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Amnesia: Memories Review – Visual Novel Reviews
The Raven's Wail
by  Aluminium Aligattor
(Love this image)


 

After a night of sleepless inaction coupled with the guilt of having put Good Samaritans to task, Gwen decided to face her moral infirmity by engaging in the sweet escapism of regimented labour.

At daybreak, she invited Elvia and the Knights, post first prayer, to watch her and the rats ready the seeds gifted by her "Elf in the High Castle" for enrichment.

The Druidic Satchel itself was a miraculous Magical Item, for it possessed the means to sort the seeds that were otherwise unpackaged and scattered in individual piles. After Gwen made the mistake of extracting more than one type, she returned the mixed-seed cereal to the bag, then grew awed when the bag re-sorted the mixed seeds through nought but a silent, mental command.

Once she emptied the Druidic Satchel into mounds, Stian and a circle of ratty Elders learned in agriculture gathered around Solana's gifts to scrutinise the spoils.

Thus far, the land cleared of vegetation and mixed with waste from Garp amounted to some mid-forty acres, an area Gwen mentally tallied to equate just over a dozen football fields. It was a feat made possible only with thousands of Rat-kin and Garp, who not only consumed sediment but flora as a part of its daily intake, plus excreted soft, soil-like silica that, in Stian's words, "brought spice to the Sawahi."

As for the volume of seeds in the pouch, Gwen's uninformed city girl eyes could only deduce that there was a "shitload".

According to Stain, seeds meant for growing in the desert required soaking to activate rapid germination and growth, a phenomenon that only occurred during the rainy season.

To simulate this process, the Rat-kin used clay tubs filled with water, within which they would rinse the seeds in a lime solution supplemented with what Gwen suspected were anti-fungal and bacterial herbs and minerals.

Taking on knowledge learned from her old world, Gwen elected a Control Group of un-blessed seeds, then created two more groups, one solely blessed by her mixing Almudj's juice into the solution, and another that was saturated in both Almudj's and Sen-sen's vital secretions.

For the experiment, she modestly chose an acre for each, which Stian further split into rows of Starling Tomatoes sitting adjacent to Polar Beans. Every second field favoured cucumber vines beside and beneath which housed the Sunburst Squash.

The unanticipated problem was that Shalkar lacked the lumber necessary to create the lattices that would hold the cucumbers, beans and tomatoes. As a result, Gwen recruited Mathias, who had been taught to pilot military Golems, to deploy the construction suits she bought from London, taking advantage of the utility Spellblade within the manipulator-arms to transmute temporary iron-wire lattices.

Finally, when the time came for sowing, Elvia demonstrated why she was the undisputed queen of flowers and root vegetables by commanding her nature Sprites to do the work of a thousand rats, rapidly seeding each pit dug by the numberless, whiskery farmers. Once completed, stone slabs from the mud-hewn aqueducts were lifted, allowing the rats ease of access to the water needed to moisten the soil and encourage growth.

Finally, to take advantage of Golos, whose excretions had contributed to Sen-sen's wellbeing, the Rat-kin dug out a fertiliser pit especially for collecting the Wyvern's enormous dung piles, from which they first extracted Gwen's Creature Cores, then fermented the rest with cut grass. The residual Essence-Ginseng solution from soaking the seeds was then recycled in the septic pit with Garp's gut-enriched "spice".

In the future, Stian noted, if they could get livestock such as sheep owned by the Centaurs, then more fertiliser pits could be built.

From morning to afternoon, Gwen chaperoned the Rat-kin, learning from the Elders even as she taught them modern urban planning. When she was finally done, the time had come for Inquisitor Hawkford and Sir Smallwater to leave in their quest to corral the Spectre agents working in the Elementals' domain.

"Fare thee well, 'Priestess of the Pale Light'. I shall inform the Ordo within the next few days of your present predicament."

"Thank you." Gwen shook the man's hand even as she whole-heartedly cringed at the jovial jab at her Faith collection. "Please keep the matter otherwise discreet."

"Indeed," Hawkford agreed. "My part will be informing the Rectrix. She shall possess the better judgement of how you may leverage your newly founded resources."

