Harvest 4, 6106 RTR (Jul 20, 2007) The siege of Viper's Hold continues, to its conclusion!
(Anisa) (Legend of the First Stone) (Lilac) (Savan) (Spheres of Magic) (Umeko) (Xander)
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There is a small wooden house crawling toward the gate of Viper's Hold.

Or at least that's what it looks like. Beneath the peaked roof, a ram swings on sturdy ropes, the whole thing moved by a group of the heavier soldiers, most of them taurids. The roof is already riddled with burning arrows, though nothing's caught yet, the Imperial mages keeping a watchful eye from afar behind a wall of shields. The rest of the command group stands nearby as well… occasionally, a long wooden arm swings into the air to launch one of the Desolate Band's many chunky boulders. Some of them come back from time to time, along with ballista bolts, and the airships keep a safe distance, occasionally adding their own volleys to the mix. General Diamondback, someone dustier than before, observes through a spyglass. His armor has a few dents, and his cape has a long rip in it, but he looks otherwise none the worse for wear.

The Nagai fire mage looks away from the battering ram's progress, giving his head a small toss at Xander. "You work well, when you're in your proper place. What was your name again, mage? Zanzer?"

"Are they making good time?" Anisa asks, standing on her tiptoes to see over the taller row of shield bearers.

"Xander," the brown Lapi says, "Xander Lightfood… err… LightFOOT!"

Umeko has fared well; no injuries to speak of and only a moderate level of dirt and debris covers her in a thin layer. Her helm is off for the moment as she approaches the command group to see what the General's next move is. She doesn't interrupt the General, though, while he is observing. So, instead she watches Xander chat with the mage instead.

By his sister, the taller Gibson peers out into the field, ducking once when an arrow whizzes by. "Looks like. I've never actually witnessed a siege before, so I don't know how fast it's supposed to go… but it doesn't look like anything's stopping them."

The scaled mage nods. He offers a smile, or at least a grim parody of one. "Well met, Mage Lightfoot. They call me Drask. The Pyrelighter."

Anisa rests back down flat on her feet, a look of frustration on her face. "This is radishes. At least when the battle was out here, I felt useful."

"There will be battle again, soon enough," Umeko comments towards Anisa. Her neck then coils and her head rolls a bit as she looks towards the General, asking, "Are there any signs that people are trying to leave the palisade? Or any estimates when the gate will be breached? I wish to end this standoff with 'Governor Des' as soon as possible."

"An honor to meet you, Master Drask," Xander says, bowing… and then pausing. "Pyrelighter? As in… funeral pyres?"

The mage says, "Indeed," and looks back out over the battlefield to squint at the ram again.

Xander blinks a bit, having heard of this mage. "The master of the elemental swarm, is how I recall some referring to you back on Caroban," the Lapi comments.

The General extends his spyglass a bit further, then offers it to Kin. "Some of the vermites have fled, but only deserter rabble so far. I don't expect them to be able to hold us off for long. The gate is vulnerable… it looked like the blast ruined the murder holes. All we have to do is chop the debris out of the way, and our coilmen will pour in."

"Good. I intend to enter with them, then. I desire to face Des and his allies in person," Umeko notes quietly, the coolness of her voice in odd contrast to her delicate features. "I wish I knew more of this one called Crushcoil. Des himself is … nothing."

Her fur visibly on end, Anisa stands closer to Kin and the General. "Never count your Creens before they're hatched. Everything's gone a bit too… well, too easy so far." She rubs her arm. "It gives me the heebie jeebies."

Gibson nudges his sister. "It looks like you won't have to wait for long." He points, the sheltered ram having reached the gate. It huddles there, shaking every so often while above, brigands on the walls dump rocks and fire arrows. A cauldron nudges up to one edge and its steaming contents are awkwardly poured down.

Xander whispers to Kin, "This mage is renown for his tactic of sending a swarm of small elementals carrying oil packets in among the enemy forces, and then igniting them. An option to consider."

Drask nods at Xander, smiling again as if reminiscing about a particularly nice soiree. "Ah, yes. You've read about it, perhaps? It is a secret of mine, a point of pride for me. Why burn a fortress from one side when you can do it all at once? Minimizes survivors satisfactorily, though… hup." He breaks off to reach out toward the ram, where a small blaze has flared up on the roof. It quickly dies down.

Anisa winces as the cauldron is dropped. "I hope that thing is sealed well."

"An option, yes. However, there may be things to learn from survivors," Umeko points out. "Not to mention that is not an honorable form of battle. You should look those in the eyes you are to strike down."

"It could be handy for clearing a path though," Xander whispers, before turning back to Drask. "I always wondered how you were able to coordinate them all. Did you… uh… sing?"

Wreckage around the ram's housing stirs. Some of the soldiers inside scurry out carrying comrades, while more move in. The arrow fire from the walls becomes more frenetic, while the Imperial soldiers on the ground move up in anticipation, huddling behind their shields. "It is time," says the General.

Umeko raises her helm and slips it over her scaled head once more. "Understood. If I survive, I will see you inside, General," she says quietly and politely to the Naga. She then taps Anisa's shoulder and notes, "Let'sgo, if you are coming." She then starts to walk off. With a look back to Xander, she says, "Be safe."

Anisa nods to Kin, and runs to her Drokkar, mounting it with a single leap. "Lead the way!"

"It's never safe around me," Xander mutters, bringing up his right hand. A little ball of flame is still cupped there, and he chants to recharge it.

Umeko, without a mount, simply walks towards the palisade gate. She stands tall and proud as she approaches, trying to show her allies that she fears nothing, even death. Of course, having the hulking komodo elite along with her to help shield her probably helps her not feel fear right now. "It's all about appearing strong. A leader must show courage in the face of everything and risk all for those she leads," she thinks.

For her part, Anisa stays back behind the lines with Dasha and her troops – waiting for the General's instructions.

A quartet of the Komodo rustle and clank as they stomp along in formation around the Governess, and the crowd of soldiers parts to make way. Archers near the gate step up their stream of arrows, forcing the defenders to keep their heads down so that few can be fired Umeko's way. Another Naga is hauled out of the battering ram's shelter, some arrows sticking out of weak points in his armor. The sounds of fighting inside are already fierce, even over the debris.

After a few more minutes of waiting, Anisa spurs her mount onwards, signaling for the cavalry to follow her towards the siege tower.

Umeko's dual-blades slide free from their scabbards and rest lightly in her hands as she approaches the gate, preparing for more battle. Her eyes are already scanning the battered gate, trying to look beyond and start assessing those of her allies she should assist, as well as looking for the leaders of the defense. She doesn't expect to find Crushcoil out here, but she may be surprised. "Hold strong and the day is ours," she tells her allies she passes along the way, "Your valor today has been exemplary."

Xander keeps splits his attention between the ground fighting and taking stock of the defenders atop the wall. "Do you think it's safe enough for us to move in?" he asks Drask.

