An Imperfect Circle

Session 18

Despair & Desire

Bearing the Exalted heroes of the Sun and propelled by the blessings of  Melevashni Yanazee, Dawn's river ship approached Nexus. With the sun growing low in the sky behind them, the Exalted were surprised to see the sky glowing ahead of them as well. The firestorm above Firewander had risen up above the city like a glowering red thunderhead. Flashes of fire appeared above the cloud of smoke and fire, like summer heat lightning but without the accompanying thunder.

Melevashni's river current fell away as they passed the confluence of the Yellow River and the sailors extended oars to guide them into the harbor of the Nexus Pools. Passing the riverside neighborhoods of Nighthammer, they could see extensive flood damage. Debris littered the streets and clung to the mouths of the canals and the mark of fresh mud could be seen up to the second story windows in some places.

Worried for his family, Genjo leaped from the ship as it pulled into the harbor and ran across the floating refuse. Senka followed him with a graceful arcing bound. Zakiti waited a moment, told Dawn to be prepared, and whistled for her Agata to bear them. Dawn told her crew to dock the ship, and the two women climbed aboard the giant wasp to follow their friends. Smoke Orchid called out that she had other business to attend to but would meet them in the city.

On reaching land, Dawn handed her jug of rum to Zakiti. "This is where I take my leave. I have people to meet and things to do. I'll see you later, and I'll need that," she said with a gesture to her rum. She turned and disappeared into the crowd like a native of the vast city. 

Genjo reached his family home in the tenements to find the Nightside slum showing the signs of receded flooding. The streets were littered with debris and the mud that would turn to dust and grime as it dried. The street was empty save for the vagabonds beginning to creep back in. The windows were unlighted and no sounds of life came from within. Genjo searched fruitlessly, then went to ask Gol Yu, the herbalist who had become an early acquaintance of his family. The herbalist and his apprentice were cleaning the small shop which still showed signs of the flood damage. Yu told Genjo that Hira had said they were leaving the riverside neighborhood. A benefactor had stepped in to offer them safer lodgings in the wake of the flood.

Senka stayed behind to salvage what she could from the wreckage. She found a few personal items, including the rook from Roko's chess set and a sealed scroll case.

Accompanied by Zakiti, Genjo headed to meet the Astrologer, suspecting she was once again his family's benefactor. They took the cable car from the Big Market, allowing them to see the extent of the flood damage from the height of the gondola. Large sections of the Nighthammer and Nexus districts had flooded, and many of the crowded low buildings had collapsed or suffered damage. New construction was going up, changing the network of allies, passthroughs, and roofways that allowed navigation through the crowded city. They crested the hill, and the comparatively pristine view of Cinnabar was a jarring contrast to the lower districts.

Genjo and Zakiti were ushered into the Astrologer's palace to a waiting garden. Genjo set to pacing and Zakiti noticed the other woman in garden with them. She was russet haired and carried a measuring cane. She looked very cold and stern, which was off putting, but Zakiti felt she was somehow familiar. Other than the demeanor, she looked like she could be related to Dawning Seaspray.

Senka took her own path through the city, passing through Nighthammer, Nexus, and Sentinel's Hill on here way to join her friends. Passing through the lower districts, she noticed symbols painted on walls above crude effigy statues of a woman's form. She recognized the symbols as being similar to the first age runes for Tul Wan's name. She saw poor women and men offering prayers at the shrines. She listened, and heard them offer prayers to Tul Wan, god of laws, and his consort, the River Whore. They prayed for the gods to keep the order of their city and to deliver their true desires. She circled back through the lower districts to see whether there was a pattern to the marked buildings and those that had been damaged and spared by the flood but she identified no pattern.

Senka stopped at one of the makeshift shrines and talked to the teenage girl tending the shrine there. The girl was attired in revealing vestments, reminding Senka of both priest and whore. Her neck was marked with bruises lick hickeys and she was speaking blessings to those who stopped at the shrine to leave a coin. Senka left a coin, and received the blessing, “May the River Whore guide you to your desires." Senka asked, and learned that the shrines had sprung up to give people hope in the wake of the flood, which occurred just after they had left Nexus. The rainstorm that followed the demon huntress had caused the rivers to rise unexpectedly.

At the Astrologer's palace, the russet haired woman eventually introduced herself as Inspector Leahni and bid Genjo and Zakiti to follow her. Zakiti asked about her resemblance to Dawning Seaspray, which the inspector brushed off.

Kratz met them in one of the audience gardens. Genjo asked her if she had help his family, which she confirmed, but said she had done so indirectly. After the battle with Zsofika in the streets of Nexus, the Solars had become quite recognizable. Being tied directly to them could be problematic for them both. She told Genjo that she had urged Lohlyn and Sylus, the Dragon-Blooded of House V'neef to step in as patrons; their aid to the refugees of Thorns would be seen favorably in her eyes and the eyes of the Solars they courted. His family was safe in their townhouse in Cinnabar. The Astrologer bade Genjo to stay is anger for the Dragon-Blooded past actions as they knew no other way.

Senka joined them in the palace, and she and Zakiti explained what they had found in the Lookshy achive and that they planned to start their search in the Mountains of Dawn. The map had referenced the Sparkling Dawn River, which Kratz confirmed was now the Lesser Rock River. Greyfalls, a holding of the Realm, controlled access to the river.

