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A Journey of Three Thousand Miles

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Wynnsaren

Post  Wynnsaren on Sun Jan 04, 2015 12:15 am

The remainder of dinner was spent discussing various universities they'd visited and the tall tales and mysteries surrounding many of them. It was pleasant conversation but for the brooding ranger sitting by her side and casting a pall over their camaraderie. It was relatively early -- for her at least, when she gave up and retired to her room only to remember that she was going to have a bipedal roommate this evening. Kazimir was normally a gruff man, but this was something altogether different. Wynn caught herself in a grimace as the black cloud of a ranger followed her up the stairs.


***


"I believe you wanted to speak with me, Kaz?" Wynnsaren finally asked as she emerged from behind the bamboo screen in her simple, white nightgown. The usually companionable silence the two shared had become something altogether more ponderous and worrisome after the revelations of this day, and the aasimar was eager to resolve the issue. Something had lodged itself hard in the ranger's craw.

Jaw set to the task at hand, the man in question had taken up residence at a small table in the corner, where he was working over the leather of his armor with a lightly oiled cloth. "Aye, I do." He peered up at her, eyes all steel beneath his bushy, graying brows. "I'm surprised you remembered. Thought you'd just dismissed me right off."

Wynn's lips pressed together in a frown and she sat heavily on the end of the bed. "I did no such thing, my friend. It simply was not the time for an argument, especially in front of Lord Garess. We have time now, we have privacy and I am always willing to hear what you have to say. After all this time I had hoped you might understand this."

"Oh I understand, m'lady." He shoved the armor across the desk and stood, wiping off oily hands on his trousers. "You always hear me, but you never listen! I need you to listen."

A frustrated Kaz approached and she felt the bed jostle as the bulk of a full grown akata scrambled around to pull himself to attention; shredding the sheets and tearing the mattress with his razor claws in the process. Glas may have been deaf but the tension here was a tangible thing and sent such tremors reverberating through the room that even the alien beast could sense something off.

"I am listening," Wynn replied tightly and reached back to rest her hand on the massive blue head that was suddenly beside her. While she took exception to the ranger's accusation, nothing would be gained by raising that argument, so she let it drop.

With Glas between them, Kaz sat on the edge of the bed, eyes at his knees as he shepherded the necessary words into the fold of his mind before speaking. He was proceeding with much more caution than usual, struggling to rein in a temper that was far easier for him to loose than calm and rational discussion. The aasimar, familiar with his temperment, noted this with some concern.

"I think ye need to leave this one alone. I think Winter's askin' too much of ya to run this little errand for 'im." He lifted his head, swatting away the annoying lock of hair that was forever falling into his eyes, and looked hard at the woman beside him as if daring her to shut him down.

"He did not ask it of me at all, Kazimir. This was my choice."

"Oh was it?" He snapped back, straining to keep his cool. "You don't think he knows you? Exactly how you are? He didn't need to ask it of you in so many words 'cause he knows that once ye've got the scent of somethin', yer like Glas here huntin' down a nice fat hare!

"I was willing to believe he was bein' true to you after meeting him for myself, but now after hearin' what this. . .that," he pointed to the pouch that hung about her neck, "could mean, I'm not so certain. Living forever? Breaking that oath you say he's under? What don't you think a man'll do to achieve those things? By all accounts. . . excuse me, by all accounts with the exception of your own, Winter's the kind of man who is in desperate need of an expiration date. The kind of man who needs to be bound by an oath or two! No one should have life eternal. It ain't right. It ain't natural."

The pale skin of her face and neck reddened with the fury that was suddenly seething within. "You go too far, Kaz," she warned in a deep, echoing whisper.

"Listen. . . I know you care for 'im, but I'm thinkin' I have reason to worry here. Just hear me out. You say he's in all this pain and that it's gettin' worse. You tell us that the only way to stop it is to see to it that he stays alive or breaks this oath that you have only just seen fit to share could have been the work of devils. Devils!," he spat. "What kind of man makes deals with devils, girl?"

Kaz let loose a sigh of frustration and ran a hand over his goatee. When he spoke again, he'd checked the tone and volume of his voice.

"You got a blind spot when it comes to this one, Wynn and I'm tryin' to save you from yourself here. I'm tryin' to save you from gettin' hurt. Or worse even. Gettin' dead. Think about it. . . He needs whatever knowledge that gods-forsaken thing unlocks, and he needs it sooner rather'n later. Winter's desperate, in agony and runnin' outta time. Do you think he wouldn't do whatever he needed to do, or say whatever he needed to say to get someone to unravel this mystery for him? Someone he actually trusted enough not to run off with the thing?

"I'm worried that he's got you all twisted up thinkin' that he's some mysterious, misunderstood and mistreated paragon of virtue, and that as soon as you give 'im what he wants he's gonna show himself to be the monster everyone says he is."

"If you believe him such a monster, than why would he bothered to have visited me after the siege," Wynn responded in a brittle voice. "You told me he never inquired after the orb at all."

"True enough, but do you actually think he wouldn't have a way to locate it if it was necessary? As to why he visited then, I thought at the time it was 'cause he cared enough for you to see after your well being, but now I wonder. . . Winter's a businessman after all. Maybe he was just lookin' after his investment. Once he knew you were alive and awake, did he ever drop by to visit then? Or did he assume that the sweet words in his letters were enough to ply you. . . That when you run off to visit him at Silverhall, his stolen kisses would be sufficient t--."

