Zahara just had to return to the clearing where the Solars previously ate the dinner prepared for them by Seven Leaping Herons. The gate insisted upon it. In the center of the clearing stand two trees, each about fifteen feet high. Both are entirely leafless, but do not appear to be dead. They stand about ten feet apart from one another. Each tree grows up almost perfectly straight on the side far from the other. On the near side, each tree's branches bend towards the other. Near the center, the two meet and intermingle.
The trees, however, are not the important part.
For the branches of both entangle and entwine around a large ring of starmetal and jade, approximately ten feet tall, which hangs by these branches just over the ground -- high enough for a human to easily step through it.
<Cerin> "It was, all the time we ate, but you wanted to take your meteor back home to the Cascade"
<Zahara> "Huh. Well they DID steal my meteor. I was..focused."
All around the border of the circle, inscribed upon the green jade portions, are glyphs of Old Realm, though the language itself is clearly not.
<Zahara> "It looks like it was originally... another language, and they only translated the SOUNDS into Old Realm."
<Cerin> "but not what they mean"
The hoop of metal remains strangely unmoved.
Traces of Zahara's Essence flow into the ring and vanish. From what little he can make out of the Essence flows within, the ring seems to be built upon some sort of Essence feedback system -- using a small quantity of Essence to generate a huge surge of energy, drawing upon an underlying dragon line. It seems to require a very specific signal to function, however -- an Essence key of some sort.
<Cerin> "Interesting. The flows are so complex...it apparantely needs a key of some kind to open it..." he smiles to himself "I wonder if it's possible to pick the lock..."
<Zahara> "Hmm, I've made essence keys before. I'd like to see you pick one." she lofts a brow
From up closer, Cerin gains a better grasp of how the flows within the ring look. They're more intricate than he expected -- he's rarely seen this kind of fine detail in any artifact he's studied.
Cerin's deft strikes send ripples of cascading essence through the ring, and suddenly the processes within begin. Cerin sees the glow that indicates the Essence of the underlying dragon line being drawn up into the ring, and it begins to race through the object with frightening speed.
The green jade begins to glow in an unusual manner; it grows brighter as the moments pass.
The air within the disc begins to swirl and spin, obscuring sight of the area behind it.
<Zahara> "Do you know what it's DOING?"
<Cerin> "Not exactly, no. It seems to be building up to a similar state that it reached when Herons left us, however..."
As the air continues to spin, the various symbols carved into the starmetal begin to glow, a strange red color.
At this point, the device seems to reach a stable state -- it grows no brighter, and remains, swirling and glowing.
Cerin feels a strange... tugging sensation upon his hand as it moves through, but the tugging is... misdirected. Zahara sees it poke out the back as normal.
Cerin notices as his face nears the ring that there seems to be a strange Essence flow through the Old Realm symbols, as if they are open to manipulation
As his fingers touch the symbol, the red glow around its edges transforms into a soft blue, and a melodious chime emanates from the ring.
The undirected pulling resumes.
it continues to glow blue.
<Zahara> "Try activating more than one. Maybe form a word, or a name"
As Cerin taps the second symbol, both begin to glow a brighter blue. Once he taps the third, all three glow very brightly; the other symbols' red glow fades away to nothing, and a little musical chime echoes from the disc. The spinning within the center grows furious and rapid.
<Zahara> "That looks promising"
Zahara does not see Cerin's hand emerge from the back.
<Zahara> "Is your hand in yet?"
<Zahara> "It's not here. Stick your face in!"
<Markuran> "CERIN! ZAHARA! WHAT IS THAT THING?"
Cerin feels a strange sensation as his head passes through the gate. On the other side, he finds himself staring out onto a vast, seemingly endless sheet of ice. Cold breezes blow snow dust across it in great clouds.
Zahara feels the same tugging sensation, and her hand grows cold.
<alsoquin> Zahara sees the opposite side of the scene Cerin witnesses: a massive mountain of ice, beginning to rise up about fifty yards from the back of the gate.
<Zahara> "What'd you spell?"
<Cerin> "Larjyn. I think. I couldnt think of any other place that begain with 'LA'
<Zahara> "Is this it?"
<Markuran> "This isn't Larjyn. What a stupid ring of mysterious stone."
<Zahara> "Did you spell it right?"
<Cerin> "Of course."
<Markuran> "Well, this is wrong. But maybe I can find a mammoth...mammoth meat is supposed to be really tastey..
No mammoth -- or anything alive -- can be seen within the range of eyesight.
<Cerin> "I'm sure there must be some way to close it..."
The gate on this side is similar to the one in the Sunlands. It, however, is made of deep blue jade, and halfway frozen amongst a large archway of ice.
<Zahara> "Let's try."
Its glow suddenly begins to lessen.
Zahara and Cerin pass through the gate, but the fading has already begun -- they find themselves on the opposite side, still surrounded by ice.
<Markuran> "...you got us STUCK IN A GIANT FIELD OF ICE AND SNOW!"
<Zahara> "Well, that didn't go as planned," she notes.
<Cerin> "Ah. The gate seems to have shut down"
<Zahara> "Well, shall we explore before we try to get back, ..oh, say, you didn't happen to notice which letters were lit up on this thing on THIS side did you?"
<Zahara> "Well, I'd prefer to have a backup plan before we explore. Maybe you can just try unlocking it now, and we can figure out the way home later.
There is a great deal of Air essence in this place, far more than Cerin recalls seeing in such a wide, unremarkable area.
Even strengthening his senses, Cerin is hard-pressed to locate any other interesting details in the nearby area. It appears to be empty ice as far as the eye can see.
