Name: Nereus Marinos \ Xenophon Thanos
Age: 570 years old
Species: Void Weaver
Strengths: as the Augur, Nereus benefits from destructive and creative capabilities that stand at the very apex of his species' mastery of the Black Speech. His strength and speed aren't quite as dependent on his body as they would be for anyone else, his powers placing him in the same ballpark as Karthian Archons. For as obese and vulnerable as he may physically be, his mind can lash out at assailants at blinding speeds, words turning into the weapons or protective measures he lacks. His potential torque being only limited by the strength of his mind and the solidity of his current focus, he has been known to tear offending individuals limb from limb without laying a single finger on them.
In keeping with his posting, Nereus can bring madness crashing down upon the most solid psyches, the clarity of the Others' blessed purpose striking like a hammer and chisel on a diamond's exact weak point. Where most Squids have to work in order to undermine surface-world intellects, a single portentous proclamation uttered with the Sigils of the Void can induce catastrophic lesions in most surface-world inhabitants. Immediately rendered into slaves to his will, they swell the ranks of Renewal's most dangerous zealots: those willing to kill to protect their master's plans.
Religiously, Nereus depends on the Council of Oracles to keep the peace in Dalarath in his absence. Politically, his status as the head of the Western world's fastest-growing spiritual movement has placed celebrities and politicians in his hands, activists and Sillicon Valley tech evangelists alike. His pockets are deep and his commitment absolute, allowing him to placate any and all would-be investigating instances by drowning them in shows of apparent kindness or respect. His strategies are obviously more focused on the movement's growth than on generated capital, Renewal being based on an apparent dogmatic simplicity that doesn't come with courses and textbooks or pledges.
Altruism, it seems, is Nereus' best and most terrifying weapon. Even his staunchest opponents would have to admit he's done tremendous amounts of good, free clinics or nurse-supervised injection sites popping up left and right underneath Renewal's banner. Educational programs built under Thanos' aegis tend not to push the movement's New Age ethos and have actually won accolades from pedagogues the nation over. Based on political analysts, Nereus would be a shoo-in for the Democratic or Libertarian parties, as utterly healthy as Renewal's platform seems to be. With a foot in the classroom and another one in the Senate, he stands ready to create generations of Renewal faithfuls, all of them slavishly devoted to the movement's causes.
Considering, his empire's multi-billion foundations aren't surprising. There's very little he'd want to research that he can't, and very little that he can't possibly support if he chooses to. Above all this, however, he's managed to turn the kind man Meris loved into a terribly effective campaign machine, his speaking tours and near-constant cycling of the country's Renewal centers making him approachable, charismatic and honestly lovable despite his obvious flaws.
Apart for his massive paunch and his penchant for food and drink, it feels as though Xenophon Thanos can do no wrong. It's hard to hate a guy who participated in a Sesame Street skit with Elmo on the subject of vegetable names...
Weaknesses: if observed by mundanes, Nereus can seemingly appear invulnerable. He gains weight but keeps strokes away with low-impact cardio – if you believe his appearances on The View – and sometimes covers Pickwickian snoozing spells and worrying bags under his eyes with the sort of jolly old attitude even Santa Claus would have trouble keeping up with.
In his private sanctum, however, it soon becomes obvious that Nereus isn't so much in control as he's held hostage, surgically glued to a campaign line elaborated centuries prior by a man he is powerless to stop yet still virulently despises. The Chamberlain – Wesley Chambers to the surface-dwellers – is every bit Nereus' equal in his mastery of the Black Speech, favoring instead insidious methods of subconscious control. Trapped in the gilded cage of his constantly-reinforced paranoia, Thanos knows beyond all doubts that there's always going to be someone in the shadows waiting to kill him. If his enemies aren't at the door, then the Chamberlain's men are waiting in the rinks, instructed on what signs of dissent to watch out for.
