The Dark Gate
of Terracom Media
This is a
work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are
resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or locations is
of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any means without
written permission from the publisher.
©2017 by W. M. Driscoll
Book art: Tara Upchurch
for boo, rik and sweet pea
Table of Contents
One – Chena
Two – Twilight World
Three – The Apolonian Way
Four – Rock Warren
Five – Casualties
Six – The Storm
Seven – Nenaliina
Eight – Taarwa Tlatloni
Nine – Lady of the Seven Towers
Ten – A Trap Closes
Eleven – Flight over the forest
Twelve – Oren’s Mound
Thirteen – Heida Eidourion!
Fourteen – The Dark Gate
Fifteen – Nesira
Sixteen – The Conclave of the Maguus
Seventeen – In the Bonewight’s Lair
Eighteen – Sanctuary of the Gods of Festival
and their Houses
PREFACE (& map)
(excerpt from, “A Brief History of Amoria,” by Tome of Aino)
the year of the Return, 2449, the Terranite Purges began. In Eranos,
the ruling body that would come to be known as the Last Council
effectively dissolved itself selecting Avaruus of House Nihil, Loraan
Protector. As his first act, the new Protector appointed a War
Council with one stated goal, to root out Terranite Heretics, those
who chaffed at Aeon rule, and their collaborators within the Aeon
In Juaan, the sixth month of that year, a handful of Aeons on Terra
who had fallen afoul of the new Council and its leader fled to the
port city of Lee along the Wood Coast of the Èrin Forest, there to
seek passage to the outer provinces. These were led by the Leiscene
Makiria of House Amoroso, the Leiscene Gaelin of House Mundin and the
Loraan Fakiré of House Bonum. Joining them was an unlikely band of
rebels led by the Loraan Volar, known as the Dancer, bringing with
him a group of surviving Terran children from the war-ravaged forest
town of Aino.
When a battle ensued, the rebel Aeons and their heretic allies
surprised and defeated the Council forces burning the city to the
ground, then fled, disappearing into the forest.
On the seventh of Jinai, 2449 A.R., the War Council met for the first
time in Eranos, the Aeon seat of power, there to fashion a response
to the rebel threat.
The Dark Gate
was the moodiest Draug I had ever met, when we were young Blade
Candidates, painfully thin yet pretty, odd, withdrawn. I was
attracted to her, not in the least because she showed me things in
myself, like a mirror. She helped me see who I was; and as we grew
into Warriors, then Wards, and finally Aeons, we became inseparable,
along with her sister Torinja, until the dark time of the Mindreaver
Rebellion thrust us on different sides of that conflict and we were
estranged . . .”
of Sa Chena, the Leiscene Makiria
is nothing in the Archives about such a creature,” said the old
gray miter, poring over some disheveled papers on the table. “There
is an obscure reference here to Morai or Mallorai in one of the
partially extant texts. The rough translation from the Ulma is
As he spoke in his rheumy voice, Chena glanced absently around the
anteroom marking its clean emerald lines and soaring arches, her eyes
finally lighting back again on her High Miter’s craggy face.
“Let me see if I can find it,” he was muttering.
Old Selmin’s skin was creased and sagging, his once clear brown
eyes, a cloudy white. As he shuffled the papers, light from the
window cast a green shadow across his face giving it the look of a
It was vrain light, Chena knew, that cast such shadows. As it was
never fully dark in Eranos (with the great gas giant Brahm dominating
the nocta sky overhead, sucking up the volcanic gases outside of the
Complex like some celestial whelp flopping on its mother’s teat)
everyone had learned to judge the time of verra by the different
blendings of light. From the green shadows on the old man’s face,
Chena could tell that Brahm was setting. It was nearly dawn.
“Here,” he said, picking out a single sheet and laying it in
front of her.
She glanced at it.
“Should I continue, Leiscene?” the old man asked her.
“Yes, Miter.” Chena nodded.
“There are differing legends that come down through the oral
traditions, all in some dispute, that before the first Aeons agreed
to come to Io, the Ulmarians had constructed servants for themselves
to tend to their needs and to see to the building and maintenance of
their great Complex here. The neomorphs are pointed to as living
evidence of this.”
As Chena listened to him valiantly attempt to square the circular
contradictions of Aeon lore, she remembered the verra she had raised
Selmin to head her hierophant. He was old then. He had been her miter
now for nearly four hundred annums, seeing her through many dangerous
and difficult times, and he was always old. Unlike High Miters in the
other Houses, Selmin preferred to have his bodies aged before
transferring into them. He claimed it cleared the thinking not to
have the distractions of youth. She assumed he meant sex. He was
overdue for a new one, but with the unexpected closure of the Crystal
Temple, such transfers had been suspended for all non-Aeons. Her High
Miter might well die before it was reopened. She thought she should
feel something about that.
“These passages hint at the fact that the Ulmarians may well have
created a race of super workers to serve them and maintain their
compounds,” he went on, “only to find that these workers grew and
learned in ways they had not anticipated, to make them seem not
objects to own but separate living beings. Many such stories were
passed from one generation to the next among the early Aeons,
embellished beyond recognition by the time they were written down.
Many end with the Ulmarians seeding these beings on distant worlds to
live out their long lives, leaving the need for your ancient
predecessors to come here and take their places.”
“And you think that this creature is one of these Morai?” she
“I don’t know, Leiscene,” the miter told her. “The Conclave
has concluded these stories to be apocryphal. They have dismissed
them, along with so many others, as myth.”
Chena put her two charcoal black hands together in front of her mouth
then folded her fingers thoughtfully.
“If these stories are true, why would the Ulmarians keep this one
creature behind when the others were freed?”
The old miter looked at her patiently, waiting. He was giving her the
chance to answer her own question. Ever the teacher, Selmin.
“Of course.” She nodded. “The Ulmarians loved the things they
created with their hands so much they set up the Great Archives to
display them. They would have been loath to part with all traces of
something they had made.” Her miter smiled a satisfied smile. “Then
why have we not heard of this creature before?” Chena asked him.
