[VIGIL, IN THE LABYRINTHIUM; JULY 1, 2017]
The thousand year-old balete tree was not the tallest, but it was the widest. The lodge itself was built around it, woven with webbing and floored by mossy dirt. Tribal belief held that these ancient trees laired perilous spirits, and even to pass them required an apology and a swift retreat — but not many spirits were as dangerous as the Witch-King of the South.
The “door” were two leathery hides that parted when Kritek of the Thousand Teeth bowed his head to pass them, his jagged bone club in one hand. With his other hand, he dragged his prey over moss and dirt: a broken-necked man garbed in the jungle-colors of a hunter… or a spy. The lodge was immediately lit with dozens of skull lamps that burned with magicked flame and heady incense. No two skulls were the same, from the fanged skull of a Troll, to a beaked skull of a Birdkin or a Kha-holed skull of a Gnome. Like a Sanctum spell, the illuminating magics within these macabre trophies only activated in the Witch-King’s presence, flaring to life from where they hung or whatever shelf or table they perched and burning only what was inside the lamp.
He carried the body to the central room of his lodged, wrought right beneath the tree’s heart, and encaged by exactly one-hundred and one gnarled and rune-etched trunks. Five fire-scarred skull-lamps hung above a circle of branches and rope, each was tied to a runed stone – a Witch’s “focus”. After the corpse was slammed unceremoniously inside the circle, Kritek’s claws expertly opened the man with the dispassion of a butcher.
At the Troll Witch’s belt was a skull and its crimson glow flared as organs and entrails were devoured or arranged according to an occult order. One by one, the hanging skull-lamps in the ritual room took on the same hue. The corpse began to whisper, a low croaking, breathless sound as the divination rite reached completion.
“Quiet.” Kritek of the Thousand Teeth spoke for the first time in hours. The hunt took most of what passed for afternoon in the web-infested Nightlands, but the effort in catching this prey was as much part of the rite as the evisceration. “The sacrifice has been made. The gift has been given. What do you see?”
The corpse’s silence was filled instead with a voice that echoed from each skull, originating from the one hanging from his belt – Sammael, World-Lock of the South and a gate between Midworld and the Aether.
The words were solemnly spoken by six burning voices. “It will be fought in Freehold and the battle will be glorious. Many will be the deaths and the skulls that are taken”
Kritek chuckled. “Liar”
“The Western World-Lock will return to Anubisath of the North or stay with Valtherion, the Prince of Thorns. If unchecked, the west will fall and the veil between Midworld and the Aether will be ripped apart by Valtherion’s Sundering Tree”
“Liar” Kritek grew less amused.
“Anubisath of the North controls two World-Locks. Gabriella of the East controls a World-Lock and consumes a powerful Aethereal for power” Sammael continued. “Both, individually, bear more strength and experience than you do. They will crush an insect like you if you let them”
Kritek of the South did not protest this time. He knew that the World-Lock’s divinations were in half-truths, but that meant it bore the truth – however painful. Life was multitude of pain among the Grellken. And among the Labyrithium, enduring and causing pain was the only true path to power.
He left word of his impending departure to his underlings, the various non-faithful covens and cabals within the Qabbalim.
The Witches and the Sorcerers of the Qabbalim backed Kritek because they feared the Vigil faiths. The Qabbalim supported him because they feared the King-slayer and the League. In these dire times, the Kingdoms of Midworld needed to lend him their aid due to the threat of Anubisath and Valtherion… and perhaps even Gabriella.
It was several days and many sacrifices later that the Rite of Transposition took him to the Hinterlands. He sensed an Elemental Wellspring nearby, its energies calling to his hunger. The Witch-King allowed himself a grin.
It might not be this moon or this year, but time will come that Midworld would fear Kritek.