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[Abyssal Enclave] - Of Dawn, and Daemons

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No tale is beyond transformation, no mountain moulded to survive conquest, for change comes for all things, in time.

It was naught but a glint at first, a spark to stoke a flame of promise, and usher it into the void of night, and as its first fingers crept across the cold and rocky peaks, dawn brought not daylight from the east, but instead something far more sinister. Writhing upon the wind, and coiling about the coastline like some vast serpent, a mist suddenly beset Genesaris' shores that morning, a broiling miasma that scorched stone and made the snow-laden mountains weep at its passage, as though the very land cried out, and knew despair.

This was no mere fog, however, for concealed within the smoky shrouds of this phenomenon jutted ghastly shapes, spires that spat toward the heavens, and towers that tore the air asunder, as though they were jagged teeth within the maw of some vast and terrible leviathan of yore.

Penetrating Genesarian airspace, as though its arrival had been pre-ordained, this cloud curled around the continent's eastern corner unhindered, blanketing the waters east of Mageside in a bleak and impenetrable smog, before spilling over the mountain range to the south, and vanishing from sight. The entire event transpired within the space of several minutes, traversing leagues of farmland and villages as though propelled by some fel and malevolent force, until, unbeknownst to the neighbouring population, it came to rest within the nook of the Abyssal Enclave, a region infamous for magical manifestations in the past.

Where once man and mage alike had feared to tread, however, there now stalked an inhuman host, a legion that lashed the earth with their footfalls, as twin fortresses, still shrouded by mist, disgorged thousands upon thousands of red-skinned monstrosities. Marching at the head of this force, with confidence that belied their bulk, when compared to the twelve foot tall terrors upon their flank, came an ancient creature, a figure armoured in obsidian plate, which bore trophies of his victories upon its broad shoulders.

Into the mouth of the enclave's sub-levels they stalked, shooting a spirited will-o-wisp a withering look, as they dismissed their guidance with a gauntleted hand and instead strode hungrily through the ranks of undead which rose to greet the intruder to the shrine. Gnashing their teeth and moaning in complaint, the restless dead who had assailed so many interlopers in the past parted now, compelled by a will that transcended mortal minds, as they split like a sea and knelt as one, before the coming of the Great Devourer.

This procession continued for several miles, winding its way through catacomb and crypt alike, until there in the heart of the mountain the Warlord found the shrine itself, an ornate altar hewn from stone, graven in the likeness of a bull. Surveying this spectacle with black and lidless eyes, the stranger studied the scrolls which lay strewn about the dais itself, as a thick and meaty tongue traced the taste of magic in the air across sun-scorched lips.




Rather than rifling through these tomes, however, as any intrepid scholar or sorcerer was want to do, the figure extended their arms instead, speaking but a single word of power before ink and etching alike veritably leapt from the mediums that bound them. Floating through the air, as though they possessed some sentience of their own suddenly, this knowledge slipped through the stranger's armour and began snaking its way up their skin, coursing up either arm until it came to rest upon the face of the fiend.

Turning slowly now, as the spells and secrets of generations long gone danced upon his flesh like archaic tattoos, the warrior stood upon the podium and stared down upon the innumerable creatures that comprised their legion, addressing the assembly of abominations, much like a priest might their congregation.

The shadow of the Carmine Empire falls upon these lands, a kingdom swollen by prosperity, whose citizens number in the millions. We shall establish a fresh foothold upon this plane here in these mountains, we shall sap their very souls from the soil of this paradise, to fuel the machine of War.

Know ye now that our conquests shall come, not from the feeble borders of this realm, but the stars themselves, for before our time is done, the heavens shall bleed, and the very Multiverse shall tremble.”

A cacophony of assent followed this speech, a chorus that shook the catacombs and caused the restless dead to cower, such was its tumult, but as the daemonic host celebrated, their leader's eyes fell not upon the commotion, but instead swept their vicinity for the arrival of another, a partner in the woe he would sow upon Valucre.

Edited by -Malice-

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There was a time, not so long ago, when Rafael despised the Warlord.

