An Imperfect Circle

Session 28
The Wolf's Shadow

Sable Oak's eyes held anguish and resolve as he stepped through the brief whirling kata of Dreaming Pearl Courtesan form. He look to Sienna and beseeched her not to fight. The Solars would not be harmed, just contained. His eyes locked, and Sienna felt remorse at what she knew was necessity. She steeled her heart and dropped the guise of Kala, drawing the ribbon from her hair and pulling it to her bowstring. She spoke the Scripture of the Clay Maiden, and released. The ribbon streaked toward Sable Oak, cutting a line of blood across his cheek.

Senka landed and spoke to the massive wolf, promising to free here, and sprinted down one of the halls into which the binding chains disappeared. She reached the end of the hall, and found the chain linked to the wall. Realizing she did not have the strength or magic to break it, she turned back toward where Genjo had landed beside her.

Genjo took a few moment longer to regain his balance. From above, Sunipa pursued them, leaping from the balcony. As she arced through the air, she cast fire from Delicate Scarlet Blossom, her firelance. Genjo was force back by the heat of the flames, off balance and stumbling to avoid the flames.

From behind the goddess, and army of bronze soldiers, the Sun Guard, surged forward. A twist of dark green essence materialized before Zakiti, and her greenmaw surged forward to clash with the metal soldiers. Lashing vines bat aside spears but the soldiers' formation stops the greenmaw's charge.

Breathing hard and feeling singed, Genjo focused on the war god in front of him. He charged her, trying to grab her with a tackler, but catching her with his shoulder. She stumbled back at the force of their impact, but then stepped fluidly into a spin, casting about her with her flamelance an laying a garden of blooming fire around her that clung to the ground. With preternatural speed, she came out of the spin, raising her arms and leveling her weapon at Senka. Flame erupted, racing down the hall. Senka gracefully avoided the flames as the rushed past her, scorching the already dark stones of the wall.

Above, as the greenmaw continued to lash at the bronze and gold soldiers, Sienna fired another shot at Sable Oak. She mouthed an apology as the arrow flew, and took several long steps to sail gracefully off the edge of the balcony. The sign of Mercury, Maiden of Journies, appeared on her forehead in blazing yellow. The shot cut the long train from one of Sable Oak's sleeves as he dodged deftly.

Emerging from the passageway, Senka centered her essence, concentrating it into a single point. She gripped her sword hilt, drawing and re-sheathing it in a flash between breaths. She rushed the goddess, sword moving like it had a will of its own. Her caste mark appeared, an ring of deepest sunlight on her forehead. A single step brought her through the flames and her sword lashed out again, clanging from the jade-clad goddess's armor.

Still contending with the flames and smoke searing every breath, Genjo focused his essence into a thunderous iron-fisted strike. His fist connected with the goddess, sending her stumbling to recover and the flames around them finally dissipated.

Zakiti pulled her Agata from the essence of Creation and shot upward to avoid the Sun Guard, now pouring around the greenmaw. They hacked at the viny beast and held it at bay with stout spears and short blades.

Reveling in his succes, Genjo pressed the advantage, golden sundisk gleaming on his forehead. He seized Sunipa's cape, and struck several disorienting blows with his free hand before jerking the cape downard and sending her careening into the wall. The goddess struck, cracking the ancient stonework. A pulse of essence emanated like a shockwave, and she dissipated. The etched brass of her firelance clattered to the floor.

Sensing her opportunity, Sienna drew on her fated knowledge of the ancient laws of Yu Shan and the Bureaus of Destiny. She called out to Sable Oak, citing a statute mandate agents of heaven drop other missions to aid gods who held the rank of division head unless they had direct countermanding orders. As Sable Oak paused considering the argument, the Sun Guard surged forward, overwhelming the greenmaw's defenses as it lashed vainly against their shields. He sighed heavily, looking to his betrothed. "Seriously!" he exclaimed, then spun into action, attacking the Sun Guard and breaking their closely ordered formation.

With the goddess Sunipa banished and Sable Oak turned to their aid, the circle made short work of the Sun Guard. Zakiti materialized another of her demons, and the greenmaw finally seized some of the automata, shoving them into its maw. Sienna leaped back to the balcony, and fought side-by-side with Sable Oak, defending him.

When the last of the brass soldiers was defeated, Sable Oak turn to Sienna and said, "I'm glad I didn't have to fight you." Sienna replied, "I wasn't trying to hurt you, for the record. I was trying to keep you distracted."

The Circle examined the chains. Each link was etch with Old Realm runes. They reminded Zakiti of the binding that held Five Days Darkness beneath Firewander in Nexus, but they were much more intelligible to hear knowledge of the language. Each of the links was enchanted to strengthen itself and the adjoining links, drawing from the Earth essence channeled to the prison manse. The working forced Darunla to hold her material form. Each chain ended in a complex locking mechanism.

Hardening his essence into his fists, Genjo tore apart the walls anchoring the chains and untethered the enchantment from the manse that powered it. After breaking the tether for the first chain, the massive wolf calmed, and watched them. Genjo broke the second chain, and the wolf-goddess howled. Sunlight emanated from her, and the light hid her transformation. Standing before them was a woman dressed in armor and white robes pattered in red. Her feet were bare and her wrist and ankles were raw. The great chains were cast aside.

They approached and she spoke in Old Realm, "How long?" Sienna stepped forward and replied, "Roughly 1500 year." The saw the symbol on the Sidereals forehead, and snarled. "I'm not of the Bonze Faction," Sienna added quickly.

Senka stepped to the fore, caste mark blazing. She bowed deeply and respectfully, and Genjo followed suit, but bowed more in greeting than reverence. The goddess observed the Solars and spoke again. “Champions of the Sun, I thank you for my freedom.  We shall hunt again and harry the foes arrayed against us.”

Genjo looked her in the eye, “I was told in a vision that you would be a strong ally.”

“I have always been an ally to the champions of the Sun," she replied. "I did not fight against the Creators only to see the champions of the Unconquered Sun destroyed.”

