alsoquin In the city of Chanta, a finely dressed man waits in a large room, as the prisoners are brought in.
alsoquin There are ten of them, he notices; none of them are older than twenty. They attacked a group of soldiers, the guard bearing the prisoners in informs him. They were freedom fighters.
alsoquin I see, says the finely dressed man. There is only one thing to be done here, of course, but he takes his time in doing it.
alsoquin When he is done, nine of the prisoners are dead, and the last is set free, to wander upon the treetop streets of Chanta. The finely dressed man is not concerned that anything the remaining prisoner will do will cause him any problem. He smiles.
alsoquin But three hours later, as the sun hangs eclipsed in the sky, that man stalks through the Haltan jungle in very different clothes, naught but thin pelts and animal skins protecting him from the elements. He runs quickly, dashing through the trees with a practiced ease,
alsoquin and he does not stop to look at anything he passes.
alsoquin One hour later, he arrives at his destination, an unassuming copse of trees. As he walks, he shifts, changes; where the man stood a moment ago, now there is only a brilliant silver wolf, its eyes filled with cruel intelligence. It pads across the grove, towards the far side.
alsoquin There is something there, the only sign that humans have ever set foot here; a weathered stick juts out of the earth, and two others are lashed across it with vines. And from those sticks, two things hang: a moonsilver necklace of beads, and a single, grey hawk feather.
alsoquin The wolf sits unmoving before the monument for several minutes, betraying nothing by his actions. And then, as a great cloud passes out from in front of the ecliptic sun, the wolf -- the man -- lets out a chilling howl.
alsoquin A vast wall of water -- crystal-clear and beautiful -- is beat back almost instantly by the gusts of air from Thirteen's hallway, revealing the route into the center of the room, where a tall pillar of black jade winds its way from ceiling to floor.
alsoquin (1:12:29 AM) alsoquin: Rare, iridescent koi swim through the wall of water that still surrounds much of the room, their vast butterfly fins lazily cutting through the water, seemingly unconcerned about all the ruckus.
Thirteen steps into the room, scrutinizing the pillar of jade carefully.
alsoquin The pillar is carved with intricate runes much like those along the walls -- and again like those upon the walls, they speak of no linguistic meaning, but rather seem more like... coded instructions, as if the letters themselves help shape the Essence of the room in a spiritually harmonious fashion.
Imrama follows Thirteen into the room, watching the koi plow lazily through the water, and passing his gaze over the black jade pillar.
Thirteen hums, cocking an ear, and follows the movements of Essence in the room.
alsoquin Imrama notes with interest that there are nine living fish, and one spirit-fish -- the nine bear the names of the nine Seas, while the tenth is known only as Hai.
alsoquin Thirteen studies carefully, and notices the intricate dance of Essence within the room -- the pole resonates quite actively with the element of water, and there seems to be a near-constant flow of Essence both into, and out of, the water around the borders of the room (...)
alsoquin in a constant trickle -- in a way that both causes the water (and the fish within) to adjust for those changes, and then propagates information regarding their movements back into the manse as a whole.
Thirteen looks for additional doors.
alsoquin Passageways lead both north and east.
Thirteen sticks his head into the wall of water and inhales deeply.
alsoquin The water is quite clean and pure, though the fish seem to immediately dislike his intrusion. Gazing upon the Essence flows up close and personal, however, Thirteen gets a better idea of their purpose:
alsoquin they seem to measure and react to both the state of the elemental water throughout Creation, as well as the shifting flows of interacton that they metaphorically represent.
Thirteen "Hm," he repeats.
Thirteen opens the nearest door he hasn't been through yet.
alsoquin Thirteen finds himself in a hallway heading north, a rather short one, and at its end, a door -- white stone, and upon it, a single, perfect circle of brightest Emerald.
Thirteen proceeds leisurely down the hallway.
alsoquin The door stands before him now, shut tight -- and, his eyes tell him, enchanted.
Thirteen squints with irritation at the shining gem.
alsoquin The spell upon the door seems to bar all access -- any attempt to physically open the door is rendered moot.
Thirteen "Do either of you know how to bypass Terrestrial Circle sorcery, by chance?"
