An old man stands by a stained glass window above a simple stone dais. The early morning sun pierces through the cracks in the mortar above, the large circular hole that illuminates the centre of the temple almost looks like it was supposed to be there.
He removes a heavy gauntlet and places it on the dais next to the ancient text of his order. Running his fingers along the pages he breathes deeply the dust that continues to ebb and flow around the room in the slight breeze. He stares out the window as ocean waves crash against the closest town of Port Dolcet many miles away, a feeling of pity washes over him, finally prying some sort of empathy from him for his place of birth.
My God is dead.
He sighs at the thought, just like the ocean, the inevitable had been crashing down on him for so long, he had finally capitulated to the truth. Taking one last good look around the room he straps the holy book to his waist and re-clasps the antiquated gauntlet. He approaches the broken pane of stained glass and stares out at the plains below.
He stares down at the still melting snow of the peaks that surround his home and dreams of a simpler time gone by. A time of gods and magic, dragons and demons, faith and vengeance. He remembers growing up in a crumpled world, defeat written on every face. The only protection granted by the seemingly unending powers of the Guilds and Temples, wizards and priests working in tandem to restore order. The world had been shattered, trade routes destroyed, families torn asunder but still they toiled on. He watched as civilisation was reborn from dust and disease, the great works of man restored by magic, plagues of madness purged by faith manifest but like all things, it failed to last.
Magic as with faith waned, the great towers of the Guilds slowly crumpled to the ground. The mighty temples of the divine became nothing more than collections of ponderous tomes and even more ponderous men. Like salt to the wound they had come, the ones below.
Slithering reptiles filled with hate and delusional vengeance spilled from the sea as if its broiling waves were allowed their day above the sand. They had been driven back like a tide of blades but the price was deemed too high, the righteous Gods had never returned, the endless power of the arch-magi destroyed more life than it saved. The people had left, not physically, they couldn’t, but emotionally. Faith became an empty ritual, a habit to kill time between the tides and seasons. When the first airship had arrived they had opened their arms and welcomed it like they had their gods, its brazen affront to natural order became a pillar of hope held aloft for all to worship.
So here he was, the only mote of faith left in a world filled with the chaos of “experimentation” and destruction all in the name of “progress”. The temple above him groaned as if the pressure of the decision he was about to make were reverberating through its very core.
He places his hand upon the broken glass pane and pulls firm, the glass snaps off clean in his plated hand. He takes a moment to inspect the shard then wraps the shard in a cloth embroidered with the Lion of his deity and places it in his pack. With this he heads for the exit to the place that had sheltered him for 4 decades.
The wind picks up to a howl as he stares down at the sacred seal in his hand. Its meaning speaking to him more than its purpose. Taking a long look up at the stone gates of the temple he places the seal down where he was instructed. His face betrays no emotion apart from the strain of lifting his warhammer above his head. The seal does nothing but split slightly under his mighty blow, still he knows the job has been done.
An old man grunts with grim satisfaction as he turns his back on the ornate doors that are now ablaze with righteous fire. He walks away as the flames engulf every door and window, sealing them against the rock from which they were carved.
======= Part 2 (ROUGH AND UNEDITED, -ALSO NOTEPAD FUCKED THE FORMATTING- fixed) =======
An old man stands by a dirty window above a cluttered desk. The early morning sun meanders through a cloudy sky, the winter season robbing it of its potential zenith. As if lit as a messenger from his long dead lord a young lady climbs the steps to the upper reaches of Port Dolcet from the merchant district below. He watches as she steps lithely around the shards of earth that still protrude from the earth to this day, children run in the alleys parallel to this well dressed anomaly. She strides unrelenting up the uneven stairway, only stopping as one of the children cuts her off, his red kite whipping past her face as he disappears, giggling and cheering, into the mass of houses and rubble beyond.
She reaches the place described on the note she holds in her hand but all she finds is some dilapidated shop fronts and a small square crowned with a broken water feature. The shattered remains of a heavily armored winged man stare up at her from the basin, its features twisted in a frozen state of bitter anger. Seeing no other life around this time of morning she approaches the only shop open, light from a forge flickering out into the street.
A well kept bespectacled man stands watch as pistons fire and writhe above an automatic forge
mechanism, the wheels and turbines hissing and clanking, spitting their mechanical flaws back at the world as boiling fluid.
“Pardon me Sir.” She approaches the store front, ensuring to hold some distance should the contraption turn its spite towards her.
“Oh hello, and no I’m not.” He turns to her with a cheery smile, his rubbery apron displaying what seems the be the evidence of a genocide against a disorderly breed of automaton.
“Hello sir, I’m looking for a…sorry, not what?”
“No sirs up here M’am, just use folk trying to reclaim what’s left t’us. You’ll be lookin’ for Ulric? Big lion gate next to the shop, 3 pulls on the lever and push the blue rune then take the stairs up, watch the fourth one, can be a bit jumpy this time o’morn.” He smiles again, his teeth and eyes seem to reflect the very sun.
