Tales Post 16 continues Shades of an Empire wherein The Lamb, captained by Ameryl Hypericum, is trapped within Tartarus after being pulled through by Kalor Varkesh in a bid to escape a supermassive blackhole in Tales Post 5. Kalor Varkesh still clings to the hull of The Lamb when one of the Omega Reich satellites of The Lamb is pulled off into Tartarus. Memnoch, king of Tartarus, himself arrives on The Lamb with curiosity and the crew are confounded. Only Ameryl withstands his power by using her anti-power ring. He offers up an infinite number of souls unto Memnoch in exchange for the safety of her and her crew, as well as possession of their very own Hell for use of The Imperium. Memnoch eventually agrees to the exchange.
Shades of an Empire
Continues from Tales Post 5.
Ameryl clenches her eyes tight as The Lamb begins to spin violently through Tartarus. The inertial dampener around the bridge manages to stave off any sense of the motion, but the picture on the viewscreen is more than enough to induce nausea. Both for the spinning and the glimpses of hideous beasts lurking within the netherflames.
Ameryl: "Shut off the viewscreen."
Locrete Bastelle Andralain, the angel-turned-vampire, does as commanded and the image shuts off. She continues to monitor the spin and remarks that Kalor Varkesh is still clinging to the hull of The Lamb. Tracking the other ships as they tumble through Tartarus is almost impossible except for the brief blip on the monitors that indicated nothing - here there is no time. Everyone could be alive and dead in the same instant.
Ameryl: "Why is this taking so long?"
Ameryl leans on the railing of the podium where she stands. She realises she should have said 'why does it seem to be taking so long' since there's no time, but she isn't in the mood for correcting her semantics. Luckily Andralain never corrects Ameryl on anything.
Andralain: "Because we entered with a large number of ships, the... beings of Tartarus are paying more attention. Their attention slows us down as they... look at us."
Helmsman: "Creepy much?"
Andralain: "I think we just lost one of our satellites, ma'am."
Andralain: "It just veered off course. Suddenly."
Ameryl: "You mean...?"
Andralain: "It was an unnatural trajectory, yes."
The Omega Reich ship didn't veer off course. It was taken off course.
A chill runs down Ameryl's spine. She hasn't felt this afraid in a long time. Knowing that she would return to the Nothing from whence she came has long allowed her to overcome fear of death and without the fear of death there is nothing else that needs to be feared. Except that which defies death. Taken and trapped in this Hellscape would be far from Nothing. It would definitely be something. And a terrible something at that.
The demonic fiends of Tartarus are unfathomable. They have no true shape, only that which they choose to take or that which the perceiver fears that they'll take. Beyond time, beyond space, beyond emotional constraints, beyond logic and entirely without empathy. To be in the clutches of an abuser that exists for the sole purpose of abusing would be a fate far worse than death.
Even her power over magic would be almost moot in such a place as this as aether is just as warped by Tartarus as time and space. If she were to try a spell, she might wind up casting a different spell. Or a hundred spells all at once. Or just blow herself up. A hundred times over.
Ameryl: "Can't we get a lock on the ship being pulled away?"
Andralain: "Negative. There's... no space. There's no distance between us and the other ships to tractor them in..."
Ameryl: "What a dumb plane of existence this is."
Helmsman: "Might not want to incite them, ma'am."
Then there's an eerie ringing sensation in her ears. She fiddles with her lobe and notices that everyone else is doing it too. Then everyone's ears start to bleed. Ameryl clutches her skull.
Ameryl: "Wh-what is this!?"
The air itself tingles with static, as though a storm is brewing on the bridge and Ameryl tastes metal on her tongue. She senses a presence before she even turns to face him.
Memnoch: "It's not everyday we get so many visitors here..."
The air-splitting noise increases as he speaks. Andralain falls to her knees and plants her forehead on the floor, grasping at her head. She begs for it to end.
Memnoch: "Usually I let ships slip through Tartarus unmolested, but how could I resist so many all at once? It's like lunch just arrived..."
Ameryl's fist clenches and she raises it up. A bright gout of light ebbs from the ring on her finger, bringing a sudden calmness to her as it negates any and all ill effects that the demon overlord is exerting. Memnoch looks surprised and looks Ameryl up and down, as though only now paying an interest in the people he is hurting.
Memnoch: "That's an interesting trick."
Ameryl: "Release my crew."
Memnoch: "It's no holy weapon. I'd be able to tell."
Ameryl: "Did you hear me?"
Memnoch: "Heard you. Then ignored you."
He takes several steps towards her. He moves unnaturally, like all of his limbs are too long for his body. His face and body grow increasingly disturbing to gaze upon as he draws closer to her. His face, which had appeared as a normal man's, is now hideous and malformed. Ameryl remains steadfast even when Memnoch face looms over hers. Frankly, she had seen worse.
