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Dynasty of Dovak - Campaign Notes and Play Report

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  • #76
    Session 65 – War For The Throne – Reya (205XP 164DX, 203/143 spent; 9GP 36SP), Melody (205XP 164DX, 200/146 spent), and Ganan (205XP 164DX, 187/153 spent; 8WhP 53GP 81SP)

    Violence. Very mild supernatural horror. Named character death.

    The Sun sets on the Dragons as the last day of Descending Air comes to a close.


    Berit’s forces have been on the march for a week. Siege towers have been raised, strategies have been laid. Sorcerous co-ordination with V’neef confirms that a naval blockade has been placed upon the Imperial City, and V’neef’s reavers have been harrying the capital as House Tepet marshal their forces in Dragon’s Mouth. Communications with Mnemon have been scant, but House Nellens have marched their legions south to relieve the beleaguered Ledaal, and lay siege to the Cathak holdings to the South West. With the combined forces of Nellens and Ledaal, and one of Mnemon’s Thousand-Forged Dragons, the overstretched Cathak have been all but routed.

    “This is the beginning of the end.” Berit confides to Reya and Melody, “After we take the Capital, the only serious resistance will come from Corin Prefecture. House Ragara stands yet unbowed, but Mnemon’s Dragon will turn that soon enough.”

    “There’s still the Iselsi threat.” Reya rues, bitterly, “And we’ve not taken the Imperial City yet.”

    “And they’ve had all Winter to fortify their position,” Melody adds, “‘Do not besiege walled cities’: so say the Thousand Correct Actions. We should find a way to draw them out into the open field.”

    “We have been over this.” Berit’s tone does not leave room for argument.

    Indeed, the Dragons have been over this. House Peleps had managed to take the Imperial City in a lightning strike: one backed by overwhelming numbers, explosives, and no doubt Iselsi traitors within the city walls to place the explosives. Advantages that Mnemon’s forces do not have. House Cathak can have no more than three legions encamped in the Imperial City, given their losses across the Blessed Isle, but it is three Legions of disciplined, Cathak, troops holding a fortified position. Berit’s command is a motley bunch – the last dregs of the Sesus legions, a legion of Mnemon’s, peasants and irregulars conscripted to fight and the promise of Tepet and V’neef allies to meet them in coming battle (inauspiciously, the chief asset being the Vermilion Legion – the lowest and least distinguished legion in the entire Realm).

    Striking now seemed like certain folly. But the Thousand Correct Actions also say that ‘All Warfare is Deception’.

    The siege was winnable. In theory. V’neef’s navy could keep the ports blocked. Berit’s forces could stop the peasants from leaving through the gates. There was still alchemical soil within the Imperial Palace, but not the Gemstone of the Harvest nor V’neef’s skill in cultivating plants. They could be starved out. But the first day of Ascending Water is tomorrow, and the harvest needs planting. And Iselsi assassins could strike at any time.

    So instead the siege was to be a distraction. V’neef’s forces will sweep down from the North and East, Berit’s from the South and West. Every gate will find itself under siege, and thus troops will be drawn away from the Palace. And through the secret tunnels of the Iselsi, Berit’s team of handpicked warriors will creep and cut Cathak Cainan down.

    ****

    “I should be part of the strike force!” Melody had argued.

    “I agree.” Ganan had spoken, uncharacteristically breaking his silence, “Melody is one of our best warriors, there’s no-one I’d rather have by my side for this.”

    Reya looked at her husband askance for a beat, “We would fight better as a coherent unit.”

    Berit was unmoved, “Mnemon Melody and Ledaal Ludila will fight with me. Dragonlord Melody will command the cavalry. Sorceress Ludila will be my personal relay. That is final.”

    No-one had suggested that the only reason Melody was being kept from the assassination was because she was pregnant.

    Reya had been given command of the strike force. Ganan and Aharon would, of course, accompany her. They would be led to the secret Iselsi tunnels that led into the Palace by Righteous River and her Sworn-kin – Kingfisher Swift and Sesus Eshuvar. It was only fitting that House Ledaal and House Sesus both should be a part of the final blow – though if there were any poetry to a Patrician being part of the strike on the Emperor, it was lost on the Dynasts. Added to their numbers would be Berit’s right-hand, Riven Dusk, and a pair of Earth Elementals.

    ****

    Berit’s forces make camp. After weeks of trekking through the melting snow, the walls of the Imperial City are finally insight – the war ends tomorrow.

    The Hearth sits around a campfire with the other members of the strike team. Ganan pulls his Dragon-Sigh Wand from the elements, carefully cleans the weapon, and then sets it aside, proceeding to roll a fresh batch of firedust shells, as Sesus Eshuvar looks on with interest (10SP).

    “I have a good friend who uses such weapons,” Eshuvar says, gesturing towards the firewand, “May I?”

    Ganan nods his quiet ascend and Sesus Eshuvar picks the weapon up, turning it over slowly and looking down the barrel.


    “It’s a fine piece. How do you aim without sights?” He asks, passing the weapon back.

    Ganan looks at him puzzled and tucks the shells into Burnt Offering’s leather bandoleer, “What are sights?”

    A brief conversation about aiming and shooting from the hip follows. Ganan is not convinced that aiming is a vital part of ranged combat.

    Melody leans into Reya, “Are you sure I shouldn’t be coming with you on this?”

    Reya shakes her head, “He’ll be using his tetsubo. It’ll be fine.”

    ****

    Berit’s forces attack before first light.

    Melody is somewhat irritated to find that Berit has divided her Free Company. Those who were best with the short-bow were taught to ride – no matter how poor they might be at such a skill. Of those who were left, the most muscular were given spears and javelins and the weakest given slings.

    “The bow is an elegant weapon. A tool for hunting that is lethal on the battlefield,” Melody had argued, “These people won’t be soldiers all their lives, a bow will help them feed their families in a way a spear will not!”

    “The bow is a skeleton-warping, high maintenance machine. Spear and sling is the backbone of the army.”

    “The long-bow is a skeleton-warping machine,” Melody had huffed, but the morning of a battle was no time to be changing the drill-lines.

    Melody leads the cavalry charge to probe the Imperial City’s defenses: the great wall of the city is intact in the South and East. The buildings outside of the City have been abandoned, and House Cathak has placed no field force outside of the walls. As her troops draw closer, skirmishers on the walls rain down stones and arrows. Melody expertly weaves her forces out of range, dipping in and out to probe for weak spots in the Cathak defenses. No legions sally-out to meet her, but her archers are not able to make a meaningful impact on the city’s defenses.

    ****

    Reya and her strike team make their way through the secret Iselsi tunnels leading into the Imperial Palace. Ganan and Kingfisher Swift lead the way – Ganan reaches out with his senses, feeling the tunnel head. They come across several booby-traps – false walls, trap-doors, poison darts, toxic spoors, and sharpened spikes – several of which were not there when Swift and River were making their escape from the Imperial City a few short months ago. But between Swift’s experience and the Dragon-Blooded’s gifts, they defeat the obstacles with little difficulty. At last, they come to the Iselsi Mon, and River speaks:

    “On the other side of this door is the V’neef wing of the palace. If no-one else, then House Iselsi knows about this tunnel – as these new traps have proven. If they’ve warned their Cathak allies, we could be facing an army on the other side of this door.”

    Ganan lays a hand on the door, “There’s no army on the other side of this.” He pronounces with confidence.

    “Unless,” Reya adds, “They’ve used some kind of magic to hide themselves, having had months to prepare for our coming.” She directs the Dragon-Blooded to rank-up.

    ****

    Berit and V’neef’s attack begins as the sun graces the horizon. Imperial Triremes row into port with the sun in the eyes of the defenders. Berit’s Legions advance in the shade of the walls: ladders and rams and siege towers rolling forward. Melody’s mounted company wheels and hits alongside the infantry.

    The defenders on the walls fire in earnest now, raining arrows and stones on the attackers. Melody’s bow sings as she snipes projectiles out of the sky. At any moment she expects some dread war-machine of the First Age to be deployed against them, or for an Anathema to sally out to stop them… but then Clapper is at the gates, swinging its powerful tail against them. The great stones of the city gate shudder under the assault, but the gates remain barred.

    Udi sends Melody a message telling her to pull her outriders back. For a moment, Melody is annoyed, and then she spots why… a Stormwind Rider rapidly approaching Berit’s position. With a sharp whistle her cavalry peels off and races back to Berit as infantry with log rams take her place battering down the city gates.

    ****

    Udi’s signal comes through to Reya that the battle is enjoined. Reya opens the secret passage and Ganan and Kingfisher Swift charge forward. The V’neef quarters are abandoned.

    “I told you there’s nothing here.” Ganan says as they spill out.

    Reya turns to River, “What’s the best way to the throne room?”

    River points, “We can cross the courtyard there, takes us into the old Regent’s quarters, then we move through the palace.”

    Reya nods sharply and turns to the others, “Quickly and quietly. The further we can get before the alarm is raised, the greater our likelihood of success.

    ****

    Berit’s siege engines roll forward as Melody’s mounted troops fall back. The Stormwind Rider races ever closer. Berit’s rearguard has already wheeled round to intercept. Melody curses, knowing that all they’ve done is confirm Berit’s location to the sorcerer.

    ****

    Reya’s strike team moves across the courtyard connecting the Tepet and V’neef (former Iselsi) wings of the Imperial Palace. It takes a terrifying moment for Swift and River to find the hidden entrance into the wing from the outside. Sesus Eshuvar hurries them nervously, and Ganan swings his tetsubo through the air, testingly, expecting trouble… but no trouble comes. Righteous River opens the door and the strike team sneaks inside.

    Ganan easily points out the next secret passage, and they sneak through to the Regent’s chambers.

    ****

    Melody’s riders charge past the rearguard and she draws her bow, sighting the rapidly advancing Stormwind: a single figure rides it. A figure wearing white and purple. Melody curses, lowers her weapon, and signals her cavalry to stand-down. She waits for the sorcerer to draw closer, before bellowing to her: “Set down, Nula!”

    ****

    The Hungry Ghost of Regent Tepet Fokuf is a pathetic thing. As the strike team draws close, Ganan senses it and advances, looking carefully in his mirrored bracers. With two quick strikes, he knocks the ravening beast down and smashes it to ectoplasm. Reya kneels at the decomposing body of the Regent, whispers a few words of commemoration, and touches it – consuming it in her mystic fire.

    Righteous River wrinkles her nose in disgust, “Why would they not give Fokuf a proper burial?”

    She crouches and examines the salt lines placed around the Regent’s quarters. Her foot kicks over a stack of lurid Immaculate Texts, slightly water damaged.

    “Don’t underestimate the power of raw contempt.” Ganan intones as he moves on. He creeps out into the hallway and proceeds towards the throne room.

    ****

    Mnemon Alinos Nula drops her Stormwind Rider and approaches Melody on foot with her hands raised.

    “Oban wanted Berit to know that the Myion campaign was a success. We’ve taken the capital and driven the Cathak into the sea.” She beams at her aunt, she waivers slightly, giddy with exhaustion.

    Melody raises an eyebrow, “So he sent you across the country on a Stormwind Rider?”

    Nula shrugs, “He asked me to send word to Berit. It’s possible that he meant with an Infallible Messenger.” She grins from ear-to-ear as she staggers forward, “But I’m not missing this battle. Take me to mother.”

    Melody shakes her head, “Hop up, kid.”

    ****

    The strike force makes it to the doors of the throne room without encountering any resistance.

    Ganan boots open the door.

    A powerful Cathak sits on the Scarlet Throne, young and vital. In his hands are the legendary weapons of that ancient veteran Cathak Cainan, the jade short daiklaves Tempering Wisdom and Inferno Razor. He wears Cainan’s legendary jade armor, Unbowed-by-Armies. Yet where our heroes know Cathak Cainan as a Dragon-Blooded of advanced years, before them is a young man, seemingly freshly Exalted. He does not seem surprised to see them.

    A scale of elite bodyguards stands to his left, led by an elite Dragon-Blooded in Cathak colors. A scale of the Legion of Silence stands to his right.

    Reya calls targets, “Ganan, Aharon: take the boy-king. Swift, River, Eshuvar: the Cathaks. Riven, you and I have the Legion of Silence.”

    “Oh, I have been looking forward to this!” Ganan grins as he charges forward.

    The Cathak Bodyguard rushes to block Ganan’s path, but Kingfisher Swift reaches them first and punts them to one side, as Righteous River crashes into the mortal guards. Riven intercepts the Legion of Silence, taking the inhumanly large fighters head-on with her massive weapon.

    Ganan lets the flow of combat shift around him as the other fighters find their marks.

    Cainan rises from the throne and charges forward. Twin daiklaves smash against Ganan’s tetsubo, turning the heavier weapon aside. Through the opening in Ganan’s defenses, Cainan’s blades hammer of Ganan’s Invulnerable Skin, beating him into Earth Dragon Form as Ganan’s anima fully manifests. Ganan exhales as he is driven back by the assault. Like ice running across hot steel, Cainan strikes again, moving with the speed of a master swordsman, he exploits the gap in Ganan’s defenses to drive home another flurry of attacks.

    Aharon charges forward with his halberd. Cainan explodes in a ball of fire: he seems a demon, terror incarnate. But Aharon steels himself and slices into the heart of the flame, his mighty, two-handed weapon smashing into Cainan’s armor, knocking him back half a step and giving Ganan some breathing space.

    With her shield at the ready, Reya speaks the burning name, sending a gout of mystical flame over the Legion of Silence. The magically enhanced troops raise their shields against this attack and split their attention between Reya and Riven.

    The Cathak bodyguard rises and launches herself at Swift. Eshuvar throws a chakram at them as Swift rushes in again. The elite Cathak troops fall like wheat before a thresher as River plows into them.

    Aharon swings his halberd around again, hammering Cainan back on the defensive with punishing diagonal sweeps. Cainan’s anima blasts forth as an explosive bonfire.

    Cainan shuffles back against the blows, but every step is measured. He smiles, sees the gap in Aharon’s defenses, and erupts forward, battering his halberd aside and raining blows against Aharon.

    Reya takes her attention from the Legion of Silence and throws a blast of flame at Cainan. He plants his feet and throws her a withering look as his anima absorbs the flames without harm.

    In the moment of distraction, Ganan rushes forward and slams his tetsubo against the elder. Cainan is thrown backward but the impact as Ganan drives him to the ground, but he immediately rises on a plume of rising heat, recovering from the assault without missing a beat as he settles into a defensive position. Ganan stands shoulder-to-shoulder (well, shoulder-to-mid-torso) with Aharon as they stare the elder down.

    “I really hope you have more than one trick,” Cainan grins, clearly enjoying the fight to the death, “This is going to be easier than I thought.”

    The Legion of Silence swarms over Riven Dusk, pinning her down as the giant soldiers swarm over her.

    Ganan keeps his mouth shut as he barrels into Cainan again. The Emperor waits until Ganan is almost upon him, before neatly stepping to the side, using his blades to guide Ganan’s tetsubo past him. Moving with an Agata's grace, Ganan draws on the power of his crystal bound demon. He twists around Cainan and drives his tetsubo forward again. Cainan reverses his grip, stepping into Ganan’s blow.

    Cainan levers Ganan’s blow away from his body and twists his daiklaves round inside Ganan’s guard. Ganan’s anima condenses for a moment into a man made of sand who seems to grab at Cainan’s blades at the last moment… but the elder Cathak slices through Ganan’s anima and hammer against his Invulnerable Skin.

    Aharon sees Cainan strike at Ganan and rushes to his side. He strikes with an overhead blow, reasoning there’s no way Cainan can reposition his blades to block it in time. But instead of blocking, Cainan launches his blades forward and catches Aharon in the mid-rift. Cainan’s roaring bonfire of an anima burns less brightly as Aharon’s ribs break under the assault. Aharon spits a glob of blood.

    Torn between helping Aharon and helping Riven, Reya runs at Cainan. “Eshuvar, help Riven!” Reya cries as she barrels into Cainan with her shield. Cainan pushes the wounded Aharon aside and slams his blades into Reya’s shield, turning her attack aside.

    Cainan follows up his parry with a series of striking blows, putting Reya on the defensive. Reya desperately swings her shield to block Cainan’s whirling blades sagging under the attack.

    Eshuvar throws a chakram at the Legion of Silence as their bodies completely encase Riven Dusk. One of the mighty warriors falls under Eshuvar’s assault.

    Cainan keeps up his assault on Reya, smashing her shield aside and causing her to miss her footing and stagger. He looms over her, ready to land the killing blow.

    “‘And the Daughter of the Empress will not claim the Sword, but it shall fall to another.’” As Cainan monologues. Our heroes become aware of three more figures in the room Ylva Wataru stands to the left of the throne, Amon Mora to the right of the throne, and Ragara sits casually upon the throne. The carved jade dragons seem to leer out threateningly from behind him.

    Aharon makes a wild swing at Cainan, who casually blocks the blow with one sword, keeping the other leveled at Reya.

    “Spare me your prophecies!” Ganan bellows as he smashes into Cainan. Cainan turns, his anima roaring as he seeks to repeat the same defense he used on Aharon – a good offense – but Ganan is ready for him. Ganan strikes not for Cainan’s body, but for the point where Cainan’s blades would meet his torso, and with the superior reach and weight of his weapon, he delivers a weapon shattering strike. Focusing the power of Earth through his weapon, spiderweb cracks spread through-out Cainan’s blades, rendering them useless.

    Cainan drops his broken blades, turns his back on Reya, and settles into a boxing stance – his fists igniting into flame. He seems to notice Ragara sitting on his throne for the first time and pulls a sour face.

    River puts the last of the Cathak troops to rout as Swift delivers a punishing blow to Cainan’s bodyguard, and watches with satisfaction as she drops to the ground and does not get up.

    Aharon charges at Cainan, who grabs the flaming halberd behind the blade, ripping the weapon from his hands. Cainan turns, spinning the mighty weapon in a broad arc as he circles the Hearth, setting himself between them and the throne.

    “‘And they will clash. The one restored to youth who sits upon the throne. And the one who crossed the Isle on the winds-of-storm to stop him. But only one can claim the weapon.’” Cainan bows, “Our Sidereal friend would not help me claim the Realm Defense Grid unless I could prove my worth. Frankly, I was insulted. Even now Berit blunders into my trap, just as I lured you here.”

    Righteous River and her Hearth line up behind Reya.

    Reya smirks at Cainan, “Yeah, your plan seems to be going really well.” She settles herself behind her shield.

    “Riven, kill the spares.” Cainan commands, and the Legion of Silence parts with Riven Dusk at their head.

    ****

    Melody and Nula breach the walls of the Imperial City, and Berit’s troops pour inside.

    Clapper wades into the streets, the beast’s mighty tail grazing buildings built too close to the streets. Melody flashes her eyes back and forth, but there are no legions assembled to meet them in battle.

    “Take the walls.” Melody commands and the troops break into the internal defenses of the Imperial City and flood the walls.

    Melody turns to Nula, “How much resistance did the Nellens legions face in Myion?”

    Nula makes a face, “Five dragons of infantry.”

    Half a legion? To defend the Cathak ancestral homelands?” Melody lowers her bow, “And no-one thought that was suspicious?”

    Nula shrugs and yawns, “They’re spread across the entire Isle. We assumed the bulk of their forces would be… here… in the capital.” She looks around her, bewildered, “Wait… where the hell are they?”

    Melody springs from Clapper’s back, “Nula, Stormwind us to the Palace! Now!”

    ****

    The treacherous Riven Dusk points her Goremaul at River and her Hearth and the Legion of Silence move forward.

    “Finish this!” River calls as her comrades charge the sorcerous troops, their animas burning bright as three bonfires.

    Ganan stands ready with his tetsubo, moving to Reya’s side. Aharon takes her other flank, turning the wounded side of his body away from Cainan.

    Cainan gives the heroes a salute, “The Cathak legions are safely encamped in Corin Prefecture. Alongside the Ragara legions. And the Cynis legions. And our army of mercenaries. Meanwhile, the Sesus legions have been all but destroyed, the Nellens legions marched to the far side of the Isle, and Berit has been obliging enough to march the rest of your forces here – dividing you to the Isle’s two extremes. You will die and the Realm Defense Grid will be mine. I have not left my fate to chance.”

    The heroes clash again. Ganan barrels into Cainan and the Emperor turns his stolen halberd. Jade clashes against jade as Cainan throws Ganan’s attack back.

    Reya and Aharon charge together. Reya batter’s Cainan with her shield: with his halberd high in the air from parrying Ganan, it takes him a moment to bring it down again to block Reya. As his halberd clangs off Reya’s shield, Aharon reaches him, tackling him about the waist.

    Cainan delivers an elbow-strike to the back of Aharon’s head, wrestling his way free.

    ****

    Melody and Nula Stormwind to the gates of the Imperial Palace. They find troops in V’neef colors, putting down a pitiful handful of defenders.

    Melody identifies the V’neef commander, “I am Dragonlord Mnemon Melody. How much opposition did you face?”

    The V’neef commander eyes Melody suspiciously before answering, “Hardly any. A dragon of wounded Cathak troops, and a few locals. I was expecting stiffer resistance here.” She pauses for a moment, “Trierarch V’neef Bijar.” She says by way of introduction.

    V’neef soldiers bring a battering ram to the palace gates and start to break their way inside.

    ****

    The Legion of Silence overwhelms River’s exhausted Hearth. They pin the Dragons down and hold them at knifepoint.

    Cainan makes use of the full reach of Aharon’s halberd, keeping the heroes back. Riven makes her way to his side.

    Cainan turns and nods at Ragara, beckoning him forward. “As I said, I have not left my fate to chance.”

    Ragara rises from the throne. His hair is gray, his face jowly. He is old and stiff, yet every step he takes is laden with power. With his right hand, he ponderously draws a wicked looking reaper daiklave made of black jade and soulsteel. In his left hand, he carries the Starmetal bound walking stick. The palace seems to shake as he strides with slow, deliberate purpose to Cathak Cainan’s side.

    “Neither have I.” Ragara declares as he plunges his daiklave through Cainan’s back. The slender, single-edged blade punches through Cainan’s legendary armor, emerging from the front. Cainan stares down at the blade protruding from his body, his mouth working in silent confusion.

    Cainan’s anima seems to fall in on itself, drawn into the black jade penetrating his chest. Before our heroes’ eyes, Cainan seems to age. In seconds he is returned to the grizzled appearance he is famed for, but he doesn’t stop aging – the work lines on his face turn to deep wrinkles, his hair turns gray, his body seems to wither, becoming sunken and bloodless. Ragara’s blade seems to radiate darkness, sucking in all light and magic. Cainan’s eyes go dim and close. Ragara kicks the corpse from his blade as the dark energy contained in his blade floods into his body. The skin around Ragara’s face tightens. His gray hair becomes shot through with streaks of flaming red. His joints seem to loosen, and he stands a little taller. Unlike Cainan, he does not appear restored to the prime of youth, but he no longer seems to be on death’s door. He gestures for Riven and her troops to stand down, and the melee breaks apart.

    Reya approaches him slowly, “Crossed the Isle on a Stormwind? Restored to youth?”

    “I forge my own destiny Mnemon Danireya.” Ragara’s voice is deep and powerful, “The troops in Corin answer to me. As does Riven here.”

    ****

    Melody and the V’neef forces break into the Palace. Nula urges caution, expecting some kind of mystic maze of magical traps. Melody chomps at the bit, but the famed mystic defenses of the Realm’s seat of power are conspicuously absent.

    “It’s like…” Nula remarks, “Someone is letting us in?”

    ****

    Amon Mora watches Ragara’s treachery with tacit silence, idly thumbing The First Imperial Seal – the key to the Imperial Palace – between his fingers.

    “We are not enemies, Mnemon Danireya.” Ragara booms, “I will be Emperor. Berit will have her Great House. I will honor the promises I made to V’neef before you turned her against me. And I shall honor Cainan’s pledge of aid to Lookshy against Thorns – that ought to please your Ledaal allies.” He pauses, “I know that Mnemon will never forgive me, but my last decades have given me time to reflect on my life. I am ashamed of how I treated her, and I mean her no ill-will. If she will shave her head, and pledge herself to the Immaculate Order, then I will grant her every boon she desires: access to the Heptagram, purging of the Iselsi… I shall move the base of the Immaculate Order to the Imperial City, or to Mnemon-Darjilis if she desires. I will guarantee that her House will stand.”

    “Why should we trust you!?” Ganan shoots back at him.

    Ragara gestures and the Legion of Silence release River and her Hearth. “My sister will make a poor Empress. She carries grudges like an anchor on her heart, and she crushes the ambitious and the powerful. She will turn on you. I have spent my twilight years in contemplation. I have built an empire based on trade and negotiation, and when my time had passed, I ceded power to the next generation. Can you imagine Mnemon ceding power? Ever?”

    Aharon points at the Starmetal walking stick, “If you weren’t wielding the weapons of the Anathema and standing over the dead body of your ally, I might even have believed that.”

    Ragara smiles, and looks at Reya, “Don’t believe me, then. But I name you, Mnemon Danireya, as my successor. When I die, you will be Empress. Betray and murder me if you must. But first I will claim the Realm Defense Grid and turn it on the Anathema who are conquering the Threshold.”

    Reya falters for just a moment, dropping her guard, and at that moment, Ylva finishes casting a spell: a blazing corona of Essence wraps itself around her, Ragara, Mora, and Riven… and they disappear in a flash of light.

    Melody, Nula, and V’neef Bijar burst into the throne room just as the Ragara and the Sidereal disappear into thin air.

    Nula looks down on Cainan’s dead body, “Did we win?” She asks.

    Amon Mora clears his throat, having not disappeared with the others, “Not yet.”

    ****

    Reya spends 8XP to train Masterful Dragon-Artisan Expertise.


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

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    • #77
      Session 66 – Under the Rose – Reya (210XP 168DX, 203/143 spent; 9GP 36SP), Melody (210XP 168DX, 208/146 spent), and Ganan (210XP 168DX, 187/153 spent; 8WhP 59GP 74SP)

      How many named characters can I kill off in one session?

      Violence, death, peril, depictions of loss.

      Ylva Wataru, Sidereal; Ragara, Son of the Empress; and Riven Dusk, Berit’s right-hand woman disappear from the Imperial Throne Room in a flash of light. The dead body of Cathak Cainan lies on the ground, the life stolen from him by Ragara’s cursed sword – Blood Zenith.

      Aharon Saber Edge retrieves his fallen halberd and Cynis Ganan picks up Cainan’s broken daiklaves.

      Mnemon Nula addresses the others (Mnemon Danireya, Mnemon Melody, Kingfisher Swift, Righteous River, Sesus Eshuvar, V’neef Bijar, and Amon Mora), “Did we win?”

      Amon Mora, Keeper of the First Imperial Seal, answers grimly, “Not yet.” He casts a weather eye over the assembled Dynasts. His gaze seems to linger on the Outcastes – Melody, Aharon, Swift – as if he is judging them.

      Reya clasps her sister-in-law by the forearm in greeting, “It was a lure. The Cathak legions are camped to the South.”

      Melody nods at her, “We worked that out – they left Myion undefended as well.” She motions for Aharon to sit down, and approaches him, getting out her Satchel of Resplendent Healing. She turns her attention to Mora, “If you’ve got something to say, old man, now is the time to say it.”

      Amon Mora holds himself tall. His face is pinched as if he were about to perform a distasteful chore. “Ragara and his Sidereal allies are making for the heart of the Imperial Manse. Its magic makes it impossible to teleport inside.” He holds up the First Imperial Seal, “And even I cannot penetrate the manse’s inner defenses. But Cathak Cainan spent the winter drilling: digging down past the defenses. That is no-doubt where Ragara and his allies have gone. We can go through the palace. We’ll need a rope.”

      ****

      Amon Mora uses the Imperial Seal to mark those assembled with his authority to travel through the Imperial Palace, and he leads them to the manse at the heart of the Imperial Palace. On the way, they stop at storehouses and wheel out great wheels of rope, pitons, and climbing gear – none of the Dynasts are surprised that the Imperial Palace should contain such oddities. A great drill-shaft is dug outside the manse. Amon approaches the entrance to the manse, Imperial Seal outstretched, but the great doors refuse him admittance to the Empress’s inner mysteries.

      “The shaft extends for miles.” He offers Reya the Imperial Seal, “You’ll have to rappel down, meaning Ragara has a significant head-start on you.”

      “So we rappel down, and smash through the side of the manse?” Ganan asks, “Sounds easy enough.” He immediately sets to work making a crude climbing rig from the rope and the tools they’ve assembled. It doesn’t really fall inside his area of expertise, but he puts together a serviceable system of counterweights (-10SP: 6GP, 3SP).

      V’neef Bijar shakes her head as Ganan works, “The walls of the Imperial Manse itself are indestructible. It is built to withstand the ending of Creation itself. Believe me, I know.”

      “And who are you?” Ganan asks, grumpily refusing to even look up from his work.

      “V’neef Bijar.” It’s a name Ganan recognizes as one of the foremost geomancers of the Realm.

      “Oh.” Ganan pauses for a brief round of introductions, “How are Ragara and Ylva getting inside?”

      “That’s your fault.” A new voice calls out.

      The heroes turn and see an old man approach.

      “Chejop Kejak.” Reya grimaces as Ganan and Aharon take up arms.

      “Don’t embarrass yourselves.” Chejop chides. He snaps his fingers at Bijar, “Book.” He commands simply, drawing out an audient brush. Reluctantly, Bijar hands over a large, leather-bound book, which Chejop lays open on the ground. He waves a hand and the brush dances over the pages, adding notes and correcting illustrations.

      “What do you mean, it’s my fault?” Ganan asks, not lowering his weapon.

      “Ylva was one of my most devoted disciples.” Chejop begins, “That House Ragara would try to plunder the Valley of the Ancients was not suspicious, nor was it odd that Ylva would lead the Heptagram in the first response. Odd, perhaps, that Ragara would be there.”

      “The disrupted geomancy.” Reya says, “The Imperial Manse was at risk of exploding, but we changed the geomancy.”

      Chejop nods, “With two giant dragon statues, and by dragging a temple manse into the wrong position.” He walks over to Melody, the only one of the Hearth not with a weapon raised against him, and places a ball of golden string in her hands, “Combined with Cainan’s efforts, and the dark sorceries of House Ragara, it has left the outer wall of the manse vulnerable. In fact…”

      Beyond the walls of the Imperial Palace, flames leap high into the sky as the Imperial City is rocked by coordinated strikes against the city’s geomancy. Explosions and collapsing buildings devastate the capital. At the same time, far beneath them, there is a mighty explosion. Two giant plumes of essence fire streak into the sky from the sides of the manse.

      “That should be Ragara’s henchmen overloading the manse’s defenses now.” He wanders over to the mine-shaft and looks down into the pitch darkness “Their breach is half-a-mile down. With the geomantic disruption, the manse’s most powerful defenses should be compromised.”

      “And you’re helping us… why?” Ganan asks, shifting his grip on his tetsubo, ready to knock Chejop into the pit.

      “I favored Cainan for Emperor. I… manipulated events to support his ascension. A strong, military commander – dedicated to fighting the Anathema instead of her own political aggrandizement – is what Creation needs. I do not favor Ragara. He is a bureaucrat, ruined by years of introspection. Do not imagine that his sons will yield power to him easily. Ragara’s ascension will only prolong this civil war, and it will be all the more devastating if he commands the Realm Defense Grid. The Grid takes a terrible toll on the Blessed Isle – Ragara cannot use it to simply wipe his threshold enemies from the map. And worst of all, even with Cainan’s stolen life-force coursing through him, Ragara has no more than a century left to live – likely not even a third of that. A new civil war in three decades?” He gestures at Reya, “Even if Ragara names a successor, do you think the Great Houses will simply accept his decrees? No, Mnemon is a poor choice for the throne, but she is the only choice left to me.”

      Ganan leans into Reya, “Actually that does make sense.”

      Reya sets her lips in a hard line, “Unfortunately, yes it does.”

      Chejop’s brush reaches the end of Bijar’s book, and he crosses over to it, scoops it up, and returns it to her.

      “So, you’re going to help us stop Ragara?” Melody asks.

      Chejop snorts, waves a hand, and walks back towards the palace.

      “I don’t like that guy,” Aharon says.

      Ganan shoulders his tetsubo and pats Aharon on the back, “I know, big guy. I know.”

      Reya turns the others, “That makes ten of us. Two fangs. Melody, Ganan, Aharon, and V’neef Bijar – with me. Nula, you take Swift, River, Eshuvar, and Mora.”

      Ganan and Melody begin fastening ropes, with Swift and Nula following their lead.

      Amon Mora looks down the mine-shaft, “I’m not going down there.” He says definitively, leaning on his cane, “That’s why I gave you the seal.”

      “Mora, I don’t know what your problem is with me, but you wouldn’t have handed this over if you didn’t realize what is at stake. Ragara will plunge the Realm into chaos. The Blessed Isle will be carved up by dozens of different warlords, and Ragara will ravage our shores with a weapon he does not comprehend. With every passing second, Ragara gains on us. We need every hero the Realm can muster.” Reya ministers, and looks into Amon Mora’s face for a reaction.

      Mora shakes his head in the way only an old man can, “And there are a hundred Dragon-Blooded pouring over the walls of the city right now. Pick one of them. Call Berit.”

      Reya approaches him and takes his hand, “Can you trust that any one of them, even Berit, would not try to seize the Realm Defense Grid? That they wouldn’t be worse than Ragara? Even if they could get here on time?” She searches his eyes, “We may not see eye-to-eye, but I trust you not to destroy the Realm, and I need your help to save it.”

      The others don’t wait for Reya’s speech to end: as soon as the first lines are secure they begin rappelling down. Only Aharon waits for Reya and Mora so he can help them, Mora seems surprisingly capable as he swings his legs over into the darkness.

      Melody leads the descent, creating vine ropes with her arrows when needed, twisting the wood-essence to drop them in twenty-yard lengths, supplementing the palace ropes. They uproot the rope as they go, letting out line to drop lower and lower. The Dragon-Blooded’s animas are still blazing and glowing from the fight in the throne room, which provides light for the entire descent. It takes them half-an-hour to make the climb, but which time some of their animas have dimmed. At the bottom of the mine-shaft, a great hole has been blown in the indestructible marble of the Imperial Manse. Already the hole is starting to close – regenerating itself like coral – but the self-repair looks like it will be a matter of hours, not seconds. Ganan snaps off a piece of the regenerating marble, but it does not continue to “heal” once separated from the manse.

      “We all need to stick together.” Bijar warns, “The manse is used as a prison for the Anathema, and for good reason, it is a labyrinth – enchanted. The corridors are treacherous, they shift and change, once we go in, we might never find our way out.”

      Melody ties one end of the golden ball of string to the regenerating marble and sets the ball on the ground. Though there is no perceptible angle to the floor, the ball immediately starts rolling forward. “I say we follow that.” She says, pointing.

      The Dragons enter the manse, sticking together in a large group and following the ball of string. The marble walls are easily a yard thick, but once they’ve jostled their way inside, they find themselves in a huge corridor – easily wide enough to ride Clapper through, and tall enough that the Cathedral of Annihilation could walk the halls unbowed. Melody summons her phantom steed and mounts up. Seeing the wisdom in this, Ganan orders his agata to materialize and rides his mount as well. The hallway seems to be made, not of marble, but of jade-steel. Great chandeliers of phosphorescent crystals give off a constant golden light. Everything shines. Great murals of gold and precious gemstones adorn the walls, and as the Dragons follow the vast hallway they pass reliquaries displaying inhuman skeletons encased in glass, vases of eternally blooming flowers, and various other strange and wonderful treasures, which cause even the jaded Dynasts to gape.

      The ball of string rolls over out of sight, turning corners just a moment before the Dynasts can catch up to them. Ganan and Melody resist the urge to race ahead, heading Bijar’s warning to stay together. After a few minutes, they reach the sight of a great battle. The heroes recognize one of Ragara’s Hearth surrounded by a dozen dead demons. Ganan quickly recognizes a few of the more common demons of the First Circle, but their leader appears to be of a more potent breed. Set into the wall is a vast beast, large enough to dwarf Octavian, encased in amethyst. It is hard to make out the figure’s form beneath the shifting facets of the purple crystal. Ragara’s Hearthmate has been stripped of her artifacts and laid in gentle repose.

      The Dragon-Blooded pick their way past the corpses. Some fifty yards later the grand décor of the hallway turns dour – plain black stone, neither lit nor adorned for some thirty yards before the majestic decoration resumes. Reya looks to Bijar for answers, but she just shakes her head mutely and thumbs through her journal, looking for any annotations made by Chejop that might help.

      “Proceed with caution,” Reya commands.

      Ganan dismounts, and gestures for Amon and Nula to ride on his agata. Carefully he and Melody edge forward onto the black stretch of corridor.

      Immediately lighting arcs of essence run through the walls. The coalesce in midair, some twenty feet off the ground, across the entire length of the corridor. At first, it looks like a pipe made of lightning, but it is seconds before it takes on a draconic shape. A lesser elemental dragon of air forming and rearing back to attack the intruders.

      Ganan grips his tetsubo and prepares to fight a mindless beast, but the elemental hesitates for a moment. It studies them carefully. When it speaks, it is with the voice of a levinbolt. The words are less heard as seared into the Dragon-Blooded’s eyes.

      ACCESS DENIED, TERRESTRIALS

      “Well, it’s not attacking us, at least,” Melody says to Reya, her bow drawn.

      Reya nods mutely back at her, then clears her throat and presents the Imperial Seal, “We need to go on, to stop Ragara and Ylva… the unauthorized intruders who were here ahead of us.

      LEVEL THREE ACCESS ACKNOWLEDGED. LEVEL TWO ACCESS REQUIRED. ACCESS DENIED.

      The elemental shifts into a fighting position, drawing down to the ground to block their passage. Its bulk makes the ground tremble as it sets down.

      Bijar closes her journal, “It’s a trick.” She says confidently, “An illusion projection. That’s how Ragara and his entourage passed. Look.”

      She walks out as if to pass the elemental. It lets her approach, watching her with eyes that crackle with lightning. Bijar reaches the dragon’s head, turns, and waves to the others, “See nothing to be afraid of.” She turns back and makes to move past the dragon. She travels two steps before the dragon’s claw swipes through the air and cuts her in two.

      Ganan rushes forward with his tetsubo and smashes into the beast. The dragon roars and rears up under the assault.

      The elemental looks down on the Dragon-Blooded and exhales a great gout of lighting that arcs between them. Mora, Nula, and Eshuvar are blasted back and fall prone from the onslaught. Ganan, standing at the forefront of the blast is badly dazed.

      Aharon leaps across the gap to hammer the dragon, slashing out with his halberd. The elemental batters him with its claws but despite the size difference between them, Aharon manages to gain the upper hand, like a mouse confronting an elephant.

      Melody drives her phantom warhorse round and peppers the elemental with arrows. Though her attack is mighty, the vast size of the elemental stops her from gaining a definitive advantage.

      The other Dragon-Blooded rain attacks on the elemental, but their blows have little effect.

      Aharon slashes again, burning with fire essence. His halberd slips between the elemental’s scales and draws forth godly ichor, setting the beast at a distinct disadvantage.

      The elemental coils around Aharon, twisting its long, serpentine body around him. Despite Aharon’s height, he is like a child to the vast dragon who easily constricts him.

      Melody fires another volley of arrows into the beast, and it twists its scales to shield itself from her attacks.

      Ganan recovers his wits and rushes to help Aharon, smashing the dragon’s coils with his tetsubo, buying Aharon some breathing room.

      The other Dragon-Blooded continue their onslaught against the elemental – but now their blows are more effective, cracking scales and driving the beat back as they open new wounds.

      Melody exhales as she looses, aiming right for one of the elemental’s eyes. The arrow strikes true and the elemental bellows with rage.

      Aharon balls a flaming fist and drives it straight into the elemental’s body, smashing its mighty blue scales.

      Ganan barrels into the elemental striking it with his tetsubo, in punishing, bone-crunching blows. The dragon drops Aharon. The other Dragon-Blooded capitalize on the downed elemental to slash, burn, stab and bludgeon it until it stops moving.

      Sesus Eshuvar brushes the hair from his eyes, “Well, that was bracing!”

      Reya stops over Bijar’s body and takes her journal. She lays the fallen Dragon-Blooded in a state of graceful repose (at least so far as such things are possible when you’re sliced in half) and says a few words in prayer.

      Ganan cuts out the elemental’s teeth and pockets them.

      “We need to move before the manse generates another one,” Melody warns, and the party continues on following the ball of golden thread.

      ****

      The ball of thread finally comes into view, having stopped in an innocuous section of the corridor. The remaining Dragon-Blooded approach cautiously. Nula and Mora swoop in on the back of Tisi, who descend from the air to examine the ball. As they draw closer, Nula spots something… a ripple in the air in front of her – like a heat mirage, or a stone cast into the surface of a pond. She banks Tisi hard. The demon’s legs whip into the air, contacting the shimmering patch of twisted reality and the demon gives a screech of pain and alien horror. Nula throws herself backward off the demon planting her feet on the ground as Tisi and Amon Mora continue into the rippling unreality field. The results are horrific. The Beauteous Wasp is twisted inside out, brightly colored scales piercing its own body and demonic viscera spilling out. It falls to the floor, twitching for several seconds before mercifully dying. Amon Mora is not so lucky. He collapses into a gelatinous mass of burbling flesh, unable to move or even scream. The flesh wobbles obscenely for nearly two minutes as the Dragon-Blooded watch on in horror, unable to help. The golden ball of string has stopped just before where the manse’s hideous trap is set. Where Mora carrying anything of use before, it is gone now.

      Ganan examines the features of the wall by the trap. There are seven alcoves that look like they might have one contained rare treasures, as befitting the rest of the manse. Unlike the rest of the manse, dust has been allowed to gather in these empty alcoves. Ganan examines them carefully but can see no mechanism within that might disable the traps.

      A patrol of demons appears at the end of the corridor: two blood apes, each wearing living armor, and each riding on an agata. The Dragon-Blooded rank up and prepare for combat. The manse’s bound demons give a war-cry as they rush towards the Dragon-Blooded… and then they stop, hanging in mid-air stupidly. The apes give a panicked shout of fear and turn their agata and spur them to race away in the opposite direction.

      “Yeah, you’d better run!” Melody shouts after them.

      “I don’t think they’re running from us!" Reya shouts.

      A chittering, mechanical buzzing starts to drone ever louder.

      “What is that?” Melody asks, dismounting from her horse.

      A cloud of tiny, mechanical grasshoppers swoops around the corridor. The trailing Blood Ape was too slow to avoid them. The swarm of thousands passes over him, devouring the ape, demon armor, and wasp, stripping them in seconds and not even leaving behind bones. The grasshoppers eat every mote of them, not leaving behind a single speck or drop of blood. Ganan looks to the dusty alcoves:

      “Get in the alcoves!” He shouts, “Get out of the corridor!”

      The other seven Dragon-Blooded each squash into the alcoves, pressing themselves hard against the walls. Ganan stands in the entryway of Reya’s, blocking it off with his body. He takes his tetsubo in hand, focusing his power into the weapon which starts to hum with power.

      The scourswarm swoops past, ignoring the alcoves and the Dragon-Blooded inside. They swarm over Melody’s steed, devouring the essence construct as surely as they swept up the demons. When they reach Reya’s alcove with Ganan standing outside, he smiles apologetically at her:

      “Sorry love, brace yourself.”

      Drawing on his immaculate training and the mystic power in his weapon, Ganan hammers his tetsubo into the ground, creating a massive, rippling shock-wave. A hundred tiny mouths bite into his Invulnerable Skin before being blasted away by the massive wave of power. The swarm passes over them without causing any harm. The reality distortion wave drops to allow the scourswarm to pass – and they eat the remains of Tisi and Amon Mora. The golden ball of string starts to roll once more, and Ganan bellows:

      “Quick, after the string!”

      Without hesitating, Ganan runs into the deactivated trap, and when he isn’t turned inside out, the others follow him. The scourswarm pursues their route unintelligently, without turning back to clean up the Dynasts, and once they are clear there is a slight mechanical hum from behind the Dragon-Blooded as the trap reactivates.

      The string continues through more lavish corridors, and the Dragon-Blooded find more demon bodies left by Ragara’s wake – there’s no evidence of Second Circle demons or dead Dragon-Blooded among the remains, and no more amethyst constructs.

      Ganan reaches out with his senses, straining for any more traps. The golden ball of string has rolled straight through a room with a high vaulted ceiling, but Ganan senses four invisible pillars in the room and calls a halt to the party before they proceed.

      “Does the string look all… messed up to you?” Melody asks. The golden string, a perfectly straight line elsewhere in the manse, does look like it’s been messed up. Ganan points out the invisible pillars.

      “Be ready,” Ganan warns. Melody nocks and draws an arrow. Ganan carefully edges into the room. As soon as he is inside, the gravity in the room inverts – just like in the House of Blackwaters. And just as before Melody is ready – she fires a vine arrow and Ganan catches hold as Aharon and Swift braces her. Ganan clutches at the vine with one hand, suspended twenty feet above the floor, and eighty feet from the ceiling. The golden string has also been affected by the room’s strange gravity, pulled into the air. Painstakingly, the other Dragon-Blooded haul Ganan up until he’s only four feet from the floor. Ganan releases his tetsubo which falls the remaining distance to hit the ceiling with a resounding crash. The gravity in the room flips again, and Ganan lands neatly on his feet, before stepping to the side to avoid his falling weapon. The golden string also falls to the ground, becoming even more messed up than before. The Dragon-Blooded quickly hurry across the room.

      Feeling like they’re not making any ground on Ragara, the Dragon-Blooded notice the designs of the manse starting to change. There’s less art on the walls now, and mechanical devices start to show through: finely wrought, gilded metal pipes, exposed crystal clockworks, and grinding gears, mechanical vents that look like intricate spider webs spun in wire that extrude sweet-smelling smoke.

      Again the Dragon-Blooded see the evidence of Ragara’s passing: four, four-armed golems sheared in half, their glass face-plates shattered. The outer skin of the constructs is made of white jade, and intricate interlocking clockworks are visible in their shattered insides. The faces of the constructs are masks made of some kind of ivory. The creature’s upper pair of arms look like tools – vice, like clamps with a finger-like array of screwdrivers and other tools built into the claws. The lower arms also look like vice-like clamps, but these house flamethrowers – not unlike the Barrel Golems of The Zianosen. Once more Ganan takes samples, prying up the broken halves of the construct’s masks.

      “Do you have to do that?” Melody hisses.

      Ganan looks back at her and shrugs, “When are we going to be in here again?”

      “Haven’t enough of us died?! We need to catch up with Ragara!” Melody shoots back.

      “Gan, no more samples. Melody is right.” Reya says decisively, waving the party forward, “Come on, we need to pick up the pace.”

      *****

      The corridors in the Imperial Manse get steadily less decorative. The vents are no longer stylized as spider-webs, and the smoke no longer smells sweet – stinging and burning the eyes as the Dragon-Blooded hurry past. The pipes are more common, larger and bundled together, and eventually they pass from being gilded, to merely polished, to raw, burnished iron.

      Suddenly the golden string makes a sharp right angle, falling through a concealed door: human-sized, unlike the enormous proportions of the hallways and rooms they have moved through so far. (Aharon has to duck to pass through this door.) The Dragon-Blooded follow the string as it leads into a darkened room. The stench of acid fills the air. The walls of this room are scaled to human proportions – the corridor not more than two yards wide, the ceiling no more than three yards high. With no windows and dim lighting, it seems very claustrophobic compared to the Warstrider scaled hallways they have been passing through thus far. The walls of this room are shrouded in darkness, but the Dragon-Blooded suspect they aren’t made of jade-steel. The ball of string has rolled up a narrow flight of stairs and across a metal walkway (just wide enough for the Dragon-Blooded to cross one at a time).

      “I’ll go first.” Ganan offers as he heads up.

