must tear off a scrap of your own skin, and write a regret upon it with blood from your left index finger. The portal will open, and you can discover the truth behind the Fortress of Regrets - and perhaps meet its keeper."
I looked at him warily, "How do you know this?"
"Many alliances have I sought across the Planes. My search brought me to the Fortress, where I spoke to its lord and keeper of its shadowed halls. No doubt you should wish to return to Sigil now," he pointed behind me, "The blood you have on your hands shall act as the key to this portal; simply step through the door by which you entered, and you shall return."
"What can you tell me of the Fortress?"
"Its halls are dark and seem empty - but like you, it draws tormented souls to it like a lodestone. Like you, it is empty and yet full of time's cast-offs. Like you, it is a monument to torment. Shall I tell you of these souls, wanderer?"
I gestured for him to continue.
His bloody smile widened. "They are the souls of those who died in your place. They have become shadows that you may live. They are your shadows, the shades you cast upon existence, and they will find you, wanderer, and they will make you suffer for their torments. You will receive your due at their hands, you and those who are foolish enough to accompany you."
"What can you tell me of this keeper?"
"Powerful is that one. You shall not best him, and you shall not be able to wrest your mortality from his cold grip. It is lost to you. You have embarked on an errand undertaken only by fools," Trias said, shaking his head.
"Foolish I may be, but I will know more about this keeper."
"A man's mortality is a compass that points his way in life. If it may be grasped like an object, much can be learned about the nature of the man it was torn from. Your adversary knows more about you than you will ever know. He has watched you and studied you across many of your half-lives. I know his heart. He will not return that which you seek."
"What will you do when I have left you, Trias?"
He looked out sadly to the fields of Carceri, at how close he had come to victory, "I shall once again attempt to levy a host against the gates of Paradise. They will not have me back, and there is no other purpose to my existence."
"Trias, have you forgotten the face of your father?"
"What do you mean?"
"The Upper Planes are the home of justice, beauty, and goodness. They are also home to forgiveness. Go home. Admit your error and beg forgiveness."
Trias opened his mouth for an angry retort... and paused, reflecting. He bowed his head. "You speak convincing words, mortal, and their wisdom pierces me. I shall seek the forgiveness of my fathers, and accept any retribution they choose," he glanced at his blade lying on the stones, then looked away. He would leave the past behind. With that he reached into the folds of his robe and withdrew a scroll. "Take this, and farewell, mortal. If we meet again, it is my hope that I will be redeemed."
Trias raised his arms then, and leaped off into the sky. Slowly he vanished in the distance, winking like a star, until finally he vanished among the black clouds of Carceri.
I blinked. They were not so black now.
The balcony rumbled beneath us, and we stumbled as everything shook. It wasn't the damage I had done to the building, no... the entire city was shuddering with new, fresh life. Pale gold-silver light flickered among the clouds, and flashes of blue filtered through the red. The stuff that bound Curst to its new home was stretching, snapping thread by thread. Curst was shifting...
Bule'zakrai was no fool. Any promotion in the Baatezu ranks came with its dangers, and not just because his old comrades might assassinate him out of envy, or because sometimes the higher-ups considered it a grand joke for hated enemies to be placed in positions of high responsibilities. The higher you climb, the more narrow the path, and the more jagged the rocks underfoot after all. Then the one who promoted you, who you thought was at your back the whole time around, would give a little shove and watch as you spatter on the stones below. Oh, what a laugh. He'd done it hundreds of times himself, and it always brought a giggle.
No, Bule'zakrai always preferred middle management, even if it meant he was more expendable as simply a courier of messages between the lower baatezu and the higher. Still, at least he didn't have to get his hands dirty. Nor did he have the responsibilities that could also lead to brutal, peel-my-hide-and-salt-me failure.
Of course, when Bule'zakrai was brought to the Crimson Hall Of Tapestried Flesh and forced to kneel before the Black Duke of Thorns, he couldn't help but feel a bit giddy at the position that was assigned to him.
Grand Blood General of the Festering Horde. He still loved the sound of it, and would hiss out each syllable in his head every chance he could get. Five hundred thousand lemures at his command. Eighty thousand clueless mercenaries: humans and gith and tieflings who had signed up, blinded to the fine print by the glitter of gold (and supplied with eighty thousand pairs of leather chaps). Twelve hundred abishai, and a smattering of kytons and kocrachons.
To think that idiot Fhjull Forked-Tongue's blunder actually worked out for the best!
"The surrounding valleys have been secured, Grand Blood General," an imp reported, cowering at his master's feet. Bule'zakrai grinned. Cowering was oddly satisfying now that he was on the other end.
"Excellent. Gather the corpses of the mercenaries and the tanar'ri filth. We'll strip them bare of flesh and begin construction on a fortress here immediately." And his throne of course. A Grand Blood General must have a proper throne. "Focus on barricading the passes, and once we have our reinforcements we'll storm the the Plains of Varakiim." Yes, once those lands were secured from here the long stretches throughout Carceri would fall. Even if by some miracle the Tanar'ri took those plains back it would be decades before they recovered.
Any minute now the deva would head to fortress of Alkazuk, the mouth end of the portal between Baator and Curst. It had taken decades to build that stronghold for this attack once Trias had outlined the terms of the contract. Bule'zakrai couldn't wait... he had only been able to squeeze a tenth of his horde into the bowels of that wretched desert hovel, and the rest were eagerly waiting in Alkazuk for the deva to grant them the portal key. He'd have the full command of all his forces then. Twelve other hordes were also waiting to spread across Carceri like a plague, true, but Bule'zakrai would have first dibs. And a Godsman-commissioned siege engine of all things, to tear through tanar'ri armies and sunder their walls! No fortress would stand against the forces of the baatezu!
Bule'zakrai was just mulling over all the fine things he would collect when blinked. Somehow the clouded sky seemed to be flickering, as if peppered by thousands of needles...
The booms sounded then, shattering the entire encampment. Lemures burst like lanced pustules. Human mercenaries ran screaming, consumed by fire and smashed by meteor shards. The abishai ran berserk, shrieking and tearing through their allies.
There was a deafening crack behind Bule'zakrai. For one moment he felt weightless, the next it was an ordeal simply to breathe. He clawed himself up from the ground, the smell of blood-soaked earth heavy in his nostrils. Bule'zakrai grabbed at the imp, hissing out hoarsely,
The imp simply flopped in his talons. At least, the half of him that Bule'zakrai held did.
The Grand Blood General looked out among the wreckage. He could only spot a handful of lemures wobbling mindlessly among the ruins. What human mercenaries that remained alive were fleeing into the mountains. Most of abishai were hardy enough to survive, but too many lay smoldering. Far too many.
"The damn tanar'ri filth will pay!" he hissed, looking back to Curst. Any moment now his horde would be pouring through in a river of flesh and fang and fury. Oh whoever was responsible would die along the span of eons, and already he was planning out the devices that would separate the joints with maximal efficiency.
Bule'zakrai gasped. A golden glow surrounded the city, encasing it like a shell. Violet streaks rippled across its surface, pebbled with dusty imperfections like burnished steel. A low hum rang across the battlefield, once encampment, now smoldering ash-heap. The golden light built, and Bule'zakrai howled, his cry matched only by the roar as Curst vanished.
No reinforcements. No new Godsman-craft siege engine. No fancy new throne.
If only there could be enough tears, Bule'zakrai would have wept. The higher you climb, the more narrow the path, and the more jagged the rocks underfoot. Somewhere, in the spans across the planes, someone was laughing.
Far in the distance and almost out of earshot, the gehreleths roared.