A despondent Andrew sat upon his haunches and exhaled a sighed filled with the eerie glowing dregs of the souls and magic that served as his last meal.
The magic was immediately reabsorbed by his core. The souls would float around a bit, but would eventually be pushed out from his core by the laws that governed the core.
Andrew sighed a second time, and then a third time. Things both were and weren’t going well with his plan. On the one hand, he’d managed to gather quite a bit of power during his time in Alma. He’d gathered even more power than the power that had been at his disposal in Abwickeln.
Seeing how much power he’d been able to gather, made him curious to see how much more power he’d be able to gain from Sophia’s efforts in the Blackrose galaxy. They wouldn’t be able to use the same methods there because that was his home, but there were surely methods to harvest magical energy without going to his current extremes.
On the other hand, Andrew was nowhere near getting home. The month was almost already over and despite all the power he’d gather, Andrew’s ‘stomach’ still hungered. It seemed he’d greatly underestimated the vast amounts of energy a world-eater needed to be able to sustain itself.
Andrew decided not to let that get him down. Even if he hadn’t quite gotten the results he wanted that didn’t mean he hadn’t made any progress. The current state of his core was proof of his progress.
Before the space had been a vague and cloudy void, unique only in the presence of numerous cosmic laws within it.
After feeding it for several weeks now his core possessed a set of firmaments. The empty space now had dimensionality. There was a gravity that pulled Andrew towards an area that had somehow been designed as being the ground. There was a sky above his head, empty, but still present.
It seemed his core was developing into something greater. He suspected it was becoming a genuine inner-world. Andrew’s genetic memories and in his research into the tendencies and traits of various species of immortal beings held that a number of them possessed inner-worlds.
Evolution beyond the mortal realm was a progression of the pronoun game. You went from being a profound what, to a profound who, to a profound where, to a profound why. There were many beings with similar inner-worlds, or core-realms, but most of them had to work for it.
Andrew was shocked to find that in his case it seemed that the progression was happening naturally. He wasn’t sure if this was an eidolon thing, or another thing he could blame/credit the former lord Abwickeln for.
Andrew was steadily becoming a living world. Person on the outside, sub-reality on the inside. He had near-absolute control of the world which was a relief.
At the moment, Andrew’s opinion on the whole process was that it was little trippy, but ultimately kind of neat. He had a vague notion that when his core had consumed enough power he would start gain option on how to decorate his inner-world. He'd be able to create grass, and trees, and maybe a few mountains.
Andrew was pretty sure the first thing he’d create was a sea. There was an unpleasant oddity to being in a place that held no waves or flowing depths. Strangely enough Andrew had the sense that this was his human half that felt that way. It made him wonder, exactly what kind of beings the humans of the Blackrose galaxy were, that he could feel such strong rejection of a waterless world.
The Orestion military base was a massive fortress built on the outer borders of the imperial territory of Orestion. This military base had been built by the Empire of Antoli to serve as a warning to their neighbors in the west, and was the closest imperial facility to Debica.
Three and a half weeks after the failed operation at the city of Debica, a battered and weary, Knight-Major Martel managed to make it to the base. He returned to fortress with slightly more than fifty men behind him. A mere four percent of the twelve hundred souls that had followed Martel before.
It wasn’t just the beast that had killed all those men. When the creature appeared, the few that survived its onslaught scattered into the four winds. Running like chickens with their heads lopped off.
Even Sir Martel had ended up running into the western woods. Running into enemy territory without knowing or caring.
After they managed to regroup they’d then had the hard task of making it back to friendly territory without supplies.
Many of the men and women had even lost hold of their weapons during their flight. Even Martel had left his trusty war-axe with the Ewing family sigil emblazoned the blade, back on the fields of Debica.
The general rule was that if it wasn’t sheathed, or strapped to them, the soldiers most likely lost it during their flight.
This meant that the group of battered soldiers had to survive in the wilderness hiding from enemy forces and facing off against the elements and the more mundane monsters of Azotou with little to no supplies and barely any means to defend themselves.