“Oh thankyou si*ahem*…yes, thankyou. Good day.” She turns to the side of the storefront, a huge steel gate is presented to her that she hadn’t noticed before. A very lifelike engraving of a lion stares back at her from between the bars, a small console rests within its jaws.
Right, lever 3 times then the blue rune. She thinks to herself as she enters the sequence then holds her index finger on the inlaid blue icon. A slight whirring is all she is rewarded with until an almighty clank! fills the air as the lock to the gate springs and it scrapes open with a howl of protest.
After overcompensating and nearly tripping on the fifth step she reaches the top of the staircase, the balcony leads the entire floor but the only feature apart from the view of the mountains beyond is a large oak door adorned with the same lion insignia from before, this time accompanied by a brass plate that reads;
Ulric of the Temple.
Inquisitor, Witch Hunter, Exorcist, Grumpy Old Man.
She approaches the door, ensuring the pause and straighten her clothing before wrapping her knuckles on the heavy inset door. She pulls back after knocking, sucking in air from the sharp pain the heavy door inflicted on her stately physique. A modicum of shuffling and grunts echo from beyond the door, hearing a spout of coughing sets her to shifting weight between legs as the door glides open suddenly.
“Aye, plenty you nice folk gettin’ caught this side of the fissure these days, come in, be cold out there this time of mornin’.” He mutters something about “frilly cloth” but she doesn’t dare ask him to repeat it to his back as he turns back into the room.
“Thankyou I’m…” She pauses upon entering as it dawns on her the sheer size of the man, it seemed strange that she didn’t get a good grasp of his face from just inside the door but now she realises that he barely fit within the frame. He doesn’t hunch from age, that it seems, but merely to stop his cloaked head from scraping the ceiling, the room seems modified to fit his statue with the table he now works at almost reaching her chest even in her new heeled shoes.
“Ya look like you could use somethin’ to eat lass, though tea’ll be a minute.” He places down on his desk a small bowl of soup that seemed sprinkled with a spice she had never witnessed before, the orange flakes drift through it with the left over motion of the bowls placement. An strange scent wafts from the bowl but she is unable to place the smell over the amount of incense that chokes the room.
“Ah no thank you, I already ate.” Her comment is met with an indiscernible grunt as he returns to his desk and peers out at her from beneath his heavy hooded cloak. “My name is Mortensia Whitesmith, I’ve been told to come to you for a special, uhh, request.”
“Aye, Ulric’s my name, though it’s on the door so I garnered you guessed at it already. Now what’s this request you be lookin’ for?” While his tone seems neutral he stares back at her from beneath his hood with piercing blue eyes, the sun from the window behind him casting a shadow across the rest of his features. The only discernible mark is the heavy beard that rolls from his cloak, a copper braid adorning one side.
“I have a problem.” Mortensia looks worriedly around the room, searching for anything else to look at than those piercing eyes.
“We all got problems, which one o’yours do you think I can solve?” He remains with his fists steepled in front of his face, unwavering in his posture.
“It’s my brother, he’s not himself. I was told to come see you about it.” she shuffles uncomfortably in the chair in front of the imposing desk, the high neck of her coat begins to chafe at her skin.
“If you’re brother’s not himself, then it’s the Watch you’ll be wanting, impersonation being a crime and all.” He looks down at a letter on his desk dismissively, letting out a deep cough that sends incense and dust rolling along the desk top.
“No it’s not like that, there’s something deeply wrong with him.”
“Come on then, out with it, I’m the only one who’s got all day. What’s wrong with the boy?”
“He, he talks, raves in his sleep and when he’s awake he’s brooding and withdrawn. Just yesterday he mauled our poor family physician Dr. Faulken when he was trying to administer a sedative. He’s a man possessed, please sir, I’ve run out of options.” That off her chest Mortensia slumps back into her chair, a heavy weight finally lifted from her chest. She looks over at Ulric, a look of desperate pleading finally breaching her formal facade.
Ulric’s expression remains impassive, the stony stare bares down on the poor girl as if he expects her to go on. The room is filled with unsteady silence broken only by the sputtering clanks that resonate from the machinations outside. Finally he sighs and looks down at the table, he coughs uneasily to clear his throat before resuming “What else?” His eyes return to her with that cold stare.
Mortensia shifts uneasily in her chair, she doesn’t understand what else would be needed, they didn’t tell her anything else. “What do you mean? I’ve told you everything, please you have to help me.” Her fingers whiten as she pulls pulls her hands together tightly in her lap.
“You’re lying to me girl, that makes it a stupid job and I don’t take stupid jobs.”
“No, I swear I’m not lying.” Exasperated Mortensia pleads one last time.
“I don’t know who you’re swearing to girl, there’s no gods to hear your pleas. I want to help you but you can’t be lying to me.” His words are accentuated by a stern belief, almost as if his belief in the statement could be leveled like a weapon.