"Enough! She hissed, launching herself away from the infuriating ranger and jabbing an accusatory finger in his direction. "It is you who assumes too much. Do not destroy what gains of reason you have made with your venomous tongue!"

She moved over to the window and pushed open the shutters. Staring out at the darkened streets of Nantambu, Wynn forced her pounding heart to slow with a mantra seldom necessary. I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry. . .

Too many of his points hit too close to home for any sort of comfort, yet too many of his questions held theories too sound to be immediately discredited.

"Let us assume that you are correct," she began carefully -- clinically, after collecting herself. "While I do not believe Rasven is manipulating me, I will concede that you raise questions that cannot at this time be discounted. So let us assume for now that his only interest is to use me toward his own ends before discarding me as so much refuse." The words were like a hot iron to her middle and she felt she might be sick at even the mildest consideration.

"Master Erm has just revealed the alien nature of this 'sentience' that we seek. Now, you must understand that I am not someone who has had the fortune to allow for coincidence. Quite the opposite. My life has been naught but a great tide of divine design that sweeps me along toward some unknown destination. How then can I believe it mere accident that we find ourselves potentially dealing with another being from the Great Beyond? My experience tells me that the same mind that holds the key to this orb might also -- must also have a link to the trouble we face in Novastasia! How then do I dare turn my back on that? What if it has knowledge that may aid us against the threat?

"This is about more than Rasven Winter now, Kaz." Folding her arms across her chest in a subconsciously protective motion, she turned to the ranger who was patting Glas' head comfortingly. "This is about more than me. This is about the purpose for which I have been sent and that is worth any risk to my life or to my evidently easily manipulated heart."

"Wynn, don't be like that," Kazimir groaned at her affronted tone. "I just want ye to be careful. You need t' see how it looks from the outside is all. . . Maybe you think it's worth yer life or yer hurt, but I don't. It's plain to see that ye've set your mind to it though and I'll be there to see it through, but if it turns out that this alien thing doesn't have naught to do with what's goin' on up north, that I want you to carefully consider yer dealin's with Winter. That's all I ask. Just. . .consider my words."

With a defeated nod, the aasimar agreed to his most reasonable request and the pair resumed their evening of weighty silence. It was not long before in her cowardice, she chose to collapse onto the mangled bed and fall into a fitful sleep rather than deal with any further thoughts on the matter of betrayal. With the second meeting with Master Erm, looming in the morning, there were other more immediate. . .and bloody odd fish to fry.

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Zaistrun Garess

Post  Eddick the Steady (XIV) on Sun Jan 04, 2015 12:17 am

After a restless night, it was odd to be waking up in such a warm place and as such he was up extremely early. The sun looked as lethargic as he did as it lazily crept up over the trees. The mosquito nets took a bit of adjustment, the hammock itself was an experience, and it was rather strange not to be at least chilly in the morning when one got out of bed. He got ready for the day in a dreamlike state as if he wasn't really awake yet. Perhaps he should go a bit native today instead of wearing his robes.

Within a half hour he had found a couple fresh sets of clothes that looked expensive enough for his tastes, and the actuality of the lighter material and the free movement made him much more comfortable. He still stuck out like a sore thumb down here due to his lack of sun exposure, but he felt confident enough to wear the more revealing clothing in this setting. He had a breakfast of some sort of corn mash, along with some local vegetables and fruits. The coffee they had down here was also quite good and complemented the flavors quite nicely. He'd have to see tonight if they had a particular brew to the area, as he was trying to get a particular taste to the castle wine, but that could wait.

At long last the diplomat and her puppy and the space lion showed their faces in the dining room and after a hasty and quiet breakfast they made their way back to the university. A few helpful students pointed them in the right direction and they presently presented themselves in Master Erm's office. Zaistrun was dreading listening to the man now that he was there, as Wynn's impression of him seemed completely foreign even though he supposedly spoke common. "Good morning, Master Erm. I believe you met my friend yesterday." He said with a nod to Wynn. "I was wondering if I have a moment of your time."
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Erm

Post  The Sub-Creator on Sat Jan 10, 2015 2:58 pm

The wizened man peered up from a demonic frog statuette nearly a foot tall upon the table before him and scowled. His tongue drove between teeth and gums to bulge out his bottom lip for a quick moment before he began shaking his head frantically from side-to-side.

No. No, no no, he wagged a withered finger in the direction of the newcomers. I have spoken all I will speak on that subject, and it was already too much. You foreign devils are all the same; you refuse to leave anything alone, regardless of warnings. Master Erm's voice was hushed, as if frightened that others might hear elsewhere in the university building.

Master Erm pointed emphatically to each of them in turn. Go. Now. This is not your home, not your inquiry. I will help you no further.

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Wynnsaren

Post  Wynnsaren on Sat Jan 10, 2015 3:51 pm

"But you must, Master Erm," Wynnsaren insisted in a low, steady voice. "Even moreso now that we know what is involved. . . This goes beyond my benefactor, for our homeland is under threat from beings of a. . .similar origin. It is possible the sentience of which you speak may have information invaluable to our survival. We cannot simply turn aside."

