< A Visit With The Faculty | Sol Invictus Logs | A Schism >

Summary: In the First Age, a circle of Solars travel to Varex and discover that something isn't quite right there...

XP:I4, L4, S4, V4, Z4

Deliberative Year 2541, 23 Ascending Earth.

As was so often the case, the Solars had piled into the Flight of Fancy, and Odolan, with a laugh and a flourish, had guided the vessel -- a maneuverable little sailing ship, converted with the aid of the Sons of Vanileth to skip through the air as eagerly as it does across the water -- up into the sky and towards their destination.

In the distance, hanging in front of the sunset like a beautiful evening star, sits the group's destination: Varex, sky-city of the north.

As the boat drew closer, the architectural beauty of the city grew clearer: the irregular rocky outcropping, hung into the sky with invisible magics, upon which it was built; the thousands of towers that form the city, rising up from the easternmost part of the isle, climbing up from that base and reaching yet further up into the sky above, each one a unique wonder of spun crystal and gently arcing steel;

the curved paths, some as narrow as a person's stride and others wide enough for parades, that swoop between the towers at every conceivable height; the hanging gardens, their beautiful flowers in every impossible color already beginning to be visible even from this great distance;

and beyond, the gentle rolling plains, and the tinier neighboring settlements beyond, far less grand than Varex itself, but commanding no less of an unbelievable view of the ground far below...

BountifulCypress "This is pointless."

*Zin`Bei-La regards her gravely. "What makes you say that, my lady?"

BountifulCypress "We have things to do, Zin. I had seventeen reports to check today alone."

BountifulCypress "You should understand the importance of what we do better than anyone!" she looks down the window, sullen.

*Zin`Bei-La shakes his head, bemused. "The war is over, my lady. And what did we fight for if not our friends?"

BitterAsh "An excellent question." Ash glances calmly off the edge of the ship.

BountifulCypress "All of Creation? I do not mean to be disrespectful, sir, but on the Shadows Resplendent we took an oath. 'As long as night falls within man's hearts'... our work will only be done then." She touches the window with the tips of her fingers, watching the beautiful sky-city. "That is a beautiful luxury, but nevertheless."

Odolan "Creation is worthless without friends to visit, though."

Zin`Bei-La: "Worry not, you shall have plenty of time to go through those reports while we wait for security at the docks."

Odolan leans back on the tiller, which spins and sends the entire ship tilting comically. He rights himself and then the ship, wearing his 'that was deliberate' face.

Odolan "And Astoria is such a...welcoming host."

Alitashi looks over at Odolan with a suspicious eye. "That has not become funny simply because you have repeated it several times, O."

Odolan "Are you sure? Sometimes Ash falls down and you can see the colour of her panties."

*Zin`Bei-La clutches the railing as the ship lurches. "Blast it, Odolan! If you tip us upside down again, I'm going to keelhaul ye."

Odolan '''*HIS PANTIES

BountifulCypress "I never stopped." She finished running her hand over the crystal tablet on her hand, opening another page in the Crystal Encyclopedia filled with all the reports sent to her in the past month. "Eighteen, now."

Zin`Bei-La releases his death grip on the rail, and reties his wind-ruffled hair into its proper long white tail. He smooths down the emerald and black-trimmed jacket and checks to make sure his officer's saber is properly seated. "Hmph." He looks sternly at Odolan, though he hides a smile behind his immaculately trimmed beard.

BitterAsh rolls his eyes and sets Odolan's hat on fire.

Odolan tosses the hat overboard and retrieves another one from somewhere in the bridge. "Hm, fireproof. Very good." He puts it on and grins at Ash. "Let's just see you take my hat now!"

BitterAsh glances at Odolan, then away.

BitterAsh "It'll be nice to see Astoria again."

BountifulCypress vanishes from her seat as embers begin to fall close to it, leaving only falling strands of her wild blue-purple hair as she reappears on a seat farther away, tight black bodysuit almost fading into the shadows, despite the orichalcum patterns around it. She sighs in the most officious disapproval of their frivolous use of Solar power...

BountifulCypress ... while hiding her smirk behind the crystal encyclopedia.

Odolan takes a moment to adjust the various belts that hold together his loose earth-toned clothing, and swaps Seventh Sea's modest fighting sheath for a more spectacular one made in matching orichalcum and black jade.

