Maia Becomes An Oblationist

<Mina‘Haplo> The Basilica of the Order of St. Ophelia the Oblationist is a large, rounded building, built with ancient and refined techniques. It is beautiful and elegant, yet unadorned in a way. At the very centre of this building sits a round chamber, with solid walls with quietly glowing runes etched into their surfaces. A large, solid ivory door stands as silent guardian to the secrets that lie within.-
<Mina`Haplo> The door itself is covered in runes and magic circles, all faintly glowing with a blue light. It didn’t take a genius to realise that whatever lay within this chamber was very precious indeed. Precious, or very dangerous.-
<Mina‘Haplo> Before the door stands a single man, a tall, older-looking man of around sixty years, with thinning salt-and-pepper hair, wearing simple black robes and wielding a simple looking staff. He is waiting. He is watching.
*Maia steps up to the man, a resolute look on her face. She’s come prepared, dressed in her battle uniform: a close-fitting, white silk button-down blouse and tight pants of a very muted blue tint. There was a definite sense of 'practicality' in the uniform, perhaps. Her auburn hair hangs loose, down to the middle of her back, and her blue eyes focus on the man standing before the door.
*Maia nods.
<Mina‘Haplo> The man turns to her, and gives her a nod in return. "Maia Minama." He intones seriously, his voice deep and rich. "For sixteen years I have witnessed your growth, as you went from a small child into a dedicated young woman determined to bear the torch of our ancient and noble order. Child, it brings me no small pride to witness this today. And so, here, on the threshold of the first and most irrevocable step of your chosen path-
<Mina`Haplo> "I ask you- are you ready?"
*Maia nods once again. "Yes, Father Tycho. Shall we proceed?"
<Mina`Haplo> Father Tycho nods his head solemnly, then stands before the doors to the center chamber. He raises his hands, and chants in a quiet, soft voice. One by one, the runes turn from blue to red, and the doors slowly open…
<Mina`Haplo> And as those intimidating ivory doors open, to reveal their dark and sinister contents, it might occur to Maia to reflect back on just what it is she would be ready for.
<Mina`Haplo> [Five years ago]…
<Mina`Haplo> A bell rings across the corridors of the Basilica, signifying the hour of the day. It rings out four times- the closing hour for the Order’s schools. Soon, the quiet, solemn halls of the order would be filled with cheerful, gabbling children, on their way to lunch after a hard day of studying.
<Maia> A much younger Maia heads out into the halls, quickly spotting other friends amongst the children on the way to the lunch hall!
*Maia would be quite hungry, though, after all the studying, so first priority's likely on getting to the lines! They can chat in line. "Anna! How've your lessons been going?" she asks, as she catches up with her friends.
<Mina‘Haplo> Anna- a pretty girl with long red curls- sighs a little. "I keep forgetting the right combinations when it comes to reinforcing my circles." She said with a theatrical slump. A boy next to her, named Lucius, patted her shoulder gently. "That’s okay. You can copy off me next time!" "Oh of course yours are perfect…" "Well they are…"
<Maia> Camille, a third member of the bunch, a blonde-haired girl who was the tallest of the girls here, playfully scolds Anna, meanwhile! "Now, Anna, how are you expecting to learn anything like that? Maybe I can help you practice later?"
<Mina‘Haplo> Anna whined. "But that’s *free*time…"
<Maia> And the fourth, a short, bookish and shy type, Esmeralda, responds to that, "You remember what happened to the last person who never mastered their circles, don't you?" It was more of an anecdotal threat than really knowing anything, but still…
<Mina‘Haplo> Anna… Shivered a little at that, looking back at Esmeralda with what can only be described as a ’you went too far!' look. "T-there's no need for *that*! I'll… I guess I'll practice later. Maybe you'll help me, right, Maia~?"
*Maia nods! "Of course I will, Anna," she responds with a bright smile. But she just has to rub it in a bit: "After all, I wouldn't want you to end up being the one bound by a demon instead of the other way around!~"
<Mina‘Haplo> "Aaaaaah…" Replies Anna fretfully. "You shouldn’t joke about that kind of stuff! It's… It's creepy." Said Anna, her red curls bouncing as she shakes her head. Lucius, meanwhile, smirks a little. "I don't think anyone here will end up like that."
