Prologue: Morningveil

 
Lucia wasn't sure on what occurred next. Her sight was slowly returning, and she could see the large blur of Malcharion - who else could be that big? - and hear some sounds, but she found it hard to pay any further attention. Her rage was subsiding, and her mind could thus give more attention to the effects of her channeling. They were wholly unpleasant.

Lady Eos, she called, hoping that thoughts of her could somehow alleviate the pounding in her head - even though it was her union with the spirit that caused this in the first place. Lady Eos, Lady Eos.

Amidst her scrambled thoughts, however, she could hear another name being called over and over. My name, she realized, almost as if in surprise, and blinked a couple of times to focus on the face floating above her. It's him, isn't it? She asked herself, sighing mentally. Well, of all noisy idiots who could have carried her, he might not be so horrible.

"...Of course I did great," she muttered, her voice more weary than anything else. His hands were rather warm and soothing, she noticed, although she was sure that it was only because she was so exhausted. Quite sure. "Now, shut up..." Curling up against him, she closed her eyes and slowly drifted to sleep, her body trying to escape the terrible sensations that were overtaking her.

What an annoying night, was her last thought.

A wave of light rolls through the sky like the dawn of a second sun, colliding with each of the makeshift automatons fluttering clumsily through the night, washing through them and leaving almost nothing in its path. What remains is smoke and steam, crowning flecks of ash that gently float down to the ground in a grey rain. Dim pinpoints of light remain here and there even after the spell ends, remnants of the magic that passed through seconds before, adding another layer of stars to the smoke-filled sky.

The moment the threat from above is removed, Silas himself is treated as helpless, a complete non-issue; to be shown the door and removed immediately. As far as this might be from the truth, for all that he could still do, fortunately, he chooses to meet these expectations. Sheer shock, for a few moments, gives him no alternative. In contrast with his earlier, far more vocal self, now he does not speak at all, too stunned for words.

It takes another set of eyes, after all, to notice madness.

Malcharion's order is followed without so much as a nod, the defeated shaman turning to slowly march away towards the breach. The few surviving golems, already beginning to disintegrate little by little, follow suit after a few moments. Their departure from the city, however, is quickly interrupted by footsteps from another direction entirely, a little way behind Vivian, the rapid tapping of shoes on cobblestone.

"Excuse me, demigod coming through." The muttering speaker soon comes into view, a slightly short skeleton dressed in a dusty, dark grey suit, running across the street with one bony hand held up. The footsteps are, though perfectly timed, entirely artificial: The skeleton, while visible, has no tangible form, only a visible one. One might expect Madrich's voice to sound like the tolling of funeral bells, or the slow grind of a tombstone being dragged across rock. A death rattle, or the slow whistle of a wheezing breath passing through bone. Some sort of rumbling echo, perhaps. A monstrous, fearsome voice to match a spirit that no one in their right mind would ever wish to meet.

Instead, his voice is perfectly human. Only those with a particularly good ear - or, like Vivian, more familiarity with him than most are allowed - would notice the slightly strained note in it; humanity is a mask that does not come to him naturally, but is only kept up with great difficulty. Silas pales slightly at his approach; being prepared for the end is one thing, while coming face to face with death is quite another.

"Not here on business," he says upon coming to a stop, waving one hand dismissively. "I'm going to try to give you what you came here for, just not what you demanded." Placing a contemplative finger on his chin, the spirit lets out a slight puff of air between his teeth - the mouth never moved once, for all his talking. "Integration," he muses after a moment, "that's what it'll be. Or maybe a truce, an alliance against a common enemy... what did you call them, again? Turtles? Can't call it surrender, that's the point; pick the right word and everyone will tell themselves they won. There's a decent chance that, like you said, a few shamans won't be enough to sway a whole city."

The skeleton stops to brush a little dust off one shoulder, more to let his words sink in than for any other reason. The dust was, after all, as artificial as every other part of his appearance. "But the whole city relies on you, and soon, your apprentice. You just need to remind them that none of them can afford to argue with you. Hold your own city hostage for once. As for here, there's only the three of us, and no one's going to spend much time listening to an outsider," Madrich motions briefly towards Malcharion at this "like tin boy over here. No offense." He looks over his shoulder towards Vivian, neck twisting a little more than it should, before he remembers to at least keep up appearances, turning a little more to face her properly.

"And that's where I come in. What do you reckon, Vivian? Think they might listen to me, at least?" With a slight nod in answer to his own question - the spirit, at least, finds the answer as clear as day - he looks to Silas again. "That's the plan for now; if you get a messenger, you'll know it worked. Now, they're not too keen on keeping you locked up here, for some reason, so I suggest you get out before they change their minds, unless they want to take some time for some proper peace talks first. Just one more thing from me. Favour on the house."

Madrich leans forward slightly, staring into the shaman's eyes for almost half a minute, before taking a step back and shaking his head. "Four days, seven hours and twenty-two minutes," he finally announces, and this is, at long last, enough to at least elicit a nod from Silas, though he still does not speak.

"Just try not to waste the rest of it."

As the night sky lit up with Eos's power and a maiden fell from the sky like a princess from a legend, the tone shifted significantly. Perhaps, Vivian thought, I oughtn't underestimate the young priestess in the future. Frankly, the look on Silas's face was almost enough to make her grin. Almost. Now was not the time.

