Summary:The Solars discover that Jinanna has been awakened, and share a melancholy conversation with her.

XP:C4, I4, L4, S4, V4, Z4


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Cerin joins Zahara's side on the ground, walking with her into the fortress as he casts his vision about himself.

The empty doorway that Zahara blasted open on their previous visit is here, but the actual shattered door itself is nowhere to be seen, and the room appears to have been moved through again in the intervening time.

zahara "Hm. This may fall under "things we shouldn't have left alone so long" "

Cerin "Perhaps, yes."

Imrama nods at Zahara's words. "That is a fast growing list."

Spring "The list does not grow. Our awareness of the length of the list, that expands."

zahara sighs and heads in, idly wondering if the people who were here last left traps

Cerin examines the signs of their passage, trying to work out when they were last here.

It looks from the evidence left behind that someone came up from inside perhaps a week ago, cleaned up the shattered door, swept up the bones, made an extremely superficial attempt on some of the bloodstains, and then moved back into the Keep.

Since then, someone's come by twice, it seems, different people each time, both from within, although neither had much more luck on the blood than the first.

Cerin "They were apparently not here too long ago. It is possible that they are still here, and it appears they have tried to conceal signs of their presence, or at least their violence."

Cerin "We're not going to find out who they are up here, though."

Imrama "Perhaps we may find further evidence as we descend into the Keep to inspect your frozen ancestor, Empress."

zahara nods.

A walk down into the further depths of the place reveals that much of it has been tidied since their previous visit, although the portion the Solars walk down through appears to still be empty.

Spring "Perhaps a rampaging band of janitors."

Cerin grins

As they move yet further down, Cerin notices that the powerful ice aura that extended through much of the castle's depth before seems to be gone.

Cerin "It appears that the place has warmed up a little. Perhaps it is not so much rampaging janitors as your ancestor having awoken. And started repairs."

Cerin "That, or an unusually compulsive Spectre."

Imrama "Ghosts of the Loyal Order of Sanitation Engineers?"

Cerin picks up on some sounds, like people moving, coming from somewhere faaaaar down the hallways and stairwells from where they currently stand -- below his rather extensive sphere of vision, at least.

zahara chuckles

Cerin "There are definitely people--or ghosts--down below. Quite a way down. I cannot see them yet."

zahara "We had better pick up the pace then."

A quick look across the Shroud reveals to Varanim something a little unexpected: where previously the place was crawling with spectres, now the Underworld side seems to be relatively clear.

Varanim "Short on spectres," she observes, then resumes humming a funeral dirge at a jaunty accelerated tempo.

zahara "How short?"

Varanim "Clean enough to eat off of."

zahara "Huh. Maybe another long lost cousin has decided to clean up. Or maybe my Great etc. Aunt has woken herself up.

It's as the group gets nearer the floor on which they originally discovered Zahara's ancestor that he gets his first straight sight of exactly who's moving around: soldiers -- Dragon-Blooded soldiers -- in damaged and amateurishly repaired armor that he would date to the late Shogunate period, moving in groups of three through the hallways of one of the lower floors.

Imrama "I suspect we may have different standards of culinary hygiene."

Cerin relays this observation to those with him.

zahara "Dragon Blooded... hmm. From the Shogunate?"

Cerin "Wearing Shogunate equipment, at least."

Spring "I hope more time travel will not be involved."

zahara heads on in, determined to find out what happened!

Spring "Or possibly was not, or is not currently being, involved."

Varanim "Huh. My head-voices told me the garrison was at half again its normal levels when the place went under. Any chance we missed a few in the corners last time?"

Cerin "That is quite possible, Varanim." He kisses Zahara's cheek. "I am going to fade into the background now," he says, and then does just that.

zahara smiles and shakes her head a little. "Ninjas."

It is but shortly after Cerin's disappearance that a group of the soldiers round the corner at high speed, their weapons raised. The centermost one shouts out in oddly toned Old Realm: "Divest all weapons and place hands behind heads on order of the Shogunate."

Varanim "Neat, I haven't been arrested in years."

Spring puts his hands obediently behind his head.

