Thirteen "On the contrary, Cerin, while I stand I intend to prevent you from carrying out your aims. Phoenix is capable of defending Lai with at least as much capacity as he can defend himself."
Cerinfernal "What you speak of yourself is most definitly true and I expected nothing less. It would be rather interesting to test the latter parts of your statement. I imagine I will get to do so soon."
Thirteen "I seem to remember you being a most subtle and perceptive man, Cerin, and so I can only assume you are ignoring my question deliberately."
Thirteen "Why did you decide to betray Zahara?"
Cerinfernal "The fact that you are asking that question means that you will not believe the answer I will give you, truthful though it is. Zahara Zhan is the one woman in all Creation I have not and will not betray."
Thirteen "I believe that you mean that. But I am shocked that you can stand here prepared to deliver the universe to her enemies and still convince yourself of it."
Thirteen "But perhaps I should not be, knowing what you have already managed to convince yourself was a fitting pursuit of your love."
Lai Misuna does not speak to the two men, but edges... slowly... towards the niche that awaits a Seal of the Deliberative.
Thirteen "Must you hurry things so, Lai? My friend and I have not spoken in so long."
Cerinfernal "The situation I find myself in is far from ideal, but she yet lives and you and the circle have yet to desert her, though you have come close, it seems." He gives Thirteen a sorrowful look. "And that is better than the terrible death she would have suffered by my bow. She could not die there."
Lai Misuna "What goes on between you and Cerin" -- he looks back and forth between the two warily -- "is of no concern of mine." He takes another step towards the niche. "And all of the ruin your kind have brought upon Creation in the past and present will end now."
Thirteen "Better to spare her, to be consumed by the Ebon Dragon at his leisure? Was that the conclusion you came to?"
Thirteen "I was surprised when I heard what you had done."
Thirteen "I thought, of all of us, you were the one I trusted most to seek the better way, to refuse to allow your demons to control you, to make a solution when none could be seen."
Thirteen "But you accepted powerlessness, and clipped your own wings."
Thirteen "Do you know why Ymir killed Talmuda, Cerin?"
Cerinfernal "Yes, I do. The parallels of the situation have not escaped my notice, except that I do not think things will play out quite the same way this time."
Thirteen "They already have, Cerin. Instead of killing her, you sold your soul to save her, and like Ymir you have let that one decision drive you on your tangled path, until you came here, ready to end the world because in your tragedy you see no other way."
Thirteen "Zahara is in Rintoko. She seeks the Chime of Ages."
Thirteen "I am no fool, Cerin. I know why you gave it to her."
Cerinfernal "And why is that?"
Phoenix sidles over to the niche and examines it with theatrical overinterest. "So, Misuna, what happens when you put the Seal in here?"
Thirteen "Because you still hope that love will conquer all."
Thirteen "Go to her, Cerin, if you wish to be free, if you wish to save her. Go to her, and love."
Thirteen "Here there is only ashes."
Phoenix sits on the top of the pedestal.
Cerinfernal "If my choice were that simple, I would not be here Thirteen."
Lai Misuna steps over again to stand directly in front of the pedestal, and looks at Phoenix in frustration. "Move. My destiny awaits."
Thirteen "Then enlighten me, Cerin, since I am so foolish. You know that tacticians require information."
Phoenix lifts off some of her facepaint onto her fingers, and squeezes Lai's cheeks, making two neat red spots. "I'm sure that your destiny has two minutes for good manners, dear."
Lai Misuna chuckles once, though without humor, and his blade swings at Phoenix in the seventh technique of the Vermillion Rose of Eidar style.
Cerinfernal "Well, surely you can deduce that there is some purpose I can fulfill for Nyx within this Manse? And that therefore I must remain here until that is fulfilled. When I spoke to Zahara of truths, that is one of them."
Phoenix shimmers, not troubling to conceal her anima.
Cerinfernal "Just so."
Lai Misuna advances through eight falling petal maneuvers, attempting to keep Phoenix of Ashes moving -- and with his right hand, he plunges the Twilight Caste Seal towards the indentation in the pedestal.
