A grim, suicide mission of a plan – destroy the mountain of Primal Matter to rob the Sea God of the energy needed to birth another Ten Kings. Even if they succeed, will it even make a difference?
from The Silvergrey Sea
The trip to the Evanescents was absent event, but full of dread. The Elects and I travelled the distance in almost complete silence, each of us pondering what we all thought the likely dissolution of the Order of Hermes, a society that pre-dated the origins of our species. That we should be its final custodians horrified me more than I could reckon.
The problem we faced could not even be determined. I was taught the greatest threat to the Order was the Meraculus Mercurius. The Elects who travelled with me seemed to know why this was so. They were unwilling to share, despite what we’d all been though. Their stillness and the slackness of their expressions terrified me more than I could imagine any answer would.
I reassessed that evaluation when we came within hailing distance of the closest island.
At first, I thought it a welcoming committee of sorts, there to prevent any attempt to interrupt their summit.
Then I noticed the utter stillness.
So did my companions.
It said something for my state of mind that I didn’t notice the mountain of ice that was barely a mile from the group until after. “What is that?”
“Primal Matter distilled from the stuff of the Silvergrey Sea,” Red.
I turned to the Kokkinos, “What’s going on here?”
The two Elects shared a glance. White, “An attempt to revive the Pleroma.”
“The god who gave birth to the Ten Kings.”
Poseidon. “Is that what the M.M. was trying to do?”
“Possible, but doubtful. Their interest was only ever in the souls and the wisdom they thought they possessed. It’s possible that some where in thrall to the god, but the leadership has always been about gaining knowledge by these forbidden means.”
“They didn’t know about the origins of the Templars, either.” It wasn’t a question. The habitual secrecy of the Order had come back to bite us on the ass. The Albedo merely nodded. I sighed. “And we have a god to contend with.” Another nod. “How?”
Red, “Once Poseidon has been awakened, there is no way to hasten a renewed slumber. Destroying his Working is the only option left to us.”
“Won’t he try to prevent that?”
“Undoubtedly, but he is limited as to what he can do. He cannot leave the element of the Silvergrey Sea.”
I was beginning to understand. “We must destroy that.” I pointed at the crystalline mountain.
“Will the M.M. help?”
“I think we can convince them of the wisdom of that course. They know they’ve been used and their only chance at redemption, not to say survival, depends on helping wreck the Sea God’s plan.”
“What’s our plan?” I asked.
“Waking the dead, to begin.”
It would prove a harder task than I had feared.
As our ship approached the shore, the predicament of the members Meraculus Mercurius became tragically apparent. Their still, standing bodies glittered in the bright, sourceless light of the Sea. They’d been suspended in the same stuff of which the mountain was made.
The boat docked, we debarked and walked up to the group. I recognized the Mercurius almost immediately. She was standing, staring at something in the distance that had been there when she’d arrived. Momentarily, I wondered what it might have been. Visions of the Sea God dove through my mind, scattering my hopes, like frightened starlings. “How are we to free them?”
Red, “A little heat should do it.” So saying, the Red Elect placed the glowing rod of his office against the trunk of the blue-clothed one. I felt the warmth of it. The Primal Matter evanesced in blue and green.
The Mercurius blinked several times before her eyes focussed on us. She screamed and began to shudder; not as if she were shaking, but as if being shaken very rapidly. I heard the snapping of bones. As one, the three of us projected stilling on her. The influence—whatever it had been—faded quickly. She collapsed. We caught her and lowered her gently to the deep indigo of the craggy isle.
The Albedo stripped her coat, shirt and leggings from her, exposing skin already beginning to purple in many places “Gods! She has dozens of fractures,” he said.
“Can you heal her?” the Kokkinos asked.
Running his hands over her, just a hair from actually touching her flesh, the White Elect said, “I think…yes. I can heal this. It will not be a quick healing, though.” Before he could begin, a change in the Mercurius’s skin—a sort of stiffening as the flesh itself slowly turned white—overtook her, starting from her ankles. I could hear a sizzling. Carefully, the Albedo lay his hands on the terminator, As it passed beneath his outspread fingers, he shouted and jerked it away. “It’s hot.” He looked up at us. “Help me, quickly!”
