Noir postpones his schemes to deal with an interloper in Umbras
The Bellua swept past Noir with a screech, its ugly black talons drawn tight against its breast and its leathery wings pounding the air in slow beats. The city's pervasive steam swirled off its ursine form leaving the air clean until another exhaust vent burst.
Noir exhaled and stood with a rush of condensation, unconcerned by the plunging drop ringing his thin perch. He shook himself to shed the last dregs of water and started down the pipe for the Grim District.
Are you sure we have time for this? If Thornwood already sent a Messenger, then he's serious.
A couple hours won't hurt. This Messenger is here to speak with the night princes and underworld lords of Umbras and they don't stir until more of the Hydes have died out. The Messenger won't move until they do.
We could still look for it, maybe find the creature sleeping in some shadowy alcove and then we could kill it all sneaky like. You know, be surreptitious for once as a novelty.
What makes you think I'm not looking for it? Noir lifted a hand and an Alma alighted on his fingertips. We'll know the moment anything foreign stirs. The Alma fluttered away, disappearing into the mist as Noir entered the Grim District. Besides, however pressing that son of a bitch Constantine is, dealing with the Messenger of Wrath is more important.
I still don't like it. This timing is too dangerous. It means everything will come to a head on the Blood Moon. We should use tonight to kill Constantine, as we planned, and then kill the Messenger when he surfaces.
We know nothing of this Messenger or of Constantine, it would be foolhardy to challenge both in one night.
And it's wise to challenge a Hemomancer on the Blood Moon?
Lazarus doesn't scare me.
And that's why he's smarter than you; he realizes you're more powerful than he is (at least you were before he got that new power up) and is scared shitless by it. He's undoubtedly inventing a thousand different ways to balance the scales in his favor. He recognizes the threat you pose, I suggest you do the same if only so that we can laugh and slap our knees when his house of cards comes tumbling down.
Meh, I'm not worried
And yet you get all lily-livered at the thought of facing a messenger and Constantine in the same night.
I don't know what result killing the Messenger will have; they're known to be unorthodox. Noir dropped three stories to land on a lower pipe and crossed to the next skyscraper.
Un-huh, your knees are knocking together so loudly they could serve as a drum set
Since when did you become the violent one?
Since the moment it provided an excellent opportunity to call you a chicken.
Noir shook his head. Constantine can wait, so I will not take the risk of confronting him before I excise the Messenger of Wrath.
And if something else arises, some other catastrophe? What will you do then? Oh and by the way, bowk bowk bowk!
Oh, Shut up. Should that happen we will take the necessary risks.
Noir drew to a halt at the intersection of four pipes and looked out over the Academy's ruins. They stretched out before him in a swath of barren ground interrupted only by the foundations of new skyscrapers. An array of monstrous corpses lay scattered by the entrances, their bodies torn into bulbous, misshapen fragments and coated in an array of vividly colored blood.
Even as Noir watched, another creature inched into the open ground, its twining heads twisting in every direction as it sought prey. The Architects climbed through the floor around it, phasing through the Shadow-Steel grating as it was water. The encroaching monster spun and hissed, its four heads snapping at the Architects with spews of vibrant acid. The Architects swept inward and tore the creature apart, strewing pieces of its corpse across the path and crushing each writhing head until the body ceased its struggles. This threat dealt with, the Architects drew back and sunk into the floor anew.
Noir nodded to himself and vacated his perch plummeting to the ground floor far below where he landed with a crash, straightened and strode toward the courtyard's center. An architect emerged from the ground a second later, its hulking body and twin jackal heads still possessing the ethereal quality all young Umbrans suffered at night. "Why have you returned?"
Noir spared him a glance. "Because I wished to see your progress."
The Architect snorted and prowled forward, one black head lowered to the ground sniffing and tasting the Shadow-Steel. "It goes poorly; the human monsters impede our work, forcing us to eradicate any that draw near." The Architect's second head glared back at Noir. "The constant interruptions are infuriating."
