< Prelude To Darkness | Sol Invictus Logs | Waiting In The Wings >

Zahara arrives early to the appointed meeting spot, shrouded in an elegant if rather drab grey cloak. Every visible part of her skin is deliberately wrapped in clean bandages, made of the Cloth of True Love she and Cerin had made together. She has dyed several of them dark red, and left them long and ribbonlike to flutter when she moves. Her stillness and blank expression would have made for an exceptional statue.

Zahara awaits her guests in the Pyramid of the Sunset, exactly ten floors above the scene of carnage they had discovered scant days ago when they first arrived in Rathess. The room is lit by glowing orbs of no particular color. They reflect somberly off the three simple chairs, the occupied one set across from the other two, over an ornate First-Age table.

Evil Marku The moments pass like jagged eternities as Zahara sits at the table, awaiting her former comrades' arrival.

Cerinfernal Zahara first feels the presence of something ... the tingle of essence with the subtle foulness of the infernal appear behind her. Then there is the feeling of a presence entering the room. "Hello, Zahara." comes the voice from behind her.

Cerinfernal There is no footstep.

Zahara tenses, but does not otherwise move. "Hello, Cerin." she replies softly. The lack of that single footstep shakes her, though she does not allow it to show.

Evil Marku A few moments later, Zahara does hear a footstep -- a quite loud one.

Cerinfernal circles around into her field of view, red ribbons flapping in a breeze that is not there, his face covered by the smooth helm. While the solar seal is missing from its usual place near his collar, there is a third golden pin added to the set. He seats himself. He appears to be studying her quite intently, though he is silent for a while before he speaks. "It appears the days since we last met have not been kind to you." He offers, keeping his voice level.

Evil Marku walks around in the opposite direction and takes the third remaining chair, sitting backwards on it. He looks much as Zee recently remembers, his newly-dark hair slicked back and faint souls glittering across the surface of the Grim Reminder. "I wonder how that could have happened."

Zahara studies him in turn, noting the third pin. "Nor were those before we last met. Hello, Markuran." She shifts slightly and studies him now.

Evil Marku looks back at Zahara and smiles unpleasantly, glancing at the reminders of his handiwork that cover her body.

Zahara finds herself oddly at a loss, now that she has come to this point. The silences stretches out for several minutes, before she speaks again. "Have you been enjoying your reunion with eachother?"

Evil Marku laughs. "Nothing could make me happier in all of the world." He gestures grandly in Cerin's direction.

Cerinfernal "I have found my feelings for him much unchanged." He says, in contrast to the laugh

Zahara "And your feelings for me?"

Cerinfernal Cerin is very quiet for a time. "I still have feelings for you." He says eventually, carefully ennunciating the phrase. He seems to twitch just slightly, as though the words hurt him somehow.

Zahara nods slightly. "I'm sorry." she folds her hands on the table, toying with the dragon ring. "I should have been more precise in my prayers." She looks at Markuran, "The deal we made. Do you still wish me to honor it?"

Evil Marku 's eyes might have flashed for just a moment, but then he leans backwards and grins. "I doubt I have interest in anything you have to offer me now, Zahara. You are lucky we are doing you the favor of meeting with you."

Zahara "Yes," she replies seriously, looking down. "I am." She pauses. "What was the deal you swore to?"

Cerinfernal pulls one of the gloves from his hand, to reveal a ring in ruby and black. "I agreed to wear this."

Zahara "I saw. And what does that signify?"

Cerinfernal "It was a Pact, a Journey and a Change all in one. And now I am a Warrior of Nyx."

Zahara "For how long?"

Cerinfernal pulls the glove back on.

Cerinfernal "I believe it may be some time."

Zahara looks up into his eyes, and hers hold yet-unshed tears. "Was it worth it?"

Cerinfernal "Since you are still Zahara Zhan, yes." He says, after long consideration.

Zahara "More or less, I suppose. My name has not changed."

Evil Marku looks at her with cold eyes. "Nor has your demeanor, apparently."

Zahara "What was it you wished to see? Me, on my knees, begging for your return? Crying, and screaming, and railing against fate?" she clenches her fists, "I am the barest edge away from doing so. Nothing you did touched me, Siram. But you, Markuran. And especially you.." her voice breaks a little, "Cerin. What you did. That was true torture."

