The Milan Line:
As Deborah, Zee, and Vincent awaited the Azar's arrival, Deborah's nine eyes widened.
Oh, dear. That one's patience just ran out.
The Foscagno Pass:
The Azar hovered into the air, her armies kneeling behind her, incanting her name in a sonorous chorus of adoration and worship. The monster's eyes changed, first glowing a sickly green and then transforming into miniature visions of the night sky. Stars and galaxies moved in their courses as the Azar extended her arms outward, palms upward and open. A second head began to form beside her, bones appearing first, then nerves and blood vessels, muscles knitting upon them. Flesh congealed over it, and then the monster echoed with a resounding howl the antediluvian foghorn that was the herald of the new age of light without shadow. The foghorn echoed for a solid minute, and then the monster's gauntleted hands clenched, ten rings sparking.
A pulse of destructive force followed, the very air shimmering and warping around it, and then moving out in overwhelming power, annihilating everything in its path. As the pulse moved, the monster smiled and then in accordance with her will her army turned east. The Balkans awaited and there a confrontation with the remaining power of what military strength there was in this region. And from there, too, the real war. Pandaemonium. Destiny awaited.
The Milan Line:
The annihilating pulse zoomed forward and Deborah formed a blade of mystical energy, jamming it into the ground and focused her Black Smoke around it. An acrid smell arose as with it rose an enormous pillar of cloud, a darkness that did not shimmer or weave so much as dispelled all light around it. The pillar formed an immense column that concealed the three warlords from their enemy, just as the annihilation pulse followed and swooped down toward it. Smiling, Deborah watched as the droning howl of the annihilation pulse fell silent, and the Black Smoke disappeared, the mystical energy-blade itself disappearing leaving only a deep hollow in the ground and the markings of the Universal Empire around it. Deborah turned to Zee and to Vincent:
She wants to fight Pandaemonium. Let them tear each other apart. The presence of that other kinswoman of ours, Zee, is going to be a problem. Between the three of us, we would be able to annihilate both factions and drive them offworld if we could draw them into a conflict. But she, I believe, has a different role to play.
With that, Zee, Deborah, and Vincent placed their hands atop each other and disappeared in a flash.
Tisse, Denmark, high noon the next day:
The priests of Odin and Thor incanted in the name of their Gods, calling upon the power of the Aesir to keep back a flowing darkness that had appeared when shadows were invisible beneath the sun. The darkness that moved was no natural force, more the rolling Void of outer space taking on a manifest form. The appeals and incantations and holding up of the hammers of Thor against the monster seemed to have no effect beyond what might have been read in a pattern of amusement, or contempt if an inanimate monstrosity could be said to have thus acted. But then the darkness rippled and began to fold into itself, the silence that marked the process more strange and disturbing than the process itself.
The darkness rose up briefly, towering over the city with a face the more terrifying for its resemblance to humanity, and congealed into the form of a young woman in reddish leathery tanned armor, the armor emblazoned with a sinister-looking two-headed dragon whose fanged mouths worried at each other's throats. Her armor glistened with a hue almost like blood, the black cape billowing in an unnatural wind resembling very much the darkness that had formed into this entity in a form whose resemblance to humanity was the more disturbing for where it stopped. Pointed ears might have inclined people in Tisse to see her as one of the inhabitants of Alfheim, but the dark brown skin gave her a resemblance to the inhabitants of the great land to the south taken as first slaves and captives and then some of them even akin to the lords of the Danish tribes. But the pure white hair that whipped around in an unnatural wind akin to the cape and the eyes that were white, pure, but showing no sign of blindness, those were not natural. Neither were the clawed edges on the armor that dug into the ground, as the being leaned forward, one hand on the ground, one hand extending outward, one leg drawn toward her, one leg extending outward.
The creature laughed and shouted:
There are no Gods who can contain those of us who are first and the last, the alpha and the omega. We are the masters of the light and the darkness, and in us there is no room for Lords of the Undead who decide in fickle fashion to throw their own followers to the wolves!
Removing her other hand from the ground, the creature hovered in the air, fingers splayed as she prepared to unleash a wave of force sufficient to scour the remaining lands of the Germanic tribes, a demonstration suit-as the thought formed she detected a portal forming near her and twisted, unleashing the wave in the direction of the portal, the ground near it blackening, the grasses browning and crumbling into dust. As the wave launched forward, a sword sparked and an immense column of Black Smoke arose and the wave shimmered and vanished as though it had never been.
As she watched, Deborah stood, extending a gatling-like weapon from her left arm, and opened fire with waves of spiraling acrid energy resembling smoke launching toward her, her voice booming:
Always inclined to take too long and be too theatrical with the pure-bloods. The opportunity here is greatly appreciated, though.
The energy collided with the Shadow-woman, searing into and scarring her armor, the strength of the repeated impacts casing her to fall to the ground, leaving cracks on the ground where she fell. Deborah then strode toward her, Vincent guarding her right flank, Zee her left. As the Shadow-woman snarled and rose from the ground, she then extended one hand, fingers splayed, speaking a word of the tongue of Azarath as Zee countered by preparing a shield that rose up from the ground, the ground erupting into columns of light that crackled and seared toward the Shadow-woman, who disappeared into darkness and reformed from that immense column in the sky.
As she looked down, the Shadow-woman then pulled out from thin air her favorite sidearm, the immense autocannon seeming unnaturally large next to the form of someone who resembled a lithe teenager, but in her arms light as a feather.
Now, dear kin, bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh, behold the death that comes as a thief in the night!
The Avenger howled its fury downward as Zee formed a shield of the Omega Program's energy and blinked two eyes imperceptibly toward Deborah's own bi-location, even then moving upward to face the Shadow-woman as the great weapon in her hands began to crater the ground, transforming the Danish landscape to something that resembled the moon, each impact jarring bones with a tremendous seismic force. In the midst of it all, the Shadow-woman's laughter echoed with a resonance more than merely human........
Ctesiphon, Forward Operating Base, Pandaemonium High Command:
Great King, Lord of the Black Throne, the monster's taken the bait. Even now she advances to our forward line near Split. She expects there to meet merely the armies of the Caesars of Rome. We are prepared.
The Morningstar's immense face was marked by a fanged grin.
She's brought the Immortals. You were right, master. This is the beginning. I already know every clash, every blow that is to come, I see it. And it is glorious.............
Angra Mainyu smiled, and nodded.
Go now and command this first line. The war has come. And if a few million talking monkeys perish for the prize of the great glory of our realms, so be it.