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Essence 6
Essence 6
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Joined: 18 Sep 2009, 12:20
Title: Barbabe arbiter of unbound gravitas
Exalt: Alchemical
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Artifact: 4Chans Might
Location: Denmark, land of lego and vikings

Light and darkness

03 Sep 2011, 17:36

Ok, here is the story of Bright Machine Speaker and friends

It is/will be based on a mix of characters that some of my players have played, plus some of my invention (Speaker for example) acting out the story I'm currently playing with own player group. It is as much me playing my own character in my own adventure, as it is me thinking up new fun things to expose my players to.

Part 1: Lookshy's light

Greetings reader of my journal.

I do not remember my mortal name, but I now go by the name of Bright Machine Speaker. This journal is my recording of my adventures.

I was once a combat medic for lookshy's fabled gunzosa troops. I equally did a lot of field maintenance, seeing as for them to get hurt at all their gunzosa armor, their armor would have to be damaged quite a lot too.

I was not strong, nor was I especially brave. I was not a warrior, but I had a seemingly endless stamina when it came to spending ours suturing wounded men. My resistance to fatigue even allowed me to keep pace with the gunzosa troops, landing me a spot as one of a couple of combat medics for a scale of them.

One time, while deployed to help defend a marukan village against marauding undead the ranks broke, a giant undead monster of flesh lashed together with brass rivets storming towards us

I had only basic hand to hand training, plus I had practised a lot of throwing some of the acupuncture needles I had around as thrown weapons - so I did just that. it of course didn't do much, other than now I didn't have my acupuncture needles.

After the battle I was patching up soldiers when I came to a not so stunning realization: To fight the undead scourge that had taken Thorns we'd need to do more than just hold our ground... we needed to do something. I myself wished I could help in that process, while trying to stop a marukan soldier from bleeding to death, the poor man's left arm having been torn off...

and then suddenly his wounds closed as what looked like fresh flesh and bone started growing - slowly - into a new arm. Also, I was glowing, a lot. Sure, I was inside a tent while this happened, but people outside noticed it none the less.

Three hours later the soldier's arm was regenerated - what a miracle!

I was brought before the local commander of the lookshyan forces present... but I could not speak to explain myself. While doing the procedure with the arm ancient memories had flooded my mind, almost displacing my own. People calling my name, I did not hear them; the name I now knew was mine was a different one: Bright Machine Speaker.

The captain, a seasoned dragonblood, wasn't sure if I'd gone mad, become anathema, or a combination of both. However, Lookshyan immaculate doctrine is not the same as that practised on the blessed isle. This probably saved my life that night: The captain asked me to 'do that arm thing again' on a couple of other crippled soldiers that had been grievously wounded in action.

I spent the rest of the night ceaselessly patching up soldiers with a precision I hadn't had before. Legs came back, arms came back, hands worked again. I was cheered, but cautiously so. The word around the camp was that I was anathema... but with these results, how could that be a bad thing?

In lookshy you are always judged by your actions first, with spiritual matters and other nosh later. I had been judged to be an asset.

The next day I was rushed back to Lookshy where I was made to stand before the general staff - the senior dragonblooded leaders of lookshy.

To my surprise one of them had thought it had been one of the gunzosa soldiers who had exalted. But I was judged on my merits none the less. I was deemed a risk, at least to the extent that my powers were largely unknown and that with my new memories my loyalty to lookshy was guestioned. The old me felt great shame. I had served Lookshy all my life, with all my being. I had worked hard educating myself into a physician, a battlefield surgeon. The 'new' older me didn't seem to mind, wanting to find old places that I remembered but knew not the name of.

I was given indefinite leave. I was told that should I want to return to lookshy and serve it again, I would have to prove that I again trustworthy and able to do so. That I had given five men the use of all their limbs back apparently wasn't enough for this.

I prepared leaving Lookshy on foot with all my earthly possessions, my clothes, my uniform, a fine set of doctor and surgeons tools I had received as a gift from my family when I had graduated... oh the looks they gave me when I told them I had to leave. Some cried, some looked confused. My parents had passed away some time ago, but I had aunts, uncles, and their family, to contend with. Some asked if I had done something wrong, others if I had truly made deals with demons. I simply told them I had... been blessed, but not by the dragons - and certainly not by demons. Still, it was weird.

The rumor that I was anathema had spread through-out the city, and I had in turn heard that someone had assaulted and again crippled one of the soldiers who's broken leg I had fixed. I felt I needed to leave quickly lest I become a target as well.

The night before I left I was approached by a strange figure. I had never learnt much of Lookshy's old lore, I only knew how to read, write and what other few things that lookshyan citizens were taught as children: I was no academic - yet. The figure, a man clad in ancient robes, with a face with crusty wrinkles so sharp and cracked that they... were inhuman. This was not a human.

I had seen many a dragonblood in my days. I was close to forty, and had served Lookshy all my life. I paid my respect to the dragonblooded. I did not pray much, for my family had never been graced by the dragons, nor anything else, and we had always been content with that. But this, this was not a man, nor was it a dragonblood.

This was a god.

The figure introduced himself as Tu Yu, his lips moving in weird ways, as if his face had become parchment or thin stone; it creaked and cracked as the lips moved, giving off tiny sprinkles of dust as he spoke. He spoke of old times, to which my new memories spoke in kind, me remembering a much younger looking Tu Yu, in a city much different than Lookshy, but in the same place.

Tu Yu said it was good to see me again, and that he had hidden everything where instructed. I knew not of what he spoke, but again ancient memories seemed to tell me that it was all ok. I followed the strange old god through the streets of Lookshy.

Through tiny passage-ways and hidden shortcuts, we made our way from my humble apartment in the district of schools, over to the academy of sorcery, Valkhavsen - but I dared not ask why. As I knew through my military training, then when it came to dealing with fae and spirits, it is best to leave such to the dragonbloods, and that mindset was still in effect - even though the ancient memories I now had told me to treat this god more as a friend.

Somehow we got into Valkhavsen, were we were greeted by old scholars who bowed deeply to Tu Yu. It occurred to me that I had not shown such respect to the god, so I quickly joined in, only for Tu Yu to berate me: I should be the one he saluted, not the other way around. This puzzled me greatly.

I followed Tu Yu further down into Valkhavsen, the old bearded scholars, some of them dragonbloods, questioning me endlessly: Had my essence awakened, did I speak new languages, was I able to do new things? I was quite confused. They seemed to know more about me than I knew. This just seemed to intrigue them even more, prompting them to ask even more questions I wasn't sure how to answer. I was a combat medic, a good one at that, and a part time magi-technician, not a demi-god or a sorcerer as they seemed to believe.

It was when Tu Yu dismissed the scholars and led me deep into strange tunnels under Valkhavens that things started to make sense. Passing through golden fire that did not feel hot, the iconography on the walls, the symbols... it all seemed frighteningly familiar - and yet it was also clear that someone was wrong. I could not say what, but the damaged were at least clear enough: the place was a ruin, a ruin with golden pillars with sun-burst motifs everywhere. This was a ruin of an ancient anathema lair. How could such a place be under Lookshy?

Tu Yu asked if I remembered building this place. I said yes without even thinking about it, only to catch myself wondering why I had said that. The god smiled, revealing inhumanly long and crooked teeth, like finger long shards of bone, yellowed and... dusty?

The god said that I was ready and revealed a hidden cache of... junk. Gears, jewels with runes inscribed on them, bits of steel and a few small ingots of an oddly warm kind of gold. No, it couldn't be gold. It was far too heavy to be gold.

Looking over the pile I started to remember things. I remembered asking Tu Yu to hide something I had taken apart, I remembered how to put them back together again, I remembered how to make things without tools, I also... knew that I couldn't do any of that right now. It was then I became concious of my own essence, holding one of the ingots of warm... orichalcum.

It was then that Tu Yu handed me a handful of glowing golden crystalic spheres - he then bid me to fare well on my journey, stating that his promise was to lead you here and give you these things. I looked at them, knowing what they were without knowing the words for them.

I threw the orbs around the ruined hall with a pinpoint precision that would make even dragonbloods envious, and for a brief hour the place lit up - reinvigorated by compressed crystalic essence storage devices releasing all their glory. The place rumbled, ancient machinery coming to life and reassembling the gears and gems and orichalcum before my eyes. The ingots were sliced into rods, plates and other bits. The gems were set, the gears put into place. In a matter of minutes a wonder probably not seen in creation for millennia was there once again.

I looked like a golden disk with five finger-sized holes in them. It was about half an inch thick, and the edge of it was... well... it went inwards, revealing sharp golden barbs or something on the inside. I beheld its glory. Then I understood its purpose and took it into my hands, my fingers fitting perfectly into the holes. I powered it with essence, and the bards inside the disk came out and spun at great speed, making an awful noise. It looked quite impressive.

Then the whole place, this factory cathedral, went dark once again, only the glowing caste mark on my forehead giving off any light. The place groaned, like a hungry beast having been made to exert itself once again.

I could instantly tell what was wrong: the whole place was failing. It needed repairs, it needed essence. Looking around I saw the walls of the great factory hall, revealing golden inlays in white marble that would support a very specific geomantic effect: this place was meant to fly... and it was burried underground, under Lookshy.

I rushed to a place I knew but had never seen before, and with my gyroscopic chakram cut myself so that I bled. It hurt, yes, but my ancient memories told me that I would heal again. my medical knowlegde telling me that could fix myself up even faster. I bled into a receptacle that slowly came to life. I bled a lot, to the point that most men would have fainted - but I held my conciousness like a warrior held his blade in the face of a murderous horde.

Then the receptacle closed off somehow and the rumbling stopped.

I sat down hard on the floor, panting. I had lost a lot of blood. I pulled out my surgeons tools and went to work. When I was done my wrist didn't even have a scar, although it still hurt. How long I had been at work was beyond me, but I knew that it was past dawn and that I was meant to leave the city post haste.

Sneaking out the same way I got in proved strangely easy. I could have sworn I saw a few of the same old scholars from the night before distracting people as I made my way out, but I did not stop to question them. One thing I did know: I could now answer a lot more of their questions, should I ever come back.

Part 2: Outshined

With what little money I had I had bought transport on a cargo ship going to Great Forks. The captain didn't seem to be bothered by the rumors surrounding me, not that I mentioned anything, but then again... I think he wasn't human. People from Great Forks were like that.

I had met officers from Great Forks during training exercises. They apparently sent a lot of their officers to be trained in Lookshy, and I had only heard good things about the place. Well, also that its full of hedonistic revelers and such, but I'm sure I wouldn't have to partake in anything I didn't want to.

The ship set out from the harbor in the lower city of Lookshy, slowly beginning the trip upstream towards Great Forks. I never asked what the cargo was, but it looked like a legit operation.

A few days of sailing, me mostly just sitting up at the bow of the ship meditating, I tried to focus my mind on the many new things I knew. It was quite a lot. Like a second life having entered into my conciousness. It was strange: I could barely recall my former name, people on the ship calling me Speaker, which in my opinion was perfectly ok, but with their Great Forks accent it just sounded weird, as if my name was 'Sleaker'. Still, the crew liked me. While I had payed for my passage I still made myself useful. I fixed things. Patched up the sailors whenever a knife slipped or when that guy fell from the rigging. That I was able to save the man's life after such a nasty fall earn't me a lot of goodwill with the crew. Their way of thanking me turned out to involve a lot of drinking...

Now, I've always been a hardy sort. As a combat medic I might not have been the fastest runner, but I'd never run out of breath. I tough in both mind and body, now feeling even more so, so while the sailors celebrated my saving one of their's life by getting drunk beyond all salvation, something I drank to as well - in moderation - I didn't feel affected by it at all. A bit odd some might say, but I had drunk young dragonbloods under the table. I could hold my drink.

That night, while most of the crew slept soundly, with far too much rum in their bellies - and on their clothes if judging from the smell - something happened.

I had been given the ship's surgeons room. The captain had already talked to me, following the day's medical drama, offering me the job - apparently their last surgeon jumped ship during their last stop in Nexus - but I had politely declined. I felt an odd need to get to somewhere... somewhere, south of Great Forks. It weird: My own memories knew of Great Forks. Not much, but I could probably point to it on a map and had heard a little of it in Lookshy, but my 'new' ancient memories knew nothing of it. As to why I felt drawn to the place? I had no idea. Maybe it was all the gods and spirits rumored to live there, maybe it was something.

While pondering this another memory emerged. I remembered making a manse. Me, making a manse? Who'd have thought it? Well, a past me, or something. Then I remembered, painfully clearly... a me lying down in a sarcophagus inside that manse, to die. It wasn't a pleasant memory - and it felt as it wasn't that far from where they were on the yananse river right now. I went up on deck to get some fresh air.

To some extent I would later regret going up on deck. But then again, I wouldn't have met someone who later turned out to be a great friend of mine, a bit more than a friend really.

Up on deck I saw something I probably wasn't supposed to see: A small lookshyan patrol ship, a first age ship that didn't have sails, had silently moved up next to the cargo ship I was on. A boarding party of five was, well, boarding us... and they did so quietly as the night. I had never paid much attention to Lookshy's navy. As a combat medic I had never really thought of ships or sea power, plus being attached to a gunzosa fang meant flying around in manta class skyship transports. Oh flying was fun. I wished he was up in the air flying right now, as opposed to seeing the ship I am on being boarded.

Now, to begin with I somehow managed to stay hidden in the shadows. It was chilly a night too, despite it being halfway through Ascending fire. I did wonder why this ship was being boarded silently. If it was a raid against pirates it wouldn't be done quietly. Hey, there were supposed to be sailors on watch!? Where were they? Looking around, I saw one hanging from the barrel cut in half lashed to the top of the center mast. Somehow I was able to tell that he wasn't dead, at twenty yards away, in the dim moonlight. What I couldn't see was the dart in his neck that had been dipped in a powerful sedative.

Ugh, I hate getting distracted. The boarding party. They weren't setting up sentries as if taking over the ship. I might not know that much about how to run a military operation, but I could tell these people were looking for something... or someone? Where they here for me? I'd hate to fight them, but I would not let myself get captured.

I found that I had my orichalcum gyroscopic chakram in my hand. How it had gotten there was a bit of a mystery, then again I thought I had lost it after it disappeared from me when I left the ruined factory cathedral. I had stored it in Elsewhere. Interesting, I'd have to experiment with that later. Argh, distractions! I had to focus on the situation. The boarders. What were they doing?

Peeking around a corner, I could see that they were waving what looked like talismans on string around. A somewhat spooky detail I noticed was that the talismans closest to me were glowing ever so faintly, while those further away from me weren't. Those things could detect me somehow. Again I found myself more curious as to how those talismans worked, while I should probably be focusing on escaping. I elsewhere'd my gyroscopic chakram. If I powered it on it would make far too much noise.

Still, it appeared that the dragon's simply didn't like me tonight: My act of doing away with my artifact chakram made the talismans light up, especially the one held by a a soldier not that far from where I was hiding.

It took them roughly thirty seconds to find me, subdue me, and haul me over to their ship. I didn't struggle. While I would resist if they tried to harm me, then I would bide my time right now: It seemed like the best choice right now.

I was locked in chains below deck. There wasn't much room, and it was right next to pulsating essence engines. It struck me odd that I would know what they were, but what struck me as sneaky was the thought to do a little sabotage, as I found I knew exactly what bits would make the essence engines not work if removed. Sure, I didn't have any tools to work with... and my ancient memories told me of a wonderous time when I wouldn't have needed any either, but it was a moot point: I was chained, my arms especially, so I couldn't do any sabotage even if I wanted to.

At dawn I was awoken by being hauled up on deck, roughly. I was made to kneel before the dragonblood in charge. Oh I knew this guy: Teresu Gido, of gens Teresu. He was a Lookshyan Sohei, a very skilled one at that, one of the oldest alive. I had never met him personally, but I knew he taught at Valkawsen. What I didn't know was how well connected he was, which shouldn't really surprise anyone him being over 200 years old, or how much of a fervent believer in the immaculate philosophy... or that he very much hated anathema. The last thing I did figure out fairly quickly, as he began questioning me as to what dark deed I did to gain my unholy powers.

He drew his sword, a very well made and intricately decorated straight sword. He told me to rise. He then told me to die like a good lookshyan soldier and raised his blade to strike me down. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.

Upon exhaling, I had my gyroscopic chakram in hand. It whirled to life with a mechanical roar, cutting the chains around my wrist away as if they were not here. In one swift motion I equally brought the device up in front of me, catching the blade of Gido's sword in the teeth of my gyroschopic chakram. I knew the name of this move, this technique: Gear catches gear defence. Gido quickly withdrew his blade, strike again twice in rapid succession. I performed the same defensive trick two more times, but his attacks were slowed by having to wrest his blade from the teeth of my chakram each time. After using the technique the third time I saw an opening and twisted his blade away, disarming him... well, his sword snapped in half. I then moved to attack, Gido drawing up a watery screen to defence himself. The water blew away in a hiss of steam as my chakram cut through it, the words forming in my mind as I brought the whirling device to a halt just before Gido's throat: The circle screams.

For a brief moment I wondered where I'd learnt these techniques from, but the answer was obvious: I had known them in my past life. Thousand Wounds gear style. I recalled having invented the style as a gift, but to who I knew not. I quickly snapped back to reality as I noticed that I was surrounded by soldiers with spears poking me. I withdrew my chakram from an obviously frightened dragonblood and stepped away.

Gido, the blue shades in his hair showing his aspect, angrily told the soldiers to grab me, and two soldiers with wooden clubs moved in to strike me down. Again my chakram caught their weapons, cutting the wooden implements in half.

I calmly stated that I would hold no ill will against them if they would let me off on the shore. Gido angrily said that he would never suffer anathema to escape him and began shaping sorcery. What sorcery I knew not, but I knew it was sorcery. That alone was bad. Of course, me standing now some ten paces from the dragonblood put me in perfect range for my chakram. I doubted that anyone present had any idea what it could do: They had only seen me use it for close combat. still, if I killed Gido I might not be able to return to Lookshy, and I loved my homeland too much to see that happen.

With flick of the wrist my chakram roared through the air, striking the sorcerous accumulation of essence the dragonblooded Sohei was creating. Through the solid mass of essence it went, then at the last second banking to strike Gido on its flat side. Whatever sorcery Gido was trying to shape failed spectacularly, the essence dropping down like water, washing off the deck. Gido stared in disbelief as the bladed chakram flew up in front of him, hovered for a split second, then flew back to my hand.

Now, I had never been much of a performer, but right now I felt I could do a little grandstanding - if for nothing else then to deter any more senseless battle. I pointed out that, yes indeed, it does tricks. I then inquired whether they wanted to see what it could do next? I quickly stated that it required a volunteer, or at least three yards of his small intestines. Yay for medical training paying off to intimidate people.

Gido Teresu looked at me with hatred beyond words. Roiling elemental fury was in his eyes, like a tsunami held back only by a wall of rice paper. Gido knew I could probably hurt him, a lot, before he could do anything right now. Sure, I would probably get grievously injured in the process too, Gido not exactly being alone against me - but the soldiers had seen me use my bladed chakram, how it cut their weapons in half.

Begrudgingly Gido gestured for the ship to approach the nearest side of the river. From what little I could tell I was still somewhere in the Lookshyan hinterlands. As the ship pulled away Gido shouted at me, with a force that left indentations in the ground beneath me, that if I ever came back to Lookshy he would see to it that it would be to attend my own funeral.

I waved him off, shouting that next we meet he would kneel before me. I am not sure he took it well, as the waters around the ship seemed to splash a lot, despite the river waters being fairly calm.

Turning around and looking around at the grasslands before me, I started walking. I didn't have my surgeons tools anymore, that was annoying. I didn't have what little money I had left Lookshy with. I had... the clothes on my back and my artifact chakram. Could be worse. Could be a lot better. I smiled, looking around.

Then I blinked.

I looked around again. I hadn't been to this place before, neither had I in my past life, but I was remembering something. I was remembering... fieldcraft? I walked over to a couple of trees and used my chakram to cut a series of long branches off, then I felled the tree using the device. I cut the trunk into long poles and made a very nice little hut. I thacked the hut with reeds. I had never been able to do something like this before. I even found myself thoughtlessly picking through the plants in the area, stuffing the edible ones in my mouth or in my pockets. I had never known these things, but not I found it all effortlessly easy.

One thing my chakram proved less suited for was hunting. it was far too noisy for that. Still, I had my shelter and enough plants to eat to stay well fed. Oh and that manse I remembered lying down to die in? I felt it was nearby. I'll have a poke at that tomorrow.

part 3: Darkness lit again

I awoke oddly… not confortable, but not in any pain either. Closing my eyes for a moment made me aware that I had a good deal of essence surging around me, keeping me warm and cushioning my very makeshift bedding. It even kept insects away. Was this the benefits of this… thing… I had become.

Oh I really needed to put a name on what I was, or what had happened to me. I am certain that my ancient memories held the answer, but while I could occasionally gleam certain words or phrases, then most of it was in a language I did not understand. I momentarily sighed, thinking that in the ancient times they probably didn’t speak riverspeak. I knew that Sohei like Gido learnt the old tongue in Valkhawsen, to learn medicine I hadn’t needed to learn any new languages, the professors from Great Forks who taught the Lookshyan army surgeons speaking riverspeak quite well, albeit with an, in my opinion, silly accent.

Distractions! I knew that all these things needed to be answered, I somehow equally knew that in time I probably would learn it all, but right now… right now I had something else to do: The manse I remember building. The manse I remember laying down to die in.

I had not dreamt much during the night, but now that I was up I felt this location oddly familiar. There was no sign of civilization visible where I was. I knew that Lookshy was to the west, but much too far away to see even the lighthouse or aviary. Closing my eyes I walked around, trying to ‘feel’ the place.

I recalled looking around and seeing a lot more than what I saw now. I knew that between then and now much time had passed, so the place obviously didn’t look the same, but at the same time I knew that it wasn’t visible landmarks I should go for.

It felt like yesterday. I had been afraid and injured, gravely so. I didn’t remember hurting, but that was because of charm use. Right, charms, that’s what they’re called. Like what dragonbloods call their essence magic.

Looking skywards I angry sneered that it was nice finally ‘remembering’ that. It was quite annoying that these memories didn’t just tell me everything at once, instead of giving me a little at a time. Argh, distractions!

Right, focusing on the memory of this place. I had been trying to escape; I had to plan for the future. I knew I didn’t have much time. I think I used sorcery to do something. Something so others wouldn’t be able to see me. But I removed it again, whisked away the sorcery when I had done something. Done what? I had built something, but I had made it so it couldn’t be seen. So the manse that couldn’t be seen…. Couldn’t be seen being built.

Great. I know knew what I was looking for: A manse, a powerful manse, one that my past me had somehow ‘made’ from whole cloth. I remembered somehow making the demesne the manse was made on as well. How in malfeas do you do that? But I knew it was somewhere around here.

I had never been trained officially in geomancy, but being a bright mind I had picked up a few things relating to earth-works. Mainly how to build defensive positions. Apparently even a stockade of wooden stakes held better if built in harmony with local geomancy… but I had never been taught how to measure or feel geomancy… and yet I found myself almost dancing around, slowly turning to sense things I didn’t really have names for.

It was right before I started feeling really silly doing all this that I fell down narrow stone stairs I hadn’t seen. I was quick enough to brace myself against the cold stone walls to stop my fall, and looking down the remaining stairs that seemed like a good thing; the seemed to extend forever into darkness.

Standing up, I found myself remembering myself playing a sad piece of music. I had recalled this memory before: It was the death-song of this place, the music that had made this place. I hummed it absentmindedly as I walked deeper into the tomb-manse.

At the bottom of the stairs there was nothing. Featureless stonewalls that echoed of eternity, with no a scratch on them or anything to indicate their age simply surrounding the small platform that the stairs ended at. Of course, I knew that there was more to this place.

I just didn’t know how to get in.

Humming the mournful tune as I looked back up the stairs, I saw that the sunlight was but a tiny dot in the darkness.

I tried to tap my forehead to make it glow again, like it had back under Valkhawsen. It was really handy, having a light in your forehead, especially in a dark place like this. The light appeared, but at the same time the ground began to quake ever so slightly. Then the stone wall in front of the end of the staircase seemed to slide away, revealing a doorway into more darkness.

I peeked inside, gagging slightly. The air smelled horrible, like a moldy tomb. Of course, knowing what the place was that didn’t surprise me, although it was still uncomfortable.

Stepping inside seemed to trigger something, mainly lights. Soft light from smooth oval glass hemispheres set in the ceiling and in the walls lit up, illuminating a great cathedral like hall, with many doors leading to adjacent rooms.

In the middle was a gold-plated sarcophagus. I swallowed back fear as I approached it. It was heavily encrusted in beautifully cut gems and sun burst icons in blazing gold. I felt myself overcome with sadness as I recalled making this for myself to lie down in…

…and I knew I had to open it. I knew I had taken my most treasured artifact with me to the next life, to this life. I had to have it back. I simply had to.

A brief thought passed through my head: ‘Was this thing made to be opened again?’

I remembered etching the glyphs and runes that adorned the sarcophagus in with my bare hands, essence making the gold mold to my thoughts. I put my hands on the runes and said a word I remembered but didn’t understand. I would later learn that it meant “I have returned” in the language known as Old Realm.

The sarcophagus lid split down the middle with a snap loud enough to knock me over. Touching my ears revealed a slight trickle of blood. When I got back up and beheld the remains I couldn’t help notice three things:
First of all my prior self had apparently been female. My past life memories had shown me nothing of this – but now I found myself worrying if I would ever recall having sex, and how weird that would feel.

Secondly I noticed that for a funerary garb, then my past self had been dressed very modestly. There were no gold jewelry or fancy bits of anything amongst the remains. I had to question myself why anyone who could make such a wondrous place like this, own her own, would allow herself to go to rest in such humble attire. In the back of mind some part of even seemed to regret not having ‘made’ something fancier prior to dying.

The third thing I noticed was a short staff, just long enough to use as a cane, along with a stone tablet. They were the only solid objects in the sarcophagus beyond the dust of long decayed bones.

I took the white cane and felt immensely relieved. I didn’t know why. In fact I had no idea what it was or what it did – but if it was epic enough for my past self to burry herself with it, then it must have had some use. The stone tablet mystified me. It was polished to a shine, but when I tried to see myself in its reflection I noticed the lines of writing on it.

I had to squint to even see the glyphs written on the tablet, and I couldn’t speak or read the language at all – but as I saw it I started mouthing the words. I was remembering writing it.

The first part of it read:

“To the future bearer of the mantle of the Bright Machine Speaker. I have spent weeks pondering what wisdom I should impart to you. We, the solars, have been betrayed, but I will not tell you by who. To inform you would of that would probably put you in more danger than it would do good.”

I put the stone tablet down on the edge of the sarcophagus for a moment. Great, my past self still wasn’t going to tell me everything! What a ripoff! I got a sneaking suspicion that I would have to learn this language pretty soon if I was to be able to do anything here. I kept ‘reading’, although I had to stop at some of the bigger words to really think about what they meant.

“I came to this place, east of Deheleshen, north-north-west of Denansdor, seeking a refuge I did not find. To this end I made my own, this, my tomb and my final gift to my successor. My soul has been wounded, for I would be able to heal any wound of the flesh, so my time is short.”

Well that’s interesting. I know that the lighthouse in Lookshy is called the Deheleshian lighthouse and that Lookshy was built on shogunate ruins – but do Lookshy’s roots really date back that far? That would explain the ruined solar factory cathedral under the city. I had never really heard of this place Denansdor in this life, but the name felt really familiar. I read on:

“I will call this place the Soulforge. Whether you choose to keep that name or rename it to reflect that it is now also a tomb is your choice, but I made it to house the remains of my greatest gifts to this world. I have not left you artifacts or other trinkets that looters might steal. Indeed, this sarcophagus is made to only open to my own exaltations presence combined with a word and to open the door to the stairway out produce the tune that matches that which made this manse, you should know it well: If you’re reading this, you should already have sung it. Argh, distractions. Must keep focused.”

I had to stop and laugh for a moment. Was my past self truly so similar to me? I had always found myself easily distracted – not more than any other man might be – but I had always quickly become conscious of it and found that very annoying.

“In the rooms beyond the central chamber you will find vast archives. On stone tablets like these, which you must never remove from this place lest they crumble to dust, are inscribed all of my knowledge of the heavenly skills needed to marry magic and technology. Kal Bax might have cornered manse-making, and Bright Shattered Ice might have kept stealing my notes, but I was the greatest mind when it came to magitechnical wonders. I have built directional titans, I have made protoshinmaic vortices and wonders beyond telling. The knowledge of how to make them are in these archives, but sadly not the blueprints. These I could no save from those who I feel will soon be the death of me.”

Looking around the polished stone walls for a moment I had to just take a moment to think. Had I truly built such awesome wonders in a past life? I had never heard of these things, but in remembering writing this I could feel the great attachment to the words. They were big words which carried great weight. A directional titan. That sounds big. I read the last part:

“In the farthest room of the manse I have built what I recon will be of greatest immediate use for you. It certainly helped me make this place. It is not an inauspicious gateway, and never use it as such, but it is a small portal to far beyond the sane edges of creation. The wyld energies accessible through the portulis of iron and soulsteel are pure and will make for great shaping. This is why I have not filled this tomb with tools and trinkets: If you are a true bearer of the name Bright Machine Speaker, then you will make whatever you need from this. This is my final gift to you. Regain our honor, avenge me”

It was signed by… well… me. The signature looked weird. I figured that it was mainly because it was in this weird old language: pictograms make for weird signatures. I didn’t know the word pictogram until just there.

I had much to think about. These archives sounded impressive, and looking around into the adjacent rooms revealed what must be acres of underground vaults of stone tablets like the one in the sarcophagus. It would take years to transcribe all of this, or a large team of translators. Again, I needed to learn this language – but even then it would take time to gleam wisdom from these writings and diagrams.

Furthest in the tomb I found the wyld gate. It felt weird to be near it, but it still felt safe. The portcullis looked menacing; with spikes of dark iron and what I thought was murky black jade. I felt very much like I did not want to touch it. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with this.

In Lookshy I had learnt to fear the fair folk. They did terrible things to people and be fought easily with iron weapons – not steel, but raw iron weapons. That was what I had been taught. I had never myself engaged fae in battle, but I had helped stitch up soldiers who had fought them. I had picked nightmarishly jagged arrows out of flesh, and helped amputate limps that had, or in a few cases still were in the process of being, mutated. How could anything useful be made from the realm of horrors that such things came from? Maybe I just wasn’t smart enough to figure it out: I may be smart, but I’m not booksmart.

Exploring the rest of the manse took me very little time. It was all stone tablet archives, wyld thingy and main tomb-chamber. There was no running water, no place to sleep and it was actually a bit chilly. For a manse it was actually quite… not very much. I had seen a few manses in Lookshy, from the outside, at a distance and they were all palace-like structures, or grand and beautiful buildings that supplied essence to the wonder-factories and workshops. This place really did look bland – but at the same time I knew there was more to it.

Looking around I remembered the functions of this place, beyond what my prior incarnation had written down. This place was hidden. I didn’t need to think very hard to figure that out, but it was hidden very well. I hadn’t seen the stone staircase leading down until I fell down the stairs. I could also remembered hiding this place from more than just sight and sound: I didn’t understand why, but I knew that this place was hidden from heaven somehow. I didn’t quite understand the connection or the context, but I felt that hiding from heaven was the most important thing about this place.

Had my past self perhaps angered the gods? From what little I knew it seemed to make sense. Gods could strike down even the mightiest dragonblood, only the immaculate monks and those few trained in the heavenly dragon styles of martial arts could even try to take on gods. Had my past self truly angered the gods so? I hoped that whatever slight my past incarnation had done would not be passed on to me.

Going outside I found that it was getting dark. I ate more local plants, contemplating setting traps and snares for animals if I was to stay any longer. My miraculous knowledge of wilderness lore still amazed me. At least I had a nice walking stick. This, my ‘singing staff’. I still needed to figure out what it did.
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Essence 6
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Re: Light and darkness

05 Sep 2011, 15:24

this one is about 5 pages long... and I chance tense in it - it works better when there are multiple characters running around.

Part 4: Old glow, new sparks
I woke up at dawn, once again feeling the soft cushioning of the essence around me. I looked to sky, still dim. Then I looked to the east, to the rising sun. I saluted it, like an old friend. Of course, I didn’t think of it as just ‘the sun’ anymore; now it was much more to me. Both as a matter of faith, knowing that I had been selected and because I knew what I was mechanically. I remember standing on the daystar dirigible, looking down on creation, looking down the mortal realm which I in part ruled.

It was after breaking camp that I started to wonder what I should do next. At that thought I actually found myself stumped. I had my ancient artifact stick I didn’t know what did, I had my nifty death disc of spiny bladed… death – and I had… not much else. Okay that’s not true: I had my essence and the ability to do things no mortal man could do. I could even do things that dragonbloods could not!

So what to do? No really, what to do? I absent-mindedly started gathering up reeds, a lot of them. I held them in my hands and looked on as my essence reduced them into a pulp which flattened into sheets of grey-brown paper. After a few hours I had a book with no cover. A rabbit caught in one of my snares fixed that. Now my book is also soft and fluffy. And I had a tasty lunch. And I made needles and a pair of small pliers out of the bones.

I wasn’t even sure how I had done all of that – but I did it, using only my hands and my essence.

You are probably reading my book right now, or maybe a later transcript? Who knows. I knew that if I was to clear my name and regain my honor back in Lookshy I would need to document and record my actions. No sense in leaving anything to chance.

It was when I was about finished with making my little book that I met someone. A certain someone who told me to put the book down. I may get killed down.

“I said put the book down” the female voice said. The body matched – well, it matched in that it was certainly female. Whether it was human was another topic of discussion.

She had mottled light blue skin with blotches of slightly darker shades of blue, plus it was clear that from the underside of her tail, to her inner thighs, up her belly, through to her chest , throat and up to just over her ‘nose’ she had a more creamy white skin color. She also looked like a mix of a shark and human, with a tail so long it was nearly two thirds her height, webbed hands and toes, no hair but a shark-fin instead, and her head was elongated like a weird shark-head molded to have more human features. Also she had gill-slits on the side of her throat and wore a decidedly wet purple skirt and top combined with what looked like a very stylish silk fishnet.

She was also drop dead gorgeous. That fact alone actually scared Speaker – him thinking that this was some kind of fae monster coming to eat his soul.

Speaker fumbled with the book and debated heavily with himself whether to run or whip out Gift, his gyroscopic chakram.

The shark-woman walked up to Speaker, smiling at his trembling. She then extended a clawed hand to greet Speaker: “I’m Shimmering White, or just Shimmer – I do believe we know each other”

Speaker blinked for a few seconds. He was somewhat torn between trying to hide his erection and berating this, his lunar mater if memory served right, for scaring him. In fact, he recalled having done fairly nasty things to his lunar mate in his past life whenever the incurable prankster would scare him. Speaker was actually put off by the thought of that – he was nice, a healer, not someone who makes moto-syncrotronic pain cages!

Shimmer poked Speaker: “Hello?”

When Speaker didn’t respond fast enough she leaned in and licked him across his left cheek. That didn’t get much of a reaction, but it was obvious that that was more because he was simply shocked: “Ok, I know I was told that your last incarnation could get a little caught up in his thoughts – but this is a bit much. You’re not this blank all the time, are you?”

Her voice. Speaker wanted to just listen to it. It was so smooth, so soft. It felt good in his ears. Even her licking him felt good – although for different reasons.

Taking a few steps back, Shimmer sighed heavily. She regretted going all out for this. Really, it was actually quite annoying having Speaker speechless like this. So with another deep breath and a few happy thoughts Shimmer changed back into her human form.

To speaker this looked quite amazing. For a few seconds shimmer dissolved into a shining silvery substance that quite reformed into a human. As human Shimmer had the same clothes, same round hips and same ample bosom on as before, but she had a nice western tan coupled with lush lips, a pert nose and shoulder-length purple hair in dreadlocks. She looked good, really good – but it struck Speaker as somewhat alarming that she had actually looked better as a half-shark.

“You looked better before” Speaker commented, finally putting his very handmade book down on the ground. He regretted not having made a backpack or something to carry the book around in.

Shimmer let out a girlish shriek of joy as soon as Speaker had spoken, leaping at him to embrace him in a tight hug. Speaker found it oddly familiar – but also very comforting: He now wasn’t alone, even if he wasn't quite sure what this Shimmer person was. He was certain she wasn’t fae, and remembered the term lunar mate – but she didn’t seem very moon-like to him. At least there was someone to ask this time around, instead of memories that didn’t always make sense.

Walking west along a small path that ran along the southern bank of the yananse river, the two talked, a lot.

Speaker was fascinated to listen to Shimmer speak of her past exploits in the west. There weren’t a fraction of the people living in the east, so the entire region was much more unstable and prone to wyld incursions. She said that a good handful of lunars, herself included, had worked to help that situation. She had herself helped set up a village where mortals and fish-like semi-aquatic beastmen lived together – and fought together, to ward off fae raiders.

“So why did you come all the way over here?” Speaker asked, wondering why Shimmer would abandon such a project just to find him.

Shimmer looked to the heavens: “my elders apparently knew my incarnation back when you were around, and through that knew that you were good friends with Lytek. They knew that you had a deal with Lytek not to polish your old memories out… so it was suggested that I seek you out to see how much you remembered. A solar with total recall would be a serious asset to the seneschals”

Once again Speaker found himself not really understanding what was being told to him - but his memories, while still confusing and not entirely sensical because they were in a language he didn’t speak right now, seemed good on the subject. He wasn’t sure who Lytek was, but the name sounded like an old friend.

Looking at Speaker getting lost in his thoughts Shimmer quickly asked if he actually knew who Lytek is. Speaker had to admit that he didn’t. Shimmer then explained that Lytek is the god managing and taking care of the celestial exaltations. This led into a lengthy explanation of the difference between celestial and terrestrial dragonblood exaltation… and Speaker marveled at Shimmer’s knowledge of spirits, gods and all things occult.

“By the way, what were you at the riverbank? I was swimming west past there when I smelled solar essence… but there’s nothing there, no roads. Where you hiding? Shimmer asked.

Speaker thought for a moment how to explain what he had been doing there: “Well… no. I had actually bought passage on a ship to Great Forks. But then I was kidnaped by a Lookshyan Sohei off the ship, but I fought him to a standstill and got off not far from where you found me. Then I poked around and found my past self’s tomb manse…”

Shimmer stopped walking. Speaker stopped a few steps later when he looked back at her.

“I didn’t see any manse in that area, and I didn’t feel one either. You can always feel the dragonlines converging if you know how to sense it” Shimmer said critically, thinking that Speaker in his apparent naivety had gotten something wrong.

Speaker held his gnarled white walking stick up before Shimmer: “I found this in the sarcophagus that my past incarnation’s remains was in. Trust me, it was the real deal”

Shimmer gawked at the gnarled staff. She had heard the stories, but to actually see a singing staff herself: “Do you know what this is?”

“It’s my singing staff – well, that’s what I remember it being called” Speaker said hesitantly.

Shimmer burst into a tirade explaining what the staff could do – how its music could mold stone and earth. Speaker finally understood why he felt so attached to it: it was the ultimate tool for construction and earthworks. For some reason this made him ponder less the potential uses of the artifact and more if there were similar artifacts to control water, wood and metals, so one could control all the components that often go into construction.

“By the way, what was the hearthstone?”

Speaker shrugged, and quickly found Shimmer shaking him violently: “You didn’t take the hearthstone? Are you stupid?”

What followed was a quick forced march back to the manse, inside, Shimmer being quite impressed at how it was hidden and how it completely suppressed the home-made earth-aspected demesne. The hearthstone room was obviously the central chamber with the sarcophagus. The hearthstone was down inside sarcophagus, buried in the dust that was Speaker’s former incarnation’s earthly remains. That Speaker was somehow already attuned to the place didn’t surprise Shimmer much – it had probably been done when had hummed the tune that built the place.

Leaving the manse Shimmer explained how the hearthstones worked – how it would regenerate his essence much faster as well as endow him with miraculous effects.

“Ok, so what will it do?” Speaker said, holding the rough sandstone looking hearthstone in his hand. He could feel the power from it, but had no idea what it would do.

“Beats me. I’m attuned to a lunar aspected manse in my village back east, plus a very flooded water aspected manse I found swimming over here. It was floating underwater, deep in the great western ocean, anchored by an essence link to the bottom. The first hearthstone makes her impossible to track my mortal means, while the second allows her to walk on water.

Speaker was very impressed at these effects, which made him wonder what the hearthstone from his manse would do.

After walking for most of the day the two came across a proper road and Shimmer managed to smooth-talk and passing merchant into letting them hitch a ride.

To Speaker’s chagrin the merchant, a man from the south judging from his accent and skin color, was heading to Nexus. Speaker had little love of the place, which resulted in several hour long discussions between Speaker, Shimmer and the merchant on the virtues – or rather the lack of it – of nexus.

Shimmer liked the fact that it was a city state run by mortals – as opposed to Great Forks or Lookshy, which have either dragonbloods or gods running the show. Her argument was that it made the place so much more accessible to other mortals. Of course, she did voice her great dislike of the guild’s slave trade with the fae, selling fresh slaves in return for ravished will-less and pliable ones.

The merchant agreed that the deals the guild made with the fae weren’t for the faint of heart – and he only traded in spice and Chiaroscuran glass. He had barrels full of glass shards and bags of spices, all of which he had eager buyers for waiting in Nexus.

Speaker’s opinion on the matter was mainly colored by his past as a doctor and being a son of Lookshy. To him slaves were a security hazard: they could be prone to rebellion, they couldn’t be trusted to defend their masters. That the guild dealt with fae for slaves just made it all worse. – and all Lookshyans could tell of at least five incidents where friends or family in the armed forces had to go clean up a mess made by mercenaries from nexus. So to him Nexus was a place where people of ill repute did bad stuff.

The merchant quickly gathered that Speaker wasn’t that world-weary, while he was impressed of what Shimmer knew of the east, being a westerner. This led to the inevitable question of why the two were going to Great Forks.

“Well… I’m meeting some old friends there, and Shimmer is an old friend as well coming along” Speaker said innocently.

A few weeks of travel later left Speaker and Shimmer outside the gates of Nexus. Speaker wasn’t comfortable going in so Shimmer went to work trying to find passage to Great Forks.

Shimmer impressed Speaker by finding a ship going to Great Forks willing to take on a surgeon. Speaker was about to ask what Shimmer then would do when she explained that she would be tagging along as a shark trailing the ship.

Speaker was a little disappointed that it wasn’t the same ship he’d been on previously – but he quickly found himself appreciated. The captain of the ship was even kind enough to offer Speaker the previous ships surgeon’s medical tools… since apparently their last surgeon was killed following failure to save an injured sailor. That part of the story Shimmer hadn’t told. This was obviously not as nice a ship and crew as before.

Speaker quickly found his days dissolving into routines of patching up sailors after knife-fights, getting bottles thrown at him and generally getting mistreated. The captain even seemed reluctant to pay him anything, arguing that the very sub-par rusty doctors kit that the late former ships surgeon had left behind was Speaker’s pay. Still, speaker had three bland meals per day and a bed to sleep in. He wasn’t sure what Shimmer was doing, as he could never spot any shark fins in the water following the ship.

Arriving in port in Great Forks was a joyous day. Well, that didn’t really get to happen: Shimmer appeared in Speaker’s cabin the night before reaching Great Forks telling him to gather his things and elsewhere them, then jump in the water and swim to shore.

“Why would I want to do that? We’re a stone throw from the port – why jump ship?” Speaker said groggily, wondering how late it was. How he suddenly knew it was a little over four in the morning was beyond him.
“Because the Great Fork’s port authority screens everyone coming in for essence users – I spoke with some other lunars while you were under way… they advise caution when entering Great Forks” Shimmer quickly stated, Speaker barely being able to see her in the dark. He wondered if she was in her sexy shark form.

Speaker didn’t even bother trying to argue with Shimmer. During the weeks while he traveled with her and the merchant he quickly learned that her skills and rhetoric and ear-bending far surpassed his own, so he gave up trying to argue with her before even trying. One thing he did have to ask about was how one could ‘elsewhere’ stuff.

Shimmer explained the concept of elsewhere, how all exalted could will away any one item they could hold in one arm or that they had special charms to send away. Point in case Speaker marveled as he packed up all his doctor’s kit in a small bag, which he had spent weeks fixing up on in secret, and saw it disappear into elsewhere.

They made their way up to the deck, where Speaker noticed that the sailors on watch where all asleep. He suspected that Shimmer had done something to them.

Crawling down a rope and quietly swimming ashore, the two set up camp after having walked far enough from shore that they couldn’t be seen from the water any more.

Speaker found it very logical that Shimmer chose to sleep in the form of a mouse bundled up in his clothes.

He awoke next morning when three men, one in priestly robes, one in a fine silk tunic and one in a dark cloak, shook him awake. Speaker leapt back and prepared to defend himself, when the robed man pointed to his forehead, revealing a golden disc.
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Re: Light and darkness

07 Sep 2011, 12:38

Part 5: Circle Reborn

The robed man with the mark of the solar zenith caste introduced himself as Han Xiago. He carried himself like a warrior monk, appearing strong, stoic, and with a charming way of words. He managed to calm Speaker, who in return introduced himself.

Han next introduced the cloaked man, stating that he was ‘Shadow’, master thief, solar night caste. Speaker couldn’t say that he had heard of him, but as Shadow pointed out: “What kind of thief would I be if everybody had heard of me?”

The man in the fine embroidered silken tunic graciously introduced himself as merely a mortal of wealth who funded the Great Fork’s chapter of the Illuminates. He said that he had known Han for a long time, before his exaltation when Han had just been a preacher at this cult of the sun. He marveled at meeting so many blessed of heaven.

Shimmer cut in and said hi to everyone, although for some reason the rich guy seemed a bit standoff-ish towards her. Speaker thought that maybe she wasn’t exalted enough for the guys tastes? How rude.

Looking around at the two solars Speaker felt as if he had met old friends. He definitely remembered the name Shadow. The name Han Xiago didn’t seem familiar, but of what little he recalled of his fellow circle-mate’s naming habits in the past then he apparently preferred to keep his mortal name upon exaltation. How quaint.

After breaking camp Han invited everyone back to the shrine inside the city. Apparently this cult of the illuminates was a cult dedicated to the worship of the Unconquered Sun and support of his blessed few.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Speaker stated how nice it finally was to be amongst people who didn’t want to see him dead because of his exaltation.

The rich guy, sporting a mean fu-man-chu beard, inquired into Speaker’s statement and was quickly told of Teresu Gido and the incident on the ships.

“You do know that because of this the blessed isle will be alerted to your existence? They will send a wyld hunt” The man warned.

Han laughed: “If they do they’ll have to get through Fei”

This of course led to questions from Speaker and Shimmer as to who the Fei person was, who according to Han was their circle’s dawn caste. A man of few words, mostly due to a rather lazy disposition, Han described fei to be a great warrior who liked to ride around on his panda. Speaker wasn’t sure what to make of that, but hey, if it’ll keep him safe.

Of course, getting into the shrine proved somewhat difficult. As the group walked through the city gates into Great Forks they found themselves stopped by the guards there, led by a mighty looking spirit. Apparently the guards had standing orders to screen all newcomers of essence, which set off some alarms. Han, being a local, and Shadow, being sneaky, had previously avoided this. This was exactly what Shimmer had warned about.

Speaker and Shimmer were brought before another spirit, a strange looking being with three eyes, no apparent mouth and skin that looked like brown glass. With but a glance in Speaker’s direction it nodded to the guard captain spirit who then led Speaker and Shimmer deeper into the city. Han and Shadow followed at a distance.

Speaker and Shimmer were brought into the center of the city. Speaker couldn’t help but marvel at the multitudes of wonderous sights, gods and temples that lined the central district. Everything was so colorful, so festive and smelled of incense and burning sacrifice.

At the central temple, the temple of the three, Speaker realized what was going on. He mainly realized this when Shimmer told him that it was in that temple that the three ruling gods of the city lived. They were being taken to an audience.

Speaker and Shimmer were led into a great chamber filled with candles and tapestries. Call columns of polished rock, not marble, but black and blue rock, stood in a great circle around the edge of the chamber.
In the middle was a grand table of brightly polished wood with three thrones behind it. Two of the thrones were occupied.

In one sat a beautiful woman, dark snake-curls of hair rolling down upon elegant armor. A master of ceremonies introduced her as the Shield of a Different Day. In the other throne sat a woman that seemed oddly familiar to Speaker, but in a wrong way. It was if seeing the face of a girl he once fancied on the body of a friend’s wife, coupled with the arms of a nurse he once worked with. The master of ceremonies declared her to be the Weaver of Dreams of Victory.

Without even thinking about it, Speaker asked the dreamweaver if she ever finished her work in the Haliat crystal chapels. The daysheild looked surprised, shimmer just as much. The dreamweaver didn’t bat an eyelash, but spoke softly that she had, but that was a long time ago.

The dayshield then took charge and stated that the city guards and their essence screeners have standing orders to bring solars before the three, although this was by no means meant as a hostile gesture. She also explained that Speaker was the first one to enter the city, although she also said, somewhat loudly, that his friends could come join them as well.

Han and Shadow entered the chamber from different points, Shadow leaping down from a dimly-lit balcony. They joined Speaker in front of the two of the three.

“As you may know, especially you Han Xiago, then I am goddess of the battles fought without bloodshed. I keep Great Forks safe. Therefor I gave the order when I heard rumors of solars returning. You see, there are many gods and spirits that live in Great Forks. Some because they want to, some because they have fled from other places. The resurgence of solars frighten many of them” the dayshield stated, looking concerned.

The dreamweaver followed up by explaining that while the realm’s immaculate philosophy speaks of a perfected hierarchy, which none of the divine citizen of Great Forks wishes to be forced into, then many of the gods in Great Forks also remember a time when Solars effectively ruled the terrestrial gods with iron fists clad in orichalcum. Her concern was for the future coherence of Great Forks, should solars rise to power. She did not want to see solars oppressing the gods of Greate Forks.

Han Xiago mused: “That would explain why the ministry of faith hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with my requests for a larger temple for the Unconquered Sun, instead of the shrine we have at the moment”

The dayshield apologetically stated: “There are simply a lot of gods here that like living on their own, not under the oaf of others’ doctrinal restrictions. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be allowed a proper temple for the Unconquered sun. In fact, I would honestly support such a venture. Great Forks profits greatly from pilgrims and being the place of the rebirth of the worship of the lord of gods wouldn’t be a bad thing”

Speaker looked to Shadow and Han, then at Shimmer who smiled and shrugged.

“Sounds like a plan then. But you’ll have to forgive me if I say so, but I don’t think that temple will be in Great Forks then. It should be the grandest temple where it is, not dwarfed by that of the local regent deities.” Han quickly stated. Speaker was quite honestly shocked to hear him basically state that he wanted the biggest temple in the city to be the Unconquered Sun’s temple, or it wouldn’t be in the city at all.

