In the storage room sits a variety of the Circle's magnificent treasures, acquired over the past several years. In one corner sits a locked box containing Zahara's current quarry -- the meteor of strange metal recently retrieved by the Circle over the bodies of a Wyld Hunt.
Opening the box, however, leaves Zahara with an entirely rude surprise -- the treasure from the sky is missing.
<Zahara> "You! Did you take the metal without telling the rest of us?"
<Markuran> "I stole nothing, Zahara." the big man looks almost as bristly as he did when Rannath questioned his horde's strength.
<Zahara> "Or was it our latest member, who is not here to join us, but to infiltrate and steal?"
<Markuran> "Relovia is not strong enough to carry a fallen star."
<Zahara> "There is one newer than she." she eyes Cerin mistrustfully.
<Cerin> "I did not know of the existance of this room until I followed your shout here, Zahara, I promise you that, under your Oath if you wish"
<Zahara> "Rannath nor Birds wouldn't have known the value... They are not craftsmen
<Markuran> "You should spend less time blaming your friends, Zahara. And more trying to find traces of the real theif."
<Zahara> "The door can only be opened by one attuned to the manse, Markuran, find me someone who is not a friend who can accomplish that?"
<Markuran> "They could have used Charms or Sorcery, or walked through the door."
<Cerin> "They followed Marku through the door when he carried the stone in here."
<Zahara> "How do you know?" she says accusingly
<Zahara> "So an invisible creature followed Markuran through the door?"
<Zahara> "well where the hell did he end up?"
<Cerin> "He waited a few hours after Marku left, opened the box using some kind of charm...there are traces of essence on the locks, then walked out"
<Zahara> "To WHERE? And how exactly did he manage to exit without triggering the alarms?"
<Cerin> "To where I do not know, perhaps they will have left traces through the manse. As to your alarms, they can evidently mask themselves from them. It would be relatively trivial with charms, and static patturns can be defeated even with mortal arts"
<Zahara> "Follow it, then." she says coldly.
<Zahara> "We're going to need to rework these defenses."
<Zahara> "And get better guards. Where's the worthless guard who let them through?" she growls, pacing back and forth like an enraged tiger.
<Markuran> "Quiet Zahara. If I didn't see them, how could the warriors?"
<Zahara> "Maybe YOU should have paid more attention."
The trail wends its way through the mazy corridors of the manse, stopping frequently, as if the quarry stopped to examine a room or decoration. Finally, it arrives at the center of the manse, and heads straight up -- following the water in its strange flow up through the very top of the building.
<Zahara> "If you had been more observant, we wouldn't NEED to find the thief on a stone cold trail."
<Zahara> "Check the forest."
<Zahara> "They should be retrieved shortly."
After an agonizing half-hour, the servant returns, bearing every one of the requested items.
<Zahara> "Hmm how clever.. a travelling workshop.."
All of a sudden, the previously hidden essence flows from the intruder's Charms become visible clearly to Cerin where once they were obfuscated.
<Cerin> "This thief of yours Zahara, he was no ordinary Exalt. He was not Chosen of the Sun, nor the Moon, nor the Darkness. Nor was he a child of the dragons"
<Zahara> "Surely no mortal could have done this."
<Cerin> "No, they were Exalted. The basic pattern is that of an Exalt, but they are none of the types I know"
<Cerin> are of none*
<Zahara> "Chosen of the Meteor, I suppose," she says witheringly.
<Cerin> "Though, I think I have hunted someone similar to this in the past..."
<Zahara> "If the Sun and the Moon, why not the Stars?"
<Zahara> "Though their gods must be many.."
<Zahara> "If we must hunt the stars themselves, then so be it."
<Markuran> "I remember tales of star-blessed that walked among the Dragon-Blooded and guided their hands against the tribes."
<Zahara> "These... star-blessed, support the Realm, steal my meteor... They must die."
Relovia steps into the central chamber just as the Solars turn to leave, and inquires as to what is occurring.
<Zahara> "None of your concern, girl."
<Birds Of Trinity> "I learned this new thing."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "What did you learn?"
<Birds Of Trinity> "I see someone got up on the wrong side of the Manse this morning. We keep telling you to check the feng shui in your bebroom, but...thief?"
<Zahara> "You're all IMPOSSIBLE!"
<Birds Of Trinity> "So I guess something got stolen, and you're making some headway, or you'd be in an even blacker mood than you are." She takes a moment to send Relovia off somewhere.
The Aspect of fire raises an eyebrow, then bows stiffly and walks away.
<Birds Of Trinity> "Oh, dear."
The pathway leads off into the nearby forest, now clearly visible to Cerin thanks to his clarifying ritual.
The trail leads off through the forest, winding and turning frequently, as if to avoid pursuit.
Several hours pass as the path leads deep into the woods, far from the Labyrinth. Finally, it crests a hill and heads down into a small valley.
Though the Leafwalkers have walked these lands many times, they have nothing to offer on this matter.
<Zahara> "Wanna bet they know we're coming?"
<Cerin> "They probably already do, yes"
<Cerin> "Yes, they do"
<Cerin> "There's something else there too...a powerful artifact of some kind"
<Zahara> "Well, let's go then. We'll want prisoners this time."
<Zahara> "Any idea what it does?"
<Zahara> "Then go win it."
From the top of the hill, a gruff voice calls out "Chosen of the Unconquered Sun, my master Seven Leaping Herons wishes to speak with you! I shall pledge by the power of the Eclipse Caste that no harm shall befall you here, if you lower your weapons for now."
