After a harrowing climb, Cerin finds himself in an unlikely position: clinging to -- or, rather, climbing repeatedly around the circumference of -- one of the towers that dot the corners of the Jade Pleasure Dome's lower level. (...)
There are windows, of course, though they too are trapped; and openings for other purposes, though they are generally far smaller than a human being, or wreathed with undying flame or filled with dark waters whose touch is death; and so, as he circles, Cerin plans his next move.
The walls here are far thinner than those of the Dome proper -- perhaps only one hundred feet thick, though their thick weave of Essence still blurs any vision that seeks to thrust within.
Cerin circles the tower several times as he considers his plan of action, climbing ever higher, for lack of any reason to descend for the moment. Eventually though, he decides on his plan of attack, climbing to above one of the large windows of undying flame, wrapping himself as he does in Essence to ward off the worst depredations of the Elements. And then he lets go, free falling down the side of the building and into the terrible flames which wrapped all around him. As he reached the top of the window, his fingertips graced the edge of the jade, changing his direction, swinging him inwards. As he flies towards the glass, he extends his palms and then actives the Blockade-Thwarting Approach, suddenly finding himself on the other side of the glass. He doesn't break his stride as he lands.
And Cerin finds himself in a vast chamber filled with bizarrely unexpected sensory inputs of every type. Statues depicting physically-improbable creatures cast in water that shines like precious metals sit next to columns of reverse-burning flame and giant fragments of rock that are heard with the eyes and seen with the ears. (...)
Here and there, he makes out aspects of some of these items that mark their original owners: a character of the Shadowed Unlife Equation here, the fractal mark of She Who Lives In Her Name there -- truly, this is a treasure house, or a junk heap: discarded items of the Primordials, as old as Creation -- or older, shoved into this room to be ignored forever. (...)
There is a single vast staircase that leads down the center of the tower, each step itself larger than a great building, but the elegant jade trim that runs along the innermost seam is in fact tiny enough to be used as a human staircase.
Cerin descends this at a light run, casting his eyes about him at all the impossible wonders which have been thrown away here. He resolves that some day he will return and steal something from here, though at present the logistics are a little beyond him. For the moment though, he takes nothing but memories. And a certain amount of thought on how to paint sound...
The staircase winds down what seems like an eternity, the beauteous and unimaginably intricate work of the walls shifting and morphing slowly with each step through a thousand distinct patterns, though one could never pinpoint the exact moment at which it changed.... (...)
At the very bottom, there is a vast curving hallway of astonishing simplicity. The doors on the outside, each cast in stark black, grey, and white, would, he guessed, lead to the Ten Auspicious Chambers. The doors on the inner wall, decorated in every imaginable color, woven together in a pattern so intricate that the eye could almost not escape the very process of looking at it -- those undoubtedly opened upon the Seraglio.
Cerin jogs a full circuit of the dome as he considers what to do next, before, after much deliberation, he chooses one of the Ten Auspicious Chambers. The Seraglio can wait a few a while ...
Cerin pushes open the doors of the Sixth Auspicious Chamber -- which slide gently, despite their size -- and strides into a room only as big as, perhaps, half of the Labyrinthine Cascade. (...)
An abstract, geometrical style of infinitely elaborate mosaic art runs across the gigantic walls, cutting across and through bas-relief images -- life-sized -- of humans and other, stranger beasts enacting a staggering number of odd scenarios. (...)
The context of the stories is unclear at best, and filled with imagery that Cerin does not recognize: a red star burning overhead; strange towers looming over jagged mouths from which crawl hideous beasts; people who walk into buildings as horrifyingly beautiful creatures walk out the other side; vast, interconnecting strings of light and darkness; a crater filled with skulls. (...)
In only one corner does Cerin see a slightly reassuring sight: a single woman with the golden light of the Sun around her head. (...)
In the center of the great room, three immense trees bloom: an old, ancient, withered yew; a younger, smaller red dogwood, in full bloom; and the tiny sapling of a white birch. Each has scattered beneath it a tremendous quantity of strange items -- (...)
pretty stones, candles, dolls, sheafs of paper, half-empty bottles, baskets, bones, chairs, suits of armor, chariots, walls, houses, small hills, sleeping dragons, mountains, and almost any other conceivable object of any conceivable size.
Cerin Hmmm. Cerin remarks to himself, as he steps around the three great trees, examining some of the many strange items which dot the base of the trees tracing the murals from their starts to the end. Hmm indeed. he finishes, as he steps out of the door.
The great hallway awaits him once again on the other side.
