"My father once told me, a long time ago, that a day would come when the stories his father told him, as told by *his* father before him, would be proven true and no longer merely regarded as the addled ranting of Goram Zahir's bloodline," Zolor says, turning so that he faces the column of cobalt fire full-on, his eyes and the chain clutched in his fist reflecting the brilliance that towers above him. "He said that one day, the light of *truth* would shine." He extends his fist into the Fire Everlasting, where it becomes surrounded by a nimbus of white light that starts to spread outward to encompass all standing within the circle.

"Let it shine."

The Bulwark

Synonyms: bulwark, barricade, rampart, bastion, parapet. These nouns refer literally to structures used as a defense against attack. To fortify with a wall, embankment, or rampart. To provide defense or protection for.
Whatever the definition, the Bulwark lives up to its name. Or, at least, did so in ages long since past. You stand within a generally square room, longer than it is wide, built as a bottleneck to keep things out, rather than keep them in, you might surmise. Considering that the only way into this area is through magical means via the very depths of Halo, it probably did a very good job of it too.
Three steel rings, set within each other, are set upon the ground at the far end of the room, providing a point of focus for those attempting to teleport here without ending up half-embedded in rock when they reemerge, while two large iron doors rest at the opposite end, their purpose needing little explanation.
Perpetual lights line the walls, constructed of spheres of Seraphite set within conical stanchions, bathing the region in a serene dusky-cobalt hue, as surreal as it is graceful. There is, however, very little else of note to be found in this room, sans the scattered remains of ancient armor, weapons, and the bones of the warriors that died defending this place.

Zolor Zahir and the rest of the contingent that had been standing within the circle around the Fire Everlasting suddenly find themselves somewhere deep within the belly of the world, below the great cathedral, as the bright light fades.

Ashlynn stiffens at Zolor's words, her expression flickering as if she had found something in them terribly ironic, before one blink and then the next opens her eyes wide in surprise when she finds herself in another place entirely. Nearly stumbling as if to compensate for some movement that had been unfelt, she turns quickly to absorb the room's dimensions and contents.

The clustered Scourges remain clustered, still, close together in this strange place. They ring out, back-to-back, their black sunburst masks sweeping in visual search.

Cielle presses her eyes shut tightly, and only allows them to part again when she can tell through her eyelids that the light has subsided. She blinks rapidly, taking in her new surroundings with a careful eye that seems to study everything in due time. The ancient remains of various armor, weapons and bones along the ground holds her attention the longest, though, and she offers a quiet, "The Light illumine you all," in respect.

A moment before, the room was quiet, undisturbed by the humans. A minute later, Lucius and Bull stand back to back, spears at the ready. He lowers the weapon for a moment, his eyes filled with the sight of the Shard of Arminas. "It is... beatiful. What... is it? A sword fragment?"

Blinking, his eyes overcoming the brilliance of the supernatural transport, Aiden looks around in wonderment at this, the foundation of the earth ... and remarking aloud, "It's fantastic ... the legends were true."

"Yu-" Dradin's reply to Paelnor is cut off as they are whisked away to parts unknown. "---Well, whores and horseshoes!" he exclaims to no one, after a few moments of stunned silence.

Zolor Zahir laughs and nods to Aiden. "Of course they were true. Would a Zahir lie?" He smiles blandly, and then he tucks the medallion back under his doublet collar as the chain settles around his neck once more. That done, he starts to approach the iron doors.

"Shades," Harper hisses as he finds himself inside the room. He looks about with quick jerky movements, eyes wide.

The feathers of Toivo's arrows tremble slightly at the soldier's stoic air is disturbed by the transport, muddy eyes grown narrow and suspicious, glancing about.

Aiden Zahir follows his kinsman through the cavernous chamber, his awe not so pervasive that he can't make light of the situation. "Veracity has always been a byword with our family, yes, Zolor. To think that the Council would ever doubt you. A shame some of them aren't here with us, eh? There are several I'd fancy leaving here to rot."

"And now, Zolor?" one of the black-clad Banes calls out in a penetrating voice across the room. The group's formation eases, but the clump doesn't really move.

"And now," Zolor begins, kneeling near the door to pluck a dusty femur from the floor. He taps it against the iron door, sparking a dazzling display of coruscating crimson light that dissolves the upper half of the bone. He tosses the remnants over his shoulder and then turns his gaze back to the Banes. "Now, we put you to work Voiding the magical wards on the doors."

Cielle furrows her eyebrows together gently as leaving someone here is mentioned, though from her already intent look on the ground she isn't able to note who it was that had spoken it. Her hands leave their clasp and take hold of her skirt on either side of her, tugging it upwards in the smallest amount to leave it free from catching on various remains as she moves towards the doors, though still off to the side and out of the way.

"And what is beyond? A briefing," the Bane says, and her voice, though muffled, has some sort of an edge to it, "is appreciated."

Harper doesn't seem too keen on venturing far from where he arrived, the man lowering his spear somewhat in a more ready position as he keeps an eye out.

Dradin moves a hand toward the dagger at his side, eyes surveying the room cautiously.

Zolor Zahir shrugs. "The way. To She Who Protects. I know little else beyond what I have revealed thus far. The route to the beast was sealed at several spots to further discourage anyone from delving into this place. We must proceed with caution and breach the wards as we encounter them." He points at Dradin. "He volunteered to take the lead. We can use him to test the way before us as we go."

Cielle parts her lips to speak as she continues to pick her away across the large area. "Even the smallest piece of information can mean a world of difference to someone else. This 'little else' might do well to be shared anyway." Her eyes are cast down at the ground, needed in order for her not to trip over anything, but the comment is made none the less.

Aiden Zahir watches and waits, anticipating Dradin's forescouting. And potential grisly death.

The Bane sighs audibly, and something in that sigh sets the other Banes at more ease than thy have been thus far. She begins towards Zolor and the door, and they follow in a ragged group.

"Mr. Gale, is on warrant for arrest pending further violations. Let him lead the way, indeed." Shields out in front of them and shoulders together, the two heavy infantrymen move to walk with the rest of the group.

Dradin quirks a brow at Zolor. "Did I? Well, can't argue wif 'at!" He shrugs and moves with the others.

And following the lead of his field officer, Harper moves forward behind the two heavy infantrymen, licking at dry lips.

And behind the light infantry, comes the archer. His bow is ready and pulled taut, the muddy eyes watching carefully.

Zolor Zahir steps back from the door and allows the Banes free access to the exit. "Do whatever it is you people do. Which isn't Shadow magic by any means, but is instead fully Church-sanctioned magical non-magic." His lips twitch briefly into a smile and then go deadpan again. "Astound us."

Cielle moves to a stop off to the side, and a handful of feet back from the door. She turns her attentions from Zolor to the gathering of Banes, her face expressionless save for the odd color that the cobalt light mixed with the green of her iris creates.

Ashlynn is simply a silent shadow throughout these proceedings. She may have strayed for a better look at certain artifacts, but with a sufferance borne from an ill experience with such things, she refrains from touching them for the moment, though the sword-shard at least manages to gain a second scrutiny from her despite her unofficial watch of Zolor Zahir.

The Banes converge upon the doors silently, with the lead woman raising her hand and setting it lightly, palm up, as if to touch the metal. She does not, quite. "Ensie, Velia, Zash. Focus the Light within you, and aid in the negation of this..." Her voice trails off, the tone crispy.

Dradin waits to be astounded, watching the Banes curiously.

The other Banes echo her movement, their hands coming up, and faces behind the masks invisible.

Aiden Zahir smiles with sadistic glee at Zolor's quip, his green eyes alight with bemusement. "If something goes wrong, and they can't manage it, won't that be embarrassing!" he suggests in similar derision. "It's probably a good thing we're ... oh ... in the centre of the earth with not a soul around to witness it."

