alsoquin As is so often the case, the Solars stand before the gateway, preparing for yet another journey into the unknown.
Cerin decides there is little to be gained by standing around, and opens a gate to the heart of the realm of Atomnos.
alsoquin The gate roars to life with sigils of brilliant copper and grey.
Zaha sighs a little as she watches the gate come into being.
Zahara fixes her hair, straightens her dress, and steps through along with Tanty and Reaver
alsoquin The gateway opens up into a large, dusty building, perhaps one hundred feet high and twice as far around. The building does not appear to have been used in some time, though there is no obvious damage to any portion of it. Elaborate but abstract detailwork runs through the great columns and arches supporting the roof.
alsoquin Wooden benches run through much of its length, bordering a wide central aisle that leads back to grand iron double doors. At the opposite end, a vast altar sits with seven unevenly-heighted pillars, upon each resting a liquid or mineral of some kind.
alsoquin Far above the altar is a vast window of stained glass in the shape of an upward-pointing pentagon; in its center are two symbols that can be recognized as bearing the meanings "gold" and "lead."
Birds puts a steadying hand on Zee's shoulder. "Just take a deep breath."
Cerin steps through, careful not to disturb the dust as he walks.
alsoquin The air is surprisingly cold, though not quite frigid.
Zahara nods to Birds, "Thank you, I will be fine." then her gaze turns to dissect the room before them. She had dealt successfully with the Xi-Mi-Taxi before, and she would deal with these as well.
Birds goes over to look at the altar.
Thirteen calmly steps through the portal, summoning up what distant memories he has of Atomnos.
Cerin wraps himself in essence, insulating himself from the cold as he studies the native flows of the plane, seeing what he can divine ...
alsoquin The building seems to closely resemble a manse, though the exact nature of the Essence flows filling it is rather different than what the Solars are familiar with.
alsoquin Zahara walks over to the altar and examines the pillars carefully. Atop each one sits a different substance -- a small bowl of quicksilver, a tiny amount of sulphur, a small block of iron. Atop the tallest, most central pillar sits a stone, seemingly quite usual -- but it bears Essence within....
Zahara ::Hmmm interesting... but what is this one? Some sort of Hearthstone analogue?::
Birds ::I dunno. Break it open.::
Zahara ::No, we do not need to offend the owners *quite* yet.::
Zahara ::I prefer to remain messengers of peace as long as possible.::
Thirteen ::We shall see how long that will be.::
Thirteen ::Atomnos is a foul place, as I remember.::
Zahara ::Well, I was able to successfully deal with the Xi-Mi-Taxi. I do not wish to jeapordize my relationship with them by treating their home plane callously.::
Birds ::Shall we go outside?:: Birds is hovering by the doors.
Zahara reaches out to see whether or not the Essence of this plane is compatible with hers, curiously. ::Yes, but please go slowly. We do not want to startle the inhabitants.::
Birds nods and gently pushes open the door.
Zahara casts one more long glance at the unusual object, ponders whether the window refers to transmutation, and follows Birds out in a stately manner
alsoquin A cool, acrid breeze blows in and kicks up dust wherever it touches. Outside the building lies a skyless night, a dark cut only by flickering fires on the closely-packed buildings that lie beyond. Above is only the inky blackness cast by a roof of solid rock.
alsoquin The buildings are elaborate and geometric, all rising upwards harshly and oppressively. Great glass windows with elaborate filigree line the upper floors of many of them, though none are lit from within.
alsoquin Upon all the walls, scrawled in red, is an oft-repeated message: "Darkened Zone: Do Not Enter"
Zahara "Well. It *is* dark."
Thirteen ::Let us move quickly. The people of this plane spend little time out of doors. I am...not sure why.::
Cerin ::That sounds like a curious thing to find out.::
alsoquin Cerin can hear sounds, far on the periphery: clicking, grinding, and the very slightest liquid splorch.
Zahara moves toward a lit area.
Cerin tilts his head. ::There is something, machinery in the distance. You should continue on to the lit area ahead, I think. I will rejoin you soon.::
alsoquin Far in the distance, between some of the empty buildings, there is what appears to be a slightly lit passageway, leading beyond this dark cavern.
