Chapter 1

This page is blighted with mold and the imprint of a memory…

The words seep experience into your open mind…


A royal invitation got me as far as the inner reliquary. I enter the belly of the Leviathan, unattended. My eyes catch on the runs in Calus's crestfallen banners. His inner halls don't gleam—reminds me of stories from the Golden Age. Polish the veneer and present them on a platter, but when you peel back the layers it's just… old. Past, with prime far behind.

Ahead, a Legionary in loyalist gild nods to me and swings open a door. A manufactured version of Calus stands tall on the other side. Its likeness mirrors the Tribute Hall's automaton and many other statuesque bots I'd spoken to him through.

The statue of Calus whines to life. "You're early, but I suppose your tribe is always ahead of the pack, Hunter. Should I have this room moved, that you may stroll the Leviathan's halls that much longer and appreciate my hospitality?"

I'm not sure what he wants to hear. "She's an impressive beast. I've come to take the job." I turn it like an offer.

Uncomfortable silence.

"Come and see me, Katabasis. I have a gift for you."

The statue points toward a domed chamber; its curled walls sport every kind of trophy. Bones on hooks. Taxidermy wrapped around terrified eyes and final moments.

A clutch of Councilors watches me as they take mechanical plates from three other identical statues of Calus surrounding them. They huddle about a towering cage of filigreed alloys and woven circuitry, fitting the plates to it with sacramental focus, until the cage becomes a tomb around a pearlescent seat supporting a lonesome figure within.

"What an auspicious early arrival. Come. Witness my containment. Few have seen this," Calus wheezes from inside the cage, his voice like taut suffocation.

Calus's withering form swells and jostles. My thoughts stink of disgust, and he can smell it. "I am no more trapped here than you are by your Light. You assume this flesh satisfies me? How small. My automatons stand as monuments of my image; reflections of my breadth. They are, as I am: one collective self, as Nothing is.

I grit my teeth and look on, stepping sideways to see him from a different angle. His skin is mottled with sickly translucence that grips my stomach.

"Your thoughts are as open as your fears, Katabasis. Come, come… look upon me and let my Councilors assuage them."

Councilors lay more thick plates over Calus's living misery, brushing past me as they finish and exiting the room with my inhibitions. Mechanisms within the plates engage as plum light emits from the slits between them. Nacre runs smooth around the frame and into a throne-like cup of sullied nobility. Beneath the throne, hoses bubble viscous royal wine into the sealed frame. Calus looks through me, eyes like clumped chalk, as the last Councilor fastens a faceplate into position. Deep orbs illuminate in the faceplate, like wild eyes in the open pitch of night. We are alone.

"What do you know of lies, Katabasis?"

I pick between the words. "There're a lot different kinds."

"And all of them are weakness. " Calus's voice spills from the containment vessel and floods the room. "Gods do not lie. Like me, they have neither the capacity nor the reason. True power cannot be threatened. It does not compel deception. And yet, I have been betrayed by one I thought to be the final divinity."

"Sounds like you got swindled… ?" I quickly blunt the question with respect: "…Emperor?"

"When the Darkness found me adrift in the cosmos, rejected by a people I had made, I thought to have found a confidant. No—an idol. They promised to return to me, to uplift me—that we may dance together among the stars and drink of their dying ecstasy 'til the end, as one. But their chilling little fleet came and went. It was luscious, and so many tasted so much. Yet I am empty. Nothing. Trapped in this limbo of their lie."

"And gods don't lie," I proffer.

"Precisely. To be seen…" Calus pauses to heap the drama, "…for what we really are, underneath the surface, is bliss." All four statues step forward to bear Calus's vessel. His voice resounds from all of them simultaneously. "Come. Cast a shadow in my halls and drink. Soon we will speak to the liar, and separate from it the truth."

FRENETIC SCRAWL INKED IN THE MARGIN READS: Smuggler's switches still working. Maintenance side-hatch. Had to kick in the vent.