Nereus couldn't overpower Wesley even if he tried, and physical confrontations would take a turn for the worse very, very quickly. Aware of the underlying nefariousness of his deeds yet still desperately counting on them to try and right old wrongs, there's a pall of anxiety that's gripping at his expansive chest like an iron vice. Unable to think entirely straight around Chambers, he wouldn't be able to muster up even the slightest defense in his own Black Speech. This goes without mentioning what could happen if he should fail to defeat his second in verbal combat: his own mind is shattered, he becomes the willing thrall the Others desire and will no longer have the presence of mind or desire to look for signs of Meris' watchful gaze.
Of course, anyone who's morbidly obese, hypertensive, prone to hypersomnia, depressive, bulemic and still unwilling to change their lifestyle is bound to have a hanging sword over their heads. Amaxi is keeping Fate at bay, but this is dependent on Nereus' faithful actions. Should he ever deviate too strongly, Nature would resume its course and possibly doom him to a sudden and crippling stroke after the slightest bit of effort. He might appear supernaturally resilient, but it's all an elaborate sham.
Love, however, would have to be his most crucial weakness, and one that the Others have already exploited before. Nereus still loves Meris, and rather desperately, at that. Centuries of pining for someone he couldn't reach lowered his defenses better than any Eldritch haranguing, the Many-Armed now having convinced him that bringing about the world's end and ushering in its rebirth under Her gaze would drive Her to consider placing Meris in his care. If pushed to arguments about this, he'll agree that this is utterly despicable. However, if one thing is obvious while looking at him, it's that Renewal's head is a man too exhausted by the centuries to see any other way out.
Appearance: his proverbial best foot is one of Medieterranean garrulousness smoothed over by a few decades spent on American soil, a lightly burnished mountain of a man with a carefully sheared pate and a luxuriant black beard he seems more than happy to let grow to his sternum. He's given himself the expected Greek features, with a proud nose and the fine wrinkles of someone who would've been born and raised in warm sunlight. His big and expressive nutmeg eyes are made smaller by the huge dimples in his cheeks, the way grins seem to force him to squint while exposing a Crest commercial's worth of impeccable white teeth in the orderly wilderness of his black and luxurious facial hair. The long and somewhat plump lips he shows to the world tend to work around words as if each of them were a piece of candy to be savored, the rest of his body plastering that same effortless grace across every nubby digit and every extra pound. Simply put, Xenophon Thanos seems to be one of these people who seems impossible to mentally project into a thinner frame, as if he'd been born to take up precisely this amount of space in any given room. His belly laughs are contagious, his gestures all at once expansive and inclusive, and he generally puts forward a distinctly European presence wrapped in the approachable tones of the kind of neutral Midwestern American studious or literary immigrants tend to pick up. Being a huggy sort and a rather huggable fellow at that, he's made close and personal contact a core tenet of Renewal. The oddly efficient and genuine aspects of his sham shine through in these instances, Nereus clearly relishing these moments as opportunities for him to briefly express his true feelings towards the outside world. Being secretly as damaged as those he counsels, Meris and her friends wouldn't have too much trouble to see that he really does want to help others. Perhaps it's a case of someone else's pain helping him to forget his own, but he does add a core of solid honesty to his sometimes fairly New Age proceedings. The Chamberlain sees deception in this, anyone else would recognize it as genuine empathy – albeit empathy that's shackled by the needs and rituals of Renewal as a business.
Being forced to go along with his guru persona and honestly having always affectionated light colors – just ask Meris – he tends to freshen up the stereotype of the auditorium-filler talking about spiritual progression while clad in a white suit. Verging on seven feet for a dizzying three hundred and forty pounds, he nonetheless acts as if he were continuously full of pep. Seemingly usually careful to square off his rotund frame for the sake of professionalism, he also uses this as an excuse to wear clothes that mimic those he wore with Meris in the Darkhallow, parts of his “skin” that feel true and genuine to him. With a black tie and black Oxfords, he pops up onstage as a large and visually striking presence, trading the bluster of most other spiritual guides or faith healers for a savant mixture of serious medicine, uplifting spirituality and as much kindness and empathy as his withered old heart enables him to express. Big and blocky and always pleased as punch to receive questions or requests of assistance, he moves around as if he weighed a fraction of his actual body habitus – at least in public.
