Under a starry night sky, devoid of Procession or cloud, there is a grayish expanse, in the center of which is a stone circle, ringed by archways some standing proud, some broken. Proudest is Inala's gateway, fashioned of marble and gilding, filled by a statue of the bat-like Eeee goddess. Also intact is Rephath's gateway, though blocked by an iron gate. The gateways of Blakat and Sunala have small statues standing in them, and roads of broken red stone leading off to distant mountains. The remaining gateways Barada, Zakaro, Gorphat - are but blasted ruins. Through each archway, three mountains can be seen the same three, but from different angles and in their midst is a crystal and stone tower rising toward the sky.
The mists swirl about and coalesce, then disperse, leaving a white-and-gold ki'rin in their wake. Clutched in her hand is an enormous double-bladed axe formed of leathery red chitin, one sharp end partly imbedded in the stone. (It is not immediately clear whether the Exile brought the axe with her, or whether it was already here, and she simply materialized such that her hand was grasping it when she arrived.)
While in the waking world, the Exile is not in full control of her own body, and not even her faculties (for she cannot utilize magic), here she is whole again, and near as she can tell she can sense and command magic as well as in the real world. (Sensing magic, however, is largely pointless here, for every fragment of this reality even the Exile's own representative form in the Dream Realm radiates a potent dweomer. The mere existence of the Dream Realm is magical, after all.)
Mists swirl about, blown by an unfelt wind. As the "wind" shifts, the Exile can hear snippets of sound from the remaining mountains. From the mountain of Inala alive with greenery and vibrant colors of gaudy tents, booths and even palaces there are occasional hints of music and laughter. From Blakat's mountain, the sounds are seemingly a parody of those coming from Inala's: there is music, but it is out of tune, off beat, changing tempo and rhythm; the laughter to be heard is shrill and maniacal. From Sunala's mountain … there is no sound at all not a single scream or moan.
Envoy tries to pry the axe-head from the stone, and calls out, "Rephath! You can have your axe back now!"
The axe pulls out easily. The only resistance seems to be in the weight of the axe itself, but Envoy seems able to handle that well enough to hold it, if not necessarily to wield it effectively enough to, say, behead a goddess.
Axe in hand, the Aeolun walks up to the gate barring passage through Rephath's archway. "Rephath? Can you hear me? I didn't kill Zakaro with the axe, but it did play a part in her defeat. Do you want it back now?"
As Envoy walks up to the gate, there are several sounds as of popping latches, and then it parts, swinging open, revealing a dusty expanse beyond, devoid of the path of broken red rock that leads to any of the remaining mountains.
Envoy pauses at the entry, wondering if she's being invited in. After a few moments of thought, she starts walking along the path beyond the gate. Rephath already has a champion, after all, she thinks.
The ground is soft and silty beneath Envoy's feet, and as she walks, great clouds of dust are kicked up, hanging in the air like mist, though her own presence seems to repel them somewhat, as the dust does not cling to her, nor does she inhale it. She walks for some short time, when she is suddenly struck with the realization a bit belated, perhaps that her feet are not just sinking into silt, but that the ground about her is depressing more than it probably ought to … as if there were a hole underneath the silt, and that the silt, disturbed by her walking, is starting to pour through it.
Beating her wings, Envoy tries to pull free of the silt and into the air. "What is this, Rephath?" she asks out loud.
Envoy's feet pull free from the silt quite easily nothing surprising, if the silt should be behaving as it ought to, but perhaps a disappointment of a trap, if indeed that's what it's meant to be. The silt continues collapsing, and dust blows up into the air, obscuring all view of the featureless plane or of the crossroads, and at last, the silt below breaks through, a hole widening, showing a dark hole … a dark hole with glittering stars in it, matching those in the sky above. Bright specks of light whip by.
"That does not look proper," Envoy says, and tries to fly back in the direction she thinks the crossroads lay.
The clouds part, and Envoy sees some tumbling architecture that for a moment looks like it might be the crossroads … but, no. That's not it.
