Everything was white, the stars, the night, the world, the sky, the thoughts of Summer riding on the back of strange revolutions. Even now Loce was blinded by this full-spectrum wisdom.
Color intruded with twinges of empress blue, like rainfall. Through this veil a field of golden irises bloomed, flowerbed section laid out in a grid, shadows at the edges. There, in the distance, like ringing mountains or a crumbling wall, the Black Lattice muttered.
Loce continued his duel with the thing from below the Rot. He would’ve collapsed by now if not for the resilient Phyox serving as an exoskeleton and best friend, propping him up. Though terrible energies resulted from the congress of the Black upon the White he could suffer no harm as long as he wore this shell of strange matter.
With an arcane gesture his lone hand carved out the geometries wherein the Necromancer’s emanations were drawn and trapped. At no point did the magician understand the thing he contested against, to do so would be to allow in corruption, he simply enacted his will upon the world-stage, using light as an instrument, leading the Black into sealed mazes of enchantment.
This was the nature of the White, that aspect he found so comforting back when he first encountered it, before the Uplifting. It was everything, revealing, colonizing, leveling, before its light all was undifferentiated, like grains of sand, only more perfect. To introduce a change, to form a sandcastle, was an act of violence, so very unfair, but even now his blood was filled with such compromise and he built a house of light for the sake of those icebound at the mercy of the Black.
Where the Fencer’s blade had chopped off his left hand a warm tremble haunted his bloody stump. There was something in his blood now, another’s dreams—a nightmare really—under its effects his breathing shortened, and those elements of rain blue and ringed gold stood over his soul, stifling his heart. He worried about being someone else.
Loce listed at the Rot, drifting a few meters off the ground, his head swimming. In the light of his pale sorceries the scabrous buildings ringing the crater stood out like lye-covered corpses. Troubled waves rippled across the liquid diamond Phyox skin.
Its master sleepwalked. It was worried. With no magic of its own the Necromancer below was free to burst through the wards grown over this portal.
Finally Loce lost control. The Phyox rippled sharp and martial, but nothing more came up from the rotten depths. Horrid expressions of magic clouded within the spheres and bubbles of warding light, but the wards held, the Black waiting.
Stumbling into flight, tumbling to the clouds like a corpse, Loce’s thoughts suddenly turned in on themselves. Though he had won the contest he had lost all. The White itself was revealed as undistinguished noise, everything all at once, a buzzing, glitching overload.
While the game of spells still lit up Ruin in garish false sunrise Lumnos grimaced with the pain of negotiation. He had the point of his sword driven into his palm and the blood stilled the violence in the air. The Rotties stood a moment, trying to grasp this absurd man and his intentions.
“Now that I have your interest,” he began with a frown, tossing the weapon off the balcony so that its sharp shatter punctuated his words, “we have considerations to make. If anyone ruins this mood, they have betrayed my blood. I’ve never been cut like that before and I can’t say that I’ll ever choose so again.”
There was no response as he sucked air in through his teeth, trying not to think of the pain.
“We need your knowledge,” he said to the girl in the lead, the tall one with the pinched-up face. “You know the way down and we do not. Those old mining halls, that’s our course.”
“Why?” asked the girl through slanted teeth, it was obvious she didn’t like the strange lights spilling in through the tall, narrow windows of the tower. Her words were awkward and unpracticed.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand the question?” replied Lumnos.
“Why would we go back amongst the dead?”
“I can’t see why dead things would bother you,” reasoned the wordseller. He wanted to turn around, gauge why the Fencer or the Trumpeter hadn’t broken into the conversation yet, but he was afraid this would ruin his luck.
“These dead things move,” she said, some of the others giving awkward nods of malformed heads. “They were fews, at first, but as the tunnels went dark there were more and more. They stole and made more. Whispers said a hell was being built.”
Lumnos took a moment to consider and glanced behind him. The Fencer had a cunning smile on his face and had busied himself about the platform edge, carving up the gleaming stone with his cold weapon. The Trumpeter was nowhere to be seen. Only Laxa remained, hands on weapons, frowning at the ugly Rotties.
“A hell?” pondered the wordseller.
“I’d guess,” said the girl distantly. These words meant little to her with a life wrapped up in poisoned survival.
“What is your name? What about the rest of you?”
The feral children flinched and muttered nonsense to each other, expressing emotions without words.
“Would you like names?” Here was a chance for negotiation.
This offer caused a great fluttering of worried eyes. These children were like mice, keeping to the walls where they could hide in the long shadows cast by the sorceries off in the night.
“I’ll have your words,” said the girl tentatively, approaching, as if a name was something one handed over.
“Better barter for those words,” said the Fencer, turning a wry smile on Lumnos.
“You’ll show us the way down to the mines for a name?” asked the wordseller? Blinking in the light he could see she wore a long and ragged tunic, a belt of many pockets and a pair of mismatched boots, one a tall thing from an aristocrat’s riding gear, the other short, the leather braced about the ankles by a few adjustable strips of metal-reinforced hide. These things were obviously stolen from the dead, some showed sign of the violence which had claimed their previous owners. In the garish light her skin looked as pale as parchment.
She stopped and grinned. “Smart, smart,” she said with a nod. “Not a hell yet, so I show.”
