< Void/Flame | Sol Invictus Logs | A Different Perspective >

alsoquin Slowly, Thirteen emerges from his reverie within the Wasirranu, now having become trained in the initial postures of the Golden Branches of the Tree Style. He finds the Spire's topmost chamber completely empty.

Thirteen "Father. I must go now, to tell my people what has happened. Will you do me the honor of conveying me?"

alsoquin Almost instantaneously, Thirteen finds himself whisked away through the floor of the Spire... drawn through the phloem of the tree, downwards ever so rapidly, before being deposited at the outskirts of Viridian.

Thirteen smiles, and walks into the celebration, listening for his friends.

alsoquin The atmosphere is still jubilant in Viridian. Never before have the Spearfolk been able to celebrate so freely within their own borders -- decorations (mostly in the form of bells and other pleasing sound-makers) hang everywhere, great fires burn in all of the pits, and warriors and civilians alike are dancing in the streets, often in scandalously little clothing

alsoquin Just as Thirteen is beginning to become concerned that his friends are not easily visible, Orobo comes running over to him. "Grand Chieftan!"

Thirteen "Yes?"

alsoquin "Your companions departed here and instructed me to tell you..."

alsoquin He takes a large breath so that he might convey the entire message. "The Dreambreaker has been captured, and taken to Halta, and you are to remove the collar that you wear immediately before returning."

Thirteen is still.

Thirteen "Ah."

Thirteen slowly and carefully removes his collar and swallows it.

Thirteen "Thank you for your message, Orobo."

Thirteen "Goodbye."

alsoquin "Goodbye...? Grand Chieftan, what do you go to do...?"

Thirteen begins walking rapidly towards the Gate.

Thirteen "The same thing I have done for you."

Thirteen "What I have sworn to do."

Thirteen places his hand on Orobo's arm as he passes.

Thirteen "Do not fear. I watch over you now, as I could not before."

Thirteen "As long as you serve me, I will know of your suffering, and I swear to you that I will return."

alsoquin Orobo nods happily. "I shall seek to guide our people with wisdom while you are gone." He grips Thirteen's arm back in the way that is traditionally considered a noble salute amongst the Spearfolk.

Thirteen "Govern our people in my absence, Orobo. Thirteen Blooming Flowers grants you this gift, and this geas."

Thirteen proceeds to the Gate.

alsoquin Orobo carries himself proudly as Thirteen departs.

Thirteen scans the map in his belly as he punches the code for Halta into the Gate.

alsoquin Quite unlike when he entered his meditative state, Thirteen notices that quite a few of his insubordinates are indisposed:

alsoquin Tepet Ejava, wounded and in battle; Belladonna, wounded and in battle; the defense forces of the Labyrinthine Cascade, in battle.

alsoquin Their positions are noted as being either within the manse or the city of Solaria.

alsoquin The garrisons stationed at strategic points within the plains and woods nearest the Cascade are also marked as in battle.

Thirteen growls, and his hand pauses for a moment.

Thirteen continues just as quickly, erasing the first coordinates and entering the location for the Gate nearest the Cascades.

Thirteen steps through.

alsoquin As Thirteen keys in the combination, the intense feeling of upcoming surprise overcomes him and does not particularly dissapate.

alsoquin As he steps through, the first thing he notices is that the ground is shaking violently beneath his feet, so strong that a normal mortal could barely stand.

alsoquin This gate -- the one Herons first showed the Circle -- is a short distance from the manse proper. The sapling woods that have been growing back around it are looking a little worse for the wear from the earthquake; many are collapsed. The roar of the earth shaking is almost overpowering as Thirteen sprints through the woods.

Thirteen glows brighter and brighter as he charges through the trees.

Thirteen ::Thirteen Blooming Flowers, Tactician-General of the Army of the Sunlands, speaks to you. Make full report.::

alsoquin A blast of static is the response Thirteen immediately receives over the ring.

Thirteen idly coughs up a sesseljae and tosses it aside as he heads towards Ejava's listed location.

alsoquin As Thirteen clears the border of the forest, the sight he would see from his slightly elevated position, had he any eyes, is quite astonishing. Presumably from the earthquakes, giant holes have opened up in the earth, both within the streets of Solaria and in the plains that surround the city and Manse. From each of these great cracks pours forth a seemingly endless quantity of dark, foul creatures of endless vile shapes and appearances.

alsoquin Around them, a dark black mist rises up as well, clouding the air around the pits, and filled with dark, poisonous Essence.

alsoquin In the streets of the city, the defense forces are operating in fine form, following Thirteen's carefully planned maneuvers, though clearly the seemingly endless tide of forces emerging from the pits is having a negative result on their fight... And while all this is going on, in the air, above the manse....

