The deconstruction of falling stars - Cyan's Tale

The deconstruction of falling stars - Cyan's Tale. by Dworkin (GM)
Being a story of the events which occurred between Cyan's fall, and her reappearance, in which many grim truths are revealed, dark events described, sinister secrets unveiled, and strange alliances formed.

With diverse notes on the nature of Archon politics.

The Thing That Cries In The Night by Cyan
Regard the Thing That Cries in the Night.  Trapped and hounded both physically and spiritually, It screams out Its anguish into darkness split only by the occasional hoop of fire or ring of shining blades.  Brought here not so long ago for study, information, and possibly vivisection, a subjective eternity has passed in Its torment.  And they watch, examine, analyze It, seeking understanding as It wails into the void.  Seeking weakness.

For the Thing has not yet broken, and this is most curious.

It is not the first creature they have studied, but It is only the second from the irritating group of beasts bedeviling their efforts.  Originally they had suspected It would be similar to the Jack, but no.  By this point in time they had wrested information from the Jack, winnowed bits and pieces, tantilizing slivers of knowledge, had been working ever deeper, slowed by his layers of defenses, caught up in spiritual mazes, tricks, complex strategies.  This one, though, this Thing, It has none of those.  It simply denies.

At first they thought the cries meant the Thing would falter, fail quickly.  They soon realized the howls meant nothing - this Thing seems to be a vocal creature, giving vent to Its pain.  It likely has always been so.  The screams do not presage loss of control, the whimpers between Applied Pressure do not indicate a gradual failure of defenses.  The walls still stand, hard as granite, obdurate as obsidian.  Every noise holds an underlying tone, a meaning, and it is always the same.  No.

Denial.  Pure and absolute.

Decisions are made, of course, to step up the torment, to increase the pressure.  There are dangers - they might kill the Thing, stop Its crying in the night forever.  But they gain nothing now and It is, in the end, expendable.  They can find other sources of information and this one would be disposed of in due time.  Enhanced force might merely hasten that end, allow them to move on to something new.

The Applied Pressure increases.  Physically, mentally, spiritually.  The crying grows in the darkness, greater and greater.  In the periods of rest they heal the Thing, confusing it further.  It no longer understands what is real, what is not.  Is the pain imagined?  If so, what part of it?  Without time, the creature cannot adjust, cannot prepare Itself.  Has It been here for days, weeks, months?  Seconds?  How much of this is a dream?  The lack of sources of reference is further torment.

More pressure.  More howls.  The Thing That Cries in the Night writhes under the lash of many minds piling against Its defenses, seeking to break through, to find one little corner of knowledge.  It burns, figuratively and literally, from energies applied in manners both subtle and gross.  It bleeds, spiritually and physically, as edges razor body and soul.  A mad rage possess the Thing, and the defenses strengthen (this they find interesting - noted and catalogued).  And the screaming continues, mounting higher and higher.

Something snaps.  Something shatters.

And they understand.

There are, it seems, both rigid and flexible minds among these strange little creatures.  People believe the flexible ones to be more strong.  The flexible minds bend with the wind, rising again when the storm is over.  They give over bits and pieces to save the whole.  They allow defenses to collapse, little by little, to avoid losing the entire structure.  They survive through bending.  The Jack was one of these.

This one is not.  Rigid, unbending, It denies absolutely, refuses to give up even a particle of itself.  It holds against everything, never yielding, never bending...until the pressure grows too great.  Then It breaks.  And broken, It cannot spring back.  Broken, It gives up all.  Broken, It is completely lost.  Weaker?  Perhaps, in a way.  But It held its knowledge longer than the part.  Everything is subjective.  Comparison demonstrates that it took far, far longer to reach the core of the Jack - its mind was much stronger than this one, in terms of raw power.  But the Jack had given up its information in pieces far, far sooner than the Thing That No Longer Cries.

Had the Thing been as strong as Jack, might It have held out longer?  Might It have stymied them, completely?  Who can say?

So they sift through the wreckage of the brutalized memories, seeking, hunting, finding.  Here, an interesting piece of information.  There, knowledge that the Jack did indeed spring back, with a little assistance.  They find the disposition of the group opposing them, their place, their plans.  They find names.

When they are finally finished, they leave the Thing in Its cell.  There is no sense in destroying It, now - It is no threat to their plans.  And one of them has suggested they might yet find a use.  So they fade, vanishing to Travel elsewhere with their findings - presentation must be made, decisions formalized.  Behind them, the Thing lies in the darkness, bloody and broken.

Mind.  Body.  Spirit.

Elemental Matters / Crack in the Dam by Cyan
Elemental Matters

Consider the Five Elements.  From Earth springs Metal.  Metal forms dew, cups Water.  Water nourishes Wood.  Wood fuels Fire.  Fire creates Earth as ash.  This is the Cycle of Creation.  Metal cuts Wood.  Wood splits Earth.  Earth dams Water.  Water douses Fire.  And Fire softens metal.  This is the Cycle of Control or as it is sometimes called, the Cycle of Destruction.

Consider the broken creature lying upon the dark, smooth-polished floor of its prison.  It scrabbles ruined fingers against the impervious surface, leaving tracks, stains of deeper darkness.  It cries low, animal moans, the capacity for tears having long since deserted it.  It desires a wall against its back, though it does not have even the strength to roll in search of one.  It holds memories but they are at best fragmented; at worst they are nightmares.  Though it does not seem so, now, this whimpering, mewling being was once best defined as Fire.

Now consider this.

James might be thought of as Earth - strong, stolid, unyeilding in his beliefs and support.  Dorian could be Metal - brilliant, hard, edged and dangerous in mind and action.  Berd is certainly Water - dark, unseen depths, conforming to whatever he faces and finding a way through the smallest weakness.  Aaron would be described as Wood - growing, changing, always seeking to rise to a higher plane.

The creature was Fire.  Bright, dancing, and mercurial.  It provided warmth, but ill-advised contact garnered only burns.

James supports Dorian in that his presence is a buffer between the hard, sometimes difficult man and the others.  Dorian helped Berd bead together, held him in friendship for a time and gave him a place.  Berd has fed Aaron in turn, offering him loyalty and unquestioning assistance.  Aaron's example of a man overcoming his own flaws pushed the Fire to seek out new experiences and learn from them.  Fire's passion lit something within James that lay dormant under the weight of horrors experienced.

Dorian's hard edge and razor purpose keep Aaron questioning himself and growing toward stability, not dispersion.  Aaron's commands press James into decisive action.  James' granite walls are the moat carrying Berd on his course, preventing him from pooling or meandering.  Berd, through guidance and wisdom, once restrained Fire's impulses to a more gentle path...although Berd has controlled in other ways, and allowed Fire to run out of control from time to time.  Fire's warmth softened Dorian, allowing him even greater strength in flexibility, like that of a sword.

The Archons do not understand this.  They are not water.  They are at best of fire themselves.  At worst they are unformed beasts, with little knowledge of subtlety (in certain areas, only).  They know only one way of controlling Fire - beat it into smaller flames, more easily handled, more easily taught to burn under control.  An inefficient and brutal means of domination, but the only one they know.

And they have set about doing so upon Fire.  With a will.

Now Fire gutters.  It is nothing more than scattered coals, flickering embers coated with the dull grey dust of ash.  Soon these, too, will fade; with a final flare, each will die, and the transformation will be complete.  Only the cycle will not continue - Fire will change to ash and blow away in the wind.  That is, assuming the Archons allow it.

They will not, of course; the torture is not complete, not nearly.  For they have decided, given what has been discovered, that there is a use for this Fire, this burning thing flickering dimly in their 'prison'.  They will feed the remnants the fuel of their own making, coax it back to light in such a way that it can be used by them, focused for their own forges, their own furnace.  Set as a pyre on which they can burn their enemies.  That to do this they will have to use the few, small embers that remain...that means nothing to them.  They have ever been the sort to ignore the root in favour of the tree.

The light within the cell grows.  Shrill screaming begins as gleaming blades cut air.  Shadows dance under the light of a ring of flame.  And the broken creature on the ground finds it has the strength to move after all, enough to claw the ground with savaged fingers, to push with twisted, crippled feet, to strain its bloodied, burned body in a pathetic attempt to flee.

Hopelessly, of course; even if it could run, there is nowhere to go.

Crack in the Dam

Broken, she hangs in the void.  Nothing about her, nothing to grip, nothing on which to lie.  No frames of reference, no way to count time, nothing on which her senses might catch.  Nothing.

But there are voices.  Her own and others, echoing in her mind.

...not Shadows...real, as real as any other...Choice is the matter.... am one of these 'Shadows' of which those connected to Amber and Chaos banter.  I dislike the term, shall we say...will not tolerate the alteration of his soul! one controls me, I am real... This, I suppose, makes me one of these shades, less solid...I gave the man a choice - he has not yet finished making it! better than calling me chaudatu...

Years of memories burn at her all at once.  Years of railing against something so important it became the focus for her life.  Years of belief that there is no difference between the people of 'shadow' and the people of 'reality'.  That belief is as solid as the roots of a mountain, as enduring as the stars.  But what of her?  Is she different than people of 'shadow', of 'reality'?

More memories pour forth to flood her thoughts, drowning her.  Again, many things she has said rush back into her mind, clamouring for attention.

Will you tell me, Berd?  Bird?  The truth about Shadows?...I came into existance at that moment!...How long have you been there, pulling the strings?...I have no free will, Berd.  You have stolen that...You told me there were no Shadows, Berd.  But you lied...Every decision I have made is now called into question...  What would you name me?...I was given life, told I was free, set with invisible chains, and lied to for my entire existance...How often have you controlled me, Berd?...You created me...Each and every secret manipulation shaped me further...This rage that falls upon me, you created that, too?...I am not my own creature.  I will never be what I could have become.

I will never be what I could have become.

Agony twists her (has she done this, thought this, over and over again?  How many times?) and she claws at the void, struggles to thrust away that most horrible of torments, the truth.  A pinprick of light appears and the woman desperately reaches for it as the voice whispers in her thoughts.  And what are you?  A slave.  A twisted thing, made into what you were created to be, not what you could have been.  A weapon, a tool...nothing.  As much nothing as you see around you.  Choking on her tears, the woman strains; unable to reach the shining point she curls up around herself, and claws at her neck and shoulders with torn fingernails.

"...nothing," she whispers, choking out the word into the void.

So then, the voice continues, what good is going on, knowing that whatever you would have been, should have been, you will now not be?  Knowing that the controls placed upon you, the choices denied you, the shaping that has been the course of your life, all have warped you into something far, far distant from the first cast at your target?  For even created by that creature you had a chance to be yourself.  She shakes her head.  The voice is correct. There is no point - none at all.  Better to die, here, in this void, to end the (-suffering, the endless pain visited upon her, the torments that will follow this session-) pointless existance.