Thirteen ::Whether we move to investigate or to avoid, speed will no doubt be helpful.::
Zahara ::Stay in contact, Love. Let us know if anything happens, or you find something interesting out.::
Cerin ::I will, of course:: He kisses Zahara's cheek and then sinks into the shadows and up the side of the building, making his way towards the sound.
alsoquin Moving swiftly through the winding, cobbled streets, between the tall and ominous buildings, the group arrives at the gate -- a vast cast-iron door, bolted firmly in place.
Birds messes around with the latches. Can it be unbolted from this side?
Thirteen ::Shall we announce ourselves?::
Zahara ::In the Forbidden Area? Hnnh::
Thirteen ::It is not forbidden so much as overly hazardous.::
Zahara sighs, and moves up to the lock, feeding Essence into it and carefully dismantling the thing.
alsoquin The bolt and thick iron chain it is attached to fall easily away and the gate creaks open.
Zahara waits til the others are through, and reattaches them.
alsoquin On the opposite side, things are far more busy, though not necessarily more pleasant.
alsoquin The buildings here still hang under an oppresive rock dome, but more wan lights brighten the pathways between. Pallid men and women in worker's clothes of brown and black shuffle between the buildings, while others in ceremonial outfits stand at corners -- blue robes with red trim, and on the center (...)
alsoquin of the chest, an emblem of a diamond with the four tips filled in, overlaid by an ornate rose.
alsoquin The elaborately-dressed individuals seem to be guiding the workers, but also watching quite closely, and the Solars seem to get an eyefull from the nearest ones.
alsoquin There is a dull murmur of voices, but no clear conversation can be made out.
Zahara glances at her companions, then moves forward to address the ones that seem to be most in charge.
alsoquin The nearest gentleman in looks quite askance to Zahara as she approaches.
Zahara "We wish to speak with the leader of your city. Please send us such conveyance as is appropriate for those of rank."
Birds , before stepping out of the shadows, concentrates for a moment and transforms her garment into a webwork apparently made of ribbons of copper, iron, and bronze, all artfully rusted or verdigrised.
alsoquin The man reacts to Zahara as if something completely unexpected has happened. She obviously does not fit into his worldview.
alsoquin "Who are you? Where did you come from?" He is reaching for something on his belt as he speaks....
Zahara "We are emissaries from Meru." ::We come in Peace is far too cliche'd for this, isn't it?::
Birds ::And not necessarily true.::
Thirteen ::You have already asked him to take us to his leader. I do not think the avoidance of shopworn phrases should be our highest priority at this point.::
alsoquin "That will not be necessary, Honorable Sodal. Return to your duties," says a low voice from behind the Solars.
Zahara turns with a measured pace, "And who do I address?"
alsoquin In the last few moments, a crowd of five have assembled behind the Solars -- four of the same pallid humans who surround them, this time in purple and silver robes that bear a different design, this time two triangles joined at one tip to resemble a pair of wings, overlaid with five elaborate fireballs of different sizes (...)
alsoquin -- and in their lead, a man who appears to be made entirely of the polished, rainbow-hued metal that Zahara once pulled from a meteorite -- angular designs of intricate filigree cover his body, and his face has a design almost more geometric than human. All five hold thin, vicious swords made of many-hued, reflective glass and they shine patterns of light upon the nearby surfaces. (...)
alsoquin "I will answer no questions you ask of me. You will accompany us to the Eighth Stone, as foretold by the Sky-Fires. You may begin to walk."
Birds ::They do not speak with the customary deference.::
Thirteen "I am impressed with the stealthiness of your army of Exalts. I do not detect the slightest trace of them, but I am assured that you would not speak so to us without one."
Birds ::On second thought...:: "You do not speak with the customary deference. A lesser person would be impressed at your audacity."
Zahara maintains her poise and dignity, only lofting a brow at his command. "And what is at the Eighth Stone, that we should accompany you there?"
Birds proceeds to fly around examining the upper stories of buildings, pointedly ignoring the metal ignoramus.
alsoquin "The Astrological Sodality defers to no one."
Zahara "Nor do we, thus we seem to be at a bit of an impasse."
alsoquin The metal man shrugs. "It is foretold. You hold in your hands only the choice of how it will come to pass." He maneuvers the blade to hang closer to the Solars. "How do you choose?"
Zahara "Tell me first, what is the Eighth Stone?"
