For a moment, Lai Misuna -- the farmer's son from Chaya, the first human to set foot in lost Era'vina, the leader of the Red Lily army, the man dying of Thirteen's vicious spear blows -- is the ruler of the world.
For the first time since the Deliberative was shattered, long ago, the Five Seals are reunited, and the Auric Temple hums with their power.
Even as his organs fail, one after another, an awareness that supercedes all he has ever known before swarms Lai's consciousness. He sees the world... the city of Era'vina, now reunited with the Creation long lost to it... And he sees what has been wrought: the visage of the Ebon Dragon as he begins to push his way through into Meru, and the Nightblossom his cruel vanguard.
He takes his last moment of life to act... to call upon the Seals to do one thing, and then another... And then, the last of his life slips away, and the short-lived Empire of the Red Lily dies with him.
Cerin breaks his kiss with Zahara, after a day that passed in an instant, drawing in a breath that is still slightly pained and forces himself to stand, black ribbons coiling around him.
Surkha looks at Cerin, coldly, and as she speaks a bolt of lightning flashes, and a thick black rain begins to fall. "You have turned against me for a false Empress, Wolf."
Cerin "I never called you Empress, Surkha." He says, voice a little raw at the edges. "There is only one."
zahara rises, standing next to Cerin, and smiling coldly at Surkha, a gleam of mingled heat and victory in her eyes. Her hand rests lightly on his arm in a gesture that is at once possessive and unrestrictive.
Thirteen ::A warning.::
Thirteen ::If I should seem...not myself, abruptly, please try not to kill me.::
Surkha points the Sword of Ice towards the Solars who stand within the Chamber. "My new Empire is at hand. Step aside."
Thirteen "Excuse me, I believe that is my line."
Surkha Thirteen suddenly feels a sharp, vicious pain, like a brutal kick to the head.
zahara slides her hand down Cerin's arm to his hand, and slips a familiar ring onto it.
Imrama narrows his eyes at Surkha "We stand with the Dreambreaker, the New Dawn upon the face of Creation. Your time is long since past."
Cerin sends gratitude through the Unity he shares only with Zahara now.
Thirteen takes a quick breath, shaking his head. "I AM sorry, but really," he mutters to himself (?), "you did not expect to surprise me, did you?" His anima flickers, a familiar dark emanation bubbling up, to be overwritten in its turn with sharp golden characters spelling out the story of Wei Dan's spear, as with three fingers he traces a crooked sigil over his ersatz eyes...
Surkha 's crystalline sword begins to glow with a reddish light from within, casting intricate shadows in the shape of the ichor-black raindrops that run down its surface upon the walls of the shattered room. She looks at Imrama as she brings her other hand up into the air: "I will be the judge of that."
Surkha The Scarlet Empress' sword swings downward, and the Essence pattern that forms the basis of the Forbidden Light of Negation -- a spell cast only thrice before in all of history -- leaps from its tip towards where Zahara and Cerin stand.
Surkha As she does so, Thirteen sees a grey apparition overlaid before the scene in front of him: through all the chaos and the pain, time seems to slow -- and against his elaborate gesture, the figure merely waves one finger side to side in a slow "I wouldn't do that" gesture.
Thirteen "Yes, thank you for your valuable input."
zahara laughs, and almost lazily erupts into a bonfire of brilliant gold light. A moment's concentration and the swan that forms above her head spreads its burning wings, flying towards the dark energy of the spell. Darkness meets light, and explodes, sending shards of energy everywhere. As they fly, each shard turns to brilliant white, all evidence of the original spell extinguished.
zahara "I'm sorry, did you call yourself an Empress?" She asks Surkha archly. "It looks to me that you are a lowly slave."
Cerin radiates pride as he watches the spell shattered with Zahara's countermagic, even as another part of his mind is watching the battle within thirteen
Phoenix holds up one silk-draped hand against the shockwave of the splintering magics.
Surkha Shards of brilliant Essence plunge into the walls, sending rock dust blowing out in every direction.
Thirteen flickers, then glows brighter, then brighter still, then screams, clawing at his face, and throws to the floor a pair of bloodied and steaming eyes, each carefully embedded with a vicious and curving soulsteel hook that still bears traces of the filigree that once adorned the Grim Reminder.
Lucent had spent a moment to react... and a moment took too long, here. It was not for Zeniths to react in such a fashion, after all. They are earth, golden bulls, shelter. Lucent stands amidst the destruction, not ducking nor dodging, as the shards of power and remains of the room fall to him... "ENOUGH!"
Lucent Before turning Mars' orb into a sword, thrust to the ceiling and shattering it into an avalanche, separating both groups! ... at least, for a moment.
Lucent ... the quite weakened ceiling, that is! And hopefully, leaving the remains of the destruction to the Dragons on the other side... "I hope someone has a pla..." He stops, looking down at the eyes... "... Soulsteel?"
Cerin "I believe now might the time to take our leave."
Lucent "I spent too much destroying The Lord of Calibration, and I know stopping that magic must be harrowing for Zahara. And Thirteen, well..." He points... "So I agree, Cerin. We are not at the top of our game."
