The two Circles entered the Manse to stay safe from the ghosts that wander the streets at night. They both had reason to distrust each other, but knew they would eventually need to make Solar allies if they were to survive.
Raksi followed the Solars in, sniffing the air cautiously, but content to observe for now. Her interference had done enough harm and she was relieved to play the part of the observer for once. Raksi had shifted herself a feline tail to better communicate through body language as it twitched nervously against the wall.
Pyrrhus’ Manse was a sprawling villa-like complex closer to the top of the mountain than the Plaza. Its doors were open but guarded by elemental servitors, and people streamed hurriedly in and out before the last light of the Sun vanished. Most of the chambers were still empty of the furnishings they would have had in the First Age, but a few – the meditation room, a bedroom or two – had been restored and refurbished for use. The overall architecture favored cream-colored pillars and tall, open ceilings, in various shades of warm exotic woods, amber cabochon gems, gold accents and deep sable-brown stone.
The central courtyard was a massive greenhouse with an accurate replica of the Daystar at the top of its glass dome ceiling, casting natural sunlight on the greenery below. The manse’s essence vents manifested as glowing veins of lush plant life, overflowing with perpetually ripe fruit, vegetables, flowers, herbs and spices – and even more exotic, engineered foodstuffs: a First Age Solar’s boastful conceit. A fountain blossomed at its center and draped arcs of water toward each wall in life-giving streams, leaving a ring of open water-shrouded space around it. The manse had been a literal godsend when they’d first discovered it, making it that much easier to support the population of mortal people who had chosen to resettle the mountain with Akaris, Pyrrhus, Starbuck, and the rest of their Circle.
Just beyond the courtyard, on the far side from the Villa-Manse’s entrance, was a lavish dining hall. Or, it was once lavish. It was sparsely furnished with simple but elegant furniture that almost but not quite clashed with the room itself… a visual tension between the old golden age and the new one they were creating.
It was here that Pyrrhus led them, drawing aside a young man with a shaved head dressed in a peculiar variant of Immaculate Monk robes and directing him to please help serve their guests. In moments the party was seated, platters of food and drink set before them – simple, but comforting dishes, especially after the extravagance of Yu-Shan.
“Shall we start over?” he asked once they were all seated. “Introductions… I am V’neef Pyrrhus, called Lightbringer, Chosen of the Sun at Zenith and Lama of the Center – that is, in the Immaculate Order, I am in charge of this district, the Center of the Blessed Isle.”
“Lightbringer, truly a proper title for one chosen under the Sun’s Zenith.” Swift bowed his head in respect for the solar. “I must ask you to forgive my candor, but I don’t enjoy being taken for a fool. Am I to believe that this is not a safe place for me and my circle mates? I was under the impression that this was a sanctuary of sorts.” Swift’s hand drifted to the chakram that was attached to his hip instinctively. He looked down at his hand as if it had betrayed him and straightened up in his seat.
“I would like to remind you of the current… Diplomatic nature of our visit. I must say, after your very unorthodox welcome, I’m not sure we have come to the right place.” He looked at Raksi, who had taken on a much more feline attitude her eyes shifting between the two Solar Circles. The tension was visible, clearly Pyrrhus’ response was unexpected.. To say the least.
Pyrrhus nodded slowly and began stripping off his armored gauntlets, laying them to one side of his plate. He unslung his sword belts as well, hanging them across the back of his chair. “Please forgive us – but you must understand, we have not survived as long as we have, here on the Blessed Isle, by being foolish, either. We have enemies — and I’m sure you’re aware enemies do not always appear as mustachioed cloaked villains as in festival dramas.”
“New Meru is a haven – for people who want to learn to work with each other and see past their differences, save Creation from her enemies, fix her broken borders, restore her people to peace and plenty, and learn from the mistakes in her past.” Pyrrhus picked up his glass and swirled the wine within idly, clearly collecting his thoughts. “If you are troubled by my association with the Immaculate Order – well, the short version is that the Order that is now practiced among the leadership and my district is far closer to the original… hmm… Solar friendly? … first age version than that which has been bullying everyone for the last several centuries. It has been a slow process, but the truth wins over fear.”