Otherwise, an occasional medium between the blustery limelight-filler and the somnolent depressive is the ashram head, where white is expressed in loose and comfortable linen shirts and pants, non-denominational prayer beads of a fairly Buddhist bent covering one of his wrists. In these instances, he tends to extol the virtues of mindfulness in a rather hopeful, if hypocritical display. In character, Nereus feels like the best meditation coach you could ever have. His large back propped up by pillows and his legs crossed in front of him, he soon makes it rather clear that he has an extensive mechanical understanding of mindfulness. As to whether or not he manages to be mindful, that depends on whether or not you've seen him in private. He succeeds on occasion, but he usually fails. Failure usually comes in the form of guilt gnawing away at his pocket of self-imposed mental tranquility, but there have been occasions of him surrendering so completely as to end up splayed on his bed, snoring profusely. He lacks some crucial element of control to stay focused, to find the benefit of meditation instead of squandering it.
Finally, there's the depressive Squid. With the blinds drawn and no-one around, the Flesh Mask comes off and reveals deep and dark bags that speak of a severe lack of restful sleep, blotches of sickly grey birthing all over the pale white of his skin. The wit, the strength of character, the expressed peace of mind – it all melts away, leaving a beached whale of sorts. Food stains appear, the heavy pall of diseased slumber settles in and tired, weathered sadness wells up in his eyes. Monosyllabics replace the truculent on-camera spirit. Instead of feeling larger-than-life, he now feels simply obese. The best days see him doze off in front of some continuous HD news feed, the bad ones have him mutter at unseen enemies or just break down entirely.
Sometimes, feverish energy takes over, a bit like in those days in which Meris tended to the wounds he'd suffered thanks to the Chamberlain's coup attempts. Frayed and running on embers, he frantically searches for answers, for a way out. More stains appear – coffee stains, predominantly – and his desktop computer earns another coating of crumbs or bits of food.
Invariably, his search for a means to contact Meris comes up empty. The tired and desperate energy that animated him dissipates, leaving behind someone who might smash his keyboard out of sheer frustration or otherwise simply curl into his nearby covers to cry.
Behavior: in happier days, passion ruled Nereus' heart. He was passionate of his post as the Augur, passionate of his concubines' stories and offered pleasures, passionate of the food and drink his palace offered him, of its tranquility and privacy – and of how his lofty office allowed him to peruse of several forbidden fruits the Prelacy ignored. Meris was one such forbidden fruit, and she still stands as the sweetest treat he's ever tasted.
With her, his attentive but passive mind flared into action. With her, his lonely heart found companionship. His loins tasted of desire. Above all, however, Meris is the one person who ever truly gave him a sense of purpose. Completeness was his for all the days they spent together, something so strong and all-encompassing that he had no place left for his people's dogmas anymore. Meris made him want to taste freedom, and he would've given anything to walk the streets of Athens with her, to taste honey and wine and dive beneath the waves.
Meris brought him life, and she almost succeeded in sharing her spirit with enough of Dalarath's key figures to institute the first of several attempts at rebellion. She and Nereus almost managed to escape the Others' cruel gaol together. It wasn't to be, however. The Chamberlain had wizened up to their plans and found ways to bury the worm in the proverbial fruit.
Freedom is still something Nereus ignores, even if he has all of its benefits on an observable level. He travels the world, samples the finest dishes and spirits, meets people the world over and exchanges ideas with what might appear to be like-minded people – but none of this is decided by him. Everything he does is planned by Wesley, everything he purchases is purchased by Wesley. Everyone he meets is authorized by his “assistant” and every planned trip has to be authorized initially. Nereus is trapped in the most gilded of all cages and he can't even rattle the proverbial bars.
