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Dynasty of Dovak - Campaign Notes and Play Report

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  • #91
    Session 75 – Siege of Dovak – Ganan (255XP 204DX, 253/204 spent; 20WhP 41GP 86SP), Melody (255XP 204DX, 251/203 spent), Jinabar (255XP 204DX, 252/198 Spent)
    Part 1 of 2
    The next morning Jin rises early and pours herself an obscene amount of espresso. The smell brings Tinkara and Melody out of their rooms. Melody’s jade collar keeps her looking fresh and clean.


    Jin raises an eyebrow as Melody approaches with her traveling mug, and fills it with the strong, Jadeborn espresso. Tinkara takes a normal sized cup.

    “Sleep well?” Jin asks, wiggling her eyebrows at Melody.

    Melody raises her mug in salute, “Eventually.”

    “Anathema, right?” Jin winks salaciously, before turning to Tinkara, “Speaking of, where is your brother?”

    Tinkara sips her bitter drink, “Where’s your brother? Isn’t he supposed to be making me an arm?” She gestures at the discarded enchanted wood and the bones of her arm.

    On cue, Ganan and Whims stagger out of the bedroom together. Whims looks thoroughly disheveled, though Ganan is immaculate. Ganan wrinkles his nose at the stench of the coffee.

    “How can you drink that?” He complains as he picks up his work from the night before, shaping the wood to the shape of an arm and creating hollows for Tinkara’s bones.

    “What did you do with the flesh?” Jin asks, pulling a face a of disgust at Ganan’s sorcery that looks eerily like Ganan’s disgust at coffee.

    Whims shrugs guiltily, “He said he didn’t need it anymore.”

    Tinkara boils with barely contained rage, “Did you eat my flesh?”

    “He disposed of it,” Ganan says, firmly, “We don’t want it falling into the wrong hands.”

    “In lieu of Yochanan being here,” Melody steps in smoothly, “I think Jin and I should get down to the siege strider and put in another day’s practice. I need to see to Clapper first. Ganan and Whims should stay here and finish that arm. Tinkara, why don’t you come with us: get some… ‘fresh air’?”

    Tinkara grumbles something about being underground and all the air being the same, but reluctantly gets ready to go ‘out’. Jin makes no move to get ready.

    “What are you going to do, bathe all day again?” Ganan asks, looking up from his work.

    “I don’t have to rush,” Jin says calmly, taking another sip of coffee, “Melody said she wanted to see Clapper first, I have hours.”

    ****

    It doesn’t take hours for Melody to finish checking in on Clapper, but Jin is still ready to go before her. The Jadeborn workday begins with a bustle, which soon turns into a commotion. Yochanan appears, flanked with armed Jadeborn guards who escort Melody and Jin back to their room and proceed to tear the Exalt’s spire apart.

    “What’s this all about Yochanan?” Melody asks indignantly.

    “There’s been an incident in the workshop. We are the prime suspects. I have an alibi, you do not.” He stares pointedly at Cynis Jinabar.

    “What kind of incident?” Ganan snaps, “What exactly are you accusing us of?”

    Yochanan says nothing until the Jadeborn have finished their search. They exchange a few words in a language our heroes do not speak, then the Jadeborn leave.

    “Yochanan,” Melody demands, “What are we being accused of?”

    “It seems,” Yochanan begins slowly, his eyes not leaving Jin, “That Lady Magnificent visited the workshop last night. She tried on a suit of armor that Hiram’s finest artisan had just completed that night. In the morning, the theft of several tools, and the armor itself was discovered.”

    Jin burns with righteous indignation, “That damned thief! How did she find us?”

    “The Jadeborn suspect that we are in cahoots with her.” Yochanan says. He breaks Jin’s gaze to cast a slow look around the room.

    “Well, we’re not!” Ganan bristles, “I owe her an ass-kicking for starters, she’s ruined Jin’s life, and Melody spent the night with m-... we can account for Melody’s whereabouts.”

    Melody casts a suspicious eye on Jin, “And Jin’s and Tinkara’s: they both locked themselves in their rooms all night. And the elevator platform was deactivated.”

    Ganan goes back to his work on Tinkara’s new arm, clearly having lost interest in the conversation.

    “We believe that Lady Magnificent climbed the workshop spire.” Yochanan says, addressing Melody.

    “If you’re accusing me, I don’t climb. I don’t even like walking places. I ride a six-ton giant lizard.”

    “Ganan could have made the climb.” Yochanan shoots back.

    “Ganan was in bed and isn’t a woman.” Ganan says as he works on the fine joints between the phalanges, “Melody and Jin should be drilling in the siege strider. I can’t work with Tinkara looking at me like that. Don’t you have something productive you could be doing?”

    Yochanan has a short conversation with Tinkara in Dovaki before addressing the others, “Tinkara and I will prepare for the attack. The army arrives tomorrow night and we shall strike at first light.”

    Jin, Melody, Yochanan, and Tinkara take the elevator down. The Dovaks go in one direction and the Dragon-Blooded go for the siege strider. Whims and Ganan are left alone in the room.

    Ganan looks up from his work, “Did you eat Tinkara’s arm meat?”

    Whims tosses his hair indignantly, “You said you didn’t need it!”

    ****

    Ganan completes the carving of Tinkara’s arm. The wooden prosthetic is oversized, and whilst it is a detailed replica of human anatomy (minus muscles and vasculature) it is not in any way functional. As a component for Ganan’s sorcery, it is clearly valuable, and though Tinkara and Melody don’t return for many hours, Whims is certainly impressed with the level of craftsmanship (-10SP: 9GP, 4SP).

    “What else can you make, Breaker?” Whims asks with a devilish curiosity.

    Ganan shrugs, “Anything, I guess. Come on, let’s get my staff back.”


    Ganan and Whims go to retrieve his traveler’s staff. The Jadeborn give them suspicious looks as they pass, but Ganan doesn’t pay them any attention.

    “Breaker, I don’t have a ranged weapon. And these Mountain Folk all have crossbows. Let’s go shopping!”

    Ganan shakes his head at him, “After the theft last night, I don’t think they’re going to sell us a crossbow.”

    Whims smiles and takes his hands, gazing into his eyes, “Not a crossbow. Crossbow parts.”

    The Jadeborn are not willing to sell them a crossbow, but they will sell strips of steel, wire, and wood stock, which Whims purchases charmingly in quantities far larger than they need, whilst Ganan scowls in the background. They return to their room and after a little trial and error, Ganan constructs a functional crossbow complete with a stack of bolts with hardened steel tips (-10SP: 9GP, 3SP).

    ****

    Siege Strider lessons are boring. Melody isn’t allowed to drive the machine, instead having the controls and read-outs meticulously explained to her by Jade Walker. The explanations require remedial lessons in mathematics and history – topics a great deal simpler than her instructors tried to beat into her at Pasiap’s Stair, but taught with a great deal less indifference as to whether she grasps them.

    The pretenses for keeping Jin from the machine are flimsier, and she’s kept under constant guard by Jadeborn warriors carrying crystal staffs. Jade Walker sets her meditation tasks to complete, then disappears to instruct Melody.

    It’s dark, or at least the lights in the cavern are dimming, when Jin and Melody return to the tower. Several Jadeborn warriors have been posted outside the tower, no doubt for their protection with dangerous criminals on the loose.

    Tinkara has beaten them back, and her prosthetic sits on the low table in front of the sofa Ganan was working on.

    “Do you want me to attach that?” She offers, not seeing any leather straps or padding on the false arm.

    “It needs to bake.” Ganan calls from the bedroom.

    “Well bake it!” Melody shouts back.

    Ganan walks into the room, “It’s an expression.” He points out runes carved into the wood and Tinkara’s bones, “The parts need to fuse on an Essential level. This needs incantations, runes,” He looks at Tinkara, “A little fresh blood. Five more days before it’s ready to graft. Then a week for the magic to take root in Tinkara’s body.”

    “Oh, so it’s not finished yet? You want to add some padding and straps and stuff?” Melody asks. She goes to pick it up, then sees Ganan’s face and decides that maybe the magic will work better if she doesn’t touch it.

    “No. It’s going to be an uncomfortable week. They need to heal together, flesh-to-wood, no intermediaries.”

    Jin spots Whims’s crossbow, “Where did you get that?” She asks suspiciously.

    “Breaker made it for me,” Whims says emerging from the bedroom, “Do you want one?”

    “You learned how to make crossbows in one day?” Melody asks, somewhat impressed.

    Ganan shrugs, “Not that different to a regular bow, I don’t see what the fuss is about. The Mountain Folk seem to have an intricate loading system that I haven’t worked out yet – I’d have to study one of their devices up close – but the basic design was easy enough.”

    “Any news on Lady Magnificent?” Whims asks, “Did they catch her yet?”

    “No,” Yochanan says stiffly, “But she’s about your build. And I know you could scale these buildings.”

    “He was with me.” Ganan says, moving to stand by Whims’s side.

    “Whilst he was eating my arm?” Tinkara asks pointedly.

    “Easy,” Melody calms them, “We’re all here to defeat Oka and the Mask of Winters. Turning to infighting because a thief with a grudge against House Cynis… stole some hammers? Come on! Whims has fought by our side against the dead. He’s not slit our throats in our sleep. We know Lady Magnificent is operating in Dovak. We know she’s a very capable thief. Let’s not turn on each other. There’s no reason to suspect that she’s anything but a free agent, doing whatever she wants – there’s no reason to suspect us,” And here she gestures to herself, Whims, and Ganan, “Of helping her. We,” She gestures to Ganan and herself, “Have fought against her.”

    Yochanan calls them to gather round the high table and he lays out a stack of notes and illustrations, “Regardless, we have a war to plan – and infighting, whether by turning on each other with accusations or stealing from our allies, only helps our enemies. Gather round, and we’ll go over the plans.”

    The others start to gather round Yochanan, but he casts a sneer at Whims.

    “I’ll just… be in my room,” Whims excuses himself.

    “Tinkara and I have already formulated the plans,” Yochanan says in a low voice, “The north side of the city is the one most densely populated by the dead, so that’s where you’ll hit with the siege strider. You’ll hit from the north west, with Tomonas’s lair behind you.”

    “It’s also the most heavily defended,” Jin says, “There’s the palisade, crucified sentries, ditch.”

    “Which is why they’ll only have a third of the army with them. Tinkara and I will lead a strike force through the escape tunnels to attack the palace directly.”

    “Déjà vu,” Melody quips.

    Ganan shrugs, “If it works, but Oka knows about the tunnels. They might not have been guarded last time, but that’s easy enough to explain – he expected that only Tinkara would know about them and he wanted her to attack through them. Now he knows we’re in play, won’t you meet stiff resistance?”

    Yochanan smiles, “Oka knows we’ll come in person. He won’t be able to resist fighting us himself. But it’ll be a tunnel fight, his best against mine – he won’t be able to bring weight of numbers to bear, and I like my chances against any of the greater dead. The point of the strike isn’t to win, it’s to take Oka out-of-play.”

    “Wait… so the siege strider is a distraction for the strike team, which is also another distraction?” Jin asks, “For what?”

    “I want the bulk of our forces deployed to east side of the city – striking from the river. Oka will commit his army to stopping the siege strider, and there are no crossings or tunnels on the eastside: it will be all but undefended. Ganan can lead the Jadeborn over the river and into the city, the army can save the living, and start an uprising in the city. Once we take the city from the inside, the dead will be caught between the siege strider and our walls. Then you’ll be able to take the palace, and we’ll trap Oka between us.”

    “Oka is one of the Unclean,” Ganan reminds him, “He’s not so easily trapped.”

    “You mean he’s one of the Twilight Caste,” Tinkara challenges, “And that they can escape to a place of power.”

    Melody sees the tension between Ganan and Tinkara, “What’s a Twilight Caste?”

    “It’s an archaic name for the Unclean: how they identify among themselves. Many heretics have come to think as the Anathema as ‘saviors’ for conquering the land with their armies of the dead and are trying to bring back the old nomenclature as a form of worship for their dark gods.” Ganan spits with obvious contempt, “They think the Realm ‘evil’ for protecting civilization from the horrors of the Anathema.”

    “We think the Realm evil because you enslave and murder our people! You butcher our gods! You rape-” Tinkara stops mid-rant, looking nauseated, “The Solar Exalted once ruled Creation.”

    “Yes, they did,” Ganan says with a quiet seriousness, “And they did everything you accuse the Realm of doing. The horrors of the Solar rule, their madness, are well documented. The Solars made themselves enemies of Creation, and you’ve seen what they’ve done to your precious Dovak. We are underground now, because the Solars forced the Jadeborn underground. The Dragon-Blooded honor our allies, the Jadeborn. That’s why Yochanan needs us to lead their armies. We extract our rightful tribute, true, but we don’t murder your citizens and raise them as undead zombies. The Gift of Merciful Silence deserves the name ‘Unclean’: Oka Dovak may have been your nephew once, but now he is one of the demonic Anathema – not because he wields unholy power, but because he wields it against Creation. If I did to Dovak what Oka has done, I would expect you to call me Anathema as well.”

    “Irrelevant,” Jin says firmly, “The Oka is a sorcerer, I presume it’s his magic that makes him hard to trap?”

    “He can teleport,” Yochanan confirms, “Dissolve into nothingness and reform in a place of power. His nature as a Deathknight means he favors places seeped in death.”

    Melody slams her fist into her palm, “The Heartrot Tree. If we’re sweeping in from the North West, we can take the tree and tune it to the Underworld. I can’t think of anywhere else that’s as great a place of power, and tuned to the Underworld it will draw him for sure!”


    “It also fulfills the Mask of Winter’s plans and unleashes the Underworld on Creation!” Jin snaps, “Bad idea!”

    “You’re both right,” Yochanan confesses, “If we don’t do something, he could appear anywhere. He’ll slip past us and escape. We can force him to manifest at the Heartrot Tree (although that’s likely the absolute limit of his powers), but not without unleashing the Mask of Winters on Creation once more.”

    “Capturing Oka is not worth unleashing the Mask of Winters. We topple Oka, and go back to our lives, and if King Yochanan wants Realm help running down his wayward son, he can pay his damn tribute. Otherwise, that’s your problem, not ours. We’re here to stop the Mask.” Jin says firmly.

    Melody appeals to Ganan, “Gan, you don’t like leaving a job half-done. You’ve seen what happened last time we left Dovak in the hands of these mortals – they didn’t stop Oka then, there’s no reason to think they could stop him now. Unless we take care of Oka, we’re not stopping the Mask of Winters, we’re just delaying him for another year. I for one have no desire to make the return to Dovak to topple a Deathknight a yearly recurrence.”

    “We’re not unleashing the Mask of Winters. If we can capture Oka, so much the better, but we shan’t be ransoming the servant for the master.” Ganan says, giving Jin a nod to show he supports her.

    Melody seethes.

    ****

    Our heroes agree the specifics of their plan. Yochanan has prepared for almost every eventuality – he has been plotting this campaign for months, bringing the others into his confidence only now to shore up the last details. Eventually the heroes retire to bed.

    “You could have backed me up about stopping Oka!” Melody rounds on Ganan as he starts to undress.

    Ganan stops and turns to face her, “You’re right, Oka needs to be stopped. But not at that price. You were wrong, that’s why I didn’t back you.”

    “You would have backed Reya!” Melody accuses.

    “I have known you for years. We have fought side-by-side. You are my friend, my lover, my sworn kin. I have known Alinos Danireya for decades. She has saved my life more times than I can count. She is my wife, the mother of my children, my matriarch. One day you will earn the trust I place in her.”

    “So, it’s like that.” Melody rues, bitterly.

    Ganan takes her by the shoulders, “I know you want vengeance for your friends who died at Thorns. But this isn’t the way. You need to trust me: I have fought against the Mask’s forces for a year. I will help you to bring an end to all of this, but not like this.”

    Melody seems about to object when Whims takes hold of her from behind. He holds her close and croons in her ear, “Surely there’s something more productive we can be doing with such a great battle on the horizon than tearing each other apart? Some kind of team-building exercise, maybe?”

    “I’m still mad at you!” Melody warns as she relaxes into Whims’s embrace.

    ****
    Fade to black. ****

    Next morning, Yochanan arrives early with a Jadeborn worker at his side and gives a short speech to the heroes:

    “The army arrives tonight. We march on Dovak in the early hours of tomorrow morning: we’ll leave the hour before dawn. Turn in early tonight… and (I don’t believe I have to say this as you’re all related to each other or dead) abstain from sexual activity. I need you awake and vital. Jin and Melody, come with me, we need to work on your skill with the siege strider. Tinkara, you’d better come too. Ganan, this is ‘Shrut’ – he will give you a foundational course in repairing the Strider in the field. If I had my way, we would have drilled with the army, but you’ve tipped our hand and we’ll just have to make do and trust that the Jadeborn are more disciplined than you.”

    He motions for Tinkara, Jin and Melody to follow him.

    “Y’all know we’re not related right?” Melody says as she approaches, “It’s important to me that you know we’re not related.”

    “Wait!” Ganan calls, “Before Tinkara goes, I need a little blood. Doesn’t have to be palm blood – stump blood would be best.”

    Tinkara gives a tight nod, and Melody draws off a couple of vials of blood for Ganan. Yochanan and the women depart, leaving Shrut with the men. Ganan tends to Tinkara’s new arm, scribing glyphs whilst the others let him work. Shrut examines the crossbow prototypes Ganan discarded as Ganan wraps up with Tinkara’s arm. Whims shows the Jadeborn the finished product. Finally, Shrut begins instructing Ganan in basic Jadeborn crafting techniques.

    ****

    Tinkara directs Melody on where to drive the siege strider. Its movements are more fluid now, and the array of controls and read-outs are more comprehensible. Tinkara also calls targets to Jin who easily dispatches them. Jadeborn security stand-by, but Melody and Jin don’t try to steal the siege strider.

    ****

    The Dragon-Blooded regroup in the early evening. Yochanan sends them provisions: a thick paste of flavorless fungi (the mechanical pipes in their quarters providing clear drinking water). Extra has been provided in wax packages to fill tomorrow’s rations and the day after that. Our heroes grimly pack the food away and make sure their canteens are full, before turning in for an early night.

    ****
    Fade to black
    ****

    Our heroes wake early, dress, and are ready to go before Yochanan sends for them. Melody retrieves Clapper and they march out of the city. The promised Mountain Folk army does not disappoint: the force is impressively huge, armed with the same crossbows and crystal spears of Yochanan’s advance force – though these Jadeborn also wear thick armor. Jin pilots the siege strider: it is an awkward business, but her skills are more than adequate to walk the giant war-machine in a straight line.

    They march on Dovak by the tunnels, splitting into their three battlegroups as they draw close. The exit tunnel is not, quite, wide enough for the siege strider. Melody climbs into the cockpit as Jin takes the gunner’s position. Melody deftly marches the siege strider forward and uses the machines powerful claws to smash the tunnel wider.

    Melody’s forces proceed unsubtly through the forest. Unridden, Clapper smashes trees indiscriminately as it marches – the disciplined Jadeborn giving it a wide berth. The strider itself shakes the ground as Melody ramps it forward and the Jadeborn army marches hard in its wake.

    Yochanan, Tinkara, and the best of the Jadeborn warriors make for the secret escape tunnel from the palace.

    Ganan, Whims, and the bulk of the Jadeborn force march under the river to take up position on the western side of Dovak.

    ****

    No outriders sally forth to meet Melody’s forces, but the Dragon’s approach the city they see their unsubtle approach has drawn the dead to the walls (which Ganan built) that defend the city. Ranked zombies slather to be unleashed whilst the more tactical among the dead (mostly ghosts possessing suits of armor) take cover armed with slings and javelins. It is clear that they are vastly outnumbered.

    The morning sun illuminates the army of the dead. The trees surrounding the city have been stripped back and the outlying share-farms burned to create a killing field devoid of cover on the approach to the city’s defenses.

    Jin grimaces as she targets the closest section of palisade – the unmistakable forms of living soldiers can be made out among the army of the dead. Most of them are scurrying to load extra weight onto grotesque spine chains.

    “Jin,” Melody calls up, “Can you hit them from here?”

    “Yes, I can!” Cynis Jinabar snarls as she forces the power of her essence into the siege strider’s cannon. The machine thrums then crackles with energy. Melody braces the siege strider as a great blast of white light pours from the cannon. A large section of palisade disappears – collapsing into nothingness. The enemy forces are yanked toward the center of the explosion (implosion?), scattered into disarray.

    The Jadeborn archers take aim as the spear wielders make ready to charge.

    The zombie army charges forward. The spine chains are released on the flanks. The auxiliaries move forward behind the mass of dead bodies to bring their weapons into range. Darkness blankets the advancing army of the dead. The moans of tortured souls materializing into the unnatural night fill the air.

    “Tell me you can see in the dark?” Melody calls up to Jin, who is already aiming at the dead.

    “Oh, I can see in the dark!” Jin grins, as she takes aim at the body of advancing troops.

    Melody orders the battleline of Jadeborn to cut down the shielding zombies with their crossbow bolts. The Jadeborn unleash a deadly hail of bolts into the darkness.

    ****

    On the western side of the city, on the other side of the river, Ganan and the bulk of the Mountain Folk army emerges into the morning light. Ganan directs them to form up and start to move as stealthily as possible toward the water’s edge.

    ****

    Under the cover of their unnatural darkness, the dead continue to advance. From out of the dark comes a hail of javelins and stones. They plink harmlessly off the siege strider but a handful of the Jadeborn go down.

    A blast of lightning rips from the strider’s cannon, smashing its way through the ranks of the dead. Though the unnatural darkness swallows the light, the smell of burnt flesh and ozone tells of the devastating power behind the blow.

    Melody orders the spear-wielding troops forward as she plows the great siege strider on into the darkness. She swings the powerful claws of the great machine right and left smashing out indiscriminately as she plows through the ranked-up dead.

    The spear wielding Jadeborn plunge into the unnatural darkness. There is a clamor as they find their foes. The archers peal off and move around the darkness, hammering bolts into the sides of the dead’s formation (so as not to hit their own fighters in the melee).

    The weighed spine chains smash into the legs of the siege strider with unerring precision – the undead constructs being able to see perfectly in the unnatural gloom. Melody’s anima whips up as she tries to keep the strider upright. Thorns embed themselves in the delicate control panels and wedge the control levers. Clearly these devices were not built with the Dragon-Blooded in mind.

    “Ah… shit.” Melody curses.

    Jin pops the hatch on the gunner’s cockpit. She faces her palm into the darkness and blasts the spine chains with bolts of elemental fire. She dispatches them easily, turning the corpses into pyres.

    ****

    Ganan and his forces reach the river.

    “Charge!” Ganan bellows as ramparts of obedient earth form bridges across the water and ramps over the city’s outer defenses.

    One thousand five hundred Jadeborn warriors pour into the undefended side of the city. Ganan smirks, pulling his tetsubo out of a prominent pillar of rock that rises at his feet and then charges in after them.

    ****

    Hungry Ghosts protected by the unnatural night descend on Jin, materializing as they climb the siege strider. Jin whips out her wrackstaff with a flick of the wrist and batters away their attacks.

    The zombie hoard clashes against the Jadeborn. Unseen figures in the darkness direct them out of the darkness to close on the crossbow wielders trying to flank them. The zombies move with unnatural speed wheeling against the Jadeborn as they charge from the darkness.

    Melody keeps the siege strider gunning forward: there’s little the dead can do as she tramples over their bodies. The claws of the strider smash apart the rearguard of the dead’s forces as it barrels out from the back of their battle-line.

    Ghosts again descend on Jin, whose anima erupts into a fiery dog that seems to chase in the wake of her wrackstaff as she batters the unnatural foes aside.

    Jin counterattacks smashing the hungry ghosts into ectoplasm. Each one gives a scream of frustration as she disperses their physical forms. Her flaming anima scorches the gunner’s position, flames blazing against the delicate controls.

    ****

    Ganan’s Jadeborn forces split into three “Dragons” as he shouts commands: five hundred troops march to evacuate the living of the city, sweeping through the Western and Southern quarters of the city; five hundred troops lay siege to the Wall of Stone, hoping to breach the palace; and five hundred charge after Ganan as he runs across the city to the swirling darkness encompassing the breach in the northern wall. He immediately becomes aware of the immaterial spirit awaiting him there.

    ****

    The Jadeborn loose their quarrels at point blank range, cutting down the zombies. Melody’s siege strider rampage and Jin’s expert gunnery has torn the heart out of the undead force, and whilst the remaining creatures fight with preternatural strength, the Jadeborn cut them down to size. Darkness still blankets the battlefield, and an unnatural chill worries all those within it.

    An eruption of dirt, stone, and discarded sling bullets storms up in a terrible tempest. Even Jin, high on the back of the siege strider, isn’t immune to the savage attack. The Jadeborn spear-wielders within the darkness break and flee, trying to reach the safety of the light. Even in the pitch darkness, Jin is able to weather the storm, dodging out of the way of the debris – though much of it lands in the open gunner’s cockpit. The remaining greater dead in the middle of the darkness try to group now they have lost their foot-soldiers.

    Melody keeps the siege strider heading forward and feels the crunching of the palisade remains as she barrels her war machine into the city. Jin closes the gunner’s cockpit and slides down the side of the strider, landing on the floor in the darkness.