He smiled, took a sip of his wine, and leaned back in his chair. “Have I set your mind at ease?”
Akaris saw an opportunity to interject. “Actually Swift, if it’s any consolation, I have no connection to the Order here on New Meru, or anywhere for that matter.” She idly dismissed the sommelier who started to tip more wine into her glass.
“Pyrrhus and I walk different ways of life, but we both have a vision for a better Creation.” She waved a hand dismissively, “I know, it sounds all grand and exaggerated, but I’ll not sit idly by as the elements are slowly corrupted and twisted exalts manipulate towards dark ends. Others of our kind are being hunted, no doubt even as we dine in small luxury.”
“A tad dramatic without even introducing myself, apologies. I am Akaris, the Elemental Warden of the Court of Seasons, and head of the Crystarium Academy here in New Meru. We are working hard to restore the vast troves of knowledge that once resided here in the First Age, but it is no small feat.”
She folded her napkin neatly in her lap before continuing, “We’ve provided a glimpse of who we are as fellow Solars; tell us more of your journey and what brings you to the old capitol?”
Caiden checked the label on the wine bottle when he was back in the prep room. Prayer strip still going strong. I mean, it was definitely a diplomatic meeting, but something needed to remove the edge from the earlier disastrous introductions and speed things along. The wine was just a bit…stronger, one might say. Viziers had a way of making sure meetings stayed on track – gods know even the Incarna get distracted by petty quarrels.
Of course, nothing is as irritating as going too fast:_ Yes, look at me! I can Speed the Wheels! I can tangle the Loom and create microcosms of loopholed Creation! I can create a week’s worth of work in 5 seconds!_ Damned Solar charms.
One of the servers was staring at him, half amused, half frightened.
“Oh, just lost in thought – here, have some wine. You look like you could use a glass.”
“Hear hear Pyrrhus.” Swift raised his wine. He had always enjoyed the wine of Laenia’s courts, but this was exquisite. Surely it was made for Gods and Exalts to share during times such as these. “To you as well, Akaris.” He dipped his head to acknowledge the other solar.
“I too have a… dramatic,” He shot a wry smile at Akaris, “and bold vision for creation. You see it is my dream, if you will, to see Creation restored to her full and proper glory. It is relieving to know I am not alone.” He took a quick drink of his wine. “And I must say, you have excellent taste, which is high praise coming from one who has spent much of his life in the higher courts.”
Raksi looked at Swift impatiently, her tail flicking back and forth aggressively.
“Ah, forgive me, it is in my nature to prattle on, as our resident Lunar is obviously comfortable with expressing.”
Raksi gave him a piercing stare. “You have done well to put my mind at ease. It is as you say, our enemies unfortunately do not always advertise their.. true nature. Even allies can have reason for discretion. I certainly hope we will be allies in this endeavor and all future ones.”
He swallowed yet another mouthful of the bottomless nectar in his goblet. “Ah! Not to worry,” he said to no one in particular, “I won’t hold an oath over your heads on that one. As for our purpose in coming here, I defer to lady Raksi’s better judgement here, but I say let us save business for later. I find these things are much more smooth after a bottle or two of fine wine. I’m sure you’ll agree.”
Zaela blinked sleepily and yawned behind her hand. The long, long events of the last few days had started to catch up with her. Thinking back, she hadn’t had a proper night’s sleep since before the Fae attack! Capped with fine meal and perhaps a little too much wine… she would be lucky if she did not embarrass herself by falling asleep in her plate. “Yes, Emissary Colson: much more amiable. And even more so after a proper rest.”
She turned to Pyrrhus and Akaris, two seats down to her left. “I hate to impose further upon your hospitality, but is there somewhere we may sleep for the night? It has been a very long trip from the Pole of Wood. I would be happy to share the details of our journey on the morrow, as it does relate to our presence here.”
“Of course.” Pyrrhus pushed back from the table and crossed the distance between them, offering a gentlemanly arm. “Er… do you prefer to room together or —?”
“Separate!” Zaela blushed furiously and hid it in flustered flutter of sleeve and hair as she stood, her chair neatly hooked out of the way by Pyrrhus. Thank Ignis Divine that her fiance Arainn was not here to see that. But oh, she wished he was. “Separate w-would be fine, thank you, if it’s not t-too much t-trouble.”
