Phantasmagoria - Chapter 7
"The next day, Stone scraped off the bits of dried blood from Thomas' knife into the stamen of his crystal flower. It was Kelloran's blood that the Alchemist had used to create his ''angel balm." He dropped an Air Crystal into the flower as well as a few filings from Chell's Ethereal Dagger. The druid watched as a spindly shoot of green grew out of the purple, crystal flower. The green tendril bulged and then blossomed into a tiny yellow flower that instantly wizened and dried out. The forestal plucked it and said to no one in particular. ''An aster this time. Haven't had one of those yet."
Stone took the small, dried blossom and placed it into a candle flame. It combusted instantly and the candle flame grew higher and changed to a bluish color. The flame leaps even higher until it blinds the druid with harsh light. Stone looks into the light to see the truth he seeks: the connection between the watching angels and the Old God Troth.
As the dried blossom went up in smoke, a vision shimmered in the candle flame. Stone saw a pair of gray pillars with a doorway between them. The door swings open and a holy woman in the clerical vestments of Troth. She stands in a verdant garden filled with finely carved statues. As Stone watches, the door swung closed again and his vision retracted from the scene but not before he spotted a small stone pyramid that seemed vaguely familiar to him. The candle went out with a sharp crackle and Stone realized he sat in the dusk of his temple.
Stepping out from the shadows of his shop to stand under the gray skies of the day, Stone squinted as his eyes adjusted to the new gradient light. It was a dreary yet strangely warm day. The early snow that arrived on the Feast Day had melted with the warm winds and rains that arrived the day before. Water clung and dribbled off the buildings, bare trees and dead grass and mist rolled through the woods surrounding the town.
The druid closed his eyes and centered himself. He let his senses drift down through his feet to feel the ground beneath his boot heels. There he imagined himself rooted in place and pictured in his mind the Compass Rose and the familiar stone pyramid. When he opened his eyes, he was facing towards the Goblin Woods. In his mind's eye, he saw himself walking past the Woodland Altar down the Woods Road.
Stone grabbed Thorn and his gear and headed out. Cutting through the White Stone, the druid caught a shiver when he thought he had heard a faint jingle of a chain as he skirted past Hyat's grave. Rounding Tovin's Tree, Stone stared at the field of muck before him. He looked for the easiest path across the swampy ground before stepping out onto a raised hummock of grass. Shifting his weight forward, Stone suddenly fell back and sprawled into the mud.
The grass hummock flew skywards as a huge crimson earthworm erupted from the ground. The writhing, blind worm thrashed about seeking the food it had just sensed above it. Stone acted out of instinct. He sunk his fingers into the muddy soil and called out to the nearby plants for aid. Roots, shrubs and grasses all enveloped the Red Worm, buying the druid a few precious seconds for Stone to get out of the slop and run. And run he did.
For all his bulk, the druid moved with surprising speed over short distances at least. Spraying mud in all directions and panting, the druid flew past the Woodland Altar and turned. Breathing like a smithy's bellows, Stone held up Thorn and watched for the vermilion earthworm. He stared for several minutes until his breathing slowed. The way was clear and the beast was gone.
Lowering his guard, Stone walked down the Woods Road and this time he kept an eye out for other crimson abominations. At the point where the road turns up towards the Lost Hills, he stilled himself once more to sense the direction of the small stone pyramid. There! Not far away from him was a rock. The stone was about three feet high but did not stand upright nor was it flawless as it had been in the vision. It was moss-covered, rough edged and toppled on its side.
Stone looked around for the two grayish pillars but saw nothing like that, just the forest. The druid wandered about for a time to try and find the door he had seen. Finding nothing, he sat down and opened himself to the natural world.
Feeling himself fall into a relaxed state, Stone closed his eyes and suddenly noticed the overwhelming smell of the leaf mulch beneath him. He could feel the vibration of the rain drops hitting the ground and hear the high, clicking noise of tree limbs rubbing against each other. His senses became attuned to the woods about him and then he saw the gray columns and the door he had seen in the vision.
