alsoquin After an enlightening and intriguing visit to Rathess, the Solars prepare to enter the vast, skyward-sweeping plane of Wasirru. Thirteen ponders deeply as he prepares to return home after a long, long time away....
alsoquin The gate sits immobile in front of the Solars.
Thirteen "...Shall we?"
Birds "Lead the way."
Thirteen evinces a surprising trepidation as he keys in the appropriate combination and walks through the portal.
Cerin steps through
Birds 's brow creases with worry at Thirteen's demeanor. She exchanges a look with Cerin.
Cerin shrugs, despite the fact he wasn't looking in Birds' direction
alsoquin As Thirteen passes through into the new world, he is almost immediately met by a familiar feeling -- a massive wind, far stronger than any one could ever encounter in the Sunlands, slams against his body from one side as he steps out onto the narrow wooden platform, carved from the vast tree's trunk. A narrow stair, with room for only one to walk (and nearly flush with the trunk even then) winds slowly upwards.
alsoquin The others step out to join him; only Birds is actually surprised by the wind, of course.
'Thirteen'' takes a deep breath, tasting the wind in consideration, as he walks up the stairway.
Birds is mildly annoyed at the lack of warning, but takes it in stride. What a marvellous place to fly!
Birds "Thirteen, this is spectacular!"
Thirteen "I am pleased that you enjoy it, Birds-of-Trinity."
alsoquin From the current vantage point, all Birds can immediately see is the vast sky -- a melange of reddish-violet and orange shades, that stretches out to infinity on all sides. Below, the trunk plunges downwards for what looks like miles -- or tens of miles -- into a fluffly, reflective layer of clouds below. (...)
alsoquin It is when Birds-of-Trinity looks upwards that she is most surprised -- it is some miles, maybe half as far as to the cloud cover, before the tree spreads out. It is larger than any one thing she has ever seen, even including the Imperial Mountain -- a vast canopy of leaves stretch out from branches larger than a city, shaded through green into blue or red, and beams of light cutting down through them....
alsoquin Cerin, of course, took all of this in the moment he stepped through the portal.
Cerin "It appears we have some climbing to do."
Thirteen "About half a mile up, there will be a quicker way."
Thirteen "This wind..."
alsoquin The wind blows a little stronger, as if to punctuate Thirteen's statement.
Cerin "What is wrong with it? Or is it right?"
alsoquin The canopy overhead sways dramatically in the breeze, in a way that Birds finds a tiny bit sickening to look at -- it's just barely obvious that parts of it are moving entire miles as they sway in the wind....
Thirteen "The objects of fate that on Meru take the form of constellations are here known as winds."
Thirteen "This is the Dry Wind, corresponding to the constellation of the Rising Smoke."
Birds "Ikara is not very interesting to talk to. What's the significance of the Dry Wind?"
Thirteen "The Dry Wind is the wind that blows at the end of a journey."
Thirteen "It is associated with stagnation, murder and quick and painful death."
Cerin "Ah. Those are not pleasant omens."
alsoquin After a little bit of walking, the Solars arrive at the spot Thirteen mentioned. A small terrace has been hollowed from the surface of the Wasirranu, with simple wooden benches to sit upon. A hall leads into the tree a moderate distance inwards, where what appears to be a small wooden gazebo, suspended by five large, tough ropes, hangs in a shaft.
Thirteen "Mm. It is perhaps fortunate that my skill lies in defying fate."
Thirteen walks into the tree and steps into the gazebo.
Cerin follows, examining the construction as he walks.
alsoquin The ropes attached to the roof of the gazebo head upwards, seemingly into infinity; the shaft is dark and quite long. At the bottom, two holes in the floor have what appear to be large hooks placed in them tightly, connected to ropes that tie to the nearby walls.
Birds looks quizzical.
Thirteen "Be at ease, Birds." Thirteen unhooks the bottom hooks.
alsoquin Without delay the gazebo rockets upwards at a ferocious rate, moving so quickly that one almost cannot hear. The feel of the air rushing past is exhilarating; but even at this tremendous speed, it is still a rather long trip. Finally the conveyance begins to slow and eventually settles into a niche in a similar tree-cavern, far above where the Solars arrived.
alsoquin Within, a crude totem is carved with Old Realm characters reading "Abrena," and a passageway leads off in one direction... though it is blocked by a great pile of rubble, and scorch marks mar the wood around it.