Noir paused as they reached the skeletal, shoulder-high frame of a skyscraper. He examined the newborn structure, carefully inspecting its connection points and general shape. Even as he watched it, the skyscraper continued to grow reaching its support beams heavenwards as veins of shadows stretched through the open air. He nodded absently and reached out a hand to touch its trembling surface.
The Architect shifted beside him. "The foundations are strong; it will match the height of its brethren and live for as long as they do."
Noir turned toward the architect, ill-concealed and barely contained violence dressing the night air. "Do not presume, Architect, this is my city and I will do as I wish."
The Architect flinched, his shoulders hunching upward as he bowed his heads. "As you say."
Noir returned his attention to the skyscraper. "Its roots are thin, Architect, they need to be thicker and grow deeper or it will never truly be a part of this city." He reached into the skyscraper, thickening its shadows and spurring the growth of its roots. The ground shifted underfoot, becoming first pliant then gelatinous as new roots took shape and burrowed into the city. Another moment passed and Noir stepped back, letting the ground harden as the new roots settled.
He looked at the Architect. "Mimic this design with the other structures, it will ensure they connect fully with Umbras."
The Architect mirrored Noir earlier motion and laid a hand against the skyscraper. "Yes, I can feel it, the city." He turned and bowed to Noir. "Forgive my hubris."
Noir dismissed the Architect's words with a wave of his hand and strode to the next building. He visited each of the newborn skyscrapers, occasionally amending one with Shadowmancy, but, for the most part, leaving them unchanged.
After the final one, he returned to the Architect. "I have repaired their flaws and taught you the ways of their growth, but they will still need nurturing as time progresses. This is your task Architect, I do not expect you to be perfect, but you will pour your soul into these constructs and you will make something worthy of Umbras."
The Architect bowed its heads. "Yes, My Lord."
Noir turned away and, extracting his other hand from its pocket, approached the northern most entrance. He took in the bodies littered there at a glance and cast his gaze further outward piercing the veil of steam to observe the creatures prowling there. He raised his hands calling the innumerable shadows to his purpose and bending their form. They swelled around him accreting from every surrounding recess, cranny, and overhang to occupy the road. They churned and climbed higher taking shape and mass and darkening to the same black as Umbras. Piping took shape and connected to that of the flanking skyscrapers with a hiss of steam and a rush of boiling water. Mere seconds passed and the towering wall ossified, its Shadow-Steel glistening with condensation from the countless pipes it concealed in its bosom.
Noir returned to the Architect. "That will keep out your pests, Architect. Be warned, however, even though your corruption is minimal, that much running water will still discomfort you if you try to cross it at night."
"And the other roads?"
"I will handle those in their time." Noir turned and strode toward the next road. He made a soaring barricade of Shadow-Steel and running water for each entrance forbidding the monsters of Umbras from interfering with the city's restoration.
An Alma emerged from the steam to alight on his shoulder as he molded the final wall. He glanced at it with a cocked head and listened to its voiceless message as he finished. So the monster shows itself at last. The shadows coalesced beneath him and rose up setting him atop the wall. He spun and strode toward the center of Umbras.
Where is it?
It's still in Astra Sear's District. Apparently a collection of small time night princes are colluding with the Messenger of Wrath in an attempt to accrue Thornwood's favor. At best, they're playing both sides of the table, at worst they've fully committed themselves and are trying to usurp Loc.
Oh what foolish little children they are, shouldn't they know better than to talk to strangers?
Noir vaulted to the next story up. That's not how the saying works.
But it is no less apt; they talked to a stranger so now they're going to die.
Noir smirked. I guess that's true, but, nevertheless, you shouldn't go corrupting childhood wisdom; it's a bad habit. The shadows coalesced anew, forming a bridge between two skyscrapers and delivering him into the center of Umbras. His smirk distorted as he looked upon the palace, darkening to a scowl. I really wish I could kill Lazarus now. He slowly extended his hand, his iron fingernails growing into talons.