“Perhaps it was hidden by the old Council. Perhaps it is some new
discovery,” the old man answered. “It is common knowledge that
the Librarians are close to opening the fourth level of the Archives.
Still, it is only a rumor. The Archivists guard their secrets, like
misers, their coin.”
“So the Ulma kept this creature to look at and to study,” she
“Most likely it would have had to agree to stay, if these stories
are to be believed.” He coughed a phlegmy cough then cleared his
throat. “In either case, Leiscene, Avaruus’ use of this creature
with its collar here in Eranos is a clear show of power and a means
of control. As impossible as it seems, he does appear able to
communicate with it through the black ring he wears on his finger.”
Chena glanced down at her spirit robes. They were sheer and sable,
the naked curves of her charcoal body visible beneath. The small
multi-colored threads woven into them were alive and dancing with
As a young Aeon, arrogant in her newfound powers, she had attempted
to bring a sash back from the Twilight World, but had only succeeded
in returning with a handful of small threads. The attempt had nearly
killed her. These threads woven into her robes had been the only
artifact Aeons had ever found to function in the dampening fields of
Eranos, until the appearance of this flesh creature with its black
collar and ring.
“There have been three attempts on Avaruus’ life since he assumed
the Protectorship,” Miter Selmin continued. “Two of them were
foiled before the fact. One was carried to fruition by Konig, the
Aeon of the Barren Sea Kings, and Grom the Aeon of the Uddar
Barbarians, both Blacks, and both among the first to pledge loyalty
to Avaruus and the new Council.
“They set up a diversionary attack outside the Councilor’s
Compound, drew off Avaruus’ elite guards, then with five of their
Wards cut their way through to Avaruus’ side. The creature was with
him. It killed all seven attackers. It’s said that Grom cut it many
times on the head and neck with his blade without leaving a mark,
before it dealt with him.”
“Whether they were disgruntled with the imbalance of the new
Council, the sparsity of Blacks on it,” Selmin concluded, “angry
at promises not kept, or they had pledged their loyalty falsely
planning all along to try to assassinate Avaruus is unclear. Their
compounds are locked down and we can’t get in touch with any of our
people there. One thing is
clear. As long as Avaruus stays in Eranos and is protected by this
creature, he will be nearly impossible to eliminate. By normal means
at least,” he added, looking at her from under his bushy eyebrows.
When she didn’t say anything, he went on.
“There are more troubling reports from Terra, Leiscene. Would you
care to hear them now?”
“The short version, Miter.”
“Of course.” Selmin picked up a new set of papers from the table.
“It has been confirmed that Avaruus has allowed Zemorusag to arm
his Warriors with forbidden weapons in defiance of our most ancient
law. Coeus is producing them in one of his temples in the Ice River
Highlands. Also, it is reported that a certain number of warships in
Whitebridge have been outfitted with carronade for use in the Ellith,
also in violation of our laws.”
“To what purpose have these exemptions been granted?”
“It is said that they were granted to facilitate the Purges and
account for the rabble, Terranite Heretics and traitors, but it is
overkill for such a purpose.”
“Avaruus fears that Aeons will band together against him,” Chena
said, catching his drift. “He is preparing for rebellion.”
The old miter didn’t answer her, shuffling his papers with
trembling hands. He didn’t need to.
Selmin’s mind was as keen as ever; his network of spies and
informants were spider-webbed through every House, even to the
Council itself, but he was growing physically weaker with each
passing verra. Even so, this old Terran had forgotten more about the
inner workings of the Houses and the politics of Eranos than Chena
would ever know.
“Is there any word from Nenaliina or the peninsula?”
“None, Leiscene. Nenaliina and Mount Nesira are still besieged.
Océanus has encircled the big island, and Naarika and Coeus have cut
off the approaches to the Conclave. As of yet, neither Hecate nor the
maguus have agreed to recognize Avaruus and the new Council.”
Chena took it in as always, his reports and speculations, in the cold
detached way that was her nature, recalculating plans, altering
assumptions, weighing possibilities in her head with each new bit of
“What have you found out about the Council meeting later toverra?”
she asked him.
“All of the Houses are making inquiries.” He looked her directly
in the eye. “As of now, there is no reliable information. Some say
that it will be a formal declaration of war, against whom, no one
knows. Others, that Avaruus will levy new taxes and call for more
Warriors and support troops to fight the heretics. This seems
unlikely as he has half the army at it now. Still others say that
more traitors will be named and purged. No one is sure.”
“What are your sources saying?”
“One of my contacts in the Archives has heard it whispered that
there may have been a defeat on Terra, perhaps even the death of an
Aeon loyal to the Council. If so, it will be announced then.”
“And that is your guess?” Chena asked him.
“I do not make guesses,” Selmin answered her.
“What else is Avaruus planning?”
“That is unclear. There are only six Council members in residence.
Of the seven Whites, Coeus, Ran, Aithra and yourself. Océanus, who
was given Lendo’s seat, and Zemorusag are on Terra leading the
counter-insurgency and Bethad is in his Hell Worlds. Of the three
Blacks, Naarika is on the peninsula. He is clearly Avaruus’
creature now. The Leiscene Opel is the Loraan Protector’s guest
here in Eranos.” Chena smiled at the euphemism. “And young Alise,
from the Leiscene Makiria’s old House, is also here under Avaruus’
power. None of the absent Aeon’s compounds show any sign of
preparing for their return, and it is unlikely that Bethad will
attend. There is no reason to believe he will break his centos long
precedent, so his seat remains open.”
“Does that not strike you as odd?” she asked. “That it remains
“It does. Avaruus has filled Lendo’s seat, which had also been
kept open out of deference to the Ancient. At first glance, one might
think that he fears to antagonize Bethad and your sister. But by
elevating you to the new Council and holding you here with the other
Council members . . .”
“For my protection,” she interrupted him.
“Just so. He checks any opposition they, or you, might be tempted
to create. You are a hostage to their good behavior.”
Chena mindlessly tugged on a strand of her long silver hair, then
stopped herself. It was a bad habit she had had since childhood.
“I see. You think Avaruus keeps Bethad’s seat open for another
“Impossible to say. I will work my sources. In any case, there are
not enough Council members to form a quorum.”
