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Dynasty of Dovak - Campaign Notes and Play Report

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  • #61
    Session 59 – The House of Black Waters – Reya (175XP 140DX, 179/131 spent; 9GP 23SP), Melody (175XP 140DX, 168/136 spent), and Ganan (175XP 140DX, 170XP/139DX spent; 2WhP 75GP 28SP)

    PG-13: Mild language, violence, dark themes, very mild sexual themes.

    The heroes and their allies stand in The House of Black Waters: the potent manse that serves as the home of the Patrician family Iselsi – a fallen Great House, struck from the Imperial Rolls for their perfidy and linked to the assassination of the Regent.


    First, they broke down the manse’s mystically reinforced door, then solved the puzzle as to how to progress to the second floor, before overcoming the mystic illusions of the black waters. Now they stand ready to advance to the third floor.

    Aharon Saber Edge touches his flaming halberd to the inky-black walls of the manse, but the fires do not catch. This level of the pagoda is gloomy: there are no visible windows, but the manse is more in shadow than pitch-blackness. Ganan proceeds up the staircase with Melody flanking him and the others behind.

    “So… what did you see in the water?” Melody asks Ganan, wondering why it took him so long to wake up.

    Ganan pauses, not willing to reveal the truth, “I was a published author.” He says, settling on a half-truth.

    Melody flashes a look over to Reya, “Wow, big dreams.”

    Ganan scoffs, “What about you?” He shoots back.

    Melody tightens her jaw slightly, something only Reya picks up on, she sets her hands about two feet apart, “I just saw Ferad, only he was hung like a Varajtul cannibal.” She jokes.

    Ferad chuckles, “I always knew you thought my penis was too big.” He sets his hands three feet apart for comic effect.

    “Tripwire.” Melody warns.

    Ganan drops to one knee and examines the black wire running over the penultimate stair, “Okay, we can just step over this.” He says offhandedly, waving at the trap.

    Melody shakes her head in disbelief, “Jorod, is there anything you can do with this?”

    Jorod approaches, and looks at it carefully, “It’s a dummy wire. It’s not attached to anything.”

    Ganan furrows his brow, “That doesn’t make any sense.”

    Reya shrugs, exasperated, “Of course it does. You’re running away from that fucking nightmare pool, trip at the top of the stairs, and fall back down again.”

    Ganan extends his senses, getting the impression of an invisible wire running across the top of the stairs. “Invisible tripwire.” He points out to Jorod.

    Jorod nods, “Well that’s cool. I can’t tell what it’s hooked up to though.” He shrugs, “Sorry.”

    Melody cuts the visible wire and Ganan stands over the invisible one, helping the others pass without setting it off. Ganan casts Invulnerable Skin of Bronze: the floor of the manse creaks, but bears his weight.

    The third level of the House of Black Waters is laid out much like the first: an entryway (stairs instead of a front door, leading into a central corridor and flanked with six rooms.

    Reya opens the first door to her left. The room is bare apart from a giant mural depicting the Dragon-Blooded battling against an endless horde of demons, and doors leading back to the central hall and the next room.

    Ganan opens the next room to find a desk with papers laid out all over it. He walks over to the papers and examines them, releasing a great plume of dusty spores into the air. Reya slams the door to the room shut, kicking up a second load of spores. Ganan holds his breath, and the spores find no purchase on his invulnerable skin. He carefully brushes himself down before moving into the next room by the connecting door.

    Melody opens the door from the central hall and shakes her head at Ganan despairingly. It’s stacked floor to ceiling with odds and ends: chamber pots, model houses, brushes clogged with dry paint, rusted nails, cracked tea sets, and hundreds of other odd items of varying size.

    Ganan can’t pick his way through the trash, so he back-tracks whilst Reya opens the fourth room. Three small vials of blue liquid sit on a small end-table.

    The fifth room contains half-a-dozen chairs around a table. Discarded on the table is a pack of salaciously decorated playing cards: each of the cards has a human depicted on them, alongside iconic imagery associated with the card. Several of the cards depict nudes, and the face cards are clearly meant to be Dragon-Blooded. Ganan wrinkles his nose at the subtle heresy, especially galling given house Iselsi’s close associations with the Immaculate Order. There are some half-eaten snacks and drinks scattered among the cards.

    “Still warm.” Melody says, feeling one of the cups filled with rice wine.

    Reya examines the scene, it doesn’t look to her to be a trap. “Looks like we interrupted something.”

    Ganan snorts, “I was beginning to think the place was empty.”

    The sixth room is completely empty.

    The Dragon-Blooded stand in the central hallway and consider.

    Reya breaks the silence, “Well obviously it’s a puzzle of some kind.”

    Melody grumbles and kicks at the floor beneath her, “I hate puzzles.”

    Ganan folds his arms across his chest and puts his tetsubo over his back, “I like puzzles, but I don’t get it.”

    “Go examine those papers again.” Reya tells Ganan, “I’m going to examine the vials of blue liquid.”

    Reya examines the vials closely: the liquid inside is not identical. One has tiny silver flecks in, one has long, but thin, red strands of something suspended in the liquid, and the last is speckled with black dots.

    Ganan returns to the second room, careful not to disturb the papers. They’re written in archaic Old Realm, but describe the Exalted’s victory over the Enemies of the Gods. Specifically, they seem to pertain to the battle depicted in the mural in the first room. “Hmm.” Ganan considers.

    Melody idly pucks her bowstring for a bit then wanders back into the room with the playing cards and gathers them up, slipping them into a fine leather case emblazoned with the Iselsi Mon laying discarded on the floor. Ferad gives her a look, raising an eyebrow. Melody blusters her defense, “I’m Exalted! It’s allowed!”

    “It’s still frowned on!” Reya calls out from the other room, teasingly, (seeing the Immaculate Order’s objection to iconography nonsensically anachronistic).

    Ganan emerges, carefully closing the door, “I think I have it. The mural in the first room is incomplete. We need to find the missing detail.”

    Melody holds out a hand, “Which is what?” She holds out the other hand “And where?”

    Ganan counts off on his fingers, “What? I don’t know. Where? I’m guessing in there.” He points to the third room filled with a million pieces of junk.

    Reya walks out holding the three vials, “Well… I think one of these might help with the ‘what’. Or they might just be poison.” She hands one of the vials to Melody and one to Ganan.

    Melody looks at the red strands suspended in the liquid she’s been given and pulls a face, “Tell me you don’t want me to drink this having no idea what it is?”

    Reya looks to the ceiling in frustration, “This is an enemy manse. It doesn’t exactly come with handy instructions.”

    “Let me see those!” Ganan says snatching the vials from Reya and Melody. Before they realize what he’s doing, he un-stoppers all three and drinks them all with a belch.

    Aharon Saber Edge applauds, “Bravo!”

    Nula hides her face in her hands.

    Ganan’s anima starts burning with pure white light. “Right. One of those was definitely hemlock… and I think the other one was arsenic.” He turns to Melody, “How are you at treating arsenic poisoning?” He walks over to the trash room and looks around. A sword, perhaps the size of a toothpick, seems to shine with a golden light. He picks the sword up and takes it back to the first room, scrutinizing the mural until he finds one of the Exalted swinging an invisible sword. He places the sword over the mural, not noticing as a tiny war-hammer disappears from the hands of another Exalt. There’s a clanking and turning sound.

    “I think it worked!” Ferad calls, opening the door to the sixth room, where a spiral staircase now leads up.

    “Chew this.” Melody says, thrusting some dried licorice roots at Ganan. She examines him closely to see if his guess at arsenic was correct, “I need to examine you, and I can’t do that if you’re bronze.”

    Ganan happily chews on the roots and lets his spell drop. The moment his skin turns back into flesh, Melody jabs a needle into his bicep and injects him with anti-toxin. He looks at her deadpan and says “Ouch.”

    Melody withdraws the needle, “Yeah, we need to chelate that. You’ll be fine. Eat some avocados.”

    Ganan walks up the stairs, with Melody close behind him (her bow drawn). At the top of the stairs is a door – Ganan opens it and looks into the next room.

    It is empty save a door at the opposite end of the room… twenty feet in the air, upside down and attached to the ceiling rather than the floor.

    “What the-” Ganan steps out into the room and begins to fall towards the ceiling.

    Without thinking Melody snaps off a shot with her bow, the arrow turning into a strong sturdy vine as it flies. Ganan grabs at the vine as it shoots past him, using the rope to break his fall – glad that Melody made him discard his invulnerable skin. Ferad grabs at Melody to stop her toppling into the room after him.

    Ganan looks down/up at the others, and mutters to himself thinking of a book in his mother’s library, “I was born in a water moon.”

    Melody pulls a face and shouts back, “What was that?”

    Ganan shakes his head, “Never-mind, climb down. Up.” He starts to cast Invulnerable Skin of Bronze again.

    Reya takes a second arrow and uses it to pin her vine to the wall of the manse. The others carefully climb down the vine, and she easily slides down it.

    Ganan smiles to himself and readies his tetsubo. “There’s someone on the other side. Four of them.” He opens the door to the fifth level of the pagoda and is immediately charged by a quartet of blood apes.

    Melody snaps of a shot by reflex, her anima starting to glow. The arrow takes the erymanthus in the neck and it goes down in a fountain of blood.

    Ganan charges into the fray, hitting the second blood ape with his tetsubo staving in the beast’s skull with a brutal overhead strike.

    Reya fires an arrow at the third blood ape. She hits her mark, but the demon only gives a grunt of annoyance.

    The fourth blood ape reaches Ganan first and swipes at him with his claws. Ganan handily fends off the attack with his tetsubo. It follows up with blinding speed, swiping out again, cutting under Ganan’s guard to knock him back a step. The ape hit by Reya then reaches him: it swipes out with its giant claws, which glance from Ganan’s invulnerable skin harmlessly, before it wraps its arms around him. Ganan roars and strains his body against the blood ape’s unnatural strength, wrestling the demon off of him.

    Ferad and Aharon step into the room and butcher the fourth blood ape between them.

    Reya fires on the remaining erymanthus as it wrestles with Ganan. This shot is more telling: it cuts the blood ape’s brow, spilling demonic ichor into its eyes.

    Melody snaps off another shot on the demon, further wrong-footing it.

    Ganan struggles free of the demon’s grip and knocks it to the ground.

    Reya fires on the demon again. Her shot isn’t as neat as Melody’s, but it does the job of ending the demon’s life.

    There’s a simple staircase leading up to the next floor.

    “Nearly there.” Ganan grunts, tetsubo in hand as he leads them up the stairs, straining his senses for any more hidden tripwires. He stops at the penultimate door. “This is it. Seven of them. Definitely human.” He pulls a face, “Smallish.”

    Melody looks back at him curiously, “Smallish?”

    Ganan opens the door. Six children and their nanny huddle together in the middle of the hallway.

    One of the children blusters forward, he can’t be older than 13, “I am Iselsi Manarah! You are trespassing in my home and I insist you pay for damaging my demons and leave!” His anima starts to glow with power, “Else feel the fury of Daana’d!”

    Ganan walks over to the child, casually hoists him off the ground with one arm, and head-butts him (holding his tetsubo in the other hand). The vicious blow smashes Iselsi Manarah’s face with a great gush of nose-blood as yielding flesh meets invulnerable bronze. Ganan drops the unconscious child to the floor. He points his tetsubo at the other children, “Any of the rest of you Exalted?”

    The terrified children burst into tears as their nanny tries to shield them with her mortal body.

    “I’m going to take that as a ‘no’.” Ganan says raising his tetsubo to finish off the downed Manarah.

    “Gan!” Reya reprimands harshly.

    He looks at her puzzled, “You want me to kill the mortals first?”

    Melody shakes her head, “We’re not here to kill a bunch of kids!” She objects.

    Ganan turns his attention to Melody, “You want me to kill the nanny first? You kill the nanny.”

    The nanny throws herself at Ganan’s feet, “Don’t kill us! Don’t kill us! I’ll take you to the manse!”

    Reya grits her teeth, “You’ll what us to where?”

    Between hysterical sobs, the nanny offers to take the Dynasts to the real House of Black Waters. Reya and Melody share a knowing look – she doesn’t seem to be lying.

    “Where the hell are we now!” Melody explodes.

    The nanny doesn’t dare look up from the ground, “This is the oubliette. It’s a distraction meant to weaken any enemy who dares to attack us, or any Ragara creditors trying to get jade from the house. The children like to play up here because the elders don’t come up here.”

    Melody looks at Reya, “She keeps saying ‘up here’.” She nocks an arrow, not wanting to think that they fought their way this far for no reason.

    Terrified, the nanny blurts out that the real manse is underground, and that they’ve fought their way up here for no reason. One of the children, a fat boy maybe ten years old breaks his silence to confirm what the maid is telling them. The other children shush him.

    Ganan walks around the room: it’s a mirror of the first floor of the manse, four sitting rooms and two libraries. “This is floor six, there’s one more floor up.”

    The fat boy points to a bookcase, “There’s a hidden staircase, but don’t go up there.”

    Ganan pushes past the fat boy, sending him sprawling to the ground (bruised and crying). He hurls the bookcase aside and charges up the hidden staircase. When he reaches the top floor, he finds it empty except for a carved dragon-head. Lightning shoots from the dragon-head and strikes him square in the chest. The blast knocks him down the stairs again, his bronze body wrecking the woodwork as he falls.

    The fat boy chokes out, “I warned him! I warned him!” Between sobs, he wipes his great flabby face with the back of a finely tailored sleeve.

    Ganan picks himself off the ground and shoots the boy a warning look. “It looks like we need to go down.” He growls.

    Aharon gestures at the Iselsi children, “So what do we do with the kids?”

    Reya pinches the bridge of her nose, “We’re not murdering children, and we’re not running a daycare. Leave them.” She turns to the nanny, “Take us to the real manse. No tricks or I’ll revise my ideas about letting you and these children live.”

    The nanny nods hastily as she rises from prone and leads them back downstairs. The Dynasts follow after her, Ganan stops only to scoop Iselsi Manarah off the floor, carrying him underarm downstairs with them.

    The nanny picks her way past the dead demons, reveals that it’s possible to jump from one door to the other, she extends the hidden staircase with a wave of a hand and delicately steps over the invisible tripwire leading them back to the black waters on the second level.

    She produces a small knife from a pocket and holds out her left hand, revealing a scar across her palm. She speaks with a wavering voice, “You need to cut your palm, and drip your blood into the water, reciting ‘I pledge to serve House Iselsi with every drop of my blood’.”

    Reya shakes her head, “We’re not doing that.”

    Melody chips in, “Why do people always cut their palms? Don’t they know how many nerves there are in the palm of the hand?”

    Ganan answers her, “Actually, most sorcery specifically calls for palm blood. We manipulate the world with our hands, the dorsum is a striking surface, but the palm is intimate – personal and protected.” He checks Iselsi Manarah’s palm, it’s not as scarred as the mortal nannies, thanks to Exalted healing, but there’s evidence of a wound there. He dumps the unconscious Water Aspect at Melody’s feet, “Wake him, he’s coming with us.”

    Melody throws a confirming look to Reya, then works to get Manarah conscious.

    Reya questions the nanny, “Then what happens?”

    The nanny gushes, “The waters turn red, you can dive and swim right through the floor, as you swam through the ceiling to get here. And then you’re in the manse. The real manse.”

    Reya fixes the nanny with a hard stare, “This is not how every Iselsi comes and goes from this place.”

    The nanny stammers and shakes her head, “You broke in! Knocked down the door! It triggered the defenses. If you’re invited in, you can swim through the floor by entering and leaving the drawing rooms in the shape of the Iselsi Mon.” She draws with her finger. “But we’re trapped by the Black Waters now.”

    Reya nods, “Ganan, Melody, and I will go first. If you don’t hear from us, kill these two.” She cuts her palm using her iron belt-knife and drips the blood into the water, “I pledge to serve House Iselsi with every drop of my blood.”

    She dives in and more sinks than swims to the floor at the bottom, passing through it and out of sight. Melody follows suit.

    Ganan holds out his palm to Ferad, who is armed with his ancestral daiklave, “Help an invulnerable brother out.” Ferad sets jade to bronze and manages to draw blood, and Ganan follows after.

    Merely pledging allegiance to House Iselsi does nothing, but as they swim through the black waters, mixed with their blood, the Dragons feel the weight of their words crushing against their mental defenses. Each of them swims through the floor and comes out in the true first level of the underground House of Black Waters. They steel themselves against the unnatural mental influence, shaking its hold on them.

    Reya uses Wind Carried Words to signal to the others, warning them about the enchantment and telling them to come through. Ferad brings the nanny through, followed by the children, then Aharon and Iselsi Manarah.

    The Dynasts find themselves in a natural cave: a hollow in the rock the pagoda is built upon. Bare rock has been sculpted smooth, leading deep underground. The rock is slick with moisture. Touches that burn without smoke, and show no sign of burning down, line the obvious trail down into the manse. The nanny leads them away from the lighted path into the darkness of the manse. Ganan follows confidently, sensing the hidden tunnel ahead: and Melody and Reya follow him, sensing his confidence.

    The nanny keeps to the left, her hand pressed to the wall, and she cautions the Dynasts to do the same. Ganan’s enhanced senses feel the right wall periodically drop away, opening to a cavernous drop. Deep into the ground they go, the river above them now, and rejoin the lighted path. Melody’s anima has dimmed, and Ganan now only glows with power. They come to a wooden door – neither barred not guarded and enter into a structure built inside the cave. Rich carpet over hard-wood floors leads deeper underground. The nanny shifts a hidden panel in the wall, “Servants entrance.” She explains as she leads them into the cavity between the woodwork and stone walls, “We can go straight to the hearth room, by-pass all the traps.”

    The Dynasts make their way through the damp of the cavity. Several times the nanny calls a halt, and Aharon clamps his hand over Manarah’s mouth, as an Iselsi scion walks the hall of the manse on the other side of the wooden wall. The wall is well made and shuts out the light of Ganan’s anima. Eventually, the nanny shifts a panel aside and points to a door of lacquered ironwood. “Iselsi Manoton’s study. The heart of the manse.”

    Ganan drops to one knee and examines the lock, the door, and the hinges.

    Jorod hisses in his ear, “Can you pick the lock?”

    Ganan grins back at him, “No. Stand-back.”

    Melody signals the others to get ready for a fight as Ganan winds back his tetsubo and smashes the ironwood door to splinters.

    A mighty-looking elder Iselsi looks up from his writing desk as the door is blasted inwards. He silently raises an eyebrow. Ganan grabs the nanny by her arm, “Is this Iselsi Manoton?”

    The nanny nods mutely, looking away, embarrassed by her treachery.

    Ganan punches the nanny in the temple, using his full strength. His fist buries itself deep in her skull, killing her instantly. He withdraws his fist, and with a flick of the wrist, discards the gore splatter.

    All the Dynasts save Melody gape at him. Aharon Saber Edge breaks the silence, “You have a real anger management problem Cynis Ganan.”

    Melody jabs an accusing finger at Iselsi Manoton, “That’s not a Dragon-Blooded.”

    “It’s sea-foam.” Ganan pronounces, “A simple enchantment.” He starts working his hands through the madras of distortion and usurpation.

    Ferad looks skeptically as the elder rises and arms themselves, “Are you sure about that?”

    Reya squints, “More yen-store Versino enchantment no doubt.”

    The sea-foam elder aims Ganan with his bow.

    Ganan completes his distortion, wrestling control of the illusionary elder, and puppets him into doing a silly dance. “Sea-foam.” He turns his baleful gaze at Iselsi Manarah, the illusionary elder aiming at the young boy, “Where’s the real Hearth room boy?”

    Manarah raises a shaking hand, “Behind the bookcase.”

    Ganan smiles and strides into the room, oblivious to the obvious lie.

    “Gan wait!” Reya calls, easily reading the boy’s nervous smile as Ganan steps into the room.

    As soon as Ganan steps into the room, he senses that the floor beneath him is hollow. He has time to look down at his foot and say “Sh-” before the whole room tumbles falls into an abyss. Ganan turns, lurching for the hallway, and he catches hold of the lip of the floor, bronze fingers biting into the wooden boards. He hauls his enormously heavy bronze body back over into the hallway as the break-away room hits the ground with a resounding ‘thunk’. His eyes settle ominously on Manarah.

    The young Iselsi splutters, “But it is! You have to go down to get the hearth room! The waters run deep. The waters run deep!”

    Reya drops to one knee and looks up at the Iselsi scion, “Your family does not plunge to their deaths in a stone box to get to the hearth room. How do we get down safely?”

    Iselsi Manarah shakes his head, and spits out a loose tooth, “There is no safe way down. It’s this way or you swim.”

    Reya nods and stands, “Swimming is fine.”

    Manarah leads them around a corner, to a pool of faintly glowing water. “You swim forwards and down into a rock-pool. They don’t let us go any further than that.”

    “Fine.” Ganan says, “Jorod and I will go first.’

    Melody shakes her head, “I’ll go with you. Jorod goes with Reya.”

    Ganan kicks off his boots and wades into the water, dismissing his invulnerable skin once again, his bulwark against the world being more of a hindrance than an aid in this manse, and the others follow after him.

    They hold their breath and kick under the water, striking into the gloom. Melody notices the glint of serpentine forms slipping through the water towards them, and she readies her bow, raising the alarm.

    Melody fires her enchanted bow, the water severely slows the shot but it still impacts a body in the swarm, and releases blood into the water.

    Reya fires her own bow, but the arrow only travels a few feet through the water and she feels kinda cheated. She kicks forward through the water, feeling it press against her.

    Ganan punches at the closest of the Benthic Knifetooths. The deadly creature bites back at him, mouth gaping even as he punches, but Ganan cannot be overcome by a mere twenty-foot shark, and his blow sends the sinewy, serpentine beast reeling.

    The Knifetooths try to grapple the Dragon-Blooded and hold them underwater. One of the beasts snares Danireya, another grabs Iselsi Manarah, and a third latches on to Mnemon Nula. The beasts thrash and lash at their captives, clawing and mauling.

    The other Dragons either hack at the Knifetooths else try to press forward. Aharon tries to rescue Iselsi Manarah, whilst Mnemon Muli tries to save his sister. Nula tries to fight her way free as Agoram tries to distract the beasts. Ferad and Jorod both keep pushing forward.

    Melody sees Reya in trouble and sights the beast grabbing her. She lets fly with a killing blow that embeds an arrow in the head of the shark, killing it even as another slides between them, cutting them off. Her anima rises and starts to glow once more.

    Ganan kicks hard through the water to reach his wife, and slams into the new Knifetooth, attacking it with a fierce savagery as his anima starts to burn with light once more, rising from glowing. The Knifetooths break and peel off under his assault.

    The Dynasts continue to push forward. Reya’s lungs feel like they’re going to burst as the moon-pool finally comes into sight, and she gratefully heaves in massive lungfuls of air as they break the surface of the water. Manarah and Nula are shaken up from having nearly been eaten. They heave themselves out of the water and look around.

    Ferad is the first to speak, “Is it just me, or is there no way out of here?”

    Ganan lays a hand against the stone walls of the moon-pool. He pulls his tetsubo off his back, readying himself for a fight, and he gestures with it at the far wall.

    “Karkinos...” Iselsi Manarah breathes, as the wall seems to come to life and crawl towards the Dynasts.

    Thirty foot wide, and as long as the Knifetooths, eight legs unfurl from the body of a giant crab. Two great pincers rise from under the water as Karkinos squares off against the Dynasts. The water in the middle of the moon-pool starts to squirm as at least a few of the Benthic Knifetooths come back for Karkinos’s leavings. This leaves the Dynasts with only a thin ring of rock round the edge of the water to maneuver on – each of them in range of the beast’s massive claws.

    Melody levels her bow, and whispers to herself in Low Realm as she unleashes her attack, “You can’t expect a decapod to beat a demigod.” She breathes as her arrow strikes the beast, but one arrow does little to deter the mighty creature.

    Reya discards her waterlogged bow to return to an old standby: she speaks the burning name and hurls fire at the giant crab, only to watch in horror as her attack does absolutely nothing to slow the beast.

    Karkinos lashes out with its pincers. One smashes into Ganan, who expends the last of his spiritual reserves to force his body into Earth Dragon Form, his anima flaring totemic. The crustacean plucks him from the safety of the rock ledge and plunges him into the pool among the Knifetooths. The other claw reaches for Melody who dodges aside at the last moment.

    With only a lungful of air, Ganan focuses his mind and resolves to use his head to get out of this tricky situation. He slams his forehead against the hard carapace of the giant crab monster, managing to jar its claws, just a little, and win himself some breathing room.

    The Knifetooths in the pool move in to nip at Ganan. Pinned by Karkinos, drained of power, and hampered by being underwater, by rights Ganan should be easy prey. He is not. The crab guardian has Ganan by the middle – his legs are free and they kick wildly at any approaching shark, driving them off.

    The Dragon-Blooded form up and attack Karkinos. Aharon runs in with his halberd, slashing and stabbing at the beast recklessly as the others cover each other with their attacks. The Dragon-Blooded all start to glow as they expend their spiritual power to fight this threat. Only Iselsi Manarah doesn’t fight, pressing himself hard against the wall of the moon-pool and curling up as small as he can.

    Melody fires another arrow, this time hitting one of the beasts eye-stalks. It makes an almost human sound of pain as the arrow impacts.

    Reya directs the confused milieu of Dragon-Blooded, focusing their talents to create an effective response to the beast before them.

    Using the factional space granted to him by his cunning headbutt, Ganan focuses his chi. His tetsubo is an extension of his arm. He closes his eyes and exhales, the air leaving his body buys him an almost imperceptible amount of slack for the audacious feat he is attempting. He drives his tetsubo through the water, feeling the resistance pull against him and his muscles strain to overcome it. He strikes Karkinos on one side of his claw and spins on the spot, turning his body in the giant crab’s grip to strike at the other side of the claw. The colossal whirling strike breaks the beasts grasp and sends its claw arm hurling backward. Ganan uses the reprieve to kick for the surface of the water and fill his lungs with fresh air.

    The Dragon-Blooded attack according to Reya’s instructions. Tepet Agoram and Muli move in, covering each other. They strike and peel away as Jorod and Aharon crash through them and hammer the giant crab with fire and water. Ferad runs past Ganan and strikes out with his blade in a coordinated assault against the reeling beast.

    The Benethic Knifetooths strike for Ganan again but released from the giant crab’s grasp he is a far more challenging target and once more he fights them off.

    Karkinos strikes again. The claw that swept at Ganan now lashes at Melody, whilst the other plucks Iselsi Manarah from his hiding spot and plunges him underwater. Melody’s anima flares totemic as she dodges aside.

    Ganan climbs from the pool and charges at the giant crab, battering it with his tetsubo. Jade cracks the beasts exoskeleton, dealing a telling blow.

    Reya weaves Ganan’s impulsive attack into her strategy as she directs her kin to finish the monster off.

    Melody fires again, hammering the beast.

    Karkinos is an ancient being, and it has not lasted this long by fighting foes it cannot defeat. Still holding Iselsi Manarah, it dives into the water. Its body completely fills the pool, and for a moment it seems like it is too big to fit, but fit it does and it quickly disappears.

    Cautiously, the Dragons pick their way around the pool to where Karkinos stood. They find a door of rippling moonsilver, stylized as a carved face.

    Reya goes to open the door and the face yawns to life.

    What is so fragile that saying its name breaks it?” The door asks in Old Realm.

    Reya smiles at the riddle, “Silence.” She replies confidently.

    The door proceeds, “What can you break, even if you never pick it up or touch it, but keep after you give it to another?

    Your word.” Ganan answers quickly before Reya can solve the puzzle.

    If you have me, you want to share me; if you share me, you haven’t kept me. What am I?

    Reya translates into High Realm, repeating the riddle back before answering, “A secret.

    The door pauses, perhaps as a human would pause gravely, “I am greater than the Dragons, more evil than the Anathema. You have me, but the Dynasts lack me. All women carry me to their graves. I am the only thing you may put before our Vendetta. What am I?

    Reya translates and thinks carefully. She weighs the various evils of the world against the Anathema, “Death?” She asks Ganan cautiously in High Realm.

    Melody shakes her head, “Death is better than the Anathema. Nothing is worse than the Anathema. Nothing.”

    Reya shakes her head at her foolishness, “Nothing.” She announces, and the door fades away to nothingness, revealing, at last, the Hearth room of The House of Black Waters.

    The Dragons move forward and attune to the manse. Surprisingly, the manse’s hearthstone, the Fighting-The-Tide Gemstone, sits on a plinth unguarded. Danireya studies it carefully, expecting some sort of trap or guardian, but sensing no danger she takes it and inserts it into her shield.

    Melody speaks, “Well now she should be able to move through the manse without setting off every single trap, right?”

    Ganan scoffs, “Now we have to swim past the beasts again.”

    Indeed, there is no other way out but back the way they came. Neither serpentine sharks nor giant crab bothers them, however. After their swim, they explore the rest of the manse. The Dragons find an atrium filled with masks – each mask is covered with delicate script detailing some illustrious history of an Iselsi scion. Beyond that atrium, they find Iselsi’s tomb – the Dragons resolve not to disturb the crypt on this occasion. They find an armory, no artifact weapons have been left behind but Melody restocks on arrows. They find living quarters with books, clothes, and provisions. They do not encounter another living soul. Eventually, they pass back up into the pagoda above and find it similarly deserted.

    Reluctantly, Reya addresses the others, “It seems that House Iselsi has gone to ground.”

    “Shit.” Ganan and Melody say in unison.

    ****

    Melody spends 8XP to train Audience Enthusing Display.

    Ganan spends 8XP to train Forge-Hand Prana and 12DX to train Crater-Gouging Blow.


    With new lockdown restrictions in place, we're going to wrap Chapter Five tomorrow and take a hiatus, probably until the new year (covid permitting).
    Last edited by JohnDoe244; 11-02-2020, 03:47 PM.


    Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

    Comment


    • #62
      Session 60 – End Chapter 5 – Reya (180XP 144DX, 179/139 spent; 9GP 30SP), Melody (180XP 144DX, 176/143 spent), and Ganan (180XP 144DX, 170/144 spent; 8WhP 44GP 42SP) Part 1 of 2

      Disclaimer: I don’t own Exalted or Aida. I assume Disney owns Aida, no challenge to the rightful copyright holders intended.

      Satisfied that the House of Black Waters has been emptied of House Iselsi, Reya and Ganan close and lock the manse, hoping to turn its defensive enchantments against its former owners. When they have time, sorcerous workings will be needed to fully wrest the manse away and subvert its defenses.


      Ledaal Ludila arrives on the scene, flanked by a pair of Dynasts and some mortal retainers, and she confirms that Iselsi scions were seen fleeing for the protection of the Palace Sublime.


      Melody grumbles, “How can the Mouth of Peace continue to offer shelter to these traitors!”


      “The ‘how’ doesn’t matter. But the fact is that she is. We’ve disrupted Iselsi operations here, and I don’t think even these traitors have the gall to plan assassinations from the Palace Sublime.” Reya says with confidence, before turning to Ludila and her companions, “Thank you for bringing support, but it seems it is no longer required.” She gives a courteous bow.


      Ludila returns the gesture, “The Flashing Tempest Council has decided that you might need some more direct assistance. We’re are at your disposal. This is my cousin, Ledaal Kebok Coren. Coren, may I present Mnemon Alinos Danireya, and her husband-”


      Coren cuts in, “My cousin, Cynis Ganan. How is Aunt Ibelin?”

      Ganan gives a stiff bow reserved for family members, “Well, she recently did battle with a ghost of one of the ancients that House Ragara unleashed, and has now returned to guard the Heptagram. How is your grandmother?” He asks awkwardly.


      Coren bends easily, and smiles affably, “She’s very well, likely as not to outlive us all.” The sun comes out from behind a cloud and shines brightly on the Dynasts below.


      Ludila pulls a face as she tries to work out exactly how closely related she is to Cynis Ganan, before launching into the other introductions. “And this is Sesus Eshuvar.”


      Reya’s mind races through her encyclopedic knowledge of whos-who in the Dynasty, “But of course, how are Rela and the children?”


      Sesus Eshuvar smiles affably and gives a charming, noncommittal response. “Well, where to?” He says stretching out as if he doesn’t have a care in the world.


      Reya points to the North-West, “The Enduring Breath of Hesiesh. We need to rally with Oban, then strike cross-country for Bright Obelisk.”


      Sesus Eshuvar tosses his hair casually, “Weeks on the road. So glad that I volunteered.”


      “Hours, days maybe,” Melody reassures him as Reya, Nula, and Ludila start casting Stormwind Rider. Eshuvar makes a face to show his discomfort but says nothing.


      ****


      The trail from Sion to the Enduring Breath of Hesiesh is blessedly deserted. Melody easily navigates them back to the manse. The Stormwind Riders blow snow in all directions, Sesus Eshuvar somehow manages to look immaculate as they rush through the hundred-mile-an-hour wind. No snow has settled around the manse, the geothermal heat of the manse melting any stray flakes. It’s evening by the time they reach the manse.


      Ganan jumps off the Stormwind and starts to gather up his materials and Melody stops to make sure Clapper is okay as Reya checks in with the others. The camp has vastly expanded, as crude structures in various states of construction have been thrown up to house the legion encamped there. Already camp followers have started to flock to the camp.


      Righteous River and Kingfisher Swift intercept Reya and the others, they warmly greet her and the new reinforcements from Sion. River and Swift peel off with Eshuvar, as Reya finds Berit and Oban.


      Berit doesn’t look up from the battle-plans she’s drawn up as Reya approaches, “I assume you’ve made good on killing all the Iselsi?” There’s a friendly banter to Berit’s tone.


      Reya laughs, lightly, “Unfortunately, most of them fled to the Palace Sublime. I don’t think we’re in a position to attack the Immaculate Order, but we’ve taken their last stronghold of any significance. We can deal with them after the war.”


      Berit makes a thoughtful, “hmm” noise, “Oban is in the manse proper. He’s eager to be on the move.”


