< Have You Considered Dating First? | Sol Invictus Logs | In the Dark With Ashes >

alsoquin Day creeps on towards evening as the Solars stand in a grove of trees near the shores of Erev Lake, where they await the arrival of the Western Circle. Zahara and Luc and Imrama and Thirteen are all here... but Birds was nowhere to be found in the Cascade, and has not responded to any requests for her presence.

alsoquin Zahara finally resorted to leaving a note before departing for the meeting place.

alsoquin Now, the low sun casts golden rays upon the still waters of the lake as the Solars wait.

Zahara forces herself not to pace, and not to worry too much about where Birds has gotten off to.

Thirteen gazes about him with an understandably curious air.

Lucent Lucent's robes are white, with three sad sapphire swans embroided into it. Unlike Zahara, he cannot hide his worry... and both Jupiter and Luna's orbs shine sadly about him. Not even the thought of meeting other Solars got him in high spirits.

Imrama stands with his uniform-armor polished and pristine, the rank insignia and battle honors of a long ago age worn proudly on his chest. He marvels at Thirteens new eyes, peering at them through his new sunfire lenses. "What wonders. They quite suit you, General."

Thirteen "Thank you, although I cannot take credit for that."

Lucent nods. "They do, Thirteen. It will be easier to talk to you now."

Thirteen "Indeed, Lucent, that is what concerns me."

Zahara "Easier, sometimes." she smiles slightly. "Harder, other times."

Imrama stares a bit more over the rims of his glasses, and then senses he is pressing the limits of polite behavior. "Superb work, Empress."

Zahara bows lightly to Imrama, "Thank you."

Lucent "Concern? It is good to be able to see people in the eye."

Thirteen "Good for them, perhaps. I have managed hitherto."

Lucent "You will learn to like it. You manage to read their reactions better."

Zahara stares back towards the Cascade, "Nobody heard her say anything before she left?"

Lucent "I did not. I was going to talk to her... to tell her those things, and she was not there..."

Zahara can't help but think back on Lai's words at their last meeting, about allies. "Perhaps she is with Kai," she tries.

alsoquin Imrama looks unsurprised across several of his companions before noting with interest the one who appears to also be known as "Helios Red-Sands"....

Imrama takes a page from his one of his stoic companions. "Hm."

Lucent "You are contagious, Thirteen."

Thirteen greets Lucent's witticism with a cold eye, rejoicing in the novelty.

alsoquin From a moderate distance across the lake, a copse of trees shakes suddenly -- clearly the other group is forewarning them that their company will arrive shortly.

Lucent hides the orb of the Moon, and presents that of the Sun. He taps his torque. It did look good with the Coronal's plate!

alsoquin Perhaps a minute passes, and then, without any other warning, Saraj Darkspear steps forward out of a nearby group of trees. The thin, tall man bears the same distinguished and handsome face as always, but in other ways, he is much distinct from when the Solars met him last: (...)

alsoquin Huge, ugly scars run up and down his arms, with one running all the way up his neck to his right ear, and his right hand is gone entirely, replaced with a smoothly-polished hand of black jade, lined with gold. His blue captain's outfit is replaced with a red dress uniform, and a dark look sits alongside his jovial features.

alsoquin His polished gold and black jade wavecleaver matches his hand now, and sits, peace-bonded, at his side.

alsoquin "Hail, fellow Sun-Chosen," he calls out, but does not advance past his position at the edge of the trees.

Thirteen "Greetings, brother."

Zahara tenses slightly, then steps forward to receive him, though not close enough to threaten or be threatened. "Thank you for coming." She, too, looks much different from their last meeting.

Lucent "Greetings, kin. It is good to see more of us in this dark age."

Saraj takes in the circle that stands before him -- amongst those present it is only Zahara he knows, and she is even more different than he. "We have spent too long without meeting minds. We were happy to come." He says this quite politely, though it is not hard to infer that perhaps "we" is not the entirety of his circle.

Saraj looks around, and, feeling confident in his assessment of the situation, turns back to the forest and whistles.

Zahara "Shall I wait, or should I begin introductions now?"

Lucent "As are we. We need to stand united in those dark time. But... where are the others?"

Saraj In a moment, others emerge to join him.

Zahara nods, and clasps her hands behind her back, waiting.

Saraj The first through is Vasha -- a large, blue-green skinned man... black lightning tattoos that Zahara does not recognize coat his scalp, and run down his neck to the golden amulet that once hung around his neck -- and now seems embedded in his flesh, though his great staff seems unchanged.

Saraj Bitter Elm follows -- the waifish, pale, blind girl seems unchanged, though the seven once-golden spheres that spin around her as she walks are now chalk-white.

Saraj Saraya, the olive-skinned woman, reddish-black hair held back in a severe bun, holds her two golden chakrams warily as she steps out; a thin trail of red mist seems to hang around her, and Imrama notes that she seems to bear no fewer than seven distinct names and titles beyond her own, none familiar to him;

Saraj Of the five, only Revan, the scarred-faced man in the orichalcum-embroidered cloak that covers him head to toe, seems unchanged. He steps through, and that should be the last, but the forest shakes once more, and....

Phoenix The last is a tall woman in a broad-brimmed hat, from which hangs a floor-length veil. Underneath it sparkles her filigreed armor and the gold-and-black-pearl beads strung in her white, unbound hair.

Phoenix In her hands is a small black box.

Saraj Imrama's glasses inform him immediately that she is "Phoenix of Ashes."

Saraj "Phoenix of Ashes, First Child of the Western Sunset."

Thirteen spent the last night working carefully on his new eyes, and now seems to have developed eyelids that were not previously present. He puts them to good use now -- he blinks.

