Argaian Articles

Found and Overheard

Excerpt from the transcript of the trial of Rowan Umberend   ADJUDICATOR VIPER: Rowan Umberend, you stand before a council of your peers, accused of reigniting the Red Rains and returning the Chimera to an unhappy world. How do you plead?  ADJUDICATOR GILSTREAM: No answer, sir? It was you who surrendered to us.  ACCUSED: I have surrendered to no one. I came to speak.  ADJUDICATOR VIPER: We ordered you surrender yourself and you appeared.  ACCUSED: Order me as you wish. Condemn me as you will. In the end it does not matter.  ADJUDICATOR DIAMONDCREST: You should not dismiss these accusations so readily! Your crimes are worthy of death.  ACCUSED: Yet you will not kill me. You cannot, for every Phoenixborn is now more valuable than ever before. You will all thank me in time, for you will see all the lives I have saved.  ADJUDICATOR ROARKWIN: You mock us by claiming yourself savior?  ACCUSED: Already you feel it, brother! Those tugging fingers that clawed into your brain, that told you to crave the deaths of your peers. They have left you as they have left me. Left us all! The Phoenix  shall not torment us as long as the Chimera run rampant! Their rebirth is our stay of execution. Savior? Yes! I have saved us all.  ADJUDICATOR VIPER: And what of the villages swept away in rivers of blood? Of towns decimated by the predations of your new monsters?  ACCUSED: The farmer regrets the cattle lost to the wolf and so kills the wolf. Inconvenient, yes, costly perhaps, but the farmer knows there will always be more cows. The doctor told me I was dying. Worthless woman! I did not have you call on me for such useless commentary. Ease the pain of my breathing, damn you, or away with haste. For two years now I have enjoyed my stay at the Promenade, but now this hotel suite has lost its gleam. Now all I long for is home, but with this newest turn of my health, I know I shall never feel the embrace of my beloved Goldwater again. And with the advent of the renewed Red Rains, it is unlikely that even my dead bones will be allowed the courtesy of travel. The chimera have returned and the cities are implementing all the old strategies. High walls will be raised higher. Stout gates will be made stouter. And so the doors of Goldwater will likely be closed to me for eternity.  	The success of the Weekly Highriver gave me financial freedom, and lucky investments gave me wealth. I had someone from the firm pay me one final visit yesterday so that I might have destroyed all documentation pertaining to my last wishes. No money shall go to Farial and her family, for such shall not help them fare any better in this new world they are inheriting. No money shall go to the Goldwater Theatrical Endowment, for their priorities are changing even as we speak.  	No. Instead, tonight, I will be visited by a low man and he and I shall conclude a weeks-long negotiation. If I am to leave this world in such miserable condition, with its future so dubiously cast to the winds, then I swear that with my last capability I will stab at the devil that vexes this otherwise wonderful existence. The low man understands his role quite well and the firm understands theirs. When news of Rowan Umberend’s demise is widespread, the low man may claim the key to my lock box at Anfarro’s. Kill that wretch and lay claim to my abundance! I do not care how, just see that his life is ended before this madness can expand any further. Asphyxiate the flames so that they may not burn through this verdant world I have been so privileged to be part of.
