Summary:Cerin and Varanim visit the Scar and learn the truth of what happened to the Ija during the Darkest Night.

XP:C1, V1

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`Varanim There are reasons why Imrama normally does the driving. Varanim's preferred moderate-hurry method of transport involves stepping through a Shadowland, being swallowed up by a great worm from the depths of the earth, and riding along to its destination by the dim glow of the corpse-lichen sigils inside its mouth.

`Varanim The undulating ridges of its inner teeth provide benches of a sort, though it's best not to read the scrimshaw. Sitting on one of them, Varanim finishes a consise description of the motonic manipulations being considered, which only took a few hours since Cerin is an expert. "But it's impossible to tell which of those routes will work until we see exactly what happened to the Ija."

`Cerin "Hence the trip inside this strange worm," Cerin nods. "It promises to be an interesting enough diversion from my current hunt."

`Varanim "Anything interesting, or would Zahara have to kill me if you told me?"

`Cerin "Nothing truly interesting, yet. Unfortunately all the records are old enough that telling ignorance from malice is tricky. And Creation is a very large place."

`Varanim "The really neat thing about ignorance and malice is, you can have both, and sometimes they almost but not quite balance each other out. Speaking of large places..." She knocks on the tooth she's sitting on, with a resonant boom that might be an inquiry about how soon they're coming up.

The oozing, gurgling echoes of what were once digestive noises that emanate from somewhere deep in the worm's gullet seem to agree that the destination is coming up very soon indeed.

`Cerin "Are we nearly there yet?" Cerin asks, with a slight grin.

`Varanim "I can pull this worm over if you give me any trouble." She looks thoughtful. "Well, I think I can."

`Varanim "I know that we both know that cute trick where you walk through someone's steps and see the past they were part of. What would you say to each of us taking a side in this thing?"

`Cerin "That sounds like it has the potential to be incredibly enlightening."

`Varanim "Is that a pun about the whole Darkest Night thing? Because again, worm, pull over."

`Cerin "Not intentionally, I can assure you."

`Varanim subsides into suspicious silence, fortunately just as the worm begins to surface with a slight change in the resonance of its shuddering through the earth.

The worm yawns its massive toothed maw open, revealing what lies beyond.The Netheos geography outside is a dark copse of twisted, black-leafed trees, which Varanim can tell will give way to a small shadowland area only a few dozen yards away that will lead them back up Creationside.

`Varanim "Don't think too hard about what it does when it's not carrying us," Varanim advises as she steps out. "I know I don't."

`Cerin "I'm merely considering what one might be like to hunt," Cerin admits.

The hike upwards into the living world takes no more than twenty minutes. The two Solars slip into a treeless circle and slip back out, now having emerged once again in Creation, where the leaves of the nearby forest are once again green.

Varanim leads on in the specified direction, cutting through the still verdant forest, for some distance until suddenly, the woods break sharply in front of them as they arrive at their destination.

What stands before them is a deep gash, a scar of earth stretching out for numerous miles across its width and for a far, far greater distance in its length that stretches out far past the sight of even Cerin's eyes further to the East.

The border between the forest and this vast, carven gash is perfectly neat: outside, living trees and grasses grow as heartily as one would expect in the far east; within the gash, only jagged rock that remains completely untouched by even lichen or moss, its surface dotted by strange, rounded-edged overlapping patterns of black, red, and gold, all of which shimmer slightly in the light from above.

Some ways off to one side the ruins of once-proud Jade towers rise out of the forest -- a Dragon-Blood Shogunate structure built to keep watch on this place, now long since emptied by plague -- but beyond that there are no other signs of anything resembling civilization here, only the woods and the wounded earth.

`Cerin "You do invite me to the best places," Cerin remarks.

`Varanim "I thought you might enjoy it. Shall we flip a coin, or can I just succumb to the weight of inevitable foreshadowing and take the part of the Ija?"

`Cerin "It might be interesting to see how many times the coin toss goes in favour, as it were," he grins.

`Varanim "Once for the sake of formality, that's all my hangover stomach can stand." She fishes out a slightly grimy coin, says, "Sunburst I'm Ija," and flips.

The coin lands sunburst-side up.