The "mists" dissipate, to be replaced by a vast expanse of blackness and stars. The logical part of Envoy's mind would suggest that this sort of an environment would bring with it such hazards as explosive decompression, freezing, asphyxiation, or, if that's not enough, being torn apart by micrometeorites. However, this is a dream realm, and for the moment, while it does seem very chill and quiet, Envoy is immune to these peculiar effects, and is presented with at least the illusion of an atmosphere about herself. Gravity, incidentally, has gone by the wayside, as evidenced by a sensation of weightlessness, and her mane drifting about aimlessly.
Broken towers drift about, and beyond them, pieces of stone drift by or zip by. In the distance, the particles go from being seemingly scattered particles to forming something of a band that becomes more distinct as such the further it is away … and then becomes a line that curves in either direction, turning to embrace the sphere of Sinai that hovers on what to Envoy's current orientation might pass for the "horizon". Walls of stone shield her from the raining particles of what must be the Procession itself.
Down toward what must be the base of one of these towers, a corpse of an Eeee in uniform dress hovers, curled inward in an almost fetal position. His membranes are torn, and he is quite obviously dead. Remnants of his blood have frozen into ruddy ice, near the splinters of what was once a wooden door. Within the empty doorway can be seen another dead Eeee, her head thrown back, mouth wrenched open in a silent, frozen scream.
"Is this where the boomer sent the piece of Babel it struck?" Envoy wonders, and tries to fly down towards the ground.
The Exile is unaided by gravity in her downward travel, but she does find that her wings afford movement just as if there were actually air for them to push against. She alights upon the ground, making a light tap that echoes off of the walls about her. Meanwhile, a floating piece of broken stone crashes against a wall … but makes no sound. There is a certain inconsistency to how laws of physics are treated here. For instance, once her feet touch the ground … gravity takes over, and she is standing there just as surely as if this place were still planted on Sinai. The "ground" only extends so far, where it breaks off, and other towers can be seen floating at odd angles in relation to this one. Judging by the size of the upward stretch of this tower, and the remnants of broken bridges and balconies, back on Sinai, it probably would not have been possible to see much of the sky from this vantage point. As it is, only a portion of Sinai's blue orb can be seen.
Envoy tries calling out once more. "Rephath! Can you hear me?" She watches the frozen mummies, and wonders what sort of funeral rites Babelite Eeees normally practice.
An echo bounces off the walls. The name "Rephath" echoes several more times than Envoy's last word of "me", as if any more reminders were needed of the nature of this realm. As she looks, she can see that, actually, there are stairs continuing down. Apparently, this is not the "ground", but rather some sort of a stone plaza and there are several at higher levels at this particular level, with stairs leading various ways to access hovels built into the tower. Inside the particular hovel in which Envoy saw the dead Eeee woman, Envoy spies movement, though it's not immediately clear. She does, however, see a glint of something and for a moment, it looks like reddish chitin.
Knowing that it could be ice, or frozen blood, Envoy nonetheless goes into the hovel to investigate the glint.
Inside, there are only a few pieces of furniture that float about, as it seems that this room was fairly spartan in its furnishings. Drifting from the walls are a few woven cloth-hangings, and there are various articles that point to the occupation of the former dweller as being a seamstress. Despite the obvious incongruity, there is a small stove that burns low, casting a faint light upon the interior of the hovel. Near it stands Rephath, adorned in her usual costume of leather, ruddy chitin and fur-markings, clutching something in her hand and examining it, facing away from Envoy.
Envoy clears her throat, in case her arrival wasn't sensed. "Forgive me for intruding, Rephath. I came to return your axe," she says apologetically.
Rephath's head slowly rises, and whatever it was she was holding, she tucks it away in some place of concealment, away from Envoy's eyes. "It is not in my nature to forgive, but your visit is not a transgression, Envoy of Lothrhyn," she says, slowly turning to face the Exile. She reaches out an open, gauntleted hand.
Envoy hands over the red axe, handle-first.
The bat takes the axe, holding it expertly in one hand, though it should require two, in such a way as if testing its weight. "Has vengeance been satisfied, Envoy of Lothrhyn?" she asks, not looking at the Exile.
"I don't believe vengeance is ever really satisfied," Envoy says. "I did not strike down Zakaro, I hadn't the skill or the … passion … necessary for the task. May I ask you something, Rephath?"