Varanim leans her staff against the wall and lifts her hands as well, looking like the whole thing is a happy little adventure.

zahara "Ah, I see that you are misinformed as to who we are. I am Zahara Zhan, Empress of the Sunlands. These are my co-rulers. I would sincerely appreciate it if you would treat us with the respect accorded to foreign dignitaries and descendents of Jinanna herself."

Varanim lets out a short sound that might be a giggle at 'co-rulers.'

Spring removes his hands from his head in surprise, turning to look at Zahara, then restores them and tries to look like nothing happened.

The lead soldier cocks her head toward the group and one of the others walks -- short blade extended in one hand, visible Essence Bolt device gripped around the other's wrist -- towards one of the walls, which a set of jade knobs are set into.

At about the same time, the other two groups that Cerin has helpfully informed the Solars are coming via ring arrive, and begin to form the rest of a defensive perimeter around them.

Varanim "Just so you know, this is bad reinforcement for her not claiming everything the first time she visits it."

zahara raises a brow.

Spring "We probably should have said that we came in peace."

zahara "I certainly expected a warmer welcome."

As the soldier fiddles with the jade knobs, the Solars feel the Essence in the room grow thick -- not impassable, but irritatingly difficult, at least. From behind, one of the other soldiers barks: "Move forward at a steady speed, following the lead presented."

zahara does so, presenting a regal front as possible. Which is not difficult.

Spring accompanies her, fiddling with his nails.

Imrama buttons his captain's jacket, concealing The Lovers Forged in Lightless Depths, and folding his hands casually behind his head, with a broad smile.

Varanim follows, humming.

One of the soldiers breaks from the formation and walks over, placing his jade-mailed hand on the blade of Zahara's daiklave.

zahara "You know, I've killed two primordials while wearing that sword."

Imrama "Capt. Xilessor, my compatriots and I have come to this abode in peace. What has become of the hospitality of Dragons?"

Spring "Are you counting Atomnos?"

zahara "We haven't really killed him yet, have we? I meant the two dragons."

Spring "Ah."

Spring "Yes, I was going to say I would not count him."

Xilessor "Be grateful that the Daimyo has asked to speak to you and not to have you killed," he says humorlessly, and tugs on the blade again.

Spring glances at Zahara, raising a questioning eyebrow and gesturing slightly towards the soldier.

zahara grasps the hilt and draws it, pointing the tip of the blue slab towards his throat for a second before flipping it and driving it into the floor. In the middle of an almost-clean bloodstain. "If you insist."

Xilessor looks at the daiklave for just a moment, then moves back amongst his fellows.

The soldiers lead the Exalts along, through the fortress' hallways, until finally they arrive at their destination: the grandly-doored War Room, whose black and red entrance opens silently to permit their arrival.

The room inside is short, and dark, with numerous jade tables lit by their own guttering lanterns, and only a single red flame, burning of its own accord in a brazier mounted on the wall, casts a light on the far end.

Eleven Dragons stand here, seemingly busy at work, diagrams spread before them, reports from their reports thrown into piles; their armor is far finer than, though just as damaged as, the soldiers', and their sigils of great rank are clear to behold.

And on the far wall, in a large -- but utilitarian -- chair, on a slightly raised dais, sits a born empress, her haughty, yet casually confident position on the chair greatly familiar to all but one of those who come in to see her...

Her thin, elegant blue jade armor seems tailor-fitted to her lithe form; her jade swallow lies across her lap, as she rubs its handle absentmindedly with one hand... and waves of powerful Essence roll off of her, for she is no Dragon-Blood, but (incongruously) a true Elementalist, and one far, far older than the niece who comes to her court today.

zahara bows respectfully as to a ruler of equal stature, "A pleasure to meet you face to face. I had expected to come here to free you today, but it seems that this will no longer be necessary."

JinannaZhan stands up slowly, weapon in hand, and looks out over the assembled group. The very act of her glance seems to send a chill over the Solars, and the air in the room drops noticeably in temperature. "What brings you here?" she says, cutting right to the chase.

Varanim "That really neat spectre in your basement."