`Varanim "Right, then." She takes out her flask for a quick pull, then raises an eyebrow at Cerin. "I can't tell you how happy it makes me not to have to explain the next part. Shall we meet here in an hour to compare?"

`Cerin "Very well," Cerin says.

`Varanim Varanim, who is taking the place of those who once lived here, descends to the wasteland below. Reading the tiniest traces of what used to be from the shape of the annihilation, she goes until she has found a place where the shifting Ija once gathered. There, she stands and casts her mind loose, unstringing its normal iron tethers until it flows into the past as inevitably as water falling.

`Cerin Cerin, on the other hand, considers the position of the invader, the hunter. His footsteps lead him further towards the edge of the scar, until he finds himself falling into the past, as he circles the Ija, pressing in, in, ever in.

So occupied, the two find separate, yet complementary, data flow into their senses, the long-dormant history of a crime committed under cover of ultimate darkness -- the same darkness that the Ija sought, in a cruel irony, to bring back to Creation once more -- filling each of them as they seek from opposite ends to find, ultimately, the truth.

In Varanim's mind, she sees the inside of the immense Ija city of Llyneang -- a perfectly-circular lake almost five miles across, surrounded by opalescent pillars that rise up into the sky bearing innumerable open shelves of crystal and precious gems, and pearly tubes that curve and swoop both up to the highest reaches of the city and down to the depths of the lake, all mirrored in perfect, swooping radial symmetry...

In the vision, the sky above is pitch-black, but phosphorescent globes light the city and those present make their way by harmonious sound...

She sees them -- their eerily beautiful fluid forms unmarred by the eternal death that now imprisons them, their city perfectly oriented to their alien manner of being. Most of those present go about only normal business, but on one platform far above the lake, where curved ruby walls hide the events within from all those outside, something more is brewing...

In Cerin's vision, the city of Llyneang glints only as the faint ghost of an outline on the pitch-dark horizon. On a mobile sky-platform, its edges ringed by harsh crystalline spotlights and its surface laquered in an infinitely-complex jade mandala, Exalted soldiers stand at the ready in awkward and tense formation, uncertain of their role in the events to come.

Near the middle of the platfom -- Mobile Fortress Aktomi, Cerin notes, a smaller cousin to the current Deliberative's Atzeret and only two steps removed from the direct command of Admiral Askaru -- three Solars stand, hands on crystalline globes attached to nearby platforms, energy streaming from each to the target held fast at their center:

Jugurtha, the Coils of Night, betrayer of Zahara Zhan and Third Circle Demon of the Ebon Dragon. His upper body is that of a human, jet-skinned and impossibly broad; his bottom half is an impossibly dense collection of serpentine coils, their scales glimmering like stars reflected on the nighttime ocean, waves of darkness filling the air around him even under the bright spotlights and Essence tendrils...

And at the edge of the platform, standing at the brink of the immense drop to the land below, three Exalts who radiate power stand, their stances firm as they face out into they darkness beyond:

a faintly-shimmering Shadeborn with a broad head whose body is otherwise wrapped entirely in a whitish-blue cloak; a scarred and heavily-tattooed Lunar, her body covered from the neck down by imposing soulsteel plate that glows faintly with moonlight patterns matching her Southwestern tattoos;

and an almost nondescript figure whose face is hidden by a greek cloak that Cerin need not see underneath to know that its owner is none other than Seven Leaping Herons.

`Varanim has a mental acuity few can fathom; also, she's not really here. These two facts together allow her to split her awareness, half of it eddying to the center of the lake and half of it wafting upward to embrace the ruby walls that hide their stirring contents from the outside.

`Cerin How ... unexpected and yet not. Seven Leaping Herons. Cerin settles into a good spot to watch the ritual, adopting the position of one of the soldiers on the front rank. As he lets his attention wander through the bowels of the Fortress

Varanim sees the activities in the lake, normal life moments that would soon be extinguished utterly: the spawning fronds at the bottom of the lake, where tiny Ija driplings form as tiny bubbles on plants watered by the very bodies of those feeling the pull of the Breeding Tide;

the spinning of phosphorescent essence pools, cultivated and stirred by careful Lifetenders; the hazy and ephemeral existence of those in the Fluidic State, mingling together with the water itself.