 My dear Michael,  My remaining contacts within the Vermilion Council have done far more than confirm my fears. I regret to inform you I was naively unaware of the extent to which the Council has given aid to Umberend. We have long known the Council has fought obsolescence by hedging their bets on those Phoenixborn they imagine have some possibility of winning the Collection of Ashes, hoping to curry favor with the victor. But with Umberend they have gone much further. He seduced them, it seems, with acts of deference and supplication. He must have understood their grasping desperation for relevance more than they would like, and played upon it with masterful effect.  Yes, they opened the libraries to him, even the Forbidden Vault, and worse, gave access to the Reliquary. Oh how they must have rubbed their hands together in anticipation of a Phoenixborn being in their debt. It takes no effort to imagine the toasts they made to themselves at mealtime.  I have tried to hasten my arrival to Viros, but at every leg of my journey I come across one village or another that begs me for aid. The major cities have closed their gates and left the outlying counties and townships to fend for themselves. Those with resources have fled to the cities. Those who remain and who possess capable hands are fortifying where they can, but I fear it will not help. Michael, the worst is still to come yet I have witnessed dismaying happenings that leave my mind troubled.  Wait for me no longer! Get word to those Phoenixborn you can trust. Tell them of the Vermillion Council’s failings and warn them Umberend is likely armed with more knowledge than any other person upon this world.  I will see you when I can, if I can,  Darius…could not find the keys. The Pythia kept yelling for them, but I could see it was too late. There was another crash, and the ceiling overhead cracked in dozens of places, dust and small bits of rock falling upon us. Then the redness began to spread along those cracks, before turning to droplets and sprinkling down upon us. The scene had become too horrific to bear, and to my shame I turned and fled, hoping to escape though the kitchen gate where we receive our food deliveries. But there was something already in the kitchen, and I heard its foul snarls and the sounds of violence it was inflicting upon the staff there. So hard did I stop that I tripped and fell against the doors, knocking them open. 	The kitchen had become an abattoir, awash in blood and the dismembered and highly masticated remains of our people. I saw Mela lying upon one of the tables, her dead eyes staring back at me. There were wet noises and her body jerked, one of her arms flopping about. Then came the sound of something tearing, and suddenly her insides were flung up to slap upon the ceiling overhead. I shrieked, and then the thing that was there noticed me. Five shaggy heads caked in gore lifted up from the other side of the table, and I saw that each was a goat’s head, though they lolled about as if they were dead. Empty red eyes rolled in the sockets of each head, and then the furry mass spread apart as a fiendish mouth that sat between them, lined with spiraling rows of teeth, opened to roar. I do not recall what happened next exactly,  only that suddenly I was in the eastern sleeping cells, running toward the sanctus. I sobbed and shrieked like a madwoman, spittle flying from my lips. 	But that path too was compromised, and though my mind was incapable of deciphering the furred mass I beheld choking those halls, I recognized its brown scruff. At first I thought the beast had found me, but then I realized it could not have caught me by another route. Then I feared a second monster had invaded our temple, but it slowly occurred to me that it was not a second but rather the same horror, and only then did I begin to comprehend the scale of the blasphemy that lay siege to our ancient home. 	I retreated back the way I had come, but again the temple shook, and the passageway collapsed, trapping me here. I have managed to crawl through the debris to the remains of the Chief Attendant’s office, but even if I am safe from the beast, time itself has turned against me. None shall find me before I die, famished and thirsty, and all I can do now is weep and reflect on how little love the gods have for…SERGEANT CRYSTALMERE Sir, I can see the hardship you have suffered, but please, try to keep your focus.  REFUGEE In the wells of its eyes. Good woman, you see nothing.  SERGEANT CRYSTALMERE We were talking about the Iron Couriers who passed through this town early last week. Have you seen Captain Glassfire or his people? They were bound for Viros.  REFUGEE We must flee! There is no time to lose! Viros has fallen, and this pathetic township huddles too close to its shadow!  SERGEANT CRYSTALMERE So you do confirm you have come from Viros?  REFUGEE Nothing comes from Viros. It lies empty.  SERGEANT CRYSTALMERE The entire city has been destroyed?  REFUGEE Yes, but when? I saw a city of ghosts. It laughed at all of them! I can still hear that laughter echoing through the desolation.  SERGEANT CRYSTALMERE What was laughing? Speak more plainly!  REFUGEE A massive beast of coiled metal, rising up through the tiered wreckage. It’s many claws gripped the masonry. And I could do naught but gape as the city changed, flickering before me like competing visions! At times everything looked as it aught, the city alive and well, though strangely its folk did not react to the gargantuan devil that lurked there in their midst. And at other times there were suddenly no people, and the buildings lay in ancient ruin, decrepit in a manner that only the passing of many decades can produce. And that foul beast watched as the city flickered back and forth between vibrancy and ruin, and it threw back its massive head and belched its mocking laughter into the sky.  SERGEANT CRYSTALMERE I do not understand. You are describing a Chimera, surely, but the rest is nonsense!  REFUGEE I tell you, do not weep for Viros! The beast but revealed a truth, stripping away an illusion to reveal a long-kept secret. Weep for yourself! Weep for the other cities and townships! And when no more tears come to your eyes, then run! Run for the beast shall not sit idle! It has had its fun in Viros, but you do not wish to be here when it turns its eyes in want of something new!
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