Mayor of Samhain
A Desperate March - Dark Urban Fantasy RPG
The light shone dimly in the Relanari Hall of the Faith. The ceiling was a familiar marble with pillars lining the walls and arches marking the path down toward the Worship Chambers; a series of circular rooms forming a circle around a massive dome-shaped sanctuary where congregants would worship and pray for their lives to be spared the tyranny of the Idols and hope for a better world to follow this one. Striata sat in a hallway with several other Hunters he would presumably be sharing the next foreseeable amount of time with. Might be these guys'll be who I die with.., he thought glumly as he looked around.
Striata had been taught when he was much younger that if he or any of his classmates were to be chosen as Hunters, it would be a good idea for them to pray to the Will Beyond for good fortune on their Quest; When he was younger, the idea had always been a comforting one for Striata, and the notion of the Will Beyond was something that he held dearly while he went through military training, but his faith was just one more thing the Idols had robbed from him.
They had all received their letters in a similar fashion, an envelope as black as night appearing in the mail. A symbol as simple as this was something familiar to all Olessans, the Conscription Augur, they were called, and to refuse their summons was to be immediately blacklisted in Olessa, and all surrounding countries. This was the one thing that Wekmaj and Olessa could manage to agree on, and the thought always made Striata give a bitter laugh.
Beyond the doors that sat at the end of the hallway, and beyond the first orbital Chamber, the Sanctuary would be full with worshippers wishing the Hunters well and praying for their safe Quest. This was the first of three ceremonies that the Hunters would have to go through today, and probably the one which appealed to Striata the least. There were times where Striata hoped the prayers would comfort him, but his visions, which were always perfect premonitions, usually found ways to dash most hopes the prayers would give him.
While they waited on the Chaplain, Striata decided to strike up conversation with the other Hunters that sat before him. Only three other people; this worried him. While it was easy to send other Conscripts during the middle of a Quest, it was one of those pieces of common knowledge that the starting number of a Quest sort of foretold the success of a Quest, seven was the ideal. As he looked up at the ceiling, seeing the carvings of all of the Idols, seemingly meaningless objects that held the power to alter lives and shape nations. Striata asked the others in a mostly uninterested manner, "Any idea which one we'll be going after?" Their Conscription Augur never mentioned, that was the job of the Chaplain and the other members of the clergy to bring up. Still, the odd silence of the Hall, with only the faint echo of hymns made Striata uneasy and he wanted to get some talking going.
Transmundane – Discerned
"So, the Quixos family returns to the Hall of Faith." Errilo sat hunched over, lightly stroking his chin. He was in the midst of a memory, the last time he had been in this building. It had felt different, grander perhaps, important, but that had been with his father. Now it was familiar, and Errilo had learned that it wasn't half as important as what lay ahead. He listened intently to the echoes of the hymns: though not a man of faith, he was unwilling to let any possible advantage go to waste. As far as he could tell, the prayers hadn't changed.
He moved at Striata's conversation starter, tilting halfway to face him. "No idea, though we can rule a few of them out. They wouldn't risk a Grasp, so it'll be one none of us have ever seen. I know it won't be the 'Mirror...'" Errilo's gazed wandered for a moment, crawling up one of the marble pillars, before clicking back to Striata. "You?"
“Aha!” burst the older gentleman sitting on the other side of Striata. His thin, blonde hair seemed to wave “hello” as the man jerked to attention. “Quite an interesting Idol, ‘The Mirror’. As with the majority of the Idols, no one really knows what powers it contains. However, there are several accounts of it driving those people who would attempt to break it mad instantaneously.”
The man, Professor Vaskelcot Cortelco, animated his speech with various jabs and gestures to emphasize certain points. After a quick breath, he continued.
“One curious fact is that none of the guilds have ever possessed ‘The Mirror’. Quite uncommon for an Idol. Also, it seems that a large number of psychoidolatrists practically revere it. Hm, might have to do with that instant madness bit. . . Well, beyond that, the only other tidbit about it that I can offer is that it’s attracted several Hobby Hunters over the years.
“Now, you mentioned ‘The Mirror’ before, correct?” Vaskelcot asked, turning to face Errilo. “Tell me, were you a Hobby Hunter before your conscription?”
