Summary:Phoenix visits Ael, and tangles with a mysterious figure who's come to collect another strange item.



< A Horror Under Glass | Sol Invictus Logs | Not Quite A Picnic >

Phoenix` tugs on the agata's reins, circling above a small thunderstorm, and consults her map. Is that the place, coming up over the horizon? A landmass of some size appears in the hazy distance, and wasp and rider both sigh in relief, impatient for an opportunity to land.

The grand island of Ael, gateway to the eternities, stretches out in front of Phoenix, a sight that no mortal eye had set upon in millennia -- or possibly ever.

At the borders of the island, sandy beaches and rocky outcroppings run for hundreds of jagged miles, while inside, the land rises up rapidly -- light forest, with gently waving trees of a vaguely alien nature, covers most of the center of the isle, with mountains jutting upwards to the northwest.

It is at the center, however, that the most striking sight resides. For out of that forest rises a vast structure, far taller and more complex than any that still stands in the inner realms of Creation.

Rendered of flecked, translucent, pale violet stone, the Vision of Ael is like an architect's dream made real, a mathematical phantasmagoria that seems to stun the mind.

Great archways a hundred miles long loop over and under each other while spiralling towards reach for the sky and split into other, yet more slender towers that weave together with other towers like ribbons on a maypole.

Pyramids and cubes sit beside elegant fluted curves and perfect spheres; seemingly impossible holes gape through the vast structures to frame perfect vistas of the perfect blue ocean on the far side of the isle.

All in all, it seems like quite a place.

Phoenix` exchanges looks with the wasp. Looks like it's time for a costume change!

Phoenix` In a few moments, Phoenix of Ashes is washed and dried, and her travelling attire exchanged for a glittering sky-blue hanbok embroidered with golden bees. The wasp hovers by her side, its harness festooned with silk flags and jingling silver bells. "Let's go and meet the natives."

On the ground, amongst the carefully tended trees, a pathway of carefully trimmed stones, trimmed by oddly opalescent flowers and gently flowing waterways, leads up to the front of the city, and from even a landing position far away from that entrance, Phoenix can see the distant signs of the inhabitants:

tall, oddly ethereal -- almost transparent -- and wispy, almost like colored smoke or shallow tropical water spun up into thin, sinuous bodies and set to motion by the sounds of faintly melodic music.

Phoenix` walks through the...Vision of Ael, pretending like she has somewhere important to go and she knows how to get there.

Phoenix` After some time, she turns to the nearest inhabitant-type being, and asks how to find whoever runs the place.

The streets of Ael are as odd as the city's construction -- straight here, curved there, sometimes meandering, sometimes direct. The citizens all seem to know where they're going, however, or at least how to act like they do.

When Phoenix politely stops "one," four others turn as well, their motions not exact mirrors but clearly related to one another, like the complementary movements of dancers all performing in the same piece.

The "words" they speak are simply tones, layered over one another, utterly unlike human language: but their gestures seem to point towards a raised plaza in a central area, and their hypnotic nodding seems to suggest that they at least understood the question.

Phoenix` says her thanks and, unwilling to waste any more time wandering, leaps astride the wasp that they may make haste to the plaza.

As she nears the center of the city, Phoenix` can see, quite clearly, the place gestured to her of: a great flattened area, in the shape of a perfect circle, raised up from the roads beneath it; and at the center, a cupola-domed building, like the world's tiniest castle, with a series of spinning discs and rings mounted atop it, and around which an abnormally large number of the city's denizens seem to be gathered.

Phoenix` descends at the edge of the platform and uses the Sky-Body art to walk over and through the crowd, approaching the cupola.

Though she is quite clearly an outsider in their midst, the gathered citizens do not seem astonished or panicked by Phoenix's presence; indeed, many of them turn their heads upwards to see her with what must be bemused or curious expressions.

The building itself seems to have three entrances, unevenly positioned around the perimeter -- and, as she gets closer, she can tell that the decorations on the roof appear not to be moving idly in the wind, but on some strange set pattern that causes them to all line up in a single plane once every twenty-three seconds --

moving them through a series of permutations, each slightly different in its overall arrangement from the last.

