<BirdsOfTrinity> "So, what I'm saying is that the Immaculate Order isn't the horrible, false, inhuman thing that dear Markuran makes it out to be," she explains.
<BirdsOfTrinity> "I do think that they've lost sight of their goals, but in these years of tumult, that can only be expected, don't you think?"
<BirdsOfTrinity> "All they need is a strong, willing leader with her heart in the right place."
Relovia stares at Birds for a moment, and frowns a little.
<Relovia> "But as you have shown me, the core philosophy of the Immaculate Order is built upon falsehood. The devotions to the Immaculate Dragons are blasphemous and ineffective. How can a solid church be built upon a rotten foundation?"
Relovia violently but swiftly slices another bun in half, then applies a liberal helping of butter to it.
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Look at what they do for the land. Sure, they tell their stories about the Immaculate Dragons, but the real work of a monk is to talk the circuit, bearing learning, goods, medicine..."
<Relovia> "This is true, Birds, even as it galls me to admit it. I never served the Immaculate Order with pride in my heart for my place as a Dragon-Blood. I did it with a deep weight of responsibility driving my action, and shame at what my kind had allowed Creation to sink to. To know that the platitudes and prayers I offered for one hundred years were false burns me deeply."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Without the Order, the peasantry would live lives even worse than the ones they live now; they'd be sick, ignorant, without hope or faith or a guiding hand to turn to when they are lost."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "You're right that they do the world an offense."
<Relovia> "They do, with the finest of the noble Dragon-Blooded host serving as their unwitting pawns."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "You must know about the Cult of the Illuminated...and the Hundred Gods Heresy."
<Relovia> "Know of them? I stamped out enough wide-eyed devotees of each, I am afraid."
<Cerin> "hmm!? Oh...hmmm" he frowns at the sketch
<BirdsOfTrinity> "It is my thought that these three philosophies need to find a commen ground. If they can be brought together to coexist peacefully...
<Relovia> "Hmmmm. That is a grant proposal, Birds. How would you arrange for that?"
<BirdsOfTrinity> "A few well-placed hints, a bared hip, a smile..."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "We two can bring all three churches under us, in one staggering coup of martial prowess!"
<Relovia> "....what part, exactly, do you forsee for me in this, ah... grand plan of yours?" Relovia looks distinctly bemused.
<BirdsOfTrinity> "This is not something one woman can do alone," she replies, struggling not to leap onto the table and strike a dramatic pose.
<BirdsOfTrinity> "We will be prophets, you and I."
<Relovia> "I do wish to burn out the cancer that lies, fetid and stinking, at the heart of the Order."
<Zahara> "Hmmm..." she muses, "I'd better get this to work before the war starts."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "We will need to plan this carefully, though. It would not do for us to be slain by your erstwhile colleagues."
<Relovia> "No, it would not do at all." Relovia spears a grape with her fork, and continues. "My life as an Immaculate master is not yet compromised, I think. The other four Terrifying Dragons have all fallen beneath your fists, no?"
<BirdsOfTrinity> "This is true. We are MIGHTY warriors."
<Relovia> "Then no one else knows I have engaged with you. I can return to the Isle, bruised and battered, fresh with the head of an... Anathema" -- she spits a seed onto her plate -- "from my long campaign in the southeast, and resume the appearance of my previous, 'holy' life."
<BirdsOfTrinity> ..."You're right."
<Relovia> On the grounds below, a horse-seated messenger and a foot guard begin to approach the manse.
<Zahara> "Well?" she demands as they reach the edge where they are waiting.
The man riding the horse is clearly Marukani, given his equine decorations and ease upon horseback. Behind him is seated a thin man in modest tan robes, in keeping with those worn on official business by the cleric-senators of Jakobi.
The latter dismounts and walks up to Zahara, a little uncertain in his approach.
The Jakobin messenger states "I come bringing a message for the rulers of the Sunlands, from the governments of Jakobi and Marukan."
<Jackobiandiplomat> "We wish to announce to the Sunlanders that Jakobi and the Marukani have entered into a binding alliance with the city of Thorns, to mutually protect one another against any unwarranted aggression by foreign states."