Evil Marku nods. "It must be torture for you, when others have seen the light and you remain, floundering in darkness."

Cerinfernal "I am sorry. I did the only thing I could do. I could not kill you nor leave you there."

Zahara lets the emotions she'd been keeping a firm leash on free for a few moments, directing them towards Cerin's place in the Unity, unsure of whether or not he can feel it still. The emotions there are nothing he has felt from her before. Love, twisted almost unrecognizably into unendurable pain is the strongest. Beyond that, there is fear, and uncertainty, and a sense of loss. Of him. Of her place in the world.

Zahara "You should have killed me. She turns away from him again, angrily wiping the tears away and concentrating on controlling herself, though the struggle is obvious.

Cerinfernal Cerin winces visibly as the emotional wave hits him, and then winces once more, as if in physical pain. His hand twitches. The emotions that come back are love ... painful love and a sense of loss as she turns away so powerful it seems that is all there is. Until Zahara realises, perhaps worryingly, that that is all there is. There is none of the usual mix of emotions.

Evil Marku "Hrmph."

Evil Marku leans forward over the back of his chair. "Are you satisfied now, Zahara?"

Zahara shudders, Cerin's feelings causing her heart to pause in its beating for a second. "Satisfied? How could I ever be satisfied again?" She looks up again, but her eyes fall on Cerin. "You've stripped away everything I had. Why, Markuran? Why couldn't you come with me instead?"

Evil Marku "Because, Zahara." His smile fades to a grim line. "There is never a 'with' for you. There is only above... and below."

Zahara stares at Marku, speechless. She draws a breath. "I'm sorry." she says sincerely, quietly.

Cerinfernal glares at Markuran

Evil Marku nods, silently.

Zahara folds her arms on the table and lowers her head into them. Her shoulders shake, as she cries into them, all the wary tension gone from her body. "This is all my fault." the words are muffled, barely there.

Cerinfernal extends an arm towards her, winces, stops.

Cerinfernal pushes his hand forward, pausing once more has his hand brushes the cloth of true love with a small gasp. And then he is touching her skin.

Zahara shivers as she feels his hand touch her. She stills, and looks up. "I'm so sorry. I hope... that it did not hurt."

Cerinfernal "Only for the briefest of moments." One eternal moment

Evil Marku stares at Zahara wordlessly for a few moments. Then he shakes his head, as if he's snapping out of a reverie. "I think we've met our end of this agreement now. Cerin, let's go." He rises up from his chair.

Zahara "Wait... just... tell me... what is it like?" she asks with, perhaps, morbid curiosity.

Cerinfernal stands. "Have you ever woken up and realised everything you knew from before was a lie?" He pauses just briefly. "It's like that, except some things are so very true."

Zahara "I know the feeling." she replies softly.

Evil Marku As Zahara speaks, Cerin has an unmistakable feeling -- something is definitely about to surprise him.

Zahara watches them, making no move to stop them from leaving.

Cerinfernal gives Zahara a look that seems almost betrayed, wrapping essence around himself defensively.

Zahara blinks at him, confused.

Zahara "what's wrong?"

Evil Marku "Yeah, Cerin, what's wro..." Markuran trails off as the golden light from below fills in the tiniest filigrees on the walls and he feels his Essence drain away. "You FUCKING DUNG-HEARTED BITCH!" he screams as he realizes what has occurred.

Zahara gasps, her own leaving as well. "WHAT DID YOU DO?"

Cerinfernal "I had hoped this would not happen." He says, after Markuran's outburst.

Thirteen explodes through a mousehole on the left wall, showering the group with gravel. "Greetings, Markuran the...something went wrong."

Zahara backs across the room from them, eyes full of shock and...fear. She screams as Thirteen bursts from the wall near her. "WHAT DID YOU DO?"

Evil Marku feels his arm grow heavy and fall to the ground under the weight of the Grim Reminder, and Zahara is briefly reminded of the wounded bear in Marku's anima...


Cerinfernal "No, it appears your ambush worked perfectly according to your plan." Cerin nods.

Thirteen "I had intended you to be disabled and incapable of resistance."