      “River, bring up the rear,” Nula orders as they cross the walkway in single file.

      The walkway has no railing. It is suspended some ten feet about a vast vat of bubbling green liquid. The stench from the liquid is vile.

      Nula fixes her gaze dead ahead and whispers over to herself, “Just don’t look down.”

      Reya looks down. She immediately regrets it and whips her head back up. The walkway is only thirty feet long, they can cross it no problem.

      When they are half-way across a sudden blast of super-heated steam spurts out from the left-hand wall. The steam hits River full-on and smashes her over the side of the walkway. Her immaculate trained instincts cause to her reach out and she grabs the walkway as she falls – dangling precariously over the bubbling green liquid as she holds on with one hand.

      “I’ve got you.” Says Swift as she takes a knee. She grabs River’s other hand and hauls her back up onto the walkway and they scurry out of the way of the vent in case it should go off again.

      River’s body is covered in burns. Shakily Swift stands back up and hauls River up, carrying her on her back. The others shuffle across the walkway as fast as they dare. Ganan has cleared the other side when the second blast of steam hits Sesus Eshuvar head-on. He is blasted clear of the walkway. He twists elegantly in the air – he seems suspended in midair for a moment, a look of perfect surprise on his face. A fraction of a second later, the heat of the steam becomes evident – his body erupting into red boiled blisters. Cooling wind whips around the Air Aspect, and for a moment it seems it might carry him back to the walkway and cool his burns. And then his eyes explode. And his body drops like a stone into the vat of acid below, dissolving away to nothingness. The splash of his body hitting splatters those still on the walkway, melting shoes and weakening the metal. The whole bridge lurches. Swift staggers under River’s weight. Aharon picks Reya up by the waist and runs, clearing the walkway. They both kick off their boots as the green acid eats its way through the souls and burns the bottoms of the feet. Nula clears the distance. Then Melody. Then the bridge gives way and Swift and River fall. Swift jumps forward. Melody’s hand darts out… and she pulls Swift and River clear.

      The others remove their shoes as Melody examines River. She is burned over most of her body from the steam. A mortal would be gone for.

      Melody pumps her full of analgesics, “I need some time here!” She calls out.

      Ganan looks to the golden ball of string rolling on and turns to Reya, “It’s your call.”

      Reya looks at Melody, “You’ve got about thirty seconds. We need to keep moving.”

      “Damn you!” Melody spits at Reya without looking up, “This is going to hurt like hell.” She warns River. She passes Fire Essence over her scolded flesh, purifying the damage into a form the Dragon-Blooded body might recognize better. River writhes in agony. Melody looks up at Swift, “She’ll live, but you’re going to have to carry her.”

      Swift nods and the party moves on.

      They pass out of the narrow rooms and into the wide-open, Warstrider-sized corridors once more. The walls are now bare steel, with no decorations. Vents spew a constant miasma of foul-smelling smoke. At last, the golden ball stops in front of a room filled with thick green smoke. Despite there not being any obvious containment, the smoke stays in the room, just ahead of the golden ball. Aharon looks surprised for a moment then pushes his way forward.

      “I know this one. It’s a disintegration chamber.”

      “A what?” Melody hisses.

      Aharon unhooks a water bottle from his belt and tosses it into the fog. The metal bottle dissolves as soon as it touches the fog, and the water boils away to nothing before it can touch the floor.

      “It’s a disintegration chamber.” Aharon repeats.

      “There’s one in Paragon.” Ganan confirms, pointing to the back of the room, “You see the crystals? It’s a control panel – it gets rid of the gas.”

      “The gas,” Aharon goes on, “Is not why it’s called a disintegration chamber.” He points to another crystal array in the ceiling, “The panel activates a cleansing light that will burn everything in the room away to nothing. Including the gas. But also including the unfortunate working the control panel… unless you know the trick to it.” He turns to Ganan, “Do you know the trick to it?”

      Ganan shakes his head.

      “Then watch and learn, little man.” He hands Ganan his halberd and his powerbow, “Hold these for me. There will only be a short window between the gas being destroyed and the room-filling up again.”

      Without explaining further, Aharon wades into the room. The gas sizzles at him, burning away hair and the fur on his armor. He shows no sign of discomfort as he reaches the control panel and the other end. The crystals light up expertly under his fingers. And then a shimmering energy field appears at the entrance of the room.

      “Wait…” Ganan says, running forward. He hammers a fist on the unyielding, impenetrable wall of energy.

      The crystals in the ceiling start to glow. Aharon turns and gives the part a salute.

      “AHARON!” Ganan screams futility at the energy field.

      Purifying golden light bathes the room. The gas is completely burned away. Aharon sags under the rays for a moment… and then his body is reduced to dust, and the dust burned away to nothing. His empty jade armor lasts a moment longer but then is burned away also.

      And then the light and force-field deactivate. Ganan practically falls into the room as the energy wall disappears, and the other Dragon-Blooded rush in behind him. No sooner are the Dragon-Blooded and the golden string in the room, that it starts to move – forwards and down and an incomprehensible speed. The chamber falls as if on a slide, then comes to a smooth halt.

      The Dragon-Blooded swiftly leave the room, except Ganan who just stares numbly at where his Hearthmate used to stand. The golden ball of string continues to roll on.

      “Gan, we gotta go.” Melody calls practically pulling him from the room.

      Ganan staggers after them as the room fills with green gas again.

      Reya gently lays a hand on Ganan’s arm, “He died so we could stop Ragara. We have to stop Ragara. Are you good?”

      Ganan shakes his head to clear it, “I will be, once we kill Ragara.”

      ****

      Melody spends 8XP to train Seven-Year Swarm Volley.


      Whilst we're here:



      Cynis Falen Lorena

      A master Martial Artist, Wood Aspect Cynis Lorena is a deadly foe. Her command of Wood Dragon Style is renowned, but it's her additional mastery of White Veil, Black Claw, Dreaming Pearl Courtesan, and Swallowing Darkness Style that makes her so deadly. Mistress of one of the most infamous Houses of Constraint in Pangu Province, and the brothel officially known as the Palace of Dragons' Repose outside of Greyfalls, Lorena is an expert in human desires and a consumate politico.

      A direct blood descendent of the Scarlet Empress and her consort Tepet, by their daughter Cynis (and her daughter Cynis Falen), Cynis Falen Lorena's bloodline is impeccable - she does not have a single mortal in her direct maternal ancestery.

      Lorena's Wan genes are mostly surpressed by her southern heritage. Her grandmother Tepet Cynis Lenka assimilated the dark-skinned southern Gens Aramoko (renown for their strong blood and fierce business sense) by marriage. Lorena was the first to buck her bloodline's ties to Aramoko by marrying outside the bloodline (to Ledaal Vidad).

      Mother of Cynis Ganan and Cynis Jinabar. Pictured here with her green jade wrackstaff, Calumny (which was later passed to Cynis Falen Jinabar).

      5'8", 34C, 24" waist, 34" hips, Dress size 4/Tall. Bold features, brown eyes, dark hair and complexion. Exclusively hetrosexual. Wood Aspect Cloister of Wisdom graduate.



      Ledaal Vidad

      An air aspected graduate of the Cloister of Wisdom. Triple Immaculate Master (Air, Wood, and Water). Nephew to Ledaal Kebok (first cousin twice removed to Ledaal Kebok Corin), older brother to Ledaal Ibelin, first cousin twice removed to Ledaal Ludila, father to Cynis Ganan and Cynis Jinabar. Descended from a long line of Dragon-Blooded on both his mother and father's lines, his pedigree is not as storied as Lorena's, but is never-the-less remarkable.

      Ledaal Vidad's passion is as a lay monk. Exclusively homosexual. He hasn't been seen since departing for The Caul seven years ago.

      5'5", small build. Noble features, light complexion and strawberry blonde hair. Piercing, bright blue eyes inheritted by his son and four grand-children. Awful fashion sense (see pictured enchanted monocle attached to ear-ring).
      Last edited by JohnDoe244; 01-10-2021, 05:47 PM.


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

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      • #78
        Session 67 – The Man Who Would Be King – Reya (215XP 172DX, 203/143 spent; 9GP 36SP), Melody (215XP 172DX, 208/146 spent), and Ganan (215XP 172DX, 187/153 spent; 8WhP 59GP 74SP)

        Foul language, named character death (I just love killing). Peril, violence, heavily pregnant lady doing acrobatics. Plot elements SHAMELESSLY stolen from Under the Rose.

        The tension builds as our heroes pick their way through the Imperial Manse. Amon Mora, V’neef Bijar, Sesus Eshuvar, and Aharon Saber Edge are dead.

        Nula looks panicked, “We are all going to die down here!”

        Melody lays a hand on her heavily pregnant stomach, “Yes, we probably are. Regretting making that thirty-hour flight to be part of this battle?”

        Ganan puts an arm around his daughter, “When you were a girl, you used to be terrified by Nanal’s ghost stories about the Imperial Manse, remember? About the Anathema breaking loose from their prisons and seeking revenge against the Exalted for imprisoning them.”

        Nula stares at him with incredulous anger, “Father, whenever you want to comfort someone in the future, say the exact opposite of whatever it is you think you should say! You are not making me feel better!”

        Ganan shrugs as Nula pushes him away, wrinkling her nose in contempt.

        Melody sidles up to Ganan, “You piss her off on purpose?” She whispers.

        “Angry is more useful than frightened.”

        ****

        Eventually, they come to a deadly gauntlet – the only path through is a narrow walkway, perhaps a yard wide. On either side of the walkway, there is a drop that is further than the eye can see – knowing the nature of the Imperial Manse, it could well be a drop that falls forever. Pendulum blades swing from the ceiling. Great stone slabs set upon metal pistons smash down from the ceiling. Arcs of lightning splice across the room at seemingly random paths. The walls are studded with holes, as if they might fire darts. Set above the entrance to the room is a single Old Realm glyph: Dodge.

        “I’ll do it.” Ganan volunteers, “I’ll turn into shadow and walk across the room.”

        Melody cranes her neck looking this way and that, “There’s no lever or anything at the other end. There’s no door.” The ball of golden string is halted at the opposite end of the room. Melody studies the swinging blades, and crushers, and lightning bolts.

        Reya shakes her head, “This is crazy. Even an Anathema couldn’t cross this room.”

        Swift sets River’s body down. She fishes out a flask and takes a drink, before offering the water to River.

        “I can do it.” Melody says, “I can cross this.”

        Ganan takes off his Belt of Shadow Walking and offers it to her, “I know you don’t need it, but what if you get to the other side and it is just a dead-end after all?”

        Melody shrugs and refuses the belt, “Then we’re all dead anyway, right?” She stretches and limbers-up, and then says, “Wish me luck!” And runs out onto the walkway.

        She twirls around the first blade and music starts to play. It sounds like the ringing of glasses. She throws herself flat as poison darts pepper the walkway then sprints forward, dropping into a forward roll as a crusher drops from the ceiling. She comes out of her roll with a jump, avoiding the electricity arcing across the floor. An unexpected hazard strikes when the floor gives way underneath her as she lands: but she grabs for the ledge and hauls herself up, dodging more blades and a surprise horizontal buzz-saw. When she makes it to the end of the passageway, the music ends, the traps grind to a halt and disappear, and the blank wall ahead of Melody opens up and the golden ball rolls on.

        Ganan puts his belt back on, and leads the others over to Melody, “That was amazing.” He confides with measured sincerity.

        ****

        They proceed on, the corridors growing dimmer, and rounder, until they can more rightly be called “tunnels” than “corridors” – though these tunnels are still large enough for a Warstrider to walk through. Sparking tubes of lightning bound in aether, and pistons which seem to serve no purpose join the arrange of cables, pipes, and vents that line walls.

        The golden ball next stops at a section of blank wall. A single Old Realm glyph is written on the wall: Speak.

        The Dragon-Blooded go to study the wall when suddenly it starts to shine with light. A hologlyphic projector powers up and an image of light appears to walk forward out of the wall.

        The twenty-foot tall giant is almost fifteen feet broad. It looks almost like a ball, but for the arms, legs, and head that give it a humanoid shape. Its skin (Shell? Armor?) is translucent, revealing an array of gears and hydraulics. Melody recognizes an approximation of human anatomy – four pistons drive its heart, clockworks turn thick oil through kidney-like filters, pneumatic lungs inflate like bellows.

        The voice is something like that of a kindly old man’s in tone, but not in volume as the giant projection soft whispers hit them almost as a solid wall of sound:

        Verily, thou art not approved users. Access to Level 2 is restricted. You may not pass. Speak.

        “Who the hell is this?” Melody asks.

        Ganan looks up at the giant projection, “It’s an illusion. A simulation. But I think it’s… I think it’s Autochthon.”

        The projection speaks again, this time in High Realm and its voice noticeably quieter, “Language assimilated. You are not approved users. Access to this level is restricted, you may not pass. Eliminating intruders in five, four-”

        “Wait!” Reya yells, and the countdown stops, “We have the Imperial Seal, the Empress is missing, and Ragara is trying to claim the Realm Defense Grid by treachery. We’re here to stop him.”

        There is a clicking and a whirling noise, “Dragon-Blooded Level 3 Administrator detected. You are not authorized for Level 2 access. Would you like me to return you to Level 3?”

        Reya squints up at the illusion, “I want to stop Ragara. Can you return all unauthorized users to Level 3? There should be another party of Dragon-Blooded with a-” Reya stops as the curses laid on the Heptagram bind her tongue.

        “Sidereal!” Melody jumps in, “There should be another party of Dragon-Blooded and a Sidereal in the Imperial Manse somewhere.”

        Another click, whirl, and this time a soft humming, “Inaccurate. There are eight unauthorized users on Level 2: you six; an unidentified Dragon-Blooded and Ylva Wataru. Recalculating. There are a number of unidentified Dragon-Blooded corpses, it is possible that your information is out-of-date.”

        Ganan tries, “Mighty Autochthon, is it within your power to return all eight unauthorized users to Level 3?”

        “No.” The simulation lets off a rapid-fire series of clicks, “An unauthorized interdiction field prevents the expulsion of Ylva Wataru and her companion.”

        “Then,” Reya jumps in, “You need to let us through to stop them. They don’t even have Level 3 access, do they? They have sabotaged the manse’s defenses and are trying to seize control. There are no authorized users in the manse, are there? We are your only chance of stopping them. Let us pass.” She starts to glow with power as Essence smooths over her words.

        “Calculating.” There is a low whizzing sound, “Your argument has flawed assumptions, but the basic premise is sound. Transporting.”

        “Wait,” Ganan says, “Transporting?”

        ****

        The heroes are enveloped in light. They close their eyes against the glare and when they open them, they find themselves in a large, domed, hexagonal arena of marble facing Ragara and Ylva, who regard them with surprise. Strange machines with interlocking cogs grind in the corners of the room. The ceiling is eighty feet clear in the air, and the floor is a solid slab of highly polished, indestructible adamant. There’s only one set of doors into the room – it is immediately behind our heroes.

        Swift gingerly lowers River to the ground and stands protectively over her with her goremaul.

        “You are nothing if not resourceful.” Ragara’s voice is congenial, but his eyes have a twinkle of danger as they flick over our heroes, “How did you get this far, and with so many of you intact?” He gives a small smile, “And where is dear Berit?”

        Ganan readies his weapon and Melody begins to circle.

        A low electric thrum fills the round as the cogs in the corners of the room begin to turn.

        “You really should just worry about us!” Reya challenges as Nula starts shaping a spell behind her.

        “Actually…” Ylva gestures behind Reya. A practiced warrior, Reya knows better than to look, but Nula turns.

        “Uh… mom…”

        Reya takes her eyes off Ylva just in time to see a massive, mechanical spider seem to punch its way through the adamant floor as it materializes.

        “Gan, deal with that! The rest of you focus on Rag-” Reya’s instructions die in her throat as another five giant spiders materialize around the arena, surrounding them.

        Ragara seems to blink out of existence for a moment, then suddenly he is on top of the closest spider. He rams his daiklave through its head, and the construct explodes into a dozen fragments. Ragara lands on the ground smartly, but heavily. A coy smile spreading across his face.

        “Oh… wait for it…” Melody says pessimistically.

        The fragments seem to melt into the floor, and another giant spider materializes next to Ylva.

        “Yeah, there you go.” Melody rues as she falls-back to Swift and River, punting a quick shot into the closest spider.

        Ganan crosses over to the spider behind Nula and Reya and punts hit with an underarm swing, sending the creature flying backward.

        The spiders close in – two probe Ylva, whilst the other four start to round River.

        “Nula, Ganan! Back-up!” Reya calls as she flicks open Bijar’s journal and starts frantically turning the pages.”

        “Seriously?” Melody asks, “Fucking seriously?! You’re looking this up? You need to help us fight these gods-damned things!” She fires another arrow into the advancing spiders. It shatters into pieces, then reforms, closer to Ganan.

        “Yes, I’m sure the thing that you’re doing is helping…” Reya responds, without looking up.

        “I’ve got your helping right here!” Ganan says as he rushes past the spiders to hammer the cogs turning in one of the six corners of the room. There’s a sickening crunch as his tetsubo bites home and the gears come to a crashing halt. He pulls his tetsubo free, and a large panel comes off the machine. It doesn’t seem to have any effect on the spiders.

        “Much helping. Incredibly impressed sweetheart. Keep doing that.” Reya says as she runs her finger over the green ink in the margins of Bijar’s notes. Suddenly she snaps her head up, “No, wait! Do that to the other ones! And get me over there!” She sees that they’re surrounded by the spiders on all sides “Oh, shit.”

        The first spider leaps for River, and Swift interposes herself, smashing it back. The next leaps onto Swift’s back and pins her to the ground. A third scuttles in, squats on her chest, and opens a pair of mechanical jaws: they bur and whirl as the spider beast starts to eat River alive. She futility punches it, to no avail. The final spider seizes one of her feet between its jaws and starts to feed it into its mouth.

        Ylva moves almost too swiftly to see and shatters both of the spiders attacking her. The reconstitute next to Ragara.

        “Perfect.” Nula purrs as she unleashes Death of Obsidian Butterflies, targeting Ragara, the two spiders, and the control panel behind him. Ragara seems to blink out of existence the moment before the butterflies hit, then reappear. Both spiders are shredded, and the gears behind Ragara come to a grinding halt. The spiders re-materialize between Ganan and River. “Oh… shit.”

        Melody pops two shots into the spiders eating River, shattering them both.

        Reya breaks formation, speaking the burning name. One of the two spiders in her path erupts into flame and breaks apart.

        Ganan closes on the other spider and hammers it into the ground. All four downed spiders reconstitute around Swift.

        Ylva eyes Reya suspiciously, “I think she’s on to something.” She calls to Ragara, “Break the other terminals open!” She rushes over to the machine hit by Nula’s sorcery and starts to fiddle with the mechanism inside. The spider on Swift’s back winks out of existence.

        The other spiders attack Swift. One knocks her to the ground, whilst the other four each savage a limb.

        Ragara, leans on his walking stick, “I’m not in any hurry. We can afford to delay a little longer.”

        Ganan moves on to the next intact machine, smashing it open with his tetsubo.

        Reya closes with the first machine he broke open. As expected there are circuits of hardened magic inside, as well as clockwork gears. She studies the machine carefully for a moment then hits a sequence of buttons, pressure sensors, and levers. Another spider fades away, giving Swift back an arm.

        Melody fires on the spider on Swift’s chest. The arrow sticks obscenely out of the creature's neck, but it does not fragment.

        Ylva moves to Ragara’s side, and the pair stand ready.

        The mechanical spiders ignore Melody and focus on savaging their downed foe. Swift hammers a fist into the beast on her chest, driving Melody’s arrow home, and it shatters to pieces. The other spiders rip at her, tearing flesh with their mechanical mandibles.

        “Sorry about this Swift!” Ganan says, closing in with the spiders and stomping on the ground. A powerful shock-wave blasts them all into shattered crystals, but it also wracks Swift’s body. She rolls over and coughs up blood.

        All four spiders reform around River.

        Reya makes a dash for the next control panel, her anima glowing brightly. Having divined the shut-down sequence, she punches it again and another spider disappears.

        The spiders fall on River. One of them tears out the ex-Immaculate’s throat. Swift forces herself to her feet and screams in rage. Bloodied but unbowed, she readies her goremaul to charge… and Ragara punches his daiklave through her chest. Swift looks down at the wound with the same expression of surprise that graced Cainan’s face, and like Cainan, her anima seems to be drawn through Ragara’s sword and into Ragara. The youthful effect is not as pronounced as when he absorbed Cainan’s energy, but again he looks younger and more vital.

        Ylva withdraws quietly and smashes open another of the spider generating machines.

        Ganan surges forward. He steps over Swift’s corpse to get a clear shot on Ragara and hammers the ancient. Ragara funnels the force of the blow into the adamant floor – hairline cracks spreading throughout the indestructible material. Ganan whirls in spot and hammers Ragara again, sending him flying backward, but the elder manages to stay on his feet. Ragara gives a hacking cough, and a thin trickle of blood runs from his mouth. He wipes it away on the back of his hand and squares off to fight Ganan.

        Reya takes out a spider. Melody drops the other two. All three reform around Ragara.

        Ylva taps in the deactivation sequence and one of the spiders disappears.

        Ragara charges at Ganan, hammering him with a furious series of blows from his daiklave. The elder Exalt slices at Ganan’s body, even as he takes Earth Dragon Form, and batters him off balance. Ganan stumbles over Swift’s corpse.

        The spiders jump on Ragara. They latch onto his arms, weighing him down, and trying to leverage purchase with their mechanical mouths. Ragara yells and drops his daiklave.

        Ylva moves on to the next panel and pries it open.

        Melody shoots at Ragara, her arrow erupting into thorns as it rips at Ragara.

        Reya speaks the burning name and hurls flames at Ragara. Ragara’s anima roars into a raging bonfire of magma – molten gemstones shifting like blown glass in elemental fury.

        Ragara gives a scream that seems to shatter the fabric of Creation itself. His iconic anima flares around him for a moment, an enormous, flawless ruby. It sinks into his skin, seeming to meld with him. His bright red hair shines like the gleaming crystal of his anima as the blazing storm of his anima seems to be drawn within him in a storm of rock. The spiders on his arms shatter under the pressure of the elemental energies released by Ragara’s transformation, but simply reforms behind him.

        One spider leaps right back on to his left arm: its rending metal jaws clamping down viciously. The other spider hurls itself at Ragara once more as he hammers it aside.

        Ylva deactivates the next spider: the construct clinging to Ragara’s arm disappears.

        Seeing an opening, Nula rushes forward, a wicked-looking iron knife in hand. Ragara’s lashes out with the Starmetal walking stick, and smashes into Nula. She is thrown back by the great doors leading into the room, and lands crumpled in a heap on the ground.

        Ganan surges forward, his head feeling light as if he has a new lease on life, and he hammers Ragara, driving the elder to his knees. Something turns in the tide of battle, and Ganan strikes him again with an upswing, smashing Ragara onto his back.

        Ganan stands over Ragara, looking down on him, “Vengeance!” He cries, bringing his tetsubo straight down onto Ragara’s face. Ganan expects his skull to smash, but instead, he feels dull resistance. Vibrations travel up his tetsubo that make his arm numb. Ragara begins to laugh.

        Melody snaps a quick shot into the downed Ragara, but the elder only laughs harder. Reya burns him with sorcerous flame, but any effect is minimal.

        Ragara strikes Ganan with his walking stick. The blow does almost no damage against his Invulnerable Skin, but it hurls him back with tremendous force. Ganan sails through the air, smashing into the far wall, then falling twenty feet to the ground. Ganan lands badly, his body twisted in the fall, coming to rest in front of the great doors leading out of the arena, next to Nula. Ragara rises from the ground.

        The last spider tries to maul Ragara, but a swift pulse of earth essence knocks it back. It dissolves into crystals and reforms next to Ganan. The shockwave does blast open the last machine, exposing the shut-down mechanism. Ylva does not move to shut the last spider down.

        Reya screams the burning name until her lungs burn. Flames wash over Ragara, and he raises a hand to protect himself as they roast him alive.

        Ragara strides past Reya, closing the distance between himself and Ganan.

        Melody fires a shot into the last spider. It shatters but then reforms immediately in front of her. Melody curses.

        Ganan staggers to his feet, his head spinning. He sees Ragara drawing closer.

        Ylva still watches, impassively.

        The last spider jumps on Ganan, he parries its attacks, but it draws his attention away from Ragara for a moment.

        Reya dashes to the last panel and deactivates the last spider. The great doors into the room thrum with energy. Golden sunlight starts to pour in through the cracks in the door and the doors start to open.

        “Thank you Danireya,” Ylva says, giving a short bow.

        “Yes, thank you!” Ragara says as he closes with Ganan. Both Earth Aspects carry grievous wounds, though you would hard-pressed to tell. He swings a gem-like fist at Ganan who desperately tries and fails to interpose his tetsubo.

        Melody sends another arrow crashing against Ragara, and his pace slows.

        Ganan takes advantage of the opening to swing into Ragara at full force, smashing him back a step.

        The doors move with agonizing slowness, but the light between them starts to get brighter.

        Melody loses with a vital shot, that takes Ragara in the knee. His stance buckles.

        Ganan takes advantage of the break to hammer Ragara in the face once more, and the elder goes down – the light in his eyes going out. Exhausted, Ganan topples over next to him. Melody rushes over to him.

        “Get them out of here!” Reya calls.

        “How?” Melody shouts back, as her golden ball of string rolls through the still opening doors. She drags Nula’s unconscious form with her.

        “Pull on the string!” Reya replies.

        Melody wraps the golden string around herself and Ganan, keeping the other hand tight on Nula’s collar, and pulls on it sharply. The world around them seems to blur, and then they are back outside the entrance of the manse – not in Cainan’s drill shaft, but by the main door. Berit and her troops are waiting for them in the courtyard.

        ****

        “Well done, Danireya!” Ylva says with the warmth of an old friend approaching and extending a hand. “Shall we claim your prize together?”

        Reya dimly thinks that she should gather the war-gear of the dead, but she feels numb, almost underwater. She knows only that it is of the utmost importance that she take Ylva’s hand. She nods dumbly and reaches for Ylva’s outstretched hand. She half-leads, half-drags the Sidereal to the door.

        Ylva chuckles at her, patronizingly, “Don’t be so impatient. The Sword of Creation isn’t going anywhere. And we still have the Level 1 defenses to bypass.”

        Reya focuses on pulling Ylva through the door, not bothering to respond. The Sidereal relents and quickens her pace. They squeeze through the doors before they are anywhere near fully open. Golden light assails them… And then they too find themselves at the entrance to the manse, surrounded by Berit’s troops.

        Ylva looks at her, bewildered.

        “I asked Autochthon to send us back to the entrance.” Reya smiles at Ylva, “You will never get that prize, Anathema.”

        Ylva’s face turns from bewilderment to rage, but the word “Anathema” was all Berit needed to hear. Dozens of archers rain arrows on the Sidereal. She twists, under the onslaught and tries to turn into a dragon to escape, but Berit is on her and she runs her through. Ylva falls to the ground, her green eyes fixed open in the stare of death.


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

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        • #79
          First 80 seconds of Dynasty of Dovak, animated version.

          Our heroes have sailed from the Blessed Isle to Jiara at the behest of their matriach, Mnemon. Here they will meet with their contact who will lead them to the Kingdom of Dovak. Dovak lies on Jiara's Eastern boarder, and Mnemon wishes to ensure that the kingdom is secure whilst she persecutes her campaign in the rebellious Satrapy.

          I couldn't animate Cynis Ganan, so consider this from his first person viewpoint.

          Content warning: some imperialist language -- https://youtu.be/74qZatmdpF4

          (Would love constructive criticism. "Your lipsynching needs work" is not constructive. "Your lipsynching sucks, here's a good tutorial/automated lipsynching tool" is constructive. Constructive criticism isn't being nice when you tell me my work sucks, it's helping me to get better.)

          ****

          Still models:



          Gracious Pealing Melody, Mnemon Alinos Danireya, Mnemon Alinos Nula, and Mnemon Alinos.
          Last edited by JohnDoe244; 01-23-2021, 08:22 PM.


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

          Comment


          • #80
            Session 68 – Loose Ends – Reya (220XP 176DX, 203/143 spent; 9GP 36SP), Melody (220XP 176DX, 208/146 spent), and Ganan (220XP 176DX, 187/153 spent; 8WhP 68GP 68SP)

            Content Warning: Mild torture, justifactions of slavery, violent combat, war crimes.

            “Let’s go over this, one more time.”

            Mnemon Phanjain drives his fist into Cynis Ganan’s naked body – his invulnerable skin long since worn off.

            The interrogation room is dark, and Ganan is chained to the ceiling, spreadeagled.

            ****

            “You chased Ragara into the Imperial manse?” Berit asks, carefully, for the seventh time.

            Melody sighs. She is unaware she’s being held in the same generously appointed cell that once held Cynis Ganan, decades ago. She’s very aware that Berit’s troops stripped her of her bow and forced her in here like she was some kind of common criminal. That was two days ago.

            At least Berit’s troops let her keep the rest of her gear…

            ****

            “And though it cost us some of our best and brightest, you were actually successful in killing my brother, but not in claiming the power of the Realm Defense Grid?”

            Mnemon sips her tea with a haughty air of suspicion. Bijar's journal lies under Mnemon’s other hand, and she drums her fingers on it impatiently.

            Reya smiles pleasantly at her matriarch, and sips her own tea, “The manse is guarded by a powerful intelligence. A facsimile of Autochthon. I was unable to overcome it, only to convince it to help me stop Ragara.” She gestures at the Imperial Seal, “With that.”

            ****


            Phanjain delivers another punch.

            “And we’re supposed to believe that you killed Ragara.”

            “If you find it so unbelievable, unchain me.” Ganan fumes and he spits in Phanjain’s face.

            ****

            “You saw us.” Melody tells Berit, “Nula and Ganan were half-dead. Kingfisher Swift and Righteous River are dead. Stopping Ragara took everything we had. And we wouldn’t have stopped the Sidereal if it wasn’t for you being in the courtyard to help us.”

            ****

            “Whatever your suspicions may be, my matriarch, I don’t possess the Heart of the Realm Hearthstone. I couldn’t eliminate the Ragara armies in Corin Prefecture or the Mask of Winters in Thorns. I didn’t broadcast my image across Creation declaring myself Empress. I surrendered to you. I handed over everything I had, and that I knew about the manse. If you wish to try to breach the defenses, I will render my full assistance, but believe me, after what I saw of the manse’s defenses, I never wish to set foot in there again.” Reya sets her cup down.

            Mnemon sets her cup down, “Very well. How were you treated before I arrived in the City?”

            “Well enough.” Reya nods, “Berit kept me under guard but agreed to allow me to surrender to you personally. I should like to see my husband and daughter – I am told they are doing well. I assume that Ragara Banoba has not surrendered: I should like to return to the field.”

            Mnemon waves dismissively, “Berit has a strategy.” Her tone makes clear that she has no intention of discussing this further.

            Reya inhales, “I am a little concerned matriarch, that no-one has tried to interrogate me. I’ve spent two days in a generously appointed suite, and no-one has questioned me until you summoned me here…” She forces a smile, “I fear you may have already resolved to have me killed. But I can still be of use to you.”

            ****

            “A wiser man would beg.” Phanjain kicks Ganan hard in the tail-bone, eliciting a fierce shout.

            Ganan smirks and laughs bitterly, “I’ve been hanging here for days. I’m not good with people, but I’m pretty sure you’re not going to let me go if I ask nicely. I can’t control the Realm Defense Grid, and even if I could, I’d be too big a threat to let live. So just get it over with.”

            ****

            “You might have been better off dying in the manse.” Berit says.
            Melody looks at her, this is new. Berit has come seven times now, and on each of the previous six occasions, she has asked the same questions: this is new.

            “What, Mnemon was just keeping us alive in case we could hand over the Imperial Manse to her? No, if we had that kind of power, I’d have your job: Shogun Melody and Empress Reya.” She shakes her head, “If Mnemon is going to torture me to death, then do me the courtesy of a quick death. You’ve known from the start that we can’t control the manse, and Mnemon’s not had us killed yet.”

            ****

            “No, not killed.” Mnemon puts Bijar’s journal in her lap and folds her hands over it, “Naturally, I can’t trust you in the field against Ragara Banoba. But your companions have all been questioned. Thoroughly. And your stories all match. As my brother has not made a move from inside the Imperial Manse, I am inclined to believe your story – certainly, I cannot believe that he might have survived, yet failed to kill me before I reached the capital. If you want to regain my trust, I have a simple mission for you.”

            Reya nods slowly.

            “Pangu Prefecture to the north. The peasants are restless. Refugees, driven from their homes in Chanos by Peleps raids, have spurred unrest. The withdrawal of House Cynis has rendered the entire Prefecture lawless, and the Mouth of Peace has done nothing to calm agitations. Abbot Cloud Lotus of the Tourmaline Monastery has roused a great rabble, and the Mouth of Peace has actually praised their little rebellion. Take your Hearth, and disperse this peasant uprising in my name.”

            “Yes, my matriarch.” She does not rise, “And my daughter?”

            Mnemon’s eyes cut through Reya, “On the successful completion of your mission, I’m sure that you will be able to visit her.”

            ****

            Phanjain receives a message, and he leaves Ganan without a word. Mnemon liveried troops bring in Ganan’s war-gear and a fresh set of purple-and-gold clothing. It takes three men to carry in his tetsubo, and two to carry Aharon’s halberd. Ganan eyes them suspiciously. The mortal Fanglord informs him that he has been pardoned and releases him from his chains. Ganan dresses without a word, and checks his pack – all his raw materials are still there, only Cainan’s daiklaves are missing.

            ****

            Ledaal Ludila interrupts Berit by walking into the room. She is carrying Summer Thunder. She bends at the waist, bowing lower than protocol suggests she needs to.

            “Mnemon is deploying us to Pangu Prefecture to put down the rebellion. If you’re done here?”

            Berit exchanges a look with Melody, “Well, it seems that there will be no execution today.”

            ****

            Ganan sets Aharon’s weapons in the Mnemon armory in their of the Imperial Palace before casting Invulnerable Skin of Bronze and rallying with the others. He is the last to join them on the steps leading up to the Palace.

            Udi seems hard and withdrawn. Not knowing what to say, or caring what is socially appropriate, he embraces her and holds her tight against his body.

            Melody and Reya are shocked by Ganan’s injuries. Despite his Invulnerable Skin, his face looks swollen, and he moves like a man who has been tortured for two days straight.

            “Dragon’s breath!” Melody hisses, pulling Ganan and Udi apart as she examines him, “They haven’t done anything!” She pokes his wounds, and opens up her Satchel of Resplendent Healing, “You actually look in worse shape!” She admonishes as she sets to work treating Ganan’s wounds.

            Ganan says nothing, but exchanges a look with Reya, who nods at him carefully in acknowledgment.

            Melody looks up at him, “These are new wounds. Who the hell did you manage to fight locked in a palace suite?”

            “Melody, just treat his wounds.” Reya interrupts, “We have a mission to get on with.”

            ****
            They Stormwind out of the Imperial City and head north. There the city is thick with Alliance soldiers, and Reya can’t help but note that Strix Tower has been inhabited by Mnemon troops.

            “We need to put down a peasant rebellion.” Reya howls over the screaming wind as Udi pilots them, “I’d like to do it with minimal violence, especially as Ganan looks like he could be knocked over by a stiff wind.”

            “I might not be ready to fight Banoba, but I can crack the skulls of peasants!” Ganan bellows back.

            “Great plan!” Melody yells sarcastically, “Who needs the harvest planted? And what better way to show we aren’t tyrants!”

            The hours pass before finally they come out into a wide valley, expertly sculpted with artificial waterfalls and winding streams. Verdant growth spills out around the shining stone of a grand monastery, shot through with rainbow veins of tourmaline. Dozens of white-robed postulates plow and sow the fields around the central building: they look up and regard the approaching Dynasts with fear, some abandoning their tools to rush for the monastery, others huddling together for protection.

            As the Hearth draws nearer, a figure of androgynous beauty walks out of the monastery, their head held high. Their head is shaved bald, but their eyebrows are a striking purple. Melody’s stomach churns as she thinks of the purple hair of her dead friend, left behind in the Imperial Manse. The abbot holds out their hand and Udi lowers the Stormwind to the ground.

            Immaculate monks rank up behind the abbot, as the braver postulates form into loose mob armed with farm tools.

            Ganan approaches with his hands spread wide, “Peace, Cloud Lotus, peace.”

            The abbot regards him carefully, “Cynis Ganan, walking again I see?” Cloud Lotus’s voice seems full of distant wisdom, “I don’t care for the color purple on you.”

            Ganan smiles easily, “I’ve been married more than two decades. This is my wife and our Hearth.” He turns to Udi, “Smart move bringing us here, Cloud Lotus will help us end this peasant uprising without violence.”

            “Aww shit… he doesn’t know?” Melody curses.

            Cloud Lotus responds to the confused look on Ganan’s face and speaks in a kindly tone, “Ah, I see you have yet to grow out of the impetuousness of your youth. Your companions have neglected to tell you that I am leading this ‘uprising’ against Mnemon and all that she stands for.”

            Ganan takes a step backward and raises his hands, “I’m not fighting a monk. I’m out.”

            Reya steps in without missing a beat, “As I tried to explain on the way here, I seek to resolve this without violence. I am Mnemon Danireya: I would hear your grievance, and attempt to resolve your dispute with my matriarch peacefully.”

            Cloud Lotus gestures to the monastery, “Would you come inside Danireya, and take tea with me? I will explain our grievance against Mnemon and then we shall fight.” Cloud Lotus turns and travels back inside the monastery.

            Reya makes to follow, but Ganan grabs her by the arm, “We should go.”

            Reya looks at him and inclines her head, inviting him to continue.

            He lets go of her arm and continues, “My grandmother’s estate is across the province, by Pangu City. I received my first instruction in martial arts by leaning over the garden wall to watch the monks training in their yard; and before I so much as draw my Second Breath I was the equal to any of them. Once a year, Cloud Lotus would make the journey from here to there, and engage the monastery in ritual combat. The entire monastery. I never saw the abbot lose. They are a being of pure spirit and matchless skill, and when they say ‘then we shall fight’ they mean it. If we go in there, this will end in violence. If you really want to end this peacefully, we should fly south. Bring the Mouth of Peace here to resolve this on our behalf. Cloud Lotus is an honorable monk, they would never go against the word of the Mouth of Peace.”

            Melody blinks, “That is literally the longest I have ever heard Ganan talk for.”

            Udi rolls her eyes, “Ask him to explain the differences in the pagoda roofs used by the daimyōs of the Fourth Bronze Wolverine and Copper Dolphin!”

            Ganan scowls, “I can’t believe you’re still angry about that!”

            “You talked for six hours! And set a five-thousand-word essay! About roof tiles!” Udi screeches at him hysterically.

            Ganan blanks her and holds up a hand, “Mouth of Peace. Resolve without violence.”

            Reya bites her lip and wrestles with not telling him, “The Mouth of Peace supports Cloud Lotus’s uprising.”

            “Then… we should go back to the Imperial City and tell Mnemon that. Mela’s name, Reya! You could have saved us a flight!”

            Udi cuts in, “Mnemon is quite aware of the Mouth of Peace’s views on this. She still wishes this rebellion crushed.”

            “No.” Ganan says, and he folds his arms across his chest.

            “No… what?” Udi asks.

            “No.” Ganan repeats, “The Immaculate Order might not mean much to you, Ludila.” He looks disparagingly at his wife, “And I know exactly how much it means to you. But it means something to me. I’ll be damned before I raise arms against the Order. To hell with Mnemon.”

            “Gan!” Reya reprimands, at a loss for words.

            Melody wheedles uncomfortably, “I mean… he’s got a point. It’s not like we’re fighting Cathak soldiers or Iselsi assassins… these are monks Rey.” Her voice drops to a hoarse whisper, “Holy women.”

            “And so you won’t even go inside and have a cup of tea?” Reya throws her arms in the air, exasperated.

            “Look I’m not saying your husband is a good judge of character,” She turns to Ganan, “Because, sweetie, you’re not. Sextus Jylis must have been handing out social skills on leg day.”

            (Ganan nods sagely, “I never skip leg day.”)

            Melody continues, “But I’m pretty sure he’s not wrong about the Mouth of Peace.” She points at Udi, “She sold this to me as putting down a peasant uprising, and I came along because I knew that you’d find a way to do it peacefully. No-one said anything about opposing the Mouth of Peace.”

            “Come. Inside. And have. Tea. You are embarrassing me in front of the peasants!” Reya spits between clenched teeth. She turns and walks inside the monastery. Udi follows without hesitation.

            Melody prevaricates for a second, dancing from foot-to-foot then runs in after them.

            Ganan sulks for a moment, and follows after them muttering, “I don’t even like tea.”

            ****

            Cloud Lotus sits cross-legged on a low cushion before a kotatsu (low table), their monks flank the room. Four cushions have been set opposite the abbot, three have cups laid before them. Cloud Lotus welcomes them and pours the tea.

            “What do you know of Pangu Prefecture?” The abbot asks.

            Reya takes a polite sip of tea, “It is the ancestral home of House Cynis. It’s where the Guild is permitted to enter the Realm. Rich soil, with many rivers and canals, provides much of the Realms food for the legions.”

            Cloud Lotus nods deeply, and takes a long draw from their own drink, “And how is that food grown?”

            Reya shrugs, “I suppose that House Cynis oversees it? Are you saying that since they have withdrawn to the Threshold there’s no-one to sow the harvest?”

            The abbot smiles, as an adult might smile at the silly statements of a child, “Oh, there are many people here to sow the harvest.”

            “Well, slaves.” Ganan says, on reflex.

            “Slaves?” Melody repeats, contempt evident In her voice.

            “We – House Cynis – are not much loved by the peasantry. (They don’t have enough money to spend on luxuries.) But, this is the main trading port for the Guild. House Cynis holds the Imperial License to trade in slaves, and all Guild-bought slaves pass through Pangu. We do everything with slaves. Essentially all the meal raised for the Imperial Legions is grown by slaves.” Ganan shrugs.

            Melody drives her palms into her eyes, “I could have happily lived my entire life without knowing that.”

            “What you’re saying then,” Reya says carefully, “Is that the removal of House Cynis has thrown the slaves into disarray?”

            Cloud Lotus takes another sip of their drink, “The slaves know their business. But, yes, without House Cynis dozens of petty overlords have tried to carve up Pangu. House Sesus’s devastating losses to House Peleps in the north-west opened the door for dozen of petty warlords: Guildsmen, Patricians, and lesser nobles. They have carved up the land, each eager for their pound of flesh.”

            “Enter the Immaculate Order.” Reya says slowly.

            “Your Empress has failed to keep order. Pangu has dissolved into a hot-bed of human misery: precipitated by the basic injustice of slavery.”

            “Mnemon doesn’t even sit on the throne!” Reya protests.

            “What’s wrong with slavery?” Ganan asks, his brow knitting.

            Seriously?!” Melody shoots a look at Ganan.

            Ganan looks back at her, then to Cloud Lotus, “Do the texts not say ‘Slaves, obey your Princely masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart’? And ‘You servants must submit yourselves to your masters and show them complete respect, not only to those who are kind and considerate but also to those who are harsh’? Foreigners and mortals have taking slaves is a blight on the land, but slavery is not a ‘basic injustice’, abbot.”

            Cloud Lotus makes a gesture of openness, “And do the Text’s also not tell us that ‘Hunger is felt by a slave and it is felt by a Prince’, ‘the weed of slavery grows in fertile soil’, ‘there is no male or female, neither free nor slave: from many peoples, one’, and ‘I am sent to bring liberty to the captives and to the oppressed’?” Cloud Lotus smiles, and continues, “‘You shall not give up to her mistress a slave who has escaped to you’, ‘if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity’, ‘You shall remember that we were slaves before the Dragons rose us up with their mighty claws and up-stretched arms’.” Cloud Lotus takes another sip of their drink, “Slavery is foul and base evil. It pollutes the human spirit: it wrenches mortals from their proper place in the Perfected Hierarchy and it is a sin that stains the souls of the masters. Dragon-Blooded might well be enlightened enough to bear that stain, but it is a stain, none-the-less.”

            Ganan nods and broods thoughtfully.

            “This isn’t a peasant uprising…” Melody realizes, “This is a slave uprising!”

            Cloud Lotus laughs gently, “No, it is a peasant uprising. Those who were once slaves are now free women. I have freed them. And this is why we shall fight. Your Empress’s Realm cannot endure without slavery: we cannot endure with it.”

            Melody claps her hands together then raises them into the air, “I’m out. I’m not going to help Mnemon enslave these people.” She stands up and bows to Cloud Lotus, “It was a pleasure to take tea with you, but I will not be fighting.”

            Ganan rises too, “Nor I.”

            “Gan!” Reya reprimands, looking up at him incredulously.

            “I’m not fighting against the Immaculate Order.” Ganan reiterates, “And… the stuff about slavery makes sense when it’s a monk saying it.”

            “No-one is fighting against the Immaculate Order.” Reya says firmly, motioning for Melody and Ganan to sit back down, “Pangu Prefecture stands in opposition to Mnemon: first under the leadership of the usurpers of House Cynis and now under your rebellion. Mnemon should be reprimanding you for allowing the Guild to flout our laws and letting mortals ‘stain their souls’ by owning slaves. I cannot promise you that Mnemon will outlaw slavery, but we will end this injustice and restore order to Pangu. You have my word.”

            Cloud Lotus speaks firmly, “What you call an ‘injustice’ is only a symptom. So long as slavery exists on the Blessed Isle, so too will injustice.”

            Reya takes a deep breath, “When House Cynis withdrew from Pangu, the prefecture fractured as dozens of warlords tried to carve out their slice. The same is happening to the entire Blessed Isle. Without the Empress to hold us steady, we will fall apart. Your rebellion here might well be for a noble cause, but every Patrician snatching fields out there thinks the same thing.”

            Cloud Lotus considers for a moment, “Perhaps. But if we are doomed, we shall be doomed for a righteous cause.”

            “But it’s not a righteous cause!” Reya shoots back, “You cannot sit there and say that to be a slave in Pangu is an injustice but to be a slave in Nexus is fine! The Realm needs an Empress and Creation needs the Realm. We do not have the luxury of allowing the greatest empire in existence to collapse in on itself – not if you want to stop slavery. If you allow the Realm to tear itself apart, the Guild and the Fair Folk will run unchecked. You’d save hundreds here and condemn millions. Join us: your voice and your wisdom could help us save everyone.”

            “I will save those I can save.” Cloud Lotus’s body seems to tense, ready to strike.

            “So will I.” Reya locks eyes with the abbot, “We will not fight you.” She rises.

            “But Danireya-!” Udi starts, but Reya silences her with a gesture.
            Reya rises and walks out of the monastery, the others follow behind her, blinking in the sunlight. The freed slaves working the monastery’s field stare at them as they leave the building and Reya raises her voice to address them.

            “Free people! Were you all field slaves? For in this place you work the fields. Your abbot decides what clothes you wear. He tells you to shave your heads. No doubt he sets your curfews. You might not wear fetters, but you are chained more thoroughly here than you ever were beyond this valley.”

            Cloud Lotus walks out into the light. Reya points, accusatorially at them lighting starting to dance around her, “He wants his crops planted. He wants a loyal flock of slaves, hanging on his every word. He wants you to die here, for his own vainglory, fighting against Mnemon. Mnemon, the only woman strong enough to control the Guild who enslaved you. Mnemon, the only woman able to defeat House Cynis once and for all. Mnemon, the rightful Empress.”

            A murmur passes through the slaves, as more come out to listen to Reya. Some of them set down their tools.

