Interval I: Γαια

The assembly room was larger than it needed to be, by most metrics, if not all of them. The hemispherical cavern was nearly five hundred metres across. In the very centre, the table stood, absolutely tiny against the vast floor and its slowly-moving carved patterns.

The reasoning behind the round table was, theoretically, that this was a gathering of equals, the leaders of the organisation, and here there was to be co-operation. The fact that the beautifully carved table’s patterned surface was marred by scratches, gouges, burns, and scuff marks was an indication that not every conversation across the table had come to an amicable agreement.

With a crackle of lightning and a thunderclap, the first of the council arrived, solidifying in the centre of a runic circle, one of twelve that stood apart from the shifting shapes of the basalt floor, one for each of the chairs.

“Heh, first one here,” the Shepherd said, grinning as she took her seat.

The next council member appeared suddenly, sitting in its chair at the opposite side of the table. It looked like a cutout, like someone had taken a human, torn them out of a photo, and filled half the empty space with black paint and the other half with white, divided down the middle. It flickered intermittently, and the sound of static quietly filled the silences of the room.

The Shepherd opened her mouth and was about to say something when, with a sound like a gunshot, something kicked a twisting, sparking hole in reality. Through it, wreathed in a nimbus of cyan electric flame, strode the Path, who sat next to the Harmonious. They didn’t sit still, twitching and rocking in their seat as sparks crawled across their body.

The Dual, the Deep and the Drowned were next, each seeping into existence out of the shadows within their summoning circles. The Soldier’s appearance was via a tree that sprung up in seconds, growing a body for her to inhabit in fast-forward. The Slayer stepped through a door formed from flame, while the Gone appeared less flashily – she simply opened a trapdoor in the centre of her circle, climbing out from where she’d had a body waiting since the last meeting. The Hunter, the Steward and the Plated arrived together with a whoosh of displaced air, blinking unceremoniously into existence.

Once everyone was seated, finally, the Steward coughed loudly to gather everyone’s attention – he’d been the one to send out the urgent summons.

He rustled as he arranged his notes. “Between eleven and twelve hundred hours on the first of November, my detectors logged a flux of the Aeonic reference frame nearly two orders of magnitude above the background. It is my belief that this was due to an excursion – a human has left Materia unlawfully.”

“Ah,” said the Drowned, “I can corroborate. That coincides with a peak in Void activity – it is likely that that marks the exit of the human. I would need to check to be absolutely sure. It is possibly also connected to the, ah, matter of the signature I picked up on the same day in a similar location, that of an Inimical greater demon.”

The temperature in the room may have dropped a couple of degrees from sheer terrified startlement. Greater demons were horrible and very hard to get rid of. Inimical demons were insatiable destroyers of realities, who by their very nature were staggeringly dangerous.

The Deep was incensed. “An inimical greater demon would be the most significant incursion in decades!” they half-shouted, sharp luminous teeth flashing when they opened their mouth. They had stood up, looming over the Drowned as they sat in the neighbouring chair.

“I do not believe it was an incursion, and the Steward can possibly confirm to the council that I am correct,” said the Drowned.

“Mmm. None of my early-warning systems have activated, and I trust the Drowned to have read the auguries correctly.”

The Deep growled, but sat back down. “What do we know?”

“The signature doesn’t match any documents I was able to find, electronically or on paper,” said the Steward, as a holographic display flickered into existence above his head, a plot of a complicated thaumo-ontological wavefunction made visible to the rest of the Council.

“Once this meeting is over,” said the Drowned, “I will examine the omens for signs and information of this demon.”

“Myself, I will start preparing hunter simulacra to find the misplaced person. Slayer, might I request your assistance in this matter?”

The Slayer sighed, scratching his head behind the horns. “I mean, sure. I can spare some vital fire, but shouldn’t we send an actual agent?”

“Precautionary,” said the Steward. “I do not know what the excursor is capable of.”

The Shepherd sighed loudly. “Oh come on. Look, I’ll go and do recon for you, you paranoid git. Finding the escapee will probably be what we need to work out what actually happened.”

The Plated let out a hollow bark of a laugh. “With neither preparation nor backup? Good luck getting yourself killed. We needed a new Shepherd, anyway.”

“I’ll also,” said the Shepherd, making an obscene gesture at the Plated, “need to know where our escapee went.”

“The Library,” supplied the Drowned.

“Ware serpents,” came the thin, reedy voice of the Path, who was attempting to shake the sparks from their hair.

“Will do.” The Shepherd said, before she turned into lightning, bathing the room in harsh light and a booming thunderclap, sucked up by the personal runic circle linked to her sanctum.

“Show off,” grumbled the Hunter, once the noise had died down and everyone’s ears had stopped ringing.

“Do any members,” said the Steward, unperturbed by the lightshow, “have further points they wish to bring to the council’s attention?”

The response was a sound like a gunshot, as the Harmonius reached out and tapped the table, leaving a small smoking crater.

“Noted. Anyone else?”

The Plated clanked as she stood up. “I formally register my protest as to the actions of the Shepherd. I feel they are both rash and not properly researched.”

“Duly noted.”

The Plated scoffed and strode off into her summoning circle, dissolving into wisps of smoke.

The Drowned sighed. “I believe the meeting is adjourned. I will complete my scrying in twelve hours; the Steward can seek me then for information.”

There was a general mumble around the table as people started to get up and leave, and the hisses and pops of them translocating out in various manners were all that was audible for a while.

Finally, the Harmonious, flickering in black and white, was left alone at the table.

Everything was quiet, once more.

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