Pausing on the rooftop and attempting to recall what she was doing, Senka spotted a rain of fiery flower petals raining down from the pulsing firestorm above Firewander. She hesitated for a moment, considering whether to call together the rest of her circle, but decided to make her way to the Wyld-touched district alone.
The district showed signs of the recent Wyld activity More of the dispossessed residence from deeper in the districted were packed into shanty-houses closer to the more respectable areas of the city. As she passed deeper into the district, signs of fire and destruction marked the empty streets. Unlike the cloud of smoke that had inhibited their passage in the past, the firestorm clung to the districts melted towers like a low cloud. Strange orange light filtered through the smoke, illuminating the streets.
Senka announced her arrival, "I come to see my niece or nephew, and passed beneath the smoke, and walked from streets to a thick forest, the canopy burning in slow motion, then shifting to fire-colored leaves. Before long, her keen senses alerted her to the presence of someone following tracking her movements. A small figure flitted between the trees. Senka allowed her stalker the illusion of stealth, letting the unknown follower believe she remained unnoticed.
Senka paused in a clearing, and a young woman emerged from the forest bearing a disk of fire. A circlet of flowers, thorns, and flames crowned her and she wore the armor of a warrior. Her strong jaw resembled Drac and her striking eyes resembled Lilac.
Senka greeter her politely. The girl looked inquisitively at Senka's mempo. Senka removed the mask and passed it to the girl, who had though it was the Solar's face. She held up the mask in front of her own face, then lowered it, revealing her visage changed to match the fearsome countenance of the demon-mask. She handed the mask back to Senka, laughing as her features slowly returned to their former beauty.
Senka told the girl that she was a friend of her father. The girl believed she was fathered by the Sun himself, and was curious to learn about him. She believed as the daughter of the Sun, it was her birthright to rule the city beyond the forest, or so her mothers told her. Soon she would ride out and claim her birthright. Senka tried to temper the girl's fervor to rule by might, suggesting that to offer a warming flame was better than to burn harsh. The girl agreed that there was wisdom to Senka's words.
The girl tilted her head, appearing to listen to an unheard voice coming from her shoulder. She lifted a hand to her petal-armored collar, and a white mouse with golden eyes and a sunburst in the fur on its back scurried into her palm. She gave the mouse to Senka, saying that it had advised her as a messenger from the sun, but now wanted to travel.
Before departing, Senka asked the girl's name, which she gave as Golden Hyancinth Dreams.
That night, sleeping in Genjo's household, Senka dreamed. She felt the presence of the Sun, who did not speak, but she could feel him watching over her.
The Circle shared breakfast with Genjo's family. In the midst of the meal, a Sijanese funerist appeared at the door asking for alms for the dead. The door guard tried to turn her away, but she persisted, asking to be allowed to join them for breakfast. Zakiti found her familiar, and so she was allowed to stay. The conversation was awkward, but she counseled the Solars to leave Nexus immediately to continue their pressing quest. They debated for some time, but eventually agreed that it was not their place to solve all the troubles of Nexus. Zakiti in particular wanted to act cautiously, recognizing that her past actions had not always been well considered and had not resulted in favorable outcomes. After breakfast, and a heartfelt farewell to between Genjo and his family, the set out.
Dawning Seaspray met the Solars at the Nexus pools with a lighter ship for the shallower Yellow River. Their course was no longer sped by the River Goddess, so the journey upriver was slow. Genjo fell into working with the crew of the ship, Senka continued her training, now under the observation of Sunny, and Zakiti took the opportunity to speak to Dawning Seaspray privately once again.
Zakiti asked about reincarnation, but Sienna did not have expertise on the topic. Zakiti revealed that she had seen visions and dreams of a Solar in the past, presumably Larquen Quen. She wanted the know the significance of the visions. Zakiti also told Sienna that the ghost of Quen had become the Mask of Winters. Sienna took note that the ghost of the ancient Solar had become a Deathlord.
Several days later, while Senka was practicing her form, Zakiti saw the mouse sitting on the ship's railing, watching her friend. She recalled an tale she had heard in her youth about the Mice of the Sun, who were messengers of the Unconquered Sun and delivered his vengeance to the unrighteous. Zakiti asked Senka about the mouse, who Senka was now calling Sunny. Genjo joined them, and Senka relayed her experience from Firewander with Hyacinth, who she assumed was Drac Ir's daughter by Lilac.
