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alsoquin The Arbiter and his phalanx of guards lead the Solars through the mazy hallways of the Palace.

alsoquin The path leads into the central, fifth area once again, though this time down wards into the lower reaches. The walls are etched with strange patterns, hexagonal swirls and abstract sigils.

alsoquin The put-out couple who had begun with the clangy jewelry follow, a mixture of irritation and worry on their faces.

alsoquin After some time, they arrive in their destination -- a chamber, perhaps twenty feet wide, in the shape of a perfect geometric solid with twelve faces. At the center is a column with a small metallic frame or holder of some kind upon it, though it is currently empty.

alsoquin The same strange angular sigils crowd the walls here as well.

alsoquin Without introduction, and curtly, the Arbiter states: "Give me the jewelry."

Thirteen casually brushes his hand against the sigils on the doorframe as he steps into the room.

Zahara allows herself to be led about with reasonably good grace, watching the proceedings intently.

alsoquin Thirteen begins to read about the history of Xara -- its unsullied, crystalline state; the arrival of the first lineage and construction of the first city...

alsoquin The story is quite long, and Thirteen will have to fairly thoroughly cover the room to read it all.

Thirteen does so, while attempting to be as unobtrusive as possible about fondling the scenery.

Zahara steps up to the arbiter, handing over the jewelry with a little bow.

Cerin helpfully taps his foot in an overly loud manner, a sound that echoes around the dodecahedral chamber, minutely affected by the strange etchings on the walls and bringing a symphoney of text back to thirteen

Arbiter Of Stones examines the bracelets carefully, very /very/ lightly clanging them together near one ear and listening thoughtfully.

Lucent stands closer to the couple, trying to wrap them in a feeling of... safety. They were unwitting pawns in this, after all.

Arbiter Of Stones The story comes forward to Thirteen faster than before -- the intricately fought Threefold War that gripped the plane, and the Trifold Pact that formed the Xaran society....

Arbiter Of Stones looks thoughtful for a moment, and then orders one of the Hrak -- "Bring in the others."

Birds watch the Arbiter with interest.

Arbiter Of Stones A few moments later, two other groups are ushered in. One Cerin immediately recognizes as the individuals who shared a drink with the Bin-al-Zen before the dance.

Arbiter Of Stones The others, two scions and a Bin-al-Zen, were not at the dance.

Cerin ::He is one of those who gave them the drink:: He indicates telepathically

Zahara looks over the newcomers, her gaze calculating

Zahara ::Interesting. Do you recognize the others?::

Cerin ::No.::

Arbiter Of Stones "Raman, did you bring the wine?" The drink-sharer nods and draws out a half-empty bottle of bluish fluid, which the Arbiter takes unceremoniously.

Arbiter Of Stones "So, my guests." The Arbiter gestures airily with the wine in one hand and the jewelry in the other. "Why do you think I have brought you here?"

Thirteen "To offer us detached but rational appreciation for our assistance and offer us temporary positions of power?"

Arbiter Of Stones laughs.

Birds "To relieve the drearily formal architecture of your less festive chambers?"

Zahara smiles at her friends' jests, "To witness the solving of the murder, of course, Sir Arbiter."

Arbiter Of Stones Thirteen reads more now: about the years of peace that followed, the keystones of the palace being raised with the arrival of the Bin-al-Zen...

Arbiter Of Stones The Fifth Lineage are not mentioned even once.

Arbiter Of Stones "There is truth in several of these suggestions." He gestures to the three individuals brought in last, and they sidle forward to him. "Drink this."

Arbiter Of Stones The three start to balk, but vicious spears in the hands of Hrak guards held to their backs force them, after a moment, to each swig the blue wine held by the Arbiter.

Zahara "Interesting that they are so reluctant to drink."

Birds "Maybe it loses its savor quickly."

Cerin "What is perhaps more interesting is what they will say before they drink."

Arbiter Of Stones Thirteen reaches the rather abruptly peaceful and uneventful conclusion of the history and is a little perplexed. It takes perhaps thirty seconds of vigorous staring to recognize that there is a second, deeply hidden story in the subtle corners of the pattern....

Thirteen "Hm."

Arbiter Of Stones "Now," the Arbiter addresses the three. "Are you satisfied with your actions? Have you lived well?"

