5665/Glad Tidings, From Hell

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Glad Tidings, From Hell
Date of Scene: 23 January 2018
Location: An-Teng, Creation-9999
Synopsis: Empty Tidings is visited by something about as awful as she is.
Cast of Characters: 1142, Empty Tidings

Ice King (1142) has posed:
    Things in a place of endless death have finally started gaining strength to act outside their domain. There are Powers on the move, influences that seek to gather more such strength to themselves. There are also agents that have long operated in the interests of said Powers, and now fall back into that role once again now that the door is open to them. One such Power moves now, on legs of fire that leave burning frost where they touch. A chill that pierces the flesh with needles of ice, and then consumes the soul from the inside out.

    The creature burrows and writhes its way through planes of reality, alternate perceptions of space and time, and then crawls lightning fast down the tunnel to the soul it smells. The one that can give its masters more strength.

    The one that tastes like home.

Empty Tidings has posed:

The world is flat, floating in a sea of bounded/endless chaos that encroaches on all sides. A dome of something unlike glass bounds the vault of the sky. The sun moves across the heavens, descending towards the edge of the sky as it reluctantly allows night to fall on what's left of this huge, beleaguered world. Its radiant glory shines still, and from the edge of Creation, the sun's light casts long shadows as the sky yet dims.

And in those shadows... there are /things/.

Thousand Dragons Lake rests in An-Teng, an enormous body of water from which the River of Queens flows. The foothills and mountains to its east are darkened; its waters are as placid as it ever can be, scattered with ships that have no idea the depths and secrets the waves hold. Far, far below is the creature's quarry: the powerful soul lingering below the crushing weight of water, burning with an awful fire that even that cannot quench.

It's inside, though. The manse is old and forgotten, a collection of curving stone edifices making up arched and elegant lines from a prior age. It's covered in weeds and muck, criss-crossing in a way that obscures it from above and keeps the surface-dwellers ignorant of its existence. Beneath the cruft that hides it, ley lines that thrum with power cross, and a bubble of pristine water pushes out the murk and sediment that seems to rest on its shell.

It's wet all the way down. The pure, elemental wellspring keeps the water cool and clean; crystalline objects set into ancient stonework cast light to fumble with, dimly illuminating the interior's wide halls and cavernous chambers. Were one inclined to linger, the statuary and reliefs along the walls and amidst the untended undersea garden would be worth the time to behold. But the soul...

Empty Tidings rests within a chamber fashioned after a nautilus shell, a twisting, spiralling tower open at the bottom and filled with crystalline slabs set into nooks on the wall. She reclines against an incongruous hammock tied between stone pillars, black hair and black cloth floating around her in the water like a cloud of ink. One of those slabs is held in her hands, illuminated from within and displaying drifting characters in some ancient language. Whatever it is, she seems to be engrossed in reading it.

Ice King (1142) has posed:
    Just some light reading underwater. Nothing stranger going on here. Empty Tidings has no reason to think anything unusual will be happening... No reason to think a dream she may have had means anything in particular. She probably has lots of weird dreams.

    Even when something does happen, it can be easily dismissed... At first.

    There is a faint sound. Like something scrabbling at rocks. Like some random piece of detritus brushing against the outer shell of the room. It could be anything. After several seconds, it repeats, more insistently.

    And closer.

Empty Tidings has posed:
Heavy reading, if we're being honest. It's a history. It's also dreadfully boring. However, it's from an archive that was expunged during the Usurpation, which means there has to be /something/ juicy in it...

Something other than church bells and graves.

'Mistress,' hisses a voice in Empty Tidings' head. Three-Part Tragedy, part jailor, part servant, deigns to communicate with the one whose soul she has become affixed to. 'Something comes...!'

"I hear it," Empty Tidings murmurs. Her voice carries perfectly in the water. She sets the crystal slate aside, leaving it resting against a segmented pillar, and folds her hands over her stomach. She clears her throat unnecessarily.

"I hear you," she says. Her tone is practiced boredom. Inwardly, her heart flutters, a flicker of unease rolling through her. Creatures from the depths have that effect on humans, even when you may as well be one. "Show yourself. Be warned, if I have to get up, I will be /very/ unhappy."

Ice King (1142) has posed:
    As if encouraged by, or orienting on the sound of, a human voice, the scratching comes faster, and is joined by the scratching of many other... Things. It stops sounding like scratching and more like digging. Something tunneling its way into the room. But not from outside. From INSIDE.