Phoenix makes a funny face. "Hm, let me try something."
Phoenix waves her left hand around in the air until her anima trails behind it as ribbons of black-and-gold silk, and tentatively pushes against the door.
alsoquin Her hand slides through the door as if it were not present, almost effortlessly.
Phoenix fumbles around, looking for a handle. "If either of you can see through walls, please make suggestions."
alsoquin Phoenix feels around on the opposite side of the door. At first it just seems to be empty, blank space, but after a moment, she finds something... is it a tiny lever?
Thirteen "It is on my list.'
Phoenix pulls it experimentally.
alsoquin There is a brief buzz, then a click... then the emerald circle begins to spin clockwise, and the door slides open
alsoquin Within, there is a pillar of solid emerald, carven with intricate descriptions and instructions -- the workings of the Devonian order, the initiatic methods for the lowest circle of Sorcery. Around the outskirts of the room, tomes and scrolls lie, scattered and upended...
alsoquin and at the foot of the pillar, a skeleton, its ribs shattered and strewn about the room, still clad in a Shogunate uniform.
alsoquin "Remains of Tabela Galad," Imrama's glasses helpfully inform him.
Imrama "This was Tabela Galad...a Shogunate name, I believe."
Phoenix makes a gesture like closing the corpse's eyes.
Thirteen "Another member of darling Surkha's platoon."
Thirteen steps up to the pillar and studies it with interest.
Phoenix picks up some interesting tomes. "What're all these? Black Dawn, Story of the Seed, Between Hidden Pillars... these are books of sorcery that haven't seen the light of day in generations!"
Thirteen spits up a long roll of parchment and a pen and takes a quick rubbing of the pillar.
alsoquin A sound, like the dull rumble of a crash elsewhere in the Manse, can be heard through the walls.
Thirteen ::Zahara? Was that Lucent?::
zahara ::No. I take it, it was not you either?::
Imrama "That did not originate from either of our parties. I believe."
Phoenix picks out a couple of the obscurer volumes and ties them together with a stray scarf.
Phoenix "What do you suppose it is?"
Thirteen "Let us hurry." He takes the books out of Phoenix's hands and swallows them.
alsoquin In the halls of the Labyrinthine Cascade, a group of servants stop to chat. Their masters are away, and the dark fate that faces the world is far away from their sights... they stop to discuss what such people often do: the secret liasions and petty rivalries between their kind, the new goods for sale in the City, their plans for upcoming festivals... their innocent laughter echoes through the hall.
alsoquin When they split apart, some time later, they go back to their duties... all but one, who wends his way through the twisty corridors into the servant quarters, and opens a door silently.
alsoquin Zahara has not had reason to set foot in the servant quarters since they were completed, so she would not know that while the servants live several to a room, in family groups or youth dormitories,
alsoquin only one bed sits in this room. Though Cerin sees all that surrounds him, his seeking eyes slide carefully around around the Greater Sigils of the Rose, so he does not see the things scattered within: elaborate essence charts of the Cascade and its rulers;
alsoquin records of troop deployments; small items of clothing belonging to the Solars; three silver cords, one still knotted twice; scraps of paper with strange sigils upon them, and notes in every color; a silver cudgel, blood dried upon it from a single impact; strange crystalline objects and abstract statues of brass and iron and tiny planetariums that map the sky; and a single, purple nightshade.
alsoquin The servant moves to a closet, and throws it wide. He begins to remove his servant attire, his drab uniform and a false beard... and in that closet hang many other accoutrements: tiny pots of metallic facepaint and sheets of lizard scales, with leather straps;
alsoquin mons of Realm houses and sigils of Dragon-Blood rank; soldier's insignias and cheap iron weapons and boots; masks of many descriptions and bowls of sticks and earth and water and incense; fine silk robes and home-sewn outfits...
alsoquin and in one corner, a suit of heavy, orichalcum armor; dark makeup and face putty; a golden spear, wrought in the shape of a rising flame -- and a stuffed horse head upon a stick, like a toy a child might play with.
alsoquin The servant, dressed now only in simple red robes, sits down and looks at one of his sky-readers, and as the sun falls behind the moon, he begins to laugh.
