A young warlord rises under the banner of a new god but causes friction between her people. A veteran captain challenges his new military commander and is drawn back into his bloody past. An assassin hesitates in fulfilling his contract and faces the wrath of his old Brotherhood. Each haunted by a shadowed past, they're drawn into a greater conflict, primal in its conduct and as ancient as the earth itself. For in the silence of shadow, the Outsider's whispers can be heard once more.
1407 Usurpers' Ascension
Year of The Fall
The woman's pleas echoed throughout the empty hall. Malacar breathed in the smell of fear as he advanced upon her, blade in hand. He clenched the golden hilt, its presence granting him strength and assurance. This time he was certain his god would answer.
Eyes wide and welled with tears, the woman shook as she stumbled and slipped on the glittering carpet of blood, back towards the obsidian throne. Her heel clipped the outstretched arm of a corpse, face down in crimson and her thin frame fell towards the edge of the steps. Malacar lashed out with frightening speed. The blade sunk deep into her flesh and her heart wept upon the sacred steel. Her eyes emptied of recognition as her soul was liberated into the arms of the Outsider.
Malacar knelt beside the corpse. With blood-stained fingers, he traced the soft curve of her cheek and bowed his head. "I give you this soul, Outsider. Grant me your fury to wield against our enemy and wash away their disease."
Only the voiceless whisper of rejection replied.
"I ask again. Grant me your power to rid the world of this pestilence."
Hopelessness crept in on all sides, a thousand hands clutching at his robes, trying to tear him apart. Were they the hands of the fallen? Had they finally come for him? He rose from the corpse, leaving the dagger embedded in its chest and climbed the steep marble steps towards the throne. If this was to be his end, then he would face it from the centre of his power. Behind him laid a trail of corpses floating upon a river of blood. It spanned the length of the hall reaching the great iron doors at the far end.
With the last step, he reached the throne and settled into its cold embrace but found no comfort as he once did. He gripped the black glass, finding little support on the arm of its smooth surface. A seat of power at the centre of a crippled empire - it means nothing now. Looking out upon the room below, the ease of long familiarity had faded. Where once the dull, jostling ranks of the imperial aristocracy from every corner of the land had gathered in droves, seeking patronage and prestige, the remnants of departed souls had taken their place, sprawled before him.
Malacar searched the lifeless room for his god. He did not hide in the lurking shadows that clung to the corners; he was not among the human wreckage that swayed upon the crimson floor, nor did his image rip itself from the confines of the golden ceiling, descending to aid him.
"Where are you?" he whispered.
The sounds of battle climbed over the ragged walls of the citadel's battlements, sweeping in through the arched window. The Eternal Guard were still attempting resistance against the merciless onslaught. Malacar shook his head in defeat. There was no point. All was lost. Part of him was drawn to the sound. He tore himself from the throne and descended the steps. The bottom of his robes dragged through the blood and sinew as he traversed the mass of corpses towards the nearest window. The noise grew louder the closer he got closer, a cacophony of screeching steel, battle cries, pain, suffering, echoed in the thundering clash of power.
A red sun sat heavy and bloated above the hot smoking rubble of the damned city. Spires that had once pierced the sky in their flourishing ascendancy, now laid broken and crippled among the smouldering ruins. Massive gaping wounds breached the once impenetrable walls. Monstrous flames engulfed the city. Through the thick storm of smoke they rose, climbing towards Malacar, begging to consume him between their snapping jaws.
His empire laid broken, the spine of civilisation crushed on the knee of redemption. Looking out across the burning city broke his heart. I wanted to change it all, make humanity eternal. I wanted break down its walls of solitude, to unite the broken shards. He wanted to rebuild humanity as a mirror and place it upon a mantelpiece. And when doubt and fear threatened collapse, it would find safety and assurance in its immortalised reflection. His thoughts returned to the peaceful paths he travelled in pursuit of unification, every time denied by failure. Then you came to me.
