alsoquin The group begins to head towards Rathess, to begin for its meeting with Cerin.
Zahara is mostly quiet, still garbed in her now-customary grey robes and with every inch of skin bandaged. She's not sure if she's looking forward to the meeting, or dreading it.
Thirteen is also silent, frowning as he reviews the chart Wei Dan granted him.
Lucent fidgets. His white robe is tinted with azure starlight and blood, as the crimson and azure orb play out his fidgeting by striking at each other, sounding not unlike a bamboo accross the skin as they play a drama of rage against serenity... "... I can't believe that is all we got."
Zahara 's hand strays to her various artifacts, now back to adorning her person as they ought. "They had no more to give." she replies to Luc quietly.
Thirteen "I suppose even Lai Misuna has a master."
Lucent mutters "It wasn't supposed to be like this..."
Imrama too is quiet, though more by enduring nature than momentary temperment. Thin wisps of white smoke curl upwards from his pipe as he contemplates what lies before his Circle. "I wonder quite a lot who that master might be."
Thirteen "I am assured we will find out."
Zahara "Autochthon, Cytherea, Siram's master. Or someone we do not know of yet."
Lucent "Atomnos, Rosada. They are all the Lily. Sometimes, I wonder if even they themselves know which is the ultimate master. The conspiracy is too intricate... it has become too much so. To be honest, as soon as Atomnos and Cytherea entered the equation, it got greater than I could even visualize."
Thirteen "I suspect, Lucent, that your recent experience suggests that the Primordials are not, at least, all aligned."
alsoquin The vast city of Rathess stretches out before them: its golden towers newly shiny, its streets newly cleared of rubble. Though much remains to be done, the exterior of the city, its face, has been a primary target of the newly awakened Dragon-Kings, and it shows.
Imrama "What a marvel." Imrama's grin is wide, and his eyes far wider.
alsoquin Near the borders of the city, Dragons stand guard at the gates; within, the beginnings of true city life can be seen as a few citizens move about on daily business.
Lucent "No, they are not. We know at least one of the dead ones is aligned with Atomnos in his search for Cytherea, and created Rosada, right? Any of those might be Lai's ultimate master. And then there are the others... and then there is their nature, I just can't see how..."
Lucent stops, smiling at Imrama
Lucent "Beautiful, as always."
Zahara smiles a little at Imrama's reaction, then her expression darkens a bit, thinking about what Akuna had said.
Thirteen "Patience, Lucent."
Thirteen "We will learn all we need to learn, in time."
Lucent "Easy for you to say...
Zahara decides that having Rathess as an allied state, rather than a vassal state wouldn't be so bad. After all, she is a reasonable person.
Lucent "I wish I understood those things, at least. Those charts alone make my head hurt."
alsoquin The guards greet the Solars as they enter with the long lost, and recently restored, gesture of sun-supplication, one that only Imrama and Luc recognize.
Imrama returns the greeting with all due pomp and circumstance.
Thirteen nods irritably. "We seek Ssithumi-an-Tohatep."
Lucent responds the greeting with a smile and due courtesy to Rathess and the Sun
Imrama studies the flying towers that stand out from the city's skyline. He knows where he must go.
alsoquin The nearest guard cocks his head. "The Queen has journeyed within the boundaries of the Pyramid of the Sunset. We do not expect her to return for several days..."
Zahara frowns. "That is unfortunate."
Thirteen "Where is the Pyramid?"
alsoquin The guard gestures helpfully; it (and its eastern companion) is easily visible over the tops of other buildings, due west.
Lucent "There is a law in creation. The timing of such actions always, always sucks."
Zahara "What is she doing there?"
alsoquin "She has gone to commune for guidance and to inspect relics left by our ancestors, in hopes of strengthening Rathess' future."
Lucent "Inspect relics? But we have Zahara and Thirteen here, they are great crafters and problem-solvers with such devices! Clearly, they will be able to help with that! If we could send a message to her..."
Thirteen "There is no need for that."
Thirteen "We are going to call upon her in any case. While we are there, we can offer her what assistance we can muster."
alsoquin "You are honored guests of Rathess. You may enter to speak with her, of course."
Zahara nods, "Thank you."
Thirteen "Ah. See. We have permission."
Thirteen begins walking towards the Pyramid.