And what of the others? the voice whispers, more quietly.  What of those lying between the poles of reality?  She tenses - something about this question clenches her fingers into fists.  Are they not set to the tune of those who hold the controls over reality?  Have you not seen them altered?  Have you not heard of them lost in the thousands, the millions, just to appease the Poles' desires and whims?  Images strike her - a gaunt man watches armies battle and thousands die, over and over again, recreating the circumstances with small differences to satisfy curiousity...twin armies, one sea-born, one land-locked, hundreds of thousands of giant, red-skinned creatures and short, furry men, all slaughtered in a vain attempt to retake a throne about which they care not at all...demonic forces strive against one another, called forth from their worlds to do battle at the bequest of the lords of the twisted entire world of creatures, shattered and destroyed because it is determined that someday it might pose a threat...the woman clenches her eyes shut, but it does no good.  Image after image of 'shadows' torn and savaged by wars, of people slaughtered, of experiments on a scale so vast they beggar the mind, of draconic decisions and massive manipulation.  She cowers before them, unable to stand it any longer.

What would you do with these?  Save them?  How?  Their decisions, their worlds are no longer their own, any more than yours.  Taken away by the Masters of the Poles.  Can they be saved?  Or would it be better to wipe the slate clean?  To begin anew?

""  She shakes her head.  "...don't deserve to die..."

Not deserve.  This would be a mercy.  Like you, they are not what they could be.  They will never be - they will only be slaves.  But if it burns, all of it, perhaps something greater will arise from the ashes?

"," she gasps, "will what you wish be any different?"  Brave words, and the same as she has said dozens of times (has she?  Has this happened before?).

This time though, the voice detects a hint of doubt and moves to widen that crack.

Nothing lasts forever.  Eventually our own civilization will fall.  Another will spring up upon its ruins.  Who can say that one will not be a better one?  We are merely the catalyst for the universe to purge itself of these Poles.  To remove them.  Only after they are gone can something worthwhile rise.  There is nothing but cold logic in its voice.  Now, there is no chance.  With the Poles gone, there will be.  Everything must be destroyed, and out of the ashes will grow a new universe.

"...I can't," she sobs, hammering her forehead with the heels of her palms.  "All of those people...."

You will deliver them from this hell into which they have been placed.

""  But the denial is weak this time, weaker than it ever has been.  The woman is crumbling all at once.  Just like before, the voice notes.  Hard, hard until she shatters and then everything fails.  It makes note of this fact yet again, then considers its next move.  The reality of it is that there is only one move to make, over and over again.  This is not chess, as it had been with the Jack.  This is a battering ram against an obdurate gate.  Sooner or later either the ram or the gate will fail.

Regrettably for the woman, there are many voices, many rams.

You will see.  You will see.  Crooning the words, the voice pulls away, leaves the woman in darkness again.  She stares at her hands, fingers inches from her eyes, and sees nothing, not even the light on dark of her own blood on her fingertips.  Those fingertips sink into her hair and she grips hard, pulls, letts out small wimpers while floating in the darkness, alone with her thoughts.  Thoughts on betrayal, and control, and euthanasia on a much wider scale than ever before considered.  No.  no, I will not.  I cannot.  All of those people...those people...people....

Fire blooms in the void.  The crimson-gold light flickers on spinning, glistening metal.  And the screaming begins again; it rises and falls for a long, long time.  By the time the agony ends, the sounds are hoarse gasps from a swollen throat.

Broken, she hangs in the void.  And there are voices.  Her own and others, echoing in her mind. one of these 'Shadows' of which those connected to Amber and Chaos banter.  I...dislike the term, shall we say...Choice is the matter....This, I suppose, makes me one of these shades, less one controls me, I am real...

...I am real...

Reboot / Iron Nightmare by Cyan

The void is a cool, comforting embrace.  It slowly pulls the pain away, fills burning heat with numbing chill, and takes away all distracting senses.  She drifts, empty of everything save the voice - its questions and her own, dull answers.  The only answers she can now give, after the repeated scouring of her body and spirit.

(is that a tiny, third voice within?  sobbing in the corner of her mind?  no...)

What is best for you?

What he did not put within me.  To make my own choices.

How can you know you do not do what he wishes?

By doing what he would not wish.

How do you feel about that?  Is it your choice, or simply rebellion?

My choice.


The universe is broken.  It is not what it should be.  It is not what it could have been.  This false universe must be torn away, and a true one allowed to grow in its place.

And who will do this?  Who battles against the controlling poles?


And who will help us?


And will you die for this?



Because I will be, for the first time, me.

...what was that?

We heard nothing.


Very well...will you kill for this?



Because it is all wrong.  Better to put it from its unknowning misery.

To put what?

Those who stand against you.




...all.  Everything.

Very good.

It is ready.


It is good.


Then do we begin?






And the light slowly grows in the void, revealing her feet, unscarred, unwounded upon the ground.  It is cold, and her toes curl up.  The light travels up her bare legs, her naked, pristine body.  The strands of her brilliant, copper hair are clean and free.  The light shimmers upon the simple black clothing upon the floor, clothing she moves to pick up, to slowly pull on, her face still shadowed by her gleaming hair.

A dancing flame grows before her, slowly twisting through figure eights into a wheel of brilliant flame.  She bows low, to it and to the two gleaming, spinning wheels of death fading into view behind the Master.  Strange how she never saw their beauty before.  A small smile then, as she tilts her head back to study them, and the light shines on her cheeks and gleams in the quick flash of her white teeth.

But it does not illuminate her eyes.  Their irises are black - black as chips of obsidian.

"I require a weapon," Cyan states, respectful but firm.


Iron Nightmare

The chair is cold against her back, against her buttocks.  She sits in silence, naked as the day she was 'born'.  Was she naked then?  The woman can no longer properly recall.  Those memories have broken, shattered, and pieced themselves together in a maddening jumble.  The further she goes back, the worse they become.  Sometimes it's safer not to dwell on the past, but to look to the future, even a future as short as hers.

Even a future as short as that of the universe.

The room is cold, but not empty.  A faint breeze blows through it, the spinning blades of the danioti on either side of the chair stirring the air, sending goose-bumps up her limbs, across her naked back.  The dim light scatters, reflected a thousand, everchanging ways by their metallic edges.  That light emmenates from a shimmering, dancing schematic before her - information rendered into means she can control.  The woman reaches out to the ethereal vision, touches part of it, and the light changes, more information - maps, diagrams, numbers - dancing across it.

"Good," she whispers, her voice rough.  Days later the woman's throat is still weak from her screams.  But those are behind her - only her voice and the echoing memory of fading pain reminds her of the days, the weeks of torment.  "The first and third are almost completely assembled.  The second lags...."  The woman frowns, knowing full well she cannot be everywhere, deal with everything at once.  Asking the danioti to take care of the problem is foolishness - their ability to handle these sorts of issues terminates at the edges of their blades.  Literally.  And slaughtering subordinates does not make for a loyal force, only a craven, broken one.

Fear and respect are necessary, but terror and hatred breed weakness in an army.

I cannot ask the ashuranti, either.  I would prove myself incapable.  She must prove her worth to the higher lords, not run to them every time she has a problem.  But the woman does not have a support structure, does not have a chain of command she can trust.  I need one.  Who?  Who could I find?

A number of names spring to mind.  Beldrin.  Duncan.  Andrej.  Lazarus.  Lexy.  Kaelyn.  Any of these might be sufficient.  No.  She discards Lexy and Kaelyn immediately, as well as Lazarus.  The first and last are both of the Courts, and it would be best not to stir that particular slumbering giant in her direction quite yet.  Kaelyn?  I could never trust her at my back.  Her so-called honor suits her own purposes, nothing more.  It might be amusing to track her down and 'explain' one or two things to her,  Personal anger aside, carrying a grudge has never been her way.  A passing fancy, nothing more.

The others, though - they might be amenable to discussion.  To see the truth of the lie in which they live.  To see what has become necessary.  To understand the purpose.  Of course, it might require a bit of persuasion, but that isn't her area.

...deep inside, something fights furiously against this line of thought, then subsides, exhausted...

The woman taps a finger on the throne.  Aaron?  No - he leads, and will not foresake them.  Devlin?  I know nothing of him.  Serena...I think she would never break her healer's oath.  She would not understand.  Luke?  Madness trying to predict his actions.



Leaning back, she raises her hand and now the finger taps at her lips.  Possibilities, possibilities.  James knows of pain, of the horror of life twisted beyond its purpose.  Dorian has seen the depths of misery.  Both might very well understand.  James has been a soldier - he would be a perfect aide and guard in this circumstance.  Not merely solid, but dependable to the extreme and capable when dealing with military matters.  Dorian's power might prove to be a deciding factor, and he has led armies in the past.  They-

...fury builds, exhaustion fades, and the small voice rages, battering hysterically against its prison....

Frowning, the woman clutches at her own shoulders for a moment, a sick feeling washing over her.  Shaking her head, she abandons that line of thought.  For now.

But I still require assistance.

Pausing her ruminitions, the woman looks around the room.  The light has grown brighter, and she instinctively glances up to see the burning ring of power slowly fade into view above her - an endless wheel of might, a will as bright and hot as a star.  And within it, a slice of darkness floating like the axel of its fiery body.  Harabonah.


The woman stares at the image her lord gives to her, the long black line in the air, and smiles.  Yes.  "Yes.  If you would, may we go at once?"


Her eyes, twin in colour to the blade itself, shift to stare at Harabonah, his light a ring in her black, black irises.  "The Assembly goes well, Lord Harabonah.  I will require paper and pen, soon, in order to continue, but this will do for a start.  And I have a further request - even the greatest warrior, the greatest general, can be slain outright by a falling arrow.  But there is a ward against that, and I know where it might be found."


Naked she stands, staring at the vision of the long, sheathed blade before her.  Closing her eyes the woman nods.  "Yes."

And I pray he would understand what I will do.

Needs Must by Cyan
~~...can't hold them!  We can't hold them any more!~~

~~...coming through the walls!  They're coming right AAAHH -~~

~~...the name of Cyrilla are they?  CP spitters don't even touch them!~~

~~...she's just one woman!  Get her, get he - hakkkt -~~!  Section seven!  Come in!  Janya!  ANSWER ME!~~

The old man stands behind ranks upon ranks of men, all armed and armored, all carrying the most fearsome weapons their world can bring to bear.  His sad eyes sweep the room, this last bastion of their kingdom.  Not the throne room - that lies above, no doubt in ruins by now.  No, this is the Vault; here rest relics of other ages, both recent and distant.

Ahead of him the men lock their vanaches into place as comm-units still play out the litany of death above.  Jeweled Sun-rods begin to shine, channelling arcane energies through sigiled circuitry worked in the signs of the Elder Gods.  Another rank of men to either side of the door activate Shimmer-swords; the orichalicum blades hum, their thaumaturgical fields fully empowered and monomolecular edges vibrating at 0.32 Terahertz.

Silence finally falls over the radio.  The soldiers tense.  The old man, the Keeper of the Vault, prepares himself.

