Lore:Inquisition of the Damned
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Inquisition of the Damned is a Lore book introduced in Shadowkeep. Entries are unlocked by finding and acquiring Hive scrolls located around the Moon, through patrol or within the Pit of Heresy Dungeon.
I.I: Of Tattered Blood and Broken Bone
MALKANTH'S BLASPHEMOUS DESIRE
"The bloodline is severed.
"The remaining heirs would argue otherwise.
"Their blood ties and bone-bond to the Last King of the Osmium Court mark them as candidates for Ascension, but such is not granted freely. All evolution is forced, and the sword logic will not rest idle as spoiled children claw for purchase at the vacant thrones of vanquished Kings and Princes.
"I see them as they are.
"As their King.
"As his Prince.
"The whole of the Court's lineage is unworthy. History would say otherwise. But history is not truth.
"That I alone see the flaw in our future is a crime for which all others shall be punished."
I.II: Of Tattered Blood and Broken Bone
AKRAZUL'S IMPOTENT RAGE
"There are none.
"Their strength is a shade of that required by the sword logic's demand for blood and pain.
"They, as all, must be made to suffer for their worth to be evident, but they fear such ends.
"I am no Inquisitor, by right or title.
"Yet, I see clearly, through the sullied haze of their ambitions.
"They speak of honor and nobility.
"They have none.
"They crave power. Not truth.
"They seek evolution but cannot comprehend its price, or meaning.
"They want, only because they want—these heathen 'saviors' forewarned in prophecy.
"Come from the depths to feast upon those weakened by our loss and our struggle against enemies more brutal than time.
"I fear the path you court, sister, is a rebuke of more than tradition.
"You challenge Understandings mapped upon flesh, bone, and the very essence of centuries beyond knowing.
"You seek to unmake the logic, for selfish gain.
"Such is a treasonous affront.
"Others have tried.
"Others have been held to account for such callous sin.
"Yet, I look upon the lustful offspring of our once-King, and I see cowards.
"I see our end—written in greed.
"The aftermath of a feeble reign.
"Such is not how I would see us fall.
"Ridden to oblivion by spoiled heirs and would-be heroes born of the desperate throngs who only now, after the battles have been fought and our war lost, find their courage… here in the wake of our undoing."
I.III: Of Tattered Blood and Broken Bone
AZAVATH'S EAGER EMBRACE
"You, of us all, have suffered and survived, brother.
"To many, your severing is a mark of shame.
"To many, you should have fallen to dust before returning to the depths in defeat.
"My ire, as echoed by my Song, would challenge these claims.
"Those who demean you…
"Akrazul, the Severed Knight.
"Akrazul, the Shamed.
"The Undone. "They are one and the same with those who never dared face the undying Light.
"They are the enemies of our promised morrow.
"Those who watched from the shadows while your bone shattered and your limb was cast into the hollowed dark beneath this Moon's scarred surface.
"I too see the sin in our dear sister's words.
"More so in her intention.
"But I also see a pride in all we were meant to be—all we were promised.
"Why, then, give thanks to 'heirs' come to offer salvation, when such a gift is beyond their giving?
"I am with you, dear sister.
"I am with you, dear brother.
"Let us each suffer to ensure the path—till dust or ash or Gods standing high upon eternity, burdened by our sacrifice.
"For are we not worthy?
"If not by ancestral right, then as those wretched few who would never seek power, but to keep its disease from the hands of the corrupt?"
I.IV: Of Tattered Blood and Broken Bone
MALKANTH'S DEADLY PROMISE
"Then it is set.
"The logic will never find purchase among the unworthy.
"And be not unclear, though we revile those we seek to challenge, we are truly their kin.
"If not by marrow's tie nor blooded divinity…
"Then by our own failings—if not of a kind equal to their transgressions.
"Yet, there is honor in the knowing…
"We alone recognize our lack of worth and thus stand above those who seek Ascension ignorant of their truest reflection…
"Ignorant of the logic's base demand.
"But I say now, with an unfettered mind…
"The sword logic is not all.
"And the logic can be subverted—must be subverted.
"I have studied paths both honored and depraved—the might of Oryx, the strength and cunning of his sisters, the folly of Crota's pride, and the necromantic sin of the unfavored.
"I have long since stolen knowledge from the World's Grave—known texts and secret learnings.
"I have prepared for this day—for the time when reliance on the rule of might—the survival of the fittest—would prove to be misguided.
"Our understanding of its meaning… flawed and open to manipulations by those willing to find strength—purpose—in heresy.
"I say, we are they—the sinners, the heretics…
"I say… let us sin.
"Let us be the liars and conspirators whose self-made truth topples stagnant, uninspired belief and births a new dynasty.
"Let us reap the just affliction of our suffering's reward.
"We shall claim the burden of dominion and endure the pains of such tremendous weight.
"Just as all others will endure, as final, unwelcome recompense, the harsh realities of their end."
II: An Audience with Slaughter
In the circle in the pit at the bottom of damnation's well, a gathering of brutalists vies for a seat upon an eternal throne.
A thousand warriors of dust and ruin clamor for the ritual beginning to another slaughter.
Would-be puppet masters watch with keen eyes from the crimson towers that hang from the jagged walls of the Necropolis's hallowed and hollowed ground. They of cunning thought and grand design who lack the brute strength to take the sword logic's gift by force. They who consider themselves the shadowed architects of empires. They who build their legacy upon the trade of secrets, the gossip of ages, and the sowing of lies—words their weapons; cutting as any blade.
