As the tale of the Exalted Continues

Piper's Journal 27
With Friends Like these Who Needs Sanity?

Descending Fire 9

The trail we followed took us through hilly plains with grass tall as a man’s thigh. Taller than I as I had chosen to inhabit a light and compact form – a girl from my pickpockets named Gwee. Saiten probably didn’t even register the extra weight as Gwee was woefully underfed and somewhere between four and five years of age. I am not sure he appreciated the effort. Compacting my form so small increases the discomfort of changing size by multitudes. Theoretically I may be capable of assuming the role of an infant but I can’t think of a practical reason I’d ever want to risk the agony of compressing to such diminutive proportions and there is something repulsive in the prospect of re-experiencing infancy.

We were an hour off the the road when I heard something I normally associated with Broken Walls- the faint series of gentle metallic clicks of armour plates gently connecting. The wind shifted and for an instant I could smell the musky scent of a human, the tang of polished steel, wax, leather, oil and horse. It took moments to pinpoint the source my nose and ears told me was near.

A lookout and his mount.

Our spy had ridden right past him. Was this a rondevous gone wrong or something else? I hopped down from Saiten’s back and easily disappeared into the grass but bright yellow and red is impractical camouflage for any terrain. One snapped stick under foot and the lookout immediately spotted Saiten. He had just enough time to swear, jump astride his horse, and cry “Die Anathema scum!” before he was knocked cold By Saiten’s red gloved fist.

The horse surged forward without it’s rider but Saiten, thinking quickly, grabbed the reins and plowed the poor creature’s nose into the ground. Pretty sure that’s a prime example of how not to calm a horse but it’s certainly effective at stopping one in it’s tracks.

I took on a rushed facsimile of the man’s appearance and waited to see if anyone came out to investigate the noise. All was still. Had the lookout not been posted here when Wonders of Forsaken Dreams had passed by? No, I could tell be the scent of hours old stale urine nearby he’d obviously been here for some time. It could be a missed connection but the spy had obviously headed right past him without slowing down.

We resumed the trail until we came across another set of lookouts, this time with a bell suspended between two posts. After my recent experience with Akkimu I’ve come to realize I have never been thankful that a bell has rung for virtually any reason whatsoever. Though I was aware this particular object was likely mundane and served as a simple alarm I felt an odd irrational aversion to it that set me immediately on edge.

The wind carried the sound of and smell of something over two dozen men and mounts just over the next hill. My heart sank. With a sense of impending dread I informed Saiten of what I heard and he predictably wanted to go rushing in to take them out.

I found myself in the cursed position of arguing in whispers trying to talk him out of it. He asked me outright if it would be a challenge and I immediately recognized at that point that it would be quite frankly impossible to stay his hand. He attempted to goad me into joining him in this action by trying to appeal to my desire to remain undiscovered by the wyld hunt like a child begging for a sweet.

My chronic lack of sleep was making me insensible. I knew I wasn’t up to scratch trying to talk sense into the senseless and the sheer contemplation of the attempt made me only more weary. Had I felt it worth uttering I might have informed him I harbour no delusions that the wyld hunt is unware I exist. If the turncoat Chijiwa hasn’t told them outright then surely the bloody play they are STILL performing on off nights at the Winter Meets Wind is a significant tip off that they are dealing with four Solars. Lest we all festering well forget, Indebted Blood of Fire was only polishing off the Wyld hunt’s observations!

I can only come to the conclusion that Saiten thinks I am fanatically paranoid of having my identity discovered. Granted, a persecution complex would not be a far-fetched assumption given my behaviour. Hell, paranoia might even be merited given that these people aim to hunt me like a dangerous animal so I can’t exactly fault anyone for jumping to that conclusion. The general benefit of being more difficult to target and the tactical benefit of operating unchecked has undoubtedly reinforced my habits but… is not it’s source.

Discovering my power was a liberty beyond anything I thought possible. Being anyone I wanted to be I could erase everything and start over afresh time and again and sample aspects of life that I would never have been entitled to. Wrapped in a comfortable barrier between myself and the world I could view it as an outsider might and from that distance I took nothing personally. After a while however going back to how I was before felt uncomfortably like weakness… or perhaps more aptly nakedness.

I really don’t have much to fear from people discovering who I was. Almost all those who could recognize my morning form are dead or have no reason to be anywhere near Champoor. I could walk down the street completely secure with absolute certainty I was just another forgettable face in the crowd, virtually on par with any one of my disguises yet no amount of certainty impacts that feeling of exposure. I should be glad. The vast majority of humanity have their physicality and their identity welded together but for me that simply isn’t the case anymore. I have no true face and if not for a bit of divine meddling I wouldn’t have a true name either, just a succession of meaningless aliases.

Though so much has happened it has only been a few months since I have begun consorting with people who know me and not just aspects of the empty shells I construct. Whatever Saiten and the others may think, they have accommodated my peculiarities rather well and thus correcting the misconception may not be entirely necessary. It may not even be wise if they should attempt to leverage a supposed fear of discovery to try and wheedle me to do something stupid Like Saiten was attempting.

The whole ordeal with the military camp boiled down to a moral dilemma. If I passively allowed Saiten to take on this risk alone there was a high likelihood I’d be doing the equivalent of handing a suicidal man a knife. I carry enough guilt without adding “what might have been avoided” to the pyre. On the flip-side, in joining him I would be reaffirming his troubling belief that I will continually be depended on to be dragged wholesale into his every reckless action. That is something I absolutely do not wish to perpetuate.

If things cool off I intend to speak with Chaoxi and Broken Walls about this. Maybe they can talk some sense into him. In the moment however they weren’t around to help. I acknowledged the camp was a problem that needed dealing with but there were a lot of variables at play. If we did attack and they chose to scatter then even Saiten would be hard pressed to chase every last one down. If there was a dragonblood present up there or even some half decent archers we would be at a significant disadvantage.

Part of the problem with talking Saiten down from anything is that it is unwise to mention complicating factors. I strongly suspect he just sees them as some sort of trial to be overcome. His near boundless belief in his own ability is something we don’t share. He’s good at bludgeoning things to a pulp, granted, but he’s unreliable when facing foes who spread themselves thinly and the fact he doesn’t invest in thicker armour doesn’t help matters. As for myself, in almost every conflict wherein I’ve faced superior numbers I’ve been on the back foot, staying alive but not doing much damage. It is a good thing I don’t seem to pick up scars anymore except for particularly grievous wounds as I would have collected at least one to mark every large battle I have faced since meeting the others.

What I really wanted to do in the moment was find a nice hardwood tree to knock my head against and scream : “GODS DAMN IT ALL, WHY ME?! Aster can talk Saiten out of madness, Broken Walls can stroll through a battlefield like he’s going for a bloody picnic lunch and Chaoxi probably already has a plan and all the components needed to enact it in her BLOODY RUCKSACK!!!”

This inclination wasn’t helpful.

No matter which way you sliced it, an attack was a gamble. We might be decently matched or it could go just as easily go horribly sideways. Frustrated with my reluctance, Saiten exasperatingly asked “Well, how would you deal with them?!” It was then I realized that I didn’t need to be suckered into this game, he could play mine. I try not to gamble with odds I haven’t personally rigged and I had the means to tip those odds in our favor and wouldn’t you know it, in an almost Chaoxi-ish move I had packed for the occasion. Saiten, with an obvious measure of disappointment, accepted my plan.

I took the form of a ragged young boy and spirited into camp. The guards were alert but were dulled by a watch spent with little of interest to fill the empty hours before sunrise. The camp itself was too large for them to effectively patrol. While there was somewhere around thirty or so men the camp was large enough for an army several times it’s size. If I had to guess this was just some sort of advance provisional force who were there to set up the camp ahead of time. Doing it this way probably makes some kind of strategic sense but I’m willing to bet these dogsbodies were probably sent ahead so those with rank could avoid doing anything so inglorious as set up a tent.

The cooks already had stew on the boil for the morning’s breakfast in the mess tent though it was at the stage where it was little more than lumpy broth. Fortunately before I had left Champoor I had asked Aster to prepare me a large measure of sleeping drought. The stuff is one of the most common drugs healers brew for surgical purposes and handy in a pinch. These drugs are however potentially dangerous since they can be variable in their ratio of volume to potency and Aster hadn’t time to divide it into safe doses.

The three cooks prepared the morning’s meal with the slow methodical motions of people who have made a dish so many times that they did so half-asleep. I moved slowly so as not to catch their attention and dusted all of the drug into the pot with a prayer that the stew’s thickness would disguise any bitterness the herbal concoction had. The dose was hopefully enough. Too little and it may only make them sluggish for a time. Overdo and I’d be explaining to Aster how I killed unwitting soldiers with her concoction. There are many worse ways to die than a painless slip into oblivion caused by too potent a sedative but I doubt that would give Aster much solace.

Slipping back to where Saiten waited I froze like a rabbit in the long grass. The breeze carried Chaoxi’s whisper, sounding for all Creation like she was speaking directly in my ear. She informed me that Broken Walls and herself were camped just past the inn. They weren’t far and there were some hours yet til sunrise and the time when the men would be taking their breakfast. I told Saiten I would go fetch our allies back to help us deal with the camp. Patience and prudence are not amongst Saiten’s virtues so I didn’t dally. I couldn’t fully trust that he wouldn’t find some pretext to attack the camp in my absence so assured that I had least done all I could do within reason I wasted no time running for help.

Once beyond the sentry line I broke into a sprint. It is a rare occasion that I let my power channel this course. It eased the strain on the muscles in my legs and flowed into the ground like lightning striking the earth. It has always been impossible to dampen the essence that flares and sparkles like silvery gold and violet stardust in my trail betraying to the world that I am not mortal but thus empowered I rival Saiten for speed. This was the very first of the strange powers that I developed and I wonder if it is perhaps for that reason that it continues to lack the subtlety of the ones I developed later.

Broken Walls was standing watch when I raced into camp though if he was surprised by my sudden appearance or my uncharacteristically showy entrance he didn’t show it. Relaying the brief version of events while Chaoxi packed up the camp Broken Walls quizzed me on the factors at play. He seemed to want my opinion on what action to take, perhaps as a means of showing support but I for one was happy to hand over the reins of the whole situation. Let’s face it, Saiten will not and probably never will listen to me as he does Broken Walls and I am not the person who knows best how to ambush an enemy camp.

After we ditched the wagon I lead Chaoxi and Broken Walls back to where Saiten was waiting. Broken Walls gauged from experience that the camp would be having breakfast as the sun was just peaking over the horizon so we positioned ourselves around all sides of the camp to cut off possible escapes. It wasn’t needed. We saw just one soldier, staggering to remain upright before collapsing in a heap in the dust. The others were collapsed at whatever tasks they had been about shortly after ingesting their drugged breakfast. “ALL OF THEM?!” Saiten shouted. He sounded distressed by this, pity I didn’t feel particularly sympathetic.

Saiten’s yell flushed the one late riser out of his tent to investigate. Poor Wonders of Forsaken Dreams regarded us for an instant, the blood rapidly draining from his face as what had transpired dawned on him. “Oh shi-” was all he had time to say before Saiten flashed forward and delivered a rabbit punch that temporarily relieved Wonders of Forsaken Dreams of comprehending his immediate problem.

Broken Walls secured the captives by pulling their weapons through his fingers to blunt the edges before tying the temporarily supple metal around their wrists like it was rope. Leaving them under Saiten’s eye we investigated the tent Forsaken Dreams had come from finding it to be the sort of tent you would expect of someone of great means to inhabit. A map of Champoor was sprawled on the table and the locations of the holdings allied with Rising Sun were circled on it. So too was a large property outside of town which had something written by it in High Realm script. Everything about the tent smacked of wealth and privilege. Feather mattresses, expensive incense and wine of superior quality. Chaoxi poured me a glass and I dulled my senses back to a mortal standard after taking the first sip. Being able to experience food with my improved palate is interesting but tasting it’s every fault and the ghosts of the human hands that played a part in it’s creation is like noticing a slightly off-key instrument in an ensemble – Once it’s noticed it is all you hear.

Broken Walls used the large table in the center of the tent as materials to fashion a large prison wagon and secured the thirty-odd soldiers inside and tossed the feather mattress on top as a spoil of war. I for one didn’t wait for permission and sunk down on the fluffy mattress and dozed.

It was a brief respite. I awoke a little over an hour later to find we hadn’t moved. I rubbed a hand over my face and winced as stubble scrapped my hand. It’s been days since I properly washed or shaved. My power gives me the semblance of cleanliness when I affect a new form but the illusion of cleanliness is not actual cleanliness. I quickly put on the face of Featherweight which at least erased the rank smell of sweat, dust and horses from my skin. First thing when I get back to Rising Sun I’m going to have a proper bath and rest.

I hopped down, eyeing the dozy captives. They were a little out of it still but most had come around and glared at me with hate. Broken Walls waved me over and told me that he had questioned Forsaken Dreams who had identified that they were part of a force that was planning to take part in an ambush that was to take place at the gala.

Were they indeed? While Broken Walls does not immediately see this as cause to believe the Heart family was in on the plan I am not so sure. They had gone out of their way to invite “Mists of Ruby Skies” and get all four anathema in one place. They foster trash like Glorious Ass of Sorcerous Treachery who might have used the tournament as a cover to bring a living weapon into the city to use against us. Broken Wall’s unshakable good faith has it that they would not risk the collateral of having such an attack happen on their property but who is to say they wouldn’t be handsomely rewarded and compensated by Prassaud interests for any damages incurred?

