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charlequin Amidst the thoroughly destroyed ruins of Gem, the Sword of the Fire Dragon stands magnificently, the Solars and their flying city of Crystal dwarfed in comparison.

charlequin "Tell me more of this foe you war against."

Thirteen "The tale of our enemies is tangled and fraught with betrayal, crime and ambition so foul that I shudder to attempt to encompass it in one telling."

Thirteen "Fortunately, among our number is Birds-of-Trinity, whose artistry and eloquence is matched only by her swordplay. I relinquish any claim to exposition in her favor."

Atala focuses one giant, spun-flame eye upon the diminutive (to his perception, anyway) poet-baker.

Birds takes a small bow. "You're very gracious, Thirteen. The story begins one day, in the ascending quarter of earth, where Three Lights dwelt in the woods east of a village called Listran..."

Atala is not a patient elemental, but the timeframe at which it can listen given its tremendous size is quite a bit longer than what a mortal might think of as "impatient."

Atala He listens with interest to Birds' descriptions.

Birds spins out the story, telling Ata'la about the lights, and how the Sunlanders determined that they were strange Exalted, and the gods' rebellion that had created this monstrosity. (...)

Birds She leaves out the part where they discover the Exaltation technique, and those where they encounter wonders in search of the supplies, instead emphasizing the matter of the fey and the wars of the Deathlords spilling into the living world. (...)

Birds Finally she comes to the Red Lily conspiracy and the problem of Lai, and concludes, "So you see, the world's very continued existence is endangered, if we do not succeed. The gods' hubris and irresponsibility will cause their dominions to crumble when they turn away, and all things will be lost.

Atala is not amused by the description of widespread corruption amongst the bureaucracies of heaven and earth. "Shirked duty on a cosmic scale. I grow furious with rage."

Thirteen "You are not alone."

Atala Indeed, little fires of blue and red burst up out of nowhere upon Ata'la's massive back, and his eyes burn white.

Atala "I shall bring this matter to my master's attention."

Lucent "Along with blasphemies against the order of things with their false Exalted." He says, "How long will that take, Ata'la?"

Birds shrinks back a little. "Thank you for your sympathy, Ata'la. You will join Iallu in my nightly prayers."

Atala "That is uncertain. He slumbers far deeper than I."

Thirteen "Please hurry if it is possible. Even now they seek the Seals of the Deliberative. At any moment they might take another step towards rewriting the fabric of the universe in their favor."

Atala "I journey at once into the uttermost south." Looking about, Ata'la focuses his massive gaze briefly on Smoking Mirror, then on Aliza. "Great-great-grandchildren, you will tell your masters when I have done what I say."

Thirteen "Be well, Atala."

Atala With that, Ata'la turns towards the southerly direction and begins to saunter away, casually crushing hills and igniting small forests with each step.

Birds "Nice fellow."

Atala Now essentially alone, the Exalts float above the ground in their Crystalline sky-fortress. With Lai's forces misdirected, his two greatest strongholds decimated, and the eclipse foretold to Cerin rapidly approaching, the time for decisive action is closer than ever.

Thirteen "Tall."

Birds "Yes. Now what?"

Thirteen "We must move quickly. If we are to trade Crystal and Chaya to Lai for the Dawn Seal, we had better be well prepared to destroy Crystal when it becomes necessary."

Thirteen brushes back his robes and descends into the body of the flying city.

Lucent "Do we have any weapons able to do it? Aside from Crystal itself?"

Atala The strange pipes and carefully hewn rockwork fall behind Thirteen as he strides purposefully through the Solars' conquest.

Thirteen "Certainly."

Thirteen "Remember the weakness of the Essence channels within Crystal. We need merely interfere with the proper flow of Essence through it."

Cerin "Though, if we have the Dawn seal, that still leaves the other three... They would need to be located." Cerin considers for a moment.

Birds "They would need to be located..."

Cerin concentrates then, on the seals and on their location at present, asking all of Creation for it's aid in locating them, and taking the subtle hints it offers.

Atala Normally it's slightly harder to determine exactly where the Footstep-Guiding Intuition will lead him, but with a massive flying city at hand to take him directly to his destination, Cerin can easily tell that he is being called towards the center of the world.

Cerin "It appears they are within the Realm, and quite possibly at the Mountain."

Thirteen "Excellent."

Thirteen "We can easily seize them, then, when we charge down the Mountain to take and hold the Imperial Manse."

Cerin "The Imperial Manse is located some hundreds of miles from the mountain. That will be some charge."

