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  • Zahara flies off on Tantamount, the other wasps buzzing behind and beside them, fuming at the attitudes of the stupid boys she's just left behind. Clean death indeed! As they wing through the air, however, she turns her thoughts away from such things, and to more constructive ones.

<Zahara?> "Why does the sorceress flee the lands, when she has a mystery on her hands?" Tantamount queries, for once vaguely on topic. Zahara grimaces, then tosses her head. "She is not fleeing. She just has better things to do," she replies tightly. "What things, what things? Things that sail or strike or sing?"

  • Zahara shakes her head. "I need time alone. I need to re-center myself. These people are driving me insane." she mutters, casting her eyes over the landscape as it floats by beneath her. "You seek a center from the side? Your anger it will not abide." "That was a bad rhyme, Tanty."
  • Zahara pats him on his muscular shoulder, and closes her eyes, seeking to clear her thoughts. "But you're right. Take me home, I need some supplies."
  • Zahara , upon her arrival, dismounts and makes her way into the depths of the maze where her supply rooms rest. One by one, she opens the locks and extracts the arcane information and items she's acquired over the years, including the books and crystals from Rathess and the Pterok's domain, a bone or two from her skeleton, and small chunks of each of the Magical Materials she's..acquired.
  • Zahara then proceeds to her laboratory and extracts various arcane implements that she uses for her spells and rituals, piling them all on Tanty, who walks behind her mostly obligingly. She speaks to the wasps just before they take off. "Stay here and do nothing destructive, but obey no orders but mine, even from the others of the Circle."

<Zahara?> Then they fly to the Gate and she sets it for the frozen Northern plain, where she's made a nice castle out of Kraken tentacles. There, she sets to studying with dedication and thoroughness until she has grasped the essence of what she must do.

Engaged fully in her work, Zahara loses track of the passing time and her own physical state -- before she realizes what's happened, she falls asleep upon her desk.

  • Zahara snores lightly

Instead of her lava castle, Zahara finds herself awakening in an entirely different location --

within a deep Eastern forest, within a small grove where the trees open to reveal the brilliant night sky. A pool of crystal-clear water lies at the center of the grove, surrounded by a ring of 11 stones.

  • Zahara wakes with a start, looking around herself first with alarm, hand going immediately to the hilt of her daiklave, then with interest as she sees no immediate threat. "How did I get here?" she muses to herself as she stands and approaches the pool, crouching down to inspect the closest of the stones.

Each stone bears an elaborate series of spirals, each one smaller than the last, vanishing into the tiniest of infinities, carved gently into its surface.

  • Zahara ponders the meaning of the spirals as she circles around the pool, then starts to copy one down before realizing that while her pen was tucked behind her ear, her paper was on the table... and is gone. She frowns, and then shrugs slightly and copies them onto her left forearm.

As Zahara leans over to look at the stones, she sees a shooting star, reflected in the pool's crystalline water. From behind, a woman's voice: "What are you seeking, Zahara Zhan?"

  • Zahara stands quickly, looking behind her, ink from her pen dripping down the hilt of her daiklave as she places her hand on it.

A slender, brunette woman stands at the edge of the clearing, clad in a robe of brilliant red. Upon her forehead sits an amber jewel; in her hand a sword of clearest ice. She looks at Zahara expectantly.

<Zahara?> "I seek knowledge." she says clearly, studying the woman. "Are you the guardian of this place?"

<Brigid?> "No, only one who has been here before." She walks closer to Zahara.

<Brigid?> "Tell me of the knowledge that you seek."

  • Zahara watches her warily, half convinced this is only a dream. "I seek the knowledge of Sorcery which has been lost in this Age. To protect my lands from those who would make war upon it."
  • Brigid draws her sword up with a sudden motion, and cuts Zahara's garments free of her body in a single quick motion; then, something strikes Zee in the back of one leg, forcing her to drop to her knees. "What makes you think you are worthy of this power?" she asks, sword point held mere inches in front of Zahara's face.
  • Zahara stares in shock as the woman cuts her clothes off, covering herself with her hands for a split second before a small cry escapes her lips and she is forced to her knees. She looks at the tip of the sword, and follows the blade up to the hand, then the face above it. "That was unnecessary."

<Brigid?> "You have not answered my question."

  • Zahara straightens her back and lets her arms fall to her sides. "I am strong in my knowledge and power, and I am dedicated to bringing back the glory of the First Age. I have done much that is good with my skills." she says crisply, as if reading off a list. "I am blessed of the Sun and this is my birthright."
  • Brigid smiles, without humor. "You have done all these things. And yet, in the most critical junctures, you have failed." She nods towards the pool. "Look, and tell me what you see."
  • Zahara obeys, though it grates on her soul, and looks into the pool.
  • Telgar is now known as Markuran

<Brigid?> Zahara sees a sight she had not thought of in some time -- herself, scribbling intently away at a piece of paper. She sits in a moderate-sized hut within a Haltan village. She is 16, though from her work one would never know it.