Saraj Thirteen stares closely at this unexpected arrival, his new Essence sight merging and melding with the results of his ears... and despite all superficial evidence, there is no mistaking it -- the soul that sits in that body is the one known, so recently, as "Birds-of-Trinity."

Thirteen "Hm."

Phoenix pushes back her veil, and now it's easy to see that the box she is holding is a tiny casket. "Sunlanders. It is good to meet you."

Thirteen "Saraj Darkspear, I am Thirteen Blooming Flowers, and I greet you as a brother." He takes a knee and bends his neck, though he does not go so far as to touch the ground.

Saraj It is almost difficult for Thirteen to pay attention to the connections that blossom in his eyes as they gaze upon the Western Circle:

Thirteen "I have heard much of you and your compatriots from Zahara -- all except Phoenix. I suppose she is a new arrival?"

Saraj Saraj's paternalistic concern for Bitter Elm, Vasha and Saraya's soured relationship, the camaraderie between the three men that developed in the Riven Palace, or the unspoken bond between Bitter Elm and Revan by their shared passage through the Duskgate....

Lucent is entirely oblivious. "As do I, Saraj."

Zahara introduces each of her companions who have not already introduced themselves.

Phoenix looks charmed. "You have guessed my name! How very clever. I was only just born, you see, when I killed Birds-of-Trinity."

Phoenix "She was dangerously insane."

Zahara narrows her eyes.

Saraj Saraj nods. "I am pleased to meet you." He quickly introduces the other four, which seems to suit them fine for the moment, allowing Phoenix to speak for herself.

Lucent goes pale. ".... you...."

Thirteen "You must forgive me if I greet this news with a certain amount of trepidation."

Phoenix offers the box to Lucent. "You with the Zenith mark, will you consecrate her remains?"

Thirteen "Has your Zenith sprung a leak?"

Saraj Revan gives Saraj a look that darts quickly over to Phoenix -- it's not hard for others to read it as "are you sure this was a good idea?" The captain shrugs slightly in response.

Lucent "... yes..." The coronal springs to life. Mars, right up, flares bright. Flares on luc, his tan skin dark now. He picks the box, and his eyes burn on her. "... and if you have really killed her... I will kill you next. And you will not return."

Phoenix "She requested it."

Saraj Vasha steps forward a step at Thirteen's statement. "We... thought it best that you do so."

Thirteen "Birds-of-Trinity was our boon companion. It would perhaps be wise of you to explain the circumstances behind your behavior."

Thirteen "Lucent."

Zahara 's hand twitches over the hilt of her daiklave, her other hand going to her chest, and she grimaces.

Lucent "She promised she would not die. She PROMISED."

Zahara "We promised peace... at this meeting... but when it is over, there will be a reckoning."

Thirteen "Your grievance with her may be taken up with her next incarnation, when next you encounter her, which meeting I trust will not be long in coming." This with a meaningful look at Phoenix.

Thirteen "In the meantime, do not in my presence threaten the existence of a Solar shard."

Lucent "She destroyed another, Thirteen. She killed Birds! Our conscience! Our grace!"

Lucent "I am going to kill her."

Phoenix takes off her hat and drops it on the ground. "First, look in the box. Before you kill me."

Lucent opens the box, his hands shaking

Thirteen "We rise above our enemies, Lucent, we do not sink to their level and below."

Zahara puts a hand on Lucent's shoulder, and addresses the others. "Why have you come here?"

Saraj Revan is clearly more agitated by this turn of events, and Bitter Elm reaches out and gently touches his arm.

Zahara "This was to be a meeting of peace."

Thirteen ::Zahara.::

Saraj Vasha seems to take it upon himself to resolve the situation. "This IS a meeting of peace. We wish no ill from you, and came as you asked."

Thirteen ::There is more here than...well...than meets the eye.::

Zahara :: pain ::

Saraj He glances sidelong at Phoenix, then back straight into Zahara's eyes, and his own seem to glow softly. "Please know that we have done nothing to harm you or those you call friend." The words seem to carry their own truth with them through the air to Zahara's ears.

Phoenix The box is full of jewelry - a chain hung with seven keys, thirteen scrolls tied with string, and one ring of a nondesrcipt nature.

Thirteen "Phoenix."

Thirteen "Why have you come?"

Imrama looks coldly at Phoenix of ashes. His trigger fingers itch.

Zahara "Forgive me if I respectfully disagree." She looks into the box, unable to help herself

Imrama ::Empress - I am going to proceed on the assumption that we will not break the peace, until you instruct me otherwise::

Lucent touches the jewels... "Vasha, if you met with one that killed your love... what would you do? Would you find that her allies bode you no ill will?" He looks at the jewels... "... those are not her remains, Phoenix."

Zahara ::Yes,:: she replies tightly. ::We will not break the accord, and our word.::

Phoenix "What I know is, Birds-of-Trinity came to the west and asked me to carry on her work. Then she required me to kill her. My heart was torn apart by this request - as you understand, it is unimaginably awful - but I could not deny the plea in desperation of another Chosen."

Lucent Mars burns brighter. There is no sunlight, just red.

Thirteen "Excuse me."

Thirteen "I am the Tactician-General of the Sunlands, and I command our swords and our armies. and I say that we shall shed no blood this day."

Thirteen "If you have a master that you place above us, Lucent, then by all means accede to his desires, but do not expect my sympathy."

Thirteen "We have much to do today."

Phoenix "Maybe remains is the wrong word. Bequest?"

Imrama turns to Darkspear, and flashes a gentle smile. "Trierarch - I appologize for the confusion. Obviously, this is not how we envisioned this meeting."

Zahara "So, she has reincarnated in you?"

Thirteen "Indeed. We are, to say the least, surprised."

