Imrama Like some mammoth bird made of solid gold, the Fable of the Reconstruction flies out of the Eastern Sun, deeper and deeper into the desert of the great South West. Below, the sand dunes stretch out in every direction.
Lucent "They will be very angry with us, you know." He looks at the dunes... "We... pretty much ripped them apart."
Zahara stands near the bow, hands resting lightly on the rail. "Well, we did ask first. One shouldn't base one's society on a stolen artifact, really."
Imrama "It is a new age, Lucent. We must all of us do our best to reconcile what has come before with what is. Left unchecked, they will consume our world, and do far, far worse to us than we ever did to them."
Lucent "It is, and I agree, Quicksilver Falcon. But... I am just warning you all to remember that."
Lucent "This is going to be rough."
Zahara smiles slightly. "It should be interesting, in any case."
alsoquin As the vessel proceeds through the air, from even quite a great distance away a thing can be seen that is not normal for the depths of the Southern desert: vast columns of blackened smoke, rising up to the sky.
Lucent grinds his teeth. "... well, now we are also even. They cannot do that to the Sands."
Zahara puts a calming hand on Lucent's shoulder. "Imrama, can you hide us and fly us over so we can see what we're dealing with?"
Imrama "Certainly, Empress." A ripple of even brighter light washes over the Fable, and in its wake, the ship takes on the colors of the sky.
alsoquin The Fable, invisible to all eyes, moves closer to take a good look at the source of these fires.
alsoquin What the Solars see is artifice and construction, spread out from a central spot like plague lines spreading from an infected canker. (...)
alsoquin At its center is a vast edifice, the stone head of a bald man, tilted back and mouth open as if screaming, and great blod-red gems forming his eyes; it sits, almost a third of a mile in diameter. (...)
alsoquin Around it has sprung up a makeshift city of angular, metal-and-glass huts divided by obsidian roads burnt into the sand itself. The settlement is filled with throngs of persons, moving about in a constant state of activity,
alsoquin and many -- far more than the Solars might have expected -- Exalts of the Alchemical form, their bodies transformed into the Magical Materials and blades of glimmering Adamant in their hands. (...)
alsoquin At the outskirts of the city, soldiers tend vast metal burners into which adamant-chained earth elementals funnel vast quantities of rock, for similarly imprisoned fire elementals to smelt -- unleashing the vast quantities of smoke -- while Alchemicals stand at the ready, weaving the resultant lava into buildings and tools, expanding the borders of the city bit by bit. (...)
alsoquin And at the northern end of the city, a vast highway -- like the obsidian roads of the city, but a thousand times wider -- stretches outwards, as another group of Alchemicals drive vast firebulls forward to create it; (...)
alsoquin On its outskirts patrol outriders mounted on great mechanical spiders or strange quicksilver beasts, while to each side yet more Atomnosi tend to catapults, ballistae, automata soldiers, Thousand-Forged Dragons, great bird-replicas cast in starmetal and blue jade, and a thousand other terrifying weapons of war.
Zahara "Huh. I wasn't particularly expecting to see that."
Imrama "They are a people of artifice, girded for war. I am not sure what else we might have expected to find."
Zahara "Well, the army, yes. The city... I was rather hoping they'd be a bit more cut off from their supplies."
Lucent "Interesting aesthetic." Lucent nods, visibly angry. "More power than I expected..."
Imrama "Regardless, we cannot talk to them from here. Knowing what we now know of their military and industrial power, I propose that our next step is to approach and request parley."
Imrama parks the Fable in a column of smoke, and begins walking leisurely down towards the nexus of construction.
Lucent follows Imrama, taking sight of his surroundings and closing his nose. All the little Incarna about him complain about the smoke, and the Zenith symbol shines on his brow... ready to let his words stop any possible conflict.
Zahara follows them down as well, taking in the grand workings of the Atomnosians with her Essence sight, and looking for any familiar...faces. Or tentacles.
alsoquin As the Solars descend, the nearby Atomnosi look up towards them in surprise, though thanks to years of careful conditioning, they do not panic; the designated reporters quietly pause their work to quickly notify the nearest Exalts of the new arrivals.