<Brigid?> "Do you remember this?"

  • Zahara smiles faintly, at seeing herself so young and naieve. "I remember."

<Brigid?> "You were a brilliant child, were you not? You found yourself doing the work of those much older than you -- your talents for engineering were matched only by your curt temper."

<Zahara?> "I was."

<Brigid?> The scene shifts, showing events at a more rapid pace. Zahara, working with a strong, handsome Haltan architect, twelve years her senior... raising up great treetop villages together... growing... close...

<Brigid?> Then, the horrifying day -- when Karte, home to 5,000, came crashing down through the trees -- every one of its citizens falling miles to their deaths. Zahara had not been, there, of course, but the sight she sees in the pool could not possibly be anything else.

<Brigid?> It is a blur as the end of the story is shown -- Zahara's disgrace amongst the people, the horrified dismay of her partner, her departure for a new village to call home.

<Brigid?> "How can you be trusted to wield the greatest power in Creation, Zahara?"

  • Zahara closes her eyes, clenching her fists and trying to banish the thought of all the people that died..people she had cared about before she'd forgotten how. She remembers the feeling as clearly as day. Her shock at the news, those terribly long minutes she took to look at the ruins before she fled. "I...have learned. Since then." she says quietly, head bowed.
  • Brigid raises an eyebrow. "What? What have you learned?"
  • Zahara thinks on that for a long moment, trying to calm the images racing through her mind. "I learned... that the foundation is more important..." she says, bitterly, "Than the decoration."
  • Brigid smiles again. "Indeed. But that is not all that hangs over you, is it, Zahara?"
  • Zahara 's eyes widen for a second, then narrow again. "No," she says quietly, her voice tense. She knows she is being tested, and turns resolutely back to the pool, steeling herself for the woman to unearth more of her most deeply buried memories and secrets.

<Brigid?> The pool clouds over again; when it clears, Zahara sees herself yet again -- as a girl of eight. Behind her sit a variety of dolls and tiny figurines; in front of her crude figures built up of sticks and string. She holds a branch almost taller than herself in one hand and waves it around above her head.

<Brigid?> "Stand back, demons! The great Zahara Zhan shall protect the villagers from you!" shouts the young Zee, enthusiastically, before smashing the stick figures with her sword.

  • Zahara watches, her first instinct is to smile, but she doesn't let herself... she knows this won't end well.

<Brigid?> When the evil figures lie in pieces on the ground, she turns to swoop up her dolls. "I saved you! I'll never let anything bad happen to you, I promise!"

  • Brigid looks dispassionately at the image. "You were a compassionate child."
  • Zahara watches quietly, "I remember." she searches herself for that same compassion, and comes up frightfully empty. Although, she finds a twinge of it when she thinks of Cerin. Even though he's a jerk.

<Brigid?> "And yet, that compassion failed you, didn't it?" The vision shifts forward to the next day -- where Zahara awakens in her tiny bed to the sounds of screams and flames outside her hut.

<Brigid?> The girl, clad still in her nightclothes, picks up her favorite "sword" from near the door of the hut and goes out to investigate. What she finds there is more than she could be prepared for -- villagers screaming, crying; huts on fire; strange shapes flitting past her vision, faster than she could see.

  • Zahara forces herself to watch, feeling echoes of her fear and anguish.. "I would have stopped them... I wanted to... I didn't have the strength, the power.. I was so young.." she tips her head forward slightly, her hair falling forward to shield her. "Compassion alone cannot save people. Not without strength, skill and power." she shakes her head slightly, "No one could have saved them." she says, mostly to herself.

<Brigid?> She turns the corner, and sees a sight that to this day she still remembers -- her mother and father, dead upon the ground, each stabbed viciously through the heart; and her sister, her sweet younger sister, held in the clutches of a perfect beast -- his emerald-green skin, his layers of translucent robes, his spun-sugar sword still dripping with the blood of Zahara's parents....

<Brigid?> "Come to me, little one," said the creature, its voice as soft as silk.

<Brigid?> "Come to me, and I will let this one go...." it said, as it stroked Zahara's sister's hair, oblivious to her terrified screams.

  • Zahara shivers and whispers, "Don't go.. not again."

<Brigid?> Zahara forces herself to watch as her younger self swallows... her feet want to run, but her heart will not let her. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she begins to walk towards the creature....

  • Zahara clenches and unclenches her hands as she watches, wanting so badly to lash out at the creature, but knowing it can't change the past. She can feel every footstep of the foolish girl as she approaches the being who would destroy who she was.