Imrama A large air ship hangs just over the manse. Thirteen's ears ring with Essence, informing him that the entire ship is made of sunlight. The ship is listing heavily to one side, pointed at a sharp angle to allow the cannons on its starboard side to strafe the waves of oncoming dark brood.

Thirteen "Hm."

Imrama The ship is, in form, similar to an assualt trireme, although considerably bigger. It has a sharp ramming nose on at the prow, and an unusually wide, fanned tail aft. Vertically orbiting its midsection, a massive ring of light spins constantly and evenly, with a slight hum.

alsoquin Thirteen charges through the streets, towards Ejava's location. It does not take him long to pick up the sound of her voice, rapidly and forcefully shouting orders to the men surrounding her as they drive back one small portion of the horrific creatures before them. Though the map shows her as "wounded," she does not in any way sound below peak capability....

Thirteen "Ejava. Why are you here? My defense plans very clearly call for withdrawal into the manse."

Thirteen "Whose ship is that?"

alsoquin As Thirteen speaks, he feels his mind jolted backwards by memory... the strange experience of remembered sight floods his perceptions as the time of Wei Dan overlays the present...

alsoquin Standing atop a branch in a tree, looking out on another city, its carefully carved wooden buildings moaning as the poems inscribed into their very foundations sputter and die in the vast fires that burn amongst them, Thirteen sees creatures -- exactly like those who swarm Solaria today -- running through the streets, striking and destroying all that their misshapen forms can lay hands or claws or tentacles upon.

alsoquin At the center of the city, just in front of where the creatures flow from, stands a creature -- a demon. With five scaly, feathered heads, a rainment made of softly tinkling gems, and cruel hands from which water, constantly shifting between white and black, constantly drips, it gestures and the creatures do its will.

alsoquin Thirteen calmly pulls a piece of paper from his pocket, and runs his finger over it; words appear as he does so, describing the creature, and with the name "Hgthura" written beneath. He carefully doffs his hat, and slips the note into the hidden pocket within, before replacing it on his head. He does a quick kata intended to clear the perception and then, with one mighty leap, storms towards the demon....

alsoquin Suddenly, Thirteen is back in the sightless present.

Thirteen "Hgthura..."

alsoquin "Thirteen! Thank the Dragons you are finally here!" Ejava shouts as she spots his anima, and runs towards him.

Thirteen "I apologize for my absence. What has occurred?"

Imrama Laughing with joy in the fight, a tall man of Southern complexion leaps over the tilted rail of the airship and falls slowly out of the sky, his firedust pistols launching gouts of flame into the crowds of darkbrood. This is the use to which his guns were first used, long, long ago. Barking flame as they buck in his hands, they seem even happier than he does. The figure, his course, black hair in tied back in long dreadlocks, wears a long, ornate coat of gold and black, with epaulettes and insignia suggesting high military office. Rolling into an entirely unnecessary forward flip as he glides to a halt just above the surface of the earth, raining fiery death on the enemy all the while, the man comes to a position near Tepek Ejava, covering her and her ajacent troop formation.

Thirteen turns, spear held lightly in one hand.

alsoquin "This morning the ground began to shake and maws opened up all around the city," she shouts over the numerous noises. "We've been fighting them off as effectively as possible. Imrama" -- she gestures to the dreadlocked man -- "arrived and began to help us perhaps two hours ago..."

alsoquin Thirteen notes instantly the man's Solar Essence that marks him a member of the Eclipse caste.

Imrama "Commander Ejava, is this your superior officer?" *nods toward the spear-wielding eyeless man*

Thirteen "Greetings, Imrama. You will forgive me if I do not indulge in the usual courtesies, as work has piled up since I have been gone."

Imrama "No oppology needed - I had hoped to come at a more convenient time, but I will settle for arriving when needed."

Thirteen "It will oblige me immensely if you swear to serve the Sunlands for the duration of this conflict, conditional upon my continued benevolence towards you. You will, of course, apply your usual assurances to cement this promise, that we may be assured allies."

alsoquin Battle rages on around both as this occurs, of course -- darkbrood continue to pour out of the ground as the two Solars efficiently cut them down and speak at the same time.

Imrama "I, Trierarch Imrama Stormfound, swear to protect and serve the Sunlands until the sun next rises over me, and to answer to the nation's military leaders in the excercise of my service.

Imrama *Imrama seals this oath with his anima*

Thirteen nods. "I greet you as a brother, Imrama. I am Thirteen Blooming Flowers."

Thirteen removes his hat and runs his hand along the lining as he speaks. "Ejava, why did you not pull the army back into the manse? They cannot invade there."