Still, a small, relieved smile snuck onto her face as she heard a voice that she had become rather intimately familiar with. Though on a base level she understood why people feared Madrich - she would have, too, not so very long ago - his carefully-constructed pseudohumanity had become a comfort to her, and in this case, did quite a lot to ease the air.

Not quite as much as Lucretia's giant laser had, but hey.

"I've said all that needed to be said. ...A bit more than I ought to have, in fact." Her small smile widened, growing, perhaps, sheepish. Clearly she was quick to forgive, perhaps quicker than was really wise, but this...this was what they both wanted, wasn't it? And surely if Madrich spoke on their behalf, there was no way their plea could be ignored. Perhaps Eos and...whatever Spirit Tobias had contracted with could be convinced as well. Perhaps all of this was a blessing in disguise.

Even this act may have been somewhat...coercive diplomacy. They weren't leaving Silas with an option any more than he left them with one. But such methods were, at times, necessary, and he would likely not be able to steal his own answer away from their conditions, as they had from his.

Besides, this would benefit everyone. Of course, had this man come in peace in the first place, they would have been saved a good deal of effort and prevented quite a lot of damage, but...holding onto bitter thoughts like that would defeat the purpose.

Tobias' mind blanked. Lucretia had been naught but an exemplary standard of herself, telling him to shut up, and letting her ego speak, but the way she fell asleep against his chest... Sheepishly, Tobias briefly snapped his neck to see if Vivian or Malcharion were looking, as his cheeks had begun to burn bright red. He looked back, down at the now-snoozing bundle in his arms, and gingerly brushed a strand of hair from her face, letting the backs of his 'commoner' fingers, as the priestess might say, linger on her cheek. The barracks nearby had all but caved in now, sending plumes of smoke and dancing embers into the sky. Though the crimson in his cheeks stayed, he felt an unfortunate pit in his stomach - the night wasn't over. Silas was still -

An unfamiliar voice interrupted Tobias' quiet train of thought. Gently rising, keeping the priestess close, he turned and watched the scene unfold. The new... Person? Skeleton? It approached the group, and as it spoke, Tobias' heart began to sink ever so slowly. His eyes shot to Vivian, who began to smile ever so slightly, and his eyes widened in fear.

I know this being... He took a hesitant step back. Even now, he wouldn't deny - fear built inside him like never before. Laying eyes on Madrich as he spoke to the shaman, however insightful and wise his words were, grew that fear inside him ever more.

And then it ticked - Madrich racked off a day, hour and minute, to the exact second, and the sound of Tobias' heart dropping could almost be heard. His face, the crimson long removed, looked pale as a sheet.

"I..." He stammered quietly, clearing his throat before speaking up a little more. "Th... The Priestess needs to rest. I..." He stared intently at the rather short, otherwise unimposing skeleton, not daring to take his eyes off it.

"I'll take her to the temple - m-make sure she's alright. We need to perform d-damage control after this, make sure no one's hurt..." Taking as casual side steps as he could, Tobias took his first legitimate step toward the temple, his gaze flicking between Vivian and Malcharion for a brief moment for confirmation; Madrich was still under his fearful eye, however...

Seeing that the negotiations are concluded, Madrich nods, casually waving the invader away. Silas complies immediately, turning around and proceeding towards the breach with a hurried walk. With this done, the skeleton nods once in a vaguely contented fashion, before following after Tobias into the night.



Soon, with a slight gust of cold air carrying the scent of freshly dug soil, Madrich returns to the blazing barracks, absent-mindedly counting on one hand. "One, two, three... four. Could be worse, could be worse." He looks toward the commander, tilting his head - or rather, skull - to one side. "Four. I better not keep them waiting any longer. Listen, Vivian and... Malcharion, was it? Can you two deal with the rest of this mess?"

Any answer the two might have given is interrupted by the appearance of a column of fire at Malcharion's side, faceless and featureless, as ethereal as Madrich, its flames doing nothing to affect the oil on the ground. The crackle of flames, as well as the scent of smoke and fire that typically accompany Vulkan's presence are lost now, indistinguishable from what is already there. Instead, there is only the distant sound of an anvil being struck time and again, accompanying a ringing voice that is clearly unused to anything but command.

"Without a doubt," the forge-spirit answers, and a tendril of fire extends from the pillar to point towards each of the burning structures. "Golem, extinguish these before they cause any further damage. The barracks is a lost cause and the oil irrelevant at this distance, but any further damage to the armoury's contents must be avoided. Use Anshar's magic if you must. When that is done, assist me in sealing the destroyed portions of the city walls. The rest, I will leave in your hands."

Madrich seems quite pleased at this, a small smile replacing the grin most skulls would hold - quite how bone shifts its expression like this, without any apparent movement in between, is anyone's guess. "Good. Thank you, Malcharion, and you too, Vulkan. I know this isn't exactly your problem. Now, Vivian, last I checked, you're not a walking block of metal, so try not to get some rest before too long, you hear? I'll be back by morning."

And with that, the skeleton is gone, leaving only crackling flames and a half-asleep city.




 

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