Arc 3 Intermissions [III.1]

“The Eclipse Heresy”

Faction: Holy Empire of Solsea

Within the dark blue fog and marine snow, a miraculous cocoon suspended in the water.

Many-colored, silk-spun and hardened as concrete, a perfect teardrop shape.

Inside that cocoon was the most beautiful and perfect nymph.

Pale as foam, so soft and smooth. Her thin body curled up in sleep. Arms resting over her breasts, legs drawn in to her belly. Her red hair gently falling over sloping shoulders.

She was growing. Her wings would burst out of the cocoon someday.

Like twin rainbows rising from the shell. On those wings she would fly away forever.

Leaving behind this dead world.

All she needed was the shelter of her cocoon, and the peace with which to grow.

But one day, greedy hands began to search the exterior of her cocoon for a weakness.

Slipping between the colorful layers of the shell an intruder nestled behind the nymph.

Shadow where she was light; monochrome where she was color; a changeling slender and smoke-grey and long-haired, its body a corrupted mirror of her own, pressing upon her.

Cold fingers laid bloody red scratches on her easily-giving skin. She shivered and grimaced in her sleep. It was as if her shadow had begun to embrace and engulf her. She felt the piercing of teeth on her shoulder tearing her flesh open, and her back arched involuntarily from the pain. Felt the harsh grip of arms around her body, gasping for breath, her slender neck in a vicegrip, her legs unable to kick at her attacker, and a bloodcurdling whisper at her nape–

You can’t escape me now.

Inside the cocoon the nymph screamed, trapped in the violent embrace of the intruder.

No matter how much she struggled, the creature tearing at her could not be shaken.

Held down and tortured as she was, she would never get to spread her wings.

Aubrey Jurgen was lucky to live in the Holy Empire.

This is what she told herself every morning, as she left her room in the lowest tier of the station and took an elevator up three floors to a seafood restaurant in the commercial circle of the Torun station complex. She would put on her apron, try to hold her gut in place by sheer force of will, and braved the backroom of the restaurant to prepare fish.

Hers wasn’t a highly sought after skill. It wasn’t a career. She worked with fish, washed plates, set up stitcher machines and burners and ovens. She washed salt off preserved salted fish, cleaned brine out of pickled fish, and she gutted and cleaned frozen fish.

She did this every day. It was work.

There was always fish. That meant, there was always pay. That meant, there was life.

She had to be happy to be getting paid; had to be.

In the Holy Empire, like everywhere in the Empire, this Aubrey and any Aubrey would be working five or six days on, broken up by sabbath or the occasional holiday. She was working for Imbrian Marks, still used by the Holy See, five hundred of which she earned every two weeks, seven hundred of which went to paying her room, and the rest to food and upkeep.

Aside from the occasional alms, the Holy Empire still expected its lambs to pay the merchant men their due for bread, meat, greens, and the very fish she gutted every day. They still expected the landlords to be paid for rooms. But she was lucky to live in the Holy Empire. Because the Holy Empire wasn’t like everywhere else, she had been told, and she told herself as well, because she had to believe it to live: the Holy Empire was a godly place. It was a righteous and correct place. Rhinea, the Palatine, Buren and Veka, these were godless places of the devil where the soul was forfeit, the body was excoriated, and the mind was depraved.

Working at the seafood restaurant did not forfeit Aubrey’s soul or excoriate her body or deprave her mind; because she lived in the Holy Empire, and so she was one of God’s lambs.

And that God was Solceanos, the great sun that warmly awaited humanity beyond the water.

Solceanos and Solcea ever looking down upon her from above. She was lucky; lucky that God was watching her gut fish. She was lucky to leave in the evening with 40 marks in the pocket.

Out there, she would have been nobody. In The Holy Empire of Solcea, she was God’s lamb.

God’s lambs earned their 40 marks a day and liked it.

Troubled by these thoughts as she stared down another day in the briny, fishy backroom, holding the gutting knife in her hand. She stared at the knife, stared at the fish, stared at her hand, thought deeply dark thoughts, and made the decision to stop doing so. Her body made the decision to put the knife in the fish. One more blessed second in God’s holy kingdom.

But when she stuck the knife in the fish this time, she immediately sensed something wrong.

Soon as it crossed the barrier of the fish’s scaly skin, the blade drew a squirting spray of foul smelling red brine. Foul enough to stand out in a room that permanently smelled like fish and their innards. Aubrey lifted her free arm to her face, covering her mouth with her elbow. Her chest heaved with the immediate desire to spill her own guts. She turned away, but she heard the liquid dribbling onto the ground from the edge of the table. How much was inside?

Overcome with sickness, Aubrey uncharacteristically dropped her tools and sprinted, nearly tripping over her own feet on the wet floor of the dim, cluttered backroom. She ran to the back office, where her manager had been working behind a computer desk. As soon as she crossed the door, the smell on her prompted him to stand up, exclaim, and back away.

Thankfully, they had a strong deodorizer spray in the equipment storage.

“It’s Katov mass.” said the manager, staring at the fish on the board and the mess on the floor. “Good god and all that is holy– it smells horrible. But it’s nothing too unusual.”

He was thankfully not angry at her. Aubrey sighed deeply.

On the board, the fish had completely deflated and flattened out.

As if it had been nothing but a bubble of katov mass wrapped in the skin of a fish.

“If its Schechter salinity value is low enough, it’s not really dangerous to humans.” the manager said. For a brief, terrifying moment, Aubrey thought he might be asking her to feed this to a customer. But he continued, “This one smells too bad though. Throw it out. If you find any like that, you know what to do. Use your best judgment, okay? I trust you with it.”

He patted her on the back and walked away nonchalantly.

Aubrey pushed the nasty Katov fish into the same trash can she used for the guts.

She sprayed down the board, and the floor.

Then she reached into the rack full of fish from which she drew the objects of her work.

Putting down another dead fish on the table, staring at it.

However, the excoriation of poor Aubrey’s senses would not end there.

As she cut one–

-after another

and a third,


until she began to wish again to gut herself instead, to be freed of the smell of Katov mass.

And also began to wonder whether she had run afoul of God.

“Bow your heads in supplication! Do you pray every day? You had better start! The Eclipse is soon to fall upon us! When the shadows extend out over the Holy See, the dark angels will slay the wicked! Only those who open themselves to be saved and who resist the greed of the tempters and temptresses will survive! Where will you hide from God’s judgment?”