There is a pause, then "He will gladly discuss the return of your... rock if you choose to speak with him."
The voice responds, "It is agreed. He shall join you momentarily."
<Zahara> "We will agree, if you will also agree to wear these until the talk comes to an agreeable conclusion." She lifts a thin ring of five-colored jade from her belt, where it lies near two other jade ones, and a single gold one.
There is a lengthy pause. Then the voice says "....it is... agreed. I shall do so."
<Markuran> "And your companions?"
"They may remain behind, or accompany us down and wear the collars. It is up to you."
<Markuran> "Bring them."
After a moment, a party of four begins to walk down the hill towards the Solars.
The three Terrestrials -- a gruff, portly man, clearly a Fire Aspect; a thin, almost emaciated woman in long, flowing, dark, deep blue robes; and a spiky haired young man, almost a boy, with the skin tone that indicates a Chosen of Wood -- stand around their master, Seven Leaping Herons.
Herons is a sharp-featured man, who looks as though he has seen many, many years. His jet-black hair is sprinkled with white along the sides of his head, as if to contribute to this impression. He wears loose robes of emerald green, concealing his form. Upon his brow sits a thin, almost invisible circlet made of the very same metal Zahara discovered in the meteor.
<Herons> "I am disappointed that you asked for me to join you here; I had prepared an impressive meal for you." Herons laughs. "I swear this oath," he says, holding his hand out to touch Zahara's.
<Markuran> "We might join you, after we talk."
<Herons> "Mmmm, how delightful." He looks over the circle with interest. "Though my servant spoke for me, I wish to introduce myself properly. I am Seven Leaping Herons, Chosen of Secrets."
<Markuran> "And thief."
Herons looks at Marku. "That is quite a claim, coming from one who snatched property rightfully belonging to another simply because it happened to fall to the ground."
<Markuran> "It can hardly be yours if it falls from the sky as a steaming rock."
<Herons> "One might offer that it could hardly be yours if someone can walk into your home and simply take it. But no matter, that is not the matter I wish to discuss."
<Zahara> "One might call trespassing a crime as well as stealing."
<Herons> "Perhaps," he says, and makes a slightly dismissive gesture with his hand.
<Herons> "I came here today because I knew you would follow the... 'thief' here, today. I wish to speak to you about the beings you fought, several months ago."
<Zahara> "You could have considered merely sending a messenger." she says crossly. "This is not the way to make friends."
<Herons> "This is convenient, for I have no interest in befriending you, merely exchanging information."
<Herons> "I understand," he continues, "that you destroyed three spirits who slew the members of a nearby town. Is that correct?"
Herons glares briefly at Marku, then, pointedly ignoring him, addresses his next statement to Zahara. "For what reason did those spirits attack that town?"
<Birds Of Trinity> "Their protection racket decided they were charging too much."
<Birds Of Trinity> "So they killed them, so we killed them."
<Herons> "And did they have any servants?"
<Herons> "What were they like?"
<Herons> Herons raises an eyebrow. "Before that."
<Zahara> "I fail to see why I should tell you everything you want, simply because we hunted you here."
Herons looks slyly at Zahara. "I do not serve the Maiden of Secrets idly, Zahara. I expect I can provide you with valuable information as well."
<Zahara> "Such as?"
<Herons> "What do you wish to know?"
<Zahara> "I wish to know your magic. I wish to know what you can do, and how."
<alsoquin> "An interesting and daring proposition, Zahara. Would you learn from me? I shall teach you what you wish to know, if you answer my questions on this matter."
<Herons> "Thank you, Chosen of the Sun." Herons bows slightly to the Solars.
<Herons> "So. Tell me of the servants of these spirits."
<Herons> "Hmmm. That is a most interesting tale. I believe this has fully addressed my queries."
<Zahara> "Excellent. And now the matter of my payment, and of course, our meteor?"
<Herons> "Ah, yes. The meteor is behind you; you may take it when you leave." He gestures idly.
<Herons> "How do you view the world, Zahara?" He suddenly stares intently at the Eclipse. "Through what lens do you see your life? What, as they say, is your purpose?"
<Herons> "Stare deeply into my eyes, Solar. See the world through them."
Herons moves closer to Zahara, placing his hands upon her shoulders and staring intently into her eyes.
For a moment that seems like an eternity, Zahara sees all of Creation through a new lens -- the every waft of extraworldly Essence in stark relief, the clockwork motion of the world as fate is woven and rewoven anew, the qualities that only those beings from beyond Creation can possess.
Then, it is over. Zahara's sight sees only the woods and those standing amongst them; her soul, however, is not quite the same.
<Herons> "That, Zahara, is my magic. May it serve you well."
<Herons> Heron gestures to his servants. "May they be freed now? I wish to depart."
<Herons> "My table is still set. You may feel free to dine at your leisure. As for the stone, as I mentioned: it sits behind you. You may take it if you wish."
<Markuran> "You look strange, Zahara. You need to stop smoking all those plants."
Herons calls his servants to him, and begins to depart. "Farewell, Solars. May our next meeting be as productive."
<Zahara> "Next time, a messenger would be nice."
<Herons> "I shall keep that in mind."
The Sidereal and his three companions stride over the hill. There is an unearthly sound and a flash of light, then nothing.
Tags: (:tags Flowers, Sidereals, Herons, Meteorite, Listran, Gates:)