Her airy tunic gown of pale gold, shimmered in the early morning light that streamed in from the window, so deeply cut that it nearly revealed the small bag that hung from the leather thong about her neck. It was the spark that ignited this search, but no longer her sole reason for pursuit. The oracle now suspected a much more far reaching purpose for their coming.

Clasping her hands daintily behind her back, the gown rippled as Wynn took a step forward toward the ancient scholar.

"For what reason are you this suffused with fear?" She asked with more concern in her eyes than touched her heart. "Are you so magnanimous toward we 'foreign devils' that you find yourself anxious for our lives in this pursuit, or has something led you to believe that furthering the tale will only result in your own unfortunate ruination?"

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Erm

Post  The Sub-Creator on Sat Jan 10, 2015 8:36 pm

You think yourselves saviors, the Master spat, eyes bulging forth from their sockets. You believe yourselves invincible. Inquisitive and entitled, your hearts beat nothing but disease that spreads to all you come in contact with. Death lies beneath your white skin, for it is all that you have brought to the Mwangi.

He literally spat upon the head of the statue before him and quickly smeared it with his thumb. May it consume you before ever you unleash it upon the rest of us!

With practiced ease, Master Erm rattled off a phrase of arcane power and stepped back from the statue, which instantly began dissolving into a green sludge on the table. Immediately after, a large, frog-like head emerged from the sludge with milky, lifeless eyes and a wickedly-fanged maw. Growing to its full ten-foot, three thousand pound height with remarkable speed--and shattering the table beneath its weight, the fiendish creature released a gargling growl as it sized up the group standing before it.

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Zaistrun Garess

Post  Eddick the Steady (XIV) on Mon Jan 12, 2015 8:20 pm

As quickly as Master Erm had plotted his attack, Zaistrun noticed it and acted accordingly. Out from the quiver on his hip came a thin staff of stone studded with precious gems of various shades of green. In his more acclimated clothing, his gems were bare to the elbows, showing off his gem studded forearms. As he cast his spell, both the large Green gem in the back of his right hand and the Vanadinite in his wrist glowed green and orange respectively. The sorcerer's eyes shifted slightly into a vision of reptilian eyes with long lashes that focused on the daemon as it began to roar. A begrudging grayness spread from the great beasts belly, covering him completely and freezing him into a stone statue of the ferocious beast.

"You presume too much, Master Erm," said the sorcerer evenly as if their conversation had not been interrupted by a creature of the lower planes. "We've built our home already, and it is endangered by the aliens you speak of. If we were entitled and arrogant we would not have come to you for help. It's a shame you ruined your desk before you understood this."
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Wynnsaren

Post  Wynnsaren on Mon Jan 12, 2015 10:05 pm

Hands still clasped behind her, Wynnsaren reacted with little more than a stuttering blink as the daemon suddenly appeared and just as suddenly turned to stone.  There had simply been no time for any proper panic!  She found herself doubly glad that Zaistrun had come along this morning!

"Hold attack," she signed to her companions at the door who were ready to leap into the mix.  Glas, tentacles shivering furiously, stood from his crouching position while Kazimir slipped his blades back into their sheathes (albeit keeping his hands on the hilts).

Wynn side-stepped from her position before the towering daemon statue and with a thought, called to herself thousands of motes of light -- tiny stars which affixed themselves to her skin and clothing, covering her in a sort of protective mesh.

The aasimar was hardly put out by the attack.  Erm's reaction to their pursuit only heightened her resolve and curiosity, for if he would go to such lengths to try to stop them than what he must know about this alien sentience must be well worth the trouble!

"Perhaps we can begin anew and forget this unnecessary violence," she offered the master with a disappointed frown.  "The only one unleashing death here is you, so if you could kindly help us by telling what more you know about this sentience of which you speak."

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Erm

Post  The Sub-Creator on Tue Jan 13, 2015 5:32 pm

Master Erm's eyes glazed over with defeat even as the frog fiend's body turned to stone. His entire face drooped, suddenly overcome with exhaustion. Before the eyes of those who had come here to glean more information from this well-respected master of Magaambya all vitality fled from him, leaving barely the husk of an ancient standing before them.

"It is as I feared, then," he despaired, casting his eyes to the ground in utter hopelessness. "The heralds of my demise have appeared . . . my time in this world has nearly run its course."

Erm reached out a hand as if to steady himself on the table, only to remember too late that no table remained. Recoiling at the realization that he might touch the newly-formed statue that now propped up in its place, he stumbled back into the wall a few paces behind him. Now with something to anchor himself against, the Master's whole body slumped.

"The tablets were found in catacombs," the old man revealed in an almost aimless fashion, "but not here in Magaambya." His face was drawn and pitched forward so that his chin practically settled upon his chest, looking for all the world as an admonished child fully understanding that severe punishment would soon follow his wrong. He exhibited none of the peculiar quirks that had characterized this man throughout his life to anyone who had come in contact with him. All signs of life, hope, and fight had fled him entirely.

"Master Zenji discovered them beneath hundreds of tonnage of collapsed stone within the ruin of the eastern cathedral at the Doorway to the Red Star. He smuggled them back here and enlisted my help to begin their translations, though merely possessing the tablets put us in grave danger. They were not without guardians, he had explained to me--guardians that would not rest until they were recovered.

