It was a strange gathering inside Lodarisâ€™ temple. The students had managed to find a dozen chairs of various shapes and sizes, and had been dismissed as the gathered Exalts and mortals sat. Everyone looked at one another uncertainly.
Tepet Fokuf broke the silence. â€œSo, Madame Serafin. Iâ€™ve been told just enough about whatâ€™s going on here to whet my curiousity. I gather that weâ€™re to look for Autochthon. But why us?â€
Serafin nodded slowly, looking around the room. â€œFor this to make complete sense, Iâ€™m going to have to give you all some history. Some of you may already know some of this, but please bear with me.â€ The others nodded, and she sat back. â€œThousands of years ago, in the early days of the First Age, Autochthon came before Gaia with a dilemma. The Solars, he warned her, were growing arrogant. They were seeking to curtail the power of their former allies, the Dragon Kings and Mountain Folk. Autochthon feared that it was only a matter of time before the Deliberative turned its attention towards him.
â€œGaia did not agree. She, too, had seen worrying signs from the new Deliberative, but she thought that they were the growing pains of a people not used to rule. The two Primordials argued, but neither could convince the other that they were right. Finally, Autochthon told Gaia that he would not wait around to see. He was going to go as far from Creation as he safely could, and prepare against the day when the Exalted might become more threat than good. If the Deliberative changed, and reversed their decrees, or if Creation was pushed into terrible danger, he gave Gaia a means of contacting him. He didnâ€™t expect her to use it. Autochthon also spoke with one Circle of Solars, among the few who had argued against the Geas that was placed on the Mountain Folk to bind them. The Circle were old allies of his, having remained together since the days of the Primordial War, and they trusted him as much as he trusted them. He warned them to watch for danger from within, and gave them a means of coming to him, for similar emergency use â€“ a gateway, in the city of Serrish Vel, that would respond only to their Exaltations.â€
â€œAlright, I follow you so far.â€ Kieran rubbed his chin thoughtfully, then frowned. â€œBut why doesnâ€™t Gaia just contact Autochthon with whatever thing he gave her? Why do you need us?â€
â€œBecause something went wrong.â€ Serafin shook her head slowly. â€œWhen the Contagion struck, Gaia tried to contact Autochthon, but he did not respond. In the aftermath, she started trying to find him â€“ and she discovered that he had not left Creation entirely. Thousands of Manses had been tapped, so that they would divert a tiny, unnoticable trickle of power to the Makerâ€™s realm. But when the Usurpation happened, hundreds of those Manses were destroyed. The Contagion destroyed even more.â€ Her expression became grave. â€œAutochthon no longer has the energy that he needs in order to wake. The only way to get that energy to him is to travel to his realm and break the seals that he placed around it to protect and hide it. If you can do that, Gaia can send all of the energy that Autochthon needs to him, and he will awaken within hours.â€
â€œWell, that seems easy enough.â€ Khory nodded slowly, looking around at the others. â€œI imagine that youâ€™ll know what to do when we get there?â€
â€œI canâ€™t go.â€ Everyone turned to stare at Serafin, and she sighed. â€œThe gateway will only allow the Solar Circle through. No companions, no allies. Just those five Exaltations.â€
â€œOh.â€ Khory looked across the room at Elena, whoâ€™d been silent up until then. â€œSoâ€¦ we donâ€™t get to come along on this one.â€
â€œIâ€™m afraid not.â€
Citrios shook his head. â€œButâ€¦ we canâ€™t just sit back andâ€¦â€ He trailed off, looking helplessly over to Alina, who reached across and took his hand. â€œThese are our companions.â€
â€œI know.â€ Serafin sighed again. â€œBut I canâ€™t get around that. If I could, I would travel to Autochthon myself. Instead, we will have to provide what support we can from Creation â€“ fighting the Yozi until Autochthon awakens.â€
