Resplendent Fire 19 -
We arrived back in Champoor shortly after noon and set about our task of procuring the services of an Exorcist. I decided we should split up. Though many of my contacts are perfectly respectable all of the people I have made connections outside of Rising Sun are unaware of my affiliations. With Aster broadcasting her message every day from the city walls bringing her around with me would have them drawing parallels I’d truly prefer they didn’t. I must do all I can to minimize my seeming connection to Rising Sun House or else the information I receive as a seemingly free agent will become skewed by loyalties and hearsay. I agreed to meet Aster later with our findings in a pre-arranged location and we went our separate ways.
I decided to start with the people I would have the easiest time tracking down. Toki, a busker reliably found at Glazier’s Square,is amongst the city’s prime gossips whom I trade tidbits with on occasion. She hadn’t heard of an exorcist in the city in quite some time though I suppose she hadn’t much interest. I spoke with the troupe at the Winter Meets Wind though I didn’t expect much and dropped by some of the inner city’s coffee houses to check in with a couple of my well to do socialite contacts. The rest of my contacts being somewhat more difficult to track down and feeling rather hungryI purchased a light meal and a couple of moon cakes and went to visit Xi for tea.
It was good to see her again. When I arrived by fortuitous circumstance her son had stepped out on some sort of errand and she was watching the store. We spoke on a few light-hearted matters though I think she could sense that something was wrong and she asked if I was alright. I mentioned that I had a lot on my mind recently and told her that I was looking for the services of an exorcist. I was surprised when she informed me that she knew of one that stops by a crematorium outside of town. I could tell she was worried about why I might be asking for something so out of the ordinary but at that moment the bell to her shop jingled admitting a customer I immediately recognized though never expected – Broken Walls.
He fixed me with a surprised look but thankfully didn’t comment on my presence and conducted his business looking for books on metallurgy. Could he actually be acquiescing to Saiten’s request to construct some sort of practice warstider shell to punch? I know Broken Walls is generous to a fault towards us but that seems a bit much. Those materials can not be cheap. After he left, I excused myself to Xi telling her that I would stop by again soon. She sounded rather worried for me when I bid her goodbye. I wish I could tell her what was really going on but I don’t see how that would set her mind at ease.
I rejoined Aster and Seventh Dawn and, after gathering the horses, headed an hour’s ride outside of town to the place Xi had described. It seemed a pleasant place if you didn’t pay particular attention to the smell of the crematorium at the back of the property. Inside the gate it had a beautiful garden in the Zen style which I favour over the obnoxiously lurid color and frippery of flower beds. The white pebbles of the rock garden were more deeply raked than average to give the impression of islands in a choppy sea following the austere sereneness of the classic style. The proprietor of the establishment, Stone’s Passing, received us well and sent a messenger pigeon on our behalf to the Exorcist whom he occasionally consults with named Nergui, asking to arrange a meeting as soon as possible. He advised us that Nergui would probably be willing to meet with us that evening and, noting that we were inhabitants of Champoor proper, offered to provide room and board for a modest price. We dispatched Seventh Dawn with a message to Broken Walls that we would not be returning that night and settled in for a wait.
Aster of course was curious about our host and I gathered a rather favorable impression of him though I could tell that he was suspicious of us. He mentioned he had started work providing cremation services after taking issue with the way the dead in Champoor were treated which became intolerable to him after he suffered a personal loss. He seemed happy to share some tips with Aster about the breeding and keeping of messenger pigeons. Aster of course was enamored with the birds. I preferred to keep my distance since my experience with the handling of animals has usually lead to them biting me. The fact that I rarely appear or even smell like the same person long enough for them to become accustomed to me probably doesn’t help matters. As such I lack much common sense about their handling.
Nergui proved to be an old man in his 60’s with a very abrupt manner. He arrived just prior to our host serving dinner and was forthright in asking what we wanted of him. Having gotten a decent measure of Stone’s Passing I could hazard that Nergui’s outlook on the handling of the dead of Champoor followed similar lines but from the instant he walked in he presented a conundrum. Namely, it would be advantageous or even hazardous to outright lie to him.
