Descending Fire 6 -
The others, preparing for the long day ahead went to bed early and I was able to slip from the compound with none the wiser. Liaising with Spindlewisp at the Heart family residence I was quickly brought up on the state of affairs there. I already knew the Yasir delegates were houseguests but with the distraction of the tournament at hand I hadn’t the chance to familliarize myself with Glorious Star of Summer’s Glory’s accommodations. Turns out they have been putting him up in a usually vacant wing of the house which allows him a high measure of privacy and seclusion. Furthermore he is attended by a number of spirits the most concerning of which look to be a number of large ape-like beasts.
Attempting to dispose of these creatures without them alerting their master is too a risky a prospect with so many unknowns. It is probably for the best as plotting his murder is not entirely necessary. Aside from his choice of slaves and a demeanor that made Aster’s skin crawl I haven’t witnessed much to confirm that death is altogether warranted. While the world would probably be better off without him there are a number of superfluous and unpleasant people who are more trouble dead than alive and this may be one of them. I resolved to give him a chance to show his true colors, preferably before witnesses, and contented myself with tending to the more immediate problem.
Tasking Spindlewisp with finding me a professional who could make a courier run for about a week by boat I arranged a place to meet and headed for the arena. Taking a breath I summoned my power to become a perfect replica of Glorious Star of Summer’s Glory. This particular trick requires letting the power guide itself rather than directing it’s path. Though I know I will be clothed unerringly in the form I seek, surrendering my control to be shaped not by my own fancies but some greater power that reflects the truth can be … disquieting. While I have done this many times before and knew that the Yasir Noble had some disfigurement I was unprepared for the result and the brief but searing pain as new bones, muscles and flesh sprouted from my back followed by the prickling of sprouting feathers which itched before smoothing into their final shape.
Wings. The asshole has bloody wings.
?I tested muscles that felt alien and yet intimately familiar as I sought to banish my shock. I had no notion that I could replicate limbs this way! They were real, or at least real enough but my sense of them felt disconcertingly numb. It is usually my policy to try to willfully ignore questions of what makes something “real” when it comes to my power preferring instead to embrace a more subjective concept of “real enough”. I aimed to treat this as no different and willed my racing heart to slow. Just now there was important work to attend…
Dedecasi had been left in the arena just as unguarded as she had been the night before. Her fortunes had improved slightly as someone had erected a small tent for her but it unnerved me slightly that she was not asleep. Rather she sat at slouched attention. I preferred to believe she had been ordered not to sleep or simply couldn’t given the unfamiliar setting over the uncanny notion that she required no sleep at all.
Steeling myself to espouse a confident and commanding demeanor I approached her in her master’s form and commanded her to follow waving to her imperiously. She rose docilely, obedient to her Master’s whims. I strode with her, avoiding the city and keeping to the waterline. The faint sounds of the parties happening at the tournament grounds drifted on the winds across the water but the waterfront itself was deathly still. Most of the businesses have not yet adjusted to having late night clientele and with so few lights we passed by like shadows. The crunch of our footsteps on the damp sand were muted by the crash of ocean waves which would in a few hours obliterate the traces of our footsteps.
When we arrived at the rondevous Spindlewisp had yet to arrive. Dedecasi pawed at my cloak seeking reassurance. Her master, for all his ills, must treat her like an affectionate pet. She fretted given that her “Glorious Master” was behaving more coldly than usual but with the seething slew of emotions I was seeking to suppress I was hard put to reassure her.
It seems unwise to apply my own experiences to this poor wretch. She is a product of a different breed of cruelty than I and waiting there in the dark with her making her small strangled noises of concern I found myself asking which is worse : to be left one’s intelligence and be miserable or to be raised to an ill fate but content by benefit of ignorance? This Dedecasi, for all her misfortunes, craved and received affection that I had long been robbed of the capacity to seek. I was unsure if I should envy or pity her. Regardless I hoped that upon her return I could secure her a place where she can be safe.
I feel the fool for judging Aster for her own lapses of empathy. Dedecasi will require more effort in upkeep than a cow and Daisy is downright charming in comparison!
Spindlewisp arrived with her chosen smuggler, an ubiquitous man whom I purposely neglected to ask the name of. He seemed the sort one could find at any tavern along the docks. Spindlewisp assured me that he was discreet and the man agreed to ferry Dedecasi across the Dreaming Sea to a destination of my choosing hold her there for a day and return. A week’s journey. Long enough I hope to arrange Dedecasi a better future. The man’s price was reasonable, I handed over almost all my winnings from the tournament and set Dedecasi on the ship. She gave a gurgling whimper as I turned to go and I sighed. Stretching out my hand I gave her a pat as though she were a dog. She leaned into my hand accordingly and sat docilely below deck. Hopefully the others do not scold me too much once they learn of my actions. This bleeding heart of mine is a weakness but one it is one I’m prepared to live with.