Imrama "I return your greeting, as one who has never known a living sibling, and is deeply glad to have found one."

Thirteen "We have few indeed, in these troubled times."

alsoquin "The foundation was damaged by the earthquake! All the Essence systems of the Cascade are offline, and we have insufficient manpower to repair the damage while the battle rages," she shouts, stabbing four creatures in the process.

Thirteen "Hm."

Thirteen "Something went wrong."

alsoquin "It certainly did," Ejava shouts again. The ground begins to rumble even more strongly in response.

Imrama A tightly controled, extremely mall and quiet tornado bursts into being around Imrama, shielding him from just above his head to just below his feet. He turns his back momentarilly from 13 and Ejava to incinerate a contingent of gibbering, ichorous darkbrood. Their lidless eyes pop under the plasmic heat.

Thirteen "These demons are commanded by a central enemy. We must seek them out and destroy them to turn the tide. Arrange yourselves in the formation of the Thunderhead, and protect the citizens of Solaria when possible. Imrama and I will seek out the beast."

Thirteen pauses. "Have you happened upon Belladonna?"

alsoquin Thirteen's fingers discover, ever so slightly, a VERY carefully hidden compartment, concealed between two tightly-held-together flaps of straw in the hat, with tiny tissue paper notes within.

alsoquin Ejava speaks up, her blade swinging around wildly. "We spoke about an hour ago, but were separated in the conflict. She is around here... somewhere..."

Birds stumbles out of the manse. Her hair is plastered to her face with blood, and a wound on her arm drips as she approaches. "Ejava, Th-twelve!"

Thirteen skewers a demon with slightly more force than necessary.

Thirteen "If you find her, please keep her...Birds-of-Trinity."

Thirteen steps towards her, placing a hand on her unwounded arm.

Thirteen "Are you all right?"

Birds allows him to take her arm but doesn't lean into him comfortably as she usually does. "The throne room...needs to be swept..."

Birds She continues muttering nonsequiturs.

Thirteen "Birds..."

Thirteen "Are you well enough to fight, Birds-of-Trinity?"

Thirteen roughly pulls all the notes out of the hat and eats them.

Birds bites her tongue and pulls herself up straight. Straightish. "I will always be well enough to fight, Thirteen. Show me my battle station."

Thirteen sighs.

Thirteen "Good. This is Imrama. Imrama, Birds-of-Trinity."

Thirteen "Let us go."

Imrama "It is an honor; I am sorry about your head."

Thirteen "Ejava, if you see Belladonna...try to ensure that she lives."

Thirteen "Please instruct her to exercise similar concern with regards to you."

Thirteen turns, lightly holding Birds's arm, and heads towards the center of the chaos.

Birds "Thank you." Birds adjusts her bandage and sets her face into an expressionless mask.

Birds "I hope that later we will be able to enjoy one anothers' company."

Thirteen "I too hope that that will be possible."

alsoquin "I will do so!" Ejava says, and immediately dispatches three soldiers to locate Belladonna.

Imrama "Don't worry - I don't plan to die today, and I won't let you folks either."

Thirteen 'That is considerate of you. I will attempt to extend you the same courtesy."

Birds winces at the word 'plan.'

Thirteen scans the notes he just consumed as he proceeds through the melee.

alsoquin The notes cover a variety of very useful topics, but one in particular is currently relevant.

alsoquin "Hgthura, The Skein of Delirium, Third Circle of Cytherea. Known to do battle using the very sounds and smells of the air. According to accounts, vulnerable to white flowers breathed upon by a maiden." (This last note has a little checkmark next to it that was not present in the flashback.)

Thirteen sighs irritably.

Thirteen "Do either of you know any maidens?"

Imrama "Do constructs composed entirely of Essence and sunlight count? Because otherwise 'no'."

Birds "It's worth trying."

Thirteen takes a step that is very slightly shorter than the one he took immediately previously.

Thirteen "Hm."

Thirteen "We need some white flowers."

Thirteen "There should be some in the tea garden nearest the entrance to the Cascade."

Thirteen "At least, I have been reliably informed that they are white."

Thirteen "Imrama, do you have any special capability for acquiring them at speed?"

Imrama "I can fly there if you need me to, but I don't exactly know where 'there' is."

Thirteen "Birds, go with him. You will be able to find me."

Imrama *At his best speed, Imrama runs through the air towards the all important-flowers*

Imrama "So, Madam* Birds, I noticed that you also do not like to touch the earth." (*Madam is here as a stand in for an archaic feminine honorific in Old Realm)

Thirteen continues grimly onwards.

Birds nods and starts to lead the way. Then, remembering, "I will return. Imrama, this way."

