League Of Apostolic Nobles

Cadmus Craven's Rug - Part Three

Every cell in Cadmus' body exploded simultaneously. The long-range teleport fell upon the pile of dust that resulted, a red light blinking on its readout. In the Rose Galaxy, ten light-years away, inanimate matter began to swirl in a dark alcove of the Thrival prime temple.

Ejected by a faulty transducting matrix, Cadmus' mind reeled beyond time and space.

Carbon atoms rose from the temple flagstones, began to organise themselves into chains of amino acids.

Meanwhile, Cadmus spun. All around him was blinding light, the sum total of all possibility. It danced, made geometric patterns as obvious as they were surprising while his mind screamed in madness. Beyond loomed the darkness of the void, its endless hunger pulling at him.

Primordial soup glooped across the floor of the Thrival temple, began to heave up into a mound.

The light spun out, Cadmus with it, flung away from infinity. It separated into hues, became the primal emanations.

Violet. Indigo. Blue. Green. Yellow. Orange. And finally, warlike red. Each span away from the others, became itself as it flew out into the gathering cosmos.

In the Thrival temple, the mound rose up grotesquely, formed into a trunk, two stumpish arms and legs.

Cadmus was the Green-Ray. He rode it across the universe as it hurtled towards its destination. He was purest passion; the animating force behind all form. He was the jaguar that stalked the jungle. He was the unwitting prey it stalked. A bird-of-paradise extended its plumage and he saw his own face there, endlessly refracted. He gave a yell of exultation that echoed from the throat of every living thing. He was living force. He was life itself, spangled across every instance of existence.

The goop flowed upwards and outwards. Hands formed. Feet. The goop hardened, became a skull, a human face-

And now he saw it: the entire universe, his own reflection, stretched across infinity. A face composed of stars and galaxies peering back at him. But the face was not his own. It was that of a demonic mule, its eyes two burning red stars.

“Craven...” Adrammelech's voice echoed throughout the cosmos. “Craven... what have you done?”

He felt a lurch of horror; fell back into the terror of his own identity..

“The Kadmonites change their ceremonies!” The demon rasped. “The worship is wrong and I feel my power dwindling! Craven! What have you done, Craven? You will tell me, or I will destroy you!”

The demon's roar was deafening. The mote that was Cadmus screamed; around him the universe contorted, galaxies straining as Adrammelech's claws tore at his soul.

The clay figure was almost set. A Kadmonite uniform formed around it; hair flowed out from its scalp. On its dripping fingers, four rings were forming-

Cadmus screamed, fled the demon's claws as his mind hurtled across the cosmos. A green orb appeared before him; it grew large as he hurtled down towards it, the demon still snapping at his heels. Smaller and smaller he shrank. Faster and faster he moved, screaming through the walls of the temple-

“CRAVEN!”

The body jerked, its eyes flew open.

“PISS OFF, ARSEHOLE!” It screamed.

Then it was over. Cadmus collapsed against a wall, gasping in terror. His nerves twanged, his brain throbbed; memories of eternity fizzled through every synapse.

Gradually the terror subsided. Gradually he became himself once more.

“Jesus.” He groaned at last. “What a crappy teleport.”

He sat up to examine his new body. Two hands swam before his eyes. He flexed his fingers. Arms, legs, feet? Check. Nose, ears, mouth, hair? All present and correct.

Meanwhile, back on Kadmon, the pile of dust that had been his old body was being swept up by a bemused janitor.

He pushed the thought away with a shudder, got up to examine his surroundings.

All around him was dimness and shadow; high, broad-surfaced walls, stretching away into darkness. A green luminescence was the only light-source, seeming to fall into the depths from somewhere high above. By this light Cadmus saw the intricate reliefs that stood out on every surface, their spindly outlines seeming to move and slither before his eye. From above came the sound and sensation of a gentle thrumming. All else was silence.

The Thrival prime temple, home of the mighty Green-Ray. But where was it? And where were Karst and the others?

