Rannath Ikara practices her katas in silence, her starmetal daiklave cleaving the air of the (oft-empty, of late) Second Cascade Dojo.
Thirteen walks in silently, a piece of paper in his hand, and superciliously observes Ikara's work, waiting for a pause.
Rannath Ikara completes a rather elaborate arc, pauses in momentary meditation, and then turns to the person who has entered. "Yes?"
Phoenix` walks in slightly less silently, carrying a messy bundle of wooden weapons. "Oh, pardon me, I thought it was...unoccupied...in here."
Thirteen "I have come to discuss the Flowers with you." He makes a perfunctory bow, and steps onto the mat. "Keep your back foot down in future."
Thirteen "Oh, hello, Phoenix."
Rannath Ikara nods slightly. "That was not an unreasonable expectation. No one has used this dojo in three months." She ignores Thirteen's advice, but addresses him: "That is wise of you; no one else will be able to tell you what I can."
Thirteen stands across from Ikara, and extends the rolled up paper in his hand in a probing attack. "Have you heard of a man named Rannath of the Spear?"
Phoenix` puts down the weapons and leans against the wall. "...?"
Rannath Ikara nods, unhappily. "Imrama spoke to me of him. He was a member of this circle once, yes?"
Rannath Ikara ducks to one side of the paper and steps forward, aiming to put Thirteen off-balance.
Thirteen lets go of the paper, and it swoops around to strike her from behind while he traps and redirects her hands. He gives Phoenix a look.
Thirteen "They believed him to be, yes."
Phoenix` "That was a hoot. I'll read you the stories sometime."
Thirteen "I am concerned that he remains within our walls, in disguise."
Thirteen "This worries me both for what he could accomplish and for what he wishes to -- what would drive a Sidereal to act against us in this wise, contrary to what Herons, and you, have assured us?"
Rannath Ikara allows her hands to painlessly disjoint at Thirteen's grasp and thereby drop below his strike, before leaping back up with a shoulder strike at his midsection, her unjointed hands still held firmly in his grasp.
Rannath "I suspect that he may be one of the Five Who Are Fallen," she says, "Sidereals whose heavenly Essences fled our keeping in ages past and whose actions we can neither track nor explain."
Thirteen steps up onto Ikara's knee, moving with her strike to end in the same position, then onto her back.
Thirteen "You cannot track him? Does that mean you cannot help us locate him? We believe him to be within the Manse."
Rannath Ikara drops to the ground, and into a roll maneuver, seeking to dislodge Thirteen. "We cannot track their persons, but... we have learned ways to penetrate some of their deceits, and find their traces. If he has acted within this Manse, we can find the proof."
Phoenix` "Hm. Supposing he is in the Manse. What would one do to flush out a rat?"
Thirteen walks across Ikara's back as she rolls, remaining atop her, and grinds his heel lightly. "Movement is not sufficient. You must sever the connection."
Thirteen "Phoenix's thoughts mirror my own."
Rannath Ikara holds out one hand to grab one of the variety of wooden weapons Phoenix had carried in, and sweeps it across her back, waiting for Thirteen to jump in avoidance. "It depends on how you wish to proceed."
Rannath "If you drive to a conflict immediately, he may act to inflict maximized damage before fleeing. But if we merely seek to gather information without acting, he may be able to implement some vile plan."
Phoenix` "My suspicion is that whatever vile plans he has are already in motion, including one where he is able to implement maximised damage at minimal notice."
Phoenix` "Which means that that is not a line of reasoning that will lead to a conclusion anytime soon."
Thirteen steps on Ikara's wrist, planting the other on her head, and stoops to seize the weapon with one hand, putting the piece of paper to her neck with the other. "Our goal is to seize and interrogate him. We may take whatever path will lead most directly to that resolution, without fear of consequences. We can contain those."
Thirteen "Have you had enough practice for one day? There is work to be done."
Rannath Ikara rises without comment on the fighting. "Yes. Is there a nearby cliff or bluff that overlooks the manse?"
Thirteen steps politely off of Ikara as she rises, and dusts his feet. "Certainly."
Rannath An hour later, after a rather long and elaborate divining ritual involving a snake, three bouquets of flowers, and a four foot glass pyramid, Ikara leads the way through the Cascade, before eventually standing in front of a door:
Rannath a totally standard storage room door, featureless except for the image of a rose drawn upon it in old blood.
Thirteen "Phoenix? Would you be so good as to put a hole in the wall approximately ten feet in that direction?"
Phoenix` considers for a moment, pulls a few of the wooden practice weapons out of their quiver, and gives the wall a hearty whack.
Rannath The stone caves under her assault, just as intended. (One can almost imagine Zahara, miles away, screaming "My slate!")
Rannath The room within is much like many rooms in the Cascade, its walls made of simply-hewn stone and undecorated. A single bed sits in it. But the other things in the room are quite a bit stranger. (...)