Cielle seems to ignore the banters thrown around, her attention on the door and the hands of the various Banes.

"And no apparent way to get back," Zolor replies to Aiden, brow arching, as he observes the Banes at work.

Harper keeps an eye on the iron door as the Banes do their thing, waiting expectantly.

The three remaining Banes stand back, their stances uneasy beneath the drape of robes. All masks are turned towards the distinctly unglitzy efforts at the door.

Lucius Nepos waits now, equally wary at the work that the Banes do, and his eyes on the iron doors. He holds his spear, ready to throw in case of anything.. hostile.

Aiden Zahir gives a shrug of shoulders, ever flippant, and retorts with quick wit, "Ah, well. Win some, lose some."

The arrow of the Guardian is trained on the door, narrow eyes glaring at the portal as though it contained his worst enemy.

The ward sealing the iron doors continues to hold, sparking as the Banes try to breach it but never quite falling.

Cielle flinches once at the first signs of the various sparking, but all subsequent instances fail to faze her.

The Left Hand lowers her hand slowly after several breaths, turning in place to the arrow trained on her. "Get rid of that," she snaps. An audible breath, and she turns back. "Together, sisters, banish thoughts of this situation. Together." Her hands reach out then, each seeking the hand of a Bane next to her. "Again. The Light is with us. The Light guides us," she intones quietly. Each Bane's hands reach out until the four stand in a linked line.

Ashlynn's gaze flicks rapidly from the glowing sword-shard to the brief and muted pyrotechnics, her form stiffening before she releases a slow breath when the wards continue to hold.

Dradin slowly draws his dagger from his rope belt, eyes focused on the door.

With a crackling whisper, hissing like water dumped on a campfire, the ward enclosing the iron doors shimmers and sparks for a few seconds and then fades. The doors go CLUNK! and slowly creak open, revealing the long descent of a narrow staircase into an abyss. No Wildlings. No foul fiends unleashed. Just the promise of a very long walk.

A short breath of relief is exhaled by Harper as the door opens. A stairway he can handle. His entire blade career has been a series of long walks, after all. Cielle appears just as calm as she had been before when the door swings open. She raises to of her fingers to her lips, kissing them and then pressing them to her heart in some sort of symbol of apparent thanks. There is no attempt on her part to move forward though, waiting instead for someone else to lead.

Zolor Zahir glances toward Dradin. "Right, Master Gale. Off you go, then. Lead on, yes?" He smiles tautly.

Dradin turns to look at the others, then at the gaping maw. "Right. Onward!" He points the dagger forward and marches through the doorway.

Zolor Zahir leans toward Aiden, muttering: "If you hear him screaming, stay close to me."

Aiden Zahir watches on unimpressed as the ward falters and fails, nearing the doorway and thence looking to Dradin to lead the way. That way being a loooooong way down. Zolor's warning brings a curt nod, and the murmured reply, "If he encounters a trap, let's hope it's a quick end, at least. I normally couldn't care a fig for a suffering peasant, but has been accommodating enough to volunteer. That deserves a swift death, if anything does."

The four Banes, Left Hand and the three who opened the door, crowd in to the space after Dradin.

Zolor Zahir frowns, shaking his head as he furrows his brow at Aiden. "If it's a quick death, he's not likely to scream. Better a slow, painful death we can all know about, yes?"

Aiden Zahir shrugs his berobed shoulders. "Slow enough to scream but quick enough not to, say, be liquefied by arcane energies, or immolated slowly from the feet upwards. Ah, there he goes, let's follow at a distance, hrmm?"

Lucius Nepos rolls his eyes at Dradin's uncaring manner, his helmet being closed (with the chin strap), and his attention focused completely in front of him. He and Bull both head down the stairs, side by side, in back of the Scourges.

Endless Staircase (Upper)

A curve on a plane that winds around a fixed center point at a continuously increasing or decreasing distance from the point. A spiral, by any other definition.
Such is the course the Endless Staircase takes, for from top to (eventual) bottom, the staircase seems have no end as it directs those who travel down its unfathomable length around and around and around and around, winding towards the eventual destination - should an end actually still exist.
There is nothing of interest to note along the seemingly endless journey, either, save for the dull slate of the thick cut stones that form the wall, ceiling, and steps, and for the spaced spheres of light that occasional line the walls, providing some degree of visibility for those embarking on the lengthy downwards coil.
You can only head up or down, it seems, and either way constitutes a fair amount of travel. One can only stop and wonder just how far below the foundations of Halo this staircase leads. Regardless, you seem to currently be in the Upper section of the spiral.

Dradin yells, ""Um.’s a big staircase, looks like it goes pretty far down.""

Zolor Zahir wanders in from the arrival chamber, clutching the metallic shard in one hand as he peers down into the abyss that bears the spiral of the descending staircase. "It does indeed seem to traverse a significant distance."

Dradin scratches his head with his free hand and looks down. "Eesh. Down, then?" He looks at Zolor, waiting for a response.

Zolor Zahir swings his gaze toward Dradin and bobs his head affirmatively. "Going back would seem impractical at the moment."

Aiden Zahir grimaces as just how deep the stairway is is revealed, or at least as far as the eye can carry. This is going to be a looooooong way down.

Ashlynn blinks bemusedly at Dradin's query, shaking her head slightly to herself as she resignedly begins the journey downwards.

Dradin nods and cautiously descends the staircase, holding his dagger at the ready.

Cielle continues down the stairs at the point in the group that she had entered.

Tromp tromp tromp. Down goes Harper, following the procession.

The Underdark <Shadow District>

The Endless Staircase ends quite unceremoniously by finally leveling out into a somewhat tight corridor, also made of dull slate stone. This corridor then seems to continue forwards for a short while before finally opening up into what appears to be a cavern of epic proportions.
The air is stale and foreboding. The ground acrid with the dust of ages past. The walls of the corridor ahead littered with etchings of arcane warnings and directions; the cavern ahead filled with ominous darkness. Welcome to the underdark, deep below Fastheld.
It would seem that you can continue on down the corridor, should you wish, and into the darkness that seems to pervail there. The only other path seems to be to head back up the Endless Staircase, and going up would appear to be a much more arduous task than coming down...

The group of four Banes presses close behind Dradin, jumbling together until it's difficult to tell which, exactly, is in the lead. Hands find whips in all four cases, closing around the handles for reassurance. The remaining Banes are left at the top of the stairway, cautious in their descent and soon lost from view.

Cielle has been taking each step one at a time, so when she finally reaches the bottom level she doesn't appear tired from what seemed like an everlasting descent. The etchings on the walls immediately draw her eye, and she takes a few steps closer to them, carefully eyeing their designs and shapes.

Down, down, down ... ever downward ... Zolor Zahir follows the congregation - the pilgrimage - that has seen fit to follow the tendrils of ancient family legend ever closer to the truth that for so many centuries has lain dormant and unplumbed. But soon, even he labors under the taxing effort of the descent. He is not a young man, after all. As he steps onto the ground near the corridor, moving away from the stairs, he offers the Shard of Arminas to Aiden and says, "Take this before I drop it on your foot."

Dradin is waiting at the bottom level, squinting into the darkness ahead. "Hmm. What perils await, eh?" he muses to himself, stepping forward into the unknown.

An expression of relief briefly crosses Ashlynn's countenance as she sees the end approach, bouncing lightly on the balls of her feet to stretch her legs while she eyes the cavern ahead with clear misgivings. With Zolor's abrupt order to Aiden, she glances once more to the Zahirs, a faint frown appearing as if by pure reflex.

Even the stodgy archer breathes deeply as he reaches the bottom of the stairs, moving to press one shoulder towards a wall.

Harper almost seems surprised to hit bottom, looking about to the walls thoughtfully. He moves his shield somewhat in front of him. Caution pays.

