The towering sight of the Ebon Dragon's material form breaks and bends as the Primordial's life slips away, shattered by the tool wrought in the First Age to lay to ruin those such as he. But even as the spirit slips away, the infernal flesh struggles to hold on to existence...
Its great bulk crashes to the earth in the beginning of death throes greater than any seen in this age. One swing of the tail and a building crumbles; one flick of the shattered head and a unique example of First Age architecture is no more. Rivulets of black ichor run into the streets like Creation's vastest rivers, instantly corroding all that they touch. The death of a Primordial is not a beautiful sight.
Amidst this chaos stand the Nightblossom. Their hearts tied tight by the Ebon Dragon's cold puppet strings, they buckle for a moment at the pain and surprise of feeling the infernal essence -- that which preserves them against all death -- slip through their veins like razor wire and disappear. It might seem, for that moment, that they are felled, like puppets whose master can command them to dance no more.
But for just a moment. For the pain passes, and Surkha -- the Scarlet Empress -- rises up. Her dark visage is gone, and in its place, a radiant face of beautifully cold light. She wills it, and an anima banner unlike any the Solars have ever seen unfurls behind her -- the grand majesty of the Imperial Mountain itself, wreathed in solar fire and crowned by the mon of the Empress. The limbs and tendrils of the fallen Yozi flail and jerk behind her, but she cares not.
She smiles. For an ally she may have been before, Surkha thinks, but she has never been a puppet. And still all of Creation shall be hers.
Lucent has his eyes closed, sensing the fall of the Ebon Dragon... "We killed a God today. I had hoped we never had to do that again." he sighs. "One more to be comforted from the pain of his death."
Lucent walks to Zahara, opening his eyes and taking back the Zenith seal.
Imrama "Now we have only to defeat five of the greatest elemental tyrants riding on glory stolen from our ancient ancestors. Are there any stratagems for us to consider before we charge into the fray?" Imrama eyes his companions with the look of an honest question.
Zahara breaks from the communion slowly, and lets out a long breath. She opens her eyes, feeling the echoes of the strike, and the death throes of Nyx, who should never have taken Cerin from her.
Thirteen "Watch out for Surkha's heart-destroying spell?"
Lucent "There might be one." He nods, and looks up to Thirteen. "Thirteen, would it disturb your plans if I set the caretakers and basic principles of Creation itself upon them?"
Thirteen "By all means, indulge yourself."
Cerin reappears next to Zahara with a footstep.
Zahara takes the opportunity to kiss Cerin
Phoenix is nervously running her hands through her hair.
Thirteen directs the Roseblack to stick and move, falling back towards his position.
Zahara ::It would be ideal to separate Surkha from her artifacts.::
Cerin kisses her back softly and then breaks the kiss, looking contemplatively out of the window. ::That would indeed be ideal.:: He agrees, studying the woman as she recovers, wondering if the shard arrangement is as unstable as he had considered it might be.
Lucent "Well, then... time to see if this thing DOES work." And with that, Lucent throws the Zenith seal into the air, the orbs of each maiden touch upon it, becoming like a star... the sun sending light from it to the sky, the moon throwing it for all directions at once. Yellow to the South. Violet to the East. Green to the West. Blue to the North. Red to the Center.
Zahara slides the five crystals from the console, tucking them away safe.
Lucent To pray is to give. To give yourself to the Heavens and beyond. To give a piece of your soul, your life, to the Heavens. It is prayer that makes the Heavens move. To pray is to give yourself to a being greater than yourself. And that is what Zeniths do.
Lucent They pray.
Lucent They recognize there is something greater than them, and call upon it.
Lucent However, what Zeniths see, is that prayer makes Heaven. Heaven is nothing without it. It is not about the worth of a greater being. It is the Belief in it. The same belief that saves a saint and a sinner, that causes a God of Murder and a God of Love to save equally. Belief directs Heaven. Belief changes it. Belief changes the world.
Lucent Through a Soul of Gaia, Lucent Copper Haze sends his words to the Dragons of Creation.
Lucent And attempts to, with his belief, change them. Make them rise.
