Having parted ways with her former handler and Solar companions, Smoke Orchid delayed the search parties as best she could, spreading rumors of sightings in the wrong parts of the Lookshy, causing discrete disruptions, and drawing attention to herself only when necessary. She eventually made her way to the docks, and sneaked aboard one of the Seventh Legion triremes setting out to pursue the smuggler that had tipped them off. From the ship, she saw the battle on the river from a distance. She saw the pillars of sunlight and fire, saw the ships break apart and sink, and watched the sunlight streak away across the river in the direction of Calin.
The Seventh Legion ships recovered the survivors of the river battle, then pursued. They landed in Good Harbor later that morning and the commander of the three ship expedition sent word to negotiate landing with the local authorities in Good Harbor. Smoke waited for an opportunity, and slipped away from the boat into the crowed, narrow, winding streets of Good Harbor.
She started asking around. Many had seen the streaks of light crossing the sky and disappearing somewhere slightly west of the sprawling port town. Eventually, she caught word of a young woman that matched Zakiti's description urgently seeking a healer.
Across the street, a voice whispered to a honey-haired woman. "There she is master, that's one of them."
Senka woke up hurting. Her hand felt like it was clenched too tightly and had been for a long time. The world came into focus. She was in a comfortable bed. She saw Genjo, and moved to push herself up. Her bandage-bound forearm pressed into the bed and she gasped in pain.
Genjo rushed help her up, and she stared where he hand should have been. "I lost it, didn't I?" Genjo tried to comfort her and told her Zakiti was out trying to find transportation upriver. Senka asked Genjo if he fought a boat, and he said that he supposed he did.
From across the street, a blond woman carrying a jug of rum and dressed for the sea swaggered toward Smoke Orchid. The woman greeted Smoke by name and declared that she had been looking for her and the others. She said that she had Senka's bow, and said they should all come see her at her ship Fortune's Favor on Golden Sails. Then she swaggered off.
Natually, Smoke followed her. She kept out of sight, and the woman made her way to the port, and boarded a sleek seagoing vessel. The crew showed her deference and she was greeted with an embrace from a large, well muscled man. Confirming that the woman appeared to be telling the truth, at least about the ship, Smoke slipped away to find the other Solars.
Zakiti knocked, then entered. She saw Senka cradling her arm with fresh blood leaking through the bandages. She moved quickly to her friends side, and started changing the bandage. Senka extended her arm to let her work and leaned on Genjo for support. She whimpered in pain as Zakiti applied salve and wrapped the stitched wound with a new bandage.
With Zakiti's work almost done, Senka spoke. She accused Zakiti of acting rashly and dragging them into an unnecessary conflict. She said the if Kaveh had been there to back her up, maybe they could have convinced the Dragon-Blooded to let them go. But Zakiti had driven him away too. She accused the sorceress of making decisions by herself that affected them all.
Zakiti defended herself, stating she was trying to intimidate them. Senka said Zakiti's actions made them look like the demons that the Immaculates claimed they were. Of course the Seventh Legion reacted with violence to threats. Lookshy was militarized society and they trained from birth to face all threats. Genjo sided with Zakiti, thinking the Seventh Legion had forced them to violence. Had they allowed themselves to be captured, who know what would have happened to them.
Senka despaired. How could she help them as an archer without a hand? “Is all you are an archer?” Genjo replied. “I think of you all as friends- family, and we need to do what we must to keep this broken family together." Genjo went on to speak of how each of them contributes beyond their simple roles.
A knock at the door interrupted the argument. Genjo opened it slowly, saw Smoke Orchid, and let her in. She went immediately to Senka and hugged her tightly. She comforted her and said they could probably attach her bow the way Smoke's chains were embedded in her arms. She told Senka that she could get her bow back, the tells them about the ship, and the presumable pirate captain who approached her. She also mentioned the Seventh Legion forces waiting for official permission to disembark and hunt for them. Since Zakiti had yet to find a ship, they decide to go meet the good captain.
They made their way to the ship without incident, Genjo helping Senka stay steady along the way. The saw the three Seventh Legion triremes still waiting to disembark on the opposite side of the harbor from the ship they sought. The captain was waiting for them on the dock beside her ship, five cups of rum on the table, which she filled as she greeted them. She said they'd been busy, and that they needed her ship, and that she had Treesplitter. She offered to help them in exchange for their help to her.
When they asked who she was, she responded "Identity is such a fickle thing." Genjo cut her off, "No, it's not." With that, she introduced herself as Dawning Seaspray. Her first mate fetched Treesplitter and presented it to Senka as a gesture of trust. Pressed for more information about the help she wanted from the Solars, she explained that she need help negotiating with a recalcitrant river spirit to find the location of an ancient war goddess. She gave them time to consult and boarded her ship.
Genjo, Zakiti, and Senka agreed that they didn't really trust her. Genjo said that should make the decision as a family, and asked for Smoke Orchid's input. They decided that they needed the help, and don't seem to have many options at the moment. They boarded the ship and Dawn ordered her crew to set sail. The ship slid into the river current and unfurled sails to catch the wind just as artifice armored soldiers began disembarking from the Seventh Legion ships. Senka saw Amilar Falling Brook leap to the dock as the soldiers began fanning out into the town.