    Cracks appear in the wall, and those cracks expand as the digging comes faster and the excited chittering of indistinct voices starts spilling into the room. The cracks are not cracks that belong to the material of the wall. They are the cracks of long-dried flesh caving under the pressure of something that has nested inside seeking a newew, moister carcass to hide in.

    Fingers start pouring out of the wall. Not disembodied ones. They're connected to SOMETHING, but the fingers are just so terribly LONG, and as they start pulling and peeling the walls open like some mad surgeon reopening a wound, it is not the outside that lies on the other side of the wall, but a simple blackness. None of the water in the room empties into it, but it does not seem that water lies on the other side either.

    The Wound is spread open wider and wider, until it encompasses most of the wall. Then the voices go quiet, and the sound of metal and slithering flesh replaces them.

    Distant, but coming closer.

    And then a voice. High and musical. Sweet as untarnishd silver bells. A delight to the ears. And somehow, innately nauseating. "There you are, child. There you are. Not to worry. All will be revealed soon. We are coming."

    Some indistinct shape in the blackness is moving. Its outline unidentifiable. Its size unmeasurable. But definiely coming closer.

    "We will be there shortly."

Empty Tidings has posed:
The wall cracks, and Empty Tidings is forced to rise.

She expects a great, cacophonous boom as the wall comes down. It does not happen. A tear, a Wound, opens instead. She rolls off of the hammock and into the water, drifting as if floating effortlessly in empty air rather than deep underwater. Her hair gathers about her shoulders; her dress settles. She watches, eyes fixed on that spot --

Fingers. She would recognize fingers, even as long as they are. The demon tethered to her soul hisses urgently in her ear, 'These are not the Chrysogonae,' not one of the many-fingered fiends like the one she plays host to. Empty Tidings hears herself breathing fast when the voices fade.

She winces. Something in her recoils at the corpse-sweet voice. She drifts backwards without thinking, her back to one of the arched doors at the bottom of the undersea tower. She licks her lips, impossibly dry despite the environs, and makes a simple demand of the intruding presence: "Who are you?"

Ice King (1142) has posed:
    "Oh, bitter sweet child. What a question to ask us. What a question indeed. We are known by many names. The truth of them would burn you to charcoal. But we do not want that, no. Not yet."

    The approaching thing is dragging itself on... Maybe-hands. Large, long. Inhuman. Like great spiders on the ends of maybe-wrists, crawling of their own accord as what they're attached to is pulled after them. "But so that you have something to call us by, a common name. A common title that says what we are, but not by too much."

    A bit more of it becomes semi-visible with its continuous approach. Its maybe-arms extending up and behind some large v-shape. Hard and rigid, like bone or steel or a blending of both. But is it armor? Its head? Something more arbitrary? Less anatomically distinct? The smell of this thing, even on the water, is like someone trying to mask decay with pungent perfumes and crushed flowers, creating a gagging mixture that does not quite succeed at full covering the tinge of something rotten, and if anything merely highlights that something is being hidden. Something wrong.

    Its voice sounding closer to a perhaps unsettling degree from the last time it spoke, it finally identifies itself. "We are what might be called, Corruption."

Empty Tidings has posed:
The smell and shape of the thing is abhorrent. It is a monster through and through, anathema to this world and intruding upon it to do... what, exactly? To terrify? It wouldn't be here if it were preying on the unsuspecting. To feast? It would pick a lesser creature if it had a prayer.

The unease she feels is gradually replaced by indignation. A sort of self-righteous anger wells up, overwhelming the nervousness she feels. The part of her already-warped lizard-brain that tells her to flee is quashed by the demonic heel of something vast and terrible. Her breathing becomes more regular. She inhales the scent of an awful funerary stench and finds it comforting in the most appalling way possible.

The black-haired young woman draws herself up. A disk of utter blackness manifests on her brow, so dark as to be painful to look upon. Her anima flares, an unholy aura like dark green flames shot through with shades of violet and the purest, most utter blackness. Her shadow splits three ways around her, extending direcfly behind her and ahead of her but to either side, a humanoid shape covered in growing and withering fingers and hands that never cease clawing at the space around itself. None of her shadows are identical or synchronized.

"I am called Empty Tidings of Brass and Verdigris." Her voice is a clarion declaration, her enunciation pronouncing a sin against this world. "Princess of the Green Sun, Champion of Hell, and leal servant of the Ebon Dragon, Shadow of All Things." She presses her hands together...