Consequently, his attitude is a trap as well, a cage within a cage made out of an imitation of the man Meris made out of him. A spiritual and spirited bon vivant in public, he seems to have been born to be larger than life, to take all the girth that's his to carry and turn it into something of a badge of office. Convincing twinkles of wit and mirth pop up, he has all the wrinkles needed to sell the idea of someone who has an easy laugh and radiates the kind of wholesome, simple, yet somehow sophisticated take on happiness that Renewal is built on. He's turned into the most credible of Pop Science tele-therapists you could think of, the sort of grassroots expert-on-everything that's wrested the crown off of Phil McGraw's alumni, pairing it all with a globe-trotter's package of Eastern mysticism. Pavarotti with a Sonoma Valley ashram and a slew of self-help books on weight loss, depression management, couples' therapy or spiritual oneness. His excesses tend to elicit coy variations on fond jokes out of tabloids rather than scathing screeds, and he somehow manages to appear sickeningly wholesome when forced to debate with more run-of-the-mill whackos.
While every lie contains a shard of truth and Thanos' persona does contain ample proof of Nereus' honest desire to be a good man, the fact is that his sunny exterior covers the barren waste of his own emotional state.
In private, Nereus scarfs down antidepressants along with old Void Weaver poisons designed to cut off his connection to the Darkhallow. He binges on food or drinks excessively, everything in order to avoid having to think. His television wives have always slept in another wing of the house or in another room of his rented suite for the week – never cuddled, never sampled, never thanked. Divorces are a cycle he's learned to anticipate, signing the papers with a blank mind and heart. His wives had free reign on his own credit cards. His wives were parts of a play, elements of some elaborate fiction he never felt tied to. Unless he expects he'll have to pretend for a few consecutive hours, he tends to sleep through mostly dreamless nights and occasional days. If Wesley heads out with a camera crew and whoever happens to be his script-mandated amore and leaves the Augur alone, he sleeps. Nereus has more in common with a beached whale than an active person; the occasional doctor getting a word in edgewise about losing weight, sticking to a sleep schedule. Most of the doctors he consults are Renewal members, however, so far be it from them to suggest that the great Xenophon Thanos might be in urgent need of professional help...
Occasionally, the moss toxins don't stick, his body rebels. Out come the last two excessive servings and the last bottle of wine. He sleeps – but he dreams, this time.
The Darkhallow's given shape and form to his despair, forced him to confront it in the most abominable ways possible. The neigbourhood he dreamed up with Meris is in ruins, the bomb shells of his slow and constant betrayal having reduced it to rubble. Somewhere in the rocks, he finds Meris' picture, always. Out on the cove, the selkies are all beached in their pelts, dead or moribund, the black tar of his misdeeds choking them. Meris' father accuses him of giving his daughter hope only to have failed her.
Every time, Nereus wakes up in tears, his tired body forced to push out the last few months' round of denied sobs. If he can, he cries it out on the spot. If he can't, the sorrow builds and gnaws at him.
Sometimes, his subconscious plasters the carbon copy of the old blissful days over the fog of his sleep. For a few hours, his memory of Meris tends to him, heals him, reproduces the loving kindness he knows to be hers. Waking up to a reality that has nothing in common with this, he finds it to be even worse. The dreams of her healing touch then twist; the shade accuses him of having abandoned her. He tries to reason with her, but the shade is incapable of any such feat. It isn't Meris, it's a grainy facsimile of Meris.
With no-one to turn to and with his own subconscious turning on him, Nereus is beginning to wonder when what sanity it is he has left will start to slip. When it will, then maybe he'll understand that this was the Chamberlain's plan all along. Love this strong needs something even stronger to be defeated – and nothing is stronger than abject despair.
At the root of it all is a love of the kind you typically only hear of in fairy tales. Nereus did leave a distant imprint in selkie culture, the Orkneys-centric fable of the Selkie and the Squid having turned his failure into a cautionary tale.
The Squid was entranced by the Selkie's long, flowing locks in the sea and filled his arms and eyes with love. The Squid reached to caress her, all of his myriad little mouths wanting to chastely place a thousand kisses on her pelt.
