The tundra sky was black. It was neither night nor day but simply a perpetual absence of light. To Ignatius, it was an abyss that sprawled upwards in an endless manner. He caught glimpses of the occasional faint star, only for it to be blotted out by the heavy pellets of snow that pelted, not from above, but from the horizon—whipped from the tips of the snow dunes by the gale-force winds. But the occasional star was all that Ignatius needed.
He looked down at his mittens. Crisp rime layered the crudely stitched fur, and he held between them a yellow and brown stained parchment. It was one the parchments he had sprawled out over his desk earlier in the day; riddled with black ink depicting complex astrological charts, lined with a series of celestial bodies and—at the centre of it all—the World Tower. Even though one would not immediately know by looking at it, what Ignatius held in his hands was worth more than the entirety of Anchorhead station itself: a Dead Reckoning Chart; without which, Ignatius would be hopeless lost, forever doomed to wander the World Tower while aimlessly trying to navigate his way back to Roanoke City.
He paused and held his eye to the sky, taking a mental note of the position of stars while glancing down and comparing them to the chart. He then neatly rolled up the weather-beaten parchment as best as his numb hands would allow and slipped it into a leather cylinder tube. He then stuffed the leather tube snuggly into his inside pocket and continued onwards.
Ignatius could no longer hear the hard crunch of snow depressing beneath his feet. He could no longer hear the forlorn wail of the winds. He could no longer hear anything at all. No matter how snug his hood fit around his head or his parka around his body, the prying hands of the tundra gales forced their way into even the tiniest of gaps within Ignatius’ clothing; clutching to his body with a bitter cold grasp. His face stung, his ears were numb. When he blinked, he had to force his eyelids apart as his lashes would immediately fuse with ice. His lips were cracked and at one point felt warm as they bled, but that feeling had long since passed. He was not sure how much longer he could survive.
Ignatius was no longer sure of many things. He did not know for how long he had been alone—or if he ever had the company of Balla and the other two miners. He did not know if they were alive, or if they had perished—and if so, when. He did not know how long he had been walking, or how much longer he needed to walk. Hours… a day, two days perhaps? For Ignatius, that was the answer to all of his questions. He was sure of one thing though. He held in the palm of his hand the vial of Azoth that Balla had presented to him earlier. He watched the thick, gluey liquid gracefully swivel in the vial with every arduous step he took. It’s sterling silver exterior gleamed at him, and although it did not emit any form of light—Ignatius thought it to be illuminating. He felt warmth emanating from it. It was a soft, gentle warmth—the type of warmth you would feel lying next to a cosy, smouldering campfire. At first, it was small, localised entirely in his palm. Then, it travelled to the tips of his fingers, up his arm and along his chest, down his back and to his feet until he felt it in the entirety of his body. The heat circulated through him, embracing him, swaddling him in what felt like a loving embrace—protecting him from the harsh, frigid environment. He was sure he would survive.
Ignatius could hear the Azoth whispering to him. It offered no words, only guidance. He soon stopped using the Dead Reckoning chart and instead relied on the Azoth; conferring all his trust into it as it hushed pleasant nocturnes of the night into his thoughts.
The Azoth compelled Ignatius to smile, so smile he did. He was near. He grinned with glee as the murmurs in his mind shifted into fully formed words; and he spoke the words, repeating them over and over with praise, for he was near.
…My lord, my liege, thy hallowed name…
The words became voices; each one overlapping the other, echoing throughout the air and coalescing with the hiss of the wind. His steps were no longer his own for the Azoth compelled him to walk, so walk he did for he was near.
…Will be my guide from sin and shame…
Ignatius collapsed. He lay face down, only managing half-breaths as a layer of snow quickly piled atop of him. His muscle were worn, his body refused, yet his smile remained. He could no longer will his eyes to move, instead, they rested upon the vial of Azoth still held firmly in his grasp. But the Azoth compelled him to stand, so stand he did for he was near.
…Dim truth thou speak, my King he doth…
A minute, or an eternity passed for Ignatius. For the first time since he had arrived five years ago, the storm had settled. Snow drifted through the air with a serene calmness, twirling to a dance of the voices. He could see in the distance an enormous pit before him consisting of ice-sheet walls of unnaturally straight angles and stretching across the width of his vision. The vial of Azoth in his hand grew hotter, and hotter, until it became unbearable to hold. But the Azoth compelled him to hold, so hold he did for he was near.
…Protest false guides, so pledge thy troth…
Kneeling before the pit were three men. Their heads hung slack, drooping downwards, peering into the endless abyss below them. One of the men had the Runner’s Gear attached to his legs—it was Balla. Ignatius recognised the other two as the same men from the chamber room. It was then that he realised that that the Azoth had guided him back to where Anchorhead Station once stood; only now in its place lay the ominous pit. Ignatius began to move forward with laboured steps, half-dragging his feet through the snow.
The disembodied voices grew louder, their incongruent calls now a discordant chant. The right hands of Balla and the other two men jerked outwards in perfect unison. They jabbed their pointers into the snow and, with a fervent intensity, repeatedly traced a symbol of some freakish sort; over and over, running their fingers in spiral patterns and twisted geometric shapes. Ignatius was standing before the pit now. A thin ribbon of smoke curled upwards from his mitten as the vial sizzled in his hand. The Azoth compelled him to kneel, so kneel he did for he was near.
…My lord, my liege, thou hast become…
Ignatius studied the pit; its hexagonal shape was elusively cut with straight angles by no mortal design. It was an abysm shrouded black with darkness that was almost material, and he felt a perverse miasma welling out from it—twisting his thoughts and mind into a manic curiosity. He turned his head to the three men kneeling equal distances away from each other. All three were gawking back at him with their cracked lips peeled apart into a distorted grin; their purple-black fingers still frantically tracing the same jarring symbol in the snow. An unnerving ring resonated all around him as the voices in the air harmonized, rising to a wordless crescendo. He turned his head back to the pit and was horrified to see that the black mass within had risen from the cavernous depths.
This accursed being stood with colossal proportions; visibility blocking the sky as it reached ludicrous heights—and yet, even more terrifying was the sheer depth of this abyssal pit as, at full height, this Thing could only be seen from the waist up. It was human in shape but it was more akin to a monstrous mockery of it—a shadowy outline of indescribable features; it in itself was a contradiction as Ignatius could see depth and curves to its shape and yet, equally, it was flat and stretched out like an impenetrable umbra. Ignatius could not discern if it had solely two arms or eight, or perhaps it was both simultaneously. Its face was featureless except for two white eyes that that shone like blazing stars and on its head lay a series of interlocking black fingers in the shape of a crown.
This eldritch contradiction that defied all matters of reasons swivelled its head to look down upon Ignatius. Its eyes shone upon him like two glaring spotlights, enveloping him in a cone of intolerable white light; to Ignatius, this is what it was like to step into the realm of the gods, to peer out through the shimmered looking glass and beyond all that lay where no mortal should reach. The voices morphed into an unbearable screech; his ears trickled with thick globules of blood; his mind became a riddled mess of lunacy as this being etched words into his mind—searing his thoughts until no reason was left other than what it conferred to him. His lips trembled; his tongue wagged with anxiety—he felt he had to spit the words out for fear that holding them in would burn him alive.
My lord, my liege, thy hallowed name
Will be my guide from sin and shame.
Dim truth thou speak, my King he doth
Protest false guides, so pledge thy troth.
My lord, my liege, thou hast become
A Tattered King for all but one.
The Azoth compelled him to weep for joy, so weep he did for He was here.