<Zahara> "Ah, Congratulations."
<Zahara> "Let me know how that works out for you, will you?"
<Jackobiandiplomat> "We furthermore bear a message from Thorns beseeching you to similarly join this alliance, to further strengthen the free nations of this region, since the honorable Mask of Winters cannot guarantee your safety in the coming tumult should you refuse."
<Zahara> "Hmmm that would be tragic, wouldn't it? If we accidentally got destroyed during a conflict."
The messenger blanches slightly. "I...i...indeed it would be so."
The messenger has become completely white. "I... I take it you wish to reply in the negative?"
<Jackobiandiplomat> "Y... yes. I shall return with that message. At once." He leaps back upon the Marukani horse, and the group swiftly turns to depart.
All of a sudden, an outrageously bright pillar of light shoots up into the sky from far in the southwest, casting a bright white light over everything visible. Those looking at it must turn away from the brightness; those looking away see only the reflection of its brilliant radiance, still far brighter than the noonday sun.
The brilliant light flares for about thirty seconds, then disappears entirely.
<Cerin> "..yes" then shakes his head, blinking.
<Zahara> "As long as we're not racing." She leaps up on his back and offers her hand to the first person who tries to jump up behind her.
<Zahara> "He can carry three if you're willing to squish."
<Markuran> "He's disappointed."
<The_ST> Cerin and Zahara can both see well enough to percieve the cloud of dust and smoke rising up from hundreds of miles away, in the direction the beam appeared in.
<Cerin> "...My eyes...the essence flare was at least ten times brighter than the light..."
<Zahara> "Well, your eyes are certainly not the only thing it damaged."
<Markuran> "Was it a spell of mass destruction?"
<BirdsOfTrinity> "So, it looks like we're going to be in for sort of a trip?"
<Cerin> "It is further than we thought"
<Cerin> "...Gods, it must have been bright"
As the Solars rapidly move towards the source of the beam, the cloud becomes clearer -- a massive cloud of dirt and dust has been thrown up where the beam appeared, and is beginning to spread across the sky.
<Zahara> "Hmm perhaps we should have left a better guard behind this time, since every time we leave, something happens to the manse. Ah well, it'll be a test of our new defenses."
<Markuran> "Relovia remains behind. She can defend against lesser threats. I do not think the Mask can mount an assault in just a few days."
After many hours of tiresome travel, the Solars can finally begin to see the location where the pillar appeared.
The cloud of dust rises out of a massive city of gold and white, slightly hidden by a valley amongst the jungle trees.
Its walls stand in a perfect circle, and it is clearly divided into eight identical sections.
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Maybe it wasn't."
In the very center, dust and smoke rises out of a hole nearly half a mile across.
<BirdsOfTrinity> "You know how it is."
<Rannath> "I'd recall it from a patrol report."
<Cerin> "The city was there...there did used to be a pyramid too, however"
The hole is no mere crater; even flying straight overhead, Zahara can see no bottom to the huge shaft drilled into the center of the city.
<Zahara> "Nice shaft."
Upon closer inspection, the city was clearly wondrous in the first age -- but it has fallen into great disrepair. Several of the great towers that stood above it have collapsed, and rubble and weeds fill the streets.
The huge hole at the center of the city is clearly new; the rock on the sides shows the signs of recent shearing. It seems to plunge downwards, in a more or less straight line, for at least many miles.
The towers are great elongated pyramids, each with a dome and a spire atop them. The high levels bear platforms and mechanisms similar to those seen at a First Age seaport -- they seem to be intended for skyships of some kind to dock.
As Rannath rides through the city, he can see that though the city lies in ruins, it is not without life. In the side streets, reptilian figures dart and weave -- seeming to be heading to the same location as the Solars.
<Zahara> "Why haven't we come here before? There's so much to LEARN here.."
Markuran can get a better look at the lizard creatures from above -- they are man-sized, with a bipedal but angular posture -- they seem to move with an alarming swiftness.
On one side of the hole, opposite where Rannath stands, a group of the lizard men appears. Most appear as bestial and mindless as the others. One, however, at their lead, looks different.