Lucent "Dragons of Creation. Children of Gaia. Before us, stand your betrayers. Before us, stand those who betrayed you for the Dragon of Shadows and Night. Before us stand those who should champion Creation, twisted and darkened! They are of Creation, and yet not! They are Elemental, and yet, not! They have squandered and darkened your gifts!"
Lucent "I call to you through your Mother's own soul, on the twilight of Creation! Those who were your Chosen stand proud on the center of Gaia, on the center of Creation, defiling everything you deem sacred! Make your stand, Elemental Dragons! Honor the promise of Hesiesh to the stewards of Creation!"
Lucent "Pasiap, they have defiled the perfect designs of Creation! Sextes Jylis, they darken your children as the Nightblossom! Mela, their designs warp all Essence and break all reality! Danaa'd, their secrets have brought the yozi upon Creation! Hesiesh... the time to strike is NOW!"
Lucent "AWAKEN CREATION! STRIKE, IMMACULATE DRAGONS!"
Lucent There is light, and then it is gone, the seal falling inert at his feet.
alsoquin And strike they do.
alsoquin From the most distant corners of Creation, they step, as they have not done since another Age of the world -- the Immaculate Dragons, the distilled forms of the great elemental souls who hold up the world.
alsoquin Heshiesh, the cocky young swordsman; Mela, the uncatchable and subtle warrior; Danaa'd, reserved but vicious with her claws at the ready; Sextes Jylis, strong like an oak but supple like an ivy... they walk across the face of Creation, and within moments, they arrive at their destination.
alsoquin Heshiesh looks upon the faces of the Nightblossom, a trail of brilliant, cleansing fire following in his footsteps back to the very edge of the world, and grins. "We have heard that our antitheses walk the Earth, defiling our excellent names," he pronounces. "We have come to destroy you."
Zahara touches Lucent's shoulder lightly and smiles.
alsoquin "Kneel and prepare for death, Whore," Mela speaks to Peleps Aramida, and in just a moment the battle begins.
Lucent smiles up to Zahara. "... I can't believe that actually worked."
Lucent "And I am SUPPOSED to."
Zahara "I knew it would. I believe in you." she says simply, and looks out the window.
Thirteen "I hope we will not have to kill them as well."
alsoquin And so they fight, Sextes Jylis' arrows peppering the infernal monk from leagues away, Danaa'd's blades clashing against Aramida's spear, Heshiesh's swords and Cainan's locked in a brilliant conflagration, Mela's infinite chakram assault swirling around Tepet Arada....
Lucent "We should probably help them. Thirteen?"
alsoquin In the center, untouched, Surkha looks about, and then turns her attention straight to the Auric Temple. "Come out, pretend Empress," she calls, "or I shall drag you out."
Phoenix "That bitch sure has a mouth on her."
Thirteen waves a finger warily in the air, leaving crimson trails behind, as he exerts his will upon the Grid, drawing Essence away from the Nightblossom as they lock themselves in battle.
Thirteen "Shall we engage them?"
Lucent "Well, she just called Zahara out. We just cannot let them insult one of our own."
Imrama "I am beyond being tired with adversaries who lob weak insults at members of this company. When did the villains of this world lose their last thread of class?"
Zahara laughs. "I suppose I could indulge her. I have claimed the title of Empress without truly fighting for it up until now, haven't I? And still, I am less pretender than she."
Imrama "Absolutely, Thirteen." Imrama climbs back aboard the Fable of the Reconstruction.
Thirteen "Well, I must at least offer her a rejoinder."
Zahara ascends to the deck, and calls to Surkha, "I'll be out in a moment, dear."
alsoquin The Essence of Creation dances and leaps at Thirteen's command, fleeing from the Nightblossom's very fingertips and calcifying where they demand it flow to their whims.
Lucent "Well. If you do win... you would look good in Red."
Cerin nods and smiles faintly. The woman in scarlet would die today. "And if we are ready?"
Phoenix steps up into the air and rips a ribbon of smoky gold out of the air like a whip. "Well, let's cut the chitchat. Sooner we go, the sooner we can have a little quiet in the empire."