From above came the sensation of thrumming. Pure power; a familiar frisson of passion.

Cadmus stepped out from his alcove. The passage was high-sided and narrow. Ahead, he could just make out the blocky outline of a tower, rising up through the gloom. He groped his way towards it. Within was a great twisting stairway and he mounted the steps, the sensation of thrumming growing stronger with every landing he passed. The stairs went up and up. The light grew brighter, more vital with every storey. Finally he reached the top-most stair, stepped out into a well-lit chamber.

The sight that awaited him was a strange one: a group of crystalline figures filled the chamber, green, opaque and vaguely humanoid, each frozen to the spot: Thrival temple-guardians, Cadmus realised a heartbeat later.

The scene was one of chaos and confusion: some of the Thrival were crouched and cowed, others stood with feet planted, frozen as they'd brought their crystalline weapons to bear. Some had toppled to the ground as they'd tried to flee the League's wrath. It was amongst the shattered remains of these unfortunate individuals that the chamber's other occupants swarmed.

Cadmus took a step backwards, his skin crawling with disgust. Before him, the chamber floor was a heaving mass of ants, their red segmented bodies each the size of his finger. They formed a carpet several inches deep, and it was on this carpet of struggling bodies that the Thrival-shards were being borne away, carried towards the chamber's far archway.

Cadmus touched a finger to his malachite power-ring and floated up from the floor. Following the movements of the swarm, he passed through the archway and out into a vast open space.

Here, the thrum of power was almost overwhelming. Looking up, Cadmus let out a gasp. At the centre of the chamber, itself stretching miles in all directions, a vast green orb hung suspended, its surface pulsing with vitality.

Here was the source of the light that fell upon the temple's lower levels. Here was the origin of all life in the cosmos. For it was here, within this glowing orb, that the Green-Ray must surely reside.

Below him, the ant-swarm twisted away towards the towering staircase that dominated the room; up the stairs they climbed, bearing their prizes away to a circular opening on the orb's underside.

“Right.” Cadmus murmured under his breath. “Now we're getting somewhere.”

With a pulse of his rings, he floated up towards the orb's entrance. Beyond it was a glowing chamber; gravity reoriented itself as he passed through the entrance and he touched down onto a floor of smooth crystalline substance, careful to avoid the river of ants that streamed in through the doorway.

At the chamber's far end was yet another strange vision: a wall of clockwork mechanisms surrounding an open doorway; a jigsaw of interlocking gears, levers and balances, all of luminescent emerald. For the moment, the mechanism was stilled, its gears trembling with unspent force as they strained against each other. From within the maze of gears came inhuman groans and the sound of grinding bones; a moment later Cadmus realised in horror that the grey objects he'd taken for part of the mechanism were in fact the bodies of Nicodemus Karst's zombies, inserted between the gears and levers to prevent the door from closing.

He gave a dry swallow as he gazed at the half-decayed faces protruding like flowers from amongst the gears. From the floor came a rustling sound and he looked down to see ants swarming about a glassy-eyed face; tearing away chunks of rotted flesh, they turned smartly away and trotted through the doorway with their prizes above their heads. A moment later, Cadmus followed.

He emerged into a bright chamber, an open doorway set into each of its eight walls. From each doorway echoed vague noises that set his hair on end: growls, cries and moans, of both pain and pleasure alike. Below, the ants continued across the floor and through the opposite doorway. Cadmus set forth with a dry swallow, trusting the creatures to guide his steps to the orb's centre and the Green-Ray that surely awaited him there.

He continued along twisting corridors. The air grew thick around him, a sensation between fear and sexual excitement. His unease deepened. Presently, doorways began to appear on either side of the corridor, impossible vistas showing from within. To his left he caught glimpses of meadows, jungles and mountainsides of all shapes and colours; scenes in which movement stirred in the distance while weird calls echoed through the doorways. To his right appeared scenes dark and seductive: temples lit by moonlight and darked chambers where lamplight was thrown against sheets of pale damask; scenes in which soft forms writhed in the shadows, groans and murmurs of pleasure issuing from unseen throats.

