Thirteen walks through the forests on the outskirts of the Cascade, looking for small animals to eat.
alsoquin The forests have regrown somewhat ever since the fire that stripped them to the ground, and squirrels and other animals have begun to resume their places in the area's ecosystem. As Thirteen tracks a small chipmunk, however, he starts to hear other sounds from one side -- definitely not a chipmunk.
Thirteen "Hello, Belladonna. I am surprised at the lateness of your arrival."
alsoquin There is some more shuffling for a moment, before the young woman -- unkempt hair tied back behind her head, and apparently quite cross -- stumbles out of the brush. (...)
alsoquin Her clothing is unusually... practical, for her purposes -- she's clearly prepared for a hike, though a certain hint of stylish selection still remains in the contrasting olive tones of her outfit. Her face is scratched and marked with soot, and she carries a crystalline walking stick that appears to have dried blood upon one end..
alsoquin "That's just like you! 'Hello, Belladonna, I knew you were there for two hours, why don't you carry your own things over for you, I'd do it myself only I can't be bothered to'!" She throws down a rather large and heavy-looking sack on the ground, near Thirteen's feet.
Thirteen "I would not want to insult your capabilities by suggesting you require my assistance."
Thirteen slides his spear into the ties of the sack and lifts it onto his back.
Thirteen "Allow me to continue my demonstration of politeness by asking what has brought you to the Sunlands."
alsoquin "As I said: it's just like you." She seems to be breathing heavily as well, and stops to take a swig of water from a dented canteen.
Belladonna "Since you have always been the " -- she coughs slightly -- "'superior detective,' why don't you tell me why I am here instead?"
a`rock is lying unimportantly on the ground under a tree, looking grey.
Thirteen "Of course, if you wish."
Belladonna gestures that Thirteen should lead on as they talk.
Thirteen dips his head politely, and proceeds. "Our theft of the Seal shattered the bonds holding the society of Xara together, causing widespread rebellion and chaos. By now an interim government no doubt has a tenuous hold over the plane, but it will not last."
Thirteen "Since I warned you in advance, you were not surprised by what occurred. Though you first wished to kill me and my friends for our treachery, your promise stayed your hand, and you now see that my action was the best course to take for your people and your home."
Thirteen "Your feelings are conflicted over my behavior, but as I have, in the end, aided you inestimably, you have come with all your worldly belongings to give us what aid you can in our campaign in exchange for your emancipation."
Belladonna stops walking for a moment. "Open the bag."
Thirteen halts also, and does so.
Thirteen "You also intend to observe our activities and report them to your compatriots on Xara, that they may be protected from any further disruption our campaign may cause."
Belladonna Inside, there are many of the normal accoutrements Thirteen would expect -- basic food and cooking supplies, clothing, and so on. Near the bottom is a smaller, velvet bag, holding a rectangular object within, perhaps a foot by eight inches by six.
Belladonna "Keep going," she says, and nods to the bag.
Thirteen reaches in, removes the smaller bag, and opens it too, slipping a hand inside to investigate its contents.
Belladonna Within is a crystalline box, smoky but transparent enough to see within, where a purplish miasma floats around a small, immobile creature -- a tiny, crystalline spider-like creature that Thirteen immediately recognizes.
Thirteen taps the box lightly, listening to the echoes of the Essence within.
Belladonna The purple mist seems to quiet and slow essence, which most likely maintains the quiescent state of the creature.
Thirteen "A present, Donna?"
Belladonna "If that's what you think of it as."
Thirteen "To what do I owe this largesse?"
Belladonna "Well." She pauses to think a moment. "It's not because you're so nice and polite. Even though you DID warn me before destroying my entire society."
Thirteen "We did not warn anybody before destroying Atomnos's society. I mention this only so that you may be more aware of your exalted position."
Belladonna thinks a little longer. "No, it probably has more to do with this." She digs around in her jacket for a moment, then pulls out a piece of -- once again bloodstained -- paper.