Removing Rising Sun and the upset caused on a near weekly basis to the status quo since our arrival would be reason enough to go through with such a plan and if we survived they could plead they knew nothing. Were I in their shoes allying with the Wyld hunt could seem the best chance of nipping the problem in the bud while keeping their own hands clean. Perhaps I should arrange some misfortunes for the Heart family to keep them occupied for awhile…

In a way I’m relieved. I figured the gala was a trap and I am not disappointed. On the flip side it looks like I’ll be going to fight an all out war on the field with seasoned Anathema killers. General Strife’s Flawless Depths of Clan Suya, Nara – an air aspect who had been there the day all of us first met and Gorel Kawa “the Granite Crow” a relative of Chaoxi’s who I believe poses a not insignificant threat.

Broken Walls also handily wrung from our captive spy the names of their targets and more distantly interesting what they call us. Anathema Broken Walls, Traitor to the Realm Chaoxi Kawa, Saiten the Fallen, “The Lady of the Golden Voice” and the Anathema known as the “Void Being”. Not “Mists of Ruby Skies”, no alias at all… just “The Void Being”.

I will hand it to the wyld hunt, they are eloquent in their acrimony. “Void Being” manages to be both something of a dehumanizing slur and a contradiction. A “void” is an emptiness or, in legal terms, a rendering of something worthless or invalid. At it’s plainest meaning it references that strange darkness I was shrouded in during the battle of Akkimu but it can also handily be interpreted as “Empty Creature” or “Invalid Person” telling me something about what sort of consideration they have for me. It’s rather on the nose for someone who shifts between identities leaving little clue as to their proper identity.

We left Chaoxi and Saiten at the camp and returned to Champoor with the captives in tow. I slept all the way back to the city on the top of the prison cart that Broken Walls hitched behind a team of horses. There is much to do and I would need to be in top form.

Piper's Journal 26 (Sessions 26+27)
The Spaces Between

Descending Fire 7 and 8

It was quite some time before Broken Walls and Saiten hove into view, sedately walking beside a horse with a bound captive on it’s back. It is hard to believe but Saiten outran a horse while carrying Broken Walls. I admit, I was not expecting us to actually catch up given the significant lead unless our quarry was foolish enough to make camp. One can easily miscalculate when Saiten is involved.

With our quarry out cold the walk back was uneventful and we stopped at an inn part way for a rest. I for one was exhausted but then I hadn’t slept after two rather physically and emotionally demanding days and was in poor spirits. At least I do not need to worry about it prematurely aging me. I have rather suspected that I haven’t changed much in the past three years but then I’ve always looked young for my age and most people in their twenties can look deceptively young.

I collapsed into bed, my sides and saddle sores aching. I have never ridden hard before and the effect it has on the thighs particularly reminded me unpleasantly of the open sores that cover so much of Dedecasi’s body. Everything ached. Once again I found myself thankful that Solar’s bodies heal so quickly. Our minds are however another matter. In my dreams I found myself once again in Dedecasi’s body, rendered mute as Glorious Star of Summer’s Glory paraded me through the streets of Champoor on a silver chain while people visibly recoiled from my unintelligible pleas for help. I woke to the pearly light just preceding dawn and went promptly back to sleep , dropping into a more comfortable dreamless abyss that I was reticent to wake from. Sleeping only every second night might be beginning to get to me. My dreams are getting worse.

We arrived back in Champoor and Broken Walls and Saiten wasted no time heading directly to the tournament grounds. With all the vendors packing the remainder of their wares the place looked sadly dismantled but Mauk still presided in his makeshift chair. We hauled our prisoner over for him to acknowledge as Broken Walls voiced a “prayer” to Hatellis which sounded more like an informal perfunctory note to a junior colleague. Something that Hatellis himself acknowledged when he appeared stating that it ranked as the worst prayer he had every received. We told them briefly about the capture and I hauled Rose Piercing Wind off to the medical tent where casual onlookers would get less of an eyeful.

What transgressed next made me seriously begin to question Saiten’s sanity. After finding Broken Walls would not fight him ( having officially resigned from the tournament the night before) Saiten goaded Mauk into fighting him instead. Mauk retrieved his cudgel and the two promptly squared off on the hill overlooking the tournament grounds.

I have come to the conclusion that Saiten has a deathwish. The inevitability of his demise at the hands of one of these fights he picks is more or less assured by the odds of sheer repetition.I should probably set aside a fund for a good mortuary tablet, altar and offerings against the day when he eventually falls victim to this folly.

As Saiten and Mauk squared off Rose Piercing Wind regained consciousness and finding himself bound and blindfolded started inquiring after my identity. I told him I was “no one” a joke and the truth after a fashion. I didn’t pay him much mind instead watching glumly as Saiten and Mauk concluded their challenge with Saiten very narrowly flattened by Mauk’s club and then engulfed in one large fist. My relief felt lessened. Like caring for an addict of dangerous substances I could except this only as a temporary stay of execution.

With that out of the way we dragged our captive back to the Rising Sun where he was bound and prepared for interrogation. Hatellis and Gisig were invited to witness as the poor boy was laid bare of his secrets by Broken Walls. The interrogation was… unsettling. Capture, torture and death are more or less what a spy can expect of his failures but being forced to have your dearly held secrets drawn from you with no ability to resist thus betraying the people you have sworn to serve… Well, despite his vigor in damning us all as hated anathema I felt intensely sorry for him.

Under Broken Wall’s questions our captive revealed himself to be one “Indebted Blood of Fire” fifth heir of the Motome clan. Makes sense given his fighting style and possibly why he was tapped to come here. Chijiwa never did explicitly prove he was a solar and he was quick to desert us after he became aware of our plans. My fears were confirmed when after being asked his purpose for being in Champoor Indebted Blood replied it was to assess the combat potential of the “foul Anathema who infest the city”.

If Chijiwa did go telling our tales then the time frame for preparations may be drastically shortened. I was also troubled that “foul anathema” might mean also mean “four anathema” Chijiwa was well aware of my peculiarities which means they might try employing extra levels of security against tampering from an impostor. It is always risky trying to operate as a body double particularly when there are too many gaps in my knowledge of that person’s comings and goings, it does not take much to make it more difficult if someone is on the lookout.

Broken Walls, who had asked us beforehand what questions he should ask decided to deviate from one that I recommended. I had hoped he would have asked our captive to relay what would have been in his report to his superiors. That might have told us how much about us they actually know, whether I figured into their calculations or not and what holes there were in the perceptions of a trained observer. Instead he substituted in a question about what sort of force he could expect on our doorstep. The youth answered in an imprecise fashion giving a number of legions and two Dragonbloods, or as he put it “The military might of Prassad”.

. I have no military education to speak of and couldn’t tell you how a legion differs from a battalion and so on but was not ultimately bothered by the vague impression this knowledge had as exact numbers are more or less irrelevant to the trade I ply myself. As long as I can assume the force is large enough to be a viable threat for either an attack or siege I can apply myself and leave factoring military strategy to the likes of Broken Walls and Chaoxi.

I mentioned to Broken Walls to ask if Indebted Blood of Fire had any allies in the city. Our captive strikes me as being the sort of agent whom one tells very little to. It is common that spies in a network only operate with the bare minimum of what they need to know to accomplish their task as it insulates the rest of the spies from being targeted once one is captured. One of the reasons I fled from conventional spy work in Nexus was because I found too late that I was being used but that is the harsh reality of being a junior in these sorts of organizations. Many who are employed as spies do so against their own best interest provided someone pulling the strings knows the right thing to say or do to make them dance. The next highest on the chain is more likely to be a seasoned spy though in all reality he is probably only be yet another isolated link. Still if you keep pulling on a chain it will eventually lead you somewhere.

We got our name : “Wonders of Forsaken Dreams of clan Suya” and Broken Walls asked how best we could find and trap him. Aside from the more concrete aspects like the rendezvous point ( a tavern called "the Outrageous Flagon) Indebted Blood answered rather strangely “Convince me to betray him”. I’m, not sure what to make of that. It pre-supposes that this man believes he could be somehow coerced or convinced to abandon his convictions and that it would the easiest action to be taken. Does that mean his beliefs are vulnerable somehow and that he has doubts of some sort that even he is aware we can exploit?

We convened a council to decide what to do. We all agreed that it would be worthwhile to collect this Wonders of Forsaken Dreams that much was certain but the news that we now had no uncertainty that the enemy knew we were here I think affected my comrades a little. I had long ago resigned myself to this an an inevitability, even so the very walls seemed to tighten like a noose, the world constricting to a new and claustrophobic shallowness. Years of compounded instinct screamed to tie up loose ends and make preparations to leave but those instincts are now counter intuitive unless I can convince the others to go

Once we adjourned I retreated to the kitchen and put some water on to boil. Retrieving a packet from my room I went through the motions of brewing some tea. I breathed deep of the faint kitchen scents. Here it smelled so reassuringly of Chaoxi and the spices she added to her cooking. It was a comfort but I don’t think I belong here any more than I belong anywhere. If happiness and comfort were all I sought out of life than perhaps so but I deserve neither of those things. I dedicated my life to an ideal of service, I can’t put the welfare of good people here on the line to benefit myself. My miserable hide isn’t worth it… but Is wanting to save my friends right or just my own selfish interest not to be alone anymore?

I took my freshly brewed tea to our captive who flinched against my approach. I removed his blindfold and regarded him with as much detachment as I could muster. I assured him that I had no power to make him speak against his will, that I just wanted to talk. I removed his gag after gaining his assurance that he would not scream the place down without it. His first question was of course who I was and what I wanted. I introduced myself as Obi and I told him that my intent was just understanding his side of the story. He told me of the evils of the Solar Anathema whose words poison men’s souls and deeds raise cities to the ground.

Then he did something that few have ever done… he showed concern for my welfare. Well… Obi’s welfare anyhow. He very firmly believes that those who joined the cause of the Solar Anathema “cast aside any hope for a proper resurrection”. He pleaded that if I could not assist him that at least I take pains to save myself lest that be my fate.

It is a noble thing to show that sort of compassion to an enemy.

At the tournament I had gotten a rather favorable impression of the man and here again confirms it. We may be enemies but Indebted Blood of Fire does not deserve my animosity. As for what he said he isn’t wrong. I am well capable of “poisoning men’s souls” if only temporarily and Aster may very well be able to on a more permanent basis. The temple guards of Kadu are still loyal to her after all. Furthermore our collective deeds may very well raise Champoor to the ground if we are not cautious.

The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle between two extremes. Perhaps those who have tread the path before me were prone to the abuse of power but from what I have witnessed the Realm is no better. Good and bad people may exist on both sides.

Not that I’m about to throw in with the other side. I’ve seen the callous membership of the Immaculate Faith collapse a house on top of a family for no other reason then they were in the path of their hammer whereas my colleagues seem distressed at causing people mild inconvenience and endangering civilians unnecessarily. I may sometimes question whether they are taking the appropriate course but I at least believe their hearts are in the right place.

The world is less than perfect. Circumstances may eventually play out so that we must need kill Indebted Blood but I for one hope that fate is kinder to both of us than that. The spinning wheel turns and we are both at the mercy of it’s influence. I left him feeling an odd pang of regret. Under different circumstances perhaps we might have been allies but I can’t help being Anathema to some. I will have only failed once I have become anathema to all.

I convened with the others for a brief meeting. They of course wanted to go find the spy waiting for Indebted Blood at “The Outrageous Flagon Inn” which was practical enough. With him in hand we could have a shot at ferreting out any Champoor spies and any future plans he was connected to. From the perspective of worrying that this man may somehow escape with any hard won secrets is virtually nil. Safeguarding Rising Sun from the influence of spies is virtually impossible when they do everything in the most public way possible. One doesn’t need trained spies when you can walk into any tavern in Champoor and hear of our exploits not an hour after they happened. It is like trying to scoop the ocean with a sieve and about as rewarding.

It was decided that I would go. Broken Walls offered to ask Indebted Blood more questions to arm me in my task but I hesitated. Is it strange that I find this form of questioning unsavory? The ease with which Indebted Blood’s will was subverted made me realize at once my feelings about this strange ability. I am glad it is a weapon in our arsenal but I can’t help feeling it should be avoided if not entirely necessary or warranted. Broken Walls gave me an odd look when I told him I rather he didn’t use it again but he didn’t press the matter. He asked if there was anything he could do to help me out in any of my projects to which I replied I would be in need of a wagon and a large crate with a bench inside. This peaked his concern and wound up with me assuring him it wasn’t for the use of transporting a dead body.

Over the past while he has been more explicit in asking me if I intend people harm. It is depressing that I must be continually reminded of my perceived untrustworthness but I suppose I should just be thankful he hasn’t seen my previous actions as grounds to cut ties with me altogether.

Broken Walls then asked if he should come along. I demurred. Time is short and Broken Wall’s time particularly is valuable given how much he can accomplish with even a short span. Furthermore his civic work genuinely benefits the city. Though capturing this contact is worthwhile I should not rob Champoor of time spent improving the welfare of those who need it to benefit ourselves or his improving of his armaments.

I left with Saiten for the inn on horseback. I am getting a fair amount of practice with riding but I am still not comfortable guiding these animals around. I would have been well served to spend my time thinking about how to approach the problem at hand but I did not. I struggled to collect my thoughts which turned ceaselessly over a host of concerns none of which bore any fruit.