I knelt at her head, the Kokkinos opposite the Albedo. My hands were rapidly at their task. The flesh seared by whatever was infused with a kind of energy that I’d never encountered before. The influence of the Primal Matter, it must have been. The flesh ensnared was undamaged, just frozen. I concentrated on pushing it out.
I wasn’t the best healer but, with the Elects working with me, we managed to clear her body in only a few minutes. As soon as we had pushed the last of it from her toes, the mending of bones began. We’d barely started when the whiteness began creeping back. I concentrated on holding it at bay, while the two senior Hermetists continued the mending of our mutual superior.
In the end, it took over an hour to finish. Near the end the Albedo awakened the Mercurius and, with her conscious assistance, finally rid her body of the petrifying influence of the Primal Matter.
“Thank you,” she said. It took two of us to help her to her feet (we’d been able to heal much of the bruising, but some of the deeper ones remained. She’d be sore for days, yet).
As she dressed, the questions began.
“What happens now?” the Mercurius asked, wincing as she slid her breeches up.
“The matter of discipline will have to wait, I think,” Red.
She seemed surprised.
“There are matters of more import to deal with first.” The Red Elect waved toward the frozen brethren.
The Mercurius took them in, then glanced at the crystal mountain.
“Yes, that, too.”
“You knew why searching in the Silvergrey Sea was proscribed, Helen,” the Albedo said. “Did you really think you could avoid this outcome?”
The had the grace to look chastened. “I never really believed the story. There is no record of such in the archives.”
“You convinced yourself that it was safe. There is an excellent reason for omitting the birth of the Templars from the archives, as a few seconds thought would have revealed.”
She only nodded.
“Did the M.M. die out? Was it revived? If so, by whom?”
“It never died out. I still feel the risk is worth it. We possess knowledge that would otherwise be unattainable.”
Red, “Thus have the wicked ever excused necromancy. There is nothing that the dead neglect to leave behind that is in the least wise to try to recover. The Wise know best when some bit on information is better lost. Any ‘wisdom’ that you have gained is bound to be too dangerous to use. I can see that you are unconvinced. No matter. The Meraculus Mercurius will be rendered properly extinct, this time; if there is an Order of Hermes left, that is.”
“What do you need from me?”
“You will surrender the Staff of Mercury at once. It will be held by another Pro Tem until this crisis is over.”
I suddenly had a sickening in my gut. The Kokkinos and the Albedo turned t0 to me. “Will you accept this burden, Brother Abram?” they said as one.
What could I say. “Yes.” With great solemnity, the former head of the Order of Hermes presented the tri-coloured crystal Rod of Office to me. It felt cold, cold in my hands. I looked up to faces blurred by my tears. The Kokkinos briefly clasped my upper arm as I got hold of myself. “First things first.” I surveyed the monolithic Hermetists. “Let’s free our people.” I didn’t feel like I was in charge of anything, but I knew what had to be done. I hoped the feeling of being an imposter would pass.
I lost track of the time it took to free them all. We learned the hard way that the stasis affected each one differently. Consequently, the treatment had to differ. With each body freed, we had one more to help. Eventually, we were able to divide up into teams, which sped things up considerably. I felt lucky that we lost only two of the ninety-six afflicted.
Once freed, each one took in the change of their circumstances fairly well. They knew they’d been busted and expected the worst. When told punishment would have to wait to see if there’d even be an Order to enforce any discipline, they reacted as if reprieved. I knew that attitude wouldn’t last, so I planned on using their enthusiasm for cooperation while it burned hot.
I gathered them facing the mountain of Primal Matter. I let them just stare at it, getting a feel for the menace we faced, while I tried to figure out what the hell we were going to do about it. The Rod of Office was a dead weight in my hands.
I sensed rather than saw the arrival of the Elects to either side of me. “So, what do we d now?”
“As, Mercurius, the decision is yours,” Red.
“As yours is to advise me.”
“And to correct you, if we feel you need it.”
“Well…I’m trying to think of any course of action apart from the obvious. Any other options?”