Birds A bit later, "It is true. Once I swore that I would not touch the earth while I yet live... now I am already dead and y place is not in this word, so I will not defile it."

Imrama "Oh...I see. [Changing subject] I gather that you and Thirteen Blooming Flowers are the compatriots of Empress Zahara. I did my best to learn all I could before I came to swear to your banner, but there was little more than rumor and innuendo when I stopped off in Nexus."

Birds "We have been friends for a while. Don't touch the leftmost pillar of that gate. You have heard of us? You must thing we are dreadful people."

Birds **think

alsoquin Thirteen strikes his way through more darkbrood, pushing on forcefully until he can gaze over the lip of one of the pits... and hear the jingling of the demonic beast that stands, one hundred feet below, commanding the creatures that attack.

Imrama "I know concretely that you are the single greatest force opposing the Red Lily. And that you used Air Fortress Atzeret to destroy their base of opperations in Gem. I know you are a people of great power, and I believe our goals run in parallel. I trust more to what I know than what I think."

Thirteen hefts his spear, and leaps. The golden tree that surrounds him twists and shivers into a shining thunderhead as he rises upwards; it billows, and he descends, spear a glowing bolt, striking at the demon lord. (...)

Thirteen "Hello, Hgthura."

Thirteen He alights on the ground. Three seconds later, there is a rumble of thunder.

alsoquin The demon looks at Thirteen and three of its heads laugh. "Ah, prey. Three of us are still hungry!," say two heads in unison while a third licks its lips.

Birds nods. "Then I bid you welcome. Just here," she pushes back a water curtain, "is the moon garden."

Birds It is full of flowers in shades of black and white.

Birds "I didn't know it was called Atzeret. Do others survive that you know of?"

Imrama *Imrama drinks in the sight of the garden with wonder - the tiniest hints of lost glory returned to the world move him emensely, and a single tear falls down his cheek. Then the moment is past, and he plucks an armful of white flowers.*

Imrama "I am not sure - but if anyone would know, it would be my father."

Birds takes some white flowers and some black. You never know. "It's," she coughs, "a little early to meet the family, maybe. Let's go find our brother."

Thirteen "I am in a hurry, Hgthura. It would be a great help if you attempted to kill me, failed, and then died, rather than wasting time in idle conversation."

alsoquin Two of Thirteen's strikes find home, and break through to cut the beast's skin; vicious blasts of highly pressurized ichor, glowing black and white, shoot from the wounds, intent on impaling Thirteen.

Thirteen twists his arm even as the blows land, ripping the spear head from the wound as his weapon spins to ward off the deadly blood.

Birds mentions ways to avoid the Manse's traps and boundaries as they pass them. "Rub the lion's head...do not inhale there...three steps across the bridge..."

alsoquin Hgthura adopts the Lesser Sign of the Jewel and his hands begin to flicker in and out of existence, striking at Thirteen's vitals.

Thirteen "Hm."

Thirteen swings his spear in great arcs, outlining the character for "fortress" in a language that has been dead since before the world was made. Two blows penetrate his defenses, and he flickers himself before them, returning when they have passed.

Thirteen "I admire your stance. Perhaps once I have sent you back to Hell I will prevail upon my friend to bring you back, that you may teach it to me."

Birds sketches a glowing crescent in the air and grips it tight as she and Imrama return. "What is that beast he is fighting?"

Imrama Irama and Birds come within sight of Thirteen, at war with the demon beast Hgthura. As the two approach, a much larger, looming shape crests overhead from the opposite direction. Imrama's ship, the Fable of the Reconstruction, brings its fully five of its massive guns to bare on the creature of hell.*

Imrama "I do now know much - I know it is a demon, and little else."

Thirteen "Birds. Breathe on the flowers, and throw them to me."

Birds takes a bundle of the white flowers and does so. She is careful to include some crackly dried stems among them.

Imrama The radiant coils of the essence cannons aboard the Fable of the Reconstruction hum for an instant, and then discharge with a blinding flash into demon hide, turning the air around the creature into colorless fire.

Imrama Meanwhile, on the ground, the ship's captain raises his two much smaller weapons. Tongues of lightning swirl around him, and a halo of Old Realm mathematical notation swirts around his forhead in crackling electrity as he pours out a stream of fire fit to remind the demon of the place it calls home.

Birds breathes on the bundle of flowers and tosses it at Thirteen. Almost before it leaves her hand, she draws her golden sunlight sword in one hand and a pen in the other.

Hgthura looks up with two of its beastly heads, and swings one arm around to pick off the attacks... it blocks most, but two of the great cannon blasts reach past its arm, and the ichor that squirts out cannot reach all the way up to the sky....

