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Zahara It is the three-day celebration following Calibration, the national holiday that she has declared. After making her official appearance to kick off the celebration, Zahara had retired to her rooms, to consider her path. With no particular wish to celebrate with her circle, she decides to walk among the people as one of them, to see what they have and what they lack. To listen to the rumors and the murmurs.

alsoquin In the city of Solaria, a great festival is occurring in the streets. Vast crevasses and damaged areas have been artfully cordoned off with beautiful silks, and local artisans (with the help of Dragon-Bloods) have assembled the rubble of fallen buildings into glorious statues honoring the deeds of the Solars. (...)

alsoquin Carts selling all manner of food walk by, their owners barking out their wares, while children play elaborate games and local street troupes act out epic plays in carefully allayed costumes. The citizenry seems to be enjoying themselves greatly.

Zahara , wearing simple but colorful festival clothes and a feathered mask similar to the other revelers, takes a few moments to haggle over a pastry, arguing him down to just a shade more than she ought to pay for it. She thanks the man, and walks off, munching on it thoughtfully.

Zahara wanders through the festival grounds, occasionally greeting a passerby pleasantly, but mostly just listening. She buys the occasional round of drinks when a stray comment catches her attention, and moves on to the next group.

alsoquin Zahara walks past a group of youths, their scanty clothing belying the new year's chill that fills the air. Three of them seem quite eager to celebrate, though the fourth is dour, much to her companion's consternation.

Zahara pauses, and watches them for a while before speaking. "Can I buy you a drink?" She addresses all four of them with what one would presume to be a smile behind the mask.

Iallu The only male youth in the group chides her, laughing. "C'mon, Telani, it's a festival! Don't be such a sourass." As Zahara approaches, he turns and gestures at her. "See? You're the only one not having fun here."

Iallu He turns back to Zahara and addresses her directly. "Sounds great. The Hefty Yeddim is just down this street here."

Zahara "Perfect." She leads the way down the street, trying to remember where the bar is. "Do you live in Solaria proper or are you from one of the further lands?"

Meros "We came in from Torjai for the celebration," he says, and grins. Telani scowls at him, but the other two girls titter.

Zahara seats herself at a table, waits for the others to join her and then signals the waiter to bring them a round of drinks. She leans on the table carelessly. "It's quite the festival! And I, for one, needed it after such dark times. What news from Torjai?"

Meros accepts a flagon of ale with a grin. "Oh, it's pretty nice there. Too far inside the borders to have suffered much from the war. But... not quite as impressive as this town."

Meros One of the girls laughs. "I know! It's so boring there. Over here it's so exciting! This is where the EMPRESS lives," she says, to a visible eyeroll on Telani's part.

Zahara "She is the kind to make her own city the best, isn't she?" Zahara observes, then takes a drink.

Meros laughs. "Sounds like my kind of girl, right? Appreciates the FINER things in life." He takes a big swig of beer.

Random Reveller chuckles. "Fine ale, a fine party, and fine company. What more can we ask today?"

Meros Telani mutters under her breath.

Random Reveller looks over at Telani, "What's wrong?"

Meros "Oh, nothing. Ignore her, she just likes to ruin the fun."

Random Reveller "Well she must have something to say. Better out than in, I say."

Meros sighs. "Well, what is it?"

Meros Telani: "I don't think they're that great," still mumbling but at least a little louder so the others can hear. The other two girls sigh in unison. "You're such a downer, jeez."

Random Reveller "Which part?"

Telani seems a little emboldened by the random stranger's questioning, and starts to speak up. "Well, look, alright? It's great that these Solars kept the Red army out and all, but I didn't ask for them to be in charge of us." (...)

Telani "They just drag everyone off to join the army and get barracked miles from where we live. Or send weird Exalts over to tell us to tend our farms differently!" She gets a little quieter. "And don't say you don't remember what happened to Ejos, Jelana." One of the other girls' faces gets a little ashen, and she looks down at her drink.

Random Reveller "What happened?"