Imrama reaches the ground and waits patiently for the authorities to arrive. He begins smoking to pass the time.
alsoquin Within moments of reaching the ground, a contingent of Exalts have arrived to "greet" the Solars. At their lead is a smoothly-flowing, quicksilver creature who Imrama sees is known as Ezekiel, the Last Unearthed, and his blade is held out in a clearly ready state.
Imrama taps out his pipe and puts it away before making eye-contact with the exalt at the front. "Good day to you and your fellows, Ezekiel. We are three of the Circle of the Sunlands. We have come on behalf of the Exalted Deliberative to speak with your leadership."
Lucent "It is an honor to meet you, denizens of Atomnos. We come from the Sunlands to talk about present, and our future." Lucent bows, the incarna floating about him all bowing in turn. Mars, however, pouts.
Ezekiel` does not lower his blade. "You have stepped onto land wrought in the name of the Maker, visitor, and so your life is forfeit. However, we are a merciful people. You may state a specific purpose for your visit and depart within fifteen minutes, and thusly be spared."
Imrama 's anima errupts in a bonfire of essence. His now familiar sash appears, naming his rank and waves of supernatural authority begin to flow off of him like a fearsome heat.
Ezekiel` does not flinch, though some of those behind him visibly squint their eyes or give away their astonishment with involuntary muscle movements.
Lucent ::I imagine that this is the South, Most Holy Land of the Sun, and that he should have his iron heart ripped out and offered to the Sun would not be the most diplomatic of things to say. So I am not. But duly note I wish to.::
Imrama Despite the lightstorm of clockwork birds surrounding him, Imrama's voice remains calm and even. "My name is Imrama Stormfound. I and my companions have come neither to make threats, nor to indulge them. We have come, however, to speak with the person or persons in authority in this settlement. Will you take us to them, or have we reached an impass?"
Imrama ::So noted, my friend.::
Ezekiel` "By what right do you demand to speak with the War-Cardinal?"
Lucent "Our right as Champions of Creation, holding the Mandate of Heaven and spearheading the rebirth of the Solar Deliberative, as the greatest power upon this plane. This is our right, and as such, as wish to speak to them, to weave you into the Most Holy Tapestry of our Plane."
Ezekiel` stops to consider the matter for a moment, and turns his head as if listening to a far-distant voice. After a long silence, he lowers -- but does not sheathe -- his sword. "You shall be granted a brief audience."
Ezekiel` guides the Solars towards one building in particular near the great head: a tall, five-cornered building of jet-black glass, studded with tiny desert rubies, and with a grand cathedral door entrance. He and the other Exalts stand ready to the sides of the door, and he nods to Imrama. "Enter."
Imrama bows courteously to the threatening Alchemical, and enters the building.
Lucent walks behind Imrama, the Incarna as mere crystal globes once more, orbiting him defensively.
Ezekiel` Within, the room is dark and forboding -- there is only a faint light from guttering torches. At the center lies a great obsidian table, upon which a glass-wrought reproduction of the South of Meru lies, the mark of Atomnos visible upon it. (...)
Ezekiel` On either side, staircases of black run up to a dais sitting at one corner of the pentagram, where in a metal chair sits a being wrought of jagged, angular slabs of Soulsteel, the faint traces of ancient beings' ghosts sliding across his surfaces. (...)
Ezekiel` He has the shape of a man, but would stand easily nine feet tall, and practically churns with immense Essence; his face is a set mask of unusually smooth metal, and two red pinpoints form his eyes. He sits back, unmoving, as the Solars enter: (...)
Ezekiel` and Imrama sees that his name is Caleb, Who Has Gone Beyond.
Imrama bows low, rises back up to his full height, and holds out a piece of prayer linen with the Old Realm glyphs indicating a peaceful meeting on the eve of war - in doing so he follows a diplomatic etiquette no being has observed in a thousand years.
Lucent naturally uses the same etiquette, but waits for his companions to speak.