Thus the hundred, or so survivors of the strange beast’s attack were whittled down even further. Falling to illness, falling to the wild animals, falling to starvation and their inability to differentiate the plants and fruits that were poisonous from those that were edible.
Martel dispersed his men, and then he ignored the siren call of the bed and shower in his quarters, and headed to the offices of the Knight-Colonel, the commander of the base, and his direct superior. Martel was well aware that he was duty bound to report the outcome of the operation before anything else.
The Knight-Colonel was a tall man, old in terms of numbers, but young in terms of actual age, because he was a member of the long-lived jotun race. The distinct blue coloration of his skin, and the ram horns on his head, highlighting his father’s frost-jotun heritage.
The Knight-Colonel sat at his desk looking over the latest reports on the empire’s military actions.
The Knight-Colonel frowned as he read the numbers and statistical information, knowing that those were often more truthful than the actual text, because the text would be massaged by the various military scribes to make their superiors look like they were doing way better than they were.
According to the report, things were neither going well or ill. This was bad.
Perhaps it wasn’t quite as bad as letting the greedy and hypocritical zealots of Dytika march into the east and put every man, woman, and child who refused to follow their dogma to the sword.
However, it was still a very bad state of affairs. A war where both sides were stalemated still cost lives, and the lives that were expended were usually expended for little meaningful gain.
They’d sacrifice hundreds of young men and women to capture a base, or town. Or they’d spend hundreds of lives to cut a supply line. The empire’s blood would flow like water, only to have those damn Dytika dogs do the same, reducing the empires net gain to something close to zero.
This trading of losses and victories could, and likely would, continue till the politicians and royals on both sides were forced to recognize that the only thing that lay at the end of this path was a mutually assured destruction.
Afterwhich, both sides would claim a near-‘victory’ of the overall war, and magnanimously sue for peace with the nearly-‘defeated’. Resulting in yet another fifty to sixty year ceasefire and little to no tangible gain for either nation after all this shed blood.
“Tch...this fucking job. Fucking stupid nobles. Fucking stupid emperor. Shitty pay...Little vacation time...Where the fuck am I supposed to magic five thousand soldiers for the next sortie from, assholes!?” grumbled the Knight-Colonel.
“Oi...I think I heard some lese-majeste in there.” said a voice from one of the two sofas that were arranged in front of the Knight-Colonel’s desk.
“Bite me.” said the Knight-Colonel. He’d only dared speak this way because knew he could trust the owner of the voice not to wag his tongue.
Even if that wasn’t the case, the Knight-Colonel was the brother to one of the more influential Grand Dukes of the empire. The only reason the Knight-Colonel wasn’t a Knight-General yet was his lack of leadership experience.
The last thing the Antolian government wanted or needed was a schism from within its leadership. This meant that if there were a member of the imperial family present, even they might laugh off the Knight-Colonels grumbling, for the sake of not having to deal with another attempted coup.
The voice that had spoken belonged to a human man. A dark haired man, with skin the color of sand, and a robust figure that would stand out in a crowd, a member of the warrior tribes that dwelt in the southern edges of the empire.
This man was the base’s commandant. In other words, he was the true authority of the Orestion Fortress. Or at least that had had been the Knight-Colonel’s intention when he promoted the man to that status for the sake of delegating the day to day headaches of administering the fortress to someone else.
After knowing and working with the commandant for decades, the Knight-Colonel had made the man his number two, promoting him to commandant. Doing so to allow himself to focus on the increasingly unreasonably demands his superiors were sending his way.
The commandant chuckled and opened his mouth to retort. Whatever he was about to say was cut off by a knock at the door. Both leaders immediately sat up much straighter. Becoming the stony, ultra-serious, men of war, their subordinates knew them as.
“Come in.” said the Knight-Colonel.
The door opened and in walked Martel. He stepped inside the room, and made crisp, by the book, salute.
