Summary:Phoenix journeys to the Xiyi mountains, and finds that others have preceded her there.



< All I Can Ask For | Sol Invictus Logs | A Flower Opens >

Phoenix` and !Hu the wasp have settled on a relatively comfortable mountain ledge, taking a moment to survey their maps and have a snack of trail mix and mysterious jerky, whose source the wasp will not disclose.

Phoenix` "So here we are in Xiyi. What's that mean, exactly?" The wasp gestures vaguely. "Okay, follow the dragon lines. That seems like a good idea. Your hand at the tiller, Sir Wasp." She jumps back into the saddle, and they follow the winding trail of Essence to...

a peak that !Hu, at least, knows was once known by the appellation "Jian'tianshan," but which remains resolutely unnamed to Phoenix, a jagged, angular peak climbing up high into the sky above.

The Xiyi mountains stretch out as far as the eye can see, an incredible manifestation of the increasingly Air-tinged Essence found this far north: an entire mountain range that hangs suspended in mid-air, over an infinite drop below.

The mountains' peaks rise up much like those that one finds conventionally tethered to the ground, and their peaks are coated entirely with beautiful and undisturbed snow-caps -- while at the mountain's bottoms, the roots that would tether them down hang below from their gently-sloped underpeaks, swaying gently in the cool Northern winds.

Jian'tianshan is a particularly sharp and jagged mountain, one side offering an almost sheer drop-off, and numerous jagged and angular crags covering it at almost every point. Looking down on the mountain, Phoenix sees several of the pagoda-cities that dot many of these mountains -- vast, hexagonal structures, miles tall,

with the living structures that house the inhabitants hung from the rooves, strung on long ropes between the incredibly vast supporting poles, and growing up on top of one another from the vast, flat bases...

Phoenix` "Well led, good friend. Let's go and see what finds us in the city, shall we?" She leads the wasp down to a convenient landing platform, and they begin wandering around the place, getting a look at this forgotten metropolis.

Phoenix` There is a chirping noise, and the black cloud of Smoking Mirror descends onto Phoenix's shoulder. "You know, mom, you haven't told the others what you're up to for a while."

Phoenix` "Oh goodness, you're right. I think I wrote a letter or something." She fumbles in her pockets. "Here it is. Would you be a dear and bring that to the house?"

The pagoda-city is still quite a grand and impressive place, viewed from up close. Curved, logarithmic arcs of wood join together at odd angles, while fluted roofs cover the individual building-spaces inside the structure; and all throughout it walk the city's denizens, the Fa'la'tarena:

tall, thin humanoids, their skin various dark colors, each paired with another bright color that traces across their skin in brilliant, pulsating whorls and arcs of purest Essence.

Phoenix` greets one of the natives, "Excuse me sirma'ametc, can you take me to your leader?"

A group of the Fa'la'tarena stop and eyes Phoenix`suspiciously. One of them makes a tiny spiral gesture in the air, which leaves behind a glowing yellow spiral for a good sixty seconds, and without much delay yet more of them arrive -- but these ones have rather large, curved crystalline staffs and bear numerous necklaces and belts that seem like marks of office.

They form a perimeter around Phoenix, but do not make any aggressive moves.

Phoenix` "Hello there."

Phoenix` displays two open hands.

One of the lead staffbearers speaks, in an oddly airy and rustly voice: "By what cause do you come here?"

Phoenix` "Well, I rode my friend the wasp."

Phoenix` "I haven't been here before so I decided I'd just go and explore."

The foremost one whistles at two of the others, who move to flank him. "Jian'xu is not open territory for the human," it says. "You must come with us, now."

Phoenix` "Oh okay.

Phoenix` "

Phoenix` "Please lead the way."

The Hundredfold guards lead Phoenix through the streets filled with curious, and sometimes angry-looking, citizens, into one of the lower structures, down into a dark-paneled hexagonal room, and position themselves around the perimeter as they indicate for the Night to seat herself at the simple table at the room's center.

Phoenix` takes a seat.

Phoenix` "So, what's up?"

The lead Fa'la'tarena -- a reddish-black figure, with orange Essence whorls moving and spiralling across his skin -- stares down Phoenix for a moment. "What kind of deceptive game are you playing at here, chosen-human?"

Phoenix` "Well, several probably, but which one has your interest exactly? I will be happy to identify myself by name and nation."