Cadmus moved quickly, keeping his eyes firmly on the ants, his heart hammering against his ribs. After a few moments the doorways disappeared and he heaved a sigh of relief. The passageway turned a corner and he emerged abruptly into an open space, blinking in disbelief at the scene that greeted him.

He had emerged into a wide forest clearing, the air cold, the floor carpeted with pine needles. In the distance rose the flanks of a mountain-range, wreathed in a golden fog. Far away across the valley a fortress reared, its walls and towers solid, silent and impenetrable, gargoyles staring moodily from every buttress. Recognition fired in hi brain and suddenly he knew where he was: this was the Fortress of Gronar, seat of the Arch-Reaver, Lord of the Smoky Mountain passes. The sight was a familiar one, for its likeness had hung above the fireplace of his father's study.

However, something was wrong. He shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t be seeing this. For the fortress of Gronar has fallen before he were even born.

As if in response to these thoughts, cadmus heard a mechanical clanking and the roar of engines coming from behind him. He spun about to see a line of armoured hulks crashing through the trees towards him.

“Shit!”

He leapt behind a rock as the first of the tanks thundered past, its exhausts belching fumes, shattered tree-boles flying before it. On all sides they streamed past, the Craven family crest painted across their panels. From further back in the forest came a deeper rumble: the sound of immense artillery cannons crunching forwards on their omni-tracks.

So this is it then, Cadmus thought grimly, peering out from behind his rock as the behemoths rumbled past. The event that had set his fate into motion. The siege of Gronar. His father's greatest victory.

The scene skipped forwards abruptly.

He found himself on a smog-wreathed battlefield, dizzy and reeling. His ears were filled with the roar of the tanks and the scream of artillery shells; men and horses stumbled past on all sides, their eyes wide with terror. There was an explosion, a burst of masonry somewhere above; the smog cleared and Cadmus saw the the fortress' half-demolished walls, now alarmingly close at hand. He cried out, dodged a cascade of falling rubble. High above, the cloaked figure of the Arch-Reaver looked out from the battlements, an arm extended, its fist clenched; as Cadmus watched, a row of tanks rose into the air to crumple one by one like tin cans, the muffled screams of their crews coming from inside.

“Hold, you cowards! Hold! It's not over yet!” A familiar voice roared through the smog.

Cadmus spun as a fleeing trooper collided with him, was thrown cursing to the ground. The red ants crawled around him, streaming through the blood-churned earth; the battle-smog cleared for an instant and he saw his father, Lord Adamantus Craven, stood atop a tank mere metres away, his features gleaming in the half-light as he signalled to the artillery crews on the hillside above-

THOOM!

Cadmus threw himself flat as a deafening cannon-roar rolled over him; in the dizzying silence that followed he saw the void where the Arch-Reaver had stood, the fortress battlements vaporised in an instant, their debris raining down all around him. On all sides the besiegers stopped mid-flight, turned with yells of triumph and began to stream back towards the fortress' breached walls.

The scene jumped again: now quiet as the grave, the field strewn with corpses, ants swarming between piles of shattered masonry. Cadmus stumbled as he mounted a set of tilting stairs. Ahead of him he glimpsed the familiar form of his father, his helmet removed as he approached the figure of the Arch-Reaver where it lay broken at the base of a tower. And on the claws that still stretched towards the sky, the four gems of the power-rings gleamed, their surfaces glittering in the half-light-