"Ask as you will. It is mine to decide, however, whether or not I should be inclined to answer," Rephath replies.
Envoy quietly asks, "Do you seek vengeance against the ones who created you? Is that why you've removed yourself from their plan?"
"Stop saying that they created me," Rephath snaps, annoyance tinting her voice. "I am reasonably aware of the nature of this ritual you refer to, and the ones enacting it, but it credits them too much to suggest that they created me." Her gaze bores into Envoy. "Everything I am is a realization of the beliefs of my people in 'Rephath', their goddess of vengeance. As much as any being could ever be Rephath, I am. In a manner of speaking, they have simply brought me into this reality. I will not entertain notions that I am some puppet, some play-thing." Her eyes burn. "You have nothing to gain save my wrath by your persistence in suggesting otherwise."
Envoy steps back towards the doorway, and hunkers down slightly. "I did not mean to offend you," she apologizes. "It's just that you are the only one to have removed herself from the ritual of seven wounds involving Morpheus."
Rephath's gaze lingers on Envoy a moment longer, and then it cools somewhat, as she looks away, back to her axe. "Then if you meant no offense, see to it that you give none. Goddesses are notoriously easily offended, and I would hardly be Rephath if it were otherwise." She pauses a moment more, then says, "No, I do not seek vengeance against them. Not yet. But I am stirred. Barada teased me with suggestions that she knew something that would spur me into action, if only I knew it. Now, I suppose I won't be finding out her secret." She looks up from the axe, her eyes aflame again. "She hinted that I could not stop with Rockmore."
"Well, of course not," Envoy says. "He wasn't solely responsible. You can hold just about anyone accountable as an accessory, from the previous Sabaoth to the High Princess to the Nagai Emperor if you wanted. Even me, if you stretched the chain enough. Vengeance requires a very dedicated kind of anger, I think, the sort that doesn't die off easily. There is always someone else it can be directed at."
"That is hardly a revelation, and certainly not the sort of thing Barada would tease me with," Rephath replies. "In any case, it has gone with her. Have you any other business here? If not, you would be best to depart. If you remain here too long, the ghosts of this place may come to you with their stories. It is an experience that is presently driving Captain Rockmore mad. It provided little motivation for my own pathetic excuse of a champion."
Envoy nods. As she turns, though, a thought strikes her. "Actually … there is one irony that Barada might have known of. The Royal Mages subdued Morpheus just as he had agreed to help with a plan to neutralize the boomer, so that it couldn't be used against anyone. So, by starting this grand ritual of theirs, they may have contributed to the use of the boomer against Babel."
Rephath narrows her eyes, looking askance to Envoy. "Have you any proof? Or are you just trying to enlist me to join Rephidim's secret war against the Babelite mages?"
The Aeolun blinks, surprised at Rephath's actual interest. "You could ask Morpheus. He was going to produce pieces of Sifran crystal that could be transported through the Gateway portals and assembled into a shell around the boomer. He is bound near the Crossroads. I could even take you to him."
"No." Rephath's answer is emphatic. "I will not see him."
"Oh … well, all I can offer are my own memories then," Envoy says. "It probably isn't what Barada would have thought of as scandalous, though. More likely she had something on the High Princess herself, who benefited politically from the boomer she wasn't there when it fell, but her rivals were. I'm only guessing, though."
Rephath looks at Envoy for a quiet moment, then says, "That would not be enough. Your mind has been tampered with a great deal. But I will find a way to look into this. If you said this as only a ruse, now is the time to tell me. I will not be happy if I spend my time and effort examining this and find some proof that you have lied to me."
"I have no reason to mislead you," the Aeolun says, sounding a bit indignant. "I am not fighting for Rephidim, or against the Royal Mages. I challenge the Sisters in order to free Morpheus, because he is my friend. So long as you pose no threat to him, I don't really care what you do. But frankly, investigating this matter must be better than remaining in a graveyard."
The goddess eyes Envoy. "You have a fair degree of spunk in you. Should I be impressed at your self-confidence, or should I pity you? But if you have no other suggestions for how to go about investigating this, then your continued presence here serves no purpose."