The snaky mage folds his arms, shrugging lightly. "You may if you wish, but there is no call for it. Soon, the bailly will be a swirling melee of men and blades, and the dust will be churned into crimson mud. It is for them to finish the work of carving the meat."

"How… poetic," Xander says through gritted teeth. He holds off, for now. At least until Kin and the other reach the gate.

Anisa continues her drive towards the siege tower, her bow notched at ready should any targets show themselves.

Minus Dasha, the rest of the Dashers rumble along with Anisa and Gibson, lances held at the ready. Inside the gate, there's a squeal and groan of wood, and sounds of cracking and splintering, the barricade giving way.

"Into the bowels of death to cut this plague from the land," Umeko says quietly to herself as the barricade starts to fall. She doubles her press forward to enter the palisade now.

Delving into the ram's shelter is pushing into chaos itself. There are few points of light that can be seen over the wall of bodies, spearpoints jabbing through. The cacophany of hisses and howls of pain and fury mix with the clash of weapons and thumps against the ram's wooden frame and the ram itself still swinging back and forth.

"You have no hope of holding; surrender now and you will be spared, on my word as Governess Militant. Send your leaders, Crushcoil and Des out to us. They are what we seek here," Umeko yells towards the gate defenders. Her long sword twitches a bit in her right hand, prepared to strike any defender that should leave itself open to attack.

Anisa skids her mount to a halt behind the Imperial troops, and aims her bow at the slots between the wooden wall. From her mounted vantage point, she lets an arrow fly.

The arrow zips squarely through the gap, but as chance would have it, it passes harmlessly through a break in the targets milling about on the other side. There's a splash from above, and an acrid smell… a few smoking droplets of oil leak through the roof.

Anisa flattens her ears, both at the wasted arrow and the sound of the noxious liquid above. "Cavalry! Use your lances to help the breachers - but watch out above you!" Notching another arrow, the doe pulls the bow taught and waits for any motion between the slats.

"Yes ma'am!" reply the Dashers. The crowd in under the roof while several of the komodo elite manage to wade to the fore. If there were any answers to Umeko's offer, they're shouted uselessly at the hulking lizards, who begin tearing away barricades of wood and flesh alike. The four-legged soldiers behind them reach lances past the elite and Umeko herself, who is sandwiched almost suffocatingly in the whole group, jostled around by the tide of scaled hides and armor. It's awkward going for the lancers, but at least a few manage to jab through to knots of resistance, and bit by bit the defenders are forced backward and into the smoky light of the courtyard.

"Grrk!" goes Umeko as she's squished in the mass of scaly skin. "This is not very dignified," she thinks to herself. Still, their loyalty is commendable; they are defending her well.

"I'm going before I lose sight of them," Xander says, and starts descending from the command platform, looking for a spare shield he can borrow along the way.

With too many friendly bodies in the way now, Anisa loosens her bow, replacing her arrow to her quiver and the bow to her shoulder. The doe unfurls her whip and waits – her impatience echoed in her drokkar's back and forth gait.

There are plenty of discarded shields to be had, from bucklers to heaters. Hopefully, they'll serve Xander better than they did their previous owners. He'll have to hustle to keep the women in sight, because at Umeko's command the combination of komodo and heavy infantry burst through, and the tide of soldiers carries the Governess-Militant forward. She can feel bodies trampled beneath her, but mercifully things spread out as Imperial forces burst into the courtyard and are met by the raiders, the chaos taking on a new pace with skirmishes erupting within the walls of Viper's Hold.

The Lapi mage grabs up a shield that looks like it won't slow him down too much, and then sprints for the gate.

Umeko's entrance isn't as graceful or as impressive as she might have hoped. Indeed, she rather stumbles a bit due to the sheer force of the scaly bodies against her. Once inside, she tries to orient herself quickly and draw her weapons up for defense. She starts looking for anyone acting as a leader to these raiders.

"Cavalry – regroup!" Anisa springs forward to the middle of her force, acting as a central point of convergence. "As soon as the infantry makes us some space, get ready to charge!"

"Aye!" The cavalry shuffle back and make way for the more heavily armored Nagai infantry to press through the opening, a hissing like rain on a forest fire rising up as they sense an opening to their enemy. Inside the palisade, the earthen domes of the various buildings, barracks and so forth, have kept fires to a minimum, though several have been crushed by boulders. The largest ones near the back haven't been harmed yet. Near the base of the motte, ballista are cranked and aimed upward, and catapults hurl rocks back out over the walls. The fortifications themselves become the sites for new skirmishes as Imperial soldiers fight their way up the steps to begin securing the walls. So far, there's no sign of any leadership higher than rag tag raider groups.

At the rear of the infantry, Xander finally catches up with his shield held up like an umbrella over his head. "Umeko? Anisa?" he calls out.

Growling softly, Umeko starts making her way through the crowds. Her target, the Governor's 'palace'. It won't be the first time she's been there. Depending on where Xander is, he might see her golden tail disappearing into the chaos.

Standing in her saddle, the white doe peers out for an opportunity to launch her force's attack. The sound of a familiar voice causes her ears to swivel backwards, however, followed by her head. "Xander? What in Dagh's name are you doing here?! Get back to the command!"

Homing in on Anisa, Xander runs for the doe. "Gotta keep an eye on you… oh, are those catapults over there?" Running up to Anisa's Drokar, he asks, "Can you give me a little cover while I go take those siege engines down?"

"You'll get about as much cover as you can get by staying under here," Anisa replies, glaring at the buck, "but I can't act as your bodyguard right now, we're about to make a charge!" Sure enough, as the doe looks towards the skirmishes, she sees several openings, biting her lip as the opportunities slip away.

"Charge then, I'll follow!" Xander says.

"You won't be able to keep up." Swiveling her mount around, Anisa leans down, grabs Xander by the collar of his robe, and slings the buck up behind her. "Do what you can do from up here, and hold on – we might not be able to come back for you if you fall. Dashers, charge!"

"Oof!" the mage goes once he's behind Anisa, and tries as best he can to hold onto the saddle with just one hand.

With a burst of speed, the Dashers surge through the gate, lowering their lances and crashing through the few raiders still standing anywhere near. There isn't a lot of room to get up to galloping speed once they get into the melee going on in the courtyard, but their charge pushes the fight further into the bailly, the melee furious now. Kin finds plenty of resistance on her way, but the raiders can do little to slow her down. Then one of the domes near the motte… shakes.

Today her twin blades live up to their name; they reap a harvest of foes. Her push forward is slow and deliberate, striking down all those in her way. However, when one of the dome starts to shake ahead, she halts her advance and crouches down, prepared for some sort of attack. "Be aware, something large is coming!" she calls out to those around her.

Once in the fray, Anisa's barbed whip goes to work – thrashing left and right at any in her path, with the occasional brick lobbed for good measure. Her ears shoot up in alarm as the motte moves, and she slows her advance to risk a glance at the structure.

