Thirteen clenches his fists, then suddenly begins blinking rapidly, rubbing his face, and finally sighing.
Thirteen "...excuse me, Helios Red Sands."
Thirteen "I believe we have become the victim of a...misunderstanding."
Phoenix has found some dark-coloured soil, and uses it to draw an interesting design on her tattered peasant smock. We may be dressed like mortals, but we will not be anonymous.
zahara steps between the two men, facing Thirteen, back to Helios. "Remember, the vision."
Thirteen "Don't speak to me, madwoman."
Helios smiles, a little relieved, most of the sands dissipating around him. "Well, then... not that this is not amusing, but I have to go." He bows, "Time's sands never stop. I suppose I will be seeing you, then... just try not to make other... 'misunderstandings'. Many of my kind are not as forgiving as I am."
Phoenix "Oh good, you have other things to do. Don't let the door hit you on the way out."
Thirteen "Ah. You are on your way to the Deliberative?"
zahara clenches her own fists, and turns away from the others. "May I accompany you, Helios?"
Phoenix starts walking in the other direction.
Helios "Yes, I am." He looks at them... thinking. But she at least seemed the most sane of them. "Yes, 'Zahara' is, it? You may come. Just... please, be polite to the others you see. Especially the Dragons. Being closest to your kind makes them the least forgiving, I've found."
zahara "I will. I think you will find what I have to say along the way rather interesting."
Helios "Oh? Then please, start." He nods, and begins walking in his way, trusting that those who wish to follow will do so.
Thirteen glances at the others, then heads after him.
zahara "Much of what I will say will seem to affirm my... friend's comment that I am a madwoman, but I ask only that you consider that what I say is true. Do you believe in destiny?"
Imrama follows Helios and his entirely crazy companions.
Thirteen "What business does the Deliberative discuss this day?"
Imrama checks his mortal garments for any pockets or places where some paper or a pen might be secreted.
Helios walks up to a little mount and with a mere gesture a ship of living Fire Opal seems to grow from the ground to envelop them all. "You are now in my chariot. It will not burn you, rest assured. As for the business... oh, the usual. Taxes, Agricultural Yields, and the latest reports of the Lion's campaign."
Thirteen "The Lion."
Thirteen "Campaign against whom, exactly?"
Helios blinks. "... you have not heard? Against the Deliberative, of course."
Thirteen "Forgive me. I am woefully misinformed."
zahara takes her seat, her bearing unconsciously regal. "Do you know who he is yet?"
Helios "No idea. He came from nowhere, from Netheos. Soulsteel War Machines, Ghosts, Zombies... like a corruption of everything the Shadeborn used to stand for. The Shadows Resplendent are working around the clock to try and find how he just... appeared, but no luck so far." The ship takes off from the ground, moving by itself towards the Blessed Isle.
Helios "You're lucky to be so misinformed. Those are dark times..."
alsoquin Once the Chariot begins to move, the scenes beyond the windows seem to blur and fade -- it is clearly moving at an immense speed, though the ride itself is smooth as silk.
zahara starts to exchange a look with the others but catches herself, and keeps her looks to herself. She ponders what she ought to say. "If I tell you something, and you find out that it is true, will you then trust me?"
alsoquin Imrama does indeed manage to locate both a scrap of paper and primitive pencil within the folds of his new outfit.
Helios looks over his shoulder and blinks. "Hm, yes. Of course."
zahara "Has the Daybreaker yet been made?"
Thirteen 'Has Ymir killed Talmuda already?"
zahara tenses visibly at the question, and gives Thirteen a dirty look.
Helios "The Daybreaker is forged, yes, but... Flowers, is it? Good sir, they are married. Ymir would never hurt her love."
Thirteen "So we believed, once."
Helios "So it IS."
Imrama contemplates the paucity of his resources. He addresses Helios for the first time. "Kind master, clearly my friends have fallen into ill-health from too much sun and not enough water. Please forgive them their madness. They should rest." Imrama sends a pointed look to Zahara and Thirteen.