Envoy bows again and turns to leave, then pauses once more. "Oh … before I go, there is this one other thing. The Air Mage, Wynona Windcaller, who was fighting in Zakaro's challenge, is being held by Inala's priestesses. Inala has them try to dress her up in your image, and even tried to get her to move like you. I don't know if you'd find that offensive or not, but if you still talk to the Yodhrephath I'd be really grateful if you could have them free her from the Yodhinala."
"Wait," Rephath commands. "Don't tease me like Barada. Tell me more of this."
Envoy blinks again, and steps back toward the red-armored Eeee. "Well, when I was Inala's Avatar, she took me over on New Year's Eve while I was busy helping you with Rockmore. Anyway, she told Wynona that she reminded her of 'her little sister' and later when her priestesses captured the airship we were on, they took her too and drugged her and tried to make her up like you … because it pleased Inala, according to the High Priestess. Wynona was really upset about it all, and I was still recovering from forcing Inala out of my head to do anything beyond ask that she be allowed to stay with me while we were both prisoners."
Rephath's expression sours. She nods, encouraging Envoy to continue.
"They took her away the other day, and I don't know what they did to her," Envoy continues. "Then the Yodhblakat visited me. It was fun to watch her torment the Yodhinala and the guards. But they wouldn't tell me where they took Wynona."
"What do you suppose the meaning of this is?" Rephath asks.
"I think they're trying to get her to act like you again," Envoy says, looking worried. "That's the least nasty thing that they really could do. I know the High Priestess doesn't like that I tried to thwart her plans by requesting Wynona's company. I really don't know if there is any special reason Inala wants this though, other than that it amuses her."
Rephath seethes. "I can imagine just what sort of amusements she might enjoy." She grabs the axe in both of her hands and swings it fiercely against a wall … and then abruptly stops, impossibly halting the blade a hair's breadth away from the wall. Her shoulders move tightly with each breath she makes, anger wracking her frame. Through clenched teeth, she says in a forcibly calmed voice, "I shall send my high priestess. Obviously, the Yodhinala have consecrated a new priestess to join my temple. Though they no doubt meant to surprise me, they surely would not begrudge my taking this gift early." She pauses. "And if they do… " Her eyes narrow even more, and she clutches the axe handle tightly.
Envoy shies back from the display of anger, and sounds even more worried as she asks, "They aren't grooming her to be a sacrifice, are they? And if you have her taken … will you let her go? I don't think she even believes in the Seven Sisters."
"I am a goddess," Rephath says, "and even if I told you I would do one thing or the other, I would not be beholden to my own word to a mortal even one who does not age." She looks to Envoy. "I will do what I will do, but you can be certain that the Yodhrephath will not be doing to what your friend what I imagine that Inala intends."
After closing her eyes for a moment to calm herself, Envoy says, "I am grateful for that, so long as she doesn't come to any harm. You are also the Goddess of Justice, after all, so I should trust that you will you treat her as an innocent bystander in all of this."
"No one is innocent," Rephath says with absolute conviction. "But I will not vindicate myself in any way by harming your friend, unless she is a willing participant in this blasphemy."
"Oh, she is anything but willing," Envoy assures the goddess. "She can't even stand the way the Children of Inala look at her."
"Enough!" Rephath barks, shaking with anger at this last report. "I will deal with them. Go now. It is not wise to be within my reach when I am angry."
Envoy hurries to the door, then turns and bows again before heading out.
As Envoy steps out, rather than finding herself back out with the floating corpse of the Babelite officer, she steps onto the stone circle of the crossroads. Behind her, the gates slam shut, sealing off Rephath's realm, though she can hear a fading echo of an angry, wordless, thundering shriek from the goddess of vengeance.
Envoy shudders at the sound of the shriek, and goes to the center of the crossroads. Here she begins to draw a ritual circle in the dirt with her finger, so that she can prepare the spells she wants to carry with her into Blakat's realm.
There's plenty of gray silt to serve Envoy's purposes, and she can feel a tingle of magic that reassures her that, at least here, she is still quite capable of working magic. Alas, it does not seem that she has Zakaro's blessing She will have to, at least within the frame of reference of this dream, go through the required rituals in order to enact spells here, and cannot simply fire them off at will with a quickly uttered power phrase.
