There was an abomination before me. That’s not a term I use lightly, but, in the case of items that are designed to utterly destroy anyone who is placed inside them, I find it to be reasonably accurate. Full accuracy would require the use of a long string of expletives as well.
“In this holy vessel your souls shall be cleansed of all that has separated you from the light of the church. You shall be reborn, filled new purpose and vision. Where sin and darkness has twisted your soul, the light of the Holy Throne shall place within you a heart that is eternally incorruptible.” Prelate Temple preached.
His blather was lost on pretty much everyone else in the room. The other Prelates were unconcerned with the state of our souls. Avernicus in particular eyed us with a look that said he was all too aware that the Cauldron was not a tool to washout sin. The soldiers, by virtue of the fact that their current minds were copies of Prelate Ralls shared her disinterest. That left only Brayson, Kari, Way and I as an audience and none of us were inclined to believe a Shadow Breaker’s lies.
Prelate Temple’s diatribe did have one positive benefit though. It gave me time to examine the Cauldron and understand what it was.
The most obvious thing was that it wasn’t a part of this world. Someone, or something, had brought a piece of dreamworld technology into Vale Septem. Which, in a sense, was great news. Way and I had been sent to Vale Septem in order to help unravel the mystery of how it came to be in its current state. Sitting before me was a giant cauldron-shaped piece of that puzzle. In a weird way I coveted the Cauldron because of that. Whatever its purpose was, it was a string I could pull on to discover more about the one who brought it here.
A deadly, dangerous string though. There wasn’t much that could actually harm Way or I. Technically the cauldron wouldn’t be able to destroy us like it could anyone else here but being cast out into Oblivion was not a trivial problem to overcome. Especially since I suspected the cauldron was set up to do more than merely destroy us.
My meta-awareness usually looked only at what was real. The “unreal” was more difficult to focus on. It wasn’t there, it wasn’t a ‘thing’ the way even real ideas were, so any information about it was both true and false and most values in between. In short, it hurt my head to think about it too much. Figuring out the cauldron’s story was worth the headache though, so I gave it my full and undivided attention while Temple spoke.
What I saw when I looked past the surface wasn’t a cauldron at all but a writhing twisting mass of contradictions. The cauldron was only partially unreal. Bits of real magic and real cauldrons were twisted inside a shell of unreality, set to capture and reform the essence that was shredded away from anyone who was submerged in it. Oblivion would rip them apart and the real magics would reweave heart, mind and body into little more than an automata.
An incredibly powerful automata, one that was able to follow complex instructions and execute detailed battle plans, but without any of the personality or will of the person whose essence was used to construct it. Perfectly loyal, perfectly subservient, incapable of sin.
It had to be destroyed.
“Put the Watch Commander in first. His soul is the most tainted.” Prelate Ralls suggested. Not that the status of Brayson’s soul had anything to do with Ralls’ desire to see him go first. Brayson had angered her most and Ralls was still under the mistaken impression that we three “children” were looking to him to protect us. Seeing our “big hero” converted to a willing slave of the Prelates was about the worst punishment she could think of for us.
Her imagination was really lacking.
I closed my eyes and felt the silence spell that she’d bound us with. It was a masterful working. Given that she’d been able to cast it almost effortlessly, Ralls clearly used it often. It was an extremely difficult feat but not surprising that she could manage it. As a Third Prelate, her skill at weaving magic was superb. On par with the best in the world. It was time she learned who she was dealing with though.
With a thought, I shattered the spell and sent a surge of magical backlash at Ralls like an open handed slap across the face.
By excommunicating me, the Prelates had disrupted my connections to the Twelve Dominions. That had taken away my priestly magical powers. As a dreamlord though I didn’t need magic to be powerful. Vale Septem’s odd time acceleration limited my ability to change the world around me, but I held my own dreams within me and those were always mine to control. Affecting magic that were affecting me was as easy as imagining what I wanted to happen and suggesting to the world that my view was the more real one.