“Darunla, I apologize for not knowing the history that you’re speaking of, but I am honored that you are willing to support me regardless of my ignorance.”

“With my freedom, I am free to harry the enemies of the Sun again. I shall draw together a great pack and bring the East against your enemies. Name who you would have me harry.” The goddess eyed Sienna hungrily with her golden wolf eyes.

Genjo expressed his gratitude at her offer and introduced the rest of the Circle. Zakiti also set her caste mark alight to show the goddess that she too was chosen by the Sun. Genjo explained that he had to confer with his Circle.

As the Solars conferred, Sienna discussed the best course of action with Sable Oak. The debated the risks, but settled on asking the Solars to convince Darunla to reclaim her post in Yu Shan. Sable Oak objected to trying to sneak the Solars into Heaven. Sienna proposed the plan, and Darunla agreed that reclaiming her office would let her turn its resources to aiding the Solars.

Senka explained the threat posed by the the Mask of Winters and their quest to find the Fortress Invisible. Darunla commented on the secrecy of Larken Quen, and Zakiti asked the goddess if she had known him.

Darunla explained, and answered further questions. Quen had come to her out of respect, seeking her blessing for the defenses of the fortress he intended to build in her territory. She noted the Zakiti had the smell of him about her, like an echo. She explained the the Solar power is granted by the Sun, but that she was not the first bearer. On the topic of the Mask of Winters being the ghost of Larken Quen, she said that the ghosts of Solars rarely appeared in her time, but that the ghost of a Solar as powerful as Quen would be concerning indeed.

Sienna suggested again bringing the Solars to Yu Shan, which Sable Oak rejected. He said that course would only lead to the death of the Solars. Genjo looked pointedly to the shattered wall, and Sable Oak explained that while they had attained impressive strength, there were some in Heaven who had spent more than a thousand years training to kill them. They were prepared to hunt and confront the returned Solars.

Genjo asked why everyone had a problem with the Solars. Sable Oak told him that in the past, the Sun Kings turned to cruelty and madness. The Sidereals feared for Creation and scryed the future. They saw Creation could be saved by overthrowing the Solars, but doing nothing would lead to destruction. In their action, they diminished the world to save it.

Senka tried to hand Sunny over to Darunla, but the goddess rejected the gesture, explaining that the mouse was a gift from the Sun. Sunny cheeped indignantly, and Senka offered cheese to assuage his protests. The mouse continued to cheep, and Darunla translated that mice do not favor cheese, and Mice of the Sun prefer sunflower seeds.

Sable Oak suggested they move quickly to get Darunla back to her office in Yu Shan before SUnipa had a chance to reform. There would be hard work, and a lot of paperwork, to get the reappointment to stick. Sienna welcomed him to the Gold Factions, to which Sable Oak responded that he was doing it for her, not for any faction.

*

Outside the temple, the Solar Circle prepared to part ways with Sienna. She explained the returning Darunla to Yu Shan would help tip the balance of politics in favor of her faction within key departments at the Bureau of Destiny. She had to get back, and while she hated the paperwork she was going to have to do, working with the Loom was important. She handed Zakiti a map case with paperwork, including letters of charter that would let them use any of Dawning Seaspray's shipping interests for transportation around the River Lands.

Sienna told the Solars she would miss them and miss traveling with them. If they needed her, they could get a message to Umber in Nexus, her granddaughter, and the Sidereal would get it and respond.

*

Once again on the rivers, the Solars discussed their course. To reach the Fortress Invisible, they would have to pass through Greyfalls. Senka revealed she had grown up there and reminded the others that she had a score to settle . When the others had sought her out, they agreed to help her kill someone, Cathak Kitono. He had ordered the death of children as part of leading the wild hunt. However, they could not simply kill him, that would leave to much instability. She also wanted to look Kitono in the eye before she killed him to banish him from her nightmares.

And so the Circle sailed for Greyfalls…

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Session 27
The Road to War

The Circle of Exalts traveled south along the rivers, first the Maruto, then the much shallower Sandy River. As they approached their destination, Velen, Genjo dreamed…

He stands on a chariot. The four-armed figure of the Unconquered Sun stands before him as they drive across the dome of the sky. Below them, the Riverlands are visible, rivers glinting like glass beneath the Sun's radiance. The lands stretch like a map, but true. "This is the East that was, and the glory to which it could rise again." Genjo noticed details he had missed before, dams and bridges long crumbled where whole, great cities sat in their glory that had now fallen into ruin, vast farmlands and orchards stretched where barren wilderness reigned today. Time passes, and some of the great cities fall into shadow, which begins to creep across the land spreading ruin and death. "Find the place where the Dawn Wolf shakes the Creation. Break her chains. She will be an ally to you."

Genjo awoke, the ground where they had pulled ashore for the night. He felt the ground trembling beneath him, an minor earthquake. He awoke the others, and shared his dream. They discussed what it meant and agreed they were on the right path. Their conversation was interrupted by a distant roar, which Senka identified as the mating bellow of a tyrant lizard. They hurriedly launch the river ship and set off upriver once again.

They made port as planned in Velen. Dawn explained she had other business, but would send a friend to help them with the overland journey. She departed into the city, and shortly thereafter, a woman arrived driving and ox-dragon. She introduced herself as Kala Nefaru, though Zakiti recognized the lines of her face and the flecks of gold in her eyes. Kala tasted the earth, and suggested the path to follow. They clambered into the ox-dragon's howdah and set off into the wilderness.

 Knowing they were likely looking for a place of power, Zakiti used her knowledge of the dragon-lines to find a place of convergence. She sensed powerful flows of earth and air converging toward the same location in the rugged hills several days journey away. However, as the approached the location, they realized their path diverged from their destination. They tried another path, and once again found themselves diverted. Zakiti recognized that the flow of essence was diverting them from the center. Kala summoned a spirit of air who flew out upon the wind. It returned, and told them that flying over the vortex of essence would allow them to reach the place they sought. Zakiti called her iridescent Agata, and the demon flew the circle to the entrance of the ancient manse.

