Carnival music drifts by, off kilter, somehow seeming to continually get faster as it goes, but never actually getting anywhere. Brightly colored pennants flap in the breeze, crowning marble pavilions that are decorated with idealized Eeee statues similar to those gracing Inala's temple in the waking world … but there's something wrong. Here, there is a statue of a white Lapi in a tabard, nervously checking his pocket watch. There, one of the idealized Eeee wears an executioner's hood, holding a large knife in one hand, and a smiling, disembodied head in the other. In places, the green grass and flowers gradually meld into patterns of black and white, like a chess board, and large mushrooms sprout from rooftops and walls.
A red-furred, fiery-haired bat dashes about gleefully, dressed in a royal dress festooned with little ornamental hearts embroidered into the fabric, and with a golden crown upon her head that works in the "heart" motif in its metalwork. She waves around a royal sceptre with a large flat and white sharp heart shape on one end held in one hand, and carries the limp body of a winged Exile under her other arm. "Off with her head!" the Queen of Hearts calls out in her shrill Eeee voice, swinging her sceptre, prompting a small group of pretty bats to shriek and scatter before her.
Although it seems that no one is actually caught by her sharp sceptre, she has behind her an entourage of wild-haired bat warrioresses, many of them red-furred and/or red-haired such as herself, dressed in tabards that sport designs that would suggest the faces of Terran playing cards. They swing nasty-looking swords at the necks of those who fail to get aside quickly enough, or plunge wickedly-curved daggers into their retreating back-sides. It would be a gruesome, bloody scene indeed, if the victims didn't pop like balloons or explode into bursts of confetti like Guy Fox dolls.
The queen leaps over a thorny hedge, right into the midst of a hedge maze, and with a sudden thump, she drops the Exile, grabbing her sceptre up into both hands and howling a battle cry as she bounds after several frightened carnival-goers, chasing them into the twists and turns of the maze. Her "card soldiers" bound after her, some of them giving pause when they see the roughly rectangular area that Envoy has been deposited in.
Here, the grass fades from green to a black and white checkered pattern, and there are several boulders that are piled up toward one end of the rectangle, upon which Envoy has been dropped. On pedestals, there are several statues of idealized Eeee, and a few of them get smashed, before the card soldiers lose interest and bound on after their queen. One of them prods at Envoy, jostling her, but then gives up and follows the rest.
After a moment, Envoy regains something approximating her senses, and finds herself sprawled out on a pile of boulders to one side of a small, room-sized rectangular grassy area marked off by thorny hedges, and busts and statues (some of them busted as well) of Eeee in various poses. There are fragments of broken statues lying about, and right beside the pile of boulders is a ring of small mushrooms that have sprouted up, each one of them having spots that form an image of a skull.
At the hedge-wall on the other side, there stands a large red chess piece a queen as large as Envoy, and it is animated as if alive, hopping about on its base. "Hurt me, hurt me!" it pleads. "Kill me, kill me!"
Envoy sits up and giggles at the chess piece, then slides down the boulders to the checkered ground. By the time she lands, her appearance has changed a bit. Instead of the blue and white dress she had on before, she's now decked out in a red-and-white harlequin's outfit, complete with jingle-bells and a floppy hat. She tip-toes up to the screaming chess queen, and goes, "Boo! Hah! Bet you didn't expect that, did you? Boo again! All hail the Vermite Queen!"
The red chess queen spins around, then falls over and rolls across the grass diagonally, laughing boisterously. "Everything is right with you! Let's stay here!" Meanwhile, over the tops of the hedges, Envoy catches a glimpse of some cloaked and hooded bats slinking along, and one of them has a necklace that has a pendant shaped like a set of scales. They don't seem like lizard scales, or fish scales some other sort of scales entirely. But before Envoy has a chance to puzzle over that too greatly, or even count how many of these strangers there were, they vanish into the shrubbery.
"Millennium-hand-and-shrimp!" the Aeolun (Aeoloon?) scrawks like a Korv. "I'd love to stay and watch the kettle boil over, and all that, but I have a train to catch! Or was it a cold to catch?" she wonders, mimes sniffing a flower and putting it in a nonexistent buttonhole, then cartwheelsdown the lane until she runs into a hedge wall. "The sensible thing to do would be to fly!" she declares after she recovers, and then immediately starts hopping like a frog deeper into the maze.