A hollow scream fills the chamber and men and women of the guard wince under the protection of their crys-helms; theurgistic auras dampen the sound and holovisors automatically struggle to identify the threat.  The old man staggers, claps hands to his ears, and watches as a circle of first dots, then sparks, appears in the massive vault door.  It becomes a howling, screaming flame for an instant, the awful ring of steel eaten away under a remorseless assault, then the eight-foot disk of torn metal falls inward, the edges of the wound left in the door jagged and torn.

In floats the Wheel of Blades, turning flat to do so.

Sun-rods lance it, dozens of burning rays falling on the metal; it smokes and boils, and blades shatter.  Two men leap forward, their Shimmer-swords flashing; one dies, instantly, torn to shreds.  The other manages to carve away three shining-edged disks before he explodes in a shower of blood.  The swordsmen prepare themselves; Sun-rods expended for the next few seconds, the guards around the Keeper hunker down behind their vanaches, peering through the transluscent shields.

Another Wheel slips through the door, this one a small, burning ring of light.  It slowly expands, rising up toward the ceiling, and a silhouette steps into the smoke and dust behind it.  A woman, the Keeper realizes in shock.  A woman in a belted black silk robe, wearing what appear to be small, black slippers.  Her leg is visible for an instant as she steps through the carven 'door', and the Keeper blinks at its long, smooth shape, pale against the liquid darkness of her thin robe.  The woman is naked, he suspects, save for the robe, the slippers, and the spatters of blood on her hands, her ankles, her face, on the steel sword she holds in her right hand.  If there is any in her hair, he cannot see - the strands are of a shade far more brilliant than what has leaked from the palace defenders.

The men charge, knowing this to be only the first wave of the invaders, knowing full well that should they survive this the next will destroy them.  They charge in a berserk madness, seeking only slay before they, themselves, are killed.  The broken, burned wheel slides through the air like a ghost toward the group on the left; the woman faces those attacking from the right without flinching.

She kills the first man with a simple thrust, timed perfectly to land an instant before his blow, then they are on her.  And dying, dying as quickly as they come.  Her blade draws bloody arcs in the air around her, cutting through weak joints of armor and parrying the flats of the orichalicum vibro-weapons.  On the other side there is only a cloud of blood and screams as the men throw themselves upon the Wheel.  The Keeper isn't certain which is more horrible to watch.

It's over all too soon.

The Wheel is unsteady in the air now; it wobbles and yaws as it floats.  The woman wipes away a smear of blood from across her lips with a frown and a faint look of disgust.  The Sun-rods, recharged, come up again but the Keeper, greatly daring, steps forward.  "Wait!" he cries, to the men and the woman.  The men stop.  Hesitating, the woman holds up her hand and the Wheel hangs in place.

"Yes?" she asks quietly, her voice shockingly pleasant.  Even curious.

The Keeper swallows.  "Why...why have you come here?"

The woman blinks, as if this question had not occured to her.  She glances up at the Wheel of flame hanging near the ceiling, then cocks her head to the side.  "You have something I want.  In here."

The Keeper coughs.  "What?  No.  No!"  He points a finger, a trembling finger.  "You have been in our lands for days, now, cutting your way across the countryside!  You killed hundreds, thousands!"

She frowns.  "They attacked us."

"You-"  The old man swallows.  This cannot be.  "You never said anything about wanting anything!  Did you?  What about our king?"

"Your king?"  The woman looks confused.  "If he did not impede our progress, most likely he is alive."

This is impossible.  Surely someone must have spoken to them.  Surely someone must have...asked?  "Well, what is it you wish?" the Keeper inquires skeptically.  If I keep her talking long enough, perhaps reinforcements may arrive.

The dripping blade comes up to point.  "That."

A sudden fear strikes the old man now, a sudden realization that perhaps, just perhaps, the woman speaks the truth.  He slowly turns to look at the long, heavy shape hanging on the wall in the small cubby near the back of the room.  There isn't any dust on it yet.  It hasn't been there long enough - only a few weeks.

That fact alone makes him finally believe her words.  Goddess...did no one ask her?  Were they attacked when they reached the borders of our lands?  He looks at the whirling Wheel of jagged metal and sees the border guards, terrified, opening fire.  Sees the horrifying counterstrike, slaying all of them as these men and women of the palace have died.  Sees reinforcements hurtle themselves at the woman and her entourage - dozens of bladed wheels, or so it is said, and several of the Wheels of fire.

He sees how it began, how it perpetuated.  All because no questions were asked and the woman doesn't seem in the mood to offer information.

Goddess, what have they done?  What have WE done?

"Back!  Back, all of you!" he cries.  The guards stare at him with mingled betrayal and relief; not deviating their aim, they slowly part under his imperious waves.  Then Sun-rods rise, and the light from the burning Wheel above dims ever so slightly.  And while you stand there, pray our king yet lives.  "Please, noble visitor," he whispers, "take it and be done with us."

The woman tosses her steel weapon down; it rings on the floor as she strides forward.  "Walk with me, Old Man," the copper-haired maiden requests, politely; to his surprise, the Keeper does.  Something about her drags him along against his better judgement.  She walks slowly, allowing his old bones to keep up.  "Tell me - how did this come to you?"

"Our king...our king before this one," he replies.  No blood in her hair.  Beautiful, with a powerful vitality, but her eyes make him shy away.  "He led a revolt against the Despot, and overthrew him.  Where he found it is unknown, but it became his symbol and men flocked to his banner."

"Mormegil," she whispers, a word he does not understand.  "And what happened?  This was recent, was it not?  You remember it, I can see in your eyes."

"Yes," the Keeper replies.  "Ten years ago."  He steps past jeweled statues, objects of art, items of technery so potent they defy description.  The woman ignores them.  "In the final battle, he slew his best friend in the chaos.  There were dark whispers as to his purpose for doing so, though he always claimed it was an accident."  Hestitantly, the Keeper dared to offer his personal opinion.  "I...believe it was."

"You would be wrong," the woman replies, a small, twisted smile on her face, "though certainly it was not your King's fault.  And someone took revenge, did they not?"

"Indeed."  The Keeper vividly recalls the horror of that day, there in the throne room.  "His brother-in-law, his best friend's former lover.  He snatched the King's own blade from his scabbard, slew him."  The old man grimaces.  "It was not an...unpopular decision.  The King was a great rebel, but a poor ruler."

They stop before the alcove and the woman looks up.  "Same stories told over and over again.  And the fault does not even lie with you, does it?" she whispers.  The Keeper, about to answer, sees she stares at the item hanging before them and with a frisson of horror realizes her words are directed toward it  "And he hung it here, afterward."  Her eyes turn to him, and the Keeper shudders.  "Wise man.  Maybe he'll make a better ruler...for a while.  Until everything ends."

Turning back, she reaches out one hand and grips the scabbard, lifting to unhook it from the wall.  The other hand goes to the hilt and she slowly draws a fingerlength - the blade is the same color as her eyes.  "My thanks, Keeper."  Sudden merriment dances across her features, and she salutes him with the hilt.  "I wish your King the best, and your people too."

Horrifying as it is to contemplate, he does not think she mocks him.

Broken Monuments by Cyan
The night air is cool, stirred by a breeze flowing down from the great heights of the distant mountain.  Distant though it is that mountain easily dominates the skyline, rising far, far higher than any Everest.  Now the moon is behind its peak and the the cornea thus formed about the apex of Olympu lights the land with a faint silvery glow.  That light washes over the fields below with the breeze, beading upon the tiny blue flowers that flow like waves under the wind.  They stretch for leagues, those flowers, and from the middle of that vast ocean juts a tall spire of glassy rock.  A silent monument to a fallen hero.

But now visitors have come.

Another light, a lurid, garish crimson, spreads across the flowers as the flaming wheel materilizes with its two, whirling companions.  They bring a fourth figure, this one far more mundane in appearance - a tall, cloaked silhouette, gloved and hooded.  But aside from the whisper of the wind through the spinning blades, the foursome are silent.  An air of impatience touches the Wheels, but the cloaked figure is almost reverent.

Finally, they move closer.  One gloved hand comes up and rests against the spire.  "Ares..."  A word breathed upon the wind.


Cyan glances back, dark eyes hard.  "A moment, please - and I will take care of that."  She turns back toward the spike, jutting toward the heavens.  Now her voice drops to a low, considering tone, fraught with pent-up emotion.  "Would you approve of what I do, I wonder?  Ares the rebel?  The one of Amber who stands contemptuous of it?  The one who protected these people against a tyrant?"  Her fingers caress the obsidian.  "I think you would," she whispers, dark eyes gleaming in the silvery light, the burning fire to her back.  It flickers on the pole before her, caught in the near-translucence, and she shudders; the flaming wheel is a vision of hell.  With a nod she steps back, narrowing those obsidian eyes, so like the pillar above the tomb.

The Archons remain silent, watching, waiting.

The cloak pushes back and one, gloved hand grips the hand-and-a-half hilt of a sword; its design is unique, beautiful in its perfection.  It is not fancy, with gemstones set within, but the guards are curved and sweeping, betraying an alien design with an eye to aethetics.  The blade comes free of the scabbard silently, darker than the night itself, darker than the spire; it might be oil-dipped black glass, but the edges flicker with a ghostly, crimson fire.

The cloak billows suddenly as the sword comes around and down in a blindingly quick and sure strike that cleaves the massive piller like an axe through cordwood, splits a long gash down to the ground.  For a moment, the tableau freezes.

There comes a shattering eruption of pent-up power.  The flowers bend away from the blast, rippling out from their center.  Broken, glassy rock patters down for hundreds of feet in all directions.

Reaching up one gloved hand, the figure wipes blood from a gash in a pale, pale cheek.  It stares down into the darkness revealed, the open hole before it.  In the silvery moonlight, in the flicker of the Archon's flames, something within the hole gleams like gold.  Lips shift into a faint smile, and the cloaked figure steps forward.

Apocalypse in 4/4 by Cyan
Things are so much easier now.  Clearer.  Focused.  No more questions about whom to trust.  Trust the Purpose, and nothing else.  No more concerns about other people, their feelings, their lives.  Concern is for the Purpose, and nothing else.  No more fear of the future, of where she might go, who she might be.  The Purpose is the future.

Now there are only decisions to be made and a critical one lies before her.  A choice, a most important choice.  Cyan stares down at the case before her, lips caught in a frown.  The right path must be chosen, and everything hinges upon this judgement.  She looks up as the shadow falls over the mirror-bright glass.

"And you say this one holds close to a thousand songs, playing them in random order?"

The well-dressed teen nods enthusiastically as he gawps at her.  She notes the swing of his gaze floating down toward her chest, where the stretchy shirt is pulled tightly over her breasts.  The clothing on this world fits worse than the norm, almost as if made for children.  Cyan vows silently to purchase a shirt, at least, from a men's store.  Perhaps something different to cover her legs, as well.  These 'jeans' are incredibly tight, and ride lower on her hips than expected.  "Um...yeah.  See, it has-"

"Please."  Cyan holds up one hand.  "No more talk of 'gigs'.  And you say the sound is sufficiently good?"  Another nod, and her eyebrow arches.  "Where can I discover the music to place within?"