With Greyfalls as their destination, Senka felt she had to reveal her story to her companions. She had grown up in Greyfalls, an abandoned orphan raised by the Immaculate Order. She had been inspired by the Order, and became a hunter for them. She tracked Anathema for the Wyld Hunt, and she loved it. Once, she captured the children of a newly exalted Solar. Cathak Kitono ordered her to kill the children to draw out their mother. She followed that order, and saw the rage of the woman who bore the mark of the night caste on her forehead. When that light went out, Senka felt it blaze upon her brow, and fled into the night, cursed to bear the woman's rage and sorrow. As Senka told the story, Genjo walked to look out the palaces window. He gripped the stone windowsill, slowly crushing it to dust.

Before they departed, the Astrologer requested that the Solars not approach her directly. Given their notoriety, their meetings would no longer be kept secret. Instead, they were to pass messages through Inspector Leahni. Zakiti asked who could have sent Zsofika after them, and Kratz confirmed that among the mortal institutions of the Scavenger Lands, only the House of 30 Seals had the knowledge and resources to summer the Kite Flute. She did warn Zakiti that whoever sent the demon could be a threat she was not aware of.

As the Solars departed departed to go see Genjo's family, Senka lingered to ask for council with the Astrologer. She offered to give her Treesplitter, hoping she would tell her what to do with the now useless bow. Kratz told her to keep it. It would be unwise to throw away a god-weapon of the exalted. Perhaps she could give it to an ally. Senka thanked her for the advice, and awkwardly slung the bow on her back. “Librarians are far more deadly than you’d think” she said.

The streets of Cinnabar were a little more crowded with the poor displaced by the floods in Nighthammer and the expanding Wyld storm in Firewander. At the V'neef townhouse, the door guard who Genjo intimidated at their last visit stepped aside stammering. The Thorns refugees were preparing their evening meal. Genjo had a heartfelt reunion with his wife and son. He was saddened to learn his father was swept away in the floodwaters.  Hira told him that their daughter was taking dinner with V'neef Sylus and his honored guests.

When Senka joined them, Roko gasped at the site of her missing forearm. She crouched down to greet him and asked how he had behaved for his mother. She encouraged him to behave well, reminding him that he'd be the man of the house when his father was away. She gave him the game piece she recovered from the ruins of the Nightside tenement.

Inspector Leahni mentioned that the Solars should be departing soon to tend to the important tasks before them. Genjo said he needed time with his family. He had left twice without an explanation to his wife, and would not do so again. Leahni warned Genjo that sharing more with his family would only put them in greater danger. Hira expressed her irritation with the Inspector speaking as if she were not there. Leahni gazed into Roko's fate and saw that he would become a wealthy man. She relayed to Genjo that his son would be fine, and walked out into the courtyard.

Hira told the Solars about happenings in Nexus since the night they disappeared. She told them about the flood following the storm. She had heard rumors of a blazing figure appearing in Firewander bearing the sign of the blazing sun. She told them about the warring factions fighting in the streets for the proper worship of their gods. As the conversation turned toward family matters, Zakiti slipped out to follow the Inspector.

In the courtyard, Zakiti met a familiar woman who introduced herself as Sienna. She emphasized the importance of finding the war goddess. Zakiti had the vague feeling that she had met with the woman before. Sienna offered to answer her questions. Zakiti replied, "Why repeat questions I'm sure I've asked already and forgotten."

They discussed Tul Wan and the River Whore. Sienna suggested that they ask in Bastion, where Tul Wan had never been entirely forgotten. Sienna gave Zakiti a note to remind her, and said she would remember receiving it from Dawning Seaspray. Zakiti also expressed her concern about the figure with the blazing son on its forehead, which she thought was likely Drac's child. She said she didn't expect to have to deal with the child so soon. Sienna asked what Zakiti meant by 'deal with it'. Zakiti said she didn't know what it was, and it wasn't necessarily bad. She'd try not to kill indiscriminately. Sienna grabbed her hand, and replied, "I will hold you to that." Zakiti left the courtyard. She remembered that she met a friend and promising not to kill indiscriminately. 

Sadako, Genjo's daughter arrived home in a tasteful evening gown. She greeted her father with a hug and told him she was glad he had come to terms with the V'neefs. She waxed eloquent on their virtues, especially about Sylus. Genjo recognized that she had a crush on the older man. He listened patiently, and said that she was ready to learn about the workings of their business from her mother.

Genjo shares the news about the other survivors of Thorns. Hira was happy to hear about Yin-guan. The conversation turns to stories of old times in Thorns before the fall. They raised a drink to Noburo and the family enjoyed being together for the first night in a long time.

Despite the late hour, Zakiti wandered the streets of Nexus trying to find people to help. She saw the displaced masses from the flood, caused by Zsofika's storm as she hunted Zakiti. She saw shrines to the River Whore marked by runes of Tul Wan. At the shrines, young woman gave the bodies to other devotees in orgiastic ritual. She saw signs of violence between the dispossessed of Nexus. As much as she helped, it didn't make a difference and some of the suffering resulted from her actions. She felt emotion welling up within her and resolved to making better decision in the future.

Leanhi took her leave and Senka followed her out. The Sidereal dropped her resplendent destiny in order to pass unnoticed. Senka followed her and recognized what she was. Sienna passed into the streets of Bastion and entered the grounds of a mansion. Senka could not follow and turned to leave, satisfied that she had learned the other woman's secrets. . Sienna entered the mansion, walked to the study, and spoke to the young woman there. "And how is my great granddaughter this evening…"

Moving across the roofs on her way back to Cinnabar, Senka realized she had forgotten who she was following and where they went…

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