Thirteen looks around Wasirru thoughtfully. "Was it always this dark in here?"
Lucent lights up his anima. "Well, now there's the reason why you didn't need eyes."
Thirteen "It will never be a tourist attraction, I fear."
Lucent "The Depths of the Imperial Mountain used to be. You just need enough light-crystals scattered about."
Thirteen says a last few goodbyes to the Wasirrans who came to see him, and to help him construct the port.
alsoquin The people of Wasirru bow deeply at the hero who freed them from the endless war with the Bone Dagger Kings. The port is an elegant and clever construct, cut into the side of the tree itself, that is sure to transform the existence of the people once more.
Imrama leans against the rail and muses to Lucent "Do you have any pressing plans for when we return to Meru, Lucent. There's an errand I want to run in the deep South, and I would be happy for some company."
Lucent "Well, we still have to go to the Underworld. I have been absent making preparations for our trek to meet the Neverborn. Glimpse and I had... interesting talks." He nods. "That is still a little ways away, however; No, I have nothing planned for now. Where in the South are you going?"
Imrama "I want to inspect the ruins of Gem. I never had the opportunity to visit the city before its destruction, and I am curious to see if anything can be made of its remnants."
Lucent "Ata'la really... overdid it, that time." He smiles. "Yes, let us go. I have not been in that place for... far, far too long. You coming with us, Thirteen?"
Thirteen "Why not?"
Imrama brings the Fable around in a broad arc, high above the adoring throng of Wassiruvians. Once pointed back through the gate in the side of the plane-tree, Imrama spurs the sunship on, and back to the former Imperial City.
Imrama On a path now solidified from pure chaos, the ship flies. The course is heavy with the flavor of wood, as the Fable plows through a sea of autumn leaves, across a great expanse of summer fruit, over an infinity of spring blossoms, and finally through a storm in which snow falls upward from the ground and into a beckoning sky. Finally, when the last flakes are gone, they arrive back in Meru.
alsoquin The ship emerges far above the city, in the spot Thirteen carefully selected; the Exalts can almost feel the Essence pathways crystallize and solidify around them as they complete the process of laying down the pathway between the two worlds.
Thirteen "We will need to devise some sort of protection for this end of the portal."
Imrama "I would suggest Zahara for that project - she is our fashioner of great works."
Thirteen "Mm." Thirteen does not look enthusiastic.
Lucent "Demons could work. Wards, as well. Maybe ask some God of Meru to watch over it."
Thirteen "Ideally, it would simply not activate without my presence."
Imrama "It might be possible to key some sort of barrier to the defense grid." Imrama suggests, as he turns the Fable to catch a South Westerly wind blowing around the great mountain of Meru.
Thirteen "I suppose I will simply have to investigate."
Lucent "That is a great idea, Imrama!"
Lucent "So, what are you hoping to find in the ruins?"
Imrama "I am not certain, but I suspect that I will know when I find it. Gem was once a powerful conjunction of dragon lines, and a source of great mineral resources. It seems to me that we will, at some point, need to contemplate new construction there."
Imrama guides his craft across the Blessed Isle, turning off the most direct route to avoid the First and Forsaken Lion's airspace. Then it is out across the Inland Sea, over coast and prairie and desert, and to the very root of the great crescent of mountains.
Thirteen "We may, as well, be able to salvage something from the late Lai Misuna's military encampments there."
Imrama Finally, the trio reach the great volcanic ruin that is their quarry.
alsoquin The remnants of what was once the city of Gem lies in ruins, far below the Fable's bow; the crystalline fragments of the city lie in pieces across the earth, and fill the furrough where Ata'la's tail once slept at the foot of the great volcano. (...)
alsoquin A certain darkness hangs over the ruins today, however; the unmistakable touch of necrotic Essence seems to have seeped into the city in the wake of its destruction.
Imrama surveys the sorry display with his eyes attuned to essence flows.
Lucent sighs, reciting a hushed prayer. "Well. We really should have given those people a funeral."
Thirteen "Here is our chance."
Lucent "Indeed. I will take care of purifying the place and honoring the dead, I suppose. You two can go ahead and explore."
alsoquin As Imrama gazes upon the city, he sees that the deathly taint, although present, is not as thick and all-encompassing as one might expect in the case of a full Shadowland. It seems to hang over the ruins like a blanket, rather than (at least, yet) filling every mote of its existence with the touch of dying.
