In a mansion, in the outskirts of Solaria, there is a chamber.
And by its door, four erymanthoi stand, their eyes glowing a dull red, their vicious claws flexing absent-mindedly, in search of a now long-distant feel of flesh splitting, blood flowing, bone snapping between them....
And inside the chamber, there is a Solar....
Lucent ... who walks about, drinking from the finest of the mansion's cellar, wandering around the house. Waiting. Not in his armor but in fine, loose golden clothing of Solarian nobles, walking as a 'mortal'... a mortal that crushed with words the few Mortals that slipped under the demon's radar for a glimpse of him. Stopping at a balcony, he lifts his glass to one of the demons, with a furious glance to the Cascade.
And six miles away, at the heart of the city, his companions sit in the war room, completing their final preparations for the attack.
There are four others here: Ahina, reporting on the Shadows Resplendent's efforts to discreetly monitor the actions of the Broken Suns;
Dabaizhe, ready to discuss the results of her dream intervention;
Bertrand, who has prepared nineteen distinct contingency plans with Solaria's mortal and Essence-wielding staff and is ready to initiate any of them at a word from the Solars;
and Thrice-Split Oak, a sullen tattooed terrorist, tied to a chair, and cut off from all sensory input via Essence -- helpfully dropped off, still alive, just moments ago by Ebon Blade of Vengeance.
Cerin ::Ahina, please begin.:: Cerin thinks with a gesture, as he allows the man to hear once more, drawing in his mind immediately with the Thought Plumbing Approach. "Now, you can begin by telling me the plans of your cell."
Ahina: "We've been discreetly monitoring as much of the activity as possible," she says. "Thanks to Cerin's list of operatives he'd spotted visually throughout the capital region and... certain internal information regarding the procurement of weapons, we have had nine distinct cells under observation."
"Of those, four directly attempted to smuggle contraband of various types into the Sunlands directly, either from the Southern or Northern Dominions, via smuggling on the Grey River, or through the mountains to the south. We were able to prevent it in each case."
"What's worrying is what they were trying to smuggle in: Essence-burst weaponry, concentrated plague vials, and other high-yield materiel." She pauses for a moment. "All 'stolen,' of course; there's a huge black market of weapons after Lookshy's fall, which means the Mask himself isn't technically involved in any of it."
Imrama furrows his brow and scowls. "His is an account that needs settling."
Cerin recieves everything from the mind of the captured cell member, who, of course, cannot particularly hold back. His cell was based in Melekin, though they had come south to the capital to act;
there were seven members of the cell, including himself, all of whose names he freely gives up.
The plan, at least to his understanding, was to strike at the Glorious Evening Sun Citadel, the first temple erected in Solaria; two cell members had infiltrated the temple
to grant the others access; he and three others were intended to be stationed nearby, in order to deal with sponatenous threat arrivals and run interference; the last two were going to enter
and activate the weapon the first two had slowly been assembling in the basement beneath the temple over the course of several months.
Unlike the others, this weapon had been scavenged from Denandsor, even before Melekin had joined the Sunlands; he didn't know precisely what it did, only that it was a large golden sphere trimmed with black, white, and green jade, it came in seventeen parts, and it was "not something he was supposed to ever touch."
Cerin Cerin relays this infomation to everyone in the room, and then asks the man "Do you know of other cells?"
He knows only the places his cell was supposed to steer clear from, presumably because other cells were targeting them: the hospitals in the northern district, the Cascade itself, the Sunspot Bazaar... and the mansion on the outskirts, where Lucent hears these words conveyed to him via the magic of thought-ring.
Spring "Based on that ratio, we may presume then that several of the cells we did not observe have succeeded in transporting weapons."
Dabaizhe speaks up. "That would be my guess based on the final dream message," she says.
zahara "Wonderful," she says drily. "Punish the exalts by killing the innocents? A plan worthy of anathema."
"The... intended message -- sent along on paper inked in red, very classy -- was that those who had been foiled should move to support those cells whose plans were still viable."
Spring "We will have to split up to defend all those targets."
"As per your instructions," Dabaizhe says, "and as I've discussed briefly with Bertrand here" -- she nods to the Interior Minister, whose temples have gone quite grey and whose expression is more serious than the other Exalts have ever seen it -- "I redirected as many groups as I could."
"We have several mock targets set up, with defense forces at the ready, and I rewrote the final messages in the dreams going to the groups based in the regions south of Solaria so that they would believe they were intended to reach these targets instead."
"I was not, unfortunately, able to identify the source of the dreams, beyond that they were transmitted from a point outside the Sunlands' borders, almost directly north of Skyfall."
Lucent ::Attacking the Cascade? Stupid Mortals.:: Lucent gives an almost-exasperated sigh. ::Well then, I certainly will require no help. Zahara would do good to be at Sunspot. It is more visible. Hospital are Spring's to protect, and he does that well enough now to need little backup.::
Imrama ::It is still possible that one or more of these bands could have slipped through our fingers, or that the assault on any of these targets could prove more determined than expected. I can keep a watch from the Fable and reinforce as needed.::
Cerin ::It is not only possible, I fear to say it might be likely.::
Spring ::Zahara, if you would allow me to direct some portion of the Army of the Sunlands temporarily?::
Lucent ::Imrama, you think you can find anything if you go to Skyfall? Without Cerin, that is.:: Lucent asks, then scratches his chin. ::Hmmm, no, being on watch is a better proposition. It would be good if you two left here as soon as we won, however, to try and find the root.::
zahara ::Which portion in particular?::
Imrama ::When Dabaizhe speaks of the place as 'North of Skyfall' I believe she is speaking generally, Lucent. The Sunlands surround Skyfall for hundreds of miles in every direction. Draw a line North from that city, and the first foreign land you encounter is the occupied territory of Lookshy.::
Lucent ::She said almost directly. I figured they were not COMPLETE incompetents.::
Spring ::Whatever you think would be sufficient to aid us in repulsing this invasion.::
Cerin ::I believe that is 'Almost Directly' as in 'Not East nor West'::
Cerin ::Anyway, that is not our priority here.::
Cerin "When is this all going to start?"