Doffing the form of Glorious Star of Summer’s Glory I returned to the tournament grounds. The tent Aster had set up provided a convenient place to again use my power to change into yet another form that tested the limits of my capabilities.
Dedecasi’s Demise is a towering hulk and feeling my bones stretch as though they were going to pop from their sockets was only the beginning of the unpleasantness of assuming her form. She is covered over with oozing open sores and outfitted with a neck ring very much like the one I was once forced to wear. The collar and cuffs are set with red gem stones which seem like an unusual ornamentation. It might be some sort of magic device to serve as a safeguard for her good behavior.
I knew assuming her form was exceedingly risky but given that she will be in my custody once she returns in approximately six day’s time I need to know more about how Summer’s Glory interacts with her. There was also an outside chance that I might get an opportunity to strike at Summer’s Glory while his guard was down or find an avenue to arrange for a very public humiliation for him. My aim was to keep an open mind and let the hand of fate guide my actions.
Aster arrived first thing in the morning to disassemble the tent and to give “Dedecasi” some food. I was thankful. In all my distraction I had neglected to eat and was going to be quite hungry by the time of the fight. Aster’s seems to pity Dedecasi which gives me some hope that she will deign to lend me her assistance with her later. Watching her fret I considered informing her then and there of my ruse but it seemed unwise given I had not entirely abandoned all hope yet that my caper would present me an opportunity to kill Dedecasi’s Master on the sly. As much as she might dislike Summer’s Glory I doubt she would look upon me considering his murder kindly.
Once she was gone I was left alone with my thoughts, confusing jumble that they were. A mix of apprehension in going into my plan with no clear end goal, hatred of my intended target, pity for the slave girl and a desperate attempt to quash my own rising hopes that I might one day fly again. Once I had entertained daydreams of that nature but it hardly seemed plausible. My childish dreams had long ago ebbed into leaden acceptance. I had made my peace and resigned myself to only the occasional fantasy. No good comes from pining my hopes on something so inconsequential. It’s not like the skill was even all that useful, I wasn’t graceful in the air even at the height of my prowess and it was scarcely faster than running… Even so… how disappointing it would be to fail…Idiot! Dreams are toys the mind plays with while enemies sneak up from behind now FOCUS!
Summer’s Glory arrived midmorning and said something rather commanding sounding to me ( ie Dedecasi) in a language I didn’t even slightly recognize before leaving the arena. I had never witnessed him speaking to Dedecasi directly throughout the entire tournament and worryingly she takes his orders in a language that doesn’t sound like anything I recognize. After that Summer’s Glory never returned to the box seats. Something was up. My best guess was he had just given Dedecasi leave to kill her opponent and that my plans had just crossed the threshold into unacceptable levels of risk.
There was nothing to do but sit.
I watched Saiten’s fight with “local boy about town” Dingur Earthollow and was shocked to find his mortal opponent so astute a fighter. Dingur was so adroit with blade and shield that it looked for a moment like Saiten would lose. Was Saiten just playing for the crowd to give them something entertaining to watch? Somehow I doubted it. Saiten leveled a strike to the boy’s kidneys that seemed rather severe. The boy dropped like a stone and rolled on the ground as if in pain but a blow that hard should have left his internal organs a fine mist covering a swath of spectators in it’s trajectory. The boy seemed entirely too sturdy for a mortal. After he crumpled to the ground Saiten tried to stand him back up on his feet as though he were dissatisfied with the result and seemed uncharacteristically distressed by the turn of events. It was unclear why he reacted thus. That the youngster was incapacitated was hardly a surprise. Ignoring Saiten’s distressed noises, Aster carted Dingur, off to the medical tent shooting me, or “Dedecasi” rather, a few worried backward glances.
It was my turn next. Broken Walls waited in the stands regarding me with concern. He had noticed as I did that Summer’s Glory had not returned. It was not my original intent to let Broken Walls in on my little plan. I would rather not supply explanations for my rash actions but feeling distinctly like I had bitten off more than I could chew I fished my necklace from beneath Dedecasi’s robes. If things turned sour I might require his assistance.