Telani "One day, the lot of us are ready to go on a four day fishing trip to the river. We're all packed up, we've got the cart loaded, and we wait for him for three hours. When he doesn't show, we go looking for him -- vanished without a trace!"

Telani Jelana looks pretty unhappy that this story is getting told.

Random Reveller endeavours to look suitably horrified.

Telani "Next week, his mum finds his boots, his pocketknife, and his hat outside with a little note pinned to them -- 'Stealing is Wrong' and a little sun seal."

Random Reveller "Oh, my. What did he steal?"

Telani "Good question! He never showed up again to tell us!"

Random Reveller tries to recall if the name has ever crossed her desk. "That must have been very hard for you." she says sympathetically and orders another round of drinks. "Do you think it would have been different under your old ruler?"

Telani "Maybe." She sits back. "It's not like there was much crime, really, so... it's not like there was much call to do anything about it."

Meros "Yeah, but it's not like there was much good to do neither. Or like anyone would do anything about it when the faeries came in and snatched away some hag's babies." He rolls his eyes. "And it's certainly not like there was a huge capital full of ale and... sights to see."

Random Reveller ponders, taking another long drink.

Random Reveller "Perhaps it would have been better to have a system of trials and such, so that it was more fair."

Meros Telani: "Might at least tack 'took a really big sack of jade, back in ten years' if you take the time to write a note."

Random Reveller chuckles. "Good point. I'll be sure to bring that up with The Empress next time she drags me in for stealing."

Meros and, despite her intention, Telani both laugh at the unexpected joke.

Random Reveller smiles, "So have you had any run-ins with the rest of her uh regime or whatever it is?"

Telani grumbles non-committally.

Meros "See? It's not really so bad. She just likes to cause trouble." Telani glares at him but doesn't interject anything else to counter the assertion.

Random Reveller "Well, trouble is fun, as long as you don't get caught."

Meros Telani smirks a little, though she tries to suppress it.

Random Reveller "Were you ever at one of the festivals that had food made by Birds of Trinity?"

Meros "Hmmmm." Meros thinks for a moment. "Did she make those pastries with whole ducks inside?"

Random Reveller "Oh yes! Did you try one?"

Meros shakes his head "no," although the fourth girl says "Actually, I did.... It was really.... good. Strange. But good."

Meros Jelana looks at her in only partially mock-horror.

Random Reveller "Did it quack?"

Meros The girl blushes. "Not before I ate it."

Random Reveller covers her mouth, giggling.

Meros and Telani both giggle as well.

Random Reveller "I tried a chocolate chili pastry once. I think my breath was literally on fire."

Meros "Oh dear."

Random Reveller "I wonder what happened to her. Do you think she got a note too?"

Telani "Good question! How are we supposed to know what's going on? Everyone at the Cascade leaves for months at a time? No one tells us. Cerin and Luc and Zahara come back and look totally different? I guess they were out shopping for new outfits!"

Meros "There was that funeral for Markuran the Bear."

Telani "Almost a year after he disappeared!"

Random Reveller "That was pretty weird.. there has to be a story there, don't you think?"

Meros "I... guess I didn't think about that. I figured he took off with one of those party girls who were always chasing after him any time the Solars made a public appearance...."

Random Reveller "He always made such great speeches at those."

Meros "Yeah...." He pauses lost in thought for a moment. "They were always so long, though."

Random Reveller smiles. "And a little pompous. But at least he could give a speech without telling you you're a worm, like that general of theirs."

Jelana shivers.

Jelana "I HATE him! He has those creepy eyes!"

Jelana There's a pause..

Jelana "They're even worse than his old creepy NO eyes!"

Random Reveller "Yeah... they ARE creepy aren't they?"

Telani "Yes, but if the Solars are going to just up and decide they're in charge of us, at least they might as well keep us safe. He's good at that."

Telani She, also, pauses for a second.

Telani "And he's got a pretty great hat."

Telani smiles very slightly.

Random Reveller "Safer than you were before?"

Telani pauses. "...I did hear about what happened to Listran. And Arranth." She sounds a little more sober. "I don't want that to happen to Torjai."

Random Reveller "Yeah... that was terrible. It's a good thing that Cerin slew those gods."