The earthen dome shakes again, and cracks. One more time, and chunks of clay fly outward, thrown into the air by a gigantic reptilian head, armored with a wood housing with slats to protect the eyes. Its shoulders soon bully the rest of the wall out of the way, and with a roar the whole beast emerges, the building it was curled in crumbling. Wait, there's something on top of it, a serpentine shape astride a deck built onto the monster's back. It doesn't look that big compared to the desert giant, but it's unmistakable as a constrictor.

"Forget the catapults," Anisa says back to Xander, "I think you better use your fire on that!"

"Awwwww… sausages," Xander comments from behind Anisa as the Desert Giant makes its appearance.

"Coward," Umeko calls out towards the constrictor astride the beast. "Come face me eye to eye!" she challenges. Away go her swords and she actually starts looking for things to climb so she can reach its back!

"Can you use any of your spells on that thing's armor?" Anisa asks Xander, her eyes peeled for any path that might take her closer to the beast.

Xander looks at the beast morosely, and says, "Uh, I might be able to get to a vulnerable area, yes. But you won't like how. Neither do I."

Despite the size of the courtyard, it seems Crushcoil has heard Umeko, and he certainly seems to be looking right at her, a grin on his face, teeth bared. The desert giant begins to pick up speed, and forces on the ground, both raider and Imperial, are thrown into panic, trying to scramble out of the way. The ground quakes beneath it as it squalls again, scattering troops before it like toys.

Pausing in her conversation with Xander to whip a few rebels that get to close – with generous help from her mount's kicking hooves – Anisa then shakes her head. "Not a vulnerability in the armor – on the armor itself! Look, its wooden!"

"On the head… next to the giant snake," Xander notes. "Get us over to one of those catapults. The other option is for me to get swallowed whole and burn it from the inside… "

"When death smiles at you, all you can do is smile back," Umeko says calmly … then charges towards the huge beast! At least heading towards it means she should be able to run between its legs and avoid getting trampled. And somehow … she actually does manage to smile back at Crushcoil. As long as it's focused on her, that means her allies can strike at it.

"Hang on!" Spurring her drokkar hard, Anisa attempts to leap over the fray, and make a beeline for one of the catapults.

Soon, Gibson is riding along at Anisa's side, the buck breathless from repelling foe after foe. "What's the idea, sis?" he pants. The catapult they're heading for is cranked, but at the sight of the oncoming Lapi, the engineers scatter!

"You're strong, could you crank a ballista as well?" Xander asks over the jostling.

"Get chuckles here to one of the catapults, then let him do his thing," Anisa tells her brother. "Looks like I won't have too – they had this one cocked and ready to go."

"We have to turn it around first!" Xander notes as he hops off and goes to check the load in the basket.

Meanwhile, the desert giant bears down on Umeko, and the chieftain on its back bellows down at her, barely heard over the pandemonium and his beast's own thundering. "Ha! Rush to your death, weakling! Nothing can stop a living engine of destruction!"

Out comes Umeko's longer sword as she dashes head on. Her goal … to go between its legs and under it. If it then slows, confused … well, cutting hamstrings will cripple most animals and her longsword does have a serrated back edge… "Even a grain of sand can cut through the mightiest stone. All one must do is try," she murmurs to herself.

Some heavy chunks of rock have been piled up in the catapult's basket, but it looks like only about a third of a "grapeshot" load got put in so far.

Xander hurries around the siege weapon, looking for some oil to add to the load. "We need to signal the airships to move in, they've got the artillery! Are the other engines unmanned?" he calls to Gibson.

Gibson shades his eyes with his hands. "Not yet… some are still firing," he reports.

"Well… make them stop!" Xander suggests. "How do we aim this thing in the other direction? If we can hit that lizard, maybe it'll get angry enough to take out the rest of the weapons for us!"

Umeko outpaces her bodyguards, but it's probably just as well. She sees a flash of teeth as long as her legs, and then the world turns upside down. It feels like the battering ram at the gate just swung into her side, and it sends her flipping and sprawling through the dust of the courtyard. The desert giant charges past, running down a group of fleeing soldiers before making a wide turn around the open area to redirect its rampage.

Watching Umeko go flying, Anisa gives out a squeak of shock. She swivels the drokkar around, and makes off towards the Kiriga's direction. "You two figure it out – Kin's in trouble!"

"Grack!" Umeko calls out as she finds herself flying through the air, her side burning painfully. Hitting the ground feels no better, but at least the armor and the padding help cushion it somewhat. She hakes her head a few times as she tries to push herself back to her feet. "You didn't finish me. That was a mistake," she mutters darkly. Thinking on a different tact, she starts looking around for any sharp wooden stakes or sharp cut posts she could perhaps lure the beast into.

"I hate machines," Xander says, looking at all the big gears and pulleys. "Let's get a ballista, they're easier!" he tells Gibson.

With a jangle of armor, one of the komodo is at Kin's side, and Umeko recognizes him as Keyoa from his gauntlets. "Are you wounded, Governess?" he shouts above the din. The desert giant is making its way back around, and most of the soldiers on the ground have turned their attentions to trying to deal with it. Getting close to those stomping legs and that swinging tail seems very daunting for them, however.

"Alright," says Gibson, looking down the row. He spurs his drokkar, and begins hurrying to the next siege weapon down the line, a ballista in the process of being cranked. However, these engineers don't seem as willing to give it up, and they meet the Lapi men with short swords and wood work mallets hastily snatched up from around the weapon!

"Only my pride and part of my side, Keyoa," Umeko says as steadies herself on her feet. "I will live. I have endured worse. We need to cripple the beast. A ballista bolt through a leg, or lure it into a spiked post."

Thanks to the speed of her drokkar, Anisa is soon by Umeko's side. "Kin! Are you hurt?! Do you need help?"

Xander runs up next to Gibson, and clenches his right hand into a fist. This causes the Eye of Flame to extend up like a sword blade, and the robed mage strikes a dramatic pose, with his face hooded. "Do you really want to die for a ballista?" he says, even though, really, the defenders probably won't understand a word of it.

"I will live," Umeko tells Anisa as she looks towards the hulking beast. "We need to stop that creature. Have you seen any large weapons we can aim towards it? Or anything we could lure it into?"

"Xander and Gibson are working on some catapults and ballistas," Anisa says, pointing back over towards the others. "Hop on, we can go help them!"

Umeko nods. "Keyoa, can you keep it distracted without incurring significant injury?" she asks the komodo. "I shall go with Anisa and see if we can obtain a more effective weapon." She then crouches down and retrieves her longsword from the dirt and sheaths it before climbing onto the drokkar…

They may not understand exactly what Xander said, but the sight of flame springing from his hands is more than enough to make them rethink their chances! They stumble backwards, one dropping his mallet, and scramble away, and Gibson flashes Xander a grin. "Okay, what do you need me to do?"