People stood around the figure, clad in a covering black robe and cloak, surprised not just by the intensity of their voice and the bizarre message– but the very fact of a doomsayer was very rare and strange. The Empire of Solcea was a theocracy where the church had become the primary political organ. Local functionaries like station mayors and regional governors had been replaced by Bishops and Patriarchs, and the church managed all appointments to public office. Those who watched as the doomsayer in the park proclaimed the end of days could only help but wonder if this carried some political meaning against the church.

Solceanos’ teachings did not contain these lines. Solceanity was supposed to be a religion of humility, supplication, alms (and donatives.) It was about living with the world as it was, knowing one’s place, and exalting the God who made it possible for life to continue. In the secular world, a doomsayer was just a doomsayer, but in Solcea, what did it mean?

And what did it mean when the Securitas police approached the doomsayer with batons drawn? What did mean, the onlookers wondered, when they beat him quiet and dragged him away? Somehow, the message stuck in all of their minds. There was a sense of disquiet.

Especially when, the very next day, in the very same park– there were more.

Preaching repentance before the coming of the great Eclipse.

Unfailingly polite as more curious people approached them with questions, or jeers.

Unflinchingly stalwart as the police beat them too.

Soon, the sight became more common. And the confusion began to clear up.

More people saw clearly the coming darkness. And more people sought forgiveness.

Beneath the notice of the closed eyes of the Holy See, a wound had been opened.

And in its spilled blood, there was a spreading contaminant.

The Holy Empire of Solcea had spent the months since its founding in a state of confusing dysfunction. The secular state of Skarsgaard and the Holy See of the Solceanos Church had been in a cold war for much of their living memory, and the church had dreams of what its victory looked like. At its highest echelons, the ascendant Church hierarchy dreamed of a nation that would strictly follow Solceanist creed and subjugate the population with piety.

In reality, the dream of Solcea was a material nightmare replete with very secular problems.

Skarsgaard had already been a state subject to great neglect. Even before his abdication to seek scandal in the court of Prince von Fueller, the former duke Carthus had been uninvolved in the day to day running, and had set no policy agenda for the state. Perhaps in his mind, his late father had set a foundation that could simply be allowed to run, like clockwork– but it was hardly the case. Skarsgaard had become underdeveloped and dependent.

A nation of corrupt bureaucrats captive to regional interests, Skarsgaard was headed for turbulent waters without Rescholdt-Koldt in the north and Khosvgol in the south to fill its markets with goods. The Imbrians had never invested much in the competitiveness of the native industry inherited from the old Gallic Kingdoms. Looking only at the numbers, Skarsgaard had a stable and functional economy. But it was a highly dependent one, that got by on being permissive and deferential to the juggernaut firms of its neighboring states.

Pontiff Millennia had some idea that the nation was troubled. Having been a former heiress to the state, she knew some of her family’s unambitious running of its institutions, and knew that appointments to high office were far from meritocratic; and as Pontiff, she had seen first-hand the people who ran the government, in their dealings with the church. Craven and self-interested, easily swayed by bribes and favors. During the breakup of the ducal states, Pontiff Millennia discovered first-hand how weak the state apparatus of Skarsgaard had become, as businessmen and political lackeys panicked and fled every which way, local branches of exterior enterprises attempted to uproot all their infrastructure back to their home states, and the remainder of the government was utterly paralyzed by the chaos.

Solcea was also militarily weaker than the Vekan Empire, who held a qualitative and quantitative advantage in troops– as well as the Bureni nationalists, whose militias were battle-hardened and experienced in open warfare. Outside of Pontiff Millennia’s closest units, the performance of most of the Solcean military in a war was held suspect. This meant that any ambition of taking the fight to her neighbors right away and simply stealing their vast stocks of resources was a pure fantasy. She would have to walk the middle road.

As a state, Solcea was born brain-dead and bleeding out, but it still clung to its life.

Upon assumption of the newly-declared throne of the Solcean Empire, Millennia used the Papal Guard and remaining Skarsgaard Navy to violently put down capital flight, sicced the police, now renamed Magistratus Securitas, on both the population and on fleeing merchants, and successfully shut the porous borders to Veka and Buren. She appointed administrators from the church to oversee the transition and bureaucratic renewal. Her new state was led by learned men and women who gained experience managing people, projects and funds under the auspice of the church– but not spectacularly qualified for governing.

Still, it was good enough to staunch the bleeding.

But the wound was not closed. It had scabbed over, but the pain of the cut lingered.

Solcea’s economy continued to be a mess, and it became incumbent on a state that still nominally believed in capitalism to insert itself into business to keep goods flowing. Subsidizing agriculture, offering credit to buoy ailing industries, encouraging alms to rally the poor around the churches, offering as much debt relief as a finance industry livid at the state of things would allow. Discussions with Veka and Buren allowed for the reopening of perhaps 30% of their former business in the state, overcoming a cacophonous distrust.

The Holy Empire of Solcea had talked a big game in naming itself and establishing its independence, but now played exclusively soft power. The Holy See supported Solceanos worship and the lambs of God everywhere they resided. They did not wish war on their neighbors and were simply taking the role of protecting the Church and its holy sites, and the Pontiff wished for peace and normalization of relationships with the warring factions.

Because Pontiff Millennia could do nothing else with what she had.

Particularly because, ultimately, like her sibling, she was uninterested in the state.

Millennia quietly began to retreat over the weeks and entrust more of the state’s running to subordinates. As things became difficult and distracting, she more and more saw her mind drift elsewhere. She just needed Solcea and its infrastructure to survive and provide shelter and sustenance. The rest of her journey as a ruler was purely spiritual. If her beliefs bore out, the material consequence of the state would no longer matter. This was merely the cocoon to a beautiful butterfly struggling to be born, to stretch its wings, and leave it all behind.

All the rabble needed to do was cling on for as long as possible.

And that was what they were doing with great difficulty–

until the shadow of something older than the Imbrium itself began to creep into Solcea.

“I can almost see it. I can almost see it. If I could just touch it. Just for a second.”

She mumbled to herself, prostrated in front of a mechanism set upon an altar.

Around her, what was once a room for stocking religious relics, had become home to the purple glow of an eerie machine. An industrial-looking thing, half as tall as the room, glass panels unveiling complex innards. Powerful magnetic fields kept in place a cube of dimly glowing Agarthicite, which, reacting to the field, turned in random intervals to random angles within the containment chamber. Parts of the mechanism containing the fist-size piece of Agarthicite released beads of carbon into the enclosure. These would be stricken by bright purple bolts that lit up the room– and the face of Millennia von Skarsgaard.