“Then nothing can be accomplished and this is a waste of time.”
“Not necessarily,” the old miter said frowning. “The Loraan
Protector’s office has put out informal statements that Avaruus
holds the proxy votes of the three Councilors on Terra, and that he
intends to exercise them.”
“Can he do that?”
“It stretches precedent for proxy votes to be cast in this manner.
It has rarely been done, and never to form a quorum. Can he do it?
Without objection from any Council Member, he will do it, which is
much the same thing.”
Chena found herself playing with her hair again and folded her hands
in her lap.
“What about the Crystal Temple?”
The old miter referred to his papers once more. “There is little
news, Leiscene. Naarika’s city guards control the grounds but they
have not entered the temple itself. Such a blatant move to defy the
sanctuary would alienate too many Aeons. The official line is that
Terranite traitors were using it as a hiding place from which to
launch attacks in the city.”
“But you don’t believe that,” she remarked.
“There have been attacks in the Temple Sesqua against property and
innocent pilgrims, very brutal attacks. But on back channels, I have
it on good authority that any heretics that may have been in the
Temple have already fled.”
Chena looked again at her old counselor, at his paper-thin spotted
skin, the short-cropped gray hair, the long black and gray miter’s
robes that seemed to hang loosely on his frail frame.
“The status of the moratorium on new bodies?” she asked.
Miter Selmin looked up with his rheumy eyes. “All transfers are
suspended until further notice,” he told her, simply, “unless by
direct order of the Loraan Protector. That is all we have on it.”
Seeing her gaze, he smiled a tired smile. “Have no concern for me,
Leiscene. I am well enough for now. Should a vacancy arise in my
position, Korun is more than prepared to take my place. He could have
been a High Miter in any number of other hierophants, but he chooses
to stay and serve you instead.”
“And may you both continue to do so for long annums, my friend.”
Chena smiled back coolly.
So Avaruus was flexing his muscles, reminding every Aeon that whoever
controls the Crystal Temple, controls life itself. Perhaps he even
plans to winnow out a few well-chosen enemies or their high servants.
We shall see.
Selmin gathered his papers together. “One last thing, Leiscene,”
he said. “Coeus’ people were late to make inquiries about the
Council meeting toverra and when they came, they were numerous and
frantic in tone.”
“Trouble in the little cabal already?” she asked.
“That could be useful.”
“If there is nothing else?” The old miter rose unsteadily from
his overlarge chair picking up his papers; he bowed and shuffled
towards the great emerald doorway.
“Send Eiree in,” Chena told him.
“Leiscene,” he replied.
Selmin shuffled out, and a few minas later Eiree appeared at the
entrance to the anteroom, a broad smile on her moon-shaped face.
Eiree was a young Baraban islander Chena had taken as a hand servant.
She was brown-skinned and plump, with five white dots inkarted in a
crescent shape under each eye, marking her Kanu, the fiercest of the
“Brush my hair,” Chena ordered her.
“Yes, Huitutu,” the girl answered, picking up a large bone comb.
She was dressed in a colorful wrap that hung to the knee, all oranges
and yellows with bare shoulders, making her look like a plump piece
“I told you to wear servants garb when we were in residence.”
Her smile grew bigger. “Yes, Huitutu.”
The majority of Chena’s worshipers, and they were worshipers not
followers, lived in the eastern islands from the Ellith to the Clear
Sea. There, they still practiced the blood rituals of their
ancestors. They called her Huitutu, the Mother of Spirits and
worshipped her together with her sister Torinja, whom they called
Malilani, the Queen of the Dead. Unlike the other Aeons, Chena didn’t
require thousands of followers to feed her aura, or armies of
bureaucrats and Warriors to handle them. Nor did she need the
energies of an ecostat as the Nature Aeons did. She was Allodium,
unchained, drawing her power directly from the Twilight World. It was
the fear of that power, even in Eranos, that safeguarded her person,
and gave her her room to maneuver.
Eiree ran the comb through her silver hair as Chena observed her in
the great round plastisteel mirror on her dressing table; it was
leaning against the bare green wall. For an Ulmarian, it would have
been little more than a hand mirror but she could see her entire
upper body in it, from the tip of her head to where she sat in the
overlarge emerald seat. It gave Chena some small comfort that the
Ulmarians, despite all their knowledge and wisdom, were still vain
enough to have used mirrors.
Gazing into it, she looked closely at her own face, at the
charcoal-black skin and light green eyes, and long straight silver
hair. She had tried fair bodies before but like most Draug, after a
few annums, her skin would darken and the charcoal color would
return. The Maguus called it residual body image and there were many
theories about its persistence. Still, it seemed to plague most Aeons
in one small way or another.
When she looked up again, Chena saw Eiree staring at her over her
“What?” she asked, annoyed.
“Let us leave this place, Huitutu. There is no joy here. Your brow
is furrowed. You have not smiled since we came. On Kanula,” the
Kanu’s name for Baraban, “the Li flowers are blooming in the sun
and soon it will be the time for the young women to put them in their
hair and dance naked for the men. If they see one they like, they
will try to kill him; many will succeed. It will be joyous! Let us
go, Huitutu. The evil ones will not bother you there.”
“I don’t think the guards at the compound gates will allow us to,
“Then I will kill them with my raikka,” the plump woman snarled
fiercely. “I will gut them like hoartusks.”
Chena smiled. The girl stopped speaking when she saw it, and smiled
as well. The idea of her plump handmaid killing Void Warriors with a
leaf shaped tribal knife was amusing enough, but she couldn’t allow
it. Eiree was one of the few servants that wasn’t terrified of her.
She was a quick learner, and loyal. Besides, good handmaids were hard
Old Selmin shuffled into the room again through the towering doorway
“Your pardon, Leiscene.”
“What is it Miter?”
“They have finished with the prisoner.”
“Very well.” Chena sighed. “Bring him to the audience hall.
I’ll see him before I leave for Council.”
“As you command.” The old miter bowed again.
