Reginald’s head was spinning when he stepped off of his shuttle at Cerra Manor. A satchel thumped by his side, its contents scarcely weighing anything at all but they might as well have been a Providence-class freighter. Somehow, he managed past the security checkpoint and found a seat at the bar. His vision was hazy, as if he was fumbling through a fog. He ordered an Old Fashioned, impatiently awaiting the alcohol to dull the pain.
A cough from behind him resounded through his ears like cannon-fire. He turned to see Lord Kailethre drawing and drinking some ways away. His mind suddenly flooded with a hurricane of information–how Kaile was a Holder from an ocean world in Aridia, how his wife and daughter had passed away, how he had been assaulted and left rendered in a wheelchair, and how his wife’s sister had disappeared to Delve.
Delve. He swallowed back the thought, forcing the deluge back through the sharp agitation. He couldn’t think about it. Not here. His satchel bounced against his waist, the pain disappearing for a moment and offering him clarity. What was truly wrong with Delve? He argued back to himself with a resounding “no,” which resulted in fresh spasms throughout his brain.
Reginald returned to his drink and finished it, downing his perceived remedy with eager enthusiasm. The burning sensation of bourbon slid down his throat. He sighed gently, enjoying the brief reprieve it afforded. Within moments, however, the pain was back, throbbing with greater magnitude and intensity. He pressed his palm to his head, then requested a bottle of whiskey. Increasing volume should result in less pain, after all.
He nodded his thanks to the bartender, then turned back to survey the Terrace, catching sight of Lady Kenzi Lianne approaching. She wore a pale blue starsilk dress overlaid with lace, her hair curled into ringlets and pulled up loosely. She trailed sand with her footsteps, carrying her shoes in one hand. His CEO Predator Elite was in a romantic relationship with her, the Cerra heiress should Shalee pass away. And yet, his flash of relief was suddenly drowned out by a wave of disappointment–while she resembled her sister Shalee, Kenzi was not her. Nonetheless, calling upon his years of etiquette, he rose from his seat and offered her a shaky bow.
“Good evening, my lady,” He rises, almost stumbling over himself before he catches the fall.
A hulking figure soon appeared behind Kenzi, casting a long shadow across the Terrace. Reginald stood up, recognizing the face from a dinner party hosted by Bishop Amalath. He furrowed his brows as he tried to place a name to the face of the figure standing over eight feet tall in shining golden armor, a red cape fluttering in the soft Huola breeze. His mind raced through the shards of glass poking and prodding in its recesses until it settled upon a name: Thal Vadam, Templar.
Kenzi curtsied politely. It was to her credit that she remained composed despite his obviously embarrassing attempt. She smiled demurely, “Evening Lord Sakakibara.” She offered a similar greeting to Kailethre.
Reginald pulled himself out of his stumble, his mind now flushed with humiliation in addition to pain, “Apologies. I’ve not been feeling well upon my return to Deklein.”
“Lords,” Thal nodded respectfully.
Kailethre bowed curtly to Kenzi in the aristocratic manner before returning to his seat. Reginald briefly turned his gaze towards the older Holder, noticing that he was drawing–several sheets of paper were strewn before him fielding a range of expressions from open rage to cold, controlled contempt. He reminisced for a moment about sketching, remembering how much he had enjoyed it–memories of a smiling Katerina, of Shalee lounging beneath the Huola sky, and a caricature of Vlad Cetes played through his mind, before bleeding into the monstrosity he had constructed of ink, blood, and paper on his floor. A fresh jolt forced him to press his hand against his temple once more.
“Oh?” Kenzi queried as she moved over to analyze Kailethre’s work, “What is in Deklein?”
Reginald frowned, trawling his memory for answers, “A failed attempt to tackle a Goonswarm Aeon led by our renowned Predator Elite. The lucky ones extracted with him. the rest of us… were left behind.”
“Deklein isn’t that far out from Empire space,” Kailethre looked up for the first time since Reginald set foot on the Terrace, “But you look harrowed.”
“Must have been very traumatic for you, sir,” The Templar offered.