Facing off in the ring Broken Walls observed polite bows to the stands and glancing up stumbled slightly. Were I not feeling so out of my depth I would have enjoyed his shock. Poking my foot subtly from beneath my robes I tapped my foot slowly three times. Sweat glistened on Broken Wall’s brow as the loose hairs on his neck stood on end. There was no chance to inform him of any plans. Dedecasi was mute, a trait I was not immune to having assumed her form. I only hoped he would do his best to make the fight convincing.
Once the gong sounded the start of round I rushed forward doing my best to mimic Dedecasi’s movement from the day before. She has a very animistic way of moving but it is fluid and sure. Tearing across the ring I saw Broken Wall’s face set in a grimace as he pelted backwards, leading me to the edge of the ring. I attacked him in my best imitation of Dedecasi’s barehanded style but he deflected the blow throwing me off balance. Swinging with his hammers he sent me flying from the ring. Suppressing my carefully trained reflexes I fell in a graceless heap and stayed down for a count of thirty. I heard the crowd cheer wildly for Broken Walls as I climbed unsteadily to my feet and shambled to the medical tent.
Aster seemed flustered as she checked me over for signs of damage but I hadn’t sustained any. She seemed relieved but still on edge… Uncharacteristically distracted and angry… Due to her distraction it was easy to slip out the back of the medical tent and find a neglected corner to change forms. Reverting to a more conventional form was a relief. While I felt no real pain from Dedecasi’s oozing sores I did get a sort of vague discomfort from them. Her robes were hot even in the muted summer sun of Champoor and wearing a ring about my neck that was just tight enough to slightly constrict my breathing was an unpleasant reminder of the past. Thankfully I hadn’t endured it long enough for it to start to chafe.
Assuming the form of Sun Shen Li and made my way back into the ring. My next opponent was another intriguing curiosity. Rose Piercing Wind, the man who lies about his martial style. There are a number of very practical reasons he might be doing so which are not immediate cause for concern. He might just be trying to retain an advantage by keeping the nature of his style under wraps or just be trying to give himself airs by pretending to be a legitimate student of a school very much like Seventh Dawn had. A trait I find vaguely irritating.
Facing off with him in the ring some things immediately became clear. He is very skilled and definitely with a real martial art. Though my strikes were landing it came at a cost and he seemed to be able to recover more quickly then he should have. I felt as though he were somehow leaching my momentum. We were mostly evenly matched and as the fight went on I began to hazard a guess at the style. White Reaper. Chijiwa’s school. This must be the opponent from Kampthehar and he was probably not a mortal given how well he was keeping pace.
Most likely then a dragonblood from Kampthehar. Not good, but not the end of the world.
Keeping my power suppressed was a loosing battle, particularly since I had not yet had time to recover the power I had spent in changing my disguise. I was rolling with his punches but pushing the boundary of what a truly skilled mortal might be capable of. I was holding but not gaining ground. He got in a strike that was hard enough to brake ribs. Springing backwards I acknowledged the sharp pain in my side and took quick stock of my situation. I was hanging on but another blow like that and I would be down. As is I tasted blood on my breath. Despite the effort I had gone through to craft a layered disguise it was too risky to loose consciousness facing off against this particular opponent. I yielded.
Extending a hand for Rose Piercing Wind to shake I acknowledged his skill and smiled at him as he did the same. I reviewed my performance. Had I done anything completely outside the realm of the mortally possible? If so “Sun Shen Li” had no clear history in Champoor to tout so I might be written off as another Dragonblood slumming it in Champoor for the tournament. Provided Broken Walls and Saiten didn’t get carried away he might not be a problem.
I made my way gingerly to the healer’s tent using my hand to apply gentle pressure to my ribs. Definitely broken. Sitting down on the cot Aster requested I remove my shirt so she could observe the spreading red bruise on my left side. I hadn’t bothered pocketing my necklace before the fight and it hardly seemed worth the trouble now. Catching a glimpse of it Aster flashed me a glare that could have peeled paint before reigning it in. “Are you a part of the Warren?” she asked applying a salve to the bruise.
I considered lying but to be honest I’ve been worried about Aster. She’s been more on edge than usual and something felt… off. I wasn’t surprised that she seemed less than pleased to find me participating in the tournament but there was something else in the way she kept fidgeting as though she were distressed. I inquired after her somewhat distracted air to which Aster eventually confessed that the plight of Dedecasi had her worried and that she was angry with Glorious Star of Summer’s Glory for his treatment of her.
It sounded very much like she was going to confront him! I tried warn her off Summer’s Glory as the man is more dangerous than he first appears but she wasn’t listening. No, she wanted to be alone.