Carved from the rock of the hill, the temple structure rose above them. Four massive squat towers that appeared to be driven into the broken ground set in the cardinal directions surrounded the central structure. The air around the temple rippled with distorting air essence, bending the space around the temple. The ground trembled like an earthquake constrained.

The massive doorway arch was carved with symbols of war and wolves. Genjo pushed open the doors, the the circle entered the temple. Opening her eyes to the flow of essence, Zakiti could see their passage disrupted the careful balance of the place, and their presence could be known.

They emerged from the entry hall to a multi-tiered internal chamber. Below their level, an open chamber revealed a massive wolf. Each paw was chained, and as she strained against her bonds, the earth shook. Her fury was palpable. The vaulted ceiling soared above them and carved stairs led up to a higher balcony. Above them, an armored woman stood and the front of an army of brass soldiers. They recognized her as Sunipa, eastern goddess of war restrained by law.

Almost overlooked, but decending the stair before the goddess was a blue robed man with a neatly trimmed goatee, Sable Oak, Sienna's betrothed. "I had hoped we would not have to meet here," he said to Sienna in Kala's guise. "There is something wrong with Creation," she replied.

As the Sidereals argued about faction, Genjo and Senka exchanged a look. Genjo spoke, "The Unconquered Sun has told me that this wolf will be our ally if we free her." Senka nodded, "Let's do this this." The two ran for the balcony's edge and leaped of toward the wolf waiting below…

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Session 26
Midnight Showdown At The Fivefold Epicure

The Ugalu appeared before Minn and spoke, "Command me." The sorceress began issuing commends, but the demon spoke again, "Command me." Zakiti responded, "Subdue her." The demon lurched forward, seizing Minn. The sorceress sputtered and coughed up water as the demon grapple her. Zakiti slipped quietly into the room.

*

Genjo, Senka, and Dawning Seaspray completed their work in the Confluencial Colosseum. Dawn's hands were sticky with rum from defusing the firedust and Genjo flexed the stiffness from his hands after the work forging the Mask of Winters seal. A scale of 7th Legion solders stood guard outside the entry. Ivory Rain waved them aside and approached the Circle. She thanked them for their efforts and Senka told her that the glass firedust charges has seals on them identifying who was behind the plot. The ambassador assured them she would investigate the plot and asked the soldiers to begin removing the charges.

The others rejoined Zakiti, and discussed what to do with Minn. They decided to question her, and Genjo found a quiet riverside warehouse. They tied her, and threatened her with violence if she didn't reveal what she knew of the plot. She explained that Typhon was paying her very well and that he had planned to blame House Sesus for supporting Thran's rebels. He was going to position himself as the hero to uncover the plot and unite the Confederation of Rivers against the Realm. With some urging, she agreed to testify before the Assembly, but would not do so unless Typhon was removed as a threat. The circle agreed to her terms, and they brought her to Dawn's waiting ship the to keep her safe while they confronted the Deathknight.

*

Thanks to Senka's infiltration of the Nexus embassy, they knew to find Typhon at the Fivefold Epicure with the ambassador from Nexus. They assembled in the street, and Genjo stepped forward to call him out. Bronze Executioners, mercenary soldiers from Nexus, barred their way. A fight broke out, and Genjo strode into the mass of soldiers. Senka dropped into a fighting stance, and her blade flicked out, cutting down those who opposed them. From her hidden position up the street, Zakiti called forth her greenmaw, and it lashed into the soldiers as well.

A shriek echoed from above, and Dawn rolled out of the way just in time as a wing warrior woman swooped down from the sky spear first. Dawn's bow materialized as she reached out for it, and she fired bits of cloth as arrows at winged creature. A few well placed shots felled the creature as Genjo and Senka made short work of the mercenaries. Zakiti began drawing sorcerous essence around her, still hidden from the melee in the street.

Typhon emerged, a wicked hex-edged blade materializing dripping blood in his hand. As he strode forward, the fallen arms an armor of the dead mercenaries lurched to their feet driven by ghostly essence. Genjo recognized the tell-tale signs of war ghosts animating the weapons and armor of the dead men. He fought his way though, and stuck at Typhon. They exchanged blows, neither gaining significant advantage until Genjo landed a glancing blow.

The deathknight leaped away, beginning to fled the combat as the momentum turned against him. He moved to fast even for Senka flashing blade to catch him. However, as he made is way down the street, Zakiti emerged, essence around her crystallizing into shard of obsidian. A hundred razor-edged butterflies whipped through the air toward Typhon. He never knew they were there before death caught him and shredded him.

*

Ivory Rain aided in smoothing things over, claim the circle as agents of Greak Forks to help them avoid the scrutiny of Lookshy. Along with the political favors called in by Sable Oak, the circle is easily able to speak before the Assembly. Than speaks for the common people. His speech is too fiery for the generally conservative Assembly, but he is granted a position to speak for the common people of the River Lands. Genjo gives warning of the Mask of Winters and the horrors that befell Thorns before presenting [[:onmoraki | Onmoraki]]. The ghostly emissary presented an offer of coalition between his master, the Walker In Darkness and the Confederation of Rivers. He too warned the Assembly about the danger posed by the Mask of Winters and urged them to stand strong against the tyrant of Thorns. The Assembly agreed to take Onmoraki's counsel and would open communication with his lord.

The Solars departed the city. Senka shared what little she knew about the Abyssal servants of the Deathlords; that they appeared to be dark reflections of the Solar Exalted touched by death. Genjo expressed his reluctance to let the Dragon-Blooded take power in Thorns, even if Lookshy came to its aid and left a letter behind to send on to his wife as they made their way up river once more…

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Session 25
Haste Before Dark

The circle spit up to cover more ground, knowning that their time to act was short. Genjo and Dawning Seaspray went to meet with Onmoraki. Genjo warned him about the plot to attack the Assembly. Onmoraki lamented that he could do nothing, and while his master, the Waker in Darkness was powerful, he was too far from Marita to aid them now.