            “These monks can ‘protect’ you from the likes of me, to be sure. But Mnemon commands legions. Tens of thousands of troops could pour into this valley and put you all to the sword. She shows her mercy because she knows you have been misled by the honeyed words of this charlatan. She is a wise and just ruler: she sees no need for you to die for your mistakes. But you stand here today in direct opposition to her will, in open rebellion. She is merciful: not weak. Persist in this rebellion and you will all die. Do not follow this man to your graves.”

            Cloud Lotus advances on Reya, their fists cracking with fire essence, and then suddenly is looking up at the sky. Reya turns in time to see Ganan sweeping out the abbot’s legs. Trained monks rank up outside of the monastery.

            “We’re leaving abbot.” Ganan says firmly, stepping back to let them up.

            Reya drops her voice and addresses Cloud Lotus, “If these people aren’t your slaves, you’ll let them leave with us.”

            Cloud Lotus stays on the ground, “You have no-where to lead these people save back into slavery.”

            Reya throws a hand toward Cloud Lotus, and raises her voice to address the crowd again, “That’s what your abbot thinks of you. If you think you have a place that isn’t as a slave, you belong with us. Do not run from the world. Join Mnemon and fight for a better one.”

            A cheer goes up from the crowd and they begin to chant Mnemon’s name.

            Melody shuffles next to Reya and hisses at her, “And what exactly are we going to do with hundreds of slaves, Reya?”

            “For starters, there’s your Free Company. But there are also opportunities rebuilding and planting, or whatever trades these people held before becoming slaves.”

            Melody sets her tongue in cheek, “Uh-huh. And how exactly are we going to transport these people out of here?”

            “I’ll stay.” Ganan says, “I know the land, I can lead them to the river and we can ferry them across to Dragon’s Mouth at our leisure. You three return Mnemon and let her know what’s happened here. The tale of what happened here will spread: this revolt is over.”

            Udi interrupts, “Mnemon isn’t going to accept someone with the family name ‘Cynis’ leading an army of slaves raised in revolt against her. I’ll lead them.”

            “And as soon as we’re out of sight, what stops these monks killing you?” Melody shakes her head.

            Ganan sighs, “They’re not going to kill her. They might not help, but they know they’re beaten.”

            “I agree.” Reya nods, “We’ll stop in Dragon’s Mouth and arrange passage.”

            ****

            They leave Udi behind to make preparations and race forward, arranging ferries for the former slaves.

            “Well, those boats will be ready for when Udi gets here,” Reya says, dusting off her hands with a job well done. She smiles, then turns serious, “We need to talk about the Immaculate Order.”

            “Here we go.” Ganan rolls his eyes.

            “What about the Immaculate Order?” Melody says carefully, flicking her eyes between Reya and Ganan.

            Reya motions for them down-river a bit to talk, and once they are clear of the bustle of the port, “The Order is a problem for us. Chejop Kejak has been the Mouth of Peace’s secretary my whole life whispering to her. He declared himself for Cainan. He fought us in the field. And now the Immaculate Order is leading revolts against Mnemon.”

            “Then maybe,” Melody hisses, “That means Mnemon is in the wrong.”

            “Or,” Reya counters, “It means the Mouth of Peace, the entire Immaculate Order, has been compromised by the Anathema.”

            “By the Sidereals!” Melody shoots back, her fingers twitching for her bow.

            Reya holds Melody’s gaze as they stare venomously at one another. Ganan places himself between the two women, “That’s enough.”

            Reya spreads her palms, she takes a step backward and Melody does the same, “The Immaculate Order was founded during the Shogunate. What survives today has undergone hundreds of years of drift away from what our ancestors intended. And who can say how long Chejop and his ilk have been turning our faith to their own purposes? The Mouth of Peace is not infallible.”

            “Yes, she is!” Spits Melody, “That’s the point! She’s the person above this… muck.”

            Reya takes another step back, “She’s a woman, no wiser than you or I.”

            “No!” Melody’s denial is hard-nosed, “No, I’ve seen you pray. You believe in the Immaculate way. You might joke about playing cards, but I know you – you believe.” She gestures to herself and Ganan, “As we believe.”

            Ganan exhales heavily and looks at the ground but says nothing.

            Reya nods slowly, “I believe, but not as you believe. I hold to a… purer interpretation of Immaculacy. Our ancestors permitted icons. They did not believe themselves worthy simply for being Exalted, but rather they believed that being Exalted was a chance to prove one’s worth. And they did not think the Mouth of Peace to be the ultimate spiritual authority in Creation.”

            “Then they were heretics!” Melody raves, “There’s nothing wrong with nudie playing cards, but you can’t just… plot against the Mouth of Peace!”

            “They founded our faith. And that Faith is still practiced today by those who can separate politics from religion. That is what we need to do now. The proper role of the Mouth of Peace is simply to call for peace, yet it is a role the Anathema have perverted to harbor assassins and start revolts. Gan, tell her.”

            Ganan doesn’t look up, but talks at his feet, “Certainly scripture doesn’t actually state that the Mouth of Peace is infallible.”

            Melody looks at Ganan, “But you’re still worried about Rey’s soul.”

            “The Immaculate Faith is an anachronism: what they practice in Lookshy is not the same as what our ancestors believed.” Ganan says without looking up, “But… she might have a point. The Immaculate Order is a political vessel, and elements of it have been turned against us. Given what we know about the Mouth of Peace’s secretary, we would be naive not to consider the possibility of the Order being compromised. Even if that means bearing that on our souls.”

            Melody folds her arms over her chest, “Well I’m not fighting the Mouth of Peace.”

            Reya spreads her palms, “I’m not asking you to. But we might need to save her from Chejop Kejak.”

            ****

            They fly back to the Imperial City as evening falls. Troops parade out of the City, once more it seems the entire capital is preparing for war. Berit meets them outside of the Palace.
            “Ledaal Ludila sent word ahead of you.” She explains, “A creative solution to bring our enemies to our banner and swell our forces. Not, precisely, the demonstration of loyalty Mnemon wanted, but V’neef and I agree this is better.”

            “I should like to see my daughter.” Reya states simply.

            Berit gives her a short nod, “Of course, you know we are all on the same side. Your daughter is practically my grandniece.” She gestures and Aline comes forward with baby Lezabe.

            Ganan smiles at the baby and Reya checks them over quickly.
            “I meant my other daughter. I want to see Nula.” Reya says.

            “You weren’t specific.” Berit’s voice isn’t cruel, just matter-of-fact, “She’s already marched south against Ragara Banoba.” Her face is unreadable.

            “Has she,” Ganan states, his voice suspicious and angry.

            Berit regards them carefully, “You all four told the same story. You eagerly went out to prove your loyalty. Mnemon was satisfied. So am I.”

            “She was wounded.” Ganan says, his voice clipped.

            “As were you.” Berit gestures at Ganan, who is still carrying obvious wounds, “Please, rest awhile in the City. With all that you have done for the Realm you deserve a respite.”

            “General, if it’s all the same to you, I think we’d all rather join the attack on Banoba,” Melody says quickly before Reya or Ganan says something they might regret.

            “The strategy has already been formulated.” Berit waves dismissively and turns to Reya, “There isn’t a role for you. But if you are ready for another mission, then your daughter is attached to some auxiliaries using experimental firewands. I have just, within this hour, learned of a potential threat to their firedust supplies: an aide can give you the details if you wanted a valid reason for going South – but you will be miles from the front, and I shouldn’t expect Mnemon Alinos Nula to attend you until the battle is done.”

            Berit pulls her helmet on, and salutes them, making to leave for the front. An aide in Berit’s colors approach.

            “Princes of the Earth,” She bows, “An artificer of House Mnemon developed a new form of firewand, unfortunately, a small strike-force circled past our lines and killed her. We believe that same strike-force is now trying to destroy her legacy. Our intelligence in this entire war has been… lacking, since the destruction of the Sesus legions, but the enemy seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of our weaknesses. The firedust depot is well behind our main battle-line, but because of this, it is lightly defended. When we learned of the potential threat, Berit was resigned to simply sacrifice it – but if you can deploy quickly enough, you might be able to head them off.”

            “What’s so special about these firewands?” Ganan grumps as he folds his arms across his chest.

            The aide smiles at him, “They have three-times the normal range. There are… side-effects, the weapons use a vast amount of firedust on every shot, and each barrel must be expertly wrought by a master artisan. Attempts to recreate the weapons since the loss of their inventor have been… unsuccessful.”

            Ganan’s face took on a dreamy, far-off look at the idea of “triple range”, and it is not evident how much else he’s heard.

            “And this strike-team?” Melody asks.

            “We have very little intel on them. They’re led by some kind of pirate reaver – possibly House Peleps, possibly an Outcaste. She has some Immaculate training and fights with wicked claws. The big danger is her lieutenant, I have a sketch…” He hands out a drawing of a fearsome-looking bald-man, the Cathak Mon proudly displayed on his armor, a long, thin beard, and a massive two-handed Direlance, “Fire Aspect, if not a Cathak then a damn good impression of one. He’s a headsman. Literally. Chops the heads off his enemies, a real nasty piece of work.”

            Ganan knits his brow, “Just two of them?”

            Berit’s aide shuffles uncomfortably, “There might be a pair of Anathema aiding them.” She drops her voice almost imperceptibly low and leans in, “Lunars.” She straightens up, and resumes her normal volume, speaking somewhat more quickly, “Of course nothing is confirmed. But they’ve been seen in the presence of mortals – merchants, peasants, naval marines, children – and they’ve been seen in the presence of V’neef’s, Tepet’s, even a Mnemon. Either they have a vast network of traitors… or a pair of shape-changers.”

            “You want to send us against two Anathema?” Reya leers at Berit’s aide, who shifts uncomfortably under her gaze.

            “A-a-as I said… Berit was resolved to losing the depot… until you said you wanted to join the war effort.” The aide stammers.

            “Join the effort. Not get killed.” Ganan says, “We need to redirect forces from the main battle-line.”

            The aide shakes her head, “Ragara Banoba’s force is vast, but it’s fractured. He doesn’t command the respect that Cainan did: no powerful matriarch, no throne, no Imperial Navy. But he has a vast array of mercenaries. He needs to strike now before his coalition falls apart. This would suit us: we can’t govern with an army encamped in the middle of the Blessed Isle, but with House Nellens on the other side of the Isle, and House Sesus all but destroyed, we are badly outnumbered. And to make matters worse, the enemy seems to know our moves before we make them, they are always one step ahead.”

            “What about Mnemon’s-” Ganan begins before Reya shuts him up by hitting him in the ribs.

            “The Thousand-Forged Dragons?” The aide intuits, “Mnemon sent one against Banoba’s forces. No-one is sure how, but somehow he was able to take command of it. It remains unclear whether the second will be vulnerable. Mnemon is still sore about the loss: it’s not wise to talk about it, especially if you’re out of favor with her.”

            “So… no reinforcements then?” Melody says.

            The aide looks ashamed, “I’m sure Berit wouldn’t mind if you just… stayed here?”

            Reya glares at him, “Where is this depot?”

            ****

            The sun is setting as they Stormwind into the camp, twenty miles north of Incas (and a little way inland). A Scale of Mnemon liveried soldiers march in Fangs of five around the camp, securing the borders.

            Reya gives the correct authorizations, and the lead mortal shows them to a crude, wooden, munitions building. It’s stacked with carefully packed firedust crates. Ganan makes his way through the room, and spotting an oilcloth he unwraps one of the prototype weapons.

            “Is this it?” He asks, examining the breach-loader. It is superbly wrought and fashioned into the likeness of a serpentine dragon.

            Reya comes up behind him as he turns the weapon in his hands, “That good.”

            Ganan nods, mutely, considering. “This was assembled by a master artisan. The artistic flourishes complement the design – which is precise. A savant with unparalleled attention to detail created this.”

            “Can you recreate it?” She asks.

            Ganan considers for a moment longer before nodding again, “The experimental process might be… explosive.”

            Reya nods back, “Can you rig this building to explode?” (-10SP: 9GP, 4SP)

            ****

            “Are you sure they’re here?” A woman’s voice, calm and professional as her team moves under the cover of darkness.

            “They’re here, and we need to get them back before Mnemon uses them to do any more damage.” Another woman, clearly frustrated, perhaps a little scared.

            A gruff man snorts, “I am still not convinced that it’s worth all this effort.”

            A child’s voice, “That’s the last of the guards.”

            “Are they-?” The second woman again.

            “They’ll live.” The child replies.

            “I preferred it when I didn’t realize how dangerous you are tea-master.” The gruff man intones, “This building?”

            He hauls the doors to the building open and is greeted with a massive fireball.

            Ganan, Reya, and Melody leap from the shadows: they burst from concealment, Melody on the back of her phantom mount.

            The Cathak Headsman picks himself up from the ground, head ringing, and he moves to defend the Peleps Reaver.

            Ganan crosses the distance between them, already lying in wait as a body of shadow, sitting in Earth Dragon Form. The Headsman catches sight of the immaterial shadow in the glint of his weapon’s steel and he twists at the last moment to block Ganan’s tetsubo as Ganan’s kiai rends the barrier between the material and immaterial. Ganan’s blow connects and sends the Headsman reeling.

            The Boy is already on his feet. He sees Melody aiming at the Reaver and rushes at her. He slashes her with a needle, and Melody’s head rushes as colors swirl before her eyes.

            The Reaver sees her Headsman fighting an invisible foe. She struggles to her feet and settles into a fighting position.

            Melody takes her eyes off the Reaver to snap a shot at the Boy attacking her. Her anima storms to its full brilliance as the arrow glances off the Boy, smashing against his skin as it if were hardened steel. The boy staggers back, and Melody rears her steed away from him as he reels.

            Reya speaks the Burning Name and sends a jet of flame at the Reaver. She recedes with the practice movements of Water Dragon Style, but her anima is clearly Earth Aspected as it rises around her.

            The Inventor levels a firewand at Melody riding her charger rides through the melee. A great whoosh of flame flashes between her and her mount, and continues for a clear thirty yards behind her. Her firewand has maybe four times the range of a standard weapon.

            The flames of the burning armory flicker as Ganan closes in on his prone foe. He punts the Headsman into the burning building and turns to close in with the Reaver.

            Melody’s mouth goes numb as she lines up another shot on the Boy. For a moment she feels a mother’s pang of conscience. Then she puts it from her mind. Drawing on her most lethal trainings, she looses on the Boy. Her arrow explodes into thorns as it catches him in the throat and he drops to his knees, clutching at the wound as he bleeds between his fingers. Melody looks away and tries to hold back the tears.

            The Reaver can’t see Ganan. She circles warily, dropping into a full guard.

            The Inventor reloads her firewand, pouring a vast amount of firedust into the mouth of her weapon as she rushes to the Reaver’s flank.

            The Boy, slick with blood, seems to merge into the shadows. The burning armory building casts an eerie light over the battlefield as he slips from view.

            The bonfire seems to grow as the Headsman rises from the burning wreckage of the building. Flames lick around him sinisterly as he eyes the battlefield.

            Ganan aims the Reaver, wanting every advantage for his next blow and allowing his energies to rebuild.

            The Reaver slams back-to-back with the Inventor, shouting a quick warning about an invisible foe.
            The Inventor nods grimly, sighting Melody (as she blinks tears and smoke from her eyes). She fires an impressive blast of flame that knocks Melody from the back of her horse. Melody lies on the ground, winded. Her phantom steed, an extension of her will, does not bolt, but it does ride on a few steps before it realizes it has lost its rider and can arrest its momentum.

            Reya throws another blast of flame at the Reaver. Her target’s claws slice through the air, cutting the stream of fire in half.

            The Boy appears out of the shadows lashing out with his poison needles. Reya dodges, barely, forced on the defensive by a flurry of blows delivered with honed precision as she’s driven backward.

            Melody picks herself off of the ground, shaking her head to clear it. It’s been a long time since she has been forced off of a horse. Her anima rages around her as her powers recover.

            The Headsman barrels towards Ganan. He slices through the air, guessing at Ganan’s position with his own spirit rending shout. His mighty blade rings out against Ganan’s Invulnerable Skin, scuffing him slightly off-balance.

            Ganan staggers back under the hit. His shadow form slips behind the Reaver and he smashes forward with his tetsubo. There is a satisfying crunch as his Earth Aspected foe is thrown forwards into the burning building, face-first.

            Reaver pulls herself out of the burning building and sees Melody on foot. She sprints towards her, slashing out with her claws. Melody ducks and dodges as this new onslaught wrong-foots her and sets her back.

            The Boy feints and drops under Reya’s guard. He drives a poison needle into her leg, and Reya’s world goes blurry. She draws the aegis of her shield to protect her body from the poison.

            The Inventor waits for the perfect moment between the Reaver’s strikes to join her blow to her companions. Flames leap out, burning Melody’s side badly.

            Needing breathing room, Melody ducks under her attacker’s swings and bolts for the shadows, easily escaping as she shakes off the last of the poison.

            Reya smashes forward with her shield, hammering her child-like foe with a slab of solid jade. The sudden, furious assault catches the Boy off-guard and bludgeons him unconscious.

            The Headsman’s massive weapon transcribes a deadly arc where Ganan’s head should be. It rings out against Ganan’s Invulnerable Neck, but the force of the blow still bruises his windpipe, forcing the wind out of him. The Headsman follows his attack up with a body blow. His mystic weapon hammer’s Ganan’s already battered body, sending him staggering back.

            The Headsman lines up for a decapitating blow and strikes again. Ganan’s Invulnerable Skin explodes outward under the impact, the magic ameliorating the blow.

            The Reaver crosses to Reya as the Boy goes down. She leaps at her, slashing out with her tiger claws. Reya interposes her shield as steel strikes jade, but the flurry of blows causes her to lose her footing, leaving her wide open for a deadly attack.

            Melody fires an arrow at Reya’s attacker. The Reaver leaps back, buying Reya just a fraction of breathing space.

            The Inventor pours more firedust into her weapon, her eyes frantically trying to find Ganan’s invisible form.

            Ganan barrels into the Headsman, knocking him to the ground once more. The Headsman lands badly as Ganan surges over him: he doesn’t let him recover his footing, bringing his tetsubo down again to smash the Headsman’s face in.

            “Zhao!” The Inventor cries as Ganan’s shadow flickers over the body.

            Reya recovers her footing, speaking the Burning Name to drive her foe back another step.

            Melody fires on the Reaver again, keeping the pressure on. She continues to recede like the tide before the onslaught.

            Reya tucks in behind her shield and throws herself forward like a bullet, bludgeoning the Reaver under the solid weight of her body. She rolls with the blow and passes Reya off to the side, but has to wrench herself awkwardly to do it.

            The Inventor fires on Reya, flames licking her jade shield and splitting her focus. And then Ganan is upon her, smashing her to the ground with his tetsubo.

            The Reaver surges forward, slashing at Reya even as she takes a defensive position. Between the firewand and the tiger claws, Reya is thoroughly buffeted.

            Ganan fights through the biting wind of the Inventor’s Air Anima as he smashes her downed form with a back-breaking blow. She blacks out underneath him.

            Melody puts an arrow into the Reaver. It impacts her shoulder with a sickening thud.

            Reya speaks the Burning Name a final time and the Reaver is ignited, going up in a pillar of flame. She screams for a moment before falling in a heap on the ground.

            Ganan becomes solid again, walks round to the Boy, and batters his brains over the rocks. The corpse takes the shape of a grown man. Then he walks to the Headsman and slips a knife between his ribs.

            “Don’t even start!” He tells Reya as he makes his way over to the burnt remains of the Reaver to make sure she’s dead.

            Reya collapses her arms by her sides and lays on the ground looking up at the sky. Melody quietly makes her way over to the Inventor and slips out her healing tools.
            After dealing with the Reaver, Ganan calls out to Melody, “You got that one?”

            “Uh-huh!” Melody calls as she works on stabilizing the Inventor.
            “Well don’t go through her pockets!” Ganan calls, “That’s just nasty.” He walks over to Reya and sits on the floor next to her. “She’s healing her, isn’t she?”

            “I don’t care.” Reya sighs, her ears still ringing from the explosion. She lies there for a while, not moving, then pushes herself up into a sitting position. “‘Back’.” She sighs and wanders over to Melody. Ganan doesn’t bother to follow after, moving back around the bodies to strip them.

            “‘Back.’” Melody says as Reya walks over.

            “Yes, I heard her too.” Reya squats awkwardly, “Melody, is there anything good that can come of this?”

            Melody looks at her, “You might be ready to side with Mnemon against the Mouth of Peace, but I’m not. I married into your crazy family, but that doesn’t mean I support Mnemon no matter what. This woman designed these weapons – and I’m willing to bet her family name is ‘Mnemon’.”

            Reya just stares at her.

            Melody puts her tools away, “You get that she’s you right? The golden child, favorite daughter? Right up to the point where she’s no longer useful and now she’s a threat to be removed. We are sitting firmly in ‘threat’ territory right now, and I’m not convinced that Mnemon on the throne is still the best option for us.”

            A new voice, weak and bruised, “It’s not.” The Inventor coughs and struggles to draw breath as she comes to.

            Ganan plods over, carrying one of the experimental firewands (and a bundle containing the looted artifacts), “Impressive design. Your work?”

            The Inventor turns her head to look at him, “Yes.” She admits, the word sounds tortured.

            Melody hands Ganan the Inventor’s weapon, and he examines it.

            “This is even better.” Ganan nods, “Do you have a name?”

            The Inventor turns her face away, “You can call me ‘Issa’.”

            Melody takes Issa’s hand, “And would your mother have attached, ‘Mnemon’ to that?”

            A single tear rolls down Issa’s face, and she nods slightly, “You do not understand what she will do with my weapons.”

            Reya folds her arms, “Well if you’re awake and chatting, perhaps you’d like to tell us?”

            “Is my Hearth dead?” Issa asks, not looking at her.

            “Yes.” Ganan says bluntly, “I killed them, these two like to take Dynasts alive, but your Anathema Boy left me no choice.”

            “Then why would I help you?” Issa says.

            Reya stands and looms over her, “I am Mnemon Alinos Danireya. I sieged the Imperial Palace and killed Cathak Cainan. I ventured into the Imperial Manse and I killed Ragara. As things stand, I’m going to drag you in chains back to Mnemon and throw you at her feet. So by all means, stay truculent.”

            “I was there. When Mnemon took Jiara. She used explosives I designed to blow open the city gates. Then we used firewands to burn out the rebel Prince from the mining town she fled to. Fire swept through the city. I can still smell the bodies. That is the great victory that she flouts as proof of her right to rule: a massacre perpetrated with my weapons. And that’s what she promises for the Blessed Isle. Her enemies will burn. And then the Threshold will burn.”



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

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            • #81
              There were some technical issues with last night's game. So it's going to be a bit bitty. Here's some of it and we'll put up more as I type it up.

              Correspondence between Mnemon Alinos Danireya and Mnemon:

              4th Day of Ascending Water

              Her Royal Highness Mnemon,

              As per my previous correspondence, the rebellion in Pangu has been resolved. The smallfolk chant your name and now march under your banner. I remain concerned by the hold the Immaculate Order has in the region, given recent revelations.

              Responding to the threat identified by Berit’s military intelligence, the Peleps-Cathak infiltrators and their Anathema ally have been stopped, with extreme prejudice. I have taken a quite unexpected prize, that I would deliver to you in person, yet Berit has asked that we hold this position.

              I long to fight at your side in the coming battles, and in so doing prove my loyalty and re-earn your favor.

              Your Faithful Servant,
              Mnemon Alinos Danireya

              *

              5th Day of Ascending Water

              Mnemon Alinos Danireya,

              Hold position. What prize?

              Mnemon-Denka

              *

              6th Day of Ascending Water

              Her Royal Highness Mnemon,

              I am wary of committing too much to the page, your Exalted Greatness, but it would appear that the inventor of your new firewand weapons was merely abducted by our enemies and not killed as initially believed. She has suffered great mental torture – no doubt the work of the Anathema – but we have successfully liberated her. I have separated her from the fighting women, and I am keeping her under constant guard. (For her own protection, of course.)

              My husband works tirelessly on reproducing the improved firewands, and I have every confidence that he will be able to reproduce their secrets.

              I beg that you simply give me the chance to prove myself: there is more I can do in your service if only you would make use of me.

              Your Humble and Obedient Servant,
              Mnemon Alinos Danireya

              *

              Reply sent the same day

              My dear, my very dear, Great Granddaughter,

              My poppet, my pigsnie, please put from your head this notion that I am in any way displeased with your conduct. I take full responsibility, of course. That Berit met with you outside of the Imperial Palace was only because of the great haste required to head-off Ragara Banoba’s forces, sweet child. Had circumstances allowed it, I would have been overjoyed to receive you personally in my chambers. Likewise, if my previous letter seemed at all… ‘distant’, then, be assured my precious daughter, that this is only because of those same time pressures. Were it not for this damnedable war, I should have more time for my beloved family. I do not expect old heads on young shoulders: with your recent triumphs, it is hard to recall just how young you are. Put all thoughts of ‘favor’ and ‘proving oneself’ aside: I am very proud of you. (I shall be calling upon you in the coming months for your aid in claiming my mother’s manse.)

              I am most pleased to hear that you have managed to recover your lost cousin. She is no doubt… troubled by her experience. Hold your course. Should you be able to return her to a state of usefulness, this would be desirable, but no blame will be attached to you should she prove a lost cause.

              On review of Berit’s tactical information, I believe it is no longer necessary to have you relegated to some distant camp, and my personal presence on the front is no longer required. Attend me presently in the Imperial City.

              Your Affectionate Grand Daimother,
              Mnemon


              Session 69 – The Palace of Dragon’s Repose – Reya (225XP 180DX, 203/143 spent; 9GP 36SP), Melody (225XP 180DX, 208/146 spent), and Ganan (225XP 180DX, 187/153 spent; 8WhP 77GP 62SP)

              Foul language, matricide, scene of birth.

              12th Day of Ascending Water RY769
              The Imperial Palace, Throne Room

              By all accounts, the battle against Ragara Banoba’s forces was something to behold. Thousands of warriors clashed in the fields of Incas Prefecture. Two great war-machines of the First Age, Thousand-Forged Dragons, clashed in the skies above fields of infantry. Mnemon’s grenadiers and dinosaur cavalry clashed against Ragara mercenaries armed with shadow blades, their ranks swollen with nightmares given form. At the apex of the battle, when all seemed lost, Tepet Ejava, the Roseblack, had led the Vermilion Legion in a daring flanking maneuver that had ripped the heart from the Ragara coalition. One of the Thousand-Forged Dragons tore the heart from the other – it was not entire clear which of the two prevailed, then flew high into the skies. Banoba was taken in chains, and though many of his seconds escaped, there was now no further organized resistance to Mnemon on the Blessed Isle. Our heroes, of course, missed the entire battle.

              Mnemon stands upon a dais, the Imperial Throne behind her. The room is flanked by the Legion of Silence. Cynis Ganan, standing alone, looks up at her. He holds two firewands – the original by Mnemon Issa, and his own iteration (-10SP: +9GP; +4SP).

              “The designs are incredibly difficult to reproduce Madame Mnemon. But as you see, it can be done. I do not think I can produce these in numbers enough to make a difference before the end of the war.” He looks up her embarrassedly, “Not, of course, that our forces – your forces – require any additional help.”

              Mnemon holds out a hand to silence him, “I did not call you here to discuss the war. Cynis Belar is suing for peace.”

              Victory was all but assured on the Blessed Isle. Even Ganan was not ignorant of the fact that representatives from the Western Imperial Protectorate had arrived in the Imperial Palace yesterday to discuss peace. That left House Cynis as the other Threshold power. With their legions shattered at the Battle of Incas, House Cynis was now concentrated in Greyfalls: hundreds of pure-bred scions, safely insulated from the Realm by the war between Thorns and Lookshy.

              Ganan bows, “Forgive me, Madame Mnemon. I was not aware that Cynis Wisel and Falen were-”

              Mnemon cuts across them, “They are alive and well, both. Cynis Belar has betrayed her sisters. She has taken the Greyfalls war-manse and begs clemency for her House. Wisel and Falen, traitors to the Realm, are sheltering in a vast, fortress manse just outside of the city.”

              Ganan shifts uncomfortably, not liking where this is going.

              “This manse,” Mnemon continues, “Is too well defended for Belar to take. Apparently, it is officially listed as a brothel, and no-one bothered to notice that it was designed as a practical fortress. It predates House Cynis being awarded the Eastern Threshold Administrative District. Set on a hill. Surrounded by a wood. With over a year’s supply of food. The most significant manse, in geomantic terms for a hundred miles, excluding the war-manse itself.” Mnemon’s voice has grown in volume as she speaks, “Perhaps the last significant enemy fortress between me and the throne. Are you familiar with it?”

              The word ‘familiar’ is stressed, practically shrieked hysterically.

              Ganan drops his gaze, “The Palace of Dragon’s Repose.”

              Mnemon smiles without mirth, “Oh, you’ve heard of it.” Her voice low, and dangerously calm now.

              “I designed it.” Ganan admits without looking up, “And I’m carrying its Hearthstone… It’s my mother’s manse, Madame Mnemon, if it please Your Royal Highness.”

              “It does not please me.” Mnemon spits, “It does not, in any way please me that House Cynis denies my claim to the throne. Nor does it please me that a scion of this treacherous House should involve himself so intimately in my ascension to the throne. Nor that he should have the unmitigated gall to venture inside my mother’s manse. And now one manse stands between me and victory. Your manse Cynis Ganan. And, somehow, the traitors have harnessed your manse’s geomantic energy and used it to cripple the Four Wind’s Throne war-manse! Compromising our forces and the defense of the entire region!”

              Ganan chooses his words very carefully, “Meaning no disrespect Mnemon Denka, I am not sure how best I can serve you. Perhaps if you were to summon Reya-”

              “Mnemon Danireya is not on trial here.” Mnemon says coldly.

              Ganan looks around him, now realizing that it is perhaps unusual for the throne room to be filled with the Legion of Silence, and for courtiers to be completely absent.

              “Oh.” Ganan says.

              Mnemon explodes, inchoate with rage, “‘Oh’? ‘OH’! I’ll show you ‘oh’ you insolent!” She charges from the dais drawing level with Ganan’s chest, craning her neck up to look at him. Ganan looks back at her nonplussed. Mnemon takes a deep breath, and says levelly, “Fix this.”

              Ganan’s eyes go wide, bewildered, “Yes, Your- I mean… What? How? Huh?” Mnemon glares at him, so he continues, “I mean… if I were in the Scavenger Lands, I might be able to break into the manse. There’s a weak-point… I could destroy the whole thing… But it is thousands of miles away, and the war with Thorns and Lookshy. And there are hundreds of Cynis scions in Greyfalls…”

              “What I’m hearing,” Mnemon says tersely, her face close enough to Ganan that he can feel her breath on her neck, “Is that if I can get you to the Palace of Dragon’s Repose, you can get inside and kill all of the traitors within?”

              “I mean… if I were there… I could get inside… and maybe… detonate the manse? That would kill most of them, and free up the geomantic blocks on the war-manse… and Belar could do the rest?”

              If you were there? Three thousand miles away?”

              Ganan scratches the back of his neck, “I mean, that is to say that, begging your pardon, but my Hearth could get me there. It shouldn’t take longer than a week, even with the war.”

              Mnemon turns from him and walks to the throne. She lays a hand lovingly on the carved dragons that make its back, caressing them, before looking back to Ganan, “I will be Empress tonight. House Cynis falls, tonight.”

              Ganan opens his mouth to protest as Ylva Wataru walks into the room.

              “Cynis Ganan, I believe we have an arrangement in Greyfalls.”

              “Her!” Ganan splutters, “You can’t trust her! She’s a S-… She… was on Ragara’s side! She helped him into the Imperial Manse to steal your throne! Also… isn’t she dead? I thought she was dead?”

              “Both of you were in the Imperial Manse,” Mnemon says coolly, “Neither of you can defeat House Cynis alone, but together… together you can prove your loyalty – Cynis and Sidereal – to me.”

              ****

              Ganan rides on Ylva’s back in her draconic form. A hundred-pound barrel of firedust is loaded behind him, and he is wearing a green and gold robe stolen from the Cynis wing of the Imperial Palace. The land falls away beneath them as Ganan clings on for dear life. Ylva’s speed is staggering – faster by far than Danireya’s Stormwind Rider. They fly across the inland sea, keeping hundreds of miles from the conflict between Lookshy and Thorns. A vast explosion rocks the skyline to the South, but Ylva does not slow until the Palace of Dragon’s Repose comes into view.

              Ylva sets them down next to a rocky outcropping, out of sight from the manse on Ganan’s direction. Ganan pushes his fist into the boulder and draws out his tetsubo. He hoists the firedust barrel onto his back and smashes his tetsubo into the rocks, breaking open a fissure leading to a hidden tunnel. Ganan squeezes his way inside. The tunnel is pitch black. Ganan reaches out with his senses and confidently walks the length of it, feeling the secret escape tunnel bend uphill towards the manse.

              Just outside of the manse, he senses another figure in the tunnel.

              Cynis Jinabar lights a torch as she hears a figure approaching and peers into the gloom, “Gan?” She calls.

              Ganan stops in the tunnel, breathing hard, “Jin?” He calls back.

              Jinabar rushes forward and embraces him.

              “Careful!” Ganan warns pointing her torch away from the obscenely large barrel of firedust on his back.

              She looks from the barrel back to Ganan’s face, “You’re not here to join us… how… how are you not here to join us?”

              “Belar is suing for peace. Mnemon wants the hold-outs eliminated.”

              Jin takes a step back, “You’re here to kill us all?”

              Ganan shrugs, “I built this tunnel so that one day I could kill mother. I’ll admit, this is more collateral damage than I anticipated when I designed it. But I am going to go in there and kill everyone inside.”

              Jin jabs forward with her torch, “Better I blow us both up here.”

              “I feel compelled to point out that ‘out here’ isn’t ‘in there’. Mnemon has taken the throne, there is no-one who can oppose her now. This is a lost cause: are you really going to die for mother when you could just stand aside? Walk out the other end of this passage and go join Belar: House Cynis has a future with Belar. Go back to your archons. I believe you’d kill me – kill us both – for something you care about. But for the sake of prolonging a civil war? Tearing the Realm apart? Saving that monster? Let me pass.”

              Jin relaxes a little, “You’d let me go?”

              “You’re not in the manse.” Ganan shrugs, “Mnemon hasn’t asked me to kill you. I’ve got no personal reason to kill you.”

              Jin grins at her brother, “I love you too.”

              “Don’t start.” Ganan stops, “Tell me Mott and your other archons aren’t in there.”

              “They’re in town.”

              Ganan stands to one side, and cautiously Jinabar approaches, and squeezes past him. Ganan opens a hidden panel at the end of the tunnel, leading out into the manse’s wine cellar. Ganan grabs a couple of bottles of brandy.

              Ganan carefully picks his way through the kitchens. It seems the staff has been reduced, and with a large number of strange Cynis Dragon-Blooded crowded into the manse, Ganan makes his way past the servants without incident. He rises up into the dining room, nods at a pair of cousins loafing with their feet on the table and moves out into the study. One of the loafing scions pulls a face and rises, heading off into another part of the manse. Ganan picks up his pace. Half-a-dozen Dragon-Blooded don’t even look up as he crosses the room: one does, and they seem to recognize the stranger in their midst (he taps the shoulder of one of the other Cynis in the room and points Ganan out. Ganan raps the Palace’s Hearthstone on one bookcase, and it swings open like a door – Ganan darts through, and pulls it closed behind him. There is a sound of commotion from the study as Ganan finds himself alone in the Hearthroom of the manse – having cleverly bypassed all the manse’s defenses.

              There is a commotion from the hallway leading to the Hearthroom’s main entrance: Ganan quickly bars it. He sets the giant barrel of firedust on the empty plinth on which his Stone of the Ram’s Horn formed: a plinth set above a deep fault-line opened hundreds of years ago by the destructive energies of the Greyfalls war-manse – the structural as well as mystical foundation of the building. Wooden beams, old and dry, crisscross the room: he pours out one bottle of brandy over the wood and stuffs a rag in the other bottle before setting that on top of the firedust. Ganan lights the rag and sneaks back the way he came.

              “You don’t call. You don’t write. You don’t even respond to sorcery.” Cynis Falen Lorena smirks at her son, “What’s a mother to do?”

              She settles into Wood Dragon Form as four well-muscled Exalts armed with sledgehammers and wearing heavy chain swathing burst into the room flanking her.

              Ganan’s eyes take in the room, without leaving Lorena, “Mother… we can talk about this?”

              “No,” She shakes her head, “I don’t think we can.”

              Ganan waits for his hammer-wielding relatives to close in and Lorena watches with distracted self-satisfaction. The first closes in with Ganan, and he turns to one side, parrying the blow. The second fares no better, unable to find its mark. But the third hammers Ganan full in torso, and Ganan takes Earth Dragon Form as the burly man fails to knock him backward. Ganan’s anima rises full around him, sand tearing at the treasury of books on the shelf behind him.

              “That’s all you get.” Ganan grins.

              The fourth charges at Ganan, who brings his tetsubo down on in response, battering him to the ground.

              Cynis Lorena lashes out with her powerbow, using it like a staff to pierce Ganan’s flesh. The blow drives a thorn of deadly Essence into Ganan’s soul.

              With a desperate burst of energy, Ganan throws himself forward smashing his mother to the ground and trampling over her as he runs out of the room (the heavily armed sledge troops being unable to stop him).

              Lorena flips to her feet and chases after Ganan.

              Ganan runs through the dining room, leaping over the dining table. The remaining loafer does not sit idle, raising to try and tackle Ganan as he barges past. Ganan slams his tetsubo into the distant cousin, punting him over the dining table and towards his mother.

              Lorena spirals round the loafer, evading the clumsy attack with ease. As she moves, she draws her bow and looses an arrow. Guided by the soul mark, it strikes Ganan in the shoulder: the arrow shaft splinters as it smashes against his invulnerable skin.

              The firedust explodes. The Hearthroom implodes. The geomantic fault-line, anchoring the thousand-ton foundation upon which the entire manse rests, yawns open and the manse begins to fall into the bottomless crevasse below. The floor lifts to a thirty-degree angle as slabs of the ceiling start to fall inwards.

              “What did you do!” Lorena screams, shattering a marble slate as it falls from on high with a single punch.

              Ganan throws himself down the stairs into the kitchen as Lorena sprints behind him. She looses another arrow: Ganan staggers at it hits him square in the spine, but he doesn’t stop running. The entire above-ground structure collapses in on itself, falling into the bottomless pit of Creation’s under-dark. The servants scatter before the Dragon-Blooded, milling in confusion: the main exit out of the manse having now been destroyed. There is a sickening lurch as the basement levels of the manse slip toward the chasm.

              Lorena leaps on Ganan’s back, tackling him as the ground breaks up beneath their feet.

              Ganan struggles out of her grasp. The combined devastation from their animas rips up chunks of the kitchen. He hammers her back with the short end of his tetsubo, breaking away for the wine cellar.

              Lorena runs and jumps as the entire kitchen sinks away. Buoyed by Air Essence, she seems to hang suspended in mid-air as she fires her bow again. Ganan stops, spins on his heel, and swirls his tetsubo from the air, smashing the arrow apart mid-flight.

              Lorena lands inside the wine cellar: her feet just finding the lip of solid ground. Ganan barrels into her: his muscles strain as he smashes her with his tetsubo, knocking her back with all his might. Her face twists up with shock as the blow connects, driving the air out of her body. She meets Ganan’s gaze for a moment before the force of the blow drives her back into the yawning pit. There is a look of something like pride on her face as she fires off a last parting shot. Ganan’s Invulnerable Skin explodes as he channels his anima through the sorcery to ameliorate the blow.

              Ganan staggers over to the false wall concealing his escape tunnel and makes a run back for Ylva.

              ****

              Meanwhile in the Mnemon Wing of the Imperial Palace

              “Just breathe my love, you can do this.”

              Mnemon Ferad holds his wife’s hand as Melody pants. The labor has lasted for hours now.

              “I thought the second child was meant to come quicker.” Reya grins at her sister, holding her other hand.

              “Fuck. You.” Melody says between breaths, “I need willow bark. I need morphine.” The air is thick with the scent of vanilla and honey as scented wax is melted in a large brazier. The smell makes Melody want to puke.

              “You’ve had willow bark and morphine.” Ferad says gently, “Any more morphine and the baby won’t be able to breathe.”

              Melody screams, “I can’t do this.” The pain is like an encircling python. Waves of cramping agony wrack her body.

              “Yes, you can.” Reya coos as she strokes Melody’s hair.

              “Can I get you anything? Do you need water?” Ferad asks, feeling thoroughly helpless and exhausted.

              Melody shakes her head and reaches out for her Heath with her anima. Reya is right beside her. Udi is on the other side of the door. Ganan is…

              “Where the hell is Ganan?” Melody hisses out-loud.

              “I’ll call him,” Reya says, trusting her voice to the wind. There is no reply. She reaches out with her own anima to feel the presence of her husband – three thousand miles East. Her brow knits in confusion. Then Melody screams in pain again and Ganan is forgotten.

              “Where are the doctors!” Melody grunts.

              “You sent them out an hour ago my love.” Ferad reminds her, “You said you didn’t want anyone who knew less about childbirth than you telling you what to do.”

              The feeling is one of mounting pressure: not stretching precisely, but an agony born of the movements below.

              Melody screams again, “Is the baby crowning?”

              Reya and Ferad exchange a look of utter terror. (“Look! No, you look!”) Reya’s hardens into a look of command and Ferad reluctantly positions himself between Melody’s legs.

              “Alright then. That’s a baby. Yes. Reya you want to…?”

              Reya shakes her head, “Okay Melody, looks like the babies coming so… push with the contractions.”

              “I’m training you! I’m training you all in medicine!” Melody rants before the next contraction hits. Melody pushes down. She regulates her breathing, “You two first. Then the rest of you.”

              “The baby is coming, keep pushing!” Ferad encourages, not sure where to put his hands.

              “That’s. Not. How. This. Works.” Melody pants, “And take the damn baby as it comes out!” The contractions hit again, Melody pushes. It is like a dam breaking within her, they baby comes as a flood.

              “I’ve got it! I’ve got… him. I’ve got him!” Ferad smiles.

              “It’s a boy?” Melody asks, tearfully.

              The baby’s skin is far darker than Melody’s or Ferad’s, and he’s covered with a fine down. His eyes shimmer with the prismatic colors of the rainbow.

              “Big boy. Bigger than baby Lezabe.” Ferad smiles, awkwardly handling the baby and its cord, “He looks like you.”

              Reya and Melody say nothing. The baby does look like her.
              Last edited by JohnDoe244; 02-03-2021, 04:19 PM.


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

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              • #82
                Whilst this is a very long write-up, this didn't actually take very long to play.

                I intended to wrap Dynast of Dovak here and have this be the last session, but the players all want to carry on. So, Reya's player will take over STing, I'm goint to take over Cynis Ganan again, and Jin's player is going to bring back Cynis Jinabar.


                Session 70 – End of Chapter 6 – Reya (230XP 184DX, 229/184 spent; 36GP 6SP), Melody (230XP 184DX, 228/183 spent), and Ganan (230XP 184DX, 227/184 spent; 20WhP 5GP 66SP)

                Very foul language and sexual references. Part 1 of 2.

                1st Day of Resplendent Water RY769
                The Imperial City

                The fanfare is deafening. Seventy-seven dīyīn laba are blown as Mnemon’s parade sweeps through the streets of the Imperial City. The triumphant matriarch is born aloft on a palanquin borne by half-a-dozen angyalkae: the harpist demons adding their music to the fanfare. The dread demon Octavian walks behind her, his beautiful agata demon flying overhead. Favored scions, including Mnemon Nanals and her brother Phanjain, march behind, followed by drummers and a parade of elite soldiers, led by Tepet Ejava – the Hero of the Brume Fields of Incas. Ragara Banoba walks in chains before Ejava, his head hung low: he has been stripped of his weapons and armor but is being marched in the clothing he was wearing when he was captured nearly a month ago.

                The rebuilding of the Imperial City has only just begun – the demolitions caused by House Peleps and the ravages of Berit’s forces (including Shieldback Lizard smashed buildings) have been spackled over and partitioned off. Cainan’s re-established Deliberative has been ousted by the new garrison in Strix Tower – their last act was to formally offer the vacant throne to Mnemon, just in time for today’s celebrations.

                Our heroes watch the proceedings from the steps of the Imperial Palace – Mnemon Alinos standing in high honor for her role against the Ragara forces throughout the war. Much of the Alinos household stands with her. Opposite them is Tepet Corino, with Tepet Agoram by her side.

                A month has passed since the liberation of the Imperial City. The final battle between House Mnemon and House Ragara was supposedly legendary – but our heroes were ensconced in the capital when it took place. Thousand-Forged Dragons clashed. The timely intervention of Tepet Ejava swinging the battle in Mnemon’s favor. Tepet’s fortunes unexpectedly rising.

                Things had begun to change weeks ago – the day after baby Iohan’s birth. Mnemon started to sit upon the throne, sign her correspondence “Heika” rather than “Denka”, and to stop correcting courtiers who addressed her as “Empress” instead of “Madame Matriarch”.

                “Do you have to do that?” Mnemon Alinos Ferad hisses at Melody as Mnemon’s procession draws near.

                Melody is breastfeeding baby Iohan on the steps of the palace, “He’s hungry. Hush, you’re making a scene.”

                “But do you have to do that?” Ferad insists.

                Melody has adopted the child-rearing advice of Reya and resolved to raise baby Iohan personally. She has refused to take a wet-nurse.

                Ganan lays a hand on his brother-in-law’s shoulder, “Trust me, hush.”

                Ferad bristles with indignation but says nothing. Baby Iohan doesn’t not look like him: but whilst Ferad and Tomonas are of similar builds, they do not look like one another. Ferad does not possess the snow-white skin of his sister, being sun-worn from years of hard toil with the legions, but his skin isn’t dark like the thunderbird’s. Melody wonders if her husband suspects her infidelity, or whether he is simply concerned with the impropriety of a Dynast raising their own child. The other Alinos have not fought her on her heterodox decision to follow Reya’s example.

                Mnemon Nanals catches Melody’s eye as the procession approaches and she smiles at her. Ferad protectively puts his arm around his wife, standing by her side.

                Mnemon walks up the steps to the palace. She stops before Tepet Corino and beckons the woman to her side. Mnemon turns to find Mnemon Alinos, whom she graces with a smile. Reya thinks she catches the Empress’s eye for just a moment before Mnemon glides into the Palace. The spectators on the steps allow the favored scions to enter, then sweep in behind as Tepet Ejava holds the parade at the palace steps. Aline takes baby Iohan and baby Lezabe as our heroes attend the Empress.

                ****

                Our heroes follow the procession to witness the Mouth of Peace crown the new Empress. Representatives from all the Great Houses are held in attendance.

                Reya sweeps looks over those assembled, who are arrayed in a rough semi-circle around the throne:

                Berit and V’neef flank the throne on the Empress’s right and left hand. A small delegation in Berit’s colors stands nearby.

                Cathak Garel represents House Cathak. She is dressed finely, but not ostentatiously: her outfit is something like a dress uniform, and it makes Reya wonder if Garel expects to be cashiered – and has chosen an outfit that would allow Mnemon to humiliate her, whilst retaining some dignity. The Cathak delegation is small, and Reya does not recognize any of the other Dynasts.

                House Cynis is represented entirely by Dynasts Reya does not recognize. Nor does Ganan. In the middle of the delegation is a golden plinth set with a smoky glass ball – the likeness of Cynis Belar can be made out in the glass.

                Ledaal Yasmet leads a grand delegation of her House. Ledaal Ludila stands at the Matriarch’s left-hand, and she exchanges smiles with her Hearth.

                Rulinsei leads the Mnemon delegation. Much as Melody is just happy to be here and with a good view of the proceedings, Reya cannot help but note that the Alinos family are standing no-where near Rulinsei. Indeed, they are right on the far edge of the Mnemon delegation. She looks nervously to her father, himself of Rulinsei’s household before marriage, but Mnemon Johon is impassive.