As Envoy finds herself in a twisty little maze of passages, all alike. Or, that is, a twisty maze of little passages, all alike. Or, if you'd prefer, a pretzel, only less tasty, and a great deal more leafy, and with a number of statues here and there that would probably get stuck in the teeth. There are several broken statues here and there, and several white pawns go hopping by, completely forgetting proper chess movements, screaming wildly. In the opposite direction can be heard the maniacal laughter of the Queen of Hearts' card-women. Other passages can be seen, heading this way and that, or that way and this, or hither and yon, and to and fro.
Envoy stops and puts a hand to her ear. "Hark!" she says, "I do hear a party over yonder, forsooth and all that." This time she does use her wings to get over an intervening wall, but shouts, "Ribbit!" as she does so.
Even though Envoy has just gone over a wall, she still hears fleeing pawns in one direction, laughing card-women in the other, and somehow the red queen still bounces after Envoy, whispering, "I've never heard such wisdom in my life before. Slowly walk toward the sounds of weeping."
Spinning around, Envoy points an accusing finger at the red queen. "Aha! You're spying on me! For them! Well, I'm not falling for your mind control tricks! I don't want any of your magazines! Not a one!" She crosses her arms against her chest and turns her nose up, but then looks back at the queen and whispers, "Unless you have Architectural Digest. That one's okay. My dog told me so."
The red queen tugs on Envoy (never mind that chess pieces normally don't have hands) and commands, "Of course, you're absolutely right. I've been spying on you from the first, and nothing you ever said from when you first treated me to a delicious dish of proton-flavored ice cream to when you said I should be condemned to a lasting death by razor-wielding critics on a stage will ever change that! I know just what you mean. Take your time! You must stay!"
As she says this, a white bishop rounds the corner, coming from another intersection, zigzagging with much haste. "You!" the bishop squeals, and two knights hop up beside her, jogging forward, then one to the right, one to the left.
"Me?" Envoy asks, looking suspiciously at the bishop. "I'm not a dragon you know, so I don't need these knights to protect me from ravenous princesses. Or do you just want to play through?"
"Yes," the red queen whispers quietly, then adds assuredly, "I should leave you right here," as she tugs on Envoy's hand. A couple of chitin blades appear, wielded by the knights, and the bishop squeaks, "Subdue her and if she resists, off with her head!" To this, one knight says, "Indubitably," while the other says, "Contrariwise!" They both advance upon Envoy and the red queen.
Envoy grabs the queen around the middle, and warns the knights, "Stop right there! I've got a queen and I'm not afraid to use it!"
The bishop squeaks, "She resists! Do as you are commanded!" and immediately zigzags back down the corridor, rushing into a side-passage. The sounds of cackling give the knights pause, but then one of them moves forward and comes at Envoy from the side, sword held high. The red queen whispers, "They adore me beyond words, and would do nothing to harm me if given a chance. I shall protect you. Stay here, stay here."
Envoy frowns and tries to keep the queen between her and the knights. "Hey, no fair! You both need to come at me from the same side for this to work you know! Isn't that in the code of chivalry somewhere? Must attack from the same side?"
The attacking knight cuts into the red queen, who whispers in ecstasy, and slumps in Envoy's grasp, then loudly shouts, "I'm so glad!"
The other knight doesn't try to play fair, and steps forward, hacking at Envoy, cutting deeply into her left arm.
"Oh, now you tell me your name!" Envoy says, rolling her eyes and trying to keep the queen upright, then dropping her again as her arm is hit. "Ow! That hurt! Gimme that sword before you put an eye out!"
Just then, several card-women come screaming around the corner. The first knight tries to pull his sword out of the red queen, but abandons the effort and dashes down the corridor in the opposite direction. The other one, however, appears to be engrossed in making a more effective swing with his blade at Envoy.
Envoy attempts to bend backwards out of the way of the blade, rather than do anything so mundane as ducking. "Your fly is open!" she snarls at the knight.
The sword cuts through the air where Envoy's neck would have been had she simply stood there, but she is not so fast as to avoid the blow completely … the blade rakes across her nose, causing her significant pain.
The knight's swing is wide open. If only Envoy had a sword of her own, and any skill in the use of it, she could probably thrust it and catch his exposed side. The red queen seems a little too blunt, bulky and bloody to be used for such a purpose.
Eyes tearing up, Envoy grabs her nose and starts to jump around wildly. "My dose! My dose! You pricked my dose!" She does jump away from the knight at least.
As Envoy jumps back, the red queen slips from her grasp and falls to the floor, wings flopping limply. The knight steps forward, completely out of order, not even bothering with the L-shaped move a knight really should be following in chess. He slips momentarily in a slick of blood as he attempts another swing, and misses with an over-reached lunge at Envoy during her backward retreat.
