< Falling Into Oblivion | Sol Invictus Logs | The Secret Is Ours >

Thirteen "I have a plan."

Zahara "Thirteen," she says to him, as they step through the Gate back to the Cascade, reveling for a moment at the feel of the powerful Essence on her skin, "Please send word for the others to meet with us in the War Room."

Thirteen pauses a bit. "Indeed." He directs a servant to locate Imrama.

Thirteen ::Birds. Please meet us in the War Room.::

Thirteen "Do you have a particular agenda for this meeting?"

Zahara rubs her newly-mended finger, where the ring used to be. "We need to discuss our plans and move forward. Also, i'm hungry."

alsoquin Zahara passes a window and spots something in the air beyond the Cascade -- a little dot, moving through the air and appearing to grow closer.

Zahara heaves a sigh, and prepares for more things to go wrong. "A moment, if you will. Something is coming."

Thirteen "Hm."

Thirteen "Is it an airship? We are missing one."

Zahara peers off into the distance, "What do you mean, we're missing one?"

Thirteen pauses. "Cerin took the airship to Halta in search of you."

Zahara puts her head in her hands. "Of course." she says, muffled.

Thirteen waits impatiently for Zahara to start moving or for the airship to arrive.

Zahara looks up, squinting at the object to see if she can recognize it

alsoquin Imrama, arriving in the War Room, can similarly, through a window, make out the airship flying towards the cascade, and on the ground below, the figures of Thirteen and Zahara.

Imrama runs outside to his new compatriots, hoping to get a better look at the approaching craft.

alsoquin As the craft comes closer, it begins to become obvious that it is not in the shape it left -- the windscreen glass is shattered, and smoke is pouring from several large gouts on the exterior as it somewhat shakily moves through the air.

Zahara is barely recognizable, from the woman Imrama had first seen weak, bloody, bruised and broken. "Not the windshield again.. I just fixed it."

Zahara takes a step and her foot plants itself back on the ground. She curses virulently.

Thirteen "Hm."

alsoquin The airship limps through the air and lands upon one of the plains standing outside the Cascade; it doesn't look like it could've gone much further. The door slides open and Ahina steps out, cradling a broken arm, her clothes torn and hair mussed with blood.

Zahara turns at Imrama's approach, a slight smile on her face. Her face and body are whole again, displaying an eerie perfection that did not exist before, enhanced by the harmonious interaction of the Orichalcum inlaid in her skin and the new contours of her Self. The marks are barely recognizable for what they derived from. The leaf-gilt collar only heightens the effect.

Zahara "Ahina!" she runs to the airship, and Cerin's head ninja. "What happened?"

Ahina looks grimly out at the two Solars. "On our return, as we neared the northern border of the Sunlands, we were attacked with Essence weaponry and forced down. We encountered a group of thirty God-Exalts and had to engage them directly in battle while Horep attempted sufficient repairs to get the ship back in the air."

Zahara 's expression hardens, and at the same time becomes more distant. "I see. Were any lost?"

Imrama listens to the conversation while inspecting the make, model and working order of the airship, as well as the degree of its exterior damage.

Ahina Imrama is reasonably impressed -- it's an advanced scout model from the Rathess aeries, one he's seen plenty of diagrams and scale models of but never perceived directly. Even in its broken state, it is truly a thing of elegant beauty.

Zahara steps forward and runs her hand over the injured ship carefully, almost gently.

Ahina "Thank the dragons, no. We all emerged alive, though Folan and Ewar are badly hurt. And... I am not certain what has happened to Aliza."

Thirteen "Perhaps she accompanied her master. I assume you are aware of the departure of Cerin the Wolf."

Zahara 's hand pauses, and then moves forward, checking to see what she can do to repair things.

Thirteen "I will treat your injuries at my convenience. For the duration, I am placing you under the command of Belladonna."

Ahina shakes her head. "No. She is within; I simply do not know what has happened to her." She opens the door wider; within, amongst the other ninjas -- each dealing as necessary with various levels of physical injury -- the little fire-snake flits about, a glazed look in her eyes, whimpering softly.

Thirteen steps into the airship and proceeds without hesitation towards the snake.

Thirteen "Aliza?"

Ahina She pauses. "What has happened to Cerin? His message did not specify."

Ahina Aliza does not seem to react directly to Thirteen's words.

Zahara "Aliza." she says softly, reaching out to her tentatively. Her expression twists through love, despair and self-recrimination, before settling on absolutely nothing. "He is gone."

Ahina In the secret language of Fire Elementals, Thirteen hears her words: "how why how why how why how why"

Zahara "Cerin the Wolf gave himself up to Siram in return for my life." Her gaze remains fixed on Aliza. "It was a poor choice."

Thirteen shakes his head sadly.

Thirteen "I will see to her later."

Ahina nods. "I see." She turns back to the airship. "Hop to! To the infirmary with each of you, no delay!" she shouts, maybe a little louder than absolutely necessary. As the ninjas arise and begin to file off, she turns back to Thirteen. "As soon as the others are taken care of I will report to Belladonna for further orders."

Ahina She pauses. "I should mention to you directly, however, that a significant force of God-Exalts is poised near the northern border of the Sunlands."

Zahara "Oh. Good."

Thirteen "No doubt they were prepared for invasion if and when Zahara's wards failed."

Ahina makes the traditional Realm gesture of respect to one's superiors and follows her ninjas off to the infirmary.

Thirteen "We must to the War Room."

Ahina Aliza continues to flit around, now outside the airship, still confused.

Imrama stares at the airship with soft eyes, and touches it gently, as though handling a wounded animal.

Zahara touches Aliza gently, and withdraws, whispering "I'm sorry." although the words cannot possibly mean enough. "Perhaps we should stay here. I can work on the ship while we talk."

Thirteen "If you insist, Zahara."

Thirteen "Before I begin, I have one question."

Thirteen "Do you still wish to win this war?"

Zahara "There is no wish. We must win this war."

Thirteen "Then our course is clear."

Thirteen "We must surrender."