When his senses cleared, Stone stood a little ways from the toppled pyramid directly in front of two beech trees. Their elephantine bark had been the gray columns he had seen and the two identical, golden marks on their trucks must have been the vision's door. They were the markings of a Witch Gate.
Usually, one needed an exact key, key-stones, to pry open a witch-gate but sometimes shortcuts could be taken. Placing a hand on the trunk of each beech, Stone knelt before then and prayed to the Lord of the Wood. A leaf-covered face appeared on the tree trunk before him. Channeling his prayer mana into his bond with his patron spirit, Stone asked the forest god to open the Witch Gate. The portal's magic was weakly locked and opened easily. Through the doorway, he saw what remained of the lush garden and fine statuary was now a tangle of thistles, briars, deadwood and crumpled rocks.
The druid stepped through the gate and into the forlorn pricker patch. The sound of snapping tried twigs and crumpling dead leaves loudly announced his arrival. Stone silently berated what his love always called the “Bull in a China Shop” approach. Standing stock still and scanning the area, Stone waited for the volley of arrows to strike him down. He wished he had Chells’ blade, Doomherald, and its power to warn of peril. A moment passed and no arrows or slavering gnolls assailed him. All was eerily silent. He took another thunderous step into the leaf-litter and tried to get his bearings. In the vision he had seen the Troth Templar standing in the center of a flagstone circle surrounded by statues of humans. He pictured her standing there and again touched Atu’s province and the earth beneath his boots to guide him that spot. He climbed under a snare of thorns and wild roses, over a toppled tree and there he saw her lifeless face in half covered in leaves. As he got closer, Stone realized the face was from a shattered priestess statue and the Troth Templar had actually stood a few feet away. He looked up from the stone head and saw more leaves and then looking closer something white, no something ivory… bones.
Tempering his excitement to find answers or lost lore, Stone reminded himself that this was a holy woman’s last resting place. Reverently, he kneeled and looked down into empty eye socket of the leaf-covered skull. The druid cast Detect Spirit and saw a wispy, faint gray shroud appear over the bones.
“She’s still here… barely.” He said under his breath. He prepared to cast Séance when he suddenly halted and swore to himself. He did not have her name. Her spirit was in her bones but without a name he couldn’t reach her. He tried quasi-titles like ‘Chosen of Troth’, ‘Upholder of the Sacred Vows’ and ‘Faithful of the Oath-Keeper’ but struck out dismally. He stood up and paced around, swearing under his breath. He had come all this way to fail! He kicked a pile of leaves in frustration. They sprayed in the air and, as they fluttered down, a solid metal clink rung off the foliage shrouded flagstones. As the leaves settled he saw a small, metal chain with a talisman of three interlocking circles, the icon of Troth! He just knew it had to be the Troth Templar’s holy amulet. Kismet was smiling on him. “As well she should, after all X and I did save her from the venom of Malice and restored her identity he thought, being a bit too full of himself.
He snatched up the old holy symbol and turned again to the bones. The only other means to reach a spirit other than speaking its name was by holding one of the spirit’s most priced possessions at the time of casting the spell. Stone uttered Séance and then found himself back in the garden of his vision and, there, far down the manicured path, abutted with well-kept plantings and flowers, he spotted the woman’s grey spirit. He ran toward the priestess but, no matter how quickly he sprinted, then trotted and then walked after her, she was always far off.
“A little help here, Troth!” Stone shouted impatiently and calling up his prayer mana but to no result. Panting again, the druid reminded himself he was beseeching a god not a porter for help. He closed his eyes and tried again. “Lord Troth, Keeper of Vows and Oaths, please aid me in speaking to your distant servant.” This time the mana was accepted and when he opened his eyes. The woman templar stood before him. She was still gray and very faint but she was present. She spoke “Greetings, I am Sarqua, Devotee of Troth. My time is very short, but I see in the ether that I am a part of your quest to understand the bond between Troth, True Master of the Word, and the silent angels that perch in your town.”
Stone tried to acknowledge that she was correct but to no avail. The woman kept speaking as if giving a sermon to her parish.