"Well, you can download it from the internet," he tries, then gives her a wobbly grin.  "We have a computer in the back.  I could set something up and show you."

Adjusting her sunglasses, Cyan smiles in relief.  "Yes, please - that would be best."  She frowns.  "But it seems unfair to give you nothing for your troubles."  The boy's face lights up, and Cyan resists rapping herself on the head.  "Perhaps three hundred dollars," she states, rapidly calculating.

Greed wars with lust - greed wins.  "Sure...I mean, I'd have done it for free, but..."  Now salivating for a different reason, the young man picks up the 'player', locks the front door and heads for the back room, Cyan following, uncomfortable in the machine-cooled air.  A glance at the young man as they walk - he is certainly in fine condition, young and strong.  Perhaps an athelete, or someone who simply keeps himself in good shape.  She looks away.  He is...wrong.  Wrong for what she...appreciates.  And casual dalliance has never, ever been part of her nature.

And it all comes down to casual, now, she thinks, the Purpose rearing up in her thoughts.

After sitting at a computer, the man plugs the player in and begins to question her.  Slowly a 'database' of music forms, songs with lyrics, songs without.  She inquires several times about the recording function - it appears she can do so and place recorded music upon a special device, somewhat larger than the player.  Cyan makes a mental note to purchase one of them, too.

The last song is set to download, the entire list to be packaged into the device at once.  The boy looks at the time.  "Holy shit...I've had the store closed for three hours."  He grimaces.  "Three hundred isn't enough to make up for the lost business...."  There is a faint, unattractive whine to his voice as he stands, and his mouth twists into a pout.

Sighing, Cyan pulls out a small wad of bills.  "I shall give you twice that, then-" she begins as he moves past her, no doubt headed for the door.  It actually takes her by surprise when he turns back, but there's no mistaking the arms that enfold her from behind, one hand landing squarely atop her breast.

"I've got a better-" he whispers, before Cyan decides enough is enough.  An instant later the man lies on the ground, coughing and wheezing.  Cyan stares down at him blankly, then slowly removes her sunglasses.  He looks up into her eyes, his own widening, and the once-Bard lifts him to his feet with one hand around his throat.  The other casually deflects his weak attempt to claw at her face.

"I like my idea," she whispers before hurling him bodily into the wall.  He bounces off and falls face-first to the ground; his nose shatters on impact.  The bubbling sound assures her he still breaths, and Cyan presses the 'ENTER' key on the computer just as the man demonstrated hours before.

Ten minutes later the impudent machine burps at her and she removes her player.  Putting the tiny headphones in, Cyan activates it.  She frowns at the name of the first song.  Burn.  Dropping the six hundred on the ground in front of the unconcious man, she steps over his body and leaves through the front door as the drums begin to echo.

"Don't look, don't look" the shadows breathe,
whispering me away from you.

As she walks a pinprick of light appears beside her head, unnoticed by the people passing her in the dusky light of the city streets.  She dodges around a suited man who turns to stare, ignores a bunch of chattering teens who fall silent as she passes.  The air invigorates her, even with its pollutants - there is life in these darkening streets, life that calls out to her spirit.

But every night I burn, every night I call your name.
Every night I burn, every night I fall again.

The pinprick of light flares like a tiny star and the voice echoes in her thoughts.  ++ ARE YOU FINISHED, HERE?  WE AWAIT. ++  Cyan considers her reply carefully.  She has to be particular - Harbonah's temper is uncertain.  It reminds her, briefly, of another she knew, from those in the quest.  Dark and hidden; baffling and fascinanting.

"Oh, don't talk of love," the shadows purr,
Murmuring me away from you.

"Nearly," she notes quietly.  "A few more articles of clothing, nothing more.  I wish to better represent the Purpose, of course."  A faint smile touches her lips.  "You would not have me leading your forces in rags, would you?  Destruction should come as a suprise dinner guest, not a ragamuffin skulking in the night."

Don't talk of worlds that never were.
the end is always ever true.
There's nothing you can ever say,
Nothing you can ever do...

The steel guitar screams in her ears as Harbonah's displeasure rakes her nerves like talons.  Cyan stiffens but continues to walk.  ++ YOU HAVE THE ARMOR.  YOU ARE SUFFICIENTLY CLOTHED. ++

"You required me for a reason," she points out, close to breathless.  "Will you not listen?  Is the Schedule so tight?"  The pain slackens, fades, and she relaxes, shifting her shoulders to loosen muscles.  There is a brief memory then of agony, of searing pain of body, mind and spirit.  And the pain of separation, separation from those for whom she cared.  From those whom she....

Cyan blinks obsidian eyes under her glasses, then removes the eyewear.  It's almost dark, now, the streetlights coming on.  And this is no time for past memories, real or false.

Still every night I burn, every night I scream your name,
Every night I burn, every night the dream's the same.

"Do not concern yourself.  Soon I begin.  Very soon," she whispers, and the pinprick fades, satisfied.  Very soon, she thinks again in the hidden darkness of her mind.  I will be coming for you.  Serena.  Devlin.  Jonnee Kay.  A smile grows, jagged ice on her face.  Aaron.  James.  Dorian.  I will give you all the chance.  The choice.

But either way, she knows the Purpose will not be denied.

Every night I burn, waiting for my only friend.
Every night I burn, waiting for the world to end.

Booted feet beat out a rhythm in time with the hammer of the drum as Cyan walks into the growing darkness.

On Warfare and its Basis by Cyan
The army is enormous, easily spilling over the entire valley, and campfires flicker in the night.  It is quiet, though; no shouts, no fights, no arguments at present.  The men, women, and less-gender specific of the soldiers are locked in quiet conversation, rather than the boistrous desperation of days before, when drink and violence flowed save where the Masters passed.  Now they whisper, and pass their cups and saucers quietly, the sussurations of speech edged with fear...and hope.

A change came earlier today.

From the way people speak, everyone was in the center of the camp when the new General faced three of her Marshals, three defiant creatures all certain they should have received her position.  Everyone hisses out an interpretation of the challange, the questions.  Everyone has an idea of who struck first, though most agree the Marshals reached for weapons before the General.  Some say heads rolled; others whisper of slithering innards.  Still more murmur darkly of impalement upon the heavy blade.

But all agree on one thing: who struck last.

And with those three dead, with the decrees which followed, things have grown more tight in the army...and more loose, in other ways.  Discipline is enforced, rigourously.  Former bullies, shaking with fear, have become model officers, at least for the time being.  Those who have not were removed - not slain, but transferred to supply, or other rear-echelon duties.  The Special Forces were called into a private meeting, and returned...quiet.  Hungry.  Pleased, even.

And the army now has a name, and the promise of a banner to follow.  Speculation is rife as to what that might be, but the name...a dark name, one with hope for them and them alone.  The Army of Time's End.

In the tent, the General finally pries off her helm, placing it carefully in the corner.  Slowly, wearily, she sits at the campaign table, then digs underneath it for a small, leather pouch.  Her other hand picks up an incongruity - a pair of earphones, connected to a small black device.  Slipping them on, she activates the device; as an ethereal song flows into her ears, the General upends the pouch.  Out spills a pack of cards, heavy and laquered.  The woman stares at them for a long moment, scattered across the table around a heavy candle, the tent's sole source of illumination.  She hums, and her finger taps on the table top, beating out a rhythm.

Bonfire dot the rolling hillsides
Figures dance around and around
To drums that pulse out echoes of darkness
Moving to the pagan sound.

The gauntlets she places carefully on the table.  Her fingers pass over the images, one at a time.  Here, a pale, beautiful woman with brilliant blond hair and a deep blue dress.  There, a dark man, toying with a dagger sporting a large emerald.  She touches on a blazing figure, light pouring from his upper dantien, and her nail flicks at the image.  One finger slides over an armored, scarred traveller, dark sword held high, a beautiful shade at his back.  Two more - a weary soldierat rest, the weight of the world in his eyes, and a dark, cloaked man, standing uncertainly at a crossroads.

Somewhere in a hidden memory
Images float before my eyes
Of fragrant nights of straw and of bonfires
And dancing till the next sunrise.

The General closes her eyes; the cards are empty, void of feeling to her.  With a frown she opens them again, then curses, makes an adjustment.  Now they are cold, frozen under her fingers.  Trembling fingertips dance lightly across their surfaces, and she narrows her eyes.  So close.  So close, and so far away, across a vast gulf of all three states - the body, the mind, and the spirit.

Things have changed so much in such a short time.

Figures of cornstalks bend in the shadows
Held up tall as the flames leap high
The green knight holds the holly bush
To mark where the old year passes by.

"Times change," she whispers, her voice a rough rasp.  "Things change.  People change."  Another touch on the mystic, her finger pushing that card away.  "New growth, new life.  Too late."  She taps another card, then picks up a third, studying it before sighing and setting it aside.

"And what do I do with these, then?"  They dance before her, in her uncertain, tired mind, and she closes her eyes, fisting fingers in her hair.  So many choices, so many things she could do with them.  So many she probably ought to do.  So many paths.

A crossing is coming, one she will be forced to make.  Something inside cries out, struggles against that thought.

Standing on the bridge that crosses
The river that goes out to the sea
The wind is full of a thousand voices
They pass by the bridge and me.

Abruptly the General releases her hair and sits up straight.  Her hands come down on the cards again, on the people so close, so far away.  She nods, shuffling away most of the extra cards, the cards of the dead, the long-gone, the destroyed, keeping out only those of relevance.  The Wanderer.  The Soldier.  The Walker of Dark Roads.  Her lips thin, and she places fingers upon them, touching carefully.  Lightly.  Just a hint, mind.

It is the beginning of a slow, careful dance, there in the flame-lit night; a dance that flows on as many levels as the distance between them.

Of body.  Of mind.  Of spirit.

I can see the lights in the distance
Trembling in the dark cloak of night
Candles and lanterns are dancing, dancing
A waltz on All Souls Night.

Hand of Glory by Cyan
The battle is done.  The steaming remains of the Jotenjõtte litter the field of battle outside of the small, wood-walled town.  The army now dismantles the mangonels and scorpions which gave it such a terrifying advantage, and the crossbowmen loosen the wire-wound strings of their huge arbalests.  The icy giants never had a chance.  They advanced on the walls like a slow, icy avalanche, and walked straight through an enfilade of iron bolts, massive wooden spears, and hurled boulders.

Few enough remained to surrender, as much as they understood the concept.  Now the psychers speak with them, explainmatters to both sides satisfaction, and the army prepares to move into their territory to hunt out any remainder.  But they will need protection from the terrible magic of the Jotenjõtte in their home.

Such protection is, of course, available in the town.