Ahina The black and red Essence cloud that hangs over the Realm spins ominously in punctuation of this statement.

Thirteen "Let us immediately send a messenger to the God-Exalts on the north front to propose a parley."

Zahara steps inside, gathering the broken pieces of the windshield into a pile, remembering the last time she'd done so. Then she places her hand on the ship and exerts her will, starts to push essence into the framework to find the flaws and how to fix them and suddenly stops. She looks at Thirteen blankly.

Thirteen "It will not be surprising to Lai that his latest gambit has broken us. We have always been soppingly sympathetic."

Thirteen "No doubt we would do anything to have Cerin the Wolf back."

Imrama points to various Essence conduits and momentum relays, suggesting important points to Zahara's attentions.

Zahara continues to stare blankly. His words come far too close to the truth, deny it as she will. "You must be joking."

Thirteen "I do not joke about my plans."

Thirteen "Cerin will not be found if he does not want to be found, nor held if he does not want to be held."

Zahara "Are you saying we cannot win? Or is this a ploy?"

Thirteen "If we want him back, we must bargain for him."

Thirteen "We can win, and we will win."

Zahara "And what will you bargain with? Markuran's plan was not Akuna's, it seems."

Thirteen "Indeed."

Thirteen "Fortunately, I happen to have something that Lai would give anything for."

Thirteen taps the golden seal hanging on a thong around his neck.

Zahara "And you are going to give it to them?"

Thirteen "Trade."

Imrama looks up from the ship for the first time, looking at Thirteen.

Zahara just stares at him. She checks him over using her Essence sight to make sure he's still himself.

Thirteen seems to still be his usual inimitable self.

Imrama "Is that the extent of your gambit?"

Thirteen "Regardless of the opposition Lai faces on his path to conquest, he must still bring one of the Seals of the Deliberative to the Imperial Manse on the day of the eclipse."

Thirteen "We need only meet him there."

Thirteen "There are further refinements, but the gist of the plan is as I have stated."

Zahara turns back to the ship, and diverts her mind into something she can understand. She begins mending rifts in the machinery, conjuring up materials for new wiring and plating.

Thirteen "For instance, it would be as well to meet the Solar Circle we encountered in the west, that we may prevail upon them to seal the Gates. In this wise we may impede Lai's assault without being implicated."

Thirteen "I believe that we are in possession of an artifact that is uniquely suited to this purpose."

Zahara doesn't look up. "Which one?"

Thirteen "The sorcery-capturing string in which the Gate-sealing spell has been captured."

Zahara "If we still have it."

Thirteen "We do."

Zahara focuses on a particularly tricky bit of wiring in the steering mechanism, guided by Imrama's words. "I see. And you trust this other circle why?"

Thirteen "It is a ploy, Zahara. Like all ploys, it may fail. We do what we can, in the face of armageddon."

Thirteen "If they betray us, and if our men betray us, and if the very earth and sky betray us, we cannot stand. We must then assume that it will not occur, and solve any problems that arise, as they arise."

Thirteen "I suspect, though, that we may have some information to share with them that they will find quite surprising, regarding Sol Invictus."

Imrama looks long and hard at Thirteen. "And what, pray tell, would that information be?"

Zahara "I know that we need more allies, but... Can you contact Kai or Luc? Lucent, at least, said he would not take his ring off."

Thirteen pauses.

Thirteen ::Lucent Copper Haze?::

Zahara rubs her finger again, where hers used to be, frowning. That one she can re-make, though, unlike the one on her left hand.

Thirteen "Please excuse my impropriety, Imrama. Zahara, give me your hand."

Zahara sticks her hand out towards Thirteen, hoping he isn't contemplating something else insane.

Lucent There is a faint voice. Far away.... but audible, still. ::Thirteen Blooming Flowers?::

Thirteen runs two fingers delicately along the palm of Zahara's hand, murmuring quietly in a crabbed tongue. As his fingers brush Zahara's, she finds suddenly that she understands him, as if she has spoken this language all her life.

Thirteen "(secret language)...it occurs to me that Imrama is not yet aware of the information vouchsafed us by Selonis."

Thirteen ::Lucent. We have great need of you. How much longer do you anticipate your pilgrimage lasting?::

Zahara blinks, and looks up at him, trying out this new tongue akwardly. She knows all the forms and feels fluent, but it is still odd in all ways. (sl) "Then we should tell him."

Thirteen (sl) "Do you have that much trust in him?"

Zahara (sl) Does it matter?

Lucent ::You are in luck! I am just getting back! I will be there in a couple hours, Thirteen... Amika's going as fast as I can make her go! Go and gather the Kashaen, meet me outside the cascade... you won't BELIEVE in what I have for you!::

Thirteen "Mmm."

Thirteen "Hm."

Thirteen "Lucent is currently on his way back to the Cascade. He will arrive today."

Imrama trying to be as polite as possible...

Thirteen "Excuse me, Imrama."

Imrama "I don't mean to interrupt your conversation in what I assume to be a rootless Essence language, but I think you aught to know something about the Unconquered Sun...

Imrama "He has long since turned his back on we chosen."

Zahara straightens, and looks at Thirteen, a small smile on her face, replaced by a sort of 'oh shit' look, when she recalls she'll have to tell him what happened.

Zahara "Oh, good. You know then."

Thirteen "The Unconquered..."

Thirteen "...yes."

Thirteen "Us chosen."

Imrama "Ah, I am glad that it does not come as a terrible, world-rending surprise to you." Imrama smiles a bright smile.

Thirteen "Not this time, I am afraid."

Zahara "Not any longer, no."

Zahara glances over at Aliza and returns to her work.

Thirteen "Indeed, that is the very information I suspect we will need to share with the Western Circle."

Zahara "Then you know that all of Heaven is also barred from helping us?"

Imrama "I am intimately aware of the bans, as my father has lived for centuries as a victim of them."

Zahara "Hm. Centuries indeed."

Thirteen "How did he bypass them, to raise and care for you?"

Zahara brushes her hand slowly across a cracked panel and the metal moves beneath her will, restoring it to its original glory, complete with intricate scrollwork.