Thirteen lifts a few more promising books and turns to find the next exciting passageway.
Phoenix kicks around some more books, "I think Zahara has most of these, take this one. Onward?"
alsoquin Thirteen eagerly opens a doorway into a hallway -- a rather long one -- at the end of which is a door with symbol that is quite familiar: the Night Caste symbol.
alsoquin As soon as he sets foot within the hall, something warns him to be careful.
Thirteen "Be careful."
Thirteen continues walking down the hall.
Phoenix does the floating thing and continues, touching nothing but air.
Imrama follows, also floating.
alsoquin Thirteen feels a rather unexpected and sharp pain in his lungs, and a strong desire to cough.
Thirteen "Try not to breathe."
Phoenix raises an eyebrow at Thirteen, but doesn't say anything, of course.
Imrama ::I will do my utmost::
alsoquin The others feel the same painful stab, though it seems to recede as they cross towards the Night door -- which slides open without anyone having to do anything.
Thirteen heads inside.
alsoquin Black marble inlaid by gold lines the walls. To the east, a great, stylized bas relief of a wolf rises from the wall; and elsewhere, violet and grey rectangles form the images of tiny stars upon the walls. (...)
alsoquin On one side of the room, a raised piece of marble juts from the floor, a flat angled surface topping it; and in the center of the room, a table, with a ghostly image floating over it:
alsoquin The First and Forsaken Lion, a vast army of the dead at his back, stands ready on the outskirts of Stygia, in a location that aligns with the city of Lord's Crossing.
alsoquin More sounds -- crashing -- come up through the manse.
Phoenix "Hm, what do you suppose that means?"
Thirteen "That our life continues to complicate itself in new and irritating ways."
alsoquin The sounds seem to be coming from the eastern portion of the Manse.
Imrama "Then let us hasten about the buisness of simplification."
Phoenix "I meant the Lion, dearest. I knew the other bit." Phoenix looks like she's eager to investigate.
Thirteen "Yes. That is also what I meant."
Phoenix "Ah! How clever."
Imrama "I actually meant the matter at hand. Although, yes, I am nonplused to see the Lion mustering his forces."
Thirteen "Go and find out what that sound is."
Thirteen sits at the table and examines it, and its Essence flows, with his customary interest.
Imrama flashes a wry smile. "Shall we fools rush in where this angel fears to tread, Phoenix?"
Phoenix grins. "I am always the servant of adventure! Let's go."
Imrama presses forward in the direction of the noise.
alsoquin The Eastern door opens with as much ease as the entrance to the room did, and lets them into a long hallway that bends to the south afterwards. There's some sort of smell in this hallway -- something's... burning.
Imrama proceeds with caution into the fouled air.
alsoquin Thirteen gazes upon the table and examines it. It seems to be tapped into some sort of Essence-based spy network -- a fitting role for the Night caste. It is clear that there are Essence eddies that can be manipulated to control it, though just looking at them brings a feeling of surprise to him.
alsoquin Smoke and the smell of brimstone gets thicker as Imrama approaches.
Phoenix keeps a hand on Imrama's shoulder as they head down the hall.
Thirteen lowers his hands to the table and attempts to manipulate its viewing capacities.
Imrama walks forward on the smokey air.
alsoquin The two Solars come around the corner onto an odd scene: the now-cooling remnants of a Magma Kraken fill the hallway, and amidst them -- the body of a great, hairy creature with sharp, bladed bone-spurs
alsoquin (Hejatha, Surveyor of Shattered Bones, Demon of the Second Circle, Imrama is informed), and two men in Realm uniforms, neatly sawed in half -- both bearing the Mon of house Mnemon.
alsoquin As Thirteen reaches to manipulate the table, glyphs in Old Realm appear below the image: SECURED. UNAUTHORIZED.
Thirteen sighs in exasperation, and rises from the table.
Thirteen ::Imrama. What is the name of this table?::
Imrama ::The Realm Shrouding Grid::
Imrama "We are following someone with access to Celestial Circle Sorcery. I do not particularly like that." Imrama proceeds further down the hallway.
Thirteen ::Much becomes clear.:;
Phoenix makes an attempt at humor. "Oh, I had thought the architect was merely being innovative." It is not a good attempt.