Zin`Bei-La: "Aye, m'lady Ash. That it will."

Alitashi smirks with a mixture of disapproval and mirth at Odolan's showboating. Her perfectly manicured dark-red hair and blue robes wave gently in the breeze, but her heavy golden amulet remains resolutely unmoved.

Zin`Bei-La: "Aye, m'lordy Ash. That it will."

Zin`Bei-La is now known as Zin`Bei-La

BitterAsh glances down at his fingers as he wipes the ash off of them with a golden handkerchief, then slips it back into a pocket of his forest green cloak. His hand comes to rest against the orichalcum Twilight pin fastening the cloak, and he fingers it idly as he stares down expressionlessly at the city.

BountifulCypress moves the dark lenses built-in her suit out of her eyes for a moment as she finally takes her eyes to the crystal encyclopedia. "Nineteen." She notes, lowering the lenses once again and collapsing the crystal to a single sphere in her hand, tucking it near the four small golden daggers at her waist.

Alitashi leans over the rail to look down at the earth below. When she pulls her head back up, the intricate loops and angles of her hair have fallen over her face in a strange geometrical mask. She tosses her head back and her hair flies with it, freezing in place, restored to its perfectly arranged fractal pattern. "I rather prefer to stand on Gaia's back. But, as I recall, no one consulted me when...

Alitashi ...Varex was first built."

Odolan "I thought we all got that memo."

BitterAsh "Nineteen?"

BountifulCypress "I just finished all the reports sent to my office since Ascending Earth 20 that I had yet to go over."

The Flight swoops in closer and closer to the open dock, built to jut far off the edge of the high-flying rock and split horizontally and vertically into numerous platforms for ships to dock at. But one thing is unusual about it: unlike proper protocol, no dockside assistants appear to be waiting to assist the group in docking.

Odolan "Fishy."

BountifulCypress "Three of them were obviously fake. Fifteen are common crimes that may lead to disorder. A Terrestrial organization is breaking Deliberative law. And I believe we may have a lead in the elusive Treesinger, as well as the Cult of Seven Vespers, which I should be investigating RIGHT NOW."

Odolan rolls his eyes at Cypress.

BountifulCypress gives Odolan a sullen glare

Zin`Bei-La: "Why don't you send a messenger once we've docked," he suggests soothingly.

BountifulCypress "Oh." She considers. "That is a good idea, sir. Thank you."

Alitashi "Yes, O, I remember the memo quite clearly. 'The Perfect Circle is pleased to announce that Illustrious Hero of the Great and Pious War Admiral Talmuda has chosen to grace Creation with yet another wonder of innovation and design. The new settlement of Varex will be a cloud city, a bulwark among the skies. PS: the comment period on this project is now closed'"

BountifulCypress gets up, revealing the yellow-skinned westerner as one of the tallest people in the craft as she steps towards Bitter Ash, hand touching light on his shoulder. "Ash, could I borrow one of your messengers? My capacities are primed for intelligence relay rather than organizational coordination."

As the ship slips into the blue jade harnesses that tighten themselves around the vessel's holding posts, the Solars can see clearly: there doesn't seem to be anyone on the docks at all, and no other ships are docked, either.

BitterAsh shrugs, takes a small, ruby globule from his pocket, and casts it up into the air, where it dissipates in a shower of sparks and a sudden, lurking presence over Cypress's shoulder.

BountifulCypress looks over her shoulder, seeing the lurking, inhuman spider... and trembles with the barely-countained urge to pet it.

Zin`Bei-La frowns. "My friends, can you think of any reason the docks would be abandoned today?"

BitterAsh "Sloth?"

BountifulCypress "Thirty-Nine." Eyes sharpen under the visors as she looks over Odolan's shoulder. "Pray Ash's correct."

Zin`Bei-La: "I shall, as I so often do. However I fear I will yet again be disappointed in the reality."

BountifulCypress "Did any of you read any reports of suspicious activity in Varex?"

BountifulCypress pauses for a moment, then adds, "Do you even read your reports?"

The path from where the dock structure touches onto the rock winds lazily across the rock into the city, whose border is sharply delineated by the sudden presence of glass-lined pathways and manicured gardens. The nearest-by streets also appear to be largely deserted.