The vision jumped again and now Cadmus saw it all play out, the legacy of his father's achievements: the armoured columns that had reached out to quell every upstart Archon and petty magistocrat of the land, the vast dominion Lord Craven had conquered by sheer strength of will. He saw the three-day march across the Great Salt Lake Desert, Lord Adamantus levitating his armour over the pilot range in order to surprise the King of Vegas from the north. He saw the Delaware river frozen in the heat of a dizzying august, his father's armies marching across to crush the rebellious lords of Trenton. He saw his father locked in single combat with the Archess Cassandra, the ferocity of their duel levelling the peak of Mount Shasta in an afternoon. Afterwards, panting and gasping, the pair had lain together in the mad devastation they'd wrought, a union from which Cadmus' three half-brothers had sprung. He saw his own mother by contrast: an actress in a performing troupe who'd caught his father's eye one night; a woman whose part in Cadmus' life had ended the night she'd tried to poison Lord Adamantus on behalf of his enemies. Next, he saw himself, dull and untalented compared with his more precocious brothers: big, dashing Titus, gruffly stoical Rasmus and charming, intelligent Idris. Each had matured, each had grown into a reflection of their father's steely brilliance. And, finally, each had died carrying their father's banner. Lord Adamantus never recovered from the shock. Six months after Idris was ambushed on his way back from a bushwhacking campaign in the Carolinas, Cadmus had finally buried the old man.

He saw himself now, his expression uneasy as he'd taken the rings from his dead father's fingers. He saw himself lazing naked upon the beds of Miniscula's temples, caressing his priestesses and making erotic experiments with the rings while his father's empire fell apart around him. He saw the monuments of his brother's tombs, laying forgotten and half-dismantled. He saw the statues of their likeness vandalised, their graves plundered by radiation-addled nomads while Cadmus slept off his hangovers.

Finally he saw himself alone in his father's study, red-faced and miserable as he drained yet another flagon of wine.

“Urgh. Lame.” He murmured, dabbing at his eyes. “Doesn't even look like me.”

And with that, the vision was gone. With the sensation of a barrier suddenly dissolved, Cadmus found himself stepping out into a corridor of bright golden-green.

He paused, his breath coming heavily. At his feet the ants marched in column, the detritus of a hundred battlefields held proudly aloft. Cadmus bent down, plucked up a half-melted cigar-case as it meandered past his ankles. On its surface was enamelled the initials 'TC'.

Titus Craven. Big, laughing Titus. Cadmus grit his teeth as two reluctant tears rolled down his cheeks.

Success Unfulfilled. The words appeared in his mind, just as suddenly as if they'd been whispered in his ear.

He could only shake his head mutely, unable to muster a reply.

The corridor wound away before him, the light of its walls pulsing as softly as a cat's purr. Their sensation was high and dynamic, containing all the wild beauty of a leopard; Cadmus smiled through his tears, putting out his hand to touch them; as he did so, he was struck by the impression of a blood-chilling snarl and he snatched his hand away, his hair standing on end.

He turned and set off once more, heart pulsing quietly within him. Below, his guides streamed confidently before him.

As he walked, his sadness lessened, to be replaced by another sensation. For now the maze-like walls seemed to press in on him, their energies gnarly and threatening. He found himself looking warily about as he passed through dim hallways filled with stuffed and mounted animal heads; he found himself tensed and watchful as he passed doorways through which moon-bleached ruins and rustling forests could be glimpsed. He looked back over his shoulder, his heart hammering within him-

Fear was upon him; the fear of the field-mouse as the shadow of the owl fell across it; the fear of the tapir startled by reptilian movement at the water's edge-

There was a sudden noise and Cadmus spun about with a cry, his power-rings thrust before him. But only shadows greeted his eyes. A moment later he heard a quiet voice behind him; he spun about once more, tears of fright streaming from his eyes.

But is was no leopard that threatened; no silent death flew down upon him. Instead, a familiar scene stood before his eyes, illuminated by the lone stage-light that seemed to shine from above.

Upon a couch were sat two figures. The first was Haldern Sylverne, his features stark and predatory, his black cloak giving him the appearance of a vulture. Sat opposite him was Cadmus himself, appearing small, uncomfortable and faintly ridiculous in the costume of the sun-god. Neither of them seemed to notice the intruder.

“Well, of course I'm willing to do whatever is best for the League...” The other Cadmus was saying. “However, there is also the matter of my planet and my rug-”

“Excellent.” Sylverne replied, smiling at the Neophyte's distress as he clinked their glasses. “Your instructions are as follows...”