The dreamweaver let out a laugh: “Oh how I have missed the power of the solars. I have seeded many dreams in my time, but those in solars always bear the greatest fruit. You have my blessing to build your temple here in the confederates, but I’d urge you to gather support for it elsewhere as well.”

“What do you mean by support?” Speaker wondered.

Dayshield elaborated that it was a simple leap of logic that if Great Forks gets a nearby temple for something the immaculates very much says must be destroyed, then it is bound to attract more than just pilgrims: it would attract trouble. To that end getting Lookshy to approve of the venture, them knowing the possible future military expenditures needed to keep the peace.

The dreamweaver chimed in that Nexus is bound to complain as well, seeing as the realm has always looked for reasons to punish the confederates financially – and if the confederation openly allows what the realm sees as anathema to set up a temple, then: “…it is no secret that the realm is on the brink of falling apart right now. It would be unwise to give them a common foe to unite against.”

Speaker couldn’t help but feel a bit disillusioned, understanding that go venerate the god that had given him power he would have to do what sounded impossible to achieve – namely to get all of the major powers in the confederates to agree on something.

Han Xiago seemed quite happy at the news though: “Fair enough, and I take it that we have the approval of the three to begin with then?”

The two gods nodded.

“Excellent, one down, two to go” Han said, turning to leave with purposeful and optimistic steps. Speaker and the others followed.

Leaving the temple of the three Speaker couldn’t help but feel oddly wiser from the meeting with the gods.

Going back to the shrine that Han had been the acting high priest of, Speaker could see why they wanted an upgrade. There were about twenty locals on sitting in meditative prayer, with so little room for each of them that they nearly had to sit on top of each other. They were overjoyed when Han told them the news that a new grander temple outside Great Forks would soon be made.

All Speaker could think of was where to build it and how to fund it – because building grand temples wasn’t cheap – even with his singing staff, then a proper temple was more than just a building of stone. Still, Han’s optimism was infectious. Even Shimmer seemed to believe that it could be done.

The dawn caste solar Fei also turned up, a gruff looking sort. And true to what Han had said, then he had a panda that followed him around, with saddle-bags laden with bamboo shoots. It was the… third weirdest thing Speaker had seen, the second and most weirdest being various dragonblooded shenanigans he’d witnessed back in Lookshy.

The zenith preacher man seemed very set on getting this temple built. He had preached with the illuminates before he exalted – indeed, he had apparently exalted while preaching. During a shared evening meal, Speaker learned that Fei had exalted during a fight with his brother, nearly killing him. While that wouldn’t be so out of the ordinary, the fact him and his brother were princes in to a king in some country Fei didn’t bother to name had complicated matters, forcing Fei to flee, running into Han near Great Forks. He appeared to have no desire to return, despite being the oldest son and thus the heir.

Of what little Shadow told of himself then Speaker reasoned that he had been some small-time thief just trying to survive who kept getting snubbed by the more organized crime families, to which end he’d wowed to root out corruption wherever he’d find it. He’d been denied the opportunity to lead an honest life, so now he wanted to prevent that fate happening to others, accepting that he might have to do so via dishonest means.

Han backed Shadow up in is goals, pointing out that creation is mired in corruption and backroom dealings, making a few subtle hints towards Great Fork’s own ministries.

Speaker spoke little during the meal, but told of his life in Lookshy when asked. Fei seemed intrigued when Speaker mentioned his limited experience with maintaining Lookshy’s Gunzosha artifact armor, but Speaker had to digress; he only knew basic magitechnical theory and the only thing he was reasonably good at with it was repairing magitech devices.

It was agreed that the circle would make their way to Nexus first, to gain audience with the council of entities to seek their… support… to build a temple to the Unconquered Sun. Speaker wasn’t too optimistic; He reasoned that the council, being made up purely of guild factors according to what he knew, would probably demand exorbitant bribes to give their approval. Han was certain that the Unconquered Sun would guide them to success.

The next day Speaker couldn’t help himself but complain a little that him and Shimmer had just traveled from Nexus, only to now waste time getting there again. Shimmer couldn’t agree more, to which end she suggested that the solars meet her that evening outside Great Forks, out of sight from any people might see them; she would handle the rest. She also said that they shouldn’t bother buying too much in provisions, as it would be a short trip.

The circle of solars left Great Forks on foot, walking out of the west quarter to the main road west to Nexus. The spot that Shimmer had told them to meet them at were a few hours walk away from the city, away from prying eyes.

However, on their way there a group of riders almost rode them down. It was Fei’s warning that gave them time to get out the way – clearing a road for eight riders riding four horses wide galloping towards you takes surprisingly long… that’s at least what it felt like to Speaker as he threw himself to the side of the road.

Fei stood his ground, not letting any fool or his horsemen force his hand. With a gesture and a wiff of essence Fei suddenly stood with a giant golden blade, seven feet long and one foot wide. The rider that would have run him down tried to halt, pulling the reins so hard the horse fell over. A quick glance explained to Speaker why Fei had stood his ground instead of dodging; Fei’s panda Taotao who walked in front of Fei wouldn’t have been able to get out of the way fast enough.

The other riders stopped about two horse lengths up the road, hearing the falling rider’s surprised shout as him an the horse fell over.

Fei did away his blade and calmed his frightened panda friend, using gesture and simple sounds to seemingly communicate with the animal.

The riders came up to their fallen comrade, their leader angrily shouting at Fei: “How dare you, we are holy men – have you no shame. We are on important business!”

Speaker looked around. These were immaculate monks, the one shouting a dragonblood, water aspect – judging from his blue hair which seemed wave and bob like waves in the ocean.

Fei looked up, slowly. He stretched his limbs as if working out, displaying bulging muscles under his humble canvas tunic: “You scared my panda”

Suddenly Speaker felt a tap on his shoulder, prompting him to look over and see Shimmer, upon which she gestured for the two of them to sneak into the bushes, which they did relatively unnoticed due to Fei’s defiance. In the dense bushes they could hear Fei and the dragonblood having a little shouting match, throwing banter back and forth – apparently the dragonblood had heard of the anathema prince from the kingdom of Wing-Tzu, and Fei had, upon being asked, named himself Fei Wing.

It was clear that the dragonblood and his mortal immaculate monk disciples were getting ready to attack Fei. It was then that three fowling arrows shot out of the bushes from the opposite side of the road to Speaker and Shimmer. Shadow had struck, knocking three of the seven mortal monks out before any of them even knew what was happening. Shimmer picked up on this and launched herself at the two nearest riders, both of which were looking over at where the arrows had come from.

Speaker caught himself before he gasped, seeing Shimmer suddenly change into a big winged birdlike being with long talons and a curved beak. She grabbed two of the immaculates, throwing one to the ground while holding the other with curved black talons held at the man’s throat.

The dragonblood launched himself at Fei, his fist wreathed in aqueous essence, giving off the kind of sound you’d hear at a beach just before a giant wave crashes down – only to find himself blocked by Fei’s giant golden grand daiklaive.

The two remaining mortal monks howled and reared their horses to face Shimmer, drawing swords in the process – but upon seeing this Speaker could remain inactive no more, drawing his mechanical chakram from elsewhere, he quickly powered it up and threw it at great speed towards one of the monks, aiming to disarm the man, but not kill him. The chakram tore through the air with a loud mechanical wail, the moisture in the air soon to be evening dew hissing as hot essence boiled it away. The monk’s sword was cut in half and the chakram zoomed back to Speaker, revealing his location to the few who looked.

Fei, biding his time, sighed and brought up his giant blade and cut the dragonblood in half – only to see the dragonblood’s body turn to water for a brief moment, the dragonblood laughing and saying something in a language that Speaker didn’t understand, although Fei seemed insulted. He casually swatted aside the mortal monk who attacked him, his eyes continually locked on the dragonbloods.

Three more arrows shot out of the dark as Shadow knocked out of the two mortal monks on horseback. Shimmer grabbed the monk she was holding by the throat and applied very precise pressure to his carotid artery; the monk became limp a few seconds later, Speaker felt oddly proud in seeing her use such a technique.

Fei then unleashed a barrage of attacks on the dragonblood. The attacks didn’t come as any kind of surprise, but the dragonblood was quickly overwhelmed. Speaker was at a loss for words seeing how quickly Fei whirled his giant sword around, delivering blow and blow. At first the blows merely struck watery essence, the dragonblood’s body dissolving and reforming each time, but on the fourth blow the dragonblood… Speaker wasn’t sure, but Fei had probably caught him off-rhythm with the blows, as the body reformed around Fei’s blade instead of next to it. The dragonblood gave a pained scream which was – literally – cut short, Fei delivering two final strikes that left the dragonblood in five separate pieces.

Cleaning up the mess, mainly the bloody remains of the dragonblood, Speaker got into a heated argument with Fei over what to do with the unconscious mortals that had followed the dragonblood. Fei wanted to kill them all, seeing as it was the teachings they followed which had seen him cast out from his home.

Speaker empathized with Fei, knowing the feeling of being hunted by one’s own countrymen. Shimmer, still in the form of some kind of birdlike beastman spoke wisely, pointing out that these mortals had seen them – and would be able to identify – and would likely do so, spreading the word that the lot of them qualified as anathema. This was bound to lead to more trouble.

Their discussion was interrupted by Shadow who’d been busy looting the bodies. A few purses, some silver dinars, some personal effects, some prayer beads and a weird tubular piece of cloth tied off at both ends. Shadow wanted to know what the deal was with the ‘scarf’ as he called it.

Upon seeing the piece of cloth Speaker laughed out loud. He couldn’t recall the name of it, but upon close inspection he was certain he knew what it was. It was a thaumaturgically enhanced sleeve, meant to keep dragonblood semen fresh indefinitely, for transport usually.

Everybody stopped arguing and looked at Speaker who was peeking into the soggy sleeve. He looked around: “What? Dragonblooded monks swear celibacy – but the bloodlines have to go on. This is a perfectly logical way of preventing bloodlines from drying out when dragonbloods choose the razor”

Having finished looting everything, Shadow looked around at the unconscious monks: “I got something that’ll knock them out for the rest of the night and make them forget everything… but they need to get it into their systems somehow and they can’t eat or drink it like this”

Speaker fixed that problem with his surgeons tools, using essence to hollow out a needle, making a somewhat rickety syringe on the spot using bits of the broken sword to fashion a tube and piston. The knock-out drug was administered and everyone sans Fei were polite enough not to ask what Shadow was doing running around with date-rape drugs.

“For a thief I’m good at disguises and poisons. Something that make people fall asleep and forget is handy when robing them blind; They don’t recognize you afterwards and they might even think they misplaced what I took” Shadow explained.

With the monks moved to the side of the road and their horses chased off, the only thing left to deal with was the dragonbloods remains. Han, having remained somewhat passive during the fight due to his lack of ranged fighting implements or anything like Shimmer’s ability to leap great lengths when shapeshifted, quickly solved this problem. In what could undoubtedly be considered the most ironic of burial services, Han moved the dragonblooded’s remains to the side of the road into a big wet meaty pile, then used essence to burn the remains as he prayed for his soul and said that he hoped the man would be reincarnated into a more humble form.
With no evidence of their actions left, aside from the pool of blood on the ground which Shimmer assured that rain would do away with, Shimmer asked everyone to gather around as she shaped sorcery into a cloud which she stepped up on and bid everyone else get up on as well.

Speaker marveled at this feat of sorcery, while Han Xiago admitted that upon exalting he’d discovered some sorcerous abilities as well, but nothing nearly as powerful as this. Shimmer explained that she had learnt this spell, Cloud Trapeze, to help ferry people around in the West – something that was especially handy when evacuating villages during wyld incursions.

It was then Shadow got a spooky smirk on his face and suggested they wait another day before they left, stating that Shimmer’s transport spell opened up some new fun options for them. Shimmer gave him a look that could kill and angrily told him to speak up sooner about such things in the future, as shaping sapphire circle magic was quite tiring.
I have a webcomic: - Its kinda like exalted, except more furry, more fanservice, more fun, more sci-fi.
- may contain people being called "bob"
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Essence 6
Essence 6
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Title: Barbabe arbiter of unbound gravitas
Exalt: Alchemical
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Artifact: 4Chans Might
Location: Denmark, land of lego and vikings

Re: Light and darkness

09 Sep 2011, 18:11

Oh god this one turned out long... part six is almost 9 pages long

Part 6: Fair and foul

Returning to Great Forks Shadow explained that he long wanted to have a poke at a certain hard to access place. However, he said he needed some time to cash in a favor or two before they could go… and he might need some help for that.

Shadow’s attempt to not really tell what it was he wanted to raid was quickly shot down, to which end he simply smiled and said a single word that made Speaker sqeal like a little girl: “Denansdor”
Shimmer was greatly amused by Speaker’s giddiness at the prospect of returning to Denansdor. Speaker was beyond words; the name had rekindled many fond memories, including the fact that Denandsor had been the greatest center of artifice in creation… and Han concurred, stating that it had retained much of its first age splendor up through the shogunate era – until the miasma that now permeates the place came to be.

Speaker thought for a moment. He recalled making far too many things in and around Denansdor to pinpoint what could generate something like what Han was describing. A fear generator? Sounds powerful. Shimmer chimed in that her Lunar elders knew well of Denansdor, and equally advises young lunars to stay away from it. Most normal people could survive maybe an hour exposed to the effects of the miasma before starting to go mad… exalts weren’t immune to it either.

Shadow said that over the last couple of weeks of poking around in Great Forks he’d met an old friend who owed him a favor – he said he’d be able to cash it in tomorrow, as it was much too late in the evening right now.
The circle slept at Han’s apartment that night, making for a tight fit – although Shimmer helped by changing into a rat and sleeping on a table. Somehow she managed to look adorable as a rat, like some kind of cute pet.
The next day Shadow had left before the others had awoken. He appeared while everyone else was eating breakfast, stating somewhat hesitantly that they’d get the information they needed if they could fetch something…

Fei was the first to complain about Shadow not really telling them what was going on, with Han also expressing concern. Shimmer managed to pick up that Shadow seemed mostly nervous about Speaker, judging from where he looked when he tried to dodge the questions thrown at him.

Shadow sighed heavily, shrugging from within his dark cloak: “It’s this fae fellow who lives here in Great Forks, his apprentice had to go fetch some ‘pennant’ things from a demense on the north side of Great Forks. Apprentice should have been back weeks ago, my friend can’t leave his shop because of business… we get the pennants and the apprentice, he tells us what he knows”

Speaker’s mood had already gone from content to giddy once today – now it changed into righteous indignation, as he loudly proclaimed that he would never work for fae! He’d rather march up and kill the monstrous fiend right now!

Shadow tried to explain himself, but it was first after Shimmer forcibly restrained Speaker – her arms turning into several yard long muscular tentacles that held him quite hard – that Shadow managed to tell his story.
It turned out that this fae had once been a friend of a prior incarnation of Shadow, to the point that they’d gotten quite friendly, according to the fae that is, and partied quite hard. The point of all of this was that Shadow at one point had a manse down south where he hosted these parties, during which he’d use special artifacts mounted on the wrists to make the users immune to any mind-altering effect, something quite handy when throwing week-long parties with fae.

“And these things will help against the denansdor miasma?” Shimmer asked.

Shadow looked uncertain, but explained that the way the fae had described it, then the things would immunize the wearer to any essence-powered effect on the mind. It would do nothing to a simple convincing argument, but anything essence fueled would not work on you.

While the prospect of getting his hands on fancy first age party favor technology intrigued Speaker, even more so since it promised safe entry into Denansdor… then Speaker found it very hard to even reconcile the notion that there lived fae in Great Forks on peaceable terms with the rest of the population. In his mind at the moment then fae were the only things he knew of that truly deserved the moniker of anathema – and he felt they should be treated accordingly, with cold iron.

It was then that Han pointed out two things: They might all be solars returning to a world that hadn’t seen the wonders of solars for untold ages, but to think that they would be able to rise to their former glory without making a few sacrifices along then way, then one would be a fool. Secondly, then from what Shadow described then Han knew of the fae in question. The fae sold works of glamour in exchange for dreams, nothing else – as ravaging people would be in violation of Great Forks laws. It was the kind of service one went to make a kimono sparkle, or achieve other largely cosmetic enhancements on decorative objects. He knew of several shops that had glamour worked into their signs to make them better at catching people’s eyes – to which end he argued that of all the fae in creation making life miserable for mortals, then this one was not of that ilk.
Speaker didn’t feel happy accepting these truths, but he did so begrudgingly.

The map Shadow had been given turned out to be oddly animated, a piece of rice paper glamoured to show the way to the small freehold the fae had command of. Han was not slow to point out that ownership of a freehold was meant significant bit of power amongst fae… and a fae who was around back when solars were last around would be quite old and have a long story behind him.

Speaker was about to question what Han meant, but like a sudden flash of insight he recalled the narrative-based nature of fae. It did make him wonder how one of the fair folk have survived that long in static creation – or maybe he’d moved back into creation? Speaker realized that his disgust had temporarily receded and been replaced by great curiosity. He wasn’t sure if he liked that side of himself.

Leaving by boat from north end of Great Fork’s port the circle made surprisingly good speed across the mile-wide yellow river. This was mainly because Shimmer had snuck into the water and changed into her semi-aquatic shark-girl form, followed by Speaker lowering a rope for her to grab and pull the small rowboat at great speed. Fishermen and sailors in view looked on in disbelief as the boat seemingly propelled itself.

On the other side of the river the circle beached the boat and tied it to a tree.

The demesne turned freehold was supposed to be a one day walk from the river to the north-west. On their way the circle came across a farmstead with fields of vegetables and grains spread around it. It was getting dark, so seeking shelter for the night seemed like a good idea.

Approaching the stead the circle noticed little activity outside the huts thatched with reeds. However, when they called out asking for permission to come in for the night their reply where frightened shouts: “Stay away, we have iron, do not come near us!”

Fei, not one to ever show fear – indeed Speaker was suspecting that such notions had left Fei upon exaltation – calmly walked up to the door in hut from where the shouting had come and opened it, looking in: “We’re not fae. But we’re might be looking for one. A fae master from Great Forks is missing his apprentice, we’re looking for him”

The farmer and his family were all huddled in the one hut Fei had opened up to. The farmer, half in tears, said that fair folk had taken his daughter a week ago. The last anyone from the farm had heard of her was her voice, screaming, as weird creatures the farmers described as living flesh dragged her off.

“Do you know where this fair one dwells?” Shimmer was quick to ask.

The farmers spoke of a hill to the west, a few hours walk from the farm. The plants there grew quickly, too quickly, and there was a cave in the hill… inside of which strange lights had always danced. The farmers said that they knew the place was officially ‘owned’ by someone in Great Forks, who occasionally came by to harvest the weird growths on the hill – but everyone always stayed well away from the place.

It seemed obvious that the place was there, the only question was if the circle should go there now or rest? The farmers offered room and board for the night if the circle, all appearing as capable men and women of age and wit, would rescue the kidnaped girl.

Han looked to the others, then nodded in agreement – although he did point out that he could give no guarantees as the state she would be in when they brought her back.

The next morning, after a decidedly rustic breakfast of bread made on rice flour, nuts, berries and goats milk, the circle went to the hill.

Surrounding the hill was a definite aura of wood aspected essence. Han was the first to feel it, but Speaker and Shimmer picked up on it soon after as well. It became painfully obvious when they passed the warnings signs set up around the path leading to the hill. Speaker found it quite impressive that the various signs had warnings in riverspeak, low realm, forest-tongue as well as one with a single glyph in old ream that read “Fae”.

There was nothing immediately special to see on or around the hill. The vegetation looked normal enough at first glance, but then it became obvious: The trees weren’t swaying in the wind, they were waving in the currents of woods essence emanating from the hill. The same applied to all the plantlife on the hill. Like a sacred dance to Gaia.

The cave was easy to spot. Like the farmers had warned, then there were goblins with physical bodies of flesh and meat, like irregularly cut steaks that walked around on two… or make that three legs, or inched around on the ground with one leg. Not the prettiest creatures, but they seemed to be able sentries, spotting the circle well in advance.

They weren’t hostile however, standing aside with weird looks on their fleshy face, bowing or falling over on the ground. They were mere figments of a greater mind’s imagination.

Going inside the cave revealed a strange realm far greater than the hill should allow. The stony entrance opened up into a seemingly endless expanse, obviously all an illusion, but an impressive one. The expanse was featureless expect for a great bonfire with azure and cerulean flames that danced like beautiful women.

Han pointed out that the pennants would form in the fire. Approaching it revealed new features in the expanse. The floor stopped sounding like a dirt floor when walking on it, replacing it with the hard and cold sound of walking on smooth stone.

Then there was a table of polished black stone, identical to the stone floor revealed by the green-blue light of the bonfire. On the table were large piles of sausages, cooked and judging from the aroma spiced and seasoned to perfection.

While the first thought most in the circle had were if the fae had made the farm girl into the food they saw in front of them, then Shimmer quickly noted that there was more meat on the grand table than a girl fitting the farm girl’s description would have on her. This calmed the mood of the circle – at least for a few moments, until the enormous visage of a giant cloud with a face on it…

Rumbling deep in their minds, the cloudlike fae spoke: “Who dares enter the realm of the unshaped!”

While the circle at first were unsure what to say, then Shimmer, ever observant, pointed out that this couldn’t possibly be an unshaped raksha. Speaker agreed, citing ancient memories of wyld safaris leading far away from creation. Unshaped raksha simply couldn’t survive in creation.

The discussion amongst the circle did not go unheard. Indeed, the cloudy raksha seemed offended at their disbelief – although Han, with limited experience and knowledge of fae through his life in Great Forks, was quick to point out that their disbelief wasn’t just harmful to its pride: “They live through the story they build around themselves, and anyone tearing that story down by pointing out idiosyncrasies or flaws actually damage the fae themselves”

Loosing himself momentarily in thought, Speaker was impressed by Han’s knowledge. Truly, Speaker was beginning to suspect that everyone in his circle were academics to some extent. Shadow was a true genius at poisons, and a master chef apparently too – a fact he had gleaned last during the last dinner they had in Great Forks. Shimmer was quick at noticing and understanding things, Han had studied divine lore and the occult secrets of spirits in Great Forks. Perhaps that was the defining element of their circle… knowledge and wisdom. Well, there was Fei, who seemed to have wanted to stop learning all together the moment he’d learnt how to read.

Speaker’s train of thought was unceremoniously interrupted when the raksha bellowed out that the circle was obviously here to quest against him! Before anyone could say anything the raksha declared the first of four trials to have begun, with the circle quickly finding the ground turning into muddy quicksand… or so they thought.

Everyone was looking at Han for answers to what was going on, him being the most knowlegdable on fair folk so far, hoping that he’d know what was going on – but he digressed, he’d heard of unshaped being the kind of fae that resided only outside creation, but he knew nothing of any question traditions amongst them. Speaker, in a brief flashback to ancient times, recalled a past self questing just for fun… but one was supposed to get something in return upon succeeding the trails – so much so that one could name your own boon.

“Well that makes everything easy, just defeat him and demand the girl back” Fei boldly stated, leaping from the quicksand onto the table.
The moment Fei’s sturdy boots left the much something changed to the quicksand-like stone. It began to heat up.

It was then that Speaker recalled the trail of the sword always being something about conflict: “Everyone, up on the table!”

Shimmer changed into a seagull and flew up on the table, perching herself on the table edge. Han, with his experience in martial arts struck at the hot quick-sandy stone, momentarily solidifying it and pushing himself up and out with such force that he was flung back up and landed, groaning in pain from the impact, but otherwise unharmed. Shadow was already sitting on the table, having used larceny charms to become unnoticed, as he had paced the room looking for somewhere comfortable to sit aside from the ground. Ironically, despite being the first to spot the change, Speaker was the slowest to act, falling flat on his stomach as he tried to pry himself free. He quickly scrambled to the table, Fei reaching out and pulling him up in one switch motion.

The cloud laughed in glee as the ground heated up even more, the semi-liquid stone melting completely – or rather, simply changing into molten rock, leaving the circle stuck on the table in a seemingly endless sea of lava. While the heat radiated was immense, then everyone on the table were safe, although some of the residue on Speaker’s clothes from the fall also changed into molten rock, giving him second degree burns as everyone scrambled to get the fiery substance off him.

“Well done, the trial of the sword is over!” the raksha declared.

Panting from the exertion, Speaker pointed out that by playing along with the raksha’s games the circle were playing into the raksha’s narrative, empowering it by acknowledging the nature it had defined for itself. While this made everyone uncomfortable at the prospect of choosing between fulfilling their goals in the cave and making a run for it, Shimmer noted that even five exalts wouldn’t change a Raksha’s nature that much by playing along. It would take years, decades or even centuries to build a truly powerful narrative, and it would require hundreds or possibly thousands of individuals to acknowledge and be wrapped up in the narrative to lend it enough credence to make it dangerous.

“I think this fae simply heard tales of powerful unshaped out in the wyld and dreamt himself one – now he’s trying to assume this new form... it’s just a delusion of grandeur” She pointed out, Speaker agreeing that that sounded far more plausible.

Whatever it might be, the raksha seemed too engrossed in the trails ahead to notice the discussion. The floor cooled and turned back into smooth black stone, the raksha declaring that the next trial, the trial of the ring, was on.

It wasn’t immediately apparent what the trial was about. Nothing seemed to happen for a while. The circle stepped down from the floor and Shimmer flew up and perched herself on Speaker’s shoulder. However, in the act of flying up on her solar mate’s shoulder Shimmer picked up a whiff of… the food.

Everything up until now had been either hectic, dangerous, or filled with uncertainty – but now the circle seemed certain about what was going on, to the point that they truly took notice of the feast on the table. Fei launched himself at the huge piles of sausages. It looked almost comical, but they smelled delicious. Shimmer too flew down and started pecking at the sausages. Speaker approached cautiously, but found himself hungry and started eating as well. Shadow had already begun eating, but nobody had noticed that.

Han however was not one to indulge. Some might call him a boring type, but he felt a degree of righteous indignation at the sight of the overindulgence taking place in front of him. The he realized that this was probably the challenge: “Fools, can’t you see this is the trail – you have to resist the temptation! Restrain yourselves!”

Fei half-laughed with his mouth full of tasty meat: “Oh come on, try some – its good”

Speaker chimed in, throwing a spicy sausage with pinpoint accuracy at Han’s mouth, but the martially inclined holy man deflected it with the back of his left hand. Han then proceeded to slap Speaker quite forcefully, Speaker rocketing off the table, landing several yards away from it, Han having used the solar martial arts technique known as Heaven Thunder Hammer. The others hardly even took notice, too engrossed in a grotesque display of stuffing themselves.

Han then struck all of the others similarly, each flying between three to four yards away from their point of origin, all forcibly distanced from the allure of the grand table’s meaty feast. Shimmer was simply picked up by her legs, like a fat chicken hauled off to the chopping block. She changed back into human form as Han dumped her on the ground next to Speaker, looking pleading.

“Control yourselves!” Han shouted, with all the power and might in his voice of a prophet speaking to doubters and future converts. There was essence in his voice, and it purged the illusory fascination with the feast, leaving everyone a little dumbfounded and confused, but also painfully stuffed.

The raksha cheered and congratulated the exalts on finally passing the test – the meaty feast replenishing itself via new sausages seeping up from unseen holes in the stone table.

Fei, angry over having been tempted so, furiously declared that he did not wish to continue any more with these pointless games – but the raksha cloud pouted, asking if they did not want his boon anymore? For a tense moment the others expected Fei to say something, but the raksha beat him to it, dismissing Fei’s statement by pointing out triumphantly that the third challenge had begun!

This time it didn’t take long to see what had changed, although nobody wanted to admit to what they thought the next challenge was: The neatly piled sausages that previously smelled so good and tasted to great withered and decayed before everyone eyes, turning into rancid green tubes of bloated puss and lumpy brown and green goo. Tiny patches of white fuzz cropped up everywhere on the rotting sausage skins. It was not a pretty sight. The smell wasn’t anything to celebrate either. To even contemplate the taste would probably induce vomiting.

Shadow was the first to speak, looking up at the cloudy face: “So… we have to eat this too?”

The raksha face nodded furious, motioning for the circle to chow down with eager grins and gleeful anticipatory looks.

Shadow took out a vial from within his cloak, along with a cup. He looked at the table, then at the vial. He emptied about half the content of the vial, which was a clear fluid, into the cup. Then he drank it, sloshed it around in his mouth, then spat it out into the cup.

Everyone else looked at Shadow, not wanting to go anywhere near the table with the spoiled feast.

Shadow walked over to Fei and stated that he should do as he had done with the contents of the cup, then pass it on. Fei quickly asked what it was.

“It’s a mild sedative. I use it to numb the tastebuds of people if I can’t produce a tasteless poison… you’d be amazed at how much you can suppress your gag reflex when you can’t taste what you’re eating” he proudly declared.

“I’m in this to win, no matter the cost” Shadow said, gritting his teeth, then facing the table and grabbing a sausage. It dripped with cloudy fluid and had a distinctly mat brown color, along with plenty of moldy fuzz. He ate it.

Fei smacked his lips, feeling around his mouth with his tongue, then reaching up and poking his tongue with his right hand’s index finger. Sure enough, his tongue didn’t register the touch at all. He walked over and stoically at a big sausage. Shimmer, Speaker and Han thought that Fei was about to retch after swallowing the last bite, hardly even chewing the thing, but held it back.

Passing the cup around and repeating Fei and Shadow’s feat, the circle slowly but surely managed to keep down one sausage each. The raksha proudly declared the trail complete.

Before anyone asked then Shadow noted that the effect of the anesthetic they’d mouth-washed with would wear off after an hour or so.

The final trail, that of the cup, was… well… nothing. The raksha didn’t say anything and it was only Speaker’s ancient memories of fair folk graces and unshaped questing that allowed the circle to know what it was about: Compassion, feelings – although, considering what the circle had been through so far, then this raksha’s interpretation of the notion of compassion could very well be far from what mortal men and women thought of.

It was Fei who suggested that they themselves were already on a quest of compassion: “Well, we’re here to save the girl, right?”

With that in mind the trial became obvious: Save the girl – but how? She wasn’t anywhere to be seen? The only other ‘real’ feature in the empty expanse that was the freehold, beyond the pyre of blue and green flame, was the stone table.

Looking under the table revealed that there was nothing hold it up. It seemingly floated in the air. Speaker pointed out that if it had been resting on the ground it would have sunk back when the floor had become lava.
Still, the table was the only thing in the freehold. The girl had to be somewhere relating to it.

It was Shimmer who pointed out that the table had replenished the feast of sausage via sausage seeping up through the table – and that in freeholds, like in the wyld, reality doesn’t work exactly like creation.
Everyone but Shadow, who excused himself with not being strong enough to be of much use, quickly worked together to tip the table – which proved oppressively heavy, being made of a half-foot thick slab of stone at least ten square yards in size – and they slowly inched it off its invisible resting place off to the side, eventually revealing an unseen coffin like box underneath…

In the box was a being. It might once have been the girl from the farm, but there was very little human about her at this point. Almost every surface on the girl’s body had been reshaped to produce long thick growths… the sausages. Having moved the table ‘lid’ had severed the connections of the sausage appendages feeding up into the table, leaving the several dozen, if not hundreds of, fleshy tubes hanging limply from her body. This being did not look like a human anymore. It looked like someone had glued a lot of sausages onto a meat puppet. Her facial features were all but gone, sausage growths emanating from her chin, several on her throat, one from her cheek, her tongue, both of her eye sockets. From her scalp, which looked to only enough hairs on it that you could count them on both hands, had over a dozen sausage growths hanging out, looking like grotesque rasta curls. Each of her fingers and toes, and nearly every surface of her body had been reshaped into meaty tubular growths.

A quick examination of vital signs indicated that the girl was unconscious, much to the circle’s relief.

Speaker came to the grim conclusion: “This trial isn’t a question of finding the girl. Saving, yes – but it’s more of a question of whether we let her live like this, or release her from this torment”

Shimmer looked at Speaker. He was trembling with rage. The cloudy grin of the raksha simply smiled, awaiting the circle’s choice. Would they let her live? Would they kill her? Would either be the right choice?

Shadow complained, loudly, that he did not like the situation: “I don’t care for the girl – but we’re not given a clear choice here! Which is the right choice, how do we win this!?”

Speaker would probably have jumped Shadow, but Shimmer had put her hand on his shoulder and whispered to him: “Think, this is where a solar should shine, find a solution – just think for a moment”

Hanging his head, Speaker once again thanked whatever gods would be appropriate for Shimmer’s quick wit and calm heart. He thought about the past. How would solars in the past fix mutations? Surely there must have… there was. There were charms, he remembered using them. But he also knew he couldn’t… he had to learn those techniques again. Sure, knowing they existed would make rediscovery easier and faster, but Speaker quickly realized that he simply didn’t know enough about how creation worked before he could reshape it and its content to its proper intended form. He had to get smarter, had to learn more first.
Shimmer smiled as she looked at Speaker concentrate furiously. Speaker then erupted in a loud and joyous shout, using an obscure old realm epithet for joyous exclamation. To the others it sounded as if he said “Eureka!”

Speaker turned to face the cloudy raksha. He had no doubt that the cloudy form was simply because the foolish fae had heard that unshaped were large intangible beings. He boldly stepped up and stated: “We will let her live – in your care even provided that you do not harm her. But mark my words, we will return. We will unshaped the changes that you’ve forced upon her – and then there will be a reckoning!”

Catching his breath, Speaker saw how Shimmer looked at him with great pride. Han nodded in approval, Fei as well. Shadow merely asked : “Can we leave now?”

“Do you have the pennants?” Speaker asked, assuming that the so called master thief had already somehow plucked the pennants from the azure pyre.

Shadow smiled: “First thing I looted”

Leaving, Speaker looked back one last time. The meat puppets from outside swarmed in to clean up and dispose of the rotten piles of sausage. The table had also miraculously moved back in place and was replenishing its meaty feast as they walked out.

Outside the demesne turned freehold Speaker asked Shimmer to conjure her cloud so they could return to Great Forks post haste. He said he recalled there being things medical equipment in Denansdor that was used to remove wyld mutations, used mainly to help ‘clean up’ after accidents in factory cathedrals. If they could find the artifacts used for this, they could fix the girl. Shimmer gladly complied, shaping the sorcery.
I have a webcomic: - Its kinda like exalted, except more furry, more fanservice, more fun, more sci-fi.
- may contain people being called "bob"
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Essence 6
Essence 6
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Title: Barbabe arbiter of unbound gravitas
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Artifact: 4Chans Might
Location: Denmark, land of lego and vikings

Re: Light and darkness

16 Sep 2011, 11:37

>another ten page part... good grief, when I get writing, I don't cut corners...

Part 7: Adventures in old Places

Shimmer flew her cloud down so that Shadow could jump down and run into Great Forks to exchange pennants for information. Thinking back, Speaker concluded that this little jaunt wasn’t that bad, in the context that they were helping one of the fair folk – they had uncovered the lair of a deranged fae… and left a kidnapped girl in its clutches… but they were racing to find something to cure her with.

Shadow appeared an hour later, tugging a mule laden with supplies. It occurred to Speaker that in their rush to get going they hadn’t really stocked up on food or supplies needed for exploration of first age ruins.
Leaping back and forth to the cloud from the river shoreline to get all the supplies on, no small feat considering that Shimmer had hidden her cloud in the middle a small cove sealed off to river traffic by jagged rocks, Shadow informed everyone what they were looking for. They left the mule behind, it panicking every time Shadow trying to lift it up.

To start with Shadow told Shimmer to start flying south by south west, so they would come across the grey river. Shimmer guided the cloud skyward and sped up to maximum velocity in the direction give.
Shadow then began telling everyone what he had learned: “The fae we did this little favor for had once served a mightier raksha lord, that is to say that he’d been ‘imagined’ into existence by the lord… and through that learnt a lot of what the lord knew, so as to serve him better. This raksha lord had been quite chummy with my former incarnation, and we’d often met and celebrated in a manse I had. This manse was a giant flying manse hovering over a fire demesne somewhere in modern day Harborhead”

What followed was a brief description of the place, that it had been a training center of some kind for newly exalted solars, but most importantly that the fae had heard of a scavenger lord recruiting for an expedition to a new site discovered not far from the banks of the grey river, with a pier built on eastern shore with a path leading to the excavation site, somewhere between Varsi and Jades.

The only problem was that beyond having been explained that Varsi was a Marukan range town on the western side of the grey river, and that Jades was a realm satrapi about two thirds of the rivers length away from Nexus on the eastern side of the river.

“How wonderfully accurate – now someone please tell me where we’re going again, because checking every single landing and village harbor on the eastern bank of the grey river will take ages” Shimmer groaned, having hoped for something slightly more accurate.

It was then that Shadow produced a map, much to everyone’s relief, indicating that the site was around eight to nine hundred miles south of Varsi. Now that narrowed down the possible locations far more.

Going south by south west meant crossing the shadowland known as the Walker’s Realm. Since it was midday there was no danger in doing so, but Shimmer guided the cloud in a wide circle around the few ‘settlements’ that could be seen on the ground. Everyone agreed that it would be wise not to disturb whatever dark things were in there – such could be dealt with another time…

As the hours went by and the cloud flew south, finding the grey river at dusk, the topic of discussion became when to break for camp. Shimmer pointed out that conjuring the cloud took a great deal of effort, so she would prefer to keep it going for as long as possible, even if that meant flying in the dark. The moon was new, so there wasn’t much light, but there was enough reflecting off the grey river that it was possible to follow it further south for several hours.

Ultimately the circle landed on the eastern side of the river in a small clearing a stone’s throw from the river itself. Shadow’s supplies included tents, which were swiftly erected, although Shimmer politely declined using one – preferring to sleep under the watchful gaze of the moon.

To Shimmer’s pleasant surprise Speaker joined her, him pointing out that he could insulate himself with essence, allowing for perfectly comfortable sleep no matter the surface. This led to Shimmer waxing nostalgic over stories she had heard of their past incarnations sleeping on the bottom of the great western sea, looking for black jade deposits and demesnes. Speaker found the notion of sleeping underwater odd, but he seemed to recall having been able to do so… indeed, it made sense somehow: The essence pattern encapsulating him right now could easily be built upon to offer more than respite against the elements, it could protect against harmful quantities of it as well. Musing over this somehow amused Shimmer, her pointing out that lunars had similar charms to do the same, and that she knew a few of them, mainly the western variant and the eastern variant.

Speaker wanted to do… something – no ,he knew what he wanted to do: He wanted to say that he liked Shimmer. She was beautiful, no denying that, and like his fellow solars in the circle she had an analytical side to her that appealed to him greatly – although she was more practically inclined, as opposed to his more academic ponderings. Of course, it was incredibly difficult to get himself to admit romantic feelings to an almost cat-sized rat curled up in his lap. It was a cute rat, yes – but… a rat none the less. Oh he would have to think about this, make a plan! Oh yes…

The next morning Shimmer declared that she had slept very well – and while Shadow and Han broke camp she conjured a new cloud.

After a few hours of following the grey river south they passed by a marukan range town with a big bridge over the grey river. This was Varsi, meaning that they would reach Shadow’s old manse a few hours after th sun reaching its zenith.

At this point the circle started planning what to do specifically once they got there. If the scavenger lord had set up shop there, as the fair one in Great Forks had said, then that lord might not want to ‘share’ as Han so eloquently put it. Speaker agreed, pointing out that while there was some river traffic, then five strangers appearing without a boat at a place like that would be highly suspicious.

Shadow completely derailed the planning when he thought out loud about why his manse would be this far east, if it had once flewn around up in the sky west in harborhead. Speaker had a theory on that: “You said it was a flying manse? As in, floating up in their air? Well… it probably hasn’t been maintained for quite a while. Power failure in a manse is serious, probably made it fall from the sky – or… float down”

Han had to point out that he’d never heard of anything that flew that, the moment it stopped flying, wouldn’t just drop out of the sky. Speaker explained that he might just have been the one who built the place back in the first age – or at least helped design certain bits of it. He specifically recalled an emergency decent system, in case of power failure. This led the conversation over to why anyone would build a manse with such a system, to which Shadow reminded everyone that it had been used to house parties with fair folk. So it was probably in case the wyld energies thrown around damaged the manse. Everyone agreed that this made sense, although Speaker did voice his worries about how damaged the place would be.

In the afternoon Shimmer’s cloud touched down a mile or so away from the dig site. At first it hadn’t been entirely obvious where it was – but Shadow turned out to have an awareness charm allowing for greatly enhanced vision, allowing him to spot the bit of the ‘hill’ which had been cleared of vegetation. The dig site wasn’t set up next to a hill, the hill was the manse, completely overgrown with vines and trees which had grown up along its outer walls.

The circle managed to stash their supplies and sneak up to the clearing that housed the scavenger lord’s expedition. Shadow snuck out into the camp, returning shortly after with information about the place, and a few ideas on how to infiltrate the place.

Shadow said that there were about fifty mortals working the dig site, twenty of which were armed guards – apparently the local wildlife disagreed with the presence of the camp – and the rest were working on chipping the dense rock of the manse’s outer layers away to open up access into the manse. Now, the surprising fact was that there had already been made a hole into the manse… but nobody used it. Apparently there was a trap inside, a quite nasty one, which essentially sealed the entry point, making the several months of work breaking through the manse’s out walls at that point a big waste of time. The scavenger lord was quite displeased, the guards were on edge because of the wildlife – tyrant lizards to be specific – and… Shadow found himself interrupted by Shimmer’s girlish squeal at the prospect of seeing a tyrant lizard. She explained that she’d always wanted to perform a sacred hunt on such a magnificent beast, but never been far enough east to find one… and she couldn’t take one on alone.

“As fun as that might be, it’ll have to wait for later – Shadow, how do we get in” Speaker said with a whisper.

Shadow pointed out that the hole made into the side of the manse, the one with the trap, was completely unguarded. All they had to do was sneak around the camp, staying in the jungle to remain out of sight, then pop out when it was dark and walk right in. Sure, that meant dealing with the trap – but from what he’d seen, and what little he remembered of the place, then the real entrance was in the bottom… and this was half-way up, so the bottom half of the manse was buried in the ground.

“Don’t you have a mole form to dig us in?” Han suggested to Shimmer, only to be reminded that moles were the size of a man’s fist.

The circle returned to where they had stashed their camping gear and began moving it around the excavation site to the side of the manse, so they wouldn’t have to go far to get in once it was dark.

Waiting for nightfall proved extraordinarily boring and annoying – at least for Han, Fei and Shadow, as they had to contend with the ever present insects trying to sting, bite or otherwise eat them. Speaker and Shimmer had no such trouble, their charms protecting them. Fei expressed great interest in learning this charm upon discovering this utility, to which end Fei spent the rest of the day until dusk learning the essence patterns and internalizing the sutras of the hardship-surviving mendicant spirit.

When the darkness had spread and the excavation camp was reduced to campfires and mortals trying to shy away from whatever wild things that might hide in the shadowy jungles, the circle snuck into the manse. The hole in the wall was truly unguarded, but it quickly became apparent why that was.

From the hole in the wall there was a narrow passage carved and blasted through, out to a small platform. From that platform a narrow one-foot wide stone bridge extended five yards to a similar platform with a door. With a torch stolen from the camp, Shadow illuminated the room, revealing smooth stone walls and what appeared to be a near bottomless bit under the narrow stone catwalk connecting to the other end of the room. Everyone agreed, falling down would be bad.

Shadow was the first to cross, using charms to perfectly steady his balance. This proved to be the easy and safe part, as the moment he got the doorway he found that it led to a very short hallway of sorts, or phrased differently: behind the doorway was a yard wide stone column. He didn’t get to see what around the column, although it was obvious that there was plenty of room to walk around it – for when he stepped out of the doorway the trap which had the mortals so vexed sprung. The side of the square column facing the doorway ejected forwad, knocking him backwards onto the catwalk. Had it not been for his balancing charm, Shadow could very well had fallen to his death. The wall quickly retracted.

It was clear why the mortals were digging for another way in. Thinking for a moment, Han suggested poking around at the doorway to find the exact trigger. If it was a floor panel, maybe it could be avoided.

Shining light on the issue, Shadow looked forward while waving the torch around. The floor was like the walls: Seamless stone. He quickly concluded that there was no visible trigger. Then he tried activating the trap again – but nothing happened.

Shimmer shapeshifted into a seagull and tried flying through the passage – only to be knocked back as well, although the impact didn’t do much damaged seeing as Shimmer just flew up again after tumbling through the air for a few seconds. Trying to fly through again Shimmer found that the trap didn’t trigger. Speaker concluded that it was apparently set up so that the trap would only trigger once per person… where to Han pointed out that it really only needed to trigger once.

Shadow and Shimmer made their way around the column, telling the others that there was a door on the other side. Speaker suggested that they wait for him, Han and Fei before they open it.

Fei tried triggering the trap by just inching his foot forward while the rest of him stayed out of reach of the pushing wall. This worked, although his did break his foot on account of it. Speaker was quite impressed at how Fei didn’t scream in pain as he later tended to the injury, although he didn’t have any equipment to mend the damage. Fei didn’t seem to mind, explaining that he’d broken things before, but after exalting they just heal after a day, or a week, depending on severity.

Han tried to trigger the trap by careful moving his hand, his palm facing the oncoming wall, out of the doorway, with his arm bent. His idea was similar to Fei’s, but he planned on being able to absorb the push the wall would give, instead of it hammering into his foot. This worked remarkably well, Speaker doing the same as he was the last to cross the catwalk.

Behind the column there was a stone door. It seemed stuck, but some heavy pushing managed to slide it open enough for a person to slip through.

Beyond the door was a circular corridor, with seven other doors arranged at forty-five degree intervals, spreading them equally around the circle. Speaker was quick to point out the sun-burst like setup, to which Shadow concurred, adding that if the other rooms were similarly set up, with traps or training equipment, then it would make sense. However, he also noted that this certainly wasn’t the level of the manse that would hold the things they were looking for – still, checking out the other rooms might not be a bad idea.

“And why would that be?” Han wondered, not seeing the logic of walking into deathtraps willingly.

Smiling in a somewhat unnerving way, Shadow pointed out that he just remembered something… mainly, that it was with rooms like this that newly exalted solars would be trained to spot traps and dodge them – but that he also rewarded successful evasion with ‘junk’ artifacts he didn’t need anymore. Shadow’s smile went from unnerving to full scale creepy as he thought about what treasures he might have left behind here. Everyone were quick to agree that it now made a lot more sense to poke around on this level a bit more before trying to find other levels – although Shimmer equally was quick to point out that there were no obvious ways up or down… and from Shadow’s description there weren’t likely any such passages in the rooms around the circular corridor.

Three of the doors to the rooms were open – but also blocked by rubble, the rooms caved in. It pained Speaker to see such a first age marvel, but he still sifted through the rocks, feeling, smelling and even occasionally tasting the dusty rock to get a feel of what they were made of: “This place… it’s not just teal rock. This is a made mix of sandstone, red jade and white jade”

The others weren’t immediately impressed by this observation, as they were debating which of the accessible rooms they should go into first. There was one room that opened into a circular room with the wall covered in sharp metallic spikes. There was one that opened up to a deep pit full of spikes. There was one opening up to a dark bottomless pit with a robe bridge spanning over it. The final accessible room had a deep pit with… noises… coming from the bottom. The circle, sans Speaker, trying to guess what deathtraps each room had.

Getting over to the rest of the circle Speaker arched his back and looked around: “How much rock do you think this place was built with? While it would be a sad waste of a very interesting piece of architecture, then if we broke this place down then we could probably refine tons of jade out of the ruble”

That got the circle’s attention – although without a doubt it’d be a long term project. Still, as Speaker pointed out, then this ruined manse would be damn near impossible move back to the demesne it was meant to cap.

With that out of the way, the question was what room to brave first. Shadow had peeked inside all of them, but been smart enough not to actually enter any of them – fearing that he might trigger a trap or be locked inside. There were also a door that couldn’t be opened. It had very clear instructions carved into the stone: “This door only opens on the inside only” written in old realm. Not even Fei’s orichalcum grand daiklaive could scratch the surface of the stone door.

The first room the group had a go at was the circular room with spiked walls. The door was weird, in that it was oddly curved, seemingly following the curve of the circular room. Shimmer volunteered to go in, as Shadow said that the training chambers weren’t meant for cooperative ventures. Honoring Shadow’s ancient training regiment, at least for the time being, Shimmer closed the door.

The first thing she noticed was that room was, like the rest of the ruin, was pitch black – and Shadow with his torch was outside the room. Willing forth her caste mark forward the room was illuminated in a soft white glow. It was then she noticed a pedestal in the middle of the room, with a small chest of ornately decorated black jade. Sizing up the room to be about ten yards in diameter, she carefully walked towards the pedestal and opened the chest.

Outside the room the others felt the ruins rumble as ancient essence capacitors gave out some of the last essence they held. They tried to open the door and warn Shimmer, but the door was sealed with essence.

Inside, the room began to spin the moment Shimmer opened the chest. She didn’t even get to see what was inside. Luckily the room was very obvious regarding what the ‘trap’ was… She, Speaker and Shadow had all agreed that it would probably start spinning at some point. To this end she simply shifted into her cunning beastman form, its wings allowing her to take flight and safely ignore the rotation of the room.

With that out of the way, and her mind and senses sharpened by the protean essence sufficing her body, Shimmer flew down to the spinning pedestal and managed to snatch the content of the chest. It was three transparent crystal vials filled with a blue-grey metallic liquid. Sniffing the content she was happy to find that they smelled like the skin-like-the-mountains oil her elders had told her of once. Now the problem was how to get out of the room – the door was spinning at breakneck speed, the whole room going at around one or two rotations per second, and for a ten yard in diameter room that was fast.

Hovering over the pedestal Shimmer thought to herself for a moment. It was while closing her eyes that she realized something profound: For a room that was supposed to be spinning then the air wasn’t moving at all… the spikes and the pedestal should be disturbing the air quite a lot, making her hovering far more difficult – but it wasn’t happening.

With great balance and a keen eye for the exact spot to touch, Shimmer balanced on the chest on one leg, or rather on one talon, the chest spinning, but her standing still. She focused her mind and truly tried to feel the room and understand this mystery. It was then that the illusion broke and the truth was revealed to Shimmer: The room had never moved at all, she had only thought it was.

Going to door in the now perfectly not-spinning room Shimmer left to rejoin the circle and show them the prize. Cheers were had all around and Shimmer felt immensely proud when Speaker and Han congratulated her on her insightful way of figuring out the room’s true meaning.

“I thought this place would just be full of spears shooting out of the wall – stuff for us to dodge, or spot in advance and avoid…” Fei complained, feeling that his might was wasted on the place.

Fei quickly recanted that statement when in the next room it was determined that the deep pit the room had in front of the door contained giant demonic spiders… Speaker and Han quickly identified them as Anhules. “Did I mention that I hate spiders?” commented Han, taking a step back from the pit.

