Zahara navigates the hallways of the Cascade without thought, her mind going between anger at Talmuda and Tevezst, with little thought to spare for anything else. When she reaches the dungeon, she palms open the door to the White Room, and without preamble, plucks the knife from the floor beneath the Fae's feet and plunges it through his shoulder.
Tevezst "Aaaargh!" The violent brutality of the act is surprising enough that the fae clearly feels real pain from it... though a slight smile afterwards betrays his enjoyment of Zahara's anger.
Zahara "You unutterable BASTARD." she twists the knife. "This is YOUR fault!"
Tevezst "Errrgh! Ah...." he breathes in deeply, the horrifying pain of the iron mixing with the joy at the unbridled feast of Zahara's emotions in every one of the faerie's reactions. "You... have... finally... chosen... to... recognize... that?" he says, panting.
Zahara glares at the faerie, "Oh, yes. I realize now that my life has been leading up to this moment. And you, you have taken what I need to save... to win. And I want it back."
Tevezst "It doesn't... work... like that, Zahara." The smile grows wider even as his eyes grow more grim. "That youthful heart you possessed.... I devoured it. It is gone... forever."
Zahara grabs another knife and stabs between the bones of his forearm, "Then give me someone else's." Her hand trembles for a second on the knife. "I need it back. I need to be able to feel, and I hate you for it so much." Unguarded, the pain of her loss, and the despair at the thought of her failing to save Cerin washes over the Faerie chained to the wall. He's not felt anything like it...since...their first meeting.
Tevezst "You... stab... ARRRGH... me... with those... vicious knives... while you ask... to feel... kindness again..." As the despair washes over him, though, he seems almost the slightest bit surprised.
Tevezst "What about... the cruel empress...." There's an edge of fear in the faerie's eyes, for the first time since he came to the White Room.
Zahara "Well if I COULD, I wouldn't be STABBING you, would I?" she snaps, though she removes one, and throws it across the room. "Lucent said you had lost because I had learned to care again." she says after a moment, catching her breath. "But you, here, have been keeping my cruelty at bay for months." she smiles slightly. "I thought you'd appreciate the irony."
Tevezst "And... what good... does that do you? To grow just... soft enough... to fail in your rulership?" He spits.
Zahara "To be loved, and love in return." she looks away from him, "My people have begun to look upon me with respect, not fear....mostly. Lucent, until just recently, called me one of the few bastions of kindness in the Circle. But it was all false, just an act. Except for what matters."
Tevezst looks on at Zahara but does not speak, not yet.
Zahara walks slowly back over to him, and pulls the other blade from his flesh. "My story has changed. The Cruel Empress... " she closes her eyes, and when she opens them again, they are bright with tears, and she turns away. "She could never fulfill your story anymore."
Tevezst "But... but..." Moreso than anything else Zahara has done, this seems to have rendered Tevezst crestfallen and uncertain.
Zahara "Please, Tevezst... Gods, I never thought I'd be saying those words." she says, pausing. "Markuran said that he would beat it out of you once, but I did not want it, and he never got the chance. You'll be happy to know that he's dead, now." she adds offhandedly, but he can feel her sorrow. It is clear that she is trying to avoid the subject in a strange way, but nonetheless she continues. "I still don't want it. But I need it."
Tevezst looks at Zahara, and something in his cruel, predatory eyes seems to shift ever so slightly. "I cannot give it to you, Zahara. You... will have to take it." He pauses for a moment. "Deactivate the room."
Zahara hesitates for a moment, but then walks over to the door, and performs a complicated series of gestures that seem random and unconnected, and in fact, only half of them are the true set. The low, nearly imperceptible hum of Essence slowly fills the room.
Tevezst gasps uncontrollably when the first flows are returned to the room, like someone tasting food for the first time in a week. He hangs still from the wall, huffing, for several moments..
Tevezst When he regains his composure, he says "Now... let me down."
Zahara toys with the inert collar around her neck, watching him. "What are you going to do?"
Tevezst "I will give you your opportunity to win what I took from you, and no more."
Zahara nods, once, and releases the shackles, half expecting him to attack her.
Tevezst There is a hungry look in Tevezst's eyes, like a junkie on the streets of Nexus... and she is certain that he considers doing so. But instead, he stands, and does not strike. He closes his eyes, and reaches one hand out... and after a moment, a vase, ornately wrought in fire, sits in his hand.
Tevezst He places it down upon the ground carefully, then turns back to Zahara. "Look into my eyes.... 'Empress....'" He stares at her, the hunger still leaping and flitting about, even as the wan shade recedes and the emerald luster returns -- the slightest bit -- to his skin.
Zahara watches him uncertainly for a moment, then, fixes the image of Cerin - not as he is now, but as he was before - in her mind, and steps forward, looking directly into his eyes.
Tevezst As Zahara looks, she finds falling, falling... into those vast, hungry eyes, like inescapable whirlpools... they grow to fill her entire world, until she is no longer in the Cascade...
Tevezst She finds herself upon an empty plain, at night. A jagged mountain rises up to one side, and lightning crashes abovehead.
Zahara shivers, looking around warily
Tevezst Through the air, over the din of thunder, a voice carries from somewhere in the mountain peaks.
Tevezst However, the words it speaks are muffled, unclear.
Zahara frowns, and makes her way towards the mountain, straining to hear what it says
Tevezst As Zahara walks, the sound grows louder, but as she stands at the foot of the mountain, still no more clear.
Zahara searches for a pathway to climb the mountain, shifting her dress into something more...outdoorsy.
Tevezst A reasonably clear path cuts cleanly into the mountain's side. Zahara begins to climb, seeking out the sound of the voice. It grows louder and louder as she climbs, until eventually she reaches a high, craggy point, and the voice stops entirely.