Raksi rose lazily to her feet and stretched languorously, as she stood her feline features melted away. She looked like a woman in her early twenties with midnight black hair, subtly more mature and stable than the teenager body she had been trapped in until this year. Her clothes rippled and morphed into an silk gown made of black and deep blues with gold edging. It looked comfortable enough to sleep in. She stood next to Swift’s chair and rested his head against her side. “I think we’ve all underestimated how travel weary we are. It’s been several days now since we slept. I would love to tell you about our mission, but I think it’s best to save that for when our heads are cleared. Thank you for your hospitality.”
She tugged Swift to his feet then stared hard at the Sommelier and crooked a finger at him. “Servant, show this man to his room. Let’s all get some rest…” she sighed “…independently.”
As all were separating and departing from the evening meal, Starbuck took this moment as an opportunity to acquaint herself with the newly found allies.
Approaching the one named Swift, she began to speak. “Greetings, I wanted to officially welcome you as well. My name is Starbuck, Chosen Eclipse of the Sun, and most simply call me Granny.”
“Feel free to let me know if you need anything while you are here. I make a wonderful set of breakfast pastries and tasty drinks.” With that she smiled warmly, waiting briefly to see if there were any immediate needs or questions, before heading off in the direction of her own rooms.
“Greetings Lady Sarbuck!” Swift struggled to bow with Raksi in tow, but she slipped out of his grip.
“Your problem now,” she said to Starbuck as she walked away. Swift gave her a piercing glare and turned his attention back to the Eclipse waiting patiently before him.
“As you may well know, I am called Swift among those who care to call me such… er.. Yes, you may also call me Swift. I am formally called Warrick Colson, Resplendent Emissary of the Meridian Isles!” He bowed again, somewhat less gracefully. “I am also a Chosen Eclipse of the Sun, and would be honored to call upon you for my sunrise culinary needs.” He seemed to sober up for a moment. “Or your wisdom.” His face lightened up as he said “Might I be so bold as to say that smile is very fitting for one so… well-weathered.” He bowed again. “If you will excuse me, I fear I have enjoyed this evening much more than I planned and I must rest.”
With that, he bowed again and set after Raksi. “Dearest elder lunar! Where have you run off to?! How will I find my room?! Raksi?”
Raksi laid her friend down in his bed and kissed him on the forehead. She stood up with a shiver, clutched her arms together and walked out into the cold night’s air. It had only been three months since her restoration and there was still millenia of thoughts and experiences to work through. She wasn’t tired at all. Her body ached and shivered with a maelstrom of emotions. The magical essence flowing through her veins did nothing but amplify her fluid nature.
Pyrrhus and Akaris think of us as children because they’ve been exalted ten years and my friends only one year. They try to damp it, but I see it in their eyes. A parent to a child. And yet, none of them could imagine the gulf of two hundred of those decades stacked on top of each other. Raksi kept prowling out beyond the perimeter of the villa. No one here would be able to relate to her. Elder Lunars were a dying breed. There was really only one whom she might ever have a relationship as an equal. The memory brought a new wave of longing to her. It would be irresponsible to leave right after finding a group that actually treats you like a human being. It can wait a decade. Train some Solars, get things straightened out, then go see him, she told herself. Having a conscience was really a new experience. Her instincts were still telling her to work out her frustrations on a peasant and then dispose of them when they wouldn’t be missed.
I’ve got to do something to work out these jitters. Damn Games of Divinity. Something that doesn’t end up with someone dead. She thought of basking in the warm sun above Mahalanka and grinned. She shifted into a jaguar and headed back towards the Villa, superhuman hearing leading the way to her crackling target.
Later that evening… all the visiting Exalts were tucked up in bed – or in Raksi’s case, shifted to jaguar and sprawling in front of a hearth – Pyrrhus escorted Akaris to her own dwelling, his swords back on his back but gauntlets tucked in his belt.
“Perhaps, Lady Akaris, just to be safe: would you set a few of your friends to guard our visitors’ doors? It would be a shame if they were to succumb to angry ghosts or the other horrors. I have already requested my acolytes be ready should the guests require anything before dawn.”