The city’s architecture squatted beneath a jagged skyline. Dark obsidian buildings, inlaid with vein-like patterns of gleaming brass, looming over crowded, gloomy streets choked with smog and filled with shrouded, gloomy people. Dingy lamps flickered above the streets, amber light gleaming off the brass, reflecting from the damp cobbles and mist-slick walls.
Some towers of the city, however, stretched up through the mist, eventually meeting the ceiling of the cavern in which the city sat. Great edifices of stone and shaped brass, grand and ornate pillars stood in a sea of pale mist, beneath whose surface the shapes of the smaller buildings were visible, like a jagged reef.
In the realm known as either ‘Sheol’ or ‘Hades’, in the city of Pandemonium, in the great brass Second Tower of Law, in an echoingly empty room, two figures stood before a vast window that overlooked the gently undulating layer of acrid fog under which the bulk of the city lay.
The figure that gleamed, burning light leaking out from under her cracked skin, turned to her partner. “Mister Dusk, I fear our quarry is getting away from us.”
The other figure oozed darkness, absorbing so much light that he seemed to paradoxically glow with it. “Patience, Doctor Dawn. The Deathless hunted them, the Starseekers hunt him in turn. They will turn on each other, and you know what happens next?”
“They face each other, Mister Dusk? Surely, the Starseekers will fall before the Deathless. They are strong in their art, but they are but amateurs before his terrible might.”
Mister Dusk chuckled, emitting little dark motes of something unlike soot with his breath. “Amateurs they may be, Doctor Dawn, but they are persistent. With a little encouragement, they will arrive at just the right time to disrupt things.”
“A fair point, Mister Dusk. I suppose we will have our alternative methods ready for when the conflict starts?”
“We will be there,” Mister Dusk replied, “to offer our mutual acquaintance succour in this most trying time. A way out of a most unpleasant situation. And with no sign of that meddling amphibian to assist her, this time.”
“Beautiful, Mister Dusk. Beautiful.”
He gave her a little bow. “My pleasure, Doctor Dawn.”
“Now, Mister Dusk, what about-”
She was interrupted by a knock on the conference room door. A young-looking devil in spectacles opened it, and looked around, taking in the large, empty room and the two ominous figures at the end, one gleaming with an inner fire, and the other radiating a sepulchral darkness. Both Doctor Dawn and Mister Dusk turned their heads slowly to look over at the intruder, one set of eyes hidden in shadow yet gleaming redly, and the other set of eyes glowing still beneath a tight blindfold.
“Oh! Um, sorry,” they added, closing the door with a clack. The quiet sound of retreating hoofsteps was barely audible over the deafening silence that filled the room.
“Interesting,” said Mister Dusk. “I thought I booked this room. Anyway, Doctor Dawn, you were saying?”
“Well, Mister Dusk, I was going to ask about-”
“The eighth of those crystals that hover above your desk is glowing, noncontinuously.”
Gyran opened her eyes. “Ah. What colour, and what pattern?”
Hatred in Crimson focused their attention again on their other perspective, left behind in Hollowed Hall to watch the alarm crystals. “Red, and it is blinking steadily.”
She sighed. “Oh bugger.”
“Hm. Profanity. I take it that this is urgent?”
She stood up, dusting off her long coat, and looked out, over the plains, whose violet grass undulated gently in the wind. “We’re very far removed from the typical Realmspace, so navigating our way back with any speed will be problematic, to put it mildly. Unfortunately, these things are sent to try us.”
“I am already at Hollowed Hall, in one of my aspects. I could see about maybe opening a gate, or contacting someone.”
She frowned, infinitesimally. “Opening a gate here wouldn’t work. I will see about contacting someone myself, but the situation is dire. Red requires our aid, and you will have to give it in my absence.”
“Oh. I will do so, then. Will you not assist?”
The corners of her mouth twitched upwards, slightly. “I will arrive as soon as I am able.” She indicated over the fields, to where the geometric white shapes of a half-built Causeway loomed grandiose, casting long shadows over the landscape. “I doubt I’ll have completed that before the incident resolves. Like you said, I will likely contact someone.”
“Acknowledged. Should I remain here, also? I could provide you with information on how it is proceeding.”
“No, that won’t be necessary, and it would be more prudent to focus your attention. I’m fully confident in your ability to disrupt the proceedings — my reckoning is that you are not a variable my enemies have accounted for. I will join you when I am able.” She paused a moment. “Good luck.”
Hatred in Crimson stood still for a few moments, as if they were thinking of something, trying to put it into words.
“Something on your mind?”
They paused, longer this time. “Thank you for wishing me well. I believe I appreciate it.”
Gyran snorted. “Come here.”
And then, standing on a purple grassy plane beneath a pair of suns, a Smoke Elf and a mineral faerie shared a brief hug.
“The Murderer,” hissed Mister Dusk, “will not bother us, Doctor Dawn. I have seen to that — she is hunting for weak points in Materia to build her doomed Causeways. Far too far away to reach us before our plans enter motion. The Outer Void is in tumult, filled with our inimical demon step-siblings—”
“Ah, they remind us so much of Lord Night, don’t they?”
“Yes indeed, Doctor Dawn. Some party that you may be acquainted with has stirred them up, filled their not-minds with a congealed lust and hunger for the flesh of the Real. The Void is not a place the Murderer will be able to travel swiftly.”
“Excellent, Mister Dusk. Well, then. Until we meet again.”
“Certainly, Doctor Dawn.”
And then, in a flash of blazing light and a burst of icy darkness, the two figures were gone, and the conference room was empty.