Zin`Bei-La: "Of course. I may be retired, but I am still a professional."

Alitashi "Calm yourself, Bountiful Cypress. There is a reasonable explanation for this odd state of affairs, I am sure. We had better investigate."

BountifulCypress smiles. "Of course, sir. That was not directed to you." she nods, agreeing with Alitashi. "Alitashi, I propose I fade into The Borders and scout for suspicious activity ahead of the Circle. What say you?"

Alitashi "Good idea. Fade away!"

BountifulCypress leaps out of the Flight of Fancy, fading into the cracks of the world, smiling at the remnant of things that did not exist and running ahead, enhancing all nine of her senses with Essence to perceive anything untowards among the empty docks and beyond!

BitterAsh "What do you think happened, Odolan?"

Odolan "Party?"

Odolan checks his invitation crystal.

Zin`Bei-La: "They would be poor hosts indeed not to greet their arriving guests."

BountifulCypress Two eyes open in thin air, closing as she steps back to the borders, checking fading impressions of those gone.

Silently, unnoticeably, Cypress slips into the city, and almost immediately she notices something: the stench of death -- carefully masked, almost imperceptible, but nonetheless present. And then, even lower: a... strange sensory experience, almost difficult to describe: a hazy sight, a faint humming sound, a barely-noticeable smell, all somehow the same and yet... not the same, that seems to permeate the city.

Slipping through the streets, she notes that no people, living or dead, are visible anywhere within the city's public grounds.

BountifulCypress is there to meet the others as they step out of the ship. "The city is empty."

Zin`Bei-La: "...empty?" His hand falls on the hilt of his sword instinctively. "Any sign of why?"

BountifulCypress "The fact they are dead. It is masked. Damn well masked. Something killed here and did its best to hide every single vestige of it. There is only a faint sense of the stench of death, and even fainter -- something. Sir, did you ever feel anything like... a hazy sight, a faint humming sound, a barely-noticeable smell, all that at once? Something low, accross the senses?"

Odolan looks around. "Strange that we should be allowed to be here. Something that could empty a city should have known of our arrival."

Odolan "...which means we're either walking into a trap, or ...what's worse... maybe we're not."

Astoria "Was that sentence even supposed to make sense?" inquires the abnormally cranky voice of Astoria from a crow, circling lower over the docking platform.

Zin`Bei-La: ACTION 's eyes widen in dismay for a moment, then his face smooths over and his posture ramrod straight as his long training takes over. "We must sweep the city for sign of who or what did this, investigate this feeling which you sensed - I personally do not feel it but I trust your reports to be accurate. Once the perimeter is secured, and we have rooted out any traps and enemies, we will move to the next step. Ah, good Astoria

Zin`Bei-La: Ah, good Astoria, you are back. If you would do an aerial sweep and check beneath the city as well."

Odolan "Lookin' good, Astoria. I like the new feathers."

BountifulCypress "Hello, Astoria." Cypress nodded as she begun to fade once again, adjusting the lenses. "I'll cut a direct path with the private areas on the center of Varex. Will be sending Ash's spider if I find anything suspicious."

Astoria "Any communications sent out in the last two days are false, and none of the filthy heretics have been visible on the streets since yesterday." She lights on a railing and preens at her feathers a bit. If you're going to be flying around in your slaughtered city, you might as well pick a body that likes the smell.

pigeon mutters to himself, as various flaming swords and brass skin-tints appear and fade into the space around his body.

BitterAsh mutters to himself, as various flaming swords and brass skin-tints appear and fade into the space around his body.

Alitashi calls up to the crow. "What have you found in the course of your flight?"

Astoria "They came in substantial numbers and led by Exalts; they killed most efficiently; they covered their tracks adequately; and then they vanished, after a certain strangeness settled over the city one day ago." She considers for a moment. "Also, I find that a tremendous wrath is upon me, but I am doing my best to control it."

BountifulCypress "Wrath is good, I am told," said the voice without a girl, "Keeps you focused on what matters."

BitterAsh "Probably for the best."

A sudden wind whips through the empty streets of Varex, and on it, the strange and disconcerting vibe Cypress noticed earlier seems to be carried -- even stronger, enough for everyone to experience it now

Odolan wrinkles his nose. "Smells funny in here. Smells...like CONSPIRACY."