Phoenix` observes the ornaments revolving for a few moments. Tilting her head, she murmurs to one of the beings nearby, "What's that on mean?"

The nearest-by of the creatures murmur in odd musical tones again. Though the words are still meaningless, the answer underneath seems to come through again anyway: it seems to be that each one of them represents a concept, an ideal, somehow seeking balance with the others through the world.

The way that they look up patiently at them seems to suggest that they're waiting for something specific to happen.

Phoenix` looks at the spinning rings for a moment, and settles into watching them with the rest of the...beings. She starts nibbling on a pomegranate and tossing the seeds through the display.

Phoenix settles into her routine. Pick, eat, toss... pick, eat, toss... pick, eat, toss... pick, eat, toss -- explode?

Phoenix` Explode? "What the..."

Phoenix` shields her face.

A huge orange fireball blossoms on top of the cupola, and though the structure seems immune to its negative effects, the crowd beneath seems to think that they share no such benefit: the previously patient crowd breaks in a thousand directions at once, and the sounds of cacaphonous, dissonant notes clamor through the air.

Phoenix` watches with some concern, and even takes a few steps forward to get a better look

The fireball dissipates within moments, leaving nothing but a faint sooty residue behind, but a moment later three slivers of light rain down from above and erupt into similarly exploding blossoms of light in areas around the plaza. All of them seem quite hot, quite Essence-intensive, and quite clearly unfriendly.

Phoenix` launches up into the air, dodging the slivers and searching for their source.

Looking up into the sky, Phoenix sees it: a shape like a giant hummingbird, in solid black, but that seems to be moving... oddly quickly. It hangs in the sky for one moment, its wings beating too fast to see, bolts of light streaking out from its vicinity, and then... zzzzzzup, it's thirty feet away, repeating the process.

Phoenix` dips her fingers through one bolt of light, just long enough to pull out a handful of streaming Essence. As her fist clenches around it, the energy hardens into a long, golden-hot sword tipped with the colors of sunset, and she dives after the hummingbird-thing in hot pursuit.

Phoenix leaps not towards where the hummingbird is now, but where she thinks it will be in just a moment. She's just a bit off, and has a brief moment of confusion and uncertainty before managing to right herself in midair and grab onto one end of it, just barely.

The surface of the thing is smooth and cool, quite unlike that of a living thing (or at least, a normal thing), and at first she's not sure if it can tell that she's landed on it and pulled herself up -- then it starcks bucking in place, trying to dislodge her.

Phoenix` doggedly retains her grip on the thing, muttering curses at it under her breath.

As she struggles to hold on, Phoenix notices out of the corners of her eyes that more of the same seem to be heading her way.

Phoenix` "Oh, screw this. I have had ENOUGH of being shot at by unknowable things." Phoenix releases the thing and lets the winds carry her away, while allowing her anima to unravel into an oppressive, world-darkening mist.

Phoenix drops away, letting the bird-thing continue its previous purpose. And continue it does: it seems to join with its fellows and immediately resume firing, chasing the citizens even further from the central plaza with their fiery bursts.

Phoenix` decides to shepherd the slower citizens to places of relative safety and cover, beginning with any that look small's hard to tell how a fluid looks confused, so mostly small.

The citizens seem willing and grateful for Phoenix's aid, though they express it only in tiny, sad tinkle sounds. After a surprisingly short period, the area around the plaza itself seems to have cleared, and the firing stops, though the black birds take up residence in the air around it, as if now they, too, are waiting.

Phoenix` points and makes vague questioning noises. "Was that supposed to happen?"

The nearby citizens shake their heads.

Phoenix` takes a deep breath and addresses the bird-things at the highest volume her vocal apparatus can muster: "WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS UNSEEMLY CONDUCT? YOUR IMMEDIATE EXPLANATION IS REQUESTED WITH THE MOST EXTREME URGENCY!"

There's a pause for a moment as the birds seem to react -- just barely -- to Phoenix's shout, but otherwise carry on their business -- but then, another "bird" appears, this one grey, and larger.

It floats down to the dais, and as it does, it seems to shift, its exterior changing shape, bending, adjusting, until what stands on the plaza is a human-shaped being, wearing a head-to-toe suit of smooth, grey armor -- or possibly just an animate suit of armor, it's hard to tell.