Zahara proceeds towards the pyramid
Imrama follows, after making the proper gestures of respect to the helpful guards.
Lucent proceeds with them. "We are allowed to walk in the middle of communions now? Now that is quite an honor... I guess the practices have loosened up after millennia of disuse."
Zahara shrugs a little. "Ssithumi has been quite grateful for our continued assistance."
Lucent "She has. She introduced us, after all." He nods. "I'll always been thankful for that."
Zahara "How did you meet her?"
Lucent "Well, I did not mean to come to the sunlands as a beggar." He shrugged, "Thus I went to Rathess, following directions I had seen on my predecessor's Manse, to see if I could find something of note. But you had been here already, and I met Ssithumi instead... and got someone to put an word of introduction for me instead."
Lucent "She was quite nice, telling me lots of what I didn't know of the world. From the little village I was from, I barely knew of the Realm, or a Contagion, or anything the like... all I knew were the sun, stars, sands and chosen, really."
Lucent "... well, much more than that. But there was too much I did not know." He says guiltily.
Zahara looks at lucent thoughtfully.
Lucent "... sorry. I had to put that story on my mind, and it still creeps in when I am telling people things."
Zahara "Just so. Please try not to leave out anything important."
Lucent "I was lost, she told me about a world I was completely lost in. I can say that was true under oath." He nods! "That, and she introduced me to you." He smiles, as if that was the most important thing in the world.
alsoquin The Pyramid of the Sunset, its steps built of black stone bricks, trimmed with gold, juts up from the city's base; the entrance -- a vast stone double-door, set into a recessed archway, stands slightly ajar.
Zahara "Ah, yes, and that's turned out so well." She looks up at the Pyramid for a moment, then walks to the door.
Lucent "It did. We learned many things, beat up Holbar and Shikaya, freed Ata'la, got information, got a monstrance, saved Wasirru.... we did many things since then. Together in flesh or in hopes." He nods, walking into it behind her
Zahara "I almost feel sorry for Lai."
Imrama , ever the explorer, follows into the pyramid. "I do feel very sorry for that bitter, wounded man."
Thirteen 'I will feel sorry for him when we are finished with him."
Imrama looks sideways at Thirteen, disapointed but no longer surprised "But I fear my sympathy will not be enough to change the current course of things."
Thirteen "If you have an alternate plan, Imrama Stormfound, you need only suggest it."
Zahara "Well, I did manage to wrestle a minor peace accord out of you." she smiles wryly.
alsoquin The inner hallways are rendered in the same black rock -- the path leads in a short way, then begins to stretch out to each side; steps appear every four feet or so, raising those paths upwards, while at the center of each hallway, a smaller set of steps move downwards instead.
Lucent "Sympathy is what will make us understand him, and what will make us struggle twice as much to save his soul, by ending this folly while there is still time." He looks.. "... I think she'd be up there, to commune with the sun."
Thirteen "Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to speak with him at length."
Lucent walks upstairs. "I wonder if it is the time with you that makes me not think of those false Exalts as such blasphemies anymore. As we will create our own..."
alsoquin The group turns to proceed up the left-leading stairs, and as they do, Thirteen gets a chilling tingle upon the back of his neck.
Zahara "Ours will not be formed from the destruction of shards, though."
Thirteen "Something is about to happen."
Lucent "No, they will not." He grits his teeth... "It is just... maybe they are still there, somehow, and we can talk to th..." He freezes, and the Coronal whirls about him, ready to shield them all!
Zahara plans on her 10 seconds!
alsoquin Something catches Imrama's eye -- the glint of a few scattered, tiny purple gems along the downward-leading stairway beneath them.
Imrama points and says "Gems," as he rises upward to float just off of the stone stairs.
Lucent looks down... "Purple... Herons?" He steps out of the stairway, the coronal forming steps for him in mid-air as usual....
Zahara attempts to do the same before remembering with irritation that her hearthstone has not yet reformed. The platform of crossed swords will have to do for her, as it has for others, and she steps up onto them.
alsoquin Thirteen and Zahara both notice the twinklings of Essence within the gems -- they are the subject of recent magics.
Zahara "Possibly used for divination or a ritual."
alsoquin The breeze that blows from within has its own unusual Essence on it -- clearly something has gone on below.
Zahara "Shall we follow the obvious trail?"