The Squid, however, didn't know how to caress the Selkie. Squids never caress anything – Squids drag down and eat with their piercing beaks. He tried, but his arms did as they were accustomed. He tried to sing, to croon his love and kindness to his beautiful prey, but all she heard was bubbles escaping the Squid's ventral sacs. He tried to speak reassuring words, but only managed to nip at her pelt with his beak. He tried to smile, but the Selkie only saw the visage of one of her kind's predators.
He tried to love the Selkie, but the Squid killed the Selkie. Along the coast, this is why some of the cephalopods are found beached on occasion, crawling away from the water. The Squid, as the fable goes, wants to die for having killed the one he loved.
Ask a practitioner, however, and more details surface. A fragmented picture pushes its way out of the fairy tale. The truth is there are some people who know of Nereus' only partial responsibility and who would absolve him of some of his guilt if they could, but the man is notoriously difficult to reach, much less console.
Generally considered to be the supernatural world's most tragic non-fictional villain by those in the know, he is a man who would need to be stopped and understood, but the likelihood of managing both safely seems to grow ever smaller.
Goals: to end the world so that he might live in a new one, freed from his mistakes and with Meris by his side. His hopes of finding a less destructive alternative are all but extinguished, as even his own attempts to reach Meris have been fruitless. Doing so publicly would set some of the Chamberlain's collaborators on her trail, and proceeding privately wouldn't be much better: his emails are screened, and he as virtually no private means of communication, much less transport.
History: the one-hundredth and twenty-forth Augur of Dalarath was born in 1455, the son of his predecessor and one of his concubines. Born under the confluence of Amaxi and Harrogath's stars and in the Charnel House of Sin, he seemed destined to a life of unbridled and largely ignorant luxury, largely existing in order to serve as a conduit for the Dead Gods and serve the edicts during audiences or particularly important trials. Growing as fast as the other Squids, the Augur was exposed to long hours and occasional days of near-uselessness that didn't contain much more than the periodic sermon calls. The Black Speech came easy and efficiently to him, but it also felt rote. The desired nadirs of evil were unchallenging, his offered sacrifices without taste. He gained some pleasure out of the sea's bounty and pleased Harrogath by copiously gorging himself, but he continuously felt as though something were missing from his experience as the Augur... Nearly constantly bored, he often settled with cycles of deep sleep and equally prolonged libations.
For a few years, this was it. His first Chamberlain was old and unable to oppose much resistance, so the frail Void Weaver settled with offering counsel and attempting to maintain the pontiff's wickedness. The young Augur didn't take easily to the bigotry that was expected of him, the quick judgments and outright fallacies. Most people knew they were incorrect, that prejudices at least involved incorrect data, but if the alternative involved angering the Others, what choice was there?
But then, a bad batch of moss wine took the old Chamberlain's life, and was traceable to the son of one of the distillers in the Market district. The Arbiters proving the deliberate nature of the crime, the young man invoked Dalarath's Rites of Accession. The old dignitary had been weak, the Augur's court had been indecisive and the post was open. He had every right to claim the post, having taken a life in Amaxi's name in the process. The tests of piety were passed, more lives were lost in the name of the younger Squid's blind ambition, and the Augur found himself saddled with a new second. Rather naively, he attempted to extend a congenial attitude towards his new advisor and caretaker. In place of greetings, the new Chamberlain threatened him at knife point.
As with all other Augurs and for a century, he regularly faced death at the hands of his advisor, each close call pushing him further into his mastery of the Black Speech. As could be expected, the Chamberlain pushed back, while still standing within the limits of Dalarath's decorum. Naked ambition is well-perceived in the Sunken City, with only liturgical concerns staying the advisor's knife hand.