"We required the resources of the university for their study, however, and so could not keep them entirely secret. Thus, we concocted the story of finding them inside a secret chamber within the catacombs beneath Magaambya. The ruse took months of planning and careful execution to pull off convincingly, yet we succeeded in the endeavor. Years went by, and we worked nearly exclusively on their translation. After so long, I practically forgot the danger of our having them . . . . I should not have.

"They came one night as Master Zenji and I worked tirelessly over the tablets. They were men . . . and, yet, they were not. They possessed a power unlike anything I had ever known. They slaughtered my colleague before my eyes for his transgressions and reclaimed the tablets. I was allowed to live, but only for a time, they promised.
'When the celestial one comes,' they told me, 'your number of days will end.'

"I knew who you were the moment I saw you," he spoke directly to Wynnsaren, but never lifted his eyes to her. He appeared incapable of doing so now. "Nothing I told you was a lie, but I could not tell you the whole truth in hopes . . . in hopes that perhaps if I left this unsaid, they would not come." He shook his head feebly. "A hopeless fairy tale; one I knew to be so as I looked up to see you back again today. You would not leave it alone. You chose to dismiss my warning, as I knew you would all along.

"The Doorway to the Red Star lies to the northeast of Nantambu, north of Lake Ocota."
Erm sighed so long, it felt as though he was releasing his final breath. After a pause, however, he spoke again with some finality, "Go now. I have told you all I know that is of use to you. Let me die in peace."

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Wynnsaren

Post  Wynnsaren on Tue Jan 13, 2015 6:52 pm

"Master Erm. . ." The aasimar stepped toward him, reaching out a hand to. . .comfort? Ask forgiveness? What could she possibly do for him now?

It was instinct that drove her forward in that moment. Instinct to fix the problem. To heal the hurt. Erm had been right, for unbeknownst to her, Wynnsaren came to the master wearing death upon her shoulders and now she felt the burden of guilt it brought. You'd think one would grow used to being a harbinger of doom, but this was simply not the case. Worst of all this fate was not a problem she could fix, nor a hurt she could heal, for she herself was the one whose presence was causing distress. How could she be angry with the man for fighting for his very life?

Wynn stopped in her tracks unwilling to do any further harm. Her fingers slowly curled into her palm as she lowered her arm back to her side. "Master Erm," she offered in a pained voice, "I am sorry."

Turning, she walked back to her friends, sparing a cursory glance at the enormous daemonic frog statue that now dominated the room. What a strange tale this would make once all was said and done, she thought wistfully. What a strange and terrible tale.

"Could you take us to Sharrowsmith's, my friend," she asked of Zaistrun in a soft, sad voice while looping an arm through his. "We will not want to be seen exiting this place."

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Zaistrun Garess

Post  Eddick the Steady (XIV) on Tue Jan 20, 2015 5:31 pm

Zaistrun patted her hand on his arm and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Certainly. Allow me a moment."

Muttering some arcane words, his muscles visibly grew larger and more defined. He walked over to the slumped figure and grabbed him by the shirt, lifting him not only to his feet but slightly off the floor. He took one hand away from the clothes at his throat and slapped the Master full across the face. The master's head snapped to the side as his feet came down much closer to the floor but the larger man's weight kept him upright, especially when he put the slapping hand back on the clothes around his neck.

"What poison has beset your mind?!" The magister spat at him through clenched teeth. "I came here, interested in learning of your traditions that I might benefit from your wisdom. And what is this?" He gave him a head gesture and a unusually expressive face of disgust. "You wisdom tells you to fold under pressure? Your great learning from the Old Mage has taught you to bow to murderers and thieves? Your vast knowledge and experience tell you to attack strangers and follow the whims of those who kill your friends?" The magister was nearly growling with rage. "I'll give you a lesson!" He let fly with another slap to the face and let the man go under his own power, and stepped a pace back.

"If you are too weak to remove a man's hands from your throat, jam your thumb in his eye. If he kills you, poison him with your corpse. Because they're watching you." He jerked a thumb at the growing commotion in the halls. "They're reading your story. You're not teaching them so they can become sheep, you are teaching them to become legends. Songs and poems to inspire the next generation to reach for greatness instead of clutching their own fat and quivering in a pile of their own offal. They call you a master. I'm embarrassed I even came here." He turned his back on the man and walked back over to a slightly shocked entourage.

He hooked Wynnsaren's arm and prepared their transport, when a whim hit him. "The last thing I would wish upon you is that you die in peace. I've yet to see that you've earned it. I sure as hells hope I'm wrong about you." He checked his companions to see if they were all touching so they could be off. He muttered this last sentence to Wynn under his breath. "I was just starting to like the guy and he turned into milquetoast. So disappointing..." And they all vanished from the room.
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Wynnsaren

Post  Wynnsaren on Tue Jan 20, 2015 5:39 pm

The foursome appeared behind the familiar Sharrowsmith complex which housed both the export business and the secret Pathfinder Lodge. Kazimir, in an attempt to retain his breakfast, bent over and tried to steady himself upon his legs.

"Um. . . So it seems I might've missed a bit there between the frog-thing turnin' to stone and his lordship here beatin' on the broken old man for not bein' master enough for his likin'," he peered up at Lord Garess through the lock of hair that had fallen over his eyes, noting just how right Nieford had been about his charge. She indeed had a bad habit of surrounding herself with peculiar men. Peculiar, slightly unhinged and dangerous men! Kaz turned his attention from Exhibit A and shifted it to the oracle who was squinting her eyes against the brightness of the morning sun. "Care ta fill a fella in?"