I watched the sun slowly dip behind the horizon and though I made no progress in coming up with answers to my problems I at least gained some insight into the burden I carry. A feeling of distance between myself and my allies is growing. Saiten and I never had much in common but his stubborn plunging ahead without concern for our welfare much less his own makes me believe that our association will one day be cut brutally short. Broken Wall’s continued small gestures of distrust keep reminding me that I will always be kept at arms length and my suspicions of Aster’s power makes me doubt what good faith I have built.

I was caught by an old longing that has lost no sharpness with the passage of time. Peony. For all that may have gone wrong there is no one I had trusted more or who knew me better. There had never been secrets between us. Listening to Aster yesterday had brought her memory back to mind had made me recall the worst but for a long time she had made life worth the struggle. They say it is better to have loved and lost but I’m not so sure. If my existence is to be one of solitude like this than what good is carrying bitter remembrances?

We arrived at the inn and I too late realized that I hadn’t much of a plan to ferret out our spy. I haven’t even a physical description to go off of. By saving Indebted Fire the indignity of enduring second questioning I had made things much more difficult. Offering this bleeding heart up to my enemies will be my death but I find it a strange comfort that at least it is not dry and withered.

It was shortly after midnight and the inn was quiet. While posing as Indebted Fire might flush my prey out it also held risks. If there are doubts about a shape shifting spy existing in Champoor I could potentially confirm them. My aim is to deliver this man back to my allies for questioning. I don’t see the others killing him afterwards so their ultimate aim is either to release our captives at some point in the future or hold them prisoner indefinitely. As much as it would make finding this particular spy easier in the long run it isn’t the right play if I intend to keep the tactical advantage of keeping full extent of my abilities secret.

Perhaps I was also reticent to use Indebted Blood’s image so trivially…

I told Saiten to wait in the stables while I attempted to flush out our prey. I went in the inn and spoke with the keeper there trying to pose as a messenger sent with a message for Wonders of Forsaken Dreams. As covers go it was lackluster I suppose. The barkeep demonstrated no knowledge of anyone staying under that name and moreover that he just wanted to stay out of any shady business. None of the people listening in in the common space seemed to react either. I ordered a meals and said something to the effect of that I would try again in the morning. I went in the barn and informed Saiten that my first attempt had failed. He for his part seemed more concerned with food and stated that he was going to go in and get some food. Maybe he figured the cloak he had thrown on over his costume was enough of a disguise or maybe he didn’t know or care that his presence would drive our quarry further underground making him that much harder to find.

His childish stubborness was not endearing.

Unable to sway him I opted to go into the kitchen and stole him some food like a common thief. While he stuffed himself on ham loaf I scouted out the rooms of the inn that held sleeping people using my senses to try and determine the best candidate. I guessed that the realm’s spies, serving nobles as they do would probably have habits of cleanliness and self care that would be hard to break. I found two people who seemed to keep better care of themselves. One was awake, the other asleep. I crept into the sleeping man’s room and scouting his things found no definitive proof that he was my quarry. He did have a vial of expensive perfume that he himself was not wearing. A gift or a merchant’s sample maybe?

The other man lay awake in his room. I memorized his scent but I had no definitive proof that the man was not just a habitual insomniac. I went back to the stable and let Saiten sleep a few hours while I kept watch. Being a night caste must be some sort of curse that I am destined to spend the majority of my nights sleepless.

The morning came and with it another attempt to use the same trick again… to about the same effect only now all those I had identified as long time residents left, calmly with not waver or elevation in heartbeat to give away an anxious guest trying to appear calm. No body came forward to confront me.

We rode back to Champoor in silence. I had wasted our time to no end and it stung what little pride I possessed. I mostly wanted to just drop the whole endevour right then and there. I was bone tired, angry to an almost irrational degree more or less about my entire wretched existence and was fairly certain that this cavalcade of bad decision making had only come to it’s middle. We wasted no time finding Broken Walls who through his own uncanny insight devised that the insomniac of the night before was our man. We had two choices, let it stand or chase the blighter down and see where he fled….

I rode Saiten out of town. Chaoxi and Broken Walls would follow behind with a wagon for our captive and to assist if we got into further trouble. Saiten is faster and better winded than any horse and it gave me somewhat of a chance to rest, we followed the road we had seen him leave by until the crossroads and I sacrificed what pride remained me, planting my nose in the dust and even tasting the grit of the road to try and divine our quarry’s direction. It helped that he didn’t take the road but had veered into the tall grass leaving traces of his scent on the tall grass stems where they brushed his riding boots.

From a Sparrow in a cage to a common cur, the trajectory I trace is truly grand. Daimyo of Faces, forgive this idiot boy his errors and let this farce be of some use.

Piper's Journal 25
Misguided Intrigues

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.

Saiten's journal 17
Resplendent fire 24

As we emerge from the mouth of the silver snake, we find that a small crowd had formed. Random people must have followed our forces into the black district, curious as to what was going on.

Aster addressed the crowd, telling them that Akimu is no more, and that we, the Rising Sun House would be assuming control of the black district. To what extent, she left out. I’m not entirely sure what we would want with an entire district. Still, better us lay claim now and figure out what to do with it later.
The people who had gathered started shouting questions at us, to which Aster put a stop to promptly. “We will be available to answer your questions in the morning, at the Rising Sun Compound!” she told them. This seemed to satisfy the crowd as they dispersed without much issue.

Before heading back, Broken Walls and I carefully loaded Akimu’s bell onto a wagon, along with the various treasures Chaoxi had pulled from Akimu’s temple. I was just about to start hauling the wagon back, when broken walls asked for my assistance with one more thing. It took a little bit of doing, but we managed to get the silver snake onto the wagon as well. I’m sure that Broken Walls has something creative up his sleeve for it. At the very least, the metal alone is probably worth a small fortune.

We returned to the compound in the very early morning. It would be several hours before daybreak, so I decided to get what little sleep I could.
The sleep that I did get, was serene. Akimu was dead. The city can sleep without fear, and now, so can I.

When I awoke, I could hear the murmurs of the crowd that Aster had promised answers. I got dressed and went outside to find Aster getting ready to address them from atop the guard wall. I couldn’t help but notice Broken Walls absence as Aster began taking questions. Broken Walls was the leader of the Rising Sun House, surely he should be here. People will want to know what our intentions are for the Black District.

And so, the questions came. And came. Aster and I did our best to answer them, but I am not a public speaker. I told the crowd the truth to their questions as bluntly as I could.
Yes, Akimu is dead and we are responsible for it.
Yes, You can go out after dark now.
No, we’re not taking over the city.
Yes, we’re peaceful.
No, I can’t rescue your cat from Silgur, we’re contractually obligated not to mess with him.

Eventually, the questions just started to repeat themselves, so Aster and I left some of the guards to answer the questions of newcomers. Anything we hadn’t already answered could wait for some other time.

I continued to run about the compound until Broken Walls returned. It seems he had forgotten about Aster’s little conference, and was somewhat surprised at how we handled it. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but from the story that he got from Chaoxi, I don’t think he’ll be missing any more public speaking events in the foreseeable future.

During his absence, Broken Walls had spent his trying to make sure the victims of Akimu were properly at peace. Knowing little on these matters, I trusted Broken Walls was taking the necessary steps, and that if he required any assistance, he would ask for it.

Following his return, Broken Walls made it clear that he intended to contact Tenapeshu, saying that we’re not interested in causing additional conflict within the city. He seemed to be intent on doing this alone, which everyone seemed surprised at. Broken Walls is a skilled negotiator, and a powerful warrior for sure, but to face the one we’ve come to understand is the leader of the Champoori patrons could be overstepping his abilities. Broken Walls has often cautioned me to not jump head first into things, as they frequently are not as they appear. What looks like a simple task, could be an ambush in more than one way. Eventually, he came around, agreeing to put off the meeting until we have more information as to what tenapeshu’s intentions are.

He also spoke of trying to recruit Kadu and his apparent army to help protect the city and stabilize the region. With Akimu dead, outside forces might see Champoor as a more inviting target to conquer or raid. Having an army at our side might help avoid a sudden grab for power.

I admire Broken Walls’ foresight, and agree that his plan is probably the right one, but the thought of an invading army does appeal to my desire to test my limits further. Still, a hero would never openly invite war into a region. Especially not to satisfy his own ego.

Lastly, we spoke of what we were to do with the Black district. It was a huge area to be sure, much more than we ever need for the Rising Sun House. Broken Walls suggested that we renovate it and start a new temple district. The hope being that by inviting the various gods of prosperity to the district, Champoor as a whole would be that much better off. None of us could really argue with the logic. What was a place that focused on pain and death would now invite peace and friendship amongst Champoor’s people and gods. I can’t think of a better way to snuff the memory of Akimu out.

Once our discussions were done, we went outside to find a messenger waiting for us. Send on behalf of the Heart family, inviting our party to their upcoming gala. I’m continually surprised at how I am invited to fancy parties. I’m not a nobleman, nor do I act the part. Maybe I should think about that more.

As the messenger left, a recruiter came upon the compound, looking for contestants to enter into Mauk’s Tournament of Champions. He told us that that the tournament was to start on Descending Fire 3, and last about 3 days. Sign ups would be tomorrow morning at the tournament grounds just outside the city limits. I beamed with excitement at the news. It wasn’t quite the invasion that I was thinking of a moment prior, but this was surely the next best thing. At a tournament, I am free to let test my strength to my limits, assuming my opponent can take it. Killing your opponent is an immediate disqualification, so I’ll have to judge my opponents carefully. Still, I hope Broken Walls decides to enter as well. If anyone can take a punch, I know he can!

Following our surprise visit, I decided to take a different route on my patrol for the day. I had heard rumors of a tailor who had come across a wide array of coloured leathers. Seeing as how I would be in the spotlight during the tournament, it would be prudent of me to get my uniform repaired. It had been quite some time since I had it made in Y’danna, and it was starting to get a little worn out.

Eventually, I found the man I was looking for. It was a small shop, but it teemed with fabrics of brilliant colours and styles. I found the owner, a man by the name of Midnight Raining Blossom. He recognised me and called me by name when I entered the shop, and thanked me for my help in the city. It seems his nephew was one of the many people i’ve helped on my patrols.

When I told him I was looking for a repair on my suit, he eagerly offered to make me a new one! For free even! I was humbled by his offer. I don’t save people for the recognition and rewards. I do it because I want to. Because it’s the right thing to do. I thanked him for his generosity. In addition to my new uniform, I had another idea. The gala that I was invited to, I would probably be expected to wear something fancy to it, but I also dislike civilian attire. If I could somehow combine the two into a fashionable outfit that also suit my needs, I’m sure it would be a hit.

Midnight Raining Blossom boasted that such an outfit would be easily done. We worked on the fine details for a little while until I was happy with his sketches.
There was one other thing though…Piper. Piper had long been an opponent of my style of dress, preferring he blend into the crowd, rather than rise above it. And while I respect that Piper and I are very different people, I feel as though he could use a taste of the world I live in. He might not appreciate it at first, but I would like for him to try to see my point of view.
With this in mind, I gave Midnight Raining Blossom one last sketch. I wasn’t entirely sure of Piper’s measurements, but I’ve seen Piper change his shape to suit any number of appearances. I’m sure whatever I brought, he would be able to fit into.

After taking my measurements for the various orders, Midnight Raining Blossom wished me luck in the upcoming tournament. “If you mention my shop, I will give you a sizable discount!” he chimed in. I absolutely will.

It was dusk after my little shopping spree, and my immediate instincts were to get home and ready for bed, but tonight was the first night since Akimu’s defeat. As I walked back to the compound, I made sure to let people see me, so that they would know that the rumors are true. The night is free once more.

Resplendent fire 25
Today was the first day people could sign up for the tournament, and oh how I was excited for that. I actually miscounted my squats! I can’t be sure if I did 90 or 100, so I did another 50 to be safe. It’s not like they take all that long anyway, and I do enjoy the training.

Upon reaching the tournament grounds, there was a modest group of people waiting to be signed up. I recognised most as Mauk’s own followers, several of them having fought with us at the battle of Akimu. When I went up to the lists to put my name down, many of them pulled their names. It seems as though I’ve got a bit of a reputation. They were quick to warn me that If I were to kill anyone, be it accidental or intentional, I would be immediately disqualified. It’s as if they think I can’t control myself. Ha.
In order to finalise my entry, I was required to have a pre-tournament bout. Just a formality, I’m sure. As I stepped into their ring, they immediately called me over. As no magic was allowed, they required me to take off the gauntlets that Mauk had lent me for the fight with Akimu. I had honestly forgot that I was wearing them, they just seemed to fit so well, that I didn’t notice them. I’ll be sad to give them back to Mauk, but a deal is a deal.

My opponent was a stout man, clad in studded leather. As the bell rang to start the match, he bore down on me with axe and shield. I wasn’t sure if he was being serious or not, because he was moving so slowly. He seemed to be giving it his all, but clearly his all was nowhere near what it needed to be in order to even hit me. After dodging a few of his attacks, I dispatched him easily with a single blow. Hopefully the people who actually get into the tournament will be more of a challenge.

