Night fell quickly on Valak Mountain. A gale storm was brewing. Those few adventurers intrepid enough to live on Valak Mountain did not venture out during a time like this, partly due to the risk of being blown straight off a cliff ledge or the visibility getting so bad that you walked straight off a cliff without realising it, and mostly due to the other things that came out on a night like this.
The storm was rising, and it would bring with it the God of Avalanches.
It was perfect for a ritual. The raw elemental power of the storms filled the entire mountain, its leylines and the network of monoliths designed to transmit their magical energy overflowing with power. No foolish mortals would be around to defile the ceremony with their blood.
And, most of all, it was the only time of year when He would be awake. A ritual as important as this should not be officiated by anyone less than He.
Final Marcus stood silent and alone in a blizzard on the pinnacle of Three Sage Peak. With his massive form and the discipline that was learned through thousands of years of existence spent with the sole purpose of guarding a mountain top, the wind did not move him an inch, although the snow gave his thick fur a frosted coating, as though he was finally showing the age he ought to be. He watched the skies. As soon as the last ray of sunlight was gone, he rang the ceremonial bell. Its twelve low, hollow clangs echoed funereally though the plateau. He could already feel the Other's power stirring. It reminded him that the Name 'Final' was not a badge of superiority, it was one of duty; to always be the last one. To fight to the last. To be the last to flee, while aiding others in their escape. To be the last one standing before the tower, long after the civilisation that built it had died out.
"Awaken and arise, oh Abyssal One!" he called in his deep, booming voice.
The procession filed up the narrow, twisting mountain path like a snake coiled around its prey. Deinos were not built for cold climates or for narrow, slippery paths but he did not show his discomfort: this was a ritual to prove he was above and beyond other Deinos! To help him ignore the biting winds and the cramp in his legs and the four hundred foot drop immediately to the left of him, he lost himself in the rhythm of the ceremony. They hummed a slow version of their song, the song they chanted the moment their prey turned around and saw them coming, the moment they recognised them and knew they were already dead.
There was no honour greater than for your enemy to already know your name.
After a long time, the great Slobos spoke.
"Deinos, know our names," he commanded.
He pointed to each of them in turn and spoke their names, which he had had been taught from the moment he was hatched, with a reverently hushed tone. Even if it wasn't likely to result in the dragon eating him if he made a mistake, he would never have failed to recognise such legendary personages. Final Marcus towered above him, grim gatekeeper of the last remnant of their glorious past. His Gloria Slobos crew worked silently in the background, repairing a slight fault with the language matrix, an ether field that drew on the power of the major ether veins to power a permanent telepathic link that allowed all the visitors to understand each other and the Five Sages, three of whom spoke only dead languages.
Ancient Daedal, oldest living Mechon and their only Ambassador from the Mechonis, sat on a boulder, cleaning and oiling the cogs and gears in his legs and wings. It had been a long journey from the Fallen Arm, almost another world in itself, even for one who could not tire.
Despotic Arsene, cruel Emperor of the Bunnit Race, lounged in his mahogany sedan throne with silk curtains, his beady red eyes tracking the Deinos for any sign of weakness. He had also come a long way, although he had been borne on the litter by his many Bunnit servants, who now knelt around him in a circle, waiting for the order to see to his needs, ready to spring into battle and defend him without regard for their own lives, although they all secretly hoped that their sociopathic master would be too occupied to torment them for the duration of the ceremony. He was showing the most interest in the Deinos, who had the feeling that the Bunnit would be the hardest to persuade; considering the general disposition of every Bunnit he had ever met, a Bunnit that was feared and worshipped as a living God-Emperor was something he did not want to think about.
Blizzard Belzegas, an enormous Behemoth, lay curled up in a corner next to a monolith that hummed with power and made his fur stand on end. He watched the proceedings with one half-closed eye. The Deinos could not tell if he was feigning disinterest or if the ceremony bored him, and one such as he did not have time for yet another lesser Chosen who had not even been Named yet, when he could be finding something else to devour.