Spring "Boredom and a desire to avoid our more immediate problems."

JinannaZhan "Neither answer speaks well to your intentions."

zahara restrains herself from rubbing her arms, "Well, you do, of course. I suspect that you are missing some rather large chunks of history, as you have been frozen for an Age. And I had hoped to get to know you as an ancestor of mine, however distant."

Varanim ::Why is it that people who ask straightforward questions rarely want honest answers?::

zahara sighs at her companions

zahara ::It's called diplomacy.::

JinannaZhan "And yet you didn't send a messenger. I don't know which of my sisters gave rise to you, but were she still alive I would beat her for instilling such poor manners into her eventual progeny." A little smile escapes one tiny corner of her lips, though -- she certainly can't help but notice the resemblance herself.

zahara half-smiles, "Well, as I said we expected to need to free you before being able to speak with you, and I have no messengers who are also Solar Circle Sorceresses."

JinannaZhan raises a single eyebrow, just very slightly.

JinannaZhan After a moment, she makes a swift gesture with one hand, and some of the guards fall back slightly, "You, you," she gestures to the Solars in a vaguely dismissive way, "you can put your hands down now." But the essence thickening effect does not disappear.

Imrama cocks his head to the side, enjoying the exchange between the two Zhan women. He admires the mistress of the Keep and relaxes into a comfortable pose, inclined toward her. "Many thanks for your benevolence. May we now present the gifts we have brought?"

JinannaZhan puts on a bemused smile, and waves one hand, causing a gust of sudden wind to blow a rather large quantity of papers off of one of the tables in front of the Solars, leaving it entirely clear. "If you please," she says, and nods to the table.

Varanim ::Zahara, this may be the best day I have in years. Is there a really good reason to waste it here on dueling ego trips with your great-aunt, aside from some vague stirrings of family attachment you may be trying as an experiment?::

zahara ::I am also trying to form an alliance.::

Varanim ::Hm, let me clarify. Is there any reason I shouldn't be politely excused so I can head back to the boat, cross the Shroud, and get to looking for the interesting bits?::

zahara ::If you wish.::

zahara ::However, given that they have cleared the other side of the shroud, perhaps they can help you as well.::

Varanim ::It's charitable of you to assume they did the cleaning.::

zahara ::I am feeling extremely charitable today. ::

Imrama bows and smiles politely, appearing perfectly composed as he pats his pockets, thinking over their contents as he searches for appropriate gifts. "This," he produces a small snuff box. "Incense of the Rocky Shoals, the sweetest of all the perfumes of the distant West. These," he holds out three short white scrolls, "The Heartsworn-tales of three princeling Raksha of the Jet Court. And this,"...

Imrama ...Imrama reaches deep inside his coat, and extracts a long, slender, delicate looking bottle, filled with a shimmering blackness. "A tankard of Glorfixx, philter of the Underdark. The most potent inebriant in all of Meru."

JinannaZhan looks at them with detached curiosity. "I haven't had a drink in so long," she says, and with another subtle hand gesture the bottle flies -- gently! -- across the room and into her hand. She forms a glass of purest crystal-clear ice out of the air itself and pours herself some, the black liquid tinkling gently as it enters the glass.

JinannaZhan She looks over to her various generals and soldiers, who are watching the proceedings with great concern, and seems to signal them to stand down; a number of them salute, turn, and leave the room. She levitates the bottle back to the table, and several other small ice glasses with it. "Join me," she says.

zahara "Thank you kindly."

Varanim waves a hand to pass, looking lost in some inner contemplation. In fact she's sending a mental query to the General about whether she knew Jinanna in any detail.

JinannaZhan The answer Varanim gets back: not in any detail. Orteiza tells her that Jinanna was a hardass and someone who always gets what she wants -- obviously a great surprise.

zahara brushes the cracks out of a chair and seats herself neatly, taking one of the glasses.

Varanim rolls her eyes in the background, as if in mute inquiry at why anyone bothers talking to dead people.

zahara ::Thank you, Imrama. ::

Imrama takes up a glass and raises it high. "To the family Zhan!" He drinks with gusto, but still with care. He is a libertine, but not a fool.

