The Crimson Curtain
Darkness took hold of Agutrot, the sun too low to creep over its golden walls, now consumed in smoke and fire. Only the edge gleamed, drinking in the last few rays as it continued to descend towards Palridian, washing it in oranges and reds. The great dome of Terra, the home of its church, its namesake. It burned so bright, as if the clay itself had become the flames, rippling in the dusk. It was a beacon for all that followed the Earth Mothers and traveled in the night, offering them solace and warmth even in their darkest moments.
The city that rose around it was settling for the night. The bakery was long since shut, the closest to the entry and the first stop for many a pilgrim. It would be open again come the first kiss of dawn, already smoking and filling the town with the soft scent of bread. Homes, hospices were packed around it, ready to accept the weary travelers. There was always room, always another bed just waiting to be filled. The more inside the safety of those clay walls, the more that took comfort in its grounds, in the land blessed by the Dome those fortifications seem to emerge from; the more that sought protection and care from the Earth Mothers, the brighter and happier They were.
The smith, a farrier mostly now, quenched his furnace, hissing, steaming against the southern left corner. He wasn’t the last to have hung up his apron, but the tavern keeper never knew rest. That old, tough bird wouldn’t know what to do with herself if she wasn’t constantly worked at the Clipped Wing. She was the only Zephyrian in the town, most of the time even on that coast, but that’s how she liked it. She preferred being in the company of children, specifically men, of clay, and what better place than practically across from their church? There were buildings in the way, almost perfectly center to it. They were the homes of the esteemed, of the thirty pages, five ladies, six madams, and, of course, the Scion, but she knew the dome was there. She knew, as the pilgrims and the citizens of the town knew that her and her tavern were but a stone’s throw away. They would be in her place within hours, relaxing, and she would have yet another in her nest... unless one of the locals decided to ruin her fun.
None did this night, and the tavern was packed. Sadly, the news for the last two weeks has been a damper on its own. Those from Lam Berel still spoke of the Dread Pirate’s attack, his manifest of his resurrection. How could it not? He killed a madam. What’s worse was, though, was that he used her before doing so to slaughter innocents. The story was quickly mutated, as expected, made larger, grander with each retelling, and she must have heard from every end of the spectrum. Some believed she simply snapped and it was a mercy the Dread Pirate was there, while others believed he had tortured and sullied the madam to the point of begging for her death, that it would be a mercy than to continue to live with the guilt on her heart and the blood on her hands.
What did she think? She believed that a madam did die; why else would they send another, on a griffon no less, to that city? Regardless of the other details, of what else transpired, a madam died... as for the other story, about the lady that went rogue, well, she knew Lady Naomei, but that wasn’t saying much. The only thing predictable about her was how unpredictable she could be. This wasn’t the first time she had a flight of fancy; wouldn’t be the last, either. Shame, too. She enjoyed her chats with the lady, but maybe, just maybe, she could find what she was looking for at long last and settle that wanderlust... but what did she know?
That Zephyrian didn’t have time to wax philosophic; she had tired heads, thirsty bellies, and everything in between to contend with. Dusk slipped into her halls, night embracing the town, blanketed by it under the dome’s shadow, and yet it still burned. Its grand, stained glass doors clicked as they were opened, pages pouring out into the dusky street, a sea of red against the purple. They buzzed with such idle, joyous chatter, such empty-minded drivel after having to burn and bore gravitas and sermons into their minds, smiling.
Quickly, they all silenced, separating as Madam Hyld approached. They whispered, wondered why she was back already, their words, their tones inquisitive yet wary, curious yet anxious. The madam paid them no mind, lesser in all sense of the word, continuing onward towards those glass doors, each step confident, strong, knowing that nothing would stand in her way. There were two rooms on either side of the entry, shut, hidden behind heavy, ferrisom doors, but were left behind quick enough, passing through the crossing archway that formed under a pair of twin staircases, leading to even more rooms, more halls.
No, her focus was ahead, through another pair of twin doors. They, too, were stained glass, showing the four Mothers in soft, almost casual, display. The glass shuddered, threatening to break as she shoved them open, storming into the antechamber of the Scion. The three other madams were there, the ladies most likely still above, cleaning their halls, preparing for another long day of sermons, as well as the Scion on her throne. It was placed directly in the center of the dome, right under its peak, where the clay was replaced by glass. Regular, uncolored, non-tempered glass, in the middle of a sea of red, an eye of blue or black or even silver when the moon shined down upon her. The throne, itself, also stood out, made of marble and covered in soft, brightly-colored fabric. It was a thing of beauty, of extravagance, in an otherwise neutral, naturally-beautiful world, and a true shame it was being sullied by the likes of Scion Seyta.