Zahara "Is that why you took the name?"

Lucent closes his eyes. "This is my fault, is it not?"

Thirteen "Lucent."

Saraj grins and laughs, the grim mood on his face broken in a flash in response to Imrama's statement. "This just keeps happening to us, it seems! Swords at one another's throat, the best intentions be damned."

Thirteen "You are a good fellow and a peerless diplomat and leader."

Thirteen "However."

Saraj looks over Imrama's companions again. "I suspect that both of us have seen more dark days than light since last Zahara and I met, and with Calibration ahead that is not about to change."

Thirteen "Not every event in the life of this Circle is about you."

Imrama "It is Calibration, and all it portends, that concerns us now, in this meeting. Let us return to our purpose in asking that you meet us here."

Phoenix "I do not fully understand the circumstances of my coming into being." Phoenix looks distressed. She scratches lines on the ground with her bare feet.

Lucent opens them, looking at Phoenix. "'Helios Red Sand is dead, you are Lucent Copper Haze.'" He whispers, too low for most to hear. And then, louder "Did you choose that instead? Did you choose to die instead?"

Lucent "You could have said no."

Zahara looks sharply at Luc

Saraj Saraya responds to Imrama's statement. "Saraj said you mentioned something important you needed to discuss with us, yes."

Thirteen "Yes."

Thirteen "Would you prefer to accompany us to a more comfortable location?"

Thirteen "We have news to share with you that you may find somewhat distressing."

Phoenix reaches out a hand to Lucent, wishing to comfort him in his grief - and he notices his ring glittering on her finger.

Saraj nods. "Come on, everyone. Our brothers and sisters are before us." He looks back at Thirteen and Imrama. "I hope there's food and drink to be had.":

Lucent The red light spirals down, and he blinks back three tears. He looks at Phoenix, silent.

Thirteen "Until very recently, we played host to an extremely capable baker."

Zahara steps away from the others, to the edge of the lake. She looks out over the water, seeking calm, control. Breathing.

Saraj A short time later, the group -- more Solars than any of them have ever assembled for one purpose in their lifetimes -- sit down together, as bread and warm tea are passed by servants.

Saraj Revan seems to have calmed down as the crisis has resolved itself. Bitter Elm maintains her detached view at all times, though occasionally she tilts her head as if listening and the tiniest hint of a smile appears on her face. Only Saraya seems actively unhappy to be there.

Saraj looks to Imrama, who he takes to be the diplomat here. "So. Why are we here?"

Phoenix tilts her head toward Saraya and engages her in inconsequential chatter, so far as she is able.

Imrama packs his pipe with a mild, fruity leaf; nothing at all intoxicating for this crowd. He offers the pipe first to Captain Darkspear, eyes lowered in a traditional guesture of hospitality from one ship's commander to another.

Thirteen stands calmly and coughs up a few pieces of paper.

Thirteen "Zahara, if I may?"

Saraj laughs again, and takes it, puffing several times with vigor before gesturing grandly in thanks and passing the pipe onwards.

Zahara waves him onward, having regained her detatched air.

Thirteen nods, and steps to the head of the table.

Lucent is serious, not drinking nor eating anything, and staring either into space, or to Phoenix

Thirteen "Brothers and sisters." Thirteen begins glowing as he thinks of how to phrase this, then appears mildly startled and irritated.

Thirteen "The Sun has forgotten us. The Primordials have not."

Phoenix reels as though struck.

Saraj The others let the implications of Thirteen's words -- and the wash of unspoken ideas that come with them -- flow over them for a moment. Saraj merely grows silent, and Revan nods slowly, but Vasha becomes visibly upset. "How... how could this be?"

Thirteen "That is a question best suited for Zeniths to ponder and Nights to investigate. As a Twilight, I satisfy myself with planning our response."

Lucent "We might be the last Solars on Creation." He interjects, "There are none others. The others have been used to fashion Abyssal Exalted and the Lily's Exalted Army. At the end of the First Age, our essences held in a net by our usurpers. Demons and Ghosts found the net."

Saraj Bitter Elm speaks up at that. "And what is your response?" Her sightless eyes nevertheless seem to point exactly into Thirteen's brand new ones.

Zahara considers her words, "I am sorry, Vasha, to bring you this news. We too hoped it was a lie."

Thirteen "I have informed them of this, Lucent."

Lucent ((Ignore Luc's word, then! Sorry.))

Phoenix bangs her fist on the table, carelessly squashing a bun. "This is insupportable. Where is this Lai? I would like to see his inside."

Saraj Bitter Elm continues. "It should not truly be a surprise. We have wondered ourselves why so few of our kin had returned."

Thirteen "Please be careful with our bread, Phoenix. Our supply is abruptly limited."

Phoenix examines the bun and takes a bite. Bah, ruined. Tragedy.

Zahara winces.

Thirteen "My response is simple, Bitter Elm. We need only thwart the Primordial's assault on the Imperial Manse, wrest from them the finer details of their scheme to destroy Creation, utilize their tools against them to defeat them once more, and then march on the Jade Pleasure Dome, there to construct a new Age of Solars."

Thirteen "While we have devised a plan to accomplish these aims, I am not ashamed to note that we would be grateful for your assistance."

Saraj Revan speaks up for the first time; his voice is harsh and croaky when he does. "You speak of things it is best not to boast afore of, Thirteen Blooming Flowers. You would speak of striking down heaven itself when hell sits at our doorstep?"

Zahara "Actually striking down Hell came first."

