The return to the Temple is not difficult, neither of the women notices any strange movements at the corner of their eyes. In fact, the only things they encounter are perfectly unmoving, one of Jaom's former subordinates. Apparently there were external demonic guards, but none troubled the two Exalted.
Jaom: "Ever the upbeat one, you are... you have to tell me your secret sometime."
Jaom: "Mmmm. I suppose, I suppose."
Glory: "I'll have to show you my hometown some day."
The entry hall remains empty of either life or death, only the broken artifacts of ages long past and the hanging air ship decorate the echoingly deserted chamber. But the trail of the Synodic Exalted becomes obvious in the small room of three doors where blood has splashed the floor stones and ashes fall from the door set in the ceiling. Now the right door stands open; it was closed when the two women left the temple.
Jaom: "... just be straight with me, now. I'd prefer your honesty."
Down the hall the two hear the faint sounds of someone being sick, intermixed with curses and coughs. Dusty clouds are expanding down the corridor, but the vague shape of a man is clearly visible inside the room at the end of the hallway.
Jaom: ... you know him by name?
Next to the recovering Kin, Iron Horse watches the two women approach down the corridor.
Kinqueduran: "Right, Glory and Jaom. You might as well have said you're the Mouth of fucking Peace; those names are meaningless to me."
Glory: "I'll elaborate. I am the Fallen Sun's Glory, servant of the Prince Bound, and she is Cathak Jaom."
Iron Horse: "... hey, come on, be nice."
Iron Horse: "I can't tell."
Kinqueduran: "Then we still understand each other as well as we always have."
Kinqueduran: "Which mission?"
Glory: "The, ah, one that involves fighting off a demon invasion and keeping Creation whole and uncorrupted?"
Jaom: "And aren't you just the banner of optimism?
Iron Horse: "Eh, he's usually like that."
Kinqueduran: "It's my trademark."
Kinqueduran: "Because it's old? I suspect foul play. We've had ... bad experiences with dust."
Iron Horse: "well, I learned that some things like to eat dust and get meaner and nastier the more they eat."
Jaom: "Moving to a less dusty place would be nice... I really would like to know what's going on. Really. I'm not too thrilled with being in the dark."
Iron Horse: "Weeeeell there's some sort of ritual going on that will release a big powerful demon on the world and we have to stop it."
Glory: "I think it'd be best to inform her in the aforementioned less dusty place."
Kinqueduran: "Right then. A less dusty place. Iron Horse, do we have one of those?"
The formerly dust-encrusted door at the end of the room creaks open sligtly, as if moving to experiment with the freedom granted when the largest of the dust monsters sucked off its prison of grime. A rush of clean, fresh-smelling air enters through the crack in the door.
Kinqueduran: "I vote for a door that isn't THAT one."
Kinqueduran: "Iron Horse, you've explored. Are there any less-dusty places? Besides, of course, the convenient too-good-to-be-true door over there?"
Iron Horse: "That leads to the wine room, doesn't it?
Iron Horse: "
Kinqueduran: "Too good to be true."
Jaom: "You're a free man. Go for it."
Kinqueduran: "I didn't mean it literally. Idiot."
The Chamber of Wine is immaculately clean, not a spot of dust in the entire chamber. Kin, Glory and Jaom have seen villages smaller then this room and Iron Horse has never seen the like. An expanse of golden stone, the chamber spirals up and down in the center of the pyramid, a massive core taken out of the structure. At the top, a flat roof of glass traps fluttering song birds. On lower terraces tropical plants grow in profusion.
Iron Horse: "... wwwwwow."
Flower and fruit enchant sight, smell and taste. Small furry and impossibly cute animals in a rainbow of hues skitter through the colorfully flowered underbrush, singing in tune with the songbirds. Their long tails droop under the weight of diamond-like crystals and their voices raise in an opera that rivals Yu-Shan's Song Hamlet.
Jaom: "Kyaahaaaaaa... unreal. Simply unreal."
The door opened onto the main floor of the spiraling room. A path lined with glowing mushrooms leads toward a glittering pond, illuminated by a shaft of sunlight from the glass roof. A fountain-like structure in the pond towers 29 tiers high, each tier holding twice the number of thick, ceramic jars as the one above. Starting with four...there are a lot of jars.
Kinqueduran: "...we're going to die horribly. Or worse."
Iron Horse: "... all this for wine?"
Glory: "Ah, don't be so pessimistic. Enjoy yourself!"
Kinqueduran: "I don't enjoy places like this."
One of the unspeakably cute fluffy animals skitters up to Kin's feet and looks up, up, up the tall man's body and into his eyes. No bigger then the Orange's white-knuckled fist, the tiny creature is the exact shade of his eyes, a smoldering orange-tinged red. While its coat may be a violent color, soft sky-blue eyes look up at Kin with an innocence outmatching even Iron Horse's.
Glory: "We'll have to work on that."
Jaom: "Although, I have to wonder... who or what put this here, anyway?"
Kinqueduran: "We have more important things to work on, Glory."
Iron Horse: "Wine?"
