Outside the realm of the Stone, all was chaos. A constant rain of gravel now tore at the surface of the sea, while patches of fiery naphtha scorched it and burned upon it. In response, the sea boiled and raged and great bodies of water began to build.
Far, far outside, on the other side of the world, a titanic wave would occasionally breach an isolated ring of white rock. With the irrevocable approach of the comet so did these waves became ever more frequent. The eternal whirlpool was slowly being drowned, its momentum slowed. With each stutter, the object, which for millennia had been imprisoned within its grasp, began to work free from its shackles and fight its way to the surface, and freedom.
One more beat of its extensive cloak sent the demon creature coasting beneath the barrier. The Eidolon within was exultant. At last, one of their number had ventured deep into the cursed lands and returned, unscathed. The power of the White was indeed waning and soon it would be submerged forever.
An area of shadow was apparent ahead where the sea shelf gave way abruptly to plummeting cliffs. The Eidolon swept over and downwards, relishing the waxing cold and gloom. At the base of the cliff the sea bed leveled out again and it surged on at this depth, oblivious to the fire and fury above and the swirling heaving water that surrounded it. Rarely did it rest and then not for long, even as one day merged into another, and many more beyond that. Finally, a mingling of currents and thermals, obvious only to the subtle senses of such a creature, evidenced a familiar location. The sea bed disappeared and it swam off the edge of the world, floating down on outspread wing into darkness.
Now the eyes could see, free from the glare of the upper world, and were soothed in gentle blue and aquamarine and black. About dappled spires it circled, rejoicing in the currents that sent it spinning round and down, to stand at last on the plateau that was Gagammudrak.
Beneath Gagammudrak the essence rose as a bubbling seething mass, to emerge from rifts, gulfs and pools and disgorge itself over checkered avenues and gnarled archways; to swirl vehemently about scarred towers and hanging gardens; to blanket glowing bridges and eroded plazas.
The essence had been the lifeblood of Gagammudrak. The city had been built about this outpouring and its occupants had been a noble and handsome race that had flourished there under the aura of another Stone, brooding and black. But that Stone had gone and only a shattered ziggurat remained to mark its passing; to testify to the horror that had arisen from below.
A malignant primordial life force trapped far beneath Gagammudrak, long before age could mellow its venom, when the planet was in its infancy. Those born to that age, mired in an eternal struggle to limit its relentless evil, referred to it as the “Mass”. Torn from its galactic wanderings by gravitational forces, then crushed by inconceivable pressures into a melting pot of magma, and left to ferment. A hellish brew bubbling slowly to the surface, its awareness reemerging, pathological and ineluctable; grasping at the roots of the essence and seeping in through the rim of the Stone’s aura in one final thrust to the surface, there to find the unsuspecting inhabitants of Gagammudrak.
Lurking unseen, it had observed them and noted how they gained strength and sustenance from their ritual encounters with the glistening violet cone that ascended through the soaring innards of the stepped building which so dominated the city. Having observed with the patience only such an entity could possess, it had struck with finality, dissolving, atom by atom, into the distinct consciousness of each of its victims. And thus had the Eidola been born of themselves; isolated identities, distinct from the corporate whole.
Soon they had assumed control over the minds and souls of that forsaken populace and were able to occupy or abandon their new bodily forms at will. In addition, they had begun to feed upon the residue of dark energy that the Stone discarded and were able to use it to maintain each form when it had been abandoned; simultaneously, the consciousness within could also be subdued, thus committing that unfortunate to a torment that was nigh eternal.
Their capacity to consume this energy was great but that of their adopted forms less so. Those handsome sleek bodies had begun to deform and it was not long before they reflected the maliciousness within. It had required a supreme effort to maintain equilibrium. It had been wasted effort. What did the Eidola care for physical harmony? They were the embodiment of discord.
Yet all of this and more did not suffice. They had sensed the approach of the comet and had craved once more to roam the cosmos and gorge on its rich pickings. Fusing back together as one swollen mind, the Mass had risen up the temple’s core, soaking up its concentrated power. Fueled to a frenzy, it had attained the summit and started to pass through the Stone itself, glimpsing momentarily the rewards that awaited. But then it had begun to sense for the first time the alien nature of that artifact as translucent facets had become opaque and the crystal pathways it sought were denied to it, one by one. It sensed “Aesnagärk”, the ancient foe. It had sensed rapture, but rapture designed to torment and control.
There had been a final desperate surge; a blinding release of energy.
Only a smashed housing had remained atop the shattered ziggurat. The Stone had gone. The Mass was in turmoil.
All this and more passed through the creature’s mind. The current had strengthened. It spread its cloak and allowed itself to be carried along. Eons had passed, but the memory had barely dimmed. The despair of the search: the monumental currents at the extreme latitudes, the stygian depths, the myriad of islands. Then, a faint hope stirring. A land where pain had previously denied them; where terror had now insinuated itself into the wretched denizens there, as wind and wave, lightning and psychic torment strove to bring down their civilization. But what had changed?