Following my victory, I made my way over to Mauk, who had been very loudly constructing the main arena for the tournament. I shouted up at him and to get his attention, and eventually succeeded. I thanked him for the use of his gauntlets, and for the assistance he had provided in dismantling Akimu’s forces, to which he gave a staunch thumbs up.
As I tossed the gauntlets back to him, I asked if I might be able to win them back in the tournament. I had apparently grown attached to them, and while they could use a coat of paint to match my usual look, they fit quite well. Mauk nodded and tossed them into a small pile of what looked like the highest tier of rewards. Looks like I’ll need to win the whole tournament to get them back, as if I needed a reason.

Before I left, I asked Mauk if he would be joining the tournament himself, to which he kind just shrugged. I’m not sure if that’s a yes, or a no, or a maybe, but I guess I will just have to wait and see.

I met up with the group as they made their way to see if Hatellus had heard of our victory over Akimu. Unsurprisingly, we found him at his office as per usual, as if nothing had happened. Not two days ago, he was fleeing the city, but it’s as if he never left.
We informed him of our plan to repurpose the Black District into the Temple District, which he seemed to be pleased with. He told us that there are likely a large assortment of tunnels under the old Black District, and that we should be aware of them. If we wished to find other gods that may wish to join the new district, we should speak with Gisig. He is Champoor’s god of doors and forgotten gods, and would likely be of much help. Hatellus also spoke of Natasha, the god of pleasure, prostitution, and other worldly delights. If we wished to contact her about a temple in the new district, or anything else, she has a temple in the Red Quarter.
Broken Walls also asked if Hatellus might know anyone who could help out our bookkeeper, Rue. Not only did he know someone, he essentially gave us one of his own employees, a man named Simon.

Before we left, he asked a favor of us. It seems a while back, somebody had managed to steal a fair bit of jade from him. His powers as a god of coin and contracts allowed him to track the shipment as far as the coin district, but beyond that, he isn’t sure where his property can be found. We agree that we will look into it if we are able.

Once we departed Hatellus’ office, we found our way to Gisig. He seemed pleased to meet us, and was more than happy to give us a list of names of gods that had their domains usurped unjustly.

Soon enough, we were on our way again, but this time it was to the new market! The grand opening was a big hit with the city. Merchants from all around had set up stalls. There were food carts, and trinkets, and all sorts of stuff. The smells of the food were intoxicating. I wanted to try some of them so badly, but I had just spent what little money I had on my new outfits. Broken Walls saw my dismay, and chirped in. “You know, as a member of the Rising Sun House, you do get paid.” I stood there with a blank look on my face for a moment until he poked Rue, who promptly gave me a small pouch.

“This is going to be great!” I exclaimed loudly, as I ran off to try as many of the foods as I could. I don’t even know what half of them were. If it smelled good, I tried it. It was wonderful.
Amongst my non food purchases, I also found a nice picture of the coastline of the Dreaming Sea and a new bed spread. They should be nice additions to my room.

Piper's Journal 24
Gladiatorial Intrigues

Descending Fire 4 -

I have spent the last few days getting my new agents up to speed, infiltrating the Heart Family residence and beginning exploratory surveillance of House Serpent-Dust. Every noble house in the city has their eyes on Rising Sun which has made it easier to maneuver. There are a number of rumors borne of fear that the noble houses may lose their fortunes or their control of the city to the Rising Sun. Thankfully that talk has been largely quashed as being alarmist since Rising Sun has been primarily dormant for the last week with the exception of Saiten who has been roaming around increasingly large swaths of the city performing his do-gooder routine. Since he’s done nothing but rescue cats stuck in trees and foil the occasional petty theft the security forces in the city are beginning to relax and even call greetings to him when he’s about. He is an oddity but he’s actually making a halfway decent impression.

This morning, which also happened to be the first day of Mauk’s tournament, a number of rats brought a small medallion engraved with the Rising Sun insignia onto the grounds while I was still abed. Violating and destroying the peace agreement with a gesture of peace is an unusual move. Likely Silgur is trying to have his cake and eat it too allowing Rat house to operate without supernatural oversight while still maintaining the goodwill of the original arrangement. I really should check in on him. When we arrived here he was quite the bully but the thrashing he received coupled with the redistribution of his property set the matter square. I have little grief left against him provided he has been truly humbled and harbors no lingering animosity.

No coincidence this has happened on a day when Rising Sun House’s defenses have ebbed slightly. All the most promising combatants of the Rising Sun are participating in the tournament. Even I have decided to attend which I realize is an uncharacteristic choice particularly since it takes some time away from my work but there are a number of objectives I hope to accomplish by entering. Primarily it will give me a chance to practice my martial art on a variable group of opponents providing an ideal setting to try putting into practice the things I’ve learned. Few other occasions in the future will have my opponents actively trying not to kill me. There is also a bit of money to be made with my inside knowledge of the betting pool and the cash prizes on offer.

I haven’t disclosed my participation to the others as I intend this to serve as a test to see if I can pass undetected by Broken Walls. Lately I have been curious how well I can pull the wool over his eyes. I thus will behave in ways he won’t suspect, cherry picking a number of traits that Saiten and Broken Walls do not associate with me. I picked a name, “Sun Shen Li” and built the persona carefully making him a brash, cocksure, attention seeking, arrogant youth. Were I to meet such and individual I’d find him unappealing so I am reasonably sure they will too. For my weapons I chose conventional fare. The Dreaming Pearl Courtesan style normally teaches the basics with whips, fans and unarmed strikes before a student can adopt weapons with unusual or awkward balance or that suffer from heightened air resistance. I, given the circumstances at play, approached the technique from the complete opposite direction and made do from the start with sashes and tumbler’s ribbons. As a result actual weapons never felt as comfortable in my hand but since the weapon is properly weighed and balanced to achieve what I have spent years getting cloth and chain to do against it’s proper nature they are easy to adapt to.

After the opening ceremony I had the day free to continue my investigations. Spindlewisp has been helping me keep an eye on the Serpent Dust and Heart families and has been casing them for robbery later. I also have been paying attention to where they have credit or savings with institutions through out the city. Stripping them of their finances will be the first step to weakening the slave markets here.

I came back to the tournament grounds during the later half of the day to watch a few of the contestants who sparked my interest. One in particular, a towering hulk of a contestant that I was unsure was human had caught my eye. It was fighting on behalf of some Yasir noble house who was visiting and it had a handler, one Glorious Star of Summer’s Glory. I can’t say I think highly of the sort of pretentious noble house who would name their child thusly but I’m willing to chalk it up to the inbreeding. In the fight this “Dedemasi’s Demise” mauled it’s opponent effortlessly and would have killed the hapless mortal if it’s handler had not given a whistle to call it off.

What is it I wonder? My nose tells me it is human… mostly. It’s smell kind of reminds me of Volivat – rust, steel and a sulfuric chemical smell. It’s face is obscured by a metal mask and it is slightly too tall and awkwardly proportioned to be a simple human. A mutant perhaps? It behaves in a oddly docile manner and does not speak nor did it seek shelter for the night after the tournament ended but remained placidly sitting in place in the stands. It could be the result of brutal training that makes it behave such or it could just be mentally simple. It’s entirely plausible that is of the rare slave stock that has been trained and treated like an animal to the point it lacks the defining hallmarks of humanity. I hope not. There are no easy answers for people raised to that state.

It also takes a special kind of bastard to raise an infant like it’s a pit dog.

If I am correct in my thinking then the Dedemasi’s Demise is a pitiable wretch. There is little to be done for this Dedecasi’s Demise that will make it’s lot in life much better but my heart is not so cold and dead that I feel nothing for it. Later Aster told me the experience she had with Dedemasi’s handler and how she was put off by him. I am not surprised. He is a noble, imperious and sure in his belief that the world owes him reverence and respect. I know very well what men like him are like. Whatever thin veneer of manners he may have spoken through it was not enough to guise his lack of compassion. It is good to see that Aster is not trusting enough to be taken in.

Descending Fire 5-

Today there was less opportunity to sneak back to town as I had two fights scheduled. The tournament drags on with one fight per hour padded out by a range of performances that range from proficient to mediocre. The event is more of a circus with short tournament intervals. The attempt at providing days worth of lavish spectacle bores the living hell out of me but I suppose the majority of the spectators here rarely get the chance to see dancers and acrobats.

In between fights I sat down with Broken Walls and Chaoxi in the form of FeatherWeight to watch Saiten’s fight. During his match he landed a blow on the shield of his hapless opponent that I’m guessing fractured the bones in her arm and wrist. I wonder if I could best him if I fought defensively and focused on dodging his blows. Saiten is fast on his feet but he is not well armoured…Idle speculation at this point since I need to get through Broken Walls first and that is assuming much. Broken Walls in accordance with the “no magic” rule is not wearing Dauntless which means I might at least have a chance at scratching him but winning still seems a long shot.

Saiten’s opponent was carted to the medical tent injured in the extreme but alive. I couldn’t help but notice that upon claiming his chest of winnings Saiten earned the scrutiny of a number of other contestants in the audience. It was clear that something about that chest of winnings in particular drew their attention. I followed Broken Walls and Saiten into a tent to look over his pick, curious. Most of the goods seemed fairly standard until I fished out what looked like an opal with a sparkling constellation of stars in it’s core. Appraising the gem Broken Walls told us that the gem alone was worth the entire holdings of Rising Sun. Given the attention from our tournament rivals I’m willing to guess that the gem’s presence is not a secret. Saiten gave Broken Walls the gem to hold onto for safekeeping which he placed in a padded cavity sealed between two metal plates in his armour. Even an extremely skilled individual would be hard pressed to take it from where it lies.

Thinking of more long term solutions for keeping the gem safe Broken Walls leveled the question to me whether or not I could steal things from the Rising Sun House vaults. That he even asked shows an unhealthy level of optimism in Rising Sun’s security. Keeping the place open to the public so that they can worship at the temple built on the grounds is a glaring security risk and one I of all people could of easily leveraged. Even if I weren’t privileged with insider information it was a borderline professional insult to my skills to ask if it were possible. I kept my answer short and to the point and omitted my opinion that under my current circumstances it would be about as challenging as making my morning tea. Thankfully he didn’t ask for that specific an answer to his question.

During the later half of the day Natasha made an appearance. At the time I was speaking to Broken Walls and Chaoxi when they both trailed off and stared behind me intent as a starving dog watching dumplings being made. Suddenly and without warning Chaoxi seized Broken Walls and gave him a passionate kiss which caused Broken Walls to turn bright red. Stuttering and gasping like a fish out of water. Chaoxi covered her face embarrassed by her own strange outburst.

Turning to face what had caught their attention I saw what appeared to be a woman, ten feet tall and scantily clad. She had turned the heads of most of the stadium whose gaze had fastened on her like a padlock. Her clothes seemed to practically drip from her body barely providing her a measure of modesty. I remained unimpressed. Goddess or not this tacky harlot was overdoing it. The overpowering display of sexual availability left me feel slightly nauseated, like sitting too close to someone drenched in perfume.

Not so for my companions. Broken Walls, now blushing an almost identical deep scarlet to Natasha’s dress murmured to keep him far away from Natasha as he shuddered. Chaoxi likewise seemed abashed at her sudden outburst. I asked why she had acted so spontaneously to which she replied that she had needed to do something to “break free”. This must be some sort of supernatural effect Natasha has on people. Though given I had not been compelled maybe it only effects people who have had recent sexual encounters or who are particularly governed by their carnal desires. Gisig had told Aster and Saiten that Natasha is dangerous. She might be able to leverage that power to devastating result. With Aster mooning over Hatelis that leaves maybe Saiten and myself who might be counted on to be less affected… Maybe… I can’t say I’ve seen Saiten show serious romantic interest in anyone but you never know.

Dedecasi’s opponent for this round decided to forfeit. I can’t say I blame him . After I finished off my last fight I headed back to Rising Sun. Once there Broken Walls took me aside he started asking my opinion on how to deal with Dedecasi’s Demise. He doesn’t seem to be concerned about his own safety but worries that Dedecasi might have no avenue to surrender of her own volition as she responds only to her handler. When I brought up that the answer might lie in going outside the tournament rules he refused on the grounds that it was deceitful. That he is concerned for Dedecasi’s welfare at all is a good sign but that he didn’t give me much indication that her continuing status as property was of any concern. It seemed clear that he would rather operate within the confines of Mauk’s game. He decided to bring the matter to the others as I began to mull the problem over from more illicit angles.

Aster put forward what she knew of Dedecasi and her handler to the assembled group of us. I did find it difficult to conceal my distaste during Aster’s further description of Glorious Star of Summer’s Glory. I had been hard pressed to overlook him before but I find it increasingly impossible to exhibit patience in excising judgement. He bothers me like an itch that can not be scratched. I will never tire of killing my former master in effigy through men of this ilk but I must add the regard of my companions to the scale. Killing Glorious Star of Summer’s Glory now would cast the shadow of suspicion directly on myself for acts that the others would likely find reprehensible. It may be impossible to fib to Broken Walls but I simply cannot let the matter lie. I must consider this matter. Perhaps provided I can arrange both an avenue for Dedecasi’s escape and adequate suffering for her master I will be content to let the man live.

I shall need to be creative I think…

Saiten's journal 16
Resplendent fire 23 continued. Again.

Visions of the dead tormented me for what seemed like hours, if not days. Foul smelling, decomposing corpses, and spectres from another life were grabbing hold of me. I knew that it wasn’t real, that it was just some trick that Akimu had used to save herself. Still, it felt real.
It wasn’t until I head Piper charging towards Akimu that I snapped out of it. I clamored to my feat as quickly as I could, Whatever Akimu had done to me, she surely intended to do to Piper as well, and I was not about to let that happen. I saw piper raise her whip to strike, and I knew that I had to help. The visions Akimu had planted in my head were still fresh and vivid. I felt like I didn’t want to be there, or at the very least, I should let someone else deal with Akimu, but I had to help Piper. I put my fears behind me, and landed a blow on Akimu, just as Piper’s whip connected.
Akimu folded in the direction of my punch, groaning in pain as she took the hit, but she did not fall. Clearly I had hurt her, but it was not enough.