Aiden Zahir takes the aforementioned blade fragment without further adieu, looking askance at Zolor and his growing weariness with keen interest. Rather like a raven spying carrion food. "As you wish," he concedes softly, palming the fragment, remaining partially shrouded in the shadow of the yawning stairwell.

His eyes scanning the black space in front of him as he walks, Lucius can't help but be tense at the prospect of contusing through this corridor. He glances downward at his last piece of bread, which he intends to save, and takes a sip from his waterskin. He then continues forward, silent.

Dradin takes a step into the corridor ... and as he passes into the threshold, he becomes entangled in a shimmering syrupy morasses of sickly glowing red and green light. Snared, he is liable to suffocate before too long.

The Banes bunch at the bottom of the stairs, stirring after Dradin but not plunging ahead quite so quickly as he. Three, Velia, Ensie, and Zash, have whips out. The fourth, the Left Hand, has hers out with the fingers slightly curled, and then suddenly her hands lift and her arms sweep back to block the others. "Wait," she calls.

Zolor Zahir peers at the fate that has befallen the peasant. "Damn. A long, painful death and no scream whatsoever. Most disappointing." He takes a seat on the second from the bottom step of the staircase and rests his palms on his knees, watching and waiting for the Banes to spring into action.

"Now, in the Light," the Left Hand says, and whips disappear with alacrity as the women once more link hands. "Sun guide..." Again there is no fanfare from the black robed bodies.

Cielle remains untaken by the darkness of the corridor in front of her, too taken with her study of the wall to note anything else at the moment. Only at the call to wait does she turn her narrowed eyes away from the wall and down the passage, focusing in on Dradin in his current plight.

Ashlynn hisses softly in surprise and consternation at Dradin's fate, her eyes turning rapidly between the unfortunate man and the Scourges, anxiously waiting to see if they will succeed in freeing him.

Aiden Zahir makes no move to intervene either, adding to Zolor's lament with a flippant remark of his own as the Spymaster witnesses what could well be Dradin's last, painful moments of life, "Most unfortunate, yes. I had hoped for something with a bit more excitement. Like being torn apart by hellhounds or at the very least simultaneous combustion by the onslaught of arcane energies. Ah, well. Maybe his eyeballs will burst or his heart rupture."

"I suppose a normal sword wouldn't be able to cut that out." Comments Nepos, eyes shifting warily around the room, falling on the Scourges, the Left Hand, and the duo of Zahirs at various intervals. He does not say anything else to them, but instead glances knowingly at the other Blades.

Harper looks to Lucius with an incredulous look in response to some of the comments being tossed about, though remains quiet for the time begin.

"Light," Toivo hisses, his eyes flicking over towards Harper and Nepos. "Are we going to try to save him, or?"

It takes a few long and, for Dradin, seemingly never-ending moments, but the combined efforts of the Banes finally manage to tear loose the magical energies that have engulfed the poor fellow. As the sickly red and green light fades, he's left gasping and on the verge of blacking out from the experience.

Dradin lays on the ground, trying to choke out words. "Ah... *cough*... erk..."

Cielle immediately moves forwards towards Dradin as he is freed once more, stepping around others who stand between them, kneeling down to his side where he lies. Her hands come out to push at the cape draped around his neck, trying to make breathing come a little easier for him. "Shh," she utters her tone soft. "Take a moment to catch your breath without trying to force it back out again."

Aiden Zahir watches Dradin's fortunate released with dispassionated detachment. "Ah, he's been released," he notes with deadpan vocalization. "Good, he'll live to suffer another trap, then."

Zolor Zahir gets to his feet, scratching at his throat rather absently as he watches Cielle tend to the sprawling man on the ground. Then, he nods to Aiden. "Otherwise, we might have to expend some of our brilliant men-at-arms. I'd rather save them for real danger."

The Banes are breathing raggedly, their hands remaining linked. Left Hand, the only one to speak, says gently, "you must forget where we are when we do this. The Light can reach even here."

Dradin's gasping becomes less frequent as he regains his breath. "...phew. What th' Wildlingspit wussat?" He coughs again. "Oy."

Ashlynn grudgingly relaxes as the danger passes, her gaze taking in the recovery of Banes and Dradin alike. Of the Zahirs' banter, she takes no notice of at all; perhaps finding it quite in line with her conception of them.

Lucius Nepos regards Zolor with a cold look, his eyes shimmering in the low torchlight before he forces his gaze away. He wears a very slight frown, tugging at the side of his lips.

Harper shakes his head and looks up from Dradin, now that the man is recovering. His gaze turns, instead, to the walls, considering them carefully.

Aiden Zahir nods stolidly at Zolor's words, eyes still looking attentively on Dradin, likely waiting for him to get a move on. It isn't as if he's just been snatched back from the jaws of death or anything, after all.

Cielle presses her open palm over the area of Dradin's chest before beginning to move to her feet once more. Her arms remain on Dradin's side, offering him an aid to help him rise along with her. "Come, it would not do well to linger here longer than necessary."

Dradin struggles to his feet with the assistance of Cielle and dusts himself off, attempting to regain what little dignity he has. "Aherm. Right. Le's move on, then." He moves onward.

"Indeed, Master Gale, but perhaps with a little more caution," Zolor says as he steps into the corridor after the lower-class canary in a coal mine. "It just wouldn't do if we had to waste perfectly good sword fodder on these wards."

"I agree with the Priestess. We should move on, and keep wary. I don't know what lurks under here, but it could be anything." Counsels Lucius Nepos, passing his waterskin to Bull who takes a long pull. Lucius also finishes that piece of bread. "I suggest you eat or drink now, quickly, before we start moving again."

Aiden Zahir joins the others in proceeding further into the darkness, musing darkly as they walk onward into the unknown, "Further into the void ... Let's hope for no more mis-haps like that. Quite a waste of time."

The Abyss

By all definitions, it is hard to comprehend how something of this magnitude could have existed for all this time beneath the foundations of the realm of Fastheld. With crystalline formations of Seraphite providing only a cobalt-blue source of luminescent light, the darkness that permeates from rift that you look upon is nearly overwhelming.
Spreading out from the previously narrow passages, an immeasurably deep chasm engulfs the ground of the equally monolithic circular cavern that you are now within, filling what was once solid rock with the darkness of the gulf beneath, sans the ledge that overlooks this vast depth of unfathomable void.
However, not everything within the confines of this great aperture seem natural, for the phosphorus blue light from the translucent blue metal highlights a seemingly ancient iron bridge, painted in many exotic runes, that reaches across the subterranean cavity to link with a platform.
A platform that surrounds an obsidian sphere of colossal proportions, resting squarely within the center of the abyss itself...

Dradin whistles. "Wow. Them's a mighty big rock."

The Banes are a little behind, this time, hands linked as they walk together. As they come out into the open space, they stop.

Toivo sucks in a slow breath at the sight revealed, his steps starting to hesitate as he makes his way forwards.

Aiden Zahir's eyes suddenly go wide as saucers at the sight of the cavern ... and the boundless wealth it represents. "Light, but what I wouldn't give to see this mined to its last pebble of ore." As if in afterthought, he produces the shard from the folds of his robe, shooting an enterprising glance at his kinsman. "Zolor ... I realize now is not the time to stop and ponder enterprises beyond getting out of here alive, but I wonder if this would dislodge any of those deposits."

Zolor Zahir sighs, eyeing Aiden bemusedly. "What? Are you a bloody Nillu now? Control yourself, man. That's not a shovel! Put it back and calm down. Remember why we're here." He then gazes toward Dradin. "Is the bridge safe then, lad?"

On his way down, Lucius Nepos asserts authority over the group of Blades; his gauntlet motions to follow the Scourges, silently, the only noise they make being the clank of their armour as they walk.

Aiden Zahir frowns at his unimaginative relative, head shaking as he returns the shard to safekeeping within his voluminous robes. "I couldn't care less for refining it, only selling it. Such fantastic wealth, and never to be seen again. A pity."