Thirteen "What will happen if you do not?"
Cerinfernal "That question makes no sense, Thirteen."
Thirteen "That is saddening."
Thirteen "What if that purpose were to become impossible for you to fulfill?"
Phoenix follows his maneuvers with a hand loosely draped in anima-silk, until Lai attempt to strike. Then Phoenix slides off the pedestal, nearly chest-to-chest with the man, and yanks his wrist off-course by the ribbons tangled around it.
Cerinfernal "In that unlikely eventuality, Nyx will be rather displeased with me and then my priorities will rearrange themselves to suit his new purpose."
Thirteen "It need not be so unlikely, if you simply wait approximately ten seconds."
Cerinfernal "Something interesting is indeed about to happen, yes."
Lai Misuna Lai pulls his arm around, his arm double-jointedly bending around as he resists the pull of the ribbons.
Phoenix "I like you, Lai Misuna." Phoenix makes a six-handed gesture of respect, which also happens to be a chopping blow directed at the man's elbows.
Lai Misuna brings the seal up to deflect Phoenix's strike directly, driving it off to one side.
Lai Misuna As Phoenix's sword moves to one side, he pushes aggressively to place the Seal once more, as his other hand strikes at the Solar's midsection twice. "Move!"
Phoenix twists so as to allow Lai's second cut to sever a single lock of hair. "No."
Lai Misuna Flowers burst into bloom in the air around Lai and instantly shatter into blood-red petals that float downwards towards the floor in a great anima display behind him.
Cerinfernal "Birds Of Trinity, I would be much obliged if you would step aside. Your death would sadden Zahara I am sure, but you leave me with very few choices." And with that, where once there was one man clad in black, there are now six pieces of blackness clad in the shape of a man. There is a flicker, and then four arrows fly forth, two each from two of the black shadows towards the Phonix of Ashes "That was the last time I will ask."
Phoenix holds up four strips of black silk, and the arrows shatter against them. "Tell me why I am stepping aside, and I will make a decision. Do not coerce me."
Cerinfernal "I apologise for doubting your conviction" the words ripple around the circle of black cut outs, though it is as if one person voiced them.
Imrama Flying at a staggering speed, the Fable of the Reconstruction plows into the chamber through a pitch-black hole in the air. Stopping abruptly but gently, with a lightness unknown to Second Age ships, the First-Restored Gunship of the Armada Ascendant hangs in the middle of the room, Imara, Zahara and Lucent aboard.
Thirteen "And here she is now. If you will excuse me..."
Cerinfernal The cutouts give Thirteen no acknowledgement.
Thirteen turns and walks calmly towards Lai, hefting his spear. "I am sorry, Lai Misuna." In one quick maneuver, he draws a half-circle with the point of his weapon, following it with another as the first blossoms in gold.
Lucent walks out of the fable, stepping on symbols of Mercury... he gives Cerin a smile, and then a hard look at Lai. "You are not going to run this time, Lai." One by one, the orbs around him begin to sink into his skin, making him grander... "Time to face the sun's judgement."
Zahara takes in the situation in a glance, and vaults over the railing, landing next to Phoenix and the seal's resting place. Her eyes are on Cerin, her fingers closed tightly around one of the shards. "My love... I have missed you." Once more, he feels the emotion behind her statement.
Thirteen "Stop Cerin."
Thirteen "If a single one of you has even a shred of competence or reason left to share among you, stop Cerin."
Thirteen looks actually infuriated.
Cerinfernal "That is easier said than done." Arrows, black void chased with purest crimson start to fly from the shadows towards Thirteen.
Lucent "As you once pointed out to me, Thirteen, my orbs are woefully poor against the likes of you and Cerin. Leave Lai to me, and try your hand at him, maybe your spear will be better for it, 'strategist'. I will be where I am needed the most."
Thirteen "Trust. Me."
