Zahara has made a sort of compass out of the first trophy Markuran had won since they had created the Sunlands - a massive claw - and a sphere of interwoven golden wires, describing the major flows of Creation. Taking the airship, she has flown in the indicated direction, and when the glow of it indicated she was near, she hid the ship out of sight, and proceeded the rest of the way on foot.
charlequin The compass, though crafted with remarkable skill, is nonetheless somewhat finicky in its performance, and seems to enjoy leading her about in a somewhat arbitrary fashion, zigzagging across parts of Creation with abandon. (...)
charlequin It is almot a week before she finally manages to locate a single spot that seems willing to stay put -- on a small coastal island in the Southwest.
charlequin The island itself is mostly covered in light jungle and sandy beaches, though a single village is set up near one of the coasts, and brilliantly decorated with bright vegetable dyes and fish bones.
Zahara checks her compass once more, and exits the airship, hoping that it doesn't suddenly point to the far north or something. Warily, she approaches the village, looking for telltale signs of the passage of Markuran's new incarnation -- that is to say, things ripped up or cracked, poems of greatness, small craters, etc.
Zahara shifts her clothing as she walks, to something appropriate to the climate. Her blonde-gold hair is tied back with a purple scarf, and matching ones are wrapped around her waist. As to the rest, there is little more to cover her tattooed skin. other than jewelry and a minimum of cloth. Unfortunately, everything but her carefully-made-up face is covered by a long, but lightweight grey cloak that shows very little.
charlequin The village seems to be relatively busy. This far south, the cold of winter never seems to reach, and villagers laden with every manner of golden fruits, freshly-caught fish, palm fronds, and recently quarried stones seem to be walking by at every moment.
Zahara finds a spot in the shadow of a building, and simply watches for a while.
charlequin Though villagers walk by in every direction, eventually Zahara notices that a particularly large number seem to be heading in one direction -- towards a veritable fleet of boats that lie docked at one edge of the village. (...)
charlequin It seems that strong-bodied men and women are massing there, to prepare for an outing of some kind.
Zahara makes her way over to the fleet, curious, and listening to the people as they pass.
charlequin The villagers speak a heavily accented form of Watertongue, and some sing jaunty songs as they ready themselves. From those who speak, it sounds as if the village regularly makes long fishing journeys lasting two weeks or more, and they are preparing to depart on just such a trip.
Zahara shifts her vision into the realm of Essence, looking for anyone- or anything-that stands out
charlequin Zahara doesn't see anything just here... but there is definitely a source of Essence out some ways on the water... and the compass seems to agree.
Zahara raises a brow, and moves through the crowd, considering whether she wants to risk being stuck on a fishing boat for two weeks. She looks to see if she'd be likely to be able to get on the boat.
charlequin It seems as if there's space -- at least, if everyone is reasonably convinced that Zahara can hold her own. Though the village is small, those from other nearby islands have journeyed here to participate in the fishing, so no one is likely to find her presence unusual.
Zahara shrugs and lines up for a spot on the fishing boat, wrinkling her nose a little at the smell.
charlequin Zahara finds herself carefully seated in the middle of a fishing boat, and after what seems like an interminable wait, all of the boats are full and they begin to push off.
Zahara 's fingers twitch as she resists conjuring something to toy with. She contents herself with finding the flaws in the ship and considering how to correct them.
charlequin It seems to take forever, but after what must have only been an hour or so, the boats begin to arrive at another island, and as they dock the others begin to disembark.
Zahara follows along with the others, though her eyes rove over the island, and the compass which she has secreted in the folds of her robe.
charlequin This island is significantly rockier and has far less plantlife than the one they just departed. A rocky but traversable path seems to wind up onto the sizeable hill that fills the isle, and the compass seems to agree.
Zahara ditches her fisherly companions and heads up the hill!
charlequin The others who have disembarked from the ships appear to also be heading up the hill, and together the group strides up the hill. It is a hefty walk, but eventually they arrive at the top, finally at their destination. (...)
charlequin There are only three features atop this hill: a small shack, lovingly assembled from wood and the shell of a worrisomely large turtle, and its small enclosure of sheep; a single ocean pine, its trunk split into two columns that climb into the sky;
charlequin and a surprisingly elaborate stone altar, a variety of elaborate geometric patterns carved into it, with a tall slab protruding upwards that is carved with gold and red sigils, with a single circle cut from it.
Zahara "Fascinating," she murmurs to herself, and waits for the ceremony to begin. "A priest, of some sort..." alsoquin The other villagers who have journeyed to the island with Zahara begin to array themselves in simple rows, after which they begin todrop to their knees and perform a somewhat elaborate series of bows and hand gestures.
Zahara stands a bit off to one side and behind the others, observing the rituals with her hands clasped behind her back.
alsoquin The rituals and chanting go on for several moments, building in pitch and intensity as the villagers become wrapt in their spiritual fervor.
alsoquin Some of the nearby villagers seem confused -- at best -- that Zahara is not following their actions.