I nodded. “I thought not. So, we bring it down.”
A moment while he shared the horror of it.
Another while I waited for something from either.
Finally, I thought, ‘fuck it.’ “I want to know everything you know.” I turned to my left and met the eye of the Kokkinos. I inclined my head toward out problem.
“It might not be the best course—”
“I don’t want to hear it. Just tell me. Now.”
So they told me. It took awhile.
“Is this god, Poseidon, hostile? Was its creation an intentional act?”
White, “We honestly do not know the answer to the first question.”
Red, “The second question is likely the wrong one. Whatever its origins and purpose may have been, it does not think as Greater Humanity does.”
“It seems driven to make the Templars. Has it done this more than once?”
“There have been four attempts previous to this one, only one successful.”
“The one some Hermetists of the time aided.”
“We learned from that mistake.”
“If mistake it was,” White.
I sensed a recrudescence of an old argument. Turning to the Albedo, “What would be an argument in favour of allowing Homo Vadit to re-emerge?”
“They are more evolved then we. Maybe it is time to step aside, rather than hinder the next stage in Greater Humanity’s advance.”
“That would mean our extinction. And let’s not forget the bloody mess they caused the last time. In any event, humanity was of little concern to them. Remember their origins,” Red.
“Perhaps you forget the early history of current humanity—one bloody conflict after another. How many worlds were left sterile before the Pax Magna?”
“So we should allow them to cut a swathe through what’s left of the Pleroma while they figure out that peace is the better option? How many more worlds are you prepared to watch them burn? How many more species wiped out—”
“Enough. This is an argument for another day, my Elects. The immediate concern must be the preservation of what life there is.”
“There’s no safe way to do what you’re proposing,” White.
“Not to mention it may not work,” Red.
“I did ask for alternatives, gentlemen. Is there another way of stopping this Working? Perhaps after they Elements arrive?”
“No,” Kokkinos. “After the Quintet arrive, no one will be spared death. It is not possible to withstand the presence of all of them together.”
I had known that. I needed to make them aware of the desperation of our position. “Then let us begin.”
None of the former Meraculus Mercurii looked eager anymore. They did seem prepared to act, though most expected to pay with their lives. They’d not be disappointed there, at least. I thought the chances of success remote. I little incentive was in order.
I turned to the group. “You all know what’s expected of you. Climb that mountain and direct Light energy into it, then get off and as far away as you can as quickly as you can. As acting head of the Order, I hereby declare that all who survive will be granted full pardons for all criminal activities connected to the outlawed Meraculus Mercurius. In addition, their records will be expunged. However, no record of your deeds will be recorded. You will, as-it-were, be given a clean slate.”
I took a moment to let that sink in. There was very little grumbling, though the Kokkinos looked at me askance. I ignored him.
We formed up (the three heads out front) and marched to our date with destruction. Distances and dimensions had ever been difficult to assess in the Silvergrey Sea, so it shouldn’t have been surprising to take in the actual size of the heap of Primordial Matter that confronted us. It was easily larger than any mountain that I’d ever seen or heard tell of. I privately questioned the wisdom of my plan, but still could not think of a better. We might have to do our best to undermine the structure from the base, as it might be too big a task to get anyone close to the top before we ran out of time.
It rose—a pale pink, shattered glass cone— straight from the deep indigo of the native rock of the island. I put my hand out, expecting to be lacerated by the material, and was surprised to find it mildly pliable—and warm.
Around me, the others had already begun climbing. A singing came from the stone as boots pushed and fists gripped it. I could see lights within the transparent mass flickering in time to the impacts of my fellows.
As prearranged, the Elects and I moved to form a cordon around the mountain, each one-hundred twenty degrees from the other.
Before I had reached my assigned position, the resonances from the blows of energy directed by the former M.M. Hermetists into the mountain began to have their effect.
The mountain had appeared opaque, like it was made of regular ice that had formed the usual way. The energy being directed into it caused flashes of light to appear deep in the structure. These white bursts illuminated fissures in the stuff of the Primordial Matter. Starbursts of fractures and cleavage planes lit up like a multidimensional spider’s web with each infusion of raw energy. The crystal also began to sing pure, sweet notes—a chorus of divine chimes.
