Some say the ancient ruin predates the country that it finds itself in now. Some even go so far as to say it stood proud as part of a network of defences during the First Age. Now, however, it is little more than tumbled walls crowded in by dark forests. What is certain is that the remains of the complex provide excellent cover from the weather, even after all this time.
A bonfire crackles in what once may have been a courtyard. Perhaps it was a great hall, but either way it is now a large area open to the skies, filled with the smell of meat on the spit and the laughter of men. Bandits one and all, they carry weapons with an easy familiarity and accustomed swagger. With watches posted in discrete areas, their recent successes leave them boasting and raising cups filled to the brim with stolen drink.
To this band you've come for temporary hospitality, citing bonds of brotherhood with them. There've been some lustful looks and ribald remarks but they know you for one of their own and so it's been amused ribbing rather than dangerous or with intent. The leader, a swarthy man from deep in the east, offers you rest but no membership in this group. Word of how the group you were with some time back came to their end has spread and few want the risk that the Dragonblooded thirst for veangance on those who have escaped.
Nontheless, the company is good and there's much news to be had, the evening growing long as the celebrations continue. It is only well after midnight when things take any unexpected turns, when one of the guards comes padding over to you and squats down besides you. "There's a woman at the outskirts, says she was directed here and is looking for you." he grunts.
Little Lotus rubs the tattoo on her shoulder, a disc with her namesake styled in violet ink, trying to see if she can recall any woman who might be looking for her. She remembers no one, no such woman.
â€œYou sure, friend?â€ she asks. She downs the last bit of drink in her cup, and grins, glancing him up and down. â€œIâ€™m not known for my prowess among women.â€
She laughs at her own joke, still a little tipsy. Little Lotus rocks to her feet. At her full height, she is taller than most men, broad-shouldered and lean. She wonders if this woman is seeking revengeâ€”that would be interestingâ€”or worse, a tracker. No, no tracker would announce herself to a band ofreveling thieves. It must be personal. Little Lotus nods to the fellow.
â€œLetâ€™s see where she knows me from,â€ Little Lotus says.
The bandit laughs along with your joke, then shrugs one shoulder in lazy ignorance. "I'm sure she's standing out there, and I'm sure she's asking for the Little Lotus." Since he's come back into camp anyways he takes the opportunity to grab a flagon before gesturing for you to follow him, one hand holding his new treasure and the other draped over the butt of his spear to keep it balanced over his shoulder.
He leads you through the ruins, picking over the broken stones where massive roots have turned up the floor, until you find yourself past the walls and in the forest proper. Lifting the spear off his shoulder, he points the tip towards a small clearing ahead, where you can see a figure is sitting on a fallen log, a bright lantern at her feet. "Funny, she just walked up." he muses, almost to himself. "Normally we'd have just taken her and let noone be the wiser. She seems harmless, though."
The woman has short blonde hair, thick strands in a tousled mane that frames feminine, elegant features as she reclines against the dead wood. She's wearing a long red coat, buckled up against the slight chill. Her trousers are the same colour and fine leather as the coat, while bracers and boots are of heavier black leather, reinforced with finely wrought steel. There is no weapon around her, though a satchel sits besides the lantern.
Little Lotus nods, striding ahead of the bandit. She can't remember his name, but she raises a hand in thanks.
She approaches the woman in red, casually sizing her up out of habit. "I'm the Little Lotus," she announces, spreading her hands. "I hope I didn't kill you father or something. I'm having such a good night, hate to spoil it."
The woman looks up as you enter, while the bandit leans on his spear and watches with a certain amount of interest from where he stands.
Easing gracefully from her seated position, she spreads her hands in return and shakes her head. "I hold no grudge against you. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm very glad to find you, lady Lotus."
She half-bows, smile carrying a hint of playful warmth as she rests her hands on her hips after straightening. "My name is Last Ray, and it is a pleasure to meet you at last. Could you spare me a little time from your evening to talk?"
"Lady! That's new," Little Lotus says, spitting on the ground beside her. "But go on, continue, if it makes you happy. I'm listening, Last Ray."