Thirteen idly shifts his spear to his left hand, suddenly glowing. "The Sky-Fires...ah, yes. And which of the Sky-Fires vouchsafed you this information?"
alsoquin As Birds flies around above, she sees how difficult it is to make out much of anything useful -- the cavern stretches off into the distance, and other gates like the one they entered through can be seen, but the cavern roof seems without holes or entrances.
Thirteen ::Perhaps now would be a good time to mention that we come in peace.::
alsoquin The metal man does seem a little confused about the reactions of those he has come to confront.
Zahara ::Oh yes, your display will back that up quite well.::
Birds "Dear sister, isn't it true that we are getting late for our next appointment? Perhaps we had better be departing."
Birds ::I think that if we are simply obstinate he will become more polite as the situation demands.::
Thirteen ::Please forgive me for preparing to defend myself. I forget that you prefer to trust to fate.::
Zahara "Simply answer our two questions, and we can proceed peacefully." She insists.
alsoquin "We will bring you before the Pentarchal Host, as spoken by Ulesh. Without your cooperation it will go poorly. With your cooperation it will go well. As I stated, the choice is yours."
Zahara nods, "Thank you." ::Does that actually mean anything to any of you?:: "We will go with you, please lead the way."
Thirteen ::Ulesh is the Sky-Fire corresponding to the ending of journeys. In Meru it is known as the constellation of the Rising Smoke.::
alsoquin The man nods and his followers sheathe their swords. Without speaking the metallic man leads onwards towards one outskirt of the city, towards a vast five-pointed cathedral that proceeds far, far upwards in fractal elegance.
Birds descends to float directly above Thirteen's head, he being the one least likely to be unnerved by this behavior.
Thirteen "It is kind of Ulesh to grant us such attention, although I fear that our journey has just begun."
Thirteen "Tell me, how many Sky-Fires does your Sodality concern itself with?"
alsoquin As they walk along the dark, winding streets of the city, the man seems unwilling to answer immediately. "All that still hang in the Seraphic realm, having avoided the dark plunge into the Qlippah."
Zahara nods as if that, in fact, made the slightest bit of sense.
alsoquin He thinks for a moment and seems about to speak again when a sound -- a sort of grinding and splorching all at once -- erupts from nearby, loud enough for all to hear.
Thirteen ::They would correspond to the twenty-five constellations you know in Meru.::
Zahara ::Thank you::
Zahara looks to their escort to see if they ought be concerned about the unpleasant noises
alsoquin "Leaden Damnation!" he cries. Tapping one of his followers on the shoulder, he leads the other three away down an alley. The last remaining gentleman continutes to lead the Solars as if nothing had happened.
Zahara "Is there trouble we could perhaps assist you with as an act of good will?" She inquires
Thirteen "After all, we come in peace."
alsoquin The man shakes his head but offers no speech.
Zahara strokes his metallic head for a second, and Reaver climbs down her body and scuttles off down the alley
Zahara "Then we will continue."
alsoquin It is not too far to the Eighth Stone now, though the noises from wherever the others have gone grow louder -- shouts, the sharp sound of glass against metal, along with the grind and splorch growing ever lourder....
Zahara turns, and regards the sounds
Zahara ::Shall we?::
alsoquin Zahara gets a mental flash of the events, as creatures of grinding metal and black ichor swarm across a portion of the city, straining the defenses mounted by men in colored robes and armed with the vicious blades of glass...
Zahara ::They are not doing well against creatures of some sort of metal and ichor. I am going to help.:: She calls her blades and moves sedately towards the gore.
alsoquin The Sodalite shouts at Zahara to halt as she departs but seems to have little else to do to control her actions.
Thirteen "Excuse me, mortal."
Thirteen strides after Zahara.
Birds makes a polite bow as though to a slight inferior. "We will be sure to return to this Eighth Stone as opportunity allows, but business now presses." She follows Thirteen.
alsoquin As the Solars draw nearer, the sounds grow louder and more horrific -- an undercurrent of wet slithering that is enough to set teeth on edge undercuts the metal and glass.
Zahara thinks, oddly, of Tevezst.
alsoquin As they reach the line they can make out the creatures in horrifying detail -- masses of jagged iron shards seem held together by sinuous black ichor in shapes hinting at and mocking those of insects, beasts, birds... in their trail they leave darkness and death, while the warriors of this world attempt to drive them back.
