The gleaming sleek shape of a monorail made out of pure orichalcum slid into view. Its monorail was forged out of pure essence in whatever path the train wished to take. It pulled up before them just outside the entrance of the Jade Pleasure Dome, and with a sigh and a hiss, the doors slid open. A righteous ghost stepped out of the train and beckoned for them to join him “May I introduce the Solar Monorail Chirmirajen, the personal transport of the Unconquered Sun? Please, step aboard."
The overwhelmed Solars were shepherded aboard by the ghost – recognizing the symptoms of Games shellshock – and moments later they were gliding along at impossible speeds past the now-dim wonders of the gods, heading towards the edge of Yushan.
All of Creation waited like a toy model before them, spread out as far as they could see. The train took a sickening tilt downward and plunged towards the model of Mount Meru. The Imperial Mountain, pillar and anchor of all Creation, rose before them. What had once been the holy symbol of the Scarlet Dynasty and all Dragonblood had been usurped by the Imperial Sun Solar Circle. One of them needed the Codex… but what would they ask for in return? Willow hadn’t understood all of the contents of the Codex, but what she had said about it made it sound like it could be traded for a kingdom, if not several.
The buzz of the Games faded, humming gently in the background as the Meridian Solars regained their wits. There was just enough time to reflect on that first experience in Yu-Shan before the ruins of Old Meru began to loom before them. Where was the train going…?
Once, the Glorious Arch – gateway to Yu-Shan and places beyond – stood in the heart of the Ancient Academy in the city of Meru, dazzling travelers with the breadth of knowledge the first age Solars once possessed. The Academy was one of the better preserved ruins on the mountain, but unsuitable for defending against possibly hostile gate-walkers, and so, with a little Sorcery and a little Sidereal help, the Glorious Arch had been moved.
Now it stood at one end of half-completed Grand Plaza, whose jade inlays and incised whorled patterns held enough stored Sorcery to stop anything short of a Greater Elemental Dragon – theoretically. The Sorcery storing mechanisms were the first to be completed, and were yet a crude rendition of their final form (he was assured by the Earth elementals in charge of construction), but they should work.
Deus Ex had sent them a warning that something was intending on passing through their Gate, and so now Pyrrhus and as many of the rest of their Circle he could muster were waiting across the Plaza from it, arrayed in their most impressive panoply. He was seated on Sorin’s back, both himself and the fire-mane in gleaming red-jade armor. His swords hung ready but sheathed, in case what came through was not, actually, hostile.
And there was nothing.
No flicker of essence from the gate, no brightening light, no beings materializing from nothing. Hours passed, and some of the Circle began to drift away, assuming a false alarm. Sorin pawed at the paving stones impatiently and champed at his bit, tired of standing. Pyrrhus dismounted and sent him back to his stables, where his son and hired hands could help the stallion remove his armor and barding.
Pyr remained. “Deus Ex has never been wrong with a warning before,” he remarked. “Something else must be happening in Yu-Shan…”
A few minutes later Akaris stepped up to Pyrrhus with two of her closest elemental advisors in tow and greeted the Zenith with a short bow.
“There’s a subtle shift in the dragon lines leading here, friend. I only felt it moments ago.” The feeling was few and far between, but distinct enough that she had an event to attach it to. Someone or something was preparing to come through the gate.
“A’Sorak – Warden of the Gate,” Akaris called to the armored stone golem that stood in front of the Celestial Gate, “we will soon have guests!” She then took some sand from the ground and blew it in the direction of the gate, whispering the Mudra of the Unformed Man. On each side of the gate, stone figures rose from the ground, assuming an orderly row.
“Simply an extra precaution Pyrrhus,” she said, dusting her hands off. “I know you do well enough with our safety here. I’m still not convinced we can open welcoming arms every time someone comes through that gate.” Gods know we’ve had our troubles with heaven…
She pulled air around her which became a stole that rested upon her shoulders. The only thing left to do was wait, and judging by the swelling energies ahead it wouldn’t be long…
“No, our position here is still too tenuous to rely on fellow-feeling. I appreciate your Guardians’ presences – and yourself, of course.” Pyrrhus inclined his head to her respectfully. “And speaking of that… how goes work on the… hmm… Amphitheater of Felicitous Greeting? Is that the name that was finally decided on?”