There were no moments to contemplate the situation however, as the host began to rise from the ground beneath us. There were so many of them that I found myself balancing on their bodies as they rose from the ground, jumping from one to the next in an attempt to avoid their attacks. One of them got a lucky hold however, and pulled me down into their arms. They throw me off balance for sure, but It did not last.
Though Aster’s light was still vaporizing the host, it seemed like they were appearing faster than she could deal with them. Mauk’s forces took no offense to this though. In fact, I’m pretty sure they were enjoying the fight. As they engaged the host, my fight with Akimu continued.

By now, Broken Walls had caught up, and had engaged Akimu alongside myself and Piper who had shed..what I can only describe as himself in a bright display of butterflies and moths. To be honest, I didn’t know what to make of it. Piper has never shown such a display before, and I can’t even pretend to know what it meant. All I can say is that by the time the butterflies and moths were gone, the being that was piper, was replaced by a void that continued to strike at Akimu.

Returning my attention to Broken walls, I saw that his strikes were clean, and struck with a ferocity that I knew all too well. Each slash pushed Akimu further and further into remission. That’s when Broken Walls snapped. A wealth of golden javelin rained from the sky, as Broken Walls’ voice boomed out, condemning Akimu’s actions. Akimu fought on, but it was for naught, as Broken Walls blade severed her head from her body.

The host stopped in their tracts before dissolving into the ground. I could hear the shrieks of Akimu’s priests in the distance as they realized their god had been struck down. I could say that I was envious that Broken Walls had been the one to fell Akimu, but that would not be the whole truth. I was just glad that Akimu was dead. Glad that I had such friends to help me in facing an evil such as Akimu.

As I looked upon her lifeless form, I let out a sigh of relief, and with it felt whatever cloud Akimu had put into my mind rise away. The fear that I felt for Akimu was gone, replaced with only pitty. She could have used her talents to help people, but instead, this is the life she chose.

As I turned back towards our forces, I could see the rest of the battle had been decided. The last of Akimu’s forces were finished. The fight wasn’t over though. We had to destroy this realm itself if we were to stop Akimu for good. I looked up at my beacon burning brightly in the sky and I knew what I had to do. As I raised my fists to the air, I drew in the fire that was my beacon. What was one giant burning fist became two, and I went to work on Akimu’s ziggurat.

Smash after smash, I sent pieces flying in every direction. I wasn’t sure to what extent we had to destroy the place, but I imagine it wasn’t going to be a quick job.
Between punches, I noted Broken Walls retreating through the entrance of the sanctum, probably to get some tools or equipment to dismantle the place.

The tool that came through was not one that I expected, as Mauk himself had entered the sanctum. He seemed almost disappointed in Akimu’s timely defeat. He no doubt wanted to add his cudgel to the fight. Still he wasted no time, and began to smash the temple to pieces.

While Broken Walls and Aster had begun building a vast bonfire to deal with the remains that littered the grounds, Mauk and I continued our assault on the temple. His cudgel was an impressive decoration outside his gate, but to see it wielded was something else entirely. If Mauk and I were to ever cross paths in combat, I do not want to be hit by that thing.

We continued our efforts well into the night, slowly seeing progress as the edges of the realm crept in on us until there was nothing left but the fire. One by one, we exited the sanctum, leaving Akimu’s tyranny behind us.

I am glad that’s over.

Saiten's journal 15
Resplendent fire 22 Continued

It was a long walk. I made the best of a boring situation, and did a little bit of training on the hike to Nergüi’s place. Backflips, hand springs, lifting and carrying random boulders. I received many strange and confused looks from Nergüi and Piper, but I paid them little thought. Piper eventually pulls me aside, and asks me to tone it down a bit, as Nergüi lives in seclusion, and likely doesn’t want any added attention. Nergüi however, never mentioned anything, so I can only assume he’s fine with a little training now and again.

We arrived at Nergüi’s place in the early evening. It’s a small shack, with a rounded stone fence. It’s not that big, but it looks comfortable. He leads us to a basement filled with barrels of smelly, rotting fruit. Without much detail, he tasks me with washing an empty set of barrels, then mixing the foul smelling concoction with water into said barrels. Supposedly, the final product is to be mixed in with the salt bricks as a binder, though I don’t remember the bricks we made earlier smelling this bad.

I work well into the night, stirring endlessly. At one point Nergüi brings down a pot of mediocre coffee, which is probably the nicest thing I’ve seen the man do since I met him.

During our little coffee break, I mention to Piper about Broken Walls plans to buy a warehouse. Piper was curious as to how much one would cost, but I admitted I had not been there for the negotiations, as Broken Walls did not approve of my attire.

Once again, Piper goes on about how I’m too flashy, and how I’d be better off in simpler clothes. I don’t think he really understands what it means to be a hero. To be out on patrol, and have somebody notice you and scream for your help. That just would not be possible with simple clothes. Nobody screams for help from somebody they don’t know, unless that person displays a uniform of authority. And while my uniform may not be accredited to some institution, it has certainly been instrumental in making my mark upon the city.
Perhaps if I were to get Piper his own uniform, he would come to know the pride that I feel when I wear my own. I believe I will look into this option later.

Resplendent fire 23

We worked through the night, then carried the foul smelling fruits of our labour back to the Rising Sun Compound. In retrospect, we probably should have brought a wagon with us. It’s not that I couldn’t carry all the barrels we prepared, but at a certain point, they get awkward to hold. And since Nergüi and Piper were little help in that regard, it rested on my shoulders to ensure that all of the barrels arrived intact.

When we arrived back to the compound in the early morning, Broken Walls was there to meet us. He told us that during the night, some 30 people living in shacks around the compound had been murdered. The guilt I felt then was soul crushing. I had left the city to go and help Nergüi and Piper, leaving the very citizens that I aspire to protect, open to the assault of a deadly foe. I won’t be doing that again.

This was the first time that innocents were killed in their own homes. Akimu had clearly crossed a line that she had not been willing to before. The stakes have changed, and we needed to respond. Piper says that she can probably track the priests from the smell of their mask, like some kind of a dog. The image of Piper with a big husky’s nose and tail popped into my mind for a moment, which I will admit gave me more pleasure than the current mood should have allowed for.

Broken walls says that before we go head first into a fight, he needed to go talk to some people, and that it was best that all of us go together. I reluctantly agree, and he leaves for Mauk’s temple.

I take the opportunity to take a quick nap. I know I probably shouldn’t be sleeping at a time like this, but It was a long, boring night, and anything I could get to recharge myself for what was sure to come, would be a benefit to everyone.

I wake up to discover that Broken Walls had convinced Mauk’s followers to join us in our raid of the Black Quarter. While I don’t think we need the help, I don’t think it would hurt either. Besides, it would give me a chance to see Mauk’s strongest followers before the tournament!

Piper comes downstairs as a new woman. Mists of Ruby Skies, she now called herself. I’m not sure if I will ever get used to her being able to just be a new person like that.

As a group, we head towards Hatellus, to see if Akimu had broken any contracts that might allow us access to more information on her. She had after all crossed a big line last night, and murdered people in their own homes. We arrived to see Hatellus’ office/temple in disarray. It seems like he was moving out, and doing so in a hurry. The murders had indeed broken a contract, and Hatellus was not about to stick around to see the consequences. To say that he was afraid would be an understatement. He did suggest we try to recruit Mauk as an ally in our fight against Akimu, whom Broken Walls headed off to see in a rush.

Piper had come up with an idea to try to track Akimu’s priests via their trademark graveyard smell, so with myself, Aster, and Chaoxi in tow, my Husky nosed friend lead the way. She was sniffing, and trying to find any sort of scent, but I don’t think she was all that successful. By the time she had given up, we had found ourselves at around Mauk’s temple.

We had barely just arrived, when I started to feel the ground shake. Surely we were under attack. I readied myself, and got out into the open, looking to face my opponent. But I saw none, and soon knew why. Mauk was speaking! At least, I think it was Mauk. A booming voice that came from the ground itself. Broken walls must have managed to wake Mauk up. I could only hear half of the conversation, but they spoke about a great deal. By the end of the conversation, I had pieced together that they were talking about the patrons of Champoor. There were a lot of important things, but the ones that stuck out to me, was that Akimu can go toe to toe with Mauk, but can also get in your head. A frightening, yet exciting concept. Another interesting note, is that Kadu has a wyld rift under the bay, and is building a fish man army. That should be fun. Potentially the most important part, was that a Dragon named Tenapeshu leads the patrons. If Tenapeshu leads them, I can’t help but wonder if she has been instructing Akimu how to go about her business. If true, we just made ourselves a new enemy.

When Broken Walls emerged, he was surprised to see us. We inquired about the conversation that Mauk had just had, which startled him further. He had not known that other people would be able to hear Mauk, and as such feared for his safety. He had just revealed some potentially dangerous information. If Tenapeshu, or any of the other patrons of Champoor did not wish for those details to be known, Mauk could be painted with a target.

Once he had calmed down a bit, Broken Walls handed me something, saying they belonged to Mauk, and he expects them returned later. They looked like gauntlets with small fangs at the end of each knuckle. Not something I would pick out for myself normally, but I tried them on all the same. Throwing few punches, I noted they seemed lighter when wearing them than they were when I was holding them. I could feel them enveloping my hands with essence. Some, drawn from within myself, but some that felt distinctly different. I’m sure these gauntlets will prove useful. To that effect, I pull out one of the artifact daggers that Akimu’s priests had been using to murder people. I had been planning on trying to see if the hardened dagger would be able to pierce the bell, but this was potentially more important. I slammed my now armoured fist down onto the dagger, hoping to shatter it. The dagger must have had other plans, as it remained unscathed. I can tell if I am to try to destroy Akimu’s bell, I will need to go all out in my attempt to do so.

While I was trying out my new gauntlets, Broken Walls had managed to convince Mauk’s followers to help us raid the Black Quarter. Broken Walls comes up with a strategy to maximize the usefulness of our new army, then we head out.
Myself, Aster, Piper, and Gin were to head directly there, while Mauk’s followers along with Broken Walls, Chaoxi, and Tick would be coming in from the far gate, effectively pincering any of Akimu’s forces that may be in the quarter.

It was a good plan, and I’m sure it would have helped us, had we met any resistance. However, upon arriving at the Black Quarter, we found it completely empty. When everyone met up, Broken walls quickly digs at the spot we had followed the host’s essense to. It had been filled in again, and appeared undisturbed. When he dug however, he quickly found the smooth stone surface we had found before, although this time, he dug through that as well.

The hole he made revealed a darkened hallway. Piper warns us that she can see spirits moving in the dark, to which Aster calmly assures her that it wouldn’t be a problem. As the spirits began to coalesce around us on the surface, Aster grasped the pendant on her necklace briefly, then began to glow with the brightness of the sun. As the brightness intensified, the host began to just..melt away. None remained to bar us entry to the dungeon below, and so we jumped in.

The halls are made of bodies. Corpse, long dried and mummified. The smell and the dust are practically intolerable. Very quickly, most of us have covered our airways with handkerchiefs, sleeves, or other articles of clothing. It still stank, but at the very least, I wasn’t breathing in the remains of the dead. Piper was the only one of us who didn’t seem to care. I guess she’s either too focused on finding Akimu, or she’s somehow gotten used to being in this environment already.

We instruct Tick, who has taken charge of the followers of Mauk, to begin removing the corpses from the dungeon as we go down and clear it. They do so quite effectively, and start a burn pile on the surface. I can only hope that causes some peace for the innocents that were murdered to build this place.

As we stroll through, we encounter no resistance whatsoever. There were many traps and ambush spots, but nobody to man any of them. Aster, while being incredibly useful, as also taking all of the fun out of this! If we do eventually find Akimu, or one of his priests down here, I hope he can actually put up a challenge, and not just evaporate like the rest of the host have been.

As we continue down, we notice that the structure appears square, but the walls get progressively closer together as we descend the staircases. An inverted pyramid perhaps?
Eventually we come to what appears to be a dead end in a large, empty room. Broken walls was suspicious however, and began tapping on various surfaces, eventually revealing a hidden door, which opened to yet another staircase.

We finally get to a small chamber that has a small ornate skill before the door to the next room. Sensing danger, Broken walls examines it for traps, but finds none. He cautiously opens the door, only to have a huge metalic snake lunge towards us!

Broken walls attempts a slash at it, as it passes him by, but his sword quickly bounces off. Luckly, my fist did not. My first punch launched the creature across the room, where it lay mostly motionless afterward.
Aster and Piper tried to strike at is as well, but it was clear that this thing was armoured to the point that few would be able to hurt it.

I looked at the snake, laying there, it’s eyes rolled into the back of it’s head, and lamented about how it was such a let down. It must have heard me, as it regained consciousness. Before it could do any more harm, I threw my second, and final punch at the beast, caving it’s head into itself. It wasn’t going to bother us any more.

