When We Left Our Heroes
A cool evening breeze ruffles the trio's hair as they enjoy a dinner of wine- and fishfruit atop the tower. To the west, the lengthening sunlight glints golden from something emerging from the trees.
Shortly, two figures can be seen moving across the clearing; moss bears trundle along behind them, carrying bags of supplies. The evening light sparkles on their daiklaves, and the man's golden breastplate.
The Manse's new master has arrived.
Topaz is dressed in his best and most luxurious clothes, such that he was able to bring with him through the jungle and after helping to add some 'polish' to the manse...ready, eager and willing to meet the Solar and see what all the hubub is about.
Echo , upon seeing the travellers, springs into action collecting fish and wine fruit to help them relax after their journey through the jungle. He prepares himself to greet the Exalts.
Hasan rushes off, performing a crash inspection of the Manse, making sure that all the furniture is arranged in a pleasing manner, no errant twigs are lying around, and so forth.
The God-Bloods finish their business and arrive in the atrium just as the two Exalted are approaching the tower.
The man is the first one to push through the hanging moss curtain and enter the Manse.
He looks to be of Varangian descent, with dusky skin and black hair. A golden sunburt gleams faintly on his brow; significantly gleam comes from his shining orichalcum breastplate, worked with elaborate, abstract patterns.
(significantly MORE gleam)
A daiklave is strapped to his back; aside from the massive weapon, and his armor, his clothing is practical, consisting mainly of well-kept leather,
Planting his feet and folding muscular arms across his chest, he surveys the atrium, a look of hateur on his aquiline face.
Behind him, the woman passes through the moss.
Unlike the man, she is sweating.
Her long, vibrant purple hair is tied back in a long, loose tail, somewhat straggly from the humidity.
Like the Solar, she carries a daiklave, this one considerably smaller and showing the characteristic rainbow sheen of starmetal.
A circlet of the same material helps hold back her brightly-colored hair.
She is dressed much more practically than the man, considering the jungle heat. Her cloth pants are stained with various vegetable ichors; her shift is soaked with sweat.
Despite her disheveled appearance, she exudes an almost palpable aura of power. There is something unmistakably regal about her bearing; that, and the artifacts she wears, mark her as one of the Sidereal Exalted, even to those not close enough to see the stars in her bright blue eyes.
From the description given them, the God-Bloods recognize the woman as Scintillant Iris Bloom, the Sidereal they have been waiting for.
She draws up beside the Solar, looking approvingly about the room.
"Exactly as I foresaw in my divinations," she says, in tones of obvious self-satisfaction.
She half-turns to the Solar, a slim arm sweeping out in a graceful gesture. "Your new home is ready to receive its rightful master, Olba Kumar."
The man -- Kumar -- nods. "I must confess, Iris, I doubted your prognostications during our journey here." He smiles at her. "But now I see that, as always, your predictions were accurate."
"It is amazing to think that this Manse has been preserved all these centuries, waiting for my return," he marvels.
The Sidereal coyly arches an eyebrow. "Many gods, and others, have long awaited the return of the Sun's Chosen."
Echo approaches them and bows deeply to the Solar. "Honored Exalt, we, your humble servants, welcome you to your manse."
As Kumar preens, Iris shoots a quick glance to the three God-Blooded.
Echo gestures toward his companions. "I am Resplendant Echo. This is the Savant Topaz and Hasan Laughing Typhoon. We will attend to whatever needs you have."
<Echo> "We have set out food and wine for you to relax after your journey. Or would the honorable Prince of the Earth wish to see the facilities first?"
Hasan follows Echo's lead, going down on one knee before the Princes of the Earth.
Kumar steps forward and lays a strong hand on Echo's shoulder, looking him in the eyes. His Caste Mark seems to brighten; the air around him fairly shimmers with charisma.
"I accept your welcome, Resplendent Echo. You and your companions have done well, maintaining the Tree of Bounties for my arrival."
"Later, we shall discuss the history of this place, and of its caretakers. For now, though, show us this feast you speak of. A long journey has roused a mighty hunger in me."
Topaz smiles, recovering from his momentary awe, bowing low before the Solar and his guide and advisor, not even having to fake awe.
<Topaz> "I am honored, sire."
<Echo> "As you wish, honored master." Echo bows slighty.
Over Kumar's broad shoulder, Echo notices a brief expression of disappointment flit across Scintillant Iris' lovely face. It does not take much insight to suppose she wanted to bathe and change into fresh clothes before taking supper.
Echo then leads them to the open area, now no longer holding the wood spiders, where on the tables a variety of the fruits of the tree have been laid out for feasting.
Kumar nods in approval at the banquet set before him, and seats himself at the head of the table.
He gestures for Iris to sit at his right, completely ignoring the three God-Blooded.
With an almost imperceptible sigh, the Sidereal sorceress accepts his invitation, favoring him with a brilliant smile as she seats herself.
Echo bows to the Solar and steps back. "If there is nothing else my lord requires now we, will see to the stowing of the supplies brought."