"Turn that puppy around!" Xander says, and goes to examine the spearhead. "Why doesn't that cool act ever work when a girl is looking?" he mutters to himself.

The tall, lizard-like warrior grimaces, watching the ship-sized monster rampaging around the Hold's walls, another building collapsing under an errant tail. "Hmph. We will go. There is no greater glory than to die for the Emperor."

"No. You are not to die," Umeko orders the komodo, "I would prefer you attend me than go to certain death. Come. We may need your strength with the weapons, anyway."

Anisa extends a paw to the Kiriga. "We need to get going, that thing'll be back this way before too long."

"As you will," growls Keyoa, and soon the other komodo warriors have regrouped around their charge, all of them keeping wary eyes out for enemies both small, large, and extremely large.

Umeko accepts the paw as finds a place on the back of the drokkar. "Follow," she tells the lizards.

Gibson dismounts to trot to the back of the ballista, taking hold of a part that juts out. He puts his back into shoving at it, and the ballista slowly begins to rotate on a track.

With Umeko securely in place, Anisa speeds her drokkar off towards the guys. "I just hope those things don't overshoot the beast – they were firing them over the wall, after all."

Jogging along at the other end, Xander holds the Eye of Flame to the barbed tip of the spear, and sings to it in a soft voice.

The ride to the artillery is thankfully short. The bouncing was not doing wonders for her sore side. She slips off the Drokar and heads immediately to the weapons. "Keyoa, can you and your brothers start turning other weapons inward as well, towards the beast?" she calls out to the large reptile.

"Do you want me to help – maybe I could distract Crushcoil's beast?" Turning back towards the fray, Anisa tries to make out where Dasha's troops are.

"Do you think you could get it to stand still?" Umeko asks Anisa. "If it holds position, we can aim."

"Yes," replies the komodo. The other bodyguards have reassembled, dusty and blood spattered, but apparently looking none the worse for wear. The teams around the siege weapons have largely fled now, the barrage of rocks and ballista bolts petering out.

"I can try," Anisa says. "Maybe I can get it to chase me."

"Good. then we bombard the creature with shots from this equipment and take it down. after that, we deal with Crushcoil if he survives. Let us bring an end to this battle," Umeko says. To Anisa, she adds, "If you go, be prepared to dodge fire and run."

Xander keeps up his soft chanting (or singing) for a bit longer, and then slowly pulls his hands away from the spearhead. The Eye of Flame is no longer in his hands, but remains affixed to the tip of the missile. "Okay, I've… uh… armed this one with something special," the mage reports. "If it can pierce the hide, it'll detonate inside the Giant, with all of its remaining charge. Nearly half a fireball worth."

"Is it not a risky gambit to depend all on one shot?" Umeko asks the mage. "But, if you feel confident in it, then we shall see how it does."

Anisa grins to Umeko. "I'm a Lapi – running is what we do! Hyah!" Spurring her mount, the rabbit is off and heading straight for the monster.

"See if you can get it to run at the weapon with it's mouth open!" Xander calls after Anisa.

Further down the line, Keyoa and his brethren begin shoving each artillery piece into pointing more or less at the rampaging desert giant. Nearly all forces have scattered around the beast's path of destruction, the attack into the courtyard stymied.

Umeko, for her part, goes about examining the machinery, trying to figure out how they operate and what each should be loaded with. That is, if she can load any of them herself.

Xander sticks with Gibson at the ballista they've commandeered. "You know how to fire it, right?" he whispers to the big black Lapi.

As Anisa nears the giant beast, she swallows a lump growing in her throat. "Well… here goes nothin'. Hey you, scaleybutt!" Drawing an arrow, the doe fires it at one of the lizard's feet, trying to draw its attention.

The machines seem more or less straightforward… though loading a sharpened log into one is easier said than done. Gibson huffs from the exertion of rotating the first ballista into place along its track. "Puff Should just be… puff… pulling this lever to release it." He indicates a lever connected to a wedge in a wheel assembly.

Fwik! The arrow sticks into the desert giant's leg. It's an easy target, but it more or less resembles a toothpick sticking out of a tree stump. Crushcoil evidently notices, however, the one white dot remaining on the field of battle, and he wrenches at some ropes. The gigantic lizard beneath him rears, then turns toward Anisa!

"Great!" Xander says, and squats down to see what angle the weapon is aimed up at. "It'd be best to fire point-blank for maximum penetration."

Anisa's heart sinks and her ears swivel back. Pulling hard on the reigns, the doe makes a hard right turn, trying to keep up her speed as she leads Crushcoil's giant back towards the ballistas. "Big man! Has to hide behind his pets, huh?!"

Umeko attempts to load one of the devices. "Keyoa, if you have a moment, I could use assistance," she calls out as she struggles with the ammo.

"We just need to slow it down," Xander calls to Umeko. "With the artillery down, the airships can move in with their cannons and rockets."

Umeko's right hand proves to be so almost literally… Keyoa returns to the Governess and dutifully hefts one of the ballista bolts. With a heave, it crashes into the ballista's firing rail, and the komodo begins cranking the wheels at the side, a job that should require four men.

The sensitive ears of the white rabbit can pick up the shout of her pursuer, even over the thundering of the desert giant's ungainly chase. "Better to hide behind them than under them, little morsel!"

"They scare me," Umeko thinks as she watches the huge creature crank the weapon by himself. shaking it off, she goes and tries to check the sight of the ballista and where the rampaging desert giant is.

Eyes forward and ears backward, Anisa spurs her old drokkar on as fast as the creature can go. "Umeko! Gibson! Hurry up!" Turning backwards on her saddle, the doe lets loose another arrow – this one trained on the desert lizard's enormous eye.

"Run between us!" Xander calls to Anisa, waving to the gap between the two ballistas.

Both Anisa and Crushcoil are still across the expansive courtyard, but closing fast. Anisa stays ahead, but only barely… as clumsy as the desert giant looks, something that size has a large enough stride to move at a rather good clip. Even as far out as they are, Umeko and Xander can see the ballista bolts faintly rattling in their rails.

Hearing Xander's words, Anisa steers her drokkar towards the middle of the seige weapons, once against sitting forward with her ears set on her pursuer.

"Has the Empire so few worthy that they buy Lapi to fight? Will their general not face our mightiest weapons?" the constrictor shouts at Anisa's fleeing form. Even for a Naga, his amusement carries in his voice. Keyoa finishes cranking, and stands ready to turn the ballista to aim it as Kin directs. "Ready to fire, Governess," he rumbles. Gibson says, "Same here!" and gives Xander a thumbs-up gesture.

Umeko nods towards Gibson. "I will hold fire for as long as Anisa is safe. But if it looks like it will reach her, I am firing. Do as you choose," she calls over to Gibson. Umeko then goes and peers down the length of the ballista, trying to see if it has any hope of striking the huge creature.