Lucent "Things never get quiet, Phoenix. Ever."
Phoenix "Never is just a fancy way of saying, 'maybe tomorrow.'"
Imrama Once all are aboard who're coming aboard, Imrama whistles a jaunty tune into the vault of the Eclipse Room, and he, his companions, and his ship break down into a million million motes of essence. Out on the knotted flows of the Manse they flow, flying through the air like a hurricane of fireflies, only to reassemble outside of the Auric Temple, there to face with the twice fallen Empress of...
Imrama ...nothing and no one.
Cerin "That is not strictly true, Lucent." ::If one is careful, things can get quiet for a moment.:: And so they do. The display of motes of the vessel is seen by the Empress only for a moment, and then it is gone. For the next few moments, it is as if the Fable is ... merely that. And then Creation opens its eyes after the blink, and the airship is above her, Solars ready to spring. ::And a moment can be all that is needed.::
Lucent emulates Cerin's step, then, looking down at the fallen Empress. "I stand corrected."
Thirteen emerges from the vessel with a hint of a smirk. "Good evening, Surkha. Do you remember me?"
Surkha swivels to see Thirteen's smug face, and the first signs of surprise anyone has, in all likelihood, seen on that face since her age was counted in two digits play across her face. "I killed you," she says, looking up at the ship and shaping a spell of the Third Circle between her hands.
Thirteen "Try again."
Zahara grins, "Yes, you did quite a lovely job of it too. Very artistic, I thought."
Lucent "This is the thing with Solars." Lucent steps out. "We are always, always returning."
Lucent And under his breath, he whispers, 'Awaken, Heavens. Strike, Sol Invictus!'
Imrama draws arms with a twinkle in his eye. "If he is to have yet another chance to redeem himself, Lucent, let him make his own way. Feed the starving multitudes or set free all the slaves in Creation. Let him avert some other dire crisis that threatens all free people and the very fabric of the world. This one is ours." Imrama punctuates his statement with a loud "whoop" of joy.
Lucent "I meant us, Imrama. We will not lose. Ever again."
Thirteen hurls himself viciously at Surkha as she begins her spell, his spear expressing a bit -- just a bit -- of his irritation at having been killed.
Surkha brings about the Sword of Ice to block each of Thirteen's strikes, with a snarl.
Surkha With her other hand, she unleashes the Essence of the Unblinking Sun's Glare, and a miniature sun seems to bloom in her hand, its withering heat burning away the skin of those who assault her.
Zahara leans into the brightness, sending her weapons down to harry the woman, "You know, the destruction of your master has made you look a little better. I'm afraid when we kill you, you'll just look like a corpse again though."
Thirteen squints against the brilliant glow, having never been told not to stare into the sun.
Cerin stands next to Zahara, drawing back motes of golden light, letting them fall upon Surkha, always flashing from the shadows of Zahara's blades, striking mere moments after the sword has moved on.
Surkha Surkha swings her blade with a masterful but almost imperceptibly quick strokes, the eternally frozen ice glinting in the light of the Essence being thrown around about her.
Surkha Cerin's bolts sneak past her defenses, and very much unlike when she stood in Nyx's thrall, they strike true: the invincible Empress begins to bleed, and grunts at the pain.
Surkha Her demeanor broken by rage, she brings the blade to bear on Thirteen, seeking to carve back out the heart she has already destroyed once today.
Imrama stands on his ship at mid deck. It's pointed ram is leveled evenly with Surkha as it hangs like a sword above her head. Staring straight down at the Scarlet Sorceress, Imrama raises four arms, two of light and two of flesh, and takes careful aim at her head. He breathes once with a twinge of regret, thinks of the city in ruins, and fires.
Thirteen grips the blade briefly with two fingers as he fades out of the way. He touches the fingers to his side, and they sizzle as they rapidly return from sub-zero to body temperature.
Surkha Surkha swings the sword above her head to fend off the bolts of light, then shatters into shards of brilliant sunlight just before they strike, reconstituting herself immediately behind Zahara.