Far above, in the ruby chamber, seven Ija sit around a table. At the center, a crystal projects an image -- the map of Creation, the brilliant sun hanging far above it -- and in between, an impenetrable curtain of blackness that shrouds Creation from all light.

Even though the words are alien to Varanim's ears and the gestures strange to her sight, she knows implicitly what they discuss: the ash of dead heroes, the cloud belched up from the belly of their dead progenitor through the void nexi on Creation's face that now shrouds everything in darkness.

Far away, on the deck of Aktomi, Jugurtha smiles. There was nothing the demon enjoyed more than the breaking of wills, the complete and utter destruction of a being's capacity to resist. As a child of Nyx, the very essence of treachery ran in his fel blood, and covert action under the cloud of darkness was his preferred methodology; this moment suited his demonic temperament perfectly.

Near where the three Solars strain at maintaining his prison, a single Elementalist stands, his black jade armor and flowing hair marking his mastery of water, and his detailed instructions to the subordinates who surround him marking his mastery of war. He points to the nearest Void Nexus -- a spot just shy of the Ija's civilization, that Cerin recognizes immediately as the starting point of the Scar --

on his map. This would have been where the dark ash clouds first began, where the Ija worked the dark magic that cast Creation into shadow in the first place. He marks the nexus with arcane sigils a ground-jade marking stick, then turns around and, with a cold and desperate look in his eye, holds it up to in front of Jugurtha so that he might see at last exactly what purpose he will serve here.

`Varanim watches with that particular and absolute lack of judgment that she adheres to when watching something she never wants to have to repeat--she simply absorbs, allowing every detail to sink onto her memory for later exacting review.

`Kraken focuses further on the stick, letting the symbols settle into his mind. As he watches everything else on the Aktomi. And muses. That could have been me

As time goes on, the two visions seem to draw nearer, come into a certain type of mystical synchronization, as the great events on display bring these two perspectives into horrifying intersection.

On the deck of the mobile fortress, Jugurtha waves one hand through the air and shadows pull out from the air itself to surround him in a whirlwind of darkness, each shadow letting out a harsh keening in a tone that dissonates with the others while far increasing their volume.

The Exalts on the platform cover their ears, or enact airy walls of Essence to drive out the sound, but Jugurtha stands still, still holding one hand up... and laughing, a deep, thick laugh that somehow cuts through even the horrifying shadow cacophony he has called into being. Far away, in Llyneang, the distant echoes of both sounds reach the ears of the plotting Ija, and they grow concerned.

Jugurtha's body tenses, almost imperceptibly, and then springs from the back of the platform, his shadows tearing through the air like serrated knives, his snaky tendrils now extended to their usually-hidden full length and trailing tens, maybe hundreds of feet behind him in a sinuous, hypnotic display.

In a single arc, he clears the outskirts of the vessel by a tremendous margin, and falls down towards the target marked for him: the void nexus, from which spurt huge, impenetrable clouds of black ash...

The Ija are still unaware of the air platform's presence.... but they watch the demon plunge into the nexus on their display of the map of Creation, and Varanim can see the concern that seeps into their alien stances -- all the more so when everything around them begins to rumble ominously.

`Cerin What a charming individual Jugurtha is, Cerin remarks, so very glad that he invested the effort in a technique to filter his sensory input. And soon it seems he will turn the nexus back on its creators.

`Varanim The Varanim in the lake is unconcerned until the shaking begins, shifting with the water currents and drifting in among plant fronds as the water's surface begins to resonate with the vibration. The Varanim at the table leans over the map, falling into the well-practiced role of someone who is starting to figure out what is happening only just too late to stop it.

The rumbling from deep within the Void nexus grows louder and stronger. The sky itself seems to shake... the earth shifts with relentless ferocity... the calm fluids of the Ija city shake and spill, upset from their normal patterns of being.

The Ija in the ruby chamber rise from their seats, walk a few paces, step outside, to where they can see in a clear, uninterrupted line to the nearest nexus... and so with two sets of far-distant eyes, the Exalts on the platform and the Ija in the city see the same horrifying sight:

The ground around the void nexus splits open like a rotten grape, and what bursts forth is a horrifying sight that neither side could have been at all prepared for: from the hole emerges the immense head of what was once Auna, the slain primordial now known as the Dragon of Salt and Bone.