The constant threats took their toll on the Augur's formerly uncharacteristically jovial self. Self-maintenance faded from his concerns, Harrogath's voice whispering carnal comforts increasingly often. He'd awaken stuffed to the point of sickness and painfully spent thanks to every single concubine in his harem. Letting go began to expose him to the true depths of the Lustful's depredations. He never opposed them, but his heart and mind often heaved at the sight of the gruesome leftovers the Eldritch and gluttonous god left behind. The Augur grew, his tainted magnificience following suit, the Dead Gods shouldering his excesses to supernatural levels. They seemingly gave him just enough to keep the Chamberlain in his place, but taunted him in his dreams. In the Darkhallow, They said, only a thought would suffice for them to make the reedy and famished conspirator's naked hunger for control a fulfilled promise. Trapped, the Augur had no other choice than to obey.
Outright homicide attempts followed, the Arbiters doing their work and commending the Chamberlain for his initiative. The Augur's life could be taken if someone wished to take his place, as tradition allowed. Matters of the faith had no need of the Arbiters – the strongest tongue and the strongest mastery of the Black Speech would win the day. The pontiff's cynicism grew, his physical defenses shrunk and their wits were soon evenly matched. Like it or not, the Chamberlain had trained this former doormat rather well. The Augur had also developed some aptitudes for subterfuge, to the point where the Dalarath norm of constant palatial infighting resumed.
Physically, however, there wasn't much the Augur could do. Poisoned stab wound after poisoned stab wound, his defenses were worn out. Protocol preventing the Chamberlain from dealing the coup de grâce, he couldn't stop the Augur from requesting his concubines' help.
A few unsuccessful climbs towards recovery later, the Augur called for the slavers to find him a competent healer. Having heard of the fabled power of the Orkneys' selkie healers – particularly of the Cantors – he'd called for one. As could be expected, the Chamberlain did everything in order to “lose” the associated paperwork, hoping that the poor creature would instead be wasted on the plebe. Having grown to expect treachery from his assistant, the Augur thanked the Chamberlain for his help from one corner of his mouth, only to call for a revision of the month's slave orders. His misplaced Cantor was found, much to the Chamberlain's chagrin, and purchased from her initial owners with a plump hoard of seafood.
Dangerously sick if keenly alert when awake, the Augur proved to be a collaborative patient and a relatively pleasant person to watch over. The ichor he'd coated himself with fell off in the roane's company, their initially forced subjects of discussion soon becoming congenial, then fairly casual. As with all nurses, the selkie – Meris – assisted her patient in his occasionally degrading bodily needs while looking the other way, realizing the Augur respected her enough to consider this shameful in his own way.
The months passed, their conversations grew deeper, focusing on matters arcane and anthropological. First acquaintances, then friends, then mutual confidants. The old innocence the Augur had tried to bury came forth for her to witness, mingling with his wily nature instead of suppressing it. Kindness and an eye for politics came together to create a critical view of Dalarath, the Augur and his nurse coming to intricately share viewpoints. Given illicit free time and being the only two kindred spirits out of a city of murderers, liars, cheats and thieves, they soon came to cling to one another for support.
Their loves and hopes were shared in the Darkhallow, the Augur coming to prefer his idealized future self to his true shell, during their moments of intimacy. The pontiff became Nereus in her eyes, the first Squid to pick a name for itself while still within Dalarath's walls.
Healing, plotting and bonding ever further soon came to describe the nature of their relationship. The frustrated passions of the man who had been born to shamelessly take were satisfied, and he learned to give just as well. Another century passed, which saw Meris grow from being his healer to his appointed consort, even as Nereus grew more invested in their shared future than the dismal present they were forced to experience. More than anything, he thirsted for Nereus the architect's life above the waves, for the simple, if blissful pleasures their shared house promised. Love and contentment being a greater source of fuel than all the food in the world, Nereus' self in the Darkhallow grew slimmer. Born doughy, he'd perhaps never grow exactly svelte, but still revelled in the increased physical power his stronger physique gave him. It felt good to feel solid rather than soft, to have clothes that gave him a tangible girth, a solidly anchored place.