"Of course," Wynn answered seeming somewhat dazed. She went down on her knees and reached out for the nervous akata who clearly was distressed by what had just transpired. Maybe moreso that he didn't get a chance to eat the giant frog. . . It was hard to tell with such an alien mind!

The ranger did not have the spells cast upon him to understand what Master Erm had said, so he was hearing only one side of the conversation and clearly had missed some rather important details.

"He gave us a location," she responded. "Ruins in the jungle where the tablets were originally found. As for the rest of it, let me just sum up for now by saying that the protectors of those tablets came for Zanji, killed him and retrieved their property, leaving Erm alive with a prophecy." Glas walked into his mistress' embrace and propped his enormous leonine head over her shoulder, mane and tail tentacles writhing wildly. "Those protectors told him that when I came, his life would be at an end."

"What??" Kaz boggled. "Well I s'pose that answers some of it." He eyed the sorcerer, clearly at a loss for how the beating of a dying man came into the picture but struggling with how to ask the question without getting turned to stone.

The aasimar headed off any further questions. "Let us go speak with Mister Sharrowsmith. Surely he will have some idea of the safest route to these ruins."

Wynnsaren patted the akata's flank lovingly and stood, moving over to Zaistrun's side. "You are a man of fierce passions, my dear," she began in a hushed voice, a smirk turning up one corner of her mouth, "and I look forward to seeing the expression on Sarala's face when she realizes the power of those passions. However, there are a fair many stops along the path from placid to infuriated that are worth some further exploration. Jumping from one straight to ten has a tendency to cause whiplash in those unfamiliar with your particular. . . charms."

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Zaistrun Garess

Post  Eddick the Steady (XIV) on Tue Jan 20, 2015 6:43 pm

Zaistrun smiled warmly at his friend and addressed her about his actions although it was kind of sneaky how she wanted him to explain for Kaz's sake. Like he'd do that. He felt no need to justify them before Kaz, since he didn't really matter to him, but Wynn did. "There are two things that will cause a man to get back up after he's fallen: love and anger. I've used both in my own life when one or the other wasn't sufficient. Wynn tried the one, but it seemed like he was not going to get back up. He was broken, because he believed he was right. I tried the other, attempted to tease his passions. It's not a technique I use often in the classroom, but it has been known to work from time to time on those who are being exceedingly foolish.

"And he was, Wynn." He continued his speech casually as if he didn't have a care in the world. "Do you know how many celestial ones there are in this world? Hundreds at least! And someone just said to him that he'd die when he saw one. Who'd believe a story like that? I don't care how powerful they were, a man should fight to the end, not throw one punch and melt like that. It's shameful. And he should know better. He is giving teachers a bad name. But there's still hope for him if he starts fighting for it." He shook his head. "I know because I've been there."
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Wynnsaren

Post  Wynnsaren on Tue Jan 20, 2015 8:18 pm

After all that had happened since she'd been placed in the midst of Matsuro Shi, the oracle would have thought that Zaistrun might give more credence to the power of prophecy.  All of this was more than mere coincidence. . .  Things were sliding into place.  Her presence here had been foretold Wynn was certain, and not due to some sort of hubris but precisely because this event hadn't happened in a bubble.  Alien presence had led her to the Stolen Lands and then led her to find Rasven Winter who just happened to be holding an artifact which -- come to find out, could only be unlocked by speaking with an alien sentience in the depths of the Mwangi.  No.  Wynnsaren had lived a such a life that conditioned her to be sensitive to plucking of the strings of Fate.  Oh and this string was being plucked hard!  She seriously doubted that Master Erm would live out the night.  Fighting or moping made no difference.

In spite of her own certainty, she understood where her friend was coming from.  The young lord had to fight and scrape to make his way through a very harsh upbringing but in certain situations -- some of her own in particular, railing against the gods did no good.  Sometimes one must accept their Fate, though preferably with some modicum of grace.  And frankly, Wynn was glad that the master gave up when he did, for she had no desire to face any more of those frog demons he might call forth!

 ***

Things hadn't changed much in the two days since they'd last visited Sharrowsmith's Exports.  In spite of the early hour, the bazaar was already bustling.  The dust still swirled about in tiny vortices within the narrow columns of light streaming into the room as the doors swung open.  The hall was still quiet but for the muffled sounds of bartering outside.  One major difference.  Sharrowsmith's former post at the desk was now occupied by another who was standing, bent over to examine some documents.  

It was this other that caused Wynnsaren something of a shock!  Wearing a long dress of black and gold stripes and a turban of the same cloth, this stunning woman bore the luminous dark skin of most of the natives of this land but also -- somewhat less than native, were her golden, pupiless eyes.  An aasimar!?  Wynn considered it, though she'd never met another in all her years.  There was certainly something. . .other than human about her.

With those golden orbs, the woman regarded their little party impassively for a mere moment before righting herself and gliding out of the hall.   "Nieford," she called out in melodious Swahili as she exited, "Your cohorts have come to see you!"