Ashlynn sucks in a slow, deep breath as she casts a wondering gaze about herself, their task momentarily forgotten. But, eventually, even the Seraphite loses out to the second most curious object within the cavern...and then, as its resting place registers, she mutters beneath her breath, "Always a shadow-taken chasm least there is a bridge this time."

Dradin looks at Zolor. "Uhm. I'll check that." He moves forward, sloooowly placing a foot on the bridge.

Cielle remains as far away from the ledge as she can while still remaining in the room proper. Despite herself she brings a hand to touch along the wall, possibly steadying her feet which have become weak underneath her. She presses her eyes closed as Dradin begins his approach on the bridge.

"Is that it, then?" Harper asks quietly to Lucius, Bull, and Toivo, gesturing to the huge sphere. "What we were after?"

As Dradin places his foot on the bridge, the shoe becomes quickly ensnared by twining green energy that spins and spins as it spirals its way up his leg and soon he's frozen in place, a statue of verdant luminescence frozen in midstep.

Zolor Zahir blinks studiously as he observes the latest mishap to befall Dradin. "Our ancestors were a fairly persistent lot, it would seem."

Now the Banes skirt around the two Zahirs, still linked hand in hand, to come up behind Dradin with their eyes straining through the dark behind his. This time they are more prepared for a ward, the Left Hand saying quickly, "Velia, ready to catch him when he is free. The Light follows us. Banish the Shadow in its name..." Again the Sisters ready themselves.

Aiden Zahir flashes an appreciative smile at the latest in Dradin's catalogue of cockups. "Trust in our forbearers to devise such terrific safeguards. Were it not for the fact that our walking insurance policy may yet again be on the verge of death, it would behoove a minute to pause in wonder."

Ashlynn winces a Dradin is caught again, and she looks as if she is tempted to call out something - particularly after the Zahirs' latest round of commentary - before she simply deflates with a sigh of worried resignation, once again treated to the combined efforts of the Banes.

"In the Light.. I have no idea what the bloody Shadow that is." Replies Lucius, as always on edge and tense, in battle mode and his eyes perpetually shifting glance from object to object, area to area, person to person. He motions to Dradin with his spear. "He's a lifesaver."

After several seconds of concentrated effort, the Banes are able to disperse the energy that has trapped and consumed Dradin. However, he was frozen in time during the snare's influence and so isn't suffocating and has absolutely no recollection of the trap catching him at all. He completes his step as if nothing happened.

Cielle reopens one of her eyes to see Dradin just post his latest problem, a quiet sigh fighting its way from her lungs. Knowing that this means she will now be required to cross the bridge as well, she grimaces, but doesn't step foreward quite yet.

Velia - she seems to be slightly stockier, or rounder, or massier, or somesuch under those robes - lunges forward to grab Dradin's arm, her handgrip on the Left Hand tugging the chain with her.

Dradin whistles tunelessly and continues walking across the bridge until he's snagged by the Bane. "Oy!"

Harper can only stare in wonder as Dradin is snared...and freed. He glances over to Ashlynn briefly before shaking his head in response to Lucius. "Didn't sign on for this, right?" he mutters. "Just wanted to buy a plot of land. Have a few cows. Maybe grow turnips."

Aiden Zahir takes a step forward as Dradin is broken free of the latest (and for his sake, one hopes last) trap. "Ah, good, the poor sod is free. Now we can continue onwards."

The Bane mask turns expressionlessly towards Dradin, and Velia releases the man's arm. "Sorry," the mutters in a nondescript voice, and falls back a step.

Now that Dradin is safely retrieved from the jaws of death once more, Zolor steps onto the bridge and follows along, making his way toward the great sphere in the middle of the chasm.

Dradin gives the Bane a quizzical look before continuing onward toward the big rock.

Cielle watches as the next person crosses the bridge, her breath coming in shorter and shorter gasps until each inhale becomes quite audible from the force it requires.

The four Banes follow along after Dradin, maintaining their position as seconds jealously.

Cielle shakes her head several times where she stands, hands grasping even tighter to the wall as person after person crosses the expanse.

The Expanse <Shadow District>

Crossing the seemingly endless Abyss from the outer area of the great cavern to the platform that seems to exist next to the surface of the monolithic obsidian sphere, this ancient bridge seems as old as the world itself, but - regardless of age - seems as secure as the strongest of Keeps as it links the ledge and platform together across the great expanse of the aperture below.
The southern end of the bridge - namely that which connects to the outer cavern and, in turn, the Endless Staircase - remains bathed in the light of the natural formations of Seraphite, lighting the way forward (or back) with a dull cobalt-blue glow.
Yet the immediate middle section of the bridge - and there seems to be a lot of it - remains bathed in the lightless natural darkness of the Abyss itself, lit only at random intervals by small glowing orbs of white light that do little except show you where the edges of the bridge exist.
Aside from those orbs of light, there appears to be nothing but black. A darkness as thick as the night, and twice as ominous. A silent, perpetual darkness that envelops the vast stretch of this ancient bridge.
It would seem that following small dots of light into overwhelming darkness is the only way forward; be that back towards the Endless Staircase, or to the Sphere itself that, regardless of the perpetual gloom, seems to glimmer a different shade of black.

Bathed in darkness, Lucius Nepos curses and coughs into his hand. "We need torches and lanterns.. the light infantry can carry them behind their shields. Without Light, proceeding would be unwise." Councils the Guardian Leader.

Zolor Zahir bahs as he glances back toward the sound of Nepos' voice. "Who needs the light? We've got Dradin. The Banes can just keep poking him with sharp sticks. When he screams, we know it's still safe. Until he stops screaming. And then we know otherwise."

Straightening with reluctantly renewed resolve, Ashlynn steps out onto the bridge after the others, unable to help the movements of her gaze as it constantly roves between where she puts her feet, the eventual destination ahead, and those around her.

Aiden Zahir would look in approval to Zolor's recommendation, if it weren't so blessedly dark. Instead, he just follows along, ready to poke any backs ahead with his blade shard, if necessary.

Harper shakes his head in response. "Didn't bring one. Wasn't told I'd be trudging through the cursed abyss and back, right? Wasn't told a damned thing." He looks to the edges of the bridge, frowning, and tightening his grip on the shield.

A slight grunt comes from Toivo, backing up the Light Infantryman's statement. And possibly agreeing with his irritation.

The small marbles of Seraphite, evidently embedded into the surface of either edge of the bridge, would seem to guide the way... yet, The Expanse is shrouded in darkness to such an extent that those small spheres appear suspended in the air below you. Don't trip!

"No sharp sticks," a taller Bane murmurs, and over that the Left Hand says, "does anyone have a light source? Zahir younger, your... trinket?"

A voice from the back of the darkness calls, "Get stuffed."

Bull, the large Blade who has been walking next to Nepos, pulls out an oil lantern with a slight smile playing across his features. He hands the implement to Harper, raising his shield once more at the voice. "Who's that?"

Aiden Zahir clears his throat, muttering flatly, "Whomever that was, I don't appreciate the jibe. Ahem. Yes, I would produce the shard, but it is within my robes and I can't quite retrieve it, at the moment, at least not in this pitch black. As Zolor suggested, simply prod Dradin when you need a sense of direction. He'll scream out, at least until we've bled him dry."

The Abyss itself seems to call to those who dare to cross its gaping maw; ominous rumbles and moans flow upwards from within the perpetual night of the yawning portal beneath your feet, daring you to continue onwards, mocking your very mortality. Be they natural or slightly more sinister, tricks of the mind or real threats, the darkness offers no answers.

Dradin hazards an advancement, slowly sliding his foot forward to ensure that the bridge, in fact, keeps going.

As soon as a lantern is lit, the Left Hand frees her hand for a moment to beckon the lightbearer forward. "Just behind us, with the light," she says tersely, and continues.