Meros "He did?"

Random Reveller "That's what I heard."

Meros "Huh." He thinks for a second. "Where'd you hear that?"

Random Reveller "A rumor came through from the Rathess area. I hear all kinds of things when I travel."

Telani makes a slightly suspicious face.

Random Reveller raises a brow.

Telani If Zahara had to guess, Telani is growing slightly concerned that Zahara is some sort of spy for the Sunlands secret police, ready to blow her in so that she, too, can be disappeared with a carefully written note.

Random Reveller takes a sip of her ale, with a small smile. "I kind of miss the days when I got to stay at home all the time. Ever since I began to trade it seems like I don't have a home anymore."

Meros "You should settle down in the city! There's plenty of business to be done here."

Jelana "Or move out to the countryside and retire!" she says, to the loud dismissal of the others.

Random Reveller "Ahh, that's true. I don't think I'm ready to retire, but maybe a business in town."

Meros "Indeed. There's plenty of people coming through looking for trade, and then you can be here for all the biggest parties. And to wistfully yearn after the beautiful Solar boys." Surprisingly, all three women blush at that statement.

Random Reveller giggles. "Oh, they are pretty aren't they?"

Meros Iris, the girl who ate the duck pastry, recovers herself first, and shoves Jelana in the shoulder. "No way! You're way too old for Lucent! You could be his grandmother!"

Random Reveller grins at the irony of her statement.

Random Reveller "Personally I go for the mysterious one."

Meros Jelana responds with her own shove. "Oh yeah? Well, at least I don't draw little doodles of a skyship captain whisking me off into the clouds!"

Meros blinks. "Cerin? Really?" He raises an eyebrow.

Meros "He's so.... quiet."

Telani "And shifty."

Jelana "And... scary!"

Random Reveller looks down "Uh.. why do you think I have so much news about him? I saw him with his helmet off once."

Jelana , Telani, and Iris all make faces of huge surprise. Jelana, however, shoves Zahara in the arm quite forcefully with both hands and shouts "Get OUT!"

Random Reveller blushes. "I have this dream, you know? Of being whisked off in the night... and well..." She grins. "I won't get into what happens after that."

Random Reveller is almost knocked off her stool!

Telani thinks about that for a moment, remembers the story about Ejos she told earlier, and laughs.

Meros chuckles, too. "Takes all kinds, I guess. When there's a mysterious one, who knows what could be true? I bet under all those ribbons he's got a--" He finds himself suddenly interrupted by sounds from outside -- what sound like screams and crashes.

Random Reveller "Uh oh..."

Random Reveller stands up, and runs to the window

Meros Outside, in one of the great plazas nearby, Zahara sees a scene of partial chaos -- people fleeing, apple carts overturned, crates and awnings smashed... and at the center, a knot of creatures:

Random Reveller "Seriously, can't I just have one day off?"

Meros Their reptilian features name them Dragon-Kings, but their stocky build and copper-and-black coloration mark them different from either Ssithumi's people or the Pterok of the north.

Meros Each of them wears a loose covering of golden cloth bearing an inscrutable ancient symbol; great serrated armband weapons of brilliant orichalcum and studded with red crystals; and grand, elaborately horned golden helmets through which only red, glowing eyes show.

Telani and the others rush to the window. Telani is actually shocked enough by the events outside that she doesn't even consider the meaning of Zahara's strange words.

Random Reveller ::Cerin, my love? Are you busy?::

Cerin ::Not busy for you, my heart. I assume you wish for me to deal with the Dragon Kings who have just arrived, so you don't have to reveal yourself to your drinking companions?::

Cerin As he says this, there is the sound of a footstep within the square, and then Cerin is there, black ribbons flowing.

Random Reveller ::You read my mind. Have you been following along?::

Cerin ::Would you also like to be kidnapped afterwards?::

Jelana blanches. "It's him! Th-th-the scary one!"

Random Reveller ::chuckle Oh yes, please.::

Cerin is not, for the benefit of the observers, wearing his helmet.

Random Reveller fans herself. "Ohmigosh, it's HIM!"