Kumar nods distractedly, busy filling himself with succulent fruits of various extraordinary sorts. Beside him, Iris eats her food considerably more daintily. Before Echo turns to leave, she gives him a significant look.
Her meaning is clear: she will talk with the men later, after Kumar is settled.
As the three leave the room, the two Exalted strike up a conversation, speaking about their journey.
Three moss bears stand at attention outside the tower, their backs flattened out to carry various parcels and bundles.
Unlike the moss bears the God-Blooded have dealt with before, they don't seem very curious or playful; they've obviously been bound by magic to carry the Exalted's luggage.
Topaz gazes with rapt attention at the Moss Bears, having -- unlike his companions -- not encountered such minions before. And, carrying luggage! Oooh! So much better than his meager donkey.
Echo beckons to the moss bears. "Come good friends! Let us unpack your burdens."
The blobby elementals dutifully lower themselves so that the men can more easily reach the belongings on their backs.
Topaz assists, such as he can, in 'unloading' the Moss Bears -- he's hardly a porter, but he can carry various things that are stashed away on these wood elementals.
Echo moves up to the bears. "I suppose Kumar will be getting the master bedroom." He says idly as he begins to unload the bears.
<Topaz> "I would imagine so...he seemed the type,"
Topaz doesn't even say that sarcastically, just master-of-factly.
Echo smiles. "I've never been so awed and terrified at once of anyone. I can certainly see why the Solars are such legends."
<Topaz> "This is indeed the truth,"
Hasan helps them unload the baggage, which consists of several large, heavy bundles and a metal-bound chest.
Hasan muffles a cough.
<Topaz> "I dare say I was struck dumb..." He glances over at Hasan, at the cough, then shrugs and continues unloading such as he can.
Hasan is looking a bit flushed, moreso than one would expect from just the muggy jungle heat.
Topaz pays little attention to this, as he mulls over what the Solar said and the Tablet -- wondering if the great one will end up talking to him, and what he is supposed to say, since apparently they're not telling the entire truth about things...
Echo looks at Hasan. "You look ill my friend. Perhaps you should rest a bit. We'll move as much as we can."
Hasan wipes a hand across his sweaty brow. "Thank you. I fear I may be coming down with something."
"One of the fruits I ate must not be agreeing with me."
<Echo> "We will do what we can ourselves. Save your strength for interacting with our new master. His presence is overpowering, to say the least."
Echo makes sure Hasan will be okay befor carrying what he can of Kumar's to the master bedroom.
Hasan nods, and gratefully retreats back into the Manse. "I'm sorry I won't be able to help you carry all those heavy things up the stairs..." A cool mist wafts about his shoulders as he tries to cool himself off with his elemental powers.
Topaz idly wonder if Hasan is just getting out of work. He DID seem ill. None the less, Topaz continues unpacking, and makes to carrying stuff up the stairs...
Topaz grumbles; something about "didn't know there would be heavy lifting involved.."
Fortunately, the relative cool inside the tower makes carrying the loads up the stairs easier than might have been feared.
By the time Kumar finishes his dinner, Echo and Topaz have managed to unload all of his belongings -- recognizable by the golden insignia hastily sewn onto the wrappings -- into the main bedroom.
Hasan has retreated to one of the bedrooms on the second floor, taking a nap.
Echo prepares himself to guide the Solar around the manse, hoping to not show visible signs of being awestruck.
Kumar stands up from the table, having consumed an impressive portion of the meal.
"I believe I shall retire," he announces. "There will be more than enought time to explore this wondrous Manse on the morrow." He turns to Echo. "If you could guide me to my bedchamber?"
Echo bows to the Solar. "Certainly, my lord." and takes him to the master bedroom.
Kumar turns to Iris, but she smoothly pre-empts him. "There are a few things I wish to see to before the light is completely gone. Goodnight, and sleep well."
Topaz returns, after the packing, to the tablet where he can finish up the last bit of transcription into a more palatable language. He figured, after all, that Echo could handle the Solar for the nonce...
Echo leads Kumar to the chamber; the Solar seems slightly nonplussed that all of his belongings haven't already been unpacked and arranged just so, but he contents himself with having Echo help him take off his armor and get dressed for bed.
Echo helps the Solar as quickly and politely as possible, assuring him that as expediently as possible the manse will be made to his liking.
<Echo> After the Solar has retired Echo returns to sit with Topaz.
Topaz doesn't, immediately, notice Echo's entrance..
<Topaz> "Ah, hello... Did everything go-- okay?"
<Echo> "He has retired. I believe everything went well enough. It'll take a few days to set everything up, but if we work as fast as possible thing should be fine."
<Echo> "Though I believe the lady wished to speak with us. It would perhaps be better to find her than make her find us."
<Topaz> "Hmmm, yes, that sounds -- prudent."
Topaz doesn't immediately stop, however, until...
Topaz polishes off the last line, stops, and stands.
Topaz then glances over at Echo, with an impatient glance over the top of his glasses.
Echo nods to Topaz "Lets get this done." Before going off to look for the Sidereal.
Topaz follows after Echo...
