Imrama Carrying a tray of pastries, not up to the high standard of Birds-of-Trinity's kitchen, but a worthy effort on the part of the palace's junior bakers, Imrama knocks on the door to Belladonna's office.
alsoquin There is a little bit of shuffling of papers, and then a voice from within says, "Yes? Come in!"
Imrama enters the room. "Good day, Belladonna. Forgive the intrusion, but I have come to ask a few more questions regarding the regional security situation. Also, I have brought pastries."
Belladonna The room is a reasonably neatly and elegantly furnished office, with a variety of strange geometric objects suspended in various points midair -- presumably to make it feel "more like home." At the moment, she's paging through a set of looseleaf papers and drinking from a rather large mug.
Belladonna She swivels in her chair as Imrama enters. "Oh, really? That would really hit the spot right now." Without waiting, she reaches for one with her free hand.
Imrama "Then I am glad to have picked them up on my circuitous route to your door." Imrama selects something with the promise of creme filling, and takes a seat. "My first and most immediate concern is Great Forks. What can you tell me about its current status?"
Belladonna pulls down a hanging map from somewhere in the ceiling and talks with her mouth full. "The Red Lily organization kept a large amount of its troops mobile, but part of the conditions of participation by spirit-led governments appears to have been the allowance of a 'local' garrison of God-Exalts."
Belladonna "As a result, there are still a significant number of Exalted infantry units stationed within the city, as well as an elite guard Exalted by the triumvirate of Gods that rule the city."
Belladonna "However, they have taken no visible effort to aggress from within their own borders during the Eclipse."
Imrama "But their local forces do not seem to have been adversely effected by the Lily's failed campaign on the Blessed Isle?"
Belladonna "Not to a great degree."
Imrama "You mentioned in our previous meeting that a large contingent of Red Lily, or former Red Lily forces have laid claim to Halta. Do you have any evidence one way or the other as to lines of communication or control between that cluster an any other God-Exalt forces?"
Belladonna "Our information on all of this is spotty, but what we've been able to determine seems to indicate that almost all Red Lily planning and coordination took place through off-world channels. Due to the current difficulty of interplanar travel and communication, I hypothesize that the various spirit-led nations sworn to the Red Lily banner are not currently in communication."
Imrama "Well that, at least, is good news. If you have any information on the disposition of the citizenry of Great Forks, or any current disquiet in the ruling triumverate it would be extremely useful. Otherwise, I should probably proceed to a different topic."
Imrama "Can you tell me anything specific about the current state of the Nation of Calin? I am aware that few of our neighbors have done well in recent months, but I was wondering if you had any details on them."
Belladonna "It appears to have been largely passed over by the Red Lily forces, presumably because they never intended to make an attack on the Realm via a naval route."
Imrama "Logical enough. Then my last area of questioning involves Harborhead. You may recall that I asked you a short time ago to keep a weather eye on our neighbor to the West. I can appreciate that you must be very busy, but if you do have any information on it, I would greatly appreciate it."
Belladonna pushes through some of the pages on her desk and pulls out a thick folder with a grin. "What do you want to know?"
Imrama "The disposition of their military forces, the general state of government, any details you might have on the comings and goings of Ahlat, and the matter of the Ishadhi that I mentioned before."
Belladonna "Ah, yes."
Belladonna takes out a map of the Harborhead region and holds it vertically in the air; it remains hanging as she releases it. "As with Great Forks, a significant portion of their Exalted troop strength appears to have remained within their borders, and there are buildups here, here, and here."
Belladonna "Our agents are as yet still uncertain whether Ahlat attended the Carnival of Meeting, and thus whether he is currently trapped in Yu-Shan."
Imrama "It would be very interesting, if he was. And perhaps more interesting if he wasn't"
Belladonna "As for the Ishadhi prophecy... Ahlat, of course, has formally forbidden any discussion of the idea. But there are many in Harborhead who whisper of the idea."
Imrama "Ah, now that...that is very good news." There is an almost mischiefous twinkle in Imrama's eye.
Belladonna twinkles her own eye in camaraderie towards shared mischief. "What are you imagining, Imrama Stormfound?"