"Your mightiest weapon is a bloated toad?" Anisa calls back over her shoulder, ears set back from Crushcoil's patronizing tone. "That's pretty sad if you ask me!" Anisa veers off a bit to the left, hoping to slow the beast's charge down.

"Can we lower the angle of these? We do not need to try and fire over the wall. This angle makes it hard to tell if it would possibly hit," Umeko calls out to Keyoa.

Xander gets twitchy too. "At this rate we'll have to fire straight up into it's belly. Let's try to lower this thing," he says to Gibson.

The komodo considers this for a moment, then nods. Kin's nearly tumbled off as Keyoa strains and slowly lifts the back up, the weapon's wooden frame creaking in protest as it comes off the rails.

"Let's not try lowering it like that though," the mage tells Gibson when he sees what the Komodo is doing. "I hope that doesn't have a lot of recoil… "

Umeko wasn't expecting the dragon to lift the back end of the weapon. Still, she somehow manages to hang on and tries to see if the weapon's sight looks more correct now.

Siting down the ballista bolt, the angle looks considerably better… at least, if you consider looking down a sharpened log at a rampaging reptilian behemoth bearing down on you!

Anisa reorients her gallop back between the the weapons. "Any time, guys!"

"Shoot it, Kin!" Xander calls. "Maybe it'll ignore Anisa and Crushcoil and come after us instead."

Feeling twitchy now that she's looking at the huge beast, she calls out to Gibson, "I'm firing now!" And with that, the Kiriga goes and tries to pull the firing lever.

G-CHUNK! The whole frame of the ballista shakes, and the weapon groans and snaps true, launching its bolt and shaking Kin right off the side. The vibration is too much for Keyoa to hang onto, and he drops the end, a cloud of dust rising up from the rails, but the giant bolt is already airborn, hurtling toward that tsunami of scales behind Anisa. It flies into the beast's right shoulder and forequarters, smashing apart what is part armor and part deck and driving broken shards of wood into its thick hide. The beast bellows and stumbles off to the side, giving Anisa more of a lead and making Crushcoil suddenly flatten out to hang onto his mount… but it's still coming.

"Grah!" goes Umeko as she falls off the side of the weapon and into the mud. She manages back to her feet and shakes out her hands, saying, "Excellent! Now we just have to hit with the others. Gibson, think you can hit it?"

Ducking low with ears flattened as the missile zooms overhead, Anisa can't help but watch over her shoulder as it crashes into the towering behemoth. Turning her attention back to the fore, the doe veers towards Gibson and Xander's ballista.

"Lower the angle!" Xander calls as the beast stumbles more into their line of fire. He searches frantically for a wheel or crank that could lower the firing angle… assuming their is one.

"How?! I'm not exactly ten feet of pure muscle like some of us!" shouts Gibson frantically. He scampers around the siege weapon.

Frowning, Umeko says, "Keyoa, can you help them adjust their weapon's angle?"

Overhearing her brother's frustration, Anisa swivels her legs to one side of her mount, and after a deep breath leaps from the saddle. The doe attempts to hit the ground running – and tries to pick up speed while she heads for Gibson's ballista.

"Just a few inches," Xander mutters. Maybe the things are fixed to only fire over the walls, he worries. "A little lower and we can probably hit the underside of it's jaw."

She may not have the endurance of a drokkar, but she can move like snowy lightning. She practically kicks up a rooster tail of sand as she barrels toward the ballista, putting more distance between her and the angered desert giant, while her drokkar decides to split off in another direction. Even as Keyoa begins lumbering toward the Lapi around the ballista, it looks like Anisa will beat him there.

Reaching the ballista, Anisa skids to a halt – a small sand storm enveloping her as she does to. Breathing heavily, the doe nevertheless turns towards the ballista, grabs hold, and lifts with all her might.

Worried that the magically charged ballista may not be enough, Umeko looks towards one of the others, then heads towards it quickly.

It's heavy. Boy is it heavy. Gibson runs to Anisa's side as she strains to lift hundreds of pounds of timber, crying out, "Sis, what do you think you're doing?! You c-… " He stops short, both in what he's saying and in his tracks… Anisa's musculature stands out against her snowy white fur, the normally soft-looking forms of her body hardening into stark relief, deep troughs and knots of muscle forming in her arms and legs. She can feel beads of sweat breaking out on the bridge of her nose already, and a fiery ache forms in her muscles the harder she pushes them. The frame of the ballista creaks horribly, but the back wheels come up an inch…

Xander runs around looking for bits of wood he can jam underneath to keep it held up… or even use as a lever!

"How… high… does it need… to be," the doe asks through gritted teeth, still lifting for all she's worth.

"A few inches!" Xander says, jamming a rock left over from a catapult volley under the base.

Briefly taken aback, Gibson snaps out of his stupor and runs down to join his sister, putting his arms under the chassis and throwing his back into a heave. It's like a bit of extra lift for Anisa, and the ballista's back end rises another inch… Anisa can feel her legs beginning to get wobbly.

"Good enough," Xander says and leaps up to pull the release lever!

The sound of Xander's words are like music to Anisa's ears, and she lets go of the structure, falling backwards onto the ground in a pained, heaving mass.

WH-CHONK!! The force of the shot almost lands the ballista on Anisa's legs, and it most certainly throws Xander off the frame, but the bolt flies true, leaving a trail of sparks in its wake. The bolt's path is straight, and doesn't even have time to arc before it catches Crushcoil's gargantuan mount in the upper jaw, slightly off center. There's a thunderous boom as the spell at its end detonates, briefly obscuring the giant's upper body in a cloud of smoke… and then the massive lizard emerges from it! Half its head is now missing, relatively small brain exposed in a skull that looks several feet thick, gallons of gore pouring into the sand below. It seems to be spasming along on nervous reflex now, clearly utterly out of Crushcoil's control!

Umeko stops her dash and stares at the now nearly headless beast. Her jaw drops in shock and she blinks a few times.

"Uh… take cover?" Xander suggests.

Still sprawled out on the desert floor and trying to catch her breath, Anisa feebly tries to scramble out of the way… although she isn't doing a very good job of it.

Umeko shouts to the komodos, "Grab who you can to protect them and take cover!" The Kiriga herself is running full tilt to try and stay out of its path.

Gibson crouches down by his sister, dragging one of her arms over his shoulders… he looks a bit wobbling himself, but Anisa took the brunt of the weight, so he's at least doing well enough to run… hopefully! "Hang on, sis," he says, gritting his teeth.

Leaning heavily on her brother, the visibly fatiqued Anisa tries to keep up the pace.

Most everyone is blinded by airborne dust for a moment as the desert giant barrels through, throwing aside siege engines like toys. There's a resounding crash and the sound of cracking lumber and falling rocks, then a long bellow… another crunch and finally… relative silence.

