Prologue – Part 4 of 6

“My children,” he asked in slow, tender tone, “Why have you come?”  It was clear from the expression on Oba’sansh’s face that he, and perhaps all the present children of the High Father, mistook their father’s tone for one of ignorance and weakness.  The truth was that it was in fact a long-suffering patience born of love.  With a pause long enough for Oba’sansh to gather courage from the presence of his conspirators, words which only had been whispered in secret were uttered into light.

“We are here for your throne, Father.  Too long you have ruled the Reach.  You have grown indolent up here in the Roost, ignorant of what happens in your city, to your people.  You are so far removed as to have become irrelevant.  The power of rule should pass from your hands to ours.  It will pass to us Father, for your time is at an end.  You have over-stayed your welcome in the Reach.” Each word was an acid filled accusation, regurgitated with malice.  The words were not Oba’sansh’s, not in cadence or form.  Foreign as they were, those words had putrefied in his mind with each recitation.  They gripped Oba’sansh with a fever that had spread systemically, flowing from him into the rest of his brethren, though the words’ hold on them was not quite so complete, waxing and waning among his siblings to varying degrees. The grasp on Pat’sum was greatest after his elder brother and on Dren the least.  But still this heated power possessed enough pull upon the six to gather them here for a coup.  They stood defiant, culpable, frenzied, and harried before the throne of their father, daring him to strike at them.  Their poisoned minds saw restraint as impotence, not recognizing the fact that a father’s love stayed a god’s wrath.  The High Father looked past his oldest son, at the rest of those who had accompanied him.  To Oba’sansh’s siblings he directed his next inquiry, pointedly ignoring his eldest son’s response.

“And you all stand with him on this?  What of your other brothers and sisters?”  They met his question with a silence of agreement, so he probed deeper, tension and sorrow constricting in his chest but not reaching his voice.  Compassion warred with logic against the schemes which possessed his children.  “What has lead you to this conclusion?  Have I faltered in the defense of this city?  In the shepherding of our worshipers?  In guidance? In law? In faithfulness?  In justice or mercy? Please,” the word issued forth as a command, no hint of beseeching in the High Father’s tone, “tell me where I have failed.” At their continued silence, ears stopped up with lies, he shifted his attention back to Oba’sansh.  Cutting to the heart of the matter, he again asked a question to which he had already guessed the answer.  “Who has turned your thoughts, Oba’sansh?  With whom have you all been speaking?”  The power that was laced through that question forced the immortals back a step. Oba’sansh quickly, fervently glanced back as if to reassure himself that his siblings still existed, that they still stood with him.  Then he reclaimed back the lost step, surging forward as he answered.

“Our council is our own, etiolate one.  Needless to say our eyes have been opened and the power you long sought to withhold from us is now within our grasp.  We have been chosen.  We will not be denied.”  Oba’sansh’s right hand stretched up of its own volition to grasp an arrow by the shaft and drew it free of its quiver.  He did not nock it yet.  The shaft quivered slightly, Oba’sansh’s excitement traveling along its length, exaggerated by the rigid wood.  The High Father sensed the hand of one of his enemies in all of this, although who it was he could not be certain.  There were many who desired to cause his fall.  Some sought it for control of the city he protected; some sought his ruin for vengeance’s sake.  Others wanted to claim the power he had invested in his children, whether through theft or control.  The High Father sensed deeper purposes here.  While prophecy was not part of his nature, his vision and wisdom often granted him insight into the future.  But here, within sight of his corrupted children, the weight of his foresight settled upon him.  Visions of the future blossomed, potentials stretching out before him and his mind began to see a path open before his children. A dark and terrible path that if they walked it, would threaten to not only consume them but plunge all of Shadow’s Reach into eternal night.  His city and his heirs would become a dark wound on the face of Ta’nar and suppurate to spread their infection to all that they could, drawing the world into madness and chaos.  While this was one mere possibility among the myriad skeins of fate, its gravitas threatened to overwhelm all others.  His forbearance must reach an end, for the sake of all that would come.  For while the High Father possessed a deep and abiding love for his children, his nature could not be denied.  Beyond love and compassion there existed within him the strictures of justice and defense: not just for the children who stood in opposition before him, but his other offspring who had not rebelled, who had not been seduced by the words of a foe, for the city that they all called home, for the priests that labored on their behalf, and for the mortal worshipers who sent petitions up from the city like fragrant smoke.  Their futures were as much at stake here as were those of Oba’sansh, Bak’ith, Bak’oth, Dren, Pat’sum, and his precious Ganagal.  His heart threatened to break as the pressure within his chest increased.  Torn for only a second, the High Father’s love ceased to war with itself.  Resolved to his choice, the High Father closed his eyes to summon the strength to mete out justice against those he loved to protect all he cherished.  In that brief moment, his children attacked. 