If we did by fortune’s wheel manage to concoct a smokescreen to fool this expert on something Aster and I are both novices in he might discover our true purposes anyway once we employed him given the nature of what we were going to ask for. The minute he steps foot in Rising Sun House there are going to be things that he doubtless is going to notice. There is also the possibility that if we were not entirely honest about what we wanted him to ward against the wards we receive might be deficient for our purposes. To further complicate matters, in the past Aster has outright refused to lie except by omission and would most likely be unwilling to corroborate a falsehood. She is worth her weight in gold when trying to appeal to people’s better natures but her propensity to absolute honesty can be a double-edged sword. It pains me to take such risks but sometimes honesty truly is the best policy.
Not that it was easy. Aster and I started by trying to be vague until we could get a better measure of the man but I am sad to say our initial attempts at lying by omission were completely transparent. The aged exorcist was nobody’s fool. He asked for a king’s ransom for the services we wanted but in mentioning Akimu I was encouraged by the way his mouth twisted into a grimace, his posture straightened almost imperceptibly and a small spark lit his eye. Telltale hallmarks of disgust and hatred to be leveraged.
Aster threw herself on the old man’s mercy, pleading with him to assist us in the defense of the people under our care laying bare the true care she holds for the people she treats with. I could see it hit the mark as he softened a little towards her. Our credentials thus established I decided to deal my hand. If kindness would not goad him then I would appeal to the bitter recesses of his heart. I let him know our true intent. That we were seeking to rid the city of Akimu and her blasted army of the dead, that if he helped us we would do all within our power to strike out at her. We would not ask him to risk himself unnecessarily but if he aided us then he would be contributing to breaking her hold on the city.
He lowered his price.
After Nergui left we did our best to entertain our host who was much more ill at ease for knowing our true purpose. Stone’s Passing set us up in one of his spare rooms which were comfortable enough though I stayed up long past when the others fell asleep. I sat out on the walkway that surrounded the house and listened again. It is still there, even this far from the city, that faint music that I can almost hear hiding just beneath the summer song of cicadas and frogs. It must not be real but some trick of the mind. It is an alluring siren’s call, leading me forward into this strange stillness between thought and memory and hinting of answers to questions I have never asked. Beckoning as it asks me to reach past the present and grasp something unquantifiable and unknown.
It is so maddeningly tenuous. Snatchets of a melody barely perceptible in the silence between heartbeats. When I consider that every day Akimu’s power slowly grows as more souls and bodies fall into her clutches, that my allies may be fighting for their lives in Rising Sun House right now the music fades into the chaotic swirl of thought. I sense a price in choosing to chase this mystery. I cannot take on faith that what lies beyond will aid me and it comes at the cost of precious time and focus. It is as exclusionary as it is elusive, asking me to suspend all else to chase it. Do I abandon the candle I hold at the cave mouth and walk forward into this darkness? What of the others? My strength against this threat may be paltry compared to what they are capable of but can even it be spared?
No. They need me. I can see and hear what they can not. I might not be able to lay waste to the armies of the dead but my involvement is not inconsequential. Preparations must be made. This reluctant ally we made today may be the key to discovering what we might need to take out the host and gathering a much needed insight into this damned city. I cannot waste my time chasing butterflies when so much rests on our actions. I rose and opened the screen that lead to Aster and I’s shared quarters and paused one last time to listen.
It was silent.
Resplendent Fire 20 -
We left to return to the city in the morning to inform Broken Walls of what he would need to supply to get the services he wanted in warding his compound. I sensed something was amiss before we were even inside the gates and tuned my ears to the gossip of the guards and my heart sank. Saiten, that gormless blithering, ostentatious lunkhead had jumped over the wall last night in full view of the guards. WHY IN THE UNCONQUERED’s NAME DOES HE HAVE TO BE SO DAMNED FLASHY!? I know it is a useless exercise in preaching caution at this point as nothing my allies have done since we’ve arrived be considered “laying low” but it galls me. Not a week after we had a conversation about trying to scale back our visibility he is pulling stunts like this! After consulting with Broken Walls and getting the whole tale I was left speechless by the events that transpired in our absence.
The series of events went something like this:
First. Saiten, having lingered out after dark, most likely intentionally, was attacked by a singular Host which he knocked unconscious. Just let that sink in. He knocked a ghost, a spirit of a dead human being, unconscious.
Second. Said spirit did not dematerialize as one might expect and instead remained in the physical world.
Third. Saiten then picked up said spirit and lept over the walls of the Rising sun house IN FULL VIEW OF THE GUARDS to bring it to Broken Walls when he could have just as easily ordered them to open the gate.