Imrama ::Thirteen, with all due respect, your sales pitch could convince a frost-bitten man to refuse your fire::

Thirteen ::Feel free to begin doing your job at any time, then, Imrama Stormfound.::

Lucent "Not strike down Heaven. We wish force the Sun to notice us again, and make the world work again!" He nods! "Whatever made heaven forsake us has to be cleansed, and we have to show to them we are better now... for we cannot stop all of Hell without Heaven to our aid. And if our father does not wish to look at us, we must bring ourselves to his attention."

Imrama ::With pleasure::

Imrama "Any future animosity with Yu-Shan is beside the point. At this moment, the Red Lily is our dire enemy. That threat needs answering, whatever else comes after."

Thirteen "As you can see, our long-term policy decisions have yet to be clearly communicated."

Thirteen "Let us focus on our immediate necessities."

Lucent "We must save the world. Hold the Imperial Manse, hold the world."

Phoenix "If you are to do war on this Lily, where is your battle plan? Where your army?"

Thirteen gives Phoenix the most quizzical look he has ever given anybody, which is actually not a very high barrier.

Lucent "The forces of Tepet Ejava, the Dragon Kings of Rathess and the Radiant Sabres of the Sunlands are our army. It just may not be enough."

Thirteen "Our army is deception. Our battle plan is trickery."

Thirteen "Lai thinks that we have turned against each other."

Lucent ::... you could make us NOT sound like villains, Thirteen? PLEASE?::

Phoenix smiles a little. "Thirteen Blooming Flowers, I think you have convinced me."

Thirteen "He believes that Zahara is overcome with grief and loss and has chosen to throw in her lot with the Red Lily."

Zahara nods slightly in acknowledgement, and gives them a grim smile.

Thirteen "As far as he knows, no other force on Creation has the power to stop him. No offense is meant, of course."

Saraj Saraj leans forward. "And so I ask again: what are we doing here?" Vasha is still in a bit of a state of shock beside him.

Zahara "We were wondering if you would like to save the world."

Saraj "I do not mean to make light of this situation, but... there are other tasks that require completion during Calibration as well. What aid are you seeking?"

Thirteen "A bit of intelligence has come our way from our new colony of Xara." Thirteen slides a copy of the bloodied piece of paper down the table towards the other Circle.

Thirteen "Other tasks?" Thirteen raises what would be an eyebrow. "I will inquire into that in due time."

Saraj nods.

Thirteen "As you can see, a force allied with Lai seeks to arrive through the gates listed herein."

Saraj picks up the paper and looks at it closely. "Gates?"

Thirteen "We seek to disable them -- but we need a force with power great enough to interfere with the operation of the Gates, but that is not immediately associable with us."

Thirteen "Hm."

Thirteen "You do not know about the Gates."

Lucent "Good, then you will not be losing anything."

Imrama takes out his pen and a short length of paper. He begins writing, casually, while listening to Thirteen explain the plan.

Thirteen "The Gates are a means of transportation between planes, remaining from the First Age."

Zahara cracks her knuckles thoughtfully. ::Ah, trust.::

Lucent ::Trust?::

Zahara ::We are, after all, telling them everything we know.::

Imrama ::I have a thought on that Empress::

Lucent ::That surprised me, yes.::

Zahara ::Please, share.::

Imrama ::I will let you know if the tree bares fruit::

Saraj looks at the list a bit longer. "Well I'll be damned. Never run into that before." Bitter Elm speaks up. "They're discussed in the El-Haziriyad tomes, Saraj. I just assumed they were no longer functional."

Zahara ::Thirteen, if you could PLEASE not do that anymore, that would be quite nice. Pick and choose information to give unknown entities. The last time I saw them, they mysteriously had to leave just before the Aalorai attacked. ::

Saraj looks over it a little bit longer. "So you want us to booby-trap these gates for you." He grins. "Plausible deniability."

Zahara nods to Saraj, "I wouldn't know." she smiles.

Thirteen ::They are Solars, Zahara. And we must trust, or die.::

Saraj laughs joyfully at Zahara's jest.

Zahara ::In my experience, the latter is often more likely. ::

Zahara "We are, understandably, quite busy, but is there anything we could assist you with in return?"

Imrama ::Please follow my lead, and know that I will not abandon you::

Saraj raises a finger to his mouth. "Hmmmm."

Lucent "We have been using them. As you know, the Lily's conspiracy stretches through the world, and through Realms. After this, it would be good if Zahara could fix them, they would prove to be good resources for us all, again." ::... damnit, Thirteen, when you are being more of a idealist than I am, there is something wrong here. Solars are Chosen, they make mistakes like any other.::

Zahara ::Oh, god, not again::

Imrama "Empress, with your permission - I would like to pledge my aid to Saraj and his Circle."

Imrama "We are asking much of them, and they have problems of their own to settle during the eclipse."

Lucent "You are leaving us too?" Lucent looks from Imrama to Phoenix.

Imrama ::I am not leaving. I have sworn to stay, and am no oath-breaker::

Imrama "Trierarch, if you can make use of another steady hand aboard ship, I would be happy to lend it to your cause during Calibration."

Zahara hesitates for a moment, "A fine idea, Imrama. Please keep us informed as to how things are going. We may need to call you back, however, for the final plan."

Phoenix looks back at Lucent. "Me? I am in no Circle's orbit, but I have vowed to carry on whatever tasks your comrade left unfinished. I'd be grateful to know what these were."

Lucent ::Imrama... it would be a little suspicious if none of us said a thing about it, hmmm?::

Lucent thinks on Phoenix's question

Imrama ::I am not trying to decieve anyone, Lucent Copper Haze. That is not my way::

Thirteen "I believe that the oaths undertaken by Birds-of-Trinity would be best remembered by Zahara."

Imrama "Of course, Empress."

Lucent "To fight the war with the Lily, and to survive it. And to give an answer when that is done."