“What I would tell you would be best understood were you to know what angels truly are. Most of the angelic hosts are but mere extensions of the minds of the Gods. In many cases the are the vessels which deliver magics or blessings of that God to the faithful who have beseeched for it. It is not uncommon for a God or Goddess to manifest directly in response to a prayer to Them, but often the lesser blessings are handled by the Divine One's unconscious mind. That is what all angels begin as, simply the will of the Gods."
"Yet many of the angels you are concerned with have become something more. Over time the power an angel carries can change them. They absorb bits and pieces of the Divine Might until one day they become aware of themselves. They evolve into more than the sub-conscious will of their Creator. They become sentient beings of their own. Some of these higher angels remain at their God's side, happily doing what they had always done, though they have the ability judge for themselve's how the God's gifts are delivered. Have you ever had a prayer yield a completely surprising result or been far more powerful than you had sought?"
Without pausing for an answer from the druid, the priestess continued on. "Some of the Awakened seek to find a new path. Many band together to form orders and it is members of one of these orders, possibly one of the oldest of them, that you have seen interspersed with the bound angels of Troth. They are the Grigori. Their original, divine task was to watch over but not interfere with the moral choices of mortals. They simply note when an immoral act has occurred. Unlike Troth who judges mortals by their word."
“Your Restorer friend is correct some of them have been drawn to the town because someone important broke their oath, but the red stain is not the Grigori’s will; it is Troth’s. His anger made it manifest. The crimson blight comes from the breaking of a blood oath.”
“So, some of the angels are Troth's and some are these Grigori?"
"Correct. In time you will learn to see which are which."
"But all of them looked so angry. If the Grigori are just witnesses, why are they as pissed as the one's bound to Troth?”
“They rage at Heaven and Earth because they are Fallen! And their anger at Fallenstar is because one of their kin, another fallen angel, lies trapped by the town.”
“What? Where is he and who lied to Troth? I …” Stone’s shower of questions fell quiet, as he realized stood alone in the disheveled once-garden. His contact with the spirit had slipped away. The gray aura above her bones had faded from the holy woman’s bones. She had passed on her message and now could rest for all eternity. Stone breathed deep in disappointment and then placed Serqua’s amulet amongst her bones. “Thank you.” He said as he turned and jumped back through the witch-gate. The door between the beeches faded as Stone wandered back towards town. So much effort for so little results he thought. He gained only a few facts, the crimson stain is Troth’s anger, it was a blood-oath that was broken, the angels were Grigori… Grigori. Stone smiled! He had a name and in spellcasting a name is a powerful thing!
The druid swiftly cast Know Lore.
The name Watcher, or Grigori, means "Those Who Watch", or "Those Who Are Awake", or "The Ones Who Never Sleep".
The mysterious eighth order of angels, the gentle Grigori were created by the deities to be terrestrial shepherds of the mortals. The Grigori were spiritually gigantic, at least by the standards of the people who later wrote about them. The Grigori are of a "higher" realm and guard the portals to the deities. They were also called the Watchers, as it was their job to observe mortals, lending a helping hand when necessary but not interfering in the course of their development. Every depraved act is seen and noted by the Grigori. This does not mean that the Grigori will stop immoral actions, as mortals are each responsible for their actions. The acts are simply witnessed and noted.
Legion of angels descended to the terrestrial planes in order to watch over and assist mortals in the names of the deities and they did serve mortals as vast reservoirs of information, but by the deities’ reckoning it was too vast. These Grigori taught some mortals arts, sciences and magics forbidden by the deities. In the end the Grigori proved to be selfless beyond compare and they chose husbands and wives from among the mortals and led greatly debauched lives, neglecting their heavenly duties. This angered the deities greatly and they banished the Grigori to become "fallen".
Not all the Watchers descended: those that remained are the holy Watchers, and they reside in the 5th Heaven. The evil Watchers dwell either on the terrestrial planes or in Hell. Among the Grigori, who remain ascended were four royal stars or Lords. Each of these Lords ruled over one of the four cardinal points: North, South, East and West.
· North -
Formalhaut - who marked Winter Solstice
Rolling up the new scroll, Stone headed back to town. He was muddy, thorn-pricked, cold and wet, but feeling more than a little happy with himself.