An Imperfect Circle

Session 17
New Journies

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

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Session 16
Flight on the Yanazee

The Solar Exalted waited for nightfall then slipped out into the streets of Lookshy. Smiling Lark lead them through side streets, alleys, and tunnels to avoid patrols and reach the docks. Smoke Orchid said she would misdirect any pursuers and meet them in Good Harbor, or further up river, then slipped away into the shadows. Smiling Lark deposited them outside a sailor's bar, two streets from the docks, and with a frown, asked them to complete there task to cast down the Mask of Winters so he would not have to regret his betrayal of the Seventh Legion. Senka promised not to let him down but he left with a frown.

Using their exalted gifts, the three made their way through the streets of Lower City.  Baolu was waiting for them with two sailors. Genjo approached while the others hung back and greeted his old friend. Baolu had arranged a smuggling ship for the circle that had agreed to take them to Good Harbor. Genjo offered to pay, but Baolu refuse, "For old times sake."

Seeing the exchange go well, Senka and Zakiti joined the men. They were dubious of the sailors, but after a brief exchange, seemed eased. They would depart with the tide in a few hours. Baolu offered to bring them all to a smoke house share their company until they had to leave. Genjo noticed peacekeepers and legionaries patrolling the streets where none had been in the previous days and whispered a warning to the others.

Baolu led them into a seedy hashish hookah bar. The proprietor greeted Baolu and gestured to his regular table. Time passed as they passed the pipe and Genjo and Baolu passed stories of their share childhood on the streets of Thorns, old friends, and criminal antics. Baolu always seemed to be the one getting Genjo into trouble, but always managed to haul him out again. As the tales turned to the Autocrat’s War, they took on a more somber tone. Despite the pressure of time and risk of potential capture, the air was comfortable. Genjo seemed the most relaxed he’d been since he last saw his family in Nexus.

Not sharing Genjo's ease, Senka got up to use the privy and took a look outside to see what waited for them in the streets. She saw continued patrols, and the soldiers wer stopping passersby at random. She urged the others to depart so they could make it to the ship on time while avoiding capture. She asked if there was a back door, and Baolu assured them he wouldn't make a regular haunt of a place without a back door. He grabbed Genjo in a bear-hug and wished them all a good safe journey.

They avoided the patrols, and the smuggler captain directed them into hidden compartments at the bow of the small ship.They waited, then heard the ship cast of and the creaking of the oars begin. Driven by nerves, Senka heard everything. Sometime after they past the harbor wall, with the rocking of the boat increased, she heard the echos of another boat passing through the water. An exchange of shouts ordering the smaller vessel to stop then their vessel stowed their oars. They all heard the wooded thunk of the other vessel coming alongside, and Senka warned the others to be quiet.

Flexing her hearing, she listened to the conversations on the deck and heard heavy booted feet pass onto their smaller boat. A voice she recognized as Amilar Falling Brook ordered the vessel search. The smuggler captain insisted he didn't know his cargo were the fugitives the Legion was hunting, and directed them to the smuggling compartments. Falling Brook directed his soldiers to search with caution, they did not know how dangerous these Anathema could be.

Senka told the others they could talk their way out rather than turning to bloodshed. She slowly emerged from the compartment and threw her bow to the ground. Half a dozen armored soldiers stood on the deck of the smaller ship. Archers stood ready on the forecastle and aftcastle of the Seventh Legion trireme, and more armored soldiers stood on its deck. Falling Brook kept his distance as she made her impassioned plea. They shared an enemy, they meant no harm to Lookshy, the knowledge they gained from the library would aid them in their shared fight against the Mask of Winters. Despite her worlds, the Dragon-Blooded was not swayed. He had orders to bring them in alive or dead, but they could plea their case before the Legion General Staff.

As they spoke, the others slowly emerged as well. Genjo added his voice. He did not want to fight them, but was more than capable. Falling Brook said he could not trust the words of demons. Thinking to add some threat, Zakiti spoke, "We're not demons, that's a demon." She gestured and her agata familiar materialized above the deck of the ship. "And that's an elemental," she said calling her greenmaw out of the essence of Creation.

At the site of the spirits, the soldiers took swift action, charging the green maw and hacking at it with their swords. The elemental struck back. Falling Brook drew his sword from it's sheath like a lightning bolt before resheathing it in a combat stance. Senka's attempt at peace had been shattered and she knew the price would be bloody.

Genjo looked at him and grimaced, "You have made a horrible mistake." He pulled his essence around himself, and launch his body at the other ship, cast mark gleaming and sunlight beaming forth. He hurled himself across the gap, and slammed into its hull at the waterline. The wood splinted, and he broke through, water gushing behind him.

Amilar Falling Brook darted forward trailing sparks as candle-like flames began to dance around him. Lightning fast, his sword leaped out at Senka, but her essence-fueled reflexes let her avoid the streaking blade, but just barely. Spinning away, the two foes repositioned, and Falling Brook sheathed his sword as part of the single smooth action of the strike. Zakiti dashed across the deck behind the clash, she scooped up Senka's bow, and tossed it to unarmed friend. With a flick of her wrist, she sent a dagger spinning toward Falling Brook, but the blade clattered off his armor.

His attention now drawn, the Dragon-Blooded stuck again, this time at the sorceress. Driven only by her essence Zakiti managed to roll free of the strike and avoid injury. Her demon landed, and she pulled herself onto its back. Falling Brook pursued he, striking at the grounded demon and forcing it back. Flames began to lick the deck around him, blackening the exposed wood. The demon desperately scuttled backward before being struck by some of the hail of arrows unleashed by the archers on the trireme.

With the demon retreating, Senka raised Treesplitter, ordering the Dragon-Blooded to back of. She fire and arrow, which he fail to cut from the air, and it struck him full in the shoulder, forcing him back a few paces to reassess his foe.

On the ship Genjo began to walk past the oarsmen, skin turning hard as diamond. Genjo shouted, telling them all that what was happening was a mistake. They took up blades and clubs and assailed the Solar, but he batted them aside as if they were nothing. He glowed with the brilliance of the noonday sun, and the four-armed figure of the Unconquered Sun appeared in his anima banner.

The agata struck at Falling Brook, forcing him back a step, and leaped into the air. Zakiti began drawing sorcery around her. She pulled deeply on her own essence, and the spirit jars in her pack rattled as she reaped essence from the bound ghosts, demons, and lesser gods. Obsidian shards formed in the air around her and the black butterflies swept across the two ships, shredding sails, rigging, and soldiers caught in their path. Falling Brook's reaper daiklave moved in a blur, deflecting dozens of the razor edged insects, but even his speed was not enough, and he was cut.

The surviving archers continue their volley, once again striking the agata who hissed in pain. On the ships deck, Falling Brook deftly turned to strike at Senka again. This time she was sent sprawling back, trying to recover her footing before the swordsman struck her down.

As Genjo strode through the oarsmen, he the water began to rise from the hole he entered through. Not wanting the sailors to die drowning, he shouted, "Get to deck!" He picked up a fallen man and carried him on his shoulder. The other oarsmen, though still terrified, follow his example and helped their fellows to get to safety.

Falling Brook stepped forward, ready to attack Senka once again. Reflexively, she poured essence into fueling her speed and her anima banner flared, a beast of nightmare with a fanged maw big enough to swallow a man whole. "Save you men while you can," she hissed as the blade streaked towards her, flames erupting around him.

She was not fast enough and the blade came toward her as a killing blur. At the last moment, she threw up her arm. The blade struck, between wrist and elbow. Agony shot through her and the world narrowed as shock set in. Everything seemed… so far away and the sounds of battle quiet. She saw her hand, still clutching Treesplitting arc through the air. The Dragon-Blooded sword hit her chest, slow by the bones and flesh of her arm, but still cutting her grievously. She screamed.