"I think what you mean," Gwen said. "Is how NOT to touch it with a ten-foot pole."

The Inquisitor laughed, as did Sir Smallwater, who bid her venture profit and success, thereby restoring stability to the region in a myriad of ways.

"Companion Lindholm, Protector Rothwell." The Inquisitor lastly turned to Elvia and Mathias. "You must keep our Saviour of the Rat-kin hale and out of harm's way."

"I shall, Chaplain." Elvia supplicated in the usual manner of the Ordo's junior clergy to its senior leadership.

"On my honour, Sirs," Mathias' response addressed Sir Smallwater, a curious act which Gwen took as an insight into how the Ordo functioned. From what she could see, Elvia's position would grow to encompass Hawkford's lineage, while Mathias' growth paralleled that of the Senior Protector.

Once nods and bows were exchanged, the Knights lifted into the air, then thundered off into the distance without so much as a sentimental glance, leaving Gwen and her two companions levitating lonesomely above the just-finished farm.

"Okay, let's break for afternoon tea." Gwen mopped a smidgen of dust from her brow. "Afterward, Strun, Garp and I are going to check out the Murk to see if we can find some local Dwarves.

"We're coming as well," Elvia informed her. "You're not ditching us a minute after we swore to keep you safe, are you?"

Gwen had hoped that she could vent her pent-up frustrations in the Murk, which meant initially, at least, she had not planned on showing Elvia that particular facet of her current self.

"Er… of course not." She smiled at her companion. "Mathias?"

"Where Elvia goes, I follow," Mathias concurred. "Whatever a Black Zone or the Murk."

"Don't be so melodramatic," Gwen snorted at the Knight. "It's the Murk. Nothing too bad lives there. Just brain-eating squids the Library Citadel of Helzink dubbed the 'Sinneslukare', leading hoards of white-fleshed Aberrant fiends created by unknown Masters from the Far Planes between dimensions, and poisonous fungi that walk by eating you from inside-out, that sort of thing."

"Should I wear full plate armour?" Mathias said with complete seriousness, having heard the tales she told to Elvia. "Would that prevent the er… brain squids?"

"… Yes," Gwen replied with complete seriousness. "Fair warning, to achieve the same protection, I'll be wreathed in the unholy boon of Sanctioned Necromancy, so don't be startled when we dive."

Both Mathias and Elvia chuckled uncomfortably.

"I am super serious," Gwen warned the pair again. "Well, you'll see— let's do a gear check. Potions! Wands! Armour! Spell Reagents! Food and Supplies!"

As a part of their inventory, Gwen packed the master-crafted Construction Golem suits, both as proof of her closeness with Eth Rjoth Kjangtoth and as a means to shape the earth while in the Murk. While she could ask Garp to clear the way mouth-first, Gwen suspected the inhabitants of the region she was about to visit would be displeased with a tunnel-borer creating six-meter wide passages where ever it ventured.

"Gogo, you're the Head of Security while I am gone." She chose the Wyvern to be her delegate. If anything, she could trust the drake to be territorial.

"Have fun, Calamity." Golos' sleepy voice returned from somewhere in the sky. As a Thunder Wyvern, Gogo feared no flora nor fauna in the region. Together with her ninety-strong Centurions armed with Afaa al-Halak derived weapons, even a Mingat's raid would prove no threat.

Gwen motioned for Strun. "Are you ready to depart?"

"Yes. Priestess."

"Call me Mistress from now onward, or Miss."

"Yes, O worshipful Mistress."

Gwen regarded the rat. "Are you acting cheeky with me, Strun?"

The Rat-kin's intelligent eyes gleamed. "Not at all, venerated Miss. You may change your title, O tamer of the Sawahi, but in the hearts of the Rat-kin, you will always be our Priestess of the Pale Light."

"Right, though for the sake of my sanity," Gwen sternly addressed to the cheeky rat. "Spread the word of my decision. I'll finish up here and see you on the eastern border in thirty minutes."

Once the rats scattered, Elvia and Mathias closed in.