                Oban stands with Nellens Gazal. Reya and Melody recognize other Nellens’ scions standing with them. Reya also recognizes Sesus Raves and her husband, and Sesus Alon and her husband (Mnemon Barin) standing with the Nellens delegation. The more she looks, the more it seems that most of the Dragon-Blooded standing with the Nellens delegation are Sesus – several of them look deeply uncomfortable. Ganan catches Oban looking over to their delegation, where Sesus Raenyah Terel stands with Mnemon Nula.

                House Ragara is represented by the chained Banoba. A young hansom Dynast stands behind him, carrying himself with a proud bearing, his jaw set against the indignity. Banoba maintains the proper poise of contrition.

                Tepet Ejava and Corino lead the Tepet delegation. Tepet Agoram stands with them at Ejava’s right-hand side and the pair are whispering to each other. Ganan sets his jaw noting that Mnemon Muli is standing with them. Tepet Arada, one of the Realm’s most famed generals, stands with them.

                V’neef’s delegation closes the circle, standing a short distance from their matriarch.

                Patricians, representatives of the Immaculate Order and others press behind the Dynasts. Reya notes Peleps colors among the Patricians.

                ****

                Mnemon gazes down over the assembled personages. A replica of her mother’s crown sits on her head. She speaks softly, the room going completely silent, carrying her words intimately to her listener’s ears as she makes her address.

                “My assembled subjects,

                “It is with a grateful heart that I assume the burdens of State. I make now no empty speeches: we have a long road ahead of us, so heed now my proclamations.

                “My ascension to the throne this day is not my own victory, but a victory for the Realm. Fought by the Realm, fought for the Realm, won by the Realm. On the one hand, disaster for all Creation, on the other stable rule. I acknowledge now that I did not come to the Throne by mine own might alone, but by the strength of every legionnaire, every servant, every farmer who shed their sweat and blood to seat me here. I now honor two such servants”

                She turns to look at Berit and V’neef in turn.

                “Kneel.”

                Berit and V’neef throw themselves prostrate before the Throne, their noses touching the ground. There is a gasp from those assembled as the Empress humbles her closest allies. Reya reaches for Ganan’s hand.

                “My sister Berit,” Mnemon continues, “You had the honor of leading my forces, will you rise and claim your part in my ascension?”

                Berit keeps her nose pressed to the ground, “I will not rise, my Empress, for I had no part in your ascension. Your victory is rightful and just, and I claim no credit. I am your unworthy servant and any gratitude owed to me is more than repaid by allowing me to kneel at your feet.”

                Mnemon casts a steely eye around the hall, then she kneels by her sister’s side and takes her hand, “If you are my servant, then obey my command and rise.” Mnemon and Berit stand together, and Mnemon embraces her. The court relaxes at this display of magnanimity.

                “My first proclamation as Empress, is that Great House Berit be now elevated to the rolls and ledgers of the Dynasty. Let the four Imperial Legions awarded to House Cathak be stripped from them and awarded to House Berit. Let the three legions of House Ragara be stripped from them and awarded to House Berit. And the three legions of House Cynis and the four legions of Peleps. House Berit shall be my sword. Fourteen legions united under one matriarch.

                “We live in uncertain times. The Anathema grow bold and the barbarian threat to the Realm has never been greater. As such, I hereby reinstate the Imperial Legions. The last Empress, foolishly, entrusted House Cathak with the right to raise four legions of its own: I take these legions as the foundation of my Imperial force.

                “Further I re-purpose the ancient title of our ancestors: Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force Against the Barbarians, Sei-i Taishōgun. This Shogun will serve as my chief military advisor, First of my Crown Marshals. Her task will be to bring the rebellious Threshold to heel and to quell the Anathema. With but the shattered remains of four Legions, this daunting task will be impossible for all but the greatest military general of all time. My sister Berit, do you accept this obligation – to pacify Creation in my name?”

                Berit meets the Empress’s eye, “I do.”

                Mnemon smiles at her, “Then such is your charge. I pardon my mother’s Crown Marshals and invite them to resume their service to the Realm.”

                Crown Marshals Sesus Raijin Vers, Black Spire Cloud, and Ivory Knife appear from behind a partition to stand at Berit’s side, and the four of them withdraw to the rest of the Berit delegation.

                “Dragons-teeth what I wouldn’t give for some popcorn.” Melody whispers to Reya, bringing a smile to her face.

                “After my mother’s abandonment of the Throne,” Mnemon goes on, “House Cathak dared to rise to seize the throne for themselves. What was touted as a miracle turned out to be the dark manipulations of the Anathema. The dread power of the Anathema cannot be underestimated, and as the Princes of the Earth, we have an obligation to all of Creation to stand forth against it. Approach Cathak Garel.”

                Cathak Garel approaches the throne, cognizant of the fact that V’neef still kneels prostrate before Mnemon.

                “Cathak Garel, do you denounce the traitor Cathak Cainan and renounce all claims to the throne?”

                Cathak Garel holds her head high, “I do. And I apologize to every woman in Creation for failing in my holy duty to recognize the threat-”

                Mnemon cuts her off, raising her hand, “A Great House that has been suborned by the Anathema cannot be allowed to stand. No gradual weakening of the House: House Cathak is hereby stricken from the Imperial Rolls and expelled from the Dynasty.” She lets the words hang in the air for a moment, “But I am not without mercy. Let my judgment stand as the supreme judgment upon Patrician House Cathak. They shall hold neither Prefecture nor Satrapy nor legion: but my proclamation shall be the only justice levied upon them. Let the scions of Patrician House Cathak live in peace, in accordance with the just laws of the Blessed Isle. Let them serve, as Patricians serve, in my Realm.” She dismisses Cathak Garel with a wave of her hand and looks meaningfully at Berit, “The exact appointments of the former Cathak holdings will be released by my scribes in the coming days. As shall arrangements for the collection of assets inappropriate for Patricians to hold.”

                Garel withdraws, and Mnemon continues.

                “Now I must address the matter of House ‘Mnemon’.”

                Rulinsei comes forward. She takes a knee beside the prostrate V’neef.

                “It is unseemly for a Great House to bear the name of the Empress, and I have no intention of changing my name. Thus, I hear-by strike House Mnemon from the Imperial Ledger and raise in its place House Rulinsei. None shall bear the name ‘Mnemon’ but I: let my children and the Found Eggs be of House Scarlet, out of respect to the memory of my mother.

                “Ragara Banoba, approach the throne.”

                Rulinsei withdraws and Banoba approaches.

                “Rulinsei Melody.” Melody turns over in her mouth, “Rulinsei Alinos Gracious Pealing Melody. I mean, I can live with it, but it doesn’t exactly fall off the tongue…”

                “House Cathak was led into an improper usurpation by the machinations of the Anathema. House Ragara, however, was motivated solely by their own foolish ambition. I hereby strike House Ragara from the Imperial Ledgers. From Patrician House Ragara I take, in full, their entire jade reserve, all lands, all debts, and all other assets that may be deemed necessary for the proper functioning of the empire. All Ragara held debts inherited from former Great House Mnemon are forgiven. Ragara Banoba, you are banished from the Realm. My soldiers shall immediately drag you from this place and sail you across the Inland Sea. You shall be taken beyond the borders of the Realm and there have your irons removed. Should you ever return to my Realm, you shall be put to death.”

                Burly palace guards come forward and drag Ragara Banoba from the Imperial Palace, as Mnemon smiles openly. Her eyes settle on Ledaal Yasmet, who approaches the throne. Yasmet does not kneel.

                “House Ledaal supported the throne from the off. And further they have not turned their gaze from the edges of the Realm, where the Anathema prowl. The throne forgives all formerly held Ragara debts incurred by House Ledaal. Further, it is known that House Ragara dabbled in dangerous sorceries – in due course I foresee the most dangerous of these artifacts being entrusted to House Ledaal, my shield against the darkness. The throne relieves House Ledaal from the burden of Incas Prefecture, so ravaged by war. It would ill-behoove the Empress to reward House Ledaal’s loyal service by forcing them into poverty in the name of honor. I am desirous that House Ledaal turn its attention to the Wyld Hunt. House Cynis…”

                One of the unfamiliar Cynis Dynasts approaches the throne.

                “For your treachery against the throne, in support of the Usurper Cathak Cainan, House Cynis is hereby stricken from the Imperial Ledgers.”

                “What!?” Cynis Ganan cries, elbowing his way forward.

                “Gan!” Reya hisses, physically wrapping her arms around him and pulling him back into ranks.

                Mnemon continues as if she had not been interrupted.

                “Further, as House Cynis fled from the Blessed Isle to the Threshold, I see no reason to revoke their self-imposed banishment. The scions of Cadet House Cynis are forbidden to returning to the shores of the Blessed Isle. Indeed, the Cadet House Cynis seems to have congregated the greatest part of its strength in Greyfalls: as Empress, I thus charge Matriarch Cynis Belar with the defense of this vital war-manse.

                “There shall be no exceptions to my judgment for those husbands who bear the name ‘Cynis’ who fought to place me upon the throne. But I recognize the great deeds performed in my name by men present here today, such as Cynis Nesil.” Mnemon gestures at Sesus Raves’s husband, “As such I offer a path to remaining on the Blessed Isle.” She dismisses the Cynis delegation and waves forward Tepet Ejava.

                “Cynis was born of my mother and her consort Tepet. Firstly, I award leadership of House Tepet to its greatest living champion. Great House Matriarch Tepet Ejava. To House Tepet, I award the Cynis lands, deeds, and titles, such as are held on the Blessed Isle itself. Secondly, I award Matriarch Ejava My Imperial Leave to adopt into House Tepet any scions of House Cynis that she sees fit. These Tepet Cynis shall be allowed to remain upon the Blessed Isle.”

                Ejava bows and returns to her ranks. Tepet Corino bows to her as she approaches.

                “Do we have a delegation from former Great House Peleps?” Mnemon exaggeratedly stands on tip toe and cranes her neck to look among the Patricians. Three women in naval uniforms approach. Reya recognizes Peleps Lundaer, carrying a chest. Mnemon smiles warmly at them as Lundaer lays the chest at Mnemon’s feet and opens it, revealing it full of jade obols. She picks the coins up and lets them fall into the chest with a clatter.

                “House Peleps is stricken from the Imperial Ledgers. Cadet House Peleps is charged by the Throne with establishing a Western Imperial Protectorate – standing against the barbarians of the West where our legions may not march. The Imperial Navy is, of course, stripped from them. Regular tribute is expected from the Imperial Protectorate, and it is my expectation that no member of House Peleps be found upon the shores of the Blessed Isle unless they are married to a Dynast or delivering to me my tribute. As such, it stands to reason that House Peleps no longer requires any holdings upon the Blessed Isle.”

                Mnemon dismisses the Peleps delegation who force their way back through the assembled Dynasts.

                “Would the delegations from House Sesus and House Nellens approach.”

                Oban and Nellens Gazal approach, flanked by various Sesus scions and mortal Nellens members of their Most August Conclave.

                “I am given to understand that there is glad news. Though the holdings of House Sesus have been razed and their legions utterly destroyed, the House survives. My sister Sesus was a blessed and beloved daughter of the former Empress and her consort Nellens, and it appears that House Sesus survives thanks to the quick action of my brother, Oban, in joining the remains of House Sesus to House Nellens. Allow me then to formally amalgamate these houses. House Nellens shall absorb House Sesus. Our new Imperial Bank shall be permitted to raise up to seven House Legions. It shall keep the combined holdings of both former House Sesus and House Nellens, in full. There is much construction that requires finance to rebuild the Realm, and it is my hope that House Nellens shall open its coffers and revenue streams in order to rebuild.”

                Neither Oban nor Nellens Gazal look shocked by this announcement. But as Reya scans the room, it becomes clear that they are the only two who are not. A ripple of gossip passes through the audience chamber. Mnemon raises a hand for silence and turns to V’neef. She does not bid her sister to rise, but speaks with a cool, clear voice.

                “To House V’neef I award the Imperial Navy. Such as it is, being much diminished by the actions of House Peleps. To that end, I divide the Merchant Fleet into thirds, and assign two thirds to Imperial Navy – in addition to what ships we still hold. House V’neef is the Realm’s power upon the waves. Letters of Marque from the Western Imperial Protectorate guarantee the safe passage of V’neef ships through Peleps waters. My sister V’neef shall be the Realms new Grand Admiral, the Mistress of the Sea, foremost authority upon the waves – her commands superseded only by my own. She shall be responsible for ferrying the Imperial Legions and defending our shores. Her charge is with expanding our boarders. It is one of exploration and discovery. Her mission: to enrich our shores with the bounty of the Threshold, and V’neef shall sit in a place of high honor in courtly matters: The Voice of the Empress, my personal confidant and handmaiden, my greatest advisor, favored among all Matriarchs. Rise my most faithful sister.”

                V’neef rises and stands at Mnemon’s left hand. Mnemon reclines back in the throne. The coiled likenesses of the Elemental Dragons seem to embrace her. For a moment, it seems like there might be no more announcements. Someone clears their throat. A low bubble of voices starts to rise from those assembled. Courtiers deftly slip to through the crowd starting to wheedle deals.

                “Banished?” Ganan gripes to Reya.

                “Don’t worry,” Melody pats his chest, “We’ll get you adopted. It’s not like everyone in House Tepet hates you or anything.”

                “Melody!” Reya reprimands sharply before addressing her husband, “You’re one of the finest warriors in the Realm. You took down the Usurpers Cainan and Ragara. We’ll get you adopted… just maybe don’t talk too much. We just need to-”

                Mnemon speaks, “One final matter.”

                A sudden hush falls on the crowd. The Legion of Silence march into the hall, ready to clear the crowd away.

                “There is a bloodline of House Rulinsei which provided truly exceptional service to me during the war. This major house defended us from House Ragara, brokered our earliest alliances, and provided sorcerous aide that was necessary to overcoming our enemies.”

                Mnemon locks eyes with Reya.

                “Would my daughter, Nanals, and my grand-daughter, Alinos, approach the throne.”

                Reya sways back as if she has been punched. Ganan stands behind her and holds her steady. Alinos approaches with Nanals walking behind her. When they reach the throne, Alinos kneels and Nanals curtsies. Mnemon gestures for Alinos to rise, and only once she is standing does she look away from Reya.

                “I strip the Merchant Fleet from House V’neef. And I award it to the newly elevated Great House Alinos. Let any scion of Great House Rulinsei who wishes, transfer their allegiance to Great House Alinos, and let them take their holdings with them. I strip no legions from Great House Rulinsei, but I grant Great House Alinos the right to raise two house legions.

                “Two new Great Houses have been formed this day. Patrician Houses of good breeding and Outcastes alike are given the opportunity to subordinate their bloodlines to the Dynasty. Should both Great Houses lay claim to the same bloodline, I, as Empress, wield my prerogative to favor the Shogun’s House. I also, as Empress, withhold my right to veto any household whom I feel do not meet the standards required of the Dynasty or whose elevation to the Dynasty would represent a destabilization of the Realm.

                “Your Empress has spoken.”

                And with that the Legion of Silence close ranks and begin to force the Dynasts from the room.

                “Alinos Melody.” Melody shrugs, “Yeah, that’s much better.”

                Reya rolls her eyes, “Come on, we need to speak to Ejava.”

                One of the massive, sorcerously enhanced soldiers of the Legion of Silence accosts them, and points towards Mnemon and the Throne. Another is escorting Ledaal Ludila before Mnemon.

                “Or we can go talk to the Empress. Also good.”

                Soon the room is empty but for the Empress, our heroes’ hearth, the Mouth of Peace, and her secretary.

                Reya kneels, and the others follow her lead. Mnemon watches them coolly for a minute and does not speak.

                “You wished us to attend you, Your Imperial Majesty?” Reya says, looking up at Mnemon.

                “I intend to grant Great House Alinos Incas Prefecture.” Mnemon begins, gesturing for them to rise, “Your mother’s house shall be paid for the upkeep of numerous Immaculate Shrines and granted the lease on the House of Black Waters. You will not be required to surrender your holdings in Mnemon-Darjilis, but you may find that properties owned in the heart of Rulinsei’s home prefecture do not serve your interests.”

                “Thank you, my Empress. Your generosity-”

                “Of course, Incas Prefecture is a war-ravaged money pit. It was inefficient to force House Ledaal to continue to hold it, and whilst your fledgling House can make some economies, the remnants of House Iselsi would make your government untenable. Given the destruction of the Palace Sublime, I anticipate these difficulties to be lessened.”

                The Mouth of Peace interjects, “Empress, you cannot have the Palace Sublime destroyed.”

                Mnemon smiles, “I have no intention of having anything destroyed. I want only to rebuild the Realm. Unfortunately, the news came this morning – the surviving Thousand-Forged Dragon was Ragara’s. It fell upon the Palace Sublime this morning and most thoroughly destroyed it. The Paragon of Pasiap, with the aid of a few high-ranking monks, was able to save some treasures, but the towers themselves, and the catacombs beneath… are gone. It is fortunate that you were here in the Imperial City. I would be delighted to offer the Immaculate Order a permanent home within the capital, but, of course, Juche would also be an ideal location to relocate the Order to.”

                “This is outrageous!” Chejop Kejak blusters.

                “Outrageous would be a Sidereal coup that shelters the assassins of Fallen House Iselsi!” Melody jumps in. She turns to the Empress, “My Empress, this man-!”

                Mnemon interrupts her, “I am quite aware of who and what Chejop Kejak is.” The Mouth of Peace looks bewildered, “But as Cynis Ganan will attest, the Sidereals have their uses.”

                They turn to Ganan, “Ylva’s alive,” He blurts out and looks at the ground, “She helped us bring House Cynis to heel.”

                “Indeed.” Mnemon continues, “I find it highly doubtful that Ragara Banoba could have wrested control of one of my Thousand-Forged Dragons without Sidereal aid and I am not in the least bit surprised that your treachery came home to roost. The question remains: should you relocate her to the political center of the Blessed Isle, or to Juche and the physical center? What do you think Danireya?”

                Reya weighs the options and turns to the Mouth of Peace, “I’d relocate to Juche. Given the devastation caused by the civil war and the fact that space here is at a premium, relocating to the old center of the Order makes sense. Some distance might also help insulate the Order from Realm politics.”

                Mnemon very slightly purses her lips, apparently displeased with Reya’s advice. The Mouth of Peace seems to read Mnemon’s reaction and she nods.

                “Yes, I believe Juche will be the appropriate place to relocate the Order. Thank you, come Chejop.” She bows and turns to leave.

                Mnemon stops Chejop, “I will require a full and proper briefing. I expect we shall be working very closely together.”

                Chejop Kejak grimaces, bows, and leaves. Mnemon claps her hands together with glee, then turns her attention to the hearth.

                “I have an empire to rebuild. Don’t you have something productive to be doing?” She looks at Ganan, “Passage off my island to book, perhaps?”

                Ganan grits his teeth and forces a stiff bow.

                “By your leave, Empress.” Reya bows and leads them out.

                ****

                As soon as they are outside of the Imperial Palace, a runner in ostentatious Tepet Blue and White offers to lead them to Tepet Ejava.

                The Roseblack has taken over a fine residence near the palace. Streams of peasants seem to be flocking before Tepet Corino peddling goods in a confused mill. The runner leads them to a private study where Ejava is pouring over maps, ledgers, and charts.

                “Just a moment. Please sit.” She says offhandedly, without looking up, “Fetch the others.”

                The runner disappears, then returns shortly with Muli and Tepet Agoram.

                Tepet Ejava sets her work down and turns to embrace Tepet Agoram. Muli salutes her, and she nods at him.

                “Alinos Danireya, you’ve got a fine boy here. I want to discuss marriage.”

                Reya smiles playfully, “You want to marry my son.”

                Ejava doesn’t find Reya’s joke funny, she looks sternly at her, “Tepet Agoram here would like to marry your son. And frankly, I think he’d be an asset to House Tepet.”

                “You mean, of course, that Tepet Agoram would be an asset to House Mnemon.” Ganan says gruffly, folding his arms over his chest, fogetting that House Mnemon no longer exists.

                Ejava turns her attention to him, “Agoram is older. It would be my expectation that Muli join my House. Especially given the relative political clout between House Tepet (the Saviors of the Realm), and House Alinos… which has… how many Exalted? Thirty? I do recognize Alinos Muli’s refined pedigree. His military accomplishments. His numerous sorcerous connections who could no doubt help with the conception of children.” She seems to find the last point personally distasteful, but covers it well, “House Tepet would be… well inclined towards House Alinos were you to approve this match.” She looks pointedly at Cynis Ganan, “And I would take it as a personal insult, were you to refuse.”

                Melody rises shakes Muli’s hand, “Congratulations!”

                Muli smiles back at her, “Thank you auntie.”

                “I have terms. Firstly, I expect a commission, Winglord or better.” Reya demands.

                “Commissions in the Tepet Legions are by merit only.” Ejava folds her arms over her chest.

                “I’m sorry,” Reya smiles, mirthlessly, “I thought you said you were familiar with Muli’s military record. I took you as an honest woman, but, if you are simply a flatterer, I’ll have a team of scribes enumerate the dozens of reasons why he deserves such a commission.” She watches the Roseblack squirm, “And besides, you said ‘legions’ plural. You are going to need officers to fill out a second legion, and whilst I appreciate you have no shortage of willing Cynis candidates, I do not believe that you have thirty-one candidates better than my son. Frankly, I’m surprised you’re willing to pretend you have enough candidates to pretend he’s not a consideration for Dragonlord.”

                “Alright,” Ejava raises her hand, “It won’t be in the Vermilion Legion, but I can make him a Winglord.”

                “Secondly, House Sesus offered him a generous stipend. I assume that House Tepet will match that?”

                Ejava nods, “Given our new Cynis holdings, I think we can afford that.”

                Reya looks to Muli, who just seems happy to be getting married, she looks back at Ejava, “And I’d like an adoption, for my husband.”

                Ejava smiles predatorily, “Then it seems we have a deal.” She turns to Agoram, “Why don’t you go celebrate? Alinos Danireya and I just have a few adoption details to wrap up.”

                Udi, Muli and Agoram leave. Melody sits back down next to Ganan.

                Ejava tents her fingers, “I want a year.”

                “You what what?” Ganan says.

                “I want you. To serve in the Vermilion Legion. For a year.” Ejava lays out slowly.

                “You’re getting Muli!” Ganan objects.

                Ejava addresses Reya, “I want your son to be happy in my House. I want to forge alliances. Your demands for marriage are all very reasonable – I am happy to meet them. But this is a separate issue, and you know it. Muli and Agoram have other options. You don’t.”

                Reya looks at Ejava levelly, “A year is a long time.”

                Ejava gestures at Melody, “The Imperial Legions ask fifty years from Outcastes.”

                Reya sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose, “Trust me, you don’t want to give Ganan a command.”

                Ejava bursts out into laughter, “Oh, Dragons, no!”

                Ganan folds his arms across his chest, “What’s that supposed to mean? I just defeated the greatest warrior in the Realm!”

                Melody squeezes Ganan’s hand, “Babe, no.” She shakes her head.

                “No-one is doubting that you’re a formidable warrior. But the Imperial Legions-”

                “Fight as a unit.” Ganan interrupts, “Sure, but I can do that now!”

                (Melody squints at Ganan, “Can you though?”)

                “There’s a difference between ‘fighting in a unit’ and a ‘command’.” Reya says simply, “Then what do you want him for?”

                Ejava tents her fingers, “He’s an architect. And I’ve seen his carpentry. I need camps designed, latrines dug, fortifications.”

                “Wait… you don’t want me to fight?” Ganan says, bewildered.

                Ejava shakes her head, “No: I want you to dig privies and bury bodies for a year.”

                “You could get anyone on the Blessed Isle to do that!” Ganan rages.

                “Yes,” Ejava smiles, “I could. And I want you.”

                Ganan stands up, outraged. Reya sits him back down.

                “To be clear: you get Cynis Ganan for a year and Alinos Muli married into your house. We get an adoption for Ganan, a commission and a generous stipend for Muli. Correct?” Reya asks.

                Ejava rises, walks over to a cabinet, and returns with four glasses an expensive bottle of whiskey. She pours, “And… an alliance. Between your emergent house and my resurgent house.”

                Melody and Reya take a glass.

                “Gan?” Reya says, she leans in close to him, “It’s up to you.” She whispers.

                Ganan reaches out and takes a glass.

                “Welcome aboard, son.” She tosses the finely aged spirit back in a single gulp, “Pack your things, we are shipping out tomorrow.”

                The others follow suit.

                ****

                Tepet Ganan walks back to the Palace to pack and spend some time with his daughter.

                “Damn that’s harsh.” Melody shakes her head, “What are you going to do?”

                Reya sighs, “I suppose I’d better pack too.”

                Melody looks shocked, “You’re joining the Red Piss Legion?”

                Reya looks confused, “I’m going back to Dovak.”

                “Seriously?” Melody is now the one who looks confused.

                “Melody, I’m the Satrap. How many Satrapies do you think House Alinos has? We need the income, and Tinkara isn’t just going to send the silver if we ask nicely.”

                Melody folds her arms, “Well I’m not going.”

                Reya looks hard at her sister, “That’s fine. I’ll take Nula and Terel.”

                “I’m serious Rey, I’m not going!”

                Reya nods tightly, “I hear you. What will you do?”

                Melody sighs and drops her arms to her side, “I don’t know… Maybe… Maybe I’ll join the Merchant Fleet.”

                Reya chuckles, “I didn’t know you could sail!”

                Melody grins back at her, “How hard can it be?”

                ****

                Reya returns to the Mnemon wing of the Imperial Palace to find Ganan bouncing baby Lezabe in his arms. A single back-pack of things has been packed.

                She folds her arms in mock indignation, “I thought you were packing?”

                Ganan blows a raspberry without taking his eyes from the baby, “The Legions will provide everything I need for the next year, I’m sure. I’ve packed some materials for jade carving.”

                Reya slips her arms around his middle, “You just wanted to spend time with the baby, you big softy.”

                “You’re going to need to get a wing in the Palace. The Cynis wing is best – Tepet won’t need the space, Berit will take the Cathak, Nellens will move into Sesus. You don’t want to get stuck with the Peleps wing.”

                Reya starts to pack, her things being moved up from Noble or down from Dragonsmouth over the past few weeks.

                Ganan breaks the silence, “What are you going to do, whilst I’m away?”

                Reya stops and turns to him. She does not insult his intelligence by asking for clarity, and instead says simply, “I don’t want to hurt you.”

                Ganan makes a grunting noise and goes back to playing with the baby.

                Alinos, Matriarch of the Great House Alinos, knocks on the door and lets herself in, “Ah packing, good. I have your next assignment. We need you on the Threshold Satrap.”

                “You should secure the Cynis Wing for your Great House, matriarch.” Ganan looks up from the baby to talk and he bows as respectfully as holding a six-week-old will allow.

                Alinos approaches Ganan, and baby Lezabe turns towards grandma and coos. Despite herself, Alinos smiles at the baby, who smiles back.

                “Of course, mother. I’ll be ready to return to Dovak in the morning. I’m hoping to take Nula and Terel with me.”

                “Dovak?” Alinos shakes her head, “No, I’ve traded that Satrapy with Rulinsei. I expect Tepet might have designs there – oh, can I assume that you have arranged the adoption already? Good. I saw Muli standing with their delegation: it is a good match and we need the alliance. No, not Dovak.”

                Reya inhales and holds the breath in her lungs she forces her mouth to turn upwards into a smile, “Where would you have me then, my matriarch?”

                Alinos smiles genuinely at Reya, eager to bring her in on her victory, “Oh, a small Southern Satrapy… Paragon.”

                Reya blinks in a double-take, “You traded Dovak for Paragon?”

                “I trust we stripped everything of value out of Dovak last time we were there?”

                Reya nods mutely.

                “Good.”

                Reya shakes her head in disbelief, “Paragon must be worth three, maybe four times, more than Dovak.”

                “And it has traditionally been an easy state to govern – so long as the Satrap is not overly ambitious, the Perfect can be trusted to handle his affairs himself. Paragon is orderly and prosperous. The Perfect is aware, no doubt, that the Realm doesn’t hold the Realm Defense Grid over his head anymore, and that the Imperial Legions have been reduced on paper from forty to four, and in practice to barely one. Further his insolence and willfulness are well known. Despite the city’s wealth, it is not traditionally viewed as a desirable Satrapy. Add to this the demonic cultists who have taken over Chiaroscuro, disrupting the entire region, and it is perhaps understandable why Rulinsei wants to consolidate her territories. Paragon cannot be a failure for our House. It requires my best Satrap. Your name has been mentioned for Satrap of Paragon before: the Perfect thinks highly of you.” Alinos stops, leaving the rest unsaid.

                “I won’t let you down, mother.” Reya curtsies, “We need to capitalize on the Merchant Fleet. We should find Outcastes dumped by Peleps, and their closest Patrician allies – V’neef is sure to be awarded the Peleps holdings to support the Imperial Navy, but we need the man-power to take your name.”

                Alinos holds up a hand, “And I’ll remember to breathe, and not to eat strange sweets handed out by the Iselsi, and to look both ways before crossing the road, and never to trust an Anathema, and that swords are sharp and not for running with.”

                Reya curtsies again, “Yes, mother. Sorry, mother. I only mean to say that Melody has expressed interest in helping with the navy.”

                Alinos nods thoughtfully, “Yes, she would be valuable. I’ll have her briefed.”

                Mother and daughter politely chat for a moment or two more, but nothing meaningful is said. When Alinos departs, Ganan speaks again:

                “I don’t mind, you know. I mean, I won’t be. But if you had a woman in mind… I don’t mind.”

                Reya kisses him on the cheek, “You can too. If you want to.”
                Last edited by JohnDoe244; 02-07-2021, 02:26 PM.


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

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                • #83
                  Part 2 of 2

                  The next day

                  Ganan works through the night repairing Cainan’s blades (-5SP, -14GP: 4WP, 1SP), which he leaves on the bedside for Reya to find. He gives Lezabe a quick kiss, and his nightshirt, before shucking his cleansing pearls back on, and heading down to the port with his traveling trunk. He takes a moment to check his Stone of the Ram’s Horn – it no longer funnels essence to him but appears to have retained its magic beyond the destruction of its parent manse.

                  The sun is rising as he reaches the docks. Tepet Ejava gives him a salute.

                  “Engineer Ganan,” She calls, “One trunk. Traveling light. Good.”

                  “Yes, general.”

                  She hands Ganan a copy of the Thousand Correct Actions and waves up a mortal, “Fanglord Sparrow, show engineer Ganan here to his bunk. We sail with the tide.”

                  The mortal Fanglord looks Ganan over, “Okay sapper, this way.” When Ganan nods at him, he continues in an irritated tone, “That’s ‘yes, sir’!”

                  Ganan grinds his back teeth together and chokes out, “Yes, sir.”

                  Sparrow leads Ganan to a cramped bunk on a crowded galley. Ganan goes through his supplies, fishes out some materials and starts to build (-2GP: Superior 2 project slot created).

                  ****

                  Ganan’s journey by sea takes just over a fortnight. During this time, he shapes the wood and the jade, creating small disks of red and blue jade the exact width of the Ghostglass wood. The waves are rough, and the bellow-decks stink of too many people cramped in too small a space.

                  They make landfall in a blasted plain. Ganan staggers out blinking into the light. The troop carriers have sailed into a wide, natural cove – the bulk of the cove is shallows, but a vast sea wall shelters a wide area (far wider than any Realm port). Ganan examines the cove more closely: it actually was once an artificial harbor, blasted clean by some tremendous force. Ganan looks out over the plain: it has been leveled by some kind of First Age weapon.

                  “Where are we?” Ganan asks the enlisted men. They just shrug at him and set to work unloading the ship.

                  Fanglord Sparrow approaches, “Welcome to Lookshy, we’re camping here – build a trench and wall here, sapper.”

                  Ganan blinks in confusion. There isn’t a city, not even a ruin. There isn’t even a crater. Just a clean, empty field – sand and blasted glass. He goes where Sparrow indicates, takes up a spade and starts to shift the earth into a defensive perimeter (10SP). Other sappers create other sections of wall, and latrines, and the enlisted men pitch tents. By nightfall, the Realm camp is erected.

                  Tepet Agoram finds Ganan, “It’s hard to believe isn’t it?”

                  Ganan buries his spade in the ground and looks at his son-in-law, “Is this really Lookshy… sir?”

                  Agoram clasps Ganan by the shoulder, “Winglord. But never-mind that. Yes, it’s Lookshy. The Mask of Winters attacked over winter. They held him off for months. Eventually… this.”

                  Ganan pauses, “On the 12th Day of Ascending Water?”

                  Agoram looks at him, puzzled, “Yes. We think they did this. Meet an honorable end rather than succumb. It’s not a shadowland, and it looks as if they took down the Mask’s army and his Juggernaut with them. No-one really understands what happened, or how the Mask of Winters was able to overcome the Seventh Legion. To be honest… it doesn’t add up: talk of demons in the Mask of Winter’s army, bolstering the dead. Rumors have spread, of course, but it takes a week to cross the inland sea and so far, the Empress has managed to keep the news relatively contained. By the time the small-folk hear of this, Ejava hopes that we will have taken Thorns.”

                  “We’re marching on Thorns?” Ganan asks, stupidly.

                  Agoram looks at him, “She didn’t tell you… anything?” He gives a low whistle, “Yes, we’re marching on Thorns. It’ll take a month to march from here to there. But we have to start here so the remnants of his army don’t get away. Plus, it’s the only safe harbor large enough to disembark a Legion.”

                  Ganan nods dumbly and gives a salute. Agoram nods at him and lets him rest.

                  In morning, the march begins. The Vermilion Legion keeps a vicious pace, marching for eight hours in a day before making camp. Each camp is laid out as per the instructions in the Thousand Correct Actions: perimeter walls are raised, latrines are dug, tents erected. Ganan gets a chewing out for digging latrines uphill and upwind one time, but otherwise the digging goes well. He sees Agoram and Ejava about camp, but otherwise does not speak with them. His time is taken up almost entirely by marching and digging fortifications. His work is not praised by the officers, and the enlisted men remain wary of the Dragon-Blooded working in their midst, but they appreciate his work (-10SP: 9GP 3SP).

                  In the evenings, Ganan continues with his work. By the time Thorns looms into view, he has completed his Ultimately Useful Tube (-11GP: 1SP, 1GP; 11 successes) (-11GP: 12 successes)(-11GP: 1SP; 13 successes; 4WP, 4GP)(-11GP: 1SP; 14 successes).

                  ****

                  Meanwhile

                  Reya awakes to find Ganan gone. The immediate surge of anger is not dulled in the slightest by finding Cathak Cainan’s swords restored and presented to her as a gift, but it cools instantly when she hears baby Lezabe gurgling and finds her playing with Ganan’s shirt.

                  She packs her things into several traveling trunks, checking the excess artifacts won during the campaign, including Cainan’s swords, into her fledgling Great House’s armory. Whilst packing she finds Ganan’s manuals on jade carving and firewand creation, which she also packs. She sends a servant out to buy supplies and goes to find Aline. She explains that she will be traveling to Paragon but understands if the girl would rather stay on the Blessed Isle. Aline readily agrees to accompany her. Together with the baby, they go to find Nula.

                  Nula and Terel are staying outside of the palace in accommodation suitable for a Dynast. They’ve taken on new servants who are familiar enough with the Dragon-Blooded to act haughty when Reya shows up carrying her baby in a sling. Reya hands the baby over to Aline, who is ushered into a less distinguished waiting room, and is taken to a reception room. Nula and Terel arrive separately.

                  The young Dynasts are a harder sell than the wet-nurse. Neither are keen to leave the Blessed Isle, and Nula hopes for a Satrapy of her own. But the promise of appointment as garrison commander and the chance of being the next Satrap of Paragon overcome their initial misgivings. Reya makes the inquires needed to book them passage on a ship – she’d prefer to Stormwind them across the sea, but Nula and Terel both want to bring a large amount of luggage. Commissioning a ship to sail directly is not a viable expense and the splitting of the merchant fleet will take time. In the end she books passage on a merchant vessel to Jiara in three days with a promissory for a ship to Paragon from there.

                  She returns to the Mnemon wing of the palace to find Udi waiting for her. She is carrying a qipao: purple fabric with a gold trim.

                  “House Rulinsei is keeping white and purple. House Alinos gets purple and gold. Ganan will be pleased – he won’t have to change his wardrobe.” Udi hands Reya the qipao.

                  Reya laughs, “Ganan won’t even notice.”

                  Udi smiles back at her, “So… when do we sail for Paragon, Satrap?”

                  Reya grins, “‘We’?”

                  “Apparently Rulinsei wants to assign all new advisors to Dovak. And the Empress doesn’t trust you to have four advisors of your own pick. The new Deliberative has approved a Sesus Garrison Commander, one Mnemon advisor, one V’neef, one Berit, and one Ledaal – the Empress has decided it’s easier to just appoint Houses, and have the Houses pick the individuals. House Ledaal picked me.”

                  Reya embraces her hearth-mate, “And no-one thought that was a conflict of interest?”

                  “Fuck ’em. We’re gods-damned war-heroes: they need to either step-up or get the hell out of our way.”

                  “Udi!” Reya laughs, “Well it’ll be good to have you with me. We sail in three days.”

                  ****

                  Melody visits Reya on the day of her departure to see her off. She is wearing an ostentatious tricorn hat.

                  Udi gives Melody a short bow, and they exchange a smile.

                  Melody pulls Reya in for a hug, “Enjoy Paragon. Make lots of money.”

                  Reya nods and breaks the embrace, “Learn to sail. Seriously, get lessons.”

                  Melody opens her mouth to protest.

                  “Don’t you dare tell me that you ‘got the hat’ and will work out the rest on the job.” Reya warns, wagging a finger at her.

                  Melody folds her arms across her chest in mock indignation, “Just for that, no friends and family discount when it comes time to collect your tribute.”

                  In an uncharacteristic public display of affection, Reya pulls Melody in again for another hug and kisses her cheek, “Come visit. Bring the baby.”

                  Baby Iohan is lying in a perambulator; Aline is feeding Lezabe.

                  Melody’s smile falters for a moment, and she leans in, dropping her voice low, “Do they ever stop crying? When do they start sleeping at night? Don’t leave me!”

                  Reya braces her by the arms, “You’ll be fine. He’ll be Exalting before you know it.” She looks at the calmly sleeping baby and wrinkles her nose a little as she catches the all too familiar scent of poo, “Get some help. Don’t go ‘Full Dynast’ about it, but you need someone to help and support you. Get a wet-nurse.”

                  Melody nods.

                  “Isn’t Jorod a naval man?” Reya prompts, “I’m sure he’d like to spend some time with his… brother.”

                  “You mean his ‘cousin’.” Melody rolls her eyes.

                  “We’re a new Great House and we’re gods-damned war-heroes. You are Alinos Jorod’s mother. That makes Alinos Iohan his brother. And if anyone has a problem with that…”

                  Udi jumps in, “Fuck ’em.”

                  Melody looks askance at the woman she’s only ever seen as a prim Dynast, “I’m going to assume you don’t mean that literally.”

                  “Well…” Udi gives it serious thought, “I mean it couldn’t hurt…”

                  ****

                  It takes eight days to sail to Jiara. The Dynasts travel in individual cabins, but they are cramped and only basically appointed. Aline sleeps on the floor in Reya’s room, cramped against Lezabe’s perambulator. Terel complains bitterly the entire journey. As does Lezabe – to the consternation of the ship’s crew (though they do not dare raise a complaint to the Exalted). Reya takes the opportunity to manufacture herself a firewand from the instructions in the Ganan’s book (-10SP: 6GP, 3SP). Satisfied with her work, she carves herself a flame piece from ironwood (-10SP: 6GP, 2SP).

                  When they finally reach Jiara their chartered yacht is waiting for them.

                  A dashingly dressed rogue meets them on the docks, “Welcome, bienvenue, recibimiento,” He bows, “I am Captain Tepet-Cynis Parda. The ‘Wind Dragon’s Bite’ is at your service.”

                  Hired hands remove the Dynast’s luggage from the merchant vessel and load it onto the Wind Dragon’s Bite. It is a sleek, if small, vessel, sitting high on the water. They’re shown to two generously appointed cabins furnished with double beds; Terel and Nula in one, Reya and Udi in the other (with Lezabe and Aline).

                  Reya takes the captain aside, “I think there may have been a miscommunication from the Blessed Isle. We need three rooms.”

                  Nula appears unbidden as if from nowhere, “Actually four rooms wouldn’t be remiss.”

                  Parda smiles devilishly. He presses his palms together and bends at the waist, “Unfortunately the Bite only has three rooms. Either or both of you are more than welcome to bunk with me.”

                  “Pass.” Reya stares at him, “Fine, I’ll bunk with Udi. Come on Nula.”

                  “Give me a minute; I’m thinking about it.” Nula waves her mother off.

                  Reya opens her mouth then thinks the better of it.

                  In the end, Nula decides to bunk with her husband. Terel is far more pleased with the Bite – satin sheets, goose-down pillows, and finely carved oak furniture graces cabins three times the size of the merchant vessel, yet merged into the hull of the ship in such a way as to maintain perfect ballast. Parda is a charming host – the Dragons sail by day, feast of fruits grown from the very limbs of the ship as Parda regales them with tales of adventure on the seas in the evenings, and sleep at night. The first eight days of their journey see them anchor near the coast, then they are out on the open sea.

                  At first Reya refuses to undress at night, sleeping fully clothed, but by their first night on the open ocean, Udi corners her.

                  “I really don’t think he’d mind.” She says quietly, “Not that anything is going to happen. But, if it did, I don’t think he’d mind.”

                  Before Reya can respond, Udi walks away and busies herself in conversation with Terel and the captain. She doesn’t speak to Udi about it but strips down to her underwear at night. Though nothing happens with them, Aline joins them in the bed before the end of the voyage.

                  Reya carves a second flame piece for herself. Parda is deeply impressed with her skill, and Reya makes a gift of it for him – which greatly moves the captain, who presents her with a bottle of frozen lightning in gratitude (-10SP: 9GP, 3SP). Having the time and the wood, Reya makes a replacement flame piece (-10SP; 6GP, 2SP).

                  ****

                  After the better part of a month, they finally arrive in Paragon. Reya announces their arrival on the wind, and a delegation awaits them at the pier. The Perfect’s Minister of the Arts, Scarlet Whisper (a woman of impossible grace and beauty), and a full wing of firewand armed troops line the docks waiting for them.

                  Reya waves to them from the deck of the boat, “Ho there!” She strikes a perfect pose as she tries to take the measure of the ‘welcome’ party.

                  Scarlet Whisper makes a swirling motion with her finger, “You might want to turn around and sail away Dynast.”

                  Unperturbed Reya launches into an impassioned speech extolling the virtues of Paragon, and how she has missed the city. The troops on the dock shift uncomfortably, as Reya’s words move them. Scarlet Whisper seems unimpressed.

                  Not a good sign. Reya thinks, realizing that they are clearly there to stop her entering the city. She starts to glow with power as she suffuses herself with Wood Essence, affecting an effortlessly seductive bearing.

                  “The Realm and Paragon do have a treaty.” She says, addressing Scarlet Whisper directly.

                  “Actually,” Whisper replies, smiling from ear-to-ear, “The Perfect and the Scarlet Empress have a treaty. If she wants to press her claim, she knows where to find us.”

                  Reya sits on the edge of the yacht and dangles her legs over the side, “I note that you haven’t fired on us. Or threatened, directly, to fire on us. So, I assume I’m safe so long as I don’t come ashore?” Scarlet Whisper doesn’t respond, but Reya easily reads the mortals behind her confirming her suspicions, “Good. The Perfect knows me. I won’t enter his city without an invitation, but I have no intention of leaving either.” Reya shrugs apologetically, “You’re going to have to go back to him for orders – might be quicker just to bring him here.” She gently kicks the side of the ship with her heels, and she smiles pleasantly down at Scarlet Whisper.

                  The Minister of Arts considers for a moment, before scowling, “Fine. Come ashore.”

                  Reya leaps gracefully from the side of the ship, landing on the docks. Parda mores The Bite and flags over dock workers to unload the ship. Nula and Aline carefully unload baby Lezabe’s carriage, and Udi races to Reya’s side as Scarlet Whisper brings them into the office of the harbor master. She motions for them to sit and gets straight to business:

                  “As you know, House Mnemon withdrew all but a Scale of troops. Your predecessor fled back to the Blessed Isle as soon as word reached us of the war. With the Scarlet Empress… no longer ruling, and a new Emperor, and a newer Empress, the Perfect considers his prior agreements null and void.”

                  Reya smiles politely, “We do not, a tricky impasse.”

                  “Not necessarily,” Scarlet Whisper responds, pushing a contract across the table, “I am permitted by the Perfect to negotiate new terms between the Realm and Paragon. I believe this document would represent a suitable, continuation of friendship between our peoples.”

                  Reya takes the paper and rips it in half without reading it. Scarlet Whisper’s eyes narrow. “If the Perfect wishes to renegotiate, he can do it in person. I’m not a busy woman, I can find my way to the Satrap’s quarters and attend him at his leisure. But we shan’t be agreeing to anything via an intermediary.”

                  “You realize of course, the Perfect could say the same thing. Insist on discussing terms with Empress Mnemon?”

                  “Of course,” Reya says quickly, “And he’s welcome to sail to the Imperial City to attend her. I have no objection.”

                  Scarlet Whisper reclines back, casually, “Very well, no need for that. Attend the Perfect for dinner tonight and you can discuss the matter in person.” She waves dismissively at Udi, “Bring your honored companions, of course.”

                  “A most gracious offer, I’d be delighted to accept.” Reya nods.

                  “Well then, I’ll leave you to find your own way to the Satrap’s quarters.” Scarlet Whisper pointedly turns to look out of the window.

                  Udi is beetroot with rage, but Reya simply rises, and leads her by the hand out of the room. They rendezvous with the others and move their things into the Realm quarters by the mostly empty garrison. Terel sees about his meager troops whilst the women oversee the important task of move their things in and establishing their household.

                  ****

                  That evening, the Dynasts dress up in their finery. Reya leaves her bows, flame pieces and axe behind, but she takes her shield and her iron knife, and she wears her chain shirt under her quippo. Terel dresses in full battle armor. Udi and Nula know better than to complain, and their own weapons hidden with a great deal more discretion. Reya kisses her daughter goodbye (leaving her with Aline).

                  The Perfect does not send carriages for them, but the Satrap’s quarters are close enough for the Dynasts to walk.

                  “We could Stormwind in.” Nula jokes, smiling devilishly.

                  “Let’s not.” Reya laughs casually.

                  The Perfect’s guards admit them without incident, and they are shown to the Perfect’s private dining room. The Perfect is waiting for them, sat at the head of the table, his scepter in hand. The table is set for six, with Reya at the Perfect’s right-hand side, Terel on his left and Nula and Udi adjacent to their escorts. Once the Dynasts are seated, Scarlet Whisper is shown in and seated opposite the Perfect.

                  “Mnemon Alinos Danireya,” The Perfect begins, “It is a pleasure to host you once more.”

                  Servants enter the room and pour wine for the dinners.

                  Reya nods courteously, “It’s just ‘Alinos Danireya’ now. My mother has been awarded her own Great House by the Empress.”

                  The Perfect takes a sip of wine, “Yes, I believe my wife has informed me of there being some changes in the Realm.”

                  “You wife?” Reya begins, noting that the Perfect is gazing pointedly at Scarlet Whisper, “Well best wishes.” She turns to Scarlet Whisper, “And congratulations.”

                  Scarlet Whisper signals for the servants to bring the first course, “In Paragon it is traditional to offer the bride best wishes and the groom congratulations.”

                  Reya nods graciously, “Of course. Our customs are different in the Realm. I mean no disrespect.”

