Imagine waking up unable to breathe. Ears filling with a shrill tune as you open your eyes and see two empty black holes staring down at you, atop a maw filled with a white-blue light. For just an instant it appears that clutching that flute are two pale hands with long talons, raking themselves across the piper's flesh as he finished his tune. Then as you sit up, gasping for air, you see not the face of some horrific monster, but that of a cheerful man adorned in regal purple. Then he utters the words "Good morning my friend, how have you been faring?"
That is what I awoke to and the my first thought for a response was to leap from bed and run to the door. Only to find I could not open it. The Piper spoke again. "No... No Come now (My Name) you needn't be afraid of me. I am your friend here, as are all of my group. We are your only true friends out here, looking for your well being."
I asked him what he wanted.
"To apologize for our beloved Gardener's past behavior. Morgan is a cruel man, but we are not all like him. His inclusion was a necessary evil... But I am also here to try and make up for our, rather extreme reaction to finally having you safe within our home." He offered a sincere looking smile.
In response I said "You mean imprisoning me until your King could return and do whatever it is all of you plan to do? Are you going to tell me what it is you actually want from me?"
"My friend, calm yourself. I admitted locking you up like that was extreme... But it didn't really matter in the end did it? The Attendants still came to drag you off to their little space between worlds. If anything our protection should have been more extreme. Then perhaps you would not have subjected to that truly awful experience. Do you remember?" He seemed legitimately curious.
I answered. "I am not entirely sure what you are talking about. I remember you imprisoning Roland and myself and then I remember waking up on the floor of a motel a month later."
"I see. My King thought you might have blocked that memory out. The body has extreme reactions to such raw, unfiltered stimuli like that. Things man was never meant to see, and such, my friend."
I asked "So... Are you perhaps willing to answer my questions on all this?"
"That depends on the question, but I am here to try and... Soften your view on us."
"Alright. Answer this then. Who and What are you?"
He smiled a mischievous looking grin. "Once I was the thing in your closet as a child. The thing every child fears when they hide beneath their covers, oh so very aware of that faint little... Creak coming from the closet door. I would sit their hunched over in emulation of my former God, basking in the abject terror of the little child. Then I would play my music and watch as their tiny heartbeats slow to a crawl. Emerging from beneath their bed, or from the depths of their closets, I would press my lips to theirs and extract their sweet, delicious breath until not even a whisper remained in their tiny lungs." He did a twirl and began playing a pleasant tune from his flute. "Afterwords I would go out and join my brothers and sisters at the feet of our God, dancing and singing, howling at the moon and playing my merry little tune... I was a Maenad. Now a servant of a true God. A God of Men, of Mortal Kind." He bowed.
More than a bit disturbed I said. "That may have been too much information... What God did you serve and what God do you now serve?"
"My former lord was the original. The source of all those tales of creatures in the night, lurking just outside of the campfire's light. And when that light is extinguished he would come for his prey, singing sweet songs into their ears, caressing their cheeks even as begins to feed on them. With gnashing teeth and raking claws digging into sweet red flesh... My current God is both deity and King however. He has shown me my error in serving a beast, a false God who sees us as prey or little more chess pieces in some cosmic game. A game mind you, we intend to put an end to permanently." His tone for most of this was jovial, but darkened significantly towards the end.
"Raking claws? You could have just outright said It's name."
"It's name sirrah? Oh no, no, no, no, no... That disrespectful little nickname is one given by It's prey, not by Itself."
"Fair enough... Who is your 'King' and why does he want me?"
"A God in flesh. One who walked among us men, who knew of our struggles and plights. Who was raised by the servants of The Tall Pale God... Born as a toy of The Poison of God, he who is Malkira... One of your chief tormentors in fact. The Yellow Eyed Man. Like the Cyphre boy, my King was one of Malkira's toys. But unlike the broken and mad Cyphre, my King had focus and purpose. For a time, he denied his true calling, seeking to aid mankind... But those he deemed his friends abandoned him, one by one, he came to accept his destiny as our Lord and Savior. Adopting the role he was given by Malkira, he took the crimson mantle up and made it into something more. Something greater than Malkira and his fellow attendants, something greater than the Beast God or the Tall Faceless God. He became a God of Men, and opened the eyes of many others. Myself, Dr. Adler, Morgan, Rhodes, S... Scribe Theta chief among them. Eventually we were even joined by that Jester, a being older than any of us. Further proof of my Lord's divinity and power." Thus he finished without actually answering either of my questions.
"So... Does he have a name? And more importantly, what does he want with me?"
"Divine though he may be... Powerful, yes. But the Faceless God, the Beast God, The Diseased God... All and more still have more raw power. But our King has a cunning plot that will even the playing field and wipe the Black Chess Pieces from the board, replacing them with our blood soaked colors. You, my friend, are a part of this plan. There is something far older and stronger than the Faceless God, in a place where Fear itself dare not tread. The Knave knows the way, but will not open it until the Court has been called to session. That is why we need you. You will be the final member of our Court to dance in the warm glow of the Fire Witch. To unlock the stored power within her once beloved's shell, so that our King may claim it and the heavens."
I nodded slowly and carefully. This Piper is not of a sound mind. "So... The Attendants everyone keeps talking about. Who are they?"
He shuffled around for a moment and had a sour look on his face. "I cannot stay here for far longer. The Attendants know of my interference. My King is blocking them, but they are many and he is one. Soon they shall sneak past and drive me off... As for their nature, think of them as... Parasites and Angels. Crafted from the fragments of creation, born into this world as the heavenly host of the Evil Gods. First came Michael and then the rest. They are wicked creatures. Bored and mischievous, with far seeing eyes and feet that do not heed distance. Many once held cults in the barbaric ages before the Romans. Zalmoxis is one of interest to you. Uriel, the Light of God, the most active nemesis of my King. But there are others. Malkira, the Poison of God, once known as Kemsyt the Priest, now known as Samael. Father of Monsters like Morningstar. There is also Ramael, Lighting of God, Born into a Dutch Man o' War coming from Africa, bearing a Prince in Rags. It was he who massacred the arrogant men and women who attempted to rest control of the Faceless God's Cult from it's faithful. Finally there is Heylel, the one who ferried you from The Grove and took you between worlds. His is a sad tale, as he is a friend to Man. We had hoped he might join our cause, but alas... He feels my King is more Evil than his Gods and siblings. A fool."
Irritated, I told him. "Could you perhaps speak in shorter, less poetic sentences? Get to the point? I thought you said you did not have a lot of time."
He sighed. "My deepest apologies sirrah. Tis just the way I am... Alas, it is time for me to depart, and I do so with one last nugget of advice. The compounds you acquired... Dump them. Dump the King's Water and the Spirits of Salt, Blow the Cuprite and Orpiment to the wind. But above all, be rid of the Azoth. It is dangerous beyond anything you know. The Azoth is the key to Uriel's plot. Be rid of it, or you risk undoing all of our work... Be wary (My Name) Marsh. Your trials only just begun." He played a shrill, painful sound from his flute, causing me to wince. When I opened my eyes, he was gone.
Despite what he said, Roland and I have no intention of dumping everything.... So. Thoughts anyone? I had to really strain to remember every word of those monologues. He was even more long winded than Morningstar... I myself have plenty of thoughts about this, but I am going to hold off on saying them until we find Uriel. Perhaps that will be more enlightening.