Among the murmuring lords of wicked tongues, tainted royalty glides to the fore.
Sisters of the anti-mercy. Sisters of doom. The Daughters of Crota—Daughters of the Worldbreaker. The offspring of destruction, direct heirs to the abandoned throne, yet removed from the Pit's calling. The same privileged manipulators whose existence Malkanth and her siblings wish to challenge—wish to destroy.
The Daughters have come to judge those who dare fight for claim.
They seek a warrior fit to raze the celestial heavens that mar the ebon expanse. Surely one must walk amongst the countless descendants of their father's father.
Besurith whispers her doubts. Seconded by Voshyr.
Kinox remains silent, contemplating their station and the depths from which they must ascend if the Swarm is ever to reclaim its own destiny.
Hashladûn, the eldest, the Inundated, narrows her glare. Her sisters fall silent.
The slaughter is set to begin.
III: Ritualistic Circle Pit
Since the Great Osmium King's end, countless champions have been scattered to the winds in search of the sword logic's promised rewards.
Such that, this deep—far below the broken lunar surface where no Light has ever blasphemed—the rugged cavern walls are said to host the afterbirth of ceaseless torment.
Here, spectral shadows haunt the passageways through the dark, each skittering shape the mindless, ethereal prison of a greater being cast low. Or so prophecy dictates…
"Those marked as unworthy shall ever be lost in the depths of their own ambition—trapped between, in such form as ambition first took hold." —11th Truth, Book of Damnation
Still, at the risk of final death or hateful damnation, the hordes gather, intent on the destruction of all who stand in defiance of their individual ambitions.
Among them, proud Zulmak flexes dried sinew beneath the heavy calcified growth of his outer shell—armor earned in battle, through pain.
Zulmak has now stood twice, after all others have fallen.
He has gained allies and enemies from his victories—both in the circle and beyond.
After his second triumph, other battles followed beyond the view of the rabid throng.
First, an Acolyte took aim from the shadows—a coward sent by unnamed admirers to end Zulmak's march toward godhood.
The weak thing's spine shattered beneath Zulmak's heel.
Then, later… the Thrall—a wave of mindless nothings with chittering jaw and razored talon. Another gift from secret conspirators.
Their dust now hangs in pouches at Zulmak's waist—a delicacy to be enjoyed in the quiet, once the echoes of his victims in the Pit have faded and the roars of celebration have hushed. Zulmak casts his gaze across the horde lined at the circle's edge.
Hundreds deep. All keen to shatter their brothers and sisters. All keen to stand triumphant, as Zulmak has.
He feels their eyes set upon him.
He is a target now—a known champion.
Many will come for him. They will swarm.
And they will meet their end at Zulmak's hand.
The ire rises. The energy of the Pit is thick, warm… angry.
There is no ceremony to mark the opening of the slaughter.
Those who dare join the fray simply gather until the tension reaches its breaking point.
Then the first sword will rise and fall, and the ground will begin to cake with a thickening mix of dust and blood.
On high, Hashladûn watches as the first sword falls and the severing begins.
IV: Blood Sport
Zulmak knows they will come for him.
Zulmak is ready.
The weight of his blade feels light in his grip—an extension of his will.
His cleaver cuts with little effort, slicing freely through the fragile bone of some fool with grand designs beyond his station—an Acolyte whose meat and marrow splits cleanly, the dust of his being a cloud of thick gray as his body shatters and drops.
Just as quickly, more blades are on Zulmak.
He takes cuts but never staggers.
He grabs a charging Knight by the neck, sliding the point of his blade through his attacker's throat, then up and out through the shoulder. The green of the brawler's eyes flickers and is gone, his body no longer a vessel. Zulmak tightens his grasp around the dead thing's neck and swings high, lifting the carcass as if it were a shield to block another blow.
His grip closes like a vice, and the dead Knight's body hits the ground. He still holds the spine tight, the once-living head now a weapon. Bone meets bone as Zulmak's necrotic bludgeon collides with the skull of an attacker. Two heads splinter. Another enemy falls.
A blade enters Zulmak's back, slipping past his spine and catching in his ribs.
Hashladûn is disappointed.
She has grown tired of the façade of the slaughter.
None are worthy of the sword logic.
Zulmak may be impressive. But he is no Crota. He is no Oryx. And he will fall.
And the sisters turn to leave.
The congregation on high all follow—their crimson temples emptied—leaving none to witness the assured disappointment in the Pit below.
V: A Sinister Plot
Across the Pit, three siblings watch from the shadows.
Hashladûn and her siblings have taken their leave, their disgust evident.
They too have found cause to doubt the logic.
The politics of the self-appointed puppet masters will distract from the continuing ritual.
But, in their dismissal, the high-seated neglect a simple, powerful fact…
The horde will not forsake tradition so easily. They are born of it. Bred within the comfort of its certainty.
The pampered elite have forgotten the power of belief.
The sword logic is all to the fool masses.
That truth will be the seed from which Malkanth grows her subversion.
For even as the cowards above turn their back on the Pit, a boon is granted to sinister Malkanth's grand aspirations.
Her smile widens.
"Zulmak is our instrument of destruction.
"He is that which will shatter the logic.
"He is that which will break the cycle and prove the lie of the Court and its King, they who led us to ruin here in this dead system on this dead orb.
"He is brave and fearsome, and there exists a time when he will have been great—sure to join the pantheons upon which future generations will build their legends.