      “How is our position here?” Reya asks, “Is there anything you need before we leave?”


      Berit looks up, “House Peleps have withdrawn their troops from the capital, and House Cathak has encamped. This leaves their traditional holdings vulnerable, but I want to gather what forces we have to here the better to make a push for the capital. We’re blockading Ragara into a stalemate. I don’t think Cathak with march this close to Calibration. Of course, if they do then we’re done for, but Cainan has been making noises of conciliation – he thinks we’re beaten, and rumor has it he’s planning a campaign to march on Thorns.”

      “Which would solidify his rule, and spend what troops who might rebel against him in a glorious campaign. Ledaal would jump on that, even Sesus would see it as an honorable way out of an endless civil war.” Reya nods in appreciation, “You’re right, he’s not going to march on us with a plan like that.” Reya pauses and rubs her temples, “Are we the bad guys?”


      Berit scoffs, “The self-centered Dynasts willing to bring the Realm to its knees for personal gain, instead of uniting against the Anathema? Yes. We’re the bad guys. Not the Anathema who started a civil war, tore apart the Valley of the Ancients, and set the Imperial City aflame. He’s perfectly innocent and well suited to be Empress.”


      Reya bows out of respect to Berit, “Is there anything you need?”


      Berit turns her attention back to her battle plans, “More legions. Cementing this alliance with Sesus is a start, but with House Cynis against us we need another three legions at least.”


      Reya stands primly, “I will work on House Nellens and Tepet. And as soon as the weddings are done we’ll approach Lookshy.”


      Berit snorts, “A Nellens-Sesus alliance?”


      “Stranger than a Mnemon-V’neef-Berit alliance?” Reya teases as she turns and leaves to pick up Oban.


      Reya climbs the sides of the hill on foot and passes a sweating Melody who is tending for Clapper in the oppressive, sweltering heat of the thermal vents. She approaches her sister-in-law.


      “We’re going to want Clapper when we march on the Imperial City.” She broaches delicately.


      Melody nods, “I’ve… been working on something. But you’re right. It’s cold: he likes it here.”


      Together, they approach Oban, son of the Scarlet Empress and Widower to the Matriarch of House Sesus, and Reya uses her Charms to call him out of the manse.


      Oban comes out looking flawless and energized, “Let’s go.”


      Reya bows back at him, “We leave first thing tomorrow.”


      ****


      The next morning, Reya gathers the Alinos household together, she doesn’t comment when Sesus Eshuvar brings Swift and River, turning instead to pet her elemental. There’s only one conspicuous absence. Nula pinches the bridge of her nose, “Where’s dad?” She asks despairingly.


      No-one has seen him, so Melody looks for heavy-weight bronze tracks in the craggy ground. She picks up his spoor and leads Reya to the edge of the camp, past a merchant selling parchment and coals to a tree. Ganan sits with his back to the tree, his demons materialized around him, sketching furiously. (-5SP to create a fourth Major Project slot, and -3GP to create a Level 3 Superior Project Slot.) His anima burns and a javelin made of stone lies impaled at his feet – the area around him looks ravaged as if by a sandstorm.


      Reya pinches the bridge of her nose, “Mela’s name!” She curses, “Gan, we have to go.”


      Ganan doesn’t look up, working the design swiftly with sweeping strokes across the page.


      Melody looks at Reya, “So do we leave him or...”


      Reya speaks the Burning Name and tosses a ball of fire at Ganan’s head. He ducks, tucks his drawings away, and rises to his feet. He joins the others (instructing his demons to Hurry Home to him after twelve hours), and Reya, Nula, and Ludila all cast Stormwind Rider, taking Oban and the others into the sky.


      They dart across the land. Little snow has fallen over the foothills surrounding the Imperial Mountain. The top of the mountain is graced with snow, but the stabilizing influence of the pole of Earth keeps the weather to a fixed autumnal.


      The dragons stop once to eat at mid-day. Swift complains bitterly about traveling across mountains, cross country, on the sorcerous conveyance, but offers no alternative mode of transportation. The prefecture has clearly seen troop movements: country homes are deserted, fields are torn up. If any bandits are lurking, they think better of attacking the large crowd of Dynasts in broad-daylight.


      Eventually, they cross into Arjuf Dominion, and Ledaal Ludila leads them towards the city of Iron Scripture. The austere Ledaal holding unfolds in a faceless gray valley beneath the watchful eye of the Nine Herb Mountain Monastery overlooking the city from on-high. Set on the main road, and by the Caracal River, once this dour and pious city served as a vital trade hub. Now it is a battlefield.


      The campfires of the constant Cathak presence burn bright in the foothills, keeping House Ledaal hemmed into Arjuf, and preventing them from crossing the border to trade and treat with House Tepet and House Nellens. The Cathak Flight isn’t large enough to seize the city but is too large to be driven off as it secures the vital transcontinental artery of west to east coast overland travel for House Cathak.


      Melody does a quick scan of the fires, estimating three Dragons of infantry, with perhaps forty or so Dragon-Blooded officers to be expected among the one-thousand five hundred soldiers.


      They dismiss their Stormwinds and proceed into the city on foot. A curfew is in place, and once they’re past the guards on the city gate, the streets are deserted. Ledaal Ludila leads them confidently to the Ledaal Catala estate within the city. The city’s temporary governor, Ledaal Gamam comes forth from the estate to welcome them into her home. She is an air aspect, tall and thin. Her white hair is tinged with streaks of pale blue and tied back into a pony-tail. Even at this hour, she wears a buff-jacket for protection.


      “It’s strange,” The governor begins after introductions have been made, “This time last year, I was fighting side-by-side with Cathak forces: we drove a Deathknight from Scorpion Ridge. Now they’re camped to the north, hemming us in and raiding our caravans.” She smiles ruefully, “But I suppose I don’t need to be telling a Mnemon about how strange it is to be fighting against House Cathak: your houses are bosom-buddies in piety.”


      Reya returns the smile, “Well, the so-called-Emperor is calling for a campaign to retake Thorns. We could all be marching happily to our deaths against the Anathema again sooner than you think.”


      Ledaal Gamam shakes her head, “Nothing would bring me greater pleasure. The Deathlords and their servants have become an obsession of mine – did you know there is hardly any record of them from before the Great Contagion? I theorize that somehow the very barriers between life and death…” She catches herself and waves away the thought, “But you’ve heard the rumors, no doubt? Cathak Cainan’s youth is a result of a dark pact with the Anathema. They say he now moves with a cursed and unnatural swiftness, and that he calls up dark powers. House Ledaal will not succumb to the deprecations of an Anathema on the Throne, no matter what his honeyed promises.”


      Melody is not impressed with Gamam’s platitudes, doubting that House Ledaal in general and Ledaal Catala Gamam specifically would remain steadfast against House Cathak if this campaign against Thorns ever truly materialized. “We need to get to Bright Obelisk.” She states, with the tone of a question.


      Ledaal Gamam nods cordially, and spreads her palms to the sky, “Then you have to go through House Cathak. They have three Dragons encamped across our northern border, and auxiliaries spread throughout the hills and side-roads. Their officers do not want for the blood of dragons.”


      Internally, Melody revises her estimates for Exalted opposition from forty or so to fifty or so. She spits a crude, Low Realm curse.


      Sesus Eshuvar discretely clears his throat (Reya fancies that she sees Kingfisher swift nudge him in the ribs to prompt him), “I know a little sorcery. Nothing so fast as the Stormwinds we blew in on. I could ferry us one at a time, high in the air above the Cathak forces.”


      Reya shakes her head, “That will take all night.”


      Ganan pitches in, “Tisi and Ndiza could help. Not exactly inconspicuous, but if we fly above bow range, what can the Cathak troops do?”


      “They can follow us, then mob us as we set down. Bad plan.” Melody says.


      Reya considers, “What about monks?”


      Ledaal Gamam is intrigued, “What about monks?”


      Reya elaborates, “Are the Cathak troops stopping monks from passing? We could shave our heads, wear robes-”


      Ganan, outraged, blusters, “I am not impersonating an Immaculate monk!”


      Reya laughs lightly, “I don’t see why not, you’re more skilled in Immaculate Martial Arts than the average monk.”


      “It’s blasphemous!” Ganan objects.

      Melody considers, “It’s not a bad idea.”


      Mnemon Muli looks ready to burst into tears, “You want me to get married with a shaved head?”


      “It does rather send the wrong impression,” Oban adds, with a touch of distaste.


      Ganan puts his hands in his pockets and feels something cool and smooth under his fingers, “What about Tepets?” He asks, his brow furrowing in concentration as he pulls out the House Tepet tokens V’neef bequeathed them with.


      Tepet Agoram suddenly becomes animated, “A party of Tepets, returned from the Threshold, passing through from port at Arjuf back to Lord’s Crossing. House Cathak might not respect us anymore, but we haven’t declared against them… it might work!”


      Ganan snorts, and mutters quietly to himself, “No-one respects House Tepet anymore.” But the others ignore him.


      Reya addresses those assembled, “Dump anything that bears a family Mon. I don’t want to see a hint of House Colors unless those colors are blue and white. We rest tonight and set off at first light.” She turns to Ledaal Gamam, “We’re going to need to buy some clothes.”


      Ledaal Gamam furnishes them with clothes from out of season wardrobes and sends troops to requisition cloth from local tailors. Cynis Ganan alters outfits, cutting away Ledaal gray and Mnemon purple to stitch blue to white (9SP). Blessedly, Sesus Eshuvar is dressed fashionably – the war not miring his style with such frivolities as openly wearing the Sesus Mon as part of his exquisite blue-and-white outfit. Once everyone has suitable disguises, they turn in for the night.


      ****


      At first light, the Dynasts leave Iron Scripture, heading north on foot


      Ganan walks in the middle of the pack, his demons materialized and flanking his Invulnerable Bronze form, and Laurels pacing at his side, the very picture of an aloof, anti-social sorcerer. Melody and Reya take up the front of the convoy, wearing their Tepet necklaces and new clothing, with Tepet Agoram moving naturally at their side. Oban has boot-black in his hair, and he slouches, appearing to be a changed man. They move cautiously, but with purpose, striding along the main road as only entitled Dynasts can.


      When they come to the Cathak roadblock, Danireya imperiously orders them to stand-aside.


      A stocky Cathak officer, with a chest like a barrel wearing a reinforced Jade Breastplate, “I am Winglord Cathak Izar, and I decide who stands aside here. No traffic may pass by order of the Emperor.”


      Melody’s eyes narrow dangerously, “Do we look like peasant merchants to you, Cathak Izar? Emperor or Empress, we are Dynasts of House Tepet and we have every right to use the roads.”


      Izar smiles sardonically, “Far be it for a lowly Cathak to keep the mighty scions of House Tepet from their business.” His troops level their weapons, “But the road remains closed.”


      Reya strikes a pose, giving the Cathak Izar bedroom eyes, as she entices him like a siren away from his soldiers, slinking towards him as she sways her hips.

      Ganan tenses his hands into fists, clenches his jaw, and looks ready to explode. Laurels senses the tension and rubs up against him.


      Reya embraces Cathak Izar, her lips lightly brush against his stubbly cheek and she whispers into his ear, “Surely, the Emperor won’t mind if you allow some allies to return home.”

      Cathak Izar swallows hard and takes a step backward, composing himself, “Allies?”


      Reya pouts and looks offended, “You wouldn’t send us back to House Ledaal’s lands would you?”


      A female junior officer blusters forward, “Sir, our orders are clear, no-one can be allowed to pass. They could be spies!”


      Cathak Izar takes Reya’s Tepet pendent in his hands and looks it over carefully, “These are authentic.” He sighs, “Let them pass.”


      The mortal Cathak troops rest easy and part, but four Dragon-Blooded, including the junior officer, still bar the path.


      Reya clears her throat softly and waves her disguised band forward. She spreads her hands in a gesture of peace and makes to walk through the Cathak officers.


      The junior officer stands in Reya’s way and draws her Longfang, “I am Scalelord Cathak Maren. You shall not pass.”


      Reya forces a polite smile, and Melody strikes up an old song about peace and unity between the Ten-Thousand Dragons. The other three Scalelords part to let the Dynast’s pass, but Maren shakes off the feelings of fraternity and levels her spear.


      Reya holds her empty hands apart and approaches Maren slowly, “Fine, we won’t pass through. May we camp here whilst you send a missive to the Emperor, or do we have to return to Arjuf and spend our jade there?” She smiles affably.


      “You can’t camp here!” Maren screeches hysterically.


      Reya tosses Cathak Izar a winning smile, “Do you have orders not to let anyone camp here as well.”


      Izar folds his arms across his chest, “No we do not. Scalelord Maren is right, our orders are that you can’t pass. What she doesn’t seem to understand is the chain of command, and when orders need to be reinterpreted by the commanding officer. But certainly, there’s no prohibition on allied Dragon-Blooded sharing our camp. Men!” The Cathak troops, including the other three Scalelords, rank up, weapons drawn against Maren, “That’s the kind of insubordination I’d expect from a Sesus infiltrator, or an Anathema looking to bring down the unity of the Realm.”


      Reya backs up to Izar’s side, “Clearly this war is more serious than I thought. I believed this was a political skirmish: surely everyone sees that Cathak Cainan has been chosen by the Elemental Dragons to lead the Realm?”


      Izar puffs himself up and lays a protective hand on Reya’s shoulder, “See, men! I told you the Realm supports our cause! Just a few malingerers like these Ledaal intelligentsia and the undisciplined curs of House Sesus. House Tepet and anyone with an ounce of honor stands with us!”


      Reya looks up and him and smiles invitingly, “Where can we put our things whilst we wait for permission to pass?”


      Izar leads her off the road, “You are welcome to rest in my tent, Tepet… ?”


      “Ana, Tepet Berel Ana, but please just ‘Ana’ is fine.” Reya looks deeply into Izar’s eyes.


      “Well Ana, Scalelord Maren will guard you to make sure you aren’t Ledaal spies on a dastardly mission. I’m sure your sorcerer,” He gestures vaguely in Ganan’s direction, “Can make an appeal for passage, and once Maren is satisfied, you may pass on with your journey. Of course, if it takes until nightfall for permission to come through, you are welcome to spend the night.”


      Reya smiles seductively back at him, “Let us hope that the Emperor has better things to do than grant us passage then.”


      The Cathak troops peel off, leaving the ‘Tepets’ alone with Cathak Maren. Ganan makes a flashy gesture as if he is about to cast a spell, using his anima to shake the ground. Maren looks at him, weapon still in hand, as Reya subtly casts Peacock Shadow Eyes on her. As Maren lapses into a suggestive state, Reya convinces her that they really do have permission to continue on their journey.


      Reya makes a great show of washing out her mouth as Ganan leers at her jealously. They cast Stormwind Rider again, and head up through Lord’s Crossing Dominion to Ventus Prefecture, leaving Maren behind to inform her commander that the ‘Tepets’ had permission to pass.
      Last edited by JohnDoe244; 11-06-2020, 07:14 PM.


      Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

      Comment


      • #63
        Session 60 – End Chapter 5 – Reya (180XP 144DX, 179/139 spent; 9GP 30SP), Melody (180XP 144DX, 176/143 spent), and Ganan (180XP 144DX, 170/144 spent; 8WhP 44GP 42SP) Part 2 of 2


        Bright Obelisk lies high in the mountains, and the Dynasts have to wend their Stormwinds over treacherous mountain paths. The secluded forests would be perfect for an ambush, but no mortal bandits are brave enough to assault our Dynasts, and House Cathak’s forces are focused on defense. They pass orchards, open-pit mines, and fields of hardy winter vegetables. The city of twelve thousand is bright and clear, but our heroes feel immediately on edge as they arrive in the city with the setting sun. They pick their way through the streets as the locals hurry past, hooded, and guarded. The center of town is ringed with important residences, all built around The Plaza of Light – a grand public square with vivid mosaics, whose colors brightly shine even in the fading evening light. At the center of the Plaza is a great pylon of white stone and silver – the eponymous Bright Obelisk.


        Reya sights Mnemon Alinos Bekara’s residence and makes for it, but Ledaal Coren steers them towards the governor’s mansion, “Surely you want to deliver Oban to Governor Sesus Nerys?” She gently prompts.


        Melody smoothly steps in, “Of course, of course. It’s been a long flight. Oban, shall we?” She offers the Empress’s son her arm as she escorts him to the Governor.


        Reya sets Ganan and her children aside, “Ferad, take the others to Aunt Bekara’s. I’m going to go show our faces to the governor.”


        Ferad takes the party to Bekara’s as Reya, Ganan, Muli and Nula fall in with Melody and Oban. As they cross the plaza to Nerys’ residence, they notice the weather suddenly gets warmer. All of a sudden, Ledaal Coren is at Mnemon Muli’s side, and his hand is in hers.


        “The governor is a family friend.” She offers by way of explanation, “I’ve spent many summers here, I’ll help you make a good first impression.”


        Ganan gives Coren a trademark scowl but says nothing.


        Mnemon Nula leans into Coren, “Don’t mind father, that’s just his face.”


        The servants of Sesus Nerys are reluctant to admit them. They force the Dynasts to wait outside whilst they confirm the governor is expecting them at this late hour. The cast dubious looks at Oban’s boot-blacked hair, and suspicion at their Tepet colored clothing. They do, however, recognize Ledaal Coren, and a short moment later the Dynasts are escorted to a drawing room and made to wait. They feel the presence of unseen eyes watching them, and they shift uncomfortably in the oppressive atmosphere. The previous warmth of the evening evaporates into a stark chill, despite being inside.


        Eventually, a haggard-looking Sesus Nerys, flanked by guards enters the room. She regards them carefully for a beat, then crosses over to Oban, takes his hands in hers, and sincerely says, “I’m sorry for your loss. The House is lessened immeasurably by the loss of Raenyah. She was the best of us.”


        Oban graciously bows back at her, “These,” He says, “Are the heroes of House Mnemon. Mnemon Alinos Danireya, her sister Mnemon Melody, husband Cynis Ganan, and our bride and groom: Mnemon Alinos Nula and Mnemon Alinos Muli. You already know Ledaal Coren – a family friend?”


        Reya clears her throat, “How are the wedding preparations?”


        Nerys waves, dismissively, “Decorations, food, a judge have all been lined up. Mnemon and her party arrived yesterday. We’re just waiting for the Sesus bride and groom.” She turns to Oban, “Your children are traveling separately and under-guard. I would have advised the same caution to House Mnemon, but I suppose that the risk paid off.” She casts a dour eye at Ledaal Coren, “Isn’t she sitting rather close to our groom?”


        Muli shifts uncomfortably. A peal of distant thunder rings out. Melody speaks quickly, “I can assure you it’s perfectly proper. Ledaal Kebok Coren here is good with a blade, she’s been our assurance against any attack. I understood that she was known to you. They’re cousins.”


        Coren smiles at Muli, “Once removed.”


        Sesus Nerys doesn’t quite seem mollified, “Well. Calibration is coming. It’s looking like a wedding in Resplendent Air: plenty of time for something to go wrong.”


        Muli looks inappropriately relieved.


        Ganan jumps in, “That long? Where are these children, we’ll pick them up ourselves!”


        Sesus Nerys’s eyes narrow, “We are not talking of simply two Dragon-Blooded. These are our late Matriarch’s children. They travel with their honor guards or not at all, and in far greater numbers than you have come here. House Cathak are securing their power-base, Ragara is locked fighting Ledaal, and Peleps loses their power inland. They are traveling over the mountains and will get here when they get here: no enemy army will oppose them over the winter. Frankly, I don’t see why you rushed so.”


        Ganan mutters to himself, “Resplendent Air is six weeks away, seven with Calibration. Are we seriously going to let Cainan sit on the throne for seven weeks?”


        The others ignore him, they rise to leave. Reya gives Oban and Nerys a bow, and they say their farewells. Leaving Oban behind, they trek back across the Plaza.


        “That went well!” Melody laments bitterly, as they cross past the Bright Obelisk.


        Reya pinches the bridge of her nose, “At least we’re here. Safe in the mountains. Inland.”


        Ganan mutters, “Until they send House Cynis after us.”


        Coren laughs, “Oh no! The dreaded warriors of House Cynis!”


        Melody shakes her head, “They won’t travel until after Calibration.”


        Ganan stares sidelong at her, “Bet your life?”


        Reya holds up a hand for silence, “Bright Obelisk is well defended, we’ll take it as it comes.”


        They let themselves into Mnemon Alinos Bekara’s estate. Mnemon is waiting for them. Standing behind her is a ten-foot-tall demon: his skin is black and oily, his maw is elephant tusked, and his chest and arms are more than well-muscled – they are enormous. The demon wears nothing but a loin-cloth, and a cracked skull strung on a strand of jade beads. In his hand, he holds a massive staff. The demon leers over Mnemon’s shoulder as the House Matriarch makes her displeasure known.


        Mnemon folds her arms over her chest, “Is there a reason why you took my brother to the governor before checking-in with me?” She asks with a note of warning in her voice.


        Reya bows low and the others follow suit as she speaks, “My Matriarch, we meant no disrespect. We… didn’t expect you to be here. No insult was intended, but even I make mistakes. From time to time.”


        Mnemon’s eyes narrow suspiciously, “And why wouldn’t I be here?”


        Melody steps in, “Well the bride and groom aren’t here. And the rumor was that you were in Mnemon-Darjilis, preparing a super-weapon to end the war.”


        Octavian, the Living Tower, laughs with dark malice. Mnemon turns her warning gaze upon the still smirking demon, before returning her attention to her wayward scions, “I am considerably more competent than my niece and nephew, which is why when Oban sent word that the weddings were to go ahead, I arrived here in good time. And I would not put stock in rumor.”


        Reya bows again, “Of course, my Matriarch.”


        Mnemon unfolds her arms, more aggravated than angry, “Who did you find as a suitable substitute for your brother?”


        Ganan shoves Muli forward with one hand. He stumbles, bows, then looks at his feet.


        Reya brushes him off, “My son. Mnemon Alinos Muli. House of Bells Graduate, a veteran of our Dovak Campaign, helped rescue Berit from the field after the murder of Sesus Raenyah, and most recently was part of the attack on the House of Black Waters – House Iselsi are responsible for the murder of the Regent.”


        Mnemon waves a hand dismissively, “I know. I have always fought vigorously against those despicable traitors. When I am Empress-” She catches herself, “Your mother and grandmother are here. In the morning, I expect you to go over the wedding arrangements. You!” She points at Melody, “My chief military advisors are dead, captured, or on the other side of the Blessed Isle. You will join my war council, what’s your rank girl?”


        Melody curtsies, “I was a Winglord in the Imperial Legions, mistress. I… haven’t been granted a commission in the Mnemon legions.”

        Mnemon gives another gesture of annoyance, “Well consider yourself a Dragonlord in the First Legion, or whatever we have left. Alinos tells me you ride some kind of Siege Lizard?”


        Melody bites her tongue, “A Shieldback Lizard. Invaluable in our siege of Urza Arcus.”


        Mnemon nods, considering, “We will discuss this further on the morrow.”


        ****


        The next morning, Ganan puts the final touches on Reya’s composite bow, leaving it for her on the bed (-10SP; 9GP, 4SP). He sets out into town, looking for a rotatory table and more jade.


        ****


        Reya wakes, touched by Ganan’s gift, and resolved to pay the bill for whatever other extravagant purchase is coming – even though in this town of hunters, she could probably buy a composite bow of equal quality for far less than what Ganan’s workmanship will cost her.


        Muli enters her room without knocking, “I won’t do it, mother! You can’t make me marry this woman. I’d rather die!”


        Reya looks at her son for a long time, “You’d really rather die?”


        “Yes!” Muli spits savagely, then his tone softens, “Mother, I want to be with Tepet Agoram. I thought you understood that. I thought… I thought you supported that, marrying a powerful Dynast into our House. Keeping your son, and my...” He gestures awkwardly at his testicles, “Essence in our family. In House Alinos-Mnemon. Don’t make me live my life married this Sesus woman.”


        Reya sighs, stands, and walks to her traveling supplies. She withdraws a small vial and passes it to Muli, “You will wed Sesus Raenyah Ilana, you will bed her. Once you have get a child upon her, and not before, you may drink the contents of this vial. It is hemlock, such as your father drank in the Iselsi manse. If you’d rather die than remain married to her, then death by hemlock implicates our House’s enemies, and your death will secure our alliance.”


        Muli looks from the vial to his mother, “I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I am your son!”


        Reya looks back at him, fixing him with a hard stare, “And I expect my son to do his duty. An Anathema sits on the Throne. It falls to us to use every ounce of strength we have to depose him, but if you’d rather shirk your duty to Creation: to me, to your grandmother, your sister, to Creation. If you’d rather lay down and die than fight the Anathema with every weapon available to you, then you may do so. I will grant you that. But you’ll do it in a way that doesn’t condemn the rest of the world to follow you into the grave. Those are the stakes. We need this alliance. Find me another Mnemon with your pedigree and achievements, and we will discuss putting him in your stead. You have seven weeks, by all accounts.”


        Muli sulks, he hands the hemlock back, “You know there isn’t anyone else.” He says grimly, looking at his feet.


        Reya takes the poison and tucks it away, she lifts her son’s chin with her hand, “And so do you. Go, spend the day with Tepet Agoram. It looks like it’s going to be a fine day.” It does the sun is shining brightly on the crisp snow, there’s hardly any wind – it’s warm and pleasant, a crisp autumnal day without the bite of mountain cold.


        Muli shakes his head, “He’s out with that Ledaal girl, Coren.”


        Reya gently pats his hand, “Well I’m going to plan the wedding. You’re welcome to tag along. Let’s go find your daimother...”


        ****


        Melody borrows some clothes in white and purple, having woken from a nightmare she can’t quite remember.

        She heads for coffee, then Mnemon, walking into what was Bekara’s main receiving room before Mnemon converted it to her war room. The center of the room is dominated by a top-down map of the Blessed Isle. Legions and fleets are marked with tiny figurines. The walls of the room are plastered with tactical information: point-of-view maps, troop reports, coded letters, formation designs, and other bewildering notes.


        Mnemon Johon and Nanals are hunched over the war map. Mnemon herself stands in the corner of the room, Octavian by her side, and the two are deep in conversation. Melody doesn’t recognize the other two Dragon-Blooded in the room, but Nanals is suddenly at her side pointing at a woman sharpening a sword in the middle of the war room, “My daughter, Mnemon Maisi. Bekara’s little sister, your aunt, I suppose. House of Bells graduate.” She points to another woman working on ciphers, “Mnemon Rulinsei Suki, House of Bells. I’ve already decoded the ciphers, of course, we just don’t have a better use for her. All our better options are gone – dead, captured, or on the wrong side of the Isle. Frankly, Johon is probably the only one here more qualified than you, and he’s well past his prime.”


        Melody looks at Nanals, trying the hard stare Reya has developed. The older woman simply smiles at her, “We’re not friends, Wolf’s Blade.” She says levelly.


        Nanals puts a hand on Melody’s belly, “True enough. But we’re family, and we’re desperate. And we need horse archers and cavalry charges to outmaneuver our enemies.”


        Mnemon gestures for Melody to approach and Nanals makes herself scarce.


        “So, tell me more about Shieldback Lizards.”


        ****


        The days pass to Calibration, and the Alinos family is set increasingly on edge. Whispers and rumors of a curse upon Bright Obelisk have turned from idle gossip to terrified concern. The only person unfazed seems to be Cynis Ganan who spends all his time slaving over jade and ironwood, hammering and carving, using his tools and his hands to shape his vision into something solid.


        Reya walks in on Ganan working, grabs him by the back of the neck, and physically pulls him up and away from his work. She then fetches Nanals and Udi and drags them to the Plaza. “It’s this!” She says confidently.


        Ganan looks blankly at the Bright Obelisk, “Bright Obelisk? What the city is named for? It blesses the city...”


        Reya shakes her head, “It’s cursed!”


        Ganan shakes his head, “It’s the only thing fighting the curse...”


        “No!” Reya says, pointing at it hysterically, “It’s cursed! I’ve been asking around! I’m a Heptagram trained sorcerer! I know a curse when I see one!”


        Nanals draws lines between the building’s and the obelisk with her thumb, “Hmm… maybe.”


        Reya jabs a finger at her daimother, “It’s Calibration! I will build a portal, and send you back to hell! Don’t you ‘maybe’ me old woman!”


        Nanals takes a deep breath, “The geomancy is off. It’s subtle.”


        Ganan shrugs, “I’m not a geomancer. Call me when you want something built or knocked down.” He walks back to his room to work on his artifact.


        Reya throws his hands up in frustration.


        Ludila speaks, “What do you need, we’ll help you fix it.”


        “Well…” Reya begins, “I have an idea… but it’s a little… blasphemous.”


        ****


        Calibration passes in relative quiet. Legions don’t move over the five moonless days. No missives come from the Imperial City. Ganan and Reya work on their projects. Melody sells Mnemon on the idea of using mounted troops to engage superior numbers of foot-slogging legionnaires.


        On the last day of Calibration, Reya is ready to set her project into motion. Aided by Ludila and Nanals, she sets about “blessing” the Bright Obelisk. The stone and moonsilver construction was built to ward off negative emotions and evil dreams. The curse of Bright Obelisk manifests those emotions, giving them a life of their own to haunt the city driving its citizens to madness. Reya’s blessing warps the haunted shadows, forcing them to manifest directly (and relatively harmlessly, certainly attenuated) allowing people to confront their demons head-on rather than being haunted into madness. The first blessing goes well, but clearly, there’s still work to be done to make the blessings stick.


        On the first day of the new year, sorcerous entreaties come in for key figures in the Tripartite Alliance urging surrender for good terms. Danireya is delighted to receive an Infallible Messenger personally, which she duly reports to Mnemon.


        “We might be able to use that. Stall for time.” Mnemon nods sagely and dismisses her. The first snow of the year falls in a flurry.


        At the end of the first week of the new year, Reya trudges through the snow to bless the statue again. She inscribes wards into the snow with lines of salt, tracing out the geometric lines mapped by Nanals. Ganan doesn’t come out of his room, eating only every other day and sleeping less.


        Melody coordinates with Berit on the status of their forces across the Isle. Octavian offers his tactical advice on how to retake the Imperial City: Melody doesn’t disagree that his advice will work, but is concerned about his incredibly high tolerance of collateral damage.


        At the end of the second week of the new year, Reya completes her blessing of the Bright Obelisk. There’s no grand, flashy sign that the working has taken hold, but Reya feels her will manifest upon the world. She doesn’t feel as if the weight of her nightmares has been lifted from her – not yet. But over the next couple of days, she faces down insecurities that manifest in mirrors with rhetoric and uses cold logic to diffuse eerie dreams. The mood of the city lightens over the next couple of days, though it soon becomes apparent that whilst the negative emotions of Bright Obelisk are easily quietened… they’re not necessarily linked to their progenitors. A family might sleep soundly as their neighbors grapple with their unconscious nightmares. The beautiful young men of the town face the jealousy others feel towards them when they look in the mirror. The curse is not precisely lifted, but tranquility and peace return to the haunted city of Bright Obelisk.


        At the end of the third week, couriers arrive, urging Sesus Nerys to surrender to the will of the Emperor, and threatening the city with the Imperial Legions should they refuse. Emperor Cainan demands a token: an ewer of water and a mason jar of soil from Bright Obelisk to make their subservience to the Cathak regime. Without consulting Mnemon, Nerys sends back a pitcher of her piss and a turd in an urn, knowing the weather will turn and no attack will come. The riots in Arjuf have quieted. V’neef sends word that her navy has regrouped. Reya tries sending sorcerous messages to Gens Amilar to recruit them for the Civil War.


        The real snow starts in the fourth week. Mortal trappers and hunters brave the mountain-side only when desperate. The Dynasts become a fixture of the city. Many times do Melody and the others (not Ganan) venture out for game, and Reya practices with her bow. No further missives, couriered nor mystical, entreat the Dynasts from the Cathak Coalition.


        ****


        As Reya’s pregnancy progresses, she feels the child grow and move inside her. Melody examines her and listens to the baby with a Pinard horn. The sisters spend time together, and Reya reads to Melody’s growing belly. Ferad occasionally calls in on his wife and sister, seeing to their needs, and Nula helps secure the staff they will need to look after two young children.


        ****


        Resplendent Air is a bitter season. Even the Dynasts have to stay inside and wrap up warm. Ganan works through the cold unperturbed – melting and reforging jade-steel to stay warm. The only respite seems to come when Ledaal Corin and Mnemon Muli go out hunting together: they are always blessed with the mildest of weather, ever blessed by being downwind of their prey. Though Muli feels no physical attraction to the woman, they become fast companions.


        At the end of the month, Ganan goes into a frenzy. In some respects, his pace slows as he stops to eat and sleep every day. But his every waking moment is consumed by a singular vision. He works frantically, often consulting the manual he acquired in Kirighast and drilling the correct forms for using a fireward as the manuscript details.


        On the first day of the last week of Resplendent Air, Ganan shapes the jade-steel into a hollow tube the length of his left shoulder to his outstretched fingertips. His fingers burn with the heat of a furnace as he smooths the steel barrel impossibly narrow – no more than a half-an-inch across. He mixes the exotic components – brick dust from the Enduring Breath, Garda Bird feathers, and the like, into the steel-alloy. He works with his carving skills as he goes, wicking the inside of the barrel – not rifling for any kind of solid projectile but carving runes into the steel that it will hold its shape against immense heat.


        On the second day, Ganan hews a receiver from a solid block of stabilizing white jade, with a red jade firing pin and bolt. Unlike a traditional firewand, his masterwork will not be breech-loading, but instead, take firedust from a chamber just above the trigger mechanism, and close that housing off from the rest of the flamethrower with a firing pin that closes the action to chamber the shot. He carves prayers to Pasiap (for stability), Hesiesh (for power), and Mela (for accuracy) into the mechanism.