Cadmus watched the scene play out again: the Archmagister's masterful countenance and easy control of the situation, half-cajoling and half-threatening as he unveiled in turn the promised rewards and punishments of his plot. Cadmus saw himself from without: a sensation as odd as it was uncomfortable. He saw his tensed shoulders, heard the forced casualness of his tone, the contrived detachment. Defence mechanisms; the curling of an armadillo. It was a painful revelation. But far worse was yet to come.

As the interview drew to its close, Cadmus watched as Sylverne rose and moved to his corner once more. This time, however, the scene did not accord with Cadmus' memories; instead, he watched as he himself was frozen by the effects of Sylverne's hiatus. In the corner, the Archmagister shook his head with a smile. Then he stepped forwards to greet a startled Jian Jishei as she awoke from arrested time.

Cadmus felt himself grow faint.

He watched as the scene played out, almost identical to the previous one. Sylverne's performance was repeated almost word-for-word. The Empress Jian, self-willed and unprincipled, lapped up the Archmagister's promises, eagerly swore to ensure the death of Zlot The Wonderworker. Sylverne rose once more and went to the corner, a secretive smile in place.

The scene played out over and over again while Cadmus watched, his heart frozen in horror. Another five times it happened: Three times within Narcissa Khan's parlour and twice in that of Eliphas Levi The Third. The Archmagister had approached seven Neophytes in total. Seven to whom he'd made the same offer and the same threats. Seven to whom he'd offered promotion in exchange for murder.

The final scene came to a close; the stage-lights dimmed and there was the sensation of a curtain falling. Cadmus simply stood where he was, too stunned to move.

“Three Maguses to be killed.” He breathed at last. “And seven Neophytes sworn to do it.”

So. This was the reason for Jian Jishei's fury over his arrest of Zlot; the reason she'd resolved so readily to destroy the Magus.

And she was just one of seven.

Surely then, the other two Maguses were likewise dead and Sylverne's plot successful. But what of their murderers? Only three would receive the reward they'd been promised. And as for the others-

Cadmus remembered with a shudder the thin, vulpine features of the Archmagister, his coldly calculating eyes. Surely such a person would leave nothing to chance.

His thoughts were distracted by the sounds of a low crackling; the cackle and moan of demonic voices. A wave of dread and despair washed over him as he turned to look upon the dim hallway of the demon Adrammelech.

Now restored to his position as the eighth Duke of Hell, Adrammelech resided within his palace on Thenieul, the eighth of the Nine Hells. Across the low, darkened hallway in which Cadmus now stood, he saw the brass throne upon which Adrammelech slouched, his mulish face miserable by the light of bluish flames. Imps and twisted forms perched about the throne, half-visible in the shadows. They massaged their master's limbs, making sympathetic noises as the demon outlined his complaints.

“-disrupted my precious Kadmonites, perverted their worship and half-tore tore me from their bosom! Centuries of painstaking work undone in an instant! Centuries of appearing in dreams, coaxing dim-witted prophets and guiding the hand of inbred kings-! Centuries of irritation and inconvenience, painstakingly orchestrated in snatched moments between cleaning and running errands for that band of tiresome meddlers! All my hard work, everything I did to win back my throne, now threatened by that accursed league!”

In a fit of rage Adrammelech seized the nearest imp, flung it screaming into the fireplace. The flames blazed brightly for a moment, the demon's expression growing thoughtful by their light.

“Of course, they must be punished, my children. All of them. But most especially that idiotic Craven. He's the one I despise the most, you see: the most talentless and unworthy of the bunch! For if there is one thing that irks me above all else, it is unearned privilege! That worm had wealth, power and position dropped into his lap while I struggled and cleaned toilets for uncounted millennia! And now he presumes – now he dares to topple my empire with an idiotic, half-baked scheme? No! I won't tolerate it!” The demon screeched, crushing a skull with a convulsion of his mighty fist; a shadow jerked away, brains leaking from its ears as he continued: “No! It is the Lord Craven on whom my worst revenge will fall! To the darkest and coldest moon of Tartarus I shall banish him. There, amidst dust and frozen tears, he shall be imprisoned for all eternity, a plaything and companion for the moon-sprites!”