Meanwhile, Zakiti and Senka went to confront Thran. They found him providing council, aid, and arbitration in one of the market squares in Fenside. Zakiti stood to reveal herself to him, and beckoned for him to follow. They led him to a secluded spot, where he said stories of Zakiti's actions had inspired him. They debated the timing of his actions in Marita, with Zakiti arguing that the Mask of Winters was an enemy of all life and Typhon's Coils was not to be trusted. Thran responded that he knew the Lord of Thorns was not his friend, but that they had common enemies. Freedom in death was better than slavery to the Realm or the Guild.

Senka suggested that rather than killing the Confederation Assembly, Thran could speak to them and convince them of the need to change the River Lands. Than was stunned by the offer and agreed. Senka asked how they could stop the explosions. Thran explained that Minn's servants would ignite the charges. He then agreed to come with them to meet the rest of the circle and discuss how to proceed.

*

Recognizing the need for allies, Genjo and Dawning Seaspray went to meet the ambassador from Great Forks, Ivory Rain. They approach the embassy-temple staff, and Dawn draws on their connection to the Ambassador to talk her way in. Genjo used the opportunity to explain the plot and threat to Ivory. She listens attentively, and suggests they bring in 7th Legion forces to help deal with the situation. She agreed that the plot needed to be kept quiet for now, but said she would go in person to alter Toriki Antar, representative of Lookshy.

*

The circle gathered once again to discuss their next steps just a the long shadows of evening turned to the darkness of night. They agreed that there would be no way to get the Assembly to meet elsewhere, and they couldn't move enough of the firedust in time. They considered blowing up the building in the night to avoid casualties, but wanted to turn to that option as a last resort.

They agreed to go after Minn to bring her to the Confluencial Colosseum to encourage her to call of the attack in self-preservation. They asked Thran to warn the poor to stay out of the Colosseum, but to gather there outside in demonstration. They promised to bring him in to speak when they went before the assembly.

Outside Minn's guesthouse, the others waited in a shadowed alleyway while Zakiti climbed the wall to see whether she could use her sorcery to cast Minn into magical slumber. She peeked through the window, and observed Minn preparing the first steps of a ritual of demon summoning. After a quick discussion with the circle, she agreed to stay behind and try to seize control of Minn's demon. The rest of the circle agreed to go back to Ivory Rain, then do what they could about the Firedust.

*

Upon their return, the Temple-Embasy was much busier than earlier in the evening. Senka left an offering at Talespinner's shrine before entering. They were quickly able to get in to see Ivory Rain. Without consulting the circle, Senka asked Ivory to send word to the 7th Legion garrison to assemble outside the Confluencial Colosseum. The circle promises to go ahead of them to see if there was some good they could do to limit the damage.

After they departed, Genjo chastised Senka for changing the plans and risking involvement with the dragon-blooded of Lookshy. Senka responded defensively, stating that they need to act and stop debating in order to save people.

While the Solars were arguing, Sienna dropped her pirate swagger and took up the stiff gait of Inspector Leahni. She ordered the guards aside and the circle headed toward the nearest cache of explosives. Leahni quickly notices that the jars holding the firedust were marked by the emblem of House Sesus. She realized that the Mask of Winters' plot may be to frame the Realm for the attack and spark a new war between the Confederation of Rivers and the Scarlet Dynasty.

Thinking quickly, Leahni realized that the combination of spice and alcohol in Dawning Seaspray's endless jug of rum would defuse most of explosive power of the firedust, causing it ot smolder dully instead of producing gouts of flame. While she started breaking the wax seals and pouring rum into the jars, Genjo set to stripping the marks of House Sesus and replacing them with the sigil of the Mask of Winters…

*

Meanwhile, as Minn's ritual progressed, Zakiti set a counter-working against her from the roof of the guest house. Despite the glowing circle, she channeled away the binding of Minn's summoning and took hold of it herself. As the stars moved marking midnight under the Quiver, the essence of the summoning coalesced and the demon emerged…

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Session 24
Fire Within Smoke

Senka made her way to the Confluencial Colosseum, a massive First Age structure surrounded by water that served as the meeting place for the Confederation of Rivers Assembly. She circled the ancient building, noting the entrances. She recalled that guests to the Assembly could watch the proceedings from the upper ranks of the colosseum, payed the nominal fee to enter, and filed in with the other observers. Checking the schedule, the most noteworthy business for the day was a request for 7th Legion military advisers to consult regarding the growing aggression from the Sword Prince of Vaneha. The next day would be the Grand Assembly of the Confederation, with all representatives of the coalition present.

From the upper observation gallery, the speakers were still audible, their voices carried by the channeled winds of the colloseum. She used her high vantage point to surveil the premises. She noted that like most of Marita's First Age structures, the colloseum had sunk into the river. Interlopers could potentially enter through the water.

She paused to listen to the current speech. The ambassador from some minor far eastern principality of the Hundred Kingdoms was talking about raids from Vaneha. The speaker accused the Sword Prince of keeping an Anathema adviser. Taking the time to watch the proceedings, Senka noted that of the great nations, only Lookshy had a representative. Below the newly build observation decks, the seats of the other great nations were empty of all but perfunctory scribes.

Assessing the structure of the building, she realized the upper observation balcony was new construction build atop the First Age edifice. Were it to collapse, it would fall inward, crushing the assembly. With a clever excuse, she slipped inside, and adopted a servant's poise to pass unhindered within the structure…

*

Meanwhile, Zakiti returned to Thran dwelling to see what effect the dream she had sent had upon him. From the next rooftop, she expanded her senses, taking everything in. She sorted through the sounds of daily life and focused on Thran's voice. He was conversing with a woman, expressing doubts about the timing of their strike. She pushed him, insisting the time was now and that their ally would not be able to support them indefinitely. She promised to take his concerns to their ally but that they would likely need to proceed.

