Eliax "And why have you done such a thing?" the ghost says, quietly.
Thirteen "For the usual reasons. To save the universe from horrors beyond space and time.
Eliax "And what leads you to believe that such a thing exists?" The ghost walks slowly forward, down the center of the aisle, towards where Thirteen is standing.
Thirteen "The Sidereal Exalted have relied for years on the Orrery of Light to predict the events of Creation."
Thirteen "It is apparent to even the most casual observer, though, that such a tool is woefully incomplete, considering at it does less than half of the constellations extant."
Thirteen "Moreover, the Sidereals do not have the capability to create such a device.
Thirteen "It is apparent, then, that it was provided for them, by a greater, more knowledgeable being. Is it likely, then, that this being left their work only half done?"
Thirteen "Such a device would need to be placed in the Underworld, under the stars it referred to. It would be well-hidden, well enough that it has not been discovered even now that its former users are presumably no longer protecting it."
Thirteen "Undoubtedly, though, if one were in the habit of venerating such dead constellations, one would eventually stumble upon the information necessary to locate and utilize such a device."
Eliax The ghostly figure chuckles quietly to himself. "You lay out a convincing case." He walks up and seats himself in one of the chairs on the dais. "So that leads to another question: why would you expect those who venerate the dead stars to assist you, a living person, in this quest?" He looks at the door, and ponders for a moment. "But then, you must not exactly be one of the living if you have set foot within here."
Thirteen "I do not trouble myself with categorization. See that you do not as well."
Thirteen "Nor do I expect your assistance. Rather, I request and require it, as is my right as foremost of the Twilights and representative of the Exalted Deliberative, on a matter of utmost importance to the protection of our plane and yours."
Eliax "The Cult of the Dead Stars has never sworn to either Deliberative," he says carefully. "My duty is to my followers, and they are already amongst the dead. What threat is of our concern?"
Thirteen "Death is not forever."
Thirteen "Are you familiar with the Lacuna?"
Eliax shakes his head. "I have heard the name, of late, but that is all."
Thirteen "There is a hole in what is."
Thirteen "It is alive, it is awake, and it is hungry."
Thirteen For a single moment, in the dark sky above, there is a glimmer of twilight.
Eliax quietly nods, arises, and walks over to one side of the chamber, where one of two ebony podiums stands. "You know more than one might expect from your demeanor," he says, as he unlocks a cabinet at the bottom of the podium and draws out a smooth, white jade bowl from within. (...)
Eliax "The Orrery was not created by the Sidereals, and it does indeed have a counterpart." He pours crystal-clear water into the bowl until it is nearly brimming, then sets it atop the podium and begins walking to its complement on the opposite side. (...)
Eliax "I ask you, then, if you might have a concept of who created them, and what that might tell you about the location of the device you seek." Opening up the second podium, he pulls out a black bowl, otherwise identical in shape to the first.
Thirteen "The information available to me does not admit of firm conclusions."
Thirteen "However, I am informed of a location called the Nightshade, kin no doubt to the Chrysanthemum, where the Orrery of Light was situated."
Thirteen "A race of Hundredfold called the Trinosi were involved with both. My investigations are somewhat hampered by not knowing what they are, nor how they were related."
Thirteen "Certainly, though, if one were to vouchsafe a wild guess..."
Thirteen lets the statement trail off eloquently.
Eliax nods as he lights a small fire in the black bowl. "That is truly the challenge of fate: all things are connected, but it is in the nature of these connections that the true value lies." The fire begins to let off a gentle musky smell, one that opens the nose and brings a pleasant calm sensation with it. (...)
Eliax "Before the Sidereals, the fate of the world still needed skilled caretakers to maintain it. When the creators put the world into motion, it was the Trinosi who served this role, with the Orrery of Light to guide them. And when the first Primordials fell, the Trinosi who dwelt within the Nightshade constructed its sister, to speak of the fate of those things departed, chained, and lost." (...)