        On the third day, he carves the wood of the stock. As for his conventional design, he punches holes in the ironwood, skeletonizing it. On the inside of the lattice, he carves prayers to Sextus Jylis and Daana’d for flexibility.


        On the fourth day, he shapes the bayonet, shearing the end of the barrel like a hypodermic needle and carefully filing it to a hardened point. He adds a rod of unalloyed, solid red jade to the under-barrel, running the entire length of the weapon into the stock. He quenches the tip of the blade in the blood of a Fire Elemental summoned by Danireya for that purpose, requested the day before in a brief moment of lucidity as he tears himself away from his work.


        On Saturnsday, he takes brass from Cresta’s nautilus-horn tower and works it into the fittings: plates and pins. Almost reverently, he assembles the parts of his glorious weapon into one coherent whole, dedicating the weapon to the Reciter of Loud Prayers and Efficacious Hymns. His vision is born, and Burnt Offering comes screaming into the world. Ganan collapses, clinging to his weapon like a life preserver.


        The resulting weapon appears simple and unadorned: the carefully carved inscriptions are hidden inside the weapon, leaving clean, smooth lines. Every flourish and fitting serves a practical purpose, and the weapon is slim and minimalistic: long and thin. Ganan cleans up (a simple affair thanks to his mystic necklace – he shaves and crops his hair close to his skull) and follows his nose to the evening meal. He finds that at some point during the day Sesus Raenyah Ilana and her retinue have arrived, and they have joined Bekara’s household for supper.


        ****


        Reya sees Ganan guilelessly blunder into dinner, and subtly makes room for him by shuffling Tepet Agoram further down the table so that Muli is wedged between his parents. She notes that Ganan at least has had the presence of mind to clean up and change his clothes. Mnemon and Nanals are both absent, but the others are present.


        She shows him off, “Cynis Falen Ganan, Muli’s father, a direct descendant of Tepet and the Scarlet Empress through Cynis. A veritable savant of Shogunate history.” She announces proudly. Ganan gives a short bow and sits. Sesus Ilana does not rise but returns the gesture with a polite nod.


        The dinner goes well, Ilana shows interest in Muli, and Melody spins the tale of their time in Dovak, subtly aggrandizing the achievements of Muli of Nula in the campaign. Ledaal Coren, seated with Ludila, exchanges verbal barbs with Ilana all night as they match wits – both women give a good account, and Alinos and Bekara flawlessly smooth over any unpleasantness.


        At the end of the evening, the non-Alinos are dismissed in the proper fashion: Ludila and Coren going home, Tepet Agoram withdraws to bed. Mnemon Bekara invites Ilana and the Alinos women to the salon for brandy and tobacco to talk of politics, leaving Muli and the Alinos men in the dining room to take tea and chat.


        ****


        “Shall we then, chaps?” Ferad begins brightly, pouring the tea himself, serving his father first, then his nephew. “Well let’s have a proper look at it, Gan!”


        Ganan’s nose wrinkles, both from his hatred of chit-chat and dislike of tea, “Look at what?”


        Ferad laughs, “That puny little thing you carry around with you and are inordinately proud of despite its diminutive size. The thing you’ve spent the last six weeks locked alone in your room playing with, to the despair of your wife.”

        Ganan shifts uncomfortably and looks puzzled.


        Muli leans into his father, “Your new Dragon Sigh Wand.”


        “Oh,” Ganan says, readying the weapon, begrudgingly he hands it off to Ferad, “It’s a new kind of Dragon Sigh Wand.”


        Ferad carefully turns the weapon over in his hands, treating it with reverence, more out of seeing Ganan on edge and not wanting his throat ripped out with Ganan’s teeth. “It’s… simple.”

        Ganan nods, not realizing he’s being insulted, “Not a line wasted. Every component serves a purpose here. It loads from the receiver there, not the muzzle. Don’t touch the muzzle, it’s sharp.”


        Ferad hands the weapon off to Jorod, who hardly glances at it before giving it to Muli.


        Ganan looks at his son, “So… what did you think of Ilana?”


        Muli stares at the weapon in his hands, “She’s… nice.”


        He nudges Muli gently, probably not the wisest thing to do when he’s holding a slab of sharp jade, “She seemed to like you. And get on with the others.” Ganan looks around at the other men, who nod and make encouraging noises of assent. “Good breeding. Sorcerer.”


        Muli hands the weapon back, takes a sip of tea, and tries not to cry.


        ****


        Reya pours brandy and passes it out to the women. Bekara offers cigarillos. Reya wrinkles her nose and declines; Ilana accepts the brandy and politely declines the cigarillo, she swirls her drink but doesn’t drink it.


        Once everyone has their drinks, Melody rounds on Ilana, “So, be honest, what do you think of Muli?”


        Ilana giggles charmingly, “Well they say that war makes strange bedfellows, but he’s a perfectly suitable match.”


        Melody needles her, “‘Perfectly suitable’. It must be true love!”


        Ilana looks to the elders for support, but finding none forthcoming she presses on, “No, really. House Sesus has a pure bloodline. One that must be preserved. Traditionally marriages into House Mnemon have been with exquisitely bred nobodies. One almost gets the impression that you think you’re better than us. So, when the offer came to marry General Tinis, a man of exceptional breeding and distinguished achievement, that was something to seriously consider. One of Mnemon’s finest, a real up-and-comer. Only… as it turns out, he was a has-been. Replaced by subordinated to Berit, then lost in the first real battle of the war.” Ilana takes a beat to read the mood of the room, “No disrespect intended to the fallen, but if you’re going to poke me into speaking honestly, then let us speak honestly. Father says that no sooner had you settled on Muli as a replacement, that he plunged head-first into battle to avenge the fallen Regent. That is an up-and-comer. Same quality bloodline, perhaps not quite as accomplished, yet, but the war is young.”


        “Good answer!” Melody raises a glass in a toast, and the (only mildly offended) Alinos women drink.


        Reya clears her throat, “Well, I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t let you know that you do have a say. Mnemon is not a House of black widows, there are other men. If my son is too young, or not accomplished enough for you.”


        Ilana smiles good-naturedly, “Who? Bright Obelisk is filled with married men, mortals, and retirees. Muli is a respected military man with great success on the Threshold, rescued Berit after the death of my mother, struck out at the Regent’s assassins. It’s hard to match that pedigree. You should be very proud of him.”


        Nula interrupts, “Well it doesn’t have to be a man.” The other women in the room look at her sidelong, “How many sorcerers are there in this room? You could marry any Mnemon you had your eye on, regardless of gender.”


        Ilana laughs once more, “This is like a House Cynis salon!” She clears her throat, “I think it would break my poor father’s heart if I married outside of the matches in house Alinos that he has carefully vetted. Which means marrying you.” She looks right at Nula, and smiles with genuine warmth, “That would be quite satisfactory for me, but it leaves our brothers to wed, and I can tell you now that Muli is not to Terel’s taste.”


        “Oh.” Nula says flatly, she takes a drink.


        Ilana looks to Alinos, “But I’m quite flattered.”


        Reya changes the subject, “When can we expect your brother?”


        Ilana shrugs affably, “That I don’t know. We traveled separately for security’s sake. He’s so competitive, I’m surprised he’s not here already. Though I suppose it’s for the best, that I got to meet you all first.”


        Bekara refills the drinks herself, the others invite Ilana to continue.


        “There’s nothing, wrong with him. Understand, but he is competitive. The youngest child, he wants to prove his worth. He tends to challenge people to duels and has a hard time distinguishing a duel with an ally and fight to the death. I’d keep that Ledaal Coren girl away from him, for example, or there will be blood on the streets. He is witty and charming, but not as easily separated from his entourage as I am. The model of an officer, I think you’ll like him Nula, I do. But he does tend to suck all the air out of a room.” She smiles apologetically.


        Nula nods her head, “There’s anyways plenty of air in any room I am in,” She reassures, “And I’m not perturbed by an army of hangers-on – frankly it’s to be expected of the Empress’s grandson.”


        Ilana addresses Alinos and Bekara, “Well, we are going to need another name to address grandmother by before the war’s end. Terel likes the ‘First Empress’, but I rather fancy calling her ‘Scarlet’.”


        The women talk into the night, as the snow softly continues to fall.


        ****


        It’s two more weeks before Sesus Raenyah Terel arrives, with some fanfare. Ganan spends the time securing firedust for his new toy – the local mines have a supply for blasting. Rather than use a traditional powder horn, Ganan instead rolls wax paper shells with precisely measured levels of powder that can be inserted whole into his Dragon Sigh Wand (7SP). He also creates a pair of scissors made from ironwood and black nephrite, stylized like butterflies never separating, and ties them with a black ribbon to a jade obel for Nula to give as a wedding gift (-10SP; 9GP 3SP). Reya and Melody drill together when Melody is not attending Mnemon. Jorod joins Mnemon’s war council, working closely with his mother, and spending nearly every other moment with his father. Nula, Muli, Agoram, Sesus Ilana, and Ledaal Coren spend their days together. Righteous River comments on the tempestuous weather the first few days, but by the end of the week, the worst of the snow has passed and the weather is quite pleasant. In the evenings Ilana and Nula put the finishing touches on Oban’s wedding plans – Mnemon does not deign to interfere, but Alinos and Reya offer constant suggestions to the brides-to-be.


        When Sesus Terel is heralded by runners sent ahead of the main column. Governor Nerys sends a brute-squad to round up peasants to clear the snow from the road. A carpet of black velvet is laid crossing from the far side of the Plaza of Light to the door of the governor's mansion. A second carpet of red silk is laid over the top of the black one, precisely in the middle and just wide enough to walk upon two abreast. Oban is positioned under an awning erected by the Bright Obelisk to receive his son.


        Ganan leans in to talk to his wife as they assemble in the street outside of Bekara’s mansion, “Did they do all this for the other one?”


        Melody, overhearing, shakes her head, “We all welcomed her into the city, but they didn’t do the carpet thing.” Then after a pause, she adds, “Well most of us welcomed her to the city.” And she gives Ganan and disapproving stare.


        Ganan starts to defend himself, but Reya shushes him and draws her winter fur cloak around her body.


        A scale of guards modeled after the Legion of Silence (tall, well-muscled, wearing black articulated plate and carrying poleaxes) lead the procession. Obviously not true members of the Legion of Silence, these soldiers stand only around the six-foot mark and don’t carry tower shields, wielding their poleaxes in two-hands. After them comes the procession proper, two wings of infantry in Sesus colors, flanking a gaggle of champions and heroes, some of them Exalted, others not. One of the Mountain Folk stands as one of the “not”, wielding a crossbow of curious design. A couple of the champions are mounted, but most walk. Terel is carried on a litter by eight of the black-armored guards, and he waves with casual indifference at the patricians and common folk lined up to welcome him. Behind him come wagons and carts carrying supplies, weapons, survival equipment, and presumably behind that is a rear-guard, but that is not visible to our heroes.


        Terel’s litter is carried to the Bright Obelisk, where it is carefully lowered to the ground. It’s only now that Ganan and the others see that Terel’s litter is the same width as the red carpet, so that his pole-bearers may stand on the black velvet, but only Terel and Oban walk on the red silk. Oban takes his son by the arm, and they walk together into the governor’s residence. About a dozen of Terel’s champions follow him into the house, and the rest of the guards disperse – tending to other duties.


        A messenger delivers an invitation to Mnemon Alinos Nula inviting her to dinner at the governor’s mansion. The others are not invited. Nula accepts and heads back inside.


        “Nice day for a walk?” Reya suggests mischievously to Ganan and Melody.


        They slink around the block, sticking to the back alleys. Melody keeps watch as Ganan and Reya lay their palms to the stone wall of the governor’s mansion and listen in on the proceedings.


        Nerys, Oban, Ilana, and Terel are conversing in the privacy of the governor’s study.


        Terel speaks, “So how bad is it?”


        Oban sighs, “I assume you’re talking about your impending nuptials rather than the state of the war?”


        Ilana cuts in, “It’s not that bad. Good breeding. Few actual achievements, but they have the right proximity to power. Mnemon is here, you may have seen her on the way in.”


        Terel snaps, irritated, “Well what’s wrong with her? You’ve been here a week, father says, you must have found something!”


        Ilana gives a light chuckle, “There’s nothing wrong with your one. You’re getting Mnemon’s first choice. I’m the one getting leftovers.”


        Terel rounds on his sister, “Nothing wrong with her? You’re one to talk! I know she’s a sorcerer!”


        Oban intercedes, and our eavesdropping Dynasts can practically hear him putting his arms around his children, “A sorcerer from a good bloodline. Who meets your bizarre requirements to not have graduated from a school of combat or religious instruction.”


        Terel pouts, “Well I thought sorcery went without saying. I can’t believe you’re marrying me off into a family of sorcerers!”


        Governor Nerys speaks, “Be reasonable, Terel. You will be in the field a lot. You won’t have to see your wife outside of the bedroom, and that’s the way sorcerers like it.”


        Ilana makes an indignant noise, then clears her throat and changes the subject, “There is another matter. No dueling. We need this alliance.”

        Terel waves her off, “I won’t start anything, but you can’t expect me not to defend my honor! I am the grandson of the Empress!”


        “I can and do!” Ilana snaps, “Our legions have been devastated. We’re at less than half-strength: House Mnemon is formalizing this alliance based on our military strength when we can barely field as many soldiers as they can. Mother is gone. Grandmother is gone. The only saving grace we have is that House Mnemon is just as desperate as we are. If you go around decapitating our allies, we could lose everything. If Cainan wins, he’ll have us on the executioner’s block before Mnemon’s body is cold. So less of the ‘grandson of the Empress’ crap. There is no Empress.”


        Oban speaks, “Your sister is right. We need to present a strong front to the other Sesus households. We are still in control here, and we are brokering the alliances that will save our house. We. Oban and his children. Not Sesus Raenyah, and not the Scarlet Empress. The three of us, and your sister.”


        Nerys clears her throat, obviously miffed at being left out, “Well, dinner tonight, wedding tomorrow?”


        Ganan and Reya peel their hands from the wall and return to Bekara’s house.


        ****


        Tepet Agoram and Mnemon Muli stand together in a sheltered courtyard.


        Muli takes the older man’s hands in his, his voice low and conspiratorial, “Never wonder what I'll feel as living shuffles by. You don't have to ask me and I need not reply. Every moment of my life from now until I die, I will think or dream of you and fail to understand how a perfect love can be confounded out of hand.”


        Agoram squeezes his hand back, “Marry the Princess, Muli. You can help my House. This could be our chance to do something important. Don't you see it? This alliance could be the last hope for House Tepet.”


        Muli shakes his head bitterly, “That would be a cruel trick!”


        Agoram smiles sadly at him, “Not if the Dragons brought us together for some greater purpose. Nothing can be altered, there is nothing to decide: no escape, no change of heart, nor any place to hide.”


        Muli hangs his head, resigned “You are all I'll ever want, but this I am denied. Sometimes in my darkest thoughts, I wish I'd never learned what it is to be in love and have that love returned.”


        ****


        That night, our heroes are troubled by the curse of Bright Obelisk.


        Ganan dreams of watching the man he loves forced into a loveless political marriage. He urges his love to use the marriage to help his people.


        Reya dreams of drowning. Every time she kicks to the surface, another woman grabs at her ankles and pulls her back under. The taste of salt-water is in her mouth and nose. She kicks off the grasping hands and breaks the surface, sucking in great lungfuls of air.


        Melody dreams of failing to assassinate a key target. Her bowstring breaks as she takes aim. Realizing the disgrace she faces returning to her family a failure, she dives from her vantage point to strangle her target with her ruined bow, knowing that it is better to die a success than live as a failure.


        ****


        The next day, the entire Plaza of Light is bedecked with flowers, no mean feat for the middle of winter. Banners of red-and-black, and white-and-purple, are hung around the square. A stage is set for an Imperial Judge. Sesus Terel’s black guard is posted at every interchange and house troops patrol both the plaza and the surrounding city. A banquet is prepared, food tasters unleashed, and wine enough to drown a legion uncorked. Might braziers are lit to keep away the cold, rendered almost unnecessary by the bright sun in the cloudless sky – a fine day for the worst part of winter in the mountains. Red petals and colored paper are strewn over the floor.


        Muli and Nula both dress in white. Ganan consents to allow Bekara’s servants to dress him in modern fashionable black robes, though he refuses to dispense with his Skin of Bronze. Melody and Reya both wear their armor, but dress formally over the top. Reya has added a few extra links to her armor to accommodate her swelling belly (4SP).

        Reya fusses over her son, as she worries over giving him away.


        Muli blushes, “I thought I was the one who was supposed to be worried about marrying into another House.”


        Reya brushes imagined lint from Muli’s shoulder, feeling tears well up behind her implacable facade, “We need this.” She says softly.


        Muli nods, “I know. I won’t let you down.” He smiles weakly, “No hemlock required.”


        Reya nods and smiles back, “No matter what, I’m here for you. If you get into trouble, no matter what it is, come back to me. I will fix it.”


        Muli nods again, “I will.”

        Reya sniffs, “And have lots of babies. I know you don’t want to hear it, but it will deflect suspicion. And don’t worry about preserving your progenitive Essence – not for the first three years. Mortal children are almost as good for securing an alliance, there’s dozen of things that can be done with mortals, so long as at least one of your children Exalts. Then, once things are calmer, you can settle down and have children every couple of decades, four or five will be enough.”


        Muli kisses his mother on the forehead, “Mother, I know all this. Everything will be fine. I will make this alliance work.”


        ****


        The wedding is a small affair. Every Dynast and Exalt in Bright Obelisk is invited, then to make up the numbers to threescore, Patrician relatives are begrudgingly invited to attend. The security outnumbers the guests nearly ten-to-one. A few figures look from windows overlooking the plaza: Melody strains her eyes looking for anything suspicious, she catches sight of a veiled figure watching the proceedings from the mansion next to governor Nerys’s.


        Ilana and Reya stand before the judge, wearing dresses of shining white, with peasant crowns set in their hair, and faces painted. Ganan stands at the head of the guests, with Oban, and the other high ranking guests such as Mnemon are seated at the front of the procession and proceeding back with rank (the Patricians sat in the back). The oldest of Oban and Raenyah’s children isn’t present, neither is Mnemon Rulinsei, nor the heads of the major Sesus bloodlines: just in case. An orchestra strikes up, and even Melody is impressed by their caliber (though, of course, she is better). Muli and Terel are led from their respective dwellings by their mothers, both men have their hair set in top-knots tied with colorful cotton threads, but Muli wears white and Terel wears black. The men’s faces are wet, to mark the tears shed in reluctance to leave home. Firecrackers are lit as Reya and Nerys lead them to their brides and stand by their sides. The brides kowtow three times – to respect the Dragons, the grooms, and the parents.


        Mnemon Ulrin fills the role of the Immaculate Monk, reading from the texts – it is the first the Alinos family has seen of Mnemon’s son, who has kept to seclusion. Ulrin asks who gives these husbands to their wives, and Reya and Nerys say they do. The brides present gifts to their mothers-in-law to be, marking the dowry owed and the acceptance that their family will pay the stipends of the husbands. Terel’s mother being dead, Reya gives her ironwood scissors to Sesus Nerys. Reya receives a fine red masonry jar of wine, emblazoned with the symbols for peace and prosperity. Reya and Nerys withdraw, and Nerys reverently hands the scissors over to Oban. Ulrin then hands over to the Imperial Judge who presides over the wedding.


        The judge leads them through vows to respect the rightful empress (forsaking all usurpers), the Immaculate Dragons, the brides’ and grooms’ parents and Matriarchs, and to each other. Finally, she pronounces them married. The brides lead their grooms through the crowd, who hurls flower petals and colored paper at them – Nula and Terel back to Bekara’s house, and Ilana and Muli back to Nerys’s. Oban and Reya then stand at the head of the wedding party, proudly displaying their gifts from their new daughters-in-law, and invite the guests to enjoy the food and hospitality of Houses Mnemon and Sesus (that order), and the first course of food is served (first to Mnemon, then working back in order of seniority as Oban and Reya look on).


        Before even Ganan can be brought food, screams ring out from both houses simultaneously. Ganan barges past the servants and guests alike, practically trampling Mnemon to save his daughter and her husband – Melody and Reya follow him as Oban and the Sesus Dynasts make for Nerys’s house. It takes a matter of seconds for Ganan to crash through Bekara’s door, kicking it off its hinges without slowing down. The inside of the mansion is a gore-splattered sight: the throats of the mortal House Mnemon guards have been cut, and their bodies dumped unceremoniously. Nula and Terel both are on the ground, ligatures still tied around their necks – blessedly, neither of them are dead, both stirring to life and removing the garrotes even as Ganan enters the room. Their assailants, half-a-dozen bald-headed Dragon-Blooded dressed in the style of Immaculate Monks, are already dead. Octavian is sucking the marrow from a cracked thigh bone, he looks up at Ganan and snarls, “You’re welcome.”


        Ganan doesn’t pause, he runs for the governor’s mansion, shouting “They’re fine,” as Melody and Reya catch up with him. They find Muli, Tepet Agoram, Ledaal Corin, Oban, and other Sesus scions putting the last of the Iselsi assassins to the sword. Blood gushes from a nasty wound on Muli’s head, and his throat is bruised by a garrote. His anima burns the soft furnishings in Nerys’s dwelling, fire lashing out in all directions. His eyes are fixed at a body on the ground: the dead body of Sesus Raenyah Ilana.




        Reya spends 8DX to cast her working on Bright Obelisk. As this is never going to come up in play again, the cost is now refunded at the end of the current story. She then spends 2DX to train Archery 2, 6DX to train Athletics 3. She gains 3SP for completing a Craft project.


        Melody spends 8XP to train Drawing Lightning Style x2, and 7DX to train War 5.

        Ganan spends 4DX to train Martial Arts: Righteous Devil Style 2. He gains 15SP for using 5 Craft Abilities rated 3+ to complete projects, and 5GP for completing an artifact.
        Last edited by JohnDoe244; 11-06-2020, 07:19 PM.


        Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

        Comment


        • #64
          Chapter 5 Compilation Version: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1gYc...ew?usp=sharing

          The UK is in lockdown until early December. Then we're into Christmas, so Dynasty of Dovak will resume with Chapter 6 in the New Year played out remotely.

          In the interim, enjoy some headcanon:

          Lookshyans, being Shogunate remnants, speak High Realm (stylized with Japanese honorifics and the occasional loan word).

          God-blooded vary tremendously in power: from nothing but oddly colored hair to power rivaling the Dragon-Blooded. Esoteric means exist for mortals to gain mystic power comparable to God-Blooded.

          Mnemon Danireya is responsible for the trade war between Gem and Paragon.

          Collected thoughts on Cynis, Ragara, Ragara Bhagwei, and Tepet Igan:

          Cynis is the child of the Empress and Tepet.

          This is important because Tepet Igan is from a Cynis bloodline that married back into Tepet, causing some confusion over whether V'neef's husband is a Tepet or "one of the wealthier and less decadent Cynis".

          ****

          Ragara Bhagwei is the child of Cynis and Ragara, but almost no-one knows that -- this is a far better-kept secret than in 1E/2E. As of Realm Year 769 (current day in Dynasty of Dovak), only Bhagwei, the agata Yipyip, and Ragara himself know. The secret was uncovered by Ragara Haseti, but then Danireya murdered him before he could tell anyone. Ylva, Bhagwei's Sidereal handler who oversees Sidereal deployments to The Heptagram, suspects but cannot prove his parentage. It's an actual secret.

          ****

          Ragara is 119 years older than Cynis. The daughter of Tepet, her birth coincides with the Empress stripping the Shogunate gens of their special privileges -- which is why House Cynis isn't a thing until over 116 years after Cynis's adult son graduates the Versino -- because Gens Tepet is still prestigious. This puts Cynis at 96 and Ragara at 215 at the birth of Ragara Bhagwei.

          Tepet is Cynis's father, and Cynis was younger than Ragara but older than Mnemon -- being born into House Tepet and her birth prompting the Empress to remove the last privileges of the Shogunate Gens in 266 to assuage Ragara's jealousy over a consort's child being treated as his equal.

          In a bid to cement his position over Tepet Cynis, Ragara establishes a sexual relationship with her which explains why he doesn't show her the enmity he shows Mnemon -- Tepet was only a consort, and it's not like (to Ragara's mind) Cynis will ever found her own Great House to rival him. She is only a consort, like her father.

          Ragara sheltered Cynis away from the Tepet martial tradition, fostering the decadence that House Cynis would later be known for and eventually culminating in them having a child (Ragara Bhagwei).

          Bhagwei's birth ended their relationship, and was the final push that sent Cynis into a life of adventure and decadance. Ragara later had a hand in supplying Cynis with some "heroin laced with dreamstone dust" which resulted in Cynis's death in RY399 whilst the Empress was pregnant with Sesus. Cynis's death is what prompted the Empress to put a stop to Ragara's killing spree.

          The decendents of Cynis would continue to be a blot on the reputation of House Tepet: Cynis's blood was pure and her lovers many, and many sought to be adopted or to marry into the charasmatic households claiming aliegance to the daughter of the Empress. In RY501, the Empress elevated House Cynis from the bloodlines of her daughters Tepets Belar, Falen and Wisel: House Tepet used the elevation of House Cynis to cull the less desirable scions from its ranks, and in so doing earned, if not the Empress's ire, then her close scruitiny. The elevation of House Cynis was meant to keep the power of House Tepet in check, to stop them ever reaching the point where more drastic measures would have to be taken.

          ****

          Because Ragara is founder of his own Great House, Cynis assented to letting Ragara Bhagwei join his father's house, keeping his lineage secret. Cynis has to answer to her Gens leadership after all (and her father has yet to "go missing" *cough*assassinate Rawar*cough*cough*), and Ragara considers his Great House to be closer to the Empress than a Shogunate Gens stripped of its special privileges.

          139 Birth of Ragara (The Realm)
          266 for Cynis born (Headcanon)
          266 Shogunate Gens stripped (The Realm)
          364 for Ragara Bhagwei born (Headcanon)
          369 Birth of Mnemon (The Realm)
          385 Destruction of Versino (1E, 2E, Mnemon remains age 16 in 3E timeline)
          399 Cynis is poisoned by Ragara with heroin laced dreamdust (Headcanon)
          399 Sesus born (The Realm)
          428 Ragara Bhagwei founds the Heptagram (1E Aspect Book Wood, 2E)
          501 House Cynis elevated (The Realm)


          On penises:

          The average human penis in Creation is about 6" long, base to tip. There is considerable variation across Creation.

          In Yan culture, a large penis is a sign of promiscuity and thus unfashionable -- perhaps barbaric and grotesque among Patricians of the Realm (a favourite comparison is to the Varjutl cannibles of the North, though, in fact, they are not particularly large). The average penis size on the Blessed Isle is only 5", slightly smaller among the Patrician class. A smaller penis is associated with fidelity and comfortable anal sex, and is thus desirable.

          The Dragon-Blooded possess larger than average penises, unique among the Exalted (the Celestials are drawn from the cultures of Creation and can be any size, large or small -- though many have some degree of power of over their physical form). Outcasts tend towards 7.5", Dynasts 7" (due to the preponderance of ethnic Yan genes). The same prejudices against large penises are held even among Dynasts -- though Patrician wives accept that at least their husbands are small for a Dragon-Blooded as they lie back and think of the Empress. A 7" penis would be a mark of barbarism among the unExalted, but considered acceptable for the Exalted. This plays a small consideration for male Outcastes marrying into the Dynasty.

          Penis sizes in the south are slightly larger in the south and smaller in the north. Creation's smallest penises are found in the Imperial City (though the penises of White Wall are also fashionably small). The largest, on average, in Chiarscouro -- the Dezlan are incredibly well endowed (but an honourable mention to the denizens of Kirighast, where many descendants of Ahlat's brides are "hung like a bull").

          Ethnographically, there is some scientific basis behind Realm prejudices insofaras cultures which tend toward monogamous family bonds tend towards smaller penises. But this cultural difference can hardly be ascribed to "barbarism".

          There is no correlation between penis size and sexual orientation. Evidence linked to sexual performance is mixed, but certainly there is no evidence to support the Realm's ideas about large penises being uncomfortable and incapable of bringing a partner to climax. Many, non-Realm, cultures celebrate large penises -- most notably Lookshy sees it as a mark of the Dragon's favour (noting the size difference between the Exalted and mortals) and a sign of strong blood (quite the opposite to the Realm where established Yan bloodlines have the strongest connection to the Dragons -- both cultures are correct, in their own way).

          Creation's smallest human penis (outside of flowery prose comparing Tepet favourably to Rawar) belongs to Peleps Delad (despite his Exalted status). He is immensely proud of his "favourite inch". Creation's largest human penis is hard to gauge due to magic and mutation: above 12" is practically unheard of without supernatural intervention, but 16" and larger is easily possible with supernatural blessings (or curses). Raksi, who delights in her barbarism, is said to be able to grow a penis in excess of three feet -- but who can say what is true and what is rumor when it comes to the Queen of Fangs.


          ****

          I'm going to post plot ideas for Chapter 6 -- would love feedback and suggestions from the community. What do you all like about the story thus far? Any cool ideas on what to do next?
          Last edited by JohnDoe244; 12-06-2020, 12:59 PM.


          Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

          Comment


          • #65
            Chapter 6 – Preamble
            The Story Thus Far
            It is the 769th year of the Scarlet Empire. No-one has seen the Scarlet Empress for six years. Her scions now tear the Realm apart. Her eldest daughter, Mnemon is locked in a bitter civil war against Cathak Cainan, a wizened but well-respected general, has been returned to the prime of youth by unexplained magics. His supporters are claiming this miracle is proof of his divine right to rule, whilst Mnemon’s factions suspect the dark magics of the shadowy Anathema.
            The Mnemon Alinos family finds itself at the forefront of the war. Their scions have served as generals and vanguard, none more distinguished than Mnemon Alinos Danireya, who has crossed the length and breadth of the Blessed Isle winning allies for Mnemon’s cause. Now the battle lines are drawn and the war begins in earnest. House Mnemon is supported by Houses Ledaal, V’neef, Tepet, and Sesus. House Cathak stands with House Peleps, Ragara, Cynis, and Iselsi. House Nellens stands neutral but well aware that this situation cannot last.
            Our story begins at a wedding, cementing the alliance between House Mnemon and House Sesus.
            Our story begins, with a murder…

            Dramatis Personae
            House Mnemon Alinos
            Mnemon Alinos Danireya – A hero
            Reya is the eldest daughter of Mnemon Alinos and her heir apparent, also being technically the Satrap of Dovak. Reya has defined the Mnemon battle-plan in the civil war, uniting Mnemon into a coalition with her sisters, and marrying her children off to Sesus spouses to cement that alliance.
            Reya is 35 weeks pregnant with her third child.
            Mnemon Alinos Danireya
            Air Aspect
            Heptagram
            Aspiring Matriarch


            Session 60 – Reya (180XP 144DX, 179/139 spent; 9GP 27SP)

            Strength 2
            Dexterity 3
            Stamina 2

            Charisma 2
            Manipulation
            5(16DX)
            Appearance 5

            Perception 3
            Intelligence
            3
            Wits 3

            Air Aspect Abilities (and Specialties) (6 BP)

            Linguistics 5
            Lore: Heptagram education 5 (Mathematics)
            Occult 5 (The Burning Name)
            Stealth 0
            Thrown 0

            Favored Abilities (7BP)

            Craft: Weapons 3 (Axes) (4DX)
            Integrity 5
            Performance 5 (12DX) (Singing; Oratory, 3DX)
            Presence 5 (Imperious Matriarch, 3XP)
            Socialize 5 (High Society)

            Other Abilities
            Archery 3 (9DX)
            Athletics 3 (9DX)
            Awareness 2 (2DX)
            Bureaucracy 5 (23DX)
            Dodge 2 (2DX)
            Investigation 1 (3DX)
            Melee 3
            Resistance 2 (2DX)
            War 3 (6DX)

            Merits (Native Language: High Realm) (5 BP)

            Allies 3 (Mnemon Nula, Dragon-Blooded Sorcerer)
            Backing (Mnemon Business Interests) 3
            Mentor (Mnemon Alinos) 3
            Old Realm 1
            Selective Conception 1
            The Burning Name 2
            Well Bred 2
            (Dynastic Freebie) Allies 3 (Mnemon Muli, Dragon-Blooded medic)
            Story Merits

            Perdurant Vault
            Collar of Dawn’s Cleansing Light
            Audient Brush (unattuned)
            Heavenly Ecstasy Aide (unattuned)
            Collar of Dutiful Submission (unattuned)
            Influence 4 (Satrap)
            Resources 4 (Increased Stipend)
            Fighting-The-Tide Gemstone
            Charms
            10XP. Awareness: Deep-Listening Palm
            10XP. Bureaucracy: Geese-Flying-South Administration
            10XP. Bureaucracy: One Forest, Many Trees
            Free. Integrity: Granite Curtain of Serenity
            1: Integrity: Heart Hardening Meditation
            2. Integrity: Inviolate Dragon Spirit
            8XP. Integrity: Oath of the Ten Thousand Dragons
            8XP. Integrity: Ten Thousand Dragons Fight As One
            8XP. Integrity: Ascendant Ideal Inspiration
            3. Linguistics: Wind-Carried Words Technique
            8XP. Linguistics: Language Learning Ritual
            8XP. Linguistics: Voices on the Wind
            8XP. Linguistics: Speech Without Words
            Free. Lore: Harmonious Academic Methodology
            8XP. Lore: Opening the Mind’s Gates
            4. Performance: Audience Enthusing Display
            5. Performance: Lightning Declamation Style
            8XP. Performance: Hidden Petal Aria
            8XP. Performance: Enticing Paramour Passion
            8XP. Performance: Earthly Pleasure Prana (Custom Charm)
            Free. Presence: Glowing Coal Radiance
            6. Presence: Eternally Argumentative Flame
            7. Presence: Warm Faced Seduction Style
            8. Presence: Hot-Blooded Ardor
            8XP. Presence: Heart-Conquering Prowess
            Free. Occult: Hidden Secrets Whispered
            9. Occult: Spirit Detecting Mirror
            10. Occult: Spirit Grounding Strike
            11. Occult: Soul Fire Cremation Technique
            12. Occult: Terrestrial Circle Sorcery
            --. Control Spell: Corrupted Words
            --. Shaping Ritual: Sevenfold Art Invocation
            13. Summon Elemental
            14. Storm Wind Rider
            10DX. Infallible Messenger
            10DX. Peacock Shadow Eyes
            Free. Socialize: Loquacious Courtier’s Technique
            8XP. Socialize: Friend-To-All-Nations Attitude
            8XP. Socialize: Loyalty Reading Meditation
            8XP. Socialize: Auspicious First Meeting Attitude
            15. Resistance: Ox-body Technique
            10XP. Resistance: Ox-body Technique x2

            Evocations

            Free. Perdurant Vault: Clairvoyant Mirror Technique
            4XP8DX. Perdurant Vault: Subliminal Sanctuary
            12DX. Perdurant Vault: Unblemished Petal Prana
            12DX. Perdurant Vault: Protect the Empress


            Intimacies

            Defining Principle: “I will raise my lineage to new heights”
            Major Principle: “With power comes the duty to use that power responsibly”
            Minor Principle: The Immaculate Faith
            Minor Principle: "I like creating and repairing things"
            Defining Tie: My children (Familial love)
            Major Tie: Cynis Ganan (Love)
            Major Tie: Mnemon Alinos Gracious Pealing Melody (Sisterly Love)
            Major Tie: Mnemon Alinos (Ambivalent Love/Resentment)
            Major Tie: Anathema (Righteous Contempt)
            Major Tie: House Ragara (Bitter Animosity/Morbid curiosity)
            Major Tie: House Mnemon (Familial Duty)
            Evasion 3
            Parry 4
            Soak 5 (Exceptional ironwood chain shirt) Hardness 0
            Mobility Penalty -0
            Resist Poison: 4 dice

            The Burning Name: Accuracy 13/11 (8 Decisive)(+6, 10s reroll non-1s; 6m), 9 Damage (OVR 1), Lethal, Thrown (Short), mounted

            Perdurant Vault: Accuracy 9, Damage 12 (OVR 3), Bashing, Shield

            Exceptional Axe: 8 (6 Decisive), 11 Damage (OVR 1), Lethal, Chopping, Thrown (Short: Accuracy 7/6, 3 Decisive)

            Join Battle: 5 (+3 to result as normal)
            Rush: 3
            Disengage: 5

            Resolve 4 (+2, ignore -1 from wounds, etc., 4m)
            Guile 5 (6) (+2, 4m; +3 in High Society, 6m)

            Willpower 5
            Essence 3
            Personal motes 14
            Peripheral motes 35 (24 available)(Ascendant Ideal Inspiration)

            Health Track
            -0 x1 [ ]
            -1 x2 [ ] [ ]
            -2 x6 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
            -4 x1 [ ]
            Incap [ ]

            Mnemon Alinos Gracious Pealing Melody – A Hero
            Wood Aspected wife of Mnemon Alinos Ferad, Melody is an Outcaste archer who took the Coin before being cashiered out of her commission. She now serves in Mnemon’s war council, advising in how best to triumph in the unfolding civil war.
            Melody is 35 weeks pregnant with her second child, the god-blooded offspring of Tomonas – the Elemental Guardian of Dovak.
            Mnemon Alinos Gracious Pealing Melody
            Wood Aspect
            Pasiap's Stair
            The Adopted Archer

            Session 60 – Melody (180XP 144DX, 176/143 spent)
            Strength 3 (8DX)
            Dexterity 5
            Stamina 3 (8DX)
            Charisma 5
            Manipulation 4
            Appearance 2

            Perception 3
            Intelligence 3 (12DX)
            Wits 5 (28DX)

            Wood Aspect Abilities (and Specialties) (9 BP)
            Archery 5 (Shortbow) (15DX)
            Medicine 5 (Satchel of Resplendent Healing, 3DX)
            Performance 5 (Ballads, 3DX)
            Ride 5 (Giant Lizards)
            Survival 5

            Favored Abilities (9 BP)
            Athletics 2 (1DX)
            Awareness 5 (Mounted, 3DX)
            Dodge 5 (Mounted)
            Integrity 5 (15DX)
            War 5 (Mounted Combat) (16DX)

            Other Abilities
            Linguistics 1
            Presence 3
            Resistance 3 (In the Saddle)
            Socialize 3

            Merits (Native Language: Low Realm)
            Artifact 3 (Summer Thunder, Short Powerbow)
            Artifact 4 (Spider Silk Shirt, Light Armor)
            Familiar 3 (Clapper, A Shieldback Lizard) (Trained in Distract Gambit, 3XP)
            (Dynastic Freebie) Allies 3 (Mnemon Ferad, Husband)
            (Dynastic Freebie) Language (Riverspeak)
            (Dynastic Freebie) Language (High Realm)


            Story Merits
            Collar of Dawn’s Cleansing Light
            Resplendent Satchel of Healing


            Charms

            Free. Archery: Unobstructed Hunter's Aim
            8XP. Archery: Harvest of the Hunter
            8XP. Archery: Arrow Thorn Technique
            8XP. Archery: Sky-Calming Draw


            8XP. Archery: Death From Nowhere
            8XP. Archery: Grasping Vine Shot
            8XP. Archery: Drawing Lightning Style


            8XP. Archery: Drawing Lightning Style x2
            8XP. Archery: Heartbeats Before Death
            8XP. Archery: Spring Follows Winter


            8XP. Archery: Dragonfly Finds Mate
            Free. Awareness: Precision Awareness Method
            Free. Dodge: Threshold Warding Stance
            Free. Integrity: Granite Curtain of Serenity
            1. Medicine: Master Healer Meditation
            2. Medicine: Wound-Closing Technique
            8XP. Medicine: Rebirth of Flesh and Ivy


            8XP. Performance: Audience Enthusing Display
            3. Performance: Talented Improvisation
            4. Performance: Soul-Stirring Performance
            5. Performance: Heart-Strengthening Defense
            6. Performance: Harmonious Life-Affirming Song
            Free. Ride: Scattered Hoof Falls


            7. Ride: Heaven (G)Racing Leap
            11XP. Ride: Tread Rooted in Life (Wood and Earth)


            8XP. Ride: Creation-Turning Hoof
            8XP. Ride: Unbreakable Stallion Spirit
            8XP. Ride: Seven-League Gallop
            8XP. Ride: Cloud-Harnessing Method


            8XP. Ride: Untethered Pegasus Spirit
            8. Resistance: Ox-Body Technique
            9. Resistance: Ox-Body Technique x2
            10. Survival: Ration Enhancing Method
            11. Survival: Beast Taming Aspect
            8XP. Survival: Mother-of-Beasts Mastery


            8XP. Survival: Mother-of-Beasts Mastery x2
            8XP. Survival: Quarry Revelation Technique

            Evocations

            12. Summer Thunder: Hooves Like Sunlight
            13. Summer Thunder: Nook-and-Cranny Unity
            14. Summer Thunder: Laughing Stallion Escape
            15. Summer Thunder: Skirmisher's Piercing Deliverance
            5XP7DX. Summer Thunder: Squadron-Inspiring Flame


            12DX. Summer Thunder: Phantom Steed (Custom Evocation, see below)
            12DX. Summer Thunder: Evoke the Equestrian Echo

            Intimacies
            Defining Tie: Clapper (Motherly Love)
            Major Tie: Mnemon Ferad (Husband)
            Major Tie: Mnemon Jorod (Secret son)
            Major Tie: Mnemon Danireya (Sister)
            Minor Tie: Cynis Ganan (Mutual respect)
            Minor Tie: Slavers (Disgust)
            Minor Tie: The Undead (Hatred)
            Minor Tie: The Sidereal Exalted (Suspicion)
            Minor Tie: Mnemon Nanals (Mistrust)
            Defining Principle: I am an Upright Soldier
            Major Principle: The Immaculate Philosophy

            Combat
            Evasion 6+1
            Parry 3

            Soak 8 Hardness 4
            Mobility Penalty -0

            Resist Poison: 6(+1) dice

            Summer Thunder: Accuracy 10/16/14/12/- (11 Decisive)(+6, 6m); Damage 13 (3 OVR; +1, 3m); Archery (Long), Mounted, Lethal

            Rush: 7 (12 Mounted, +3 successes 6m)
            Disengage: 10 (12 Mounted, +3 successes 6m)

            Join Battle: 10 dice (11 mounted) (+3 successes, 6m)

            Command Mounted Troops: 8 dice

            Social
            Charismatic Performance 10 dice (+2 successes, ignore multiple target penalty, 4m)

            Resolve 5 (+2, ignore -1 from wounds, deprivation or poison, 4m)
            Guile 3

            Willpower 5
            Essence 2

            Personal motes 14
            Peripheral motes 35 (25, 10 committed)

            Health Track
            -0 x1 [ ]
            -1 x4 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
            -2 x4 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
            -4 x1 [ ]
            Incap [ ]
            Cynis Ganan – A hero
            Mnemon Danireya’s husband, and father of Mnemon Muli and Nula. A blunt instrument, unsuited for Dynastic politics. But a powerful warrior and a wise sorcerer. Ganan is a man, and a member of House Cynis (which now stands against House Mnemon) – two strikes against him in the eyes of his wife’s house.
            Cynis Ganan
            Earth Aspect
            Righteous Warrior
            Heptagram
            Session 60 – Ganan (180XP 144DX, 171/141 spent; 8WhP 44GP 42SP)

            Strength 5
            Dexterity 5
            Stamina 3 (11DX1XP)

            Charisma 1
            Manipulation 1
            Appearance 5

            Perception 2 (4DX)
            Intelligence 5
            Wits 3

            Earth Aspect Abilities (and Specialties) (6 BP)

            Awareness 5 (Join Battle)
            Craft: Architecture 4 (Masonry)
            Craft: Woodworking 4 (12DX)
            Craft: Sculpture 3 (7DX)
            Craft: Weapons 4 (12DX)
            Craft: Artifact 4 (12DX)
            Integrity 4
            Resistance
            4 (5DX)
            War 0

            Favored Abilities (9 BP)

            Athletics 5 (Rushes)
            Brawl 1
            Earth Dragon Style 5 (Tetsubo)

            Righteous Devil Style 2 (4DX)
            Lore: Heptagram education 5 (The Shogunate)
            Occult 5
            Performance 3

            Other Abilities

            Linguistics 1
            Melee 3

            Merits (Native Language: High Realm) (3BP)

            Artifact 3 (Thunder’s Crash Tetsubo (Fist of Titans))
            Martial Artist 4
            Pain Tolerance 4
            Well Bred 2
            (3 BP) Manse 3 (Stone of the Ram's Horn)
            (Dynastic Freebie) Resources 3
            (Dynastic Freebie) Language (Riverspeak)
            (Dynastic Freebie) Language (Old Realm)
            Story Merits
            Belt of Shadow Walking (unattuned)
            Gateway Key
            Collar of Dawn’s Cleansing Light
            Yasal Crystal

            Charms
            Free. Athletics: Effortlessly Rising Flame
            Free. Awareness: Precision Awareness Method
            8XP. Awareness: Deep Listening Palm
            8XP. Awareness: All-Encompassing Earth Sense
            8XP. Awareness: Pasiap Preempts Haste
            8XP. Awareness: Feeling the Dragon’s Bones
            Free. Brawl/Martial Arts: Become the Hammer
            8XP. Craft: Masterful Dragon-Artisan Expertise
            8XP. Craft: Stone-Carving Fingers
            8XP. Craft: Flaw-Finding Examination
            8XP. Craft: Shaping Hand Style
            8XP. Craft: Flawless Facet Realization
            8XP. Craft: Stones-From-Rubble Restoration
            8XP. Craft: Touch of Unmaking
            8XP. Craft: Strike the Dragon-Anvil
            8XP. Craft: Forge-Hand Prana
            8XP. Craft: Blazing Dragon-Smith Arete
            1. Melee: Elemental Sheath
            2. Melee: Dragon Graced Weapon
            3. Earth Dragon Style: Stone Dragon Skin
            4. Earth Dragon Style: Force of the Mountain
            5. Earth Dragon Style: Stillness of Stone Artemi
            6. Earth Dragon Style: Unmoving Mountain Stance
            7. Earth Dragon Style: Earth Dragon Form
            8DX. Earth Dragon Style: Ghost Grounding Blow
            8DX. Earth Dragon Style: Earthshaker Attack
            Free. Integrity: Granite Curtain of Serenity
            8XP. Integrity: Heart-Hardening Meditation
            10XP. Linguistics: Wind-Carried Words Technique
            8. Occult: Spirit Detecting Mirror
            9. Occult: Spirit Grounding Shout
            10. Occult: Secret Wind Revelation
            11. Occult: Fivefold Resonance Stance
            12. Occult: Terrestrial Circle Sorcery
            --. Control Spell: Invulnerable Skin of Bronze
            --. Shaping Ritual: Sevenfold Art Invocation
            10DX. Spell: Demon of the First Circle
            Free. Performance: Audience Enthusing Display
            13. Resistance: Ox-body Technique
            8XP. Resistance: Ox-body Technique x2
            8XP. Resistance: Ox-body Technique x3
            8XP. Resistance: Purifying Blood Ascendancy
            8XP. Resistance: Uneating Earth Meditation
            8XP. Resistance: Unsleeping Earth Meditation

            Evocations

            Free. Fist of Titans: Chambered Fist Charge
            12DX. Fist of Titans: Chambered Fist Charge x2
            14. Fist of Titans: Mammoth Slam Quake
            15. Fist of Titans: Unstoppable Hammering Blow
            12DX. Fist of Titans: Bone Crushing Strike
            12DX. Fist of Titans: Colossal Whirling Strike
            12DX. Fist of Titans: Crater-Gouging Blow

            Intimacies
            Defining Principle: The Dragon-Blooded are born to rule.
            Major Principle: The Immaculate Philosophy (Devout Belief)
            Major Principle: I am the mountain, strong and stable – I do not flee and I am unmoved by tears
            Major Principle: The children are the foundation of the future
            Major Principle: “I like creating and repairing things.”
            Minor Principle: Duty before pleasure
            Defining Tie: Anathema (Loathing)
            Major Tie: Mnemon Alinos Danireya (Love)
            Major Tie: Mnemon Melody (Mutual Respect)
            Major Tie: My Wife's House (Loyalty)
            Minor Tie: My children (Familial love)
            Evasion 3
            Parry 6 (+3, 6m)(With tetsubo or Invulnerable Skin of Bronze, else 5; +2, 4m)

            Soak 6 (20) Hardness 0 (10)
            (+6/+9 Invulnerable Skin of Bronze)
            (+5/0, Earth Dragon Form)
            (+3/+1, 5m/turn or Bonfire)

            Mobility Penalty -0
            Resist Poison: 7 dice (4m: +2 successes, re-roll 6s)

            Fist of Titans Smash Attacks (Earth Dragon Form): Accuracy 16 (14 Decisive)(+3, re-roll 6s on damage, 3m), Damage 19 (+1/scene, 3m on summon; +5, 3m) (Overwhelming 5, 6 for 2m), Bashing, Smashing (-1i, no Defense penalty), Reaching, Two-handed
            Burnt Offering: Accuracy 8/12/-/-/- (7 Decisive)(+2, re-roll 6s on damage, 2m), Damage 18 (OVR 5), Lethal, Archery (Short), Flame, Slow
            Bayonet: Accuracy 11 (8 Decisive), Damage 17 (OVR 4), Lethal, Melee (Parry 5), Piercing

            Join Battle 9 (+3 to result)(+6 dice, 6m; double-9s, 3m)
            Rush 11 (+3 successes, 10s explode, 6m)
            Disengage 5

            Overwhelming Performance: 8 dice, +1 success and ignore multiple character penalty for 2m

            Resolve 4 (+2, ignore -1 from wounds, deprivation or poison, 4m)
            Guile 1

            Willpower 5
            Essence 3

            Personal motes 14
            Peripheral motes 35 (24, 11 committed)

            Health Track (3m/tick, ignore one point of penalties)
            -0 x1 [ ]
            -1 x5 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
            -1 x5 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
            -3 x1 [ ]
            Incap [ ]
            Mnemon Alinos – A Mentor
            Mother of Mnemon Alinos Danireya, daughter of Mnemon Nanals, grand-daughter of Mnemon herself. Alinos rallied her numerous sisters, crafted alliances through-out House Mnemon and beyond, birthed a minor host of children, and raised her own personal potency to the point where her bloodline had to be recognized as one of the major houses of the Great House of Mnemon. A graduate of the Heptagram, and a powerful Air Aspected Sorceress of 280 years.

            Mnemon Alinos Nula – An Ally
            Daughter of Reya and Ganan, twin-sister of Muli, an Air Aspected Sorcerer fresh from the Heptagram. A willful child pursuing her own agenda, Nula none-the-less finds her goals aligned with those of her mother. Nula has lofty ambitions and a very specific vision for the future of the Realm. She cares deeply for her brother and would like to see him married to his lover,
            Tepet Agoram. Recently married to Sesus Raenyah Terel.

            Mnemon Alinos Muli – An Ally
            Son of Reya and Ganan, twin-brother of Nula, Fire Aspected graduate of the House of Bells. Muli lived his life with the threat of being a left-over child, a stigma that haunted him until the moment of his Exaltation. Dotingly loyal by nature, Muli never once hesitated to follow his mother’s commands… until the Battle of Futile Blood. The aftermath of the decimation of the Tepet Legions has seen Muli conflicted between his loyalty to his mother’s house and his love of Tepet Agoram.
            Recently married to Sesus Raenyah Ilana – and widowed just as quickly.

            Mnemon Nanals – The Edge of the Wolf’s Blade
            Nanals, daughter of Mnemon, had an illicit affair with Ragara Bhagwei resulting in the birth of Mnemon Alinos. Nanals was in the first class of the Heptagram. Despite birthing many daughters, Nanals lacked the political will to be recognized as matriarch of a major house and (seemingly) the acumen to succeed at Dynastic politics. She has, however, built up an extensive web of influence in the Threshold, where she is worshiped as a god. Earth Aspect.

            Mnemon Alinos Bekara – An Aunt
            Sister of Mnemon Alinos, a graduate of the Spiral Academy and Earth aspect, Bekara returns to the Blessed Isle from years of practical exile in the Threshold to find her fierce political acumen overshadowed by the need to have capable military commanders.

            Mnemon (Alinos) Johon – The Old Bear
            An Earth Aspected grandson of Mnemon Rulinsei, husband of Mnemon Alinos, and a renowned artificer. Mnemon Alinos (née Rulinsei) Johon, a graduate of the House of Bells, retired some fourteen years ago, after a distinguished career in the legions. The Old Bear’s physical strength is legendary and he has a reputation for his sound tactical mind. A founding member of his wife's major house, Mnemon Johon typically introduces himself by his wife's family name rather than his grandmothers.

            Mnemon Alinos Ferad – The Dutiful Son
            Fire Aspected, son of Mnemon Alinos, older brother to Reya. Whilst Reya attended the Heptagram and their other siblings all graduated from the House of Bells, Ferad hatched a plan to attend Pasiap’s Stair – the military school for Outcastes, where he graduated and entered the Legions, meeting his future wife before being forcibly discharged before the end of his term when the Great Houses took control of the Imperial Legions. Reunited with his wife and their illicit love-child, Ferad increasingly finds the weight of his House’s military ambitions heaped upon him.
            Mnemon Alinos Jorod – The Pillow Son
            Born of Gracious Pealing Melody and Mnemon Alinos Ferad when the former was only in her second year of service in the Legions, Jorod was quietly removed from the legions and given to the care of Mnemon Alinos Bekara to be raised as a member of the Dynasty. A contemporary of Muli, Jorod has recently graduated from the House of Bells and finds himself united with his birth parents and adopted mother in Dovak. A Water Aspected master of naval combat, Jorod chafes at not being on the open sea, feeling that his skills would be best placed taking the fight to House Peleps.
            Mnemon Tinis – The General
            Oldest living child of Mnemon Alinos and Mnemon Johon. Recently uncovered the Iselsi plot to assassinate the Regent, but fell during Peleps Lundaer’s assault on the Imperial City. Earth Aspect. Presumed dead.

            Mnemon Donta – A old friend
            Mnemon Tinis’s daughter: a conniving and ambitious graduate of the Spiral Academy. Stealthy, and a mistress of deadly throwing knives hurled with the force of crashing boulders. Earth Aspect.

            Tepet Agoram – The Runaway
            Agoram met Muli at the House of Bells during a mock battle, and the two became fast friends, then more than that. Agoram ran away after the Battle of Futile Blood. Refusing to answer the calls of his mother’s house, or accept marriage to a promising Outcaste girl to rebuild the Tepet numbers, he’s run to his lover Mnemon Alinos Muli. This has caused a degree of friction among the Mnemon house: Alinos, Melody, Ganan, and Ferad see little value in a Tepet match, and would rather see Muli take an advantageous wife; Reya sees value in keeping her son in her own house, and bringing the Air Aspected Tepet’s sword to her banner; Nula and Jorod just want to see Muli happy, Nula even offering to summon a Neomah or even marry Agoram herself to help assuage the house’s elders (though, thus far her mother has dissuaded her from doing anything rash).
            Allies?
            Mnemon – The Empress In Waiting
            Oldest living daughter of the Scarlet Empress. Mnemon has proved her worth to rule the Blessed Isle by conquering the treacherous kingdom of Jiara. Yet she finds her claim thwarted by pretenders.

            Berit – The Empress’s Shogun
            Mnemon’s sister. Once a renowned general, Berit entered self-imposed exile when her mother refused to allow her to found her own Great House. She joins Mnemon as her chief general for the promise of having the traitor legions placed under the command of Great House Berit at the end of the war.

            V’neef – Mistress of the Seas
            Mnemon’s sister. Matriarch of Great House V’neef and mistress of the Realm’s Merchant Fleet. She joins Mnemon as her chief admiral, the only check on House Peleps naval supremacy.

            Ledaal Yasmet – Matriarch of House Ledaal
            Initially impressed by Mnemon’s piety and her dedication to the good of the Realm beyond petty political squabbles, Yasmet lead her House to Mnemon’s banner. However, as Mnemon honors her sisters V’neef and Berit above Yasmet and Cainan calls for an end to fighting to unify against the Mask of Winters, her resolve begins to waver.

            Ledaal Ludila – The Bad Girl
            A classmate of Danireya at the Heptagram. Goes by Udi. Udi is recently appointed to work alongside Danireya to help cement the alliance between House Mnemon and House Ledaal. Water Aspect.

            Ledaal Ibelin – The Instructor of Banishment
            Cynis Ganan’s father's aunt. Heptagram instructor in Ritual Banishment and Demonology. Air Aspect.

            Ledaal Kebok Coren – The Young Officer
            A young and untested graduate of the House of Bells, Coren thirsts for glory in battle against the dark forces that threaten to rip the Realm apart. An earnest devotee of House Ledaal’s shadow crusade, she stands firm against the heretical Cathak-Ragara alliance and their dalliances with forbidden powers.

            Righteous River – The Defrocked Monk
            Born Ledaal Sivarin Indri, Righteous River Overflows Its Banks left the Immaculate Order to marry her Patrician wife, Jihe. Once a renowned hunter of the Anathema, River has a much-reduced presence within House Ledaal. Present at the assassination of the Regent.

            Kingfisher Swift – The Patrician General
            An Outcaste married into patrician house Tereya. Swift was appointed by V’neef and Regent Tepet Fokuf to defend the Imperial City before it fell to House Peleps. A reluctant recruit to Mnemon’s cause, Swift’s loyalties are unclear – but it is certain that she does not want to leave the Imperial City under the boot of House Peleps.

            Sesus Eshuvar – The Naval Sorcerer
            Eshuvar came to renown hunting a pair of Anathema with Righteous River and Kingfisher Swift, before serving in the Imperial Navy with distinction for twenty years, before retiring to marry Mnemon Rela. Eshuvar has no particular loyalty to his wife’s house, indeed his loyalty to his mothers house is one of guilt-riven loyalty, but finds his naval experience a valued commodity that allows him a free hand in deciding how to aid the alliance on his own terms.

            Sesus Raenyah Terel – The Empress’s Grandson
            Born of the late Sesus Matriarch Raenyah, and her husband Oban son of the Scarlet Empress, Terel is a popular and charming duelist, ever accompanied by a gaggle of hangers-on. Recently married under hurried circumstances to Mnemon Alinos Nula.

            Sesus Raenyah Ilana – Deceased
            Terel’s older sister. Married to Mnemon Alinos Muli then brutally murdered by Iselsi assassins.

            Oban – Son of the Empress
            Husband to the late Matriarch of House Sesus. Oban has assumed de facto leadership over House Sesus, ostensibly until a new matriarch can be elevated from the heads of one of the five (deadlocked) Sesus major bloodlines.

            Tepet Corino – The Quartermaster
            House Tepet’s ranking member, recently pledged her House to Mnemon’s cause. Something of a hollow promise as Tepet’s only legion lies stranded in the Threshold.

            The Mouth of Peace – A Voice of Reason in a World Gone Mad
            The head of the Immaculate Order, the Mouth of Peace calls for peace in these troubled times. Recently under-fire from the Cathak alliance for denouncing the Emperor’s youth as a false miracle, and from the Mnemon alliance for offering the shelter of the Immaculate Order to House Iselsi, despite the house’s clear links to the assassination of Regent Tepet Fokuf.

            Tepet Fokuf – Deceased
            Appointed Regent in the Empress’s absence, Fokuf announced his intention to surrender the throne to Mnemon… before promptly being assassinated by an agent of House Iselsi.

            Enemies of the House
            Cathak Cainan – The Emperor on the Throne
            A renowned general of advanced age. Cathak Cainan seemed sure to die of old age in but a few scant years, but now has been returned to the prime of youth by an (as of yet) unexplained miracle. His supporters claim the throne should be his by right of divine intervention. His allies in House Peleps have recently captured the Imperial City, the capital of the Realm, and turned it over to him where he sits on the Scarlet Empress’s throne and styles himself as Emperor. In truth, Cainan controls both the Eastern and Western coasts of the Blessed Isle, but the center holds firm against him, as do the most important port cities of the Northern and Southern shores. His is an empire divided.

            Cathak Garel – The Next In Line
            Cainan’s chief general, finds herself locked in combat with Mnemon’s forces: Cathak legions are spread thin, holding the Imperial City and trying to stretch a supply line over thousands of miles of hostile territory. It is all she can do to hold Mnemon’s forces back. Her husband, Peleps Kozurin, has been invaluable in negotiating the Cathak-Peleps alliance. She finds herself somewhat perturbed by the fact that her ancient younger brother is now in the prime of life… yet as she enters old age, she’s still his heir apparent. She wants to make sure the Cathak line is secure.

            Cynis Falen – The Poison Thorn
            One of the three sisters who rules House Cynis. An open supporter of Cainan from the start, Falen finds her star ascendant as House Cynis enters the war in favor of the Emperor on the Thone.

            Peleps Lai – Protector of the West
            Matriarch of House Peleps.

            Peleps Aramida – The Fist Which Strikes the Seas
            Chief of Cathak Cainan’s naval forces.

            Peleps Lundaer – Fire Fleet Admiral
            Admiral in charge of one-fifth of the Imperial Navy. Sworn kin to Mnemon Alinos Tinis. Lundaer masterminded the assault on the Imperial City. Political rival to Peleps Aramdia.

            Ragara – The Empress’s Eldest
            The Scarlet Empress’s oldest living child, older brother to Mnemon, Ragara is retired and lives the peaceful life of a monk, knowing he is not long for this world. Mnemon, however, will not forgive him for the attempts he made on her life in their youth. Ragara has traveled the Blessed Isle trying to minimize the devastation caused by the Civil War, never working directly against his House and allies.

            Ragara Banoba – Patriarch of House Ragara
            Ragara’s son and successor – the head of House Ragara. A financial genius who has lent considerable sums of money to Cathak Cainan’s cause. Privately, he is ecstatic that a man now occupies the highest position in Realm Society – as Emperor, and he has begun stylizing himself as Patriarch of his Great House, in a clear snub to Realm tradition.

            Ragara Bhagwei – Dominie of the Heptagram
            Ragara Bhagwei couldn’t care less if the Realm tears itself apart with civil war, but woe betide the fool who tries to bring that conflict to the Isle of Voices. The Heptagram is the last vestige of the Old Realm, and he won’t risk his libraries or his students over the paltry matter of who sits on the throne. Bhagwei has declared neutrality in the Civil War, venturing to the mainland only to stop a geomantic disaster caused by his brother, Banoba’s, recklessness.

            Anathema
            The Mask of Winters – A Lord of Death
            The Deathlord, the Mask of Winters, rose to predominance shortly after the disappearance of the Scarlet Empress. A ghost of impossible power and a master of dread necromancy, his armies of the dead, and impossibly large war-machine, Juggernaut, successfully wrested control of the Threshold city of Thorns from the control of the Realm. His army of Deathknights – Anathema marred by the power of Death – is rightly feared by all living things.

            The Bull of the North - A Dread Anathema
            A menace to the Realm and the bane of House Tepet. This Solar Anathema once united the Icewalker tribes against the Realm until The Wind Dancer led his House against him. The brutal battle all but destroyed the Tepet legions but smashed the Anathema's forces and left the Bull dying and broken.
            Maps of the Blessed Isle
            Official Map (English Translation): https://ibb.co/4M2NgHc
            Fan Map (no claim to ownership, happy to attribute): https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachmen...ithBorders.png
            Rules Errors and Retcons
            Soul-fire Cremation Technique only works on Mortals. Fortunately, Reya also knows The Burning Name – so any references to her burning the bodies of Anathema should be read as her burning them with sorcerous fire instead of occult fire.
            Ledaal Ludila is also now a Water Aspect. Because I say so, that’s why.
            Last edited by JohnDoe244; 12-08-2020, 04:29 PM.


            Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

            Comment


            • #66
              Originally posted by JohnDoe244 View Post
              I'm going to post plot ideas for Chapter 6 -- would love feedback and suggestions from the community. What do you all like about the story thus far? Any cool ideas on what to do next?
              I've been meaning to reply to this and have failed to get around to it, will post a more considered reply down the line. Aware I've chimed in a fair bit on this so I'll pipe down if it's getting irritating.

              Some random ideas while I'm here:

              - The Empress didn't honour Berit with a Great House for a reason – what the hell was it? Why did all those people disappear in Iora? Has Mnemon, at Dany's urging, handed her military to [INSERT INFERNAL SHENANIGANS HERE]. Maybe Nanals knows something...?
              - Peasant uprising, supported by righteous magistrates and a po'd Mouth of Peace, a la the Sparrows in GoT but, in the words of one of our players, "not shit". The players are nominated as the people to deal with it, driving a rift between those who especially don't give a crap about peasant scum (Ganan) v those with at least some social misgivings (Melody).
              - House Cynis invades Dovak.
              - A mutiny against V'Neef (and her 5+1 dice sailing rolls) in the Merchant Fleet, led by a charismatic Outcaste-adoptee captain who is the real brains of the fleet and who wants to throw in his lot with Peleps. The players have to put it down (without interacting with the sail system. Just board a ship and take names or negotiate).
              Last edited by Moss Reynholm; 11-15-2020, 07:11 PM.

              Comment


              • #67
                Originally posted by Moss Reynholm View Post
                - House Cynis invades Dovak.
                The PCs left Dovak without dealing with the Abyssal rightful heir. I'm not letting them off the hook by having House Cynis step in :P

                (But I have established Cynis as attacking Threshold kingdoms for fun and profit... hmm...)

                All the other ideas are golden. I especially like how you've nailed Ganan and Melody and their views of the peasantry. I can practically taste how that one is going to play out.

                "The peasants are revolting!"


                Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

                Comment


                • #68
                  So... the UK lockdown has moved to local lockdowns and I live in the worst area in the county. Yay me. As such we've moved to remote play. Which... just... sucks. Honestly, I don't know if we're going to persist with this -- but let's go with what we've got.

                  The plan is to wrap the Realm Civil War with victory for the PCs in 10 sessions.

                  ****

                  Session 61 – Two Weddings and a Murder – Reya (185XP 148DX, 179/143 spent; 9GP 30SP), Melody (185XP 148DX, 176/146 spent), and Ganan (185XP 148DX, 182/148 spent; 8WhP 44GP 52SP)

                  Content warning: Violence/death/gore. Mild language. Cannibalism. Fantasy bigotry.

                  Realm Year 769, Second Week of Descending Air
                  The Blessed Isle, Ventus Prefecture, Bright Obelisk

                  Dark winter storm-clouds roll across the winter sky and snowfalls in sheets. There is a distant rumble of thunder and the howling of a bitter wind.

                  The inside of Governor Sesus Nerys’s mansion stinks of fresh death: blood and shit from gutted Iselsi assassins, and the rancid smoke from anima charred flesh and furnishings. Mnemon Alinos Muli’s anima still lashes the room, burning anything that’s not bare stone or a fellow Dragon-Blooded. The bright light of his fiery display reaches every corner of the room and leaves nothing to the imagination. Blood gushes from Muli’s head, staining his white wedding clothes, and his throat is purple with bruising.

                  Ledaal Kebok Coren pulls her sword from the last of the assassins. It makes a horrid sucking sound as she kicks the corpse from her blade. Seven bodies now line the floor – six assassins, and Sesus Raenyah Ilana (Mnemon Muli’s wife).

                  Ilana lays on the ground, her throat slit to the bone, her front stained with blood the color of her burgundy hair.

                  Mnemon Alinos Gracious Peeling Melody pushes her way into the room and kneels by the dead woman's side. It is immediately apparent to her that though she has been dead for only seconds, she is dead. Trying anyway, she lays her hand on Ilana’s chest and wills her wounds closed, reaching out with her spiritual anima… and finding nothing. The wounds do not close. Melody closes the Dragon-Blooded’s eyes, and looks up at the others, shaking her head, “She’s dead.”

