An Imperfect Circle

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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Letters to Amiliar Falling Brook - Part 2

Dear Master Falling Brook,

I hope this finds you well and travel along the river has been agreeable. We made a new friend as well and passage east. A fair warning but you may be in for a good chase with this captain. I wasn’t sure if you got my first letter but I’m going to just assume you are. I mean who would pass up on some intelligence and a way to track the enemy. No one knows I write to you and to be honest I need the practice. So in a way thanks for the physical therapy. 
 
I’m healing up fine now thanks to the Yanaze herself. The temple was beautiful and the Goddess most kind.I found a new weapon, though it’s no Tree Splitter. Learning to adjust to the consequences of my actions and the actions of others isn’t easy. We arrived in Nexus and learned it had flooded and people died. I learned a lot about Family too. 

Are you a family man? Do you speak with your parents frequently, I mean if they are dead my apologies. Do you visit them at least? Do you have siblings? Nephews, nieces, children, grandkids? I hope these aren’t sore subjects but our time here in Nexus has made Family a thing on my mind. I hope you’ll indulge me a little.

Before we left Nexus for Lookshy we ran into a demon, Zsfokia the Kite Flute and her hoard. She was accompanied by a storm and the rain fell in beats with her drummers. Quite the sight and though most were unnerved I found it quite soothing. We defeated her in the streets of Nexus. Learned she was my mother, in so far as blood was concerned, and still drove an arrow through her chest. She threatened lives, because of one of us, and we’ve had to handle it. We thought dealing with the demon was the end of it but we were wrong. Remember that storm? The water rose in the city because of the downpour. The parts of the city we had loved ones in filled with raging waters. Genjo’s family, along with dozens of families from Thorns, were in that part of the city.

His father Drowned. I know he is taking it hard. He won’t show it but he is. His family beyond that is safe though. I trust you are a man of honor and will let them stay that way. We ran into other members of a family that are related to an acquaintance of ours. Well not an acquaintance a former companion. 

I know I didn’t rub him the wrong way and maybe I didn’t read him well enough but he was a sharp man who wished to use his skills to help. That said when someone doesn’t get along with you, in theory, you want to talk it out like adults? Us? Nope. No one communicates effectively about their pain or discomfort and then one day someone tries to curse you in the middle of the market without alerting anyone else there was a problem. So he walked away and I swear if you and he had spoken that night on the ship you would have listened. 

I decided when we returned to Nexus no more secrets. If they won’t try to be better I’ll do it myself and set the example. It is very frightening if I can be honest. Family should be honest right?

So I told them about how I exalted and who I was before they found me. Genjo nearly destroyed a window frame when I told them but I never got hit like I expected to. Genjo by the way is the ‘I punch the ship and it sinks’ guy. I may have also dressed Zakiti up and down more than once. She’s being more thoughtful now and very helpful. I mean I do have a handicap. Get it? What if I joke about it the whole ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping’ thing hurts less.

I wonder what my old family will think of me in the eventuality our paths cross. Nope, maybe for another letter, I can’t think on it now.

Maybe when this is all over I’ll return to Nexus. Maybe I’ll learn regicide properly from Genjo’s son. I’ll spend my days trying to aid those families left out and behind by the structure we’ve created. Probably not. I’ll likely die horribly and you’ll be standing over me or maybe you’ll miss it all together. 

For now I will keep fighting to keep our little family together and try to save others. Maybe learn from a few mistakes along the way. 

Be safe,

Senka

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Session 18
Despair & Desire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Letters to Amiliar Falling Brook - Part 1

Master Falling Brook,

I hope this finds you well. I hope you can accept my condolences for the loss of any of your men in our fight. I still believe in my heart there was no need to fight or for there to be a conflict. Still the loss of life pains me as much as my arm. I guess I wish my companions had more faith in me or that I was more eloquent.

There is a part of me, foolish I am sure, that hoped the Legion wished to talk to us about our mission to stop the Mask of Winters. I am sure you’re pissed about the Library. I am really sorry about that but if you were in my shoes how would you have reacted? Faced with knowing you are seen as a monster by others but you have such an important task to complete. Such a vital mission to protecting life and a lifetime of being hunted.

That is all I want to do, if you sum it up, really. Protect life. I have taken far too many for right and wrong reasons. The woman I call mother pushed me everyday to not be what people think I am. I’m just an orphan with demon’s blood who can do no more about how I was born as you can yourself. You didn’t choose your parents and the life they made you nor how you exalted. We’re just people, you and I, burdened with things greater than we are and the challenge to rise up and be better.

You saw a monster and you sought to kill it. I made the same mistake once long ago. I hunted monsters and thought myself a hero. You didn’t hear her screams though as I cut down her children under orders like you cut off my hand. You didn’t see her face full of grief and rage before her anima flared to life. The same mark you saw on my brow faded from hers when she died and a heartbeat later burned itself into mine. I am cursed, you see, to atone for the lives taken under the assumption that there are monsters in the world and that I wasn’t one of them.

So what are you?

By the time you get this we will have moved on. Like I said I hope it finds you well. If you question our motives I implore you ask the gods of Great Forks. We spoke with them and an emissary from the Walker in Darkness. I ask you to look to Puyo and the man who believed in our cause enough to risk sending us to Lookshy.

I’m not mad by the way. About the whole hand thing. We all learn and adapt. The bow was just more of me running from what I had done. I can’t anymore. I suppose I have to thank you for that.

Stay safe

PS: Your footing when you took my hand was kind of sloppy. You land like you have a stick up your ass and marbles in your boots. Maybe it was the adrenaline or the whole, you know, losing a limb thing; but, would a few sprint drills kill you? More practice for us both I guess.

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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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