Spring has followed the path: the black rocks, spinning in the empty space between the Isles of Ash, until they have led him to elaborate petalled structure of the Nightshade. (...)
Now, at the intersection of two of the vast indigo petals, he stands at a vast, intricate iron latticework gate, the entrance to the vast complex.
Spring knocks on the gate politely.
There is a long, empty pause, and then the interwoven bars of the doorway organically peel open. Standing on the other side is a tall, lanky woman, her skin glowing in patches of yellow and green and blue, tendrils of phosphorescent moss rising up from her body and hair to float oddly in the air, a withered branch held in one hand and a strangely full black woven sack in the other --
someone that Spring might recognize as Kelekata, the Glow of Empty Night, Second Circle soul of Malfeas.
Spring "Greetings, Kelekata."
Kelekata The demon inclines her head and squints her eyes, nictating membranes drawing close around her pupils from three sides to give them an odd, curved-triangle shape.
Kelekata "What are you doing here."
Spring "To be honest, I am not completely sure, but I suspect I have come seeking the Orrery of Darkness."
Kelekata 's glows lean orange for a moment. "Visitors would not be permitted access to such a thing, if it existed." It is clear that the demon is entirely unprepared for someone to just walk up to the door.
Spring "I regret to say that it is a matter vital to the security of Meru, and to the Exalted Deliberative. Perhaps there is someone else I could speak with?"
Kelekata "We do not care for the Exalted Deliberative, and wish for the flesh to be peeled from its bones that it might be hung in tattered flags from the shattered frames of what were once your homes after they have been consumed by cleansing fire."
Spring "Your feelings are regrettable but understandable. However, I must insist."
Spring turns his palms upwards apologetically and attempts to edge past Kelekata.
Kelekata is surprised enough that she does not immediately try to stop him, and he slips underneath her arms and is into the dark, red-carpeted hallway before she can stop him.
Kelekata The hall has the look of a place that has very recently been quite busy but now is almost abandoned. Many of the dark wooden doors are left slightly ajar, the carpet is ruffled in places, but a couple months' worth of dust have gathered on many of the surfaces and there is no sign anyone has done anything but walk along the center of the hallway in some time.
Kelekata "You are not permitted here," she says again. One deeply familiar with the taxonomy of Malfeas would be aware that Kelekata is not a particularly combative or forceful demon, which might explain her inability to meaningfully halt Spring in his advancement.
Spring "I assure you that I will depart as soon as I have acquired that which I have come here to claim."
Spring heads down the center of the hallway, looking around.
Kelekata Many of the chambers are warded against sight, leaving only black portals in the doors. The hallway's walls are lined with intricate iron latticework, but unlike the Chrysanthemum, no great works of art or ostentatious displays otherwise line the halls. (...)
Kelekata Though the hallways bend and weave in a variety of bizarre directions, it seems like some of them do generally lead towards an important, central region, with inner rings of the building becoming increasingly lower in level.
Spring goes unhesitatingly towards that central spot.
Kelekata As he moves through the various rings, he eventually comes to a solid iron latticework wall, which seems to simply cut across the hallway unceremoniously, and does the same to each other inward-pointing spoke from other portions of the rings. It does not respond to knocking.
Spring spits up a badger.
Spring pokes the badger with his finger.
Kelekata Something is odd about the badger: it has an unusual coloration and some strange ram-like horns. Nonetheless, its reaction is badgerlike enough: it snaps angrily at him.
Spring "Something..." he drifts backwards, away from the badger, and dissolves into pollen as he floats through the wall, then returns to form... "...wrong."
Spring does a quick inventory of the items in his stomach, both living and un-.
Kelekata He mentally runs down the list: 47 distinct items in the "tsotchke" category (all accounted for), 12 in the "medium to large object" category (same), 16 distinct collections of paper sheaves (present), eight table settings (missing one fork and one knife, but maybe he hadn't collected all of it the last time he served guests), six days of meals (delicious), (....)
Kelekata one mini-Wasirranu (was it always blossoming like that?), three rats (hmm), two parakeets, five squirrels, one badger (plus the one he spit up), eight lizards, and one woman.
Spring considers this as he turns to explore the area beyond the lattice.
Kelekata Spring finds himself in the tail end of the hallway, where it joins into a yet-more-innermore ring hallway running the circumference of the Nightshade. However, the area behind those gates, unlike the part outside, has not gone unransacked. (...)
Kelekata Here, the rug is burnt and torn into fragments; papers, most covered liberally in black ink, are strewn about carelessly; pieces of metal and wood, various tiny jade objects, and even bones litter the floor. (...)
Kelekata What is perhaps most bizarre, however, are the walls: words -- "DEATH," "DARKNESS," "EMPTINESS," "VOID" -- scrawled in crude charcoal, and in between them, drawings of faces -- all crude, each different -- and all of them moving and faintly moaning in pain.