BitterAsh sharpens his gaze, and takes a deep breath of the blowing wind, smelling it carefully.

Zin`Bei-La: "These exalts. Did they have any insignias or telltale signs of who they belong to?"

Astoria "One Lunar leading twelve dragonbloods, only one symbol: a brass line in a circle. To the best of my searching, which has been regrettably curtailed by the necessity of surviving to deliver the news, they have been storing the blood of the slain in great vats and are based in that tower." She raises one wing to show a point near the center of the city, tip feather elongating to punctuate.

The most powerful smell on the air is the strange synaesthetic effect that seems to have covered the city, and then the well-hidden stench of death; but just underneath those, Bitter Ash smells something else: a hint of the Yozis.

BitterAsh catches his breath with a gasp.

Zin`Bei-La: "What is it, Ash?"

BitterAsh "We should go."

BountifulCypress "Yes. I will meet you in front of it." Cypress speeds towards the tower, intent on getting there before the others and scouting the place. She hid even inside the borders, the sunlight corona about seen into the minds and telling all the same thing: She Is Not Here.

Zin`Bei-La closes his eyes in meditation for a moment, feeling the winds of fate blowing around him, and carefully selecting the best course of action from the myriad possibilities. His eyes open and he nods, then outlines his plan of attack to his fellows, being sure to give Astoria a part with plenty of potential for revenge, and Odolan a part that will ...compensate for his interesting definition of grace.

The building does indeed show signs of more recent use than the others in the area, with doors that have clearly been opened and closed several times and faint signs of scuffing boots and... bodies being dragged. What's more interesting, perhaps, is that a cursory examination of the tower's doors indicates that they have been locked... from the inside, solely to bar those outside from getting in.

BitterAsh "We should leave now."

Zin`Bei-La: "Leave?"

Astoria relaxes back into her normal form for the first time, tilting her gazelle head at Bitter Ash. "I find it difficult to quiet my heart with that response. I was given a duty here which I have yet to properly discharge."

BitterAsh breathes evenly, looking away. "The Yozis are here, or their servants."

BitterAsh "We must go and notify the Deliberative."

Alitashi "First we must kill the infidel. We can notify the Deliberative afterward that the threat has been neutralized." Alitashi makes a fist with her left hand and cracks the knuckles against her right palm. She leans over to Olodan. "When is your boy going to hit puberty?"

BountifulCypress ::They do not want anything getting here.:: A ghostly voice echoes from the orichalcum in Cypress' suit as she leaps to the tower accross the street, to an obelisk nearby, and proceeds with a triangle-jump closing the distance to enter one of the towers' high windows. ::Dragged bodies from all over town here. I'm in.::

Zin`Bei-La: "We will send a spelled messenger to the Deliberative while we take care of things here."

Zin`Bei-La: "General Talmuda should be notified as soon as possible. Have you an Infalliable Messenger for me, Bitter Ash?"

BitterAsh shakes his head, but takes another crimson marble and flicks it towards Zin.

Odolan chuckles. "Oh, he's hit puberty all right. Still can't grow a beard, though."

Cypress has little difficulty bypassing even a window barred with heavy steel from inside, and in a moment finds herself standing inside the seventh floor hallway.

A nearby stairwell leads downward to the front door, and the hallway curves around on the level. And at one end of it, there's a somewhat unusual sight: two men, each wearing the circle-with-line symbol Astoria described a moment ago, lying on the ground, dead from vicious stab wounds that the weapons near their bodies suggest they inflicted on... each other.

BitterAsh "That mark, Astoria. Did it look like this?" He draws it in yellow lines, on the air.

BountifulCypress ::Found two. Finds committed mutual suicide. Had lined symbol.:: Her voice echoes to her Circle as she moves on.

BitterAsh ::Mutual suicide? They fought each other?::

Zin`Bei-La murmurs his message to the little spell, summarizing the current situation and Astoria's report, along with a brief outline of his intended course of action - assuming his companions follow his orders. Then he flicks the glimmering messenger into the air where it speeds off unerringly in the direction of the General.

BountifulCypress ::Yes.::

BitterAsh shakes his head again, his eyes still shadowed. "That symbol is the sign of Cytherea. But cultists don't fight amongst each other. The Yozis don't like waste."

