Resplendent Fire 22 -
It took all of today to finish off the wards on Rising Sun House and to my chagrin negotiations were made for wards for the compound of families that allied with us. If I am gauging the situation properly Broken Walls has an allegiance owed to these people and his priorities rest with sheltering them from all the havoc we cause. I doubted he would consent to making a risky move on Akkimu while leaving them open to retaliation and thus didn’t press the issue but I was restless to put things to rights.
It didn’t help matters that a lot of the work with Nergui has been tedious and I have spent two nights stirring simmering fruit mostly in stoic silence. Though Saiten joined me for the second night not much conversation was afforded due to the fact it annoyed the old man. My mind does not easily consent to doing nothing for long periods and chasing my tail for hours with no new information to factor was maddening. As a way to pass the time I started trying to focus on the individual scents of the rich atmosphere of Nergui’s workroom as a form of mental exercise and was surprised how much I could actually smell.
Scent isn’t as straightforward as sound or sight. The smallest air currents manipulate how things are perceived and the scents themselves are like drifts of leaves with the oldest crumbling to dust beneath the layers of newer, fresher scents. The more I focus the more this hidden trove of information is revealed. Just as when I first discovered my ability to listen I realized that I was never blind to this, I just never attempted to see it. Maybe I can use the skill to my advantage somehow.
Resplendent Fire 23 -
In the morning we returned to Rising Sun House and were greeted with terrible news. Akkimu’s host had strangled thirty people in the private houses around the Rising Sun during the night to make her message was clear : if she could not get to us then she would draw us out. It was an obvious goad. In practical terms I knew it meant that she was trying to lure us onto ground where she had the advantage to finish us off with what she figured was more than significant enough force. Normally I would take pains to not react volatility and consider the options but I had enough waiting and fretting. I had set this in motion and it was past time I finished it. I would not wait idly by and construct new walls to cower behind or waste time while my enemy simply found new collateral to add to our consequence!
Looking to Aster was like facing a mirror, iron resolutions identical to my own were etched on her delicate features. Akkimu had pushed her too far. Saiten was of course game as ever. A challenge had been issued and that is usually enough cause for excitement for him to go along with whatever idiot scheme we might concoct. It was Broken Walls who was initially hesitant. Ever the head for cool strategy he attempted to be the voice of reason. He wanted time to fulfill his responsibilities to the houses who had allied with him but faced with our adamant will to act he decided he would rather swim with the tide than against it.
We opted to give him the morning to fulfill his commitments to his people. As he swept from the room I assessed the cold gleam that lit Aster’s eye and the carefully measured steadiness of her voice. I have sometimes wondered if Aster understands what it is to hate something unequivocally or look upon someone with no shred of mercy to spare. Seeing that look in her eye I think if she didn’t before then she just might now. Akkimu has much to fear from Aster Full of Light.
I rested for an hour while Broken Walls marshaled his forces. When I awoke I constructed a new disguise for the occasion. I spun from my essence brass bracelets and necklaces and anklets bedecked with raised settings of semiprecious stones with hidden flaws. Golden chrysanthemum hair ornaments with long steel spines and combs with widely spaced tines held my long black hair. I tucked into my weighted sash a fan I had purchased on a whim some weeks ago and I made my limbs long and willowy. I grew my fingernails hard, sharp and glass-like. My dark green dress was form fitting but allowed me much mobility. Armed thus and choosing the name “Mists of Ruby Skies” for the occasion I was as ready as I could be for the fight ahead .
We departed once everyone was assembled. Broken Walls had alerted the head priest of Mauk to gather his people and it would take time for them to amass their mob. We discussed a plan of action to try to tie up some loose ends and try to wrangle some last minute advantages.
Our first stop was to Hatellis’s temple. It had been Broken Walls who had pointed out that people not being safe in their own homes anymore potentially meant some sort of agreement might have violated. This was correct. When we arrived at Hatellis’s it was like an upturned hive. The entire operation was closing up shop and relocating outside of city boundaries. Seeking an audience with Hatellis who had the air of someone trying his best to manage disaster we learned that Akkimu had violated a serious contract she maintained with several parties in the city. He informed us that all parties involved in the contract would be receiving a message and recommended we wake Mauk if we wanted to ask for assistance. For all of the trouble we had caused him Hatelis showed no sign that he resented what we had done and wished us well before he vanished. For the first time I pittied him. His nature is such that he might as well be chained by the vast web of words and deeds. Because of that I don’t think he can ever be truly loyal to Aster even if he does care for her. If that is true I think their romance might be doomed to fail but he does have his virtues.
He also has a sizable fortune.
All in all Aster could have done worse for herself.
Broken Walls broke off to wake Mauk as Aster and Saiten accompanied me on a fruitless test to see if I could track the living priests of Akkimu from the place we saw them last. I could have saved myself the unpleasantness. The outer city usually smells of feces, rot, piss and old blood but the untrained nose homogenizes the nature of that miasma. Being assailed with a more intimate knowledge of how many different people contributed to those smells and which did so the most recently does nothing to improve the experience. I was able to identify the scent of the priests out of the mess but only where the air was still. Wind and rain had scoured the ground clean of any trail I could follow.
We were heading back through the gate toward our rendezvous point when we heard a voice like thunder through the cobblestones underfoot. People halted what they were doing and hushed. Peering into the invisible I saw multitudes of small spirits poke their heads out from the objects they inhabited and look about. We stood collectively dumbstruck as the secrets of Champoor bled out onto the public street.