“Sir!” said Marel.
To the Knight-Colonel’s eyes the half-orc, Knight-Major looked like he’d had the stuffing kicked out of him and then he’d been rolled down a hill, which boded all sorts of bad because Martel was one of the Knight-Colonel’s best men.
“At ease, man. I assume you’ve come to make a report.” said the Knight-Colonel.
“Yes, sir!” said Martel.
“Well, then...I don’t have all day. Let me hear it.” said the Knight-Colonel.
“Yes, sir. The mission to suppress Debica city and end its utility as Dytika recruitment pool was a success. All enemy combatants were defeated. All dissidents within the enemy city were executed according to imperial law.” said Martel.
The Knight-Colonel had to stop himself from laughing. Despite having been the one relayed the order to Martel in the first place, even he felt a little galled hearing the empire’s order to wipeout a civilian settlement phrased so cleanly and euphemistically.
“Oh...alright, then. Good work, Major. What are our casualties looking like?” said the Knight-Colonel.
Martel flinched and seemed to shrink. Then he returned to himself, meeting his superiors eye as he came to the crux of his report.
“Of the twelve hundred men placed under my command, only fifty survived, sir.” said Martel.
The Knight-Colonel’s face blanched, even the commandant on the couch looked shaken. The Knight-Colonel suddenly felt faint, losing more than a thousand men all at once was going to hurt the war effort in this part of the region in a big way.
“What the hell happened?! This operation was supposed to be a walk in the park. Especially for an old hand like you.” said the Knight-Colonel.
“We...There was a creature, sir. It appeared and wiped out all my men.” said Martel.
“Well, fuck...it finally happened.” said the Knight-Colonel.
“Tell me if I’m wrong, major. Was this creature roughly as big as a two, maybe three, story house? Did it look like a cross between a spider and werewolf? Did it use a mixture of magic and the occasional physical attack?”said the Knight-Colonel.
“Yes, sir! How did you know, sir?!” said Martel. His eyes wide. His tattered mustache shaking.
“It’s something that was being reported about in the military intelligence that came roughly after your boys were sent ahead to Debica. We didn’t know for sure it’d appear, but it was a possibility. In which case, I suppose this was all just a spot of extremely bad luck.” said the Knight-Colonel. His voice dispassionate and empty of tone as he blew enough hot air up the younger man’s hind-quarters to turn the man into a weather balloon.
“Do-...Do we know what this creature is, sir?” said Martel.
“Nh ...For now we’re calling it the black hound. A few folk call it the barghest. The damn things a menace and yours isn’t the only imperial operation its interfered with. The only good news is that it doesn’t seem to be playing nice with the Dytikans either.” said the Knight-Colonel.
The Knight-Colonel wasn’t lying per se. In fact, everything he’d said was the absolute truth. He was just deflecting from certain troubling details, such as the fact that the reports had held that there might be a strong likelihood that Martel’s mission in particular would have an appearance of the beast.
Merchants and the civilian citizenry on the outskirts of civilization held as much veneration for the creature as fear. For the past few weeks reports had come in that the creature would appear right before or directly affair attacks by raiders and bandits. A few folk even postulated that its appearance was a form of divine judgement.
The Antolian government was trying to avoid leaning into that interpretation because the beast had also appeared to ‘punish’ more than a few of their forces. While the priests from the local religions were keeping mum on the matter it was clear that whatever this creature was it was nothing mundane.
Letting the creature be known as a punisher of the wicked would likely result in a big loss of morale for the empire’s forces. If the being was known for punishing evil, that might imply that the men it killed deserved their deaths, and the leaders who’d sent them to die were the biggest villains in this story. Which was the last interpretation anyone wanted spreading around at this point where popular opinion on the war was already at an all time low.
The Knight-Colonel just shook his head. Simultaneously, hoping the higher-ups did something before things got out of hand, while also hoping the beast’s presence got his superiors to stop doing meaningless things like ordering purges of civilian settlements just for the sake of adding a bunch of technical victories to their notches.