The General stands before the church, breath steaming as it flows from the massive helm.  The armored figure might be staring at the sky...the church...or the huge, angry man standing before it.  It is impossible to say.  But Bjeoric makes himself impossible to ignore, his heavy spears couched at the ready.  "You'll nae be taking th'hand - it's ours, t'give or t'keep as we wish.  If ye asked, mayhaps we'd've given 'er over, but now?  I'm thinking no!"

The huge helm tips slightly, the head cocking.  "Bjeoric."  The voice echoes strangely within the armor.  "You no longer require the arm.  We will have it, either by your leave or by force.  The choice is yours."  The man snorts, holds his spear the more tightly.  The voice drops, encompassing only the two of them.  "I understand you do not wish it taken.  But you have no choice.  Look at the numbers - I can double them in an hour.  You are already outnumbered five to one, and your gates are open."

One hand waves back toward the battlefield.  "We have already had one massacre today.  Will you give your people another?  Their own?"

Bjeoric frowns, a muscle in his face twitching.  His scarred hands twist the shaft of the spear for a long moment as the General stares back without concern.  Then, spitting to the side, he grounds the weapon.  "Take it, then.  Take it, and be damned."

The helm straightens.  "We are all damned, Bjeoric.  The difference is some know, and some do not."  Armored feet thud through the snow as the tall figure strides forward, past the grim, dark warrior, and the General's aides tense.  But Bjeoric has made his choice; his eyes drop the the snow, and he leans heavily on his spear as, behind him, the doors of the Church open.

And there, before the General, is the prize.

*     *     *

The Army of the End of Time is at its Barracks, with new ones being constructed for their newest 'trainees'.  The Jotenjõtte will be difficult to handle, and have only limited usage given the heat of some worlds, but when they are brought to bear upon an enemy...well, that will make things much more easy.  Indeed, with the proper explanations, the Giants seem almost eager for the chance to strike out.  Almost as though they have been waiting for this, their fimbulwinter, for all of eternity.

The General supposes they have.

Heavy cloak sweeping behind her, she marches down the long, stony hallway.  Here, it is much warmer than before, than the world of Bjeoric.  He should have joined us, the General reflects sadly.  Not that it would matter in the end.  But at least he would be taking a stand against the forces of control, of dominion.  Twin, glittering circles in the air before her widen into spinning wheels of blades, but the General does not give the danoti more than a glance.  They part to let her past, and she walks into a room that is a vision of hell.  Fire floods the air, wheels of it spinning and dancing in silent communion, in orbit around a great, burning ring.  Their diabolic light puppeteers her shadow on the walls, their flames lick out to make cats-cradles with one another.  The General waits, silently.  Respectfully.

Finally, she senses notice, senses the Eyes of the Great One upon her.  The General bows deeply, dropping to one knee.  Silence reigns in the room as she reaches beneath her cloak and brings out the short, mishappen object, pale and patterend, its five fingers clenching like claws in the air.

An arm, tattooed along its every inch.

"For you, my Lord Harbonah," the General whispers.


Mobius Tears by Cyan
From a distance, the arc of forest around the lake appears perfectly pristine, untouched by human hands and as beautiful and lush as any that might be found in all the worlds.  As one comes closer, though, structures come into view, hidden beneath the clear blue depths of the water, grown and hidden among the trees.  Buildings of wood and stone, beautifully made but small, with little footprint in the woodland paradise.  Each is different, each a balance (sometimes tipped heavily in one direction) between artistic merit and practicality.  Men and women slip through the forest with easy - there are few 'roads' here, and even less vehicles.  They wear ornate clothing, some with subtle patterns, others with brilliant contrasts - all are carefully chosed to maximize their appearance.  Nothing is garish, nothing is bland.  They gather on the each to paint, they gather in glades to sing and recite poetry, and they sit in solitude under trees to write.

This is Escher, a world where artistic freedom has no meaning as a phrase - it is life, itself.

And then there is the woman.

She walks through the forest with the same ease as its inhabitants, but there the resemblance ends.  Her midriff-baring teeshirt (black) and low-slung jeans do not fit at all with the clothing and the attitude of the Esherians; neither do her heavy, black boots.  She does not pay attention to the forest around her; instead, her eyes are almost fully closed, her attention far away.  That may have something to do with the small speakers in her ears, just above her jagged, circular earings.

Someone take these dreams away
That point me to another day
A duel of personalities
That stretch all true reality

Occasionally she pauses to question a befuddled artist, asking them a name.  She leaves them staring after her in bewilderment, blinking at the play of her muscles beneath the tight clothing.  It's all so very out of place for this land.  Once an old man, toga-clad, flips over his sketchbook and begins to draw, almost frantically.  Pausing, he frowns at his image, stares at what he has drawn.  In his picture, the artist has not only pictured her striding away, but given her a halo of razors.  Another bladed ring captures each wrist, and a black bar cuts diagonally down her back, rising above one shoulder and jutting out below the opposing buttock.

They keep calling me
Keep on calling me
They keep calling me
Keep on calling me

Finally the woman gets the answers she seeks, and turns toward the shoreline.  It's a short distance, of course - this town was made for legs, not wheels.  There, at the water, she glances left and right, frowning.  It's nearly impossible to pick one person out from the score that dot the white, sandy beach, but she suspects her quarry will be found alone.

These people are unconcerned with the world without.  He has experienced more, and knows what comes.  Studying the end of the beach closest to her, she sees nothing familiar of the people, and begins to walk the treeline toward the other end of the crescent of sand.

When figures from the past stand tall
And mocking voices ring the hall
Imperialistic house of prayer
Conquistadores who took their share

And there, seated on a rock at the water's edge, at the very tip of the crescent, is the man.  A small box rests on the rock beside him, an artist's case doubling as paint-tray and easel, with plenty of room for storage.  Oddly shaded sunglasses protect his eyes against the glare, and he stares out at glittering water for long moments before touching brush to paint.

Her lips quirk in a smile, and she adjusts sunglasses of her own - black to his violet.  Then the woman walks up behind him, reaching down to her belt for a small electronic device.

They keep calling me
Keep on calling me
They keep calling me
Keep on call-

The microphones pop out of her ears, and she waits.  He has ways, she knows; it's never wise to underestimate someone, and in this case it would be extremely foolish.  And indeed, moments later the brush stills its motion, and is slowly set down before the man turns, brushing back his short, dark hair.

Leonardo Henri Cézanne is many things, some good, some bad.  Oblivious is not one of them.

As a matter of fact, he even appears unsurprised at seeing her or, if he is taken off his guard, he covers it well.  Still, his eyebrow rises as his eyes trace a path across her clothing.  Lips thin and he studies her again, taking in the sweep of her hair and the shields over her eyes.  Reaching up, she removes the shades, and he blinks once, his only reaction.  Even his voice is steady when he finally speaks.

"Cyan.  A bit out of your way, aren't you?"

Now she knows he's covering, and covering well.

"My way concerns you, Leonardo," she says quietly.  The paintbrush in his hand has vanished - she isn't certain where.  It could be sliding up his sleeve, changing shape, for all she knows.  "You've been a thorn in someone's side for a long time, now."

"Did Jack send you, then?" he asks, shifting position slightly.  Now his feet are under him, ready for movement.

She shakes her head.  "No.  I haven't seen Jack in...some time."  There is a small pause, and Cyan inclines her head.  "You were right about part of it.  I apologize for some of the things I said."

"Part.  Some," he replies, archly, "but not all."

"Not all," she agrees.

Another long moment passes.  Then Leonardo sighs, heavily.  "So.  Whom do you represent?  Amber?  I have to admit, you've changed.  'Gone Native', as the saying runs."  That eyebrow arches again.  "I liked the old look better."

"People change, as you know."  Cyan's answering smile is tight.  "No, not Amber.  I come with an offer from...the other side."

Leonardo mulls this over for a long moment.  "Not, for example, the Courts of Chaos," he hazards rhetorically.  At Cyan's nod, his smile twists.  "Another facet I never thought to see in, how our convictions can twist."  He touches a finger to his lips.  "And...what might this offer be?"

"Join us," Cyan states, diffidently.

"Ah."  Leonardo shifts again.  In his left hand, now.  He probably thinks he has her fooled, and there was a time where she might have been.  But many things have changed about her, and not only her allegiance.  "May I have some time to think this over?  Hear the terms?"

"You know the terms, Leonardo," Cyan admonishes him, gently.  "And no.  No time."

"Just like you.  Always so intransigant.  Always so-" and he moves in a blur, rolling off the rock, his hand snapping toward her, a rainbow shimmer in the air between them.  Having seen this before, Cyan is already moving from the monomolecular cut of Pièce's whiplike edge.  The rock behind her acquires a thin, black line through it as she dances away, always one step ahead.

"You were foolish to come here alone and unarmed, Cyan," Leonardo grates, teeth locked together with his concentration.  There is regret behind the glasses, but a hard, cold purpose as well.  "My people have not yet made their decision, but your presence might sway them properly.  Especially when I present them with the body of an assassin who used to be an ally."

As she dances away from the rainbow glitter, Cyan grins.  "What makes you think I came here alone, Leonardo?"  And one of her earings suddenly falls away, spinning...and expands.  As Leonardo takes a step back in shock, as people all along the beach slowly become aware of the drama unfolding nearby, the Archon grows to a pace in size, then holds steady.  Leonardo, frowning, begins to spin the razorwhip in front of him, a vicious, deadly shield.  Cyan's smile is hard and cold, and she reaches into the empty space in the middle of the flashing blades of her ally.  "But no, Leonardo - my friend here will not interfere.  This is, regrettably, my work to fulfill."  And there is genuine sorrow in her voice, despite her iron words.

"As for unarmed...."  Her hand returns from its sojourn, now tipped with more than an arm's length of black metal, metal that suddenly flickers with ghostly flame.  She pulls out her sunglasses with her other hand, snaps them open and sets them on.

"Please believe me - there is nothing personal in this.  That is behind us."

A muscle twitches in Leonardo's face, and then he sends the monowire singing toward her.  Shouts arise now along the beach as Cyan steps forward into the attack, the flaming iron cutting out with shocking speed and timing.



A length of rainbow light floats to the ground behind her, diffracting the sun's rays into thousands of shades.  Ugly crimson stains the beautiful sand in patchwork artistry.  Cyan slowly reaches out a boot and flicks away the Pièce de Résistance; it melts and shifts into a small, wooden brush.  Reaching up with her free hand, she wipes a single tear from her cheek.


The second earring falls from her ear, and both expand to two paces in diameter.  Shouts grow into screams, and Cyan closes her eyes as the Archons slide down over her body...then all three vanish.

And the waves gently wash over to a pair of oddly coloured sunglasses, lying at the waterline.

Midworld by Cyan
The rains fall, and the lightnings crash.  The storm blows the dreadful jungle, hammering the anvil of the green hell below, and the creatures within hunt, seek, and lie in wait with murderous skill, honed by milennia of evolution in one of the harshest Worlds in existance.