Without it’s guardian to stop us, we examined the small room we had come to. It was mostly barren. There were no other ways in or out. No trap doors to speak of. We sat there for a moment wondering what to make for our next move, when Piper noticed a small amount of light coming from the metallic beast’s mouth. Prying it open, we could see what looked like a blue, daylit sky inside. This must have been the gateway to Akimu’s sanctum.

I was about to head inside when Broken walls urged caution. To enter the sanctum here could present us with other issues. It would be better to bring the snake to the surface, where our allies might assist us in dealing with Akimu, and anything else she might have in waiting for us.

And so, I along with several of Mauk’s followers, dragged the snake up the winding hallways and out into the daylight above.

Once we had returned to the surface, Broken Walls was quick to come up with a strategy of attack. Our forces were to enter en mass, and quickly fan out in an attempt to surround Akimu’s. The plan sounded good, but as I entered behind broken walls, I could see that Akimu had prepared for us. There must have been thousands of host within Akimu’s sanctum. Just getting anywhere near Akimu was going to be tough.
That’s when Aster entered the sanctum, with her necklace casting daylight upon the realm. Host were evaporating by the hundreds, just by being in her light. It wasn’t long until I could see Akimu through the forces.

Her features were pale, and the clothes that she wore were wispy, and covered little. Punch after punch, I threw her defenders aside. I was determined to get to Akimu. To make her pay for all the pain and death she had caused.
It wasn’t long until I could feel myself burning with essence. I had lost all semblance of restraint. A burning fist took to the sky. My beacon shone brightly above. Guided by my own light, I threw my first punch towards Akimu, eager to wipe the smirk off her face. The punch never made it though. Just as I was about to connect, the world faded away into darkness. I could hear Akimu laughing in the distance. “There is only death.” I hear, as the last of the light fades away, and I fall to the ground.

Piper's Journal 23
Unsettling Questions

Resplendent Fire 27-

The day started normally enough.

The public hearing at Kadu’s temple was today and so I bid the others farewell before changing my disguise and heading out a few minutes behind them. For the time being it is better to avoid anyone coming to the conclusion that they always travel with a fourth person whose position is on some kind of rotation. I expect that until things settle down Rising Sun will be under greater observation and while someone keeping track might not come to the same realization that Pekahan did it never hurts to be cautious. When I arrived Kadu’s courtyard was already packed. Spotting my friends near the front I lingered near the back and boosted myself up on one of the frog headed statues to peer over the heads of the assembled.

At the appointed time a priest, though not Razu Topeshi, began a series of prepared statements. The whole affair was boringly predictable. I got the impression that the stooge they had picked to deliver the statements knew nothing of any consequence. Far more interesting was what wasn’t visible to the rest of the crowd. Peering past the veil I immediately spotted Gumari speaking with one of Kadu’s small frog attendants. It wasn’t possible to pick out what he was saying over the noise of the crowd but it looked as though they were conducting some sort of formal business.

Paying little attention to the packed masses of mortals Gumari concluded his business and headed out. I tailed him on a winding route through the city where he stopped to speak with a number of disease spirits. It sounds like he’s running some sort of racket, very much like a human protection racket, but with prayer in place of currency and goods. Strange but it makes sense. He took lunch at the noodle restaurant the disease spirits in Gisig’s Alley had mentioned and the people there reacted to their beaded curtain swinging seemingly on it’s own with the familiarity of oft repeated routine. Gumari was brought a bowl of noodles, ate and then left out the back door.

Were he human this would be too easy, it’s a pity he probably can’t be poisoned like a mortal could. Mind you, he need not be poisoned, a powerful sleeping drought would do in a pinch. If Tenepeshu is any indication spirits can be drugged. Still, killing Gumari would be infuriatingly impermanent and him coming back to squeal the tale of his demise to someone who matters would make a second try more difficult. Other forms of retribution are impossible to pull off because he has no obvious authority who would find his actions deplorable nor does he appear to have assets I can take away. I must also consider my priorities. Until Kadu and Tenepeshu are dealt with or I come up with a more permanent solution Gumari choking to death on his noodles will have to remain an amusing daydream.

I tackled my errands for the day with a little extra spring in my step. I visited the Gods in Gisig’s alley though I didn’t learn much of use. The creatures there are more than a little out of touch. Oddly they are all younger than Gisig and sprung up after Tenepeshu came into power so they had no insights as to what Champoor was like before her rule and all they know about the Balorian crusade is that the fair folk were wrapped up in it somehow. Strangely Karoski has been gone from their company for centuries. I know the others still hold hope he will return but I am beginning to suspect he’s dead. I still have no idea what the significance of the thyme cutting we received is. A memorial maybe? I really must resume my studies into the spirit world in earnest.

My work with the people of Champoor was more rewarding. I started speaking with some of my more trustworthy associates converting some of my assets into formal agents. It isn’t hard to find people who are unhappy with how things are here to some extent but finding ones who are intelligent and motivated enough to assume a low level of risk is a little more difficult. Champoor does have it’s gems. A fraction of my contacts are qualified enough to assume leadership in my new “Warren”. The majority of people I deal with are too motivated for selfish gain, are of conflicting alligence or are too stupid to know that they are supplying information much less be told the ends that information is used.

Since I returned to Champoor I’ve been properly vetting the people whom I’ve been associating with and have taken some pains to prove that I align to their ideals. Provided they agree I intend to give them pendants which are a close match to mine so that should I come calling in a different form or if one of them needs to seek assistance from the others then they will know to supply aid. I’ll make sure to provide them with a code gesture for secondary authentication.

All of my potential agents come with their own pre-existing assets that were instrumental in getting my current informant network established. Thanks to Spindlewisp I have a good start picking apart the pre-existing underworld here. Most of her lot are of limited use as their alligence is purchased with coin and can never fully be trusted. That being said they do have the skills necessary to run basic tasks and the criminal professionalism to not ask who they are doing them for and their talk is worthwhile to listen to . She has put me in contact with some current Rathouse thugs who will be useful for keeping an eye on the competition. Toki has been my eyes on the street, her network of the city’s more prolific gossip circles have no idea that she’s been utilizing the information she’s given but she has been instrumental in pointing me in the direction of other dissonants. Lately I’ve convinced her to leverage that network to sow more directed discord. It is always handy to meet someone who loves intrigue for intrigue sake. Fenrio has something to gain from association. His sense of injustice from being an honest merchant in a den of backstabbing hypocrites has made him quite amenable to operating with me. Some of his more dishonest contemporaries have run into their own misfortunes recently and he’s been properly grateful. Perhaps, as a measure of good faith he will be willing to provide safe harbor to agents in crisis. I will have to work out proper codes and dead drop locations so that they can communicate amoungst themselves and with me.

I have decided to keep my young pickpockets mostly insulated from spywork since they would find such association a difficult secret to keep. Not to say they are without merit. One of my children has risen to the occasion of shepherding the others. He is intelligent, quiet and has taken on the responsibility of passing information on from the younger children to make it more concise. Walking amongst them I know the respect he has from the others is genuine. I am certain Calyn can step up to manage their concerns and pass along relevant information from them and any requests for assistance. The more self sustaining they are the better. I made sure to leave him standing orders to report anything unusual any of the children have witnessed.

Before I returned to Rising Sun House I paid a couple of musicians I know to provide music for dance lessons. Walking through the gate with them I immediately noted a great number of new faces, most of whom I had seen earlier that day. They were still wearing Kadu’s guard uniforms. This is where the day ceased to be typical.

Speaking with Broken Walls I got the details. Apparently shortly after I left the priest on stage, Sailing Dawn Defiant, had abruptly started speaking truthfully about the goings on with the fishmen and the “city improvement project’s” quarried stone going to build a fortress around the wyld rift beneath Kadu’s barge. Kadu’s Frog attendants materialized and made to tackle the errant priest to the ground but after intervention from Aster they halted and let the man speak unmolested. Afterwards, the whole guard contingent, apparently enamored with Aster, left alongside Sailing Dawn who has claimed sanctuary in Rising Sun House. This is exceedingly troubling on many counts, and strangely most of those counts have absolutely nothing to do with Kadu.

First was the priest onstage. When I had left he had been lying exceedingly competently on behalf of Kadu. What could have motivated him to suddenly switch to telling the truth in a packed public forum? His actions would have had immediate foreseeable repercussions for him personally and people who enjoy privileged positions are not often so keen to throw themselves on their own swords at the first sign of their superior’s complicity. I don’t think it coincidence that this frank honesty was prompted by questions asked by my companions. When I asked about the uncanny nature of this sudden about-face Broken Walls was evasive. He more or less admitted that my friends were collectively responsible for the priest’s behavior but deflected the majority of the credit (or blame) to Aster. It was obvious he was keen to get me not to focus on this part of the story and swept past it to brusquely.

What he wanted me to focus on was the odd behavior of the guards. To him this first strange occurrence was not cause for alarm. This leads me to believe that he anticipated it somehow. He either knew Aster could do that and is not troubled by the ramifications of that knowledge or he himself is more culpable than he’s letting on. Not for the first time I am beginning to wonder if he has some sort of strange power tied to objective fact. When speaking with him about Lang he seemed extremely certain about certain falsehoods and could ascertain information he couldn’t have known. Could it be possible that he can compel someone to tell the truth? I find myself hoping he does as the possibility that Aster possesses this power is more unsettling.

While Broken Walls is in theory entitled to his secrets if he does possess abilities of this nature it represents the potential of extreme advantage in obtaining intell and inflicting potentially ruinous damage to the credibility of our enemies. Acquiescing to his concerns for the moment however I addressed the matter of the guards rather than his own possible complicity. We called three of them into private interviews. Two of them I conducted with Broken Walls as Feather Weight and the last in the guise of Aster.

Broken Walls was right, they seem fixated on Aster though they do not hold any mystical tie to the real Aster that allows them to immediately recognize a fake. We learned that they had not been fully aware of the truth of the rumours about the fishmen but they were aware of the rumours. It did not seem central to their decision to abandon their posts and uniformly join Rising Sun. I wish I could have tested it properly but while impersonating Aster I didn’t dare ask them to do anything that caused them to harm themselves as I’m certain that information would find it’s way back to the real Aster. All I sought to do was annoy them and see how compliant they were towards Aster. They were infinitely patient in dealing with me when I was operating as her body double. The subject I had picked at random laboured to pick up a stone alter that four men couldn’t have lifted long past the point most would have given up or at least attempt some sort of excuse.

I can not be sure but I believe Aster has indeed done something uncanny to them. It’s like impressing her and serving her has overwhelmed their other priorities. Their behavior, reasoning and fixation are all very uniform across the subjects we interviewed…perhaps too uniform to be natural. Is it possible that Aster can suppress the free will of a person? Is it possible she has done so to me?

I know it is possible to apply our power to cause effects on people’s minds. I can do it myself, and not just with the Radius. Encountered by someone in a place I shouldn’t be I can give an explanation for my presence and cause it to be excepted provided that it is not completely beyond reason. I can choose to take advantage of my target’s uncertainty and they accept my story unquestioningly until something overtly to the contrary snaps them out of it. The first time I did it was strange. Like pushing out into the air and finding sudden resistance. Is Aster conscious that she is having this effect and if she is, is she comfortable overriding people’s priorities to suit her own needs?

Broken Walls and I confronted Aster about it. She phrased it in regards to “her light” spilling over and inspiring people and that people at times become so taken with her as a result and become her friends. When we phrased a question about the ethical implications of subverting someone’s will she seemed uncomfortable with doing so outright but may consider it a lesser evil then letting people fight and die.

I’m not sure my priorities align. I am terrified that someone can be so easily manipulated from within. Being forced to do something you hate is somehow more palatable then someone reaching in and plucking away your repulsion and stripping away the fabric of what makes you who you are. There is something inexpressibly horrifying knowing that if it happened it would be endurable by it’s very nature. You would be happy to be the puppet you had been hollowed out into.

Obviously disturbed, but less accustomed to hiding it, Broken Walls retreated as I carried out the promised dance lesson for Aster and Saiten. Afterwards I took Saiten aside and got his take on what had happened that day. His recounting of events revealed that Sailing Dawn Defiant had appeared confused by his own sudden sincerity and that it had happened directly after Broken Walls had questioned him. I asked Aster and while she stated that she can “encourage people” that she was not responsible for Sailing Dawn’s sudden honesty and she wasn’t sure what had caused him to act so.

This is a valuable tool to have at our disposal though I cannot fault Broken Walls for wanting to be secretive about it. As I see it there are two likely reasons why he would not be forthcoming. The first is that he doesn’t trust me. I am a spy, a thief and more than vindictive serial murderer (I’d call myself an assassin but I’ve never been paid for the work) none of those occupations encourage trust. He might enjoy my company but I wouldn’t fault him for keeping me at arms length. The second option is that he fears I will be unwilling to trust him to not utilize those powers on me. Were our roles reversed I would be hesitant to tell someone who obviously values privacy as much as I do that I have the ability to shatter that privacy at any time. While it does give me pause when considering what to tell Broken Walls he has never chided me or tried to restrict me given what he is aware (or potentially aware) I have done . He might not trust me fully but he trusts me enough. I am content with that.

