It had only been a few minutes since the rest of the Table had left the complex. Guiver’lan was already allowing himself to feel self-satisfied about the meeting’s outcome. He leaned back in his bronzewood chair, letting his feet come up to rest against the corner of the silk-sheeted bed nearby. His quarters here in this underground base were not spacious but what they lacked in area, they more than made up for in opulence.
“Quite an evening,” he said languidly. “Wouldn’t you agree, my dear?”
The subject of his comment stepped fully into the room and closed the door behind her. She had been seeing the others out, escorting them safely through the complex’s concealed back exit and ensuring they had all departed.
She fixed Guiver’lan with a cold stare, one made all the darker by the falls of black hair framing her pale face. “Have you completely lost your mind?”
The Master of the Table leaned forward, bringing his feet to rest on the floor again and his full focus to bear on the woman speaking. His amusement at the night’s events was not entirely gone, but his eyes were much colder now. “I suggest you watch your tone with me, Veleste.” A touch of menace slid into his voice. “You do not want to test my patience.”
Veleste moved across the far side of the room from Guiver’lan, first pouring and then downing a witheringly potent drink. Emerald drops of liquor clung to the glass as it dangled from her hand, already forgotten. “It’s not your patience I question. It’s your sanity.”
Instead of growing angry, Guiver’lan ran one hand through his graying hair and shrugged off the insult. Then, with a laugh, he gestured back towards the rest of the base. “Are you upset with my little display earlier, my lovely?”
Her first answer was to pour another glass but, instead of drinking it, she merely stared into its verdant depths. “Upset doesn’t cover it.”
That got a laugh from Guiver’lan, a cool sound that was part amusement, part menace. “I thought you would want to be surprised like the others, Veleste.” He folded his hands on the table before the last of his chuckles faded. “I must say, you covered your shock well. I’d be willing to bet the rest of the Table assume you knew all along.”
That brought the crystal cup to her lips. When she was done, she glared at him over its rim. “This is no game, Guiv. You’ve collared something down there no one can ever hope to keep on a leash.”
The Master of the Table rose to his feet, a reaction that made Veleste both flinch backwards and inwardly hate herself for doing so. He brought his fist down on the table, a sharp punctuation for his next words. “I know this is not a game, woman. It’s a war and I intend to win.”
She straightened up quickly, ready if not willing to respond. Before she could speak, he continued in a calmer tone of voice.
“That beast is powerful, yes. Fearsome? Most certainly. The most destructive thing you or I could imagine?” His eyes shone with the light of superiority. “Without a doubt. But I assure you it can be controlled. It is being controlled.”
Before Veleste could stop herself, her crimson-painted lips parted around the question, “How?”
Guiver’lan’s imperious gaze glittered with indulgence. “I am glad you asked.” He had been aching to tell someone all this; she could tell by his voice. “Do you recall all those dark cult lords we’ve discovered and brought into the fold?”
Veleste’s lip curled in disdain. She knew of them, all right. The fact that Raven, the former leader of the Table in spirit if not in true title, had allowed them to serve the Table had always been a cutting point with her. It had proven that no one was ever as noble as they pretended. “Yes. Of course I do. Madmen and murderers, every last one.”
Guiver’lan smiled again. “Quite right, but even a misanthrope has its uses. All of these cults share one thing at the heart of their insanities.”
She no longer cared about the answer, but she knew this was his show now. If she did not play her part willingly, he would only grow upset and possibly do something rash. Before seeing what lurked in the brackish waters beneath her feet, she would not really have feared him. Now… things were different. “And what is that?”
“Oblivion.” He paused dramatically. “Every dark cult we’ve ever encountered has as one of its core beliefs the necrotic ideal that all things must die. The sooner the better, most of them say.” He pointed downwards, his gesture obviously meant to indicate the terror in the depths below. “And that? That is the embodiment of all those destructive dreams and nihilistic nightmares.”
