The Judge of the Reliquary of Light awoke in the usual way - a homunculi flew through the rose window of his chambers, alighted on his chest and merged its memories with his own. The Judge was more of a roiling beehive than a man on account of the robes of office he wore - a terracotta chestplate that housed sixty doll-sized creatures that could detach and take a copy of the Judge’s consciousness into the world. He wore it even when he slept, which was in fits and starts, lashed into an upright wooden frame with straps of fine silk.
The homunculi that woke the Judge had not travelled very far or for very long. It did not bring fresh news from the situation spiralling out of control in Nuiknaauiena, or an account of yesterday’s Council of Ämetatilelël, but an alarm from the grounds of the Reliquary itself. An orb had dropped from the sky and was hovering over the polo field. It was almost certainly an attack on the beating heart of the Order of Power.
The Judge undid himself from his sleeping frame and slapped at his breastplate to rouse the drones he had held in reserve. He was curious as to who might wish to attack one of the most heavily-armed places in the world but he knew that answer was secondary to the matter at hand. He opened the drawer of his dresser that contained his personal armament of Rings. He waved the most capable of his reserve drones into position on the dresser and fitted it with an assassination Ring around its waist along with the customary Ring for levitation. He pressed an up-to-date imprint of his mind into the little mandrake then took it to the windowsill and released it among the others. He watched the swarm of drones cycloned over the gardens to cover this strange invader with a good many eyes.
The orb was ascending when the drones caught up with it. The guards had been alerted but even among the ranks of the Reliquary Guard, which dripped with magical enchantments of the deadliest sort, flight was a rarity. The polo field was lit with useless lightning and fireballs on descending arcs while the most mobile of the guards chased after the retreating sphere. When the fliers came within reach of the orb’s stuttering surface, they fell, one by one, like moths at a candle flame.
The copy of the Judge operating from each homunculi recognised the pattern of the injuries - the awful spasming and the stuttered blasphemies. The drone that had been sent to watch Procurer Sayadaw had not returned from the fallen cavern in Nuiknaauiena, and the Sword she had promised to claim for the Order of Power had burned Viper’s Peak to the ground, lighting the fuse that trailed from the powder keg fuming in the North. He had wondered what role his bright Procurer would play in the drama of the Sword and the orb seemed to declar that she was among its stars.
The homunculi were not wired with circuits that Sayadaw’s Amulet could short, and the skein of the orb permitted them entry as if they were old friends. From the outside, the exterior and interior of the Library of Keskiisch appeared together in one writhing fractal, but on the inside the walls and domes and ground were where they ought to be. The drones fanned out, casting their dozens of beady eyes over a building the Judge had visited in person three or four times. They found the staff locked inside their offices and the Curators bound with sleeping rope in the depository. The ones that found their way into the collections were caught in nets strung up to receive them and crushed with an ordinary hammer.
The former Procurer Sayadaw was sighted in the Mordecai Auditorium. The floor of the hall was buried under a thatch of bizarre mechanisms. The mage sat in a nest of seeing-glasses and singing devices that had been erected on the stage. The Judge recognised a mastermind when he saw it. Sayadaw hurled arrows of light at the first drones, which immediately exited to fly in a recruitment pattern in the courtyard outside. The assassin homunculus, carrying the freshest imprint of the Judge, entered the Auditorium among a raft of its fellows. They drew Sayadaw’s fire while the assassin snaked towards its target. It twisted to activate its Ring, which came loose and flew ahead of the drone at many times the speed of sound. The result was quick, precise and definitive. Sayadaw slumped forward in her unearthly nest with a hole through her heart. The drones watched until all of her blood had drained from that hole, then returned to the Judge to deliver their reports.
The orb and its Library sailed away into the dawn without changing trajectory. The Judge mulled over each drone’s memories of the morning. With Sayadaw dead and the orb apparently careening away without guidance, he was pressed to organise a mission to rescue the staff of the Library. If that succeeded it could go a long way to strengthening the deteriorating relationship with the Order of Vitriol at a crucial time. He was troubled by how few drones had returned and the parts of the building they had not explored, but not nearly as troubled as he was when he received word that the Reliquary of Light had been emptied.
Kader received a hero of Vitriol’s welcome at the Library with a curt nod of acknowledgement from Ozige and a thoughtful look from Sayadaw when she took the bags containing the treasures of the Reliquary from her before disappearing down a corridor. Kader sat down on the marble tiles and unlaced her Boots. Ozige stood behind her, thought carefully about laying a sympathetic hand on her shoulder, then did so.
“She thinks she did it all,” said Ozige, “Because it was her idea.”
“It was mostly your idea,” said Kader to her feet. “We all talked about it together.”
“I know,” said Ozige. “And nobody else but you could have got into and out of the Reliquary during the carnage.”
“How’s the Captain?” asked Kader, with worry in her voice. The demon had insisted on being addressed by nothing else. Their role had been the most dangerous of all.
“The Captain is unravelled but sleeping in the Auditorium. The bakery is sending them a steady stream of loaves to eat and they are rebuilding themselves quickly. You predicted the Judge’s weapon of choice accurately, Kader. If he had elected to use something more dispersive then the Captain’s decoy might have been exposed.” Kader cheered a fraction at that news. She had seen the Judge’s creatures strike several times during her training. The cadets had passed the rumour around that the Judge contrived to have them all witness such things to deliver an implicit threat that would stay with them throughout their careers. Now she had all the more reason to fear the short, sharp blow that might come without warning in the night. The Judge would already have realised it was her hand that had snatched the Order of Power’s heart from out of its back.
“Where do we run to?” asked Kader.
“I think the Judge and the other tyrants of the Orders should be asking that same question to themselves,” said Ozige through the thinnest of smiles.
News of the raid on the Reliquary of Light spread with a suspicious speed. The forces that were tearing Nuiknaauiena apart to find Bahadur’s grandmother’s Sword were suddenly drawn to the smell of blood that poured from the Order of Power’s empty vaults. If the schisms were to come, then it is best to be the one holding the scalpel.
Once the Remnants once held in the Reliquary were grafted on to the body of the fledgling Ship and its compartments were filled with industry and recruits to work them, the people who lived there could no longer call it the Library of Keskiisch. As Sayadaw buried herself deeper and deeper in the office that Ozige had prepared for her the night she had returned from Viper’s Peak, around her grew an entity that resembled nothing less than an Order itself. A new Order that sailed through the sky, unassailable and mysterious. Its adherents had a radical new approach to the Remnants and used them towards a unique purpose. Whenever it descended upon the Earth, it brought terror or hope, but always left change in its stead. It became the herald of change, a usurper of powers great and small. Soon the world decided to call it what it was: the Order of Cataclysm.
Procurer Sayadaw was at the height of her powers when she ordered the world to be excavated.
Some acknowledgements I would like to make: The Fallen Necropolis, along with its strange tree, statues and the silvery falchion are all elements from ‘Something More Than Loot Itself.’
The Anarat archive is a reference to the loot bags lost in the desert in ‘A Cruel Fate.’ The author Mordecai is a character from the ‘Book of Enlightenment’ stories of Raulonastool. Violette is a character from ‘The Amaranthine Scrolls’ by Deepti Prakash and ‘Inquisitor Mortward’s Journal’ by FSwami, among others. Much of the conception of demons, as well as the idea that they may live inside loot bags, is taken from the ‘Fool’s Errand’ series by Quetzalcoatlia.
Specific Realms, Crypts and Genesis Adventurers are referenced from the Eternum atlas, as is the geography of the world.