Imrama "The orders set down by the Sun in his wrath only apply to the Celestial order of divinities - the Terrestrial fraternity were bound only by the laws imposed by the Seals, and now, not even by those."

Thirteen "Ah."

Zahara leaves an ugly imprint in the end of a metal rod at the mention of the Seals, then carefully fixes it.

Thirteen "I propose that the seeking out of this western Circle shall be our second or third order of business, depending on Lai's tardiness in acceding to our parley."

Zahara "You know that we cannot doom the world for a single person, no matter... no matter who he is."

Thirteen "This is not a sacrifice, Zahara."

Thirteen "This is an opportunity."

Zahara "I...fail to see it."

Thirteen "Lai would never have believed our abjection before."

Thirteen "Now we may bypass all the tedious fencing and proceed directly to the final confrontation."

Zahara replies bitterly, "Perhaps I should not have worked so hard to keep from selling myself to them, then."

Thirteen pauses, then proceeds. "Lucent wishes us to meet him outside the Cascade, with the Kashaens in tow."

Imrama "This is our missing Zenith?"

Thirteen "Indeed."

Zahara eyes her barely-begun repairs, and steps away. "We are outside the Cascade. I'l.. you. Call the Kashaen here."

Thirteen does so.

Ahina Obsidian registers his acknowledgement, and from somewhere across the field the Kashaen begin to group up and journey over to Thirteen's location.

Zahara "I need a new ring." she slides into the pilot seat.

Thirteen "We all do. The enemy can deactivate all our rings at any moment."

Zahara glances over at Imrama. "One for you too, I suppose."

Zahara smiles grimly. "Shall I make myself the master ring once more?"

Thirteen "Perhaps I might be the best choice for that, as the leader of the army."

Imrama bows with a slow incline of the head. "I would dearly like to be privy to the conversations of the court."

Zahara "Do I not still lead the Empire?"

Thirteen "Why do you ask questions that you do not want the answers to?"

Zahara returns to silence, not even bothering to dissent. She replaces a dial.

Ahina The Kashaen warriors begin to file in, arriving in the area around Thirteen. Obsidian walks over, reporting directly. "You summoned us, sir."

Thirteen "At ease."

Obsidian nods to Thirteen, and goes amongst the Kashaen, speaking to them.

Obsidian A time passes in silence, as Zahara labors to repair the airship and everyone awaits Luc's arrival. Then two things happen: Thirteen receives the sense of surprise, and he notices that something seems to be changing on the map he carries within his stomach....

Obsidian Some sort of black stain seems to be spreading around the portion of the map upon which the Kashaen currently appear.

Zahara continues to mend the ship, unknowing. Slowly it starts to look similar to how it did before.

Thirteen "Obsidian."

Thirteen "Zahara. Look at the Kashaen."

Zahara puts the finishing touches on a delicate essence channel and looks up, out the place where the windshield had been, at the Kashaen. "Why?"

Thirteen "I do not know."

Obsidian turns and looks at Thirteen... but where before he was but a man, now a black necrotic light shines from his eyes and mouth, while clouds of bone-white ash begin to flow out to fill the air around him. His face is trapped in a look of horror and his head lolls slightly to the side...

Zahara "Oh. That's not good."

Thirteen "Hm."

Zahara "This plan of yours? It's looking better."

Zahara arms the ship's weapons

Obsidian From somewhere deep within his chest, a voice echoes out, raspy and inhuman: "OUR MASTER CALLS UPON US," it says, as Obsidian's body begins to rise up from the ground and the ash around it grows thicker. The other Kashaen standing near begin to shine with the same dark light and begin to be unceremoniously incorporated into the clouds of ash.

Thirteen "I am glad we took the time to thoroughly investigate Lucent's particulars before admitting him to our company, Zahara."

Zahara picks the button up off the floor and smoothly reinserts it into its proper place, sealing it and with the same breath pushint it. The airshop fires a bolt into the center of the ash.

Imrama "I assume this is a problem?" Imrama raises an eyebrow as the nearbye air begins to harden and swirl around him.

Thirteen suddenly makes the inside of the airship a lot brighter.

Zahara "And you complained when I collared him, remember."

Thirteen "Nobody is perfect."

Thirteen "It certainly appears that way."

Thirteen "Do not fire, Zahara."

Thirteen "They still owe me allegiance."

Zahara "You're a little slow."

Obsidian Zahara's shot passes through the cloud of ash without significant effect, but shortly after she speaks it begins to grow more distinct. Those Kashaen who have not been incorporated into it back off and ready their weapons, but twenty bodies are held within the ash cloud, which begins to take a form -- like a giant winged wolf, with ten long, sinuous tendrils emerging from its sides.

Zahara "Yes, Imrama, this is very likely a problem."

Imrama "Then we will solve it, together."

Obsidian On Thirteen's map, the black mark now exactly covers twenty of the Kashaen, preventing them entirely from being seen.

Zahara "Ah."

Thirteen "I am not yet convinced that they are a danger to us."

Imrama begins to radiate bright light from his eyes and mouth.

Thirteen ::Lucent. What are you doing?::

Thirteen "However, I recommend assuming that they might become one at any moment."

Thirteen steps out of the broken windshield and walks up to the black wolf, waving the Kashaens away.

Thirteen "Excuse me. You have something of mine."

Zahara stares through the cloud, feeling the blood pulse through her veins. She looks around at the Sunlands, at Solaria or what is left of it. She looks back at the creature that is now wolf-like, and Thirteen's approach.

Obsidian The creature bends down and a dark, cold wind blows words out of its great wolfen mouth. "THE LION BRINGS THE ETERNAL SLEEP OF OBLIVION. DESPAIR AND SLAY YOURSELVES IN HOMAGE TO HIS UNLIVING GLORY."

Thirteen "I am not sure that meaningfully addresses my point. Please try to focus."

Thirteen ::Lucent?::

Obsidian Bright off-white light begins to shine from between the creature's constantly churning flakes of white ash, and it lunges towards Thirteen with jaws wide open.