Shadow was the first to spot that the pit didn’t take up all of the floorspace in the room. Between the edge of the pit and the walls were a two inch gap… just enough to not comfortably edge oneself by. On the other side of the pit was a door and what appeared to be stairs. Shadow volunteered to have a go, pointing out that the pit was too narrow for Shimmer’s wings to enable flight, and that his athletics charms should allow him to quickly leap out of the pit if he was to fall in…

With his essence making his footsteps as sure as if he was walking on a milewide slab of bedrock, Shadow quickly danced around the pit to the door. The stairs turned out to be part of a spiral staircase going up around a stone column. Going up, Shadow found the top of the column terminating abruptly, with a chest of black jade next to in a small alcove. It was a tight fit, with barely enough room to stand on the column and hunch over due to the low ceiling and get at the chest. It was empty.

The rest of the circle could hear the angry shouts Shadow roared with, as well as the subsequent grunting and heaving when he tried to pry the black jade chest loose – but it was built as part of the manse and thus rooted to the structure. Of course, Shadow didn’t get that long to try and pull bits of jade off it, as suddenly a trap door – the whole top of the column he stood on – opened, dropping him down the hollow stone column.

The hollow column seemed lined with a slippery coating and after a second or two of freefall Shadow found himself sliding more horizontally as the tube he was in curved… and then ended, putting him in freefall again.

The others heard Shadow’s gasp – and chimed in with their own as they saw Shadow appear out of a hole in the wall down in the pit, him fall down into the anhules. Well, Fei didn’t gasp – he just smiled with glee as he pulled his grand daiklaive from elsewhere and dove into the pit, impaling one anhule as he landed, and then massacring the rest in mere seconds.

As the dust, bits of severed demon spider limbs and sprays of acrid blood settled the circle now had to figure out how to get the two up. Shadow handled himself just fine, leaping up using charms. He then quickly produced ten yards of rope which he lowered down to Fei, who used to crawl up while everyone else held on at the other end as counterweight.

Everyone was disappointed to hear that there weren’t any loot in the chest – so they quickly moved on to the next room.

Speaker wondered if the rumbling caused when the first room activated had alerted the people outside, but as Han put it, then they would deal with that situation when they got it, if needed at all.

The next room stretched about three yards to either side from the door, and was some twenty yards long. It contained, from the door, a six by six yard, four yard deep pit with long jagged steel blades. Above the middle of the pit, from the ceiling, protruded a pristine looking rope about three yards long. The rest of the room, beyond the pit, was covered in… shag carpeting? There was another black jade chest in an alcove at the end of the room.

This time Fei expressed that the challenge here seemed more than simple enough – so he took a few good steps back, ran towards the doorway, then leapt, grabbing the rope and swung himself to the other side, landing with one foot on the one-inch wide edge between the pit and where the shag carpeting started, with his other foot in the shag carpeting… which instantly sank in, the of him following.

The others looked on quite confused as Fei sank into the shag carpeting… which was apparently a pit of really long strands of shag carpet. Fei was quickly entangled to the point that he couldn’t move at all, although he was swearing loudly.

Shimmer then pointed at the rope… which looked quite a bit different, as well as a few feet longer. It wasn’t just rope: it was some kind of long slim metal wire with jagged hooks and barbs, with some kind of fiber spun around it. Quickly asking Fei if his hands were ok, Shimmer smelling blood on the ‘rope’, Fei replied that it was just a scratch, that he was more than tough enough to not be hurt by that kind of traps.

Shadow quickly pointed out that none of the others present had Fei physical toughness, so they would have to find a different way to get across and help Fei out. Speaker was the first to do something, summoning Gift from elsewhere. Throwing it into the shag around Fei, it cut the long strands, felling part of the ‘forest’ of shag.

Shimmer had to admit that that was a really clear trap – particularly since most people would have seriously hurt their hands swinging on the rope, making ‘swimming’ around in the shag impossible and painful.

As Speaker’s Gift cut down the shag Fei was gradually able to free himself, now standing in the bottom of a six by four yard pit, three yards deep. It was barely enough space to make a running jump, he managed to leap up and grab on to the wall separating the two pits. Shadow once again threw his rope to Fei, who caught it after the second attempt. Now the trick was to pull Fei back fast enough that he wouldn’t fall down into the spikes and impale himself – since even he pointed out that “I might be tough, but I’m not invulnerable… yet”

Shadow got the idea of using his great leap charm to boost the speed at which Fei got pulled, by leaping down the hallway. This managed to accelerate Fei enough that he managed to grab the edge of the pit by the door instead of falling to his death. Helping Fei up, Han wondered out loud if there even was anything in the chest…

“Only one way to find out” Shadow said, leaping all the way from door to alcove, balancing perfectly on what few inches there were before the shag pit.

This time, instead of swears of disappointment, Shadow let out a joyous shout as he plucked the content of the chest and tipped over backwards, falling into the pit of felled shag, landing fairly softly.

The rest of the circle watched in awe as seconds later a chain with a spike at the end shot out from the shag pit, impaling itself in the ceiling, with Shadow appearing seconds later, being pulled up via the chain being drawn back into… a small metal plate on the knuckle of a glove he wore. Hanging from the ceiling, Shadow aimed and fired a similar spike from an identical plate on a nearly identical glove on his left hand, which landed beyond the door, impaling itself into the stone. It then pulled Shadow to the door, the other chain giving way but not releasing until he had cleared the door.

Han was most impressed: “Gauntles of distant claws… Oh I have dreamt of these things ever since I saw a dragonblooded warrior use them in a pit fight – they’re amazing!”

Shadow took them off and handed them to Han: “Then make good use of them – I don’t do close combat”

Fei was about to say something about why he shouldn’t get them instead, but then he looked at his grand daiklaive, which had appeared in his hand almost as a guilty reminder that he had something bigger and – in his mind – better.

The final room was cleared in a few seconds. It looked cave-like, as opposed to the other rooms which looked very purpose built with clean angles to the stone surfaces. The room had a deep pit that seemed to stretch into endless darkness which took up all the space in the room, as well as a high curved ceiling. Speaker noted that the room had a bit of an egg-shape to it, and they had entered in the middle part of it.

A shaky looking rope bridge spanned the chasm, leading to an alcove with another black jade chest. After a few minutes of doing katas with the gloves, extending and retracting the claws, Han pointed his new fancy gauntlets at the alcove, fired a claw with chain from each gauntlet, and had himself yanked over to the other side, bypassing the bridge and whatever dangers it might trigger. The chest was empty, although considering the lack of effort needed to get to it, then nobody seemed to mind that.

When Han opened the chest he heard some shouts from the door. Speaker had noticed something about the corridor, or rather the inner wall of it. Han used the gauntlets to quickly get to the other side, not touching the rope bridge. He somehow felt like a spider when zipping around like that.

Speaker had noticed a door opening on the inside wall of the circular corridor linking all the training chambers. It was hollow, with a circular platform and a golden console with jeweled knobs and buttons.
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Re: Light and darkness

03 Oct 2011, 10:27

Part 8: Quiet Lands

The platform turned out to be an elevator, although it was obviously not powered. Speaker poked around at the console for a few minutes, gently prying off the cover and looking inside. After some guesswork, he reasoned that the lot of them needed to pour in as much essence as they could into a specific circuit to restore the elevator to a function state, even if just temporarily.

After that he had to explain what an elevator was, him sounding a bit surprised himself, speaking of things he had never been taught or seen before himself. Han calmed him, saying that all of them were experiencing this, displaying knowledge or skills they hadn’t had prior to exaltation. Shadow chimed in that prior to exalting his skills at making poisons were mediocre at best, but afterwards he could brew a tonic could probably slay a man with a single drop… if given enough time, plenty of exotic ingredients – most of which he had never heard of, but knew instinctively.

Taking turns pouring essence into the console until everyone’s anima was flaring at totemic levels, except Shimmer – because turning into shark above water was generally viewed as unhealthy. Still, everyone glowed incredibly brightly, almost unbearably so. Speaker found it wonderfully liberating, Fei too relishing in not having to hide his power to his friends in this place.

The console slowly came to light, the jeweled knobs and gem-dials glowing slightly. Speaker quickly pressed a few buttons, causing the door to the circular hallway outside to close – the platform then began to rise.

Judging from the marks on the gem dials then there were several other levels further down, probably more levels with cruel training chambers and deathtraps – however, Speaker had warned that the platform mechanism wasn’t likely to work for very long, so exploring the rest of the ruined manse would have to wait for another time.

At the top of the large hollow stone tube the platform was moving inside the circle was treated to a ghastly sight: A huge ballroom filled with skeletal remains half turned to dust. A massacre had taken place here.

Shimmer and Shadow were quick to spot the first age trinkets scattered around the skeletons. Torn and shredded first age dresses that hadn’t deteriorated with time, showing only the dust, bloodstains and gashes from where their former owners had been struck down. Shimmer beamed as she sorted through them, occasionally glancing hopefully at Speaker who suspected that he would soon have to find out if his exaltation had endowed him with first age tailoring skills as well.

Han looked through what might once have been a bar. It was full of broken glass and smashed pottery – and enough dust to put all of the south to shame. One odd thing he noticed was that the air wasn’t stale at all. Down below in the training chambers he had rationalized that it was probably the hole to the outside that had ventilated the place a bit, but up here… there had to be some kind of air filtration systems in effect here.

Fei, looking mostly to see if there were any weapons amongst the remains, joked that Han would obviously be the first to think air filtration considering how much hash people in Great Forks smoked. Han didn’t take offense, but replied “And we enjoy it greatly” with a smile.

Speaker poked around the walls of the room, looking for anything that could be a way out. The platform control panel had pretty much died when it stopped at the top floor, so it wasn’t going to let anyone go down again. Shadow had even taken the liberty, upon Speaker pronouncing the control panel ‘dead’, stripped it of the gold plating and gems it was made of. Of course, Shadow was slightly less enthusiastic when Speaker pointed out that those components weren’t to be sold – but kept and probably used in some future artifice.

It was Han who found the unassuming iron lockbox under a pile of broken ceramics. That it hadn’t rusted was a testament to first age solars and the art of permanence. The lock on it, being of first age quality, had Shadow at a loss – but he was certain that it was in the box that some of the devices to immunize one against magical mental influence were.

In the end they decided to simply bring the box with this. Speaker said he could fix up some better lock picking tools to Shadow after they were out of the manse. That of course raised the question of how to get out – but Speaker had solved that riddle while Shadow had despaired with his attempts at unlocking the lockbox. A panel built into the wall of the ballroom, so dusty that it was more by dumb lock than careful observation that Speaker had found it, allowed for the roof to phase out of existence, opening up like a skylight.

That the mechanism still worked was quite amazing. Above the skylight the south-eastern jungle had grown over the manse, blocking much of the night sky. Han used his fingerless gauntlets of distant claws to hoist himself up to some of these thick vines. With some of Shadow’s rope brought along, Han was able to allow the rest of the circle to get up.

The view from on top of the canopy on top of the manse was amazing. Under them the roof became material once again, locking the circle out of the manse. Shadow bid his goodbye to the place, while Han held his fists high to the sky and named the artifact pair ‘Heaven’s Reach’.

Shimmer breathed deeply and shaped sorcery to form her heavenly cloud. The circle flew off, taking care not to come into view of the scavenger lord’s camp down on the ground.

“So, where to?” Shimmer asked, feeling invigorated being out of the dusty old manse.

Shadow said that if they were going to Densansdor they would have to go north no matter what – and if they were to crack the lockbox then Speaker had to make some better lockpicks.

Finding a village in the area wasn’t that difficult – although it took all of Shimmer and Han’s combined people skills to convince a tavern owner to let the circle stay the night, even with them paying ten silver dinars for the trouble. Strangers arriving silently in the night were always regarded with great suspicion.

The next day Speaker set about getting the local blacksmith, a grumpy looking man who seemed to enjoy locally made wine as much as he enjoyed breathing on a regular basis, to supply him with at least raw materials to make the lockpicks. The problem was just that you couldn’t really go up ask say “Hi, I’m trying to make some lockpicks for my friend, can I have some iron?”

Of course, when Shimmer came by to check on Speaker’s progress she found him working happily in the smithy itself – the smith looking on in awe, the man practically eating out of Speaker’s hand. Shimmer inquired as to how Speaker had convinced the smith to step aside, to which Speaker just shrugged and said that words came to him as he was talking to smith, bending the man’s ear to the point that if it was iron he would have made a screw. Shimmer had to admit that Speaker’s achievement sounded impressive, even talking right there she could hear how he sounded more eloquent – no more sounding as ‘just’ a Lookshyan doctor, but now sounding like a solar exalt, able to get his point across with fierce rhetoric.

An hour later Speaker returned to the circle with some very high quality lock picks for Shadow, as well as what looked to simply be a key… which fit perfectly into the lockbox. Shadow gave Speaker the stinkeye and asked if the lockbox was something Speaker had made in the past… Speaker politely admitted to ‘remembering the designs’ while he had been working at the smith’s workship. Shimmer found it endlessly amusing.

The lockbox reveal five bracelets of shimmering crystal and orichalcum. They weighed next to nothing, had a small smooth crystal display and a small sapphire with square cut set as a button. Speaker carefully inspected the gadgets, then proudly declared that he now knew exactly how they worked…

“You just looked at them – and you already know how they work?” Fei said, sounding doubtful.

Speaker reminded Fei that they already knew what the things did – all Speaker had done was look at the button and conclude that you fit the thing on wrist, push the button, and then it works.

Fei was even less impressed by that.

Shadow wanted to try it on – but Speaker told him not to: “It might have ‘visual tells’ that’ll give away what we are to the villagers… they might not look like much, but they got an immaculate shrine down the road – so I doubt they would be friendly to us openly using solar technology”

With that in mind the circle set off north, just walking to begin with – as the areas surrounding the village were dotted with small fields with people working in them. The circle needed somewhere out of sight for Shimmer to work her sorcery. Shimmer groaned at the thought of conjuring another cloud trapeze: “Gentlemen, sorcery isn’t like regular charms – it drains you mind and tires you – this would be the third one I’m shaping up in two days. I can’t keep this up”

Han nodded and suggested that they fly up and set up camp just outside reach of Denansdor’s miasma – then stay there to rest and prepare themselves before going in. Shimmer was pleased with this solution, although Fei and Shadow seemed more anxious to get to the old city.

“Of all people then you two should be the first to see that one does not just march into Denansdor and start looting” Speaker said, Shimmer being busy whipping up a new cloud.

Fei looked confused at Speaker: “What do you mean?”

Sighing, Speaker pointed out that Dawn caste solars were typically great generals and warlords – and with that usually came some tactical and strategic knowledge. Equally, being a master thief should ideally also make one good at planning ahead and thinking of how to leave with the loot: If Shimmer tires herself out conjuring these things, then she won’t be able to conjure one for us to leave the city… meaning that we would have to leave the place on foot before the devices keeping us from being affected by the miasma run out of essence.

Everyone stopped for a moment to look at Speaker: “Oh, right… I hadn’t mentioned that – from what I can tell these things have limited charge – they’ll only protect us for about a day, from dawn to dawn”

Shadow in particular looked very disappointed at this news. He’d hoped to set up shop dealing in exclusive first age relics. Fei was less shocked, having come to the conclusion already that without an army to help occupy and protect the city state then it would be overrun with looters and… well… people like Shadow, if they were to go in and secure the place for themselves, which in his mind included ending the miasma somehow.

Han took the news calmly, pointing out that they never had the riches of the city to begin with – so they haven’t lost anything yet. Shimmer, once done with the cloud, said that then it would be best for all of them to plan what places to explore and go through first.

Flying north-east and setting up camp well out of the miasma’s range, but close enough that some of the first age building could be seen on the horizon, The circle spent a week’s time preparing themselves. Han realized that he would need to learn certain basic principles of archery if he was to ever use Heaven’s Reach’s ranged functions properly. Hitting stuff that didn’t move was easy enough, but it was obvious that they could also be used offensively against hostile targets – and hostile targets had a tendency to move. Shadow offered to show him a few tricks, but it would take quite a while to cover all the basics – more time than they planned to use prior to going into Denansdor. What he could help Han with was figuring out how to use the ranged attack that Heaven’s Reach afforded, but a proper introduction to ranged combat would have to wait. Fei preoccupied himself with developing his swordsmanship, while Speaker fiddled around with some of the trinkets and things brought along with the smith’s workshop to further enlighten him in the making ways, the art of the craftsman. When the week was done Han had learnt a great deal about how to use the claw-launching ability, while Speaker equally found himself thinking ever greater thoughts on what to build and how to build it.

It was then that they were off to Denansdor, Shimmer’s great flying cloud racing them across the landscape.

The plan for what to do in Denansdor was clear as well: using Speaker’s memories as a guideline, plus what little Han had learnt back when he had studied in Great Forks when he was younger, then the best place for loot light enough to be taken back out of the city would be the in the city’s manse, as it was the city’s great vault – or had been back when Speaker’s last incarnation had been active in and around Denansdor. Speaker reasoned that the dragonblooded would be unlikely to destroy such a place, as it powered most of the factory cathedrals in the city. Now, to access the vault back in the first age would have been easy enough, as the place opened up quite often to allow for stuff to be stored inside or taken out to be shipped off elsewhere, but if the place was closed then a magic jade seal was needed to open it. This was where Han’s limited knowledge on the area came in handy, as he recalled once having read of the daimyo’s of Denansdor, who were famous for having the power to open to close the city’s vault – which gave them power to control who got access to the wondrous things inside. Of course, the last daimyo never made it out of the city when the fair folk tried to invade during the great contagion.

Speaker did remind the others that he also wanted to look for something help the farmer girl mutant they had found at the demesne north of Great Forks – but Han was quick to point out that something that potent and wondrous was unlikely to be something that dragonbloods could use at all – so if such devices hadn’t been broken down and used in other projects, then they were probably locked away in the vault.

The daimyo’s palace was easily recognizable from the sky, it being the biggest and fanciest estate in the city, allowing the circle to fly right down into the courtyard and land. On the approach they got a look of the entire city from above. It was marvelous, so many first age structures intact. Of course, it was equally unnerving to see the entire city empty and devoid of life. Of course, this wasn’t to say that there was nothing at all in the city. The streets were lined with automatons of all shapes and sizes, but all of them seemed inert or broken down. Still, Shimmer and Shadow both got the feeling that something down there was looking at them.

The courtyard was large and surrounded by highly decorated walls. The only things in it were two huge automatons. Speaker warned that they were guardian constructs of the city. Fei was quick to ask if they would be hostile.

Walking towards the palace the guardians remained immobile. Speaker said that the guardians’ behavior would entirely depend on their last commands. If they were told to keep the peace, which would the default commands, then as long as nobody tried to break into anything or steal something in the presence of a guardian, then they should be safe: “Of course, who knows what the dragonblooded told the guardians… last time there were anyone here the fair folk were invading – they might be ordered to repel invaders or slay all non-locals or something”

Everyone cautiously entered the palace. While Fei didn’t seem to mind trying to go toe to toe with the guardians, Speaker was quick to point out there were thousands of such guardian automatons throughout the city – at least back when Speaker had last been here: “The slimmer models are older, the bigger and bulkier ones are better armored and have more exotic weapons – self-loading firewands, essence cannons. They were made to be able to subdue solars! They’re smart, they work in groups – if we get into a fight with these things we’re done for”

Fei seemed a lot less enthusiastic at this point.

The palace was as empty as the rest of the city. In some of the rooms were automaton servants that had shut down due to disrepair – it pained Speaker to see this, but at least he could tell that all of them could be fixed, in time, with sufficient repairs and replacement parts. No, that’s not true; It was an odd realization, one that almost didn’t make sense, but Speaker suddenly knew that he no longer needed spare parts for repair. The silent prayer to Autochton that activated essence patterns of the crack mending technique flowed effortlessly from Speakers mind as he realigned the crystal control matrix in a servant automaton. It jostled to life with a buzzing noise that quickly made the rest of the circle come to Speaker.

The automaton was a bronze and gold construct, with delicately carved features to make it look like a man dressed in a golden garb. It looked around at the circle confused: “Will the guests be joining the master for the?”

Shimmer was first to ask the construct what the last things it remembered were. It stated, somewhat mechanically, that the master had left to ensure the safety of Denansdor, but he was surely back by now.

“Why of course – if you would be helpful and lead us to your master’s office so we can meet him?” Shimmer inferred, the automaton instantly beginning to lead the circle to its master’s chambers.

On the way to wherever the automaton was leading them, Shimmer quietly asked Speaker how the daimyo would open the manse vault. Speaker thought about it for a moment, then replied that there was a white jade seal – it was the master key to vault, as well as other key civic structures in the city. Speaker did not ask why Shimmer wanted this knowledge, figuring that she had a plan. She did.

The daimyo’s study was a view to behold; a room decorated with the lavish of luxuries – silk that flowed like water, a large desk of exotic woods jeweled beyond all reason, as well as a throne-like desk chair behind it in pure gold and jade. The automaton servant seemed confused. It was certain that the master would be present.

“That’s quite ok – we were sent here by your master to fetch the white jade seal, so that your master could access the vaults and bring ancient weapons to bear against the enemies that threaten the city” Shimmer said, sounding so convincing and honest that Speaker found himself nodding as if what she said was true.

The automaton stared blankly with spherical eyes of polished silver that could not blink. It then twisted its upper body to the left, its bottom half following afterwards, walking behind the desk and opening a drawer and taking out the seal: “As the master commands”

Shimmer thanked the automaton server, showed the rest of the circle the seal and walked out the door. Shadow just had to finish picking jewels from the desk before the left, but he quickly followed.

Leaving the palace the circle found the two guardians outside in the courtyard where they had been when they came. With the knowledge that the guardians had been made to subdue even celestial exalts, none in the circle wanted to provoke the guardians.

Out in the streets of Denansdor Speaker tried to remember the way to the manse. He couldn’t – but did point out that the manse was in the center of the city – so if they went to a high point and looked around they should be able to see it from anywhere in the city. Fei quickly surveyed the surroundings, leaping up on a rooftop in with one massive jump. Returning to street level he gave the rest of the circle directions and led the way. Shimmer pointed out that she could just as well have turned into a seagull, flown up, taken a look then returned and given similar directions.

“Yes, but I acted faster” Fei said, looking pleased with himself.

Walking to the manse was fairly uneventful, but Shadow once again pointed out that he felt something observing them. He couldn’t tell what, for it seemed to hide well. Ultimately Han suggested Shadow that he develop a charm to accurately tell if he was being observed or not.

At the manse, which was large and grand – covered in white stone with multiple golden dragon statues built into the walls, several inactive automatons cluttered the ground. Speaker reasoned that they had probably been automated to fetch stuff from the vault inside, but with the miasma nobody were around to open up for them.

Shadow had a go at the locks to the gate leading inside. Meanwhile Han inquired to speaker how much time they had left on the artifacts keeping the miasma at bay. Carefully activating the crystalline display on his device, Speaker noticed what he reasoned to be a countdown timer of a sort – but it was in old realm. Han was able to read it, stating that it said twenty two hours and forty three minutes, although Han also backed up Speaker’s notion that it was a countdown since the number changed to forty two while talking about it.

Fei seemed optimistic about the time they had left: “This will give us a whole day in the vault! Think of the wonders we can loot!”

With those words said three things happened, roughly at once. Shadow dropped his lockpicks and turned around on the spot, three nearby guardians turned their heads and looked with mechanical eyes at the circle – and Fei looked at Shadow, confused about why he had stopped: “What, the lock too hard on you?”

Then the guardians stepped towards the circle, leveling shoulder-mounted alchemical flame cannons at the group – and fired at them.

Shimmer leapt out of the way, while Speaker stood his ground – trying to shield himself with essence and charms. He managed to weather most of the fire that hit him, but he still got an ugly and painful burn on his right arm.

Han momentarily dissolved into seven shadowy figures that merged into one after the gout of flame aimed at him had passed – while Han perfectly parried the fire flung at him with his grand daiklaive, recalled from elsewhere with but a thought.

With the initial barrage over and the dust settling, Fei launched himself at the guardians. In a flurry of bladed carnage that resounded through most of the empty city Fei cut two of the guardians down in mere seconds – while Han leapt at the remaining guardian, trying to… hold its foot? No, he was trying to scale the giant automaton!

The guardian responded to Han’s attempt at scaling it by trying to swat Han – but he dodged the giant fist, although Han had to jump back down on the ground again because of that.

Fei then swung back into action, striking at the guardian multiple times. It was clear that the guardian was armored to the point that ordinary mortals wouldn’t have a chance in malfeas at ever doing it any damage – but Fei’s grand Daiklaive was so massive that it still cleaved steel and bronze, severing internal hydraulics and felling the giant machine.

Speaker understood that it was self defence – but still, it pained him to see such marvels destroyed. Shadow and Shimmer returned to the manse gate, this time trying to figure out how the jade seal worked on the door. Speaker scurried over to the remains of the three guardians, picking over the delicate internal mechanics. He was determined to ensure that their destruction would not be in vain: He would build something out of the parts he could scavenge.

While picking over the automaton remains Speaker suddenly heard joyous shouts – Shadow and Shimmer had gotten the vault doors open.

The insides of the vault looked a bit like outside of it. There were large numbers of inanimate automatons standing or lying on the ground. Some seemed to have ground to a halt carrying crates.

It was upon entering that one burst to life, scaring everyone besides Fei quite a lot. The automaton was one of the few who had been standing, for centuries, holding a by now very worn wooden crate. That the crate hadn’t disintegrated was a wonder in its own right – but the moment the automaton began to move the crate fell apart, loudly, its content scattering on the ground along with a dusty cloud filled with wooden splinters.

Speaker quickly identified the content of the crate: jade hearthstone bracers – shogunate era jade hearthstone bracers. There were two out of green jade, one white jade and a last one out of blue jade. Shadow descended upon the artifacts like a hawk for a mouse, only to be swatted aside by the automaton which silently began picking up the bracers.

“Fei, we want those” Shadow said, standing up again and dusting his dark cloak off.

Fei was about to charge the automaton when Speaker stopped him – and instead asked the automaton where its cargo was to be delivered. The automaton answered with a decidedly synthetic voice that… its memory had been corrupted. It requested a new delivery point. Speaker was glad to give it one: “At my feet”

Shadow shrugged and picked up the bracers, marveling at the craftsmanship – but Shimmer was quick to point out that such devices would require inordinate amounts of essence for atunement…

“I could just whip up some harmonic adaptors – they’re easy enough to make. Find me some moonsilver and orichalcum – should be some in here, I think I left some in sublevel five” Speaker said absentmindedly, not even pausing to consider it had been untold millennia since his last incarnation had walked this place.

Han gave Speaker an odd look: “I know what those are… and you can just make those? Artifacts aren’t just something you make – you need a properly stocked workshop, dozens of highly skilled assistants…” but was cut off when Speaker pointed out that he was thinking artifact creation by dragonbloods.

“Fancy workshops are handy – no doubt about it, but I can ensure spiritual purity of whatever I’m making by buffering my surroundings with essence. I could make these things with a twig and a few days of time back in the days…” Speaker stated, sounding very confident in his past abilities.

Han rebutted by pointing out that this is now, not then, so Speaker wasn’t that powerful – making speaker adjust his estimate on how long it would take to make such a device to about ten days.

Shadow was not impressed. The device Speaker described was smaller than a yen… how could something like that take over a week to make? Speaker explained that artifice was more than just making a physical object. It had to be made spiritually as well, with great attention to harmonizing the minute essence flows within to achieve wondrous effects. Such practice takes time, even for a solar.

Shadow accepted the explanation and was about to delve deeper into the vault, along with everyone else, when Shimmer asked everyone to stop for a moment. She reminded them of the proposed plans Speaker had made when they flew in, that they should try to be as efficient as possible when it came to spending their remaining time in Denansdor.

“You’re right – we need to find a map of this place. The layout is different than from what I remember” Speaker noted, adding three key details; The most used materials kept in the vault would logically be kept closest to the entrance, while orichalcum and moonsilver, along with ‘heretical’ artifacts of such materials would probably be stored deeper down under lock and key. Equally he suspected that in such areas there might be artifacts that dragonbloods simply couldn’t use, since he recalled many artifacts made by solars being made to respond only to solar charms or essence.

Everyone agreed that these assumptions sounded very plausible, and after a brief search of the ground level of the manse Fei came across a faded map of the manse on a wall. The problem was simply that it was faded to the point that it appeared as a grey-brown sheet of parchment, ready to crumble if one even looked at it.

Speaker approached it with a stern expression and used a crafting charm on the parchment, extending his hands and allowing essence to restore the map. The ink came back to life and started to propagate, spreading out and re-tracing the map.

The map showed that the manse had over thirty sub-levels for storage. The whole manse was a giant vault. Above ground level was the manse-portion of the structure, the hearthstone chamber. Shadow was quick to investigate it, returning with a big smile on his face – declaring that there was a nice healthy hearthstone waiting for him up there. This led to a brief discussion of who should have the hearthstone, followed by Speaker examining the hearthstone to identify that it was an earth aspected hearthstone, a jewel of true self, which made it quite difficult to enact shaping on the bearer.

Han advocated that he bear it, arguing that Speaker and Shimmer already had hearthstones, while Fei had his might to protect him and Shadow his stealth – plus as zenith caste he was naturally better at fighting fae, so a defense against shaping that didn’t rely on charms could be quite handy. Even the loot-happy Shadow had to agree that Han had a good point. The circle went upstairs into the hearthstone room, where everyone attempted to attune to the manse, Speaker pointing out that attunemt to a manse usually gave the attuned the ability to sense whatever is in the manse, an ability that would be quite handy to sense useful artifacts.

Shimmer, Han and Speaker managed to attune to the manse relatively easily – but Fei and Shadow just couldn’t sit still long enough to attune to the earthen essence. Shadow was willing to give it another go, but Han pointed out that time wasted was time not spent on searching the vault.

“Right you are – onwards, for glory and riches!” Shadow proudly proclaimed, running downstairs.
I have a webcomic: - Its kinda like exalted, except more furry, more fanservice, more fun, more sci-fi.
- may contain people being called "bob"
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Essence 6
Essence 6
Topic Author
Posts: 1483
Joined: 18 Sep 2009, 12:20
Title: Barbabe arbiter of unbound gravitas
Exalt: Alchemical
Fighting Style: March of the Thrice-linked Digital Webwork
Artifact: 4Chans Might
Location: Denmark, land of lego and vikings

Re: Light and darkness

03 Oct 2011, 10:29

>I love the little user-added details in the exalted wiki... makes it so much easier to write

Part 9: Goodbye old friend and hello new enemy

Descending into the depth of the vault, using the map Speaker had restored combined with what little sense of the place garnered from Han, Speaker and Shimmer having attuned to the manse, led the circle to a series of locations in the manse. Speaker suspected that the inner dimensions of the manse didn’t line up with the outer dimensions considering how many sublevels the maps spoke of.

The first stop was three floors down. This level of the vault was marked in high realm as the city treasury according to Fei, who was the only one present who could read it. Shadow gave off an almost girlish squeal upon hearing this, leaping from the elevator platform to the large door to the level. With lockpicks, essence and maybe a charm or two Shadow had the door open.

What lay inside the treasury both marveled Shadow, bringing great joy to him, but also made him weep bitter tears of sorrow. The treasury had thousands of talents of jade stacked neatly in long rows. These huge sixty-eight pound blocks of raw jade were quite heavy – and while Fei might be able to haul some outside with some help, then Shadow was wise enough to know that it would be nearly impossible to fence something that valuable. There weren’t a single a bar or minae in the treasury – apparently such objects of lesser value were kept elsewhere. Speaker did point out that he wouldn’t mind a slab of jade as raw materials for future artifice, so Fei dragged a talent out on the elevator platform, but Shadow still lamented that they would only be able to use tiny bits of it as money, knowing that even in places like Nexus then anything bigger than a shekel would arouse great suspicion if casually used for payment outside of banks – and banks would ask questions regarding the origin of such quantities of jade.

Han calmed Shadow, pointing out that nobody else could possibly enter Denansdor – so the jade would remain in the vault, waiting for a later time when they could claim it properly.

The next stop for the circle was on the fifth sub-level. The reason they stopped there was because Shimmer said that she could feel an odd conflux of essence somewhere on the level. This led the circle to a part of the vault storing large amounts of timber. Most of the wood was surprisingly enough still good, but that didn’t explain the essence flows that Shimmer had sniffed out. Indeed, the smell here was stronger. Poking around to try to find the source of the essence conflux, Shimmer suddenly fell flat on her face – the particular stone wall she had been examining sliding open, revealing a hidden room.

Speaker had to think for a few minutes before he could explain what the place was. It wasn’t that he didn’t know what it was, it was the room with the cognition unit that controlled all the guardians – but the problem was that he remembered it in that old language, Old realm Han had called it, and Speaker could speak that language. He tried to explain this, eventually getting at least the basic gist of what the cognition unit was. Fei quickly suggested that they destroy it – but Speaker loudly protested this and put himself between Fei and the thorny crystal pillar, pointing out that if they could take control of it then they would have all the guardians under their control. Sure, that didn’t seem like that big an advantage as Speaker also noted that the guardians couldn’t leave the city, but he did point out that they made for a nice little army to hold the city.

“Just think about it – if we could get this thing to cooperate and end the miasma, we’ll control the city!” Speaker said, thrilled by the thought of getting control of such a place of industry. The rest had to agree that such a prospect was a tempting one indeed – so they agreed that the cognition unit would be spared.

It was then that Speaker had to admit that he… couldn’t do it. He couldn’t speak Old realm, which is the language the cognition unit ‘thought’ in, and he needed to learn that before he could reprogram it – plus it would take hours… which they had, but Speaker also noted that unless they find the source of the miasma and find a way to end that, then coopting the cognition unit wasn’t that important: “Also, it will be incredibly difficult to reprogram the thing – I doubt that even with excellencies I’ll be able to do it. We’ll need help, like scrolls or tomes on how to make and program an artificial consciousness. Not sure if there’ll be anything like that here, maybe in one of the colonies around the city, so I don’t think we’ll find anything like that today”

The circle left the room, which closed up as soon as everyone was out. Shimmer made a mark on the map showing where the hidden room was for later use – after which she shapeshifted into her birdlike beastman form and clawed a mark on the floor in front of the wall, in case they lost the map.

The next stop was one of the deepest levels. Not the very deepest, but somewhere around the fifth lowest. The circle discovered as they descended into the debths of the vault that the map seemed to ‘follow’ where they went, no longer showing the upper levels of the manse and the vaults, in return revealing more sublevels to the manse.

The level was marked on the map as off limits. At the sublevel the signs read, in high realm as well as Old realm, that this level contained forbidden and heretical artifacts. There was also a sign stating that only the Daimyo could open up to this level – Shimmer already had the seal so that bit seemed obvious enough, but apparently just being attuned to the manse was enough at this point. The doors of delicately engraved white stone slid open without a sound.

The view that greeted the circle was one that brought Speaker to tears almost immediately: Everywhere around the entrance were tables with neat little piles of disassembled artifacts, obviously taken apart and scavenged for materials. The piles contained little more than polished brass, bronce and bits of gold – hardly enough to be of any value, although Shadow did pick up most of the gold bits, even though it was obvious that everything of real value had been taken ages ago.

Beyond the tables were more piles, remains of more artifacts taken apart and scavenged. However, beyond these grisly sights were long rows of sealed boxes and crates, some the barely large enough to fit a fly, some big enough to house warstriders – the circle eagerly started opening crates to explore the contents.

Shimmer did remind everyone that despite what they might find, they had to keep in mind where they would store whatever they might find and how much unwanted attention it might create – Orichalcum and moonsilver artifacts being considered very heretical and obvious signs of being anathema by the immaculates. As with the treasury up on sublevel three, then these artifacts weren’t going anywhere, so Shimmer suggested that they focus on small man-portable devices of immediate use, instead of the big stuff.

Fei reluctantly stopped trying to pry open a huge house-sized crate and joined the others in searching the smaller crates and boxes.

As it turned out then the smaller boxes more often than not contained only bits and pieces – apparently the people taking the artifacts apart put the stuff they didn’t need back in the box that had held the artifact. Indeed, it appeared that nearly everything in the small boxes had been fully scavenged or at least partially dismantled. It was disparaging, and after several hours of futile search the circle was ready to give up. It was then that Han noticed a pattern in the labels of the crates, most of which were written in old realm.

Apparently the majority of the items stored in this part of the vault had either been orichalcum or moonsilver weapons, utilitarian everyday devices, vehicles, armor or automatons unwilling to accept commands from dragonblooded – but that wasn’t what Denansdor was famous for. Denansdor was always first and foremost a city of sublime craftsmanship and the labels didn’t mention anything that sounded like tools or similar artifacts used for crafting. Speakers eyes lit up as his hope was rekindled: “Of course, we’ve been looking in the wrong place. This is where the dragonbloods have kept all the stuff they couldn’t use – all the good stuff is stuff up in the city in the workshops and factory cathedrals.

The last thing the circle did before leaving the depths of the manse vault was take notice of a grizzly sight that Shadow had found while looking for artifacts. At first it had simply looked like another open crate in another room, but when his wrist-mounted mind protection device started emitting a high-pitched sound he immediately retreated. Upon examination of Shadow’s mind protection device (Fei insisted that the circle find a shorter name for it) Speaker concluded that Shadow had come into close proximity to a powerful source of mind altering essence – plus the device had been drained of about four hours worthy of energy in just the few seconds of exposure to the source. Guiding the circle to the room, Shadow this time took a far more cautious approach, peeking into the room from afar. Of what little he could see then he could see a chest with human bones next to it on the ground.

Shimmer detected powerful sorcery emanating from the chest and applied sapphire circle countermagic – but to no effect. Han concluded that adamant circle countermagic would be needed, if even that would work. Speaker practically forbade the circle from going anywhere near the thing – pointing out that as with Shadow’s device then they would run out of energy in seconds if taken too close to the source of the miasma. At least they knew where the source was. With some string, a fishhook and a lucky throw Shadow managed to pull the door to the room closed.

Returning to ground level with the one talent of white jade taken from the treasury, the circle discussed where to look next. Shimmer pointed out that she was reluctant to conjure a new cloud until they were ready to leave the city, to which Speaker noted that the best of the city’s factory cathedrals weren’t more than a stone’s throw from the manse powering them.

The circle made their way to the nearest factory cathedral, an oddly unimposing building. Shadow was honestly surprised – he had expected a grand structure, a palace of the arts of creation… but as Speaker explained, the this factory appeared specialized for smaller artifacts, so it wasn’t built as a huge building to house half-built warstriders. Han argued that they should probably have examined where what was made before having picked a factory cathedral to rummage through.

Speaker marveled at the place. He wished that he could stay forever, but knew that such wasn’t possible… yet. With the help of the rest of the circle the place was searched thoroughly. It was discovered that the artifacts made here were most likely used as components in larger artifice, like runic blue jade baffles for water purification devices, or similar smaller but more delicate artifacts.

In the end Shadow was happy: Two jade hearthstone amulets and a handful of incomplete ones now lined his pockets. Speaker was pleased too, him and Han having identified a number of very high quality jade sculpting tools, including a scalpel out of orichalcum which had been used to cut jade – as evident from the fact that it was stuck in a chunk of black jade when they found it.

Fei was mostly bored by the proceedings, choosing to be lookout in case automaton guardians come after them. This first happened when the circle left the factory cathedrals, the guardians loudly proclaiming that removing tools from the factory cathedral was against local law. Speaker could see the logic in this, but never got to argue that the laws were now defunct due to lack of local government, as Fei had already cut into the guardians.

Rummaging through the remains of the guardians Speaker and Shimmer recovered a lovely amount of orichalcum – more than enough to make a nice handful of fivefold harmonic adapters – now they only needed moonsilver.

Breaking for a late lunch, the circle dined inside a large and very well-decorated house near the factory cathedral. It was replete with dragon-inspired iconography, but nothing that specifically looked like immaculate inspired art. Han found this very odd, especially combined with the fact that in their time in the city they hadn’t seen a single immaculate shrine – something that’s usually fairly common in most dragonblood controlled cities. Fei proposed the theory that all the shrines and temples had been dismantled and moved out when the fae knocked on the city gates – a not entirely unlikely scenario, but Shadow pointed out that there should still have been some holy immaculate sites left.

After eating Speaker examined everyone’s… Fei insisted they call the devices Auspicious soul wards… Auspicious soul wards. Aside from Shadow who had four hours less charge, then everyone had around nine hours left. The sun was setting and Speaker suggested that they leave and do a final sweep of some of the outer colonies the next day, maybe without Shadow seeing as his soul ward would run out of power soon.

Shimmer flew the circle out of the city far enough for the miasma to longer have any effect, where they made camp. Everyone reflected on their experiences from the day and Shadow rejoiced when he found Speaker being able to cut small pieces of jade from the talent they had acquired – it was roughly the size of a shekel. Carving the outline of eight obols on one side of the shekel would be easy enough, but Speaker wouldn’t even dare try to replicate the realm treasury seal that would usually be carved into the opposite side of the shekel. He had never seen another shekel for reference, and while his exaltation made him a genius craftsman then he was not a forger, which would undoubtedly show should he attempt to replicate a realm insignia.

Han argued that such a seal wouldn’t be necessary in nexus – jade is jade – and a ‘blank’ shekel from the scavenger lands is plausible enough, as it could from a scavenger lord or somewhere in the hundred kingdoms.

The next day Shadow begrudgingly waved the rest of the circle off as he remained in camp. The others flew quickly over the outlying artist colonies around Denansdor. Speaker had a particular colony in mind; He remembered one that catered to rather exotic ‘artistisc’ exploits, namely biogenesis – the art of crafting or altering living beings. His reasoning was simple. He recalled one workshop in that colony using wyld energies to shape new and original lifeforms from, but due to local safety regulations… at least back in the first age… then the workshop also contained devices to help ‘restore’ assistants that got exposed to wyld energy.

It was speaker’s hope that the workshop still existed, which should mean that the device to restore people exposed to wyld energies was there as well. Shimmer did point out that dragonbloods didn’t have the ability to shape and exploit wyld energies like celestial exalted – so there was a good chance that the device had been taken to the lower levels of the Denansdor manse vault for disassembly.

It turned out that such probably wasn’t the case. As they approached the colony it was clear that something was wrong. Shimmer sensed wyld energies everywhere – and the moment they landed they were beset by goblins. Shimmer shapeshifted into her avian beast form and methodically grabbed the freaks of nature and threw them against the rusty iron pillars erected around the area. Apparently the dragonblooded hadn’t been able to contain whatever wyld source the workshop had, so they had tried to stem the tide of wyld energy with some runic iron pillars. It actually seemed to work to some extent, although Han did comment that he was happy he hadn’t waited for Speaker to make those adaptors, sporting a pair of blue jade hearthstone bracers with the hearthstone from the Denansdor manse set in its socket. A brief but vicious fight followed as the group cleared out the remaining goblins, ultimately facing off against a raksha noble who seemed to live in the workshop. Han dueled with the living nightmare, his soul ward and hearthstone making it impossible for the raksha to ravage Han. The raksha did not find this very amusing and cursed the author for writing such cheesy fanfics, accusing Speaker of being a poorly veiled self insert.

The foul-mouthed fae dissolved into bubbling pools of essence and wyld energy a few seconds after Speaker spotted a packet of iron nails. They made for handy, albeit somewhat innacurate, improvised thrown weapons.

The wyld sources appeared to be some kind of degraded portal device – how it worked as beyond even Speaker’s ken – but they managed to deactivate it by smashing the crystal essence lines in the floor that powered the portal. After that it was easy enough to recover the device they had been looking for. It looked like a weird crossbow without the bow attachments, Fei comparing it to a bulky but portable essence cannon. A small panel on the device could open, revealing a hearthstone socket and instructions written in old realm. The problem was just that the pictograms were so tiny that Han couldn’t read them. Shimmer suggested letting Shadow have a look at the thing, as she knew he had sight enhancing charms; she has smelled the essence coming from his eyes on multiple occasions.

There was nothing else of any real use in the workshop – or the colony. The wyld energies that had spilled from the portal hadn’t been very potent, but enough to taint the area. Speaker was quick to point out that wyld tainted tools did not make for good artifice, with the ‘unshaping device’ apparently being the exception since it had been made to resist wyld energies perfectly.

Shadow was able to redraw the tiny old realm pictograms into larger and more legible versions, allowing Han to read the instructions. The device had been made for mortals to use in the event of an emergency – just insert a hearthstone, the instructions referring to a power rating system that Han didn’t know anything about, wait twenty four hours for the device to charge up, then aim at anyone suffering from unwanted mutations.

“A whole day between being able to use the thing? That’s not very useful” Shadow mused, but Speaker pointed out that it wasn’t a device meant to be used haphazardly.

With everything said and done and not enough charge left in the soul wards to make any more jaunt into Denansdor safe, the circle agreed that it was time to return to civilization. Han made a somber eulogy, speaking sad by stoic words about the old city of Dansdor – but also praises for what the future could bring. Speaker felt quite sad about leaving the place, Shadow oddly enough also getting teary eyed, although that turned out to be because of all the jade they were leaving behind in the vaults.

Flying north on Shimmer’s cloud, Speaker requested that they head to the demesne with the mutant girl. He had already plugged the hearthstone from his manse into it, giving it roughly half a charge – so it should be ready by the time they would reach the place.

Shadow suggested that him and Fei be dropped off near Nexus on their way – no reason for them to go with Speaker to fix the mutated farm girl. Han agreed that it was an ok idea: “We’ll need a place to stay while in Nexus – and Shadow is a nexus local, so it seems like a good idea. Plus we’ll need money for the entrance fee”

Speaker didn’t know about the nexus entrance fee – but was quickly filled in. He didn’t like what he was told. A city run by the guild, the council of entities being made out of guild factors that line their pockets with silver, accountable to no one but the emissary… who spends most of its time enforcing the council’s degrees anyway. It just didn’t seem reasonable.

Shadow found Speaker’s objection to how nexus was run amusing: “Since when has anything ever been reasonable? Dragonbloods have ruled for ages because they’re more powerful, mortals have no choice – its obey or die. In nexus you’re at least left alone as long as you can pay your taxes. There’s no lord demanding your fealty, or gods demanding your worship. Only mortal men wanting rent and taxes”

Shimmer chimed in that a society run entirely by mortals was a rare sight in creation, especially at the size and scale that nexus represented. Speaker didn’t object to that, but what he did object to was the lawlessness that seemed to pervade nexus: “Murder isn’t illegal in Nexus – a society where killing fellow human beings isn’t frowned upon just isn’t right”

Shadow conceded that nexus was a brutal place, but one could live comfortably and safely as long as you had a job and payed your dues. In Great Forks you could get caught between gods and cults wanting your faith. In Lookshy you were in trouble if you couldn’t keep up with the military lifestyle. Shadow maintained that in Nexus the expectations put on you were the smallest and easiest to live with.

Shadow and Speaker argued back and forth for hours until Shadow and Fei were dropped off. Shadow said that he would find somewhere cheap and outside of the usual ‘patrol routes’ of the immaculates in town. Han suggested they make contact with the local illuminates as well.

Shimmer’s cloud reached the demesne turned freehold a few hours after sundown. It was difficult navigating after dark, but Shimmer’s lunar aspected hearthstone gave her an uncanny ability to find her way.

Han got the girl out of the demesne and two seconds later Speaker fired the Perfect Shape Restoring Emitter at the girl. The pulsating sausage growths withered and dissolved into murky wisps, revealing a pretty face and the body of a young woman. She fell to her knees, coughing and crying. Han comforted her with kind words and said that he and Speaker were heaven-sent to save her. Shimmer was still up on her cloud.

Speaker suspected that Han used a charm to calm the girl when they tried to get her up on Shimmer’s cloud. Considering the girl’s experiences with the supernatural so far, then Speaker could understand her fear – but Han none the less reassured her, getting the girl back to the farm in no time.

Speaker, Shimmer and Han spent the night at the farm, the farmers there being quite grateful. Han preached to them, speaking of the glory of the Unconquered Sun, explaining how it was through his power and might and he and Speaker had been given the knowledge and ability to save the girl. Afterwards Shimmer complained to Speaker than Han hadn’t mentioned her, to which Speaker’s first inclination was to brush her off – but he found himself caring too much for Shimmer to do so. He suggested that maybe she could preach to the farmers about Luna if she wanted, but Shimmer was smart enough to see that speaking well of a constantly shape shifting god might not be the best considering what had happened.

The next day Shimmer shaped up a new cloud and sped Han and Speaker to Nexus. They met with Shadow outside the city gates, Shimmer sending Shadow a message via sorcery that they were there. Han expressed keen interest in learning some of these sorcerous tricks, adding that he was a bit surprised that Speaker didn’t share his interest.

“Sorcery is utilitarian at best – our charms give us a greater edge in combat, and much faster. For transport it is quite useful, I won’t contest that – but I would rather focus my energy on remembering my former incarnations charms than spend time being initiated into sorcery” Speaker plainly stated, making his intentions quite clear.
Shadow greeted the group and said that he had bought a place in firewander. Han was immediately skeptical, pointing out the reputation of the district. Speaker, knowing nothing of the place, felt compelled to inquire. Shadow said that he would see soon enough.

“But enough chit chat – we need to get you lot inside. The gatekeepers assign a fee to everyone entering based on what they look like and what they’re here for – so, Speaker, you’re a Lookshyan doctor, Shimmer his wife and Han… a holy man. Here’s some silver, should be enough to get you inside” Shadow said, then making some arcane gestures with his hands, probably activating a charm or two.

Han had to laugh at the notion of Speaker and Shimmer having to play husband and wife – but then again, he had seen how Speaker had often looked at Shimmer while she piloted her cloud. It was clear the man was in love with her. If anything the only worry Han for the subject was whether Shimmer felt the same way – and how Speaker would react if she turned him down. Han recalled oddly well how his own lunar mate had more often than not been a rival, keeping him on his toes both physically and mentally, as opposed to being a faithful lover that always supported him.

It was then he noticed that everyone else had gone inside. The fee for a holy man was barely a single dinar, so Han didn’t try to haggle, instead hurrying to join the others, including Fei, who waited just inside.

Having come through the city gate between Firewander and Bastion district, Speaker was at first struck by the luxury and wealth of Bastion and the wyld-taint and poverty of firewander. The wyld fire in the center of firewander clearly visible even in broad daylight, and many of the taller buildings visible above the majority of hovels and decrepit houses that made up the district had so much visible wyld-taint that it could be seen from outside the district. It wasn’t pretty.

“And you got us a house in there? Are you mad?” Speaker said.

Shadow explained himself: “It’s just a basement room me and Fei used to sleep in last night while waiting for you guys – plus, it has no windows and is fairly roomy. We can burn as much essence as we want, flare our anima as much as we want there, because nobody will notice. I figured you could use set up shop there to make those adapters you’ve talked about. Now that we’re all here I figured we could find some nicer accommodations, probably somewhere on sentinel hill”

The group walked down the main road separating Firewander and Tellnaught. The wall and wards on the tellnaught side clearly showed that those inside didn’t want the wyld taint that firewander was permeated with. Shadow noted that if it wasn’t because nothing was available at the moment, then he would have suggested they find a place to stay there – it was relatively peaceful, by Nexus standards.

