Tag Archives: Maliken

The Seven Heavenly Virtues: Kindness

The agonized entity known only as Torturer finished laying his tools out in preparation for his next guest. He had emptied his chests and racks, examining the blades, spikes, and needle brands to ensure they were sharp when necessary, dull when desired, and always slick with the filth and tears of previous suffering. Some of his victims survived long enough to become infected by the dirty instruments, but none of them lived long enough to die from it.

He wanted all of the tools handy, for his next guest was important indeed. Advance sentries had reported sightings of Jeraziah himself, the ridiculous, self-important King of the Legion. Lord General Maliken had dispatched Tressa the succubus to seduce his only son, lure him deeper into Hellbourne territory and finally to this cave, where his screams would echo as he spilled every truth and secret within his head and heart.

Torturer fondled a heavy set of pliers with sawtooth jaws, imagining how the King’s agony would be embedded in the cold stone, haunting the cave the until the end of days. The ceiling was black with soot from pools of oil burning in crevices along the jagged walls, for this was the Torturer’s favorite workshop outside his Hell’s Keep dungeon. The floor was tacky with blood and viscera which never seemed to dry, instead clotting with the fur and singed hair sometimes pulled out by his guests’ own hands.

He set the pliers down and listened—someone approached. Tressa had taken longer than usual to bring this one in, but with the haughty Jeraziah, he who prided himself on abstinence from all things enjoyable, this was to be expected.

Torturer faced the cave entrance and waited. His first wave of pleasure always came when his guests realized who they would spend the rest of their short lives with. The footsteps drew near, and his guest finally moved into the firelight.

Torturer’s anticipation soured into confusion. “You?”

“Me,” the Blind Prophet said.

“Oh, you’ll do until Jeraziah arrives.” Torturer floated toward him, smiling. “Even the most pious cannot resist the succubus, eh?”

Oddly, Tressa had not taken his weapons or stripped him of his clothing, as she typically did with her victims. The Blind Prophet stepped fully into the cave. The succubus’ compulsion was strong, for he showed no sign of fear or hesitation.

Torturer said, “If only your followers, your sheep, could see you now. Just another man, slave to his base desires.” He lifted an iron wedge meant for splitting firewood that worked even better for spreading ribs until they cracked. “Though if you think your shame is torment enough, you are mistaken.”

“Listening to you prattle on is ample misery,” the Blind Prophet said.

Torturer stopped, uncertainty clouding his ethereal face.

The Blind Prophet drove his bladed staff into the stone floor and pulled a thick, ancient book from his satchel. “I am here to collect you, not entertain you.”

“The…the succubus does not hold you?”

“She holds the light of Sol within her. And because of this, she need hold nothing else.”

Torturer could not remember what fear felt like. What he did know: this Blind Prophet was not here to die in anguish.

He was a threat.

Torturer had no guards or assistants in his cave. His guests were always gravely injured, too weak to fight back, or controlled by daemon magic when they arrived. For his pleasure, he preferred the magic removed once they were bound by his chains—his chains!

Torturer summoned the harrowing links with needle-sharp tips from thin air and drove them toward the Blind Prophet, who shot his arms forward as if he could catch the incoming assault. The cave was bathed in heat and light as blazing phoenixes flew from his palms. They swooped and dove, cutting the chains into glowing fragments that fell to the cave floor and sizzled in the bloody mire. The divine birds circled the Blind Prophet, searching for more threats, before fading into pale sparks.

“On your deathbed,” the Blind Prophet said, “you made a pact with the daemons. Eternal life, you begged. And they gave it, as I can see. An endless life of agony and hate. Tell me: would you accept those terms again?”

Torturer lifted a heavier chain from a hook on the wall. This one would not be sliced by mere bird wings—it had been forged beneath the Scar and tempered with Valkyrie blood.

“Do not bother begging with terms of surrender, priest. I take no prisoners.”

The Blind Prophet’s eyes flared. “I offer you nothing, wraith! I follow the path of Sol, who has brought me here. He has use of you. If he did not, I would leave you a mere heap among your severed chains and be free of this foul pit. Now answer me true. Would you accept the daemon terms again, if they were offered?”

Torturer hesitated. Lord General Maliken had many spies who moved in endless forms. If this were one of them, sent to test his loyalty…but Torturer could sense pain, and this Blind Prophet held more pain within him than any living being he had ever encountered.