It wears a simple robe of white, with the insignia of the sun emblazoned in brilliant gold across it. On each arm, elaborate claw bracers of golden metal gleam. It seems to be carefully examining the holes, and the other lizards seem to be following it.
Zahara's touch causes one of the machines to spring instantly to life -- a seemingly immovable portion of the platform begins to warp and unfold, as if to provide a convenient landing space for a flying vehicle.
<Markuran> "Lizard-creatures! If you speak, be warned that you face Markuran the Great Bear, born of the Lakewalkers, chosen of the Sun himself!"
The Dragon-King looks up to the brilliant Solar displays across the hole. He stares for a moment, then begins to circumnavigate the obstacle, moving towards the Solars.
<Rannath> "Shut up, Zenith! We aren't trying to provoke them."
The Essence machinery in the tower is unlike anything Zahara has ever worked with before. It seems to be a deeply elaborate matrix of Essence flows, arranged to interact with one another and provide multiple possible responses to any input.
The Dragon-King, and his retinue of bestial followers, arrives near Rannath's location. It stops one hundred feet away, and stares at Rannath for several moments, making no other motion.
Zahara finds that the mechanism can be easily configured even by a novice user to accept all manner of vehicles, as well as to provide a stable walking space and to open the doorway to the tower.
<Cerin> "This tower looks rather empty...perhaps we should try a different one?"
<Zahara> "That's absolutely fascinating. See how easily it works?"
The Dragon-King draws closer to the three Solars. Upon closer inspection, it can be seen that its eyes glow a deep red -- and leave paths in the air when its head moves. Its entire body glows with a slight, almost unnoticeable aura.
<Dragonking> "Chosen of the Unconquered Sun, why do come today of all days to the city of Rathess -- the city you let fall into ruin and die?" it -- she, apparently -- calls out in an unusually mellifluous voice.
<BirdsOfTrinity> "The Chosen of this day are no longer blessed with the knowledge and office of the Sun, stranger."
<Cerin> "Perhaps that one?" he points at another tower, one that seems closed up
<Dragonking> "Of course I speak, Chosen. Do you not know of your history? Would you ask a scion of one of the Hundredfold if it can speak?"
<Dragonking> "Hmmm. How unfortunate. I have not journeyed from Rathess in nigh upon 2000 years, so I know not what barbarism the world has fallen to in the interim."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "I'm sure you would not believe it, madam. Let us get acquainted! I call myself Birds-of-Trinity."
<Ssithumi> "Birds-of-Trinity. Is that what you call yourself today? I knew you once. You will not remember Ssithumi, or Ssithumi-an-Tohatep as we are now, however."
Ssithumi looks over the other two. "I have not met you before, Spear-bearer."
<Markuran> "You have met me ?"
Ssithumi turns to look at Markuran, then seems to shake for a moment. "I..." she rapidly turns back to Rannath. "And your name, Chosen?"
<Rannath> "My past existed farther west than this place, so I am not surprised. You name me correctly, though, for I am Rannath of the Spear."
In this tower, an intact skyship sits, gathering dust but otherwise intact.
Ssithumi pointedly ignores Markuran's comment. "I believe I can guess the reason why you have descended upon my home on this day," she says, gesturing behind her to the hole.
<Ssithumi> "Do you have any more information than I do about its cause?"
<Ssithumi> "Then you do not know where the sky cannon has fled to?"
<Rannath> "Sky cannon?"
<Rannath> "Her silence should be enough for you, Zenith. Your provocations earn you their ire and mine."
Ssithumi turns to Markuran and glares, her eyes flaring brighter red. "I will justify you, Kiriath the Deceiver, only the answer that I am shocked to see your soul continue to live in this world, rather than rot in the deepest pits of hell."
Turning away, Ssithumi turns to another lizard and begins speaking in a strange, clicky tongue. After a second, it steps forward and raises up one foreclaw.
Above the dragon's claw appears an image -- accurate to the smallest detail. It shows the city, before the beam struck it.
The skyship's Essence engine roars to life, and the panels and such begin to light up.