Imrama "I imagine a great many things, Belladonna of Xara. There are certain...ambiguities in my provinance that have long counted against me. Among the Haslanti, for instance, the inability to recite one's complete lineage unto the 5th generation affords a status of permanent impurity."
Imrama "But it may be that I am now approaching an opportunity to make my foundling status work for, rather than against me."
Belladonna beams with delight as she begins to realize what Imrama is suggesting.
Imrama "If you find, in the near future, that you or your agents are presented with an opportunity to spread rumors that the Ishadhi is at large in the world, but moving in secret; I would be most abliged."
Belladonna "Ah, yes, we can definitely begin doing so immediately." She looks about briefly. "Though Zahara is truly the master of rumor-mongering."
Imrama "No doubt. Now that I know the basic element for my gambit is in place, it is clearly time to bring it before the rest of the Circle. I would not want to move without their foreknowlege, and would be best served by their involvement."
Belladonna nods. "That seems like an excellent plan." She gobbles up another pastry in a single bite -- clearly well practiced from trying to keep up with Thirteen.
Imrama "Well, Belladonna, I thank you very much for your time and capable expertise. I will leave you to your many duties. Shall I leave the tray?" Imrama indicates the platter of baked goods.
Belladonna Through a stuffed mouth, she answers: "Pllss duhh."
Imrama The Leagues of the Looking Glass: the stretch of sky and sea that touches all that is, and ever will be. Once, this was Imrama's favorite respite, a great uncharted openess that brought laughter in the exploration. But there is no joy in this place any longer.
Imrama Evil storm clouds fill the air with a bitter and sometimes poisonous smell; the breathing of it is only clear just after the lightning strikes and burns away the foulness. And all the while, the sea below hungers for anything and everything held by the sky.
Imrama "I do not like the new disposition of this shard of space, Thirteen. The clouds come too thick and too vile; is getting awfully crowded in my sky." Imrama says, as he pulls at one of the glowing draglines, urging the ship higher into the storm.
Thirteen "Perhaps we may gather more information as to what has actually occurred here, that we may remedy it. I suspect the disconnection is tied to the deactivation of the Gates."
Imrama "Capital idea."
Belladonna The ship re-emerges from the Leagues of the Looking Glass into a place far in the North -- one that, until very recently, stood as a pocket of sanity in a world of madness, a tiny window into a Creation long gone.
Belladonna Now, instead, the Terminal Aerie has reclaimed its place within Meru, crowning one of the icy islands that hangs, suspended by nothing amidst the North's vast Airsea. (...)
Belladonna Though the sun remains eclipsed, this far from the Blessed Isle the stars still shine brightly this Calibration -- and the recently returned blue orb of Neptune floats sideways across the sky. Their light is reflected a million times, even further to the north, from the innumerable facets of the vast crystalline city of On-Ram....
Belladonna The Terminal Aerie itself sits, solemnly elegant, untouched by the ages. At one of its many high ports, a vessel of burnished silver and green-blue glass is docked -- Imrama recognizes it immediately as his father's vessel, the Skyward Elegance.
Imrama brings the Fable into dock. "Ah good, he's already here."
Thirteen "Your father?"
Imrama "Yes. I expect there to be some materials in the manse that I could use his assistance in considering. Besides, I haven't seen him since I joined the Circle." Imrama ties of the last of the ship's lines and enters the docking spire.
Thirteen "I, too, would be delighted to meet him."
Belladonna The hexagonal chamber at the top of the spire holds the docking imports for three ships. Standing -- or, perhaps, floating -- in front of one of the others is the God Imrama calls father: a swirling, shifting mass of wings, of every type, elegant white feathers and rainbow-hued insect membranes sit next to awkward ornithopter parts and what is undoubtedly an aalorai wing.
Imrama "Father! I am so glad you could come. It is good to see you. I am particularly glad you did not attend the Carnival this year."
Vanileth floats over towards Imrama, his strange wings flexing and bending in a gesture that the Eclipse knows is one of pleasant recognition. His surprisingly mellifluent voice speaks from somewhere within the knot of wings: "It is good to see you as well, child." Without seeming to miss a beat, he continues on: "There's no reason for me to go to that foolish convention any longer, I am never accorded any respect there, why..."
Thirteen "Greetings, Vanileth. I am Thirteen Blooming Flowers."
