Summary:The Solars journey to the court of the Dual Monarchy to present Varanim in her new role.

XP:I4, S4, V4, Z4

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`Imrama Just outside the Cascade

`Imrama walls, the Fable of the Reconstruction sits at rest, waiting to ferry the circle and certain others to the Underworld.

zahara` Riding in style atop what one might call a palanquin were it on a smaller scale, Zahara directs her three new demons (or equivalents) to carry her to the Fable. "You must be on your best behavior, according to the strictures laid out in Miss Primrose's Etiquette for Eager Servants," she directs with poorly concealed glee. The palanquin itself is made largely of adamant, with a dramatized

zahara` depiction of the battle of wills flowing through the crystalline surface in filigreed night and sunlight where appropriate.

`Spring trots alongside her, periodically asking various questions of the Malakim with an interested air.

The malakim are gruff and unhappy at the degradation they've been subjected to at Zahara's hands, but nonetheless dutifully answer each of Spring's questions in turn, still lofting the palanquin abovehead until they reach the top deck of the Fable and deposit it gently on the floor.

`Varanim has been helpfully placed by servants on the deck of the Fable already, neatly lined up with the rest of the baggage. Her sarcasm-free period of unconsciousness ends when she rolls over to her side, dislodging someone's carefully placed harmony charm that frankly was out of its league anyway, and begins vomiting out a copious quantity of water.

`Spring tastes the liquid coming out of Varanim's mouth, then frowns at her speculatively.

As Varanim awakens, the echoes of the nightmare that gripped her while she lay unconscious this time echo back to her, like notes and screams still ringing from the rafters of an opera that ended in a gruesome murder.

She sees the grey plateau that rises up out of a black, churning sea, on which stands a white-cloaked figure, two jet-black masks on the front and back of its head. Around it spin other masks, these glowing with pale yellow light: an exile, an artist, a mourner, a killer... they float in a circle, and it reaches out pale white hands to gently touch one after the other.

She sees the skies above storm with clouds of red and black, as the figure turns around and sees another figure -- a youth, strapping and nearly unclad, tied to the rocks with silver cords. From somewhere within his robes, he draws out a clear crystalline sword and plunges it through the youth's chest in an explosion of blood.

Far above the plateau, the clouds burst, showering down a torrent of red blood, while from the black sea below, pale white maggots begin to climb up the sides of the plateau towards the place of the sacrifice.

`Spring "Can you describe the method by which the Ebon Dragon caused the sesseljae Zahara had bound to her to turn against us, as well as any similar action or variation thereof that might be applied to the bindings placed on you three?"

As the sea swells and rises up from the volume of rain, a bolt of lightning strikes the sword, incinerating the youth's corpse... and blossoming where each bit of ash falls to the ground is a sprout of a purplish vine with a single deep indigo flower.

Meanwhile, as Varanim remembers her latest wonderful phantasmagoria, Jugurtha gruffly answers Spring's query.

`Varanim stops coughing to the dulcet tones of Spring interrogating someone, decides after a few seconds that it isn't her, and washes the taste of the sea out of her mouth with gin. "So... the demon summoning thing worked? Either that or we're all in hell and these demons like to play naughty, naughty pony games."

zahara` gets a speculative look on her face

"Our master is us. We are our master. We are one and many. Our souls are woven together at the highest level and the lowest, from the beginning of time to the end of existence."

"The master's attention is numerous and divided, but when it is focused... he becomes one with I. For a time." He shakes his vast, demonic head. "The focus of the master is too grand for such a small form to hold, and in but a moment it will burn out and fade away... But that is the price of being one part of a greater whole."

`Imrama makes sure that everything is secured aboard ship, and then takes up the draglines. "To Netheos, then, my friends. The souls of the forlorn departed do not know it yet, but today is about to be a very good day for them."

`Spring " would destroy you?"

`Varanim "It is?" Varanim asks Imrama, clearly still trying to catch up.

`Spring "You had better get your half-a-coat on."

Jugurtha grunts. "It would."

