“So, what do you think it means?” Eryno asked, his face sporting a lopsided smile. Bliks had often wondered at the chances of a half-elf, like Eryno, would end up working with an android and a sylph, all having much longer lifespans than the abundant human population.
Bliks sighed. This was one of the challenges she faced in talking with Eryno. Always so focused on the present, where their opponents were, where to go to next, it served him well in dealing with traps and combat, but outside of those moments of pressure, he seemed to lack a sense of focus, an aimless drifting into and out of circumstance. And so it was in dealing with esoteric matters like the prophecies, if she could even call them that, that Ve’Dien had dropped on her weeks ago.
Hex looked over at his two companions, having just secured one of their opponents after stripping them of their gear. The gunslinger proceeded to double check his bandolier of firearms, ensuring each one was topped up in either charge or fully loaded, his hands moving carefully but methodically; this was one of his unusual physical ticks, always checking his gear, but never in the frantic fashion of a man searching for his now missing wallet.
“I think,” Hex said flatly, “Bliks doesn’t know what it means and wanted to have your insight, even though she hasn’t yet asked that question.”
“Oh.” Eryno said, his expression changing to one of concerted focus.
… darknessnightcoldmetalshroudcapecoverhelmblindstonehard … the words fell over the link to Bliks … howlscreamwindcoldnightterrormonsterreachingchoke … she suppressed the urge to wince; she felt she had to start to get used to this now more than just a hum.
“I don’t know.” Eryno continued. “I mean, we’ve both died at least a couple of times … I don’t remember that being particularly dark … so maybe it’s not about dying?”
“That, I agree with.” Bliks said, now cataloguing the gear they had stripped from the Pathfinders. A casting of a few spells allowed her to further break down not only what gear was what, but the valuable from the mundane.
“And?” Eryno asked, having waited a few minutes for Bliks to elaborate.
“Well it worries me that it likely isn’t about dying.” Bliks said, “Howling in the dark sounds more like torture or despair. And if Ve’Dien is to be believed, that’s my fate if I don’t ‘open the way to eternity’ by being ‘the lock, the gate, and the key’. I can’t be clear if it’s something that will happen if I don’t do something or if something’s coming that if I don’t prevent it, that’s what will happen.”
“Have you considered the source?” Hex asked, picking out from the now collected gear something that had caught his eye.
Bliks nodded, “Yes. She was our companion, my cohort even, for months. But she also went into this place,” she gestured at their surroundings, “by herself. We haven’t seen all of Silver Mount, what other terrors could be left behind by either Unity or the Dominion of the Black?”
“And Brigh?” Hex pressed on.
“The signs have been inconclusive,” Bliks grumbled, “None of our divinations have indicated a new herald, but there’s always room for heretics or niche cults. Maybe this is something else, some remnant of Unity that tainted Casandalee, gave her something of the divine but not enough, not yet, to be clear. Time works differently in the outer sphere, it’s hard for us to really measure the passage of meaningful events.”
“And it could mean all sorts of threats that are looming. Do you really think, even though we wiped out that one enclave of members of the Dominion that they’re not still out there? Or that when you blew up that power matrix that it wouldn’t have attracted their attention? And outside of Numeria, there are all sorts of different kinds of world ending threats, any one of which could lead to howling in the dark.”
One of the Pathfinders was coming around. “What are we going to do about them?” Eryno asked, although Bliks could feel it was more trying to shift focus away from such gloomy future matters, another benefit he brought with his attention on the present.
They had detected the Pathfinders intrusion into Silver Mount moments after it had occurred but hadn’t been able to stop them before they had caused an unknown amount of damage. The hologram logs recording the events laid it out fairly clearly. They had bypassed the Divinity drive’s teleportation null zone by using some kind of anchor another team had left behind for them and then almost immediately started attacking everything within sight. An entire room of domestic servant droids smashed into pieces because the ignorant and trigger happy Pathfinders had wanted to loot their component pieces. Then they blasted through several doors and, when attacked by a group of Riot Suppressor robots, tried destroying the local robot control panel, apparently thinking that it’d disable the robots. But like a ship whose tiller has been removed, it’ll still keep going, as the robots did, and only Hex, Eryno, and Bliks’ intervention prevented their destruction. The destruction of the robots, Bliks thought, knowing that was their likely outcome at the hands of these thugs.