Lucky Paelnor. He takes the lantern from Bull into his hand, grimacing, before stepping forward as beckoned to shadow the banes (har har) across the bridge.

And behind the light bearer are the rest of the Blades; Bull and Lucius, eyes directly surveying the path of the light, iron armor shimmering ever so slightly by the lantern.

Zolor Zahir stares at Aiden, whose robes are clearly illuminated from within by the shining metal. "Oh, my friend, I think you'd have to be *blind* not to be able to find it. Still..." His eyes go back to searching the shadows for some sign of Dradin. "I really do want to hear this fellow scream. All this expectation and build up, without adequate resolution. Quite frustrating. I may need to stab him myself."

"Um, don't s'pose I could get a lantern, me leadin' the way an' all," Dradin suggests feebly as he cautiously crosses the bridge.

Toivo steps forward to follow the rest of the Guardians, his face flicking into a grimace at the Zahir conversation. "Can't we push /him/ off?" the freelander mutters under his breath.

The broad grin which Aiden displays at Zolor's ever-black remarks is offset by the shadows playing across his planar face by the cobalt illumination of the shard within his clothing. "Likewise, kinsman. It's never a worthwhile venture unless at least one person dies. I find the death of a good peasant now and then quite therapeutic."

The Obsidian Sphere

Crossing the expanse reveals the platform that can be sighted at the other end of the far reaching bridge across the Abyss. It seems to be of natural construction, as if this area of the cavern was defiant of the void that swallowed all that around it. Of a decent size, it seems capable of supporting at least twenty people.
At this close proximity, the artifact that rests in the center of the Abyss seems less like a sphere than a wall of solid darkness, contained within the equally perpetual tenebrosity of the void that surrounds it. However, though the low lighting of the Seraphite that juts from the outer cavern walls of the Abyss can only dream of illuminating this area, there is still some form of light source radiant in this area, though evidently from sources unknown.
The darkness upon the surface of the sphere seems to mass and swirl like water, appearing to have liquid properties, even though touching it reveals only solid matter. Runes of an ancient script seem to hover above the surface, burning with phosphorus flare in the tones of crimson, sapphire, and jade.
What those runes mean, and what purpose they serve, have long since been lost to the passages of time. Yet supposition might reveal them as a warning, or perhaps an enchantment of some kind. Regardless, wild guesses does not enlightenment make, and those runic sentinels provide little insight as to their creators, nor the means of entering the sphere itself.
It would appear that crossing the bridge back across the darkness of the Abyss is the only obvious recourse...

Aiden Zahir appraises the Guardian with mayhap a bit of wariness. One wonders if it is truly dead, or simply waiting to be called back into life. There's only one way to find out. "You there, boy," he calls forward to Dradin, "Why don't you say hello? If it eviscerates you with those blades, then we'll know it's neither friendly nor dead."

Zolor Zahir walks up behind Dradin, patting the man on the shoulder. "Perhaps you can find out yourself and then tell us all about it sometime." A thin smile touches his lips, and then he turns to observe the incoming Banes. "I *do* know something about this sphere. The magical ward that encompasses it is stronger than any we have faced so far. It is designed not to keep anything out, but instead to keep something *in*. She Who Protects. The creature we seek is held within this final prison. It will take a spell of extraordinary potency to counter this ward. An ancient song, perhaps, in your Sunkissed hymnals."

The Banes slow into silence, and the three others look at the Left Hand, whose laugh is hearty and unrestrained behind her mask.

Lucius Nepos's jaw drops open an inch or two as he enters the enormous sphere, whatever parts of his body still visible under the armor tensing up at its presence. "Keep tight enough formation to not get lost. Don't do anything unless it's obvious that it needs doing. That means leave that Shadowspawn," he points at the Guardian with his speartip. ", alone, even if it's for the moment."

Ashlynn seems unable to decide what to devote her attention to, trading it equally between the much more visually interesting sentinel and the dark, sphere-shaped goal of their journey. Aiden's remark finally earns a curl of her lips in disgust, though she remains helplessly silent while she can only wait for proceedings to move forward.

The Winged Guardian of bone and crystal armor regards Dradin with a somewhat disinterested stare. In fact, he regards everyone with a disinterested stare. At least, disinterested is what you might assume the lifeless depths of two empty sockets to portray as they watch with silent scrutiny. However, the Skeleton does note that he is stood outside of the edge of the Sphere, not in it. Just before Lucius steps off the edge of the natural platform of rock.

Harper looks decidedly uncomfortable with not having full use of his shield, considering he's providing some light on request by the banes. And having the Sentinal in front of him only adds to that unease. "Maybe some potatoes...some carrots..."

Aiden Zahir remains well detached from the sphere, reckoning that if that ... thing bursts out with any substantial force, they could all be beating a very hasty retreat across a very uncertain span.

The Left Hand eventually stops laughing, and the Banes simply stand together, hands dropping now, and watch the others.

Dradin scratches his nose and tilts his head quizzically at the Banes. "Did I miss a joke? Wha's funny?" He looks around at the others for an answer.

Zolor Zahir gazes at the sentinel, grunting. "Not that. Unless all dusty and rotten and sharp-edged is funny."

The Skeleton doesn't seem to think so.

"I am disturbed," the low voice of Toivo says, and the bow is lowered. I mean. What are arrows going to do against a dead guy and a rock?

It is Toivo's addition that finally prompts a snort from Ashlynn as she gives herself a shake, as if to underscore some mental reminder of what they are here for, and speaking up for the first time, "Shall we get this over with, then?" she asks hopefully, clearly eager for this task to be done with.

"You aren't the only one, Guardian." Responds Nepos to Toivo, lowering his now-tired spear arm and waiting for a prompt of movement from the Scourges in front of him.

"There are all kinds," the Left hand says lightly to Zolor, and she reaches out to link hands with the other Banes. "Very well. The thirty-fifth, I think. Concentrate." Her voice, pleasantly muffled enough, is silent for just a moment. Then it slices out, well-supported, a trained voice that pools in the enormous cavern and swells down to fill the echoing abyss. "Light rescue me," the Left Hand sings, "come forth and speak to me. Raise me up and don't let me fall. No man is my enemy, my own hands imprison me, Light rescue me..."

Harper snorts and glances down to his mace. "Can smash its head in. If we get past the blades..." he mutters, before falling quiet at the voices rising in song.

The song seems to have little effect upon the Sphere. The phosphorus runes continue to burn upon the liquid surface of the Obsidian Sphere, while the Skeletal Guardian looks on with all the apathy that the dead can muster. Somewhere, deep in the depths of the Abyss, however, you might hear a few pebbles falling from a rock face.

Aiden Zahir crosses his arms across his chest, waiting as the Banes finally lift their voices in song. Watching, waiting, studying for the slightest disturbance in the composition of the sphere. That additional sound ... something falling? Burrowing? Something is surely happening. Just what, however, remains to be seen.

Zolor Zahir peers over the edge, into the chasm, listening to the stones plummet. "I guess that's a sort of criticism."

The Left Hand continues to sing, while the voices of the other Banes come up around her, supporting, lifting, weaving back and forth over the clear and increasingly sure song. As the words continue to roll from her mouth, she leads the Banes forward towards the surface of the sphere.

~ Hmm, hmhmm... hmmhmmhmmm, hmhmhmmhmmhm... ~ A soft, almost harmonic sound seems to play against the deafening silence of the Abyss itself. It is a muffled melody, as if being lazily sung from the very heart of existence itself, emanating from a direction that you can't quite put your finger on. It inspires the sparks of faith and serenity, of hope and unity, as it flows with melodic grace, if only a whisper upon the breeze. No so much a lyrical song, far from a hymn, this is a song without words. Ancient, haunting, and beautiful.

One might be inspired to try and match the harmony...