                  “We know,” Cynis Ganan intones without emotion as he sweeps the room, his firewand held out in front of him. He turns on Ledaal Kebok Coren, “You should have taken that one alive for questioning.”

                  Oban falls to his knees at his daughter’s side and weeps openly over the body. He lets out a roar of rage and pain and tears at his shirt, before throwing himself over the body. Muli starts towards Oban, but Tepet Agoram ushers him away, and Coren steers them to an already wrecked part of the room.

                  Mnemon Alinos Danireya takes control of the situation, “Ganan, stack the bodies of the assassins outside. Melody, reassure our guests. Give Oban some space.”

                  Melody rises from beside Ilana’s side and goes out to address the assembled wedding guests. Mnemon and Alinos have moved back inside of Mnemon Bekara’s mansion. The other guests stand in a state of confusion: some Sesus scions have drawn weapons and stand in combat formation, other guests are milling around in confusion, or are trying to leave (blocked by Sesus Terel’s Black Guard), whilst still others sit smartly (waiting for the celebrations to resume). She does a quick scan of the vantage points for snipers, not putting a second wave of attack beyond the realm of possibility.

                  Melody raises her voice, “Cousins, honored guests. I thank you for comporting yourself with the dignity of the dragons and setting a good example for those mortals present today.” She gestures vaguely at the Patricians and servants, and a quiet, guilty hush falls on the assembly as Melody’s Essene. “Let me speak plainly. An attempt has been made on the lives of our newly-weds: we suspect the same group of assassins responsible for the murder of the Regent – the Patrician house Iselsi. Mnemon Nula and her husband Sesus Terel are badly shaken, but Mnemon’s sorcerous defenses have saved them from harm. Sesus Ilana and her husband Mnemon Muli are both severely injured. The assassins are all dead. The sad duty falls to me to call an end to the day’s festivities. Please return to your homes and your lodgings in an orderly fashion and be vigilant against any further plots.” There’s a moment of tension in the air as the proceeding teeter on the brink of pandemonium, then Melody adds in her trademark flippant style, “Or we can kill each other and do Cainan’s job for him.” The severity of the threat contrasted with Melody’s offhand delivery, miraculously brings order to the crowd: the guards part and the guests disperse. Holy crap, I’m good. She thinks to herself.

                  Ganan emerges carrying four of the gutted assassins, he dumps the bodies unceremoniously in a heap – the blood from their wounds rolls off him like water from a duck’s back and stains the snow red. He goes back inside for the last two bodies, oblivious to the looks of shock and horror on the faces of the departing guests and servants.

                  Reya follows after Ganan, leaving Oban to his grief. She touches the corpses one by one, reciting a prayer for swift reincarnation: three of them burn up instantly, their ghosts assuaged, mortals; three do not ignite – Exalted, most likely. “Gan, break up some of this furniture, make a pyre.”

                  Ganan sets to work demolishing the wedding seating and stacking the wood into a funerary pyre (10SP), and Reya speaks the prayer of swift reincarnation again – this time ending with The Burning Name to ignite the pyre and burn the bodies as she did with the Anathema. Then they go to retrieve the bodies from Bekara’s mansion.

                  Sesus Terel is fuming with anger, but Octavian’s looming presence and Alinos’s stern gaze keeps him in check.

                  “We need to burn the bodies!” Melody says slapping her hands together cheerfully.

                  Terel hisses through his teeth, his voice hoarse and muted, “Tell that to this… thing! I have been trying to for hours!”

                  Ganan folds his arms across his chest, taking an instant disliking to his son-in-law, “The attack was minutes ago.”

                  Terel makes a dismissive gesture and Ganan advances on him threateningly. Octavian is in between them in a heartbeat, he cows Terel with a single glance and turns his gaze on Ganan. Ganan levels his Dragon Sigh Wand.

                  “Gan, heel.” Reya snaps smartly, and Ganan steps back, mechanically, holstering his weapon.

                  Octavian glares for a moment before returning to his haunch of human thigh.

                  Mnemon Alinos looks unsure of herself for a moment, regarding her daughter carefully as she weighs the balance of power in the room.

                  And then Mnemon enters, and the question is resolved.

                  “No-one burns the bodies until I am done with them.” It’s pronounced in a tone that invites no questions and brooks no argument. Her skin is transmuted to Invulnerable Bronze.

                  Ganan and Melody exchange a glance that can only be interpreted as “oh shit”.

                  Reya bows her head, “Noble and mighty Matriarch, I have already burned three of the attackers who struck at House Sesus. Three won’t take. I suspected they carry the Dragon’s Blood. I was going to burn them on a pyre.”

                  Mnemon waves dismissively, “Do as thou wilt, great grand-daughter. What care have I for assassins striking House Sesus?”

                  Ganan smirks at Terel, whose blood is boiling: his face a bright red. Mnemon Nula lays a hand on his forearm and croaks in a hoarse voice, “What my Matriarch means, is that security of House Sesus falls to Oban and that protecting our allies from vengeful hungry ghosts is more important than her sorcerous experiments.”

                  Reya nods approvingly at her daughter. “We will lay down salt wards in the house.” She says to Mnemon carefully.

                  “Very good.” Mnemon turns to leave, “Three and three? Only two of the attackers here were Exalted. What does this tell us?” She sweeps out of the room.

                  Reya gives out another barrage of orders, “Gan, take Terel and fetch some salt. Lay down lines around this room and the bedrooms. Nula, mother, if I may impose.” She gestures to a sitting room (where Octavian won’t be present) and gives a nod to Melody.

                  Ganan shrugs and says “Come on chatty!” As he leads Terel out of the room.

                  Melody and the others follow Reya to the semi-balance of privacy.

                  Reya begins, “It tells us a lot. These assassins clearly thought the Sesus household would be a priority target. Sesus Ilana is dead, Muli is injured. Likely, this means the assassination plan was put in place before our venture to Sion. Probably before it was known that Mnemon herself would be in attendance – why sabotage a wedding alliance if you can kill the Empress?”

                  Melody grimaces, “That’s assuming the Iselsi are behind this attack. And that the assassins back Cainan. They could be anyone. It could be Nellens trying to stop us getting too chummy with Sesus.”

                  “Auntie, be serious!” Nula says with a smile.

                  “I mean it!” Melody says seriously, “It could have been Mnemon: she knows we’re too well protected here but that the Sesus house would be vulnerable. Make it a personal blood vendetta, without risking future Dragons born into her house. Plus Muli survived to return here to us. And the casual indifference she just showed to what was meant to be a campaign changing alliance? It could have been Ledaal feeling out of favor. It could have been House Cynis making their first foray into the war – punishing Sesus for choosing Mnemon over them. Jumping to patrician assassins is a convenient lie to tell the outside world, but we have no idea who is behind this.”

                  Nula gives Melody a stern look, massages her own throat for a moment, then speaks, “Well if we’re accusing Great Grand Daimother, we might as well accuse House Sesus. Oban has stepped up into a power vacuum. Could be a jealous matriarch looking to depose him and take control of the House. Or Oban himself, looking to drum up sympathy.”

                  Reya cuts across the argument before it can begin, “What about a follow-up attack? One wave of assassins or do you think they’ll strike again?” She turns to Mnemon Alinos, “Mother?”

                  Mnemon Alinos replies slowly, “Committing five Dragon-Blooded to a suicide mission represents an investment that not even House Cathak can make casually – let alone a fallen house like Iselsi – if they had more warriors to spend, they would have spent them. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be vigilant, daughter.”

                  Reya bows respectfully to her mother, and regards her carefully, not yet ready to engage her mother in a power-struggle. “How would you advise we proceed?”

                  “Immediate safety assured, we should try to uncover the identities of our attackers. Burning the evidence we have may have been premature, and I’d not rely on Daimother being forthcoming with the results of her sorcerous divinations. This really would have been easier if you’d left one alive.” Alinos casts an eye over Melody, who looks guilty even though she wasn’t to blame this time.

                  “Perhaps not.” Reya says, “With Octavian busy mutilating corpses and Mnemon doing dragon’s-know-what to the remains… we might be able to question these assassins after all...”

                  Ganan and Terel return having laid their salt lines.

                  “I need to return home.” Sesus Terel says simply.

                  Melody looks at him, “You are home. Welcome to the family, nephew.”

                  Reya holds up a hand, “I understand that you must be worried about your sister. I must insist you stay here overnight until we identify more information about your attackers. We will take you to see your father tomorrow.”

                  Terel grits his teeth, “Then at least allow my entourage to come here.”

                  Ganan shakes his head, “Can’t do that until we know exactly who might be compromised.” He slaps Terel on the back, “You’re just going to have to spend the night with your wife.”

                  Nula and Reya pull identical faces of embarrassed disgust. Ganan pushes Nula and Terel out of the room.

                  “I was thinking we could interrogate the ghosts,” Ganan says as soon as they’re out of the door.

                  ****

                  Come nightfall, the heroes make their way to the entry hall of Bekara’s mansion. The four mortal corpses mutilated by Octavian have been heaped in a pile. A large mirror has been re-positioned over the corpses.

                  As the sun sets, Ganan senses the rise of a nearby ghost. As the spirit rises from the corpse, Ganan flashes across the room and drives a fist into its chest, pulling it into the material world. The vengeful spirit glares at the Dragon-Blooded – hun and po souls are still united – he breathes hard, pantomiming an action that no longer has any function.

                  Melody nudges Reya, “Well one out of four isn’t bad.”

                  Reya approaches, her bearing marking her as someone not to be trifled with as she meets the ghost for the first time. Immediately she senses the ghost’s burning need for revenge. She begins to shape sorcery, casting Peacock Shadow Eyes on the ghost, who drops into a trance. “I am Reya, Exalted Sorceress. Who are you?”

                  The ghost looks at her dazed and entranced, “I am Amilar Arime.”

                  Melody and Ganan exchange a look.

                  Reya pushes on, “I imagine you’d like revenge against the demon that tore you apart.” She gestures at the corpse behind them.

                  The ghost of Amilar Arime turns and looks at the mangled corpse. He turns back, dazed, “I want revenge against House Iselsi. They are the reason we set out on this mission.”

                  “Who, specifically, hired you, and what was the mission?” Reya asks. The ghost does not respond. “You’re not leaving this room ghost, not without my leave. But if you tell me, I can help you realize your revenge.”

                  Arime speaks slowly, “Iselsi Malora. She came to Lookshy over a hundred years ago seeking asylum from the Realm. She married my great-grandfather Amilar Rideb. She hired us and matched us with Dragon-Blooded from her old house. Sent us here to kill the newlyweds. Sent us here… to die.”

                  Ganan growls, “How many other assassins are there?”

                  “Eleven.” Arime replies without hesitation, “Six for each pairing.”

                  Melody nods, “All accounted for then.”

                  The Dragons continue to interrogate the ghost but reveal little else of use. Reya says a prayer over the corpses and sends her Essence through the pile, burning the mortal corpses to ash. Finally, the dragons turn in for the night.

                  ****

                  The next morning, the Dragons wake to find Mnemon and Octavian have left. Mnemon has left a bound neomah instructing Danireya to attend her in Juche.

                  Sesus Raenyah Terel and Mnemon Alinos Nula have risen early. Terel has dressed in white clothes of mourning – as have our heroes. He wears his sword openly at his side, as he presents himself smartly to Danireya. He bows, then states with a precise courtesy, “Matriarch, I have performed my duties and should like to see my sister.”

                  Danireya nods, rises, and gestures for the others to follow. “Of course.”

                  They cross the Plaza of Light – servants have cleared away the remains of the funerary pyre and the decorations from the wedding. Sesus Nerys’s servants admit them: the lobby has been fully repaired, Sesus Raenyah Ilana’s body has been moved.

                  They are shown to a reception room and left to wait. Sesus Raenyah Terel opens his mouth to complain that “This is intolerable.” When Mnemon Alinos Muli enters the room, also dressed for mourning.

                  The gash on Muli’s head has been crudely stitched – it looks as if he’d done it himself looking in a mirror. He bows to his mother then to his brother-in-law, whom he addresses:

                  “There are few words to express the deep pain and sorrow of losing Sesus Raenyah Ilana to the assassins who struck us last night. We want to host a private and dignified ceremony with her loved ones here at sunset. She wanted a traditional memorial, so please dress in white and prepare any kind words you would like to share.” Muli intones with the proper amount of sorrow, and he bows his head again.

                  In a flash, Terel is on his feet, sword-in-hand challenging Muli to a duel.

                  Ganan scoffs, amused, “A duel over what?”

                  Reya and Melody are not amused, sensing the real danger in the situation.

                  “Neither of our wives were warriors. I defended my wife and she lives! But my sister is dead because he let her die! Honor demands satisfaction!” Terel foams at the mouth.

                  Ganan rises from his feet, “You were passed out on the floor whilst a sorcerer’s demon saved your wife, boy. But I taught Muli how to fight: if you want to duel someone…” He spreads his arms, “I’ll answer the challenge of honor.”

                  Terel’s lips purse into a hard line. “You are my father-in-law. We are of the same household. Mnemon Muli is of the Raenyah household.”

                  Melody steps in, “We are allies. House Iselsi are responsible for this, in service to Cathak Cainan. We have enemies enough to fight without squabbling among ourselves.”

                  Terel’s voice has a dangerous waver to it, “That’s exactly what Ilana said. And if you had kept her alive, I’d be inclined to listen to that advice. Now, are you a coward as well as a traitor?”

                  Muli steels himself, “I can see this is important to you. So I will beat you without causing lasting injury, for the sake of our alliance. Shall we fight now, or do you need time to prepare?”

                  ****

                  The dragons proceed through the mansion to a courtyard. Muli draws his Longfang from a burning brazier as Terel faces off against him.

                  Ledaal Kebok Corin, Tepet Agoram, and four of Terel’s retinue have found their way to the same courtyard.

                  Terel blazes towards Muli, already glowing with power, he draws his sword from its scabbard with one fluid motion, slashing across with a blow intended to kill.

                  Muli turns the blow aside, stepping back in a blur of motion that raises his own anima before launching himself forward, stabbing out with his spear. Terel twists his blade right and left, knocking Muli’s strokes aside. A mirthless smile graces Terel’s lips as he steps back with every thrust, giving ground allowing himself to be driven back to the brazier.

                  Ganan and Tepet Agoram both tense as they watch the two Fire Aspects duel.

                  Agoram hisses, “He actually thinks he’s doing well.”

                  “He’s being toyed with.” Ganan grimaces.

                  Terel throws a shower of blinding sparks as their weapons meet, then surges forward in a firestorm assault, slashing with his daiklave in a blinding flurry of blows. Muli closes his eyes, drops to one knee, and twists his Longfang across Terel’s wrist, disarming him and sending the sword flying. Without hesitating, Terel thrusts his hand into the fire and pulls out a new sword made of flames. He jabs the blade into Muli’s shoulder, and as he reels backward into his knee.

                  Ganan grabs Agoram by the collar to stop him from rushing to Muli’s side. But he’s too slow to stop Ledaal Corin, who in an instant is standing over Muli defending him with her blade. It starts to rain, the cold biting rain of winter, but somehow Muli and Corin avoid the worst of the deluge.

                  Sesus Terel tosses his flaming sword aside, and the fire sputters and dies in the rain. “Do you yield?”

                  “You stabbed him in the spear-arm: ‘yes’ he yields,” Melody says crossing to her nephew to treat him.

                  Terel shakes his head and retrieves his Daiklave, “I’m satisfied.” He turns his back on Coren and crosses over to his cronies. Nula grits her teeth and goes to stand with her husband. A peal of thunder is heard across the courtyard as Terel and company go back inside the mansion.

                  Ganan and Agoram approach Muli as Melody treats his wounds. Coren stands with her blue jade Daiklave drawn as if expecting further attack.

                  “You celebrated too soon.” Ganan admonishes.

                  “How many times have I told you not to drop your guard?” Agoram adds.

                  “It’s not over until it’s over.” They both say in unison.

                  Melody exchanges a look with Reya, “By the Dragons, I see it now!”

                  “See what?” Agoram and Ganan snap in unison.

                  Melody raises her eyebrows and turns back to Muli’s wounds, “You both have terrible taste in men.” She mutters.

                  Ganan and Agoram take Muli by the arms (Agoram on the injured side) and help him back into the house, “You’ll have to change before the memorial.” Ganan tuts.

                  “Where is Oban?” Reya asks, and Muli directs them upstairs. Corin and Agoram stay with Muli as our heroes head up to Ilana’s room.

                  Ilana is laid out on her bed. Her wounds have been sewn shut and she has been dressed in fresh white funeral garb (though Ganan is too illiterate in fashion to tell the difference between wedding garb and funeral garb). Oban sits quietly by her side, and he doesn’t look up as they enter the room.

                  “We are striking for Mnemon-Darjilis as soon as Ilana’s memorial is over,” Reya says, skipping the pleasantries, assuming Oban will prefer to be dealt with directly.

                  Oban nods and says nothing.

                  Reya continues, “I should like it if my children were to stay with you. I imagine you will be leaving Bright Obelisk?”

                  “On the morrow,” Oban says quietly.

                  “Muli, Nula, and Terel should travel with you. We are a family now. Family takes care of each other.” Reya waits for Oban to respond.

                  “Our alliance stands,” Oban replies simply.

                  Melody walks over to him and lays a hand on his shoulder, “That was never in doubt. If it’s… hard for you, we will take them with us. We just thought…”

                  Oban looks up at Melody, “I should like my son at my side.” He turns his attention to Reya, “Thank you, madame Reya. We will be focusing our efforts on destroying Peleps held ports until you or Berit send word otherwise.”

                  Reya nods, “Berit is marshaling forces to retake the Imperial City: a pointless exercise if the Imperial Fleet can simply take it back.”

                  ****

                  The memorial to Sesus Ilana is a brief and muted affair. Key figures say kind words and vow vengeance against House Iselsi and their Cathak masters. Our heroes decline to mention Gens Amilars’ involvement.

                  At the end of the ceremony, Ledaal Ludila joins our heroes and states that River and her Hearth are heading to Juche to recruit House Nellens to the cause. She asks to join them on their journey to Mnemon-Darjilis. Our heroes do not ask how she learned of their next destination.

                  Seeing no other reason to stay in Bright Obelisk, the rest of the Alinos household prepares to move on – Nula and Muli with House Sesus, the others traveling with Alinos. Ganan takes a moment to barter with the scions of House Mnemon, purchasing a length of Grayglass wood and a bough from a powerful V’neef manse.

                  Our heroes make only minimal preparations: they raid Bekara’s larder for provisions and withdraw hard currency from the house’s funds before setting out into the night. Ganan orders Ndiza to enter his Yasal Crystal and his other demons to stay close, with Cresta riding Tisi. As Reya starts to summon her Stormwind Rider, a strange figure emerges from the mansion next to governor Nerys's. She, if it is a she, looks almost like an elemental: she has the shape of a human, but her skin is accented with crystals – flesh merging into rich purple amethyst outcroppings. She wears robes of white and gold, with a red sash on her chest.

                  The woman approaches. Ganan casually unslings his Dragon Sigh Wand, but Melody lays a hand on the barrel.

                  “She was watching the wedding,” Melody says, remembering the veiled figure from the day before.

                  “Which isn’t at all suspicious.” Reya says sarcastically as she folds her arms across her chest, “Who are you and what do you want?”

                  The woman speaks, her voice like chiming bells, “My name is Holly. Mnemon instructed me to direct you to Juche.”

                  Reya looks her up and down, “I don’t know who – or what – you are, Holly, but I assure you, we can find our way to Juche.”

                  Holly smiles a disquieting smile, “This way please.” And she begins to lead them out of the city.

                  Ganan raises his weapon and aims at the back of Holly’s head, “Just say the word…”

                  Reya tuts at her husband and starts to follow Holly towards the mountains.

                  ****

                  Reya spends 4DX to train Archery 3.
                  Ganan spends 8XP and 4DX to train Titanic Fist Devastation.
                  Melody spends 3DX train a Presence Specialty in Lovable Outcaste.



                  Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

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                  • #69
                    Originally posted by JohnDoe244 View Post
                    Alinos Fashions
                    Alinos dresses in practical linens, typically white and accented in Mnemon purple.
                    Reya dresses similarly, but typically her outfits are overwhelmingly purple with white accents, with a few outfits matching her mother's style. Notably, every outfit includes a pair of highly polished mirrored bracers to allow her to see into the spirit world and a concealed chain shirt made with links of iron wood.
                    Nula and Muli follow their mother's fashions, but wear their armor openly.
                    Nanals follows no discernible pattern in her dress, from rough spun undyed wool to fine silk kimonos.
                    Ganan wears sleeveless vests and baggy trousers in Mnemon purple but accented with gold and green. Like his wife, he wears highly polished bracers.
                    Johon, Ferad and Melody dress as though they were still in the legions.
                    Bekara has adopted local fashions in an effort to irritate her sister.
                    Jarod dresses in white with blue accents.

                    Character Portraits
                    I may have gone off the reservation with this one. But I drafted CPs with Hero Machine. This is definitely "non-canon" (given how far south Dovak is, there's no chance that Reya is wearing furs), but it helps me get a handle on the characters beyond their physical descriptions. A reminder that whilst Reya usually dresses in purple, in this session she's dressed in white. I also don't have a canon "ethnicity" for Reya outside of "Mnemon" so hair and skin color are liable to change. I picture Ganan as being pretty much exactly as shown (except he should have some javelins, and maybe a knife... some pockets somewhere) -- I'm not saying all my RPG characters are power-fantasy self-inserts, but, you know, 90%. Ganan will probably have a breast-plate or something next session, but can be assumed to be wearing pretty much this otherwise (couldn't do the shoes but you get the idea).

                    Cynis Ganan


                    Mnemon Alinos Danireya
                    I have recently started to commission artists to draw the Dynasty of Dovak Characters.

                    Possession by Xeda787 - Aharon Saber Edge and Ledaal Ludila from Dynasty of Dovak



                    A giant of a man (pay no attention to the lack of scale in the drawing), Fire Aspected Aharon is the first Dragon-Blooded to be born into Clan Saber Edge in a hundred years. When our PCs first met him, he wielded the massive Grand Daiklave Abrojo. Decades later he became part of their Not-A-Hearth: his sword exchanged for the flaming halberd pictured - for reasons that will be explained as our story progresses!

                    Ledaal "Udi" Ludila is the childhood sweetheart of Mnemon Danireya, and she broke our heroine's heart in the ruthless pursuit of her own personal power. This Water Aspected sorceress hired Aharon to serve as a mercenary in the Realm Civil War, but the two quickly developed a sexual relationship.

                    Now Udi and Aharon fight alongside our intrepid heroes, fighting against Cathak Cainan and his Anathema allies in order to restore Mnemon, the just and pious, rightful Empress, to the Throne.

                    Do Udi and Aharon still have feelings for our PCs?
                    Will those feelings be reciprocated?
                    What happened to the Grand Daiklave Abrojo?
                    What is Aharon's Artifact Halberd called - and is it a Direlance or a Grand Grimcleaver?
                    Does it make sense to call the game "Dynasty of Dovak" when the Dynasty of Dovak hasn't been mentioned for 11 sessions?

                    Your guess is as good as mine! But you're in the right thread to find out!

                    (I have a Vault on the Other Discord which includes the NSFW Dynasty of Dovak art which I'm pretty sure I can't post here.)
                    Last edited by JohnDoe244; 11-30-2020, 06:59 AM.


                    Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

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                    • #70
                      Session 62 – Hall of the Mountain Folk – Reya (190XP 152DX, 187/143 spent; 9GP 36P), Melody (190XP 152DX, 184/146 spent), and Ganan (190XP 152DX, 190/148 spent; 8WhP 44GP 73SP)

                      Depictitions of birth, foul language.

                      This Session also has Mnemon, who does not have a perfect knowledge of the pre-First Age, describing Creation's pre-history to Melody (who knows nothing about Creation's pre-history). This isn't to be considered accurate -- it's how someone with imperfect knowledge simplifies what little they do know for someone who is completely ignorant. That said, it's not to be considered, neccessarily, inaccurate -- no-one decided to Challenge a Fact on this.


                      Holly leads the Dragon-Blooded through Bright Obelisk to a rocky outcropping that cuts into the city. She touches a hidden sigil in the rock-face and the mountain opens before them.


                      “Huh.” Melody remarks, “That’s… neat.”

                      The Dragons find themselves in a light-less tunnel. The tunnels are wide enough to walk three abreast. They are perfectly cylindrical, the walls are smooth and round: Reya touches them to find they feel like glass.

                      “Oh shit.” She breathes inaudibly as she realizes where she’s seen tunnels like this before.

                      Holly calls after them, “Just head straight.” And she closes the hidden door behind them, plunging them into darkness.

                      Ganan goes through the katas of Earth Dragon Form and sends a small tremor through the tunnels as he does so. The white light of his anima blazes from him and illuminates the walls, which just like the tunnels in Dovak depict strange, alien murals.

                      “It’ll take six hours to fly from here to Juche.” Reya says as she starts to cast Stormwind Rider.

                      Ganan releases the energy bound in his martial arts form, and instead stretches out his senses, feeling the unseen beyond the light of his anima. The tunnel continues straight for quite a distance.

                      Melody, Ganan, and Ludila stand close to Reya as she finishes casting and lifts them off the ground. Ganan wraps his arms around his wife, laying a protective hand on her stomach and a guiding hand on her shoulder as she directs the Stormwind down the tunnel. Reya lays one hand over Ganan’s on her stomach, holding him close. Melody strains her eyes into the darkness and tries to ignore how much more uncomfortable riding a Stormwind has become as her own pregnancy has progressed. Ledaal Ludila just closes her eyes and concentrates on not falling off.

                      By the end of the first hour, the light from Ganan’s anima has died and they steer by his preternatural sense of the tunnel around them. He keeps his body pressed close to Reya’s guiding her in a straight line. After three hours, Reya starts to slow down.

                      “We there already?” Melody asks still straining her eyes into the darkness, trying to ignore her discomfort.

                      Reya lets out an involuntary groan of pain, “Need a break.”

                      “Keep going, just a little further, there’s something up ahead.” Ganan urges as the Stormwind slows to the speed of a horse’s gallop.

                      Melody knocks an arrow, and Ganan senses the motion and reassures her, “Not like that. I think it’s a rest point.”

                      They go a hundred yards and Ganan calls a stop. Reya gently lowers them to the ground. Ganan pushes more energy through his anima to light it up again: in the gloaming, the Dragons can make out two alcoves (one on each side of the tunnel) each with two stone beds carved into the rock-face of the tunnel.

                      Reya smiles and staggers over to one of the beds, “Melody and Udi take the other side, we’re stopping for the rest of the night.”

                      Ledaal Ludila seems about to protest, but Reya half-falls into one of the beds and immediately goes to sleep.

                      Melody rubs her stomach and stretches her aching body, “I’ll take the first watch.”

                      Ganan shakes his head, “Your matriarch has ordered you into bed. You need sleep, I do not. And I can ‘see’ in this darkness. Go to bed, I’ll watch through the night.” He unslings Burnt Offering and gestures for Udi and Melody to get some rest.

                      Ganan slumps against a wall and keeps his senses extended through the night in his unsleeping earth meditation. Nothing approaches them as the hours pass. With no sun it’s hard to track the passage of time, but after a few hours, he hears Reya calling him.

                      Ganan methodically plods over to his wife, reclined on the strange stone beds. They are smooth and cool like the walls of the tunnel, but the alcoves are surprisingly warm given the snowy conditions above ground.

                      “The baby is unsettled.” Reya complains, “Read to us.”

                      Ganan gingerly lays his head on Reya’s stomach and starts reciting the story of how Mela discovered sorcery. Towards the end of the story, the baby kicks him in the face. He chuckles good-naturedly, but Reya tenses her whole body and clenches her teeth. Wetness spreads out from under her.

                      “My waters just broke.” She says with a detached matter-of-fact tone. There’s a mild acrid smell in the air.

                      Ganan feels the spreading liquid, “It’s too early. That was quite a kick. Maybe baby caught your bladder…”

                      Reya’s tone hardened with annoyance, “It’s not pee. That baby is coming. Now. Get Melody.” She starts to strip out of her clothes.

                      Ganan rises and plods across the tunnel, “It’s too early.” He mutters disbelieving as he diligently obeys.

                      Reya gives a great groan of pain that wakes Ludila. Ganan shakes Melody awake and explains the situation.

                      “It’s pee!” Melody calls and rolls over in bed.

                      Reya gives another groan as another contraction hits. Melody rolls out of the bed and walks over to her. She starts to glow green with her own essence, and she taps Reya’s legs aside to examine her. She washes her hands in the drinking water and feels her.

                      “Huh.” She says with a note of worried curiosity, “Three inches.” She turns to Ganan, “Baby is coming now.”

                      Another contraction rocks Reya who grunts as she pushes and bears down.

                      “Don’t do that!” Melody snaps, “Don’t push, it’s not time to push. We need another inch or so. I need my kit.” She crosses the darkness back to her bedside to retrieve her satchel of resplendent healing.

                      Yet another contraction comes, faster and closer together now. Reya groans with effort.

                      “Melody said not to push!” Ganan warns, taking his wife’s hand, a dangerous note of panic in his voice as Udi and Melody start to cross back towards them. “You’re not dilated enough.”

                      “This baby is coming now.” Reya gasps as the baby starts to crown.

                      Melody runs towards Reya as she contracts again, pushing down. Melody slides on her knees to catch the baby as it spirals out in a single motion almost as if it were launched from a canon. The baby cries in the dark.

                      “That was a lot quicker than with the twins.” Ganan says dumbly. He moves himself to block Reya’s nude form from the others.

                      “They’ve both seen it all before.” Reya chides and holds out her hands for her baby.

                      Melody lays examines the child, ten fingers, ten toes, breathing on its own. “It’s a girl.” She announces as she hands over the baby. “I’d say almost six pounds. Very impressive for how early she is.”

                      Reya holds her whilst the umbilical cord pulses: when the cord pulsing stops she hands the baby back to Melody, who clamps the cord and Ganan cuts it. The baby is laid on Reya’s bare abdomen and it crawls to her breast and starts to suckle. Ganan lays his traveling cloak over mother and baby.

                      “I didn’t know they could do that,” Ludila says, astonished, her eyes wide. She turns to Melody, “How did you perform an epidural so quickly?”

                      Melody shakes her head from between Reya’s legs as she manages the afterbirth, “I just caught the baby. Reya’s just tough.”

                      “She’s very small,” Ludila says, thinking of her children when they were born.

                      Ganan shakes his head dismissively, “The twins weren’t much bigger. She’ll be fine.”

                      “We probably shouldn’t take a newborn on a Stormwind Rider. Premature or otherwise.” Melody pronounces as she finishes with the afterbirth and examines the feeding baby again. “But I agree: she’ll be fine. Keep her warm.”

                      “Agata then. You ride with Reya and the baby. I’ll ride with Udi.” Ganan nods sagaciously as he releases Ndiza and asks Cresta into the Yasal Crystal. The beauteous wasps materialize.

                      “I’m not convinced demons are much better.” Melody says, grimacing.

                      Ganan ignores her and pilfers rubbing alcohol, bandages, and arrows from Melody’s supplies. He dumps the firedust out of one of his shells and puts together some torches (10SP).

                      “We’re about three hundred miles from Bright Obelisk and to Juche. Walking for days in the dark is going to be worse for Lezabe than a day on the back of a demon.” Reya says firmly, dressing again, relying on her Collar to keep her clean and wrapping the baby in Ganan’s cloak, and handing her off to him as she stands.

                      “Lezabe?” Melody asks with a smile.

                      “It’s what they wanted to call Nula,” Reya says. Her tone conveys that “they” are her husband and her mother. She tears and ties Ganan’s cloak, fashioning it into a crude but serviceable sling (6SP).

                      Ganan smiles down at his newborn daughter, “Mnemon Alinos Lezabe. It’s a fine name. My grand-”

                      “We know,” Reya says giving him a quick kiss. “Help me up.”

                      Reya and Melody mount Tisi, and Ganan hands the baby back to Reya. Ganan and Ludila mount Ndiza, and Ganan lights the first torch, lighting the way.

                      ****

                      The last leg of their journey is uneventful – Melody sings for most of the way. It takes all day: they have to stop every couple of hours to settle the baby, but at last, Melody spots light at the end of the tunnel. The light grows brighter as they draw closer and eventually they make out the forms of Mnemon, Octavian, and a large Agata. Mnemon is attended by a pair of Dragon-Blooded Reya recognizes from the wedding (distant relations), and half a dozen beings who look like they’ve been hewn from rock. Unlike Holly, there’s no trace of human flesh on their forms, and five of them are a dull brown, only their leader has the bright amethyst coloration. The end of the tunnel is lit not by the outside world but by two vast glowing spheres. Ganan swaps the demons in his yasal crystal once more.

                      “You’re late.” Mnemon snaps, “I expected you this morning. Trouble in Bright Obelisk?”

                      Reya dismounts, “Many apologies grand daimother.” She smiles and presents baby Lezabe, “But the good news is your House has grown. May I present Mnemon Lezabe.”

                      Mnemon looks down her nose at the baby, “With the uncertainty caused by my mother’s de- disappearance, I have chosen to refrain from delivering children in the middle of a war. I had hoped my scions would show the same judgment. I have no wet-nurse for you.”

                      “I don’t require a wet-nurse.” Reya says, her voice unfailing pleasant in the face of Mnemon’s disdain.

                      Mnemon wrinkles her nose, “Yes, I remember reading something to that effect.” She casts a withering gaze at Cynis Ganan, who clears his throat and looks aside.

                      “When I birthed my twins, who both Exalted, I saw to their care and my duties to the House. War or no war, I intend to do the same.” Reya insists, “Would you like to hold her?”