Eliax walks back to the front of the room. "When the Sidereals took over their duty, they suceeded them only as the masters of living fate, not the fate of those that have passed." He sighs. "Unwise of them."
Thirteen "They have long needed to be taken in hand. Rest assured their new management will direct them more productively."
Thirteen "So. You have confirmed my suspicions as to its existence and its location. What further aid can you give me in my pursuit?"
Eliax nods. "Forces in opposition to you hold the object you seek, and it will be a struggle for you to claim it for your own. But as long as you seek to preserve the boundary between life and death, our Church can grant aid to you -- and we have our own means of communing with the dead stars. Perhaps that will help you achieve your next goal."
Thirteen "Rest assured that a tendency for the dead not to stay dead would be inconvenient to my plans."
Thirteen "Show me these means."
Eliax "I have already begun them, on the assumption you would ask." He points to the pews. "Please, be seated."
Thirteen stumps his way over and takes a seat, placing his spear on his lap.
Eliax stands upon the dais at the head of the Cathedral and begins to recite the names of the dead gods in the lost tongue of the ancients, while the smoke of the fire and the delicately-scented vapor of the water mingle within the air. (...)
Iallu Thirteen sits in his seat, and overhead, the dead stars grow and surge until they are so great that he can see nothing else.
Eliax The burnt-out stars of the Underworld, black pools set upon on a reddish haze, swirl around Thirteen, and he feels the physical world seem to slip away, until even his chair is gone and he finds himself floating in the empty un-cosmos, seemingly alone.
Eliax The stars spin slowly, the images of the constellations coming into focus before him: the Crown, the Behemoth, the Thief, the Labyrinth, and the Cross.
Thirteen considers this omen.
Thirteen "It is unkind of you to suggest that for me to sacrifice to the greater good would be an impossible task."
Thirteen "Unexpected, I will allow."
Eliax The stars begin to spin around, turning and shifting into positions they never held in the true sky of Netheos, all as a faint rumbling sound begins, quiet but insistent. All of these constellations but the Labyrinth fall away, but it stays firmly fixed upon the firmament, as if to ask "What are you confused about?"
Thirteen is silent for a long time, head down, then speaks. "You stars may come together in a constellation, and shine in the sky together. We are suns, greater and more glorious, yet we burn so brightly that there is no peace when two of us approach."
Thirteen "Teach me, then, how we may do so. Show me a sky with a hundred suns."
Thirteen how we may do as you do.
TheDeadStars The sky swirls again, spinning faster and faster, until the black stars transform into black streaks, and the streaks grow closer and closer together, until all around him is blackness. (...)
TheDeadStars From above, seven points of light appear, one by one, and slowly assemble themselves into the shape of The River; then, they begin to float downwards, growing in size, becoming vaster and simultaneously more fluid, until they drop to the ground at Thirteen's feet, a slowly-flowing river of crisp, clear water in the black abyss, plunging downhill from where he stands.
Thirteen nods, takes a breath, and dives in.
TheDeadStars The water is cool and refreshing, and Thirteen feels his senses heighten as he swims through the river. (...)
TheDeadStars He paddles along for what feels like quite a long time, until the river halts and washes him out on a sandbank that overlooks a vast valley; and in that valley, Thirteen sees the stars of the Effigy, one glowing swollen and red in the sky, and the others falling down to the earth, tiny blue motes that flicker out and disappear.
Thirteen "We have lost our faith. Or, alternately, most of us have died. That would presuppose that we were good, though, which seems unlikely."
Thirteen "So, yes. With one great, glaring, golden exception, we do not believe. We cannot believe. What remains for us to have faith in?"
TheDeadStars The bottom of the valley rises up, bucking and bending like a wild animal, and Thirteen briefly catches the stars of the Scythe razing through, ending the last light cast by the Effigy. (...)
TheDeadStars Then, from the darkness, the light of the Spiral rises up from below, spinning at a fierce clip, and as it does so, tiny golden motes are flung free; where each one lands on the invisible ground at Thirteen's feet, tiny golden flowers blossom.
Thirteen bends to pick a flower and sniffs it contemplatively.