Before retiring for the night I spoke with him again. Our conversation ranged widely. He is concerned as I am by Aster’s power. While I dislike the idea that her expressions of kindness may be consciously manipulative I don’t believe it is so. She has always been willing to help anyone, regardless of whether she profits from it or not. Her rhetoric regarding her “light” might just an expression of her sense of energy. In that sense it is not entirely metaphorical. When we exert ourselves we cast light in the same way Chaoxi gathers moisture. We are “Solars” so it makes sense. One could see how she could draw a connection. Light is often paired conceptually with life, goodness, purity and objective moral superiority in the same way “darkness” is paired with death, evil, degeneration and moral failing. Does she view this power as inherently springing from our divine good and righteousness? It is a mistake to draw the conclusion that all Solars are objectively good and their powers will not be abused. Painting the world in black and white obscures the middle ground and lofty ideals do not always pair well with reality. Right now she is only seventeen and the majority of her experience has been kind to her which supports her rose tinted view of humanity. From here she will only grow further away from her mortal experience…

There was something Broken Walls said in our talk. I had challenged his goal of building a fortress here and he repeated something he had said around that campfire the night we met, that he wasn’t good at running. When I brought up that the Hunt could potentially force his hand by taking Champoor hostage he claimed that he would let untold numbers die if it meant our personal safety. He would let Champoor burn to save me if he had to. While flattering, in an odd way, it demonstrates a divide. For Broken Walls personal loyalty overrides utilitarian moral notions. Is this a symptom of being too far removed from mortal expectations? If I examined my own values, could I weigh the lives of my friends against so much loss?

I’m not sure I can and somehow that is a comfort.

I never expected to live long. I still don’t. Life is dangerous and uncertain and the way I intend to live it will probably get me killed. How many of us supposed immortals really live as long as Broken Walls has? It is not unlikely that I will one day misjudge my strengths and end up digging my own grave. To that point more things have tried to kill me in the past five years than I dare tally and that had nothing to do with the Wyld Hunt. If I lived, or expected to live, to be a thousands of years old would humans start to resemble mayflies? Mortality’s hourglass demands things done quickly and decisively. A limited life meant only so much could ever really be achieved for good or for ill before death takes it’s due. It is to that standard that Creation runs. Does life have more value if it potentially can persist forever?

No. Immortality is nonsense, even gods can perish. All I know now is that old age won’t be the culprit. I have the right to try and preserve my life like any other living creature but it is folly to believe that my struggle is at it’s core different than anyone else’s. One day I might have to decide how selfish I am willing to be to preserve my existence but everyone makes those decisions. It is easier to weigh my own life than that of my friends. I sincerely hope the day never comes when I have to make that choice.

We are an interesting pair. In Broken Wall’s eyes I am probably not much better than Aster as I am only seven years her senior. I am not far removed from my experience of powerless inconsequence yet but already I have changed multitudes. I am thankful I possess the gift of faces. While I only mimic expressions of a normal life for show I do get a fair amount of exposure to normal people who treat me as though I am one of them. Hopefully that will be enough to keep me motivated to work on the mortal scale of time and not be tempted to turn good people so readily into unwilling pawns. Digging a bit deeper into Broken Wall’s experience I learned that he spent his youth as more or less the leader of a small gang. That experience must be rather removed after decades of solitude and books. As much as I enjoy reading a seemingly eternal prison surrounded by the leather bound legacies of other people seems to me like the stuff of nightmares.

Resplendent Fire 28 -

Odd dreams last night.

I stood on a lotus leaf afloat in an ocean as glassy and still as a mirror, reflecting a perfect blue sky with no hint of clouds. Walking to the leaf’s edge I peered into the water and was horrified to find myself wearing Lang’s body. Movement caught my eye and I leapt out of the way too late. Hissing in pain as a silver dagger sliced my arm I spun to face my assailant and was shocked to see it was my morning form. It’s – My face twisted into an empty smile. It advanced on me as the sky behind it bled a black void. I stepped back and lost my balance plunging into the ocean.

The shock of the cold water took my breath away. I clawed at the water to no avail. I’ve never learned how to swim and my single attempt as a child was disastrous. My wings, just as they were that day in the pond were useless in the water, weighing me down. In my dream I struggled inches from the water’s surface reaching desperately for air and rescue. Above me crouched my morning form, locking eyes with me as I drowned. Any moment I would gasp and my burning lungs would fill with water as my merciless adversary stood passively by…

I gasped and floundered in my sheets which had become stuck to my clammy body. Shaking I licked my lips and tasted salt and for a moment believed it was sea water before coming more fully to my senses. I was dripping with sweat. It was only a nightmare, not surprising given the events of the past two weeks. I fought to regain some semblance of calm. Once upon a time I was not afraid of the ramifications of being anathema but I think that is changing. I think I need some reassurance that we exist for good reason or one hell of a good distraction. I envy people who can drink away their problems temporarily, alcohol just seems to make mine worse and the carelessness that comes from indulging in substances is generally unwise.

I devoted the day to the comforting work of engaging with people whose company I enjoy and getting my network more formally established. I made contact with a few more associates of the Heart family and have been gleaning what regional differences there are in customs regarding service, table manners and dance. Recently the wealthy have been taking the time to brush up on their dancing skills and the musicians at the Winter Meets Wind, like any professionals aspiring to play the high paying venues, have made it their business to learn the dances. Dance Masters around the city have been employing them for weeks so the wealthy brush up on their skills. They are not challenging. The dance customs of the upper class move at a snail’s pace, always harkening back to long held traditions and archaic styles tested and made acceptable by time. Newer styles are seen as gauche, risque’ and classless – acceptable to be viewed as performance entertainment, but never performed by people of standing. While this place is a little ahead of the standard in what counts as acceptable it lags behind the novelty obsessed (and hedonistic driven) bleeding edge of the Butterfly Court. Pretentious formal dances were the dullest part of the foundation of my useless education but at least they tended to be hands off.

Aster and Saiten are picking the dances up quickly. Aster has an implicit sense of musical timing from her training and Saiten has a good sense of spatial awareness. I’m not sure why he wants to learn. He has been aspiring to establish some sort of “heroes guild” lately and might see this as a chance to impress and gain a sponsor… Or just as likely he sees it as good training to develop his dexterity or he just likes dance. I honestly don’t know. Saiten is somewhat of a mystery, not because he intends it but because he is incomprehensibly vague in his intent. I don’t know what kind of organization this “heroes guild” will be but I doubt I will like it. Having a a cavalcade of enthusiastic thugs with vague moral leanings obsessed with wordfame roaming around will probably make my tasks more difficult somehow. Mind you I have a complicated relationship with law enforcement even when it is done well.

To each their own.

I made sure Toki knew all the juicy details about Sailing Dawn Defiant’s… misfortune… The city is already buzzing though the citizens as of yet haven’t landed on any conclusion as to how to address it. I’ve seen a couple of smashed Kadu altarpieces in alleyways but I doubt that the majority of his faithful will abandon him. Right now we are simply twisting the knife he stabbed himself with. His ties to those fishmen seem the most exploitable. Whipping up moral outrage and demand that he be held accountable for compensating victims of their attacks might at least keep Kadu busy. It’s best to keep him on the back foot.

This evening I had a conversation with Aster. I’ve been trying my best to try and ascertain what a “solar” actually is in less practical terms and shared my thoughts a little. I have five examples to pull from as I know too little about Chijiwa to make conclusions. I think the point at which we gained our powers might be a significant clue. It doesn’t seem like it manifests randomly. I have a few hypothesis’s. Cheif among them is that our transformations may have come about as a reaction to mortal (though not necessarily immediate) peril. It seems likely that were we not rescued by the circumstance of our rebirth we would all be dead. One blow from that drunk fire aspect and Aster could have died, Broken Walls was in the process of being bloodily beaten to death and Saiten would have suffered the ill effects of gravity. Dasadi was terribly vague saying he “helped someone he wouldn’t have been able to”. That potentially means he risked his life attempting a rescue or that he was granted the power so that whatever he was rescuing would be rescued. For my own part I’ve never doubted that had there not been divine intervention as an element of my own little act of rebellion I would be dead. Shufen might not have murdered me in a rage for publicly embarrassing him but judging from long association he would have more likely driven me to kill myself.The ideal of “The beautiful death of an artist in his prime spared the degeneracy of age or fading into irrelevance” entranced the bastard and destroying me from the inside out would have given him a thrill.

My other thought is that we may have been chosen simply to serve an immediate divine whim. Aster, Saiten, Dasadi and Broken Walls all faced situations where they were opposed, enacting vengeance or trying to save some one. It has occurred to me more than once that I might just have been chosen just to spite Shufen. Maybe the Unconquered Sun wanted him dead as much as I did.

Speaking of our nature as Solars gave me a bit of a chance to feel out what Aster believed our purpose to be. I think she sees all of us as a sort of “light in the darkness”. Humorous given that my display during the battle of Akkimu was a dark void. After mentioning this she was quick to fall into metaphors about candles being brighter in the dark or some such. I can’t say I hold much stock in that even on a metaphorical level. Candles are the same brightness regardless of where they burn, they just they seem brighter when nothing is outshining them then and there. Still, she is convinced that I am a good person. Unsurprising given that she only knows a highly curated image of me.

Her thoughts on Kadu were somewhat of a disappointment. She doesn’t seem to harbor any strong opinion of him or about slavery in general. She rubbed me the wrong way stating that “poverty is like slavery in a way”. I understand the sentiment, particularly coming from someone with little first hand experience but it doesn’t help my concerns regarding her value of free will. The notion follows the idea that the impoverished, like slaves, have limited options and often have to make undesirable concessions for survival sake but it seems to me equating poverty and slavery is somehow unjust. As though it dismisses something vital and reduces something complicated and nuanced to something too simple. It doesn’t help matters that the sentiment is sometimes used by slave owners who claim that slavery is the lesser evil because at least a slave doesn’t starve. As if staying alive automatically makes life worth living.

A poor man lives and is rewarded for his will and resourcefulness, whatever end he comes to is in part his own choice. Even an indentured servant works under a contract he agreed to for a set amount of time and might hope for some windfall to purchase his freedom. A slave on the other hand is punished for expressing self determination and can never count on ever attaining functional freedom. The more valuable they are the less likely it is they will ever be freed and slaves do not have the luxury of picking and choosing what is and what isn’t acceptable to maintain their survival. They are not people in the eyes of their masters just objects to be owned whose value depreciates on resale. Ultimately slaves are are disposable. Once used up they might be dumped on the street or in the wilderness to die if it is illegal to kill them. That cruel invidious hopelessness that sets in not because the the body is spoiled but because there is no control of your future deserves some consideration. It is difficult to express what it feels like to know that your life will likely never amount to anything more than pleasing someone you never chose. Poverty might not be fair but it at least is universal. Everywhere you go it is largely the same. Slavery is both more subjective and more personal. If a slave suffers there is direct complicity. It is like comparing being murdered and dying by accident just on a slower scale. Yes, from the outside they might look the same but are they truly at all alike?

I’d hoped the difference was more obvious.

Saiten's Journal 14
Resplendent fire 20 continued.

Some of Mauk’s tougher looking apostles eventually confronted me. They had heard of my strength, and thought they might best me in a test of might. They were wrong. I could tell that they were serious, but every move they made was so blatantly apparent, that they never even managed to touch me. In the end, I had toppled four of them into a neat little pile at the side of the wall.

As I sulked at the lack of entertainment, Broken Walls emerged from within the temple. As the defeated followers began to rise, he asked them if they thought somebody might be able to best me in the upcoming tournament. They seemed to think somebody could, but couldn’t offer any names.

Since I had asked Broken Walls to attempt to find some warstrider armour to practice on, he decided to head to a book store he was fond of, with the hope of finding something in metallurgy. A way to reproduce the armour perhaps? I stayed outside while he looked, not wanting to get in the way. I sat on a nearby bench and admired the passer bys. It’s much nicer here than in the slums, for sure. My patrols rarely take me to the other side of Mauk’s gate. I imagine the need for a hero in areas such as this is less so than the slums, but I am sure there is work to be done as well.

I’m snapped out of my wonderings when Broken Walls emerges from the bookstore. Sadly, he found nothing that would be of any use. He suggested we might be able to purchase something through the merchants guild. He had other business to attend to, and it might be worth it to see if we could kill two birds with one stone, as it were.
The guild offers little hope for my request, however they gave Broken Walls a contact of someone who deals in real estate.

We make our way towards towards our soon to be realtor, when Broken Walls turns to me, and asks me if I might go get a change of clothes, as he’s trying to purchase and build some sort of a “Safe house”. Something that our enemies wouldn’t have prior knowledge of, in case we needed to flee the Rising Sun House compound, or needed to protect somebody, away from prying eyes.
As it turns out, my uniform does it’s intended function quite well, in making me noticeable, and recognisable at a distance. But it is because of those virtues, that I declined his request. I would sooner remain a beacon unto the city, than attempt to hide that which I strive to be. Broken Walls was somewhat accepting of this, but decided to continue alone, leaving me to patrol the city.

And patrol I did. As it turns out, even in the upper echelon of the city, crime is still apparent. Not on the same level as in the slums mind you, but I still managed to stop a mugger or two.

I took the long way back to the Rising Sun compound, exploring the city as I went. It was starting to get late into the day when I had an idea. Akimu had sent an assassin to kill our prisoner, one of her priests. I can only imagine she did this because the priest had some sort of knowledge that could benefit us in locating and defeating Akimu once and for all. Why else would you kill one of your own devout followers?

And so, when I found myself a few blocks from the compound, I began to wait. The host would often appear at night, eager to kill anyone who was foolish enough to be outside past their imposed curfew, and tonight was no exception. I had hoped to hear the bells of one of the priests, and capture one of them. Luck was not on my side however, as a single host coalesced behind me, wrapping it’s hands around my neck. Were it not for my sharp senses, and quick reflexes, it might have stood a chance. I peeled it off of me with ease, and struck it firmly in the head, knocking it unconcious.