“Aside from that one,” Bliks pointed to the still equipped half-orc barbarian, “I’m going to be force teleporting them to face unfulfilled justice elsewhere. The rogue, he’ll be going to Daggermark; his face should be recognized by the posters they put up for his arrest. Not that I’m fond of sending a known thief into that nearly lawless land, but the museums in Osirion had no idea who had stolen from them so he wouldn’t see punishment there.”
“The demonologist, despite appearances as a diabolist, will be sent to Egorian. I’m sure the Cheliaxians will be happy to have her back, having likely killed an actual diabolist to secure her identity with her compatriots.”
“And what of the Paladin?” Hex mused.
Bliks sniffed with disgust, “They’re normally a good sort, but this one either didn’t care to or wasn’t allowed to dig into their past, a serious flaw in the Pathfinder Society, almost requiring the just to sully themselves if they want to get work with them.”
“Overall I’m just disappointed. We allowed them to reopen their lodge in Starfall, we invited them to join us in studying Androffan technology at the Numerian Institute, and this is how they choose to repay us. I wasn’t surprised when you pointed out their first bungling attempts at theft, but a few silver disks here or there wasn’t something I thought we should concern ourselves with. But this?” She pointed at the destruction the Pathfinders had left in their wake, “This is unacceptable. They could have delved into Silver Mount with a proper priest of Brigh at their side, greatly reducing their risk, and if only they would be willing to abide by our demand of first option to purchase any material and a light handed approach to this ship’s precious contents.”
“At least their Barbarian showed restraint. Unexpected that. Perhaps we should consider hiring her. What do you think Hex?”
“I’m sure we could find some work, if she’s willing. You know the Society won’t appreciate this.”
“Of course they won’t. But the deal I gave them was better than the deal they had, and now that they know what we’re capable of, they’ll at least be more careful in the future. It wouldn’t pay for every one of their agents they send here to end up answering for the various crimes they’ve committed across Galorian.”
A new signal broke through the link, from outside, an actual outside communication. “Sovereign Hex? Am I intruding?” Bliks couldn’t put a name to the voice, but certainly one of the guards manning the main entrance to Silver Mount.
“Go ahead Captain.” Hex ‘spoke’ over the link. Clearly he at least knew the rank of the guard, if not their name.
“There’s something going on to the north. The men say it’s a storm, but the priest says its like no storm she’s ever seen. We thought you should know.”
Bliks nodded and swept up the gear they were keeping into a portable hole, deactivated the Divinity’s nullification field, invoked the phrases necessary to teleport the Pathfinders away, save for the half-orc, and made a mental note to have a team catalogue the wreckage. Putting a hand on each of her companion’s shoulders, and they on the still comatose barbarian, teleported them all to the peak of Silver Mount.
Numeria was not a beautiful land. Blasted by winds, sparse vegetation, and lingering radiation from years of broken Androffan technology had not been kind. But it was a hearty place, and if you were willing to work, the land would give up a profit. From this lofty spire, Bliks felt like she could see all of what made Numeria that land that it was.
But to the north was an ever pressing concern. Always just over the horizon but never out of Blik’s thoughts for long, was the Worldwound. A massive rent in reality, somehow linking one of the Abyssal planes to the former nation of Sarkoris, it was now a twisted realm of madness and death, where four crusades had tried to push the demonic hordes back and four crusades had merely slowed their endless tide.
And now there was a great dark cloud brewing, shot through with red lightning and flashes of green sky. No doubt the land below the cloud top was being spattered with vile slime or the corpses of incomplete demons, vomited forth from the ever churning Abyss.
Then there was the flash. A golden spike driven down from the heavens into this boiling cauldron. For a moment the clouds seemed to recoil, and then they spilled out.
In horror Bliks’ glance turned to the nearby city of Starfall. She could already see the flashes of plasma and laser, the puffs of dirt visible even from here which must have been massive volleys of missiles exploding in the ranks of invaders. And there was no doubt in Bliks mind that these were demons.