As the army was closing to the hearth of the Red Empire, Devas started noticing that the ships and the soldiers become slower. Sometimes it appeared that the silver soldier were falling asleep.
“The Mad One is falling asleep, my master”, explained the crow-lieutenant to Zalyanitha, “this army is a part of him, and as time goes by it gets weaker and weaker”.
When asked about a remedy he explained that only blood can keep the master of Unmandin awake. A rivers of mortal blood, but much less if the blood belongs to someone whose nature is written in silver patterns.
And with some luck they managed to find two stag-like beasts in an abandoned zoo of an imperial noble who fled from an incoming army. The One Who Flaps With Night, took a responsibility to bring the sacrifice to the Mad One, and after a few days the army suddenly became fresh again.
Meanwhile Bastyn was engaged in something that mixed embracement of his human nature in hopes to keep the rest of his sanity that was slipping away and hunting for any source of information about glyph magic in hope to get some kind of advantage in the upcoming battle. The result was a drunk and babbling immortal staggering on the deck.
One of those days he was woken up from his drunken sleep by a soft woman voice: “Bastyn, Bastyn, I have something for you”. There was a green eyed woman standing in his room. Was she one of the soldiers? Bastyn was too drunk and drugged to understand, but not drunk enough to not perceive her beauty and the fact that she was standing here totally naked. The stranger leaned over him and the immortal embraced the moment. There was no interlude. Was it pleasurable? Bastyn could not remember as he passed out.
When he woke up, he was lying in a fancy bed with silken linen. The room was luxurious but not of Unmandin design, the ornaments rather reminded the Red Empire. Bastyn stood up, covered his nakedness with a bed-sheet, broke a leg from a chair to get some kind of weapon and went to explore the place. A door leading out of the room was open and led him to a corridor. After a short stroll he found another door that led him to a balcony, and here in front of his eyes was lying Sy-Dyx, the capital of the Red Empire. And the balcony, he was standing in was high on the inner wall, surrounding the Imperial palace and the garden with the Apple Tree.
Finally the towers of Sy-Dyx, the capital of the Red Empire, were spotted. The day of the battle had dawned. Despite the mages and magical beasts and even Immortals of the Emperror who fought even after they limbs and heads were chopped, the battle was won the same day, without laying a siege. The defence seemed to be sporadic and unorganized. Rakshavyadha took the streets, Zalyanitha took the sky, and only Padme, who tried to break through the North gate was shot by a madman with a bullet made out of a substance that seemed to be the black dust polluting moonsilver.
Meanhwile two other devas broke through the inner walls, Rakshavyadha was first to cross the gardens, chopping everyone who he meet there, which appeared to be mainly unarmed but immortal, scarcely dressed people with a lot of piercings and body modifications.
After crossing the gardens, Rakshavyadha had opened the palace gates, and here an orgy of music, food, drugs and half naked bodies meet him. It seemed that the imperial nobility had gathered here, but it was completely oblivious to what is happening outside the palace walls.
Suddenly a man spoke, and everyone stood quiet: “Behold, the old age had ended, a new one has dawned, and it was brought by new gods, here”, he pointed to Rakshavyadha, “stands one of them, one who will choose who will live and who will die”. And as soon as he finished, Rakshavyadha ordered his troops to kill everyone inside.
All of this was happening as Bastyn was watching from the balcony until he was interrupted by quite ordinary looking man in red clothing.
“I was looking for you for so long”, spoke the man whom Bastin newer meet in person, but he could recognize it anyway.
“I wanted to study you bone by bone, to know your secrets, to find your creator. But that does not matter now, I have found the answer I was looking for, do you know how?”, Bastyn kept silent. And the Red Emperor continued.
“I had tamed the Nothingness and it allowed me to reach the lost dreams of our people with my roots. And yes, we both share the same ancestors that once lived on Ramalat. But I don’t feel any kindred feelings towards you. I find you to be a mankurt – flesh and blood of our people inhabited by an illusion of a human, not even real human.
“Nevertheless, you had done your duty, you gifted me a descendant who, although will be one fourth of a human blood, he will carry my legacy out of this world. And for this I will gift you a freedom, not because it is most precious but because it costs nothing.”
As he was saying this, a green eyed woman joined them. She leaned at the shoulder of the Emperor. “Let’s go father” she told ignoring Bastyn and they left and just few moment before Zalyanitha riding her flying bull ascended in front of the balcony.
There was no lost lowe between those two so after a short acknowledgement that both are all right Zalyanitha returned to the battle and lovering Bastyn in the Imperial gardens on the way. And here she saw a green shimmering coming from behind the huge cristal some covering the central part of the palace. It was not hard to understand that here was the source of the power of the Emperor – the apple tree that could gift an immortality.