TheDeadStars The flower has a beautiful, clean smell, utterly lacking any sort of taint or dark quality; though it grows in blackened soil, the flower is not damaged in any way.
Thirteen "We must grow, and change. But how?" Thirteen slips the flower into his mouth, walking down into the valley.
TheDeadStars Thirteen follows a path down to the bottom, where it ends at a flat clearing. All around, Thirteen sees tiny, featureless figures, walking about and pausing as if speaking to one another -- but at the far end of the clearing crouches the Wolf, and every time a figure walks too near it lunges out and catches it in its bloody, dripping fangs.
Thirteen "Yes, there is a menace we are unaware of. For some reason that does not surprise me."
Thirteen approaches the Wolf calmly.
TheDeadStars The wolf bares its teeth as Thirteen approaches, but does not attack. As he grows closer, Thirteen sees that it wears a collar, but where it should be solid, it instead is like a hole in the universe, a band of pure emptiness that somehow he can't quite focus his eyes on.
Thirteen "Ah. In fact, we are aware of this menace."
Thirteen "How will the Lacuna show us our path?"
TheDeadStars The Wolf is struck by a bolt from somewhere in the invisible distance, and dies bleeding, though its collar slips easily onto the ground, where it burrows beneath the earth -- and underneath it Thirteen sees that the Wolf wore a golden collar, emblazoned with the Twilight sigil. (...)
TheDeadStars The ground rumbles, and from behind Thirteen quickly rises a familiar site -- the Labyrinthine Cascade. He sees hundreds of people standing, all looking up to the same point in the sky.
Thirteen looks up.
TheDeadStars The sky is darkened, and Thirteen sees in one corner of the sky what once would have been a great light, but now was dim and empty -- the Chained Man slowly makes his way across the sky. And as Thirteen watches, it blinks out and is gone, and total darkness covers all again.
Thirteen "I..." Thirteen coughs.
Thirteen "We are responsible for the Lacuna. The Sun turned his face in shame. I know all this. But this was the past. We must look to the future."
Thirteen *cut that
Thirteen "We...I...will become the Lacuna? The Sun will turn his face away again? I do not...why?"
TheDeadStars Aside him, Thirteen sees the squabbling stars of the Sisters, who cease their fighting, hold up tiny lights, and look to the ground, where they see a horrific sight: the bloody corpse of the Chained Man, who hung in the skies just a moment ago. (...)
TheDeadStars There is a moment of intense panic, and the familiar haunts of the Cascade are replaced with what seems like an endless parade of panic and violence, as ghostly figures run about and are slain; he sees the tendrils of the Maw reach out of the earth and devour, and the Veil pass over the eyes of those few who try to retain their composure. (...)
TheDeadStars Then, finally, seven figures rise before them; they are as unburdened as the Feather, and they stand at the Cross; they have the stature of the Behemoth, and their seven lights form the image of the Eye. (...)
TheDeadStars One steps forward, to hold the darkness at bay, and the others as one pluck a single flower from the ground and raise it up as the sign of the Mountain; it floats up above and as it does it glows, gaining in light and intensity until it shines with a brightness too intense to even look upon.
Thirteen "But how?" Thirteen murmurs softly.
TheDeadStars The light fades out and the images Thirteen has just seen are seen flowing backwards rapidly in distant, outline form, until finally Thirteen stands alone, on a tiny rock -- and in the distance, emerging out of the light, the stars of the Orchard emerge and form themselves together into the shape of a vast tree, one that Thirteen has never seen with his own eyes, yet is as familiar to him as his own hands.
Thirteen "All right."
Thirteen walks steadily towards the Wasirru.
TheDeadStars The ground feels light under Thirteen's feet, and a golden sun rises up behind the tree, casting beautiful patterns of sunlight out into the world... and just as he approaches it, the fog lifts, and Thirteen finds himself, firmly seated once more in the small chair in the Cathedral of Dead Stars.
Thirteen "Thank you. I suspect that will turn out to have been most helpful."