Cerin looks beyond the rubble.
Thirteen strides out of the gazebo and starts levering rubble aside.
alsoquin The hallway beyond seems to have had quite a number done on it. Scorch marks, gouges in the wood -- it looks like a battle was fought there. It extends some distance -- the settlement seems to be a walk from here still.
alsoquin None of the rubble is tremendously difficult for Thirteen to move under his own power, though there is a good amount of it. A short while is enough to clear a walkable passage.
Cerin helps Thirteen with the rubble, keeping an eye down the corridoor as he does so.
Thirteen begins to walk down the corridor, frowning as he notes the evidence of a recent battle.
alsoquin Nothing appears to be stirring in the nearby area except for the Solars.
alsoquin Soon, the rubble is cleared enough to progress.
Cerin walks beside Thirteen.
Birds floats around, trying to get a better look at things.
alsoquin The passageway leads onwards and begins to bend upwards. Thirteen remembers this village from a past visit here -- it is perhaps a quarter mile to the outskirts.
Thirteen walks faster.
Cerin studies the village as they walk towards it
alsoquin The village itself is a quite impressive sight on its own -- though not unusual in any way for one such as Thirteen. In a large, cylindrical bore -- perhaps a mile wide -- curved buildings have been elegantly extruded from the walls, and rope bridges span back and forth across the hollow cylinder, while vertical ropes provide a quicker means of travel. Normally there would be a group constantly stoking the village fire (...)
alsoquin -- but it is out. It would appear those present -- perhaps 50 villagers in all -- are all holed up in three or four defensible locations throughout the village, and with the most heavily armed standing ready to strike at anything that enters.
Cerin "Your villages are small wonders in themselves, Thirteen. It is a shame this one has seen such strife."
Thirteen grimly proceeds to the center of the village, ignoring the villagers's encampments. He begins digging through and arranging firewood in the pit, occasionally walking a bit afield to gather a particularly dry piece. He does not immediately respond to Cerin.
Thirteen finishes arranging the wood and coughs up a small reddish marble, which he casts into the pit. It burbles for a bit and then bursts into flame, igniting the carefully prepared kindling.
alsoquin A moment after he does so, a voice calls out from one of the higher parts of the village, in a strangely accented version of Old Realm. "HALT."
Cerin tilts his head to look for the source of the voice
Thirteen straightens up, stirring the flames with the butt of his spear.
alsoquin Far above, a single man stands in a doorway. Like Thirteen, he is utterly eyeless. He wears the seven daubs of green leaf-paste that mark him a warrior, and hefts a serious looking spear, elaborately carved of blackened heartwood. Fifteen others like him stand ready in other nearby huts, though do not emerge.
Thirteen "Who dares?"
Orobo grabs hold of one of the nearby ropes and slides rapidly down to the bottom of the village, and stands, spear ready, towards the invaders. "Orobo of Abrena, fourth son of the chieftan, demands that you leave here at once."
Thirteen "I am Thirteen Blooming Flowers, the returned soul of Wei Dan, and the rightful leader, by acclaim and by conquest, of the Heartwood Spearfolk. I go where I will, and I bend my neck to no man's demands."
Orobo ponders for only a moment before speaking again. "LIES! Do not sully those names so! Leave or we shall slay you utterly and cast your corpses off the Wasirranu, so never to be reborn again."
Birds "I should challenge you to do this."
Thirteen "These are my people, Birds. Please, allow me to discipline them when they require it."
Birds "Please proceed as you see fit. This is why I did not challenge your friend directly."
Thirteen flips Splinter of Wisdom out of the fire and thumps the butt of it into Orobo's chest firmly, but harmlessly.
Thirteen "Read, and remember, and abject yourself."
Orobo is surprised by the cool touch of metal, and runs his hands over the haft. It takes only a portion of it for him to recognize the truth of the words, and he falls down to his knees. "Grand Chieftan."
Thirteen "I give you your life. I have no more presents for you today."