Then why don't you? He's right there, secure in his own superiority, unaware of the fate that awaits him.
Noir's fingers closed into a fist, their nails biting into his flesh and spilling dark blood. Because he must suffer first. He must know fear and despair; he must see them give way to hope and conquest before finally being torn from his grasp as a lie. He must be made to look into the darkness of his fate and to realize the fathomless depths of his error. Noir let his hand drop and jumped from the skyscraper.
Shadows coalesced beneath him slowing his descent and depositing him safely on the ground far below. He landed with a soft thud and strode across the courtyard circumventing the palace until he came to a thoroughfare marked with a russet banner. He changed course, abandoning the courtyard for Astra Sear's district. The Alma's gathered around him as he progressed deeper into the Astra District, growing in number until a swarm enveloped him and the street he traversed. Noir turned down a side road following a trail of perched butterflies until he reached an unoccupied space amidst the skyscrapers.
He slowed as he entered and turned assimilating his surroundings at a glance. The skyscrapers here were all bared at the doors and the stairs, locked behind new Shadowmantic locks. Neither the walls nor the doors shuddered from the blows of imprisoned monstrosities.
Noir knelt, laying his hand on the ground, and extended his senses downward searching until he found where the floor opened into a large chamber below. There you are. He smirked.
Who? I don't see anybody or anything.
They're in a chamber underground; the Almas simply guided us as far as we needed to go. Noir straightened, doffing his coat to hang it over one arm, and phased through the ground. There was an instant of darkness followed by the lurch of sudden free-fall.
Noir landed with a thunderous crash, his own impetus driving him to a crouch as the wooden table snapped beneath him. Splinters ricocheted everywhere as monstrous individuals screamed profanities and scrambled to their feet. Noir straightened from the rumble and grinned at his shocked audience. "Mind if I drop in?"
You unprincipled swine! You turd among speech impaired imbeciles!
Noir grinned wider. Sorry, couldn't help myself.
We've been over this; you shouldn't tell jokes; and that goes double for ones that you know are bad.
"Who the hell are you?"
You, you, you- oh ooh ooh say 'take me to your leader!
Noir faced the speaker, his grin devolving into a snarl of contempt. "Watch your tongue, infant."
That works too.
The man growled and raised his hand with a murmured command, pulling the shadows into a pistol. "I'll ask you only one more time, interloper, who the hell are you?"
Noir turned his back to the speaker. "Four of you, is that all?" He smirked. "You tried to instigate a rebellion with four sub-proctor level individuals?"
The speaker shrugged with a quiet snort. "I warned you." The pistol went off with a snap, but the bullet simply ricocheted off Noir's back. The speaker drew back with a look of consternation and flung aside his pistol. He drew himself up, his lips pulled back in a snarl even as his body collapsed in upon itself.
Noir turned a slow circle, watching the four night princes release their Hydes. The first to complete their transformation bellowed a deep, gurgling cry, and lumbered toward him in a storm of lashing tentacles. Noir rolled his eyes and the creature exploded in a hail of gore and shadows. The second Hyde zipped forward, spinning over and around its center on a multitude of legs. It struck in a flash of venomous green talons and a hiss of ejected webbing. Noir spun on a heel, evading its thrashing talons with a motion of elegant boredom, and crushed its carapace head with a kick. The third Hyde flung itself further from Noir and onto to the wall and scuttled along the smooth surface. It launched a barrage of vibrant, sapphire spines that exploded when Noir swept them aside with a wall of churning shadows. The monster howled and flung itself toward the opposite wall, only to have its body torn asunder mid-flight by grasping shadows.
The ground shuddered as the initial speaker completed his transformation and rose. The creature roared, its massive jaws flinging spittle and acid. Noir faced it glancing up the mountainous creature's scaled form until his eyes finally alighted upon its brow. The creature slunk around him, surprisingly agile despite its mass. Noir turned with it, his hands still buried in their pockets. They must be horrible adepts if they've already resorted to their Hydes.