    Ganan enters the unnatural darkness, his Jadeborn warriors at his side. He extends his senses through the earth: whilst he cannot feel the position of his immaterial nemesis, he can still pinpoint them by listening to the subtle currents of spiritual wind.

    The dead trade fire with the Jadeborn but are unable to make a significant dent in their numbers. Another storm of dirt and debris rocks Jin and the legs of the siege strider, buffeting her and gunking the joints.

    Ganan brings his tetsubo down heavily on the immaterial ghostly commander. He smashes the creature to the ground: neither unnatural darkness nor being intangible protecting the creature from Ganan’s attacks. Blurring with demonic speed, Ganan hits the downed ghost again, smashing its corpus to pieces and dispersing its essence like dust on the wind as he rends it apart on an essential level. The darkness lifts.

    Melody rallies the fleeing Jadeborn, and those few ghosts still in the field flee under the light of the harsh morning sun. The archers cut down the fleeing suits of armor and possessed corpses, but the spirits animating them by-and-large get away.

    Jin directs the newly combined force to sweep the city, she nods at her brother’s tetsubo, “Can that thing knock down the palace walls?”

    Ganan shakes his head, “Given enough time, but I was thinking you could use that!” He points at the siege strider’s cannon.

    Melody looks at him in disbelief, “You want us to fire on the palace inside a city full of civilians? That’s nuts!”

    “I built main street wide enough to walk Clapper through it: you can get a clear shot. Just aim at the ground in front of the main gate. Or you could try and walk the claws into range.”

    Melody examines the read-outs in front of her: the siege strider is good for a handful of steps, but it’s not reaching the gates. “Jin, do you think you can hit that?”

    “Hit the ground?” Jin withers sarcastically as she climbs back in the cockpit, “I think I can manage that, just give me a good angle.”


    The machine gives a groan of protest as Melody spurs it forward. Her anima intertwines with the controls pulling them apart. Jin’s anima, burns in the cramped confines of the gunner’s position: seals melting. Together they aim at the spot in front of the main gate and the cannon powers up again: the mechanical noises of the machine do not sound healthy but the weapon powers up and fires. A black void engulfs the space in front of the main gate: it seems to shine with a blinding darkness, like looking into a bright light, then when it dissipates the gate, and a large chunk of the ground and surrounding walls, have disappeared – completely atomized. The siege strider gives a mechanical whine then powers down.

    Melody retrieves the Gateway Key, pops the cockpit and clambers down the machine, drawing her bow, “Well, it was nice whilst it lasted.” She whistles up Clapper, then looks up the strider to Jin, “Are you coming?”

    Jin smiles down apologetically, “Go ahead without me!” She shouts, “I’ve melted the cockpit shut, I can pry it open, but it’ll take me a couple of minutes.”

    “I can get her out!” Ganan says, approaching the siege strider, but Melody lays a hand on his arm.

    “Quickly, but without damaging the machine?” Melody asks. Ganan shakes his head. “Then leave her, come on, let’s finish this.”

    Melody and Ganan charge into the Wall of Stone. The flames inside the gunner’s cockpit transmute into twisting vines as Lady Magnificent retrieves her stolen power armor and suits up.

    ****

    “You want to go room-to-room?” Ganan asks walking ahead of Melody with his tetsubo ready.

    “No,” Melody commands swiftly, “Let them run: we go straight to the tunnel to reinforce Yochanan.”

    “They could ambush us,” Ganan notes as he makes a beeline for the hidden escape tunnel.

    “Just saves us the trouble of looking for them. Why go room-to-room if we can lure them to us?” Melody smirks.

    Ganan smirks, “I see no problem with that logic.”

    ****

    Lady Magnificent pops the fully operational hatch of the siege strider. Her flaming anima blazing as she climbs out of the machine and heads into the Wall of Stone. She proceeds to stalk through the rooms, stealing valuables.

    ****

    The escape tunnel is pitch black: unnaturally dark and swallowing all light. Unseen hands grope at our heroes, clutching and them and dragging against them as they press forward. Harrowing echoes of mad, dead-gods, whisper on the fringes of their minds. The ominous dread Melody and Ganan feel is not precisely the same as when they fought Ebonheart the Lightbringer or The Keening Shriek of Mother's Love Lost, but it is the same quality of power. It sets their teeth on edge.

    All sounds are muted as they push forward, but the noises of combat – the ringing of blades on steel, the groaning shuffle of zombies, and Yochanan’s bellowed shouts penetrate through.

    Ganan runs face first into a large dead bulk. A pair of undead buck-ogres fill the tunnel from side-to-side. They turn slowly to face Ganan and Melody.

    Melody can’t see through the gloom she can feel the unnatural presence of the undead. She fires a shot at them.

    Ganan smashes his tetsubo into the staggered beast. The massive pillar of jade smashes into the creature’s chest. The force animating the ogre leaves its body and it falls to the ground, but even as it falls, the imploding body sucks in Ganan’s tetsubo and wrenches it from his hands.

    The remaining ogre swings a table-like fist at Ganan, who throws up his arms to guard his body. The blow drives the wind out of him.

    A press of zombies pours over the downed ogre’s body, cutting Ganan off from his tetsubo. The slash out at Ganan with their claws, and he batters their attacks aside.

    The Dragon-Blooded’s animas seem to rage against the undead whispers. They blot the screaming madness from their minds.

    In the heartbeats before death, Melody shoots the remaining ogre. The clumsy looking beast raises a hand to defend itself and the arrow embeds in its palm. Melody struggles to move back the way they came, away from the press of zombies.

    The buck-ogre makes an awkward double handed pass at Ganan. Ganan ducks under the first blow with ease, but with the second the monster grabs Ganan, pitting its unnatural, dead, strength against the Dragon-Blooded’s. Ganan leverages his body even as the ogre lifts him into the air and slams him into the ground. Ganan spits up a wad of blood as spectral hands clutch at him pinning him to the floor of the tunnel.

    The zombies fall on Ganan with raking claws, tearing at his flesh. They rip open wounds in his invulnerable bronze. More of dead pour past Ganan to slash at Melody, who ducks under their attacks.

    Ganan punches a hand through the press of the zombies and grabs the buck-ogre by the leg. Bronze fingers smash through rotten flesh as Ganan grips hard bone. Ganan throws his arm up into the air lifting the massive creature off the ground. The buck-ogre tips and falls with a tremendous crash. Ganan keeps his grip tight, leveraging the tremendous weight of the creature to help pull him to his feet.

    The ogre lands heavily, but Ganan doesn’t stop once on his feet. He smashes into the zombies with sweeping two-handed strikes. The zombies collapse under his furious assault as Ganan pushes his way through to his tetsubo. The zombie battle-line falters and Ganan wrenches his massive jade weapon from the buck-ogre corpse.

    The Dragons close their hearts to the insults and temptations trying to claw their way into their minds.

    If the zombies could think, they would be able to feel the tide turning against. The buck-ogre roars and rolls onto its front, trying to push itself to its feet. Ganan looms over the creature and smashes his tetsubo down on its back, breaking its spine and destroying the beast.

    Melody punts arrows into the nearest zombies, dropping them as she gives a war-cry pressing forward.

    Ganan laughs as the zombies try to claw at him. He batters their reaching arms away with tetsubo with contemptuous ease.

    ****

    Lady Magnificent has filled her pockets with Cynis trinkets and Dovaki riches. She has condensed her anima to orbiting balls of flame, which swirl around her as she blazes with power. She fires the occasional blast of fire at any fool who tries to stop her from looting the palace. She takes a rich tapestry off the walls and turns it into a crude sack to make it easier to carry more loot.



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

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    • #92
      Session 75 Part 2 of 2:

      Ganan’s anima smashes into the zombies, driving them into the ground.

      Melody pushes her way through the darkness, “Gan?” She calls out falteringly into the darkness, “I… I don’t feel too good.” Bile rises in the back of her throat as she nocks another arrow. It flies into the darkness and takes out a single zombie.

      Ganan blocks out the temptations of the eldritch dead. “Keep pushing forward!” He bellows as he smashes the remaining zombies into gore and splintered bone.

      OH, DO KEEP PUSHING FORWARD.

      The temptations and mad whispers of the Neverborn give way before the singular thought as Leshak taunts them.

      Ganan stops in his tracks and raises his tetsubo – his Earth Sense can’t detect the creature. He strains his ears trying to pinpoint Leshak in the narrow tunnel. His tetsubo hums with power.

      Melody gropes forward in the dark feeling the presence of her heathmate in front of her. “Kick. His fucking. Ass.”

      A rough crinkling, liked dead leaves and broken sticks, echoes around the tunnel as Leshak laughs at the Dragon-Blooded before it. They are neither able to see nor feel what the creature does in the darkness.

      Ganan wades forward through unseen dead hands that drag at him, slowing him down. He swings his tetsubo in a wide arc through the darkness. He hits nothing but empty air as he tries to pinpoint Leshak’s position.

      Melody closes her eyes (it makes no difference in the darkness) and strains her ears to listen for Leshak. The eerie nature of the necromantic darkness distorts sound – phantom noises, distortions, and mystic silences beguile her senses.

      Leshak focuses its energy on Ganan as he swings wildly in the darkness. An invisible pulse emanates from the creature: the pain of death, stretched endlessly and forged into a spiritual weapon. Ganan’s temples throb, but he stays on his feet and grips his tetsubo harder.

      Do you call this pain?” Ganan taunts, forcing his body to keep moving forward despite the wracking agony, “I will teach you pain, abomination.” Ganan brings his tetsubo down in an overhead strike, aimed directly at the middle of the tunnel. There’s a dull thud, a hammer hitting old, dead wood, as Leshak blocks the blow with its large, branch-like arm. Leshak had been hovering above the ground, Ganan’s Earth Sense feels as the creature’s “feet” are driven down to touch the ground, but his blow does not topple the creature.

      Melody sights eerie green light in the pitch darkness, as the animating energy of Leshak’s body starts to leak from the place Ganan struck it. She feels out Ganan’s position through their mystic link, and estimates the position of their foe, firing out into the darkness. Her shot tears at Leshak’s bark, revealing more green light in the unnatural darkness.

      YOU KNOW NOTHING OF PAIN, FLESH THING! Leshak pulses with deathly power. It’s green light throbs and Ganan feels the same beating as it pulses in time with the agony with him. It feels like maggots squirming behind his eyes. Leshak brings its wounded arm high into the air and sends it crashing down into Ganan. Ganan roots his feet upon the Earth as the blow strikes, staying upright despite the battering-ram force of Leshak’s blow. Ganan exhales heavily as the blow crashes against him, and he struggles to raise his guard again.

      Melody fires again, but Leshak smashes the arrow mid-air with a wave of psychic force.

      I WILL TEAR YOU APART PIECE BY PIECE CREATURE OF BLOOD! YOU WILL BEG FOR DEATH AT THE MASTER'S FEET!Leshak focuses its mental energy on Ganan, rending him with the power of the Labyrinth. Ganan screams in wild agony under the assault.

      Ganan draws on the totality of his power for a desperate attack. Calling on Ndiza’s speed from his Yasal crystal, he smashes out with a hard body-blow into Leshak’s bulk. The creature hardly seems to register the blow, only twisting harder with the mental hooks driven into Ganan. But then Ganan strikes again, surging the last of his spiritual reserves into a mighty attack directed at the creature’s legs. Ganan’s white jade smashes into Leshak, sweeping it onto the floor. The unnatural darkness lifts as Leshak’s concentration breaks, and the tunnel is immediately flooded with the white and green light of the Dragon-Blooded’s bonfire animas. Ganan doesn’t let up his assault, turning his tetsubo on Leshak’s head. Thunder’s Crash smashes Leshak’s grotesque wooden face to pulp.

      The rest of the tunnel is thrown into relief. A force of zombies stands with their back to them, pressing down the tunnel to fight some unseen foe – presumably Yochanan’s force. A pillar of semi-translucent blackness exists near the front of the zombies. The Dragon-Blooded see… something: a pale purple shape, glinting with unnatural green light, writhing in the blackness.

      But beyond the blackness, they see something else.

      Ganan had always described the light of his anima “white”: the pure white of the most perfect sand, like white-jade dust. He now feels foolish as he sees an anima of perfect white – the light that falls upon that sand and gives it its whiteness – framed with brilliant gold. Melody can’t explain why that light fills her with feelings of “hope” and “unity”, but she feels indelibly that they and Yochanan are united in a righteous cause against the army of the dead.

      Leshak is still active, apparently its head is an optional part of its being. Melody fires a shot at the creature’s core, laden with her killing intent. The arrow buries itself deep into the creature and the green light that spills from the wound is almost blinding. Melody advances forward to Ganan’s side.

      Ganan twists his tetsubo smashing into the downed Leshak’s body, sending the creature skidding along the tunnel floor into the mass of zombies. He breathes heavily, Leshak’s psychic assault still distracting him with raging agony, and stomps heavily after the creature.

      The mass of zombies doesn’t seem to notice as the giant tree-like creature barrels into their rear line.

      Leshak’s bark begins to crack as the powerful light within it spills out, uncontained and uncontrollable. As it rises from the ground the light seems to find the eyes of the zombies, who turn, glowing with malevolent power, and advance on Ganan and Melody.

      Ganan charges at the zombies as they lurch toward him with outstretched claws. Ganan brings his tetsubo down on the lead zombie, smashing past its reaching hands… but the blow does nothing. Ganan hits with force that would shatter a brick wall, but the zombie doesn’t even flinch as its fellows flank Ganan.

      Melody fires a shot into the zombies as Leshak spreads its branch-like arms wide – its wounds seem to open wider as more of that green light spills forth. Her arrow strikes a zombie directly in one of its glowing green eyes. Melody has driven arrows through reinforced breastplates at this range with her powerbow, but this arrow splinters into fragments – as if a mortal archer had shot an inch of solid steel. The zombie isn’t even scratched and now the zombies start to glow, not just bathed in Leshak’s green light but giving off their own unnatural, green anima. Without its twisted wooden face, it’s even harder to ready Leshak’s expression, but the creature doesn’t carry itself like a badly battered being on the verge of losing – it seems to radiate poise and confidence.

      “Fall back, Gan! Switch to fire!” She calls out as she backs away from the ponderously moving zombies.

      Ganan backs away, ducking the clumsy, grasping arms of the zombies. He brings his Dragon-Sigh Wand to bear.

      Leshak and the body of zombies advance on the Dragon-Blooded. The zombies seem to move ponderously, slowly, but their pace seems implacable: even though the Dragon-Blooded can easily outpace them, they don’t seem to get any further away from the dead. Time and space seem distorted: the tunnel behind them seems to stretch on forever, and the gap between them and the zombies seems to be getting smaller, no matter how quickly the Dragon-Blooded move – like the physics in a nightmare.

      Melody fires on Leshak. The creature’s attention is momentarily broken as it swats the arrow from the air: as it blocks the blow, the advance of the zombies falters momentarily.

      Ganan thumbs a firedust cartridge into the breach of his weapon and fires. A jet of flame washes over the creature and the zombie advance halts as their leader burns. A mental headache, Leshak’s wordless, psychic scream, pierces the Dragon-Blooded.

      The green aura of the zombies dies. They rush forward, as the Dragon-Blooded keep one step ahead of their grasping claws, but only just. The start of the escape tunnel comes back into sight.

      KILL THEM! KILL THEM! Leshak roars.

      Ganan reloads his weapon as he backs away from the zombies. Melody also backs away, but the zombies keep pace, spurred on by Leshak’s necromantic command. Melody shoots an arrow into the lead zombie, thanking the Mela as her shot strikes true and destroys the creature.

      The remaining zombies trample their fallen comrade as they close with the Dragons. Melody ducks and weaves through the creatures, her anima coming into bloom as she dodges under their attacks. The zombies claw at Ganan and his firewand, pulling at him with rotten claws and interfering with his next shot.

      Melody flips out from among the melee and stands at the entrance to the escape tunnel. She rains arrows into the zombie horde, cutting down those closest to Ganan.

      Ganan turns his firewand point-blank on the zombie horde, burning the remaining dead away to ash. He pushes down the tunnel toward Leshak.

      Leshak aims at Ganan, focusing its mental energy.

      Melody trots after Ganan, “Wait for me, idiot! I only have little legs!”

      Ganan reloads his weapon as he closes into range with Leshak.

      Leshak unleashes another devastating psychic assault – blunting Ganan’s charge with raw pain that ignites Ganan’s deadened nerves. The Dragon-Blooded’s pace slows.

      Melody stops to aim at Leshak. She takes a deep breath to steady herself as she raises her bow.

      Ganan grits his teeth through the pain and raises his firewand. He shoots, but this time Leshak is ready for him. No longer empowering the zombie horde, the creature turns its might into a shield of green light, which funnels the deadly flame away from its body.

      Leshak strides toward Ganan. With a powerful sweep of its arm it strikes Burnt Offering out of Ganan’s hands, sending it clattering to the rocky floor.

      Melody shoots, and her arrow carries away a large chunk of bark as she deals a telling blow. Leshak falters for a moment: the Dragon-Blooded ahead of it, Yochanan behind – the creature realizes it is trapped like a rat in a cage.

      Ganan seizes on the moment of indecision: he throws himself forward and wrestles the creature into a body lock. He plunges a bronze hand between a gap in the creature’s bark: the green light of its core burns like acid, but as expected there is something solid in there. His fingers find the creature’s heart – cold and hard and he squeezes.

      Ganan’s grip on Leshak’s heart is unable to damage the creature, but it immediately falls still, focused entirely on the internal struggle to escape.

      Melody takes careful aim at Leshak once more: aiming at the point in the beast’s belly where Ganan’s hand should be.

      Release. Me. Leshak commands, but its “voice” is weak and raspy.

      Now you know fear. Now you know pain.” Ganan keeps his voice level as he taunts Leshak. His hand feels like it has been flensed to the bone, but he keeps Leshak pinned in place. Ganan spreads his fingers, framing the dead center of Leshak’s heart with a V-shaped gap, no more than three inches wide between his middle and ring fingers.

      It is a target Melody can’t even see – the thick bark of Leshak’s outer form obscuring her shot. Summer Thunder feels warm in her hands. A tranquil feeling of peace – like a hand on her shoulder. A voice in her mind telling her that everything is as it should be. She fires.

      Thorns grow around the shaft of her arrow as it soars through the air, wreathing it in the primal savagery of the elements. The hardened point smashes through Leshak’s rotten bark and embeds in the dead center of the creature’s black heart. The green light is extinguished.

      Ganan withdraws his hand and looks at it – the pain was all in his mind and his arm is undamaged. He pushes Leshak’s wooden corpse to the ground.

      Melody scoops up Ganan’s discarded firewand, and trots past him, “Come on, slow-poke! Yochanan still needs our help!”

      ****

      Ganan and Melody proceed back down the escape tunnel. They arrive, just in time to see The Gift Of Merciful Silence disappear into nothingness as his anima swallows him in its inky-blackness, teleporting him to safety – exactly as Melody predicted.

      Corpses little the ground – destroyed zombies and fallen Jadeborn alike. Tinkara is wounded and downed, but still alive.

      Yochanan Dovak stands proud, surrounded by a halo of white light with the mark of the Deceiver shining golden on his head.

      ****

      Jin spends 8XP to train Supple Viridian Scales. Jin reaches Essence 4.

      Ganan has used 3 Crafts rated at 3+ for 9SP. Ganan spends 10XP to train Threshold Warding Stance. Ganan reaches Essence 4.

      Melody spends 8XP to train Tiger-and-Dragon Combination. She spends 12DX to innovate a new Evocation for Summer Thunder. She spends a further 8DX unlocking Earth-Shaking Behemoth, Invincible God-Beast Hide, Legendary Titan Prana, and Primeval Vitality Lifeblood for Clapper (as well as the Tighten Clutches latent ability). Melody reaches Essence 4.


      NSFW Version of Chapter 7:
      https://drive.google.com/file/d/1qFnBLKeb8ItIB71671KiKJ7X6T4dXtXx/view?usp=sharing



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

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      • #93
        Chapter 8 – Preamble

        The Story Thus Far

        It is the 770th Year of the Realm. Mnemon has ascended to the Scarlet Throne and rules over Creation as the new Empress. She has divided her old Great House into two and disbanded the Great Houses of those foolish enough to oppose her in the Realm Civil War. Though minor pockets of resistance and lawless bandits trouble the Blessed Isle, by-and-large, the Realm’s Dynasts have accepted their new liege. As Mnemon consolidates her hold of the Isle, the Great Houses have been given leave to bring the Threshold back to heel.

        Dreaded Deathlord, the Mask of Winters has been driven from Creation at great cost by the combined might of Lookshy and the Realm. The refugees of the cursed city of Thorns disperse into the Scavenger Lands, bringing with them the Mask’s spies and sleeper agents, whilst the Mask’s last surviving Deathknight, The Gift of Merciful Silence, plots to drag his master back into Creation using an ancient gateway into the Underworld, hidden in the Threshold kingdom of Dovak.

        Alinos Melody, Tepet Ganan and Cynis Jinabar returned to Dovak at the behest of the Wanderer, Yochanan Dovak, The Gift of Merciful Silence’s father and rightful king of Dovak. Each of the Dragon-Blooded has holes in their memories, their minds twisted by powerful magics. Together with Yochanan’s army of Jadeborn warriors our heroes liberated the kingdom from the Deathknight, though The Gift escaped and Yochanan was first to reveal himself as an Anathema – one of the vile Deceivers.

        Four weeks have passed as our heroes brood upon what to do next…


        ****

        Sorry, updating this is really hard.

        All my write-ups read like The Ganan Show, and I'll gloss over an off-hand joke that comes up as a main plot point two sessions later. It's really hard to pay attention to what the other characters are doing whilst playing (I really didn't expect it to be this hard).

        That said, the full Chapter 8 NSFW write up: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1wim...ew?usp=sharing

        (There's one gratiutious sex scene in Session 77 and a plot relevant sex scene in 79. If anyone really wants to read a censored version, I'll create one.)

        Chapter 79 talks a lot about Ganan and Jin's backstory. Here's some cliffnotes:

        When Ganan was 21, he was paralysed from the waist down in an accident. This causes him to search Creation for a doctor capable of healing the damage.
        Years later, his journey takes him to Paragon with his 10-year-old sister, Jin.
        There Ganan seeks out a healer, a mysterious (almost mythological figure) El Curador.
        In Paragon, Ganan meets Aharon Saber-Edge and purchases the Saber-Edge ancestral sword from a pawn-broker.
        Aharon and Ganan start a relationship.
        El Curador and their demonic assistants heal Ganan, who leaves Paragon to teach at the Heptagram (and file a report on El Curador to Ragara Bhagwei).
        Time passes, the events of Chapter 3 transpire.
        Ganan and Reya marry, Aharon Saber-Edge crashes the wedding and starts a relationship with Jin.

        ****

        Chapter 9 – Preamble (Chapter 8 Spoilers)


        The Story Thus Far

        It is the 770th Year of the Realm. Mnemon has ascended to the Scarlet Throne and rules over Creation as the Empress. Her Dynasty of Seven Great Houses maintains her iron grip on the Blessed Isle, even as the Threshold slips into anarchy.

        Our heroes Tepet Ganan and Cynis Jinabar plan an expedition to the Firepeak mountains in the South West of Creation. Here they hope to find the Jadeborn city of Shining Kren and, from there, an ancient subterranean tunnel leading to a lost First Age City.

        They are led by Dragonsgift of House Saber Edge, Ganan’s estranged, thirty-five-year-old, daughter – one of Creation’s leading archeologists. Their venture funded by Alinos Danireya.

        The Firepeaks hold many dangers and an old enemy awaits them…


        I'm three weeks behind on Chapter 9. Will try to get those written up before we play on Saturday. Got another two or three sessions to go before we wrap Chapter 9.

        I'm going to take over STing for Chapter 10 and we're going to switch over to Exalted Essence if that's at all practicable (I'll wing it). We'll still be 15-20 XP short of Essence 5, but we're going to start at Essence 5 to smooth over inconsistency caused by the change over.
        Last edited by JohnDoe244; 06-03-2021, 02:14 PM.


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

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        • #94
          Session 80 – Into the Fire – Ganan (280XP 224DX, 277/224 spent; 20WhP 83GP 42SP), Jinabar (280XP 224DX, 276/220 spent), Gifty (???XP ???DX, ???/??? spent)

          After two weeks of preparation, our heroes have left the Lap behind to venture into the Firepeak Mountains. Dragonsgift had moved them by sorcerously conjured wind from the city to the mountains, but here insists they travel by foot to avoid the attentions of the Anathema that rule over the wild highlands.

          “Easier to out-run our enemies on a Stormwind!” Ganan grumbles as they hike through the mountains. His skin is not transmuted to invulnerable bronze to save on weight and make the hike easier, but it leaves him feeling naked.

          Jinabar sighs, “Good luck outrunning a Lunar.” She walks with her eyes fixed on the horizon. She leans on her priceless Jade wrackstaff – Calumny – using it as a common walking stick. Unlike Ganan, she’s wearing a full suit of armor – and not just any armor, but the strength-boosting Essence powered armor of the Jadeborn.

          “We’ve been over this,” Dragonsgift says tersely, her eyes flick from side-to-side, straining to see any sign of ambush. Her giant sword, Abrojo, is strapped to her back in a custom sheath. “The bandits of the gem trade routes have been driven further and further north. We don’t want to attract attention.” Something catches her eye, and she raises a fist calling a halt.