Then there was Avalanche Abaasy, the Dragon of the Abyss. He perched on a peak above and apart from the others, his sinuous spiked tail curled around the mountain top. He did not fit on the Peak when the other four and their visitors were in attendance, and the sheer amount of ether energy he gave off naturally, without even having to hold any power, tended to disrupt the ether leylines. The Deinos could not see his face from that distance, and did not feel comfortable looking at him for too long. He was a being from another world entirely, one that only intersected with this plane of existence because of the sheer amount of power that these ceremonies accumulated.
It was an honour beyond measure to even catch sight of the Five Sagesm to know that they were aware of his existence, even for the briefest of moments, but it was a dangerous privilege.
"Deinos, state your deeds," demanded Final Marcus.
"A fifty-man Nopon raiding party from the great tree found our lair. They decided we were food and ran in to slaughter us all. Fighting alongside my brothers and our Hode allies, we eradicated them to the last man, leaving but one alive to report on the folly of attacking a Deinos lair. I personally slew thirty of them."
"Name your sponsor."
"Unreliable Rezno spotted me while flying overhead," he said. Despotic Arsene's ears twitched and his nose wrinkled, as though his fine rabbit sense of smell had picked up a disagreeable odour. The Bunnit Emperor was usually angry about something, but the Deinos was worried that maybe the mention of the notoriously flaky Lexos was a bad diplomatic move, if he wanted his plea to be taken seriously.
"Rezno has returned? I thought he was away as usual," commented the Bunnit, scratching his left ear with his sceptre.
"He was summoned and challenged by a Homs warrior, upon the instructions of the Great Nopon Sage," said the Deinos, "Your Terrible Magnificence... he was retreating. He... er... flew right into Illustrious Golteus. Literally. He managed to point me out to the Illustrious One before he threatened to pull his legs off."
"Is this true, Golteus?" demanded the Bunnit, looking over to the Pterix who perched on one of the jagged rocky spires, watching the ceremony with unblinking attention and an avian tilt of his head.
"I saw the many Nopon corpses turning the water red, and I saw the Deinos standing over them," he said.
"And is it true that a Homs warrior could defeat Rezno?" The Lexos was called Unreliable because he never turned up to meetings and couldn't fly in a straight line, not because of his lack of ability to fight. He was one of the Ancients, he just wasn't a particularly good one of the Ancients.
"Lush-Eared One, the warriors were three of the Great Threat," said the Pterix.
"So, they grow so strong already," said the Bunnit.
"They continue their pattern. They fight us all in order of strength. They will soon be coming for us!"
"They will be worthy opponents," commented Blizzard Belzegas, picking the remnants of his last unfortunate meal with out of his teeth with a claw as large as the Deinos's head.
"They can try all they like to gain power. I will slay them all before they lay a single blow on me," promised the Bunnit Despot.
"It is a matter for later," interjected Final Marcus, "We have all come here for the Ceremony."
They all snapped to attention. The Deinos realised that he did not really understand the hierarchy of the Final Ones. He had always believed that power was everything in their society, and yet, although the more powerful ones were given the most respect, it was the lesser ones who seemed to hold more practical authority, leading the ceremonies, guarding the temples, collecting the knowledge and speaking their mind openly. Maybe it was considered a greater mark of power simply to watch and wait, to speak only the final word and to give the final seal to mandates; to let the lesser beings play at their roles while they lived out their lives in peace. Or maybe there was some greater duty that was required of the greater of the Five, one beyond his feeble comprehension.
"What say you, then? Is this one truly unique?" Belzegas asked Arsene, flexing a paw and stretching his shoulders.
"Personally, I don't understand what is supposed to set him apart. It takes more than a high kill rate and a growth spurt to make you one of the Chosen," said the Despot, "Otherwise we'd be handing out Names to anyone who got lucky."
"If it is not impertinent of me... the Unreliable One didn't notice him because of the kills," said Illustrious Golteus, "It was because of the shimmering lights coming off his scales. They distracted Rezno and almost made him fly into a tree."
