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Cerinfernal Cerin returns to the Nightshade via a circuitious route that takes him through the gates on several worlds, the final stages of his journey skipping him through several of the Isles of Ash. While none of the Circle were famed for their tracking, it would not do to lead them here. He feels that for the moment, the absence of Markuran at his side is sufficient report of the events for Qian and so he does not seek the man out, (...)

Cerinfernal instead heading into the depths of the city, into the dragons heart, to find a lady in scarlet.

alsoquin The pathway falls easily before Cerin as he retraces his steps, entering far below the ground... to the place where the Once and Future Queen of Creation now resides. The busy chamber Cerin entered before is much emptier now; only Surkha, clad in her voluminous red robes, sits meditating at its center. (...)

alsoquin The Sword of Ice hovers in midair behind her head, and a cold, yellow glow emenates from the seal upon her breast, as her hair seems to move of its own accord about her head, as if she were deep underwater.

Cerinfernal waits until she becomes aware of his presence, not particularly bothered with wait, taking the time to study the essence as it blazes from her. When she notices his presence, he inclines his head towards her. "Greetings, Surkha."

Surkha slowly opens her eyes and gazes at Cerin. Somehow, even sitting motionless, her presence is overwhelming -- with her head well below his, it's still difficult not to get the impression that she towers over Cerin. "You are the one known as the Wolf," she says, and slowly rises, reaching with one hand to retrieve the sword behind her.

Cerinfernal inclines his head once more, perhaps a fraction lower than before. "I am the Wolf, yes. You once ran an empire that influenced the five corners of Creation."

Surkha nods. "I did. There was no one else who could."

Cerinfernal "What was the world like when you took power?"

Surkha "There was almost nothing left." She speaks with a serene confidence borne from ages of rulership. "Corpses choked the streets. Deadly illusions flowed in from beyond the world. The sky cracked and the earth shook. The sun was blotted from the sky."

Cerinfernal "Where did you find the seal that let you into the manse?"

Surkha has the look of remembering far-distant times. "When the world fell apart, I was stationed in the far West. I did not know what it was, when I saw it... it was recovered from the furthest depths of the ocean, just shy of where the seafloor disappears forever... and I felt called upon to purchase it." She pauses.

Surkha "The horrors began a week later."

Cerinfernal nods. "And then you took the manse and drove the dreams away, and founded a dynasty. Did you have help?"

Surkha "'Help' is a way one might put it. There were others with me when I entered."

Cerinfernal "Ah. Only you left, however."

Surkha nods. "Our journey demanded much of all of us. One does not enter the heart of the True Realm and emerge unchanged."

Cerinfernal "True Realm?"

Surkha nods. "The nation of humanity. That which I sought to expand my borders to control utterly." She pauses. "That which, soon, will be entirely within my grasp."

Cerinfernal "Indeed."

Surkha looks over Cerin carefully. "And how did you come to stand here, a bloody retainer in my shadow court?"

Cerinfernal "I made promises to a woman I love."

Surkha looks at him again. "No deep-seated desire to stand astride the world? No need to take the thousand jagged shards that line the streets of existence and remake them as only you can to a glorious new whole?"

Cerinfernal shakes his head.

Surkha gazes into Cerin's eyes. "Then you will be useful." She draws out her sword again. "Kneel to me."

Cerinfernal meets her gaze, and does not kneel.

Surkha 's eyes -- eyes that are no longer the slightest bit human -- flare as she stares even deeper into Cerin's soul. "You are prideful, and with good cause, Wolf. But you gave up your freedom to defy for that woman whom you love. So I say to you again:" -- she clanks the sword into the floor for emphasis -- "KNEEL."

Cerinfernal narrows his eyes at the woman in red, and then he looks down. Shortly after, he kneels. His shoulders tremble on the edge of perception as something within his heart twists within the shadows that hold it

Surkha smiles and, then, lifts her sword, to lay it on Cerin's shoulders, lightly, one after the other.

Surkha "Arise, dark knight."

Cerinfernal rises rises to his feet, gracefully. "What is your command, lady in scarlet?"

Surkha smiles, cold as ever. "You are to be my hound. As we ready to enter the manse, you will pass through it like a black wind, readying it for our appearance, and harrying those who would stop our grand destiny. And at the end, as the last shards of the sun disappear and we step forth from Malfeas to claim our prize..."

Surkha "You will put an end to Lai Misuna."

Cerinfernal Despite himself, Cerin smiles.

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