Envoy hops over to the card-women, and points to the knight."He said you were ill-suited for each other!"
One of them backhands Envoy, sending her crashing into the hedges, and knocking over a statue of a couple of embracing Eeee. She lands in a pool of blood near the prone form of the red queen. One of the card-women cries out, "I claim your sword!" The knight snarls, "Contrariwise!" and thrusts it. His attack, however, is far from effective, save to seal his own fate A card-woman cries out, "Queen of Hearts, grant me RAGE!" and makes a mighty blow with her sword, cleaving cleanly through the knight in mid-torso, one statue, and a portion of the hedge wall. The knight's upper torso, one cleft arm and two wings fall to the ground, then his lower body after that. The card-woman grabs up the sword, then holds it up for the others to see. They scream and cheer, and as a pack, they advance down the corridor, more than one of them stepping on Envoy as they go.
"Oof!" Envoy grunts after the rabble has passed, and looks at the bleeding red queen. "Red Queen," she says, "grant me … cheese!" The Exile holds out her hands to better receive the cheese.
No cheese is granted. The card-women disappear down the corridor, leaving Envoy lying on very hard and solid-feeling grass. Pain surges in her arm and her nose, even with her amazing self-healing abilities, and it's hard to tell how much blood is her own, or that of the knight or the red queen. A sword still sticks out of the body of the red queen, who now looks remarkably like Kyrieta, and the knight looks remarkably like one of those pretty-boy guards. But then, the seeming quickly fades away, as Envoy is only lying amongst bleeding chess pieces in the grass.
Perhaps the pain is bringing Envoy more to her senses, or at least giving her something to hold her attention. Holding her wounded arm, she cries out, "Queen of Hearts, give me bandages!"
A large bandage in a conveniently sealed wrapper (flesh-toned, if one happens to be a furless Caucasian human) falls from the sky and lands on Envoy's head. After a moment's pause, a second one joins it.
"Wow!" Envoy says, and uses her teeth to try and open the bandage packs. "Quen ob Herps," she mumbles around a bandage, "gib me… pom-poms!"
An anvil falls on Envoy's head. Amazingly enough, it doesn't hurt nearly so much as her arm and her nose does. Tied to the anvil are a pair of pom-poms.
Envoy yowls and takes off her flattened hat with her right hand, then goes about bandaging her arm and nose. "Very funny! Ha Ha!" At least the pom-poms look nice. "Queen of Hearts," she calls again, after getting to her feet, "Give me a clue!" She keeps her eyes skyward this time, and gets ready to dodge.
The clouds part, and suddenly, Morpheus, bound with many leathery cords, comes plummeting from the sky, dangling from a bungee cord, and then for the split second that he's hanging, upside-down, in front of Envoy's face, he says, "This is not a dream." Then, with a snap, he shoots back up into the heavens. The clouds close around him, folded closed by little flapping cherubs, and then he's gone.
Envoy blinks several times at this. "Morpheus?" she asks. "Where am I? Queen of Hearts, where am I?" she calls again.
The heads of all the statues along the corridor, even those broken and lying on the floor, some spattered by blood, break into choral music, singing, "Here, where you have always been!" Applause sounds out from behind all of the hedges, along with whistles and cries of "Encore!" Roses fly over the hedges, landing on Envoy and in the blood.
Putting her hat back on and picking up the pom-poms, Envoy starts off in the direction the card-warriors came from. "Hah! Can't make a fool of me twice!" she declares, then remembers how she's dressed, and amends, "Well, three times then."
Envoy makes her way through the maze, the trail plainly spelled out by signs of destruction left in the wake of the card-women. Her nose is feeling better already, though her left arm still feels very weak and occasionally she feels stabbing pain as she jostles about. There are broken statues along the way, and occasionally white chess pieces bleeding in the corridor. She even finds a torn-up card-woman, who is grinning wildly even in death, as she stares off into space.
Thrusting her right arm out, along with a pom-pom, Envoy cheers, "Red and White, Red and White, man they sure do like to Fight! Gooooo White!" She doesn't try any more cartwheels though as she makes her way through the maze.
As she continues along the hedge maze, she finds that it is fairly straight for quite some distance. This maze doesn't have quite the number of twists and turns a proper maze would have, and most of the dead ends are plainly visible right from the intersection they branch off from … hardly a challenge at all. But then, with people trying to kill you, perhaps that's challenge enough. In any case, the signs of carnage and destruction grow more frequent, and there are a few places where the branches of the hedges on either side of Envoy are burning. At last, she turns a corner, and then can see, up ahead, that there's a much wider area perhaps the exit from the maze? and there are many fallen chess pieces. One still moves about, though a white queen. As Envoy notices this, she catches out of the corner of her eye a glimpse of a cloaked figure darting into a side passage, and disappearing into shadows within the maze.