Thirteen ignores his compatriots, finding the experience surprisingly freeing. "And if you found that I was right, in spite of all appearances to the contrary?"
zahara "I know. They love eachother so strongly as to echo through the ages."
Helios smiles to Imrama "You seem to be their serenity. What is your name, stranger?"
Imrama averts his eyes just slightly as he speaks to Helios, following proper ettiquette between a loyal mortal and a member of the Delibrative. "My father called me Rama, honorable sir."
Helios "It is a pleasure meet you, Rama." He nods, then regards Thirteen, "Flowers, I hope what you say will never come true. If I found out you were right... I would pursue you, and ask you why did you not do everything in your power not to stop one of the greatest lights in the world from disappearing."
Thirteen "I, Helios?"
Thirteen "I am a mortal."
Thirteen "You expect too much of one who has not been blessed by the Sun."
Imrama "Again, benevolent prince, please forgive my poor friend."
Imrama "He did not mean to imply that he would not do all in his meager power, even lay down his life, to protect one of the Chosen."
Imrama elbows Thirteen in the ribs.
Thirteen "Don't TOUCH me."
Helios "Oh, I see. And being a Mortal means little. It is Mortal greatness that brings the light of the sun upon us. That is how I was Chosen. By trying my best." He nods, watching the world below... "You have a good friend in Rama, Flowers. I suggest you listen to him."
zahara "Seventeenth Ascending Earth, 2286...." she says softly to herself. She looks out the window, watching the landscape blur, but not seeming at all shocked by the speed at which they travel.
Imrama turns to face Thirteen, putting his back momentarilly to Helios. He holds up his scrap of paper which reads: "You have committed treason by speech 4 times in this conversation so far. Please do not get yourself or the rest of us killed before we can escape this time."
Thirteen rolls his eyes.
zahara "Will they be there?"
Thirteen "I suggest you listen to me, Helios Red Sands."
Helios "Of course. All of them will be there. Alahwi, in her sanintliness..." He closes his eyes and smiles, "Ymir, Talmuda, Kiriath, Quen... everyone. It is a grand meeting of the Solar Deliberative, after all, and certainly the Perfect Circle will be there!"
Helios blinks, sighing as one would do with a madman "Yes?"
Thirteen "When that day comes that you see how right I have been, I hope you remember this day."
zahara touches her neck, where the amulet should be. She needs to find the Shard.
Thirteen "What does Larquen Quen these days?"
Helios looks a little nervous. "The usual."
Thirteen "Forgive my ignorance. What does he usually do?"
Helios nods, trying to dismiss it, "He is one of the great Twilights of the Deliberative."
Thirteen "You are a Shining Sun, a Zenith, one who brings the flame of knowledge to the dark places of Creation, yes, Helios?"
Thirteen "Dissembling ill becomes you."
Helios "Oh, so you have heard." He shrugs, "He has deals with Netheos. Has been going there quite a bit, studying its power. The Shadows Resplendent got him under observation, I keep telling him to let go of that, he is my friend... but he never does. It is like the thing is addictive."
Helios looks to Thirteen a little oddly, like 'why am I telling you that?', then dismisses it
zahara sighs and leans back in the seat of the chariot. "If we are to be thought of as mad, I might as well tell you the whole truth. Things might then make more sense, than the disconnected ramblings we spew as we try to seek information without telling you who we are. I believe you knew this when we met the second time."
Helios "You are, indeed, sounding very much mad."
Helios "I will admit this is part of why I had you come along. Even though my peers might jail most of you. It is... oddly amusing. Well, except for you, Rama." He nods, "You are definetly sane."
zahara "In the Imperial Manse there is a calendar. I assume you know of it."
zahara "I'm sorry, the Auric Temple."
Helios blinks at the name, then nods as Zahara corrects herself "Yes"
zahara "Do you know what happens during the Eclipse, when one sets the date back, and I can only assume, other auspices such as three particular stars are in place?
Helios "... no. What happens?"
zahara "Listen to me carefully, because you'll need to know this in about 2,200 years. On the moment of the full eclipse, when you will have set the calendar to this exact date, and the three stars align, at the moment in which we are in the Eclipse room, you will send us here, to meet you and tell you everything we are about to say, and have said."
zahara "We need your help."