Deva of justice took quickly found the last flying ship, and ordered it to ram the dome. But as soon as the glass shattered, from between the green cover of the apple leaves came a black thing, made out of blinding darkness and roaring with a deafening silence. The flying soldiers that were close to the dome instantly turned to dust, and then the monster swallowed the ship whole. Zalyanitha turned her artefact-bull around and ordered it to descent as fast as possible and the dark beast did not show any intention to chase her.
Deva made a low trip through the gardens and reached a gate leading inside the palace. Here the result of Rashavyadhas work meet her – torn off limbs that still moved, heads that still silently moved lips. There was Rakshavyadha himself, covered in blood. Zalyanitha told him about Padme, and the hunter went to find her body. Meanwhile the deva of justice ordered her army to start gathering the fragments of immortals and feed them to the beast of nothingness through the hole in the crystal dome.
Rakshavyadha meantime found remains of Padme’s soldiers lying on the street. Padmes body was nowhere to be found. And at the same time Zalyanitha meet the Emperor. He welcomed her from a balcony in the hall and was instantly shoot by the arrow through his hearth. He grabbed the shaft leaned on the railings of the balcony, coughed and felt down.
Zalyanitha walked to him and raised his body from the ground, Emperors tongue was hanging out and then he asked:
“Well, was it convincing?”
“No, answered Deva and dragged him out of the palace, took her bull and flied towards the broken dome, holding Emperor by the leg. Although the ruler of the red empire did not seemed to be afraid, he was clearly annoyed by this situation. And his attempts to engage in diplomacy ended in Zalyanitha dropping him down into the green of the apple tree hiding the blackness of the beast of nothingness. And as he disappeared she noticed that a huge, reptile-like creature descended from the hills in the west and was coming towards the city, she wondered for a while what is this beast and what he is doing here but finally decided that there are more pressing matters to attend.
Bastyn, Rakshavyadha and Zalyanitha meet at the palace gates. They cross now almost empty halls and find an entrance to the central dome, where the Apple Tree grows. Shards of broken crystal dome lie everywhere, but the party is much more drawn to the sound of hammering. The sound, they quickly find out, is coming from the emperor who is nailing Padme to the trunk of the tree. There was no sign of any damage on his body from being dropped from above by Zalyanitha. The black serpentine coils above their heads convinced party to act carefully, so instead of fighting they had chosen to talk. And the Red Emperor explained, that he made a deal with the Herald of Nothingness, a deal that would open a gate to another world. For this to happen the Silver Ring and a body of deva with a womb was needed, here Rakshavyadha admitted that he is also a part of this deal. One deva with a woman’s body needed to carry a ring inside her and this would make two rings out of one but would kill deva in the process. One of the rings would be given to the Apple Tree who knew how to open a gate with it, another should be delivered to the Mad One, who would make a weapon that could kill the Mother of Nightmares.
Padme, who meanwhile was removed from the three and the bullet made out of the black dust was removed from her body. When she woke up and was informed about what is happening, she volunteered to take the mission of giving birth to the two rings on herself.
The Red Emperor organized the ritual, and the deva felt into a strange waren. She found herself in a fancy bed in a beautiful room, there was a wind blowing through the open door to the balcony. Everything indicated that this is the Moongate.
She walked to the balcony, and there she found a young man, covered in masterfully made pattern tattoos. His eyes were confused. And as he saw Padme he asked:
“Who are you?”
“I am a Deva.”
“Is your name Zalyanitha? I remember Zalyanitha, she was keeping me safe”
Padme tried to explain what is happening but this seemed to scare the young man. Trying to avoid further confusing him Padme hugged him, and that seemed to work.
“I will protect you now.”
“Of course, now I remember, I need to hide inside you.”
And with those words he pushed Padme on the bed and dropped on top of her, and Padme just closed her eyes and thought about the Empire. It all finished quickly and they both fell asleep.
When Padme woke up from the feeling in lying in something cold. She looked and saw that the man was no more and instead bed was filled with a puddle of moonsilver. She stood up, walked to the balcony and jumped.
Sy-Dyx sunk into a chaos. There were slave rebellion, a dragon rampaging through the streets, riots and fire. But that never crossed the inner gates of the city, where now devas and their army resided. Zalyanitha, feeling adventurous went out and killed the dragon and send his blood, with a help of her lieutenant-crow to the Mad One.
Padme meanwhile was given a room and taken care by the green-eyed daughter of the emperor. The One Who Flaps With Night returned in five days and asked about the ring and was enraged by the fact that Devi were not on their way to Unmandin but instead agreed to cooperate with the Herald of Nothingness. He explained that they are used and that the ring must travel to Unmandin as quickly as possible if anyone still hopes to save the world. He quickly convinced Zalyanitha that their deal with the Herald was a mistake and she went to Padme.