Thirteen "Where are your people? Why have you allowed the fire to die?"
Orobo arises and nods. "Only forty-six of us remain. We no longer number enough to maintain the village -- we... planned to journey upwards to Viridian, once the wounds of those hanging on to life took them and we gave them the funeral rites." He hangs his head, clearly shamed by what he has said.
Thirteen "Do not grovel. You bear no blame for selling your lives in battle until you have too few to continue."
Thirteen "The fault is mine, and I will remedy it."
Orobo nods, and makes an odd, animalistic noise from deep in his throat. The other warriors emerge from their huts and begin to rappel down, to stand expectantly as they wait for Thirteen to speak.
Thirteen "I have been gone a long time. Tell me what has happened in my absence, that I may know how best to proceed."
Birds looks deeply upset, but does not interfere.
Orobo speaks up. By the way that, even has his companions arrive, no one else steps forward to speak for him, Thirteen deduces that neither the Chieftan nor his first, second, or third sons remain.
Orobo "For years, the Spearfolk fought valiantly against the forces of the enemy, gaining ground and protecting our lands. Viridian stood untouched for ten long years and our numbers grew."
Orobo "But then, the Kings struck back in greater numbers. We fought as we always had, knowing that no progress could last without Wei Dan's hand, but the force was too much even for us. Still we rested, safe in the knowledge that the down-tree villages were safe, that our kind held fast the Tenth Leaf Barrier. But as you can see...." he waves a hand around the village.
Orobo "Some time ago, the Kings changed their raids. Where once they would slay us, man, woman, or child, without thought... they began to drag away Spearfolk... alive." His voice becomes remarkably grave at this time.
Thirteen is still, though the fire behind him chooses this moment to crackle loudly.
Orobo "It was then that the Fallen of Ash and Bone first came among us. We thought them friends, companions returned from captivity through their own heroism, but... but..." He fights back tears. "They were hollow, empty inside, cold.... They struck at us from within, those who were once our kin... and having passed the barrier, they struck at us in places that had never before fallen."
Orobo "That was seven years ago. Ever since, the war has gone worse. We never know when one of us will return empty. But even so, we fought on, and performed the ablutions to Wei Dan on every festival day." He shakes his head. "But a year ago. A year ago is when /ashk-alla/ returned."
Thirteen "Ashk-alla? What did it do?"
Thirteen ::A legendary monster that Wei Dan slew, long ago. He spread it atop the highest point in the tree, and the wood grew around it and imprisoned it.::
Orobo "A legion of Kings descended from the Highbranches with ashk-alla in tow. They smashed through the line and put Rodo's Edge to ruin, casting it entire into the void." The other Spearfolk in the background nod. "Since, we have had no luck, and everywhere our numbers dwindle."
Birds thinks at her robes for a moment. They proceed to darken and smell like incense. Or burning bones.
Thirteen "I am sorry, Orobo."
Thirteen "I will face them now."
Thirteen "Please take me to your wounded."
Orobo nods, and begins to climb one of the ropes, up to a hut where the wounded are being kept. Their condition is generally quite grave, though nothing that should be beyond fixing.
Thirteen holds out his hand expectantly, and his skin wriggles and parts as a sesseljae crawls excitedly out of his palm.
Thirteen places the sesseljae on the wounded, one by one.
Orobo It takes only a few short minutes to restore wounded to a point of safety... none of these will be receiving funeral rites today, after all.
Cerin spends those minutes curiously examining the village from where he stands.
Orobo Soon they are standing, amazed at the speed of their own recovery... though the legend of Wei Dan speaks of such things, and more....
Thirteen ::Please, my friends, forgive me for my abruptness. My foolish wanderings have cost many lives.::
Birds ::We are going to discuss this at great and unpleasant length when time allows, but for now let us tend to your people.::
Thirteen ::I must destroy the Bone Dagger Kings today. I would welcome your assistance. If you wish instead to pursue the fruit we have come to claim, I understand.::
Cerin ::The Bone Dagger Kinds and the fruit are both up, no? We would not leave you to fight your battles alone::
Thirteen ::Thank you.::
Birds wanders about, speaking quietly to the warriors and trying to learn all she can about the Kings and how to best destroy them.