...and bows, a polite inclination given to a stranger now made familiar. The tension in the air seems to reverberate. Her anima wreathes her like a shroud, wrapping her in the suggestion of peace and civility. It is a sorcerous thing, layers of ancient oaths and bargains from this world laid alongside an emanation that suggests that perhaps coming to blows is not the answer.

"You are welcome in this place," she says, "for so long as you uphold the peace of my home... Corruption."

Ice King (1142) has posed:
    Corruption hisses between unseen teeth as it slows its approach, recognizing some sort of safe guard in place. Now the room, and Empty Tidings herself, are no longer akin to someone summoning demons without any concept of how to control them, even if, in this circumstance, the summoning is more a forced intrusion than an invitation. There are defenses of some form in place. And it recognizes that, and no longer hurries towards the Wound with foul intentions. So their positions are now a little more equal. The atmosphere is different betwen them. It does not stop its advance.

    But its hand-spiders are no longer crawling as fast as they can to reach the space outside of whatever that blackness is.

    A glint of wet redness just past the ragged edges of the pale white hand-spiders, and continuing up the maybe-arms, indicates a lack of flesh. Peeled and skinned, but still undiminished.

    "Good." Corruption croons, a decaying effect spreading a little from the Wound, making things crumble. Exposing viscera hidden inside the walls, around the edges. "It is good that you did that. It is always important to establish one's position in a negotiation. It is always beneficial to not tempt us by leaving oneself unguarded. The taste of your fear was beginning to become too tempting to resist. We considered leaving the negotiations behind and simply taking you with us. But ah, that is no longer needed. No longer desirable."

    It seems to be perhaps ten meters away, inside the Wound. Its size is much greater than the room's. It leans forward over its hands, bringing more of itself into whatever lighting there is. A great steel V-shape, stained and somehow melded or welded to a fleshless head, replacing the upper half of its skull, and leaving inhumanly dense muscle to work a jaw that narrows towards the chin and broadens beneath that shield, lipless mouth and appallingly pristine white teeth in a nightmare face that is a fusion of metal and flesh, forged in some terrible place.

    The rest of it, what can be seen, trails out behind it into the black. Serpentine? Worm-like? Or just a mass of skinned flesh, like some cross between a spinal cord and intestines?

    "We approach you now with glad news, Empty Tidings of Brass and Verdigris. Ah, brass. What an ironic, and fortuitous, name you possess! Your soul is alike to those that dwell in one of our bastions. Our places of power. The taste of you is very nostalgic. We have recently come into a windfall of sorts, you see. A great boon that pushes us ever closer to what we seek."

    The thing leans closer and closer, hand-spiders crawling again after a brief respite, until that raw mouth, those out-of-place permanently grinning teeth, come just short of passing through the wound. Suffocating breath pouring inside, as the fingers holding the Wound open twitch eagerly with barely-contained need to seek and find and pull into the dark to be strangled and invaded and torn apart forever.

    "We think that you can help us achieve this."

Empty Tidings has posed:
Controlling demons is much more complicated, here. It isn't as simple as circles of salt. Empty Tidings prefers to call them to servitude and then twist their will until it nearly snaps. It gets the job done.

This, though, is something simpler. Something stronger. Something more... /Primordial/. The architects of this world were instrumental in the creation of this protection, and it is through their unholy might that it still functions. It is as much an aura of power as it is whispers of gladness at her presence... or perhaps murmurs of the terrors that follow wherever she goes. In this instance, is it really different?

"I am unaccustomed to being sought in my own residence," she says smoothly. "It would have been unfortunate if I had been forced to defend myself against a potential guest. I am pleased we have come to a sort of equilibrium."

Which is to say she was about six seconds from tearing down a twelve-foot pillar and using it like an extremely unfortunate plunger.

The inhuman horror of it leaves her largely unmoved. It's notable, certainly, but that sort of terrible visage is, if not commonplace, certainly not /un/common within Malfeas. She wouldn't want to have to go in there after it, wherever 'there' is. She gets the impression that she will need to be on the look-out for demon hunters very shortly because of this intrusion. She makes a mental note about it.

"I would be pleased to speak of mutually beneficial arrangements, should they be possible." She smiles. "What is it you seek? And, how may I help you reach it?"

Ice King (1142) has posed:
    "What we seek, ultimately, has to wait a little while. We must not get ahead of ourselves. For now, there is information that those who oppose us seek. Information we desire as well. It is stored in a library. A place of pure knowledge, known as the Akashic Records. There are four libraries of this nature, but our enemies only know of three. The Akashic Records, Escher, and the Bibliotheca. Each holds knowledge particular to a type of soul, you see. And only that type of soul can access it. But a fourth library has been built in the deep places, the dark places, where the nightmares of sinners await them in the flesh when they awaken. The icy places, the burning places, where to breathe is to inhale poison fire, and to hold one's breath is to become filled with icy worms that eat one from the inside. There, in Hell, is Babel."