Zakiti shadowed the woman. She first noticed that while the woman's overcloak was travel-worn and dirty, she had far finer clothes beneath. She had dark hair and a superior bearing, with a slight sneer to her neutral expression. Zakiti's supernatural senses also caught the hint of a ripple behind her, like an oil slick in the air with the faint scent of blood. She looked with her spirit sight and saw a hulking, scale-skinned, cyclopean demon dripping black water that sizzled on the paving stones as it evaporated. She recognized it as an ugalu, a dweller in the black river. The demon took and aggressive step toward a gaggle of children, but with a sharp glance from the woman, it stepped back to follow her.

*

Senka wound her way downward until she reached where the lower levels of the colloseum met the water of the river. The area was mostly relegated to storage, and not well maintained. Amidst the arches, she spotted something glistening on the water, like an oily film and the air had a metallic scent. She went to inspect, and discovered claw marks in the First Age masonry, as if something had cambered out of the water. She walked a circuit of the lowest level and found nothing, and no signs of structural weakness.

She thought about where she would strike, and made her way to where the new construction sat atop the old colloseum, beneath the box seats of the great nations…

*

Zakiti tailed the woman, who walked with the practice of someone who did not want to be followed. Zakiti recognized her skill, but had no trouble shadowing her. As the woman moved toward the finer parts of the city, she removed her worn cloak, wrapped it in a bundle, and stashed in away. Her fine clothes would have drawn too mach attention in Fenside.

She entered one of the garden palaces that hosted guests of the assembly. Zakiti sneaked past the guards and positioned herself to listen as the woman knocked on a door. She heard a resonant male voice answering the door, but man's words escaped Zakiti's comprehension. She could hear the voice, and his speech was not that of a foreign tongue, but the voice echoed and vibrated, as if out of tune. She still heard the woman, who expressed a low opinion of Thran.

Zakiti found a position where she could watch the doorway. Her spirit sight revealed that the ugalu crouched, guarding the corridor, but she remained out of sight. From within she heard the woman, “ The last of firedust will be put in place tonight, whether Thran agrees or not.”

Zakiti heard the woman get up and move toward the door. Through the door, she saw the men that she was meeting with. His gaunt cheeks were pale and a thin scar marred one side of his handsome face. The barest cruel smile touched his lips but did not reach his eyes, which showed only disdain. He wore luxurious garments, included a sculpted leather chestpiece with geometric designs and a cowled cloak. Around his brow, a diadem held a stone that radiated luminescence of darkness and blood. The stone pulsed as he spoke, "Farewell Minn."

Zakiti followed Minn back to another guest house, where she entered, and likely went to sleep. She returned to discussed what she had seen with the others of her circle.

*

Senka followed the scrapping marks and oily metallic scent to a chamber deep in the new structure of the Confluencial Colosseum. From the glimmering indirect sunlight filtering through corridors, she saw dozens of massive glass jars capped in wax. She darted from one room to the next, estimating that there were over 100 jars of firedust beneath the seats of the ambassadorial delegations.

Before she could rightly react to what she saw, she felt the hair on the back of her neck rise as the smell of blood and metal intensified. A low growl emanated from the shadows and a massive, horned, shaggy creature materialized from the dark liquid on the floor. Senka released a shrill scream and vaulted up the stairs, through the arched halls, and out of the Colosseum before the demon could reach her. As she landed heavily on the rooftop on the other side of the moat, she realize the demon had not chased her.

*

Senka rejoined the others, grabbed a drink from the table, and downed it before speaking. Still catching her breath, she explained to the others what she had seen. She expressed the fear that the attack would start a war. Zakiti explained what she had seen, and Genjo identified the man she had seen as Typhon's Coils, ambassador for the Mask of Winters. The Solars discussed what do, including warning the audience and exposing the explosives or setting them off early to avoid unnecessary deaths. As they plotted, the shadows of evening began to fall…

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Session 23
Hints of Fire and Snakes

The Circle settled in to wait for Sienna's promised help. Genjo seemed to have a new and radiant poise to his demeanor. Dressed in a traditional haori with broad triangular shouldered that emphasized his physical presences, he sought out Onmoraki. He wore dark colors, accentuated with bright yellow circles where the symbols of house and clan would traditionally appear. Senka followed him in fine but functional cloths; hair cut short, mask replaced by a veil. They found the Walker's emissary in the Thousand Steam Palace. They met by a fountain beneath a flowering tree.

Onmoraki was surprised to see the Solars, and asked what they intend in meeting him. Genjo explained that they planned to secure a speaking place before the Assembly to give Onmoraki a chance to speak against the Mask of Winters. The ghost-blooded diplomat agreed with their approach. Genjo expressed his hope that his personal experience at the fall of Thorns would help move the Assembly to action.

Genjo asked what coalitions within would oppose their message. Onmoraki explain that Garath, the ambassador from Nexus, would likely oppose their position. He was a naturally suspicious man, and Nexus benefited from the current status quo. The great trade city would be called upon to fund the expedition and provide mercenaries, both emptying the coffers of the Council of Entities. Additionally, he was often in the company of Typhon's Coils, speaker for the Make of Winters.

Typhon endlessly twisted the truth to paint the Mask of Winters as striking only against the enemies of the Confederation of Rivers. He had liberated Thorns from a puppet ruler, installed to by the Realm to slake their greed and thirst for conquest against the River Lands. Typhon had made many friends among the representatives of the Hundred Kingdoms who had suffered at the hands of Thorns army during the Autocrat’s War. If only they would recognize the legitimacy of the Mask of Winter's claims, trade long closed would be open, and all would profit.

 Toriki Antar, Lookshy's ambassador from the 7th legion, would be the voice to sway. Ultimately, it would be Lookshy's army that would have to lead any campaign against the Mask of Winters. Antar was a traditionalist and had been unwilling to speak to Onmoraki. Senka added that Lookshy would not look favorably on them if they were recognized.

After parting ways with Onmoraki, Genjo and Senka spoke privately. Senka reminded Genjo that the politicians of the Confederation of Rivers care about their safety and wealth, and how that would be threatened by the Mask of Winters. She agreed to stand with him before the Assembly, but reminded him how poorly things went last time she tried to solve a conflict with diplomacy. Genjo asked her to find out more about Garath, and she readily agreed.

