Purification: Preparing for Death

Hallways and caverns slide and shift, moving with dusty grinding and creaking to place the Lord where he now needed to be. Where he had chosen to be. The hall behind him closes like a throat, swallowing him whole until the only exit lies ahead: a gargantuan door formed from stone of the very Abyss itself drawn from the Pit in a time before history had been written.

Energy prickles the young lord’s skin, the aura of His power still haunting the stone. Entropy Stone was never a pleasure to be near, yet here he must stand to be purified. Only then would the door be opened to him. Light from Isa Candles decorate walls and floor with colors, their thick scent recalling memories best left buried. Memories from when he was boy, which he wasn't anymore. With Diona, sneaking about these very halls with dares on their lips to see who would prove the most dauntless in their games. Hopping on the Wyri's cage, or singing a tune to the Asu'a that nest in the roof. Stealing a treat from Uncle Gaua, or drinking all the tea before Mother joined them.

So lost is he in his dreaming, he doesn't notice the presence that appears behind him. Staunch in his pose, in the robe colored like the night sky in Shadow, the priest pauses to give weight to his arrival. Whether hostile or welcoming, the Lord would never know until the words were spoken.

"Are you prepared?"

The voice brings him back to the present, away from remembrances of a former life, and he ponders the question for several heartbeats. The priest always asked thus, no matter the ritual, ceremony, or event. In this case, how could anyone ever truly say they were 'ready' to stand before ultimate Power? Yet it still behooved him to answer well and truthfully, and so he pauses to take stock and measure his commitment one last time.

"Yes."

At his word, two others approach to cut away his clothing, their claws glinting in the candlelight. A plume of smoke rises from the brazier as the first barrier to the Lord's inner self is burned away. Once bare, he takes a deep breath and walks to the edge of the pool that rippled in the ash colored floor.

Dark liquid laps restlessly at the pool’s lip, and the scent of blood chases away the lingering candle perfume as he kneels beside it on grooved stone. Even had it not once been described to a wondering, impressionable child, he would have known it without hearing it named. The blood of his ancestors is unmistakable to him, preserved here from time immemorial. It calls to him from the pool, like recognizing like, and his own blood answers from his veins with a song of sorrow, loss, and triumph.

A priest with a face like Puna'k left under the flame too long begins chanting a paean, his mouth the only recognizable feature in the flowing flesh. The chanting mingles with the song in the Lord's body when knife of abyssal glass cuts his flesh, drawing his blood forth to flow into the pool and mix with the life of his ancestors.

The first cut is hardly anything. He had dealt more pain to himself sliding between the stone ribs in the Rune Pool in search of quibbins for his mother. The second cut, not so much worse. His body still remembered the agony of his brother's sword as it sliced through flesh and bone.

Yet the wounds begin to mount, building new layers of pain as the priests flay him with cut after cut after cut. Pain intensifies with each new slice. Blood sparks and flows from flesh into stone grooves that send it into the dark pool. Weakness and torment and binding, chained in this form by the priests' chanting and unable to heal. Forced only to endure the ongoing torment.

How many of his family had come before him to this place? He would never know for sure, but the depth of the pool hints that several had sought the ultimate Blessing throughout the millennia. Few had succeeded.

Without a single slip, their hands as skilled as they were merciless, the priets' knives still bring agony as they cut away his skin to reveal his bloody flesh. In rebirth, like Lord Serpent after a shedding, each piece of his skin is sacrificed to the flames at his back, flames first lit by the very Founder of Chanicut when the manor was a mere fortress.

Flesh into Fire. Blood into Pool.
From Pain arise Focus.
To your Goal, hold True.
Only one Step, Steadfast on your Journey.
Ending at last, above the Abyss,
To Lord Serpent's marking.
Even if only for a meal.

Smoke, light, chanting, agony and depletion. Pure sensory overload. The Chaos Lord loses all sense of himself as awareness fades, deaf to the moans and whimpers of pain that escape him, and unmindful of the tears that burn raw flesh. His mind detaches, moving beyond the present to a place both within and somehow completely outside of himself. Winking into his other sight like dozens of firebugs lighting up to dance, he sees the connections of blood and power that tie him to the Priests who purified him with chants and pain. But then more.