Thirteen "Those are OUR charms. Kindly stop misappropriating them."
Phoenix reaches out and grabs a cannonball as a member of the crew fires it, attempting to look busy, and allows it to drag her towards Surkha. Alawhi's hand chains flare white and terrible as three white hands follow her own two, striking at the misty non-presence of the Empress.
Surkha lashes out, aiming to carve perfectly geometrical strokes into Zahara from behind, a white jade dagger she has stealthily drawn from within her cloak moving in her other hand to attempt to bat away Phoenix's attacks.
Surkha As more blood begins to flow from her veins, she chuckles and spits, even as she presses the attack on Zahara.
Lucent "Indeed." Lucent nods to Thirteen, describing an arc in the air with the Coronal. "You wish to be a Solar, Surkha? To know what being a Chosen of the Sun is? Then let me teach you." All of the orbs swirl, melding with him, making the Adamant Sun. Only the Sun was left... and it begun to break down. Forming the images of all the men and women who donned that mantle in Lucent's time.
Lucent Kiriath. Ymir. Talmuda. Larquen Quen. Alahwi. Wei Dan. So many others...
Lucent "It means you are part of something. That you are never alone. That you follow on their footsteps." He reaches his hands up like a clarion, telling all of the figures to move! "You do not. You sully their memory. And when you do... you suffer the judgement of your peers."
Lucent His eyes close, and all those who strike speak in unison.
Zahara spins, following her daiklave in a move that twists her almost in half. "You know," she says mildly as her blade meets the blows neatly, blue jade clashing with white, "I always wondered what it would be like to be stabbed in the back by a bastard trinity of earth, sun, and darkness. Now I guess I'll never know. What with your lack of skill...oh, and that other thing. Oh, hey, are you bleeding? I thought you were supposed to
Zahara " I thought you were supposed to be immortal. Or at least impressive.""
Surkha With blazing light filling her sword, Surkha enacts the Unyielding Adamant Defense against Luc's blows, deflecting them to each side. As she knocks away the last, she raises her daggered hand and the magics of Solar Sorcery swirl about it once again, as she brings about the Thrice-Hidden Ritual of Blood Seeking Blood.
Surkha In but a moment, the drops of Surkha's spilled blood rise up from the earth and begin to spin rapidly around her, flattening into jagged-edged liquid blades as they do, until finally they reach a critical mass and begin flinging themselves outwards at incredible velocity.
Surkha The blades of jagged blood split in midair, aiming themselves at both Luc and Cerin.
Cerin fades into hints of purple edged shadow as the blades of blood pass through him.
Zahara , already perfectly poised from her previous interaction with Surkha, simply reverses her blade and whips it into a long, low strike. A small smile passes over her lips as the Bell sends its shattering tone through the remnants of the place the woman once called her empire. As well as her, and her friends.
Cerin fades back into Creation, though he is still wreathed in the concealing cloud of black ribboned armour. "That was foolish of you, Surkha." He says softly, and then he draws back his bow string four times in rapid succession, the motes rippling through the air towards the oh so close woman in red.
Surkha Waves of her own blood still spinning rapidly around her, Surkha swings her sword and dagger in rapid motions, shoving Zahara's attacks out of the way while bending to avoid others.
Surkha She bends and sways against Cerin's attacks as well, all the while positioning herself to strike at Zahara once more.
Surkha At that very moment, however, Surkha's luck begins to run out: for after five long days of darkness, the first sliver of the Sun peeks out once again from behind Luna's occluding disc -- and the "Empress" finds herself inexplicably rooted to the spot --
Surkha just for a moment, but a moment long enough for one of Cerin's arrows to pierce her breast in a shower of scarlet blood, and the other to strike her hand, just as the light of the sun falls upon it -- shattering the Sword of Ice completely.
Surkha Surkha falls to her knees as uncontrolled Essence, more than any mortal being in Creation wields on its own, begins to flow out from her wounds and face, and she laughs. "I... koff if I will die... spurt I will do all I can to ruin what you value in the koff process..." she says, and holding on to life with all the effort remaining to her, she reaches into her coat for something.