She left me to stew on the cot in the medical tent. Aster has lied by omission in the past but she abhors telling falsehoods. Dedecasi would have been seen last going into her tent which means the inquiry will eventually come her way, but if Aster confronts Summer’s Glory head on she might be in for more than she bargained for. I’d be letting her walk into danger uninformed. What a miserable bloody mess!
I called Aster inside and begged her to hear me out. I told her that Dedecasi had never faced Broken Walls, that I had taken her place after securing her departure. I explained the entirety of what I had learned to try and dissuade her from putting herself in harm’s way which only deepened her expression of concern. She mentioned that it “may have been better if I hadn’t told her” and something along the lines of this “being yet one more issue in an already distressing day.”
Concerned at this statement I asked if anything else was bothering her to which she reluctantly replied “Natasha”. Initially I thought she meant the effect which had effected Chaoxi and Broken Walls but she made it clear that she had been unaware of this effect. Rather, her issue was that she was jealous of Natasha and her seeming familiarity with Hatellis.
I did my best to soothe her feelings of inadequacy stating that Hatelis seemed unlikely to stray but Aster seemed obsessed with comparing herself to Natasha and worrying about potential lingering passions he holds for her. She seemed concerned that her youth, lack of experience and the very presence of her jealousy and pettiness would scare Hatellis away.
I found myself struggling to word my thoughts. It is my experience that men particularly seem to find youth and “innocence” appealing to the point of commodifying it. Certain people have paid a handsome amount of coin on purchasing a someone’s virginity ( to what point I still ultimately fail to understand ) and purpously pursue relationships or negotiate marriages with those of a vastly younger age. As I find this practice dispicable and Aster seems to think the better of Hatellis I thought better of mentioning this. I did put forward that as far as jealousy goes it is a little unreasonable for her to hold herself to the standard of being completely flawless.
I attempted to point out that Hatellis was unlikely to be scared off given that he has likely had gained experience with relationships at some point and has probably already sorted out his feelings toward Natasha. I expressed doubt that he’d be pursuing a fresh paramour if he was still mooning over Natasha. I don’t doubt they have some history but most require at least some measure of exclusivity in a relationship which Natasha, by reputation, does not practice.
I didn’t seem to be getting through to her so Aster dragged Chaoxi into the tent who basically re-iterated everything I said but… better. Perhaps because she has had varied first hand experience and is able to cast things in a more positive light. My singular experience really isn’t applicable in this instance and on occasion still makes me feel like I’ve broken a rib or three.
Speaking of, my injuries were healing incredibly fast. After a half an hour they felt bruised and sore but not nearly as bad as I expected. It seemed unusual given that I had just been treated with balm and bandages but then this is Aster. It wouldn’t surprise me if her power was at work.
With Aster’s insecurities addressed Chaoxi saw fit to scold me for my antics at the tournament. I told her what I could about what I had learned about Dedemasi’s Demise and her handler and I could see she was concerned. She actually made me pinkie swear not to do it again… a pinkie swear! What the hell does she think I am, a six year old?!
Changing into the form of Obi I made my way to the bleachers to free up the cot and so I could watch Broken Wall’s fight with Rose Piercing Wind. The only trouble was in the allotted hour he never showed up. Broken Walls went over to investigate and after speaking with some people in the bleachers went tearing over to speak with Tick before forfeiting his match with Saiten and announcing to the whole stadium that he was leaving to stop a spy from Kampthehar. I know I’m being fatalistic at this point but word will reach Kampthahar about the goings on here eventually. Particularly since he ANNOUNCED HIS CONCERNS ABOUT KAMPTHAR SPIES IN FRONT OF A STADIUM FULL OF PEOPLE. Someone out of that stadium’s worth of our potential rivals and enemies is likely to get smart and go telling tales if it means getting Rising Sun out of the picture.
Not that there was any time to discuss or even to digest this information. It is one thing for people to conceptualize the possible existence of a spy and another entirely for them to ignore a proven one.
Broken Walls and Saiten went tearing from the stadium while the rest of us followed on horseback. Against my better judgement I followed them. My time probably would have been better spent trying to mitigate the massive damage done by this indelicate handling of the situation at hand. I don’t know what they hope to achieve. I can’t see Aster standing for killing the spy and even I feel at odds with doing him in to secure at best nothing more than a sneeze worth more time. Eventually when the faith’s spy never reports back someone else will come looking.
Maybe riding hard on a horse chasing a fool’s errand with a host of sore ribs and missing another night’s sleep has just made me grumpy. Today could have gone better.