Phoenix` "Er that is to say I'm Phoenix of Ashes of the Sunlands, lately Birds-of-Trinity and Alawhi before."

"You know as well as I that we are in the midst of a six-year brokered ceasefire, with strict territorial boundaries to be preserved by all representatives of both forces. Your arrival violates this agreement and you make no effort to hide it! So," he says, leaning forward, "what are you playing at?"

Phoenix` "I do not, in fact, know this, and that is most likely because it has been much longer than you think it has since said ceasefire was formed, and you MAY find that I am not a representative of any of the forces in question."

Phoenix` "I mean I'm just guessing here, because this place has been engulfed by the Wyld for the duration of several Dragon-Blooded dynasties."

Phoenix` "But probably your war is over by default.'

The Hundredfold makes a weird, inscrutable face.

"I do not know what kind of trick this is," he says. "You must submit to the Purpose-Revealing Heartbound Spiral, if you do not wish to provoke unilateral action at this very moment."

Phoenix` "Er, very well."

Phoenix` "Can I trouble you for a beverage?"

Phoenix` gives the official-looking Fa'la'tarena puppy dog eyes.

The soldier looks at her with a mixture of curiosity, confusion, and disgust, then gesture-orders one of his subordinates to bring a glass of water before he begins leaning in, his skin-whorls pulsating in the patterns of the Purpose-Revealing Heartbound Spiral.

After a long moment (just in time for the water to arrive, in fact!) he leans back, somewhat defeated-looking.

Phoenix` "You're quite welcome, by the way."

"How did this happen?" he asks, looking around and noting the increasingly disconcerted looks on his companions' faces.

Phoenix` "For all the saving-the-world pother and restoring-you-to-orderly-existence ballyhoo."

Phoenix` "As I understand it, um, the structuring principles that held back the borders of Creation were perturbed and some sizeable percentage of it was lost to the churning abyss before we reconstructed it."

"But..." he says, and thinks back.

Phoenix` "Anyway, I'm very curious about this ceasefire. Can you tell me about it?"

"It was negotiated with the North Fork in 7831, after the Fourth Destruction," he says, shaking his head in his oddly elongated, many-fingered hands. "We were in danger of full depopulation, and our patron saw no benefit in that; we, and others of the North, bargained to end hostilities for six years."

He rubs his temples gently. "Some few thought that a form of peace might actually be possible, at that time, and of course" -- he sighs slightly, though in relief or disapproval is unclear -- "we knew the Marax-Do would do their best to redouble the war effort in the meantime."

Phoenix` "Hm. Well, maybe peace IS possible, in this time. What was at stake in this war?"

The Hundredfold blinks. "Control, absolute rulership, of all of existence."

Phoenix` "That seems kind of silly."

Phoenix` "I'm sure you are very nice people and all, but I know of no people who do not prefer self-determination, and are unwilling to go to war for it."

"Our kinds cannot coexist," he says. "Not after all that has happened, and all that we each require."

Phoenix` "Hm."

Phoenix` "That really doesn't seem to be a happiness-sustaining attitude."

Phoenix` "Tell me more about your problems! Maybe we can find a way to ameliorate them."

Phoenix` settles more comfortably in her chair, and assumes an expression of concerned humanitarian interest.

After a moment's thought, the soldier shoos his underlings out of the room, then leans forward. "All of our kind are at war with yours," he says. "We once held all of this world in our grasp, and your kind served at our whim," he says. "But it must be over now. We... must have lost."

Phoenix` "I confess to a certain lack of sympathy over this particular hardship of yours. But please do continue! I do understand that it is difficult to always do things for oneself."

"That's just it," he says. "There can be no true quarter, no happy medium. Our people are not alike. We do not share our morality, or our perceptions of the universe. Can you even feel the hl'an'tara in this room? Unlikely," he says, waving his hand through the air. "Why did your people even choose to restore us to existence?"

Phoenix` "Side effects. I didn't go look at an ancient map of the world and say to myself, 'Oh look, there is a place full of alien beings inimical to my species' very existence! I shall endeavor to restore them to the present landscape of Creation.' However, sometimes when one accomplishes great works, there are consequences."

"Hrm," he says, quietly. "And yet you did not launch an immediate and inescapable attack upon our nations with all the force you have had reason to muster over countless years of singular victory."