She clapped her hands together and stared into the annihilating purple glow.

Had her will been any less, she may have felt dizzy or had her eyesight shot by it.

But her mind was sharpened to a steel edge even as her flesh protested.

Around her gathered bright colors of aura, but these quickly coalesced into a soft, smoke-white aura that thrummed nervously around Millennia’s figure. From this cloak, a single finger of aura stretched between the kneeling Millennia, and as if suspending the instant of destruction, the aura passed through the enclosure to touch the carbon as it annihilated.

In that instant, the world before her eyes flashed.

For a second or two, she had left the dimly lit room in the depths of her palace.

Before her eyes she saw a blue sky as far as she could see. Sparse white clouds hovered over a vast stretch of grassland that rose and fell. Far downhill of her, there was a walled city, and the sea beyond. Smokestacks indicated industry. Millennia could feel the surroundings; humid, green, smelling of the earth. There was life. Insects, birds, small mammals.

This was the paradise that the ocean had not claimed. Its people had not fallen.

A world of hope flitted before her eyes.

She could see it, smell it, feel it, almost touch it–

But she could not stay.

In the instant after fleetingly experiencing this world, she felt as if her head split open.

Her burning, weeping eyes blinked and returned to the old relic chamber.

Her bright, sun-lit world and its blue sky became metal walls and dim purple light.

Pontiff Millennia screamed at the top of her lungs, dug her fingers into her head.

Blood dribbled down her nose until she could taste it on her lips.

She fell on her side and kicked and screamed, not just from the pain but from frustration.

She was there! She had been to another world! Why couldn’t she stay?

Why couldn’t she escape the hopeless prison of this dead planet?

For minutes she struggled until the pain receded and she had shouted herself hoarse.

Then her body went limp with hopelessness for several minutes more.

Until, wordlessly, almost mechanically, she pushed herself back up to her knees.

Clapped her hands back together as if in prayer.

And stared up at the demonic purple ore in the mechanism, her pleading renewed.

Divination was exceedingly difficult. Salvatrice’s visions acted in her dreams, but that wasn’t good enough. Millennia needed to understand the mechanism of it, and she had been studying it, deliberately working to induce visions and control them, for weeks now.

Using the “Gift” known as Oracle’s View, an expression of the Oracle’s Voice, allowed her to render visible the paths of the aether around her, and to experience the aether’s changes; it became clear to her that aether was a map of human activity past, present and future.

Theoretically, she believed a powerful enough psychic could force into existence a trace of a future farther and farther distant, or extract traces of a past farther and farther back.

Aether was not simply raw emotion either.

Oracle’s View allowed her to see a semblance of the actions that would disturb the aether in addition to their emotional character which was evident in their color. A strong red line of an incoming punch; the doomed black miasma of a human headed to death. These did not just carry their emotion as information in the color, but carried evidence of the activity itself within the texture, within the trace– all of this could be exposed by the Oracle’s View.

Theoretically, this was what she observed when she first started experimenting.

Premonitions; visions of the past. Her own past and future; those of objects; Salvatrice’s.

And then, during her experimentation, Millennia realized that she had been correct about an earlier assumption. Her visions were not contained to the past and future of Aer. Because she could disturb the future enough to change it, and then change what she saw each time in those controlled conditions– it meant she and the Aether were not acting in straight lines.

Like a Diver pilot learning to fight in three dimensions, Millennia stepped aside.

That paradigm shift, that confirmation of her greatest hope, allowed her to rattle her cage.

Rather than the past or future, forward and back, she was sidestepping, climbing, descending.

With this realization, she became able to trace Aether that left this world altogether.

To leave the world, however, the Aether needed to be affected by a massive force.

Millennia nearly died attempting to send her Aether out of Aer by herself.

Then she found herself leaning upon that most reliable and old ally of humanity.

An Agarthic annihilation released enormous amounts of short-lived power.

Using an agarthic centrifuge, she could annihilate carbon and release that power.

Within the purple glow of the agarthicite she finally found the glimpse of what she wanted.

On command, she could see another world.

However, she could only observe seconds of these worlds at most.

Even with her prodigious study, constant practice, and natural talent– any further stretched than this and her body would start to deteriorate from the feedback. She had hoped that the “Gifts” which Salvatrice had uncovered in her dreams could be used to sidestep such requirements, but there was no such luck. Manipulating aether was less taxing than directly manipulating human minds, but it had its limits too and she could not defeat them.

She had quickly mastered the Oracle’s Voice and Saint’s Skin— and yet she still fell short.

Especially when taken into account that simply viewing another world was not her ultimate goal. She had to escape– she had to be able to completely escape from this dead world–

“We can see worlds that are not dead like this one. Therefore– aether must be capable of traveling– and therefore, if the aether is not bound to this Aer, then I– I could go–“

Not just between the latticework of humanity as it existed on Aer– but beyond Aer itself.

Even if it destroyed the worthless body she had in this doomed and worthless planet, it would not matter as long as she could start over in a thriving world. However, she had to be sure, she had to be completely sure that she could exist corporeally on the other side.

Theoretically, it had to be possible– it had to be.

There was no room in her mind for Millennia to consider she might be crippling herself over nothing. To live in a fallen and degenerate world with a fallen and degenerate body– no. Transcendence had to be possible. It was the only outcome. Any sacrifice was worth that end.

And all throughout, her efforts were watched on every side by portraits and iconography of Solcea, the god that she had foisted like a veil over the wretched people of this world.

Solceanos and Solcea, together the one divinity representing the sun. Sun as father who watched and judged and disciplined; Sun as mother who nurtured, warmed, and fed. She knew that, long, long ago, this father/mother God was much more metaphorically the sun, far less concrete– but ultimately there was no difference whether the God was literally the Sun or some Pater figure that was more concretely human. These Gods represented control, discipline, subordination and self-denial. Instruments of worldly power. Ten commandments; birth and resurrection; feast and famine. These were ultimately tools of social manipulation.

And yet–

sometimes, their monuments and artworks instilled in her the fear of an ignorant believer.

As if they knew somehow that the Church had perverted their intentions.

Nothing in the scripture spoke of tithes, papal guard levies, church hierarchy and lines of succession. It spoke of alms that were not given; it spoke of a heaven that was denied.

When she spoke, it was to organize believers and exploit them to the Church’s advantage.

By enforcing the discipline of Solceanos, did they spread His intention for humanity?

“It doesn’t matter– none of this matters– Solcea won’t follow me beyond here.”

Solcea must have also been a prisoner of this dead world.