"Do you cough think Crushcoil survived?" Xander calls out through the dust.

"I suspect he has. Men such as he are like weeds," Umeko growls through the dust. She tries to wave it away rather futilly with her hands. Then with a muffled cough, the Kiriga tries to locate where there beast finally fell.

Still supported by Gibson, Anisa trains her ears towards the fallen beast. "He's not going out – cough – that easily… "

Xander sighs, and listens for other signs of chaos – such as attacking airships or angry men running their way.

The dust clears bit by bit… with the courtyard now empty, troops begin to get the courage to trickle cautiously back into it, though it's more than clear the battle has, if not ended, then lost much of its momentum. The bulwark to the motte seems to have stopped the desert giant's final charge, the beast crushed head and shoulders into the sagging earth and wood barrier, a pool of blood at least thirty feet across still spreading underneath it. The sounds of airships do come to Xander… but it's the HMS Merciless and HMS Bestows-Tranquility soaring into view.

"So, look for Crushcoil or try to find the Governor?" Xander asks of Umeko.

"Crushcoil first, then Des," Umeko answers, then runs towards the downed corpse, sword drawn. She looks for Crushcoil, or his body.

Xander looks to Gibson, and says, "I'm out of magic, mind if I hide behind you?"

"And, do you really think the General will believe we caused all this mess?" Xander asks Anisa.

Gibson props Anisa up with his side, still panting a bit. "More than welcome, Xander… I don't think we're in any condition to go anywhere."

"I don't care what he believes," Anisa replies weakly, "I just want to lie down."

Closer to the massive corpse, Umeko sees no sign of Crushcoil… at least, not on this side of the motte's sagging wall.

Instead of going around the beast, Umeko decides to go over it. Now that it's down, Umeko goes about doing a scaling-hop clamber up the massive creature as she looks for the Naga.

Seeing Umeko clamber up the side of the monster, Xander can't help but say to Anisa, "I dare you to go recover some of its teeth. You could use them for… helmet horns or something."

From the top of mountain of now-dead lizard, Umeko can see into the motte. There's a small crater in the sand, and dragging himself painfully away from it is Crushcoil, one of his arms bent at an ugly-looking angle.

And down the other side Umeko goes, towards the crippled Naga. Still, she doesn't let her guard down … it could be a ruse as even with the broken arm he could be a threat. "It is over," she calls to Crushcoil. "Do you yield?"

The exhausted Anisa just looks at Xander with a pained gaze.

The boa constrictor tries to heave himself upright, but sways dizzily and sinks back down into the sand. He flicks his tongue once. "I… yield."

"Okay, I'll try ask a soldier to get us some souvenirs," Xander says. "You and Gib can soak in a tub full of hot muscle liniment instead tonight."

"Good. Then I will not have to kill you," Umeko says calmly. She looks around, trying to locate Keyoa or one of his brethren. "Then know you are prisoner of the Governess-Militant Tsuguri," she tells him. "Where is the traitor, Des?"

The rest of the komodo are using the desert giant's body as a ramp over the wall, dropping down the other side onto the rubble with a clattering of their armor. Crushcoil spits some blood into the sand. "The castle… cowering behind his desk, I am sure."

"Then I should pay him a visit," Umeko notes as she waves one of the komodo elite over. "One of you, take this one as prisoner. The others, attend to me," she instructs them … hen heads back into the compound, determined to find Des. … After collecting the Lapis, of course.

"Anisa and Gibson are in a bit of pain," Xander explains when Umeko returns.

"Yes, Governess," growls Kin's retinue. One of the elite heave Crushcoil more or less upright, and simply begins dragging him to the gate of the motte. The other four form up around her. Gibson looks to be feeling a bit steadier, and while the ache in Anisa's muscles is only getting worse, the shock of it is wearing off, at least… and she's more than practiced moving after overexerting herself.

"I can imagine so," Umeko says as she reaches the group. "Des is in the castle, according to Crushcoil. I think it is time I pay him a visit. If you think you can come, please do. If not, then I can leave one of the Komodo with you."

"Do want to storm the castle, then?" Xander asks, brushing dust off of his robes. "I can't blow it up."

Still wincing at her slow burn, Anisa can now at least walk on her own power, and her breathing is back to normal. "I'm coming with you," the doe says, rubbing her shoulder.

The mage offers Anisa an arm to lean on.

"Yes," Umeko answers simply and rolls her shoulders. "Let us see to him and end this," she says, draws in a breath, then heads towards the Governor's Palace.

Outside, in the courtyard, Merciless fires her guns, emptying her powder magazines so she can lower herself enough to throw ropes down.

Anisa smiles at Xander, but shakes her head. "Thanks, but I can manage. Its just like after a night of lifting, actually." Her ears frazzle as a bolt of pain shoots through her back. "Ow… okay, not exactly the same… "


Umeko calmly walks through the near ruins of the palace as the group make their way towards Des' office. "Former Governer Des," she calls out calmly, "Retain some semblance of honor and courage and come out to face us."

"If he knew Diamondback had landed and was bringing that mirror, I doubt he'd come out," Xander Lapi-whispers to Anisa and Gibson.

Muscles still on fire, Anisa bares her less than threatening teeth in pain as she follows behind Kin. "I doubt he'd come out anyway," she whispers back to Xander.

Umeko's voice echoes up the hall, but there's no answer… at least, not until Keyoa puts a large, scaly foot to the door of his office, making the doors burst inward. There's a small ruckus behind the desk… and then a Naga nose pokes over the top, and a tongue flicks fretfully.

Umeko slips her helmet off, her matted mane hanging limply. "I imagine you did not expect to see me again," she says quietly when the snout comes just over the edge of the desk. "You thought you could send us out, then kill us, once we had located the Imperial ship. You tried to use us to kill the very emissary you claimed you needed help for. Such acts snow not only the lack of honor, but also contempt of it. And even now you will not retain some pride and face the consequences of your actions.""

Des' hopes for being forgotten about seem to be getting slimmer, and eventually he peeps his head and hands over the top of his desk, his fat coils still hidden under it. "L-lady Ryuu! Please, I can explain… I, I was under duress… "

Umeko's brow ridge goes up. "You were protecting yourself," she comments calmly. "Instead of holding your ground and your honor, you betrayed the people you were supposed to govern to murderers and thieves. And worse, to those who seek to destroy the world. The Emperor has ordered you replaced."

"R-… replaced! B-b-b-but, you can't… " Des comes up from behind his desk, looking aghast and clutching his own wrists. "We-… we're a sovereign nation, the E-Empire recognized our independence!"

"The Emperor has ordered that the land be annexed, due to the attacks on its ships and emissaries," Umeko explains further.

"Buh… bah… buhbuhbuh… " Whatever Des was about to say, he swallows as General Diamondback pours through his shattered office doors. Space in the office is beginning to get cramped with the komodo at Kin's back and the Lapi by her sides, but there's still enough room for a large mirror held by two attendants, and a mage who snaps a small copper filigreed stick across it.