Thirteen "Now I will have to improvise."

Zahara clutches at the collar around her throat, the one that Markuran knows so well. It takes a moment before she realizes she is not the only one.

Cerinfernal "Ah. That was rather naive of you."

Thirteen "Nobody is perfect."

Zahara draws her blade, a simple, perfect straight sword, her eyes darting around the room. "Don't, Thirteen! Don't hurt them!"

Thirteen "Zahara, if you do not sit calmly I will be forced to put you on a time out."

Zahara 's jaw drops. "You did not just say that."

Thirteen "As you wish."

Cerinfernal is wrapped in a roiling field of shadow and distorted space as he waits for Thirteen's move, infernal essence flooding his armour.

Thirteen steps firmly on the floor, and the rubble around him explodes upwards. With a sidewards swing, he bats a watermelon-sized chunk of rock at Cerin, following through with a vicious butt-ended blow at Markuran's face, before charging under the flying rubble to direct three swipes at Cerin's intestines.

Evil Marku widens his eyes at Thirteen's attack. Panicking, he grabs the chair he was sitting in a moment ago -- even Essenceless, he's still a strong, strong man -- with his one free hand and swings it out to intercept the blow.

Evil Marku Thirteen's spear deftly navigates between the bars of the chair and slaps Marku firmly underneath the chin, causing him to crash backwards onto his ever-attractive rear end.

Cerinfernal Thirteen's spear stabs straight through Cerin ... once ... twice ... thrice. There is an infitesimal pause and then Cerin unfolds into a glowing haze that blazes in red. One very specific shade of red. The red of the dress zahara now wears in tatters. Cerin appears a few meters back, grinning softly.

Zahara stares at Cerin, the sword almost falling from her fingers. Love, pure, flows towards him like a torrent.

Thirteen The rubble Thirteen knocked into the air seems to slow and almost hover in the air, long enough for Cerin to read the carefully inscribed stories of Dragon-Kings long gone that cover the quivering pieces of stone, before they fly abruptly towards him....

Cerinfernal files it away for future reference as he flows with red essence through the on coming stones. As he moves, he leaves strange shadow cut outs in the air behind him that shatter as the stones pass through.

Evil Marku Markuran deflects the rocks as best as possible using his chair, but without Essence he's much less of a match for Thirteen, and he's battered about the chest and face quite severely; he drops to his second knee and begins to breathe with the sound of one whose lungs have been injured....

Zahara watches the chaos for a moment, then suddenly runs over to Markuran, hauls back, and punches him in the face with the pommel of her sword while he's still reeling from the rocks.

Zahara "Fucker."

Evil Marku Marku rolls under Zahara's punch, and his nose shatters... much like hers did so recently ago. He leans back forward, his eyes not focusing perfectly, and looks to his companion. "Cerin..." For the first time in who knows how long, Markuran sounds truly frightened.

Zahara sits on him.

Zahara "Stay."

Cerinfernal There is a sensation of movement from Cerin.

Cerinfernal Two shadow cutouts are left next to where he was, bows the shade of Zahara's true love levelled at Thirteen. "Goodbye, Thirteen." The arrows let fly.

Cerinfernal One shadow cutout stands over Markuran, bow the shadow of Zahara's true love pointing down. "Good bye, Markuran." The arrow lets fly.

Cerinfernal One shadow cutout stands beside Zahara, the colour of Zahara's true love. There is the sensation of a kiss, and the feeling of something slipped into a pocket.

Cerinfernal All four combine with the one shadow cutout, and what is almost a scythe of essence errupts from his bow.

Cerinfernal The three solars in the waiting room find themselves surrounded with falling dust and masonry

Lucent wills the orb of the sun to spread on a great Dawn Castemark, keeping all the debris, and even the dust, away from himself and the others, trying not to lose Cerin in the dust!

Zahara "No!" she cries. swinging her sword in a useless attempt to deflect the arrow from Markuran. "Cerin!"

Evil Marku Markuran has enough time for his eyes to grow even wider and to begin to form a terrified curse... before Cerin's arrow swats Zahara's blade easily out of its way and strikes him clear between the eyes.