Her hands were shaking. She wasn’t eating or drinking well. It didn’t matter–

She dropped to her knees in the divination chamber, clasped her hands together in prayer.

Drew her eyes wide open and summoned the power again.

Oracle’s Voice.

White aura blew out of her and spread across the relic chamber.

Around her the aether became visible again, its movements palpable, readable, predictable

Saint’s Skin: Vestment.

Her own aether flared and she focused all of her mental efforts on prayer, sublimity–

Stark white aether began to overtake most of her aura, but a band of yellow and black.

Rising up from her into the core centrifuge was a band of muddy white aether.

Soon as she released it, her mind split into the twin focuses, of tracking it, and offering it up.

Immediate pain, but manageable, just a twist of a razor scraping the surface of her brain.

Oracle’s View.

Her gaze became singularly focused again upon the aether being offered up.

Then the mechanism was fed beads of carbon that it would immediately destroy.

Her aura was affected by the annihilating purple glow.

And the pain intensifying in her head.

Digging, micrometer by micrometer through her brain, but she could endure it, she could clench her shaking hands harder and grind her quivering teeth tighter together. She could endure the pain and continue to trail the aether into the agarthic centrifuge, into the bolts of annihilating energy. Through the prism of destruction left in the wake of that purple glow, for the briefest instant. Paradise had to lie beyond it; it simply had to.

Her aether crossed the threshold through the purple glow.

Then, Millennia saw something she had never seen before.

She had been expecting the lush grasslands and industrial cities she had seen before.

But what she witnessed seemed even closer to paradise than ever.

When the dim metal walls of her world dissolved again, she found herself standing on a place with dusty grey soil dotted with small puddles of water. She found herself dwarfed by absolutely vast, gargantuan, silver structures, that she likened to tree trunks because they had complex systems of roots digging into the surrounding soil, and massive webs of branches that blotted out the sky above. Between these trees, all manner of colors danced in long ribbons and loops that were simultaneously like lights and like rivulets of fluid.

In the midst of these titans, her soul felt at ease.

For a moment, as she watched the colors dance and the wind singing between the densely packed forest, as the dew trickled down the great silver trunks. Her body felt light; there was no longer pain; and she felt so free. All of her burdens lightened amid the kind trees.

Millennia took a step forward, and the world did not disappear.

She took a second and a third. She was beside herself.

Her haggard face, the deep black bags under her eyes, the filthy bloody trails down her cheeks, all of it stretched and lit up with a hopeful smile. Was she– had she made it–?

Then, as she continued to take her first steps into what she thought was another world–

A figure appeared in front of her, impeding her way, entering her space.

Touching her body. Face to face.

A thin woman with an eerie presence suddenly grabbed her.

Long red hair, a pale face, a single horn, a white robe that looked like animal skin.

Her face was almost as sallow, sickly pale as Millennia’s own.

Yellow on black eyes with bags as deep and dark as her own fixed her with a sadistic gaze.

A smile played across the creature’s lips as she stared deep into Millennia’s eyes.

“I know where you are now.”

From her silhouette spread a wave of yellow aura that was choking and sickening.

In the next instant, a renewed pain overwhelmed Millennia–

She collapsed back onto the floor of the relic chamber, screaming like never before.

The door to the relic room swung open. A woman in a dark blue nun’s habit walked into the room, her short pink hair disorderly, as if she had just dressed, and her gait quick and agitated, clearly in a hurry. She flipped on all of the lights in the room and let out a gasp.

Salvatrice Vittoria found the Pontiff in the midst of her agony.

She knelt down next to her and held her close while she screamed and wept incoherently.

“Millennia. Please return to your senses. Something is happening.”

Salvatrice, officially something like a majordomo, had no political power whatsoever.

Despite having a terrifying insight into what was to come.

She held the holy woman in her hands for several minutes, until her glassy, tearful eyes finally displayed a hint of recognition. Millennia’s gaze began to scan the room again, and fell upon Salvatrice. She shut her eyes, breathed in and out. Wherever she had been, Millennia von Skarsgaard had finally returned to the world that she so adamantly despised.

“I don’t need you to coddle me.” Millennia said. “I am doing just fine without intervention.”

Millennia looked far from fine. Her skin was discolored, and she had deep black bags under her eyes. Her hands were shaking, and she struggled to stand without assistance. She looked smaller than ever in her overwrought papal garb that she hadn’t changed in days. Over the past few weeks she had lost weight, eating irregularly and in poor amounts while she obsessed over her experiments. Her red hair’s luster was starting to dim– there were strands of lost hair scattered throughout as she walked around the little room she had colonized.

“I’ll forego comment on whether or not you look ‘fine’.” Salvatrice began. “But the world outside this room requires your attention again, Millennia von Skarsgaard. I fear that we are starting to lose control of events again, and I am unable to take command myself.”

“Losing control of events?” Millennia mumbled. She turned suddenly. “Did you see–?”

“No! I did not have a vision. Millennia, the material world is giving us enough omens.”

“Fine! I will leave the room! Just tell me what happened!

Millennia pressed her for details, and Salvatrice began to tell the dire tale.

The Patriarchate of Sandomierz was a region with four stations just west of the capital at Amaryllis. Every station had its own native industries and commerce, but the region was not exactly known for anything. It was simply a home to its people. After the transition to Solcean rule, Sandomierz’s regional government was replaced with rule by the local Patriarch, Andrezj Buzun. Sandomierz was a particularly troubled region during the transition, because of its lacking resources and largely lower class population.

Buzun had become particularly sensitive to criticism due to the circumstances. He had been particularly called out during the transition by a local bishop, Mikolaj Szymanski. He blamed Buzun for hiding in church property with ample supplies while people went hungry. Buzun had interpreted the criticism as social climbing on Szymanski’s part, and was wary of his actions post-transition, obsessively clinging to his Patriarchate and paranoid of rivals.

Things seemed to stabilize in the following weeks post-transition, but recently, word began to spread in Sandomierz of a heresy from Zazisce Station. Misinformation about an incoming solar eclipse, and with it the ascendance of “angels from the eclipse’s shadow,” led to street worship, marches, unsanctioned gatherings, and other strange outpourings of passion.

Theologically this was completely against anything Solceanos’ church taught. Solceanos was the eternal sun, their angels were angels of bright light, not shadow, and there was no one in Solcea monitoring the “secular” sun for upcoming eclipses anyway. Such silliness would normally come and go on its own in a secular government, but Buzun was touchy.

