|She Who Surmounted the Omphalos
||[May. 27th, 2015|04:22 pm]
One step in front of the other.
She had been walking for days, but her goal was almost in sight. She could see it now, in the light that grew on the horizon, the only thing visible other than the empty black sky and the endless expanse of silver sand. The sound of footsteps on stone had drawn her forth, and she found a doorway between the layers and slipped through into the desert. Soon she would stand on Creation's soil once again.
Soon she would be able to dance.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Zenleigha looked down at her boots with a frown. She had gotten new ones that night in Lookshy when Mikoshi took her out for Shogunate cuisine, and with the memories of eating raw fish and dancing she could remember buying a new outfit fit for the consort of a daimyo--though usually she thought of it as the other way around--but after three weeks of climbing the Imperial Mountain, they were in no more condition to wear to a ball. By the time they reached the peak, they very well might be rags. She could only hope that whatever salary Hayako had attached to her sinecure would allow her to buy a new pair.
With Elegant Cherryblossom's aid they only had to stop once every few days, and when he wasn't at Glory's side Aesir spent much of the climb in the body of a mountain goat, testing the surface and finding an easy path for them to ascend. It was still hard going, and the top of the Mountain did not look any closer than it had the moment that they had appeared on its slopes.
She looked back up in time to see Aesir's body warp and flow as it turned from a goat back into a man, and he raised one hand and hunkered down below a rock. She quickly followed suit, looking up the slope to see what he was hiding from. She thought it might be a group of pilgrims attempting the ascent--there had already been two groups they had to avoid, since among them only Cherry spoke any of the Realm's languages, and then only the tongue of the Dynasts--but she certainly wasn't expecting what she saw.
Someone was dancing on the slopes of the Mountain.
Try as she might, she couldn't make out what it was. Its body was all light and shadow, blurring between movements brightening and darkening by turns, but its dance was the crashing fury of the avalanche, the stillness of the bedrock of Creation, and the soaring majesty of the Mountain itself. The dancer floated just above the rock and danced in the sun, and it was one of the most beautiful things Zenleigha had ever seen.
She wasn’t sure how long she stood watching the dance, but it wasn't until she felt the ground vibrate slightly beneath her feet and heard the sound of cracking rock that she came back to herself. She leapt backward as her Essence screamed its warning and a boulder-sized chunk of rock crashed onto the ground where she had stood.
She snatched Promise-Keeper and Dream-Weaver from their sheaths at her belt, but Pathian was already moving. He leapt high into the air over a shower of stones, his hands filling with a blazing white-gold glow. As he he spun head over heels, he brought his arm down and a bolt of light flew towards the dancer. It doubled, quadrupled, multiplied itself dozens of times as it crossed the space between them until a searing rain of white fire scoured the rock of the Mountain, leaving it smoking and charred.
"'Ware!" Ruby yelled as her sword came to her hand, and Zenleigha called on her Essence and opened her inner eyes to the world of the dragon tracks. The brilliant glow at the top of the Mountain washed out part of the daylight, but she could see the dancer in the air, crouching intangibly on blackened spot where Pathian's strike had hit.
Before Ruby or Aesir could cross the distance to the spirit, Cherry shouted. It wasn't quite Old Realm, and Zenleigha couldn't make it out, but the very sound of the word seemed to fill the earth and sky, resounding off the rocks and filling her ears. As it rang out, the dancer screamed and materialized again, her body wracked with golden lightning as she collapsed to the rock of the Mountain.
The Demon-Wracking Shout! Shining Star yelled in her mind. How does she know that? Who taught her that?
Zenleigh ignored her for a moment, drawing closer to the dancer. She was ivory-white, with a pair of spiraling horns and flowing white hair that cascaded all around her, still standing slightly on end as the lightning continued its dance. She wore a rough cloak of animal skin over a tunic of fine white silk, and even collapsed, she was hovering very slightly off the ground.
As Zenleigha took all that in, an image came unbidden to her mind. Of a desert, underneath the black sun of Calibration, and of her--of Shining Star--standing on a rock above the sands and chanting ancient words as the sand rumbled and the ground spilled away into a bottomless chasm filled with secrets. And suddenly, she knew who the dancer was.
"Stanewald bar sem Munaxes," she said.
"A demon?" Pathian asked, reaching for the chakrams at his belt as he did so. "Why is it here?"
Your ascension called me, the demon said, and I came to dance.
Its voice was as smooth as marble, with a slight ring to it. Zenleigha's vision shimmered slightly in its wake, and for a moment she caught a glimpse of verdigris and vitriol before she banished her Essence sight. As it left her, so too did her clear vision of Stanewald, and now she looked down only on a whitish blur that made her eyes ache to look at.
"We should send her back," Pathian said, his chakrams in his hands.
"No," Ruby replied as she hefted her sword, "we should destroy her."
The white shadow looked up at Answerer and seemed to shrink away, but before Ruby could strike, Cherry intervened, "No, Ruby-san. We can use her."
All eyes turned to her, Zenleigha's included. Shining Star's voice had descended into a babble of names, only a fraction of which Zenleigha recognized, but she had grown adept at pushing that voice into a corner of her mind when she needed to. She called up that discipline now and said, "Cherry-san, demons are treacherous, and unbound demons triply so. How can we trust it?"
Cherry took a breath. "Under the terms of the Primordial War Accords and the Mandate of Heaven, the subsidiary souls of the Primordials are subject to the dominion of the Exalted. How long have we spent in climbing the Mountain, Zenleigha-san? How much more time can we devote to it? It has climbed the Mountain once before, and it can stay in Creation as long as it is in service to the Exalted." She turned to the demon. "Is that acceptable, demon? Would you lead us for the chance to climb the Mountain again?"
The blur shifted slightly, and Zenleigha wished she could see its face clearly, but after a moment the words came. I would.
Ruby looked doubtfully at Zenleigha, and she thought a moment. She had wrested the knowledge of how to banish demons from Shining Star in one of her long moments of lucidity, and she was positive that if a confrontation came between Stanewald and the circle they could easily win. Look how easily they had already defeated it. But if it rose against them in treachery, what damage could it do?
But Cherry was right as well. Three weeks when they only had a few months before something terrible would happen. They could ill-afford the time that climbing the rest of the Mountain would take, and if Stanewald knew the shortcuts, they could use them.
She nodded. "We accept," she said, and she saw Ruby banish Answerer Elsewhere and Pathian put his chakrams back, though she did not miss the small frown that crossed his face as he did so. She would need to talk with them all about her reasoning, she knew.
And she and Cherry would need to have words.