"So, now we hand out Names to people because they are shiny and because Rezno is incompetent?" commented the Bunnit, tapping the side of his throne with his sceptre, "This is not something we can do lightly, Golteus. It isn't the old days. There are too many of us, and too little who are competent, and the Great Threat is growing too fast for us to be diluting our currency. A Name is not for pretty things that Rezno happens to spot, it says that you are fit to be remembered after you die, and a promise that you will not die en masse with no interesting destiny to your name. Can you really keep such a promise, shiny Deinos?"
"Give me a test, and I will perform it."
The Bunnit's eyes darting from side to side in a way that terrified his attendants, as though they associated his paranoid moods with a higher rate of Bunnit mortality, "Honour guard! Strike!"
As he pointed to the Deinos with his sceptre, a swarm of chittering, sharp-toothed furry homicidal maniacs jumped him. He was half-expecting an attack from the Bunnits at some point, so he was already prepared. He swung his tail around, knocking three of them off the side of the cliff onto the jagged rocks below. The fiery lantern on the back of his head flared up, throwing fireballs at another two of them and setting their fur aflame. He turned to face the others. Five of them had already sunk their teeth into his legs, trying to drag him down. His neck snaked as he reached down to grab one of them by its head, pressing down into its throat with his powerful jaws.
Then Belzegas emitted a low, irritable growl and indicated with a sweep of his right forepaw for the combat to end.
"How will a trial by combat prove anything if you do not believe that combat prowess is the mark of the Unique?" he demanded, "I will not have meaningless bloodshed in a ritual circle. There is only one way to decide this. It is a matter for Abaasy to decide."
They all hushed, even Arsene, at the mention of the unfathomably powerful dragon of the Abyss. As one, they turned to look at the pedestal where he was curled, watching them through one eye. Will Abaasy even care about me, wondered the Deinos, or will he eat us all for our impertinence at presenting a lesser matter to him?
"Abaasy, do you know this one's name?"
Deinos fought the urge to remain quiet, to stay hidden, knowing that a Unique was not hidden away, but proudly proclaimed his existence to all. He stood and waited, staring directly up into the dragon's eye.
Then Avalanche Abaasy blinked and opened both his eyes wide, staring straight back at the Deinos. He was frozen in terror and wonder; he could see another world in the endless darkness of those eyes.
What would you do, asked a voice that spoke directly into his head, How would you serve?
I would guard Makna Forest, he said.
Would you fight the Great Threat, even though you are not powerful enough?
I will grow in power. And, if I was defending something important to the death, I would stay and fight, even though the odds are too great, if I could buy the Forest another moment's time.
Would you fight the Great Threat, even though they can break destiny?
I would fight the Great Threat, and I would fight the Great Threat's enemies.
Why is that?
Because it is foolish of me to choose sides in a war where both sides are breaking destiny. Because we have always been the same, and we have always been apart from destiny, and we have always protected it.
That is a wise choice. A Unique remains apart from destiny and keeps destiny going. A Unique always exists, no matter how the wheel of destiny turns, so that there is something that will not break. But, small one, what would you do if destiny ever does break?
Then, whatever form I am given in the new world, I will make sure that I still exist. I will make sure the new world is one in which we can all exist, no matter the will of others.
The majority of those who are brought here do not answer in this manner. They fail the test. Belzegas then eats them. He does not like the majority. They taste bland. He eats them all the same, then he forgets that he even ate already, and goes on to eat something else. You will not be devoured this day, nor forgotten, by Belzegaas or by fate.
The dragon roared, and the Deinos heard the ground shake and the rock and ice crumble on the mountains all around them. Only the protective shields woven into the ether matrix protected Three Sage Peak, although the energy flared in the sky as boulders and shards of ice hit the shields. A booming voice came into their heads, all at once.
Hear my proclamation! The new one among us is born! His existence as one of no consequence to the Universe is over, and he has been remade as one with a name! Shimmering Forte, know your name!