Cadmus backed unseen from the fire's light. His foot disturbed a puff of moon-dust; it rose about him in the dismal gravity of Tartarus and he spun about to see the moon-sprites crouched all about him by the milky blue light of Tartarus, tears streaming from their black eyes, flabby arms stretched out towards him-

The power-rings pulsed, threw back the grasping moon-sprites; Cadmus fell with a cry, arms flung up before him-

There was silence. He opened his eyes and looked about. He was back within the confines of the orb once more, sprawled on a hallway floor, its emerald surfaces as hard and opaque as ice.

Unstable Effort. The words appeared in his mind, placed there by the vast intelligence of the orb.

“Yeah. No shit.” He muttered through gritted teeth.

He rose on trembling limbs, dusted himself off, cursing underneath his breath.

He turned about; found only translucent crystalline walls behind him, the way back silently closed off. He turned with a sour smile. Before him the corridor stretched on, its depths lost to twisting ways; at his feet, the ants streamed onwards, moon-rocks and the charred remains of an imp hoist upon their backs.

“Am I supposed to be learning something from this?” He shouted in irritation. “I'm sorry, I haven't been paying attention!”

His words echoed down the corridor, the sounds strangely distorted; a moment later a cacophony of voices rang out from somewhere ahead, all shouting his name at once.

He cast a suspicious glance at the walls around him, called out sharply:

“Who is it? What do you want?”

For a beat there was silence, the sounds of hushed bickering, then:

“Craven, is that you?” The voice of the Ipsissimus rang out clearly. “For God's sake, get in here! I require your assistance!”

A moment later came the harsher tones of Haldern Sylverne: “Craven! Don't listen to her! She's gone mad with lust for power! You must come to me – remember our deal-!”

The voices descended into shouts and bickering; Cadmus broke into a run, his hair standing on end. The sounds grew louder as he raced through the twisting turns of the corridor, the walls pulsing a vibrant green on all sides. He turned a corner and came out abruptly into a crystalline cavern, a pulsing green light at its centre. He caught a glimpse of half a dozen figures, their faces turned away from him; there was a terrific pulse of light and the voices stopped abruptly.

Cadmus shrank backwards, overwhelmed by the sensation of throbbing power that emanated from the thing at the chamber's centre. The light died away and he opened his eyes. Before him the League's first and second orders crowded the chamber, each figure frozen in place, bellowing and wailing, their fingers stretched out to grasp for the prize. Cautiously, he stepped forwards; as he approached, he saw that the crystalline substance of the chamber had run, flowing over the limbs of the intruders to enclose them like insects trapped in amber: a dozen frozen statues, only their faces left uncovered, expressions frantic as they sputtered pleas and incantations. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise.

On the low pedestal at their centre it was enthroned: a gleaming shard of the Green-Ray, raw power radiating forth with each terrific pulse of light-

Cadmus stepped gingerly between the statues of his colleagues. A murmur attracted his attention, and he looked to see the gaunt figure of Gloriana, Queen Of Owls encased in crystal, her lips moving softly, eyes fastened upon the glowing shard.

“Free me, Craven.” She muttered without looking at him. “Free me, and I shall grant you riches beyond your wildest dreams. I pledge you my crown: the Kingdom of Eostrix shall be yours. Only free me and it shall be so...”

“No, Craven!” A harsher voice rasped at his elbow; he turned to see Kung The Impmaster, his eyes filled with impotent rage. “Free me and I shall share the prize with you! Free me, Craven! Free me, or I will tear out your heart and consume it before your eyes!”