*

That evening, Zakiti joined them at their accommodations, chosen by Dawning Seaspray. She mentioned that there could be an additional complication, and suggested they move to a private room so they could speak freely. She explained the possible insurrection from the dispossessed of Marita, telling them more about the fiery speaker she had witnessed and the promise to undo many tyrants. She also confessed that the revolutionaries had been using her reputation and example to gain a following.

Senka asked if Zakiti had a cult following, and Zakiti admitted that she did, but was embarrassed her actions had led to that result. Senka suggested using her reputation to set an example and turn the common folk against the Mask of Winters. Zakiti agreed that could be a useful strategy, but said for now that the potential for violence had to be stopped before they could speak to the Assembly.

Zakiti told the others about how the rebels were expecting a final shipment before putting their plan into action. Dawning Seaspray suggested delaying the shipment, but Zakiti thought they might try to act without it. Dawn stated the need to find out what they were expecting in the shipment and what they planned to do. Zakiti said she could try to turn the rebels’ actions to their advantage. Genjo warned all of them about the need to keep a low profile. Zakiti agrees, and asks that they give her a chance to influence the leader of the rebels through dreams before they take direct action, and the other agree to give her a chance.

*

Later that night, clad once again in her usual functional attire, Senka headed for the Nexus embassy. The build was a First Age tower, rising smoothly from the river. Balconies spiraled up the ivory-colored tower and lights at the top showed a party in progress. Senka set a small fire on the roof of a nearby building as a distraction an as the flames drew the attention of the guards, leaped to the 2nd story balcony on the backside of the tower. She pushed the door open and found herself in a well-organized office that she quickly realized belonged to the ambassador's majordomo. She searched the desk, finding mostly financial records, delivery orders, and mundane notes, but also found a draft of the ambassador's schedule. Two nights hence, he was invited to dinner with Typhon's Coils at the Fivefold Epicure, a restaurant famous across the Scavenger Lands for each meal being a five-course competition using exotic ingredients from across Creation.

Filing the information away, and careful to return everything to its correct place, Senka continue her exploration of the tower. She ducked into the servants staging room to avoid detection by patrolling guards, and grabbed a platter of food to present herself as one of the servers. She made her way to the tower's top to observer the party. Garath, a heavyset man with bronze skin and a painted face, presided over the festivities. A collared woman in a revealing outfit attending to him. His guests, representatives of of the kingdoms and factions of the Scavenger Lands, shared gossip and other pleasant conversation. A servant rang a gong, and Garath stood to get the attention of the assembled guests. He announced he had something special to show them, a wonder just arrived from the distant South. Servants lit long matches and touched them to paper rockets that shot into the air and exploded in dazzling display of colorful fire. Using the finally as cover, Senka departed the part to return to her companions.

*

Meanwhile, Cloud Whisper came to Sienna to tell her that Sable Oak had arrive. Still clad in the guise of her mercenary destiny, she went to meet him in their usual place in Maritia, a guesthouse built around a massive tree growing from the stump of a shattered first age tower. Sable Oak greeted Sienna, who noted that his arrive was auspicious, and the two exchanged banter about politics. Oak said that with her agreement to marry him, he would cross the line to help "her Solars". He knew the Realm was broken, and didn't want to see Creation devolve into chaos. He asked whether the Solars would be overt so that he could determine who best to approach about allowing them to speak. They discuss the possibility of Toriki Antar of Lookshy, but ultimately settle on Marusaki  Name of the Guild.

They discuss how things could turn, and Sienna said that the return of the Solars would be great changes. She did not mind a war not that upset the old order. She asked if Sable Oak would like the meet her Solars, but he declined. He promised that the Guild will let them speak, but that he will have to depart; in addition to his usual duties, he had a wedding to plan. They exchanged kisses and Sienna departed with muddled emotions.

*

Zakiti set out into the night to stake out the rebel leader. She went to the Fenside shanty town and waited until the speaker departed his house. She trailed the rebel leader from the rooftops, his guards were alert and observant, but did not spot the masterful Solar guided through the darkness by her essence.

The speaker carried out good works for the dispossessed of Marita. The people respect him, and he repays their respect with aid. He brought food the the hungry, medicine to the sick, blankets to the cold; all the kindness Zakiti had shown in the past, but more organized. Watching him work, she gained respect for him and learned that his name was Thran.

Thran met with a dockmaster, who said that the final shipment had arrived and had been delivered to the usual place. Thran said the shipment was being repackaged and that Minn's servants would put it in place. At the mention of Minn's servants, Zakiti heard a sharp intake of breath from one of the conversations observers, perhaps out of fear, though it was hard to tell listening from the rooftop of the next building.

He continued his sojourn through the city, visiting more of the needy, but also a glassblowing workshop, where he paid the master in silver, and next to a waxwork, where he similarly paid in silver coins. As the arc of his excursion turn back toward the communal house, Zakiti ranged ahead to beat him there. She found his resting place, and tore a scrap from a piece of his clothing while no one was looking before slipping back into the night.

Returning to their lodgings Zakiti enacts her sorcery to influence Thran’s dreams. With her voice over she praises his works, admiring his passion and drive. Then the dream turns cold showing a shadowland and warning of the dangers beyond his control. The Mask of Winters looming over the city while she mentions his actions could leave the city and the people vulnerable. “I admire your drive and zeal, i do not disagree with your purposes, just the timing, I would not wish this place to be the next Thorns. Do not overthrow one despot only to leave it open to another.” As the city crumbles, burns, and people die and rise again she tries to persuade him to proceed with caution lest the people he helped come to harm.

*

In the morning, a blond haired, blue eyed woman clad in practical but revealing cloths was awaited the Solars, picking her nails with a small knife. As Zakiti came down, the newcomer eyed her as a a starving man looks at a steak. She greeted the Solars and introduced herself as Kala, a friend of Dawning Seaspray.

Senka reported about the party, and told the others about the dinner reservation between Garath and Typhon's Coils. She also mentioned the firework, and Zakiti realized that the Guild’s firedust shipment arrived at the same time the rebels received their final shipment. Considering the other purchases made by Thran, she did not like the implications.

