As dust blows across the great battlefield where Walker in Darkness's vast army once stood, a looming figure in the intimidating gear of an undead general strides down the field, towards the Solars and the motionless figure which is the Mask of Winters.
<Zahara> ::The Magma Kraken's tentacles continue to beat futilely at the dust which used to be enemies. ::
The Walker strides up to within five feet of his unflappable foe, drives the point of his jagged soulsteel daiklave into the dirt, and spits with disgust.
"So pleasant to see you, Walker," the Mask intones.
With a flash, the Walker has pulled his blade from the ground and positioned the point directly against what one would assume to be the Mask of Winters' throat.
"I see you are not as pleased as I am.", speaks the Mask
The Walker stares at him for a moment.
"Did you really think I wouldn't find out what you did to me? DID YOU?!", the Walker demands!
The Mask raises his staff gently and pushes Walker's blade away from his throat. "I really have no idea what you could possibly mean. Unless you've been listening to that emerald strumpet you've taken up with."
The Walker seems taken aback for a moment. "That's nonsense! Everything she's told me is true! I've seen proof with my own eyes!"
The two Deathlords begin to bicker more frantically, talking over one another and gesturing with their weapons.
The blood-red sun of the Underworld can be seen slipping down to the horizon. It will be day in the world above, soon.
After a few moments, the argument seems to abate -- Walker's face grows somewhat glazed and distant, and he turns to walk away.
The Mask returns to the Solars and laughs. "Ah, he seems to bear this strange belief that I had murdered him. What a silly notion."
<Zahara> "He doesn't LOOK terribly murdered."
<Zahara> "A little peaked, maybe."
"See? I knew you would understand my viewpoint."
The Mask pats Zahara on the back, leaving her with an unshakeable feeling of crawliness.
"I must say, I am quite impressed with the way in which you each leapt to my defense. Really quite noble of all of you. Shall I take that as an accent to my previously suggested offer?"
<Zahara> "Your judgment may be hasty, Mask of Winters. The army, I'm sure, would have harmed us had we allowed them to get close. It was self-defense, you see." She smiles
<Birds Of Trinity> "You should take it as a statement that we do not generally wish for diplomatic meetings to end in casualty."
"Ah, polite and self-effacing to the end. A proper lady, you are, Zahara."
<Birds Of Trinity> "Despite the best efforts of some of my brothers and sisters in the Sun."
The Mask begins to stride confidently back into the temple.
"Regardless, I consider this to have been a remarkably successful first discussion on this matter," he says, as he strides into the chamber where the mortal representatives are busily hiding, terrified, behind pieces of furniture.
"I hope we will be able to discuss this matter again soon, but I am afraid I must be leaving at this time. Please do have a safe trip to your respective homes." He steps back out of the temple doors and closes them shut. At that moment, the tiniest ray of the Unconquered Sun's light shines through the corner of one window.
The merchants do not seem particularly less afraid of the Solars than of the Mask or the army of zombies.
<Cerin> "Perhaps not. If they do not, I may well be visiting you all the sooner"
The merchants slide backwards along the floor, pushing with their legs. Once they encounter the wall, they continue attempting to push nonethless.
<Cerin> "I take it you will not be wishing me to accompany you home?"
The fatter of the two merchants looks momentarily confused, and then begins to nod shakily at Markuran's words.
"We will... return home... to prepare," he says, confusedly, then begins to lead his other companion out of the ruined temple.
<Cerin> "It appears I am without employment once again, I think I shall take you up on your invatation, Zahara"
<Zahara> "Please do."
Four weeks later. After their ambush by members of a Wyld Hunt and the subsequent destruction of a Sunlands village by other Immaculates, the Solars have gone out to destroy those who sought to destroy them. Upon their return, all that is left to do is interrogate Cathak Relovia, the Immaculate who threw down her arms to swear herself to Markuran during the first fight.
<Zahara> "Indeed." She grins at Mark.
<Rannath> "An Immaculate monk. This should be a challenge."
<Cerin> "So why then do you keep her around?"
<Birds Of Trinity> "Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot that you were a zealot too." Birds looks at Relovia. "I'd like it if you would be our friend, rather than Marku's servant."
<Markuran> "There's hope for her, since she has repented. But she is still marked by her sins."
<Birds Of Trinity> "Please don't interpret that as an order, by the way."
<Relovia looks up from her position, seated upon the floor. "I would... like to be your... friend," she says, stiltingly.
<Zahara> "Why would you like to be our friend? Fear does not make true friends."
Zahara's question seems to have confused Relovia tremendously. She begins to blink frantically.
<Rannath> "May I question her, Zahara?"