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Post  The Sub-Creator on Fri Jan 23, 2015 11:24 pm

"Cohorts?" the familiar voice called out from the back in genuine inquiry. "Have I co--Oh, hello!" he exclaimed with a bright smile as he entered into the room. "I hadn't expected to see you again so soon! Is it possible you've come to discoveries this quickly? You would be the first ever in Nantambu to do anything quickly if so!

"Of what service can I be to you now?"

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Post  Wynnsaren on Fri Jan 23, 2015 11:45 pm

"There have been some. . .unexpected developments," Wynnsaren offered in ambiguous reply as she turned her attentions toward the rather delightful Pathfinder. "Little doubt this will make quite the tale when all is told, but for now we must pursue the next leg of our journey. I fear this one takes us a good deal deeper into the Expanse."

She took a step nearer the man and lowered her voice to encompass only those in their immediate company. "Mister Sharrowsmith, would you be able to advise us on the safest route to the Doorway to the Red Star?

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Post  The Sub-Creator on Sat Jan 24, 2015 9:55 am

"By the heavens' holy handkerchiefs, why?" the Pathfinder wondered with some bewilderment, despite knowing the reason. "I mean, oddly, the Doorway is probably the easiest ruin to find of all ancient ruins, but getting to it is hardly the least of your worries. Many have gone there--some live there!--and only madness and despair results."

Nieford looked to his companion, but she never lifted her head from her work. He constantly found himself amazed at her ability to remain unfazed regardless of what discussions went on around her!

"Be sure you understand exactly what you're asking for," he told them. "I could spend days recounting for you the rumors that come from the Doorway of the Red Star, and not a one of them is beneficial to anyone who has gone there, or the region at large, for that matter. Perhaps I can best sum it all up with the Throat-of-Nothingness . . . a group of religious purists seeking enlightenment that became a nihilistic cult after finding the Doorway. They sowed chaos and death throughout the Expanse for 200 years before finally dying off because--in their twisted state of being--procreation became counterproductive."

Nieford shook his head. "None would love to learn about that which you seek more than I, but . . . are you sure this is the path you wish to travel?"

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Post  Wynnsaren on Sat Jan 24, 2015 11:18 am

Wynn winced and pressed her fingers against the sudden pain in her forehead as she considered the implications presented. She had seen alien-induced madness first hand and it wasn't pretty.

Smiling wanly, she took Nieford's hand in hers and patted it reassuringly. "It is the path we must travel in spite of the lovely portrait you have painted. The unexpected developments I mentioned have linked the Doorway with some of the disturbances occurring in our homeland, so you see our interest has only sharpened.

"Our previous agreement still stands of course," she nodded, releasing him. "It is my hope that we might kill two birds with one stone as they say, so any information you could provide us will be most helpful."

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Post  The Sub-Creator on Sat Jan 24, 2015 7:27 pm

"Understood," the Pathfinder sighed with a resigned nod. "I do hope you find what you're looking for there to help your home.

"As to finding the Doorway," he continued, moving over to the counter occupied by Aya and retrieving parchment, ink, and quill, "I can give you a rough sketch of its known whereabouts. As I stated, the Doorway to the Red Star is the most unhidden of the Expanse's 'hidden' ruins. You're in the right place to begin your journey, as Nantambu's canals connect to the Vanji River just west of us, which you'll need to follow upstream to Lake Ocota. The Doorway resides north of the immense lake. I have no doubt finding it will prove undifficult for you once there: you'll either stumble over it or be tracked down by the Zenji tribes that live there--most say to protect the location from foreigners much like yourselves."

He scrawled a quick map of the route for them within a matter of a few moments as he spoke and accepted the sander from a nonchalant Aya as an afterthought. With the crude map finished, he offered it to the company for perusal.

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Post  Wynnsaren on Sun Jan 25, 2015 8:14 am

A scan of the map revealed the stark fact that this would not be a brief journey.  Traversing the Vanji River to Lake Ocota could alone take weeks, which was saying nothing of the dangers they might face even before reaching the ruins!  Ever resourceful, Nieford was able to direct them to a few trustworthy guides that had done work for the Pathinders in the past and could take a boat up rivers taking shifts in order to make the best time.  The advantage was well worth the cost.  Once the foursome arrived at their destination, the guides would no longer be needed as Zaistrun could Teleport them back to Nantambu when they were finished with business.  

Six persons and one akata set out for Lake Ocota that next morning in a large reed boat that was propelled up river by poles and sail when the winds permitted.  It was hardly the Frozen Myth but their transport was sturdy and well fitted for such a voyage with a good-sized shelter under which to take refuge from the scorching sun, and a platform atop the shelter to keep watch.  The ends of each of the hulls of the double-hulled vessel narrowed to a reedy point and curled high over the deck before being skillfully shaped into the stylized heads of apes in the fore and cobras to the aft.  When asked, the eldest of the three guides -- the only one who could speak even a bare smattering of common, explained that they helped to keep the evil spirits at bay.

It must have worked.  

Twelve days it took them to enter Lake Ocota and two more to skirt around the northern edge of the lake to where they would disembark and set off through the jungle.  They saw plenty of wildlife on the journey.  Things Wynnsaren had only heard of in storybooks!  There were times when she could make out shifting forms along the banks as they sailed along in the evenings and she was quite sure they were being watched on a number of occasions, but never were they assaulted by anything more than the vexed glares of a bloat of hippopotami.  

