The morning arrives late, finding the three male Sidereals still sleeping. Their late night rendered them tired beyond reason and even awake they feel as if they'd much rather be asleep once again. Each of them looks slightly green, even in the sunlight. Their morning rituals prove the green tinge has pervaded their entire bodies, leaving even their sweat slightly greenish.
However, there seems to be no lasting effect, and the green tinge fades slowly.
Mendhari: "So, idiots. Why are you all green?"
Anstice: "Celebration of some local saint last night. You slept through it."
Mendhari: "And you're green."
Anstice: "That's the custom, yes."
Mendhari: "Sounds very... saintly."
Anstice: "Considering your state of grace, I'm not surprised you have difficulties seeing how saintly something is."
Anstice: "Now, if you'd like to ask again, and seriously this time, I might tell you the truth."
Mendhari: ".... Why are you green?"
Anstice: "Demonic influence. We agreed to talk alliance with one of the yozis."
Mendhari: ".... well, aren't you the smartest cats in a small bag."
Anstice: "You're going to talk alliance. Even if you say no, that'll get them to show their hand, so to speak."
Anstice: "We have to know what forces they're likely to bring into play before we can start neutralizing them."
Anstice: "I expect you to talk alliance with a Malfean."
Mendhari: "Fine, fine."
Anstice: "I wouldn't ask if I wasn't sure you were up for the task. You ARE up for it, yes?"
Anstice: "Not going to fall down weeping in a bundle of fear?"
Mendhari: "Does it look like I'm weeping?"
Anstice: "No, but then again this doesn't look like the underways."
<Kinqueduran> "Just for a moment, I'd like to reiterate how simultaneously ill-advised and clever this is."
Anstice: "Hmm... yes. Think we can spin enough bullshit out of thin air to get some help out of the bureaus?"
Mendhari: "I doubt we have time for before, correct?"
Anstice: "Not likely. I have some small other matters to attend to in Crystal."
Anstice: "After, then." He looks over at K and Iron Horse. "Anything you two would like? A souvenir?"
Anstice: "And how do you propose to get to the meeting and back to Ur in time without him?"
<Kinqueduran> "I wasn't really expecting to go much of anywhere after the meeting."
Iron Horse: "... you really shouldn't go somewhere if you expect to get killed."
Anstice: "Your first mistake. You aren't allowed to die yet. If I have to drag your ghost kicking and screaming, I will."
<Kinqueduran> "Good, that'll make things easier."
<Kinqueduran> "I rather doubt that we'll have a kind reception. I suspect it will be difficult, if not impossible, to leave the meeting."
Iron Horse: "I'll just have to carry you away really fast then!"
Anstice: "Ur, yes. These two... only if you insult their mothers."
Anstice: "Please, don't insult the Yozi's mother, K."
Iron Horse: "... Yozis have mothers?"
<Kinqueduran> "I was just going to return the Yozi's crony."
Mendhari: "I certainly hope I will have an escort into these negotiations?"
<Kinqueduran> "Anstice is going with you."
Mendhari: "And you?"
Anstice: "And apparently buying you dinner and a lamp, unless I misunderstood K's joke."
<Kinqueduran> "Don't forget Febrisa's sister. I think you should buy her something nice."
Mendhari: ".... why does he have to buy HER something?"
<Kinqueduran> "I suppose he could buy something for the kids, instead."
Anstice: "What does one buy dragon-children? Little toy war gods?"
<Kinqueduran> "Well, they're your children. Oh, but would you mind buying something for them in my name? Also, some nice orchids for Seiche?"
Mendhari: "..... who is Seiche?"
<Kinqueduran> "Someone who has nothing to do with you."
Anstice: "Seiche is his girlfriend."
<Kinqueduran> "I think that's attaching a bit more significance and depth to our relationship than exists."
Anstice: "You're asking me to buy her flowers with a distinct significance. You don't do that for anything lesser than a girlfriend."
<Kinqueduran> "Fine, you win, Anstice."
Anstice: "Ahhh... that's better. Maybe I'll survive to hear those words a few more times."
<Kinqueduran> "Not from me."
Anstice: "Not unless anyone has questions."
<Kinqueduran> "I suppose I have one. How long do you expect the journey to take to meet the demons, if I go alone?"
Anstice: "Around two and a half weeks. Maybe more."
Anstice: "Less if you can find a wind spirit to carry you, but even there Iron Horse makes things faster."
