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Cerin The caravan rolled its way slowly into Paragon. It was a large caravan, and no-one particularly noticed the extra drifter along for the ride. He certainly wasn't anything to take notice of, dressed as he was in non-descript clothing and with subtle magics wrapped around him so that eyes simply glanced off him. He helped, for a while, with the unloading of the caravan, looking around him as he did, and then as suddenly as he had

Cerin joined the caravan as they broke camp this morning, he leaves it, wandering through the city. He picks up a little more purpose now, careful not to give the impression of vagrancy as he walks through the streets, to get closer to the palace at the heart of the city.

The city of Paragon is a gleaming, beautiful metropolis, one that seems to have largely been spared the difficulties of the world's recent challenges. Elegant (if largely identical) buildings of green and black basalt, trimmed with white marble, rise up from the hexagonally-arrayed streets that run across the city,

while the walls of the river valley in which Paragon is nestled rise up beyond its borders, carefully irrigated fields of olive and almond trees adding a dull-green shade to Paragon's largely monochromatic palette.

Even the citizens -- who Cerin sees going about their duty in slow, quiet order -- are dressed drably. The only exceptions are one or two magistrates Cerin sees about, clad in brilliant peacock outfits of blue, green, and red; and the palace of the Perfect, which juts up from the very center of the city,

a beautiful architectural work of curved hexagons, topped by swooping domes, and decorated with elaborate abstract mosaics of the same colors as the magistrates that seem to flow and swoop with an understated and beauteous elegance.

Dodging the law in Paragon is not tremendously difficult, and Cerin soon finds himself closely approaching the palace.

Cerin Cerin finds himself a garden to sit in within five hundred yards of the palace, and then slowly sets out to explore it through the walls, cautiously extending his vision outwards.

It is much as one might expect the palace of a ludicrously wealthy, self-centered, and paranoid ruler to be: filled with opulent treasure rooms and pleasures, as well as secret passageways, traps, and carefully hidden guardrooms.

Cerin extends his vision upwards, searching for the throne room and Perfect himself.

The throne room is near the top of the central hexagon, an elaborately decked room with numerous plants, a high throne dais, and quite a few viziers, guards, and citizens also present. At the moment, the Perfect -- a man looking rather unbefitting to his extravagant royal clothes, but whose face does not belie his age of over one hundred -- is seated on his throne, holding court.

Cerin examines both the man and his guards, trying to determine just what the stave has done to the man, and who he surrounds himself with.

The Perfect's body is utterly suffused with Essence, in numerous overlapping and complementary patterns. An Essence shield that sits close over his skin renders him largely immune to physical damage, while an interference pattern disperses the effects of Sapphire and Emerald sorcery.

Life-Essence flowing in broad spirals around his centers of circulation retards the process of aging, while invisible chakras circle around his head, the receptor points for a powerful network of Essence intelligence, coming to him constantly from the eyes and ears of every citizen in the city.

Around him are his guards, an assortment of God-Bloods, weak Terrestrials, and heavily-armed mortals, most of whom are carefully hidden in areas from which they can strike quickly at various parts of the throne room rather than standing in plain sight.

Cerin decides that he has perhaps spent enough time looking at the ducks in the park and gets up, stretching, before going to arrange a room for a few days.

Doing so is simple; foreigners are welcome in Paragon, if perhaps not made to feel welcome.

While he's in his room, Cerin sits, sketching out the patterns inherent in the Perfect's staff, in order to identify the traps laid for the unwary thief. He comes upon a few immediately: a deadly Essence discharge triggerable by the attuned owner, the ability for said owner to know its exact location at any time,

and a few other, more minor disruptive effects -- nothing he's never seen before.

Cerin Cerin is very careful not to leave the plan on display before he locks the door of his room in the inn and settles down for a nap. It isn't a long one, and when he 'wakes' he is utterly silent, wrapping himself in perfectly concealing essence. He exits through the door, then continues down and out of the inn, heading for the palace. The outer walls he barely notices, and the elaborately decorated outside of the palace might as

Cerin well be a stairway built for him as he climbs up into throne room of the Perfect. The ward across the window might have caught a lesser theif but Cerin simply passes through it, perfectly synchronising himself with the patterns within and then passing through it. And then, finding himself an appropriate bust of the Perfect to hang off, he settles in to wait, invisible. A lesser theif might have to deal now with such

Cerin inconviniences as food or the need to breath or even the burning strain in their muscles from hanging upside down, but Cerin feels none of these. So he waits.

As occurs every day, the Perfect comes by and settles into his throne room. His daily check through the eyes of all of his guards, his Essence scans of the room, his use of invisibility-revealing powders and other techniques of revelation, are not particularly helpful, and eventually, having satisfied himself, he settles in for another morning of court sessions.

Cerin Eventually, the time for waiting was over, Cerin having recovered every mote expended in his breaking in to the palace. And so the next time the Perfect put down his stave on the table beside his throne, Cerin reached out from his perch with Essence and picked it up. Of course, it would not do to steal merely the staff itself. That would be possible, of course. The Perfect would never catch him, even knowing just where he was,

Cerin and he could dodge the essence discharge even whilst he held the staff. But if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing correctly. And so, aided by the Seal, he stole not just the staff but the idea of the staff. He stole it so completely that it became his in the instant of the theft, severing all the ties the Perfect had to it in one timeless moment. So perfectly was the staff stolen that he didn't even notice it was gone

Cerin until the 5 purple petals--monkswood for the betrayal of so many long years of service--drifted down to land at his feet.

Cerin Of course, by the time he looked up, Cerin had moved on.

The Perfect looks down at his feet in confusion, and then looks back over to the table.

It takes him a long moment to register what's happened, but at first he is unconcerned, and he waves his hand, hoping to inflict the explosive destruction Cerin had observed earlier.

It is only when that fails that the Perfect starts to become worried. He leaps up from his seat: "Court is closed!" he shouts. "Return to your homes!"

The room clears, the courtiers and citizens alike confused at what has occurred, but unwilling to disobey their leader, of course; and so, momentarily alone, he begins to search the room for any sign of what has happeened.

As he does so, two of his guards -- large, thick-framed men, both Dragon-Bloods by the look of them, step out of their hiding places. "Ah, good," he says. "Help me look."

But that is a mistake.

One of the men looks at him with a smug grin, his great polearm resting casually in the crook of his one elbow, and holds up his hand for the Perfect to see:

the red eye that symbolizes their eternal loyalty to the Perfect, grown cloudy and blind.

As the two men advance on him, the Perfect does something he has not done in over one hundred years: he screams in abject terror.

Cerin Whilst all those in the room are distracted with the end of the Perfect's reign, Cerin drops silently and unnoticed to the floor of the throne room and picks up the five petals which had brought it about. And then he walks out of the throne room and then from Paragon, out into the desert, his passage unmarked by all.

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