Thirteen heads towards Phoenix and Imrama.
Thirteen ::The Realm Defense Grid, then, is merely one of the five tools of the First Age that are restricted to the five carriers of the respective Seals, and happened to be the one the Empress had the capability to activate.::
Thirteen ::We will have to defend them all.::
Imrama ::Then the Auric Temple is even more important and valuable than I first thought::
alsoquin In the heavenly city of Yu-Shan, past the grand parks and glorious buildings and beautiful orchards, in the very center, lies the Jade Pleasure Dome, which none enter except when bidden; and the Swords of Truth stand, unassailable, at every entrance.
alsoquin Within its heart is the vast Seraglio... Amidst the extraordinary lounges, the fountains filled with celestial fish and the self-replenishing banquet tables, the mirrors of scrying and the chambers of visitation...
alsoquin There are thirteen thrones in the Seraglio, and one smaller seat of honor besides. Six sit in one corner. Until recently, they were covered in a tarp of blackest night; but now, they are uncovered once again.
alsoquin Five of them, and the seat of honor, are sat together now... five maidens of infinite youth and glory, clad in bright colors; and one ancient, wizened but strong, each part of her body seeming to sing in its own unique voice, clad in brown and grey... and amidst them, shimmering scraps of white and blue fabric, singed and torn and bloodied but still beautiful, hundreds in number, each with its own texture and shape...
alsoquin At the center of the Seraglio are the Games. A vast circular table wrought in jade, like a vast, low goblet; the four directions called out at its edges, and filling it... an opalescent liquid that seems to flow and move and change to anything at all at the whim of those seated about it --
alsoquin though that is just the pale shadow cast by unimaginable greatness upon mortal eyes.
alsoquin In the last two thrones, east and west, sit the remaining two, clad in their finest regalia that glint and reflect the light cast across the table by the other... each sits as if lost in thought, as thousands upon thousands of possibilities play out in ghostly form across the fluid table,
alsoquin as each considers the results of innumerable possible maneuvers and approaches.
alsoquin The Moon smiles. It is a vicious smile, and bares her canines. At her neck is a string of silver beads, each shifting and changing at every moment. She fingers it in a gesture that some might take as innocent, but the other recognizes the intention it carries.
alsoquin Though a greater purpose motivates this activity, the moon has always looked upon it but as amusement. She licks her lips with vigor, and reaches for a goblet of ambrosia.
alsoquin The Sun hrms loudly. He looks at his own possibilities with a dissatisfied air. Perhaps he makes a face as well, but a featureless golden mask hides it from the world.
alsoquin At his belt hangs a sack that was once full to the brim with coin, and he jangles what little remains within it now idly with one hand, while another -- heavily bandaged and swollen -- hangs uncertainly over the board.
alsoquin And somewhere deep within that liquid, somewhere -- anywhere -- is a single spot of nothingness, but no matter how many options he gazes at, no matter how many times he tries, after thousands of years he still cannot find it.
alsoquin The Sun sighs as the the Moon eagerly drinks from her cup, and stares at the board one last time. His last two hands cross in thought and he ponders for a long, drawn-out moment before proceeding.
alsoquin With his wounded hand, the Sun makes his move.
alsoquin Imrama runs further down the hallway, and sees that the hallway he is within forks some distance ahead.
alsoquin Imrama notices as he approaches the fork that the dust upon the floor at this end of the hallway does not appear to have been disturbed... no one's been down either passageway.
Imrama stops cold. "I missed something."
Imrama ::General - the trail's gone cold.::
Phoenix "They have a witch."
Phoenix stands at the fork in the corridor and looks in six directions - down each passage, at the wall, up at the ceiling and down at the floor.
alsoquin One passage leads to a door marked with the brilliant yellow symbol of Journeys, and the other bends back off to the West before leading to a door marked with the Crescent Moon.
Thirteen ::We must hurry. There is no time now for exploring the manifold intricacies of this Manse. We must close with Lai and defeat him once and for all.::
Imrama ::I could not possibly agree more. Do you happen to know where we might find him?::
Thirteen ::One moment.:;
Thirteen rapidly and without warning slams the butt of his spear sideways into the wall of the Manse. It tolls under his blow, giving out a vicious reverberation, which spreads in one second to the panels nearest to it, and then, in half a second, to those panels nearest them...