The Eclipse Heresy came to be viewed by the Patriarchate in Sandomierz as a protest against theocratic rule. Buzun believed the inverted theology was demonic in nature, and corrupting the youth; his more secular bureaucratic cohort believed that the Heresy could have been a code language for covering up anti-government organizing. Even more pressing to Buzun was the fact that the heresy began in Zazisce, the bishopric of Mikolaj Szymanski.

Whatever the heresy truly meant to anyone, Buzun interpreted it as “Szymanski’s move.”

And so, Buzun made his own hard move against it.

He deployed the Magistratus Securitas against Zazisce, raiding Szymanski’s churches for evidence of planning. Observers of the heresy intervened, blocking access to roads and to the churches themselves in the corridors of Zazisce. This prompted the Securitas to crack heads indiscriminately. The situation devolved entirely out of control from there. Szymanski was killed without cause as he showed support to the civilians being beaten, and he died never once acknowledging the heresy. Civilians fought back in whatever way they could, and then the station’s civil administration collapsed in a wave of defections and resignations– allowing the protestors access to the station controls and to better equipment. Now they could control access and surveillance, and began to beat back the rampaging Securitas.

“Good lord.” Millennia grumbled. She did not care about the civilians, she had no sympathy for them, but she would not have reacted with such wanton violence had she been in Buzun’s place. That the civilians were being violent tit for tat with the police was quite shocking to her, but there was a clear cause and effect there would not have been if that man had shown tact. With a situation this aggravated, bringing things back under control would be difficult.

“What is the situation now?” Millennia asked.

“Zazisce is in a state of anarchy, and Sandomierz station is experiencing the effects. Buzun was found dead in his own bedchambers. There are signs that it was a murder. Local and regional government is paralyzed. Nobody wants to take responsibility now.” Salvatrice said.

“Buzun died? How the hell? Do we have camera footage, anything?” Millennia asked.

“The Securitas is investigating.” Salvatrice said.

“Civilian rioters can’t have done that. They must have organization behind them. You can’t convince me that a bunch of lowlifes from Zazisce can suddenly assassinate the Patriarch.”

“I agree. But you need to give the orders as to what to do next.”

“Right. Yes.” Millennia ran a hand over her face. “I need– makeup. Clean clothes. Food.”

“Of course. I’ll help you clean up and marshal your strength.” Salvatrice said.

“We need to capture some of these rioters. We can drag information out of them.”

Millennia started forming a plan in her mind.

The Papal Guard could cordon off the station, and start dragging people into ships, where they would await psionic evisceration at Millennia’s hands. She would get to the bottom of this– it might even be a good test of her psionic abilities. Flexing the muscles on living, resisting targets. Perhaps that’s what she needed to achieve transcendence.

A challenge; there was no time to waste then.

“Call the ministries for me while I eat too. I want a video broadcast ready to every Solcean station as soon as I am looking presentable enough for it.” Millennia said.

“Absolutely, your holiness. I am overjoyed to see you finally coming out of this room.” Salvatrice said. “I only wish your emergence was under more pleasant circumstances.”

Millennia looked at Salvatrice with sad, tired eyes.

“I wish I could have known you under more pleasant circumstances.” She said.

Salvatrice’s own gaze softened. “Indeed, your holiness.”

That woman constituted perhaps the only thing Millennia would miss of this dead world.

Even so, she knew she had to escape. To leave this chaos behind for good.

For now, she had to think of a way to quell the chaos at least temporarily, however.

In a televised address broadcast across Solcea, Pontiff Millennia von Skarsgaard condemned the violence in the streets and churches of Zazisce. She criticized the escalation by the local authorities, but much more strongly demanded that civilians desist in their resistance and assemble peaceably. She decreed that there would be investigations into the security response as well as any violent offenses by civilians. Whether this had any effect, she wouldn’t know– right after the broadcast, she was already preparing to depart Amaryllis.

Millennia summoned a small vessel and a contingent of Papal Guard. Not wanting to be seen making a disproportionate show of force, she left the Irmingard-class Annointed One in Amaryllis along with her Paladin-General Rosemont. Instead she sailed out in a Marder-class Frigate along with a retinue of fifty decent men and women, twenty-five in power armor. The Papal Guard had no special forces, no troops dedicated to intelligence or reconnaissance, and limited experience in combat, but she could at least trust them to be disciplined.

From Amaryllis to Sandomierz and Zazisce was two day’s sail at max speed.

During that time, Millennia remained in her private chambers with her stomach churning.

Quietly but obsessively gathering information about what had transpired during her retreat.

And every so often, thinking back to her final vision.

That forest of massive silver trees; and the fiend that confronted her in their midst.

The way that creature had seized upon her body and looked into her eyes.

It unsettled her; but the world was calling her away from her dreams.

There was no place where order was as upset as it was in Zazisce, but the Empire of Solcea was not sustainable. She had not intended for it to be: her designs did not lie with this world. It simply needed to satisfy her material needs until her escape– but it couldn’t even do that.

Even with trade from Veka and Buren, prices of food and materials were slowly rising. Wages were depressed, and unemployment remained high as industry failed to recover. Her church was failing in its task of governing as well: alms-giving had fallen, government projects lay neglected, funds were mismanaged, and public officials bickered and vied for influence.

All of this in three months since the transition. It beggared belief.

She knew her church wasn’t spotless, and that many of her lackeys were corrupt and vain people; but she never imagined they would be so ineffective when given power. They had run decently tight ships when it came to their religious duties, so what happened to them? Was it really only their fear of her authority that had kept them in line all these years?

Was the Imbrium simply cursed to be unable to exist without a dictator?

They needed her to rule them; after her retreat, Solcea was all too easily falling apart.

Millennia thought bitterly about the retreat and death of the Emperor Fueller.

How could she possibly escape from this world if she had to manage it so closely?

Thinking about it all made her cling tighter than ever to Salvatrice in bed.

She never wanted to let go.

But Salvatrice’s ministrations could only do so much. By the time they arrived in the waters of Zazisce, Millennia was almost back to looking as haggard as she had been in the relic room. Her ambitions were crumbling all around her; all of her dreams looked ever more and more distant. She felt her skin pressing tighter on her flesh than ever, felt the weight of her bones and body fat like never before. Aer, this dead world, tightened its grasp on her.

“We have to settle this episode quickly.” Millennia told Salvatrice.

Barely disguising the note of desperation in her voice.

“We will arrange a meeting with representatives of the rioters, to lure them out.”

“And what then?”

Millennia flashed the red rings around her irises. It was enough of an implication.

