The Solars, departing from Iallu's residence, key in the location of their next destination to the gate as they have done so often before. A few moments before they walk through, Cerin makes a bit of a face and says "Hmmm. Be prepared for a surprise on the other side."
The surprise becomes evident rather quickly, as Kai, Birds, and Zahara step through, and find themselves standing in their home forest -- but without Cerin.
<Zahara> "What the..." she reaches out through the ring ::Cerin? Are you alright?::
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Zee, dear, where's Cerin?"
<Zahara> "Well, that's a fine question, Birds, my friend."
Zee finds the telepathic ring link oddly silent.
There's a pause and complete, almost ominous silence over the rings' telepathic connection for a few moments.
<BirdsOfTrinity> ::I guess that's the surprise.::
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Hey, I have this idea, maybe you can tell me if it's a good one or a bad one."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "What if Cerin could, uh, tell us WHAT THE SURPRISE WILL BE!!!"
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Not me."
A few more moments pass, and then a voice, deep and inhuman, seemingly louder than anything imaginable, overwhelms the senses of all three: "HE WILL NOT ANSWER YOU THIS DAY, ZAHARA ZHAN."
The voice laughs in a horrific, yet familiar way. The static intensifies, growing louder and louder.
Zahara finds the force of the static overwhelming and cannot remain standing upright; she is forced to one knee. The others find themselves unable to focus on anything beyond simply holding their position as the static fills their minds.
There is more intense laughter. "GOODBYE, FOOLISH ONES." There is one more, intensely painful blast of mental noise, and then, suddenly, silence.
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Was that Markuran? I am going to make him sorry that he ever Exalted one of these days. When I find the time."
<Zahara> "You know, I've felt that way for a long time." She accepts Birds' help and rises. "Thank you."
<Zahara> "Hubris." she dusts herself off fastidiously, "Is annoying."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Of course."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Can we track him through the rings?"
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Obviously you would have thought about this already."
<Zahara> "I can't even feel him through the ring, much less track him. I hope that bastard didn't cut his fingers off, because I NEED those."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "...I don't dare ask. Now, what were we up to before being interrupted?"
<Zahara> "Well we WERE going to go home, but I don't think we can do that now."
<Kai> "Well, uhm, what CAN we do?"
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Well, let's take a bit and explore, then."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "In the worst possible case, we'll foil another Yozi plot..."
<Zahara> "Actually, in the worst possible case, Cerin will become like Markuran."
<Zahara> "And I don't particularly wish to have to kill them both."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Mm. Then your bed would be so cold..."
<Zahara> "I suppose I could get a Neomah to look like him, but it just wouldn't be the same."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Also that bit where Cerin is quite capable of, um, killing us all, that's not so good."
<Zahara> "Yes, he is quite good at slaughter." she sighs wistfully.
<Kai> "I don't like this conversation."
<Zahara> "I don't like this situation."
Leaves crunch nearby, announcing someone's approach.
Walking towards you is a pale, white-haired man of indeterminate age, wearing a simple patchwork robe in various shades of brown. There are three especially notable things about him:\\ first, the half-and-half caste mark of a Twilight on his brow; second, the stained white blindfold tied across his eyes; and third, the great golden spear twice again his height that he leans on like a walking stick, intricately worked with sharp runes.
<Thirteen> "I've been looking for you."
<Zahara> "You and the rest of Creation. What do you want?"
<Thirteen> "I've heard that you are in need of a tactician."
<Thirteen> "I am one."
<Thirteen> "My name is Thirteen Blooming Flowers. I greet you as my sisters." He kneels briefly and taps his head against the forest floor.
<Zahara> "I do not fear you." she narrows her eyes slightly.
<Thirteen> "Then I trust you welcome my assistance."
<Zahara> "I also did not say that." She studies him closely. "Tell me, what is it that you think you will provide the Sunlands?"
<Zahara> "Obviously you wish to provide tactics. But are you assuming that you will lead our army, or do you bring your own? Why is it that you think we are in such need of a tactician such as you?"
<Thirteen> "I know you're in need of a tactician. I told you, I've heard about you."
<Zahara> "Are you implying that our tactics are *poor*?"
<Thirteen> "Yes, essentially."