Once the circle is finished, the Aeolun begins the first of her rituals to hold a spell of Stone Strength, to be followed by one for Reshape. It is somewhat comforting to her to go through the full rituals this time.
Time passes … or at least, it seems like it does. "Stone Strength" is cast and held without incident, and "Reshape" likewise goes off flawlessly. With a glittering glow to her horn, she's now armed with a couple of held rituals of Earth Magic.
Feeling better prepared this time, Envoy returns to Blakat's path, stepping around the goddess' statue.
As Envoy steps through, her perspective suddenly changes, and the archway shifts ninety degrees, becoming a pit, which she promptly plummets through. (It's not quite so scary, considering that she has wings, but it's still different from the usual entrance.)
About her, what would have been a gray and featureless plain wraps around on itself, so that she is now falling down a tunnel. It seems to have gained some amount of color, seemingly dug through earth. Along the way, there are small bits of furniture and knick-knacks on shelves that rush by. Envoy finds that she is, inexplicably, now wearing a blue and white dress of Victorian-era styling.
Envoy tries to use her wings to control her fall, and remembers not to trust her perceptions too much here. "I wonder if this is because I told Wynona the story about Alice when we returned from Fortunatis," she mutters.
As Envoy continues to drift down, her wings behave as if she had a parachute slowing her descent, and her dress billows from the rushing air. As she descends, a mouth materializes out of thin air. "I've been redecorating. I do hope you like it!" The smile vanishes, and then another one just like it appears on Envoy's other side, grinning and chattering, "Or maybe I hope you don't!" Both mouths pop back into existence and cackle maniacally, then wink out of existence again.
"A Cheshire Eeee?" Envoy wonders, and uses her hands to try and keep her dress from billowing so much, so that she might be able to get a glimpse of the bottom of the hole.
As Envoy manages a look down the hole, she spots a checkered floor, drawing closer … and then, before she has much of a chance to react to this realization, she lands roughly on the floor, sitting on her tail, her fall cushioned by the dress and the parachute effect of her own wings. A long corridor stretches down in either direction, lined with doors of greatly varying sizes from several stories tall, to impossibly small. A marble-topped table stands nearby, with a bottle of clear liquid on it, and a small tin. As might be supposed, the bottle has a label that reads "Drink Me", and the tin contains a small crumbly cake that reads "Eat Me". While it doesn't perfectly follow the original tale, the inspiration is rather blatant by this stage.
Envoy slips the tin into one of her dress pockets, and opens the bottle to take a sniff. "When in Wonderland," she says, and has a sip from the bottle.
The Exile finds that it tastes fairly nice. It has, in fact, a sort of mixed flavor of cherry tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast.
Swallowing the fluid, Envoy waits to see what effect it will have.
The Exile is struck by a most curious feeling, as if she were shutting up like a telescope.
Envoy wraps her arms and wings around herself, and tries not to lose her balance during the change. "I hope the dress still fits. I'd hate to have to climb out from under it."
The Exile is perhaps slightly shorter, but it may just be her expectation of the result.
Envoy hmms, and finishes the rest of the bottle.
The Exile feels an even more curious sensation, as the room grows in size about her or else she shrinks, depending upon one's perspective. The bottle doesn't keep pace with Envoy, however, and is soon too large for her to hold, and slips from her hands, rolling on the floor, fortunately away from Envoy who compared to her previous size is now approximately ten inches or so in height. The dress has kept pace with her, no matter how illogical that might seem. (But then, what does logic have to do with this, regardless?)
Envoy checks the pocket where she placed the "Eat Me" tin, to see if it's still there.
Yes it is, and it's a good thing it is, for it does not appear that there is a conveniently placed little glass box with a cake lying under the table, as it would have appeared in the original story, should Envoy have wanted to regain her larger size. (As for why the tin did not suddenly become so large as to destroy Envoy's pocket … well, there's just no reasoning for it. That's just how it is.)
"Well, that's sorted out, I think," she says, and begins looking for a door that is the right size for her now.