Evil Marku His heavy body flies backwards from the chair and falls flat to the floor of the room.

Zahara follows him down, landing on top of him again. "Markuran? Damn you, you can't die yet!" She hits him some more. "Damn you!"

Thirteen reaches out to grasp one of the shadowy arrows, knocking the other aside with its shaft, and calmly eats it.

Thirteen "I am not going anywhere, Cerin. Nor, I hope, are you."

Evil Marku Marku bleeds from his face and body but otherwise does not respond to Zahara.

Zahara shakes him, crying. "Cerin! how could you?"

Cerinfernal "There is only one person in Creation I could not kill. And for that, I am sorry." And then there is a crimson blur, interspersed with shadowed cutouts of Cerin. There is one though, coloured in the crimson of love, that watches Zahara for the longest of times, before it too fades to nothing.

Zahara stares after him, until the crimson shadow has disappeared. She looks down at Markuran's body, and her hand slides to her pocket.

Cerinfernal Within, there is a single, oddly shaped crystal fragment.

Zahara closes her hand around it without removing it.

Evil Marku It is oddly cold and sharp to the touch, but slightly familiar.

Birds watches as the dust settles. She kneels next to Zahara and starts to brush rubble and things off the body. "I'm sorry, Zee."

Thirteen slams the butt of his spear to the ground in frustration, then storms from the room.

Zahara finally pulls her hand from her pocket, looking at the crystal. "Maybe it was for the best."

Lucent steps into the room from the hole in the wall... too late

Lucent punches the wall. He does not break it, but neither does his hand breaks. "DAMNIT."

Birds smudges her facepaint again. "Probably."

Lucent "... he killed Markuran?"

Birds clenches her teeth, and growls, "We all knew one of us had to die."

Zahara pulls the Grim Reminder from his unresisting hand, and tries it on.

Birds "Better him than anyone else."

Lucent goes to the body, pushing Zahara off him, pointing at him... and forming a cross with all seven orbs over him, saying a prayer, consecrating the body to the sun... with urgence. As if he is more worried about what will stay when the flames are gone than to send the soul on.

Evil Marku The crystal is shaped like an elongated diamond, and polished to black mirror clarity. The light of the room shines off of it in a dark but utterly sharp way....

Zahara closes her fist around the crystal and replaces it in her pocket. She stands, the Reminder over one fist, her sword in the other, and watches the last of Markuran's ashes settle to the floor.

Evil Marku Zahara stares into its depths, seeing her own pain reflected starkly in its dark surface. And as she stares, something comes back to her....

Zahara **rearrange those lines.

Evil Marku She remembers the feel of the shard, rendered anew, as more flawed... less perfect material is struck from its borders, leaving only the purest shard at the center... she remembers great hands, striking it against a workbench, and hearing the pure tone that emenated from it....

Evil Marku And hanging it upon the wall with its fellows...

Lucent mutters under his breath "You there, Siram? Let me see your remains, you miserable little..."

Zahara closes her fist around the crystal and replaces it in her pocket. She stands, the Reminder over one fist, her sword in the other, and watches the last of Markuran's ashes settle to the floor.

Evil Marku A thick, black smoke arises from Markuran's body as Luc channels the essence of the Sun into it.... it rises up, and begins, very faintly, to weave together... one tendril after another, moving towards one another, in mid-air, as a terrible buzzing noise begins....

Zahara hesitates for a moment as she watches the smoke rise from Markurans body, then withdraws the crystal once more, and strikes it against the soulsteel weapon she took from him.

Zahara "The chime slew the Primordials in the First Age," she says softly.

Evil Marku A sound... a pure tone rises up from where she strikes, overpowering the buzzing. As it fills the room, she watches the black smoke as it tries to knit itself back together... at the touch of the pure sound, it begins to disintegrate, lose its cohesion.... until it scatters, and a stray breeze blows the smoke into nothingness.

Birds ::Thirteen...something has gone wrong.::

Lucent flares really bright, the sand whipping against everything in the room. "If a Zenith dies today so does you, bastard." He points at the smoke, ready to send the Sun's fire as soon as it is something he can attack...

Birds doesn't even get up from the floor. Today is a floor day.

Zahara rings it one more time, just to hear the sound.