          Jin drops to one knee. She starts to glow red with inner fire, then suddenly that inner fire is outer fire – swirling balls of flame orbiting her in a mantle of elemental power.

          Ganan unslings his Dragon-Sigh Wand and holds ready.

          There’s a flurry of movement as two score of mutants spring out from the rock-strewn path. Their skin is cragged and rocky – the exact color of the ruddy mountainside itself. A hyena-faced woman stands on the trail ahead of them, a wicked looking scimitar of Chiaroscuro glass in hand. She points the blade at the Dynasts with a “whoop” ordering the attack. The mutants fall on the Dragon-Blooded with spears and axes.

          “It’s like they’re lining up!” Gifty says with a swing of her blade, clashing against the press of mutant bandits. Abrojo rips through them with vicious tearing; bludgeoning and ripping apart the unfortunates in the front rank. Three fall dead, their blood spilling across the dark red soil of the mountains, staining it bright scarlet. Spears are smashed aside by the unstoppable force of Abrojo’s blows.

          Jin blazes with a spray of flame around her in a broad arc, deflecting attacks away from her with a show of elemental strength. Sparks fly, blinding the bandits closest to her.

          Ganan unleashes with Burnt Offering as the crowd rushes at him. The fire sends them reeling back as he laughs maniacally.

          Gifty snarls menacingly at the mutant bandits, who keep their distance from her.

          Ganan’s hands move like lightning as he sights his enemy whilst chambering another round.

          Jin fires a blast of flame at Janati. The hyena woman screeches as she throws herself to the side as Jin’s elemental blast knocks the wind from her.

          The bandits charge at Ganan and Jin. Spears jab at Ganan as he moves into Earth Dragon Form, his anima rising around him. Jin flicks her wrackstaff out smashing in a broad arc as she deflects the blows of her attackers.

          Jin looks back up the mountainside as Janati withdraws, slipping out of sight. Gifty starts forward toward the bandits who immediately break and flee.

          As Ganan takes aim at the fleeing bandits, Gifty blocks his shot:

          “Let them flee,” She orders, motioning for Jin to stand-down.

          “We should exterminate this filth whenever we get the chance – they’ll only be back, and in greater numbers. These mountains are Anathema territory.” Ganan retorts.

          “That’s exactly why we’re letting them go,” Gifty says steely, “All the traffic over the mountains is liable to be menaced. Three Dragon-Blooded cutting a killing spree is going to call every Lunar in a hundred miles.”

          “Then it’s better that we don’t leave witnesses alive!” Ganan jabs a finger at Gifty. The significant height difference between them makes the gesture less threatening than it could be.

          “If one of the ‘Anathema’ quietly passed through a Satrapy, would that rouse the same response as if they murdered their way through the garrison? Would you prioritize a rumor over a trail of dead bodies?” Gifty sheathes her sword.

          Jin wags a finger at Ganan, “That’s a damn good point, killer.”

          Ganan slings his weapon back over his shoulder, “Whatever. It’s your expedition: lead on.”

          Gifty gestures at Ganan’s anima stretching out to the sky, broadcasting their position. He banishes his spear into his anima, and Gifty leads them off the trail to put some distance between themselves and the site of the battle.

          (“You know,” Jin nudges her brother, “It’s one thing with zombies and demons trying to take over the world, but you don’t have to kill everyone we meet.”

          “I mean, I know I don’t have to…” Ganan chuckles, “Oh, you’re being serious. They’re mutants, they’re not even people! And they attacked us first! It’s self-defense, lighten up.”)

          ****

          Our heroes cross the mountains, trying to combine speed and stealth through the difficult terrain. It’s an arduous trek, one that would challenge any mortal mountaineer, carried out at a merciless pace, but our heroes easily tear through the terrain with the blessings of the Dragons. Eventually, Gifty calls a halt beside a body of water too small to properly be a mountain lake, but too deep to be called a pond.

          She gestures toward a wall of vines covering a cliff-face, which Jin moves aside with Calumny. Behind the plants is a carved stone door, tall enough for Gifty to pass through unbowed and wide enough for the Dragon-Blooded to enter three abreast.

          “Welcome to Shining Kren,” Gifty announces, “Now we just have to get past the door.”

          Jin examines the carved edifice carefully, “Oh, I know this one! ‘Friend!’”

          Nothing happens. Gifty looks at her expectantly. Ganan rolls his eyes.

          “Well, it was worth a shot!” Jin grumbles under her breath as she examines the door.

          It is carved with a series of geometric shapes. None of the parts seem to move and there is no obvious lock, though the shapes could be used as a handle – with a little difficulty, a rope could be secured to them, even, in order to provide more leverage. The cut into the mountainside is deep and the door is heavy.

          “I could knock it down,” Ganan suggests, “And rebuild it behind us, of course.”

          “We could leave it here,” Jin points out, “Ideally, hook it up to a team of horses and drive them forward, but between the three of us, I think we can outpull a team of horses.” She flexes, jokingly.

          Gifty sizes Ganan up for a moment before deciding that she’s probably the strongest of the three. She grabs the door and pulls with all her might, but the door doesn’t budge.

          “You’ve been here before, right?” Ganan asks, pulling a face.

          Gifty scowls at him, “Why would you think that? I’ve never said that! This is the preliminary expedition: we are here now so things like this don’t happen when we bring Reya’s construction crew. Help me lash this!”

          Ganan sighs and makes his way over to the door, “Let’s cheat!” He suggests, pulling out a chisel. With essence-backed speed, Ganan carves behind the sculpted protrusion, making a hole wide enough to loop their rope through (7SP). He tucks the rope through the loop, well anchored into the stone, and he and Gifty pull together. The door shifts an inch, then another, as they drag it open with painstaking slowness.

          Any wildlife that didn’t scatter when the three dragons entered the clearing, now bolts as the door makes a horrible scraping noise. Birds alight, marking their position for any watching. Jin strains in her armor, eyes darting across the mountainside, looking for any sign of attack but seeing nothing.

          Finally, the door swings open. Ganan repairs the hole behind them (1SP). On the inside of the door are two large, brass handles. They resecure the rope on the inside and pull the door closed. As the great stone settles into place, a shaft of sunlight above them strikes a highly polished mirror, reflecting down the corridor before them, illuminating the otherwise dark passage.

          “That’s neat!” Jin remarks as Ganan examines the mirrors.

          The trio proceed on a winding path that leads down and deeper into the mountain. The reflected light starts to grow dim just as the path switches from a gentle slope to a series of steeply cut steps. Jin staggers but keeps her footing. Something activates within her armor and she’s nearly blinded as her view goes from too dim to too bright. She shakes her head and bangs on her helmet and her view goes back to normal – clearly the armor can provide an enhanced sensory suit, but clearly it requires calibrating to human senses and Jin’s essence flow (being unusable in its current state).

          “I’ve got this,” Gifty says, as she unslings her massive, six-foot, blade and shunts her flaming essence into the sword. Fire spills over Abrojo’s teeth, the flicking light catches the Jadeborn mirrors, which reflect it ahead of them – though not as efficiently as at the start of the tunnel. “Father, stay close behind me. Auntie Jin, bring up the rear.”

          The trio proceeds in single file, the Abrojo’s fire lighting the way. Jin cannot shake the feeling of being watched, but every time she looks behind them there’s no-one to be seen. Ganan is oblivious as ever, and if Gifty suspects anything, she does not give it away.

          “Stop that!” Ganan hisses without turning around as Jin jumps at shadows, “You’re making me nervous!”

          “Well, I’m sorry I don’t have as much experience skulking around Mountain Folk tunnels as you do!” Jin hisses back, “We are being followed – I’m sure of it!”

          Ganan turns and indelicately shoves his sister to one side, “Be you friend or foe, show yourself! Let us speak as civilized people and either part in peace or enter into honest battle!” He bellows into the darkness. There is no reply. He turns back to Jin, “There’s no-one there.” He says simply, before trotting after Gifty.

          Jin strains her eyes into the darkness and is momentarily blinded as the enhanced sensory suite of her armor activates again. As she blinks the stars from her eyes, she could swear she sees a scurry of movement in the darkness, but Gifty is not waiting for her and the flicking fire of her sword is growing dimmer. Jin curses and sprints catch up with the others, taking the steep steps two at a time.

          ****

          Ganan clears his throat, awkwardly, “So… you’re tall. Aharon was also tall.”

          “Dad and I are of average height,” Gifty says tersely, “It’s the rest of the world that’s small.”

          Ganan interrupts, “You’re freakishly gigantic!”

          Gifty chuckles, “Not so. Consider – Abrojo is taller than you. All artifact weapons are scaled to someone of my height. Look at First Age architecture – the high ceilings, large archways, sweeping thoroughfares. Even seen Octavian? What makes more sense to you, that a Warstrider be twice my height or that it be two-and-two-thirds of your height?”

          Ganan opens his mouth to protest, then closes it again. He’s convinced that Gifty is messing with him, but he doesn’t have a rebuttal. He tries a different take, “You know, I’m actually older than Aharon…” Gifty doesn’t respond, so Ganan clears his throat and continues, “You might not know this, but my Realm tradition that would make me your mother. This gives you an excellent claim. To be a Dynast.”

          “So instead of being matriarch of a cadet house in good standing, I could be an exiled member of the traitorous House Cynis? Let me weigh that up for a moment. Pass.”

          “Well, there’s a matter of proper procedure, but with your physical prowess, I was thinking House Tepet.”

          “I’ll tell you what father, you pull the strings with the Empress and I’ll take the Tepet name.” Gifty shakes her head derisively.

          Ganan nods enthusiastically, he looks about to say something else, when Gifty holds up a hand for silence, as if she’s heard another attack. Ganan immediately shuts up and braces himself for combat. They go fifty yards before Ganan realizes that Gifty is not braced for combat, and just made the signal to shut him up.

          “So… archeology, sword play… what else are you interested in?”

          Gifty stops, turns, and glares at him as Jin catches up. “What are you doing? What are we doing right now?”

          Ganan rubs the back of his neck and looks over to Jin for support. Gifty’s six-foot long flaming, spiked sword uncomfortably close to his face. “Bonding?” He ventures hopefully.

          Gifty wags a warning finger in his face, “We are here for the greatest treasure since the Scarlet Empress took the Sword of Creation. I needed the backing of a Great House and dad’s hearthmate happened to be on my doorstep. Nothing about this is anything to do with you. I have lived my entire life without you in it, and I’ve done just fine: I have no interest in bonding with you.”

          Ganan looks suitably devastated, taking everything she says at face value, so Gifty turns to lead the way down the corridor. Jin, however, isn’t convinced that Gifty is telling the truth – she seems more interested in shutting Ganan down than anything else.

          ****

          There’s a rattling clack of a dozen crossbows being cocked.

          “I’m afraid you’ll be leaving without your treasure!” A gravelly voice calls out from the darkness.

          Gifty nods to Jin, “Do your thing.”

          “Me? This whole expedition is your idea?” Jin splutters back at her.

          “Archeologist. Renown mistress of the blade. Creations greatest lover.” Gifty ticks off her achievements on her fingers then shakes her head, “But not winning any awards for talky-talk-good.”

          Jin clears her throat, “We are here on behalf of the Realm. Our Empress led a great legion in defense of Urvar under the Imperial Mountain. In the East, my brother and I defended the Jadeborn city of Hiram from the ravages of the Mask of Winters. Jade Walker allowed us to use your wonders to travel to the Penitent, where we learned that once a great tunnel connected Shining Kren to Dijak. We are here in the name of friendship, to offer the Jadeborn the assistance of the Dragon-Blooded. Mountain Folk and Dynasty united in a great project: to restore the route from Shining Kren to Dijak.”

          There’s a moment’s hesitation. A roughly hewn Jadeborn warrior walks forward out of the darkness, its weapon still trained on Jin. “A fanciful tale.”

          Jin approaches, slowly, her arms spread, “We marched on the Darkbrood under the mountain. We saved Hiram. I wear armor forged by Jubilant Ore. My comrades returned to the Blessed Isle by tunnel car. We travelled here by teleportation chamber. There is a tunnel between here and Dijak, and that tunnel is collapsed and filled with vicious cannibals. You haven’t been able to restore it and you’ve had since the turning of the age. Let us help you.”

          The warrior looks suspiciously over its crossbow, “And what’s in it for you and your Realm?”

          Jin shrugs casually, “The greatest treasure since the Scarlet Empress claimed the Sword of Creation. We know there’s a lost city of the First Age in the collapsed tunnels. You allow us to kill your enemies for you and restore your link to Dijak. You allow us the treasures of the lost city on the way.”

          There’s a rasping noise that might be laughter, “Yes, that sounds like an offer made by one of the Exalted. Your reward from this bargain is significantly larger than ours.”

          Jin feigns indignation, “That’s because we’d be doing all the work! Our warriors will fight your enemies. Our workers will clear the rubble. All you need to do is not murder the people working to do you a favor. You risk nothing and you contribute nothing.”

          “We risk everything by letting outsiders pass through our city! Especially in the numbers required to clear the tunnel.” The Jadeborn warrior shoots back.

          “Maybe, but you still don’t contribute as equal partners in the danger and the labor!” Jin presses. She can’t help but smile behind her helmet.

          The Jadeborn warrior is about to make a hasty reply, but catches themselves and considers for a moment, “What’s your name outsider?”

          “I am Cynis Falen Jinabar, this is my brother, Tepet Cynis Ganan, and my niece Dragonsgift of Clan Saber Edge. We represent Great House Alinos, and by extension, the Empress Mnemon.”

          “I am Klar,” After a beat, Klar adds, “Klar the Indefatigable of Shining Kren.”

          Jin bows, graciously, “It is a pleasure to meet you Klar. Perhaps you could lower your weapon?”

          Klar lowers their weapon, “Your proposal is intriguing. It will be presented to the Conclave. You will wait here.”

          “In this empty corridor? Surely the hospitality of the Jadeborn extends… and they’re gone.” Jin sucks her teeth in frustration. The Jadeborn warriors have indeed withdrawn, leaving them in the dimly lit corridor.

          “I think that went well,” Ganan says simply, pulling out a length of metal piping and shaping it with his fingers.

          You would!” Jin snaps.

          “No,” Gifty says evenly, “They didn’t fire on us, I think that counts as going well. I’ve only ever approached this problem from Dijak, this is going a lot smoother than it did over there. Took me a lot longer to get to this point.”

          “Shouldn’t we have started in Dijak then?” Ganan asks, screwing up his brow as he molds a gear and a pair of plungers.

          “I was in Kirighast on business when I learned about the collapsed tunnel.” Gifty explains irritably, “But the blockage is closer to this end, as is my home. I have a few hard-won contacts in Dijak, but frankly, I’d rather not jeopardize them by gambling on House Alinos coming through.”

          “What are you making?” Jin asks, fascinated.

          “Pump.” Ganan explains monosyllabically. He looks up from his work to explain. “Consider,” He begins, holding up the crudely shaped outline of his work, “Two plungers, connected to each other by the thin tube, set at right angles. Each plunger is connected to a gear, such that they move as a single unit – when one plunger extends, it turns the cog and depresses the other plunger, which turns the cog and depresses the first plunger, which turns the cog and extends the first plunger.” Ganan moves the device with his finger to illustrate.

          “A singularly useless device. You’ve managed to take the wheel and make it inordinately complicated and unable to roll.” Gifty rolls her eyes.

          “What if the plungers were Mela-Proof? Airtight. And what if one were to take some lamp oil and burn it under the first chamber?” Ganan asks, his eyes starting to twinkle.

          Jin screws up her brow, “The air in the chamber would expand… extending the plunger.”

          “Turning…” Ganan prompts.

          “The gear. Depressing the other plunger, turning the gear, extending the plunger and depressing the first plunger, which then extends again due to the heat. Pressurized air passes between the chambers, cooling in the second… always the gear turning… you could use this-”

          “For drawing water from a well!” Ganan finishes triumphantly.

          Gifty makes a face, “You could use it to drive a ship. With enough of these, large enough and working in parallel… And a heat source better than lamp oil… red jade perhaps, or a fire elemental… You could retrofit broken Shogunate engines using this technology!”

          Ganan considers for a moment, as he returns to his work, his fingers working on autopilot, “Perhaps…” He muses idly, “Others have tried a boiler system. Driving steam. Tends to explode. Very little chance of this exploding. But the seals have to be perfect…”

          Gifty and Jin watch with fascination as he works. Eventually, the prototype pump is completed. Ganan passes it to Gifty, who channels a slight amount of fire essence into the first chamber. The air expands, driving the plunger and turning the gear – the pump comes into, slow but steady, motion. Despite herself, Gifty is fascinated by the device (10SP), and is still playing with it as the Jadeborn delegation returns, making themselves known.

          ****

          “I am Indomitable Sky,” A brightly colored Jadeborn artisan announces themselves. Their crystalline skin is a bright fuchsia, swathed in magenta robes. “You have met Indefatigable Klar,” She gestures to the stony, grey warrior at her side, “We represent the Conclave of Shining Kren. We have considered your proposal: I will not insult your intelligence by denying knowledge of that of which you speak – there is indeed a blocked car tunnel between Shining Kren and Dijak, and our records suggest there may well be city of your kind lost along the blocked line. But we cannot accept.”

          Unfazed, Jin responds politely, “My I ask why, noble Indomitable Sky?”

          “You have come to us by an ancient route that no Dragon-Blooded has trod in hundreds of years. To the West is a similar tunnel used by the mortals of An-Teng, who hire our mercenaries to fight off the piratical Lintha. But your kind do not use this tunnel: a mighty Lunar warlord controls the mountainside above. If we were to allow you to march your legions into Shining Kren, we would provoke the Lunar and bring war to our home.”

          Jin nods considerately, “As you say, there’s more than one route to the city. We could land in An-Teng and come in from the west. There’s no need to march a Realm Legion in full colors over the mountains.”

          “And you think that Golden-Leaf Liseli will simply allow you to work unmolested to claim ancient first age treasures? We have a delicate peace here, and much as we would love your legions to sweep the Darkbrood filth from the tunnels below ground, we cannot start a war with the wasp-folk above.”

          Jin makes her case, starting to glow with the power of fire, “One way or another, war is coming to Shining Kren. The Realm bears you no ill-will – the Jadeborn of the Blessed Isle are exemplary subjects of Her Imperial Majesty, Empress Mnemon. But the Realm’s reach in the South is stretched: Haborhead simmers in revolt, Chiaroscuro is plagued by bandits and demon cultists – we can no longer secure the Southern Coast. In times past, the Pax Realm secured the profitable trade routes of the coast, and Guild Mercenaries could secure the diamond routes to Gem and the deep south. Now the Guild is bled on the coastal routes and trade from Gem has completely dried up. The Anathema who once grew fat predating diamond caravans have lost their prey – they will turn their eye to other targets. Sooner or later Golden-Leaf Liseli will turn to her closest neighbor – and that’s neither An-Teng nor the Lap. You don’t want to fight a war on two fronts. Let us clear out the enemy below, then stand at our side against the forces of the Anathema above. We respect your right to run your city as you see fit. Urvar pays the tribute the Jadeborn owe the Realm. But the Anathema will enslave your people, steal your riches, and pick the bones from your city. If the Darkbrood don’t conquer you first.”

          Jin’s words clearly shake Indomitable Sky, who responds after a moment’s hesitation, “Very well, a test then.” Sky motions for the Dragon-Blooded to follow as they lead them down the tunnel system, “This tunnel does not connect directly to the city, but it connects to ancillary passages into the tunnel car network. The beasts which dwell in the collapsed tunnel are not Darkbrood in the conventional sense – they are not the servants of dark gods or the creations of ancient primordial origin. They are mortals, of a kind, created thousands of years ago by your Solar Anathema as a race of slaves. Albinos who must hide from the sun and who subsist on a diet of human flesh.”

          “Dune People.” Gifty says grimly, “I’ve encountered them across the Burning Sands. Vicious, but not too challenging.”

          Sky smiles as she stops before a door. The Dragon-Blooded do not recognize the symbol painted in red and black upon the door, but it is not hard to divine its meaning – keep out. The door is triple barred, and the mighty Jadeborn warriors struggle under the weight of the bars as they unlock it. Sky turns to our heroes:

          “This will lead you into the tunnels. Go straight and at the junction, turn left. This will lead you to our city. You will have to fight your way through our enemies, and when you arrive at our gates, you will find them barred to you. Prove yourselves capable, and the Conclave shall reconsider our decision.”

          “I assume you’ll be returning to the city via a quicker and safer route?” Ganan asks, raising an eyebrow.

          “Yes, of course.” Indomitable Sky answers, “You claim you can kill our enemies below and protect us from the Anathema above. The great bulk of the Dune Folk forces lies to the right, you need only kill a small number to fight your way through to Shining Kren. If you cannot do that, you cannot hope to stand against the Lunars.”

          Ganan turns his back on the Jadeborn, “I say we go right. Legion or no legion, it was always going to fall on the three of us to kill these bastards – might as well do it now.”

          “We go left,” Gifty says firmly, “There’s no point killing the Dune People then having cephalids move into the empty tunnels before our excavators arrive. We do the job once, and we do it well.” She turns to Sky, “We’ll see you back at the city.”

          The Jadeborn bow and our heroes pass through the door. Klar calls to them as the Jadeborn warriors bar the way behind them:

          “Or you’ll die in the tunnels! Either works!”

          ****

          The tunnel is pitch-black, but for the flickering of Gifty’s sword-flame. Ganan casts Invulnerable Skin of Bronze and holds his firewand ready.

          “You sure you don’t want to use your club?” Jin asks, eying Ganan’s choice of weapon with skepticism.

          “Thunder’s Crash is a weapon used for destroying buildings. We’re underground in a partially collapsed tunnel. It’s probably not the best idea.” Ganan responds.

          “Well, what’s wrong with your big, bronze fists?” Jin pushes

          Ganan chuckles, “I need the practice! You might not have noticed this, but I’m not exactly a crack-shot with this thing yet!”

          “I’ve noticed,” Jin says flatly, holding Calumny ready.

          “They’re mortals, Jin,” Ganan snorts, “Not eldritch horrors from a by-gone age. Just a bunch of humans lacking melanin who like to eat each other. Frankly, it’s embarrassing that the Mountain Folk haven’t dealt with them already.”

          “Dune People don’t actually eat each other,” Gifty corrects, “They see themselves as a breed apart. They only eat normal people.”

          Any debate is cut short as a hail of stones assails them from the darkness of the tunnel up ahead. A disgusting hissing sound fills the air, no doubt made by some strange, inhuman beast.

          Gifty defects the blows with the flat of her blade, turning sideways to shield her body behind her massive sword. Jin wheels Calumny in a helicopter blur, avoiding the hits. Ganan allows himself to be beaten back, taking Earth Dragon Form as his anima rises around him, filling the tunnel with white light.

          The ambushing Dune People hiss at the sudden bright light. It is a distinctly different hiss to that made by the pair of sandswimmers. The great sinuous beasts are clearly unnatural – a crab-like carapace; rows of six legs; powerful crushing claws; a fanged, snake-like head; and a wicked scorpion’s tail. Fangs and tail drip with deadly venom.

          Jin fires a bolt of flame into the Dune People. Her blast causes them to scatter to find cover in the bare tunnel – clearly, they were relying on the cover of darkness.

          Gifty doesn’t hesitate to close in with the lead sandswimmer. She batters it with Abrojo, testing the weight of her giant blade against the abomination’s carapace. The beast is battered and bludgeoned by her blows, but otherwise undaunted.

          The second sandswimmer leaps on Gifty with its gasping pincers. No mortal could move quickly enough to interpose a blade as heavy as Abrojo from an offensive position to a defensive one. But Gifty is no mortal, and she easily turns the ferocious creature’s blow aside.

          As Gifty throws off the attack, Ganan blasts the sandswimmer from behind, bathing the creature in flame.

          The Dune People reload their crude catapults.

          Jin fires on the Dune People again. They break and flee before the elemental onslaught, flames burning their clothing and smoke stinging their eyes.

          Gifty hits one of the sandswimmers with an underhand blow, transitioning flawlessly into an overhead strike on the second sandswimmer.

          Ganan reloads as he takes aim at the closest sandswimmer.

          The sandswimmers circle Gifty, lashing out with claws and poison tails. Gifty dances between them, deftly avoiding the blows of the fearsome creatures.

          Jin dashes over to the one of the sandswimmers and unleashes firestorm assault, battering the creature to death with a ferocious flurry of blows that blister the air.

          Gifty turns and smashes the carapace of the remaining sandswimmer with a two-handed power-blow. The beast twitches for a moment before dying.

          ****

          Ganan shoulders his weapon and draws his belt knife to hack-up the corpses of the sandswimmers for parts.

          Gifty makes a face as Ganan hacks off venom sacks and teeth before skinning off the shell, wrapping it in a bundle and slinging it onto his back. Jin examines the dead Dune People: they wear crude armor of tanned hide reinforced with sandswimmer chitin and wield crudely modified crossbows that fire stone bullets. Jin tosses the weapon to Gifty:

          “Looks like they’re stripping the weapons off the Jadeborn, but don’t have the ability to make new quarrels.” Jin ventures.