He doesn't have to look very hard; the purple-haired woman is standing right on the other side of the door when it slides open.
Echo , startled, stammers for a second before bowing to the Exalt. "Honored lady. We were coming to see you."
Topaz just nods the affirmative. They were, yes.
<Echo> "I caught from your way earlier that you wished to speak with us."
<Echo> "What may we do for you, honored Exalt?" Echo bows again.
The Sidereal waves a hand impatiently at Echo's pleasantries, and steps into the room. "You can speak plainly; I won't strike you down just for looking at me funny."
<Topaz> "Would Kumar?" Topaz inquires, casually?
<Topaz> "Not that I intend to look at him funny, mind," he snivels out, to explain the question.
Still looking rather disheveled -- but regal -- she sits down in the artisan-sculpted chair which sits in front of Topaz' desk.
"That's what we need to talk about," she says.
She fixes Topaz and Echo with a penetrating sapphire stare.
"There are things going on here which you don't need to concern yourself with," she begins.
Topaz had already gathered that, but listens intently.
"Your part in this is to play the role of obedient servants, happy to wait on one of the greatest of the Exalted."
She rolls her eyes ever so slightly. "Believe me, Kumar eats it up."
"Be helpful, be unassuming, and for the love of all that has been held holy by anyone ever, don't let on that this place was a wreck until last month."
The woman rubs her temples.
<Topaz> "Does that include not telling Kumar about this Tablet?"
<Echo> "Certainly my lady. What should we tell him if he asks about the men who sleep above?"
"It's important that Kumar thinks this place has been preserved especially for him and his as-yet-to-be-discovered Circle," says the lady. "It would not do for him to know overmuch about its history during the Shogunate, or its... occupancy. This glorious hero of the Sun has little love in his heart for the children of the Dragons."
She looks at Echo, arching a violet eyebrow. "You brought other retainers with you?"
<Echo> "Ah... No my lady. It is... It is perhaps a scene you should see for yourself. The only way I can think to say it is that this tree births men."
<Topaz> "But, and I understand that you know more of this than I, could not the history of this place prove important to the lord's endeavors? And, of course, there are things like...that...which require some explanation."
The Sidereal shoots Topaz a sharp look. "Don't let the fact that I'm speaking to you casually cause you to forget yourself."
She turns back to Echo.
Topaz blinks, wondering why she took that so personally.
"Show me." She sighs. "Then, once we're finished with that, show me the bath."
She stands up. "Let's go."
When they reach the upper canopy, Scintillant Iris Bloom is quite interested in the man-fruit ripening there.
She prods one of the infant fruit with a slender finger, watching the fetal homunculus inside twitch in response.
"What do you know of these extraordinary fruit?"
<Topaz> "The ones that mature seem to have green hair," he notes.
<Topaz> "This is interesting because..."
<Topaz> "...there are mosiacs below, where green-haired servants tend after those who previously inhabited the manse."
The Sidereal woman thoughfully puts a finger to her lips.
"A servitor race, born from the tree itself?"
"I've never heard of such a thing, but it could be most useful if it is true."
"I thought that I would need to bind more elementals to serve as menials."
Her eyes narrow slightly. "But if the tree has been bearing these homunculus-fruit all along," she muses, "where are all the ones who ripened before we arrived?"
Topaz just nods; that sounds like it could work fine.
<Topaz> "They seem to serve the bearer of the Manse's hear---"
Topaz looks over at Echo?
Echo nods to Topaz.
The woman nods thoughtfully. "Yes, the hearthstone... I think putting into Kumar's hands will be one of the first items of business tomorrow."
<Topaz> "I'm not entirely sure where the current tree people are; in the upper limbs, mayhap?" *glance at echo...*
Topaz nodsnods; yes, the Hearthstone. They will have to empower him to take the Hearthstone.
<Topaz> "A fine gift that will be,"
The sorceress nods distractedly.
<Echo> "We have not seen any active ones since our arrival, though there were some wood spiders here when we arrived who mentioned them."
<Topaz> "I don't believe they will prove a large problem; the Tablet mentions no revolt or any such."
She shakes her head. "This is all very fascinating, but it can wait; these fruit-people don't look like they're going anywhere. For now..." she stretches. "I need a bath. Did I see hot springs near the tower?"
After rummaging through her luggage and producing a large, fluffy towel, the Sidereal heads off to the springs.
Over the past several days, moss bears and other elementals from the forest court have moved the rubble of the ruined bathhouse around. It is still open to the air, but the white stones are arranged much more artistically. It almost recalls parts of the Fallen Acropolis in Yu-Shan.
The violet-haired woman disappears behind a low wall; a moment later, a happy sigh accompanies the sound of her settling into the water.
Back in the manse, Echo and Topaz check in on Hasan before turning in themselves.
He's sleeping restlessly.
Topaz does, indeed, check on Hasan before yawning -- heading back to read over the Tablet again and pondering why he put so much effort into something that will apparently not even be shown to the Solar, before turning in to bed.
Echo checks on Hasan, wishing he could do something to help. He bids Topaz a good night before heading off to find a wine-fruit to help him sleep.