Zakiti shouted in horror, once again materializing shards of obsidian in the air around her. The deadly yet beautiful butterflies descended as a column, thunking into the burning ship. She leaped after them. The weight of their onslaught was too much, and the small ship broke apart. Zakiti hit the waves, the cool water shocker her.

Genjo came above deck just in time to hear Senka's scream and see the spray of blood. Two more warships were quickly approaching. He saw the pillar of butterflies fall onto Falling Brook, and watched the little ship begin to break apart. Acting quickly, he dash across the debris floating between the two sinking ships to catch Senka's unconscious form before she slipped into the waves.

Zakiti called to hear agata, climbed on herself, then helped Genjo get Senka into a secure position on the demon's back. Genjo climbed up behind her and the massive wasp speed out across the water filled with debris, bodies, and the sailors luck enough to survive. All three Solars were glowing still, but Genjo brightest of all. He shouted,  "We're not your enemies. This didn't have to happen."

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Session 15
In The City Of The Seventh Legion

After leaving another friend behind and securing an ambassadorial recommendation, the Solars completed their journey to Lookshy. They approached the tiered city through the main gates, flanked by statues of Nefvarin Gilshalos and Tien Yu. Smoke Orchid demanded they be admitted through the priority line. Zakiti was posing as the itinerant scholar Osprey Rampant with the others as her retinue. Senka adopted the name Red Sparrow, but the others used their usual names. When asked for their origins, Smoke Orchid said she was born in Thorns. The guards were slightly surprised to see a letter of ambassadorial recommendation, gave the document due diligence, and allowed the Solars to pass into the city.

Inside the gates, the company was very quickly stopped by peacekeepers, members of Pel Kan's Ordinaries. The peacekeeper asked their business, and guided them to lodgings that could accommodate their horses. As they walked through the streets, they observed that the locals all seemed to be direct in going about their business. Regular patrols of peacekeepers guided foreign visitors. The buildings were sturdily constructed and austere, and Genjo observed that each could be turned into fortress to support street-by-street fighting in the event of a siege. Zakiti notices that there were no destitute children or elders, as was be common in the trade districts of the Scavenger Lands.

They found their lodgings easily, and Senka and Smoke Orchid went to explore the Foreign Quarter. Smoke Orchid observed the city with new eyes. No longer was she bound by duty and purpose, and she noticed the small signs of pride and artistry that adorned the outwardly austere construction. Senka sussed out whether stories of their circle were common among local gossip, which they were not, and along with Smoke Orchid, got a sense of local politics. The political factions of Lookshy debated, as always, but much of their debate related to the Seventh Legion's disposition toward the Mask of Winters.

Genjo went to explore the Lower City. Lookshy's trade port was connected to the city proper by massive elevators and a series of switchback stairs and bridges. The district was much more like other ports of Creation, with raucous sailors swaying drunkenly through the street and fewer peacekeepers guiding traffic. Genjo learned that  Lower City was home to a contingent of Thorns refugees, and discovered one of his old friends,  Baolu, had escaped Thorns and made his home in Lookshy.

Baolu revealed that he had heard stories of Genjo's exaltation, and Genjo tacitly confirmed it. They discussed what happened after their escape, and what had happened to other members of their crew. Genjo was surprised to hear that  Yin-guan had cleaned up her act and was acting as a community leader for the refugees who had fled to Jiara.  Baolu said they she had expressed her fears that the Mask of Winters was going to attack Jiara next, and suggested that Genjo should go to protect the province. They concluded their walk along the docks, reminiscing about old times.

Zakiti explored, and discovered that their were relatively few shrines or small gods in the city. Smoke Orchid later explained that Lookshyan's were practical, and not particularly pious, and reserved their prayers for the greater gods who acted as patrons to the city and the Legion.

The next day, they begin the search for any records of the Fortress Invisible. They waited at the gates to the Scholars Quarter for a few hours before the officials interview them to ascertain their purpose. An extra scribe and two soldiers of the Seventh Legion observed the interview, which took almost another hour. Zakiti, as Osprey Rampant, was eventually admitted and her transit permit seal changed to green for a ten day period. Smoke Orchid heard a whispered exchange between the interrogator and the other scribe. Under the guise of looking for "Mistress Osprey's" calligraphy case, she went back into the interview room to spy on the note. She caught the quickly scrawled note, which said,  I may have found the people we are looking for – a scholar named Mistress Osprey has applied for entry to the scholar’s quarter.

Passing through the scholars quarter, they saw students, both local and from across the River Province, rushing about their business. There were fewer guards than in the foreign quarter, but those they spotted were Seventh Legion Regulars rather than mercenary peacekeepers. Passing by the walls and checkpoints to the Academy of Sorcery, they spotted a cadre of guards in heavy artifice armor; a marker that they were probably Dragon-Blooded.

The archive library was a four-story building set against the outer wall on the east side of the district. Monolithic columns supported a carved and painted pediment that depicted an ancient battle. They entered the portico and found a young scholar organizing books. Several copying stations were unattended. The young man did not register their arrival until Zakiti greeted him. He examined her papers, and asked them to wait for him to fetch Master Falling Brook.

Several minutes later, after Zakiti took a quick look at the books arrayed for copying, the assisted returned with a gracefully aging man in scholars robes with a blue jade reaper daiklave hung at his hip. He greeted them politely, introduced himself as Amilar Falling Brook, and inquired about their scholarly pursuits. They discussed the archive, and Falling Brook told them that for the last century, they had been working to create new copies of the libraries oldest volumes. Satisfied, he allowed them to enter the library proper.

The main chamber of the library was light from a multi-paned skylight that illuminated the tables and reading desks in the open central area. Four stories of tiered balconies lined with bookshelves housed the library's collection. An orrery depicting the journey of the Incarna through the constellations. A few other scholars quietly reviewed the ancient codecies of the collection.

Zakiti asked about an index of the oldest volumes, and the young scribe fetch the four volume index collection, which he lamented was from from complete. Zakiti began reviewing the index, and drew deep on her essence to fuel her search. She was stuck with a vision; she was a man in another library, placing a crystal in a reader. The index projected about him as patters of light as he searched for what he needed. The vision passed and she found herself pointing to the entry she was looking for: Known Strongholds of the Solar Exalted and Their Sealed Tombs.

While Zakiti reviewed the tome, Smoke Orchid patrolled the library, checking on Amilar Falling Brook and his assistant. Senka searched out ancient maps, and Genjo waited impassively. Finally, Zakiti found the reference that she was looking for, the name was wrong, "La'guin Ken", which galled her, but she was sure it was right. The Solar, called Abomination, fled far up the Yanazee to a tributary called the River of Sparkling Dawn, where he was believed to have a hidden citadel. They lost the trail when an earthquake shook the mountains near the river's headwaters. Senka compared the description to what she new of the eastern reaches of the River Province and to an early shogunate map in the library's collection. The rivers were no longer the same as they were in the map, or in the book, but she identified the tributary as the Rock River, which flowed through Greyfalls. The Mountains of Dawn, including the legendary floating Mount Metagalpa, formed the northern boarder of her home satrapy.

While they were examining the map, Smoke Orchid overhead a commotion outside the library. Over a hundred soldiers, with five Dragon-Blooded officers, were massing in the square and clearing pedestrians from the area. She could tell they were cutting off routes away from the archive library. She quickly went to warn the others, then went to look for alternative egress from the building.