The woman's smile turns to amusement at your response. She gestures towards you with her hand, "I can call you nothing less, though perhaps you will one day grant me leave to name you on more familiar terms." She laughs briefly, letting it fade before regarding you more seriously, the two of you on either side of the small, forested clearing. "You were hunted before, as a bandit but those who will hunt you now believe you are far worse; Anathema. However, there are those of us who know the truth of things and we are doing what we can to help the chosen of the Sun."
Little Lotus snorts. "The truth of things?" she echoes. She cracks her neck. "Well, then, they can hunt me all they like. I'm not the same easy mark I was before." Little Lotus grins. She raises an eyebrow at Last Ray, tilting her head and regarding the strange woman curiously. "What do you have to do with it, Last Ray? What's your stake?"
"Before I answer that," counters the slight, blond woman to her more imposing counterpart, "May I give you something?"
"So long as it isn't a shot to the balls," Little Lotus quips back.
Last Ray grins, "Difficult, all things considered." as she looks you over for a moment. Turning with a sweet of her coat, she crouches besides her satchel, deftly flicking it open and taking from it a scrollcase. As she stands, she is removing the top and pulls a few sheets partly free. She runs her fingers through them before pulling one from it and sliding the rest back in. Tossing the scrollcase back upon the satchel, she walks over to offer you the sheet of paper, as fine as silk to the touch. Centrally upon is your caste mark, done in a gold ink. On one side, there is your family and given name along with the moniker you use now, while down the other side are dozens of titles which you do not recognise but seem somehow... familiar.
"As for my stake..." she murmurs softly, eyes meeting yours, "There are great clouds gathering and I can do little about them. If left to those who currently rule creation, I am afraid there will be no joys to savour after it is spent. That is my reason."
Little Lotus takes the sheet of paper, gently, as if afraid of tearing it. She strains to comprehend the words; she can't remember the last time she had to read something herself. She always had . . . someone else to read things for her. "S'a lot of scribbling. And this ring, like the thing that glows when I . . ." she trails off. There's no need to finish. "You expect me to chase off these storm clouds of yours?"
Last Ray shrugs, turning to the side to pace slowly. "It is my belief you will do so, at least partly, simply by surviving. It is your nature, lady Lotus." Pausing, she gestures back to the paper, "That is one tool your enemies had to track you, it is what allowed me to find you here. It is yours now, but there are other tools at their disposal." She draws a breath, "There is a place where another of yours has settled. I can give you directions there, if you would use them. That is all I can truly offer, helping you find others like you."
"Another of mine," Little Lotus says, folding the paper and tucking it under the leather of her bodice. "Bandits or Anathema?" The word still feels odd on her tongue. Anathema. Like the stories. It sends a thrill down her spine.
Last Ray makes a sound of protest on her tongue, laughing afterwards, "You are no Anathema, and neither are those who I would direct you to." She gestures towards the ruins and the bandit still on watch, just visible in the night. "You are able to find your own bandits well enough, I see... no, I would help you find your brother and sister Solars, if you've a want."
"Yeah, I've a want," Little Lotus says. She shrugs, glancing back at the fire, the bandits in the ruins. "I can find my own bandits, alright, but they won't have me long. Tell me where I can find my fellow 'chosen.' I'll go."
Last Ray nods, and clearly seems relieved at your agreement. "I have managed to find so few, and all too often I have been late. I cannot tell you how glad I am for your answer." she says, smile warm. She hunkers down, using her finger to draw out a crude map in the mud. The location is a tea house near Nexus, one she says is hidden from aggression and run by a Solar.
"It's more fun going it alone, anyway," Little Lotus said, standing. She brushed the mud off of her knees. "Travel well, Last Ray. I've got at least a drink or a man or both waiting for me back there, Who knows. We might even meet again."
Last Ray nods as she also stands. "Count on it, lady Lotus. I'll be making my way back to the teahouse again after I have found the last of those I can. I look forwards to seeing you there." She offers her hand, "Enjoy your evening, lady Lotus." she says warmly, and after your response turns to fetch her satchel, tucking the scrollcase away and padding quietly out of the clearing.
Little Lotus raises a hand in farewell, before turning herself. A tea house? Hopefully there would be more than just tea there.