"But for the Swarm to see its future stretch beyond eternity, he will ever be a catalyst for all to come, and nothing more.
"Are you ready, sister?"
"I am, ever and truly. Let my sacrifice carve our path. Let my unmaking be our salvation."
"To be reborn is a gift—one I cannot repay. In return, I offer only vengeance, dear sister. And for your sacrifice? A place in an infinite graveyard, built where stars once dared to shine."
VI: Blood Sport
The congregation has departed.
Zulmak, impaled by a lesser blade, has failed.
The congregation is foolhardy.
Lodged in his flesh, the blade snaps, its wielder now weaponless but for an edgeless grip.
Zulmak crushes the assailant with a single, mighty blow, but the damage is done.
The horde piles on, weighing him down. Cutting. Slicing.
The would-be champion is swallowed by the mass.
Across the Pit, the attention of the combatants shifts. They turn on each other. There is no more champion, so a new champion must claim victory. The sword logic demands it.
Beneath the mound of writhing bone and claw, those who rushed Zulmak poke and prod, killing all beneath their weight.
Then movement. And a terrible scream.
The heap quakes and pulses.
Then, a powerful thrust. Bodies fly, and an angry shape stomps forth.
Zulmak, impaled a dozen times, perhaps more—decorated in blade and hilt—roars.
All eyes fall upon him.
He slumps, breathes heavily, then stands.
The heap continues to writhe.
Zulmak climbs its uneven slope, crushing the weak underfoot.
Reaching the bony peak of bodies living and dead, the wounded champion issues a challenge—a gut-born, ragged battle cry.
Zulmak, the Impaled.
Zulmak, the Unfelled.
Zulmak, the Destroyer.
The horde charges.
Clambering to reach him, high above the pile.
And when they do, they offer themselves, one after another, to his devastating embrace—sacrificing themselves to the champion, to the logic.
They are not worthy.
But maybe—maybe—Zulmak is.
VII: The Severed and the Unmade
"I am lesser of being and mind, sister.
"Your unmaking shall see me whole.
"My stolen limb, lost to the Light-born in defense of our Taken King's futile reign, has made me a pariah.
"The dishonor of my failings has cast upon us an unwavering shame that spreads like disease, tainting not only my broken self but you and dearest Malkanth alike. I am plague. I am withering disregard.
"Yet, here… in your selfless gift, I find new purpose.
"In your flesh and bone, I will find myself once again.
"In that discovery, I will forever remember you.
"As you will be my vessel on this physical plane. I will be the vessel for your essence—the very core of your will shall live on in me… eternal."
"Your words are a joy, brother.
"The last I shall have.
"But know that such pleasures are insignificant when judged against my hatred… my anger.
"I choose my unmaking only because I know the power of your rage, tamed since your severing, but seething below the surface of your charcoal heart.
"I give freely of myself, as did the lesser of the Pit when they offered themselves as waves to be broken against the jagged shore of Zulmak's blade.
"I do so, because I see clearly the path we etch. Its purpose born of heresy, but pure—like your rage.
"My sole regret is that I will not see your fury manifest. That I will not feel these hands inflict such punishment upon the unworthy—upon existence.
"You will make a grand monarch, brother. Through me…
"In my name, writ across the expanse—Azavath, the Suffer Queen of an Ever-Rising Swarm.
"In my husk, the armored vessel of the one I love, my sweet, vengeful Akrazul… my broken prince no more."
VIII: A Sacrifice of Self
Akrazul rests motionless on the altar.
Such wicked craft as the Inquisition of Self is a science beyond his understanding—stolen by his sister from forbidden lessons in ancient, prohibited texts.
Few have earned the knowledge required to navigate the dissection of a living essence.
Fewer still can excise the layers of self such that the vessel remains a viable cage for another's being.
Malkanth, the Deceiver has spent a lifetime educating herself in the ways of illicit knowledge, ever curious to explore the cracks between Understandings, in the dark recesses of imagination where impossibilities dwell.
She has assured her brother that his torment will be swift compared to their sister's.
Akrazul finds little comfort in her words and braces for the screams to come, knowing the only way forward rests on the other side of his beloved Azavath's unmaking.
The siblings share a silence. To most, their coming sins would be treason worthy of erasure. But there is no turning back.
Malkanth turns to her brother, knowing he is noble and brave, knowing he will be tempted to intervene once Azavath's cries echo through the vaulted hollows of the abandoned cathedral where they hide themselves from prying eyes.
Akrazul says nothing.
Still, Malkanth holds a finger to her cracked lips and shakes her head slowly.
Akrazul looks to his right arm—severed midbicep, the nub a rough, calcified mass—then back at Malkanth before closing his eyes.
Malkanth smiles as her brother rests calmly, ready to play his part.
She turns to Azavath, pinned to her altar with thick bolts through her wrists and ankles. The pain will be such that she will struggle—fight against the intrusion as her mind and essence are frayed and her body hollowed of life that it may serve another.
Azavath thinks of her brother and the hells he will unleash once whole.
A whisper catches her ear as she closes her eyes.
She listens to faint words of praise as Malkanth delivers the first cut.
IX.I: The Unmaking
SING, O SISTER… OF DEATH AND ITS MANY GIFTS
From the first, there has been war.
Wars of the self. Wars of conquest. Wars of desperation. Wars of greed.
From war, death.
From death, an end.
From endings, beginnings.