Envoy hmms, and tries to juggle her pom-poms one-handed as she jogs towards the remaining white queen. "What ho there! Be you friend or foe or vo-dee-oh-doe?"
The white queen looks remarkably bat-like for a chess piece, and there's a strange glowing nimbus about her head. She turns in place, to fix upon Envoy a simmering glare. "You wretched, filthy … " She inserts several more descriptive words here that are far less polite, and simply not to be repeated in any sort of company. "You will know the agony of those that betray " And then whatever name she says next is blooped out by a loud, out-of-tune trumpet fanfare.
Envoy tilts her head, and taps a finger against her right cheek. "Ah! I get it now!" she giggles. "It's not a dream! I'm in the Temple of Inala and the Yodhblakat are killing everyone! Is that you, Geriatrics … err … Garyardor … umm … High Priestess?"
The floor right beneath Envoy feels remarkably more like stone than grass ought to. "GARIAZADZE!" the High Priestess shrieks. And then she points toward Envoy, and mumbles an arcane word.
"What's that?" Envoy asks, cupping a hand to her ear as if hard of hearing. "Bat got your tongue?"
Immediately, Envoy's surroundings seem darker and gloomier. The garish, crazy colors are ripped away, replaced with dull grays and shadows. Any inclination on Envoy's part to giggle or take things lightly seems to be taken from her more violently than any Yodhblakat ever could. The pain in her arm flares like a furnace, and her nose, which had for the past few moments not even bothered her, stings so sharply as to bring tears to her eyes anew.
More sharply, she's stung with a sudden recollection of what has just transpired over the past hour, though she sees it through new eyes, the pain bringing a clarity she was previously unable to grasp.
In her memory, she sees, quite clearly, herself holding up Kyrieta between herself and one of the "pretty boy" guards of Inala, and Kyrieta being impaled by the guard's sword.
A cold, oppressive feeling pushes down on Envoy, as if threatening to crush her, stripping away fragments of happiness and levity that her unstable mental condition might otherwise (and however inappropriately) lend.
Envoy falls to her knees in shock, and throws back her head to scream at the top of her lungs! "BLAKAT! I'LL KILL YOU FOR THIS!" she wails. Then she remembers the figure with the scales. Maybe the Yodhrephath found Wynona in time!
The discordant music dies away, along with the traces of Envoy's delusionary dream … though it all seems to hover on the edge of her consciousness, as if once the High Priestess releases her from this barrage, this imposition of grief and hopelessness, Blakat's insanity is quick to offer Envoy an escape from the pain. Envoy's thought of the Yodhrephath finding Wynona seems to cut a path through the grief, like a parting of the waters, but one which threatens to close in upon her with a crash of waves. For a brief moment, she feels possessed of a clarity of mind a self-awareness sufficient to let her know that this state is likely to be fleeting.
She is immediately aware that she is well enough to be able to walk on her own (as she has been doing all this time), though just not in a very dignified manner. Her wings are useless, though at least she's not tripping over them. The "bandages" only existed in her mind, as the wound on her arm though closing through her own amazing regenerative abilities is untreated.
Turning to the High Priestess, she demands, "Where is Wynona?"
"DEAD!" the High Priestess shrieks, "Slain by those babbling brigands! And you are to blame for it all! Inala has revealed it to me!" Trumpet fanfare blares in Envoy's mind at the mention of the name "Inala", but it is not so loud as to drown out the name at the moment.
"No!" Envoy yells. "Where is she!? Tell me or I will see to it that Paradise itself is overrun with Yodhblakat!"
The wave of grief and despair builds up, a great tsunami force that threatens to engulf Envoy and leave her in a helpless heap upon the floor … and at Gariazadze's mercy. "Ask Sunala!" Gariazadze taunts, with a wild flash in her eyes more appropriate for a follower of Blakat than Inala. "Ask her … when I send you to her!" From her ivory headdress, carved so as to resemble a mass of intertwined bodies, she grabs one of the female figures about the torso, then pulls to the side, and it separates, revealing a thin, stiletto-like blade, the ivory figure serving as the handle.
Envoy tries to get back up on her feet. "Where is her body then?" It's hard, either due to her general weakness or to the emotional burden waiting to crush her.