Thirteen leaps again, reaching out to lightly tap the blooms with his spear, sending them towards the demon in a dazzling array of petals, except for one, which remains at the point of his weapon. With the precision of a calligrapher, he brings the spear's head to bear on the demon's heart, and drives it forward, flower leading the way.

Hgthura Thirteen's spear strikes deep, directly into the heart of the demon. All five of its heads scream a bloodcurdling scream in unison as the flower sends steam in copious amounts out of the wound.

Thirteen "I would let you flee. I would allow you to swear to trouble us no more, and scurry off, to whimper to your mother of your failure."

Thirteen "But I am angry. And you have hurt my friends."

Thirteen heaves mightily, and shoves the spear through the demon's chest and out the other side.

Hgthura Black and white smoke pours out of the demon's mouths, and the scream becomes harsher, even less like words... then, suddenly, it stops, and all five heads fall limp as the demon slumps to the ground.

Thirteen pulls the spear out, and, with a flick of the wrist, covers the ground with deadly ichor, which begins to industriously eat it away.

alsoquin With Hgthura dead, the unending flow of darkbrood from the great pits ceases, and Ejava's men, trained to the hilt, begin to push back and slay those who have already emerged.

Thirteen climbs laboriously out of the pit.

Imrama *Imrama offers a hand*

Thirteen takes the hand gratefully.

Thirteen "That is a fine ship."

Imrama "Thank you. You are a terribly impressive combatant."

Thirteen "Naturally."

Imrama *Imrama stares blankly into the distance for a moment as he silently instructs his crew to assist in dispersing the darkbrood.

Thirteen "Forgive me. I must find a friend of mine. Then we must proceed to find two more."

alsoquin The immediate crisis appears to have been averted, and the remaining darkbrood present little threat.

Thirteen seeks out Belladonna among the throng.

alsoquin It takes but a few minutes for Thirteen to locate Belladonna -- she has a few reasonably nasty injuries (including a large cut on her right side) but is in no danger; she had helped evacuate portions of the city where some living citizens yet remained.

alsoquin "Thirteen?" she says, as he approaches.

Birds twirls her ring on her finger uncomfortably, thinking... ::Thirteen, can you hear me?::

Thirteen "Donna. I am assured that you acquitted yourself well."

Thirteen "We are lucky to have you."

alsoquin Thirteen hears Birds' words in her head.

alsoquin Belladonna nods, then winces as her side bleeds a little. "Thank you. I am.... glad to hear it." She smiles a little.

Thirteen "Are you...do you..." He puts his hand on her arm, tentatively. "Are you all right?"

Thirteen ::Yes, Birds.::

Thirteen ::Cerin?::

alsoquin sits down and looks up at him. "I think so, yeah. A few bandages and I'll be fine." She winces again. "I've had worse, in my day." She tears a strip off of her shirt and begins to bandage her wound.

Thirteen "I...will return."

Thirteen ::We must to Halta.::

alsoquin Belladonna nods.

Birds Birds replies only with a wave of deep sadness.

Thirteen "Imrama, I require your aid, and that of your ship."

Thirteen "Birds, perhaps it would be as well for you to bring Crystal."

alsoquin As Thirteen speaks, he suddenly realizes he is about to be surprised once more.

Imrama "It is at your disposal, of course"

Birds "I hope you will forgive us for seeming reserved or distracted, Imrama. We were not expecting guests."

Thirteen "Excuse me. I am about to change my mind."

Birds waits for Thirteen to continue.

Thirteen also waits.

Imrama too

alsoquin A hole is torn in the very air in front of the Solars, and out of it flies a beauteous wasp. On its back is Zahara, but not as Thirteen remembers her... her face shattered, scars running up and down her arms, and the leaf-gilt collar still hanging around her neck.

Thirteen lets out his breath in a hiss.

Imrama whispers to Birds: "Is that poor woman who I fear she is?"

Birds "Zahara!" Ignoring her own wounds, Birds rushes to her side and helps her down.

Thirteen steps forward and helps Birds to help her.

Zahara{} is, as well, screaming bloody murder. "CERIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!" She opens her eyes, sees the devastation wrought around her home, her sanctuary. She hoarsely whispers "Akuna." and slides sideways off the wasp in a dead faint.

Thirteen "Dreambreaker."

Thirteen coughs and expels about half a gallon of water onto Zahara's face.

Zahara{} screams again, coming violently awake.

Zahara{} "I'll kill him. I'll kill him I swear it. I have to go back!"

Birds glances back at Imrama. "Meet Zahara."

Thirteen "Where is Cerin?"

Imrama watches quietly and compassionately*

alsoquin Zahara receives something through the Unity -- not a feeling, but a full image...