          The trio proceed down the tunnel. Ganan’s anima dims as time passes. Twice they come across crude pit traps rigged by the Dune People, but they easily evade them despite the low-light and unfamiliar surroundings.

          Eventually, they reach the junction. Ganan turns right, hoping the others won’t remember which way to go, but Jin grabs him by the collar and yanks him in the right direction. The access tunnel opens into the much wider car tunnel. Glowing yellow crystals are embedded in the walls – the Dune Folk have smeared them with dirt, dimming the brilliance of their light to a low amber gloaming. Loose piles of rocks are scattered across the tunnel and humanoid shapes move about in the darkness.

          There’s a sound of scurrying feet, cracking bones, and ripping flesh. Hoots and growls greet the Dragon-Blooded as they enter the tunnel.

          “Maybe fists for this…” Ganan says cracking his knuckles.

          Gifty lunges into the mass of Dune Folk before they have the chance to form ranks. She fights with a ferocity not seen in the fight against Janati and her mutants on the surface – the fire of her anima erupting around her as she strikes out with impossible speed and burning power.

          Ganan closes in behind Gifty, swinging out with powerful hook punches that send the Dune Folk flying through the air.

          Enough of the Dune Folk gather together to make an effective battleline. Their weapons are exceptionally crude – stone axes and flint knives – but they are wielded with a desperate ferocity. Their numbers seem endless as they pour out of the shadows in droves. Their whooping and hooting noises seem to draw more and more of their numbers out of the darkness. Gifty easily smashes aside their attacks as her anima scorches them, whilst Jin easily keeps then at wrackstaff’s length, stopping them from closing in, and blinding here attackers with a shower of sparks. Ganan gives a mocking laugh as the stone weapons shatter against his skin as he takes Earth Dragon Form… which is soon cut short as his vision begins to dim. The stone of the Dune Folk weapons releases a dust which burns with toxic power as they shatter.

          “Urgh! Cannibals who poison their food!” Ganan spits and staggers back to give himself some breathing room, “Why can’t we ever fight anyone sensible?”

          Jin smirks, “If they were sensible, they wouldn’t fight us!” She smashes into her foes with the burning power of fire, scattering them before her as she presses forward to join the others. Her wrackstaff gives her the length to strike whilst keeping the toxic fumes away.

          A sound like a deep horn being blown seems to rally the albino cannibals. It reverberates through the very walls of the tunnel. The chittering noises of sandswimmers can be heard closing in.

          From the burning pinnacle of combat, Gifty lashes out. The devastating fires of her anima lick at the Dune Folk as she hammers them in a blur too fast to track. The Dune Folk melt away from her as she cuts down a dozen of them, causing those nearby to falter.

          Jin looks on with awe, “You’ve got to teach me that!” She dashes forward into the gap, swinging low beneath Gifty’s wide arcing blows. Between the press of the mortals and the rough rubble making up the tunnel’s floor, progress is slow.

          Ganan watches Jin blaze forward: whilst he was impressed by how much she had improved during their battles in Dovak, two uncomfortable realizations dawn on him as he continues to slug his way forward in her wake: firstly, that she might now be even stronger than him; and, more disturbingly, she is clearly outclassed by his daughter.

          “When did you learn to fight so well?” He asks gruffly, cuffing one of the Dune Folk into the tunnel wall with contemptuous ease… as Gifty and Jin drop three apiece.

          “After Sondok nearly killed us, I’ve been training non-stop,” Jin says, as she smashes her staff into the attacking Dune Folk. “Learned a lot from you, actually.”

          Gifty rakes her blade across the attackers, stopping them getting anywhere near her flesh with their weapons. Ganan surges his essence into his limbs to bolster his poison addled defenses: he keeps the Dune Folk from landing another blow, but is concerned by how quickly he’s burning through his reserves.

          The horn sounds again, and the light of the Dragon-Blooded’s animas reveals the incoming Dune Folk reinforcements – wielding shot-bows as they ride on sandswimmers.

          “Keep moving forward!” Gifty calls as she smashes her sword into her foes, setting the pace she moves forward, still lashing out in a blur of attacks as she carves up the enemy forces.

          “We’re not likely to go back!” Jin says pushing on. The Dune Folk falter and break. Some of them throw down their weapons and flee, others melt back into the shadows as the Dragon-Blooded press forward.

          Seeing the foes ahead of him falter Ganan turns and does the exact opposite of Gifty’s instruction. He heads straight for the approaching cavalry and brings his foot down in an earthshaking stomp.

          (“Yeah, like that’s not going to collapse the tunnel!” Jin snarks.)

          Stable as the six-legged sandswimmers are, the shockwave from Ganan’s blow still sends them sprawling, riders thrown to the ground. The Dune Folk don’t bother to struggle to their feet, instead blasting at Ganan with a hail of stones as their mounts find their footing. He gives a last push to deflect them out of the air with his Earth Dragon training, blocking the blows as he holds his breath against the toxic cloud.

          Realizing they’re caught between the unstoppable force of the Dragon-Blooded and the immovable object of Shining Kren up ahead, the Dune Folk rally and take up defensive positions.

          “Do we go back?” Jin asks, the brilliant white of Ganan’s anima clearly illuminating him and the sandswimmers about to swarm over him.

          “I’ve given my orders!” Gifty barks as she presses forward toward Shining Kren into the Dune Folk lines.

          (“Sometimes, I forget you’re not Melody,” Jin whispers under her breath, “The two of you feel the exact opposite way about Ganan.”)

          The illumination is brighter here, and whilst there’s plenty of rubble and cover where Gifty and Jin stand, they can see it drastically thins out up ahead. Shining Kren must be close. They press on together, hammering the last few Dune Folk between them and the city, routing them out and cutting them down.

          Having seen the trouble they had fighting two sandswimmers, Ganan decides on discretion. He turns and runs after Gifty and Jin at full speed rather than stand and fight the oncoming swarm.

          Back on their feet, the sandswimmers race after Ganan. Their former rides pick themselves off the ground and reload their weapons.

          Gifty and Jin sprint up to the end of the tunnel. It’s a huge blast door made of solid rock – it’d be a tight fit, but Jin reckons she could pilot a siege strider through the door… if it were open. There’s clearly no way to force the door open with brute strength – at least, not without a team of yeddim in the tunnels. Gifty bangs against the rock – it’s at least a foot thick and likely impervious to sound:

          “We’re here!” She screams, “Let us in!”

          Ganan pelts towards them, the sandswimmers hot on his tail. “Open the gates!” He bellows waving his arms.

          The flaming dog of Jin’s anima circles her once before dissolving into a series of rotating balls of flame, which call into orbit around her as her anima drops from a bonfire to merely burning. “I don’t think they’re going to open this door whilst those sandswimmers are still alive.” She says grimly.

          Gifty has time to complain, “Oh great!” Then the dozen beasts are upon them.

          One of them charges at Ganan with its stinger. He grabs the bulbous venom sack with one hand, stopping its strike from landing, and leverages himself to the side, only for another sandswimmer to seize him in its powerful claws. The second swimmer also makes a tail strike, and Ganan catches that one too, his muscles straining against the powerful beasts.

          Three close in on Gifty – one from the front and two flanking her. She cuts Abrojo through the air and holds all three off with an unparalleled display of swordswomanship.

          Jin fires bolts of flame into the remaining seven, which jostle for position to attack her. Her flaming shots keep her one step ahead of her foes as she turns and moves amongst the confusion.

          The horn sounds again as the Dune Folk reinforcements move forward to bring their weapons into range.

          “To Malfeas with this!” Gifty screams. With one attack, she hooks the flat of her blade under the sandswimmer on her right. She lifts the horse-sized beast up, slamming it into the sandswimmer in front of her, and following through on the blow to drag both of the mutated creatures into the sandswimmer on her left. Moving with impossible speed, she dashes into the gap and thrusts with a weapon not meant for thrusts. The dull tip of Abrojo punctures the sandswimmers and Gifty’s muscles burn as she pushes her toothed blade through all three beasts, skewering them. She rips her blade free, disemboweling her inhuman foes, dragging organs and ichor from their ruined shells. She doesn’t pause before closing in to help Jin.

          Not to be outdone, Jin bridles her elemental power to unleash a devastating flurry of blows on the sandswimmers. She batters them left and right, denting claws and breaking tails as she scorches them with her righteous fury.

          As Ganan feels the venomous stingers push closer and closer to his face, his grits his teeth, “I guess I probably should start taking this fight seriously…” He mutters as his body dissolves away to nothingness. Sandswimmer stingers slip through hands made of shadow to strike at empty air. Ganan’s shadow slips across the ground toward the Dune Folk archers.

          The Dune Folk archers level their weapons against Gifty and Jin, and pepper them with rocks. Whilst the Dragon-Blooded are undoubtedly more skilled, quantity is a kind of quality. They easily deflect ninety percent of the rocks thrown at them, but that still means they’re each hit half-a-dozen times with the same rocks that shatter and release poison dust. The Fire Aspects splutter and cough under the onslaught.

          The remaining sandswimmers lash out against them. Addled by poison, Gifty and Jin take up a back-to-back position and use the superior reach of their weapons to hold the dangerous creatures off.

          With a martial arts kiai, a shadowy fist becomes momentarily solid as it smashes into the ranks of the archers. One unlucky Dune Folk is sent careening into her fellows knocking them to the ground. Faced with an unseen foe they have no chance of hurting, the archers break and run.

          The circling sandswimmers strike out again. Two of them seize Jin in their claws between them, pulling her away from Gifty, who only just manages to hold the others off.

          Gifty has a hard time re-establishing her fiery momentum. She bludgeons Abrojo’s piercing spines through the skull of one sandswimmer, but her blows lack the burning pinnacle of speed shown before. She turns on her heel trying to fend off attacks from every direction.

          Jin fires an elemental bolt point-blank at the sandswimmer holding her right arm. Flames incinerate the beast, and the other sandswimmer drops her. The dumb beasts – wounded and abandoned by their masters – scurry away.

          Gifty breathes hard as Jin flexes. “Piece of cake,” Jin jokes from behind her helmet, glad of the anonymity her Jadeborn armor provides. Her eyes track Ganan’s shadow moving toward them, “Fucking coward!” She cusses out her brother.

          Ganan’s shadow shrugs in silence.

          Gifty catches her breath and raises her blade, “It’s not over yet. Obviously the Jadeborn don’t intend to honor our agreement. We’re going to have to fight our way back through-”

          She’s cut off by the clanking of machinery and the grinding noise of stone-on-stone as the great tunnel car door slowly opens to admit them into Shining Kren.

          ****

          Ganan spends 8XP to train a repurchase of Fivefold Resonance Sense and 8DX to train Avalanche Method.

          Jin spends 8XP to train Burning Pinnacle Strike.



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

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          • #95
            Session 81 – The City Under the Mountain – Ganan (285XP 228DX, 285/224 spent; 20WhP 83GP 42SP), Jinabar (285XP 228DX, 276/220 spent), Gifty (???XP ???DX, ???/??? spent)

            The cavern walls of Shining Kren glow from the shining yellow geodes growing out from the walls. Giant crystals cast the city in warm yellow light.

            Our heroes stagger into the bright light of the city, shielding their eyes from the glare from the stones. The great grinding of Shining Kren’s tunnel car door resumes as the huge stone slab descends again behind them. Ganan transforms from living shadow, back to his solid state.

            Indomitable Sky and Indefatigable Klar stride towards the Dragon-Blooded.

            “Apologies,” Sky bows, her voice like honey, “We so rarely use this door: maintenance isn’t what it once was… the mechanisms can take a moment to work.”

            Jin forces a smile, “Think nothing of it. I trust we pass your little audition?”

            Sky bows again and seems to motion Klar forward to speak. The slate grey warrior shuffles forward uncomfortably.

            “You performed… well. We were monitoring you. Truly you are Princes of the Earth.” Klar gives Gifty a salute, and she returns the gesture.

            Sky speaks again, “The Conclave has considered your proposal. The pressing threat of the Locusts cannot be ignored. We shall accept your aid, but we have conditions.”

            Ganan nudges his sister, “Locusts? I thought they were wasps?”

            Jin turns her immaculate smile on Ganan and raises an eyebrow a fraction to silence him, before turning her attention back to Sky, “We would hear your conditions.”

            Sky bows a third time, “Of course, but first, please accept our hospitality.” She motions for the Dragon-Blooded to follow her deeper into the city.

            ****

            The city of Shining Kren is considerably larger than Hiram. Whilst the trading post was situated in a large cavern, with several off-shoot caves, Shining Kren is a multi-level network of caverns, the smallest of which large enough to swallow Hiram whole. The same, termite-like, towers dominate the architecture of the city, which is lit spectacularly by the glowing yellow crystals.

            Green-eyed humans walk amongst the Jadeborn, lifting, working, bartering as they go about their daily business. Ganan stares open-mouthed at the city whilst Jin and Gifty keep a blasé façade.

            Indomitable Sky leads the trio into a tower, and they proceed to the utmost floor via an anti-gravity lift. There they find a table set with a resplendent meal, Sky invites them to sit and eat.

            ****

            “Shining Kren,” Sky begins as the Dynasts begin their meal, “Is a city blessed. Aside from the Dune People you have already encountered, we have few enemies beneath the ground. The human Underfolk are our trusted allies, and the Nameless Horde that menace so many of our kind is all but extinct in these parts.”

            Something about Sky’s demeanor leads Jin to believe that there’s something the Jadeborn is withholding about the prosperity of Shining Kren, but the former magistrate holds her tongue.

            “We are a peaceful city, protected by our impregnable walls. And by our lack of ambition. We do not make trouble for others, and they do not trouble us. Our few warriors devote themselves to fighting the dread Lintha at the behest of the Dynasts of An-Teng, else they are sent to Urvar, that the First City might better provide tribute for your Empress.”

            Sky pauses and observes the Dynasts. Ganan stuffs fistfuls of exotic fruit into his mouth as the others regard the Artisan with dignified repose. Jin kicks Ganan under the table, causing the Dragon-Blooded to stop eating and motion for Sky to continue.

            “This said, you are the first Dragon-Blooded to come to our city… in a long time. We dare not oppose the Dragon-Astride-the-World, but to survive beneath the Firepeaks, we have found it necessary to make alliances with… other powers.”

            “The Lunars,” Ganan says, his mouth full of food. He wipes the spray from his mouth with the back of his hand.

            Sky’s rocky features don’t allow them to wrinkle their nose, but the narrowing of their eyes and pinched mouth convey the same meaning, “Indeed.” The Jadeborn focuses their attention on Jin, “As you say, with the situation in the South escalating, we do not know how much longer our peace with the Wasp Queen will last. The Conclave would rather not provoke Golden-Leaf Liseli, but Mnemon’s Realm is a proven ally of the Jadeborn.”

            Jin nods graciously, “Of course, we understand perfectly. You are in a delicate position and the Realm is… not ideally poised to remove the Lunars from this mountainside. Naturally we would act with the appropriate… discretion? If you’ll allow us access to Urvar, we could conduct the entire operation covertly: the Lunars would never know.”

            “Your presence on the mountain has already been noted,” Klar speaks, crossing his arms over his chest, “Something about ‘exterminating the Anathema filth’.”

            Gifty shoots a dirty look at the oblivious Ganan.

            “We would need certain guarantees. No Wyld Hunts, no proselytizing, no genocidal campaigns against the locals.” Sky follows Gifty’s look to Ganan.

            Ganan stops eating and snorts, “Well, we’d need guarantees from you as well!” He grumps indignantly, “Like, no making us do all the work, then selling us out to the Lunars.”

            “What my brother means to say,” Jin interrupts smoothly, “Is that your terms are perfectly acceptable, and that we look forward to working with you in a position of trust and sisterhood – as true allies. Great House Alinos is disciplined and professional.”

            Jin pauses, closes her eyes for a moment then recites, doing a different voice for Gifty and Ganan:

            “‘Let them flee,’

            ‘We should exterminate this filth whenever we get the chance – they’ll only be back, and in greater numbers. These mountains are Anathema territory.’

            ‘That’s exactly why we’re letting them go. All the traffic over the mountains is liable to be menaced. Three Dragon-Blooded cutting a killing spree is going to call every Lunar in a hundred miles.’

            ‘Then it’s better that we don’t leave witnesses alive!’

            ‘If one of the ‘Anathema’ quietly passed through a Satrapy, would that rouse the same response as if they murdered their way through the garrison? Would you prioritize a rumor over a trail of dead bodies?’

            ‘That’s a damn good point, killer.’

            ‘Whatever. It’s your expedition: lead on.’”

            She clears her throat, “I applaud your intelligence gathering apparatus, but you’ll note that we did not carry out any campaigns of genocide. Every aspect of this venture is under precisely regimented control. Step-by-step. Word-by-word. House Mnemon may have had a reputation for its piety, but I can assure you House Alinos is nothing if not practical.”

            Sky nods slowly, “We can clear a tower for your use. Allow you access to the tunnel car system.” Sky gives a disparaging look toward Ganan, “Obviously, as loyal tributaries to the Realm we would not ‘sell you out’ to the Lunars. We can provide consultants to help you navigate the tunnels and their dangers. Your expedition will have access to our markets to purchase food and supplies – at reasonable rates, of course. You will conduct your entire operation underground: there will be no dumping rubble on the surface, no hunting parties amusing themselves, no astrological surveys.”

            Gifty waves dismissively, “This is in addition to the no Wyld Hunts, no proselytizing, no genocidal campaigns against the locals, rule.”

            “Yes.” Klar booms, “Your conduct within Shining Kren will be, if you’ll excuse the pun, immaculate. We will accord you the respect due to the Princes of the Earth, and you will give the people of Shining Kren no reason to doubt the enlightenment, wisdom, and nobility of the Exalted.”

            “You’ve met Dynasts before, right?” Gifty sniggers and raises an eyebrow.

            “We have extensive dealings with An-Teng,” Klar gives Gifty a long, hard, stare. “Immaculate. Behavior.”

            Ganan nudges Gifty, “But no Wyld Hunts.”

            Gifty smirks, despite herself, and the two share a look.

            “Moving on,” Jin says quickly, “The Jadeborn are…” Jin pauses, ruminating on the correct word, “Exotic. Dynasts respond to the unusual and powerful with an abundance of caution: the worst behaved Dynasts will put on a good public face when in unfamiliar surroundings, and by the time they are familiar enough to act like they do in An Teng, they’ll be several hundred miles down that tunnel, killing Dune Folk.”

            Ganan makes a look of surprise, “That actually is true.”

            Sky looks at Klar, “How encouraging.”

            “Then it seems we’re in agreement.” Jin continues, “We’ll clear the tunnel for you and take the lost city as payment. Whilst we are working, we’ll abide by your terms, and gratefully take on your consultants.”

            “We are willing to let you take the spoils of Dari, yes, if you can uncover it. But we are curious as to your intentions. What will House Alinos do with its spoils? And what do Cynis Jinabar, Tepet Ganan, House Saber Edge stand to gain from this venture?” Sky tents their fingers at studies them.

            Jin’s smile falters slightly, “I’m sure you’re aware of the recent unpleasantness on the Blessed Isle? House Cynis’s position is not what it once was. I’m trying to find my way into the Empress’s good graces. My brother is married to House Alinos’s foremost scion.” Jin motions to Gifty and takes a breath, realizing that she doesn’t actually know what Gifty hopes to gain from this, “And this achievement cements Gifty as the foremost archeologist of the age. As to what House Alinos will do with the treasures? The war has left bills to pay and the entire Satrapy system is in disarray – ventures such as this are necessary for the maintenance of the Realm.”

            Klar speaks, suddenly and unprovoked, “You mean you don’t intend to strike back?”

            Jin flicks a knowing look to Sky as she jerks a thumb at Ganan, “I feel your pain. Just try to remind yourself of how useful Klar is in other situations.”

            Sky lays their hands flat on the table and looks seriously at Jin, “Much as I am perturbed by Klar speaking out of turn, I am more perturbed by the Realm’s willful blindness.”

            Ganan pulls a confused face, “To be clear, we’re all talking about… Gem?”

            Gifty sits a little straighter and Jin leans in with genuine interest.

            Sky nods slowly, “I realize it is a distance away and that the Realm has other concerns. But it was you who pointed out the disruption to trade and the mutual threat posed to us. I am… prepared to act as an intermediary.”

            Gifty pulls a confused face, “To be clear, an intermediary between the Realm and…?”

            “Golden-Leaf Liseli, Wasp Queen of the Firepeak Mountains.” Sky says simply, “After you have successfully pillaged Dari – there’s no need to jeopardize that venture.”

            Ganan blanks dumbly, “Uhhhhh…”

            Gifty makes a rolling gesture with her hands, “Weeeee…”

            Jin puts her chin on one hand and makes an off-hand gesture with the other, “That’s…”

            (Klar snaps his fingers, “I see it now,” He turns to Sky, “They are all related.”)

            Sky regards them carefully, “I get the feeling you don’t know.”

            Jin’s false smile returns, “What is it I don’t know?”

            Sky stands, “Follow me.” She leads them from the room and out of the tower.

            (Ganan nudges Klar, “Is this one of those things where we walk for, like, an hour in awkward silence before some big reveal?”)

            ****

            Indomitable Sky leads them through the city. Again, they see human merchants alongside Jadeborn workers as they pass into new caverns, lit by the same shining crystals. Armed Jadeborn warriors start appearing as they move towards their goal, obviously on patrol, the obviously guarding important structures – security gets tighter and tighter until Sky leads them to a central tower and takes them midway up it.

            Sky hands Ganan a crossbow, “What do you make of this?”

            Ganan inspects the weapon from all angles, “It’s good. Not one of yours – all metal. I’ve heard the Northern Barbarians utilize crossbows, but I’ve never seen a loading mechanism this complex outside of Mountain Folk design… Certainly no Realm forge made this. I imagine there’s a very wealthy Guilds-merchant behind this.”

            Jin folds her arms across her chest and addresses Sky, “Are you saying this came from Gem? I’d heard the Despot was gathering an army, but I didn’t realize they had war materials rivaling Jadeborn construction.”

            “Nothing comes from Gem,” Klar states definitively, “Not since the Locusts destroyed everything.”

            Ganan passes the crossbow to Gifty, “So… not wasps?”

            Sky speaks with great gravity, “Raiders who strip the land bare. Grand machines, belching black smoke slither across the desert. The Locusts fall on oasis settlements and strip them bare: every man, woman, and child; every brick-and-plank, the very soil from the ground and every drop of water. They fight with massed crossbow fire that has brought down Guild caravans and driven off Lunar bandits.”

            Sky produces a stretched canvas over a wooden frame and passes it to Jin. The figure depicted does not look like a “locust” – it is a humanoid figure but dressed from head to toe in a one-piece suit, black as night, with armor plating not unlike an insect’s carapace. The figure’s head is encased in a helmet with bulbous eyes and a protruding respirator and in its hands is a repeating crossbow.

            Jin hands the picture off to her brother as she speaks, “The shore to the north is in turmoil. Demon cultists and Realm deserters menace trade. Guild convoys that make is as far as the Lap are haggard: easy prey for these Locusts. I don’t see the urgency behind siding with the Anathema to stop them. Let’s stop the demons and the dead things in Chiaroscuro before we march Wasp Folk alongside Realm Legions.”

            Gifty sets down the crossbow as she takes the picture from Ganan, “I don’t know. The Despot was gathering an army: mercenaries, outcastes, Exigents… even Anathema, if the rumors are to be believed. They’re the largest purveyor of diamonds in Creation – the Despot’s wealth is enough to make a Guild Factor blush, and he’s stayed free of your Realm. If these Locusts have conquered Gem, with technology superior to that of the Jadeborn, this could be a threat to all Creation.”

            Indomitable Sky bristles at the implication that Locust technology is superior to their own devices, but says nothing.

            “I don’t know about allying with the Anathema,” Ganan says carefully, “And I think we need to focus on the task in front of us. But these machines are worthy of further study: driving the Anathema of the deep south to our shores requires redress.”

            Jin hands the crossbow back to Sky, “I think we’re all agreed that we need to clear this tunnel first.” Her tone doesn’t leave room for argument.

            ****

            The Dragon-Blooded finalize their agreements with the Jadeborn before heading into the marketplace of Shining Kren. Ganan’s silver was spent in The Lap, but the Jadeborn are happy to take Realm coinage to establish credit on behalf of House Alinos – though it empties Ganan’s coin-purse.

            (“Sorry brother, a magistrate is sworn to poverty,” Jin adopts a look of false piety as she needles Ganan, “The Realm thanks you for your service.”)

            Ganan makes a few esoteric purchases and retreats back to the tower allocated to them before sunset. There he conducts the rituals needed to draw forth an agata from hell, which he binds to travel to Paragon and deliver news of their success to the Satrap.

            As the demon departs and the midnight hour passes, the Dragon-Blooded bed down for the night.

            ****

            When morning comes, Gifty wakes them all early. Jin is disappointed to find that whilst their tower has conveniences such as heating, lighting, and running water, it does not have the machine that makes coffee. The Jadeborn city comes to life as the Mountain Folk rise to go about their business.

            “Why in the name of the absentee gods of heaven have you woken me at this dragon’s forsaken hour!” Jin bellows as she starts to strap into her armor.