Though the days were long and oppressively hot, for Wynn the evenings more than made up for earlier discomfiture.  The stars here were not unknown but neither familiar, something like a distant cousin might be she imagined, and each song was new and intriguing!  It wasn't long before she took to sleeping during the daytime hours in favor of taking the latest of the shifts.  The watches were taken in twos for safety and to keep the boat on the right path.  One foreigner and one native per shift was the arrangement, which suited them all just fine, especially Kazimir and Zaistrun who stayed well clear of each other, or as much as one could on a confined sailing vessel.  With the exception of a strange fly that decided to lay its eggs just beneath the surface of the skin on the ranger's neck -- an incident which Wynn feared might put him off the Mwangi forever after, the voyage went more swiftly and successfully than they could have hoped.  

The aasimar was never one to remain idle long, whether it be in a castle or on a riverboat.  Instead she made the most of the opportunity and subsequently distracted herself from the heat by mapping their path up the river that the natives new by heart, and managing to become passably fluent in Polyglot by the time they went ashore.

27th Arodus, 4713

After off-loading their gear, the three hired guides departed to float back down to Nantambu.  It would take days for Zaistrun, Kaz, Wynn and Glas to travel through the thick vegetation north toward the ruins and they would do so alone.  The prospect didn't phase Wynn who had been deposited alone in unknown environs an unseemly number of times, but the ranger was clearly uncomfortable with the sheer closeness of the terrain.  Even the air here seemed to crowd a person!  He was used to wide open plains and sweeping grasslands and though this was arguably the opposite of his ideal, Kaz pressed on stoically and cut them a careful and sure path to the north toward the Doorway to the Red Star.

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Post  Eddick the Steady (XIV) on Sat Jan 31, 2015 7:29 pm

Zaistrun enjoyed the trip as much as he could, having gone native with his clothing and feeling much less of the heat. The river days were refreshing, and although the sorcerer did not risk his parchments or papers on the river and unlike his usual self he spent quite a lot of time mostly idle, at least on the surface. Inside his head he was furiously theory-crafting spells, developing building plans for kingdom as well as academy and sparing at least half an hour a day dreaming of Sarala. To be honest, he could have spent more time doing that, but he was a disciplined man and it made the time spent doing so all the sweeter.

Fourteen days were a little longer than he wanted to spend in transit, but providing they didn't spend too much time getting lost in the jungle or going mad at the Doorway, they should be fine. Bumping the schedule around could be done although it did make a few people frustrated, but that was nothing new for the demanding sorcerer. In the end, many of his underlings still had a begrudging respect for the man who had built so much at such a young age that despite their grumbling, things still got done. He wouldn't have spent the time at all, except that Wynn had a vision and told him they'd be back to Akiros in time. He didn't trust the prophecies of some strong nameless few, but he did trust his friend.

While they were in the jungle, they dealt with the elements as best as they could, and at night they actually spent time in a magic room he could summon with a rope up to it. There was enough space in the invisible room for eight, and so with just the four of them, it was quite roomy. The sides of the room were a featureless black and there was a three by five window in which the rope attached and you climbed in. The odd thing about it was that only eight creatures were allowed in at a time regardless of size, so it did an effective job of keeping out a majority of bugs.

Oddly enough he only seemed to use it with Wynn nearby. The oddity was that she couldn't hear the song of the stars in the room, and didn't like it, but he found that it was necessary when she was around. But it did make for a restful night otherwise
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The Iobane

Post  The Sub-Creator on Sun Feb 01, 2015 1:00 am

Two score forms flowed through the jungle on silent feet, the customary sounds of the exotic wildlife--ignorant of their presence--created an eerie cacophony that masked their movements from those that used such signs as a warning of predators nearby. They wore the massive hides of the high girallons--better known as angazhani within the Mwangi, or those four-armed and intelligent gorillas that served Ruthazek the Gorilla King. Though the angazhani had pale fur, the hides that covered these tribesmen had been soaked in blood until stained a deep crimson. What skin the hide did not cover was painted dark red to match. Now they appeared as three long wounds opening and closing along the jungle floor as they passed through the thick foliage.

At the forefront of each wound led a figure whose skin pigmentation naturally adopted the dark red which the rest had painted themselves. They wore no hide armor, only leather loin cloths and gorilla masks of red gold. While the following tribesmen wielded spears, these three carried terbutje studded with razor sharp obsidian upon their backs. Their movements were graceful, purposeful, honed to fit the lives of warriors and set upon a specific destination.

As one, the three masked men signaled the halt of those behind them, then silently ordered their followers to fan out and encircle, completing the commands with three fingers raised for a thirty-foot diameter ring. After permitting a few moments for their minions to perform the task, the three stepped within the perimeter and began a quick series of silent spellcasting, leaving a fraction of a second's cadence between each spell's completion.

In the midst of the circle, an extradimensional space quickly unraveled, dropping the rope connected to it harmlessly to the ground. Those four within suddenly fell from their safe perch, but were caught by the second spell immediately and levitated softly to the ground. Just as the newly extracted men, woman, and space lion touched down, the third spell released from its origin to cause one of the branches overhead to light up in a soft luminescence easy on the eyes. The three masked figures stood within the pleasant light, while the nearly two score surrounding the seven remained a few feet outside of it, still hidden within the darkness.