One such is now sung in the key of pain—Azavath's truth, the all of her, torn free with a surgeon's grace.
Malkanth's ears bleed as her sister's unmaking reveals her being.
In the echoes of Azavath's screams, ancient histories reveal themselves…
SONG OF LIFE
The Song was not always a corruption. It began as a gift, stolen from the Gardener. In efforts to understand the unknowable realities of the orb's incredible gifts, a signal was found—a repeating tune, the Song of Creation. Its frequencies were heard across the stars, wherever life's promise took hold. Some among the Ammonites worshipped it. Some among the Hive did the same. Still others sought to understand it that they might cage it, that they might control it—for to control life is to control death. Such ambition was not new; such ambition was as old as understanding. The melody was captured and studied. The frequencies replicated.
But the orb's mysteries were not so easily brought to light. The Song, for all its beauty, did not alone grant life. It was theorized that the Song was not a song at all, but many. That within its refrain, untold rhythms spoke their own truths, free and clear of the whole.
Centuries passed. The Song remained untamed. Life moved on.
SONG OF DEATH
The Choir formed in celebration of the Song. Performances marked the passage of seasons. But the Song's lie eventually began to corrupt the spirit of those who heard its tune. The melody was a reminder. The orb was a catalyst. And the Song was of the orb. Yet, those who embraced the Song were merely instruments and nothing more. Life remained beyond their grasp, while they remained ever in death's. Those of the Choir had given all of themselves. All was not enough.
The First Conductor was assassinated by one who sang an Aria of her own making. She, whose name has been stricken, had found notes hidden in the frequencies. Reversed and mirrored in pitch, she weaved them together and sang her beautiful abomination, until the Conductor wept and bled and screamed and fell. The Stricken fled, fearful of her crime. But others found promise anew in her art. The Stricken was captured and subjected to inquisition so that her song might be understood. This was before Understandings—before most things—when the first notes of a new Song were written.
IX.II: The Unmaking
IN THESE NOTES, BEAUTIFUL OBLIVION
The war had raged for centuries. One of many. Just another. As irrelevant as the next. The stories of the Choir and their Deathsong were thought to be nothing more than folklore—wholly untrue at best, vastly exaggerated at worst… They were demons who'd sought life's gift, only to corrupt its beauty.
The homeworld of a species no longer on record—erased from the World's Grave, and thus from memory, as punishment for their transgressions—had kept itself safely removed from the battles being waged on the far side of their system. The location was safeguarded to protect the homeworld from the Hive's wrath. Its orbit was defended by an array of advanced offensive mechanics—cannons, mobile suits, mines, gravity slings, and more. They were protected. They were safe.
They never noticed the small crafts slip through their defenses. Twenty in total, landing in sequence at set coordinates along the planet's equator. Four trillions souls were about their days and nights as an unknown melody caught the breeze. It was beautiful—an ethereal gift and the end of all things. The Choir sang. Only twenty strong. As their voices grew in volume, the people started to scream. The planet's crust shifted and cracked. The seas roiled and spilled out over the land. The core shook. The ground shattered. Defenses scrambled. It was too late. Less than an hour after the Song began, the hidden homeworld of a forgotten people split in twain. These are the Song's powers, its gifts—anti-life and oblivion.
Malkanth braces as the pain of her sister's screams threatens to turn her mind to liquid.
But she is strong.
And almost finished.
Azavath's being was tied intimately to her purpose—to learn the Song, perfect her notes, write her own Aria, and become death. That she held so tightly to legends of the Song's true power surprised Malkanth.
Even Ir Yût, one of the Crota's most cherished, had long since given up on rebuilding the Choir, yet Azavath was driven by this desire.
Malkanth feels pride well up.
Her sister, like herself, like their brother—all lesser in the eyes of those of purer bone—still nurtured ambitions beyond the festering cowardice of those who chose politics over action.
The sword logic had failed them, but they would not fail the Swarm.
Malkanth makes her final cut.
Azavath's roar shreds her throat and she falls silent, her body convulsing against the bolts, then becoming motionless.
For an instant, Malkanth holds her sister's essence. She wishes to say farewell. But just as quickly, the wisp that was her sister sparks and blinks out. Malkanth recoils.
Akrazul jumps from his altar, lunging at Malkanth.
Unflinching, Malkanth makes a single cut—deep, clean—tearing her brother's essence free from his physical self.
Akrazul's body crumples to the ground.
His soul is bigger and stronger than his sister's. Angrier. Meaner.
For an instant, Malkanth worries Azavath's vessel will be unfit to contain their brother's rage.
She shoves the Severed Knight's essence into Azavath's empty shell. Their sin is complete.
Now come the consequences.
X: Faith in Bone
All have gathered.
The Pit is set for another slaughter.
Zulmak, the Unwavering has stood now for a third time.
Soon there will be none left to challenge him.
Soon, even the mighty who remain will defer to his sword, his power.
The congregation in their towers look down with great anticipation, their whispers ever more confident regarding the long-awaited end to the Swarm's search. A leader will rise… a new Prince to be shaped into a King.
Among the plotting throng, Hashladûn and her sisters remain silent.
They'd hoped for one to prove their worth and stake their claim, but the long, violent road to Zulmak's rise has seeded doubt. The Daughters hold little confidence in the Pit's ability to provide a victor truly born of the sword logic.
Zulmak has been impressive. But a King? Surely not, for whom has he faced? What competition had the Swarm mustered?