He shifted his weight slightly, allowing his gaze to sweep the Plaza and the outlying ruins for movement or threats. The sky was just beginning to darken from its midday hues towards the brilliant warm colors of evening as the Daystar sank towards the West.
“I hope whoever’s coming does so quickly… Night is yet dangerous on these streets.”
The essence in the dragon lines began to swell but something was seriously wrong. The gate remained dormant. Akaris’s ears pricked back, there was something behind her. Out in the sky beyond Mount Meru a golden thread snaked towards them at alarming speed. The thread resolved into an essence monorail that looped just outside of the plaza behind them. Just outside the defensive circle.
Moments later a sleek orichalcum train swooped in. The screech of the brakes filled the air with an oddly cheery shrill, then the cars hissed to a stop and the doors opened. A fully armored ghost carrying an artifact blade stepped out of the first passenger car, bowed and gestured for the other occupants to step forward.
Zaela took the Righteous Ghost’s proffered hand but stopped at the threshold of the passenger car, staring out at the half-restored city beyond, momentarily overwhelmed again. A familiar feeling, lately…
Two main figures stood in stark relief, silhouetted by the setting sun and the glare of their own startled flare of anima. One held a pool of Essence in her open hand as one preparing to shape a Sorcery, with two hulking elementals flanking her protectively and a third dematerialized swirling about her shoulders. The other, clad impressively in a pristine set of First Age red jade scale armor, held two short daiklaves in a guard position, golden essence trickling up and down their razor edges.
“Oh…” Zaela breathed. The Ghost squeezed her hand gently and drew her down from the car, bending his armored head and whispering an encouragement as she passed. She stepped to the edge of the Plaza and straightened her back, arranged her heavenly new skirts, and sank into a obeisance a degree short of the one she had offered to Sol Invictus. She took a breath, trying to channel her previous incarnation’s self-assurance.
“Greetings are given to you, Lord and Lady of New Meru. I am Zaela, Queen of Adrelith on the Meridian Isle. The Unconquered Sun has sent me here to you.”
Caiden stepped off next after quickly gauging the reactions from Zaela’s introduction, and deemed it appropriate to step off and introduce himself. Iyanden followed suit, a mere fraction of his larger elemental dragon form, but much more suitable for diplomatic engagements.
“Solars of New Meru,” he started, walking forward. “as in days of old, I greet you under the Sign of Mercury.” His caste mark shone brightly on his forehead as he stopped just before where Zaela was and bowed shortly._ Surely they had encountered other Sidereals before, but protocol was best observed in case they met some of the lame bronzies first… Wait, was that even the protocol??_
“Anyhow, we bring gifts from Yu’Shan to help in the…recovery efforts…here, around here…yeah.” Oh gods, everyone was staring. Face reddening; sweat breaking out; dematerialize would be great right about now.
“Wait, we weren’t expecting anyone to be coming to through the Meru gate!” Judging by everyone’s reactions, this wasn’t the most effective introduction. Regardless, the blinding flash of light at the celestial gate behind the crowd diverted their attention. Not sure if we’ll document that as a failure or success. Although judging by Zaela’s expression…I think failure.
Akaris had a split second to make a decision. The conflicting introduction smelled more of incompetence, and she actually felt sorry for the Zenith before her. But the gate! The gate activating at this instant was no small matter!
“Seal the Gate!” She called among the escalating noise, knowing that there was no actual way to seal the gate, but the most strategic option they had arranged was encasing the gate in a sphere of water, allowing clear visibility of whatever came through. Freezing it would be just a matter of blinking an eye.
“We will deal with you lot after that gate!” She called to the group that arrived off the golden train.
The Imperial Sun group watched as a sphere of water engulfed the Celestial Gate. It was almost finished resolving…
Swift watched the gate open slowly. After spending so much time in Yu-Shan, he was sad to walk out, but the solars of New Meru needed the codex. The codex, yet another treasure he must part with. All that knowledge condensed into one book. This trip through Yu-Shan was by no means a loss, Swift thought as he looked down at the ornate robes and back at the flowing cape that adorned him._ Clothes befitting such an accomplished diplomat and Chosen of the Sun._ His mind drifted back to the “negotiations” with Veridian Mantle and a smirk pulled at his face as he thought of a way to tell Zaela about their new flagship’s figurehead. That smirk remained on his face as he stepped through the gate with a regal authority befitting an Eclipse, Child of the Unconquered Sun.