“It’s a demon! I’ve seen it, he’s possessed by a demon. He’s cruel and violent when the sun goes down, I can see it looking back at me from behind his eyes.” Mortensia breaks down in the oversized chair, her diminuitive frame sobbing against the dusty backdrop of Ulric’s home.
“Alright” Ulric states with a sigh, he rises from his chair and heads back to the stove. “I’ll see if there’s something I can do.” He poors some tea into what looks to be a mead flagon and offers it to her.
“N..no but thank you.” She palms away the strange smelling drink with the palm of her hand, trying to be as polite as possible.
“Hmph, suit yerself.” The elderly warrior that now stands before her finishes the drink in one large gulp as he holds out his finger for her to wait. “The square across from here with the broken fountain, you know it?”
“Yes” she continues her pleading look as she’s finally given a breath of hope.
“There’s a storehouse with the red door just behind the fountain, bring the boy there after sunset tonight. I’ll need a family heirloom, preferably of metal and 2 gold pieces for the materials plus my fee.”
Mortensia looks a bit dumbfounded “Oh, yes of course.” While 2 gold pieces was not much to her she wasn’t expecting so much from someone who lived this side of the fissure. It was all that she was carrying on her at the time. She opens her purse carefully, attempting to not betray that she was giving away all that she had brought with her, placing the coins down on the desk she stands and turns to leave, as she reaches the door she turns “How will I get him over this side of the city?”
Ulric turns back from the stove, looking first at his desk and the money then to her. “You’re a smart girl, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
With that ordeal done Ulric finishes his soup and tea, smothers all the incense in the room with a cough and heads for the door. His front door swings open with a bang as he take a deep breath of the fresh mountain air. While not technically in the mountains, the upper reaches of Port Dolcet are afflicted by snow and the brisk ocean winds buffet against the mountains above to create a less than desirable living condition unless you possess enough money or fortitude to cope.
Looking down at the intricate weaving’s of rooftop gardens he had been tending with his friend and neighbor Aiden. The latticework of tiered wood and plant flowing up out from their domiciles into the disused countryside beyond the city limits. Aiden’s children run and giggle through the maze, the solitary red kite betraying their location.
Upon hearing his signature oak door assault the stonework the children make a beeline for Ulric’s porch, shrieks of excitement filling the air. They each line up under his balcony as he works his way slowly down the steps. “’Morning Ulric!” they all exclaim in unison, smiles beaming back the now risen sun, hopeful glints afflicting every eye.
Ulric stomps down the last of his steps out into the courtyard eyeing each child in turn. He finally flips back his hood, the scarred tattoos of his order glimmering in the light, he looks down at the assembled troop with his judgmental ice blue eyes. His usual piercing expression runs over each of them before softening before their assault, “You’re a bunch of extortionists you know that?” Shrieks of joy erupt from the assembled crowd of brats as he throws a small package into the chaos that unfolds as siblings battle over the prizes within.
“James.” The tallest boy looks up from the pack, his face somehow already covered in sticky chocolate and candy wrappings. “Fetch your father for me would you boy.” With a quick nod of the head the boy shoots back into the maze towards the rear door of Aiden’s residence. Ulric seats himself in the sun on the other side of the courtyard, soaking in the sun as the children devour the rest of the candies he’d given them. He beckons them over with a wave of his hand. “You did good kids but she was a noble side’r not a port rat, you used the wrong kite.”
“Nah uh!” The young platinum haired girl waving the kite overhead exclaims. “Right up the causeway she came, think she was on the bubble ship just this week!” Ulric seems puzzled by this, her clothes indicated the typical wear for a wealthy merchant daughter of Port Dolcet, but none of them ever lived down in the port where most of their wares were delivered and she didn’t have the usual flair that came from Halycon City.
He pays up for his mistrust with another small bar to the small girl. “Alright, but you gotta share this one.” This sentiment lasts roughly 4 seconds before she proclaims “He didn’t say who I had to share it with!” and runs back into the garden, kite following diligently in her wake. The other children dart after their new target, screams and giggles returning to their absolute maximum pitch.
“You spoil those little brats.” The younger man sits down next to Ulric, his apron and tool-belt squeaking and clattering. While Aiden is quite tall for a resident of Port Dolcet he seems only average compared to the battered form beside him.
“They do the work, they earn the reward, aint that how it goes in today’s world. “Meritocracy!” Ulric proclaims in mock worship, a slight tone of derision peeking through the sarcasm. They both laugh at the sentiment, Ulric passing Aiden a tightly wrapped object which he inspects with the critical eye of those who have mastered a craft using their hands. “I used your new method, give it a try.” Aiden pry’s from his utility belt a small box with a button on top, he gives the button a good pump then holds it to the package as a small flame erupts from the device he bites down on the other end of the package and takes a long breath. He sits back with a sigh, smoke drifting from his smiling lips.
“These’ll fetch a decent price at market next month if we keep this up.” He passes back the cigar which Ulric continues to smoke heavily.