Zin`Bei-La: "Perhaps one was overcome by the horrors he had committed and tried to redeem himself."

BitterAsh "Cultists don't do that either."

Zin`Bei-La grunts.

Zin`Bei-La: ::Cypress, is there a way in for us?::

BountifulCypress closes her eyes, letting her sight roam through the building to try and find any empty routes to where she is!

BountifulCypress ::Will open front door.::

The path down to the door is fairly straightforward, though it leads Cypress past two other scenes much like the first: small groups of cultists, dead in internecine violence. In one case, a single, particularly large cultist seems to have assembled a makeshift fort out of torn-up furniture and attempted to hold off four others before finally succumbing.

Once to the entryway, Cypress finds no difficulty in moving the beams which block it and opening it up for her compatriots.

Odolan "So where's the thing we hit with swords?"

Zin`Bei-La enters, heading immediately to the first scene of confrontation. He paces around the room, his gaze sharp, taking in every detail. Then his eyes unfocus as he peels back the layers of the present, seeking what had happened in the past. Bloody footprints here - a splash of blood across the wall and furniture there - each is a clue leading to a single inexorable truth.

BountifulCypress crosses her arms as she greets them behind the open gates. "Welcome to murder."

BountifulCypress leads Zin Bei-La to the site of the infighting. "It would appear they broke off in two distinct factions."

Alitashi steps into the building behind Zin Bei-La and examines the blood and destruction, her eyes trailing sunlight. To one practiced in the Cadence of Blows, each swordstroke becomes a brushstroke, each wound, a punctuation mark. She reads the scene with interest.

BitterAsh A slight whiff of brimstone amidst the vile odors is the only apparent sign that Bitter Ash has accompanied them.

Zin casts his mind back, investigating what happened here and seeking the answers of the past. What unfolds is a vision of the tower's recent history: the invasion by the cultists... the slaughter of the inhabitants... and then two days of occupation, followed by a moment that... even his powerful Charms can't penetrate, after which the cultists begin to turn on each other.

Astoria follows and watches quietly. After a bit she says, "Either this infighting was part of the plan, or it was not. In the first case we should ask what goal lies at the end of the mutual slaughter; in the second, we should look for the third party who interceded."

In the visions, Zin catches a glance at the Lunar Astoria mentioned: a large man and broad, his skin covered in thick grey-blue fur, with razor-sharp tattoo lines that glow with inky blackness from beneath. Though his visage is shrouded, Zin still recognizes him: Vhuel, a Full Moon "troubleshooter" in the service of the Deliberative.

Meanwhile, Alitashi's examination of the blood patterns yields up one indisputable fact: where before the strange event, the cultists acted in a disturbing unison, afterwards their actions are... disordered, patternless -- even the patterns traced by their combats lack the finesse expected of trained murderers.

Zin`Bei-La frowns, relaying the essence of the struggle to his Circle. "But why was Vhuel here?" He strokes his silver beard, tugging on it a bit in frustration. "Something very powerful is obscuring that moment."

BitterAsh "Try it again," Ash's voice comes from behind him. In his concealment, he begins readying the reagents for the Infusion of Adamant.

Zin`Bei-La looks at Ash in surprise, "I have already done my best, but if you insist, I shall try once more." Again, he takes in every minute detail of the scene, moving yet more slowly this time in an attempt to discern what may have been missed in the first place. Again, he casts his mind back upon the threads of time, rebuilding what had gone before.

Alitashi "Such distortion and disorientation. As though they were all reduced to flailing, untrained children; though still with the bodies and souls of killers."

BitterAsh At the proper moment, Ash says the three words, and lays his now-bleeding hand on Zin's forehead, closing his own eyes in anticipation. There is a sudden, violent flash of penetrating sunlight, as the spell blasts the Essence patterns of Zin's Charm open, bending them dangerously near their limits, filling its veins -- and Zin's -- with the raw power of Solar Sorcery.

Zin feels a powerful jolt, as if a great power is forcefully expanding his body and soul alike outward in a very uncomfortable fashion -- but in the process, he feels his perceptions expand to match, and then, he's not just looking at the inside of the building, but the outside, and then all of Varex, and then the North, and then Creation....