It makes you wonder how these fellows ever became princes of the night in the first place.
When it comes to ruling the night, sanity and aspiration are more important than raw power.
That being said, this fellows seems to have a formidable Hyde and if nothing else he's loud.
Noir snorted. It's just a Bellua; they all look formidable; take the first of them, for example: large and intimidating but not all that tough.
So why haven't you killed him then?
You're right, I should finish this. A massive spear of shadows erupted from the ground and impaled the monster. Happy? Noir faced the Messenger of Wrath where it stood by a doorway into the Undercity.
Its crimson eyes flicked toward him and then over his form with an unimpressed sniff. "You're not much to look at for a Tyrant."
Noir strode forward vaulting from the wreckage of the table and picking his way around the second creature's corpse. "I can be frightening if you like." He came to a stop before the Messenger and scowled. "I know you're connected to Thornwood, so he'd better listen me when I tell him to stay the hell out of Umbras. This city belongs to me."
The Messenger of Wrath giggled and drew back, but its laugh was soulless, the simple mimicry of something it could never understand. "Oh foolish Tyrant, our master does not wish to conquer your city. He wishes to see it freed." It spun in a circle around Noir and settled in front of him once more. "It is unnatural, this imprisonment that you enact every night. Men were meant to be free, to run, fight, and live as they would. To imprison them is insanity."
Shadows unfurled in the space around the Messenger of Wrath and bound his form in threads stronger than any chain. Noir scowled. "This is not a world intended for sanity, this is a world for monsters; and I just happen to be biggest."
The Messenger of Wrath cackled, its form collapsing into crimson mist that swirled out of Noir's grasp and reformed behind him. "Your vapid attempts to engender order in a world that has no desire for it are merely dilatory. You cannot avert or reform the natural order, Tyrant; our world has spoken, and it chooses chaos."
Noir looked over his shoulder. "Your master's too young to know it, but we've already had our dark age: two hundred years of it and I have no desire to witness its return." He remembered the dark ages all to well: a time when the Calamities ruled before the Deos Mortai built their cities and enslaved most of the surviving population.
He flicked his eyes to the Messenger of Wrath and the shadows closed around it in a seamless box.
A moment passed and then a fragment of the shadow prison turned molten with heat and dissolved. The Messenger of Wrath slipped out through the cavity, its unmarred body twisting grotesquely and compressing as it did so. "You cannot imprison me, Tyrant, I am a Messenger of Wrath, born of my lord's anger, and I've come to free those you have enslaved." It raised its pallid hands and a crimson mist issued from its fingers. The mist churned and swelled, expanded violently as it flowed toward every corner.
Ah damn, this would be so easy if you were a necromancer. Just snap your fingers and he'd drop dead. He's only artificial after all.
You don't need to rub it in.
Why not? You take every possible chance to laude the benefits of Shadowmancy and I have nothing to argue with. I mean you abhor Hemomancy well beyond the point of blindness and we both agree Pathomancy is about as useful as a dog's piddling contest. Necromancy is my last chance and most of its practitioners can only wave their hands while spending ten years raising an army of undead that'll get obliterated by the next half-wit Adept they pass. 'Ah well, back to the graveyard I guess.' It's downright demoralizing I tell you.
Noir flicked his hand outward, twisting it mid-motion, and the shadows swarmed to him bulging like water sacks as they took the shape of a monster. The Shadowmantic thrall opened sable eyes and unhinged a gaping, toothless maw. It inhaled, consuming the air and the crimson mist with a screeching whistle. Its form expanded, burgeoning with the Messenger of Wrath's poison.