Gariazadze takes a moment to laugh. "Oh! Oh, that's a good one. I'm going to stay your execution just so I can prove to you that your friend is dead, am I? Your friend is dead because she was of value, and her remains have been claimed as prizes. The Yodhblakat always take trophies, and your friend had no trophy to offer, save for herself."
"The Yodhrephath came to get her though," Envoy says. "I saw one!" She is definitely sounding desperate now.
"The Yodhrephath?" Gariazadze echoes, anger and surprise? flashing across her face. And then, she laughs again. "They killed her because the Yodhrephath wanted her!"
Spotting the brief look of surprise, Envoy grins. "Then you don't know. The Yodhrephath High Priestess was coming to claim Wynona, rather than let you abuse Rephath's image through her. The remaining Sisters are against Inala now, save Sunala, for all the good she can do. I only showed them what Inala hid from them."
"She's dead!" Gariazadze screams. "She's dead, and it's ALL YOUR FAULT! Go to Sunala knowing that!"
Nonetheless, Gariazadze doesn't yet move forward to attack with the dagger. Maybe she's waiting for something? Perhaps she's waiting for that big wave to come crashing down on Envoy…
Envoy forces a laugh. "It's Inala's fault. She betrayed me, and now she has to pay for it." Despite the bravado, Envoy raises up her right arm in as defensive a position as she can, figuring the High Priestess hasn't used a knife against anyone that could actually fight back before.
The wave doesn't quite come crashing down like it has threatened to. It presses in on Envoy, chilling her to the bone, but isn't sufficient to utterly crush her, to utterly convince her, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that all is lost, all is hopeless, and that putting up a fight is worthless. Gariazadze's face seems to register disappointment when she sees that Envoy is still standing … but seeing it as being as much of an opening as she hardly the warrioress might have, she rushes forward, gleaming blade held high. "DIE, BLASPHEMER!" she screams as she bears down on Envoy.
Envoy raises her good arm up to block… and lets herself fall backwards, hoping to throw off Gariazadze's charge by making her trip over Envoy's own body.
It's a close contest. Envoy has no particular melee combat training, and she's wounded … a factor amplified by the effects of Gariazadze's "work of Inala" imposed upon her. Gariazadze, on the other hand, not only hasn't the least bit of combat ability, but she's also an Eeee, and thus not terribly strong or durable.
Envoy's backward maneuver, however the least bit of strategy when faced with the otherwise evenly-matched situation proves to tip things in her favor. The High Priestess, as if expecting that Envoy would conveniently stand in one place while she finished her charge, ends up flailing over the Exile, and both of them end up crashing down to the floor.
The jarring of her left arm leaves Envoy momentarily lost in a red haze of pain, before she can work out what position she's in, much less the condition of the High Priestess.
While Envoy is lying on the floor, Gariazadze gets back up to her feet out of Envoy's present range of vision. "I have you now!" she crows, but then … there comes a stampeding of feet, and cackling, maniacal laughter. It's the card-women … Envoy's grip on reality must be slipping, but at least the Yodhinala's "miracle" is losing its grip on her as well. The floor feels grassy once more, and the bodies about her bear a remarkable similarity to chess pieces.
Envoy bites on the inside of her cheek, trying to stave off the madness with more pain, thinking that she has to find Wynona. Insane or not, she just has to.
The pain comes. It tastes like vanilla. The white queen rushes Envoy. "I'm not letting you leave here alive!" she promises, and thrusts her dagger downward…
Weakly, Envoy tries to block the queen with her arm and a knee. "Queen of Hearts," she mutters, "give me … give me … another chance to beat you."
As time seems to slow, Envoy feels a flame burning within her heart. A flame of anger … In her increasingly delusional state, her surroundings change in a flash. She is floating in a dark, shadowy place, and before her is a chalice of boiling, flaming wine. A little label is tied to the base of the golden chalice. It says, "Drink Me".
Envoy reaches for the chalice, and tips some of the burning wine into her mouth.
The scene fades, though Envoy can feel the wine burning as it runs down her throat. She feels a wild, unreasoning rage welling up inside of her. The pain in her arm seems utterly inconsequential nonexistent. She is invincible. Nothing can touch her. Nothing can withstand her. Blakat's rage burns within her, and it demands to be let out. The frozen moment thaws, and the dagger resumes its downward course.
Envoy howls, and throws her clenched right fist at the white queen's head.
*sklutch* The Exile is momentarily blinded by a spray of red.