Thirteen shuffles the various bags and spears he's holding for a moment before reaching out to take the paper.
Belladonna The piece of paper has a set of unusually elaborate Old Realm characters emblazoned upon it in black ink. The language is not one Thirteen is at all familiar with, though that poses no specific challenge for him. It surrounds a darkened drawing that seems to depict an eclipse, with a mountain and building below. (...)
Belladonna The text speaks of an "approaching conjunction" and a "fortuitous alignment," then goes on to list a series of location coordinates.
Thirteen "Where did you find this?"
Belladonna At the bottom, in the only non-black ink, is stamped a golden geometric symbol that Thirteen is unfamiliar with.
Belladonna (It is a right triangle, bisected and the resulting triangles bisected again; set over a pentagram.)
Belladonna looks at Thirteen as he reads it. "When we thought we had the Fifth on the run, unexpected reinforcements showed up for them. Humans, but... humans more like you." She looks at the bloodstains on the edges of the paper. "One of them used to own that."
Thirteen "This symbol...it does not, by chance, have any significance to you?"
Belladonna "No. I've never seen it before."
Thirteen "I believe, Belladonna, that you may have rendered us an inestimable service."
Thirteen "How may we repay you?"
Belladonna "Well." She looks mischieviously thoughtful.
Belladonna "I no longer seem to have a set of lavish quarters OR a prestigious job in government...."
Thirteen "You were always too flighty for administration."
Thirteen "Your talents lie elsewhere. Espionage, I think, would be a fine career choice for you."
Thirteen "Please, accompany me. I have a friend you should meet."
Belladonna nods. "I do so enjoy dissembly...."
Thirteen leads Belladonna into the Cascade, allowing her just enough time to be interested in all the sights without giving her the chance to satisfy that interest.
Belladonna "This place is really quite.... large."
Thirteen "You will find we are not quite as regimented as Xara. Luxury is available to all those who serve us well."
Thirteen ::Zahara. I have someone whom you should meet. Might I call upon you in the War Room?::
Zahara Her distracted mindvoice replies after several moments, ::Is it important?::
Thirteen ::An old friend of mine has just called upon us looking for work. She brought a few items with her that you should be acquainted with.::
Thirteen ::One of them appears to be Lai's invasion plans for the upcoming eclipse.::
Zahara ::I'll be there momentarily.::
Belladonna (Let the record show that there are also three stars arranged geometrically around the eclipse in the picture.)
Thirteen continues to drag Belladonna around, taking a circuitous route to the War Room in the hopes that Zahara will get there before he does.
Belladonna "Oooh, some of these decorations are quite nice. There's a lovely rumble of water in the background, too..."
Zahara is waiting in the War Room, impeccably dressed and looking calm and regal, seated upon the thronelike chair that is her place at The Great Table. On the table are several light pastries shaped like dreams.
Thirteen "I can assure you that I, personally, find the Cascade a delightful place to make my home."
Thirteen "Ah, here we are."
Thirteen "Zahara, allow me to present Belladonna, formerly of the Rotational Subcommittee of Xara."
Thirteen absent-mindedly picks up a pastry and slips it neatly into his mouth.
Belladonna nods. "Hello, Zahara."
Zahara glances at Thirteen, then takes several moments to study the woman before her.
Zahara raises a brow at the direct address. "I imagine I am pleased to meet you, Belladonna. I am more formerly known as Her Royal Highness, Zahara Zhan, the Dreambreaker, Empress of the Sunlands."
Thirteen "It occurs to me that while Cerin and his men serve skillfully and well as our secret police, our army must also have its own intelligence division if we are to be prepared for all circumstances."
Thirteen "Belladonna is to be the first of this department."
Thirteen "As a token of her qualification for this position, she has brought us this document." Thirteen passes the bloodstained paper to Zahara.