Thirteen sighs. Flipping his spear to vertical, he neatly inserts it within the creature's mouth, preventing its jaws from closing as he rests a foot on one of its canines.

Thirteen "I have decided that it is a danger to us."

Thirteen "In a sense."

Obsidian Thirteen glances through the notes carefully secreted in his stomach for safekeeping and easy access.

Thirteen coughs at the unfamiliar sensation of the notes in his stomach moving by themselves, one separating itself from the others and quivering in a slavish effort to commend itself to his attention.

Obsidian The creature before him seems to bear a certain resemblance to a creature described in one note known as "The Waker of Six Peaks," a behemoth who once lived within a mountain range in the far south. Unlike the creature in the notes, however, this one does not specifically appear to be alive.

Thirteen whips the spear from the creature's mouth in a rapid spin, pushing off of the monster's ashen tongue as he somersaults out of the suddenly snapping jaws and the spear whirls overhead.

Obsidian The movements the creature makes seem to be much like those described in the notes, however -- death doesn't seem to have taught it any new tricks.

Zahara 's fingers twitch. She reaches for her sword. She growls, and plucks a sword from the air instead. "Enough. I HAVE HAD ENOUGH!" her eyes blaze with unchecked rage, and she roughly shakes the War Bell, which hovers above her, causing it to toll discordantly. "BY ALL THAT IS HOLY I WILL DESTROY YOU!" (...)

Zahara her words, however, are not meant for the transformed Kashaen, nor even Lucent. Again, she fires the ship's weapons at the black creature, this time pushing the button with all her pent up frustration and anger. It nearly breaks again.

Obsidian The creature ducks beneath the powerful Essence blast that fires over its head.

Thirteen ::Birds?::

willows ::Thirteen. Please excuse my reticence, I have been considering affairs.::

Imrama runs up out of the hull of the airship, across the gap between it and the creature and up far over the great beast's head. As he does so, he allows his orientation relative to the earth to spin, turning him upside down just as he passes over the creature's midsection. In that moment, he looks "down", raises both arms and launches two bursts each from Kilauea and Pentecost.

Thirteen ::Perfectly understandable. When you have a moment, I would appreciate your assistance with a necromantic horror on the front lawn.::

willows ::Of course.::

Obsidian The bolts of brilliant, fiery light sear deeply into the ash, leaving great holes where the creature's necrotic flesh once stood.

willows leaps out of one of the Cascade's canals, streaming water and looking put out. Birds hates being interrupted when she is sulking. Seeing Imrama hurtling by, her aspect brightens a little, and she passes her hand through one of his bolts of fire to collect a radiant sword.

Obsidian The creature roars in pain and its tendrils swing around, striking through the air at Imrama and down on the ground at Thirteen.

Thirteen knocks one tendril aside with his spear, grabbing the other with one hand and tearing it off, then inhaling the particles of ash as it disintegrates.

Obsidian The creature utters a wolfy, raspy howl.

Thirteen opens his hand, and the spear moves on its own, the forked runes writhing to drag it towards his opponent. With his other hand, he makes a sweeping gesture, from which a thousand red-gold bolts burst forward.

Birds , having not had time to arrange an appropriate act of art, works out her frustration by launching a series of attacks in the shape of obscene Old Realm glyphs. A moment after throwing the last one, she looks at it again and blushes. Such language!

Obsidian The Kashaen in the back are attempting to strike at the creature with their spears, but it ignores their swings, like angry insects....

Thirteen "Stand down!"

Imrama , hanging in mid-air, surrounded by a whirlwind and the flock of shrieking mechanic bird images that form his anima, giggles at Birds-of-Trinity's off-color sword pattern.

Lucent The earth begins to tremble. Far away, approaching fast is the shape of a grand scorpion. At the tip of its tail is a cage of pure darkness, sucking out the light of the world. Holding the reins placed on the scorpion is a little boy dressed not in pure white, but deep crimson. With him, are two beings who seem to darken the world around them. Abyssal Exalted.

Thirteen "Hm."

Obsidian Thirteen's vicious strikes tear into the creature's necrotic flesh and scatter ash all about. The howls of the Kashaen within can be heard...

Thirteen mutters something vaguely scandalous that only Zahara can understand.

Thirteen "We must get the Kashaen out from inside this creature if we wish them to live."

Birds exchanges a look with Thirteen, and then for good measure with Zahara too. He did NOT!

Zahara "I TOLD him not to leave! I TOLD HIM. Nobody listens to me." She looks at the Kashaen and their futile attempts to harm the creature. She launches a futile attempt of her own, beginning the familiar chant of her most-used spell, thinking to cage the beast if nothing else. The golden channels on her skin light up, channeling the spell and her eyes burn with fury and something undefineable. She sees Lucent. Her words do not falt

Thirteen suddenly stiffens. "Zahara. The Kashaens."

Zahara Her words do not falter.

Lucent ::... wha...:: The voice is full of... shock? ::.. Thirteen.. Zahara... anyone listening? Is that your lights? What is... going on here...?::

Birds ** remind me to change that look thing

Thirteen sighs, and drops his spear, and vanishes abruptly. There is an ominous gurgle from within the body of the beast.

Imrama observes the approaching band, and issues a mental summons to his second mate aboard the Fable of the Reconstruction. The ship, in turn, begins to approach from its mooring on the opposite side of the manse.

Zahara does not particularly seem to notice, or care, that Thirteen is now surrounded by Darkness.

Imrama also notes with gratitude that Thirteen Blooming Flowers appears able to attempt what he cannot - the saving of the innocent Kashaen trapped within the great ash beast.

Obsidian As they see Zahara begin to glow with sorcerous Essence, the free Kashaen begin to back away from the creature, which continues to ignore them.

Birds notices the noise. "Zahara," she shouts, "Maybe we need to reconsider our selection of a strategist. He is becoming prone to dramatic actions!"

Lucent Amika closes by, and the crimson form of Lucent jumps out from its head... and the shining orbs form the caste marks of the Exalted as a stair beneath his feet. Each step brings out a prayer to a maiden or the sun, and yet Lucent does not seem to care about it, rushing foward, urging all of the Kashaen through the Ember King's Seal to run away!