Phoenix "You took the words right out of my mouth."
Thirteen sighs, then stoops to pick up the eyes and drop them in his pocket, gripping his spear tightly with the other hand.
Imrama jumps back aboard the Fable. "All is ready on my end. Do we have a destination?"
Cerin smiles at Phoenix "I do not believe we have properly met. I am Cerin the Wolf"
Zahara "Yes. that sounds like the expedient action. We should make sure the Sunlands are still standing."
Phoenix steps onto the boat. "Cerin! We have much to talk about, but quickly—"
Cerin sweeps Zee into his arms and leaps onto the fable.
Cerin "They were when last I checked."
Zahara "How long ago was that?"
Thirteen vaults wearily onto the Fable's deck. "Thank you, Imrama. As always, I appreciate your efficient and sensible service."
Lucent walks up his multihued staircase and steps into the fable, silent.
Imrama claps Lucent on the shoulder and gives him a congratulatory smile. "You slew the Sun's Shadow. Wicked!"
Cerin "Around two hours ago, my love."
Lucent lights up, "Thanks, Imrama! You did very well against the Captain, yourself!"
Zahara "How did you get here without using the gate?" She makes no move to disengage herself from him, even though they are now on board the ship, instead, wrapping her arms around his neck and shoulders.
Cerin "I have been in the Imperial City for ... some time."
Lucent looks over his shoulder at Zahara and Cerin, and his smile lights up more.
Imrama Deciding to introduce himself properly at a time when he won't be interrupting a very special moment, Imrama gives the order to get under way at best possible speed.
Thirteen sits quietly, lost in thought.
Surkha She had stayed behind, of course. Someone had to keep track of things on the homefront.
Surkha Without much, if anything, in the way of specific orders, Ahina had taken it upon herself to scout the area; the chances that the forces of evil would strike at the heart of the Sunlands were high at very best, in her estimation. She had always been rather practical for a Fire Aspect, or so her mother had told her.
Surkha Perhaps that was why she was even today guarding the safety of the empire that, for all its problems, seemed to be on the ascent, and her mother had been quietly poisoned after one too many backroom plots in the Imperial City, she mused.
Surkha The Fire Aspect had brought Aliza with her: the poor elemental had yet to recover completely, but outings seemed to ease her fevered jabbering in comparison to sitting motionless in the dark hallways of the Cascade. Her background chatter of nonsense syllables had mostly faded away for Ahina now.
Surkha Then, suddenly... the syllables fade.
Surkha She freezes.
Surkha There is a pause, and -- just as dark clouds above burst with horrific rain -- the tiny snake begins to say something intelligible for the first time in quite some time: "Cerincerincerincerincerincerin..."
Surkha "What?" Ahina says.
Surkha And then, in the sky, there is a brilliant golden light.....
Thirteen ::Ejava. Report.::
Surkha Though the Leagues of the Looking Glass fight them every step of the way, a little careful sailing deposits the Fables of the Reconstruction in a field outside Solaria; the presence of Ahina in the field below is almost immediately noticeable.
Surkha The mental voice that comes through Thirteen's ring is familiar, and yet somehow strange... more full: ::The Lily troops have been scattered. But behind them are the troops of the dead, and though we fight through them more seem to come in an unending stream.::
Cerin "Aliza" Cerin says softly as he feels another part of his soul slip back into place. "Imrama, would you land please?"
Thirteen ::We have left the Imperial Manse, and are regrouping. Conquering the Blessed Isle can be delayed if necessary. Continue the assault, or pull back, according to your initiative.::
Thirteen ::Avoid the Manse.::
Surkha ::Affirmative. I will notify you if retreat becomes necessary.::
Thirteen ::Good work, Roseblack.::
Surkha ::Tell me that again when we win, Thirteen.::
Thirteen ::I intend to.::
Imrama brings the Fable to rest just inches off the ground, neatly beside Aliza.
Cerin kisses Zahara and then pulls away from her slightly. He holds out a hand towards Aliza.
Zahara slides from Cerin's arms and stands next to him. She smiles, watching the two reconnect.
Ahina "...Cerin? Really?" She gazes at the ninja with astonishment.
Cerin "Yes, thanks to Zahara and the Circle, I am here once more."
Ahina The tiny elemental's eyes become comically huge, and she flits with a speediness to land in Cerin's hand, her tail wrapping around his arm as she begins making a happy chattery noise, her top half still flitting frantically.
Zahara tries not to look too smug.
Phoenix Now that we have a moment, Phoenix leans up against Thirteen. "Thirteen, um, can I ask you a question?"
Thirteen "Kai Buckthorn. Imrama Stormfound. It is time to defend Creation."
Thirteen "Yes, Phoenix?"
Phoenix "WHAT DID YOU DO YOU YOUR EYES?"
Cerin stills her, or at least attempts to by stroking the top of her head.
Thirteen "I needed information in order to stop Lai."
Thirteen "Siram supplied it."
Ahina The elemental calms herself, and curls up on Cerin's arm, clearly exhausted.
Imrama "Thirteen Blooming Flowers - we stand at the ready, as always."