            Ganan finishes the incantation to transmute his skin to bronze – already dressed, fresh and ready to go thanks to the purifying powers of his necklace – and raises a quizzical eyebrow to Gifty, “I have to side with Jin on this. We came to negotiate with the Jadeborn. We successfully negotiated with the Jadeborn. We’ve got a couple of weeks before the ‘legion’ starts arriving, why the early start?”

            Ganan doesn’t even attempt to keep the contempt from his voice when he says “legion”, fully expecting the bulk of the fighting, physical labor, and mystic summoning to fall to him.

            “We need to scout the over-land route,” Gifty says, as if her intentions were obvious.

            Jin scowls, “I thought you said you didn’t want us making trouble all over the mountain?”

            Gifty sucks her teeth, and with jaw clenched explains, “Shining Kren is in the mountains. We’re clearing a tunnel, thousands of miles long, which leads to Dijak, which is all the way off to the East. We need to leave the mountains and travel East to make sure that our work underground goes unmolested.”

            Jin blinks at her slowly, “You want us to climb down the mountain, then walk half-way across the world to Kirighast? Through Creations least hospitable desert?”

            Gifty forces a ridged smile, that looks more like a snarl, “Do you happen to remember the name our Jadeborn hosts gave to the lost city?’

            Jin rises and flexes her muscles inside her suit, “I have an eidetic memory. She called it Dari.”

            “And do you know of any other First Age cities given that same name? In the South? Between here and Kirighast?”

            Drawing a blank Jin looks to Ganan.

            Ganan shrugs, “There’s a Shogunate Poem – Dari of the Mists.” He makes a dismissive gesture, “City older than time, destroyed by the Anathema, sealed away from Creation by the Immaculate Dragons that its evil might never pollute the world. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.”

            Gifty gives her father a look of disappointment, “I thought you studied history?”

            Ganan bristles, standing straight, but still dwarfed by his daughter’s height, “I am an expert in the change architectural styles of the Dragon-Blooded Shogunate. The destruction of Dari predates the Shogunate, and it’s hard to study architecture if the buildings have been destroyed by Anathema, then banished from the world!”

            Gifty holds up the back of her hand, “The Solar Anathema who ruled over Dari crafted a magical staff to focus his power. This staff branded the backs of his subjects hands and compelled them to follow his laws. The ruins of Dari were indeed sealed from the world, until the Great Contagion, when the wards failed and a mortal man stumbled into the ruins and found the staff. This man has lived a charmed life ever since, using the staff to found a new city called…”

            “Paragon.” Ganan and Jin realize at the same time.

            Gifty nods and continues, “The Perfect sends out enterprising scavengers to the ruins on the surface, outside of Paragon, looking for fragments of ancient relics. They don’t find much these days. But if Dari is our underground city…?”

            “They’re looking in the wrong place,” Ganan muses, “They should be looking underground instead of picking through the surface ruins. We could find treasures the like of the Perfect’s Scepter.”

            “But we need to Stormwind from here to Paragon. Make sure there’s not another way into the tunnel.” Jin surmises.

            Ganan nods slowly, “It’s fortuitous. We have a base here. We have a base in the Lap. And we have a base in Paragon. Obviously, clearing the car tunnel remains our optimal choice: it’s likely the Perfect would have found any overland route to Dari over the past few centuries – if one existed. But this certainly makes the logistics of our work easier.”

            ****

            The Dragon-Blooded secure fresh traveling supplies then head down back down the mountain. Despite being shown an alternative way out of the city, which deposits them closer to the base of the Firepeaks, it is nearly mid-day before Dragonsgift summons up a Stormwind Rider to whip them off to Paragon.

            The massive form of the Penitent is visible in the distance as they race over the Southern plains – not arid enough to be called desert, though this far from the Lap it’s hardly a green and pleasant land. No plumes of black smoke or ominous war machines can be seen to the south, but by mid-afternoon there’s clearly something up ahead of them to the East.

            Gifty points out a fang of soldiers in Realm garb, and slows the Stormwind Rider. The mortal scouts turn and flee as Gifty approaches – a futile gesture if the Dragon-Blooded had meant them harm. Gifty lets them run, correcting her course to head back towards the something – now that they are relatively sure it’s an encamped Realm Legion.

            The walls of the hastily erected camp are now clearly in view. As is a giant behemoth of metal that rises at their approach, standing a clear thirty feet tall as it looms over the mortal army encamped below.

            “Well, well, well,” Gifty shouts over the noise of the whipping Stormwind, “It looks like the Realm has unlocked its Warstrider arsenal.”

            Jin grits her teeth, “That’s not the Realm.”

            The Warstrider squares off to the approaching Stormwind and lumbers towards them. It’s posture isn’t inherently hostile, but the massive ballista mounted to its arm looks like it would do some damage if the war-machine opened fire.

            Gifty lightly touches down a good distance from the camp as the Warstrider strides forward to meet them. A delegation of Dragon-Blooded offices march smartly at its feet, and their honor guard of mortal soldiers run double-time to keep pace.

            Jin fastidiously straightens herself out as she gives a quick, hushed briefing to her comrades, “The Old Empress deployed her Warstriders to the Threshold but rarely, so most of them were locked away when she disappeared. Likewise, when the Legions were recalled, most of the Legions came back. It’s not a coincidence that the Legion that didn’t come back was the same Legion that had been lent a Warstrider – the Seventeenth Legion, Sirocco. Just let me do the talking.”

            Gifty raises an eyebrow and makes an “after you” gesture.

            The Warstrider snaps neatly to attention as the Dragon-Blooded enter conversational range.

            “General Hin, it’s an honor. My sister Gracious Pealing Melody speaks highly of you.” Jin salutes the leader of the Dragon-Blooded.

            General Saloy Hin does not return the gesture, “I don’t see why an Alinos Admiral would have anything nice to say about a deserter. You are?”

            Jin bows theatrically, “Cynis Falen Jinabar, Imperial Magistrate, at your service general.”

            Saloy Hin smiles, “A Cynis magistrate?”

            Jin returns the smile, “I’ll admit, being exiled from the Blessed Isle isn’t exactly conducive to performing the duties of a magistrate, oh well!” She approaches him slowly, her arms splayed to show she is unarmed.

            Saloy Hin returns the gesture, which only draws attention to the massive daiklave at his hip, and steps forward, away from his men and the Warstrider. “What brings you to this corner of the desert? My soldiers have reported more than one Stormwind crossing this stretch of desert in recent weeks. It must be terribly interesting to you.”

            Jin starts to circle Saloy, who turns with her until their positions are reversed and Jin’s back is to his troops, “I’m based out of the Lap these days, but I’ve got family in Paragon. We’ve been hearing some disturbing rumors coming from the South, so I’m racing back and forth across the desert, trying to put a little expedition together.”

            Saloy Hin raises an eyebrow, “Rumors from the South?” He prompts.

            Jin circles again back, swapping sides once more, “All trade with Gem has stopped. All of it. No Guild caravans. No independent merchants.” She tosses her head casually up at the Warstrider, “Rumors of great machines killing anyone on the roads. Between the demons in Chiaroscuro and the Anathema in the Firepeaks, my positions in the Lap are already being squeezed: I certainly hope you’re not the one behind these attacks?”

            Saloy Hin’s features turn dark, “You mean you haven’t heard the rumors?”

            Jin spreads her arms open again, “I’ve heard nothing but rumors. Do you have something concrete for me?”

            Saloy Hin looks over Ganan and Gifty, then he tries to circle with Jin again. She stands still allowing the outcaste General to walk around her, “Here in the north, the Perfect of Paragon reaches out in all directions. Paragon’s armies venture further afield than ever before as he expands his dominion outside of his city. The rumors are, that he’s looking for something.”

            Jin smiles a genuine smile at calling this area of Southern Creation “the north” – a truly provincial attitude, “Which explains why you’ve taken a break from killing the innocent traders of Gem – you want to find whatever it is before the Perfect. Do I have time to run a caravan to Gem and back before the next round of slaughter?”

            Saloy Hin stops behind Jin and lays his hands on her shoulders. Ganan rips his tetsubo from the Earth, but Gifty stops him before he can rush forward. Seemingly oblivious, Hin speaks very quietly to Jin, “That is not of my doing. A pestilence. A plague of locusts in the shape of men has descended on Gem. Their iron snakes strike out into the desert, consuming everything in their path. Their arrows swarm over caravans and villages alike. Gem is lost. As is every settlement on the diamond road up to Valen. I have journeyed north looking for something to turn the tide.”

            Jin relaxes, surely then, this is simply a provincial affair. “I suppose these snakes breathe black smoke?”

            General Hin releases her shoulders and walks back in front of her, “You have heard the rumors. Well, they are true: I have fought the Locusts myself. Heed my words, Imperial Magistrate: I spent my youth fighting the wars of the Old Empress in every corner of Creation, but never have I seen the like of these Locusts.”

            “I will take that under advisement,” Jin takes a step back, “I have no interest in seeing the Perfect get what he wants. And if your brave soldiers are going to stop some marauding army from laying siege to the Lap, then you’d be doing me a favor. So, what do you say to us parting ways as friends?”

            Hin looks over to Ganan and Gifty, and motions them forward with one arm as he places the other around Jin’s shoulders, “I would like nothing better than for us to part as friends. In the morning. After all, it is late – you must accept my hospitality, and at least give me the chance to recruit a magistrate of your caliber into Sirocco.”

            Ganan’s eyes narrow, “He means to poison us and murder us in our sleep.”

            Gifty scoffs and shakes her head, “Relax. His army is already encamped for the evening. He just doesn’t want us running off to the Perfect and attacking him in the night.”

            ****

            The rogue legion’s camp is not extravagant. Clearly, they have been deployed for days, if not weeks. But the fare and lodgings our heroes are offered are adequate by the standards of the Dragon-Blooded. The legion’s officers salute them, and share tales about Chiaroscuro (where the spirits of the dead and cultists of Sondok continue to do battle amidst the city’s broken spires). They are reluctant to speak of the Locusts to the South, and our heroes do not push them.

            Despite Ganan’s misgivings, the camp awakens just before dawn having made no attempt on our heroes’ lives. Jin welcomes the hot coffee that’s presented to them even as Gifty casts Stormwind Rider – the rogue legion keen that their guests depart before seeing which direction their forces will be heading in.

            When the camp is just a dot on the horizon, Ganan shouts over the wind to Gifty, “You think we should warn the Perfect that there’s a rogue legion out here?”

            “Fuck the Perfect.” Is Gifty’s succinct response.

            ****

            Our heroes complete their journey to Paragon. There’s no obvious access to the tunnels below, though they do pass the mist-shrouded surface ruins of Dari.

            Ganan clears his throat, “Could we accept the hospitality of-?” He starts before Gifty cuts him off.

            “Yes, we can stop and see your wife.”

            ****

            The Dragon-Blooded are not dressed for Paragon. Their colorful clothing marks them immediately as outsiders in this land of drab grey and sensible dune wear. The guards at the city gates do not even try to intercept a sorcerer blasting into the city atop a subservient dust-devil, though they do cast reproving looks toward the Dragon-Blooded.

            Udi meets them in the street as they make a beeline for the Satrap’s quarters. Gifty sets them down, dispersing her magic.

            “What’s gone wrong?” Udi asks, Gifty, sparing a half-smile for her hearthmate Ganan.

            Gifty looks sidelong at the tiny woman in front of her, “Do I know you?”

            Ganan clears his throat, “Tepet Dragonsgift, my hearthmate Ledaal Ludila. Ledaal Ludila, my daughter, Tepet Saber-Edge Dragonsgift.”

            Udi shakes her head in disbelief, “She’s messing with you, Gan. You don’t think I was with Aharon for all that time and never met his daughter? Who looks just like him? I like the Tepet bit though, that’s a nice touch.”

            Gifty gives an exaggerated sigh, “We could have ran that bit out for months, Udi.”

            Udi waves for them to follow her, “The Satrap and Garrison Commander are on exercises.” Udi explains as she leads them into the Satrap’s quarters where Lezabe and Raenyah are being watched over by Udi’s staff. Raenyah seems oblivious to them, but Lezabe turns and stares as they enter the room.

            Ganan lifts his daughter and looks down at his granddaughter, “Where’s Nula?” He asks.

            “Satrapal Advisor Alinos Nula left this morning after we received intelligence that the Rogue Legion of Saloy Hin had been sighted. Paragon has been expanding our military sphere of influence, which renders us vulnerable should General Hin turn his forces against us.” Udi pauses, “Just as well – she’s still mad at you for calling her fat.”

            “Well…” Jin responds, “Saloy Hin is certainly in the field. And he has a Warstrider. We didn’t see the entire Legion though – he believes the Perfect is looking for something in the ruins and he wants to get it first.”

            Udi smiles ruefully, “Well, that’s no secret. The Perfect has been obsessed with finding the same thing for hundreds of years: and now Reya has convinced him we’re going to find it – the Orb of Peace and Order. We’ve made some progress in that regard.”

            “We’ve made some progress on our project too. That’s why we’re here.” Jin says, “I trust you got Ganan’s message?”

            “Everything is progressing as planned. Alinos forces are on route and will be with you within the planned timeframe. But what brings you here?” Udi fixes Jin with a hard stare.

            Ganan kneels down to get a better look at his granddaughter.

            Jin raises a hand, casually, “Nothing bad. There’s not a lot we can do until our forces arrive, so we’re scouting the area. Making sure we’re not going to be interrupted by rogue legions or locust armies.”

            “Locust Folk? I don’t think they exist!” Udi chuckles.

            Jin makes a fifty-fifty gesture, “They seem to be a regional threat in the deep South. We believe they’ve conquered Gem.”

            Udi raises an eyebrow, “Quite the feat for beastfolk.”

            Ganan pulls a face, “Locusts are associated with Cecelyne. Could be demonic.”

            “That… would make sense…” Jin ruminates.

            Udi makes a dismissive noise, “You can’t be serious!”

            “Gem has fallen,” Jin says decisively, “We have reliable witnesses – these Locusts exist. What they are, where they come from is up for debate. But they’ve not been seen in the Lap, and if they’ve not been seen here, we can be confident that they’re only a regional threat.”

            Udi’s smile falters, “You’re serious? You flew all the way out here looking for Locusts?”

            “Our activities in the Lap will take us East, and you’re our only ally and last safe stop before Chiaroscuro. Some new force crawls out of no-where and annihilates a city? Don’t get me wrong, if we could start work, we’d be working. But we need our forces from the Blessed Isle for that, so, reconnaissance.”

            Udi relaxes, swayed by Jin’s speech, “Very logical. I’m only sorry that you missed Reya. Not that Ganan seems to mind.”

            Ganan looks up from playing with the children, “Well… it’s as Jin says, we can’t actually start work yet…” He clears his throat, “I mean, Paragon is a good a place as any to wait?”

            “Absolutely not!” Gifty snaps quickly, “We need to get back West. We don’t want to be drawn into Paragon’s hunt for the Orb or into war with Saloy Hin. Your time is better spent building us tools for our venture than wasting away in Paragon eating dates. We should be getting back.”

            Ganan grits his teeth and sets his child down.

            Udi rises and shows them out, “Reya will be disappointed to have missed you. I must insist that you not Stormwind within the city limits.”

            ****

            Gifty Stormwinds them back to the Lap. There they return to the Saber Edge mansion, then restock and resupply to return to Shining Kren.

            Jin corners Ganan alone in a guest bedroom.

            “Did you see many peasants working the fields on the ride here?” She asks directly.

            Ganan shrugs, “Some. Not a lot. I was looking out for Anathema.”

            Jin sucks her teeth, “And did you see many peasants in town on the way up to the mansion?”

            Ganan’s brow wrinkles, “No… but that’s because Gifty says…”

            “They’re all working the fields?”

            Ganan counts off on his fingers, “But we didn’t see-”

            “So, back to my original question: where the hell is everyone?”

            “Gifty says… wait…” Ganan stares at his sister, “Are you saying that Dragonsgift is… hiding something about the city from us?”

            “Who do we know in the Lap, outside of this house?”

            “The Triumvirs?”

            “Replaced, except Cathak Sijip. Vallish Macotri? Dead. Tever Marsune? Dead. Sesus Deron? Dead. You want me to start listing the people I know here? Because that’s a long list and every single name ends the same way.”

            “Everyone we know in the Lap can’t be dead!”

            “So, where are they?”

            Ganan throws his arms in the air, “I don’t know! Maybe they are dead! There was a civil war!”

            “A Dragon-Blooded hostage is worth a lot of Jade. I’ll grant you that a lot of mortals were killed in the collateral of the civil war, but outside of the bloody rampages of a few savages, most of us survived.”

            “Obviously, you have a theory then, so why not just tell me? Where is everyone then?”

            Jin fixes her brother with a long look, “They’re dead.”

            “But you just said-”

            “I don’t think they were killed by other Dragon-Blooded. And the fact that the Lunars are hiding in the mountains, instead of raining fire on a weakened Lap suggests it wasn’t them either.”

            “Just. Say. What. You. Mean.” Ganan spits, “You think it was these… ‘Locusts’?”

            Jin shakes her head, “The Locusts seem to be based in the Deep South. I think this is the same threat we faced in Kirighast. The threat that overran Chiaroscuro. The very reason the two of us started working together again.”

            “Sondok?”

            “Sondok.” Jin nods.

            “But why would Gifty be helping Sondok? Why would Sijip be helping Sondok?”

            “That, I don’t know. Just keep your guard up, your eyes open, and your mouth shut.”

            Ganan nods mutely, and Jin leaves the room. Gifty, hiding in the room next door, takes her palm from the wall – having heard everything thanks to the gifts of the Dragons.

            ****

            Come morning, the Dragon-Blooded pick up their supplies from Hoxie, Gifty’s head servant. Ganan finds this unremarkable, but Jin can’t resist commenting.

            “So convenient to have everything delivered. We don’t have to see a single street of the city this way.”

            Gifty raises an eyebrow, “I’m sorry, did you want to shop? Father and I are keen to get back to the tunnel. Unearth lost relics of the First Age. Save the failing fortunes of House Alinos. Kill some subterranean horrors.”

            Ganan’s face lights up as Gifty lists all his favorite things. Jin clears her throat, which brings him back to focus. Ganan opens his mouth to speak, then closes it again.

            Gifty motions them outside, “Shall we?”

            Jin walks outside and Ganan follows her. Gifty flies them back to the base of the Firepeaks and they re-enter Shining Kren by the secret entrance shown to them by the Jadeborn.

            ****

            Ganan spends 8XP to train Chaos Warding Prana.


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

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            • #96
              Session 82 – Reinforcements Have Arrived – Ganan (290XP 232DX, 285/231 spent; 20WhP 83GP 42SP), Jinabar (290XP 232DX, 276/232 spent), Gifty (???XP ???DX, ???/??? spent)

              Tepet Ganan, Cynis Jinabar, and Dragonsgift of Cadet House Saber Edge stand in Shining Kren – a large Jadeborn settlement, hidden beneath the Firepeak mountains. The Jadeborn have given them use of a tower so that they can clear a vast tunnel leading thousands of miles across the South. The Exalted plan on looting a lost underground city of the First Age that lies part way across the tunnel, by using an army of bound demons to clear the hundreds of miles of rubble.

              Our heroes rendezvous with their compatriots, who have travelled to meet them from the Blessed Isle.

              A pinched, yet willowy woman glares at the trio as they approach.

              “Who is this?” Jin asks from the side of her mouth as they approach.

              Ganan raps his knuckles against his palm and whispers back, “It’s on the tip of my tongue…”

              The woman makes a gesture half-way between dismissive and a salute, “I am Alinos Kerin, and I’ll be taking command of this operation. Tepet Cynis Ganan, I believe you’re already acquainted with the plan – you may join the other sorcerers and begin summoning.”

              Ganan whispers to Jin, “That’s Alinos’s sister, Kerin. She’s a sorcerer.”

              Jin gives a short bow, “I am Cynis Jinabar, and I am terribly sorry for any confusion: this is Tepet Saber Edge Dragonsgift, she is the one ‘in command’ of this operation.” Jin gives an apologetic smile.

              Gifty unslings her massive, two-handed blade and leans on it. Her massive height towers over the Dynastic matriarch, who remains unflappable.

              “My niece mentioned that we would be receiving aid from her husband and some… consultants from outside of the House. You can be assured that I will put your… expertise to good use. But this enterprise is being undertaken by Great House Alinos. I am Kerin, of Great House Alinos, granddaughter of Empress Mnemon herself. You are an Outcaste, a Traitor, and…” She gestures hopelessly at Ganan, “A Man. If my granddaughter – or my niece – were here, then, yes, an argument could be made for leaving this… ambitious gambit in your hands. But they’re not. And my Matriarch requires someone she can trust in command of this operation.”

              Gifty smiles predatorially, “Well, that’s kind of insulting. I mean, I, personally, am not insulted. I’ve never met Madame Alinos, yet she’s bankrolling my venture based on my expertise. Can’t exactly expect the woman to hand a blank check to someone she doesn’t know. It’s not like I’m her son-in-law or anything.” She jabs a finger in Ganan’s side, not quite playfully, “I mean, if she’d known me for decades, fought alongside me in battle, watched me marry her daughter and still didn’t trust me… that would sting. Parent to her grandchildren, and if she still didn’t trust me… I don’t know about you, but I’d find that a devastating blow to my self-esteem.”

              Ganan ignores her and gives Kerin a short bow, “Dragonsgift is also a capable sorcerer: she should join me. I don’t know what you want to do with Jin.”

              Kerin gives a signal as she speaks, “Actually, I think I know exactly what I want to do with Cynis Jinabar.” At the Dynast’s command, legionnaires in Alinos colors and Jadeborn warriors pour into the room, blocking the exits, “Took us some time to assemble and make it here to Shining Kren. As we were assembling, and you were… traveling, House Alinos’s Jadeborn allies traveled to Hiram to verify your story about saving the city from a Deathlord.”

              Jade Walker enters the room, with Indefatigable Klar at their side. Neither of the Jadeborn looks pleased.

              “Shit.” Jin curses and looks at the ground.

              “Imagine everyone’s lack of surprise when Jade Walker confirmed that whilst, yes, House Alinos had saved the city, a priceless suit of armor had been stolen. I can’t say I expected better from a scion of Fallen House Cynis, but I was pleasantly surprised by how swiftly the Jadeborn justice system works. A nice, swift, execution.”

              Gifty makes a hand gesture excusing herself and takes a couple of large paces away from Jin.

              Jin gives a casual, off-hand gesture, “You would have thought I was entitled to some kind of trial?”

              “You are literally wearing the stolen armor right now!” Jade Walker screeches hysterically.

              Jin remains unflappable, “I took this armor from Lady Magnificent: she’s the one who stole it. Pretty sure this is the kind of detail that usually comes out during a trial, you know, the thing we have before the execution.”

              Ganan clears his throat, “I realize the Jadeborn are protective of their technologies, but the defense of Hiram would not have been possible without Jin’s efforts. And whilst she did not return the stolen armor straight away, surely it is telling that she is here in Shining Kren, putting the armor to the defense of the Jadeborn.”

              “Fine!” Jade Walker exclaims, “Trial…”

              (Jin whispers to Ganan, “You’ll be my co-counsel, right?”

              Ganan nods, “I gotchu.”)

              Jade Walker’s expression darkens, “By combat.”

              (Jin whispers to her brother, “You got this, right?”

              “Nope, I’m out.”)

              Jin clears her throat and gestures to Klar, “Seriously? You’re going to pit one of the Mountain Folk against one of the Dragon-Blooded?” She flicks her wrackstaff out to full length, “I mean, I know I’m innocent, but this just seems mean.”

              Indefatigable Klar gives a nod to Alinos Kerin, “With your permission, this might be an opportunity to resolve our other problem?”

              Kerin’s nose wrinkles in obvious disgust – whatever this other problem is, even Ganan can tell it makes her uncomfortable. She gives the slightest of nods. Jade Walker smiles from ear-to-ear.

              “Please remove the armor and follow me.” Klar instructs.

              Jin gives a shrug and gestures to the room full of soldiers, “I’m a little naked under here. Change of clothes. Breastplate, maybe?”

              Klar gestures and the Jadeborn and Realm troops leave the room. Dragonsgift and Kerin follow out, as a human servant brings in some undyed, rough spun wool garments and a simple breastplate. When Ganan and Jin are alone in the room, Jin immediately begins looking for other exits.

              “Think you can tunnel through the floor?”

              Ganan attunes his senses to the cavern below, “Lots of soldiers under us.”

              “You sure you don’t want to fight this Jadeborn champion for me?”

              Ganan snorts, “You want me to say it again? You are a better warrior than I am.”

              Jin smiles ruefully, “In the armor, sure.” She starts stripping out of the power armor: she is, of course, fully dressed underneath it, though she gratefully straps herself into the breastplate provided. “Who do you think I’ll be fighting?”

              Ganan shrugs, “Not Klar?”

              ****

              Outside the room, Gifty addresses Jade Walker and Kerin, “Obviously Jade Walker will be taking the armor back to Hiram, as is proper. But, I assume no-one has any objection to my taking Cynis Jinabar’s other artifacts once she’s dead? No?”

              ****

              The Jadeborn lead our heroes to a different cavern, then into a wide, blood-sports, arena.

              Ganan mouths, “Good luck.” And the spectators take their seats in the stands as Jin walks out into the killing field.