Thirteen ""An Alevan formation in response to a Kashkar assault. Trite."
Thirteen listens carefully for a voice of command, and heads in that direction.
alsoquin Zahara estimates that there are probably over four hundred of the beasts, and no more than one hundred twelve -- no, make that one ten -- one oh seven -- probably around one hundred remaining soldiers.
Zahara does not bother with formations and tactics, merely moving to intercede on the behalf of those that look the most in danger. Her four swords dance and twist, slicing together like the limbs of a preying mantis with a 'snickt'
Zahara laughs lightly, and the War Bell peals, the tone shimmering through the air, refracting off the glass of the blades, and tearing through the ranks of those she deems enemies.
Birds conservatively retreats to the upper airs, where she can attack while watching the flow of battle.
alsoquin The tone rings through the air, shattering iron and sending black ichor splattering across every nearby surface -- she can see how it burns away those who it even touches. The blast tears apart one wave of the creatures but it is not enough to stem the tide --
alsoquin though it does give one soldier the chance to plunge a cast iron stake in the ground between the closest set of buildings and the creatures. (...)
alsoquin From other stakes the Solars can see planted further along the line, iron fencing patterns shoot through the air, joining together into a massive iron fence that begins to glow brilliant red.
alsoquin The creatures are all one one side of the fence and the soldiers on the other -- all except the unfortunate who planted the stake, who pulls an ingot of gold from one pocket and holds it aloft defiantly as he is torn apart.
alsoquin Only a more manageable portion, rather than an endless, unstemmable tide, of creatures remain on this side, and the soldiers move to intercept them.
Zahara finds herself fascinated by this fence, and wants one of her own.
alsoquin Thirteen sidles up to a man in a brilliant helmet and bearing a great crystal staff -- his robe bears a diamond with a filled circle within, overlaid by five weapons that cross one another -- he is just now ordering the men into a formation to attack the remaining beasts.
Thirteen "Excuse me, mortal. Tell me -- what plague killed all your tacticians?"
alsoquin The man spits back "The Qlippan are here, I don't have time for foolish questions! Each block we lose from tardiness will be on your head!"
Thirteen "Better to die at leisure than to be sent to your death with dispatch. Even had you the necessary for an Alevan formation, the terrain does not permit the correct distribution. You will throw away half your men."
Thirteen snaps his fingers, compelling a sudden silence, and with his finger draws a few sweeping lines across the commander's battle map.
alsoquin The commander does not intend to listen but the simplicity of Thirteen's gesture is almost overwhelmingly convincing.
Thirteen takes it out of his hand as he gazes in confusion and turns to his adjutant. "Here is the distribution of forces. Please note the requirements on the left flank. They must be in place in five minutes."
alsoquin The man nods and begins waving his staff in direction.
Zahara strikes the bell again, feeling the sound move through her like a wave
alsoquin Thirteen's strategy is, as always, impeccable. With a surprising swiftness the remaining soldiers come around at the beasts from unexpected angles, driving them forward, exactly into the brunt of Zahara's blast -- just as intended.
Thirteen looks back at the commander. "Elgan is much more effective a response in a confined space. Observe." As the men move into position, there is a notable ripple in the lines of Essence permeating the area, and an indefinable tension begins to gather on the left flank.
Thirteen watches. At the end of the fifth minute, the sky roils and sighs, and a dragon line winks abruptly out of existence. A thousand creatures scream, wriggle, and die, turned inside out by their own power or gutted by their suddenly eager adversaries.
alsoquin Thanks to the elegant assistance of 13, the remaining creatures have been mopped up with minimal casualties and the fighting has drawn to a close. But it is not a victory without loss --
alsoquin three more blocks were lost to the Qlippan when the fence was drawn, and the screams of those within meeting their end as the walled-off creatures make a lazy but violent retreat echo through the streets.
Thirteen "Now that the fighting is over, perhaps you might fulfill my curiosity, and tell me what small child taught you strategy. I believe he requires firm discipline."
Zahara seeks the one who was escorting them before. "I believe you were leading us to the Eighth Stone?" She smiles.
Tags: (:tags Atomnos, Sodalities, Qlippan, Jodah :)