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Quincunx

Corruption

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With the recent death of Spud, his hopelessly unskilled replacement botching half of the drinks ordered, and the departure of several prominent mages, the Banquet Hall had become much less inviting in the past fortnight.

 

"Speaking of armies," Rydia commented to the greatly diminshed crowd at her table, "I'm wondering when those gloomy dominions Helenus and Vivien are ever going to smile. If there's anything intimidating in this life, it's a pair of five-meter tall dark-haired dominions with perpetual frowns and the tendency to express opinions by slaying whoever disagrees with them. . ."

 

Behind her, the rats and hellhounds rooting around for scraps yowled in sudden pain. As the rushes covering the floor were enveloped in a fierce aura, the beasts died, desiccated, and blew away on the sudden wind originating from nowhere. From the purified portion of floor, the pair of dominions arose to confront their mistress.

 

Vivien barely had to lift her arms to rest her hands heavily upon Rydia's shoulders and paralyze her. Leaping onto the table and crouching before Rydia, so as to look into her eyes, Helenus broke the ponderous silence.

 

"We have seen one of our number fall to Corruption."

 

Vivien covered Rydia's face with her right hand, shielding her eyes from Helenus's glow of grief. Rydia pulled the shawl over her exposed shoulders, feeling them blister in the white-hot forcefield. Cowering back into Vivien's sackcloth robe, Rydia hid herself amongst the scratchy folds. She only dared peek out when Helenus's thunderous footsteps no longer shook the floor of the Hall.

 

Unfurling her glassy wings, Vivien crouched and launched herself after Helenus. The wind of her passing knocked Rydia back onto the bench. The other mages watched Vivien glide low through the Hall, noting with amusement the young mages of all colors withdrawing into their robes like turtles into their shells.

 

No nether mage stepped forward to claim the fallen dominion, or tell its story, perhaps fearing the retribution of the scarred ones. Rydia was left with a name ringing in her mind--I'on'e--and the stubborn curiosity which was always hers.

 

To Be Continued. . .

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(Helenus and Vivien stood on either side of the doorway again, their crystalline wings held at right angles to their gazes. Vivien tapped her fingers delicately against her throat, opening her mouth as if to speak. Helenus held his hand out and lowered it; she folded her hands in her lap. Helenus's gaze became distant as he recounted the tale.)

 

Aeson and Sonje, my dear, were wronged long before we first came to this plane. They descended physically from heaven; they were not called down as we were by magical rites. That mage whose lands they defended saw that as a symbol of their terrifying power. It should have terrified them, but they were cursed not to see it.

 

Aeson's namesake had won great renown and gambled it away in cruel pacts and vainglory. Sonje had been a valkyrie in life, it was rumored, whose power came with her blind and ruthless opposition to Fire. Together the force of their personalities could reduce any opponent to a steaming heap of flesh, and their powerful limbs would fling the offal to the skies. Even when the foulskinned devils violated the borders and withered the archangels' mortal forms, they charged in recklessly and ripped devils to shreds with teeth and fingers.

 

The taste must have entered their proud brains and inflamed them. Despite all protests, the next day they bared their wings and rampaged through the devil mage's lands; their desire for revenge tainted the air they exhaled, withering vegetation and sickening animals. When the devils rose to confront them, they desecrated all holy vows and initiated combat.

 

Newly summoned to support them, we flew in, you and I, but were too far behind to join the combat. All we could do was watch, as devil's blood ran from their mouths and clouded their eyes, as devil's flesh spotted their clothes and fused to their skin, as they fused with each other and with the demons they devoured.

 

(Vivien closed her eyes. The sounds of crystal striking crystal echoed as she wiped away tears with her wingtips. Helenus held his arms out before her, as though he would like to comfort her, but was forbidden to do so.)

 

And then, for the last time, we heard them--it--speak. "I am I'on'e," it wheezed, in a voice that would have made an old lecher's skin grow cold. "Taste of the death that breeds in my breath. Speech is corrupting as deed. My fluids are foul as Lucifer's soul. He has one." It lifted its distorted double skull, and smiled at us, "Take heed."

 

You could never recall the frenzied retreat, our longing to escape the leering face of our corrupted cousins, your dragging me away from the battlefield. As punishment for not destroying the creature, you were forbidden to ever let your emotions show again. They died within you. I have to carry them for both of us.

 

(Helenus glowed again with grief, and I had to avert my eyes. While my head was turned, I heard the crystalline music rise to unbearable pitch; he and she must have launched into a re-creation of the panic flight. When the noise and light faded and I could lift my head, they were gone.

 

This recorded by Rydia in Heldentime of Tyuli 22, in her realm. Peace upon them both.)

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Aeson gloried in his gift. It did not come from the devils themselves; that would affront him, as an angel, and kill him instantly. Their righteously slain bodies left greasy outlines when they decomposed; it amplified his thoughts when he anointed his temples with this salve. Whims became reality, and sentient creatures were not immune. Thus did the beasts of hell serve the desires of heaven.

 

When he had first realized this, he descended to earth. That he had not been summoned out of heaven troubled him not.

 

*

 

Sonje tossed her lance aside as the devils swarmed ever closer. The valkyrie, maddened by the infernal heat which had melted her shield to nothingness, leaped at the nearest devil and throttled it. With her face contorted, she snarled and slashed specially sharpened chilled teeth across its throat. Swiftly she flung the corpse aside as it collapsed and lunged towards another devil.

 

Aeson, the dominion, spread four massive wings and halted in the midst of the devil blizzard, holding steady against their current. Keeping his hands tucked safely away from the taint, he drew in a single deep breath and exhaled mightily. Devils screamed as the holy vapor melted their wings and chilled their flames, falling from the sky and disintegrating into a greasy rain.

 

*

 

Devils were useless creatures. Mages wasted resources in summoning them, they laid waste, and then others wasted time destroying them. They left behind neither meat nor hide, unlike any other creature. No magical items sprung from the site of their deaths. Only Sonje knew how to glean good from devils. If eaten while still alive, devils could fuel the warrior dominion who destroyed them.

 

That she had not been born of heaven troubled her not. Sonje gloried in her gift.

 

*

 

Aeson pressed his palms into the devils’ remains as if thrusting them back into hell. Sonje touched her lance to the last infernal flames, smothering them. Aeson slicked back his hair from his dry brow as Sonje chilled her icy sweat into vapor. He looked at her with jealousy and need.

 

Sonje obeyed the picture. Aeson discovered her hand beneath his chin while she kissed him without tongue. She broke away, touched her nose to his, and turned to leave. Aeson swallowed the chunk of flesh which he found in his mouth, and was instantly hungry for more.

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