Zahara does not particularly wish to have to fend off confused or angry villagers, and so she slides gently to her knees and picks up the rhythm of the rituals, watching further to see if essence is being generated from them.
alsoquin Zahara sees the ways that the rituals begin to shift and alter the very air around them... the subtle, but rapidly growing, golden Essence that suffuses the air and begins to collect around the carefully carved altars.
Zahara considers for a few cycles of the ritual, then feeds a bit of her own Essence into the altars. A gift, she supposes.
alsoquin A few moments, and a sharp gust of wind blows by... and the door of the cottage opens with a sudden, smooth motion.
alsoquin As someone begins to step out of the hut, Zahara can feel the Essence in the air shift....
Zahara looks up surreptitiously
alsoquin Out of the door walks a woman... a woman who bears the power of the Zenith. (...)
alsoquin She stands in the doorway, a moderately tall woman, muscular and beautiful, her cocoa skin and hip-length purplish-black hair glistening in the sun. She smiles crookedly, a little mischief behind it, as she surveys the people who have gathered.
Zahara watches her intently, keeping her body language similar to those around her, but smiling slightly to herself, thinking that Marku would either have been furious or deeply, deeply approve of this woman.
alsoquin After surveying the group, the woman steps out, towards the altar, and Zahara sees that in one hand she holds a lump of metal, and in the other a long stick. With one fluid motion she places the metal on the altar, and begins to chant herself, in a deep but melodious voice.
Zahara watches the ritual, trying to divine its nature as she performs it.
alsoquin The chanting growing louder and louder, the woman raises one hand up into the air, and the ambient Essence begins to swirl and collect around it, until it begins to glow to even mundane sight. (...)
alsoquin At the very moment the chanting reaches its height, she holds one end of the stick to the lump of metal and brings her raised fist down upon it in one swift motion, causing a brilliant flash of light. (...)
alsoquin When the light dims, the metal is gone -- forged by Solar magic into a brilliant harpoon, which she raises over her head in triumph as the villagers cheer.
Zahara cheers as well, rather enjoying the show. She asks the person next to her "Has she always been able to do that?"
alsoquin The man shakes his head, smiling.
Zahara "What happened?"
alsoquin "The New-Winter Spear will bring us bountiful results in our fishing, as it has always done. It is just since last year that Nesula has forged it ."
Zahara "Who forged it before then?"
alsoquin "The medicine woman has always forged the New-Winter Spear."
Zahara "Who was the medicine woman before this?"
alsoquin The villager looks at Zahara somewhat strangely... it is rather odd that someone would ask so many questions about something they should have been taught by their eighth year....
Zahara smiles reassuringly, though the effect is quite lost due to her hood.
alsoquin "Estala, of course... as she was since long before we were born..."
Zahara "I am sorry for being so forgetful. I hit my head during an accident...and I haven't been able to remember much of my life before then." she says apologetically.
alsoquin "Ohhhhhh." The man nods apologetically. So sad.
Zahara "Was Nesula the apprentice of Estala?"
alsoquin The man nods, as he watches Nesula wave the harpoon through the air in an elaborately patterned motion. "For six years."
Zahara "She seems very powerful. She must have studied well."
alsoquin nods. "She saved us."
Zahara "What happened?"
alsoquin "The fish grew sparse, and we began to starve... until she took the village's best boat out into a raging storm, and came back with a fish bigger than the boat." He grins.
alsoquin "Prosperity has followed us since that day."
Zahara smiles. "How wonderful, to have someone like that to protect us. She must be a kind and generous woman."
alsoquin The man nods, and smiles again.
alsoquin At the altar, Nesula has finished the elaborate dance she performs to bless the spear. The chanting stops, and she stands motionless for a moment, before ceremoniously passing it to the leader of the fishing expedition, who in turn holds it up in the air and cheers.
Zahara looks up again, at the priestess. "No darkness in her," she says softly to herself. "not yet."
alsoquin Nesula smiles broadly as the fishers crowd around the leader, still proudly holding her masterwork aloft, and begin to follow him back down to the fleet of boats.
Zahara scrutinizes the spear as they walk past her, though she does not go with.
alsoquin The spear is a masterwork -- every bit of its form perfectly sculpted and balanced, honed to a razor's sharpness, and polished to perfection.
Zahara smiles again, and waits until they are a bit past her before she approaches the altar slowly.
Nesula walks over to the altar and stands at it, her cloak billowing in the island breeze.
Zahara walks up to the altar as well, on the opposite side of the woman. "I am given to understand your name is Nesula." she says softly. "You have worked great magic today."
Nesula looks over and notices that Zahara has not left with only the slightest hint of irritation. "I have indeed." She smiles. "What brings you here? You have not departed with the other fishers."
Zahara "It is a personal matter. I have lost a dear friend, and hoped you might help me find out if he is well."