<Kinqueduran> "Unfortunate." He massages the bridge of his nose. "How fast could Iron Horse make it from the temple to meet up with you?"
Anstice: "Week and a couple of days."
<Kinqueduran> "No good."
Anstice: "That's right. But it's enough time if you find something faster than your own feet along the way."
<Kinqueduran> "I'll look into that."
Iron Horse: "... nothing wrong with my feet. Hmph."
Mendhari: ".... I agree. You are quite fast, Iron Horse."
Anstice: "Who said there was? In this case, you will do better to find help than to be even an hour late for the meeting at Ur.
<Kinqueduran> "Yes, but who can say when or where help will be needed, or even what manner of help will actually be, you know, helpful."
Mendhari: "Help tends to be more trouble than it's worth."
Mendhari: "Are you certain..." She remembers Anstice's words. "Yes, please don't fail."
<Kinqueduran> "I think we're beyond hoping for a half-decent resolution. I'm going to go square off with the demon, I think Iron Horse should accompany me long enough to get a glimpse into their plans, then head straightway to meet you two."
Iron Horse: "... hmm..."
Mendhari: "... as do I. Everything I've said has been insulting."
<Kinqueduran> "You have your reasons."
For five days Anstice and Mendhari travel north and east toward the ancient city of Crystal. Three times they encounter red-robed parties leading Sevsimtali though they manage to avoid further maiming conflict. Without Iron Horse or Kinqueduran around to help, the numbers in these parties dissuade the two from attacking or revealing themselves.
There are no further appearances of the Envoy, though sometimes one of the two has the feeling of being followed and there seems to be an unusual concentration of grey spiders and emaciated rats around.
They arrive in Crystal late in the evening. Upon finding an inn, they themselves are found by another plaque hidden in Anstice's bedding. It instructs the two of them, making no mention of the others, to come to the Room of Questions at midnight.
Mendhari: As long as... you don't mention your 'wife.'
Anstice: "If you'd like to get some rest, I can make sure to get you up in time. I probably couldn't sleep if I tried."
Anstice: "Cross my heart."
Anstice: "I'd take a coat, yes. It's not far to the underways, but they twist and turn."
Now that the dig has ended and the workers returned, the Underways are sealed only by heavy doors and locks. Anstice still remembers the ways past the barriers and barricades, easily leading Mendhari into the deathly dark and dank corridors under Crystal. The wailings of the undercreatures are louder then they have been in the past, but the turns to reach the Room of Questions manage to keep the two Exalted ahead and away from any danger.
High-pitched feminine screams of terror echo in the corridors, as do masculine grunts and howls. Stranger and more sinister sounds occasional come from shadowed passages to the side or from cracks in the floor. In stark contrast to the unusual cleanliness of the Underways, spider webs and rats' nests litter the hallways that Anstice leads Mendhari through on the way.
The Room of Questions stands before the two Sidereals, separated from them by only a heavy rusted-iron door.
Mendhari: ".... shall we open it?"
Inside the room two figures wait, a female decked in robes of black and silver with a complicated hat set into her hair and a sturdily-built Southron that bears a vague resemblance to Mendhari. The woman's chest rises and falls while her companion's is still. The corpse-filled chair from Anstice's last visit is gone.
Mendhari: "Thank you, honored hosts."
Mendhari: "I know you, Krahnari. You are one of my honored ancestors."
Mendhari: "My father spoke with reverence for you, Krahnari."
The table is the only furniture left in the room. In fact, the room is entirly bare except for mottled red stains on the black floor and walls. The two doors are rusted iron, heavy and ornate. A fat grey-silver rat watches from one corner of the room.
The room darkens and Krahnari seems to grow more substantial as the light from the walls decreases. When no light at all exists within the room, a man's pleasant tenor voice sounds. "Then we shall begin our business. I have arrived." The nun's face goes pale and her nose bleeds slightly as a whirlwind seems to fill the room for a moment.
Mendhari: "Wel... come."
The wave lashes the two Exalted as well. Mendhari feels something cold invade her body, a spear of ice into her gut. Anstice feels a sudden splash of ice against his entire body, a lasting ache that sinks deep into his flesh. Once the pain recedes, they can see again. A thin man with silver stands in the center of the room, a slight smile on his lips. Grey-eyed and severe the man is taller then Anstice by a head.
Hades: "I am Hades, son of Ouranos the Thousand-Eyed. Your other two comrades could not attend, I see."
Mendhari: "No, I am sorry."
Krahnari: "A flimsy excuse."