    It is as close as it appears to be able or willing to come for now, though shredded flaps dangling fom beneath its steel-V skull-helm attempt vainly to inhale the scent of water, of unmarred flesh waiting to be flayed, with long-removed nostrils.

    "We have our own version of events. Our own stories and records. The way we see the many different worlds and universes becoming, being, and always having been. However, as long as the other three libraries exist, they supplant all our hard work. They suppress our joyful truth of the collapse of petty restrictions, the refusal to let us rule them with Saints of Madness that will teach all souls what their true purpose is, one bloody, agonizing, delicious morsel at a time."

    Its jaws open slightly, numerous maybe-tongues starting to slither and slip around in the darkness, and then reach out with... Hands. And faces. Bodies fused together, still making muffles groans mouthlessly, unable to scream despite their desire to do so. That tongue stretches out of the Wound, befouling whatever it touches and almost teasingly pretending not to be working its way towards Empty Tidings by exploring and 'tasting' the rest of the room. "We would like you to destroy the other libraries, the false writings of memory and dream and knowledge that say that things must be just so. But the first to be disposed of, child of Brass, must be the Akashic Records. You can discover the way to them within another of the libraries: Escher. That place is already filled with our agents. One way or another, it will fall."

    The body-tongue less ambiguously begins arching up like a serpent, oriented on Empty Tidings. Perhaps just another empty threat. Perhaps a psychological trick to influence negotiations. Perhaps it is not quite so dedicated to not being tempted for the sake of discussion as it claims.

    "You can have the sum total of all human knowledge, all information, all to yourself, if you unmake the Akashic Records for us. Spread our essence, that which is both our namesake and our true nature, and all that might be denied you will be yours. And then again, if you agree to destroy the other, the Bibliotheca, which holds all the knowledge of all the gods."

Empty Tidings has posed:
Empty Tidings hovers where she stopped. She watches it expand outward into the chamber, the not-quite-tongues venturing out in a way that she associates with an enormus flytrap. It's feigning disinterest just enough to expand its reach, waiting for an opening to strike. To 'take her away.' She is confident her enforced neutrality will hold up, but in the event it doesn't...

She floats down to the floor of the undersea manse, bare feet touching stone, and takes a slow step forward. She rolls her right wrist, ending up with her hand palm up, fingers flexing. There's a dull sound like stone grinding against itself that she lets slide through the veil she's woven. It's about the equivalent of cracking her knuckles, but not nearly so gauche.

"Then this knowledge will survive the destruction of the libraries," she asks. "I would hate to fulfill my end of the bargain only to find that by doing just as I promised, I had robbed myself of my just reward. Oh, the irony would be palpable, wouldn't it?" Her smile is a touch too wide, a flash of teeth a touch too white. They have that in common, it seems.

"This seems an agreeable proposition to me." She nods. "I would, however, ask of you two trifles. The first, a boon, so that I may call upon your aid in the future, just once -- perhaps to spread all that you are here as well," she adds, an almost teasing morsel slipped into the mix. "The danger involved in the libraries' destruction is surely worth a little assistance, mm?"

"Second..." She extends her right hand, palm up. Green flames dance over her fingertips. "...that we enter into a binding pact, sanctifying our terribly profitable partnership so that neither of us may deliberately undermine the other, and providing a measure of security against one another until our business is concluded. I think you can agree that, lacking a prior working relationship, certain steps should be taken, yes?"

After a second, she adds, "'Sanctify' may be the wrong word, but it has such a nice ring to it, doesn't it?" There's that smile again.

Ice King (1142) has posed:
    The tongue pauses in its wiggling and cobra-like threat display as Empty Tidings mentions a potential scenario where she would not keep what she is after, and withdraws gradually, still emitting muffled screams, back into the maw of primordial Corruption. The creature listens to her proposition, and a dangerous, icy tone undercuts the musical peals of its voice before. The difference, like peeling up a flower bed to discover a mass grave, all staring up in blind horror from where they were buried alive, is stark. When it is not trying to sound pretty, its voice is so very, very ugly.

