A gray, lifeless, rocky landscape stretches in all directions, vanishing into the haze that makes it seem to merge with an unseen horizon, the vault of the sky above just as distant and uncaring. Even though the sky is overcast, and it is not clear where the source is of any light source, the dry landdirectly underneath torn with chasms and broken, upward-thrusting ridges seems to stand out in stark, clear, empty detail, though devoid of any features of life or civilization.
In all the stillness, not even disturbed by so much as a gust of wind, there is only one thing moving … a winged ki'rin, plummeting through the air, high above the ground, high above the bony, sharp ridges that thrust upward hungrily reaching toward her as if eager to taste blood when her body crunches against their hard, sharp angles. But, as battered and soot-covered as the once white-and-gold Exile might be, there is still life in her … or something that passes for it … and she stirs, the cold rush of air whipping past her bringing her back to something pretending to be wakefulness.
Stirring, Envoy notices the ground and tries to turn her plummet into a spiraling glide by spreading her battered wings.
Envoy's wings ache with protest. She feels a languor that struggles with the sense of danger presented by the swiftly approaching rocks, as if something in herself is being lulled by an unheard siren's song … as if maybe just smashing into the rocks wouldn't be that bad after all … but whether she overcomes the feeling, or it's just a matter of instinct (does she have such a thing?) taking over, she manages to spread her wings, and despite the pain registering from them … she flies. She slows her descent, and alters her course, and a sharp, jagged blade of rock slices by, several feet underneath her, though it seems mere inches, given her velocity. Now she soars at a more horizontal course, the ragged land sweeping by as she goes. She can see no shadow cast upon the ground with her passing.
After a few moments more of gliding, another spark of awareness triggers the Aeolun to land on the barren ground. Her sense of consciousness of identity is slow in surfacing.
The ground is solid underneath Envoy's feet. Although it is colorless, gray, it is rock, not silt. It feels cold under her bare feet, but offers solid enough purchase.
The sound of her touching down echoes off of the ridges, as if it were like a thunderclap compared to the silence that has just been broken for an instant.
Envoy's mind seems to wake up in layers. The sensations of pain and touch trigger the physical awareness of her body, which in turn cause her higher mental processes to wake up. Finally, she identifies herself: My body hurts. Memories of the destruction of the Avatar from four distinct viewpoints begin to surface as well.
A point of light disturbs the uniform gray of the sky, and it streaks down at an angle. Then another. And several more. Shooting stars, it seems, piercing the cloud layer, and raining down … but some of the chunks are noticeably larger, flaming … and when they strike the ground, there are muted explosions over a distant ridge, and dust and smoke rise up into the air.
"Avatar," Envoy whispers into the stillness, assuming the wreckage of the dream vessel to have followed her here. Here. "Where am I?" she asks the sky.
The sky does not tell Envoy where she is, but it does comment upon her supposition, as the grayness is disturbed even more violently. An alarmingly gigantic form pushes its way into the open expanse beneath the clouds … a great, blackened object, perhaps as large as one of the sky islands, markedly visible, but still hazy because of its considerable distance. It soars in what seems to be a curving path, toward the horizon, and is at last obscured by one of the ridges.
Envoy can't even hear the sound of the crippled vessel at first, though her own whisper echoes, abnormally loud, against the rocks.
"I must be in… " Envoy struggles to think, the answer on the tip of her mind, so to speak. "Sunala's realm. But there should be a path then." She looks in every direction, trying to spot anything that might serve as a goal … especially a mountain.
While she searches, looking away from the direction the "Avatar" vanished, there is a flash of brilliant light, and for a moment, she can actually see her shadow cast in stark detail, along with sharp shadows cast by all the rocky ridges. A shock wave rushes out, blowing dust and sand. It strikes Envoy. All goes black again…
… and then … maybe only an instant later … maybe hours … maybe days … she awakens, finding herself still there, still in that bleak expanse, lying on the rock, in one of the valleys, with dust and grit and broken fragments of rock scattered over her wings. But she is not bleeding, not bruised nor broken from whatever fall she must have taken.
Nonetheless, her body still aches greatly, no more, no less than it did before.
Envoy struggles to her feet, and looks up and down the valley for any signs of a path.