Thirteen "Welcome to the Solar Deliberative."
Thirteen "Surely you have not forgotten him so quickly, Zahara?"
Zahara 's eyes narrow slightly.
Ahina snaps to formal attention, her surprise abated. "Do you have orders, sir?"
Ahina Kai nods to Thirteen. "Finally!"
Cerin "Not at present, however I imagine that might change with some rapidity, Ahina." He smiles "I am glad you made it back."
Ahina nods back to Cerin, a tiny smile crossing her lips.
Zahara "I had not forgotten." she replies coldly.
Cerin "Thirteen, you appear to be several members short of a deliberative." Cerin remarks.
Thirteen "You are astute, Cerin."
Zahara flicks her gaze over to Imrama, and back to Thirteen.
Imrama leans over from where he and Kai face Thirteen in order to speak directly with Cerin. "Cerin the Wolf, I am Imrama Stormfound. We knew each other once, in the Age before. It is good to finally meet you, the true you, in this era."
Thirteen "Indeed, I am looking for new members as we speak. If you happen to run across any Solars who are steadfast and loyal, capable and dedicated, and able to put the security and future of our universe and this Age over their petty personal whims, do be so good as to send them my way."
Zahara "Then perhaps you should take your Deliberative and go."
Cerin "Greetings Imrama Stormfound, it is indeed a pleasure to meet you truely."
Thirteen "Imrama, what do you know of the Western Circle?"
Thirteen "I cannot but agree, Dreambreaker."
Lucent " 'Petty personal whims'. Coming from the one who took power on the back of all of us."
Thirteen "I felt it only wise to keep it out of the hands of those who had proven themselves unworthy, Lucent."
Lucent "You hate me, Thirteen, and what for? For trying to give you knowledge, to give salvation to Cerin and us of old. You think that is unworthy? You? I made a promise to a man I trusted, once." He takes off one of the hearthstones in his gauntlet, crushing it to powder, "That promise is over. If there is one unworthy here, Thirteen, is you."
Imrama 's eyes go distant. "They are fighting for their very lives against the horror that is Flg'hera'kha'tha. As dire as things have ever been since I joined to the banner of the Sunlands, I fear for their fate most of all. If they should fall, the world will follow soon after."
Cerin "Such as those who were seeking personal power while one they were oathsworn to protect beyond death was captured and tortured?"
Phoenix "So, this is what it is like to live in the Age of Sorrows. Always fighting over pretty hats and pretty chairs."
Zahara "How dare you. You come to my lands, attempt to sieze control, ignore all wishes but your own, and think you are the only one that matters in anything?"
Phoenix "Lucent! Did you say you MADE A PROMISE?"
Lucent "I sought to give you knowledge, to save the world. You sook a throne. You are nothing but a power-hungry sociopath. And if you ever do anything wrong with that power, Thirteen..." He points. "Then I will come and destroy you. Be sure of that."
Phoenix turns suddenly on her heel.
Lucent turns away from Thirteen, and looks at Phoenix. "Yes, I did."
Zahara "I made you welcome, gave you the use of my manse, my resources, my armies. I gave you eyes - which you have corrupted somehow."
Thirteen "You can rationalize your behavior all you wish, Lucent, but it does not change what you did."
Phoenix "You have no right to use that word."
Thirteen "You believed that you knew better than I what should be done, and disregarded my express wishes in order to do so. I hardly see that you can condemn me for doing the same."
Lucent "What? Lying to you to save Cerin and the others, seeking no reward for myself but the one I had already received? And you, who did it for personal power? You DARE compare us?"
Lucent "I did it for YOU. For CERIN and ZAHARA."
Ahina looks at the Solars with horror. This was not the picture of noble, glorious Sun-gods that she had believed before....
Lucent "You are doing it for your own damn selfish self."
Lucent "You want power, nothing more."
Zahara "Sometimes, Thirteen.... YOU ARE WRONG."
Thirteen "I did it for CREATION, Lucent." He stands, glowing. "Because I could imagine nothing worse for the people of this world then to be ruled by the likes of you."
Lucent "You think Creation is your own wishes."
Lucent "By the likes of me? Someone who would save others? Oh, heaven forbid THAT."
Zahara "And you can't accept that. You are not the only one with intelligence and power in this world."
Phoenix "Save others? You have deceived us ACROSS THREE INCARNATIONS, Lucent Copper Haze."
Thirteen "I have saved many lives, Lucent, and I will save more before I am done. I have done everything I have done to protect the world from the Ebon Dragon. Until you can accept that, there is little point in discussion with you."
Imrama Exasperated, Imrama turns to Ahina in an attempt to maintain face to subordinates. "The affairs of a state in time of crisis weigh heavy on the hearts of the good and the great. I am sure, loyal Ahina, that you can understand the need for my comrades to cross tongues from time to time."
Phoenix "Every word that passes your lips is a serpent."
Thirteen "Perhaps you might discuss things with Phoenix, while I address Zahara's recriminations. I am only one man, after all."
Lucent "Phoenix. You broke your promise to me, you lied to me. If being a mortal to save the world was so horrifying to you, then you do not deserve to be Exalted."