Very soon, the captured man's thoughts tell Cerin; he was moving to get into place around the temple when he was nabbed. If there was no signal otherwise, they were to enact at the 2:00 hour -- not long from now at all.
Cerin ::We do not have much more time to move::
Spring ::Then perhaps we should do so.::
zahara ::You shall have a portion of the army fit for your use, Spring.::
Spring ::Thank you very much.::
Cerin, of course, is the first one to notice: Belladonna (who had not been specifically invited to this meeting) running in the front door of the Cascade and up towards the war room.
Cerin ::Greetings, Belladonna::
Belladonna runs upstairs and throws the room's door open with verve -- Spring and Cerin, of course, being able to pinpoint the moment she will do so ten seconds in advance.
Spring "Hello, Belladonna. Is something wrong?"
Belladonna breathes slightly heavily as she stands in the doorway. "We have a bit of a problem," she says.
Cerin refrains from saying 'Please be more specific', assuming she is just regaining her breath.
zahara twists her ring slowly, waiting for her to go on.
Logging stopped. Future messages in this conversation will not be logged.
Logging started. Future messages in this conversation will be logged.
Belladonna "Cerin. Remember how we discussed that Zahara had assigned Lucien to search for traitors amongst the people of the Sunlands?"
Imrama gives a start at Belladonna's entrance, and opens his mouth to exclaim in surprise. But seeing that most of his compatriots were apparently expecting this, he holds his tongue, and waits for her to explain.
zahara "I have been wondering why he has failed so completely at his duty recently."
Belladonna "I think you should see we've dug up," she says. "Imrama, could you give us a quick lift?"
Imrama stands up, and the glowing hull of the Fable moves into view just outside the window above his shoulder, like a faithful pet awaiting its master's call. "Certainly. Where to?"
Belladonna joins the Solars on board the Fable just a moment later, and guides Imrama towards her target: one of the minor caves that opens up in a rolling hill, amongst the jungle that borders the Lakewalkers' domain.
Belladonna "Down in here," she says, and leads the way along down into the cave, through twisted passageways and down sheer drops, along narrow pathways and through tight squeezes, until the pathway ends at a large, natural pit, from which a horrid stench rises.
Spring spends most of the trip directing the assigned Sunlands forces, carefully instructing them in the Seven Unimpeachable Maneuvers, which should serve to protect them from the Essence weapons long enough to close quarters and disarm, then restrain their adversaries.
Belladonna Down at the bottom, the pit is piled with bodies, human bodies, in differing states of decomposition and layered quite deep -- it looks like the pit has been used this way for some time -- but what is more important is what is on top:
zahara cocks her head, contemplating the pile.
Belladonna An unconscious Lucien, his tall, gaunt form run through with innumerable slits and holes -- as it should be -- but hooked into those, a thousand tiny hooks, all woven to thin filament threads that are sewn into the dead bodies beneath him -- and plunged through his chest, a vicious starmetal spear, a black tassel hanging loosely from its haft.
zahara "Hm. Someone was apparently not a fan."
Belladonna The Broken Suns tattoo can be clearly seen on a number of the bodies on top of the pit, as can the vicious slashmarks of Lucien's twinned ivory knives.
zahara wraps one of her scarves around her lower face to filter out the smell and hops down into the pit.
Cerin "I cannot imagine why."
Imrama covers his mouth, in horror rather than distaste. "The spear must be...holding him in place? Why else would the assailant leave it behind?"
Cerin examines it for traces of spells or other lingering magic.
Imrama turns away from the mass grave. A single tear at the senseless death falls from his right eye. ::Lucent; any sign yet of your would-be assassins, my friend?::
Belladonna As Imrama surmises, there is indeed a lingering effect: the spear (known, Imrama sees, as the Final Nail) is the source of the tiny hooks, Cerin sees, and the motivating Essence force through which they hold Lucien immobile and unable to act.
Lucent looks around, looking at the empty wine bottle on his hand before throwing it on the head of the demon below. ::None that I can see. Bored now.::
zahara pokes the spear tentatively with the end of her daiklave
Cerin "It is as you said, Imrama. The spear holds him in place."
Lucent ::Oh, FINALLY.::
Belladonna Gently poking the spear does not appear to cause any notable response or change in the Essence fields.
Cerin ::Ah, it appears everything has begun.::
Imrama "Cerin, if we can put Lucien back in the field quickly, I suppose we should. Otherwise, I believe we are needed elsewhere." Imrama gladly makes for the Fable.
zahara hovers her hand next to it, watching to see if the Essence reacts to her in any way, before grasping it fully and giving it a good yank. ::Good luck, Lucent.::
Cerin "I am not sure what pulling the spear will do." he says. "However we are about to find out."
Belladonna As the spear pulls free from Lucien's chest, the numerous tiny hooks tear free painfully from his demonic flesh with a ghastly ripping sound, and a moment later, his eyes bulge open as he suddenly draws breath once more.
zahara looks down at him appraisingly. "Revenge?" she offers
Lucent ::I need no luck. THEY will need mercy.::
Belladonna Lucien looks up at Zahara, and although he speaks no words, his eyes betray a cold, cruel desire even beyond what one would usually see there.
zahara nods and offers him a hand. "Let's get back."
Cerin ::Zahara, I believe we may need to re-consider Lucien's job::
zahara stops to ring the pit with salt before ascending to the Fable. ::Perhaps some tighter instructions next time, yes.::