<Maia> Camille nods. "Of course not. Maia and I will be sure of that. Isn't that right, Maia?" "Yeah, of course~"
*Maia pats Anna on the shoulder gently. "Sorry, Anna, I'm sure you'll do just fine~"
<Mina‘Haplo> Anna looks a little relieved at that, smiling and patting Maia’s hand with her own. "Thanks, Maia. I… I don't want to fail…" She falls quiet for a moment, then gives Maia a little smile. "Hey, ah… Let's… Go eat!" She says, in what is less of a segue and more of a jagged conversational swerve.
*Maia … nods. "Yeah, I'm starving!" Luckily, they were almost at the front of the line, so food was soon had and the five would scamper off to an empty table.
<Mina‘Haplo> And so the children scarper off to lunch, which is the usual St. Ophelian fare: not lavish, but healthy, hearty, home-cooked and filling. Stews, broths and good, clean, honest bread line the tables, plenty enough for all.
*Maia dips her bread into the stew, before munching on it. "Mmmm… delicious, don’t you think?"
<Mina‘Haplo> Lucius turns to respond, but before he gets a chance, something of a… Shadow casts itself over the small knot of children. "Class out already?" Asks the familiar voice of Father Tycho, the senior most member of the Order. "I say, the days are getting shorter, don’t you think…?"
*Maia turns to face the visitor. "Ah, Father Tycho!" she greets him. There's an empty chair still. "Are they? I hadn't really noticed, myself!"
<Mina‘Haplo> "Yes, well, when 55 years you reach, perhaps your perspective changes, hmm?" He says, patting Maia on the head. "Did you enjoy class?" He asks of the children. Anna and Lucius nod. "Anna keeps messing up her circles." "Shut up, Lucius!" Snaps Anna back, blushing in shame.
<Maia> "Now now, Lucius, it’s not nice to keep teasing her…" Maia sighs. "Camille and I were going to help Anna study some more later."
<Mina‘Haplo> "Ah, well, that’s good to hear." Said Father Tycho. "Remember, children, that Isador, the Aspect of Harmony, preaches that the good and the kind work together for the greater good." Said Tycho, before turning to Maia. "Sorry to trouble you, child, but I was hoping we could speak in private."
*Maia raises an eyebrow. "… In… in private?" she asks, an unusual sense of … nervousness creeping into her voice. "W-well, of course, Father."
<Mina‘Haplo> Lucius and Anna exchange looks, both of them knowing well enough what this means. Tycho nods solemnly. "Yes. Come, young Maia. It… Is time for you to learn." He said, turning and starting to walk away.
<Maia> "… This… this is it, huh?" she asks the group, not following immediately.
<Mina`Haplo> "L… Looks like it." Says Lucius, nervously. "Um… I hope it’s not anything too terrible." Said Anna meekly.
<Maia> Camille looks sharply at Maia. "Well, go on, what're you waiting for? Don't tell me you're scared, Maia…"
*Maia glares back! "Of course I'm not scared!" she retorts, standing up. "I'll be right back," she announces, heading off after Father Tycho.
<Mina‘Haplo> Tycho is quiet for a few minutes as he guides Maia through the halls of the Basilica, and into his office. It’s simple, unadorned- the only items of note are his desk, a shelf filled with little knickknacks and trinkets, and an aged staff leaning against the wall. Tycho sits behind the desk, and gestures to a spare seat. "Please sit, young Maia."
*Maia sits without fanfare. "Of course," she responds, folding her hands in her lap. "What is it?"
<Mina‘Haplo> Tycho puts his hands on his desk, his eyes peering at Maia, gentle and soft in a hard and rugged face. He’s quiet for a few moments, reluctant, even, before… "As you know, all Oblationists who undertake the pacting ritual must undergo a sacrifice of something dear to them. We… We have divined your own, Maia." He said, with a long pause… "It's… Your voice, child."
*Maia blinks, a look of shock crossing her face. That was not at all what she had been expecting. The whole walk, she'd been contemplating the possibilities. Maybe it would be her happiness? Her persistence? Confidence? Her friends? But that was one of the few things she'd never thought of.
<Maia> "… M-my voice?"
<Mina‘Haplo> Tycho nods quietly. "Yes. Come your 16th year, and the pacting ritual… You will be unable to speak, Maia, until the conclusion of your Oblationist’s oath."