Aiden Zahir is no singer, and leaves the melodic to those better trained in such things. For as majestic as the notes which emanate from within the sphere, it would take a great deal more than that to move the Duke to add his voice to the choir.

Ashlynn shivers for a moment as the harmonics build, reflexively folding her arms before her while she looks nervously between the depths of the abyss, the dark sphere, and finally settles her gaze upon the singing Scourges, waiting with bated breath.

Stepping up to follow the Banes as they move, the celebrated lightbearer's steps come somewhat hesitant. Harper looks down into void as the sphere begins echoing the song, perhaps expecting nothing but the Ravager itself to come flying out of it.

Lucius Nepos is not one of those people who sing out loud in a normal situation; and especially not in one such as this. However, he decides to at least whistle along with the beautiful song, lowering his shield to press against his body.

Dradin looks around warily, though there's nothing much to look at in the darkness around him. He tenses, slowly readying his dagger.

Zolor Zahir glances scoldingly toward the whistling soldier, but doesn't speak. Instead, he just refocuses his attention on the Banes as they join in the sing-along with the giant orb in the middle of the world.

The dissonance is brief, lasting only until the Left Hand's agile voice drops and deepens. Words linger a moment, their tune unrecognizable: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow..." she sings, and then simply discards these to match the whisper with a formless outpouring of sound. The other Banes' voices fall back, fall silent, fall away, and only the Left Hand sings behind her mask.

Awww, and Toivo was enjoying the sing along. His toe was even tapping, his head bobbing... there's no music on the Aegis!

~ La, lalaa...~ The harmony begins to resonate with added strength and power, yet these are no longer the muffled sounds of a distant entity, but rather the very voice of the Left Hand herself, echoing with added tempo and vibe as her angelic voice cascades into the darkness above and around the Abyss. It gains momentum, power, blending sorrowfully beautiful harmonics with emboldened repentance. The Left Hand herself seems to take on an incandescence of her own, forcing the shadows around her away with a soft glow of pure white light. Her voice takes on virtue, blending serenity and harmony in flawless perfection. A whispering voice. A warm gaze. The phosphorus runes burn with added light. A tear forms in the liquid surface of the Sphere...

...and all is silent again.

Abruptly, Lucius Nepos ceases his singing and regains his watchful gaze when the Left Hand chimes in. He once again gets into a ready position, a motion of his hand indicating he wants the others to, as well.

...silent except for the Left hand's voice, which hums on very quietly, a soft and almost broken thing after such power.

Aiden Zahir looks on expectantly as everything builds to a crescendo ... and then plummets into mediocrity. Leave it to a female to tease to the very brink, and then leave you hanging.

"Now would be an excellent time for Master Gale to scream," Zolor notes and then points toward the fissure in the surface of the sphere. "In you go, then," he urges Dradin.

Harper leans and places the lantern on the ground, gesturing for Dradin to take it if he wants, before stepping slowly back to join with his fellow guardians.

The Skeletal Guardian, apparently unmoved by the musical interlude, somehow manages to make you aware of the exit that is now unhidden. Helpful, that.

Ashlynn's eyes slip closed as the harmony continues in a single voice, and when the relative dissonance strikes, she flinches as if at a physical blow. Blinking, she stares almost puzzledly at the Left Hand for a moment before her gaze flies to the sphere, searching for a change, any change at all - and when she finds it, her hand reaches out unwittingly before she abruptly recalls herself and snatches it back.

Dradin mouths a 'woooow', looking rather stunned with awe. He snaps out of it at Zolor's words, and nods, silently scooping up the lantern provided by Paelnor and stepping into the breach.

Aiden Zahir slowly advances forward through the tear with the rest of the rather motley crew.

The Shrine of the Protector

Passing through the barrier of the Obsidian Sphere, you enter into the vicinity of a place that should not, and perhaps does not, actually exist. Gone is the darkness of the Abyss, and with it the cold barren rock that formed such a place is now only a memory, for that which presents itself to you inside the domain of the Sphere is as magnificent as you could have ever imagined.

The inside of the Sphere is best described, perhaps, as a huge cavern; a

hollow rondure within the crust of the outer barrier of dark energy directly below the Shadow District. It is, at once, both a clement and vivacious setting, with the upper half of the cavern apparently painted over with bright blue skies, pure white clouds, and a perpetual sunset upon a horizon that seems almost real.

Too real, perhaps, for the clouds seem to move of their own accord, a gentle breeze falls upon your skin, and the very sky itself seems to stretch off into eternity, rather than stop at a natural ceiling. The floor of the cavern is covered over with crystal blue water that softly sways and ebbs to its own tidal pattern, while giant stone pillars, like shards of an endless aqueduct, form a ring around what one might conceive to be the natural perimeter of the region, with some shattered elements remaining suspended in the air, presenting a surreal, yet majestic, image indeed.
A single path leads over the water towards the center of the cavern where it then loops around in a wide ring to link back with itself, looking wide enough to be able to build a street upon it, complete with buildings, should one require comparative measurements. It is there, within the ring of this path, that one can find a Sanctuary of sorts that features a large cobalt-blue sphere suspended just a little way above the ground, surrounded by a fountain of water that cascades down from an unknown source to crash into the water below like a magnificent ringed waterfall.
Various ancient artifacts and gemstones can be found neatly scattered around the place, apparently arranged not like a horde of treasure, with great care and dedication, as if these legendary items were objects of art, rather than possessions of worth. However, the greatest treasure of all is that which remains curled up upon the vast expanse of that central ring of solid walkway, for it is She that this Shrine was build to protect; or, perhaps, protect the rest of the world from.
At one-hundred feet from snout to tail-top, the shimmering-violet scaled form of She Who Protects is here...

Dradin stops in the entrance. "...Light's..." he trails off, jaw hanging open at the scene before him.

The Banes stop behind Dradin, precluding passage, and the Left Hand begins to swear fluently.

As Lucius enters the shrine, his eyes are ensnared by the beauty of it. He stares up at the blue sky, at the gigantic pillars, at the items arraigned as if in a shrine. "This place is... blessed by the Light?" He asks of no one in particular.

Dradin quickly steps aside to allow others to enter more readily, though is still transfixed by the spectacle.

If the cavern before was a cause for wonderment, at the interior of the sphere, Aiden is agog, eyes wide in bewilderment. "I knew there would be power redolent, here, but nothing ... nothing quite on this scale," he ponders aloud.

Zolor Zahir peers first at the hoard of treasure, of course. But then he spies the massive dragon-beast. "Speaking of scales..." His face breaks into a boyish grin. "The stories really were true! She's here!" speechless. The boy's mouth gapes open as he steps in and to the side, the artifacts scattered about getting nary a look as his eyes fall on She. All thoughts and words drawn out of him.

Ashlynn's breath catches as her steps stutter to a stop at the amazing vista, utterly still in her shock before the pressing need for air finally reminds her to blink, drag in a lungful, and begin a more intelligent observation of what lies in the place...first and foremost, of course, being that which rests magnificently in its very center.

The Lady rises…

Colossal lavender wings slowly unfurl from their previously folded position, stretching out to shadow the ground around them with a dark hue from the lack of light that their impressive span blocks. A sinuous neck curves upwards to level a wedge-shaped visage upon those who enter the Shrine, the head tilting slightly to the left as long fan-like ears perk to astute attention.

Those same lavender wings fold once more with hardly a whisper, the shimmering violet scales of the great creature refracting the light that bathes upon them as She shifts her weight, her behemoth yet curvaceous frame heaving with feminine grace as She moves into a sitting position, akin to that of a feline, placing her deadly taloned claws firmly upon the ground before her chest.

Her wings now drape down her sides, protracted tail curling around, chevron-shaped tip flicking, as She considers the actualization of the finale of eons of solitude. Crystal eyes - one Emerald, one Sapphire - regard the party with compassionate interest, yet burn with argent contempt.