As Eiree laced up her tall black bova skin boots, Chena placed the
adamantine circlet on her head with its bright green firegem coming
to rest in the center of her brow, setting off her eyes. She refused
to put on the argent and blue councilor cloak she had been given.
Instead she would wear her sheer spirit robes, as was her wont in
Eranos, that left little of her silhouette to the imagination.
them leer, she mused, at
what they will never have.
“Prepare my meditation chamber for when I return,” she instructed
her handmaid as she walked out of the anteroom.
“All shall be as you say,” answered Eiree with a bow.
Chena walked briskly down the wide, arching corridor. It was the
beginning of a long verra and already she felt tired. The Aeon took
little comfort in the Ulmarian art that hung along the emerald walls
there, mostly patterns, shapes and odd characters with the occasional
dash of ingrain color. She had had Selmin use the records in the
great Library to restore her compound to what would have been a
typical Ulmarian dwelling. She even went so far as to sleep in an
overlarge bed of that strange pliable metal that they used for
the maguus called it for lack of a better word, moldable yet
unbreakable. Normally, Chena took strength from the hugeness and the
otherworldly simplicity of the Ulmarian style but on this vrain, it
made her feel small and insignificant.
As she entered the central hall, she paused a moment before her
favorite painting, a large circular work that hung prominently on the
curving emerald wall above the main door. It was a slash of dark
lines and chaotic forms with deeply imbedded colors that played with
the eye, almost as if the ancient Ulmarian artist who had painted it
had sought to abstract an image of the Twilight World into his work.
Chena could often see things when she looked at it, visions of the
future that crystallized in her thoughts, images of possibilities she
might encounter. Toverra, the only thing she saw was a deep gray
She turned away unsatisfied and headed down another corridor. There
was one room in her sprawling compound that was decorated to scale
and in the Aeon fashion and that was the room she was making for, the
audience hall, where she sat at times to face the outside world.
“Leiscene.” Two burly house servants, both men, bowed as she
approached the doorway to the chamber. They pulled on the black iron
handles and the large stonetree doors swung soundlessly outward.
They were Selmin’s people. He had them planted all through the
household staff disguised as servants in a vain effort to protect
her. What her High Miter failed to realize was that when the spirits
wished her to come to them, no force in the Worlds would be able to
stop it. In fact, she would welcome it.
Until then, she was indestructible.
The audience hall was a long room with two sets of ornate black
laystone pillars running the length of the chamber to a bone-white
dais. These were inlaid with silver adamantine script, quotes from
passages of her most powerful artifact, the Gray Book, which held
within it the secret knowledge she had brought back from beyond the
white-barrier, from the Twilight World.
Above a shiny black floor, sheer black banners hung high overhead,
the symbol of her House. Beyond the pillars on either side of the
room, a collection of painted skulls and grave images adorned the
walls along with grotesque sculptures and misshapen white laystone
friezes, ghasts and ghouls mostly, childish representations of the
wonders and horrors that lay beyond the veil.
In the center of the bone dais, at the far end of the hall, rested a
tall silvertine chair with the images of tortured souls carved on it,
mouths open in screams of pain. Two silver skulls with red firegem
eyes adorned the end of each arm. It was an uncomfortable thing to
sit on, but it made the proper impression on those who were brought
before her, which was its function.
In front of the dais stood Selmin leaning on his short wooden stick.
Beside him was a tall muscular ebon, half-naked with shining brown
skin and dark piercing eyes. Kicree, the Warden of her jails. They
bowed as she approached.
“Bow to the Leiscene Chena, kana!” the tall ebon bellowed.
Shackled between them on his knees was a thin creature with gray
unkempt hair, a large hooked nose and small furtive black eyes that
darted towards her, then away, then back again, then away, until
Kicree’s large hand struck him on the side of the head. The rags
that clung to the wretched creature were that of a serving man from
her dining staff. He smelled of sweat, fear and his own filth.
At Kicree’s command, the man’s head and shoulders slumped over in
the mockery of a bow. Chena could sense that his eyes were still
darting back and forth along the floor before him.
“Miter. Warden,” Chena addressed them, taking her seat upon the
“Leiscene,” old Selmin took a step forward. “The spy has
confessed to his crimes. He has told us the information he passed on
and who his contacts are in Avaruus’ hierophant.”
“Has he told you of others in the household staff?” she asked.
“A mere handful.” Selmin sounded disappointed. “I fear that
there are more.”
“Bring him to me.”
Kicree reached down and yanked the man up by his chains, then dragged
The prisoner’s two furtive black eyes looked up at her, then down,
up at her, then down.
“Do you know who I am?” Chena asked him softly. The man stared at
her blankly as if confused by the question.
“Answer!” Kicree made a show to strike him.
“Y . . . y . . . es . . . ,” the prisoner stuttered.
Chena feared the man might soil himself again.
“Have you told us everything you know?” The man nodded, then
looked up at Kicree to see if that was a sufficient response. She had
“Take him back to his cell.”
“Leiscene.” The tall jailer bowed.
Kicree grabbed the prisoner and led him from the hall. The spy
glanced over his shoulder at her for a split seca, then at Miter
Selmin before disappearing through the wooden doors.
Her High Miter stood patiently waiting, watching her, stone-faced.
“He seemed genuinely afraid,” she told him.
“You are a fearful presence, Leiscene,” Selmin agreed.
The old miter smiled.
“You’re not going to question me on this?”
Selmin had seen it too. Avaruus’ agents were too well trained in
deception and how to act during interrogation. This one had been
quite good, but those two final glances had broken the spell. He
would be of no real use to them.
“Make it appear as though he was killed resisting arrest before he
could be interrogated, then put some of your people to watch the
others he named. Kicree was thorough?”
“You ask, m’ leiscene?” Selmin feigned injury.
“Of course. See that they are fed misinformation, something that
can be checked. I doubt it will bear fruit. Now, if there’s nothing
else, I have a Council meeting to go to.”
“Korun has seen to your preparations personally,” her miter told
“Very good. Meet me in the Council Chamber at the appointed har.”
“Leiscene.” The old man bowed.