Arbiter Of Stones The human swallows rather dramatically but none of them respond to the question.

Birds settles in for a show, when she notices Thirteen's apparent distraction. ::What's on your mind?::

Birds "Arbiter, please pardon me..."

Birds "I'm curious about the nature of your question. It does not seem to be the sort of thing one asks merely as a point of discussion."

Thirteen ::A matter of subtext. The writing on the wall here is a rather bland history of this plane. On closer inspection, though, it appears to be a somewhat more accurate history of this plane.::

Arbiter Of Stones turns. "No. It is the sort of thing one asks someone when they are about to die."

Arbiter Of Stones The three conspirators start to make a movement back, though the spears contain them once again.

Birds She addresses the conspirators. "I urge you to answer in great detail, should you value your longevity."

Cerin "What purpose does their immediate death serve? Do you know why they committed the murders?"

Lucent "Can you not just... lock them up? This seems a little harsh..."

Zahara ::Interesting. What parts are hidden?::

Thirteen ::I am working on that.::

Arbiter Of Stones The Arbiter raises the jewelry idly again, and makes as if to clang two of the bracelets together, and watches the three flinch, before grinning a satisfied smile.

Thirteen ::Most notably, the Fifth Lineage.::

Birds ::That seems typical of this place. All dark things swirling under polished beauty...::

Thirteen "More importantly, have you knowledge of what higher-up set these three up to be convicted in his stead?"

Cerin nods to Thirteen. "That was indeed the question I was considering."

Arbiter Of Stones addresses the Hraks again. "Place these on the legs of the prisoners, then take them away."

Zahara ::Very eloquent, Birds.::

Arbiter Of Stones After the prisoners -- each carefully holding their legs as still as possible -- are led away, the Arbiter finally addresses the Solars. "I have all the information I need about the true sources of this conspiracy. Identifying those who put it into action was of greater immediate import. Their reaction to the bracelets was enough confirmation."

Birds ::I am starting to fear the wine a little myself.::

Arbiter Of Stones ."

Arbiter Of Stones Thirteen is, perhaps, a little surprised to discover that the Fifth Lineage were here, long before any other living creature set foot in the plane....

Thirteen "Ho hum."

Birds "I'm curious."

Arbiter Of Stones That they, in fact, led the first lineage here, and that one of them engineered the argument that led to the war...

Zahara ::I sort of want to try a sip.::

Cerin "So just who do you believe is the true source of this conspiracy?" Cerin asks boldly, his magic pulling the answers he wants from the Arbiter's minds anyway.

Arbiter Of Stones "It is not difficult to say." The Arbiter waves one hand, and the remaining Hrak usher the young couple, and the other innocent bystanders, out of the room.

Arbiter Of Stones When the crowd has cleared, he states the answer quite clearly. "The Fifth Lineage are responsible, of course."

Lucent ::... The hidden ones?::

Thirteen "Ah."

Birds "Oh, is that not a figurative term?"

Thirteen "Now I understand why you brought us here. Education."

Zahara "What grudge do the Fifth Lineage bear against the others?"

Thirteen "From the arrival of the first Lineage, they have acted to manipulate and control the evolution of Xara's culture."

Thirteen "They are responsible for the Threefold War that led to the Pact that rules today."

Thirteen speaks absentmindedly, assimilating the hidden information in the carvings as quickly as he can.

Arbiter Of Stones "Indeed. This is how it has always been. Even the most carefully engineered clock needs to be... wound occasionally."

Arbiter Of Stones Thirteen just now gets to the meat of the story -- the description of how the magic of a Solar Seal was used to seal the Pact and bind Xara's citizens to the secret rule of the Fifth Lineage...

Thirteen "Hm."

Arbiter Of Stones "Most importantly of all, this investigation has given me the opportunity to study /your/ motives."

Zahara "And have you found them pure enough for your liking?"

Thirteen "We are certainly fascinatingly driven individuals."

Arbiter Of Stones "I am not particularly concerned with purity. What concerns me is the impact of your goals upon our society."

Zahara "I can certainly appreciate your concern." she says, indicating for him to continue

Thirteen ::We may have a problem.::

Zahara ::Please enlighten us.::

Thirteen ::I am still not convinced that we have an unmonitored avenue of communication to which to resort.::

Zahara ::Hello, Arbiter, how are you today?::

Arbiter Of Stones "So. Please. Tell me your true reason for coming here."

