As always, it goes completely, utterly, wrong, even before it begins.
Even as I appear before the tyrannical Tower, the unworldly lords — Aion's chosen, quite foolishly, may I add — awaiting my advent, it all ends. Pieces long set in motion move haphazardly, creating definite disaster.
Beritra, believing himself the battle priest, concludes his cacophony. Young Israphel, the shadow's newest accomplice, foolishly moves to settle his own thirst for power. And lastly, the army appears at the horizon, led by an all too familiar figure.
Other schemes or even vague plans and thoughts occur in this moment. The Lord Zikel decides to attack, seemingly unprovoked, and Tiamat goes into rage. In that, she is much like Apsu — maybe I should have removed her when I had the chance. She is proving to be a destabilizing influence.
Concerning that particular episode, I will — privately — admit that it is leading to more trouble than is worth.
If I hadn't known that Beritra was going to pull this little stunt of his, I would have killed him. And probably proceeded to kill Tiamat, too. She can never keep her mouth shut; has no idea when it is the time to gloat.
Either way, before I can make a decision, the army is already upon us, and all my enemies are locked in combat. Well, all except for one.
It is quite an unusual experience to access aether again after all this time. It comes into contact with my own energy, screaming its disobedience for all to hear. The loud dissonance rings across the battlefield, only augmented by Azphel's cry of "Stop him!" as daevas cry out in pain and anger.
Then, bringing the energy to heel, it is an easy matter to teleport myself into the Tower, the dissonance screeching ever louder over the humming of the Artifact. Oh, Israphel. Stupid, lustful, Israphel. You really think you can escape my notice? No, it is the most powerful of the so-called Empyreans with which I am concerned.
But being one of the most slippery lords — the only one more so being that wretch Kaisinel — he escapes, using his formidable power over the dimensions to get out from under my claws. I take out my anger on the Artifact, the red markings on my drakan form glowing vivid blood red.
With a distinct crack, the power shatters into a million shards, clattering and chiming against each other like glass, spiderweb lines spreading throughout the entire aetheric network, slowly enticing it toward the edge of infinity.
I have been there; it is not a fun place to be.
While I walk toward the skin of the Tower, not inconsiderable heat melting through the walls to make way for me, I take the time to admire the paintings and sculptures hung on walls and held on glass pedestals.
Art. I have always appreciated it, but it seems that Aion chose some champions of poor taste.
That one tapestry of Lady Triniel and her armies and her lieutenants? It pays too much homage to her powers — as if she would lead an army from such an obvious position. And, it had too much purple — like Beritra. Some just don't understand how powerful of a color red is.
To supplement the excess purple, I set it on fire.
But that statue of Vaizel naked is just too much — it isn't even good workmanship, the sculptor was clearly blind, and it is inaccurate on top of that.
There are many more tapestries, some depicting the lords of direction in combat, others their paltry trinity raining welfare upon the world. Lord Kaisinel seems to have an entire hallway dedicated to his illusionary art. It gets disintegrated.
And then there are the scenes of us — the dragons — decimating the lush lands of Atreia. How utterly wrong. Certainly we did destroy many villages, but we made certain to destroy the settlements and inhabitants only. We left the environment alone.
Well, except for the places where we introduced poisons to flush out rebels. But those are necessary losses, and Ereshkigal can always regrow them for us later, if she doesn't snap first. As of late, she is growing increasingly eccentric.
Plus, I do not eat humans. That is a gross misconception. Likely, it is simply a way to justify their own actions — I hear drakan meat is considered a delicacy by these insurgents. It is one of the few things that can drive me over the edge.
How utterly barbaric. For that, I shall have someone tortured. Preferably the meddling Azphel. It does give me insight into their culture, nevertheless. I shall have to analyze my memories later — but I can already conclude that this civilization is too dependent on their overlords, too reverent of them. It blinds them to faults in their ideology and stalls improvement, impedes rationality.
Then I come across walls that are barren, the gleaming aether somehow a forcefield over them, preventing any breaches from taking place. It is merely the weakest of all the defenses that exist. This one will never hold against dedicated assault from even a simple footsoldier.
It explodes outward.
A ripple transverses the daevic armies as they look upward in shock — and I am still in my drakan form; it is not meant to instill fear — perhaps they think the Tower itself is invincible. What false confidence is induced in them, I wonder, which makes them think they stand any chance? I had such confidence, once, I remember: I was Aion's champion to the utmost.
I sweep my eyes over the battle.
Tiamat rips through the armies in a whirlwind, holding them back singlehandedly as Meslamtaeda's own forces appear on the horizon as dark shapes wreathed in shadows. Beritra grudgingly — more likely, inadvertently — protects Tiamat from the Empyreans, engaging Kaisinel in combat while the rest either contend with the drakan commandos someone teleported in — good thinking — or have disappeared. Like that worm Israphel.