It takes a moment for Envoy's fevered mind to register exactly what has happened, especially that she's blinded momentarily, but it would seem that her fist impacted Gariazadze's head with a force far beyond her normal, natural strength. Nonetheless, the rage still burns within her, a hunger for confirmation of her own victory and a yearning to take some sort of prize to commemorate that victory. She hears a *THUMP* next to her, the sound of Gariazadze's body dropping to the floor … and the clatter of a blade falling from a limp hand.
Envoy struggles to her feet, and wipes her eyes clear with her left hand to see what has actually happened.
It looks as if Gariazadze's pretty face is no more It has been caved in by the force of a ridiculously powerful blow. Envoy feels as if she has fire in her veins, and seeing what her rage has wrought makes it burn even more.
The card-women rush into the chamber, and they howl, whoop and shout when they see the fallen High Priestess. They are laden with all sorts of booty, and some of them even have a chess pieces slung over their shoulders. (It does not appear that any of them are hauling Wynona, or remnants thereof.) Most of them make their way out the entrance of the hedge maze, and spread their wings, taking to the air.
Envoy stares at her bloodied right hand for a moment. "A trophy," she mutters, and forces herself to turn away from the white queen and head for the far end of the chamber.
As the Exile forces herself to think of this room as a chamber rather than a hedge maze, she finds herself better able to grasp onto a few frayed edges of reality … though it takes considerable effort, after having drunk deeply of the rage of Blakat, to resist her call to take up a trophy for her deed. She feels the strength gained by calling upon Blakat fading very quickly. Her surroundings seem to disappear in a haze, though she forces herself to stumble onward. She vaguely senses herself stumbling and falling … more than once? … and she feels very, very cold.
Wrapping her wings around her for warmth, Envoy stumbles onward. "Mount Rephath," she tells herself. "Wynona will be there. Mount Rephath."
The Exile hears the crunching of snow … her own footsteps? … or are there others? But who would bother to walk in snow, when one can fly? She slips and falls again, landing hard on one hip, then tumbling through the snow, then her rolling comes to an abrupt halt as she slams into a solid, rock-hard object. A wall, most likely. Nothing breaks, but it takes the breath out of her, and her wings ache from the abuse. Given the cold and her lack of ability to use them, if it weren't for the pain, she might not feel anything in them at all.
Envoy opens her eyes and stares hard at the landscape, trying to see what is really there.
The Exile finds herself lying at the base of a slope, against a stone wall marking the outer perimeter of the grounds of Inala's temple. Dried vines withered with the onset of winter cling to the stone. Up the slope, Envoy can see a path crushed by her own body, rolling through it. To the right, she can see a path that has been kept carefully swept clear of snow, covered with broken, jagged-looking red rocks, lined on either side by poles with ropes running along them, marking off the area for pilgrims to walk during their trek up the mountain. Presently, there are no pilgrims making their way up there … and, thankfully, Envoy wasn't rolling down those stones while falling down the hill.
Further up the hill, she can make out the fabulous stonework of the temple and its outbuildings, though even from down here, there is a great deal of vandalism that has been done to it in a short amount of time, and there is smoke rising from some of the windows. The last of the fleeing Yodhblakat take to the air with their prizes, abandoning some of them because of the weight that would prevent them to properly fly.
Vengeful guards fire off arrows after them, but only manage to strike one of the Yodhblakat She screams out, her wings falter, and she comes crashing down into the snow, knocking up a cloud of white powder, then lies there, twitching, a shaft protruding from her back.
"I have to get back inside," she says, as if trying to convince herself. It's too cold and she is too weak to make it down the mountain, and almost certainly wouldn't find any help along the way. Pulling herself upright, she starts to crawl up the slope she just rolled down. "Are you leaving me alone now, Blakat? What do I tell the surviving guards?" Pausing, she decides to make a detour towards the fallen warrior. Maybe the Yodhblakat has some warmer clothes she can use, at least.
As Envoy heads over toward the fallen Yodhblakat, she finds that she has a few trees leafless, but still large between herself and the archers. The Yodhblakat is certainly better dressed for going about in the winter than the typical occupant of the Temple of Inala. In addition to her furs and armor of chitin and leather, she has quite a bit of jewelry that looks to have been liberated from the temple.
The Yodhblakat isn't dead just yet, but once the guards get to her, she's quite certain to be. Of more immediate import, she doesn't look to be in any state to resist Envoy's efforts to equip herself. In addition to her garb (including boots and gloves), she has a large, wickedly curved sheathed dagger, and a hand mace.
For her part, Envoy ignores the weapons and jewelry, and first liberates the boots and gloves to keep her extremities from getting frostbite, then works on recovering the furs. Unsure of how much time she has before the guards come, she doesn't bother with the complicated armor, and the leather would also take more time than she'd like to risk.