Orobo The warriors are consistently... surprised by Birds -- floating in the air and moving silently as she does, they have no way of knowing she approaches.
Birds is eventually gently alerted to this by an especially...surprised soldier, and she thinks up some belled bracelets and anklets to blunt the shock.
Orobo The soldiers tell Birds of the horrifying creatures they war against. Divided into four tribes, the G'ha, the Ropi, the Zha, and the Jin, the Bone Dagger Kings live in the Highbranches and raid downward into Spearfolk lands, killing the humans and destroying their homes while stealing away food and resources.
Orobo They have dark magics, powerful abilities that allow them to move quickly and fight well in combat, and dark sorceries that they join together to summon into being.
Orobo One speaks of the horrifying ritual sacrifices that they have been seen to perform, and sketches the glyph of the creature they worship onto Birds' hand -- a small triangle (pointing down) atop a large triangle pointing up, with two right triangles spreading out from that.
Orobo He warns her to beware the creature's breath -- which brings with it a strange, darkened state of perception -- and nods awkwardly to her.
Birds transmits the glyph to Cerin, in case he hasn't observed it already.
Orobo Cerin observes the village and sees the sad state of repair -- huts empty, food stores torn apart, scorch marks and gouges where fighting has occurred -- and corpses. In one hut, away from the others, though, he notices a corpse... different from the others.
Cerin ::I shall be back shortly:: He pads silently away from Thirteen, to examine the corpse in closer detail
Birds **REMINDER TO ADJUST FOR EYE REFERENCES
Orobo Glancing at the corpse, it is clear that it is not a... normal human. Three bony protrusions emerge from the forehead, and a few other, smaller ones from the arms and legs of the individual, who otherwise is dressed exactly as the other Spearfolk. He has a strange, wan color to his skin, even in death.
Birds ::What do you know of this evil breath that your people are talking about, Thirteen?::
Cerin ::What do the bone dagger kinds ... feel like, Thirteen?::
Thirteen ::I doubt I know anything more than they do. The breath of the Kings causes confusion in those who encounter it. The spear allows us to keep them at bay.::
Thirteen ::They are much like people, with shrunken, tight skin, and bony protrusions.::
Birds ::It would be nice if we didn't have to breathe. Oh well.::
Orobo Cerin, looking closely at the individual's body, notices the embers of a unique soul construction, still burning faintly within the recently slain corpse. As he ponders its implications, he flips the body over to look more closely -- the remains of a single bony... creature, like a sharp dagger with four legs, is rather firmly stabbed into his back, and it seemed to generate an Essence field whose pattern is still visible...
Orobo If Cerin had to guess, it looks like the Bone Dagger Kings are utilizing some sort of violent, physically delivered Exaltation slash mind control as their secret weapon against the Heartwood Spearfolk.
Thirteen ::The effects are not very threatening to you and I.::
Birds ::Still, one strives for perfection.::
Cerin pulls the dagger-thing free of the man. ::I believe I have found one of the Fallen Of Ash And Bone::
Thirteen "Prepare yourselves. We march for Viridian today."
Birds thanks the warriors for their advice.
Thirteen bustles downstairs, idly swallowing the sesseljae, then reconsidering, spitting it back up and reabsorbing it.
Thirteen heads over to Cerin.
Orobo raises a hand in a salute to Thirteen, and rapidly begins to gather all the remaining villagers.
Cerin ::They are Exalts, though their Exaltation is pain and I believe the creature that holds the essence also controls them::
Orobo With so few remaining -- and most preparations for moving already made -- Orobo is able to have the entire remnants of the village ready to march within less than fifteen minutes.
Thirteen arrives by Cerin's side and cautiously runs his hand over the dagger-creature.
Orobo It is quite dead, and also quite clearly of a kind -- somehow -- to the Bone Dagger Kings.
Thirteen ::Perhaps it would be as well to glance over the villagers and find those who are invested, while we march.::
Cerin ::There are no more amongst these people.::
Orobo stands before Thirteen. "We are ready to march, Grand Chieftan."
Thirteen "Let us proceed, then."