Cerin walks another circuit of the corridor as he considers, before selecting, after some deliberation, what he now knows to be the Tenth Auspicious Chamber
The Chamber that Cerin walks into is drastically different from the one he entered before: for despite all its vastness, it is nearly empty. (...)
The geometric lines on the wall have smoothed out to simple, straight lines, intersecting in even density across all the huge stretch of the walls; where the bas reliefs dotted the walls of the other room, there is now nothing but smooth emptiness. (...)
The one item that stands out amongst the others in this room is that at the center of the room: a single cylindrical pillar, carved with elaborate (but seemingly meaningless) patterns along its entire height, atop which sits a single red stone, which slowly, rhythmically pulse with a soft light.
Cerin does one circuit of the pole, before once more emerging from the room and into the corridors. Hmmmmmmm. He is still deep in thought as he steps into the seraglio.
It is a historic moment: for until that time, no human had ever passed those doors, no mortal face dared to gaze upon the place of repose of the greatest of the Gods, those whose very beings are fundamental to existence, the very greatest Creations of the Primordial masters: the Incarna. (...)
It is a truly vast chamber, and it matches even the grandest expectations it might create: a veritable cornucopia of delight, even within the context of Yu-Shan, the City of Ten Thousand Pleasures. (...)
Here, there are vast lounges, which the very act of looking upon causes one to become more relaxed and at peace; there, a fountain as tall as the tallest tree, the fish within it each in themselves a tiny, exact replica of the fountain as a whole, complete with their own fish swimming carelessly within; (...)
one table sits, its top covered with (Cerin is quite certain) every item of food that has ever been eaten, or will ever be eaten, in all of time; on one wall, paintings of every image that has ever been conceived, including many that Cerin has painted himself and some (to what would be any other person's shock) he is quite certain he has not painted yet. (...)
And then, there are the thrones. (...)
Thirteen in number, and a smaller seat beside them, they embody the very concept of rulership; it is impossible to imagine one sitting within who did not, with their very being, rule utterly over all that they surveyed. (...)
And at last, there are those who dwell here, the highest of the Gods themselves. Their forms are too grand to express in words, and yet... they are simple, too: for truly, humanity and the Gods were built upon the same template, and their shapes are much alike. (...)
They are not all present, by Cerin's reckoning, for there are innumerable smaller chambers that they might use to conduct their daily business in the company of their choosing. Only eight are present now: (...)
To one side, there are the Gentlemen, so recently returned to existence -- five youths, each more handsome than the last, clad in the garments of the world's very Essence. They stand by one of the thrones, shifting it, moving, arguing in the ancient Godly language about where it might best be situated, some laughing, some deadly serious; (...)
Far away from them stands the Maiden of Secrets, her emotionless visage giving away nothing at all, a deeply engaging mystery of its own that seems to draw the eye even as it seeks to seek out the other wonders of the room. She shuts the lid of a wooden lockbox and places it gently at her feet, then stands, watching the Gentlemen's actions with an unwavering eye. (...)
And finally, there are the last two, sitting around the vast Jade bowl that Cerin knows without thinking is the Games of Divinity: in the north position, clad from head to toe in enfolding robes, is Saturn, the maiden of Endings, her very appearance enough to send the shudder of knowledge of inevitable death through the staunchest warrior,
whose staff lays leant against the side of the games, at its top set twenty-four brilliant purple gems -- and one dark; (...)
And at the West, the Lord of Creation, the Foremost of all Kings, the Perfected One, Sol Invictus: The Unconquered Sun. A golden mask as bright as the sun in the sky covers his features, and Cerin notes immediately an unusual distinguishing characteristic: the Sun's lower right hand is bandaged and swollen, and the arm it is attached to stained black, like a hand thrust carelessly into a fire. (...)
It appears to be Saturn's turn, and she moves her hand to make an adjustment upon the board that Cerin cannot see.
Cerin thinks for a few moments, before doing the only thing he thinks appropriate. He starts to scale the myriad paintswirls of his own art, climbing up into the room until he can look down upon the Games of Divinity themselves.
Cerin climbs up, high up; it is a dramatic trek, one that in and of itself would qualify as a grand tale, but finally, he ascends to a point, far above, and can look down into it: the Games of Divinity, the ultimate drug, that which lies at the very center of Heaven, and which all else revolves around. (...)
That which lies within the bowl is almost indescribable: a liquid that shifts and moves at every moment, that encompasses every color of the rainbow, every pattern of nature, whose very shape elicits first anger then joy, and the sound of which is filled with both beauty and despair... but even past all that, lies something else, elusive, impossible to pin down: something that seems somehow familiar. (...)