Mendhari: "A reason."
Hades: "Krahnari is here to witness our meeting. Erenna will soon die of the sacrifice required to allow me entrance to Creation, providing a gateway for my Envoy to come after I have left. He will guide you from this place."
Mendhari: "The exalted can be surprising. Especially these two. I have great faith in them."
Hades: "They may survive. It depends on the mood of whatever demon they are meeting with. You have seen the demons rampage across the north. But you do not know why, else you would not have come. Do you at least know who the Daughter is?"
Anstice: "Yes. Though the devil is, as always, in the details."
Hades: "Then you know little of her. She is a Deathlord, but in her life she was one of the children of a powerful Exalted of the Zenith. Her father slept and dreamed and into his dreams came Adjoran, the Silent Wind. She lay with the Solar and he fathered upon her daughters. Some she carried with her into Malfeas, others she left with him as spies."
Hades: "The Daughter was one such spy. In her turn, she Exalted under the Eclipse and gained much power before surrendering to death and becoming a Deathlord."
Mendhari: "... lovely story that. Remind me to tell our children that, Anstice."
Hades: "She has been loyal until recently. Now her mother has called on her and she has betrayed her masters. Adjoran protects her, but the Silent Wind is an uncomplicated mind in slumber. Another directs the Daughter in the course that must be taken to reawaken her mother and gain her favor. The Malfeans are displeased with the Daughter, but they can not work against her themselves. Nor can they trust the Deathlords in this."
Anstice: "I see. But why should we take your side? To do so would be to betray our own masters."
Hades: "I am simply making efficient use of you. My father condones this and I need not worry about anything the others say. My brothers and I have agreed, this is how we will work. There are rewards to be reaped if you do as we ask and defeat a mutual enemy."
Mendhari: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend, perhaps?"
Anstice: "I see. But you speak as if to exclude yourself from Deathlords and Malfeans. If you are neither, what is left?"
Mendhari: ".... this is insane." She thinks.
Anstice: "Life commonly is. One becomes accustomed to it. How will this affect our standing in the eyes of your sisters?"
Hades: "That is their matter. They have long forsaken us."
Anstice: "Mmm... what guarantee do we have that you will not discard us, much like Erenna here?"
Mendhari: "A grim goal."
Anstice: "I suspect in this regard, you and I have differing definitions of higher. No matter. Are all the cards on the table?"
Hades: "I have made my offer. Regardless of your response, you will leave unharmed and better informed of the matters surrounding the Alograns."
Anstice: "True. How does this... gift occur? We are on a deadline."
Hades: "When my brothers are available, they will visit you and you will be given the mark of their House in the manner they choose."
Mendhari: "This could perhaps be an excellent idea. However, there must be an understanding between the two parties. That no side takes an action to harm the other. This agreement is a mutually beneficial arrangement, and no side must attempt to gain from it. If a mirror has nothing to reflect upon, the mirror has no purpose, after all."
Hades: "This agreement will be binding. But your companions will be able to refuse my brothers when they visit. The results of such refusal are up to my brothers, however. I would not lightly court the wrath of Charon or Deimos."
Anstice: "Also agreeable. As I have faith in their ability to handle demons, I have faith in their ability to handle starchildren."
Anstice: "Still, it would be reasonable to ask for the names of all whom will be involved with this pact."
Mendhari: "Indeed it would."
Mendhari: "Indeed. I was very impressed by the cordialness of our meeting."
Krahnari: "You must watch, child."
Hades: "I will leave now. Erenna, join me after the Envoy arrives."
Erenna: "... yes... Master... I... thank you for this... gift..."
Hades: "I am afraid not, Krahnari. If Hecate was here, perhaps. But that is not my way. Return to your previous duties once I am gone."
Hades: "Also, it may be of interest to note that the prohibition against killing those who bring silent death is lifted. None of you will be mine, so I pronounce nothing further for you."
Hades: "You have never lacked the ability to sheathe it before. I depart. Return to your duties when you are finished."
The thin man bows to the two Sidereals and sits down on a patch of air that suddenly glows silver. The silver glow expands, filling the room. When it clears, Hades is gone.
From the woman's corpse steps the Envoy, smiling pleasantly. The dead body drops to the floor again once it has separated from the Envoy's brawny frame. "The meeting went well, I assume?"
Anstice: "Depends on whose side you're on at the moment." He steps over to Mendhari, placing the good arm around her. "Now, if you don't mind, we'd like out of here."