Caleb stands up to his full, dramatically vast height, and performs a ritual response suggesting his willingness to keep to such a peaceful meeting -- but gives the Solars the first word.
Imrama "War-Bishop Caleb, my companions and I would wish to greet you as a guest of our world, but as you no doubt recognize, your behavior as a guest has been appalling. We would greet you as a brother, a fellow Exalt, but I sense that your religion does not permit you to acknowledge our kinship. And yet, we do not with to greet you as our enemy, for we grow tired of needless war."
Imrama "So we come to speak, to learn what we can of your position, and to express what you will hear of ours."
Zahara stands somewhat behind Imrama and Lucent, watching the proceedings silently with her hands folded behind her back.
Caleb walks down the lefthand staircase to stand before -- and above -- the Solars. When he speaks, it is a low voice, with a sound of metal grinding against metal.
Caleb He enunciates slowly, letting the painful sound of his voice carry its full weight. "We have come to craft a new home, and a new veneration of the Vast Maker, from this world, after the sinews of our world were cut by the people of yours."
Imrama "I understand that some of my fellows caused a...disruption in your homeland. While I know that this was in the course of an effort that ultimately served the interests of all peoples, both yours and mine, I do regret the trouble it has caused you. But I do not understand what calamity could have befallen your world that you see the need to come, with malice, to ours."
Zahara ::Perhaps it would be good to know how much land they are actually seeking.::
Caleb "Our world is fallen," he says. "The illness rots away its foundation. The taint of demons cracks the very base of the great nations and brings untimely death to the people in the streets."
Caleb Zahara senses only earnest motivation in him: to conquer Meru in the service of his Primordial lord.
Lucent frowns. That was... bad. "Pehaps we can help. An illness is something that can be cured."
Imrama "Indeed, War-Cardinal. We wish an outcome that permits life and its fulfillment to the peoples of both our worlds. I believe that we can find such a path, together."
Caleb pauses for a moment. "The greatest of the Apothecaries and Theurges have done naught to repel the sickness at Atomnos' heart. All the knowledge of five thousand years grants us nothing to save ourselves but the path written in the Sky-Fires: to slouch across the face of the heart-world and take its wealth for ourselves."
Imrama "Tell me, how is your current campaign benefiting those who languish on your home plane?"
Caleb "The Essence we convey to our home shall heal its wounds and restore the prosperity of the Maker. We battle only in honor of his glorious Name."
Imrama "Do you mean that, in this time of planar schism, you are still able to transfer Essence and material across the gulf between worlds?"
Caleb "We do," he says, and leans back, visibly declining to elaborate.
Imrama "I see."
Imrama ::Go to plan 'ba':: Imrama sends the instruction out through his ring, and hands in a room a continent away work the controls of the Realm Defense Grid. All across the heart of the Atomnosian settlement, glowing discs open in the air, and from them fall like starving locusts, the Princes of the Fallen Tower.
Caleb From outside, a great commotion arises of screaming and the clash -- and destruction -- of materials outside the walls of the chamber they are in. "What have you done?" Caleb speaks, without alarm but with clear displeasure.
Lucent Had he been any other follower of the Solar Gospel and the Mandate of Heaven, Lucent would be giggling like a deranged village boy, or issuing pronouncements of victory made over wide gestures and mingling with his peers. But he was Lucent Copper Haze, He Who Avoided the Wolf. And thus, he only nods. A smug nod, but a nod nonetheless.
Imrama "Only what your actions necessitated. It was clear from our discourse that you did not understand the extent of our power, and thus did not appreciate us as bargaining partners. It was therefore necessary to make a demonstration. In this, I have taken utmost care to respect the lives of your people - a consideration, I might add, that you have not shown to the creatures of our world."
Zahara just smiles slightly, listening to the chaos beyond the walls.
Caleb After a few moments, a sound like that of a glass harmonica begins to fill the air, followed by a loud whoosh, followed by a series of (relatively harmonious) zaps, all added to the still-continuing screams, weapon-blows, and sounds of metal crumbling.
Caleb "Then you court war unending," he says, with the tone of a question.