Memnoch: "Why should I listen to you?"
Ameryl: "Why shouldn't you?"
Her response took him a little off-guard but he rallies easily.
Memnoch: "Because you are a waste of my time."
Ameryl: "Am I?"
Memnoch pauses. He's intrigued by the cavalier attitude she possesses.
Memnoch: "Your soul will be worth more to me than the time spent tolerating you."
Ameryl: "Souls? That's all you want?"
Memnoch: "It's all I crave..."
His skin cracks and his eyes yellow as he stares down at her, his mouth slightly agape in a crooked smile. His pallid skin appears increasingly disease-ridden. Ameryl refuses to be shocked into making a mistake here. His psychological warfare won't work on her any more than the powers he attempted to use on her.
Ameryl: "Release us. Souls are easy to come by."
Memnoch: "Some souls are worth more than others. Some souls... taste better."
His tongue slips from his mouth, long and snake-like, and slathers around his blue lips. Ameryl swallows with disgust but holds her ground.
Ameryl: "If it's souls you want, souls I can provide."
Memnoch: "Your soul would be worth quite a lot--"
Ameryl: "I can provide that and more."
Memnoch: "More? You would give me souls?"
His head cranes in closer to Ameryl's until he is inches away from her. She refuses to look up at him and just stares forward. He snaps his jaw shut with a bony crunch.
Ameryl: "What will you give me in return?"
Memnoch: "I thought the price was to be your own soul!"
Ameryl: "I said more."
Memnoch: "How many more?"
Ameryl: "Infinitely more."
He suddenly exerts a tremendous power against her. His visage blurs out of clarity and she is bombarded by sheer power. She winces in fright but the anti-power stored within the ring shields her completely from the onslaught. She had long ago needed the anti-power to be put into a form that she, as a talented mage, could wield more naturally than the nunchakus. Even if she had learnt nunchuks from the best. The ring projected a field of absolute negative power. Someone might have been able to give her a good slap across the face, but no amount of tremendous might would ever be able to penetrate that null field.
The rest of the crew have fallen to the floor unconscious. She hopes she'll be in time to save their lives. She just has to wait for Memnoch to see the futility of his performance.
He eventually does.
When the barrage stops, he is gone.
Ameryl looks down at the captain's console and sees that the exit is estimated in several seconds.
She looks around and sees that Memnoch has not returned for the bargain. She is surprised that he would let them go without acknowledging the possible pact.
She checks the systems and finds that Kalor Varkesh is still gripping the hull of The Lamb. She wonders what the demons of Tartarus would make of such a creature. Perhaps they'd consider it to be one of their own.
Ameryl: "Of course. At the last second."
Memnoch: "What is this deal?"
She turns to find him standing at one of the console banks. Now he appears completely humanoid again without all of the grotesque parlour tricks. He is wearing a suit of solid grey and his skin looks like he had a nice suntan. He's fiddling with a communications device he found on the console, idly inspecting it as a mild curiosity. This absolute change in demeanour shakes Ameryl even more than if he had maintained his earlier oppression.
Ameryl: "Infinite souls. A planet full."
Memnoch: "And how would you pull that off?"
Ameryl: "I can do it."
Memnoch: "I won't accept poor quality souls. No clones. No beasts. Sentient beings with good, long lives. Anything less is barely even a meal."
Ameryl: "It will be so."
Memnoch: "You are willing to feed me souls of sentient beings? I hope you understand one day, when you die, you will be joining me in Tartarus for your hateful crimes?"
Ameryl: "We only go where we expect to go. I shall go into Nothingness."
Memnoch rolls his eyes as though suddenly bored with the very notion she spouted.
Ameryl: "What will you give me."
Memnoch: "For an infinite number of souls en masse? You can name a steep, steep price for that. As long as you can provide. If you fail--"
Ameryl: "I won't fail. I think... I think I know what we want."
Ameryl: "The Imperium. I am The Imperium now. It is who I am. What benefits The Imperium is all I need."
She considers a time long ago when the Sepulchral Phantom first relayed her destiny and how she had balked at the idea. Now she can see no other life. No other meaning to her existence. She doesn't need to bring glory to The Imperium. She doesn't need to bring power. She doesn't need to bring honour. She needs to bring something new.
Ameryl: "We want our own Hell to rule over..."
The Lamb has been floating in space for little over half an hour. The crew are now only starting to stir and Kalor Varkesh has remained motionlessly attached to the hull of Ameryl's ship. She has already checked and found the other ships to be fairly undamaged and, like The Lamb, simply floating there like derelicts.
Andralain is the first on the bridge to come to her senses enough to speak. She pokes at the blood on her head and, without thinking, she sucks on her blood-soaked fingers.
Andralain: "What happened?"
Ameryl: "I am to become a harbinger of death and misery..."