Summary:Phoenix journeys to Salustren, where the locals hold an ancient secret.



< Super-Secret Scavenger Hunt | Sol Invictus Logs | In The Name of the Greater Peace >

From waspback, in the waning hours of the day, the island of Salustren seems a right paradise: gently waving palm fronds, crisp blue rivers flowing down to the ocean that surrounds it, white sand, and vast, irregularly placed swathes of fruit trees that stretch up the tall slopes of its central mountain.

As the evening descends, however, the lights appear: in faint, unnatural blue and red and green, glowing in their eerie spherical shapes betwixt the trees, bobbing and moving in non-existent currents of wind; their strange light casts an odd pallor over the island's nighttime face, and it is in this state that Phoenix begins the final descent into the island.

Phoenix` pats the wasp. "I'll be back soon, !Hu. Will you please catalogue the local flora for the pharmocopoeia project, and meet me over by that rock that looks like a sleeping dog at dawn?"

The wasp chitters in an indescribable and alien fashion, rubs its wings together briefly in a gesture of fondness -- Phoenix is in all ways an ideal passenger -- and then goes about its set task.

Phoenix` wonders if she pronounced that right. Stupid clicks. Well, no matter. Gathering her Essence about her, Phoenix leaps into the treetops, seeking to catch a light.

Phoenix hops up into the trees after a particularly near and promising light of the green variety. Almost as if it were spooked by her action, it quickly flits on the absent wind to one side -- but Phoenix is too fast for it, and she quickly rounds about in the other direction.

As she puts her hands into the precise space the light is about to occupy, she feels an odd sensation -- not warmth, though it radiates in the same fashion... oddly tingly and energetic, in a way that is pleasant and intriguing, but not quite... normal.

And that sensation is about all that she "catches," for the light seems to be entirely immaterial otherwise -- her hands pass straight through it.

Phoenix` "Hm. That was odd. I wonder if there are any -people- on this island." Phoenix picks the closest river and begins following it upstream, supposing that, if anyone lives around here, they'll be by the fresh water or atop the impressive mountain.

Phoenix follows the river, and as she does so, she begins to hear sounds -- odd, vaguely rhythmic patterns of thumps and clacks, coming from somewhere upstream.

Phoenix` cocks her head at the noise. "Hm. Sounds like...sounds like I'm talking to myself." For a moment she pauses, collecting her faculties, and just as she's about to spring into action again, her gaze falls on a golden moth, almost unnoticeable on the bark of a palm.

Phoenix` "Good thinking, little friend." Phoenix pads her footfalls with Essence and determines to look and act as unremarkable as she is able, before heading toward the sound.

As she draws closer, the sounds grow more nuanced -- there are drums, yes, but also shouting, and the crackling of fire... And soon the smells join them -- the smell of roast pig, and cloves, and bitter thumbworts (when used in their spice capacity) -- and beyond that the smell of exertion.

Phoenix` moves closer.

Eventually Phoenix finds herself coming towards the crest of a hill, and as she climbs up to its peak, the sound washes over her in greater force.

Looking down, she sees the source of all this commotion -- what seems to be a village of palm and adobe huts, with a great central clearing around a massive bonfire.

The activities that are going on within all seem vaguely normal to Phoenix at first -- the dancing and chanting, the roasting of wild native animals for feasting upon, the festive atmosphere. There are really only two things odd about the scene:

One is that, at one end of the crude village structures, there is a singular building of significantly superior architecture -- a small pyramid, executed entirely of grey stone, with the design carved upon it of seven hoodless eyes, seven strange blossoms, and a single split circle with tendrils reaching out all across the pyramid's surface.

And the second... is that those who are doing the celebrating are, each of them, about nine feet tall, hugely muscled, with six arms, three heads, and great shocks of brilliant red and yellow hair placed haphazardly across their bodies.

Phoenix` curiously tosses an overripe fruit at one of the revelers.

The fruit strikes true and bursts with a satisfying "squelch" as it strikes the being. It turns, visibly angered, but finds itself completely unable to locate the source of the fruit... so after a moment, it stops, wipes itself with a large palm frond, and returns to its previous activity.

Phoenix` waits for the fruit to be forgotten, circles the clearing, and just before descending to greet the Hundredfold, pulls a mirror out of her pocket and checks that her Caste Mark isn't showing.

As per the tiny mirror, her head is squeaky clean.

Phoenix` smudges some dirt on her hands and feet before stumbling out into plain view. "H-um, h-hi there..."

The revelling stops almost instantaneously, and all eyes turn immediately to focus on Phoenix. (It should be noted that, given that there are quite a few of these revellers, and each of them has three heads, and [as it turns out] each of those heads holds three eyes, "all eyes" is indeed quite a lot of eyes.)

