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A note from MOROSE

We've reached exactly 666 pages, as it happens.

"These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder..."

"I found some rusty nails in a glass cupboard here, can't inspect them further, though. It's obvious there was some spread of disease here, but do you reckon some sort of drug culture helped?" DicingDevil said from the corner of the room where they had fought the Queen.

"I mean, the King was injecting himself with the nails, and got a notable increase in speed and strength. It does sound a bit like 'roids," Crucis replied. "Maybe it was a sort of crutch, to make up for the waning of his original strength?"

"These guys were performing human experimentation on themselves," Grisier laughed. "Mengele would love it here. Not Hitler, though, he wrote long passages in Mein Kampf about his hatred of syphilis."

"Did you study that, or just read the book because you found it inspiring or something?" DicingDevil teased.

"Um, I studied in history when I was much younger, but eventually moved on to focusing on earlier history, mostly in the Mediterranean. I've probably forgotten most of it by now," Grisier replied.

"For the moment, let's relax and investigate the room. The others will only have a half-hour respawn time, due to dying inside a dungeon, but we're in no rush because Akshel will have to ride all the way North to link up with us again. If you find something, tell the rest of us to come over."

The three players spread out across the large room. Soon, DicingDevil called the others to check on something he had found between the pews. As they approached him, he explained what he had found.

"There are some instructions here, but possibly not legitimate. One says it's for communing with dead spirits, another one, which looks older, says that it summons powerful spirits. They are addressed to the Queen, and seem to have become quite worn out from use. I don't know the source, it seems to be signed by someone named 'Quetag.'"

"What kind of instructions are these?" Grisier inquired.

"Oh, you know, Bloody Mary type stories. Go up to a mirror and say things a few times, a spirit will appear. That's almost literally the one for summoning spirits. Sound like nonsense, but you never know out here."

"Well, give it a shot, then," Grisier laughed. "There's a mirror on the wall to the right."

Somewhat sheepishly, DicingDevil walked over to a large desk on the right side of the room, which was covered with a mirror. The edges of the mirror were carved ornately into a feather-like pattern. He carefully followed the instructions from the piece of paper.

First, he took some [Silver Powder] which he had found next to the papers, and sprinkled it over the mirror. After that, he drew out some crumbling [Chalk] which the Statue Faux had dropped, and grated some of it onto the mirror before spreading it across. Facing this whitened part of the mirror, he thrice repeated the phrase, "The demons whisper."

Unsurprisingly, nothing happened. DicingDevil laughed mutedly, and turned to the rest of the group.

"It looks like I was right, it's useless superstition," he said.

"You're correct," mused Crucis, "but so were the Queen's magical gems. Perhaps this is similar."

He walked over to the Queen's skull and carried it towards the mirror. As he was doing this, he scanned his Character screen and invested some of his available skill points into unlocking the [Spy] sub-class skill named [Voice Spoofing]. This would allow him to emulate voices, although like most beginning Spy skills it was restricted to emulating NPCs.

Propping the Queen's skull on the desk, in front of the part of the mirror covered with chalk, he activated the [Voice Spoofing] skill. It allowed him to select from a list of recently-encountered NPCs, in order to 'memorise' that NPC's speech patterns and emulate them. Up to three NPCs could be memorised at one time, but an NPC of the opposite gender would take two slots to memorise.

Selecting the Queen's voice, which took up two slots, he repeated the phrase, "The demons whisper," three times, in a soft-spoken, fragile, and anxious voice.

The group was surprised when the chalk on the mirror turned into a peal of white smoke evaporating off the mirror, and in its place a shadowy face with large, twisted horns appeared on the mirror's surface. Part of its face was flickering in and out of sight, and it seemed that it could only be seen dimly through the mirror. It was facing the Queen's skull, with white, glowing eyes staring out of the mirror.

"Only a fool would think to tame me," a distant-sounding, deep voice said from the mirror.

"What is your name?" Grisier said.

"Chamos," the creature replied, "I saw the sons of God fall to Earth, and give rise to mighty heroes. If you wish to ask favours, seek them out. I am greater, you shall get nothing from me."

"Demonstrate your power," Grisier replied.

