The Emperor Protects!

"The House of Dust and Ash"

The Revenge of Erasmus Haarlock

<< Awaiting Censure>>...

Before the auction resumes these is some commotion between the Mourners and Advocates, and eventually a troubled looking Hiram Bland returns to the podium to speak – all look to him expectantly.

“Before bidding is commenced on the greater lots, several parties have requested – and the High Mourner has insisted – against my wishes, that a demonstration be carried out, before its sale, of the oracular device known as the Gilded Widow. I hereby state that this may come to pass…”

Carried reverentially on a litter by six mourners, the Gilded Widow is brought to the dais, resplendent on her throne of ivory and bronze.

Greel produces from his robes a great, crimson, ruby – pulsing with an inner light – and fits the crystal ‘heart’ into the Widow’s chest.

The transformation is both sudden and remarkable, as the gilded figure shudders into life. Elegant metallic digits cut and spin the tarot deck, as Greel and the mourners bow away from the dais in respect. Shocked gasps and murmurs escape the crowd, as the Widow lifts her face – and eyes of uttermost darkness study the thronging auditorium.

“ASK, AND BE ANSWERED” the Gilded Widow states in an empty, mocking voice.

After a moment of silence, a voice within the crowd calls out.

“What are you?”

With a whirr the cards are stacked.

“I AM SHE WHOM MY FATHER FROZE IN HER BEAUTY AND HER GRIEF. ALONE AND WEEPING FOREVER SHALL I SIT, CURSED TO FORETELL AND TO KNOW, BUT NEVER TO ACT NOR FEEL; SAVE FOR THE VOID THAT HUNGERS EVERMORE WITHIN…”

Silence.

“Who is Abbot Tamas of Shale?” Cries Lex.

The cards are cut and shuffled, buzzing through her fingers.

“A FRAUD AND A FAKE. A SERPENT OF LIESHIS COLOUR SHALL BE SEEN BEFORE THIS DAY IS ENDED.”

A pause.

“Then who are we?” Master Nonesuch asks, smiling broadly – with obvious amusement.

With flicks, the cards are laid.

“FALSE-FACED FACADES AND SELF-DELUDED FOOLS. YOU SEEK MUCH, YET KNOW LITTLE. YOU ARE THOSE WHO HAVE COME TO DESPOIL THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD, ONLY TO JOIN ITS NUMBER…”

“What is to come?” A voice from Captain Rubio’s crowd calls out.

All are silent with anticipation. The Widow’s hands are still.

“THE BLACK SUN BURNS AND HE COMES, RIDING ITS WAKE. THE LAST VOYAGER. THE HERALD OF ALL WOES. AT ITS PASSING THE EYE SHALL BE SNUFFED OUT, THE CARION LORDS THROWN DOWN, AND THE HUNGERING ONES TORN FROM THE OUTER DARKALL THIS I CAN SEE CAST AMID THESE COLD STARS.”

Brooding. A pregnant pause.

Lex Stands.

“What is the fate of Erasmus Haarlock.”

The Widow turns her head for the first time, and rests her terrible gaze upon our heroic Arbite’s features.

As she speaks, all of the cards are turned.

“THE TRAVELLER AND THE SCION BOTH DO LIVE, ONE WITHOUT AND THE OTHER WITHIN. BLOOD OF HIS BLOOD, BORN OF HIS LINE, FLESH SO FRAIL CAUGHT IN THIS WEB. DEATH SHALL BE THEIR INHERITANCE. HAARLOCK RETURNSAND HELL FOLLOWS WITH HIM!”

Face up, all of the cards show The Reaper. Death grins at us all.

The mourners fall to their knees, screaming and wailing – “We are the dead”! As the whole structure begins to shake violently, and a roar echoes up from the distant depths, the lights flicker and distant explosions can be heard. Servo-skulls drop from the air, and servitors collapse lifeless. After a few moments, the complex stops quaking and the roar steadies down to a continuous low rumble.

The Widow speaks again.

“KNOW THIS, THE TRAVELLER HAS SET OUR COURSE AND THE SHIP CANNOT BE TURNED. THIRTEEN HOURS YOU HAVE, THIRTEEN HOURS UNTIL HIS WRATH DROWNS YOU ALL IN FIRE AND ASHSEALED HERE IN THE TOMB THAT HAS BEEN PREPARED. FITTING PUNISHMENT FOR YOU WHO WOULD TAKE FROM HIM WHAT IS HIS ALONE. NEVER DO YOU LEARN THE LESSONS OF THE PAST, DOOMED TO REPEAT HISTORY’S SINS. BUT FIRST YOU WILL SUFFER, FIRST YOU WILL BE SHRIVEN!

YOU HAVE BUT ONE CHANCE AND ONE CHANCE ALONE TO PLACATE THE TRAVELLER, ONE GIFT WILL ASSUAGE HIS JUST FURY. GIVE ME THE BLOOD OF THE SCION OF HAARLOCK! LET IT FLOW TO FILL THIS CHALICE, AND YOU SHALL LIVE. BUT IF MY CUP REMAINS EMPTY, THE CHILDREN OF THE KINGDOM WILL GNAW YOUR FLESH, AND DARKNESS WILL BURY YOUR BONES!”

Shocked silence deadens the auditorium. Broken only by the wail of the mourners, the whimpers of a few overcome, and the slow applause of a much amused Master Nonesuch. Several members of the audience regain their wits, and begin to head for the exits.

Provost Bland staggers onto the dais and cries out.

“What goes on here? What does this mean?!”

The tall spectre of Greel, the Head Mourner, rears up behind him – his great staff raised high above his head as he screams:

“Fools! You are trapped here, buried alive! Death to the defilers of his tombs! Death to those who profane his name by stealing from our master!”

A power blade springs from the staff to form a scythe, and the weapon swings down – bisecting the Provost in a welter of gore. The crowd of mourners draw silver blades and surge as one – falling upon the bystanders and guards, hacking indiscriminately. Chaos spreads – and the countdown to doom has begun.

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Grimnar

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