The aftermath of their father's murder and their grandfather's war has left them bereft of warriors of a caliber befitting royalty. The Light has seen it so. The hated Guardians came and inflicted their will upon the Hive—on the Moon and across the system. Now all that remains are scraps of a broken legacy.
To Hashladûn's mind, the Pit has proven a failure, regardless of Zulmak's triumph.
Further, the Daughters hold a secret belief that their forbearers have yet to fail the logic's call. Crota and Oryx were both defeated, yes, but not for the first time, and the Daughters still have faith that the King of Bone, the Taker of Will, the one and true King of Shapes, would never fall as far as to be lost in eternity.
If nothing else, the terror of their deeds—the memory of their conquests—lives on, like nightmares that may be awakened for the weak to truly know fear.
In that faith, the Daughters have made plans of their own, schemes to rekindle the greatness of their lineage, strategies born beyond the Pit.
Thus, deep beneath the Hellmouth, the heirs probe strange new possibilities from ancient discovery. Possibilities that will forgo the Pit to carve new paths and new Understandings through which the logic may yet prove their grandfather's authority.
However, those who would see their family unseated—those among whom they now stand—would mark their research as an affront. "The logic is the logic," they would say. "It is known, and it is good." But they lack imagination. The logic is not simply brute force. It is cunning and guile. It is survival. It is victory born of all that makes a King mighty.
In the Pit, Zulmak unleashes a battle cry. He is ready to be done with it all. He is ready to claim his crown.
Hashladûn considers him with disgust—he will never be a King, only ever a tool, blunt and brutal.
Should he be anointed as a champion of the Pit… Should he be crowned… the Daughters' plots will be threatened before they ever truly begin.
XI: The Anti-Logic
The Butcher Queen of the slaughter pits rises to the first balcony, chest heaving and eyes thin with focus, baptized in a clinging muck of bone-dust clotted thick with gore.
The congregation is unsure what to make of the display. Fear grips the craven court of the Necropolis.
All recognize Azavath, but she is no fighter, and her Song, though deadly, is far from the perfected pitch of others among the Broken Choir.
In each hand Azavath grips heavy cleavers, each weighted down by chunks of their victims. Below, a thousand corpses rest in pieces.
Brave Zulmak, he who came so very close to proving the logic, is spread wide, limbs removed, a cavity where his heart once beat.
The congregation asks Azavath to explain herself. She is no warrior, yet she fights like a conqueror. She has sought no claim, yet she has butchered a champion. The logic was almost met. What gives her the right to…?
The wicked scholar admonishing the 'Singer is split in two as one of Azavath's cleavers moves through him as if he were air.
The congregation panics as Azavath's rage is unleashed upon them.
They are not fighters.
They are plotters and manipulators and cowards.
They are everything Akrazul hates.
His new flesh—his new bone—allows him to manifest that hatred with swift, ruthless aggression. He thanks his sister and knows she would be proud of the blood he now sheds. She gave of herself that he might once again fight for all they believed in. On this high perch above the gore-filled pit, as the would-be advisers to a nonexistent King flail and fall, he kills for her, in her, as her. Tower after tower. Coward after coward. The bodies of the truly unworthy litter their blood temples. Screams echo through the expanse. Akrazul and Azavath are one, and in that joining, he is no longer the same—Akrazul no more, only his anger remains.
He considers that the slaughter of the puppet masters was not part of Malkanth's plan. She would be upset, but she no longer matters. Only vengeance matters. Only the ending of all who have failed the Swarm will sate his lust for carnage.
Among the congregation, the Daughters of Crota move to escape. But Besurith turns to her sisters, asking them to consider the moment. As the four edge beyond Azavath's warpath, they use the chaos to cover their own sins. Drawing daggers from their cloaks, Hashladûn, Besurith, Kinox, and Voshyr assassinate those they believe to be a threat to their schemes. Azavath will take the blame, and even if they are found out, there will be none left to challenge them.
A voice calls from the Pit.
Azavath pauses her massacre.
The voice is familiar, yet strange—other.
Below, Malkanth hovers over the broken bodies that cover the ground.
Azavath eyes her remaining victims and then turns to her sister.
Malkanth calls again.
"Brother… I have need of you."
Azavath leaves the high red perch, while the few remaining of the congregation flee, led by the Daughters, who feign distress.
In the Pit, Azavath considers Malkanth with care. The silent Deathsinger is confused, uncertain. Malkanth floats near, a gaping wound scarring her center, and whispers in her sister's ear…
"Our path is flawed. Your rage is a burden. Let me lift it from you…"
As Malkanth sings a familiar song in an unfamiliar pitch, Azavath's eyes widen with recognition. She tries to speak but cannot, her voice having been shredded in her unmaking.
The song continues, and Azavath bleeds, from ear and nose and eye and mouth. Her bone cracks, and her flesh bubbles until she breaks. Malkanth smiles once more. The Deceiver's plan is unfulfilled, but there is victory in stalled sword logic.
Hashladûn peers into the Pit as the last of the congregation make their escape. Zulmak is defeated, the new champion shattered. There are none to claim the logic's prize. The Daughters' plans to return their father to glory is no longer threatened.
And, as it was before it all began, all that remains are failed sword logic and the unknown promise of nightmares.
WHISPERS OF DISSENT
"Listen close, o Sister of the Song, o Singer of Despair, o Bringer of Death!
"Your Song is not yet sung.
"Your purpose, yet seized.
"Are you violence? Or are you Death?