Thirteen and so forth, until in the space of two seconds, the entire Manse rings with Thirteen's vicious maneuver...and then all is silent.
alsoquin Thirteen knows immediately where he must go within the Manse's twisting geography: the chamber of the Eclipse, within the small fifth floor of the Imperial Manse.
Thirteen sighs. ::Upwards.::
Thirteen ::Onwards and upwards.::
Thirteen ::To the chamber of the Eclipse.::
Imrama closes his eyes, and attempts to tune out the noise around him. He pictures Creation in his mind.
Imrama Afloat in the infinite see of chaos, one single craft carrying all that he cares for, all he has pledged himself to. For a moment, gathers a true understanding of what he was taught since before he could speak: that all the world's a ship, and all people merely sailors upon it. Focusing on that truth, he sets a course to Lai Misuna.
alsoquin The tiniest crack in the wall in front of him -- before it was nothing, but now, Imrama knows better. A single touch in the right place with a single finger, and a doorway -- a narrow staircase leading up behind it -- opens in the wall before him.
alsoquin A sudden feeling -- of energy, like the air has filled with electricity -- sweeps through the Manse.
Thirteen "Good work."
Thirteen sweeps up the stairs.
Imrama "Thank you, General." Imrama says as Thirteen streaks past. He follows.
alsoquin A golden disc, two concentric, hollow circles carved upon its face, is swallowed up into The Fivescore Realization of Truth; and deep within the manse, great energies are redirected, channelled, and they begin to flow through it...
alsoquin On the frozen Northern wyld-border, a great, empty palace of ice and blue-flame begins to glow from within... In the south, five volcanoes begin to belch out greenish-blue smoke as the magma flows beneath them realign... Across the face of Creation, distant manses and geomantic relays that have lain dormant for millennia spring once more into life.
alsoquin There is a great pause, as the energies that build around the border of Creation stretch taut and struggle vainly for release, until, suddenly... they break free, and like a tidal wave, the crush of reality rushes outwards from the border, sweeping away the taint of chaos in its wake, and leaving lands long-gone -- asleep for years upon years -- in place.
alsoquin Outwards, unabated, the wave rushes, through forests and mountains and stranger things besides; outwards it rushes, until upon the borders where once Solar geometers marked the edge of all reality, it reaches its ebb.
alsoquin In the far north, the great crystalline nation of On-Ram spins once more amidst the Empty Sky, and as the sun shines upon it once again, it begins to ponder a long series of new developments that have come to its attention....
alsoquin In the east, the city of Era'vina waits expectantly, for much in their fate is hung upon what occurs in the world in this five days. In one house, a woman, radiantly luminescent and sad, looks out the window at the familiar twisting, purple sky... but as she looks, a great wave of Essence washes over it, and the black sky of Calibration takes its place. She looks out to the West, and wonders at what will happen next...
alsoquin About the distant border of the world, they shine into being: the lost spheres, Incarna who have lain dormant for an Age of mankind, and their light falls down upon the world.
alsoquin Upon the Blessed Isle, a woman fights a war. It is a dirty war, an unhappy one: but it is what she was born to do.
alsoquin Somewhere, deep within her soul, a tiny rose bush blossoms into a great tree.
alsoquin She opens her eyes, as Essence cascades over her skin, as an empty vessel that has sat within her for so long suddenly fills up again....
alsoquin And then she pushes her troops onward again.
alsoquin Thirteen notices something -- the symbol for the Roseblack on his map seems to... shift.
alsoquin Before, the symbols for Dragon-Bloods were a specific increment smaller than those of Celestial Exalts -- but hers has just grown.
Thirteen stops abruptly on the stairs for about one second.
alsoquin The stairs lead up beyond, winding quite narrowly up through all the floors of the manse, and ending at a false-door at the very top, that looks as if it'll push open with but the tiniest effort.
Thirteen strikes it viciously with his spear.
Phoenix waits beside Imrama, bouncing impatiently. Something is going to happen!