Thirteen "We must investigate."
Imrama As Thirteen leads the others to investigate, Imrama is left puzzled and standing in mid-air for a moment. "Herons?" He then follows after his companions.
Lucent "Purple makes me think of Starchosen."
Zahara "Seven Leaping Herons" she supplies helpfully. "He manipulated and used us to his own ends. A friend of ours."
Lucent "We have odd friends..."
Imrama "Ah. Sidereal." Imrama thinks wistfully for a moment of a person he has never met, and a face he has never seen.
alsoquin The stairs go down a ways, before bending, though they continue downwards. The simple, straight-line filigree on the walls begins to bend, twist, become more intricate, and eventually the stairs end at another long hallway. The remnants of significant Essence use hang in the stale air here.
Zahara "Though, Herons' signature color was green. Ikara's anima is the purple one."
Lucent "... oh, I got them confused." He scratches the back of his neck and grins. "Silly..."
Zahara "We never did find out if he's still alive. We should look into that. In our copious spare time."
Zahara studies the filigree in the wall
Lucent "Right after we get Cerin back, find Kai, understand that Monstrance and save the world?"
Zahara yes, give or take
alsoquin The patterns have morphed into an elaborate geometric labyrinth, too intricate to easily follow at a glance. As the Solars walk into the hallway, the first sign of whatever has occurred here appears -- a blood trail on the ground.
Zahara hops off the swords and crouches, checking the blood to see if she can tell what kind of being it came from
Imrama 's hands crosses his arms as his stance shifts from one of general caution to one of battle-readiness.
alsoquin Dragon-King seems to be the most likely candidate, to Zahara.
Zahara runs, following the trail, "Ssithumi!" she hisses.
Lucent "This is... Dragon King blood. There is golden essence in this, though. Solar, maybe!"
Lucent follows the trail as well! "Wait, that's not it... godly. That's a god's essence."
Thirteen "A Dragon-King, imbued with the essence of a god."
Thirteen redoubles his pace.
alsoquin As Zahara runs, the evidence becomes rather more plentiful -- the once-pristine walls are marred with the signs of powerful impacts, fiery bursts, and much greater spatters of blood. And in some places, the stone looks like it's been cut through, like butter on a warm day.
Zahara "Ssithumi is Ochilike.."
Lucent "Then it IS her blood!"
Lucent touches the orb of mercury, saying a prayer to her, running, hoping they'll be fast enough!
Imrama Worried that he will not have the chance to meet Ssithumi otherwise, Imrama hurries to follow the trail.
alsoquin The hallways continues onwards, the signs of battle growing increasingly fiercer, til the walls and floors are ground almost entirely to rubble. Eventually they reach a doorway that is jammed shut with a rather large chunk of rock resting against it -- and the blood trail running underneath.
Zahara dashes through the corridors, and when she gets to the rock, she simply punches it, a glow of essence, and it shatters
alsoquin The doorway crumbles easily under Zahara's intense assault, and a waft of unusual Essence -- Thirteen is overcome with the scent of jasmine, mixed with cinnamon and cloves -- is enough to be noticed even by those without enhanced senses.
alsoquin When the dust clears, the scene inside is not a pleasant one. (...)
alsoquin The room, once a ceremonial chamber filled with scrolls and altar pieces, has been torn apart, and parts thrown about in every direction. The walls here are scored even more heavily than the hallway, and the altar is smashed in two. But what lies in the center of the room is what is truly horrifying:
alsoquin The form of a Dragon-King, but shaped of purest purple crystal, in an angled position -- mid-motion. The simple white robe hangs, bloodied and tattered, upon it. Its form is perfect, impeccable... except for what would be its two outstretched arms -- which lie shattered upon the floor. (...)
alsoquin Ssithumi's trademark two golden bracers are nowhere in evidence. Something odd... shimmers within the statue that was once the Solars' friend.
Zahara "SSITHUMI! NO!" She cries, and runs into the room, heedless of whether Kasima is still there or not.
Lucent "Ss... ss... ssith..." Lucent blinks, taking on the sight, the carnage...
Thirteen lets out his breath in a long slow hiss.
Imrama enters the room, guns crossed in sad solute, attempting to guard Zahara should anything further happen.
alsoquin As Zahara gets closer, she can see better... the shifting, moving form that flits within the facets of the gem -- it almost has a face...