Imrama "That is an excellent idea, Lucent. The proper rights may be enough to turn back the tide, before the Abyssal taint truly takes hold on this place. Thirteen - shall we search for whatever remains of the Lily's once proud fortress?" Imrama brings the Fable in to land.
Lucent "I will join you as soon as I am done." He nods. That should not take too long... for what would be a year-long ordeal for mundane priests could be executed by a Zenith in an afternoon. They would still need Salt and Wards later, however...
alsoquin Much of the remnants of the city are still visible -- streets, in between half-crushed buildings; signs of commerce, crushed into the dirt; a single fruit cart, miraculously undamaged, though its apples are rotten and stenchful.
alsoquin The taint gives the city's ruins an uncomfortable, unsettling feel, but not at all the full-blown feeling of an entirely-developed Shadowland.
alsoquin Imrama notices one thing as he sets down to look at the city's ruins... someone has been here. /Recently./ A few disturbances in the dust, and oddly disturbed objects, point to a path of movement from these outskirts, into the center of the ruins.
Imrama "Thirteen - I believe I descern a trail among the wreckage. There," Imrama points, "Do you see it, leading deeper into the city?"
Thirteen "Perhaps you should investigate that, while I hold the perimeter."
Imrama "Very well." Imrama follows the trail, on guard for whatever may stir among the ruins.
alsoquin The path leads Imrama through the ruins of the city, past crumbled buildings and flattened neighborhoods, towards the great gouge at the heart of the city, where Ata'la's tail ripped straight out of the ground.
Imrama thinks to himself as he surveys the devastation How many souls found an end to their poor, misguided incarnations in this trench-grave?
alsoquin The death-Essence seems to be thicker here, almost as if it is flowing into the world from deep within the trench. The tracks also seem to grow thicker here -- whoever left them seems to have ducked into a few of the nearby half-intact buildings before fleeing further down the trench.
Imrama follows the path into the death-radiating crevasse.
alsoquin At one end, there's something a little surprising what looks like almost a miniature Shadowland, or a tear in the fabric of the world from Meru into Netheos, just about large enough for one relatively large human being to crawl through.
alsoquin The death Essence in the area seems to be seeping out directly from this tear. (...)
alsoquin A little ways from the hole, Imrama sees a little something that seems to have been left behind by someone rather recently a small scrap of brown cloth, wrapped around a diamond the size of a small egg.
Imrama picks up and inspects the bundle of cloth and gem.
alsoquin The cloth looks like it was torn from a larger piece, and Imrama sees evidence of both bloodstains and charring on it. The diamond, on the other hand, is utterly flawless.
Imrama considers the cloth, and the diamond, and the hole in the world leading through into Netheos. ::Lucent - how is that ritual of peaceful rest coming along?::
Lucent ::Coming along. I think I may be done in a couple of hours.::
Imrama steels himself, and makes the obvious choice. ::Very well. I just thought I should check in to tell you I am about to do something ill-advised.::
Imrama pokes his head through the portal, to see what he can see.
Lucent ::I will come after you as soon as I can!::
alsoquin Imrama feels a strange, disorienting feeling -- almost like passing out while remaining conscious -- as his head juts up from a blackened plain in Netheos and looks out over the Underworld. (...)
alsoquin Far above he sees the red sun of the Underworld, burning with ferocious fervor; on the ground below, black duststorms and half-decayed huts of ashen adobe spread out in every direction, while in the space where Ata'la's volcano stood is a vast mountain alight with the cold burning of gravefire.
alsoquin The faint hints of a trail seem to lead off to the north.
Imrama pulls his head back through the portal. ::Lucent, I think that your ritual may need to occur later than expected...and our trip to Netheos may need to occur earlier than expected.::
Lucent ::I... suppose I can do just simple honors to them. Can you come back, then, and wait for me to do a last eulogy before I join you?: Lucent's words seem... strange. As if he was in pain, or had been crying.
Imrama ::Certainly.: Imrama heads back to Lucent's location.
Lucent Lucent walked through the ruins, watching the dead forlornly. "We forgot about you. I am sorry. There are reasons, but no explanations. We failed." His pace was slow, his steps hard, soiling his boots as he drew a circle on the ground. "It may seem like we do not care, but we do. We do. I do not know your names, but I will find out. And I will mourn each and every one of you."