Everyone watched the Celestial Gate with bated breath. After what seemed like hours but what could only have been seconds, a silhouette entered the water. Swift paused for a moment after the gate closed. Perhaps he was in the wrong place, he held his breath as he calmly strode through the water. When his foot broke through the wall of water, he flared his anima banner. Familiar words coalesced behind him into a formidable, majestic silver lion. Water dripped from his elegant garb as he bowed and said “Greetings my friends, circle mates, and strangers.” He straightened up and rested his hand on the lion that had made it’s way next to him. “My name is Warrick Swift Colson, Chosen Eclipse of the Meridian Isle Solars… We have much to discuss!”
Pyrrhus sheathed his swords and relaxed from his stance, letting the held essence of his charms drain back into his anima. He touched Akaris’ arm briefly and said,_ sotto voce_, “None of these look like to attack us now with anything other than words. We shall be wary but… shall we be good hosts for the night?” He inclined his head to the few who had stepped from the train, which even now was closing its doors and beginning to steam away.
“Welcome, Meridian Isle Circle. Please, may we offer you refreshment? Perhaps… dry clothes? The hour grows late and the streets are still not safe after sunset.” He took a step back and turned to encompass both groups – Swift at the Gate and the group from the train – sweeping his arm and pointing the way down the path towards his own manse.
Thank the gods for Arcane Fate. I mean, not really, but at least everyone will forget his blunders in an hour.
Caiden rushed the smaller gods along as they carried various smaller troves of gifts for the New Meru Solars. A small cost from his salary, but triviality in heaven was luxury in Creation. He followed those headed towards the manse Pyrrhus gestured towards.
“Yes, I’ll see what I can do to rectify the situation.” she said quietly to Pyrrhus.
Glad I don’t have to add “accidentally froze friendly Solar in ice” to my list of diplomatic mistakes. However, I am adding “magical golden train” to my list of things to watch out for here…
“Serelle,” she whispered to her air elemental advisor nearby, “make sure our guest’s clothes are dry upon reaching the manse.” It would only appear as a strong breeze, but it would save some time.
Akaris waited for Pyrrhus to move towards the manse before joining him.
After everyone else had departed, Granny Starbuck shuffled off the train quietly, giving a nod to the kind dead gentleman on the way out. She toddled into her bakery and disappeared from view…
Pyrrhus was leading everyone to his manse when he turned around to check their progress – no stragglers allowed, not when his Circle was still on knife’s edge about their own problems — and noticed Lady Starbuck (he never referred to her as “Granny” like some others, disliking the informal address) coming out of her building with a tray of steaming pastries. When had she gotten back? Pyrrhus frowned briefly, making a mental note to chat more often. The last time they’d spoken he had said she needed to take care of a few things and apologized that she wouldn’t be around. Come to think of it, she usually disappears just before a conflict… and then things always work out.
Pyrrhus turned back to continue to the Manse when a thought stuck in his head. An image of Lady Starbuck shuffling between buildings was overlaid with depictions he’d seen of the Northern Bull as a muscular, white haired warrior in his prime. Bull of the North was on the verge of dying of old age when he had been blessed with Solar Exaltation, restored to perfect health. Underestimation is the perfect disguise, he thought with admiration, remembering her at Calibration, years ago:
The woman with silver hair and granny dress came through the gate in a starburst. For a moment Yu-shan and Meru lay against each other once more.
Pyrrhus started at her sudden appearance, then smiled and bowed. “Lady, it is an unexpected pleasure to see you again. Welcome to the company,” he said, inclining his chin to the shining gold circles of her Caste mark. “I think perhaps I underestimated you, previously.”
“Oh, most people do. That’s intentional. No offense taken…,” she said as she placed her hand on the next gate…
Lady Starbuck had survived longer than any of them… Pyrrhus flashed back to defending the Jade Prison, full of Solar shards, from that necrotech behemoth. When the Solars were again released on the world, Starbuck was already well established. His Circle predated all other Solars as far as he knew. And yet, there was Lady Starbuck. How is that possible? Pyrrhus shrugged. There were always more things to learn.