Orrencis’ chest heaved, trying to recover the breath that escaped him; barely did he avoid the tail of the beast that ripped a gash into his land. Before him now lay open a vast canyon of crumbling ground. He peered down the chasm, finding only darkness where the creature’s tail dug a trench enough to diverge and drain an ocean. The ground beneath his feet sank and he stumbled backwards to avoid the collapsing grounds.
A wind blew over him and rustled his clothes, bringing him a chill that sent goose bumps trailing up his arms. Orrencis stumped off towards the willow tree and kept himself up by gripping the lowest branches as he walked along. Exhaustion poured into his limbs like warm water spilling through his veins and brought him to his knees, he leaned himself upon the trunk of the tree and let his eyes close, respite claiming his drifting mind.
His eyes slid open a time later to find a sky of aquamarine — he passed out in the night from the ordeal, his mind still aflutter with fear as if no time had even passed. Orrencis found his shredded soul list and his quill beside the tipped over vial of ink. He collected the quill into a pocket and let the breeze take care of his list. Petals from a distant tree off on a different floating isle drifted on by as Orrencis kept his back against the tree. The scent of his wild flowers tangled with the heavy odor of dirt, reminding him of the fields and gardens he once tended as a human back on the mortal planes.
His mind simmered from the fond recollection washing his conscious clean of shock and awe. An odd sound like an echoed whisper sounded out from behind him and his tree, he peeked around the willow’s trunk, finding a divine woman like no other standing with grace and lovely form, draped in white gown flowing like the clouds of heaven, her mahogany hair gently swaying.
Orrencis stood straight up in astonishment and swiftly combed at his soiled hair, making sure to swipe the filth from his clothing. “E- Etrionas, my goddess, I am sorry! I am in no position to stand before you! I shall leave your sight and stain your eyes with my visage no more!”
“It is quite all right, Orrencis, please, stay.”
“You know my name, goddess? I am honored!” chimed Orrencis with a bow. Fearful and humbled, he stood in attention, trying not to embarrass himself; a Liaison in the presence of a god is such as to place an overripe apple beside a resplendent vase whose flawless work could expend the fortune of a king and his entire kingdom. Most of the gods consider the Liaisons none more than walking meat with magic quills that can judge a soul.
“There is no pressure upon you, feel no different towards I than another,” said Etrionas with a soulful smile warming to the heart. “If you would please accompany me, Devin wishes audience with you.” She held out her hand and kept the inviting glow radiating from her very being. Time slowed for him as he stared into the face of his goddess, the wind kicking up at just the right moment to ripple her dress and give her endearing figure an everlasting sear into Orrencis’ memory.
“He wishes to speak with me?” replied Orrencis with hesitation, still shaken before the benevolent goddess of peace and tranquility.
“Our palace shall be your home until the turmoil is set. Devin craves your knowledge, our eyes of the lands tell tale of your encounter.”
Orrencis sent his gaze down to the ground. “I am afraid I do not know much,” he said ashamedly.
“But you know something, your little is better than the none we have,” she sweetly added.
“If it would help to end this madness, I am willing to tell all I know, little though it may be. I am ready, goddess.”
Etrionas whisked her hand and the world about them morphed and swirled into the innards of a magnificent room, a grand hall of which no man could dream. The aroma of flowers swirled about with the incense lit and glowing on the walls, hung by platinum lanterns crafted to pique taste and eloquence. Rivers of ӕthyr flowed freely in the air winding around the halls unperturbed. Portraits of the gods and their companions over the countless millions of years lined the walls, each made of gold leaf framing engraved inch-for-inch in small leaves. The carpeting below foot sewn and strung by masters of their craft, of gentle blues and violets bound together in harmony where no pattern outstroke another and dominated attention. An arched ceiling of glass held high overhead, like the gods, constantly looking down upon all who pass their hallowed lands. Streams of fiery orange light streaked through the paneling and soaked the two as they pressed forward to an open doorway, where ahead Orrencis could see an almighty figure sitting tall at a table of pure-white marble, etched by the natural fractal patterns that give the stone its divinity of the eye.
“Your majesty, Devin, you bless me to stand before your august likeness!” exclaimed Orrencis, knowing only flattery in the face of the leading god.
“You are most welcome Liaison, but we are here to speak of what you know. Indulge me of what you saw,” spoke Devin, uninterested in his petty words.