Chena strode deliberately down the cobblestone path past moss-covered
benches and lines of olm and flame trees. In front of her, like a
colossus, rose the Councilor Compound with its curving emerald dome
and three jagged spires.
Two Void Warriors, both men, followed closely behind her, watching
her every move. They weren’t as nervous as the last pair; she
suspected they were elite Warriors dressed in simple black and white
body armor. Perhaps, unlike the others, they would be clever enough
to survive the verra.
We shall see.
In the courtyard, before the towering doors, the Aeon passed the
central fountain. The statue of Lendo rising from the sea, sculpted
by Ashka himself, had been removed leaving only an empty pedestal
amidst the dancing water; as no pumps would run in Eranos, Necos the
Builder had designed an ingeniously hidden set of pulleys and levers
that could be worked by one or two acolytes ‘round the clock,
keeping the water jets spraying.
Up the stairs, through the open double doors, she saw that more Aeon
banners had been taken down from the high vaulted ceiling. Avaruus’
single-minded obsession to destroy his enemies showed him for the
dullard that he was. Demodrach had been subtler. That’s why he had
ruled so long.
“Don’t fall behind,” she said, turning her head towards her
The great entry was nearly empty. Where normally it would have been
teeming with supplicants and petitioners, with bureaucrats and Terran
dignitaries all seeking some boon, favor or relief of grievance, now
there was but a few scattered groups huddled together like shorn
shearlings. The Loraan Protector’s office was handling all
inquiries for the time being, but with the constant search for
heretics and traitors, and the subsequent trials and executions,
there were few bold enough to make any.
Miter Korun stood across the width of the hall watching her approach.
He was holding the same petitions in his hands that he had brought
with him every vrain since martial law had been declared. The first,
that Chena be allowed passage to Terra to await the summons of the
Council, and the second, that her High Miter Selmin be granted a
dispensation to receive a new body due to extreme old age. Neither
one had been accepted.
“M’ leiscene.” Korun bowed as she approached, a sly smirk on
his round island face, his dark brown head hairless and shiny. He was
from Baraban, though not a Kanu, as Eiree was quick to point out.
would roast this hoartusk on a spit and eat his flesh before he would
wear the moon dots, she had once said. To
which Korun had replied, And
find me as indigestible as any other intelligent thing you’ve
tried. Eiree’s eyes had narrowed. She
wasn’t quite sure if she had been insulted. Chena was.
As Chena stopped in front of him, Korun met her glance with a
penetrating eye, a keen eye that took in everything with an even
sharper intellect behind it.
“There are supplicants that wish to speak to you, Leiscene,” he
told her. “Shall I send them away?”
“I will attend them as I walk,” Chena replied. “Let them
“As you command.”
As Chena started off suddenly down the long hallway, her protectors
were caught flatfooted.
Korun clapped his hands; from out of a side door poured a river of
petitioners calling out and jostling for the Aeon’s attention.
Chena smiled at the Void Warrior’s curses, as the press of
supplicants pushed them further away from her.
As she approached a dim side passage, four particularly tall
petitioners, Selmin’s people again, took up positions between her
and Avaruus’ Warriors, shielding her from their view. Her spirit
robes lit with color as she slipped the cowl over her head and ducked
into the side corridor, passing her exact double coming out dressed
in sheer black robes with a touch of tint, and black bova skin boots.
Then, she waited. She refused to suffer the indignity of hurrying
away. Either they would fall for her deception, or they would not.
Avaruus’ Warriors began to brute their way through the supplicants,
striking some and throwing many aside, as she had hoped they would.
Most of the petitioners were bureaucrats and simple workers from
suspect or fallen houses with pledges of loyalty or petitions for
redress. Word would quickly spread among the congress of their
The Void Warriors bullied their way through the four tall
supplicants, Selmin’s wall, just as they came to the side corridor
where Chena stood in the shadows, shoving them aside roughly and
passing by her unawares.
dug their graves, Chena mused. She would
never see the two again, she knew. Avaruus had little patience for
Making her way silently through the lowest levels of the Council
Compound, a series of corridors used mainly by bureaucrats coming and
going from Council offices, Chena walked into a cluster of shiny
green-plastisteel halls, unused and spotless.
She could hear the skittering of the neomorphs in the corridors
nearby, the large insect-like creatures that had the run of the
Complex. Chena had only caught brief glimpses of them in all her
annums in Eranos; it was said that the neomorphs varied in size from
the palm of your hand to that of a large kana. They maintained
everything in the compounds, cleaning, repairing, even gardening,
tending to the countless arbors and orchards, sowing the seeds,
reaping the harvests, producing the food. Cleverly concealed lifts
and panels in the walls and grounds gave them free reign. Rarely, if
ever, were they observed as they speedily tended to their tasks away
from the eyes of Eranos’ inhabitants.
Turning down a long dimly lit corridor, Chena made her way to a
series of steep ramps with green glowrails and headed up them.
At the top of the last ramp, the plastisteel walls gave way to
tapestried hallways with polished wood panels; she passed a black
wrought iron door on her left that opened out onto the gardens, then
a set of thick crown tree doors, stolid sentinels with brass plaques
announcing the titles of their users: Ambassador to Belas, Trade
Guild Commissioner, Subjunct to the Holy See.
She had entered the hierophants’ wing of the Council Compound. It
was here in these halls that the miters bickered and schemed,
committees mulled over last cento’s disappointments, this annum’s
challenges, next decca’s hopes. In the cramped offices wars would
be averted, barbarians hordes subdued, unruly rulers pacified.
“Leiscene!” a young refect jumped up from the shadows as she
approached the great baranz doors of the Council Chamber. He looked
at Chena quizzically, then back up the hallway for her escort.
“The Loraan Protector has prepared rooms for your convenience until
the Council begins,” the Void Refect said nervously, speaking too
fast. “There is an adjoining area for you to mingle with other
Council Members, if you wish. Our cooks have prepared the finest
dishes and there is ambrosia for your pleasure. There are also
scribes present to help you with any last mina work you might wish to
do before the Congress.”
Chena scoffed to herself. Spies
are more like it.