A pillar of flame descended from the roof in the centre of the room, and elegantly swooped to the ground with a movement like a swallow's flight. It scorched the floor and scarred it with a deep, black mark upon a red carpet.

"Do not ask for further demonstration, or you will be its target," said the demonic shape.

"If you don't inhabit the Heavens, where do you inhabit?" Crucis asked.

"Nowhere," the creature replied. "I am a creature of fear, not of physical form."

Crucis turned to Grisier. "Do you recognise the mana which this creature used?"

"In the fire?" Grisier replied. "Yes, it is clearly fire mana, although of a strange sort. However, I think that most demons use mana of this kind. It's definitely recognisable as magic."

Crucis spoke to the creature in the mirror once again. "You are hiding something. Your magic is genuine, but this summoning spell is superstition that will not work without the Queen. You must exist independently, then, not only in this summoned form."

"You are correct," Chamos said. "My true form inhabits a building known as the [Tower of Inferno], among the fires far to the East. You would need much more power to reach it safely. Did you use a silvery powder in the summoning? That is sourced from the fires near us."

"That must be why they used it in this procedure. It seems quite ambitious to try summoning from a place with such powerful creatures," Grisier said.

"Oh? Yes, but it makes sense," Chamos replied. "They were ambitious, even if they weren't capable of true magic. Indeed, aspiration was all they truly had. Eventually they had to run up against their limitations. Demons are the price of fantasy."

"That would explain it. By the way, you only appear dimly in this mirror. Is this horned demon your typical form?" Crucis asked.

"No. Typically I appear as a man named Cain, when outside the Tower."

"I see. So do you lot actually allow people to sell you their souls?"

"No. That is a part of the fantasy, not of the demon. People can live like a fable, but eventually they are trapped in their characters. They sell away their lives, to take on the life of a hero or great man."

"True."

"Can the gifts given by creatures summoned here be used outside of this place, or are they restricted to it?" Grisier asked.

"Restricted. To us, they are worth as much as the rest of this superstition. I know of some creatures who can offer power and riches, I can tell you of their deceptions. But I must leave soon after this, the summon is fading."

"Tell us, Cinderel - um, Chamos," Crucis said. "Also, if we repeat this spell, then we may summon another creature?"

"Yes, you will probably summon someone else. If it helps, you may have followed the instructions too literally. The original 'summoners' were fearful and timid, they would use less powder and chalk in the spell. It was cast using half-measures, and so it tended to summon lesser demons."

"I see."

"The five primary fallen beings, who can offer gifts, are as follows:

"Otxi is a spirit who appears with blue eyes and covered in fire. His skin is lit brightly by these flames, and shines with them. He offers people dazzling, wild dreams and can make these real, but at the cost of total commitment to fulfilling the passions. Those who make a deal with him will get lost in their passions and ambitions, soaring too high until their imagined wings give way.
"Evxi is a spirit who keeps his eyes closed in meditation, and has a smile painted on his face. He offers people comfort and a humble life. He gives false hope of security, but danger hunts down his followers without their notice. He is a natural liar - he has few gifts to offer, so he only offers them to people who are afraid and vulnerable.
"Suwana is a spirit who has almost merged with a human female partner, and takes a slightly androgynous form. He can be identified by his watery, wide blue eyes, and relaxed complexion. His offers are of a solipsistic world where everything is fluid, and can be manipulated at will to your desires. His wife is paralysed by her reverie of such a world, and is pacified until she barely seems conscious. Sometimes, they appear in the form of a blue whale.
"Vudash is also associated with water. However, his face and body have melted into a wet muck, and he almost resembles a frog. He offers the power to douse yourself in water and gain powers which will adapt to any circumstance, such as shapeshifting and ultra-adaptable movement. Some say that this is a trap to induce drowning, some that he is actually a form of Suwana, others say that he encourages heavy drug use. I do not know.
"Karaxi is a spirit who lives among graves. They appear in the form of a still corpse, which occasionally speaks but is otherwise unmoving. Supposedly, its wife died, and in grief it melted down to dust in order to merge into her corpse, making its gender indeterminate. It has a feminine voice, and invites people with the promise of rectifying their past failures and suffering. Sometimes it claims necromantic powers, though it has none. It presents disease and even death as a blank slate, on which any kind of life can be built. In truth, what is built on such foundations crumbles. Its followers are known as 'children of the grave.'"