No daemon would carry such a burden. It intrigued Torturer, for pain was his trade.

The Blind Prophet asked again, “Would you?”

“No,” Torturer whispered.

The Blind Prophet nodded. “Then Sol was right to send me. The daemons left you with no physical body. They corrupted you into the embodiment of pain, but you feel nothing. You are free of hunger, fear, and cold. Yet when Anubis Pharaoh offered you a corporeal form in his attempt to summon Ra, you embraced the chance. Tell me why.”

“I wanted to feel again,” Torturer said. “Something. Anything.”

“Even pain?”

“Pain is pure,” Torturer said. “It is not clouded by emotion. I envied my victims, for they experienced something I never could. I wanted to feel the pain.”

“Did you?”

Torturer shuddered. “Yes. It was…exquisite.”

The Blind Prophet said, “And the pain within me. You can sense it?”

“Please. Tell me how you hold so much. How you carry it, yet it does not crush you beneath its weight.”

“Unconditional love,” the Blind Prophet said. “Kindness and compassion toward all things, no matter how they treat you. No matter how they respond, if they do at all.”

Torturer dropped the heavy chain. “Kindness?”

“Open your heart to the suffering of all things. Allow it to break, again and again, at their helplessness. Seek them out and lend them succor. Then find those who tread upon them, and offer them your full heart as well. I promise you, this will bring you all the pain you could want, and more.”

“All I want?” Torturer said.

“Even more important, child of Sol, is what else it will bring you.”

Torturer gasped. “Tell me, please.”

“A desire to end the pain.”

End it?”

“Yes. For everyone, without prejudice or envy.”

“But…if the pain is gone, I won’t feel it anymore.”

The Blind Prophet offered a warm smile. “Child, there are feelings other than pain. This, I promise. Do you wish to experience them?”

“I do,” Torturer said.

The Blind Prophet bowed his head, then read aloud from his book. The flames along the cave walls grew and burned with tongues of yellow and purple.

Torturer’s vaporous body began to harden and become flesh. He screamed and his hands clutched at his armor. “Stop! You’re tearing me to pieces!”

“You are being remade,” the Blind Prophet said. “This is what it feels like to care.”

“I cannot take it!”

The Blind Prophet did not look up from the Grimoire of Power. “If that is true, then you will not. You will die.”

Torturer collapsed to his hands and knees. Knees now made of skin and bone, blood and…nerves. He could feel! Seedlings rose from the crusted gore that coated the bottom of the cave and blossomed into wildflowers, filling the dank cavern with the aroma of life.

The Blind Prophet continued to recite the words of Sol as Torturer’s tainted armor shattered and was replaced by a golden sunburst, iron flower petals, and vines reaching toward the heavens.

When the Blind Prophet was finished he fell to one knee, the Grimoire clapping shut to contain its power. When he lifted his head, the sight before him jolted him to his feet.

“Thank you,” Kindness said. A white-gloved hand flew to her mouth in shock. “Why do I sound like a woman?”

“Because you are one,” the Blind Prophet said. He threw his head back and laughed.

Kindness considered this. She was not upset or judgemental. “Interesting. I wonder why Sol would do this.”

“My child, it was you who chose this form. For reasons known only to you and glorious Sol, this is how you shall redeem yourself.”

Kindness took his hand and pulled him toward the mouth of the cave, careful not to step on any of the fresh young flowers.

“Come then,” she said. “There is much to do.”

The Seven Heavenly Virtues: Charity Midas

King Midas sat upon his throne and brooded, as he was wont to do. He considered his guests, arrayed in a line across his cavernous throne room, and felt shame. Surely they could only hold contempt for their opulent surroundings: golden statues, pillars, floor tiles—even the paintings and draperies were of solid gold.

If I could turn it all back to stone, wood, cloth, and dust, Midas thought, I would.

The Five Disciples had long ago forsaken material wealth to serve Sol and the Blind Prophet. Yet here they all were—including the Blind Prophet himself, staring with his milky eyes—and people only visited the throne room of Midas for one reason.

So even Sol’s precious Prophet needs my sullied gold. Who will ask for it, him or the King?

King Jeraziah stood beside the Blind Prophet in the blessed armor of Omen. This was the second time Jeraziah had entered the golden castle. On the first occasion, he was alone and unarmed, carrying only a basket of fresh fruit from the orchards of Adkarna—a priceless gift in the parched lands over which Midas ruled.