While the Solars discussed their plans in excited whispers, Amilar Falling Brook approached to ask them about their search. He seemed to be growing suspicious and Smoke Orchid recognized the need for a distraction. Unwinding her chains, she lashed out at the orrery, unbalancing it, then used the other chain to shatter one of the windows. The orrery tilted, and with a sound of groaning metal, the spere representing Venus, Maiden of Serenity fell, shattering on the floor below. Master Falling Brook's reaction was immediate; his and went to the sword at his hip, ready to draw the blade in a flash, and he leaped to the second, and then fourth balcony. Smoke Orchid was barely able to hide herself in time to avoid him.

After finding nothing during his quick patrol, he rushed out the main entry to the library toward the waiting soldiers. The Solars took the opportunity to get to the roof. The soldiers poured in as the last of them pulled themselves onto the roof. Smoke Orchid used her knowledge of the city's layout to get them passed the patrols and checkpoints and back to the Foreign Quarter.

Knowing they needed help getting out of the city, Smoke Orchid agreed to try bringing them to her old contact. His house was in the Foreign Quarter, and he had a habit of reading on his balcony in the early evening. She waited for him to appear, and caught his eye. He nodded in recognition, and she lead the others through the secret entryway into his building.

The man, Smiling Lark, answered the door with a deep frown. He greeted Smoke Orchid, calling her Lia. He asked why she hadn't stayed away, and she confessed that she had for a while, but had good reason to be back in Lookshy. Senka stepped in to give a succinct account of their purpose. Smiling Lark asked if Smoke Orchid vouched for her, which she did. Smiling Lark said he could help them get out of the city, and would because of their mission, but would not be able to help them escape the Seventh Legion beyond Lookshy's walls. Genjo said Baolu would be able to smuggle them out by ship. Smiling Lark confirmed where the smuggler operated and Genjo sent him a note to be ready to have them on a boat to Goodharbor. They waited for nightfall, and set out to meet Baolu at the docks…

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Farewell to Drac Ir


Drac was right, his old mentor, the senior commander of the Triarchy’s elite forces was able to get them the access they needed. But the cost was high, and now the circle continued reduced to four once again.

The journey up the Grey River was uneventful. They booked passage on a barge, but their accommodations were not as luxurious as those Kaveh had got for them in the past. About a week into the journey, they helped fight off a band of river pirates, and in revealing their prowess, the crew became wary of them. The barge-master, a guild merchant, invited them to dine with him and say aboard his personal barge and the shrine-barge to keep them away from the now wary crew. The rest of the river trip passed uneventfully.

They arrived in Varsi, purchased horses, and made their way through the rolling valleys lined with the tea plantations that made the realm famous across the Scavenger Lands. In the city of Varsi, Smoke Orchid spent an evening walking the familiar streets. On their way out of town in the morning, she left a large sum at a small bakery, saying that it was to repay past kindness. Genjo was please to find small communities of Thorns refugees who had found a place as artists and performers for the sorcerer princes. 

Upon passing into Puyo, Drac’s demeanor lightened, and he told stories about his service in the Triarchy’s cavalry. He spoke of the open plains and jagged crags of his homeland. Of his right of passage, capturing and breaking one of the wild horses that roamed the open country. He spoke of his time hunting horse bandits, and of his service in the Autocrat's War where served with distinction and earned a place as a captain of the Triarch’s honor guard. His new role lead him to Rasa Ha, and he told his circle about their romance. He speculated about the woman who shared her face that they had fought in Great Forks, and wished to find her again someday to understand what had become of her.

Drac’s familiarity with the land let them pass across it quickly. They descended into the great canyon that hosted Puyo City, and Drac lead them through the winding caverns up into the city’s catacombs. Knowing he may be recognized, he asked Zakiti to deliver a letter to his old mentor, Jing Bu. The old veteran agreed to meet. Drac assured Jing that he had not killed Rasa, and that she may still be alive. He explained their need for access to the archives in Lookshy, and asked Jing to speak to the ambassador from Lookshy on their behalf.

Jing said that meeting with the ambassador would take time and he had a critical mission to carry out in Puyo’s defense. The tales Drac had heard about the dead attacking Puyo were no exaggeration. Along the border with Thorns, hungry ghosts ravaged range towns, skeletal soldiers had skirmished with the local garrisons, and rumors of dark champion of the dead had started surfacing. The Triarchs feared that the figure was a Deathknights of the Mask of Winters.

Drac insisted that the threat was beyond something even the might of Puyo’s elite could handle. He said that as one of the Chosen of the Sun, it was his destiny to lead the fight against the darkness, and he would not hesitate to defend his homeland. He asked Jing to stay in Puyo City to meet with the ambassador and to try to clear his name so he could lead openly once again. Jing agreed, believing Puyo had no greater champion than Drac Ir.

Drac told the others that his greatest duty was to defend his homeland. Still not entirely clear about Rasa's survival and newfound power, he asked the other Solars to be watchful for her. He asked them to detain her if they could so they could ascertain what she had become and her true motivation.Their battle in Great Forks had been a misunderstanding, and he did not believe that she was an agent of the Mask of Winters as Onmoraki had suspected. He wanted her brought to Puyo, so he could see the truth for himself.For now, he would lead the fight against the dead assailing Puyo. When the time came to ride against the Mask of Winters, he would be ready to ride with them.

The other Solars were sorry to let Drac go, but saw no other way to get what they needed without delay. They wished him well, and Senka told him to take care of himself and promised that if she could, she would see that his child by Lilac was carried for. Genjo told him that they would need him for the battle that lay ahead.

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Session 14
Truth and Demons

Smoke Orchid woke up from uneasy sleep in her small Bastion apartment to the sound of close thunder and shouts in the street. Quickly alert, she moved to the window, and saw guards of the Bronze Executioners fleeing down the street from the vicinity of the Great Forks Gate. At the edges of her vision, that night shadows seem to squirm uncomfortably. To get a better vantage point, she slipped out the window and onto the roof, sticking instinctively to the shadows.

Dancing through the main gateway to Nexus, she saw a strange procession. An ebon-skinned woman led the procession. She was naked, with hair the color of fresh blood. Silver bells jangled in her hair, which moved unnaturally as if floating in waters. She danced to the booming of arrhythmic drums. She threw back her head, lifting her lithe, muscular arms above head and clashing he sickle-curved hunting blades together, lightning flashing across the sky in time to the striking of the blades. The rain hissed steaming of her skin and she left burning footprints where she stepped.

The procession host were shadowy figures. Their skin was black as their mistress and their eyes burned red like embers. Each bore a tall pole, hung with a banner, and topped with a tube-like glass kite, which emitted a keening wail in the wind of the storm. The keening set Smoke Orchid on edge, and she had to steel her will to stop herself from fleeing or cowering in terror. Behind the banner bearers, cyclopean drummers loomed, beating massive metal drums in a mad pattern without coherent rhythm. The procession did not deviate from their path, and despite those who fled or cowered before them, they did not seem bent on destruction.

*

Outside the Astrologer's palace on the Parko Llana, Drac, Genjo, Senka, and Zakiti stood sheltered from the unnatural storm. Zakiti recognized the storm and squirming shadows as signs of the demon huntress Zsofika. She asked if any of the others thought they might be hunted by the demon. None of them had reason, and Senka asked if Zakiti had reason to be hunted herself. With a sinking feeling, she realized that the huntress could have been sent for her from the sorcerers of the House of Thirty Seals in her home city of Nathir. With a whisper, she called her agata familiar, which lifted her into the sky for a better view.