In sentinel hill the circle found accommodations in the south-eastern part of the district. It was close to Calin town, the small enclave of Port Calon citizens and merchants living in Nexus as well as the gate leading into Firewander. Han didn’t like that the place was less than half a mile from a large immaculate shrine, but Shadow explained that a decree forbade religiously motivated persecution of citizens of Nexus.

“Right, and how does one become a citizen then?” Han wondered.

Shadow shrugged, explaining that anyone with a service that others were willing to pay for were automatically considered citizens. So as long as you had a job that earned you money nobody could do anything about your faith.

Settling in, Speaker asked Shadow if they needed to do that, get jobs, if they wanted to stay for a while. Shadow pointed out that it all depended on how long they planned on staying. He had already tried to arrange a meeting with the council of entities, but to no avail. He figured that Han would be better at handling the bureaucratic nightmare that is the city’s administration. Han agreed and left along with Fei to do battle with words and paper pushers.

Shadow, Speaker and Shimmer discussed what to do in the meantime. Speaker, happy that they now had a place to stay outside of Firewander, seemed a lot more willing to set up shop in the basement Shadow had rented. Shimmer said she needed to check up on a few things and left for that, while Speaker and Shadow talked about how they were going to afford the equipment and materials they would need to make the adapters.

Shadow admitted that while the money he had stolen had so far been enough to keep them fed and housed, then getting equipment for artifice – even small scale artifice, was way out of his league. Speaker reassured him, explaining that with his charms he could compensate for most of it. He mostly just needed jewel-cutting tools and some orichalcum. The last bit would obviously be the most difficult to get, although he explained that for each adaptor he wouldn’t need much more than the volume of a single yen coin.

Speaker said he would check out little market for anything promising, suggesting that Speaker should use his smarts to poke around Firewander and the ancient ruins underneath, as it was well known that Hollow, before the great contagion, had been built on the ruins of, or as Shadow suspected now that it in fact was, a first age city.

While reluctant to wander into an area known to be the home of fae, Speaker felt confident that he could do slay them if they appeared… provided that they weren’t too many or too powerful.

Venturing outside the humble tenement building that the circle had settled into, Speaker began to walk down a zig-zagging street in sentinel hill to south harbor street. South harbor street was the southern main street of Nexus,going from the southern city gate, separating the lawless front and firewander, separating sentinel hill from Forks-town, Maruk-town and Calin-town before merging with Nexus main street at the west end of Forks-town. But Speaker never even got to to south harbor street.

Just two blocks down the road from the house Speaker found himself cornered by a group of immaculate monks. Apparently word had spread of Speaker from Lookshy to Nexus, including the fact that Speaker had been traveling towards Nexus last he was seen near Lookshy. They were armed with clubs and outnumbered him greatly, being a small scale of some twenty monks in aqua-marine robes.

However, it quickly occurred to Speaker that aside from yelling at him and giving him twenty-some stink-eyes, then they didn’t seem to do much else – well, they were preventing him from going anywhere, but they were obviously expecting him to strike first.

The leader of the monks, a dragonblood of apparently low breeding, as he had no visible tells of what aspect he was – but it was clear that he was blessed by the dragons, due to the misty anima that surrounded him. Speaker found himself wondering mainly what charms the dragonblood had activated to stir his anima, instead of worrying about being surrounded. They were just a dragonblood and a few mortals after all, nothing a chosen of the sun couldn’t handle.

Sure, Speaker was being bombarded with taunts and attempts to goad him into striking out – but Speaker had always been a paragon of self-determination. In Lookshy he had never been the toughest, strongest or fastest, something that made it quite difficult to keep up with the elite military units he kept getting stationed with – but Speaker had always had a nearly endless supply of inner strength, both to shrug off the taunts of veteran soldiers referring to Speaker’s lack of physical but also to give that last bit of extra effort.

In this case the monk’s insults bounced off Speaker like arrows against a stone wall. This only served to infuriate the monks even more so – all the while Speaker tried to figure out what these fools were trying to do. Wasn’t it standard immaculate operating procedure to just attack anathema on sight, preferably with something sharp and lethal?

Oh of course. Speaker remembered what Shadow had drilled the circle on all last night: Nexus and its dogma… like the one forbidding excessive violence. Plus the decree forbidding religious persecution of citizens, although Speaker had yet to earn himself any money, so that wasn’t an option. Still, no excessive violence, right?

After over an hour of not being able to provoke Speaker to start a fight, the monks seemed to lose momentum, some of them starting to wander off to do more important chores. Anathema were supposed to be blood-thirsty villains – but this man just stood and took all the abuse they screamed at him. He might be godless and a non-believer, but Nexus was full of those – the monks were not impressed, and so began leaving.

The dragonblood was furious, seeing his monks starting to leave as there was obviously no righteous beatdown to dish out that day. As a last ditch attempt the dragonblood used what Speaker would in retrospect figure out to be some dragonblood social charm to provoke Speaker – truly, the spite and venom thrown at Speaker with those words would have made mortal men either curl up and cry or fly into a rage. Speaker didn’t even blink: “Really, you pray to the dragons with that mouth?”

Speaker then braced himself for the inevitable assault upon himself, preparing to fortify his body with essence. It never came. He did hear shouting though, and looking he saw… a couple of Lookshyan soldiers in off-duty uniform along with a man dressed in a fine green silk hakama, bearing looksyan insignia and officer tabs on his shoulders. The man in the silk hakama demanded to know what was going. The dragonblood leading the remaining monks, now down to seven, introduced himself as Still Sky, acolyte at the nexan immaculate temple, and that the other monks with him were his disciples: “…and we have cornered a known anathema – we were lecturing it on its heresy of being”

What the finely dressed lookshyan officer said next both thrilled and terrified Speaker: “I am Triumphant Sunrise, Lookshyan scalelord and adjutant to the Looksyan ambassador – this anathema, does he go by the name of Bright Machine Speaker?”

Speaker silently cursed himself for not realizing that the local Lookshyan embassy would also be on the lookout for him – they had probably had runners all throughout Nexus looking for him, or groups of immaculates hunting him. This explained why they first turned up after an hour.

Still Sky acknowledged that it was Speaker they were hunting – and had caught – but he didn’t seem happy to do so. Speaker recalled that Shadow had warned that while daytime violence in the streets were usually punished or at least broken up, then similar events after sundown were rarely stopped, as long as it wasn’t noisy enough to attract complaints from people of wealth or power. The immaculates’ plan became clear to Speaker; They had hoped to provoke a fight which, by their logic, would be brief and one-sided, allowing them to haul Speaker off to somewhere quiet… and then kill him after dark when few would care or intervene if someone screamed in the night.

Triumphant Sunrise expressed polite disdain for violence done upon Lookshyan citizens – even if just verbal. Less politely he requested that Speaker be turned over into his custody. Still Sky couldn’t really refuse – Triumphant Sunrise had hinted that he had ‘business’ with Speaker, so to deny him that would violate the dogma that none shall obstruct trade, at least on some technical level… but arguing dogma in Nexus was rarely healthy, as the Emissary might be listening in.

Speaker quickly found himself escorted down to a gondola and from there he was taken to the west end of Nexus, then up the night canal (Speaker could only identify it from Shadow having told of all the prostitute-gondolas there…) and then they were there: Lookshy-town, the small enclave of Lookshy citizens and ambassadorial staff that represented Lookshy in Nexus, as well as safely housing Lookshyan merchants doing business in Nexus.

While Speaker was well aware that he might soon find himself being chucked in a prison cell or whatever these people had planned for him, then he did feel great pride and joy when he was herded in through the armored gate and saw the great statue and shrine to Sunipa, the eastern goddess of war. Aside from Tien Yu, the goddess of Lookshy, then Sunipa was probably the most worshiped goddess in Lookshy, so seeing the familiar face made Speaker feel almost homesick, but also quite happy at the sight of something so familiar, so trusted. Speaker wasn’t a man who prayed often, but the few times he had it had been to Sunipa, asking her to protect the men and women he would otherwise have to patch up.

To Speaker’s surprise then he wasn’t dragged to the stockades, or to the ambassador’s office. Instead he was brought to a noodle shop. It was called the Yellow Pepper.
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Re: Light and darkness

09 Oct 2011, 15:59

Part 10: Into flames bright as dawn

In the Yellow Pepper Speaker found himself seated as if to be interrogated. This did not surprised him. There were over forty Lookshyan soldiers and their local friends present – they looked at Speaker with a mix of suspiciousness and guarded curiosity.

Triumphant Sunrise formally introduced himself as the Chuzei of the 3rd Infernos, the the third scale of the talon of Lookshyan soldiers. He explained that him one of the adjutants to the ambassador he had heard of a son of Lookshy accused of becoming anathema – he had then inquired into Speaker’s military record and through that heard of how Speaker had, on the night of his exaltation, saved several gunzosha from being crippled.

The soldiers present gasped hearing that Speaker had served with gunzosha, the most revered and powerful mortal infantry that Lookshy had. It was an honor to serve such men and women, the soldiers and the Chuzei knew this, so anathema saving gunzosha? That most certainly brought into the doubt the claims that the immaculates had been making about Speaker.

“What have they been saying?” Speaker asked curiously, fearing the worst.

Indeed, Speaker’s fears were well founded. The local immaculates had been warning of an unclean man who had sold his soul to demons in return for powers to sculpt flesh into hideous abominations – which was how they explained the rumors of Speaker’s medical abilities. Speaker assured everyone present that he had done no such things, swearing on his honor and the wisdom of the dragons. A few of the people present took offense to Speaker invoking the dragons, considering what he was accused of.

Speaker knew that causing a scene or starting a fight would not do, but he could not let his reputation remain sullied. How could he help others if people feared him?

“Tell me, how can I prove my loyalty to Lookshy to you? I will not deny that I have been chosen and blessed with powers – not by the dragons – but by the Unconquered Sun, but these powers have been given to me so that I might help others, not to spread misery as the immaculate would have you believe. Since when to sons of Lookshy listen to the realm’s lapdogs?” Speaker said, pushing at all the soft spots he knew the soldiers were likely to have; their Lookshyan pride, their hate of the realm and finally the fact that by submitting to whatever test they could think of Speaker knew he showed humility, something he doubted the assembly had expected much of, assuming that they were comparing him to what chosen they knew of, mainly dragonblooded.

The soldiers broke into loud discussions on what to do and how to test Speaker. The few locals present either remained silent, seeing as this was more a Lookshy issue than a local issue – at least to what they could influence, although Speaker was certain that some of them would spread the word of Speaker’s name and appearance around town even more now. The Chuzei cut through in the end, giving Speaker the distinct impression that he was not judgemental over the whole anathema deal: “A true son of Lookshy can eat the Yellow Peper’s deathhead chili noodles – no wretch who has to bargain with demons for power can handle the inner fire that stuff gives you”

A short while later Speaker was presented with a bowl of steaming noodles. Brown, green, yellow and red flecks of chili adorned the noodles like sprinkles on a frosted cake. Just smelling it burnt Speaker’s nose, but then he found himself enveloped in a familiar feeling of essence flowing around himself. Well, if the same charm had kept him safe while eating half-cooked rabbit and raw unwashed fruits and berries, then… it didn’t actually taste that bad.

Speaker relished in the dish – as only a son of Lookshy could. Indeed, few places outside a few countries in the south enjoy food as spicy as the cuisine of Lookshy. Spicy food helps field rations from spoiling, and helps hide the taste of spoiled field rations once it’s too late – a cuisine born of military tradition, it could easily to be spiced up to a point where even fire aspected dragonbloods found it hard to convince oneself to put the stuff in your mouth.

Speaker was going at it as if there was no tomorrow – and depending on what Still Sky would do now that he had seen Speaker, then that might that might just be the situation.

It was first after having not only eaten the noodles, but also licked the bowl clean, that he noticed the silence in the noodle shop. Ok noodle shop might be a stretch, it was more of a tavern that also served Lookshyan food, which was much easier to tell now that nobody was talking or doing anything. Because they were all looking at Speaker.

The Chuzei broke the silence after Speaker put his chop-sticks down: “Taizei Teresu Fiora can’t even eat that stuff, even with charms – this is what we force-feed prisoners to torture them… You… that’s not natural, that just isn’t natural”

Realizing that his display might actually have done his cause more harm than tried to explain that with the power of the Unconquered Sun nothing was impossible. The soldiers and the Chuzei were awed, but many of them were still unconvinced, claiming to have heard of other Lookshyan dragonbloods who could eat the deathhead chili noodles.

While being served lunch was all nice and fine with Speaker, then he did start to feel that if he stuck around for more ‘tests’ then eventually something bad was going to happen – someone would either want to fight him, or he would be tasked with doing something stupid and dangerous: “Look, if serving with gunzosha has taught me anything, then it’s that if you want true power and admiration in life you have to prove yourself worthy by the weight of your deeds. Triumphant Sunrise has heard of how I helped those soldiers, and I can assure you that I will do more good given time. Has it not always been the way of Lookshy to judge a man by his actions first and what others claim second? My loyalty to Lookshy will never falter, if so may the heavens strike me down, and while you may only have my word on it, it is the word of a son of Lookshy!”

Triumphant Sunrise nodded his head in respect of Speaker’s statement, while most of the other soldiers dispersed – sensing that the show was over. Of course, that quickly turned out to be because two other Chuzei along with a few fangs worth of soldiers had entered the establishment. Triumphant Sunrise gestured for the two other officers to approach. He then introduced Speaker with kind and respectful words, displaying the bowl of deathhead noodles like some kind of impossible achievement. Speaker was mainly afraid of ending his hardship-surviving mendicant spirit charm at this point, figuring that the afterburn of the chili might burn him up from inside if he did.

The two Chuzei hadn’t heard of Speaker, but were impressed by his accomplishments with the noodles. One of them had to check that it was true, running a finger down the bowl and licking it… he was screaming for ale so loudly that Speaker though the man was seriously hurt. It began to dawn on him how firey the noodles had actually been.

Speaker left the Yellow Peper along with Triumphant Sunrise. The chuzei said that if Speaker got into more trouble with the immaculates then Sunrise could pull a few strings and arrange for temporary housing for Speaker. Walking east past a couple of barracks and office buildings, the two passed several workshops and a large single warehouse-like structure. The sign Bay Four. Having thought about Sunrise’s offer, Speaker replied: “I don’t want to decline your offer, but if the immaculates send a lynch-mob after me I don’t want to lead them here…”

Sunrise nodded at the wise strategic and tactical evaluation, but also sensed that Speaker wanted to say something else. Inquiring , he was surprised to hear Speaker thanking him: “You have no idea how weird the last several weeks have been for me. I might have been blessed, but along with that came a label I doubt I will get rid of any time soon. You’re the first person since leaving I’ve met who’ve given me the benefit of the doubt knowing what I am, and concluded that I am still worthy”

Sunrise graciously accepted the compliment, but he also pointed out that if the ambassador should get any reason to think that Speaker was becoming a liability for Lookshy then Sunrise’s own personal opinion wouldn’t be worth much. Speaker sighed and said that he figured as much, especially since he officially was only on indefinite leave from the seventh legion. This surprised Sunrise, but Speaker said that he had figured out why the general staff had done so:

“If they find me an asset they can recall me to active duty, if I refuse I’m a deserter… and you know what happens to them. If they find me a threat they can recall me and capture me when I show up… and If I refuse, same fate. They have their leash on me, even if given indefinite slack, so they can always pull me in. Still, I actually prefer this to being discharged. It shows that somewhere they still trust me to some extent”

Sunrise couldn’t argue with that logic. He had heard of plenty of old dragonblooded officers retiring from the seventh legion, only to be called back to active duty during emergencies or for other occasions.

It was then that Speaker got an idea: “Say, I have been looking to acquire some jewelry cutting tools – you shouldn’t happen to know where I could get some?”

Returning to sentinel hill, albeit wearing a hooded cloak he had bought at a street vendor, Speaker filled the circle in on what had happened. Shimmer was relieved that Speaker was ok, Fei was offended that Speaker hadn’t slewn the lot, or at least kicked their asses. Han was impressed at Speaker’s diplomatic abilities, although Speaker said that it had more been a case of survival charms versus deadly chili. Shadow said he would look into this Still Sky:

“I would be careful about moving around in the streets though – since Still Sky and the monks have seen you, they’ll be looking for you even more so now… and while they might not want to mess with the Emmisary for fighting in the street, you still need to be careful”

The next morning Speaker and Shimmer went shopping in the specialty neighborhoods. It was a part of the nexus district, the central district of Nexus, which catered to very skilled and very exclusive craftsmen. To even get into the area required bribing your way past six different mercenary checkpoints, unless you had the right paperwork – or unless you had spent a day charting the undercity… the dark dank realm of misty hovels under the canals and streets of Nexus.

There was a reason why the old city that Nexus was built on was named Hollow – for the hills and swampy riversides that Nexus was built on were riddled with small caves and tunnels. Some were filled with water, others were filled with those trying to hide, or really shady business in a city where shady business was already the norm.

In the specialty neighborhoods Speaker and Shimmer sought out a block housing a number of highly skilled jewelers. Speaker didn’t need much, but to make the adapters he would need materials rarely seen outside of really expensive jewelry. Namely, he needed some orichalcum and a few drops of moonsilver. This was not something that one just walked up and asked for…

Speaker’s first goal was the moonsilver. Shimmer was there to help find it, since Speaker’s essence didn’t resonate with the material, making it much more difficult for him to sense the presence of. Shimmer pointed out that if Speaker bothered to spend some time to learn essence sight then he would find magical materials much more easily.

“You talk as if learning charms is something you just… do”

Shimmer giggled: “You talk as if it’s not. Haven’t you learnt any new charms since you exalted?”

Closing his eyes for a moment, Speaker thought about what charms he knew. The concept was still alien too him, even though he knew that he had used several. Shimmer noted that upon exaltation all chosen instinctively know a number of charms – so that might be what was confusing him.

Looking around the square they were in, shops and stands lining the buildings surrounding the square, then turning to Shimmer, Speaker said: “I think I’ve learnt at least one charm… I can use essence to put forth more convincing arguments and counterarguments”

Shimmer smiled, nodding. She then guided Speaker into a tea-house where she explained two things. First of all she introduced the notion of excellencies, the kind of basic charms that allow chosen of any kind of empower themselves. They found a table and sat down in front of each other.
While sipping on a cup of surprisingly bad tea, she quietly explained that twilight caste solars were supposed to naturally be knowledgeable on such occult matters. Speaker said that he barely knew the basics… but having said that he suddenly fell silent. Shimmer would later swear that she could see his head bulging with thoughts and wisdom.

Leaning closer to Shimmer, Speaker was almost at a loss for words – but only almost: “You’re right… you are absolutely correct. But I also think you’re wrong on one point: I need to know what I’m capable of before I can enlighten myself”

“Usually that comes instinctively after you exalt” Shimmer said, leaning closer as well.

Speaker opened his mouth as if to speak, but paused for a moment, then finally spoke: “Am I wrong in finding you knowing these things incredibly attractive?”

Speaker hadn’t expected Shimmer to laugh so loudly. After calming down she explained that Speaker had been fairly obvious in his attraction to her almost since they met – but she was equally happy that he finally chose to say something, instead of holding it in. In her experience then holding back such feelings rarely amounted to anything good: “Of course, that said – what are you going to do now? Lost first age seduction techniques? Introduce me to some ascetic solar love-making sutras? Carve me a kingdom out of the wyld with me as your queen?”

“Well I figured we find a jeweler who has moonsilver and orichalcum, then sick Shadow on the place to steal the stuff – but now that you mention it, then I do know this nice tavern up in Lookshy-town…” Speaker said, blushing quite intensely.

Locating the magical materials was difficult – but Speaker showed remarkable detective and interrogative skills, finding the right people and asking the right questions with such expertise that Shimmer found herself quite impressed. Speaker had to admit that prior to this he had never done such investigation – at which point he became embarrassingly aware of the fact that such skills came naturally to the twilight caste.

After about an hour of poking around the two found a jeweler with a set of three small figurines of pure orichalcum. They were apparently entirely decorative, with no abilities or effects in their design. Equally, for figurines the size of an index finger they each weighed as much as a large lead weight. Speaker and Shimmer made note of the place and just as Speaker was to suggest writing down the address for Shadow to later ‘visit’, then Shimmer walked over and engaged the clerk with idle chit-chat.

Speaker was about to say something when he figured out that she was distracting the clerk so he could snatch the figurines. A few discrete motes of essence made the things light as twigs, but… obstruction of trade was one of the dogma, which covered theft. Speaker recalled the essence and joined Shimmer, addressing the clerk: “Excuse me, those three figurines, how much are they?”

The clerk sized Speaker up. Speaker was dressed in a nice set of clothes, not silk, but high quality linen: “Three solid gold statues? That’ll cost you five hundred dinars a piece milord”

It was clear to Speaker that this clerk, judging from his expression and his tone of voice, couldn’t care less about Speaker, but that didn’t stop him: “I think you would agree that something that tiny that weighs so much can’t be worth very much. I’ll need to pay strong men to haul them to my home – that makes them worth much much less, don’t you agree?”

Shimmer just barely caught the scent of the invisible strands of essence that followed speaker’s words – empowering them and making them nearly irresistible. The clerk yawned as if nothing had happened, but then waved the two off casually saying that the figures had been on display for decades, nobody wanting them, so if Speaker and Shimmer wanted them they could have all three for a dinar a piece – but they would have to take them out now.

“Glad to do business with you” Speaker said, paying the man three dinars and then pocketing the figures – leaving the clerk awestruck and confused.

Finding moonsilver turned out to be a bit more difficult. Well, finding it wasn’t that hard – Shimmer spotted a beautiful antique vase that looked as if it had been painted with a blue-tinted silver paint, but upon briefly touching it she felt the connection. The problem was that the vase wasn’t for sale. Beyond that, the owner of the restaurant where the vase stood in a corner clearly stated that his establishment did not serve women – to which he demanded both of them leave at once.

Shimmer and Speaker made a note of the address of the place, after which they returned home to sentinel hill and left the note for Shadow, along with instructions on what to ‘aquire’.

Later in the afternoon Han arrived, looking happy as ever. He had spent all day wandering Firewander, preaching to the masses a message of hope and salvation. When Fei showed up he didn’t talk about what he had done that day, just as the day before – and Shadow, upon appearing, tossed another fat purse of silver on the table, stating proudly that he once again was putting rice on the table.

Shadow then followed up by telling everyone about what he had discovered about Still Sky. It wasn’t good news – not at all. Indeed, immaculate monks had been searching all through the city most of the day looking for Speaker, so that Speaker and Shimmer had traveled via the undercity had been a wise choice. Beyond that Shadow warned Fei not to make too much of a name for himself…

Apparently Fei had been poking around the pit fighting arenas in bastion district. He hadn’t been in any fights there yet, but Shadow somehow knew that Fei had been trying to gain entrance. Fei admitted to his efforts and pointed out that some honest income to the circle would be preferable to living off whatever Shadow ran around stealing.

“Stealing? You think I’m some kind of petty cut-purse? I earned this silver by working!” Shadow confidently stated, sounded quite offended. He then explained that when not checking up on everyone else, he had been using his old contacts, mainly the fences he knew, to be put into contact with people who wanted certain things acquired discretely… and were willing to pay very well for it.

“So you’ve been stealing stuff and getting paid for it – I fail to see the difference” Fei said.

Shadow sighed. He then explained that what he had been ‘stealing’ had been information. Trade route plans, cargo ledgers and inventory lists – he had been working for Nexus’ tax authorities, giving them the real cargo and inventory documentation instead of the forged copies usually given to tax assessors, so that guild merchants would be forced to pay up instead of dodging fees.

Fei was mostly disturbed by the fact that Nexus would employ people to ‘steal’ such things at all… but then again, Nexus wasn’t the guild – even if the two were tightly linked.

“Oh yes, and don’t forget that – the counsil of entities might be comprised entirely of guild factors – but the guild merchants that run their caravans through nexus have to pay up just as much as everyone else” Shadow noted.

Speaker reported that he had the materials needed to start making the adapters. Han expressed some worry relating to Speaker’s artifact crafting: It was well known that the immaculates consider all use of orichalcum and moonsilver artifacts deeply heretical – wouldn’t these adapter things reveal the circle as not being dragonblooded?

Speaker explained the the adapters were tiny, small than a yen – so they could be fitted discretely onto anything. Equally, then with the materials gathered Speaker pointed out that he could start making the artifacts the next day. It should ideally take him around ten days per adaptor, even with crafting charms.

Fei couldn’t understand why making something that tiny would take so long, but Speaker pointed out that making even simple artifacts like these require more than physically making them. Prayers and ritualized construction sutras had to be performed at length at various intervals. Having mentioned that, Speaker asked that his basement workshop be stocked with enough food and supplies for him to not have to leave to meals. Also something he could sleep on would be handy.

“I thought you said you didn’t want to live in Firewander?” Han wondered.

Speaker shrugged: “That was before. I had a bit of an epiphany earlier today, so now I understand the effects of wyld exposure a lot better – I’m probably the one least likely to be affected. Just look at the people that live in Firewander; only a small percentage of them have mutations”

Shadow didn’t mentioned that part of the reason that Firewander’s population was so mutantion-free was due to a series of decrees that forbade mutated citizens from reproducing, plus a few that allowed mutants to be killed if their mutations got severe enough.

Shimmer said that she could keep Speaker supplied, as long as Shadow maintained a steady income. Shadow perked up at the mention of his name, noting that he might soon be getting more lucrative offers for his services – probably in the form of people wanting him to retrieve hidden information or otherwise spy for them: “Oh by the way, Speaker – Han, you had the contract ready?”

Han handed Speaker a rolled up sheet of paper. It was written in riverspeak and detailed an employment contract. Speaker recalled the decree on citizen protection against religious distrimination... and this was a contract commissioning Speaker to create fivefold harmonic adaptors.

“Hold on, don’t you need a licence to do any kind of business in Nexus?” Speaker noted, not wanting to see his work confiscated in case he was found without a license.

Han explained: “Artifice is not something that really ever happens here – so Shadow and I wrangled a very cheap licence for you”

Happy with the information, Speaker only saw one flaw in the setup: “Won’t it allow the immaculates to find me? I’m assuming the licensing involves personal information like name and address”

Shadow shook his head and suppressed a chuckle: “Name, yes – but no address. The only link it has to anyone or anything else is who paid for it, namely me. Of course, the address you give them doesn’t have to be real… it serves no real purpose. So if anyone wants you through this, they will have to find me – and they’ll have to work for that”

To say that Speaker was impressed would have been an understatement. Sure, he was a bit disappointed at how obscure and useless the Nexus bureaucracy appeared to be, but if this secured him a safe workshop for the next couple of months then he was quite happy.

“What will the rest of you guys do in the mean time?” Speaker wondered.

Shadow was quick to note that he still had to work to feed the rest of the circle. Fei said that he should be able to make his debut in the pit fighting scene soon, which should allow him to supplement Shadow’s income. Shadow did warn that he should avoid using charms at all costs; As a night caste solar Shadow had the advantage that he could make it impossible to tell that he was using charms, as well as keep his anima from flaring – Fei couldn’t do that. Fei didn’t seem bothered: “I’ll be fighting mortals… I doubt most of them would even be able to hit me”

Han noted that he would like to keep doing rounds in Firewander, preaching to those willing to listen. He also noted that if he could borrow the device they got from Denansdor, the one they used on the mutated farm girl, then there were a lot of people who could benefit from it… although he begrudgingly acknowledged that doing that would bring a lot of unwanted attention, so that kind of healing should wait until it was safe to do so.

Speaker was about to ask what Shimmer had planned when she pointed out that she would be bringing him food and water – as well as company if need be, for the duration.

“Right, well that settles that. Han, you should also look into getting us an audience with the council of entities – see what they would want for the go-ahead with making a temple; that’s why we came here to begin with” Speaker said before turning in for the night.

The next day Speaker and Shimmer set up a humble workshop in Shadow’s basement in Firewander. It was dark, because it had no windows, and didn’t even have a direct access to the outside, requiring people to enter down into a hallway where the room with the workshop connected. Judging from the smells and sounds coming from the other rooms in the hallway then the owner probably didn’t ask too many questions about what people did in the rooms.

The room was sizable, big enough for a small workshop. About four by six yards, with two yards to the ceiling, the place wasn’t for the tall or the claustrophobic – but with a few candles, a lantern, a sturdy table, a chair plus Speaker’s tools and the orichalcum figurines then everything was ready.

Shimmer marveled at how Speaker threw himself at the work. Shadow had chosen well with the room, as Speaker’s caste mark quickly manifested. She also noticed that he wore his white jade hearthstone bracers, with the hearthstone from his manse set into the socket. Speaker commented that he had figured out what the stone did: “It’s a greater stone of crafting – magically improves my ability to make, examine or use anything related to any craft, be it masonry, jewelry, artifice or cooking”

Fei started doing his thing in Bastion district’s pit fighting arenas. He had apparently come at an opportune time, seeing as the famous pit fighter Panther had recently disappeared – with nobody having yet found his body. Fei’s fighting style and great strength quickly earned him a fearsome reputation and allowed Shadow to take days off from work, enabling the night caste solar to start on a few personal projects.

Han alternated between petitioning the council of entities and preaching in Firewander. The preaching part he had to stop after a few days, as patrols of immaculate monks started to prowl the streets of Firewander – looking for a heretical preacher named Speaker. While Han found it amusing that they though he was Speaker, it none the less made his preaching to the public virtually impossible. The poor people of Firewander were more willing to become paid informants to the immaculates than to listen to one who might save them from their life in poverty for good when the time came.

Shimmer kept up daily visit to Speaker, keeping him well stocked with water and food. At Speaker’s request Shimmer even started bringing food from the Yellow Peper – although after sampling the fare herself Shimmer found herself more inclined to turn over the hideously spicy noodles to Shadow for use as poison than to give it to Speaker to eat. Shadow did express interest in ‘visiting’ the Yellow Peper’s kitchen to ‘sample’ their chili oils for possible later ‘use’.

To everyone’s surprise then Speaker was able to finish the first adaptor in just seven days. Of course, Shimmer had seen how Speaker had literally done nothing but eat, sleep and pray over the tiny but intricately runed disk of orichalcum for all that time. He had worked as if in a trance, her often seeing his body jerk or move around as if it wasn’t even Speaker doing it – but then again, he had been using about as much essence as possible to help guide him and ensure timely completion.

Of course, Speaker had already applied the adaptor the white jade hearthstone bracers he had been using – he would need to create several more for the rest of the circle. Also Shadow needed to acquire the vase painted with moonsilver for when Speaker was to make a moonsilver adaptor.

Speaker returned to his work, which he now found infinitely easier thanks to already having made one adaptor. Knowing what to do with the certainty that it would work was very nice – much like practicing medicine: When you know the procedure then repeating it becomes much easier.

Fei won a minor tournament and started getting approached by some of the mercenary outfits working out of Nexus. After turning them down Shadow had to play hidden bodyguard for a while, following a few assassination attempts. Apparently one does not simply turn down the Hooded Executioners. Speaker also learned through Shimmer that the immaculates, probably via Still Sky’s description, had put a substantial price on his head.

In the weeks that followed Shadow had great fun disguising himself as Speaker – Shimmer found the likeness quite disturbing, as she honestly couldn’t tell Shadow apart from Speaker with Shadow’s disguise charms: “You even smell like him…”

Speaker was subsequently seen leaving Nexus on ten different ships in as many days, as well as seen singing rather poorly at several taverns and public houses. Suffice to say that Shadow quickly had anyone chasing the bounty quite disillusioned.

Han made little headway with the council of entities, first after Speaker had made his fifth orichalcum adaptor and about to start on the moonsilver adaptor, did Han manage to finally bribe and smoothtalk enough people to set up a meeting.

This changed a lot of things, mainly in the circle now had to plan for the meeting. It was obvious that Han should do the talking, being the most business-savy and well-spoken in the circle. Shimmer and Shadow went shopping for fine clothes, so the circle could dress for the occation.

The day after Speaker finished the moonsilver adaptor there was the meeting with the council. Shimmer somehow managed to make Speaker presentable in time for the meeting.

The council tower was at the top of sentinel hill, in an old first age building that dwarfed the rest of the city. It was the tallest building in all of Nexus, looking down on it with never-aging stone carvings of things that nobody knew what was anymore. Speaker could probably identify most of it, but that was neither the time or the place for that.

Han went into the council chamber alone first, the rest of the circle waiting patiently outside. Han had explained that so far the council didn’t really know that any of them were exalted, although they had undoubtedly heard of Speaker through the immaculates looking all over the city for him.

About an hour later Han brought the rest of the circle into the council chamber.

It was a vast dark room. In a large horse-shoe setup the circle found themselves surrounded on all sides except their back with the door by ornately decorated wooden desks made of exotic dark woods, polished and lacquered with alchemical substances. The councilors were shrouded in darkness, the circle only able to see their silhouettes.

Shadow quickly and quietly noted that the emissary, who officially ‘led’ the council but in reality more just enforced the dogma and announced decrees was not present.

One of the councilors cleared her throat: “We have reviewed your petition. Are you aware of the political implications that the council supporting an anathema temple will have?”

Han quickly replied: “We are not asking that the council support it – merely that the council not oppose it. It will be built near Great Forks, not in Nexus territory”

Another councilor chimed in: “But what if the realm, right now on the brink of civil war, unites in the face of a clear anathema presence in the east – we would stand to lose quite a great deal of profit if the realm stops it infighting in favor of a common enemy”

Han answered with great conviction: “Lookshy still stands, does it not? The realm would never reach Nexus before having to answer to the dragons of Lookshy. If the council sees fit, then a condition of the council not opposing the temple could be Lookshy green-lighting it. If their strategoi judge it not to be a security risk or sufficient excuse for a realm intervention, then there shouldn’t be anything preventing business to continue as usual”

There was silence for a moment. Han briefly glanced at Speaker who gestured that he very much approved Han’s proposal and mention of Lookshy.

It quickly became clear to Speaker that there had to be something magic going on – the councilors weren’t saying anything that the circle could hear, but it was clear from how the silhouettes moved that they were talking.

“We accept your conditions. However, they will not be the only conditions. If you truly have the one called Bright Machine Speaker among you, then we have two additional tasks we demand done as well as part of this agreement to not object or interfere with your temple” A third councilor, a man judging from the voice, said.

The circle listened on as they were explained the two tasks. They were simple enough, but also quite impossible… for mortals. The first was to quell the wyld fire in Firewander. Find the cause of the wyld fire coming from the old capitol building and stop it. The second task was to find a way to stop the seasonal flooding of the lower levels of Nexus. Far too much money was wasted rebuilding every year, plus the flooding hadn’t always been there. It had started roughly 170 years ago during the spring rainy season and now repeated itself every year during Descending Water. It being the middle of Resplendent Fire, this gave the circle six seasons to solve that particular problem, provided that they could fix it until then – otherwise it would take another year before proof could be presented – as the council clearly stated that proof of completion for this task would quite literally be the flooding not happening. Also they were quick to add that it had to be a permanent solution, so if the flooding resumed at some point there would be hell to pay.

Leaving the council tower the circle returned to their apartment further down sentinel hill. They discussed at length how to handle these two tasks – the wyld fire situation seemingly being the easiest to get started on, it being so much closer at hand and so much more tangible… provided that the source of the wyld fire could be stopped, put out, destroyed or contained somehow.
I have a webcomic: - Its kinda like exalted, except more furry, more fanservice, more fun, more sci-fi.
- may contain people being called "bob"
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Essence 6
Essence 6
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Title: Barbabe arbiter of unbound gravitas
Exalt: Alchemical
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Artifact: 4Chans Might
Location: Denmark, land of lego and vikings

Re: Light and darkness

12 Oct 2011, 18:46

>this chapter was tricky to write. It assumes that Fei had some limit built up (or just rolled really badly when gaining limit) - although what actually happened back then with the actual players, was that the guy playing Fei wanted to switch to another character... and didn't care for just retiring Fei. Of course, the way I'm writing it it'll all make sense... I hope.

btw, total page-count on the document I'm writing this in is almost up to a hundred. wow...

Part 12: The greatest sacrifice

That evening the circle gathered on a rooftop in Firewander, on a building facing the huge square in which the old capitol building stood. In the cover of the relative darkness, the wyld fyre giving very erratic light and often throwing off nonsensical shadows, Shimmer flew to the roof of the capitol building – carrying one of a simple but sturdy rope bridge.

The idea was that the rest of the circle could walk together through the wyld fire straight to the roof of the capitol building, then go down the hole in the roof that led down all the way to the vortex device. Of course, the rope would be warped and ‘burnt’ by the wyld fire… so everyone had to hurry. Speaker liked the plan, but did point out that if he had been given a few more days to meditate on the subject, he could have fully remembered a charm that would have allowed him to make the rope bridge immune to the wyld fire’s baleful effects.

Everyone besides Shimmer had to stay close to Speaker as his chaos repelling pattern once again opened a hole in the wyld fire. The rope bridge stretched and bent down in an arch as four men moved across it simultaneously. Shimmer’s swearing on the other side of the flames were also a good indication that it was difficult keeping the rope bridge taught.

The group just barely cleared the wyld fire when part of the rope bridge turned into brittle spun stone, which shattered almost instantly. Fei and Shadow leapt gracefully the rest of the way, covered an inhuman distance through the use of athletics charms. Han managed to use his gauntlets of distant claws to hook himself into the side of the capitol building – which he then slammed into, but didn’t get much more than some nasty bruises. Speaker was a bit more up the rock river with no paddle, falling from a height of some thirty yards.

Shimmer dived after Speaker, but didn’t managed to catch up to him before he was so close that when she caught him Speaker’s still managed to drag along the warped paving, which hurt him a lot more than Han’s impact with the building wall.

Shimmer flew Speaker up to the others, where it was quickly concluded that Speaker had broken his left foot. It was nothing that would kill him – but he would have a limp for at least a day or two until his body regenerated: “We don’t have time for that – Han, you have my med-kit, give it to me”

What followed was a reasonably gruesome bit of self-surgery. Fei and Shadow could only nod in deep respect, while Han felt more likely to throw up, watching as Shimmer rendered expert assistance to Speaker as he performed a miraculous feat of surgery, fully mending crushed bone, snapped tendons and damaged nerves. Sure, it took a few hours and Speaker found himself focusing his mind more on blocking out the pain than on focusing on the surgery, but in the end he was able to stand and walk without any pain at all, although it was clear that it had taken great concentration and effort to remain calm throughout the procedure.

The circle proceeded down the hole, now inside the shell of wyld flame encasing the building. They had brought more rope to safely get down, and with a little creativity the circle rigged up a simple pulley system with some weights waiting on the roof to pushed off, that would be enough haul Han and Speaker safely up from the depths – Shimmer being able to fly and both Fei and Shadow being able to leap great heights and distances. Speaker had thought it up in case they needed to leave the place quickly… him figuring that the fae might not take kindly to their supply of latent potential and wyld energy disappearing.

Down the rabbit hole the circle found the tunnel that led to the… cave. It was just as Speaker and Shimmer had described. Huge, cavernous, roughly spherical, with the bottom half of it being the giant circular maw of a gigantic wyld monster – with the blazing protoshinmaic vortex sphere emitting so much energy, for the lack of a better word, that standing in the ‘doorway’ of the tunnel felt like standing outside in a hurricane.

This made Speaker’s effort’s to shape an iron sphere around the vortex pretty much impossible – as the winds, which weren’t really winds, kept knocking him off balance whenever he tried to concentrate on shaping.

Shadow tried losing a few arrows at the giant beast, which didn’t even seem to notice it. Han similarly found that he couldn’t use his gauntlets of distant claws to pull the sphere closer, the launched claws being blown away before even reaching half-way to the sphere…

Shimmer estimated the sphere to be roughly fifty yards away from where the tunnel opened up into the cave. She figured that with a running start she might be able to fly up to the thing and snatch it before being blown away: “If I tie a rope around my waste you lot can pull me back”

Everyone agreed that it sounded like a plan. The solars edged up against the wall while shimmer, still in her avian beastman form, ran as fast as she could – which was very fast – before diving into the deluge of raw potential. Against her moonsilver-reinforced form the potential crystalized and shattered, as if Shimmer had dived head-first into a row of glass panes. She quickly lost momentum and was pulled back into safety.

Fei didn’t like the situation, well sort of – the huge monster underneath the sphere waiting to eat you, the untold amounst of fae up in the capitol building. He did like a good challenge though, he really like a good challenge…

It was then the circle heard an oddly familiar animal sound: Fei’s panda familiar. How it had gotten down into the tunnel was a mystery only Jupiter knew – but it roared at Fei, calling to his attention. There was a vacant look in the dawn caste’s eyes as he mounted his steed.

The others tried to stop him, calling Fei to dismount – but he rode past everyone with furious intent. The panda leapt from the tunnel doorway to the protoshinmaic vortex, Fei’s anima banner burning brightly as only a bronze tiger could – illuminating the panda’s features to the point that it was not a black and white panda, but a gold and white panda, it seemingly merging with his anima totem. Fei himself roared joyously, his body and great blade warping around the vortex, as his full potential as warrior king of creation was realized for a split second. A blinding light followed and the great behemoth under the vortex groaned and shriveled to dust in seconds…

When the rest of the circle could see again they saw the protoshinmaic vortex encased in what had obviously been Fei’s grand daiklaive, stretched and wrapped around the vortex as a perfect golden sphere. The great winds were no more, so Shimmer quickly flew in and grabbed the golden object. She swore that she could hear Fei laughing inside, along with the sound of sword-fighting.

Speaker and Han carefully examined the sphere, ultimately reaching the startling conclusion that they had no idea what had just happened. None of them had known of Fei’s expression of the great curse; his foolhardy contempt making it impossible for him to back down from a challenge no matter how suicidal it might be. So now Fei’s soul and essence battled the protoshinmaic vortex on a level beyond mortal understanding – keeping it in check, for the time being.

While Speaker did conclude that the orichalcum casing seemed to hold, then it he could also tell that it wouldn’t hold forever. Fei had only been a fledgling solar just like everyone else in the circle – so his power was not great enough to hold the eternal tide of potential that the vortex emitted back forever. This of course begged the question of what to do with the thing.

“How long will it hold?” Shimmer asked, already thinking distances and travel time for her cloud trapeze.

Speaker gave the sphere around half a day, possibly less: “It might hold half a day, but I wouldn’t want to be near the thing in the last few hours – once this thing starts to crack, then all the energy inside that’s building up right now will explode out of it”

Shimmer didn’t like those numbers: “How big an explosion?”

“A lot of people will have to redraw their maps – I don’t even want to know how big a crater this will leave, let alone whatever kind of shadowland or wyld tainted land it will leave behind” Speaker said, feeling very sad at the loss of his friend – and equally depressed knowing that this thing would soon blow up again to destroy even more lives.

Han suggested they find somewhere safe to let it blow up. Shadow asked if they could lob it at the imperial city.

“What place would be safe to chuck this in to? There’s probably nothing left in creation that can drain that much power fast enough to absorb all this energy” Speaker said, really not liking that they now essentially had to choose what country gets annihilated.

Shimmer pointed out that no matter what then they needed to get away from Nexus: “Plus, the fae should have noticed that something is wrong by now – if we don’t leave now, then Fei’s sacrifice will be for nothing!”

The circle, what was left of it, quickly their way up to the roof of the capitol building. On the roof Shimmer conjured her cloud trapeze.

“Fly east” Speaker said, sounding as if he had an idea.

Shimmer obeyed, waiting with any questions until they had cleared the city limits.

“I was thinking – there’s nothing that can drain the power building up here, but what if we don’t have to – what if we just focus it?” Speaker said, now sounding like he really had a plan.

Shadow interrupted wondering why they don’t just fly up and drop the sphere in the middle of Grey Falls – Speaker sternly said that he would not sacrifice the soul of a solar to use as a mere weapon: “Fei deserves better than that, and I think we can honor his sacrifice much better than that”

“What’s better than using a dawn caste soul as the ultimate weapon to annihilate our enemies!?” Shadow argued.

Shimmer dope-slapped Shadow with a wing: “Because if we do that then you can be sure the realm will come calling for our blood – probably invading all of the river provinces because of it. Think for once! Now Speaker, what do you have in mind?”

Speaker explained that they just needed to get to a place that could channel and funnel the energy from the sphere into something… different. Plus, from what he was sensing then what was inside the orichalcum sphere wasn’t a protoshinmaic vortex anymore – it was different, as if the vortex was ‘spent’ somehow: “I don’t know how – I really don’t; from what little I remember of how these things actually work, then it shouldn’t be possible, but then again what Fei did shouldn’t have been possible either”

Speaker’s plan was to chuck the sphere into the bonfire inside the demesne they had rescued the farm girl from – pure and simple. The idea was that the energy built up inside felt… solar, rather than chaotic potential. If they released all that essence in a demesne then there was a good chance that it could dissipate it the way a demesne normally dissipates the essence that gathers in it.

Shadow didn’t really know anything how demesnes worked, and since his suggestion had already been shot down then he simply silently agreed to the plan. Han found, of what little he understood of Speaker’s reasoning, that it might be possible… but that there probably was an equal chance of leveling the shoreline of the yellow river north of Great Forks for miles around. Of course, considering that the alternative meant leveling another area just as big, then this seemed to at least give some hope to the circle for a solution not involving what would amount to detonating a weaponized charge of essence of geomantic proportions.

Shimmer’s cloud made to the tiny freehold in just under six and a half hours, but at that point the sphere was already starting to ‘bulge’ – which did not bode well. The circle entered the freehold and was greeted by the mad raksha living inside. Speaker turned the un-shaping gun on the creature, shredding its assumption of grandeur – reducing it to an ovoid melon-sized lump of white jade.

Shadow picked up the egg while Han held a rousing eulogy for Fei, stating that while they had only known each other for a few months, then he felt as if he had lost a lifelong friend. Han grieved creations loss of a great warrior and a fine future leader: “…and so I promise you Fei, we will watch for your glorious return. We will be waiting”

Speaker threw the sphere into the freehold’s bonfire – the center and expression of the essence that concentrates in the area.

“So… now what?” Shadow said, turning to Han and Speaker. Shimmer was looking quizzical as well.

Speaker took a deep breath and wiped a tear from his eye: “Now… now we run” Which he did. Everyone else followed in seconds; Shadow using athletics charms to cover a lot of ground very quickly, Shimmer changing into her avian beastman form again and flying at great speed – leaving Han and Speaker behind as the two slowest runners, although by mortal standards they were sprinting at a furious pace.

Problem was just that the freehold seemed to… extend, towards the exit. The more Shimmer flew, the more Shadow ran, the longer the exit seemed to be away. When they slowed down it neared them. Speaker tried stopping for a moment to see if that helped. It didn’t. Instead the sphere exploded, causing the hill in which the freehold was located to cave in, burying everyone alive.

Speaker came to as something poked him in the neck – it was Shimmer, in the form of a mole. There wasn’t enough room for her to turn into a human to talk to him, but her tell of shark teeth and moonsilver tattoos were obvious to him. So… how to get out of this mess alive? It was a perfectly valid question. Shimmer had dug off somewhere, probably looking for the others.

It was then that a series of shockwaves rocked the dirt and rocks around Shimmer, probably the hill collapsing even further. Speaker took a moment to gauge how much air he had left in the tiny pocket he was in. He gave himself a minute or two before he would start choking. Then Shimmer came back, along with a breath of fresh air – literally. Apparently she had tunneled to the surface and back again, giving Speaker an air supply. Speaker tried calling through the tiny tunnel in the dirt to hear if there were anyone topside. There was no reply – and Shimmer had dug off again.

A minute later shockwaves pounded through the dirt and rocks again, and moments later Speaker found himself nearly cut in half as three great claws tore away at the dirt! It was Han, with his gauntlets, having pounded away at the dirt, moving huge swaths of it to quickly dig deep enough to find Speaker. Shadow was also free of the dirt, Shimmer having freed him first since they had been buried close together.

With everyone out of the collapsed freehold, the ground started to shift. Speaker felt an odd sense of release and thankfulness – not his own though. Then a bright light lit up from within the collapsed hill. The dirt reshuffled itself, reshaping the round hill into a pointed cone-shaped hill. On top a light appeared, and Speaker and the others could have sworn that they saw a faint image of Fei riding his golden panda off into the sky, finally returning to lethe.

“That was beautiful” Han said absentmindedly.

Speaker didn’t say anything – feeling oddly… weird. It wasn’t a sensation he had experienced before in this lifetime, but he remembered it clearly having happened in his past life. It was his essence. It felt different, it felt more, it felt purer. Shimmer was quick to spot the difference in all of them: “Everyone, your essence, its different!”

It appeared that Fei had given the circle one last gift – his essence empowered by the endless potential having purified his circlemates’ essence in the blast.

Shadow found it oddly amusing: “He always threatened with whipping us into shape – I guess he felt that he had to do it before he left”

Speaker was still speechless. It was a strange rush coming to him, almost like when he had exalted. It felt good, it allowed him to think clearer – he also felt more in touch with reality. He moved a hand and felt how it coursed through more latent essence around him than usual. This was incredibly weird, but he really liked it.

The next week or so was spent camping around the conical mound. Even Shadow could tell that it wasn’t a wood aspected demesne anymore – it was clearly solar. They could all feel how it resonated and harmonized with their essence – and Shimmer had the charms to definitively confirm it.

Shimmer didn’t stay during the week, having to update her elders on the events that had happened. The remaining solars spent the time growing accustomed to their new power – mainly through rediscovering and learning charms they previously hadn’t known of or been able to use.

Speaker also addressed a somewhat more serious issue with the remaining circle: “What if something like the rope-bridge happens again? What if someone dispels Shimmer’s cloud while we’re flying on it?”

This led to a brief but enlightening discussion on athletics charms, Speaker spending a day balancing on thin poles in order to learn the secret of the graceful crane stance by Shadow, followed by Speaker spending a couple of days teaching shadow how to cook without using basic tools such as a hearth, pots, pans and knives. The time Speaker didn’t spend pointing Shadow in the right direction he spent meditating to remember the proper form charm of the unique martial arts style he had known in his last incarnation.

Han didn’t stick around for too long after Speaker and Shadow started teaching each other charms – he agreed that a safeguard against falling from the sky would be handy, but he already knew what how he wanted to do that: Sorcery. Beyond that, then Han somehow talked a local stag into letting him ride it to the farmers they’d rescue the girl for, where he inquired as to who actually owned the property rights for the demesne. To the admittedly limited knowledge of the farmers then nobody did, for it had been haunted by fae until Han and his friends had purged it… the farmers not yet knowing what had happened to the place.

Han then rode off to Great Forks, the stag taking him as far as the north shore of the yellow river, Great Forks visible on the other side. If what Han was thinking was to happen, then Speaker would have to build a bridge over the river.

Han returned at the end of the week, Shimmer giving him a curious look as he rode into camp on the stag. Speaker looked even more surprised when Han insisted that Speaker give the stag some medical care… as payment for services rendered apparently – the stag hag’s left from hoof hurt a little. Shimmer couldn’t stop laughing.