Jaom: "Well, the lady has a point. In any event... I could really feel alot better about all this if I had more of an idea what's going on."
Kinqueduran: "Yagh!" He steps back suddenly, trying to shake the creature off of his armored shin with gusto.
The tiny creature gives a squeal of pain and jumps away, squibbling off for its life. Its pathetic, cooing sobs are plain for some time even after it disappears.
Kinqueduran: "Liking me is a sure sign of evil."
Kinqueduran: "I'll have plenty of time to relax when I'm dead."
Glory: "Oh, I sincerely doubt that."
Kinqueduran: "I ... dammit."
Jaom: "Living is meant to be enjoyed, damn you. So clam up and enjoy. And start explaining, please."
Kinqueduran: "You're more than welcome to enjoy living. I've been working to keep things liveable for a few years now."
Kinqueduran: "I don't tell war stories."
Kinqueduran: "Explain what situation?"
Glory: "I drafted her into this without revealing the entire scale of our mission. There wasn't much time."
Kinqueduran: "That seems to be the pattern for us."
Kinqueduran: "Do not drink it. That ... is poisonous magic-wine."
Jaom: "... oh, hell. What is it, then? Hm?"
Kinqueduran: "I'm standing by my assessment. If we smell good wine while exploring an evil temple it's cle- ... Dammit, Iron Horse!"
Iron Horse: "I have never -heard- of a wine that smelled so good... and who says the bad guys don't like wine?"
Glory: "I concur. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted in this place, enjoyable though it may be. Put it down."
Glory: "See? You're loosening up already."
Kinqueduran: "Am not."
Jaom: "Hn. You really are just a sour man, huh. Ah well."
Kinqueduran: "Yes. I am a sour, unpleasant person. People hate me, and I tend not to be fond of them. With that out of the way, can we move on?"
Kinqueduran: "And that's bad, mmkay?"
Jaom: "... I've heard that blood's thicker than water, but I think that's just taking it a bit too far. Still..."
Kinqueduran: "Oh, spare me... I'm going to go nap."
Jaom: "Sweet dreams, sunshine."
The bottle remains intact, and in Iron Horse's hands. But the wine sprays across the young man, covering his face, hair and clothes. Instantly the wine congeals into thick, sticky goo and then begins drying, flaking off into dust that evaporates. Whatever spell preserved it was broken when it was spilt and left undrunk. Soon only the scent of the wine remains on Iron Horse and the amounts that have soaked into his skin.
Jaom blinks, unsure of her eyes. True, Iron Horse is a well-built young man..but did his shoulders just get broader? His face more pleasing? Is his accent less annoying? Even the handsome and charming Shiro, Jasmine Nights' lover, looks less attractive then the Synodic Anathema with his wine-soaked locks and innocent face.
Glory is...confused. Very, very confused.
Jaom: "Glory. Whatever you just did, try not to do it again, or I really can't guarantee this here guy's going to get much sleep in the near future."
Jaom: "Oh... hey. You're awake. You smell that, too?"
Kinqueduran: "Yeah. What did you do while I was napping?"
Iron Horse: "--ow!"
Kinqueduran: "Stop making messes."
Jaom: "Hey... you didn't have to slap them..."
Kinqueduran: "Well, I guess I didn't have to. It was just a fringe benefit."
Kinqueduran: "This is an inauspicious start to our partnership."
Jaom: "You're telling me. Look... Iron Horse, right? Getcherself cleaned up, so we can go back to... well, whatever. And stop being attractive, while you're at it."
Kinqueduran: "Do that now."
Jaom: "... and yeah, I'm certain that I'll pass on the wine, now. Dragons save me, what a day."
Kinqueduran: "I told you it was bad wine."
Iron Horse: "... Kin? What are you doing?"
Kinqueduran: "Trying to wake her up. Or venting my frustration."
Jaom: "Hey... hey! Just get.... here. Beh."
Kinqueduran: "Iron Horse, go clean up right now!"
Jaom: "I think she's got it bad for you, and your friend's a jackass. Now get in."
Iron Horse: "What do you--GWA!"
Soaking wet, Iron Horses becomes far less vital to life as Kinqueduran and Glory know it and his illusory shoulders stop muddling Jaom's thoughts as he returns to his normal appearance.
Jaom: "... okay, yeah. Far less horny now. Good going, Jaom."
Kinqueduran: "Iron Horse thought he would try the wine. We had a kung-fu fight. Iron Horse took a bath. I might have missed a few things, I can't be sure."
Jaom: "There was spilled wine, and then you got a bit unfocused and I... what I got doesn't matter. It's over now. No more wine."
Kinqueduran: "I told you it was poisonous magic-wine."
Glory: "Well, I think it's for the best that we all forget what just happened and never mention it again."
Kinqueduran: "That's one of the worst ideas I've ever heard. Remember it and learn from it."
Jaom: "I'm all for forgetting."
Glory: "Oh, trust me, I remember my lessons on Synodics. Those don't need reinforcement. We're forgetting, and we're moving on."
