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Thirteen "I am sure there must be a fascinating tale of derring-do and excitement explaining your connection with this spirit."

Thirteen "Summarize it."

Berwyn lets out a breath. "Summarize. Alright." He cranks his head to indicate that Thirteen should follow him over to the other side of the boat, and once he has done so the story continues. (...)

Berwyn "There used to be a glorious city called Kilir, the Jewel Upon the Water. It had a creature known as the Aquitect that guided it in its path upon the waves as well as ran the internal network of shell-vessels that carried citizens and cargo around the city." He gestures with his eyes to indicate the Captain.

Berwyn "Aquitect died, ancient Sidereals made a pact with his ghost, then threw the password in a drawer somewhere for four thousand years. I find it, keep it in my back pocket, and, well," he looks over the strange crew of the disturbing vessel they currently ride, "here we are."

Thirteen "Succinct."

Berwyn "I try."

Thirteen "What payment does he require?"

Berwyn "Depends on the month," he says. "Right now: the sacrifice of twenty marine beasts to join his stable, and a very specific kind of rock."

Thirteen "And the coin?"

Berwyn "That's the password."

Thirteen "Very clever."

Thirteen sits back, brooding.

Thirteen "Shall I assume that you have been observing the Cascade for some considerable time?"

Berwyn looks out over the black waves. "Yes, you probably should."

Thirteen "What, in your opinion, prevents us from working together effectively?"

Berwyn "Historically or in the present?"

Thirteen "The latter."

Berwyn "Two things: ego and lack of focus." It is clear that Berwyn has taken the succinctness issue to heart.

Thirteen "Whose?"

Berwyn "Everyone's. The two go together," he says, and turns back around to lean on the bone railing as he faces Thirteen. (...)

Berwyn "At least from my observation, the Solars you associate with have no shared goal, no agreed-upon philosophy; you seem to interact primarily out of a shared sense of mystical origin. When these non-mutual philosophies collide, conflict ensues."

Thirteen "You propose religion?"

Thirteen "I have heard that before."

Berwyn "I have yet to propose anything. My own allegiance were afflicted with the reverse ailment: we consistently followed the path laid out for us by those who shared our single, passionate goal, even when it became a road to ruin." He shakes his head.

Berwyn "I am not sure how any of this functioned in the First Age, and I am not inclined to believe anything that Herons and his generation say about the matter."

Thirteen "You may take it from me that very little has changed since that time."

Berwyn laughs, rather sharply. "The whole matter makes me worry regarding the ultimate effectiveness of our actions, but," he says, "I know nothing else."

Thirteen "In what methods of combat are you trained, Berwyn?"

Berwyn takes stock. "Bare-fisted combat, very slightly. Archery, with moderate competence. And the Elegant Green Viceroy style of Martial Arts."

Thirteen "Show me your stance."

Berwyn drops into the refined, yet tasteful, stance of the Elegant Green Viceroy form.

Thirteen "Hmf."

Thirteen says nothing else.

Berwyn returns to his normal stance.

Thirteen "The ultimate effectiveness of our actions cannot be determined without reference to our ultimate ends."

Berwyn It is clear to Thirteen that Berwyn has an impressively competent mastery of what is not, ultimately, a tremendously complex or effective style for pure combat applications.

Thirteen "Those ends are obscured."

Thirteen "Survival, preparation, and investigation of those ends, then, must be our concerns."

Berwyn "Yes," he says, "I am inclined to agree." He pauses for a second, then: "I imagine you must have a method by which you intend to do so, then, since you have brought it up."

Thirteen "It is my hope that the device we currently intend to construct will serve for all three, at least to some degree."

Thirteen "Beyond that I am currently considering."

Berwyn "Device?"

Thirteen "It seems, though, that the former two concerns are difficult, if not impossible, to meaningfully accomplish while we remain divided."

Thirteen "Yes."

Thirteen "Was my enunciation imperfect in some fashion?"

Berwyn "No, no." He shakes his head. "Again, I agree with your assessment: a lack of unity is the biggest obstacle to achieving the first two goals."

Thirteen "Achieving some measure of consensus, then, must be my next responsibility; yet it has become clear that I cannot accomplish this by controlling or convincing my compatriots."

Berwyn "Very true."

Thirteen "How, then, can I do so?"

Berwyn , generally so ready with an answer, pauses for a long, hard think. "That... is an excellent question," he says, and looks out on the black sea once again.

Thirteen "Yes."

Berwyn From over on the other end of the boat, the Drowned Captain makes a ragged vocal noise, and one of the plasmics takes up the call in its strange, unnatural monotone: "Land ho!"

Thirteen "Well."

Thirteen "Hopefully this will give you plenty of time to consider." He smoothly rises, idly fingering his spear.

Berwyn The island that they approach rises up high from the waters, a jagged red spike out of the churning black sea that peaks perhaps a half mile above the water, yet measures only a a few hundred yards across. The Captain smoothly parks the boat at what seems to be an intentional mooring space, and Berwyn gestures for Thirteen to disembark.

Thirteen steps off the board and heads calmly inland.

Thirteen *boat

Berwyn The path winds up sharply, crudely carved into the outside face of the rock itself; Thirteen winds around seven times, until finally he emerges at the top. (...)

Berwyn At the top is what Thirteen has come here to see: the Cathedral of Dead Stars, a building cast of soulsteel itself, a sharp-cornered rectangle of matte-black metal rising up one hundred feet, while yet taller towers rise up from its corners and rear side and insets of glossy black depict an elaborate starscape on the sides of the building. (...)

Berwyn The great ebony-wood double doors, almost thirty feet tall and wide, sit tightly closed at the front, the elaborate grotesques executed in bas relief upon them the only part of the building's exterior that is not not utterly sheer.

Thirteen knocks twice.

Berwyn With a sound much louder than any such sound that Thirteen has heard before, one of the two doors slowly, mournfully creaks open, just far enough that a single person might slip through the opening and into the inky blackness beyond.

Thirteen casually takes the door and attempts to open it slightly wider, so that he can walk through comfortably.

Berwyn The door does not budge.

Thirteen takes his spear and wedges it between the two doors, then pushes.

Berwyn With effort, Thirteen stubbornly forces the door to bend to his will, and it creaks open far enough for him to walk in, complaining the whole way.

Thirteen walks into the building as if nothing has happened.

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