Zahara{} starts to push her hair back from her face, then changes her mind, the dangling ends of the shackles Markuran had ripped from the wall rattling coldly. "He..."

alsoquin She sees a vast field of fire, unending in all directions.... a form, a man, steps through it... just before he has gone through all the way, he reaches one hand back through the fire... and a ring of black and red glints on the finger.

alsoquin The image is only too familiar.

Zahara{} "He traded himself for me." her voice, once shaking, clears and turns to ice. "He sacrificed himself for me."

Thirteen "Fool."

Thirteen "He will not escape his duty so easily."

Zahara{} suddenly realizes that the new face is also glowing like the Sun. She looks away. "It's my fault."

Thirteen "Then you may redeem yourself in service."

Birds embraces Zahara for a moment, and then floats up, straightening the tombstone on her head. "Yes."

Birds "We survive, and we are NOT going to grieve for Cerin, not here or now. Let's return to the Cascade and see that he is not lost to us."

Birds "That would be...one too many."

Thirteen "More than one too many."

Thirteen "But one we will not allow, as long as we have the power to prevent it."

Zahara{} hugs Birds, then straightens, gathers what's left of her dignity, bows to the new person. "Welcome to the Sunlands." and makes her way toward the Cascade. Her posture is ramrod straight, and she refuses to limp.

Birds "Zahara, this is Imrama. Imrama, welcome to life. You will soon observe that it is hard."

Imrama Wary of disrupting a very intimate moment, but determined to do what he came to, Imrama addresses Zahara, floating along to keep up with her as necessary."

Thirteen walks after her, and as subtly as he can, puts a hand on Zahara's shoulder, and whispers.

Thirteen "Zahara...I am sorry."

Thirteen "I promise you that he will not be lost while I draw breath."

Zahara{} rubs the tattoo across her middle finger, the one thing they could not take from her. "Markuran was there."

Imrama "Empress Zahara Zann, the Dreambreaker - I am sorry to have found you on an inconvenient day. I am hear to swear myself the banner of you and your company. You are the hope that this world, and many others besides, have left; I would be a part of that hope, to make it grander still."

Zahara{} stops and turns to Imrama, staring at him in disbelief. That was not what she expected to hear herself addressed as this day.

Thirteen "Good. I am eager to meet him."

Imrama holds her stare with warm, unflinching eyes - he is so sorry for her pain, and determined not to let it stop her or anyone else.

Zahara{} "Some hope." she touches his hand, and seals it with no further comment. Or at least tries.

alsoquin Zahara touches his hand, but nothing else happens.

Imrama takes the hand (not forcefully, she may pull away if she wishes) and calls forth his own anima, making the oath doubly sealed

Zahara{} smiles crookedly, and continues on in silence to her workshop.

Zahara{} finds it in disarray from the earthquake, and takes some time to put it back to rights. Her movements are automatic and without thought. She sets a shard of the mirror that once lined a wall up on her worktable, leaning it against the wall for stability. Regarding herself impassively, she twists the collar between her fingers.

Zahara{} sits, and very deliberately begins to carve sixteen runes of reversal into the design, with the tools she had made specifically for working on the collars. Her design. The differences are small. She has to stop several times; her fingers feel thick and clumsy, except for the one that is broken. That one she has grown used to imagining is no longer there in order to ignore the pain.

Zahara{} closes her eyes feeling the warmth of her Essence envelop her, easing the pain. The glow of it washes up against the void in her soul and retreats. She sets down her tools, leaving the collar on. It will remind her - like she needs to be reminded. "I will come for you." she touches the mirror and tips it onto the floor where it shatters. A thousand Zaharas rise and turn to face the others whose gaze she bears like a burden. "I do not require your sympathy. Let me be."

Thirteen "The last time you were out of my presence, it cost us two dozen men, ninety wounded, and one Solar."

Thirteen "I do not think that the next time will be soon."

Zahara{} turns her gaze on Thirteen. The coldness contained there eclipses any he has ever felt before. "I said. Leave. Me. Be."

Thirteen "We do not have time for this, Zahara."

Thirteen "We must leave for Halta immediately."

Thirteen pauses.

Thirteen "Is he dead, Zahara?"

Zahara{} "If you think I do not know what my actions have wrought, Thirteen Blooming Flowers, you are sorely mistaken. But I will not return unprepared. Cerin sacrificed himself for me. FOR ME. If you think I will not return for him, again you are incorrect." She turns away from him at his question. "Worse."

Thirteen sighs, and leans his spear against the wall, sitting down.

Thirteen rubs his face wearily with his hand.

Thirteen "I am sorry, Zahara."

Thirteen "I retract it."