“Let me escort you there,” the young officer reached out to take
Chena stiffened. “You know me?” she said softly, her voice
dancing on the edge of a threat. The refect froze. “To touch me
would be a grave mistake.”
“M’ leiscene,” he stammered. “I meant no offense.”
“I will await the others in the Council Chamber . . .”
“But it is the Loraan Protector’s wish . . .”
“As is my right, Refect.” She paused to let his situation sink
in. “I will be glad to explain to your master that you tried to
obey his orders, but I wouldn’t let you.”
Desperation gave way to despair in the young man’s eyes. His head
bowed as if his neck had lost its strength. “No, Leiscene,” he
Chena turned and faced the ancient baranz doors, ruddy and polished;
they were hung on adamantine pins in between two sapphire and the
silver tapestries rising on each side thirty-five metras in height,
eight metras in width. Upon these were sewn two great trees, one
black, one white, joined together at the top branches beneath an
intertwining white sun and black moon.
The doors themselves were monsters, three metras thick, each with
half a relief sculpted on them. It was a mythic scene of the Return,
Lendo standing with the Ancients around him, the sea rising at his
back. It was a wonder Avaruus hadn’t gotten around to taking these
down as well.
Chena looked wistfully at the shadowy image of Demodrach upon the
left hand door. It had been worn with age and smoothed by the press
of numberless polishing clothes. She felt like reaching out to touch
it, but didn’t. It was Demodrach who had elevated her to Chosen,
and had led the Whites for as long as anyone could remember back when
Chena was a young Aeon. She had been his lover and companion for a
brief time. If only he were here now. He would put an end to all this
As she stood there patiently waiting, the refect signaled with his
hand and two door wardens stepped out from the shadows and opened the
massive doors for her, pulling back on their large baranz handles.
Chena entered the white laystone Council Chamber and looked about
The decor of the vast chamber was as cold and brilliant as she
remembered it. Silvertine and golden gild dripped from glowglobe
sconces and trimmed the tops of white serpentine pillars. Above it
all, a cavernous dome overarched like the sky, a girdle of void and
stars with rays of sun shining out from an ocular center upon
romanticized scenes from Aeon history: the Return, the Surrender of
the Elohime, the Sacking of Nogrôsh Kome, the Seating of the Long
Chena heard voices echoing from the far end of the hall.
“. . . they are still there, by last reports,” a man was saying.
“We’re moving quickly to retake the city. My father wishes to
leave the blockade and hunt down the rebels himself.”
“No!” a basso voice replied, a voice Chena knew all too well:
Avaruus. “Tell him when the time is right, he will have his
revenge. Your brother, the Intrigant, was a fool. He had the rebels
in his hand and let them slip away. See that you fare better.”
Walking across the hall, Chena approached the elevated
crescent-shaped dais made of black shining laystone. On it was placed
a small white seat with ten silvertine chairs curving on either side
of it. Behind each, hung a banner from the ceiling with the symbol of
the Council Aeon who would be seated there.
On the far left hung the two hands holding a red heart of Makiria’s
old house where the traitor Alise would sit, next came Chena’s
sheer black unadorned banner, Opel’s temple pyramid and dove,
Naarika’s sun on a golden field and Océanus’ pink corab-shell on
a green field. To the right of the white chair hung the multicolored
ribbons of Ran’s banner, followed by Coeus’ clenched fist and
upside down black heart, the crying mask of Zemorusag and, opposite
Chena’s own seat, Aithra’s gray, red-tipped horns on a black
Above the remaining seat, one that had remained empty since the
verras of the Long Council hung the black crown over a red chasm,
When he had left Eranos after discovering his Hell Worlds, Chena’s
sister Torinja had followed him to become his consort. That was many
centos ago now. Out of fear and respect, his seat had remained open
Behind the small-unadorned white chair in the center, hung the
Council banner, a semi-circle of eleven silver stars on an azure-blue
field. Whoever was elevated to that seat became Speaker, giving up
their house emblem for as long as they held office and adopting the
Council pennon. In theory, the Speaker spoke for all, Black, White
and non-aligned alike.
In front of a white gold wall beside the dais, Chena spied two plain
gray chairs. One was reserved for the Head Archivist representing the
Society of Librarians and the Archivist Court. It was empty. The
other was for the Director of the Conclave of the Maguus. In that
chair sat Avaruus, dressed in the purple and silver that had come to
represent his office.
Their Loraan Protector was neither tall nor short; rolls of fat
ribald freely at his midriff and under his chins. Known as the Aeon
of the Void among the Terrans, he had the charcoal-black skin and
silver hair of the Draugalarin, but his eyes, which should have been
green, blue or gray, were completely white and without color. They
were lifeless eyes.
Behind his right shoulder hulked the Morai, that flesh-creature of
his, with no expression on its elongated face; it was naked and
sexless, little more than a giant humanoid with a sloping forehead
and no mouth.
Before him stood two neiwards in dress armor, one with the gold sun
cloak of Naarika’s Victory Warriors, the other in the gray and red
of Zemorusag’s Weepers.
Between these two, stood a third figure, a thin Aeon in a tight green
suit with a pink and green cloak, a breathing tube hanging loosely at
his neck. It was one of Océanus’ seven sons, all Aeons. Chena
couldn’t recall which one.
A small table had been placed to the left of the Loraan Protector
upon which sat a golden platter of dainties and nibbles and a
tall-jeweled goblet of ambrosia. As the others stood stiffly, warily
eying the hulking flesh-creature behind his chair, Avaruus sat
picking at the food on the table.
Chena climbed the steps of the dais and approached her seat; Océanus
son was speaking.
“We shall be ready when you give the order, Loraan. The
adjudicators . . . .”
He stopped talking, as Avaruus looked over and saw Chena.
“Leiscene,” Avaruus addressed her with a hint of irritation. “I
have prepared rooms for the Councilors to await the procession.”
Chena sat on her silver chair, sweeping her spirit robes about her
knees. It was even more uncomfortable than that monstrosity of a seat
in her audience hall.
“I prefer to wait here,” she answered him.
“And your escort?”
Chena didn’t answer.