At his wit's end, brooding and beaten, he sought council in the darkness. Anguish and despair were his advisers and he found them to be avid listeners. But then, the darkness spoke back. A voice compelled by shadows. The voice of his God. The Outsider. He whispered to Malacar an unspoken truth; humanity craved subjugation but fumbled in the ignorance of it. He promised Malacar the realization of his ambitions. All he had to do was submit. And so he did.
Determination renewed, Malacar's power had risen like a raging inferno and his enemies had dissolved before his might. With the Outsider by his side, he carved a path of destruction across nations. He did not shy away from the horrors of war and condemned any aversion to the slaughter of those who fought for politics and greed. Many people were blinded by their prejudices and petty whims. They hated him. But he let them hate. As long as they feared him, he did not care. Is not fear a means of accomplishing one's ambitions? Does not the common man cower before the threat of cessation that walks hand in hand with domination?
His god was the armour that encased him, the shield upon his arm, the edge of his sword. And when he faltered, when the threat of failure would come, he could feel the hand of the Outsider upon his shoulder, calm and strong. He was the cornerstone of his beliefs and goals.
But then the Redeemer came.
Malacar looked down upon the desolation below; the gleaming white banners of the mortal god stood tall and eminent, as he pushed the Eternal Guard back towards the citadel. The raging flash and thunder of his celestial powers vibrated through the foundations of the palace. It cleansed the city, sweeping over the walls and through the streets, obliterating all resistance in its path. The tide of redemption had swept across his empire, destroying everything he had worked for. Any attempt to halt the ruthless assault now lay with the thousands dead upon the fields.
How did it come to this? He remembered looking to the Outsider in the face of this overwhelming threat, only to find an empty chasm. It was the first time he felt the sting of abandonment; betrayal became constant, expected, from the lowest dregs of society to the upper echelons of the imperial hierarchy. One by one they betrayed me. But the one true betrayal that tormented him was the Outsider's. As the empire collapsed, so too did his presence dwindle.
"Why did you leave me?" Malacar spoke aloud. The words came without summons. "Was I not your weapon to wield against the insanity of this world? To unite humanity under your leadership? And now you abandon me, dismissing me like a common serf, throwing me away like an old scrap of iron?"
The feeling of loathing and resentment pierced the barriers of despair forming around him. He clenched his fists in hatred; his nails dug into the coarse skin so deep that blood trickled down his palms. "I reject you Outsider. I cast you from the warmth of my heart into the bitter cold that is exclusion. Know that I will come for you. I will be as anathema to your entity. Blood demands blood and I will have yours. This I swear."
His words rang hollow at the sight of the Eternal Guard being driven back into the inner courtyard of the citadel. The Redeemer's forces washed over them like a wave, slaughtering all that stood before them. Oblivion was approaching. There was no escape. Everyone had turned from him, even a god. In times such as these what does a man do? What is there left to do? Does he look inside himself, gauging his worth and contribution in this life? The cries of death could be heard outside the doors. He took one last look out upon his city, the centre of his empire, imagining it as it once was. As he once was. Do I search inwards, reflecting upon myself? No, even that is beyond me. Self-justification and denial prevent the penetration of any true insight into one's being.
He turned from the window as the great iron doors of the throne room burst open. A blinding light engulfed the hall. It cracked the pillars, absorbed the glittering sea of blood upon the floor and eradicated the darkness. Malacar fell to his knees and covered his face. He cowered before its overwhelming fury. He heard the gentle steps of the physical incarnation of a God and it was terrifying.
He felt the radiance of the Redeemer's touch as He closed His hands around him and guided them away. Malacar looked upon His face. Tears of blood welled in the infinite depths of His eyes, flowing down in streams of utter perfection. He stared at the God, and fell into the anguish of His heart. And in that moment Malacar knew the Redeemer and the Redeemer knew him.
The Redeemer smiled and a voice spoke inside Malacar's soul. "Men are slaves to the care and instruments of their own tyranny." He said, "I will free you from such."