<Zahara> "Ask Markuran, She seems to listen to him best."
Relovia seems to relax a little at the comforting sound of Rannath's voice. "I... I looked up into Markuran's face as he towered over me, and I heard his words... I... " she begins to falter for a second before continuing.
"Everything I ever knew shattered before me, and left my soul empty. All my previous deeds were a worthless lie."
Relovia begins to cry. Great heaving sobs wrack her athletic frame, and she crumples to the floor of the manse.
<Zahara> "Ah, the poor girl." she says, leaning down and offering a hankerchief.
<Relovia> "When I was Chosen, I knew... I knew that I was one of those intended to lead those unfortunate enough to be born as mortals in this lifetime!" she works out between sobs.
<Relovia> "I spent over one hundred years training and readying myself, and... and now..." She cries with redoubled vigor.
<Relovia> "It was all a lie!"
<Rannath> "It's not a lie, Relovia. You're just a piece in a much greater puzzle, now."
<Markuran> "A corruption, a blasphemous twisting of the truth. You serve the Solars and by doing so, guide the less enlightened. But you are not the masters."
<Zahara> "You still can lead the mortals, but you must know that We are those you should truly serve."
<Birds Of Trinity> "Your training and learning are not a lie."
The Immaculate surveys the faces of the Solars arrayed above her.
<Birds Of Trinity> "You are still a mighty person, whose talents can bring much good to the world if you so choose."
<Relovia> "I am... it is not all a lie?"
<Markuran> "A perversion of the truth, not a lie. You can learn the true ways. I will give you that chance to redeem yourself."
<Zahara> "Someone has hidden the truth from all of Creation. I wish to find that person." she says mildly.
<Rannath> "The Immaculate Order thrived on using lies with the truth."
<Birds Of Trinity> "You can still set my veins on fire with your secret atemi, or strike blows more perfect than those of any mortal."
<Birds Of Trinity> "The only truth is power!"
"Then I can still use my skills to serve the true harbingers of Creation's salvation."
<Rannath> "And you will, Relovia."
"I... I thank you." She smiles slightly, from beneath her tears.
Relovia suddenly seems puzzled.
<Relovia> "I... I know that, surely, you had great reason to do so, so I do not wish to... question your actions, but.... why did you slay the citizens of Listran?"
<Markuran> "We have not destroyed Listran. Another lie, to make you fear those you should loyally stand beside."
<Zahara> "Nor have I." she muses. "Perhaps, though it may be not a lie, but a twisting of the truth. Perhaps... other Children of the Sun were there."
<Cerin> "I have heard nothing of them, just holes in the fabric that tell me nothing. I will know them when I see them, though"
<Relovia> "But I spoke to the survivors myself. Four Anathe... four... four..." She loses her train of thought briefly.
<Markuran> "Describe them."
<Zahara> "We are known as Solars, or Children of the Sun." she puts in helpfully.
<Markuran> "Do not fear calling those who murder the innocent by the names they earn themselves."
<Rannath> "We are not Anathema. We are the Chosen of the Sun, and Exalted like yourself."
<Rannath> "But.. yes, there are those among our ranks that deserve that title."
<Markuran> "We, however, do not do such things."
<Relovia> "...four powerful beings came to Listran, and spoke that the citizens had not paid the proper tribute to their masters. When the citizens refused greater tribute, they slew the citizens to a man and woman, and levelled the town. Only those very few who hid amongst the bodies survived."
<Markuran> "What did the survivors say of their appearance?"
<Zahara> "Ah, well. There you have the reason. It was not, however, us."
"They glowed with an unearthly light, of opal and pearl, and they bore blades of light."
<Markuran> "Was that all?"
<Rannath> "..Mm, Lunars."
<Birds Of Trinity> "Blades of light, you say."
<Birds Of Trinity> "Were you present that this battle?"
<Markuran> "Lunars do not carry blades of light."
<Relovia> "They were said to step upon the air itself, and the blades of the villagers passed harmlessly through them."
<Zahara> "Perhaps they were artifacts of some sort. Or highly reflective."
<Relovia> "No, I arrived several days later. The city was already burned to the ground."
<Zahara> "They sounds like spirits."
<Birds Of Trinity> "We must find a survivor."
<Birds Of Trinity> "An artist, if we can."
<Cerin> "They do, though none I have hunted or talked with before"
<Relovia> Relovia looks suddenly crestfallen. "...The survivors were to be taken to the Isle for questioning. The escort must be well towards the shore by now."
<Zahara> "Shall we visit this shattered city, then, and find out more? And perhaps lend a hand at rebuilding, if they wish our aid."
<Rannath> "..Near Thorns."