They had not always been so.

When the alchemist Auric Midas discovered the power of transmutation and conjured the blend of science and magic that caused all he touched to turn to gold, he ran in a panic to wash the precious metal from his hands in the cold, clear mountain river that fed the streams, tributaries, and irrigation fields of his lands.

The water instantly turned to gold.

This was a thrill at first, a blessing. Midas built his castle of gold and filled it with riches beyond imagination. He purchased a mercenary army, adorned them with golden armor, and sent them into battle against the upstart general in the central plains. The one called Maliken Grimm, who sought to combine the clans of Man.

Midas’ soldiers were routed. They were exhausted from marching beneath the weight of their King’s golden armor and could not lift their shields above their knees to block the killing blows. Indeed, Maliken’s soldiers had no mercy on them, for they followed their general’s lead.

Midas stayed within his golden walls and waited for Maliken to claim his head. Instead, the general sent an emissary with a message.

It was brief, writ in the hand of Maliken himself: “Fill my coffers or die.”

Midas sent the messenger back with a caravan of gold that, if you stopped to let it cross before you, would leave an entire day lost. General Maliken did not kill Midas. Not that time, nor the next, nor any time he sent his brief message—Fill my coffers or die—because each time Midas piled the wagons until they sagged.

When Maliken succumbed to grief and madness after Sylvia’s betrayal and brought about the Second Corruption, Midas remained within his walls, forgotten by the armies fighting for survival, for their souls. The daemons cared not for gold and had no use for the cursed king in his wasted lands.

Then Jeraziah arrived with his gift, which he set before Midas. The Golden King’s hand shook as he slid his fork into a succulent slice of highgrove orange and brought it to his lips. His memory could not recall such flavor, such life.

“My father was cruel to you,” Jeraziah said. “He used you. I am not like him. I will not be false and claim I do not need your gold—we lack rations, weapons, armor. But I will not take it from you. Instead, I ask you to join the fight.”

Midas looked surprised beneath his heavy crown, then his brow fell. “I have not left this castle in many years, young King. Nor have I lifted a sword.”

“Yet you are still strong. Everything you lift is made of gold.”

Midas shook his head. “Even so, I am of no use on a battlefield. I bring only my curse.”

“Yes,” Jeraziah said, stepping forward. “Come with me. Make my enemies yours, for they are, whether you accept it or not. Come, turn our enemies to gold, and we will use their bodies to buy steel, and pay the smiths to craft blades. The golden corpses will fund the destruction of the Hellbourne, and you will be honored above all.”

Midas shook his head. “Honor? I do not seek it. Nor fame, nor glory.”

Jeraziah tried to hide his desperation. “What, then? Silver?”

Midas smiled at the jest. “Redemption. My lust for wealth, my greed, consumed me. I neglected those who loved me and killed those who opposed. Now I have all the gold I could ever want, and nothing else. Sol does not hear my prayers, no matter how many chapels I construct, how many collection bowls I gild. All I ask is relief from this curse. Let me touch a loved one’s cheek again, so I may make sure they are well. Let me cup my hands in water, so I may offer it to those who are thirsty.”

Jeraziah considered this, then did something that shocked Midas.

He knelt.

Jeraziah said, “I swear to you, as King of the Legion and Chosen Warrior of Sol, if you fight beside me I will bring redemption to you.”

Midas was moved by the vehemence of the oath. Still, he had doubts. “How will you do such a thing?”

Jeraziah paused. “I do not know.”

Midas was so startled by the unguarded honesty he burst out laughing. It felt almost as good as the fruit tasted. “And tell me, if I join you and fight against these Hellbourne and you cannot find redemption for me, what then?”

“I will not care,” Jeraziah said. “I have given you my word, and the only way I will not honor my word is if I am dead. Even then, I’ll see what I can do for you.”

Midas nodded, pointed a golden finger at Jeraziah. “I think I shall enjoy fighting beside you, my King.”

Jeraziah felt the constriction in his chest release. For it was true, he would never break his word. And just as he had given it to Midas, he had promised his vast army he would recruit the Golden King Midas to the Legion cause. Had he refused, that force was poised half a day’s march away, prepared to pull down the golden walls, smelt the castle and haul the cursed Midas away in chains to be milked like a golden sow.