It turned out that Han had staked a claim for the demesne in Great Forks. The land north of the yellow river near Great Forks was technically part of its dominium, so Han was allowed to purchase the land and the rights to the demesne: “Now we have a locations for our temple!”

The circle was duly impressed.

It was then that Speaker realized that everyone was looking at him to build the damn temple: “You know, it takes more than one to make a temple…”

“What are you talking about – you got singing staff for that” Han said.

Speaker didn’t quite understand what his walking stick had to do with building a manse – he knew it was called a singing staff, because he remembered it from his past life, but he had always thought it was just a name. His past self’s tomb had been so care of other useful artifacts that Speaker had thought the staff to simply be something of more sentimental value than practical value.

Han enlightened Speaker – and the rest of the circle – to the staff’s powers. Of course, Speaker had already attuned himself to the thing, but he had no musical talent what so ever. Indeed, Speaker admitted that he had been banned from a poetry-club after him reciting a particularly bad poem: “Well, it might not have been that bad – but the owner was really picky… and I might have been trying to court his daughter”

Ultimately the question of Speaker learning how to ‘play’ his staff wasn’t a problem: Han’s exaltation had endowed him with a musical talent that could make gods envious, so he could teach – but Speaker had an ever better solution, namely a handful of education charms Speaker intended to learn.

The question wasn’t just the temple to the Unconquered Sun. Speaker asked what the circle was going to do once the temple was built, now that there didn’t seem to be much doubt that it was going to happen.

Shimmer was quick to point out that her ‘long term projects’ back west didn’t require her help anymore, barring any major disaster – so she was content with tagging along with whatever Speaker was doing, being a faithful lunar mate.

Shadow somewhat reluctantly admitted that he wished to redistribute the wealth of creation – too many people suffered needlessly while the wealthy elites hoarded what little good there was in the world. Han’s immediate goal was to get the temple up and running, but he did note that he had no intention of settling down to minister: “The immaculate faith tells people to fear us – I want to see that attitude changed one way or the other”

This left Speaker to declare his intentions. Everyone looked at him with anticipation: “I want to enlighten all mortals”

“What?” Shadow blurted out. He had an idea of what Speaker was saying, but to enlighten all mortals?

Speaker explained himself, pointing out that he remembered the first age quite well – mainly in that mortals still toiled, just under different masters… namely solar masters. Sure, mortals were a lot more likely to be literate, have access to trained healers, running water, a steady and varied food supply – but ultimately they were still insects under the solar’s boots.

“I’m aware that it won’t make them equals – but it will help to a great degree. Artifact use, manse attunement, hearthstones, sorcery – it should no longer be a privilege only for chosen, god-blooded and whatnot” Speaker explained.

Everyone was quiet for a moment. It was clear that Speaker’s intentions were good – and having more enlightened mortals around wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing… but it was equally clear that it would entail changes in society beyond their comprehension. To that end the natural fear of the unknown reared its ugly head. It would be impossible to tell how a society where everyone could use essence would work.

“Right, so what’s for short term goals?” Shimmer asked, hoping to keep Speaker’s head out of the clouds. She had been warned/urged by her elders to keep her solar mate’s feet on the ground – and this definitely looked like something she didn’t want Speaker to focus on right now… mainly because it just didn’t seem possible. A solar running around enlightening mortals? The imaculates would throw a fit, not to mention what the rest of the realm might say.

Han was having similar doubts. It was common for gods living in Great Forks to reward one of their faithful each year by enlightening them, effectively making them god-blooded – but a solar coming in an stealing their thunder? Suffice to say that Han was more afraid of their retribution rather than the realm, but he chose to keep quiet – the promise of enlightened essence would be a great way to sway people to worship the unconquered sun, and if things kept going their way Han figured they might end up with a power base big enough that they would be able to withstand the wrath of gods or the realm.

Shadow seemed positive after thinking about it – enlightening the people would go a long way in allowing the everyman access to the wonders of the first age, but unlike the others he did make Speaker aware of a ‘flaw’ in the plan: “So… you wan’t to make everyone like the Djala?”

Speaker knew of the Djala. He’d seen a few Djala slaves for sale in Nexus… the tiny spotted folk of the south, all of which had naturally enlightened essence. The entire race was enslaved. It was obvious that if Speaker started enlightening people, someone else – probably the guild or the realm, could start enslaving them and using them just like Djala.

Shimmer carefully observed Speaker. She didn’t know how he responded to having his plans blown down like this – would he take it badly? She had heard tales from her elders of solars who’s wrath were legendary when anyone dared defy them. Of gods of thunder and storms being enslaved or ground up starmetal for upsetting a tea party, or other petty things. She even knew of stories she hadn’t been told, at least to the extent that her elders had occationally mentioned another lunar named Lilith as an example of horrible solars, but never explained why – Shimmer guessing that he must have been really bad.

It didn’t surprise her really. Shimmer was well aware that all humans had the potential for cruelty. It was human nature to try to dominate its surrounding and fellow men, to ensure the best conditions for one’s own family and offspring. It was an animal thing really. Of course, when endowed with the power of a solar exaltation, well… it didn’t really change the person, only what the person could do.

To everyone’s relief Speaker took Shadow’s criticism well. In fact, Speaker admitted that with such a flaw it would be much wiser to focus on securing and unifying the east under one banner – something that by no means would have to conflict with Shadow and Han’s goal. They could work together to create a united eastern empire, uniting the river provinces. It was an ambitious goal, but if they could get the wiggle room they needed to set up the temple and start drawing in worshipers – and then recruiting from them, then things might just start happening.

Shimmer couldn’t help but think about all the lunars who’s thousand streams project these three solars alone would start to disrupt with plans like that – and with hundreds of solars returning? Sacrifices would have to be made, but still…

This would be interesting times to live in.
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Essence 6
Essence 6
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Title: Barbabe arbiter of unbound gravitas
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Re: Light and darkness

22 Oct 2011, 16:40

>Hmm... consider the fluff on Karal Linwei, does this seem like a likely first meeting?

Explainy spoiler to the above statement: I'm writing Karal Fire Orchid as a dawn caste... specifically Fei's next incarnation, exalting just a week before the circle arrives at Lookshy.

Also, a previously un-used favored war ability is costly to ramp up to 5 in one go, but why not?

Part 13: Crouching solar, Lookshy’s dragon

The next ‘thing’ on the to-do list was to somehow ‘fix’ the seasonal flooding of Nexus. Right… the flooding that happens due to the eastern rainy season.

“So, we’ll just have to… change all of the eastern weather patterns? Raise nexus up in the air? Reroute the rivers?” Speaker wondered, not being sure how to solve this problem.

Han suggested a somewhat simpler solution: “How about we ask the gods of the rivers to stop flooding nexus? At the very least we can probably find out the rivers flood their banks, see if there’s another solution that way around”

Speaker reminded Han that it was the eastern weather that was to blame – so looking for an easier scapegoat was meaningless. Still, if they could get the gods of the rivers to hold their water then this might be an easy fix.

Shimmer pointed out that Nexus did actually have a nice big dam over the yellow river that was mainly used as a bridge. Closing the dam would prevent the most serious flooding.

“Yes, that’s true – but it’s a fairly well-known fact in Great Forks that if that ever happens then Great Forks and every other major city up the yellow river will be buried under fifty feet of water” Han noted, shooting down Shimmer’s quick-fix scheme.

Speaker shook his head: “Gods it is then – how are we going to get their attention Han?”

Neither Speaker or Shadow had ever been overly pious people. Shimmer and Han were by far more religious in their reverence to the respective gods they owed their exaltation to, and of those two then Han had a talent for prayer, owing to his time in the illuminates as a preacher.

The trick was that prayer was more than just reciting rhymes and psalms, counting prayer beads and performing a ritual – there had to soul in it, there had to rhythm. It wasn’t unlike conducting an orchestra, or performing music in general. The evening prayer many gave to the immaculate dragon was just that, a simple little prayer – but to get the attention of a deity, to actually get your message through, required talent.

Han had that talent.

Breaking camp, the circle walked for a few hours to get to the northern banks of the yellow river. Han took off his shoes, his tunic, his pants and walked naked out into the water until it reached his knees.

On shore Speaker had to wonder why Han was undressing – not that Han was ugly to look at, quite the opposite. Shimmer seemed very pleased with the view. Speaker simply wondered if wearing a more ceremonial garb wasn’t a bit more appropriate?

“Beauty and clothes does not make a prayer. It’s the yearning behind it, the spirit, the effort put into it. Han is humbling himself as part of the prayer. I guess he doesn’t want to give the impression that we want to force the god to do anything… if we get a god to talk to” Shimmer mused, enjoying the view of Han’s pert back-side.

Speaker, feeling rather uncomfortable over Shimmer ogling Han, paused to ask what Shimmer meant by if.

“Well, in my experience gods come in three flavors. They’re either lazy and won’t do their most of their duties as gods unless you bribe them, usually with prayer and offerings, Great Forks have plenty of these. Then there’s the sort that actively seeks out and blackmails mortals for worship, holding whatever they have domain over as ransom… like a river god keeping fish out of your nets unless you sacrifice part of your catch to it. Finally there’s the rare dutiful god, not many of those left” Shimmer elaborated, sounding like she had encountered far too many lazy or malicious gods.

Han then began singing. It was a beautiful ode, praising the still waters and the rich bounty within, ended with a simple and polite request to meet the god of the yellow river. When done he got out of the water and got dressed again. Shimmer couldn’t but make a humorous observation regarding the apparent temperature of the river water.

Han expressed that he was certain that he had gotten through to the god: “Call it clerical instinct”

A few minutes later a water elemental representing the god of the yellow river’s court appeared out of the water, showing itself as a rippling sphere of slightly murky river water with shining lights inside. Its voice resonated inside everyone’s head: “I speak for lord Drunken Carp Lover, to whom am I talking?”

Stifling the urge to giggle over the god’s name, Han explained their plight regarding Nexus and its seasonal flooding.

While Han and the elemental spoke, a thought occurred to Speaker which he shared with Shimmer: “Does Great Forks experience similar flooding?”

“Not that I know of… while we were there I didn’t see any sign of flood damage. Not the harbor facilities or the buildings in the city” Shimmer said, understanding why Speaker was inquiring into this.

“If the flooding only happens around Nexus then it’s a local problem – not something that all who live near the yellow river suffer with” Speaker mused, wondering how such a phenomena could occur.

Han provided that information, the elemental leaving the circle. Han explained that according to the drunkard, then there was nothing in the yellow river that should cause the flooding: “During and right after the rainy season, that elemental and others under the god’s command speed up the flow of the river to accommodate the extra water. The problem according to it is the Yanaze River not accepting the water fast enough. We need to contact the god of that river, not the yellow or the grey river”

With this new information, the circle decided to return to Nexus. They would need to pack up their belongings in sentinel hill, as well as packing up Speaker’s workshop. They would move on to Lookshy, contacting the Yanaze river’s god there, as well as make contact to Lookshy’s government to get their green light for the temple to the Unconquered Sun.

Returning to Nexus that evening, the circle found their sentinel hill dwelling raided in their absence. Shadow wasn’t that surprised, plus whoever had gone through their belongings had found anything of value. Shadow had hidden their money well, and their artifacts were all stored elsewhere. Shimmer did mourn the loss of a nice dress that had been taken, but Speaker said he would get her a prettier dress once in Lookshy.

Upon leaving, the circle noticed a mark on the inside of their front door. A large sun burst had been burnt into the wood. The people who had done this had obviously known of Speaker’s reputation as anathema. This turned out to be quite accurate, as upon leaving their home the circle found itself trapped by a twenty armed men and women clad in dark cloth, obscuring their identity. It was an ambush.

Speaker couldn’t use Gift, as the noise it would make would attract even more attention. Shimmer could similarly not change into any of her beastman forms, as that would reveal her as lunar – Han and Shadow faced similar choices: using charms and artifacts would reveal their true nature.

“Which one is it?” one of the assassins called out.

“Does it matter, they live with anathema – they’re probably all bad!” another said.

“Shouldn’t there be mercenaries policing the streets?” Shimmer whispered to Shadow.

“They rarely come out at night, aside from their own neighborhoods. They do drag away bodies in the morning though” Shadow replied in kind. He was quite upset that he couldn’t use his stealth charms, seeing as he had already been spotted coming out of the apartment. He could only see one option, and he really didn’t like that; they would have to fight – and probably reveal all of them as anathema.

Shimmer sensed Shadow’s frustrations and so decided to give the assassins a suitable distraction. She stepped in front of the circle, putting herself between the assassins and the circle. Then she took off her top and started to dance what was probably some western tribal fertility dance… her dance moves and the shaking of her hips, accentuations of her breasts and quite provocative style certainly would make that plausible.

The dancing didn’t distract the assassins for long, but her flurry of motion and her dreadlocked hair flailing about gave Shadow enough of a distraction to sneak off, his escape aided by charms.

What happened next happened very quickly. Shadow snuck into position behind the assassins and started picking off those furthest back with his orichalcum powerbow and conjured fowling arrows. The assassins were apparently mainly dressed to conceal themselves, not wearing any armor. Shadow managed to silently knock five of the twenty assassins out before it was noticed, causing the remaining assassins to turn and look. It was obvious that these people weren’t that well trained or well disciplined.

Han and Shimmer struck when the assassins’ backs were turned – although fists versus assassins blades was a tough fight. Speaker snapped to and joined in seconds later, prying up cracked cobblestones and throwing them with great accuracy at the assassins as well, aiming primarily to disarm them.

The tiny battle raged for about twenty minutes, Han and Shimmer getting some rather nasty cuts along the way. Shadow made great use of his bow, felling several assassins with conjured frog croth arrows. Ultimately all the assassins were either knocked out or dead. Speaker quickly rushed to tend to Han’s wounds, berating him for his lack of ox-body techniques. Shimmer had already healed up, using lunar healing charms that put even the best of Speaker’s medical skills to shame.

Shadow had to wonder why there weren’t any dragonbloods in the group. If these assassins had been sent by the immaculates in lieu of monks, then they would have sent dragonbloods – the immaculates weren’t stupid enough to send mortals to their death against powerful anathema.

Searching the bodies, a somewhat macabre task that Shadow found surprisingly gratifying, it was discovered that the leader of the assassins was carrying writings that indicated that they were a group of bounty hunters: “I’m actually a bit surprised that nobody tried to get at you here sooner Speaker”

A quick examination of the mess inside the apartment again led Speaker to conclude that their dwelling had been ransacked several days earlier. This supported Shadow’s notion that the bounty hunters had probably been lying in wait for quite a while.

“Hey guys, what are going to do with all their weapons?” Shimmer asked, having collected a nice pile of swords. They were of local manufacture, not bad quality, but nothing spectacular either. Still, it was twenty-some swords, enough to make a lot of trouble if local gangs were allowed to pick the bodies clean after the circle left.

Han suggested they stash the weapons in Speaker’s workshop. They already had the talent of white jade from Denansdor there, so why not add to the storage? Speaker spent a few hours making the surplus iron from their venture into the old capitol building into a surprisingly strong, jade infused, reinforced door with a very good lock. It would take great effort to get inside the workshop now.

Leaving the city by dawn, the circle was tired but they managed to hold out until they reached the hinterlands surrounding Lookshy. They settled down in a roadside inn, booking four rooms. Speaker and Shimmer finally got to share a private room together for the first time. They made the most of it – and Speaker did indeed introduce Shimmer to a few ascetic solar love-making sutras.

The later in the afternoon the circle was well rested – Shimmer and Speaker especially so – allowing the circle to continue towards Lookshy.

They were still quite far out from Lookshy, but Speaker insisted that they not travel by sorcery at the moment. Lookshy controlled its skies quite well, its airship fleet being renowned as the only real airship fleet in creation – and they didn’t take well to unannounced fliers. Speaker did note that it shouldn’t be impossible to get permission to use flighty sorcery inside Lookshy’s borders, but it would have to be approved first… provided Teresu Gido didn’t get to them first. With that in mind, Speaker informed the circle of Gido’s attempt on his life – warning them of him.

“Will he be able to attack us when we’re in Lookshy?” Han wondered.

Speaker shrugged: “He shouldn’t. Remember, I’m still officially on indefinite leave, not exiled or anything – attacking a fellow Lookshyan citizen is a serious crime. But either way it all depends on how Lookshy’s government reacts to us. They know what I am, and you can be sure that they’ll want to know why you lot travel with me. I’d honestly prefer if we all revealed our true nature to Lookshy, even if just to the general staff or the council. If we are to gain Lookshy’s favor for the temple, they should know what we have to offer”

The rest of the circle could see the logic in what Speaker said, and Han did point out that it was well known in Great Forks that the immaculate philosophy used in Lookshy was by no means that of the blessed isle – it was more practical; not nearly as likely to judge a man based on dogma, but on his actions. Still, it was no secret that there was good number of traditional practitioners of the immaculate faith in Lookshy. The circle would have to tread carefully, even if the local government allowed their presence – a lynch mob wasn’t usually as easy to reason with.

Shadow found the situation funny: “In Great Forks jealous gods might come after us if they knew our true nature, in Nexus someone might see us as a threat to profit margins… and here, it boils down to whether we can show ourselves to be an asset or a threat to national security. I think the, what did you call them Han, the maidens are having a grand laugh on our account”

Having had plenty of experience managing various western tribes and villages, Shimmer simply pointed out that one could never please everyone – and if you tried to, one more often than not ended up pleasing no-one.

Using some of what little money the circle had left from Shadow and Fei’s earnings a horse was purchased. The circle then walked off to a wooded area out of sight where Shimmer then sat down next to the horse and seemed to meditate next to it for a few hours, while Speaker began a wondrous dance of tree-punching, shattering the logs into perfect planks with one blow and a good deal of essence.

Speaker had a nice four-man buggy ready in no time, upon which Shimmer got up and thanked the horse, then shapeshifted into her avian beastman form, with four inch claws and everything – and ripped the stillbeating heart of the horse out, after which she drank some of the blood oozing out of it.

The others just looked at her in a mix of awe and terror, Speaker very much so. However, when Shimmer then shapeshifted into a horse and trotted up in front of the buggy everyone breathed a sigh of relief. At least they knew how Shimmer learnt new forms to change into.

When Shimmer, still in the form of a horse, then impatiently called for the others to hitch her up – but not to use a bridle, Shadow just about lost it. He laughed so hard that he fell over. Shimmer didn’t see the joke. Han managed to keep a straight face. Speaker struggled to hold back his snickering, but ultimately stubbornly held his tongue.

The circle made their way the last stretch to Lookshy’s outer city walls. There were several patrols moving around – the circle even saw a warstrider walk past them. While Speaker had seen such marvels enough to have become rather desensitized to wonders casually walking by, then everyone else stared in awe. Shimmer’s reaction was a bit more ‘bodily’, depositing a handsome bucket-worth of road-apples as the warstrider walked by.

As the circle neared the main gates of the outer wall of Lookshy Shimmer pulled over. The landscape was that of pleasant fields of grain and scattered farm-houses. A roadside ditch gave Shimmer a nice place to jump into to get momentarily out of view of any nearby farmers – allowing her to change back into a human. The circle walked the last few miles, although Shadow did comment that it’d be nice if they could get friendly enough that they could fly around here on Shimmer’s cloud, instead of having to jump through hoops to hide their means of transportation.

Speaker agreed, saying again that he hoped they would be able to do so – although at the moment he had different worries: “All Lookshyan citizens have a transit pass to give them access to areas usually off-limits… Mine gave me access to the district of schools, as well as the district of barracks. I lost it when Teresu Gido snatched me off the boat to Great Forks before I met you lot”

Shadow didn’t see the problem. Han at least asked why it was an issue. Speaker explained: “Well… first of all it would identify me. When I left Lookshy the city was full of rumors that I might be anathema. There’s no telling how that’s worded now. Without my transit pass showing that I am still worthy of access to usually restricted parts of the city, someone might just accuse me of truly being a demon trying to enter the city in the guise of a man”

Even Shimmer had to admit that that sounded a bit farfetched.

Speaker sighed. He said that losing your transit pass was, depending on what areas it allowed access to, considered anything from a minor offence to a crime worth many years in prison. Access to the district of school’s wasn’t an issue – but access to the district of barracks… that might get him in trouble. Of course, since he lost the pass due to Gido’s actions…

It was then that Shimmer dope-slapped Shimmer dope-slapped Speaker and told him to start acting like a proper Solar and not a scared little child.

Arriving at the city gate the circle was let in without any problems. This surprised Han, considering Lookshy’s reputation for security. Speaker thought about it for a moment: “Of course… Shimmer put us down inside the promontory – I guess they check people there, not a the city wall”

This proved to be somewhat untrue: The circle hadn’t taken more than ten steps inside before a couple of guards called them over, asking for the names and what their business was in Lookshy.

Speaker introduced himself, stating that he was here to set an appointment with the general staff on matters of state security: “…and these are just people I’ve traveled with, who wanted to see the marvel that is Lookshy”

The guard seemed the buy the story, nodding: “Whatever you say. The metics can’t go beyond the fourth ring and lower city. May I see your transit pass?”

The look of dread on Speaker’s face was all the guard needed, him politely asking what happened to it. Speaker said it had been stolen in Nexus. The guard did not seem surprised and simply told Speaker to get a new one at the security directorate office across the street. To say that Speaker was relieved would have been an understatement.

The circle was about to move on into the district of trade when another guard came running out and stopped them. He asked if Speaker really was ‘the’ Bright Machine Speaker…

“Well that is my name, why?” Speaker said, getting worried.

The guardsman’s face lost all color. Han could see him silently and slowly mouthing the word “Anathema”. The other guard then asked what this was about. This seemed to snap the frightened guard out of it. He explained that there was a standing order for Speaker to be escorted to Taimyo Karal Linwei.

Shimmer was the only one in the group who hadn’t heard of the famous Taimyo of Lookshy’s first field force – but Speaker was oddly reassured. He spotted a tavern and told the others to fill Shimmer in there and wait for him: “I’ll probably be back soon – or in a later incarnation”

The city gate guards signaled for two other soldiers to come up and escort Speaker to the Taimyo.

Speaker was brought up through the district of trade, artisans, savants and finally the district of the legion, where the operations directorate has its headquarters. Old faded shogunate buildings filled most of the district, and Speaker was a bit surprised when he was led into a washed out yellow and orange building with a big sign on top that said “Tivi Sava Loan Commision Building”. Inside were numerous offices, but the deal of the day wasn’t a good loan – it was military strategy and tactics.

The office of Taimyo Karal Linwei was… sparsely decorated, but what little decoration there was emphasized her greatest victories – and as a son of Lookshy Speaker couldn’t help but feel awed by the sight of the various battle standards, torn helmets and other trophies of beasts, fae and foes from near and far. It stirred deep patriotic feelings in him, but more importantly it revealed to Speaker a side of himself he had not known of until now.

Speaker found himself staring at the Taimyo’s trophies, his razor intellect and newly awakened strategic genius piecing together the weapon types use to inflict the various types of damage evident, what battle they were from – it caught Speaker very much by surprise.

“Are you quite finished?” said an obviously angry voice behind a desk a bit further in the room. It was the Taimyo. She was not pleased.

Speaker quickly turned to face her, looking apologetic. One of the soldiers escorting him gave Speaker a swift backhand over the head. The Taimyo instantly ordered the soldier to stop that: “…consider what Speaker is rumored to be you show a surprisingly great courage in striking him. Or maybe its stupidity? Be gone both of you”

Speaker did a quick tactical and strategic evaluation. He had never really done something like this before to this degree – sure, he had his basic officer’s training as part of joining the medical corps, but this level of evaluating a situation had been beyond him until now: The Taimyo wanted to speak with him alone. Would she want to kill him? No, she would need charms for that at this range, and that would mean too much collateral damage – possibly the burning down of the whole building. Then what? If she wants privacy then it’s probably something the rest of Lookshy shouldn’t know about, or maybe just those two soldiers. Speaker’s mind wandered all over the place, thinking up possible scenarios that might happen.

“ATTEN-TION!” karal Linwey barked, once again snapping Speaker would of his fugue.

“Right, what can I do for you – for Lookshy?” Speaker said, standing to attention.

Karal Linwei sized Speaker up. She hadn’t personally met him, but he had served under him as a medic to gonzosha – which meant that his exaltation had painted her in a bad picture, not made any better by more recent… events.

The Taimyo got up from her desk chair, a curious shogunate relic that allowed one to swivel around. She looked young, although for a dragonblood that merely meant that she was less than a century old. Fiery red hair, martial grace and a uniform treated with red jade to not take damage from her fiery temper made her look quite imposing in the otherwise drab office: “To begin with you could prove that you’re not a demon in mortal guise…”

Well there was a challenge. Speaker’s mind sped into action, furiously thinking up a way to satisfy the request of his superior officer: “In the realm they usually ‘test’ you by… say, drowning, execution, or a pyre. If you die you die a martyr’s death and you’ll surely reincarnate as a dragonblood, if not you’re certainly anathema and you’re killed. Honestly I’m not much of a fan of any of those tests”

The Taimyo sighed deeply. She was well aware that ‘disproving’ a person being anathema could be tricky – but equally then recent events had made her doubt that even positive proof was a bad thing. She just didn’t have any means to prove it: “You’re right. This is not the realm, but Gens Maheka as a whole, the younger parts of Gens Amilar and good parts of the helotry are quite faithful to the immaculate philosophy. If I don’t do something there could very well be riots over your return”

The fact that Linwei spoke in terms that seemed to obviously reveal that she had little interest in punishing Speaker came as quite a surprise. What was her motive for this? Ugh – Han would have been a good help here: “In Nexus me and some friends did the impossible in service of the council of entities. We stopped the wyld fire of Firewander district. It was wyld tainted protoshinmaic vortex. We lost a man I would dare call closest anyone can come to being the perfect righteous warrior. If he had lived he would surely had both reached and surpassed this. We disposed of the unstable vortex in a raksha freehold north of Great Forks, slaying the fae inside and greatly empowering the demesne. You should be able to verify this with the Lookshy Embassy there”

The Taimyo nodded slowly, seemingly waiting for Speaker to explain more than mere claims of past deeds.

Took a deep breath and continued: “The council didn’t expect us to be able to do this – but they too knew of what I am. For the record, I’m a Solar Exalt – exalted by the Unconquered Sun. Task me with the impossible. Task me with impossible challenges that would greatly benefit Lookshy. Let me earn my honor as a true son of Lookshy!”

Karal Linwei sat down again, careful thinking for a moment: “You… You are aware that the realm will most likely take great offensive to Lookshy officially cooperates with… solars”

Speaker said he was well aware of the possibility. He then pointed out that all the Taimyo had to do was make sure that if he was successful, then Lookshy would stand so much stronger against the Realm that it outweighed any negative responses.

“You want me to task you with something that will outweigh the cost of lives, military resources and artifact use that comes with another realm invasion?” Karal Linwei said, at the same time both impressed by his valor but also very doubtful of his ability to do such a thing.

“Me and my friends braved the greatest blight of Nexus and tore out its heart – I am exalted by the god of virtue and perfection. There is very little I can’t see done if I put my mind to it” Speaker said, surprisingly confident.

The Taimyo had to admit; she liked the cut of Speaker’s jib – but it would take time investigation his claim of the demesne north of Nexus. Speaker didn’t want to wait, to which end he took a few steps back and focused his mind for a moment to summon his pair of white jade hearthstone bracers from Denansdor.

Karal Linwei looked on with cautious amazement as Speaker recalled the bracers from elsewhere. Dragonbloods did not have the ability to send things elsewhere at all – so when Speaker suddenly held the white jade bracers it came as quite a shock.

Speaker put them down on her desk and asked her to look them and tell him where they are from. A few minutes of careful examination left the great field force commander and general staff member at a loss for words. Artifacts from Denansdor? The design was distinctly in the style of the few shogunate era hearthstone bracers Lookshy had: “You’ve been to the dead city?”

“Been there, had a poke at the city manse, its vaults. If you give me a day I can show you the talent we lifted from the city’s treasury” Speaker said, smiling greatly.

Karal Linwei was beginning to think that the eventual report back from the Great Forks Embassy might just confirm Speaker’s claims. Shogunate era artifacts were incredibly rare – this wasn’t something bartered for at Nexus, or taken from a random hundred kingdom warlord.

Speaker was wondering if he should show off his Singing Staff – but he strongly suspected that he might then be asked to hand it over to Lookshy as part of him getting solars off the ‘anathema list’. He loved Lookshy, yes – but he was very certain that once he learned how to use it, then he could make far greater use of it. This was an artifact for more than quickly making fortifications and digging ditches. He sent the bracers back to elsewhere.

The Taimyo asked, not ordered, Speaker to remain in Lookshy until she could confirm his claims about the demesne. It might take a while depending on how far the demesne was from Great Forks, although with the directions Speaker had given to find it – mainly to look for it at night from the north shore of the yellow river directly north of Great Forks, then it shouldn’t be hard to spot. Equally he mentioned that it should currently be owned by his friend Han Xiago of Great Forks, in case that came up in the investigation.

“Why would you lay claim to the demesne? Planning on building a manse?” The Taimyo asked, just as Speaker was turning to leave.

“Yes actually, a grand temple to the Unconquered Sun. I wish to honor the god that has given me the power to help enlighten creation” Speaker said.

“Enlighten Creation?” The Taimyo said, curious and cautious.

“Given time, maybe a few years, maybe less, I should be able to enlighten the essence of mortals. It is my dream to ensure that no Gunzosha trooper of Lookshy will ever die young from the effects of their armor. Plus, imagine their power if able to atune to daiklaives and essence weapons. I want to see Lookshy rise. I will be in the market district, at the Sturdy Lotus.” Speaker said, leaving before Karal Linwei had a chance to question him on any of what he had just said.

Speaker left the Taimyo’s office only to be greeted by the two soldiers that had escorted him there in the first place. They peeked inside and asked where he was to be escorted to. The Taimyo, sounding distinctly confused and distraught, simply said “To where you found him, then leave him be”

Shimmer was greatly relieved to see Speaker unharmed. Han was overjoyed over how positive the talk with the Taimyo had been. Shadow wasn’t anywhere to be seen, although Speaker suspected that he was nearby, keeping watch.

“So, what do we do now?” Shimmer said, feeling all bubbly and happy over seeing Speaker alive and well. Han nodded, gesturing that he too would like to know if there was anything specific they were to do now.
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Essence 6
Essence 6
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Title: Barbabe arbiter of unbound gravitas
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Re: Light and darkness

08 Nov 2011, 14:44

Part 14: Lookshy’s light shines again

Initially the party was content waiting until the Taimyo’s investigation was complete. Shimmer found Lookshy’s military bureaucracy incredibly frustrating – not in that it was impossible to understand, for unlike Nexus then everything here was clearly marked and explained if you asked nice… but unlike Nexus then a little flirting or a casual bribe didn’t seem to you get you anywhere: “These people, they’re nut – why don’t they take bribes?!”

Speaker shrugged: “Depends who you try to bribe I guess, and how much – but you have to remember… People in Lookshy dedicate their life to service for Lookshy. You’re trying to make them betray their one life goal, you can’t do that”

“Nah, that just means I have to be sneakier and use bigger bribes” Shimmer said with a sly look on her face. Speaker would object to her trying to break the local laws – but settled with simply advising her to postpone anything that could get them in trouble until after they had been given their tasks.

“You’re assuming that this Taimyo will follow through on this” Shadow noted pessimistically, as even he had found it difficult to sneak around town at night unnoticed – even with the use of stealth charms.

“She has until next fireday, then I’ll make a slightly more public request to meet with either the council or the general staff. The general staff would probably be most relevant, if what Karal Linwei said was any indication” Speaker noted, sipping on some tea.

The day had been nice so far, a nice warm morning in early descending fire. The tavern in the market district was a quiet one, servicing mostly metic travelers with rooms. The rest of circle still battled with Lookshy’s local cuisine, finding it way too spicy for comfort – although to Speaker’s surprise then Han seemed to be able to handle it fairly well.

It was when very young, probably not more than fourteen years old, boy claiming to a messenger from Gens Yushoto, approached the circle two days after Speaker had met Taimyo Karal Linwei that things got interesting.

Shadow had been complaining that he the few criminal elements he had been able to find in the shadier parts of town, or at night, hardly had enough goods or valuables to keep paying for their rooms. When the messenger arrived to deliver a message to one Bright Machine Speaker, stating very specifically that it was enchanted so that no others could read it less the message be destroyed by magic, that things got mildly interesting.

The message… was not one Speaker could read. After a peek Han confirmed it to be written in high realm.

“And here I thought that the Lookshy gens were polite enough to stick to riverspeak. What does it say?” Speaker sighed, handing the message over to Han.

At first Han was hesitant, with the whole ‘only Speaker can read it’ bit and all, but Speaker assured him that he knew what kind of artifact had been used for that effect – and that it was gone the moment Speaker had opened the message. Han read the message which invited Speaker and his friends to meet Gens Yushoto’s matriarch, one Yushoto Terisa, at one of the finer resturants in the north-eastern residential district. It mentioned that the messenger should have transit passes for the lot of them. Shadow seemed annoyed that the Gens knew of his presence.

“What, you don’t want a free high end dinner?” Shimmer said, looking forward to a royal feast.

Shadow shook his head: “What these people here eat isn’t food…”

Speaker’s face soured a bit. While Lookshyan cuisine wasn’t for the faint of heart, then offending it – while in Lookshy – was not a polite thing to do. It requires a measure of self-control, but Speaker politely explained to Shadow that at classy establishments like that you could actually just ask not to get your food very spicy.

The messenger presented the group with four green transit passes, Speaker looking at his with some hesitation. Green transit passes were for metics and visitors – but back when he had been just another citizen, a doctor for soldiers at that, he’d enjoyed his Yellow civilian transit pass as that was the sort that didn’t really run out… visitor passes were always temporary, their color fading usually within a day or two, marking them as invalid. Shadow had a very close look at his, eyeing up details for possible later forgeries should they need to gain access elsewhere in the city. The passes were without names – something the circle had to add themselves, writing their names on the dotted line in the passes.

After that Speaker left the circle to manage their own business for the rest of the day, while he made good use of his transit pass to travel up through the city to the barracks district. He was still a doctor at heart, now even more so, and he was a bit anxious to see to the health of the Gunzosha he had cared for once. He knew he had friends there – assuming that they still saw him as a friend, not a demon walking in a mortal guise.

Speaker’s reception was surprisingly warm. Apparently then regrowing the limbs of three men who’d gotten a few arms and legs gnawed off by zombies would win the heart of any loyal soldier. Indeed, while Speaker did spot some disapproving looks, then the majority of the gunzosha from the talon he was attached to were very happy to see him. Lookshyan Gunzosha soldiers, aging rapidly due to the secret methods involved in allowing a mortal to attune to powerful artifact armor, so named for the gunzosha power-armor they wore, were particularly ‘vulnerable’ to crippling injury. A normal soldier, if severely wounded, or even crippled for life, can still live on and be useful for Lookshy – but a Gunzosha will rarely have more than ten to fifteen years once they attune to their armor… as the mortal attunement process is irreversible, meaning that even if crippled and unable to fight any more they will still die young.

Speaker was being honored for having given three brave Gunzosha the ability to fight once more instead of condemning them to a ‘quick slow’ death in some hinterland veteran community. That Speaker had done surgery while his anima was ablaze turned out to be a good thing: All of the Gunzosha who were cheering indicated that to them this was more than enough proof for them that Speaker was no Anathema. The Talon Taizei, the same Taizei that had allowed Speaker to continue working through the night – working medical wonders through generous use of medical excellencies – greeted Speaker and introduced himself as Teresu Wu Lee, but to Speaker he would just be Lee. Getting to be on first name basis with one’s superior officer was immensely gratifying to Speaker: it really showed him just how accepted he was right now.

“Rumor has it that Taymyo Karal Linwei is investigating you, is that true?” Lee did ask.

Speaker confirmed the rumor, the Taimyo never having instructed him to keep quiet about it. There were murmurs amongst the soldiers. It was then that Speaker was informed of a rather interesting turn of events: About a week ago one of Karal Linwei’s oldest mortal daughters, one Karal Fire Orchid, who had retired to a hinterland community to live out her last years there… had supposedly become anathema. At the mention of them everybody got very quiet.

It was explained that Karal Linwei had forbidden all mention of this on the grounds that it was obviously lies and propaganda against Lookshy – but… the descriptions matched what Lee had seen with Speaker quite well. Fae had attacked the town Fire Orchid lived in – and despite being close to seventy, she had taken up her sword and burnt with righteous flame against the raksha that wished to ravish the townsfolk. She had then left the village, not to be seen again.

This explained the Taimyo’s interest in finding out more about Speaker… for if he was judged to be an agreeable sort, then the Taimyo’s daughter… and the Taimyo’s career, might stand to be saved. This would certainly give Speaker some leverage in any future negotiations.

Speaker tried to explain his condition – his exaltation, what he could, even showing Lee and the soldiers Gift. Demonstrating new weapons to soldiers were always an easy way to score points. Later that afternoon when Speaker returned to the tavern in the market district he was quite certain that he could call on Lee if he needed testimony to support his ‘not being an evil demon in a mortal coil’ to the council or the general staff. It was never bad to be friends with a hundred or so of the most powerful mortal warriors in creation.

The rest of the circle was quite happy to hear of Speaker’s venture with his old army buddies, and Shimmer through that learning of the very limited lifetime on Gunzosha troopers finally made her understand why it was so important for Speaker to work towards enlightening the mortals of creation: “…fair enough – spending twenty years watching at least two generations of warriors waste away like that can’t be pretty”

The dinner with the Gens Yushoto Matriarch was… interesting. The looks that Speaker got from pretty much everyone was a mix of “Will he jump up and eat me?” and “Am I supposed to respect or kill him?” – the mistrust was clear and evident from everyone – everyone except Lady Terisa.

Yushoto Terisa was a sight to behold. More than three hundred years old – and with a lifetime of the typical gens Yushoto lifestyle, which often mimicked that of house Cynis, then her age showed. She was fixed into a chair with wheels on it. Magitechnical essence engines powered by the lady’s essence motorized the thing, allowing her to move around. Her face was… well… to say that it was wooden would be correct, in that her skin was wrinkly like old bark, but still seemed supple enough to flex and allow for displays of emotion… something the lady did quite a lot. For a woman with such an ancient and obviously frail body, her limbs seemingly unable to lift anything heavier than chopsticks and tiny bits of rise, then her mind seemed to be of a fresh young hundred-year old.

She even propositioned Han several times – although she did admit that such would have to wait until after she got better… for indeed, she had no plans for living out what years she might have left like an old cripple. It was then, in the middle of the restaurant, that she began speak of her studies of old pre-shogunate texts referring to the sun-chosen and their medical abilities… it was clear that she had pieced together what Speaker was, rumors or no rumors, and what she wanted was plain and simple: “Work your magic on me – rid me of my ailments. Do so and I’ll ensure that you’ll have all gens Yushoto votes on the council and general staff to recognize you for what you are – and to allow you to operate freely”

Han couldn’t help but note, that if the lady Terisa had done such studies on the anathema lords that ruled before the shogunate, then surely the lady had to be aware of the horrible deeds they were supposed to have done? Speaker wasn’t really sure what Han was going for, but considering lady Terisa’s answer then it was clear:

“I am half as old as the realm. I have seen things, meet people and read books. I have met your anathema, and very few of them had anything really bad in mind. The moon-touched ones all seem to just want to rebuild society… and that’s fine, as long as they realize that they’ll eventually have to stand and be counted once their tribes become kingdoms. Before hearing of Speaker I’d only read of the sun-chosen, but really, haven’t you figured out that it’s always the victors who write the history books? All of the immaculate philosophy is just one big repetition of ‘Dragonbloods good, everything else bad’. It doesn’t take a savant to see the ulterior goal in those writings. I don’t think the solars were any worse than what I’ve seen done by dragonbloods, mortals or gods in this age. I’ve seen the lazy, the cruel, the decadent, the greedy – I’m sure that’s always existed. I judge people on what they do and what they can’t do – inaction can be just as telling as action” The old lady said, several other costumers at the restaurant doing spit-takes, choking on their food or just getting up and leaving upon hearing such blasphemy being spoken out loud.

Shadow and Shimmer quietly snickered, Speaker subsequently getting poked in the ribs by Shimmer who pointed out: “I like her”

Several aides and ‘honor guards’, probably mostly there to guard gens Yushoto’s honor, quickly arrived – trying to break up the meeting by excusing that the lady was late for an appointment. Lady Terisa loudly protested and sent them away, although several of the honor guard, young scions of the house, stayed and watched from the shadows.

A frightened waiter came up and tried to stammer out that the establishment had certain rules for polite conversation – mainly not to offend the other guests. Lady Terisa would have nothing of it… mainly because gens Yushoto apparently owed the place: “If people don’t like what they’re hearing they can leave – I’ll pick up their tabs!”

Most of the restaurant quickly became quite empty. A few tables worth of costumers remained behind, be it those who were too far to hear what was going on, or those genuinely curious in what was going on.

Lady Terisa then began to interrogate Speaker on what medical charms he knew of. It quickly became apparent that the lady had not only done her homework, but knew a lot of things about solars that would have been hard to come by without consulting either first age manuals or other firsthand sources, like gods.

To the lady it was clear that Speaker only barely knew enough to be helpful – but to her amazement then as they spoke on topics of her symptoms, of which there were many, and possible known treatments, of which there were few, then Speaker’s knowledge of medicine seemed to grow…

“I have seen this before. I have seen the clumsiest water aspected dragonblood walk into a dojo and emerge a master – or an air aspect becoming as wise and learned as can be by simply meditating in a library. I was right, the solars of the twilight caste are both loremasters and healers” the lady triumphantly declared. Shadow would later swear he saw her cough dust at that point.

The lady never asked to Speaker’s friends – never even asked for their names or what they were. It was clear that she had a goal in mind: To rid her body of the debilitating ailments that three centuries of hedonism had wrought upon her. Her offer was simple, council votes and similar political support to recognize Speaker and solars in general as a boon to Lookshy – if Speaker could restore her health.

A quick glance at his circlemates sealed the deal, Speaker accepting the offer. Lady Terisa said that she would see to it that Speaker received a proper transit pass to allow him access to her residence, the district of schools, any equipment he would need and anything he requested – within reason.

Then deserts were served and Speaker found himself tasting iced cream for the very first time in his life – and remembered that this was his favorite kind of desert.

Later that evening, upon return to the inn in the market district, the circle discussed what to do next. Speaker were to meet the next day at lady Terisa’s residence to receive a detailed briefing on her medical history, so he could determine what medical charms he would need to investigate. He knew he could already do the impossible, but this? To unclog century old chakra-knots and to purge essence flows muddied by a quarter of milleniums worth of decadence? Han said that he honestly thought she should live with the results of her actions, but at the same time then an ally like this would be very important for them if they were to gain the favor of Lookshy.

Shadow was quick to note that they had so far not once mentioned the who temple business. Speaker pointed out that such wouldn’t be necessary anymore: “If we gain Lookshy’s good graces this way around it shouldn’t be necessary to ask”

The circle went to sleep feeling confident that things were looking up. Shadow went to sleep praying to whatever god that might listen for his stomach to settle after all that demonic spicy food he had eaten.

It was later that night – or simply far too early the next morning – that Speaker and Shimmer found themselves being dragged out of bed by what appeared to be a lynchmob. Shimmer was thrown aside and told to stay still, members of the mob saying that they would deal with her later. Their main focus was on Speaker – or rather, their wrath was focused on Speaker.

It appeared to be a number of helots and citizens, led by a couple of mortal gens Maheka scions. The leader of the bunch was a frighteningly well-muscled man, his arms and hands showing the telltale signs of working a smithy day in and day out; they were thick like logs and his hands seemed like the sort that could reach in and handle molten iron. He drew his weapon: a blacksmiths hammer. It wasn’t made to be a weapon, it was made to be a tool – but to be struck with it, by this guy, would probably kill most common folks twice over.

Shimmer tried to intervene but the look in Speaker’s eyes had her stand down. With two others holding Speaker down the Maheka blacksmith raised his hammer to strike down Speaker – and then he swung it.

There was a wet meaty sound – indeed it would later be hard to describe for those who heard it, for one doesn’t get to hear the sound of a hammer bouncing off a guy’s head very often. Oh sure, it lefts a very nasty bruise… and had Speaker bleeding a tiny bit too, but that was it. Speaker seemed no worse for wear.

The blacksmith looked at his hammer in disbelief. Others tried to have a go, some with cudgels, some with clubs. The results were largely the same: They all hit Speaker… but he wasn’t really hurt by it. Oh he said “Oww” often enough, and he meant it – but there was little damage. Of course, after the fifth guy Speaker had spent enough essence on his little resistance charm that his caste mark showed.

It was then that the leader came back… this time with a dirty great sledgehammer. Speaker managed to wrestle himself loose at the sight of this and stood before the blacksmith. Nobody else dared try anything… mainly because most of the mob had given up at this point.

The blacksmith brought the hammer about with great might – and this time Speaker’s lone resistance charm just wasn’t enough. Invisible coatings of hard essence cracked and buckled as the sledge swung through them. Still, the charm did its job: it slowed the sledge, allowing for Speaker’s anima to solidify into a semi-transparent golden shell around Speaker which broke the final momentum of the sledge. It also broke the sledge, the hardwood shaft splintering.

The blacksmith stumbled back in awe and fear, Speaker’s anima causing him to glow with a bright golden light in the dark morning hours. Speaker picked up the sledge and the shaft – with essence he rebound the two, twisting the wood fibers back together as if they had never been sundered.

He then handed the sledge back to the terrified blacksmith: “Would you like to try again?”

It was then that people started running away. Justicars had finally arrived – or rather, justicars who cared enough to break up the mob had arrived. Speaker would later make sure to tell lady Terisa to investigate what justicars had been on duty at this time, to see which had allowed this lynchmob to go on unopposed.

As the mob dispersed Speaker thanked Shimmer for not intervening – she could easily had slain the whole lynchmob… but that would probably have been much worse. Shadow also appeared saying that he would have struck down anyone who looked to be about to deal a killing blow.

“That’s nice…” Speaker managed to say, collapsing. Sure, his resistance charm had done him well, and his anima power had prevented his death… but he had still been beaten senseless. That he had managed to stand up so far was a testament to how tough he was, but even Speaker had his limits.

Shimmer was quick to take charge of the situation. She ordered Han and Shadow to pack all their belongings – and she did so with a look in her eyes so fierce that neither Shadow’s snark nor Han’s usual urgings of calm and careful thought ever surfaced. This was lunar time.

The circle, Shimmer carrying Speaker, quickly made their way to lady Terisa’s residence, using fake transit passes that Shadow had prepared ‘just in case’. The lady, upon hearing what had happened – and very much against the advice of her chamberlain – had the circle given rooms. Surgeons were brought to tend to Speaker, but to their surprise then Speaker’s only ailments seemed to be bruises – bad ones, but nothing a few hours of rest shouldn’t be able to handle.

The lady promised that she would send inquiries into how a lynchmob like this could be formed. It was clear that gens Maheka was involved, which didn’t surprise the lady – but still, to so openly try to commit murder inside the city walls?

The circle spent the next several days settling in at Lady Terisa’s mansion. Shadow stalked the night, depositing friendly gifts of tied up spies left on the mansion’s doorstep. Han had a large number of interesting conversations with the ailing lady, while Shimmer stayed by Speaker’s side for most of the time. While Han found aspects of Shimmer’s dedication admirable, then it did appear to him that she lived was beginning to live vicariously through Speaker. She agreed to any request he made, although Speaker never took advantage of that, at least not of what Han knew. Speaker spent his time studying up for the medical treatments he would need to subject the lady to in order to reset her mudled chakras.

It was four days later than Speaker received summons from Taimyo Karal Linwei. While he wasn’t keen on taken unnecessary breaks in his medical studies, then he acknowledged the request. His summons stated that he should meet the Taimyo in a discrete location inside the barracks district. Speaker wasn’t sure if this was to quietly do away with him – or to better control what ears that might be listening in. Either way Speaker went along, with Shimmer hiding in a pocked as a small rat.

It was a quiet area of the barracks district – well, it was right next to a big plaza that doubled as marching grounds, but the rhythmic footsteps of young soldiers being drilled didn’t really count as noise in Lookshy. The building Speaker was to meet the Taimyo in was typical of later Looksyan architecture: Simple, bold, with more of a focus on function over beauty, but always with an eye on the geomancy. Speaker could practically feel the sense of order and discipline that flowed through the area – the young soldiers being drilled probably found it much easier to walk in time here than normal.

Entering the building, Speaker quickly found himself surrounded by soldiers with weapons drawn. They had helmets on, padded ones at that… it appeared that these soldiers weren’t meant to hear anything he might say. This did not bode well. Speaker was led, at sword point, down several hallways and stairs to a underground room with a high arching ceiling. It was huge, probably fifty by fifty yards, with at least four yards to the ceiling. The only furniture was a simple wooden desk, two chairs and rows of empty torch-holders.

Upon entering Speaker could see the silhouette of a person in uniform sitting on a chair opposite the side he was on. He was motioned to sit on the other chair as it came into view. A torch was put into a holder near the door leading into the room, barely casting any light on Speaker – and still only outlining the silhouette of the person sitting on the other side of the table. The soldiers left the room, but Speaker suspected that they didn’t go far.

“Do you know why you are here?” the shadowy figure said. It was obvious that voice-distorting charms were in effect, for the person’s voice sounded inhuman and mechanical.

“I was summoned to meet with Taimyo Karal Linwei. I’m fairly certain that you are not her” Speaker firmly stated. The last weeks’ worth of events had left him somewhat jaded to this kind of games. He would much prefer a straight answer to something like this.

The shadowy figure was silent for a moment, but before it could speak then Speaker willed his caste mark to appear – the light showed the face of the person in front of him. It was a dragonblooded officer, clearly not Karal Linwei. The face showed a young man, with skin marked slightly by traces of green, indicating his breeding and wooden aspect.

Speaker got up from his chair: “I do not care for games – I came here to meet the Taimyo, not to speak with junior officers!”

The officer seemed genuinely taken aback – frightened even. Speaker continued: “Is this another gens Maheka ploy? What are you orders in this?”

Whoever had chosen this particular officer for this had chosen poorly. Or maybe the dragonblood just had a bad day – either way then Speaker’s inquiry seemed to be undeniable to the young prince of creation, who confessed that he had been sent here to distract Speaker – but he adamantly claimed that he did not know anything beyond that: “I swear, that’s all I know! …please don’t kill me”

Speaker had to admit that he found the display pathetic. He had always held dragonbloods in such high regard, but this? This was sad. Inquiring into who had ordered the officer to meet with Speaker like this revealed little – it had been written orders supposedly signed by the Taimyo, but Speaker doubted that the signature was real. Not that he could prove anything, but it wouldn’t make sense for Karal Linwei to summon him only to not meet with him.

Having come clean, the officer seemed to relax a little. He curiously asked Speaker about his ‘condition’, to which Speaker gladly answered – explaining in great detail how celestial exaltation worked.

“So… it’s not something you choose, or are born with, like dragonbloods?” The officer asked.