No. No path. No ruins. No statues. No distant temple. No mountain that stands out from the rest. Nothing that seems to beckon for Envoy to approach it. No apparent goal whatsoever. Not even anything filled with foreboding that seems to suggest that it, especially, should be avoided. But then … the horizon, which seemed so indistinct before, seems to form a dark line. It takes a moment to focus on it, but it seems that something … something is approaching. A wave. A tidal wave? It looks as if a colossal wall of water is rushing in from the horizon, closing in from all directions at once.
Even though this doesn't instill any sense of urgency in her, Envoy decides she should try to fly above the deluge, to see it better. She strains her abused wings to try and get up above the valley.
Her wings feel at first as if they are made of lead, but she nonetheless manages to force them into action, and to rise upward. As she does so, she can hear the rush of water reach her, like the roar of a vast crowd. As she rises, it is apparent that the water is closing in at a remarkably accelerated rate, and not long after the point at which she is truly airborne, the rocky precipice upon which she stood but a moment before is completely flooded. The landscape is immediately transformed, and she is struck by a sense of recognition … Now this looks like a place of which she has heard of before…
Sea of Souls
A gray, cold sea stretches in all directions, seeming to merge with an unseen horizon, the vault of the sky above as distant and uncaring. Within the sea, things move, and on closer inspection, the gray "water" proves to be something entirely different. Within it surge the faces of the dead, rising and falling like waves, as each individual struggles to break free from the sucking morass of the sea. Features blur and run together, individuality difficult if not impossible to maintain. Occasionally, one figure does seem to emerge above the rest, triumphantly regaining the form once known in life … but inevitably, the tide pulls at it, calling it back down to join the rest.
Turning in the air, Envoy looks for anything that might be safe to land on. She is certain that Elise mentioned a path through this realm.
For the moment, it does not seem as if there is anything left of dry land. As she searches, she momentarily can pick out faces in the swarm of vague shapes. The vast majority of them seem to have Eeee-like features … but for a moment, she picks out a reptile face that strikes a familiar chord … Isstan? … and then a scholarly-looking old raccoon … but at last, she spots a large, charred hunk of something floating on the surface of the unnatural sea. It looks as if it might be a fragment of the hull of the Avatar, borne afloat.
The Aeolun flies towards the wreckage, wanting to rest her wings, and tries to land on it.
The wreckage bobs with the movements of the waves, but it feels as solid as it looks … which is to say, it is nothing to put undue trust into, but it is large enough that Envoy and four others like herself could lie down on it, wings outstretched, without touching each other or hanging over the edge. Hanging over the edge seems particularly uninviting, as gray, vaguely defined hands reach up from the "water" at the edges of the wreckage. They grasp blindly in the air, then slip down beneath the waves, to be replaced by other hands that thrust upward and flail about. Voices cry out, moaning, sighing, crying.
Looking out over the sea of lost souls, Envoy wonders what she should do. Simply joining them is out of the question she doesn't feel ready to give up. But how can she reach Sunala? "Maybe I can stay on the raft," she whispers. "The current will surely take it to … wherever the souls are going." Somehow, this doesn't seem to be an entirely pleasing course of action to her. There's no telling how long that might take, and she doesn't know what the status of her waking body will be while she remains here.
Within the morass of tangled, forming and melting bodies, Envoy can make out features now and then. A cheetah with a third eye in her forehead … a female Aelfin … a female feline with vague, misty rosettes on her fur … a noble Eeee warrior-prince … The large plate rises and falls, tilting this way and that, passing over the waves, but there is no clear indication that it is really moving anywhere at all. There is no solid land to use as a landmark, nor even anything in the air.
"You are all people I've known," she tells the specters. "Is Inala out there too? Elise had Cyprian to guide her back out of this place, but I can't see any direction to go in. Do you any of you know the way out?"
Amidst the hiss and rush and of the "water", a multitude of voices, Envoy can begin to pick out individual voices, calling to her. Come to me, the noble Eeee says. I am Prince Boghaz bar Sabaoth. Surely you have not forgotten me? Come. Help me remember my time in life. Better times. Then, there is the voice of the Aelfin. This, reminds me of Ashtoreth, does it not? We almost went there once, the Aelfin tells her.
Envoy shakes her head to try and clear out the voices, and stares upwards at the cloud cover instead. "I can't help the dead," she apologizes. "I fell from the clouds, so the way out must be above them." She flexes her wings a few times, gauging how much effort they have left in them.