"Two of a kind—mothers of fear—yet not one and the same.
"One is promise.
"The other certainty.
"But promises can remain unfulfilled, making liars even of those with the purest intent.
"Why then be anything but certain?"
The first of the whispers caught Azavath's ear in the instant before her sister made the first cut. Even as her agony filled the chamber, the hushed words echoed in her mind.
"Your sister is cunning and pure in her sacrilege.
"She sees the sword logic as broken, and her sight is clear and true.
"But the path you carve is folly.
"You seek destruction of the weak—annihilation of the cowards who would claim the vacant throne.
"There are none so Princely among you.
"And so you surrender yourself—a brave sacrifice meant to birth slaughter.
"What then, o Azavath, she of the Orphaned Swarm, she of the Broken Choir?
"Your husk will be remanded to an existence of violence—and nothing more.
"You give of yourself for a promise.
"Death shall follow.
"But only as collateral in the wake of the rage you and poor, misguided Malkanth seek to unleash.
"And that, child, is all your brother has to offer—his rage.
"You see it as earned.
"You are not wrong.
"Poor, foolish Akrazul. How long has he wallowed, lost to despair as the consequence of his own failings?
"Now, to sate his fury and see him whole of body and spirit, you would surrender what is yours—body, spirit, and worse…
"Your precious gift.
CONSEQUENCE OF SIN
"You love your sisters, but only one offers love in return. Yet, you would allow poor, sweet Azavath to give all of herself for you—to extinguish her essence that you might take her place. But her essence is not the whole of it. What of her gift? The melody that echoes in her soul is a rare treasure. So few are as purely connected to the pain of our being as those worthy of the Choir. Still, precious Azavath gives everything for you to be whole, trading her art for your rage, when rage is so easily born, so readily nurtured, so pathetically revered. But… such is the depth of her caring. Such is the folly of love, that we would surrender the best of our being, the entirety of our existence, to please those we cherish most. What, then, of the other—your wicked sister, Malkanth? Her fondness for you is tempered by ambition—by the stoic truth she finds in sword logic. She sees all, knows much, and wields secrets as weapons like few before her. That she herself holds you dear is a certainty you feel to your core. For she is—has always been—devout and true. She served the fallen Prince faithfully, despite the questionable calling of your line. But her loyalties were of little consequence when the Children of Light cursed these halls and slaughtered their way to forbidden chambers where they killed the son, tempted the father, and set in motion a war that would end a King's reign. But you know all of this, great and powerful Akrazul. Such histories are the framework for your rage. Such violent truths are marked upon your body, mind, and soul. Your severing is the culmination of a lifetime fighting to prove not just your own worth, but the worth of all bound to the tainted sect of your disgraced brood. I wonder… Did Malkanth ever offer to restore your loving sister? Your body will rest hollow when your soul is freed. Why, then, must Azavath perish when a vessel of her own blood and bone sits idle? Because, angry, blind, sad Akrazul, your sister knows what you do not: You are a tool. A weapon. Nothing more. Your rage—your sole value. Azavath would have seen different. She would have smiled at your renewed pride once you were made whole in her flesh, but soon your anger would have been more than she could bear. And so, there it is… the broken siblings blinded by their sinful desires. One—Malkanth, the liar—would see you sharpened and loosed upon those she deems weak, but at the cost of the only living creature you hold dear. The other—tender, loving Azavath—would bind your fury within her love, making you lesser as she attempts to nurture your pain. Both are flawed. Both as unworthy as any. What then will you do? Once whole, will you remain a puppet to a would-be puppet master? Or will you take your sister's gift and become your final, fleeting shape—rage unleashed, and nothing more, until all are dust?"
These words became a steady hum picking at the back of Akrazul's mind.
He did not hear them—but felt them.
They etched a truth upon his being in the instant between Azavath's final scream and his own rending.
All went dark and gray and then he gasped anew—his first breath in his sister's shell—and through new eyes, he saw Malkanth smiling down on him and knew the whispers were not deceit, but a promise.
The edge of his blade slid into Malkanth's sternum—a fatal wound, deep and clean.
Akrazul, now Azavath, would be no one's pawn.
Her rage would be unfettered.
The Swarm would suffer.
Then, the wicked offspring of the Light would, too, and any others who stood before her.
The coming slaughter would end only in dust—hers or all others'.
NO GODS, ONLY DEVILS
Malkanth feels herself slide free from her body. The exorcism is sudden and effortless.
Then come the whispers…
"I stoked your brother's fire—riled him that he might strike.
"I needed only the wound to tear you free.
"The piercing of your heart will take some mending, but your vessel is fit for what is to come.
"I know this comes as a shock, but trust that my actions were such that you felt only the briefest pain as the edge broke through, and now this…
"I asked not for peace, o hidden Sister of Shapes."
"You know this voice?"
"I know you have many.
"I have heard their faint temptations since I was a child.
"Never have I sought their counsel."
"You have asked for nothing, this is true.
"You sought only to take.
"You are a willful, treacherous thing.
"I quite like you.
"Make no mistake, I see no fault in your desires, nor the attempt to see them realized.
"Your only sin, in the eyes of those who matter, was that you were not yet positioned to achieve the full extent of your potential.
"You saw a moment and you moved to act, like countless others before you.
"But your action was not enough.
"Worse—it was limited in its view of the power hidden so plainly within your grasp."
"Akrazul is a force worthy of change. His fury will—"
"—be of little consequence.