"You must come with us," the central of the three men proclaimed, pointing at Wynnsaren. Though masked, his voice lacked any sort of reverberation, but sounded soft, yet stern. "The rest of you may stay here under the protection of the Iobane, or you may go back to your homes in peace. State which you desire, and it will be granted you forthwith. None will come to harm unless you wish it."

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Post  Wynnsaren on Sun Feb 01, 2015 1:12 pm

Usually when one dreamt themselves falling, they would wake up abruptly before hitting the ground. Not so on this occasion. The landing was a soft one, but certainly no less discombobulating when the aasimar opened her lambent eyes to find themselves in the jungle face to face with three masked warriors. . . and many more cloaked in darkness.

"The Iobane." Wynnsaren whispered the name thickly as she sorted between the strands of reality and the dream of which she was so recently in the midst. She was fairly sure this wasn't a vision and Nieford had mentioned Zenj tribes that protected the area.

She climbed to a standing position and brushed the sleep-tousled hair from her face in order to get a better look at these men. Golden gorilla masks. . . Might they have something to do with the Magic Warriors of Jetembe? Any fear she might have felt vanished in the wake of the thrill that enveloped her!

"We wish no harm upon you nor ourselves," Wynn responded with a courteous nod of her head. "There need be no violence but I must ask, to whom -- or what, do you propose to take me?"

"Like hells that's gonna happen." The ranger ground out the words through gritted teeth, his hands itching to bring his blades to bear.

She shifted her eyes to the irate ranger. "Enough. It is not for you to tell me which path Fate requires me to follow. Let him speak if he will."

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Post  The Sub-Creator on Sun Feb 01, 2015 2:05 pm

"The one you have come here to find," the masked man replied simply. "Nothing more can be revealed in the company you currently keep, for it is not for them to know, and if they were to discover it, none of them would be permitted to live. Some knowledge is meant only for a few because the many are not yet ready.

"Make your decisions as you will, but understand that none but you go beyond this point. The rest will be protected and taken wherever else they deem to go, if they deem to go. The answers to your questions will come soon enough."

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Post  Wynnsaren on Sun Feb 01, 2015 4:47 pm

Wynnsaren had little doubt the man was being completely forthright. After being told what happened with Master Zenji it would come as no surprise if these were the very fellows that exacted punishment for the theft of the tablets and therefore she had no desire to test them further and put her friends at risk. The hand of Fate felt heavy upon her, pushing her toward this path. In her experience it would be pointless and infantile to resist. Not that she wanted to. . .

"Well I suppose there is no use in dawdling in that case." The aasimar, attempting to appear nonchalant, hefted her pack onto one shoulder and slipped the hood of the starry cloak over her head. With eyes and sigils shining out from beneath she turned to her companions. "If you wish to stay I shall meet you back at this position. If you would rather wait in Nantambu, I will return there as quickly as I am able.

"I appreciate you both for coming with me on so long a journey only to have our routes diverge at this point," she said, a hidden smile betrayed by her voice, "but do not worry, for our lives will converge again soon enough. I fear you will have to deal with me yet a while longer!"

Wynn reached down to tenderly rub Glas between the tentacles and sign to him that she would return soon. With a nod to her friends, she turned and walked up to stand beside the apparent leader of this fearsome tribal contingent.

"When you are ready, lead on and I will follow."

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Post  The Sub-Creator on Sun Feb 01, 2015 4:59 pm

The two masked men flanking the central one that had been their voice stepped away from their apparent authority figure to distant guard positions within the circle of tribesmen. They maintained nonthreatening postures, feet shoulder-width apart and hands casually clasped behind their backs, nowhere near the handles of the vicious-looking weapons draped there.

"Your companions will be cared for," the third assured her once again. He moved to stand before Wynnsaren and extended a hand. "I will take you to your destination."

The moment she placed her hand in his, the two whisked away via the path of instantaneous magical transport. Both appeared at the southern edge of a triangular courtyard constructed of large red bricks of baked clay. The remnants of three enormous cathedrals created the courtyard to the south, east, and west. Virtually nothing remained of the southern cathedral but a massive pile of rubble which had crumbled and fallen in on itself. Much of the eastern cathedral had collapsed, as well, though parts of its sealed central vault might still be intact behind a mound of stone formed when a trio of its towers toppled over upon themselves. Though obviously in ruin, the western cathedral had weathered time far better than its sister structures. The central vault and accompanying towers stood intact and ripe for exploring.

However, the immense ruins surrounding the courtyard were but a backdrop to the true mystery of this place -- the mystery that provided the ruin with its name. In its midst hovered a ring of magnetic crimson stone that even now tugged upon the metal objects of the newcomer to the courtyard. The ring suspended nearly ten feet off the ground, had no indication of any sort of writing or ritual markings upon it anywhere, and did not move at all. A curious humming emanated from the ring of stone in a low pitch just at the outskirts of one's normal range of hearing.

"There," the gorilla-masked man pointed to a subtly concave spot in the courtyard brick only twenty feet from the floating, crimson ring. Careful observation revealed nine more such hollows surrounding the central artifact, each the perfect size for holding a small, spherical object in place. "When I have departed, place your Mbele Nyanja only in that place. What you have been seeking will answer your call."

Without another word, the crimson-skinned figure started across the outer courtyard toward the western cathedral.

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