By the time Envoy gets the boots and gloves, she can already hear the sounds of approaching footsteps, and by the time she grabs some of the furs, she can see movement through the trees. She's not quite as warm as she'd probably like to be She could grab more, but it's a gamble. For what it's worth, her arm is looking a lot better, but the weather isn't doing much for her.
Envoy tries to get back to the wall and the pilgrims' path before the guards arrive, not wanting to have to burrow into the snow to hide from them.
Fortune smiles upon Envoy (for a change) as there is some sort of commotion that momentarily distracts the guards. Envoy is able to sprint off toward the path, unhindered, with that much extra time to get out of their line of sight. By the time she's back to the path and heading out past the outer walls, she catches just a glimpse of the guards heading over to the fallen Yodhblakat. One of them brings a blade down on her. The result is easily enough imagined, if not clearly seen.
Catching her breath, the Aeolun looks out along the path, trying to judge how long it is, and how long she's likely to last in this weather, knowing that she'll have to burn more energy to keep her metabolism going, and that she still isn't fully recovered physically. She also tries to locate Mount Rephath in the haze.
It looks like it's a long way down … but she's not completely alone out here. There is a small crowd blocking the path on a few twists further down the hill … gawkers, watching the scene of destruction. Some of them must have gotten the idea that the action is dying down, what with the retreat of the Yodhblakat, as they make their way back down the path. Certainly, none of them are bothering to approach the temple at this point.
Envoy can make out Mount Rephath a few peaks down the ridge of the Seven Sisters. There's no way that she's going to be able to walk all the way over there without getting somewhere to shelter and recover first or, at the very least, some sort of help, and there's not bound to be much of that here in Babel.
The gawkers include a fair mix of Babelites most of them are bats, of course, though there is one wealthy-looking noble being borne on a litter by six Savanites. There are no Nagas out here in the snow at all. (They tend to keep in where it's warm in winter time.) There are the poor and the well-to-do (or at least their servants), and a few bats in the cuts of robes of lesser priestesses who must have come to see what's up with their "neighbors".
Having little choice at the moment, Envoy starts down the path. If she can catch up to one of the groups below, then maybe someone can at least tell her how to reach theCollege Esoterica Guild House in Babel. There aren't any temples she thinks she can find shelter in, unless the Yodhsunala are impressed by her survival. She knows that she can't return to Inala's temple, though.
As Envoy heads on down, she draws several curious looks from the gawkers, but most of them return to looking up the hill. If Envoy feels like throwing herself at the mercy of one of the temples, she has a full selection of priestesses to choose from save that there are no Yodhinala here in the crowd (which is just as well). There is onebrown bat, somewhat short, and heavily obscured in a thick hodge-podge collection of furs, who seems to be following Envoy with his gaze, showing more than a passing interest.
Envoy seeks out the nearest follower of Sunala, but also keeps an eye out for Barada's symbol, just in case they'd be willing to trade some hospitality for the low-down on what happened here tonight. "Excuse me, Yodhsunala?" she says, speaking Eeee of course, to the black-robed figure.
As Envoy heads up to the Yodhsunala, she happens to brush past another odd member of the crowd a Jupani, in once-white furs that have been dyed in strange swirling patterns of blue. The Yodhsunala turns toward Envoy, looking down her nose at her. "I am Gehma." That name means "doom". How pleasant! "For what must you be excused?"
"One of your sisters came to treat me at Inala's Temple," Envoy tells Gehma. "Her treatment was supposed to last for three days, and then she wanted me to let her know if it worked or not." Not wanting to appear rude to the priestess, Envoy doesn't look away from her to get a closer look at the Jupani.
As Envoy looks at Gehma, she is struck with a sense of "deja vu" … and there's something about the way the Yodhsunala looks at her that seems … out of place, somehow, though she can't quite place it. This isn't, incidentally, the same Yodhsunala that treated her, but she's still struck by a sense that she's met her somewhere before. "I trust it was a success. Would you like an escort, so that you may tell her yourself?"
Envoy blinks a few times. "I would appreciate it, mistress, as I have nowhere else to go right now. But I really do need to get to the Mages' Guild in Babel as soon as I can."
"Of course, of course," Gehma says, looking about at those around her, though keeping her chin high. "Let us be off, then." She takes a few steps away from the mass, to an open spot, and snaps out her wings, preparing to fly. Being a priestess, after all, she is not obliged to walk all the way down the mountain, and anyone flying in the company of a priestess is likewise freed of the fear of being punished by death for doing such a thing.