*Maia is awkwardly silent for what must be at least a minute.
<Mina‘Haplo> Tycho sits awkwardly, not quite sure what to say, either… Until he leans forward and gives her a wink. "You know, I’ve often found it helps the young ones to *talk*about their sacrifices, as ironic as that may seem. How do you feel?"
<Maia> "… A life without a voice… it seems a very lonely existence. Still…"
*Maia smiles. "How could I deny Balanar's will? If this is the price I must pay, so be it."
<Mina‘Haplo> "Hm…" Tycho is quiet, then smiles a little. "A positive reaction. You serve the one-who-is-seven well, Maia. I am proud of your progress so far… I’m sure, when that day comes, you will perform admirably."
*Maia blushes slightly. "I'm going to keep working hard to make sure that happens," she affirms. "… I should probably get an early start on learning some other way to … 'talk', too…" she muses to herself…
<Mina‘Haplo> "I hear that those clever artisans in the city have crafted permanent, unending sticks of chalk…" Said Tycho idly.
<Mina`Haplo> "But, for now, enjoy the years you have, carefree and unburdened by this. May the one-who-is-seven guide your steps…"
*Maia whines. "Ugh, I hate writing… But I guess it can’t be helped, hmm?~"
*Maia nods!
<Mina‘Haplo> Tycho snickers at that.
<Mina`Haplo> [The Present]
<Mina`Haplo> With a shuddering -clank-, the Ivory Doors finally grind to a halt, baring the interior of the middle chamber in its entirely to Maia. It is a small room, filled with protective wards, the largest being a massive circle in the middle of the room. A feeling of… Menace emanates from it.
*Maia takes a deep breath, before proceeding through the doors. This was the beginning … or perhaps the end, if she screwed it up, but she didn’t think about that.
<Mina‘Haplo> The room reacts to her presence, darkening, as most of the runes glow a fiery red, then fade. The circle on the floor in the middle of the room remains active, a blue light shining from it. A small vase is set in the very middle… And with a shuddering scrape, the doors behind Maia close, leaving her alone.
*Maia slowly advances to the middle circle, its blue light being quite comforting compared to everything else in the room.
<Mina`Haplo> The light continues to shine, and as Maia steps into the middle of it, she feels a curious sense of… Protection wash over her.
*Maia leans down, picking up the vase and inspecting it carefully without a word.
<Mina`Haplo> The vase is nearly featureless, but several words can be picked out. The first is eight names, seven arranged in a circle around an eighth. The outside circle names are, in clockwise order- Damane, Paraskas, Inmeldin, Manar, Isador, Miram, and Emblan. The name in the dead centre is, of course, Balanar. The Seven-who-are-one.-
<Mina`Haplo> There is also a name inscribed on the lip of the vase, but it is, curiously, in a language Maia cannot read.
*Maia takes one last deep breath to calm herself… and then, with all the force she can muster with her mildly frail form, lifts the vase overhead before throwing it straight down to smash it on the floor!
*Maia doesn’t wait to see what happens, immediately jumping back (literally) outside the blue circle.
<Mina‘Haplo> The vase smashes with a crack far, far louder than should be possible for such a vessel. There is a shuddering *gasp*, like air filling an empty space, a rushing howl coalescing into the centre of the room… By the time Maia leaves the circle, it has turned into a formless black mass.
*Maia clasps her hands together. "Balanar, Seven-Who-Are-One! I beseech thee, reveal unto me the true form of that which stands before me!"
<Mina`Haplo> Whatever it is that stands in the middle of the circle doesn’t really seem to like that. It distorts, *painfully*, a painful howl echoing forth from… Whatever it is. Slowly, it agonisingly starts to melt into a solid form… A long, cruel-looking sword, the hilt slowly growing out into two shadowy arms, the blade extending into legs, the pommel into an oval eyeless head. It is tall now, at least 15 feet tall…-
<Mina‘Haplo> It opens its… Head, and unleashes a truly painful sound, before finally speaking, its voice like nails across a blackboard. "Mortal filth, come to bind me once again. Do you even *know*the name of the one with which you dare try to bargain?" It hisses.
