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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.

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                  • #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?

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                    • #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 they'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 and maybe that Athletics Charm that let's you Aim and Move 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!


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

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