Reginald turned to Thal, nodding in agreement, “Waiting for the rescue operation was less than enjoyable, yes, but then,” He took a swig from his bottle–it had been far too long since the last shot of alcohol–then finished his response, “My sister showed up. She brought my crew and I to Period Basis.”
Lord Kailethre rose from his seat, looking at Reginald with a careful expression, “Are you quite all right?”
As he rose, Kenzi, who had been studying the drawings, complimented, “These are unique. Expressive.” Something caught her attention however, and she looked back towards Reginald, “Predator left you behind?”
Reginald answered Kailethre first, cracking an unbalanced smile, “I don’t know.”
In truth, what other answer could he have offered to the other Holder? Everything was spinning. The extraction from Deklein, the wormhole to Period Basis, his time in Delve–all were swirling together like paint thrown into a centrifuge.
He took another swig, then answered Kenzi as best he could, his words slurring together despite his best attempts, “Couldn’t be helped. Fleet was interdicted. Only option for ten of us was to try the gate and pray…”
Kailethre asked, “How did you make it back?”
Thal sighed and ordered a whiskey. Reginald surmised that Thal had seen men handle themselves better after seeing worse. He could not fathom what ground soldiers saw in combat beyond the romanticized accounts of Reclaimings from ages past.
“My sister, Naomi,” He shook his head, feeling another headache surge forward, “Ended up in… A constellation in Delve.”
The last sentence hung in the air, stagnating between the four of them. Kailethre’s expression fell, his face beginning to pale. Thal frowned in disapproval, mouthing, “Oh dear…”
“Which constellation?” Kailethre demanded.
Kenzi asked, “What is the importance of Delve?”
For a moment, her question broke the tension. Reginald returned to his bottle, sipping at its contents in an attempt to nullify the sensation of his head splitting in two. After several long gulps, the pain subsided–relief at last.
Kailethre answered Kenzi’s question, “Delive is the home region for the Blood Raider Covenant.” Thal Vadam echoed the answer.
“These damn headaches,” Reginald shook his head, finally responding to Kailethre’s query, “OK-FEM.”
Kailethre narrowed his eyes in disgust, “Did you see it? Did you see him?”
Reginald heard Kenzi nod to herself, “Oh. Right. Of course. I should have remembered that.” Her voice seemed to fade towards the end, muffling, becoming duller.
He took another sip of whiskey to sharpen his hearing, then, through a face contorted with pain and confused looked at Kailethre, “See what? See whom?”
Kailethre leaned over his table, hands down and to the front, his curiosity obvious to all present, “The Pagora. And Kalorr.”
“The what?” Thal turned to Kailethre, his armor becoming blurrier and less defined to Reginald’s eyes.
“I don’t remember seeing a Kalorr,” He shakily found a seat and pressed both hands to his head, the cool bottle resting against his cheek, “But… the Pagora. You mean the Pagera Manton?”
“It all feels so hazy,” He forced himself to say through his numbing senses, fresh headaches charging into his forehead, “I can remember people talking about it. Whether or not I saw it, I can’t say. I just remember a complex.”
“I went to see it once. To see what darkness brings to the soul of man. He was there, waiting.”
Reginald continued on, his voice on auto-pilot as he wrestled with the kaleidoscope of sensations, “There were Bhaalgorns moored to it. People traveling to it. In CX8-6K.”
Thal’s muffled voice made it through the growing cacophony, “Well… This all sounds rather familiar.”
Kenzi’s voice was notably missing from the quartet. Reginald closed his eyes, trying to focus on something–anything that he could get a bearing on in the turmoil. Kailethre’s voice was dominant. He was recounting a tale or something akin to that regarding the captain of the Pagera Manton, how he had feasted upon his own crew, how, when the Blood Raiders found him, they chose to clone him. Reginald could barely follow Kailethre’s explanations.
Then his voice cut clearly through the miasma, “That place is dark. It’s wretched and the light of God does not shine there.”
Thal replied with a comment about the need for a purgation squad. Suddenly, a sharp pain plunged into the side of Reginald’s skull, as if someone was hammering a nail into place. He clenched his fists in response, immediately pressing one against the side of his head. The other managed to brush against the satchel on his lap, and for a moment, the pain suddenly disappeared, replacing with a sense of comfort. He took several deep breaths, then drew the contents out of the satchel–a copy of the Pax Amarria.