Zahara ::An interesting post to give to someone I have never met before, and who may or may not be loyal to the Sunlands.::
Thirteen ::The coordinates on that paper correspond to an assortment of Gates, spread throughout Meru.::
Belladonna bows more deeply, "Ah, I am sorry, ah... Empress."
Thirteen ::I seem to recall that you once gave the post of general and tactician to someone you had similar misgivings about.::
Thirteen ::How has that decision served, thus far?::
Zahara accepts the paper, and gives it a cursory glance before smiling at Belladonna, "Apology accepted," ::If I recall, you had a trial period. This will be acceptable for her as well.::
Zahara then looks back at the paper, studying it with more interest. "Fascinating. Where is this from?"
Thirteen ::Agreed. I will observe her. If she shows signs of treachery, I will kill her.::
Zahara ::Excellent. I shall also have Lucien and Cerin speak with her, if you don't mind. Not that I doubt you, but for a position this vital, it is best to be absolutely sure.::
Thirteen "During the revolt against the Fifth Lineage, Exalted reinforcements showed up to attempt to keep the Lineage in power."
Zahara "What sort of Exalted?"
Thirteen "This document was found amidst their remains."
Thirteen "Donna? What powers did these men display? What symbols did they bear on their foreheads?"
Thirteen ::Of course, Zahara. Your caution is most reasonable.::
Belladonna "A variety of abilities." She pauses. "Your Majesty." She pauses again. "This particular gentleman seemed to be able to manipulate shapes, and bore a pentagram on his forehead."
Zahara studies the way she talks, to determine what she is really thinking. "Interesting," she muses. "A pentagram you say?" She looks down at the paper in her hands.
Thirteen "A god I am unfamiliar with, unfortunately."
Belladonna "Yes, indeed."
Zahara levels a long look at Bella. "What is it that you want from us?"
Belladonna "Well." Bella nods warily. "Given the chaos that has enveloped my previous home...."
Zahara watches her expectantly. She WILL finish her statement.
Belladonna "I have services that are valuable to any nation, but I now have none."
Zahara "So you wish to serve us?"
Belladonna "I believe you owe me no less." She curtsies politely. "Empress."
Zahara smiles and inclines her head politely in return, "Thirteen Blooming Flowers thinks highly of you, Belladonna. For this I will accept the offer of your services, though you must speak with Cerin as to where you will fit in among us as well. And there will, of course, be a trial period in which you will undoubtedly impress me with your prowess."
Belladonna Belladonna curtsies again, even more politely. "But of course. I am certainly well familiar with such requirements."
Thirteen smiles absently, thinking the bloodstained parchment over. He coughs up a pen and a scroll.
Thirteen "The second service you may render us is to tell us of the current state of Xara. If our enemy has interested himself in your restructuring, we must be aware of it."
Belladonna "In the aftermath of your departure, of course, the bonds restricting the four lineages were broken. The war broke out almost immediately. Our early attempts made significant progress against the Fifth Lineage, but they were reinforced from outside Xara by powerful, Essence wielding humans."
Thirteen "How did you prevail over them?"
Belladonna "The Fifth Lineage were unprotected and unready. They had manipulated us for thousands of years from the shadows; they had no preparations for open warfare."
Zahara "And you did?"
Belladonna "Though Xara has known many years of peace, a well-trained military force was a key portion of our governance."
Zahara "You must have resented them greatly to be so prepared to turn on them at the drop of a hat, as it were."
Belladonna "The tensions between the Lineages were always near the breaking point. Internal conflict could've torn the Four apart, if a few of us had not managed to turn it against those who had always pulled our puppetstrings."
Zahara "And what is in place now, to keep them from tearing themselves apart once more?"
Belladonna "That is where you come in."
Zahara 's eyes spark with interest. "Is it now?"
Belladonna "You are the ones that hold the Seal that once governed Xara, and you possess your own abilities of governance besides." She lowers her head a little, and a single lock of hair falls out from behind one ear. "As I see it, it is your responsibility to rebuild Xara to its former glory."
Zahara "I will not." she raises a brow.