And she waits. One hundred feet of colossal Drake, patiently waiting as if She had all the time in the world...)]

The Banes also move aside, but they stay near the tear. The Left Hand continues swearing.

And, once again, Ashlynn is spellbound, though words escape without thought upon her next breath, barely more than a whisper, "Mismatched eyes...of green and blue...and Her voice was like thunder..."

Aiden Zahir looks up at the towering Drake, murmuring beneath his voice, "She does exist ..."

"Beautiful," the simple archer murmurs, staring up her length to gaze at the eyes of the drake. "Absolutely beautiful."

Harper starts to tremble slightly as he stares at She; a small shaking of his knees. Something like's beyond believing. The boy seems to find his breath just long enough to utter, almost silently, "Light save us."

"Light save us... indeed. Don't touch those," Lucius comes out of his stupor with a bang (the crash of his shield on segmented cuirass). He points towards the gemstones, shield and weapons made from various exotic metals and ores.

Dradin seems affixed to where he stands, either out of awe or fear, (or maybe both), staring breathlessly and wide-eyed at the being.

Having run out of colorful turns of phrase, the Left Hand falls silent. The chain of Banes extends, just a little, one free hand on the end reaching out for Paelnor.

The violaceous Drake continues to gaze upon the newest additions to the content of the Shrine as they swear, stammer, and fall over each other, with a superior air of disinterest. That gaze is, at once, also seemingly nonjudgmental, though perhaps a little curious all the same. She remains perfectly silent though, and near flawlessly still as she regards the party, save - that is - for a tilt of her wedge-shaped head upwards towards the apparently real sunset that perpetually burns upon the oceans horizon, considering that for a moment, before sweeping back to look upon Zolor and his companions.

Zolor Zahir takes this opportunity to step forward, reaching up once more to draw the medallion from under the collar of his doublet. He stares up at the massive creature and says, "We have come to release you from this prison. The one you may know as He Who Destroys has ravaged our realm and stolen our Emperor. We need your aid to deal with this menace."

The Left Hand is only silent for a little while. Her voice rises again, steadied into almost a monotone but definitely steady. "The Ravager, He Who Destroys, your..." she begins, but Zolor is faster and her voice dies away again.

Ashlynn swallows dryly as Zolor steps forward to present their case, her hands unconsciously closing into tense fists by her sides before she notices and tries to ease their tightness.

Aiden Zahir holds back, not deigning to interject in Zolor's entreaty. After all, if it angers She, and She looks around for a tasty morsel, well, there's Zolor up close, and bearing a nice little medallion which could then be added to Her treasure stash, given a few days' digestion.

Harper turns his head slightly as one of the Bane's hands make contact with him, somehow managing to keep from jumping off the ground in nervous reaction. It's only a brief look behind him, however, before his attention is again focused on the massive drake.

Dradin's eyes flicker to Zolor, then back to She as he realizes he's still armed, and slowly sheathes his dagger.

Aisha'Taria - She Who Protects, as they call her - considers the words of Zolor and the Left Hand. Emerald and Sapphire sparkle in the light; crystal refraction against the greater iridescent hue of the violet scales that cover her body. Those fan-like ears perk high, her wings lifting a fraction in following, and then falling to drape against her sides once more. Yet, she still remains silent, as if waiting for even more elaboration.

"He flies free," the black-masked Left Hand says clearly, and again falls silent.

"The beast has laid waste to the town of Light's Reach, unhoming many, and then terrorized the citizens of Aegisport before stealing off with Emperor Talus Kahar," Zolor Zahir continues, craning his neck to gaze at the drake. "And those who worship you beyond the Aegis have actively sought you for many months. He Who Destroys is out there now, among them - a threat to them, as well. Would he like nothing more than to wreak havoc on those who bow at your feet?"

The violaceous Drake again looks towards the heavens; at the end sapphire sky, this time, and the clouds that inhabit it. She remains in that stance for a fraction of a minute, gazing intently upon a celestial sphere that seems slightly darker than before. In following, as she levels her gaze back upon Zolor and his companions, a sly draconian smirk seems to flow upon her maw. She unfolds her wings, stretches them to full span, rises onto four legs, and arches her back in a stretch...

...and then merely refolds her wings once more, taking a few steps closer to those who have entered the Shrine, though remaining on all fours as she does so. "And then what?" the great Drake finally, and perhaps unexpectedly, asks of those who stand before her. Her voice is of silk and grace; a regal feminine purr that remains at once proud yet somehow seductive. Her eyes sparkle with consideration.

Toivo gives a start at the speech of the Drake, jumping backwards. The bow drags along with him, his eyes wide on the creature. "L-light save us," he murmurs piously.

Instinctively, Zolor steps back as the drake moves toward him. "And then you're free. You want to be free, don't you?"

Ashlynn shifts her weight uneasily as the goal of all their recent efforts merely watches them with seeming indifference. "Please..." she whispers, before biting her lip at the unintentional slip, and then reflexively slipping a step or two back at the approach of the dragoness, her eyes wide.

The Banes remain silent, all four of them, hands linked, with their black sunburst masks upturned.

Dradin's jaw hangs open again as She speaks, going with popular opinion and taking a couple steps back as well.

Aiden Zahir does not end his own silence, either, watching on, though his eyes do pass, now and again, to the troves of treasure dotting the cavernous chamber, signalling an interest almost as prevailing as that of the massive Drake. Almost.

Maybe the dragon talking is enough to draw Paelnor back to reality...or at least as close to reality as his current position is. But it's best for him to not think on that.

The violet Dragoness seems to chortle in reply to Zolor's words, turning her head to the side to again regard the horizon of perpetual ocean and sky. She smiles at what she looks upon, showing rows of teeth as long and sharp as even the most legendary of greatswords. Her tail flicks with amusement. "Zolor Zahir," she darkly undertone, though softly too, "You wish to bribe me with freedom without asking the opinion of your forsaken zealots? One Drake for another?"

Zolor Zahir shrugs. "I can't bribe you. The sphere is breached. The wards have fallen. Your path to freedom is clear." He sighs. "I had hoped that you might repay our assistance in some small way by dealing with He Who Destroys. But if you are happier down here, in this place with all your treasure, then we may as well return to the surface and abandon all hope for our Emperor. Meanwhile, we will find some other way to defeat your counterpart."

"You will fail. This Kingdom shall fall."

The violaceous Drake snarls her words, her tail sweeping behind her in a flourish as she herself coils around, pacing away from Zolor and his companions to stalk around the outer edges of the central ring-like pathway that surrounds the central waterfall.

"I am no mere pet, Zolor Zahir."she calls back, her tone now devoid of any form of emotion. "You return here with ancestors of those - <She snarls something arcane, but apparently highly derogatory at the Banes> - and expect that I do as you wish. You, of a race that imprisoned me here. I owe your kind *nothing*."

"I am not speaking to you as if I consider you a *pet*," Zolor replies, his brow knitting and his mouth twisting into a grimace. He turns slowly, following the creature's progress around the central ring. "These Banes, descendants of your captors, breached the prison in repudiation of their ancestors' actions. Still, I agree, you owe *us* nothing. But what of the Wildlings? They seem quite devoted to you. If left unchecked, no doubt they will fall victim to the depradations of He Who Destroys." He shakes his head. "Whether our Emperor lives or dies is truly immaterial. But you and I both know: The Ravager must be stopped."

"We free you," the Left Hand calls finally, "because we expect you to do what we know -you- wish. To protect your followers, out there. Is that not your desire? Will you let them be slaughtered simply to spite us?"

The words of the Drake, the sound as much as their meaning, cause another brief round of shaking to Harper's knees. The boy looks over to the older Zahir Duke with a growing desperation. Despite his fear, he understands that things aren't going well. "Miss She," he says in supplication, not quite sure what else to say, his voice probably sounding more brave than he feels.

