< At the Inn of Vengrad | Red Ice Logs | The Secret of Mysteries >

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 sighs. Weird men.
  • Kinqueduran seems decidedly unhappy when the green lingers after his shower, and periodically glares angrily at his hand while he sits in the lower part of the inn, cleaning the blood and ichor from his armor.
  • Mendhari is drinking tea. Ah, a civilized inn. So nice.
  • Anstice is used to dealing with green, but it's usually less persistent.
  • Iron Horse seems to be fairly angry at something. He doesn't mind the green much, but still...

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."

  • Kinqueduran actively ignores Mendhari, finally managing to get the last streak of ichor off of that stubborn left pauldron.

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."

  • Kinqueduran stifles a chuckle.
  • Mendhari gives Anstice a soft glare.

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."

  • Kinqueduran looks up. "No, we agreed to meet."

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."

  • Mendhari sighs "You want me to talk alliance with a demon?"

Anstice: "No."

  • Kinqueduran continues to ignore Mendhari. "I don't really expect them to talk alliance. They have no reason to. I expect them to try to eat us."

Anstice: "I expect you to talk alliance with a Malfean."

  • Iron Horse grumbles a bit, leaning forward on the table. "... demons or dead stuff. Bleh."

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 looks at Anstice. "I will do it. In exchange for something."
  • Anstice raises an eyebrow. "Define something."
  • Kinqueduran rolls his eyes.
  • Mendhari smiles. "I have heard stories of a restaurant in Crystal with very, very fine Delzhan cuisine. You must take me."
  • Kinqueduran clenches his teeth, then bites his tongue.
  • Anstice thinks about it. "I believe I know the one you're thinking of. Before or after the meeting?"

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?"

  • Kinqueduran stands, crossing his arms. "Buy a nice vase for your wife. I think Iron Horse should go with you, he can buy his own souvenirs."
  • Mendhari suddenly flares with anger.

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?"

  • Mendhari flashes with unhappiness.

<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."

  • Mendhari looks repulsed. "A woman actually... Cleaves to you?"

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."

  • Kinqueduran cracks his knuckles, wincing a little, then turns to grab his armor. "Is there anything more to discuss at the moment?"

Anstice: "Not unless anyone has questions."

  • Mendhari looks at Anstice. "No."

<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."

  • Anstice sighs. "Do as you will. We don't have time to determine step by step instructions. All I ask is that you don't muck it all up."

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..."

  • Anstice shrugs. "Decide when you know more. Either way, we will await news."
  • Kinqueduran nods, glancing around at his circle. "I apologize for my demeanor."

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.

  • Mendhari shivers and takes Anstice's arms. "... I hate spiders."
  • Anstice makes sure to keep the nasty spiders away, and in general be helpful and good company. With what they're about to run into, she deserves some more pleasant times.
  • Mendhari speaks in "Delzahn" the entire trip. "Anstice."

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.

  • Anstice looks up from the plaque, continuing the trend of speaking in "Delzahn", though he does slip into Skytongue when around others. "Mendhari?"
  • Mendhari sighs. "I was hoping I would get a chance to rest before." She has been... softer to Anstice.

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."

  • Mendhari nods. "Could you escort me to my bedroom, then?"
  • Anstice covers the plaque up. "Of course."
  • Mendhari offers up her arm.
  • Anstice takes it without really thinking.
  • Mendhari smiles. "You swear to wake me?"

Anstice: "Cross my heart."

  • Mendhari nods and pats his arm, opening her door. "Then I will see you then." She goes inside and closes it softly.
  • Anstice heads off to improbably get the plaque hidden, and kills his time meditating and refreshing his memory of Deathlord-protocol. He does eventually head back to awaken Mendhari for the meeting, knocking softly on the door before slipping inside.
  • Mendhari has just set up, and is barely dressed. She almost shrieks and covers herself, but does not. She stands and looks at Anstice. "You could have given me a moment longer to ready myself."
  • Anstice looks away at an angle. "I apologize. I will remember next time."
  • Mendhari pulls on a few more layers of silk. "How far is this from here? Will I need a coat?" Look out! She's reaching for a lamp!
  • Mendhari lights it. "It's so dark in here."