Speaker confirmed the officer’s suspicion, explaining that a celestial exaltation, be it solar or lunar, depended on a number of often random parameters – be it certain personality traits, greatness in something, or potential if given the right tools: “Any fool can do something great if given the resources, but it takes a certain drive to actually want to, even if at the time it seems impossible. That is, to my knowledge, the most common cause of celestial exaltation; that you want to do something, to which the heavens answer your call and endow you with power to follow through. I wanted to come up with a working solution to fix creation, for trust me, it is broken. Undead walk sunlit lands, that’s not how things are supposed to work”

The officer seemed genuinely impressed with Speaker’s words. Suddenly getting up, he stepped closer to the one torch giving the two light and introduced himself as Chozei Yushoto Ioswo. He admitted that suspected the summons to have been fabricated from inside gens Yushoto, as a means to get Speaker away from Lady Terisa.

“You know of my arrangement with lady Terisa?” Speaker inquired.

“All of Lookshy knows. She’s always been… scandalous, although never to this point. Although it’s still being argued whether it really is a scandal or not. I do know that a lot of messengers have been turned away from her residence, messengers calling for you” Ioswo said, fiddling with his curly green hair.

Speaker was explained that while Ioswo didn’t know the exact content of the messages, then he knew three things: They were mainly from families with maimed and otherwise crippled veterans, and that some of the messengers had left hefty sums of money along with their messages… although if they were meant as bribes or retainers was unknown to him. All Ioswo knew was that older scions of gens Yushoto was pocketing the money and keeping both the lady and Speaker in the dark. He also knew the name of at least one of the scions pocketing the money and keeping the messengers away.

Speaker found this news quite interesting: “You may not be the finest officer I’ve ever met, but you’ve got a good head on your shoulders. They did not choose poorly with you. Take me to this person – no, take me back to lady Terisa’s mansion. My circle needs to know this”

The young officer led Speaker through underground tunnels that ended at a thick locked door with bands cast iron reinforcements. The door opened up to the residential district where lady Terisu’s mansion was.

Han and Shadow were surprised to hear of this – and Ioswa nearly shat himself when Shimmer leapt out of Speaker’s pocket and turned into a human once again. Han’s silver tongue calmed the young dragonblood, with Speaker explaining how she was a lunar… as well as pointing out that for the time being, then keeping that fact a secret might be in everyone’s best interest.

The circle then debated whether to go to this scion of gens Yushoto or to lady Terisa with this information. Speaker wanted to know what messages had been withheld from him, Shadow wanting the misappropriated money back – while Han preferred to see what Lady Terisa had to say first. Shimmer supported Speaker, which came to nobody’s surprise.
“Shadow, you want the money back? With our room and board here we’re not that desperate for silver” Han noted.

Shadow said that it was a matter of principle. He had seen messengers arriving and going – but he had never suspected any wrong doings… for from what he had quietly observed, then the messengers were all told that their messages and parcels would be handed on to Speaker… which evidently never happened. He wanted that wrong righted: “Considering the rumors on Speaker’s state of being then nobody would send him money without a good reason”

While discussing how to move on this Yushoto Oak Ridge, the name that Yushoto Ioswa had given prior to leaving, the circle found itself quite thoroughly disrupted by a scale of soldiers led by none other than Taimyo Karal Linwei.

It turned out that word had spread of Speaker’s summons – which the Taimyo obviously had found to be thoroughly unfounded, to which end she had moved out to find Speaker, fearing another assassination plot or attempt to discredit him. This brought the attention of Lady Terisa, which allowed Han to get his way by informing both the lady and the Taimyo of the plot the circle had uncovered with the help of Yushoto Ioswa.

This led to a bit of bickering over what to do next with Oak Rigde – Speaker insisting that him and his friends be allowed to face Oak Ridge, something that Lady Terisa found to be a terribly bad idea. Karal linwei headed both of them off though, explaining that she had a fairly good idea of what was going on: “I’ve been contacted by a few old veterans with rather nasty war injures during the last week. They’ve all asked for me to confirm the rumors of Speaker’s healing powers. The money sent to you was probably meant as advanced payment for healing services to be rendered. Lady Terisa, I need to have words with Speaker and his ‘circle’, I will let you deal with Oak Ridge in the meantime. I see no reason why Speaker shouldn’t be allowd to ‘practice’ a bit before having a go at you”

Speaker, Han, Shadow, Shimmer were all speechless. Lady Terisa was happy to get her way, promising to have Oak Ridge properly chastised for his actions – and to return whatever messages and funds that had been intercepted, all as a sign of good faith of course, not wanting Oak Ridge’s actions to reflect poorly on the circle’s perception of gens Yushoto.

“Of course not, considering how touchy the subject of Speaker still is here in Lookshy, then it shouldn’t surprise anyone that some react in harsher ways than others. Besides, it’s a well-known fact that gens yushoto’s scions don’t have much of a united political opinion, so different responses to Speaker’s presence doesn’t presence doesn’t surprise us at all” Han said, his deluge of words to explain the otherwise simple sentiment of ‘no hard feelings’ forcing an uncomfortable silence that allowed the circle to leave with the Taimyo while lady terisa began to angrily shape sorcery to send harsh words and stern orders to Yushoto Oak Ridge.

The circle was led to an underground passage that quickly took them out of public view. Han admitted that he didn’t like such confined spaces, but beyond that nothing much happened as the scale led the circle and the Taimyo to a location ironically familiar to Speaker – although this time the room was well lit with over a dozen torches – to the point that the light revealed a blue jade contraption in the ceiling… Speaker suspecting that it was something keeping the air fresh and breathable.

The Taimyo cut the chase very quickly after sending the soldiers away: “I’ve gotten several reports back on inquires about the lot of you”

The previously small table had been replaced by a much bigger one, which had several scrolls on it. Gesturing towards Han, the Taimyo explained: “Han Xiago, of Great Forks – The ministry of Residency was kind enough to confirm your claim of the newly formed solar aspected demesne north of Great Forks. I found the notes describing your profession most enlightening”

Han smiled with a sigh as he realized his mistake – he had forced quick registration of his claim through the use of bureaucracy charms, which had made some clerk spirit automatically note down that Han was a solar. He hadn’t given it much thought; as such registration records usually never saw the light of day after being made – but now… he realized his folly.

“Han Xiago, of Great Forks – Solar of the zenith caste” the Taimyo slowly said, although Speaker could see no ill will in her face nor hear any in her voice.

The Taimyo followed by noting that up until recently then Shadow had been but a smalltime thief in Nexus, only to disappear , then reappear briefly in Great Forks, then appear back in Nexus – this time as a supremely skilled ‘information gatherer’ for the city’s tax administration. Shimmer was a slightly different story, the Taimyo having apparently been unable to find any information on her – but at the same time, then the Taimyo did note: “Normal people don’t have that kind of teeth”

Shimmer’s face lost all color as her tell was revealed – shark’s teeth, instead of normal human teeth.

“I’ve equally confirmed – to a certain extent – your actions in Nexus. Suffice to say that I’m beginning to understand the scope you and your team’s abilities Speaker” the Taimyo said, in a very matter-of-factly way.

Karal Linwei then took a sealed scroll and handed it to Speaker. Speaker recognized the insignia as being the official seal of Lookshy’s Martial Staff, the specifically military part of the general staff, which handles all military matters of Lookshy. The Taimyo explained that after she had gotten confirmation on the reports on Speaker and his circle she had an emergency session with the martial staff – as they needed to agree on what to do with Speaker and friends. Her still friendly tone betrayed the outcome of the session.
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Re: Light and darkness

08 Nov 2011, 14:53

Part 15: Doctor is in

As Speaker broke the seal and opened the scroll he found it to contain mission instruction. One was to ‘recover’ the Gunzota redoubt, the other was to find a permanent solution to the Lookshy Rebel.

“Upon completion the entire general staff will vote on ‘the solar issue’ and issue, if you want, a public statement accepting the presence of solars in the confederation of rivers – decrying any wyld hunts or similar actions against such” the Taimyo elaborated, giving the circle a proverbial carrot – the stick being not getting any such official statements, which would allow continued harassment and such. Plus, Lookshy officially accepting the presence of solars would make it a lot easier to live life as a publicly known solar… at least in the scavenger lands.

“No deal” Han quickly said, making everyone look at him: “Change the statement to be for all celestial exaltations – plus we’ll be wanting initiatives to enlighten those who want to know as to what a celestial exaltation is”

Karal Linwei noted that she was certain they could work out an agreeable compensation package – but either way such would only become relevant if the circle could solve these issues. She suggested that once they had at least one of the issues covered, then negotiations could begin.

Shadow then pointed out another flaw in the deal. There was no guarantee that the general staff would vote in favor of issuing such a statement – sure, doing these things, whatever they might entail, would probably earn a few votes – but without an obligation from the general staff to deliver once the circle was done with its part of the bargain, then… well… it looked like a very one-sided deal, with no guarantee of payment.

Again Karal Linwei said that they could discuss ‘payment’ once it was clear that the circle could deliver – but it was clear to both parties that this was bound to become an issue.

“This would be so much easier if we had an eclipse caste with us” Speaker complained. To his surprise then Karal Linwei agreed, stating that a quicksilver falcon would have made this a lot easier.

“Look, if you want to be certain that you’ll have get the votes needed, then I suggest going above and beyond what you’re being asked here. Speaker, the civilian requests made to, that will gain you a lot of goodwill with whatever smaller houses you service, especially if you extend that service to helots free of charge. The rest of you, again, make yourselves useful. This isn’t the realm, although with how gens Maheka is acting up you might think so, but show that you can be trusted and you will win everyone over” the Taimyo said, taking a moment to take a few deep breaths before continuing.

“Come descending earth the annual Lookshy Games will be held. Compete, show your skills in a friendly and peaceful setting. The winner of each discipline gets to address the crowds of spectators, if you want to really make a mark do it there”

The meeting adjourned and the circle was returned to the residential district in which lady Terisa’s mansion was. The circle returned there, having much to discuss.

Speaker filled the circle in on what the two ‘missions’, should they accept them, entailed. The Lookshy rebel was a weird monster that would appear periodically, but never in any really predictable pattern. It had been a source of unrest and paranoid justicars for centuries – mainly because it seemed impossible to properly kill. Its remains had been burned, its ashes scattered, and yet it would still reappear a few months later to wreak havoc and spout obscenities.

“So… how dangerous is it? You ever see it?” Shadow wondered.

Speaker admitted that he considered himself lucky that he hadn’t – but he people that had. Plus, the stories of it were well known. It was said to appear as a blob that would suck people up, which was its most lethal quality, as even an inexperienced soldier could wrestle it to the ground while others hack it apart. It was that it always returned which made it so impossible to deal with. To Speaker’s knowledge then it had been a few years since it had last manifested, but then again not all of its appearances were public knowledge – as it was often slain fairly quickly, depending on where it appeared and who it killed.

The issue of the Gunzota redoubt was entirely different. Speaker didn’t know that much about, only that several centuries ago it was a redoubt near Grey Falls which fell victim to a first age weapon which has made it impossible to ‘retake’.

Han didn’t like the sound of that – as Lookshy was well known for its mastery of first age technology… so something that even they couldn’t handle sounded rather dangerous. Beyond that this last week had given Han a rather poor impression of Lookshy. Sure, they needed to gain the trust of its government – and its people – but right now he’d rather have a poke at something else.

The circle didn’t get to discuss what exactly that ‘else’ should be, as upon getting inside lady Terisa’s mansion they were met by a macabre sight.

The ornately decorated hardwood columns of the lobby were slick with blood, mortal servants were covering in the corners or under shattered furniture. There was a weird smell in the air, like fresh bamboo shoots mixed with blood. There were also scorch marks and what could have been mistaken for claw marks, or whip marks, on the polished stone floor.

Shouts from the first floor got the circle’s attention, where they found Lady Terisa using thorny whine-whips that seemingly grew from the palms of her hands to brutally pummel a fire aspected dragonblood who was lying smoldering in a pitiful heap.

“Ah, welcome back dears. Oak Ridge here was just preparing to apologize to Speaker, weren’t you!?” Lady Terisa said, sounding oh so frighteningly much like a friendly old grandmother… despite what she’d obviously been doing.

The heavily wounded Oak Ridge, a man who probably looked quite imposing normally, staggered to his feet and over in front of Speaker where he dropped on his knees. He begged Speaker forgiveness, saying that he never meant to insult or harm anyone. Harm anyone? This was news to Speaker, but he figured it simply meant that Oak Ridge was connected to the attempt at his life those days ago at the inn in the market district.

Now, what Lady Terisa had expected was probably that Speaker would kill or somehow punish Oak Ridge. She had not expected him to pull Oak Ridge to his feet and call for doctors. He then politely explained to lady Terisa that this was not what he wanted, only the messages he had been denied, and possible the money that had been sent as well. Lady Terisa pointed to a small wooden chest that had been tossed aside. Inside was a stack of letters as well as several pouches of silver and jade. There was enough money there to buy a really nice house in the residential districts, or to invest heavily in business.

Speaker wasn’t sure what to do with the money before he had read where it had come from and what he was expected to do in exchange for the money: “Han, Shadow – why don’t you two go out of the city and go down to the east shore of the promontory. Pray and summon the god of the Yanaze river, find out what’s causing it to not take the water from the yellow and grey river. Shimmer, can you read riverspeak? Right. Go through these letters, give me a summary of who they ‘re from, who sent me money and why, then get back to me. I will go with Oak Ridge and tend to his wounds”

Han had a weird smirk on his face as he gestured for Shadow to follow him. Shadow didn’t quite understand, but Han explained once outside: “If Oak Ridge really hates anathema, then getting his wounds treated by one is probably the best punishment Speaker can give – plus it might even force Oak Ridge to be in debt to him. Bloody brilliant, now come on, we got a god to wrangle!”

Shimmer slowly worked through the letters. Sure enough, they were from families with sons, husbands, sisters, wives, uncles and whatnot that had lost an arm, leg, eye or something else in battle – and they had all heard of Speaker’s ability to restore lost limbs. The money was from the few wealthier families that had written, meant as bribes and retainers to convince Speaker that they were serious about having him come over. Shimmer was sorely tempted to toss letters out in spite; Speaker was a nice man, he didn’t need to be bribed to help others! How dare they think Speaker would respond to that kind of things. Still, Speaker would probably get mad if she threw away the letters.

Reading through the pile, which wasn’t very big – it was only twelve scrolls and letters – Shimmer sought out Speaker about half an hour later. She found him ‘patching’ up Oak Ridge using a handful of remarkably efficient medical charms. Oak Ridge’s injuries were mostly lacerations and cuts from the whine-whip lady Terisa had fought him with. It had apparently started as an equal fight, but Lady Terisa was an older and far more powerful exalt, so the might she was able to bring to bear was more than Oak Ridge could shield against, at least for more than a few minutes. Right now Speaker was meticulously tracing his hands over Oak Ridge’s lacerations, leaving them glowing with essence as they closed up in seconds. It didn’t mend the wounds entirely, but it stopped the bleeding, which would allow Oak Ridge to recover in less than a day – as opposed to in a few weeks. The mixed look of hate and begrudging gratitude was obvious and, to Shimmer and Speaker, quite amusing. Their smirks did not help to improve the patient’s mood.

Finishing up with Oak Ridge and sending him on his way finally allowed Shimmer to tell Speaker of the letters. He was ecstatic over the news! This was bound to impress the general staff! He told Shimmer to compile a list of addresses, starting with the most severe and debilitating injuries. As for the money… well… it wouldn’t hurt to have a some proper funds for when they were to delve into Denansdor again, or money to buy materials for decorations to the temple for the Unconquered Sun north of Great Forks. Of course, from what Shimmer had read then some of the money had been the savings of poor families with crippled veterans who wished for nothing more than to return to active duty again. He couldn’t accept that money. The money from the richer families he didn’t feel so bad about keeping, but he was well aware of what kind of signals that would be sending.

“The sun gives and takes – we’ll hold on to the money for now, then donate it to the poorest families we visit when I go do my house calls” Speaker said, sounding like he already sort of regretted his choice. Money like this could smooth over a lot of future problems.

Later in the afternoon, while servants were busy cleaning up lady Terisa’s mansion from all the blood stains and bits of broken furniture, Han and Shadow returned. They brought strange news: The god the Yanaze river, Steady Flow, had been missing for a few centuries, ever since leaving for an assignment from Yu-Shan. This certainly complicated things, as the servant spirit had said that the only real way to find out where Steady Flow was… was to go to Yu-Shan and ask.

“Well this is just getting better and better – why not go have a poke at the fort that nobody can retake, just to try something easier?” Shimmer said, later realizing how ironically true those words would be.

Shadow deadpanned that they might as well have a poke at that. Speaker agreed, although he said that he would stay behind in Lookshy – arguing that between Han and Shimmer they should be able to figure out what was going on with the redoubt.

“And what will you do in the mean time?” Shadow wondered.

Speaker waved the pile of letters at Shadow, saying that he had people here that wanted his help – which would probably do wonders to his public image in Lookshy. To that end Speaker also kindly requested that Shadow stay behind to keep him safe: “Teresu Gido has yet to make a move, at least a public one – and I’m sure that gens Meheka won’t give up just yet either. They aren’t stupid either: They’ll want to kill me before I gain public acceptance”

The circle agreed to this, Shimmer and Han leaving moments later.

Alone together, Speaker approached Shadow: “I know you don’t need to babysit me all the time, I can fight for myself just fine – so while I do housecalls I need you to talk to lady Terisa and get some information on the Lookshy Rebel. If I recall correctly it last appeared in one of the hinterland communities a three seasons ago. I need you to get everything that Lookshy knows about this. Have the lady put you in contact with the security directorate and anyone else relevant. We need something to go on here”

Shadow was gone when Speaker looked up.

“Right, time for housecalls” Speaker said, feeling somewhat like back when he was about to take his final medical exams.

Lady Terisa was very positive about Speaker’s initiative – mainly because she knew well enough that improving Speaker’s publicity would help on the dents on her own reputation. She wasn’t stupid, she knew that he was a touchy subject. Her spymaster and gens publicity manager had been having a time keeping her from getting deposed from the general staff.

Speaker’s first housecall was with a family in the eastern residential district. Half of the letters were from people in that part of Lookshy actually. Speaker didn’t remember this, but this was where he used to live. People there recognized him, gave him looks – Speaker expected this – but he didn’t expect an old woman to walk up and slap him, demanding to know how he dared to disgrace his family doing ‘things like this’.

Speaker looked at the women with great confusion: “Do I know you?”

The woman looked at Speaker with disbelief as he walked away.

The first patient was an old war veteran. His ‘symptom’ was rather obvious: He was missing his left arm from the shoulder. The family weren’t slow to complain that for Lookshy’s dragonblooded warriors there were advanced wonders of limb regrowth and whatnot – but for its mortal soldiers… such services were rare. Sure, the dragonbloods had used their powers to ensure that the patient lived, but not more than that. Challenge accepted.

Reopening a wound that had been perfectly healed over and partially regrown – as much as an amputated arm could be regrown – was not a small thing. Speaker had to make room for new tissue to return. Good use of a medical excellency,solar medical charms – particularly the same Speaker had used on the night of his exaltation, although this time a third charm was involved, allowing Speaker to practice his craft in a family’s living room – instead of a well-stocked Lookshyan military field hospital.

The only thing that annoyed Speaker was that he recalled painfully clearly through his first age memories that he had once been able to do this in mere seconds – not over the course of several hours. Either way, four hours later Speaker had regrown the man’s arm. It would take the man weeks to get used to it and regain full function, but it would happen. The family was overjoyed, but at the same time in despair: they were at a loss of how to repay him. It didn’t help that it was starting to dawn on them that this might make them targets for those out for Speaker. This actually peaked Speakers interest – as these people seemed much more aware of who didn’t like what.

It was actually at that moment that Speaker realized how out of touch with his mortal life in Lookshy he was. Almost forty years living in Lookshy and Speaker couldn’t even remember commonly known political movements. Well… no, that wasn’t true. He knew these things. They just didn’t occur to him. Speaker’s head was full of technical blueprints, wondrous constructs and endless possibility.

The family was helpful enough. They seemed sympathetic to his explanation that his newfound powers made him forgetful of his time as a mortal – that he couldn’t even remember his mortal name.

They filled Speaker in on what little they knew – most of it was obvious enough: gens Maheka was nice and faithful to the immaculate faith, they had close ties to the guild – and there were plenty of others in Lookshy who adhered to the immaculate philosophy, but nobody in charge of anything official or big. Indeed, the only reason that gens maheka was able to stay in power despite their official stance to the religion, was that it was a gens… and because it for the most part still put Lookshy before its faith.

The best piece of information Speaker got was where he should go to speak to the most people in order to sway them. Basically he was given the name and directions to a series of tea houses and taverns where influential helots and citizens gathered. Not gens scions, but the kind of people who know everyone at the bottom of the hierarchy. This would be very useful for someone with Han’s way with words. Sure, Speaker knew he was getting good at stuff like that, but he didn’t know the charms that Han knew. Speaker thanked profusely.

Speaker covered three other limbs that day – most of a left leg, another left arm from the elbow down and a right foot.

It was late evening when Speaker was done. Walking back through the old city, Speaker marveled at the lights from the minarets of the Lookshy manse, and the soft glow from the aviary’s docket skyships were amazing for him to look at. Speaker distinctly recalled docking skyships there in a past life. The teocalla of Tu Yuwas quite magnificent as well – the giant pyramid structure felt holy just looking at it.

Returning to Lady Terisa’s mansion Speaker found Shadow waiting for him. He had procured several piles of scrolls and documents – most of which with the seal of the security directorate, as well as the seals of most of the gens. It was apparently copies of everything that Lookshy knew about the rebel of Lookshy.

“Have you read any of this?” Speaker said, looking at the daunting pile. Shadow silently shook his head. Speaker sighed. At least now he had something to do for the rest of the evening…

The next morning Speaker woke up amidst a pile of scrolls and papers, to the noise of a messenger spirit trying to get his attention. It was a message from Shimmer. She and Han had had a poke at the Gunzota redoubt, and it was… interesting. The redoubt was a fortress built on the eastern bank of the rock river where the rock and lesser rock merged. It was very clear that it was not safe for soldiers to retake.

Shimmers description was interesting. For about half a mile around the redoubt all organic life had been turned into quartz crystal. The edge of the perimeter of the ‘effect’ was guarded by Lookshyan soldiers… soldiers that hadn’t been briefed on Han and Shimmer appearing to investigate the place. Still, that had actually helped to explain part of the effect – because their usual punishment for trespassers and would-be treasure hunters was to chuck them inside the affected area. Mortals would apparently crystalize in seconds. In Han and Shimmer’s case they first felt their essence being leeched out of them. Han got out before he was fully drained, but Shimmer didn’t… but her moonsilver tattoos had prevented her body from crystalizing.

After this Shimmer wanted to talk to her lunar elders about the place, and Han had suggested that he stay in Great Forks while Shimmer ‘communed with nature’. He had wanted to catch up with old friends, as well as the Illuminates. Shimmer couldn’t tell when she would be done, but she ended her message saying that this would at least give Speaker enough time to help as many people as he wanted.

After Speaker finally found Shadow, who had been doing… something… in the kitchen, he filled Shadow in on Shimmer and Han’s plan. Shadow expressed curiosity over what Han wanted to do in Great Forks. Speaker shrugged: “Maybe he wanted to report our progress to the dreamweaver? It’d make sense, since we know everything that we have to do to get the whole temple thing started. Plus, maybe the three can help us get to Yu-Shan!”

Shadow agreed that seeking the aid of the three to get to Yu-Shan sounded like a good idea. In the meantime Shadow had something he was up to, something that he wasn’t sharing with Speaker.

“This won’t get us into trouble, will it?” Speaker hesitantly wondered.

Shadow gave Speaker a playful smile: “We are solars, only the wicked would hide from our inquisition. Lookshy has a lot of skeletons in its closet – and I’m working to expose some of them. Mainly just a few to swing things in our favor, make gens Maheka shut up”

Speaker wasn’t stupid – he knew that nobility anywhere would have secrets. He did feel somewhat torn between potentially smearing parts of Lookshy and giving him elbow room to operate. Of course, in a world like this some sacrifices were necessary – but then again, sometimes just the promise… or threat… of such a thing was enough: “Get your information – but don’t make it public. Then we’ll decide what to do with it”

Shadow disappeared almost instantly. Speaker shook his head and smiled – this was going to be trouble… and it was going to be fun. Speaker was halfway out the door with his surgical kit when Shadow appeared again: “People will know what you’re doing in the residential districts – You’ll be approached by others wanting help. Beware of people luring you into traps that way. I’ll check up on you every now and then. Wear your hearthstone bracers”

Well that was ominous. Speaker thanked Shadow for the warning and headed out.

First stop was a family with four still family members with various war wounds. Nothing grand, a few missing fingers, a missing ear, and some war-wounds that hadn’t healed right which caused a lot of pain and discomfort – which had let to an opium addiction to help deal with the pain. This looked like an all-day visit.

Speaker first fixed up the ear and fingers. As with the procedures the day before Speaker had to open the closed wounds an ‘make room’ for new tissue. With each procedure Speaker found it easier and easier. It still took several hours, but in the end a scout could hear properly again – and two brothers could arm-wrestle properly again. Everyone where happy, even with the fact that Speaker glowed like a walking torchlight.

It was late afternoon when Speaker was done and ready to move on to the next address in the letters. He was about to leave when immaculate monks led by three dragonblooded, two scions from gens Maheka and a sadly familiar face: Teresu Gido.

Gido demanded that Speaker stop his blasphemy instantly.

“I’m not going to stop breathing just because you tell me to” Speaker deadpanned.

The immaculates looked at Gido with some confusion. The family who’s house this was taking place in stifled a few giggles, but kept respectful distance to the presence of venerable dragonblooded and holy men.

Teresu Gido was furious, but kept his calm. He ordered the immaculates to seize Speaker. Speaker sat down on a chair and looked around for tea that wasn’t there, completely ignoring Gido and his goons.

“You will work your heresy here no more!” Gido said, stepping forward to engage Speaker with a nice new sword.

Speaker did not want to see a fight inside the house of innocents. They hadn’t done anything to deserve collateral damage. He got up and moved towards the door, fighting the urge to summon Gift – it would be a nice defensive weapon if nothing else, as there wasn’t really room to throw it around, but again it would probably do too much collateral damage. Speaker really wished that Shimmer was there. Also he needed to make some kind of emergency alarm communication system so he could alert the rest of the circle. Hmm… how would that work?

While Speaker was lost in thought three mortal immaculates jumped him. They wrestled him to the ground and pinned him, allowing Gido to approach with his sword for a swift killing blown. It was then that the brothers with new fingers and the uncle who’s leg didn’t hurt anymore tackled Gido, giving Speaker enough time to crank up his martial arts excellency to free himself and make a dash for the door.

Outside Speaker’s local knowledge for once served him well, allowing him to spot a nearby patrol of justicars – allowing Speaker to plead his case. The lead Justicar, a mortal scion of gens Amilar, seemed amused if not neutral to the situation, asking Gido if he had any evidence of Speaker doing anything detrimental to Lookshy or Lookshy’s interest.

“He’s anathema! What more do you need to know? He corrupts us just by being here, haven’t you heard what he made Yushoto Terisa do to Kazei Oak Ridge?!” Teresu Gido spoke with barely contained outrage in his voice.

The lead justicar shrugged and politely informed Teresu Gido that he did not listen to gossip, as such was unbefitting a man of his position. Furthermore, he pointed out to Gido that from what he knew, then all Speaker was doing was running around and fixing people up – free of charge even: “Again, tell me how this is bad?”

Teresu Gido took a deep breath. He then explained, using surprisingly convincing rhetoric and what Speaker suspected was a well prepared and well-rehearsed charm combo to sway all in earshot, that Speaker hadn’t been healing anyone at all – that it was all anathema brainwashing, making perfectly healthy individuals think they had been cured or restored, in order to gain favor and corrupt them.

It was a surprisingly… plausible… little speech. Speaker wished he could do essence sight at this point, as he would have loved to see what kind of charms Gido was using at that point – because even momentarily found his arguments persuasive. Of course, Gido made the mistake of trying to make his argument in front of the house where Speaker had just worked his magic.

There are few things in creation that can piss off Lookshyan war veterans than someone trying to besmirch or belittle the glory they had earned in battle. This basically prompted the same trio that moments earlier had tackled Gido and saved Speaker to stand up and be counted – primarily because everyone in that particular neighborhood knew them and knew of their war-wounds… which they could now show were gone, thanks to Speaker. It was just too obvious a lie, even with Gido’s essence swaying public opinion.

Gido found himself in very hot water – for a water aspect – following that. It was then that he made a certain hand gesture, nothing that Speaker noticed. Nothing happened. People still surrounded Gido, his gens Maheka cronies and the few immaculates he had tagging along. People were still shouting angrily at them for trying to claim that righteous war veterans hadn’t shed their blood for Lookshy.

Gido looked confused. He sighed and gestured towards the lead justicar. Then it was the lead justicar’s turn to be confused. This went on for a few minutes – it could probably have gone on longer, but Speaker wanted to make at least one more housecall before it got dark… and the lead justicar couldn’t see any problem in that, him even offering to have a fang of justicars escort Speaker home when done.

Teresu Gido and his gang stormed off, Gido furious and humiliated.

Speaker went about his business, fixing up two more old war injuries that hadn’t healed just right before returning to lady Terisa’s mansion.

At the mansion Speaker was met by a very smug looking Shadow, who asked if Speaker enjoyed his performance today.

“Performance? As what?” Speaker wondered.

Shadow revealed that he had ‘distracted’ the lead justicar patrolling the area that Speaker had been in – mainly because Shadow had discovered that Gido had arranged for that justicar to be extra cooperative in taking Speaker into costudy if any fighting broke out… and to then take Speaker somewhere quiet where nobody could hear him scream. Gido apparently had favors to cash in everywhere, in almost every directorate and administrative office in Lookshy. Oh ya and Shadow had used some nice larceny charms to perfectly stand in for the same justicar.

“Great, so we’re screwed” Speaker said, realizing how difficult it would be trust anyone now.

Shadow comforted Speaker, pointing out how much a public embarrassment Teresu Gido had made of himself – he wouldn’t be able to do anything for a good while now. Word would spread of what he was trying to do, and as Shadow put it: “People like Gido can only operate when nobody knows the big picture. Now people know what his game is. Sure, if I hadn’t been there you’d probably have been dead, but that’s what circle-mates do: We help each other”

With that settled, and Speaker feeling very grateful to Shadow, the two settled down to go over the material on the rebel of Lookshy. The Lookshyan security and intelligence had been more than able to kill the thing whever it appeared – a single soldier with a spear or a sword could do that, plus most it would do was walk around and knock stuff over, while spouting seditious propaganda about how Lookshy should re-submit to the realm.

The real problem with the rebel was that according to eye-witness accounts; it would appear via a random group of people suddenly floating up in the air, then squeezing together… painfully so, to the point that they would fuse, becoming one – the rebel of Lookshy. There would be no way to save or recover those involved, as they all seemed to die once the body merged into the rebel. This was the main problem: People feared that they were next, that they and their friends would be next.

There had already been determined a pattern to the rebel’s appearances. Indeed, many of the brightest minds that had ever served Lookshy had tried to solve this case. The rebel mainly appeared in large public gatherings, but rarely casual gatherings – usually only at events, but then it did occationally manifest outside of Lookshy. As long as it was a staunch ally of Lookshy there was a chance the rebel would appear to disrupt the festivities. Beyond that there was no pattern to how it appeared or by what means it kept gobbling up innocent lives.

“This is where investigation charms come in handy” Said Shadow, weaving essence over their notes.

This surprised Speaker, but in a good way – as he’d thought that this would mean that he would have to spend time to learn investigation charms as well: “So, what’ve you got?”
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Essence 6
Essence 6
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Title: Barbabe arbiter of unbound gravitas
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Re: Light and darkness

08 Nov 2011, 14:55

Part 16: Secrets best left untouched

Shadow’s theory wasn’t new. Indeed, it had been proposed by several of the Lookshyan investigators: The rebel obviously manifested at strategic moments and locations in order to discourage popular support of Lookshy’s policies and political events. If people were too scared to show up it could force changes in policy. It was a campaign of terror. Again, this wasn’t anything new. However, Shadow’s use of investigation charms confirmed it to be true. This raised the quest ion of who was behind it. The rebel obviously wasn’t behind it, because it was a new rebel each time. The documentation even described one occasion where the general staff had ordered the latest reincarnation of the rebel captured alive, to see if that would halt the appearances. It hadn’t. So at one point two rebels had existed at the same time. Both were killed shortly thereafter.

The brilliance of Shadow’s investigation charm was that it gave Shadow a very good idea of the kind of person who would behind it – ok, that wasn’t entirely true, but the charm combined with grand use an investigation excellency gave Shadow some very accurate pointers about the kind of person orchestrating this… assuming that someone was controlling the emergence of the rebel.

It was obviously someone who wanted to see Lookshy destroyed, or at the very least disrupted – which the rebel managed to do perfectly. Equally, then the rebel had been appearing for over five hundred years, so that ruled out a single dragonblood being behind it. That more where involved was an option, but Shadow’s theory was that only one person was behind it all, controlling the rebel.

“Ok, so who is it?” Speaker felt compelled to ask.

Shadow explained that he didn’t know – but he had a really good idea of where to look: “The rebel doesn’t quote scripture, but someone hiding in gens Maheka could be sympathetic enough to the real to do this. But that’s only option one. The second option is gens Amilar’s younger scions. They’re very well-traveled and open to outside ideas. Someone hiding in their midst could also be doing this. It’s well known that most Amilar scions, when they’re doing their teenage rebellions dabble in realm politics and fraternize with realm noble houses”

Of course, this didn’t explain how the same person could have hidden himself for five hundred years. But Shadow had a theory on this as well – because there aren’t that many people with that kind of lifespan around.

Speaker could see what Shadow was getting at, but he still found it unlikely: “You think it’s an exalt? A lunar?”

“When I exalted I was drawn to my past incarnation’s tomb. Handy that it was one of the five anathema tombs in Nexus. Inside I recovered my powerbow and a few other things. My bow had notches, as if it had parried strong blows” Shadow explained.

“Hold on – your bow is an oricalchum powerbow. They don’t get ‘notches’ when used to parry a sword” Speaker pointed out.

Shadow nodded and looked around the room they were in. Decorated wood carvings, rich green drapes on the walls. He sighed: “Do you remember the sidereals?”

Speaker thought for a moment. It then occurred to him that he did remember the sidereals. The trusted heavenly advisors and viziers: “Funny you should mention them – we haven’t seen or heard any of them, have we?”

“In those notches in my bow I found trace amounts of starmetal” Shadow quietly said.

The implications of his statement were as undeniable as they were dire. This could explain why solars hadn’t reincarnated for thousands of years. Why lunars were hunted as animals. It didn’t entirely explain how the dragonblooded ruled most of creation, but that was probably also connected.

“Ok, so that’s the suspect – how do we find him?” Speaker said, dreading a direct confrontation.

Shadow said that he would look into it. At the same time he pointed out that this was just a theory. The evidence he had recovered in his past incarnation’s tomb could have been planted. This all rested on shaky evience – but if the sidereals were to blame, and if there was one operating in Lookshy directing the rebel, then that sidereal undoubtedly knew of Speaker as well.

“I would advise you to learn to become more aware of your surroundings. I know this sounds paranoid, but awareness charms is your best guard against being caught off guard. If sidereals were involved in solars disappearing, then they can bring to bear great power against us. We must be vigilant” Shadow urged, Speaker nodding profusely.

Speaker did not sleep well that night, but when morning came and blessed him with the rising of the sun he felt a bit better. At breakfast Speaker and Shadow discussed what to do next. Shadow needed to continue his investigation – and Speaker figured it was about time that he made some preliminary assessments of how to treat lady Terisa.

Lady Terisa was about as cooperative as could be expected. She insisted that no treatment prevent her from doing her duties as matriarch of gens Yushoto – to which Speaker acknowledged that such would require him spending time learning a few more medical charms, if his treatments were to be swift enough not to disrubt the lady’s daily schedule.

“My dear Speaker, I didn’t mean that – it was said in jest” lady Terisa said playfully, keeping a stiff smile.

Speaker gestured that it was quite ok: “Oh no, it’s not a problem. Solar medical charms can do more than just restore that which has been lost for good – if I learn the right charm I do such things in mere seconds. I will just need time”

The lady was impressed by Speaker’s promise of swift treatment sessions. Speaker was handed the lady’s medical history, an impressive stack of scrolls and ledgers documenting her deterioration over the centuries.

Speaker spent the next week studying the lady’s medical history. It was deliciously complete, allowing him to understand the progression of the lady’s maladies. Between cram sessions Speaker responded the various requests for his medical services that he received. Word had spread of his miracle work. Speaker even got a few requests from military officers wanting Speaker to help patch up wounded troops returning from tours of duty.

At the end of the week Speaker had learnt the medical marvel that was the instant treatment methodology. Sure, he still needed proper equipment and medicine. Ideally he wanted to learn to combine it with the charm that allowed him to practice medicine without equipement. That, combined with his medical excellency and other medical charms would allow him to fix anyone. That would require a lot more practice. As a man who’d lived most of his mortal life as a doctor, that would be a dream come true.

Well, it would be one step in the path of mending all of the world.

Han and Shimmer returned a few days later, with lady Terisa’s treatment being well under way at that point. The lady had been quite generous once the treatments were ready to begin, supplying Speaker with a small square of oricalchum that Speaker made into perfect acupuncture needles. The lady also loaned Speaker a set of green jade acupuncture needles.

The first thing Shimmer and Han saw of Speaker when they returned was him standing over the lady’s naked body, the lady being on her back, and her front side covered with acupuncture needles like it was grass growing on her. It looked surreal.

“…again, don’t worry. We only have to do this once to stimulate your chakras. After this each treatment will focus on a specific area and will only take a few seconds per treatment” Speaker reassured the lady.

Once done he met with Han and Shimmer, Shimmer eagerly greeting Speaker with a very heartfelt hug and kiss… which lasted just long enough to get uncomfortable.

Han filled the circle in on what he had learnt in Great Forks: Mainly that the three couldn’t really bring people to Yu-Shan even if they wanted to. It apparently requires special Yu-Shan gates – and there aren’t any in Great Forks: “But all hope is not lost. Dreamweaver told me that in the first age there was one were such gates in both Hollow and Deheleshen”

“Not to sour the party, but that was a long time ago – and very few parts of Lookshy date back that long. Most of it has been destroyed, torn down, remodeled or dismantled when it stopped working. The few things left in the old city that I remember from the first age are all buildings – and most of them have been refitted, remodeled or otherwise ‘maintained’ in such a way that they’re nothing like how they were when originally made” Speaker pointed out.

Shadow was quick to comment that from poking around Lookshy he’d learnt that Tu Yu, the old god of Deheleshen, was known to appear to people and speak of ‘the good old days’ – so why not go ask him? It would make sense if the old god would know where the remains of a Yu-Shan gate would be, and Shadow was certain that Speaker could fix it if it wasn’t working anymore.

Han found Shadow’s suggestion quite good. Shimmer was weary – urging caution when dealing with gods. Still, when Speaker supported Shadow’s idea she agreed.

The next day Speaker continued his treatment of lady Terisa, finishing the acupuncture restart of her stagnant chakras. The following treatments would focus on specific chakras, purging one at a time, which wouldn’t take long – especially with Speaker’s medical charms.

Han and Shadow sought out Tu Yu in his grand temple in the old city. This turned out to be a slightly less successful venture than expected: The southern corner of the pyramidal structure exploded in a fiery ball of dust and stone chips as Tu Yu roared with incoherent fury, levitating up and launching scrolls and bits of brick at the two solars.

To the amazement of the onlookers and responding home guard soldiers, Han managed to wrestle Tu Yu down and pacify the god, even after Tu Yu dematerialized to escape the solar’s undeniable grasp.

At this point Han worried that someone would use this episode as a pretext to smear him and Speaker – Shadow having disappeared into the crowds at the first sign of trouble. However, Han was told by a very pretty silvery-haired woman with pale green eyes that came to his aid, that two seasons ago Tu Yu had a similar reaction to a fruit vendor moving his cart past his Teocalla – suffice to say that Tu Yu’s eccentricities were well known to those who interacted with the god regularly.

Allowing Tu Yu to stand up, Han found the god still very skittish. However, at this point Lookshyan dragonblooded had arrived in magical power armor, locally known as dragon armor. They were apparently the ones who would usually ‘contain’ Tu Yu when he has his… episodes – and that usually meant a lot more collateral damage.

The silvery haired woman got Tu Yu back inside his Teocalla, Han following suit. It turned out that the woman was none other than Tien Yu, god of Lookshy. She calmed down her father/lover/sibling enough that the old god became somewhat coherent. Han couldn’t help but wonder if Speaker could use his medical charms to ‘fix’ a crazy god?

What little conversation that followed included some polite introductions, Han speaking well for himself as usual, and Tien Yu telling Han to thank Speaker for taking good care of Lookshy’s wounded. In the end Han got the information he wanted. The Yu-Shan portal did actually still exist, hidden away with many other first age and shogunate relics in Tu Yu’s sanctum. The main entrance to Tu Yu’s sanctum was well known: the Teocalla – but to enter it the sanctum one had to enter the Teocalla while dematerialized. Of course, to enter a Yu-Shan gate you also had to be dematerialized, so that was a moot point. Speaking of this seemed to make Tu Yu somewhat more coherent, allowing him to propose a deal to Han.

Straightening out his back and standing tall, Tu Yu looked gangly and old. His skin seemed dried and cracked paint. Sure it looked like the color of fresh human skin, but faint traces of dust could be seen to fall from the edge of each crack and wrinkle as the memory of Deheleshen slowly faded in the mind of creation. Trying to beat the dust of his old but very exquisite robes, Tu Yu addressed Han in old realm, with an accent that actually unnerved Han… for he hadn’t heard talk like that since the first age:

“I will see to it that alchemist thaumaturges draw up special baths that will render you and your circle immaterial. However, before I see this service rendered upon you then I would have you know one thing and do another”

Han found himself standing painfully upright, as if attending the court in a place he surely knew of but had never been at.

Tu Yu continued, each breath he took being followed by an exhalation of fine dust. He then drew from an unseen pocket in his robes a small spherical device which seemed to be made of blue jade and adamant: “I know that your circle has been charged with ‘freeing up’ the Gunzota redoubt. As per what I would have you and your circle do, then I would need this charged with ten motes of essence and then inserted into the meeting hall of the Gunzota redoubt – without any of you looking in there to begin with!”

The stern voice that Tu Yu used hammered home how important it was to him that his orders to be carried out precisely and to the letter. Han took the small sphere into his hand, immeatly noticing that it was in fact cut with thousands of tiny facets, giving it the appearance of sphere if one simply glanced at it – but upon closer inspection each cut had a tiny rune inscribed on it. Oh Speaker was going to have fun figuring out what this thing did.

Han couldn’t see why should deny Tu Yu’s request. The circle needed passage to Yu-Shan and even with charms aiding in Han’s most sagacisous reading of Tu Yu’s intent, then there didn’t seem to be any malicious subtext or ulterior motive to using the device in the meeting hall.

As he was about to leave, Tu Yu called out: “The ceiling windows would be best – the doors are probably barred”

Han left the TeoCalla, noticing that repairs had already started. Speaker would probably have had a few choice words about the architecture, but Han mostly enjoyed the obvious dedication shown for the god – and the fact that the temple, despite the damage, still seemed grand and spiritual in its appearance.

Shimmer had spent her time filling Speaker in on what she had learnt while Han had done his thing in Great Forks. Her elders had put her in contact with slightly more local elders in the east first of all, allowing her to request information from slightly more up to date sources. As for the Gunzota redoubt then the elders hadn’t revealed much. They had noted that lunars had apparently picked the place clean of artifacts and salvageable goods since the place was rendered inhospitable. This had taught Shimmer that her moonsilver tattoos protected her against the shaping effect of the place, which in turn told them how to beat the effect: shaping defence charms, like the ones Han knew. Speaker and Shimmer agreed that it shouldn’t be too difficult for Han to teach Speaker and Shadow that – if that was even necessary. If Han and Shimmer could enter the place without fear of harm, they could probably find a solution – or carry out Speakers instructions if they needed to shut down some arcane magic device to end the aura of crystalizing death surrounding then place.

Han and Shadow returned, brining news of Han’s brief adventure with Tu Yu – Shimmer had heard the explosion, but hadn’t paid much mind to it, thinking it was someone testing some Lookshyan essence weapon or something.

Speaker took great interest in the device that Han had been given. He couldn’t quite recall the name of it, but he was certain it was a first age weapon of sorts meant to shatter crystal: “They were made to battle whats-her-name… one of the primordial. Can’t remember her name right off the bat… come to think of it I don’t think it’s good knowing her name – but she had a body of crystal spheres. These things shatter all crystal within a hundred yards of it when they blow”

It became fairly obvious that Tu Yu wanted whatever was in the meeting hall of the Gunzota redoubt destroyed. Han pointed out that Tu Yu seemed very serious about it, as well as serious about not peeking inside before using the weapon in there. Speaker, being the only Lookshy native, had a fairly good idea why… and it wasn’t really good news, but it wasn’t necessarily bad either.

Speaker explained that the Gunzota incident… it was somewhat touchy. What really happened wasn’t really known, which was probably what Tu Yu sought to prevent ever being found out, but the fact of the matter was that at some point several centuries ago the entire general staff had met at the Gunzota redoubt for some reason… and then that weapon went off, killing the lot of them. The incident basically cut the head off Lookshy, but new leadership quickly rose to fill in the gaps – making Lookshy stronger than ever. The question was who had triggered the weapon, whether it was done on purpose, the usual who and why deal. The iffy bit was mainly that the few who still dared talk of it didn’t do so in public, because rumor would have it that it was an inside job to force a regime change for some reason.

Han chimed in that of what little he knew of Tu Yu, most of which was from Great Forks where prior to exalting he had read a number of deity biographies – mainly as a hobby, then Tu Yu was well known for protecting Lookshy’s past. As in trying to keep old embarrassing facts from surfacing, which was really only known via a few incidents where Tu Yu had been connected to the murder of historians that had been studying events where Lookshy had fared poorly. Still, Han pointed out that he didn’t see anything bad in complying with Tu Yu’s request. Shadow was a bit curious, but then again it was event that had happened centuries ago – there wouldn’t be anyone alive now who could be connected to it, and while embarrassing information was always fun to have, then Shadow didn’t seem interested in digging up additional dirt on Lookshy. Shimmer noted Shadow’s ‘additional’ with a smirk.

This brought up the question of what to do now. Shadow didn’t have any news on his investigation into the rebel of Lookshy, while having a poke at the Gunzota redoubt seemed like a much more doable thing now.

The circle assembled in lady Terisa’s courtyard where they quickly realized that Shimmer would be quickly revealed if she started shaping sorcery. Sure, Taimyo Karal Linwei seemed to be in the know, but to their knowledge then Shadow, Han and Shimmer were just highly skilled mortals that Speaker had befriended, hired or seduced. After waiting for a few minutes, Shadow sounded the all clear – declaring that nobody were looking right now, so Shimmer could do her cloud thing with nobody noticing.

Speeding off east the circle discussed how to comply with Tu Yu’s request. Shimmer said that she had flown over the redoubt and seen the ceiling windows that Tu Yu had mentioned – but to throw the weapon, the ‘Sonic Resonance Grenade’ as Speaker called it, in through the window then one should ideally be a bit closer than that – since she had flown about half a mile up in the air to avoid the essence draining effect of the place.

Speaker was the best ‘thrower’ in the circle – having had much experience as a mortal throwing scalpels and other smaller things for self-defense as a combat medic, and now even more so with his thousand wounds gear style of celestial martial arts. However, Speaker didn’t know any of the great leaping charms that Shadow knew, now did he knew how to fortify his own being through integrity protecting prana like Han could. Of course, there was always work-arounds.

Arriving east of the redoubt, the circle cautiously approached a Lookshyan encampment near the perimeter marking the boundary of the crystalizing effect. It was there both to prevent the unwary of succumbing to the effect, but also to ward off treasure hunters. This time the soldiers seemed friendly towards the circle.

It turned out that orders had just arrived from the Nasaru redoubt, informing the Lookshyan camps around the Gunzota redoubt of the circle’s possible arrival, as well as general descriptions. Of course, their orders said not to expect them for a couple of months, seeing as it would understandably take time to get from Lookshy to where they were.

Speaker looked at the soldiers, shrugged and said: “It’s sorcery – I don’t have to explain shit”

The circle then approached the perimeter. Speaker was at first taken aback at how beautiful it looked. A good third of an acre of crystal grass. It was a thing of deadly beauty. Of course, the edge of the perimeter was dotted with crystal statues of mortals that had tried to sneak in – or a few lying on the ground looking as if they had been chucked in, probably as punishment for trying to steal from the camps or something.

The Lookshyan soldiers were camped about fifty yards from the perimeter – giving the circle enough distance to talk privately. Speaker pointed out that they needed to find the source of the crystalizing aura. Shimmer was sent in to sniff out where all the essence in the area was being drained off to… which mainly was her own essence. To her charm enhanced senses Shimmer could easily follow the flow.

Walking the three hundred yards to the redoubt’s gates, Shimmer looked back and saw about a scale’s worth of Lookshyan soldiers watching, expecting to see her crystalize in moments. She could certainly tell her essence being drained at a rapid rate. It wouldn’t be more than a minute before it was all gone… which might make scaling the walls of the redoubt a bit tricky. Well, not really – it just made it a lot more bothersome.

Taking a good running start, Shimmer leapt gracefully up at the four yard tall walls, using what little essence she had left to grant her deftness and the ability to balance on even the tiniest of ledge. It worked, although as her essence drained so did the charm slip away – forcing a somewhat haphazard jump to grab the edge of the battlements.

By some stroke of luck Shimmer got one hand to hang on to, allowing the rest of her dangle helplessly. Still, she had apparently impressed something somewhere as she felt a small rush of essence returning to her – just enough to allow her to grow some nice curvy silver claws – which made digging into the stone of the wall much easier.

Up on the outer wall of the redoubt, Shimmer looked around. It was a fortress like so many others. Square, with towers at each corner. One wall had a big gate that had probably been very sturdy and very wooden – but now it was made of crystal that had fused together, so it didn’t look like it would open any time soon. This had also been why Shimmer had chosen to scale the walls of the redoubt. Opposite the wall with the gate, which was the wall facing east if her bearings were right, was the wall which merged with the main keep of the redoubt. Its top floor had those roof window sky lights she’d seen last she was here… that’d be where Speaker had to throw the grenade.

The curious urge to peek into the room under the sky lights was powerful – but she had promised Han she wouldn’t. Not that he would know if she did… right? But then again her ‘source’ with the eastern elders had said that the place had been picked clean of any jade or other non-crystalized valuables. Shimmer strongly suspected that that Silverclaws woman had been at the redoubt herself to go over any remains.