Thirteen "Distance is not the issue. The Mountain is the one direction from which the Realm will not expect a concerted attack."

Cerin "Such a supply line would have to be maintained through the gates, and it is a fact that our enemies can disrupt their functioning."

Birds "We could move the mountain."

Birds "I imagine this may have some undesirable effect on the Manse, however."

Thirteen snorts. "Soldiers who are starving fight like half-men. Soldiers who will starve if they do not seize the day fight at twice the strength."

Thirteen "If we are held up enough for supplies to be a serious concern, we will have already lost."

Birds sketches a map of the Blessed Isle in the dirt and marks out the dragon lines with torn strips of paper...

Atala As Birds sketches out this map, Lucent finds himself slowly drawn into a reverie... memories of another time flooding his mind.

Lucent "Heh. Never got to go to the Isle with Cerin..." He watches Birds draw the map, almost foundly... "Any chance we can stop by Meru? I keep having dreams with it..."

Birds "Dreams?"

Cerin "Tell us of these dreams, please." He adds a few more details to Birds' map

Birds carelessly smudges out the map with a trailing sleeve, and draws a map of ancient Meru in another spot. "Does this remind you of anything?"

Thirteen 's wanderings finally lead him to the power plant. Flicking it with a finger, he listens carefully to the chaotic vibrations that ripple forth, half-smiling in satisfaction as he pinpoints the exact flows and characteristics of Essence necessary to disrupt and disable it.

Birds "Sorry, Cerin." Birds helps him fix the smudged bits.

Atala One image sticks in Lucent's mind -- the vast corona of the sun, blocked out by Luna's disc, shining in many-colored splendor, surrounded by brilliant stars; below it, a great manse, in an even greater city, shines itself with yellow fire, its bricks outlined in black by the light from within. The doors open and five figures, silhouetted, step out...

Thirteen quietly notes, "If you are analyzing the necessary pathways and approaches for an attack on the Manse, you could do worse than to inquire with Tepet Ejava."

Cerin "I actually planned to take a look for myself, soon."

Thirteen "I believe she has given some thought to the appropriate methods with which to seize the Realm by the throat."

Tepet Ejava clears her throat.

Lucent "I... dream of walking on Meru. Of seeing an image... of an eclipse. The maidens shining brighter in it than they usually do. Under it, there was a... Manse. A Manse in that city, on the center of the world. There were fine figures there, great figures... and I... HE.. wasthere to meet them. They were so.. grand."

Birds pretends there is something very interesting in the sky for a moment, and then addresses the Roseblack. "We wait with bated breath, dearest."

Lucent "The Manse... it was... it shone with fire. But it was clear, it had no reds. And shone from within." He stops, turning to he Roseblack. "Hello there."

Tepet Ejava nods in an almost -- not quite -- friendly fashion to Lucent.

Tepet Ejava Once prompted the Terrestrial wastes no time in speaking up. "The Empress protected the Manse carefully and was never without the ability to activate its defenses, but in her absence the city has not been well-guarded. Depending on the force you wish to bring to bear, there are three undefended routes into the Imperial City, (...)

Tepet Ejava none of which a newcomer would easily recognize. I would suggest that you lead Lai to seize the city, then enter through two of these routes. Let your decoy force strike visibly from one while your true force secretly arrives at the Manse during the commotion."

Cerin will consider this when he visits the city, of course.

Birds "What are the routes?"

Birds ponders the distinction between cowardice and strategy.

Tepet Ejava "The largest, suited for a full complement of soldiers, is an old parade route that ran through a sunken channel, now largely covered over and built upon; it lets out near the palace. (...)

Tepet Ejava The second wends through use of a series of buildings, connected by skyways -- though real estate within the city is at a premium, some areas have been locked off due to unhealthy magical energy or political reasons. (...)

Tepet Ejava The third, extremely small path makes use of maintenance tunnels built to support First Age buildings that no longer stand; it is guarded against vermin but the ancient turbines that dot its length convinced many that it cannot be used for infiltration. You, however, put the lie to that."

Thirteen "What chances do you anticipate the decoy force will have of surviving?"

Tepet Ejava "With the power at Lai's disposal? Low. I doubt that he would stop even at annihilating the city to stop you."

Thirteen "I recommend you contemplate appropriate counterstrategies at your leisure."

Tepet Ejava "I shall do so."

Thirteen "Let us make haste. We must visit Iallu."

Tags: (:tags Gem, Ata'la, Seals of the Deliberative, Dawn Caste Seal, Crystal, Realm, Mount Meru, Imperial Manse, First Age Flashbacks, Roseblack :)

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