“As a member of the Council I have the right to sit in on any
deliberations in this chamber, my Loraan. Is that not the law?”
Avaruus paused a moment, then smiled an unpleasant smile. “Do as
you will.” He dismissed her presence with a wave of his hand. “You
usually do.” His control was better than she’d anticipated.
The group lowered their voices to where Chena couldn’t hear their
words clearly, but no matter. She had done enough spirit walking on
Terra over the annums to have developed her lip reading skills to an
art form; even though Avaruus’ head was partially turned away from
her, she still caught most of his orders: military deployments,
arrest warrants, towns to be razed, but most interestingly the
. . they’re not to be harmed or impeded. The traitor will handle
it. Do you understand?”
“M’ loraan,” the three of them said in unison.
When he had finished with his instructions, the trio bowed, turned
and headed for the doors, their boots slapping on the floor and
echoing through the chamber.
Avaruus sat back in his chair at ease, sipping from his cup and
nibbling dainties from the table; he was petulantly ignoring Chena’s
presence as he wiped his fat tuberous fingers on a velumen napkin.
This was their Loraan Protector! Spirits!
The scene went on for a good ten minas, Chena sitting there watching
him eating from his tray, he content to be watched, before Avaruus
signaled with a raised hand and the glowglobes brightened, flaming
the laystone and gold gild in the hall to a painful sparkle.
Council Door Wardens in their red and gold long coats appeared,
opened the baranz doors wide and the citizens of Eranos began to file
They came in tight knit groups at first, Aeons and their Wards. Chena
saw Ludi and Tej among them. Ancient Abba was there with a Void
Warrior by his side; Chena had thought him on Terra with Étiola.
Tauth was near him, the only terror he was causing that verra, his
poor choice of suits.
Lurking near the back, she spied Xanthos’ pet assassins, the
Gemini, Smoke and Shade; to their left aloof as always, and given a
wide berth, stood the beautiful winnowy Talshia, Adjudicar Xanthos’
consort; the constant and powerful insanity that played in her eyes
as arresting, as it was repellent.
Bureaucrats followed the Aeons in with priests and miters from the
hierophants filing in front by the red verlure ropes. Most of these
had worried looks on their faces. Many had glanced at Avaruus
furtively as they had entered, then at Chena sitting in her seat. Her
presence there in the chamber with him would start tongues wagging in
the Houses; she smiled.
When the room was filled and all assembled, a center aisle was
cleared running from the great doors to the dais steps; the Door
Wardens banged their tall white and silver rods on the laystone floor
calling for silence, and the procession of the Councilors began.
“The Leiscene Makiria of House Amoroso,” a broad Council Warden
with the waltooth mustache and booming voice bellowed. “Patron of
Belas, Chiron of Crissa and Libera, the Wind of the Crystal Hills,
Matron of Talmar . . . .”
As he proclaimed the many honorifics that didn’t belong to her,
Alise walked in, in the body of an eleven-annum-old girl-child. Her
resemblance to a young Makiria was striking, much too close not to
have been intentional, with her white-gold hair, the blue-green eyes,
the skin tones, the cheekbones, all identical. It was known that
Avaruus was trying to pass her off to the Terrans as Makiria reborn
in an attempt to subvert what remained of House Amoroso.
The child looked neither left nor right as she walked towards the
dais but kept her gaze on the floor in front of her. She was wearing
a white and coral-red gown tight on her undeveloped body to the
thighs, then flowing out in rivulets of pleated searcloth. Over it
was draped the azure blue and silver cloak of a Councilor, overlarge
on her small frame, the hem trailing beneath her heels.
As she took her seat, Alise’s eyes rose to meet Chena’s briefly,
then looked down again. She was wearing thick makeup to cover a deep
bruise on the side of her jaw; still, Chena felt no pity for the girl
as she glanced sidelong at Avaruus then back at the traitor Ward. She
had only begun to pay the price for her new position.
On her tiny left wrist, Chena could see the fresh pyramid scar from
the Omicron, the ancient Ulmarian learning device, newly burnt on her
arm. Chena’s own scar was no more than an outline now of gray
discolored flesh. A constant reminder of what it had taken her to
ascend to Aeon.
Chena had been the first of her group–herself, Makiria and
Torinja–to be elevated to Chosen, and had eagerly sat on the
downward slanting triangular seat before the raised imprint of an
Ulmarian hand. The slab, the Aeons called it as a reminder of all
those who had died there. She was to be elevated to Mischmar’s old
House, whom the Terrans had called the Aeon of Lightning. It was a
small House, but powerful, its Aeon receiving aura from both nature
Her sister Torinja had been with her that verra as Chena had placed
her left hand in the Omicron’s giant handprint, not even taking up
the space of the palm. A maguus stood by also, along with the Warden
of the Archives who had patiently explained to her that one out of
every four Chosen died in the attempt. For a second go, it was one in
two. By the third, more than three out of four failed and died.
As she had placed her hand onto the imprint, the Warden positioning
it at the bottom of the palm, Chena had been unafraid. The last thing
she remembered was a small flick of pain at her wrist, then darkness.
When she had awakened sometime later, there was a white sheet
covering her face. As she sat up confused, she heard a cry. The sheet
was ripped off, and she was suddenly in her sister’s arms.
Torinja was crying at her shoulder. The
maguus pronounced you dead twenty minas ago,
she said, grabbing Chena’s head in her hands. We
were taking you for burial transport.
It was then that Chena had remembered the vivid visions she had had
of a bright white-barrier that had come across her consciousness as
she sat the Omicron, both beckoning and repelling her; and beyond it,
the vast shifting place of swirling chaos, now forming images, now
dissolving them, the wonders, the horrors she had seen there. The
Twilight World, she had called it, for lack of a better name, the
place that would change her forever.
Later on Terra, when it had become obvious that her new aura was
neither dependant on nature nor worshipers, but on the power of that
hidden place, Chena knew that she would never be an Aeon of
Lightning. To the disapproval of her sister and friends, she resigned
from House Lucific and became one of the Allodium, the unchained.
Those who walk the path alone.
“The Leiscene Opel of House Sanable,” the Door Warden called out.
