What has come before: Intro, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15


~~~ Tereil ~~~

Tereil stood before the kneeling priest, his gaze piercing the man’s very soul, stripping back the layers of thoughts and memories as if peeling an onion. A silvery tear traced down his cheek as he absorbed a lifetime of pain and anguish, the good and the bad events of Meine’s life blending together into a primordial soup of human futility. Hopes, dreams, and prayers merged with fears, angers, and pains, the result being a complete void of meaning. Releasing the priest’s chin, the angel spread his featherless wings reflexively, the skeletal bone frame reflecting the light of the guttering torches eerily. He had slept for weeks, trapped and tormented by demons of his own creation, and now he wondered if the harsh reality that he had awoken to was any more kind.

“Stand Brother Torrent,” he said, his voice echoing the pain he perceived in the priest’s heart, “stand and tell me what has occurred while I have slept.” At first Meine remained motionless, trapped in the brooding sorrow bestowed upon him by his lord, but then shaking his head he scrambled to his feet, a confused expression playing across his fine features.

“Lord Tereil,” the priest began, deferentially bowing his head, “Syraph Keep has been under siege, and only the skill and determination of the guard have kept the enemy at bay.” The angel nodded, ushering Meine from the room and into the hallway, setting a slow and methodical pace.

“Please continue, ” he prompted, his voice that of one used to command, strong and clear.

Glancing at Tereil, his eyes reflecting his uncertainty, the man continued. “After your return to the Keep and subsequent illness, the soldiers of Isonia attacked. We have been holed up, slowly starving since then.” The angel’s expression remained blank, although he already knew the events that had transpired, he wished to hear them spoken by another. “The inner circle convened earlier today and attempted to commune with the Goddess,” Meine stammered, obviously shaken by having to recount the day’s horror, “we were rejected. The prayer chamber was destroyed, and with it many of my brothers.”

The priest fell silent as the pair rounded the corner to the hallway of Isonia, chaotic heaps of shredded tapestries still lying unattended. Unaffected, Tereil walked through the destruction, bare feet kicking aside fine silk as if it were no more than rubbish. The priest followed his master hurriedly, his emotions plain on his face: the angel’s uncaring demeanor deeply worried him. A sweet stench followed them down the hallway, the scraps of tapestry igniting and quickly guttering out as they passed them by, the flames seeming to emanate from the soles of Tereil’s feet.

Leaving the destroyed hall behind them, they continued their meandering path towards the area where Brother Zaphel slept. Breaking the eerie silence, Tereil spoke, his voice like a morbid requiem. “Leave the past behind, Brother Torrent, for it is nothing more than a shattered memory of what could have been. Henceforth we move forward and shall sow our own destiny free of the whims of the Goddess.” He spoke with conviction, his voice thick with emotion, an icy spear lancing through his heart with every word. “Isonia is irrelevant, inconsequential, and trivial.” His golden eyes locked on the priest, boring into him, “and if the truth be told, so are we.”

They continued wordlessly, navigating the complex hallways of Syraph Keep in brooding silence, discomfort building in the priest with every beat of his nervous heart. Tereil’s bone wings folded against his naked back, unnatural and ominous, an outward symbol of the changes that had been wrought on the angel. The inner battle that had raged in his dreams had been smothered, subsumed by a lucid clarity of the world around him. The utter futility of the cycle of births and deaths that comprised the existence of all beings tore at his soul, filling him with a profound sadness at the loss of hope and meaning.

Ahead of them the slumbering form of the older priest came into view, his legs now sprawled out across the hallway; his head flopped to one side like a rag doll. As they drew closer it became apparent that something was very wrong; Brother Zaphel’s arms, which had appeared to be peacefully folded across his chest from a distance, were in fact gripping at his belly, coated in gore. The man’s face was twisted in a rictus of pain, his eyes staring madly ahead, mouth locked in a death scream that never came. Spread across his lap like a gourmet feast were his entrails, a crimson heap of intestines, looking slightly mauled. His ribcage was split wide, as if torn from the center outwards, chalk white bone a stark contrast to the red gore.

Meine stopped dead in his tracks, dumbstruck with horror and grief; Tereil, however, continued on to the corpse. Kneeling down, the angel looked into the dead man’s eyes, as if in silent communion with the departed soul, golden orbs shining with grief. Reaching out with slender fingers he slid the dead man’s eyes shut and whispered, “it was inevitable.” An entire life of beneficence had not helped Brother Zaphel escape a cruel fate, and no god would care to collect his soul. In so harsh a world, despair was the only possible outcome, indifference the only possible shield.

“Come Brother,” Tereil said, seeming to address both the corpse of Zaphel and the shocked form of Meine, “let us leave this place.” Not waiting to see if the man followed, the angel started off in the direction of the keep gates, and the pristine evening air.

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