Kala brought up that the Guild would be sponsoring the Solars to speak. Zakiti agreed it would be best if she avoided the Guild officials, and everyone agreed. Kala also warned them the Wyld Hunt was still making its way upriver after them. They would need friend in high places to make sure they accomplish what they needed before the hunt arrived. She also reminded them that Sienna's favor came with a price, and they should hasten to find and free the war goddess as they had promised.

Zakiti asked if anyone knew Minn or the servants of Minn, but no one knew who they were. She said that the servants of Minn would be delivering the last shipment to the Assembly and it would be worth investigating to find out who they were. Kala suggested using any potential chaos to their advantage, but Zakiti worried about the common people who could be hurt in the chaos of an uprising. Zakiti stopped Khala in the door. Kahala took her hand to assure her that their safety was assured. Zakiti wasn’t concerned for herself but Kahla assured her she should be. ‘You are the heralds of a new age’.

As they spoke, Senka slipped away to look for caches of firedust…

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Session 22

Travel up further up the Yellow River seemed painfully slow to the Solars and as they traveled, they discussed their options in Marita. They decided that while they did not trust the Walker In Darkness, he was not their enemy at present, despite the warnings passed to Zakiti by the Green Lady. Dawning Seaspray agreed to use her connections to sway the Confederation Assembly. While she had contacts in the city, her influence and connections had never been as great as those of her former partner and lover Sable Oak, so she penned him a letter and sent it by spirit to reach him.

Upon arriving in Marita, Dawning Seaspray took them to a bath house. On the way, Senka and Genjo noticed Zakiti receiving excited glances followed by whispers among the slaves, beggars, and urchins in the streets. When asked, Zakiti said she had a past here and she would tell them privately.

They ordered a private bath and slipped into the steaming water, dismissing the attendants to give them privacy to speak. Zakiti explained that on her previous passage through Marita, she had brought justice to a Guild factor. The man had arranged to have the cities criminals sentenced to banishment and slavery sold to him. He traded their dreams to the raksha for gossamer treasures and sold their dream-eaten husks to work the drug fields of Great Forks. But this was not enough for him and he bribed the judges and lawkeepers of Marita to unjustly sentence more bodies for him to wring for profit. Zakiti put an end to his business in the city. She did not realize her needs had been noticed.

The conversation turned to the matter at hand and they discussed needing to look the part to approach members of the Assembly. Dawning Seaspray revealed herself as the sidereal Sienna, and Zakiti recognized her from previous conversations. Senka too remembered following her through the streets of Nexus. She explained her purpose aiding the solars and that she would have to call in many favors to help them gain the right to speak before the assembly. If they aided her finding the ancient war goddess she sought, her faction and the solars would gain another great ally.

The solars revealed more of their plan to Sienna, explaining that the Mask of Winters was the ghost of Larquen Quen and that they sought his bones to bind his spirit. Even with the goddess freed, they would need more allies. While they did not trust the Walker In Darkness, his aim to warn the Confederation of Rivers against complacency regarding the Mask of Winters. The overlord of Thorns had claimed to be a liberator and enemy of the Realm. Genjo joked that he would tell the Assembly how liberated he felt.

After the bath, they purchased fine garments to meet with representatives of the Assembly. Zakiti packed away her fine new things and slipped into the city to do some reconnaissance. She cloaked herself in unobtrusive essence and listened to what the people of the street had to say. She overheard the whispers, "The Hero has returned!" They were going to some kind of meeting to hear a new hero of the people speak. Zakiti, drawn to know more, followed…

Senka visited the temple-embassy of Great Forks to pay her respects to The Three. Then, she set out into the city to do some intelligence gathering of her own. She found a bar near the 7th Legion barracks-fortress and settled in to hear what the soldiers had to say. She started asking question to find out whether any of them had heard of Solar activity until she noticed one of the legionaries watching her intently, then excusing himself. She feared she had been made, and departed herself to warn her companions.

Sienna adopted the destiny of Dawning Seaspray, and began to lay the ground work to get votes of approval to speak before the Assembly. She called in favors, cut deals, and cajoled representatives and knew she had done good work. If Sable Oak was amenable to her offer and could sway one of the ambassadors of the great nations, her ground work would ensure the motion carried.

Zakiti followed the beggars who had whispered about the heroes speech. They made their way to the shipyard where the scaffolds were covered with dock workers, beggars, and urchins waiting excitedly. After a short wait, a stocky man appeared on a raised platform, tough looking men and women around him. He was stocky and had terrible red scars across his face. He spoke and the crowd listed, rapt in is message.

He reminded them of Zakiti's story, of the nameless young hero who delivered justice and demanded no payment or credit. She brought help to those who were in truest need. He besought any who had seen her to speak up, and several in the crowd shouted that they had seen her passing through the streets. There time was soon.

Zakiti followed him back to a swamp shany near the edge of Marita. She reached our through her senses, resonating with the essence of Creation to hear him speaking. She overheard him discussing plans. Her arrival, he said, coincided with their last shipment. Another voice spoke, expressing concern that no one knew who she was or what she really stood for. She heard the scarred man's voice again saying that she had undo one tyrant, but they would undo many. 

Genjo dreamed of the Sun. His divine form rose in the East and soared over the rivers, sunlight glittering from the flowing waters. He spoke and Genjo heard. "Show them that there is a great way. Unite them. As the Sun rises in the east, so too shall the new age of Creation."

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Session 21

Smoke Orchid and Dawning Seaspray completed their journey to Great Forks. Passing through the streets, Smoke Orchid marveled at the strange inhabitants of the City of Temples. Gods led clamorous processions of their followers, beastfolk haggled in the street, and spirits mingled with mortals. All she saw was strange to her ordered sensibilities, but a wondrous part of the the wider world she could explore. She asked one of the gaily dressed locals what stopped the followers of the gods from conflict. The stranger replied that all gods were free to answer their worshipers and that "the Three" kept them from conflict.