              Jin stands alone. She twirls her staff and her cape theatrically. There’s quite a turn-out: a number of subterranean humans and Mountain Folk fill out the seating. Jin cannot see her opponent anywhere.

              An announcers voice echoes out around the stands:

              “The condemned stands accused of stealing Jadeborn technology, murder, face-stealing, making war against our Empress Mnemon, and espionage.”

              Jin makes a face. “That’s quite the trumped-up list of charges.”

              In the stands, Ganan leans over to Gifty, “That doesn’t sound right.”

              The announcer continues, “He will be facing the Realm’s Champion, Cynis Falen Jinabar.”

              Gifty’s eye’s glitter, “Do you think they have popcorn?”

              (Ganan spies a vendor, “No, but they have beer!”)

              A twisted bronze gate at the opposite end of the arena creaks open. A hulking figure, bound in heavy chains, shackled and muzzled, pulls forward into the arena. Four burly Jadeborn keep the giant, leonine figure barely contained. He froths at the mouth – or rather, maw – and his eyes are wild. A silver disk is prominent on the lion-man’s brow.

              Jin takes in the half-man, half-lion, war-form before her. “Of course, it’s a Lunar.”

              In the stands, Ganan leans over to Kerin, “That’s an Anathema! Did you know there was an Anathema here?”

              Kerin makes a dismissive gesture, “Apparently you weren’t as discrete as would have been prudent. This adherent of the Wasp Queen infiltrated the city. He killed several of my guards before we brought it to heel. The Jadeborn are keen to keep the peace with the Anathema of the surface. Obviously, we can’t let it go. Nor can the Jadeborn kill it. But if the Realm does the deed, then the Jadeborn are blameless.”

              “And if Jin kills him, House Alinos doesn’t make an enemy.” Ganan grinds his jaw.

              Kerin gives a sadistic giggle, “Don’t be absurd! When the Anathema kills Cynis Jinabar, he will have won his freedom in trial by combat. He’ll return to the Wasp Queen and inform her that it is House Cynis at work here.”

              The Jadeborn warriors release the raging Lunar, who races over to Jin in great bounds. The former Magistrate holds her ground and keeps her guard open. The Lunar leans over her, his spittle-flecked, breath hot on her face. She looks up at him, “Cynis Jinabar, pleased to meet you.”

              The ravenous, wild, Lunar’s eye’s swivel down at Jin and seem to come into focus. He leans closer still, and purrs into her ear, “Abbas. First time?”

              “Gladiatorial combat or fighting a Lunar?” Jin quips back.

              “Dying.” Abbas growls.

              “Well, I can’t say I make a habit of it,” Jin clears her throat, “I don’t suppose you’re open to teaming up and breaking out of here together?”

              Abbas roars. It is a thoroughly disquieting (and extremely loud) sound, even for those in the stands. “This is trial by combat. I kill you. I go free. And I stop House Cynis. I will never side with the Realm’s slave masters.”

              “Yeah, I thought you’d say that. Doesn’t hurt to ask though, right?” Jin sucks in air through her teeth, “I’m not big on the whole ‘fight to the death’ thing, that’s more my brother’s deal. Are you sure you don’t-”

              Abbas cuts her off mid-sentence, whipping the great chains shackled to his wrists at her with lethal force. Jin twists, flurrying her cape to disguise the movements of her body as she spins through the air, dodging between the deadly chains.

              Before Jin even hits the ground, she has brought her weapon down for an overhead strike. Purest green jade, backed by her entire falling body weight, comes crashing down directly in the center of Abbas’s head. The Lunar doesn’t even flinch, and he snatches at the wrackstaff and twists it out of Jin’s grip. With a flick of his wrist, he sends the artifact hurtling behind him until it crashes near the gate by which he entered the arena.

              Jin’s face contorts to a mask of fury, “I needed that.” She chides.

              Ganan stands. Kerin snaps at him, “Where are you going?”

              Gifty turns her attention to the drama unfolding in front of her.

              Ganan looks down at Kerin, “You said I could join the other sorcerers. When my sister wins, send her down to me.”

              “That was before-”

              Ganan cuts her off mid-sentence, “You can take control of this mission, and take the blame for whatever consequences may befall. You can sentence my sister to death. But I’d like to see you try to make me watch.” And with that he storms off.

              Jin pulls the glowing of her anima from her skin, condensing it into swirling balls of fire as she mantels her elemental power.

              Abbas lunges forward at the space where Jin’s billowing cape is. As an expert matador, Jin allows him to bull past as she dances her body out of the Lunar’s path. Gifty applauds enthusiastically from the stands.

              As soon as he is out of sight, Ganan dissolves his form into shadow. The wind carries his words to Jin, “Lure him over to your wrackstaff.” He circles round the arena, silent and away from (most) prying eyes.

              Jin disengages away from the Lunar, firing a blast of flame as she flees. The bolt of elemental power scorches Abbas, who roars again in pain and frustration.

              His furred hide smoldering, Abbas rushes at Jin, powerful legs bounding forward as he pounces. The force of the Lunar’s leap drives Jin to the ground and they skid together, coming to a halt an arms-length away from the gate and Jin’s wrackstaff. Abbas sinks his powerful claws into Jin’s shoulders, drawing blood. Abbas’s assault shows no sign of losing momentum.

              Blazing with elemental power, Jin twists like fire and rises like smoke, slipping free of Abbas. She stands over her weapon and fires another bolt of fire at the Lunar, whose burns are already starting to heal in front of her eyes. Abbas’s anima, a great argent lion, roars up around him, seeming to take the blow on the Anathema’s behalf. The Lunar’s feline eyes seem to pierce Jin down to her very soul, standing out in unusual prominence where Jin had hardly noticed their cat-like appearance before.

              Abbas stays on all fours as his anima dissolves into a pillar of light. He springs at Jin, who dodges as best as she can as his bulk smashes against her. Jin staggers back against the gateway into the arena.

              “Any time now!” Jin hisses under her breath as she fires another bolt of fire, point blank at Abbas. The smell of burning flesh assails her senses but the Lunar is unperturbed.

              “Give me a minute.” Ganan whispers back as he charges the power of his tetsubo.

              The Lunar’s mighty, paw-like hands batter at Jin like a cat playing with a mouse. Without her weapon, wounded, and forced up against the gate with no room to maneuver it is impossible for her to avoid his attack. The assault leaves her wishing she was still wearing her (stolen) power armor.

              “Cover for me,” Ganan murmurs to Jin from the shadows.

              Jin gives a fearsome war-cry, billowing her cape dramatically as Ganan slips forward across the ground in shadow. He brings his immaterial tetsubo crashing into Abbas’s leg, his own kiai ripping it through into the material world as he hides under Jin’s capote de brega. Jin dips to the ground and recovers her staff.

              Abbas staggers back, his leg shattered by Ganan’s attack. He shifts his weight awkwardly, lunging forward at Jin again. This time, the Dragon-Blooded is able to fend away the attack, the superior reach of her staff allowing her to stay on the Lunar’s wounded side as she sends a shower of sparks from the Lunar’s claws against her weapon into Abbas’s eyes.

              Unwilling to risk her staff again, Jin sticks to the winning formula of fighting Lunars with fire. Abbas raises a palm to protect his face from the barrage of flame that licks over him.

              Abbas lets out a noise unlike that of a lion, or any other beast that walks the face of Creation, a keening shriek, a howl of a wounded god. His blood turns from red to silver and his eyes shine with the light of the moon. His crippled leg seems to be entirely encased in shifting moonsilver, as do his talon-like nails. He stands upright, holding himself with the countenance of a god.

              Ganan slips back through the gate, before someone notices his shadow on the arena floor. The bonfire of Jin’s anima rages around her, burning fiercely, as the Anathema stands, shining with profane Celestial power.

              Jin leaps forward, striking out with her wrackstaff. Controlling the tempo of battle, she makes a follow-up attack. Her blows drive Abbas back, but it’s like trying to herd a rhino with a limp frond. The reverberations of her enchanted weapon rebounding from the Lunar’s hide causes her wrist to ache with effort.

              Abbas launches himself at Jin with murderous intent. Razor sharp claws puncture Jin’s breastplate and Abbas drives his fingers deep into the Dragon-Blooded’s chest, piercing her lung. Buoyed on the tides of battle, the Frenzied shows no signs of slowing his murderous pace. The crowd howls and cheers.

              Jin draws a ragged, bubbling breath and spins Calumny in her hand. The great staff collapses to the size of a hairpin and she points it directly in the Lunar’s face, before extending it to it’s full length. The force of the blow staggers Abbas back, his fingers coming clear of Jin’s body with a sick sucking sound, audible over the sound of the cracking bones of the Frenzied’s face. The spectators go wild, standing and jostling.

              As Abbas is driven back towards the gate, he swings out with the superior reach of his lashing chains. Jin uses her last reserves of power to parry the otherwise lethal blow, running a current of air along her weapon to deflect the chains.

              Ganan risks another shadow strike with his tetsubo. He clubs the Lunar to the ground. Perhaps the spectators would attribute the Lunar’s sudden fall to the Air Essence used in Jin’s parry?

              Seeing Jin on her last legs, Ganan seizes the chains of the Lunar and pulls them through the gate. Ganan’s muscles strain as the Lunar pulls against him.

              Abbas pulls against the invisible force restraining him as Ganan tangles his chains in the gate. A murmur comes up from the crowd – Ganan is not in the arena proper, and the shadowy entryway provides him with adequate concealment, but it is clear that something unusual is going on.

              Jin fires a blast of flame at Abbas as she retreats back to put some distance between herself and the Lunar.

              Ganan feels the chains slipping from his fingers. He gives a desperate wrench that would have ripped the arms off of a mortal man. Abbas hardly seems to notice.

              Jin blasts Abbas again, continuing her retreat to the far side of the arena. She casts a glance up to the stands and throws a quick salute to Gifty and Kerin. “What, they don’t have popcorn?” She quips.

              Abbas wrenches his way free of Ganan’s shadowy grasp and bounds across the arena toward Jin, clearing half the distance with a single leap.

              Jin smiles to herself and raises her palm, pointing the flat of her hand at the silver blur bearing down on her. She tries to take a steadying breath, but with the hole in her chest, all that does is send spasms wracking through her body. Cursing herself, she charges directly at the ferocious beast, and once they are face-to-face she slams her open palm into the Lunars face – the snot on his snout smearing across her palm as she summons one last elemental bolt.

              The blast of fire washes over the Lunar’s skull, roasting his brain. Abbas drops, heavily, falling on top of Jin. The two combatants lie perfectly still in the middle of the arena. A hush falls over the crowd, even Gifty puts down her beer and leans in to see which, if either, of them will rise. Finally, Abbas’s body stirs… as Jin pushes her way free from the dead Lunar. She staggers unsteadily to her feet, then brings her wrackstaff down, again and again, smashing the still smoldering skull of the beast to pieces.

              The crowd starts chanting Mnemon’s name.

              Jin leans on her wrackstaff, “Eh, I’ll take it.” She thinks to herself.

              ****

              Our heroes reconvene at the tower put aside for the use of House Alinos.

              Gifty points a finger at Jin, “I almost had you.”

              You almost had me?” Jin raises an eyebrow.

              Gifty makes a dismissive gesture, “Me, the Lunar, whatever. You mixed me up with Melody. What’s the difference?”

              “Told you Jin would win.” Ganan says, shooting Jin a wink.

              Jade Walker clears their throat. A couple of non-descript Jadeborn workers come into the room holding Jubilant Ore’s armor. Jade Walker motions to the armor, “Given your obvious innocence, it is clear that you did, indeed, take this armor from Lady Magnificent, the true thief. And I have no reason to doubt that you will return it as soon as you have finished helping my people. Thus, I entrust it to your care.”

              Gifty chuckles to herself, “She’s ruined it somehow hasn’t she? Can’t get the stink out?”

              Jade Walker ignores her and continues to address Jin, “I will calibrate the armor’s life support functions to your Dragon-Blooded physiology: it will help with your wound.”

              Ganan motions to Gifty, “Come on, we’ve got demons to summon.”

              ****

              Ganan and Dragonsgift join a score of other sorcerers, summoning circles already prepared, and begin the rituals to summon forth blood apes – a military backbone to help clear out the tunnels in advance of the hopping puppeteers and earth elementals that will do the heavy lifting of clearing the debris. The summons go without incident.

              ****

              Jade Walker helps pry Jin out of the ruined breastplate and into the power armor as she makes the necessary adjustments. The armor immediately begins to feel better, and Jin’s breathing immediately improves.

              ****

              “Twenty sorcerers?” Gifty sneers as they turn into their bunks.

              Ganan nods, completely missing her tone, “I can’t remember the last time I saw such a mass summoning.”

              “We need hundreds of demons to clear the tunnel.” Gifty reminds him.

              Jin shrugs, still wearing her armor, “You didn’t expect us to clear it overnight, did you? We have more sorcerers here in this tower than there are total in the Lap.”

              Gifty looks about to protest, then catches herself at the last moment, “Of course. You’re right. It’s been a long day, we’d better get some sleep.”

              Something about Gifty’s tone makes Jin worry that the Lap might really be hiding some massive cabal of sorcerers. Some kind of demonic cult, in service to Sondok, secretly murdering Dragon-Blooded and emptying the city’s streets for their dark purposes. Jin shakes off the feeling of foreboding, and lays herself down to sleep.

              ****

              Come the morning, the Alinos sorcerers begin shaping elementals for the task of clearing the tunnels. Indefatigable Klar leads our trio of heroes and their scale of Blood Apes through the city, out and back to the same service tunnels the Dragon-Blooded first used when they came to the city. Klar bids them good luck and seals them in under the same conditions as before – kill everything between themselves and the tunnel car entrance.

              ****

              “Summoning an elemental takes about four hours – so no need to rush.” Ganan lectures the others, “Gifty and I will go up-front, Jin you direct the Blood Apes.”

              The mass of Blood Apes shifts uncomfortably, the individuals look instinctively to Gifty for command.

              Gifty turns to her father, “Why don’t you and Jin go up front, and I’ll direct the Blood Apes. They naturally follow the biggest and strongest, and, no offense auntie, I think I have a little more tactical experience at leading troops.”

              Jin shrugs, “There is a reason I keep Mott around. Group tactics aren’t my strong point and demons are…” She gestures at Ganan and Gifty, “Your thing, not mine.”

              Ganan folds his arms over his chest, “You’re still wounded.”

              Jin pats Ganan on the chest, “Then don’t let anything hit me.”

              The Blood Apes fall in behind Gifty. Jin, not knowing the specifics of how bound demons behave, doesn’t see this as suspicious. Ganan, oblivious at the best of times, notices nothing amiss.

              ****

              The access tunnel is empty. The corpses have been hauled away – presumably not by the Jadeborn – but the Dune Folk have not moved back in. A couple of Blood Apes carry flickering torches that bathe the otherwise dark tunnel in eerie, flickering, light.

              Ganan leads the way, stomping over the blood smeared floors. Jin and the Blood Apes follow, with Gifty bringing up the rear. They come to the fork in the road.

              “We go right this time, right?” Ganan says with a grin.

              “Left.” Jin interjects, “We should clear out the path to the city, then advance along the main tunnel. Otherwise we risk getting flanked with no path of retreat.”

              Gifty shrugs, “Be bold! Let’s take the fight to the enemy, it’s not like they could stop us before we had a demon army on our side.”

              Ganan sighs, “Jin’s right: we’re clearing the tunnel for a reason. We should make sure the excavation team has a clear path and set up a forward base.”

              The Dragon-Blooded proceed to the main tunnel, then walk back to the great blast door leading back into the city. The corpses closest to the access tunnel have been hauled away, but the bodies near blast door still litter the ground. The stench in the confines of the underground tunnel is powerful. Rats and other small scavengers scamper away into the shadows as our heroes approach.

              Ganan unslings his firewand, but Jin puts a hand on the barrel.

              “I know you don’t want to cause a cave-in, but it’s one thing to use a flame weapon in an enclosed space with limited air-flow when we’re fighting for our lives, and it’s another thing to deliberately start a fire that’s going to fill the tunnel with smoke. Do the magic thing.”

              Ganan holsters his weapon again, wrinkling his nose. He touches the bodies, purifying them with the power of his essence and burning them to ash. His powers only work on the Dune Folk corpses: their massive riding beasts are too alien to be burned away with the power of the Dragon-Blooded. Having secured their escape, they proceed down the tunnel.

              ****

              Piles of rubble obstruct the long, straight, tunnel car tunnel: some are an inch or two off the ground, making the terrain treacherous, whilst others fill the tunnel from floor to ceiling. Dirt and mud have been smeared over the glowing crystals in the tunnel walls, dimming the light of the tunnels from a soft dusk to a starless night, almost as black as the access tunnel.

              “You get the enhanced optics in your armor working yet?” Gifty asks Jin.

              “Optics? I’ve barely got the life-support working!”

              Gifty directs the torch bearers to fan out to provide better light. Our heroes don’t have to go much further than the access tunnel before they see something much bigger than a rat scurry away into the shadows.

              “Be on your guard!” Jin warns, extending Calumny to fighting length.

              The rubble is deeper here: the entire floor is covered with shifting, loose debris, and the large piles of rubble practically fill the whole area, necessitating that our heroes squeeze by in single file. Hollowed out alcoves in the rubble show signs of habitation and fortification.

              Our heroes stand before a collapsed section of tunnel: ceiling and floor bow down a clear four-feet into a sloping pool of dirty water. Ganan and Jin wade forward into the chest high water without pause, Gifty wrinkles her nose and orders the torch bearing demons to move forward: the Blood Apes have to awkwardly hold the torches above their heads as they wade into the water. At its deepest point, the water laps up to Jin’s chin, then the pool starts to slope upward again.

              The water is still waist high on Ganan when the Dune Folk spring their ambush.

              From behind barriers and atop towers made of rocky rubble, the Dune Folk pet the Dragon-Blooded with rocks fired from their sling-crossbows. A spear-wall stands ready to force the Dynasts back into the water if they manage to struggle free.

              Slowed by the water, Ganan goes through the deliberate movements of Earth Dragon Form as the hail of projectiles smash around him. Jin dodges with a flourish, cutting through the water as though it were open ground. Gifty shields herself with the flat of Abrojo’s blade as she orders the Blood Apes forward into the teeth of the assault.

              Something living shifts in the water, coiling itself around Jin’s leg. She thrusts Calumny into the water and expertly detangles herself from the creature. Blazing forward, surrounded by a bonfire of fire essence as her anima ignites, she disengages the underwater lurker and smashes head-long into the spear wall.

              The spear wall tries to drive Jin back into the water, but the flashing speed of her jade staff easily turns aside their blows.

              Ganan slams a foot down into the water, striking out at the lurker. His foot connects with something… squishy.

              The Blood Apes surge through the water, churning it as they move forward. The lurker in the water entangles and slows them down. The demons beat their fists and clubs in the brown water, frothing it white with their fruitless rage.

              Gifty pushes forward, directing the Blood Apes to ignore the underwater lurker and continue on, even as she drags her great sword through the water, hammering the spongy creature.

              Jin lashes out with her wrackstaff. The first sweeping blow knocks the spears of her enemies aside, and she slips into the gap created, then catches the off-balance Dune Folk with an arcing backswing. A second rank rises from behind the barricade, jabbing forward with their weapons.

              Ganan sucks a great lungful of air then plunges under the water. His metal fingers sink into the soft flesh of the lurker as he grabs a hold of the hidden foe. Serpentine tentacles envelope him in return as he twists and tears at the lurker’s body.

              The Dune Folk fire another volley. Rocks pelt the water around Ganan, but do no real harm. Gifty shields herself effectively. A few of the Blood Apes stagger back under the force of the blows – each rock fired with the power to smash a man’s skull is plenty powerful enough to bruise and slow the combat demons.

              Driving forward lashed by Gifty’s orders more than the Dune Folk assault, the Blood Apes wade through the water. The torch bearers drop their flames, which sizzle as they hit the water. The raging bonfire of Jin’s anima lights the way as the Blood Apes pull themselves out of the water and fall on the spear-line, smashing it aside with their inhuman strength. The spear-line breaks and runs.

              Jin scales the debris tower to deal with the archers, rising effortlessly as the stone yields handholds wherever she places her hands. Atop the tower, she devastates the archers with a storm of blows delivered with inhuman speed. A few throw themselves from tower and run, but most are too badly injured to continue fighting.

              “Mop them up!” Gifty orders the Blood Apes before turning to Jin, “Conserve your strength next time: there’s no need to go all-out on every encounter.” She is soaked in the dirty water, and the stench clings to her.

              Jin jumps down in front of Gifty, her anima still raging, “Where’s Ganan?” She asks, turning a blind eye to the demons tearing apart the Dune Folk too wounded to flee. The water of the pool has beaded up and dropped off of her armor, leaving her unmarred.

              Gifty gestures vaguely back to the pool of water behind them.

              Ganan and the lurker continue to grapple underwater. Ganan yanks and tears at the pliant flesh of the creature as it tries to squeeze the air from his lungs and hold him under the fetid water. Ganan’s anima glows beneath the surface.

              Gifty and Jin leap the short barricade, and look down at the water, as it starts to light up from below.

              “Well, he’s dead.” Gifty shrugs nonchalantly, and she mimes walking off. A dozen Blood Apes head deeper into the darkness to slay the fleeing Dune Folk.

              Jin extends her palm and shoots a blast of flame into the water. The fireball evaporates in a burst of steam as it plunges into the dirty water, the lurker seems to be unharmed by the attack.

              Strangled, inhuman screams come from the darkness as something unseen rips apart the Blood Apes. Half-a-dozen of the massive, heavily muscled brutes run, wide-eyed and terrified, out of the darkness back to the raging bonfire of Jin’s anima: the flames of Jin’s essence reflected in their wide eyes.

              “Rally to me!” Gifty bellows as she leaps up on top of the barricade. The Blood Apes form ranks in front of her and prepare to face the beast lurking in the shadows.

              Jin looks back at the top of the archer’s tower, and resignedly climbs back to the spot she just jumped down from.

              Underwater, Ganan rends and tears, his bronze grip finally finding purchase as it hits something harder than gelatinous blubber. Thick, black blood spills out of the lurker as Ganan rips its “torso” in half with his bare hands. The ichor stings and burns Ganan as he fights his way out of the creature’s death grip and staggers out of the water – his eyes streaming.

              The approaching shadow materializes into a beast. The thing that steps into the gloaming shadows cast by Jin’s flickering anima is a Tsuchigumo: an enormous spider, easily large enough to take an elephant as prey. Its massive body and wickedly barbed legs practically fill the tunnel: Dune Folk squeeze between their way the beasts legs – its forelegs already drip with the blood of slaughtered demons.

              The Dune Folk fire a volley against the intruders.

              The Tsuchigumo contracts and expands its body, letting out a terrifying hiss as it rears up. Its fangs drip with venom.

              “Nee-ope.” Gifty says as she jumps down from the wall and runs back for the water. She barges past Ganan and almost puts a foot in the water before she notices the waters surface is bubbling and hissing. Toxic fumes are rising from the water’s surface – the dead lurker’s blood having turned the entire collapsed section of tunnel into an acid bath.

              Despite being accustomed to the horrors of the Demon City, the behemoth before them that has so casually slaughtered their kin is a terrifying sight for the erymanthoi. The Blood Ape’s discipline wavers, a couple break and clumsily climb over the barricade. One half-wades, half-falls into the acid bath, which strips its flesh from its bones right before Gifty’s eyes.

              Jin cocks her head sideways, “Giant spider?” She says, completely unfazed.

              “Must be Saturday.” Ganan shrugs, also unimpressed. The ichor and muck of the water sloughs off his body (even his clothes are unstained). He plunges hand into the tower of rubble and pulls out his tetsubo.

              The Tsuchigumo flexes its body against the walls of the tunnel, sending tremors under the Dragon-Blooded’s feet and dislodging chunks of rock from the ceiling.

              “PUT THAT THING AWAY!” Gifty barks, her eyes wide with terror, “You’ll bring the whole tunnel down on us!”

              “But-!” Ganan protests, motioning at the spider behemoth, before making a noise of desperate frustration and banishing his weapon back into the rock, “Fine!”

              Jin’s anima falters for a moment as she draws off its power to recreate her elemental mantel. Instead of a raging bonfire, controlled orbs of flame orbit her body, which still blazes with light.

              Ganan rushes forward, leaps over the barricade, and pushes his way through the Blood Apes. Standing in the front rank, he focuses the power of the forge into his hands, which glow red hot.

              The Tsuchigumo barrels down on Ganan, shaking its body fiercely. Dune Folk rain off the creature like spiderlings, rappelling on silk ropes, in among the Blood Apes. They slice at Ganan’s bronze body with their crude weapons: he catches one of the blades, melting it between his fingers as the other blows glance harmlessly from his body.

              The spider creature itself swipes out with a powerful limb. The blow shatters Jin’s tower, spraying rocks over the Blood Apes below. The arm continues its killing arc and skewers a Blood Ape, ripping its guts out before smashing into Ganan. Ganan’s anima rages into its full strength, shinning with bright white light as sand whips around him. The blow that would knock a rhino to the ground is blocked on his metal forearm.