Phoenix` "Harmless!" Phoenix shows her empty hands. "I'm just a little lost." She tries this in a couple of different languages.

It takes until she hits Old Realm before the creatures' confused expressions shift at all; it is then that one steps forward out of the crowd. Phoenix notes almost immediately that this one is a little different: he has five heads, each with five eyes and a full, lush reddish-brown beard; only four arms, but an extra two legs to compensate.

He tilts those five heads to one side briefly, as if considering Phoenix for some strange purpose, and then, from all five of his mouths, he speaks, in a stilted and unusually-metered dialect of the same tongue: "From whence doth you originate, and unto what sign dost thou deliverest thy gifts upon travel's end?"

Phoenix` thinks a few moments before answering. She doesn't try to mimic the unusual accent—that always comes off poorly. "On travel's end I bring my gifts unto the Sun; I come from Gemeldan on the north wind."

The five-headed man stares at her for a moment longer, as if completing in his mind the confirmation of what he expected to be true but yet somehow never quite believed, and then he raises his arms to the heavens and shouts with great vigor: "EKALAVADRANATA!," or in the language of the Yul-Adr, "she has come!"

Phoenix` raises an eyebrow at "What?"

"It doth raise the greatest of auspicious beneficence," he says, as jubilant dancing breaks out all around him. "We didst expect thy arrival from yon island only at the end of the festival."

Phoenix` "Um, maybe you're expecting someone else. I'm just a girl." Phoenix does her best to look unremarkable.

" 'She who cometh from the north, who beareth no marks or distinctions, but who shall make offering unto that which hangeth in the sky,' " he recites, with the practiced meter of an oft-repeated turn of phrase.

Phoenix` "Well okay, that sounds like me. What happens next?"

"The Greater Feasting must begin," he says, "and the August Tuning must enter its third stage. And then" -- turning his whole body to one side, that his arms might gesture expressively to the pyramid, "the Heart of Phestabas will open."

Phoenix` "Oh. Of course. What lies inside the Heart?"

Phoenix` takes this opportunity to survey those gathered more carefully, and perhaps to attempt to read any text that is visible on the pyramid.

The creatures seem extraordinarily happy that Phoenix has graced them with her presence, and the slightest sign of hostility is completely absent -- they seem dedicated only to celebrating even more fiercely than before.

As for the pyramid itself, the markings as a whole bear no writing, but she does spot some small markings along the bottommost row of bricks: a date (which she would guess predates pretty much all of Exalt-recorded history), a long list of names, and an invocation of prophecy:

what year and season "she" will come (now), who she will be (what the leader repeated to Phoenix earlier), what should occur (rejoicing), and what she will take with her when she leaves ("the one true darkness of Salustren.")

Phoenix` mingles, attempting to chat with the various tall beings and tasting the local foods.

The local foods are outrageously delicious; for large, beastly creatures, they appear to have become unsurpassed masters of the local array of spices, and the pig (and attendant vegetables) are seasoned to perfection.

During her mingling, Phoenix actually finds herself getting a surprisingly decent picture of the Yul-Adr's culture. Always a relatively friendly race and well-suited to tropical life, they had once competed keenly with their cousins out of a sense of filial loyalty but never had the proper temperament for it; soon they had pulled back to their islands to more fully experience the world created by the Progenitors for them.

Those who had had the great luck to dwell here, however, were the most blessed -- for they bore the quixotic destiny of guarding the heart in which darkness dwells, for the designated day on which it might be whisked off forever.

At the end of a seemingly endless evening of reverie and excitement, the dawn begins to break on the island's horizon, and suddenly, the five-headed leader -- Phoenix has learned during the night that his name is "Jek-Kek-Utashi" -- raises his arms to halt the festivities. "The time hath arrived," he announces.

Phoenix` "Oh my. Now does the pryamid open up?"

"Behold," he says, and one by one, beginning with the topmost, the eyes of the pyramid begin to light up, until all seven are shining -- and then the split circle begins to glow red, and slowly, the rocks of the pyramid peel back, revealing a stairway leading downwards into the darkness below.

Phoenix` surveys the scene critically. "So, now I take it you are to lead me in state to the Heart, where I will...take away the darkness?"

Jek-Kek-Utashi nods with all five of his heads. "Phestabas beckoneth."

Phoenix` follows Jek-Kek-Utashi.

The opening in the pyramid leads to a downward-sloping staircase, that leads downwards into fairly all-encompassing darkness. "Fare thee well, o prophesied one," the five-headed one says, and gestures as if she should head in on her own.