It feels as if the rest has helped them somewhat, but the prospect of soaring up … up … to the clouds? It fills Envoy with weariness, just contemplating the idea. She could try, but it seems less and less likely she could make it, the more she thinks about it.
Sso, a hissing voice comes from the masses, what makess you think you are not one of the dead, Exxile? Who ssayss you are not but an echo, a ssspirit of what wasss oncce alive?
Closing her eyes, Envoy tries to clear her mind of sensation. "This place wants me to be weary. I can't trust that feeling. Dragon would go on, out of sheer willpower. Probe would ignore weariness in order to reach a goal." Opening them again, she looks around for the Naga that speaks.
Envoy catches a glimpse of the Naga … a shade of Isstan, perhaps, though it seems to be in the process of losing its distinctness. Your Assspectsss are no more. You will find no point in trying to leave thisss placce. Your path isss chosssen for you. Chossen by death.
The shade of Scarlet surfaces again, smiling awkwardly. I am happy just to have your ear again, Envoy. Most who come here do not accept that they are truly dead. It is a shame, is it not? she tells Envoy.
"No," Envoy replies. "I destroyed the Avatar. That was my choice. As for being dead … I don't know how to be dead. I have no reason, therefore, not to attempt escape."
The shade-Scarlet sighs, and lifts a hand to her muzzle. It is sad. You are very brave, just as I have been, when I tamed a three-headed dragon. But, it is a sad thing, those who do not accept, she says to the Exile.
"I don't believe that is you, Scarlet," Envoy says, stretching and flexing her wings. "You died before this place was created, as did Isstan. You are here only because I remember you." She looks up to the clouds, and then adds, "But if you are correct, and I am dead, then this is not what I expected." That said, Envoy beats her wings and takes to the air once again, fighting to reach the cloud layer.
Arms reach up out of the "water", flailing over the edges of the wreckage, and grasping up into the air, following after Envoy. In but a few wingbeats, she is far, far from their grasp, and working her way upward. At first, her progress is easily marked, as the wreckage drops beneath her, and the forms within the sea grow less distinct. There is a crack, and the wreckage begins to break apart, the individual pieces being pulled under by grasping arms, disappearing into the depths. But without that particular "landmark", it soon becomes harder to gauge just how much progress Envoy makes. For the time being, the featureless gray "ceiling" above seems no closer.
Despite her weariness, Envoy sings to pass the time and raise her spirits, pausing between songs to chant one magical exercise or other, losing herself in the exercises to take her mind off of her surroundings.
The song seems utterly alien to this colorless, dull gray world. Time passes. Her wings feel more weary … but the sea below offers no perch for her to settle upon to regain her strength … only waves of featureless gray that certainly will turn into clutching shades seeking to grasp at her, should she draw close once more.
Are the clouds any closer? It's hard to say.
Envoy continues to push onward. She thinks of the moments before the Avatar's destruction, when she saw fear in the eyes of Mother, reminding herself that the Sisters can be beaten. And she thinks of Morpheus, and her need to see him again to find out if his heart has been returned. "You won't beat me, Sunala," she vows. "Because I don't believe in you."
Each stroke grows harder than the last, but as Envoy's resolve strengthens, so too do her wings. The clouds … yes, they are getting closer. The air about Envoy gets more hazy … and then … she can see nothing, and for a moment, there is a feeling of vertigo, as it's unclear which way is up anymore … but … at last, with the last, powerful wing-stroke…
Beneath a Procession-less starry night sky is a gray, misty expanse, in the center of which is a stone circle, ringed by seven archways of varying construction, through which can be seen a cluster of four mountains with a tower-like structure nestled in their center. There are gaps in the ring of mountains, two marked by gaping craters, and one smooth and featureless. Each arch is in a different state. Barada's and Gorphat's are broken ruin. Inala's and Rephath's are both fully formed, but blocked: the former by a large statue of a white female Eeee, the latter by a barred gate. Zakaro's is almost blocked by a life-sized, rune-covered Eeee, while Sunala's and Blakat's are less complete.
And, in a burst of gray mist, the winged Exile finds herself collapsing upon the stone circle at the heart of the archways of the Crossroads of the Dream Realm.