In a sense, it might be that this domestic bliss proved to be his undoing. Growing ever more attached to the Darkhallow's mirrored promises, he found himself expressing less interest in the plans he and Meris had once put together. He progressed alongside her, of course, but the distance between his dreams and the reality of their situation felt positively crippling. Still, it's with an eye to the future that he finally offered to bed his wife in the physical plane. He bore her a son, which tradition demanded he present to the whole of Dalarath. Knowing that neither he or Meris would be able to leave Dalarath's affairs entirely unattended for the sake of the growing resistance, they created the Council of Oracles. With a group of lower priests keeping an eye on the services and the other away from Lucian Rothchild and Delmar's associates, it seemed as though an underground railroad of sorts could have been assembled.
Nine months later, the first Oracle of Dalarath, Chonogorroth, was born. Following in the footsteps of his father, the one who earned the nickname of “Chauncey” was still unique in Dalarath in that his birth hadn't required the death of his mother. Unfortunately, the Chamberlain had other plans and had spent years attempting to undermine the Augur and Meris' efforts covertly.
Having infiltrated both House Lulroth's staff and Delmar's White Brotherhood, he managed to violently and suddenly cut off all access to the underwater passage out of the cavern, having posted Arbiters and told them to wait for Lulroth's boats. A few managed the crossing, enough for the surface-dwelling Rothchild clan to take shape in the coming years, but the White Brotherhood and Delmar's unarmed refugees paid a heavy toll. In the meantime, with Chauncey barely more than a newborn and his sense of Self still being muddled, his soul was yanked out of his body by the Chamberlain and replaced with that of a much more immediately collaborative instance: Nikolaas Buck's preserved soul. Having been instrumental in the Squids' foothold over the East Coast, his exquisitely tortured mind had been too precious a thing to leave to Hell.
The hours that followed allowed Nereus to realize just how complete the Chamberlain's deception was. Slowly and methodically, his second had infiltrated every level of his and Meris' planned escape and revolution, working while putting forth an appearance of complete servility – as though Meris' rapidly increasing gifts had frightened him into obedience. While wide spans of the Rothchilds and of the White Brotherhood remained untouched, the worm was in the fruit. Lulroth would be facing difficult years on the surface because of this, and the White Brotherhood would never entirely benefit from the promised anonymity Nereus had tried to instigate on the surface world. For every operative of which he'd denied the deployment, the Chamberlain had deployed two – signing all the required documents with Nereus' own signet ring. Everything the Chamberlain had done bore the signs of having been authorized by the Augur, with far too little time remaining for Nereus to push past the second's web of lies and reassure Meris.
Everything was tied back to him: his son's apparent disappearance, someone else having claimed his body, the failed exiles and executed operatives... The Chamberlain had even forged documents that outlined how seducing Meris had been part of an intricate plan to increase the Void Weaver presence on the surface world, to finally patch long-standing holes in their known cartography of the world above. Dark designs he'd never entertained were laid out, seemingly written in his own hand – but doubtlessly conjured together with the Mad Arts and the Chamberlain's knowledge of Nereus' calligraphy.
With the rebels pushing, parts of Dalarath burning and the toll of lives growing by the minute, and knowing that the Chamberlain would know to turn his truth into another falsehood, he had to get Meris out but had no time to do so. Surrounded by the most aggressive speakers of the Black Speech, Nereus had no chance against five or six other men. He had no choice but to call for Meris and have her accused of conspiring against Dalarath and its Augur.
He'd understood that his only chance of seeing Meris leave Dalarath alive was to give her an early start. It took a sickly guard which he knew Meris could overpower and deliberately missing her with a vocal blast, but he allowed her to flee, cursing the situation for preventing him to at least wish her farewell. He had to lie through his teeth to the one he'd loved the most, knowing that his traitorous advisor and the thing that had been his son would turn on him if he did otherwise. He spat on their relationship, claimed Meris had only been a pawn lost amid greater machinations, and generally did his very best to appear conniving or traitorous. He had a lot of experience in the matter.
While Meris fled, he stayed behind, chewing on his sorrow and resentment, twisting them into what appeared to be renewed hatred for the surface world. He gave a good show for another century, steering Dalarath and the Void Weavers toward what he called their true destiny. He didn't believe a word of it, of course, but the Chamberlain and the First Oracle's proverbial daggers were at his throat. Reduced to a puppet, he had no choice but to begin the slow work towards Amaxi's rebirth on the mortal plane and the Void Weavers' victory.