“Of course, sire. At the start, the rumors caused me to give no heed; ne’er could I consider the Arbiters would rebuke their gift. I neared last upon my list by a man named DuVarian Edderwick, deemed worthy of the title demigod. One of my Arbiters turned to me, the fox; he spoke to me of wrongs against them. He slew my inductee in cold blood, no shred of remorse to pierce his dead stare! It was he who led them all to upheaval against your righteous word! He warned me of blind following before he too became one with that creature and tore a rift into my isle!” Orrencis rattled off, putting emphasis on the ruin of his home. “It was taller than any range, larger than any city. Its body looked of an ashen dragon, crackled gray with red ember below, eyes glowing like a blazing flame! Its wings could snuff a wildfire, its claws rend earth, and its tail could demolish castles! Ne’er have I seen such a fright in all my days!” Orrencis yammered until his face turned blue, yet Devin remained calm and collect.
“Thank you, your information has proven invaluable. Now the threat is far greater than I could have conceived! It is true then, Arbiters of every realm have joined against us! They are nearly gods themselves and I cannot allow them to advance!” Devin stood to his feet and adjusted the buckle over his shoulder, keeping his warhammer snug to his back. “Etrionas, you must excuse me, I have a razing to unleash!” claimed Devin as he lifted from being in a flash of blue that left sparks dancing in the fading glow.
Etrionas laid hand upon Orrencis’ shoulder, garnering his attention. “It was by his request you stay with us, you are given pass to roam as you will within bounds.”
A smirk sprawled to his face. “Most kind! Tell me,” he said and looked into her face longingly, “could I see the orb of ӕthyr, if it is not too much trouble?”
“It would be no trouble at all,” said Etrionas. From the palace, she led him out to the open fields of clouds that make up the grounds of heaven. Ӕthyr floated overhead in sparkling streams in a free-willed trail of blue whisps and lights. Out here in the courtyard of the palace is where all the lowers mingle, thousands of gods from every rank walking about, speaking to one another and discussing their grand tales. Some of the gods even set up trade, creating crafts when free time blessed their sore bodies. The breeze that never ends presses upon this plane heaviest of them all, some say even the wind is excited in the presence of the gods. The lowers all split and formed a hallway of divine bodies for Etrionas, none daring to test their class below a god, swallowing back into place when she and Orrencis moved on.
They arrived at the steps of an immense tower shooting up into the sky and fading from view as it seems to continue into space. Inside, a lineup of Guardians greeted them with demeaning fixation to their every move. Every Guardian took a form different from one another in one aspect or another. Some looking of mere animals, though covered in runes and symbols for their particular powers. Some looking of great demonic beasts, though a benign heart thumps in their immortal chests. Eerily, a few resemble human, though markings on their sallow skin give away their difference. Though none bear weapons or armor, even the most defenseless looking Guardians possess a potent magic of some sort depending on their personal preferences.
A creaky door swung open off to their left and out stepped Agorick, Keeper of Ӕthyr. He dressed in tightly bound white robes fastened together with a blue sash and a gently flowing shawl of equal blue draped around his shoulders.
“A visitor, Etrionas?” he asked in gravelly undertone reflecting his age. “You know I am not fond of guests,” said the wizened immortal, eyeing Orrencis with dire scrutiny.
“Devin allowed him pass; his wish was to see your orb,” she replied quickly. She kept her hands clasped at her waist and a never-ending grin coaxed the fidgety old god.
Agorick rubbed at his snowy beard. “If he gave permission, then it is fine by me.” Agorick flicked his head towards Orrencis, turning his bothered expression to unimpressed with the insignificant god standing before him. “And who is this guest?”
“I am called Orrencis, a surviving Liaison of the revolt,” he clamored.
“Ah, well, step forward then, I do not think your meager hands can harm my orb. Come.” Orrencis followed close behind, Etrionas trailed at the back, watching the Guardians who did the exact same. A pressure fell onto Orrencis and faltered his steps; he could feel the hundreds of glowing eyes hammering him from the shadows. “Feel that heaviness, Liaison? It is the ӕthyr; it keeps the weak and undeserving away by itself. You cannot even hear it hum from here, can you? Such a pitiful little rat!”
“I do believe determination will keep me on my feet,” he volleyed. A docile smirk and light-hearted glare glanced off Agorick as he silently fumed and led onward. Orrencis barely kept afoot, feeling as if his clothes were composed of lead, though a gentle humming began to buzz his head and refreshed his senses. He stepped forward with second wind and surprised even the goddess. Agorick halted them no more than ten feet away.
“Liaison, I find it strange you came so close. Perhaps there is a strong soul below that ragged cloth and those flimsy limbs. Gaze into it as you please, you earned your right, though you still rank Liaison and look the part!”