Fire and heat leapt from the white wand that was now in Dren’s hand, erupting into dazzling panoramas of beauty and death.  His flames ascended and fell, dove and swooped, roiling around to consume his father.  The blaze slagged the granite of the throne upon which the High God sat and scorched black the mosaics underneath in an ever-expanding circle that radiated from the core of the poignant inferno.  But the molten destruction did not touch the High Father who emerged from the hellstorm unsinged and wreathed in the golden mantle of his power.  Concentrated as he was on Dren’s artful wrath, the High Father was unable to stay the arrow that Oba’sansh loosed.  Propelled by rage and dark magics, the arrow punched through that aura to puncture deep into the god’s shoulder where it was consumed by the power of his wrath.  This was only a slight wound, but it served to begin the slow process of weakening the god.  Blood charged with the faith of millions bubbled up from the ragged wound, the foul magics of the arrow preventing the Lord of Shadow’s Reach from staunching the flow.  Between one heartbeat and the next, the twins Bak’ith and Bak’oth leaped at their father with naked and wailing blades.  Uncovered desire for his end shone on their faces.  A silent detonation vented from the High Father, throwing the twins back against the walls of the throne room hard enough to shatter marble and bury them in rubble.  They were not dead, for his children were potent beings in their own right, but for the moment they remained trapped underneath the wreckage. 

The second arrow was unleashed from the black bow, but this time golden light caught the shaft in midair and snapped it with a thought.  Battle trained reflexes long unused sprang into motion as the High Father leapt at Oba’sansh.  Ingrained knowledge and newly awakened muscle memory traveled in a blazing arc and sought to connect a father’s fist with his son’s skull.  The blow was perfect; Oba’sansh stood uncomprehending at the sight of his impending death only to be saved when the blow was stopped by Pat’sum.  Dren gave a frenzied cry as Pat’sum caught his father’s fist in one palm. The concussive impact ripped tapestries from the walls and sent networks of crazed cracks along the floor.  These cracks rippled and thrashed against walls where they began to both climb high up to the ceiling and descend toward the foundation of the Roost.  Powerful blows, backed by divine might, were unleashed against Pat’sum.  Each blow was countered at the last possible second, but the Lord of Self-Control had to give ground with each block to survive.  Inch by inch, the High Father forced his son backwards toward the entry way, each gain punctuated by growing damage to the Roost from the violent outpouring of power. Dren’s eyes were wild in terror, as if this were the outcome he had deceived himself into believing would never happen but knew in his heart was inevitable. Oba’sansh stood in awe, arrow nocked but undrawn.  Whether it was wonder at his brother’s skill or admiration of his father’s power that stayed his hand, none could tell. Yet however perfect his defense was, Pat’sum finally failed to react in time, and the High Father’s fist connected with his son’s sternum with a sickening crunch.  The golden aura parted the young Immortal’s flesh an instant ahead of the fist, shattering his chest and flinging him back into one of the mangled doors.  Pat’sum collapsed to the floor in a wet broken heap, dying but not yet dead.

Mere seconds had passed since the throne was immolated, yet the High Father knew that such a physical clash would be drawn out, and his heart could not bear to brutally pummel his children into oblivion.  With a cry of desperation as his conflicted nature demanded an end to this confrontation, he prepared to unleash a consuming torrent of magic.  He would tear his granted power away from these wayward and rebellious children and render them mortal.  He thought this paradox might be the one answer to assuage both his love and justice.  As he reached out to summon his power to end his children’s divine link in a flare of passionate magic, the High Father was stunned to find himself cut off from his worshipers.  Power that had moments ago been within his grasp, and had indeed suffused his being, was now absent.  The reason for the flaw in his son’s defense emerged into his consciousness, for from his bloodied hand hung the black bands of Pat’sum’s chains.  The power flowing from that manacle lapped up his son’s blood, scouring the High Father’s hand clean but locked the expression of his divinity behind walls of magic.  While these walls were frail compared to the might and skill the High Father could bring to bear, they were clever ones artfully crafted to require more than a simple impulse to dismiss.  It would require precious time that the High Father did not have.

A cackle of mad laughter tore its way free from Dren’s throat, the manifestation of the realization that it was his hand that ultimately made this moment possible, for it was his magic invested in the shackles.  Dren’s mind, unable to reconcile lie he had chosen to embrace with the truth of the matter, snapped under the weight of betrayal.  Even as comprehension and pain masked the High Father’s face, Ganagal stepped up to finally join the others in the fight.  Twin daggers plunged into the back of the father who had gifted them.  With savage twists, Ganagal drove the blades deeper, forcing upon her father wounds that went beyond physical healing.  The Lord of Shadow’s Reach stumbled and sank to his knees.  With an expression of visceral terror, Dren sank to mirror his father’s posture.  The golden aura pulsed weakly, then failed the High Father as he leaned back against his calves, barely able to sit erect.  Spittle tinged bright red with blood flowed from his mouth to join with his shoulder wound in dyeing his raiment sanguine.  Ganagal’s bloody hands left the knives in her father’s back.  She circled to face her sire, Bak’ith and Bak’oth joining her, having freed themselves from the rubble.  Their bruised skin was a mottled testament to their father’s power.  Ganagal’s face betrayed no emotion while the twins wore expressions of pain and shock.  Oba’sansh walked slowly to stand again at their head, having retrieved Pat’sum from where he had fallen.  Oba’sansh supported his grievously wounded brother, one arm around Pat’sum shoulders, the other steadying Pat’sum’s broken chest.  The six Immortals gathered before their lord father as he bled out.  A wracking cough cleared the High Father’s lungs of the invading blood briefly, allowing him to speak.