While Malice had never done any harm to Rafael or interfered in any of his endeavors, Orisian or otherwise, it was, instead, what the armored behemoth of age and sorcery represented that set the elder vampyre’s blood ablaze. Even as the memories of his transgressions against Gabriela cooled in the shadow of recent detachment, Malice – and the slew of entities that had emerged in recent years – would forever be a memory of the abominable monstrosities that Gabriela had chosen over their people. These perversions of darkness and shadow, twisted in a brutal approximation of their truest selves.

It was easy to see how such misguided notions of “family,” and “love” could lead an impressionable young girl down the path she now walked, arm in arm with a devil, mother to dhamphirs and half-breeds and bloodthirsty homunculi. Rafael had tried to save her, more times than any other man or woman in her life-- yes, so that she might take her proper place at the head of their people and usher in a new golden age for the vampyres she had abandoned, not the ungrateful human nation she adopted out of pity and self-loathing. But there was only so much even he could stomach.

Rafael cast the thoughts from his mind as he stood to wait, positioned on a ridge high above the Abyssal Enclave. Just several months before, he had intended to isolate the polluted landscape. Through barriers, spells, and high, well-guarded walls, they would contain the darkness and wretched undead that multiplied like insects within the muck. It had been Carissus that suggested rather than locking the dead, rotten lands away, they should use it and its necrotic essence as a lure for the world’s champions of horror. Surely, Carissus said, in one of them the emperor would find a powerful ally.

“I trust this will suit your needs, then?” Rafael spoke out into the howling wind, knowing his words reached Malice. The broken and poisoned leylines here, ripened in a miasma of corruption since the times of yore, were quite different from the Dark La’Ruta he’d gorged himself on previous years. This was aggressive, ravenous energy – a beast that devoured not unlike the Warlord, himself. “The residents here are without their former master,” he continued, mind flicking to the desolation beast now locked within the bowels of Sitra Ahkra. “Do what you will with them.”

These were lost souls, and Rafael no longer pitied the dead.

“There are stipulations, of course,” Rafael reminded the Warlord, still out of sight, but well within the elder vampyre’s range of senses. It was as if there was a weight to the air now, pressing down on his shoulders, seeking to crush him. “And I would much rather speak to you in the flesh, where these matters are concerned.” Lord and master though he was to these lands, the empire was a massive swath of territory, not all of it policed. Rafael’s enemies employed all manner of spies, from man to beast, and he was not so keen to have their plans revealed.

More than that, however, was the desire to establish a precedent. No matter the wealth of power Rafael had accumulated, he was not so naïve or ignorant to believe himself Malice’s superior. He saw the black infinity in his eyes, the power that welded itself to every fiber of his existence – even Valucre itself seemed to struggle to contain him, at times. There was no controlling the Warlord, and even if there was, such was not a dance Rafael knew the steps to. Guiding him, however, as an equal? Well, therein was a realm the elder vampyre was most comfortable.

They would be equals, partners, or they would be nothing at all.

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Though it may represent strength for some, family was ever a frailty born into the bone of man's resolve

Rafael held no relations here, amidst the cursed crags and choking smoke, no subjects to subdue, nor siblings to save, where mountain met monster, and magic marked the earth with ancient indelible scars. The Carmine Emperor's journey this day might have seemed fruitless to some then, and sheer folly to others, as they strode alone into a veritable pit of sin, where dead and daemon alike stalked the sorcery-studded slopes.

Unlike the Elder's enemies, however, Malice did not underestimate the vampyre, did not feign knowledge or familiarity, where once cousins and craven kings might have found certainty in the bond they believed they held. Instead of forging their union upon assumption or arrogance then, the Great Devourer regarded Rafael with a measure of respect, one so many others were bereft of, when they too had walked upon the surface of suns, or straddled dimensions, before arriving upon Valucre.

Perhaps this was why, when Rafael's words found the Warlord in the seething darkness of the Enclave's shrine, the deep wells of sorrow that formed his eyes, more bottomless than any sea, gored through gristle and granite alike, to gaze upon the Emperor's position from the hungry womb of the world below.