Thirteen "Now then, Dreambreaker."
Phoenix shuts her eyes and turns away. "Do not pronounce my name."
Ahina looks at Imrama, a little surprised but somehow eased by the words. "I... see."
Phoenix "Lucent Copper Haze is dead to me. His memory is nothing but ashes."
Thirteen "When I arrived here, you were haring off on mad quests, your lands undefended, yourselves unwitting of the horrors Lai Misuna would have loosed upon the world."
Thirteen "I consider that I have well repaid you for the trust you placed in me."
Thirteen "I confess, though, that I cannot make the same statement of the trust I placed in you."
Lucent "Like I said. You did not deserve your gift, if your own fear of mortality would prevent you from saving the world. As for the power-hungry lunatic who inherited the deliberative... they had the world safe, until you appeared. They had the puzzle you hand. You helped, of course. But the preparations for the Eclipse, the Faith Ecliptic and everything else was already there, Thirteen."
Lucent "Do not overestimate yourself, Twilight."
Thirteen "Lucent, it is quite as much as if you do not LISTEN to me when I speak to you."
Thirteen "Zahara, if you wish to talk further, perhaps we might retire elsewhere. Our words are sharp, and not for the ears of children."
Phoenix takes off her hat and ties back her hair. She moves up beside Imrama. "Thanks for your patience, Ahina." The rage in her voice is clearly audible. "Would you be so kind as to update us of your accomplishments on the ground? I'm afraid we've been out of touch."
Zahara "I told you of the vision, and that I was going to follow it. If you refuse to believe that retrieving Cerin was for the good of Creation as well as myself, then again, you are wrong. And it WAS YOU, that told me, was it not, that I should not accept what fate had wrought?"
Lucent "... children? Thirteen, I have been in this world for longer than you have drawn breath. And I have never betrayed any of those I have sworn due to insane visions of power. If you consider that to be maturity, than I pity your soul."
Thirteen "Lucent, I am trying to have a conversation."
Lucent "No, you are merely spouting self-righteousness."
Zahara "Would you prefer that both Lucent and Cerin be tied to the darkness still? He did what he had to to free himself, and in so doing helped us to discover the truth of the past, and affect the current situation to our favor. I fail to see why that was at all the wrong thing to do."
Imrama "Far be it from me to intrude, as a babe into the den of masters of the art of back-biting. But I feel compelled to point out that no one of this company has successfully betrayed anything. Our nation remains intact, and our Circle more whole than when I joined it. If we are all the betrayers we are making each other out to be, we are each miserable failures."
Thirteen "Imrama, the Circle may remain, but my trust in it has sadly vanished."
Thirteen "Zahara, the question is not whether your course of action was helpful or productive. Indeed, since I have not had the opportunity to do so, let me commend you on your handling of Cerin the Wolf, which service you performed inestimably, and with great benefit to our cause."
Zahara "What exactly is the question then?"
Thirteen "Whether any of you can be trusted to follow a plan for more than five seconds."
Lucent "We have followed our own plan for months, for years. If you did not notice."
Lucent * plans
Zahara "IF you had been intelligent enough to take what I informed you I was planning to do into account, I would have."
Thirteen "Yes, Lucent, you have put your finger on the nub of my discontent."
Thirteen would do a take, except he doesn't have eyes any more.
Zahara "You tell us to follow your plans but you keep information secret from us! We are expected to follow your orders like soldiers or slaves, with no reason, no understanding of why."
Thirteen "Zahara, you informed me of nothing. You merely went, leaving months of preparation and carefully constructed planning in the dust."
Zahara "You are incorrect. Imrama and I both informed you of the vision."
Thirteen "The very first time I entrusted you with a duty, you shirked it, callously and directly."
Zahara "Which duty?"
Thirteen "To stop Lucent."
Zahara "Oh, was that immediately after you disobeyed my wish to not split the party?"
Zahara "And besides, I felt that I had to let it happen. In the same way that I knew that once we had been thrown into the past, it was exactly where we should be."
Ahina looks at the group fighting for a second longer and then gets control of herself. "We have maintained the security of the Sunlands territory as best as possible. There have been several attempts at incursions from isolated groups -- Hundredfold and Red Lily troops -- but none could marshal a force sufficient to defeat our countermeasures."
Thirteen "Zahara, I did that because I did not want to AID him in his GOALS, as you did."
Ahina "We have kept all civilian personnel on a 24-hour curfew, just in case."
Thirteen "Those FEELINGS are exactly what make it impossible for me to trust you, Zahara."
Lucent "To save Cerin, Myself and the others. My, I am a monster."
Zahara "Those ENTIRELY CORRECT feelings you mean?"
Thirteen "What good is it for me to devise a plan if it will all go by the wayside in a moment because of one irrational impulse?"
Zahara "It looks like your plan worked exactly as you intended it to."
Thirteen "If you have goals, desires, or initiatives you wish dealt with, I can do so. That is my purpose."
Lucent "Again, both she and I tried to save others. You seized power for yourself. You keep trying to make me to be a devil, Thirteen... but I was already here, remember. I had to be saved for Time Itself to exist. What I did was not solely for myself, but for others."