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation

With a rainbow shimmer, figures appear, immediately fanning out.  One of them steps on something, a small plant that fires a thorn deeply into his foot.  He spasms, cries out and topples as the others spin.  An order is snapped from the armored figure in their midst, and they circle to face outward, hunting for other threats with over seven senses.  The man on the ground writhes, lips peeling back from his canine teeth, the dusting of fur upon his face standing up as, within his foot, the thorn begins to grow roots almost instantly.

The short, thickset figure reaches his side, chanting quiet words.  A rush of healing energies passes through him, and the thorn dies.

"A lesson," the General says quietly.  "You were chosen for your senses, your skills.  This place will test them to the utmost, and not all of us will leave here alive."  The armored figure pauses.  "Not all of us will leave here," she amends.  Within the helm, the tiny speakers hanging around her neck continue to pulse out soft music, an odd counterpoint to savage storm and brutal land.

She’s coming in 12:30 flight
The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation

"We move, now."  And they do, under an invisible, unerring guidance that draws them through the forest toward their goal.  They know they are close - power attracts power, and Leonardo's 'trump', generalized as it is, cannot help but drop them nearby.  Several times arbalests thrum; once, lightning splits the air, cutting from the mage's hand.  Creatures are driven off, or slain.

The armored figure has yet to draw the blade it carries, sheathed, in its hand.  Thus far, the men have lived up to their reputation.

Suddenly one of the men ahead holds up a hand.  The group freezes, and the mage hunkers down, staring intently into space, into a mad, fractured design.  Then he nods.  "They're here."

The General breathes in deeply, then exhales.  Stepping forward, the she raises her voice to an echoing cry.  "Cargach!"

And he steps forward from the bushes ahead, appearing as if from nowhere.

I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some long forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say, hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you

The horror before them watches silently.  The General raises a hand.  "These people see more deeply into the light than you.  They hear differently.  Their skins are tougher, their reflexes quicker.  They come from worlds that would kill you as certainly as yours will theirs, given enough time.  But during that time...."

The dark figure regards the men - they are different, some scaled, some befurred, some bald as babies with four arms.  All have the same eyes, though - hard, cold, and unafraid.  Watchful.  Deadly.

"We seek only passage.  If you impede it, the jungle will take your bodies as well as ours.  Leave us to the land."

The figure inclines its head, teeth chattering for a long moment.  "I know you," it hisses.

Then it's gone, and many of the soldiers frown, unable to track it.

The General nods in satisfaction.  "Much further?" she asks.


The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company

The jungle swallows them again, and they move through it.  One man dies, consumed by some archnidal horror that lunges from a concealed burrow, dragging him within.  Another loses a leg to a swarm of antlike creatures - now the General does draw her weapon for this, shearing cleanly through the poisoned limb before the man dies.

There will be the possibility of healing, back at the camp.

Then...a dead zone.  She feels it, and the mage narrows his eyes.  "I am useless, now.  We will require assistance."

The General nods, smiling under her helm.  "Left.  Right."  As she speaks, the whirling blades detatch from her arms, falling away to grow into nightmarish metalstorms.  The danioti flank the group, slicing through vegetation and flesh (and unholy amalgams of both) with ease, hostile or not.

A short trek - another hour, in which they lose a second man.  This time the group does not even mark his passing until they have move onward five more steps.  Nothing can be done.

Then, ahead, a clearing.  And in that clearing, a stone.

I know that I must do what’s right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

The men fan out, but there is no need.  Some force, some aura has kept this clearing free of plants, free of creatures.  They are, simply put, unable to abide the lingering presence of something much, much more potent than themselves.  Evolution in action, again.  The General moves to the rock, stares down at it.  "Blood," she whispers through the driving wind, the constant roar of the rain.

And it is.

Three beads of brackish crimson lie upon the flat rock, undisturbed by milennia of falling water and eroding air.  Pristine as they were when they first touched this spot, they are the one spot of colour within the drab and dead clearing.

Hunkering down, the General stares for a long moment.  "Touching that," she hazards, "might prove more dangerous than this world."  A moment for pondering, and then the helm inclines in a nod.  "Left.  Carve, carefully, that slice from the rock.  Please."  The great, bladed wheel drifts to obey.

Pulling off her helm, the general looks up into the rain, catching it on her brow with a sigh of pleasure.  One or two of the men glance back - many rumors abound in the camp as to her appearance under the armor.  She has only appeared unhelmed, and that rarely.  But they know their jobs, these professionals, and quickly turn back.  Even the allure of the mysterious pales before the dangers of the jungle.

++ AMUSEMENT ++  The General raises an eyebrow.  ++ I AM SELDOM ASKED TO RETRIEVE SPILLED BLOOD ++

An unfamiliar sound cuts through the clearing, and more men glance back at their leader.  She seems to be choking on something...then it hits them.  The General is laughing.  "You..." she manages, wiping the rain from her eyes, before pointing at the Archon.  The other Archon abruptly makes a bizarre screeling sound and bobs in the air in amusement, possibly at the witticism, possibly at the General's reaction.  Possibly both.

I seek to cure what’s deep inside,
frightened of this thing that I’ve become

Regaining control, the General smiles dryly.  "Never say I do not take you anywhere, Left, nor show you and Right new, interesting things."

The blades bite into the rock, and water carries away the dust.

I bless the rains down in Africa,
I bless the rains down in Africa

*    *     *

Striding into the tent, the General casually tosses her helm onto the cot, and fights furiously with her gaunlets before tearing them free.  She flexes soaked hands, near frozen, and stares blindly at the table as her 'page' moves to help her disarm.  Behind her, the tent-flap billows, Left and Right following slowly, having reduced themselves to hand-sized buzzsaws.

The breastplate comes loose, and Cyan sags, leaning against the wood.  She chuckles, once, and rolls her shoulders as the page begins work on her leg armor.  "Leave it.  Please.  Find me some brandy."

The man hurries to obey, and Cyan sits, slowly working at the buckles herself.  The armor is off when the man returns to put the bottle down on the table, along with a simple, wooden cup.  Cyan gestures at the armor.  "Might something with that?  Then take the rest of the night for yourself.  I shall not require your services until morning."

Silently the man bows his way from the tent, a worried expression on his plain features.  Cyan waits until he is gone, then pours herself a full cup of brandy, drinking it in three, long gulps.


The red-haired woman looks up at the floating creature and pushes away the MP3 player sitting silently in the middle of the table.  "Solicitous tonight, Right?"  She frowns.  "I am, I am well enough."  The creature hovers in place, then dips, wavering back and forth.  "I merely seek..."  Cyan laughs, shakes her head, pours herself another cup.  "I do not know what I seek."



Slapping the empty cup down on the table, Cyan eyes the two of them owlishly.  "You grow far too clever, danioti," she whispers, then rubs her temples.  One hand shakily clasps the bottle, pours another drink.  "I am weary.  I..."  The other hand scrubs at her cheek, rubbing away tears.  "I am alone.  Lonely," she elaborates before they can jump in with their literal minds.

There is a long pause.  ++ WE CAN WARD YOU AGAINST ANY THREAT ++


Cyan smiles - it is a terrible thing to see, like a broken, grinning skull.  "You...are doing quite well, actually," she whispers, then chokes back a sob.  The third cup loses half of its contents past her lips, and she closes her eyes, whispering roughly.  The Archons stir, blades spinning more quickly for a moment as they draw nearer to her, but recognize the timbre and roll of her voice.  A song, then.

They understand music, if not completely.

Both bladed wheels float back, communing silently, as Cyan leans back in her chair, cup half-forgotten in her hand.

"I bless the rains down in Africa...gonna take some time to do the things we never had...."

Divine Retribution by Cyan
Occurs after Dorian's Revenge.

Something is wrong.

She knows that, even as she strides through the bizarre halls of the vast building.  Bizarre, for they were created for creatures who had no need for a 'floor'.  At times, they meet obstacles, her and her Warders, but the Warders serve to raise her up or bring her down, as required.

The woman isn't prepared; her servant scrambles along beside her, handing pieces of armor for the top half of her body, leaving the lower pieces for the times when the two of them float, impelled by forces held stable between the two danioti.  Almost finished, now, with only one, last greave - black, with gold trim - to set in place.  The woman stares ahead, then takes her helm and greave both from the servent - there's a long, open passage here, more than enough space to work these on herself.  "Take him back to the camp, then return," she says to the Left.  Then she frowns.  "Unharmed."

With the danioti, one must be particular.  And right now, both the Right and Left seem distressed, excited.  Furious.

The greave sets into place.  The helm clamps down on her head.  The General looks toward the door she rapidly approaches, and reaches out.  Her hand vanishes into the Right, and slowly drags the Deathiron from its centre.  She settles it into place, checking the slip-ring to ensure it is secure.  The Left returns then, mere steps from the door, and they walk through the slowly opening portal into a hellish scene.

The flames dance everywhere, and the psychic roar is agonizing.  The General winces under her helm as the eshurianti argue, fight, come close to full-out conflict.  She glances at the Right, the Left, as they draw back...frightened.  Then, setting her teeth, biting down on her own fear, she walks forward to the center of this Gyre of flame, where a white-hot ring burns, its fuel pure fury.

Harbonah glares, his fire blinding.

The General falls to one knee before him, bows her head, then looks up, squinting against his enraged brilliance.  "My Lord Harbonah!" she cries over the silent, psychic cacaphony.  "What would you have of me?"

Machiavelli's Laughter by Cyan
It has been a dreadfully long day.  Painfully, in more ways than one.

Cyan sits on the floor, her head splitting with pain; Harbonah's anger has peaked and crested many times since she arrived.  The others are gone - Right and Left fled before the fury, and the others slowly slipped away, bit by bit.  The last one was driven off by the furious ashuranti, when it realized that most of its audience had escaped.

That was six hours ago.  Since then, the anger has not abated.  The psychic echoes flow over her in waves, as the rage swells, crests, falls, bottoms out, and swells again.  Cyan is almost ready to do something extremely stupid; suicidal, one might say.

Instead, finally coming to the conclusion Harbonah isn't planning on stopping anytime soon, she slowly stands.  "My lord Harbonah!"

It gets her nothing, so she tries again.  Louder.  "My!  Lord!  Harbonah!"

The furious flow of psychic power pauses; Cyan senses she has the mighty asuranti's undivided attention.  It is debatable if this is a wise place to stand.

"You have felt a terrible sting," she states, more quietly, "yet there is still a way we can turn this to our advantage."


Cyan bites her lip, struggling to control her roiling stomach.  It is obvious that Harbonah still does not grasp the limitations of other life forms.  It is also painfully obvious he does not care, and will certainly give this torment his best effort.  "May I make a suggestion, my Lord?  As I say, a way to turn this to your advantage?"  Repetition is the key, and the phrase slowly begins to sink in.  Harbonah, a cornea of raw power without a sun, remains silent for a long moment.