“Fascinating.” She did not mean it. He could tell. Still, she was obediently saying the right things at the right time. It was enough to keep him calm. “But that does not explain how such a creature could possibly be under anyone’s control.”
“That part is easy. I picked the best and brightest of those cultists, and assembled a powerful group capable of channeling the will of the deific force behind that monstrosity. Through their relationship with the Devourer, I can guide its fell spawn wherever I want it to strike.” He grinned triumphantly. “Victory is mine, thanks to a handful of ‘madmen and murderers’.”
Veleste scoffed again. “Perhaps, but that’s just a stroke of dark luck. You wouldn’t even have them if they’d all be put down like we were told.”
Guiver’lan raised an eyebrow, then laughed again. “Luck had nothing to do with it.” His eyes grew serious again. “You have no idea how much it cost me to have so many adepts and vile priests raised from the dead. This was effort well rewarded. My effort.”
She tilted her head, the crystal cup almost falling from her grasp. “Then all the cults we found before?”
Guiver’lan spat. “Wasted. Put to the sword by that short-sighted traitor. It cost me a fortune… no, many fortunes… to reassemble the dozen or so I have. In some cases, reassembly was quite literal.”
“Ah,” she murmured, mostly to herself. “I see.”
Guiver’lan nodded. “You’d better. Now you understand how committed I am to seeing this through. The circle is gathered and safely enshrined aboard their own ship. They will keep the beast under my control and funnel their powers into...” he paused again for effect, “into other projects of my own design. Nothing about Endgame is being left to chance.”
“I’d been mistaken,” she said quietly, setting down her glass with care. “I understand now.”
That brought a smile to his thin lips. “Excellent. Now come over here. Ask my forgiveness and I’ll think about letting your insults earlier pass. I think you can convince me.”
Her head was spinning. “I’ll have to do so another time, Guiver’lan. I… I should make sure the complex is secure.” She was reaching and she knew it. Nothing made sense right now. “The… the members of the Table know about this place. We can’t be too careful this close to the attack.”
Annoyance lined his every feature, but she had hit him when she knew it would count. His amusements would have to wait. Nothing could be allowed to interfere with the plan now.
“Fine. Go and see to the base.” He walked across the room to get a drink of his own. “And be ready to depart when the sea gates open. We sail at dawn.” Though he had hoped to catch her before she slipped from of the room, Veleste was out the door before he could do so. “I’ll take my apology then.”
She nodded, agreeing to anything and everything as she fled into the hallway. She needed to think. She needed time and distance from this web of deceit she had allowed to be woven around her for so long. Everything she had done, for many years, had been based on lies that were actually true and a truth she had believed a lie.
But there was no time to set things right, whatever right even was any more. The hands of the doomsday clock were almost pointing to the final hour. It was too late. She was too late to do anything or change anything.
What had been set in motion would stay in motion, racing toward a most uncertain and terrifying end…
A Sudden Calm
Stormreach Scryer News for Olarune 3, 999
Unusually calm seas are being reported in the deepest reaches of the Shargon Strait out to as far north as Sharn itself. These easy waters would normally be a great benefit for ocean going vessels but with Stormreach’s currently closed ports and increased dangers in and under the waves, few ships are braving the passage at this time.
This unofficial embargo on travel comes despite the Storm Lords’ united requests to Sharn and other countries abroad for relief supplies following the recent disasters and continued low traffic suffered by Stormreach since the turn of the last season. With foodstuffs and consumables reaching critically low levels in some parts of the city, many citizens are turning to the Storm Lords for answers and receiving little more than empty promises of aid to come.
The only official response to this time of crisis has been a proclamation issued to the people of Stormreach by Aldai Kayden, a spokesman in the employ of the Storm Lords. In a twenty minute speech given by Kayden on behalf of the city government, a call has gone out for all able bodied adventurers and explorers to venture outside Stormreach in search of supplies and resources. The Storm Lords have promised ample but undefined rewards for anyone acting upon this mandate.