Anstice: "I'd take a coat, yes. It's not far to the underways, but they twist and turn."

  • Mendhari nods, and grabs her coat. "I have not actually had time to become familiar with Crystal."

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.

  • Mendhari shivers against Anstice with each terrifying cry.

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.

  • Anstice holds her closer than usual, only half-practical. He hands her another globe of light when they reach the door to the room, showing her how to activate it and hood it, just in case.
  • Mendhari nods. "Right."

The Room of Questions stands before the two Sidereals, separated from them by only a heavy rusted-iron door.

Mendhari: ".... shall we open it?"

  • Anstice nods, stepping forward to take the handle and carefully swing it open, trying not to wince at any creaking sound it makes.
  • Mendhari puts on her brave negotiations face.

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.

  • Anstice bows elaborately to them, stepping aside to let Mendhari into the room. "Greetings. I trust we are not late."
  • Mendhari is, on the inside, angry at the woman's impersonation of her.
  • Erenna smiles as she sees the two, and steps forward, extending her arms in greeting. "Welcome, honored guests."
  • Mendhari curtsies in the Delzhan fassion.
  • Krahnari folds his arms, flowing robes swirling around his form. His expression is one of mild irritation, and his bow is stiff and distant.

Mendhari: "Thank you, honored hosts."

  • Erenna joins her hands, letting just her fingertips touch each other and bows a bit. "I am Erenna, a humble servant of our great Master... He is not here yet, I'm afraid, but he will be here shortly. In the meanwhile... please, make yourselves comfortable."
  • Mendhari looks at Anstice. He knows these people.
  • Krahnari allows Erenna's introduction to explain him as well, other than his name. "I am Krahnari."

Mendhari: "I know you, Krahnari. You are one of my honored ancestors."

  • Krahnari replies only with a frowning nod.
  • Anstice nods, taking an appropriate position according to the original design of the room and settling his mind. The world's best poker face looks back at them, a slight stable grin the only display of emotion, and even that possibly staged.
  • Krahnari circles around, standing behind the two Exalted. Ceremonial armor studded with amber and bronze jingles musically around him, as does the ornate, deeply-curved sword worn across his chest, ceremonial, as the armor.
  • Erenna 's robes are fairly elegant, but the design seems to be rather simple... mostly black, with a few designs in silver, and a hat that neatly conceals her hair (save for a strand here and there) as well as her ears.

Mendhari: "My father spoke with reverence for you, Krahnari."

  • Krahnari 's response is a small bow, his grey-framed head bowing a little. "As well he should."
  • Erenna steps towards a small table off to the side. "But where are my manners... may I offer you some tea?" She indicates the ornate tea set on the table.

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.

  • Mendhari shakes her head. "I would prefer we do business first."
  • Anstice nods in agreement with Mendhari. "With matters of this import, I find the small talk... rather unfulfilling."
  • Erenna bows her head. "Forgive me. I thought to make your wait more pleasant. I find small talk is a good way to pass time."

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 watches closely and winces suddenly in pain.
  • Anstice is better at concealing his loss of blood, nodding in the general direction of the vortex. "Welcome."

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."

  • Anstice nods. "Other matters arose."

Krahnari: "A flimsy excuse."

  • Erenna bows quickly at the waist in Hades' direction, and remains quiet.
  • Krahnari also bows to Hades, taking a step back

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."

  • Hades waves away the matter of the missing Sidereals. "They have gone to another meeting of course. I am disappointed you did not take the Envoy seriously. It is most likely they will die at their meeting with the demons."

Mendhari: "The exalted can be surprising. Especially these two. I have great faith in them."

  • Anstice smiles, cutting off what he was about to say. Mendhari has a nicer voice to use with those words anyway.

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."

Mendhari: "Indeed."

  • Mendhari is amused at Anstice's words.