“Allodium. Keeper of the Lambeth ta Cuolo, the Crystal Temple,
Fountain of the Ice River Vales, Protector of the Sacred Gift, Hygea
of the Healers, Giver of Life, one of the eleven august Ancients of
the Return . . . .”
Chena watched with interest as the willowy Ancient was led in on the
arm of a plain serving girl, a chamber servant whose eyes were wide
with fear. Behind them, two Void Warriors followed in dress uniforms,
there to see to her safety, of course.
Every eye in the Council Chamber followed her, some with awe, some
love, as she was led towards the dais.
Sa Opel was a thin woman with tawny skin, nut-colored hair, short and
slicked back, this over two of the deepest blue eyes, a long but well
proportioned face and an aquiline nose; she had been born blind and
this trait followed her relentlessly from body to body. It was
commonly believed that she had originally helped to create the body
transfer process in order to find a cure for her own condition. If
this was true, it hadn’t worked. Toverra, she was wearing a simple
white pelisse over plain open-toed sandals, her councilor cloak
thrown about her shoulders. Above it all, shimmering whiter than any
laystone, was her lait-white mantle and the most powerful of her
artifacts, Espial, partially covering her head like a hood.
On Terra, this mantel allowed Opel to see farther and deeper than
anyone else, but here in the dampening fields of Eranos it was
useless, leaving her completely blind.
As she was helped onto her silver chair by the serving girl,
expressionless as a statue, there were audible murmurs from some of
the younger members of the congress. Like the others of the Return,
Opel had an enigmatic air about her, an aura one might say. Most of
the Ancients were dead now or in the diaspora, self-imposed or
otherwise; Opel was one of the few that the younger Aeons and their
high servants had ever seen, as they went to the Crystal Temple for
healing or new bodies.
“The Leiscene Ran of House Agacerie,” the Council Warden
announced. “The First of Ilparin, Mia of Poudra, the Heat of
Alcestis, Kaisra of Witaan . . .” Ran strode in through the great
doors next, her straight blond hair parted in the middle and falling
loosely over her shoulders, framing a full pouty mouth and two
perfectly spaced hazel eyes that gazed out coolly from beneath
artfully plucked eyebrows. She was wearing a sheer multicolored dress
with strategic sea-pearls sewn into it. Large swaths of cloth were
cut out bearing skin at the midriff and on one shoulder for effect.
She walked towards the dais with a long practiced air of confidence,
even smugness. “. . . and to the Northlin Kalin, the birth of
Ran looked down her nose at Alise, Chena then Opel before taking her
silver seat with all the regal air of a queen settling on her throne.
She had ascended to Aeon the same fornoct as Chena, a fact that had
been overshadowed by Chena’s sudden and miraculous resurrection,
and because of this, Ran had never cared for her much; then again,
Ran had never really cared for anyone much, except Ran.
“The Leiscene Aithra. Allodium. Gaosma of the She-Durvals, the
Shadow of Nogrôsh Kome, Tarowa of Aia . . . .”
Aithra swaggered in next wearing a set of crisscrossing black bova
skin straps loosely connected over her bare chest and hips, and
matching black boots, her councilor cloak thrown carelessly on her
back. Her short dark hair was slick with gloss, and the ashen
red-tipped horns that rose from her forehead polished to a gleam.
As she sat, Aithra looked over towards Ran. Chena thought she saw a
flash of hesitation in her black eyes for just a seca, before
throwing one leg carelessly over the arm of the chair and sitting
back with a grin.
“The Loraan Coeus of House Malain. The Abomination of Arma, Scourge
of Raurus, the Dudgeon of Talmar . . . .”
Here Chena sat up and watched closely as Coeus entered dressed in a
black and blood red long suit with his councilor cloak falling
pressed and spotless between his shoulder blades. The bodies he
always chose made her smile, with their thick brow and spiky hair,
like a cushion of small black pins, and white eyes with red irises.
She supposed that these traits were meant to be intimidating, but to
her, it only made him look like an albino quillapine. His brow was
furrowed in anger and his mouth locked in a tight frown, as he joined
them on the dais. Chena thought she saw a hint of worry on his flat
The Door Wardens banged their rods three times slowly on the laystone
“Attend and be silent! Let all hear!”
Chena and the other Councilors rose.
“Those who have business before the Council of Eleven prepare!
Leiscenes and loraans, people of Eranos and honored guests, his
eminence Doh-Scaalus, peer of peers, the Sapphire Rod, High
Librarian, Chief of the Archivist Court, Archivist Emeritus of the
Society of Librarians, Speaker of the Council of Eleven!”
Despite his impressive honorifics, the stooped, pinched-faced Aeon
that shuffled in last was far from an imposing figure. His cloak was
ill fitting and off center. The remaining wisps of dirt brown hair he
had left were combed over a spotted pate. His eyes were filled with
childish excitement, the sapphire rod cradled in his right arm like a
baby, his left one nervously twitching at this side.
Chena shook her head. When
you approach the Council dais, Demodrach had
once instructed her, act
as if you’ve been there before.
Doh-Scaalus was considered by many a mediocre Chief Archivist, a
diligent administrator, true, and a reasonable caretaker; and he
might have been remembered that way but for the fact that he had
shattered a diuturnities old proscription against the Society taking
part in the politics of Io. Archivists were chosen by the Council to
serve for life. Their job was to study Council policies and edicts,
measuring these against the extant Ulmarian knowledge, the ancient
writings and decisions of past Councils, then to send back or strike
down any laws that ran contrary to them. The Council could if it
wished, with a seven-tenths vote, overrule the Archivists; but in
their long history, the court had rarely been overturned in this
manner, giving the Society real power. By granting him the sapphire
rod, Avaruus had purposely broken a balanced governing system that
had ruled both Eranos and greater Amoria for nearly two thousand
The door Wardens banged their rods a final time; the dull thudding
echoed through the chamber; last of all, came the High Miters dressed
in their best robes, each in turn standing before the speaker and
asking permission to join their Aeon on the dais. Receiving it, they
walked and stood behind their charges’ seat, and to the left, as
was the custom.