*

Following the procession below, Smoke Orchid saw a shimmering light rise from the top of Cinnabar. She could not see the figure clearly in the rain, but saw the woman leading the procession cast her gaze to the light as well. The light quickly dropped from the sky, and the dancing huntress gaze dropped with the light. The procession continued through the streets, making its way toward the illuminated point at the top of the hill. Smoke Orchid moved rapidly across the roofs to beat them to their destination.

*

Zakiti saw Zsofika's gaze, and dropped back to the street level. She urged Drac to climb onto her unnatural steed so she could carry him to his horse. They agata carried them both, staying low and zipping through the streets toward Drac's stable. Smoke Orchid observed their passage, followed shortly by Genjo and Senka.

At the stable, Drac entered, paid the groggy stablehand, and quickly saddled his horse. Genjo and Senka arrived, Senka purchased a horse, and the Solars set out to escape the city before being confronted by the demons. Genjo rode behind Zakiti on the agata. As they past, Smoke Orchid shouted a warning that the demons were only a few streets away, and heading their direction. Started, Zakiti pulled a knife, but need not throw it as she sped by.

They encountered the procession at the next crossroads. Zsofika stopped, marking the moment with another clash of her blades. The procession streamed past her, leaving a path for her to walk between their columns. The Exalted steeled their will against the keening of the kite-flutes. Genjo jumped from the agata and rushed into the oncoming horde of ember-eyed standard bearers.

As the host approached, the Smoke Orchid noticed that the rain itself fell in sheets in time to the drumming. The demons too, she thought, moved in time to the arrhythmic pounding. She moved into position atop the building over the drummers, and leaped down on them, lashing out with her fighting chains. She severed the hanging cords, and the drums tumbled, clattering against the ground. The rain lost its synchronization and the demons fell out of step with each other.

Senka's horse panicked. She was thrown, but landed deftly on her feet. The music and the storm were comforting to her, calling to a place deep within her. She looked to Zsofika, and followed the huntress's gaze to Zakiti. She shouted a warning, and drew a arrow, preparing to defend her friend as Zsofika began a preternaturally fast and sinuous advance toward the sorceress. She attacked, lightning quick, leaving Zakiti off balance and at the mercy of the demon huntress. Zakiti tried to strike back, hurling the knife she still held in her hand, but as Zsofika spun, her hair pulled her from the blade's path.

Drac charged through the host, and the retreated around him, leaving a path for his horse to pass. He turned, and prepared for another pass through the host. Smoke Orchid ran through the host, striking another of the great drummers before disappearing onto the roof of a low building.

Exulting in her dominance, Zsofika pirouetted around Zakiti. She paused momentarily to lock eyes with Senka, and whispered into the wind of the storm. The mad gusts carried her words to Senka, and Senka knew the words were true. "Stand back, daughter." Senka's hand went limp, dropping the arrow she had nocked to Treespitter's string, her golden eyes wide behind her half-mask. Zsofika completed her pirouette, and began the Dragon Fang Dance. She leaped into the air, and brought her blades down toward Zakiti for a killing blow. With a blur of iridescence, the agata whisked Zakiti from harms way. Zsofika's blades struck the ground, gouging deep scores into the cobblestone street.

As the procession host continue to pour forward, Genjo spun, kicking one of the banner bearers, and seized his pole. He vaulted fist-first over the host to Zakiti's aid, fist connecting with Zsofika. He knocked her back a pace and interrupted the graceful flow of her hunting dance. Her burning golden eyes, predatory and bird-like, locked with his momentarily before she turn to face Senka who began shouting over the storm.

"A mother is more than just blood, more than the cunt you fall out of. A mother soothes a broken heart; eases your soul. She disciplines you hard, byou you still know she loves you. I have a mother, and she SURE AS HELL ISN'T YOU!" As she shouted, she plucked an arrow of light from her chest, her form blurring with the might of her anima, and drew on Treesplitter's power. The arrow flew true, striking Zsofika in the abdomen with a sound of shattering brass. She immediately drew a second arrow of light, firing again with killing intent and staggering the demon huntress.

The horde pressed in around them all, but Drac charged through them again, thinning their number. Smoke Orchid aided his effort, continuing her rapid strikes from cover against the drummers.

Trying to turn the momentum of the battle, Zsofika struck at Genjo with words and blades. "You family fears what you have become." She struck with her blade a moment later, and Genjo parried with his forearm. A thin line of blood tricked down his arm where the blade struck, the first time he had bled since his Exaltation. 

Zakiti's agata dove down to attack, stricking with claw and stinger. Zsofika ignored the attack, relying on her still hard skin to protect her from the lesser demon. The blazing heat of striking Zsofika's body burned the agata, and it screamed in agony. Drac jumped from his horse and struck with his glaive. His blade stuck sparks of Zsofika's skin, but she seemed unfazed by the blow.

Fueled by his rage and anima blazing, Genjo hit Zsofika with a mighty two fisted blow to the head. She flew backward, slamming into the nearby build in leaving scorch marks on the wall. He blades clattered to the ground and her dancing ceased. Desperate, she pounced at Zakiti, claws raking the air, but she fell short of the swift agata. She landed, crouching and swaying to the music, clawed hands raised and ready to protect herself.

From the back of her agata, Zakiti began to shape the essence around her. Her anima blazed as motes of light solidified into glittering obsidian shards. The jars in her pack rattled as she pulled essence from the bound spirits within. The cascade of obsidian butterflies poured down around her, shattering as the struck Zsofika and the street around her, gouging flesh and stone alike.

Zsofika screamed and lightning light the sky as she turned molten and melted away into nothingness. Her kite-flute banner bearers likewise slumped, and melted into shadows and then nothing. The rain ceased, and the light of the early morning sun began to illuminate the eastern sky.

The Solars looked at each other and took a moment to breath before they realized a crowd, no longer terror-bound by the keening of the kite-flutes, was beginning to gather around them. The stared at the glowing Solars and whispered. Zakiti took Genjo onto her agata again, and flew out over the city, asking the other to meet them on the road out of Nexus. Drac drew the crowd's attention, telling the tale in great detail about what had come to pass. Smoke Orchid and Senka disappeared into the crowed. At the end of the story, Drac mounted his horse, and rode out to meet the others.

*

The Solar Exalted finally breathed easy when the past the black statues that marked the borders of Nexus beyond the walls of the great city. Smoke Orchid, who had been traveling introduced herself to the others, and they shared their names with her. Senka briefly explained how they had ended up on the path to Lookshy in hopes of finding information to possibly defeat the Mask of Winters.

Smoke Orchid interupted, "I know the Mask of Winters." Genjo responded gravely, "What does that mean?" The young woman rubbed the base of the chains embedded in her wrists and replied. "I know the mask of winters, and you don't need to convince me to work against him." Genjo smiled, and said her company would be welcome.

They agreed that the archives of the 7th Legion would be the most likely place to find record of the Fortress Invisible. Drac said he had contacts in Puyo who could arrange permission to access the archives. The others agreed, and planned to go south on the Grey River, travel overland through Varsi, and back to Drac's homeland.

Turning back to the road, Smoke Orchid said to her newfound companions, "Shall we go?"

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Session 13
Before the Storm

The Exalted departed the ancient courthouse with Five Days Darkness. The wyld firestorm that had long been held at bay by the binding enchantments was already lapping closer to the entryway. The mosaic mandala that had graced the square was already half-scorched into nothing. As they thought about braving the flames once again as they had done when they entered Firewander for the first time, Drac approached the flames and called out to 1000 Lilac Cascade. While she did not appear, the fires began to part before him, pulling away like a great curtain as he drew closer. The others followed closely in his wake.