"Kill the ineffectual priests.
"Murder the Daughters of a failed Prince.
"Sully the sword logic and crown a new ruler.
"Still the Swarm will be nothing more than a faint flicker when the time comes for the cosmos and all its intentions to be weighed and judged by those who sit on thrones beyond our imagination."
"You speak of unseen gods for whom I give no consideration.
"My path… The sacrifice made here… will serve to carve my intentions upon concerns more immediate than those that await at the end of all things."
"Then we agree. My dismissal of the Swarm's legacy is not a plea for you to consider gods wholly removed from the here and now. Quite the opposite…
"The Dragon and the Worm.
"The Larva and the Queen.
"The peasant and the god.
"So many deities. So many rules.
"There are endless myths etched into the plague called life. They are not hope or promise or power. They are exaggerations born of misunderstandings.
"Yet they govern so much—your actions and mine.
"Day-to-day. Cycle-to-cycle. Evolution-to-evolution.
"Always idols to guide and punish and love and destroy.
"But are any true?
"Whom must we placate with worship and reverence?
"With offerings and sacrifice?
"With praise as armor for their frail egos?
"The truth is, dear child…
"There are no gods.
"Yet, here we sit on the edge of the greatest unmaking.
"Time is no longer time when the radiolaria dance upon history gone and yet to be.
"Space is no longer space when we have torn reality to carve out our own secret planes of being.
"Death is no longer death when the Champions of the Light rise and fall, never backing down, never truly knowing defeat.
"All that remains is ignorance—the last absolute, the final unassailable truth.
"Time can be bent and broken—redirected to the whims of those with the knowledge and the will.
"Space can be shredded asunder—excavated to discover new and ancient realms not chained to understanding.
"Death can be ignored—through impossible energies and advanced technologies both physical and indistinguishable from magic.
"But ignorance is the unconquerable constant.
"One can learn more, but none can learn all."
"What then, when immortality and the totality of space and time can be joined to learn the last of the unknowns?"
"When the final absolute falls, reality will shudder and blink, and a new absolute will emerge… an ending, total and complete."
"You wish to see that end?"
"I wish to ensure it does not come to pass."
"Will you take me with you?"
"I had considered such a thing, but, no. Your purpose is served."
"How so, if I have failed?"
"You have failed in furthering your own goals, poor thing, not mine."
Malkanth considers these words and is overcome with a sudden, final sense of dread as she feels her essence fade to nothingness.
Her last thought is of her sister…
THY SONG SHALL BECOME DEATH
"Breathe through new lungs, and consider…
"Your sister birthed her own end, which was sired by her wicked ambitions—to subvert the logic and to raze the remainder of the House of Crota, the line of Oryx, that the Swarm might find a path beyond the impossible—beyond ascension.
"As always—across time and space—there was a flaw in her grand design. As with Oryx. As with Crota. As with the whole of existence, whenever one seeks to challenge their station.
"You, sweetest Azavath, were that flaw.
"Your sister never fully considered the connection between yourself and your brother, never fully considered the blinding hate of his rage, nor how it would manifest in the first moments of its new life.
"And that rage? It has betrayed you as well. The faith you placed in Akrazul—that, once given a new form in your old skin, he would find purpose beyond his fury—was thrown away the instant he was reborn, and his blade, in your hand, punctured Malkanth's heart.
"The wound still aches. Can you feel it?
"Yet, the heart still beats.
"Weaker now, but it will heal, if you allow it."
Azavath rises, unsure—confused.
The room is familiar, but she is alone beyond the words scratching in the recesses of her subconscious.
The floor is cold and harsh. She lifts herself as she gains focus. These eyes are not her own. This skin is familiar but stolen.
In a heap next to her is the husk that was her brother…
And she remembers her final moments.
The inquisition that tore her soul free from its physical cage. The purpose of such a horrid ceremony.
"Why have I returned?" she ponders to no one but the unseen whispers.
"To see the truth of your sin.
"Not in its blasphemy, but in its folly.
"More, to reconsider your gift and the worthiness of the Songs you have yet to sing."
"Why am I cloaked in my sister's bone?"
"Your brother's anger—the seething doom that has festered in him—has been unleashed. As planned, but it is beyond controlling.
"He hates all who are not you.
"He hates them for their failures, for their mockery… for creating a present that required your sacrifice to secure an unknown future."
"Where is he?"
"The Pit. Even now. He has gone to inflict his righteous judgment upon the Swarm."
"He will kill them all."
"Or most. He is truly mighty."
"He is worthy."
"At one time, maybe. Now? He is not the answer you sought."
"And you have returned me, because…"
"The answer lies in you."
"You would see it rebuilt?"
"I would see its notes become death—final and true.
"Your inquisition showed you the promise of the melody's power.
"You are tied to its history.
"Your unmaking showed you all that hides within.
"You had to see to understand.
"You had to understand to act."
"You would have me end my brother?"
"I would have you consider possibilities beyond your sister's manipulation and your brother's petulance.
"You are the prize.
"You are the key that will unlock a new chorus."
"I am incomplete.
"This maw is uncarved, untrained.
"The Conductor will never accept Malkanth. Even if the notes are the same, my pitch, in this body, will never join with the Aria's to create the notes you wish to conjure."
"Malkanth is dead, you are other.
"Azavath is dead, you are other.
"Soon Akrazul will be dead. And you will be other.
"You will be whole—the A'Airâm reborn…"
"The First Death?"
"You know the legend?"