As they sailed through mist past shadowed shores, Genjo noticed a flock of dark shapes moving toward them. The shapes grew closer and a flock of raitons descended over the ship, circling and crying. Dawning Seaspray looked at the birds and said that they were sailing past the Walker's Realm, she suspected the raitons were his spies. She signaled her men, who opened fire on the birds with bow and sling. They shot down some, but the flock retreated past the shadowed banks of the river. With the creatures gone, she set her men to rowing hard away from the blighted shore.
Less than an hour later, a dark fog rolled out over the river. The superstitious sailors warded themselves from the spirits of the dead, whispering prayers over salt-crystal charms. In the darkness of the fog, Genjo spotted a sail. The pursuing ship slid out of the mist, moving closer to their vessel. With her spirit sight, Zakiti could see the ship was crewed by ghosts. Dawning Seaspray challenged her crew to row harder, and set their sail to get whatever advantage they could from the meager winds. Genjo took up two oars himself. With their efforts, the pulled ahead of the pursuing ship and after an hour, in faded back into the mists behind them.
That night, Zakiti dreamed. She was walking through maze-like corridors, but she knew the path. It was a safe place, a hidden place. She was their with the remnants of her circle. They irritated her, especially that zealot; so superior he though he was. Hah! Being a priest of the Sun meant nothing now. Still, he had his uses…
Genjo slept fitfully too. He awoke lat in the night, a figure sitting at the foot of his bed. He rose with a start, drawing his essence around himself, before he recognized his father's face in the darkness. Noburo's ghost greeted his son, and told him that he had been pulled from the the drowning waters of the Underworld by the Black Psychopomp. The death god wanted to speak to Genjo. They said their final goodbye, and Noburo vanished into the cycle of reincarnation.
Genjo woke his companions to ask about the Black Psychopomp, who Senka identified as another title for the Walker in Darkness. A black, lantern-lit ship appears in the night mists behind them, and Genjo convinces the others that the time has come to meet the Deathlord. Dawning Seaspray gives them the use of a small boat, and lowers them into the river, agreeing to meet in Great Forks if they are unable to catch up.
Genjo rowed their small boat toward the black ship. As they approach Zakiti could see the ship was pulled by dozens of ghosts hauling chains. Aboard the ship was a single warrior, clad in dark steel, and massive square-bladed daiklave strapped to her back. The warrior welcomed them aboard and ordered the ship pulled up a darkened tributary.
After several hours, they disembarked in a dismal blasted landscape. Zakiti informs them that they are in a Shadowland, and must leave it while the sun is in the sky if they are to avoid being trapped in the Underworld. Crossing the desolate landscape, they saw a crowd of statues sculpted fleeing along the road. Their faces showed terror and agony. Senka noticed that the eye etched into the dark warrior's blade seemed to stir as they passed.
They arrived at the ruins of Pyron with nine dark towers looming above the walls. Shackled ghosts pulled open the gates. A host of ghostly soldiers and officials was assembled to meet them and the assembly knelt as they proceeded toward the enthroned figure of the Walker In Darkness.
The Walker greeted them cordially and declared the Mask of Winters as their common foe, stating that a Deathlord should not seek to rule in Creation. They asked what he would do, and he told them he would cast the Mask of Winters into Oblivion if he could. They explained that they plan to bind his rival, and he agree that if they delivered him bound, he would see that the Mask of Winters was destroyed.
The Walker explained further that his emissary, Onmoraki to the Confederation of Rivers had not been allowed to speak before the assembly to carry his warning to the nations of the Riverlands. He asked that the Solars support him in securing the permission to speak.
The Walker summoned another of his servants, a pale woman clad in a wrapping of green ribbons, to lead them out of his land. As she delivered the Solars to the river, she warned them that the Walker in Darkness was an enemy of Creation and not to be trusted. Zakiti feels like she recognized the spray of stars in the woman's eyes. The woman said nothing further and the ghost-crewed ship carried them upriver towards Great Forks…