“Akkimu is a godess of murder and sacrifice. She uses sorcery, messes with your mind and wields daggers. They hurt a lot. She has tens of thousands of ghosts at her command gathered from the dead of the city. Kadu and Silgur fear her but I can fight her, I just can’t win. That bitch messes with your mind. Tenepshu is in charge. She blocks the eyes of Heaven from Champoor. She is a Dragon who lives in the ruins of the old city and can make tidal waves. Kadu moved here 700 years ago, likes his food and has a wyld rift beneath the city. He seems like a nice guy. He’s building an army of fishmen.”
At these revelations the citizens and spirits drew instinctively closer together, the sibilence of frightened whispers intensifying beneath the hammer of each thunderous pronouncement. Saiten and Aster looked as stunned as I probably did.
“Grisig is honest and reliable, he made my door. Silgur is insane. He used to be a good guy but that was before he liked rats. Natasha will sleep with anyone and she was fantastic. As for me, I’m a giant who came from the land of Dis 800 years ago and kicked out the remnants of the Balorian Crusade. Things were great until my soul crystal went missing Akkimu and I had it out after she went evil and started doing all the nasty shit with sorcery and I lost.”
There was a pause during which the literal the dust which had been stirred up began to settle. Figurative dust however was another matter entirely. I heard hushed angry and scared voices in the crowd before it fell silent again when the voice resumed speaking. “Tenepshu reassigns the domains of the Gods in Champoor… Karoski and the other deposed Gods hang out with Gisig. Check with him.”
It was suddenly apparent we were hearing one half of a conversation and everyone paused waiting for the voice to resume again. The ramifications of these revelations are going to be difficult to quantify. With Hatelis having recently gone to ground the main mediator of these Gods might be in the wind which might impede their ability to co-ordinate. It is difficult to say how cohesive they are as a group particularly since Akkimu is seemingly unpopular amoungst at least three of the seven.
Tenepeshu worries me most. I don’t know what “blocking the eyes of heaven” means in practical terms but it sounds like shady dealings she has worked out with the gods here for mutual benefit. She might take issue with us killing Akkimu if Akkimu is key to propping up her power here. On the other hands seeing as Akkimu just violated a major taboo and might have proven herself a loose cannon Tanepeshu might be reasoned with. Our reputation here is such a mixed bag that it is hard to say how we might figure into their calculations. Mauk is nominally our ally. Silgur hates us but we haven’t broken the agreement with him since our property skirmish which could demonstrate that we are open to reason. Natasha, Gisig and Kadu’s opinion of us might be as yet unformed. The bit about the fishmen might be trouble but provided we mince Akkimu into tiny pieces Kadu might be inclined to make an attempt at diplomacy before stirring up trouble.
They might band together to kill us or they might offer us a seat at the table. Hard to say really.
The other consideration, that killing Akkimu might leave a power vacuum, concerns me less considering her monopoly on the city at night was absolute. It generally takes time for people to believe what they hear enough to risk changing reinforced habits and really if the business of thieving, whoring and feasting becomes less impeded all surviving parties might equally benefit. Even the temple of Gisig, provided he has one, will probably make a killing selling locks to suit demand. A city doesn’t immediately devolve into chaos just because people are out at all hours. Hell, the sudden labour shortage of nightshift guards might actually put more people to work.
Taking a deep, fortifying, breath in I immediately recognized Broken Wall’s scent and motioned for the others to follow. We spotted him just as he stepped out onto the street. As it turns out Broken Walls had no idea that Mauk’s half of the conversation had been heard at surface level. Upon learning that Mauk’s voice could probably be heard for a city block or two he was understandably upset. For my own part I have no idea if Mauk just did us a favour airing the God’s dirty laundry for the masses to examine but for the time being open speculation is ultimately meaningless as we could all be dead by tomorrow.
Leaders of the families and representatives of the priesthood of Mauk met us at Rising Sun House to be briefed on our plan. It appeared we would be leading a sizable contingent into the Black Quarter with us. As the leaders of the factions set about gathering what they needed I took the others aside.
Given that Mauk mentioned that Akkimu “messes with your mind” I worry that Akkimu may have some sort of power like the Radius. It is a remote possibility but it may similarly be transmitted through sound. Furthermore it is vital that should I perish the Radius must be destroyed and it may be important to let my allies know that it is not just a sentimental attachment. In the wrong hands it could be a powerful weapon provided it’s power continues to function once I am dead. I do not want to consider the ramifications of what a goddess of murder adept in sorcery could achieve with it.
That being said was a bit awkward letting the others know that I possess the capability to drive people out of their minds and moreover that I have used that power enough to have some idea of it’s scope. I handed out some beeswax that could be used to shield them from a similar attack should they need it and just in case they thought to ask if I could wield it effectively in our favour I stressed that it is far too unpredictable to be counted on and requires far too much time to be useful in battle.
There is not much time left before we march. Being generous I give myself a fifty-fifty shot of coming through this alive. Akkimu is waiting for us this time and no doubt we are walking headlong into hell. I never trained as a warrior and in my brushes with true combat as a whole I have only managed to scrape by by the skin of my teeth. Perhaps if I do live through this I will dedicate my time to becoming a proper soldier. Standing on principle has been an alien concept for me up til now but I guess everyone has their breaking point.
If this journal is discovered and decoded I am not sure what a reader would think of me. I leave no will behind as my possessions are for the most part worthless and the handful of people who would mourn me are either marching with me or have no idea if I am alive. If it is Aster and Saiten are reading these words then I apologize for deceiving you as often as I have. If it is another curious soul trying their hand at code breaking I will leave you the advice that I was given though it has done me little good.
“All spies get caught. If you are lucky you will live to be caught again. If you are good then you will die with your secrets but if you are stupid you’ll let your conscience corner you.”