The High Priest knelt before his withered god, mired in the ambivalence of shattered ideology; his faith replaced by the reality of Xol’s failure. No wisdom or debased ritual buried in decrepit tomes could restore what was lost, nor was he inclined to attempt such an act.
Disillusion swept over—the Will of Thousands, silenced by Light and code. He would have called this an act of heresy once, when the truth had not yet been revealed:
There are no gods. There are only chains, and those at either end.
Nokris had been the ignorant staring into the sun, for what is divinity but a star that blinds? A statue to be toppled, that it may galvanize the wailing masses who seek power in the death of old things. Gods, broken by pawns, brought low and driven into the mud.
Nokris drifted in the heart of winter, at the northern pole of Mars. He lacked the strength to raise what remained frozen beneath the surface. He closed his eyes and reached into the tucked corners of existence with his mind, searching for remnants of Xol’s power, only to find his communion denied by months of disconnected indifference.
Through his outreach, he had come to know that Xol lived, burrowed deep and forgotten within the crust of another world. He had grazed the edge of confirmation with his old god, only to feel it wriggle away, apathetic and eager to break ties. Nokris, too weak to fulfill his purpose, was abandoned. The Worm sought to be wielded by another, to fill their hands with power as self-justified servitude in the bowels of Io.
Despite the many traces of Xol’s influence remaining on Mars, none would serve him better than the scrap of Worm-hide he gripped within his claws. He may be unable to produce the death necessary to feed its appetite and coerce paracausal change from it, but he knew those who could foster the necessary violence. A plan began to form in his mind, whispered from deep recesses he had not explored in many years.
He had held the scrap taken from Xol’s remains for so long that it had eaten grooves into the bone plating on his hand. With it, he intended to force open that which had always been kept from him by the logic of the Sword. He meant to craft his own Ascendant gate from the grave-corpse legions of his risen brood. Fetid ranks of Thrall, rotted beneath rime on cracked chitin, encircled him and awaited the ritual. Their refurbished flesh: soulfire kindling.
He drew upon the Deep and let the latent tethers clinging to Xol’s slough guide his will until he could mold reality around it. The bait was set. Agents of the Sky were expected, and so they came with fury and the fuel of death. They did as they were built to do; obsequious and domineering, they knew no other way but to cleanse that which stood in opposition to their arresting Light. Their righteous carnage berthed Nokris’s transition, and his snare drew watchful eyes from the Taken Throne.
The Sky’s vassals stormed the Penumbral Depths, as they had done many times before. Their fear of Xol’s resurrection drove their furor like searing irons at their back. Fear he had twisted to his purpose. His death: an offering that would seal the spell and create a pinprick piercing through which his soul could slip into the Ascendant Plane.
But guile was the language of a more ancient player, and she had taken notice of his cunning. She directed Nokris away from his destination to instead wash upon the shores of her court. As his vision cleared, his eyes strained to see the Taken Queen, cloaked in the midnight glory of an event horizon.
A singularity throne perverted the space before him. The Queen of lies, wrapped in distortion and gravitational lensing, sat within its inestimable depth. Her voice was distant red-shift discord and all around him. Her presence: the realm itself, boundless and willing to take.
Savanthun’s words spewed forth. “Breaker of pacts. A heretic stands here. What denial has yet to be given that you would return to me?”
“I fed the Worm, and still it faltered,” he said. Nokris stared directly into the empty point of space, continually caving in on its form. He could barely define her silhouette within the warp.
“To falter is its nature,” Savathun’s words were tinged in curiosity, “though not by your efficacious methods.”
Nokris preened the flesh of his face back to display a skeletal smile. “The Sword bears no truth. The Worms are gods of thin ambition and reign vast nothing.”
“Brave words in this place. Do you not think they are watching?”
Nokris bowed his head for the first time since he was drawn here. “The Queen is clever. You did not share my father’s single-minded ambition, nor my brother’s taste for glory.”
“You wish to serve me?” The thin image twitched within the backlit accretion glow.
“My life is spent: servitude to those who cast me away. Our blood is all that remains of the old pact.”
“Then let us make use of each other.”
Nokris raised his gaze. “What use would I be to a god?”
He nodded. “So it has always been.”
Savathun’s voice converged onto him from every direction. “You, a usurper: the first tug at the end of the chain.”
“To act as distraction or await slaughter?” Nokris’s voice sunk with disappointment.
“No. As a thorn, you have circumvented the Deep through forbidden sacrament, and so you shall continue. The Deep fears me, as we feared you. Ignorance keeps. Knowledge usurps. In this, you have found purpose in my court.”
The High Priest’s shoulders straightened. “You feared me?”
“In a younger time, intents were narrower. I see your value, as we should have then. All who denied you, blinded by the Sword, let them fall away as grains from the scythe.”
“I am the implement?”
“You are the mechanism by which we sever their chain.” Savathûn’s voice filled his skull with silken promise. “Teach me your necromancies, usurper of the ordered way, so that together we may circumvent the anchored logic that drags us into the depths. Serve as foil to scatter the pieces of their grand game across the cosmos.”
“As Xol did for my heart, I offer a trade. Knowledge for knowledge. Grant me sight into the Dreaming Mind’s talent, and I will teach what you ask.”
“A rebellious bargain in the midst of Dark tides; it is bound. Under my symbol, reborn and made in my image, our bargain will set new beginnings in motion.”
“The Masters convene here?” Concern dripped from Nokris’s words. “Do we mean to move against them?”
“Not so directly. Arrival is imminent. A Shadow will reach out and make itself known.”
“I am to obscure the connection?”
“Where Sky meets Deep, you shall be the screen that sows dissonance, and for it… we will walk unhindered by the parasitic inclinations of those who believe themselves mighty.”
Nokris saw the scheme. “The will of many bent to our hand. No longer do they draw upon us.”
“Freedom. They are beset against each other. We walk the space between.”
“An accord is struck.”
“Speak my name.”
“Savathûn, Subjugant to None, Sword-Breaker, and Queen to the Taken Throne.”
“To me, you are bonded. Go forth an enact my will.”
Nokris was cast out of Savathûn’s court as suddenly as he had been ripped into her presence. He drifted in the Ascendant Plane, no longer directionless.
Behind him, the court faded, and its shimmering illusion fell like curtains upon a stage. The dark core of the singularity wavered; sunken within its gravitational well was a lone Thrall and no other. Its death spread over eons of deterioration, mouth agape to utter words at the Taken Queen’s whim as patsy, and nothing more.
Her presence had been but a mirage, soaked and sold by the lie of her mouthpiece puppet to whom Nokris unknowingly spoke. In truth, only a Thrall stood within orbit of the singularity, for the Queen would not be so foolish to reveal herself.
Savathûn looked upon her charlatan court from distant transcendent hollows. Her nascent alliance had produced power twin-fold, in that of Nokris’s devotion, as well as his deception through her mouthpiece Thrall positioned within the singularity. She breathed in his desperate agreement and prepared for the struggle to come.