Helios looks at Zahara... surprised? Astonished? In disbelief?
alsoquin As he looks at her, Helios has a feeling come over him -- powerful, abject terror -- sent to him from far away.
Helios gets up... "You can tell me this later. The chariot will still go to Meru, but there is something... something urgent I have to attend to. Get to Meru, if this is indeed important, tell it to someone! And for the Sun's sake, control Flowers."
zahara casts her mind back to the day, three days hence... The scene she knows so well. He had been thinking about the Deliberative before she entered the room. He had been thinking of... and suddenly, she is startled out of her reverie. "Wait, Helios.. Where is the shard? I need the shard of the Chime of Ages."
Thirteen "Listen, Helios. Larquen is turning to darkness. And Rosada is the Lion."
Helios looks at Zahara oddly, then pushes open the door and jumps out, apparently into nothingness "Wait for me on Meru. Wait for me!"
alsoquin With Helios gone, the cart continues to race on, the landscape beyond still a blur of colors and swirls.
zahara "Do you still think I'm mad?"
zahara asks Thirteen
Thirteen "Incompetent, perhaps."
zahara snorts. "As you like. Still, the vision foretold this. I don't know what you're so afraid of."
Thirteen "I am not afraid, Zahara. I am infuriated."
Thirteen "Because I am surrounded by failures."
Thirteen turns and watches the road.
Imrama "That is hardly an unusal position for you to hold, Thirteen. I suggest that rather than sitting around and attempting to hurt each others' feelings for sport, we ought to be composing a plan for when we reach Meru."
zahara "We have not failed. This is what we need to do."
Thirteen "I have a plan for when I reach Meru."
Imrama "Oh do you? Would you care to propose it then?"
Thirteen "It is, after all, none of your business what I do."
zahara sighs then turns and smiles a little at Imrama. "I need to decide if I should try to change the future."
Imrama "Ah, I see. You're intention is to break ranks and go alone. How unfortunate, and unsurprising."
Thirteen "A good tactician knows to abandon unreliable allies, Imrama."
Imrama "That may be your estimate of the situation, my friend. But it is my duty to remind you, that here, and now, in this place, you are not the master tactician. Your office was predicated on a shard you do not currently have. Here, you are not in any sense superior to any other mortal general."
Thirteen sighs, looking back at Imrama.
Thirteen "I apologize, Imrama. You have consistently rendered sterling service in the time I have known you."
Thirteen "But as you say, I am merely a mortal today."
Thirteen "You need no guidance from me."
Imrama "On the contrary, I believe that we all are in dire need of each others' counsel. The premise of the Sunlands was that we are stronger together than apart - that has never been more true than in this moment. I am not attempting to dismiss you, I am attempting to invite your participation in a discussion as equals. For once."
Thirteen "I am not sure I have anything to tell you."
Thirteen "Either this is merely a vision, and we will return to ourselves at the end of it, or we are trapped here, perhaps forever.'
Thirteen "For reasons of my own, I incline towards the first option.'
zahara "It is more true than a vision, but we will return at the end of it."
Thirteen "On that assumption, our goal can merely be to gather whatever information we can find, to prepare ourselves for the challenges that still lie ahead in our time, and thus our purpose should be to investigate as best we can.'
Thirteen "In the second case, we should perhaps return to the calendar, as it is our only route back to our time and to our shards.'
Thirteen "In either case, we must start by ingratiating ourselves to the Deliberative."
Thirteen "Unfortunately, we have little time before the Deliberative will dissolve permanently.'
zahara looks to Imrama, "Do you remember anything about how I got the shard in the vision?"
Imrama "I do not disagree. However, I have observed that you both could use a little coaching in the vaguaries of late-Deliberative ettiquette."
Thirteen "If you wish my advice, I recommend you seek out Ymir and General Talmuda."
