For Glory, For Empire
Waiting for Adapa
As row boats full of colonists ease their way across the mouth of Hiquts Rill, in the near-midnight dark there are the sounds of turf and furtive animals coming to drink, of night patrol in Westgate behind you, on the multi-hulled Bea’txo ships anchored just upriver nearby, and a strain of exotic music coming from ahead. Behind there is the orange-yellow of the campfires, but ahead, above the treetops, is a blue-white corona pulsing in time to the music.
It is becoming second nature to pick out the twisted boulder on the far bank indicating where the Kambral have carved steps up from the river bank. But at this time, in this mixture of light, it appears less like a landmark, and more like a disapproving sentinel. Hirase can almost hear it. No good can come from any meeting at this time of night.
Talis leads the way up the steps away from the river bank, past the almost-completed Kambric forge on the right. The Azkaderra hosts are not to be seen. Talis continues quietly on up to the top of the hillock.
When you reach the clearing on top of the hillock, Lantish, the very tall priest in embroidered robes covered in tiny bells, is waiting. They motions the guests toward empty weapon racks to the left and right, and then to a vast carpet laid out on the grass between you all and the stela and pedestal. There are two long low tables laden with exotic food facing the stela, and one smaller low table facing back south, at which the other Azkaderra are sitting, all wearing thin, ceremonial, silk robes and patterned jewelry themselves.
At the edge of the clearing closest to the ocean is a pavilion, at least as big as the hospital tent in camp, but made of some quilted, patterned cloth rather than canvas. Battuti Xaye and Selwinnian Doeli, both former officers on the Constant, stand as attendants before the tent.
Once weapons are stored in the racks, and the guests all have taken seats at the long tables, Ezpantu Dotriv stands, the sword at his waist conspicuous as the only weapon not secured.
“To understand the mission of the seven of us, you must understand many things. Aitzurra, the Strong Father, and Amailurra, the Warm Mother, are the point of origin for our universe, and without understanding that, we have no hope of understanding what we believe that temple to be.
“Aitzurra is powerful and wise, but like any Father, he had to let his offspring learn some things for themselves. There were originally seven of what the historians call the ‘Progenitors,’ the First. They quickly shaped their home with their power, and it was wondrous, but it was not enough for their leader, Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken.
“He went in search for other lands, and it is said that when he could find no other, he conjured a beautiful, wild place, directly from his dreams.” Ezpantu motions all around him to make clear what land he believes the legend refers to. "There, he found many fantastical creatures, and he in turn altered them to better serve him. There he built a new home, as intricate as his mind.
“From this far away land, he gave the impression of retirement, no longer part of the Progenitor lands. He appeared as a friend to the Second, who called themselves Bea’txo. But, through his agents back in Kartuus, he had the First provoke the Bea’txo. Then the Bea’txo came to him pleading for him to intervene on their behalf. For more than a thousand years, he played both sides against each other, both sides knowing only how to wage the First War.
“The First created the Vihurritu and Hustaiko to torment the Meseidiaren who refused to take sides,” and Ixaka places a sympathetic hand on the shoulder of Gronk, who seems particularly somber, “but the fierce Kusta’atu were created specially for the eradication of the Bea’txo,” Ezpantu makes a sign of protection with his hand in the air in front of him as he says the last word.
“The Bea’txo knew that this new threat had to be met in kind, and so they created the Azkaderra, and especially the Tumkayal, to handle this threat” and he motions to Ixaka, Lantish, Mirari, Pantxike, and Tobriska.
“The bloodshed became unfathomable, and Aitzurra, The Father, grew outraged. Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken in his feckless perfidy, goading both sides into greater war, and as the First of the First, was the first to be punished.”
“It is written that he was drawing water at his well one morning, when the Wrath fell. He had grown so strong, that he could not be banished to one place, so the Realms were created in an instant, but Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken and his temple were both so warded, that they did not sunder, but instead weakened into a small fraction, existing on every Realm separately.”
“That well is one of a handful of places that connects all Realms together, and inside it, the weakest piece of Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken remains trapped.” Ezpantu concludes and sits.
Unnoticed, the slight, bookish Mirari had stood and moved to the stela. She begins speaking with a tone of unquestionable knowledge.
“There are three rings of these warding stones placed by Azkaderra abjurers, with each stone in a ring being identical except for facing The first ring stops his physical form if he were ever able to leave the Temple. the second stops his mental energies, reducing his influence over anyone beyond them. And lastly, these,” as she stops to pat the solidity of the stela standing next to her, “will stop the spiritual energies.”
“It is believed,” Ezpantu clarifies. Mirari looks mildly wounded.
Ixaka now stand and speaks, “We will set off in three days to check all of the stones before surveying the temple itself. We expect there to be creatures warped by his influence, what little remains, and once he is aware of us, organized resistance from Dunyabetia tribes still under his thrall. At the Temple, we have no idea how twisted we will find it.”
Ezpantu stands once more. “Do any of our guests have any questions?”