As soon as she and the lieutenant entered the room, the crow jumped on Padme, who from the wounds and after ritual felt very week and tried to rip the ring out of Deva’s body with his beak. Padme tried to fight back, and almost managed to crush the One Who Flaps With Night but finally her weakness took over and she lost a consciousness. Zalyanitha at that time dealt with the emperor’s daughter, who tried to protect Padme. Deva simply pushed her out of the window. After that she cut the ring out of Padme’s body.
“Give it to me.” Demanded the crow. And as soon as Zalyanitha fulfilled the demand, he flew out of the window without saying anything else.
“What have you done!” sreamed the Red Emperor when he learned what happened. Zalyanitha, now not so sure if what she did was a right thing, explained that the ring now belonged to the Mad One. The emperor was speechless, the process of making second ring was broken, his daughter lost his child after falling out of the window, the ring was gone… The rest of the party was also a bit confused.
Finally they had reached an agreement, Emperor would let them to use the ancient and very expensive system of transportation that could instantly transport people in a glass capsule between two portals of moonsilver.
It was decided that Padme will stay, there was barely enough place to squeeze three persons an a bull, a feat that would be impossible for mortals, but even Devas were suffocating and almost boiling when the capsule was welded shut. Then it was dropped into a pool of moonsilver and next second emerged in a courtyard of a wooden manor somewhere in the Valley of Green Shadows. A few locals rushed to meet what they thought to be imperial envoys but Rakshavyadha broke the glass all three jumped on the bull and flew away leaving everyone confused.
They flew as fast as possible, hoping to outran the crow. Bastyn acted as a guide because “once one had found a way to Unmandin he will always be able to return”. And in two days flight they saw the white towers of the Mad City.
Mad one was waiting for them in the street. With the One who Flaps with Night on his shoulder, holding the ring in his hands. No one had any idea how to get the ring back, so no one even asked, but instead explained to the master of the city what was happening and why the empire needed the ring.
“I see, now I see!” proclaimed the Mad One when they finished explaining and started laughing, and the city laughed with him.
When he finally stopped laughing he came to each one, shaked hand and hugged, and when he finally hugged Zalyanitha he whispered:
Deva felt a pain in her abdomen and saw blood dripping down her legs. There was no ring in the hands of the Mad One. Now with two rings there will be two weapons, one to close the gate, another to take Unmandin back from the Wild One. Zalyaitha tried to dissagree, then protest and then to argue but all in vain, the Mad One felt like he was dealt a winning card.
“This will be an ultimate triumph of justice and you will fulfill it, now please, enjoy my city the best you can”, he ended the argument.
Rakshavyadha then asked if it would be possible to bring Padme to Unmandin, to what the Mad One agreed and then left the party in an awkward silence. Shortly Zalyanitha left to think about what happened and Rakshavyadha and the immortal decided to go and find the Wild One, desperately hoping that maybe he can offer some kind of help.
After some time spent aimlessly wandering through the streets they finally found what they were looking for: the Wild One was towering over the city, reaching the sky, he seemed to be looking at the immortal and deva but stayed oblivious to any attempt to communicate.
Finally the two decided that Rakshavyadha could get into the Silverspace and tried to speak with the Mad One’s brother there. At first seemed that this method would also be useless, but then Rakshavyadha realized that instead of speaking he can weave silver strings of the Wild One. That appeared to be risky act, because as soon as the hunter touched the strings they tried to engfull him, wind him and swallow him into enormous pattern of the godlike being. Only the enormous will effort helped to prevent that from happening and allowed Rakshavyadha to weave a warning about Mad One’s plans into the patterns of the Wild One.
When he felt out of the silverspace into the strange reality of Unmandin he saw the Wild One turning around and walking away. Had he understood the message? How he will act on in? Will be there any gratitude? Those questions were left unanswered.
The One who Flaps with Night was one who was ordered to fetch Padme, and he was obviously not happy to see her again, the sentiment was mutual and the Deva meet him by throwing pillows. But after the lieutenant explained that he is here to bring her to her friends she agreed to listen.
“You will need to jump through the window”, deva did as told, hoping that someone will katch her in the fall, but that never happened, was that a small revenge by the demon?
She woke up in Unmandin where she meet Rakshavyadha and Bastyn.
At that time, Zalyanitha remembered the rule of Unmandin: “The one who has the will commands the rules” and was trying to apply this as best as she could by rejecting the pact she made olad time ago with the One who Plays with the Moon. She was chanting inverted ritual that she made while long time ago she half knowingly accepted him inside her. She chanted and chanted until she fell asleep from exhaustion. And when she woke up she realized that she is holding the ring in her hands. The Mad one was standing nearby. Without a word he extended his arm, and also without saying anything Zalyanitha took the ring from him.