Lucent looks at Thirteen with cold eyes
Lucent "If you just wish to unload your frustrations on Lai, Thirteen, I shall spit on your face before I let you seal our deal." He says as he turns back to Cerin, with a shrug, knowing full well he is trying to fight the last person he should.
Zahara looks at Thirteen and smiles slightly. She interposes herself between him and the others.
Lai Misuna Thirteen's spear slips within Lai's elaborate outfit and strikes true, a single gout of blood spurting from his chest at the touch. He grunts.
Thirteen reaches out towards the arrows, hand full of red-gold glimmering, and transforms their midnight black into the amber rays of twilight.
Lai Misuna At the very moment Thirteen grabs the arrows from the air, the earth begins to shake.
Lai Misuna There is a drawn out, slow shaking that is interrupted, for a moment, by a much closer, quite brief shake, and bits of stone fall from the ceiling of the room.
Lai Misuna A dark Essence -- invisible to those without the sight to see it -- begins to seep into the room, cold and unpleasant... and as it enters, an opposing glow begins to rise:
Lai Misuna four shards glow with a warm white light from Zahara's person... and another, from somewhere inside the folds of Cerin's jet-black armor.
Zahara laughs, and touches the amulet around her neck. "You are full of surprises, My Love."
Lucent smiles. It was happening. It was all right. "The last shard..."
Imrama Watching over the prow of the Fable, Imrama's mood brightens.
Cerinfernal looks perturbed for the briefest instant, and then understanding ... and then terrible. Colours start to leach from the room as it fades towards black and red.
Thirteen "Well? What are you waiting for?"
Cerinfernal "My love, do not do this to me." The words come from his mouth, rippling with corrupt energy and bearing no discernable trace of the love he professes.
Lai Misuna Outside the room, a series of loud, explosive sounds begin to sound from some short distance beyond....
Zahara walks slowly towards Cerin, unafraid. The white glow surrounding her increases, Essence lingering in the amulet for a moment before tracing its way brilliantly through the channels in her skin, the light burning even through the wrappings.
Lai Misuna even takes the chance to stop what he is doing and look, horrified, at what is occurring with Cerin.
Cerinfernal calmly raises his bow and levels it at Zahara.
Zahara She rings one of the chimes, and the others pick up the tone and begin to vibrate, then to sing. The five ring in time with the beat of her heart. The song pierces the darkness with the strength of her love, so loudly as to overpower even the explosions from the rooms beyond. "I have to. I love you."
alsoquin The clear sound of the Chime rings through the room -- the black Essence that hangs like a haze over the Twilight chamber tearing and ripping behind it. The sound grows louder and louder, and the darkness within the room gives way to brightness as it bounces from the walls.
alsoquin Cerin feels the name burned into his soul grow white-hot and more painful even then when it was wrought -- and then every fiber of his being seems to join it in blinding, searing pain.
alsoquin Then, there is a shattering, brutal sound and a flash of brilliant white light that overwhelms everything else within the room, and from outside the building, a world-wracking growling.,
Cerinfernal Cerin roars as the essence of the chime and the infernal investiture war in his body, loosing his voice as the agony pushes beyond even what he can bear as every last shadow is burned from him. As the light fades, Cerin steps forward towards Zahara, one audiable step. And then he whispers her name. And then he falls forward to his knees, his link to the Ebon Dragon severed utterly.
Zahara catches him as he falls, slipping to her knees with him, holding him close. She takes a second to look up at Thirteen, and nod slightly.
Thirteen is already turning back to Lai.
Kai takes a position at Thirteen's back, weapons ready.
alsoquin watches and spits, opening his arms. "Are you going to strike me down now? And be the tyrants I know you to be?" He waves one hand and three petals fall from it to the ground, where they turn black. "If this is the future Olosh saw for me, then so be it." (...)
Zahara runs her fingers through Cerin's hair, whispering words of love and comfort, cradling him in a gentle mental flow of love and joy. The battle continues beyond them, but she barely notices.
alsoquin He raises his rapier and moves to strike at Thirteen, and as he does, the doors of the chamber burst open and Lai's compatriots come to his aid:
alsoquin A scarred, dented aalorai with blood-red eyes, the man with the jade eye... and the dark behemoth known only as Five Days Darkness.