“You must assist me as well.” She said.

Salvatrice bowed her head in deference. “Of course.”

If she was lucky, she could potentially end the confrontation bloodlessly.

Had it been feasible she would have wrung the entrails out of every one of those peasants for their insane defiance, but she needed Solcea to withstand this crisis. Being able to say she ended the bloodshed would hopefully have a stabilizing effect throughout the duchy. It would likely result in more of the incompetent bureaucracy relying on her–

–but one problem at a time.

The Marder-class Frigate Exigo approached Zazisce and received permission to dock from the occupiers. Zazisce was an interior station with larger surrounding stations in its region, so unlike larger stations, it had no military defenses. So even the darkly cunning rioters that had hijacked the station controls could do nothing against approaching vessels. Thankfully.

Millennia had a brief discussion with the port control staff about her visit.

“I do not desire to invade the interior station and cause tension. I would like to meet with representatives of the protester’s agenda and hold a discussion in the port. My aim here is to deescalate. I have already instructed the remaining Securitas to hold position. That’s my gesture of good will, and all I ask is to receive this measure of good will in return.”

“Of course, Pontiff. You are always welcome in Zazisce. I will relay your wishes.”

Millennia did not think much of the answer from station control, but the Exigo docked into Zazisce regardless. Millennia entered the station with a retinue of ten of her powered armor troops and Salvatrice at her side. They stepped off the boarding chutes and entered the station terminal, waiting in an open area where seating and refreshments were available. Flanked by the long, empty bench seats beneath the arched ceiling, Millennia kept her eyes peeled on the large hallway on the opposite side of the room, from which her greeting party would soon be coming. As the minutes went by, she grew anxious of the situation.

“Would they try to kill me?” She asked Salvatrice. “Does their grievance extend so far?”

“To be honest exalted one, I am not sure how the general population views you.”

Mostly, they hadn’t– aside from her slew of decrees upon the founding of the Solcean regime, and her recent address, she had not appeared among ‘her flock’ in months now. Since then, her government had been represented exclusively by failures like Buzun who had tormented the commoners incessantly. Was her inaction to blame for all of this mess?

Her mind again drifted to the late Emperor Fueller.

She still understood nothing of his actions; and yet she was proving no better than he.

She didn’t want to surpass him; she didn’t want to be alive in this wretched place!

But there was so much pressure upon her not to repeat his mistakes.

Such a bitter pill; and Millennia’s throat was so dry.

“Ma’am, I don’t like this.” said one of the power-armored men at her side.

He was the Sergeant in charge of these marines.

As if in answer to his complaint, the striking sound of footsteps started to close in on them.

“Running?” Millennia said.

Shadows painted on the far wall in the center of the corridor presaged the arrival.

“Ma’am, it’s an attack.”

Troops stepped forward around Millennia and positioned themselves–

“Hold fire!” Millennia cried out.

And held fire they did– as the opposite hallway filled with people charging into the terminal.

Millennia could hardly believe what she was seeing.

Some had pilfered riot weapons and armor from the Securitas, others had just the shirts on their backs and whatever piece of metal fit in their hands, some had tools and mining gear, it was a mess of people and whatever they had access to do violence with. Across their faces were expressions of rage that felt almost animalistic. None of them said a word or made a sound, simply rushing forward out of the corridor as fast as their feet could carry them.

She felt her heart stop and her eyes cloud over.

In an imperceptible instant, red rings flashed around her irises.

And she saw the blanket of white aura wafting from the horde of rioters.

This is inhuman. This is–

“Don’t shoot!” Millennia demanded of her troops.

She stepped forward through the protest of her retinue, and stood defiantly in front of the stampeding mass just a second from ripping her apart. She met their blank, furious faces and their swinging weapons, planted her feet, and pulled deep from her own will.

King’s Gaze.

From her body, a small beacon amid a rushing ocean of violence, poured a bright wave.

Colors surged across the crowd in the hall and dispersed the uncanny white auras.

Tinging them a deep blue with bands of black and green.

In the next instant, overwhelmed minds led to dropping bodies.

By the dozens the rioters tripped and fell over themselves like stricken dominoes.

Smitten unconscious by Millennia’s uniquely powerful will.

They fell at her feet one after another, barely making it into the terminal.

“Be still. By God’s grace.” She muttered. Trying to put on an act.

From her nose a trickle of blood began to trail, to her lips, until she could taste it.

She felt a sudden weakness, but stood her ground mightily.

Her troops would have applauded the miracle their Pontiff had brought–

But amid the pile of subdued bodies there was still one standing.

A single individual in a black hood had withstood Millennia’s aetheric attack.

All that was visible of them was a flash of a pale face, pale hands and long, bare, pale legs.

“That is the perpetrator! Capture them!” Salvatrice shouted.

Clearly thinking on her feet while Millennia struggled with the backlash of her psionics.

From around Millennia, the guards armed with nonlethal weapons stepped forward.

Realizing they had been compromised, the hooded figure turned to flee.

Fierce barrages of dozens of rubber bullets, beanbags, and gas bullets struck across the figure’s back and legs and knocked them to the ground. Despite the intensity of fire, they almost got back up again to escape, and were only further compromised by the terrain of unconscious bodies around them. Soldiers charged forward, stomping over the bodies to seize hold of the agitator, beating them with vibrobatons while struggling to drag them back. Somehow the attempted escapee, kicking and thrashing, withstood the strength of two men until a third finally applied a shock prod to their gut and knocked them cold.

Millennia and Salvatrice could barely parse the farcical scene of violence.

“Don’t kill them! I need to interrogate them!” Millennia cried out.

Fearing more human waves, and the potential of a bloodier outcome, Millennia ordered a retreat back into the Exigo. They took the agitator and a random smattering of the attacking civilians with them, locking the civilians in the brig. They would be interrogated using ordinary means later on. Meanwhile Millennia had the agitator taken to a private room in the upper deck and bound their arms and legs to a metal chair. She had to deal with this one.

“Leave us.” Millennia said. She waved away her security detail, save for Salvatrice.

Salvatrice retained a vibrosaber affixed to a magnetic belt she wore with her nun’s habit.

She waited at Millennia’s side with wary eyes on the captive.

Once they were alone with the hooded figure, Millennia approached and partially unzipped the figure’s garment, unveiling a pair of small, extremely pale breasts and allowing the once tightly closed hood to be thrown back from their head. She was immediately puzzled by their appearance– a youth of unimpressive stature, seemingly female judging by their chest.