Forcing herself to her feet, Envoy shuffles towards the statue of Inala, shocked to find that the archway is still intact.
Yes, the archway is intact. No pile of rubble. Not even a barred gate. For the sacrifice she made, there seems to be no sign that aught was gained, save that instead of an idealized statue of herself, there is now a seductive bat perched within the archway, blocking it with one arm and wing braced across to the opposite side.
"Did you find a new Avatar after all?" Envoy asks the statue, and even reaches out to poke it with a finger to make sure it's not some cruel illusion.
It's solid, and unyielding a statue, not a living being standing there locked in that pose. Though, given the transitory nature of the Dream Realm, that could always change.
Envoy frowns at the inanimate figure. "Aren't you at least going to gloat at me?" she taunts, and then turns her back on it to walk to the center of the Crossroads, so she can look up/down into Morpheus' prison.
It's still there, as "wrong" as it might seem for it to be there, though Envoy doesn't experience the extreme discomfort that Dragon alone would have for observing such an irregularity.
Willing her wings into action one more time, Envoy tries to fly into the chamber.
Up becomes down, down becomes up.
In the heart of the stone and crystal tower, a vast chamber descends into a great pit, where a prone giant is bound with four cords fashioned of the pelts of hundreds of Eeee. The giant a melding of Khatta and Eeee features is formed of stone, crystal, and shadow. It would seem a statue, save for his occasional shifting, and groans of anguish. There is a terrible wound gouged into his chest, bleeding droplets of broken crystal, and where his heart should be is only an empty hole. Ringing the chamber are four statues, just as large, of Eeee goddesses, and at their bases are pins upon which are secured the chains binding the giant. There are spaces for three more, but one is empty, and the other two have only piles of rubble. Each statue holds a dagger, and one Inala holds in her hand a pulsing, crystal and stone heart.
This room, unlike the Crossroads, looks completely unchanged from Envoy's last visit … or, that is, Dragon's and Child's visit.
Landing near Morpheus' wound, Envoy finally starts to give in to fatigue. "I didn't change anything," she moans. "I handed her your heart, and it's probably why she's still there. How do I fix you, Morpheus?"
A breeze whips through Envoy's hair, but it doesn't carry anything approaching a word or a discernable meaning, even though there's the faintest hint of something remotely like a voice that can be heard on it.
Envoy curls up on the giant's chest, and says, "I need to wake up. I have to find Wynona … and Yffryn."
The statue seems not entirely cold and lifeless. Envoy can feel a strange tingle … she can faintly hear … something … definitely not a heart beat. That is most certainly ruled out.
Maybe, as impossible as it may be … the chest seems to rise … and fall … ever so slightly. The statue of Morpheus … it's breathing.
Encouraged by the signs of life, Envoy seeks out the nearest patch of crystal, and touches her horn to it in the hope that Morpheus can talk to her through it.
In the heart of a stone and crystal chamber with a pit-like depression, a dark-furred Khatta/Eeee hybrid, his body little more than a silhouette, lies prone on a stone table, as if laid out as a sacrifice upon an altar. He is bound by four thick cords that seem to be fashioned of leather, that reach out, each one of them twining about his body to bind his limbs. The four cords reach outward toward pins at the bases of four statues: Inala, Blakat, Sunala, Zakaro. There are spaces for more statues, but two of them have been reduced to rubble, and one is missing.
Envoy feels a strange, shifting sensation. She is still lying with her head against Morpheus' wounded chest … but he is no longer a giant. He seems "normal" in size now, and his chest can hardly be expected to accommodate the whole of the Exile's body. His chest rises and falls in ragged heaves, for he has suffered a grievous wound, and there is no good reason why anyone should survive such a thing his chest has been torn open, and his heart is gone.
Morpheus speaks, his tone a hoarse whisper. "I … I have … been … unable to speak to you … Forgive me, Envoy … "
Raising her head, Envoy gasps. "Morpheus! It's my fault, I let Reynard get pulled into Inala's game. I'm sorry for letting you down."
"No … no, Envoy," Morpheus wheezes. "You owe me … nothing … You … you have risked yourself … paid … paid in pain and … many things … " He pauses a moment, just struggling to breathe. "… I never … I was too … too … proud … I … thought … I didn't realize … I didn't want to … acknowledge … the risk … "
Envoy looks to the statue of Inala, to see if the beating heart is also changed now. "How can I heal you?"