<Brigid?> And then, it all happens again, just as Zahara remembers it -- stepping into the faerie's grasp as he let her sister go, feeling that beautiful yet horrible feeling as the beast drained her of her soul... and as he fed from her, seeing him draw up his sword and strike her sister down -- then moan in the ecstacy of consuming Zahara's wracking grief.

<Brigid?> She had not remembered what the pool showed next -- the Haltan warriors sweeping, swords raised, into the village, driving away the fae; the soldier who picked her stunned body from the ground, and carried it with him, back to his village...

<Brigid?> The pool goes dark again.

<Zahara?> "I should never have believed him. You can't trust the Fae. Never." she closes her eyes for a moment as the pool goes dark. "But I survived."

<Brigid?> "Yes, you did. But you have carried the harsh lesson of that pain with you ever since, have you not?"

<Zahara?> "How could I not?"

  • Brigid nods. "And has it served you well?"

<Zahara?> "Once I learned how to live again." she says quietly, then her voice grows stronger. "I learned to harness it. To use what I learned, and what I no longer felt."

  • Brigid considers this for a moment. "I must ask you a question, Zahara Zhan."
  • Zahara keeps her eyes on the pool, "Ask it, then."

<Brigid?> "What will you sacrifice for this knowledge you seek?"

  • Zahara ponders this question for what seems an eternity, then spreads her hands, palm up, "What you ask, I cannot answer, for anything I would say to you would not be a true sacrifice, but only what would cost me the least. In my failing, I will offer to you this: No sacrifice is too great, nor too small. Whatever you ask of me, I will give to you, for your judgment is greater than mine in this matter."
  • Zahara then bows her head respectfully, and awaits her fate with seeming calm, although her mind is racing, wondering, and fearing.
  • Brigid 's eyes blaze as Zahara speaks these words. "It is not my place to decide this, Zahara. But it shall be decided nonetheless. When the time comes, you will know -- your heart will see it."

<Brigid?> Zahara sees a sudden flash -- an all-consuming fire, a hand reaching out of it, another hand reaching to grab ahold of it -- and missing.... then blackness, before her senses return.

  • Zahara 's lips tighten in a frown for the brief moment between when she is there, and when she is not...When she returns to her senses, she looks down to see if all of her body parts are intact, then sifts through her memories to see if they, too, remain.

<Brigid?> Nothing -- besides the strange location -- seems out of the usual to Zahara as she takes stock of herself.

  • Zahara closes her eyes and attempts to center herself properly, before focusing on the world outside. She rises to her feet and looks around herself, all the while wondering... whose hands were those? She had pushed it from her consciousness for only a few moments while clearing her mind, but now it has returned. That, and.. 'what have I gotten myself into?' vye for attention in her brain.

<Brigid?> "You have taken on this power -- and responsibility, Zahara. You will use it wisely." The statement does not appear to be phrased as a question.

  • Zahara blinks, and looks for the source of the words, though she knows it is the woman from the pool. "I will." she replies, although it seems rhetorical.
  • Brigid nods. "You may depart."
  • Zahara nods a bit, surreptitiously looking for an exit. "I thank you. This has been most.. enlightening."
  • Brigid turns and walks off into the woods, disappearing after merely a moment.
  • Zahara looks around for a bit, seeing no obvious path, and decides since she's already stark naked, that the pool looks inviting. She dips a toe in to make sure nothing tries to eat her, before diving in.

<Brigid?> The water is even more refreshing than Zahara expected -- as she dives in, she feels every muscle in her body relax. She begins to float downwards through the pool, which seems to extend much deeper than she expected....

<Brigid?> Downward, downward, as light grows dim, until she can see nothing at all....

<Brigid?> After a few moments, Zahara notices that something feels a little different. Shifting her head instinctively, she finds herself sitting back in her study, within the Cascade.

  • Zahara strokes downard, feeling with every inch of her skin, for any obstacles or creatures, or simple sand, searching for the bottom. When she does feel the chair, it comes as something of a shock, and her eyes fly open.

<Zahara?> "Oh.." she looks down at herself, at the chair and the table. "I'm home?"

<Brigid?> The room is just as she left it. Zahara's clothes seem to be entirely intact as well.

<Brigid?> However....

<Brigid?> Around the bottom section of her middle finger, on her left hand, Zahara notices something -- a band, with a sunburst design, lightly tattooed upon her flesh.

  • Zahara turns her finger this way and that thoughtfully, "So, it wasn't a dream." She looks around again, "Hmm. That went fairly well."
  • Zahara rubs her temples and sighs a little, "I'd forgotten so much. And I'm not entirely sure I'm glad to remember it again." she says softly to herself. "The price for power... "

<Brigid?> The room offers no reply.

<Cerin> [I note that inanimate ojects offer distressingly little advice or comment in SI. I mean thats exactly what my skeleton said too!]

Tags: (:tags Brigid, Halta, Fair Folk, Tevezst, Zahara's Sacrifice:)

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