"Gwennie?" Elvia's imploring blue irises possessed such powers of purity that her heart grew sore. "Are you renouncing the Faith given to you by those you've saved? That's not like you at all."

"Is it? I didn't... desire this," Gwen answered with ambivalence. She had never done her deeds out of a sense of responsibility to another. Instead, her quest for power and its resulting freedom was derived from a jaw-clenching appetite for personal agency. If so, how could she expend the Faith of those who looked up to her? Though now they were in a honeymoon period, what if she and her worshipper's goals grew dissonant? If she must act out of goodness due to an unowed duty, then to her, Faith was no better than the golden wires of a birdcage. "I am sorry to disappoint, Evee, but I am… not as good, principled or strong as you think."

"You'd done right so far." Elvia appeared adamant in her infectious positivity. "I trust you."

"Bloody oath, Evee." Gwen hugged her flaxen-haired Cleric about the shoulders, unsure of what to say, hoping that when the time came to disappoint Evee, the experience would not be beyond salvation. "What did I do to deserve you?"


Gwen marvelled at Strun as the rat pulled on the leather lashes leashing either side of Garp's eyeless head.

With a start, the Elemental powers inherent to Garp's divine flesh began to vibrate his lower scales, allowing the Sand Wyrm unimpeded transit through the Sawahi in a manner no different from Golos' command of Elemental Air.

"Are we the first Humans to do this?" Mathias looked like the lead singer of a boy band with the wind blowing through his hair. "Riding a Sand Wyrm, I mean. It's incredible."

"I don't know if we're the first in history," Gwen said. "But we're probably the first in the Mageocracy's records. Strun's folks were the first to try it in the past."

"I am truly honoured." The Knight's face showed genuine thankfulness. Gwen figured the Knight Proctor might feel this way, for the everyday work of a Proctor meant boredom was a constant companion, and excitement was something a bodyguard should never desire.

"There'll be plenty of the world to see, Mathias," Gwen promised the Knight. "Evee and I will be going places, I assure you."

Elvia herself was more interested in how Gwen's Omni-directional Orb functioned, seeing that they had set out from Shalkar with no map and no indication of a specific objective. When Gwen told her that the Dragon-gifted Orb would find the Dwarves for her, the Cleric grew strangely mute.

"Don't worry, I've used it plenty of times," Gwen explained after a while. "What are you worried about?"

"Gwennie, can 'Brother' Ruxin access the Orb and control to what or where it acts as a guide?" her Cleric asked. "Its ability seems too nebulous."

"It hasn't failed me so far, not even when I wanted authentic braised pork belly."

"Y-you used a True Dragon's condensed gift of divining to find Chinese food?" The Vessel of the Yinglong appeared to swoon. "That thing should be in a museum!"

"Look," Gwen raised an excellent point for her companion. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to find authentic Chinese food in the heart of the Mageocracy? It's a miracle that the Orb not only located Chinese food but authentic Sichuan cuisine. If that isn't a testament to its ability to act in my interest, then what is? You think Ruxin or the Yinglong is so bored as to scour London for al dente pork belly in garlic and chilli oil?"

"Oh, Gwennie." Elvia puffed out her cheeks. "Please be careful."

"I don't use it when I am in the company of a party," she assured her friend. "It's mostly for when I am lost."

While Elvia looked away, likely wondering when Gwen wasn't directionally challenged, Gwen squinted at her elfin companion. Wasn't Elvia a bit hypocritical for choosing the Yinglong as her patron, then turning around to harp on about Ruxin's business partner, a woman the Dragon has trusted with the Dragon's share of his jade and crystal lodes? But it wasn't Evee's fault that she could only see the surface, for the girl was herself a recluse in the higher world of the Ordo's abbey, where its merry band of Samaritans gave up nobility to live as the Poor Soldiers of Christ.

Travelling coach on Garp, Gwen enjoyed the sight of the Sawahi's many walks of life fleeing in every direction as they sailed from one territory to another. When they stopped by what looked like a Rat-kin village, Strun leapt from Garp and delivered a sermon of promise and prosperity, directed the Rat-kin toward Shalkar, then majestically sailed "Garp" into the setting sun.