Ts’ao Hai, unable to believe that legends are coming to life before his eyes, will stand up and attempt to ask if he is still drunk, but will be angrily pulled back down by Mengzhi before he gets to fully embarrass himself.
Talis bolts upward from her seat, her back straight as a bolt. “How many realms are there?”
Mirari answers, “Ancient texts from shortly after the Sundering refer to ‘The 1001 Realms’ which could be another way of saying ‘countless’ or, as I believe, it could be the actual number.”
“Each varies from ours, sometimes subtly, and sometimes in overt mockery.”
Talis tilts her head, taking it all in. “You mention other places the Realms can be accessed. Where are they? How are they secured to keep ‘Whose Not Name Be Spoken Shall’ banished from this realm?”
Ixaka smirks and then answers, “Within the Vale of Sweyussin, there are ruins of a Progenitor city. The Tumkayal were on their way to attack that city when the Wrath occurred, finding only ruins. Later, temporary portals were observed. Attempts by those on other realms to return to this one. The Tumkayal guard that place ceaselessly.”
The new academic, Zim Ommeera, interjects, “The Qi Simias have observed portals to the other Realms in their lands, and beat back an invasion from those portals more than 4 eons ago.”
Mirari interrupts, “There are others: some on Kartuus, at least one in the Palace of the Seven Dawns in the heart of Syntheria on Marit. It is thought that the Baerish…”
Ezpantu cuts off the enthusiastic academics, “His power is the power of this temple. He can no more move far from it that it can move from him.”
Talis is unfazed, “Why do you believe that this is ‘Name Whose Be Spoken Shall Not’s’ temple?”
Mirari looks at Talis as if it were patently obvious. “It says so right there!” pointing at the base of the stela. Mengzhi sheepishly walks over to the stela to examine it again. After several minutes inspection, he turns ashen and nods agreement.
Yu-Chen rises and loudly declares that she knew the stela and pedestal were important. Everyone stares waiting for further addition to the discussion. Thinking of nothing, Yu-Chen walks toward the boats, declaring the meeting over. No one else attempts to follow, so she then returns to her seat.
Talis then proceeds, “If this is the temple, what more do you know about it?”
“Those that erected these warding stones did go inside, and word of their expedition is preserved, but the journal of the group’s leader is lost, and much sought after,” replies Lantish.
Ezpantu interjects once more, “It will be foreign to structures that any of us would have experienced before. There will be a pressure, forcing you away from your goal.”
“If we went in the temple, what should we expect to find?”
Tobriska interjects with a pained tone in her voice. " Ingenious devices to slow, maim and kill. At the bottom, facing the Well itself, there will be a Tree of Woe. On it you will find your enemy. There will be Adapa’s minions doing his bidding."
Using that name elicits a gasp from Lantish which Tobriska answers with a glare. “We do not know exactly what that plan will be, but presumably some scheme to free his portions from the other Realms, and sever his ties to the temple.”
“What is there to know about Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken besides him being the architect of the First War?”
“He was the First of the Umegarik, as the First called themselves. Their power came from sheer will, and His will was unparalleled,” answered Pantxike, never breaking eye contact with Kalum.
Kalum contemplates this for a moment before asking, “how does the temple affect the surrounding area, such as the land, water, and air? How does it affect the spirits of the place?”
Mirari answers, “I suspect that there will be an inordinate number of large, dire, twisted beasts; likely some plants given movement, and perhaps intelligence; and natives, whose primogenitors he created, mentally influenced to keep us away and do his bidding. I expect most of us,” gesturing to her companions, “to die before we ever see the inside of the temple.”
Gronk looks horrified at her words, and you can see him shatter mentally, rapidly devolving into a sobbing, 500 lb. mess. Pantxike begins singing softly, but directly, into his ear in an attempt to calm the massive warrior.
Everyone takes this as a cue for the meeting to adjourn, except for Mengzhi studying the pedestal and stela again, but with fresh eyes, and Mirari, fascinated by Mengzhi. Soon, they are alone in the clearing except for Battuti and Selwinnian clearing the tables.
Mengzhi touches the stela as he speaks, “This is the date that the stela was constructed. And the number of others in the circle. And the name of the constructor. And that he is buried…” Mengzhi trails off while turning west, “There!” pointing to a spot beneath the Azkaderra’s campfire.
“Exactly so, ‘Wise Second’,” Mirari replies impressed. “It took the entirety of the abjurer’s blood to empower the stela. The grave would have been dug and consecrated by his fellows while he worked to finish the circle. He would have been covered before his body had time to grow cold or be infected by the reanimation plague.”
“Now, come with me, Wise One,” Mirari coaxes. “I wish to exchange knowledge with a true scholar before heading to my certain demise.” Mengzhi allows himself to be led by the hand while he studies the burn scars on Mirari’s scalp. Their shape is the Areiystis coast, certain wrinkles and ridges, corresponding with the elevations near the colony, the freshest scab, right at the sight of the temple…
And then his mind is otherwise occupied.