"I, Shimmering Forte, know my name," repeated the Deinos, his voice trembling slightly. Ether was rising from the rifts in the ground and surrounding the mountain in a maelstrom of power. He could feel it vibrating through every cell in his body.
"The Council know the name of Shimmering Forte," declared Final Marcus.
"The Mechonis knows his name," said Ancient Daedal.
"The Bionis knows his name," said Blizzard Belzegas.
"Let the Great Threat know his name!" yelled Despotic Arsene enthusiastically, smacking one of his attendants over the head with his sceptre by accident.
Let the Abyss know our names, said the dragon, then let out another roar to finalise the ceremony. They all burst into another, more jubilant chorus of their song while the Gloria Sloboses passed around drinks for the guests who were biological life-forms and refined ether tubes for Daedal. Hours later, the procession wound back down the mountain. A beautiful sparkling sunrise was approaching, the light of the ether crystals refracting through the shards of ice in the air. They did not want to be caught in the wrong place when the sun rose.
As tradition dictated, the three visiting Sages left last, after paying their last respects to Abaasy. Despotic Arsene yelled at his remaining Honour Guard to lift up his litter and carry him back down the path. Ancient Daedal shook the snow out of his servo-motors and activated his engines, giving his mechanical wings an experimental flap. Blizzard Belzegas yawned and stretched before wandering to the side of the mountain and grabbing the nearest ledge; a beast as strong as himself could easily jump down the sheer cliff face without even worrying about the consequences of falling. Final Marcus grabbed a broom and began helping the Gloria Sloboses clear up.
Then he stopped and turned to the others, "The Abyssal One requests that you stay for an emergency post-ceremonial meeting."
They all stopped where they were and returned to their places. Three Bunnits fell off the cliff in the process of turning the litter around. At first they muttered between themselves, wondering what their leader could still need with them, then they fell silent when the dragon spoke in their minds.
The Mechonis has fallen, he said to Daedal. The huge Mechon nodded, his face looking as sad as a machine without a definable nose or mouth could manage.
"I have long been in indefinite exile. Now, I will be in permanent exile," he shrugged, "I suppose there will no longer be a need for a Sage to represent the Mechonis."
But there will be a greater need for a Sage to prepare for the coming Armageddon. The Bionis is also weakening, its fate thrown into chaos, is it not?
Blizzard Belzegas nodded, "The stone and the rivers, the trees, everything feels wrong and sounds wrong."
"And the Great Threat is growing," said Despotic Arsene. His role was to keep track of the balance of power between the various military forces involved in the fate of the world, especially the Great Threat, "They far outmatch the forces allied against them, and they have allies of their own. They have created extreme unbalance."
"What should we do?" asked Belzegas, "Is the Universe doomed? Should we just accept our fates?"
"The Final One does not abandon his labyrinth," said Marcus stubbornly.
There is a plan. I just needed to be absolutely sure. I am opening the gates to the Abyss.
"Is it finally possible?" asked Marcus.
It soon will be. Very soon. The rift was sealed inside a place even I could not get into. I can already sense the other Dragons on the other side of the seal. Several of them are already loose. I saw Demon King Dragonia the other day, for the first time in nine centuries. They must have released the chains around Prison Island.
"When does our exodus begin?"
At the last moment. It sounds like folly, but it will enable us to bring as much of this world as possible with us. We must Name as many as possible. Only the Named will be written on the book of destiny, and given permission to survive something as drastic as a move into the Abyss.
"Do any know of our plan?" asked Despotic Arsene.
"They barely know who we are, other than their obsession with finding ways to kill us," said Final Marcus, "They raided my chapel the other day. They stole nothing except things that were obviously armour and weapons."
"To be fair, they're hilariously fun to kill as well," commented Arsene.
You should not engage in such frivolity. It is not important whether they know of our plans. They cannot stop us. They can break destiny itself, but they cannot stop us. It is not they who must know our names, although it will ultimately mean that we must spread our names loud and clear everywhere we can, to everyone we can. It is the Universe itself.
And the Great Threat has already initiated the process with their own hands. The Monado Abyss is inside the Prison Island.