Transmundane – Discerned
Errilo, initially thrown off by Vaskelcot's outburst, began to seethe as the professor elaborated on 'The Mirror.' "Driven mad, driven mad..." visions of his father flickered before him. With Vaskelcot's final question, Errilo snapped, responding with a deep, harsh whisper. "Hobby Hunter? No, and don't ever ask me again. If we're working together, you don't ever mention 'The Mirror' to me again." He huffed. "This isn't a field trip, and it sure as hell isn't a hobby. So keep your factoids and your... psychoidolatrists to yourself." Having leaned in to threaten Vaskelcot, Errilo drew back, resting on the back of the bench.
Originally Posted by Gornacopia
It was obvious that the youngest Hunter there had some ill memory about the 'Mirror' and had made it quite clear he had no intentions on talking about it, which Eiem respected. Still, seeking to prevent the inevitable awkward silence that was to follow Errilo's threat, Eiem finally spoke.
"I'm wondering if this is it," he commented vaguely, pausing to take a glance at the door, "There's usually more for this kind of thing. It's strange that there's only four of us. Do you think anyone else will be coming?" Eiem looked at each of the men as he spoke, making it unclear who "you" actually referred to. "I'm Eiem Meramek by the way. I'm a cartographer from Gabrol." Eiem figured he had to get to know these men sooner or later and felt it necessary to get annoying introductions out of the way.
Mayor of Samhain
Striata observed that the conversation had quickly turned bitter as Mr. talky had brought up a bad memory for the younger Hunter. Striata was about to speak his own name when the door leading from the hallway out into the town square opened and Chaplain Rinae entered. His white tattered cloak draped around him, giving his entire body a wispy air as he drifted through the hall toward the Hunters. As he reached the four men, he billowed out a long bow before rising up and beginning in his hollow, echoed voice.
"We stand today on the cusp of a glorious moment for the Faith. You four men will embark as many have before on a Holy Quest for one of our tormentors, to attempt to reign it once again so that it may be wielded for the forces of mankind rather than those of darkness. You have all answered your summons and faithfully so. When this ceremony is over, you will don your collars and be indentured to the Faith until either your death or the successful completion of your Quest."
The man seemed to sway as he spoke, and Striata was not sure if it was due to the man's age, or possibly just an eccentricity that was the source of this odd behavior. Whatever the matter, the priest began speaking to them once again, though this time his voice was more solemn.
"Let us pray.
Beset on all sides by darkness,
There is but one light that shines for us all
It is death and world beyond worlds that guides us.
Its light will guide us against that which would see us harmed.
Those which would hear our maddened cries, those which would smell our decayed flesh,
and feel Dys's soil littered with our bodies. There is but one light that will guide us,
and it is blessed and it is good. There is but one salvation within this world."
"And that is nothingness." Striata recited the final line of the prayer, as would anyone who had been raised with any presence of the Faith. This was the Soil Mantra of Light; one of the first prayers taught to students in Olessa. While they would later go onto enroll in school's more tailored to their jobs, the lowest levels of Olessan education were funded by the Faith and taught some of the basic tenets thereof. Striata was not a religious man but he recited the final line out of custom.
"Any news of what Idol we'll go after?" Striata asked the Chaplain, who responded immediately, as if he knew that the question were about to be asked and did not want to bother answering it.
"During the ceremony, brave Hunter. Your quarry will reveal itself as it always has in the light of salvation and in the presence of the faithful. Come, the hymn has ended and it is our time." Indeed, the hymn had ended and now several bells could be heard from the top of the sanctuary. The bells would play harbinger for the next point of the procession, and Striata lined up dutifully behind the Chaplain, who reached approached a staff lined along the wall and took it from its place. It was a large staff that positioned a globe of Luka at its peak, surrounded by four circles. Luka, the glowing liquid from foreign lands that had suffered Idolblight worse than even Heidel; it was used as a symbol by the Faith to represent the light they so revered. The Chaplain's staff produced its eerie white glow as the old man who held it walked forward and Striata followed slowly, keeping his head hung low.
Transmundane – Discerned
"And that is nothingness." Now that he was participating in a ceremony pertaining to his duty, Errilo was no longer quiet, proudly reverberating the final words of the prayer. He silently followed the conversation between Striata and the Chaplain, before trailing after the light cast off by the Luka.
Mayor of Samhain
Chaplain Rinae and the Hunters walked slowly forward and through the doors toward the Sanctuary. The hallway they stepped through was darkened as the Hunters walked in a line following only the light of the Luka that the Chaplain held above him. As they approached a large door, the line stopped and the Chaplain tapped his staff on the ground three times. As if on cue, the doors before the group opened leading into the thick of the Sanctuary.