Beyond the wall of flames, they found a glade of brilliantly flame-colored trees. Standing at the center, with eyes cold as autumn nights, was a sharper reflection of Lilac. Rather than the flowers adorning luscious naked curves, leaves layered like living lamellar wrapped around her. Drac's attention was fully engage by the Fair One who looked so much like Lilac. Amidst the trees, the others noticed small, hunched bramble goblins like small bare twisted trees.

"I am Delightful Three Ways Thistle Crusade and you pass through my domain without my approval."

Zakiti stepped forward to negotiate, saying that Lilac had guided them through the Wyld before and asking what price they might pay for Thistle to grant them they same boon. Thistle demanded Drac's blood be spilled on the ground in sacrifice to her. Drac readily agree, hoping it would draw him closer once again to Lilac. The others negotiated to ensure his safety and the price was agreed. Kaveh watch the proceedings in stunned bemusement.

Before Thistle stepped forward to slake her thirst, Senka asked why she wanted Drac's blood. Thistle demanded payment for that knowledge. Senka gave up a pendant symbol of the Immaculate Order, the only thing she had left as a tie to the woman she considered her mother. Thistle insisted that she not share the information with Drac and the other. She stepped close to Senka and a wind picked up, rustling the leaves and obscuring her words to the others.

"I will spill his blood on the ground, I will use it to cultivate my children that they may grow strong, I will drink deeply of it's sweetness that I may taste the might of the Sun. And I will give it to my sister so that the Suns seed within her grows bright."

Satisfied that Thistle would not do lasting harm, the others stepped back to let Drac pay the blood-price of their passage. Thistle stepped uncomfortably close, and before Drac could complete a step back, she reached out quick as the wind and grasped the back of his head, her sharpened fingernails digging into the back of his scrap. He felt blood trickle down his neck as vines rose from the ground to entwine him and slip beneath his armor. Thorns raked across his and his blood flowed down his arms, pooling in his palms and leaving them sticky. A few minutes passed as Thistle enjoyed her deliberately slow feast. Finally she withdrew and the vines with her, leaving Drac to stubble back woozy from the blood loss. Flush with sanguinity, Thistle licked the remaining fluids from her fingertips and departed them.

A single twisted treeblight goblin passed and hissed impatient to lead them while Zakiti bound Drac wounds. She saw the vines had left sear traces of sorcery and would likely leave a permanent mark. With no further obstacles barring their path, the treeblight lead them through the ever-warping landscape and deposited them in the streets of Firewander. The wall of smoke and fire consumed their guide and closed behind them like the sweeping in of the tide. Distant thunder rumbles, like heat lightning moving in from the east.

With his promise to Genjo to help open the vault complete, Kaveh bid the others well on their travels. Senka wished him safe travels, and Genjo and Drac echoed her sentiment. Zakiti remained silent. Five Days Darkness bid him well as a fellow shadow. As he departed, the others began to head for the Astrologer's Palace by the Parko Llana.

Zakiti urged the others to go ahead, and slipped into a quiet alleyway to release Tul Wan. She asked about his relationship with the River Whore and he revealed that she was his consort and she served his desires. Zakiti tried to warn him about the goddess's influence, but Tul Wan scoffed dismissive, calling her a mere yearling sorcerer and melting like ink into the streets of Nexus.

Zakiti rejoined the others as they reached the palace. The night breezes held a taste of the coming storm and they hear more thunder rolling down river toward the city. The attendants showed them in, glancing a the god accompanying them, and ask them to wait in one of the reception halls for the Astrologer to see them. Food and drink are provided for their refreshment. Five Days Darkness makes a great show of truly enjoying the food and drink, the first, he says, in over a millennia.

Still light-headed, Drac speculates that with the blood and other bodily fluids, the Raksha may be using it to make some kind of copy. Senka says that's exactly what happens when a man sticks it in a woman.

Senka confronts Zakiti about her actions against Kaveh, saying that this kind of thing can't happen between them. Zakiti deflects, once again deeming it necessary and insisting it was the right thing to do. Genjo cuts in, saying that each of them are people of strong conviction, and those convictions are bound to conflict at times. Five Days Darkness cautions them against turning on each other, as they have enemies aplenty in Creation. Senka and Genjo agree that they need to be open with each other in the future. Zakiti contained trying to justify her actions, but the Astrologer's arrival cuts the conversation short.

They introduce Kratz to Five Days Darkness, who again calls her a Vizier. They tell her that he knows about the Mask of Winters, and call him the ghost of Larquen Quen. She says she recognized the name as one of the Solars who escaped the slaughter of the Dragon-Blooded. At her words, Zakiti had a brief but disorienting visions of escaping into the night, her palace burning around her. She remains quiet about her visions.

Kratz asks Five Days Darkness if all the Deathlords are the ghosts of ancient Solars, and he confirms that they are. Genjo asks how she knows about them, and she explains that some among her order have undergone great risk to travel in the Underworld and learn what they could of the thirteen lords who claim to rule it.

Five Days Darkness explains more about Larquen Quen, saying that he was cruel and arrogant. In the end, he turned on his circle mates and was callous toward his Lunar mate. Genjo asked what a Lunar was and Senka said that as they are the chosen of the Sun, Lunars are the chosen of the Moon and that they are shapeshifters. Zakiti said Aycus was a Lunar and Genjo asked why she hadn't said so at the time. With an air of superiority, she replied that he hadn't asked.

Five Days Darkness says that Quen fled to the Fortress Invisible, and died their after killing his circle mates. Zakiti asks what would make him do that, eliciting a response of hubris. The storm continued to close in over Nexus, and Senka felt herself drawn toward the window to watch the lightning and feel the wind.

Zakiti realized that as a Ghost, the Mask of Winters could be bound, and the bones of Larquen Quen would be a powerful tool in doing so if they could be recovered. Five Days Darkness laments that he does not know the location of the Fortress. Kratz suggested that the Embalmers or ancient ghosts of Sijan may have records that could point them in the right direction or they could potentially find clues in the annals of the 7th Legion in Lookshy. She says that Denandsor or Spirimen might also hold records, but both are further away and fraught with other dangers.

They agree that they will need to consider their next path. They agree to reconvene within a few nights. Since the Solars worked so diligently to open the vault as she asked, Kratz offers to grant them whatever boon they ask for within her power. They say they will ask if they have a need. She offers to host Five Days Darkness in her palace but says it would be better if the Solars did not stay there lest others discover them.

*

As the Solars step out into the night, the first fat raindrops fall in the dusty streets of Nexus. They hear the thunder, at the city now, and lightning clashes overhead. The wind whistles, and in it, they hear a harsh, keening wail. The shadows squirm. Senka feels alive, filled with the energy of the storm. And Zakiti recognizes the storm and the keening wail as being the heralds of Zsofika's sacred hunt.

*

Outside the gates of Naxus, a woman dances toward the city through the storm, silver bells woven into her braided red hair. They jangle in time with the erratic steps of the dance. The raindrops make her bare charcoal-black skin slick as they storm washes over her. Every tenth step of the dance, she clangs her wicked sickle-shaped blades above her in perfect time to the lightning.

Around her, a host of dark forms with burning ember eyes bear her kite-flute standards; hollow tubes of glass that whip in the wind, emitting a keening wail. Great drummers beat their instruments in time to the rain, and the host draws closer…

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Session 12
The Five Days Darkness

At the gates of Firewander, Zakiti performed the ritual prayer to summon Tul Wan and peer into the spirit world to see his approach. She was surprised to see the River Whore following sinuously beside him, he lips stained black with ink. Tul Wan looked somehow taller and more gaudily decorated. The River Whore thanked Zakiti for the prayers in her name, pulled her hands from beneath Tul Wan's robes, and departed.