Pale, extremely pale, like a freshly molted insect’s nymph, with long white hair. Skinny, too, with the impression of ribs visible on their thin trunk. Their limbs were long and thin, and they were barefoot. In fact they had no accessories nor possessions except for the hood they were wearing, which was only long enough to cover their body to the upper thighs. It was no design Millennia had ever seen– it almost looked like it was made of one sheet of a leather-like material, and the zipper was made of plastic. It had no brands, no logos, no tags.

“Salvatrice, I’m going to wake them up. Hold your nerves.” Millennia said.

“Of course.”

In reality, Millennia was probably more nervous than Salvatrice.

On the table opposite the captive’s chair, Millennia had several injectors already prepared with various drugs. There was also a small unassuming grey case that was full of tools. Scalpels, scissors, tweezers, clamps, an electric battery that could affix an electronic branding iron or small shock prods, thin sheets of abrasive and saline material that could go over wounds like bandages that intensified pain. These alone could not be trusted to extract information from a captive. But the torment would weaken their mind’s psionic defenses.

Millennia took a syringe from the table and injected it into the captive’s hand.

In a few moments, their body started to shake, their mouth hung and salivated.

Slowly their eyes began to open. Black sclera with yellow irises.

“What in the world– do you see their eyes?” Salvatrice mumbled.

Just like the monster in her vision–

Millennia concentrated on the being’s aura– blue, green and yellow. Expected of an ordinary person. However, as the captive began to wake further, the density of their aura began to thicken and the colors compacted against their body. They grew to a depth and density that Millennia had never seen in ordinary people. When their eyes fully opened, and they seemed to recognize their surroundings had changed, Millennia finally had her confirmation–

Glowing red rings around those yellow irises, indicating the use of psionics.

This was a supernatural being.

Don’t struggle, or we’ll strike you dead on the spot.

Before their captive could take action, Millennia sent them a psionic warning.

Salvatrice withdrew her vibrosaber, and held it at her side.

Recognition dawned upon the blank white face of their captive.

Their lips curled into a grin.

“You are the hominin’s False Autarch.” They said, in legible Low Imbrian.

You can kill me but you will never be free from Her. You belong to Her.

A telepathic response just as easily sent as her own.

Millennia’s chest tightened upon hearing those words, slick with contempt.

“I am Pontiff Millennia von Skarsgaard. I am your superior. You will cooperate with me or die. And an equally grisly fate will await all of your co-conspirators, until I find one that talks.”

She withdrew a knife from the toolbox and held the blade between the captive’s breasts.

At no point did they even flinch in response to her threats.

“What does one talk to cattle about? You Hominin will soon learn your place.”

Millennia pressed the knife against the skin.

“Maybe you will start making sense after screaming for a bit.” She taunted.

She expected soft flesh to yield to her torment, and was shocked to see no blood drawing.

Her blade almost slid against the suddenly stiffened flesh.

“No, Hominin, you will scream.”

Suddenly, the captive’s tongue sprang forward from their mouth mid-speech.

At the tip there was a glistening, jet black blade with an edge that glowed with colors.

Millennia froze in the instant of the spearpoint blow aimed for her chest–

“Saint’s skin!”

Salvatrice’s gleaming green blade flashed and sent the tongue rolling to the floor.

That fleshy black razor-tip cutting nothing but a small gash in Millennia’s robe.

Then in an instant of panic, Salvatrice turned the blade on the captive in a brutal swing that sliced its sizzling edge across the chest and face of the creature. Splitting open skin and bone and spilling out gore and throwing back the chair to which the beast had been shackled.

Millennia’s back struck the desk in shock, sending her tools crashing to the floor.

Staring at the disfigured abomination split open in front of her.

Its exposed throat still laughing through the clanging of the metal instruments.

Pieces of its ribs shaking like fingers; gushing organs hissing like snake heads.

Severed jaws and boiling eyes still piecing together an expression of glib humor.

“Iä! Iä! Iä!” cheered the writhing flesh thing as if in the midst of euphoria.

What happens to me is irrelevant! Fill this body with pain! I will ascend to join my Autarch!

Psionic screeches filled Millennia’s and Salvatrice’s minds.

Her habit covered in foul-smelling blood, Salvatrice screamed back as she threw her blade against the creature hacking at the flesh in the grip of her own madness. As if taking a pick to a stone she reared back and drew forward, two-handed grip with all of her fear-crazed strength, sending a limb to the floor, pieces of the head flying, sawed ribs spraying fragments of bone. Screaming between each blow until she was out of breath, covered head to toe in gushing filfth, and so bereft of strength her blade simply fell out of her grasp.

Millennia surged forward and wrapped her arms around Salvatrice’s chest.

“Stop.” Millennia mumbled. “Please stop.”

Salvatrice froze, her hands hovering in front of her as if in the midst of another blow.

Even though her enemy had been reduced to a mound of hacked apart meat.

And her blade was halfway across the room.

“Millennia. I– I– You– That–“

Salvatrice’s shaking body settled against Millennia’s chest.

Together, they slowly knelt down on the floor at the foot of the dead thing.

Weeping, screaming, in each other’s arms, until the guards finally rushed in for them.

The Exigo returned to Amaryllis days later.

For now, military response to Zazisce remained off the table.

Millennia embarked on a propaganda campaign, hoping to turn the public against the heresy.

She made several media addresses and wrote pamphlets and scripts for churches to run.

Trying to buy time and gauge the spread of the unrest before making another move.

There was good and bad news on that front, as always.

“What has been the response to my latest address?”

“From what we can actually quantify with data, people are scared and trying to hunker down, but nobody is reacting as badly as what happened in Zazisce. I am not sure that faith in the administration is high, but at the very least, the remaining Patriarchates are continuing to run as usual. We are not seeing signs of rebellion there. But the people are depressed.”

“That’s outside Sandomierz, right.”

“I’m afraid Sandomierz has had a different reaction, yes.”

Salvatrice turned over a portable computer to Millennia with the latest reports.

While most of Solcea simply watched with bated breath, the wound festered.

Zazisce remained out of control and it was the epicenter of a violence that was slow to spread, but was nonetheless spreading within its region. Days after Millennia von Skarsgaard left the station, neighboring Sandomierz, seat of the Sandomierz Patriarchate and still bereft of a Patriarch, began to see the signs of the decline. Doomsayers had begun to appear in public parks and in front of churches in Sandomierz. Many were beaten and arrested, but the public displays of violence seemed to embolden more of them to take up the creed of the “Eclipse” and resist the government. Heedless of the consequences, like a virus of the mind, the doomsayers steadily grew into demonstrations with dozens of people at a time.