Envoy blinks again and follows the priestess as she prepares to take wing. She spreads her own wings with a wince of discomfort, and tries a few flaps once she's clear of the crowd, willing to at least try and fly.
Alas, she simply hasn't the strength, nor the control over her own limbs to do more than shake them around with some pathetic spasms. This draws a few concerned looks.
The Yodhsunala is already in the air before she realizes that she is alone in flight. She circles back down and alights upon the snow, brushing silver-white hair out of her face. Something about the gesture triggers another sense of familiarity. If only her fur were the same silver-white instead of black. "I take it that your healing is not complete," she says. "Can you walk down the mountain?"
A cold wind rushes by, chilling the Exile with a spray of powdered snow.
The wolf in the blue-and-white furs walks over, muttering something under his breath. As he does so, Envoy notices that the cold is pushed away, as if the wolf were bringing with him a blazing torch (which he isn't).
Envoy blinks at the change in temperature, and turns to the Jupani. "You are a mage? I'm afraid my magic sense is no more recovered than my wings at the moment."
The Jupani smiles awkwardly. "An Air Mage. Gusty," he says in a quiet voice, and he extends a gloved hand by way of greeting. She notices some jewelry peeking out from underneath his furs the emblem of the lightning bolt: the rune of the Sphere of Air. He must have been recharging a spell warming the air about him or, at the very least, maintaining a pocket of "insulated" air that retains whatever warmth was in it before he ventured outside.
Envoy takes the wolf's hand and shakes it happily! "Oh, wonderful! You have to let the Guild know that Wynona Windcaller is probably in Rephath's Temple now. And could you help me get to the bottom of the mountain? My name is Envoy, of the Sphere of Earth."
"Sure," Gusty says. "We've met before. Remember? At Zahirinee's Pool?" When he mentions "Zahirinee", a few of the bats look his way, and the Yodhsunala gives him a disapproving frown. He hunkers down a little. "Anyway … we'd best move along."
"Yes, we should," the Yodhsunala says, and leads the way, including herself in this entourage even with the mage's arrival.
Envoy turns back to the Yodhsunala, and tries to place the odd feeling of having met her before. Her hair makes her think of Wynona, and that brings up other associations. Could it be Cryona, after all these years? she thinks, as she heads down the mountain. "Can you send a message for the other Yodhsunala to meet us at the bottom, so she can examine me?" she asks, though mostly to cover up the fact that she was looking closer at the priestess' face.
Once the possibility enters Envoy's mind, she can't shake it. The features look very much like those of the bat who, for a time, passed herself off as "Scarlet", and then revealed herself as Cryona Windcaller Wynona's cousin. If she's not Cryona, she could very well be yet another member of the Windcaller clan.
The Yodhsunala nods. "That would be a more efficient use of time, since I can fly and you cannot." Without waiting for any further clarification, she steps aside and takes to the air, winging away from the gawkers, and toward the adjacent Mount Sunala.
"I'm sorry if you came all this way to visit the Temple, Gusty," Envoy says to her remaining companion. "I don't think they will be open for business again anytime soon."
Gusty's ears blush. He coughs into his hand. "I, er, wasn't here for business … er … worship or anything like that," he says, after a pause, and only in a very low voice. "Just keeping an eye on things. There were some rumors floating around. About you. Your whereabouts. That sort of thing. Who's in control of your head right now, incidentally?"
Blinking a bit, Envoy replies, "So, Yffryn actually told people about us? As for who is in control … me at the moment, I think. I got rid of Inala, only to end up a prisoner at her Temple, and tonight I was under Blakat's control … but I think I'm over it, or she's done with me. I'm afraid to deal with Sunala just yet, and I have no idea where Rephath really stands, although she did send her priestesses in to save Wynona, at least."
"Wynona's alive?" The wolf looks surprised, though not unpleasantly so by any means. "That's good. They let the crew of your ship go, but Wynona was gone, and someone said that she'd marked some priestess's face We'd figured that the Inala-ites had done away with poor Wynona in retaliation."
Envoy frowns. "They had other plans. I was able to convince Rephath to do something because they were making Wynona up to look just like Rephath. And one she marked … is dead now, along with a lot of others in the Temple. My fault."
Gusty lets out a breath at this. "Hey, hey, don't be so hard on yourself. It sounds like you got swept up in something big. We'll just try to get you back to the Guild and back under friendly skies. Okay?" He smiles hopefully.
Envoy smiles. "Okay. It's not like I wanted the Yodhblakatto attack Inala's temple, after all." After a few moments, she says, "I wanted them to attack Inala herself, instead."