“Should be enough to do those modifications you were talking about.”
Aiden looks back surprisingly “So you’ll let me?” he looks out into nothing, his eyes glaze over as he delves deep into his own thoughts.
“Aye, last job was a bit touch and go, Penny aint what she used to be, the seals are wearing out and the new ones are unreliable. Remember what happened with my boot.”
They both chuckle again as their gaze is drawn to the shattered fourth step to Ulric’s porch “You’re lucky neither of you saw that one coming, filthy beast nearly had you here in the square.”
“Pfft!” Ulric snorts through the cigar, he raises his hand to accentuate his rebuttal just as they notice the front gate clatter joined by the muttering of curses both men fall silent their gaze focusing on the ruckus hidden around the corner. After a few minutes they hear the mechanism whir and hiss, the final clang alerting them to the imposers success. Two finely dressed men in the regale of Halycon City officials head straight up the stairs towards Ulrics door. Ulric and Aiden exchange glances, both of them shrugging in puzzlement. “Looks like the circus is in town.”
After both tripping unceremoniously on the broken step the two officials head for the heavy oak door they were told about. The smaller of the two motions to his heavy set compatriot who knocks heavily on the door with his fist, he notices that the door is pleasantly warm despite the sun never reaching under the porch balcony, leaving his fist on the door more than what would be proper for a good knock. His partner notices this and stares at him with a puzzled glance. When no answer is received they set about their secondary task, the smaller acquaintance pulls out a roll of tape, cutting off a small piece with his teeth he places the new fabric across the section labeled Inquisitor even though it already has a strike through the word. The tape doesn’t seem to take and the brass engraved words give him a small nip from a static charge he must have gathered walking up through the scummier district.
“Can I help you gentlemen?” the deep tones echo down the planks. The voice manages to be both warm and threatening at the same time.
Both men look back down the porch as the body casts a shadow down the rest of the floor between them and the stairs. The imposing cloaked figure peers back at them, his signature blue eyes the only visible feature.
Sorting his clothing to a presentable standard the smaller man steps in front of his partner and addresses Ulric as he pulls a small envelope from his coat pocket. “We’re looking for Ulric, Inquisitor of Port Dolcet.”
Ulric lets out a quite huff, walking towards them pair with determined pace. Both men back up slightly past the door into the dead end beyond, neutral platitude staring unwaveringly back at him. With a simple push Ulric opens the door, clearly unlocked, and wave for them to enter.
“Why thank you…Dear mercy!” The two men enter the room only to quickly clutch at their noses. “What on dear Cynosure is that smell?”
Ulric looks back at them unaffected as he strides over to a cabinet that seems to hold a catalog of spice drawers and herbs. “Oh, mainly sulfur. What’s the meaning of this?” Never bothering to face the two figures as he pulls out a long stick of incense with a satisfied nod, lighting it on a candle at his desk before striding around the room, long plumes of smoke discarded in his wake.
The pair look on dispassionately at the almost comical scene of the mountain of a man striding around the room waving a burning stick until they realise the acrid smell start to dissipate. “Yes, well I am Mr. White and this is Mr. Turquoise.” This draws a slight pause in Ulrics stride but he continues quickly as if unnoticed. “We represent the Hall of Roles in Halycon City, we have been sent here as you have not answered the summons sent to you from our administration and as such we were to either contact you and ascertain your skills or censor your use of any affiliated words within the Hall of Roles.”
Ulric finishes his pacing before returning to his stove for the tea pot, placing it back on the heated plate. “Hmm summons, don’t remember those.” Mr. Turquoise coughs at this, his eyes pointing to a large pile of officially sealed letters stacked in a corner, one of them clearly opened. "Oh, those. I got sent so many I assumed the next ones were along the lines of “Don’t worry mistake on our part, carry on. Yours Sincerely, Tyrannical Bureaucracy Inc.”
Both of the Misters share a glance before resuming their observation of Ulric. “Had it not been for the mayor of Port Dolcet vouching for your integrity we would simply have stricken your role from our records but as evidence has been presented of your skill we are here to judge you in your role as Inquisitor of Port Dolcet for entering the official record into our database for this region.”
“I don’t play lap dog and I don’t need an official accord to tell me what to do with my nights.” Ulric’s words come out with a slight threat, to soften his statement he places down two cups of tea on the desk in front of the gentlemen, waving with his hand to indicate that they are for his guests.
Keeping up with their polite manners the two men take their tea and take a guarded sip, with unexpected results, both seem to enjoy the warm broth, though neither of them would consider it “tea”. Finishing his sip, Mr. White continues his exposition “We at the House of Roles do not enforce any rules or orders upon those who achieve any status in our administration.”
“What is it exactly that you fine gentlemen do then? Apart from harassing old men at their door stoops.”
His patience finally tested Mr White places his tea back on the desk to stare into Ulrics cold features. “Had you read any of the missives addressed to you, you would know that the House of Roles is simply a database on each region so that should someone require certain aid they may know who is the best or closest who meets their requirements.”