                  “Nor I,” Assures the Perfect as he raises his glass as a Salade Royale is brought, “But I suppose it’s matters of culture and change which bring us together today.”

                  “And tradition and friendship, I hope.” Reya offers.

                  The salad is consumed almost in silence. Udi ventures some praise for the appetizer and Nula comments on how the city appears to be flourishing. The Perfect responds with one-word answers; Scarlet Whisper doesn’t respond at all.

                  Toward the end of the entree, Jambon et Langue dècoupe à l’Aspic, Reya broaches the topic of business, “Perfect, let us be frank with one another. Paragon has always been a loyal Satrapy of the Realm. I harbor no illusions as to the nature of that loyalty: Paragon is unconquerable, but the Scarlet Empress possessed the power to annihilate your city, so you paid a ransom to stay her hand. It is mercenary but there it is. Fundamentally, the situation has not changed.”

                  The Perfect regards her carefully and chews thoughtfully, “I disagree.” He responds at last, “It is known that Mnemon does not command the Realm Defense Grid. If you marched your legions on Paragon, I would simply order every man and woman of Paragon to fight you to the death. You would, at best, inherit an empty city.”

                  Reya sets her cutlery down and tents her fingers, “An empty city might be worth the price, even now. You’d be better served ordering your citizens to burn Paragon to the ground, salt the earth and THEN fight us to the death.”

                  “Hear hear!” Scarlet Whisper raises a glass in a mirthless toast.

                  “Consider, for a moment, if the Realm was ruled by a rational leader, such as yourself,” Reya continues, “We’d be foolish to attack Paragon now. But equally, we would be foolish to let the insult of Paragon stand. What better state to make an example of? Make an enemy of the Realm now and be burned to ash in five years’ time.”

                  “Unless, of course,” Scarlet Whisper says carelessly, “The Realm were to fall in the next five years.”

                  Reya gives a mock salute, “If you’ve suddenly gained the ability to topple the Realm, then I’ll happily pay you tribute to leave us in peace. But I think you mean that you hope someone else will destroy the Realm for you. Consider then, why not pay your tribute? If the Realm falls, then it is only an extra five years of expenses. To buy insurance against your total destruction, that seems a bargain price. Especially if the Realm does not fall. You risk nothing from paying us and you ensure your survival. Or you can gamble on a future that might be better or which might destroy you. I’d take guaranteed survival.”

                  “Spoken like a coward.” Scarlet Whisper says coolly.

                  “Spoken like a survivor, girl.” Reya quickly shoots back, “Paragon has not endured these decades by acting rashly. I don’t think you had been born the first time I set foot in this city. And, compared to the Perfect, I am but a babe in swaddling clothes. I wouldn’t pretend to know what it takes to shepherd a city like Paragon through the centuries, but I sincerely doubt it involves taking unnecessary risks to one’s people.”

                  “Wouldn’t you?” The Perfect asks quietly.

                  It takes Reya a moment to realize what he’s responding to, “Do you remember the first time I was here? I offered you honest and proper counsel on whether you should betray Mnemon to V’neef. I listed the benefits to Paragon for both options and let you decide. I believe I called you the ‘Patriarch of Civilization’. Paragon is your city. If you would have me as an advisor, I will advise you to the best of my ability. We live in uncertain times, but I could help you grow your fortune. But if you do not trust me, then I won’t object to spending my days drinking coffee and eating sugared dates – so long as you pay your tribute, I won’t interfere with you running Paragon as you see fit.”

                  “And what exactly is it that you want?” The Perfect asks, his eyes narrowing.

                  “I want to reform the Satrapy system. I want nations to see the many benefits that allying under the Realm’s banner can bring and I want them to welcome civilization with open arms. But what I want is irrelevant. The Realm wants a token. House Alinos needs your jade.”

                  “‘Need’ is a dirty word at the bargaining table, Dynast.” Scarlet Whisper mocks.

                  “But it’s true. House Alinos is a new house. The Realm will survive without Paragon’s tribute – I don’t even think the treasury will notice the difference – but my House will not. If the Perfect denies us, our rivals will crush us. Do not think that the loss of two-score Dragons will weaken the Ten Thousand: the destruction of House Alinos will in no way weaken the Realm. But consider this, we are a favored House of the Empress’s blood. A new and disruptive influence in Realm politics; one highly motivated to see Paragon succeed and expand its power. Here and now, we can offer you enthusiastic partnership, but think how much more influential we will be in a decade or two?” Reya locks eyes with the Perfect, “But it is your decision to make.”

                  Scarlet Whisper scoffs, “You can’t seriously be entertaining this?”

                  “Silence!” The Perfect roars. His scepter is suddenly in hand. Scarlet Whisper immediately stops talking and clenches her jaw, “And what benefit would this ‘enthusiastic partnership’ bring?”

                  “In addition to stately and tactical advice? You’d get a Satrap who understands that Paragon is yours: I won’t fight you for power, as I said, all I need from you is to pay. Ultimately, I am replaceable: kill me or force me to betray the Realm, and Mnemon will just send someone new at the head of an army. Someone who won’t want to do things your way. But I’ll do things your way. If you pay, then I’ll use my position as Satrap to shelter you from Realm interference: if you want to make war, my reports will say it is necessary; if the Immaculate Order accuses your bride of being Anathema, I will inform them that she is merely a mortal sorcerer; should a pious zealot attack your cult, I shall have them removed and discredited.”

                  “Because your House needs money?”

                  “Because that is the way the Realm’s alliance with Paragon has always worked. When it has worked. House Alinos could crush any petty Threshold kingdom and steal their treasury, but partnership with Paragon stands to be far more profitable in the long term. Though, yes, I admit it: without funds we will not survive.”

                  The Perfect toys with his scepter, “You make a convincing case. I am prepared to pay half the rate of tribute. As insurance against the Realm not falling.”

                  Reya drums her fingers on the table, “And I’m supposed to make a counteroffer and we bargain back and forth and arrive at three-quarters of the old tribute? No. You will pay in full. The only question is whether you’ll force me to say it explicitly in front of my fellow Dynasts.”

                  The Perfect smiles innocently, “Say what, exactly?”

                  “You can afford to pay the tribute in full, and more. And you realize that with my help and Chiaroscuro’s fall we can expand your influence to unprecedented levels: and who knows what artifacts you might unearth with three Heptagram trained sorcerers in service to Paragon? But most of all, you believe me when I say that I can stop the rest of the Realm from interfering in the affairs of your city and you dearly want that because…”

                  “Because?”

                  “Because you know that you’re not dealing with a rational leader like yourself. You know that Mnemon will take it as a personal slight if you betray the Realm and that she will stop at nothing to crush you. Everything you’ve built, not undone in five years, but undone now – no matter what it might cost the Realm. And neither of us want that.”

                  Terel flashes crimson but says nothing. Scarlet Whisper rises and walks round to stand behind Reya.

                  The Perfect speaks, slow and measured, “To be clear, the offer this thus: I will pay the full portion of Paragon’s income in tribute as agreed upon in tribute to the Realm through House Alinos. I believe the payment due is,” He names an eye-watering number that’s higher even than Reya suspected, “And in return, you will not only abstain from meddling in the affairs of Paragon, but you will also use your position of Satrap to block any interference on my sovereignty from the Realm – including from the Immaculate Order? So long as I pay tribute, Paragon is mine to rule as I see fit – beyond the laws of the Realm. You agree to these terms?”

                  Reya nods slowly, “I do.” Scarlet Whisper brushes against her as she speaks.

                  “And your companions? They will use their positions to support you in this?”

                  Scarlet Whisper rounds the table in silence. Her hand finds Udi’s shoulder.

                  “Sure.”

                  Whisper strokes Nula’s arm.

                  “Agreed: so long as you pay.”

                  She clasps Terel’s hand. He looks at her, as if trying to read her face, but it is inscrutable. He gives up.

                  “Aye.”

                  Scarlet Whisper stands behind the Perfect and lays her hands on both of his shoulders.

                  “Then it is agreed.” The Perfect intones solemnly, “Let heaven bear witness.”

                  The room erupts into golden light. Old Realm runes asserting the laws of the gods swirl into being around the Dragon-Blooded. The mark of the Deceivers shines on Scarlet Whisper’s forehead. A terrible sense of foreboding settles on the Dynasts.

                  “Anathema!” Terel roars. He is suddenly on his feet weapon in hand.

                  The other Dragon-Blooded do not rise. Reya pushes her plate away. Scarlet Whisper smiles wryly and withdraws from the room. Reya cocks an eyebrow at Terel’s foolishness and addresses the Perfect:

                  “What’s for pudding?”

                  ****

                  Meanwhile

                  “Not bad, let out the outhaul.” Jorod instructs.

                  Melody reaches for the sheet.

                  “That’s the sheet.”

                  She reaches for various other items around the small sailing boat.

                  “That’s the mast. That’s the boom. That’s the downhaul.”

                  Melody throws her arms in the air, “You’re killing me here.”

                  Jorod takes the outhaul, “The outhaul controls the camber of the lower-part of the mainsail.”

                  “Which determines how much wind the sails catch. It increases lift… but also drag? So, if we have adequate lift we need to decrease camber to minimize drag, otherwise we need to let out the outhaul to increase camber to increase lift.”

                  “By Daana’d, we’ll make a sailor of you yet.”

                  “Okay, sure, but this is… a raft. When do I graduate to a trireme? Or a corbita at least?” Melody pouts.

                  “You need to remember what the different parts of the ship are called, so that you can give orders to the crew.”

                  “Hmm.” Melody looks at the sun in the sky over-head, “How long to sail to Paragon in this thing?”

                  “Well,” Jorod considers, “Given a favorable wind… I’d say we could sail out into the open ocean for about a week… then we’d run out of water and die. Then a month or so after that, the boat might wash into Paragon with our corpses on it.”

                  Melody chuckles, “Okay, so not going to Paragon today.”

                  Jorod gives it a moment, “Can I ask you about my baby brother?” He says seriously.

                  Melody smiles weakly at him, “I’d really rather you didn’t.”

                  ****

                  Ascending Fire
                  The House of Black Waters

                  “Trierarch Melody, we have tribute to collect from both Cherak and The Lap. The tribute from Cherak is worth more but…” Alinos Tereya Josyp, a fat, balding man, born a Patrician and elevated to the Dynasty by House Alinos’s adoption of house Tereya, dabs the sweat from his brow.

                  “But,” Melody presupposes, “The tribute from the Lap consists of perishables that we have to take in and distribute. I don’t suppose the Imperial Navy can be convinced to help us with this? Pick up the grain ‘for the good of the Realm’?”

                  Josyp swallows hard, “Unfortunately, Grand Admiral V’neef Ririon has declined. But Admiral V’neef Celtis has approached us to ask if we require the aid of the Air Fleet in retrieving tribute from Cherak. House Margard has been doing particularly brisk business lately: pirate activity is at an all-time-high.”

                  “Of course it is,” Melody sighs, “And of course Celtis would deny us the larger profits of the choicer cargo. What if we went behind Ririon’s back?”

                  Josyp nods slowly, “We could go straight to Fire Admiral V’neef Odessa. A direct appeal might-”

                  Melody shakes her head, cutting the Patrician off, “What about Wood Admiral V’neef Aliset?”

                  Josyp twitches nervously, “It’s not technically in her jurisdiction, Trierarch.” It's about three thousand miles outside of her jurisdiction, nothing technical about it.

                  Melody grins at him, “No, it’s not is it. Contact Admiral Jorod, have him entreat Admiral Aliset to lend us some ships – for the good of the Realm.”

                  House Alinos does not have enough ships to collect tribute from all the nations of the Threshold – the Merchant Fleet being less than a third of the size it should be. Fortunate, then, that most nations of the Threshold still refuse to pay tribute. Each of the Imperial Navy’s directional fleets should be the same size as the Merchant Fleet, but each of those is running at about a seventh of full strength. House Peleps surrendered very few vessels at the end of the war – no more than a token gesture – and though the shipyards of the Blessed Isle toil day-and-night, rebuilding the navy is a slow process.

                  Still, not everything about the past few months has been bad. House V’neef and House Alinos both have had to try to recruit Patrician sailors as well as re-purpose their scions as ship’s captains and admirals. Alinos Jorod has been made-up to a flight Admiral based in the eastern waters, which is where he met V’neef Aliset – newly appointed admiral of the Wood Fleet and perhaps the most eligible woman in the Dynasty. With Incas being a perfectly serviceable port Jorod and Aliset have certainly been spending a lot of time together – Alinos Sahar’s appointment as Satrap of Cherak not in the least hurting this burgeoning relationship. V’neef herself has called in at the House of Black Waters, encouraging the idea of alliance between the two Great Houses.

                  Several seafaring Patrician houses have been looped into the Alinos family – none of which of particularly strong-blood, but all of which with strong ties of mercantile peasants. Combined with a slice of all the tributes collected by the Merchant Fleet, grants from the Empress to maintain the shrines in Incas, and the write-off of their Ragara debts, House Alinos’s financial position is considerably better than that of many of the war-torn Great Houses. The drop-off of tributes combined by the damage caused by the war and increased belligerence from the Threshold has devastated the Realm economy – food from the Lap is not about sating appetites for the exotic – it’s a matter of warding off famine.

                  ****

                  2nd Day of Resplendent Water
                  Realm Year 770
                  Realm Occupied Thorns

                  “I’ll have the new salt-lines drawn up for you by noon, General.” Ganan says without looking up from his work as Tepet Ejava enters his chambers. Before him is an overhead map of Thorns, traced through with lines demarcating where the Dynasts have laid down salt wards cutting off the Shadowlands that plague the city like sores.

                  Taking Thorns had been a challenge. The destruction of Lookshy had wiped out the Mask of Winter’s Juggernaut, most of his undead army, and his most powerful Deathknight servants. It did nothing to remove the Shadowlands through-out Thorns, oust the Mask’s army of ghosts, or win the loyalty of Thorn’s citizens. The Mask’s spectral forces seemed inexhaustible and commanded with an inhuman precision that seemed to counter every strategy the Tepet force could think to employ. But the Vermilion Legion is tenacious: the loyalty of Thorn’s living citizens was not hard to win and tons of salt imported with the aid of the Lookshy remnants and their allies in the Confederacy of Rivers left the Deathlord with precious few options but to withdraw.

                  The Mask of Winter’s Nephwrack lieutenants wage guerrilla war against the occupying Realm forces, as the Vermilion Legion oversees the evacuation of the Shadowland.

                  “Your indenture is over, you’re a free man my boy.” Tepet Ejava places a hand on Ganan’s back.

                  Ganan does not look up as he continues to work, “Then I want a commission.”

                  “You and every commander on the Blessed Isle. I don’t have any commissions for a raw recruit who’s never held a command.”

                  “Never held a-” Ganan starts to object, having commanded troops during the siege of Thorns. He turns and faces Ejava, “Very well, General, then I’d like to enlist.”

                  “Then do it in your wife’s legions.” Ejava says firmly, “Or sign-up with the Shogun’s legions.”

                  “General!”

                  “Actually, the proper address is ‘Matriarch’, as you are no longer a member of the Vermilion Legion’s support staff but you are a member of my House.” She smiles and punches him playfully in the arm, “I’d also accept ‘mom’. But my mind is made-up: I don’t want you here. In any event, Tepet Ganan, you have a visitor outside.” She waves in a mortal engineer to take over Ganan’s work.

                  Ganan salutes and staggers out – completely shell shocked. He comes face-to-face with The Wanderer.

                  ****

                  2nd Day of Resplendent Water
                  Realm Year 770
                  The House of Black Waters

                  “Admiral Melody, you have a caller.”

                  V’neef Aliset’s marriage to Alinos Jorod has proved tedious. V’neef herself insisted on giving Jorod a commission in the Imperial Navy, which meant House Alinos immediately lost one of their most capable naval commanders. Survivable then, if it put an ally in the Imperial Navy and helped forge ties with House V’neef. But those ties are like anchors – weekly meetings and consultations with minor cousins in and Patrician allies of House V’neef. Aid tied to obligations. All of which all but took Melody off the sea as well. At least now Aliset was pregnant, and with Ferad’s impeccable pedigree the odds would be good for adding another Dragon-Blooded in the ranks of House V’neef in a decade or so.

                  Melody excuses gratefully herself from her meeting with V’neef… Whoever and she follows the servant – a freed slave – to a reception room. There she comes face-to-face with The Wanderer.

                  ****

                  2nd Day of Resplendent Water
                  Realm Year 770
                  Paragon

                  Lezabe plays in the corner of the Perfect’s war-room. Reya, Terel, and the Perfect’s top generals plan the next move against the Delazhn. When Chiaroscuro fell to the demonic cultists of Sondok, it was House Peleps who threw themselves into the breach. They would have put down the rebellion, were it not for betrayal within their own ranks. Then their admiralty board sued for peace with Mnemon, their fleets withdrew – all but the demonic traitors, of course – and Chiaroscuro once more fell to anarchy.

                  Which, of course, meant the lands east of Paragon were ripe for conquest.

                  Through propaganda, trade and open warfare, the boarders of Paragon have been vastly expanded to both the South and the East. The nomads and outlying settlements within four hundred miles of the city all swearing loyalty to the Perfect. But the nomadic Delazhn, the mercenaries of Gem, and Sondok’s demonic cultists constantly test the boarders of the Perfect’s growing kingdom.

                  Terel is making an impassioned speech for attacking Chiaroscuro directly. It’s foolish, and the Perfect’s generals know it – but none of them want to be run through for insulting the Garrison Commander.

                  “Satrap, you have a visitor.” Aline announces, as she enters the war-room and picks up Lezabe, who greets her with a kiss.

                  “I don’t have any appointments Aline; tell them they’ll have to wait until after the war council.”

                  “With respect, mistress,” Aline says as she shakes her head, “You are going to have to tell them that yourself, they were quite insistent. And Exalted, ma'am.”

                  “Gentlemen, let’s table this idea of attacking Chiaroscuro for now, and take a break?” Reya says pleasantly. She leaves the room, and Aline follows behind with Lezabe at a safe distance. At Aline’s urging, Reya goes outside.

                  There she sees a powerfully built warrior: enormously tall, well over seven feet, and muscular. A mane of wild, dirty blonde hair spills out from the warrior’s head. They carry the largest sword Reya has ever seen – though, of course, she saw this same sword twenty-six years ago, in the Lap, being used in a duel against Cathak Letal. The Fire Aspected warrior before her is clearly female, but despite herself Reya finds herself asking:

                  “Aharon?”

                  Dragonsgift Saber Edge sneers at Reya, “You took my father from me,” She spits on the ground and hefts the enormous sword into the air, “Prepare to die.”

                  ****

                  Reya spends 12DX to train Intelligence 4, 12DX to train Dexterity 4, 16DX to train Dexterity 5. She spends 8XP to train Thicker Than Stone, 8XP to train Poisoned Tongue Technique, and 8XP to train Dragon’s Voice Mastery. She spends 2DX and 1XP on an Integrity Specialty in “vs Anathema”.

                  Melody spends 12DX to train Intelligence 4, 16DX to train Manipulation 5, 3DX to train Sail 1, 2DX to train Sail 2, and 4DX to train Sail 3. She spends 10XP to train Dragon Mariner Attitude and 10XP to train Fine Passage-Negotiating Style.

                  Ganan spends 19DX to train War 5. He spends 8XP to train Ramparts of Obedient Earth, 8XP to train Tactics Mean Everything, 8XP to train Five-Dragon Arsenal and 3DX to train a War Specialty in Ramparts of Obedient Earth. He spends 3DX to train a Craft Specialty in Jade Artifacts. He spends 8XP to train Cloud of Ebon Devils and 8XP to train Soul-Fire Cremation Technique. He spends 3DX to train Dodge 1 and 3DX to learn Low Realm.

                  Ganan spends 10SP to create Thorns fortifications as a Major Project, gaining 9GP 3SP. He then spends 2GP to make a Superior 2 Project Slot to construct a Traveler’s staff by binding his bough of enchanted wood in green jade. He finishes his project in four rolls, using Masterful Dragon-Artisan Expertise, Flawless Facet Realization, Strike the Dragon-Anvil and Blazing Dragon-Smith Arete at a cost of 44GP (and earning 1GP and 2SP from re-rolls). The project earns (3+1) 4WP and (2x2) 4GP.

                  ****

                  Bonus Scene
                  2nd Day of Resplendent Water
                  Realm Year 770
                  Imperial Residence for Greeting the Dawn, Greyfalls

                  Cynis Jinabar surrounds herself with swirling flames. She extends a palm and sends a blast of fire screaming at the intruder.

                  Greeting the Dawn was once the Empress’s own residence in Greyfalls. Though the Satrapy changed hands many times, the Imperial Residence was a constant – unused by the Empress herself but a redoubt for her loyal servants. It was supposed to be secure. Jinabar was supposed to have it to herself.

                  The cloaked figure avoids her fireball, darting into cover. Jinabar takes careful aim again. The figure breaks cover, charging at her. She lets loose with another elemental bolt – this time the cloaked figure extends his own hand, and mist envelopes the flames, absorbing the blow harmlessly. Then the figure is upon her, pinning her to the ground.

                  “Cynis Jinabar,” The Wanderer announces, “I did not come here to fight. In fact, I need your help – and the help of your companions.”


                  No update next week: I'm going to keep notes but I'm not going to write them up.

                  A lot of stuff happens in these sessions, and I write down what I think is important to the story. Which is easy if I'm STing, because I can reintroduce whatever plot elements I like, and if the players miss a hint the first time round I can prompt them again. It's less easy when I have no idea what's going to happen next, and I don't want to write a small essay then have to do a full rewrite because the ST steered the story in a completely different direction.

                  [edit]

                  NSFW Chapter 6 write up: https://drive.google.com/file/d/13Ez...ew?usp=sharing
                  Last edited by JohnDoe244; 02-12-2021, 12:38 PM.


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

                  Comment


                  • #84
                    Originally posted by JohnDoe244 View Post
                    Part 2 of 2

                    No update next week: I'm going to keep notes but I'm not going to write them up.

                    A lot of stuff happens in these sessions, and I write down what I think is important to the story. Which is easy if I'm STing, because I can reintroduce whatever plot elements I like, and if the players miss a hint the first time round I can prompt them again. It's less easy when I have no idea what's going to happen next, and I don't want to write a small essay then have to do a full rewrite because the ST steered the story in a completely different direction.
                    Finally caught up on this. Will definitely miss the updates but completely understand your reasoning - this thread must have been an eye-watering amount of work. Thank you for sharing.

                    Out of curiousity - are you looking forward to playing Ganan again? How much input have you had on his development, e.g. his branching out into Righteous Devil, in the interim?

                    Comment


                    • #85
                      Originally posted by Moss Reynholm View Post
                      Out of curiousity - are you looking forward to playing Ganan again?
                      Yes.

                      I have got to do some eRP with him, and I've commissioned a lot of art of him, but I hadn't got the chance to roll dice for him until the week before last which really made me realize how much I miss him.

                      How much input have you had on his development, e.g. his branching out into Righteous Devil, in the interim?
                      Zero.

                      I didn't even get to spend Ganan's Session 70 XP! (Well, I did change it a little bit - Jin wanted a Craft: Armor, but I vetoed that for Low Realm, because I don't see how he'd spend a year with enlisted Realm peasants and not learn the language.)

                      I have been very restrained. But it's easier to put up a complete wall than to meddle "just a little bit".

                      I have done, what I consider, normal ST control. When Reya's player was playing Ganan in Chapter 4, she said she wanted him to learn Craft: Artifact, and I said "okay, how?" which apparently was a stumper. But it wasn't meant to be -- I'd have let Ganan learn Craft: Artifact in Chapter 4 with any reasonable excuse (Jin had him buy an instruction manual and "remember" his Heptagram training -- I'm not setting some unrealistically high bar here). Then Jin said she wanted Ganan to learn Craft: First Age Artifice in Chapter 5 and that was a straight "no, you don't meet the prerequisites: buy Craft: Artifact 5 first and have a think about who is going to teach you then we'll talk".

                      I will say that, whilst I have creative control with this write-up... I really didn't like how Jin played him. Ganan's loosely based on me, and it's fun to play a caricature of yourself, but it's kinda hurtful to have someone else do that. She played him a lot more taciturn than I'd have liked (Chapter 1-4 Ganan expresses their opinion. A lot. It's just an unpopular opinion that no-one agrees with. Chapter 6-7 Ganan is basically monosyllabic.) And I've editted out most of the absolute dumb-f***ery from this write-up (picking one's nose in front of Mnemon, for example, is a detail I don't intend on ever being relevant to the story so I quietly left it out -- if it becomes relevant, I'll edit it back in, but we've established that Mnemon doesn't like Ganan and let's leave it at that).

                      As for Righteous Devil Style specifically:

                      The whole thing with Master Sakai and the firewands basically started with Jin's player (playing Jin) Introducing A Fact. I went with it because I thought Melody might want to add a firewand to her arsenal (and we'd just picked up the hellcaster). RDS is all on Jin, even though she wasn't even playing Ganan at the time!

                      (Well, I to be completely fair, I got asked "what martial arts styles can I use with medium armor", and I said "Well there's Righteous Devil Style-" and was immediately cut-off. Maybe if I'd lead with "White Reaper" Ganan would have that instead. :P)

                      I would have gone with Elemental Bolt Attack. Ganan has a massive Lore score that's been under-utilised, and it leads up to As In The Beginning which is one of my all time favorite Charms. And it isn't hamstrung by Ganan's lack of Charisma. And I could build an Elemental Lens for it. And it wouldn't mean 2/3rds of the party using fire-based attacks.

                      Jin didn't like how RDS played out. She was more enthused by the idea of making an artifact firewand than actually, you know, making the Evocations for it and I don't think the sample Evocations I suggested inspired her. Plus she was more interested in winning fights than using the new Martial Art (it did see a bit of use and partly this is on me for making the fights too hard).

                      ****

                      My priority with Ganan is to pick up some Dodge before building up RDS. I might pick up Elemental Bolt Attack anyway, but we're nearly Essence 4 now which means a bunch more Earth Dragon Charms to buy. But we'll see what happens in Dovak!
                      Last edited by JohnDoe244; 03-17-2021, 07:02 PM.


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

                      Comment


                      • #86
                        So we wrapped Chapter 7. Some key points from our Session 0:

                        We're going to gloss over the Season 6 outro.
                        -Lots of hooks there on the assumption that I might pick the game up in a few months, rather than "new week, new ST"
                        -Key thing is that the Tepet campaign against Thorns succeeds off-screen
                        -Full Budapest Protocol (license to just make stuff up about what happened offscreen)
                        -Our characters were being asked to RP as having amnesia

                        The Realm Civil War is over
                        -Previously a couple of us played out a Realm Civil War game that lasted years in-universe and out-. We don't want to do that.
                        -None of us expect Mnemon to be Empress forever, but there won't be a full scale civil war unless the PC's start it.

                        We're going to fight a lot of zombies.

                        This story arc will be shorter, but tie directly in to the next story arc (which starts next week).

                        Melody's player and our ST are direct, full blood relatives.
                        -Melody wants more sex scenes, but in the interest of "squick" these are pretty veiled in play and will be likewise denoted with a "fade to black" in this thread.
                        -They are not veiled in my NSFW write-ups (he's not my brother and he wants to read about his fictional character getting banged)

                        Reya's player wanted to play a game of politics and intrigue, but the rest of us are murder-hobos.
                        -The promise would be that this would be more straight-forward and less political
                        -It was not more straight-forward and, if anything, has thus far been more political than Chapter 6 (it's good though)

                        Character goals:

                        Ganan
                        -Just wants to hit things with a hammer
                        -Mission accomplished, btw

                        Melody
                        -More sex
                        -The chance to pilot a warstrider

                        Jin
                        -The chance to pull off an amazing heist
                        -Acquire power armor

                        ****

                        The Story Thus Far
                        It is the 770th year of the Scarlet Empire. Mnemon has ascended to the Scarlet Throne and rules over Creation as the new Empress. She has divided her old Great House into two and disbanded the Great Houses of those foolish enough to oppose her in the Realm Civil War.

                        The new Dynasty comprises of seven Great Houses: Rulinsei, The First Among Equals; Berit, The Sword of the Empress; V’neef, The Power of the Waves; Ledaal, The Shield Against the Darkness; Nellens, The Imperial Bank; Alinos, The Rising Star; and Tepet, The Red Piss House.

                        The nations of the Threshold stand in rebellion to Mnemon’s rule. The power of the Realm Defense Grid remains a mystery beyond the new Empress’s grasp and the Civil War has devastated the Realm’s military might. Throughout the Threshold, the Anathema incite rebellion and raise their own empires. The jackals circle the Realm with a wary eye.

                        The great bastion of the Scavenger Lands, Lookshy, ruled over by the ancient Seventh Legion of the Dragon-Blooded Shogunate has fallen. The dreaded Deathlord, the Mask of Winters (who conquered Thorns eight years ago), marched his Army of the Dead upon Lookshy. The Seventh Legion’s great strength had been scattered throughout the Scavenger Lands, dispersed by petty distractions caused by the Deathlord’s machinations, and their renown arsenal of First Age technology mysteriously failed them. Even so, Creation shook when the city of Lookshy and the Mask of Winter’s entire army was bathed in white light and destroyed in an instant. No-one knows exactly how, nor who is to blame, but disturbing reports abound of demons in the service of the Mask of Winters.

                        Just South of the Scavenger Lands, lies the kingdom of Dovak. Watched over since ancient times by the Thunderbird Tomonas. Only our heroes, and a rare few others, know of the Gateway Tree that lies within Dovak’s boarders – ancient artifice of the Solar Anathema which allows for travel between dimensions.

                        Great House Alinos commands the Merchant Fleet, responsible for ensuring the safe passage of tribute from the few remaining loyal Satrapies to the Blessed Isle. House Cynis is now reduced to a Cadet House charged with the defense of Greyfalls and their scions are banished from the Blessed Isle.

                        As Alinos Danireya serves as Satrap of Paragon, Alinos Melody, Tepet Ganan and Cynis Jinabar find themselves contacted by an old ally – the Wanderer – who entreats the trio with a desperate proposition…

                        Dramatis Personae


                        The Heroes


                        Tepet Cynis Ganan - The Kinslayer

                        A powerful martial artist, and a blunt instrument unsuited for polite society. Ganan was born into House Cynis but adopted into House Tepet at the end of the Realm Civil War. He was part of the campaign to retake Thorns from the Mask of Winters, where he learned military discipline alongside new respect for his adoptive mother Tepet Ejava.

                        Tepet Ganan
                        Earth Aspect
                        Righteous Warrior
                        Heptagram

                        Session 70 – End of Chapter 6 – Ganan (230XP 184DX, 227/184 spent; 20WhP 5GP 66SP)

                        Attributes

                        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: Sculpture 3 (7DX)
                        Craft: Weapons 4 (12DX)
                        Craft: Woodworking 4 (12DX)
                        Craft: Artifact 4 (12DX)(Jade Artifacts, 3DX)
                        Integrity 4
                        Resistance 4 (5DX)
                        War 5 (19DX)(Ramparts of Obedient Earth, 3DX)

                        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

                        Dodge 1
                        Linguistics 1
                        Melee 3

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

                        Artifact 3 (Thunder’s Crash Tetsubo (Fist of Titans))
                        Martial Artist 4
                        Pain Tolerance 4
                        Well Bred 2
                        (Dynastic Freebie) Resources 3
                        (Dynastic Freebie) Language (Riverspeak)
                        (Dynastic Freebie) Language (Old Realm)
                        (3DX) Language (Low Realm)

                        Story Merits
                        Influence 1 (War hero)

                        Artifacts
                        Belt of Shadow Walking (unattuned)
                        Burnt Offering
                        Collar of Dawn’s Cleansing Light
                        Traveler’s Staff
                        Ultimately Useful Tube
                        Yasal Crystal (with summoned agata)

                        Hearthstones
                        Gateway Key (Solar, Greater)
                        Stone of the Ram's Horn (Earth)

                        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
                        Free. Integrity: Granite Curtain of Serenity
                        8XP. Integrity: Heart-Hardening Meditation
                        10XP. Linguistics: Wind-Carried Words Technique
                        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
                        8XP. Earth Dragon Style: Shattering Fist Strike
                        8DX. Earth Dragon Style: Weapon-Breaking Defense Technique
                        8XP. Occult: Soul-Fire Cremation 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
                        8XP. Righteous Devil Style: Cloud of Ebon Devils
                        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
                        8XP. War: Tactics Mean Everything
                        8XP. War: Ramparts of Obedient Earth
                        8XP. War: Five-Dragon Arsenal

                        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
                        8XP4DX. Fist of Titans: Titanic Fist Devastation

                        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
                        Minor Principle: Slavery is an injustice
                        Defining Tie: Anathema (Loathing)
                        Major Tie: My Wife's House (Loyalty)
                        Major Tie: Alinos Danireya (Love)
                        Major Tie: Alinos Melody (Mutual Respect)
                        Major Tie: Cynis Jinabar (Resentful Loyalty)
                        Minor Tie: My children (Familial love)
                        Minor Tie: Tepet Ejava (Admiration)

                        Combat

                        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)(Ramparts of Obedient Earth: 17 dice, reroll 6s, 11m)
                        Rush 11 (+3 successes, 10s explode, 6m)
                        Disengage 5

                        Social

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

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

                        Willpower 5
                        Essence 3

                        Personal motes 14
                        Peripheral motes 35 (27, 8 committed)

                        Health Track (3m/tick, ignore one point of penalties)
                        -0 x1 [ ]
                        -1 x5 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
                        -1 x5 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
                        -3 x1 [ ]
                        Incap [ ]

                        Hero Forge: https://bayimg.com/caOkNaaGB

                        Alinos Gracious Pealing Melody – The Outcaste Admiral

                        Born a peasant, Melody is an adoptee into Great House Alinos. Mother of Alinos Jorod and Alinos Iohan, wife of Alinos Ferad, and a Wing Admiral of the Merchant Navy. Melody is one of the greatest warriors in the Dynasty and she wields an orichalcum bow taken from the dead body of the dread Anathema the Devil Hoof Witch – Menace of Medo.

                        Session 70 – End of Chapter 6 – Melody (230XP 184DX, 225/183 spent)

                        Mnemon Alinos Gracious Pealing Melody
                        Wood Aspect
                        Pasiap's Stair
                        The Adopted Archer

                        Attributes

                        Strength 3 (8DX)
                        Dexterity 5
                        Stamina 3 (8DX)

                        Charisma 5
                        Manipulation 5 (16DX)
                        Appearance 2

                        Perception 3
                        Intelligence 4 (24DX)
                        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 (Lovable Outcaste, 3DX)
                        Resistance 3 (In the Saddle)
                        Socialize 3
                        Sail 3 (9DX)

                        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)
                        (Dynastic Freebie) Allies 3 (Alinos Ferad, Husband)
                        (Dynastic Freebie) Language (Riverspeak)
                        (Dynastic Freebie) Language (High Realm)

                        Story Merits
                        Allies 3 (Alinos Jorod)
                        Backing (Merchant Fleet) 4
                        Influence (Dynastic Matriarch) 3

                        Artifacts
                        Collar of Dawn’s Cleansing Light
                        Resplendent Satchel of Healing (Unattuned)

                        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
                        8XP. Archery: Seven-Year Swarm Volley
                        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: Flesh-Sealing Flame Technique
                        8XP. Medicine: Rebirth of Flesh and Ivy
                        8XP. Medicine: Ailment Sensing Meditation
                        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
                        8XP. Survival: Cunning Beast-Mind Inspiration

                        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: Alinos Ferad (Husband)
                        Major Tie: Alinos Jorod (Son)
                        Major Tie: Alinos Iohan (Son)
                        Major Tie: Alinos Danireya (Sister)
                        Major Tie: Tepet Ganan (Mutual Respect)
                        Minor Tie: Cynis Jinabar (Good Natured Comradery)
                        Minor Tie: Slavers (Disgust)
                        Minor Tie: The Undead (Hatred)
                        Minor Tie: The Merchant Fleet (Pride)
                        Minor Tie: House V'neef (Good Natured rivalry)
                        Minor Tie: The Kingdom of Dovak (Shameful Regret)
                        Defining Principle: I am an Upright Soldier
                        Major Principle: The Immaculate Philosophy
                        Minor Principle: I work hard so I can play hard

                        Combat

                        Evasion 6+1
                        Parry 3

                        Soak 8 Hardness 4
                        Mobility Penalty -0

                        Resist Poison: 5(+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: 11 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 4

                        Willpower 5
                        Essence 3

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

                        Health Track
                        -0 x1 [ ]
                        -1 x4 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
                        -2 x4 [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
                        -4 x1 [ ]
                        Incap [ ]

                        Hero Forge: https://bayimg.com/oaOJeaagB

                        Custom Charms

                        Custom Evocation: Phantom Steed
                        Cost:
                        10m, 1wp; Mins: Essence 3
                        Type: Reflexive
                        Keywords: None
                        Duration: One day
                        Prerequisites: Squadron-Inspiring Flare, Scattered Hoof Falls

                        With her mind opened to the ghostly Essence of the Ancients, Melody has learned to overcome the limitations of her Creation and draw forth the reflection of perfection from her Orichalcum Powerbow.

                        At her command, the Essence of Summer Thunder opens to release a ghostly echo of the horse god Hiparkes into her custody. This mount’s coat is as black as coal, but its eyes burn with the light of twin suns, tinted by the colors of Melody’s anima. The phantom steed has no mane, the hair clipped close to the neck.

                        This Evocation creates an exceptional war horse (p. 567) that never tires, hungers, or thirsts, and need not sleep. This horse cannot be intimidated, nor can its loyalty be shaken. It is immune to the anima flux of its summoner, Melody, but not that of other Dragon-Blooded. Its existence is an extension of Summer Thunder.

                        (In all respects other than the appearance of the steed and immunity to anima flux, this Evocation functions as the Solar Ride Charm of the same name.)

                        Cynis Jinabar – A Magistrate
                        Youngest child of Cynis Lenoni and Ledaal Vidad, sister to Tepet Ganan, and one of the last magistrates to be appointed by the First Empress before her disappearance. Jin led Ganan and Melody in a crusade against the cult of the demon Sondok, where they were assisted by a mysterious stranger known only as the Wanderer, now the Wanderer reunites the heroes.

                        Session 70 – End of Chapter 6 – Jinabar (230XP 184DX, 228/183 Spent)

                        Cynis Falen Jinabar
                        Fire Aspect
                        Spiral Academy
                        Ambitious Magistrate

                        Attributes

                        Strength 2
                        Dexterity 5 (28DX)
                        Stamina 3 (8DX)

                        Charisma 2
                        Manipulation 5
                        Appearance 4

                        Perception 4 (12DX)
                        Intelligence 2
                        Wits 5 (28DX)

                        Fire Aspect Abilities (and Specialties) (3BP)

                        Athletics 3 (4DX)
                        Dodge 5 (capote de brega) (16DX)
                        Melee 5 (Staves) (12DX)
                        Presence 3 (On “Official” Business)
                        Socialize 3

                        Favored Abilities (15BP)

                        Awareness 5 (13DX 3XP)
                        Integrity 5 (7DX)
                        Investigation 4 (5DX)
                        Larceny 5
                        Resistance 2 (Intoxicants)

                        Other Abilities

                        Archery 3
                        Brawl 1
                        Bureaucracy 3 (Corruption)
                        Linguistics 2
                        Lore 3
                        Performance 3
                        Ride 2
                        Sail 2
                        Stealth 3 (9DX)(As Lady Magnificent, 3DX)

                        Merits (Native Language: High Realm)

                        Artifact 3 (Calumny)
                        Direction Sense 1
                        Eidetic Memory 2
                        Retainers 2 (Mott, the Archivist)
                        Well Bred 2
                        (Dynastic Freebie) Language (Low Realm)
                        (Dynastic Freebie) Language (Riverspeak)
                        (Dynastic Freebie) Language (Old Realm)
                        (Dynastic Freebie) Language (Firetongue)
                        (Dynastic Freebie) Followers 1 (12 Archons)

                        Story Merits
                        Influence 3 (Former Magistrate)

                        Artifact
                        Lady Magnificent’s Visage (Green Jade Devil Mask)

                        Charms

                        1. Archery: Unobstructed Hunter’s Aim
                        8XP. Athletics: Effortlessly Rising Flame8
                        8XP. Awareness: Precision Observation Method
                        2. Bureaucracy: Geese-Flying-South Administration
                        3. Bureaucracy: Finding the Water’s Depths
                        4. Bureaucracy: Confluence of Savant Thought
                        5. Bureaucracy: Water-Stained Ledger
                        8XP. Dodge: Threshold Warding Stance
                        8XP. Dodge: Heat-of-Battle Advance
                        8XP. Dodge: Ascending Ember Trick
                        E1. Integrity: Granite Curtain of Serenity
                        E2. Investigation: Indisputable Physical Analysis Technique
                        E3. Larceny: Underground River’s Flow
                        6. Larceny: Resetting Tumblers Technique
                        7. Larceny: Naked Thief Style
                        8XP. Larceny: Terrifying Forest-Devil Mask
                        8XP. Larceny: Hundred-Devil Masquerade
                        8XP. Larceny: Veiled Dragon’s Secret
                        8. Linguistics: Wind-Carried Words Technique
                        9. Lore: Elemental Concentration Trance
                        10. Lore: Elemental Bolt Attack
                        11. Lore: Mantle of Elemental Power
                        E4. Melee: Stoking Bonfire Style
                        8XP. Melee: Flame-Borne Interception
                        8XP. Melee: Dragon-Scale Shield (Air Variant, 3XP)
                        8XP. Melee: Blinding Spark Distraction
                        8XP. Melee: Crossfire Flash
                        8XP. Melee: Portentous Comet Deflection
                        8XP. Melee: Fire Incites Water to a Riot of Clouds
                        8XP. Melee: Burning Fury Wreath
                        8XP. Melee: Crimson Fang Bite
                        8XP. Melee: Dragon Soul Burst
                        E5. Presence: Glowing Coal Radiance
                        8XP. Resistance: Purifying Blood Ascendancy
                        12. Resistance: Ox-Body Technique
                        13. Resistance: Ox-Body Technique
                        14. Sail: Dragon Mariner Attitude
                        8XP. Socialize: Loquacious Courtier Technique
                        8XP. Socialize: Friend-to-All-Nations Attitude
                        8XP. Socialize: Loyalty-Reading Meditation
                        8XP. Socialize: Auspicious First Meeting Attitude
                        8XP. Socialize: Impeccable Purity Lavation
                        8XP. Socialize: Smoke-Wreathed Mien
                        8XP. Socialize: Smoke Without Flame
                        8XP. Socialize: Implacable Dragon Mien
                        10XP. Stealth: Distracting Breeze Meditation

                        Evocations

                        Free: Calumny: Rustling Grapevine Whispers
                        15. Calumny: Unassuming Ornament Camouflage
                        12DX. Calumny: Salon-Spider Entrapment
                        12DX. Calumny: Swallowtail’s Grace
                        12DX. Calumny: Ripened Bitter Fruit
                        Free. Lady Magnificent’s Visage: Don the Lady
                        12DX. Lady Magnificent’s Visage: Hide the Lady
                        12XP. Lady Magnificent’s Visage: Be the Lady

                        Intimacies

                        Defining Principle: The Dragon-Blooded are born to rule.
                        Major Principle: None steal from me and live.
                        Minor Principle: The Immaculate Philosophy (Devout Belief)
                        Minor Principle: Pleasure before duty.
                        Major Tie: House Cynis (Familial duty)
                        Major Tie: Mott and my Archons (Family)
                        Minor Tie: Anathema (Loathing)
                        Minor Tie: Alinos Melody (Wary Respect)
                        Minor Tie: Tepet Ganan (Begrudged obligation)
                        Minor Tie: Mnemon (Resentment)

                        Combat

                        Evasion 6 (+2, 4m)
                        Parry 7 (+3, 6m; +1 non-Charm, 2m 2i)

                        Soak 6 (Exceptional breastplate) Hardness 0
                        Mobility Penalty -0

                        Resist Poison/Disease: 6 dice (+3, 3m)

                        Calumny: Accuracy 14 (11 Decisive)(+6, 6m); Damage 14 (4 OVR); Melee, Bashing, Concealable, Reaching
                        Fire-bending: Accuracy 13/12/11/-/- (8 Decisive)(+3, 3m); Damage 13 (OVR 4) (Double-10s on Decisive); Lethal, 4m per attack (1m with Mantle of Elemental Power), Parry 5 (with Mantle of Elemental Power)

                        Rush: 6
                        Disengage: 8 (+2 successes, 4m)

                        Join Battle: 10 dice (+3, 3m)

                        Social

                        Manipulative Presence: 9 dice (+2 successes, 10s explode, 4m)

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

                        Willpower 5
                        Essence 3

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

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

                        Jin by Mc-19051: https://ibb.co/LRbrmLp

                        Lady Magnificent’s Visage

                        The Wood Aspected thief known only as Lady Magnificent is a cat burglar of some renown throughout the Scavenger Lands – and she has made no shortage of enemies. When she pilfered the treasury of Achus, Left Hand Chalima swore revenge. When she filched the lost diamond of Xerah, the Order of Aptem Knights vowed to take her head. And when she stole the Cynis heirloom Calumny right out from the Palace of Dragon’s Repose, the former Magistrate Cynis Jinabar declared that she would bring this thief to justice if it was the last thing she ever did, igniting the blood feud between House Cynis and the mysterious thief.

                        None have pursued the Lady with as much passion as Cynis Jinabar. Often, she is the first on the scene in the wake of the Lady’s crimes, ever only half-a-step behind the master criminal who seems to slip through the fingers of the authorities at every turn. Certainly, she is the only peacekeeper to ever have successfully foiled the Lady’s devious plans. Those who know of the pair and their rivalry consider it only a matter of time before the noble magistrate brings her quarry to heel.

                        Which, of course, is a source of no small amount of amusement to the Lady Magnificent, Cynis Jinabar, mistress of Calumny.

                        Attunement: 2m
                        Era: Realm Civil War

                        Evocations of Lady Magnificent’s Visage

                        If a Dragon-Blooded wearer uses Terrifying Forest-Devil Mask to disguise herself as Lady Magnificent, its cost is reduced by two motes, the duration becomes Indefinite, and the mask cannot be removed with gambits.

                        Don the Lady
                        Cost: —; Mins: Essence 1
                        Type: Permanent
                        Keywords: None
                        Duration: Permanent
                        Prerequisites: Terrifying Forest-Devil Mask and Veiled Dragon’s Secret

                        Jinabar may use Terrifying Forest-Devil Mask to disguise herself as the Lady Magnificent Reflexively, the mask appearing on her face in a puff of smoke. Doing automatically activates Veiled Dragon’s Secret Reflexively and at no cost, disguising her Aspect as Wood.

                        If she knows the Charm Still Waters Mask, she may also activate that Charm Reflexively upon donning the Visage, waiving the Willpower cost to adopt Lady Magnificent’s persona.

                        Hide the Lady
                        Cost: —; Mins: Essence 2
                        Type: Permanent
                        Keywords: None
                        Duration: Permanent
                        Prerequisites: Don the Lady

                        The disguise conferred by Lady Magnificent’s Visage is perfect. It gains one non-Charm success. Users of a different gender, build, or ethnicity may ignore penalties based on these factors when disguising themselves as the Lady. The user adopts the Lady’s unique, but subtle, scent.

                        The disguise conferred by Terrifying Forest-Devil Mask cannot be pierced by mundane senses, including inhuman sensory acuity (such as the eyes of an eagle or the nose of a bloodhound). Magical attempts to pierce the disguise can be made normally, but such magic does not reveal the user’s identity – only that they appear to be impersonating the Lady Magnificent.

                        Officials attempting to establish the true identity of the Lady Magnificent take a -2 Penalty to their rolls to do so. Persons who do not know the user but who may have seen her hanging around the scene of the Lady’s crimes find her unrecognizable and cannot remember doing so.