The slow realization, too slow, that their Stone had passed that way; was responsible for the chaos, but had gone. They had tarried there on the fringes of that realm, their unwholesome bodily forms eventually able to negotiate its waterless terrain. The dark energy that they carried had sustained them there also, but with that energy they had also tortured, they had also maimed and they had also killed, in an effort to discover the location of their Stone. But to no avail. They had tarried too long, had seen the barrier sweeping towards them. Waves of pain had rolled over them, had swept them from those shores.
Boundless impotent rage had given birth to a hate that calmed it and initiated a brutal single-mindedness and mutual strengthening that would sustain their limitless search. But the planet was vast and their search had been in vain.
Almost four millennia had passed before a radical change in the currents had warned them that the comet was upon them again. During all of those years they had kept watch on the cursed lands where pain had denied them, and now their patience was about to be rewarded. As the comet drew ever nearer the barrier that had been their undoing began to fluctuate.
And suddenly it was down!
The land creatures had been no match for them as they made for the center of the realm. They had tortured the creatures as they went, usually to the point of insanity, entering their minds at the last to glean the fate of their Stone. How could such a secret be kept? But they had learned nothing, even until that fateful day when they had arrived at the center of matters; that towering isle with the pyramid upon it. They had already surmised that another Stone must exist and now they had found its lair. They could destroy it and set the Black in its place, if only they could find it. Surely here they would know!
And so the struggle had begun, only to end with blinding white light, pulsing paralysis and an agonizing retreat from that despised place. The creature’s mind moved on quickly.
The wait had been as before. After another four millennia the comet was returning again, and this time they would be ready when the barrier fell. This time they would close in immediately upon that lonely isle, to a point where they would be able to sense the presence of their Stone and track the land-dwellers as they tried to escape with it, as they had surely done before.
Exhilarating anger flowed through the creature. Its skeletal frame shimmered as it looped crazily upward and then dived again in a series of dizzying spins about the twisted rock towers that everywhere pointed their accusing fingers up to the surface. Then a swoop and it was gone, spiraling down into the ruined ziggurat, from which the essence gushed like blood from an open wound.
Utter blackness closed in as the confines of its physical form were dissipated and the ethereal qualities of the Mass were assumed. The body, like a broken mannequin, tumbled down over the shattered fused remnants of a once bold edifice. The quota of energy left there to sustain it, that tiny reservoir of residual energy, would not allow any motor functions to operate. The consciousness within would awaken and hover there, on the verge of insanity, mulling over its fate, its mental torment swelling. And when the Eidolon returned, as it inevitably did, that torment would be tapped into and fed upon, stimulating the intruder’s system like an exotic enzyme.
Further into the abyss the Eidolon sank although there was no falling sensation; only an impression of increasing unification, absorption into a single will. On the periphery it had identity: that of Zakarcë, Ruler, the most powerful and respected of its kind. Thus was it referred to as Zakarcë. But here in the center of the morass, it was inextricably entangled with the minds of its companions.
As one, the Mass plotted its next move. Memories were dredged up from a time long, long ago.
Zakarcë is standing at the hub of a great battlefield. The cries of the dying echo about him. His barbed spear is slick with blood. He raises it to the stormy sky above, a sky that matches the color of his spear. It is a homage to the comet, now fast receding.
They have taken to the water and renewed energy courses through their veins. A sleek array of cloaked demons with Zakarcë at their head. They surface, and there before them is the city, vague at first because of the mist about its base; a mist that should not be there. No matter. They have come to destroy this city, to seek out their Stone and set it within the temple at the summit; to set it above the carnage and rule here forever. They have come to find their way back into the cosmos.
The slaughter begins as they emerge from the harbor and as each briefly engages the mind of its victim before the final kill, a recurrent image appears. It is vague, almost the insubstantial stuff of rumor. But in their worst moment of dread it seems to signify hope to the land creatures. Always it is there, although never at the forefront; an indistinct red vessel, a galleon perhaps, churning through some nameless sea, rather as it churns through the remote recesses of their minds. Why would they cling to this vision even as their life forces ebb away?
Progress here is slower. They begin the climb but the creatures fight with a desperation verging on madness and some of the cloaked ones have been hacked into immobility. Still the image persists but now, as those with the red robes fall, at last, at last, images of their Black!
But for the first time even Zakarcë knows doubt. Fear stalks closely behind. The pyramid draws ever closer but so do their foes seem to become stronger. Yet as he turns to look back down the body-strewn slopes he knows that is not the case. The walls of mist about the harbor walls have an emphatic radiance to them. His strength is waning even as that radiance waxes.
The waters burn. They retreat like an ebbing tide, broken brethren in tow. Desperately they seek the open sea through a fog of pulsing whiteness and pain.
As one, the Mass shuddered and seethed.