Thirteen "If it must be you or me, Lai, I confess I prefer my rule to yours."
Cerin opens his eyes just a fraction, shudders at the pain, and then kisses Zahara very firmly on the lips. For a few brief moments, the rest of Creation doesn't exist.
Zahara kisses back, pouring all her pent up emotion into it. Nothing else matters.
Thirteen twists his spear, and the black petals lift from the ground to drift over Lai's heart and eyes, and he strikes at all three, leaving golden fragments of rose tumbling to the ground in the wake of his spear.
alsoquin Lai brings his rapier around in a swift, nearly imperceptible pattern, deflecting Thirteen's spear with each strike, until the final, which just barely peels past his defenses and nicks his chest.
Kai interposes herself between the newcomers and their leader, and falls upon the man with the jade eye, her blades darting out, again and again, like hungry birds in a swarm of flies.
Thirteen shakes his head. "You are close, Lai, but not close enough." He begins to move his spear in a blurring repetition of Lai's defensive maneuver, artfully turning each parry into an attack, while improving on his motions. "You see, it is at the third motion that you begin to step out of line, leading to your overextension and subsequent injury. You must be more careful in future; this is the second time I have applied
Thirteen the same gambit."
alsoquin The jade-eyed man throws his elaborate captain's hat to the earth with one hand and draws a great black jade wavecleaver from his back in the same motion, bringing the blade up to deflect Kai's rain of blows.
alsoquin Lai falls to his knees in front of Thirteen, one hand still gripping the Twilight seal as firmly as he can.
alsoquin The wavecleaver is not enough, and Kai nimbly strikes around it, drawing blood....
Thirteen looks down on him with a hint of compassion. "I am sorry, Lai. Perhaps you deserved better."
Zahara feels a flash of irritation as her reunion is noisily interrupted by the ring of boots and weapons and a shower of blood. She flicks her mind at the War Bell which rings out in an echo of the pure tones of the Chimes.
alsoquin Huge waves of blood surge like violent waves from the exposed flesh of the Admiral, and though a few of the wounds begin to re-knit themselves as soon as struck, the man clearly buckles under the brutal assault.
Thirteen reaches down, and places a hand gently on the jagged rent that crosses Lai's heart, glowing with a warm golden light. "Place the seal, Lai."
alsoquin The aalorai and Five Days Darkness both wince at the sound of the bell as it tears at their Primordial-tainted natures.
alsoquin The Admiral closes his eyes, though his black jade eye glows with darkness unnervingly through his closed eyelid. Blood still flowing freely from his massive wounds, he sets out to strike at Kai with his humongous sea-sword.
Imrama paces back along the deck, gets a running start, and leaps over the rail, in the general direction of the newly arrived combatants. But he does not fall down, rather, he falls upwards. He cartwheels through the air in a flying leap that sends him spinning toward the ceiling.
Imrama 's anima hangs about him as a cloud of mechanical birds, but as his guns begin to bark gouts of fire, the immaterial brass hawks break off and flutter away toward the ground, looping back in long arcs to circle Imrama as he comes to rest, upside down, on the ceiling.
alsoquin Kai neatly and nimbly deflects the massive blade.
alsoquin The creature known as Five Days Darkness -- a perfect ebon silhouette of the immaculate glory that is Sol Invictus -- writhes over, like a smoky hole in Creation itself, to bring its four unholy fists to bear on Lucent Copper Haze. "Your God has abandoned you, Sssssssolar," he says, spitting. "I should know."
alsoquin Imrama's bolts strike against the ancient behemoth as he advances, to no avail.
alsoquin The creature swings its fists in an approximation of the Dark Inversion of Calibration style, striking feint-hidden pressure point blows at Lucent's frame.