                        Be the Lady
                        Cost: 5m; Mins: Essence 2
                        Type: Reflexive
                        Keywords: Mute
                        Duration: Instant
                        Prerequisites: Hide the Lady

                        Jinabar may spend 5m to shift her mentality to that of the Lady Magnificent. Doing so grants her one of the Lady’s Intimacies (below), which lasts until she next goes to sleep. This does not require her to don the Visage, only to have it about her person.


                        Alternatively, this Evocation may be used in the same instant as Don the Lady to instead take on all the Lady’s Intimacies in place of the Defining Intimacy that Terrifying Forest-Devil Mask normally confers. Doing so suppresses Jinabar’s normal Intimacies for the duration of the disguise. None of those Intimacies can be weakened or changed for that Charm’s duration.

                        Defining Principle: “I live for the thrill of the heist!”
                        Defining Principle: “Trust is a thing for fools.”
                        Major Principle: “I will abide no disrespect for my skills and achievements.”
                        Minor Principle: “Knowledge is power.”
                        Defining Tie: Myself (Smug Self Satisfaction)
                        Minor Tie: The Exalted (Contempt)


                        House Alinos
                        Alinos – Great House Matriarch
                        Mother of Alinos Danireya, daughter of Alinos Nanals, grand-daughter of Mnemon herself. Alinos rallied her sisters, cousins, children and allies to found her own Great House. A graduate of the Heptagram, and a powerful Air Aspected Sorceress of 282 years.

                        Alinos Danireya – A hero
                        Reya is the eldest daughter of Great House Matriarch Alinos and her heir apparent. Reya serves at the Satrap of Paragon. A powerful sorceress and burgeoning politico, she has also claimed a powerful artifact from House Ragara. Wife of Tepet Ganan. Mother to Alinos Nula, Muli, and Lezabe.
                        https://ibb.co/HHYyk1X

                        Alinos Nula – The Satrap’s Advisor
                        Daughter of Reya and Ganan, twin-sister of Muli, an Air Aspected Sorcerer, Heptagram graduate. A willful child pursuing her own agenda, Nula none-the-less finds her goals aligned with those of her mother. Recently married to Sesus Raenyah Terel.

                        Alinos Muli – Tepet Winglord
                        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. Recently married to Tepet Agoram and a Winglord in the Tepet legions. Father of Tepet Efen.

                        Alinos Lezabe – A child
                        One-year-old child of Alinos Danireya and Tepet Ganan. Lives in Paragon with his mother Reya and his wetnurse Aline.

                        Alinos Nanals – The Edge of the Wolf’s Blade
                        Nanals, daughter of Mnemon, had an illicit affair with Ragara Bhagwei resulting in the birth of her daughter, 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, and is worshiped as a god in Dovak. She has taken many lovers in her long life, including Dovak’s elemental guardian, Tomonas. Earth Aspect.

                        Alinos Ferad – The Dutiful Son
                        Fire Aspected, son of 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. Ferad increasingly finds the weight of his House’s military ambitions heaped upon him. Married to Alinos Melody.

                        Alinos Jorod – The Pillow Son
                        Born of Gracious Pealing Melody and 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. The elevation of House Alinos has seen him publicly embraced by his birth parents, married to the most eligible woman in the Realm, and given a commission as an Admiral. A Water Aspected master of naval combat, Jorod loves the sea and his new commission with the Wood Fleet.

                        Alinos Iohan – A Child
                        Alinos Jorod’s one-year-old little brother. Lives in the House of Black Waters with his mother and “father”. The darker complexion of his skin gives away his sire as Tomonas, the Thunderbird guardian of the Threshold kingdom of Dovak.

                        Allies?

                        Mnemon – The Empress
                        Her Imperial Majesty, Queen of The Blessed Isle, Empress of All Creation. Beautiful, powerful, inscrutable. The Empress rules the Realm with an iron fist and brooks no rivals.

                        Berit – The Empress’s Shogun
                        Mnemon’s sister. Commander of the Imperial Legions, Matriarch of Great House Berit.

                        V’neef – Mistress of the Seas
                        Mnemon’s sister. Matriarch of Great House V’neef and mistress of the Imperial Navy. A personal friend of Alinos Danireya and Melody.

                        Ledaal Ludila – A Satrap Advisor
                        Sworn kin of Reya, Ganan, and Melody. One of Satrap Danireya’s advisors in Paragon. Hero Forge: https://bayimg.com/CAokGAagB

                        Ledaal Kebok Coren – The Young Officer
                        A young graduate of the House of Bells, tempered in the fires of the Realm Civil War. Distant cousin of Tepet Ganan. An earnest devotee of House Ledaal’s shadow crusade and Sworn Kin of Alinos Muli, Tepet Agoram, and Alinos Nula.

                        Sesus Raenyah Terel – Isn’t it Nellens now?
                        Born of the late Sesus Matriarch Raenyah, and her husband Oban (brother of the Empress), Terel is a popular and charming duelist, ever accompanied by a gaggle of hangers-on. Married to Alinos Nula and Garrison Commander of Paragon.

                        Oban – Mr. Nellens
                        Ex-husband to the late Matriarch of House Sesus, now the husband to Nellens Gazal.

                        Tepet Ejava – The Roseblack
                        Matriarch of Great House Tepet, General of the Vermillion Legion, Tepet Ganan’s adopted mother. A hero of the Realm, instrumental in Mnemon winning the final battle of the Realm Civil War and the mastermind behind the evacuation of Thorns.

                        Tepet Corino – The Quartermaster
                        House Tepet’s second in command. Ejava’s voice on the Blessed Isle: based in the Imperial City and the public face of the Great House.

                        Tepet Agoram – Hero of Thorns
                        Married to Alinos Muli. Father of Tepet Efen. Winglord in the Vermilion Legion.

                        Tepet Efen – Born of Fire and Water
                        One-year-old child of Tepet Agoram and Alinos Muli. Efen was born of flesh taken from both fathers and woven into a baby by the neomah Cresta. He lives in the House of Black Waters with his daiaunt, Alinos Melody.

                        The Perfect – Patriarch of Civilization
                        Immortal ruler of the city of Paragon: a skilled sorcerer wielding a relic of the lost age. Married to Scarlet Whisper.

                        Enemies?

                        Tinkara Dovak – The Warlike Princess
                        Decisive, fiercely intelligent with a naturally regal bearing, and ever armed with a war-club forged in the heart of a lightning strike. The crown princess of Dovak was raped and abandoned by House Alinos. She has had over a year to plot her revenge. Hero Forge: https://bayimg.com/CAokkAagb

                        Tomonas – A Thunderbird
                        The warlike guardian of the land presently inhabited by the Kingdom of Dovak. An elemental spirit of air, Tomonas has interbred with the royal family of Dovak, passing on some of his power into the bloodline. Once a consort of Nanals, and sire of Alinos Efen by Melody.

                        Yochanan Dovak – The Prince In Exile
                        Tinkara's older brother, a god-blooded with the power of Tomonas. Powerful warrior and practiced statesman, Yochanan left the kingdom in disgrace over his refusal to accept the Immaculate Philosophy. He has not been seen in nineteen years. Father of Oka Dovak. Hero Forge: https://bayimg.com/caOkmAagb

                        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 who successfully wrested control of the Threshold city of Thorns from the Realm. The Dragon-Blooded of the Seventh Legion destroyed his armies of the dead, and his impossibly large war-machine, Juggernaut but were themselves destroyed in the effort. House Tepet, under the leadership of Tepet Ejava has just concluded a campaign to retake Thorns for the Realm – though the city is filled with Shadowlands and the hungry dead.

                        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 in order to stymie the Bull’s offensive. Rumors swirl that he has since marched his armies North and conquered the Haslanti people.

                        Scarlet Whisper – The Perfect Consort
                        Paragon’s Minister of the Arts. Wife of the Perfect. Rumored to be one of the dreaded Deceivers.

                        The Wanderer – A Stranger in a Strange Land
                        Nearly two years ago, the mysterious Wanderer helped Ganan, Melody, and Jinabar stop the Salmalin Assassins of Kirighast. Now he returns to recruit them for some new mission. Hero Forge: https://bayimg.com/CaOKJAagB

                        The Gift of Merciful Silence – Heir to Dovak
                        An Unclean Deathknight, the Gift of Merciful Silence is a powerful necromancer with a score to settle against our heroes. Believed to be Oka Dovak, rightful heir to the kingdom of Dovak, The Gift’s plans of conquest were foiled by our heroes two years ago.

                        Midnight Flamebough – Mistress of the Chirurgery of Black Blood
                        A Deathknight(?) in the service of hell. Her Caste Mark does not match any known Anathema. She runs a bar(?) in a special tower in Malfeas known as the Conventicle Malfeasant. Ally(?) to the Mask of Winters. Killed(?) by Tepet Cynis Ganan.

                        Whims-of-the-Flesh – Nightmare of Lust
                        A liminal being, trapped between life and death by dread necromancy, Whims-of-the-Flesh was a ghost hunter dedicated to stamping out the terrifying spirits unleashed by the Mask of Winters. His campaign against Midnight Flamebough led him to the pits of hell – the Demon City of Malfeas – where Flamebough slew him in the Conventicle Malfeasant. Hero Forge: https://bayimg.com/caOKlaAGB & http://bayimg.com/OAOPNaaGL


                        Additional Character Art (SFW: Non-nude but some mature and horror themes)

                        SFW: Possession (Aharon x Udi, by Xeda787): https://ibb.co/CB0D84Y
                        SFW: Inheritance (Gifty, by kscomms): https://ibb.co/pdzFWYg
                        SFW: Jin by Mc-19051: https://ibb.co/LRbrmLp
                        SFW: I Just Want to Be Loved by (Whims-of-the-Flesh) by _SlothArt: https://ibb.co/WnnJnVC
                        SFW: Hated and Abhorred (Whims of the Flesh): by _SlothArt: https://ibb.co/8xzHRDd
                        SFW: Old Year Bronze Lion Cynis Ganan - New Spring Golden Ox Augustus by Jen: https://ibb.co/1KF7sFD and https://ibb.co/0mWNQR9
                        SFW: Hero Forge Designs: https://ibb.co/album/tPdgQH
                        SFW: Various Picrews and Character Creators: https://ibb.co/album/f1dP07
                        SFW: Hero Lab Ganan https://ibb.co/PrpgHwC
                        SFW: Hero Lab Reya: https://ibb.co/HHYyk1X

                        [Edit March 31st]

                        SFW: Reya Character Reference Sheet by Virlandil: https://ibb.co/V3dBrYQ
                        SFW: Reya Bust by GANE_psychdelic: https://ibb.co/74mN4f9
                        SFW: Shirtless Ganan by GANE_psychdelic: https://ibb.co/y02JhJH
                        SFW: Saber’s Edge (Aharaon x Gifty by SofiZth): https://ibb.co/qnjvyY4

                        SFW: Dovak Map: https://ibb.co/KWqsYfH

                        House Rules

                        All PCs just get full XP. It’s just easier this way.
                        Last edited by JohnDoe244; 03-31-2021, 04:56 PM.


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

                        Comment


                        • #87
                          Session 71 – The Gift of Royalty – Ganan (235XP 188DX, 235/186 spent; 20WhP 5GP 67SP), Melody (235XP 188DX, 235/183 spent), Jinabar (235XP 188DX, 228/183 Spent)

                          Tepet Ganan blinks in the sunlight as it streams through the canopy of the forest. He raises a hand to his eyes.

                          “Gan!”

                          Melody runs across the forest floor and leaps up into his arms. Ganan grabs her and she smacks a chaste kiss right on his lips. Clapper ponderously crashes through the forest behind her.

                          “What are you doing here?” She asks breathlessly, smiling at him as he lowers her to the ground.

                          Ganan pulls a face, “Where are we? I was… I was in Thorns.”

                          “I was at home – the House of Black Waters… and then I woke up here.” Melody studies the trees, “This is Dovak.” Her great Shieldback lizard looms precariously over them.

                          Ganan grimaces, “Dovak? Yes… I remember agreeing I’d come back here… I was in the map room… Ejava was discharging me...”

                          “Bow chicka bow wow!” Melody grins at him.

                          Ganan scoffs and shakes his head, “Don’t mock your favorite brother.”

                          “Favorite brother? You only wrote me five times in the last year! Reya and Udi wrote every week!” She punches him playfully in the chest. It hurts.

                          Ganan looks at the back of his hand – his skin is not made of invulnerable bronze. “I just cast that... I should have hours left…” He mutters to himself, brow knitting in consternation.

                          An unfamiliar voice breaks Ganan’s train of thought:

                          “Favorite brother? After that kiss? Must be Dynasts!”

                          Melody and Ganan turn to see a robed figure wearing a stylized trickster spirit mask, who radiates a palpable aura of menace. They both take an immediate, visceral dislike of the hideous apparition before them.

                          Ganan squares off against this new figure, “We are Dynasts. Who are you?”

                          Lady Magnificent bows, “Ada Augusta, Lady Magnificent, Adventuress, Connoisseur, Bon Vivant.”

                          “Marauder, corsair, pirate, thief!” Melody spits. Lady Magnificent bows again with a mocking flourish, and Melody continues, “I know of her. She’s been menacing Jorod and the Wood Fleet! Your sister’s sworn a vendetta against her.”

                          “Another sister?” Lady Magnificent teases, “You do get around!” She frames Ganan theatrically in a window made of her fingers, “Let me see… sloping caveman brow, hideously unattractive, kissing your sister, dressed like a purple bruise… you must be little Jin’s big brother – Cynis Ganan?” She flicks her wrist extending a full length wrackstaff as if from nowhere, “House Cynis has the best toys. Will you be as obliging as your sister? Stand and deliver!”

                          Ganan’s eyes play over the wrackstaff, there’s no doubt in his mind that it is Jinabar’s weapon – Calumny, “Oh Jin is never going to live this one down. I will enjoy killing you.”

                          Ganan starts to glow with power as he anticipates the battle unfolding around him.

                          Melody mounts Clapper and draws her bow in one smooth motion.

                          Lady Magnificent closes the distance between herself and Ganan in a flash of green light. Her wrackstaff flashes out as Ganan’s skin hardens to stone. Lady’s staff hits his flesh, binding him with sticky strands of congealed essence. Ganan rolls with the blow and takes Earth Dragon Form: his anima rises into a ranging sandstorm. The wrackstaff whispers a name into Lady’s ear.

                          Ganan fights through the sticky essence enveloping him and smashes into Lady Magnificent with a mighty overhead blow, but even as he brings his fists down, she launches forward whipping up and devastating plume of steam. The blast of steam knocks Ganan badly off-balance. Lady Magnificent’s anima rise-up into a dog made of twisting vines.

                          Lady Magnificent ducks back, and twirls her staff, “Tell me, who is ‘Mnemon Honas’?”

                          Ganan’s face becomes a mask of rage, but Lady’s manifest essence bindings holds him back.

                          “Oh, that important to you then?” She taunts as she ducks inside his guard to hammer him again.

                          Melody looses an arrow, Lady Magnificent shifts her focus, swinging her staff up at the last moment. The force of the arrow knocks open a hole in her guard.

                          Ganan surges up and drives a fist into Lady’s ribcage, hammering the air from her lungs.

                          “Well, this has been fun.” Lady Magnificent grins, as she draws back and makes a dash for the tree-line.

                          Melody spurs Clapper forward, but Ganan calls out:

                          “Let her go.”

                          “Seriously?” Melody says as she draws a bead on the fleeing brigand.

                          Ganan nods grimly, “We’re not here for her. If you crash Clapper through the forest, you’ll tip our hand.”

                          Melody doesn’t dismount but she lowers her bow as Lady Magnificent disappears into the foliage, “Gan, why are we here?”

                          “That is an excellent question.” Glowing with the faint red-light of her fiery anima, Cynis Jinabar steps out from the tree-line with her faithful servant Mott and a pair of other mortals whom our heroes do not recognize.

                          “Jin!” Melody calls enthusiastically as she vaults off Clapper to run over to her.

                          Jin flinches and holds up a hand to stop her, “Please, no public displays of affection.”

                          Ganan pulls his tetsubo from his anima, “Are we good?” He asks cautiously.

                          Jin looks at her brother, “After you destroyed my home, murdered my entire family, then didn’t even write for a year? And don’t say you didn’t know my address.” Her voice is level, but there’s emotion evident behind her words.

                          Ganan shrugs and lowers his weapon fractionally, “I didn’t know what I’d say. You look well.”

                          “I’m surprised to see you… alive?” Melody ventures hesitantly.

                          “She wasn’t in the manse when I destroyed it.” Ganan says simply. Jin nods mutely in acknowledgement and Ganan sheaves his weapon.

                          “Are you here tracking Lady Magnificent?” Melody asks, quickly changing the subject.

                          Jin shifts her attention to Melody, “No. I expect I’m here for the same reason as you. What’s the last thing you remember before waking up here?”

                          “I was at home,” Melody answers, “Gan was in Thorns.”

                          “And what were you doing?” Jin asks patiently.

                          “Ejava was booting me out of the 40th.” Ganan responds.

                          “And I was hosting a V’neef delegation… when… I had a visitor?”

                          Jin gestures for her to continue.

                          “I don’t… remember who… damn it!” She turns to Ganan, “A Sidereal?”

                          “Wait, what’s a Sidereal?” Jin asks, confused, “It was the Wanderer who brought me here.”

                          Ganan snaps his fingers, “That’s right. The Wanderer. Today was my last day of service, I wanted to stay on and secure Thorns, but the Wanderer came-”

                          “Hold on,” Melody interrupts, “Your last day of service is the 2nd Day of Resplendent Water, that’s when the Wanderer saw me. It was early in the day.”

                          “And that’s when he saw me as well,” Jin says, “In Greyfalls.”

                          “There’s got to be a thousand miles between Incas and Greyfalls!” Ganan exclaims, “Even on a Stormwind Rider, even on a Lesser Elemental Dragon, he couldn’t have seen us all in the same morning!”

                          “More like three thousand miles,” Melody adds, “And transporting Clapper here from the Blessed Isle… is a feat, to be sure. The sun is overhead, which means it’s not morning anymore, so we’ve lost time. As Ganan’s spell has worn off, we’re probably talking ‘days’ not ‘hours’.”

                          “Hmm.” Ganan considers, “That doesn’t necessarily square. If it’s been days, why didn’t I recast my spell this morning? It could be that I had to discharge the spell early – combat, maybe, or needing to reduce my weight?” He stops, and touches the Yasal stone at his hip, “It’s been less than six months, at least,” he confirms as he feels the familiar presence of Ndiza (resummoned during the campaign on Thorns), then he and routes through his pack, “How much food do you two have?”

                          They check: they all have a couple of days’ worth of rations.

                          “We should head into Dovak and get the date at least.” Melody suggests.

                          “I’ll go.” Jin says decisively, “I’m less well known than the two of you, and stealthier too.”

                          Ganan scoffs, “You are a klutz, I am far stealthier than you.”

                          “And why do we care about stealth?” Melody asks, “Let’s just march into town!”

                          “That’s not tactically sound,” Ganan admonishes, “We didn’t leave the city on good terms. I wouldn’t have agreed to leave Thorns without a very good reason. A reason pressing enough to keep me from my wife and children.” He points at Melody, “And I note Iohan isn’t with you. We’re not here for a friendly visit.”

                          Melody looks panic stricken for a moment, but then is overcome with the undeniable feeling that she made appropriate care arrangements for her one-year-old son and Muli’s boy.

                          “Why don’t you go check out that tree you used to summon Sondok?” Jin suggests, “I’ll scope out the city. Take command of my archons.” And without waiting for a reply, she turns and rushes into the forest, quickly disappearing from sight.

                          “She’s going the right way, yes?” Ganan confirms with Melody before dissolving his body into shadow and chasing after her.

                          Melody shakes her head at the pair, mounts Clapper, directing the archons up with her, and she stomps through the forest at right angles to Dovak to head for the Gateway Tree.

                          ****

                          With her spiritual reserves drained from her fight with her brother, Jin can’t adopt her disguise as Lady Magnificent, but she is still incredibly stealthy as she sneaks her way into Dovak in broad daylight.

                          The fields surrounding the city are tilled by the dead: zombies pull ploughs by hand, scatter seeds mindlessly, and spread foul smelling offal as fertilizer. The presence of the undead does not shock Jin, or Ganan who follows close behind in shadow-form. Ganan can’t feel the presence of any immaterial spirits: the zombies being left unsupervised in their rote tasks.

                          Crucified bodies flank the entrance to the palisade which surrounds the city. The stench of rotting flesh assails her: a pungent, acrid stink that makes Jin feel like the inside of her nose will never be clean again. The corpses turn and struggle against their bonds as she approaches the gap in the wall, letting out low moans of warning. Startled by the undead sentries, she disappears back into the tree-line and waits. She doesn’t have to wait long: convoys of mortals – humans and beastfolk – are streaming regularly in and out of the city, heading for the mines and the mountains or returning with wheelbarrows and wagons. Vast amounts of copper is being shipped into the city, but also stone (which appears more like rubble than quarried blocks) and fresh corpses. Jin blends seamlessly with the crowd and hides on the underside of a wagon, rolling into town without alerting the corpse sentries. At the same time, Ganan’s disembodied shadow slips between the cracks of the palisade, entering the city from the side.

                          Dovak is almost unrecognizable. The basic outline (Ganan’s neatly ordered rows of houses, the grand temple to Tomonas, the palace in the center of the city) is the same, but the tenements are blood-stained as well as soot-stained; green and gold banners bearing the Mon of House Cynis fly from the buildings; undead monsters beat the copper into blades in eerie unison, every hammer in the city rising and falling in time like the beating of a behemoth’s heart; ghosts and darker things stalk the shadows in the alleyways between buildings; and a stockade has been erected next to the stables. Six figures, sickly and weak, are bound in the stockade, surrounded by effluence: Ganan and Jin do not recognize them, but assume it’s the Rulinsei Satrap and her delegation.

                          Ganan loses sight of Jin as he serves out of sight to avoid a mortwright. Minutes pass as Ganan makes his way toward the Wall of Stone. He catches sight of a familiar masked figure – Lady Magnificent dashes up the rooftops and jumps for the Wall. She soars a clear ten-feet, whipping out a length of rope which catches the top of the wall, easily scrambling up the remaining distance. Invisible and Immaterial, Ganan slides under a barred door, entering the Wall.

                          Lady Magnificent does not stop running. She flips over the other side of the Wall, retying her rope on the run and sliding down its length. She kicks off the Wall, using her tie as a fulcrum and launches herself at one of the taller trees in the palace gardens. She’s already on the ground and heading for the Tower of Air by the time the zombie guards notice that she’d scaled the Wall.

                          Ganan makes straight for the old Satrap’s quarters. He finds a disturbing sight – two Dragon-Blooded, their animas raging, tempests of elemental power, are conducting an orgy. The participants – or rather, victims, are mostly mortal but Ganan notices some of the more badly mauled corpses continue to grope and writhe in the elemental power as undead. Ganan slips quietly out of the Satrap’s quarters, glad on the solid workmanship he put into the heavy oak door. Having seen more than enough, he swiftly leaves, heading for the Gateway Tree.

                          Her mystic reserves still drained, Lady Magnificent sizes up the perfectly smooth nephrite walls of the Tower of Air. Reluctantly she removes her mask and approaches the Tower entrance as Cynis Jinabar. She raps smartly on the door.

                          A guard, liveried in the uniform of the Dovaki royal family, living but his face gaunt and pale, answers the door, “I am Cynis Jinabar. I was told to present myself to the boss.” Jin bluffs.

                          Cautiously, the guard opens the door. Jin certainly looks like she could be a Dragon-Blooded: she has an aura of impeccable cleanliness, such as is impossible to maintain in the smog and gore of Dovak.

                          “The Prince is in a foul mood. You’d better be a tracker, or he’ll have your head.” The guard warns, waving her into the Tower.

                          The guardhouse and servant’s market are deserted. The only living soul is the single guard who let Jin into the Tower. She picks her way past unattended internal defenses: there’s blood on the floor – old and stained. She rises through the tower to the next level, the entire floor is empty, filled with rooms of different sizes. The furnishings have been stripped, even the doors removed from the walls, it is impossible for Jin to guess that once this was the Reception of Power where Dovak’s nobility and wealthier citizens conducted business. She crosses the floor and continues up to the next level, the Royal Market: this leaves some clues, rotten food discarded on the ground, more bloodstains. Zombies fill the next floor: a press of bodies, male and female, young and old. Some wear what were obviously once fine clothes, now gore-splattered. They turn their eyes on Jin with murderous intent but make no move toward her. A thick black line has been drawn in something like bitumen on the ground: the zombies are all behind that line.

                          Jin holds up her hands in what she hopes is a universal gesture of surrender, then calls out in a commanding voice, “I am Cynis Jinabar. Make way.”

                          For a second it seems as if the zombies do not understand her, then the part, leaving a clear path for her to the other side of the floor. Calumny clasped firmly in hand; she cautiously crosses over the black line. The zombies do not converge on her and she crosses the room without incident.

                          The next level is the court. Living, dead and stranger things mill to the sides of the great room, yielding the walkway that leads to the throne. Upon the throne is sat a youth skin as pale as the moon, spiky hair black as night, yet tinged with streaks of red-fire, eyes as deep and merciless as the sea and lips like lumps of coal. On his head he wears a wreath, twisted with gold, and in his hands is a warclub (no stately scepter of office, this is a wicked looking thing made of twisted soulsteel). Jin thinks he looks oddly familiar, though she struggles to place the likeness. She approaches the throne boldly, stops before it and bows:

                          “Your Majesty.”

                          The courtroom falls silent.

                          The Gift of Merciful Silence looks at her sternly and responds in Old Realm “I am not given to forgiving insults, Terrestrial.

                          A creature that looks like something from a nightmare, a twisted being in the rough shape of a man only taller and thinner, its skin like dead, rotten wood with a pulsing, squirming, something mercifully obscured by the bark, turns the shadowy void that exists where a human’s face would be toward Jin and… if not speaks then at least generates words directed at her (also in Old Realm):

                          HIS ROYAL HIGHNESSS, THE GIFT OF MERCIFUL SILENCE, MAKES NO CLAIM TO THE THRONE OF DOVAK. WHILST THE PRETENDER AND THE EXILE DRAW BREATH, YOU SHALL NOT REFER TO HIM AS 'KING'.

                          Jin rises from her bow, curtsies and responds in her own Old Realm, “Clearly the master does not appreciate my boastfulness. I ask only that you suspend my punishment until after I deliver my quarry.

                          The Gift’s eyes narrow, “You are the tracker, then, that my Cynis servants have sent for.” It is not a question.

                          “I am Cynis Jinabar, formerly a Magistrate hand-picked by the Scarlet Empress herself to serve her. Now, I am the foremost scout in House Cynis. There are none better than I at tracking quarry.” She answers, more-or-less honestly.

                          The Gift relaxes back, “You are boastful. We shall see if I like that. May I assume that useless bitch Petalin has failed in every way to brief you properly in your mission?”

                          “She has: I have not been briefed,” Jinabar responds inwardly grimacing as she recognizes the name as one of House Cynis’s foremost military commanders who deserted during the Civil War, “But I have already offended you, and I shall not presume to waste any more of your time…”

                          The Gift holds up a hand for silence, “I will brief you. I will brook no further mistakes. Your targets are two. The first is Crown Princess Tinkara Dovak, in exile. She is a god-blooded warrior. She wields an enchanted warclub that can call the power of the storm. The second is a pretender who calls himself Yochanan Dovak – after the Princess’s younger brother who fled the kingdom in exile, some time ago. I am told there is a certain… resemblance, between them and myself only…”

                          He motions one of the native Dovaki forward. He approaches without hesitating, obeying the wordless command instantly, but with a look of absolute terror on his face. The Gift caresses the man’s skin, the contrast of his white pallor evident against the olive brown tone of the noble. Then, with a flick of the wrist he tears a chunk out of the nobleman’s neck. The dead body hits the floor and The Gift of Merciful Silence carefully peels the skin from the flesh and licks the blood from the skin. Fearful servants haul the body to one side and The Gift rises from his throne presenting the skin to Jin.

                          “Their skin is darker than mine.” The Gift concludes, he regards the fallen noble with contempt, “These people put such stock on the color of skin denoting worthiness to rule. A foolish notion.” He whispers, more to himself than to Jin.

                          Jin takes the human skin without flinching: it’s not quite the same as her own, but certainly her tan is closer to the Dovaki olive than to The Gift’s pallor, and the comment on ruling and skin color makes her uncomfortably aware of that fact.

                          She can now place why The Gift looks so familiar: he looks like The Wanderer. But he also looks like… someone else. Like a cross between the Wanderer and someone she knows with pale skin…

                          “This pretender, the one pretending to be an exile, not the exile pretending to your throne,” Jin says, “He is, if you’ll pardon the expression, one of the Anathema?”

                          The Gift returns to his throne before answering, “He may be. He is not to be underestimated.”

                          “Does he have any other aliases? ‘The Wanderer’, perhaps?”

                          YOU GOT TOO FAR, TERRESTRIAL! The nightmare creature barks.

                          The Gift silences his lieutenant, “We believe that is an alias he may use.”

                          “And… ‘his son’?” Jin questions, her eidetic memory recalling the Wanderer’s greatest secret.

                          Jin’s world explodes into a mess of stars. Pain like nothing she has ever felt courses through her body. When she can see again, the only thing she can see is bare stone. It takes her a breath or two to realize she’s face down on the floor.

                          SHOW DEFERENCE TO THE MASTER'S FAVORED SERVANT! The nightmare thing barks at her.

                          “A thousand apologies,” Jin mumbles, her mouth full of cotton, “But I arrived in Dovak only this morning, consider how quickly I will find your quarry.”

                          “She’s not lying.” The Gift judges, “Let her up.”

                          Jin suddenly becomes aware of a great weight pressing down on her, just as it is being removed. The swirling in her head stops, and she rises from the ground.

                          “Do not disappoint me.” The Gift warns, dismissing her.

                          Jin turns and flees from the Tower. As she leaves Dovak, the crucified corpses do not scream at her. She crosses the threshold to re-enter, just to be sure, then heads out into the forest to meet up with Melody and Ganan – using Wind-Carried Words and her unerring sense of direction to find them.

                          ****

                          Melody rides directly to the Gateway Tree. It still seems hale and healthy – a portal only to Creation. But that is the only hale and healthy thing here. The fortifications Ganan built to protect the tree from the dead are now manned by the dead. Sacrifices and sickly animals are chained to the ground by the tree and nothing else living is growing within fifty-yards. Melody is not trained in occult matters, but even to her it seems obvious that someone is trying to create a Shadowland here, forcing the passage to the Underworld to reopen.

                          She consults Mott, “One Dragon, three mortals, and Shieldback against an army of zombies is good odds. But I don’t want to fight a spirit without Ganan here.”

                          “How will you know if there’s a spirit here?” Mott asks.

                          “Well, if it inexplicably goes dark and we all die, there’s a spirit here.” Melody grins.

                          “You still can’t see spirits in mirrors, mistress?” Mott asks.

                          “I still can’t even set fucking bodies on fire, Mott!” Melody fires back, “Can Jin see spirits?”

                          “Mistress Jinabar has developed many new abilities, but, no, I don’t think so. Spirits can still bedevil us – I suspect that’s how Lady Magnificent keeps getting away.”

                          Melody makes a noise of frustration, “If only we had more of you!” She laments.

                          “How many more, mistress?” Mott whistles.

                          Out of the forest ten figures emerge from the foliage, having tracked them on foot – the rest of Jinabar’s archons.

                          “Alright!” Melody nods, “This could work…”

                          ****

                          Melody positions the archons in the trees, then orders Mott forward to attack the zombies with his sling. He attracts the attention of the horde then runs back for the tree-line. The zombies pursue, mindlessly abandoning their fortified position and blundering straight into the archon’s ambush. The archons hit the zombies and fall back, then hit them again before falling back again. All the time, Melody just watches the battle and sings out instructions to the troops. Eventually they lure the zombies to Melody’s position, and she dispatches the entire horde easily.

                          Ganan arrives as the last zombie falls. He looks at the positions of the archons and Melody, “A box gambit?” He ventures, speculating on Melody’s tactics.

                          “Well, I didn’t run straight at them with a tetsubo and beat them to death, but it worked.” Melody grins at him.

                          “That would have been foolish. For starters, you’re better with a bow, and what if there had been a mortwright leading them?”

                          “Holy crap! Are you actually talking to me about tactics? Real, honest-to-Mela tactics?”

                          “Well,” Ganan makes a fifty-fifty gesture, “Simple tactics.”

                          Melody gestures at the archons, “Jin’s other soldiers.”

                          Ganan nods in acknowledgement but says nothing.

                          “The tree is still… Creation-y, not Underworld-y.” Melody confirms as they approach the fortifications once more.

                          “But they’re obviously trying to change that.” Ganan comments on the sacrificial blocks, “We should demolish this fortification: I can always erect another.”

                          “Music to my ears!” Melody grins, ordering Clapper round to start demolishing the other side.

                          Ganan eyes up his handiwork and plans the proper demolition of the walls, factoring in Clapper’s ad-hoc destruction of the far side. He works quickly, using his tetsubo to hammer key points (1SP) and between his effort’s and Clapper’s tail the defenses are soon dropped.

                          Jinabar joins them as the work is completed.

                          “So, what’s the date?” Melody asks, “I figure Ganan forgot to ask, or he would have told me as soon as he arrived.”

                          There is a rustle from the tree-line, the very place where Melody drew the defending zombies into a trap and for a brief moment, Melody realizes just how exposed they are now they’ve destroyed the Gateway Tree’s fortifications.

                          The familiar, toned, and tanned figure of Tinkara Dovak appears from the tree-line with an army of bearfolk at her back:

                          “It’s the Third Day of Resplendent Water, and you are still not welcome in my kingdom!”

                          The bearfolk army leer at our heroes from the tree-line, banging weapons on shields.

                          Your kingdom?” Ganan answers, “All I see is corpses and Cynis banners. We’re the ones killing the zombies.”

                          “We are your friends Tinkara,” Melody adds quickly, “We have diligently fought to protect Dovak in the past, and now we’re here to help.”

                          “Here to help?” Tinkara spits, “Cynis Ganan whose House has pillaged my kingdom, Mnemon Melody whose-” She disgorges a torrent of maggots from her mouth as the curse Reya levied upon her takes hold. Our heroes wince and hold their tongues until she stops, “And you! … Who are you?”

                          “Call me ‘Jin’,” Cynis Jinabar says as she gives a bow, “Your last Satrap, Bekara, had me imprisoned when I first came to Dovak, but I helped these two to track down Sondok and send her back to hell.”

                          Tinkara glares at Ganan, “I’d almost forgotten that you unleashed that demon on my kingdom.”

                          “You are my friend, Tinkara,” Ganan says, spreading his palms, “I don’t know what happened between you and Reya, but I begged her to remove that curse. So did Melody, or, at least, she would have if Reya had not cursed her as well. House Cynis betrayed the Realm, and they no longer have my allegiance. And Sondok didn’t do any harm to Dovak, but we took responsibility, and we fixed our mistake. That’s what we’re doing now.”

                          “We make a lot of mistakes, princess,” Melody says earnestly, “But we don’t want to see Dovak overrun by the dead… or House Cynis, apparently. And, not to be rude, but you have, what, five hundred bearfolk there? Against the three of us? Sweetie, it’s your kingdom and we’re here to help but stand your little band of merry mutants down before someone gets hurt. We’ve already taken back the Gateway Tree. You need us.”

                          Tinkara addresses Jin, “If they imprisoned you then made you hunt down a demon that they unleashed, I take it you have no particular loyalty to them? Help me kill them and I’ll make you a thane.”

                          “That is a tempting offer, princess,” She stares hard at Ganan, “A very tempting offer. But I’ve just come from the city and we are going to need every fighter we can get. Honestly… even working together, I don’t think we can do this.”

                          “To be clear,” Tinkara says slowly, “‘Do this’ means overthrowing Oka and returning me to the throne?”

                          “Of course,” Melody says.

                          “I don’t know who ‘Oka’ is but if it’s the creepy guy calling himself ‘The Gift of Merciful Silence’ and sitting on a throne, sure – let’s do this.” Jin nods.

                          “No.” Ganan says.

                          “No?” Tinkara says, and the other two echo her surprise.

                          Ganan screws up his face as if remembering something. He speaks slowly and with obvious difficulty, “We’re… here… to restore the rightful king?”

                          Tinkara draws her weapon and squares off against him.

                          Ganan hurriedly clarifies, “Which isn’t Oka. You and Oka both hang your claim on being next in line. But neither of you are.”

                          Tinkara grits her teeth, “Darios is dead. If I am not the next-in-line and you don’t recognize Oka’s claim, then who is this so-called rightful king?”

                          A new voice, clear and bold, yet familiar rings out, “I am.”

                          All eyes turn and see the Wanderer standing tall.

                          ****

                          Ganan spends 8XP to train Spirit-Chaining Strike and 2DX to train Dodge 2.

                          Melody spends 10XP to train Wind-Carried Words Technique.



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

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                          • #88
                            Session 72 – Reunion – Ganan (240XP 192DX, 235/186 spent; 20WhP 15GP 89SP), Melody (240XP 192DX, 235/183 spent), Jinabar (240XP 192DX, 236/183 Spent)

                            Our heroes, Tepet Ganan, Alinos Melody, and Cynis Jinabar, stand in front of the Gateway Tree – a mystic portal built in the First Age that links Creation to other realms of existence. Surrounding them is an army of beastfolk led by the god-blooded princess, Tinkara Dovak.

                            Tinkara grits her teeth, “Darios is dead. If I’m not the next in line and you don’t recognize Oka’s claim, then who is this so-called rightful king?”

                            A new voice, clear and bold, yet familiar rings out, “I am.”

                            All eyes turn and see the Wanderer standing tall. Only where the Wanderer is hunched and deferential, dressed in a traveling cloak, the man before them stands tall and proud, dressed in shining, silvery armor across his broad chest, and a gleaming warclub of Starmetal and Orichalcum slung at his side.

                            “Yochanan!” Tinkara exclaims in surprise.

                            Yochanan Dovak nods slowly, “Yes, little sister. I have returned. Oka will have discovered our presence here by now, follow me.” He turns and walks into the forest. Tinkara and her forces follow swiftly behind.

                            Melody gestures, “Do we…?”

                            “Oka’s forces are significant. We should avoid a direct engagement.” Ganan follows after Yochanan.

                            Melody mounts Clapper, Jin rounds up her archons, and they follow the bearfolk army.

                            Yochanan leads them to one of the hidden tunnels under Dovak – this is the first tunnel our heroes have found where the entrance is large enough to accommodate Clapper, but it is a tight fit. Another difference is that the walls of the tunnel glow with a gentle, yellow light. Yochanan leads them into a wide cavern.

                            Yochanan addresses those assembled in Riverspeak, “In ancient times two mighty heroes: a bear god and his wife, a radiant princess from a distant land, fled to the mountains to escape a terrible catastrophe. The princess raised a mighty tower to live in with her husband, and their children, and retainers. Over time refugees found their tower, and the princess added new towers, spiraling out into a great nautilus shape – and thus the city of Urza Arcus was founded. The bear god and his wife created an elemental guardian to always watch over the city, Tomomas, in the fashion of the storm gods of the princess’s distant homeland, for they had many enemies. And they created a tower at the foot of the mountain, and fortified it with a great wall, and set Tomonas’s palace overlooking it – and this Tower of Air and its Wall of Stone would be their trading post, their link to the outside world. Over time the heroes died and were interred, and they prophesied that one day they would return. And then, the Great Contagion came. A few of the hardiest children of the Bear God survived in Urza Arcus, and they rebuilt as best as they could. But the trading post was wiped out. It would be years before Dovak, my ancestor, would find the trading post and make it her palace – naming the city after herself. Refugees from the Great Contagion settled here and became the Dovaki. Dovak herself won the affection of Tomonas and her divine line ruled Dovak, until twenty years ago.

                            Jin leans into Melody, “What happened twenty years ago?”

                            Melody shrugs.

                            Ganan answers, raising his voice, “When the Realm came.

                            Yochanan shakes his head and turns back to the crowd, “When Ragara Haseti came. The Realm had sent missionaries here for a hundred years, and even before that great elemental heroes would rise, perhaps once a century one of their kind would come to Dovak. But Ragara Haseti won the loyalty of one of our most ancient gods – a consort of Tomonas, Lame Louve – The Edge of the Wolf’s Blade. Wolf’s Blade and Tomonas convinced King Darios to make Dovak a Satrapy of the Realm. I did not wish to see my birthright, and everything I had worked to build for two hundred years turned over to the Realm. Haseti challenged me, defeated me, and drove me from Dovak.

                            Hold up,” Melody interrupts, “Two hundred years?” The assembled bearfolk army leers at her.

                            Two hundred years ago,” Yochanan answers, “Wolf’s Blade convinced Tomonas that his elemental blood had run thin in the Royal House of Dovak. Tomonas struck the heir apparent, Darios Dovak, with a bolt from his warclub, and when Darios staggered to his feet he found he had been blessed with immortality, and that he held a babe in his arms: me. It took a hundred years for Tomonas to gather enough power to sire my sister by the same fashion.

                            A murmur of approval comes up from the bearfolk.

                            “Ha!” Melody taunts Ganan, “Reya’s sugar-baby is OLDER than you!”

                            Jin sniggers.

                            I have returned to save Dovak, and Urza Arcus, from the clutches of the dead and the depreciation of the Realm. These three heroes have agreed to help me. Together, we will return your homes to you and end Oka’s reign of cruelty.

                            The bearfolk give a cheer and Yochanan waves the Dragon-Blooded and Tinkara into an alcove off the main cavern.

                            Melody wags a finger, “I don’t remember agreeing to help you take the throne, Yochanan.”

                            “I realize you don’t remember it, but you did,” Yochanan replies. Melody tries to size him up: though it is certainly in his interests to lie, Melody gets the impression that he is being honest.

                            Jin clears her throat, “I know I agreed to come to Dovak. But I don’t believe that you could convince us – especially him – that you are more fit to rule Dovak than the Dragon-Blooded.”

                            Yochanan nods solemnly, “What did you see in Dovak?”

                            Ganan folds his arms across his chest, “It’s overrun by the dead. Undead watchmen, spirits, and craftsmen: they’re importing large amounts of copper, rock, and corpses. Cynis exiles are helping them, I don’t know why, but they seem more concerned with debasing themselves than governing. They’ve taken the Rulinsei Satrap hostage. Oh,” He turns to Jin, “And I saw your friend, Lady Magnificent – she was casing the palace.”

                            Jin nods, “With House Cynis here in strength, that makes sense: she’s taunting us. The dead are led by The Gift of Merciful Silence. I’ve never met a Deathknight before, but he is one, of that I am certain. From inference, he’s your son – Oka Dovak. There’s as strong family resemblance. And he’s looking for the two of you.” She gestures at Tinkara and Yochanan. “He keeps court with the nobles and Cynis hangers-on. But also with stranger beasts. Undead and a… I don’t know what, but it’s quick and it’s powerful. She pauses and pulls a face, “And…”

                            Jin hesitates, but Yochanan gestures for her to continue, “The stranger thing… it said something… ‘Show deference to the master’s favored servant’. At first, I thought it was talking about itself… but I think the ‘favored servant’… is Oka. Which means the ‘master’…”

                            “Is the Mask of Winters,” Ganan finishes. He looks at Yochanan, “That’s why I agreed to help you. I remember now. The Mask of Winters has been driven from Thorns, but if he can gain control of the Heartrot Tree then he can open a new path to the Underworld. We can’t hold Thorns: it’s a shadowland, blighted. All we can do is evacuate it – sending waves of refugees into already unstable Jiara or into the Scavenger Lands which is already flooded by Lookshyans.”

                            “And who knows how many spies and saboteurs are among them.” Melody adds, wrinkling her nose, “If the Mask of Winters can rebuild in Dovak, he’ll re-emerge stronger than ever and be able to just walk back into Thorns.”

                            Ganan nods, “Thorns is on the shore, open to Realm attack. The entire Vermilion Legion is encamped there. With the losses he suffered at Lookshy, he can’t drive us off. But Dovak is far from the shore, where the Realm can’t attack him. One flank guarded by Ma-Ha-Sachi. Lookshy to the North destroyed. Jiara to the West, still unsettled by the Anathema rebellion. And the South means fighting through demon uprisings and Ahlat’s forces whilst exposing our lines to the traitors in Prasad. I am willing to surrender Dovak to Yochanan if it means saving the East.”

                            “Damn it,” Jin spits, “I suppose if we’re saving the entire East from a Deathlord that’s worth one Satrapy.” She produces the skin that Oka gave her, “He’s killed a lot of the Dovaki nobles, who, like you two, all have dark skin. But Oka’s skin is white. He’s as pale as Reya,” She looks at Ganan, “And his eyes are bright blue.”

                            Ganan looks at Tinkara and Yochanan: their eyes are brown. He addresses Tinkara, “You told Reya that Oka’s mother died in childbirth.”

                            Yochanan answers, “When the Realm came, Wolf’s Blade was unconvinced that Tomanas’ power was enough. She… seduced me and I get a child upon her. She brought the child to term, and abandoned him with me, as is her fashion.”

                            “Aaand? Is Wolf’s Blade is pale with blue eyes? Help me out here.” Jin shrugs, looking at Ganan.

                            “Wolf’s Blade is Reya’s grandmother – Nanals.” Ganan says without looking away.

                            “Hang on,” Melody says, “Doesn’t that make The Gift your uncle?”

                            “No!” Ganan barks.

                            “It makes him Reya’s uncle. He’s Gan’s uncle-in-law,” Jin quips, “That means they can still bang.”

                            “I have no interest in ‘banging’ an Anathema!” Ganan shouts, losing his cool.

                            “Really?” Jin asks as she looks Yochanan up-and-down, “Because, damn…”

                            “My brother-” Tinkara begins.

                            Jin cuts her off, “Has an orichalcum club, can rewrite memories, can break into my secure quarters, appear in three places at once, and can move a four-ton Shieldback a thousand miles in a day. Don’t insult my intelligence. Oka has us outnumbered and outgunned. We need to take stock of our assets. I’ve worked with your kind before: frankly I’m surprised my brother hasn’t ripped your head off already, but I suppose he really wants to stop the Mask of Winters.”

                            “Your brother has his own theories as to what I am. I do not consider myself ‘Anathema’: I am Exalted.”

                            “Be that as it may,” Ganan interjects addressing Tinkara, “I assume this is only an elite strike force, and you have a much larger army available to you? Because otherwise this entire venture is folly.”

                            Tinkara speaks with notable irritation, “My soldiers are few, but they are loyal. And the people will rise-up against Oka.”

                            Jin stands, “Well it was lovely seeing you again. Best of luck stopping the Mask of Winters… you are going to need it.”

                            “I have an army,” Yochanan says. The tone of his voice makes Jin sit back down.

                            Melody studies the look on Tinkara’s face, “Okay, where is it? And what do you need us for?”

                            “My army,” Yochanan says, deliberating on every word, “Requires Exalted commanders. The three of you have proven yourselves: you’ve fought, not just for your Realm or Dovak, but for Creation. And not against brigands and hobgoblins, but against one of the most feared demons of the Demon Realm. And you have held your own against my son.”

                            Melody looks to Ganan, expecting him to scoff at that last remark, but he says nothing, so she reiterates her first question, “Okay, where is it?”

                            Yochanan turns to Tinkara, “Tell your troops to stand down.”

                            Tinkara gives a signal and the bearfolk sheath their weapons. Yochanan does something imperceptible and the lights of the cavern dim. A clattering noise can be heard, even after all these months Ganan and Melody recognize it from when they Stormwinded through the tunnels with Reya: Melody’s hand twitches uneasily, wanting her bow but she resists the urge. From every entrance into the tunnel comes one of the great metallic insects like the one killed by Sondok. On their backs are howdahs and riding the howdahs are strange rocky Creatures armed with wicked looking crystalline pikes and crossbows.