After a moment, in the image, a giant construction begins to float above the city -- a vicious eight-pronged star, glowing gold and silver, with jade trim across its surface, and one vicious-looking blade jutting downwards, towards the earth.
<Zahara> "ooOOOOhhh" she grins, but manages to hold off before pushing other buttons randomly.. instead she takes a moment to try to discern what they all do. Specifically for a steering mechanism, and possibly a brake. Although she can do without the brake for a while.
The blade begins to glow -- then, suddenly, the beam which could be seen from miles away shoots down, obliterating the central pyramid. The vision ends.
<Ssithumi> "That was, indeed, the sky cannon." She turns to Birds. "Alahwi, have you never seen such a thing in this lifetime?"
The controls of the skyship are surprisingly comprehensible, even to neonate pilots.
<Zahara> "This... this is going to be fun. Hold on tight!" she announces.
The skyship shoots rapidly out of the tower, moving with an ease unlike anything Zahara has ever experienced before.
The skyship bears suddely and quite sharply to the left.
Whether or not he realizes it, Cerin's panel controls the weapons.
<Ssithumi> "It is a fitting name for you, Chosen." Ssithumi thinks for a moment. "I suppose your current name is acceptable as well."
<Zahara> "This is mine." she declares.
The ship suddenly curves sharply right in the air.
All turns are currently causing the ship to list 45 degrees to one side as it turns.
<Cerin> "Perhaps a little lighter on the controls, Zee?" holding onto the seat
<Zahara> "They're very responsive." she giggles
<Rannath> "..This is the most shameful display I have ever seen. I think I am cursed." Rannath is muttering in Old Realm, head lowered.
<Cerin> "...what was that?"
Ssithumi speaks to Birds and Rannath. "So you have never seen the like of such a thing. It is for the best. The world is better off without such things."
<Ssithumi> "I take it you have no knowledge of who commanded it, then."
<Rannath> "I do not. It is an unusual construction."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "It is new to me. I don't have many memories of the lives before my most recent death." Birds says this offhandedly, but falters at "death."
<Rannath> "Also, I beg pardon for the disruption. My companions are.. ill-mannered, excluding you, of course." Rannath gestures briefly to Birds.
The outside of the ship is suddenly covered by a tremendous electrick shock.
<Zahara> "MY SHIP! IT'S ON MY SHIP!"
<Zahara> "THERE'S A BEHEMOTH ON MY SHIP!"
Ssithumi says, "I know not the purpose of those who made this attack, but it was clearly for malevolent purposes. I know of some of the things which live under this city.... and I would prefer that they remain there."
<Ssithumi> "We could not see -- the light blinded us for long enough for it to disappear."
The ship lurches upwards, Markuran still gripping tightly to its exterior.
<Cerin> "...Oh. The behemoth was Marku"
Ssithumi suddenly shouts "Solars, look out!" and violently pushes Birds from her current location.
<Zahara> "That jerk!" she fumes. "Can you believe the NERVE?"
<Zahara> "YOU tried to kill US!"
<Zahara> "What are you, stupid? You jumped on my SHIP! I can't even FLY this thing!"
Where Birds stood just moments before, a huge ball of fire strikes violently into the ground, sending tiny flame gouts off in every direction.
<Markuran> "You go soaring through the sky in some ancient war machine without TELLING us and expect us to recognize you?" the force of Mark's bellow shakes the ship.
Birds finds herself on the ground, with Ssithumi collapsed atop her.
<Zahara> "It wasn't like I was HIDING. I was CLEARLY inside the tower, and then came OUT in the SHIP."
<Cerin> "You leap at said ancient war machine in attack and expect it not to activate defences?"
<Markuran> "It didn't! You did! Or she did!"
<Zahara> "What did you THINK we'd do? You JUMPED on the SHIP!"
<Cerin> "All we heard was a 'THUNK'. We were supposed to know you were the passenger?"
<Zahara> "AND I bet you scratched the finish, too!"
Unbeknowst to the arguing Solars in the skyship, a trio of spiritual beings have materialized in the air above the others; one angrily curses her poor aim.
<Markuran> "What else would be jumping at the ship?!"