Lucent Lai was done, so was Cerin... but there were the new arrivals. There was him. Lucent strodes forth, the colors of all six incarna burning upon his skin, becoming pure Adamant... he was grander, taller, his eyes pure light... "You. First Shadow. It has been a long time. You are not welcome here. Not in the Auric Palace. Not under his sun." Lucent is struck. He does not move.
Lucent All of the shadows pass through him, leaving only his light, as he holds Five Days Darkness' fists... and pushes him aside. "You cannot hurt me anymore. And you will not hurt anything, anymore."
Lucent "You have tormented Creation for too long. You have hurt Creation for too long."
Lucent He points up, "You think he is not watching? You think you are free from his light now?" The Sun appears on Lucent's chest, burning as he shines, white-gold so bright it seems to be no color at all, filling the whole room... "You are wrong."
Lucent All the orbs in him, but the Orb of the Sun before him... which is covered by his Own Sun. A Sun that goes to his face... enveloping it, burning bright as the four-armed, scorpion-masked man appears behind him... and crushes the Sun Orb before him, making him the only sun, surrounded by splinters.
Lucent "I AM THE SUN. WE ARE CREATION."
Lucent The light is so bright, there is nothing that can be seen of either of them... as Lucent points an open palm to Five Days Darkness, and a thousand splinters of the sun come to him from all directions, blinding him in Celestial Order... "We do not tolerate you anymore.."
alsoquin Five Days Darkness has lived, skulked throughout Creation for millennia... watched empires grow and fall, rising only to slake his evil thirsts in the five days that bear his name.... He was there for the Hundredfold, and the Solars, and the Shogunate...
alsoquin But in this Calibration, even as his dark master pushes his way into the material plane... at last, Five Days Darkness' long existence is ended.
Phoenix looks around at the whirlwind of action. But where there is Phoenix, there is only stillness. Her beads are silent and her feet unmoving on the marble floor. Beneath her wide hat, her anima hangs like funeral curtains, and under the black, the fire at her brow.
Phoenix Then the stillness moves. Many hands take many ribbons and they uncoil, serpentine, to meet an aalorai's many arms.
alsoquin The battle-scarred aalorai rips four jagged feathers, lines of brilliant white essence-solder running across them, from its wings, and swings its arms to parry against Phoenix's strikes.
alsoquin The sound of metal on metal sounds, and sparks -- preceeding glowing silver blood -- shine out as Phoenix's strikes reach the aalorai's body.
alsoquin It turns around and the jagged points of its wings spring out over its shoulders to strike at his attacker, each feather charged with one of the five alignments of motes in the Third-Second technique of the Jagged Black Feather.
Phoenix elbows past the aaloria's attacks, coming up close to it to snarl in its face. "Stop wasting our time, beast."
alsoquin The Aalorai speaks in a jagged, inhuman voice: "I slew your kind before your tenfold ancestors were even conceived, whelp. I will not be cowed by you."
Kai regards her opponent respectfully, gives him a small bow to show her regard for his resiliancy, then falls upon him again, intent on giving his tale a warrior's conclusion.
Phoenix looks at him critically. "No, I think you're more of a chicken."
alsoquin Kai's strikes neatly sever the Admiral's arms, and then his head -- his massive blade sticks into the wall with a loud ka-CHUNK, and as his head rolls onto the floor the evil black glow of his eye fades and goes out.
Imrama jumps again, this time from his standing position on the ceiling. He executes a series of forward flips in the air, coming to a stop near the door, hanging upside down behind the Aalorai. Whispering a requist for forgiveness from Mr. Iggles-lux, he fires a single bolt of flame at the battle-scarred Hundredfold.
alsoquin The flames of Kilauea and Pentacost engulf the creature once known, long ago, as Hgis-Thkree, then only as the Scarred One... and with a wail of pain, he collapses to the floor, burning in fatal agony.
alsoquin With that, the battle is over: only Lai Misuna, held in a living state by Thirteen's hands, remains within the realm of the living.
Thirteen "Place the Seal, Lai. It is your destiny."