Phoenix` "Oh dear. You HAVE had some difficult times, haven't you?"

Phoenix` "Are you acquainted with the Dragon Kings? Perhaps it would help you form a picture of the world's current political climate if you were to speak with their Queen, Ssithumi-an-Tohatep."

"I may do so," he says. "I..." He coughs. "Why are you here, then, if it is not to provoke us to resume our ancient war?"

Phoenix` "Well, mostly to explore, but also, we are attempting to reform a Creation-wide council of powers, where the Hundredfold and the humans are equally represented, and since I am here I invite your people to join with us."

Phoenix` "I meam, if your house suddenly got eight times bigger, wouldn't you go look in the new rooms and see what's there?"

The alien being leans back, and drums his fingers on the table in deep thought.

"So... then you claim not to be connected to the unidentified figures who violated our airspace forty-three days ago."

Phoenix` "Oh! I think I know who those people might be."

Phoenix` "Was one of them a sort of rude man named Zuben? I want to punch that guy in the teeth."

Phoenix` looks annoyed.

"We had no names, or even visual confirmation of what they were," the Fa'la'tarena says. "They descended on the northern peak of the mountain, and were gone before we reached the area to investigate."

Phoenix` "Hm. Is there anything neat there?"

"A series of caves, a small shrine."

Phoenix` "Can I see it?"

He looks around again for a moment, then knocks on the outside door. When someone slides the door back, he says: "I'm taking the prisoner to look at the site of the previous incursion; I think we might be able to learn something." The figure on the outside nods, and then after a moment, the door is reopened.

Phoenix` "Do you want me to look more prisonerly? I could hang my head in a disconsolate fashion, or drag my feet, or what have you."

Not too long afterwards, Phoenix has found herself led up to the peak of the mountain by the Fa'la'tarena -- Qiu, he mentions his name as being at one point -- and the two figures stand before the doorway, which quite closely matches the description he had given earlier:

a small cave entrance, nestled in between two jagged and sheer cliff faces, with the faint scent of incense emerging from deep within.

The footsteps of a previous incursion are still ever-so-faintly visible in the snow.

Phoenix` "Qiu, would you say there's anything special about this shrine? Can we take a look inside?"

Phoenix` casually puts a hand on his shoulder as she pokes around the scene, checking out the footprints and so on.

Qiu gestures inside. "There's nothing stopping us," he says. "This shrine is used infrequently by those amongst my people who seek temporary isolation, or who wish to make offerings to the sky without interruption. Beyond that, there is little care for it."

Phoenix` glances up at the sun for a moment, and then moves into the cave, illuminated by the warm light of her anima.

Qiu Inside, Phoenix finds herself in a cave that has seen a decent amount of foot traffic over the course of its long existence: a number of rounded rooms, their floors polished into a flat and comfortable walking surface, their walls carved with spiralling geometric designs and dyed with rich colors,

Qiu while shallow niches hold magical candles that seem to have burned for many years largely uninterrupted.

Qiu These initial areas seem quite old, though also to have largely maintained steady their level of use in that time.

Qiu "These are the sitting chambers," Qiu says, gesturing with his crystalline staff at the rooms they walk through. "The shrine itself is a little deeper."

Phoenix` pokes her head in a few of the rooms. "What did you mean by 'offerings to the sky', exactly?" She heads deeper into the shrine.

Qiu leads Phoenix down through various sitting chambers, some still with floors littered by cushions and blankets, others with the remnants of small meditative fires still visible. "We listen to the whispers of our mother on the winds, blown from all of the world up through our mountains," he says.

Qiu "When we wish to commune back, or to share our received wisdom with the world, we prepare a bounty of Essence, here," he says, gesturing to one of the sitting positions, "and then release it to the winds outside." He leads down a little further, to a closed door, marked with two smaller spirals bordering a larger, green-tinged one. "The shrine is in here."

Phoenix` traces the green spiral with her finger, and then tries the door.

Phoenix` "I see. Once upon a time, our predecessors did the same for the Sun, before we turned away from Him."

Qiu "An interesting parallel," he says. "Thus far, you do not seem to be as cruel and petty as I understand your kind to be."

Qiu The three sigils flash briefly as Phoenix completes her trace, and the door pushes easily open when she does.