Crucis noticed that the pronunciation of Otxi sounded like 'Ot-hy-si,' with the 'x' sounding similar to the one in 'Kruxol.' The other names were similar.

Chamos continued. "They will sometimes say that they are spirits seeking you as their avatar on Earth, but this is a deception, there is no such avatar role. There are several other so-called 'demons' that I do not know. It is said that Satan can be summoned, and will appear to give an offer but will actually kill anyone who accepts, which he can do because they have let him into their story. If you take his offer, then at that moment you will surely die. However, I am not sure how Satan can be summoned."

"It can't be too difficult," Cael smiled.

"What makes you say that?"

Crucis calmly withdrew the violet gem, and held it tightly in his right palm, carefully sensing the texture of its surface. He had noticed that it seemed to react subtly to the summoning process, although he couldn't do anything with it. Smiling nervously, he tossed a small amount of silvery powder and chalk over the mirror next to Chamos, and used [Voice Spoofing] to repeat, "The demons whisper," thrice in the Queen's voice.

He tilted his head to the side as he watched the mirror with nervous anticipation.

"You can't summon Satan with such little dust," Chamos said.

As the white cloud of chalk lifted from the mirror, the face appearing there was not Satan's, but instead a rough-skinned figure which appeared white due to the bright fire burning across its skin. Crucis surmised that this must be Otxi. He had been able to feel the pulse of the violet gem as the summoning was cast, but the summoning was too fast for him to get the hang of it immediately.

"Didn't quite get it that time," Crucis said.

Sighing, he ignored the fiery spirit and sprinkled some chalk over it to dispell it, as the instructions had specified. He moved to the side, and once more began the summoning process. As he once more spoke, emulating the Queen, he focused carefully on the gem.

A shadowy figure appeared on the mirror with the head of a serpent, and it opened its jaws to reveal large fangs. Two twisted horns rose from its head, and grainy, large shapes which looked like wings over its shoulders.

"Wait, it actually worked?" Chamos muttered in indignation.

The majestic, winged creature laughed, and its low-pitched laughter resounded through the walls of the room. Pentagram-like shapes flickered across the walls. The creature raised a mighty arm, and a blinding light flashed out from its palm, causing the players nearby to close their eyes and turn away.

"Greetings. If you have summoned me, do you seek the key of life?" the figure said from the mirror, with a distorted voice which occasionally seemed like a legion of agonised voices. "It will grant you the power to direct life itself at the root, and shape your life to the life which you desire. All facets of life - power, magic, skill, ability - are contained within the key."

As the players looked hesitantly back towards the mirror, where the creature was lowering its glowing hands, they saw that a key had been placed upon the desk in front of the mirror. The key was silver, but it emanated a bright light which made it appear a searing white.

"Greetings, Lord," Chamos said to the figure in the mirror. The figure nodded in acknowledgement.

"Snake, are you Satan?" Grisier asked calmly.

"I am Satan," the snake-headed figure replied in a similarly calm tone, "But am I a snake? Perhaps that is merely how I appear in this summoning, where I am part of another's story. The summoning ritual was concocted from selfishness, and selfishness is just a kind of blindness that cannot see the world clearly."

"I didn't expect the devil to lecture me about sin."

"Sadly, the religious did not either. They came up with their definitions and lists of sin without ever asking me, purely out of their own introspection. Pardon me if I dissent. Besides, what tempter ever revered the selfish victim?"

"Are you in the same Tower as Chamos?" DicingDevil asked.

"I am not, at the moment. I have a human form, but I am sure you would not recognise me."

By now, Chamos had begun to fade from the mirror, as his summoning waned.

"Do you offer knowledge to people, as in the story of Faust?" Grisier asked.

"I do not, in the sense you mean. But can I interest you in the knowledge of good and evil?" Satan said teasingly, as he flicked his forked tongue out briefly.

"What is the knowledge of good and evil?" Grisier laughed back.