Thirteen "Yes. Because I stopped depending on those who showed themselves to be untrustworthy."
Zahara "I TOLD you I had goals, desires AND initiatives."
Zahara "YOU IGNORED THEM!"
Thirteen "I, at least, am capable of ignoring my feelings when it is necessary to save Creation."
Lucent "You have never been."
Lucent "Your desire for power? You never ignored it."
Lucent "Do you have any other feelings there? Because I know I ignored and HURT my own feelings to accomplish my 'devious' objectives."
Thirteen "I do not need to put up with your pusillanimousness, Lucent. Imrama, let us to the west."
Zahara "If you leave, take your tree with you."
Lucent "The truth hurts, Thirteen. But only the damned stay their eyes from its light."
Zahara "I am not entirely convinced he has done this in the pursuit of power alone, Lucent."
Phoenix moves around to stand beside Ahina and look at the maps she has produced. "Excellent, excellent! I confess I underestimated you and our forces."
Imrama "General, I respect you as a strategist, and would count you as a friend. But for all your pointed words, you have not convinced me to abandon our mutual allies. You speek of feelings getting in the way of goals: your commitment to your own anger with Lucent and Zahara is interfering with the work of saving Creation."
Phoenix "Will you excuse me? I just realised something."
Thirteen "Imrama, Lucent has lied to me with every word he spoke to me since the day I met him. How do you suggest I begin trusting him?"
Thirteen "More to the point, how do you begin?"
Thirteen "When did you so inform me, Zahara?"
Cerin "Yes, Phoenix?"
Phoenix makes a frustrated face, as webs of perceptive Essence snap tight and make an image clear. "HEY! WHAT ARE WE DOING? I THOUGHT I didn't need Charms to tell us when we are acting crazy, but I have just been informed that I was mistaken on this account! We are all upset and frustrated with each other and we DON'T HAVE TIME TO HUG AND MAKE UP."
Thirteen "Phoenix, those words might have significance to me if I had known you for more than a few days."
Phoenix "DO YOU ALL KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS?" She takes a breath. "This means that we have to -pretend like- we have a stable structure of trust and authority amongst ourselves until such time as we are able to construct this thing."
Zahara "How do you suggest Lucent could have done anything other than what he did? He came to us, he helped us as much as he could without revealing a secret he was absolutely forbidden to tell. I sought his secret, and found him barred from speaking it physically."
Thirteen "Unfortunately, my dear friend Birds-of-Trinity KILLED HERSELF, and you DIDN'T STOP HER."
Thirteen "This makes it hard for me to take you as seriously as you might like."
Zahara "And yet he consistently showed me things that showed me hints of his past."
Imrama "I look at the consequences of his deeds, as I endevor to do much the same for you, Thirteen. As for a basis of trust, I would remind you that trusting Wei Dan cost Askaru everything he had and was: his lover, his command, his world and his life. I have made a decision to trust YOU despite that. I believe you are capable of a similar leap."
Thirteen "He does not regret it."
Phoenix "Good! Don't fucking take me seriously! LAUGH AT ME! I DO NOT CARE! As long as you take your knitted brows and gnashing teeth and stick them where the sun don't shine."
Zahara "As for your question about my goals and motives, you have consistently put your own plans in front of my own. The vision, which we already addressed. The checklist which was more than simply gallivanting around Creation exploring. Every time we planned anything in the War Room, you put your ideas ahead of everyone else's."
Thirteen "He stands there, and says with no shame and no doubt that he was right to deceive us, that we did not deserve to know the truth, that he would do it again."
Phoenix turns to Ahina again. "Uh, so, sorry about that. What're the plans for the next few troop movements?"
Thirteen "This does not endear me to him."
Lucent "And promised to let myself be killed. Which I can still be, by Zahara. I broke my promise, Thirteen, because seizing power from his friend's backs is not the move of a hero, but a villain; And I cannot leave Creation with a smile on my face until that matter is settled. And if you think I did not regret lying to you all, then you are an idiot. It has been hard to live with myself."
Zahara "It has nothing to do with deserving, Thirteen! He could not."
Thirteen "An easy defense."
Ahina illustrates to Phoenix carefully, and looks over the other Exalts with deepening frustration and anger.
Lucent "I lied to save people, and I cannot live with myself. You lied for power, and you feel atop of the world. See why I cannot leave Creation until I see where this will lead?"
Thirteen "Lucent, I am tired of your idiocy."
Thirteen "Surely even you can see that if I did not kill Lai, someone else would have."
Lucent "... and where am I being idiotic, Thirteen?"
Lucent "Someone else whom we trust. Someone else who would tell us. Who would learn of it with us."
Thirteen "Commanding the five Grids requires five Solars, a Perfect Circle."
Phoenix calls for hot spiced wine. "I'm afraid that those two are like a cat and a dog. They will never understand each other."
Thirteen "Believe me when I say I would like nothing better than to give this power to four friends I could trust."
Lucent "You may not trust me, Thirteen, but I have never seized for power. I always made myself an easy target. I made sure others could end me if my ideas did not please them."