Obsidian With Luc's command, the Kashaen break their cautious retreat into a full-out run.

Lucent closes his eyes, his essence shining about himself. His caste mark appears on his brow... a solid disc of gold, cut on its right side by a crescent of pure shadows. He closes his eyes... and tries to feel his people. Their needs. Their wishes.

Zahara looks between Lucent and the dark creature, suddenly unsure. The tentacles split, five bursting through the ground to surround the dark wolf, the other five surrounding Lucent and his new friends. She screams.

Obsidian Even deep within the creature's necrotic flesh, he can feel his people, still fighting to hold on to life as it drains away their very living Essence. Though wounded, hurt, they are alive... though Obsidian hangs on by only the thinnest of threads.

Thirteen There is another gurgle, and Thirteen reappears, panting slightly, and bedecked with about a dozen Kashaens. He stumbles forward, dropping their limp bodies, kicking his spear against the side of the airship so that it rebounds into his hand, and goes to one knee by the Gate.

Thirteen "...Lucent?"

Thirteen "...sit up straight. Dignity becomes a ruler."

Lucent "Thirteen!" He smiles, walking to Thirteen... "... you saved them. Thank yo... I AM up straight, damn you!" He shouts. He'd have tears on his eyes and laugh at this if it wasn't at... THIS time. "You think you can pull ALL of them out?"

Lucent is stopped by the tentacles from moving any further. "Empress... it's ME! Lucent!"

Thirteen "I...can try."

Thirteen "I assume that this is not what you wanted to show us."

Obsidian Zahara's tendrils hang, menacingly, around both beast and Exalt.

Lucent "Of course not! You think I would... what? Set up a trap and throw a void-spawned monster on you? Please, I'd at least make it angry celestial lions! I don't deal wi.."

Zahara stares at Lucent, stares through him. "I know." she wills them to only contain, not destroy - not yet. A tear traces a scar down her face. "Why should I trust you?"

Lucent looks over his shoulder

Lucent "... it's STILL not me."

Obsidian The hekatoncheire strikes viciously at the cage of lava that surrounds it, but as yet is unsucessful at making egress.

Thirteen "We have much to talk about, and no easy way to know what is true and what is not."

Birds perches on Thirteen's shoulder. "Perhaps we have a difficult way."

Zahara "What is still not you?"

Lucent looks up at Zahara, shocked. "Because... it is me. Lucent Copper Haze. I know I am dressed a bit different, but... but it is still me, Zahara. You have always been a great judge of character. You allowed Thirteen... and now he is saving lives. It is me. Do you really think I would betray you?"

Zahara breathes, "Yes."

Thirteen "Excuse me, Birds." Thirteen vanishes again, reappearing with the remainder of the Kashaens, slightly stooped to catch her on his shoulder again.

Lucent hangs his head

Thirteen "Zahara has...things have changed, in your absence."

Lucent "I am sorry I left you... but... you have them. You have Cerin. I knew you would be safe."

Obsidian The Waker roars viciously from within the cage, and its strike tears through the first of the tendrils surrounding it. Time is of the essence!

Zahara "Everything is different." she chokes off at his words.

Zahara "I was not safe. And I do not have Cerin."


Lucent Color drains out of Lucent's dark face... but then he looks at the monster. "Thirteen!"

Lucent tries to look away from Zahara. Focus on the monster. Yes, the big menacing monster. It is easier.

Lucent "They are all out, then?"

Thirteen "Zahara!"

Lucent looks resignated. The golden orb comes to his hand. "If so... allow me."

Thirteen "We trust, or we die."

Thirteen "There is nothing else."

Obsidian The creature tears through another tendril, and begins to wave one vicious, ghostly paw through the opening it has created. Soon it will be free.

Zahara laughs. "There is always something else."

Zahara siezes control of the tentacles and wraps them around the monster

Lucent "Zahara... PLEASE! Trust me! I am not lying to you now!"

Lucent "I have nothing to do with this! I... I had no idea! And I can destroy this thing!"

Thirteen "Then make your way. But I will stand with him, at this moment, on this battlefield."

Obsidian The monster screams as the lava tendrils tear through its only-too-solid ghostly flesh, devouring and striking at it....

Lucent "Just... let me out!"

Zahara stares at Lucent, her eyes pools of unreadable gold. "It doesn't matter." the tentacles bend away from him. "Does it?"

Lucent "Their souls are in there, Zahara! I need to save their souls! Pleas..." They part. He walks out, looking at her with tears streaming from his eyes. "It always matters."

Imrama watches the scene unfold with both interest and deep confusion, as though he had begun reading a novel backwards from the last chapter.

Lucent "Trust."

Lucent "Love."

Lucent "Friedship."

Lucent "Circle."

Lucent "Without them, we are lost."

Zahara watches silently, tears running down her face. Softly, she repeats Lucent's words. "Without them... we are lost."

Thirteen "Yes."

Lucent makes the sun appear on his hand... and all of their caste marks. He points at the creature. "Obsidian. You served me well. Netheos will not have you. THE VOID WILL NOT HAVE YOU!" Heaven pours out of his hand at the creature. All the caste marks of Zenith, forming the Wheel of Letheon around the creature. In orichalcum, a road to heaven goes through it, bringing Obsidian's soul to heaven... and the creature's soul to nothingness

Obsidian The creature, already weakened from Zahara's tendrils, has no defense against Lucent's wheel of rebirth... the glorious golden Essence cuts and weaves through its form, transforming ash into brilliant light, tearing it apart from within... it releases a single, pitiful howl... and is unmade.

Obsidian The creature's dead, ghostly flesh vanishes in a puff of light, and the broken body of Obsidian drops to the ground with a sickening crunch.

Lucent "You will be remembered..."

Lucent looks up at Zahara... tears still streaming his golden pools. "I..."

Thirteen "Lucent, Cerin is gone. Birds, Lucent, we are going to trade the Twilight Seal for him."

Thirteen "Imrama, our Circle is fraught with complication."