A heart is clutched there, a real heart, though impossibly beating in the grasp of the stone statue. Morpheus follows Envoy's gaze. "This … this is like … a map … here … you … you can't … erase the mountain … to … to make it go away … in reality. You … you can't really … help me … here. Perhaps … perhaps if the other cords … are … released … I can … regain strength … find some way … to heal … but for now … Inala holds my … heart … and none … can take it … from her."
"Why though," Envoy asks, her eyes tearing up. "Why does she have it?"
"Don't … " Morpheus starts, then pauses for breath again. "… don't you … remember … the Creation Ballad?"
Envoy blinks. "They bound their father when he slept, bound him with the pelts of a hundred people. Barada took his tongue, Zakaro his wings, Rephath his spleen, Blakat his eyes … Inala took his heart."
"This is the Ritual of Seven Wounds," Envoy says, chiding herself for not recognizing it sooner.
Morpheus nods weakly. "That … is the symbol … the truth … is I have no … heart … no wings … no … lungs … but … this is a dream … " He breathes deeply, shuddering, then begins again. "The truth … is … Inala … is like me … formed … by others. … I … gained my … personality … first … from the two … who took … me to … the planet … Morpheus… "
"Brishen Kara," Morpheus wheezes, "and Feli Kurai. I drew … something … from each of … them … and then … from the collected … dreams … of the dream mages … I learned … I grew … I became … more real … "
Envoy looks to each of the binding Sisters, and matches them to the status of their archways to try and determine which is the next likely threat. "You aren't just what people make you to be though, Morpheus. I believe in you for who you are, not what I think you should be."
Of the binding sisters, Inala, as Envoy knows only too well, is already fully formed. It would seem, from what Envoy observed, that Zakaro is not far behind her. Sunala and Blakat are some indistinct distance behind, roughly tied with each other, judging from the sizes of their statues in the Crossroads, though here, in this chamber, the statues that still stand are all equally formed.
"But it's the same process, repeated for the Sisters," she adds. "That's why only certain of us can make them … real."
Morpheus smiles weakly. "Yes. And … thank … you … Envoy … for … your … confidence … Now … I am … something less … pliable … than before. In my … infancy … I was more impressionable. The same … is true … of them … except … " He wheezes again. "… they started … with the myths."
"Myths," he repeats. "… collected stories … popular conceptions … shared dreams … shared fears … ambitions … expectations … symbols. This … is their core … but … full of … contradictions."
"In some of those myths, they are killed though," Envoy says. "Except for Sunala. If I find the right myth, can I learn how to kill them?"
"As … as the ritual … continued … they … became more … distinct. As … dreamers … joined their … realms … they … became … more real," Morpheus pushes out. "I … hoped … that … becoming … more real … would make them … more vulnerable. … Yes … ways … to kill them … "
Morpheus pauses a moment for breath, then says, "… but … I do not … have all the … answers … and gave you … even fewer. In time … the Sisters … would become … more real … through … the rituals … of the mages. We … pushed … that process … forward … for … better … and for … ill."
Envoy frowns suddenly. "But if they become real enough to die … does that make them as real as you? Would it be murder?"
Morpheus turns away. For the moment, he does not try to answer Envoy, focusing only on the irregular rise and fall of his wounded chest.
The Aeolun strokes the cheek now facing her, and waits for Morpheus to gather his strength. "Perhaps that's not a fair question. They don't know what they are, so I don't think they count as real people. If I convince myself of that, then I can destroy them without corrupting myself, I think."
"No, Envoy," Morpheus whispers. "Forgive me … I do not … want to die. I … do not think … I have wholly … lived up to … your moral … standards … to try … to save myself."
"I don't want you to die either, Morpheus," Envoy says, smiling. "I would raze Babel to the ground to prevent that. If Inala's followers have hurt my friend, I may strike at them, even. It's bad precedent, but … maybe I'm more mortal now than I thought. And I love you. So don't die, or I'll be very cross."
Morpheus closes his eyes. "I … cannot … say how much … that means to me … Envoy."
"I'll find out how to stop the remaining Sisters," Envoy promises. "And I will make sure the others know about it. But what would happen if someone you hadn't chosen takes one of the paths? A dream mage is walking the path of Zakaro, and the goddess is gaining definition from it."