Beyond this tiny enclave of power, many more connections blink into his sight — to his family, both alive and dead, to everyone in Chanicut, and then even farther. Everything in the Courts had arisen from the same source, and as he knelt deep in the heart of Chaos, the web connecting the whole of Reality shimmered into being before him. The lines of energy and power criss-cross Thelbane, the Black Zone, and even stretch faintly beyond Chaos to the renegades who claimed a place called Amber. Somehow through the pain and enervation, his body remains upright before the pool, and he gazes at the whole of Chaos laid out before him, enrapt.

Sudden silence falls in the stone chamber, and his vision of Chaos vanishes as his body erupts in flame. No longer confined by the Priests’ power, exposed flesh and blood ignites and he becomes a flaming pillar fraught with agony so intense not even a moan can escape his throat. In those heartbeats, he is reborn in the flames of his body until the words of the High Priest fill the chamber as he recites from the Book of the Serpent.

Upon the Tree of Matter does Lord Serpent hang, and the Courts in their glory is his crown.

The words of the Book blanket the chamber, smothering the flames that threatened to consume his body. They sear themselves into a mind and body opened up and made raw, like land that had been plowed and prepared for seed. The mighty Lord Serpent, upon which all in Chaos and the Multiverse depended. Creator of all, destroyer of much. Nowhere did the great Book say Lord Serpent was beneficent. Only the worthy were granted prosperity by Lord Serpent, yet none could say what boons and what supplicants would be deemed worthy.

But he had endured. Bells ring and scented candles light. Their perfume gives the Lord enough energy to sip a drink offered in a bone cup as a new garment is brought forth. He takes the cup in shaking hands, lifting it to his mouth and allowing the liquid to ease past blackened lips. Warm and energizing, though not exactly delicious, he can taste harrow root and bitter qu'ar mixed with the wine and other herbs. They clear his mind and numb the lingering pain of his wounds.

The cup now empty, he breathes again as he listens to the echoes of the words in his mind. Wrapped in the lingering smoke and filled with the draught of life, he can once more imagine himself whole. Whole, healed, healthy, and prepared. Finally freed from the binding chants, his body begins to rejuvenate itself. Skin spreads across him like a rising tide of water. It soothes the burning aches and biting twinges brought about by even the slightest movement.

Next, he must remind himself how to stand before he can move his limbs in the right configuration. And then, just like that, he is standing in fact, not just in his imagination. He accepts the robe provided him, which is simple and unadorned save the symbol of his House — the robe of a supplicant who has nothing except a request. He pulls it on slowly, carefully, still mindful of a body not quite done healing, and then turns to the High Priest to receive the final blessing.

Lesser priests ready the door to the steps leading to the Rim. Using tools formed from their very bones, they break the numerous seals upon the black stone, their power casting colored sparks about the fractures. The final seal breaks with a rumbling groan, stone grinding against stone as the Entropy Winds begin to swirl through the opening. They strain on the handles against weight of stone and the winds that shriek in fury and hunger, tugging at their very life force.

Beyond the door, humble stone steps beckon him to the place of his final test. Nothing Chanicut could do — no craving or art, no gems or gold — nothing could assign more value than their very existence. Few had walked these steps since the Founder had carved them from the crags of rock approaching the Abyss itself, weaving them about the tight turns, climbing ever higher and more perilous to the Rim of the Abyss and the platform that held the House Banners. Though a longer line than most, even Chanicut could only count the number of survivors on a single tentacled hand. If this young lord succeeded, then tattered flags would be replaced with new ones that bore his token.

When the blessing ends, only those two remain in the room full of furious wind, clinging tenaciously to the floor as their garments whip about them. The old creature's voice fades as drops of blood from the pool flow down newly healed cheeks. A moment of silence before the final words

"He awaits…"

And then the priest departs, leaving the Supplicant alone.

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