Zahara blinks, and calls out, "Where are you?"
Tevezst There is a moment's utterly empty silence, where even the lightning stops.... before a painfully familiar voice speaks behind her: "Hello, Zahara. Don't turn around." The thunder rushes in just afterwards.
Zahara half turns before the voice commands her not to, and she wrenches to a halt.
Tevezst "Why have you come here?" The lightning seems to grow even thicker and more frequent.
Zahara speaks slowly, deliberately, as if the words themselves scare her a little, "When I was a child, Tevezst stole my capacity to care, to feel... to love. I learned a little of what that was like on my own, with you, Cerin - though it's not really you, is it... Because I love you, so much. Because you sacrificed yourself for me. Because your fate, and the fate of the world depends on a single moment, and my ability to have compa
Zahara and my ability to have compassion for others during that single note, I have come to claim what was taken from me."
Tevezst "But will that serve you well, Zahara?" There is a pause. "What good will that do, when there are those such as us in the world?" The hairs on the back of Zahara's neck prickle as he speaks.
Zahara wavers, "It doesn't matter if it serves me well. There is more at stake than my well-being." she turns her head a bit, trying to catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye.
Tevezst "What is that? What is more important to you than yourself? Isn't that the first rule of survival you learned?" Zahara hears something... like a tiny stifled giggle, followed by a cracking sound -- a little bit to the side of the voice.
Zahara "Cerin the Wolf." she replies softly. "and having a world left to love him in."
Tevezst There is another empty pause, broken by a flash of lightning that strikes just a few feet from Zahara, nearly deafening her and sending ALL of her hairs straight upright... and then, the giggling again, louder and higher-pitched...
Tevezst "Turn around, Zahara."
Zahara clenches her fists, and slowly does as she is told.
Tevezst There are three shadowy figures standing there, so close behind her, when Zahara turns. At first, she can't make out anything at all... until another bolt of lightning flashes down, and she sees them, so closely...
Tevezst Markuran, a bloated corpse... dried blood caking his face and his unfocused, filmy eyes; his head hanging, snapped, at an impossible angle, even as his rotting flesh stands straight;
Tevezst Lucent, his features twisted into a mass of fangs and gruesome scars, wet blood dripping from his fists as he giggles uncontrollably;
Tevezst And in the center, Cerin... looking much like he always does... but with his bow of red replaced with one of jet-black.
Tevezst "There are monsters in the world, Zahara. Can you fight them if you stop to care?" he says, and smiles a cruel smile that Zahara has never before seen.
Zahara shudders, taking an involuntary step back. "I have to..." she replies, steeling herself, and returning to where she had stood before. "I will fight them through my tears if I must, but I have always done what I need to do, and I will continue to do so. That is who I am."
Tevezst The monsters advance on her, slowly, steadily... "Then... you will do what you must, and we...." Luc's hideous giggling rises another octave -- "will do what we must." And as they advance, Zahara sees a fourth figure behind them, and thin black threads that link the three to the other's hands....
Zahara draws her Daiklave and she crouches, her eyes focusing on the fourth figure. She swings her sword towards Lucent, but at the last moment twists and instead dives through the gap between him and Cerin, rolling to her feet and slashing at the threads that bind them, to confront the fourth one.
Tevezst As she slashes the strings, the three bodies collapse, like puppets, useless upon the ground. The fourth figure stands, still concealed in shadows, and crosses its arms.
Zahara levels her blade at the shadow man, "Show yourself!" she demands.
Tevezst Another bolt of lightning shoots down, directly between Zahara and the figure, nearly scorching her hair... and as she looks past it, to see the figure illuminated, she sees... herself, black bonds wrapped around each hand, apparata of torture hanging in space behind her.
Tevezst "What," the figure says: "You hadn't guessed?"
Zahara stares for a moment, the tip of her blade lowering. Her eyes narrow. "The first rule of survival..." She steps forward, "Is to care about myself" the blade flickers out, slicing the shadow-bonds off her hands, "above all others." she sweeps the flat of the blade through the devices in the air, though her gaze lingers for a second on a hooked tool.
Tevezst The devices are cut through like paper, and scatter to pieces on the air... and Zahara stands face to face with herself.
Tevezst The mirror image laughs. "So what now, Zahara Zhan? What now?"
Zahara takes a deep breath, and kneels, laying her sword down. She bows her head. "Forgive me. I have done... terrible things." She closes her eyes, and her voice shakes. "Please, forgive me."
Tevezst Zahara's other self seems shocked, astounded for a moment... then she readopts a look of composure. With a knowing gesture, she reaches out and plucks a vase from the air -- the fiery vase that Tevezst placed on the floor of the room, just moments -- so long -- ago, and holds it out to her other self. "Drink."
Zahara looks up, and takes the vase with care. She contemplates the vessel for a moment, then whispers, "I love you." Then, she looks up into her own eyes, and drinks.
Tevezst There is a hole, in Zahara's heart.
Tevezst But when she drinks, she feels something... so familiar, yet so far gone... come rushing back to fill it.
Tevezst The feeling washes over her, transforming and recreating her, surging through her veins, her skin, her soul...
Zahara gasps, almost dropping the vase.
Tevezst The other Zahara stares deeply into her companion's eyes, and as she does, they grow deep, huge... pools of light that she falls into, submerging entirely....
Tevezst And then, without warning, she is back in the White Room... the fiery jar rests on the floor, before her eyes... but Tevezst is nowhere to be seen.
Zahara smiles slightly. "The story has changed. Good luck."
Zahara walks out, leaving the door open behind her.