After securing rooms at the appointed inn, Dawning Seaspray doffed the captain's destiny and Sienna slipped through the streets unnoticed. She made her way to the office of an old friend a rival, Sable Oak. They sparred verbally for a while about divine politics, then turned to reminiscing, followed by revisiting old passions.

Smoke Orchid continued exploring the city. While she was watching the procession devoted to a mountain god, she noticed a well-dressed, sword-carrying woman watching her. Sensing she was being followed, Smoke Orchid tested the theory by leading her through the crowd. The woman followed, and Smoke slipped round a corner and disappeared into an ally. She got a closer look at the woman and saw that she wore some sort of uniform and bore a sword with the tripartite seal of the city on its pommel.

Having lost Smoke Orchid, the woman started heading toward the center of the city. Smoke Orchid followed secretly. Before the woman entered the palace grounds at the center of the Temple District, Smoke Orchid revealed herself. The woman said she carried a summons from the Three for Smoke to appear before one of them. Smoke acquiesced, and the woman lead her into the temple, and passed her off to a temple attendant who led her into the temple.

In one of the central domed central chambers, Smoke Orchid saw the goddess Shield of a Different Day. She was standing in a pool of light reflected from the gilt dome and seemed to glow with inner radiance. She wore gleaming armor and had a shield slung on her back. While not taller than the attendants, scribes. and courtiers around her, she stood out from them.

The goddess dismissed her entourage to a respectable distance, and spoke to Smoke Orchid. She asked about the Solar's purpose in the city, and explain that the law of Great Forks required the beings of greater essence to appear before one of the Three before staying in the city. She asked about Smoke Orchids companions, though Smoke refused to give her any details. Dayshield gave her a week's grace to remain in Great Forks before need to appear again before the gods.

Another day passed before Senka, Zakiti, and Genjo arrived in the city. They disembarked from their dark ship, which slipped silently back into the river after depositing them. They made their way to the inn and were reunited with Smoke Orchid and Dawning Seaspray.

After a short reunion, Senka insisted on bringing Smoke Orchid and Dawning Seaspray before the three. They made their way to the palace, and were lucky enough to discover that Spinner of Glorious Tales had just returned from a journey. Senka requested an audience, and was granting one. Smoke Orchid was shocked by Talespinner's drastic differences to Dayshield. He was an ordinary looking man, travel-weathered and a bit scruffy. He address Senka informally, but called her Red Snow.

Senka shared her story with Talespinner, updating him on her travels and her recent meeting with the Walker In Darkness. Talespinner thank her for her stories and exchanged words with Dawn, implying that they knew each other and that Dawn had a "colleague" in the city. The god bid them fair travels and dismissed the Exalted.

Their delay in Great Forks having lasted long enough, the circle set out on the river once again…

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Letters to Amiliar Falling Brook - Part 3

Dear Master Falling Brook,

Oooooh boy are there things I want to tell you about but I probably shouldn’t but I have a Niece. She’s lovely and proud to be a child of the sun. Like she thinks her father, another companion of mine who has left the party, IS THE SUN. I talked to her about the virtues of ruling with temperance and kindness. How being loved and revered was a bit better than ruling with fear and absolute dominance. It’s complicated and scary and involves Raksha and lessons in ‘what not to stick your dick in’ but I won’t bore you too much. It may be a thing we have to deal with but Nexus has the ability to handle their problems too.

I think that agendas might be a good topic for this letter. Or at least it is in my mind. I’m dropping this letter off at a small town before I arrive at my next destination. We just came out of the Shadowlands from an audience with The Walker in Darkness. He allowed us just to call him Walker. Nothing more terrifying than being invited by your friend’s dead father to talk to a Deathlord. Doubly so when he’s quite hospitable. 

He wants Mask of Winters dead. Not just dead but Obliterated. He’s sent an emissary out and about in the world to petition to the Riverlands to be heard. It would be helpful for everyone to be aware of what is going on. Mask intends to do more than just extend his power. They have champions in their midst more powerful than us. Stronger than you and your legions. They would make the world dead or worse. 

Now do I trust Walker’s intention? Half maybe but not fully. Oh having Masks out of the way would be really big for Walker and reclaim his title of being the biggest lord of the largest Shadowlands. That said, I know he wants to expand himself. I don’t pretend to know what the plans of a Deathlord or whatever but I know the friendship extends as far as ending Mask of Winters. 

Even knowing this the Riverlands and others need to know and hear what his emissary has to day. This fight is too big for just us and everyone living will have to deal with it. While no one wants us to be here, no one wants to be dead either, so maybe we all need to compromise and try to figure out how to survive all of this.

 I am not at all good at this persuasion thing. I do apologize but I am kind of begging you to at least entertain the idea. Also sorry if this finds you kind of late because I may have asked someone to delay you some. That way we can get ahead and handle things on the side. Solar business and all of that. Debts to pay and agreements saw to their end.

So many other agendas that aren’t our own and we’re having to deal with all of them even when we have our own. Even the agendas of Heaven and those who give us power. I finally started getting visions from the Sun. In theory you see him when you first exalt, he tells you of your past or gives you a direction or you know tells you what to do. I haven’t gotten a single one until now. Oh and a mouse but we’ll leave Sunny out of this. He says my footing is as bad as yours and I won’t allow it. I have to keep on my toes because the shit we might be walking in will kill us all for sure. 

Sorry this isn’t as organized as last time so maybe if you send something to Great Forks I can catch up to how things have been going for you? What did you think about the Shadowlands? Any opinion about the Deathlord War the living are getting drawn into? Would you hear the Walker’s emissary out if it meant a threat to Lookshy and the Realm? Do you know Cathak Kitono? What do you think of him? How has your view on Solars changed given all the letters I throw at you?

What do you want most? I mean what do you REALLY want? What ends would you go to see it done? Who would you hurt to make it happen? What price is worth what you desire?

If you get this and we are far apart I look forward to a long answer.

Be safe,

Senka

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Session 19 & 20
Blazing Light and Darkest Shade

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

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