<Cerin> "Just about anything in Rathess!"
<Zahara> "How the hell should I know? I don't live here. I assume anything that lands on my ship intends to knock it from the sky."
A ten-armed, winged woman made of pure red flame, a large, squat man draped in hundreds of animal furs, and a bear with insect wings and tusks begin to descend from the air, towards Birds, Ssithumi, and Rannath.
<Markuran> "I did! Until I saw you two inside. Then you go and try to kill me!"
As the ship turns to return to Rathess, suddenly the scene becomes visible to those inside -- the gods become manifestly visible.
<Zahara> "Then we were perfectly right to try to kill you."
<Zahara> "See.. it could have been THEM." she points
<Axhelm> "You shouldn't have COME here, Solars. The Lily can't have you interfering with its plans so SOON!" shouts the furred man, in a horrificly twisted voice.
<Cerin> "That ...THING destroyed my village"
<Zahara> "Buttons! Buttons!"
<Zahara> "Mark, go back to the hatch and I'll drop you on a demon.
<The_ST> From the front of the vessel, a massive gout of Essence flame shoots out, striking the unsuspecting bear directly upon its back, singing its delicate wings. It drops to the ground with an angry yowl.
Even falling through the air, the bear is surprisingly nimble -- it manages to twist out of the way of several of Birds' solar arcs, though not effectively enough to avoid every one of them. The remainder strike it full-on, and it yowls again.
The fur-wearing god draws out a great axe and brings it up to attempt to deflect Rannath's blows.
He seems to almost have the edge, but Rannath gives the slightest push and drives past his defenses, striking the god with his glowing spear.
The woman of fire sneers at the Solars, then turns around and lobs another fireball directly into the path of the oncoming skyship.
The fur-wearing god staggers back momentarily under Rannath's harsh blows.
<Zahara> ::Meanwhile, Tantamount roars from the ledge, and flings its poisoned spines at the offending gods "What happens to those who harm my mistress?"::
The ship veers up, avoiding the oncoming fireball by mere inches.
The bear struggles forward to claw at Birds, but, moments before reaching her, collapses in the dirt, a sigh of epic proportions escaping its beary lips.
The woman of fire dodges nimbly to avoid Zahara's floating weapons, but not nimbly enough -- two strike home on her, just before she is shocked by the stunning sound of the bell.
The fur-clad man suddenly swings his axe behind his head, somehow deflecting the sound of Zahara's eerie bell.
The icy hammer swings through the elemental's midsection, freezing her ghostly flames solid as it passes through. A huge portion of her midsection falls out and clatters to the ground below.
The man's axe seems to move almost with a speed of its own, interposing itself between his body and Mark's vicious blows.
Under the force of Mark's redoubled blows, however, even the axe gives way, letting two more blows strike home.
The fur-clad man spits up shining blood under the weight of Mark's fists, and more blood drips out from the gaping wounds dealt to his frame. As he bleeds, however, some of the furs begin to shift and attach themselves to his body, covering the wounds and joining with his skin.
As he flies through the air, the furred god howls, and swings his axe in a circle. Two new blades extend out of it, and it begins to glow.
Under further blows, the god's furs almost entirely fuse to his body, and a few begin to rot and fall off.
<Zahara> "Cerin... who's the Lily?" She asks while maneuvering the ship towards the flaming god-thing. She keeps an eye out for any fireballs being flung her way, her nerves on hair-trigger as she acts to protect her precious ship.
<Zahara> "Oh, sure. Now how am I going to fire the weapons?" she grumbles
Cerin's arrows strike true, the weakening parries of Axhelm offering little resistance to them -- they pluge deep into his heart. The god lets out a horrific scream, enough to rattle the bones of the dead, as his soul is consumed utterly from within by the purifying light of the Unconquered Sun, and reduced to mere ashes.
Rannath's blows strike the fire elemental directly where she was deeply wounded by Zahara's icy hammer -- wounding her so deeply that her essence collapses and dissipates into loose wisps of flame.
Ssithumi speaks to Rannath. "I suppose these beings were likely involved in the strike upon my city."
<Rannath> "It appears likely. Have you heard of a being called 'Lily'?"