“Everyone who’s needed my help doesn’t seem to have any trouble finding me, even those who don’t.” Ulric indicates with a finger at the two figures adorning his cluttered living room.
“Regardless, we have been charged by Halycon City and the administration of Port Dolcet to ascertain your abilities.” Both gentlemen continue their polite composure, Mr White placing a new letter upon Ulrics desk, this one identical to the others.
“Regardless gentlemen, what are you going to do to “ascertain my abilities” follow an old man around for days until a Pit Fiend happens to open a portal to hell and I smite it back to its nether realm?." Ulric turns back from the stove with a smile which instantly fades as both men stare back at him, their expressions unchanged.
“The mayor of Port Dolcet has empowered me to pay your regular fee plus an additional amount for any inconvenience this may cause. You should know that both me and Mr. Turquoise are highly trained in many arts of self defense and will not impede your efforts.” He places a small wooden box on Ulrics desk atop the letter. “Inside you will find bills registered to the amount of 12 gold pieces as well as a token denoting your status in the Hall of Roles as under observation.” Ulric looks up at this, registered gold bonds being much more valuable than the material itself. Alchemists have been fabricating precious goods for years now and the bonds guarantee an amount certified by Halycon City meaning they can be traded with anyone for a trustworthy payment.
He sighs heavily, “Well, we can at least get this over quick, meet me here tonight at sundown.” He picks up the box and stands behind his desk staring back at the two men who also stand as Mr White extends his hand.
“That quick?” Mr Whites hand hovering across the excessively large table.
“Aye.” Ulric merely glances at the hand then moves his gaze to the door. Mr White seeing his queue turns sharply and heads for the door, his compatriot following shortly thereafter.
“Till tonight then.”
Once Ulric hears their feet hit the cobbled stones outside, and also Mr White tripping again on the broken stair, he heads out the door to his porch, looking around for Aiden in the courtyard, undoubtedly returning to his shop to continue his work. “Aiden!”
“Aye” echoes out from the shopfront next door over the din and whir of more machines.
“Looks like we’ll be needing your changes.”
Night descends upon Port Dolcet with thunderous applause. Wind from the encroaching storm begins to lash against ever surface, drawing anything unfastened into its chaotic dance. Rain falls in flowing sheets, mixing with sea water blown up from the cliffs to rinse the cobbled streets of the week’s grime and dust.
A pair of figures emerge from the deluge up the steep incline of the street. Their formal footwear echoing from the cobbles only dimly heard above the rain. Mortensia holds her arm around her brother, keeping him close and holding the heavy leather coat to his body should his erratic movements dislodge it and expose him to the abbrassive wind. Even from a distance his spasms and sharp turns of the head mimic almost avian qualities, his teeth chatter not against the cold but too an unheard rythm, his eyes tracking everything and nothing in a glance. She guides him into the square, ensuring to check if they were followed before heading towards the large red door of the warehouse she was directed to.
The door feels heavy set but swings with almost no effort or sound, a dim glow flows out to illuminate the square before being cut off again as the two rush inside out of the rain. An alarming sound echoes off the walls as the bar slides into place with inhuman speed, sending Mortensia’s brother to the floor his eyes fixated on the bar as if it meant to murder him, darting from one end to the other.
“Oh, sorry, should really lower the pressure in that one.” Aiden steps back from the console at the wall with a placating smile. He wears his usual assortment of tools and parts, this time with an arm covering that has untold number of dials and mechanisms in place, his spectacles reflecting candlelight back at the pair, hiding his eyes behind the sheen. “Good to see you out of that rain, please this way.” He motions to the centre of the warehouse. A pair of chairs sit facing each other surrounded by an uneven amount of candles and incenses burners which flicker and dance as the wind forces its way through some of the less sturdy sections of wall. The silence from the storm gives the place an eerie calm, darkness drapes the edges of the space under banisters and balconies.
The pair drift into the illuminated area containing the chairs and various artifacts. Mortensia’s brother avoiding the candles and incense as if they emitted far more heat than they seemed to. Aiden moves off to the side, under an overhang to another console against the wall, a spanner flips out from his arm console and he gets to work tweaking whatever mysterious contraptions that are contained within. A deep hum seeps into the acoustics of the storm that continues to rage outside, the ground itself seeming to sing in return.
“If you would take to the seats please, we’ll have a look at what we can do. Pardon my manners, I’m Aiden, we met early this morning but your brother I have heard of only by second hand.” Aiden gives a slight bow to Mortensia and her brother, who simply stares at Aiden like a seal to a poacher. Aiden motions calmy to the two chairs, they seem plain of decoration but sturdy of make, inscriptions in a language neither of them comprehend run down the side of each leg.