Zahara takes a moment as Cerin slips in and out of consciousness to toll the bell once more. If one were to imagine the four swords had will of their own, one might think they seem to grow tired of Zahara's constant attention to Cerin and not them, and thus go off to seek new playthings. They seem to droop a little, finding nothing in particular to stab.
Lai Misuna groans as blood covers his face, and he spits, half-heartedly. "I will not... do... what you ask."
Lucent walks back from the remains of Five Days Darkness, not having much to say. He just... watches as Thirteen does his thing. Very, very carefully... with his orbs ready to strike if he does anything amiss.
Phoenix raises an eyebrow at Thirteen. "What..?"
Imrama walks over to where Lucent watches Lai and Thirteen, not bothering to reorient himself in relation to the floor. "Isn't that what we were trying to prevent from happening?"
Phoenix "Thanks for bailing us out, Imms. Zee."
Thirteen "We wished to prevent Lai from taking control of all Creation, and we have done so. I must commend you all for your capability and valor in the face of battle."
Lucent "If he places the seal there, he will still have suceeded, Thirteen. And we will have won nothing."
Kai slinks up to Thirteen. "I really think maybe you should do it," she says to him quietly.
Lai Misuna Thirteen suddenly gets a ten-second warning.
Thirteen "He will have control only for as long as he lives, Lucent."
Thirteen "But it will keep."
Thirteen gets to his feet, brushing the hem of his robe.
Lai Misuna Without warning -- to anyone but Thirteen, that is -- the outside wall is rent and torn violently asunder by first casting of The Immanent Coils of Darkest Ivy to occur within this age of mankind.
Lai Misuna Outside, the jagged reddish-black walls that surround the Blessed Isle spin and churn in the air -- and in front of them, hanging almost motionless, are five figures.
Kai curses quietly.
Lai Misuna Four of them are clad in outfits of deepest black; and upon their chests and foreheads, brilliant glowing suns of black and blue, of red and green.... The Solars might even recognize some of them: Dragon-Blooded luminaries, famous figures.
Lai Misuna Some of the weapons they bear are familiar as well -- one bears the bracers that once adorned Ssithumi's arms, and another holds aloft none other than the Daybreaker.
Lai Misuna They still bear the aspect markings of the Dragon-Blood upon their faces, but those with the Essence Sight can see that their souls have been torn open, and in the jagged chasms within, suspended by tendrils of deepest black Infernal Essence are Solar shards -- whole, and unmarred.
Lai Misuna And at the lead is a woman, indescribably beautiful and cold, her red mantle the same color as her crimson hair, a sword of purest ice gripped firmly in her right hand. She smiles.
Lai Misuna As Imrama looks at them, he sees the names once borne by their Solar shards, now supported by the stolen weapons of past lives -- Brigid, Arexus, and others...
Lai Misuna And also their names of this life... especially that of their leader, Surkha, the Scarlet Empress of the Realm.
Thirteen "Something went wrong."
Lai Misuna "If you do not wish to place that Seal, Lai Misuna, then I will place it in your stead."
Lucent "I am sorry... well, I am not... but we cannot allow that."
Phoenix gives a perfunctory bow. "Imperial Highness. It is a pleasure to meet you."
Imrama "Fallen heroes of a lost age, returned by darkest power to stolen forms. THIS is the sort of problem we were made to solve."
Kai stares at the familiar blade.
Zahara looks up, eyes widening as she sees the corruption, and the entirely wrong essences within them... and then moves to block Cerin from them, mentally pushing him to be fully awake. "The world will not end today. "
Thirteen "Get in line, Surkha."
Lai Misuna Lai looks at the Empress, at Thirteen, and at the Empress again, and without a word, he slides the Twilight seal into the slot on the podium.
Lai Misuna And lightning crashes behind the Night Blossom, and in its outline, a spectral shape fills the horizon: a black serpent, with a mouth of vicious, unending teeth.
Kai curses loudly.
Thirteen shrugs eloquently, and the glimmering golden glow fades from the wound in Lai Misuna's heart.