“I received this when I went inside–the place they call ‘Blood Reach.'” He held up the book, his mind as clear as a winter morning.
Kailethre’s face contorted. His voice was smooth but carried an edge of malice, “Burn it.”
Reginald almost dropped the book as his head was reconquered by searing pain. He bit his lip, then cried out for the one person he knew he could turn to for help, “Damn it. Is… is Shalee here?”
Shalee. Yes, he had to turn towards her. There was something wrong with him. Something sinister. He couldn’t bring it into his marriage with Katerina. He wouldn’t let it stain or infect that–not this close to the birth of their son. But Shalee had always been there when he needed help, when he needed to escape torment, to provide solace, to offer reprieve. He needed to see her.
Instead of obeying Kailethre’s order, he placed the book back into the bag. It seemed like the right decision, the searing pain slowly ebbing away.
Thal muttered, “Lord Reginald…”
“Lord Saka–Reginald. That book is heresy. If a member of the MIO or TC finds it, they’ll deactivate your clones and sentence you to death. Please, I beg you. Burn it.”
“Burn that… disgraceful perversion,” Thal nodded with obvious contempt.
He couldn’t burn it. Not yet. What was that? What was he thinking? Of course needed to. Another surge of headaches ignited through his mind. He fumbled for the bottle and started drinking more alcohol, “I really need to see her.” For good measure, he safely tucked the book into the satchel and fastened the buckle.
Kailethre rubbed his face and turned to Kenzi, “do you know where your sister is? I think…”
Kenzi winced, “She is in null tonight, and I don’t think she is coming home any time soon.” She glided her way over to Reginald–an image of purity and restraint, “Lord Sakakibara… may I give it to her for you?”
Kailethre almost hissed, “Don’t touch it.”
Thal twitched, “It must be destroyed.”
Reginald ignored them, nodding to Kenzi, though the satchel remained on the ground. Their conversation was slowly building into a whirlwind. He strained his ears to listen, though their voices were fusing, elongating, shrinking, adjusting in pitch, and disappearing into the distance.
Kailethre declared, “This is Lord Sakakibara’s burden to bear. We can’t force him to act, only advise.”
Thal glared at Kailethre, “Oh really?”
Kenzi, hesitating, looked back at Thal and Kailethre, “Are you certain?”
Thal mumbled, “Seems I can never do my job anymore.”
“If he does not make the conscious decision to destroy this, it will leave him impure. He must be the one to destroy it.”
“I can’t think straight,” Reginald said as his mind twirled in and out of the grim twilight between consciousness and the realm in between dreams–images of Huola flashing through his mind.
“Then at least, keep that book out of sight, reach, mind, anything,” Thal suggested.
Kailethre’s breathing had started becoming less refined, less controlled, “At the very least, we can’t leave him alone with it.”
Kenzi offered, her voice sounding as if it were underwater, “Lord Sakakibara… perhaps you would like to destroy it before my sister returns? You know, she wouldn’t be pleased if you bring the Inquisition to the Terrace.”
Kenzi’s statement suddenly bellowed into his mind like a blaring siren. To do the unthinkable–to disappoint Shalee. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. He rose to his feet despite the agony, picked up the satchel, and asked through painful winces, “A light? Anyone?”
Kailethre turned to Thal, “Templar, anything… firey? We can use alcohol as fuel if needs be.”
“What do you mean, sir?” Thal asked.
“I believe Lord Sakakibara wishes to burn it.”
Thal drew a sword from his belt–for some reason not confiscated by the security staff, “There’s this…”
Kailethre nodded, then began to clear a space around the quartet–moving chairs and tables out of the way, “Cast the book down, Lord Reginald.”
Reginald’s eyes rested on Thal’s blade. Through the distance, he heard Kailethre’s command, but instead reached for his bottle to keep numbing the pain. Kenzi backed away towards the bar, her arms folded loosely in front of her. He wondered if she was scared. But then, who wouldn’t be? He was certainly scared.
Kailethre pointed at the ground angrily, “Cast it down!”