Thirteen "For some reason, it seems clear information regarding their movements in these most crucial days has been lacking at best."
zahara "That was my plan, yes."
alsoquin It is some time before the Chariot arrives, and the grand city of Meru rises up before them. Where in their time the ruins cling to the roots of the great Mountain, here a vast, living city, its elaborate and improbable architecture beautiful to behold, rises up as great mythical beasts and airships fly through the skies above, (...)
alsoquin and men and women of every description, some clad in glorious artifacts and bearing great marks of office, move through the streets.
alsoquin On the Eastern side of the mountain, the golden palace that houses the meeting place of the Deliberative rises up above the other buildings of the city.
alsoquin Twelve auspicious roads lead into Meru City; the Chariot follows road #8 and pulls up on the outskirts of the city, just below where the mountain begins to rise up from the plain, before stopping and allowing departure.
zahara frowns, feeling quite underdressed.
Thirteen "If we wish to stay together, I suppose our first task is to find a way into the Auric Temple."
Thirteen "Shall we head in that direction?"
Imrama "Let us."
zahara nods and walks in that direction, keeping her pace even with the others. "I hope Phoenix is doing what she needs to."
Thirteen "That would be an exciting change from the usual course of events, yes."
zahara shakes her head slowly. "Imrama, perhaps you should do the talking, as you have the best grasp on Deliberative-Era etiquette."
Imrama "I'd be happy to serve as lead counsel. If we would like to gain admittance to the corridors of power, I would suggest that we start at the Foundational House of the Loyal Order of Sanitation Engineers."
zahara makes a face, "Sanitation Engineers? You have got to be kidding."
Thirteen "Nobody would ever suspect."
Thirteen "Ah, that reminds me."
Thirteen "Please try to keep an eye out for Cerin the Wolf."
zahara "If he's here... he will be mortal." She looks marginally cheered at the prospect.
zahara smiles a little, and drifts into thoughts best not shared with the others.
alsoquin Cityfolk push past the group in their hurry to reach their destinations, seemingly oblivious to their presence.
zahara is rudely jolted out of her reverie by someone elbowing her, and curses as her hand comes up empty of summoned swords.
zahara mutters, something under her breath.
alsoquin The streets of the city -- cobbled by what appear to be precious gemstones as large as a baby's head -- wend pleasingly and with elegance; it is not difficult for Imrama to lead his companions through them, to the door of a squat building that would be impressive in the present, but is dwarfed by its fellows here.
Imrama "Here is our quarry. I propose that we enlist as pilgrim supplicants in the Loyal Order, and thereby gain entry into the halls of the Deliberative."
Thirteen "As always, Imrama, I am grateful for your wisdom and sense."
zahara "Can't we just sneak in? There is no way I'm going to wear one of those uniforms."
zahara "What about the caterers?"
Thirteen "Where do we apply?"
Imrama "We enter through the main gate, on our knees, reciting prayers of purification. We will be inspected for our piety, and assessed as potential recruits."
zahara stares at Imrama like he's crazy.
Thirteen "Perhaps you might instruct me in some prayers of this nature."
Imrama recites the basic obesences of lavender and rain in a sing-song fashion. "After those, just improvise. You will be graded primarilly on your creativity."
Thirteen "Shall we?"
alsoquin The main gate beckons invitingly.
zahara rolls her eyes, "Fine. Let's get this over with."
zahara goes through
Thirteen gets on his knees and follows.
alsoquin A group of fairly bored looking Glorious Sanitation Emissaries are seated at either side of the wide entrance hall in which the group finds themselves.
Imrama "We are washed in the zeal of the ever flowing spring, scoured by the action of 10,000 grains of sand."
Thirteen "As a garment descends in the river to be washed, so too do we humble ourselves in cleansing before you."
zahara assumes a position of obesiance, telling herself that she is here to prove her skills at lying. "With tireless hard work, we come to cleanse the scum from the floor of the temple."
Imrama "Oh, ever-purer officers of Immaculate Order, we come to prostrate ourselves before the altar which knows not filth. We come that we might refine ourselves in the erradication of dirt. Please, we humbly ask, let us be of good use."
alsoquin The lead sanitator -- one can tell due to the purple frill along his neckline -- lifts one hand a few inches and waves it back and forth a little bit. "That'll do. Go take some uniforms." He waves them towards a back room and puts his head back down on his table to rest.
zahara attempts to look pleased.