`Imrama As the Fable rises high into the air over Solaria, it crosses through a patch of dense clouds and finds there a spectacular sight: A field of bright golden ships, the entire fleet of the Bulwark Around the Sun, waiting patiently for its flagship.

`Imrama As the great mass of solar battleships sets off towards the secret roads to Netheos, Imrama replies to Varanim. "In deed, Varanim my friend. It is."

Soon, the ships find themselves in the skies of Nethos -- clouds filling the undead skies, and strange clouds blowing across the ground below. In the vast nation-sized city of Stygia, fel signal fires burn at hundreds of points throughout the city in unearthly colors, each shade representing the encamped parties of one of the deathlords.

Though there are said to be 13 deathlords, those who can count might notice that there only appear to be eleven colors represented in the encampments that fill the city.

`Varanim "There's a bitter fight over black every year," Varanim notes, eating sunflower seeds at the rail and flicking shells down.

`Imrama To the residents of Stygia, the arrival of the Bulwark Around the Sun is nearly undetectable - the armada enters the Underworld from such a tremendous height, and at such an enormous distance from the shores of the island necropolis, that its ships appear to be only unusual stars.

zahara` "It's just so slimming."

`Imrama So it is only the astronomers and stargazers at first who might note the sudden appearance of an unusually bright and golden set of lights in Netheos' sky. But quickly, more casual observers take note.

`Imrama Over the course of the first hour, the points assemble in the house of the Last Meal, and form into the exact arrangement of the Broken Crown, except with its stars reversed from their normal placement in the house of Folly.

`Imrama The strange golden stars then move into an elaborate dance, cycling through the patterns of each of the constellations originally lost from Meru's night sky - the Jewel, the Rose, etc. - until finally forming into the pattern of the chain. This last arrangement is held for longer than the others but ends in a motion that clearly evokes the chain's breaking.

`Imrama Then the ships begin their descent at a terrific speed, slowing only when they are well within intimidating sight of the city of the dead.

`Spring "Begin dropping the ghost pamphlets."

The ships descend towards the central district of Monarch's Way, innumerable waves of ectoplasmic paper floating out from the rear of the fleet like a gauzy blanket of snow on a winter's night.

The circle of the central district hangs suspended above the Mouth of Oblivion itself, the pillar rising up from the center upon which sits the immense and infinitely intricate device of glass tubes and copper wheels that is the Calendar of Setesh.

In the district itself, towers of finely-wrought steel dotted by diamond-shaped windows of intricate stained glass climb up to the sky, dwarfing all other buildings in the city but being tiny themselves in comparison to the massive calendar. Around them, mazes of dark ivy wind in immense labyrinths dotted by ghost-lamps around the borders and out to the very edges of the great circle on which the palace sits.

As on the Solars' last trip here, the streets of the Monarch's Way district are empty, except for the immense and faceless white golems that stand guard with brutal underworld weapons at every corner of the dais.

`Varanim has bowed to the royal occasion enough to change into a clean shirt, and a bit of time and the bottle have made her into her usual bright-eyed and bushy-tailed self. "It's like we invited ourselves to the saddest party ever."

`Imrama "Madam, I am quite sure that these streets have seen sadder." Imrama calls out to Varanim, still steering the Fable and without turning to look at her.

zahara` lounges on the megapalanquin, on one of the couches made with spun marble cushions that yet retain the original weight of the stone while being surprisingly comfortable. "Worry not, we'll liven it right up."

`Spring "Or sadden it right down."

The three summoned beings grunt unhappily.

`Imrama "Mr. Iggle-Lux: light them now, please." Imrama instructs his spectral first mate. The instruction passes out through the chain of command to all the other ships of the fleet, and all at once the great piles of strange herbs at the rear of each craft are set ablaze. The rich green smoke from the bonfires flows out behind the parade

zahara` "I was thinking of making a trampoline on the palanquin later," the Empress says brightly.

`Spring "How reasonable."

`Imrama and down to the street below. The avenue become suffused with the smell of Widow's Friend, a particular plant to be found in the Eastern woodlands which has no effect on the living as an intoxicant, but when inhaled by the dead, suffuses them temporarily with a feeling of exuberant life.