Thirteen "An answer?"

Saraj looks at Imrama with a quizzical look, while Vasha and Saraya each look with their own form of displeasure. Bitter Elm, of course, doesn't look at all.

Zahara glances at Thirteen, "Indeed. I do not think this is the time to discuss them yet."

Lucent nods to Thirteen, looking into his eyes "To a marriage proposal."

Saraj After a moment, Saraj laughs again. "Glad to have you onboard. We'll need every hand we can get."

Thirteen "Ah."

Lucent "But I was going to relieve Birds of it, Phoenix. Consider yourself relieved of it as well."

Saraj looks back at Zahara. "It sounds like we have an equitable arrangement here, no?"

Imrama slides his sheet of paper across the table to Darkspear and his Circle. On it are outlined, broadly, his resources and capacities: two guns, a ship and a crew, an encyclopedic knowledge of First Age adventure literature, etc.

Thirteen "I would be most curious to know what concerns you intend to be troubling yourselves with during Calibration."

Phoenix "Please. You have no need to relieve me of a -question-. As for the other tasks, I will undertake them, but you will observe that my methods and hers may be dissimilar."

Thirteen "It is possible that we may have resources that might be of more use to you than to us."

Thirteen ::Zahara. Lucent. You are the diplomats. If you seek to ensure they cannot betray us, then do so.::

Imrama offers his hand to Saraj. "Oh captain, my captain."

Thirteen ::I will handle for you the difficulties that should arise if they do.::

Phoenix touches Bitter Elm's arm to get her attention. "These buns are delicious. Do you bake?"

Saraj Bitter Elm doesn't turn to look. "I have never taken to the art."

Zahara "Bitter Elm, if you have some time, I will teach you the spell to bar the gates, among other things." She catches her breath at Phoenix's question, and grits her teeth.

Phoenix toys with her hair beads thoughtfully. "Hm."

Lucent ::I will try, Thirteen...:: Lucent says simply, annoyed by Phoenix's answer. Phoenix's dismissal! His look to her is pure... well, confusion. But something like fury grows ever stronger as he looks at her. "You are right. Birds of Trinity was unbalanced."

Zahara ::I cannot even think to what to bind them to, right now::

Thirteen "Ah."

Thirteen "I remember."

Thirteen "It is perhaps fitting that Birds-of-Trinity's death has now been discovered."

Lucent ::... we have to ask, Zahara. We have to ask them first.::

Thirteen "Our next course of action is a funeral."

Imrama "Trierarch, not to stand on formality, but I believe both our parties would be best served by some words of formal understanding."

Thirteen "For Markuran the Bear, and for Birds-of-Trinity, and for all the Solars that have been lost to the blackest treachery that we have faced."

Zahara ::Ask them what?::

Thirteen "Let their passing not be forgotten."

Lucent ::Ask them not to tell all that has been told them?::

Thirteen "Perhaps a few of you might care to join us. We find ourselves without a Dawn...or a Night."

Thirteen "Phoenix, perhaps you would care to speak for your Caste?"

Saraj Bitter Elm looks to Zahara. "Yes, please do."

Zahara clenches her fists, "I would appreciate it if you would please keep the information we gave to you to yourselves. It is not meant to be shared with others."

Lucent looks at Saraya. "We will say our prayers for the lost castes. Could you speak for the Night?"

Lucent "..."

Saraj Saraj looks with surprise at Thirteen. "What happened to your companion Markuran?"

Phoenix exchanges a look with Saraya. "Perhaps my sister and I can work out something to say together."

Lucent "He was killed by an Infernal Exalted, to prevent us from capturing and cleansing him."

Saraj 's face slips back into that grim mode from earlier. "That is black news. I would be... honored to speak at the funeral."

Lucent ::Thirteen... I do not want this woman speaking for Birds.::

Lucent ::Not while she pretends not to be her. I honor Helos, damn it. She does not honor herself...::

Thirteen ::Who is Helos?::

Imrama ::Yes - or rather, when did you stop being Helos, and why?::

Thirteen "And we would be honored to have you."

Lucent ::When I started being Lucent Copper Haze.::

Lucent ((* Hel_i_os >.> Sorry, guys))

Zahara ::The name you could not speak?::

Thirteen ::Ah.::

Saraj Vasha speaks up. "Yes. We should do this thing."

Imrama ::That is a tremendously evasive answer Lucent. I accept it because we are friends, but in the distant future, when we have time to argue about such things, I will expect more::

Thirteen ::An incarnation you never told us of, that you swore us not to investigate.::

Thirteen ::I have often suspected we mean different things by honor, Lucent.::

Zahara twitches.

Phoenix "I was told there were...more...in your company."

Thirteen ::If you have objections to Phoenix speaking, now might be a good time to bring them into the open, that they may be discussed, Lucent.::

Thirteen "There were."

Phoenix looks at the table. "Oh. I am sorry."

Thirteen "Yes."

Lucent "Phoenix. I would prefer that Saraya spoke. One that does not honor Birds-of-Trinity cannot speak in her name."

Zahara , if anyone could actually see her skin beneath the bandages, is growing pale. She remains quite still and silent.

Phoenix gives Lucent a long, hard look. "I am puzzled by your reasoning, but I will not interfere with your mourning if you wish."

Phoenix "I only ask that I have a chance to pay my respects as well."

Thirteen "Perhaps you might expand slightly on how Phoenix might properly honor her fallen sister."

Thirteen "I hope that the process does not involve complete secrecy."

Thirteen "She has already failed to keep to that code."

Lucent "I just wish that she not be the one that speaks for the Birds. Better the voice of one that knew only about her legend than that of one who considered her unbalanced and decided to discard her."