Lumnos closed his eyes and let open the world. He was in search of a name. Through the volumes of his mind he paged, looking for a specific and ultimate perfection of the form. Gone were thoughts of expediency, worries about the yawning Black. Here was a blank page.
“Belleneix,” he pronounced.
“So many sounds,” she said. “It is mine?”
Lumnos nodded and a chorus of sniggers filtered in from the other Rotties.
“Two-Boots catches a few more words!” one laughed. Even the Fencer laughed. It seemed the wordseller alone didn’t get the joke.
“Two-Boots?” he stammered. “Have you already a name? I thought that to be far too erudite for the rotting depths?”
“We all have something we are called,” swaggered the girl, happy with her catch. “Call me Belleneix though, I like that sound for now.”
With this the Rotties began to melt into the darkness beyond the reach of the tall, slanting windows. The girl made to go too, but a scream of stone gave her pause.
The Fencer had been working quietly the whole time. His blade was deep into supports which held up the landing. To his delight he found the weapon’s reach just enough to cut clean through the primary slab.
“Going?” he asked coldly.
“Why nots?” responded Belleneix.
“You were to guide us down,” he reminded, keeping one eye on the girl while sorting out the destruction he had planned.
The girl’s mouth, long and thin and full of frowns, wrinkled at the words he spoke.
“There are things down there,” she said.
“Are you not brave?”
“No, I live.”
“I’ve had the Rotties throw themselves on me by the score, without scarce care for their blood,” he reasoned. “What do you care now?”
“There is no profit from this, only death.” Her dark eyes were dead as she spoke. In the sharp light they seemed to be inset with obsidian. “You cannot argue this. I will not listen.”
“Oh, I know,” smiled the Fencer, mostly to himself.
“We don’t need these reeking Rotties,” said Laxa, falling back on her first inclinations towards the feral children.
“We need them, just as they need us,” he said as he added one more break into the platform. The whole seemed to groan a bit, as if a giant was waking up. “If they should leave without us then I might just cut through the floor and send it falling down below. As far as I can tell, that’s the only way down.”
“You’d flatten them?” gasped Laxa. Though bigoted, she believed in certain rules of conflict, well-honed contexts designed to prevent escalation.
“So,” he began, focusing on Belleneix with grey eyes, “How shall we work out our differences?”
The Rottie bristled, knowing that his fell weapon made any kind of combat a risky proposition. As she had said, there was no profit in death and she would need far more bodies to bring down the southern swordsman.
“Come quick and see this!”
It was the Trumpeter, who appeared as if from the air while gesturing wildly out the bay of narrow windows opening up at floor level along the platform. There, a light flickered, wholly new and abundantly wild in power. This was the source which had illuminated the city, though now it seemed erratic, crumbling.
Lumnos found himself busied out on the long balcony beyond where open sky showed the power being woven over the Rot. Long cables linked this place to the far heights of the tower. Below the city seemed a scatter of toy houses wrecked by a childish whim. He didn’t pay much mind of the streets though.
Blooming sorceries filled the sky, grown like a tree up to lost heaven. From this distance it seemed the greatest palace of Ruin—or really the city which had come before—had regrown from the ashes of fate and perdition to become more glorious than anything prior.
Lumnos considered and found it was possible that this was some structure from those before times. Loce was a mage with a long history, though like many he was mysterious, without provenance beyond his mien and ability, one of the many lost wonders of the world, gone to high Summer and whatever games were played in that uncanny place.
Such potential cast trembling want into the wordseller’s bones. If only he had an hour with the man in white, the things he could learn.
Then the white of the carefully constructed bubbles and cylinders burst, the meticulous energies flaring out. A palace crumbled. For a bare second the light from the far off struggle grew to a terrible intensity. Most of the onlookers hid from this overwhelming brilliance, but Lumnos squinted through the glare and for an instant beheld something so fantastic that all his readings provided no words with which to define what he saw.
There stood a tangle of filaments, all of light so bright that burning magnesium would seem grey in comparison. This fractal reached out, disorganized, but some liminal faculty of his soul knew that a greater order arranged the splendor he witnessed.
Then all fell to black. Eyes adjusted to the returned gloom, smoke waded in over the city, again the raw chaos seethed in darkened night. Behind them a horrid beast groaned with a timbre like that of an earthquake.
Lumnos turned to see what approached and realized that of the Rotties only Belleneix, or Two-Boots, or whatever names she had collected, remained. As if in answer to this unspoken question cries of pain and alarm shrieked from the tower, which responded in a series of booming crashes. The whole building shook, humming still after the noises had become only dull aftershocks in the ear. They all were thrown about as the tower swayed. The wordseller only barely managed to catch himself by one of the support cables.
The Fencer had done his work too well. The platform within the tower, the one they stood on deliberating with the Rotties, had fallen away, leaving only a few jutting meters of masonry. It had caught up with the fleeing creatures. Grim realization took the survivors, except Lumnos. He realized greater troubles.
Now the Necromancer was unchecked. Something had befallen Loce, perhaps due to the wound inflicted by the Fencer’s nightmare sword. In answer a white figure descended from the smoky night. Turning they saw the tall angles and inhuman skin which the abjurist wore.
He alighted upon the balcony and tumbled out of his enchanted armor like a snake losing its scales, shivering, twitching with the fever of another’s nightmares.