“You’re wrong, Watch Commander Brayson is far from the first person you should worrying about.” I said as I cracked the knuckles on my left and right hands.
“Demon child! Shadow spawn!” Prelate Ralls eyes were wide with shock. From everything she knew, it was four flavors of impossible that I’d been able to break her silence spell. The magical face slap actually made it five flavors but she’d probably lost count by that point.
“You have no idea how far off base you are.” I laughed. My history with “shadow” powers was not one that could be called “amiable” by any stretch of the imagination.
“Fool! I shall cast you out. You have no place in this realm!” Ralls screamed and I felt that sanctuary spell that warded Dawns Harbor close on me like a vice. There was a cracking sound and I looked down to see that circle we were contained within had been converted to a summoning gate.
Ralls was trying to literally send us to hell.
I tried to move out of the circle but the Sanctuary spell had bound my limbs. I looked over at Way. She wasn’t moving either.
“Right. This has gone far enough.” I said, a cold anger rising in me.
Grida had made us a part of the town, had extended the sanctuary spell to include Way and I. That let me feel it inside me as well as wrapped around me like a set of chains. In my mind’s eye I followed the weave of the sanctuary spell back to its source.
The heartstone of the spell sat within the church building that overlooked the town from one of the highest hills. It was a green-blue gem of some variety native to Vale Septem. All of the magic bought from the Holy Throne to sustain the spell glittered in the gem’s core.
Until I shattered it.
I couldn’t have done that from a distance, but with the spell touching me I had all the connection I needed. In breaking the part of the sanctuary spell that permeated me, I broke it all, right back to its source. By all rights it was something I shouldn’t ever have done, but given the choice between remaining a helpless victim of the Shadow Breakers verse fighting for our freedom, it was an easy decision to make.
“The sanctuary…someone at the church has destroyed the spell’s heartstone! They have accomplices!” Prelate Rall screamed, jumping to the only conclusion that made any rational sense to her.
“Leave the accomplices to me.” Avernicus said. With a series of intricate gestures he folded to the ground and rose back up transformed into something that looked like a giant pterodactyl. With a beating of reptilian wings he was outside of the stone tower and off to investigate our supposed accomplices.
To be fair to the deluded Prelates, the insults we’d given them were nothing compared to the unbelievable sin of destroying a sanctuary spell. Not to mention how hard doing that would be for anyone who wasn’t cheating reality with dreamlord magics like I was.
“Can you hold them until Avernicus is back to purify them?” Temple asked Ralls.
“No. She can’t.” I said, and stepped through the boundary of the summoning gate.
The three nearest soldiers reacted instantly, Ralls’ rage burning in their eyes as they thrust their spears out to impale my heart and lungs. A thundercrack knocked them all away and flattened everyone else who was outside the circle. I shook my head to clear my hearing and saw Way standing before me, the sword of lightning in her hands once more.
Without the sanctuary spell for Way to worry about, I had the sense that the Prelate’s soldiers were about to have a fairly bad day. On the other hand there were several hundred of them to contend with, and they were only puppets, innocent of any personal wrongdoing despite how dangerous they might be.
Way had that fact in mind too. Her first attack came immediately on the heels of guarding me. With a sweep of the her blade, she reduced the nearest soldier to a spasming unconscious body. I’d seen her use similar attacks before. They packed a lot of punch but wore off swiftly as well. A normal person would be down for an hour or so and wake without any serious discomfort. Against the enspelled soldiers I guessed each stunning blow of her blade would buy us a couple of minutes at most. Two minutes is a long time in a fight though.
As much as I might have hated the Blessing of Unity spell, I had to admit that it was effective. Way managed to stun only three of the soldiers before the rest were on their feet and pressing her back. If the outcome of the fight hadn’t been so critical, I might even have enjoyed watching it.
The soldiers were enhanced with speed, strength and coordination beyond anything a normal human could manage. Way was far from being a “normal” human too though.
The soldiers held a tight formation, closing her in and supporting each other with their spears. Whatever side she faced away from became a path of victory for the soldiers. In the tightening circle they kept her dancing back and forth, warding off blows from all corners.