<Markuran> "Then the rebuilt city can serve as a watchpost on the Mask. All the better."
<Zahara> "I'll send the Puppeteers to rebuild while we catch up to the survivors." She turns, and walks off toward her building buddies.
Relovia looks around briefly. "May I take my blades, in order to pledge them further to your service?"
<Markuran> "I'll have someone bring your equipment."
Relovia shifts nervously a little. "I... I will not end my existence here, today. I will serve you valiantly."
<Markuran> "Good. You bring yourself closer to perfection by doing so."
<Birds Of Trinity> "Um. These are the good guys."
<Birds Of Trinity> "Remember?"
<Cerin> "It would be a needless series of deaths if we did"
<Markuran> "Let me try to end this without their blood." Mark prods at his demon wasp, urging it lower.
<Birds Of Trinity> "They're saving innocent villagers from a disaster they didn't necessarily cause."
<Zahara> "Who are the good guys?" she says from atop her Manticore, the others riding on ridiculously beautiful wasps.
<Cerin> "The realm soldiers I believe Birds is saying"
<Zahara> "Oh, right. Well, Relovia thought she was right in attacking US as well. Perhaps, though, we should let her address them before we engage in battle. Somehow, I don't think they'll think us to be simply mortals."
<Cerin> "Our mounts do give away our nature to be something other than that, yes"
<Zahara> "Not to mention Markuran's grand entrance." she adds wryly.
The Realm soldiers are startled, but begin to fall into a drilled pattern, drawing out their weapons and preparing to go to their deaths.
<Cerin> "He does not seem to understand the existance of the word 'subtle'"
<Markuran> "Soldiers of the Realm, we have come to return these people to their home and rebuild what others have destroyed. If you try to stop us, we will destroy you to a man. You will have left us no choice. But we can let you aid our quest, join these people as their protection and defend them with your lives instead of losing them needlessly."
<Markuran> "Surrender and win a far greater victory then you ever would serving the corrupt Realm of deceit."
The soldiers falter, their swords suddenly dropping to the ground. One man, clearly a leader, steps forward. "We... we wish to help these people. How can we do so?"
"What of our orders from the Realm?"
<Markuran> "If you wish to do as I have said, you will no longer be of the Realm. Otherwise, you will have turned down my offer."
The soldiers begin to talk quietly amongst themselves. After a moment, their ranks divide, and a few hungry, pained looking souls walk from their rear out to Mark.
One of the refugees walks up to Mark, and begins wailing. "Why did they kill our families? Why did they raze our homes? WHY?!"
<Birds Of Trinity> "Why does anyone kill?"
"How can you DO so when even the sharpest weapons cause them no harm?"
<Zahara> "I can hurt the very Gods, woman. There is little we cannot do."
<Markuran> "What the weapons of mortal folk will not touch, ours can."
The old woman drops to the dirt, wracked with suffering.
Later. The newly rebuilt and strangely alien town of Listran gleams in the sun, the proud demons hopping between its roofs in excitement at their completed project. The few living refugees seem confused by their new home, but Solar magic keeps them from growing wrathful or dejected.
The demons hop to with vigor.
<Zahara> "So, tell us more about those who destroyed your village, before it was rebuilt in such grand style."
<Cerin> "Interesting creatures, them" he notes as an aside, before turning to listen
'The woman looks at Zahara, and a great sadness -- and rage -- fills her eyes.
"Our village was a happy protectorate of the Realm for many years. No one ever gave us trouble, and we paid all our tribute on time."
"But lately, the soldiers had not come as regularly, and many in the village began to believe that the Realm had abandoned us. So they turned to those who dwell in the sungrove to the east for protection."
<Zahara> "What were they called, those in the sungrove?"
"They call themselves the Three Lights: Dawning, Shining, and Falling. They are the gods of the unique light that pervades the woods to the east."
<Birds Of Trinity> "Can any among you paint a picture of these Lights?"
<Birds Of Trinity> "I would like to see a likeness; perhaps I have encountered them before..."
"I have never seen the Lights, though perhaps one of the others has. I have only seen their cruel servants, who came to destroy our village."
<Zahara> "What were those servants like?"
The woman says, "Evil men. Or more than men. They glowed with a white light, like that their leaders are said to possess. And they each bore weapons of pure white light. They moved faster than even our village's bravest swordsman, and flickered in place when struck with weapons."
"And upon each of their brows, they bore this symbol." She takes a stick and begins scratching int he dirt.
<Zahara> "No... not ghosts, Gods."
<Rannath> "..Hm, no. Gods."
The symbol she draws upon the ground is a four-pointed star, as if a circle were cut into four quarters and each one inverted from convex to concave.