“Oh, yes of course, this is Joshua. I do appologise for his actions, he was such a fine gentleman not 3 weeks ago.” Mortensia’s ladylike demenour crumbles for a moment as she takes in her brothers state. His erratic movements continue under the heavy cloak, his eyes locked on Aiden but don’t seem to fully take him in. “Come now brother, sit sit.” She places her hands gently on her brothers shoulder as she eases him back into the chair, he yelps and jumps a little when coming into contact with the wood as if he did not expect anything to stop his descent. From there he squirms and shifts like a child in their formal clothes on their way to the temple or family event, his eyes returning to scanning the room from his new perch.
The deep bass tones incease in volume as Mortensia strides over to the chair that faces her brothers, she quickly scans the room but can’t see into the darkened corners from the light that surrounds her. “Where is Ulric?” a flash of fear creeps over her face as the darkness seems to encrouch on their refuge of light. From the shadows at the opposite end of their entrance a pair of lights drift into vision, they sway at equal pace like two fireflys locked in syncronisation as they float toward the area in the centre of the room. The deep drolling tones hit their peak as Ulric slides out from the darkness, his hands grasping a monstrous warhammer across his breast with both hands. The caucophony of sounds is joined by the percussive tones as his even steps punctuate the ground, his heavily armoured boots shaking with each step across the entire space. His heavy armour resembles the old regalia of the temple armies, the large interlocking plates are covered in a flow of engraved inscriptions, the chest and legs draped in the tabard of his order. The Lion on Toma Thule snarles from a top the brestplate. It’s at the pauldrons that modern advancements are most evident, from behind the armoured plates sprout exhaust ports that eminate a flow of passive steam, mechanisms seem to flow down the arms and back, giving his movement a surprisingly natural flow for someone decked in such heavy armament.
Ulric steps into the circle of light, he stares at the two siblings with an impassive facade. A red streak tatoo now adorns his face, running vertically down over the right eye and cheek, an exaggerated hunting scar from the pursuit of the mountain lions that inhabit the hinterlands around Port Dolcet. It’s from here that Mortensia notices his eyes. The pupils are nowehere to be seen, the usual white that inhabits most beings of this plane seems to flow around the inside as if it were smoke in a glass. From the edges the smoke seems to drift up like the warm sea air as it hits the icy peaks and drifts into the visible spectrum in its final moments.
Mortensia’s heart begins to race, her plans seem to crumble in her mind, the future she had invisioned knocked out of alignment by the sight of the being that stands before her. This however is nothing compared to the reaction from Joshua from the seat infront of her, he crouches with his feet on the chair, his hands tear into the arm rests with a white knuckle grip as he stares over the back. His mouth distends with disturbing slowness but no sound seems to emit, his eyes unnatrualy wide, filled with a deep mixture of fear and hate.
Ulric’s hand moves with swiftness, he raises it from his warhammer and spreads his fingers while muttering words under his breath. A ring of light explodes into the room surrounding the chairs in the centre. Joshua bursts into motion, a hideous scream of rage breaks the sounds of before as he races towards Ulric just outside the edge of the circle, his hands held above his head as if they were talons of a dangerous beast. His charge however is arrested as he slams into the barrier of light, he attempts to claw through it with his fingers but cannot seem to get more than a few centimeters further past the line. Words are spat at the figure that faces him;
“False lords shall meet their penance.
Those of us others are undying
Kissed by the sewn lips of the succubus
Touched by a fallen angel’s charred wing
Rise again we come
Our souls the price”
Joshua’s maddened eyes stare at Ulric through the ebbing light, tears welling as they are stung by incense and air. “Brother please! Stop this. Please Mr. Ulric, he’s been taken, please you must help him, please please please…” Mortensia falls from her chair, tears stream from her eyes, washing her makeup down her neckline, her hair twists under her fingers as her last ounce of control is lost for her plea. Her sobs join her brothers screams in an unholy cadence of sanity lost. Ulric regards both of them with the same passive stare, the light continues to flow from his eyes to join the incense that continues to flow around the now violent pit of light in front of him.
An age seems to pass as the pair of siblings continue to howl and cry, Joshua resorting to pacing the inside of his new cage, testing the structure by smashing his head or fist against it at random intervals, disregarding his crying sister as she lies on the floor, her hands tangled in her hair as sobs wrack her body.
“It won’t work.” Ulric addresses the pair with a clear voice that carries through the refurbished warehouse. A look of sadness seems to have penetrated his icy glare.
At the sound of his voice Joshua bolts for Ulric’s corner, he places his hands against the wall of light. “Working is subjective, the crows feast on more than butterflies.” His sister looks up from the floor, her sobs subside as she looks at the two in front of her. A look of confusion and fear mixes with the pain and suffering.
“Your plan, it doesn’t work.” Ulric sighs as he begins to pace evenly around the circle, constantly hunted by the crazed beast of a man inside. “You tried this one last time, just this time you have two vessels.”
“What?” Mortensia mutters under her breath, she lifts herself to her knees with a sniff, attempting to clean up the running makeup just smudges it further into her skin.