Lucent "... Cerin is WHAT?"

Lucent looks in disbelief

Birds "... You've going to WHAT?"

Zahara stares back for a second, then retreats back into the airship, the burning feathers of the swan falling around her, then dying back.

Lucent "Cerin the WOLF?" ::If it is a plan of his', you can tell me here, 13.::

Imrama "Thiteen, your Zenith appears to have been either corrupted or duped."

Thirteen ::No.::

Obsidian Rushes of knowledge accompany Thirteen's words, the Detailed Fact Provision streaming the knowledge into everyone's minds instantaneously.

Zahara returns to her repairs.

Lucent ::....::

Lucent says nothing more, and walks purposefully towards the airship

Lucent And to Zahara

Thirteen "If you will excuse me, I am going to sleep now. We may discuss this further tomorrow, on our way to Rathess."

Lucent ::No. On the conference room before this trip. And you will make up some excuse as for why my chaperones CANNOT be along.::

Thirteen "Your Abyssals cannot come."

Thirteen ::Will that do?::

Obsidian On the back of Amika, the two abyssals -- a tall, thin man with ashen skin clad in a blue formalwear, and a raven-haired woman with a soulsteel swallow and red and black armor, watch on without speaking.

Lucent ::I guess. We will see then.::

Birds take Luc's hand, furtively knocking the tombstone out of her hair. "It is time to go inside."

Thirteen carefully lifts Birds off his shoulder with one finger, releasing her to hover in the air, and slumps against a nearby tree. In moments, he is asleep.

Lucent smiles up to Birds, "Yes. But... just a moment. Come." taking her with him as he goes up the stairs of the airship, to its bridge... and placing a hand on Zahara's shoulder. "Zahara?"

Zahara doesn't look up. "I'm busy." she pulls off a cracked housing to get at the channels inside.

Lucent tries to push her up, even with the meager strength of a little boy, and even if he cannot, he holds her back... pulling Birds' hand closer for her to hold Zahara as well. A sun appears on Lucent's chest... and begins to grow, wreathing all three of them in pure, warm light.

Lucent "It will be alright, Zahara."

Lucent "We will make it alright."

Imrama comes to rest just above the floor or the airship, immediately behind the touching, glowing scene.

Birds brushes some hair out of Zahara's eyes. "Very well, it's your turn to be upset. But don't overdo it."

Birds (that was to zee)

Zahara does not particularly resist being pushed, but refuses to meet his eyes. "You don't know that."

Lucent "You were right. I should have never left."

Zahara looks up at Birds, "You and I are the only ones left of the original Circle."

Lucent looks up at her... in more ways than one. "Ymir and Talmuda, Alahwi and Wei Dan... I always thought of you as Gods. Untouchable. I never thought... that things should come to this. You were right..."

Lucent "Then let us find the others! Let us bring Cerin back! And Marku! And Kai!"

Birds "Speaking of that, it seems we have some new friends to introduce to one another."

Lucent "Maybe the circle broke because I was not here... but I am now. And I am not letting it fall any further! I am not being away again. We can bring him back, Zahara." He nods... and looks...

Lucent "Who...?"


Imrama Imrama seems angry, possibly for the first time since his arrival.

Zahara "I tried to bring Marku back. Even though he... I tried, but he would not come." she looks up, as Imrama yells at Luc

Lucent "... hello?"

Imrama "I know your name, your title, your station, and your history with this circle..."

Lucent looks up confused at this new Solar.

Lucent sighs in relief. "... oh."

Imrama "None of that explains your caste mark, or your company."

Lucent "Then, you have a great advantage over me, for I know nothing about you..."

Imrama "My name is Imrama Stormfound, I have defended the Sunlands in your absence and sworn to do so in perpetuity."

Birds "This is Imrama Stormfound, captain of that interesting boat."

Lucent smiles. "Then it is a pleasure to meet you, Imrama Stormfound."

Lucent gets to the tip of his toes and looks over Imrama's shoulders and through the windows... "Hey. It IS an interesting boat! Is that... light? All light?"

Imrama "There, you have my name, and my allegience. I have your name - your allegience remains...suspect. I would like to believe that you are the hero that Thirteen knew you to be. As I say, an explanation would help."

Lucent ponders where to begin

Zahara kneels again and replaces the housing melding the cracks back together. Maybe the Circle broke because she allowed him to leave, because she did not provide enough reasons to stay - as with Kai.

Lucent "You know my name, right? Do you know what things were like when I left?"

Imrama "You had only just discovered what I have known all my life - that the Unconquered Sun has long since abandoned his children and dependants, out of a wrathful spite." Imrama turns his head away from the company, spits, and fixes his stare back on the Solar boy-king.

Lucent "Yes. And we had just found out all our shining brothers and sisters... most of those such as us... had fallen into demons' hands, been corrupted, broken to pieces. Birds even had a TOMBSTONE on her hair then..." He shakes his head.

Lucent "For those fallen. Lost. For herself, maybe."

Lucent "So... I decided to go to the Underworld, to find out how many of those Shards they had."

Imrama 's face grows pale and ashen as Lucent mentions the loss and corruption of Solar shards.

Lucent "And I brought back a 'Monstrance.' One of the cages they use to corrupt our kind. And hold Solar Essences. I expected Cerin... Thirteen... Zahara... could have looked into it. Found out how we can hold them when we kill the corrupted ones, bring them to light, and Exalt them ourselves to keep them from falling like salmon on a net again."

Zahara "How is it that they let you return with it?" she smooths a blood-covered scorch mark from the floor.

Zahara "and your..new..friends"

Lucent "... why, Zahara. I stole it."

Lucent makes an impish grin

Lucent "Oh, those... are my chaperones."

Birds looks at Lucent as if he has suddenly grown several new pairs of arms.

Zahara "Obviously."

Lucent "I would like to tell you how I stole it in such a bold and adventurous way... but in fact, I made a deal with the Dead. Only, I managed to say they overstepped the deal, and thus I took the monstrance and broke their manse into pieces before I left. My Abyssal 'friends' did not try to stop me."