Lucent has his mouth open, gaping. His eyes tremble, their gold melting into tears...
alsoquin A sad, high pitched keening seems to hang around Ssithumi.
Zahara "Oh gods, what did he do to you? How could they?" she pauses a hair's breadth from touching the crystalline form of her friend. A face... is it her?
Thirteen steps forward and taps the statue with a fingernail, listening to the crystalline ring.
Lucent clenches his fists, running towards her, touching the crystal... "Ssithumi! Zee... Zee, you can unmake this, right? Right? You... you can break magic, break it! Break it!" He picks Zahara's arm, shaking her...
alsoquin After a moment, Zahara realizes who the face is... Tohatep, trapped inescapably within the crystallized form.
Zahara shakes lucent off, and attempts to counter the spell, tears running freely down her face
Thirteen "Do not break the crystal." Thirteen speaks evenly and sharply.
alsoquin The counterspell has no effect -- clearly it is not a sorcerous effect.
Zahara lashes out again, throwing more essence at her form wildly, trying to break it if it is a charm
alsoquin Zahara's further strikes have no effect.
Zahara turns slowly to face Thirteen. "Can you fix her?"
Thirteen "Yes, if you do not break her."
Zahara "I wasn't attacking her"
Thirteen "I know." Thirteen sighs. "I meant nothing by it."
Imrama watches his Circlemates in their anger, sorrow and frustration.
Zahara kneels next to Ssithumi's body and begins to gather the shattered pieces of her arms with shaking fingers.
Lucent realises he is standing on some of them, stepping back nervously, gasping, falling down
Thirteen taps the crystal again, rubbing his fingers over it and humming softly to himself.
Zahara sorts them into left and right, and begins to slowly piece them back together, and while she seems to be concentrating on the task at hand, she is doing so without seeing what she is doing.
Imrama feels frustration that he has no gifts to offer in the restoration of a staunch ally of the human cause. He begins to compose a short poem in his head, about the sufferings of those who watch and wait.
Zahara "They did this for her bracers." she observes quietly. "Unless there is more we have not seen. Or they simply wanted to hurt us more."
Thirteen "She used them to kill a Solar."
Zahara nods, though the gesture is largely lost on 13. "We will have to.. ask her.. what they can do..."
Zahara "Though, I think she killed the Solar without them."
Lucent "Th... they wouldn.. they wouldn't fight someone as strong as her just to hurt us..."
Thirteen cocks his head as he listens to Zahara's motions, then nods to her as he continues to hum quietly. The pieces of crystal begin to softly resonate to his tune.
Lucent ... right?
Zahara carefully and methodically finishes the right arm, then begins on the left. When it is finished, she wipes her eyes on her own arm and rises, swaying a little. She approaches Thirteen, trying to pick up the note he hums, adding her voice to his.
Thirteen puts his hand on her arm, transmitting the sound through their bones.
Zahara adjusts her tone until it resonates perfectly with his, and the arms, and then cautiously touches the arms to Ssithumi's shoulders, each in turn, mending the crystal, making sure there are no flaws, no impurities.
Lucent walks closer and begins humming it, a little broken at first, between his tears and sniffling, but soon, perfect, harmonious as it befits a pillar of the sun...
Zahara gestures to the others to join them, stroking Ssithumi's shoulder gently, encouragingly.
Imrama takes out a strip of prayer linen and a pen, and inscribes his poem as an offering to Orig'san, the god of needful remaking.
Thirteen continues humming, stroking the crystal, and listening to his circlemates join him. He begins glowing, and his tune becomes words -- choked, quiet, clipped chanting, the voice of Mother Dragon.
Zahara runs her fingers over Ssithumi's body, perfecting flaws, mending minute cracks
Thirteen removes his hand from the crystal and puts the tip of his spear through his palm. Returning it, he continues rubbing, his blood glistening oddly as it covers the crystalline statue that was and is Ssithumi.
Thirteen Those touching the crystal find it, smeared with Thirteen's blood, oddly warm, oddly yielding...almost like flesh....and then...
alsoquin The Essence holding Ssithumi's body and spirit together in the crystalline form pushes back one final time, then dissipates with a final scream of Essence. Ssithumi, flesh once more, slumps to the ground.