Noir turned to the Messenger of Wrath with bared teeth and flicked his hand again. The Shadow-Steel grate warped beneath the Messenger of Wrath stabbing into its feet. The Messenger of Wrath hissed and tried to dissipate, but its body flickered and solidified anew, held in place by the corruption Noir had fused with his Shadowmancy. All the while, the burrowing shadow tendrils raced forward, erupting from its flesh and diving back in tearing it asunder in brief, agonizing strips. Its feet imploded, hurling the messenger to the ground where more tendrils dug into its back.
The Messenger of Wrath tore its head free of the grasping fingers and laughed at Noir. "It is already too late! My mere presence was an act of vitiation! Every lock and every door in this district has deteriorated beyond recovery!" The tendrils dragged its head back to the ground, but, as if spurred by the creature's taunts, a deep, shuddering crash split the night air, pulling Noir's gaze upward. "They are free! The gates of hell are opened, and soon you will all taste the fire!" It cackled one last time before the shadow tendrils devoured it.
Hmm, this might be a problem.
Cursing vehemently, Noir flung his hand upward and the shadows responded, latching onto his waist and hurling him up through the ceiling. He broke the surface but continued climbing, using the shadows to drag him higher and higher until he reached the tip of the nearest skyscraper. Burying his fingers into the Shadow-Steel, Noir looked out across the Astra district as every one of its occupied doors burst open.
"Damn him to an eternity of his own hell!" Noir swept his hand outward and the shadows coalesced beneath him, forming a ledge. He dropped onto the outcropping and straightened. His other hand emerged from its pocket and he extended both toward opposite horizons closing them into fists. Every shadow across Astra Sear's District pulsed, gathering to one another and mounting higher.
This is a very bad idea, if we leave too much shadow debris then somebody smart will figure out they're dealing with a Tyrant-level individual and that's if we're lucky. If we're unlucky, some idiot with think a Calamity snuck out of the wild and has decided to kick up a little trouble.
If we don't contain the problem, it'll spread to the other districts. Noir snarled and lifted his hands overhead, binding every shadow in the district to his will and molding them into his design. The walls quickly took shape, their edges climbing up nearby skyscrapers while their centers followed a step or two behind. They settled with a groan and Noir observed his handiwork with a scowl. Every road inside or leading from Astra Sear's district now ended with a wall of sheer, featureless Shadow-Steel.
He sighed and lowered himself to a crouch. The wrathful bellows and agonized cries started shortly thereafter, growing to chorus as those imprisoned found each other in the mists. It didn't matter what personalities they carried during the day, when night fell the taint ensured that every creature fought this war of dominance and hunger.
At least we managed to contain them.
Not that it'll do them a lot of good; they'll all be dead by morning. He scowled. And I'm going to need a new coat; again.
I told you that these nighttime excursion were bad for your health...
I'm not in the mood right now.
All right, have it your way. What do you want to talk about?
Who the fuck decided it was a good idea to invite a Messenger of Wrath into Umbras. Noir vaulted off his perch onto an expectant Shadow-Raft and let it carry him back to the underground chamber. The Shadow-Thrall remained where he had left it, as did the various corpses.
Noir waved his hand and the poison laden creature spun in upon itself contracting in a knuckled sized marble that floated over to and dropped into his waiting palm. He stepped off the lift and crouched beside the Messenger of Wrath's brutalized remains. Shadows pooled before him and lifted the mess.
What are you going to do with that?
Noir stood and moved back to his waiting lifting. I am going to send a message about consorting with foreigners. He stepped onto the lift as shadows tore the heads off the four night lords.
Don't crucify it, that's so medieval. Let's do something fresh and exciting and then let's get something to eat. Breaking up rebellions and building walls sure build an appetite.
You didn't do anything.
Actually I did everything, in reality you're just a voice in my head and I'm the one with the body.
Is that so?
Wanna know how I know?
It's simple really, you see insane people never believe they're crazy and we both agree you're crazy so you can't really be crazy. I, on the other hand, doubt I'm insane and so it's obvious that I actually am crazy, this means that I'm probably the one hearing voices and thus I'm the one with the body.
That's almost crazy enough to be true.
Like I said, I'm crazy.