                            “Jadeborn!” The heroes exclaim in unison.

                            Yochanan nods, “I have three thousand Jadeborn warriors pledged to our cause.”

                            Ganan’s brow furrows, “I didn’t know there were three thousand Jadeborn warriors.” He mentally runs through the troop numbers he saw in Dovak, “That could work.”

                            “Indeed,” Yochanan smiles, “The Jadeborn labor under a curse levied by the Solars of old. They cannot march under Creation’s sun, save under the command of the Exalted. But we can’t risk a direct engagement: Dovak is my home and I have no desire to rule a Shadowland. We need to draw Oka out, not risk a bloodbath in the city. Additionally, it will take a few days for me to assemble my full force.”

                            “So… we sit on our asses for a couple of days?” Melody asks.

                            “Maybe not,” Tinkara smiles slyly, “Oka is due to travel to Urza Arcus. Tonight. At sunset. We hit him with everything we’ve got and we won’t need your army. He takes the overland route: we can ambush him as he leaves the old Shaz mine – I have an ally waiting, but I didn’t like our chances… but with the five of us…”

                            Melody smiles from ear-to-ear, “What do you say, Gan? Rematch?”

                            ****

                            They trek through the tunnels, the Dynasts riding on Clapper. Yochanan’s warriors are not talkative and Yochanan seems taciturn. Using the tunnels, they intercept the overland route as the sun is setting. Melody sends out scouts and identifies a good ambush spot. Tinkara disappears to find her mysterious “ally”. Jin’s archons seem to slip from sight when no-one is looking –integrating themselves with their new allies or disappearing for more covert missions until only Mott remains by Jin’s side.

                            “You know this is obviously a trap?” Yochanan says at least as the sun starts to set.

                            “Undoubtedly meant to draw out your sister and her meagre force,” Ganan agrees, “But they won’t be expecting us.”

                            Yochanan motions to the scale of Mountain Folk he has brought with him, “If you think this can work, then you take command of my troops, Tepet Ganan. I won’t be walking into so obvious a trap.”

                            Ganan nods in acknowledgement.

                            “There’s not as much cover as I’d like,” Melody laments, “I’ll take position there, we can put the Mountain Folk behind that bluff – they’ll have a good vantage point. Gan, you engage head on. Jin can cover the escape. Tinkara and her forces will just have to hang back.”

                            “Or,” Ganan suggests, “We put Tinkara and her force up front, you take the bluff, and we set up Jin and the Mountain Folk to rain down fire from that position. I’ll stand on the ridge and cut off their escape.”

                            Melody shakes her head, “You’ve seen Clapper. I need that cover so I have room to maneuver – the bluff would pin me down.”

                            “But it’s a better vantage point for a single sniper,” Ganan counters, “And if we put the Mountain Folk there, they’ll be able to take Oka’s entire flank. I’ve done this with Tyrant Lizards, I think I can get you cover for Clapper.”

                            Melody looks at Ganan suspiciously, for a moment, “Fine, we’ll try it your way.”

                            “Oka Dovak is a capable warrior,” Ganan continues, “He managed to hold his own against myself, Tinkara, Nula, Reya and her elemental all at the same time. And he has had a year to grow stronger. And he no doubt expects to be ambushed by Tinkara’s forces – so he will be prepared for battle. We should fight to kill: if we pull our blows, we will die. But if we incapacitate Oka, if we can take him alive, we should.”

                            Melody nudges Jin in the ribs, “Gan advocating taking someone alive? Is this bizzarro world?”

                            Jin turns her nose in the air and storms off as Tinkara arrives with a dog the size of a large tiger, its eyes burning red, padding beside her. “I believe you know Qiqirn.”

                            The Dog of Unbroken Earth growls at Ganan as it approaches. Ganan stares blankly at it.

                            Tinkara can’t believe that Ganan doesn’t remember the beast, “This is the god who nearly killed you, Qiqirn? When you first went to meet Tomonas?”

                            “I remember well the taste of your flesh, road builder!” The giant dog god growls.

                            Ganan turns to Melody, “Do you remember Qinqir here?”

                            “Qiqirn!” The god barks.

                            “Yes, as if that’s better,” Ganan mutters, “Anything?”

                            Melody shrugs, “Doesn’t look familiar.”

                            “Melody wasn’t there!” Tinkara rants.

                            “Well, it’s a pleasure to fight by your side against the Anathema, Qiqirn.” Ganan gives a short bow.

                            The Dog of Unbroken Earth looks ready to pounce on Ganan right there as Tinkara silently seethes.

                            “Gan go after Jin,” Melody suggests, charmingly interposing herself between Ganan and the angry divinities.

                            Ganan shrugs and walks into the woods after his sister. His approach is not subtle, but it is swift. Jinabar decides not to flee from him, she keeps her back turned to Ganan and calls out.

                            “Go away!”

                            Ganan sighs, “I’d love to, but the others say I have to come after you. What’s wrong?”

                            Jin grits her teeth, “Is there anything you wouldn’t do for that woman?”

                            Ganan is nonplussed, “Melody? She-”

                            Danireya!” Jin snaps, wheeling round on him, “You’ll kill our family without hesitating, but her family you want to take alive when they’re Anathema! You won’t write to me, but you’ll write to her family! This last year has been hell for me! I needed my brother! And where do I find you? Dovak! Fucking, bloody, Dovak!”

                            “Taking Oka alive is nothing to do with him being Nanals’ son,” Ganan begins slowly, “Tinkara has always asked us to capture and not kill. And he can tell us what the Mask of Winters is planning. And he can help us win over the court and lay the dead to rest.”

                            Jin scoffs and shakes her head in disbelief.

                            “I didn’t write to you…” Ganan falters, “I didn’t know what to say. ‘Sorry I killed everyone you care about.’” He shrugs, lamely, “I know I hurt you. And… I am sorry for that. But I’m not in Dovak for Danireya. If it’s for anyone then it’s for Tepet Ejava.”

                            Jin’s eyes flick up at the mention of her heroine, “Don’t you mean your new mom?” She rues, bitterly.

                            “I’ve never left your side, sister,” Ganan’s voice drops to a hush, “I know we’ve drifted apart, but you’re the one who keeps going away. I’m right here: stay with me. I’ll get you adopted into House Tepet.”

                            “I keep going away!” Jin baulks, “I was fourteen! I was going to school! You were the dragon’s damned adult! You should have-”

                            Ganan looks at her, his eyes wide and shining with emotion. And Jin realizes that he is trying to do what she wanted him to do 31 years ago. She sighs.

                            “I can’t… stay with you,” She says slowly, “I have business to take care of on the Threshold.”

                            “Yes, I’ve met her,” Frustration is evident in Ganan’s voice, “Who knew there was someone in Creation more irritating than you are? After we’re done with the Mask of Winters, we’ll see where we stand… but honestly, it seems our goals and Lady Magnificent’s align. I know you won’t want to hear it, but maybe we could work together?”

                            “You want to work,” Jin says slowly, “With the bane of House Cynis? The woman I’ve dedicated my life to bringing to justice? This is an apology?”

                            “I… wait… we’re Dragon-Blooded,” Ganan stumbles awkwardly, “And even if we don’t like each other, or have done each other wrong in the past, there’s a bigger threat.”


                            Jin folds her arms over her chest, “What the hell did she say to you?”

                            “Nothing!” Ganan snaps on reflex.

                            Jin makes a dismissive gesture and pushes past Ganan to walk back to the others, “Fine.”

                            “Wait!” Ganan cries, “Wait. It’s not why I’m saying we should work with her. She’s against Cynis and Cynis are for the Deathknight. But she said… she knew…” Ganan sucks his teeth and takes a deep breath, “She knew my son’s name.”

                            Jin turns and gives Ganan a withering look, “We all know Muli’s name. You remembered to write me that one.”

                            “Honas,” Ganan chokes out, his voice breaking, “My other son. Honas.”

                            Jin’s not expecting this. Her expression softens and she approaches her brother gently. “I didn’t know you-”

                            “He’s dead. Or, I mean...” He takes a deep shuddering breath, “It’s rare for our kind. But sometimes…” He swallows hard, “The baby isn’t… born. Alive.”

                            Jin throws her arms around her brother and holds him tight, “Why didn’t you ever tell me you big idiot!”

                            Ganan awkwardly holds her close, “I’m not good at… that. But I want things to be different. With us. Now.”

                            Jin releases him and makes a puzzled face, “But wait, you had the twins…”

                            “A mortal child can happen to anyone. We thought it was better to… not wait…” Ganan drifts off, “I never expected twins. Or for either of them to Exalt, never mind both.”

                            “Let’s get back, you want me and Mott with the Mountain Folk, right? I look forward to seeing your strategy play out.”

                            ****

                            Meanwhile

                            Melody approaches Tinkara as Ganan stomps off into the woods after Jin.

                            “Mighty god Qiqirn, will you give us a moment?” Melody beseeches, giving a slight bow.

                            The Dog of Unbroken Earth gives a snort. Jin’s archon, Mott, is suddenly at the dog’s side, leading him a few paces away.

                            Melody catches Tinkara’s eye: nothing in the princess’s demeanor makes her look like she’s open to talk to Melody. “I know what Reya did. I’m sorry. I had no idea she was going to-” Melody breaks off mid-sentence as Tinkara unslings her weapon and seethes silently at her. Melody throws her hands in the air and takes a step back, “She cursed me too. I couldn’t talk about it; couldn’t do anything about it. Same curse, with maggots and everything. And I know it doesn’t help but I’m sorry, and part of why I’m here is to make things right.”

                            “I…” Tinkara begins, her warclub still in-hand. A wave of nausea hits her and she raises her other hand to her mouth, “Don’t want to talk about this.”

                            “Okay,” Melody says. She takes another step back and lowers her arms, “Sorry to hear that your father died. The old king was… well he wasn’t as capable as you are, but he was a good guy.”

                            Tinkara nods slowly, but her expression doesn’t soften, “He was.”

                            “And, uh, must be nice to have your brother back?”

                            “It is.”

                            “Any… any new royal Dovaks born whilst we’ve been away?” Melody smiles weakly.

                            Tinkara grinds her teeth, “One.” She spits out. A look of surprise comes over her face: she doesn’t feel nauseated, “One,” She repeats, “A new princess.”

                            “Really?” Melody says, surprised: not exactly sure if she should be relieved or more anxious, “I… hoped, but I never really expected that… I mean, it is…?” She trails off knowing that Reya’s curse won’t let Tinkara tell her who the father is, “It’s your child, right?”

                            “It-” Tinkara raises a hand to her mouth, “Is.”

                            “Right, right, sorry.” Melody frantically waves at her to stop talking, “We can, I can, help you. With that. With her… if that’s what you want.”

                            “It’s not.” Tinkara says firmly, “I don’t want my family to have anything to do with yours.”

                            “Well, your nephew is my uncle, which makes you… my great aunt? So, if you think about it...”

                            “We are not one big, happy family!” Tinkara snaps jabbing a finger at her, “And this is not some redemption arc for you! We are working together to save the world and that is all. I will never forgive you or the Realm.”

                            Melody nods, “That’s your right. I can’t make you forgive us. But if there’s anything I can do-”

                            “There isn’t.” Tinkara says, turning her back and walking away.

                            ****

                            Hours pass then finally the signal comes. A phalanx of zombies marches along the road. A carriage borne by the dead carried in their midst. A bright moon bathes them in eerie light.

                            The dead turn a corner and face Tinkara and her divine ally. They let out a low moan.

                            Suddenly the ground gives out from under them. The carriage falls into pit with sloping sides. Walls block the roads with a great curtain giving Melody cover. Crenulations line the pit, giving the archers a safe place to rain fire down on the dead. Ganan takes Earth Dragon Form – his anima a roaring bonfire of white light.

                            Jin breaks cover from the woods and runs to the crenulations. She stretches out her palm and blasts the zombies below with a bolt of fire – lighting up the darkness with her bolt of elemental energy.

                            Melody urges Clapper round the wall as she sends arrows raining down into the pit. Zombies fall like wheat before a thresher. Bodies collapse and the entire line falters.

                            The zombies set the carriage down and start climbing the walls of the pit. They give a low moan as the Exalted are still out of reach.

                            The Mountain Folk bring their crossbows to bear. Bolts slice through the remaining zombies as the dead are thoroughly dispatched.

                            Tinkara and Qiqirn approach the edge of the pit and stand ready.

                            There is an eerie, deathly silence from the carriage. The Mountain Folk shelter behind their stony cover. The doors on the carriage creak open and two figures exit. Neither are The Gift of Merciful Silence. One is a man carrying a Soulsteel scythe with a buff-jacked reinforced with Soulsteel plates. The other is a woman wearing black leathers adorned with silver skulls with a wicked looking pair of flame pieces in her hands. Her beauty is stunning, yet eerie – her armor looks more like lingerie than protective clothing, her skin is deathly pale, and her eyes have a wicked gleam. Even through the gloom, Jin recognizes them both from Oka’s court. Ganan recognizes them as well.

                            Ganan cracks a smile and runs into the pit, “Whims!” He shouts immediately recognizing the figure closest to him.

                            “Kill him!” Midnight Flamebough orders, without looking round. She sights Tinkara and fires. A cloud of blue dust spurts from the weapon, ignited a fraction of a second later by a bolt of red lightning, creating a massive, roaring, purple flame. Qiqirn leaps in front of the blast, taking it full on and drops to the ground. The mighty god twitches as its body smolders then lies still.

                            Whims-of-the-Flesh falls on Ganan swinging his scythe through the air in a deadly blur. Ganan steps back against the onslaught, but the pit is a lot harder to climb out of than it is to climb into.

                            “Whims, it’s me!” Ganan cries, amazed that his friend has turned on him.

                            Melody trains her bow on Flamebough and sends an arrow streaking straight for her. Flamebough twists, and the arrow flies straight past her as she seems to step into her own shadow and disappear.

                            Jin blasts Ganan’s attacker with a burst of flame. A blood red aura of light surrounds the Liminal. A burst of bloody mist surrounds Whims as his stitches seem to come apart at the seams. The fire of Jin’s elemental bolt strikes the blood mist, coagulating the droplets into the air and forming a disgusting, burning scab… but leaving Whims unscathed.

                            Ganan steps inside Whims’s swing, turning his tetsubo upward and striking from inches away, “Whims, don’t you recognize me? It’s Breaker, your friend!”

                            He clouts his former ally with his tetsubo smashing him back off the ground. Whims’s neck cracks and bends upward at a grotesque and inhuman angle. His joins pop, twist unnaturally and extend outward, raising him up like some horrid, four-legged creature.

                            “You are not my friend, Dynast!” Whims spits, “You left me for dead!”

                            Whims scurries forward on all four limbs, trailing his scythe like an unnatural tail. He spins, flicking up in the air, lashing out with the scythe from an unexpected angle. Ganan interposes his tetsubo and steps to one side, trailing the outer edge of the pit as Whims lands behind him.

                            Tinkara dives into cover with the Mountain Folk.

                            The circles of inky blackness a figure wreathed in shifting shadows appears behind the carriage aiming at Jin and the Jadeborn. She fires. Black devils with golden wings of fire spurt from her weapon and dance across the parapets, wracking those hiding behind. A swirling vortex of cobalt and gold flames engulf Jin and the others, and from within the pyre Jin hears the taunts of disembodied voices urging her to repent her sins and surrender. Surrender to the power of death… or burn.

                            “Burn this bitch!” Jin screams through the pain as the flames engulf her. Her anima surrounds her rising as a giant dog of howling flame. She extends her palm and fires a blast of flame at the shadowy figure.

                            The figure turns and the steps directly into the path of Jin’s bolt of flame. The fire seems to shatter into a dozen pieces as it is deflected around her body.

                            The Mountain Folk break and run and Tinkara futilely tries to call them back.

                            Melody fires an arrow at the shadowy figure. They turn at the last moment, dropping a flame piece and snatching Melody’s arrow from the air. The arrow explodes into thorns. The shadowy figure gives a cry of pain as the thorns unexpectedly pierce her skin.

                            “Firstly,” Ganan says, “I thought you were dead. Secondly…” Ganan hammers Whims with a full body hit, spins in the air with impossible speed and hits him again, sending him smashing into the carriage, which breaks into splints as Whims lands bodily against it, “I’m sorry!”

                            Melody fires again, Clapper’s steady rhythm perfectly correcting her aim. The arrow bites deep into the shadowy figure’s chest.

                            Jin takes a steadying breath, fighting through the burning pain of her wounds. She levels her palm again and fires another bolt of flame at the shadowy figure. She dodges, and Jin’s elemental bolt hits the wooden carriage, igniting it. Thick black smoke rises from the lacquered wood in an obstructive fog.

                            The shadowy figure aims at Melody, grains of demonic firedust streaming from her wounded hand into the barrel of her remaining weapon.

                            “Oh, fuck this!” Jin says leaping into the pit. She fires one last blast of flame: the smoke from the burning carriage does nothing to obstruct her vision as Essence smooths the path of the blast. The flames smash against the shadowy figure and driving her back a step.

                            Ganan dashes forward and grabs Whims by the ankles, pulling him out of the fire.

                            Melody snaps another shot at the shadowy figure who bends and allows the arrow to fly harmlessly past her.

                            The shadowy figure raises her flame piece and points it at Melody. Three silvery rings spin around Melody forming an array of concentric circles. The figure blasts down the rings and purple fire smashes into Melody.

                            As Melody reels from the flames, Jin leaps into the smoke. Calumny, hidden in the palm of her hand, extends to full length as Jin tears forward smashing her wrackstaff down on the shadowy figure who crumples to the ground. Jin quickly collapses her weapon again.

                            Ganan and Melody cautiously approach.

                            “Is she dead? I mean, really dead?” Ganan asks, “I thought I already killed her.”

                            “Well,” Melody says confidently, before plugging the body with a trio of arrows. The corpse evaporates into an acrid black smoke, “Now she is.”

                            “Harumph!” Ganan clears his throat, “Did you get a good look at her forehead? She’s the one – one of Hell’s Deathknights. They don’t have the same marks as the Solar Anathema.”

                            “I saw nothing but shadows,” Jin rues, “Sorry about your, uh, friend.”

                            Ganan makes a dismissive gesture.

                            Melody looks over at Whims’s corpse, “Yeah, he’s dead.”

                            “He’ll be fine,” Ganan says, “Although…” He walks over to Whims’s body. The ghost-hunter certainly looks very dead. Ganan nudges the corpse with his foot. Whims does not move. Ganan crouches by Whims’s body and starts digging through his pack. It doesn’t take long for his fingers to find the band of white jade and Starmetal. Ganan pushes his Essence into the Collar, feeling it come to life in his hands, before slipping it on Whims’s lifeless body. He picks Whims up and hoists him over his shoulder.

                            Yochanan, having rallied the Mountain Folk, looks down at them from the top of the pit. The Mountain Folk level their weapons on Ganan. Yochanan speaks:

                            “Midnight Flamebough and Whims-of-the-Flesh. Two of the Gift’s most powerful and demented servants. Put the body down, Tepet Ganan and allow us to finish this.”

                            Ganan sets his jaw and looks up out of the pit, “It’s over. I’ve got him.”

                            “You’ve incapacitated him. He is unlike lesser zombies: he will return to life and the service of his dark masters.” Yochanan points, ostensibly at Whims, “That is what a real Anathema looks like. An affront to life itself.”

                            Jin turns to Ganan, “That’s a pretty compelling argument.”

                            Melody gives Ganan a sympathetic look, “That thing isn’t your friend. It’s a dead monster wearing your friend’s face.”

                            “Whims was like this when I first met him. He’s a ghost-hunter. He’s worked with Immaculates. I have read about his kind: he’s no Deathknight. He’s not anathema.” Ganan sets one foot behind the other.

                            Melody wrinkles up her face, “I mean… he looks like-”

                            “I don’t care what he looks like!” Ganan snaps, “It’s rare, but I’ve read about his kind. They exist to hunt the dead. He will be a useful ally.”

                            “When he’s alive… again?” Melody questions slowly.

                            Jin shrugs and levels her palm at her brother, “If it looks like a Deathknight and fights beside a Deathknight…”

                            “Whims wanted to kill Flamebough when we were trapped in hell. I thought I’d killed her, and I thought she killed him: clearly, I was mistaken on both counts. But we know the Anathema wield powers that twist the mind: if Flamebough was only posing, who knows what she could have done to twist his mind in the depths of Malfeas? Now she’s dead…”

                            “Probably.” Yochanan folds his arms across his chest, “Now that she’s probably dead.”

                            “Now that she’s probably dead, he’s probably on our side. And even if he’s not, he’s under my control. I vouch for him.”

                            Melody shrugs, “Fine. Good enough for me but keep it away from me unless you want it filled with arrows.”

                            “It’s an Anathema, and I’m going to kill it.” Jin says resolutely.

                            Melody smiles at her and shrugs, “So because Yochanan, the person you said was an Anathema, says so, you’re going to kill your brother’s ally? That makes sense.”

                            The moon illuminates them overhead. Jin drops her arm. (Mott makes a gesture telling Ganan they have their eye on the Liminal.)

                            “I suppose,” Jin says, looking up exaggeratedly at Yochanan, “We don’t have so many allies that we can afford to casually kill each other.”

                            Yochanan looks down on them, then turns away from the pit. The Jadeborn archers walk away with him.

                            “Okay,” Melody says, retrieving the flame piece Flamebough dropped on the ground, “How do we get out of this pit?”

                            ****

                            Ganan shapes the sides of the pit into an earthen staircase (10SP) and starts to train Melody in how to set her voice on the wind.

                            ****

                            Jinabar spends 8XP to train Perfect Climbing Attitude.



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

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                            • #89
                              Session 73 – Guile 1 – Ganan (245XP 196DX, 243/193 spent; 20WhP 24GP 87SP), Melody (245XP 196DX, 235/183 spent), Jinabar (245XP 196DX, 244/195 Spent)

                              Our trio of heroes shelters in the tunnels under Urza Arcus. Their ambush on what was supposed to be the Gift of Merciful Silence had turned out to be a trap: Hellknight Midnight Flamebough and her undead servant Whims-of-the-Flesh had been waiting for them. Flamebough was apparently killed (her body dissolving to shadow). Whims was also apparently killed (his body retrieved by Ganan who fitted a Collar of Dutiful Submission to the corpse’s neck).

                              Whilst traveling with Yochanan, the normally pitch-black tunnels glow with a soft golden light. Our heroes rest in a wide-open cavern, furnished as a barracks. Tinkara’s bearfolk allies (and the wounded god Qiqirn) rest. Ganan takes apart some of the furniture in the cavern and repurposes it into stocks, into which he locks Whims’s corpse (-10SP: 9GP, 4SP). Meanwhile, Melody treats Jin’s wounds. The Dynasts bunk down for the rest of the night.

                              After a few hours Ganan wakes to hear Whims breaking out of his bonds.

                              “Stop that and lie still.” Ganan commands and rolls over. The noises continue for a handful of seconds as Whims’s collar constricts around his neck and starts to throttle the life out of him. Whims goes still. Ganan goes back to sleep.

                              A few more hours pass, then the cavern grows brighter as Yochanan wakes. The Dynasts stretch out.

                              “Urgh, I need a bath!” Jin moans loudly.

                              Tinkara throws a damp, foul smelling rag at her. Jin scowls and tosses the rag back.

                              “They’ve got hot water in the Gift’s court,” Whims entices, “Traitor.”

                              Yochanan approaches the Dynasts in time to overhear the last word, “Who’s a traitor?”

                              “I am,” Jin confesses, “I told the Gift of Merciful silence that I would deliver you and your sister to him. This one,” She jerks a thumb at Whims, “And that woman were in the throne room.”

                              “You should be careful about what you promise Anathema.” Yochanan warns.

                              Jin folds her arms across her chest, not in the mood to be lectured by the would-be King, “Well, the promise of hot water is tempting. I am a Cynis scion in good standing.”

                              “You are a Cynis scion in good standing…” Ganan muses.

                              “Which means I can get a hot bath and be back before Yochanan’s army arrives!” Jin cheers enthusiastically.

                              “Which means,” Melody chimes in, catching on, “You could easily walk into Dovak having successfully captured, say, Ganan and the Princess.”

                              Yochanan rolls his eyes and makes an exasperated noise.

                              “The Gift of Merciful Silence has a flare for the dramatic,” Ganan explains, “You could walk us right into the throne-room-”

                              “And then Oka could murder you where you stand. This is a bad plan.” Yochanan says firmly.

                              “Well, what do you suggest?” Jin huffs.

                              “We travel to Urza Arcus. Clearly there are bearfolk who are willing to fight against Oka’s rule.” He motions to his sister’s troops, “And obviously Oka is making no journey to there after his trap for us failed.”

                              “We are not beloved by the beastfolk.” Ganan says, pulling a face.

                              “Especially Ganan.” Melody adds.

                              “Why especially me?” Ganan says, hurt.

                              “Well,” Jin joins in, “You are particularly unlikable.”

                              “That’s…” Ganan can’t quite bring himself to say ‘not true’ so finishes by saying, “hurtful. Besides, I’m surprised Tinkara raised so many troops: your family isn’t exactly beloved by the beastmen.”

                              Bearfolk,” Tinkara corrects, “As it turns out, they hate Dynasts more than they hate us. So, House Cynis and your general unlikableness is actually good for something.” She sneers at Ganan.

                              “To be clear, our options are ‘go to a bunch of unwashed barbarians who hate us’ or ‘end this war by tackling our enemy head on’.” Melody pretends to weigh the choices with her hands.

                              “I think we should talk with the bearfolk.” Ganan interjects.

                              Jin looks at him sideways, “Okay, what are the signs of your allies being replaced by Anathema?”

                              “You’re still wounded. Give it a day to heal. And even if we do kill Oka, we know there’s a bigger bad behind him. Even bypassing his guards on the way in, we’ll have to fight House Cynis and the army of the dead on the way out. It’d be nice to have a bearfolk army waiting for our signal.”

                              “The bearfolk are good at conquering Dovak,” Melody concedes, “But they’re also really good at betraying us right when we need them most.”

                              “Which is all the more reason for you to wait for my army to arrive!” Yochanan says, with just a hint of impatience entering his voice.

                              Right,” Jin sneers sarcastically, “Because the Anathema and his giant army isn’t going to betray us?”

                              “All the more reason to talk to the bearfolk,” Ganan insists, “Then, when they betray ‘us’ they can fight against Yochanan’s army.”

                              “That… does make sense,” Melody nods thoughtfully.

                              Jin shakes her head in disbelief before sighing, “We’ll take it as read that the princess sides with her brother. So, it looks like I’m out-voted.”

                              ****

                              The Dynasts ride on the back of Clapper through the tunnels to Urza Arcus. Ganan orders Whims to not speak unless spoken to, never to lie, follow behind them, and not to harm his allies. This last order is met with some wheedling which eventually defines the Dovaks and their troops as Ganan’s allies. Melody performs for them during the journey and Ganan whittles together a moving toy with wooden cams (4SP). By the time they emerge from the mines on the north of the bearfolk city, Jin no longer looks as if she is on death’s door.

                              The bearfolk toil in the mines of Urza Arcus, but the dead do not. Loads of stone and ore are being shipped out of the city by the overland route to the Dovaki mines. The miners pay little attention to the Jadeborn army and giant Shieldback marching through their mines. Tinkara’s bearfolk warriors get little more than a furtive glance or occasional nod.

                              Tinkara leads them to Mishra’s Tower in the center of the city. “There’s a council,” She explains, “They took over after Oka killed Reaper. There’s not a lot of fight left in them: it’s like some Dynasts slaughtered all their best warriors or something.” She throws a dirty look at Ganan and Melody, “The council refused to help me, but a few warriors decided to join me anyway.”

                              “Okay, so we just need to convince our sworn enemies, who we enslaved and oppressed-”

                              “‘Whom’,” Ganan corrects, Melody shoots him a look, “Continue.”

                              “And whomses warriors we horribly butchered, to march their civilians into battle against an army of the dead, reinforced by demons, and led by an Anathema necromancer of unsurpassed skill. In, what, two days?” Melody summarizes.

                              Yochanan clears his throat, “I believe I said, ‘a few days’ not ‘three days’.”

                              “So,” Ganan says slowly, “We need the bearfolk to raise an army and attack Dovak in an indeterminate number of days?”

                              “It’s not a precise science.” Yochanan says defensively.

                              “Or we could go with my plan,” Jin jumps in.

                              Your plan?” Melody and Ganan say incredulously.

                              “Fake capture: walk right into the throne room.” Jin makes an open palm gesture.

                              “We know what the plan was-” Ganan blusters.

                              Melody shushes him, “Let her have this one.”

                              ****

                              Yochanan, Tinkara, the silent Whims, and our heroes enter Mishra’s Tower. It hasn’t changed significantly since Melody convinced Reya to leave it all those months ago, though it smells of wet bear again. Ganan wrinkles his nose as they enter, but the others keep their composure.

                              Tinkara makes their presence known and asks for an audience with the council. They are show through to the throne room. The old throne has been removed and in its place on the dais is a table behind which seven elders of the bearfolk are seated: Ganan reckons on four of them being women of various ages and three being old men, but his ideas of gender and age are obviously biased.

                              Cynis Jinabar approaches the Council: her bearing immediately marks her as a hero. She strikes a pose taking a read of the room, “Honored council, Oka Dovak, a Deathknight and usurper to the throne of Dovak holds your people in thrall. I know your council does not see the Dovak’s as the legitimate rulers of this land, but behind me stands Oka’s father. Oka has no claim, not even by the laws of the Dovaki. All he has is the might of the undead. And a few, weakling, by-blows of the Dragons. I am Cynis Falen Jinabar, and I stand the forces of death that plague our lands. I don’t come here to ask your friendship nor that you accept a Dovak as your king: I ask that you stand with us, on the side of the living to fight against the dead and their unholy masters!”

                              There is a pause in which Jin expects more of a reaction from the Councilors.

                              Ganan leans in to whisper to his sister, “They don’t speak High Realm.”

                              Jin smiles effortlessly, “What do they speak?” she asks from the corner of her mouth.

                              “Dovaki. Maybe a little Foresttongue. The shaman speak Old Realm.” Ganan shrugs apologetically.

                              Jin looks to Melody, “Do you speak Dovaki?”

                              Melody shakes her head apologetically.

                              Jin cracks her knuckles, “Okay kids, buckle-up, because you’re about to witness something special.”

                              “Or Tinkara could translate.” Ganan says, stealing his sister’s thunder.

                              Jin gives a sigh of relief, “Yeah, actually, that is better.”

                              “If you’re finished, I can speak for myself.” Yochanan addresses the council in their own language.

                              The Dynasts can follow the tone and the body language but have no idea what exactly he is saying. Jin and Melody have an easier time following the reactions of the council: they smile, they contort their faces with rage that gives way to sorrow, and generally they seem to hang on his every word. When Yochanan finishes, the woman leading the council speaks, then the entire council rises and moves out the back of the room to confer in private. Guards usher our heroes back out of the throne room and back to the reception area.

                              Jin rounds on Yochanan, “What did you tell them?”

                              Yochanan gives an easy shrug, “Basically the same thing you did. I called on them to cooperate with us against the dead and assured them I would respect their cultural traditions once I ascend to the throne of Dovak.”

                              Jin scrutinizes Yochanan, who is stubbornly unreadable. Melody focuses her attention on Tinkara: she seems to be ineffably smug, clearly pleased with whatever Yochanan told the council.

                              “Uh-huh,” Melody says, “And did they give any indication as to when they might have an army ready by?”

                              “They said they would need to consider my proposal.”

                              Melody turns to Tinkara, “What do you think of Jin’s plan? Have her sneak us into the throne room and take-out Oka ourselves?”

                              Tinkara looks obviously conflicted: calling it ‘Jin’s plan’ and riling Ganan has clearly helped, and it appeals to her natural instinct to action; but her loyalty to her brother is stronger than her trust in the Dynasts. “We don’t even know if the bearfolk will help us…” She offers lamely.

                              “They’ll help us,” Melody says confidently, “The question is whether you’re going to help us. To save Dovak.”

                              “I didn’t bring you here to die on a fool’s errand.” Yochanan admonishes sternly.

                              “And we didn’t come here to sit around and wait for an army of goblins to swoop in and save us!” Jin shoots back, “You want Exalted champions to lead your army? Well champions don’t sit around and do nothing, not when they could do something themselves. Exalted or not.”

                              Yochanan seems about to protest, when the guards usher them back into the throne room to hear the council’s decision. The Dragon-Blooded do not need to speak Dovaki to know that the council has accepted the alliance.

                              Tinkara immediately steps in and says… something. The council is taken aback. Yochanan is unreadable, but Tinkara speaks animatedly. The council says… something and the party is shown out.

                              Tinkara addresses our heroes as soon as they’re out of the tower, “A full invasion is out of the question. But the bearfolk are willing to attack Dovak tomorrow. Draw the main body of their forces out of the city after Jin has ‘captured’ us. We go in, the bearfolk draw off the army, we take down Oka and slip away. When Yochanan’s army arrives, we siege Dovak and put down the leaderless army of the dead.”

                              “Unless Oka kills you all. In which case: when my army arrives, you’ll be dead and my army will be trapped underground unable to fight.” Yochanan says disparagingly, “I am king, and I order you not to do this.”

                              “With respect, your highness,” Melody says, spreading her arms apologetically “I had some small position in Dovak, and I can tell you definitively that The Realm recognizes Tinkara Dovak as the queen of Dovak.” She flicks a finger between the two siblings, “You two can argue about the line of succession between yourselves, but Tinkara wears the crown – she’s physically wearing the crown, right now – and no Satrap has acknowledged your claim. If you’re going to recant your heresy and acknowledge Dragon-Blooded superiority, the Realm could be persuaded to legitimize you. But right now, you’re not ‘king’ of anything.”

                              “That’s right,” Jin adds, standing between Yochanan and Tinkara, “Oka calls you a ‘pretender’: considers Tinkara his only legitimate rival. You’ve given the Realm no reason to legitimize you.”

                              “In short,” Melody smiles, “Don’t give us that ‘king’ crap.”

                              ****

                              Jin gives her orders to her archons, telling them to support the bearfolk warriors, and spends the rest of the day resting as Melody tends to her and Clapper. Tinkara acquires three sets of false manacles. Ganan gathers supplies and at sundown conducts the ritual to summon an agata: Inyosi, whom Ganan places inside his Yasal crystal. As the others bed down in the tunnels leading from the bearfolk mine, Ganan takes Whims aside.

                              “We’re going to win, Whims,” Ganan starts.

                              “No, you’re not. Yochanan is right, The Gift is going to kill you all.” Whims holds Ganan’s eyes for a long stare.

                              “Why are you helping the Mask of Winters? You know his army is a violation of the natural order. I thought that meant something to you?”

                              Whims grits his teeth, “It did… once. Not anymore.” There’s a pause, and then, “We weren’t helping the Mask of Winters... or the Gift of Merciful Silence. It was us.”

                              “What was who?” Ganan asks, leaning in.

                              “Thorns. Lookshy. It was Midnight Flamebough… and me. We spread discord throughout the Scavenger Lands to break up the Seventh Legion. She infiltrated the Mask’s army and goaded them to attack. I sabotaged the Seventh Legion’s fleet of airships. And together, we lured the Mask of Winters into range, and destroyed all of them in one blow.”

                              “How?”

                              “You remember Ligier, The Green Sun? He built a weapon. I placed that weapon upon a fault in the manse at the heart of the city and detonated it. It caused a chain reaction that destroyed the city, the Mask of Winter’s army, his Deathknights, and his Juggernaut.”

                              “But not the Deathlord himself.”

                              “No. He is truly a lord of death and cannot be killed so easily. Which is why we came here – to thwart his next move.”

                              Ganan pauses, “You know you are to tell me the truth.”

                              “And you know that Flamebough was no ordinary Deathknight. She served the demon princes, not the Deathlords. Hell desires chaos and strife in Creation – not the calm order of the grave. Hence our Cynis allies: murder and mayhem are what your kind specialize in, Breaker.”

                              “So, you’re helping the Mask of Winters to hurt him?”

                              “We are helping the Mask of Winters to hurt you.” Whims smiles, “You mortals don’t understand the half of it. Whatever you think he has lost here above, is nothing compared to what he has lost in the Underworld. You think he’s concerned with conquest? He is concerned only with survival. He is all but destroyed, and he will wreak a merry hell upon Creation… with the help of my masters.”

                              Ganan takes a step back, “Yochanan was right: you aren’t the man I knew. You’re akuma!”

                              “Call it what you want. I have power now such as I have never had before.”

                              “And yet, it’s not enough to defeat me,” Ganan folds his arms, “How do you plan on controlling the Mask of Winters?”

                              “You had help,” Whims rues bitterly, “I’ve killed hundreds of your kind. And leashing the Mask is a job for my masters.”

                              “I don’t know if there’s anything of you left to save. But you’ve heard our plan – we’re going to go put down a necromancer and put a lot of unquiet dead back in their graves.”

                              Whims falters for a moment, “Please, go through with your plan. The Gift of Merciful Silence will slaughter you.”

                              “Which is what you want. Me dead, the dead wreaking havoc on the land of the living?”

                              “I…” Whims, pauses, “I can’t lie: it doesn’t matter what I want. There are powers at work here beyond your comprehension.”

                              “And if it did matter, what would you want?”

                              Whims clenches his jaw and fingers the collar on his neck compelling him to tell the truth, “You to stop them. You to wait for Yochanan’s army and stop them. And for you-”

                              “That’s enough!” Ganan snaps, “You’re to hide in the tunnels for the next two days. Obviously, if I die that’ll unlock,” He motions to the Collar of Dutiful Submission, “I’d hoped killing Flamebough would set you free, but it’s obviously more complicated than that. You have a choice: if the Yozi had completely enslaved your will, you’d defy my commands, and the Collar would just kill you. But some part of you is still you. I’ll always regret leaving you behind and I’m going to try to save you. But I must stop the Mask of Winters first.”

                              “Aren’t you going to ask me what I’m going to do? What I’m going to do the second you are dead and this collar comes off?”

                              Ganan turns and walks away, “No.”

                              ****

                              Next morning, the Dynasts travel back to Dovak. Jin places Ganan, Melody, and Tinkara in the false manacles (procured from somewhere by her archons who seem to appear the exact moment Jin needs them then be gone the next) and marches them into the city. The Rulinsei delegation have been removed from the stocks, but otherwise the city is as they left it: Melody and Tinkara are obviously shocked by how bad things have gotten.

                              As predicted, they are shown back to the court, but The Gift and his stranger undead servants are conspicuously absent (as are the zombies from the Royal Market). Instead, a muscle-bound woman over six-foot tall sits upon the throne. She smiles as Jin herds the ‘prisoners’ into the throne-room.

                              “Sorry it took me so long, Satrap, Tinkara Dovak – the exile, as promised. And as a bonus…”

                              Cynis Petalin interrupts her, “Former garrison commander Gracious Pealing Melody and Cynis Falen Ganan.” Petalin stands and draws her daiklave pointing it at Ganan, “The only reason I don’t kill you where you stand is because what the Gift will do to you will be so much worse.” She eyes his invulnerable bronze skin suspiciously and Ganan looks back at her defiantly.

                              “They don’t look wounded,” Petalin says suspiciously. The guards in the room ready their weapons and the fancier looking courtiers discretely shuffle to the exits.

                              “I took them by surprise,” Jin lies easily, “And of course, my success is your success, but I should like to deliver them to the prince personally.”

                              Petalin is not mollified, “You do look wounded.”

                              “I had a run in with an old rival – Lady Magnificent – I doubt she’ll be any more than an inconvenience to your operation here, but it’s a personal matter. You understand.”

                              “I understand that two days ago, one Cynis Falen Jinabar turned up here unannounced and impersonating Cynis Pipos, the ranger I had hired, had an audience with the Gift of Merciful Silence. I understand that this Jinabar was insolent and ignorant of our most basic operations. I understand that after she left, the project was attacked, and our master made his displeasure with me known personally. And I know your brother does not look beaten.”

                              Ganan’s eyes glisten, “Oops.” He says with obvious relish as he bursts out of the false cuffs and blurs forward toward the Satrap. The larger woman is ready for him, but the hundreds of pounds of Ganan’s bronze body bowls over her defense as he grapples her into a body lock.

                              “Boring conversation anyway!” Melody shouts as she takes her bow back from Jin (who passes Tinkara her warclub). She fires an arrow straight into the restrained Satrap, which clangs against her breastplate, driving the wind out of her.

                              “I never even got my bath!” Jin complains as she rounds on the mortal guards closing in on them from behind. She flicks out Calumny, extending it to its full length to smash the guards aside. The elite warriors of Petalin’s personal guard are scattered like children before her attacks.

                              Petalin herself struggles in Ganan’s grasp. She awkwardly brings her daiklave to bear, but her attacks do little more than beat Ganan into Earth Dragon Form – his aura rising up in a bonfire around him.

                              A pair of Cynis scions fancy their chances and close on Tinkara. They start to glow with power, the first batters her warclub out of her hands and the second rams her blade into Tinkara’s gut, smashing through her armor.

                              “Sextus Jylis!” Melody curses as she fires on the Cynis scion with her sword in Tinkara’s body. The arrow takes them in the neck, and they drop dead.

                              Jin turns her back on the fleeing mortals and fires a blast of flame at the other Cynis scion. The flames engulf him leaving telling burns.

                              Ganan smashes Petalin’s face into the ground. “Where is Oka?” He demands.

                              “You hit like a little boy!” Petalin snarls as she tries to struggle out of his grip. Even with his great bulk and vast strength, Ganan feels his hold begin to loosen.

                              The burning Cynis recovers his senses and charges in to finish off Tinkara. The wounded god-blooded throws herself to the right. The honed Cynis blade misses her heart but bites into her elbow, parting the arm at the joint. Her severed forearm crashes to the floor with a thump. Tinkara grips desperately at her bleeding stump as she goes down.

                              Ganan throws Petalin bodily to the ground. There is a sickening crunch as something breaks. Ganan pulls his tetsubo from his anima and stands over her.

                              Jin and Melody go into action simultaneously. Jin rushes over to Tinkara’s prone form, Calumny fully extended to defend her downed ally. Melody fires an arrow at the remaining Cynis scion, staggering him.

                              The male Cynis scion charges at Jin, who surges forward to deflect his attack with her own killing blow. The superior reach of Calumny bypasses the wounded Cynis’s clumsy strike and smashes in her foe’s face. He falls to the ground.

                              Petalin rises from the ground, buoyed effortlessly to her feet by the rising power of her essence. She swings at Ganan, knocking him off-balance as her sword bites into his invulnerable skin.

                              Jin makes a dash to close with Petalin. She strikes the much larger fighter, sticky threads of essence spilling out from Jin’s wrackstaff to bind her opponent.

                              Melody fires an arrow at Petalin which explodes into a mess of thorns. The Satrap curses.

                              Ganan steps up and drives Petalin to the ground with an overhead blow from his tetsubo. Jin’s vines pin her to the ground. “It’s over! Where is Oka?”

                              Melody rushes over to Tinkara to side to treat her arm and gut wound. Reattaching it is beyond her skill, but she staunches and sterilizes the wounds and gets Tinkara into a position where she can walk – if not fight.

                              Jin stands over the downed Satrap, “The Gift of Merciful Silence, where is he?”

                              “The masters anticipated your treachery. We knew there was no way the exile and her merry misfits could bring down Mistress Midnight and her pet, so when they did not return, the Gift led our forces out of the city. Right now, I imagine he’s butchering those treacherous bearfolk.”

                              (“They prefer ‘beastmen’!” Ganan ‘corrects’.

                              Melody shakes her head, “No, they don’t.”

                              “They don’t?” Ganan mouths back as he pulls a confused face.)

                              Jin ignores them and barks her orders, “Ganan, warn the others. Tinkara, change of plans: we’re going to take the Satrap here with us – how do we get out of here.”

                              (Ganan sets sends his words on the wind to the bearfolk warning them of Oka’s attack, all too aware that they are almost certainly too late.)

                              Tinkara takes up her warclub, forcing herself not to look at her severed arm. (Melody has the presence of mind to bandage the stump and take it with them so the enemy cannot use it for necromantic purposes.) “Five of us? We could go down, use the escape tunnel. But Oka knows about it – it could be trapped.”

                              Jin ties the Satrap’s arms behind her back, “Escape tunnel, I like it. Ganan, bring the Satrap.” Jin leads the way down the tower with Tinkara behind her and Melody covering them with her bow.

                              Ganan tries to lift the Satrap’s sword, but even for an artifact its impossibly heavy. He hefts it from the ground but realizing he can’t carry the sword and the massive Satrap, he drops it. Petalin laughs, loud and clear as Ganan hauls her up to her feet.

                              “Too heavy for you little boy?” She teases.

                              “I AM NOT LITTLE!” Ganan shouts as he pushes her towards the door, “You are freakishly tall!”

                              Petalin strides towards the door, easily catching up with the others and forcing Ganan to trot behind her. “I am six-feet-and-four-inches tall. A perfectly normal height for a Dynastic woman.” She looks over her shoulder, exaggeratedly looking down on Ganan and raising an eyebrow.

                              “Just walk!” He nudges her with his tetsubo.

                              ****

                              They make it to the escape tunnel, and indeed through the tunnel and out of the city, without incident. They pick their way through to the staging ground where the bearfolk forces were supposed to be waiting for them and find the site of a battle. Dozens of corpses – bearfolk and Dovaki (some corpses clearly older than others) – litter the ground. The trail of the battle is easy to follow – the bearfolk have retreated toward one of the underground tunnels. None of Jin’s archons are among the dead.

                              “Come on, let’s go!” Jin says, charging in the direction of the carnage.

                              Ganan stops by the corpses, “We should burn these bodies.”

                              Jin stops and rounds on her brother, “Unless you’ve suddenly become Hesiesh, we don’t have time.”

                              “Every body we don’t burn now, is a zombie we’ll have to kill later.” Ganan says, folding his arms.

                              “And every bearfolk warrior we lose now is a warrior we won’t have to kill those zombies!” Jin throws back at him.

                              Melody takes charge, “Jin, you stay and burn as many of the bodies as you can. Ganan, come on! We need to get to the bearfolk as quickly as possible.” She runs down the trail with Tinkara.

                              Ganan nudges Petalin forward as Jin reluctantly starts stacking bodies.

                              ****

                              “Did you notice?” Melody asks as soon as Jin is out of earshot.

                              “Notice what?” Ganan asks, cluelessly.

                              Melody shoots a look at Petalin, “I’ll tell you later.”

                              ****

                              Dusk has fallen by the time the Dynasts catch up with the bearfolk who are mounting a fierce tunnel-fight against the forces of the dead. Even given the darkness and having to watch their prisoner and defend the wounded Tinkara, the conditions are favorable for the Dynasts who catch the zombie horde in a pincer. Ganan hammers them against the anvil of the bearfolk, casually smashing through the zombies and war-ghosts as Melody picks off the stragglers. By battle’s end, Jin has lit the pyres of bodies and made her way up to the others. Hundreds of zombies fall before they are reunited with what’s left of the bearfolk. Clapper is also present, and surprisingly another familiar figure is fighting side-by-side with the bearfolk.

                              “Whims?” Ganan asks, seeing the shifting figure wielding his wicked looking Soulsteel scythe to cut down the dead.

                              “Two things, Breaker,” Whims says, “Firstly, it’s all one tunnel complex, so technically I’m still in the tunnels behind the mines. And secondly,” He hands Ganan back the Collar of Dutiful Submission, “These things have a range limit. They come off if you move too far away.”

                              “Touching!” Jin exclaims as she elbows her way forward, “Yes the corpses are burning as we speak, you’re welcome. Now where’s Oka?