Lucent "But thanks to you, the Lily was defeated here. Thanks to you, Hesiesh was warned, and the Dragons awakened. Through your acrifices... Creation was saved. But that does not make it right." Tears flowing free from his eyes as he finished the line, and the great symbol of Zenith emcompassed the city. Glowing with molten gold, his light touching anything and everything upon the broken city.
Lucent The Coronal spread from him, sending their lights upon them all. "Heaven knows who you are."
Lucent "Heaven cares."
Lucent "And it is sorry."
Lucent The Orbs absorbed everything... every feeling of every dead person upon the city. And as they dove into Lucent to form the Adamant Sun, they came with their pain, a pain which Lucent felt, the pain of ten thousand deaths. With their pain wracking his flesh and his soul, he walked to the center of the city, burning ghosts as he went, the Circle of Samsara he had traced covering everything with his anima... "Through your sacrifice, Creation w
Lucent "You will never be forgotten."
Lucent "Hear me, Heaven! Hear the words of Lucent Copper Haze! It is Saints I send to thee! It is Saints, hallowed by their sacrifice, that will grace the Wheels of Letheon! Through their pain, they were saved! May they be REBORN AS KINGS OF THIS WORLD!" The light spread from Lucent, his anima touching all of the city. And there was nothing but light.
Lucent "Through your sacrifice, Creation was saved. Through your sacrifice, the Ebon Dragon was twarted. Through your sacrifice, the Sun shone upon Calibration."
Lucent [00:32] <Lucent> "You will never be forgotten."
Lucent [00:32] <Lucent> "Hear me, Heaven! Hear the words of Lucent Copper Haze! It is Saints I send to thee! It is Saints, hallowed by their sacrifice, that will grace the Wheels of Letheon! Through their pain, they were saved! May they be REBORN AS KINGS OF THIS WORLD!" The light spread from Lucent, his anima touching all of the city. And there was nothing but light.
Imrama "Stirring oration, Lucent. You would do honor to any life with such a eulogy. Come, let us see who has crossed from this place into the Underworld." Imrama leads Lucent back to the rent between worlds, and through it, leaving a mirror of himself behind at the ship, to keep Thirteen company.
Imrama Once on the other side of the portal, Imrama resumes following the faint path through the desolate landscape.
alsoquin The land of the dead is quiet, and cold, despite the great fires that burn on the horizon, and which dot the mountain to the west. The trail leads on, bending and weaving for some time, crossing a dry riverbed, and crossing over into another patch of adobe huts. (...)
alsoquin The trail leads past the doors of four such buildings before stopping, dead set, at the door of another.
Imrama Drawing arms, Imrama girds himself for war. He motions Lucent to take up position behind him, and kicks in the door.
Lucent does not prepare for battle yet, but waits behind Imrama.
alsoquin The inside of the building is simple and poorly-kept, fitting for the houses of the dead. A rotting, colorless table sits between two cracked stone stools; a bed of hay lies at one side. But no being, living or dead, currently occupies the house. (...)
SsithumiAnTohatep Imrama can tell, however, that something was... "living" here quite recently.
Imrama "Someone or something has been here recently." Imrama reaches out with his Essence, and presents a mystical challenge to that unknown former resident.
Lucent "How recently?"
Imrama "Within the past week."
Imrama makes an inspection of the abandoned hovel, looking for any clues that might lead him onward.
SsithumiAnTohatep Imrama looks up and down the building's length. There is not much here -- ghostly skins of ectomorphic animals, a small cache of underworld jade -- but deep within the bed of hay, Imrama finds two objects, each unambiguously real:
SsithumiAnTohatep a tarnished metal pin, its black background overlaid by an opalescent blue pattern like two birds meeting in midflight; and an intricate, beautifully rendered map of Netheos' sky, the harsh red sun at its center surrounded by the strange stars of the dead.
Lucent "Wait a..."
Lucent steps in, reaching for the pin... "I know this. This is the Shadeborn's..."
Lucent But what was its name? Its significance? It was one of the Shadeborn Castes... which is far too much coincidence for them to meet, in this place, in this age. He tried to remember, throughout his old life, Jupiter floating off of the coronal like a little cherub whispering memories on his ear...
Lucent "This is the Caste Mark of a Shadeborn. Remember when I told you about them? Pluto's Chosen?"