Cyan nods, lips pressed firmly together.  She runs one hand through her hair, knowing her life could depend on her next few words, and settles out the nervousness.  Fear does not exist for her - it hasn't, not since...well, some time ago.  "What if I were to tell you a way you could unite the scattered factions under your banner, my Lord?  What if I could tell you a way you could deal with your opponants - not destroy them, but ensure that they remained grovelling at your feet, giving you their grudging support?  What if I could tell you how to use this to focus all the attention of your people upon your single task?"

Now she knows she has his attention; the pain in her head is a phantom only, and Cyan senses interest through the rage.

"Listen before you judge, my Lord.  Let them live.  Free."  For an instant, the anger spikes, and Cyan winces, one hand going to her forehead.  "NOT without reins upon them!" she hastens to add.  "Reins of control, of manipulation!  Use them!"  A thin, hot line connects her nose to her lip, and she tastes the blood as it trickles between her lips.  "I capture them, make them fear.  I then have some of my own people set them free, claiming to be secret traitors against me - we all know there are traitors, do we not, my lord?"  Her smile is agonized, but hopeful.

The answer is first grudging, then more thoughtful.  ++ YES.  YES.  THERE ARE TRAITORS EVERYWHERE.  THIS IS WHY THE PLANS FALL BEHIND SCHEDULE ++

"My loyal people will set them free, promising them information against us, my Lord.  And we give this information to them.  A bit here and there about your plans - nothing you cannot afford to lose, places of no import who contain traitors against you!  And we tell them more vital information to your opposition.  Key points.  Perhaps even places where lie pieces of Broken God - and WE can swoop in and safeguard those pieces, just as the enemy strikes.  Your rivals are hurt, and you gain stature and control."  Her voice gains strength as Harbonah's anger continues to fade.  "More!  Archons flock to your banner, my Lord.  Even those who foolishly did not believe in the Purpose have seen the truth.  But if the enemies are destroyed, will then not turn upon you again?"

Now her voice drops, quiet and conspiritorial.  "Let them live.  Their presence will guarantee fear in your rivals, and they will huddle under your banner for protection.  They will give unto you their shards of Broken God, for who else will have so effectively defended them from the enemy?  You will suffer the occasional attack from the enemy - a nothing, or even a means to remove traitors - and you will gain support.  Prestige.  Power.  And knowledge of your rivals, as each seeks to curry favour with you by betraying the other."

Now Cyan whispers, just her and Harbonah in the chamber, a secret meeting between advisor and king.  "The Archons are united in fear - use that fear!  Forge it into something new!"

Closing her eyes, she waits.  Hopes.


Cyan barely holds in a sigh of relief.  That, she knows, is Harbonese for 'I will make this idea my own'.  Still, he surprises her, his next words snapping her eyes open.


That produces a blink of shock.  A compliment.  An acknowledgement.  She opens her mouth to speak as he slowly drifts toward a passage on the 'ceiling'.  But his next words cut her voice off, completely.


She can only mutely shake her head.  Then he is gone, and Cyan reaches up to wipe sweat from her forehead.  A shimmer in the air heralds the return of first Left, then Right.  "Where," the General snaps irritably, snatching up her helm, "were you two?"




"Cowards," she mutters, but without rancor.  The two danioti don't seem to mind, particularly.  Heaving a sigh, Cyan looks left, then right, and shrugs, a musical sound in the armor.  "Your point is well taken.  Best we flee, all three, while the going is good.  Lord Harbonah will no doubt return to me when he has considered my...solution."  The two, jagged rings float closer, and Cyan begins to rise, slowly fading from existance into the Underflow.

And she can't stop the thought, weaving its way through her mind and rearing its head before her spirit's eye.  Was this a tactical decision?  Or something more?

Company's Coming by Cyan
Occurs after first Trump Contact with Aaron.

The General strides into the meeting tent, trailed by her everpresent guardians, twin disks of spiralling blades, each about the size of a dinner plate.  Their relative small size fools nobody.  Neither does the apparant lack of a weapon on the General's armor.  As usual, she begins without preamble.  "We are about to have visitors," the woman states, a thin smile on her pale features.  "I will require them alive."

That informs her Seconds of the nature of the visitors, immediately.

"Coil," she says, turning to the broad-shouldered, bearded man who is the head of her mage cadre.  "We will need your people to continue warding us, but I will also require two things.  One, a pair to deal with the ritual over the Blood.  Understood?"  The man nods, a gleam of excitement in his eyes at the prospect.  "The second, I require a substance that, when introduced into a body, induces mental paralysis.  A full coma, as it were.  A good quantity.  Begin searching immediately."  The man bows, understanding his orders are complete.  Rather than leave the briefing (which he knows his General does not desire), the mage reaches out with invisible tendrils, the Broken Pattern putting him in contact with his subordinates almost instantly.

"Merrick," she continues, turning to a tall, dark-haired man.  He smiles thinly, the muscles on his face pulling at the sabre-scar on his cheek.  "I require one hundred of your best, armed with arbalests.  The arbalests will be concealed around the clearing before the command tent.  The rest of the men will remain at a distance.  Understood?  They are not to intervene."  Merrick Smythe considers, rubbing his stubble, then nods, giving a quick (but not sloppy) salute.  "Yes, General." Certainly things are far more interesting here than they were in the jungles of Angola, and he is still adjusting to the unfamiliar terminology.

"Charnel."  The General turns to the final person she called to the tent.  The other woman just under six feet in height, and her slim body flickers with a deadly, emerald fire.  Long talons of this flame adorn her three fingers, and furled, hellish wings burn fitfully on her back.  Finger-length tongues of flame surround her head, and her eyes are brilliant stars.  Her name, of course, is not Charnel, but it is the one the creature has adopted within the Army of the End of Time.  Only one person within the army can pronounce her true name, and the General does not in order to avoid confusion.  "I require a full score of your best weaponmasters.  Ones who will fight cooly, without bloodlust.  Are we clear?"

"Yes, General."  The voice is the hiss and roar of a forest fire.  Charnel smiles, but rather than a savage, sick grin, it is a pleasant expression, calm, considered, and agreeing.  "Non-lethal weapons, of course?"

The General nods.  "Indeed.  I make this clear, again.  I want them alive.  No needless sacrifices, and take your cues from me.  But I want people who will not precipitate a bloodbath.  From all of you."  A hint of a smile touches her features.  "I trust you - the three of you have proven yourself over and over.  Prove yourselves again, and I know that while I expect it...I never, ever take it for granted."

Coil nods impassively to this compliment; Merrick grunts and shoots a pleased look at Charnel, who seems almost shyly embarassed by the praise.  "Is that all, General?" the former mercenary inquires, rubbing at his temple.  At the General's nod, he waves his hand toward his fiery companion.  "C'mon, girl.  Maybe we can give each other a hand with the choosing."

Coil is already striding from the tent.  Charnel touches Merrick on the shoulder almost tenderly, and waves toward the door.  "After you, Sir Merrick."  The two leave together, and Cyan smiles at their backs.

"You'd think nothing could surprise me, but I swear, if those two have one more informal meeting at midnight..." she mutters, sitting down in a field chair and pulling a set of cards from her belt.


"Not a romantic blade in your body, is there, Right?"  She glances up, grinning.  "Not to worry.  Those two are professional.  It just gives them something more for which to fight."



An eyebrow shoots up at the cutting remark, and Cyan waves a hand.  "Enough of that, you two.  Left, to each their own.  Or shall I question you on the whys and wherefores of my strategy again?"  Left dips in acknowledgement, once to her and once to Right.

"Now," she whispers as the two danioti confer silently, blades almost touching, "how long should I give you, Aaron?  And how many will you bring?"

Wanted: Alive by Cyan
Occurs while Aaron was not taking calls.

"Curse the man."  The General sets the card down on the table before her, and her frown is thunderous.  "He never, ever cooperates."  Fingers drum on the wood for a long moment.


"No."  Cyan ran her fingers through her hair.  "I realize you hold little respect for the skills of humans, but the people with whom Aaron travels...suffice to say that without proper preparation, things slant less-favourably toward us."  Her eyes narrow.  "And I dislike fair fights.  Immensely."

The hovering Archons understands that last, at least.  Why risk yourself in a contest bounded by 'rules'?


Cyan shoots a look at the bladed one.  "Because it suits my purposes, and aids the greater plan by letting him go free.  You know that."


Cyan is definitely irked.  She should have sent Left to find her sorcerer, rather than Right.  Right tends not to ask so many questions.  "I should never have introduced you to the idea of 'querying the commander'."


The General is spared from response by the entrance of Coil, ushered into the tent by the spinning form of Right.  ++ I HAVE LOCATED THE SORCERER, GENERAL ++  Cyan refrains from holding her head.  Left asks too many questions.  Right perpetually states the obvious.  Like a woman and a man, she considers briefly.

"You have requested," Coil states, brushing off his cloak, "and I am here."  Both Left and Right spin more quickly at his words, expanding slightly, and a crackling aura of tension enters the tent.  Coil blinks, as if recalling something.  "At your orders, my General," he continues smoothly.  Both Archons contract, moving back.

"Coil."  Cyan pushes a card across the table toward the Sorcerer.  "Take half of the Cadre on watch, and begin a search for this man.  Show this card to all of your people as well - he is the one most likely to test your defenses."

"How-?" Coil begins, taking the card, then pauses, staring at the image of the tall, lean man, standing at a crossroads examining a compass.  "Ah.  Psychic resonance."

"Do not focus on it," Cyan notes, "or you will alert him.  Locate him with your Broken Pattern, but only from afar.  Do not attempt to probe him.  Do not survey him too closely.  Only find and monitor his location.  Above all, do not assume he is an enemy.  He is an ally, or will be.  Understood?"  The man slowly nods, and she sees he does understand.  No hostility.  No probing.  No foolishness.  Cyan smiles, and waves her hand.  "Thank you.  Oh, and Coil?"  The Sorcerer glances back at her, already on his way out the tent-flap.  Her smile is wintery.  "I require it returned."

"Of course, General."  With a smooth bow, he is gone.





Cyan's hand almost crumples the other palanquet, that of the man carrying the black, curved blade, the ghostly woman standing behind him.  "Enough!" she cries in exasperation.  Both wheels dance back for a moment then, detecting no true anger in her voice, float forward, humming faintly.  Rubbing her forehead, Cyan returns her attention to the card before her.

Aaron...I fear that when you arrive, I will be well and truly frustrated.  Well, someone must bear the brunt of that.

RSVP Declined by Cyan
Occurs after the fight with James, and the escape.

The camp is roused by the time the General walks from her tent, yawning and tugging at her hair with mailed fingers.  A twisted smile on her face, she marches out into the open area as Left and Right settled in behind her, their shifting blades dancing and shimmering in the torchlight.  "Well.  That went better than expected," she murmurs, "if not at all as planned."  The two danioti dip and spin a trifle more quickly in acknowledgement.