Imrama jumps up, bows low, and scuttles into the backroom without raising himself back up again.
Thirteen follows Imrama's example.
zahara does something vaguely similar.
alsoquin Uniforms galore -- carefully and magically designed to ensure that Exalts waste the minimum amount of effort necessary in accidentally glancing upon a mortal servitor -- hang in the back room, waiting to be taken.
Thirteen gets dressed, happy to be in something at least DESIGNED by an Exalt.
zahara dons her uniform with less than good grace. "I'm glad I don't remember this."
Imrama suites up. "These will make us anonymous. Hopefully anonymous enough to enter the chambers of the Deliberative."
Thirteen "An excellent plan, Imrama. Well-devised."
zahara sighs, fixes her hair, and walks down the hall towards the chambers. She hopes.
alsoquin A short time later, the group -- clad in their white and baby blue magical janitor's uniforms -- arrive at the Golden Palace, the home of the Solar Deliberative. The great palace is formed in the shape of a perfect sphere, jutting from the mountainside, from which five smaller spheres -- each engraved with a caste symbol -- emerge.
alsoquin A main gate -- through which dignitaries enter -- beckons grandly from one face of the palace, and next to it, much tinier, the servants' entrance.
zahara reflects that at least the blue brings out her eyes. She eyes the grand entrance, then heads for the tiny one.
alsoquin The door opens for Zahara, and leads her into a narrow hallway that leads forward some distance before branching off. Convenient maps of the palace hang in various places, the better to assist new sanitories in finding their way -- it seems that these crampd, narrow halls run through most of the palace,
alsoquin to allow easy maintenance access to every portion.
Imrama "Well, my friends - shall we go catch a glimpse of our previous incarnations?"
zahara "Mmm yes, of course."
Thirteen "I can think of few things I should like better."
zahara looks up the appropriate places on the map, memorizing it for later use, and pondering hiding things in the hallways.
alsoquin A convenient path winds through the building, towards the grand Deliberative Hall, passing by several of the open-air gardens and other decorative rooms on the way.
alsoquin The hallway itself is cramped, and difficult to maneuver through, but nonetheless finding the way is not too difficult.
alsoquin It is as the group is passing the second garden, on the right, that Zahara feels an intense, almost sickening crawly feeling rush up her back.
zahara stops short, holding her hand up for the others to stop as well.
Imrama "Is something the matter, Zahara?"
zahara turns, seeking what the garden holds, and trying to shake off the feeling. She holds her broom like a spear, feeling incredibly foolish.
Thirteen attempts to twirl his mop idly, then has to catch it.
zahara makes a shushing motion.
alsoquin There are convenient sight-holes -- the better for the sanitation staff to check for cleanliness emergencies -- and through one, Zahara can see that two figures walk in the garden. One, a woman of medium height and long, brilliant green hair, walks just above the ground. But the other....
alsoquin Deep, reddish brown skin. Long, supple black hair. And around his neck, the golden disc that can only be the Zenith Caste Seal.
alsoquin Zahara notes that she has actually seen these two walk together like this before.
zahara looks to see if he has the signs of Siram about him.
alsoquin The sounds of their conversation float into the room: "Kiriath, I know that you care for nothing more than the good of the Deliberative, but are you sure that such a shift of focus is really wise when we are beset by war? The crab does not go out dancing when it has molted its shell."
zahara moves aside so the others can see
Thirteen watches with interest, mopping the grass.
alsoquin Kiriath smiles devilishly, and Zahara's shiver only grows. "Of course I am sure. Would I have made such a grand speech if I were not? The war will be but a brief distraction. It is our future we must think of."
zahara leans against the wall, listening, feeling sick and resenting it.
alsoquin "Yes, you are, as always, very convincing." She elbows him gently. "But opening the Chime to further study? It is locked in the Grey Tower for a reason. A reason I have described for you in the past!" She shakes one finger scoldingly. "The Primordial threat is long past. The smaller threats of today are what we must focus on."