Her white scales are dulled and slimy. Her eyes are vast and unseeing, the dull red rheum that covers them leaking out in rivulets of blood that flood her cheeks. Her teeth are chipped and broken, her tendrils torn, her flesh rotten... and all evidence of a cunning mind somewhere within is entirely absent.

Instead, sitting atop her like a tiny tick on a dead dog is Jugurtha, a strange black box in his hands and his tendrils wrapped around four points to hold him in place...

And then, in an act of unimaginably brutal savagery that is almost as quick as it is terrible, the neverborn beast that once was Auna opens wide its jaws -- and with a single burst, her rotting bulk surges out from the ground and her immense maw scourges a path hundreds of miles long in an instant,

every single thing, every intricate and ornate trace of an infinitely complex civilization that had stood for thousands of years, every mote of matter in her path, swallowed up in a moment into a gullet from which there will be no escape.

Within what seems like only a moment, the dragon is gone -- bursting downwards through another nexus much as she emerged -- and then, after a long pause... the first beams of light begin to break through the black cover above, as the flow of ash from the other void nexuses ceases... and day returns to a world... that is now less one sentient race.

`Varanim coughs, flexing her hand a few times to remember what it's like to have bone and sinew instead of flow and compressibility. "Cerin?" she asks conversationally as she begins to head back out of the depression, since he's nowhere in sight but you can never tell with his hearing.

`Varanim coughs, flexing her hand a few times to remember what it's like to have bone and sinew instead of flow and compressibility. "Cerin?" she asks conversationally as she begins to head back out of the depression, since he's nowhere in sight but you can never tell with his hearing.

`Cerin "Yes?" Cerin asks, from somewhere behind her, melting out of the shadows of a blackened rock.

`Varanim jumps and shoots him an irritable glare. "How was your view? Because now I know what little baby bubbles look like when they melt, and that's got to be hard to top."

`Cerin "I got to watch a thousand cities cease to be, a million intelligent beings die, a billion works of art and science gone in a moment. The whole grand vista unfurl and be cast into eternal darkness."

`Varanim "Always the one-upsmanship in this group," she sighs, digging out her empty flask and then putting it back irritatedly. "Now, since your eyes are better than mine: how about that bit with the demon on the skull?"

`Cerin "Jugurtha. The one who captured Zahara last Calibration. I do not know what the box was, but his location was very similar to that employed by Holbar as he attempted to control the weapon that slept below Gem."

`Varanim "Your use of the word 'attempted' makes me hope for further hilarity. Would you class this as a success or failure?"

`Cerin "We were watching at the time from the Mobile Fortress Atzeret. He did not have as long as he might have liked for his attempt."

`Cerin "As for this occasion...definitely a success for Jugurtha. The situation for Creation as a whole seems a little more complex."

`Varanim Varanim's eyes are going unfocused in that thinking-extra-hard way. "In your professional opinion, would you say the use of Auna in the genocide was necessary, or just poetic?"

`Cerin "Necessary perhaps because it was poetic. In any case, there's a limited set of beings with that destructive potential. Further more, the Ija had invoked powerful magical effects to black the sky, probably drawing in part on Auna's power. Any other being would have to push through that. And it might be that the trecherous act of Filicide was Jugurtha's price. The condition of him working."

`Varanim "Mm," she says distractedly, thinking frown deepening. "Who else was involved, on your end?"

`Cerin "Seven Leaping Herons, naturally. And Three solars, A Lunar, one of the shadeborn and an elementalist, none of whom I recognised."

`Varanim "That Herons boy, did one of you used to sleep with him or something? Everyone gets this kind of indigestion look when his name comes up."

`Cerin "To the best of my knowledge, no. He merely has a habit of showing up in situations like this. Quietly confident he's doing everything right."

`Varanim "Good trait in a bed boy," Varanim agrees with a leer. "I think I have... enough to work with, for now. Anything else you need here?"

`Cerin "No, not at the moment."

`Varanim "Good. This place is depressing even by my rarefied standards."

`Cerin "Agreed."


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Page last modified on April 25, 2011, at 08:15 PM