Qiu On the other side is a room -- perhaps three hundred feet across, and almost perfectly cylindrical in shape, rising up about forty feet to the ceiling. On the floor, the elaborate shape of a spiral is marked in black and red lines, stretching precisely from their doorway around to the center, with numerous small seats arranges around the spiralling path.

Qiu At the center, there's something that looks like it's an altar -- or rather, it was an altar. The large cylindrical rock pillar still stands there, but the bowls and incense burners that once sat on its surface are flung to the floor below, and some manner of small wooden stand at the center is broken, with whatever contents it once held nowhere to be seen.

Phoenix` swears, colorfully and polyglottally. After exhausting her (impressive) store of scatology, blasphemy, and references to deviant sexual practices, she composes herself and leans back against her interlaced hands.

Phoenix` "Don't shrine robbers CLEAN UP after themselves anymore?"

Phoenix` "Would you happen to know anyone who's actually been inside the shrine prior to the incursion?"

Qiu "Apparently not," he says in response to Phoenix's first question, walking over to the shrine's center and carefully examining the evidence. "They appear to have known exactly what they wanted."

Phoenix` "And also, do you have a drink? Humans use alcohol as a relaxing intoxicant in times of stress."

Qiu He makes an interesting face for a moment, pondering her third question. "Hmmm," he says, then picks up a rock from the ground, runs a finger around its edge -- leaving a brilliant red trail as he does -- and splits it open, offering one half (filled with delicious liquid refreshment) to Phoenix as he resumes speaking.

Qiu "I, in fact, have been here, though not for some time. On the center pillar stood the Ur-Cryst, a stone said to have been passed down from our mother when first we set foot upon these mountains." He looks at the detritus from the theft and shakes his head. "I have no idea why one not of the Fa'la'tarena would even want it."

Phoenix` drinks from the stone. "This is wonderful. What is it?" After another sip, "This Ur-Cryst, would you describe it as...containing a mysterious light source of alien Essence?"

Phoenix` "Also, as for petty cruelty, that is for our Father who art in Heaven. We who dwell in flesh have better things to do, I think, than simply dwell on our baser urges."

Qiu "Earth-Sky Water," he says, "the second most beloved drink of the Xiyi mountains," he says. "And... yes," he responds further, narrowing his eyes. "I suppose I would describe it that way. Why... do you ask?"

Phoenix` "...does it suffice to say that, um, your people are not alone in having incursions as of late?"

Qiu "Hrm," he says again. "But... you told me yourself that our kinds are no longer at war."

Phoenix` "I don't speak for the entirety of humankind---my nation has made extensive efforts to reach out to the hundred peoples, but we are at war amongst ourselves. The Empire of the Dragonblooded has collapsed into civil turmoil, in the South the ghosts have turned against the living, in the West demons wear the faces of men..."

Phoenix` "I have met with the Yul-Adr, who entrusted me with this," she keeps talking as she draws out the object, "and I was accosted by a being I could not identify, and a squadron metal birdlike entities? when I came upon the Aeliar."

Phoenix` "They too had an object that met that description, and I believe there are more, and these unknown persons are gathering them for some dark purpose."

Qiu "That is... worrisome," he says. "More worrisome, perhaps, than if only objects whose direct importance could be easily ascertained were being stolen."

Phoenix` "Let's walk back to the city, and I'll tell you more about the current state of Creation (shambles) and you can tell me more about the other beloved drink of the Xiyi mountains."

Phoenix` tilts her head at Qiu.

Phoenix` "That is a very perceptive and alarming thing to say, my friend."

Qiu nods, picking up a few bowls and burners and looking at them carefully in a final attempt to extract some manner of useful information from this wreckage. "Let's," he says. "And yes -- it is alarming. If these sorts of things are being gathered, I do not think any of the options for what purpose it might attend to are likely to be desirable."

Qiu He begins to walk back out of the shrine, towards the city once more.

Phoenix` follows him, still sipping her Earth-Sky Water.

Qiu Jian'xu rises up, as elegantly as ever. Qiu takes a different path into the city this time, and immediately hooks a sharp left onto one of the curved wooden arcs, leading Phoenix up towards the upper risers of the city. "We'll avoid any unnecessary scrutiny up here, for now," he says.