Once he had discerned the creature's location, and the very air began to thrum with the latent power that the Emperor could wield, Malice allowed himself a small smile, as he endured a force that could have crushed mortal bones to dust, before the smell of ozone burning would suddenly permeate Rafael's vicinity. This was no reciprocal assault, however, so much as it was a similar demonstration of strength, as gauntleted hands clawed reality asunder and birthed a bleeding wound next to the Elder, a tear in space which ushered the behemoth's bulk from the bowels of Genesaris, unto the wind-swept ridge beside them.

This cesspit shall suffice”, the Warlord responded, as he surveyed their surroundings thoughtfully, “for what need have I of thrones, when the land here is a beast I might break and ride?” Naturally, Malice could discern the difference that its energy represented, a phenomenon that required stern oppression, as opposed to the subtle manipulation and perversion of La'Ruta, and yet the juggernaut seemed un-phased by the challenge this presented, clothed as he was in conquered creatures, which were defiant once, and now comprised both his armour and his weaponised aura.

What would you ask in return for such a bounty?”, he inquired, for unlike Orisia, the Empire had no need of soldiers, nor strategy, when it came to war, judging by what the warrior had observed in years of late. The skulls mounted upon the Warlord's shoulders, often serving as mouth-pieces for the fiend stood silent now, their incessant chattering quelled by the indomitable will of their master, as he waited patiently for Rafael to offer his terms, after all this was not a surrender, nor an invasion this day, but instead a meeting, of equals.

Edited by -Malice-

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Rafael studied the foreign warlord for a long moment, quiet in his pensive observation, not bothering to hide the curiosity he felt furrowing his eyebrows, pressing his lips into a thin line, and guiding his sharp ruby gaze over the mountain of muscle and blackened armor that stood before him now. It was a struggle not to wonder why he’d taken such a name for himself—Malice—or why it had been bestowed upon him, for in all their time spent cohabiting Orisia, defending its shores, and the Black Queen herself, Rafael had not seen it. The warlord was dangerous, of this there was no doubt, but Malice’s ire appeared earned, not recklessly given.

If the ambitious emperor had his way, it would remain that way. This was not the lawless frontier of the Omniverse or the savage wilds of Ayenee, where it was kill or be killed. This was a civilized world of politics, where the truest battles were fought at court, rarely on the battlefield. To that end, some might see Malice as a relic of a time long-since forgotten; but even an old sword can still cut or skewer, if properly maintained, and Rafael was, if nothing else, a fine caretaker.

“I know what you’re after, Malice,” Rafael said, disinterest heavy in his voice. Satisfied with his appraisal of the warlord’s physique and what slept quietly beneath it, the vampyre turned away, casting his gaze back toward the Enclave below. “And I can give it to you, in time. The Faith will be good to you, so long as you are good to the people that support it with their piety. It is a delicate system, you understand.” A statement, not a question, for Malice had not survived for this long without a keen intelligence, honed over millennia.

“I need you to serve as both lock and key over this land in particular,” Rafael explained. “A jailor of sorts to the wretched undead and restless spirits bound here. Keep them contained, but most of all, obedient.” Having seen the grotesque horde of beasts and aberrations the warlord called his host, it would likely prove an effortless task. “The same goes for your soldiers, as well. I’ve no doubt your fortresses were seen during your approach. Let the whispers of the Barbed Legion’s presence be enough to dissuade any transgressions against us, for the time being. I feel as though anything more will prove detrimental to the stability of the Empire.”

A stability that had been hard fought.

“Finally, there is a city north of here, Mageside.” At its mention, Rafael’s attention turned toward the Great Barrier, focusing on where he knew the city to be. “It is an invaluable location to the Empire, and frankly, much too close to an undesirable acquaintance of ours.” They both knew of the quickly deteriorating regime across the Strait, where his cousin did what she did best – pretend – while another, far too cowardly to assume the responsibility of rulership, pulled her strings. While even the martial forces of Orisia and the dilapidated Patia combined posed little threat to the Empire, it was a hassle Rafael had no desire to entertain. “I would charge you with its protection from any foolish enough to embark on the road of war.”

Looking back at Malice from over his shoulder, Rafael gauged his reaction. “Do we have an agreement?”

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It was said that beauty was only skin deep, yet beneath facades of fat and fealties, even a monster might marvel.