Zahara moves to catch her as she falls, crying, "Ssithumi, please say you're okay, please?"
alsoquin The Dragon is thoroughly unconscious, though a glance can tell that she lives.
Thirteen squats, breathing heavily, and begins to bandage his hand.
Thirteen "She will live."
Thirteen "She must rest."
Thirteen "Let us take her from here."
Imrama moves to assist in carrying the Ochilike's prone, powerful form.
Zahara "Yes, back to her rooms." she says distractedly, checking her over once more. The weight of all these feelings is crushing her chest, and she is not used to them.
Zahara takes Ssith's other newly mended shoulder, and with Imrama, they take her back up out of the pyramid
alsoquin The Solars carry her out from the pyramid, out into the streets of Rathess... when some of the others see her, they begin to alarmedly shout. It is not long before some of the city's guards have arrived, upsetly asking what has happened.
Thirteen walks ahead, answering no questions and brushing aside any who try to stop them.
Lucent "She was attacked. Turned to violet crystals." He wipes tears from his eyes... "Ask everyone. If they saw anything suspicious, if they saw who did this. Because they will pay. I promise you ALL this!"
Lucent A gem shines on his bracelet, a pure white light, sealing that. He would make them pay.
Zahara "She is unconscious, needs rest."
Zahara "Escort us to her quarters, if you must."
alsoquin The others are clearly concerned, but lead the Solars to Ssithumi's quarters, where they place her in a bed to rest.
alsoquin The Solars take turns sitting by her bedside, waiting for her to awaken. It is two hours later, as Zahara sits nearby, that one of her -- now uniquely scarred -- arms begins to twitch.
Zahara takes Ssithumi's hand gently, "It's okay, we're here. You're safe." she murmurs, softly.
alsoquin rolls back and forth a little, clearly recovering very, very slowly. "I.... Istenda...."
Zahara "He's gone, it's okay..."
Ssithumi rolls about a little, without opening her eyes. "Wh... what..."
Zahara "What happened? Do you remember?"
Thirteen walks in abruptly and without a word begins examining Ssithumi carefully.
Ssithumi "I..." Ssithumi is clearly having trouble even talking. "He... attacked me... I didn't know he was the one Cerin spoke of..."
Zahara "It looked like Kasima was there."
Thirteen "When did you speak to Cerin?"
Zahara 's hand tightens around Ssith's at Cerin's name
Ssithumi "The other... olchilike..."
Ssithumi weakly opens her eyes, which are bloodshot and unfocused.
Zahara pats Ssith's shoulder akwardly.
Imrama enters the room and stands just inside the doorway, holding a sash baring characters for healing and renewal; a gift from one of Ssithumi's many loyal subjects.
Ssithumi "He serves the Ebon Dragon!" she suddenly speaks with conviction and force, before uttering a tiny lizard cough.
Zahara "Kasima does?"
Thirteen "Who is Istenda?"
Ssithumi "He bears the Twisted Ouroboros! He was exiled from this city, driven away...."
Zahara "Did you know him?"
Thirteen "Why was he exlled? And why did he return?"
Lucent steps into the room, and his eyes widen "Ssithumi! You are awake!"
Lucent runs to her side, holding her han... claws!
Zahara "How long ago did you speak with Cerin?"
Ssithumi "I... he attacked... I don't know why..." she pauses for a second, then moves one claw to her other wrist. "The Lights... where are they?"
Zahara "He must have taken them... I'm sorry."
Lucent looks at Ssithumi, then at the Solars... "Who attacked?"
Ssithumi "When I spoke to Cerin, when we met... he spoke of another olchilike... but I did not know this was who he meant."
Thirteen "Ssithumi. When was this?"
Zahara "An Ochilike named Istenda, who has powers like Kasima."
Thirteen "Cerin the Wolf has fallen prey to the temptations of Hell. He is not the man you knew."
Lucent repeats the name like a curse
Zahara eyes thirteen. "temptation had little to do with it."
Thirteen "Indeed, this is one of the reasons we have come to see you."
Ssithumi "I have not seen Cerin for... some time..."
Lucent narrows his eyes at 13. "Cerin the Wolf gave up his freedom for his love's."
Ssithumi blinks, a little more slowly than normal. "What has happened to him?"
Zahara studies her hands intently.
