With the imp scared away, the doors opened before us into the Crone’s chambers. Raphael entered the room, wary of a trap or ambush being laid for them. Greeting them as they entered the room was a wooden marionette, clacking as it moved and ushered them into the room, reminding Raphael of the mummers at penny fairs.
“Why have you come here?” a creaking voice spoke. The question echoed throughout the small chamber, and more and more of the unnerving puppets could be seen in the shadows. Short ones, akin to dwarfs, dusted the floors and gathered in the shadows, peering out at the Council with their beady eyes. Other ones, larger, moved behind them, blocking the door off.
Another pair, of average height with nondescript faces, clattered out with trays carrying some drinks. While most of the drinks spilled to the floor, a few made it. “Drink, should you wish,” the voice said. A weathered and wrinkled lady, with stringy, gray hair, sat at the far end of the chamber. Raphael and Jericho took a cup each, and choked down the vile brew that passed for coffee. “Choked” is an apt word, for it was more grinds than liquid. “It has been ages since we’ve served guests…I hope the refreshments are still passable…”
“They have aged well,” Raphael commented.
“We seek information on Manhater Woe,” Jericho said.
“Ah, my student…a quick learner, but where he has ended up…alas…it is a perverted place.” Peering at Jericho, wearing the face of a gargoyle, she turned more uneasy, saying, “And you appear to be one of his own puppets…you smell of his servants.” Two large, sumo-like puppets bounded from the shadows, each flanking the Crone. Retractable blades sprouted from their wrists.
Soren intervened before violence could break out, for once seeking to avoid a conflict. “What do you desire in exchange for any information?” The Crone pondered for a moment, then spoke sharply. “Blood. I desire blood, but not just any.” She looked at Taro with distaste as he appeared to be ready to make a sacrifice. “Certainly not yours. Slay the homonculi in the library, and bring me their blood. Ideally before Woe summons the great Magma Lord.”
“Do you have any aid you could grant us?” Soren asked. “Perhaps a puppet guide?” Raphael contributed. The Crone thrust her arm forward, and monofilament strands latched into each of Soren’s joints. The Crone cut them strands, and attached a small mechanical spider to them, who nestled itself comfortably into Soren’s chest. With the spider leading the way, the group set out to the library of vile darkness that resided in the Citadel of Brass.
Following Tetsuro’s nose, despite its conflicting nature with the spider’s directions, the group came to a large catwalk in a gold smelting/refining area of the Citadel. As Raphael’s large frame stepped onto the walk, it began to creak, and eventually collapsed, spilling several of the Council to the ground far below. Tsura, utilizing her strange magicks, and Raphael, focused inward, managed to avoid the costly spill.
Trusting in his new spider companion, Soren guided them towards the library, but their errant travels earlier had placed them on the wrong side of a xeon conduit, which separated them from the library. The humming energy could rip flesh from bones or souls from their mortal anchors if one were to enter it unprotected.
“So can’t you just, I don’t know, funnel it away, using your body as a conduit?” Raphael theorized. Raphael knew nothing of the flow of xeon, but he wasn’t too keen on trying to use ki to shield himself from the soul-ripping river of creation before him. Unfortunately, Soren had no such compunction, and placed his “tentacle” arm into the flow. With an otherworldly scream, Soren fell to the ground as his eyes and mouth glowed and the xeon madly rushed into him…but the flow stopped momentarily. Rushing across, with Raphael carrying Soren, they made it safely across the xeon river before it started again. At that moment, Soren awoke, and his chaos tendril unleashed the absorbed energy in a focused blast on Creation itself, with no immediately discernible results.
Before them stood the doors to the library, which certainly held terrifying secrets and keys to Woe’s power if the could be found. Shrouded librarians stood within the room, seemingly sharing faces and appearances, but taking no note of the new visitors. Jericho quickly found a book that caught his interest as the others took up positions around the room, and then found another. Upon taking the second book, the homonculi librarians hissed, revealing their pale, marble-like skin, and assaulted the otherwise scholarly guests.
Tork, the minion of Jericho, quickly slayed one, and it fell to the ground, bloodless. Tsura blasted another with a lance of heat. The battle commenced quickly, and the Council seemed to be faring well in the combat — but for all the casualties they inflicted, there was no blood.
Soren tackled one, and beat it mercilessly with his flailing tentacle arm, and it had gained a new feature: a layer of frost, reinforcing its blows with icy brutality.
“Begone, creatures! Go back to whence you came!” Jericho shouted, beginning a banishment. “Your master no longer desires your service…” The homonculi paused for a moment, unsure of what the strange gargoyle meant. Then, through ill-intent or ill-incantation, a legion of homonculi appeared to reinforce their comrades. Operating in assault groups of ten each, these new reinforcements were bigger, faster, and stronger than their previous ilk. They moved with ruthless efficiency.
Soren’s arm latched onto the nearest villain, and its head exploded in a bloody puff of crystalline spikes. He fought valiantly, but fell beneath the weight of the attacks. Seeing him go down, the rest of the Council fought viciously, and Tsura incinerated dozens of the creatures at a time before falling to one. Raphael did his best to keep his companions capable and fighting, and Tsura eventually managed to incinerate another several dozen of them.
Taro and Tetsuro managed to hold the western flank of the council, beheading and ravaging the homonculi faster than they could shamble up the aisles of books. Drenched in blood, they fought until no man was left standing.
Towards the end of the battle, as strength and spirit waned, hope returned to the group. Like a macabre phoenix, Soren rose from the midst of his killers in a crimson spray of vengeance. His swords whipped through the air, inflicting red ruin on those who stood before him. When the conflict ended, he was whole, and his left arm had been reforged. Blood dripped from his clothing and hair, and this is a day he would remember for eternity. This was the day he returned to have his vengeance.