[THE SUNDERING TREE, DEEP IN THE AETHER; MAY 28, 2017 (WR)]
“Yes. Let me see”
At his command, the Carrionettes stepped away and their clay limbs clicked with each movement. They faded from the circle of bloody masks on the ground and waited lifelessly in the tree-line. Valtherion did not have the dead eyes and the clay hearts of the puppet-like creatures, but looking upon the macabre trophies did not gladden him. After all, there was little and less left in him when the Face-takers were done – only the burning ember of spite and the grim contentment that others had suffered.
It was not enough. It would never be enough.
Behind him, the Sundering Tree’s branches reached into the heavens. After long years, it was able now to tear into Midworld at Valtherion’s twisted will.
“The Witch-King is pleased with your work, Valtherion!” From beneath its shadow emerged a Birdkin, dressed in Gotterdammerung garments and clapping slowly as it trespassed into his domain, into his throne.
Valtherion turned his masked gaze toward the Beastling, his crown of thorns and flowers moving in tune with his movements. “What I do is not for the Witch-King, Horusath. I do this for my own cause, for my own crusade!”
The Birdkin was cautious and strode carefully around the circle of masks on the ground. From the edges of the treeline around the grove, Carrionettes watched him with dead, glossy eyes.
“The Witch-King has given you the means of your vengeance. He has given you power and the protection of a World-Lock. He has even given you leave to continue your work – instead of utterly enslaving your will. I would not be so quick to disregard his pleasure”
Horusath bent to pick a discarded favor from the muddy ground. “A Callasine favor? Do you treat with your Kingdom still? Is there something you need to tell the Witch-King of the North?”
Valtherion laughed mirthlessly. “Death-Priests of the Silver Kingdom, sent to strike me down. My former home and my liege means as much to me as this bloody mud. And at the fullness of my strength, I mean to tread upon them in the same fashion. Even the Queen of Stars will fall to the Facetakers when the Sundering Tree rends the veil between Midworld and the Aether”
“That is good” Horusath nodded his beak, looking this way and that to take the scene in. “You were Envoy for them long ago after all… just as you were once an ally to Freehold. I will remind you now that it would be unwise for you to forsake your current allegiances for your past ones.”
“They failed me after I had sacrificed so much for them” The self-style Prince of Thorns had no laughter this time, only seething spite. “They can seek me out all they like, but they will not find me or my Tree so easily. The waves of Facetakers and Carrionettes will be as an unending river – and eventually they will drown in it. Their souls will adorn the Forest of Faces.”
“Ensure that this occurs. Anubisath has little love for Freehold and less love for failure” Horusath made his way to the Sundering Tree and faded away from beneath its boughs.
How the Witch-King and his minons made easy use of the Aether and of his own creation galled him. But there were other grudges to nurse, and vengeances to be quenched.
The Carrionettes moved to allow a trio of Face-takers into the grove. They were gigantic creatures, seemingly wrought of shadows and hunger and all wearing the faces of those they had hunted. The torment of a hundred souls were stitched upon their garments – and they would only ever want more.
Valtherion shivered even now when he saw them so hungry. His fingers traced the outline of his mask, then reached inside to claw at the shattered remains behind it.
Soon, Midworld and the Aether will be joined and all will share in my glorious torment