                              The Deathknight wasn’t part of the attack.” One of the bearfolk snorts.

                              The heroes curse in unison.

                              “Okay, what now?” Melody asks.

                              “We take the tunnels: go back to Urza Arcus. If Oka is attacking, we need to stop him. If he’s not attacking, we need to rally with Yochanan.” Ganan slams his fist into his palm for emphasis.

                              “Okay, do the thing!” Melody makes a swirling motion with her hand.

                              Ganan looks at her blankly.

                              Melody throws her arms in the air, “The sorcery thing! Whoosh!”

                              “I… don’t know how to cast Stormwind Rider.” Ganan says slowly.

                              Melody blinks at him, “I thought you taught Reya magic?”

                              “I taught Reya history… (at magic school). She’s a far more competent sorcerer than I am.” Ganan nods up the tunnel, “Shall we?”

                              Whims points in a different direction, “Urza Arcus is that way.” The bearfolk nod in agreement.

                              ****

                              Oka is not attacking Urza Arcus. The Exalted and Tinkara traveling ahead of the bearfolk, make it to Yochanan’s camp by the mines late into the night. Jadeborn sentries stop them and take them to Yochanan.

                              Yochanan stares wordlessly at Tinkara’s missing arm. She doesn’t say anything either as she kneels before her brother, removes her laurel crown, and awkwardly offers it to him. Yochanan takes the crown and places it on his head.

                              “I take it Oka escaped you?” Yochanan says at last.

                              “He knew we were coming and withdrew his forces,” Jin reports, she gestures to the captured Satrap, “Apparently to attack the bearfolk. His zombies attacked our forces, but he was nowhere to be seen. We were worried he was here, attacking the city.”

                              “If he is, then he’s being incredibly subtle about it.” Yochanan answers.

                              “On the plus side,” Melody adds brightly, “We killed a lot of zombies. Jin burned a bunch of bodies. The bearfolk have burned a bunch of bodies. Oka’s lost a good few hundred troops off his army. Not bad for a day’s work.”

                              “And we have an Exalted ally, who fought with us against Oka’s army of the dead.” Ganan places a hand on Whims’s shoulder.

                              Yochanan gives Whims a dirty look, “You’ll forgive me if I don’t jump for joy. I have a bad back.”

                              Tinkara rises and points at finger at Whims, “That thing led the attack on Dovak. Either it’s still loyal to Oka and trying to infiltrate our ranks or it betrayed it’s old masters and is likely to betray us.”

                              Yochanan steps in, “Ganan, Melody, a word? Jin, Tinkara – why not show our guest to her room and see if we see feels like talking to us? And keep an eye on that thing.”

                              Whims, Petalin, Jin, and Tinkara head down the tunnels, led by the Jadeborn.

                              Once they are alone, Yochanan asks them earnestly, “Is there anything you can do to restore my sister’s arm?”

                              Melody raises an eyebrow, “It’s Anathema magic that regrows lost limbs – I was hoping you’d have something.”

                              “I’m not a healer,” Yochanan confesses, “I wouldn’t know where to start, Ganan?”

                              “Whims might be able to help there. I don’t know about ‘healer’ but-”

                              “That monster isn’t going anywhere near my sister.” Yochanan says firmly, “What about sorcery?”

                              “Well… it’s not impossible,” Ganan says slowly, “It will take some time. Weeks. And it’s… not a precise science.”

                              “He means the arm will be all weird and cursed.” Melody interprets.

                              “It won’t be cursed it’ll just be… different,” Ganan shoots her a look, “But it’ll work. As an arm.”

                              “But it’ll take weeks?” Yochanan asks.

                              “Three at least, maybe longer. Can I assume your army will be here before then?”

                              “The army will be here but given that we’ve tipped our hand and Oka now knows you are here; the war might not be over by then.”

                              Ganan sucks his teeth, “Then I supposed I’d better start. As I don’t have anything else to do until this mysterious army arrives.” He turns to leave, and grabs Tinkara’s severed arm as he does so, “I’ll need this.”

                              Melody cringes as he tosses Tinkara’s arm over his shoulder, “I’d better…” She jerks a thumb over to Ganan and smiles apologetically to Yochanan.

                              ****

                              “Oka is not going to win this,” Jin says patiently as she holds Petalin under guard. Jadeborn warriors train crossbows on the captive Dragon-Blooded and they tie her to the wall. “Now is the time to switch to the winning side.”

                              “In the end,” Petalin smiles without mirth, “Death always wins.”

                              Jin nods sagely, “Princess, would you care to punctuate my point for me?”

                              Tinkara swings her warclub into Petalin’s gut.

                              “What are you going to do?” Petalin says, “Kill me? You think your crude torture is worse than what the Gift of Merciful Silence will do to me?”

                              “We are Dynasts! Where’s your pride? How can you side with these monsters?”

                              Petalin chuckles and shakes her head, “Dynasts? We’re not Dynasts. There is no Great House Cynis. We are those who have lost everything. Side with monsters?” She looks long and hard at Whims.

                              “Don’t give me that, he was on your side before he was on ours.”

                              “Was he?” Petalin stares at him, “The master always had his doubts.”

                              Jin smiles pleasantly, “Well that’s good to know.” She sighs, “You used to be beloved. A hero. I had cousins who couldn’t stop singing your praises. They’re dead now: and if your master has his way, a great deal more of our kin will join them. Come back to the side of the living. How many zombies does Oka have?”

                              “Millions. Dozens. You’ve destroyed them all already. Apart from the ten legions left.”

                              Jin folds her arms across her chest, “Is that meant to be a riddle or are you just being obtuse?”

                              “I’m being obstructive. The more I talk, the longer I distract you for.”

                              Jin sucks her teeth, “Tinkara, hit her again.”

                              Tinkara smashes Petalin across the mouth.

                              “Not in the mouth!” Jin complains, “We want her to talk.”

                              “Well, be more specific next time!” Tinkara shoots back, her voice laden with rage.

                              “And the greater dead? Nemissaries? Nephwracks?”

                              Petalin says nothing. Ganan and Melody walk in.

                              Jin turns to her brother, “She’s resisting the process.”

                              Ganan tosses her the Collar of Dutiful Submission, “Try that. I need Tinkara.”

                              “Is that my arm?” Tinkara says in a daze as Ganan drags her out of the room.

                              “Well,” Jin says with a smile, “This could work.”

                              ****

                              “Are you… going to reattach my arm?” Tinkara asks, breathlessly.

                              “No,” Melody says firmly, “We don’t have that kind of power.”

                              “Well…” Ganan considers as he eyes the arm, “I mean, I could… it’d probably start to smell soon though.”

                              Tinkara waves her warclub threateningly.

                              “I was thinking wood: I could carve you a replacement out of wood, Melody could graft it to your stump, and I could animate it with sorcery. It would work the same as your old arm… but it’d be made of wood.”

                              “Where are you going to get the wood from?” Tinkara asks, her voice filled with the natural skepticism of one who distrusts sorcery, “Not the Heartrot Tree, I hope?”

                              “Apple. Grown in Dovaki soil of a cutting from the Empress’s own orchard.”

                              Melody gives Ganan a confused look.

                              Tinkara is exasperated, “It will take years to grow such a tree!”

                              “I’ll have the wood tomorrow night. I’ll shape it over the next week. Melody will graft it to your stump, another week for it to take root. A week for safety. And you should have two working arms.”

                              “You could give me my arm back in two weeks?”

                              Ganan gives Melody an exasperated look, “I might as well not say anything! Did I stutter? A wooden arm in three weeks. If you’re amenable. I’ll need to take some blood. And some measurements.”

                              “Yes!” Tinkara says eagerly, “I’m amenable! Do it! Please.”

                              ****

                              Jin sets the Collar about Petalin’s neck, “Now, I order you to answer my questions honestly.”

                              Whims clears his throat, “I could probably answer any questions you had about the Gift’s forces… you don’t have to do... this.”

                              Jin turns and forces a smile at Whims, “Well, I’m afraid I can’t trust a single word that comes out of your dead mouth. And frankly, I’m still not convinced that I shouldn’t smash your skull in. But, sure, does Oka have any Nephwracks?”

                              “No,” Whims says simply, “You’ve met his lieutenant, Leshak. I don’t know what manner of being it is. I’m given to understand the Gift’s first tutor was a Nephwrack… he doesn’t work well with them.”

                              Jin nods, and turns her attention back to Petalin, “Does Oka have any Nephwracks?” She asks, as if Whims hadn’t spoken.

                              Petalin says nothing. The Collar tightens about her neck. Her body spasms, first in pain, then from lack of air. But still, she remains silent.

                              “Don’t think I am going to blink Petalin. You will answer my questions. Does The Gift of Merciful Silence have any Nephwracks? Are there any Nephwracks in Dovak?”

                              Petalin starts to glow with power as she turns her Essence futilely against the collar. She sags against the wall but still says nothing.

                              “I really don’t think-” Whims begins, but Jin cuts him off with a wave of her hand.

                              Jin leans in and touches her wrackstaff against Petalin’s skin, listening for her greatest secret. The two words she hears cause her to pull a face.

                              “Really?” Jin says to herself as she leans back, “What would people think if they knew?”

                              Petalin says nothing, but Whims is intrigued, “Knew what?”

                              “That ‘she’s alive’?” Jin says with a smirk. An undeniable look of horror crosses Petalin’s face, as Jin continues, “A little stir in the Realm perhaps, but I think we’re quite past that. No, the real drama would be if the Mask of Winters found out.”

                              “Don’t,” Petalin chokes out quietly.

                              “How many Nephwracks?” Jin repeats.

                              Whims takes a step back as Petalin’s anima comes into full bloom, whipping at the rope bonds. The Jadeborn guards also back off to avoid being torn to shreds by the toxic petals. Petalin falls away from the wall and drops to her knees. She shakes her head, trying to clear it. Jin stands in the maelstrom, her Exalted nature protecting her from the elemental storm. Petalin collapses, face down on the ground.

                              Jin asks a final time, “How many Nephwracks does Oka have?”

                              Petalin’s anima dies. Her chest stops rising and falling. The petal storm ends. The Collar of Dutiful Submission unlocks from her neck.

                              “Shit.” Jin curses as she picks the Collar back up.

                              *****

                              A great clamor rises from the tunnels, the Jadeborn fall back gathering our heroes as they go. Spine chains – zombies cleaved in half and joined head-to-torso to form unliving battering rams – scamper through the tunnels on dozens of dirty, claw-like, scampering hands. The half-ton amalgams of flesh and spiked metal set the Jadeborn to rout – sending them fleeing deeper into the tunnels.

                              Jin flicks out her wrackstaff, bringing it down heavily on the head of the lead torso in the chain closest to her. The green jade smashes through the dead-flesh as if it were an overripe fruit and the whole chain goes limp for a moment. Then, with a sickening sucking sound, the next torso in the chain starts to decouple its head from the chest cavity of the corpse in front. Jin takes a moment to push the glowing power of her anima out of her body – it surrounds her in swirling orbs of flame – then she extends a palm and fires bolts of elemental energy along the chain of dead bodies, setting them alight. As the crippled spine chain burns, she falls back with the Jadeborn.

                              Meanwhile, Melody ignores the dead and runs straight for where they have been keeping Clapper. She hastily mounts her riding beast and drives it with a speed which is seemingly impossible for such a ponderous mammoth back to the fray, rallying the Jadeborn behind her as she goes.

                              Ganan lets the Jadeborn break and flee, sending the one-armed Tinkara off with them. He reaches into a fissure in the mountain side and draws forth his tetsubo. As a spine chain comes barreling toward him, he stands unmoving until the last second before bringing his mighty weapon down on the restless corpses. A shockwave ripples through the line of bodies as they are blown apart by Ganan’s raw elemental power. For a moment, Ganan considers pressing forward to Urza Arcus, but he knows the tactically sound thing is to fall back with the others. He turns and tracks through the tunnels in the wake of the Jadeborn, only to be surprised by Whims heading in the other direction.

                              “I thought you head more sense than that,” Ganan admonishes suspiciously.

                              “I’m not going to rejoin the Gift,” Whims reassures him, “I’m here because I thought you had less sense than that – I thought you’d wade straight in and get killed,” He gestures further into the tunnels.

                              Ganan nods and the pair regroup with the others. Yochanan has ordered the Jadeborn into organized battlelines with barricades to stop the spine chains. The Exalted take their positions in Yochanan’s battle order, and Ganan draws his dragon sigh wand. The low moan of the shuffling dead echoes down the tunnels.

                              Stand firm!” Yochanan orders.

                              The massed dead groan into view. Yochanan gives the signal and a hail of crossbow bolts cut the shuffling zombies down. Melody puts arrows into the stragglers from the back of Clapper. The dead keep coming, pressing hard against the weight of fire and closing the distance. Bearfolk corpses are shuffled in with the human dead. Jin and Ganan add their blasts of flame and drive the zombies back.

                              And then Leshak lumbers into view. The creature pulses with sickly green light barely contained by the old, dead wood that makes up the frame of his body. The zombies stop going down under the Jadeborn’s quarrels and continue wading forward even as Jin and Ganan set them alight: green light spills out from their wounds as they press forward despite their horrific injuries.

                              “Melody! Collapse the tunnel! Now!” Yochanan bellows.

                              Melody doesn’t hesitate. She goads Clapper into swinging his mighty tail into a load-bearing corner of wall and the tunnel collapses on the dead – cutting our heroes off from both their attackers… and the way out.

                              ****

                              Ganan spends 8XP to train Spirit-Shredding Attack and 7DX to train Craft: Artifact 5.
                              Jin spends 8XP to train Impervious Skin of Stone 12DX to train the custom Evocation No Holds Barred.

                              No Holds Barred
                              Cost: 1m or 5m; Mins: Essence 2
                              Type: Supplemental
                              Keywords: Resonant, Dissonant
                              Duration: Instant
                              Prerequisites: None

                              Mere locks cannot deter the Lady from acquiring the object of her affections: she slips past them with the grace befitting Creations premier thief and lady adventuress. This Evocation Supplements a lock-picking attempt.

                              Against mundane locks, this Evocation costs 1m – the user may apply the following benefits:

                              Firstly, in lieu of rolling the user may convert every die in her pool to a non-Charm success. Secondly, she may open the lock simply by touching it (if she has lockpicking tools on her person, she may still benefit as if she were using them – for example by gaining the bonus die for Exceptional Equipment or by accessing Evocations – but she does not require lockpicks). Finally, she may open locks as a Miscellaneous action (no matter how complex the lock is or how long it would usually take to pick) which may be placed in a Flurry.

                              Against magical locks, this Evocation costs 5m and works slightly differently:

                              Firstly, the user may challenge magical locks with mundane lock-picking tools. Her methods may be impossible, but must at least be logical: for example, a set of mundane lockpicks might be able to challenge a moonsilver tumbler that reconfigures itself against any tampering, but not a series of enchanted crystals that give off resonant tones when struck – these might require a glass tumbler and a tuning fork in order to deduce the correct series of tones instead. This Evocation may explicitly challenge otherwise perfect magical locks. Secondly, after rolling the user may convert (Essence) dice to non-Charm successes.

                              Lady Magnificent’s Visage must be attuned and on the user’s person in order to use this Evocation, but it need not be worn.

                              Dissonant: This Evocation may not be used to challenge perfect magical locks. In order to challenge magical locks, the user must be wearing the Visage and disguised as Lady Magnificent.

                              Resonant: If disguised as Lady Magnificent and wearing the Visage, double the number of non-Charm successes added by this Evocation.



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

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                              • #90
                                Session 74 – Into the Underdark – Ganan (250XP 200DX, 243/200 spent; 20WhP 24GP 90SP), Melody (250XP 200DX, 243/186 spent), Jinabar (250XP 200DX, 244/198 Spent)

                                Foul language. Sexual themes. Graphic violence. Dismemberment/necromancy.

                                Our heroes stand in the dust of a collapsed mining tunnel that once connected to the bearfolk city of Urza Arcus. On the other side of a thousand tons of mountainside is an army of the dead. Our heroes glow with the power of their animas – but there is no other light in the blackness of the tunnels.

                                Ganan shoulders his firewand, “Melody. What. The. Hell?!” He rages.

                                Melody throws her arms up, “Yochanan said to collapse the tunnel, so I collapsed the tunnel. Don’t bitch at me!”

                                “Good point!” Jin jumps in, rounding on Yochanan, “What the hell?!”

                                Yochanan finds himself with an unexpected defender as Whims speaks in his defense, “You are no match for Leshak. Yochanan’s plan saved our lives, for now. But that rockslide won’t stop him – we need to get out of here before he gets out from under that rock.”

                                Jin rolls her eyes, “Nothing is getting out from under that rock.”

                                Yochanan speaks with the strained patience of an overstretched parent, “At every turn you have underestimated our enemies. Your plans have failed, and you have brought disaster after disaster to our endeavor. Now it is time that you listened to me.”

                                “Now hold on,” Ganan says, coming to his sister’s defense, “Our plans haven’t failed…”

                                “Where is Cynis Petalin?” Yochanan asks, “No, let me guess: you killed her, and seconds later we were attacked by an army of the dead?”

                                Jin quietly hands Ganan back his Collar of Dutiful Submission.

                                Melody carefully steers Clapper forward, “Okay, King Yochanan, what’s your plan?”

                                Yochanan shakes his head ruefully, “Follow me.”

                                He wordlessly leads them deeper into the tunnels, and the rest of the party follows after.

                                ****

                                It is not long before they reach the under-tunnels of Urza Arcus: wide and glazed with clear, mystic glass. The tunnels start to glow with the dim light of the evening as Yochanan enters them, leading them with clear purpose. Tinkara and the Jadeborn walk next to him.

                                Jin rides along with Melody on the back of Clapper. There is a tense silence between them. Melody yawns and directs Clapper to follow the Jadeborn – she pulls her hood over her face and tries to doze. Jin is disquieted by letting the Shieldback just walk without direction.

                                Ganan walks behind with Whims at his side. Whims slips his hand into Ganan’s, and Ganan does not pull away.

                                After an hour or so, Yochanan calls the column to a halt and makes his way to find Whims in the rear. He eyes the handholding suspiciously, “Ganan, stab Whims in the heart for me.”

                                “Are you crazy?” Ganan asks, pulling his hand out of Whims’s, “He’s on our side. He literally fought on our side against the dead. And he came to your defense.”

                                “He actually did very little in that last battle,” Yochanan corrects, “And whilst he might have destroyed a few simple zombies during your botched attempt to kill Oka, I can assure you that he’s killed more of the living during his time in Dovak.”

                                Whims shrugs apologetically, “I can’t deny that: better do as he says, Breaker.” He gives Ganan a winning smile, filled with shining white teeth.

                                Ganan is about to protest, then he screws up his forehead in concentration, “And that won’t kill you. You’ll regenerate?”

                                Yochanan answers, addressing Ganan and trying not to look at Whims, “I can’t say that I trust our new… ‘ally’. He’s an undead monster, and he will answer for his crimes against Dovak. But… you’re right: he has fought on our side, and, more importantly, I’d rather say ‘I told you so’ in a few days than fight with you here and now. So, stab him to death so he can’t see where we’re going, and he can come with us.”

                                Whims closes his eyes and spreads his arms wide, Ganan grits his teeth and impales Whims on his jade bayonet. The Liminal collapses awkwardly, Yochanan secures a sack over his head, and Ganan dumps the body onto Clapper’s howdah (the Jadeborn produce Whims’s armor and dump it in next to him).

                                They continue to a nondescript patch of wall. The mural behind the glass depicts a battle against the enemies of the gods, in the time before the First Age. Yochanan traces his fingers across the glass surface, and the entire section of wall seems to fold in on itself, opening a new tunnel where none existed before.

                                Yochanan stands in the new tunnel and addresses the Exalted and his sister, “We are about to enter the city of Hiram. It is a small settlement, by the standards of the Jadeborn – but it is a vital trade artery between the great cities of Dijak and Lutar (which are supplying my army).”

                                He stops and addresses Tinkara, “I had hoped to bring you to this place after the war – I never meant to share this with them.” He nods derisively at the Dynasts.

                                Melody continues pretending that she is asleep.

                                Jin tosses her hair, “Rude.” She disparages.

                                Yochanan addresses the Dynasts again, “Do not speak to anyone. Do not wander off without me. Try not to look at anything. And try to forget everything you see here. Just sit still and try not to make things worse.”

                                “We can lie low for a few days, Wanderer.” Melody coos from under her hood, “Stop stressing out, Ganan and I have seen a Jadeborn city before.”

                                Reluctantly, Yochanan leads them into Hiram. Sentries challenge them in a language our heroes do not recognize, but Yochanan quickly negotiates their passage.

                                The glass coated tunnels give way to rock formations which seem both more natural and more worked – the bare stone is polished smooth, and crystals are set in the tunnel’s ceiling (which glow with the twilight of dusk as Yochanan or their Jadeborn allies approach). The temperature in the cavern is stable and the air is fresh. Great loam-packed caverns produce massive harvests of mushrooms. Finally, the tunnel opens in on a grand cavern boring deep into the ground below them.

                                Towers of stone and crystal, like great termite mounds, fill the cavern, and more rooms are etched into the sides. The city is larger than Dovak but smaller than Urza Arcus. Even at this late hour, Essence lights can be seen and the city gently hums with industry.

                                The winding path is cut into the wall of the cavern and leads them down into the city proper. The path is wide enough for Clapper, if barely. With easy familiarity, Yochanan leads them to one of the spires, he directs Clapper to a stable filled with crude fodder and leads the others into the spire (Ganan carries Whims’s corpse over his shoulder). The inside of the spire reminds the Dynasts of the Imperial Palace – it is brilliantly constructed, and if not lavishly decorated then, at least, well appointed. Yochanan directs his sister and the Dynasts to stand on a plain stone disk in the middle of the lobby.

                                Melody stands on the disk and looks up – there’s a hole in the ceiling that seems to go all the way to the top of the spire. “Wait a minute…” She starts.

                                Ganan’s eyes light up as he realizes what’s about to happen. Yochanan stands on the platform and it immediately shoots into the air, passing through the gaps in the ceiling. There is no obvious mechanical mechanism controlling the movement of the lift. They move at a dizzying speed – many of the floors are open plan, giving the Dynasts a flash-view of Jadeborn life as they rise. Many of the Jadeborn are sleeping, seemingly in comfortable, but communal, accommodations. The spire has halls for sports, dancing, and crossbow drills. The platform stops at the top floor and the Dynasts stagger off the mystic elevator. Ganan immediately crouches down to examine the device to see if he can divine how it works, but it quickly shoots out of sight.

                                “Don’t look at anything!” Yochanan admonishes.

                                The spire penthouse is as luxuriously appointed as any Dynast’s manse. Strange devices line the walls – many seem to dispense… something. Art, carved of pure jade, adorn the walls. The penthouse is carved into several rooms, with natural, curving walls of beautifully worked stone.

                                “Stay here, get some sleep. Try not to look at anything. Do not try to leave this room.” Yochanan warns, “I will be back by mid-afternoon.” He turns and leaves the room.

                                There are plenty of bedrooms in the penthouse. Ganan lays Whims in one of the beds to let him regenerate. He carefully sweeps the hair from his face and lays him in gentle repose, before taking the room next to his. Ganan looks fascinatedly at the sculptures and mechanical devices in the room – the lights are already low, but can easily be turned off completely by a panel recessed into the wall. Jin retires to a room with an adjoining bathroom and a sturdy lock and bars herself in. Tinkara takes a matching room next to Jin’s, the only other one with a lock.

                                Melody looks out at the Jadeborn city from the windows of the penthouse and scans the streets. Clearly in the day, this will be a bustling and lively place.

                                “Oh, fuck it.” She curses, before finding somewhere to sleep.

                                ****

                                Fade to black

                                ****
                                Having spent most of the night in action, morning comes far too quickly for the liking of our heroes. The cavern outside of the spire lights up as bright as noon on the surface with the rising of the sun and light floods into the spire. Ganan and Melody rise and dress. Jin draws herself a bath, amazed that the Jadeborn have not only running water but hot water and liquid soap. Tinkara stays shut in her room, trying not to look at anything. Whims stays dead.

                                “Should I stitch him back together?” Melody asks as she inspects Whims’s body, “Like after the ambush?”

                                “Hmm? Probably best if you don’t.” Ganan says as he inspects the mechanical devices in the penthouse, trying to deduce what they are and how they work.

                                Melody puts her hands on her hips and raises an eyebrow at Ganan, “Yeah, we wouldn’t want him disobeying Yochanan and studying the Jadeborn machinery or anything.”

                                “I’m not going to gouge out my own eyes, Melody, Yochanan put us in here, there’s stuff to look at anywhere I look.” Ganan turns and smiles at her, he raps the machine he was examining with his knuckles, “Besides, I’m 99% sure this thing makes coffee.”

                                At the word “coffee” Jin appears, swaddled in thick, luxurious bath towels. She holds out her hands for coffee.

                                Ganan works a dial on the machine and it produces two small cups of strong-smelling espresso, which Jin and Melody gratefully receive, before Jin goes back to her bath.

                                Ganan chuckles at his sister’s coffee obsession then turns to Melody with a confused look on his face, “Notice what?”

                                Melody sips her coffee and makes a puzzled face whilst she tries to remember what Ganan is talking about – their aborted conversion after the capture of Cynis Petalin eventually comes to her.

                                “Jin’s got her wrackstaff, didn’t Lady Magnificent have it?”

                                Ganan scratches his head, “She said she had a run in with her. Must have got it back.”

                                “Yes…” Melody says, “But she was lying about having a run in with her to cover for the wounds she got fighting against Oka’s forces.”

                                Ganan shrugs, “Everything Jin says is a lie. Especially the true things. And all her best lies are true. She’s a proper Dynast, I wouldn’t sweat it.”

                                “Ferad and Danireya are proper Dynasts. I know what a ‘proper Dynast’ is like.” Melody folds her arms across her chest.

                                Ganan winces at the mention of their spouses, “Reya is Reya. For starters, she’s a sorcerer, not a ‘proper Dynast’. And Ferad is a soldier – and he’s an incorrigible troublemaker who posed as an Outcaste to get out of going to the same school his father graduated from. He’s a good guy, that’s why I like him. You wouldn’t like him if he was a ‘proper Dynast’. And don’t mention Udi either, she doesn’t count doubly.”

                                Melody chuckles, “I think I saw that side of her for the first time before they left for Paragon. She’s a lot cooler than I gave her credit for.”

                                “Well,” Ganan pounces, “Jin isn’t. She’s all Realm, through and through. She can shoot and scrap and she knows which fork is for salad and which one is for fish. And she’s a two-faced, self-aggrandizing, politico who’ll probably try to turn us in for working with the Anathema after all this is over.”

                                Melody screws up her face, “The one with the little knife is fish, right? Or is that pies?”

                                Ganan shrugs, “I don’t know why you’d think I’d know! I should get credit for knowing there are different types of fork!”

                                “She’s not going to turn us in,” Melody says seriously.

                                “No,” Ganan agrees, “But only because she knows that between the two of us, we can get her adopted into Tepet and back onto the Blessed Isle. It doesn’t serve her interests to betray us. Just remember, no matter how friendly she seems, if it comes down to our interests or hers, she’ll pick hers.”

                                “You’re not being fair,” Melody says, setting down her coffee, “She was a Magistrate. A hero of the Realm. You love the Imperial Service. She didn’t have to track down these Salmalin demon-summoning books. She didn’t have to risk her life fighting Sondok. And she didn’t have to come back to Dovak. But she did.”

                                Ganan shakes his head, “I know my sister. She’s cleverer than me. I can’t tell you what her scam is, but I’m telling you she has a scam. She became a Magistrate by betraying her friends from the Spiral Academy. She went to the Spiral Academy by betraying me. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the only reason for the whole Sondok affair was because she was bored or being blackmailed into it.”

                                “I don’t believe that.” Melody says firmly.

                                “Well, you don’t know her like I do. Give it time.” Ganan’s attention has already been grabbed by a new Jadeborn device, and he studies it intently.

                                Not wanting to fight, Melody returns to the window to look out on the city during the “day”.

                                ****

                                Meanwhile

                                An open window from a spire penthouse bathroom lets a small plume of steam rise into the cavern. The scent of espresso on her breath, Lady Magnificent repels down the outside of the spire. She drops a floor then breaks back into the building. The Mountain Folk living on the floor below have already left their domicile for work, allowing her to slink over to the elevator undetected by the Dynasts on the floor above, and easily descends to ground level.

                                The morning bustle of the Jadeborn reporting to their stations is long over, but there is a great deal of foot-traffic as the Mountain Folk move between the spires carrying materials and finished goods. Ada sticks to the shadows of the spires, darting from building to building. The largest and noisiest building is in the middle of the city, and when the time comes, she strides out into the main street, purposefully toward it. No-one challenges her, but the Jadeborn give her sidelong looks.

                                The entire spire is a vast workshop. Jadeborn workers toil on an array of devices – Ada recognizes some of them, like the mechanical crossbows. Shipments of jade are being taken higher up the spire. Ada walks swiftly through the ranks of the assembled workers: they work with mechanical tools of exceptional quality. The spire is filled with the clanking of gears and the pounding of hammers. She works her way quickly to the elevator and ascends the spire. Once more the floors flash past impossibly fast. She catches a glimpse of armor being beaten out of steel, crossbows made of jade, mechanical devices of a nature she cannot begin to divine the nature of then wonderous suits of jade armor. She also sees the back of Yochanan, deep in conversation with a brightly colored Jadeborn. The elevator comes to a halt. The upper floor of the spire is given over to a single brightly colored artisan. The room is clean and bright and white, empty but for the artisan, their tools, and a single suit of armor.

                                “It will be ready, when it’s ready.” The artisan says without looking up from their work.

                                Lady Magnificent says nothing, instead quietly skulking around the room. The artisan’s tools alone would be worth a fortune in the Realm, but the armor is a treasure beyond compare. She says nothing as she sizes the armor up, then seeing no reason to say anything more, she slips away, retracing her steps back to the open bathroom window. She does, however, notice that Yochanan has gone.

                                ****

                                Yochanan returns to the tower to find Ganan flipping the lights on-and-off, scribing detailed notes.

                                “Summon the others. And stop looking at things.”

                                Ganan flips Yochanan off without looking up.

                                “Charming,” Says a voice Ganan does not recognize. Yochanan has returned with one of the Jadeborn.

                                “Tepet Ganan,” Yochanan introduces, “This is Jade Walker. She is, for simplicities sake, the ruler of this city.”

                                “Bully!” Melody cries bouncing into the room, “Gan, have you worked out how the coffee machine works yet?”

                                “Your technology is amazing,” Ganan says rising and giving a bow to Jade Walker, “Teach me. Please.”

                                Jade Walker smiles politely, if a little stiffly.

                                “That is not why you are here.” Yochanan says firmly.

                                Melody fires an arrow into Tinkara’s door.

                                (“I’ll buff that out for you, don’t worry.” Ganan reassures Jade Walker.)

                                Tinkara comes out of her room. As does Jin, fully dressed.

                                Yochanan continues, “The army shall be here in two days. But they won’t arrive until late into the night. I don’t see the wisdom in marching on the dead in the middle of the night, so we’ll attack in the morning.”

                                “Sounds good,” Ganan nods “That’ll give me time to do the carving… and fix the door. And learn how to work more of these marvelous machines. Also, what does this do? It’s so hot! Oh, and where I can plant this?” He holds up his Traveler’s Staff.

                                Jade Walker pulls a confused face, “It’s a convection heater… it keeps the room warm. It’s supposed to be hot. And if you may plant your staff in one of the growing caverns. I will have a worker show you the way.”

                                “A convection heater with no coal, no oil, no red jade… hmm…” Ganan examines the radiator again, “Yes, teach me.”

                                “For the last time!” Yochanan shouts, losing his temper.

                                “Actually,” Jade Walker says diplomatically, “It would be helpful to have one of the Exalted pilot the siege strider.”

                                “The what?” The Dragon-Blooded chorus.

                                ****

                                Jade Walker leads the Exalted down out of their spire and to an adjoining cavern. Inside sits a massive war-machine, eighteen feet high and thirty feet long, sitting on four sturdy legs with two strong arms ending in wicked claws. A massive canon is mounted on its back.

                                “It requires specialist training to pilot, and our warriors do not have the strength of essence required to move it.” Jade Walker explains, “But it does work. I’ve moved it myself – for research purposes, you understand.”

                                Like children with a new toy, Ganan and Melody make a mad dash for the machine and climb up into the fuselage – there’s a hatch for the pilot and one for the gunner. They both lean their heads into the pilot hatch.

                                “Wait…” Ganan says as he examines the controls for the machine, “Why are there six peddles when there are only four directions?”

                                Jin approaches cautiously on foot.

                                Melody considers for a moment, “It doesn’t look massively different from riding Clapper: I steer him by shifting weight, you use these peddles to move the machine and this lever to… uh… Well, the lever probably has something to do with these glass things here.”

                                Ganan clambers over the war-machine to the gunner’s position. Jin slowly climbs the access ladder to the same point.

                                “Oh, now you’re just taking the piss!” Ganan exclaims. The gunner’s cockpit has seat and a single control crystal with no other moving parts or gauges.

                                Jin shrugs, “No, this is easy. It’s just like elemental bolt.” She casts a look down to the pilot’s cockpit, “The lever is speed, the glass things are your pressure read-outs.”

                                “Wait… you can drive this thing?” Melody asks, looking up at her.

                                Jin makes a fifty-fifty gesture, “Not into battle, no. I mean, I can work the cannon. But it’s a lot easier than piloting a Warstrider. I’ve seen you direct Clapper; with two-and-a-half days training you’ll have this thing dancing.”

                                Yochanan calls up to them from the ground, “What’s the matter Ganan, nothing?”

                                Ganan scowls, “This technology is beyond my understanding.” He pauses, “It’ll take me longer than two days to master this machine. But if Jin and Melody can utilize it, then I’ll command the infantry in their wake. And repairing the machine after the battle will provide invaluable insight into its workings.”

                                Jade Walker looks up at him, “I thought you said the technology was beyond your understanding?”

                                Ganan smiles down at them, “I’d be a poor scholar if I didn’t seek in increase my understanding. All mysteries yield to study – even the miracles of the Great Maker. If you’ll permit me.”

                                Jade Walker and Yochanan share a look. Yochanan relents, “I will arrange your instruction. You’ll need a hearthstone to power the Strider.”

                                Melody makes a clicking motion at Ganan who hands over the Gateway Key. She smiles as she climbs into the cockpit and sockets the stone. The siege strider thrums with energy and seems to come alive under her.

                                “Oh yeah, this is going to work nicely.”

                                ****

                                Whilst Jin and Melody practice piloting the siege strider, Ganan is true to his word about fixing the arrow hole in Tinkara’s door (3SP). Whims is still unconscious, so Ganan spends a little more time studying the Jadeborn technology in their room.

                                Jade Walker instructs Melody in the operation of the siege strider, and she carefully pilots the mighty war-machine out into a vast, empty cavern. Jin tests the weapon systems on stalagmites, blowing them to pieces.

                                “The glass things are blinking red!” Melody calls up to Jin, “Are they supposed to be doing that?”

                                “Oh by Daana’d! This is going to be a long two days.”

                                ****

                                As nightfall approaches Jade Walker fetches Ganan. They subtly inspects his work fixing the door, then leads him to a brightly lit side cavern.

                                “You can grow your tree here.” They gesture at the soil under the artificial light.

                                Ganan plants the staff, which immediately blooms into an apple tree. Ganan carves off a bough (much larger than a human arm) and harvests a few apples for later. He offers Jade Walker an apple, which they accept before walking him back to the spire.

                                ****

                                Ganan pulls a face as he gets back to the spire. Melody is sitting alone, reclined across a sofa.

                                “Where are the others?” Ganan asks.

                                Melody turns and sits facing him, “Whims is still dead. Tinkara and Yochanan are out. Jin is having another bath.”

                                Ganan nods, “Excellent, help me with this.” He tosses her Tinkara’s severed arm: autolysis has well set in and the arm is as disgusting as one might imagine. He sits next to Melody.

                                Melody makes a face, “Help you how?”

                                “Well… I need the bones, but not the meat.”

                                “Is that meant to be a joke?” Melody digs out her tools, knowing that Ganan is not joking, and starts to strip the dead flesh from the bones as Ganan starts to carve the wood.

                                Ganan takes the porous nature of the wood, and its tendency for shrinkage into account as he works it. It is dense, with a fine, uniform grain and gives off a faintly sweet scent as Ganan works it.

                                Melody points at Ganan with Tinkara’s severed arm, “Shouldn’t you, you know, cure the wood for a year or whatever before you work it?”

                                “You’re thinking of making bows.” Ganan says without looking up.

                                “Yeah, sure, but… I can’t imagine an arm is terribly different.”

                                “I’m not making a dead prosthesis.” Ganan corrects, “I’m carving a living arm out of magic wood. It helps if the living arm is, you know, alive. I’ll need you to do your thing when we attach it.”

                                “My thing?” Melody smiles at him.

                                Ganan makes a gesture that to him looks like plants growing, but it doesn’t look like that to anyone else, “Your plant growing thing.”

                                Stripping the dead flesh from the delicate bones of the hand is hard work. Melody doesn’t look up as she hands Ganan the long-bones from Tinkara’s forearm, “So should we have ‘The Talk’?”

                                “The girlfriend and boyfriend talk?” Ganan asks.

                                “So… we’re girlfriend and boyfriend?” Melody ribs him, “I thought this was a House Cynis, Kin-with-Benefits thing.”

                                “Well, we are married. So, it probably is that, yes. What’s the difference?”

                                Melody looks at him, “I don’t even know where to begin explaining that to you. Look, I know I’m not a great beauty-”

                                Ganan cuts her off, but still working the wood without looking up, “You’re fine. I don’t… usually… sleep with… women.”

                                Melody chuckles, “Me neither: that’s another thing we have in common.”

                                “But you’re like a man. That sounds wrong.” Ganan shakes his head with embarrassment, “I care about you and I respect you. But I love Reya and I don’t want to hurt Ferad.”

                                “Well, you’re not going to hurt Ferad. He thinks we’ve been sleeping together since Dovak. I had to reassure him that Iohan isn’t your kid – that caused a bit of tension. But it’s not like he doesn’t have his affairs.”

                                “Wait, why would he think that? And what do you mean – Ferad isn’t faithful to you?”

                                Melody laughs at Ganan’s naivety, “You and I spend all our time together. And you look like that. As for faithful, Ferad was practically engaged when he started sleeping with me, and I was still a student. They teach you at Pasiap’s Stair that what happens in the ideal and what happens in reality are different. I don’t think he ever slept with anyone else… until Tinkara. And then with the war and founding a new Great House… things are different now.”

                                “Hmm.” Ganan says, not knowing what else to say.

                                *snip*
                                “And Whims?”

                                “The zombie? Seriously?” Melody exhales heavily.

                                “He’s not a zombie,” Ganan says firmly, “He’s… alive. Maybe not in the same way as you and me, but he’s alive and he’s Exalted. And I care about him… and I owe him.”

                                “I understand why you care about Reya and her feelings. But that-” Melody stops herself saying ‘thing’, “That ‘man’ is an abomination against the Perfected Hierarchy.”

                                Ganan nods, “And you are Dragon-Blooded, which means you are more spiritually enlightened than Whims and hold a more privileged place in the cycle of reincarnation: I don’t dispute that. But that doesn’t change my feelings and it doesn’t change the fact that he is a good man.”

                                “And a handsome man, no?” Whims calls out from behind them.

                                Ganan jumps to his feet.

                                Melody turns slowly, “How long have you been standing there?”

                                “Since ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’,” Whims flashes his brilliant smile, “Do you want some help with that?” He gestures to Tinkara’s arm.

                                Melody hands over the arm, and Whims sets about the carpal bones with his nails, stripping the bones out clean with preternatural ease.

                                “So, Breaker,” Whims says roguishly, “Moving from ‘husband and wife’ to ‘wife and wife’s girlfriend and husband and husband’s girlfriend’. Polyamory: it seems we agree in principle and now all that remains is to negotiate on scale?”

                                Melody pulls a face, “Husband and husband’s girlfriend and his dead boyfriend? I don’t think so.”

                                Do I look dead to you, sweetheart?” Whims drawls seductively in his native Riverspeak.

                                Melody swallows and despite herself her tongue feels too big for her mouth. Whims does not look dead. His flesh seems to pulse with the raw, primal energy of life itself – flush with hot blood. He smells of power and masculine eros. The pallor of the grave has no hold on his vibrant flesh, and the horrific pulsing stitches that were evident during their battle seem to have completely faded away.

                                Whims approaches Ganan. He lays a hand on his chest and presses his body against his. He switches back to High Realm, “I mean, suit yourself, but I think Breaker would rather not have to choose between us.” He sweeps his gaze with a lascivious ponderance over Melody’s body, “I know I’d rather have both.”

                                Whims’s body is trim and athletic. He’s shorter and smaller than Ganan. Melody remembers being a cadet in Thorns – Ferad used to have a figure like that. She remembers Jin’s comments about having sex with the Anathema and feels a frisson of forbidden passion. He didn’t seem dead, not in the way of Oka’s dread forces. And Ganan was an expert in such matters. And if Whims really was Exalted, was it any worse than sleeping with, say, an Exigent?

                                Melody rises from the sofa and walks toward the bedroom. She stops and looks over her shoulder, “Well, are you coming boys?”

                                Fade to black.

                                ****

                                Getting back into the central spire was harder than Lady Magnificent had imagined it would be. When the working day had come to an end, the Jadeborn workers and artisans had left the enormous structure, warriors locked the doors and went on patrol. Scaling the outside of the structure, then breaking in without being seen had been a challenge, and now she was inside, she’s discovered that the elevator is deactivated. Climbing the inside of the tower is further complicated by the presence of guards within the building. Even so, she’s sure to stop and snag a mechanical crossbow on her way up, and on the penultimate level she fills her pockets with tools, sneaking from workstation to workstation, whilst avoiding the watchful eyes of the patrolling warriors.

                                Finally, she heaves herself into the topmost level. The artisan she saw earlier in the day is still working on the armor.

                                “I know, I know,” Lady Magnificent says, “It’ll be ready when it’s ready.”

                                “It’s ready,” The artisan says, polishing the final plates of the armor.

                                “Oh, that’s… that’s actually really convenient. I was worried Ganan would have to finish it.”

                                The Jadeborn artisan looks around and acknowledges her, “Who are you?”

                                Lady Magnificent gives a deep bow with an ostentatious flourish, “Lady Magnificent, pleased to make your acquaintance.”

                                “Jubilant Ore,” The Jadeborn gives her a short bow in greeting, “You’re Exalted.”

                                “Blood of the Dragons, for my sins,” Lady Magnificent cocks her masked head in a sign of amusement, “Talk me through this masterwork, Jubilant Ore.”

                                Jubilant Ore knows they should call for their guards, but can’t resist Lady Magnificent’s charm, “It’s a jade suit of Essence powered armor. All five colors of jade are utilized in its construction, but as you can see from the outer layer, it is primarily black jade. Strength augmentation systems, life-support including aquatic adaptation, stealth and sensory systems.”

                                “I don’t suppose it has an elemental lens?” Lady Magnificent asks coyly.

                                Jubilant Ore smiles, “No. It is not built for your kind. Though there are similarities in design to the Armor of the Immaculate Dragons, it is built for Jadeborn champions.”

                                “I’ve never seen a Jadeborn wearing armor like that!” Lady Magnificent says quickly, “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

                                Jubilant Ore visibly swells with pride at the compliment, “Thank you.”

                                “It… would work with a Dragon-Blooded user, wouldn’t it?”

                                Jubilant Ore pulls a suspicious face, “A Dragon-Blooded? I never thought of that. I think it would. Yes… I’m sure it would.”

                                Lady Magnificent smiles behind her mask, “That is, of course, assuming the armor works at all. Oh, I’m sure you took every precaution in the assembly, but has anyone actually worn it yet?”

                                “Well… no… I had thought that I might…”

                                Lady Magnificent lays a hand on Jubilant Ore’s shoulder and leans in close to gaze into their eyes, “But then who would take notes? Who would correct any mistakes revealed in the design?”

                                “In the morning, Jade Walker will observe my work and-”

                                Lady Magnificent shakes her head sadly, “Jade Walker is clearly jealous of your prowess as a supreme armorer, surely you see how your skill threatens their position?”

                                “Jade Walker has always been my staunchest-”

                                “And what if there are faults? To see them exposed to everyone in the light of day like that – after all the time you’ve spent working on this project?”

                                Lady Magnificent has clearly struck a nerve: Jubilant Ore looks concerned. They speak slowly, “None of the warriors guarding the building have the strength of Essence needed to drive the armor… would it be too much of an imposition to ask…”

                                Lady Magnificent nods warmly, “Not at all.” She motions to the armor, “How do I…?”

                                Jubilant Ore helps her into the power armor. Lady Magnificent flexes reveling in the feeling of absolute power and complete invulnerability. She walks the armor around the workshop whilst Jubilant Ore follows her anxiously asking questions and taking notes.

                                “It seems the advance systems need… some harmonization to bring online?” Lady Magnificent asks.

                                “Yes,” Jubilant Ore responds, “I think we have enough data to call the armor a success, now if you could…”

                                Lady Magnificent turns slowly to look at Jubilant Ore, and she silently cocks her head in the same amused way as earlier.

                                “Remove the armor now?” Jubilant Ore concludes lamely.

                                Lady Magnificent pauses and stares silently at Jubilant Ore for a beat or two, watching them squirm. After what seems like an eternity, she clears her throat, “Of course. How does it come off?”

                                Jubilant Ore gives a great sigh of relief and helps Lady Magnificent out of the armor.

                                “Well, it seems that my initial judgement of your work was not misplaced. That really was the finest suit of armor I’ve ever worn. I don’t suppose you’d consider parting with it?”

                                Jubilant Ore bows, respectfully, beaming with pride, “I am afraid not, Prince of the Earth. Though I’m sure-” They break off mid-sentence and pull a face of suspicious confusion, “I did not know we had any visiting Exalted in the city.”

                                “Yochanan Dovak has brought us here to lead his army. Commanding the incoming troops above ground, piloting the siege strider?” Lady Magnificent probes, hoping to get more out of the Jadeborn artisan.

                                Jubilant Ore’s expression changes to relief, “Oh that make sense, I heard we were expecting mercenaries.” To Lady Magnificent’s frustration, they don’t say anymore, “Well I’m done for the night.” Jubilant Ore walks over to the elevator and reactivates it, “Shall we?”

                                Lady Magnificent takes Jubilant Ore’s arm and they walk right out of the front door of the spire, straight past the guards. They part ways as Lady Magnificent makes to walk back to the Yochanan’s spire and the others, but as soon as she is out-of-sight, she doubles back, approaching the central spire by the shadows, keeping herself hidden. She waits for the patrol to pass and starts to scale the outside of the tower once more. Sneaking past the guards is considerably more fraught with her spiritual energy drained from attuning to the armor, but as she now knows the layout of the building and the position of the guards, she is able to make her way back to the top level without incident. She sits cross legged, listening to the Essence of the world, and the quiet shifting of the figures on the levels below for a full hour, with the armor laid out before her. Eventually she dons the armor once more. The penthouse walls are blank, sheer walls of brilliant white: Lady Magnificent examines them carefully, finding the almost imperceptible cracks that mark the panels that hide the spire’s windows. Prying them open, she shimmies out of the window. She swiftly descends the outside of the tower, her fingers finding impossible purchases as she deftly climbs down. She makes straight for the siege strider, finding it only lightly guarded, and stashes the armor hidden inside the strider.

                                ****

                                Melody spends 8XP to train Tactics Mean Everything and 3DX to train Lore 1. Ganan spends 7DX to train Craft: Mechanical Devices to 3.
                                Jin spends 3DX to train Resistance 3.



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

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