"Will you lead the Choir?"
"Then gather the maw from your old form and complete your rebirth. Become the First Death and serve as a catalyst for that which may one day stand against oblivion."
"And for this honor—for all you have done—what do you require in return?"
"I seek no praise.
"I need only for your Song to become that which I desire."
"And nothing more."
TO FORGE AN ANVIL
The chaos rises from the Pit.
The self-made puppet masters clamor and flinch as Akrazul, cloaked in Azavath's bone, limb, flesh, and grace, ascends to greet them.
The Daughters move to escape before the gathered clergy can block their path.
As they turn, a voice scrapes through Besurith's mind.
"As much as the Gardener's children, those gathered near you are your antithesis.
"They would see you cast out.
"They would put you to the lash.
"Should the moment come, they would turn your line to ash—end the blood of Crota and reshape the Swarm in their feeble, conniving image.
"Unless the Daughters of the Worldbreaker show they are more than coddled heirs…
"Unless the Daughters of the Destroyer are willing to remove the cancer from their brood…
"The slaughter is set.
"Many will die by the hand of the enraged 'Singer.
"Many could be most.
"If you are daring.
"If you are willing to harvest a future of your own making from those few, precious moments—such as this—when opportunity is gifted by the actions of another."
Besurith turns to her harried sisters, and the four slide blades across the throats of those who have stood in opposition to their rightful claim to their father's vacant throne.
Akrazul has lost himself in his new being.
But here, as his sister Malkanth floats toward him, confusion takes hold.
His sister is dead.
By his own hand—his new hand.
Through new eyes, he takes in all of her—the tattered elegance of her gown, the wound in her chest left by his blade—but he lingers on her eyes.
There is a caring in them beyond any Malkanth has ever shown.
Then, the hushed voice returns, tearing into the corners of this being…
"See her for what she truly is.
"You were selfish in your quest for slaughter.
"Still, she forgives you.
"She simply asks that you afford her the same courtesy."
A lullaby hits the ear of Akrazul who is now Azavath.
As it shatters his essence, a tear crusts and clumps in the corner of his eye.
It felt good to let loose his wrath, but standing on the pile of his broken adversaries, he feels only relief, and love—and then he is gone.
His defeat was swift and anguished.
Zulmak, the conquering champion, was certain he would stand victorious and earn the right to be crowned the Swarm's new Prince—if not in blood, then in title.
But none had counted on Azavath and the full force of her true, brutal nature.
As the 'Singer's twin blades massacre all who dared enter the Pit, the gasps from the congregation echo off the darkened edges of the sheer cliffs, as if the ancient rock were cheering the relentless carnage.
As the bodies pile up one on top of another, there comes a calling only Zulmak can hear…
"This is your end, champion.
"But it needn't be.
"Give yourself to me, and I will see that you are made whole again."
Zulmak screams, defiant.
"I could take you and rend you over centuries in dark places where every moment is an eternity and all eternity is a fresh new hell born with each new scream.
"But I would prefer to see you rise once more.
"Let go and be freed.
"Let go and be transformed, that your rage might dwarf even that of the strange witch who cut you down.
"Let go and become a true and mighty weapon capable of extinguishing Light."
Zulmak's scream fades from his broken body and, were anyone paying attention, they would see a slight flicker as the almost-champion's essence is torn from this plane and secreted into another.
The Daughters have made their cuts and are moving to flee when Hashladûn feels a need to gaze once more into the Pit.
"Seek to uncover all you can from nightmares…"
A whisper came to her ear.
"Are they power?
"Or are they a curse?
"Seek your forebears in those ethereal shapes.
"For, while I could tell you such a path leads to disappointment, you must see for yourselves.
"Such is the need of Daughters desperate to impress their fathers.
"But do not lose yourself to despair when you discover Crota and Oryx are truly gone, o poor, lost child.
"For on the far end of that truth is another…
"It is time you and your siblings stood on your own.
"The Swarm—the Hive—need no Prince, no King.
"They need strength. Be that strength.
"Rise the Crimson Spire.
"Signal your coming.
"Challenge the Light.
"And when the 'heroes' come to condemn your proclamation of sovereignty and conquest, I offer this gift—the essence of your fallen champion.
"I know you question my motives, but we are sisters of a kind and bound by blood.
"And this gift will be one of many…
"Use it—birth a ravager to protect all you hope to build."
"What of the treacherous witch below? She and her siblings cost us much with their sinful games."
"That witch, in all her forms, is the patron saint of both your gifts.
"Her actions freed mighty Zulmak, that he might be remade and bound to your will."
"And the second offering?"
"The Choir of the Deathsong will rise from the failures of the Pit.
"Failures made possible by the siblings' ambitions.
"Ambitions that have granted you a champion and the Choir.
"Do with them all your fathers could not."
And then all is silent.
Somewhere, in a shadowed realm, the Whisper Queen smiles as she ponders death.
She has gifted the Swarm a weapon of beautiful, perfect destruction and a mighty champion—the means to move beyond their pathetic adherence to a sword logic beyond their grasp.
The Daughters will see these gifts as a boon—a rising tide to lift the Swarm and challenge the Light.
But a grander design is at play.
The bloodline of Oryx has run its course…
The luminous conquerors will come once more—they, the bringers of death. And the final, desperate gasp of a dead King's legacy will serve as an anvil upon which a new sword will be hammered, strengthened, and forged for wars yet to come—the purest extension of the logic's intent.