Nesula "Ohhh. I see." She nods. "I have not tended to the needs of the villagers in some time. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that you've come to seek me out instead."
Zahara "I'm afraid I don't know the proper procedures. Shall I tell you about him?"
Nesula nods. "Hold on a second. I'm gonna need to sit down." She starts walking towards the hut. "Come in and have a drink?"
Zahara "Thank you, Priestess." She bows and follows Nesula inside.
Nesula The inside of the hut is relatively sparse, but homey nonetheless. A crude table, carved from a single stone, and four chairs sit at the center, the earthenware dishes which bear the remnants of a breakfast and a single lit candle sitting upon them. (...)
Nesula The skins of great animals and other trophies hang on several of the walls, and a great chest sits in one corner, a great golden padlock holding it closed.
Zahara waits until Nesula sits, and then sits across from her once more. She notes the trophies and the chest with exactly the amount of attention to remain polite, and folds her hands together to keep herself from fashioning the table into something nicer.
Nesula pulls out a rather large pitcher and pours out two large flagons of ale, and places one in front of Zahara with a grin.
Zahara chuckles, "Is this part of the ceremony?" She lifts her flagon in a toast to Nesula.
Nesula drinks a huge draught of her ale and then wipes her mouth on her sleeve, laughing. "So tell me what you came to tell me."
Zahara grins and does likewise. "There was a man, a friend of mine for many years. He was tall and strong, and the leader of one tribe that grew into many. He was a warrior at heart, ferocious in battle and gentle in love. He, like you, had trophies and tales of his exploits, and proudly wore the scars of his triumphs."
Zahara "We were in love, for a time, but our lives were not meant to be bound that way and instead we became friends. Together we built great things, and gathered new friends around us. We had our fights, of course, for we were both ambitious and wished to do things each in our own way. But then one day an old folly came back to him, and chained the strength and goodness in his soul. He left, then, and I did not see him for many seasons
Zahara but I had always hoped to find a way to free him."
Zahara takes another long drink of ale.
Nesula listens intently, nodding (and sipping her drink) as Zahara tells the tale.
Nesula "The end of your tale is.... ominous."
Zahara sighs. "That is a good word for it."
Nesula turns down one side of her mouth and wrinkles her nose. "I'm... sorry to hear that." She looks at Zahara's face, turning her own at an angle for a different perspective. "So why have you come to tell me about it?"
Zahara notes Nesula's gaze "Because the great bear was slain, and we destroyed the chains he left behind." She obligingly lets her hood down, and exposing the beautifully intricate golden traceries of Orichalcum on her skin where once there were scars. She continues softly. "And because I have come here to find him, newly cleansed and reborn."
Nesula swallows her half-drunk sip of ale with a great gulp.
Zahara takes another measured sip of her ale and sets the mug down on the table.
Zahara "I hope you just had one of the more pleasant visions."
Nesula stands up with a start. "WHO ARE YOU?" she spits, her hair trailing out wildly from the sides of her head.
Zahara looks up at her calmly, and refills both of their mugs with sunlit ale from her fingertips. "I am Zahara Zhan, the Dreambreaker."
Nesula stares at the newly-revealed Zahara in shock for a moment, her eyes moving over a series of things that are clearly not there.
Zahara waits patiently for Nesula to recover, taking a sip from her mug.
Nesula sits back down, not speaking, an odd look on her face.
Zahara smiles ever so slightly. "Are you alright?"
Nesula looks back at Zahara for a moment and sets her expression. "Why did you come here?," she says, without a trace of humor.
Zahara "I told you already," she says softly. "I came to find my friend. I made a promise." She rubs her arm absently and takes another sip of the ale. "Your most recent memories of me are probably not the most pleasant. But I believe they were not truly you, unless you tell me otherwise."
Nesula stares, half-listening to Zahara's words.
Zahara "What do you see when you look at me?"
Nesula pauses for a long moment before answering. "An... empty cup."
Nesula She stands back up and simply stares again. "You need to leave."
Zahara shivers a little, taken aback. "Wait. I need to show you something first."
Zahara makes an arcane gesture known only to the Faerie and herself, and a fiery vase comes into being between her hands. "I haven't shown anyone else this since I won it back from the Faerie who ate my heart. It's not... I'm not empty anymore."
Nesula looks at the cup, and the bright liquid that fills it. She swallows.
Zahara stands, and bows to Nesula as one equal to another. "I will leave you now, if you wish. I am not difficult to find should you change your mind."
Nesula The look on Nesula's face is at once both awed and afraid.
Nesula She begins to speak, halts, and speaks again: "I...."
Nesula "...I'll... I'll be in touch."
Zahara returns the cup to her heart, lays a simple ring (one connected only to her) and a long black talon - one of Markuran's most prized trophies, on the table. "Be safe. And try not to destroy anything that claims it holds great evil in check." She smiles faintly, and then turns, walking out of the hut and into the sunshine.