Gods. I despise gods. I loathe gods. Accursed creatures intent upon the destruction of all things that could threaten them, all things that could challenge them. Their ambitions are played out upon a tragic stage, the people that foolishly look to them for guidance forced into role of actors and butchered upon the stage for their amusement. Never trust a god, never acknowledge a god, and for your own sake, dear reader, never ever deal with one. This goes especially so for Dead Gods, but that is another subject entirely.
A fabricated city, created in another place and brought here innumerable years in the past, though Verusa doubted that it’s current residents were aware of this fact. So far as the citizens of Godelion were concerned this city was created by the gods that they worshipped. It was a religious city espoused by the Gray Magistrate’s, the oppressive religious police of this empire.
Well, it wasn’t as if he had any room to judge the morality of others. Walking quietly through the city’s gate, the guards on duty waved him through without any hassle. Understandable, since he was a harmless looking traveler coming through minutes before they were to be relieved for the night.
He kept his eyes unfocused, just watching everything around him as walked through the city’s main street. As the time passed by he was joined by another, a dark haired and eyed young man in woodsman’s garb.
“I haven’t heard anything about the Hound of Kal-roth around the outlying villages. I suspect the presence of the Magistrates leads to heightened security in the area.” Hansel’s sour tone was matched by his sour expression as he stayed a step behind and to the side of Verusa.
“Well, we weren’t expecting to find any clues in this vile city, so we suffer no loss there.” Verusa flipped his hand in a sign of indifference.
The two walked in silence for a time, taking no particular route, simply wandering until their more city wise companion finished her business and found them. Neither of the two felt hunger or exhaustion, so they could wait indefinitely, though only a handful of hours passed between Verusa’s entry into the city and being found by the second of his servants.
“Hey boss! Over here, over here!” Gretel’s saccharine voice and expression belied a personality as sour as her brother’s.
Walking into the alley that Gretel was standing in, the pair sought refuge from any prying eyes within its depths. Gretel walked backwards, careless of any detritus that she might trip over and brought them further into the alley.
“Well, have you found their base of operations?” Verusa leaned against one of the alley walls, unmindful of the muck quickly covering his coat.
“Nope. Not a peek, not a hint, not a whisper. But that’s just how scholars operate, as you knew from the beginning. They’ll get us when they want us.” Gretel’s airy tone was enough to express her disinterest in this entire venture.
Well yes, in the limited encounters that Verusa had with the scholars, they always moved to their own tune. But they would make contact soon enough, if only out of curiosity. As master Holstom explained, the greatest weakness of the Black Scholars was their insatiable curiosity.
“Do you really want to deal with these people? No one ever comes out ahead of scholars when you make a deal with them.” Hansel, naturally, shared his sister’s distaste for the scholars. For that matter, Verusa himself was not fond of them, but there accumulated knowledge was second to none.
“It does not matter what they get out of a deal, so long as they can set me upon the Hound’s path. Hansel, Gretel, seek them out and tell them that I wish for a meeting. These are your orders, now, go.”
The two saluted him, though they wore their displeasure openly, and withdrew from the alley. Verusa waited for a time after they left, leaning against the filthy wall and staring at the end of the alley.
Godelion, the city created by gods, also called the City of Dead Gods, was one of the few remaining ruins of a long dead space-faring race of humans. The locals, of course, were unaware of this fact and simply believed it to be a city created by gods. That belief in and of itself was more than enough to attract any number of dead beings, from forgotten gods to spiritual entities to alien to be considered ‘alive’ from a subjective standpoint.
Hunting the Hound of Kal-roth was not the only reason he had come to this city, to this world. In the City of Dead Gods there lay, for Verusa, the possibility of meeting such an entity again. But if it was not to happen here and now, well, he had a long time to look.
Scholars. If gods are the petulant children of existence, then the scholars are the mad, mass murdering psychopaths of existence. Don’t get me wrong, the Black Scholars are easily the most knowledgeable beings in existence. It is their specialty, just as the specialty of my Grey Philosopher brethren is wisdom. If there is something that you desire to know, some tidbit of forgotten arcane lore or buried eldritch secret, then the scholars shall know. The price that they demand for knowledge shall be reasonable, fair, and easily paid. But be warned, dear reader, for their views far surpass even that of the Ancient Ones, and a meaningless thing today can end the world tomorrow in their rotten hands. Of the Scholars, I shall only say this more: Their methods are inscrutable, their goals are unknowable, and their minds, mad.
“Welcome to our home, Hollow One.” The voice was faint, genderless, and purposefully aggravating.