Iron Horse: "... what's a Synodic?"
Iron Horse: "Eh?"
Kinqueduran: "Remember those bastards that Anstice made a deal with? The whole change thing?"
Iron Horse: "Charon and all that? Yeah."
Kinqueduran: "I guess you didn't get a Certificate of Synodicism afterword."
Iron Horse: "Eh?"
Kinqueduran: "You're impossible, Iron Horse."
Iron Horse: "... I don't get it."
Kinqueduran: "Somebody else explain. I'm getting a headache."
Glory: "Regardless, O thrice traitors, we need to find your other two comrades."
Kinqueduran: "No, we're not going to find them. We have other things to worry about right now."
Iron Horse: "... Anstice and Mendhari? They aren't around."
Kinqueduran: "They elude my memory right now. Something about demons, a Deathlord, bad things happening. I wasn't really paying attention."
Glory: "The four of us cannot handle this problem on our own. We need them."
Kinqueduran: "Yes, we do. However, they are not accessible. What we believe we can and cannot do is irrelevant - we have an end to achieve, and finite resources to work towards it."
Iron Horse: "Mendhari was hurt really, really badly too."
Jaom: "... okay. Yes, I'm... a bit lost. So I'm just going to stand here and listen and pray something takes. Is that alright?"
A light laugh comes from behind the group, near the door. In fact, the door is the exact source. Standing at the very, very edge of the door is a woman wrapped all in black. Not a single part of her body, aside from her eyes, is visible in the slightest.
The Black Veil: "Hello, Kinqueduran and friends."
The Black Veil: "Do you not remember me, Kinqueduran?"
Jaom: "Ah, hells. And here I was, getting comfortable in my confusion."
Kinqueduran: "I haven't the slightest idea who you are."
The Black Veil: "I'm insulted. You stole away my precious children and you forget my name? Carmine Rain Hunter, you are truly a terrible man. And you are..Glory? I think that is your name. You should not be helping them, my friend."
Iron Horse: "... children?"
The Black Veil: "Oh, I knew your title even back then, Carmine Rain Hunter. And my mistress has told me your true name recently."
Kinqueduran: "I don't know what you're talking about.
Jaom: "Glory, you know this... thing?"
Glory: "It's our first meeting, actually."
Jaom: "Here's to hoping it's the only."
Kinqueduran: "That would be too much to ask for, I suspect."
The Black Veil: "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you all to come with me."
Kinqueduran: "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to shove your head up your own ass."
Iron Horse: "I'm afraid Kin means it when he says that."
Kinqueduran: "Or at all, to be honest."
Jaom: "I'm sorry, but I'd rather follow the asshole than you."
Kinqueduran: "She thinks I'm an asshole. I feel all warm and fuzzy inside now."
The Black Veil: "While my guards can not enter this room, I can. And Kinqueduran is familiar with my less sophisticated followers."
Jaom: "Oh, just get the theatrics overwith and lay it out in black and white. You're wasting all of our time."
Kinqueduran: "I rather like the theatrics..."
The Black Veil: "Fodder? Maybe what Carmine saw last time..but changes have been made. Completely...natural changes."
The Black Veil: From the bushes around, women start to emerge. One flows out of the fountain where the wine jars stand. Another kills a songbird as she explodes outward from its beak, rapidly growing in size until she towers nine feet tall. The women from the bushes sport brilliant emerald skins and arms of gnarled wood. The watery cultist bubbles as she flows forward toward Iron Horse. Wyld Mutants. Ten of them.
Iron Horse: "... ew."
The Black Veil: "No harm will come to you if you follow us now."
Jaom: "Well. Looks like the room got a bit more crowded."
The Black Veil: "Really, the process has begun. Soon, this year will come to an end and the next will start. You have no chance to prevent our plans. If you come with me, I will help you. You see, I need to find your friend...Anstice Cyzarine."
Iron Horse: "Anstice is really popular lately, isn't he?"
Kinqueduran: "Oh, you'll 'help' us, will you? Help us into an early grave, I'd wager. We don't want or need the sort of help you'd offer. Now, kindly dismiss yourself."
The Black Veil: "Apparently. Last I heard of him, he was meeting with the god Burgeron in Yu-Shan. Now I seem to have lost track of him."
Kinqueduran: "Aww, what a shame."
The Black Veil: "You are his allies. You must know where he has gone."
Kinqueduran: "You'll learn nothing from us. Be gone."
Glory: "It is not in my Prince's interests to disclose his location to you. I suggest you listen."
Kinqueduran: "A lot of people are unhappy with me. I'm used to it."
Iron Horse: "yeah, he can get in line."
Jaom: "I think I like the devils I know better than the ones I don't.
The Black Veil: "Well, you may consider your position for a few minutes."
The Black Veil: "Remember, this is the only exit you would enjoy using."
Jaom: "It's really not like I have much of a fucking choice, you know?"
Kinqueduran: "Oh, I imagine I'd much more enjoy an exit decorated with your blood."
Glory: "For all your rudeness and uneducated talk.. I like your thinking."