From Shalkar to their new destination, the journey took just over four hours.

"Mistress, we're here." Strun gestured toward a collection of jutting igneous spires thrown up by some violent, seismic significance into the above-ground world.

While Elvia and Mathias buffed up, Gwen lifted into the air to inspect the curious-looking stones.

"Does this look natural to you guys?" she asked her companions as Sen-sen's blessed vitality saturated her skin with a nimbus of protective light. With the battlesuit she brought in tatters, Gwen had resolved to dress for comfort and rely on her Necromancy.

"I would venture to say that it looks more like the manifestation of a Seismic Disjunction," Mathias drew from memory a spell candidate. "We should be careful, Gwen. There may be Dao about."

"Garp, Strun, keep an eye out," Gwen commanded the others, simultaneously producing the Creature Core and blood vial necessary for her life-preserving Armour and Mantle. Now possessed of an abundance of mid-tier Afaa al-Halak Cores, she opted for the Sand Wyrm's exoskeleton, all the while marvelling at the mitigating effect of Elvia's "Guardian Spirit" in offsetting Necromancy's vital drain.

"I know, I know." She hand waved away their suppressed consternation. "Save the lecture for when I get better Spells. Evee, Sir Hawkford mentioned you had a thing for revealing mana threads? Care for a show and tell?"

"The Prayer's full name is the Exalted Light of Holy Revelation." Elvia released her Holy Symbol into the air, where its gentle radiance suffused a region of dozen meters in diameter. "The more Faith we suffuse into the Tri-Crown, the more radiant its glow and thus, the greater the revelation."

"Is it mobile?" Gwen floated around the levitating icon.

"It can be," Elvia concurred, then walked the final fifty meters to the sunken entrance on foot while willing the Holy Symbol to hover like Gwen's Omni Orb. "Gwennie, don't use your spells— you'll disturb the mana residue."

Under Elvia's wide-area Detect Magic, their surroundings glowed a bright ochre and orange. Nearer the "entrance" to the caverns of the Murk was supposed to be, the residual mana burned as though the front row of a pyrotechnical concert. Further away, where the light fell near Garp, motes of freshly churning Elemental Earth formed a solid, opaque wall.

"Is that all Elemental Fire?" Gwen's lips made an O. "From the entrance, I mean. It's A LOT of Elemental Fire. What's the darker stuff?"

"Magma, I think. Ash as well, and yes, it is thickest coming from underground," Mathias observed. "But if you look at the trail, it goes all the way into the desert."

Gwen's followed the orange glow until it faded in a direction she could not discern.

"Alright." She chewed her lips in dismay. "You're telling me something went IN, as opposed to something came OUT. You know, Elemental Fire HDMs can be used to fuel Golem Suits."

Just as she delivered a hypothesis, her Rat-kin wandered through the hazy, phantasmagorical light. "There are many tracks here, Mistress. Large, heavy creatures with claws and enormous feet."

"That doesn't sound Dwarven," Mathias said.

"Nor Aberrant," Gwen confessed. "Else, there would be Elemental Ooze."

"Elementals?" Elvia asked. "But we're a week on foot from the Fire Sea..."

"Well, whatever this is, I guess we'll find out." Gwen indicated to her Omni Orb's downward trajectory. "Pack it up, Evee. Let's bring out the Familiars and the spell fodder."



As with her previous forays into the Murk, Gwen's veritable army of Hounds, led by Ariel and Caliban, was ready to diminish the dangers of the unknown.

Unfortunately, while their party had readied themselves for an action-packed delve into the dark, the passages that Strun had explored were discovered to be collapsed by some cataclysmic force, making progress all but impossible without a Dwarven Fabricator Engine.

"It's Garp time." Gwen resolved to straight away bring out her living tunnelling engine. As a natural sovereign of the upper Murk, the Shingleback Sand Wyrm could eat into the destroyed passage while also using its limitless earth-shaping stamina to strengthen the tunnels it left behind. Compared to Caliban's costly mimicry, Garp literally fed itself while it dug downwards through the earth, gaining mana even as it spent it. It was this prodigious ability that lay at the heart of Gwen's hopes for an underground warren city for her rats, at least until certified Dwarven engineers could install utilities, power, plumbing, sanitation and public transport.