                      Mnemon’s expression softens infinitesimally, “Yes, I believe I would.” She waits for Reya to approach her and hand over the child. The rock-like beings watch on in respectful silence. Mnemon studies the baby carefully, “She’s small.” She whispers, softly.

                      Reya nods, drawing close, she lowers her voice to match her matriarch’s, “As were her siblings. She’s early. But she’s strong.”

                      Mnemon returns the child carefully, “Blessed are the children.”

                      Reya bows as she receives her baby and responds with the formal vernacular: “May the Dragon’s Enfold.”

                      Mnemon and Reya share a private look of understanding between them. In the silence, the amethyst creature speaks, “We have awaited your arrival quiet anxiously Mnemon Danireya.” Her voice, for surely it seems to our heroes that the speaker is feminine (if not precisely a woman in the human sense), speaks in clear High Realm as if the speaker were born in the Imperial Palace (it does not carry a trace of the regional dialect of Juche), “But I am gladdened to see that your delay was a joyful one. Though my kind possesses no oracular powers, I would be most surprised if your child does not grow up to become an Earth Aspect like your mighty ancestor.” She gestures at Mnemon and bows deeply, “I am Beauteous Harmony.”

                      “May the Dragons make us worthy.” Reya replies, brightly but formally.

                      Ganan blunders into the conversation, “You are of the Mountain Folk. Jadeborn.”

                      Beauteous Harmony bows again, “I am. It is my honor to act as an envoy to the Realm on my people’s behalf.”

                      “I have never met a Jadeborn.” Reya admits, graciously bowing a fraction, but turning her baby ever so slightly away from the strange creature.

                      Beauteous Harmony spreads her hands in an obsequious gesture, “I am surprised to hear you say that.”

                      “Why?” Reya banters, testing the waters, “Your race is renown for its secrecy living below the ground.”

                      Beauteous Harmony smiles, “It is not unusual for a Dynast to never have seen my kind – though we do parade our tribute from here to the Imperial City yearly. It is unusual for them to honestly admit such a thing.”

                      Reya visibly relaxes, “I think we are going to get along just fine, honored envoy.” She nods in a friendly manner before turning her attention back to Mnemon, “How may I be of service, Matriarch?”

                      Mnemon motions for the Jadeborn to lead the way down a side tunnel, “How much do you know of Autochthon?”

                      “Who?” Melody interrupts.

                      “The Great Maker. Brother of Gaia.” Ganan whispers back at her.

                      “Who?” Melody says blankly.

                      “A simplified history lesson then.” Mnemon says as she walks, “Before Creation, there was primordial chaos, like unto the Wyld, and from this chaos rose the first race. These eldritch beings of antiquity, these Primordials, were numerous but we concern ourselves now with three. Gaia, the Emerald Mother, who spun threads of infinite possibility from the Wyld; Autochthon, the Great Maker, who wove those threads into real and lasting shapes; and Theion, who strengthened the design by winnowing always all that was no longer useful. Together they shaped Creation. They created the gods to labor for eternity as their servants. And Gaia birthed five children – The Elemental Dragons: Daana’d, Hesiesh, Mela, Sextes Jylis and Pasiap.” She turns to look pointedly at Melody, “These are names you recognize, I trust?”

                      Melody nods mutely.

                      Mnemon continues, “To her children, Gaia gave dominion over the gods and over Creation. But Theion grew jealous and desired his siblings to bow to him as king, as the gods bowed. He became a cruel master, and tortured the gods, and wreaked havoc on Creation: rending the First Hierarchy asunder with his vain perfidy. The gods conspired to overthrow their Primordial masters – for all but Gaia and Autochthon had been swept up in Theion’s madness. Gaia’s contribution was a race of warriors, the like of which had never been seen before: warriors who carried the very blood of her children in their veins.” She pauses and stares at Melody again.

                      “Us. The Dragon-Blooded.” Melody confirms.

                      “Indeed. Autochthon contributed the dread weapons that our forebears and their allies used to cast down the Enemies of the Gods. In time, the dread Anathema would drive Autochthon from Creation and they would usurp his legacy as the King of Crafters. But it was Autochthon’s engineering and the diligent work of his Jadeborn…” Mnemon turns and gives the slightest of nods to Beauteous Harmony, “That allowed the Exalted to free the world from Theion and his ilk.”

                      “Weapons… like Warstriders?” Melody asks, covetously. She grins from ear to ear and rubs her hands together.

                      “Weapons like the Realm Defense Grid.” Mnemon says, her tone matter of fact. Reya sees just a hint of a smile dare to play on her face.

                      “The… You mean the…” Melody stammers, “Okay, yeah, I can see how that would help us. I mean, help you, Your… Worshipfulness.”

                      “It helps us, my children.” Mnemon says firmly, “And our allies. Autochthon’s chosen people, the Jadeborn, were forced underground, long ago, by the Solar Anathema. The Solars broke their power and lessened their race. And the Jadeborn are not alone beneath us: they fight an unceasing war against a nameless horde of forbidden gods, sealed demons, and stranger things. Whilst House Cathak licked their wounds, and House Sesus carried out their petty espionages, I led a legion to the aid of our Jadeborn vassals.” She turns to Danireya to make a point, “Once more placing the good of The Realm above transient concerns. Together we were able to drive these Darkbrood back and reclaim several treasures lost for ages.”

                      Melody tries not to worry about how many soldiers this venture has cost them.

                      “House Nellens has no idea what treasures lie beneath them. We need to secure their allegiance. Then we can move these…” She rounds a corner and shows them a pair of war-machines.

                      The beasts, and 'beasts' seems the appropriate term, are thirty feet tall with razor-sharp teeth and claws. They have the shape of a dragon, their faces set in a perpetual snarl. They are forged of jade and demon-gold.

                      “Thousand-Forged Dragons.” Ganan pronounces, nodding his head, “Useless without the command codes.”

                      Mnemon speaks two-words in a language that our heroes do not recognize. The sound of gears turning and cogs interlocking fill the tunnel. The closest dragon raises its head, then takes a step forward, causing the ground to tremble.

                      “I don’t pursue useless alliances. Nor do I waste your time: I expect the same courtesy. The war-machines can, of course, simply smash their way free – should negotiations fail. But they are not precise weapons – they will be useless for retaking the capital, and I would rather not drive the Nellens legions to war against me.”

                      ****

                      Our heroes leave Mnemon and backtrack with Beauteous Harmony, who opens a concealed door allowing them into the city of Juche (she remains behind). They emerge into the catacombs beneath the Pagoda of Pasiap’s Footstep and take a moment to orientate themselves from the last time they were in the city.

                      Snow blankets the ground – not crisp and white like in Bright Obelisk, but muddy and soot-stained. Patches of ice from freeze-thaw render the streets treacherous. Evening is well underway, and there is a prosperous bustle to the city as folk go about their business. The air is thick with the scent of winter treats – roasted nuts; strong, cheap, coffee; and candied treats. Reya pulls the baby in close to keep her warm.

                      “So… do we go to Nellens Mirar’s house or…?” Melody asks.

                      Reya takes a deep breath, grips her child firmly, and says “I think we will be better served by going straight to Nellens Gazal.”

                      “Who lives… where?” Melody asks.

                      Reya smiles, “Let’s ask her.” Reya leads her motley band to a nearby plaza and uses her mastery of linguistics to send a message on the wind to the Nellens matriarch announcing their presence in the city.

                      The Dragon-Blooded order hot coffee and roasted nuts to snack on (for which they pay with scrip, massively overpaying) whilst they wait. Melody keeps her weapons in hand, but not readied for action as they await the army Nellens Gazal will undoubtedly send. Udi kicks at the dirt with feigned indifference. Reya purchases baby supplies and Ganan buys some clasps and reworks his traveling cloak baby sling into something adjustable and secure (4SP). Lezabe is fed and settled.

                      Reya straps the baby to herself, and goes to lay a hand on Udi’s shoulder, “What are they going to do, attack us? Don’t worry so much.”

                      At once there is a flurry of activity in the quiet evening streets. Nellens soldiers block every avenue. Ganan watches them with open bemusement as the Nellens war-machine boxes them in. The Nellens soldiers start to advance.

                      “That’s close enough.” Melody says kindly, not raising her voice. Half the Nellens soldiers stop in their tracks – some of them hastily back-peddle, throwing what was an organized formation into disarray. The others continue to advance until Ganan stops casually leaning on a wall, discards his roasted nuts, and takes his Dragon Sigh Wand in both hands. The Nellens troops seem on the verge of routing.

                      Nellens Mirar and Nellens Gazal push their way through the ranks to the head of the lead column, and some semi-balance of order is restored.

                      “You have a lot of nerve, sneaking into my city unannounced. I have a treaty with House Mnemon.” Gazal says, her voice clear as the winter air and hard as the Imperial Mountain behind her back.

                      Reya moves forward, her voice like silk, “You do indeed. Mnemon herself has sent me to strengthen that treaty.” She pauses and bows a fraction lower than protocol requires to Nellens Mirar, “It is good to see you again Dragonlord Mirar.”

                      Mirar straightens himself and puffs out his chest, “It’s General Mirar now.” Mirar’s eyes settle on Reya’s baby sling.

                      Reya bows again, “Well deserved, general.” She turns back to Gazal, “Mnemon has found our peace treaty invaluable. Juche sits on a pivotal locus for the entire war. I’m sure House Cathak has been belligerent about this – all military bluster and disrespect for your Great House. But if you remember, House Mnemon actually paid you a tidy sum for the privilege of peace between us. I believe I told you that we needed you. As Tepet and Sesus side with us, surely you now see that you need us too? Cathak will not allow you to remain neutral. Mnemon is sending jade talents and peaceful envoys to woo you. What do you think ‘the emperor’ will send when the winter snows melt?”

                      “The Emperor sits on the throne. Mnemon does not.” Gazal says simply.

                      Melody leans in, “Yeah, but… so what? If you thought Cainan has won, you’d be on your knees in the Imperial City begging forgiveness for not supporting him from the start. You wouldn’t be standing here talking about your treaty with the Arch Traitor.”

                      (Ganan whispers, “Arch Traitor?”

                      Melody replies from the side of her mouth, “Go with it.”

                      Ganan shrugs.)

                      Nellens Gazal narrows her eyes, “Do not misunderstand me. I am open to expanding our alliance, but do not think you are bargaining from a position of strength.”

                      Reya meets her gaze and with forced cordiality, “Do not misunderstand me. Unless the rest of your legions are hiding in the tea houses, you are not bargaining from a position of strength either.” She pauses, ominously for just a beat, “What is it you want?”

                      Nellens Gazal is taken aback by Reya’s tone and directness, “What do you mean?” She replies, a note of genuine uncertainty in her voice.

                      “Mnemon wants House Nellens to join the Tripartite Alliance. Join your legions to ours, under the command of Berit. March with us on the Usurper. Open your coffers to fund our war. Become a real Great House after the war. What do you want?” Reya measures Gazal’s reaction.

                      “House Nellens. Is. A real. Great. House.” Nellens Gazal spits out each word, biting back her venom.

                      Reya allows a hint of impatience into her tone, “House Nellens was the Scarlet Empress’s vanity project. Used to check House Sesus. You have thrived by paying attention to the most valuable resource on the Blessed Isle – the mortals. House Mnemon is treating with you as an equal. Are the other Houses? Wouldn’t you like them to? As I see it, you need fresh blood. Dragon-Blooded of breeding and distinguished pedigree. You’ve caught a few flailing Tepets of late, but now House Tepet stands with us. Mnemon wants you to side with us, so… name your price?”

                      Nellens Gazal stares long and hard at Reya, “It has come to my attention that you recently cemented an alliance with House Sesus with a pair of marriages.” She looks at the sky theatrically, “But the hour is late, and I have other business. You will come to my manse, and we can discuss this matter further in the morning.”

                      She makes an almost imperceptible gesture, and the Nellens legionnaires square off to reinforce the fact that this is not an invitation.

                      Reya bows graciously, “We would be honored to accept your hospitality, madame Gazal.”

                      Melody sidles up to Reya and whispers to her, “She’s trying to stall us.”

                      Reya nods back with a smile, even as Gazal disappears back into the throng.

                      Nellens Mirar steps forward and offers Reya his arm, “Shall we?”

                      Reya takes Mirar’s arm and smiles at him, “I hope we’re not going to wake up surrounded by soldiers
                      again General.”

                      Mirar smiles back at Reya, “Oh I wouldn’t worry about that.”

                      ****

                      Mirar leads them back to the Nellens manse. He talks obliquely about the recent weddings in Bright Obelisk, Reya charmingly notes how good news seems to travel quickly and confirms that her children took House Sesus spouses. Mirar seems particularly interested in Muli’s new status as a Sesus widower, but Reya deflects him. Finally, as shows them to a suite within the manse, he informs them of war in the River Provinces – Thorns marching against Lookshy. Ledaal Ludila immediately peels off (to confirm this with her House in private), and Reya politely but firmly asks Mirar to leave them alone as she closes the suite door on him.

                      Reya takes a deep breath and addresses the others seriously, “Time it would take Cathak Cainan to send a strike force here?”

                      Melody chews her lip, “Well based on how long it took us all those times… they could be here by morning.”

                      Reya screws her eyes tight and raps her forehead with her fist, “Yes… that’s what I thought.”

                      The baby wakes and gives a cry.

                      Ganan shrugs, “So what?” The others look at him, he walks over to Reya and slips baby Lezabe out of the sling, changes her, then holds her close, rocking her to comfort her as he continues, “If Nellens Gazal has decided to side with Cainan, then she’s made her choice. Unleashing the Thousand-Forged Dragons won’t lose us an ally, it’s just a preemptive strike on an enemy. If she hasn’t decided to side with Cainan, then we’ll negotiate in the morning.”

                      The baby stops crying.

                      Reya unballs her fist and opens her eyes, “Last time we went to sleep in this city, we woke up betrayed at spear-point. It doesn’t make me want to roll this one on faith, Gan.” She takes the baby back from him.

                      Ganan shrugs, “I don’t mind staying up another night, but I don’t see that we’ve got much choice.”

                      Melody sighs, “He’s right. We can cut and run, which means we fail to win over Nellens. Or we stay and try and risk getting killed by Cathak.”

                      Ganan snorts, “I’ll take that ‘risk’.”

                      Reya shakes her head, “It’s a hell of a risk.”

                      “Well…” Melody says slowly, “Is it? I mean, nothing you said to Gazal was untrue, right?”

                      Reya takes a deep breath, “No. But if she wants to make amends with Cainan then offering our heads is a good start.”

                      “How did they find out about the wedding so quickly?” Ganan asks.

                      “And why were they so interested in your kids?” Melody drops her arms to her sides, “So are we sleeping here or running?”

                      “Turn in for the night.” Reya says, beckoning Ganan to follow her to a bedroom.

                      ****

                      The Nellens suite is generously appointed: bare aged wood and silver embossed furniture. A large double bed, low to the ground and covered with silk sheets. End tables and futons grace the room – plush and luxurious. Windows, tall and narrow and set with panes of thick, clear glass, look out over the city of Juche below. A fire crackles, spitting sparks from logs that never burn down nor give off smoke.
                      “Can you do something with that?” Reya points at a futon as the baby wakes and starts to fuss. She feeds her as Ganan flips the futon over, takes out the wooden frame, and remodels it into a crib (7SP). Reya winds the baby, feeling Lezabe warmth against her, and gently lays her in the crib. She strokes her daughter affectionately on the nose as to lull her to sleep.

                      “Okay now rail me.”

                      *Fade to black*

                      Ganan readies his firewand and turns away. “Get some sleep.” His voice is softer now, but somehow the command is all the more irresistible for its gentleness.
                      With great care, Ganan moves the baby next to Reya in bed and begins his night-time vigil.

                      ****

                      The night passes without incident: the baby wakes several times through the night, but there’s no sign of treachery from House Nellens. Come the morning the Dragons dress, Ganan takes the baby and General Mirar arrives bright and early to invite them to breakfast. Once more he offers Reya his arm, and they take the lead with Melody, Ganan, and Udi walking behind.

                      “Huh,” Melody says.

                      Ganan raises an eyebrow, “Huh?”

                      Melody makes a dismissive gesture, “Nothing.”

                      Ganan stares at her for a moment, Reya laughs at one of Mirar’s inane “witticisms”.

                      They approach the dining hall of the Nellens manse, and Melody whispers to Ganan, “It’s Jorod. And Farad.”

                      “What? Who – Mirar?” Ganan says, pulling a face.

                      Melody makes a noise of irritation, “In the dining hall.”

                      General Mirar turns and gives a warm smile, “We are blessed with guests for breakfast.”

                      Servants open the dining room doors revealing what can only be described as a feast. Great banquet tables have been laid out, in a wide hall. There are a series of arches line the southern wall, leading to a garden courtyard – the smell of camellias and crocus flowers wafting in from the garden is overwhelmed by the scent of fried meats and roasted coffee. The northern wall contains a single passage, leading to another part of the palatial manse. The wall opposite the dragons contains a single doorway, behind the head table, but set to the side, from which servants pour back and forth without ruining the view of those seated in high honor. It seems that the guests of honor have already arrived. Seated at Nellens Gazal’s right hand is Oban and at his side Terel, Nula, Muli, Jorod, Tepet Agoram, and Sesus Coren. Terel’s entourage is seated nearby, with Ferad. Oban’s party still wears white clothes of mourning, the same as Reya and Ganan. Mirar leads them to their place in the banquette, within easy reach of Gazal and Oban.

                      The Dragons give a bow of greeting to their companions, so recently left behind. Mirar pulls out Reya’s seat and sits opposite her.

                      “We were most fortunate to catch Oban and his entourage. They were heading for Arjuf to break the Cathak siege on House Ledaal.” Mirar smiles – only Ganan takes his words at face value.

                      Servants appear, offering hot drinks. Melody and Reya take coffee, Ganan waves them away asking for water.

                      Mnemon Muli makes an excuse and rises from the table. Reya notes this, and politely covers for Melody, who rises to follow after him. Melody and Muli meet under an arch leading to an immaculately cultured garden.

                      “What’s going on auntie?” Muli asks.

                      “We entered the city on a mission for Mnemon.” Melody answers honestly, “We had no idea that you would be here.”

                      “The Cathak lines cross the border of Arjuf and Juche. House Sesus are launching attacks on the overstretched winter supply lines. An envoy of House Nellens intercepted us last night and insisted that Oban come to Juche… because of mother. We only just arrived.” Muli says.

                      “I’m sorry. We made a… non-standard entrance.” Melody smiles weakly, “You have a little sister.” She brightly, then pauses, “House Nellens is interested in a marriage alliance.”

                      Muli looks at her, “Are you serious? By the dragons you are serious!” He controls the volume of his voice, hissing, “I am a widower! I am in mourning.”

                      “And unfortunately for us, House Nellens and House Sesus hate each other: it’s a calculated insult.”

                      Muli pinches his nose and screws up his face in the way Melody has seen Reya do a million times before, “And mother couldn’t tell me this herself because…?”

                      Melody sighs, “Reya is trying to manage the situation. Things are really fucked.”

                      Muli chuckles, “Yes. Yes, they are.” He shakes his head and wipes the tears from his eyes, he offers Melody his arm, “Shall we?”

                      Beauteous Harmony walks into the dining hall at the same time Muli and Melody reappear and draws attention away from them. She is flanked by a pair of the dull, rocky Jadeborn: their arrival causes a little stir as Melody and Muli slip back to their seats.

                      The Jadeborn delegation presents themselves to Gazal and Oban.

                      “Why am I not encouraged by this?” Ganan asks as he forks eggs into his mouth.

                      Nellens Mirar smiles pleasantly at him, “It can be strange for outsiders to witness the Mountain Folk. We are quite used to them.” He turns his attention to Reya, “After breakfast, my matriarch wishes to discuss your proposal at length. Would you permit me a brief moment alone for a personal matter?”

                      Reya sets her cutlery aside and primly dabs the corners of her mouth. “It would be my pleasure.” She nods graciously, pulls her gloves over her hands, and makes an open palm gesture inviting him to lead on.

                      Melody nudges Ganan in the ribs as he continues to eat, oblivious to his wife leaving. “Dude, he’s making a play on your wife!” She hisses at him.

                      Ganan guffaws, “Poor fool.” With one hand, he waves a servant over and asks for more eggs, whilst the other comforts baby Lezabe.

                      ****

                      *Fade to black*
                      ****

                      Nellens Gazal rises, followed by Oban. She gestures to Ganan, Melody, and Udi, who rise as well. They head for the door to the northern passage just as Reya re-enters the dining hall, graciously standing to one side to allow Gazal and Oban to pass her before falling in behind them. Beauteous Harmony follows behind. Melody notes Reya’s bare hands but says nothing.

                      Ganan hands over a fussing Lezabe: Reya puts on the sling and feeds her as they walk. Gazal leads them to a gilded oak door and invites them into her private study.

                      Reya hands Lezabe back to Ganan, “Wind her. Wait here for us.”

                      Ganan opens his mouth to protest, his eyes doing a quick scan of the room, but seeing no obvious threat, he closes his mouth and takes the baby, “I will be right outside the door if you need me.”

                      Reya pats his chest affectionately, letting her hand linger over his tattoo, as she invites Melody to follow her inside.

                      Nellens Gazal sits behind a vast desk, every wall covered in shelves of books from floor to ceiling – locked behind protective wooden doors set with small glass panels. Oban is already seated to one side, leaving the chair opposite Gazal free for Reya, with Melody at her side. Udi takes a seat at the back of the room with Beauteous Harmony: two more empty chairs are set beside them – for Ganan and Mirar, no doubt. Reya sits, poised and dignified. Melody slumps into her chair, her bow dangling loosely in one hand. Reya swats her knee and she sits up straight.

                      Nellens Gazal smiles at them, “Just one more member of our company to join us before negotiations can begin.” She nods her head, “If you will forgive the delay: he seems to be running behind.”

                      Danireya says nothing, graciously bobbing her head in return.

                      The assembled company hears Ganan’s voice from outside, “Oh no! You are not going in there!”

                      The corner of Nellens Gazal’s mouth twitches into a knowing smile, “Ah, the last member of our party has arrived.” She gestures to Ledaal Ludila, “Let him in won’t you?”

                      Udi rises and opens the door, “You-?” She starts, “Cynis Ganan, let him pass.”

                      Reya exhales slowly, and in as dignified a manner as she can, she turns to see who is entering the room. Melody flips her head backward and tilts her chair.

                      Ganan is holding his tetsubo, standing ready to strike… but even his large form can’t block out the taller man behind him – at least not the dirty strawberry blonde hair mane that rises up, immediately obvious. He reluctantly stands to one side with a growl as the Dragon-Blooded strolls past him with a cocky walk. He kisses Udi’s hand, winks at Melody, and bows to Gazal, before taking a seat at the back of the room. Udi closes the door behind them and takes her seat again.

                      “Aharon Saber Edge,” Reya greets him as she rises smartly, “I was under the impression that you were still at the Enduring Breath of Hesiesh?”

                      Aharon does not rise, but he smiles broadly, “That is where House Ledaal would have me, but, unfortunately, my prior contract with House Nellens takes precedent.” He pushes his palms together and mouths the word ‘sorry’ to Ledaal Ludila.

                      Nellens Gazal explains, “The Most August Conclave of House Nellens anticipated that the other Great Houses would hire mercenaries as soon as war became imminent. House Nellens is, unfortunately, poor in the dragon’s blood but we are rich in jade – we took the precaution of hiring what Outcastes we could before the other Houses could think of snatching them up. Aharon here was instructed to spy on the activities of House Ledaal. Aharon, what is your assessment of Berit’s forces?”

                      Aharon smiles affably, as he waves a hand through the air as if musing on a piece of poetry, “Yes, I believe the Tripartite Alliance could retake the Imperial City from House Cathak. Victory for The Sisters is not assured, but from my time with them, I would wager they are the stronger force. Especially given what I am told from our Jadeborn allies about Mnemon’s new assets.” He bows theatrically to Beauteous Harmony.

                      Melody glares at the Jadeborn diplomat, her jaw tightening. Reya is impassive.

                      “Traitor!” Melody spits.

                      Nellens Gazal gives a soft laugh, “The Mountain Folk pledge their allegiance to The Realm, not to any one House. And, technically, we are all traitors to the Throne. But we all agree that we cannot allow Cathak Cainan to sit on that Throne a day longer than necessary.”

                      “Agreed.” Reya nods, her tone level, “If Beauteous Harmony has informed you of our strength and that information has encouraged you to join us, then no blame can be attached to her. Shall we begin negotiating terms? I can think of several Mnemon scions suitable for marriage.” She casts an apologetic look to Oban before turning her attention back to Gazal, “Though I believe you may already have a scion in mind.”

                      Nellens Gazal nods, “Indeed. Our spies, apologies, our mutual allies the Mountain Folk, tell me that Mnemon cemented its alliance to House Sesus with a pair of marriages. Your own son and daughter to Sesus Raenyah’s children. An impeccable pedigree on all sides. Such an arrangement will not be required to secure our alliance. As you say – House Mnemon has treated with us as equals, and we need strong blood to be injected into our house. My wife is recently departed,” Nellens Gazal takes a moment to compose herself, “I require a strong-blooded husband. One who will ease this alliance, not only with House Mnemon but with House Sesus.” She turns her attention to Oban, “I am truly sorry for your loss, Scarlet Oban.”

                      Oban nods respectfully to her.

                      Gazal continues, “There is an obvious choice of husband for me, should you meet my terms, I will join your alliance and subordinate my generals to Berit’s command. To overthrow the Usurper and set Mnemon upon the throne.”

                      Reya closes her eyes and thinks to herself: ‘forgive me Muli’. She clears her throat, “Mnemon will happily assent to any union you desire. It will be an honor to unite our families.”

                      Gazal smiles, slyly, and leans back in her chair, “Ah, I fear I have been misunderstood. House Mnemon has dealt with us fairly from the off – we don’t require a marriage alliance with you. But I should very much like to marry Oban.”

                      “Him?” Melody blurts out, and even Reya raises an eyebrow, “He’s not even part of House Sesus… no offense.”

                      Reya considers for a beat before turning to Oban with a quizzical look. She scrutinizing him: he looks disgusted. She turns her attention back to Nellens Gazal, “This may require some additional securities.” She says levelly.

                      “Five husbands. Dragon-Blooded. One for each of the major Sesus bloodlines. You will take whatever matches their matriarchs offer you. Am I understood?” Oban snaps, his voice shaking with emotion as he lays out his price.

                      Nellens Gazal nods, “Done.” She rises and offers Reya an outstretched hand, “A pleasure doing business with you.”

                      Reya rises and shakes. Oban storms out of the room and our heroes follow him as Nellens Gazal sits once more.

                      ****

                      Oban tears out of the Nellens manse. His entourage packs up in confusion and follows after him as Reya, Melody, and Ganan approach. They trudge through the dirty Juche snow to where Oban sits by a frozen fountain.

                      “Are you okay?” Melody asks, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder.

                      “Can you sell this to the Sesus Matriarchs?” Reya asks, folding her arms across her chest.

                      Oban takes a deep breath, wipes the tears from his eyes, “Yes. This is the price we must pay to bring Raenyah’s killer to justice. To end the Iselsi threat. If you will continue to allow me the use of your children, I have preparations to make.” He turns away, then catches himself and turns back, “What new asset was that peacock talking about?”

                      Against her better judgment, Reya approaches Oban and drops her voice low, “A Thousand-Forged Dragon.”

                      Oban’s eyes go wide and he nods, “Good. That will do.”

                      The heroes withdraw as Oban’s entourage mill around him, clearly awaiting instructions.

                      “Wait for me.” Melody calls as she catches sight of Ferad and Jorod. She runs over to them and embraces them tightly. “We’ve only been apart two days and already I miss you. Did you see, Reya had her baby.” Tears well up in her eyes.

                      “I saw.” Ferad reassures her, stroking her hair. Jorod squirms uncomfortably.

                      Melody pulls them closer, “I can’t tell you how glad I am we formed a Kinship. Being able to feel where you are has given me peace through all of this.”

                      “I’m glad too.” Ferad says, his voice shaking a little with emotion.

                      Jorod wriggles free of his mother's grip, “Me too… mother.” He smiles awkwardly but with genuine affection at her.

                      She smiles back at him, “The Hearth is Shattered.” She turns and walks back to Ganan, Reya, Udi… and Aharon Saber Edge who has joined them.

                      ****

                      Reya spends 8XP to train Vivacious Dragon Beauty.
                      Melody spends 8XP to train Cunning Beast-Mind Inspiration.
                      Ganan spends 8XP to train Shattering Fist Strike.
                      Last edited by JohnDoe244; 12-06-2020, 02:04 PM.


                      Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

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                      • #71
                        Session 63 – Western Imperial Protectorate – Reya (195XP 156DX, 187/143 spent; 9GP 36SP), Melody (195XP 156DX, 184/146 spent), and Ganan (195XP 156DX, 187/153 spent; 8WhP 44GP 77SP)

                        Oy...

                        So... Reya's player and I started this as an eRPG before we got a couple more players, and we still do the occassional additional scene outside of the main play. In this session, Jin who's playing Ganan did a shorter (but more violent) version of a scene Rey and I have already played and I mashed the two up for the write-up... but holy damn is it charged now. (Good job I suck at writing.)

                        Reya's player plays Aharon Saber Edge for most of this session, Jin's player continues to play Ganan (apart for the argument between Reya and Ganan, which is a hybrid of me and her), and Melody is Melody (as usual).

                        As a point of (as yet undocumented) background, in Realm Year 735, Cynis Ganan traveled to Paragon with his newly Exalted sister to visit a healer who claimed she could restore the use of Ganan's legs. At the time he was using a wheelchair (and as we see Ganan walking with a cane in Realm Year 736/Session 30, clearly it works). It was here that he had a liason with Aharon Saber Edge. Reya would later visit (in Chapter 3, Session 37) Paragon in Realm Year 743 with her cousins Donta and Aronia, her cousins had a liason with Aharon. Aharon would later attend Ganan and Reya's wedding in Realm Year 745 where he first met Ledaal Ludila, and he and Udi have been on-again-off-again since for the past 23 years.

                        This is definitely not PG-13. We got... casual ablism, fantasy racism, foul language, violence, boarderline domestic violence, anguish, and sexual references (no actual depictions of sex).

                        And, worse of all, we never actually use the words "Western Imperial Protectorate" the entire session... I'll fix that next session, I guess.

                        “And so my brave companions, our brave countryman Mnemon Ferad continues with Oban’s mission to break the siege on Arjuf. But we unlucky five must journey to the coast and put the Peleps ships to flame before they can bring reinforcements for the Usurper!” Aharon Saber Edge roars loudly and slaps Cynis Ganan on the back as he and Melody leave Juche with Udi.

                        “Remind me why he’s traveling with us?” Ganan complains, loudly.

                        Melody sighs, “Because your wife doesn’t want to take your newborn child into a war-zone. And because Aharon is a good fighter. And because Nellens Gazal wants him to spy on us.”

                        “Plus I get to spend some time with my beautiful shorty, Cynis Ganan.” Aharon booms.

                        “I am not short! I am tall for Dynast!” Ganan shoots back.

                        Melody giggles, “That’s not what that means… you know what, never-mind… Wait… what?”

                        “Oh, Gan and I go way back.” He winks salaciously at Melody, “Way back.”

                        “Urgh. Please don’t.” Melody sticks out her tongue, screws up her eyes, and shakes her head from side to side to clear the mental image, “Wait… is that why Aharon is always hitting on Reya?”

                        Udi chuckles, “No, that’s a different thing.” Aharon’s smile splits his face from ear-to-ear as he looks Udi over and gives her a wink. Udi begins to cast Stormwind Rider.

                        Aharon gestures towards Udi, “After you Wheels.”

                        “Okay, now you’re just making stuff up!” Melody accuses shaking her head.

                        “I hate you!” Ganan says to Aharon as Udi’s spell lifts them off the ground.

                        ****

                        It’s evening by the time the Dynasts reach the shore: winter’s darkness already covering the land. Their Stormwind allows them to avoid the main roads and the bulk of the Cathak forces – but the effect of the war is shown on the topology of the Blessed Isle.

                        The Red Sky port is a small affair by Dynastic standards: large enough for a pair of deepwater ships or trireme tenders to moor alongside a dozen smaller ships. But the dock now only houses half a dozen triremes.

                        Ganan folds his arms across his chest as they look down at the sleepy port from a hill, “Do we wait? See if any more come in after dark?”

                        Melody’s eyes sweep across the Inland Sea, “No. We strike now. We need to rob Peleps of their naval advantages. If they redeploy forces here to catch us, they’re not deploying them against House Ledaal and Ferad.”

                        “Brah!” Aharon slaps his chest, voicing his affirmative consent to Melody’s plan.

                        Melody gives him a sidelong glance and shakes her head, “What do you people see in this guy? Udi, you in?”

                        Udi curtsies and begins to cast a new Stormwind Rider to carry them into the port.

                        Melody puts a hand on her arm, “No. You wait here. Come in and extract these two love birds if things go south. Boys, you go in on foot, and I’m going to say this exceptionally slowly: do not start any fights. Sneak down to the port, split up, and sink those damn triremes. In the port, so they stop other ships mooring. Do not try to help me. Repeat that back to me.”

                        “Don’t help you.” Aharon intones flippantly.

                        “Don’t start any fights.” Ganan adds.

                        “Holy shit, that’s why Reya is always doing this,” Melody pinches the bridge of her nose in frustration, “That’s not the way round that’s going to cause problems. Ganan, do not help me. Aharon, we are not here to kill civilians. We’re not even here to kill Peleps marines. We’re here to sink those dragons-damned boats.” She gives them both a hard stare, “A'ight, bitches watch this shit right here.”