Lucent "That Incarna I wished to recover..."
SsithumiAnTohatep It comes back to Lucent, a half-remembered detail from many years ago Eridanos, the first river, the caste of Remembrance.
Lucent "This is the symbol of the Eridanos Caste. The First River, those who remember. Like Air or Dawn or Journeys, the first to come in their cycle." Lucent handles it back to Imrama. "... and the first we find..."
Imrama "Strange. Not for its location in space, of course, but in time."
Lucent "They were gone and barely remembered in the Great Age... just artistic inspiration for paintings, for buildings, for works dealing with Netheos." He nods. "I thought *nothing* of them was left. This is barely even the same Netheos that birthed them..."
SsithumiAnTohatep As Lucent speaks, there is a faint sound, like something pawing very gently at the door.
Lucent "Come in." In such a strange situation, what ELSE was he supposed to say?
SsithumiAnTohatep After a moment, the pawing seems to achieve its objective, and the door quietly creaks open. (...)
SsithumiAnTohatep A tall, lanky-looking spirit, clad in rather disheveled clothing matching what one from some distance north of here might wear, and a rather comically broad hat, steps in, a small ghostly dog held on a leash in one hand, and walks with an overly affected look of terror over to stare into Imrama's eyes.
SsithumiAnTohatep Imrama sees that the man's name is Hejel Oakendoor, and the dog's name is Muffin.
Imrama "Hejel Oakendoor, I am Imrama Stormfound, and this is Lucent Copper Haze. We would like to talk to you about the ruins of Gem, and also about this." Imrama indicates the pin of the Eridanos caste with one hand while holding out his other to Muffin.
SsithumiAnTohatep "I, um, er... uh...." He mumbles for a moment, until Muffin yaps loudly and seems to bring him somewhat back to his senses. "Oh! You... would?"
Lucent "Yes. This is a very... interesting pin. How have you come accross it, Hejel?"
SsithumiAnTohatep Muffin walks forward and rubs its head against Imrama's outstretched hand, producing a slightly unsettling experience for the Eclipse.
SsithumiAnTohatep "Oh, yes, well, um, that." He says. "Please, uh, sit, uh, by the way," and he gestures to the table. "I've... I've been dead for about fifty years, you see. Lived here with, uh, with, uh, Muffin here." The dog yips cheerfully again at mention of its name.
SsithumiAnTohatep "Not, uh, not too long ago a, um... a lot of... new dead people? Came through here. Said, uh, something about Gem? I guess."
SsithumiAnTohatep "One of them, uh, he came through here, made me tell him all about, uh, everything I knew about what was going on...."
Phoenix` is now known as willows
Lucent "And what was that?"
SsithumiAnTohatep "Not, uh, much. It's pretty... quiet, er, except when a lot of people die in Gem, I guess."
Lucent sighs, sadly. "And was this person from Gem who gave you the pin?"
SsithumiAnTohatep "Uh, yes. He came back a few weeks ago, uh, and told me he forgot something. On, you know." He leans over to Lucent's ear and whispers loud. "The OTHER SIDE."
SsithumiAnTohatep Standing up straight again, he continues. "Last week, uh, he came back, all beat up. He gave me, uh, that stuff -- were you, uh, looking through my bed, that's not very polite -- uh, he gave me that stuff in case he came back." He stops to think. "Wait, uh. That doesn't make any sense."
Imrama "Can you describe this person, or tell us anything about what he crossed over to retrieve?"
SsithumiAnTohatep "He was, uh, big."
Lucent slides a few inches away. ::He is... peculiar.::
SsithumiAnTohatep "He, uh, didn't really tell me what he was looking for. But he was, uh, kind of beat up. When he came back through, that is. He, uh, he ran off after we fixed him up a little."
Imrama ::Very. But death is a difficult experience for the psyche in the best of circumstances.::
Lucent "Hmmm, 'we'? You and who else?" Maybe someone more... lucid.
Lucent "Hmmm, 'we'? You and who else?" Maybe someone more... lucid.
SsithumiAnTohatep "Oh, just me and Muffin." Yip! "Muffin is, uh, real good at helping folks out, is all." Yip!
Lucent sighs. "What was the... hair color, of this big man? Eye color? Any... symbols on his skin?"
SsithumiAnTohatep "Oh, he didn't have any hair."