Thirteen "I do not just wish it."
Thirteen "I need it."
Thirteen "So if I hold the Zenith seat away from you, it is not because it somehow benefits me. It directly endangers my life."
Thirteen 'But I am not yet convinced that giving it to you would not endanger it further."
Lucent "Then, why did you lie? You know why I did. I had to make sure things happenned as they did, because it WAS a good outcome. Everyone was alive. I know I would still be saved, but if I changed ANYTHING, you may have all ended up dead, others in your place."
Lucent "If I could talk to you without endangering your EXISTENCE, then damnit, I WOULD."
Zahara looks at Phoenix. "Let's go inside. Let us speak quietly over tea. Let us begin again with the premise that we are friends."
Lucent "That was my 'perfect plan', Thirteen. As long as it came as a surprise, I KNEW it would end up well. That is why I lied, and I am SORRY."
Lucent "But why did YOU?"
Zahara "Because Creation still hangs in the balance."
Thirteen "Because I did not KNOW what would happen."
Thirteen "I said this when I MET you all."
Phoenix takes Ahina in one hand and Zahara in the other. "That sounds lovely."
Zahara "And Phoenix is right. We do not have time to fight for years."
Thirteen "Tacticians are craftsmen who work with information."
Thirteen "All of you have done nothing but HIDE information from me."
Thirteen "How, then, can you expect me to create the wonders you expect of me?"
Zahara "Tea. Now."
Zahara starts off to the manse.
Thirteen "The course of action I determined was the best course I could conceive of to defeat the Ebon Dragon without knowing what his goal was, or YOURS."
Cerin "Ah, yes, that does remind me. I believe my part in your plan, Thirteen, was to find out everything. While I cannot claim that, I have made a not inconsiderable start."
Lucent "The only way to be friends, is if you are the first one to offer your hand, Thirteen. If things were a cycle as you imagine, then we would never trust you again either. If it is just that, then... well." He shrugs, "You are just immature. Learn to adapt to new variables. And to trust."
Thirteen "At every moment when you deviated, it seemed to me that you were throwing our future away with both hands."
Lucent finally smiles. "And to have faith."
Lucent "Right. I am sorry for calling you a madman, then. And I am sorry you had to go to such lengths to ensure our victory."
Zahara paused as soon as Thirteen kept talking, and waits politely for him.
Zahara "To us, your entire plan was opaque. I trusted you enough to not stop Lai from placing the last seal. Even after all the fights we've had."
Thirteen "I am sorry for...whatever betrayals of you I have committed, Lucent, though I am not sure what crimes they were."
Zahara "Everything I have done has had a purpose, and I wish I had known what your intentions were before following them."
Ahina is, somehow, even more boggled by the sudden shift of the conversation than by the anger that dominated it moments ago.
Phoenix pats her new friend on the shoulder. "Welcome to the war room. You'll get used to it, I promise."
Lucent "Those. You lied, like I did. Only on a subject matter that, honestly, is the province of Villains, Thirteen, not Heroes. If this seems literal, then stop thinking like a peasant - when you fight things from beyond and the Yozi, such concepts ARE literal. And on the wrong places... with the wrong power... such actions can change you."
Thirteen "When did I lie?"
Thirteen "Cerin, I wholeheartedly appreciate your contribution. Rest assured that it will be most helpful to our war effort."
Lucent "When you said nothing to us, and rushed to take power to yourself."
Thirteen "I must assume you called for me when you heard Zahara was captured."
Thirteen "The Wasirranu is overwhelming, and I confess I did not receive your message, or I would have come at once."
Thirteen "Please forgive me for my unavoidable detention, and for the lengths to which it drove you."
Thirteen "And please forgive me further if I continue to insist that if I had accompanied you, we could have found a way to save her that would not have brought us so close to the brink of annihilation."
Zahara closes her eyes and concentrates on her breathing, tuning out everything for a moment. Then she releases a single long breath.
Thirteen "I ask of you only that you try not to become evil in the future."
Thirteen "Zahara, I promise that I am not ignoring you. I simply expect that our discussion will be the most engrossing for everyone."
Thirteen "Lucent, I did not lie. I honestly feared to trust any of you."
Cerin "I have fallen through all Creation into the maw of primordial evil and then had that cleansed from me in the purest agony I have ever felt. It is not an experience I wish to repeat."
Thirteen "Why did you leave us/
Thirteen "I trusted you."
Zahara takes her seat in the War Room, and conjures porcelain, which she quickly and neatly forms them into a simple, bone-white tea set, to which she adds tea.
Zahara places a cup and saucer at each place.
Zahara summons up a table and chairs, and conjures porcelain, which she quickly and neatly forms them into a simple, bone-white tea set, to which she adds tea.
Zahara places a cup and saucer at each place.
Lucent "I can understand that... just try not to do it again, Thirteen. You would hate me, or any of us, trying to make good on our threats." He says, lightly, "And having understood that... even with the stone broken, your promise still stands, for this moment. If you think my betrayal endangered the Circle... then you can kill me, here and now."