Rannath Elaborate Essence diagrams of innumerable people and things, drawn in fine, scratchwork ink upon thin paper, line the walls from floor to ceiling. A single potted purple nightshade sits on a single table in one corner, while on the floor itself three distinct miniature planetariums tick away the moments. (...)
Rannath And one closet, in the corner of the room, sits slightly ajar. No individual, however, can be seen within it.
Thirteen "Block the hole."
Thirteen "Ikara, watch the door."
Thirteen steps through the hole and approaches the closet.
Phoenix` sort of hangs out just inside the hole.
Rannath Thirteen checks all the most basic things one might do entering a strange place: checking the dust, examining the array of objects, casting about up and down, listening for sounds.
Rannath He picks out the signs that someone has left through the door within the last hour, and notices the still-lit candle and half-packed sack of food that suggest someone will be returning shortly. He also notices the signs of a number of objects being swiftly shoved into the closet.
Phoenix` "So. What do we set on fire first?"
Thirteen "Patience. He is returning within the next ten minutes."
Thirteen ::Zahara. An unfortunate accident has damaged a wall near me. Can you repair it from there?::
Phoenix` ::That is not exactly my favorite nickname, Thirteen.::
Thirteen ::I apologize, Phoenix. I was attempting to be diplomatic. Did I err?::
Thirteen "Phoenix, Ikara, please conceal yourselves within the vicinity and prepare to swoop upon the next person to leave this room."
Phoenix` ::No worries. Concealing underway!::
Thirteen walks towards the closet, stepping in the preexisting footprints, and opens the door slightly as a prelude to stepping inside.
Phoenix` conceals herself in a pile of clothes.
zahara ::What? What did you do?:: Her voice is not the most pleased he has ever heard it, but she exerts her connection to the manse through the Hearthstone, to feel the gap in the wall, and pauses... ::That... room wasn't there before, was it?:: The Cascade shudders slightly and a the wall shifts and slams into place, a slightly ragged edge the only evidence the hole was there.
Rannath Inside the closet are two rather large, unwiedly objects recently shoved within: a child's hobby horse, its head disturbingly but lovingly rendered; and a large silver cudgel, shiny and spotless except the single, giant bloodstain upon one side.
Rannath As the cudgel catches Phoenix's eye, something tugs at her mind for a moment, until suddenly, she finds her attention flung headlong into the past.
Phoenix` ::Well, that's the neat thing that we were going to tell you. See, it TOTALLY WAS there before.::
Thirteen ::Someone has been hiding it from you.::
Rannath She remembers, in a time alike and unalike to now, wakening, a rumbling and shaking disrupting her sleep.
Rannath She remembers walking to the hallway, searching about for her fellows, but finding no response through her ring.
Rannath Then, she sees the man at the end of the hallway, someone she had not seen for so long. "Rannath?" she spoke. "We had started to assume you had never existed!"
Rannath The man walked closer. Though he had always maintained an immaculate appearance, he was clad in tattered red rags, his golden armor nowhere to be seen. "Oh, but I've come back!" He says. "To aid you in this crisis."
Rannath She turns to follow him. "Just... through here," he says. "Open the door. The treasure that can save us all is in here," he says.
Rannath She places her hand upon the panel... the door slides open... and darkness, and wetness, and pain, radiate out from the back of her head... and cruel laughter fills her senses.
Rannath And with that, Phoenix finds herself violently back in the present.
Phoenix` shakes her head. "Hey Thirteen do you remember a time when Birds had a mysterious headache?"
zahara ::What?! Gods damn it all. I need a new Manse.::
Phoenix` ::I am sure we can find one out in the new frontiers of the world! Maybe it can have...small, harmless animals.::
Thirteen "Hm? When Imrama appeared, and Cerin became Infernal, I remember you having an unexplained head injury, yes."
Phoenix` "You see that club? I think that's what he hit us with."
zahara ::Ha. Perhaps I shall build one while I am here.::
Thirteen "We shall take him to task for it, when he returns."
Rannath Ikara positions herself in a manner utterly unobservable to all, and properly hidden, the three wait.
Rannath It is seven minutes before the door slowly creaks open.
Rannath The man who walks in is an unspeakably ugly man, and his red robes hang loose upon his body. His rough fingers have the remnants of unwashed bloodstains upon them, and in one hand he carries a small box that also leaks blood. (...)
Rannath He places it down carefully, and his eyes are drawn to the closet. He pauses.
Thirteen abruptly realizes that he is glowing, and grumbles to himself.
Rannath With a single motion, the one who goes by Rannath whips two jaggedly serrated starmetal daggers, set into hilts of blackened bone, from beneath his cloak and adopts an unholy kata stance.
Thirteen "That is an extremely inefficient way to beg for mercy. I urge you to reconsider."
Rannath "I have never begged," he says, in a surprisingly quiet voice. "I will not begin today."
Thirteen "You are most likely correct. It will take some time for Zahara to warm up."