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A Dark Day in Pandiusby James Mishler
The screams of the dead mingled with the tears of the living. It was a dark day in Pandius, City of the Immortals.
Few of the self-anointed gods of that realm would be seen that grim day. For on the world far below an empire had fallen - not in the last, storied days of decadence, no, but in the fulsome might of its power, shattered by needless civil war and wrought to ruin in but a single foolish moment. Even the least human of the Immortals could not shake the inhuman terrors that ripped apart the lives of millions of mortals below, whether crushed in an earthquake, drowned in great waves, or torn asunder by maddened beasts of night and horror.
Taymor died, and the Immortals grieved.
Few were about the streets of that great city. Many sought solace with Immortal and Exalted friends, or counselled with allies, or grieved in their own ways. One, cloaked in grey and astride a horse-drawn chariot of gold, stood before a great ziggurat, built of basalt black as pitch and shod in silver filigree. With the merest thought from the grey-cloaked one, the silvered gong rang a third time.
There would be, he knew, no answer.
The Immortal whose home this was would be busy, very busy indeed, and leave not so much as a single avatar when it could be put to much better use in her lost empire far below. Immortals were not allowed to directly take action in the mortal world, but the proper nudge here, the slightest push in another direction, through dream and happenstance - such was the way of the Immortals. And even then, if an Immortal under such circumstances was to push the boundaries of the First Law, perhaps even cross them ever so slightly, who could blame her?
Ixion knew he would not. For like most Immortals in Pandius that day, he knew where to place the blame for this debacle, for the cataclysm being wrought below. Squarely in the grasping claws of Thanatos.
Thanatos. For centuries, he had watched as the Grim Reaper's influence spread throughout the Empire below. Turning the starry endless nights of the Necromancer-Kings into the eternal bloody horrors of the Vampire-Lords. For decades he had watched the growing conflict between Night's own nosferatu and Death's champions, the vampires. At first, he was not displeased - for confusion among the ranks of the Lords of Entropy was always welcome, even when he might call one of them friend, or even more.
He, too, had sought an end to the much-storied Empire of Taymor. But not like this. Not in such horror, such overarching disaster. The rise and fall of empires in their rightful times - this was the proper way of things, as the star signs of the night sky pass through their houses, as planets revolve around a star, yeah, even as stars are born, grow, shine brightly, and fade - such was the way the energies of empire were to wax and in time wane.
But this horror, this instant consignment to oblivion, was unnatural. It stank of Thanatos, of Death - the entropy released in the Final Death of the Undead. Such a reaping he had gotten for his machinations. Such a reaping he had not had for a thousand years and more.
Again with but a thought, Ixion willed the horses on, toward his own glittering gold tower. In honour of his friend's grief, he allowed them not to cast fiery streams from their hooves, nor to leave a glittering aurora from their manes. Even their silvery-gold hides were subdued, like the moon filtered behind the clouds, shadowed now and again in the streets and alleys of Pandius. The Exalted steeds strained against their reins, wishing to burst free from the constraints of the streets and fly through the air of the city, to bring joy to their mournful lord, but he held them in check, out of respect.
His own silence was not merely respectful, however. The utterly ancient Immortal had realised that he had made a mistake - a dreadful, costly mistake, as it turned out. While he had remained vigilant against the growth of the Taymoran Empire, it was ever at a distance - he had never involved himself in its inner workings, had never offered the people of Taymor a choice other than between shades of black. He had never been able to bring himself to go head to head with Night in her own lands. And now they, and she, and he, all had paid for his indecision.
Decided on his own course, his gaze lifted from the streets to the world above, framed in the swirling colours of the towers of Pandius.
His Immortal sight bore witness to countless tragedies in the southern lands, as city after city was cast down in ruin and flames, only to be inundated by the waters from the south, the hungry seas closing in like wolves on a wounded stag. There was no future there, he could see; such as survived in the ruined lands that would remain would be cast into savagery for centuries.
His eyes turned to the north and west, to the great Western Valley. There things were little better - great plantations of primitive slaves, even now rising against their weakened masters. But Ixion knew well those peoples, for they had turned from him in the past, forgotten the old ways, and even today cursed the name they had until recently known him by - Otzitiotl. No, there he would not tread again.
Then to the east his eyes passed, and there he saw promise. For in the great Eastern Valley cities stood still. Yes, the great quakes struck here too, and most lay in ruins, but in some life stirred still - true life, not un-life, and life burning strongly at that. One city most especially - Herusat, it was called. There he could see that the people had risen up against their dark masters - nosferatu and vampire alike - and sought their own freedom. But they were hard-pressed. Hope was in short supply, as were the magics needed to struggle against their mighty, if weakened dark lords.
He closed his eyes for but a moment, and brought his will to bear upon the material of the mortal world. A great hawk formed from the stuff of light itself, from the earth-born fires of the sun. In its claws it bore a sword, long and curved like the scythes wielded by the peasants far below. Wrapped about the hilt, a medallion, of gold and gems, in the form of a hawk and a sun-disk.
The giant hawk, buoyed by wind and light, dove down toward the massed peasants in the noonday sun. Many fled the strange apparition, but others remained steadfast. One stood forth, a woman of mixed heritage - he could see running in her veins the blood of Taymoran and Oltec, Azcan and Neathar, not a drop of it tainted by the darkness of Night or Death.
She stepped forward, as the great hawk landed. The hawk leaned forward toward her, and fearlessly she petted it upon its feathered brow, rubbed it upon it's golden beak - she kissed it between the eyes, and thanked it for its gifts, and thanked whatever Immortal saw fit to aid them in their time of need.
"Horon," he whispered in her mind. "Thou shalt know me as Horon. And if thou art victorious, and remain pure of the taint of Death and Undeath, thee and thy people shalt know further of my blessings."
With that the hawk rose into the skies upon silent wings, and disappeared into the sun. Far below, the people shouted in joy as the woman dropped the golden chain of the medallion upon her neck, and handed the great golden blade to her brother, the greatest warrior of the rebels. At first she whispered in awe the name of the Immortal to her people, but as they took the name upon their own lips they began to cry out, louder and louder, "Horon! Horon! HORON!"
And so it begins, as but a small thing, thought the Immortal to himself, as his attention once again turned to the city around him.
But then, he ruminated as he entered the golden gates of his great tower, even the smallest light in eternal darkness brings one hope...