Imrama waits and watches the smoke, wanting very much to thrash something.

Thirteen stalks back in, cocks an ear, and sighs.

Zahara smiles.

Thirteen "Do not kill him."

Zahara "So."

Thirteen "He is our only prize."

Thirteen "We do not need vengeance."

Thirteen "We need information."

Thirteen "Zahara. The Reminder."

Zahara "I believe you are slightly too late."

Lucent "Oh, sure we do! It is Siram! He survived while we died, Thirteen. He has to BURN."

Thirteen pauses.

Thirteen "Fools."

Thirteen "Have we then sold Markuran's life for nothing? For a momentary feeling of righteousness?"

Lucent grits his teeth. "You don't know Siram... letting that live..."

Thirteen drops his spear and seizes the Remainder. He breathes out, exasperated...then begins to inhale, breathing deeper and deeper, without stopping, until wisps of smoke and ash create themselves again from nothing and insinuate themselves into his open mouth.

Thirteen For just a moment, his ever-glowing anima flickers, wavers, dims...then he breathes out a billow of smoke, into the open end of the soulsteel gauntlet made from the pieces of Siram's former prison.

Thirteen "Close it." This to Zee.

Birds looks at Lucent expressionlessly, but there is a prickly admonishment through the Unity.

Lucent sighs, looking at Birds, exasperated. "He was emprisioned before and you lost a friend..."

Thirteen "No. We lost a friend today."

Zahara draws the edge of the chime over the open end of the gauntlet, creating a neverending pure dissonance with the essence of its creation. Faint lines of essence flow out to cover the inner surface of the weapon, before she forces the metal to bend to her will, sealing the end until it looks as if there were never an opening.

Lucent "I lost a Kin. Creation lost one of the Five. I wish I had been his friend."

Zahara "This is on your head, Thirteen."

Imrama "As do I."

Zahara "Do not think to imply that I had my vengeance today."

Evil Marku On the floor, at the Solars' feet, the last embers where the great man's body once lay flicker and die out, leaving no trace....

Zahara drops the thing back in his arms

Evil Marku And Markuran the Bear... Chosen of Sol Invictus... lord of the Sunlands... father of the Leafwalkers... and heir to the dark legacy of Siram the Deceiver... is taken back to the bosom of his divine father.

Evil Marku Thirteen and Zahara can perceive it, just slightly... the golden shard that rises up as the last bit of fire dies, and wings its way out of the room towards destinations unknown.

Birds gets up, lightly touches Thirteen and Lucent's hands, and says, "I have to paint my face again." She finds the remains of the door and walks through it.

Thirteen "It was not I who loosed that shot, Zahara. That honor belongs to Cerin the Wolf. Rest assured we will remind him of it."

Zahara turns the crystal over in her hand. "That may be the least of our worries."

Lucent looks down at his remains... "One of the Five, gone..."

Birds can be heard just behind a bit of wall, doing something with paintbrushes and powders.

Zahara "Maybe he will remain free in his next life."

Lucent "We only have one now..." He sighs. "We need to find his next life, Zahara. Keep it safe."

Thirteen "Yes."

Thirteen "That, fortunately, will not be a difficult task."

Zahara closes her eyes, drawing a slow breath. "Everything may be more difficult than we'd thought. They may control the Chime of Ages."

Birds Muffled slightly, Birds says, "We should burn out his shard, clean it of all the ashes of his earlier selves. It is too full of corruption."

Zahara "Well," she adds upon further reflection, "Most of it."

Lucent "Sometimes, corruption is good. It makes you know. It keeps you prepared. As long as you rise above it." He says, "Ignoring the darkness is an step towards falling into them."

Thirteen "Zahara. You are the foremost crafter of Creation, and the one who created the Chime of Ages in the first place. You hold in your hand a piece of it."

Thirteen "If anyone can disable it, you can."

Zahara "Not if i'm in timeout." she walks off.

Birds comes back with basil, hemlock, and tamarisk painted on her face in red.

Lucent walks to Birds, holding her hand, warmly...

Birds "Let's all go and apologise to Ssithumi. We have broken her house."

< Prelude To Darkness | Sol Invictus Logs | Waiting In The Wings >