Arc 11: Latigo
In the heart of the Brother continent stands erect the highest mountain in the world. The Mons God. The Mountain of God. At twenty kilometers tall, the peak towers above the clouds. A theoretical bridge could be layed from the tip of the Mons God to the top of Great Tidal Wall and walked across with relatively little incline.
Several Millenia ago, the Architect-Emperor Belias Gragheadst the III, commanded a million slaves to carve into the Mons God to create the metropolis Labyrthnium. The complex system of caves, tunnels and passageways house eighty-seven million people, like an anthill of humans. People live in indentations along cliff sides, hanging huts of manmade stalactites, secluded grotto villages and underground townships. Connecting these cave municipalities are cart and railways systems that snake across the expanse of the metropolis.
One could spend ten lifetimes exploring Labyrthnium and never return home.
The Mons God is an active volcano. The city long ago learned how to take advantage of lava power to fuel its industrial production while placating the rumbling minotaur.
The Lava farms are a chief source of food production for the city. Heat resistant mushrooms grow a meter above the flowing lava rivers, using the city’s waste as fertilizer in an efficient use of resources. Cultivated mushrooms are placed in large clay pots and cooked by the lava before being distributed to the population as a food base, much like how grain or meat is used in other cities.
Labyrthnium is half megalithic wonder of the world and half architectural marvel and perhaps man’s most impressive and innovative city.
The citizens are fiercely loyal to the city and outsiders are seldom granted citizenship. All members of society are required to work in service for four years as miners, in the lava farms or for the military.
The greatest genius of the city can be found in the air and heat networks that regulate by opening and closing valves to allow for oxygen and ventilation throughout the entirety of the mountain.
The government is an autocracy who maintains age-old traditions. The family of Belias the III has remained in power since the foundation of Labyrthnium. Their population alone numbers well over ten thousand members and relatives of the royal family. The surname of Gragheadst is perhaps the most powerful in the world, certainly in the Brother continent.
One simple and lesser known factor has kept Labyrthnium so consistent throughout the centuries. The outside world considers these to be rumors, but deep into the inner sanctum of the mountain rests a statue of the volcano matron, the Goddess Pelamexia.
The Gragheadst’s are the sole keepers of this secret. Pelamexia was the favored concubine of Belias the III and a Specter. She is the only instance known in the world, though this knowledge is kept from the world, of a Thaumaturge. A theorized level of Aspect awakening beyond the Fable.
Pelamexia became a statue and the nexus of the mountain. She is the soul and will of Mons God. So long as the Gragheadst’s live and remain in power, she will protect Labyrthnium and stop the mountain from erupting.
Thaumaturges are hypothesized to be a force of nature, an Aspect that has transcended the coil of organic life.
The Keepers, a select few of the Gragheadst family castrated from their birth, whether boy or girl, are allowed into the sanctum of the Matron. They never live into their majority and the secrets of communion with the Gragheadst Matron statue are theirs alone to pass on to the next chosen Keepers.
Defilement of the Matron by allowing an uninitiated into her presence leads to a hundred years of famine. This happened once a thousand years ago and decimated the population of Labyrthnium at the time.
No one is more sacred than the Keeper children who carry out the will of the Pelamexia.
One such Keeper, Hastaea, daughter-son of the Gragheadst, enters the sanctum in pale robes which blend with her albino skin and black orbs for eyes that have never been kissed by the sun.
“An offering, Matron.” Hastaea greets, a ceramic bowl of milk in hand.
Hastaea kneels before the statue, in awe of the beauty of Pelamexia. A statue made of stone and marble and glistening flesh. A still standing form of a tall woman, two sets of arms frozen in pose, head tilted up and proud and hair masking the naked torso and bare legs.
Hastaea places the bowl of milk at the base of Pelamexia’s feet. Surface tension absorbs the milk and the liquid is drawn up the legs, through the chest and into the head of Pelamexia. The milk then bleeds from the eyes and drips to the breast.
Hastaea skillfully catches each and every drop, allowing not a single dew to desecrate the sacred moss at Pelamexia’s feet.
The bowl of milk is now golden in color. Hastaea brings the bowl to mouth and drinks the golden milk in one swoop.
The bowl is wiped dry by a ceremonial cloth sewn into the hem of the pale robes.
Hastaea feels nausea wash over before collapsing to the ground. Visions swarm Hastaea’s dreams in a trance state.
The will of Pelamexia is being transferred to Hastaea. An hour later Hastaea awakens, sputtering blood. Hastaea’s training assures her that the blood is coughed into the cloth instinctively. It is partially stained from previous bouts of coughing. The sickness gives Hastaea six more months of service to Pelamexia.
With the ceremony of communion finished, Hastaea’s emaciated footfalls silently lead out of the sanctum. In the outer sanctum, another Keeper takes the bowl from Hastaea.
Hastaea must now walk from the sanctum to the palace. It is ten-thousand steps of mossy path. Keepers cannot ever walk on a surface different from Pelamexia’s.
Hastaea’s weak body struggles to make the journey to the palace. The way is cleared and the Golema, the stoic bodyguard of the Keepers, escort Hastaea to the emperor’s palace. The Golema wear full stone suits. Each Golema is as tall as any man can be, forbidden from speaking. They wear their armor until death. The weapon of the Golem is called the Gragspear. It is a weapon with a handle two meters long that connects to a round blade. The center of the blade is an emerald. The massive weapons are unwieldy to anyone not trained in their use.
Hastaea feels safe with Golema guarding the way. They are distant cousins and members of the royal family.
Hastaea sees the palace entrance up ahead. Hastaea is dizzy and lightheaded but marches on.