Ulric however is clearly addressing her brother. “Exorcism brings one into the plane, the other one consumes the shard. In this bargain you both die, there’s no repenting from here, your souls are already sold. I’m sorry, I cannot help either of you in this outcome.” His hand returns to rest on the pommel of his warhammer which is now planted firmly on the floor in front of him.
This sets off Joshua into frothing rage, he slams his shoulder into the barrier with enough force to break the bone, he continues to swing the limp limb with a violent spin from his torso. Profanity and blasphemy spill from his mouth with abandon, the rage consumes his every fiber as he seems to make headway against his cage. Suddenly he stops and Ulric sees the look in his eyes that has always filled him with dread. The realisation of payment being made.
From behind the pupils Ulric imagines the scene as the man that struck the original deal comes to full realisation of the cost, his soul is severed and torn as his debtor sunders it from its planar host and tears it down into the depths to be raped and tortured for the rest of existence. Joshua’s eyes roll back into his head, a mixture of blood and saliva meanders out of his previously gnashing mouth. Quite jerks replace the erratic movements from before.
Ulric watches behind the barrier at the scene unfolding before him. His sense of pity battles against the tenaments and teachings of his order for control of his body. Joshua’s lifeless face still stands before him, tongue rolling from his mouth as he sways like a lobotomised science experiment in a lab. Mortensia is muttering through her sobs, “…we didn’t know, we didn’t mean to, please, he lied to us. This was the only way out…” all hope seems to drain from her body into the floor. She looks up at Ulric and her brother in the corner as she continues to mutter, raising her voice slightly to be heard.
“I’m sorry.” Ulric’s eyes no longer flow with holy fire and smoke as he calmy reaches up and drops the faceplate on his helmet. The resonating click seems to wake Joshua as his eyes roll down from behind the lids and survey the room but from behind them is not the same madness or instanity of before. This time he regards Ulric with a cunning, calculated glance. One a wolf gives to the ram that decides to defend the herd.
“Uuuuuuuulric.” Joshua’s now broken jaw eminates a bone chilling tone that would be impossible to normally create in its current state. The tongue shifts and sways like the exploring tentacle of some forgotten beast, tasting the air to gain a sense of the room. Ulric’s armoured faceplate stares back, divine smoke flows from the eye slots as the exhaust vents on the shoulders flare into action. A sickening combination of laughter and weezing wracks Joshua’s body before he recomposes himself and runs his finger along the barrier between them with depraved glee. The skins peels back with a flare, revealing ligament and bone under the charred flesh.
The stand off is interrupted from the shuffling movements of Mortensia on the floor behind her brother’s body. The being that was previously her brother swings with predatory grace, eyes locking onto the helpless form that attempts to shuffle back across the floor to the other side of the room. A look of glee penetrates the shattered face of Joshua, the fake smile of a salesman creases its eyes as it stalks calmy straight towards her on the floor.
“Please, we did what you asked, pleasepleaseNO!” Mortensia’s pleas are left unheard as the body of her brother plunges its arm into her stomach, pausing a moment before grasping something and yanking back out again, trailing intestine and bowl. Mortensia’s dieing coughs are drowned out by the crash of thunder as her brother holds aloft her guts, grasping a black sliver of a dark material. It considers the obsidian sliver with crazed eyes before ramming the shard through its left temple. The body goes limp from the waist up.
“Fools of this plane, heed not plans plain.” The demon hisses from its gaping maw.
Ulric paces the outside of the circle, warhammer held ready as a low chuckle sends ripples through the body of the young Joshua. Its head turning to regard Ulric with one eye as its one functional arm pulls slowly at the bottom of his rib cage. It seems to grasp firmly through the skin before tearing open the rib and forcing the sheared fragments into the broken shoulder joint of the other arm. From there the body is dessicrated with the newly animated limbs. The entire rib cage is forced open, the jaw removed with a sickening yank as the arms and elbows are pulled to reach above the head at an angle too high that the skin under the arms and back are torn revealing the pulsing muscle below. The tongue is split using the previously burnt finger bone that now stands sheared from the rest.
What is left is a mockery of the human form. Blood and bile spill to the foor to join the pool left by helpless Mortensia. The skin seems to melt and fall off of its own accord, revealing lungs that still fill and deflate. The slackened eyelids cover eyes that bleed tears as they return to Ulric’s pacing form. The voice of hell returns, somehow conveyed by whatever apartus is left in the devoured body.
“Release me.” The demon demands of its captor from its newly aquired vehicle of flesh. Ulric continues to pace, seeminly ignoring the abomination that now inhabits his holy cell. “Release meeeeeeeee.” Bile and fluids spit from the mouth as the split tongues begin to move independantly, becoming inhumanly long. “I have her. One release for another.”
Ulric staggers as his pace is interrupted, holy fire blazes from behind his steel mask. “Illsander, release her and cease your attempts to corrupt this plane. There are no terms for discussion.”