At her mental behest, the Sand Wyrm was happy to oblige, for the igneous rocks here were more "yummy" for its constitution than the silica of the middle badlands.

As the tunnel made by the enormous living engine grew in length and depth, Gwen and her party remarked on how boring it was when an all-consuming mouth led the way of an underground adventure. Whatever encounters they had to fight were either avoided or swallowed with the swirling debris into Garp's crushing, stone-dissolving interior.

In this way, other than semi-precious sediment veins and the occasional geological curio, Garp left no prey nor monster in its wake, which was a tunnel some six meters across at chest height, and just over four meters from toe to crown. Now and then, rich deposits of sand and silica in rich, loamy sprays she chose to rename "Spice" ejected from what could only be Garp's exhaust module, proving to Gwen once and for all why Stian had called the Afaa al-Halak the lifeblood of the desert's ecology.

Dodging the meter-long mud-turds of Elemental Earth, their company strode downward into the Murk with the ease of a guided tram tour. Gwen led the way through means of a great swarm of Dancing Lights, spellshaping globes of long-lasting Evocation to light the path behind.

"Gwen, how long have we been walking?" Mathias flexed his fingers as he switched sword-hands. As she had advised the man show up in his best armour, the Knight had obliged by wearing tessellated plating complete with greaves, gauntlets and pauldrons inscribed with the Shield of St Michael. With his shiny Spellsword drawn, their personal Sir Gwain had expected to fight tooth and nail against a sea of bile-blooded Aberrants and their squid-brained masters. Instead, his only job had been diverting Elvia from walking in Wyrm turd.

Strun continued to steer Garp via the leashes tied to Garp's broad, fleshy tail. Even now, the Rat-kin observed Gwen's Omni Orb while micromanaging Garp, filling the cavern with the vibration of the Shingleback's digestive tracts at work.

"I hope you won't dig into their city," Elvia said after a while. "And fall through the ceiling."

"Garp has amazing tremor sense," Gwen offhandedly explained her strange connection to the Wyrm with a chunk of soul that now resides within her Astral Body. "Besides, Strun's still steering Garp even now. They'll know when to stop if there's a large cavern or a settlement. By then, we'll figure something out."

"Mistress." Strun chose this precise moment to leap off the wagging, fleshy tail of Garp. "We're about to hit a great cavern. Garp says the earth ahead is harder to swim through."

"Leave a safe distance and get Garp to run parallel with the cavern." Gwen tried to picture the earthen cavity in her head. For someone who struggled with two-dimensional maps, three-dimensional orienteering was a feat performed solely by her Orb. "Are we on top, bottom or alongside?"

"I do not know, Mistress." Strun's ears laid flat against his head. "In the future, I shall endeavour to learn Lord Garp's communications better."

"Take your time." Gwen gave the rat a satisfying pat, squishing Strun's floppy years with her fingers while Elvia looked on with a look of longing. With a swipe of her hand, she summoned the two Golem Suits, each about twice the height of a man. "Garp will take us close. After that, we'll dig our way through— politely."

"Yes, Ma'am." Elvia's Knight obediently crammed himself into the driver's seat, with the articulation of his armour coming as a surprise to Gwen, whose Bone Armour and Sanguine Mantle possessed no obstructions until triggered.

Using only the bare minimum number of buttons and levellers made available to a skilled operator, she switched on the earth-shaping function of the Spellsword, then carved away at the smoothly bored rock wall left by Garp, rendering the igneous strata into silica. Behind her, Mathias reorganised the debris by creating ugly-looking ribs of pillars against the walls, more so clearing the space than forming meaningful supports.

About twenty meters in, Gwen's Spellsword struck something solid and resistant to area-transmutation. Clearing more of the surface revealed runic inscriptions of what could only be a Dwarf-made tunnel wall.