<Cerin> "How strange...so much air essence...we must be faar to the North, I think"
<Cerin> "Where are you going Marku?"
<Markuran> "To find a mammoth."
<Cerin> "There are none for miles..."
<Markuran> "You know, if its Old Realm symbols, its probably Old Realm Names."
<Markuran> "Try some Old Realm name. Like Rathess or Denandsor or Chiaroscuro."
Entering the same name seems to accomplish nothing: the three symbols flash red once the third is entered, and the spinning air does not change.
<Cerin> "That does us little good, Marku, if I cannot activate the gate again."
<Markuran> "Well, it won't work, we're already here. It can't send us here twice."
<Markuran> "You bring me to the frozen north and I don't even get a mammoth to bring home to show for it. Nor even a seal. White bear. Nothing. Just a bunch of ice."
<Cerin> "You do not understand. The pattern to open the gate and the pattern to select the destination are two seperate patterns. What we need now is the first one, that will allow us to put in 'Rathess' or 'Chiaroscruo'"
<Zahara> "Well Rathess is fairly close to the Sunlands at least."
<Zahara> "And shut up about us 'bringing you' ANYWHERE. YOU were the one who plunged through heedlessly."
<Markuran> "You opened the spinning blue puddle and just stood there, sticking your heads through like an ostrich. You didnt say anything about the puddle drying up!"
<Zahara> "ARE you COMPLETELY brainless, Markuran? We were experimenting with unknown technology, probably from the First Age. Caution is always advised in such cases."
<Zahara> "Honestly, I don't know how you survived this long."
After the third symbol, the gate roars to life again.
The three Solars find their heads plunged into dark, icy-cold water. A dark ocean floor is visible, but the surface must be far, far away.
Some rather disturbing vaguely fish-like creatures swim nearby.
The water is even colder now, exposed to the chill air.
<Zahara> "So it seems."
Mark manages to grab one of the creatures by a spine.
<Zahara> "Ugh, will you KILL that thing?"
The beast is about two feet long, and disturbingly dissimilar to any fish the Solars have ever seen before. It is covered in spines and strange tentacles, and has weird spots that glow and pulse in different colors.
<Zahara> "I hope it poisons you."
<Cerin> "What a fascinating creature"
The fish-thing dies, and begins bleeding glowing blood which changes colors as it flows out, until several moments later the fish is entirely dead and the blood turns a deep black.
<Cerin> "What a fascinating corpse."
<Zahara> "So quickly they change. And thankfully, I'm quite wet ENOUGH."
It does not appear to be.
<Cerin> "Any ideas Zahara, before you ..and Marku get any colder"
<Markuran> "Try the ones halfway between south and east"
<Zahara> "I'm fine, but if my hair shatters I'll be upset."
<Cerin> "That would be something of a tragedy"
<Zahara> "It would." She summons her flamberge from Elsewhere and ignites it, holding it near her frozen locks to melt them a bit.
The gate glows to life once again.
The Solars peer out to witness the gentle forest glen from which they initially emerged.
<Zahara> "That was exciting. We should try more places."
<Zahara> "We know where the setting for 'home' is now."
The gate swirls to life once again.
Mark looks out just in time to see a wall of lava rushing towards his head.
<Markuran> "HIT SOMETHING NEW!"
<Markuran> "SOMETHING NEW!!!!"
The ring's Essence shifts. No lava pours forth.
<Zahara> "What was it?"
<Markuran> "There was a giant rushing wall of melted rock and fire!"
<Zahara> "And now you know why we don't just jump through glowing puddles."
The current gate sits upon a tiny island, apparently part of a long archipelago. Seagulls fly and croak above, and the waves lap softly upon the island's shores.
<Zahara> "See if you can set the coordinates for the island Relovia spoke of in her letter"
<Zahara> "Well, now that Mark's not here to listen, can you show me the key?"
There are numerous possible combinations that lead to Western locations; though those Cerin tries seem to lead to various interesting locales, none open up onto anything that appears to match the floating island.
<Cerin> "I'm not sure if I can...but I will try. You feed the essence in here, here, there, here, and here. then send a mote to all 5 points"
Zahara causes the gate to spring to life.
<Cerin> "Well done"
<Zahara> "A hah! I got it! Thank you, Cerin!" she leans over and gives him a little peck on the cheek.
There are several delicious tropical fruits growing on trees on Markuran's small tropical island. In the water, Marku can locate several plump oysters.
He finds several large, gleaming examples of such.
<Cerin> "I suppose we should get Marku back.."
<Zahara> "do we HAVE to? I think I might hate him."
<Cerin> "He's useful when you need something large to run at problems"
<Zahara> "This is true. But wouldn't it be nice if he just stayed in a cell the rest of the time?"
<Cerin> "Only if it were soundproofed."
<Zahara> "I could do that."
<Zahara> "An hour would be nice, though. A blessed, quiet hour."
<Cerin> "You look stunning" he smiles and starts to remove the crimson armour.
<Cerin> "All you had to do was ask"
<Zahara> "We should come here more often..."
<Zahara> "We could build a little house."
<Cerin> "That would be good" turning to look at her layed out body "That would be very good indeed"
<Zahara> "If you try to teach others the key, don't do it well."
<Zahara> "I'd rather not have people able to barge in on us."
<Cerin> "Apart from people like herons you mean?"
<Zahara> "I was wondering how long you'd be able to wait before doing that," she says, a smile touching her lips.
<Cerin> "I can be a very patient man" he smiles back
<Zahara> "You did fairly well.." she smiles, "Considering the looks I've seen in your eyes."
<Cerin> "what man wouldnt hunger for you.."