Imrama ::You are exceedingly welcome, Empress.::

JinannaZhan raises her glass to match, and takes a small, delicate sip.

zahara raises hers as well, taking an exploratory sip, followed by a slightly deeper one.

Imrama The draught has a viscous, almost oily texture, but it is also smooth beyond description - it slides over the teeth and past the gums as a silken whisper. The flavor hints at sassafras and anis but that is only the exterior taste. The liquid comes to rest in the stomach like a yeddim charging a stone wall, and the impact sends out waves of startling delight: the mind races with sense-memories of a

Imrama ll the imbiber's pleasurable secrets.

JinannaZhan "Mmmmmmmm," she says, clearly pleased with the gift.

JinannaZhan "Whatever else may come of our meeting," she says, swirling what's left of her glass lazily in her left hand, "I thank you for this."

Imrama inclines his head again, and regards the mighty Elementalist through his half-filled glass. "You are assuredly welcome. Though I do hope you will have further cause to thank me in the future."

JinannaZhan leans forward in her seat. "I hope, then, that you will begin to provide those reasons to me now," she says. "I'll ask a slightly different question now: what did you hope to gain from your visit here?"

Imrama With the swagger of a body practiced in libation, Imrama approaches nearer to the dais, just inside the parameter called for by strict etiquette, but far enough away to show respect to Jinanna's office. "To free the unjustly imprisoned. To learn of a lost age. To make new friends. The last being always foremost in our hearts."

JinannaZhan "But there must be deeper agendas at play," she says, leaning back. "You were here before, and you left. You come back today, and not yesterday, or tomorrow. Is it because the sun in your age wears the black of mourning? Or... because the spectres have cast down your home, as they did mine?"

zahara "We were unexpectedly called away by the Second Herald rending Creation apart, I do apologize. But yes, we are interested in the darkening of the Sun, and Varanim here is our expert on spectral matters, though we have been lucky enough so far not to have had them invade our lands directly."

JinannaZhan "Yet."

zahara "Indeed."

Varanim ::That's not 100% true, really.::

JinannaZhan "For they will come."

zahara ::hmm?::

Imrama ::There is the matter of the apparent family curse. But that is your secret to tell or to keep, Empress.::

zahara ::Oh, well yes. That's true.::

zahara shifts her gaze into the realm of Essence for a moment to check and see if the mark is on Jinanna

Varanim ::I suppose I'd call them more strike teams than invaders.::

zahara "Perhaps with your assistance and the knowledge you gained while fighting them, we will be able to fend them off when they do."

zahara takes another sip of the drink, closing her eyes in pleasure

JinannaZhan "Aaaah," she says. "But do I trust you? That is another question."

zahara "One for the ages."

Imrama "You speak with the heavy weight of experience, Daimyo Zhan. I would be interested in trading stories with you, on this and other matters. That tells you some of what we want. What is it that you want?"

JinannaZhan leans forward and, having finished the last of her drink, crushes her glass into tiny shards that make gentle plinking noises as they fall to the cold stone below. "I want to clean the stench of blood from my home," she says, as she stands, "to gather back together the forces under me... to drive back the deathly ones... and then to once again protect this land, for the glory of the Shogun."

Varanim "I could do one and a half of those things for you," Varanim notes in a slightly distant voice, since she's also carrying on an internal argument with Jardis about volume thirteen of his encyclopedia of divinities.

zahara considers that, then delicately speaks, "I regret to inform you that the Shogunate is no more. However, if you do decide to trust us - and we you - there will be a place for you on the Exalted Deliberative.

JinannaZhan "As long as one true soldier of the Shogunate lives, there will be a Shogun," she says... and her body language leaves nothing to the imagination regarding exactly who that Shogun should be.

Imrama "An exciting prospect. I know at least one Chumyo with whom you should speak."

JinannaZhan looks at Imrama with an odd, far-off look, but does not speak in response to his statement.