Lucent "Other than that, she may be around, she may do whatever else. I don't care."

Imrama attempts to make small-talk while his companions hash things out. "So, Bitter Elm? I've spent very little time in the West. How do you like it?"

Saraj Bitter Elm is not, perhaps, the most small-talky of the Western Circle. "It's big. It's wet. I like it fine."

Lucent stares Phoenix back in the eye. And does not let go of it.

Phoenix "I would like to know her legend, Lucent Copper Haze. It is not good, being new in this world."

Imrama "Sounds...nice."

Zahara "Were you not a person before, to be able to kill Birds of Trinity?"

Saraj "It is glorious, Imrama," Vasha speaks up. "A thousand jewels in an endless sea of life. Of all the treasures of Meru, it dwarfs them all with its infinite beauty."

Thirteen "As it happens, Phoenix, I can oblige you. Excuse me."

Phoenix finds it difficult to release Lucent's gaze, but with some difficulty she points her chin at Zahara. "My first moments of existence are somewhat a blur. I remember only pain and confusion."

Thirteen gets up and leaves the room.

Zahara "Well. Good."

Imrama "Treasures, you say Vasha? Now you are speaking my language!"

Zahara "And these moments of yours, when did they occur?"

Lucent ::Zahara... she... she probably IS her. She breaks her old masks.::

Phoenix "That Birds asked me to carry on certain of her efforts, I was informed by a letter. Presumably it is in her hand."

Zahara "May I see it."

Saraj Vasha smiles, a little more broadly and contemplatively than Saraj does. "Treasures beyond all imagining."

Phoenix "Of course." She produces the letter. It is written on a number of bills of grave money, stitched together.

Zahara thinks back on Birds, and her stories, of becoming, and changing, and her hands shake a little, as she considers that birds is now four. She takes the letter, and reads it.

Imrama smiles with a hint of mischief. "Oh? How certain are you of that? I happen to have it on good authority that I am blessed with an unusually capable imagination." Imrama laughs.

Zahara ::That...may be even worse.::

Saraj Vasha smiles again. "I will show you something you may enjoy." Bitter Elm puts one hand on her head with embarrassment -- she's had to put up with this for way too long.

Lucent ::I know. I wanted to kill her. When that possibility entered the table...::

Phoenix The letter reads, <Phoenix of Ashes, when you read this I will be no more. Please take the gems atop this casket and wear them. Please take those inside it and bring them to my home, and my family, and tell them that I am sorry and I will miss them forever. Please learn what I have left unfinished in this world and finish it. Find a conclusion to all this suffering.>

Lucent ::Can... can you find out wether she is or not? You are a sorcerer...::

Imrama watches Vasha with clear interest.

Phoenix It is clearly in her hand.

Zahara :: Either way, I am the last of my first Circle. ::

Thirteen steps back into the room with a white book, covered in a jacket of salty ibis feathers. He places the book in front of Phoenix.

Thirteen "Here is the legend of Birds-of-Trinity."

Thirteen "All but the ending."

Zahara bows her head over the letter, and sets it carefully back down on the table. "Here is the ending."

Thirteen "No."

Thirteen "That is merely the final chapter."

Phoenix looks at the book in frank amazement. She gingerly turns a few pages, and a few more. She's clearly speechless.

Saraj Bitter Elm listens to Phoenix's learning process with a surprisingly large amount of interest.

Zahara instead of saying what she wants to say, gathers herself once more and addresses Saraj. "How did you meet Phoenix?"

Saraj Vasha whispers now. "You know of the nine seas of the West, yes?" He draws out something from his pocket -- a tiny glass stone.

Lucent "Her legend, of beauty and adventure. No one with a heart would forget her."

Phoenix Finally, "May I keep this for a little while? I must read it."

Thirteen "You ask much."

Saraj looks at Zahara. "She waved to me as she was born." It's pretty clear no further answer is forthcoming.

Thirteen "That book is all we have left of her."

Phoenix "Then I must stay with the book. I cannot take it from you."

Zahara feels her anger start to simmer, "Then you also saw her die. Why do you insist on keeping the tale from us?"

Lucent "A warning, Phoenix. It might bring you sorrow and regret."

Imrama responds to Vasha's question, "I am familiar with them, yes."

Saraj "Zahara, I'm not an Eclipse and I don't mince words." His eyes flash with intensity. "What went on between Birds-of-Trinity and Phoenix of Ashes is their business. We're here to form bonds of friendship, and I'm not interested in letting that interfere."

Saraj Vasha holds the stone up to Imrama. "Look into the stone."

Thirteen "Then you would have done better not to bring her, Saraj."

Thirteen "It is not my place to say who may dwell at the Cascade, Phoenix. You must discuss such questions with Zahara, and with the remainder of the Circle."

Zahara "Clearly she was not my friend, then." She rises, and exits the room.

Lucent "Zahara!"

Saraj throws his hands up. "Zahara Zhan, don't walk out that door!"

Saraj "Wait a second and listen to me."

Thirteen "I welcome any hand that raises itself against our enemies...but an untested and new Solar is no replacement for the warrior we have lost."

Zahara "I am weary, and I do not wish to disturb this meeting." She says, at the door. "I am sure you can finish the discussion without me."

Lucent ::Zahara. I know how you feel. But we need you. We need you to do this now.::

Imrama looks away from the interesting stone to look at the commotion.

Zahara ::If I stay I may do something I will regret. What need have you of me? The exchange has been made. ::

Saraj "Phoenix, leave for a moment." Saraj is a generous man, but he's feeling a bit of pressure at the moment.

Phoenix nods. She steps out into the hall and makes conversation with a guard.

Zahara lets the woman pass, stepping aside with cool politeness.