That’s where the beauty of the fight came from. Where the soldiers moved with precision and speed, Way danced with a liquid grace that made it look like the soldiers around her were standing still. A parry to her right was made in time with a leg sweep to her left. When one of the soldiers blocked her blow with his spear she slid in close to him and spun him around to act as a shield against the rest before backflipping away and slicing him along the back with the tip of the lightning sword.
For each soldier that she stunned through, two more entered the stone tower and took up positions behind their comrades. She was being gentle, fighting for them as much as she was against them, but eventually that would have to change. As the soldiers she’d stunned started recovering she was going to have switch to more disabling blows. Ones that their enhanced healing wouldn’t be able to shrug off. One’s that would do permanent damage to them.
The necessity of that was delayed when four of the soldiers were disabled at once. As it turned out the lightning spears they were carrying weren’t enspelled to work only for them and in Watch Commander Brayson’s hands the spears were every bit as effective as Way’s lightning sword.
The two of them didn’t have the supernatural coordination the soldiers enjoyed from the Blessing spell. I knew that, but I wouldn’t have believed it to watch them fight together. Neither was actually precognitive but both seemed to be able read the battle and their foes responses to a degree that allowed them to not only predict the soldiers’ actions but also what each other would be doing in response to those actions.
The Prelates weren’t used to this kind of fighting. Their preferred targets were ones that had been rendered helpless long before they arrived. Even so though they could see that the battle was one where the outcome was very much in doubt. Even if we held no further surprises, the effort it would take for the soldiers to get us under control would burn out more of the soldiers remaining fighting time than they could afford to spend.
Prelate Temple attempted to join the battle first with a simple binding spell. I really didn’t want to think of the sort of uses he would normally put a spell like to, so I shattered it the same way I had Ralls’ silence spell.
He tried an agony spell next. Technically it was a blasphemous inversion of the Ninth Dominion’s aspect of “Endurance”. Even with eyewitness testimony though, I somehow doubted I’d be able to arrange for the conviction of a Prelate through the Ecclesiastical Court though.
I shattered that spell as well and flung the shards of it back at him. Prelate Temple didn’t enjoy receiving as much as he did giving as it turned out and he collapsed with a scream of terror and pain.
Since I wasn’t visibly casting counterspells, Prelate Ralls didn’t know what to make of what was happening. I took Kari’s hand and called on one of my dreams to shield us from any physical attacks Ralls or her soldiers might throw our way.
Instead of a physical assault though, Ralls went for a mental attack, summoning a wave of crippling fear designed to break our minds and leave us collapsed in horror at the enormity of her power. I didn’t even need to counterspell that one. Instead I just altered my dreamshield to share my perspective on it with Kari.
As the fear spell rolled over us, Way and Brayson merely shrugged and, essentially, ignored it. Ralls’ spell was powerful, but both of them had trained their minds every bit as much as their bodies. If anything Brayson was probably less affected than Way, having fought through similar effects many times as an adventurer.
For Kari and I the experience was different. The magical fear washed into us like a stream but in the dreamshield it met an ocean that was vaster than anything Prelate Ralls could imagine. She could have achieved a similar effect by screaming “Boo” at us from across the room. We didn’t literally point at her and laugh, but the temptation was there for both of us.
The Prelate went to cast another spell, but I never found out what it was. She was cut off by one of the fallen soldier’s thunder spears burying itself in her stomach. I tracked the flight of the spear back and saw that Kari had apparently found one and had a much better throwing arm than I would have guessed.
Kari lifted another spear, perhaps to finish the job, but the attack on the Prelate had brought us onto the soldier’s threat list. That didn’t work out well for them though since taking their attention off of Way and Brayson meant they were stunned nearly instantly by blows from Way’s lighting blade and Brayson’s two thunder spears.
More soldiers surged in but I noticed it was not just to join the fray. They were fleeing from the smoke that was billowing outside the entrance.
Someone had lit the camp on fire!