Illuminated, Lumnos saw a word hidden in the plainness of things, set at an angle invisible to most, which he only witnessed now in the light which spilled through the caverns, bleaching the ancient rock, showing the Black Lattice as a written thing. That was how he saw onto the World Stage, though he had no name to recognize it by. It was a legendarily objective view of reality which only those with the talent could perceive, and even then only through the proper initiatory meditations.
From this vantage Lumnos saw more words, parts of a concept, radiating out from this place of crystallization, arranged according to some geometry left unmentioned in his lost tomes. Fragments lay in the past, in moments he had witnessed, but was at the time too taken by violence and excitement to note, until now. Now he remembered them as moments where he felt a slight, liminal disruption, though he was unable to see through the dark mystery of the prosaic.
The words themselves had no meaning as written. Instead they had intent as vehicles for a feeling. Separated, they were mere sounds, many difficult or impossible to pronounce. This was the way of magic, some sorts at least. To a magus language was a tool, or more exactly an instrument, with which the Lattice was manipulated, causing reality to reorder itself according to the will. It was important that the words had no meaning, that they carried the will alone. The vessels which the wordseller beheld were nothing apart, but together brought an increasing sense of unease.
In Loce’s renewed light the scene around the Lattice room was revealed. The Fencer and the Trumpeter were recovered. The swordsman placed his blade against the pulsing dark magics clinging to him. The hex froze and he broke free, then went to help the Trumpeter who had a mouth full of the stuff while Laxa twitched on the cold stones and the air died and certain things were noticed out of the corner of the eye and the inky child, who was the Necromancer, who was a nameless Rottie, who was a blank page with too much ink regarded the notion of Summer like an alien device.
The light dimmed and Lumnos was left with a growing conclusion. The spell he had seen written was the boy’s grand expression, inked by the Black Lattice but penned by the mutant’s hand. Through it all of Ruin would know the world as he knew it, his heart would be theirs. This was a nightmare shared. It was justice, in a way, but most horrible, indiscriminate, juvenile in the breadth of its spite. The legions of the dead were messengers, nightmares sent out to roam, carrying the black words. The boy knew that the wordseller knew.
“A trick,” said the Inky Child, whose madness was of a mage reborn. He turned on Loce, mouth smiling a black hole. “You I remember, by elimination. Not many noted you in life, and fewer after their death, but the reflections I have conjured up to teach me of the world gone by note Loce the Abjurist on occasion, a man living in fear of his own shadow.”
“I guess I deserve that,” replied Loce.
“How shall we conduct ourselves in this next matter?” asked the boy.
“That is up to you,” sighed the Abjurist.
The Fencer had to wrestle the Trumpeter but at last he froze the awful stuff suffocating the musician. The liquid turned to brittle obsidian and with his mouth clear flooded the world with obscenities. The two magicians paid no attention, as was their way and their ignorance.
“I have you as a new man,” said the boy. “Now you make war, now you defend the icebound. The Loce I knew of, second hand in my circles, would take no part in such things. To act was a kind of violence, producing bad energies, what were those again? Oh. The Black.”
“I’ve changed,” Loce said, pulling the grey fur cloak about him more fully with his right hand, the left he kept hidden.
He was a terrible liar, Lumnos thought, but Loce had the Inky Child by the tongue. The boy, this magic nightmare from years past, was so bent towards his expression that he cared not for the obvious truth behind the Abjurist’s words. He was lost in his own mystery, the very thing he wished to drag all others down into.
“Dueling is a pleasant game,” sneered the Necromancer. “These icebound will throw themselves at me almost without care, and you won’t lift a finger to help them?”
Loce began to answer, as the Fencer moved to attack and the Trumpeter pursed his lips and even Lumnos readied the Phyox blade, but they were interrupted. The Necromancer stepped back and tapped the Black Lattice. A sound came forth, low, almost indiscernible, but the Phyox heard. The white thing boiled in the wordseller’s hands and with a gasp he dropped the blade.
It sprang up, stretching into a humanoid form much like they had seen worn by Loce. It was lean and lanky, long talons dripped from each hand, the face a blank mask crowned with numerous jutting spires. Two columns of eyes ran down its middle, all the way to the chin. The white flesh boiled to black and it lunged for its creator piping words full of its new master’s meaning.
The moment broke in a wave of ink. Through the gloom Dhala’s crimson eyes swept in with a terrible chill, blurring to streaks as the Fencer attacked the boy. In answer a wall of jagged black crystal bisected the room, placing the Fencer, Loce and the Phyox near the exit, and trapping the rest with the master of the dark.
Speaking Silver the Trumpeter aimed his instrument towards the Black Lattice. In response the child thing flooded the crystal with power, but the musician instantly changed course and sent a blast of noise upon the obsidian wall. The Fencer was caught in mid swing as beyond Loce wrestled with the corrupt Phyox. Shards went flying, pelting Lumnos as he struggled away from the violence. He felt that all he could do was watch, a bystander in this drama, huddling from the mighty actors.
Then he saw Laxa there, half buried in the rubble. He dashed out across the room. In a frenzy the Fencer charged again and the Trumpeter moved closer to the boy, muttering to himself to work up the nerve. Lumnos reached the girl and pulled her from the heap, dragging her to the far side of the room for some reason which buzzed at the back of his head. She had numerous cuts from the obsidian shards, as did he, little crosses all over.