Kieran looked to his two friends, and then nodded slowly. â€œAlright. Where is Serrish Vel? I can barely remember that it exists.â€
Serafin glanced over to Nash, who coughed lightly. â€œIt took some searching, but I was able to find records about Serrish Vel. The city was badly damaged during the Usurpation, and reduced to ruins. A new city was built above it.â€ He paused for a heartbeat. â€œThe Lap.â€
The room was silent for several seconds. Finally, Khory spoke. â€œWellâ€¦ isnâ€™t that a kick in the teeth. The Lap is gone, friend. Thereâ€™s nothing left but the dead.â€
â€œI know.â€ Nash coughed lightly, looking over to Serafin, but she was still watching him expectantly. Looking like he had swallowed something bitter, he continued. â€œCurrently, the Lapâ€™s ruins are the site of a three-way war between An-Teng, Paragon, and the First And Forsaken Lion. Fortunately,â€ and here his voice made it clear that he wasnâ€™t at all sure that this was fortunate, â€œwe have a way of gaining access to the gateway.â€
Everyone looked around at each other. Finally, Amaya spoke up quietly, from her seat next to Tenrek. â€œHow?â€
Nash looked over at Serafin again, and she rolled her eyes. She gave the answer. â€œThe Perfect of Paragon is going to cut us a path.â€
â€œWhat?!â€ Tenrek sprang to his feet, the chair clattering to the floor behind him. â€œThatâ€™s completely insane!â€ He looked to the others, all of whom were in various states of shock â€“ except for Nash and Alakazar, who simply looked grim. â€œHeâ€™s a Conduit! One of the enemy!â€
Serafin stood as well, her expression frosty. â€œYes. He is. And believe me, this is not something Iâ€™ve entered into lightly. Iâ€™ve been in communications with him for over a month, and both Gaia and I have been debating this alliance back and forth.â€ Her gaze swept the room. â€œCreation is losing this war. Thereâ€™s no way around that fact. Millions are dead, and the Conduits control almost everything off the Blessed Isle â€“ and they have influence there, as well. Even with whatever armies Autochthon prepared before his incapacitation, we cannot defeat the combined might of the other Conduits.
â€œThe alliance of She Who Lives In Her Name, Zuratha, and Cecelyne have agreed to fight alongside Creation for the time being.â€ She clenched a fist. â€œItâ€™s not a great compromise, but Gaia doesnâ€™t believe that we have a choice â€“ and neither do I.â€
The room was absolutely silent, and then Tepet Fokuf let out a long, whistling breath. â€œDeals with the devils. Does Gaia think she can control them?â€
â€œShe thinks she can direct them.â€ Serafin sighed, sitting back down. â€œThis alliance gives us a massive power block in the South, and it will be the salvation of the Icewalkers; theyâ€™ve been allowed into Halta to recover and use as a base against the Haslanti League. It means that Lookshy can try and crush Rubylak between itself and Halta, and that the Varagian armies canâ€™t just set sail against the Realm. The Perfect made it clear that if we did not accept an alliance with him, they would ally with Malfeas.â€
â€œYouâ€™re the Conduit. If you think this is a good ideaâ€¦â€ Kieran trailed off, looking around the room, and then nodded. â€œIâ€™m with you.â€
â€œThank you.â€ Serafin smiled faintly. Tenrek, still looking angry, recovered his chair and sat.
â€œI guess that just leaves one issue. Whereâ€™s our fifth?â€
Everyone looked over at Fokuf, and he rolled his eyes. â€œAutochthon knew our Circle from the Primordial War, right? In those days, Solars only formed Perfect Circles.â€ He gestured around the room. â€œI know that Tenrek is Zenith, Iâ€™m Eclipse, and Amayaâ€™s a Twilight. Alinaâ€™s a Night, and Kieranâ€™s a Twilight, too.â€ He looked across the room at Serafin. â€œYou got Kieran specifically, which means Amaya is the odd one out. Whereâ€™s our Circleâ€™s Dawn Caste?â€
â€œThatâ€¦ is the last problem I was going to discuss with you.â€ Serafinâ€™s face, which had just started to relax, turned grim again.
Alina groaned softly. â€œHeâ€™s a deathknight, isnâ€™t he?â€
â€œNo. Worse.â€ Serafin shook her head. â€œHe is a Paladin of Adorjan, and Wesmakenâ€™s forces helped him pass through the gateway two days ago.â€