Tul Wan ordered them to take hands and follow him, leading the Solars through a winding series of streets until a doorway opened up into the courthouse of Hallow at the center of Firewander. The Solars could see the plaza was now scorched and the heat of the flames was somehow stronger. Tul Wan shuddered, and asked Zakiti to store him for safe transport out of the accursed place. She opened one of her spirit jars, and he flowed inside.

The Solars descended to the vault chamber and Zakiti once again examined the doors, mandala, and five statues around the room. Senka pointed out that the broken statue seemed to have some working of artifice within, and feared they may come to life. In a moment of frustration, Zakiti had a vision of the past. She was frustrated, unable to understand the working before her. How could her mentor expect her to solve a puzzle where nothing was visible? Essence moved within her and blossomed as a third eye, revealing the sorcery before her…

Zakiti opened her eyes, breath rapidly, and saw the sorcery before her; the ancient and powerful bindings of the mandala and the door, and a second pattern, drawing from the power of the first, and flowing into the statues. As the Solars took their places in the mandala, Zakiti prepared to redirect the energies from the statues.

When Kaveh took the final place in the mandala, each of them felt their essence swell within them, setting their caste marks glowing. The mandala and the doors began to glow with bright, golden light. An apparition, the outline of a woman in the light of the setting sun appear and spoke. She spoke the language of spirits and gods, but all the Solars understood her words. "The Deliberative has sealed the Five Days Darkness within. Withdraw or speak the words of unbinding." Genjo asked what the Deliberative was, but the apparition repeated her message. As she spoke, Zakiti seized the sorcerous energy flowing into the statues and twisted one to her will, cutting it off from the others.

The three remaining statues lurched to life. The first charged at Genjo, who drew on his essence to harden his skin and crossed him arms to parry the incoming blow. The force of the blow skidded him back across the floor, but he remained unphased. Across the circle from him, Senka drew on Treesplitter's might, firing an arrow that punched a hole though the statue charging at her. Drac and Kaveh moved to intercept the final statue.

Zakiti reached out to call her familiars and leaped into the air catching her agata's saddle. Materializing for the first time since its summoning, a greenmaw appeared and slammed itself into the statue knocked back by Senka. The green maw opened its mouth wide, preparing to devour the statue, but the construct wedged its arm in the elemental's toothy maw, parrying the attack. Senka and Zikiti continue their assault against the statue with arrow and throw dagger.

Genjo centered himself, preparing for a mighty blow with his fist. His anima began burning with the orange light of the noon sun. As the statue facing him began to strike, so did he, their fists meeting. The force of the combined blow sent out a shockwave, kicking up dust and debris. That statue went flying backwards, slamming into the wall. Behind him, a line of darkness spit the orichalcum doors as they began to slide open. Genjo surged after the statue, seizing its leg and twisting around to slam it into the ground, shattering it.

Drac and Kaveh finish of their opponent, Kaveh distracting it and Drac stepping in for the killing strike. The greenmaws tongue shoots out, wrapping around the statue as Zakiti and Senka continue their assault. Zakiti overbalances from her throw, and slips from the saddle of her agata, catching herself by the straps. The greenmaw reeled in the statue, and chomped down on it, beginning the long process of digesting the ancient metal.

With the final statue destroyed, the sorcery slowing the opening of the doors fail, and a wave of darkness emanated as the doors slid smoothly open. The light faded from the mandala, from the doors, and from the burning hieroglyphs coving the walls within the chamber beyond the door. In the center of the sealed chamber, a four-arm man made of darkness stood with his arms outstretched. The Solars who had received visions of their patron though the figure shared the bearing of the Unconquered Sun. Around him, five small statue-alters bore his panoply; a scepter, a staff, a circlet, a cape, and a sword. At the base of the alters were prayer-beads, sacred mirrors, offerings of incense and other holy offerings.

The figure lowered his arms and spoke in perfect Rivertongue, "I am the Five Days Darkness, and I have not existed for a very long time." After a few moments of silence, Genjo asked why he was locked away and the Darkness responded saying that the ancient Solars thought he was dangerous. He explained that he was the Sun's shadow and could not exist in His presence. They explained that they hoped he could help them, and he said he had understood, for he had dreamed the Sun's dreams. They asked if he could help them against the Mask of Winters in the freeing of Thorns. He call the Deathlord the ghost of Larquen Quen, said that he never liked him. Finally, the Darkness agreed to meet with Kratz, who he called a vizier, and urged them not to trust.

The Solars prepared to depart Firewander back through the Wyld, which was even now beginning to creep inward toward the courthouse…

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Session 11
Old Friends, New Enemies

On the river barge journey back to Nexus, Kaveh approached Senka for information to ask her about how she new about him and what else he knew. To get her attention, he led with "Hey assassin…", then asked his question. Incredulous with his greeting, Senka replyed, "Hey assassin? That's not a nice way to make a request. You have to start with something like Nice night for an evening", as she shield her eyes from the midafternoon sun. Kaveh repeated his request, and Senka asked him what the the information was worth to him. He paused for a moment, declared she was right and the information wasn't worth anything, and walked away. 

*

Upon arriving to Nexus, they made their way to the tenement home of the Thorns refugees in Nightside. The first man who saw Genjo had a grim expression on his face, and immediately went to get Hira. She was in a state of distress – the children had been taken by dragon-blooded from the Realm. She described the dragon-blooded; an elegantly woman, a finely dressed man with a well trimmed goatee, and a heavily armored body guard. They took the children, and demanded that Genjo bring Kaveh to their townhouse in Cinnabar.

Genjo's anger at his children's capture turned outward in an aura of intimidation that parted the crowds has a moved through the streets of Nexus. The other Solars followed in his wake, greatly speeding their passage through the city. At the townhouse, Senka climbed up to a rooftop overlooking the courtyard, and Zakiti disappeared into the shadows to follow the group in. The guard and the dragon-blooded's townhouse said he would announce there arrival, but Genjo intimidated his way into through the door.

Genjo was surprised by the scene he found in the courtyard. The elegant woman sat sipping wine and reading a book. Nearby, the heavily armored man, with a jade-studded tetsubo, sat across a table from Genjo's son Roko, a game of regicide set between them. The two dragon-blooded start at the unannounced arrival. They both stand, and the big man rolls his shoulders to loosen the the tetsubo slung across his back. Genjo went immediately to his son, who leaped up to greet him.

Kaveh recognized the woman; she was V'neef Lohlyn, his former lover. She greeted Kaveh as Ragara Kaveh, and said she was glad to have found him. He asked how she did it, and she said after hearing rumors coming out of the Scavenger Lands, she went to Nexus, sure that the trade city is where he would go. The scheme with the gar root as a fashion item from the Lap lead her to Genjo's family, and then to Kaveh.

Genjo interrupted their reunion, demanding the release of his children. Lohlyn assured him they had been kept safe and in the best of comfort, far greater comfort than the Nightside hovel where they had been living. Genjo grew further enraged, and demand his daughter be brought to him immediately. Lohlyn said she was safe with her brother but in a different location. She did not think Kaveh had become a demon, but she need insurance. He browbeat her into sending for her brother immediately. She sent one of the soldiers and Zakiti followed.

Kaveh explained that he was not who she remembered. He hastened to add that he was not a demon. He explained that he had made a deal with Madame Marthesine, and she had taken his memories of his family. Who he was had been lost with those memories.

She revealed her intentions when Kaveh asked. She said that she and her House could help him and his companions avoid the attention of the Realm and the Wyld hunt, and when the time came, she would ask for their help securing her House's position in the struggle to seize the throne of the Realm. She did not expect her house to be dominant, but she wanted them to be throne-makers and be part of the power behind the throne. Kaveh said he didn't see why he should help her since he didn't want to rule the Realm and didn't want to get involved with the struggle.