Imrama produces a large rolled cloth from his jacket and unfurls it. "This is a map of Creation. You can see the extent of your Nth-Grand Niece's holdings here, our allies on the Exalted Deliberative here, here, and here, and at certain points beyond. Belligerent nations of the unquiet dead loom here, here, here, here and here. Ours is a mighty alliance, with interests that could easily compliment...

Imrama ...your own. Are you interested?" Imrama raises one eyebrow just slightly higher than is necessary to make his overt point.

JinannaZhan looks at the map, over at Imrama again, back at the map, running her hand absentmindedly along the handle of her weapon the whole time as she seems to deliberate the matter.

JinannaZhan After a long, long pause, she replies... "I... will think about it."

JinannaZhan She turns to her niece. "It is always nice to meet surprising relatives," she says, "but I want you to remember: just because you have been awake and I asleep, don't think that I am anything but your elder." She puts a point on that with an icy glare that, again, is only too familiar to the other Circlemates.

Imrama gives a happy, involuntary sort of shiver.

Colapso "They have experience dealing with their elders."

zahara meets the glare without flinching, "You have indeed lived longer than I."

Spring coughs quietly. "It might be to our mutual benefit if you were to let us know before you begin protecting any areas of Meru we are already currently protecting."

zahara ::Very well put, thank you Spring.::

Lucent "Creation is larger than in either of our times, and it is more benefitial to you to expand outward. Resources untouched in many a milennia wait you farther to the East, while war with a thousand antagonistic states and millennia-old Lunars stand to the west. It is not much of a choice, I think."

Varanim ::Bet she can't resist the west, put that way.::

JinannaZhan looks at the map. "Today, you are certainly right," she says. "And when we do not even know if the sun will still hang in the sky, there is no use in speaking of tomorrow yet, is there?" That far-off gleam comes back to her eyes, with a harsher, brighter edge this time.

Spring stirs, and turns a hand over in a slow gesture. "...the sun? What do you mean?"

Lucent ((* stand to the SOUTH and west!))

Lucent ::Yes, she resembles more than her descendant, does she not?::

JinannaZhan "Well," she says, with a chuckle, "I'm sure you've been outside, yes?"

Lucent ::Yes, she resembles more than her descendant, does she not?::

Lucent "Au contraire, Jinanna. Because of this, we must plan for tomorrow."

Lucent "We cannot take this world for granted anymore. Not after last year."

JinannaZhan "In that, at least, we agree," she says. "I will not see Creation fall into the maws of the Malfeans."

Spring "As it happens, that is exactly what we spend most of our time trying to prevent."

JinannaZhan "I expect your great-great-great-great-great grandmother would not be too disappointed in your choice of associates, in that case," she says to Zahara.

Varanim ::Mm, family condescension, the perfect finishing stroke for the circle of mutual ass-kissing.::

zahara chuckles, "I hope not." She takes another contemplative sip, absently smoothing out the rough edges of the table.

Lucent shines, images of the past year playing about them. "You think the blight upon the sun is the end of days? Last year, deathlords let equations of ultimate doom loose upon the South, scarring a direction.

Lucent Thousands of new Exalted were created from the shattered shards of Solars as the Red Lily took ascendence." the lights play about them, showing the searing numbers of the equation, the armies of the Lily, Lai Mitsuna in front, Shikaya and Holbar and the Hundredfold behind them!

Lucent "The world returned, your Gods returned. The Gentlemen, like Ouranos, your god. Time itself was broken by them as they tried to take over this world, and a Demon Prince was shattered, the Ebon Dragon gone. Exalted from a mechanical nightmare have walked into the South, turning sand to metal. Those who would laim claim to Creation returned. Heroes died." The West, the ocean shattering, heroes disappearing in the Sunset, Markuran, evil and dead.

Lucent "This was last year."

Lucent "It has gotten worse."

JinannaZhan ponders Luc's statements for a long moment. "And it will get worse, before it gets better," she finally says, quietly.

zahara nods solemnly and takes another drink, longer this time.

Imrama considers his glass for a moment, and then thinks to himself, ::Has the wine lost its flavor?::

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Page last modified on February 08, 2009, at 03:07 AM