Shadows and illusions take the foreground in the fight, elements real and imagined throwing themselves at shadows slithering through the air and ground, leaking energy into several other spheres.
Reality warps, black magic and white projectiles rotating through dimensions in attempts to fool each other of the true nature of the assault.
Kaisinel's summoned spirits are countered with shadow wraiths and spawns of flame, all the while Beritra spawns hellfire tornados — merely as a distraction, of course. As usual, Kaisinel himself probably teleports himself behind Beritra while doing all this, meaning he is actually fighting an illusion. But Beritra is not to be underestimated, so…it is entirely possible I am looking at a mockery of a fight rather than a real one.
There is one way to find out, I suppose. The fireball causes both of them to jump backwards, catching the splash on their respective shields. Several daevas die.
Ereshkigal is nowhere to be seen, but I trust her to behave logically and not mess anything up.
Meslamtaeda's form grows larger, his wingbeat causing ripples in the air that travel even this far. Parts of his army break off and move to engage the enemy legions, while others provide a valuable reprieve to Beritra and Tiamat.
This has gone on long enough.
Blood pulsing, I stretch my back and grow, the red on my face covering my entire body, rippling over in a wave of fire and heat. Cries of alarm permeate the atmosphere, and in the distance, I can hear Tiamat's low laugh.
Kaisinel pauses, and Beritra blasts him with a ball of flame, causing him to rematerialize twenty meters away.
It is a simple matter to blast away the armies and that stupid daeva with my magic, a rather devastating blow. And yet, seeing their comrades killed with no hope of resurrection — they still fight on, now engaged in a fatal struggle against the full might of my empire.
This mockery really has gone on long enough.
I turn on the Tower of Eternity, and breathe.
From my mouth I produce streams of fire, expanding into an ever consuming inferno. The delicate skin of the Tower crumbles beneath my claws, and blisters beneath my flame. Gasping, I exhale ever harder, pushing yet more of my energy through my mouth to fuel the attack.
Let them burn. Let them all burn.
With a groan, the intricate web of aether peels away, collapsing into tiny pieces which scatter, thrown far far away into the abyss. White luminescence fades, replaced with infernal heat glowing red. Wherever my power comes into contact with Aion, a shrill howl echoes forever in the aether, the dying screams of an overbearing god.
And at last, the Tower fragments. The daevas' screaming is just a bonus.
When at last it is all over and the final elements of the Tower have exploded — Aion's will has banished us again to the frozen ravaged realm outside the planet — I look over the damage. It seems I was right to worry about Siel — she did something to the Tower to make my victory incomplete; I wasn't able to find her in the ensuing chaos. Luckily she died in the attempt, but an Empyrean has never been killed before, so I do not know how permanent it really is.
I shall have to proceed with caution.
The last survivors of the Danuar are being hunted down, and Ereshkigal has sent some of her scouts to some new land that apparently formed from nowhere. Tiamat and Beritra almost killed each other yesterday before Ereshkigal finally decided to separate them and humiliate both.
Meslamtaeda continues to find and fight across new lands, subjugating the natives and setting up settlements and cities. I make a note to give him the job of finding a way back into inner Atreia; the previous portals we used have now closed.
More meetings happen, tensions regarding the Apsu matter continue to rise. I think Beritra plans to kill me — I had to remove two of his supporters yesterday plotting. I'll have to put a stop to that. Soon.
Ereshkigal sits at my left, Meslamtaeda at my right. They cancel each other out nicely, but Ereshkigal remains as unflappable as ever, to my minute frustration. Tiamat and Beritra continue to be at odds, and now Tiamat has even alienated everyone else.
Life continues. Ereshkigal starts disappearing for really long stretches at a time, and Beritra tries to find some way to bring Apsu back. Meslamtaeda settles his kingdom, and continues to propagate his goals. Then she suddenly reappears, and gives the scepter of scales to Tiamat, of all people.
Our power grows. Reshanta goes to Ereshkigal, for she discovered it. Beritra gets his lands, as does Tiamat — hers are the furthest away, with enough buffers between so infighting will be more costly.
I start to wonder, at first idly, then the thought takes root in my head: why do I do this? For power, I reassure myself, each time. And each time, the satisfaction from seeing my empire grow to the superpower it is today comes less and less. I created this empire, once, for it was my dream.
Now, I have all the power I could ever dream of — yet it is not enough; it never is. I have compatriots with the same goal as I. I have subordinates who tend my every need; I am no longer the servant, rather I am the master.
I wanted to be the master of my own destiny.
How utterly boring.