Synopsis

The Mordesh of Grismara were masters of alchemy that made them eagerly sought by the Dominion. When Victor Lazarin, their greatest scholar, announced that he had unraveled the secrets of immortality with his Everlife Elixir, the planet rejoiced. Within weeks, billions had taken its injection and enjoyed its extraordinary rejuvenating effects. But over time, the Elixir caused horrifying physical degeneration and psychotic cannibalistic rage. As his world plunged into chaos, Lazarin desperately set about trying to develop a serum before he himself succumbed...

1579 AE The Fall of Grismara

Synopsis List
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Part One Day of Celebration

The streets of Grismara were filled with cheers, a joyous chorus that overtook and drowned out the chants of Victor's name. He stood high above them on the on the observatory parapet, his arm draped over Lucy's shoulders, gazing down at the immense crowd far below. From this altitude they were mere specks, as devoid of individuality as blobs of protoplasm under a microscope.

Grasping this analogy had been his biggest breakthrough. All life obeyed the same rules, danced to the same primordial tune. Mastering immortality was simply a matter of recombining chemicals into their most efficient form. Death, like the speed of light, had been a self-imposed barrier all along, one he was delighted to have demonstrably discredited. It was not only his boldest achievement but the boldest possible one: a rebuke to the universe that a humble vertebrate had managed to subvert its most elemental law. Such, so he claimed publicly, had been his inspiration.

He raised Lucy's small hand in a returning wave to the throng below as yet another volley of fireworks lit up the heavens. The Dominion Emperor himself had organized the pyrotechnics, a celebration of their impending alliance. Despite their trademark hauteur, the Cassians had struck him as surprisingly reserved, at least until he'd declined their requests for complimentary Elixir samples. Time and again he'd been pressed to reiterate the disclaimer that its side effects on non-Mordesh physiognomies remained unpredictable and more than likely fatal.

As the cheers finally subsided, he approached the microphones. He was exhausted but there was so much to say. Abruptly he became aware that some of the shouts persisting simultaneously from myriad parts of the crowd were not ones of pleasure.

As he turned to ask his research assistant whether she concurred, her hands closed around his throat.

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Part Two To Live Forever

Until the last century, the Mordesh of Grismara had been a flourishing civilization, one rivaled only by Cassus in grandeur and elegance. Their erudition in the field of alchemy had made them the envy of the galaxy. When the summons bidding them to join the Dominion had come, alliance seemed inevitable.

Even as the plans were in their final stages, Victor Lazarin, widely acknowledged as the greatest alchemist in Grismaran history, announced his intentions to "end the tyranny of mortality." Such had been the design of Mordesh alchemists since time immemorial. But although he spoke in broad terms of freedom from sickness and aging, uppermost in his mind was the recent sickness and death of his wife.

Lazarin closeted himself away in his lab for decades. When he eventually emerged, his face haggard and manner more erratic than ever, many among his mortified former colleagues braced themselves for what was certain to be a disgraceful admission of defeat. Instead, Victor announced success: the Everlife Elixir, a substance that conferred immunity to sickness, aging, and cell degradation. Convinced by his demonstrations, the High Council triumphantly called for the Elixir's prompt global distribution. Every minute wasted meant hundreds, possibly thousands, of avoidable deaths. The Elixir was rapidly mass produced. Within a week, billions of Mordesh across the planet had submitted to its injection. Without exception, all showed signs of accelerated rejuvenation, renewed vigor, and stunning physical enhancements.

But weeks later, everything had changed. Victor's elixir was unstable, causing physical degeneration along with mindless cannibalistic rage. Reports of savage attacks by family members and soon entire communities became a daily litany. Even the few who had refused the Elixir wound up slaughtered or infected themselves.

The casualties mounted with meteoric swiftness. And within mere weeks, a civilization of billions suddenly found itself on the brink of extinction. In desperation they appealed to their new allies for help. Instead, the Dominion response was indefinite quarantine. Bleakly trying to fight off the ravaging effects of the Contagion on his own nervous system, Lazarin worked tirelessly to create a vaccine.

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Part Three The Long Night

The streets of Grismara were filled with screams, a croaking chorus of terror and fury. Of dark appetites that could never be sated.

Even strapped to a chair far beneath his former estate, Victor heard their din over the competing newscasts droning from the newsfeeds. He and Lucy were the only ones left now. Despite initial evidence, the last batch was clearly another failure. When had he injected himself? Three nights past?

Disregarding the taut wrist-straps, his outsize greenish fingers continued to twitch madly of their own volition. He needed to collect himself. Lucy was depending on him. They all were. He must prepare another effort. He was so close.

Lucy's furious assault on the door jolted him awake. So. Her too. He had seen the telltale signs. He had even gone so far as to assure her that he would never let it happen, secretly vowing to at least be there when it did. Now only static flickered from all screens but one. The inner perimeter had been breached. He had perhaps an hour left before they scraped and burrowed their way in. The formidable Lady Darkos had sworn that she would return to retrieve them within the hour, but it appeared that fate had finally come to claim its due.

At least he could fulfill his promise and be with Lucy, at the end. Even now, she clawed at the door, shrieking for ingress. Unbuckling the final restraints, he lurched for the door, dislodging flasks and crucibles in his wake. None of it mattered now. As he undid the locks, Lucy began to growl incomprehensibly from the other side. He felt himself near choking on his grief.

Just as he began to pull the door open, he caught sight of himself in the mirror. And stopped short, staring. His face looked...less monstrous. Still grotesque, but...far less. The last batch had worked. His Vitalus Serum could indeed stave off the worst effects of the Contagion.

Then the door was swinging inward and Lucy was falling into his arms. Through her lank strands of black hair, he saw the mob she had been running from, scrabbling and shrieking towards them, so close he could smell their fetid breath. Then together he and Lucy slammed the door in their mottled faces. His daughter’s eyes took in the healthy flush of his face and slowly widened with realization. And then determination. Their people could be saved, they just needed to hang on a little longer.

Then the hordes were gouging furrows in the steel door while he and Lucy cast wildly around for objects to use as a barricade.