*Maia doesn’t change her stance as she replies, in as confident of a tone as she can muster - quite confident, actually, as she's confident this thing can't lay a finger on her. "Marakanas, the Bloody-Handed Whisper of Murder. Some of us study diligently, after all…"
<Mina‘Haplo> Marakanas tilts its head slightly, as if… Actually confused by this show of knowledge. "… So, they have briefed you well, mortal." It says, with a dark and evil chuckle. "I see. Do not stop to think that knowing my name will do you any good. I will not yield." It shifts itself closer to Maia, as close as it possibly can- a chill is radiating from it, even beyond the circle.-
<Mina`Haplo> "Quite a prize you are." It hisses exultantly. "I have taken many of your order, mortal. All of them your age, all of them just as confident and insolent as you are there, and I have broken their bodies and crumpled their minds. Of course, that’s all part of the arrangement…" It says, its voice reduced to a sibilant whisper.
*Maia stares back at him resolutely. "And you think I will be naught but your newest trophy, don't you?"
<Mina‘Haplo> "Think?" Marakanas laughs. "I *know*. It has been written beforehand." Marakanas hovers for a moment, silent, contemplative… "You of course will not know. But it is no coincidence that so many before you have died in my shadow. The number… Why, the number is now *twelve*dead. You will be the thirteenth… And then, I will pact with the 14th." A hiss. "That was the agreement that Tycho and I agreed upon, after all."
*Maia … laughs. It’s a confident laugh. "That's impossible," she says confidently."
<Mina‘Haplo> "Is it?" Responds Marakanas. "Have not 12 Oblationists perished before me? Are you not sent here by Tycho to die like lambs? Sacrificial lambs, oblations all, a sweetening of the pot?"
<Maia> "You see, for that to be true, Father Tycho would have to be at least eighty-one years old. Yet, he is barely into his 60s."
<Maia> "He could not possibly have been born when you fooled that poor first Oblationist, Balanar rest their soul."
<Mina`Haplo> Marakanas… Pauses for a moment. "Ahahahha. Oh, thou fool. You think that reveals a lie? I talk of the previous master of your order- another Master Tycho! It is he with whom I made the pact!"
<Maia> "It took you a moment to come up with that, didn’t it?"
<Mina‘Haplo> "… I am an old creature. It takes *time*for me to recall these things."
<Maia> "You must be going a bit senile in your old age, Marakanas, for before Father Tycho was the blessed Lady Nadia."
<Mina`Haplo> Marakanas pauses… If it had eyes, it would be squinting at Maia. "… Tycho was a pet name. We were close, for she was a cultist." He says… Unconvincingly.
*Maia shakes her head. "Now you’re just lying. How pathetic…"
<Mina‘Haplo> A sudden -crackle- cries out across the room as the field in front of Maia bursts into light! Seconds afterwards, she can see dark, angry, pulsating tendrils of energy slamming into the edge of the circle, furiously. "Child! I am the Bloody-Handed Whisper of Murder! It was I who slew the 14th Emperor of Paxia by hiding myself in a dagger! It was I who turned the tide of war in Arcolia by slitting the throat of its greatest general!-
<Mina`Haplo> "I have killed thousands upon thousands in my years and *you will not be the last*!"
*Maia nods, … smiling.
<Maia> "You’re right… I won't be the last, Marakanas.
<Maia> "You've already had your last in Acolyte Isaiah, five years ago, Balanar rest his soul."
<Mina‘Haplo> Marakanas lashes out again, smashing itself against the walls of the circle… "So insolent! So arrogant!" It screeches… And Maia can hear a slight -crack-, like glass cracking.
*Maia takes a more ’ready' stance. "You speak such truths of yourself, Marakanas!" she declares.
<Mina‘Haplo> "I at least have earned my arrogance, cretin! What have you ever done?!" crack-crack.
*Maia staaaaaaaares back. "Trained for fifteen long, hard years so I could face you down, and redeem the twelve who preceded me!"
<Mina`Haplo> "Then prepare yourself, Maia Minama, daughter of Elijah Minama, of Erin Minama. Prepare to meet your split God in his split realm, for your years of life end here." with a sudden sound, the sound of screeching metal across marble… Its ’eyes' open, revealing points of non-light in the oval blackness of its face. It *bores*into Maia's eyes.