Thirteen ::It is possible that that particular ploy may be slightly too transparent for him to be deceived.::

Zahara ::Oh come now, it was fun if nothing else.::

Zahara "I told you, we wish to trade for the Etchcrystals, and anything else which would assist us in our growth. And we have much to offer in return."

Arbiter Of Stones shakes his head, sadly. "Thirteen."

Thirteen "Xara possesses many things that will be of use to us in our campaign. We seek merely to collect them, and render adequate recompense."

Arbiter Of Stones "That, at least, is not a lie." The Arbiter grins again.

Zahara "We felt it more proper than taking things without such recompense, and I'm sure you agree this is a better course."

Arbiter Of Stones "And such, we reach the unfortunate conclusion of our conversation here: what you seek is not for sale, at any price."

Zahara "That is interesting, as it belongs to us."

Thirteen "I fear you misunderstand, my friend."

Thirteen "You have done us inestimable service in preserving and protecting our property. The time has come for your no-doubt wearisome duties to end."

Arbiter Of Stones "I considered that this unfortunate turn of events might come to pass." The Arbiter sighs gently. "I will give you one final chance to rescind your demand and leave Xara peacefully, without ill will."

Zahara "Unfortunately our world depends on the use of this item."

Zahara "I am interested whether or not we can find an adequate replacement for it, perhaps one that will better optimize the flows of your world."

Arbiter Of Stones "Then for the love of our homeworlds we have become enemies." The rocky face considers Thirteen briefly. "A shame. I enjoyed your presence here; every great lawman needs a talented foil to keep matters interesting."

Thirteen "I assure you that I will do everything possible to ensure that you and I will have many more clashes in the years to come."

Zahara ***

Arbiter Of Stones "I find it unlikely, Zahara. The very bedrock of our society is what you seek. Its power is vast. You think that you can replace that?"

Birds "Rock is only rock."

Zahara "Will you allow me time to study it and discover if this is possible before we declare war upon eachother?"

Zahara "I give you my word that I will not attempt to steal it..." she pauses then adds drily, "Unless said war is declared."

Cerin frowns, as a thought occurs to him, though for the moment he remains quiet

Arbiter Of Stones "I am not a newborn whelp, Zahara. I know you hold another. If you leave Xara now, and study that, we might still part on good terms."

Zahara "They are each unique, Arbiter, as you well know, not being a newborn whelp. I must study how it interacts with XARA to do you any good. Understand that we hold good will towards this plane, although war is indeed an option."

Thirteen "The Seal in question is used by the Fifth Lineage to maintain its governance over the plane."

Zahara "Then my question is Why do you wish to keep them in power, if they assassinate the other members of the government?"

Thirteen "By the by, whose seal is it?"

Birds "This is getting ridiculous. Where is my book?" Birds digs through her robes to find some paper and scrawls ALL ABOUT THE FIFTH LINEAGE on it, flashing her castemark in annoyance. She waves the paper briefly at the Arbiter in hopes of swiping some answers.

Birds "What is a Fifth Lineage, anyway?"

charlequin It's about at the beginning of Birds' question that Cerin gets his characteristic surprise sense.

charlequin The Arbiter moves to begin responding to the question when the glow of the crystalline walls that lights the chamber fades out entirely, and the sound of numerous small animals skittering, crossed with that of a glass harmonica, seems to fill the air.

charlequin "I canno--" The Arbiter does not finish his sentence.

Zahara blinks and looks up, tensing

Thirteen stands still, listening quietly.

charlequin Cerin and Thirteen, their Essence vision only partially clouded by the thick coat of darkness laid over the room, can make out small things -- tiny crystalline creatures, five and seven and elevenfold symmetry, pulsing with essence, cover every inch of the wall and floor; and the Arbiter, so recently standing confidently, flat on the ground.

Zahara "Hello." She says loudly, speaking with confidence and steadiness in her voice.

Tags: (:tags Xara, Arbiter of Stones, Five Lineages, Hrak, Scions, Bin-al-Zen, Fifth Lineage, Twilight Caste Seal, Etchcrystal, Exaltation Checklist :)

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