The elder woman simply watched as Madam Hyld stormed up to her, her tired, jet eyes sparkling with just as much curiosity as those that tried to block her advances. Madam Lod grabbed at Hyld’s arm, Madam Aldus tried for her shoulder, but it was Madam Rosen that managed to slow her, even a touch, with her voice alone.
“What are you doing here?” She said, hurrying to the Scion’s side. Her wheat-colored hair bounded with each stride, each curl as thick as a fist, but they weren’t the only thing that bounced. She was the youngest madam, her green eyes still so bright and full of light, the rest of her body still full of such vim, vigor, and form. “Why have you returned?”
Madam Hyld came to a stop, right in between the throne and the entry, where pages and even a few ladies decided to come see... forgotten as the two other madams shut the doors.
“Valerie?” Madam Aldus said, leaning against the doors, while Madam Lod seemed to circle Madam Hyld, unable to ever stand in one place for too long. “Is everything okay?”
“No. Nothing is all right,” Madam Hyld said, and pointed at the Scion. “Not as long as this false prophet sits on the throne!”
Madam Rosen’s soft face turned to rage in a flash. Every part of her was tense, ready to leap... stopped, restrained as Scion Seyta held up her hand.
“Speak plain, Val,” the Scion said, giving permission. “What are you on about this time?”
“I Heard the Earth Mothers, Larkov, and they are on my side. They have grown angry at how... complacent we have all become. Even now, our pages are at the door, more interested in the drama and infighting than they are of their lessons and sermons, of the messages They gave us.”
The Scion sighed, shaking her head.
“I will not discuss the hypocrisy between those words and your actions, Valerie. I will not hear this a moment longer... Instead, we are going to discuss how you ignored my order and returned, and now have the gall to denounce me, in front of the other madams.” She leaned forward, resting her head on her thin, ragged fingers, glaring at Madam Hyld. “We have never seen eye-to-eye, Valerie, but you always followed orders. You were my most trusted, most diligent madam, but, after this, I have no choice... Gina.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Madam Lod said, starting towards Madam Hyld, reaching for her right arm.
Stopped by chains.
Madam Lod gasped, leaping back as those three silvery bands coiled out of Madam Hyld’s hand, sparking and sizzling as they snapped against the clay floor. She reined them back in, but kept them bared, clinking and lazing by her side.
“You dare?” Madam Aldus boomed behind. “Have you gone truly mad, Val?”
“Not mad. I have been... awoken,” Madam Hyld said, still pointing at the Scion. “I have seen the truth for myself, seen how weak we and our followers have become. The lessons no longer hold any weight, any respect or merit. Our pupils don’t have any ground, don’t hold anything that we teach with sincerity, and have become downright immoral... That bird in town, for instance. She preys upon pilgrims, yet not a single one of you has done anything about it. She leads our flock astray, and has been allowed to do so, against my outspoken, repeated demands for otherwise, for the last ten years... One of our esteemed ladies, the brightest, devoted one of them all, has been taken from us, chasing after a half-breed you allowed to live.”
She spat, splattering on the ground at the Scion’s feet, and inhaled, readying to continue.
“What have you done? Where’s your faith? Where are the Earth Mothers now, when such hubris and true hypocrisy have taken hold of the church, when their message has been twisted and forgotten... Terra, Herself, spoke to me. She told me all of this, commanded me to do what must be done. I didn’t ‘abandon my post’. I didn’t go against orders, for I follow the Will of the Mother, Herself, and she isn’t pleased with how little the Terrahn are valued. We are glorious chosen, yet we aren’t given any respect, any form of dignity, instead treated more as a joke... WE are the enlightened ones. WE are made in the very image of the Earth Mothers, Themselves. Not even Faun have that honor, blessed by them but only blessed. Only us Terrahn should have true say over the world, for we are the Earth Mothers true chosen. We Hear them. We Know them... and yet you squander that. You lie. You pretend to know what they want, acting as though they want compromise, appeasement, and acceptance from all when that is nowhere near the truth!”
“Are you just about done?” Scion Seyta said.