Cadmus grimaced. He stepped gingerly past the frozen Zealator, ignoring the stream of threats that followed him. He took a final step, came to the pedestal on which the Green-Ray resided. To either side of it were Madame Zephyr and Archmagister Sylverne, their features twisted in desperation, fingertips frozen mere inches from the pulsing Green-Ray.

“Craven!” The Ipsissimus choked, tearing her gaze from the thing to look at him with wild eyes. “Craven, you must free me! Your Ipsissimus commands it!”

“No, Craven!” Sylverne gasped, tears of frustration streaming down his cheeks. “She is corrupted! She would take the Green-Ray for herself, use its power to rule the cosmos! Free me! The Green-Ray must be protected!”

“Don't listen to him, Craven!” The Ipsissimus shrieked. “Sylverne has gone mad! He would use the Green-Ray himself – order the cosmos to unending stasis! He must be stopped!”

Cadmus looked blankly between them. The power of the Green-Ray rolled over him in waves of pure ecstasy. Tears streamed down his cheeks. His chest shook with sobs. His hand trembled as it went to his breast pocket; he drew out his rug and the shattered planet, bowed to the godlike thing before him.

“If you please, My Lady,” he spoke over the roars and lamentations of the others, “I would very much appreciate it if you could restore these articles to their original state.”

For a moment, there was silence. The Green-Ray seemed to pause, the intelligence that lived within it regarding him inscrutably. Then came a series of pulses like a quiet, tinkling laugh.

Cadmus' hair stood on end. The glowing of the Green-Ray grew brighter as the objects floated up from his extended palms. Before his eyes, the rug grew to full size once more, the bloody wine-stain fading to nothingness; the shards of Miniscula flew together: there was a blinding flash of light and then the planet was whole once more, a crystalline apparatus materialising around it before Cadmus' unbelieving eyes.

The items floated on the air for a second; slowly they drifted back to his outstretched hands.

“My Lady, Thank You...” He murmured, tears flowing freely as he sank to his knees, eyes riveted upon his prize. “It means more than I can say-”

The Green-Ray gave a final pulse – the curt nod of an empress, kind yet condescending – then it was gone.

All was ringing silence. Cadmus blinked in confusion. The chamber was empty, the statues of the League-members gone. Only the crystal shard of the Green-Ray remained, no longer glowing, but now tawdry and mundane. He looked down at his outstretched hands. On his palms rested the rug and the planet Miniscula, both miniaturised. Both irrevocably broken still.

He trembled silently, his eyes bulging in his skull.

Illusory Success. Came the whisper of the Green-Ray.

For long moments Cadmus was still. Then he seized the shard from the pedestal and hurled it savagely against a wall.

“Enough!” He roared. “I'm sick of this! No more games! No more messages! Whatever you're trying to sell me, I'm not interested!”

His words echoed back at him, their sound mocking.

He turned with a snarl; found the doorway through which he'd entered gone, only a solid wall now standing in its place.

“Fine then.” He grimaced. “I'll make my own way out.”

He clenched his fist. The power-rings throbbed; with a roar he threw a mighty beam of force at the far wall. The crystal blackened, its substance began to run like quicksilver and he stepped forwards with a triumphant grin. A moment later however, the process was reversed; the crystal flowed back into place and his force-beam was hurled back against him. He threw himself down with a yell, huddled on the floor while the beam ricocheted around the room-

Suddenly there was silence. Cadmus opened his eyes. Above him the force-beam hung frozen in mid-air. Before him, a pair of high boots had appeared. After a moment's silence a voice spoke calmly:

“All right, that's enough, Cadmus. Playtime’s over.”

Slowly he raised his eyes. Above him a familiar outline loomed. A figure tall and powerful. Piercing blue eyes stared down at him; the mouth twisted into a familiar smile. Four power-rings gleamed on its fingers, identical to his own in every respect. The figure gave a casual wave and the energy bolt was dissipated.

Cadmus backed slowly away.

“No.” He said, his voice trembling with shock. “No. Not this. This isn't fair!”

Before him, his father, Lord Adamantus Craven, smiled coldly.

Christopher Moiser