The sky and the horizon below it continue to get darker; yet it seems that this is not the passing of night to day, but rather something a little more ominous, for it would seem that the darkness of the Abyss beyond the Shrine is starting to show. The barrier would seem to be fading... bit by bit...

Aiden Zahir's expression turns into one of strange bemusement at Zolor's continuing conversation, the Duke's emerald eyes narrowing in scrutiny of both the Drake and his kinsman's conduct. Just what plucks on this odd, amused affectation is uncertain, enigmatic, as Aiden usually is.

Dradin's expression becomes a combination of disappointment, confusion, and fear as She speaks. He takes another slow step backward, then looks up at the changing sky worriedly.

Ashlynn grits her teeth at Zolor's cavalier dismissal of the Emperor's life, but dares not interrupt with proceedings upon such a fine balance.

"We are not all like him," Toivo offers as he steps forward, giving a sideways glance to his fellow Guardian. His voice trembles, his bow shakes. "We are not all treacherous and patronizing. Please, creature. We need your assistance, so that no more children lose fathers, nor entire families."

The Dragoness makes one full circle of her domain, returning with moisture glistening upon the side of her body that was facing the vast waterfall as she stalked around the pathway, adding to brilliance of her already incandescent violet scales. Again she paces upon all fours towards Zolor and his group of companions, levelling her head upon the Banes in particular, and narrowing her gaze as she regards them in turn. With a dismissive flick of her lavender wings, the Drake merely snorts, tail ominously flicking with acute trepidation.

"No, Zolor Zahir. They did not." Her words are cryptic, yet the feminine compassion of her silky draconian voice seems to return, and her ears finally fold back against her head. Those two-toned eyes again fall upon the Zahir... and, by proxy, everyone else.

"You, and those who came with you, perhaps negated the travesty, but these - <Again, that gutteral arcane term for whatever Drakes call the members of the Church of True Light> - I offer nothing towards. In gratitude, that which is here is yours. This Kingdom may survive yet. The Ravager shall fall by my teeth and claws...

Aisha'Taria turns a cold, narrow gaze upon the collected Banes. "As shall your precious cult."

Zolor Zahir arches his eyebrows and then bows before Aisha'Taria before straightening to reply: "Never did care much for it, anyway." His gaze shifts to Aiden. "That seraphite shard of yours is going to come in handy shortly, I think. Keep it ready."

Masks look back. Four faceless women return the dragon's gaze, and the Left Hand says softly, "if the Church falls, the kingdom will be no more."

Aiden Zahir's grin broadens all the further at Aisha'Taria's dread warning. And in her kind offering of the treasures of her den. What machinations are brewing in the Duke's mind are swiftly pushed aside at Zolor's address, a faint, wary frown coming to bear in response. "Very well," he concedes with a nod, loathe to part with the shard, but never above using anything, or anyone, if it serves a greater purpose. His.

Dradin perks up as She refers to the treasure. He eyes the crystal dirk warily. The dragon's threat registers, but the treasure bit takes precedence. After all, *he's* not a Bane.

Ashlynn releases a soft sigh of relief as Aisha'Taria appears to agree for the moment, though it is leavened by wariness of the promised destruction to come. Nevertheless, there is a flicker of hope.

Harper swallows and finds himself taking a half step away from the assembled Banes. Well, he's heard about what the Ravager can do by breathing on things. He doesn't want to see if She is capable of similar or even more destructive feats.

"KAS'ARATH!" The voice of the violaceous Drake bellows deep into the heart of Fastheld itself, it seems; the word boomed in a gutteral arcane snarl of a tone, seeming to shake the very core of the earth at its foundations with the sheer power of wantom vengeance itself. A word that is, without a doubt, purely draconian in origin, and one that - by the way *everything* seems to react to it, has not been spoken in millia. It seems to echo across the very realm itself...

In following, the Dragoness promptly spreads her wings to their full span and, with a snap of her tail and a short, shuddering run, launches herself across the water... through the barrier, and digging her claws in tight, clings to the side of the Abyss. Yet, even in the perpetual darkness, her violet scales seem to shimmer supreme. She begins to climb...

The Left Hand sighs deeply.

Zolor Zahir holds the medallion in one hand. Extends the other toward Aiden, beckoning: "The shard. And anyone who doesn't want to become a permanent resident better draw in close. So, grab anything you're taking and get over here."

Dradin immediately scurries in the direction of the crystal dirk. "Yer a sparkly one!"

Aiden Zahir hands the shard over to Zolor without further adieu, understanding that haste could be of the essence. "Get us out of here before the Abyss comes down around our heads, Zolor," he insists, looking up at the Drake's ascent with worrying study.

Blinking in surprise as She jumps up, Harper stares blankly for a few moments, before realizing that it's time to run like hell. But, there is the small business of all those artifact. Could easily pay for his entire farm and then some if he sold one of them. Sliding his spear in the thong, he jumps forward and lifts up the Lady's Tail, carrying it carefully over towards Aiden and Zolor.

The Left Hand moves quickly when Zolor speaks, scooping up the instrument with careful hands, and then she and her Banes hurry towards the Zahir.

Dradin tucks the dirk into his belt and returns to Zolor. "Welp, I'm ready."

Ashlynn's wondering gaze snaps down from the dragoness at Zolor's peremptory orders, her eyes going to Aiden and the second shard with a deep frown. Reluctantly, she begins to step close to Zolor again for the journey back, when the vivid blue of a waterstone catches her eye. She pauses, a half-nostalgic look crossing her face at the gem, before she reaches out to pick it up before she finally takes a place near the nobles.

There's a rumbling high above. Zolor glances upward into the abyssal gap, dark and yawing overhead. "Quickly, quickly," he urges, starting to move the medallion closer to the flat of the glowing sword shard in his grasp.

Toivo moves towards one of the swords, stringing the bow over his back before bending down to take it. *Yoink* And then he's heading back towards Zolor.

The Dragoness continues to climb, her tail now slipping into the darkness so far above the Shrine that even the shimmering violet of her scales seem to have faded away.

Zolor Zahir coughs, still staring up into the chasmic darkness above. "Master Gale, whatever you do: Don't look up." Because, if Dradin does, he's going to see the first indications of chunks of rock plummeting toward their current location at oh-so-remarkable velocity.

The Banes huddle close around Zolor, with the Left Hand's mask turned steadily back the way they came.

The Wildstone looks all lonely. It sort of glimmers as if to say, "Please don't leave me."

And as a last minute consideration, a strange humor quirking at her lips, Ashlynn reaches out to snatch the helm as well, tucking it under an arm.

Aiden Zahir scoops up a lonely-looking wildstone, intent on not leaving it behind to some horrid fate. Now it can grace his new bathtub, in perhaps a fate worse than death.

And so what's Harper do? Looks up. His eyes widen as he sees the rocks tumbling towards them, intent on making their aquaintances. He lifts his shield over his head...not like it'd do much.

Quite alarmingly, the falling chunks of rock stop bouncing off what was one the near-impregnable barrier of the Shine, and instead come crashing down to land with a tremendous splash in the water that surrounds the central pathway. Some manage to clip the floating aqueduct-like pillars also, sending them cascading into the water beneath.

On top of all that, there seems to be a faint crimson glow high above you, where Aisha'Taria was headed...

"Maybe.. we should.. leave?" Toivo suggests, stepping closer to Zolor. "I mean, however we do that."

With a gentle clinking sound, the medallion in one hand presses against the glowing metal shard in the other. Suddenly, Zolor Zahir and those around him are encompassed in a familiar white-blue glow just as the first boulders start pounding the domain of the fallen sphere. A particularly wicked-looking stalactite impales the spot where Dradin ... was. And then everyone is shifted ...

"Um, can do, M'lord!" Dradin nods sharply, then winces as the rocks start crashing. "Yes, I think leavin' would be a good fing."

Return to Season 3 (2005)

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