Orobo Thanks to the sesseljae, the Spearfolk are in surprisingly good marching shape, so the group is able to move swiftly.
Birds goes up to Thirteen's side, playing with an interesting piece of debris.
Birds ::What happened?::
Thirteen ::What do you mean?::
Orobo The trek takes them through the upper passageways out of the village, and twists and turns through the tree's innards for some time before emerging back out to the light. Here, the tree has begun to spread and flower, and the flora (numerous mosses, strange flowers and vines, and large, intricate lichens) and fauna (tremendous squirrels, oddly shaped, blunt-headed birds, and other odd creatures) of Wasirru can be seen along the path
Birds ::You have been gone from here for a long time. Why didn't we come sooner?::
Thirteen ::At first, we needed to strike against Lai. Then, we sought to recover the seals before they fell into his hands.::
Thirteen ::Perhaps I grew...forgetful in my time away. The world is vast, and there is much to explore. Every day brings with it new mysteries.::
Birds ::Very well then. We are here now.::
Orobo A squirrel, perhaps three feet tall at the shoulder and colored jet-black, scampers by.
Thirteen ::You must remember, Birds. Wei Dan is many things, but he has always cared more for the new enemy than the old.::
Cerin studies the flora and fauna with detached interest, paying more attention to the pages from Rathess.
Birds ::I remember.::
Birds ::The birds here are strange. Why are they shaped like that?::
Orobo The journey to Viridian is long, and in some places they pass the locations of battles (pausing only to deliver funeral rites to the dead) -- but the trip is otherwise fairly uneventful.
Thirteen ::One might well ask why the birds on Meru are shaped the way they are.::
Thirteen ::Everything must live where it lives.::
Orobo As they cross over one particularly large tree branch, the city of Viridian finally comes into view (for those not native to Wasirru, at least) -- and what a view it is. (...)
Birds Birds pretends surprise. ::Oh, really? You DO follow your advice...::
Orobo Two of the tree's enormous leaves have been bent together to form a V, and their inner skin shaped and worked to form elaborate houses and buildings like those of the village -- only a thousand times more intricate. Single tree veins dangle and delicate homes hang from them, suspended almost as if by magic. (...)
Orobo Below, the surface of the tree is similarly worked -- more wooden buildings and elaborate structures twist out of the very branch itself, and a cylindrical bore at the center spirals downward, housing more and more people within.
Cerin ::It appears we have arrived.::
Thirteen ::I must gather the people. Please seek out and capture any Fallen concealed among them.::
Thirteen heads again for the center of the city.
Orobo Five runners set out to call an audience amongst the people of Viridian. As Thirteen moves towards the central dais -- where a great wooden flower has been grown, to amplify the words of whoever stands atop it -- the citizens of Viridian, looking a lot worse for the wear, begin to congregate.
Thirteen "Spearfolk, hearken to me. I am Thirteen Blooming Flowers, the soul of Wei Dan returned."
Thirteen "I left you ten years ago, to venture into the Passage of Stars, to bring back great power with which to face the Bone Dagger Kings."
Thirteen "I have returned."
Thirteen "You have lost much in my absence, and I cannot repay it. But I will win for you again what I can."
Thirteen "I will not venture forth again until the Bone Dagger Kings have been cast down once and for all. This, Wei Dan promises to you."
Orobo At Thirteen's promise here, the previously sullen crowd shrieks with joy and there is a great deal of raucous celebration.
Thirteen "Go to your homes."
Thirteen "Prepare your weapons, and make your austerities, for this will be our last battle, and we will not retreat until all is ended."
Orobo The Spearfolk chant a loud "HYA!" and (those who are carrying them) raise their spears in the air, with vigor!
Thirteen "Let those who lead their units come to me."
Orobo Those who lead Hafts of men -- marked by the clattering red shells of the Evening Crawlers strung through their spears -- separate out from the crowd and march towards the dais, kneeling in homage to the Grand Chieftan returned.
Thirteen nods and proceeds to embroil himself in teaching various formations to the unit leaders as rapidly as he can.
Orobo The Dry Wind kicks up and the green shell of the city of Viridian sways ominously overhead....