Athos: The Return

Session LXVII: The Man in the Leather Masque

Chapter 67: The Man in the Leather Masque

The mouth of the cave loomed just ahead. Gentle drops of water fell from long stalagmites, leaving crystal puddles beneath the feet of the demigods. So deep beneath the earth, Anatolius thought, perhaps it is the very Oceans themselves above. At the end of the tunnel, a feint flicker of light but far worse, bleeding out form the cavern, a droning, oscillating frequency. Once at the gaping entrance to the wider chamber within, the musical automation effectively ceased.

“Strange,” Simon said, “We’ve entered the field of someth-“

“That.” Pointed Oberon.

Within the Chamber, the eminence of the Urn of Frailty spun in an infinite vortex falling in upon its swirling black core, contained only by a translucent veil, like a thin shade. The pressure of the spiral pulsated. With each throb, the arteries of the Urn could be felt in the room. They reached out and branched their capillaries deep into the upper wings of the circular annex.

With the falcon’s narrow vision, Anatolius arched his long view and cast it upwards. The heart of the urn vacuumed not from any morsel or known source of magic purer than this. Near eighty demigods, dozens of deva, and several Titans lined the wing. Emaciated and covered in filth. So deep in the moist earth, the fungus reached high around them, like great rose bushes, poisonous thorns, Black millipedes and swarming Glow beetles bred amongst the forest birthing in the warmest places. The wounds and open sores bled both pus and the rankest spawn of the under-Earth. And still the Urn siphoned from them, sipping gently the last dribble of sweet life.

“We must free them now!” Oberon flew high and came to the first. Lighting his beacon, the Morning Star shone warm light and melted away the corruption. Smiling, their brother Cogidubnus whispered.

“We never lost hope. The prophecies are written and shattered. We are made and unmade in the image of God, Athos Vater saffet mij, and unto you he has done more. Athos be praised.” Then passing into sleep, Cogidubnus rested his eyes peacefully.

Rushing, Oberon began to unchain him. Calling to his siblings still below, he shouted “Hurry, help me!”

Then a loud breach of the plan echoed in the chamber from Skyros, lost within a mound of mushroom caps unseen, “HE’S STILL HERE!”

Then, an instant of reflecting light, there hovered behind the urn a glow. Shimmering into existence came a pale man in a robe like fish scales. It shone like metals and sent out blinding, resplendent rays as though through refined diamond. His eyes were hollow and the horror indicated the preconceived knowledge that this rescue would not be easy.

Simon spoke through the psychic void, “Assassin, I feel him too. It’s a tra-“

“Take them.” Spoke the Dragon. His tongue split in two and slithered between his teeth. Uncontrollable excitement indicated far more disability than previously noted. We are unwelcome. A second moment later, it sucked its tongue back within the bounds of its jaws before gritting its teeth into a smile. As a shop keep shows wares, the creature waved at the sacrifices before the altar. Then, speaking again, “I want you to take them, please, and go. This, this is the cavern of the Urn of Frailty. It feasts. But they were put here, not I who did this. Surely you will take them to avoid, such, inconvenience.”

Simon asked first, “And you are?”

“Avantador, the Diamond Dragon of Athos, I am the crystalline father of the greatest spawn to burrow throughout this earth. The diamond ruins of my progenitors run through this entire world. I have seen the dawn and the twilight within this cavern in my dreams from start to finish. Time holds me nothing. Take them and be gone. The wheel must spin.”

“I would rather take your body as stock and barrel. A fine jeweler above might enjoy your mantle.” Anatolius readied his hands. No dragon, diamond, gold, tin, or glass would stop them. The wheel had been broken and all the rules of Athos, made to keep man from the secrets of existence, were thrown out. The raging fires of the earth heated and pressurized the demigods into action and at the cost of stability, the gaskets had flooded with steam and the locks burst. Now was the time of War and the dream of peace still far off.

Communicating his feelings to the demigods, the issue was decided.

“So, will you take this offer and flee?” Avantador asked.

“First,” spoke Uruhua, “will you help us to deactivate this Urn? Can we find a way to free the world from this and fulfill your duty?”

“Certainly not. Nox shall bring the long night of Athos. It was ordained. We follow his will. We are not to kill you in the name of Athos, but this artifact is my charge.”

Then, in a sound of falling glass, the dragon’s limbs burst forth like shards of exploding stars, resplendent and glorious. In a great roar, his battle cry proclaimed,

“And Athos’ Will is the Truth.”

Before the Dragon, now in its final form, a black puff of smoke released the assassin into the fold. Daring and dashing blade work pushed back Uruhua who replied, poking with her long spear against the tumbling gymnastics of the Assassin. Too flexible, sickeningly formless and slithering like a worm around the polearm, the dance continued whilst the dragon reared and let loose a white beam of energy, neither fire nor quite liquid, it melted like magma against the rock and washed away. Magic armor alone hardly kept Anatolius from feeling some unexpected heat.

Simon raised a thick wall of ice, expertly segregating the battle.

“I have you now.” Cried Anatolius and in a blazing onslaught of void strokes he began to paint the assassin with deep strokes, pausing briefly to fire incredible blasts at the dragon. Avantador reared after the first and leveled into Anatolius and Uruhua. Restored by Oberon, high above, the Assassin was quickly repelled again. But the dragon, preparing a great burst of its radiant magma, was interrupted by a massive strike at its throat. Well placed, the eldritch bolt of deep azure flames struck the monster, blasting off a huge chunk of rock. Reflecting the light of the urn in a colorful mélange of rainbow, the pieces were sent wide and fell into dust as they hit the solid ground.

Reduced, the Assassin turned to flee, but a wall, thick and enflamed guarded the entrance. A sudden thrust like the sting of a wasp and the assassin looked down to see the sizzling skewer of Anatolius driven through him. One gasp and he too crumpled to the floor. Dead at last.

As the diamonds had fallen into dust, so too the assassin fell into sand. Laid open, organs of various decay spilled out onto the ground and dirt blew gently in spirals, dancing in circles to the hypnotic melody of the Urn. An odd phenomenon. Uruhua reached down as Anatolius looked away at the diamonds and sand mixing in the ever churning spirals, growing and morphing around them. The leather mask peeled back with difficulty, taking out suture, skin, and flesh. Though it was suspected, it was quickly known that below that mask was the visage of the old jokester. Random, the Wanderer, had been found again.

Collecting him into a small container, Oberon, having come down for the revelation, said the prayers of Athosian rest and then turned to begin the task of freeing the remaining Demigods and Deva feeding the Urn.

The spiral on the ground grew around them, regardless of effort or truth or power or even time itself, it collected all the ruins of battle slowly and quietly in an unbroken wheel. The demigods, and the Earth above, continued on.

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