"The more they fought, the brighter they glowed, until I was forced to look away."
<Markuran> "Can one of you lead us to this Sungrove?"
"I can," says a younger, more able-bodied refugee.
<Zahara> "We need to talk amongst ourselves first. If you will excuse us..." she motions to the others and walks a good distance away."
<Zahara> "I read an account in my library of these gods. They are strong, but they have weaknesses, as all do. Can any of you others affect spirits when they are not solid?"
<Rannath> "I cannot."
<Cerin> "I can consume them utterly, if the need arises"
<Birds Of Trinity> "I am sure Smoking Mirror would not object to assisting in what ways he can."
<Rannath> "Can we not present our case to Heaven? We *are* Chosen of the Sun, after all."
<Zahara> "That might be the wiser course of action, Rannath."
<Zahara> "However, they did not hurt our people, nor were they on our territory."
<Rannath> "We are the rulers of Creation. It is our territory, and they are our people."
<Zahara> "We do not know if they people of this village WERE remiss in their promises, though. Perhaps the Gods have the right of it."
<Cerin> "Perhaps we should start our complaint with the gods in question?"
<Zahara> "We should indeed. So, we are off to approach them in a friendly way, then?"
<Zahara> "Oh, and by the way, should this come to blows, we should each bring a weapon made of dark wood."
<Birds Of Trinity> "Dark wood."
<Rannath> "Hopefully, we won't spend too much time talking and avoid any possible future incidents."
<Zahara> "What is our goal, here? To find out the truth, or to gain retribution?"
<Zahara> "And if the villagers were wrong? Then there needs to be no retribution."
<Rannath> "The only tribute the villagers need offer is to the Celestial Incarna."
<Cerin> "And if the gods were not derelict in their duties, then tribute would have been passed on, that is the way of such things"
<Zahara> "If they contracted with the Gods for protection, they then owe them for that. The Gods are part of the Celestial Hierarchy, after all."
That night. The forest is composed of unusual silvery trees, like magical birches. Each leaf is just slightly green, with an overall silver sheen; the light glints off of them to create an unusual, unearthly glow to the area.
As the Solars approach, they get their first glimpse of the sungrove. There, the trees open up, and silver grasses grow in a circle between the birches whose leaves would lightly shade the ground, were it day. Upon closer inspection, there seem to be three figures -- ghostly, opaline figures of light -- resting against trees on the outskirts of the clearing.
There is a slight rustling from the grove, followed by the sound of ghostly snoring.
There is a slight shuffling, and one of the gods begins to shift around somewhat.
<Dawning> "...whaaaaa? Is it morning already?"
<Markuran> "No. We have come to meet with you."
<Rannath> "..They heard her, Zenith."
<Zahara> "Perhaps a little sunlight would help them to wake up," she murmurs, and alights her anima, sending liquid light coursing through the grove
The first spirit rises up, and floats to the edge of the grove. "What? There shouldn't be anyone here. It's the middle of the night! What is it?"
<Birds Of Trinity> "Tax collector."
<Dawning> "What? We're not due for another three weeks. Who IS that?" The spirit wanders out into the woods, in the vague direction of the Solars.
<Birds Of Trinity> "I'm afraid you are overdue"
<Zahara> "AS I said, we Children of the Sun, rightful Rulers of Creation, have come to address a grievance, given unto us by the village of Listran."
Upon closer inspection, he has the form of a thin, tall man, made entirely of whitish light and vaguely defined around the edges.
<Dawning> "Listran? Grievance? I think the others should be awake for this." He floats back into the clearing, and begins shaking another god awake.
"Errrrk. What's wrong with you?" mumbles Shining as she arises. "I'm supposed to be asleep right now."
<Dawning> "There are Solars here, Shining. They want to talk about Listran."
<Shining> "Listran? Why haven't you woken up falling yet, idiot?"
<Dawning> "I was going to, I wanted to wake you up first!"
The spirits continue to bicker for a few moments. After a little time has passed, all three arise and journey back out to meet the Solars
"What do you want?" the one who seems to be Shining says. She is a voluptuous, long-haired woman, though she is composed of the same wispy light.
Falling would best be described as "dark" were he not made entirely of light; his hair hides his face, and he looms ominously.
"Well, make it quick." Shining appears to be leading the discussion on her side.
<Zahara> "We wish to know of the contract between yourselves and the villagers of Listran, and what led to the destruction of that village."
Shining bristles a little bit at the question. "We offered our protection to them when the Realm abandoned them. When things became more dangerous in this region, we asked greater tribute in compensation. They refused us. We grew tired of them and eliminated their village; it was bothersome."