From nowhere the creator of Unmandin appeared next to Rakshavyadha. The ring was in his hand. And he asked if Rakshavyadha would be able to kill the Mother of Nightmares. It seemed that he was not completely trusting Rakshavyadha, but at that point everyone understood that there was nothing to gain by cheating the Mad One. Finally the child of the Last Dreamer agreed that Rakshavyadha will be the one to do it and told him to wait for him to weave the ring into a weapon.
Rakshavyadha asked to allow him to say goodbye to his friends and then where he can find a nice place to wait, and the Mad One brought him to the rest of the party and then offered him the Gardens as the best place to wait.
After short goodbyes Zalyanitha, Bastyn and Padme left the city, and Rakshavyadha went to the Gardens. The gardens seemed to be abandoned and forgotten, wind chasing dead leaves, broken fountains, and no one around except Pol who seemed to be oblivious to the world around him but completely happy in this state. The hunter sighed and went into a meditation from which he was woken up by the mad one holding a thing reminding of a silver dagger weaved out of an intricate pattern of silver strings. They both went to the black tower and climbed up the stairs that seemed to never end. Eventually there were only stairs spiraling up through the blackness of the space towards the dark rock orbiting the shattered moon.
Eventually the Mad One stopped.
“I can will not follow you any further, I must go back and see the city I created for those that I love die”, told him and went back.
And Rakshavyadha continued his journey up until the stars went dark and he found himself in a dark and cold place. Suddenly he heard a hissing sound and realized to be standing inside the cocoon protecting the sarcophagus with the Last Dreamer First Traveller. The glass door shut the coccoon from the vacuum and from the horde of beast from nothingness pushing against the glass. The lights went on and he saw her crying.
“Thank you for fulfilling my wish, Rakshavyadha, and sorry, sorry for I asked you to do this, because I only did that to not die alone, sorry for what you will need to to and sorry for you will need to die to do this. This could be made by anyone else, but I just wanted it to be you”.
“I do not mind” answered the deva and raised the dagger.
“Wait. We still have time, we can still have one last conversation, there are so many stories that I can tell you.”
And so they spoke, and she told about her world and about the wondrous worlds she visited and Rakshavyadha listened, for how long it was hard to say, but eventually he stood up and finished the conversation with a trust of a dagger.
Zalyanitha, Bastyna and Padme were travelling westwards, away from the Mad City, towards the Wild Lands. Finally they reached the Silver River and the bridge grown out of branches and wines, connecting the two lands. They crossed it and started walking down the stream. And they walked and walked… and they were reminded that there is no end to the Wild Lands, and so they stayed, and seasons were changing, and they lost the count of years. Bastyn knew better, but Devas tried to civilize the land, to teach local humans some culture, but it was in vain, the Wild Lands were stronger and instead of changing the land everyone felt to be changing by the land.
One morning they woke up, walked to the riverbank and instead of the river they saw a gaping abyss. It was time to leave. And so they went deeper and deeper into the Wildlands and the Nothingness chased them and against seasons changed and it was hard to track how long they travelled, outrunning the abyss but newer able to lose it. And finally they just gave up. Bastyn harvested some wild bee’s poison and they stopped and waited for the nothingness to catch up and it did. And each of them drank the poison, and even Bastyn’s demon did not tried to prevent this.
Thi did not needed to wait long for the effect to kick in. The two dewas felt separated from their body vessels and saw their own patterns being dragged down into abyss. Meanwhile Bastyn simply died, the poison had dissolved the persona that was Bastyn and instead Kursikan, the one who was hidden deep in the immortal body woke up, confused and scared not knowing where he is. He also did not felt when Padme had reached out from the dying Silverspace and embraced him with his patterns and then they all felt down into the Nothingness.
And so it ended, everything was swallowed by nothingness – devas, immortals, Mad and Wild Lands. The story of the Immortal who died to Discover true self, the Deva of Justice who fought for something that he considered to belong to her but gave it away when she found it’s true meaning, the Deva of Hunt who sacrificed himself to kill his creator to give the world a precious little extra time, and only Nothingness had witnessed this deed, and the Deva of Kindness who asked for a gift of wisdom but chose newer to use it, they all disappeared. The world itself and the remnants of the moongate, and with them the story of the mortals who lived in this world, and the history of Devas who came to this world and the history of the Dreamer who created the Moongate they all were gone as if newer existed, and the endless universe almost haven’t noticed this.
Almost, as the story about Padme, Bastyn, Rakshavyadha and Zalyanitha somehow slipped through cracks of nothingness and had reached some other dream in a distant world and there this story was told.