“Restrict all travel to and from Sandomierz until further notice. Ships will only go to the Patriarchate of Sandomierz with Imperial sanction and a Papal Guard escort. Ships already in place over there will not be leaving Sandomierz. Quarantine effectively immediately.”

“Of course, Pontiff.”

It wasn’t enough. Sandomierz was teetering just like Zazisce.

Soon, those dozens of dissenters might become hundreds. How soon– nobody could know.

Wherever her so-called flock heard of this ‘coming Eclipse’ they seemed to go mad.

It couldn’t have been that they accepted this creed and truly believed in it.

Millennia wasn’t even so delusional as to believe most people believed in Solceanity itself.

If there was discontent it should have been of the secular kind. Leftists and progressives.

Why would thousands of people begin agitating via this same insane liturgy?

“This isn’t organic. It’s psionics.” Millennia said grimly. “A psionic cabal of some kind.”

Millennia had no way to wrest Zazisce from heretic control; with its government collapsed and its people in thrall, there was no reasonable way to negotiate its return to her authority. Violent reprisals were not off the table, but she had to be careful not to turn manufactured dissent into a real grievance. Getting rid of the station’s population would be a last resort.

Her mysterious enemy might even be counting on the violence.

A panicking public with its government in disarray was easier to manipulate.

Weakened minds, shriveling souls and frail bodies could not resist psionics.

After carefully purging every psychic she had perceived within the church, other than her ally and companion Salvatrice, Millennia never envisioned she would have to fight a psychic threat. She felt both vindicated in taking action before, but also foolish for not somehow finding a way to combat psionics directly, or retain more psionic potential in her employ.

Some part of her found itself wishing she could recapture Maryam Karahailos.

She would be called a madwoman if she went to the public with a confession that she was capable of mind control and that an enemy capable of mind control was subverting the government and fomenting violence. And even if she tipped her hand, the knowledge would do the average civilian no good. If there were multiple psionic infiltrators, and it was likely that there were, Millennia and Salvatrice alone could not uproot them. It would take inducting more psychics to fight back, which could spiral out of control if they betrayed her.

Not only that– these were not ordinary psychics. It was possible they weren’t even human.

It felt like there were no winning moves. Millennia was paralyzed as to how to respond.

Part of her wanted to lock herself up in her room and redouble her efforts to escape to another world. In the new world, none of this would matter. As long as she escaped before the violence reached her person, she would be free. But she had no guarantee she would make it out in time. She had no guarantee– that it was even possible to begin with.

Part of her contemplated giving up, too. Giving up in every conceivable way.

“Salvatrice, are we in hell? Is that what I am witnessing?” Millennia asked.

Her voice was haggard.

Salvatrice narrowed her eyes at her from across the desk they were working out of.

“Don’t talk that way.” Salvatrice replied. “Please.”

“Fine. But– I don’t know what to do, Salva. I really don’t.” Millennia said.

Salvatrice reached out her hand and took Millennia’s own.

But she offered no words of comfort nor a plan of action. Only the comfort of a touch.

Their despair grew when the Securitas began bringing them more incongruous sightings.

Security cameras began to capture eerie scenes around Sandomierz, and soon a third station to which the contagion of this ‘Eclipse heresy’ had spread, Torun. Securitas suppressed the strangest footage that was collected by the station’s cameras and brought it directly to the Pontiff’s office for review. It truly felt like she was watching a scene from a grand metaphor on retribution from God. Shadows with glowing eyes. Acting heedless of the cameras.

Sometimes just staring straight into them as if in challenge.

Every piece of video was a sighting of the same sickly pale, white haired beings like the one she had confronted in Zazisce. There were at least two dozen such sightings throughout Sandomierz and Torun. They were haphazard in their targets; breaking into food warehouses, attacking Securitas police boxes, breaking into schools, churches, random small businesses. There was no sense to it. It was as if they were after anything they could grab.

One particularly disturbing video was recovered body cam footage.

Affixed to chest of a Securitas patrolman, the camera shone upon what looked like a small child, lost in the back alleys of a cattle complex in Torun. He approached, calling out to her.

“Hey urchin, you must be really lost. Come here, let’s get you off private property alright?”

He reached out his hand, and the child turned her head over her shoulder.

Her eyes drew wide, and from under her clothes, an appendage suddenly lashed out.

The officer fell over, the camera was knocked off. There were sounds of struggle.

In the darkness, a pool of blood spread to the camera.

“Pontiff, our men have no idea what they’re up against,” said the police surveillance officer, part of a new task force assigned to gather intelligence. “Telling them to watch out for pale freaks in hoods is going to sound ridiculous at best, but it’s all we have. I would like permission to communicate to station commissioners what the situation has become.”

“Granted.” Millennia said. “But keep the web of information as tight as possible.”

It was too little too late; she was organizing task forces, trying to promote decent officers, trying to boost cooperation and share information between stations and branches, but this was all being done at the eleventh hour. She was aghast at how poorly her forces were developed, how much they lacked in support capacities and coordination. As she watched the so-called surveillance officers leave the room, she felt a deepening frustration.

“We have to do something about Zazisce. We have to investigate; gather more info. Our only option is to take action. We can’t just watch from afar, but we can’t burn the whole thing down.” Millennia grit her teeth. She closed her fists. She could do nothing with her current forces– but there was a way to bolster them. An odious way– but becoming necessary.

She cast a glance at her faithful companion once more. Salvatrice held her gaze.

“Salvatrice. Go through the records and see if there any former special forces or Inquisitors among our prisoners. Check if any of them have organized crime backgrounds with ties to Katarrans. Don’t talk to any yet. Just– bring me the files and I’ll decide what to do about it.”

Salvatrice’s expression briefly turned grim before she then bowed her head.

“Right away, Pontiff.”

She turned her back and walked out of the office, leaving Millennia to her thoughts.

This was the first odious, desperate plot of many to come.

Millennia looked down at her own shadow, cast upon the desk.

Her hand felt compelled to go up to her neck, her shoulder, to massage herself.

She felt a strange, sharp pain that she could not place.

The Holy of Empire of Solcea was a lie built upon lies, taking advantage of Humanity’s longing for the Sun to give shelter to its false prophet. Unrest creeps through the fabricated empire, a syndrome born of a growing parasite sucking the blood out of the old faith.

Millennia von Skarsgaard’s cocoon of miracles has become her living hell.

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