<Zahara> "Then tell me what you would do to fix everything."
<Thirteen> "You are a sorceror, then."
<Thirteen> "You can create what you want out of will and magic."
<Thirteen> "I'm a tactician. Tacticians need information in order to act."
<Thirteen> "Give me all the information you have, and enough time to digest it, and one day. I'll tell you what to do. Give me another week after that, and I'll make sure it works."
<Zahara> "Obviously you have intelligence on what we have already done." she says coldly. "If you know enough from that to denounce what we have worked for, you know enough to fix it."
<Thirteen> "I haven't denounced your goals. Obviously, I approve of them. Merely your methods."
<Thirteen> "What proactive military action have you been taking against the Red Lily?"
<Zahara> "Fine. If you wish to come with us, wear this." She unfastens an ornamental golden band from around her neck and dangles it from one finger. It glints in the sunlight. "I will tell you what you wish to know once we are safely away from prying eyes."
<Thirteen> "Ah. You think I'm an idiot. Very good."
<Zahara> "Then I cannot trust you. You may leave now."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "You know, the Sun has given you other methods..."
<Kai> "I don't know, that seemd like a pretty good call to me."
<Thirteen> "As I seem to keep needing to point out, I have heard of you."
<Thirteen> "I have heard that you are monstrous creatures, Anathema from the depths of an age you dragged to destruction, returned to shatter this world as well and tear everything screaming towards oblivion."
<Thirteen> "They say this about me as well, so I'm not going to worry too much about it."
<Thirteen> "But neither am I ready to abandon all caution immediately upon meeting you."
<Thirteen> "What guarantees have you given me, that I should provide you guarantees?"
<Zahara> "I will give you a guarantee. That I will not use its power unless it becomes necessary, or you betray my...our" she gestures in an encompassing gesture towards all the Sunlands, "..trust."
<Zahara> "If you have heard of us, you must have also heard of Markuran The Betrayor."
<Thirteen> "Then you are bound by your word, while I am bound by chains."
<Zahara> "I cannot allow such a thing to happen again."
<Thirteen> "...yes. I have heard of him."
<Zahara> "My word is bound by the Gods. Do not take it lightly."
<Zahara> "And even if it were not, I do not break my promises."
<Zahara> "If you have heard of me, as you continually remind me, you will know that as well."
<Kai> "Uhm... Maybe we should go about this a little differently."
<Kai> "Well, I mean..." She turns to Thirteen, "You're a Solar Exalt, right?"
<Kai> "So, uhm, what do you know about how that works? Have you been one for long?"
<Thirteen> "Years upon years."
<Thirteen> "But I'm not sure what you mean about how it works."
<Kai> "Well... Do you know who you were before?"
<Kai> "Okay... I guess that answers fewer questions than I had hoped... But, uhm, okay, master tactician, do you know who we were?"
<Thirteen> "I am familiar with your stories. Talmuda, Rosada, Alahwi, these names are known to me."
<Kai> "How does Wei Dan play into those stories?"
<Thirteen> "When Wei Dan left his home, he traveled afar, and told no-one of his journeys. He may have met your former incarnations in peace or in war. I do not know."
<Zahara> "Past lives to not determine current trustworthiness." she comments.
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Well, if they do determine anything, I think we can trust him if he has killed any of us previously."
<Kai> "Yeah, and I don't think Talmuda killed any of us anyway."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "It's true, Birds-of-Trinity is not a humorist!"
<Thirteen> "If you offer me your word, I will offer mine."
<Zahara> "That is not enough."
<Kai> "Zee... Maybe you can learn something from the spear?"
<Zahara> "You are the supplicant to our empire."
<Zahara> "You do not have the resources to accomplish your goals on your own."
<Thirteen> "Neither do you."
<Thirteen> "There are other armies."
<Thirteen> "There is only one tactician like me."
<Zahara> "There is only one Sunlands. There is only one of each of us."
<Kai> "And none of us are supplicant." Kai says quietly.
<Thirteen> "And if you don't come up with a plan to defeat the armies that assail you, soon there won't be any."
<Zahara> "That is our problem. Not yours."
<Thirteen> "Yes. That's my point."
<Zahara> "Indeed. And now you are wasting my time."