“In the fullness… of time…. you will comprehend….. your folly……”  His body wracked with spasms, the god was unable to continue, and he fell prostrate, but all his children heard the lament in his final words.  Perhaps the fever had fled them upon completion of their dark intent, maybe reason broke through the cage of madness each had built in their minds, or possibly they at last could hear the truth in their father’s voice.  Even now his sorrow was not the swallowed rage of justified self-pity.  The tears that flowed from their father’s eyes were not for himself, but for them.  Shallow, ragged breaths were all that the High Father could manage, his lungs useless, punctured by Ganagal’s blades.  His mind tried to give voice to thoughts of forgiveness and warning, but his chest was thick and languid and refused to respond to his desires. The Lord of Shadow’s Reach, Empyrean of Ta’nar, slowly choked to death as blood filled his lungs.  As they watched their father die, Oba’sansh spoke quietly.  His first attempt was lost in the hysterical sobs that had overtaken Dren and the ominous groans that reverberated throughout the Roost.  Gathering himself, he tried again louder as the needs of the situation gathered about them.  His voice was calm, sharp in its call for attention. 

“What now?  We have claimed the throne, but not his power.  It remains locked inside him, now beyond our grasp.  The others have to know of what has happened.  They cannot be ignorant of the power unleashed and will be racing here to end us.”  He turned to look at his siblings.  They were not the glorious Immortals that had entered the throne room with self-justified intent.  They were coated in dust and blood, both theirs and their father’s.  The dark tapestry of their conspiracy hung in tatters, being unraveled by the reality of their actions as they stood before the corpse of their father.  Oba’sansh was the one who orchestrated the plan, having been advised by dark powers. It was he who had turned the minds of his siblings to sedition by the strength of his argument and conviction.  Yet even he felt as if he were standing on shifting ground, the purity of his purpose leaked out of him like the blood from his father.  It was Dren who spoke next, his sobs turning to maniacal laughter that gripped him with an equal fervor.  When he looked up, the others saw that the patron of beauty was gone.  Behind his eyes shone a bright and fevered madness.  In lucid tones that sharply contrasted what Oba’sansh saw in his demeanor and with a stark casualness of tone as if he were explaining something to a child or simpleton, Dren said in a tone that carried with it the impetus of a prophetic demand.

“Then we consume his flesh to consume his power.”

Oba’sansh heard nothing of his other sibling’s reactions.  The fever that had gripped him before returned in force.  Blood pounded in his ears and his heart thudded with excitement.  His mouth salivated with a primal hunger for the power his father possessed.  Oba’sansh found that some part of his mind echoed the mad belief of his brother.  Did not he eat the hearts of the stags he took on the hunt, both in honor and to gain a measure of their strength?  Did sailors not tell tales of cannibals eating their enemies to subsume their power?  Unaware that his eyes revealed a depravity of spirit that would justify this terrible act only moments after committing patricide, Oba’sansh’s lips curled into a wicked smiled.  He was only vaguely aware of his siblings’ faces, some showing avid hunger and others showing reluctant horror that came from the knowledge that they were too far gone to stop now.  He only had eyes for the torn, red flesh of his father and the bright blood that pooled beneath the body.

When the High Father’s other children arrived at the door to the throne room with weapons in hand, they witnessed their brothers and sisters ripping into their father’s flesh in an orgy of consumption.  Revulsion gripped them, preventing them from reacting as they took in the gore-coated visages of their siblings.  Their brothers and sisters tore flesh apart with their hands, teeth gnashed and throats worked to choke down a god’s power.  Already a change was beginning to take place in the throne room.  Power radiated out from the cannibalistic frenzy, further weakening the Roost as the High Father’s divinity violently passed into his children.  Those who ate were no longer Immortals, a newly consumed puissance was passing into them from the dead god’s flesh, elevating them beyond their stations as demi-gods.  Power that was unearned possessed them, and, as they arose from around the corpse of their father, they were Empyreans, lords among the gods.  But that was not the only change that had commenced.  Already the manner of their ascension was perverting their very nature, poisoning their power and their being.  While the newly elevated gods of Shadow’s Reach reveled in new found power, their siblings slipped away into the night.  Their hearts filled with fear and dread, their minds struggled with the knowledge that their great father was dead.  And hundreds of leagues away, imprisoned in a myiar coffin bound to the back a cart bouncing along a road drawn by two thar, the architect of their doom laughed as six children of a god of light fell into darkness. 

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