Zin`Bei-La staggers back with the sheer force of the power flowing through him, his concentration nigh-shattered - but the clarity brought by the spell brings the knowledge of how to use it, and so he does, his mind honed to a razor's edge. As his eyes open and refocus, thin trails of gold-flecked blood run down his cheeks.

With his mind momentarily splayed across the universe, Zin Bei'la sees only too clearly the origin of the disturbance -- as he watches it, localized and shrunken so that it can fit within his perceptions, enter Creation from somewhere beyond, tear through the air leaving disturbance in its wake, and descend on Varex just at the very middle of the cult's coup attempt.

Zin`Bei-La: "I...see everything... But this being... it is... " he trails off, unable to properly describe a being so awesome, so alien. He struggles to hold onto the image as the power slides from him, leaving an aching sense of loss and a splitting headache.

Astoria While the second attempt to read the past has been happening, Astoria wanders, steps no louder than a butterfly--a sign of her agitation--and nose following the thread of the reservoirs of blood.

Zin`Bei-La: "It is both like and unlike a Primordial, but where they created the world... this... this harbinger, this herald of chaos does not create, but...un-makes."

Astoria's search leads her upwards, through the empty stairwells and darkened corridors, to the fourth floor, where the scent unquestionably shifts from vertical to horizontal.

There's a door, down the hallway on this floor, which is clearly where the blood is being stored: a blue mist seems to flow out, slowly, from around its edges, and from inside there's some kind of banging sound, like someone slamming something repeatedly into the walls and floor.

Odolan "So, Zibbles, you're saying that we are on the eve of a New War?" Odolan's eyes are bright with excitement.

Odolan "Uncle Zibs. Zibmeister. Zibbington McZib."

Alitashi "Thrilling as that may sound, Odolan, we must remember that war is often harmful to children and other living things."

Zin`Bei-La: "Odolan!" his voice is sharp. "This is no time for jests."

BitterAsh "A Yozi weapon?"

Astoria stands very still for a moment, feeling the bones of the building beneath her with the familiarity of all that burrows, hearing the breath of the moment on the air around her. Then she stamps one foot. Not a scrap of sound echoes down the hall to mark her coming, but three stories below a precise spiderweb of cracks forms in the ceiling and discharges a single half-moon sliver.

Astoria Her warning complete, she flings herself toward the door in utter silence and profound focus.

BountifulCypress returns from her scouting, glaring at Odolan. "If you were DOING YOUR JOB, you wouldn't be so excited."

Odolan "Oh, I'm sorry. Next time I'll bring my pocket-size army."

Odolan "Hey! Good idea. Note to self: Develop pocket-size army."

Zin`Bei-La wipes the blood from his face distractedly as the sliver lands in front of them. "What... Astoria?"

BitterAsh The smell of brimstone moves steadily towards the staircase.

Odolan "That means we should probably either run or help."

Astoria slams the door open with a single, powerful strike, and is greeted within by a rather awful sight.

BountifulCypress "Sir." She steps closer to Zin Bei-La. "Are its tendrils still here? Is it still affecting us?" She lets her own mystical senses touch The Borders, The Corners, the little pieces of the world filled with the Ebon Dragon's net, and through the lifeblood of the Gate System, feel all that goes in and out of Creation. Was it still threatening them? Were they safe?

At the far side of the room, Vhuel sits, lolling haphazardly atop a pile of corpses, with the still-attached heads of two others held in his massive, meaty hands: in the left, a former cultist whose reddish skin and tufted ears mark him as one of the Dragon-Bloods, and in the right, another Dragon-Blood: Jikel Eor, the (former) head of the local constabulary.

Around him, fifteen massive vases, filled to overflowing with human blood, stand, while three others lie on their sides, their contents spilled out across the floor and puddling in the uneven parts of the floor. As Astoria enters, he seems to be having some kind of conversation with himself and his two victims in guttural, incomprehensible speech, occasionally slamming one into the wall or one of the jars in anger.

Given his fixation on this process, it takes him almost ten seconds before his eyes turn slowly, suspiciously, to the interloper.

Where Cypress searches out into the broader world, she feels, things are still safe: but each moment she returns her perceptions to where she stands, the city of Varex -- the distortion seems slightly stronger there than the moment before.

BountifulCypress "Sir." She whispers. "Alitashi. It's still here. And it's getting worse."

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Page last modified on November 29, 2009, at 02:09 AM