Zahara{} "Markuran promised not to slay him. He would not let me die. Neither of them would."

Thirteen "But I must confess that, at this moment, I do not want to be alone. Do not make me leave."

Thirteen "If he lives, then there is no worry."

Thirteen "When we are bound to restore the hundreds of shards that have been scattered and destroyed and consumed, one that remains relatively whole is no significant concern."

Zahara{} looks up at him, and away again. "They would not tell me what he swore to do in return for my freedom."

Thirteen "It does not matter. There is no binding we cannot lift and no injury we cannot repair."

Thirteen "It seems to me that we should go now, before there is no trail in Halta to follow to the source."

Thirteen "But perhaps you have a different suggestion."

Zahara{} slides back into her chair and claims a very sharp tool, toying with it. "I promised Markuran I would scour Siram from his soul. I fear I will have to do so twice." she replies quietly. "How can I return, when I can barely lift a chisel? I am useless and more."

Thirteen "Do not be a fool. You may not abdicate your duty by pleading weakness."

Thirteen "Rise up, and do what we must."

Thirteen "I know you have the strength."

Zahara{} "I used that strength resisting turning over my entire Empire to the hands of the enemy. Thirteen, I know enough of torture to realize that I remain alive by the barest of margins. I will not cross that threshold solely to die at their hands and repay him so for the depths of his love. I will NOT."

Thirteen "You are correct."

Thirteen "That is why I will be with you."

Thirteen "If you insist, though, we need not go to Halta now."

Thirteen "Locating Cerin will be a straightforward task."

Zahara{} "Just give me time to heal my wounds. To recover my strength." She stares at him for a long moment then walks over to him and takes his hand with her broken one. "I understand you cannot see what I speak of, so feel it." She moves his fingers to her face, to her arms. To every wound and scar left from her visit with Akuna. "When I say I have no strength it is not because I have given up." She steps away from him. "It was a long week."

Thirteen "Zahara."

Zahara{} does not respond, her reflection glaring balefully up at her from the shards on the floor.

Thirteen "Come with me."

Thirteen takes her non-broken hand lightly, and leads her to her bedroom, sending a servant to the infirmary with sharp words as they pass him.

Zahara{} follows, her footsteps sounding hollow to her ears.

Thirteen displays a delicacy and care that is perhaps surprising as he tends to Zahara's wounds with suddenly capable hands.

Thirteen "When I was in Wasirru I remembered something, Zahara."

Zahara{} "I did not know you for a surgeon." she lies back in her bed, her own bed but not the way she expected to do so on her return. "What did you remember?"

Thirteen "I was not one, before."

Thirteen "Father Dragon is a sage, but Mother Dragon is a healer. Her gift is mercy, for she gives life, even to those who hurt her children."

Thirteen "There are three dragons whose secrets I must remember, after all."

Thirteen "I am no diplomat, Zahara, and I cannot lie to you. I am angry."

Thirteen "I am furious that you were taken, and that you nearly put the lie to my promise to you."

Thirteen "I am enraged that Cerin went to rescue you, alone, without my aid, and allowed himself to be deceived, rather than fighting and winning out."

Thirteen "But I am sorry, that I was not there to protect you both."

Thirteen "I will do better."

Thirteen "Remember that this is not the end."

Thirteen "We will reclaim him, and Markuran, and all the others."

Thirteen "This is a promise that I have made."

Zahara{} laughs suddenly. "Your anger at myself pales in comparison to mine. Thirteen Blooming Flowers, you know that I am not stupid. I know that I am not a kind, nor gentle woman. It is beyond me why so very many people care for me enough to endanger themselves for a life so cold. I would have had Cerin kill me rather than leave him behind to complete his devil's bargain. I had no choice on my return, but I did not seal his oath."

Thirteen pauses, a stitch half stitched.

Thirteen "It is no-one's place to know why they are loved."

Thirteen "I note, though, that if you condemn yourself, you have the power to sentence and rehabilitate yourself as well."

Thirteen "But that does not matter."

Thirteen "You cannot die, Dreambreaker."

Thirteen "You cannot leave me, and all your responsibilities, behind, because you find their weight too great."

Zahara{} "Not until I have saved them."

Thirteen "Not until we have done what we must do."

Thirteen "And, indeed, we must save them."

Zahara{} "Thirteen," she closes her eyes, her voice bitter. "They have both of our seals, along with near-everything I have made in preparation for the fight."

Thirteen "Yes."

Thirteen "But you live. And so do they. And so do we."

Thirteen "What has been lost may be regained."

Zahara{} looks down at her tattoo again, "You don't understand," she whispers, her voice catching. "I gave him up to them long ago."

Thirteen "What do you mean?"