Zahara "Its former glory was flawed, fraught with friction and power games. I will build it into something new."
Thirteen "We have many pressing concerns at the moment. Taking on a new colony the size of Xara will be a significant consideration."
Thirteen "It seems likely that there will be a short delay before we are able to assume rulership."
Zahara looks thoughtful as she reclines back in her throne. "But if I do, we must consider what the benefits of my assumption of rulership are to the Sunlands. And, as Thirteen has so rightly noted, it will have to wait until after the Eclipse to truly design a new government."
Belladonna "But of course. I did not expect you to drop all of your innumerable other responsibilities."
Zahara "My empire is vast, and yet, there is no better place to live in all Creation. There is no better ally than the Sunlands. And no better nation to swear fealty to. I will send an advisor to assist you until I can pay full attention."
Thirteen "Do you in fact come with the authority to make such offers, Belladonna?"
Belladonna "I do now."
Zahara taps her foot, cocking an eyebrow at bella
Belladonna "Now that no one outranks me in the remaining Xaran acting-government, of course."
Thirteen ::Xara is a plane most concerned with the processions and patterns of inevitable destiny.::
Thirteen ::Perhaps a Sidereal Exalted would be ideal for the purpose of guiding it for the nonce.::
Zahara ::Ikara, then?::
Thirteen ::She is, after all, not currently occupied.::
Zahara ::Indeed. It will make her happy to be useful, and in such a position of power, I think. So long as she clears the large decisions with me.::
Zahara "I must introduce you to Ikara. You can brief her on the factions and politics of Xara, and assist her in learning what she needs to know to be my representative to Xara, to lead the interim government."
Thirteen "I will locate Ikara, while you prepare a room for Belladonna."
Thirteen "Near my own, I think."
Zahara smiles lightly and rises. "How do you feel about mahogany, Belladonna?"
Belladonna "I will do so, Thirteen." At Zahara's comment, Belladonna looks surprised, a little. "I am... not sure what 'mahogany' is."
Zahara "Hmmm I will have to educate you in the varieties of wood and stone available. It has been a long time since I have had the simple pleasure of furnishing a room." she looks across the table, where there is no chair. "A long time."
Thirteen Some time later, after Ikara has been located and briefed, and Belladonna's room furnished, Thirteen enters it, carrying the sack Donna brought on her journey.
Thirteen "I have brought your possessions, Donna."
Thirteen "I hope that our arrangements have been satisfactory to you."
Belladonna "Indeed. It is not quite to the glorious level of the new quarters I was forced to give up because of you, but it will certainly do."
Thirteen "I am sure that the ornateness of your rooms will rise with your fortunes, as always."
Thirteen "It is good to have you here."
Belladonna Belladonna nods.
Belladonna "Thank you. It is reasonably pleasant to be here as well."
Thirteen "I am glad that the path that we pursued on Xara has not led to the loss of our...friendship, as I suspect it has with the Arbiter."
Thirteen "Have you left him alive?'
Belladonna "He did not meet his end by my hand, though I have not seen him since you made your escape. I would guess that he had fled Xara entirely, if he still lives."
Thirteen "I hope that he survives. Of all the enemies I have had, he was one of the ones I enjoyed the most."
Thirteen "I wonder whether he will forgive me."
Thirteen "Perhaps more to the point, I wonder whether you will."
Belladonna Belladonna is flitting around, arranging the objects in her bag and largely ignoring Thirteen's words, but she stops when he speaks his last sentence.
Belladonna "I..." The statement trails off.
Thirteen patiently waits for her to continue.
Belladonna "...th...thank you for the accomodations. I will see you later, perhaps?" She does not turn around to say it.
Thirteen pauses, frowning ever so slightly.
Thirteen "If that is what you wish, Belladonna."
Thirteen inclines his head, takes up his spear, and walks from the room.
Tags: (:tags Belladonna, Xara, Fifth Lineage, Eclipse, Ikara, Arbiter of Stones :)