The heavy, bearded form of Coil materializes from the shadows between the tents, hurrying toward her, face unaccountably grim.  Cyan, perplexed, frowns in turn - surely the man has only good news to report?  Has something gone wrong?  Sensing her mood, the two Archons grow slightly, now a full meter in diameter, their blades humming as their speed increases.  Coil, for his part, does not slow at the display, instead quickening his pace before nearly skidding to a halt before her.

He is frightened, she realizes.

"General," the sorcerer puffs, "we have a problem."  Dorian.  Her first thought and Cyan tenses, readying herself to order Left and Right away.  But no.  "Your captives escaped cleanly, but my probes have detected visitors.  Iron Warriors, nearly upon us."  Cyan blinks - this is unprecedented.  She has not seen the elite force in nearly six months.  "There are a full dozen," Coil whisperes, eyes wide.  A sound like a keening wail cuts the air as the Archons' spinning increases in angular velocity.

The general's hand comes up to point at her manservant.  "Edward - my campaign chair, the spare, and a table with wine and bread.  Quickly."  Her gaze swings back to Coil  "We have minutes?"  At his nod, she closes her eyes for an instant.  Then they spring open, black as the night sky above them, the reflections of the torches their glittering stars.  "Wake the free members of the Cadre.  Summon Charnel and Merrick."  She surveys the ground about them, judges it good.  Her gauntleted hands rise and clap together, once, twice, and the men around the edge of the open space cease their movements and talking.

"Places, everyone," the General calls.  "We shall take our last number over.  From the top."

     *                    *                   *

They march through the camp like a slow wave of black steel - a dozen dark forms, armored from head to toe, greatswords quenched in sheathes upon their backs.  The small, weak soldiers scurry from their paths, terrified, and a way is cleared before them with shouted warnings.  They have many names, these figures, but in the Army of the End of Time they are known as the Iron Warriors.  Politely, that is.

Behind their backs, 'black-hearted bastards' is the least offensive name used.

Ahead is an area completely surrounded by torches - a wide, open space before a general's pavillion.  There, in the middle, sits their quarry upon a simple chair of canvas and oak, before a small table on which rests a bottle, a loaf of bread, and a shining lamp.  The woman is unhelmed, but dressed in that heavy armor which mocks their own - ebony, as is theirs, but with highlights of gold and that hideous face upon the breastplate.  She looks up as they march into the open space, arraying themselves in a short line with their commander stepping out in front.

Cyan smiles, lazily.  That would be enough to put any sane person on their guard, but she knows the Iron Warriors suffer, as a group, from an acute case of megalomania (not in so many words, of course).  "Good morning," she calls out across the space between them.  One hand bare waves at the chair across from her.  "Experience states it will carry your weight."  A slight moue.  " of you."

Their commander steps forward, a forboding figure.  Something, buried deeply within Cyan, shivers at the sight.  She ignores it - fear is something she left behind even before her realization of the truth.  The Purpose.  "General."  The deep, resonant voice makes the title a mockery.  "We understand you have prisoners.  We have been sent to take them into our charge."

Cyan raises an eyebrow, waves once again towards the chair.  "Please sit, commander."  There is no hint of sarcasm, of irony in her voice.  "Let us discuss this fact."  The cold, dark figure does not move.  "I see.  Well, I must inquire as to your authority."

This draws muted laughter, and not only from the commander.  Several of his men seem amused by the question.  "You.  Question us.  We are of the highest servants to the Lord Harabonah.  We stand above all others.  Where are your prisoners?"  To their right, standing at the edge of the clearing beside the short, silent figure of Merrick, Coil swallows nervously.  To his mage-sight, the dark figures are enwebbed in spells, sorcerous might tuned to protect them from harm both physical and spiritual.  The least of them, he suspects, is his equal.  The strongest....

"You are a military unit," the General replies reasonably.  "You must be given orders to act.  I ask you now, from where do your orders arise?"

The commander shifts, taking a step forward threateningly.  "We act as the right hand of Harabonah himself, General."  Amusement is gone from his voice, now.

"From where," Cyan repeats, placing her glass of wine upon the table, "do your orders arise?"

A long moment passes, then the Commander slowly inclines his head.  "Merihim, second to Harabonah, sent us our orders.  From our lord.  Now.  The prisoners."

"Interesting.  This would be Merihim, Prince of Pestilence?"  Impatience from the Iron Warriors thickens the air with tension.  Across from Coil, Charnel's fire begins to flicker and grow.  There is movement in the camp, now.  Three of the Iron Warriors widen their stances, ever so slightly, and one of them reaches up to touch the hilt of his sword.  Cyan taps one finger slowly upon her chin, seeming oblivious to these signs.  "Merihim," she continues, still reasonably, "is not Harabonah.  I receive my orders directly from him."

"We speak with Harabonah's voice," the commander states flatly.  "Defy us, you defy him."

"From the mouth of Merihim?  The one who sent David McTavish into my midst?  McTavish, who recently aided my prisoners in escaping?"  The commander freezes, incredulous, as do his men.  "I think not, commander."

There is a long moment of silence.  Then: "The prisoners have escaped."  It isn't a question, but Cyan nods.  "And you have not recaptured them."  A shake of the head.  Now the commander again falls silent, ignoring the question of Daniel McTavish.  A rustle springs up around the circle, whispers of tension that drop to nothing when Cyan turns her head to survey her troops.  The Iron Warriors stand stock-still, and Coil bites his lip.  Beside him, Merrick seems made of stone, and across from them Charnel's flames cast long shadows from the troops around her.

A decision is reached.  The commander crooks a finger.  "You will come with me," he states.  "Merihim would have words with you."

"I suspect a great deal more than that."  Cyan places the cup down on her table, a pleasant smile on her face.  Right and Left move up beside her, their blades whistling in the air, but she sits in her canvas and wood chair comfortably.  "But I fear that without a summons directly from Lord Harabonah, I shall have to decline the invitation."

"You mistake this as-" the commander begins, before realizing Cyan knows full well this is no casual request.  "You refuse."  His voice is flat, now, and the eyes behind the visor are hard.  "Knowing what that entails."  One hand waves toward the army surrounding them.  "These are nothing.  And hiding behind the danioti means little."  Behind him. the other sorcerous knights slowly turn, some facing the army, two facing Coil directly.  Hands go to swordhilts.

Cyan inclines her head.  "Your sorcery is indeed potent, and your physical might...I take it, then, that my refusal is rejected?"

"Utterly."  The commander states this as fact, without a trace of gloating in his voice.  "My people will take you, and I will command this army in your absence.  Will you comply?  Or not?"  One hand goes past his shoulder, and he draws the greatsword.  As the brilliant steel parts ways with its scabbard, it suddenly ignites, the bright flame easily overpowering the dim, golden light of the lamp.

Cyan squints as she slowly pushes herself to her feet.  "I fear I shall have to ask you to enforce your decree, as I have no intention of surrendering."  She flexes her bare fingers speculatively, then reaches behind herself blindly.  Right floats up to her hand, which vanishes into the empty space of his axis.  A moment later it reappears, drawing forth a shorter weapon, the gleaming edge of the black, glossy blade suddenly burning with a pale, ethereal flame.

The commander shrugs.  "Such a weapon in your hands is a fearful thing...but my armor is spelled proof against all strength of arms.  Your sorcerers are of insufficient strength to strip away our protection, and any coming within reach of our blades will die.  It is said you value the lives of your people - prove it now.  Spare them, and surrender to us."

"Giving you their command will do nothing good for their lives, I suspect," Cyan retorts tartly.  "As for your armor...I understand the magic forms a barrier against all attacks of the physical, and only your minds are vulnerable."  She cocks her head.  "And they are, of course, my equal, or close to it.  However...."  Then she moves.  Twenty feet lie between them.  Cyan covers that space in less than a second, but the commander has more than enough time to bring up his own, far more brilliant blade to counter the burning edge of the Iron of Death.

His sword proves insufficient; Cyan slips Gurthang around it as though it were held by a child.  The bespelled armor flares for an instant as the burning edge hammers home...and through, cleaving through magic and metal as though both were nothing more than the thinnest cloth.  Head split in twain, the commander staggers, drops to one knee, and falls on his face.  Cyan's swordtip comes up to point directly between the eyes of the closest Iron Warrior, and her smile is as pleasant as ever.  "Will you be next?" she inquires quietly.

Silence falls over the field.

Slowly hands fall away from their swordhilts.  The Iron Warriors relax within their armor.  They could draw, attack, cast their spells...but the destruction of their leaders' protection stuns them, the ease at which he has been cut down has cowed them.  Utterly.  After a long moment, two of them lift the body.  A third takes a step toward Cyan, and she shakes her head.  "No threats, please."  The Iron Warrior pauses, then spins on his heel to join the other eleven.  After a moment, their bodies seem to fade, then sink into the ground.  Going.  Gone.

The wind whispers in the grass for a long moment.  Then a roar rises from the Army of the End of Time, a single word bursting forth from many different throats, over and over again.


The tip of the Death-Iron falls to the earth, and Cyan glances toward Coil and Merrick, then gives Charnel a shrug.  Her head turns and she regard both Archons as the sound swells around her; Right and Left both dip in the air.



"No."  Cyan feels the sound roll against her, and raises her free hand, but it does not stop the cheers.  With a grimace, she motions both of her commanders and the leader of her Mage Cadre to come closer - there are things that must be done, immediately.  "No, let them figure out how to spin this.  Merihem will only dig himself further into the ground, and that bunch...they can think on what they've seen here.  The only problem lies in the fact that they will not be driven off so easily twice.  This time they were surprised.  Taken off their guard.  Next time they will be ready."  Suddenly nauseated, she spits on the ground, quivering with rage.  "Vile filth."  Both Archons draw back slightly at the display, and her three superior officers stutter in their advance.  She waves them over, shaking her head.  "Enough.  We have work."

The cheering has grown to a roar with the presence of the three commanders, their own names being called out next to her title...and interspaced within those are cries that sound like commands to march.



The Archons pull in slightly as their appelations register and the commanders arrive.  Right, his own diameter expanding and contracting constantly, is silent.  Of course.

Left, not surprisingly, is not.  ++ WHY DO THEY CALL OUR NAMES? ++

"Because you're with us," Merrick says, a tight, twisted grin on his face.  "And them.  And most importantly, you faced down those armored shits with her."  The grin loosens a touch.  "Good bloody showing, that."

Now Right speaks, as Left mulls this over.  ++ I...DO NOT UNDERSTAND.  BUT... ++

Both Archons waver dangerously close to touching as Cyan holds up both hands, waving them for silence.  "Enough!" she cries, as the cheers begin to weaken, like the wake of a boat slapping waves against a shoreline.  "Well done, all of you!  Now, return to your duties immediately...and keep a close eye out."  And she motions her three commanders to follow, then turns on her heel to march for her tent.

The Archons trail in her wake, bobbing in the air uncertainly.