Spring glances around, using his essence sight and his relationship awareness to try to glean some understanding, while he fishes through the various papers.
The papers all seem to be various notes -- demonic movements, plans, lists of resources -- all obscured by vast quantities of ink, and all seeming to date back to before Nyx's re-emergence into Creation. (...)
With the faces, Spring sees the dark, tainted Essence imprints left behind in each of them, and the complex web of relationships between them, each face representing a distinct and different persona, and all of them tied into something or someone else, far... far away...
Spring begins walking around the ring hallway looking for a passageway that will lead him deeper in.
As he does, the iron latticework unfolds in the doorway behind him, and Kelekata walks through it, carrying Spring's badger and wearing an irritated, yet flummoxed, expression. (...)
However Spring is already on his way along the hallway and though the monotonous, pained moaning of the faces makes the traversal somewhat unpleasant, he eventually arrives at a set of normal, mundane wood double-doors which lead into the most central region.
Spring pushes the doors open.
Spring walks in to the Orrery chamber, an irritated Second Circle Demon close at his heels. (...)
The purpose of the chamber is quite clear: a massive dais stands at the center, while numerous chairs and other seating apparata line the outside of the room, that visitors might look upon the great tool of prediction that stands in the center. (...)
Meanwhile, the dome of the night sky hangs above, its funerary elegance quite familiar to Spring. (...)
But what is NOT quite right here is the Orrery. (...)
The key component stands there, of course: the tall stand of jet-black, unreflective, light-devouring stone... And many beautiful tiny black stones whirl and spin around it, representing the dead stars. (...)
But where six great globes should hang, representing the planets whose movements affect the Netheos skies, there instead are only four -- and so a portion of the motion is... shiftless, wrong.
Spring "Kelekata, your charge appears to be out of order."
Spring absently takes the badger from her and eats it.
Kelekata catches up to Spring. "You are definitely not supposed to be here," she says, "and this is not my charge. I am here to--" but then she cuts off, because she's so astonished about the badger.
Spring "Here to what? Please, inform me, that I may avoid damaging your position as much as is reasonable."
Kelekata pauses for a moment to collect herself.
Kelekata "I am here to direct unwanted visitors to depart from this area."
Spring "Good work."
Spring begins examining the Orrery, mouth pursed in thought.
Kelekata The Orrery definitely still functions to some degree, but the problems are quite visible: with two of the planets missing, it gives a vague overview at best of the situation in the sky. In addition, it is bolted down quite thoroughly with massive soulsteel bolts to the floor of the chamber, which at minimum suggests that moving it might prove slightly challenging.
Kelekata Given that the Orrery seems unlikely to move, then, and does not yet function at full capacity, there seems to be only one remaining solution: to ensure that Spring will continue to have access to the Nightshade until he can complete the repairs -- and Kelekata would have to be the key.
Spring "Kelekata. Do you enjoy your work?"
Kelekata looks slightly confused, as if she does not understand the question. "I do what I was created to do. For a demon, there is no higher purpose."
Spring "It appears that I will need to beg your assistance in this matter."
Spring "The Orrery of Darkness is currently not meaningfully functional. It will be necessary for me to repair it before it will be useful."
Kelekata "It has not been functional for many years," she says. "Why is it necessary to repair it now?"
Spring phrases his response carefully. "Conditions have changed since the death of the Ebon Dragon."
Kelekata "That does not make sense," she says, looking up and down the Orrery. "The Pluto sphere broke many years ago, so it would be reasonable to repair it. But the Pallas sphere was taken by Qian after Calibration. Why now should it instead be repaired?" It is clear that she is trying to care about this despite wishing she could go back to tending corpse-trees.
Spring "Why did Qian take the Pallas sphere?"
Kelekata "So that the Orrery would continue not to function after the Pluto sphere was repaired." She says this like it's so obvious.
Spring "That is precisely why it is necessary to repair the Pallas sphere. Without doing so, the Orrery will continue not to function."
Spring "I am pleased to see you now understand."
Kelekata blinks for a moment. "...of... course." She nods.
Spring "In order to repair it I will of course need access to the Orrery in future."
Spring "I assure you that once the Orrery is fully repaired it will not be necessary for me to visit again."
Kelekata seems to believe that this is accurate after a loooooong moment, despite something clearly being wrong about this situation. "It is my duty to direct unwanted visitors to depart from this area," she says again, a little haltingly.
Spring "I assure you that I will not prevent you from doing so. In fact, by introducing visitors into the area, I will give you ever greater opportunities to fulfill your responsibilities."
Spring "Please, direct me to depart now, if it would satisfy you."
Kelekata "Please depart immediately from this area," she says.
Spring "I must go now. Perhaps you could help me navigate the doors. I will return to allow you to direct me to depart as soon as is reasonable."
Kelekata opens up the iron latticework once more and shows Spring to the door.
Spring steps out the front, and murmurs to himself, "I wonder if it is always that easy. I should have tried that long ago."