                        She draws her bow and holds it out in front of her. She screws up her eyes in concentration, feeling her essence surging through the orichalcum. She feels the memory of the bow’s first steed. The power contained in the bowstring woven from the horse-god’s hair. She feeds her own power into the artifact, enforcing her will on that memory of the great Hiparkes. Her jaw clenches. A thin trickle of blood runs from her nose as a steed erupts from the weapon: the mount’s coat is as black as coal, but its eyes burn with the light of twin suns, tinted by the greens of Melody’s anima. The phantom steed has no mane, the hair clipped close to the neck. Melody mounts him in a single bound and gallops toward the port – her anima burning bright.

                        Ganan pulls a face, “Okay, that was cool.”

                        Aharon points a finger at Melody a puzzled look on his face, “You didn’t know she could do that?”

                        Udi twiddles her thumbs, “You know she’s creating a distraction for you to get to the port. That means you actually have to get to the port.”

                        Ganan and Aharon scramble down the hill to approach the port.

                        ****

                        Melody sighs to herself, “By the Dragons, I love my job.” She draws her bow and sprays three Cathak liveried guards with arrows. Her anima flares totemic, erupting into thorns as she lights up the evening. She gallops through the town whooping and howling as she puts arrows in anyone carrying a weapon wearing Cathak colors – strangely, she doesn’t see any Peleps marines.

                        The port's defenders rally quickly and chase after Melody. She easily dodges the stones hurled at her from slings as she rides out to the outskirts of the town, giggling all the way. She rounds the town, picking off the defenders one at a time until the Dragon-Blooded in port organize a proper chase to sally out… and which point she bolts across the coast, drawing the defenders out of the city.

                        ****

                        Ganan and Aharon slip into the town as Melody races away, and they quickly make their way to the docks. Each working from an opposite end, they start to sink the triremes.

                        Ganan pulls his tetsubo from the stone of the wharf and smashes it directly into the keel of the first boat. The rippling shock-wave splinters boards and splits corking. Ganan is already moving to the next boat as it starts to take on water.

                        Aharon plunges his halberd between the boards of his boat, before igniting the blade. The wood smolders, then catches, forming a roaring bonfire as he rips the blade free and moves onto the next boat.

                        Soldiers wearing black, trimmed with green and gold spill off the boats. Along with five soldiers clad in green jade armor, bearing the Mon of House Cynis. The mortals rank up. Two of the Dragon-Blooded split off for each of the attackers, the last staying in the middle of the formation to direct the mortal troops.

                        Ganan flexes and aims at the closest Cynis warrior. They wear a full face mask, shaped like a roaring lion. The warrior behind them draws her bow.

                        Aharon slips past his Cynis attackers, leaping onto the flaming boat, then jumping across to the next boat – his anima rising to a roaring bonfire as he does so. Flames lick the sails of the boat as he lands on the deck.

                        The Cynis Exalts fighting Aharon split up. One, carrying a Wavecleaver daiklave boards his boat, followed by a dozen mortals. The other pushes their way onto the next boat, with her Skycutter in hand. Cynis Wavecleaver tears into Aharon with a flurry of blows, headless of the flames catching around them. Aharon spins his halberd with unnatural speed: the tight confines of the boat hinder him against his nimble opponent, but he still manages to block the blows.

                        Cynis Skycutter pulls his arm back and unleashes on Aharon. Unable to turn his massive weapon against two attackers on the right confines on the boat, Aharon dodges. The Skycutter clips him on the back of the head on its return flight to its owners, slightly dazing him.

                        Cynis Bow fires on Ganan, who easily turns the arrow aside on his tetsubo. Cynis Lion closes in the wake of the arrow, their fists burning with Essence. They seize Ganan’s tetsubo and wrenches it out of his grip, throwing it into the sea. Ganan takes Earth Dragon Form, his anima flaring up around him.

                        The Cynis Commander bellows orders to the mortal troops, ordering them to pin the Dragons down. The mortals surge in both directions. Aharon sweeps his halberd in a broad arc, and the mortals retreat like shadows before the flame. Ganan smashes a bronze fist into the lead mortal, and ducks and weaves through the others.

                        Aharon jumps to his third boat, where Cynis Skycutter is waiting for him. Aharon ignores the Dragon-Blooded in front of him, driving his flaming halberd into the wooden boards beneath him.

                        Ganan bobs under the desperate grasping of the mortals, avoiding their knives and fists to close with Cynis Lion. He grabs at the Jade clad warrior, picks them up high over his head, and throws them into the sea after his tetsubo.

                        Cynis Skycutter hurls his weapon point blank at Aharon. Aharon clasps his hands together, catching the blade between his palms. Cynis Skycutter steps forward and yanks his weapon back out of Aharon’s grip.

                        Cynis Bow fires on Ganan again. The arrow breaks harmlessly against his skin.

                        Cynis Wavecleaver leaps after Aharon. She misses the jump but drives her blade into the side of the boat to break her fall.

                        The mortals close in again. Aharon fends them off-barehanded, laughing boisterously as he tosses them aside. They stab at Ganan, pushing into him, pinning him down as they mob him, swarming over his invulnerable body.

                        Ganan drives a foot down into the stone of the wharf. An explosive shock-wave bursts out, smashing the mortals aside, hurling them backward. Cynis Bow is thrown back with them, landing bodily on the ground. She does not get back up.

                        Aharon wrenches his burning halberd from the deck and leaps onto his fourth boat. Unopposed, he channels the force of the fire dragon through his weapon, jetting out a great gout of flame that sets the deck ablaze around him.

                        Cynis Skycutter throws again as the boat burns around him. The weapon strikes Aharon in the back, ripping open his flesh, despite his armor. Aharon goes down to one knee.

                        Cynis Wavecleaver pulls herself onto the burning boat with Skycutter, and gazes hopelessly across to the next boat where Aharon is waiting.

                        The mortals regroup, uncertainly but then surge forward like the crashing tide once more. Ganan batters their attacks aside with the patient discipline of the mountain. They seize on Aharon, stabbing and slashing at his exposed flesh, even as the boat around them erupts into fire.

                        Get Aharon out of here!” Ganan bellows in Old Realm, before diving into the water of the sea. His Invulnerable Bronze Skin causes him to sink straight to the bottom. He looks around for his tetsubo, banishing it Elsewhere through the waters of the Inland Sea. Then he turns to formless shadow, his bronze skin dissolving.

                        Ndiza materializes and flies to Aharon’s side. The battered Dragon-Blooded pulls himself out from the mass of mortal bodies hemming him in to slump onto the demon’s back. Ndiza kicks off into the air. Aharon sends a message to Udi, “We’re getting fucked up down here: get us out!”

                        Wavecleaver and Skycutter take up defensive positions around the last boat. As do the mortals.

                        The shadowy Ganan swims up through the water. The bonfire of his anima makes it impossible to hide: everyone sees the dark shadow slink onto the boat. And everyone sees the wrecking fist that punches a hole in the side of the boat. There’s just little they can do to stop it. And Ganan escapes into the gloaming of twilight.

                        ****

                        With their raid successful, our heroes rally to plan their next move. The burning ships at the dock being enough provocation for the Cathak troops to call off their fruitless pursuit of Melody. Aharon aims Ndiza for Udi’s Stormwind, then they pick up Ganan by his swirling anima, narrowly avoiding Cynis Skycutter’s ferocious attacks before they finally pick up Melody and gun for The Palace of Vines. Ganan’s form turns solid again.

                        “The Palace is by the coast, so expect heavy Peleps resistance.” Melody begins, “I will lay down covering fire. Ganan, how’s your shadow thing?”

                        Ganan grunts, “It’ll get me past the Peleps troops. It won’t get you in. Depending on how many there are, I might be better without it.” He pulls his tetsubo from his anima, ready for action.

                        Udi asks, “What about giving it to Aharon? He’s wounded, could use it to sneak past the Peleps forces?”

                        “I can fight!” Aharon insists.

                        “You can bleed.” Ganan counters.

                        “Shut up.” Melody hisses, her eyes scanning the horizon.

                        “He started it!” Ganan rejoins.

                        “In the name of Pasiap! Ganan, shut up!” Melody looks fervently into the gloom, “Where the hell are they?”
                        The fields around the Ledaal manse have been burned and salted. The coast is ravaged. The only wildlife they see are carrion birds and scavengers. No mortals dare brave the night. The Palace of Vines looms on the horizon racing towards them.

                        Ledaal forces take up defensive positions as they draw closer, readying bows and blades.

                        Melody leans into Udi, “Think they’re impostors? Peleps forces?”

                        Udi shakes her head, “That’s my cousin.”

                        The Dragons arrive at the Palace of Vines, Udi takes them past the Ledaal security without incident.

                        Udi takes them to the person in charge, to our heroes’ surprise it is a man – Ledaal Caros. He welcomes them, and the news that the ships at Red Sky have been sunk.

                        He nods grimly and leads the heroes to a battle-map of the Blessed Isle (not unlike the one Berit kept).

                        “That squares with our intelligence reports. Up until Calibration, we were under constant assault from Peleps marines. They extracted a heavy toll, and deploying the bulk of our forces to the south to contain them and Ragara allowed the Cathak forces to march through the north without opposition. But the past few weeks have seen no Peleps activity. Not here. Not anywhere else on the Isle, as far as my intelligence reports indicate.”

                        Ganan shrugs, “Winter troop movements nothing unusual there.”

                        Melody shakes her head, “You can’t march a legion through the snow. That makes winter an ideal time for coastal raids. Can’t concentrate forces in a city – they’ll eat all the winter supplies. Peleps should have seized half the coastline by now.”

                        “And that they haven’t is bad?” Ganan says, chuckling affably. “That just means we’re winning!”

                        “No, it means that there’s an army the size of all the legions put together on the Sea somewhere, and all they’re doing is ferrying Cynis troops to the shores – and not in particularly large numbers at that.” Aharon says, “What are they doing?”

                        Caros shakes his head, “We don’t know. But we’ve been getting disturbing reports from the Threshold.”

                        Melody nods, “That Mask of Winters has marched an army of the dead on Lookshy in the dead of winter. We’ve heard.”

                        Caros laughs bitterly, “That news is weeks old. Lookshy is under siege, yes. Have you heard about Halta? The Haslanti league? Chiaroscuro?” Seeing the confusion on their faces, Caros grits his teeth and continues, “The Bull of the North: House Tepet broke the back of his forces, but he has not been idle. He has withdrawn his forces to the distant north: uprooting his nomads under the protection of the winter snows and leading them where no army can follow. He is beyond the reach of our spies, House Sesus’s too, but they none in the north have seen a Haslanti flying ship for months.”

                        Ganan folds his arms across his chest, “If he conquers the Haslanti League, we’ll have to deal with flying Anathema.”

                        “When,” Caros corrects, “When he conquers the League. We don’t have enough troops to march them north. Even if we did, we don’t have the ships to cross the Inland Sea. If we could cross the sea, we couldn’t march across the snow. If we could march across the snow, we’d be fighting the army that crushed House Tepet.”

                        “Why do I get the feeling the news about Halta isn’t any better? I don’t suppose the Linowan managed to burn their damn forest to the ground?” Melody gripes bitterly.

                        “This we have more information for. The Bull of the North has divided his forces. He and his barbarian hordes went north. His witch went east. You’ve heard the stories about how House Tepet took her arm? She’s they say she has a new arm made of demon gold. She has… bewitched the forest. They say enchanted pines now grow whenever a redwood is felled, pines which have sprung up all over the forest now the great trees have lost their leaves. They say strange gods now walk the Wyld of the forest floor, mingling with the Fair Folk. The Linowan have been driven from their holy sites: they have lost miles of ground to this new forest and will send no tribute this year.” Caros explains.

                        “Don’t make us beg for it man, what is happening in Chiaroscuro?!” Ganan snaps angrily, “It’s our biggest port across the Sea! The prime staging ground for an attack on our shores!”

                        Caros smiles sadly, “There will be no attack from Chiaroscuro. The Tri-Khan is dead. Assassinated. Demonic cultists and Lunar Anathema fight open battles in the streets. After her conquest of the Imperial City, we believe Peleps Lundaer may have led a strike-force to try and reclaim the city. War or not, we would have supported her if we had known what she was trying to do: it seems she defied orders and led half the Fire Fleet into battle. They have not returned, and our agents in the city have fallen silent.”

                        Aharon looks at the ground in shame, “Creation is burning.”

                        ****

                        The Dragons are allowed to stay in the Palace overnight. At first light, they set out again back for Juche.

                        Aharon and Udi make to peel off, but Melody catches them, “Don’t go too far. Come when I call – we have something important to discuss. And let Berit know what we’ve learned here, she needs this tactical information – if Peleps has deserted, then now is the time to strike.”

                        Melody and Ganan find Nellens Mirar attending Danireya at the suite given to their use in the Nellens manse. Mirar seems to be reading her poetry in Dragon-tongue as she feeds the baby.

                        “I told you.” Melody says, shaking her head at Ganan, “I told you.”

                        Ganan shakes his head dismissively, “The mission was a mixed success, my love.” He reports, “We burned the boats-”

                        “Ships.” Reya corrects on reflex.

                        “Boats.” Melody reiterates, “There were no ships. Six triremes. Loaded with Cynis troops. Not a Peleps to be seen. Ledaal intelligence says Peleps Lundaer has deserted, and the rest of their forces haven’t been seen all winter. The Anathema march unchecked on the Threshold. We need to finish this war.”

                        Reya looks at her sister-in-law levelly, “Then turn the seasons, melt the snow, sow and bring in the harvest, smash the Usurper’s armies and his assassins and his Anathema.”

                        “We are trying to finish this war, Madame Melody.” Nellens Mirar snaps.

                        Melody makes a face of bewildered outrage, “Get outta here Mirar! Go plan some troop movements!”

                        Mirar looks uncertainly to Reya, who dismisses him. He leaves giving Melody an angry glare.

                        “Why are you wasting time with him?” Melody complains, exasperated.

                        Reya stares at her unblinking, “He is a general. One of the most important men in the Nellens military.” She hands the baby over to Ganan to burp her before continuing, “You are on Mnemon’s war council – why aren’t you spending more time with him? And for that matter, why not tell us about the Thousand-Forged Dragons.”

                        “Because I didn’t know!” Melody shouts back, “Mnemon listens to us but tells us nothing.” She drops her voice sulkily, “I would have told you.”

                        Reya rises, “We need to get word to Berit. Coordinate with V’neef. March on the Imperial City now. We have a force within striking distance of the city. We have the Merchant Fleet. If House Peleps is no longer in the field, now is the time to strike. Before Cathak can march their legions overland. Mnemon has the Thousand-Forged Dragons. We need to attack.”

                        “I agree.” Melody snaps, “Does your new Nellens lover?”

                        “Nellens Mirar is not her lover!” Ganan says, his voice something like a roar despite not being any louder than usual.

                        Reya takes the baby back from him, “Melody, would you give us a moment? Replenish your supplies.”

                        Melody takes a deep breath, “Fine. But we’re having dinner tonight. With Udi and Aharon. All five of us.” She turns and walks from the room.

                        “Sit down my love.” Reya says gently.

                        “I think I’d rather stand.” Ganan replies, his voice soft and dangerous. “What do you want to say that can’t be said in front of your sister?”

                        Reya sits, and continues, her voice calm and her tone formal, “When we arrived in Juche those months ago, on our mission to recruit Berit, we needed access to the city. Nellens Mirar barred our way. He desired me. I enchanted him to gain entrance.”

                        “I’m not an Agata!” Ganan snaps, “I’m not some pretty, flighty thing with no memory: I remember perfectly. I didn’t like it then, I don’t like it now… but it worked.”

                        Reya nods, “Yes. It worked. I have encouraged this fascination, deliberately and intentionally, because it affords us advantages. Mirar has helped cement the Nellens alliance, provided me with intelligence on the Nellens forces and the Jadeborn, and he’s found a slave wet-nurse that I may accompany you into battle next time.”

                        “A slave? Melody is not going to like that…”

                        Reya waves the concern away, “I used one of my manumissions. We’ll pay her. Aline is her name.”

                        “Are you sleeping with him?” Ganan asks bluntly.

                        “No.” Reya says.

                        Ganan sits, “Do you… That is to say are you…”

                        “I’m not going to sleep with him. I don’t want to sleep with him. I am not in love with him. You are the only man I have ever desired that way.”

                        Ganan relaxes back into the chair and spreads his hands in relief, “Then what’s the problem? Why not say all this in front of Melody?”

                        “Nellens Mirar likes to spy on us. I partly expect that he is listening in now.” She pauses, “Melody suspects my infidelity. She is perceptive and others will think it too.”

                        “Dragons damn what everyone else thinks. You’ve had half the maidens in Darjilis. Let them gossip. It adds to your reputation. Why should I care if you’re not touching his cock?” Ganan grins at her.

                        Reya remains impassive, “I said I wasn’t sleeping with him. Not that I haven’t… touched him.”

                        Ganan sits straight, he grips the arms of his chair, “You’ve… touched him?”

                        “Yes.”

                        “Kissed him?”

                        “Chastely. And I have allowed him to kiss my body, over my clothes.”

                        There’s a sound of breaking wood as bronze hands squeeze the arms of the chair into splinters, “Oh, damn it!” Ganan curses, standing to examine the ruined chair.

                        “Ganan,” Reya calls him calmly.

                        “Just a moment.” Ganan waves distractedly, not turning to face his wife, “All the pieces are here, I can fix this.” He kneels by the chair and starts to run his hands over the wood, mending the cracks (4SP). Soon the chair is perfect, but Ganan doesn’t rise. He just stays looking fixedly at the chair.

                        Reya clears her throat, “Ganan.”

                        Ganan doesn’t turn, “I wish you hadn’t told me. I would never have known. Like this chair.”

                        “You’d prefer I lie to you when Melody and everyone else in Creation knows?”

                        “Yes! … No. No.” Ganan sighs.

                        “You know that this is of no significance.” Reya continues, her tone the same – as if they are discussing an upcoming salon or a petition from the peasantry. Her tone is not one of a question.

                        “Simply an emotional matter. Of no significance at all. I’m told many couples… are not… faithful. Certainly my parents…” He trails off.

                        Reya sets the sleeping baby down in the cot Ganan crafted and walks to him. She lays a hand on his head as he kneels, facing away from her. “I am faithful to you. You have my heart, and you are the father of my children. And you have slept with other women since our marriage, this is much less than that.”

                        “Only ever at your insistence. Never behind your back.” Ganan brushes her off and rises, turned away from her.

                        Reya folds her arms across her chest, “There’s a dematerialized neomah in this room right now.”

                        “I have not slept with Cresta.”

                        “And when you went to Hell?”

                        Ganan turns, “I didn’t sleep with Whims. Or kiss him. Or touch his prick.”

                        Reya nods, “Whims? That was his name was it.”

                        “I… did nothing wrong.” Ganan says, without conviction as he turns to face her, “Damn it I told you, I didn’t even touch him!”

                        Reya sits in the newly repaired chair, “You don’t talk about it. Never mentioned… anyone. Did you… love him?”

                        Ganan feels his throat go dry, he pauses and thinks to deny it, then he hangs his head, “Yes. I felt something. He is dead now.”

                        Reya tents her fingers, “And you don’t see how that is worse? I don’t love Mirar.” She rises and walks over to Ganan who flinches away, turning past her to go back to his chair.

                        “How can it be worse if I never-” Ganan stops, curses, and kicks the chair he just repaired to pieces with a single powerful blow. Lezabe stirs, cries once, but does not wake – turning and going back to sleep. “Alright, it’s worse. It’s much worse when you love them.”

                        This new display of violence gives Reya pause. She doesn’t try to close with Ganan, instead taking a step back. And then another. Her fingers settle on the jade of her shield. “I just told you, I have never been in love with another man. Ever. Not before you and not after you. You are the only man I love. I love you.” Emotion creeps into her voice, her tone taking on a note of pleading despite her best efforts.

                        “Man.” Ganan says closing his eyes, his voice no more than a hoarse whisper, but even that trembles with emotion.

                        Reya bends and brings her shield up across her body, taking another step back. “Gan…”

                        “Don’t deny that you’re in love with that… by-blow.” Ganan’s voice trembles as he speaks, the volume of his words rising, “From lowest slave to the finest daughters of Patrician houses, I have never once cared about the girls…” He shakes his head ruefully, “The women you’ve used to slake your lust with. They’re nothing to me. But that… barbarian BITCH!” Ganan yells, as he turns, throwing his arms out wide in a wild gesture, “And now a man? A DYNASTIC man?”

                        Reya adopts a fighting position and forces herself to say, very clearly, “I do not love Nellens Mirar. I am no longer in love with Princess Tinkara Dovak. I was infatuated with her. Briefly. But I chose you.”

                        Ganan laughs mockingly, “You didn’t choose shit. She canned you. And you didn’t even come back to me. You went to your tower to contemplate which Anathema magics could force her back to you!” He sighs, sucks his teeth, and shakes his head, “You’ve still got that damn slave collar in your traveling pack, haven’t you? HAVEN’T YOU!” He roars. The baby wakes and cries.

                        Slowly, Reya moves over to her pack. She picks out the slave collar and tosses it to Ganan. It clatters to the ground by his feet. “Destroy it. I. Chose. You.”

                        Ganan picks the collar off the ground and slips it into his pack. He sniffs, looks off into the distance, “I’m going to take a walk. Call me when it’s time for Melody’s dinner.” He turns and walks out of the room leaving Reya with their crying child.

                        ****

                        Late into the evening, Melody assembles them all for dinner, outside of the Nellens manse at a discrete restaurant. The lighting is low and intimate, soft music is subtly played in the open courtyard outside where the Dynasts will eat. Wine is uncorked and allowed to breathe. Melody wears her armor but has changed her clothes. Ledaal Ludila is the first to arrive, followed by Reya, Aharon, then finally Ganan – all except Ganan have dressed up for the occasion. Melody shows them to their seats around a round table: Reya, then Udi, Aharon, Ganan, with her between Reya and Ganan. Wine is poured. Everyone but Ganan makes pleasant small-talk as the first course and main courses are served. Whilst they wait for desert Melody makes her proposal.

                        “We five, have been brought together. By our elders, by fate, by circumstance. And there is no denying that there is… history between some of us. But as this war wears on, it becomes clear – we have many battles left to fight, together. I did not have the advantage of growing up in the Realm, but I know something of our condition as Dragon-Blooded: we are stronger together than apart. No matter what our individual goals for this war are, we all want to survive. I propose we form a Sworn Kinship.”

                        Reya clears her throat, “I appreciate the sentiment Melody, but I think your timing might be a little off. Ganan and I-”

                        Ganan interrupts, “I’m in.”

                        Melody smiles at him and gives him a gracious nod. He curtly nods back and takes an obscenely large gulp of wine.

                        Reya brings her glass to her lips and takes a small sip, “I didn’t think you would say that. Do you care to elaborate on why?”

                        Ganan sucks his teeth, “Well I hate Aharon. I’m not overly fond of Udi. And you…” He waves a finger at Reya as everyone starts to realize exactly how much he’s had to drink and how little he’s said all night, “You threatened to never form a kinship with me again. But… Melody’s arguments are logical. We are fighting together. We do want to live. This will help with that. I don’t like it, but I have no counter-argument. So… to hell with how I feel. Emotions don’t matter. I’m in.”

                        Aharon slaps him on the back, “If Ganan’s in, then I’m in. Why you’d want to form a kinship with someone sent to spy on you, I still don’t understand. And I confess I’m a little worried that making you my brothers and sisters might damage my ‘chances’, but I know at least two of you are going to keep having sex… so…” He winks at Reya as Ganan forcibly removes his arm from his back, muttering something about hating him.

                        Melody smiles pleasantly at Udi, “Ledaal Ludila?”

                        Udi takes a deep breath, “Like Aharon, I am here to spy on you. Granted I thought Aharon was on my side.” She forces a smile, clearly still raw from Aharon’s treachery, “It’s presumptuous to assume I am free to make such a commitment.”

                        Melody shrugs, “Your superiors must have expected this. Meaning you are either free to make the commitment, or you have a better excuse.”

                        Udi looks at Reya, “I will Swear if Danireya will.”

                        Melody turns to Reya, “Sister?”

                        Reya looks around at the sea of expectant faces – only Ganan isn’t staring at her as he pours himself more wine. She pinches the bridge of her nose, “In this history of bad ideas, this is right up there with fighting against a Cathak-Peleps alliance and trying to get Mnemon and V’neef to work together. So… I guess I’m in.”

                        The dragons stand. Ganan puts his hand to the middle of the circle. Melody lays hers on top of his, then Udi, Aharon, and Reya. Together they speak the words of Kinship, Aharon’s truncated version finishing before the Dynasts. Their animas flare and merge together and a new Hearth is formed, and dessert is served.

                        ****

                        Reya spends 8XP to train Storm-Gathering Fervor.
                        Melody spends 8XP to train Ailment Sensing Meditation.
                        Ganan spends 8DX to train Weapon-Breaking Defense Technique.
                        Last edited by JohnDoe244; 12-26-2020, 07:49 PM.


                        Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

                        Comment


                        • #72
                          I also might have given a bit much credit to players on that front. A lot of the time the explanation is just “I practiced really hard”. Which, like, yeah I don’t want to say it’s impossible for that to happen, but with 5 abilities at 5 I really want to say it’s impossible.
                          Cynis Ganan is naturally gifted: he was born this way. With 8 stats at 5.

                          ...

                          What?

                          ...

                          What!?! THE BOOK SAID I COULD TAKE A FIVE!

                          ****

                          (Reya at least gets the excuse of "I was trained by Cynis Ganan, the greatest occultist/historian in the Realm.")


                          Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

                          Comment


                          • #73
                            Originally posted by JohnDoe244 View Post
                            I have recently started to commission artists to draw the Dynasty of Dovak Characters.

                            Possession by Xeda787 - Aharon Saber Edge and Ledaal Ludila from Dynasty of Dovak

                            https://bayimg.com/9c5a01824cff34e1f...f909a0ecb8.jpg
                            Cynis Falen Jinabar



                            Fire Aspected Dragon-Blooded. Cynis Ganan's little sister who inherited the jade power pole wrackstaff, Calumny from their mother, Cynis Falen Lorena. Graduate of the Spiral Academy, Jinabar uncovered a plot to bring the seditious book *A Lover Clad In Blue* into the Realm. The Scarlet Empress made her a magistrate in RY762 when she turned in a raft of evidence against bureaucrats in the Thousand Scales (including her own Spiral Academy instructors and her uncle). Jin's crusade against the banned books took her to Nexus when the Scarlet Empress disappeared, and there she stayed for five years, thinking it unwise to return to the Blessed Isle. In RY768, she tracked the books to an infernalist in the Threshold Satrapy of Dovak, and joined forces with her estranged brother and his wife's sister-in-law (Gracious Pealing Melody). Together they hunted down an unbound Sondok and crushed the Salmalin Cult of Kirighast. At the outbreak of the Realm Civil War, she fled to her mother's manse outside of Greyfalls and has not been seen since (because her player is now playing my character). Jin's relationship with her mother is... *strained* at best, even by the standards of the Realm and House Cynis: it seems likely that one of them won't survive this sequester.

                            ****

                            Couldn't find great reference art for this one, so I used a picture of the player and this outfit I put together on Hero Forge. Which led to this Hero Forge Album.

                            Reya


                            Ganan


                            Melody
                            Last edited by JohnDoe244; 12-19-2020, 05:54 PM.


                            Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

                            Comment


                            • #74
                              Udi


                              Aharon


                              Gifty


                              Tinkara



                              Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

                              Comment


                              • #75
                                Session 64 – The Old Man and the Sea – Reya (200XP 160DX, 195/143 spent; 9GP 36SP), Melody (200XP 160DX, 200/146 spent), and Ganan (200XP 160DX, 187/153 spent; 8WhP 53GP 71SP)

                                Content Warning: Combat, injury, mild grief, language, child in peril, Chejop Kejak, and Lookshy getting pwnt.

                                One of the players also said something, completely innocently, which could be miscontrued as racist. I've edited it out of this write up, but it's in the Fade to Black version and will be in the compilated version. It's completely innocent, but not exactly a neccessary part of the narrative.

                                The Hearth does not wait for Gazal and Oban’s wedding. When morning comes, they make their preparations to leave. When the markets open, Ganan procures a large bock of wood: he shapes it into an egg-shape, hollows it, splits it in half, and sets the halves on a hinge. He uses an off-cut to create a ventilation hatch, then he adds wheels and a handle to the egg, rims the joins in rubber, and lines the inside with the Nellens silks from their bed, before burnishing the wood with flame. In the end, he has created a fine, well-cushioned, perambulator – protected from the elements (-10SP: 9GP 4SP).

                                They make for the city limits and Stormwind across the country. The companions travel in easy silence: Ganan folds his arms across his chest and pretends to brood, but it does little to darken the mood. Reya stops frequently to give Melody a chance to stretch out: which she does, gratefully. Their new mortal companion, Aline the wetnurse, adapts stoically. Twice before lunch, they see troops moving in the distance, and Cathak troops on the main roads, and must detour to avoid them.

                                The sun reaches its zenith: its rays warming the frigid dragons with the promise of spring to come. They eat together, sprawled out on the ground with Melody reclined on a rocky outcropping. Aline tends to baby Lezabe, giving Reya a much-needed rest.

                                Ganan stretches out, “How much further?”

                                Melody smiles as she readies her bow, “Few more hundred miles. Plus, we have to kill that sorcerer: I hope it’s Ragara.” She rises, summoning her phantom steed.

                                Ganan turns, “What sorcerer-?” He breaks off as he sees another Stormwind Rider hurtling directly towards them.

                                Udi gauges the distance and starts to cast, “We can outrun them.”

                                Ganan walks over to the rock Melody was leaning on. He lays his hand on its surface, feeling its chill. Closing his eyes, Ganan balls his hand into a fist – fingers pushing through solid rock and he draws out his Dragon Sigh Wand.

                                “How many?” Reya asks Melody as the Stormwind grows nearer.

                                Melody aims, straining her eyes, “Five. They look like Cathaks.”

                                Ganan snorts derisively, “They never learn. First mortals with no Exalted, now Exalted with no soldiers.”

                                “Uh, Gan,” Melody interjects without taking her eyes off the approaching Dragon-Blooded, “We don’t travel with mortals.”

                                “Because we don’t need them. If we lose this fight, I will admit we should be traveling with mortal guards.”

                                Aharon ignites his halberd and takes position.

                                Udi objects, “Are we really going to do this?”

                                “We are, you’re not. Take Aline and the baby and back-off. If we go down, make a beeline for Berit.” Reya commands, readying her bow. “Five against four isn’t so bad.” She uses the wind to carry a message to the approaching sorcerer, “That’s close enough. Continue to approach and we will fire on you.”

                                The Stormwind does not slow. Ganan’s heart leaps, and his malicious, child-like joy shows on his face. Melody grimly sets her jaw.

                                Reya keeps her face impassive and her voice calm, “Let them have it.”

                                Preempting haste, Ganan holds still, knowing he is still out of range.

                                Melody lets loose on the sorcerer at the heart of the dust-devil. Though the storm-winds buffet her shot, her arrow flies true and rings out against the Cathak’s armor.

                                The Cathaks gun-forward, racing across the distance as if it were nothing. Cathak Chakrams snaps off a shot at Aharon, who parries it neatly with his blade. Cathak Sorcerer sets down and starts to cast a new spell. Cathak Longfang, Cathak Grimcleaver, and Cathak Goremaul spill onto the ground in a defensive perimeter.

                                Reya fires her bow at the Cathak Sorcerer. Goremaul jumps into the path of the arrow, shattering it to pieces with his mighty weapon. Cursing, Reya backs up.

                                Flames erupt from Ganan’s firewand, seeking the enemy sorcerer as he shoots from the hip. Cathak Longfang intercepts the blow with a vertical strike, cutting through the gout of flame and trusting in her armor to protect her. The effort still sets Longfang off-balance.

                                Aharon rushes forward – heedless of the danger. He swings his halberd directly at Cathak Longfang, forcing her to take another step back before his assault.

                                Summer Thunder sings as Melody snaps a shot on Cathak Longfang. Her arrow breaks the Cathak warrior's guard as she takes a hand off of her weapon for a moment to avoid being skewered, and spins to avoid Aharon’s blows. Her eyes go wide with panic, as she realizes she is spun right into the open.

                                Ganan thumbs a fresh cartridge into Burnt Offering’s breach and fires at Longfang. There is a scream. Ganan’s blood rises. Cathak Longfang goes down as the flames consume her, the smell of roasting flesh filling the air.

                                Aharon does not hesitate to charge into Cathak Goremaul, swinging his halberd in a figure-of-eight attack. Goremaul shifts the weight of his weapon awkwardly, barely managing to fend off the attack.

                                “LEKAI!” Goremaul shouts as Cathak Longfang goes down, and he batters Aharon back with a tremendous two-handed strike, rushing to his burnt companion’s side.

                                Cathak Grimcleaver rushes into to close with Aharon, holding him and bay with wild slashes of her massive axe – each able to cut a man in two, but none managing to find Aharon’s flesh.

                                Cathak Chakrams aims at Reya.

                                Reya takes a deep, calming breath – she fills herself with Mela’s grace and takes careful aim at the sorcerer in the heart of the pack.

                                Cathak Sorcerer unleashes her spell. The Mists of Eventide roll out over Melody, spreading out to catch the others and Cathak Grimcleaver in its wake. Aharon glows with power as he shrugs off the mystic poison. Grimcleaver’s anima likewise ignites, though her movements slow as the poison takes hold. Ganan simply stops breathing. Remembering the deadly effectiveness of the Mists in the Tomb of the Ancients, Melody directs her mighty beast out of the fog, even as it starts to cloud their minds. Reya grits her teeth, steeling her body with the nightmare of having lost control of her body the last time she was exposed to this spell: she exhales, sending Mela’s breath into the sorcerous miasma as she shrugs off the poison’s effects.

                                Melody drives her phantom steed forward. The great beast tramples Cathak Grimcleaver as Aharon dives to one side. The poison addled Cathak struggles to get her guard up as Melody’s mount spins and kicks out with its powerful hind legs: the kick sends her flying out of the mists to land in a crumpled heap at the feet of the Cathak Sorcerer.