Zahara sighs and turns back to Saraj.

Saraj As soon as Phoenix steps out, Saraj speaks forcefully. "Your Birds-of-Trinity came to us for help, and Bitter Elm was able to help her. We brought her back because we thought you might have space for her in your hearts, reborn or no. Now." He slams his jade hand down on the table. "Do not accuse my brothers and sistes of anything again." He smiles again, quite broadly. "We are here as friends."

Lucent "... you could have warned us, Saraj."

Lucent "Especially if you knew Phoenix would speak to us like she did. I almost struck her."

Saraj "I didn't know she'd say that." He doesn't look happy about it.

Thirteen "What did you do?"

Zahara "I am sorry, Saraj. I have had... a very bad month. I have lost everyone I built the Sunlands with, as of today. Perhaps I will be able to find someone to care for in this new woman, but she went to you, not to me, for help. I am alone, here, among friends."

Thirteen "I apologize, here and now, for my colleagues and their improprieties. Unfortunately for all of us, I do not control their tongues."

Saraj looks at Zahara with great sympathy. "I am sorry for your loss."

Imrama drops his playful disposition with the Western Circle, and stands up from his seat, moving closer towards, but not crowding in on, Zahara.

Lucent "Improprieties? She struck down my love and I did not kill her. That was more proper than she deserved."

Saraj Saraya responds to Thirteen's comment with a curt, "Clearly you do not," and Saraj laughs again. "Clearly I don't either!"

Zahara "I need to be alone. That is all. Please, continue."

Imrama ::Your grief is well earned, Zahara, but I, we, are still with you, and will remain."

Imrama --^" should be ::

Thirteen "Lucent. You asked her to marry you and she killed herself. Does this suggest anything to you?"

Zahara "We can meet again for tea some time, I'm sure. Perhaps I will learn to bake."

Lucent glares at Thirteen. His gold becomes underworld orichalcum. Murder. "... I thought it was you saying that was not my fault before?"

Imrama interposes himself between Thirteen and Lucent, scowling. ::Not here, not now, not in front of company::

Saraj Saraya mumbles something obnoxious sounding under her breath, and Vasha bristles a little, but does not speak.

Phoenix knocks on the door and without waiting for an answer, steps in and shuts it. "Saraj, I presume you told them? I'm sorry I did that to you, but the book had to end this way. I'm still the same..well, no, but I'm myself and I haven't abandoned us."

Phoenix "Now please, can we all be friends?"

Lucent "I thought I had many friends." His eyes freeze in ice, looking at 13. "I was wrong."

Lucent gets up and walks out after Zahara

Zahara has not quite finished walking out, and catches Luc by the shoulder.

Zahara "You were not wrong."

Thirteen "I am your friend, Lucent."

Zahara "Let us discuss this another time."

Zahara "We have a funeral to prepare for."

Thirteen "As your friend, I help you, by pointing out your errors, and reminding you of your responsibilities when you put your own desires ahead of those you seek to love."

Lucent ::I am not going to say here what you are, Thirteen, out loud or in thoughts.::

Saraj Some time later, in the central square of the Crystal, the sun is setting, and the cobblestones and the water flowing over the Cascade in the background shine a glorious golden color.

Saraj Two great censers burn funereal incense, and the white signs of mourning have been hung about the square. The citizens who have come to attend wait quietly away from the ceremonial altar, as the Solars step up to the platform.

Zahara stands at the center of the platform, dressed in colors of mourning. "We have gathered today to mourn the loss of all those we hold dear. For the lives that should have been reborn, vibrant, and were shattered before they could live. For those that lived, and were brought low by death. All shall be honored. All shall be missed. We speak for each caste, and we speak for all." She gestures gravely for the first of the Caste-spe

Zahara speakers

Saraj steps up, and flares his anima dramatically, and a curtain of golden light fills the air behind him. He stands silent for a few moments, before drawing out his cutlass and beginning to speak.

Saraj "I am not a man of many words, or one taken to long speeches. And I suspect that many who share this" -- he taps his caste mark thoughtfully -- "are the same. So I will not say much, beyond what must be said."

Saraj tips his sword so that it rests across his two outstretched palms. "Where once we would have been together the bright blades that stood between man and darkness, now you are lost to that darkness. So I do all that I can: I pledge my one blade in all of your steads."

Saraj flips his blade deftly up with one hand, catches it in midair, and performs a single, brief, but deeply impressive kata, before bringing it effortlessly to hang vertically in front of his eyes. "Warriors of the Dawn, you shall be avenged," he says, and stands still for a moment, before slowly lowering his blade, and stepping back down.

Lucent Lucent walks to the plataform, dressed in white and black, to mour them... but the coronal is there, if muted. From it comes the orb of the sun... and it shines overhead, pure and grand. "Zenith are supposed to be the brightest sun, to know Him at his entirety, to bring faith and stability to the world. And he did. Markuran the bear was once Kiriath, the pillar of the very Perfect Circle of the first age... and his stability help

Lucent "For one so great, all of the Zenith should stand here to send his soul on. But we are gone as well. The center. The Pillar. The leadership and the fatih have been taken from us... but a few of us remain. And that just means we will have to greater. Brighter. But with your memory, my kin... with the memory of great men like Markuran and Kiriath... we can do it."

Lucent "We have lost our Zenith, but we can build it again. For all of us Zenith that are left... and all of Solars..." He spreads his arm, a great sun burning from his chest... and its light becomes greater than the orb, and the sun overhead, without obfuscating any of them. "We hold the sun in us. In each and every one of us. And we will be fewer, but not lesser, as long as we honor them. As long as we hold to their memory... and hono

Lucent "Honor it by being the pillar."

Lucent "By being the center."