It looks as if, yes, there's a little door (well, not so little now, relatively speaking), and through the keyhole, Envoy can spy a garden beyond. However, it seems that she hasn't a key to open it. Funny. Now, she suddenly recalls a golden key that was up on the table, though it didn't especially stand out to her before.
Envoy looks back up to the table. "If I eat the cake now, I won't be able to shrink back down again," she reasons, so simply flies back up to the top of the table instead.
My, but wings are terribly useful. Envoy has a much easier time of getting back up to the table top than poor Alice did. The golden key is there. However, in a departure from the story, there happens to be an impishly-grinning bat holding it, twirling it carelessly around his finger by the ring at one end. "Finders keepers!" he jeers, then snaps out his wings and alights into the air, giggling maniacally.
"Hey!" Envoy cries out, and gives chase, flapping furiously.
The Eeee flies loops around Envoy, sticking out his tongue and then pulling down an eyelid. "Nyah!" He dangles the key from two fingers, keeping it enticingly out of reach.
Envoy tries to fly close enough to grab the imp-bat. "You'd better give up … or else I'll grow big again and swat you!" she warns.
This prompts giggles from the bat. "Oh? And then how will you get through the dooooorrrrr?" He jiggles back and forth precariously, seeming to only barely hang onto his prize, so intent is he upon flaunting it before Envoy.
Suddenly stopping the chase, Envoy grins and hovers in place. It was a golden key, after all, so it might be sensitive to Earth Magic.
The bat seems disappointed that Envoy gives up the chase, and tentatively flies wide circles around her. "Neener, neener, can't have it!" he taunts.
Envoy begins to sing a spell, one to heat the metal of the key until it is, hopefully, too hot for the Eeee to hold onto.
The bat flutters about, trying to goad Envoy into action with his jeers, but he doesn't actually touch or jostle her. Envoy finally gets an idea of what's happening when she hears a shriek of "YEEEEE-OWCH!" and a stream of Babelite curses from the bat, followed by a tink of something metal hitting the floor far below.
Cutting off the spell, Envoy dives towards the floor to recover the key!
"HEY!" the bat shouts, but he's too late. Envoy now has a very warm golden key a bit too warm, but not enough to scorch her or make her drop it.
Envoy uses the folds of her dress to insulate the key a bit, rather than waste time reversing the original heating spell, and hurries over to the locked door.
The bat folds his wings together, aiming himself to dive down on an intercept course with the Exile!
Glancing over her shoulder, Envoy spots the diving bat … and tries to stop just before the Eeee would collide with her.
"SKREEEEE WHUD!" The bat's dive stops abruptly, as he meets the floor face first. His legs stick up, then flop downward as he collapses with a pained moan.
Envoy takes a quick breath, then runs around the fallen bat towards the door again.
The bat is in no condition to stop her, and this time she reaches it, unimpeded. Lo and behold, it looks like the key will fit perfectly.
Envoy turns the key in the lock, now that it's cooled a little bit more, and tries to get the door open.
click The door pops open, revealing a garden beyond.
Poking her head through the doorway, the Aeolun takes a quick look around (and up) to make sure nothing is waiting to pounce on her.
No, no guillotine trap or other nasty surprises that Envoy can see just yet. There seem to be a great many oversized mushrooms in this garden.
After pocketing the door key, she steps out in to the garden. "Hello?" Envoy calls.
A grin forms in the air, hovering above a branch in a tree by the wayside.
"Oh, it's you again," Envoy says, and approaches the floating grin.
"Is it really me, with only this much?" the grin asks, and then it forms into a red-furred bat's head. Blood drips from the stump. "How much of me should it be, to truly be, me?"
"It's the ego that counts, I suppose," Envoy replies. "You are Blakat, aren't you?"
"And are you truly Envoy?" the head asks back, and then it's no longer just a head, but a line traces along, as the rest of the bat comes into being, perched upon the branch. "You're not very much Envoy, I don't suppose. No more than a foot's length. Probably less."
Envoy reaches into her pocket and pats the "Eat Me" tin. "I can be more if I need to be. I have a message for you, from one of the Yodhblakat."
"Oh really?" the might-be-Blakat responds, and then she fades away again, until there's only a smile and a pair of eyes looking down at Envoy. "And I have a message for you."