Shadowed by his second and his son, Nereus was soon tormented by Amaxi in his dreams. Her promises of recreation and restoration were first vehemently opposed, the Many-Armed realizing that the seemingly beaten Augur still had a few reserves of strength and faithfulness for Meris left. To beat those, She understood, tempting him with freedom would be an effective measure.
So, under Amaxi's suggestion, the Chamberlain chose 1892 as the year of the Augur's travels across the Prelacy's surface-world holdings. The Council of Oracles was formed to rule in the absence of the Augur, Nereus' corrupted offspring leading the assembly.
The lodge in Santorini, Greece, served as the starting point for Nereus' travels, which he welcomed with equal parts exhilaration and apprehension. Seeing the world he'd hoped to travel with Meris was wonderful, of course, but she wasn't by his side. Furthermore, he knew that while he'd travel between collaborating hamlets or municipalities across the world, others would hunt her down. He was left to believe he'd have some agency in the proceedings, but even the secret letters he attempted to send to those addresses he remembered Lucian Rothchild giving him were intercepted before being sent off. Without being aware of it, Nereus facilitated the loyalists' hunt of Meris and cost his former co-conspirators a few lives.
As could be expected, the delights he sampled and the company he experienced ate away at his resilience. Amaxi visited him regularly, whispering of what She'd give him if he agreed and showing him how Meris' efforts were doomed to fail. She didn't have to die, Amaxi said. She could preserve her for his sake – in exchange for his loyal services. All impious acts in the past were forgiven, all lack of zeal was buffed away – an unprecedented act of leniency from one of the Others – and a reward fitting his deepest of desires was promised. The White God would never display the mastery, the control that Amaxi and Her Brothers could, or so the Dead Goddess said. If the Mantle of Creation shifted, if the Tools found other hands, then all his sorrow would be undone. She would give him Meris. She would give him the life he'd craved. She would fix everything.
Of course, Nereus bucked against her for long, long years. Names changed, Flesh Masks were altered, the Thanos bloodline seemingly developing a number of professional skills over the years. Vintner, museum curator, owner of a shipping company, exotic imports merchant...
By the time the nineties and the New Age movement both dawned, Nereus was exhausted. He had no resistances left, no practical power, no means of changing his fate other than in agreeing to Amaxi's maintained promise. Meris was gone, all his attempts to contact her failed, and the Darkhallow no longer had the cohesion their common projects had created. His subconscious had waged war against it, his guilt and self-loathing tearing it apart.
Hopelessness filled him. With nothing left and with nowhere to turn to in order to expel his rage at being someone else's puppet, he did as expected by the Chamberlain and Amaxi, and fell into Her arms, one night. Xenophon Thanos was born the next day, the Augur clinging to her lies and believing them to be truths. For a few years, this newfound clarity improved his bill of health and moved the Chamberlain to restore some of his pontiff's personal agency. That was underestimating the resilience of his love for Meris, however, and how much he desired autonomous control of his own fate.
After cresting the waves for a few decades, the 2020s found Nereus appearing blissful and freed of all worries, when he was only putting an elaborate mascarade forward. He held onto Amaxi's promises while grieving what he'd seemingly lost and seemed unable to heal the fissures in his heart left by his dichotomous situation. Forced to obey yet wanting to rebel without having the means to do so, he is now locked in an inner conflict that seems to be chipping away at him, year after year.
Of course, it goes without saying that no matter if the Augur lives to fulfill Amaxi's promise or dies under the weight of his guilt, the Chamberlain stands to gain on both counts. Wesley Chambers, in the meantime, has been much more closely groomed by the Many-Armed, proving to be an eager, if not hopeful servitor for Her dark designs...
Jerks, demons, megalomaniacs, psychopaths, self-interested jackasses and other general varieties of gits, welcome. Leave your ego at the door and don't murder your kindred during your stay.
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