              Jin skids to a stop beside her brother, having kept her footing and slid down the collapsing tower in style. She brings her wrackstaff to bear, “Show off.” She chides, before tearing into the Dune Folk with a flurry of bone breaking blows that sees her aura rage back into a bonfire.

              Gifty climbs onto the barricade and starts bellowing orders to the blood apes. The demons swallow their terror and lay into the (essentially) human attackers in their midst, laying into the Dune Folk with preternatural speed and unnatural strength.

              Ganan charges at the spider, smashing into its barbed legs with his burning fists joined together for a powerful, two-handed strike. The spider-god barely registers the blow, even as Ganan realigns his aura with the element of earth.

              The Dune Folk slash out at the Blood Apes. Without the element of surprise, and with Gifty rallying the demons, their attacks do little.

              The Tsuchigumo focuses its attacks on Ganan: instead of a sweeping arm, it plunges two of its forelegs down aiming to crush him. Ganan throws his burning palms up to catch the descending claws, his muscles straining against the overwhelming force pressing down on him.

              Jin dances through the melee, slaughtering the Dune Folk. Even bolstered by their spider-god, the Dune Folk are overwhelmed by the assault as Jin and the Blood Apes rip them apart.

              Gifty points her sword at the terrifying spider-thing and bellows a single order: “Attack!”

              Emboldened by the blood of their fallen enemies, the Blood Apes bound forward and smash at the spider-thing as it grapples with Ganan. Despite possessing the brutal strength of gorillas, the spider thing shrugs off the demons’ blows, treating them as no more than ankle-biters.

              Ganan strains as the Tsuchigumo flexes, pressing its weight down upon him. His burning fingers dig into the spider-god’s talons as they wrestle.

              Jin turns and sprints diagonally toward the spider-god. She scrambles up the wall of the tunnel and leaps onto the creature’s back, bringing her wrackstaff down on the giant spider’s head. The beast’s head is no less protected than its mighty legs, and though Jin’s blow matches considerable power with precise aim, it fails to do significant damage. The retinas behind a dozen eyes shimmer as they swivel up to look at Jin. She brings her wrackstaff down again for a second strike.

              Gifty charges forward. Behind considerably taller than Ganan, the Tsuchigumo’s forelegs are the perfect height for her attack. She swings Abrojo into the leg Ganan holds with his left hand, the massive daiklave wreathed in flame. The creature lets out another warning hiss as it releases Ganan and backs off a step. Gifty follows up, swinging again for a second blow.

              “Thanks!” Ganan yells as he runs forward, crests a small pile of debris, and leaps at the spider-god’s face. He winds back his fist as he sails through the air, punches the beast in the fanged maw, and drops to the ground in a three-point landing. A human sized opponent would be floored, but to something the size of the Tsuchigumo, it is like being stung by a bee.

              The Tsuchigumo reaches up to its head.

              “Oh sh-!” Jin has time to exclaim before the creature has her.

              With a single sweeping motion, it rips her from its back, entangles her in a web and hurls her to the ground. Though her body is wrapped in silk webbing, her helmet is exposed, and it’s that helmet that smashes into an outcropping of debris. For a moment, Jin’s world goes black and a screaming pain sears into the left side of her face. Then the armor’s life support systems kick in and her face goes numb. She blinks – at least, she thinks she blinks – and the world comes back into focus. Mostly. She cranes her neck, this way and that, feeling that something is blocking her vision. She tries to bring her hand to her face, to find that she’s bound tight.

              Gifty closes the gap, swinging her mighty sword at the creatures legs, harrying it with rapid strikes.

              Ganan turns and rips at the silk binding Jin with his burning hands, tearing the webbing off of her. He winces as he sees his sister’s face – the left side of her helmet is staved in, and blood trickles from the optical lens.

              The Blood Apes continue to harry the giant spider. Between their warclubs, brutal fists, and bone-shattering bellows, they batter at the enormous creature.

              The Tsuchigumo holds its weight on three legs and rains down blows with the other five. Four Blood Apes are skewered, pulped, disemboweled, or decapitated. Gifty is driven to the ground by the force of the blows, but is overwise unharmed, rolling away with the force of the attack.

              Jin rises unsteadily and extends her left hand, palm facing the spider. She closes her right eye, the better to sight along her left arm. She works out what is wrong with her vision: she is blind in her left eye. She opens her right eye and shoots. The burst of fire strikes true, hitting the Tsuchigumo directly in the open mouth, burning at its insides.

              Ganan charges at one of the legs the spider god is using to support its weight – the same leg Gifty had attacked whilst he was grappling the creature. He smashes into the wound Gifty caused, breaking the limb off at the joint. For a moment, it seems as if the behemoth can balance on only two legs. But only for a moment. The spider-god’s bulk comes crashing prone on the ground.

              Gifty swings her sword over her head in a great arc as the spider falls on top of her. Between her own prodigious strength and the weight of the Tsuchigumo, she is able to rip though the beast’s carapace as it falls, creating a small, yet telling wound. (And avoiding being crushed in the process.)

              Most of the Blood Apes are pinned beneath the bulk of the spider, but pinned or not, they continue to fight – even it’s only biting, scratching or tearing.

              The Tsuchigumo stirs, bracing itself against the sides of the cavern as it tries to stand. Beneath it, the Blood Apes writhe; Gifty is practically inside its body; and its mouth smolders. It hisses again as it staggers to its feet and tries to reorientate for its next attack.

              “Ah, fuck it.” Ganan mutters to himself, drawing his tetsubo from his anima as he runs at the spider god.

              The entire tunnel trembles, just as it did when the Tsuchigumo leant its bulk against the tunnel walls. Ganan leaps again, smashes the monster in the head, spins in mid-air, smashing the creature again. Ganan falls to the ground as the spider god is hurled backward with tremendous strength. As Ganan touches down, the Tsuchigumo impacts heavily against the tunnel wall. The ceiling caves in on top of it, burying it under countless tons of rubble, crushing the life out of it.

              Dirt and rock rains down on the Dragon-Blooded, but the spider-god does not stir.

              ****

              Ganan spends 7DX to train Integrity 5.
              Jin spends 12DX to unlock the Internal Life-Support Systems of her armor.



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

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              • #97
                Session 83 – The Lost City of Dari – Ganan (295XP 236DX, 293/231 spent; 20WhP 83GP 45SP), Jinabar (295XP 236DX, 276/232 spent), Gifty (???XP ???DX, ???/??? spent)

                “Cram all of the stars and planets into my ass! What the fuck!”

                “Baka! I told you! I specifically told you! Not to do that!”

                “I told him not to do it first!”

                “We both told you not to do that!”

                Tepet Ganan just lets Cynis Jinabar and Dragonsgift Saber Edge berate him, with a smile on his face. He has just slain a giant spider behemoth in the partially collapsed car-tunnel that connects the Jadeborn cities of Shining Kren and Dijac.

                Unfortunately doing so has collapsed the tunnel ahead of them.

                And the tunnel behind them has been cut off with a deadly acid bath.

                Our heroes are trapped underground, with limited supplies and no way out.

                Ganan shrugs and points to Jin’s mangled face. “Worth it.” He says simply.

                Jin fumes silently. The spider behemoth had nearly killed them – her especially. Half their demon army lay dead on the ground. She sighs, and points at the rubble, “Are you sure you can’t…” She motions parting the rocks with her hands, “Like you did in Dovak?”

                “The Thousand Correct Actions of the Upright Soldier refers to that maneuver as the ‘Ramparts of Obedient Earth’. And yes, I’m sure I can’t ‘just do it’: it’s an innate facet of Creation that the ground should yield before Pasiap when he marches to war leading an army. Through the study of warfare, I have learned to emulate this ability, but that doesn’t mean I can reshape the face of Creation at will. No more than you can turn your blazing speed in combat to writing a book at super speed.”

                Jin cocks her head to one side, wondering if she could carve a book into her enemies at super speed.

                Seeing Jin cock her head, and more blood ooze out of her smashed helmet, Gifty winces, “That… does not look good.”

                “Yeah, I’m not a doctor or anything, but I’m pretty sure that I only have one eye now.” Jin nods sagely. “Life support systems in this armor are fantastic though. Can barely feel it.”

                She walks unsteadily a few paces towards Ganan, looking like she’s going to fall down with every step.

                “Sit down.” Ganan says, channeling the power of his anima into the earth, assembling the loose debris into a crude chair (3SP).

                Jin sits, “Okay, how come you can do that, but you can’t-”

                Ganan cuts her off, “Why can I assemble a six-inch chair from rubble, but can’t blast my way through thirty yards of solid stone?”

                Jin grumbles, “Okay, fair enough. Does anyone have a suggestion on how we get out of here?”

                “Well…” Ganan points at his giant enchanted tetsubo, “I we can’t get out the way we came because of a giant pool of acid, so why don’t I collapse the ceiling on top of the acid pool, then we walk across the rubble?”

                Gifty snaps at him, “Because likely as not, you won’t just fill the acid pool but completely block off both our exits.”

                Jin makes an offhand gesture, “It was Gan who filled that pool with acid in the first place.”

                Gifty points her giant two-handed sword, Abrojo, at Ganan, “That’s right! It’s your fault we can’t go forward and it’s your fault we can’t go back!”

                “Well, what do you suggest!” Ganan snaps.

                Gifty considers for a moment, “The Blood Apes can snap back to their summoners. We send one back, telling them we’ve killed everything from the access tunnel to here, and to send in the elementals to dig us out.”

                Jin winces again, “Small problem: we know the Dune Folk… settlement(?) connects to the access tunnel. So… there could be a Dune Folk army flanking us on the other side of that pool there: they don’t need access to this section of tunnel to attack Shining Kren.”

                “I told you!” Ganan crows, triumphantly, having wanted to wipe out that settlement as their first order of business.

                Gifty walks over to the edge of the acid pool and waves the other two over. The liquid inside is still obviously corrosive – eating away at he Blood Ape bones stewing in the frothing depths.

                “You’re pretty tough, right father?” Gifty says, her tone measured.

                Ganan raises an eyebrow and looks at the acid bath, “I’m not tough enough to wade through that.

                Gifty nods in agreement, “Not all the way through, sure. But that acid has got to be eating away at the rock at the bottom of the pool, right? If you could wade out there and crack the floor, then the acid might drain away.”

                Jin interjects, “And contaminate whatever ground water lies below. This tunnel follows one of the main trade routes of the South – we saw the caravansaries when we flew to Paragon.”

                Gifty folds her arms, “I’m sure their wells aren’t drawing water from below us.”

                “We have no idea how the water systems are linked!” Jin shoots back. “Bad plan.”

                “I could nullify the acid with sorcery…” Ganan muses.

                Jin slaps him in the chest, “Why didn’t you say that at the start!”

                “Well, I don’t have any supplies… and it’ll take about a week… and we don’t have any food. I mean, except…”

                Ganan motions at the bodies of the cannibalistic Dune Folk. Left without orders, some of the Blood Apes are already chewing on their fallen foes.

                Gifty wrinkles her nose, “I can go a week without food. If we have literally no better plan.”

                Ganan throws a chunk of rock into the acid bath. It sinks quickly, but obviously dissolves as it falls. The edges of the pool are pitted where the water has lapped up against them.

                “I probably am tough enough to make Gifty’s plan work.” Ganan drawls.

                Jin shoots him a fierce look, “It stripped a Blood Ape to the bone in a matter of seconds.”

                “Right, but…” Ganan taps his Belt of Shadow Walking, “I can turn into shadow. Hold my breath. Slip through the water, hit the pool. I only need to materialize to climb out again, by which time the water level should be low enough to traverse.”

                “Wait… if you can move through the acid immaterial…” Jin begins, “Why not just wade through the pool and go for help?”

                Ganan interrupts, “How am I supposed to climb out the other side if I’m immaterial?”

                “Wait, how come you don’t fall through the floor when you’re immaterial?”

                Gifty shouts across the bickering, “Enough! Jin, if you have a better plan, let’s hear it! Otherwise, father, go smash!”

                Jin doesn’t have a better plan.

                ****

                Ganan transforms himself into immaterial shadow and slips into the acid pool. It’s a lot darker above the water now Ganan’s anima is immaterial. The bubbles being created on the surface of the water are the result of the bottom of the pool being eaten away by the acid. He locates a weak point, using his flawless understanding of masonry, and drives his tetsubo down with a fierce shout that blurs the boarder of the physical and spiritual worlds. With a single block, he turns a fault into a crevasse, and the acid begins to drain away, seeping into whatever lies below the Jadeborn tunnel.

                Gifty and Jin watch the water disappear, then order their remaining dozen Blood Apes to cross back to the other side. Ganan’s shadow follows them back to the access tunnel.

                “We’re going back, right?” Gifty says to her father’s shadow, “You can materialize.”

                Ganan’s form blurs forward as he re-enters the physical world. “We still need to deal with this settlement. Otherwise, all we’ve done is block the tunnel.”

                “Nice use of the word ‘we’, champ.” Jin chides.

                “Okay, all we’ve done is block the tunnel and nearly die. Point is, if we clear out this settlement, we return in triumph. We’ve already slaughtered a goodly number of their warriors. And their spider god. And their cavalry. If you can, you know, not lose any more body parts”

                Gifty snaps, “She can clearly barely walk! You and I might be able to continue, but Jin can’t. So we have to go back.”

                Jin steps in, “Now wait a minute, I can speak for myself missy! Now the two of you might have some showy moves with your giant weapons, but you never would have killed that thing if it wasn’t for my help! I did a hell of a lot of damage to it!”

                “I mean, it’s not a contest…” Gifty retorts.

                “I’m grateful for the assist, but… I was the one that killed it.” Ganan adds.

                “Technically, I think the cave-in killed it.” Gifty contends.

                “Enough! I have a hit point left, I’m good to go!” Jin insists.

                “I want it noted that I objected to this foolishness,” Gifty says, “But as there’s no convincing you otherwise, let’s press on.”

                “Before we do,” Ganan says with measured slowness, “I want us all to be clear what our objective is. Our forces will be clearing hundreds, if not thousands, of tons of rock. For hundreds of miles, to reach our goal. Thousands of miles, if House Alinos doesn’t decide to just betray the Mountain Folk once we have what we came for. To do this, they need the threats in this tunnel removed. That’s what we’re here to do. We need to kill every living thing that might interrupt our primary mission. The warriors. The civilians. The children.”

                Jin shifts uncomfortably, “I don’t like the idea of killing kids.”

                Ganan glares at her, “Then maybe you should go back to Shining Kren. I don’t mind doing the actual skull smashing, but if we’re going to argue about this – we argue now and not when the enemy is right before us.”

                “You’re a cruel man.” Jin says simply.

                “What do you want to do? Find these cannibal babies a nice cannibal foster home on the Blessed Isle? Turn them over to the Lunars on the surface – they’re all monsters who eat people after all, should get along fine. We’re here to exterminate sub-human filth. This isn’t some great morality play! Gifty, do you have the stomach for this?”

                Gifty’s eyes are cold, “Don’t doubt what I am capable of.”

                Jin makes a sick noise, “Urgh. Do you think this is how Reya would want you to handle this?”

                Ganan shrugs, “Reya wants me to handle it. If she didn’t want me to do this my way, she would have left explicit instructions.” He sighs, “I’ll grant you, this is one of those things where she doesn’t want to hear the details. There will be glorious tales told of our victory over the Tsuchigumo. There will be no tales about the massacre of the Dune People in their beds. This is the reality of being a champion of the Realm.”

                Jin looks at him from behind her helmet, fixing him with her one good eye, “I thought we were supposed to be the champions of Creation.”

                Ganan turns his back on her and walks toward the Dune Folk settlement, “It’s the same thing.”

                Gifty softens her voice, “We really don’t need you for this. Take a couple of Blood Apes and go back to the city.” Then she turns and jogs after Ganan, ordering ten of the remaining Blood Apes to follow and two to stay with Jin.

                Jin gestures at the demons, “Well don’t just stand there. Help me catch up with the others.”

                ****

                Gifty sidles up to Ganan, “You don’t have to ‘protect’ me: you have no idea what I am capable of.”

                Ganan shrugs, nonchalantly, “Do you enjoy killing children?”

                “What?”

                “Killing children. If you enjoy it, then I’ll stay out of your way: you can kill them all, it’s fine by me.”

                Gifty makes a noise of frustration, “I didn’t say I enjoy killing children!”

                “Then why do you want to?”

                “I don’t want-”

                “Then you don’t have to. You managed to lead Clan Saber Edge through the storm that shattered Great House Cynis. I would say that I was proud of you, but I know I don’t have that right. I am awed by you. I fully believe that you are capable of killing children, just as I know that Cynis Jinabar – handpicked by the Scarlet Empress herself, an elite warrior who banished Sondok to hell – is fully capable of killing children. You don’t have anything to prove to me.”

                “I’m not-” Gifty stops, purses her lips, grunts, and changes tack, “Why do you have to?”

                Ganan shrugs, “I’m good at it. I’ve had the most practice.”

                ****

                Jin catches up with the others, as their animas start to dim.

                Ganan eyes her, “Do I even dare ask about the enhanced optics suite in your armor?”

                “Next question, move on.” Jin says, “What about the torches the Blood Apes were carrying?”

                Gifty shakes her head, “Wet. Downed. Melted. Gone. I can light Abrojo. Ganan, you can see in the dark, right?”

                “It’s not so much sight, as I can feel the-”

                Gifty cuts him off, “So, we’re good, right? Jin, just do your swirling power thing.”

                Jin grinds her teeth, “Just raise my anima by channeling the primal forces of Creation, then harness the raging firestorm within, dampen it down into a mantel of elemental energy that I can use as a battery for destructive power? It’s not that easy: I can’t just casually do that.”

                Ganan shuffles awkwardly, “This has been… draining for me, too. The Breath of Creation stirs but weakly within me.”

                “You’re out of essence?”

                “I’m out of essence.”

                (“Just say that, man.”

                “… I thought I did?”)

                Gifty throws her arms in the air, “Well I’m fine!”

                Jin whistles, “Do you want to go first, maybe?”

                ****

                The Dune Folk settlement is not in a wide-open cavern, like the Jadeborn city. Rather it is spread through a warren of access tunnels and crude burrows. Barricades and pit-fall traps block our heroes’ way, and the pitch darkness hides numerous ambushes.

                The Dragon-Blooded and their demons work their way through the tunnels systematically. Despite the Dune Folk’s home-field advantage, there’s nothing they can do to stop the rampage – even their last few sandswimmers do little to hold back the trio of Exalts. When the last defender falls, Ganan breaks off from the rest of the group to finish the job with a pair of meaner looking demons.

                Jin and Gifty are left alone in the darkness of the tunnel. Gifty’s flaming sword flickers in the darkness, casting eerie shadows. Gifty brings the blade to her face.

                Jin, warily looks up at Gifty, “Is this the part where you murder me and blame it on the Dune Folk?” She asks jokingly.

                Gifty doesn’t look like she’s joking. She scoops up a discarded Dune Folk blade.

                “Oh.” Jin says, standing up and flicking Calumny out to fighting length, “So, one fewer share of the treasure?”

                “Something like that,” Gifty says menacingly.

                In the half-light cast by Gifty’s sword, Jin sees a flicker of movement behind Gifty. Jin raises her palm and fires a blast of flame at the perfectly hidden assassin creeping up behind Gifty. The assassin falls.

                Gifty shrugs, “You got enough power to do that again?”

                Jin cocks her head to one side and grins, “Nope.” For a moment she settles into fighting position, then thinks the better of it and tosses her wrackstaff away into the darkness, “Oh, fuck it. Just make it quick.”

                “Harumph!” Gifty puts her sword away, having had a change of heart, “I guess one more person to split the treasure with isn’t that bad.”

                A few minutes pass, and Ganan returns. He quickly finds Jin’s wrackstaff in the darkness and returns it to her. The trio returns to Shining Kren in glorious triumph… and in awkward silence.

                ****

                Ganan spends 8XP to train Sage of Iron Meditation.



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

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                • #98
                  Session 84 – End of Chapter 9 – Ganan (300XP 240DX, 293/238 spent; 20WhP 89GP 39SP), Jinabar (300XP 240DX, 276/232 spent), Gifty (???XP ???DX, ???/??? spent)

                  The Dragon-Blooded return to Shining Kren having wiped out the local Dune Folk population, but with half the number of demons they set out with and Jin badly mauled. Our heroes approach via the main tunnel car door, which they first used to enter the city by. Jin seeks out a healer, and Gifty busies herself with her own business.

                  Alinos Kerin calls Ganan aside to take a report on the situation. She is surprisingly calm when he reports that the tunnel is now completely collapsed.

                  “Well, these things can’t be helped: our forces are here to clear a collapsed tunnel – if they’re not going to be torn apart by a giant spider, I consider that a victory.” Kerin considers Ganan for a moment, “It’s true, you know, what your Outcaste said: our matriarch doesn’t trust you. She doesn’t dislike you, understand, it is simply a matter of good business. I am pleasantly surprised.”

                  Ganan nods, slowly, “I do not possess the skills expected of a Dynast. Matriarch Alinos cannot look past my failure. But that does not mean I do not possess skills.”

                  Kerin smiles and leans back casually, “Such as?”

                  Ganan shrugs, “If you want subterranean monsters killed, I can do that. I am not a scalpel.”

                  Kerin spreads an open palm, “You are hammer.”

                  Ganan bows.

                  Kerin muses, “This is not a task suited to a hammer. You will stay close to me and act only on my direction.”

                  “With respect, madame, I disagree. Our forces are the only Dynasts here – all sorcerers. There’s no risk of my causing a social scandal. If we are in close proximity, I am bound to say or do something that you don’t like. And finally, there is no telling what other dangers this tunnel is hiding. You should continue to use me, and my hearth, as your vanguard. We are best suited to take on the unknown, and we can ameliorate the damage caused to House Alinos assets.”

                  “In other words: use you as a human shield?” Kerin and Ganan exchange a look of understanding, “Very well. Though… I didn’t realize you were a Sworn Kinship.”

                  Ganan shakes his head and blushes, “It’s only an expression.”

                  ****

                  The next few weeks settle into a predictably monotonous pattern. With the tunnel ahead completely caved in, the Alinos venture can afford to clear the section closest to Shining Kren without incident. Jin convinces Jadeborn workers and interested Underfolk to join the effort clearing the tunnel: it’s not an easy task, but as days give way to weeks more and more people become interested in joining the effort. Ganan works during the “day” clearing rubble by hand: the presence of one of the Dragon-Blooded in the tunnel is reassuring for those afraid of being ambushed by subterranean monsters. The sorcerous army of elementals and demons grows day-by-day – their appearance is off-putting to the Jadeborn and the subterranean humans, but their work proceeds with increasing swiftness.

                  By the end of the second week, the stretch between Shining Kren and what was the acid pool has been completely cleared – even the smallest pile of rubble swept away, leaving the tunnel immaculate.

                  Gifty spends a lot of time overseeing the demonic workforce. Things seem to run more efficiently when she is directing the labor, and the Alinos sorcerers are more than happy to delegate away any actual work between the arduous summoning rituals – the better to enjoy the luxuries of Shining Kren.

                  ****

                  “How is the eye?” Ganan asks without looking up. He is directing Earth elementals to brace the partially collapsed tunnel over what was the acid pool, whilst Gifty directs Hopping Puppeteers who are rebuilding and reinforcing the tunnel’s foundations.

                  “Still missing,” Jin responds. The life support systems of her armor have helped accelerate her healing, but they have not regrown the eye she lost in this very section of tunnel fighting the spider behemoth. “Dragonlord Kerin wants an update.”

                  “Firstly, why did she send you? Secondly, why did you bother come?” Ganan scoffs, having no intention of stopping work to deliver a report.

                  “I was bored. And I was bored.” Jin answers, ticking off her fingers. Not being a sorcerer or a member of House Alinos, and still carrying serious wounds from the battles in the tunnel, there hasn’t been a lot for Jin to do in the city. She has managed to send covert messages to her Archons, working out of the Lap to investigate the mysterious goings-on in the city, whilst she is stuck under the mountain… but so far Mott’s investigation has uncovered nothing, and Jin cannot leave Shining Kren to go and help. She continues, “And much as hearing you talk about architecture is boring, you see my dilemma.”

                  “This isn’t architecture, it’s civil engineering.”

                  Jin shrugs, “Engineering, dungeoneering, bore me.”

                  Ganan sighs, “I’ve reinforced the floor and we’ve got plenty of materials to reinforce the tunnel, fill the hole and blast a new roof.”

                  “Wait… blast?”

                  Ganan grins, “Blast.”

                  ****

                  Filling the base turns out to be easy. Blasting turns out to be less dramatic than hoped: the Jadeborn provide alchemical charges, and Ganan expertly uses them to clear the tunnel, before personally shoring up the structure (-10SP: 6GP, 4SP).

                  ****

                  Work continues to excavating the corpse of the Tsuchigumo. This is more difficult: the cave-in isn’t stable, and despite the best efforts of the sorcerous workforce the tunnel continues to collapse as material is hauled away. As the entire tunnel is blocked, it’s practically impossible to reinforce the tunnel as they go, and the spider behemoth’s corpse is too soft to bore through without collapsing under the weight of the rock above.

                  “Isn’t this literally why we decided to do this with a magic army instead of a regular army?” Jin complains bitterly.