Surkha From out of the cloud of dust kicked up by the destruction still being wreaked by Nyx's death throes, step two figures, from opposite sides, neither knowing the other is coming.
Surkha "I do not think you will, Surkha," speaks one. "I have owed you this for a long time." And Arathi Rugado (not too sick to adventurously sneak out of the infirmary once the other Solars had departed) returns the sword that held him to the wall for an era to his ex-employer, forcefully.
Surkha And from the other, another woman, also beautiful and cold, takes her own thin blade and stabs the fallen Empress from the other side. "Next time, mother," she coughs -- for she looks quite near death herself -- "don't come back."
Surkha And with that, exactly 769 years after it began, the rule of the Scarlet Empress -- and the Second Age of Humanity -- comes to a close, and Surkha, the lowly Shogunate soldier, closes her eyes for the last time.
Surkha The stolen shard of Brigid seems to sigh with relief as it flits up from the body and off to be born again; her soul tarries for a moment, hanging with uncertainty over the husk of a body it so recently occupied.
Cerin And that hesitation is a moment too long. There is a motion from Cerin, and then it is no more.
Surkha Those with Essence sight can also see that death has not undone the unimaginable buildup of Essence within her form -- in fact, it is growing out of control, with what are likely in moments to be destructive (though, to the Solars, by no means inavoidable) effects.
Cerin leans down calmly into what will soon be the maelstrom, and plucks the pin she wears on her breast, that bears her mon.
Cerin also picks up the white jade dagger, and then he steps back to Zahara's side.
Cerin "Things are about to get very bright."
Zahara reaches for the Mantle, realizes that it is also about to blow up, and sighs a little. She considers that it is likely better for all concerned this way as she steps back.
Surkha aiming for the better part of valor, mnemon and arathi both carefully step behind the Solars in anticipation of Charm-oriented protection.
Lucent runs towards Arathi and whoever the cute little girl is, picking both and jumping to the ground... and from the sunlight about him, Amika appears, an invincible scorpion serving as his shelter!
Imrama Wishing to stave off any further death and destruction in the seat of the Auric Temple, Imrama brings his ship down on top of Surkha's crumpled body, smashing it down into the earth and covering it completely. As it crushes into the bedrock, Imrama stands calmly on deck.
Surkha A few moments pass, and then there is a huge, loud KABOOM. The Fable vibrates -- but does not break... and a great spiderweb of cracks open as the Earth buckles from the explosion of Essence... but any greater destruction is cleverly averted.
Zahara stares at Imrama, clearly amused.
1 Ascending Air, Realm Year 770... Year 1 of the new calendar.
In the ruins of the Imperial City, little remains of the once-capital of the entire world. Rubble tinged black with Nyx's lifeblood fills the empty streets, and even the grandness of the Auric Temple bears the scar of Surkha's initial assault. Through this, one figure walks, slowly, purposefully. The figure knows where it is going.
For in one corner of the city, alone amongst the grand buildings, one corner of a First Age topiary -- two walls, and a small portion of floor -- still stands, oddly undamaged. The figure steps towards it, unhesitant, seemingly knowing what will be found there.
Most of the glorious, unique plants that bloomed there are gone forever, crushed and poisoned by the Yozi's death, but in the center, three bushes still stand: two in the shape of heralds, calling all about to hear the news, and in the center... a thick, woody plant, long ago bent and shaped, for unknown cause, into the form of a grand chair, brilliant flowers radiating majestic Essence where otherwise might be set gems.
Tepet Ejava does not hesitate before seating herself in the throne that some unknown Solar had apparently long ago crafted just for her.
Within moments, living vines grow from the roots of the throne and the heralds, and stretch out, covering the ruins of the city. Where darkness and taint reside, they cleanse; where ruin is ugly and jagged to the eyes, they bring life and hope again.
As the sun casts light out once again after five days of the greatest darkness Creation has ever known... In each spot where the infernal red lilies bloomed just days ago, sprouts up a verdant green bush, and on the tips of their branches, the tiniest of rosebuds.
Book 12 ~fin~