The Fencer and the Trumpeter fought with cunning hard-won from the vicissitudes of Winter. Whatever knowledge the swordsman possessed was augmented by an innate wildness. He loosened up when faced with danger, playing the blade freely, without adherence to style. Yet at times these very instincts appeared to hobble him, as if he was acting on knowledge which he was only able to utilize in part.
The Trumpeter was a different kind, cowardly, but unpredictable. He played the foil, making noise with his silver trumpet to gain attention so that the Fencer might lunge in for the kill, then hiding, only to pop back into the action as if he was some unwilling satellite drawn in by the irresistible gravity of violence.
The Inky Child’s magic towered over them. He avoided the touch of the nightmare blade, where he simply shrugged off the hollow bludgeon of the Trumpet. With his Art he painted the world with ribbons of darkness, tangling up the sword so that it was kept far too busy to reach the Necromancer’s flesh. All this time the black spell he wrote upon the unseen expanse of the world drew close to finish and all felt the dark ready to crown itself with victory.
Cutting through the cloying shadows, the Fencer lunged at the boy’s unguarded form. An ovoid screen of darkness winked open in reaction and from this portal a mass of dead flesh spilled, marrowmere and doad fused together into a single body of grasping, pain-crazed limbs, flowing like liquid and howling like hell. Dhala clove through the form which plopped out from the gate, drawn from some secret place in the caves. The bloated thing split down the middle, jaws divided, skulls riven apart. It died a second, quick death, but this bought a world for the Necromancer as he readied a more deadly spell.
Then a noise played, sharp and ear-splitting. Lumnos watched as the blasting sonics drove the very flesh from the boy’s form. Yet just as quickly the nightmare boiled back, rebounding when the Trumpeter ran out of breath. The Inky Child wore a smile as his skin returned, for he was at play in the mysteries. It seemed little could be done without Loce.
The Abjurist tumbled with his creation, hands locked, palm to palm, fingers intertwined with sleek claws. Lumnos noted the remade hand of starry sky but this provided no confidence. All the white magics Loce could muster were harmlessly absorbed by the strange matter being. Unable to destroy his second skin Loce fought a stalemate battle, and was losing. The Phyox had been his mask and his body, it was larger, stronger, faster than he, but now had all the viciousness of the Necromancer painting its actions. It tossed him back and whipped out with a claw, opening up his inner arm along the length, dividing the black hand, adding another wound to the many it had scored.
Lumnos huddled on the side of history, pulling Laxa close not so much to protect her but to hold onto someone else. Semiconscious, she moaned with pain and moved an arm to scratch at the brands burning her flesh. The limb failed and dropped to her side. Following that hand the wordseller noticed the thing which had tickled his brain the moment he had opened up his eyes to the room, something which had almost been lost in the swell of information.
A lone book lay wedged in a cleft of rock, the opening rounded by the work of ancient hands. Pulling it free Lumnos found that it had a blank white cover of some unknown resin or similar material. Opening it revealed a story.
The Necromancer stopped, a spell dripping from his hands, the darkness written on his skin receding slightly. In all he took on the air of a child, confused and hurt. The Fencer readied a deathblow.
“Stop!” said Lumnos, halting the attack. “I’ve found the thing you seek!”
He held up the book and the Fencer grew a look which was all confusion and anger.
“We can be leaving then,” said the Trumpeter, who then fluidly turned and sent a shuddering blast against the Black Lattice with every gasp of air in his lungs.
The splay of crystal resonated and burst apart with the music of chimes missing from the Argent Lord’s palace. The black stuff shattered, leaving glowing prism behind. The magic here had never been of either binary end, neither Black nor White but had become colored in such a mode. Through the transcendent stuff of the Lattice radiations of all spectrums played out in all colors seen and unseen, imaginary and hyper real.
In the noise they saw nothing of Loce’s end struggle with the Phyox. Sensing loss, he plunged his one good hand into the thing’s chest, each finger finding home in an eye. Its form boiled once more, as did Loce’s. Ink and ashen skin merged and flowed like a quickly changing mind.
Even as Lumnos set to read the tome the writing began to vanish, as if his eyes wiped clean what had seemed perfectly set. He was a canny reader though, and bounced ahead, skimming, soaking in a paragraph here and there. The tale began as crude drawings and hatch-marks but progressed into a flowing script of perfect penmanship. This progress showed a life.
Laxa stirred and instinctively sought a weapon. With a piece of jagged obsidian she scrambled to her feet and braved the prismatic air to seek the Necromancer’s heart. Shaking his head, the Fencer followed. Their barbarous minds were set on the simplicity of the end, exemplified by death, a thing the child wore on his menagerie suit of memories. The boy waited for the blades, his strength taken, as if he was losing the words by which he named the Art. The pain of what he couldn’t say was written across his face.
The weapons struck and echoed away. Laxa’s makeshift weapon shattered while Dhala shook with all the might the Fencer had put behind the swing. In front of the boy stood Loce, who was also the Phyox. They had come to terms and each was now the other, a being split between darkness and light. At the shoreline where the two selves met white circles and black circles played in the realm of the other, strange flecks of color shimmering around the difference. Eyes peaked out from this line running from one shoulder to the opposite hip, watching with silver irises. The missing hand was replaced by the long claws of the strange matter entity, while his face was remade into the Phyox mask, expressive, but also sleek, inhuman. He was whole again.
The Abjurist, or whatever he had become, seemed ready to sell himself to protect the boy. He had been overcome by the boy’s darkness written over his being.