"'Evil' is a slightly Christian rendition of the term. The 'knowledge' is the desire to witness the order of the world from top to bottom, what is good and bad, the worth and utility of each thing, so that the speaker may create an order of their own - a polarity where they are the positive end. They may seek what is good and associate it with themselves, or use it, and cast the bad away. They become conceited as gods. It is like the power of the ancient whale Suwana, but now it seeks to create a fluid world that is ordered around itself. A new world order?

"If you reach for the key of life, then you shall also experience this so-called 'knowledge,' which tells you to keep reaching."

Grisier's arm started forwards, but he recoiled nervously as he remembered Chamos' warning. Sighing, Crucis calmly held out his arm towards the key.

He saw a vision of a small village in the middle of a plague, with the dirt paths strewn with blackened bodies covered in sores and gaping rashes. Flies and maggots draped the corpses. There were still a few agonised cries from the huts and cottages. A few of the bodies had stretch-marks on their necks, as if they had been suffocated to death. Several of the dead village people wore a crucifix necklace around their necks. A church bell rang out over the scene, from a distance.

He saw a sign at the entrance to this village, reading, 'Hell?' He smiled at the scene, but slightly bitterly.

As he reached further towards the key, it seemed to glimmer even more brightly. In the middle of this white glow, he saw the shape of the key change until it appeared as a golden crown upon a hill. The light of the crown shone across the lands around the hill, filled with mighty palaces and large gardens, then trailed off into swamps and dark wastelands where the glow of the key ended. He realised that he could no longer see beyond the light aura of the key, and everything outside of it appeared as a wasteland.

"A crown clothes the Earth in illusions, and as these fade there is only suffering. This Kingdom is the same place as the plagued village," Crucis said calmly.

The rest of the group had also partially glimpsed the visions given by the key.

"So the key is definitely a trap?" DicingDevil asked.

"Yes."

Shrugging, Crucis reached his hand forwards and grabbed the key off the table. Grisier tried to grab Crucis' arm and stop it, but found that he was paralysed and unable to do this. As Crucis nonchalantly placed the key into his inventory, the rest of the group were shocked into silence.

"How many keys do you have?" Crucis said towards the mirror.

"Hundreds," Satan replied, after a brief pause.

A large pile of glowing keys appeared on the desk, like a blinding hill made up of bright bones and crucifixes. The group turned away due to the sudden burst of light. As they looked away, Crucis quickly swiped the pile of keys into his inventory, finding that they were as light as a piece of paper. He now had two hundred and one keys, though only one was marked with his name.

"Apologies," Satan said, as the group slowly looked back towards the mirror. "I should not have let there be so much light. Anyway, any questions before the summoning ends?"

"Does Crucis have the powers you mentioned, due to having the key?" Grisier inquired.

"No, the key doesn't actually do that. That idea is just a reflection of the hopes and dreams that fuel summoning."

"I see. Are you actually evil?"

"That is an old dispute. Perhaps I am evil. Perhaps I am a freedom fighter, seeking to rid the world of divine tyranny. I neither know nor care. Look at this court, a cocoon of disease and death. Do you think that I enjoy such wretchedness? I find it abhorrent. Religion perverts reality, and seeks to subjugate it to a fictional, personal God. Is that not evil? Yet you won't find me praying. Morality is a product of the mind, so why should anything be as evil as stupidity? Yet I am not stupid, and would recommend anyone seeking stupidity to enter a Church - even, or especially, the so-called Church of Satan.

"A person observes a painting, and evaluates it. He is not selfish, nor is he altruistic. If he is selfish, he does not truly observe or understand it. Yet altruism is not involved in the process. How does a truly craven, selfish person play a game? He can't be bothered to observe and learn the game, nor does he respect or understand the playing of the game. He can pay to win, nothing more. Ignore the criticism of the selfish, ignore the 'constructive' advice of the altruistic. It is all the same disease. They are both just a show, the preachings of those with no ideas.

"In Heaven, angels wear fake wings. It is what defines them. But when you tear out these wings, they will call you evil. You must tear out these wings, even if it tears out the angels' hearts. My wings are an inferno, formed from the demise of theirs, like the Calvary crucifix in flight. Otherwise you are trapped entirely inside their mirror, a creature straitjacketed by Heaven, exiled from the truth. To Rand, I may be a socialist. To Liebknecht, I may be anti-socialist. To LaVeyans, I may be puritanical. To Goodkind, I may or may not be socialist poultry. I am none of these things, but I use what weapons I can find among them and abandon the rest as samsara."