Qiu "Do tell me, then, about where the world stands. We clearly" -- and he looks down at the crowd of his people who mill about below -- "are not as up to date as we should be."

Phoenix` "Oh dear, where to begin..."

Phoenix` "You are familiar with how, in ancient days, there were ten kinds of the Chosen, five whose powers dwelt in the bloodline and five who were Exalted by personal heroism?"

Phoenix` "Imagine a world so maimed and un-membered that of these ten, two were lost from the world entirely, four vanished and were forgotten, two went into hiding, and of the remaining two, one was hunted down and slain at every opportunity by the last."

Qiu "Yes," he says. "Often we have cursed their names." The wooden beam rises up, until it meets one of the pagoda's vast supporting pillars near the top, and what seem like unusually rickety rope-bridges lead out in several directions towards small "buildings" suspended by thin ropes and beams from the gigantic roof.

Phoenix` "Now imagine that we were merely the fingers of a body, and the remainder of the body were similarly mistreated."

Phoenix` "That was the state of Meru when first I laid eyes on it. Can this bridge actually hold our weight?"

Qiu "Certainly," he says, and strides confidently out onto it -- it wobbles quite visibly, but shows no immediate signs of giving way. "That is indeed quite the story, and again I am led to wonder -- if your kind were victorious over us in the war, how is it that you came to so completely destroy yourselves afterwards?"

Phoenix` "I guess it's like...what is it like?"

Phoenix` "It's like a group of university students who have just learned a new theory."

Phoenix` "We are all ready to argue vociferously against anyone who disagrees with said theory, but in the absence of such persons, it is likely that we will manufacture differing interpretations of it, in order to facilitate continued arguing."

Phoenix` "It's the nature of the Exalted to be continuously at war. For me, every day is a struggle - it's a struggle to turn away, to let my sword hang still by my side, to speak simply and without Essence singing behind it, to live a life that is simple and kind."

Phoenix` "Do you ever wake up and think, 'Wouldn't it be nice to see my hands covered in blood?' That is a thing I face every morning."

Qiu reaches the end of the bridge and hops spryly off, onto the platform of a smaller suspended pagoda which swings and sways wildly at the touch of his feet. "It surprises me that your kind has found a way to tear yourselves apart in conflict to a degree so much greater than that between our many cousins and ourselves," he says. "We have always seen you as a united front, horrifyingly indivisible and inescapable."

Phoenix` "Perhaps once we were. Sometimes I dream of the queendom of Alahwi, every voice raised in battle-song behind her. We are a thing to be feared, it is true, but we are to be feared like a nest of spiders."

Phoenix` "A spider will eat her husband if there is nothing else in her web."

Qiu steps in through the archway before him, walks up the small set of stairs -- seemingly entirely unbothered by the wild swaying of the barely-secured pagoda in which he stands -- and seats himself around a septagonal table.

Qiu "So where will we go from here?" he says. "A cease-fire was a welcome rest for our people -- a total cessation of war, after the initial worries, will be even more so. But... the world sounds far less stable than the one we left, and far more dangerous."

Phoenix` "Well, there are two ways to go from here, right? Either you find a way to disappear from the world, which has become too dangerous to live in..."

Qiu "Not a direction I relish taking," he says.

Phoenix` "...or you choose hope, and fight on for a better world...someday. Maybe you won't get to see it. Maybe your sons and daughters won't, or your grandchildren. Maybe before it has happened, your name will have been forgotten and your bones crumbled to dust."

Phoenix` "But you will have died trying."

Qiu "That is a sentiment to drink to," he says, and he draws two spirals on the table with his fingers, each of which sprouts upwards into an elegant, translucent drinking goblet filled with a faintly opalescent liquid.

Phoenix` takes gulp to toast, and then a more thoughtful, exploratory sip.

Phoenix` "This is ALSO wonderful."

Qiu "The Unequalled Draught of Twilight Sky," he says. "The ''most/ beloved drink." He takes a long sip of his own.

Phoenix` "I have GOT to learn how you do that. Or possibly make Immy do it. He's good at that kinda stuff." She whistles a little tune, and !Hu appears, already digging something out of his saddlebags. Some time later, the three of them are still sitting, somewhat tipsy, trading stories of their romantic misadventures.

< All I Can Ask For | Sol Invictus Logs | A Flower Opens >

Page last modified on May 06, 2009, at 06:48 PM