                                Aharon runs out of the mists, slashing at Cathak Goremaul, once more forcing him on the defensive.

                                Cathak Chakrams hurls at Reya, the slicing blue jade slips straight through her guard and crashes against her ironwood armor, striking her in the solar plexus. If she hadn’t just exhaled, the blow would knock the wind out of her – the Chakram returns to its master as Reya struggles to breathe.

                                The Cathak Sorcerer begins shaping a new spell.

                                Ganan doesn’t think before hurling himself out of the Mists to hammer into the Chakram wielding Cathak. His anima flickers and collapses as he banishes his firewand and draws his tetsubo. He brings Thunder’s Crash down in a sweeping over-head blow which drives the Cathak into the ground.

                                Cathak Goremaul’s anima rises into a swirling storm of stones as he batters Aharon back into the Mists.

                                Reya snaps a shot at the Cathak Sorcerer, momentarily breaking her concentration by forcing her to redirect a gust of Stormwind to avoid being impaled. She turns and flees through the mists – away from the Cathak forces – to find fresh air.

                                Aharon blazes out of the Mists in a storm of fire. He charges at the downed Chakram wielder, impaling them with his halberd. The Cathak twists on Aharon’s blade and spits blood, tenaciously refusing to surrender. “Down that fucking sorcerer!” Aharon yells at Ganan.

                                Ganan leaves the Chakram wielder supine on the ground, wrestling with Aharon, and gives a mighty leap, landing by the Sorcerer’s side. She looks at him with astonishment – her eyes go wide, and her hands go up defensively… futilely. Ganan drives her to the ground with a punishing blow.

                                Cathak Goremaul charges at Aharon, aiming to knock him back into the Mists.

                                “Not this time!" Aharon growls, smashing his halberd against the Cathak’s hammer, deflecting the bow.

                                Reya aims through the Mists, remembering the lessons Melody taught her as she draws a bead on the Goremaul wielding Cathak.

                                Melody snaps a shot on the Goremaul wielding Cathak as she charges her steed out of the Mists. Caught between Aharon’s halberd and Melody’s arrows, he is driven back.

                                The Cathak Sorcerer looks up at Ganan, “We yield! We yield!” She screams desperately she waves her arms frantically.

                                “Stay down!” Ganan roars and turns his attention to Cathak Goremaul, who obediently lowers his hammer, face grim and he stares back at Ganan.

                                Melody dismounts as the Mists of Eventide dissipate. She checks Cathak Lekai, kicking her Longfang out of reach. She is dead. She moves on to Cathak “Grimcleaver”: she is still alive, so Melody gets to work stabilizing her. She has multiple fractures from being savagely tossed through the air like a ragdoll by the horse-kick, but nothing Exalted healing can’t handle. Finally, she walks over to the Chakram wielding Cathak: she sees at a glance that his wounds are cauterized by Aharon’s blade.

                                As Melody ministers to their fallen foes, Reya approaches, shouldering her bow and drawing her shield. Udi’s Stormwind Rider edges closer, painfully slowly, as if wary of a trap. Ganan heaves the sorcerer from the ground and corrals the Cathak scions together.

                                Aharon doesn’t turn his back on the Cathak troops as he backs up slowly, bending down and retrieving the fallen Cathak’s Longfang, “Free toys.” He smiles to himself.

                                Reya gives him a withering look and stretches out her hand for him to hand the looted Longfang over. Aharon pouts but surrenders the weapon. Reya offers it to the Goremaul wielding Cathak.

                                “You fought well,” She acknowledges, “I am sorry for your loss.”

                                Cathak Goremaul looks angrily at Aharon and his red jade bow, “Are you going to return Salamander’s Kiss as well?”

                                “Is that what it’s called?” Aharon smiles, readying the bow, “It’s a fine weapon. A real boon, my thanks.”

                                Reya knows better than to push her luck with Aharon, “Meaning no disrespect, but no, we shan’t be returning that. I intend to send your ransom demands to the Imperial City: I’ll need your names, but I am happy to send it elsewhere if you desire.”

                                An unfamiliar voice calls out, “I will take custody of them.” The Dynasts turn and see a man dressed in flowing white robes, he carries a large staff. The pate of his head is bald, but long white hair flows from the rim, tied back into a ponytail. His face is underlined by a trim goatee.

                                Ganan’s eyes narrow as he tries to place the face, “I know you…” He starts.

                                Reya nods slowly, “It’s the Mouth of Peace’s secretary. Chejak?”

                                The bald man smiles ruefully, “Close enough, Mnemon Danireya.” He bows graciously and beckons the Cathak scions to his side.

                                “With greatest respect old man,” Melody drawls as she approaches, her weapon in hand, “If the Mouth of Peace wants our prisoners, she can pay the ransom. So, run back to the palace, and come back with a pile o’ jade.” She smiles, cruelly.

                                Somehow the Cathak scions have shuffled themselves behind the old man. Even the fallen body of Cathak Lekai is at his feet.

                                The old man continues as if he hadn’t heard Melody, “We’ll be leaving now.” He says simply.

                                Ganan roars as he leaps forward, swinging his tetsubo through the air. Chejop Kejak catches the massive jade weapon with two fingers, and twists his hand at the wrist, wrenching it from Ganan’s two-handed grasp and tossing it casually to one side.

                                Ganan swings a large, bronze fist at the old man’s head. The living metal shoots out with the speed of a striking snake, but to Ganan he feels as if he is moving through treacle as the old man casually dodges to one side. Ganan immediately follows up with a jab, then a cross hook and an uppercut: the old man twists in a blur, evading every blow. Ganan’s anima starts to burn with power as he exerts himself against this elderly foe. It seems as if Chejop is forced to step back under the relentless assault, but when Ganan’s flurry ends it seems as if neither fighter has moved.

                                Chejop Kejak makes a fist and strikes Ganan once with a quick jab to the chest. The old man’s fist is a blur, Reya can’t even follow the movement. She does see Ganan’s Invulnerable Skin of Bronze explode with an Invincible God-Metal Flash: the force of the old man’s blow throws backward a clear six-feet. Ganan’s anima returns to dim, and it seems as though the old man has punched the magic out of him.

                                Panting for breath, Ganan sizes up his foe carefully. Sweat trickles in rivulets down his forehead. He feels the presence of his Hearth at his back. The bonfire flames of Aharon’s anima lick over him as the taller warrior finds his side, halberd ready.

                                Without looking at him, Aharon sets his jaw, “Together.” He says.

                                Ganan and Melody nod.

                                Melody shoots an arrow at Chejop Kejak. He twists at the waist and flicks it from the air as Ganan and Aharon rush him from each side. Aharon swings his halberd in a decapitating arc. Chejop clasps his hands behind his back as he ducks under the swing. Ganan charges at him to grab him about the waist, but the old man lashes out with a kick, smashing him in the face. The old man twists to the side as Melody fires another shot: he throws the caught arrow at this new one, splitting the arrow in flight.

                                Reya positions her shield between Melody and the old man. Chejop strokes his beard and leaps into the air: his feet find the flaming blade of Aharon’s halberd, and he balances perfectly on the head of the burning weapon. Aharon stares at him incredulously as Chejop delivers a rapid-fire flurry of kicks to Aharon’s face. Aharon drops his halberd as he reels back from the assault and Chejop lands smartly on the ground, not so much as staggered by the sudden fall.

                                With a clear shot, Reya speaks the burning name as Melody shoots again. Chejop punches the flames aside with a casual back-hand – not dissimilar to the move used by Ganan in the Nellens manse. Melody’s arrow strikes him in the shoulder, exploding into thorns. He looks at his shoulder, his mouth falling open with surprise as he knits his brow, amazed that the Dragon-Blooded could land a blow.

                                Ganan doesn’t hesitate, charges at Chejop from the wounded side, driving the power of his body behind a new flurry of punches and heavy elbow strikes. Chejop is forced into action, stepping inside Ganan’s guard to deliver precise pressure point blows to his shoulder, elbow, and stomach. Each two-finger strike hits like a sledgehammer, but the mountain cannot be moved, and Ganan stubbornly tanks the blows head-on. Aharon body-slams into Chejop, who spins at the last moment to deliver a full-fist blow that sends Aharon flying through the air, landing by Reya’s feet, unconscious.

                                “Damn you!” Ganan roars, charging again. Like a bullfighter, Chejop turns to the side at the last moment and delivers a knife-hand strike to the back of his head. Ganan drops to the floor.

                                Melody fires as Chejop blurs forward somehow he’s passed Reya and standing next to her just as her arrow is sailing through the empty space where he was. He rips Summer Thunder from her hands and hurls his fist forward with the same blurred motion that dropped Aharon. And the last moment his eyes flicker to Melody’s swollen belly, and he turns his blow aside, instead flicking her right shoulder joint with a single finger. Pain shoots through Melody like an electric shock as the joint dislocates. Chejop drops her priceless artifact weapon in the dirt and turns slowly to Reya.

                                Reya raises her shield and calls on the Cathak forces for help, “Don’t just stand there! He’s an Anathema! Help us!” The Cathak forces do not move.

                                Chejop starts forward, Reya speaks the Burning Name again and fire lashes him. A flicker of movement attracts Reya’s eye and she looks away from her foe for just a second. Surprisingly, Chejop looks too, just in time to see Ganan barrel into him and tackle him to the ground.

                                Ganan pulls back a fist and hammers Chejop in the face and wounded shoulder over and over. Yellow starlight seems to surround him, and the Sign of Secrets appears in green light on his brow. Pain wracks Ganan’s hand as if he were striking a block of solid iron. Then suddenly, the old man has slipped out from under him and is standing beside the Cathak troops once more. The Cathaks rank up behind the old man.

                                Reya keeps her voice level, “Ganan, grab Aharon.”

                                Ganan picks Aharon up glaring fiercely at the Exalted across from him.

                                Reya forces a smile, “Well, this has been… enlightening,” She bows, “But I’m afraid we must be getting on.”

                                Udi speeds towards them on her Stormwind Rider. Reya mounts smoothly, as Melody picks up her bow and staggers onto the Stormwind, and Ganan hauls Aharon up. Udi swerves, around the Cathak troops, allowing Ganan to yank his fallen tetsubo from the ground.

                                Chejop Kejak looks at them with a wry smile and shakes his head ruefully as they speed away. Cathak Chakram raises his weapon, but Chejop puts a hand on his and gently makes him lower his arm – allowing them to escape.

                                ****

                                Udi puts a good hundred miles between them and the Anathema before setting down.

                                “I could have taken him.” Ganan broods, his voice low and dangerous.

                                Melody pops her shoulder back into place, wincing in pain.

                                Reya presses her lips into a thin line and balls her hands into fists. With great effort, she keeps her voice calm, “Well I am sorry that we got in your way. But I wasn’t ready to let my Hearth-mates die to give you that chance.” She turns to Udi, “You made the right call. Thank you.”

                                Melody stretches her arm and circles it through the air, flexing her numb fingers, “Yeah, thanks Udi.” She lays a hand on Ganan’s chest, “You’ll get him next time, slugger.” Her eyes flicker across his face as she wordlessly implores him to let it go.

                                Ganan brushes her off, “Check on Aharon.” He says brusquely as he turns away, and scans the horizon for any sign of pursuit, turning his back on the group.

                                Reya points a finger at his back and grits her teeth, ready to tear him to shreds. Her body tenses and she feels the hairs on the back of her neck go on end. Her jaw aches with effort. Melody sighs and rubs her stomach as she examines Aharon, and the tension drains from Reya’s body. She lets her arm drop to her side. She hangs her head. She sighs.

                                Aline feeds baby Lezabe as Melody works on Aharon. After a few minutes, Reya stops staring at Ganan’s back and squats by Melody.

                                “Can I help?” Reya asks.

                                Melody takes her hand and squeezes it warmly, before laying on Aharon’s body, “Press here. Be silent, let me work.”

                                A few more minutes pass as Melody’s hands roam over Aharon’s broken flesh. She applies poultices to open wounds and needles to pressure points. She drains a great deal of blood from Aharon’s chest, he gives a heaving gasp and his eyes flutter open for a moment – blurred and unfocused before closing again. Then she binds his broken ribs.

                                “I don’t normally do this.” She says, more to herself than Reya, “Important not to constrict the breathing. But we’ve got to set these ribs before they tear his lung open again.”

                                Reya nods mutely, only now understanding how severe Aharon’s injuries are from a single blow.

                                At last, Melody moves Reya’s hand aside. She doesn’t need to say that she’s done. “So, that sigil. A Sidereal caste mark?”

                                “Secrets.” Ganan pronounces without turning around.

                                Reya draws the sign in the dirt with a finger, “The Sign of Secrets. Associated with Jupiter and Heaven’s Eyes. The Mouth of Peace offering shelter to the Regent’s assassins now makes sense, at least.”

                                “Well… I guess you don’t spy on the Immaculate Order without learning a thing or two.” Melody offers weakly.

                                Ganan grunts and turns around, “We have a war to fight.” He gestures at Aharon, “Can we move him?”

                                “We shouldn’t. But we will… and he’ll live.” Melody shakes her head, “Might not be ready to fight when we march on the City though.”

                                Ganan spits on the ground, “Well that’s foul luck.”

                                Udi stares daggers at Ganan.

                                “That he won’t be able to fight!” Ganan insists, throwing a pleading look at Melody, “Not that he’ll live. I mean, of course, he’ll live – but that’s not foul luck.”

                                “Shall we move along?” Reya insists drolly as she casts Stormwind Rider.

                                ****

                                The heroes do not travel in a straight line but stick to cover and back-roads. They stop less frequently, and only in sheltered places with good visibility. Ganan rubs his chest awkwardly where Chejop struck him and holds onto Aharon with one hand to stop him from falling from the Stormwind. Melody croons a life-affirming song softly, ostensibly to help Aharon heal, but mostly because she knows Ganan will not ask for help.

                                Hours pass until the Enduring Breath of Hesiesh comes into view. Melody spots Clapper surrounded by a wing of mounted archers returning to camp. She pinches Reya and points out her Shieldback. Reya dutifully changes course and brings them in.

                                Berit is riding on the back of Clapper. Melody and Reya notice members of the Free Company riding on horseback in formation around her. Berit hails them and dismounts as they draw near.

                                “I’ve been expecting you.” Berit says smartly as Reya sets down, “What took you so long?”

                                “We were ambushed, first by Cathak troops, then this crazy Immaculate monk. She kicked our asses.” Melody offers with her trademark cheerfulness.

                                “He.” Reya corrects, “And it wasn’t a monk. It was the Mouth of Peace’s secretary.”

                                Ganan shakes his head angrily, “The Mouth of Peace’s secretary is a crippled old mortal. This was a giant of a man!”

                                “No.” Reya hisses harshly, “It wasn’t. It was… Chejak Kejop… or whatever his name is. The Mouth of Peace’s secretary. You just can’t remember him clearly.”

                                Ganan sulks.

                                Berit fills in the gap, “Because he’s a Sidereal. This changes my equations. I had hoped that Heaven’s Exalted would stay neutral in our conflict, limiting themselves to reducing the war’s impact as they did in the Valley of the Ancients. If they have turned against us…”

                                Melody shakes her head, trying to clear it, “I don’t think they have. When we were escaping, one of the Cathak troops tried to attack us. She. He. The Sidereal stopped them, let us get away.”

                                “It still means the Immaculate Order is compromised.” Reya spits venomously, “What do you intend to do about this?” She jabs a finger at Berit.

                                Berit looks pointedly at Reya’s finger and decides to ignore her. She turns her focus to Melody, “Your Free Company has been of great use to me, you have trained them well in such a short period of time. You’ve heard by now that House Peleps has quit the field: it seems our ‘Emperor’ has charged them with founding a Western Imperial Protectorate.” She motions to them to walk with her into camp.

                                “A… WIP?” Melody asks, smirking, as she follows Berit, “What the hell is that?”

                                “According to Sesus intelligence? A second Prasad. House Peleps keeps the navy and gets the West. Cainan keeps the Isle. If he can keep the Isle. I have V’neef moving in on the Imperial City as we speak, and I’ve sent a vanguard ahead. I leave tomorrow with the bulk of the troops; I trust you will accompany me?” Berit gestures to the mounted archers, “We’ll be traveling slower than a Stormwind.”

                                Melody smiles, “Of course we’ll accompany you. I see you’ve been putting my Free Company to good use.”

                                Berit smiles at her, “We need auxiliaries. Actually, House Tepet might be an unexpected boon on that front.”

                                Melody wrinkles her nose, “The Red Piss Legion? Are we that desperate?”

                                “Yes,” Berit answers flatly, “We are. But more than that, Tepet Corino has been drawing on old Threshold alliances: I believe you’re familiar with the Medoan cavalry?” She nods at Melody’s bow.

                                “Auxiliaries,” Melody nods in understanding, “Well if Cynis can send in Threshold mercenaries, we can too. How many Tepet Satrapies have answered the call?”

                                “According to my sister? All of them. V’neef is securing the coastline: if this proves to be a trap, we’ll not lose our entire navy. But the Merchant Fleet is also bringing a considerable force to bear on the City directly. Paired with our forces here? We will crush them.” Berit folds her arms over her chest and smiles, “Or so say the greatest military minds of the Realm.”

                                Reya scoffs and rolls her eyes. Berit’s smile falls and she glares at her.

                                Melody swiftly steps in, “I’ll bite: who else have you recruited.”

                                Berit gives a sharp whistle, and three Dragon-Blooded of proud bearing emerge from the camp. Ganan leans into Melody and whispers, “Who are these old people?”

                                Melody smiles weakly and whispers back, “They’re the Empress’s personal military advisors. Three of her Crown Marshals. The greatest military minds of the Realm.” She curtsies awkwardly, “It’s an honor, I can’t tell you how glad I am that you’ve joined our cause.”

                                “Mnemon Alinos Danireya, Winglord Gracious Pealing Melody may I present Crown Marshals Sesus Raijin Vers, Black Spire Cloud, and Ivory Knife of the Hidden Hand.” Berit’s smile has returned and she smirks at Reya, “Black Spire Cloud and Ivory Knife will be adopted into House Berit upon the successful completion of our campaign. And a full amnesty will be granted to Crown Marshals Cathak Kirumi, Cynis Erena, and Ledaal Varok, and of course, we shall release Mnemon Rulinsei Avar from the Imperial prison at Ice-Above-the-Water.”

                                Reya bows stiffly, “Of course. Mnemon bears no ill-will toward her mother’s military advisors. It will be good to bring two of the finest military minds of the Realm into the Dynasty – a great boon for Great House Berit, is it not Dragonlord Melody?” She forces a smile, and looks to Sesus Vers, “Though I do expect that your fellows will be cashiered for not offering their services during our time of need, I offer my assurances that my matriarch will not pursue them beyond that.”

                                Vers returns the bow, “And I expect that I will receive a generous pension and never be given a command again.”

                                Berit gestures towards Clapper, and Melody excuses herself to walk with her. Berit looks straight at the Shieldback Lizard as she addresses Melody from the corner of her mouth, “We march tomorrow. Fix her.” She turns smartly on her heel and strides away without glancing back at Melody.

                                ****

                                With Berit’s vanguard already deployed, the Dragons have little difficulty finding a place to stay for the night. More wooden buildings have been added to the camp Ganan started, much of the local brush cleared by a trampling Shieldback Lizard. Our heroes secure four rooms for themselves, Udi and Aharon take one, Melody, Reya and Ganan each go to separate rooms (the baby and the wet-nurse bunking with Reya).

                                ****

                                The shame of being forced to flee eats at Ganan as he exercises: way past sunset, he does push-ups trying to build his strength for his next encounter.

                                Melody lets herself into his room. He does not look up.

                                Ganan’s muscles burn as he pushes himself, feeling the cool wooden floor beneath the bare skin of his chest. The crude camp smells of war – too many people camped in too small a space.

                                “Gan, we need to talk.” She wants and watches him complete his last set of reps.

                                Ganan looks up at her, rises, wipes the sweat from his brow, and is instantly made clean and fresh by his enchanted necklace. “Fine talk.” He pulls on a shirt and folds his arms over his chest. It is hard for Ganan to be impatient with Melody: just seeing her lifts his spirits more than he’d like to let on.

                                Melody pinches his biceps, “This crude measure of strength is not the reason why we lost today.”

                                Ganan sighs and sits on the tiny room’s cot. He shuffles over to make room for Melody, but he does not look at her as he responds, “I know.” His tone is that of a confession as he stares at the bare wall

                                Melody sits next to him and puts an arm on his shoulder. “You kept us all alive today Gan. That Anathema dropped Aharon in one blow and he ripped my bow away like I was a child. You were the only one who could stand against him.”

                                Ganan grits his teeth and hangs his head, “But I still failed.” He swallows hard, “What am I good for if I’m not strong enough to…”

                                Melody punches him in the arm, “What? Not strong enough to keep us alive? By the Dragon’s man, pull yourself together! You are worth more than your ability to smash skulls Ganan. You’re a powerful sorcerer. You know more about our history than any scholar alive. And…” She gestures at all of him, “That.” Ganan smirks despite himself.

                                “We all have our strengths, Gan, and we need to work together. How did our ancestors overthrow the Anathema?” She asks, leading him.

                                “There are more of us. They used superior numbers.” Ganan fidgets with his fingers.

                                Melody stands and throws her arms out in mock indignation, “By the gods, maybe you are just a mindless mass of muscle! We won by working together. That is the great strength of the Dragon-Blooded. That’s the lesson beat into every legionnaire. It doesn’t matter how strong you get. It doesn’t matter if you can drill the rest of us to become as strong as you.” She jabs a finger into his chest, “You will never know real strength until the five of us can fight together.” She holds out five outstretched fingers and then balls them into a fist. She turns away from him, and shadow boxes, throwing her whole weight behind the punch, “First the fist, then we harness the power of the Realm behind us. But first, the fist.”

                                Ganan looks down at his feet. “I did… fight better… with help.” The words are strangled, as if speaking them is harder than the fight itself was.

                                Melody smiles at him and offers him her hand, “Didn’t you fight best when Reya was in danger?”

                                Blood rushes to Ganan’s face, and he takes Melody’s hand and stands up.

                                Melody ribs him, “Who knew there was a person under all that bronze?” She straightens his shirt and brushes off his lapels, “We can’t fight together as a unit if we don’t trust each other.”

                                “I want… to make things right… with her.” Ganan says awkwardly, forcing himself to look at Melody.

                                “But you’re too proud?” Melody asks.

                                Ganan shakes his head, “I don’t know… how.” He pauses, “I can’t… I don’t have the skill with words that you have.”

                                Melody lays her other hand over his, holding his hand between both of hers, “I think she’s used to that by now.”

                                Ganan looks her in the eye, “Will you talk to her first? Soften her up for me?”

                                Melody feigns outrage, “You want me to melt the Ice Queen? Pasiap’s blood, why do you think I’m trying to convince you to do it!”

                                Ganan pokes her in the wounded shoulder – playfully, but harder than he needs to, “Fine. Give me a minute, I’ll go to her tonight.”

                                “Good boy.” She pats him on the head and walks out of his room. Reya is standing in the doorway waiting to come in.

                                ****

                                Earlier

                                Reya feeds and settles baby Lezabe. The accommodations are basic. The entire four-room hut they’ve requisitioned would fit inside her quarters in Dovak’s Wall of Stone. She blinks away the comparison, putting Dovak from her mind as she leaves the baby with Aline. She regards the girl carefully: flowing golden hair and delicate features, a curvaceous body – well suited for child-rearing.

                                “Get some sleep.” She commands as she leaves the room, sweeping out with the decisiveness of an empress. She closes the door behind her, turns to Ganan’s room, walks up to the door… and falters. She curses herself and turns to see Udi holding a bottle of cherry-brandy.

                                “Drink?” She offers, leading Reya outside.

                                Reya casts a longing look at Ganan’s closed door, then follows Udi outside, nodding at Melody as they pass each other.

                                The “fresh” air of the camp reeks. Volcanic sulfur from the manse above is the least of it: the camp holds thousands of people in crudely constructed shelters. The winter cold has encouraged dozens of campfires, and no shortage of fuel in the form of dung and bodies. The sweat of drilling soldiers and stink of human effluence is omnipresent – kept from being overpowering only by the brilliance of Berit’s camp design.

                                Udi sits on a tree-stump, and Reya joins her, wrinkling her nose as Udi passes her the bottle. Reya takes a large swig: the drink is cheap and sweet, it burns the throat with every swallow – hardly fit for human consumption, let alone fit for the Princes of Earth.

                                “Aharon isn’t much fun tonight,” Udi explains as she lays a hand on Reya’s thigh.

                                Reya picks up Udi’s hand by the wrist and dumps it back in Udi’s lap. She takes another swig of liquor then hands the bottle back, “Neither am I.” She says grimly.

                                Udi nods somberly, “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you. But I couldn’t just let that Anathema kill you and Aharon.” She takes a drink.

                                Reya exhales heavily. She is too tired to sigh. Too drained to be angry with Udi for endangering her child. “You did the right thing.”

                                Udi studies her carefully, then raises her eyebrows suggestively, “You really don’t want to?” She inclines her head towards the beds inside the hut, “You look like you need it.” She offers Reya the bottle again.

                                Reya takes the bottle and puts it to her lips. The fierce rotgut reminds her of her childhood with Udi – of sneaking away and doing everything their elders disapproved of. A simpler time when she was happy. “I do.” She admits, “But I need him more, and I’m not going to make things worse between us. Between all of us.”

                                Udi stands and turns to face Reya, “Then why didn’t you go into his room just now? You’re not acting like the Danireya I know: not the girl who lived by our motto, not the woman who united Mnemon and V’neef to take the throne.”

                                Reya frowns and recites their childhood motto listlessly, “Want, take, have.”

                                Udi seizes her with one hand, squeezing her cheeks between her fingers, and recites with force, “Want. Take. Have.” She holds Reya’s gaze, studying her face, “The next time we’re attacked by Anathema, I don’t to die because you are off your game and the cripple is mooning over you. So, if you’re not going to at least give me a pity-fuck before we get killed, then you are going to march in there and make-up with your husband!” She lets go of her face.

                                Reya smiles at her old friend, “You’d die to get a pity-fuck from me? Sextus Jylis, how bad is Aharon in bed?”

                                Udi laughs easily, “He’s not that bad. I’m just trying to motivate you. Come on Rey-Rey: you can have Ganan wrapped around your little finger in sixty seconds. Two minutes tops. His tantrum is hurting our effectiveness as a unit.”

                                Reya looks at her earnestly, “But he’s right.” Her eyes implore her to disagree with her, to take her side.

                                “Of course he’s right!” Udi’s blunt reply hits Reya like a fist, “Rey-Rey, we’re marching on the Imperial City tomorrow. I am marching, with my lover and my ex-lover, against my husband’s house. Tomorrow. Nolan… he’ll be there. In the City. We keep tabs on the Wyld Hunt Chapters: Oban’s forces have been raiding The Azimuth Spire. It sits right in the path of the Cathak supply lines. Cathak Setod dispatched Nolan weeks ago to get support from the Emperor – Cathak reinforcements returned, Nolan did not, and payment of the Spire’s lease has stopped. It doesn’t matter who is right or what baggage we’re carrying. We’re past all that now; we have to win.”

                                Reya winces and rises. She wants to reach out to her friend, but something stops her. Instead, she stands straight, “I’m sorry.” She offers – her voice clear and bold.

                                Udi shrugs, affecting carelessness, “He’s always been ambitious. He only joined the Wyld Hunt because his elders gave him no other choice – with the uncertainty caused by the empty throne, they didn’t want him upsetting the established order. Now Cainan is on the Throne… it was inevitable.”

                                Reya hugs her. Udi tenses for a moment then goes slack and returns the hug. “We’re going to win.” Reya reassures her, “You don’t have to worry about Ganan.” She returns the bottle of brandy, and says in her best matriarchal voice, “Get some rest. Consider that an order.”

                                Reya goes back inside, makes her way to Ganan’s room, and reaches for the door handle as Melody opens the door from the inside.

                                ****

                                Melody smiles at Reya and looks back to Ganan, “I’ll leave you to it.”

                                Ganan looks at Reya and opens his mouth, then closes it. He feels his heart hammering in his chest and hears the words, “I’m sorry,” being spoken. It takes him a moment to realize they’ve both said it at the same time. He smiles at her weakly.

                                Reya enters the room, closes the door, walks past Ganan, and sits on the cot. Ganan sits on the ground at her feet and looks up at her. She lays her hands in her lap, and Ganan reaches for her, holding her left hand in both of his. “I have taken you for granted,” Reya says, “You’re right. About Dovak, and House Nellens and everything. I have lost track of what’s important. I thought I could have it all.”

                                Ganan shakes his head, “You did what you had to do. I don’t like it: I can’t pretend to like it. But I can ignore it if it saves our lives and the Realm.”

                                Reya smiles at him, “I’m glad I can tell you don’t mean that.”

                                Ganan beams back at her, “I can wait until after the war to kill Nellens Mirar.”

                                Reya scoffs at him, “Can you hold onto that grudge until it’s politically expedient?”

                                “No, the moment Mnemon’s butt touches the throne he’s a dead-man. Unrelated: teach me how to summon a Stormwind Rider.”

                                Reya giggles and tries to stand-up, “No!”

                                Ganan rises from the ground and traps her in a tight embrace. “I’ll just be away from you longer if you make me hunt him down on an Agata.” He jokes.

                                Face flushed, Reya looks at her husband, “And what about Tinkara?”

                                Ganan shrugs, “I’ll get her next time we’re in Dovak. So, she’s probably okay.” His tone is teasing and playful.

                                Reya’s smile falls, “I am still the Satrap.” She probes him, “We’re going back after the war.”

                                Ganan releases her, “You can’t be serious. With everything happening… everywhere. The Bull, The Mask of Winters, the demons, the bloody Peleps WIP!”

                                Reya looks at him seriously, “If the new Empress wants to deploy us elsewhere, we’ll go where we’re told. I have no personal desire to return to Dovak, Gan. But that’s my assignment for my House – I have a duty.”

                                Ganan knits his brow in consternation. Reya doesn’t let him think about it, and she pulls him in for a kiss. She tastes of cherries and Ganan’s body relaxes.

                                Reya breaks the kiss and looks up at him, “One problem at a time. Let’s survive this war before we worry about what happens next, agreed?”

                                Ganan smiles at her and lifts her onto the bed, “Agreed.”

                                ****

                                *Fade to Black*

                                ****

                                Meanwhile

                                Melody smiles at Reya and looks back to Ganan, “I’ll leave you to it.”

                                She closes the door and walks out on them, then, as the walls of the shack are disturbingly thin, she resolves to seek out Berit. She finds her without difficulty.

                                “Something troubling you, Dragonlord?” Berit asks looking up at her.

                                “I’ve fixed Danireya,” She announces, “But yes, we’ve heard Thorns has laid siege to Lookshy. How goes that war?”

                                Berit grits her teeth, “One problem at a time.”

                                “How is it even a problem?” Melody folds her arms across her chest, “The Seventh Legion has thousands of Dragon-Blooded. Their First Age arsenal is as large as our own. They’ve managed to hold off the Realm for centuries. Thorns was just a Satrapy, is the Mask of Winters really powerful enough to destroy Lookshy?”

                                Berit uncorks a bottle of wine and pours them both a glass, “There’s a thousand miles between Thorns and Lookshy proper. Whilst we had our eyes on Jiara then our hands at each other’s throats, the Mask of Winters had his operatives sowing discord through the Scavenger Lands. He made alliances with the other Anathema, unleashed plagues, incited riots and rebellions. The Seventh Legion was scattered over the entire River Province, dealing with bandits and putting down rebellions when winter hit – and that’s when the Mask marched his forces.”

                                Melody watches carefully and bids Berit to continue.

                                “Snow fell, the dead marched. Lookshy sallied out with their airships and Warstriders – unable to bring a full infantry force to bear with their Legion scattered. And then… something. Sabotage, treachery, or negligence – we don’t know. But we do know that most of their First Age Arsenal sallied out, but only a fraction of it limped back – before they even managed to engage the enemy. The rest of the Scavenger Lands has been back-footed: it has taken them some time to put together a relief force and winter has hindered them further and the dead have settled into a siege. Lookshy is well fortified – they have implosion bows and stranger weapons in numbers that I envy, and even with the Seventh Legion scattered throughout the Scavenger Lands there are thousands of Exalted within the walls. Even with ghostly saboteurs and Anathema infiltrators, the Mask’s forces can’t break into the city. But they are ravaging the settlements around the city and fouling the farmland. Strange necromancy is at work, and the Mask’s army is bolstered by demonic servants. Which is new. Our scholars believed that necromancy could not be used to summon demons, but it seems we are mistaken.”

                                Melody considers, “But even so, he can’t win… can he?”

                                Berit shakes her head, “I don’t know. His army has strange war-machines, like unto the ancient devices of the First Age but twisted with unholy power. And they say that Juggernaut of his is a mile long. And that the ‘Deathlord’ himself is more formidable than any Nephwrack or Anathema. It would seem that with the spring thaw, Nexus will send an army and the Lookshy redoubts will march to break the siege. But that only raises the question-”

                                “Why would the Mask of Winters start a war he can’t win? House Ledaal has been saber-rattling: I know Cainan wanted to march on Thorns, but suicide-by-Lookshy? It doesn’t make sense.”

                                Berit doesn’t have an answer for her, “House Ledaal wants to break off the war now: follow through on Cainan’s plan and march on Thorns, take the city back whilst the Mask’s army is a thousand miles away and evacuate the citizens. I’ve not allowed it: we need our navy to take the Imperial City. Once my sister is seated on the throne, we shall reassess the situation in Lookshy.”

                                Berit finishes her drink, “You’d better get some sleep. We have an early start in the morning.”

                                ****

                                Melody spends 8XP to train Flesh-Sealing Flame Technique
                                Last edited by JohnDoe244; 12-20-2020, 12:53 PM.


                                Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

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