I had my captive. It wasn’t a priest, but it was something. I picked it up, throwing it over my shoulder, and ran for the compound. I wasn’t sure how long this thing would stay under for, and what it would do when it woke up. The sooner I brought it to the others, the better.

As I neared the compound, I frowned as I saw the gate had been sealed for the evening. The guards were manning their posts as per usual, and I’m sure had I asked, they would have opened the gate for me as fast as they could. That was not fast enough however. I had little time to spare, so I leapt over the gate in a single bound. Broken walls and Chaoxi see my somewhat unorthodox entrance, and rush over to see me. They both give me puzzled looks when I show them what I brought with me. In all my haste, I had forgotten what I had done. I had somehow managed to knock unconscious, an undead spirit. It never even occurred to me as I was heading back, but now their puzzled looks made sense.

After Broken Walls had shaken off the initial bewilderment of my arrival, he removed the white mask obscuring the face of the host. A terrified, perpetually screaming human face stared back at us. It was very unsettling. Broken Walls tells us to stay here, as he runs inside. I turn to Chaoxi, and ask where Aster and Piper are, only to learn that they still haven’t returned from their trip to find us an exorcist. A shame, I’m sure the two of them could pry all sorts of useful information out of this thing.

Broken Walls returned in short order, carrying with him a rather ornate flask. The look on his face went from cautious to serious in a heartbeat as he took a swig. “We have a short window. We need to leave NOW!”, he exclaimed as he tossed me the Host’s limp form. I threw the host back onto my shoulder and followed Broken Walls into the night. Chaoxi wasn’t far behind. As we ran, I tried to ask where we were going, only to get “There’s no time!” out of Broken Walls. As we ran, he kept taking swig after swig of his little flask. I had never seen Broken Walls drink like this before. It was like he was drinking with a purpose, though to what end escaped me.

Eventually, we made it to the Black Quarter. I hadn’t expected to end up here. Not tonight anyway. We had talked about our plan to raid the Black Quarter before, but it was always going to be in the day time, and our whole party was to come with us. Clearly whatever was in that flask was giving Broken Walls the courage to do what needed to be done, and that’s just fine by me!

I’ll admit, I was a bit confused when we got to the area where the bell resided. Broken Walls dropped to his knees and started clawing at the earth. Scooping it away as fast as he could. It wasn’t long until he hit stone. Not the stone like a rock or a boulder mind you. This was the stone of something that was burried. A casket? A wall? We weren’t going to find out, as Broken walls proclaimed that “We can leave now.”

I still wasn’t sure what to make of the events, but I wasn’t about to argue. I tossed the host into the freshly dug hole, and chased after Chaoxi and Broken Walls. By now, the host had started to appear all over the place. Chaoxi shouted that they were closing in, and gave us directions as to where to run to. Eventually, we clear the city limits, and the host abandon the chase. Once we had caught our breath, we headed to a local pub that was far enough outside the city to not be accosted by the host regularly.

We found a table, and Broken Walls immediately orders us a bottle of whiskey, which we all share. Well, I use the word “Share” loosely, as Broken walls had most of it. He told us that the flask he was drinking from earlier had let him see the essence of the host, and that we had followed it to it’s source. Whatever was binding the host to this world, was buried under that bell in the Black Quarter, and we need to destroy it. It wasn’t long until Chaoxi had passed out. It looks like she can’t handle her liquor as well as Broken walls and myself. We manage to secure a room for the evening, and carried Chaoxi upstairs. We each had our own bed, which was nice. Broken walls insisted we move them all to the center of the room, fearing retaliation in the night. I accepted this and helped arrange the furniture in such a way as to not wake Chaoxi, then retired for the evening.

Resplendent fire 21

We made our way back to the Rising Sun Compound fairly early that morning, and found Piper and Aster waiting for us. They had managed to find us an exorsist, named Nergüi. He had agreed to help us ward our compound, but required us to make ready a long list of materials to allow him to do so. As broken walls went through his ledgers to find the best places to acquire said materials, we brought Aster and Piper up to speed on last nights events.

Aster reacted as one would expect. She worried about our safety more than she should. Piper however…As good at masking everything about himself as Piper is, he could not mask the searing, pulsating vein that developed on his brow as we filled him in. I know I could have been a little less obvious on how I went about my activities last night, but everything worked out in the end. We each have our own ways of doing things. Who’s to say who’s is right, and who’s is wrong?

I went with Broken Walls to find the materials, which as it turned out was mostly a huge quantity of salt. Thankfully, our friends at Kahi house were able to supply us.
I carried a full barrel back to the compound. I would have gotten more, but Nergüi only needed the one. I didn’t even break a sweat carrying it.

As we walked, I inquired as to Broken Wall’s interest in the upcoming tournament. He hadn’t thought about it too much, but told me that he was considering joining. I’m not sure if he could tell how excited I was at the prospect from my response of “O.K.”, but it was there. The chance to fight Broken Walls would definitely be worthy of getting my hopes up. He is one of the few people I have met since the fall, that I honestly think would be a tough fight. I hope he does end up entering.

When we arrived back, we met Nergüi. His reputation of being a sour old man was well earned. He quickly put Broken Walls and myself to work, though probably not utilising us to the best of our abilities. He had me digging a trench around the perimeter of the compound. I strike the earth with my hands, piercing it with ease. I can dig a trench for sure, but Broken walls can do so much better. Unfortunately, he was tasked with ensuring Nergüi’s special salt mixture dried correctly. I could tell that Broken Walls was less than happy with the task. By the time I had rounded the last corner of the compound, I found that the remainder of the trench was conveniently already dug. I guess he got bored.

My next task was to form salt bricks, which I think I did fairly well at. I patted and flattened and compressed and smoothed. By the end, I’d say they were almost all a uniform shape. I had maybe made half a dozen of them before Broken Walls kicked the salt pile into a stack of perfectly shaped bricks. So much for keeping a low profile around the new guy.

I ended up getting sent for more salt, which I was happy to do. This time I returned with three barrels. Surely that would be enough. By the time I had made my way back, Nergüi had left for the night. I made the best of the situation, and used the barrels for training. Strapped them to my back, and scaled the tower a few times. A good workout is always a good way to end a stressful day.

We slept in the barracks that night, wanting to keep an eye on our many guards and assorted workers we have been housing. I got many strange looks from the people in the barracks as I went to sleep. Most of them had never seen me outside of my uniform before. What can I say? My pajamas are just too comfortable.

Resplendent fire 22.

We were attacked in the early hours of the morning. Or that’s what I’m told anyway. I didn’t hear anything, but Broken Walls had managed to stop an attempt on some of our guards men. We were all concerned when we heard the news. All of the attacks prior to this were done in the streets, out in the open. This was indoors, and in our own compound at that. Clearly Akimu was not happy with us. Good.

Work resumed on the warding of the compound in the morning. Nergüi was having us place the salt bricks inside the walls of the compound. Eventually, Broken Walls revealed his true nature to Nergüi, and with that, my services were no longer required. I spent the rest of the day training around the compound. Eventually we run out of materials again. Nergüi has me and Piper accompany him to his home to gather more of his special salt mixture additive.

The man is painfully slow, to the point where I eventually just pick him up to carry him there. He was not alright with this, and demanded to be let down. This is going to be long walk.

Saiten's journal 13
Resplendent fire 18 Continued

I was about to jump into the hole I had just made in the roof of the hut, when a golden light burst forth from within. Golden javallins rained from the sky, striking many of the shadowy figures that had began coalescing throughout the streets and rooftops. I caught myself in awe for a moment. It was as if there were a thousand shooting stars all at once. A beautiful if not terror inspiring sight for sure.

I didn’t have the time to watch though. There was work to be done. Piper and the others surely needed my help. I jumped down though the hole I had made, landing nearly on top of a now decapitated Lang. My friends had wasted no time it seems.

I found one of the murder spirits to my left. Hathesis I think? I sent him soaring upward through the hole in the ceiling with a quick uppercut, noting a sizable splat when he impacted the roof on the way down. Satisfying as it was to eliminate a murder spirit, there is never the time to celebrate. The coalescing creatures(or “The host”, as I’ve found them to be called) were getting more and more dense. I continued to dodge them as best I could, but there were so many of them that I could tell I was losing my balance. I had been all but covered by the host when I saw an opening through the blows, I struck back, throwing several them flying, while seemingly vaporizing others. Broken walls and Chaoxi used the opportunity to run outside, as Piper says she can hear the sound of bells in the street.

I was surprised with what happened next. Aster had been protecting the owner of the hut in the corner, shouting words of encouragement our way, but something must have snapped in her. Her song changed to a tone I had not yet heard from her. It was still pleasant to my ears, but the host could not take it. Clawing at their ears, they fell. One by one, fading away just as they had faded into existence.

I ran outside, looking for Broken walls and Chaoxi. I found them chasing a masked figure a short distance down the street. I gave chase as well, rushing to the figure with the sound of a thunderclap. I managed to knock him unconscious with a single strike.

We returned with the figure to the Rising sun compound, where broken walls quickly crafted a jail cell for our new prisoner. Try as we might, our new friend refused to ask any of our questions. Eventually, we decided to try again in the morning. It was getting late.

When we entered the Rising sun house, Piper shed..herself. I had seen him take many forms before, but never take one off. “Piper’s a man!” I exclaimed loudly, my voice full of surprise. I had often wondered about whether Piper even had a gender in his natural state. He seemed to clothe himself in the identity of anyone he saw fit. Man, woman, boy, girl. It was all the same to Piper. I felt like I had come to know piper more intimately in that moment. I don’t think Piper felt the same, however, as he just ignored my statement and went upstairs.

I retreated to my room as well, where I washed my uniform of the various blood stains that had accumulated over the evening, then went to bed.

Resplendent fire 19.

I awoke late in the day, feeling quite refreshed. I hadn’t slept in this long in a while. There was a reason for that though, I reminded myself as I donned my uniform. .The city needs it’s hero.
During today’s patrol, I noted many people discussing the light show of last night. People knew something had happened. When I returned to the compound, I spoke to Broken Walls about it. He told me that when a solar expends enough of his energy, it is impossible for him to mask his presence. Both he and Aster had reached that point last night. And while it was short, it was not surprising that people noticed the display. We should be wary of the Wyld hunt, he told me. Dragonbloods of the immaculate order that hunt down the Solar Exalted. I had known people had seen me with my headlamp before, but hadn’t really thought much of it. Maybe I should have. Amongst the discussions, Chaoxi had joined us, and spoke of something called a “War Strider”. A giant like machine, capable of destruction on a scale not seen by most. Truly a terrifying creation. I want to fight one. I told them that I would redouble my training in hopes of defeating this “Wyld Hunt” that they spoke of. I asked if it were possible to obtain some of the armour the striders wear. I would like to know how well it stands up to my fist. Broken walls said that he would look into it.

By the end of the conversation, the others had all found their way to our table. Each recommending their own security measures. In the mean time, Akimu was surely the focus for now. We had hurt her, and her followers. It would only be a matter of time before she retaliated against us. We decided to see if I could destroy one of the daggers that Akimu’s followers used.
As I held the dagger in my hand, I noted how cold it felt. Normally steel would lose that feeling after a moment, but this was different. It just stayed cold, as if it were continuously draining the heat from my hand. I placed the dagger on an anvil in the workshop. I struck the dagger 3 times, each time pouring more and more of my essence into the hit. I managed to bend it on my last strike. This was definitely not a normal dagger. An artifact for sure. I threw it into the air as hard as I could. Not even a scratch when it bounced off the rocky ground. Broken walls put it into the forge, and we could hear it almost scream as it began to glow red hot. I managed to dent it when hitting it with a hammer, but even that was a challenge. We left it in the forge overnight.

Resplendent fire 20.

I awoke in the night to the sound of broken walls putting on dauntless in the court yard. Still in my pajamas, I leapt from my window and ran to his side. He had discovered our prisoner had been killed by some sort of spirit. As aster burned his body with her light, we pondered what our next move should be. We would need to find some way to ward our compound against such spirits. If they could kill our prisoner, then they could come after any one of us.

I returned to my room and went back to bed. We will find our solution in the morning.
When morning came, our broken walls and I went to Renow house, and met with Mash and Dub Dau, while Aster and Piper went in search of an exorcist. While there, Broken Walls spoke of many things. He wanted to ward our compound, as well as the compounds of our allies. I found myself bored with most of the conversations. My attentions are less political than Broken walls, but I tried to feign interest as best I could. Still, I probably only absorbed a third of what they were talking about.

Following renow house, we made our way to Mauk’s temple. Broken walls went underground with Tick, while I waited on the surface.

The followers of Mauk sauntered around the temple. Some of them recognised me for sure. Either having seen me, or heard about my deeds from others. They gave me a clear path path to wherever I happened to be pacing to. A shame, I’m sure many of them were capable warriors.
I asked some of them what they thought of Mauk. Unsurprisingly they all said he was strong, and a great guy. Some admitted that as Mauk had been asleep for so long, that they had never even met him.

Broken Walls had been gone for a while, and I was starting to get impatient. My errant wanderings around the temple eventually lead me to something interesting though. A small group of followers were talking about an upcoming tournament. It seems on Descending fire 3, there will be a bit of a competition. Ring out, or knock out. I am so there.


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