<Markuran> "What tribute did you demand?"
<Shining> "One citizen in good health each season, increased to two when times grew dark and dangerous."
<Zahara> "What new dangers came to this region that caused you to increase the tribute?"
<Shining> "Those they call the Deathlords have been increasingly active, and the wretched fae have even come so far west as this. This is a dangerous place for fragile mortal husks."
<Zahara> "As you demonstrated."
<Birds Of Trinity> "So you saw fit to ...have a tantrum... when they decided they no longer wished to retain your services."
<Shining> "They brought it upon themselves."
<Shining> "Is that not right, Dawning?"
<Dawning> "Of course, if you say so. It must be correct, Shining."
<Birds Of Trinity> "Surely if it were so dangerous, you could simply have left them to the wolves, and saved yourselves a bloody afternoon."
<Zahara> If they did not pay, they should not get the service, true. But that is no excuse for killing them, near to a man."
<Markuran> "They were unwilling to comply to your new bargain, but still honored the old. That is not their fault."
<Cerin> "It does not sound like that to me, spirits of light"
<Markuran> "You have mis-judged your rights in this case, godlings."
<Shining> "Perhaps, but we desired sport, and we had already gained enough of their tribute for our purposes anyway."
<Shining> "What are men, in this decrepit age? Naught but toys to us, I think."
<Zahara> "You rise beyond your station to do such. Is it not your job to shine the light through the leaves in this grove?"
<Rannath> "I doubt the Censor needs to hear of this. We can settle the matter ourselves."
<Shining> "You think you can do so easily, whelp? I think not. Guards!"
<sickquin> From the treetops, four opaline, glowing men and women drop towards the ground.
<sickquin> Each bears a weapon of shining light.
<Birds Of Trinity> "Steel....Symphony....STANCE!!!" Bands of light lock around Birds' wrists as Essence weaves itself around her.
Markuran's fists strike Shining's location... but pass harmlessly through her dematerialized body.
The shining people land around the outskirts of the clearing, what seem to be anima banners flaring around them in pearlescent white. Each selects a Solar upon landing, leaving only Rannath safe, and strikes twice with quick, vicious attacks.
Shining moves to avoid Relovia's strike, but does not move quite far enough -- her blow lands, and his Essence ignites in a brilliant flash of light.
The nimble leaps and powerful parries of the Solars deflect each and every one of the attacks made against them by the shining people.
Zahara's bell ring strikes deep within the souls of the Solars' foes, causing them great pain, and causing the gods to shiver slightly.
<Zahara> "You were fools to fight us, Lights"
As the men and women hasten to parry the Solars' attacks, their glow becomes brighter, and the four-pointed stars upon their brows begin to glow with a piercing light.
Cerin's arrows pierce Fallen's ghostly body, and he lets out a horrific cry -- his spiritual form is consumed from within, burning up in midair into nothing.
The two men fighting the Solars drop to their knees, and begin to scream horrifyingly. A quick glance shows them bleeding profusely from their faces.
<Markuran> "We have destroyed one of your brothers! Would you wait for your deaths as well, or will you yield to our demands? What say you, godlings?!"
Shining shrieks in anger and shimmers the tiniest bit, while reaching out to backhand Relovia.
Dawning, however, begins to flee rapidly.
Rannath's spear plunges through Shining's back. She gasps for a moment, then drops to the ground, twitching, utterly surprised at this turn of events. The two women also drop to the ground, also bleeding profusely.
Dawning trips as the force of the bell's ring strikes him -- only to fall directly into the path of Cerin's arrows. As one, they strike, tearing his Essence to shreds and leaving nothing but a wisp of dust.
<Rannath> "Ah, vengeance. And less paperwork for Heaven. Good deeds all around."
<Zahara> "I wouldn't count on THAT."
<Zahara> "We should arrange for protection for the villagers that are left. It wouldn't do to rescue them, and then leave them to die, hmm?"
<Cerin> "That lacks a certain elegance, yes Zahara"
<Zahara> "Ah yes, I'd forgotten in all the excitement."
<Markuran> "Regardless, this place holds no further interest."
<Rannath> "Mm, those Realm soldiers seemed decently-trained. Perhaps there's a use for them after we've consolidated our holdings in Listran."
<Zahara> "You have demonstrated great bravery and might today, as well as in the home of Mask of Winters. I believe I speak for us all when I say you are welcome to join us for as long as you like."
<Markuran> "It will be good to have another competent warrior."
Tags: (:tags Gods, Walker in Darkness, Mask of Winters, Underworld, Cathak Relovia, The Three Lights, God-Exalts, Listran:)