The armor pulls out a sword that it apparently has somehow been wearing at its belt and gestures out in a broad circular arc with its other hand. An oddly modulated, inhuman voice speaks out: "Who calls out, here? Not one of the Aeliar, certainly."

Phoenix` steps forward, golden sword held aloft like a battle standard. "I believe that I asked first, stranger."

The grey armor steps forward, its own sword held in the battle-ready position off to its side. "Hmmmm," its odd voice says, "aren't you, too, here for what the Aeliar have been preparing?"

Phoenix` "All right, I'll give you this one for free. No, I'm not. I'm just a tourist. What's an Aeliar? Who are YOU?"

Phoenix` taps her sword impatiently on the ground. "I'll put away my knife if you do, by the way. No sense getting unpleasant."

The strange puts its sword aside again with a practiced efficiency that says "I can draw this again faster than you can blink, if I have to." "What stands before you is Zuben," the voice from the armor says, "and it'll be taking what comes out when--"

At that moment, the twenty-three circles and rings atop the cupola all seem to line up in a specific auspicious formation. They lock into place, stopping their spinning altogether, and with a gentle musical sound, the three doors of the building pop open.

Phoenix` "When that, huh." Phoenix tilts her head at the grey figure. "What are you, exactly?"

Phoenix` "Some kind of costumed hero-being? An unruly automaton? A haunted suit of armor?"

Zuben takes the moment to duck into the chamber, and duck back out again with something small and glittery, with a purple aura to match the decor, in his hand. "An envoy from the North," the armor says. "The Aeliar" -- he gestures broadly to encompass the wounded citizens as well as those who have fled -- "didn't build this place, you know, they just put it to their own purposes."

Phoenix` "Well, good for them. I am glad that this architectural treasure is being put to good use by SOMEBODY."

Phoenix` "Now, as to the question of your excessively hostile appearance onstage - are we going to come to that the easy way, or the hard way?"

"What will not be given freely must be taken by force," the voice says.

Phoenix` "So you're ATTACKING AND STEALING FROM these nice....fluid people. Aeliar, did you say? What's an Aeliar, exactly?"

"The people borne of the sea, brought into this world by Kimbery's touch." It rolls whatever it's got in its hand around subconsciously. "And if they seem so nice to you, perhaps you should ask them why they sought to create something that might end your species for eternity."

Phoenix` "Zuben, buddy, If I were to ask that question to every being who had an answer for me, I would be a very busy, very tired woman indeed."

Phoenix` "Would you mind indulging my curiosity regarding the object you are so carefully concealing in your hand?"

The armor moves its fingers until the tiny object in its hand is revealed: a tiny transparent sphere, glowing with a purplish aura and with a tiny, animated flame flickering within.

"So tiny, and yet, so dangerous," the voice continues in its oddly toned sound. "So long to make make, and yet, so little time to steal."

Phoenix` "Well then." Phoenix draws her left foot in a line in front of her, drawing a smudge in the dust. Then she steps across it, and she and Zuben are engulfed in a cloud of gold. "It's on." In the indistinctness, she lunges for the orb.

Zuben There's a brief, indistinct tussle in the dust, during which Phoenix feels a strange, warm, wet feeling in the air, and just as she gets her fingers onto the object -- whose surface is oddly polished and smooth -- it seems to slip away from her.

Zuben When the dust settles, Zuben has somehow wound up behind her, and he whips his sword back out with an astonishing quickness.

Phoenix` "Nice moves, fancy man. But let's not give up on the foreplay just yet, hm?" Phoenix clasps their sword hands together and strikes a pose, as though they are performing the opening steps of a dance.

Zuben 's strangely inhuman voice chuckles. "Not bad," he says, and reflexively applies Phoenix's movement to his own purpose, grasping her wrist, twisting his body backwards, and pulling her body up through the air with surprising force, all with the aim of slamming her into the ground again on his far side.

Phoenix` leans into the throw, landing in a kneeling position between Zuben's feet and rising behind him. Meanwhile she twists her wrist free, and soon it is her blade poised beside Zuben's throat.