"I hope this isn't critical infrastructure," Gwen warned the others before clearing another space, simultaneously broadcasting a broad-spectrum repeater signal used by the Dwarves in working in tunnels. According to the instructions that came with the rotund Construction Golem, any other Golem Engine would be alerted to their presence within a sizeable vicinity. When no response came, Gwen gathered the others to make heads and tails of the runic markings, finding no luck between herself, the Vessel, and Evee's Knight Protector.

"I guess we'll cut through and see," she told the others.

"Wouldn't our hosts be upset?" Elvia asked.

"Sure, but I brought a lot of HDMs, just in case," Gwen replied, refraining from stating that she also bought Maotai and Sen-sen, both far more valuable in befriending the Dwarves. In the worst-case scenario, the Ginseng Sprite would have to sacrifice its body to pleasure an entire host of hairy men.

Setting the Spellsword's setting to Sonic Cutter, she fiddled with the armament until it began to slice away sheets of crumbling stone from the inscribed wall.

"Those runes do not look to be empowered," Mathias remarked. "If this is indeed the shell of a tunnel, there's no possibility we can cut through it so easily."

"That's good." Gwen persisted in hewing away portions of the wall. "Anything that's turned off can't be critical."

Between her and Mathias, it took the better part of twenty minutes to create an opening large enough for the two of them to crawl through, a testament to the stoutness of Dwarven construction.

"Buck, Astro," Gwen indicated to her dogs as she switched to Link Sight. "Cali, Ariel, go!"

Her Hounds squeezed through the gap, willing their pack to follow.

"Okay…" Gwen spoke as she stared into the middle distance. "Looks like… a tunnel. My God, the inside is enormous. The surface looks damaged, erm— there's debris all over. Hmm— I think it should be safe for us to pass. Oh wow— there's a lot of damage. I'll use Dimension Door to take us through. I wouldn't want to damage this section any further."

Once the party was displaced across the wall and into the hollow interior, their surroundings grew clearer with Gwen's dispersion of Dancing Lights. It was now clear that all around them lay what could only be the aftermath of some incredible battle, for the walls were cracked and burned, and here and there, under blocks of collapsed granite, she could see the remains of scorched Golem Suits.

The air remained fresh enough to breathe, a clue to support Gwen's guess that the battle had occurred weeks or months ago.

"There's nothing… alive at all," Gwen reported after a few minutes of her Void Hounds scouring the surrounding area. "From the way the Dwarves have fallen back, there's a larger cavern with something akin to a Citadel, I hope, up ahead."

"What manner of Elementals you think they were fighting?" Mathias asked.

"Evee?" Gwen turned to the only member of their party in possession of mid-tier Divination. "Can you shed some light on the matter?"

Elvia presented her Holy Symbol once more, illuminating the path ahead and behind. Instantly, the Light of Revelation turned the colour of rust, blood and wine, so thick that it was impossible to see through the man-made miasma of residual mana.

"Magma, Fire and Ash!" the Cleric yelped. "Goodness, Gwennie. It's so dense!"

Gwen could hardly see her companions over the swirling mana motes colourised by Elvia's Divination. "Okay— this isn't helping. Shut it down for now."

Elvia obliged, and the trio, together with Strun, paced beside a stone spire upon which a Golem Suit was skewered.

"Holy fucksticks, look at this." Gwen touched a finger to the rusted interior of the suit, where the corrosive coolants had eaten away at the gears and oils. "Evee, can you lift this thing?"

"Sen-sen!" Elvia did not use her Draconic strength but relied on Sen-sen to break down the spire and retrieve the suit. Once on the floor, Sen-sen then tore away the hinged panels that gave the battle armour their airtight seal. Inside, the charred skeleton of a Dwarf with all of his facial hair burnt to cinders strongly indicated how the man had died— first injured by trauma and then cooked alive.

"Strewth," Gwen swore. "I don't think this is the work of Aberrants. Ariel, Cali, help the dogs scout."

"Kiki, Sen-sen, establish a defensive perimeter," Mathias commanded Elvia's creatures. "I'll lead— Gwen, stay with Elvia."

"Right," Gwen concurred. "We're not too far from the Citadel, according to Buck. You know what I am worried about?"