“I’m only beginning, for you have already brought the end. Are we to ignore the ever-increased numbers of Terrahn that turn to the Hallowed? Are we to ignore how many feel as if the Earth Mothers truly abandoned them and turn to such blasphemy! What have you done to fix it? Nothing! No, worse than nothing! You ‘negotiate’ with them. You ‘talk’ and treat them as if they are equals, when they had already spat in our faces. I spat at you, and you sit there as if it was nothing. The truth is you are nothing. You’re not the Scion of Terra. You’re not even the Scion of Ignes. You are a liar, a charlatan, and, by my word, the true word of the Mothers, you shall kneel! You will all kneel... or die at the behest of the true Scion.”
“And now you’ve done it, Val,” Madam Aldus said behind, chains clanking behind. “You’ve gone off your rocker.”
“Have I? Then why do those chains coil around you, instead?”
Madam Lod started to question, but went silent as all eyes, all attention turned to Madam Aldus. Indeed, the chains she summoned wound around her, burning, searing into her robes and the flesh under. No words could escape her rasping lips, the chains having closed around her neck first, and soon enveloped her entire body. The chains wound around the door handles, holding her there, only the hissing and clank of metal to be heard.
“What sort of black art is th-” Madam Rosen began to exclaim, shrieking as chains exploded from her next. They weren’t loosed from her palm like Hyld’s or Aldus, ripping through her shoulders and back as she, too, was quickly cocooned in them, left a heap on the ground. Madam Lod met a similar fate, leaving only Scion Seyta and Madam Hyld.
He cackled, allowing her to see him at last, smiling from ear-to-ear. His eye glowed, flickering, its lid incredibly heavy, matching the rest of his weary body... yet the Scion still didn’t change her demeanor. She still seemed almost bored, uninterested in all that had transpired.
“Well, well. Aren’t you a tough nut to crack,” he said, yawning.
“So Val finally found an accomplice. In the most unexpected of places and people,” the Scion said.
“I wouldn’t call it that. Instead, I think of it more as... divine intervention. Now.” He grabbed her face, held her eyes open as he loomed forward, reflecting her in his eye. “Look at my eyeball! And d-”
Madam Hyld shoved him aside, almost flinging him across the room. He tumbled twice, thrice, five times before he stopped, and growled as he stood.
“What gives?” He exclaimed.
“You’ve done most of the righteous deed,” Madam Hyld said, opening her pointing hand at last. Light had burned against her palm for so long, the skin blackened a little from the heat now searing, burning against the Scion’s visage. “Allow me to aid in its finale.”
At once, the light rushed from her palm, consuming the Scion in its brilliance. It scorched against the fabric, crackled against the clay floor, all sight lost to that flood, gone just as quick. There was no body left, only a shadow, a stain upon the marble, all that was left of the late Scion Seyta. Madam, rather Scion, Hyld released the chains from her other hand and rubbed her palm, washed in green, peeling away the blackened flesh and replacing it with soft, new skin.
“And so the Crimson Curtain falls upon the false idols, leaving the true believer as the next Scion,” she said, and glowered at Bubbles as he cackled.
“Yeah, yeah. You killed a bunch of holy farts and now are the top shit,” he said. “As long as you hold your end of the bargain, I don’t give a damn.”
“I cannot run a kingdom above and below the water, and I have no love for the Council. However, I don’t particularly care for your vulgarities, either.”
“My apologies then, dear Scion. I’ll take more care of how I speak and expand my lexicon when around you. After all, our will be done, indeed.”
He continued to cackle, stepping around her, ready to fall into that marble throne-
But was stopped by Madam Hyld, taking it instead.
“The Mothers have abandoned us.” She stated. “As have the Dark Ones. Power is the only true faith, and we shall rule all with two iron fists.”
“Our will be done.” He repeated, but already in his mind he could see her and this entire town on fire. Oh, how easy it would have been. How much he yearned for it... For now, though, he’ll play nice... but... soon enough.
He yawned again, having had enough excitement for the day, though he wondered what this would be considered. Regicide? Martyrdom? Something like this needs an entirely new term, something that would encapsulate how awe-inspiring he was... Bubbled? It’s like being terminated, but far worse. They were Bubbled... yeah... he liked the sound of that. Of course, it would be spun to demonize another, but at least he could be content knowing that he committed mass Bubbling.
But, again, the blame would be placed on another. They both had reason to make that half-breed’s life a living Hell, after all.