In the streets far below, ghosts stop what they're doing to look up at the wondrous cosmic fleet above -- or stop to lift the scraps of dead paper dropped behind the ships and find themselves spellbound by the text thereon.

`Varanim catches one of the floating leaflets on her second try and reads it.

`Spring In beautiful color, it details the plight of the undead -- trapped forever, lorded over by, well, Deathlords, destined to an unauspicious afterlife in the mouth of the Void -- and their last hope -- that a one-armed heroine will come to lead them forth from their darkness and into a new age. The craft and imagery are Zahara's; the direction is Imrama's; but the writing, cunningly designed...

`Spring fill the reader with simultaneous anger and hope in that destined savior, now attempting to give Varanim a slight case of emotional schizophrenia, is all Spring's.

`Varanim looks pained, wads up the scrap, and feeds it to the crow on her shoulder, who exhales a bit of ash a moment later.

The ships arrive, docking with the gentlest thunk at the edge of the floating disc on which the Monarchs' Way sits, and Imrama's sailors smoothly lower the gangplanks that those aboard might disembark.

`Imrama With the Fable moored, the rest of the crafts begin an elaborate skywriting campaign in the neighboring airspace. >SPIRITS OF THE UNDERWORLD / ARISE AND BE FREE<

`Imrama "Lets go meet the Dual Monarchs." Imrama says, never one to hide his glee.

`Varanim "When you said I could be myself while doing this," she asks through gritted teeth, "did you factor in the extra drinking I would need to get me through it?"

`Imrama "Yes."

`Varanim "Clever lad. Spring, how's my liver holding up?"

`Spring answers that question by glancing at her big toe.

`Spring "Still Exalted. But only just."

`Varanim hops down from the boat to follow Imrama in.

`Spring "Have you considered fruit punch?" Spring steps down as well.

zahara` signals the demons to carry her down.

The front doors of the palace are already flung open.

The inside of the palace is dark and ominous. The floors of dark marble are lined with red carpets that stretch off into the distance, with only beige wax candles in hidden sconces casting a faint light upon the halls. Strong scents of incense waft out in thick clouds, while from somewhere deep within the palace the sounds of chanting echo out and around the room.

The hallways lead on, seemingly at random, though in reality the Solars trace the path of a long-lost mandala of ancient regret traced into the very architecture of the palace. They wind and weft through the halls of the palace, until finally they emerge into the throne room of the Dual Monarchy.

The chamber takes the shape of a vast pentagon, its floor lined in interwoven black and white marble, its walls inlaid with the finest woods from long-extinct trees and its ceiling painted with ghostly images of unimaginable complexity. At its center stand two tall thrones, elegant and simple in their design, exactly alike but one in purest black while the other is brightest white.

All around, throughout the chamber shuffle servant-ghosts swathed in dark silks, performing the duties of the two who rule over them -- and all those who have died: the Dual Monarchy.

On the left throne sits the translucent form of a man, his limbs lithe but folded with the utmost care to maintain an elegantly-seated posture; he is wrapped with long, white strips of cloth, and upon his head is seated a mask that covers his face entirely, only geometric shapes standing in for eyes and mouth, from which stick out seven akimbo rectangles like a strangely stylized imitation of hair:

Usine, the White King.

And on the other seats someone almost his opposite: a curvaceous female shape that lounges in a fashion that seems ever unsuited to such a formal seat: casual, yet coiled to strike with fierce energy... Her black robes drape off of her form with a seemingly perfect asymmetry, and her own mask features arcs and loops that sweep out from her face like the rays of a black sun:

Nebthys, the Black Queen.

`Spring ::This reminds me of a Gateway board.::

`Imrama approaches the dual thrones and bows efficiently, and not overly low. "Good day, your twin excellencies. I am pleased to announce the end of the tyranny of the Deathlords over your once kingdom. The Liberator of Netheos has come to your court as a courtesy to your august personages. Would you choose to meet her?"


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