Thirteen "I do not wish to kill you, Lucent."
Thirteen "I wish to believe that you would not do it again."
Thirteen eats his cup, then, after a moment, his saucer.
Phoenix sips her tea elegantly. "This is really excellent stuff, hm?"
Cerin sips his tea "It is."
Phoenix "Thirteen, hm. Give me a moment...with every hour, the spirit of my ancestress fades." She rises up from her chair and kicks herself off the ground, her castemark flashing.
Lucent "I never will. In fact."
Zahara provides Thirteen a second cup.
Phoenix "There was a day when I was Birds-of-Trinity and I was true to the things I was loyal to, you remember it. But as times got harder, I began to weaken and my shell began to crack...there was always a weakness inside. You saw it, I think?"
Lucent "We should work out a way to communicate information in a way not to damage such situations, in the future. Trust me, there were great beings from beyond on the time of the Deliberative who use strange schemes such as these... or have eyes everywhere. Something beyond the rings, that could give information in a way we could... make ourselves forget, pehaps?"
Phoenix "I was afraid I would betray you in a way I could not repair, so I remade my spirit in the image of my strength, to serve the world better, to protect you from me."
Phoenix touches down on the ground again. "Does that answer your question?"
Imrama mutters "How beautiful, and how painful. Fit for an epic."
Thirteen "How can we trust you now?"
Zahara touches Cerin's hand again. If she were a lesser woman it would have been to reassure herself that he is indeed still there, still her love. But as she is who she is, it is simply a touch.
Zahara "We trust, or we die."
Thirteen "The use of the word 'or' in that sentence implies a choice, Zahara."
Phoenix grins, and makes a dancer's face of exaggerated naughtiness. "You cannot! Not on your own experience, not yet. But I do come well-recommended."
Zahara "There is a choice."
Lucent hmmms. on the ashes of a saint and a friend...
Cerin touches her back and smiles faintly. On his wrist, Aliza unwinds alittle
Thirteen "Zahara, I did not know what I would have to do to deal with Lai until Siram told me as we were climbing the stairs towards the room of the Eclipse."
Zahara "How is it that you spoke with Siram?"
Thirteen "If I had known earlier, and if I could have told you the source of my information safely, I would have."
Ahina Aliza purrs and rubs her head against Cerin's wrist.
Thirteen fishes out the eyes and drops them into his teacup.
Thirteen "I contained him."
Zahara says softly, "I admit that I am angry at you for letting live within you the one who tortured me. And worse, keeping it secret from us."
Zahara "And using the eyes I made for you."
Zahara "And you speak to me of trust."
Lucent "Siram, especially. Remember my anger? He was there. After I left you, following a dream-call of my former Circle. He was there, in the Crystal Labyrinth, killing my friends and making me go through Castle Revolving..."
Thirteen "I did what I had to, Zahara. If I had told you of him, you would have tried to destroy him again. I barely saved him as it was."
Zahara "You saved him because I allowed it."
Lucent looks at the ceiling, then closes his eyes
Thirteen "Your bell tore him to pieces. He was merely a shadow, a few ideas, a memory of what had been."
Thirteen 'But he was a memory. And we had so little knowledge with which to act."
Thirteen "I am sorry, Zahara, but I needed to know."
Zahara "You could have told me."
Cerin "Thirteen?" He makes a gesture towards the teacup.
Thirteen "Please, be my guest."
Thirteen "Try not to destroy the eyes. Zahara worked very hard on them."
Thirteen "I expect that he has told me everything he knows."
Thirteen "Zahara, I...I was afraid."
Thirteen "I did not want you to know what I had to do."
Cerin picks up the eyes and then he concentrates and then his essence takes on the endless hunger which destroys all essence with no hope of rebirth. And then Siram is no more.
Zahara is silent.
Cerin ((**destroys all souls))
Lucent sounds more merciless than he ever had been before. "Good."
Thirteen "When I decide that we must do this, or that we must avoid such a course of action, it is not my whim, or my casual preference. It is my considered decision, based on all the knowledge at my command."
Zahara shudders, once, as Siram is destroyed. She sips her tea.
Thirteen "If you disagree, or wish to point out a goal I have not accomplished, then the time to do that is before you act, not afterwards."
Thirteen "With warning, I am able to adapt in time."
Zahara "I will make every effort to do so in the future." Her eyes linger on the teacup.
Thirteen "More to the point, I am able to trust that if I need you to accomplish something, you will do it."
Zahara "I will do it if you do not leave me in the dark as to why."
Zahara "Let me point out once more that I did not kill Lai, even when every instinct in me told me that I should."
Thirteen "I appreciate that."
Thirteen "If I fail to make my reasoning plain to you, please inform me."
Zahara "Believe me," she smiles slightly, "I will."
Zahara "Now, I believe Cerin has much to tell us."
Thirteen taps his cup briefly on the table.
Thirteen "I call this, the first meeting of the Solar Deliberative in the Second Age, to order."
Thirteen "There is no old business."
Thirteen "New business?"
Cerin "A not inconsiderable amount."