Phoenix` shrugs. Oh well, into the darkness we go. She heads a few steps down the stairs and turns her head to the Yul-Adr onlookers, firing her anima as she waves goodbye.

The onlookers fall back with a certain amount of surprise. "Ohhhh," she hears from them as she lights up the downwards passageway.

As she walks down, geometrically-angled lines begin to appear on the walls... and then they are joined by more lines... and then yet more lines, all growing nearer and nearer together. Meanwhile, the passageway continues to wind downwards an exceptionally far distance, until finally, and rather suddenly, it stops, at a blank, bare wall.

Phoenix` stops. Experimentally, she headbutts the wall.

It's a heavy stone wall, and headbutting it hurts about as much as headbutting any other stone wall. On the other hand, when she pulls her head back, a ring of gold is glittering on it, exactly where Phoenix's castemark would have touched it; as she watches, little golden veins spring out from it and grow until they criss-cross the entire wall, and then, quite suddenly, it breaks apart along those lines, crumbling into dust.

Phoenix` "Huh. Wasn't expecting that to work. First time for ev---talking to myself again."

Phoenix` makes a face.

Phoenix` "I need me a sidekick."

Phoenix` proceeds beyond the wall.

Past the wall, there is an octagonal chamber.

All along its walls, the same indented lines run, but now they form pictures and images -- of multi-headed beings, of birds, of trees, of what after some great consideration Phoenix realizes must be a representation of musical notes.

On the far wall, exactly opposite where Phoenix stands, there is one drawing, of someone with only one head, only two arms (both upstretched to the sky) -- and, in the only spot of color within the entire chamber, a ring of gold on its forehead.

From this drawing, and seven others, lines run down the walls, across the floor, and to a central octagonal pillar, which rises up almost to head-level... and on top of it, somewhat out-of-keeping with what else sits within this decidedly neolithic structure,

sits an elaborate brass and glass construct of no fewer than 17 swivelling, rotating lenses of various sizes and intensities, all seeming to focus light inwards in such a way that a strange, pulsating black mote is suspended inside, unable to escape.

Phoenix` hrms.

As she looks over the pictures, a bit of their intent becomes clearer -- it looks like one side shows what happened in the past -- a being like a great bird bearing the lens device here in the first place -- while the others show what happens now, in the present -- the castemarked figure taking it away -- and in the future -- the way of life of the Yul-Adr changing forever, with a song both joyful and melancholy marking the occasion.

Phoenix` picks up the lens device.

Phoenix` "This is turning out to be remarkably...non-disastrous."

There's something oddly... cold is not the right word, because it doesn't feel like ice, but... the feeling of touching the metal on this device is somehow analogous. The lenses wheel and turn away on their intricately plotted arcs, keeping the black mote within always checked, never escaping.

Phoenix` solidifies several motes of Essence in her other hand, shaping them into a fuzzy sphere. Setting the device back down again, she releases the Essence blob and pushes it toward the lenses with a puff of breath.

The tiny blob of Essence Phoenix releases floats airily across the paths of the rotating lenses, allowing itself to be amplified, strengthened, broadened, until it takes the place of the ambient light in briefly surrounding the mote within.

In that moment, Phoenix gets a clear look at it: not fuzzy at all, but perfectly spherical; angular lines running in tiny, intricate patterns across it, much like the walls of the room; not truly black at all, but more some kind of oppressively dark grey; and on one side, amidst a conflux of all the lines intricately weaving within one another elsewhere on the sphere, the Old Realm character representing the letter "O."

Phoenix` searches her mental files for an O and a great bird; nothing rises from the depths of memory, so she lifts the device and begins again to climb the stairs.

At the top of the stairs, the Yul-Adr wait for her with bated breath.

As she re-emerges fully into the dawn's light once more, Jek-Kek-Utashi bows deeply, and his fellows follow by doing likewise. "Bear with you now both light and darkness," he says, "as always the Yul-Adr will remember this day with both joy and sadness."

Phoenix` walks down to the ground and lifts Jek-Kek-Ukashi up. "Okay, enough with the bowing and the rites and happenstance. You are going to tell me what's going on here and what this thing is that I'm holding."

Phoenix` "I love a good mystery cult as much as the next girl, but if you don't start explaining I might get upset and so help me I cannot be responsible for my actions if I should become upset."

Jek-Kek-Utashi looks out on the adoring masses and quiets them with his hands. "...walkest with me," he says, and places two giant, meaty hands on Phoenix's shoulders as he leads her away from the party.

< Super-Secret Scavenger Hunt | Sol Invictus Logs | In The Name of the Greater Peace >

Page last modified on February 14, 2009, at 07:17 PM