Ultimately Shimmer chose not to bother and the reason was clear: The redoubt was replete with quartz statues of mortal soldiers. The leather components in their armor had crystalized along with them, the metal parts having wasted away centuries ago. There might be a few coins to find, but nothing worth the effort to waste time with. Plus the scent of her drained essence was fading fast.

Shimmer followed the scent a heavy oak door with remains of cast iron reinforcements. The oak had of course crystalized – and the stuff was a pain to get through without access to charms. Of course, being a resourceful and sneaky changing moon caste lunar, Shimmer figured that there might be something around that could do the job for her. Basically she found a big rock and bashed the crystalized door in. The crystal was surprisingly hard – but Shimmer had enjoyed many decades of swimming and training her body in the west, so while her supple form might not suggest it, then she was quite strong and well trained, so lifting heavy objects wasn’t that difficult. In fact, she could lift really heavy stuff if given a moment to prepare herself on account of how well trained she was. That she didn’t look like a nexus pitfighter, bulging with muscle like a walking meat miracle was something she attributed to her exaltation and Luna’s appreciation for keeping things pretty.

The room behind the now shattered crystal door appeared to have been an armory of some sort. The scent of siphoned essence – many flavors of it – were strong in the room. There were many crystalized crates and chests. Shimmer also noticed holes in the stone tiled floor – something had dug up into the room. That was probably how the place had been looted, because a number of the crystalized crates and chests had been smashed open, and their content either stolen or rummaged through. Crystalized spear-handles with rusty remains of spearheads, or swords so rusted that Shimmer walking near them caused them to crumble into dust was all that was left. Any artifacts worth mention had been removed apparently.

There was one chest that had been left alone. Shimmer could smell the essence very clearly there. Her trusty, dirty big rock did its job once more, smashing open the chest.

Inside was a pulsating sphere of iridescent crystal. Shimmer, for all her wits, had no clue what it was – but it seemed to be active – and it was definitely the thing sucking up her essence! Right, now that that was confirmed – what to do with it?

Shimmer returned to the battlements and waved for the others – they couldn’t hear her, but it was clear that they could see her. She then jumped down, tumbling in the crystal grass – which would probably have hurt a lot more if couldn’t just shrug off ‘minor’ injuries… like being shanked by street thugs. Shimmer was a tough girl, again with decades of endurance training swimming the wyld waters of the west. The term harbor girl might be more fitting while in the east, but who cared?

The circle was glad to hear of Shimmer’s discovery – although that the place had been cleared out did dampen the mood a bit, mainly since Speaker pointed out that now they might get accused of looting them place. That turned out to be the least of their worries as a group of soldiers from the nearby encampment came up the circle, wanting to know how Shimmer could enter the ‘dead zone’ without crystalizing…

“Did the orders you got say anything about what we are?” Speaker asked politely.

The Gochei of the fang looked confused, then pulled called for his commanding Chuzei to come over. The Chuzei, a dragonblood of evidently thin blood, came over – the Gochei relayed Speaker’s question. The Chuzei pulled out a wrinkled piece of paper: “The martial staff has authorized one Bright Machine Speaker and his team to investigate the Gunzota redoubt. They are to be given unlimited access to the redoubt – at their own peril. Bright Machine Speaker and his team is not to be harassed in any way”

The soldiers all looked at Speaker. Speaker sighed. It made sense – it had been long enough since his original exaltation for rumor about him to spread this far, but since he had only been in Lookshy again for a couple of weeks now they knew nothing of his more positive deeds.

“You… you’re that anathema fellow, aren’t you?” one of the soldiers hesitantly said, holding very firmly on to his spear.
“No – I’m a solar exalt, exalted by the Unconquered Sun – Shimmer here is an exalt of Luna, god of the moon. She has special moonsilver tattoos that prevent any force from changing her form, both physically and spiritually, which renders her immune to whatever is active inside the redoubt” Speaker said, sounding like a mouldy old history professor. His idea was to lay on so many facts that the soldiers wouldn’t know what to think of it.

“And need I remind you of your orders to not harass me or my team? I think its implied that it doesn’t matter what we are – we are to be allowed to work here” Speaker continued, sounding more like a stern officer this time around.

The soldiers and the dragonblood backed down without a word, leaving Speaker and ‘his team’ to do their thing.

Shimmer told the circle everything she had seen with the sphere. Speaker couldn’t recall any device that fit the description – but then again Shimmer hadn’t touched or lifted the device, so all she had was the visual description.

Han could teach Speaker the charm to immunize him to the shaping the effect the sphere emanated – but to learn that Speaker would have to know a basic minimum of meditation techniques… and such take time to learn.

“Seriously, I need to learn those education charms – but I’ve spent so much time on medical charms this week, I don’t think I’ve got room for learning any more right now. I need time to internalize what I’ve learnt already” Speaker reluctantly said, hating the fact that he was declining the option to learn more.

The circle agreed to think on the issue and approached the Lookshyan encampment to see if they could spare a few tents while Speaker and ‘team’ thought things over. The Gochei looked reluctant, but with orders not to hinder or harass them he couldn’t really say no. Spare tents were set up and the circle sat down around the central campfire to think things over. Shimmer pondered if she could bring the device out into the open – but Speaker noted that the area of effect seemed perfectly circular, so bringing it out of the redoubt would endanger the soldiers at the encampments surrounding it – and Speaker was quite certain that getting Lookshyan soldiers killed as part of this operation was a really bad idea.

Later that afternoon, after guard shifts and whatnot, other soldiers joined the circle around the campfire. Some polished the boots or did other maintenance on their gears, others chatted about the boredom of being stationed in a place like the camp. The circle was discussing various means of entering the place. It seemed that the only option was for Han to teach Speaker some basic meditation techniques, so Speaker would know enough to learn the shaping defense charm.

Shimmer couldn’t stand the boredom – she decided to spend her time in the rock river, swimming around hunting stuff. It was while hunting a small fish in her totem form of a shark that Shimmer got an idea. It was a crazy idea, but it might just work!

Returning to the camp, Shimmer found the circle entertaining the soldiers. Shadow was amazing young recruits with sleight of hand, probably aided by larceny or stealth excellencies. Speaker was tinkering with some magitechnical device that the Chuzei had, which hadn’t been working right. Han was almost holding court, preaching the good word of the Unconquered Sun, probably converting a few of them.

Shimmer presented her idea. Speaker thought it was nuts. Shadow thought it was quite sneaky. Han questioned if it would work. The Lookshyan soldiers didn’t know what to say.

The plan was simple enough: Shimmer knew a fun little charm that allowed her to ‘switch’ sight with something. It worked wonders for stuff she was hunting, as it scared the living daylights out of most things. Shimmer’s idea was to swap sight with Speaker and then enter the redoubt – so Speaker could ‘see’ the sphere, without going in. In turn, Speaker could have Han write instructions and show them to Speaker, which Shimmer would then see, allowing Speaker to communicate instructions to Shimmer.

The next morning, shortly after dawn when the soldiers had their change of guards, where those who had stayed up most of the night on duty got to go to bed, the plan was put into action. Shimmer and Speaker exchanged vision, which wasn’t really obvious to see – their eyes emitted a momentary bit of silvery light.

Speaker required a moment to get used to the sensation, as it was slightly nauseating, but Shimmer was off to the redoubt already. Shimmer quickly made her way up the walls of the redoubt – this time using charms quickly and efficiently, allowing her to reach the armory with a few motes left. Speaker had advised her to be quick, as the charm might fizzle out once she was drained of essence.

Shimmer carefully observed the sphere, poked it, lifted it, tried to find an off switch – there weren’t one. Speaker in turn studied what he saw very carefully, repeatedly having Han wave a piece of paper with ‘Slow down’ or ‘Look at the sphere again, slowly’ in front of him for Shimmer to see.

Ultimately Speaker directed Shimmer to observe the chest the sphere had been stored in. It was wooden, and had probably been reinforced with bands of iron or some other metal. The interesting thing that Speaker noticed was that it the paneling on the chest seemed to have been removed. There were telltale indentations revealing that the chest had been lined with something on the outside. The inside hadn’t been touched because Shimmer had been forced to smash it open – but there wasn’t anything interesting lining the inside, just more crystalized wood.

Speaker had Han write instructions for Shimmer to bring back as big a piece of the chest – in one piece – so he could examine what the paneling had been made of. He was certain that since the sphere didn’t seem to turn off, then it must certainly have been contained – so the paneling probably had something to do with that.

Shimmer found this a lot easier said than done, as the crystalized chest seemed stuck to the stone floor. Ultimately she managed to smash free the front half of the chest. It weighed a lot, making it almost impossible for Shimmer to even drag the thing. It required great exertion and force of will to get the thing up the battlements. There she left it, returning to the circle. She needed to regain her essence in order to get the piece down safely. Han offered to help with this, seeing as with his charm he could safely approach the redoubt as well.

Around noon Shimmer and Han approached the redoubt together, Shimmer leaping to the battlements and carefully dropping the obscenely heavy front half of the crystalized chest down to Han – who cut himself very badly as he caught it. Shimmer hurried down and hauled Han back to the camp. The lone combat medic there was ready to give up on Han after one look – Han was bleeding profusely from all the shards of crystal in his hands, arms, chest and head. That Han wasn’t screaming in pain was a testament to the zenith caste’s stoic calm. Speaker quickly went to work on Han while Shimmer hauled the half crystal chest back to the camp.

Han was patched up, the combat medic looking on in disbelief as Speaker ensured that there wasn’t even a single scar left from the experience.

Then it was time to have a peek at the crystal. Outside of the essence drain, Shimmer able to sense the faint smell of jade on the indentations. Speaker, examining the carvings on the crystalized wood, noted a recurring pattern of mountains and dragons. He concluded that the chest had been lined with white jade – which made sense, as the strong nascent earth essence in white jade could very well act as a barrier to the warping energy that the sphere emmited. So, a new contained her to be lined with white jade. The depth of the indentations gave Speaker a good idea of how thick the white jade had to be – somewhere between a quarter and a third of an inch.

“So… are we going to make a new chest?” Shimmer wondered.

Speaker looked lost in thought for a moment, then refocused on the large chunk of crystal: “No, a strong leather bag with thick plates of white jade sewn on to it should do the trick – and they can be sewn on the inside, to make it look like an ordinary bag.

The Chuzei noted that they had no stores of magical materials at the camp – or at the Naseru redoubt. If they needed jade they would have to return to Lookshy, or buy some at Great Forks or Nexus. The circle opted to travel to Nexus, as they knew that at Speaker’s workshop they had a nice big white jade talent waiting for them. Shimmer did her sorcery thing, to the amazement of the soldiers at the camp – although thanks to Han’s way with words then none of them found the display of anathema powers negative. They were instead impressed and in awe.
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Title: Barbabe arbiter of unbound gravitas
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Re: Light and darkness

17 Dec 2011, 04:09

Part 17: Rock hard faith crumbling

Arriving near Nexus later that afternoon, the circle quickly found Speaker’s workshop. There were signs that someone had tried to break down the door. There were scratchmarks from metal tools. The lock showed sign of people having tried to pick, force and ultimately break it – all to no avail. This was mainly because it wasn’t made to be opened from the outside at all. It could only be opened from the inside… it being made with Shadow’s larceny charm which allowed him to step through doors in mind.

Speaker quickly used the orichalcum scalpel from Denansdor to cut nice third of an inch thick slices off the talent of white jade. He then used essence to graft the jade plates to the inside of a sturdy but surprisingly smelly leather bad that Shadow had ‘aquired’ in record time.

“You spent weeks making those adapters, how come you can do this so quickly?” Han had to ask.

Speaker pointed out that there wasn’t anything really magical about the bag. The jade did all the work without any need for actual artifice: “This isn’t that different from painting porcelain with lacquer – sure, to mold jade like this you’d usually need jade smelting furnaces and whatnot – but I’ve got essence to cover that. This is just a patch job, quick and dirty – but very efficient”

With Speaker done at nightfall the circle briefly debated if Shimmer was to return the circle to the encampment outside the Gunzota redoubt – or if they were staying the night in the city. However, since leaving Nexus things had apparently been a bit chaotic. Rumor of other anathema having set up shop in the city were everywhere – the local immaculates were overrun with petitions and demands to do something, while others were accusing the immaculates of starting it all just to drum up more business. The emissary was acting up, nailing corpses to trees in Parko Llana, fae appearing all over the Nighthammer district. Tellnaught had been locked down for three days now, nobody getting in or out – at least officially… it was a mess. Worst of all the anathema Strength-Of-Many had appeared in Coffleblock and slain over seventy guild slave dealers as well as scores of other slavers and merchants involved in the business before the emissary had appeared and thrown the vile anathema clear out of the city up in the sky – although his body was never found, only an empty crater several miles outside the walls of Nexus.

Shimmer was exhausted when they got back to the encampment. The soldiers there found it hard to believe that the circle had been to Nexus and back – but when Shadow showed that the nice jade-plated bag had the stamp of a nexus butcher shop… nobody questioned its authenticity.

“Well that explains the smell” Han noted, his curiosity satisfied.

Shadow could help but comment that the ‘butcher shop’ was where five of the largest gangs in Nexus disposed of the bodies they didn’t want found. To Shadow’s disappointment then the macabre revelation did not provoke any kind of reaction from Han.

After being briefed by Speaker, the Chuzei was hesitant to let the circle attempt to contain the sphere causing the crystallization phenomena. At first this caused some confusion, but he explained that they would need to signal for reinforcements from the Nasaru redoubt, or maybe even from Lookshy. Either way they needed to get a message to the Nasaru redoubt that the circle was ready to end the crystalizing effect. Since it was night the camp’s heliograph operator was able to send the message swiftly – although it would take several relays to get the message all the way to the Nasaru redoubt. The Chuzei expected a reply around dawn, as something this important would most likely get the Wai Tan-Junai stationed there up in arms, sending sorcerous messages left and right.

The party rested well that night, sleeping in the next day until roused by the news of a reply from the Nasaru redoubt. The crystallization effect was to be ended as soon as possible, then confirmation was to be sent back to the Nasaru redoubt – then reinforcements and engineers would be sent to rebuild the redoubt.

Shimmer, still exhausted from all the sorcery she’d been throwing around – having conjured that damned cloud of hers three times over the last twenty four hours. To this end Han was sent into the redoubt instead.

While Shimmer usually scaled the walls of the redoubt, Han took a somewhat more direct approach. The great crystalized gate in the redoubt’s east-facing wall was met with an all-mighty blow which utterly shattered the crystal gate. Han then quickly moved towards the armory, as per Shimmer’s directions. However, before he went there he used the last of his essence to prime the crystal-shattering grenade that Tu Yu had given him, found his way to the meeting hall – the crystalized doors were bared he noted... the wooden bar also having crystalized, the lot having fused together, making opening the door impossible. A switch punch made for a hole big enough to chuck the grenade through… and a few seconds later the entire redoubt shook as a motonic shockwave reverberated through the whole place.

At the encampment everything shook – and the sight of every crystalized object visible on the redoubt pulverizing, the pulse slowly moving outwards and pulverizing the crystallized glass as well, was a marvelous sight. As the crystal dust settled the redoubt looked… naked. Every wooden beam, door, crystalized soldiers or anything else had been reduced to a fine pink quartz powder.

Han peeked into the room where he’d chucked the grenade. It was there on the floor, ready to be picked up – which he did. It seemed to rattle, as if hollow. Speaker probably needed to fix it before it could be used again.

The armory was still where it had always been – although this time there wasn’t a bashed in crystal door in the doorway. The armory was full of crystal powder and tiny rusty bits of iron and steel scattered on the ground. Amidst the piles of dust and rust there was a glowing sphere. Han found it difficult to look directly at – it hurt his eyes.

Taking out the leather bag, which hadn’t crystalized, Han stuffed the sphere into the bag. The moment he closed the bag and tied it shut with some jade-string Speaker had made the whole place suddenly… became less quiet.

Han heard insects and birds – it was just like coming out Denansdor again. This was amazing. Moments later he heard shouts from outside the redoubt. Entering the courtyard he saw the circle and soldiers from the encampment approaching, joyously shouting and hollering. The Chuzei couldn’t thank the circle enough – retaking the redoubt would a great boon to Lookshy. They would finally be able to monitor rock river traffic properly again, as well as defend the confederation of rivers properly should the satrap in Grey Falls ever make a move. The Chuzei was curious as to why all the crystal shattered though… and Han really didn’t want to lie about what had happened – as he just wasn’t the type to tell lies. Luckily Speaker quickly explained that it obviously was the effect of the crystals no longer being ‘maintained’ by the sphere. Speaking of which… what was going to happen to the sphere. It was a potent weapon, no doubt about it – but it was also only held back by a sack… which could in theory easily be stolen or damaged. The Chuzei was understandably apprehensive about letting Speaker leave with the device, but at the same time he didn’t want to occupy the remains of the redoubt with that thing lying around.

Han pointed out that Shimmer still wasn’t in any condition to bring the circle back to Lookshy – so they would probably be staying for a few days anyway. They would watch over the sphere and possibly help out where needed to kill time. The Chuzei accepted this and ordered his men to break camp and move into the redoubt. Riders were sent to other camps guarding the redoubt, as well as heliograph messages to the Nasaru redoubt that the Gunzota redoubt was once again in the hands of Lookshy.

With everything peaceful once again Han and Speaker found themselves discussing why Lookshy hadn’t been able to retake the redoubt before. Han knew enough about dragonblood charms to know that there was a charm which allowed a dragonblood immunity to shaping effects… so why hadn’t they marched into the redoubt earlier?

Speaker pulled Han aside to where none of the Lookshyan soldiers, who were busy sweeping up crystal dust, couldn’t hear them: “Back when the Unconquered Sun, Luna, the maidens and Gaia made the exaltations we carry… Gaia made the dragonblooded last, as servants to the celestial exalted”

Han couldn’t see the problem. Speaker explained: “They were made weaker on purpose. Gaia didn’t want to risk being accused of letting things of primordial artifice loose in creation which could pose an actual threat to the celestial exalted. If I recall correctly, then there’s actually a number of dragonblooded charms that don’t really work against celestial exalted… but for goodness sake, don’t tell them that!”

Blinking for a few seconds to comprehend the brief primer on first age theo-politics and drama, Han couldn’t help but comment on Speaker willfully keeping secrets from Lookshy. Didn’t they deserve to know this, if Speaker really intended to tell them everything there was to know about Solars as part of his plan to appease them?

“They will learn this eventually… look, simply getting them to accept celestial exalted as peers will be a big enough pill for them to swallow – telling them that they were made to subservient to us will only make things worse. Besides, who says things have to be like that now?”

Han nodded, happy to hear that Speaker wasn’t really interested in setting things back to how they were, at least for that particular matter. The two joined Shadow and Shimmer who were discussing what to do next.

Shadow wanted to return to Lookshy to continue his investigation into the rebel and who controlled it. He was certain it was someone in house Amilar. He wasn’t ready to say why, as he didn’t have enough evidence to assert any claims yet – but he was certain that he would find enough evidence soon… as soon as he got back to Lookshy.

The circle spent the rest of the day relaxing outside the redoubt. The Lookshyan patrol ship Lookshy’s Vigil, which had apparently been anchored off the shore as a ‘replacement’ for the redoubt, at least to monitor river traffic, was signaled to anchor near shore and let its marines come to shore. The crew of the ship had seen the events of the redoubt unfolding, or at least they had seen all the crystal bits pulverizing followed by the soldiers in the camp retaking the place, and they were happy to join them.

Speaker spent most of his time on Shimmer, trying to ensure that she was as comfortable as possible – mainly so that she would sleep well, so they could fly home to Lookshy.

The next day the Lookshyan soldiers, with great help from an air aspected dragonblooded officer from Lookshy’s Vigil, had cleared the redoubt of the crystal powder. Speaker had treated quite a few of them for breathing the dust, which had turned out to cause bloody coughs and lung damage – but with the help of the air aspected officer the powder was controlled and put into wooden barrels from the ship. The officer was certain that Lookshy could find a use for the stuff – if for nothing else then to mix into clear paint to make sparkly shimmering pink paint. Why let it go to waste? Speaker liked him.

Shimmer was finally ready to fly back to Lookshy – but she demanded a week off after that. The circle agreed, seeing as they didn’t have much of a choice. They arrived in Lookshy at sundown, sphere in bag, delivering the happy news straight to the district of the legion. Them flying in over Lookshy caused no small amount of commotion – but then again, it wasn’t entirely uncommon for graduates from Valkhavsen to fly around on their little clouds as well… even though Lookshy’s air ship navy deeply frowned upon it. It didn’t help that Lookshy’s air defences were close to opening fire as well, until Speaker flared his anima to near totemic levels to identify himself and his circle. Taimyo Karal Linwei needed to confirm that the redoubt was once again under Lookshy’s control – confirmation that arrived surprisingly quickly, probably via sorcery.

The look on the Taimyo’s face when Speaker presented to her his ‘official’ report on the redoubt – that it truly was Lookshy’s once again, even though it had apparently been looted of all artifacts and magical materials, was one of great joy. As is common for fire aspected dragonbloods, then the Taimyo burst into joyous celebration – well, as much as was proper. She offered each of the circle a drink of her finest century old wine, the sort not even the wealthiest guild factors could ever hope to taste, stating that this was a great day for Lookshy.

Things quieted down after that. Shimmer got her rest and relaxation, spending most of her time in calm meditation in one of gens yushoto’s gardens. Shadow was nowhere to be seen, although each morning a new letter stating that he was getting closer to his goal was waiting at the circle’s breakfast table. Han used the information Speaker had acquired about where the helot and citizen elite came and went, making great strides in swaying much of Lookshy’s non-dragonblood population to be more open towards solars and lunars, as news of Shimmer’s nature spread as well once proper reports from the Gunzota redoubt started circulating.

At the end of the week Speaker found that he could walk down any street in Lookshy and people would salute him – instead of swerve to avoid getting too close to him. It felt great being this accepted and honored.

It was during one such walk, Speaker heading to another housecall where the man of the had apparently been in an accident at the smithy he worked at, that Speaker was approached by a messenger. This wasn’t entirely uncommon, but the message certainly was. It was a written invitation to Speaker, stating that he was invited to tea with certain parties that which to discuss his future in Lookshy. It didn’t come as a surprise to him that at this point political entities would approach him. Indeed, he looked forward to mince words. A shame he didn’t know more social charm though – they made people so much more cooperative.

After fixing up a badly burnt hand – which took Speaker about five seconds now – he made his way to the tea house he had been invited too.

It was called a nice-looking tea house in the market district. The sign outside called it ‘A drop of Yanaze’ and the wooden façade was richly decorated with images of flowing water and flowers. Inside Speaker was guided to a back room, after which the door to it was closed. This was obviously meant to be discreet and private…

“Bright Machine Speaker I take it?” a woman said. Speaker nodded and looked around, recognizing the famous Maheka ‘The Battleaxe’ Lespa as well as a number gens Maheka tabard wearing home guardsmen.

Speaker took a deep breath. The battleaxe was legendary amongst Lookshyans and anyone who’d ever fought against the third Lookshyan field force. What did she want? If anything, the only comfort Speaker was feeling right now was that he hadn’t been invited to some hidden location where he could be assassinated – a wooden tea house wouldn’t withstand a battle between exalted.

To begin with the Battleaxe congratulated Speaker on his retaking the Gunzota redoubt. However, with that said she inquired into Speaker’s plan – what was he really in Lookshy for? He was anathema – they weren’t supposed to nice… so why was he? Why the deception? Was he trying to set Lookshy for a great cataclysm? The implications of her questions were obvious. She might as well be asking him “Why are you trying to kill us all?”

Speaker looked at the battleaxe. Honestly he expected better – he expected more. Sure, she had poured enough essence into her little attempt to make Speaker incriminate herself that rocks and dust were spinning around her like tiny earth dragons. Speaker gave her a stern look and said: “Really?”

With that said the battleaxe broke into a hearty laugh. Now this was a stark difference to the seemingly hairtrigger rage of Taimyo Karal Linwei. The battleaxe accepted him basically dismissing her question, explaining that anything short of that would have been unworthy of a son of Lookshy. She stated that had Speaker not done so, she would have had him dragged out back and killed. Battleaxe indeed.

“Your presence and actions have caused a bit of a crisis of faith in my gens – and the rest of Lookshy’s adherents to the immaculate philosophies” The battleaxe explained, looking stern – but not in a frightening manner. Speaker found this somewhat odd. Karal Linwei was imposing, her presence making one stand to attention. The battleaxe, despite her nickname, did not have that kind of awe-inspiring presence, at least not by her visual appearance alone. Of course, everyone would be cautious of a flame – while nobody expects a rock to do anything sudden or unexpected.

The battleaxe then pulled out what appeared to be a square sheet of white jade, about a quarter inch thick. On it was a lot of writing, although Speaker couldn’t see exactly what was written – it was very dense. The battleaxe handed it to Speaker: “Did you know that there exists very few pre-contagion copies of the immaculate texts? After that, from around the time the scarlet empress ascended to her pretty red throne, there’s a blossoming of copies spread all over creation. Also the few shogunate era copies we have do not match up to the post-contagion versions the realm spreads around”

Speaker nodded, trying to read the very small inscriptions on the jade. It was a librarians report that had been copied over onto the jade, about finding the oldest possible copy of the immaculate texts. The battleaxe continued:

“I suspect I commissioned that report over thirty times before personally seeing to it being etched into jade. You see, each time the report was done – it never happened, and I found myself having a very hard time remembering having commissioned it. Only this jade inscription doesn’t disappear”

“So someone has been making you and your librarians forget these inquiries?” Speaker said, finding this highly suspicious.

The battleaxe explained that the report, while written by gens Maheka librarians and archivists thirty years, had been aided by gens Amilar librarians and the then gens Amilar immaculate preacher. Whoever kept making everyone forget about the makings of the report, as well as erasing all evidence of it having been made, somehow got to everyone – each time. Anathema had of course been suspected, but for something this simple and innocuous?

Speaker found all this quite intriguing – what could be causing this? But beyond that, how did any of this relate to him: “So, does any of this have something to do with me?”

The battleaxe straightened her back. She was a tall woman, probably half a head taller than Karal Linwei, making her a little bit taller than Speaker even. She looked at him with eyes of stone cold determination: “The victors are always the ones who write the history books. There are countless stories of hundred kingdom warlords burning all books and writings mentioning past rulers, rewriting local history to make them the only ruler the land ever had…”

She sighed and took a deep breath: “Like I said, your presence has caused a crisis of faith. This report calls into the doubt just how ancient and time-honored the immaculate faith we know today is – and your good deeds for Lookshy have calls to doubt the denouncements that the immaculate faith calls those with your powers.”

The battleaxe digressed: She knew that most of the immaculate philosophy wasn’t bad – the guidance it offered was sound and it gave many people hope. That it said that dragonblooded were specifically spiritually better than mortals, just because they exalt – well, she had met plenty of dragonblooded who were more than unholy in both behavior, acts and personality. Any dragonblood worth her salt knew that exalting was purely a question of bloodline purity – to honestly believe that it was a blessing of the dragons either meant that you were kept very much in the dark, by someone who did know, or that nobody where you lived knew, which was usually only the case for outcaste dragonblooded.

All in all, the battleaxe was aware of the inconsistencies of the texts – but then again, the ramblings and orders of gods to mortal worshipers didn’t always make sense. The immaculate texts made a lot of sense – too much to be ‘merely’ the recordings of divine inspiration, since such had a funny habit of striking those more zealous than coherent.

“Don’t the monks usually just rationalize that by saying that someone proof read the original writings? That they were ‘interpreted’ or whatever other excuse they can come up with?” Speaker pointed out.

The battleaxe agreed. She pointed out that for all its good, then all evidence pointed towards the immaculate faith as creation-wide religion not having been around longer than the empress. Sure, plenty of shogunate texts vilified the anathema, justifying the usurpation against their evil oppressors and overlords, heralding the dragonblooded as saviors and saints – but as the battleaxe had already said, then the history books were usually written by the victors.

“Crisis of faith indeed. So am I right to assume that you’re questioning whether the immaculate faith at all is legit, or if it was something the scarlet empress fabricated in the wake of the contagion?” Speaker boldly suggested.

“I’m not willing to even make that kind of hypothesis – not yet. Besides then the immaculate philosophy is older than the empress, she only seems to have coopted it. That said, then your presence might demand reform – or rewording, of certain texts. Especially your claims that your powers are in the form of a type of exaltations are hard to reconcile with. Until a few weeks ago I only knew dragonblooded to exalt. Now you say you are exalted as well?” The battleaxe said, sounding more curious than disbelieving. It was clear that she treasured the immaculate philosophy. Like she’d said, then there were good rules to live by in it. But she honestly seemed open to Speaker. Maybe this was Han’s social charms having affected all of Lookshy?

Probably not.

“Right, I do indeed claim so, but that still begs the question – what do you want with me here then?” Speaker noted. Sure, he was thrilled to be discussing this with the matriarch of Gens Maheka – but he’d much rather actually known why he was invited here… unless this was the purpose of the meeting, which would be ok – he just wanted to know.

The battleaxe paused for a moment. She then looked Speaker dead in the eyes: “What is it that you’re here in Lookshy for? Are you simply trying to rejoin society after… exalting – or do you have greater ambitions?”

Speaker wondered if she knew of the promise he had made to Karal Linwei of enlightening all mortals’ essence. Sure, that was very much a long term goal, his more immediate goal being to see peace secured in the river provinces – via Lookshy. So after little internal debating he told her this: “Me and my friends have various goals for what we want. I personally want to see peace in the river provinces. I want to accomplish this via enlightening people. If you people understand what they’re dealing with then they’re less likely to do the stupid things. If the guild truly knew what happens to the slaves they send off to be ravaged into submission by the fair folk, or if it was common knowledge what the undead were doing at thorns…”

The battleaxe gestured for Speaker to pause: “Your intentions seem honorable enough, no need to elaborate. However, how do you see Lookshy featuring in this?”

Speaker thought carefully about what to say here. His recently awakened strategic and tactical skills urged him not to make it sound as if Lookshy had to do all the work. His knowledge of gens Maheka politics told him that they were generally mercenary – favoring the status quo of leasing forces to quell problems, but not taking over administration of liberated areas. Of course, with Thorns it might be easier to urge Lookshy to go out and actually occupy the fallen satrapi.

“It is central to it. In my opinion Lookshy is a beacon of hope to creation. Our laws are just, our society healthy, and our economy good. Of course, Lookshy won’t have to stand alone. It shall have the help of both solars and lunars – and before you ask, then I will see to that comprehensive manauls of exalted power are written and delivered to the general staff, so that you can all better understand us” Speaker said, speaking with the confidence of a true lawgiver.

The battleaxe raised an eyebrow and smirked. Sure, Speaker really was speaking well for his cause – and to see Lookshy control the river provinces would be… even though the battleaxe honestly did like the current status quo, as taking on administrative duties of other kingdoms were always far more bothersome than ‘just’ driving off whatever was threatening them. One thing did stand out to her though: “Us? You mean there’s more of you?”

“Me and my team are all celestial exalts. Han and Shadow are solars, Shimmer is a lunar. And there are hundreds more throughout creation. That is the real reason we are here: We’re trying to gain support, or at least permission, to build a large temple to the Unconquered Sun north of Great Forks. It will be a rallying points for solars fleeing wyld hunts and seeking purpose. I know this sounds intimidating, but take heart: We’re trying to set up circumstances to encourage righteous and honorable use of our powers – to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. I’m a firm believer in Sunipa’s doctrine. I see no reason in applying more force than need be, and right now we just want to allowed to live just as much as any other man, woman or child” Speaker really wishing that he’d devised some silent communication device or system so Han could back him up on stuff like this.

The battleaxe looked at Speaker for the longest time. There were murmurs amongst the soldiers in the room. Speaker couldn’t help but notice that the battleaxe’s face wasn’t that unlike Karal Linwei’s face when he’d told her of his plans to enlighten mortals to prevent untimely death by gunzosha armor.

“Was this what you wanted to know of me?” Speaker politely asked.

Maheka Lespa, the battleaxe, needed some fresh air. She staggered to her feet, shaken deeply by the information Speaker had given her. That many anathema running around? Good grief. She walked out of the room and had a group of other Maheka scions enter. They brought in various gadgetry…

“We.. we’ve been instructed to test your skills in magitechnical repair” one of them said, a tall and gangly fellow in robes that designated him a sorcerer-technician’s assistant. He placed several delicate tools and a few obviously broken or non-functioning magitech devises in front of Speaker.

Speaker didn’t even bother asking why they were doing this – he just cranked up his essence and went to town, fixing the devices in minutes. They mostly just needed proper assembly, a few screws tightened, a gem jiggled into place. This was entry level stuff, Speaker not even needing to whip out his crafting excellency for it.

“Well, that confirms that you’ve retained what you were rated to know prior to the event” another of the scions said, furiously writing down notes. A third one, a portly and stout woman, gestured for other devices to be brought in, this time obviously damaged artifacts – the sort that really shouldn’t be possible to repair without replacement parts.

Speaker looked at it. It was obvious what was expected of him – but this stuff was just a bit more complicated than what his basic knowledge of magitech allowed for. Sure, he had a repair charm – but his magitechnical knowledge wasn’t great enough for the two to be combined. Of course, who was he to back down from a challenge like this? He was Bright Machine Speaker, a genius blessed by the sun god himself!

Speaker slowly disassembled the damaged components and carefully examined them. His exaltation had blessed him with miraculous knowledge of nearly every mortal craft known, be it blacksmithing, jewelcrafting or how to mix up medical ointments – this wasn’t that different... right? Sure, he wasn’t entirely sure of what the device did, but he recognized the cracked topaz and emeralds. A bit of essence here, the right repair charm there, and the cracks vanished like morning dew. The cracks in the casing could just be reforged. There weren’t any runes or inscriptions on them that needed to be saved – it just needed to be smoothed over. Again his repair charm did wonders. Now all he needed was to reassemble it all. With a final click the mechanism started to hum and buzz, a large gear on the side of it starting to spin furiously. It was an essence engine!

“You know, I could fix this a lot easier if I had access to some instruction manuals – I really don’t know that much on magitech” Speaker said, but his observers seemed more interested in checking out his repairs.

“Yes, adequate – if a bit crude. How did you repair the gems?” one of them asked. Speaker said a repair charm that doesn’t require replacement parts.

All three magitechnicians’ eyes lit up like a child at the last day of calibration. The three quickly huddled and whispered amongst themselves, then picked up the essence engine and left in a hurry. The Battleaxe then returned, stating that Speaker was free to leave. She did say that he might be contacted in the future, once she had investigated his claims and properly evaluated what he’d said.

“Don’t tell to many others what I said about my friends. They’ll go public when they feel its time – and I can’t guarantee for their actions if tell on them” Speaker said, looking around at the guards in the room.

The battleaxe nodded. She knew how some dragonblooded reacted when their secrets were exposed – and with the power that Speaker had demonstrated… well, she wasn’t stupid – she did not want to face the fury of a god-wrestler: “Fair enough, and don’t worry – these guards are my personal retinue. They’re all deaf-mutes, and no – please don’t fix that”

Speaker returned to Lady Terisa who was curious of where he had been all day – there had been more people asking for his medical services. Speaker refrained from telling her of his meeting with Maheka Lespa. Speaker did ask if he could get some transport – there was a place he needed to go…

Around nightfall, after somewhat haphazardly getting the horse to cooperate, Speaker arrived at the location where he remembered his tomb-manse, the Soulforge, was. Finding it was oddly easy, too easy, but that was a mystery for later. Tying the horse to a nearby tree, Speaker entered the manse, humming the melody that opened the stone door.

Inside Speaker made his way to the library of stone tablets that his previous incarnation had left him. It was time to truly become the machine speaker than his name so spoke of. Ok, no, it was time to learn to read old realm. Speaker wanted to swear in old realm – but no, he needed to figure it out first. He looked around at the thousands of stone tablets, all perfectly smooth with old realm inscriptions and diagrams. There was so much knowledge here.

It was time to learn to harness knowledge – at its most basic level. With that in mind Speaker sat down in the middle of the vast archive and began to meditate on the most divine and harmonious academic methodoly ever conceives – the perfect first age wisdom impartation technique. Everyone would learn, Speaker included. No more would creation suffer from ignorance.

Speaker spent a small week figuring out the arcane essence flows of how knowledge worked and was imprinted. As part of learning it he tried to teach himself old realm… and indeed, as if through divine revelation on the seventh day, Speaker suddenly understood the writing on the stone tablets.

Of course, this wasn’t the only thing he suddenly understood. Most of his memories, especially the really clear ones, were with people speaking this language. Speaker was overwhelmed by the insight into the first age this gave him. Oh he jumped around in joy! The stone walls resounded with impromptu and very poor singing and dancing.

Glancing over the stone tablets, Speaker now found himself not even having to read them – he gleamed the wisdom from them so quickly it was amazing. Of course, he also realized the true treasure in the tablets. It wasn’t just to teach the reader how to design and create magitechnical wonders – it was blueprints… hundreds of blueprints. This included knowledge of how to make a warstrider, how to make advanced magitechnical manses, suits of armor with all sorts of wondrous abilities.

It was then that Speaker fell to his knees and wept in tears of joy – for he now truly understood the genious of his predecessor in how the tomb-manse was made. All during the week Speaker had fed himself by once going to the source of wyld energy that the manse created and used his wyld shaping technique to create food to eat – well, with the option to make anything he wanted he made a man-sized pile of cheese, perfect crispy roast noodles and several splotches of obscenely spicy fluids… Oh Shadow would probably love a sample of this for use as poison.

With the many blueprints it became clear to Speaker that he could do so much more with such a pure source of chaotic energy. He could shape everything needed to make all the things that he had blueprints for. No wonder the first age had been so grand – the solars could make marvels and artifacts out of whole cloth! Soulforge indeed – this place would allow Speaker to resurrect the first age… although he did see a slight design flaw: The door leading out of the place wasn’t that big – which limited the size of what he could conjure up and haul out of there.

Ultimately Speaker only saw that as a minor hindrance. With his singing staff he could create manses like no tomorrow! He could make another more accessible manse with a wyld source! Oh this was grand.
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Re: Light and darkness

10 Jan 2012, 15:49

Part 18: There is no monster under your bed

Speaker returned to Lookshy… on foot. The horse he had tied up above the manse was gone. Great. Luckily he was able to wave down a patrol of home guard on horseback and managed to talk himself into getting a ride back to the city gates. The guardsmen giving him the ride seemed quite thrilled to meet and help him – hinting to Speaker that Han had probably kept up his social engineering to make Lookshy more friendly.

Arriving in Lookshy Speaker found this not to be the case, as he was seized immediately by a large burly dragonblooded and slammed into the ground. This might have hurt lesser men, but Speaker had resistance charms.

Looking up into the angry face of the dragonblooded man, a face that had that distinct earthen ‘crusty’ look to it, like his skin worked like slightly dry mud, making it all crinkly and weird, Speaker calmly asked: “Ok beautiful, to what do I owe the honor?”

It turned out that the fine not so gentle man was of gens Maheka, and he was furious at Speaker for supposedly brainwashing Maheka Lespa into initiating talks with the local immaculate monks on how to possibly ‘bend the books’ to find an ‘excuse’ to have anathema like Speaker accepted into society. This guy wasn’t having any of it. It was anathema killing time.

Speaker looked around, as much as he now could. Shadow would probably have reacted much faster, allowing him to not even have been caught off guard – but Speaker worked with the hand he had been dealt: “Ok, you’re upset – have you tried talking to the battleaxe about this?”

The dragonblood ordered his men to hold Speaker down while he drew his blade – a big ugly chopping sword, adorned with a total of eight rings on the back. This, this Speaker could work with.

Using his martial arts excellency at the very next moment, Speaker got free from the now mortal men holding him down. As he got up he instantly dropped into his thousand wounds gear style form and recalled Gift from elsewhere, making an awful lot of noise as revved up its essence engines to spin its orichalcum blades around.

The earth aspected Dragonblood stopped right in his tracks – realizing that his foe was a lot less defenseless than he had just been.

“I don’t want to hurt you. I’m just defending myself – besides, I think at this point we’re breaking the ban on dueling” Speaker casually said, feeling uncommonly cocky and sure of himself, him still riding the buzz of discovering all those wondrous things about the Soulforge and the treasure-trove of knowledge it held.

The particular dragonblood that Speaker was facing wasn’t stupid… but he was also very proud of his personal beliefs. Still, he had learnt the hard way through prior engagements that mundane weapons versus artifact weapons was a really bad idea. To this end, he sheathed his blade and gave Speaker an ugly look: “Just get out of here – but know this: This isn’t over!”

Speaker couldn’t even bother to look back and acknowledge that he had heard the man.

Returning to lady Terisa’s mansion, now more or less fully repaired from the damages wrought during her ‘fight’ with Oak Ridge, Speaker found the rest of the circle and delivered to the great news of his revelation in Soulforge. Han was happy that speaker had finally figured out how to speak old realm, as anything short of that was simply an affront to Speaker’s name in his opinion – Shimmer was happy that Speaker was Happy, and finally Shadow was very interested in the fact that Speaker now claimed to be able to teach stuff to people very quickly.

“What exactly does this charm allow you do?” Shadow inquired.

Speaker thought for a second. The insights the charm gave on wisdom-imbuing essence flows was very difficult to explain: “Honestly, it would be a lot easier to show you”

Shadow thought why not and accepted – and so the next day Speaker and Shadow had a nice little five hour session where Speaker tried to teach both himself and Shadow the basics of musical expression.

Shimmer and Han spent those five hours laughing their asses off as Speaker and Shadow showed just how bad they were at poetry, playing a sanxian, playing a dizi bamboo flute and Speaker trying to play his singing staff… which resulted in a rather ugly mound of wet dirt rising in front of him and exploding, spraying mud everywhere.

After the session, with Shadow by no means feeling more artistically skilled, Shimmer approached Speaker: “Dear – You know I care for you and that I support you in your every endeavor – but please… please promise me that you will never do poetry again. I haven’t heard haiku this bad since Leviathan got high on puffer fish and went on a three day binge of dirty limerick. For the love of creation, don’t do haiku!”

Speaker was somewhat surprised to hear such criticism from Shimmer –but then again, he had begun to take her support for granted. He was under no delusions that he was good – and indeed, while Shadow was still in earshot he told Shadow to meditate on what they had done for one hour before going to sleep for the next week – then on the seventh night he should see the magic working.

Turning to address Shimmer’s critisim, Speaker jokingly hit her with what was possibly the weirdest haiku ever done outside of a raksha noble court: “I have a living, installing carved wood monks, go fuck a fruitbasket”

Shimmer, a prankster by heart, recognized a joke when she heard one – but still… that was bad: “Speaker, dear – if your charm words – then use it again a few times, then come back to me. When you can use your singing stick to make a statue dance, then I’ll listen”

Defeated with harsh words, Speaker found himself comforted by Han and lady Terisa. The lady said that she had found the performance quite amusing – but the sight of a singing staff... that was unexpected: “What other treasures are you hiding Speaker?” she said in jest.

Speaker realized that exposing his singing staff to lady Terisa might have been a bad move. The singing staves were treasured and unique even in the first age – and as far as he knew, then Lookshy didn’t have one. If it got out that he had one the general staff might very well demand that he turn it over – both as a sign of ‘good faith’ and because it would really be handy to have for Lookshy.

Forcing the staff back into elsewhere, Speaker pleaded: “Please don’t tell anyone I have this – Look, given time I will be able to crank out artifacts like it’s going out of fashion, even more singing staves. The staff is part of that. I’m well aware of the strategic and tactical advantages of being able to toss up a fortress in minutes, but for now this staff stays with me – and if anyone tries anything, I will have to hide it in a place that only I can find and enter for my next incarnation”

Lady Terisa gave Speaker a shrewd look. She knew damn well what a singing staff would mean to Lookshy. Only the realm had those – although they had lost one to the Bull of the North with the Tepet legions defeat, and one was known to rest somewhere in the inland sea… indeed, gens Teresu regularly had water aspected dragonbloods fitted with ten mile long ropes and then plunged into the inland sea, to search the dark sea floor for the wreck with the staff, usually while fighting off whatever monsters that lurked in the depths: “Fair enough – but my silence comes at a premium, for a singing staff is no laughing matter. In three weeks I have a light airship going to Mount Metagalapa. We’ve only recently made contact with them, apparently remnants of the seventh legion were ‘stranded’ there when then mountain flew half a mile up in the air at the end of the great contagion. They’re having trouble with a very violent and vengeful god that appears every twelve years. It is expected to appear in about four weeks. My silence will require you and your god-wrestling friend, as well as Shadow and Shimmer should you wish, to come along and put that god in its place. This will secure gens Yushoto a very lucrative trade agreement, which will benefit all of Lookshy. These people have been mining that floating mountain for seven hundred years, they can break Nexus’s monopoly on iron and ores in the east – and Lookshy stands to get exclusive rights if you can do this”

Speaker didn’t really see much of a choice, and Han found his reputation as a god-wrestler very amusing, albeit well deserved. Speaker agreed to the deal, Han saying that he would inform the others.

That night Speaker slept oddly well. It might have something to do with that thing with her tongue that Shimmer had performed prior to the two going to sleep – but he just felt really comfortable. So much so that he didn’t notice the assassins sneaking in. Shimmer did though, and when Speaker woke up most of the floor was covered in just one big pool of blood. Speaker could only think about it really saying something about the mansion’s construction that it hadn’t seeped down through the floor. Shimmer had at least hoped for a slightly more normal reaction, or a thank you for not having woken him up.

Lady Terisa was shocked over the news of the assassination attempt – Shadow even more so. Lady Terisa’s servants just wept, as they would have to clean up the mess.

Later that morning the circle discussed what to do. Shimmer and Shadow were urging for more caution, but Speaker was quick to point out that caution wouldn’t do much as his identity and status was well known all throughout Lookshy by now – and probably most of the scavenger lands.

Shadow at least found that to have some positive effects: “The brightest light casts the darkest shadows” – elaborating that with Speaker’s status as solar/anathema being so well known it would be a lot easier for the rest of the circle to hide behind that. Sure, due to Speaker’s various statements and Han’s growing reputation as a god-wrestler then a handful of Lookshy’s general staff knew the truth – but traveling around elsewhere in the rest of creation would allow the circle to claim, if need be, to simply be innocent bystanders lured along by the seductive powers of the anathema.

“My seductive vpower?” Speaker said, giving shadow a look of disbelief. Shimmer found this endlessly amusing, her nodding very much in agreement… although to what could probably be debated, although it shouldn’t.

Han nodded his head back and forth, evaluating Shadow’s argument: “There is a better way – one that might even allow Speaker to ‘disprove’ the rumors of him being anathema”

The rest of the circle listened intensely as Han explained his idea: Basically it came down to performance charms and Speaker having to pass himself off as a dragonblooded. Han knew a simple but powerful charm that by now allowed him to conjure up all manner of simple sensory effects – everything needed to emulate a low end display of dragonblooded anima flux.

“Right, and if I for some reason go full totemic, then what?” Speaker just had to ask.

Han explained that the charm also allowed conscious control of one’s totemic anima: “You can make it look like a big roaring dragon – it just has to fit your mood… and with you being so dedicated to the medical profession then emulating a wood dragon might be best”

Speaker was genuinely intrigued. The prospect of being able to help others without inspiring fear and terror everywhere sounded too good to be true. Han did point out that Speaker would need to develop his still limited creative talent a bit more though – to learn the charm Speaker would need to be proficient enough in all manners of artistic expression that one might call him a professional at both poetry, dance, song and the playing of musical instruments: “But I figure you’d end up learning that anyway – if you ever want to be good enough at using your singing staff to be able to use it properly”

The circle agreed that this sounded like a good thing to do – Speaker excusing himself to use his learning-charm on himself once more.

Shimmer joined Shadow at Shadow’s request, in Shadow’s continued hunt for the source of the Lookshyan rebel. Han decided that it was a good time to tour the market district, to throw around some social charms in order to lighting the general public opinion of non-dragonblooded exalted.

Speaker found his training easy enough. A servant at the mansion commented that seeing Speaker in his ‘training fugue’ was quite hypnotic – making Speaker wonder where the education charm he used got the knowledge from. It obviously didn’t just draw it from nothing, as the results were quite good. Speaker equally figured that he should ideally learn the essence patterns behind the notion of infinite performance mastery – as Speaker figured that once he got around to actually using his singing staff for serious construction or earthworks then being able to minimize essence expenditures might just be a prudent thing to do.

After Speaker was done he headed down to the market district, looking for Han. It wasn’t difficult finding the preacher man, as he was standing tall at one of the plazas with quite a crowd gathered around him. It came to no surprise that Han by now had learnt all the heartstrings to tug at when speaking to Lookshyans, so he extoled the virtue of the Unconquered Sun, although how Han went about this surprised Speaker quite a lot…

“So how would you explain the claims that you and your friend, the so called Bright Machine Speaker, are anathema?” a wealthy looking man shouted, surrounded by what looked like yes-men and others who shared his views.

Han looked skywards and smiled: “Is this not Lookshy? Where a man’s faith is his own business? Would you say that your faith takes precedence over mine?”

There was a moment of pause as nobody in the crowd seemed to want to say anything that might contravene Lookshy law on religious practice.

“I come from Great Forks. In our gutters alone we have enough gods to fill your greatest halls, and I have seen paupers and madmen worship them none the less. I have seen murder and lunacy justified by claims of righteousness and holiness – just as you now say that me and Speaker should be put to death simply for our faith and that a god you do not favor has blessed us” Han retorted, many in the crowd nodding understandingly. Speaker suspected there was essence at work here, but he was not one to complain.

Another from the crowd shouted: “But the texts say that anathema are evil and will lead us a stray – is that not what you are doing right now?”

Han shrugged: “I am not forcing you to do anything. If you are lending me your ear you are obviously doing so out of your own free will. I am but a preacher of my religion – I don’t behave like realm monks who would slay any who do not swear to their empress and her faith”

Speaker had to admit – Han knew his way with words. For every insult or question to his motives he would retort by claiming innocence and diverting attention to realm wrong-doings.

“What do I stand to gain by worshiping the sun god? We have all heard the stories of the scorched fields of Rana, or the plague on visited on Tuq when they set up a shrine for your god?” another voice asked.

Han once again spoke of Great Forks, how he had seen the whims of gods that lived amongst mortals. He had heard of Rana and Tuq, but he did pose the question who most often retold those tales? Quite a few in the crowd could answer this: Immaculate monks. To this Han asked why it might be that immaculate monks might like to highlight the disasters that have come from worshiping other gods?

“Have any of you ever heard an immaculate monk speak of how well people of other creeds fare? It is simply not wise for a monk to speak of things that might lead his parish to seek other faiths… although it could be argued that speaking ill of other faiths isn’t very polite” Han said. Speaker could only imagine Han secretly laughing inside. There was nothing these people could say that he could not defeat in a battle of words and wit.

This continued, and while the curious or offended might come and go, then Han spoke well for himself and the worship of Unconquered Sun. Speaker quietly observed the public discussion for about half an hour, when suddenly everything started going wrong – or to be more precise, one thing happen, which arguably was wrong, on multiple levels.