While other states' capital Sanctuaries were impressive, none were quite so as Anaya's. The city of Relnar had previously been the Olessan outpost of the Faith during the pre-unification period of Olessa's history, and this was most evident in its Sanctuary. A large circular hall with an immensely high domed ceiling that served to make all within feel small in its presence. The ceiling was painted in a manner to resemble the vast reaches of space, and while the subject of such a painting would largely be considered something mostly black and empty to those living in the cities of Olessa, one needed only return to the Anayan Sanctuary to gain a glimpse of how space could possibly be portrayed. Swirls of purple and dark reds dotted and danced along the high dome, invoking cosmos invisible to the naked eye, and countless blue and white specks represented the incandescence of the stars as they mimicked the vast cluster that scientists' said made up the galaxy that Dys was located in. However, such a cosmic mural was only one portion of every identifiable Sanctuary, the more notable feature were the three metal supports which curved along the length of the ceiling in three axes. These beams were large machines that silently moved about the room over the course of a day acting as a strange clock which the clergy said not only represented the time of day but acted as a symbol for the world of Dys at large. The two beams that intersected along the ceiling were at such a point that they created a perfect cross with an apex at the peak of the dome. From this central angle, a light shone onto the platform located at the center of the Sanctuary.
The platform, an octagonal wooden structure raised only three feet from the ground at its highest, was a flat surface with a circular stained-glass art piece at its center. The platform held no barriers between it and the rest of the church and was situated in a space below the actual seats where the congregants rested, so as to symbolize the fact that the clergy were to serve the people in the Quest for salvation, and not to be worshiped themselves. Seven members of the clergy, each adorned in exactly the same manner as Rinae, and with their own Luka staffs, stood vigil facing outward toward the silent audience.
Lit by the Luka, the stars, and the ray of light from the center of the beams, the platform stood as the only notable fixture in the room, which was cast into darkness for the large part. As Rinae and the Hunters approached, he beckoned them onto the platform. Striata solemnly obeyed, stepping onto the lit platform and looking out into the faceless darkness of the congregation, who sat silently transfixed on the four men brought before them.
Vaskelcot took in all of the grand aspects of the Sanctuary with a sense of awe and an inability to completely close his mouth. While he had seen pictures of the Sanctuary, he had only seen it in person once before, and even then he had not been in this particular room. Mesmerized by the cosmic mural, the professor almost tripped as he stepped up onto the platform.
Mayor of Samhain
The congregants began to hum. It was a low, ominous hymn that they all knew but none had ever had cause to actually sing in a group before today. The humming was such to the degree that it made Striata visibly uneasy hearing it, even though all the Hunters knew the tune. There was something vastly different about hearing it performed en masse that struck a cord in him. As he stood staring into the faceless crowd, a voice called out from behind the Hunters, another Chaplain. This one less wispy than Rinae had been. His form only slightly lit by his Luka staff, it was easy to tell that this was a man who held authority at the Hall of the Faith.
"Step closer, children, into darkness." He calmly spoke to the Hunters, who began to step toward him. The group approached the center of the platform where the man stood. He was taller than all of them by at least a head and he began the final procession of the Faith.
"Consecrated by Void, I send you into the unknown." He ran a finger along each of their foreheads, marking them with an ashen line.
"Consecrated by Fire, I send you into Turmoil." He went to each one of them and pressed a stick of burning incense into their necks. Striata gritted his teeth.
"Consecrated by Rock, I send you into the Faith." He passed a goblet of wine for each of them to drink. They did.
"Consecrated by Light, I send you into Hope." He took a small vial of Luka from his robes and rubbed it perpendicular to the ashen line.
"Consecrated by Blood, I send you into death."
With his final words, the floor beneath the Hunters was set aglow by its own light. Beneath them was a glass screen covering a pool of Luka, and within that pool a shape that could only have been one thing, a Grasp. There had been rumors that the Faith had kept Grasps as well as their own Idols within the Halls but this was the first time in modern history that one would have been seen by anyone other than a member of the Clergy.
The glass abruptly gave way and the Hunters all fell into the glowing liquid. Immediately afraid of the Grasp, Striata looked back upward to see that the glass had materialized again. The Grasp for its part began swimming upward toward the Hunters.