You are now known as Hejel
Lucent "Hmmm. And, um, symbols? Armor? Clothes?" This was... frustrating. Where's Cerin when you need him?
Imrama While Lucent struggles to extract information from Hejel, Imrama tries the dog. He bends down to rub the creatures head asks says quietly, "What about you, Muffin - can you tell me anything about the stranger from Gem?"
Hejel Yip! Muffin nuzzles Imrama's hand, then moves over to tug at one of Imrama's pockets -- the one in which he had placed the scrap of brown cloth he had found in Gem. "Oh!" Hejel says, seemingly startled into vague coherence again. "Yeah, uh, he was wearing something that looked... a lot like that scrap there!"
Imrama produces the cloth, and allows Muffin to sniff at it.
Hejel Muffin sniffs with eagerness. Yip!
Lucent sighs, then watches. Hejel was not... a very good witness.
Lucent "Going to have the dog follow its trail?'
Imrama "If Muffin will lead, I will follow." Imrama considers the cloth in his hands its details and features.
Hejel Yip! Muffin takes off at a fast clip, right out the door of the tiny adobe hut.
Imrama gives chase.
Lucent chuckles. "So, Hejel... wish to come with us and your pup?" He asks, walking behind Imrama
Hejel "Oh, um, er...." he trails off in the distance. If Hejel reaches a decision about whether to follow, he does not do so before the Solars are beyond hearing his answer.
Hejel The dog leads them through dusty plains and empty riverbeds, across blackened volcanic hills and vast dunes shaped by absent winds, until eventually it stops at the top of a particularly large dune and looks out towards something below, panting happily.
Imrama catches up to Muffin and gives him a pat on the head, tracking the ghost-dog's gaze to his quarry.
Hejel Nestled in a valley between the dunes is what looks like an altar in a state of disrepair, carved of one great piece of white stone. (...)
Hejel A flat square patio, perhaps twenty feet on a side, is cracked and broken by the ravages of time... or something else. At one end, a slab of the same white rock rises up six feet from the ground, ending in a large piece carved into a shape exactly like that on the tarnished medal, which seems to cast a red-edged shadow upon the patio.
Lucent slides down the dune, running to the Altar... an altar to Pluto? Is it?
Hejel As Lucent steps into the shadow cast upon the patio, he sees a sight similar, at least, to that the altar was built to deliver -- the crimson, spinning mass of Abaddon, the red sun that stares down unchanging from the roof of Netheos, perfectly framed by the edges of the symbol,
Hejel and the greenish, waving path of Eridanos stretching upwards and outwards from it across the sky.
Hejel Imrama sees that the altar is known as Pluto's First Rest.
Imrama comes down into the valley beside Lucent. "This place is called 'Pluto's First Rest.' Do your understandings of the Incarna and the worship thereof offer any insight as to its purpose?"
Lucent "Maybe..." Lucent touches the altar, thinking... looking up. "A river in the sea of stars. River Eridanos, one of many? First River, First Rest? If Eridanos is the first river, and this is where Pluto rests first... rest... pehaps this was where he first fell? When the Neverborn destroyed him?"
Lucent "Maybe if we find the other five altars, then... we could get a clue on what happenned to him. If there is a body, if there is still anything left..." Lucent hmmms, touching the altar, throwing conjectures around, the light of jupiter giving him answers...
Hejel The altar seems attuned to now long-gone flows of Essence, that once would have flooded outwards from the light of Netheos' Incarna along the elegant lines of the sky-river, much like an altar in Creation might be positioned to catch the first light of dawn. (...)
Hejel After a moment's thought, Lucent thinks he might be able to put together where the other such altars might lie in the wastes of the Underworld, if he looks over that map of the skies....
Lucent "This is an altar for him, yes. A line of essence that'll draw prayer towards him. But one of the main ones. I know where to find the others... and, with Cerin, or Zahara... we can probably use that line to pinpoint where Pluto himself is." He breaks into a big smile, and hugs Imrama! "WE CAN FIND PLUTO!"
Imrama "Excellent news, Lucent. Not at all among the things I thought might be found by visiting Gem, but well worth the trip. Perhaps we have reached a point where we should return to Meru, and catch our companions up on all that we now know?"
Lucent "We should do it RIGHT NOW. We will need them..."
Lucent "... and this is being far too easy."