As the conversation continued, Senka leaped down from her rooftop perch. Lohlyn was startled, as was her body guard, who stood whirling and taking his jade weapon to his hand. Senka smiled and Kaveh said she was with them. Genjo turned to his son being held in his arms, gestured to the bodyguards reaction, and said, "Roko, see that? That is fear."

Things settled and Senka, Kaveh, and Lohlyn began discussing possibilities. Perhaps House V'neef could aid the liberation of Thorns, and use the support and prestige gained to make their bid for power within the Realm. Lohlyn presented a scenario where a young dragon-blooded officer united her loyal legions the forces of the Confederation of Rivers to drive the dead from Thorns. Much like the Empress did centuries before, she could use a great victory to propel herself to the throne. All this would be done with House V'neef's backing and the secret support of the Solars. House V'neef would lead efforts in rebuilding Thorns, granting them a place of prominence in that satrapy.

Senka presented an alternative; along with that dragon-blooded officer road a Solar general, clad in orichalcum. He fights valiantly beside her, aiding and advising. In the end, the Solars too could be presented as heroes, and maybe, she said, "we can prove that we're the gooder evil." Lohlyn said that would take careful planning, but was an intriguing possibility.

While his companions talked to Lohlyn, Genjo allowed his son to continue his game with the bodyguard, Unbroken Anvil. Anvil laid a trap on the board for young Roko, sacrificing one of his pieces. The boy took the bait, and Drac recognized that it was only a matter of a few moves before Roko lost the game. Drac suggested ending the game, but Anvil insisted on letting it play out so Roko could see what had happened. After winning, Anvil passed along the sage advice to look beyond what your opponent wants you to see to discern his true intention. Genjo agree, telling his son that while his master was an idiot, Anvil was clearly a man of wisdom.

V'neef Sylus, Lohlyn's brother, arrived with Sadako, Genjo's daughter. She was dressed in fine clothing walking arm-in-arm with the handsome dragon-blooded. She seemed happy in a way that Genjo hadn't seen in a long time and she was happy to see him. She started to tell him about her time with Sylus and Lohlyn, but Genjo didn't not want to hear about it and said it was time to go. Lohlyn asked that they think about her offer. Genjo lead his children from the townhouse and the other Solars moved to follow him out.

Kaveh was last to leave, and Lohlyn stopped him quietly saying,  "And Kaveh… I did miss you."  He replied, "I think I missed you too," and walked out of the townhouse courtyard.

*

On the walk home, Sadako started talking about how good a time she had with the House V'neef dynasts. Genjo cut her off saying they were dangerous and urging caution. Sadako became angry, saying she was tired of living in squalor and this was how things were supposed to be. Genjo replied angrily saying that he was giving her what he could and getting her an education. She shouted back, "No you're not, you're not even here!" That deflated Genjo, and he apologized. "You're right, I'm sorry I can't be here for you and give you the life you should have. I'm doing what I have to to protect all of you."

Back at Genjo's, Hira was overjoyed to be reunited with her children. She apologized to Drac for being a poor host, and said she had a message for him. The message was a sealed letter from Rinriven Dai, who said he had news for Drac and asked him to come at his convenience. 

Kaveh spent some time walking through the markets, letting the process of commerse and negotiation wash over him and thinking about the days events. When he did return to Genjo's, Hira apologized to him as well, and gave him the money from selling the gar root. Since the scheme had endangered his children, Genjo insisted that Kaveh let Hira keep more of the money. Kaveh disagreed, saying that no one had been hurt and they had negotiated a fair deal. Genjo grew angry, and said Kaveh had put his family at risk. Kaveh replied, "Creation is a dangerous place.  Just being what you are puts them at risk." "Get out", Genjo replied, "you are not welcome in my house." He pushed Kaveh through the door and threw the purse of coins after him.  Some of the coins clattered into the street, and the destitute passers by scrambled to grab them.

Senka, having stopped in the market to buy a regicide set, arrived to see Kaveh beginning to gather the coins. She asked what happened, and he told her the outline of events. He gathered most of the coins, though did not stop those picked up the ones that had scattered beyond his reach. He left Nighthammer, and found himself a comfortable inn in Sentinel's Hill.

Senka gave the regicide set to Roko and encouraged him to continue improving his game. When Zakiti arrived, Senka told her about Kaveh being kicked out of the house, which set Zakiti seething.

That evening, Drac visited Rinriven Dai. Drac told him about his meeting with the assassins in Great Forks, and his encounter with the woman who looked like Rasa. Rinriven speculated that the demon must have killed the assassins in Nexus. Then he tells Drac about rumors he's heard about the dead from Thorns beginning to raid Marukan and Puyo. He knew Drac was proud of his homeland and wanted to tell him what he could as a friend. Drac asked if Rinriven can help him find accommodations so he would have a safe place to stay and an address in the city for people to contact him. Rinriven agrees to help him find a place in Cinnabar in one of the neighborhoods where mercenary officers had their townhouses. 

The next day, Senka asked to meet the  Astrologer. They received an audience, and Senka asked her about her intentions and about what was in the vault. Kratz confirmed again that she didn't know what the Five Days Darkness was, but though it could be used against the Mask of Winters. Senka talked about stargazing, and implied she knew something about what Kratz was. She said she would help open the door as part of her deal with Genjo and the rest of the circle.

Genjo went to get Drac and Senka and Zakiti went to find Kaveh. They found him in the Big Market. Zakiti disappeared, and began gathering essence to unleash sorcery. Senka greeted Kaveh and asked if he was ready to go, which he was. Zakiti completed her spell, and hurled green energy at Kaveh, but he resisted the magic and the energy dissipated around him. He recognized the spell as Corrupted Word, and binding that would bar him from speaking about a certain subject, lest he vomit large, meaty maggots. Shocked at Zakiti's action, Kaveh turned and walked away.

Senka was also shocked, and was surprised to hear the depth of anger Zakiti harbored for Kaveh. She said she was trying to protect Genjo's family since Kaveh couldn't be trusted. Senka said that didn't excuse Zakiti's 

They went to meet Genjo, and explained what had happened. Genjo said he would go to Kaveh and ask him to come. It took him some time to find Kaveh, and when he did, Kaveh was packing for a journey. He said he was not welcome or appreciated, and would no long associate with the rest of them. Genjo besought him to help them open the vault, since they could not do it without him. The five of them together was clearly a sign of destiny. Kaveh agreed that he would help them open the door, but did not know what he would do after that.

They finally gathered once more outside Firewander, and Zakiti began the ritual prayed to call to Tul Wan, who would fulfill his bargain and take them back to the heart of the old city…

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Session 10
Death in Decadence

Drac followed Kaveh, leaping to the edge of the temple roof three stories above the street. The moved toward the hooded woman, preparing to strike, as a cloud materialized before them. Chitinous green arms ending in vicious weapon-like claws reached out of the cloud to attack the solars. Drac fended off the attack, and Keveh leaped over the demon to engage the assassin, his cast mark glowing. The assassin leaned back, performing a brief kata and adopting a sneak-like fighting stance. Lashing out once again, the demon caught Kaveh unawares, striking him from behind with a glancing blow and sending him stumbling forward. Genjo, Zakiti, and Senka moved into position to aid their allies.