Fourth. They unmasked it to reveal a human face locked in what seemed like a silent scream of horror. How many people I have added to Akimu’s arsenal since I’ve arrived here I wonder? It would sit easier if I knew for certain every one of them deserved it. As is it makes me somewhat ill.
Fifth. Broken Walls, deciding to make the best of an absurd situation fetched the special reserve of mead from Knot and String. When I tasted it is had caused a curious effect which I had thought a hallucination but according to Broken Walls it actually allows someone to see essence. Saiten, Broken Walls and Chaoxi then proceeded to go on a sprint through the city with unconscious host in tow following Broken Walls as he downed shot after shot of an insanely strong liquor so he could track the tether of essence that keeps the host enslaved back to the ground below Akimu’s bell.
Where do I even start?
I have been swept up in a torrent of irritations I can not begin to pick apart. I am angry at Saiten for his rash and conspicuous actions and it somehow frustrates me further that I can not deny it served a useful end in this instance. The pieces are falling into place through sheer luck but there is so much work yet to be done and so many unknowns in play. After all that has been done I am impatient with the consequences associated with leaving Akimu in power for even a few more days but wary that rash actions will only leave us at a disadvantage or just cause more harm. I need a plan but I possess far too many questions I have not received answers to and thus each consideration is half-formed and practically useless!
Suppressing my urge to scream I informed Broken Walls of what Nergui had demanded as payment and he immediately tasked Saiten with helping fetch the requested materials. They arrived with them just in time and Nergui wasted no time ordering them to do his bidding in preparing everything to his specification. Cowed by the knowledge that Nergui is our resentful ally Broken Walls and Saiten meekly bore his orders despite them being tedious and not at all playing to their strengths. It is petty, but watching Nergui task Broken Walls with watching salt dry for hours on end was intensely satisfying and lessened my frustrations by a degree.
I followed the old exorcist around as he carefully measured and tested the walls of the compound and took detailed notes. Destroying the host all at once maybe impossible depending on what we find. I need to explore other options. If I can convince Nergui to advise me there might be other ways to approach this problem. Regardless, I mustn’t waste an opportunity to learn how to physically ward areas against spirits. Security is worth the investment given that once we remove Akimu our problems presented by the remaining Gods may increase.
There were were a few obstacles in warding Rising Sun house, namely that it’s rear wall is the city wall may be too thick or high to adequately ward. Frustrated at the slow pace I relented and made it known that we could have a wall built quite quickly. The old man is very committed to not getting too entangled in our business and halts himself from asking questions or supplying us with anything more than what we asked for lest he be dragged further than he’d like into what he views as none of his business. It is a refreshingly comforting stance that he does not seek to pry. I reluctantly find myself liking the old codger the more I associate with him to the point where after this is all done I actually hope he doesn’t decide to wash his hands of us entirely.
I brought the matter of the wall up with Broken Walls who was frustrated enough with his forced meditation on the properties of salt to demonstrate some of his capabilities for the old man. Creating a permanent ward is an expensive and time consuming process and though Broken Wall’s abilities sped the process up greatly to the point where we exhausted Nergui’s supply he was unprepared to complete the whole job in one day. I offered my assistance to the old man to help him prepare overnight for the following day which he accepted. Begrudgingly perhaps, but it’s something.
Resplendent Fire 21 -
I can’t say Nergui has warmed to me much but my time spent in his company has been an education. His home and workshop outside of town had a wealth of tomes on the subjects of the spirit world and drawers upon drawers of strange devices, herbs and concoctions. The actual process for creating the liquid used to bind the salt is not very difficult though it is labour intensive. The symbols used for the wards are made from a specialized chalk that he prepares himself and will show me how to prepare so that I can preform necessary upkeep once the wards are in place.
I did not sleep last night. An unfortunate occurrence that I haven’t had to endure for a month now. The cold lassitude that I have been mired in is fading but it has been replaced by something almost feverish. I am well acquainted with obsession, paranoia, hatred and wrath in turn but this feels distinctly different. Similar certainly. More tempestuous. I resent my desire to lie down and rest. I want to press on until this is finished.
We completed the warding of the Rising Sun. A few of the host arrived last night and tried to strangle some of Broken Wall’s men. No casualties. Broken Walls has brokered the services of Nergui to ward a second of his properties and has made efforts to find a safe house inside the city walls off the books. I must ask my questions soon. We cannot wait forever to make our move.