Reginald finally acknowledge’s Kailethre’s order and throws the satchel to the ground, though it’s far from centered in the clearing. The pain started to rage forward again, as if the further away he was from the book, the more painful the headaches became.
Kailethre frantically grabbed his bottle of alcohol and charged towards the book, pushing away wayward pieces of furniture in the process, before dousing the object in the drink. He turned to Thal, “Templar, give him your weapon and direct him to strike the book.”
Thal began to explain as he handed the weapon to Reginald, “The blade is an energy edge, hotter than most warship projectiles. It should burn this perversion.”
Kailethre stepped back a fair distance, Kenzi already further away and glancing about to check for bystanders. Reginald handled the foreign weapon strangely. A bastard sword. He had grown up fencing, being the son of a Holder, but he had never wielded a weapon like this. His interest managed to cut through the spasms, offering a moment of clarity.
“How does it work?” He asked, looking towards Thal.
“Twist the hilt, and the edge will burn with God’s wrath. Strike at the book, but do not let the blade near your flesh.”
Reginald nodded, activating the blade and lowering it gently towards the book. Pain once again surfaces–every inch towards the book an agonizing eternity. Finally, before even touching the object, the heat of the edge simply ignites the book. At that moment, a chorus of voices scream in unison. Reginald drops the blade next to the book and scoops it up, still burning. He rushed to the fountain, brushing past a stunned Kailethre and Thal. He hears Kenzi’s high-pitched scream, “Lord Sakakibara!” But he tries to drown out everything and everyone on the Terrace. He had to do one thing: Put out the flame of God.
He plunges into the water, pulling the book close as the flames extinguish, heat dissipating into the coolness of the fountain. He hears voices, angry, frantic ones above fountain of water, through the bubbles of oxygen. But all he can think to do is clutch the book close to his chest. The pain was all but gone. A strong hand grabbed the back of his neck then raised him out of the water.
“Restrain his arms! We need to get this thing away!”
He coughed and sputtered as he was yanked out of the water, Kenzi’s pleas of reason piercing the confusion, “Please Lord Sakakibara, please destroy that book! You’re frightening me!” He opened his eyes to see the image of Kenzi, her arms outstretched, ready to receive the object.
For a moment he considered it.
“Don’t touch it!” Kailethre screamed as Thal grabbed onto Reginald’s arms and effortlessly pulled them back.
Reginald watched with horror as the book fell to the ground–slightly charred but still largely intact. As soon as it hit the ground, he could feel the foreshock of a fresh set of spasms slowly reapproaching with agonizing inevitability. He screamed, “No, please, you don’t understand!”
Kailethre shed his coat, then scooped the book into. He glanced into Thal’s eyes, “Don’t let him free, whatever you do.” He then turned back to the clearing and dropped his coat in the center, before obtaining more alcohol and drenching both the coat and the book.
Another whirlwind of conversation.
“… Holy fire perhaps?”
“Perhaps burn it in the cathedral?”
“We don’t taint that place with this filth.”
Reginald could feel his head pounding harder and harder as he struggled and thrashed uselessly against Thal’s grip. They didn’t understand. He needed it. He continued to plead, his eyes melting into a wild, passionate stare.
Kailethre picked up the discarded blade. He lit the blade and pointed it towards the mess on the ground, standing sideways to avoid the heat. In moments, the blade once again lit the alcohol-drenched items without even making contact. The crackling fire surged slightly as it enveloped the coat, flames licking at the salty seaside air.
Suffering. Agony. Pain. Hatred. Frustration. Reginald watches the book burn in terror, his head aflame with its own throbbing sensations, as if nails, needles, and knives were plunging into it from all sides. Kailethre circled around the fire, tossing additional bottles of alcohol into the flame, the fire bursting towards the Huola sky. Thal remained perfectly still, watching the flame as if in reverence, despite the Reginald’s weakening struggle to get free and launch himself upon the book to stamp out the fire.
Out of the corner of Reginald’s eye, he saw the distinctive flicker of a hologram. His eyes widened for a moment as his mind made the connection, before the pain reached its ultimate crescendo and his body went limp.
A dreamless sleep.