Anisa stands aside to let the general in, making room for the mirror as well.

"Eeep," Xander says as the mirror comes in, and sidles behind one of the Komodos. One meeting with the Emperor-Potentate is enough for his nerves.

The attendants kneel, supporting the mirror between them. Grains of something sparkly trail down the surface, and the mage nearby, apparently satisfied, murmurs something. The reflection in the polished mirror swims, then darkens into rich golden tones which sharpen into scales and a single large, slitted eye. Diamondback bends at the middle, and touches his chin to the floor… and this time, the komodo kneel as well, their heads low enough that Umeko can be seen amongst them.

Xander dives for cover as well… that is, he bows down.

Umeko lowers herself gracefully down to her knees and bows to the mirror as well, chin to the floor. "I … how did I get into dealing with the Emperor?" she has to wonder.

Anisa, taking a cue from the others, bows as well – although not quite so low as to make contact with the ground.

Des seems to make some effort at the Nagai gesture of respect… or perhaps he's just shrinking behind his desk. He cowers there, nose barely peeping over the desktop. "Rise," says the Emperor, as if in afterthought, his voice rolling from the mirror. The single slitted eye fixes Des for a few moments, but then turns to Umeko. "Greetings, Governess-Militant Tsuguri. Your report?"

Umeko draws herself upright. Cradling her helmet under her right arm, she speaks in a gentle, lilting, tone of a lady, "Most noble Emperor, Viper's Hold has fallen and Warlord Crushcoil of the insurgents is our captive. The former Governor has, as you see here, has also been taken. And please correct me if I am wrong, General Diamondback, but casualties have also been fairly light, given the odds and the fortifications. Therefore, I can safely claim that Viper's hold is now under my rule, by your most gracious decree." She then grows quiet and bows her head respectfully to the Eye in the mirror.

The General inclines his head slightly. "Even now, our flag flies over the keep." The eye in the mirror shrinks a little, as if the Emperor were reclining back slightly from whatever it is he's looking into. His bassy voice thrums evenly. "Well done, Governess, well done." The eye turns on Des, who doesn't seem to have decided whether the command to rise was meant for him or not. "Ah, and former Governor Vexing. You will not be required at the coming summons."

"M-mighty Emperor, I-… " Des begins, and he is cut short by the mirror thundering, "SILENCE." There is a brief pause, and the golden serpent in the mirror continues. "Your treachery disappoints me less than your ineptness, Des. I should have you put to the sword and your head placed on a pike outside the very walls you hid behind."

"… But deciding your fate is an honor that should go to the Governess," finishes the Emperor.

Anisa fidgets slightly at the emperor's words, although she's in complete understanding of why he says them.

"Noble Emperor, his fate … may hinge on what use he may still be to the empire. He has betrayed much and shown complete lack of honor. But perhaps he may, in his disgrace and willingness to atone, impart what knowledge he has of the agents of Beshret and the Cinders," Umeko offers politely. "There is little point in destroying a weapon of the enemy when it might be able to serve our purposes. And depending on how much use he serves us now … will dictate his ultimate fate."

Assuming he can tell us more than Crushcoil can, Xander thinks to himself. We could hold a competition, winner lives…

"Very good, Governess-Militant. I can see my confidence was well placed in you," rumbles the mirror. "You may complete your purge of the region as you see fit. Your authority in Viper's Hold is absolute, answering only to myself and my ministers. Send word when you are satisfied that the region is secure. A warm welcome awaits you and your cohorts in Nagai City. General Diamondback and his forces are at your disposal. Komodo Elite, return to my side."

There are murmurs of "by your word, Emperor," around the room.

Umeko looks mildly surprised that the Komodo are already leaving her side, but she certainly doesn't question it. "As your will, Emperor," she says and bows slightly again. "The main concern is Beshret and his army camped north from here. I have plans for dealing with him and his allies. If it is not an imposition, I may request assistance in contacting the Emirate before we begin movement in that direction. I do not wish to raise any concerns in the Emirate, nor cause the Empire further tension with them. But, before I ask for any assitance with the Emirate from Nagai City, I will, of course, use my current resources first." The last sentence earns Xander a look from the Kiriga.

The Lapi mage freezes, as if the Emperor's eye itself had fallen on him. "Of… of course, Governess," he manages to say.

"You have my leave to proceed," agrees the golden eye in the mirror. "Use the resources of the Hold as you see fit. The house of Tsuguri has gained favor this day. Report again when this insurrection has been put down completely."

Umeko bows low once more. "I will, most noble Emperor. Thank you," she says. Short and simple.

Apparently satisfied, the image in the mirror fades, and the attendants stand, and begin carrying it away, their mage in tow. Meeting them at the door is Sergeant Jechlun. "Governess, Dasha recognized one of your cohorts, a 'Lilac' here to see you."

Anisa once again steps aside to let the mirror out. "Lilac is here? How in Dagh's name?"

"She's alive!" Xander yelps, and does a little happy-dance before realizing the reptiles are still looking at him.

Umeko blinks a couple times at this news. "Lilac? Here? This could bode well, or bad, depending on what news she may have," the armored and tossled Kiriga admits, "Please, admit her." She then looks back to the cowering former governor. "You … you had best provide useful information. It is all that currently spares you the executioner's axe."

"And don't soil the carpet either, this is going to be Umeko's office," Xander warns the cowering Naga. "We've got Crushcoil, so you'd better hope you have better information than he does."

The sergeant bows quickly, and disappears.

"General Diamondback, I would like to visit the infirmary later, if such would be appropriate. Those injured deserve to recognition for their sacrifices. I would also like, if possible, a list of all those killed," Umeko tells the large serpent as she surveys the tattered room. The Kiriga then lets out a small sigh, looking for all the world tired and worn. She even rubs her forehead lightly with a thumbclaw.

The general nods. "As you wish, Governess." He gestures at his retinue, and they follow him from the room.

Shortly after the sergeant departs, Lilac enters flanked by two large Naga solidiers and an eee woman. "Wow, they're all really big," those inside can hear her tell the eee beside her. "And, I guess we're late! Did you hear, governe-" She breaks off her chattering when she enters, looking to those in the room. She doesn't say anything, just smiles a little nervously. All in all, she looks like more of a mess than usual. Her clothes are torn and dirty, her hair touseled, and there are dark lines under her eyes. Physically, she looks intact, if exhausted. In her arms is as collection of odds and ends, scraps, and a book.

"And if you don't spill your guts to us," Xander whispers to the ex-Governor, "we'll turn you over to… her… " The mage then glances ominously towards Anisa.

Anisa places a paw on Umeko's shoulder, giving her a small smile. "I know its overwhelming, but it could have been much worse."

Anisa looks towards the Governor, then pops her knuckles.