Phoenix` "So um, this is lots of fun, I'm sure you agree, but I suspect that we have better things to do than threaten our fellow Exalted - you are Exalted are you not? - with pointy things. Is it possible we can reach a mutually beneficial agreement?"

Zuben "Such a thing is not impossible," the voice says, just before Zuben makes a sudden movement forward, seeming to pass through the blade entirely unharmed and quickly turning around to recreate the two sparrers' original face-to-face standoff. "But you would have to have something that we want."

Phoenix` kicks off the ground and begins to revolve lazily, though carefully keeping her swordpoint trained on her new friend. "Perhaps you know of a thing, like a dancing mote of darkness, all imprisoned in a cage of gold and crystal and light?"

Phoenix` produces it for just a twinkling.

Phoenix` "It reminds me a little of your prize there."

Zuben "And what would you do with this," he says -- letting just a tiny hint of it peek through his mailed fist, as he circles lazily the same center point that Phoenix does -- "if you had it? Do you know what it is? For what purpose it was wrought here, in the Gateway to Infinity?"

Phoenix` "Well, I'm not actually the brains of my outfit. I'd probably bring it to him and he'd have some ideas about it. He has what one might call a GREAT ABUNDANCE of ideas on various and sundry topics."

Phoenix` "I'm just, er, what you might call the bosoms of my outfit."

Phoenix` sighs for dear departed Kai. She was much better at being the bosoms.

Zuben looks up and down Phoenix, with his helmeted face hiding all expression. "I fear we are at an impasse, then," -- he takes a rather expressive step backwards, sword still at the ready. "For now I am quite dissatisfied to leave without what you hold in your possession, and I imagine your feelings are much the mirror image."

Phoenix` "I propose a solution!" Phoenix takes a step back as well, regarding the other's gesture as one of good - if cautious - faith. "Suppose that we agree upon two dates of meeting some days hence. Each shall bring with her the artifact she possesses, and will allow the other and his compatriots to examine them at their leisure."

Phoenix` "our paths will inevitably cross again, and I would hope that, though we may not be friends, let us not part today as blood enemies."

Zuben "I think that unlikely," he says. "We set a meeting, and then one of us is ambushed... It's a dance we've eached danced before," he says, before making an untelegraphed and extremely swift dash in Phoenix's direction.

Phoenix` dissolves into a whorl of smoke and shadows, to reappear instants later wearing a face of theatrical distress. "Zuben, you wound me. Think you I am a barbarian, to sink daggers into the backs of strangers when I invite them into my home? Tell me, what will set your heart at ease?"

Zuben "Trust is for the foolish and the dead," he says. "I am certain we will meet again, but when we do I hope to still be neither."

Phoenix` blows a raspberry at Zuben, and then throws a bag of flour firmly at the ground. "Ninja Vanish!" she shouts, and dashes behind a large tower. "You're already one and you'll be the other soon enough, jerkface," she mutters.

Zuben "Until we meet again, then," he says, and with a single step into the air he has resumed the strange birdlike form, in which he quickly disappears towards the horizon.

Phoenix` turns to the Aeliar who have been watching this display from various locations of relative concealment. "Sorry about that. I suspect that the neat purple whosit was some storied treasure which your people have been guarding for time immemorial?"

Some of the nearby Aeliar seem to talk amongst themselves -- "talk," though the experience seems to join many voices together in what one of another race would unquestionably call harmonious music -- for a long moment, seemingly uncertain what to do about Phoenix, before finally one in particular strides up from somewhere --

wider, and darker, like water aerated with smoke, with floating, rotating rings of metal placed around many of its body parts, like strangely alien marks of office. The other Aeliar grow quiet at its arrival, and it pauses for a moment to consider Phoenix.

After much consideration, it moves its head, and something that vaguely -- very vaguely -- resembles low-pitched human speech, cobbled together from musical notes, issues out. "Huuuuman."

Phoenix` nods. "That unconventional but accurate mode of address."

"Why are... you here?" the creeature's strange musical speech continues.

Phoenix` "Exploring, representing, discovering what the receding tides of chaos have uncovered in the bounty of Creation. What good is flight, without places to go and people to see?"

< A Horror Under Glass | Sol Invictus Logs | Not Quite A Picnic >

Page last modified on March 16, 2009, at 08:37 PM