The demon snarls in rage, its mangled claws of hands reach down to tear back more draping skin from between its chest cavity. “Do not be so sure Templarrrrr.” It’s wicked smile reveals the shattered teeth of young Joshua, splintered into sharpened fragments that poke through the gums.
“Father?” A female voice drifts out from the void. Aiden’s shadowed form becomes visible on the edge of the light, a look of despair and longing across his face. Tears well up from behind his glasses. Ulric lifts his hand again, the muterrings of a prayer pierce the armored faceplate.
The demon hisses in spite. “Please, don’t hurt me.” The female voice pleads with Ulric as he continues the litany. The demon joins in, speaking on her behalf “She suffers Ulric, release me. Release her.” Ulrics faceplate stares back in defiance, unwavering in its determination. Incensed by his defiance the demons anger rises in a shake. “EVERY DAY SHE SHALL BURN FOR YOUR STUBBORN PRIDE! HER BODY SHALL BE RAPED, HER MIND BROKEN AND SHATTERED! THE PLANES OF HELL SHALL FEAST UPON HER FLE…” The beasts raging outburst is halted as the skull of poor Joshua sprouts a steel bolt.
“No!” Ulric turns to Aiden as the younger man lowers his crossbow, tears blurring his vision as he drops the weapon to the floor. The possessed body drops limply to the stone with the thud of a fresh sack of meat.
“I’m sorry.” Aiden’s quite reply is all he can muster through the pain. Sorrow consumes his heart as memories flood back from behind the barrier of his mind.
Ulric spins in rage. “No you fool! You broke the barrier.” Aiden’s eyes widen as the holy light falters from the bolt’s passing,disturbing the circle of light. The head of Joseph snaps upright from the ground, its tentacled tongue and gaping mouth hiss in rage as it launches itself at its jailors. Ulric swings in a smooth motion, his mighty warhammer following moments later to crush the legs of the charging demon, sweeping it to the floor again. His heavy boot follows the hammer head to crush the skull of the violently spasming form below but the beast dodges at the last second, its fingers tearing into the stone floor to send it sideways.
The demon hisses back from the ground, the shattered legs lifting behind its torso like the tail of a scorpion before lunging at the pair again. Aiden retreats back into the darkness as Ulric yells a spell at his retreating body. The demon looks around in confusion as it loses sight of the fleeing engineer. Before it realises what has happened a ray of light erupts from Ulric’s hand searing its face and blinding it long enough for him to take another swing with the warhammer. The face of the warhammer conects violently, crushing the remaining bones of the face and fracturing one of the demons eye sockets, the right eye being reduced to a paste within the skull but not before the abominations leg tail has a chance to wrap around the waist of Ulric and pulls the rest of its body up against his torso. The spitting hiss of its shattered jaws are met by Ulric’s arms as he grapples against the writhing snake of human flesh and bone. The struggle continues as the demon seeks purchase on the interlocking armour and its various modifications while Ulric fights to crush the skull that contains the demonic sliver with his mechanically powered fingers.
Sick of the awkward melee Ulric’s eyes flare with divine light as he screams in rage. The exhausts on his armour flare to accomodate the new power source, mechanisms on his back whirr into an audible pitch as the interlocking gears that run down his arm snap to action. His fingers pause in their crushing embrace for a moment before the skull of the demon shatters like an egg under his rage induced grip. The demon lets out an unholy howl as Ulric grasps the shard of the demonic realm and pulls it free of the vessel. He roars in return as he holds aloft the desecrated rock before shattering it in his grip.
Silence returns to the now blood encrusted warehouse, Ulric stands above the crushed form that was moments ago a possessed man, his soul sold for reasons unknown. Somehow the pair had recovered a shard of the planes of hell from the cataclysm, its corrupting link to the underworld had whispered to them, encouraging them to cut themselves on the shard and enter commune with the realms ruler. This particular demon Ulric had dealt with before, Illsender had a had set his sights on Port Dolcet since the Cataclysm and claimed many souls in his attempts.
Feeling the painful memories well up from inside him Ulric throws down the shards before pulling a light satchel from his suit. He sprinkles the dust on the body of the demon before muttering a spell igniting the dust into a torrent of flames that begin to consume the ravaged body at his feet. He picks up his warhammer as he turns to the darkness behind him, a flood of light fills the room as Aiden pulls the switch to light the lanterns that adorn the higher reaches of the warehouse.
Mr. White and Mr. Turquoise remove their Bola hats, returning them to the visible spectrum from under the overhang near the door. Mr. White strides forward, a letter, this time blue, held in his hands. “We find your methods uncouth yet direct.” He pauses, a smile as genuine as the man who sells “miracle cures” down at the docks graces his lips. “However, they are effective. Congratulations, do you think you can handle the role?”
Ulric raises his faceplate as he considers the note, blood already smearing the perfect envelope as he holds it in his plated glove. The sounds of the charred corpse behind him hiss and pop, spewing boiled blood and icor into the air. The body twitches with the remains of demonic energy as they flow back into the demons realm. “Don’t worry. I can handle it.”