Thirteen "If you have nothing better to do then to argue, perhaps you might leave my patient alone. I have many things to ask her, and would not want her overtaxed."
Lucent "Zahara was captured, Ssithumi. He gave himself to Markuran for her release."
Zahara "I can only assume he bargained his soul for my life. I did not hear the deal spoken, but it was promised that he would not die, and they would not tell me what it was."
Lucent "Among... other things. It has been a dark time for the sunlands."
Thirteen "He joined the ranks of the Infernals."
Thirteen "We plan to recover him, and for this we need your help."
Thirteen "But this is not all I must ask of you, Ssithumi."
Ssithumi nods weakly.
Thirteen "As Lucent says, these are dark times. We face enemies who seek to destroy you and I and all the world in order that they might profit."
Thirteen "These enemies are known to you."
Thirteen "We have rebuilt your home, and still you keep your secrets from us, for fear of our misusing them."
Thirteen "Now we have saved your life, as they have come to kill you."
Thirteen "Perhaps it is time for you to choose a side."
Zahara opens her mouth to say something, staring at Thirteen oddly, then closes it.
Ssithumi Ssithumi's eyes focus more sharply, and a bit of the flash they usually display is fully visible in response to Thirteen's words.
Zahara "We didn't help her to force her to choose sides."
Ssithumi "I... have not sought to hide anything from you."
Thirteen "Ssithumi-an-Tohatep. Tell me of the Threefold Breaking."
Ssithumi 's eyes shift -- her pupils shrink to tiny slits, and a red film covers them... and a glow, reddish-gold, covers her skin. Her head lifts up from where it is reclined, though tipped at an odd angle, and the trails normally left behind by her eyes are like burning holes now.
Zahara reflects on what she just said and actually finds it to be true in this case. This seems very strange to her. But not quite as strange as Ssithumi turning red
Ssithumi The voice that echoes from Ssithumi's mouth is but half of her usual voice: low, deep, and ancient. "The war had raged for thousands of years."
Zahara nods slightly. "Tohatep."
Ssithumi "The Exalts had carved out a territory, but they were an island asiege, a people beset on all sides by enemies. Most of the older races stood aligned against them. A few stood aside."
Ssithumi "Perhaps they could have kept what they had carved out, but no more; and every day the creators plotted more intricately against them."
Ssithumi "Then YOU" -- one of Ssithumi's clawed, scarred hands lifts up unnaturally to point, a little accusingly, at Zahara.
Ssithumi "You, for two thousand years, labored in secret on what would turn the tide."
Zahara isn't sure whether or not she should be backing away
Ssithumi "The Triskelion... the Trinity Draconis... the Threefold Body of Creation.... inseparable... related beyond our ability to understand... they were the humans' greatest foes."
Ssithumi "You knew that a weapon alone would not be enough to tear them apart... so you sent bait."
Ssithumi "You knew that they were insidious... that they could turn your kind against you... and so you put one of your own up to going to them... he may not have even known what you did."
Zahara considers thoughtfully. He did not seem to bear her a grudge when they spoke.
Ssithumi "He went, and he took your weapon... he went to each of them, alone. It was the ultimate threat to them, but it was also the ultimate power -- if one of them held it, they might stand above all the others."
Ssithumi "And where together the three could have stood against you, they stood here apart."
Ssithumi "So you drew them into conflict, each of them, separately, while all three sought control of the Chime of Ages. And it escalated."
Ssithumi "Finally it came to a head. Arexus went before Erevel and swore to his side, just as the other Exalted warriors drew all three together in one place. As they saw how Erevel had betrayed them, they fought between themselves -- the first it had ever happened in Creation."
Ssithumi "They fought, and in the chaos, Arexus stood up, and with one ring of the Chime struck Auna dead."
Ssithumi "In the aftermath, Erevel fled, and those who remained rounded upon the last of the three and ground him to submission before him. It was then, with the greatest threats to the Exalted eliminated at once, that the tide of war truly shifted...."
Ssithumi Ssithumi's red eyes flash once more, and then she flops back into her bed, Tohatep's control relinquished once more.
Zahara "Tell me more about the Chime."
Ssithumi Only Ssithumi's voice answers, quietly. "It was your most powerful weapon. When the war ended, it was locked away; and when the Deliberative fell, it was gone."
Zahara sighs. "One of these days, I will find it."