"What power could so demolish the Dwarven defences?" Mathias poked at another Golem Suit.

"Not as such. I could do this if I wished, so can Sen-sen, given the right conditions." Gwen regarded their Knight, wondering if Mathias could fight a mechanised Golem platoon by himself. "Have you noticed, Mattie, that there are no enemyremains?"

Mathias' expression grew suddenly grim.

"Yeah." Gwen pointed to the carnage that was growing more gruesome with every step toward the Citadel. "We haven't seen a single foe, bud. That means either whoever is hammering the Dwarves don't leave behind remains, or the Dwarves weren't able to kill a single besieger."

Mathias gripped his sword a little tighter while Strun straightaway disappeared into the shadows, moving only through fleeting flickers of darkness barely visible even to Gwen's enhanced vision.

After Gwen's unpleasant foreshadowing, the path ahead proved more gruesome than the scattered scenes of ultraviolence that came before her self-fulfilling prophecy.

The group grimly advanced until finally, the Dwarven Kjangtoth came into view. Beneath its gates, the three quaking Human Mages and one shivering rat inhaled breaths of stale air stinking of old fuel, scarred metal and sulphur.

The obliteration of the Citadel's gate was total and complete.

Unlike the gates of human castles, Dwarven construction utilised the weight of the earth itself to create impenetrable drop-barriers that could not be brute-forced, no matter the numbers or the size of the Beast Tide. Yet, the gate that lay in front of Gwen now was melted to slag, with its Rune-bound, composite surface reduced to shinning, crystallised shards, like the remains of an enormous dashed mirror.

Inside, the carnage finally took a turn from the refuse of war to the grotesque.

"Christ," Gwen couldn't stop swearing, despite her rare and precious company. "Did Garp take us to Hell or Hades?"

Elvia mimed the sign of the cross while Mathias incanted a spell of cleansing to ease the burden on their olfactory senses.

"Mistress…" Strun emerged from the shadows, his ratty eyes bloodshot with shellshock. "What madness is this?"

Gwen had no answers for her Rat-kin, for the horror threatening the sanity of her mind was conceivable only to one who had seen the aftermath of Pompeii.

Dwarves, thousands of Dwarves and more, lay in postures of unspeakable agony, clawing at their faces and throats. Some knelt, still clad in their mechanised battle armour. Others had the look of civilians; their charred bodies burned clean of clothes and flesh, reduced to ash-preserved statues of their former selves. Deeper into the avenue, with every step leading up the path toward the Guild Hall at the Citadel's centre, hunks of molten metal bespoke of ex-Golems of various shapes and sizes deformed by heat and blunt trauma. From Gwen's knowledge of the machines, in the final, desperate hours of the battle, the Dwarves had even brought out their construction Engines, for she could see the enormous husks of what could only be Fabricators littering the final rise into the grand spire that served as the heart of a homestead Citadel.

"Don't touch anything," she delivered a command to her creatures, Familiars and her companions. Whatever happened here, other Dwarves would want to know, and their vengeance would bear a grudge unfathomable to the mind of man.

"There's nought left of them!" Elvia was in tears, her pale face marred with horror and sympathy for the final moments of the stout Demi-humans. "Not a soul! Not a sliver of their being! Even their Cores are reduced to cinders! Whoever did this is monstrous, Gwen! Monstrous! We— we need to inform the Inquisitor! The Ordo has to get to the bottom of this!"

Gwen's Void Hounds, as well as Caliban, returned an equally disheartening report. Not only was there no "life", there lacked even motes of vitality to support luminescent fungi. However far her Hounds ranged, they couldn't even locate a fucking Murk vole or abandoned star-nosed moles, which the Dwarves bred like underground porcine by the tens of thousands.

"The Murk isn't the Ordo's domain, nor are Dwarven grudges." Mathias gently touched Elvia's arm. Raising his Spellsword into the air, the Radiant Knight sent forth a Day Light globe that dispelled the darkness in the distance, revealing more horrors even as he banished the uncertainty of the echoing dark. "Gwen, are you… you're shaking—"

Gwen grunted, unable to find the mental strength for more than a guttural acknowledgement.