It started with a few people screaming in the crowd listening and talking to Han. Speaker couldn’t see anything from the food stand he was eating at, but seconds later people had cleared out enough to see seven or eight poor souls floating ever so slightly above the ground – just enough that their feet didn’t touch the pavement. They then suddenly, as if flung by an unseen force, smashed together, in a bloody and crunchy explosion which moment later resulted in a terrible roar!

“The seventh legion are deserters! All dragonbloods should swear allegieance to the realm!” a horrible deep voice bellowed. It sounded as if it had several pieces of flesh stuck in its throat as it half-coughed the words. It was a lookshyan rebel.

The few justicars in the area had it surrounded in seconds – and while it did manage to take a swing or two at them, then it was cut down in seconds, a dragonblooded officer arriving a few minutes later and incinerating the body with elemental fire. The ashes were swept into the gutter and the ‘victims’ that had been turned into the rebel were identified – and then it was back to business as usual, although Speaker couldn’t see where Han was.

Returning to lady Terisa’ mansion, Speaker found that the news of the rebel had already spread across Lookshy. Apparently there was a special ‘rebel alarm’ that would go off in all justicar barracks and watch towers – and Lady Terisa’s mansion had one such tower as part of the compound.

Han arrived shortly after, having been split off from Speaker and briefly detained by some rather unsympathetic Justicars who appeared to want to frame Han for ‘invoking’ the rebel – of course, Han, having social charms all over the place, had seen through their veiled attempts at luring Han into incriminating himself, ultimately forcing the justicars into setting him free.

Joining Speaker in one the many lounges in lady Terisa’s estate, the two sat down to discuss what had happened. A young male servant came in with tea while Speaker inquired into Shadow and Shimmer’s whereabout.

Han closed his eyes for a moment, then looked around the room, checking the rafters, under the table… coming to a halt at the servant: “What in the heavens’ name are you…”

Joining Speaker in one the many lounges in lady Terisa’s estate, the two sat down to discuss what had happened. An old female servant came in with tea while Speaker inquired into Shadow and Shimmer’s whereabout.

Han closed his eyes for a moment, then looked around the room, checking the rafters, under the table and anywhere else in the room visible from where Han sat: “I don’t see Shadow here – so I assume he’s elsewhere. All we can is wait right now. The whole city seems on edge with the rebel reappearing, although I must compliment the quick handling of the situation”
Speaker nodded: “I’m not the one to thank – but Lookshy has had a lot of experience over the centuries dealing with the rebel. Its worst when it appears in the hinterland communities, then it might rampage on for days before stopped, depending on how well the local garrison can handle it”

It was later in the afternoon when a messenger from Tu Yu arrived, informing Han that Tu Yu was ready to deliver on his end of the agreement, as payment for services rendered at the Gunzota redoubt.

“Excellent! Inform his holiness that we will send a messenger when ready to proceed – shouldn’t be more than a day or so, depending on what Shadow and Shimmer are up to” Han declared, the messenger running off to deliver the reply.

It was late in the evening when Shimmer appeared at the gate to lady terisa’s mansion. She carried the bloody and uncious body of Shadow, who was barely alive. They were hurried inside and Speaker descended on Shadow with hands glowing brightly with healing essence, while Shimmer told them what had happened…

Shadow and Shimmer had been sneaking around some of gens Amilar’s residential compounds, not far from lady Terisa’s mansion, when Shadow had taken a break in the detective work to check up on Han – something Shadow apparently did often, weeding out spys, stalkers and would-be assassins so the rest of the circle could operate in safety.

It had been while observing Han doing his thing that Shimmer had smelt something… new. She described that Lookshy always smelled of dragonblooded elemental-aspected essence, but this had been the scent of essence not fae, not solar, not lunar and not dragonblooded. It had come from the sewers.

She had begun to track it, having turned into a mouse and snuck into the sewers – with Shadow following. It was there they had been ambushed and Shadow had been so gravely injured.

Han found it hard to believe that Shadow could be ambushed – but disbelief could not outweigh the very tangible results, although Speaker was able to re-attach all of Shadow’s fingers again.

“Do you still have the scent? Did you lose track of it in the fight?” Speaker wondered, finishing up his miraculous work on Shadow, who now slept much easier.

Shimmer nodded, stating confidently that with her charms she would be able to track the scent from anywhere – it was not a mundane scent, and special essence-based odors were always easy for her to pick out.

Han suggested that the circle wait until morning to continue the hunt, Shadow needing rest – for the whole circle to then take up the hunt. Speaker understood the words of caution, inquiring into the exact nature of what attacked had attacked Shadow.

“Oh it attacked me too… I just have healing charms. But honestly… I’m not, I don’t remember the person very well. I think whoever it was used charms to fade my memory of him, or her” Shimmer said, looking somewhat concerned – the implications of an assassin who could elude even memories were not pleasant.

“How come you then remember the scent?” Han wondered.

Shimmer shrugged, saying that she wasn’t really sure it was the assassin’s scent – but rather something else. She also pointed out that she would not wait until morning, as Shadow would never let a trail run cold.

Speaker tried to talk her into staying, but she wouldn’t have it. Turning into a native bird – which Speaker noticed had some odd rows of teeth in its beak – she flew off out a window.

The next morning Shadow came to, a little still bruised, but by no means as badly as how he’d come in looking. He was quick to shrug off his injuries, Speaker putting a few last touches on some stitching before heading out.

The circle returned to the sewer entrance where Shadow had entered to follow Shimmer. Inside they found Shimmer, waiting for them, looking very confused but also with a look in her eye that proudly declared that the hunt was on!

Shimmer led the circle along the path of a scent trail now gone, as she had returned earlier the night before to find where it lead. The path was blocked in many places by rusty grates put in place to prevent humans from sneaking about in the sewers – nothing that stopped Shimmer in rat-form, or the rest of the circle after Speaker had used Gift to cut away the bars.

After a few hours of sewer-trekking Shimmer led the circle to a ladder going up into a basement – but the hatch was sealed from the other side, but the scent trail had ended here. Shadow solved this problem, somehow using a charm that allowed him to step through any door or portal bared from the righteous lawgivers. Inside, he opened the lock with ease and let the rest of the circle in.

The basement was fairly non-descript. Stone tile walls, barrels full of wine, various types of food stored in baskets or crates – meat hung from hooks in the ceiling. This was a larder. Shimmer, after burning some essence to pick up the faint scent, confirmed that it continued up the stairs from which the sound of an active kitchen could be heard…

Shimmer snuck up in the form of a rat, promising to make for a distraction so the others could sneak up – and indeed, a rat crawling up into a bowl of salad and taking a most ruinous shit would do that. As the rest of the circle heard the shouting begin they made their way up, finding that Shimmer had led most of the kitchen staff on a merry chase into another room.

It was also in the kitchen that Speaker identified where they were: this was a gens Amilar residential compound – the gens crest was featured everywhere in the decorations on the beautifully carved stone bricks that made up the walls of the kitchen.
Exiting the kitchen away from the sounds of rat-hunting kitchen staff, Shadow led Han and Speaker into a storage room where they waited for Shimmer to come and find them. They didn’t have to wait long, although Han found Speaker worrying for Shimmer’s safety quite adorable, although he was certain that a daughter of the west could handle herself.

Shimmer led the circle across the estate. It seemed to be a simple gated compound, only guards at the entrance, and with Shimmer having stirred up a rat nest most of the staff of the place were busy hunting vermin – paying little attention to the motley crew sneaking around.

Speaker actually had to wonder – Shadow and Shimmer he could understand would have experience in the art of stealth, and he himself had been trained in basic concealment and camouflage while serving with the gunzosha. But where had Han learnt to sneak around? Han explained that in his youth he bounced from cult to cult, quickly learning that it was a good idea to check out new cults before joining them – which often meant sneaking around at night to see something other than the holier-than-thou sales pitches the cult leaders told during the day. That was also how Han ended up in the Illuminates, as he found that it had the best promises and seemed a lot more positive in its message – most of the other Great Forks god cults offered the off chance of you being blessed into becoming god-blooded, or that you might reincarnate into a better lot in life next time around, and most were just ‘come get stoned/high with this god, it’ll be fun’ cults.

While Han was busy storytelling, Shadow and Shimmer snuck off to find the source of the essence trail. They returned just in time for Han to finish his story, Shimmer saying that they needed Han and Speaker to have a look at what they’d found…

In the compound’s immaculate shrine, a large room with five small shrines to each of the elemental dragons there was a door leading into the office/sanctum of the resident monk. You know you’re in a rich place when they have their own shrine and live-in monk – not even Lady Terisa has that, although that might be for different reasons. Shimmer had tracked the essence scent to this room. It ended here.

Han and Speaker did a thorough occult analysis of the room. There were some weird things going on there… the wooden desk had a single drawer, which was three feet deeper than the dimensions of the desk should allow – and there were traces of essence that definitely wasn’t lunar, dragonblooded or solar on the wall facing the door to the shrine. It wasn’t necrotic either, Han was sure of it, but he couldn’t tell what it was beyond that. Speaker was certain that he could help if too could activate essence sight, but without that his abilities were sorely limited.

Shadow was happy enough. The odd desk drawer had contained a jade stamp that could replicate any signature the user had seen – he was certain that that was going to come in handy. Han was a bit put off by this blatant theft: “You’re going to steal from a monk?”

“A monk with a weird desk drawer and links to the rebel of Lookshy? I think I’m doing everyone a favor by taking this” Shadow argued. Han could see the logic, but urged for caution.

While Han and Shadow had been arguing Speaker had been taking a more careful look at the desk drawer. The enchantment put on it was weird. It wasn’t a wyld effect, although it could easily have been mistaken for one… but at the same time, what else could change a desk drawer so fundamentally?

Speaker thought about this mystery for a moment. He thought about it furiously, drawing upon his clear memories of the first age. Fae were the first that came to mind. But fae operating like this in creation? In Lookshy? Impossible! It simply didn’t fit with how fae were known to behave.

Baring the notion of fae Speaker ultimately reached a frightening conclusion. Looking around, glancing at each of his circle-mates, Speaker sighed heavily: “Do you guys remember what we talked about with the notches in Shadow’s bow?”

Speaker was met with shrugs and heads shaking. Nobody remembered what they had talked about with Shadow’s bow. Speaker asked Shadow to fetch his powerbow from elsewhere and showed the notches in it – and retold the story. To Speaker’s surprise then Shimmer, Han and even Shadow didn’t seem to remember it very well.

While this alone was very mysterious – then Speaker pointed out that Sidereals, with their resplendent destinies, seemed very likely to be the ones doing this: “Well, probably just one or two. Shadow, I’m sure if you ask around for descriptions of the monk who lives here that you will get very generic descriptions, mostly focusing on the fact that he was a monk, not what distinguishing features he had”

The others nodded, Shadow adding that Speaker’s comment on lack of distinguishing features in descriptions actually made a lot of sense considering what he had dug up about this monk.

“My elders occasionally mentioned sidereals, but mostly that they too disappeared in the usurpation – but this… Lord Leviathan had been concerned of news that even with the return of the solars, then the silver pact had been unable to make to make contact with very many of them, as they would often exalt with wyld hunts nearby – as if the wyld hunts had been sent before the solars had exalted” Shimmer added, remembering tidbits of things she had heard at Lord Leviathan’s court.

Speaker looked mournfully at the monk’s private immaculate shrine in the room: “That kind of predictions would only be possible for sidereals – they were always good at predicting when and where large changes in destinies would arise”

Having said Speaker found that he briefly had to explain how a solar or lunar would affect the destinies of those around them – essence use rewriting fate to achieve effects otherwise impossible: “Consider the people who’s limbs I’ve restored here in Lookshy – if one of them return to active duty and become great war heroes, while they might originally have been destined to languish as a cripple… I have altered how their destines will now play out”

Han couldn’t really see how this was a bad thing. Speaker corrected him: “It’s not necessarily bad – but it is possible to track. Sidereals have this thing… what’s it called, loom of fate. When we pull some big stunt and blow a lot of essence to do the impossible the weave of fate changes, and those changes can be tracked… like tracking prey by following the footprints it leaves, having ‘changed’ the surface it steps on as it moves about”

Shimmer and Shadow at least understood the hunting analogy. Han thought about it for a moment, then as if he got an epiphany nodded energetically and said that he now understood it as well.

It was Shadow who first asked what they should do next. Nobody seemed to be sure. Shimmer suggested leaving as quickly as possible, with her remaining as a mouse in a corner to spy on the ‘monk’ when he got back. Speaker didn’t like leaving Shimmer at risk, but Shadow vouched for her ability to hide undetected.

“Hey, I’ve dodged wyld hunts before – I know how to veil my essence” Shimmer said, her body becoming mercurial as it shrunk down into that of a grey-furred rat which scurried in under the monk’s cot.

The rest of the circle left quickly, Shadow guiding them out a side-entrance meant only for servants – an entrance that could only be opened from the inside. Well, entrance and entrance… it was a trap door leading that opened up to a garbage pile three stories down.

Back at Lady Terisa’s mansion the circle regrouped and cleaned themselves up. Once they were certain they were alone, Han looking around with essence sight, Shadow inquired how to combat sidereals. Speaker couldn’t say how, but said that he now strongly suspected that it was sidereals that his past incarnation had warned him about on the tablet written buried with him in his tomb-manse.

“So there’s no way to fight them?” Shadow mournfully asked – he really did not like the prospect of a one-sided fight.

Han did ask how they could be sure that all sidereals were bad on account of this – mainly because he simply found the idea of an entire group of exalts conspiring against solars and lunars to preposterous: “Besides, Speaker, didn’t solar’s occationally dick around with things similar to the rebel back in the first age? And anyone can attune to even starmetal artifacts, just like we’ve all got jade hearthstone bracers. We only have circumstantial evidence. For all we know the notches on Shadow’s powerbow could have been put in later, or the starmetal traces planted. I’m sorry, I just don’t want to jump to conclusions here”

Speaker and Shadow nodded, with Han adding that the realm have no real mention of sidereals – only dragonblooded exalts and then anathema, so if anything then they were probably in the same boat as the returning solars and hidden lunars.

“You’ll have to forgive me objecting to these thoughts of conspiracy – I just prefer to believe hard evidence, not circumstantial evidence” Han ultimately stated, Speaker seeing the wisdom in the words.

Shadow remained skeptical: “Very well, but I would rest easier if we could find a way to confirm this”

“We’re going to Yu-Shan to find where Steady Flow has been sent – if the sidereals are still around, they’ll probably be there” Speaker casually noted.

With that settled, at least for the time being, the three split up to await the return of Shimmer. They didn’t have to wait very long as she returned a few hours later, crashing through a window in the form of a seagull. At first she was found by a servant who thought she was just a regular seagul… who was about to wring the bird’s neck and throw it down a sever hole. Speaker objected to this, violently, and after fixing the servant’s broken jaw and restoring the lost teeth he tended to Shimmer – still in bird form… she had apparently knocked herself out going through the window.

Strong smelling salts brought Shimmer back, after which she assumed human form again. The tale she told was a weird one, but it seemed to confirm that at least the person playing monk was in fact a sidereal. She based this on noticing that the monk was somehow able to do… something… to the spot on the wall where Han had detected weird essence markers. The result had been that the wall had momentarily changed into a wall with a small hatch in it, which opened to reveal a small metal lockbox – but the wall changed back after the monk left the room: “That box reeked of the same essence I tracked in the sewers – whatever caused the rebel to appear is in that thing”

Well that settled that. The circle agreed that they needed to get that lockbox. Shadow did inquire as to what the monk looked like, as he had observed the immaculate temple in Lookshy on several occasions by now, so he had probably seen this person… but no matter how much she tried she could only recall typically monk-like things about the man, nothing about his hair color or his face – and to her greatest distress then she couldn’t even recall his scent. Speaker confirmed that this sounded exactly like an attempt to describe a sidereal hidden by a resplendent destiny – you remember the destiny, but not the sidereal.

At this point Speaker got an idea – of a sort: “Shimmer, what you say the wall changed to reveal a hatch, did it withdraw or did the hatch just appear?”

Shimmer couldn’t really see the difference – but Speaker pressed the subject. He suspected that the hatch and secret stash was built into behind a second layer of wall. That would be enough to hide it from essence sight, and while they had been in the room they hadn’t knocked on the wall to check for hollow sounds.

“You really think it’s that simple?” Shadow asked, not happy to admit that his detective hadn’t been enough in this case.

“If all you’re trying to from are dragonblooded – then yes. They don’t have charms that allow for essence sight unless they use artifacts, and they’re few and far between, even here in Lookshy” Speaker explained.

Returning to the gens Amilar compound, Shimmer wondered if the fake monk had known they had been there? The monk hadn’t reacted to her presence – but know that she thought about it, then the monk had appeared to be checking his stuff… probably looking for the stamp Shadow had taken.

“Moot point – if we get the lockbox and the source of the rebel is in it we’ll have done our job here. Plus it will enough evidence to have the justicars pick up the monk next time he shows himself” Shadow said, doubting if they would ever see the monk again.

Speaker didn’t like leaving the job half-done, but ending the threat of the rebel would be reward enough he figured.

Arriving at the compound the circle briefly debated how to get in. They had gone directly to the compound, not taken the sever route. Han’s silver tongue got them in, convincing the guards that they had been invited by some of the resident gens Amilar scions for a theological debate.

“The other day at the market district some of the people I spoke to were gens Amilar scions – they seemed very keen to speak to me and did actually invite me to come over… no clue if they live here, but hey, it worked” Han said as they walked inside.

Inside the circle was greeted by curious gens Amilar scions. Apparently Han had guessed right about who lived here – but he took it in strides, initiating the scions in heavy discussions before they could even see what was going on, which allowed Shadow, Han and Shimmer to sneak off. The scions were too busy debating the legitimacy of the dragons over Great Forks largeese when it came to spiritual correctness to notice.

While skulking off Speaker couldn’t help but think that he if could bend steel like Han could bend ears then he could shape a blade worthy of the highest of gods.

Getting to the monk’s room turned out to be less easy this time about. There were people in the main shrine, more amilar scions, who quickly recognized Speaker… and did not take kindly to him being here.

A brief fight ensued, with Speaker barely managing to call for Shadow and Shimmer to take care not to kill anyone – as doing so would complicate things endlessly. Shadow managed to accommodate Speaker, drawing his bow out of nowhere and catching two of the five scions present by surprise, knocking them out cold with essence-forged fowling arrows. Shimmer was less subtle, but somehow managed to distract her opponent in such a way that he just stood and held up his guard instead of attacking – all through the fight, until Shadow put him with another fowling arrow. Speaker had his hands full with a spirited scion who swung hard and recklessly, forcing Speaker to use more defensive charms than offensive ones. It took all three celestial exalts to get the last one, Shimmer holding him down while Speaker and Shadow pummeled him into unconsciousness.

When they got into the monk’s room the monk was – oddly enough – gone. Speaker quickly began searching the part of wall Han had said was marked with essence. Shimmer was the first to pick up the different sound as Speaker knocked on a part of the wall. Speaker then used gift to carve out a large square of the painted concrete – revealing part of what looked to be a wall safe.

After chipping away from more concrete wall it became clear that the door to the safe didn’t just open on its own – it needed a key. Shadow was all over the lock, quickly declaring: “This lock… this lock is a worthy opponent. It had jade components, it won’t break. This will be fun!”

Speaker and Shimmer watched in silence as Shadow went through seven lock picks and quite a lot of essence to get the lock open. All throughout the ordeal Shadow delighted in how the lock teased him, how it was toying with him. Shimmer couldn’t smell any spirits or anything ‘active’ in the lock – but Speaker did confirm that whoever had made the lock had not been mortal.

Ultimately, after about ten minute of fiddling with the lock, Shadow got the lock open. Inside the safe was nothing but a lead lockbox. The lockbox had a simple lock that Shadow hardly even had to look at to open… and inside was a cracked iron orb.

In the crack a baleful emerald light was visible, even with shadow glowing a bit due to essence use. Shimmer quickly asked Shadow to close the box… the smell of the essence was apparently very bad.

“Do it – who know’s what direct exposure to that thing will do to us over time!” Speaker said.

It was then that the door to the monk’s room were bashed down and soldiers led by angry gens amilar scions and dragonblooded burst in. At spear and sword-point they demanded to know what was going on.

Speaker quickly explained that they were very certain that they had found the source of the revel of Lookshy. The gens amilar dragonblooded were at first greatly insulted at the thought of them having housed someone connected to the rebel – but when Speaker said that he had been tasked by the general staff to track this down and that they were to ask Lady Terisa of gens Yushoto, or Karal Linwei, if they wanted to confirm this…

“Either way I will be taking this with me out of here – I suspect that the contents of this lockbox are highly dangerous to the unexalted – and I don’t want another rebel to appear” Speaker said, sounding both menacing and honest.

Now, while sensible individuals might have agreed with Speaker on this and allowed him to bring it to the Lookshy manse for safe storage, then a couple of the scions present weren’t that sensible… they were more vindictive. One grabbed the lockbox while a few others jumped at Speaker who defended himself to the best of his ability.

The ensuing fight spilled into the immaculate shrine, at which point someone dropped the lockbox… which hadn’t been locked again, so the orb fell out.

What happened next wasn’t that different from what had happened earlier in the market district: Eight of the present non-exalted soldiers and scions floated up in the air… and crashed together in an ugly mess of broken armor, splintered spear shafts and wet flesh. Cries for mothers turned into squelched bubbling, which then turned into shrieks of semi-coherent anti-lookshyan propaganda. A rebel had been formed.

“You fools!” Speaker shouted, bringing Gift to bear and throwing it with all his might, his fury and his sorrow for the loss of such misled sons of Lookshy at the rebel. The gyroscopic chakram screamed and dug into the flesh of the rebel, then seemed to dig around inside, pulping what perverted organs the rebel were made from. The beast tried to roar, but the roar died before it started as blood spurted from at least three of the four mouths’ that this rebel and the thing fell to the ground and Gift burst from it, spraying blood and bone splinters everywhere.

Shadow scooped up the orb and put it back in the lockbox – and locked it. The circle left quickly as shouts rang out in the afternoon streets of Lookshy that another rebel had appeared and been slain. Han was waiting outside the compound.

Speaker led the circle up to the front steps of the Lookshy manse when they were stopped by the home guard stationed there. Speaker grimly said that the lockbox contained the device that would magically grab unwitting souls and turn them into a rebel – and demanded that the lockbox be put deep into the safest and most heavily guarded caverns under the manse, so that no fiend would ever be able to use it again.

A minute or so later the commander of the fortress manse came out – saying that he had received ‘comfirmation’ from gens Amilar. He carefully took the lockbox and saluted Speaker for his service to Lookshy. Speaker said that he would write a report on how the device worked for the general staff, but that the commander just needed to keep the box shut and the cracked orb inside from ever being near anyone without enlightened essence.

The circle then returned to Lady Terisa who was curious about the news of another rebel appearing – to which she was filled in on the story. Speaker did not mention that they suspected a sidereal being involved, but merely that the perpetrator had been operating under the guise of being an immaculate monk, although he could not confirm if previous monks in the same position had also been involved, although he did suspect so.

Lady Terisa couldn’t imagine how something so sinister could have been happening for so long right under their noses – but she thanked Speaker and his circle none the less and said that she would see the general staff informed.
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Re: Light and darkness

11 Jan 2012, 18:18

Part 19: Heaven or hell
The next day, after some very well deserved rest, Speaker woke up to the news of a slew of invitations to various parties and social gatherings. Han also found himself invited to a handful of legit theological debates with gens amilar scions… apparently being an immaculate hardliner had fallen out of fashion overnight for some reason.

One message from the general staff and the city council also informed Speaker of a late night emergency session and its results: Speaker was to be commended as hero of Lookshy, a shiny silver and white jade medal having been included in the package, while the rest of his circle was offered honorary citizenship. A note in the package from Lady Terisa also said that now Speaker could go and make his temple, the general staff and the council would not object to it – even if the realm were to throw a hizzy fit. The amount of resources that could now be diverted from ‘rebel defence’ were apparently quite large.

Shimmer had never seem Speaker so happy.

Shadow noted that he wasn’t interested in citizenship – at least not if it meant what usual Lookshyan citizenship entailed: “I’m not interested in getting drafted”

“It’s only honorary – no draft. According to this, then the intelligence or security directorate might want to hire us at some point, but that’ll be up to the directorates. Really this just means that you won’t have to use fake transit passes anymore” Speaker explained.

During breakfast the circle informed Lady Terisa of their choices. Shadow was still apprehensive, requiring his citizenship be under an alias. Shimmer and Han were ok with the deal. Speaker was only curious when he was going to be honored… and why the others weren’t being honored in the same way.

Lady Terisa digressed: She had wanted to see the whole circle getting medals – but only Speaker was of Lookshy, as if that was a valid excuse. Speaker wasn’t happy, but Han and Shimmer seemed ok with it. Shadow didn’t want to become too famous, as that would complicate his occasional sneaking around.
Beyond that then Speaker confirmed with Lady Terisa that the ceremony in which he would be honored was at the end of the Lookshy Games next Resplendant Water. That was in about five months. In the mean time then calibration was only a few weeks away and Lady Terisa insisted that the circle join her and gens Yushoto in its five-day celebration of the end and start of a new year.

The circle agreed to attend, but in the mean time they had things to do… in Yu-shan.

Tu Yu led the circle from the front halls of his teocalla to old dusty chambers deep beneath his temple. The old god kept mumbling about how erasing Gunzota was good, how burring bad past was good, how nobody but him now knows… and finally revealed a large chamber full of stale air and cobwebs replete in dust.
In the middle of the chamber, which didn’t appear to have been visited by mortal souls in decades if the layers of dust and lack of footprints was any indication, was a decidedly not-ornate wooden spirit gate. Tu Yu made an officious gesture towards the gate and watched as Han guided the circle up to it. Fonts filled with white fluid began to glow brightly as they stepped into the chamber, casting a pale glow everywhere.
To the circle’s surprise then Tu Yu left them – but then a different being appeared… out of a seamless portal inside the spirit gate. It appeared to be a Lookshyan legionnaire clad in an ornate moonsilver and black jade suit of magitech armor. It took Speaker a moment to recognize it as late shogunate-style dragon armor… to which Han politely stated: “Tien Yu I presume?”

The goddess of Lookshy gave the circle a polite nod in return and beckoned them to come: “For helping Tu Yu maintain the good name of Lookshy I invite you to my heavenly mansion in Yu-Shan for one day and one night”

Speaker was torn between wanting to say something to accept this invitation and his awe of being in the presence of one of the very few things he genuinely felt respect and reverence of – for through his patriotism for Lookshy he equally felt beholden somehow to this goddess.

Han was, surprisingly, silent. Shadow and Shimmer were quick to pick up the pace and accept the invitation on behalf of the circle – and so the solars and the lunar drank of the potion supplied by Tu Yu which rendered the momentarily immaterial, allowing them to step through the unseen portal, right after Tien Yu.
Upon stepping through the circle was met with the beauty and wonder that is for a creation-born to witness Yu-Shan for the first time. Them being celestial exalts, then this probably wouldn’t be their last time in Yu-shan, but even the maidens themselves wouldn’t be able to tell that yet.

Han was awestruck by the beauty all around – in particular the goddess Tien Yu next to him. Shimmer couldn’t stop smiling at the big beautiful moon up in the sky. Speaker was wondering who maintained Tien Yu’s dragon armor and finally Shadow didn’t like how the big golden celestial lion looked at them all.

“They’re with me, by personal invitation” Tien Yu said to the lion, who snapped back into position so quickly that if Speaker hadn’t seen it move just moments before, then he would have sworn it was a statue.
Tien Yu had the circle transported to her celestial manse-mansion via some kind of part cloud part red jade wonder piloted by a lesser spirit. Speaker had to poke Shimmer repeatedly to make her close her mouth and stop drooling from the splendor the view as the ‘thing’ transporter the circle and Tien Yu above the golden rooftops, adamant domes and rainbow spires of Yu-shan.

The mansion, which looked more like a fortress able to withstand even full frontal primordial assaults, was grand and fearsome. Speaker couldn’t help but notice a lot of architectural similarities between the mansion and many of Lookshy’s own fortifications – and Tien Yu did not deny that she had occationally inspired mortal or dragon-blooded architects.

The circle was quickly ushered inside and led to a very nice tea room at which point Tien Yu got a lot more serious. She wanted to know exactly what the circle planned on doing in Yu-Shan and how long they expected it to take.

Upon being told of their quest to find Steady Flow, god of the Yanaze river – who was apparently ‘missing’ from his river, after being sent on a mission by someone in Yu-Shan, Tien Yu wasn’t sure if to despair or be elated. She explained that dealing with Yu-Shan bureaucracy could be trying even for gods, and without connections or materials for bribes then getting anything out of a bureaucrat could easily become impossible.

Having heard this, Han leant into what could best be described as a carefree posture and reassured Tien Yu that he had a very good idea of how to wrangle gods – which somehow made Tien Yu blush, making Speaker want to slap Han for coming on to one of the very few gods that he actually revered.

Either way then Tien Yu appeared to take Han’s reassurance to heart and said that Steady Flow’s celestial managers would be in the superintendency of nature grand and humble, the bureau of nature. Having a servant give the circle a map marking Tien Yu’s mansion in the Five Spheres residential district of Yu-Shan, as well as the location of the Serene hall of the Divided Contemplation, which houses the bureau of nature.
“With any luck you won’t have to go into the serene halls very far – the place is an impossible maze to anyone not a god. Simply request information on where Steady Flow has been temporarily assigned and get – there are many gods in Yu-Shan quite happy that the Solars vanished, so that they were no longer around to force them to do their jobs. Dismissed.” Tien Yu said, sounding both kind and stern, like a commanding officer to a fang of soldiers.

The circle was ushered out of the mansion and stood on the gold-brick streets of Yu-Shan, awed and… quickly chatted up by a man who appeared to be a creation-born of southern origins, wearing a bright red fez and a caftan with bright yellow, orange and black patterns all over it: “Hey you got out early – great! You need to get out of here and back to creation, real quick!”

Han, Shimmer, Speaker and Shadow looked back and forth between each other and this very cheerful stranger for a few seconds.

“Right, name’s Byrus – if you’d just follow me for a moment so you don’t get killed, that’d be nice” Byrus said, gesturing somewhat insistently for the circle to come with him.

Maybe it was the implied threat to their lives, maybe it was just how he looked – but the circle did follow Byrus into an alley, although to call it an alley by creation standards might be a bit steep: It was the mile wide side-road between two towering pagodas of white jade and moonsilver. Still, there’s anyone there at the moment, so it seemed safe enough.

It was here that Byrus introduced himself properly as a chosen of the maiden of battles, a sidereal. It was also here that he somehow managed to slap everyone in the circle – at the same time, with one blow, without being in reach of any of them. This got the conversation going, it initially consisting of a lot of questions such as “Who’d want to kill us?”, “Why aren’t the sidereal’s active in creation”, “Where have the sidereals been for the last couple of thousand years”, “What happened to the sidereals for them to disappear” and so on. Byros ‘answered’ all of them by quickly stating, in his rich southern accent: “Those are all very good questions with very good answers – but they are not for now. Suffice to say then like many gods here in Yu-Shan, then some sidereals don’t want the solars to return either, thinking them a threat to the frail stability of creation. Oh and I’m not one of them”

This of course left nobody satisfied and only led to more questions being asked, at which point Byrus suggested they retreat to somewhere slightly more private, at which point he promised he’d explain a few more things. The circle begrudgingly agreed to this, Byrus whipping up a nice big cloud via sorcery – his anima flaring a bright red light that seemed to beam out like crimson spears as the cloud formed from this essence.

The circle found themselves flown to their desired destination, the bureau of nature, Byrus explaining that he’s observed and known them long enough to know that they wouldn’t just let him take them back to creation that easily…

Han led the ‘charge’ into the front halls of the bureau of nature. The buildings appeared to be grown out of some primordial plant, the wooden walls naturally yielding to archied windows, with benches appearing via bulging growths and other furniture such as desks and cabinets similarly appearing to have grown out of natural materials that seamlessly meld into the various structures. It was beautiful to behold – but Han had his game face on, so it was no time to gawk.

Dressed in his white silken robes that he had probably commissioned in Lookshy, Han strode up to the front desk of the establishment and – just as the officious and tired-looking purple spirit was about to ask what he wanted – Han unleashed a soft-spoken but unrelenting barrage of legalistic references and officious sounding requests in old realm that made the rest of the circle’s head spin. Speaker recognized some of the wording as first age law provisions about unlawful celestial interference with terrestrial geography and aqueous bodies… so it was probably related to Steady Flow.

About half an hour into Han’s barrage he suddenly stopped and added, as a tiny insignificant post-script: “Oh, and I need to know where Steady Flow, god of the Yanaze river, has been sent”

The purple spirit behind the desk was drenched in what was probably sweat, not sure if it had just been seduced, yelled at or violated in some way. It scribbled something on to a scroll, dropped the scroll through a round hole in its desk – prompting a winged messenger spirit to dart out of the side of the desk, with the scroll. It returned moments later with another scroll which the spirit read, forcing it to look back into Han’s deep, soulful and alluring eyes, something the spirit only too willingly did: “Steady Flow has been assigned to oversee transportation of a messenger, he is to meet the messenger at this location”

The spirit handed Han the scroll, and Han accepted it – lovingly caressing the spirit’s three-fingered hands in the process, eliciting some very strange sounds from the spirit. Han just winked at the spirit and gestured for the rest of the circle to move to the exit.

The purple spirit, still reeling from the experience, yelled after Han as they left: “My name is Ternary Amaranthine Fountainhead, I… I get a break in three hundred years! Message me!”

As the circle exited the bureau’s buildings and found Byrus still waiting outside on his magic cloud, Shimmer couldn’t help but make the astute observation that Han seemed to have a thing for gods and spirits.

Shadow chimed in that this was obvious, Han being from Great Forks. Han kept calm and merely replied that his personal likings was his own business – he got the job done, and that was the most important thing.

Byrus had a peek at the scroll – well, Han hadn’t really given it to him, but before anyone knew what was going on Byrus was reading it – and he said he knew where the location was that Steady Flow had been sent, although after two centuries that was no guarantee that he’d be there.

“Does it say what exactly he was doing? I mean, supervising a messenger going from A to B is one thing, but from where to where, what kind of messenger?” Shadow inquired.

Byrus said that Steady Flow appeared to have been sent to a location north-east of Grey Falls and south of the valley of shards. He also said that the mission apparently involved a guardian being attached to the messenger, another god but he wasn’t sure who: “One thing is for sure – this mission was slated to take a little over a week. Something definitely went wrong here”

Speaker was suddenly very happy: “That’s perfect – that’s not that far from mount metagalapa!”
The rest of the circle was slightly less happy, although not particularly surprised, to hear of Speaker’s deal with Lady Terisa to try to ‘fix’ the angry god problem at Mount Metagalapa. Han of course knew of this, but Shimmer and Shadow had apparently not been clued in yet. This was quickly ratified and everyone agreed that it wasn’t a bad idea at all to have a go at it, as it would be a good excuse to travel to that part of creation, without anyone asking why”

“Metagalapa… oh, that’s old Rage of the Birdmen – you’ll have fun with him!” Byrus said, sounding way too amused. Before anyone had a chance to ask why Byrus had found this funny someone used a counterspell on Byrus’ cloud, prompting everyone to fall from the the sky.

Shimmer instantly turned into her winged birdman form, and Han, Shadow and Byrus elegantly balanced on whatever feather they could reach as Shimmer dove to catch Speaker.

Catching him in her arms, Speaker thanked Shimmer – but pointed out two things: “One, it is not really possible to kiss you when you have a beak – and two, I need a solution to kind of situation that goes beyond having you catch me when I fall”

“Sure, but for the time being this seems like a workable solution” Shimmer noted.

Byrus disagreed – pointing out that right now they were very clear targets for whoever dissolved his cloud. He was quick to note that it was most likely a sidereal hit-squad that’d caught wind of Han doing his thing at the bureau of nature.

“That was quick” Shadow said, wondering how they’d been discovered so quickly.

“They might have tracked your fates leading here – but if they were doing that you’d probably already have had a wyld hunt sent after you. No, my guess is that it was the messenger spirit. The bronze faction, that’s the name of the grouping of sidereal’s that are gunning for the realm to stay in charge, has a standing policy of rewarding anyone who gives them information leading to the location of solars or lunars” Byrus explained.

Han thought about that for a moment: “Hold on, if they want to kill us – that’d be in violation of our heavenly mandate to rule creation”

Byrus shrugged – which shouldn’t have been easy, considering that he was balancing one foot on one of Shimmer’s tail feathers: “They ask for information on your location, not your head in a sack. Big difference. Trust me, they have several layers of red tape protecting them from being connected to something like that. That’s why they… work… with the immaculate monks, having them send wyld hunts instead”
“I’m really not liking the sound of that. If they can track our fate we’ll have nowhere to hide aside from the wyld or malfeas” Han pointed.

Byrus reassured that the gold faction, which he was part of; the sidereals that wanted to see the return of the solars, had means of obfuscating tracked solars’ fates if need be: “But really, your greatest advantage is numbers. There are only a hundred sidereals, and not even all of us are accounted for honestly – while there are many times that in lunars and solars. It takes a lot of effort to track a solar’s fate, even with heavy-handed essence use. Lunars, well, your tattoos actually make it harder to track you, so hey”
With the circle calmed down, Speaker did have one question: “If someone popped your cloud, why aren’t we being attacked now? It’d be perfect if they took out Shimmer, because then we’d all be fucked”
Han was pretty sure he had a good idea why that hadn’t happened: “Yu-Shan laws are funny like that – we’d probably fall into some posh god’s dinner party – and whoever shot us down would stand to get punished heavily. They’re probably just tracking where we land”

This of course begged the question of where to land. There probably weren’t many safe places to go, so it was a bit ‘up in the air’, at least until Shimmer – who was currently just gliding down as slowly as possibly – touched down.

“Let’s go visit Lytek then” Speaker suggested.

Byrus was surprisingly quick to agree to this, saying that Speaker’s suggestion was absolutely perfect – even going so far as to asking if Speaker secretly knew anything about heavenly politics to have come up with such a good plan. Speaker said he didn’t, explaining that Shimmer had mentioned this ‘Lytek’ as some kind of god, and implied that they’d been friends or something in his past life.

“Exactly – oh this is perfect. Lytek has so many spirits guarding his office it’ll be a perfect hiding place until I arrange extraction back to creation” Byrus said, sounding as if he was already thinking eight steps ahead.
With Byrus’ directions Shimmer started flying south-west, the three exalts balancing on her feathers re-arranging themselves so they stood on her back, allowing Shimmer to properly flap her wings. Thanks to their balancing-charms they weighed nothing to her, but Speaker was weighing her down, making flight difficult.

“You saying I’m fat?” Speaker said in jest.

“No, I’m saying I’ve never trained for carrying people in flight – you’re big and strong and cuddly, but you weigh too much for this” Shimmer said, her voice betraying the effort it took for her to keep them all airborne.

It was then that Shadow suggested that Speaker be ‘passed’ up to three on top of Shimmer, as them carrying Speaker should negate most of them weight. To anyone not familiar with how the load-lightening essence of the graceful crane stance worked, this would have sounded ridiculous, but Shimmer agree that it sounded like a plan and unceremoniously tossed Speaker up to six hands ready to grab him.

Five hours later a strange sight flew in over the Most Perfect Lotus of Heavenly Designs, landing in a courtyard right outside the entrance to the office of the ‘Right Hand of Power’. It was a humanoid bird on which three grown men stood, holding aloft a fourth man who was holding his arms out as if they were wings. Some might argue that it looked silly, others that it looked awesome.

Byrus quickly bid his goodbye, saying that he had a lot of things to take care of to ensure that the circle could get back to creation unmolested.

The circle cautiously entered the door to the outer office of the right hand of power, Lytek, god of exaltation.

They were met by eight golden celestial lions and two lesser elemental dragons, all of which seemed very curious as to who they were and what they wanted…

A quick round of introductions in the form of displays of caste mark later, and the circle found themselves feeling surprisingly welcome amongst these great guardians. Introductions were made, names exchanged, and Han may or may not have been invited to do decidedly dirty things with both elemental dragons at a later date.

Futher inside Lytek’s office, past the guards, the circle was met with a rather lackluster looking secretary. Well, lackluster wasn’t the right word. Dark? Sad-looking? The human behind the desk had long greasy black hair that hung lifelessly down his head, half-obscuring his face. His skin was pale as ivory, although whether that was natural or via makeup was hard to see. What was clear to see was the heavy black makeup around his eyes, on his lips and the long black fingernails. He was dressed in oiled leathers replete with decorative polished metal studs and other details that all in all made this man look like a bizarre flavor of melancholy and depression. There even was a cold air around him, making one wonder if he was an air-aspected dragonblood. He asked, with a voice and tone that sounded positively whiny: “Do you have an appointment” without even looking up.

The circle looked at Han to do his thing again. Han walked up and tried his best to make contact with the secretary, but since they didn’t really have an appointment, then the secretary refused to the let them in to see Lytek – the secretary being quick to point out that the guards outside could easily enter and remove them if they tried anything: “…not that it’d really matter. All life is suffering anyway”

The circle quickly agreed that this man needed to get laid something fierce – at which point Shimmer, to Speaker’s mild horror, stepped up: “Right, my turn!”

Shimmer changed into sharklike hybrid form, a form she rarely ever used outside of the bedroom with Speaker. Even Han had to do a double take, as this was the first time he actually witnessed Shimmer’s alluring beastman forom… and indeed, it was very alluring.

With a level of beauty that only fae usually were able to attain, Shimmer walked up to the drab looking man and leant in to face him directly. Speaker was certain that she was using charms to get the man’s attention, for he was finding it surprisingly difficult to keep his eyes off Shimmer.

This did indeed get the man’s attention, making him look up in surprise: “You… you’re a lunar!”

Shimmer stood upright, displaying every curve she had in ways that really shouldn’t be described outside of dirty romance novels: “Why yes, and who and what might you be handsome?”

It was then the realization hit Shimmer – like a scent she’d known for days, and moments ago experienced again, the scent of a new type of essence. She jerked back with a start: “He smells of sidereal essence!”
It now became clear why this man was being so uncooperative. Han quickly stepped up to the now frightened sidereal, who seemed a lot more attentive: “Are you with the gold faction or the bronze faction?”

The black-clad pale man didn’t reply, but quickly began fidgeting with a small device that he held up and waved around for a bit – until Shadow suddenly had a bow in his hand and the device had been knocked out of the pale sidereal’s hand and down to the floor, where Shimmer caught it with a surprisingly dexterous shark-tail. She handed it to Speaker as the gizmo seemed a little too technical for her tastes.

“A recorder of everlasting glorious – cute. I guess mister black eye-shadow is meant to spy on who comes and goes from Lytek’s office and report back to the bronze faction. I can’t imagine a gold faction sidereal being this scared of us” Speaker said, fidgeting gleefully with the recorder.

The pale sidereal looked at the group before with growing desperation. It was becoming abundantly clear that this wasn’t just a single lunar with friends… this was a circle of solars with a single lunars. This was not a fight he could win, but the loss of the recorder would rob the bronze faction of critical recordings of these anathema! He lunged for it, and quickly stopped, as Han poked him in his right nostril with one of the claws from Heaven’s Reach: “Ok, not doing that”

With the sound of his secretary jumping around seeping into his office, Lytek had found himself rather annoyed. He went out to give the young sidereal a stern verbal thrashing when he was instead met with the sight of three solars and lunar! What a lovely day this was turning out to be!

Lytek, dressed in silken robes of first age commoner fashion, had a body of pure light. This was it rather tricky to focus on him, although there was no doubt that you were looking at a person, a god. He casually sauntered up to Shimmer, poking and prodding her body while going “Oh I love this knack, so subtle and beautiful”

The circle was quickly ushered into Lytek’s office, making Speaker wonder why the outer area where the bodyguards were was also called office, as well as the area with the secretary being called office…
Inside Lytek poked and prodded a lot more, on everyone. The god seemed particularly curious about how it was possible that Speaker’s essence was so refined, yet his exaltation hadn’t been out for more than three months… because that level of spiritual purity usually requires four months of meditation. The circle then told Lytek the story of Fei the dawn caste solar and his sacrifice, the protoshinamic vortex and the combination of the two blowing up in a demesne turned freehold.

To say that the god was intrigued was an understatement. Lytek was very surprised that the exalts hadn’t just been killed from the experience. This also led the conversation over to Fei’s exaltation, which Lytek informed had been polished and sent back to creation a day after it arriving in his closet: “His exaltation, if I recall correctly, typically seeks out heirs to power who will lead their people to greatness, although I’ve seen it pass into sons of crimelords, daughters of nobles, hers to merchant empires and all kinds of other similar recipients. I suspect that it is the leadership thing that cultivates the right heroic potential”

The discussion went on, Speaker curious for tips on how to quicker refine his own essence – while Shimmer was more curious as to whether Lytek was any close to ‘fixing’ Lunar exaltations so they might get five castes again. Speaker’s request was apparently a common one, as Lytek’s answer seemed well rehearsed: “Go find somewhere high up in the, lots of sunlight, no shadow, make sure to eat and drink”. For Shimmer’s question Lytek’s brows furrowed – although that was no small feat to see, as his body was made of light: “I’ve been looking into that ever since the usurpation – but honestly, then I haven’t had that much luck figuring that out. I’m honestly afraid that unless I get the great maker’s original designs for lunar exaltations then I can’t do much…”

Speaker perked up at the mention of the great maker Autochton, but was equally saddened when Lytek explained that the primordial had vanished… especially when, at the mention of that, Speaker seemed to remember Autochton’s disappearance from his past life, making him doubly sad.

“There is one thing though” Lytek mused. He explained that with the recent appearance of this ‘deathlord’ fellow and his ‘deathknights’, then rumors have abound that they… well… have caste marks similar to solar exalts. He then explained how only half the solar exaltations had actually returned, although he also pointed out that that piece of information was not to leave the office: “…or I’ll make all your future incarnations remember every mistake you’ve done in this life and your other ones!”

Beyond the threat of remembering bad things, Lytek explained that he really wanted to have a look at a deathknight – if they really were exalted somehow. He explained that he had tried to get both the gold and the bronze to help him fetch one, but they were apparently still not sure if these deathknights were legit exalts or not: “And it is taking them forever to agree on anything, so if you lot could suss this out a bit faster that’d be nice. Just send me a message, one of you do know sorcery right? Right. Send me a message and I’ll invoke a few obscure commands I haven’t used since the primordial war for evacuation of a potentially damaged exaltation back to my office. If you do this I will be very grateful”

“Deal – but what do we get in return?” Shadow quickly said, ever the entrepreneurial spirit.
Lytek shrugged. He said that the circle could keep Black Ice Shadow’s recorder for one – he knew very well that Black Ice was a bronze faction spy, but he had no control over who was appointed to be his secretary. The guards outside prevented the bronze faction from outright stopping him from polishing and returning solar exaltations, but his secretary… well… its Yu-Shan politics.

The circle thanked Lytek for his sage advice, passing a still frightened junior sidereal on the way out. Speaker and Han argued about whether it was a waste of resources to have a sidereal wasted on this kind of spy-job, especially when he’s so poor at it. This conversation was ultimately cut short as they stepped into the outer office with all the guards in it – as there was Byrus waiting for them.

“Hey – I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news” he said, his fez now having a striking orange color.
The circle learnt that right outside the door were three bronze faction sidereals – two of them being elders no less, so fighting them wasn’t really an option. The good news was that beyond that the way was clear for three of them to get safely back to creation.

“We’re four” Shimmer pointed out.

Byrus took a deep breath and nodded with a smile: “Right, ok – so it’s good news, some bad news, and a little more bad news – but hey, it’s better than nothing?”

What happened next nobody really expected: Shadow volunteered to be left behind.
“When we flew in here – I’m pretty sure we passed the jade kitchen. Does Robed in Splendor still run that place?” Shadow asked.

Byrus scratched his chin for a moment: “Ya, he does – been catering to Yu-Shan since time primordial, why?”

“He owes me one if I recall correctly, plus he’s the only master of Orichalcum Chef Style I can think of” Shadow explained.

Byrus hadn’t heard of the style before, but he gave Shadow directions to the jade kitchen. He then explained the rest of the circle how they were going to get out of Yu-Shan: Byrus would provide a ‘distraction’ for the three sidereals outside, while they get to a rickshaw he’s prepared which will take them to the same portal they came in by, allowing them to return to Lookshy.

“Hold on, how does this not allow Shadow to come along” Han protested.

Byrus explained that while the circle had been chatting with Lytek, he divined the best course of action – which revealed to him that he’d be getting only three celestial exalts safely out of Yu-Shan during this little operation.

Shimmer wasn’t impressed: “You’d rely so blindly on your divinations and not even try?”

“Rickshaws like this usually only seat two – you can change into a mouse and hide in a pocket. The bronze faction will be looking for a group of four. A two-man rickshaw will not rouse suspicion” Byrus explained.
It actually sounded like a really good idea…

Byrus then exited the outer office after he told the others to wait for him to knock. Seconds later there was a knock.

Han carefully peeked outside, only to find Byrus standing around 3 other humans – sidereals presumably. They were frozen in place, not moving, not even blinking. Byrus wouldn’t say what he’d done, although he did hint that he had to cash in a hefty favor owed to him by Plentimon.

“Who?” Speaker wondered, looking around to see Shadow – but he was already gone.

“God of gambling – occasionally pops by Great Forks, always up for a wager” Han noted, climbing in the rickshaw Byrus had prepared and pre-paid.

The three, Shimmer being in the form of a rat in one of Speaker’s pockets, were deposited at the same portal they had arrived through moments after they had left Lytek’s office – well, that was what it felt like. Maybe it was a rickshaw-spirit charm that sped up travel? It didn’t matter. The circle calmly walked up to the portal and was greeted by the same celestial lion that had at first thought them intruders. This time it was much more polite: “Your resplendencies – I hope your visit to Yu-Shan was to your likings”
The circle politely nodded to the lion and stepped through the portal, finding themselves in a pitch black darkness deep underground of Lookshy.

“I do wonder when Shadow will be able to come back” Han said, already missing his circle-mate.
Shimmer pointed out a note attached to Han’s back – which most certainly had not been there a moment ago, or had it?

It was evidently from Byrus, who said that Shadow’s deal with Robed in Splendor, Chairman of the convention of fine cuisine, was that Shadow was to apprentice with the god for a full season – during which he’d be protected as the god’s apprentice, not that anyone was looking for him. Apparently the bronze faction was still busy looking for a circle of four hiding around Yu-Shan.

“Well that was certainly interesting” Speaker said, feeling a bit cheated that he hadn’t gotten to enjoy the sights and wonders of Yu-Shan beyond a little high-altitude sightseeing.
I have a webcomic: - Its kinda like exalted, except more furry, more fanservice, more fun, more sci-fi.
- may contain people being called "bob"

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