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."

  • Anstice reminds himself to panic later. "It seems to me that she should have been dealt with by her conflicting loyalties by now. by what means does she continue to thrive?"

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."

Mendhari: "Indeed."

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?"

  • Hades smiles slightly, showing even white teeth. "I am Hades, Lord of the House of Death. Your patrons are my sisters."
  • Mendhari blinks. "You are of course, kidding.
  • Anstice blinks as well, but stays silent, considering. "Define rewards."
  • Hades dismisses Mendhari's comment. "Though my twin has not Exalted any of your circle, my brothers will offer you a gift to aid you. Through their gift, you will be able to learn the constellations of the Underworld and master the powers of the Dark Stars."

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?"

  • Hades looks at the dying nun. "She has waited all her life for this moment. This is a long-earned reward. She will now be promoted to a higher level of service."

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."

  • Erenna does seem to be smiling, despite it all.

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."

  • Krahnari has begun to pace, bejeweled fingertips drumming softly on his gilt sword hilt.
  • Anstice laughs, an odd echoing sound in the darkened room. "Very well, then. Mendhari? Thoughts?"

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."

  • Mendhari yet again, wonders what the hell is going on.

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."

  • Hades laughs. "You wish to know the others? My last two brothers are Hecate of Shadow and Poseidon of Mystery."
  • Anstice nods. "Well, then. I believe our business is concluded. I will accept the gift, and offer my firm hope any further meetings are this cordial, if perhaps less dramatic."
  • Krahnari continues pacing a broad circle around the room, pursing his lips.

Mendhari: "Indeed. I was very impressed by the cordialness of our meeting."

  • Erenna lets out a wet cough, legs not able to keep her standing anymore, and she collapses to her knees... apparently struggling to remain upright even then.
  • Anstice feels vaguely bad for at least not accepting tea and chatting, but no doubt she understands.
  • Krahnari pauses behind Erenna, looking to Hades, his hand taking hold of his sword hilt, ready to draw.
  • Mendhari diverts her eyes. Death... is not something she wishes to know.

Krahnari: "You must watch, child."

  • Mendhari ..... watches, reluctantly.

Hades: "I will leave now. Erenna, join me after the Envoy arrives."

Erenna: "... yes... Master... I... thank you for this... gift..."

  • Krahnari draws his sword with due gravity, the amber-inlayed blade reflecting light that isn't there.
  • Erenna bows her head, closing her eyes and letting out another wet cough.
  • Hades shrugs. "You may give me your utter devotion in death, as well as your thanks." The thin man turns to the two Sidereals. "My brothers will visit soon."
  • Krahnari awaits the command of Hades, the sword upraised in the peculiar stance of the Delzahn warriors from long, long ago.
  • Anstice is sadly familiar with this sort of ritual, just nodding.

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."

  • Krahnari bows his head, clearly disappointed. "My sword must taste blood before it may be sheathed..."

Hades: "You have never lacked the ability to sheathe it before. I depart. Return to your duties when you are finished."

  • Krahnari just narrows his eyes, lowering the sword, looking curiously at the Exalted.

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.

  • Anstice offers his palm. "Careful. I have business to attend to later."
  • Krahnari bows graciously, then delicately draws the curved blade across Anstice's palm, leaving a razor-thin line of blood.
  • Mendhari looks at Anstice with a "Can we go now?" look
  • Erenna coughs a few more times, breath getting more and more ragged... until finally the woman collapses onto the ground, letting out a few more agonizing gasps for breath... which slow down and... stop.
  • Mendhari luckily, was looking away at the moment.
  • Anstice returns the bow in a picture perfect manner. "Just a moment, Mendhari..." He waits for Envoy to appear to lead them out.
  • Krahnari bows politely but stiffly to both Exalts, then slowly dissolves, sheathing the sword even as he fades.

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?"

  • Mendhari is still shivering noticeably.

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."

< At the Inn of Vengrad | Red Ice Logs | The Secret of Mysteries >