Silence swallowed the companions, in the wake of the Warlord's words, a stillness that crept across the rocky outcrop and perhaps, even the enclave itself, as Rafael studied the beast he would break bread with. In stark contrast to the Elder's attentive gaze, however, Malice's eyes stared outward, past peak and bone, to spires which danced upon distant horizons, as his supernatural vision traversed leagues, where man's might mere slopes. That wasn't to say that the Great Devourer didn't share his comrade's curiosity though, for even as the Emperor's sight charted the contours of his physique, the juggernaut's own senses spilled across the vampyre's form, slipping like smoke through cloth and countenance, to study the splendour which dwelt below.

That was the thing that few understood in this world, the Warlord reflected, as he considered Rafael and the persona he adopted, a ruler of measured poise, whose movements were as calculated as they were meaningful. Power was often far subtler than soldiers suspected, far more sinister than scholars could dream, for the Emperor wore their mask well, but Malice saw the hunger that blazed within their breast, the potency planted throughout every pore, coiled tight and concealed, as though a spring waiting to strike.

To Genesaris then, Rafael was a mild-mannered bureaucrat, but the truth stood beside the behemoth as though a sun bound to earth, for the Elder burned like a supernova with untapped energy, and woe be to any who presumed otherwise.

A knowing smile curled at the corner of the fiend's black lips next, when Rafael discerned his desire and spoke of stability, an irony the Emperor might never know, should their conversation never wander to the Warlord's origins, or the reason behind his epithet, which so many assumed to be his name. In reality, however, Malice was derived from a long forgotten language, where 'Mal' represented an ill-omen, though newer than the Anzillu, or 'abomination', which the oldest tongue on that world had once vilified the Great Devourer with, in days of yore. Rafael's request then, was in essence for the Warlord to maintain a low-profile whilst within the Imperium, lest his very presence unravel what the silver-tongued devil had wrought.

It was not an unreasonable expectation, given their station, and yet the juggernaut felt the need to clarify his own position in response, as the Elder's words washed over him and spoke of subduing the dead that stalked these lands, and Malice turned to regard Mageside with his lidless and indomitable gaze. “I shall gird your borders from intruders, living or otherwise, but in return I want your religion to recognise me as a deity. “ The Warlord's voice was a heavy and thunderous thing, a baritone which broke like an avalanche upon the mountanside, though their message was mysteriously confined to their vicinity, as if even language dared not defy the inhuman's inexorable will. “We shall have an agreement, when my name is whispered as the God of War, and men worship me from one corner of your realm to the other.”

Naturally, Malice knew that seeding such sentiment within a nation would be a slow process, but age had long since fled his flesh, and time was but another weapon in his arsenal, and so regardless of if it took a year, or a hundred, his eternal hunger would be sated eventually, he had but to acquiesce now, and reap the spoils of his deeds in the seasons to come. To that end, the monster extended his right hand toward the Emperor, a gauntlet that was graven with countless spells now unfurled, and offered Rafael the hand of friendship, a gesture to seal their pact, which he believed mortals said to signify respect.

Edited by -Malice-

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To those that practiced the Sitraic Faith, Rafael stood as the beginning and end, the morning and evening star. Names believed to hold relevance or importance to him were spoken in reverence, elevated to the echelons of demi-gods and champions of a mighty god-ruler that walked amongst his people. It was that he did not hide in long-since forgotten realms, abandoning his people, but stood alongside them, jealously guarding them and their territories against domestic and foreign devils, that they loved him. But, it had never been his intention to represent so many factors all at once.

Rather, it had been his deepest desire to see a pantheon, newly minted, rise from the ashes of the old gods’ neglect. Beings of great power to protect, enlighten, and rule the lesser minded species that inhabited Valucre. Genesaris was only the beginning. In time, the empire’s ambition would stretch across the sea, reaching the far corners of the world, consuming all that it ensnaring all that it touched. But that would take time (of which he possessed great abundance), and there were far more pressing matters in the present.