Morpheus wheezes, then says, "She … was not chosen … Your friend … forgive me … Wynona … she seemed to be doing well … there … but … this stranger … has her talisman … now. This stranger … has been there … before … at times … when you and Elise … have been in Gorphat's … realm."
Envoy's ears snap to attention. "Wynona! Do you know if Yffryn is continuing in order to defeat Zakaro, or if she is following the plan of the Babelite mages?"
"Yffryn?" Morpheus wheezes. "Is that … her name? I … I do not know … but I think … I think she … does not know … what she is doing. I think … she may suffer … a fate … worse than … yours."
Morpheus groans. "I would … have sent the … bard … but now that … he is free … he wants nothing … to do with me." He smiles faintly. "Can't … blame him." He looks over to Envoy. "Presented … me with … a 'bill'. Wants … to be paid … in … good dreams … before … he helps me … again."
"I don't know if I can get to them both," Envoy says, sounding worried. "I wish I could help you get a new messenger at least. I'd give you Child, but … I don't know if I can separate into my Aspects anymore."
"Tell me what you would tell Yffryn, and I'll make sure she is told, though," the Exile promises.
Morpheus closes his eyes. "What … I have told you … but … I gave the myths … too much credit. The puzzles … are often unfair … At the last … I think you realized … how they work. Do what you must … to get past the obstacles … although … you may weaken the … goddess … if you do so … in ways … she had not … intended."
Morpheus breathes again, then says, "At the last … you may be presented … with a challenge. If you … lose … you may be … set back. If you win … you may do … even worse. It … is not good … to play by … their rules. You … must make … your own. If only … I knew just how … I would tell you. But even … if I knew then … I had not … the power to do so. Now … I am … all but discarded. Inala's … path completed … took … part of my essence … rather … than becoming more real … on her … own."
"I'll try my best," Envoy says. "I'll be sure to check on you too. If I have to, I'll stand between you and the next dagger to be wielded. But I need to wake up. Wynona is in danger as well as Yffryn, and I don't know where my body is anymore. I wish I could give you part of myself to help you recover, like Black Father. Is there anything else I can do for you before I go?"
Morpheus wheezes. "I'll tell you … what I can. Sunala's weakness … is pride. But … her realm … is strange now … Sometimes … it is empty. Part of her … essence … lives … in the real world … and only returns … when she … sleeps."
He pauses, then continues, "Blakat … is envious … To trip her up … you would do well … to learn of the ways … of the Yodhblakat … understand their … strangeness. She is strife … conflict."
He adds, "Zakaro … is a glutton … but not … for food … rather … for power."
He pauses for a breath, then says, "I am not … certain what … happened to Rephath … but she is … not part of … the challenges anymore. She … has gone away … on her own. I have sensed … distress … amongst the … mages who … imprison me here … at her … loss. But … she is not … gone."
Envoy grins. "I was conflicted before you helped me. I shouldn't have too much trouble figuring out the Yodhblakat then. And I know some of the dangers of power, so maybe Zakaro can be made to destroy herself. I think Rephath was … appeased. When vengeance is achieved, there's no reason for her to stay around, is there?"
Morpheus nods. "Perhaps … she found … what she needed … without … taking from me. I wish … I knew … how that could be done … for the others … as I … would love … to be freed from … the burden. But … this may have been … a special case."
"If I can get to Zakaro before Yffryn does, I think I know how to defeat her," Envoy says, looking contemplative. "I will need to study up on Blakat, as you suggested. If there is some Avatar of Sunala that binds her power, I do not know how to find her. But I've seen the Sea of Souls wash into her realm, so I think I understand what you meant about her."
Morpheus nods and closes his eyes. "My own … mind … wanders. I cannot … think clearly." He makes a rasping chuckle. "I am … a being … in a dream … and I feel … as if I may slip … off into sleep." He opens one eye to look to Envoy. "I … can try to help you … repair the damage … to your mind … to help you … awaken … but the exertion will … tire me further. I will … be unable to help you … beyond that … until … I can gain … more strength … somehow." He looks to Envoy. "Is … there anything else … I can try … to answer … while you are here?"
Envoy thinks carefully, and asks, "You told me that you were able to connect to the crystal network of Sinai through the Mages. Can I use that to find the location of their ritual?"