Imrama "Dad, I'd like you to meet one of my Circlemates: this is Thirteen Blooming Flowers, the greatest tactician in all of existence and the shard-descendant of Wei Dan." Imrama bows slightly, indicating Thirteen.
Vanileth interrupts his reverie and waves several of his wings at Thirteen. "Oh... hello... It is... so nice to meet you. I meet so... few people these days."
Thirteen "I hope to rectify that, in time."
Thirteen "What brings you to the Terminal Aerie?"
Vanileth "My... son asked me to meet him here... It was so nice to hear from him, he's been off with all of... your crowd for what seems like such a long time now...'
Imrama "Yes, there is a certain opportunity made possible by our visit to the First Age that I thougth would interest you, dad."
Thirteen "Yes. He has afforded inestimable service to the newly reforming Solar Deliberative."
Vanileth "Oh? What sort of opportunity do you speak of....?"
Imrama "While I was in the past, I composed a letter, and forwarded it, via the Lesser Office of Uncompromising Messengers, to my shard-ancestor, Askaru.
Vanileth "Oh, dear...."
Imrama "I could not risk identifying myself, of course, but I included certain bonafides in the document that would have implied that its contents were authored by someone he trusted implicitly. And I requested that he secure a cache of blueprints, technical manuals and other writings related to the field of artificial flight here, in the manse."
Imrama "We have only to claim them."
Vanileth A pale whitish-blue light shines out of the center of Vanileth's person with visible excitement.
Vanileth "We must! Show me!" All of Vanileth's rambling tendencies have vanished in the face of a boost to his portfolio.
Imrama "Of course, father. I'm glad to see you so pleased." Imrama walks toward the tower's airlift alongside his father, almost as though guiding him like an enfeebled relation.
Imrama "Thirteen - you are, of course, welcome to come puruse the manuscripts with us. But you may also want to inspect Askaru's quarters and place of rest. If you like, I can point you there."
Imrama As the three ride down in the lift, Imrama directs Thirteen. "His office is on the ground floor at the center of this spire. I chose not to disturb his skeleton - he selected his place of final repose and I saw no reason to dispute the point. Here is your stop. Please let me know if you need anything, or if you find anything interesting." Imrama halts the lift for Thirteen to exit.
Thirteen steps out, heading towards the office.
Imrama continues down into the sub-basement, the area he chose to suggest to Askaru both because of its relative obscurity, and because he, Imrama, had not gotten to search it when he first visited the manse."
Vanileth As Imrama and his father enter a previously unvisited room -- clogged thick with ancient dust and crates upon crates of ancient papers -- Thirteen winds his way into Askaru's carefully appointed office. An elegant military desk fills the center of the room, while nearly-abstract paintings of the Deliberative's fleet in distant lands hang upon the walls. (...)
Vanileth The chamber where Askaru slept -- and died -- is a little ways down the hall.
Thirteen busily pokes around the desk, looking for any papers, documents, or hidden compartments.
Vanileth After a great deal of examination, Thirteen locates -- carefully wedged into a space between two drawers, nearly invisible to any casual investigation -- what appear to be three pages, torn from an ancient pulp adventure novel.
Thirteen reads the pages.
Vanileth They appear to describe in lurid detail the dashing hero Sunbolt Shackleton's daring sky-battle defeat of, and shortly thereafter, liasion with, the deadly aviatrix Rosilda Rathsbane.
Thirteen frowns, and eats them.
Thirteen looks behind all the paintings, too.
Vanileth The space behind the paintings is surprisingly empty in every case.
Thirteen snorts, and walks into the other room.
Vanileth The chamber is similarly stately and well-appointed. To one side of the room is the box -- carefully pushed away from the remainder of the chamber -- in which Askaru lay as he took his own life, and where his remains still lie; elsewhere, a simple officer's bed, a smaller desk, and several beautiful bookshelves fill the remainder of the room.
Thirteen continues the poking around process.
Thirteen stares intently at the skeleton, concentrating on the brief glimpses he had of Wei Dan in the First Age, and squints, to make out the faint red trails of connections slowly dissipating as they wend their way from Askaru's corpse.
alsoquin Thirteen looks about the room and watches the ghosts of the connections with an irritating lack of effect for several moments, until he notices, running away from the body and towards the bed, a line that seems to have the faintest suggestion of another line coiled around it -- one of black and green.