Verusa walked into the dark room and sat in the chair that the shadowed figure had gestured to. Hansel and Gretel were waiting for him outside of the building that the scholars had offered to meet with him in. It only took a few hours after Verusa had entered the city for a scholar to contact through a complex system of messengers meant to fool the Grey Magistrates into discounting their presence.
Verusa could make out three different presences in the room, which was quite surprising since scholars tended to be solitary. Though as master Holstom explained, the thinking of scholars was unknowable to anyone outside of their number.
“Black Scholars, I am one that follows the teachings of Holstom, and I seek the Hound of Kal-roth, the mage devouring beast. I come seeking your advice and guidance.”
A clicking sound emerged from one of the figures, but that was the only reaction that his statement got from them. He had had dealings with their kind in the past, so Verusa calmly waited for one of them to respond to him.
“Hollow One, your search shall lead you elsewhere. Seek your quarry through the Aether, not through the land. Though this is beast that you chase, it is not what you seek. Tell us your desire, and we shall offer you guidance.”
Verusa caught his breath for a moment, though he knew that he shouldn’t have been surprised. Hiding something from the scholars wasn’t even something that could be contemplated by those that know them. Still, the offer was tempting though the price would no doubt be great.
“I am content with the Hound. I shall chase it through the Aether and to beyond if need be. Is there something that I can do in return for this information?” As master Holstom said, the scholars exist upon the concept of exchange, so long as he could live with whatever consequences there might be, then Verusa was more than willing to meet their price.
“If you wish to do something for us, then leave this city and this world. Your continued presence only disrupts the natural state here, empty one.” Another figure gave him these words, though if the Hound truly wasn’t here, then Verusa really didn’t have a need to stay here, so it wasn’t an issue for him.
“Very well, I shall withdraw from this world as you request, scholar.” While it might be a touch rude, Verusa preferred to have as little contact with the scholars as possible and left the room.
Walking down the stair to the buildings only exist, Verusa was only mildly concerned about treachery. It would be foolish to turn your back on anyone, of course, but the scholars were safer to deal with than most.
In the room that Verusa had vacated, three robed figures sat in near darkness and spoke amongst each other in hushed tones.
“The Hollow One is still as he was, it seems. He has yet to even learn the true nature of 'Holstom.' How truly disappointing"
“Yes, though an empty vessel always has difficulty establishing itself if there was never anything to begin with.”
“Is it not in our nature, though? To- Okay, can we stop it with the freaking cryptic speech? It always gives me such a headache.”
“Ah, yeah, sorry, I never notice the difference myself.”
“Catering to the expectations of people like Verusa is such a pain, we could have just done this in five minutes and been done with it, but noooo, we have to be mysterious and mystic to people that are as blind as him. Such a pain.”
“I know, can’t we just fix his head ourselves? It’s not like we haven’t done it before.”
“Yeah, but quality work needs time and effort. Anyway, I was about to make lunch. Microwaved green beans and pan seared chicken. Either of you want some?”
“I hate green beans.”
“I’ll eat some, I haven’t eaten today anyway. Are you sure making that deal with the magistrates was the best course though? That can go wrong pretty freaking quickly.”
“It’ll be fine. Want yours rare or burned?”
“They give you the usual run around?” Gretel’s saccharine voice was the first to greet him as Verusa exited the building.
“No more than usual. We’ll leave tomorrow for the nexus, so gather up the caches and meet me back at the ship.” Verusa was abnormally brisk enough to catch his subordinates notice.
“You didn’t make another stupid deal, did you? I don’t want to have to dig your corpse out of a river and spend the next few centuries in that temple again.” Hansel’s grimace was more pronounced than usual as he contemplated returning to the stasis that Verusa had found the two in.
“I’m just going to watch for the rest of today, I’ll meet the two of you at the ship tomorrow morning. Go.”
The two hunters departed a moment later, leaving Verusa to his thoughts. If it was just another night, then he might find that entity that he sought, that dead god. If he couldn’t find that one after tonight, then he could always seek elsewhere.
After an exhausting night of fruitless searching, Verusa made his way to the gate that he had entered the city through the previous day. Feeling morose over another failure, he didn’t pay any particular attention as he walked through the gate.
Therefore, it was a complete surprise when a halberd was thrust under his nose and a commanding voice declared:
“Verusa the heretic, you are hereby under arrest for the crimes of magic, murder, impersonating a Magistrate, and many others. Before this day is out, you shall be brought to justice for your crimes, heretic!”
Verusa looked into eyes mad with fanaticism, intent upon the destruction of all that he was told was unholy; the eyes of a Grey Magistrate and a veritable battalion of guards behind him.
Verusa couldn’t bring himself to curse his own inattentiveness; it was just that kind of day.