Jeraziah was grateful his first option had been accepted. There would come a time when he would need to be ruthless for the survival of Man and Beast, and he was glad it had not yet come. Now, years later, he stood in the golden throne room again, in the very same spot he had once knelt.

General Midas had led Legion forces into countless battles and used his gold in every way conceivable to thwart the Hellbourne advance. He had sacrificed as much as any soldier, and it showed.

“Midas,” Jeraziah said, “you do not look happy to see me.”

“I am never happy here, my King. The gold hurts my eyes and weighs upon my heart. But it is why you are here, so out with it. How much do you need?”

“Midas, these long years you have fought beside me. You have shared your wealth though no one could help carry the burden of your curse. A curse that offers endless riches, yet the one thing you desire cannot be bought. It must be earned. The first time I visited you I brought a gift. This time, I bring what is owed.”

Midas watched as the Blind Prophet pulled a thick, ancient book from his leather satchel. His white eyes fell to the open pages and he began to read.

Midas felt a tingling in his fingertips—a sensation he had not felt in ages. The Blind Prophet lifted a hand toward the heavens and continued to read as Midas gaped at the flesh spreading over his golden hands. The Five Disciples bowed their heads, and Midas could see they were smiling.

They were happy for him.

King Jeraziah tossed something toward the throne.

Midas caught the orange and waited for it to turn to gold.

It did not.

He stared at the highgrove orange in the palm of his hand, felt the tenderness of its skin, the morning dew still clinging to its surface. A tear slipped from his eye and fell from his cheek onto the orange. It did not harden into a drop of gold and tumble to join the scattered pile at the base of his throne.

Midas asked, “I am free?”

Jeraziah nodded. “Free to choose.”

“Choose.” Midas was still in shock. “Choose what?”

“To love Sol and all of mankind as you once loved your gold.”

Midas turned the orange in his hand. “Yes. That is what I’m feeling, isn’t it? Love.”

The Blind Prophet returned the tome to his satchel. “Redeemed King, will you bring that love—that charity for all who walk in Sol’s light—will you carry it with us as we seek to cleanse this land of the Sin which brought you so much suffering?”

“Greed,” Midas growled.

“And the rest. Lust, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth, and Pride. And when that is done, will you carry Sol’s light to the one who brought them forth?”

Fill my coffers or die.

Midas ground his teeth. “Maliken.”

The Blind Prophet nodded.

Charity stood. “Lead the way.”

The Return of the Blind Prophet

Our King had failed.

He had failed his people, his armies, and his destiny.

Most of all, he had failed his god.

Jeraziah knelt in the Solaris Chapel of Adkarna. The glass ceiling allowed sunlight to fill the circular vestry, bathing the altar and tapestries in hazy brightness, but Jeraziah did not look at these. His eyes were upon the worn mosaic beneath his knees, cast in shadow. Continue reading The Return of the Blind Prophet

Circe the Deceiver

In ancient days it was the wanderers and adventurers who fell victim to the sorceress known as Circe the Deceiver, drawn to the island prison by her enchanted disguises of long-lost loved ones, missing sailors, even gods they worshipped and believed they had found.

In the days of the Lost Civilization, Circe grew weak as Man refined his gift of science; he knew all corners of the earth and had no sense of exploration. Circe’s wanderers dwindled, then vanished. The sorceress waited alone on her island for centuries, scanning the horizons for a glimpse of a topsail or debris from a shipwreck. Continue reading Circe the Deceiver

The Seven Deadly Sins – Gluttony

GluttonyA familiar hum of power coursed through the Grimoire. Envy swiftly moved across the battlefield and knew that the next vessel was not far off.

“Can it possibly be this easy? This obvious?” thought Envy as he looked across the scarred landscape.

At the edge of the battlefield sat the corpulent composite creature of chaos known as Devourer. The patchwork demon was the most ravenous creature that the human magi had ever summoned in their wars against the beasts and the monstrosity was known for consuming every creature it was able to get it’s hook into. The creatures it didn’t finish were simply added to his patchwork body.

Envy strode confidently towards the demon, the now comforting power of the Grimoire clutched tightly in his hand. As he neared, the Devourer looked up from the corpse he was gnawing on, distracted by the immense power that was so close and he knew that he must have it. The Devourer lashed out with his hook and wrapped it around the creature holding the powerful relic and tried to reel it back in to be consumed but it did not move. Continue reading The Seven Deadly Sins – Gluttony