Meros "...how 'bout that. What a MYSTERIOUS SURPRISE!"

Telani watches with rapt, but concerned, attention.

Random Reveller hangs out the window a little

Cerin slowly walks towards the Dragon Kings, watching them carefully with his essence sight. He is apparently unarmed. "Greetings, Dragon Kings of Fire." He says in the strange whistling of the High Holy Speech.

Anjax The foremost of the Dragon-Kings stands perhaps a hand higher than those behind him, and Cerin can see that he is dramatically more advanced both in years and in command of Essence than his fellows. He speaks in curt, guttural High Speech:

Anjax "In place of the assemblage of Regal Anklok upon Mount Eledath, I, Anjax, come to claim this land for our use."

Cerin "I would urge you reconsider such a rash action. It would not go well for you, or your people. This is the Kingdom of Solaria and we do not broke threats against our nation." He speaks with calm certainty.

Anjax The two smaller dragons speak quickly to Anjax in the Dragon-King tongue, and he cocks his head ever so slightly to one side. "I make no threats. We come here for the assemblage to claim the territorial rights granted to us long ago by the kings of old."

Cerin "Creation has changed much, since such rights were granted to you." Cerin speaks calmly still. "The world is not what it once was, but I would never the less invite you to speak with the Rulers of Solaria, and the present Deliberative Of Essence Channellers." (NB: This may need some editting later.) "Through the Deliberative, there is a hope that we can unite much of Creation once more. Exalts, Hundredfold and the other friends of (...)

Cerin Creation are welcome."

Anjax looks at Cerin, and hrmphs. "Who are you, young-born one, to deny us the rights granted our people?" One of the other ones whispers anxiously to him again.

Cerin "I am Cerin of Arranth, Cerin the Wolf." He lets the night caste mark flare on his forehead. "I was once Ymir and I have seen all Creation as I fell through it. I have fought beside heroes and beside demons, and it was I who slew the Surkha, who would have crowed herself queen of Creation under the Ebon Dragon, in her moment of glory." He lets the caste mark fade. "And yet I do not threaten you, nor make demands of you. I ask that you listen to what we have to say."

Anjax bends his massive head first to one side, then the other, and his bones make horrific cracking noises as he does.

Anjax After a moment, he finally responds.

Anjax "We shall meet with your... Deliberative, then, and seek redress for our claims."

Cerin "I am glad that you do not drive me to violence, here in the middle of our festival. The Dragonblooded standing on the edge of the square," He gestures to the guards he had indicated to move in. "Will escort you to Imrama, who I am sure can answer many of your questions. Please be welcome in Solaria."

Anjax nods gruffly, and turns to walk away without another word, and no one seems anxious to get in their way.

Cerin ::Imrama, I have directed several Dragon Kings from Mount Eldath to converse with you, lead by Anjax, who is advanced in years and command of essence. Apparently, some of the land now owned by Solaria was once granted to them. I do not think Zahara, not her people would be too happy with such a result. It is my hope that you can reach some alternative arrangement.::

Iris "What did he do? What did he say? They're JUST LEAVING?"

Random Reveller "I... don't know! It WAS pretty mysterious wasn't it though?"

Cerin It's at about this point that the onlookers notice that in concentrating on the Dragon Kings, Cerin has vanished once more.

Jelana blinks. "Where'd he go?" She cranes her neck trying to spot him.

Random Reveller does too, leaning further out the window so she can try to peer up on rooftops and such

Cerin There is the sound of a single footstep within the Inn, somehow audiable as it all goes silent. There is the faintest rushing of breath. And then the random reveller has vanished. Her mug of ale is mysteriously empty.

Jelana yelps in terror!

Meros looks around, can't find the woman he was just talking to, and then as what happened dawns on him, loses his smug grin.

Telani looks around, whispers "I told you so," and then goes right to work -- finding the note.

Cerin She takes a while to find it. After all, even with her paranoia, why would she think to check her own pockets? It's elegantly written, much like the one she found on Ejos' clothes. 'Be careful what you wish for'

Telani "....shit."

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