"Mistress, we… should not be in any danger." Strun scampered from the rooftop of a building, emerging from the shadows cast by the Knight's light. "Everything's covered in ash and char. It's been some time since anything or anyone was here."

Gwen looked up at the spire, within which sat the Guild Hall. The etched windows, railings, and the thousands of master-crafted adornments that made the building both resplendent and sophisticated was all melted so that they drooled down the side of the basalt monolith like blackened teardrops of a weeping wax sculpture.

"Yeah-Nah, fuck that," Gwen said to her companions after Ariel took a gander through one of the multi-storey windows. The Linked Sight was enough to set her guts to gag and turn her Essence to boiling. "Christ, half the town was probably hiding in the Spire, hoping that their defenders could repel the invaders."

"Hoping…" Elvia's sobs grew more pronounced. "Oh, Gwennie, I- I am so upset! Is this the work of monsters?"

"Yes. Elementals," Gwen spoke with a note of bitter vehemence, reframing from asking Elvia if her God cared at all for Dwarven lives. "Who else could have this much firepower? I fought with the Dwarves of Eth Rjoth Kjangtoth. I stood in line with their Fire Teams, and I've individually confirmed how well their Balefire Guardians fight. Whatever happened here isn't something the Mageocracy is capable of doing without moving a Tower. It also isn't anything any local power is capable of performing except for those fucking Elementals from the Fire Sea."

"But why?" Mathias pointed to the utter desolation of the forge, the industrial Craft Hall, and the thoroughgoing demolition of the residential spire. The only remaining structure was the Citadel's ley-line foci, the central spire, the node through which a fully functioning Citadel maintained its connection to Deepholm and Dyar Morkk. Nothing was taken, and from the look of it, no one had bothered taking prisoners.

"I don't know," Gwen said to no one in particular. Summoning Ariel to her side, she sought sanity and solace by gripping Ariel's soft fur and kneading the Kirin's pliant flesh.

The party once more fell into silence.

Once her Hounds reconvened at the Citadel's central square, the three humans and a rat stood in stoic silence, unable to summon the courage to think about their next course of action.

"Let's go back," Gwen spoke for all of them after a few minutes of repressive pacing, uncovering yet more horrors of the ashen holocaust. "I don't think we can handle this, whatever this is. We need to inform folk with the means and the manpower to do something more concrete than disturb the evidence."

"Agreed." Mathias inclined his chin in agreement, looking to Elvia with sympathy and worry. "My head's a buzz. Not even the prayers are helping."

Gwen looked to her Evee as well. Unfortunately, Kiki's wilted stem, Sen-sen's floppy tendrils and Elvia's swollen eyes spoke explicitly of the Cleric's sensitive state of mind. Absent-mindedly, she summoned the Omni-Orb to her fingertips, then stowed her cursed tour guide. Earlier, she had will it to find the Dwarves. To her chagrin, Ruxin's Orb did not disappoint.

If the Elementals were to do this to her Rat-kin—
Gwen briefly contemplated the cost of bringing Shoggy to bear near the Fire Sea.
The terrible things she could do to the perpetrators of this atrocity could likely make Elvia lose her religion.

"Okay," she said quickly, willing Garp to wake up and make a loop so that they could follow the Shingleback Wyrm back up the tunnel by riding on its broad, flat tail. "Back we go. And when we get up there, I need someone to go and report our findings to Meister Bekker."

"I'll go." Mathias volunteered.

"Thank you." Gwen understood just how reluctant the Knight was to leave Elvia. Still, the fact remained that she could not leave her rats, and Elvia was a poor candidate to travel alone through the Sawahi.

"This is within my Code as well," the Knight said. "Someone has to know."

"Yes." Gwen took one last glance at the grand spire with its blown-out windows and melted mountings. Even one more minute in this museum of horrors was eroding the sanity of her soul.

Unbidden, she found her hand resting against the satchel with the Llais Leaf. "Someone has to know."

 

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Wutosama

Bio: I write on the phone and edit at home. Times are tough!

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