Imrama "If you insist on remaining in this world as conquerors, we will have no choice but to make war with you. Then we will fight, and you will die, and neither of us will be any happier for it. But if you and your people will accept a different title, to take on a generous share of this world and to allow us to lend our might to the project of repairing Atomnos - then both of us my prosper, and...
Imrama ...neither of us need perish."
Caleb The screaming, and the sounds of collapsing, both have almost entirely ceased outside, though the sound of lasers and the melodic humming continue.
Caleb "Tell me of your offer," he says, calmly.
Imrama walks over to the War-Cardinal's map in order to illustrate his explanation. "We will acknowledge your right to establish a second homeland on Meru and to keep the lands you now control, and much of the ajacent territory, assuming that you can come to an amicable agreement with the human nomads you are displacing. That is something we can assist you with."
Imrama "Of note, is this region," Imrama indicates former Gem and much of the South West mountain range. "An area which is rich in geomantic Essence and natural resources, but currently devoid of any settlement or population. In future, we may identify other uninhabited regions which would be of great use to you, and provide the means to link them to your new capital, despite the great distance."
Imrama "Further, we offer to lend our extensive resources to the problems facing the Atomnosi - we do not claim to be wiser than you, but there are things we know which you do not, just as there are things you know which we do not. If you will become our allies, we will make your problems our problems, and your suffering our suffering."
Lucent ::... not the North? Imrama. The South is holy to the Sun. And those... things!::
Imrama ::Everywhere is holy to someone, Lucent, and all the world is holy to me. Wherever they go, they will have to find equilibrium with the land, or they will not be permitted to stay.::
Imrama "But also if you are to become our allies, you must abide with basic respect to this world and its inhabitants. You must free all slaves; human, elemental, and any other, that you have taken since arrival, and make amends for the harm already done. You must not foul the land, or mine it too greedilly - you must treat this world as a second home, or there cannot be peace between us."
Caleb looks over the map carefully, then up at the Solars. "Then we shall speak to you again, in one week. And we shall see then if our peoples shall be at war or peace." He nods slightly, as if to determine whether this resolution will prove acceptable to his guests.
Imrama "We shall speak again in a week's time, War-Cardinal." Imrama bows, presents the prayer-linen again, makes a single, tiny tear in it, and drops it on the floor before leaving.
Caleb Outside the war-cathedral, Imrama can see exactly the results of his plan "ba." Many of the carefully wrought buildings have vast holes torn in them, and rubble lines the cracked and broken streets. But the settlement is not all destroyed --
Caleb and Valeci, Maiden of Purity, Third Circle Soul of Atomnos hangs in the air, a Prince of the Fallen Tower skewered on each of her two glass swords -- her wings beat with the smooth hum of a glass harmonica as she silently watches the Solars exit.
Imrama inclines his head as he passes by Valeci, and touches his hand to his forehead and away again, in a show of respect between religious leaders. ::The Atomnosi could be powerful allies, but their religion is made dangerous by their god's insanity. We should see what we can do to resolve this problem.::
Caleb Valeci nods her head, but says nothing.
Zahara proceeds along behind Imrama thoughtfully, casting a speculative glance at Valeci. ::Indeed.::
Caleb Zahara notices, as she looks, that Valeci seems to be drawing a certain amount of Essence out of the settlement around her into her body, and once within it seems to be almost... vanishing away into nothingness.
Lucent ::Well, yes, there IS a reason why I think placing such zealots on the throne of the Sun is a problem... and they left, in any event.:: He looks at Valeci, remembering the last time. ::She tried to drown us all, you know.::
Zahara ::Mhm. I recall. She is also draining the essence of this place, and though it appears to be vanishing, I suspect it may be being transmitted back to Atomnos.::
Imrama ::I know, Lucent, but as I said earlier, 'We must all of us do our best to reconcile what has come before with what is.':: "Good day, Valeci. You may tell the one-of-which-you-are-a-part that we wish him and his people well."
Imrama "And please - try not to eat all of Gaia before we have a chance to make peace."
Valeci "I shall do so," she says, in a haughty but infinitely melodious voice.