*Maia stares back. "Marakanas! Hear my voice, and hear it well! I will not fall to you this day, nor will I submit! You will remember my voice, for it shall be the chains that bind you to me!!" she shouts, thrusting a hand out towards the demon. "The spirits of those who fell before me shall be released!"
<Mina‘Haplo> "Not enough! Not enough!" Said Marakanas, and slowly what light was left in the room would start to fade, almost as if Maia’s vision was starting to tunnel-vision onto those eyes… "No chain can hold the Bloody-Handed Whisper of Murder!" As if to prove the truth of its moniker, it smashes a bloodied tendril against the circle.
*Maia stares back intensely, unwavering. "… Be sealed, _demon_," she affirms. Famous last words?
<Mina‘Haplo> Silence… Slowly, the sounds of the chamber would fade, as would the light, the sensations of the chill on Maia’s flesh… Everything would diminish until all she could see, all she could *comprehend*were those two eyes… An eternity passed, an eternity that felt like a minute…-
<Mina‘Haplo> And then, with a sudden loudness, a rushing sound, like a massive tidal wave, filled the room, deafening, accompanied by a blinding light… Maia would feel a sudden, painful burning in her throat, and then… It faded. And when her senses returned, she would find herself in the chamber… Alone.
<Maia> "…"
*Maia looks around, not letting her guard down just yet…
<Mina`Haplo> The room seems… Quiet. Whatever menace, whatever horrible feeling she felt before entering was… Gone. The circle before her stands broken, its light faded. Apparently it had collapsed beneath Marakanas’s assault.
*Maia lets out a deep breath. Then… it was done. Hopefully, those twelve poor souls before her would find their release now. Satisfied, she started to back out of the room slowly, keeping her eyes fixed on the broken circle for the moment.
*Maia realized, as she backed out, too, just how _exhausting_ this process could be.
<Mina‘Haplo> Nothing. No sudden movement, no ambushes… But something *did*feel different. Maia felt different. She could feel, just on the edge of her consciousness, another presence, dormant, yet powerful.
*Maia turns only when she’s actually *at*the door, and attempts to push/pull/slide/whichever it open.
<Mina‘Haplo> For such a large door, it opens easily, swinging outward as Maia pushes. The first thing she notices is, well… The moon, high in the sky, on a field of stars. Which is interesting, considering how it was only 4PM when she went in.
*Maia stares up at the sky, pondering this. Had it really been that long? Was anyone even around to greet her?
<Mina`Haplo> Someone was, apparently! By the foot of a pillar she would see the sitting form of Father Tycho… His head hanging, in sleep.
*Maia approached the old man, kneeling by his side and gently placing a hand on his shoulder with a smile.
<Mina`Haplo> Tycho starts to life, looking around fretfully as he does so, before his eyes settle on Maia’s face… And they fill with tears. "M-Maia? Is it… I thought you were dead!" He whispers, his voice filled with relief. "You… You succeeded, oh, child…"
*Maia gently embraces him, patting on the back and just nodding. At any other time, this would probably be awkward as hell for them both, but…
<Mina‘Haplo> Tycho hugs her back, the tears flowing from the gentle old man’s eyes. "Oh… I never thought I'd see you alive again. It's been over two days… I feared the worst." He said, shaking his head. "… How do you feel?"
*Maia looked rather exhausted, eyes sunken, that sort of thing. Still, she was smiling and putting on a strong face… which was soon broken by a yawn.
<Mina‘Haplo> "Not surprised." Said Tycho, shaking himself to his feet, and offering Maia a hand up. "As a fully-fledged Oblationist, you are, of course, entitled to a week of rest, after which there will be a ceremony. It’s customary for the new Oblationist to make a speech, but…" An awkward shrug. "I guess we can waive that, hmm?"
*Maia gives him a bit of a dirty look, if a playful one, followed by an exaggerated sigh.
*Maia rubs her throat a little.
<Mina‘Haplo> "… It hurts, doesn’t it?" Said Tycho sadly. "That is the sign of the covenant that we make, the final, most powerful sign by which we make our seals… You have made a brave sacrifice here today, child. I'm proud of you. But come, you must rest; and in the morning, the whole basilica can be briefed on the good news."
*Maia nods, and walks with him, arm in arm.

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