<Ssithumi> "No, the name is unfamiliar to me. But I have slept these past thousand years; I am not well versed in current events."
<Ssithumi> "I am the only surviving elder of Rathess, and I am the last tribal spirit enabled to form /olchilike/. All the others were killed by stasis malfunctions, or lost to the depredations of Filial Wisdom. So you might say that I am the ruler, yes."
<Markuran> "What's a Filial Wisdom?"
<The_ST> "...Filial Wisdom was once like you, until he became Chosen by a forbidden god. I watched my brood-brothers and sisters die at his hands as he cackled with glee. Finally, I slew him, and took these" -- she raises her arms, showing off her claw gauntlets -- "as my trophy."
<Ssithumi> "Indeed. As, I take it, does your companion." She gestures towards Cerin.
<Rannath> "We all carry vengeance in our hearts, towards the usurpers, their foul religion.."
<Cerin> "Thank you, Dragon King" he speaks in a strange tongue, offering her a slight bow
<Ssithumi> Ssithumi laughs, a strange reptilian laugh. "It is foolish for the powerless queen of a savage ruin to offer alliance and friendship with a great nation. Nonetheless, I choose to do so."
Ssithumi bows to Rannath for his great gesture of respect.
<Ssithumi> "That is acceptable to me," Ssithumi states calmly.
<Cerin> "Are there no other dragon kings like yourself, Ssithumi?" he smiles "Your merging of spirit and flesh is a most interesting effect" he speaks again in the strange tongue
<Zahara> "Excellent. So. What city is this? And do you have a name?"
<Markuran> "Did you..you make those?" points vaguely at some giant flowers that seem to be glowing and crawling around the city, fixing things.
Ssithumi answers the Solars in turn. "I thank you for the offer of aid; I may require it someday. As for others: we were once the chosen champions of my people, merged with spirit to serve a higher calling. But all the other gods who could perform such a merging are dead now."
Finally, looking at Zahara: "This is Rathess and I am Ssithumi, as your companions already know."
She stares at Zahara for a moment more, then whispers "Talmuda? Interesting...."
Ssithumi turns to Cerin and says "I knew you once as Ymir. You have suffered much since then, I am afraid. Nonetheless, it is a pleasure to meet you again."
Then to Zahara, saying "I thank you for the compliments. I would... like it very much if you might assist me in rebuilding it, someday."
<Rannath> "I seem to be the only stranger here." The ugly, yet intensely charismatic Solar's face splits into a wry grin, as he watches the group speak.
<Ssithumi> "You may, Cerin. I would like that greatly."
<Ssithumi> "That is most heartening, Zahara."
<Ssithumi> "Of course. Once I have trained more of my nieces and nephews" -- she gestures to the barbaric dragon-kings -- " I will be happy to assist."
<Rannath> "My teaching skills are trifling, but I am available if you so desire."
<Ssithumi> "I would be very happy to have your assistance. It is said that the Solars were once able to raise our young from barbarism. Perhaps you will discover this lost art."
<Zahara> "There may be something in my library. I shall look for a solution in the histories."
<Ssithumi> "Thank you." Ssithumi straightens up, and gestures to the city. "You are welcome to my hospitality while you remain here. None will attack you, and you may make use of any surviving quarters, and take any objects you wish. I look forward to speaking to you again soon."
<Zahara> "No, thank YOU!"
Ssithumi grins, then walks away, leading her entourage of dragon-kings.
<Zahara> "I like her," she comments in Riverspeak.
<Markuran> "She doesnt like me." the big man sounds sulky.
<Zahara> "I'm sure you'll grow on her."
<Zahara> "Is it the scales?"
<Rannath> "I must return to the Manse, will you all be accompanying me?"
<Zahara> "Hmmmm intriguing. I wonder... no."
Tags: (:tags Relovia, Faith Ecliptic, Marukani Plains, Jakobi, Thorns, Rathess, Ssithumi, Dragon-Kings, Hundredfold, Sky Cannon, Kiriath, Alahwi, Red Lily, Axhelm, Listran, Lai Misuna, Talmuda, Ymir:)