"Lilac!" Xander says, forgetting Des for the moment and jumping over to give her a hug. "And you've even got clothes on! And… you brought a… scholar, I'm guessing?"

Des seems to want nothing more than to disappear under his desk, but he just sits there in a puddle, not daring as the desk doesn't even belong to him anymore.

"I know … it's just," Umeko starts to say to Anisa, then shakes it off when h Lilac enters. Umeko certainly doesn't look like the Umeko Lilac would have remembered; if mainly because she's clad head to toe in chitin armor that flows and moves like so much scaling. She offers the human a small smile and says, "Ah, surprise. I'm the new ruler of the territory."

The mouse-brown eeee woman by Lilac looks somewhat rumpled herself, though she wears fresh-looking garments oddly reminiscent of the Burning Sands tribe. She keeps her hands held behind her, and offers a polite curtsey when she's noticed.

Anisa grins at the human. "Looks like you made it! Hope your trip was better than our's. Who's your friend?"

"Did Long-Shadow come with you too?" Xander asks Lilac.

Lilac blinks at the hug, and Xander can feel her shudder a little. She does smile a bit more, though, hesitantly reaching over to pat his head gently. "I brought Dragonfly, the scholar from you-know-what," the human woman answers, gesturing to the eeee. To Kin, she says, "I heard from the guards! That's wonderful. I guess, I guess you can do okay when I'm not here, you know?" She grins a little, almost playfully. As for her trip, Lilac doesn't comment on that, but instead adds, "Long-Shadow is fine; we met him on the way here."

The news about Long-Shadow seems to lift at least one of the weights from her shoulders. "That is … wonderful news," she says, "But I assume he did not come with you here? He would not, after all, spend time around those of the … Emperor." The last bit generates a small frown on the Kiriga, but she tries to quickly force it away. To the Eee, she then says, "Ah, a pleasure to finally meet you, Dragonfly. I am glad to see you are well and safe. I am sorry you were brought into a war zone."

"At least here the army is for your protection, and not to hold you captive," Xander notes to the Eeee, and bows to her. "Xander Lightfoot, Mage of the Sphere of Fire, at your service."

The eeee smiles as she's introduced. "It's a pleasure. Our trip was trying," she says, nodding once at Anisa. "But goodness, I can't imagine what you all must have been dealing with, given what we saw on our way in here." She shakes her head when Umeko speaks. "Not at all, I'm glad to be away from that pit. I wondered how the Empire would react… I guess now I know!"

Dragonfly bows in kind in Xander's direction, the collection of ringlets that make up her hair briefly falling into her face, then tossed aside with a flick of the head. "An honor, Mage Lightfoot."

"They reacted because we uncovered the treachery that was occurring here; and that we were able to provide them with useful information," Umeko explains a bit vaguely. "I am only sorry it was not sooner. Tell me, has … Hakuu treated you poorly at all? Has he spoken of what he seeks?"

While bent over, Xander also gives Lilac a big thumbs-up sign, whispering, "Way to go Lilac, you actually rescued someone from that place!"

"It … it was harder than it sounds," Lilac offers Xander, quietly. "I have these, too. A map of the Temple of Being, some notes in Imperial I can't read, and the book is Dragonfly's journal – you'll have to ask her about that." She offers the materials, except the journal, to Xander to look at.

The scholar makes a face of distaste. "We weren't beaten or anything like that, scholars are a delicate bunch, and they clearly needed us. I'd say we have a fairly good idea of what Hakuu is after, though. We met it first-hand."

"It certainly wasn't kind treatment, in any case," she adds. "The work was at a feverish pace."

"Met it?" Anisa looks sidelong at the Eeee. "What do you mean - its some kind of… person?"

"I wouldn't say person," Lilac mumbles, turning off to inspect something on the wall with sudden curiosity.

"Ah, I see. We should speak of that where there are not worms," Umeko comments and motions towards Des. "Did Hakuu speak of requiring any keys or other items … or perhaps people, to obtain what he wants?"

Xander nods to Lilac, and takes the papers over to Gibson to look over. He also whispers to the big buck, "Go hug her, already."

Dragonfly holds up her hands as if she could try to describe it by shape. "Not a… person, exactly. The Temple of Being itself is alive, however, possessed of a strange consciousness I couldn't begin to fathom."

"It is what it consumes. It is a master of being," Lilac adds, still looking at a picture on the wall. "It is."

Gibson walks into the office from a nook in the side, apparently having been investigating what Des had littered about already. "Hug who? … Star and Anchor, Lilac! You're alright!" He drops the sheaf of papers he was holding and hurries over.

"Well, if it lives and it is what Hakuu seeks, then it could also be killed, perhaps," Umeko observes with a small shrug of her armored shoulders. "If such would be required, that is. How close is Hakuu to finding it?"

" … a god," the human woman adds, after a moment's pause. When Gibson rushes up to her, she suddenly, and with uncommon speed, jerks around to recoil from him, until she sees his face. "O-oh, Gibson!" She stares at him, half cowering, half wide eyes and hope. Shortly after, her tail begins to wag.

The black buck hesitates, but then scoops Lilac up into a strong-armed hug. "We're glad to see you're alright! We were worried."

The bardess doesn't resist being picked up, and shortly lays resting against the big buck, her head on his chest. "W-well, that's L-lilac, Flower of Sylvania. She always survives," she says, forcing a little smile. "It was … was a real adventure." Rolling her head over, she tells Kin, "Hakuu is looking, but doesn't know. He prods at the Temple's limbs, he reads the petroglphys, but he doesn't know. I know, because the … god told me, I was the first, in a … very long time."

"Well, that is also good news, I suppose. May I see the Imperial papers?" Umeko asks as she finally sits on the edge of the worn desk. As for all the talk of gods, Umeko doesn't comment on that right now.

Dragonfly nods. "It seems to me like he's going about it the wrong way, now that I've seen it from this other side. He's paying too much attention to the minutae of a culture that rose and fell around the Temple."

"Hakuu looks at the art, not the artist," Umeko comments idly, "And if this … thing consumes and is being, well, he's just too busy looking at its 'art' and not the artist. If you can consider worshipers of a temple the art of the temple, that is."

"I, I bet it'd really singe his scales to think I found it first. A human," Lilac remarks, grinning a little more genuinely. When Kin mentions the 'art' of the Temple of Being, the grin fades. "Kinny," she begins, quietly, "about that … Um," she glances towards the ex-governor, as if seeing him for the first time, then bares her teeth a moment before blinking, "… maybe we should talk elsewhere?"

"What, it was just a metaphor. People are the artwork crafted by the Gods, as the poems say," Umeko notes with a small shrug, "Silly stories. Why don't we all retire to the main ship and get cleaned up. We can all speak more coherently after a bath, some food and a chance to recover."

---

GMed by Bambridge

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Today is 3 days before Midsummer's Day, Year 29 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6128)