<Zahara> "Also, we have just acquired a fine tactician."
<Kai> "How. Many. Solars. Do we know?"
<Zahara> "Counting the ones who have turned on us?"
<Kai> "Yes, counting."
<Zahara> "Well, that would be Myself, You, Birds, Cerin - currently away on business, Markuran - who is currently possessed and rather of the evil persuasion, Rannath - who disappeared to do who-knows-what and left the Sunlands without its general, the Yozi-worshipper in the woods, and the Circle that left us to the Aalorai. Not a very promising thing to be a Solar is it?"
<brasslantern?> "Maybe not, but it is IMPORTANT. Finding one is not something to treat lightly... And I doubt you'll find one anywhere who'll consent to collaring. I didn't. I am certain you wouldn't."
<Zahara> "You may leave with him, if it is your wish."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "I think Alahwi and Wei Dan were friends before they met their end."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "So, perhaps, we can come to a compromise..."
<Zahara> "I cannot accept the risk to my entire lands, whether or not he intends for good RIGHT NOW, that he will not turn, as Markuran, as Rannath, as that Yozi-worshipping SCUM did."
<Thirteen> "What compromise would you suggest, Birds-of-Trinity, Kai Buckthorn?"
<BirdsOfTrinity> "I cannot ask you to debase yourself that way without some exchange."
<Thirteen> "If Zahara Zhan, the Dreambreaker, wears a collar which I hold the key to, I will allow her to perform the same disrespect upon me."
<Zahara> "You ask much, as a supplicant to our empire, Thirteen Blooming Flowers." She says, narrowing her eyes.
<Thirteen> "I don't recall asking for anything."
<Thirteen> "I recall offering you the chance to win a war."
<Zahara> "You recall offering your ATTEMPT to win the war. Without offering any proof that you will succeed."
<Thirteen> "I swear to you, Zahara Zhan, by Wei Dan's spear, Splinter of Wisdom, which I bear as his person returned, that if you provide me with what I require, I will win you this war."
<Zahara> "Just do not expect to demand more than you earn." She adds a bracelet to the collar on her finger, eyes hard. "Prove yourself, and you will be accepted."
<Zahara> "Welcome to the Sunlands."
<Thirteen> "Thank you, Dreambreaker."
<Thirteen> "Now then. What means do you have to locate your friend?"
<Zahara> "Well, we used to have a connection but that has been, hmm, severed quite recently."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Hm. Did he take Aliza with him?"
<Zahara> "She was with us when he disappeared, wasn't she?"
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Well, that's no good. He should still be attuned to the Cascade, though."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Can you trace his Essence from its entanglement with the Manse?"
<Zahara> "Cerin is the tracker among us. But perhaps if we go back through the Gate I can look for where its Essence had been manipulated."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Our opponents are mighty, but stupid. I'll take the risk."
<Zahara> "Well, we could link ourselves together with Collars." she says drily. "I have matching chains."
The gate appears otherwise normal. Zahara consults the ring given to her by Herons, but it indicates that no one has used the home gate without her permission.
<Thirteen> "This is fascinating. Who made these? We need a guide to the coordinate system."
<Zahara> "We need no guide. We know how it works."
<Thirteen> "You know every possible destination?"
<Thirteen> "In that case, I need a guide."
<Thirteen> "I'm sorry. You misunderstand me."
<Thirteen> "I would appreciate it if one of you enlightened me as to the destinations you can reach."
<Thirteen> "At our leisure."
<Thirteen> "Can you ascertain from this device where Cerin is? Or must we proceed to another location?"
<Zahara> "Perhaps once we find Cerin." She reaches out and activates the appropriate destination on the gate to return them to where they began. "For now, follow us. We're going to a place near the Pole of Air."
<Thirteen> "Lead on."
Zahara leads the four other Solars through the gateway and back to where they recently stood -- where a confused Aliza is flitting about nervously.
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Meet Thirteen, he's consulting with us on military strategy."
<Zahara> "Can you tell where he has gone? Are you still connected?"
<Aliza?> "He's in Creation somewhere... the connection is muffled, somehow. I..." She is interrupted by the gateway behind the Solars spinning once again to life, as someone begins to step out of it....
Tags: (:tags Siram, Wei Dan, Collars :)