                  Gifty shakes her head firmly, “No, we decided to do this with a magic army because House Alinos doesn’t want to overcommit. Plus, a regular army would have been eaten by that spider.” She inscribes sigils into the face of the rock as she talks.

                  Jin cocks an eyebrow, “Sure… so why don’t we have a magic doodad to do this?”

                  Gifty rolls her eyes, “I am the magic doodad to do this. We have Earth Elementals. We don’t have spider-god elementals. If we keep excavating, the cave in might become visible on the surface, and we don’t want that.”

                  “So why you? Don’t we have any other sorcerers?”

                  Gifty fixes Jin with a pointed stare, “Sorcerers? Sure. Sorcerers who are expert archeologists? Sure, probably. Ones that are better than me? Please.”

                  Jin jerks a thumb over her shoulder at Ganan, who is breaking rocks with his fists, “It just seems like his thing.”

                  Gifty goes back to work, “Why? It doesn’t involve blowing anything up.”

                  ****

                  Gifty’s miracle to clear the blockage takes time to manifest. Over the next few days, Jin takes some of the more warlike bound demons and sweeps the tunnels – looking for signs of burrowing in or missed passageways that might expose the work crews to attack.

                  Shining Kren is a functional and dour city. It is not without amenities, but equally it is not a tourist destination, and the city holds little interest to Jin. Sweeping the same empty tunnels, however, also does not provide much entertainment.

                  Alinos Kerin has mostly settled into a routine of writing coded reports to the Blessed Isle and sourcing the materials needed for the works. The Alinos sorcerer corps is essentially autonomous at this stage, summoning to meet the needs and predicted needs of the project as they come up, rather than requiring direct oversight, and Jin is able to set up a meeting without much fuss.

                  Jin gives Kerin a salute as she enters the room in the sorcerer’s tower given over as the expedition leader’s office.

                  “Two hundred miles down, two-thousand-four-hundred miles to go.” Jin says by way of greeting.

                  Kerin studies Jin for a moment, “Only five hundred miles to Paragon. The intelligence reports suggest the tunnel is mostly intact beyond that point: we just need to exterminate the filth living in the tunnel and close any bolt holes they’ve cut. The last two-thousand miles will be quicker than the first two hundred.”

                  “Sounds like we approached this problem from the wrong end,” Jin shakes her head.

                  “No, this is the way to do it,” Kerin shakes her head, “Your Outcaste tried to go the other way – the tunnel is too long to defend, any treasures we excavated would be vulnerable to the Dark Brood, and the Jadeborn would be disinclined to help us if they had no benefit.” She pauses for a beat, “Once we have secured Dari, I see no reason why I cannot turn control of this expedition back to you. Provided, of course, nothing goes spectacularly wrong.”

                  Jin nods, graciously, “We’ll need a couple of sorcerers to help convey the workforce down the length of the tunnel, but I would be happy to mop up once we have secured our prize.”

                  Kerin pours two glasses of something dark and strong, and passes one to Jin, “Then here’s to nothing going spectacularly wrong.”

                  ****

                  Days pass. Gifty’s runes ignite a flame hot enough to burn through the cave-in, boring a wide tunnel, leaving the rock surface as smooth as glass. The workforce of elementals and demons continue to clear the rubble from the tunnel, and the Alinos sorcerers continue to swell their numbers – including novel, luminescent creations, that can light the darkness of the tunnel. Evidence of Dune Folk habitation persists for a few dozen miles beyond the Tsuchigumo, but there are no further Dune Folk attacks.

                  Whilst there are no more attacks, there are numerous holes in the sides of the tunnel: burrows of underground beasts and the like. Gifty directs the demon army to shovel the rubble from the tunnel into these burrows, then collapse them, and Ganan spackles over them (3SP). The process is much quicker than hauling rubble back to the city.

                  Jin’s Jadeborn recruits slack behind the demon vanguard as the number of connecting tunnels increases, fearing ambush, but this only lets the demons push forward faster. Alinos sorcerers scoop up fangs of workers to bus them ahead on Stormwind riders, yet still no attack comes.

                  Supply lines start becoming an endeavor that Jin has to plan for – Shining Kren being hundreds of miles away doesn’t slow the conjured workforce, but the Dragon-Blooded and the human workers need water, food, and rest – and the Alinos sorcerers are loath to do anything that isn’t conserving their strength to summon more workers. Jin plans rest stops and supplies, keeping the volunteer workforce as close to the city proper as possible, whilst sending the demons forward.

                  The density of the rubble grows as they progress making it nearly impossible to pick through. The inhuman strength of the demonic workers and the magic of the earth elementals comes into play as they shift boulders that would take human workers weeks to break-up and haul away.

                  Our heroes meet on the furthest point forward of the tunnel.

                  Ganan chisels a gap in the rubble then works with a Jadeborn pickaxe, breaking up the rocks for the workers behind them to clear away.

                  Jin speaks, “Does anyone else think this is going too easily?”

                  “Maybe,” Ganan says between splitting rocks, “If you did some work. You wouldn’t think. It was so easy.”

                  Jin makes a dismissive gesture, “I am still healing. What with not causing a giant cave-in that delayed our progress by a week and all.”

                  Ganan snorts.

                  Gifty leans back on the rocks, “You’re, what, wondering why the Jadeborn didn’t kill the Tsuchigumo and rout the Dune Folk by themselves?”

                  Jin responds slowly, “Don’t get me wrong, that spider was a worthy foe, and the Dune Folk army, with their sand swimmers, were formidable. But the Jadeborn have an army. Hiram had a damn Siege Strider. By the Dragons, they managed to recruit a Lunar!”

                  Ganan “A baby Anathema that we easily dispatched. And having seen the Jadeborn fight, I’d wager the three of us could burn Shining Kren to the ground. They’re protected by a thick wall, nothing more.”

                  “Your arrogance is stunning.”

                  Ganan, affronted, “I didn’t say I could burn Shining Kren, I said we could do it. The three of us. I’m sure they’d eventually bring me down if I attacked alone.”

                  “Moving swiftly on,” Jin says diplomatically, turning to Gifty, “Do you buy that we’re the first people powerful enough to kill that spider behemoth?”

                  “So far, this does seem like the kind of thing that the Jadeborn could have handled without us. But we are only a quarter of the way there. And you’ve seen the burrows into the tunnel: the Dune Folk probably formed a nice buffer, keeping the worst of the underground creatures away. So far, all we’ve done is clear a tunnel to nowhere… and it’s cost you an eye. I can see why the Jadeborn haven’t been willing to commit.”

                  Jin shakes her head, “It just seems too… easy…”

                  Ganan draws his weapon and takes a fighting position.

                  Jin follows suit, “What is it?”

                  “Genre savvy.” Ganan grunts.

                  Gifty doesn’t look impressed, “I don’t think that’s how that-”

                  From between the cracks in the rocks, dozens centipedes – an inch thick and eight inches long – like great, wriggling, sausages, pour forth.

                  “Well, it’s not that-” Gifty starts. The ground starts to tremor under their feet as a queen sandswimmer, twice as long and wide as the Dune Folk’s riding beasts, bursts forth from the ground, with thousands of the smaller centipedes, following in its wake in a great swarm.

                  Gifty sighs, “Oh, alright.” She mutters as she draws Abrojo.

                  ****

                  The sandswimmer queen shakes the ground causing Jin and Gifty to fall to the ground. Jin rises on a plume of fire essence, finding her feet before she even hits the ground. The creature rounds on the downed Gifty, snapping at her with its venomous fangs. Gifty barely manages to bring Abrojo up in time to deflect the blow.

                  Ganan takes aim at the queen, his tetsubo starts to vibrate with barely controlled power.

                  Jin screeches a warning “You’ll cause another cave in!”

                  Ganan grins, “That’s kind of the point.”

                  Jin lashes out at the Dune Swarm, smashing dozens of the crawling lava to ichor. Hundreds more seem to take their place, in an endless tide. She pushes her way through the swarm and strikes at the queen. Her blow rebounds harmlessly from the creature’s armored exoskeleton.

                  From her position prone on the ground, Gifty kicks up at the queen. Its elephantine bulk is hard to shift, but the Dragon-Blooded giantess, manages to turn the creature to the side as her anima ignites in a roaring bonfire of flaming essence.

                  The Dune Swarm pours over Ganan’s lanterns, snuffing them, and bites at the Dragon-Blooded with dozens of hungry mouths as the tunnel is plunged into darkness. Ganan takes Earth Dragon Form as the giant insects swarm over him.

                  In the light of the Dragon-Blooded’s animas, Jin strikes out at the swarm, battering the many biting mouths away from her with long, sweeping strikes. Her own anima ignites into flames.

                  The swimmer queen rears its piercing legs and hammers them down on Gifty in a flurry of piercing blows. Gifty rolls from side-to-side, interposing her giant blade as she dodges the giant beast’s blows.

                  Ganan charges at the queen and batters the giant beast back with his tetsubo. The tunnel shakes as the blow connects and the enormous creature is battered back.

                  “For the record, I am not on board with deliberately causing a cave-in!” Gifty grumbles as she rises to her feet, ignites Abrojo in roiling flames, and sweeps her blade through the mass of the Dune Swarm. She roasts as many of the centipede creatures as she batters.

                  The Dune Swarm, given by its primitive hive intelligence, throws itself against the trio of Dragon-Blooded again, but the elemental warriors leave no holes in their defenses.

                  The lashing flames and flying rocks of the Dragon-Blooded’s animas tears the Dune Swarm apart.

                  Ganan launches himself at the Sandswimmer Queen, bringing his tetsubo down in a titanic overhead strike that drives the beast into the ground. The tunnel shakes, then collapses in on itself. Jin and Gifty throw themselves back as tons of rock fall from above, burying Ganan and the creature.

                  ****

                  “What’s the etiquette here?” Gifty says, looking at the giant rockpile, “This seems like a natural stopping point… but, I mean, it’s early in the day, right? I feel like we could get more done?”

                  Jin lets the wind carry her words to her brother, “Gan, are you alive?”

                  There’s a short pause before Ganan responds, “Yes.”

                  “Well…” Jin muses, “He’s still alive. So, if you were thinking of killing me and stealing the treasure…”

                  “Given that he’s buried under all that and not getting out any time soon, let’s not take that option off the table.” Gifty responds, completely deadpan.

                  “This might be a faster way into the city,” Ganan broadcasts as he looks around.

                  Ganan is in a wide-open cavern, beneath the car tunnel. It’s lit only by the shining, white light of his anima. It seems to be a natural formation, caused by water erosion, as an underground river flows along the cavern floor.

                  The sandswimmer queen, dazed but not defeated, finds its feet and burrows into the solid rock, leaving behind a large bore tunnel, not unlike the dozens of holes into the main tunnel above, as it retreats.

                  Jin relays that information to Gifty, who begins summoning a Stormwind Rider.

                  “Where are you going?” Jin asks.

                  “Back down the tunnel, pick up some Earth Elementals so we can dig down to father. Faster is better.”

                  “Better for us, sure, but we still promised the Jadeborn that we’d clear this tunnel. Which means clearing… that.” She gestures at the total cave in blocking their path.

                  Gifty finishes her spell and rides away from Jin, calling over her shoulder “Sorry, can’t hear you over the sound of the wind! I’m sure that’s a really good point though!”

                  ****

                  Gifty rounds up some elementals who easily dig through the floor, whilst she races back down the tunnel and rounds up a gang of demons. The tunnel down complete, Gifty and Jin climb down to where Ganan is waiting below, then Gifty resummons her Stormwind Rider, and the trio race along the open cavern.

                  After only a couple of hours of travel at sorcerous speed, with no rubble to clear or cave-ins slowing them down, the Dragon-Blooded come across the ruins of Dari. At first, it’s only a few piles of rubble: opalescent stones, shrouded in something that reflects the light of Gifty’s blade. Then the stones become walls, and the walls become buildings. The “something” that surrounds the stones rises to a thick mist. And then the Dragon-Blooded find themselves in a city: a beautiful city made of strange, shimmering, white stone.

                  “Welcome to the Lost City of Dari,” Gifty smiles to herself as she steers her sorcerous conveyance through the streets with deliberate purpose.

                  Dari is not laid out like an underground city, indeed, it looks like it should be built above ground. Suddenly the layout of the rubble on the approach to the city makes sense – as if it were farm buildings in open fields. And the tops of the buildings look shaved, destroyed by some ancient and terrible artifice. Cracks in the buildings, and the uneven ground, suggests the city fell into its current resting place, rather than being built here.

                  “That’s my favorite niece!” Jin crows, “I never doubted you for a moment!”

                  “I have two other daughters, you know!” Ganan says indignantly.

                  “And they have equal opportunity to earn my love by leading me to a First Age ruin to loot. I mean plunder. I mean… steal the treasures of… on behalf of House Alinos and the Realm?”

                  Gifty grins and holds her tongue as she weaves them through the streets.

                  Jin cranes her neck up, trying to work out where the city would connect to the car tunnel above, but the light of Gifty’s sword casts only eerie shadows into the gloom. “Where are we going?” she asks, as it becomes clear that Gifty is steering towards… something.

                  “I may not have been entirely honest with the two of you,” Gifty confesses, “There’s an artifact here that I want. I can… I can sense it.”

                  “That’s great,” Ganan says, “Can you sense the ancient and terrible guardians that are going to jump out and try to kill us?”

                  “Call me a hopeless optimist but look at these ruins. I don’t see vast spider webs. I don’t see glowing red eyes peering at us from the ruins. I feel like we’re in the clear here.”

                  Ganan looks over to Jin, “Is she trying to kill us?”

                  “There it is,” Gift points at what can only be described as a mausoleum, situated at what looks like a prominent interchange, she sets them down just outside.

                  Jin makes a face, that the others can’t see behind the faceplate of her armor, “Really, that?”

                  “Huh,” Ganan grunts.

                  “Huh?” Jin asks, “Give me a hand here.”

                  “There are a lot of spirits here.”

                  “Is… that… unusual?”

                  Ganan shrugs, “Not really.”

                  Gifty has already started up the stairs to the mausoleum.

                  Jin shakes her head and follows Gifty, “Why are you so weird?”

                  ****

                  The mausoleum is a large structure, immaculately decorated. Moonsilver murals seems to shift under the eye, showing fantastic scenes celebrating some long-forgotten heroes’ life. The murals are indistinct in the torchlight, but even so, it is clear they are celebrating one of the Lunar Anathema.

                  Our heroes make their way to a grand coffin in the middle of the room. The elaborately preserved body of a hansom man lies preserved under glass in what looks like a pool of liquid moonsilver. The man’s hands are clasped around a silver orb the size of a grapefruit.

                  “Ganan, you think you can get that out without losing a hand?” Gifty points at the orb.

                  Ganan lowers the end of his pickaxe into the coffin. Blades of moonsilver form from the pool and slice the steel tool to pieces in an eyeblink – preventing the tomb from being defiled. Ganan frowns, “Give me a second to work on it.”

                  “Great, Jin, watch the exits. If this place is filled with spirits, the last thing we need is to be ambushed, right? I’m going to head below.” Gifty starts off into the gloom.

                  “Below?” Jin queries, but Gifty doesn’t respond.

                  Ganan places his hand on the ground, “There’s a chamber below us.” He confirms.

                  Jin looks after the retreating light of Abrojo: it seems Gifty has found a spiral staircase at the back of the room, which quickly takes her out of sight. The only light source out of sight, the brother and sister are plunged into darkness. Ganan seems unperturbed, working in the dark. Jin is unsettled, extending her weapon, ready to fight foes she can’t see.

                  Minutes pass, then Ganan starts to drum his fingers on the side of the coffin. Jin can’t see what he’s doing, but after nearly twenty minutes of finger drumming, she loses her patience.

                  “What are you doing!” She hisses into the darkness.

                  “I’m trying to get this orb.” Ganan responds in his normal speaking voice.

                  The volume causes Jin to jump. She takes a couple of calming breaths, then ignites her anima, casting a gentle red glow over the room.

                  “Actually, that’s helpful,” Ganan nods, “You couldn’t have done that earlier?”

                  Jin ignores him, “What is taking Gifty so long? I’m going after her.”

                  “Whatever,” Ganan says with indifference, “I’ve nearly got this.”

                  Jin shakes her head and makes for the back of the room. The low light of her anima is barely enough to see by, but she finds the spiral staircase which leads to the room below. Slowly she descends the stairs.

                  “Gan! Come at see this!” She shouts at the top of her lungs.

                  Ganan ignores her. “Almost got it…” he mutters to himself.

                  The drumming of his fingers on the crystal coffin have caused ripples in the surface of the moonsilver. Rhythmic timing has caused constructive interference in the waves – making the ripples bigger, and bigger. Now waves of moonsilver crest the inside of the coffin, rolling back and forth, pulling the orb from the corpse’s fingers. The orb rides the top of the waves, edging closer and closer to the top of the coffin, as the deadly moonsilver defense system turns against itself, delivering the orb rather than defending it.

                  “Seriously, Ganan! You really need to see this!” Jin shouts from the chamber below, backing up toward the staircase. She half-runs back up the stairs back to Ganan.

                  The moonsilver orb rocks back-and-forth near the top of the open coffin.

                  “Use Calumny to knock it out!” Ganan shouts excitedly.

                  Jin whips her wrackstaff across the top of the coffin and connects with the moonsilver orb. The priceless artifact clatters to the floor.

                  Ganan pouts as he picks the treasure up and carefully examines it for damage, “Do you know what this orb is!”

                  Jin grabs his hand and half-drags him to the staircase. They descend together and find themselves in another room.

                  “Oh. Wow.” Ganan says simply.

                  The room is lit with dull orange light. It seems to give off a low hum. Where the room above is beautifully decorated with marble and moonsilver frescos, this room is one of brass and iron: great cogs and metal pipes line the walls. It reminds Ganan of the Imperial Manse, only where those cogs turned and those pipes hissed, the machinery here is still and lifeless. Dead. Except for the tubes of glowing gas, mounted in the ceiling, that provide the unnatural light.

                  At the center of the room is… a figure.

                  Perhaps another body. Perhaps a statue. Perhaps something stranger.

                  The figure is shaped like a man, but a man carved from clay. Great plates of white jade are grafted to the clay. An oversized crossbow is grafted to the man’s left arm, and a sword is clasped in his hand. The figure stands vertical, but is surrounded by glass, much like the dead body upstairs. Ganan and Jin circle the figure slowly, examining it from all angles.

                  “He is… I mean… It is… dead… right?” Jin asks carefully.

                  “He doesn’t look alive.” Ganan concedes, the male pronoun feeling right, “I mean, this is a mausoleum. And Dari has been lost for over a thousand years… I’m pretty sure he’s dead.”

                  The jade face of the figure looks surprisingly expressive. It doesn’t look alive, being too perfectly still… but it doesn’t look dead.

                  “What is it?” Jin asks, “I mean… is it a… construct? An android of some kind? Like a Brass Legionnaire? The city is pre-Shogunate, there’s a Lunar upstairs, this is some kind of Solar built… thing? Like that Jerah robot, Eyem?”

                  Ganan looks around the room, “Not a lot of Solar iconography. This seems… older? Maybe like the mausoleum was built on top?”

                  “Which only further reinforces the idea that this thing is dead, right? You don’t build a mausoleum on top of something that is alive?”

                  Ganan examines a small control panel on the front of the glass encasing the clay-and-jade figure. He works some of the, old and rusted, controls but the panel is completely dead and unresponsive. “Where’s Gifty?” He asks suddenly.

                  From beneath them is a piercing sound. The roar of a wounded predator. The ground shakes.

                  Ganan looks sheepish, “I guess there’s another level below us?”

                  Jin points out another staircase, and the pair race for it. Sounds of twisting metal come from below them. They race down the stairs and find themselves on the mausoleum’s final level.

                  This level is huge. Much larger than the levels above, clearly extending below the surrounding buildings. It is lit by the same fluorescent orange tubes as the level above. It is also more heavily damaged, with great rock piles pouring over the floor, the walls buckled and bent. Cupboards and workbenches ring the outside of the room, their tools spilled over the ground – some of which imperishable and looking like new, but most rusted scrap and rotten mulch. Multi-level walkways surround vast chains of orichalcum and moonsilver, which, until recently, clearly bound something within a cage of adamant and jade-steel. Something sixty-feet fall. Warding sigils, such as might be used to bind demons, are inscribed on the walls in Starmetal – all of them have been defaced (some, clearly, centuries ago, others look like they were hacked apart by a giant flaming sword five minutes ago).

                  Jin clears her throat, “Gan… you ever been inside a Warstrider bay?”

                  “Uh… no…” Ganan admits, “But… I imagine it’d look something like this… only…”

                  “Only with a Warstrider in the cage there?”

                  “Yeah.”

                  “You want to ask that question you asked upstairs again?”

                  “‘Where’s Gifty?’”

                  “Yeah.”

                  The path of the Warstrider is clear. The bars of its cage are bent, and great footsteps head directly for a now closed blast door, clearly too heavy to lift.

                  Jin slaps Ganan with the back of her hand on his chest, “Come on, we can get out the way we came in, try to track her from above.”

                  Ganan nods and the pair race up the stairs. They don’t notice a blinking orange light on the figure of clay’s control panel.

                  The mausoleum’s upper level is now bathed in brilliant moonlight. Every detail of the frescoes on the wall can be made out, depicting the Lunar in the coffin as they do battle with a brilliant array of enemies in a shifting variety of forms. It is also immediately clear that the entrance is now closed and bared to them.

                  A voice, tinny and metallic, but still recognizable as Gifty’s is speaking to them.

                  “By now, of course, Jin has told you about our incident in the tunnels…” Gifty’s voice begins.

                  “Oh, she tried to kill me.” Jin quickly whispers.

                  “And I know you’ve had your suspicions for some time. Let me assure you: I take no pleasure in this. Don’t misunderstand me, I have dreamed of killing you since I was a little girl. But getting to know you over the past weeks… I can’t blame dad for keeping you from me. I can’t hate you anymore. I can only pity you. I have my mistress’s prize because of you, and if it were up to me, I would let you live. But unfortunately, my mistress demands that you die.”

                  Ganan wags a finger in thought, “Do you think ‘her mistress’ might be…?”

                  “Sondok? Yes. Catch up.”

                  “This mausoleum was designed to be proof against the magics of the First Age. There is no way in or out. You will starve in here. Or, rather, my poor aunt will starve in here, you’ll eat her corpse, and then you will starve in here. Sondok will be most pleased with such a torture for you.”

                  Ganan snaps his fingers, “It was Sondok!”

                  “Seriously, bro, catch up.” Jin chides.

                  “But… call me sentimental. We are warriors, you and I. You deserve the chance to die fighting. I know this paltry force wouldn’t stop you at your full power. But I promise you, a quick and glorious death fighting Blood Apes is better than starving to death after you eat your sister. Plus, if you kill the workforce, it’ll take longer for the Alinos forces to reach you. So… either option is fine.”

                  “Dragonsgift! Get back here right now!” Ganan bellows.

                  “Also, this is a recorded message. I can’t actually hear anything you’re saying. Die well.” The broadcast system clicks and turns off as two dozen Blood Apes materialize out of thin air.

                  “We’re killing these fools and starving to death, right?” Jin says as she stands ready for battle.

                  Ganan pulls out his tetsubo and squares off against the demons.

                  ****

                  The battle is fierce, but eventually the last demon falls.

                  There’s a banging noise from outside of the mausoleum.

                  Jin rushes to the moonsilver lined doors and listens. Something large is on the other side trying to break in. She pulls a confused face. “You think that’s Gifty come back to finish us off?” She asks.

                  “We can only hope.” Ganan says, leaning on his tetsubo, “Can you break us out of here?”

                  Jin examines the shifting moonsilver seals on the door, “Yes…” She says, after a moment’s consideration, “Gifty’s voice. That didn’t sound… moonsilvery. It sounded… mechanical?”

                  Ganan nods, “This is an Autochonian facility that has been repurposed by the Lunar Anathema.”

                  Jin nods back, “So, the facilities core systems – door locks, for example – they’re going to be based not immediately in front of us, but below us.”

                  ****

                  The Dragons head back down to the level below. Jin carefully examines the equipment, including the new blinking orange light on the control panel. She clears her throat:

                  “This thing is definitely dead, right?”

                  Ganan makes a definitive cutting gesture with his palm, “Definitely.”

                  Jin sucks her teeth, and removes her helmet, “Okay, then I’m pretty sure I can open the doors and get us out of here… just… don’t freak out.”

                  “‘Freak out’ about what-?” Ganan begins, the last word dying in his throat as Jin dons Lady Magnificent’s Visage and starts working the manse’s security controls.

                  There’s a clunk. A grinding noise from beneath them. All of the manse’s doors start to open – internal and external.

                  Lady Magnificent looks up in satisfaction, having overcome the impenetrable security system of a First Age manse. Both she and Ganan see the same, tiny, movement.

                  From inside his glass stasis chamber, Alchemical Champion 314 opens his eyes.

                  ****

                  Ganan spends 7DXP to train Resistance 5.
                  Ganan is retired as a player character. Ganan’s player takes ST role.

                  This Exalted Third Edition game is over. Thank you for following Dynasty of Dovak!

                  The story continues in two weeks’ time with Essence of Dynasty, an Exalted Essence game that picks up where this game leaves off.
                  314 is introduced as a player character.


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

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                  • #99
                    Double post, forum not updating.


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

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