“In any case, this isn’t your failure, Major. You may rest easy with that knowledge. Also know that this information as well as all the other information on the Debica operation is classified until further notice.”
“Yes, sir… Understood, sir...Th-, Thank you, sir.” said Martel. Sounding as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders after the Knight-Colonel informed him that he wasn’t the one who’d screwed up.
The Knight-Colonel dismissed his Knight-Major and then he and the commandant sagged tiredly into their seats.
“Well...Shit. This isn’t going to be a very fun report to write.” said the Knight-Colonel. Rubbing his brow and feeling the beginnings of headache.
“I imagine not, but look on the bright side.” said the Commandant.
“What fucking bright side?” said the Knight-Colonel.
“Having this beast running around means the higher-ups will likely call in the adventurers because they can’t afford to risk losing any of the army’s elites.” said the Commandant.
“Are you drunk already, commandant? How is that a good thing? If they call in the adventurers the continents going to get even crazier than they already are.” said the Knight-Colonel.
“Yeah?...And what usually happens when these foolish legacy wars between the east and west reach that perfect fever pitch?” said the Commandant.
“Well, usually, the budget gets run down, and both the knight-forces and the commoner army need to recruit to make for all the bodies that get dropped ,or injured, so both countries are forced to sue for peace and ...Oh.”
“Exactly.” said the Commandant. Laying back down on the sofa with the folder of paperwork he’d been reading opened on his lap like it was a magazine.
“We might end up in a ceasefire by this time next year...Maybe this isn’t the worst news after all. If we’re lucky, that damn monster might bring the war to a close, five years early.” said the Knight-Colonel.
“Let’s just hope we survive the craziness that’ll be coming in the meantime.” said the Commandant.
Elsewhere, Andrew found his mood taking a turn for the better. Not only had he managed to amp himself up for the tasks of securing a stable energy supply and molding his inner-world. He’d found that suddenly a small, but significant, amount of power was finding its way to his core all on its own.
Apparently, being open and notorious about his predations had gained him a mixture of fear and admiration. Mostly the former. This growing prominence in the zeitgeist of Azotou’s populace has lead to the extra power that now flow into him through the world’s collective unconscious.
That wasn’t the good news. It was a pleasant surprise for sure, but the amount of power he was gaining from the passive flow of power created by his growing reputation was minor compared to his needs.
Plus, if he wanted to gain more power from the reputation-based phenomenon would have required walking a path that was both tedious and perilously close to that of the gods, devils, and fae.
Despite the relative uselessness of the power itself, becoming a major presence in the world’s collective unconsciousness was still of great value Andrew. This incident was of value because of the door it opened, pushing forward yet another change within the young Eidolon’s inner-being.
This was a breakthrough in Andrew’s education. If he’d had a master, or mentor, perhaps he would have known about this earlier. Since that wasn’t the case, he didn't know what he didn’t know. Now it looked like a whole new world had been opened for him.
Going through this door taught Andrew that he was closer to the great sea of minds than he’d thought. He’d already understood that Eidolons were capable of freely manipulating the power, data, and laws of the cosmos, but it looked like there was even more they could do, even more that they could be.
It seemed Andrew hadn’t properly understood what it meant to truly ‘eat’ a world. Eidolons could directly consume the fabric of the world without destroying the world.
An eidolon could inundate themselves in the world’s essence. Merging with the collective unconsciousness of the worlds they contacted for the sake of fundamentally evolving. Turning the dreams, and nightmares, of whatever world they were in into sustenance, power, and growth.
As Andrew understood, he felt a pang of sympathy for the former-lord of Abwickeln, for the first time ever.
He now saw that it wasn’t entirely the ancient being’s fault it had gone so utterly mad. For a greater-eidolon like his sire, being placed within a figment-realm would have been like a whale being plopped into a stagnant pond.
“Wait for me, Soph...I’ll be coming home soon.”