    "One's mind is its own world. Its own sanctuary. Anything you commit to memory before you enact the destruction is yours to keep. And with how time is out of joint in such a place, you should have plenty of time to memorize it. Forever, in fact. But the library itself, the plane that IS the library, must cease to be. We will provide you with all that you require. But you must never share what you learn. If it enters our domain again after the fall, there will be consequences."

    It withdraws a little bit from the Wound, perhaps preparing to depart. "You will be given a vessel. There is no need to spill it wantonly, no, no. Too soon for that. But there is one who holds a Crown meant to cage the sins of Humanity, the things that make them human. A prison to rob them of their individuality, their greed, their wrath, their lust, their sloth, their gluttony, their pride, their envy, and all the myriad wonderful traits they possess. That Crown has been broken and mended recently. You know, or you suspect, our nature. We know, or suspect, yours."

Ice King (1142) has posed:
    Its face presses up close again suddenly, entering the room a little bit, only stopped from coming further by that huge steel head plate. "Would either of us truly believe the other would loyally follow an agreement set out in words, or in contract? No, no. I think not. If you show us weakness, if you leave us an opening, we WILL gobble you up. We thus propose a different solution, but only for now. Retrieve the Crown of the Crimson King. That will be our binding agreement, in physical form rather than promises made in the dark. You will have the method to jail our actors and our essence if such suits you, though every action you take in our name, in word or in spirit, as per our agreement, will be stored there. The Crown will be the symbol of our agreement of future aid. If you cause it to be broken a second time, you can do as you please. Contract revoked. All nice and tidy. And we will be free to seek you out at our leisure and take you Home with us, without your protection."

    The mouth withdraws and the creature starts slithering away. "If you can manage that much, obtaining the Crown and keeping it, perhaps something more binding is in our future. If you do not sour at the taste of us before then. You make a good point, you see. First time dealings. We are no desperate demon in need of rushed contracts. We have waited so terribly long already. Prove you are willing to work with us, and let us prove we will not interfere with you and yours. Unless, of course, we do. But a boon? Yes. You are permitted such. It is only fair, as we came to you. Even if you betray us, especially if you betray us, we will love all of our little children."

Ice King (1142) has posed:
    The fingers start to withdraw, the owners of said fingers, if there even are any, never seen. The Wound is closing, but slowly, the decay around the walls fading and being restored to how it was originally, if perhaps slightly... Discolored. And a golden box sits before Empty Tidings. Inside is a vial of something black and swirling and Wrong, and a second vial with what appears to be a malformed fetus of some Unwholesome creature preserved inside. A sample of Corruption, no doubt that will definitely not be experimented upon or used in some sort of ritual or counter-protection or anything dubious like that. Not at all. And also, a pleasant little talisman, for communication when needed.

    As the Wound finally closes, Corruption says distantly, "Something else requires our attention. Retrieve the Crown, and you will have protection from us. If you can not, then I suppose that we will just have to trust each other." The sarcasm in that final statement is thick indeed.

Empty Tidings has posed:
The screaming, thinks Empty Tidings, is starting to get a little grating. That, at least, is something that she and the Yozis can agree on one hundred percent: the only sort of noise that should be all-pervasive is the musical kind, and only of the /good/ sort. The fact that it has a musical lilt to its dischordant voice would almost be enough for her to reach out and strangle it if there weren't so many unknowns in play... and so very few, very distinct known factors that leads her to to one singular conclusion:

Fighting it here would get her nothing but a broken manse and a lost opportunity.

"The Crown of the Crimson King," she echoes. "A simple enough task. I'm certain the forces of assorted will make that more complicated than it must be." She lowers her hand, pressing it to the other. The traces of green flame rejoin her writhing anima. She bows again as the monstrous visage withdraws, and takes its voice with it. "I wish you well in your travels and dealings. When next we speak, we will assuredly be on better terms."

The Wound slowly, very slowly, closes up. The wall remains miscolored. Empty Tidings drifts over to the spot it once occupied, gently touching the wall. She breathes slowly and deeply as the font of water gradually restores the place to its proper purity.

And then she scours the discoloration from the wall with her bare hand, acid-washed fingers searing away any trace it had ever been.

She turns away from it, raising her left hand and snapping her fingers. Another shadow lengthens in the room, this one from no source to be seen, with eyes that burn like coals. She gestures at the box. "Secure that. I'll want to examine it later." She drifts back upwards, back to her out-of-place hammock and the slate she set aside. The shadow demon glides into the room and goes to do exactly as it was told. She has more secure places for such things.

Empty Tidings herself settles back in. She doesn't really read what she's looking at, though. She's going to be spending far too much time thinking hard about what just happened here.