Thirteen steps towards the bed, following the trail.
alsoquin The bed is a reasonably simple wooden frame, treated with Essence to survive this long, topped with a neatly appointed mattress. The connection line seems to run underneath it.
Thirteen looks under the bed.
alsoquin The area is remarkably un-dusty for underneath a bed -- the result of the Manse's Essence flows maintaining cleanliness, presumably. The actual space under the bed itself appears to be completely empty -- but Thirteen notices, sticking out just barely between two of the bed slats, the tiniest corner of what looks like a yellow handkerchief.
Thirteen takes the corner and attempts to pull it out.
alsoquin The handkerchief pulls smoothly for a moment, then stops -- it seems like something is wrapped up in it that's too big to fit between the slats.
Thirteen taps the bedframe with his forefinger. It shudders, then falls neatly apart into its component pieces, the screws sorting themselves by size and type.
alsoquin With the frame disassembled, the mattress itself is easily movable from atop the free slats, and Thirteen is easily able to retrieve the handkerchief. Upon closer inspection, a subtle silver pattern runs over its surface.
alsoquin As he unfolds it, the object within is revealed:
alsoquin A small jewelry chain, cast in silver; hanging upon it is a small black circle of glass, perhaps just under an inch in diameter. Engraved in its surface is a symmetrical design of three vines, cast in green jade with copper edging, curving outward from a central point. The glass is marred by a jagged crack across its surface, though it is not deep enough to split the pendant in two.
Thirteen heads back towards Imrama and his father.
Codex Down in the sub-basement, Imrama opens dusty crates and holds up sheefs of paper in succession, to the sound of something resembling applause from his father.
alsoquin The material on the crates is quite incredible -- lost secrets of airship construction that have been completely unknown in the Second Age of Man, enough to dramatically transform Vanileth's porfolio significance -- at least, were they to be implemented.
Thirteen lands quietly on the roof of the elevator and jumps down. "Imrama. What is the name of this object?" He holds up the pendant.
alsoquin Imrama's eyes roll over the pendant for just a moment before he finds his attention violently drawn backwards, to a scene long ago....
alsoquin Imrama remembers his skin wet with the sweat of exertion as he barges into the room, glancing about wildly...
alsoquin He looks about a room -- a small chamber, filled only with a small desk, a simple bed, and numerous flowering plants unknown to the Meru of the Second Age -- fruitlessly before he sees it: the handkerchief bundle, set gently atop the desk.
alsoquin He rushes over and pulls it open before staring at the pendant within for a long, hard moment, motionless, not even breathing.
alsoquin He glances from it to the paper in his hand -- signed with the unmistakable mark of Wei Dan -- and back, several times, before crushing the paper with an anguished cry.
alsoquin It is then that Imrama finds himself back in the present moment.
Codex shivers from the rush of long-past senses. "That is the Emblem of Strangling Ivy, Thirteen. I suspect that it was sent to Askaru by Wei Dan." Imrama walks over and reaches out to examine the necklace.
Codex **** Replace with: Codex shivers from the rush of long-past senses. "That is the Emblem of Strangling Ivy, Thirteen. I suspect that it belonged to Remembrance of Seven Tears." Imrama walks over and reaches out to examine the necklace.
Thirteen "So I suspected." Thirteen hands it to Imrama.
Codex holds the emblem up to his eyes, up to the gentle light that radiates from his floating Sun-Glasses. The light intensifies, twinkling off the cracks in the glass as he thinks of all that his ancestor lost, and all he is yet to reclaim.
Thirteen "I wonder how Remembrance became involved in the Strangling Ivy Rebellion, and how she survived it."
Codex "I do not know. But I now understand even better the depths of Askaru's trust in Wei Dan, and the burden he strained against because of it. Askaru left on his final expedition, to this complex, under instructions not to see his love before he left."
Thirteen "How, then, did he lay hands on the amulet?"
Codex "When you showed the necklace to me, I had a flash of Askaru's memory. He found the medallion wrapped in a yellow hankerchief and waiting for him in his office, just before he left for the Terminal Aerie, and just after recieving instructions from Wei Dan."
Thirteen "Not the kindest of goodbyes."