Crow’s Aspect was flying above the ‘scape. Directly beneath him the Daminion and Dimonble Highways connected, splitting the hellscape into its four respective quadrants. He was filled with the exhilarating sensations that came with flying. Though his Aspect was not solid, but was in fact made of pure mana, he could feel the senses that his body would normally pick up: the feeling of the wind against his face, the sense he was weightless and that the normal rules of gravity did not pertain to him.
He had left the city of Miffridge behind and was flying further north, towards the snow-capped Plaesil mountains.
Where am I being led? What is it I’m supposed to see?
A familiar voice spoke, seeming to come from the blackened sky: Soon you will see.
Sorry, you know me. I’ve always struggled with patience.
Just when it seemed like the mysterious being wouldn’t reply, it said, I know.
Crow now flew directly over the Plaesil mountains. He watched the villages passing below, their tiled roofs covered in snow, their windows glowing with pale, buttery light. In this part of the ‘scape vehicles and technology of any sort were near nonexistent. The people of the northern quadrant lived a very primitive life. Crow spotted his hometown, Annesville, a cluster of one-and-two story buildings. Spread further away from the town were a mixture of cottages and barns: farmland. With his heart beating faster in his chest, Crow deliberately looked away. He couldn’t bear to look at the spot where the house he’d grown up in used to stand on its hill, overlooking the town.
The Voice spoke once more. Humans are so confusing, the way you can feel more than one thing at once. How can you miss a place and hate it at the same time?
Yes, you aren’t very good at empathizing are you? Crow replied, though his mouth did not move; he was speaking completely from within. Even though you’ve been around since the dawn before time. I miss it because it’s where I was born. There was a sentimental value to it...and because I will probably never return.
The Voce was silent for a moment, an unseen spectre. The pause was one of consideration. Is this why you burned down the house after you buried her?
Crow felt his insides go cold. I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just get this over with.
The Daminion Highway continued to cut its path through the mountains, sometimes zigzagging around. At the very edge of the northern mountains, before the Plaesil Mountains turned into the Ubrios Waste, was the gated city of Fruimont. Crow felt his blood run cold and it had nothing to do with the chilly air.
What he saw before him was like something out of a horrifying, tragic painting. Or a nightmare. Men, women, and children fled through the streets, away from an army mixed with Scarlet Priests and Red Wraiths. People were being slaughtered, shot or sliced open; others, outside of the city's walls, were being crucified to wooden posts, left out in the cold to freeze to death. Never before had Crow seen anything so terrible.
I don’t want to see anymore, Crow told the being that communicated with him in his head, but the entity did not respond. He sensed the entity had gone elsewhere.
You always leave me when I need you most, Crow thought.
Still he flew further north, leaving the terrorized city of Fruimont behind. Now, like an eagle, he had a perfect aerial view of the Ubrio Wastes, or more aptly, the Graveyard of Forgotten Things. Like the Okanavian Desert, the tundra was full of empty cities, cities that had once stood prominent and tall in the days of the Old World. The frozen, metallic husks of vehicles dotted the icy landscape making Crow think of neglected childrens’ toys. This is the world the First Disciple envisioned when the First Caste gave him the power to reshape the world, the practitioner thought. A world full of harsh landscapes, demons, and bloodshed. We are but cattle awaiting the wrath of the Infernal Depths.
Up ahead was a strange castle that looked new...or at least newer. Though Crow had never seen it before, he knew what it was: The Church of the Red Order. The church sat atop an ice-capped mountain of craggy stone. Built in the Gothic style of the early days of the Old World, it was both majestic and foreboding, a thing of awe and terror. And coming from its dark, spired walls Crow could sense terror and pain. Many souls had died here and were trapped inside, still waiting to get out, unable to move on. They screamed, screams that had gone unheard for years, decades.
This is where your next journey takes you, said the entity, voice ringing from the sky.
I don’t want to go there.
You don’t have a choice. The High Priest is planning something big, something demonic, and it could end this world.
Perhaps it should end, Crow said, suddenly feeling tiny. Infinitismly tiny.
You don’t really feel that way, the Voice said in an offhand tone. Trust me and know the path I have chosen for you. It is inescapable.
And then Crow was falling, falling, falling.
Falling until his Aspect fell back into his body with a rushing sensation, his ears ringing with static. Somehow he was lying on his back, on the floor, looking up at the ceiling. His head throbbed from where he’d fallen and hit his head on the coffee table. He could taste blood in his mouth. He reached up and ran a hand over his face. When he looked at his hand it was bloody. Slowly he tried to get up, groaning from the effort. He’d used up a lot of mana while astral projecting. It would take some time for him to be able to replenish it.
He forced himself to stagger to his feet and stumble into the bathroom. He studied his reflection in the mirror. A small gash had opened where he hit his head on the coffee table; already a nasty bruise was starting to form. He grabbed a rag from the tub and scrubbed the blood away. The cut could be worried over later.
His business wasn’t finished yet, he thought.
It was time to see Loras.
He waited until morning, when first light showed itself. The sky was full of rain clouds. It looked like it was going to be another rainy, dreary day. The weather matched his somber mood. Several hundred miles away, in a city not so different from Miffridge, innocent people were being slaughtered by the Scarlet Church. Why they were doing this he could only guess. The Scarlet Church wasn’t exactly known for spreading goodwill. Funny that the Eurchurch is at war with them, Crow thought bitterly. They have so much in common.
The entrance to the Eurchurch was guarded by several guards.
“Hey,” one of them said, when Crow made to step past them. “What d’you think you’re doing?”
Crow stopped. “I have to see Loras Gyrell.”
“Show me your pass, then, assuming you have an appointment with her.” The guard wore a haughty expression on his face. Of course he was going to stand there and flex the power he’d been given.
Crow sighed. I don’t have time for this. “I don’t actually have one. But it is an emergency. Could you send someone to notify her?”
The guard looked at the practitioner as if he was insane, his eyes mockingly wide. He couldn’t have been more than a few years older than Crow. “You must be joking - it’s the ass crack of dawn.”
Crow bit back a snarky reply. He could feel his patience quickly waning. “Please. It’s very important I speak with her as soon as possible.”
The guard made a shooing gesture with a gauntleted hand; the other was supporting the rifle which sat snugly in the crook of his arm. “Go on. Get out of here. You don’t want things to get physical.”
Crow smirked. The process of losing his patience had already begun. “Or maybe I do.”
The guard’s eyes narrowed. He planted his hand against Crow’s chest and shoved him hard enough to send him falling. At his wit’s end, Crow sprang to his feet and punched the guard square in the face. The impact raced up his arm, stinging. It was as if he’d hit a brick wall; but the pain was strangely satisfying. Now it was the guard’s turn to fall on his ass, blood spurting from in between his gloved fingers.
Crow felt his arms being jerked behind his back. Metal bit into his hands as shackles closed around his wrists.