“The god of war,” Rafael said reflectively, keeping his gaze focused on their surroundings. “How fitting for you. But, you will be the god of war and all of its qualities, chaotic and romantic alike. You must be something that they can idolize, you understand. Bloodshed, violence, valor, martial prowess, and battle strategy – all of these things, I will have tied to your name.” Now, he gave the Warlord his full attention, turning to face him, to gaze up at the impossibly tall mountain of armor, flesh, and sorcery. “In time, the men and women of the imperial host will pray to your name for favor before every battle. It would behoove you to listen, and answer, when the time comes.”

There was no interest in another derelict pantheon, occupied by entities that guarded their vast pools of power with all the greed and jealousy of a child. While they would not, could not, answer all their children, so many were their voices, a single miracle went much further than most realized. Malice and his dreadful beasts would do well in the atmosphere of war and the horrors it wrought, and soon, they would be seen as angels sent to favor the bold and bring swift, merciless justice to the empire’s enemies.

Mortal minds were so beautifully simple.

“Oh, and one more thing.” Waving his hand, Rafael called a small jar to his palm, quarter filled with a thick ichor, black as tar. “My friends to the south were kind enough to provide me with this. It belongs to a mutual acquaintance of ours.” There was no need to say the creature’s name; the flavor of such a foul sound took days to scrub off the tongue. “I’ve unlocked its secrets— and now, I want you to use every ounce of sorcery and black magic to build me a weapon that will kill him, should he ever be foolish enough to cross my path again. As you’ve already managed the feat twice, I dare say you’re an expert in the area of devil slaying.”

Releasing his hold on the jar, it glided across the small distance between them, hovering before the Warlord’s gauntleted hand. Rafael was already walking away, their business all but concluded. Then he paused his gait, half-turning to pay the ancient entity one final look. “And Malice,” he said. “Make it so that when he falls, he won’t rise again.”

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Comfort to some, and cage to others, faith was a weapon to wield, as much as a cross one could bear.

There was a time once, when Malice would have scorned the concepts that Rafael sought to pin upon his pantheon, a period when fancies such as the 'romance' of war seemed frivolous and foolish, given the gravity of its circumstances. That was before the Warlord had lived amongst the people of Valucre though, before their hopes and hatreds had bloomed about him like flowers, and revealed a far greater harvest to be exploited. There was power in belief, a strength sapped from souls which eagerly embraced death, in the name of love, or loyalty to one's cause, an energy moulded from the marrow of their motivations.

When the Emperor extolled the benefits of being idolised then, rather than merely feared, the Great Devourer regarded him with a knowing smile, a shark-toothed signal that unveiled far too many teeth for the maw which outwardly bore them, as he nodded in agreement, and reflected inwardly on their endeavour. Emotions were still a weakness, yes, but they did so tenderise the meat before the sheeps were sent to be slaughtered.

He would be their effigy to imitate, their Adonis to adore, for he was no snake within the garden, but something far more insidious, a sin that soaked into every stitch and cell, a word whispered within the hearts of man, as they fought to live for others, but to die for Him.

Conjuring forth a container, Rafael would present the Warlord with another gift that day, and before ever the Emperor could explain, Malice espied his intent, knowing well the scent of the black blood and its owner, so frequently had their paths crossed, and blades clashed. It seemed fitting now, however, that he would no longer sully himself with those that were beneath him, and instead merely manufacture the instrument of their annihilation.

There is no beast I cannot brutalise”, the behemoth responded, thinking briefly of how the devil's DNA still soaked the stones of his fortress Ubshu, but such dalliances were in the past now, and others warranted more intention than the fiend was worth. “See his will done, Marduk”, Malice intoned, gesturing toward the jar with naught but a glance before his weaponsmith, psionically bound to him, like the rest of his legion, snared the object with sorcery and the jar vanished from sight, teleported into the bowels of Irkalla, where his second fortress could forge such an artefact.

Worry not”, the Warlord offered, as Rafael began to depart, forsaking the cruelty on the slopes for the civilization they had wrought in the lands beyond, “once my craftsman is through, the devil himself will not be able to deny his doom.”

That was where their deal was struck, where monarch met monster and bargained for the afterlives of their people, for in the end what worth did mortals hold, to the undying princes who played them like pawns.

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