Morpheus looks upward, for a moment, then nods slowly. "It … might be possible … yes."
Grinning, Envoy asks, "Do you know if it was close to a large vein, or an intersection of veins? Is there anything you can tell me about it?"
Morpheus closes his eyes. "There are actually … many rituals … not all … in one place. But … there is a large amount … of Sifran … crystal … underneath … the Tower of Babel … It is why … though part of the blast … from the Boomer … overlapped the base of the Tower … the Tower was … untouched. The wound … in the heart of Babel … is not a perfect circle."
"The rituals are conducted within the Tower itself?" Envoy asks.
"Some of them," Morpheus wheezes. "But … if those could be … disrupted, it would … surely … disrupt the whole … of the ritual." He looks to Envoy. "I do not know … that the Seven Sisters … would go away … for they have all … gained some power … but it would stop … their binding … of me. I might … be able … to escape."
Envoy smiles at the thought. "They sabotaged Zahirinee's pool so he couldn't detect them. But they might be using the crystal itself to help shield their rituals as well. I can get a map of the crystal, one way or another, I'm sure."
Morpheus nods. "Be … careful." He smiles faintly. "I do not want … to lose you … either."
"Don't worry about me," Envoy says reassuringly. "I'm not about to go on a commando raid of Babel. But there will be those that are willing, if only they knew where to strike."
Morpheus says nothing in response, focusing only on the rise and fall of his own chest for a time.
"Are you sure you have the strength to help me wake up?" Envoy asks, sounding concerned.
Morpheus wheezes, "I am sure … of very little … but … whenever you are ready … I will try."
Envoy takes a deep breath to relax herself. "I'm ready. There is much I need to do, so I'd better get to it."
Morpheus closes his eyes tightly, bringing his head to face directly up. "As you wish." And after the words leave his mouth, this dream within a dream fades, and Envoy finds herself back on the chest of the Morpheus statue, in the gargantuan chamber … then back at the Crossroads … and then … she finds herself pulling away from the realm of dreams entirely.
Temple of Inala
Marble floors gleam, polished to such a degree of perfection that the shadowed portions reflect features as if mirrors. Columns, each formed of caryatid statues of idealized Eeee embracing each other, support the high ceiling. Through open portals and windows, a walled garden can be seen outside, aflame with colorful flowers, and the breeze coming through bears sweet fragrances, along with the sounds of trickling brooks and burbling fountains, intermixed with the faint tinkling of chimes and faint strains of stringed instruments. A statue of Inala stands before an altar, and smaller statues also representing various depictions of Inala can be seen in alcoves about the sanctuary, most of them with piles of offerings at their feet.
As Envoy awakens, she realizes that the soreness she experienced in the dream of the Sea of Souls was a dim reflection of the pain she experiences in her actual body, back in the real world. She has no broken bones, but she is cold, and it is soon apparent that she is vertical … bound to a column in a temple of Inala, her legs, arms and wings secured … and her neck as well, for no opportunity has been left for her to squirm around very much.
On another column, the symmetrical pair of this one, Envoy can see, out of the corner of her eye, that a white-furred, platinum-grey-haired female Eeee is bound there, head sagging, with runic marks visible on her arms, legs and face, and hair bound into a long braid.
At least I know where Wynona is now, Envoy thinks as she glances around as best she can, not being able to turn her head.
Even if Envoy did not have bindings preventing her from fully turning her head, she senses that she would likely experience difficulty regardless. She, after all, has been through a considerable amount of trauma … and it feels as if she doesn't have command of her own muscles quite the way she ought to. If she were to speak, it might well come out as a garbled, ugly sound, rather than coherent words.
Before Envoy has long to consider this, a light-furred Eeee saunters into view, her wings folded about her as if a cape, and with flowers and gemstones worked into her flowing hair, with decorative marks of blue visible on her cheekruffs. She smiles as she looks at Envoy. "Awake, mmm?" She reaches up with a slender hand to stroke alongthe ridge of Envoy's jaw line, and her smile takes on a particularly cruel cast. "Don't worry, Envoy. You'll learn to enjoy yourself here … " She pauses, grinning more widely. "… whether you want to, or not."
What I would really enjoy right now, Envoy thinks as she looks into the face of the Yodhinala, is having enough saliva to properly spit in her face.