“Off with you, Agorick! The Guardians and I shall keep mind,” said Etrionas with a shooing hand.
Orrencis pocketed his hands and stared into the brilliant blue ball floating atop the pillar standing center of a yawning pit. From its surface poured ӕthyr that flowed out the windows and weaved around the rafters in the spire high above, the ceiling darkened by lack of light so far up. A hollow wind flowed from the ball of seething energy, it drowned everything else out with a natural hum that could lull an enraged demon to sit and talk pleasantries with a human. The strange buzzing is alluring in an odd way, it fills the head with a gentle noise, not annoying nor invigorating, soothing to the point of rocking to and fro, near collapse of tranquility enveloping every fiber of being. His mind’s eyes showed him strange patterns of light as the humming washed over him and took control; his head swirled with delight and seemed to lighten with every passing instance within the ӕthyreal presence.
Agorick stepped to Orrencis’ side. “Fond of you it would appear. Ӕthyr has a strange way of seeming alive. Liaison, do you even know anything about ӕthyr?”
Orrencis snapped from his daze unwillingly. “I am not familiar with its potential; could you tell me what you know?”
“More than happy to!” Agorick delighted. “Ӕthyr is everything yet nothing all at the same time, a great paradox not even we gods can understand. Ӕthyr is the source of energy to everything, it keeps your feet to the ground, makes fruit fall from trees, gives wind its flow, lets fire burn, gives lightning its power . . . but most importantly, keeps life in perfect balance.” Agorick beckoned to the orb. “And this is the source, no one seems to remember, but it is believed the original gods founded the heavens after discovering this strange sphere. I hope you feel honored to stand before it, without it, nothing could exist.”
“I- I am!” Orrencis choked.
Agorick put his hands to his hips and continued, “A strange thing, ӕthyr. Only we gods can see it. It is very rare that a mortal sees the flow of ӕthyr, these lucky few are descendents of a demigod, and even then, it takes discipline to see it and harness its true potential.” Agorick took a pause to stare into the light. “Pathetic little wretches, they need runestones and crystals to harness ӕthyr, then use it for their own selfish reasons . . . war, killing, lust . . . they even made spells to make another fall in love! Dastardly little creatures, those mortals.”
“A shame such things were not as prominent in my time,” was all Orrencis could comment.
Agorick rolled his eyes and shook his head. “But what puzzles me is what those blasted Arbiters wanted with the ӕthyr. They cannot use it, only my hands can alter the grand ӕthyr.”
“Perhaps they intend to amplify their own powers,” Orrencis offered, looking back to see a bored goddess sitting cross-legged on the ground, her heavenly dress spilled across the stone floor like milk.
“Maybe, but their intentions are still unclear,” Agorick answered.
A window on the far wall burst open and a phoenix busted in with a shriek from nowhere, giving Orrencis a good jump. It landed upon Agorick’s shoulder and the two locked eyes for moments. Agorick sighed as if irked by something. “Etrionas, please see this guest out, something has come up.”
Orrencis could only tilt his head wondering what the phoenix was all about before the pushy god ushered him out from the tower with no explanation.
Days passed and the treachery of the Arbiters spread over the gods’ domain. Underneath a veil of confusion, the fused Arbiters named themselves the Monoliths, each of the six creatures taking different forms to suit their tastes, each bearing their own powers and mastering the skills akin only to the gods. They laid siege to the assets of the heavens and made the gods feel the mounting pressure when the great land in the sky fell into an uproar.
IyeKaeros was their leader, the Monolith of ashen dragon-like body. Over the days to come, they were all discovered, their names known and their powers little more than gossip.
Banded to a single unstoppable force, these Monoliths put reign on the gods’ hold, conquering sections of heaven one at a time, the armies of the gods served not even as viable toys to the demons that the Monoliths unleashed to ravage the lands and kill all that did not comply.
It then fell upon Devin and his consulate to decide, with no other gods in the room, they did deliberate. One after another, each councilor came upon the same decision, their only options weighed in the last days, lack of options therefore taken with a grain of salt each. Only one, however, would withstand the test of time. For the first time since the new heaven’s founding, The Annulment would be called, sacrificing nearly every lower god in order to cage the Monoliths. Liaisons, Divine Blades, Arbiters, even the demigods! With saddened heart, Devin agreed with his consulate, angrily grieving as he left the room in storm.
He felt his heart sink and the pain of loss slam his chest before anything had been taken, soon, he would cull and betray his loyal gods, hundreds of millions, weight of guilt crushed him and he retreated to his room, locking the door behind.