Lucent "Maybe because they could not. I am mightier than them, I am sure. Or maybe... they are more like their Malfean than they are like Deathlord."

Zahara "What exactly were the terms of the deal?"

Lucent "I am still unsure. But... we should not trust them. Not entirely."

Lucent "Well... um, about the deal..."

Zahara "Wait, before you say anything else, swear to tell only the truth."

Lucent ponders...

Lucent "I swear!"

Zahara touches lucent, idly wondering how long this oath will last.

Lucent recoils his arm

Birds pulls a sheaf of papers out of her sleeve and snuggles with them against a convenient mast. Her face can't be seen, but she is feeding Zee a mental stream of inarticulate and incredulous reactions.

Lucent "Hey... not THAT kind of oath!"

Zahara "Why not?"

Lucent "Because what if I have to lie to an enemy? That is how I got the damn monstrance on the first place!" He opens his arms... "We can discuss some terms, of course. But I would like some more trust. What if I tell a lie and am unaware? That could curse me!"

Zahara "Swear not to knowingly lie to ME, then."

Lucent looks up the window, sees the high noon. "Until the moon appears on the sky?"

Zahara laughs, but it is not a terribly pleasant sound "You can't even swear not to lie to me for a full day?"

Zahara does not particularly reply to Birds' mental stream, not entirely sure what to do with it.

Lucent sighs, picking her hand. "I promise not to lie until the day is past."

Lucent "You can sanctify it, Zahara. If it is what will take for you to trust me."

Zahara "I'm sorry, Lucent." She seals the oath.

Lucent Removes his hand, looking up at her... "Whatever it takes for you to trust me again, Zahara."

Lucent "Whatever."

Lucent "It is just... that I have heard tales of such oaths being binds that destroy, unwittingly."

Lucent "And I do have a sense of self-preservation, you know."

Lucent "Anyways..."

Lucent looks at Imrama, Birds and Zahara. "I guess I will begin at the beggining?"

Zahara smiles slightly, and sits with her back to the wall, pulling her knees up. "Things change. They turn on you unexpectedly."

Birds "It is traditional."

Imrama sits with his knees folded, and a much more kind expression on his face.

Birds settles into her notes, relishing the small luxury of real ink on real paper. Hmm, Imrama will need a chronicle.

Lucent "And here I thought Birds-of-Trinity would advise me to start from the middle, go to the beggining, and then come to the end." He leans back... "Don't we get any snacks, Birds? I miss the snacks."

Lucent makes a pouty face at Birds

Birds "By the way, Imrama, when I make a volume of the Circle's epic for you and yours, what would you like that volume to be like?"

Birds ::Mirror dear, will you send a harpist and a picnic lunch for four? Join us if you'd like, we're in the boat outside.::

Lucent "... yay!"

Lucent hugs Birds

Imrama responds quickly and without hesitation. "I believe it should follow the common structural pattern of the koku-scroll sky-adventure. That seems quite appropriate."

Birds nods. "I was thinking about making a box of maps and coins, where the coins form a key to a cipher embedded in the maps."

Birds "I like to make the epics of the second dawn slightly challenging."

Lucent "That is a pretty arrangement."

Lucent nods

Birds hugs Luc back. "So tell us..."

Imrama looks mightilly confused. He and Birds-of-Trinity appear to have highly different tastes in literature.

Zahara "So, speak your tale, then. We're all dying to hear it, i'm sure."

Lucent "Anyways... I went on a pilgrimage to the far south. I went to the Pole of Fire to meditate. Reading its inscriptions, meditating on them. I always found it closer to the sun, you see. That is where I met Hesiesh."

Lucent "We talked. I... understood some things with him."

Lucent "He showed me my inner light." He touches his chest... and a sun appears within.

Lucent "And told me they are coming to help. Ata'la told him. The Immaculate Dragons will come for us."

Zahara "You have a literal inner light? Why am I not surprised."

Zahara chews on an orichalcum-tipped nail.

Lucent "Oh, and... sorry for the Orichalcum. I took it to Sakkara, the Burning Sky Anvil. I needed an armor to hold this light." He smiles. "I can pay it back to you in time if you wish, Zahara. Really. Or maybe just introduce him to you. She is a great forger, she may have great things to teach you."

Zahara "I made more."

Lucent "And then... I did what I told Cer... told THE CIRCLE that I would do. I went to the Underworld to see about the darkened shards, their numbers and locations. And I ended up discovering much more than I bargained for."

Zahara "heh."

Lucent "The Mask of Winters received me. And we begun to bargain. I pretended to be wary of you all and wishing to bring the Circle down if need be. He was very respectful of your abilities, Zahara. He was certain we would not fall easily, you most of all."

Zahara laughs. "Not easily, no."

Lucent "And then, Larquen took me to a Manse where he told me many things. I think... he just needed someone to talk to. I approached him as a friend... and he was most responsive. You have no idea how much you can learn with friendship." He nods. "He is the one who broke the net."

Lucent "And he has the Zenith Seal."

Zahara "Who is Larquen?"

Lucent "Larquen Quen, the Mask of Winters."

Lucent "Much like Rosada is the Lion. But they are not the same type of being."

Zahara "Oh. THAT Larquen."

Lucent "Rosada has a different pact. Rosada offered the other Deathlords power. He attained it in life... and all others were offered it after the usurpation." He nods. "They are Shadeborn."

Lucent "Or at least, reasonable facsimiles of Shadeborn."

Zahara finds a bit of her old curiosity coming to the fore. "Shadeborn? What does that mean exactly, aside from what it sounds like?"

Lucent "Alright. You know Netheos, right? It is the 'Underworld', the unnatural realm seeping into Creation, land of ghosts, death and neverborn whispers... but you have seen Cerin's map. It used to be a Realm, the opposite of Letheon."

Zahara nods

Lucent hash is golden eyes shining with knowledge now. He seems much older.

Lucent "And you know that there are five magical materials. The fifth is Soulsteel."

Zahara "More than that, now, but yes."