I realized that the mountain contained a number of nodes—the centers from which the light bursts originated. The apparent ability of the mountain to absorb the energies being fed into it called into doubt my plan. It was beginning to look like we lacked the power to bring this edifice down.
I needn’t have worried.
Once the Elects and I were in place, we pushed out ribbons of energy. They linked and formed a cordon that held the line against energy leakage from the hammer blows of out fellow Hermetists.
The tones began to change, becoming more discordant. The flashing spider webs of light began to shudder spastically when they appeared. Parts of them refused to fade and I could see the cracks widening.
I began to feel vibrations in the air and in the ring of energy that was feeding the energy coming from above back into the structure. Initially, I was sure it was part of the disintegration of the mountain of Primordial Matter.
The truth was far grimmer.
A cry from above. Then another. I looked up. Several Hermetists were pointing Seaward. I turned.
The Silvergrey Sea was rising; whether in response to our efforts or because of some other event, I could not say. I sent a mental signal to keep up the work. No matter the cost to ourselves, we owed it to the trillions in the Thirty Aions to try to prevent the advent of another Shining Empire.
It turned out to be worse than I imagined. The author of the plan to return Templars to the Multiverse was putting in a personal appearance to express his displeasure.
The Sea rose in one place higher than the others. I expected something anthropomorphic (silly, I know). What appeared when the Sea finished dripping off was much like the web hidden in the mountain. It was made of light, light so bright that I could not look at it for more than a second or two at a time. I could see the light from it reflecting off the waves.
A sudden epiphany—I was looking at the source of the blinding light on the wave crests of the Silvergrey Sea.
This being wasn’t literally any god, much less the sea god of an ancient Œrth culture. The name was traditional. What it actually was was a source of speculation in the Order to the present day. It was alive and it was intimately connected to the Silvergrey Sea. It had been the instigator of the first emergence of the Ten Kings and of the eventual creation of the Pleroma.
It was obviously a living thing. Just as obvious was its desire in this matter.
No matter the cost, it had to be stopped.
Unfortunately, now that it was actually here, I couldn’t think of any way we could possibly defeat it. Truth to tell, my thoughts were only of escape.
“Hold the line!” This from the Red Elect. The way it slid into my mind disguised as one of my own thoughts meant it must have gone out to all the Hermetists. Good man. He was keeping his head.
I was just realizing some of us were going to die. It would take time for even this mammoth being to stop enough of us to save this solid chunk of energy. If we could hold long enough, there would be no source for Poseidon’s Working.
The web of shining Water expanded and began to move toward the crystal mountain.
The working of my fellows high up the mountain became more frenetic. The ringing and the flashing lights in the massive structure began to increase. It looked like a spastic strobe light in there. After a few seconds, I realized that the efforts of the Hermetists couldn’t account for all of the light and sound. We’d weakened the mountain to the point where its dissolution might be self-sustaining.
I called out mentally, “Hold.”
Despite their increasing desperation, most obeyed instantly.
Just as I thought, the internal crumbling continued. Our work was done.
“Break and retreat.”
I broke the link to the Elects and moved back toward the place where we had landed. The rest followed.
Glancing back, I saw Poseidon was almost over the Primal Matter, now. More than two score Hermetists were already on the ground and running in my direction. The ringing had become a clashing of cymbals and chains. The Mountain was shaking enough to see even from where I was. Many of my brethren were still climbing down. I saw some sliding, whether deliberately, or from having lost their footing, I did not know.
Something began to appear in the air to the left of the Primal Matter. I thought it a counter stroke of Poseidon.
It couldn’t have been, for what was forming was a Portal. The Elements—had to be. Whether this was a bad thing or not depended on how long it took the crystal mountain to collapse. No doubt they would try to prevent that.
They never got the chance.
The Primal Matter exploded. I was picked up by the shockwave and hurled away.
I lost consciousness as I landed. Hoping it was not death, I also hoped we’d managed to stop the Sea God’s plan.