The message from Pelamexia must be delivered to the emperor. This is the way it has been for two thousand years.
I must not fail and disappoint the Matron, Hastaea steeled.
Emperor Ranfrey Gragheadst sat like an unshakable pillar, features of his face etched in like granite. He awaits audience with the Keeper.
Hastaea finally reaches the end of the moss, where the news of the vision will be delivered.
Hastaea was breathing hard and needed a moment to recover. The Golema stood around Hastaea, silent and motionless.
Hastaea’s voice was weak and untried, rarely ever being used except for the delivery of Pelamexia’s will.
Despite the vast knowledge given to Hastaea, the actual meaning behind the words is lost to the Keepers.
“EMPEROR RANFREY GRAGHEADST!” Hastaea’s weak and shrill voice called as strong as it could.
“Who is asking?” The emperor responded in the traditional way.
The palace was filled with several hundred of the family’s highest ranking members, all gathered here to listen.
“KEEPER OF THE MATRON STATUE, THE GODDESS PELAMAXIA, MOTHER OF THE GRAGHEADST.”
“What does Mother Matron require of her sons and daughters?”
“A VISION FORETELLS THE COMING OF DIAMAK AND ITS THRALL THE INTERLUDER AND THE PROPHETEER!” Murmurs and conversation broke out at this news as several other metropoli have already faced destruction at the hand of Diamak. Reports have started to come in that the Propheteer and the Interluder are moving into the Brother continent to harold Diamak’s coming.
“MOTHER MATRON WILL SHIELD US FROM HARM!” Hastaea shouted over the crowd. “LABYRTHNIUM WILL COME TO NO HARM FROM DIAMAK!”
There was audible relief from the crowd of Gragheadst’s.
The emperor had no such reaction. He knew more was to be said.
Hastaea continued. “HOWEVER! MOTHER MATRON HAS SEEN THE SWALLOWING OF THE SUN, THE DEFILEMENT OF THE SANCTUM,” the volcano could have erupted and not a single person here would have heard it over the wailing and shouting and argument of the crowd. “THE EATER OF BONES, THE SLAYER OF THE HERON, THE REUNITING OF THE BROTHER AND SISTER,” Hastaea’s eyes were forced shut as the vision was focused and voice tempered to be heard over the crowd. “THE ROMANCE OF THE METROPOLI, THE THAWING OF THE WORLD TREES, THE DEATH OF MILLIONS, THE GENESIS OF THE FALLEN!” Hastaea pointed to Emperor Ranfrey. “YOU SHALL BE THE LAST OF THE GRAGHEADST EMPERORS!”
Quiet finally settled on the crowd when they realized the Keeper had stopped talking. Emperor Ranfrey asked a question. “What is to be done?”
The crowd had been ready for a full blown panic, but the deep and rumbling voice of the emperor’s question gave them purpose as their fate did not have to be sealed.
“PELAMEXIA HAS SEEN ONE WHO IS THE CATALYST! HE MUST BE KILLED BEFORE HE TRUMPETS THE AWAKENING!”
“Who is he?” Ranfrey demanded.
“THE CATALYST IS A SPECTER! PELAMEXIA SAW ONLY THE BUILDER NAMED RAILEY ISLE CONNECTED TO THE TRUMPETER, THE ONLY ARCHITECT GREATER THAN BELIAS THE III!”
“Garghent!” Ranfrey growled.
“What are we going to do?” a voice shouted. Many echoed this question. More arguments and conversations followed this and a hundred debates rang out at once.
At last Emperor Ranfrey stood. Silence obeyed this movement.
“If Pelamexia does not know the identity of the trumpeter, then it is likely no one alive knows, not even the Specter himself.” This helped to reason with the upset and scared crowd.
“I will travel to the Sister continent and find this trumpeter.”
The disagreements thundered. “You cannot leave Labyrthnium!”, “The other cities will take advantage of your absence.”, “What if you are killed?” The arguments came one after the other.
Ranfrey raised his hand to speak. “We are lost if I do not attempt to cross the ocean and find the catalyst. Pelamexia has foreseen this. I will bring with me the Golema.”
The crowd surged forward towards the Emperor. He was not in any danger from his extended family, they were merely voicing their disagreement and bringing up tradition.
“You violate everything we hold dear! Thousands of years of tradition broken! The Golema are sworn to the Keepers!” An elder spoke, backed by a majority of the crowd.
Ranfrey caught Hastaea’s eye and nodded. He could see the Keeper had very little energy left.
Ranfrey raised his hand to quiet the crowd once more.
Hastaea took an unsteady breath. “PELAMEXIA HAS SHOWN ME THE TRUMPETERS FACE! I WILL JOURNEY WITH EMPEROR RANFREY AND THE GOLEMA WILL UPHOLD THEIR DUTY TO PROTECT THE KEEPER!”
There was no rebuttal this time, only a quiet dread from the crowd.
“You will not ever be allowed to set foot in the sanctum again.” the same elder warned.
Hastaea could not keep up the speaking voice any longer. “Pelamexia has ordered my attendance with Emperor Ranfrey.” The simple command from the Matron was enough explanation and reason.
The elder nodded.
“Then let us prepare for the trip. I may not return, but I pledge to the Matron Mother the trumpeter’s death.”
Hastaea had never set foot outside the several rooms and walkways assigned to the Keepers. Never seen the sun nor the ocean nor the grass, nor the mountain from outside, nor another human outside of the family, save for in the visions of Pelamexia. And what terrible visions these were today!
Hastaea could not bring herself to mention the boy she saw with the merciless amaranthine eyes standing amidst a circus of sin…standing over her own lifeless body.