Lucent "By holding Creation together in our faith."

Lucent ....and his stability helped found the Sunlands. Helped hold it, strong and powerful, against all threats. Brought low demon and dragon. Created many of the people that are its army, a horde that bolster civilization to strike against the darkness. The Leafwalkers weep for them, as do us all..."

Lucent ... and honor it, by doing as they would. As they did. By destroying the darkness. By protecting the people. By keeping the faith."

Lucent The sun closes. All the lights are gone. Lucent closes his eyes, and prays in silent for a minute.

Lucent And then, he steps down.

Thirteen steps up to the podium, blindfold in place across his new eyes. "My name is Thirteen Blooming Flowers, and I am a Solar of the Twilight Caste."

Thirteen "Once, long ago, it was the place of the Twilight Castes to keep light alive in darkness; to preserve and share the knowledge of our people, to seek out that knowledge we had lost, and at all time to ensure that that which we knew, we used to best benefit Creation, that the Sun may not set forever."

Thirteen "We failed. I failed. And the age of darkness came at last."

Thirteen "But that which sets can also rise. And that which we have lost, we can regain."

Thirteen "I swear this to you, all my brothers and sisters, seekers of knowledge, followers of the path, bearers of the red-gold lamp that lights our way: I will not let you be forgotten."

Thirteen removes his blindfold as he speaks, looking out at the audience. "I will keep our knowledge alive. I will find the truths we failed to find. And in the end, as it is the Twilights who make something from nothing, thus I will recreate that Age that we lost so long ago -- and all of you, my brothers and sisters; you too, I will return to this world, that has suffered so long for lack of you."

Thirteen "It is only that which I can offer in service to your memory. Only my duty, and the promise that twilight is that glimmer which divides light from darkness."

Thirteen dips his head slightly and steps down.

Phoenix steps up to the podium, glittering and jingling with her armour. "Once upon a time, it was our duty as the Night to journey into the darkness and strangle the things there, and drag their bodies into the light for our glory."

Phoenix "But too many of us were lost in darkness. Some of us died there and some were kept there and some darkened our lights and became part of it. That is the price we paid for standing at the water's edge."

Phoenix "But we are thieves."

Phoenix "I vow to pay no prices. In the name of my brothers and sister that have fallen before me, I vow to steal it all back."

Phoenix "The darkness is no place to keep our prizes." She steps down.

Imrama rises, slowly, and takes the position of the speaker. All of the orichalcum on his jacket has been covered with bootblack, rendering his uniform a deep, dull black. He looks out over the crowd for a long moment, and then removes his spectacles.

Imrama "So much has been lost. So much has been stolen, broken, forgotten, neglected and betrayed. You, my stillborne siblings," Imrama's voice cracks. "You would have cried for it all, all that has gone out of the world, had you been permitted your right to see it."

Imrama "I miss you, my siblings whose names I do not know. Yours was to hold the peace steady, and to make the wars swift and decisive. Yours was to carry the banner, the message, the gift. Yours was to keep knotted the ties that bind. In your absence, the world has come undone. Robbed of your service, it teaters on the edge of bloody knife."

Imrama "But, though all have seemingly forgotten, we remember you. Though the noblest lack forgiveness and understanding, and the adversaries of Creation drive on with the certainty of evil, though the sky is dark without your lights: we will not turn back. It is to us, to all within the sound of my voice, all who hear these words ever after this day, to remake the world. To tie up what has been undone and restore what once was."

Imrama "This is my call to every soul and every ear in all the countless worlds:

Imrama "Let Creation be Creation again; let it be what it never has been, and has always deserved to be: a home to all who need a home, a house of peace through wisdom and strength and mercy. The memory of the fallen deserves nothing less in tribute."

Imrama Imrama's anima flares to full strength, burning away the tarnish on his officer's coat, and lighting the sky with mechanical birds of light. The winds pick up to near storm intensity and his voice takes on the sound of thunder in the distance.

Imrama "As I stand between the earth and the sun, it is to all of us to stand between the sorrow that is and the joy that may be. Go forth from this place, then, and make good the promise of life."

Imrama steps down.

Zahara steps back up to the platform, and raises her palms. "These days are dark. War has been upon us for too long. We are not the only ones to have suffered. Those among you who have not lost someone dear are growing more rare with each day. I have seen death, and destruction, and pain. But I have also seen new life, creation, and joy. These next three days, until the Eclipse, shall be days to mourn, to burn, to remember."

Zahara "I will not lie to you. Calibration will hold no peace for the Sunlands, nor for any in Creation. It will be a time of change, upheaval, and struggle. Much will be lost... but we have everything to gain. Together, we will hold back the threats that surround us, and we will break through to the light that shines beyond. There is hope. There is peace. There is love. You, my people, must hold this in your hearts. Let it lead yo

Zahara "Let it lead you through the darkness. Those that have been lost, will find peace and be reborn anew. We will rise again, all of us. From the weakest of us to the strongest. The three days after Calibration will be dedicated to joyous remembrance, to living our lives to the fullest, and to building things anew."

Zahara "And now, together, we will pray in silence."

Zahara steps down from the platform, and joins the others in prayer.

Lucent 'Heaven knows who you are.' He thinks... and the orb of the sun comes in front of Lucent. His power... to strike at enemies with all Caste Marks. It breaks into light as it does... and the caste marks surround them all... and the bodies appear around them. Bodies of fire and light and incense, and smiling, burning, they leave... all those souls, surrounding them and whispering without words, only the crackle of their flames, lea

Lucent 'Five oaths and five promises. For you. For us all.'

Lucent Even their memory sent away, as Lucent spreads his anima so. Sanctified.

Lucent only the crackle of their flames, leaving to heaven.

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