They rested on the ship. Zakiti approached the still recuperating Senka, and apologized for provoking violence from the Seventh Legion forces and for the loss of Senka's hand. Senka told her the story of her upbringing, training, and second breath. She explained how she learned to follow a greater example in the Immaculate Order, how she learned to track the Anathema for her mother who lead the Wyld Hunt, how she murdered the children to flush out a crafty Solar. When the shining mark disappeared from the woman's brow, the light flared to brilliance within her, and she fled. She received no vision from the sun and felt her choosing was a curse. Zakiti took the tale in stride, and said that since her decision led to the loss of Senka's hand, she would make her a new one. Senka took the spirit of the offer, but said her time as an archer was done.
Genjo threw himself into shipboard work. The crew quickly came to admire his strength and exchanged stories with him as they worked. Smoke Orchid observed everything, and noticed that while Dawn was working with her crew, she occasionally paused and seemed to be listening to someone unseen. When she did, she seemed different, light the mask to a role she was playing had slipped.
A few days out from Good Harbor, Dawn invited them to breakfast. She explained more about her objective to find and restore Darunla, the ancient war goddess of the East who favored the Solars in ancient times. Smoke Orchid asked her why she wanted to restore the war goddess. Dawn's answer is unsatisfactory, but she implies that having such a powerful ally would also help them defeat the dead, which is a goal that she shares. To find Darunla, they needed to consult Melevashni Yanazee, goddess of the great river, who refused to appear in heaven or to speak Dawn or her peers. The River Temple was in Centak, only another day and a half upriver. The Solar agree to speak to the goddess on Dawn's behalf.
Shortly before arriving at Centak, Zakiti quietly confronted Dawn about her unseen counselor and found the captain a very different person with the personal of the captain gone. Rather than rum, she drank water, and she had none of the swagger she usually exhibited. Dawn confided in Zakiti, but told her that she wouldn't remember the conversation. The conversation was interrupted with a bump to the ship and they hastened to go see what was happening. Upon leaving, Zakiti only vaguely recalled that she had some conversation with the captain, an unsettling feeling for the usually sharp minded sorceress.
From the ship's deck, Smoke spotted a giant crocodilian shape passing beneath the ship. Another circled as Dawn steered the ship into Centak's harbor. Unlike the chaos of the many trade ports, or the military precision of Lookshy's docks, Centak had a feeling of serenity. The ships moved easily in the calm waters. The city itself was lush with growing things and channels of water bubbled alongside the roads. Low-arched bridges allowed passage across the channels, providing access to the cloisters, houses of healing, and other amenities offered in Centak. Above everything, a five-tiered ziggurat decorated with cascading waterfalls feed the city's flowing waters.
The Solars and the captain passed through the city, and ascended the ziggurat temple of the river goddess. The processed the tiers of the temple, offering the proper prayers at each station. At the apex, a single pool in front of a massive statue of Melevashni Yanazee. Genjo step forward and beseeched the goddess with prayer. Though he had never done so before, the words flowed easily and felt familiar. He stepped back, and the pool swirled, the form of the goddess rising from the waters.
Melevashni Yanazee greeted them, saying it had be a long time since on of the Solars had shown her such respect. Dawn cut in, asking for her help. The goddess was dismissive, saying that her kind, the Chosen of the Stars, were forgotten, banished from history. The goddess says she cannot be trusted and that the name the captain has shared is not her true name. The captain and the goddess bickered, and Dawn explained that she wouldn't have needed to come in person if the goddess had answered her petitions. Dawn tried to bargain, offering the name of Darunla as a token to the river goddess, but the goddess refused to work with her despite obvious interest.
Frustrated by the lack of progress, Smoke Orchid interrupted, asking them to both stop posturing. She called attention to Senka's pain and reminded them that they should be better. Melevashni asked Senka to place her arm into the water of the pool, which the Solar did. The water was cool and refreshing. For the first time in days, the knot of her clenched fist relaxed and the pain subsided. The bandage loosened itself and fell off. Senka pull her arm out of the water, reveling her wounds healed to smooth flesh, though still bruised and tender. She breathed easy for the first time since the battle on the river.
The goddess admits that Smoke's words had shamed them both and agreed to help. She said that Darunla had been carried to her sanctum and likely bound there on the Sandy River, between Laris and Velen. The goddess planned to speed their way as far as she could, and lamented that her domain was not what it once was. Dawn thanked her, gave her a shallow nod of a bow, and turned to depart. The others bowed more respectfully and followed the captain.
Shortly after, the ship was ready for departure. The slipped once more into the river current. Before they unfurled sails, the water of the river rose up churning, lifting the ship slightly. The water carried them as a swift current upriver. From the ship, they could see the churning current had a the shape of a crocodile. Buoyed by the goddess's power, their ship sped toward Nexus…