The demon, which Zakiti recognized as a temescu, continued to attack Drac and Kaveh. Drac counterattacked ineffectively, leaving himself open to attack. Responding to her summons and occult whispers, Zakiti's agata familiar, an iridescent shimmering demon wasp, appeared and swooped toward the assassin, who deftly dodge the attack. In responce, she made a serpent-quick finger strike toward the agata, which disipated in a shimmering cloud of essence to reform behind her. Genjo pulled himself over the edge of the wall, and launch himself at the tomescu, which fended him off. Kaveh, still reeling from the attacks against him, poured his essence into his attack against the assassin. His anima began to glow with the sun's light. He stuck the woman and drove her back across the domed roof. Senka cursed as she saw Kaveh begin to glow, she pulled herself up to the roof across the street, nocked an arrow, and took aim at the assassin.

The light of Kaveh's anima caused the crowd below to panic, Genjo grabbed the extended arm of the demon, and jerked down, slamming it into the roof with a crash. The demon lashed out, attempting to knock Drac and Genjo from the roof. The solars were driven back, but kept their footing. Drac pressed forward, but the Tomescu parried his blows. The agata continued harrying the assassin, who easily dodged its attacks. She stuck toward Kaveh's chest. He panicked and threw himself backwards, casting a confused jumble of illusory images around himself, and fortunately avoiding the attack. Zakiti invoked Spirit Slaying Stance, and flung a blade from the balcony across the street. He blade flew true, and the tomescu shrieked as its very essence was cut.

Drac followed Zakiti's attack with a fearsome blow, turning the tide of battle against the demon. Kaveh whirled, anima glowing, struck twice in close succession and regained his footing.  Zakiti leaped from her balcony, calling her agata to catch her, then sped toward the Tomescu, attempting to strike it with another thrown blade. Senka fired an arrow at the demon. Drac spun his glave, cut the tomescu in half, and as it dissipated, his eyes caught those the the assassin. He recognized her as Rasa Ha, paler and more beautiful than he remembered, but definitely her. She recognized him too, and turned to flee. Kaveh pursue her and attempted to strike, though she avoided his attack once again. A ring-shaped caste mark appeared on her forehead, and began to bleed. Atop her agata, Zakiti also pursued.

With a flash of sunlight, an armored female warrior bearing a shield that shone light the morning sun appeared atop the temple dome; Dayshield, god of war, god of Great Forks. She spoke in a booming voice, ordering everyone to lay stay their weapons. The solars complied and the assassin continued to flee. Dayshield gestured and an air spirit materialized and rushed after the assassin. The Solars obeyed, and the assassin disappeared into the darkened streets. Dayshield demanded that they leave Great Forks or seek audience before the Three. Senka replied, "Great goddess, i shall see your wishes done." The others agreed and Dayshield vanished.

As the dawn kissed the walls of Great Forks, the Solars entered the Temple of the Three seeking audience. The Three awaited them in the audience chamber.  Talespinner greeted them and asked for the story that lead them to the City of Temples. Senka humbled herself before the gods of her chosen home and asked forgiveness for the others, who had only come to find her. Talespinner coaxed the tale of Drac and Rasa from them. Zakiti and Kaveh told them how Drac was seeking revenge for the death of his lover at the hands of assassins, and they were speaking to a representative the assassin's order who carried out the killing. They fought only in response to the other Exalted's attack on the man they were speaking to. Dreamweaver commented on how Drac's heart was now split, referring to his passion for the  Raksha.

Dayshield questioned whether they wished to return to Great Forks, and what they would do keep that right. Before the others could respond, Senka spoke, "Mighty Three, I will take responsibility for the actions of the other Solar. They came to this city in search of me for a great task. Their actions would not have happened were it not for me. Please allow me to make amends for my guest's actions." Dayshield responded, "Will you take responsibility for their actions, Red Snow, Now and always?" Without hesitation, Senka replied, "Until I no longer draw breath, great goddess. I would do anything for the city of my heart and the gods who rule it, whom I love."

Dayshield addressed Genjo, with a glance to Dreamweaver, and asked that he stay his rage. Then she presented Onmoraki, an emissary from the Deathlord Walker in Darkness. Onmoraki warned them that the agents of the Mask of Winters were sowing discord among the Confederation of Rivers. At Genjos request, he promised to send word to the Walker in Darkness that the Chosen of the Sun may come to him seeking council in their struggle against the Mask of Winters. He asked the Three for a mark of their favor so he could speak before the Confederation Assembly in Marita. Dayshield gave him a seal, and sent him on his way.

After preparing for the journey, the Solar's took passage on a ship traveling downriver to back Nexus…

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A Vision Of Things To Come

An ebon-skinned woman spins, dancing in the embers of a dying fire. Cloaked figures surround her, their ritual finished, watching her naked form reflect the glowing embers about her feat. One of them will likely die. Her rhythm is perfect, one spin for each drumbeat that reverberates around her. Her hair, the red of hot iron, whirls about her as if beneath the water, out of sync with the predatory motions of her dance. Bells woven into the long braids jangle as if in time with the beating of a heart. The drum comes to a crescendo and her spinning stops. She laughs, a harsh sound, the shadows waver, as the Things That Dwell in the Corners quiver in excitement. She steps from the embers, purposeful, and clashes the long, sickle-shaped blades she cares together. The first of her standard bearers arises, bearing a hollow tube atop a long pole. The wind picks up, the beginning of a storm, and the tube emits a keening wail. The hunt begins and drums continue…

*

V'neef Lohlyn stepped of the river boat onto the thronging docks of the Nexus. Her brother, V'neef Sylus, followed, carefully avoiding the refuse littering the dock. He wrinkled his nose at the smell. "Are you sure this is where you want to be sis?" "Come on Sy," she replied. "You've heard the same rumors I have. Even if he isn't here, I'm sure we'll find something that'll put us on the right trail." Sylus sighed, "I suppose you're right, and it is for the good of the house. I just wish in weren't so… malodorous." Their heavily armed and armored body guard laughed. "It's been a long time since the last time I was here, but if memory servers, the docks have the strongest smell. We'll get accommodations in Bastion in Cinnabar that I'm sure we'll be up to even your standards." As they passed through the crowded streets, the call of a steed peddler hocking his wares caught Lohlyn's ear. "…and it's sign of prestige in The Lap." That sounds promising, she thought…

*

The mountain of corpse-flesh cast a grim shadow over the dying remains of the once proud city where the dead now outnumbered the living. The living, half-starved and hollow-eyed sheltered in the shattered remains of elegant palaces. Smiling statues of their masked ghost-king graces the squares and crossroads. And temples once dedicated to the Immaculate Order directed mandatory worship to the dead who now ruled in Thorns. The Deathknight looked out, hand resting on the railing that adorned the palace atop the putrid mountain, and smiled. He had helped bring this to pass. In fact, he had enjoyed himself as the Dragonblooded who claimed to protect the city had bleed before him, and then died. He turned and walked into the fortress to kneel before his Deathlord's throne. The skull-masked figure, not smiling in person, gestured regally and spoke. "Rise with my favor go forth, for it is now time…"

*

The dark-skinned woman passed unnoticed through the streets of Nexus toward Firewander. Were her identity know, she would have faced dozens of petitioners seeking her favor, but she wore an unfamiliar face, one that slid quickly from memory as she passed. She entered an unassuming building, the spirits guarding it allowing her entry, and went through the hidden gateway therein. She was met by Jade Lions, guarding the other side of the gateway. They bowed in deference and she continued to the silver stream that would take her to the Bureau and the Loom. Hours later, she stood before it. Millions of threads wove in an impossibly complex pattern, starmetal spiders crawled about it, pulling, smoothing, and trimming efficiently as they moved. The weave was frayed and tangled in places, and more threads than before seemed to move of their own will, gleaming brilliantly. Her mouth tightened, things were moving faster than she had hoped. A hand alighted gently on her should and the woman behind her spoke. "Do not fear daughter, they will be ready before the end…"

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