The diminutive Aeolun arches her eyebrows at this news. "Oh? Well, should we trade then, or do you prefer a contest?"
"Dear, dear, a trade is simply out of the question!" the mouth says, still grinning. "Suggest a contest if you will, or I will make up one instead!"
Envoy considers possible contests. "A battle of wits, perhaps?" she finally suggests, feeling that to be the safest choice.
"Oh joy!" the grin exclaims, "In that case, I have nothing to lose!"
The Aeolun blinks three times, and then bursts out giggling!
The grin turns upside down, looking like a grotesque frown now. "Oh this one is juicy. How many Dadaists does it take to screw in a light bulb?"
Envoy thinks about this for a moment, wrinkling her brow around her glowing horn, and finally answers, "To get to the other side."
The grin busts out laughing raucously, then forms into Blakat, hanging upside-down, her back arched over the branch. "Here's my message In order to get past me, you have to steal from me, what you see, when I almost cease to be."
"I have to steal your … grin?" Envoy asks, and tries to figure out a method for doing so. "I've heard of stealing grins, but never thought about how it was done before."
The perhaps-Blakat rolls over on the branch, her legs kicking behind her. "Maybe you haven't thought about it, because it simply can't be done?" She grins down at Envoy. "Now, how about you present a contest for me, while you think about that, and let us see if I can steal a message from you?"
Envoy tries to mimic Blakat's grin, and asks, "Okay. A rooster is perched at the top of a barn, right on the centerline of the roof. If it lays an egg at noon on the longest day of the year, and the air is dry, which side of the roof would it roll down?"
"Why," Blakat says, "the answer is obvious! The air would not roll down either side of the roof, because roosters do not lay eggs at noontime!"
The Aeolun pouts. "Well then, here is your message." Envoy changes her voice to that of the priestess who had visited her, and quotes, "Tell her that Yodhblakat Sandhya would like to challenge her to a little one on one. Just for fun or maybe … for a boon of the Goddess."
Blakat frowns. "That's it? Myself! She prays that every night!"
Envoy blinks, and tries to Cheshire-grin again. "Really? I'm sure she'll be glad to learn you really are listening then. Why haven't you taken her up on it?"
Blakat checks her nails. "I've been … busy." She kicks her legs absently.
Deciding to return to her (hopefully) normal size, Envoy takes out the cake tin and opens it. "Visiting Caroban, no doubt. Lots of conflict there! Or were you watching when I would fight with Inala?"
Blakat looks down to Envoy. "Hmmm?" Her face holds a confused expression.
Envoy begins to eat the cake, and manages to look surprised at the goddess between bites. "Don't you spy on your Sisters?" she asks after swallowing the last bit.
"Do I look like Barada?" The tree and the goddess seem a great deal smaller now, as Envoy experiences a most curious sensation of drawing out like a telescope.
"I think I ate too much," Envoy says as she gets bigger. "I thought that they all had to consult with you on their conflicts, like Zakaro's magic-duel or Inala's chamber of combat?"
Blakat pouts, even more so as Envoy grows without her, though she's soon concealed by the boughs of the tree. However, her response comes, much louder, from behind Envoy, where a full-sized Blakat has come to be. "Chamber of combat?"
Envoy turns around to face Blakat again. "Yes … you don't know about it after all? I guess it's just another way to steal warriors away from you then. Best to forget I mentioned it."
Blakat's eyes narrow. "Reallllly." She looks contemplative for a moment. "I don't suppose you might know the way there, hmm?"
Envoy smiles widely, showing her teeth. "What happened to your grin, Blakat? And yes, actually, I do know the way. I was Inala's Avatar for awhile, so I've been to Paradise."
Blakat sourly looks at Envoy, then abruptly snaps into a wild grin. "GOTCHA!" With that, she leaps toward Envoy, grabbing her about the shoulders. "You're MINE now!"
Envoy blinks in surprise. "Not again!" she says, and tries to punch Blakat in the gut.
Before her punch can connect, however, the twisted wonderland blinks out of existence, Blakat's wild grin and her cackling laughter fading out last of all.