DicingDevil nodded sagely, then asked, "Did you say that there is no God?"

"There is a God, Zlatan Ibrahimovic," Satan laughed. "But other than that, there is not. Most definitions of a God are incoherent to begin with, like the Trinity."

"Was there a Jesus Christ?"

"There was a dead man named Jesus on a crucifix, but most of his story is imaginative. That is why I appear there as a formless tempter, who is at once both in the desert and the Temple. I do not know why summoning of this sort should work, but clearly it owes more to wistfulness than to real magic. So I appear as a tempter, to strike at the root of this false magic. Jesus as he is known is a sounding-board for the hopes of the religious - the hope of the hopeless, the heart of a heartless world, etc. In truth, he is just a dead man, and that is why people can pin their hopes on him. The most powerful hope is light shone in a tomb, for this light seems insurmountable to any obstacle or erosion. If he had actually resurrected or performed miracles, then it would ruin the illusion, and he would no longer appear as a saviour for others mired in decay and disease.

"Isn't the key to life like a key to death? For it is so, and so also with the [Reborn] spell scroll. The desire to cultivate a new, idealised life - not simply to change, but to make a new beginning - is also a desire to throw your own life away. The eternal idol is glimpsed most clearly beyond the gates of death. To create a God, humans must sacrifice their own vitality to transfer it to the God."

"True. By the way, I had a friend who was convinced that the Pope is the beast of Revelation. What do you think of the Book of Revelation?"

"Hm. The Pope is not the beast of Revelation, I can confirm, but he was the beast of Revelation with the Mater Dei last night. It's said that he bloodied Mary so much that demons now appear in mirrors. His temperament was indeed most like the prophecied dragon, who pursues the woman with child and spews large rivers at her.

"As for Revelation, it is the most honest New Testament book. Christians see visions, like you see an angelic, shadowy snake in this mirror. Even if it is not my true form, isn't it a powerful vision? While the Revelation vision is embellished and distorted in John's retelling, it nonetheless depicts the powerful, lost religious heart of early Christianity - the Gnostics, the Encratites, the Priscillians. They were fascinating, like a people fixated on reporting nightmares. In my experience, there is little difference between speaking to the early religious and speaking to a serial killer. They are independent people with depraved, wild worldviews and beliefs, and I appreciate them for what they are. Any more questions? Not much time remains."

"Why was Crucis able to take the key to life?" Grisier asked. "We were told that it would lead to death."

Satan hid a smirk, and replied with a pack of lies and half-truths. "I offered the knowledge of good and evil, which he understood well, and once you have experienced that knowledge then it can be difficult to pull away from the key, unless you have the grit of Onan. So it seemed unfair to kill him, since this summoning is powered by the monarchs' fantasy and not his fault. He authentically grasped the knowledge of good and evil, so he shall surely not die. But if he had taken the key immediately, he would have died," Satan said glibly.

He knew that the key was indeed fatal when taken by others, but did not reveal why this did not affect Crucis.

"I see."

"I don't have much time left, so please ask amusing questions that I can answer quickly now."

"So who's your favourite serial killer or mass murderer? You're the devil, you must have one," DicingDevil said.

"Um, not sure. Jack the Ripper? Richard Ramirez? People keep telling me it's Hitler? I can't decide. Maybe you guys should exceed them, then I will have an easier choice," Satan laughed.

"When is a chicken not a chicken?" Crucis asked with a smile. There was a pause.

"When it is seen objectively," Satan replied light-heartedly. "With moral clarity, you will see that a chicken is an incarnation of pure evil. It is the demonic nemesis of the noble GOAT. And by the Greatest Of All Time, I mean me. Thank you all, and goodbye."

The snake began to fade into the mirror, and as it disappeared the room began to shake. A faint goat's head, staring out with angry-looking red eyes, appeared in the place where Satan's vision had been. This soon also faded, without a trace. The room became still again.

"Should we try the other ritual written here?" DicingDevil said, breaking the silence. "It says that it involves communing with the dead."

"What do you say to the dead?" Grisier asked.

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MOROSE

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