Lucent "Well, yes, but in the classic times. As it was known in the First Age, even though Abyssals, Exalted that harmonize with it only appeared now. Magical Materials are made for Exalted, as you can see byt he Blasphemies. Shadeborn fought the Primordials in the First Age. Soulsteel was made for them."

Lucent "They were warrior monks. Calm in death. Netheos was a museum before, and they used all that was lost, in a calm way. They were the Chosen of Pluto, lord of Netheos... who died tragically, I believe, when the Neverborn crashed there, denied Lethe, and twisted it into a nightmare."

Zahara blinks

Zahara "There are more Chosen that we didn't know about? I'm going to have to have a TALK with Ikara."

Lucent "They died at the end of the war, with Pluto's death. Or maybe before."

Zahara "So the death of their God slew them? Damn."

Lucent "I know it was the Neverborn's existence that destroyed Pluto, but wether it was gradual, or happenned during the first to fall... no idea."

Lucent "I saw the fall through the eyes of Glimpse of Night. I saw his rooting corpse. I felt his pain. I saw his death... your sword was there, Zahara. As was Kai's new one. Which reminds me... we have to lay them to rest. Their pain is too great."

Zahara looks down at the rather plain, perfect, ice-enchanted sword she never re-banished. "Ah. I'm sure it was an important sword in the grand scheme of things."

Lucent "It helped destroy a facet of existence." He touches the blue slab. "It was grand."

Lucent "Anyways, I am getting ahead of myself..."

Lucent "See, before that, Quen told me about the end of the First Age."

Lucent "Solars were not coming back. But coincidentally for the Lily, they believed it had to do with the Deliberative's petty corruption and the Sun's face-turn. Not a conspiracy." He stops.

Lucent seems to be thinking something behind his golden pools...

Zahara 's 'blue slab' is nowhere in evidence.

Lucent "... I wonder if the Sun's faceturn was not engineered by them now."

Lucent notices it is gone. "Oh, sorry. I thought I had seen it here. Anyway... then, they were picked out. It was a party on Meru at first, and then several ambushes. It was... there were few. Fifty Solars left, I believe. That is how they pulled it off. It was just the last few."

Lucent "And then, they were offered a deal by Rosada. Vengeance. And twelve took it, receiving another soul and becoming Shadeborn."

Zahara "The Lily was in existence back then?"

Lucent "Yes. Rosada was there. Their plan goes that far back..."

Imrama opens his mouth as Zahara beats him to the question.

Zahara "I am... hungry."

Lucent "The Deathlords were weaving their plans... when something unexpected happenned. Thirteen."

willows "Yes, where IS that harpist?"

willows "Oh, Zee, you probably need to give it permission to open doors.

Zahara "Your harpist is an it?"

willows "I allow it to choose...that...as it sees fit, and it is indecisive."

Zahara "I can't give it permission without being there, or at least knowing what it is, unless I cast all the doors open to all." she shrugs.

Lucent "... just tell it to come in, I am HUNGRY." He pouts.

Zahara rises with a sigh, and walks over to the door, giving it a brief tune-up before opening it fully.

Zahara "Come in."

Obsidian A demon bounds in with bountiful baskets of food!

Lucent falls over the food, picking some snacks, some pastries... but with manners that befit a king. Just fast, at it. "Anyways... they saw him walking through Netheos... and they realised that it was not the Sun's sanction. The Sun would not miss a Shard. It was his existence that made them go... and look for the Seals."

Lucent "They took the seals from their places, broke the net... and talked to Sarifen, learning how to change the Essences. Quen corrupted over a hundred of them... and bargained them with the other Deathlords. This is important. Quen possesses leverage with ALL of them."

Lucent "He got over a hundred. Some went with Sarifen. Honestly, I am not sure how you all got free, however."

Imrama is extremely pleased by the arrival of food. With Thirteen's gift, he had understood intellectually that Birds was a master baker, but tasting the evidence first hand proves vastly more convincing, and rewarding."

Zahara plucks an apple from the basket as the demon passes, and nibbles on it as she walks back. She'd forgotten how good something so simple can taste.

Lucent "And that is... the extent of what I found out, I think!"

Lucent "I made a deal to keep the Mask posted of us, and brought the Abyssals here. They are my chaperones, and yours'. They... and ME... are supposed to keep the Sunlands in line. See why not swearing oaths is a good thing?" He smirks.

Zahara "What exactly does 'in line' mean?"

Lucent "... you know, come to think of it, I have no idea either!"

Zahara takes a pastry and shakes her head softly. "I'm sure we'll find out eventually." Mmmm. food is good.

Lucent "But then. I am thinking about turning them to the light."

Zahara "It would be good to practice on them."

willows takes a pastry and curls up in some nets.

willows "I am very tired. Thank you for explaining things, Luc."

Lucent "They are mostly... whole Solar Essences. I think if I make them... they will be able to go through the layer of shadows, without need for some sort of spiritual surgery. I think their power alone can do it, if guided by a Zenith such as me. Ember might be easier, but I am uncertain about Raven..."

Lucent nods

willows Birds goes to join Thirteen in dreams.

Lucent "So, you trust me now?" He smiles

Zahara "As much as anyone."

Imrama "More than that, Lucent," Imrama gives an earnest look. "It would be the right thing to do."

Lucent "... Imrama..."

Lucent stares at Imrama

Imrama bows deeply to Lucent, his head nearly touching the floor. "I owe you a deep appology, Lucent Copper Haze."

Lucent loses all of his kingly bearing to shake a fist up the air, "Another one who does it for being the right thing and knows the value of empathy! Yes! Yes! YES!"

Zahara can't help but smile at Luc's enthusiasm. "Lucent?"

Lucent "Apologies accepted, Imrama. You will forgive my outburst, but you should have seen Thirteen when he got into the Circle. And with Cerin being so... terrifying, we had little bastions of such compassion on the Circle, like Zahara, Birds and Kai. I thought I was the only guys who was not... like that."

Lucent looks at his Empress, all happy, the gold in his eyes bubbling. "Yes, Zahara?"

Zahara "I'm glad you're back."

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