Cerin climbs on, and he gazes into the depths of the Games of Divinity -- and somewhere within his being, something tells him that he should prepare to be surprised.
Cerin tunes his already heightened senses to their best, but otherwise continues his deliberate pacing along the golden curls of Zahara's hair as she hangs over the labyrinth cascade. He really isn't sure he's going to like this surprise, although he is eager ot see it, none-the-less.
From somewhere, deep within Cerin's very soul, a voice, clear and crisp and unimaginably powerful, seems to speak through his entire being. "CERIN."
The Unconquered Sun "The others do not know you are here, of course, but... did you really think I would not know, when a piece of my very being was so close by?" The Sun below shows no specific evidence of looking up at him -- he stirs the waters of the Games lightly, considering his move.
Cerin The thought had occured that some or all or none of you might see through my charms cerin thinks, and continues to move. That a part of my being would give me away was not something that I had considered, though in hindsight, it makes much sense
The Unconquered Sun "And what did you hope to accomplish, by coming thus into our sanctum?"
Cerin I want to know why you turned your back on Meru and Creation. I want to know why the Swords of Truth hold the gods which Meru needs for its functioning captive. I want to know what you know of the Lacuna, the little spot of nothing, he smiles to himself. And I wanted to know that I could
The Unconquered Sun "You do indeed want all of those things, but they are not all yours to have." He stirs the water a little more, and jangles his coinpurse absent-mindedly with another hand. "The Gods are prisoners because it had not yet been decided how to proceed once the traitorous amongst them were dealt with. Do you seek to mete out Heaven's justice yourself?"
Cerin The mere fact that they are not all mine to have as not stopped me before he says. So you would let Meru fall to ruin whilst you considered this? Meru has problems enough of its own at present, without the problems of absent gods. But yes, I would deliver such justice, if that is what is required for justice. It is what I was created for, is it not?
The Sun lifts one hand and waves his fingers breezily in the air, while another continues to search for a move. "So be it," the voice says. "I remand the Terrestrial bureaucracy to your care." (...)
With his dabbling hand, he suddenly reaches out, draws an arc of the liquid free from the game to form an archway in the air; it hangs there for a moment, and then a tone sounds -- he has made his move. Almost as one, he and Saturn stand up, and begin to walk over to where Jupiter is standing. (...)
"I turned away my face because Creation had earned my wrath, and I turned it back when the time for wrath had passed. For everything else, it is not yours to ask, or at least, to be answered." He snaps, and the Five Gentlemen, laughing and scowling, come to join him. (...)
The deities, as one, begin to walk towards one of the side chambers, whose door Jupiter throws open. "Do not return here, Cerin. Once, it is a great amusement; twice... it is less amusing." (...)
The Incarna begin to file, one by one, into the side room, until finally only Jupiter is left. Cerin sees her pause for a long moment, glancing down at the box she had deposited -- so tiny, it seemed; how had it been so large, when she held it? -- and then, just briefly, staring exactly at the spot on the celing where Cerin clung. (...)
Then she, too, steps out, and closes the door; and Cerin is alone in the vast Seraglio.
Cerin Then the next time I return here, it will not be for amusement Cerin thinks, as he descends from the wall and crosses the floor to the box.
It is only a simple wooden chest: elegant, almost perfectly crafted, but still: just a box.
Cerin opens it.
Inside the chest, there is but one thing: a great quilt of blue and white, whose edges shimmer with scattered Essence.
Cerin runs his fingers over the quilt, feeling it, lifting it a little out of the box.
It is gorgeous in its utter simplicity, and almost light as air. He feels like he's seen it before.
Cerin has, when he fell through Creation. And one other time. He reaches into one of his pockets, and pulls out a little scrap of blue and white.
As he lifts the quilt up further, he sees it: a missing spot... and it is just the size of his scrap.
Cerin sets the patch into the quilt, and then from another pocket pulls out a needle. Then from his head he plucks a strand of his own hair, and sews the patch into the quilt.
It fits quite spectacularly, and the thread seems to meld into the overall pattern in a surprisingly pleasing fashion. (...)
He sees as he pulls it out the rest of the way that one edge is different from the others: three are sharp, as if cut intentionally; the bottommost is frayed. But it nonetheless lines up in a fashion that suggests that the quilt is now "complete."
Cerin nods, and then carefully folds the quilt once more, summoning his cache egg and storing it Elsewhere.
Cerin then concentrates upon something for a few moments, before placing something into the box, closing it then turning and walking from the room.