zahara checks her mental map for the Grey Tower
alsoquin Kiriath adopts a look of mock solemnity, that somehow is still vicious and cruel. "But who can know what the future will bring? We should be prepared, rather than resting on our laurels." He grows more serious for a second. "And regardless, your support is not needed."
alsoquin "I--" The green-haired woman starts to say something, but she sees someone approaching from another direction and clams up.
alsoquin The individual who enters is a large, bald man, his skin such a deep blue as to almost be black, and he smiles gently as he approaches. "What's going on here?" he asks, and the green-haired woman storms off.
alsoquin Kiriath smiles fiercely again. "She means nothing," he says, and claps the new arrival on one shoulder. "Your wife is away still, yes? Out investigating some useless matter, as always?"
alsoquin Talmuda loses the smile and nods curtly. "She should return by tomorrow, I believe."
alsoquin Kiriath nods. "That is excellent. We have much to discuss, do we not?"
zahara clenches her fists on the shaft of the broom as she watches Kiriath, images of Siram within Markuran flashing before her eyes as she seeks his likeness in the man before her. A quiet anger builds, and the feeling of sickness only grows as she sees Talmuda approach him, wondering if he knows who he talks to.
alsoquin Zahara stares intently at Kiriath, and at first, nothing seems to happen... but as she stares, something seems to come over him... a darkness, a hideousness... a face that nearly drives her to scream at the very memory.
zahara digs her fingers into the wall, wanting to scream, to warn them all, but... she can't get caught, not yet. She clenches her jaw and watches, feeling keenly the loss of her abilities in his presence... again.
Thirteen "You are not being clear enough," he mutters under his breath.
zahara draws away from the wall and, finding a finger bloodied from where she'd torn it against the stone wall, silently draws a series of symbols on it. Binding symbols, and in the center, Siram's name. Then, thoughtfully, she adds a second one next to it.
zahara In the second one is Lai Misuna
alsoquin Talmuda nods. "Yes, yes we do. I should be departing soon if I am going to accomplish what we've discussed."
Thirteen "Do not block Lai's path."
Thirteen "You cannot, in any event. We know he will arrive at the Eclipse chamber."
Thirteen "If you were such good friends," quietly again, "why did you kill him?"
zahara "I'm not," she returns quietly. "This won't stop him from entering. Just from doing harm."
alsoquin Kiriath laughs. "Yes. I am glad that you have seen the light, even if the more... difficult members of our fellowship refuse to see with the clarity that I offer them."
alsoquin Talmuda looks at him. "There are many who are not ready to look beyond when the war is still fresh in everyone's minds." Kiriath seems to... catch himself, just slightly, and merely nods. "Unfortunately, you are correct."
alsoquin "Perhaps you should be on your way," he says, and sighs dramatically.
alsoquin "Yes, yes I should." Talmuda turns to leave, and on the way out, quickly adds: "We'll talk again before Ymir is back," and then turns to leave.
zahara watches Talmuda, wondering if he knows he is dealing with a being of evil, and deliberates a third set of symbols.
alsoquin Kiriath smiles, mumbles something about "all according to plan" to himself, and walks away.
alsoquin Zahara's crawly feeling seems to depart with him.
Imrama "That was...suggestive. But still full of uncertainties. Still, it tells us where the Chime of Ages is. Not that that will help much if we cannot get inside."
zahara sucks on her finger. "I suspected she had a reason." she shudders, glad that the feeling is gone. "Maybe Helios can help us get inside."
zahara "Kiriath is already possessed."
Thirteen "It was his friendship with Talmuda that led to the latter's death."
Thirteen "I seem to remember that the Grey Tower is in Bright Obelisk, on the north side of the Isle. We will have to proceed there once our business here is concluded."
zahara "I suspect he was the third person in my vision."
zahara "Ah, yes. Do you remember how to get in?"
Imrama "It is the place of utmost security in Creation - where the Deliberative stores things that it does not want anywhere else. I've read many stories in which heroes braved the countless safeguards, but, generally, it is the work of the Chosen."
Thirteen "Fortunately, we used to be the Chosen."
Imrama "Good point."