Lucent "Hmmm, the traitorous Empress and a group of powerful Infernals are in the Auric Temple. With..."
Zahara glances at Thirteen.
Lucent "... we left the Solar there."
Zahara "I knew he should have come along with us."
Lucent "Well. I felt I was making a mistake before. But SUN do I feel like a monster NOW."
Thirteen "I am sure he will be all right. He and Surkha are old friends, after all."
Zahara "Well, since this is an official meeting, perhaps I will go back for him, as I am no longer needed here."
Imrama "On the contrary, Empress, you are needed here now most of all."
Thirteen "Sit down, Zahara. You need no fancy titles or multifarious powers to be our compatriot."
Thirteen "If we were going to abandon you, we would already have done so. Please, assume we do not intend to."
Imrama "Speaking for the moment on behalf of my Caste, I would ask this august assembly: what, if any, of the old laws shall we choose to restore to the world, now that the Deliberative is restored?"
Lucent "She is the Empress, Thirteen. She is the one holding us together. She should receive that fate, now."
Thirteen "She is not my Empress. She is my friend."
Zahara stands, staring off into the distance towards the Cascade. She does not speak. For once, she cannot find the words to express what dwells inside her.
Lucent "And that is how your friend want to be treated, you know."
Phoenix looks at Imrama carefully. "What of the old laws contributed to our ancient downfall? We should eliminate those, and replace them with such as will be better-suited."
Imrama "Quite right Phoenix. I submit that among those laws that contributed to the fall that preceeded us was the practice of setting some Solars above others, of placing the so called 'Perfect Circle' apart from the rest of the Deliberative. Therefore, it is a practiced to be abandoned."
Phoenix nods. "I agree, I feel as though our celestial kindred require a voice as well."
Imrama "More than that, the uprising of the Dragonblooded, and the more recent conspiracy of the Red Lily indicates that a rather more egalitarian approach is called for. Any people which the new Age leaves without a voice will inevitably rise up to tear it down."
Phoenix is less noddish about this. "That is appalling, but I think you may be right."
Thirteen coughs discreetly. "It is worth mentioning that the Dragon-Blooded may now be counted among our 'celestial kindred.'"
Phoenix "This calls for an envoy to the Hundredfold as well, then."
Phoenix To Thirteen, "Oh indeed?"
Thirteen "I am sorry. I was not aware that some of us had not realized."
Thirteen "They have awoken to their true powers."
Phoenix "That is the most exciting thing you have ever told me."
Phoenix "Pursuant to your point of dismantling the Perfect Circle, Imrama, that indicates that we should then divide responsibilities as our abilities dispose us, yes?"
Imrama "Indeed. We are presently 7. Perhaps, if any of our siblings survive the tumult in the West, our ranks may grow by a few in the coming days. It seems to me worwhile to establish portfolios."
Phoenix "Indeed. I believe that Cerin is our consummate spy, and Zahara is well-established as the guardian of the citizenry..."
Imrama "And as the maker of all things, from castles to governments, and as the Sorceress Supreme."
Thirteen "Indeed, this has always been her particular talent."
Zahara walks back to the table and picks up her teacup, though she still does not really respond aloud.
Cerin takes Zahara's hand in his, and leans across to kiss her, whispering something into her mind.
Thirteen "I suspect that if we have a public face, with which to address diplomatic representatives and awe adoring peasantry, it finds its purest expression in Imrama Stormfound."
Imrama "If I am to serve in that reguard, it can only be as the finger that points to the moon. The construction of an enduring state requires powerful symbols: we may forge it together, as equals, but I believe it needs be Zahara's brow beneath the crown."
Thirteen "There is no point in deconstructing the Perfect Circle, only to place a monarch in its place."
Imrama "I believe you misunderstand, Thirteen. I do not mean that we, or any future members of this body would have anything other than a horizontal relationship to Zahara. Nor do I mean that she would rule all the Earth by fiat...
Imrama "I mean instead that she has done a capable job, for longer than any of us, of building a worthy nation, and for that she is loved and renouned. There are many, many others who would swear loyalty to her for that, and seek some of the relative safety and prosperity that the Sunlands has known. It would be foolish, even suicidal, for this new Deliberative to attempt to displace the Empress."
Imrama "Consider the nations that now lie in ruins. The promise of 'the protection of the Empress Zahara, newly a member of the Restored Deliberative' has the potential to become the greatest comodity in living memory. Armed with such an offer, I could bring the balance of the River Province into our fold in a fortnight."
Thirteen "Certainly, Imrama, Zahara's position as Empress of the Sunlands remains unquestioned."
Thirteen "However, I think you underestimate your value, just as Kai underestimates hers."
Imrama "Then, in principle, I do not think we disagree."
Thirteen "You are a hero."
Thirteen "It is time to put that heroism to use."
Imrama "I deal in truths; I would be proud, and well equiped, to serve as an emissary abroad. But secrets, and most especially lies, are not my bailiwick. An officer of the clandestine service is called for, and for that post, I nominate Phoenix of Ashes."
Phoenix blushes. "I would be only too pleased."
Phoenix And so, having overcome their differences, the Solars sat and talked into the night...