Zahara{} "No sacrifice is too great." she murmurs, and fights against the flood that threatens to overwhelm her. "I am a sorceress of the highest order in Creation."

Zahara{} "Do you know what that means?"

Thirteen "Tell me."

Zahara{} "When a sorceress undergoes each trial, each initiation into the higher circles of magic, a sacrifice is demanded of her. The Third Circle requires a great sacrifice. One which I allowed Creation to decide for me." She clenches her hand into a fist. "And it just did."

Zahara{} "So you see. All of this is my fault. My responsibility. My burden. And in return for this, All this, I have power."

Thirteen slaps his hand sharply upon the nightstand.

Thirteen "You are doing it again."

Thirteen "You are accepting the way things are."

Thirteen "Listen to me."

Zahara{} flinches at the noise, gritting her teeth on an unnecessary scream.

Thirteen "When I heard from Selonis, that the shards of my brothers and sisters had been destroyed, then my only thought was: I must preserve them, my friends."

Thirteen "We are the only ones who are, and the only ones who will ever be."

Thirteen "But I went to Wasirru, and I stepped into the tomb of my ancestor, and I read his words."

Zahara{} "I should have gone with you."

Thirteen "And they said that through all the years, through the deaths and sufferings, " -- he touches Zahara's hand lightly at her words -- "he had given his shard and his power to me, that I might restore the glory of the Solars to the world."

Thirteen "And it was then that I saw that I had been a fool. That in my childishness I had said, what is done cannot be undone; the crimes that are perpetrated by the Incarna and the Primordials and the Neverborn are forever, and my power is limited to stemming the tide."

Thirteen "But this is not so."

Zahara{} "How will you do this?"

Thirteen "I will do what I always do."

Thirteen "I will find the information I need, gather the resources I require, devise a plan of action that accomplishes my goals, and do what I must do."

Thirteen "Though it take a thousand years, even a thousand lifetimes, I will not be stymied. The world shall be as I will."

Thirteen "Do you see what I mean, Dreambreaker?"

Zahara{} "Do you know," she says suddenly, "That I accomplished my goal in Halta." she laughs again, harshly. "I have only to trade lives to the demon and in return he will teach me to summon and banish them. The plan worked."

Zahara{} "Will you be my next sacrifice in the name of power?"

Thirteen "Is that what you want?"

Zahara{} "I did not want any of this. This circle is nearly broken. So few of us remain. We must find Lucent, and Kai. And I must seek a spell." she smiles bitterly. "A spell to rip Cerin and Markuran back from the grip of Hell."

Thirteen "If you do not want to sacrifice, Zahara, then do not."

Thirteen "The power is in your hands. Define the rules you desire, and follow them, and let the world bend to follow you, rather than following the world."

Zahara{} "I have to. There is no other way. Tell me if you know another."

Thirteen "There is always another way."

Zahara{} "I had... a lot of time to study the differences between Markuran and Siram, though only with mortal eyes."

Thirteen "What do you think happened to the Bone Dagger Kings, on our journey to Wasirru?"

Zahara{} "Demons can be bound by sorcery only. It follows that Siram may be similarly compelled so."

Zahara{} "I assume you eliminated them, as you pledged."

Thirteen "That seems a reasonable suggestion."

Thirteen "No."

Thirteen "My purpose was not to slaughter needlessly."

Zahara{} "No?"

Thirteen "It was to save my people."

Zahara{} "So you treated with the enemy to save them?"

Thirteen "The Kings are in Xara, where they may be welcomed by a people more used to those who are different."

Thirteen "I found another way, Zahara."

Thirteen "There is always another way."

Zahara{} "One might wonder why, truly, we fight this war."

Thirteen "To save the world, Zahara."

Thirteen "To protect all humanity, and all those who live, and to restore our brethren, who will not have died in vain."

Zahara{} "From what? Change?"

Zahara{} "The gods have been treated poorly. Of course they chafe when denied their rights."

Zahara{} "We would have done better to guide them, rather than meet them head on."

Thirteen "Perhaps, had they not sent assassins to kill you, you might have considered it."

Zahara{} "Strategy wins wars. Diplomacy averts them."

Thirteen "One cannot avert a war. One can only win it before it begins."

Thirteen "This one has begun."

Zahara{} "I do not know that we could have come to agreeable terms, of course. And I severely doubt that it is possible now."

Thirteen "Yes."

Zahara{} "It was the one question I did not have a good answer to."

Thirteen "What was?"

Zahara{} "Why we fight them. Or at least, why we began to fight them and did not try to meet with them to parlay."

Thirteen "Hm."

Zahara{} stares up through the canopy on her bed, silent.

Thirteen "Perhaps there is another way."

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