As the tale of the Exalted Continues

Piper's Journal 31
Wlyd ducks

Descending Earth 11

We left Zingma’s Tree to follow in the wake of the Bonesiders who had departed in a column some four months prior. We would have been at a loss to determine the path of their departure has Desadi not made note of the tracks before his internment. There was little sign left of their passage which I guess should not surprise. Skeletons lack weight compared to living people so their persisting traces would likely be minimized. Even if they had been flesh, four months and autumn’s fresh cover of leaves would have left me at a loss.

Our return to the boredom of the road prompted the soldiers to amuse themselves at Wilson of The Weeping Willows expense. They pestered Wilson mercilessly about his aversion to circles to the point even I felt bad for him. There is no shame in being wrong. Caution is better than carelessness. That night when we made camp we did so in a clearing with a ring of mushrooms and Wilson, fed up with their teasing, pitched his tent as close as possible to the ring.

It wasn’t long before I noted Desadi was preoccupied by something. When asked what concerned him he initially ignored me. I waited patiently until he eventually mentioned the area was strange. He startled and asked me if I had heard a duck quack. This odd behavior was initially concerning because I heard nothing remotely duck-like.

A few minutes later I too heard the sound. It did sound like a duck but weirdly I couldn’t discern the direction of the sound’s origin at all. Could our imaginations playing tricks? Desadi long spate of interment alone was undoubtedly injurious to the mind and my imagination can’t yet, and perhaps never again, be trusted. It made me uneasy

When organizing the watch Saiten insisted he no longer requires sleep and can keep watch all night (something which I am intensely envious of if it is in fact true) but Desadi suggested we post our own watches to compensate for his inability to perceive the unseen world. Good to see he’s lucid enough to note my newfound ability to see spirits… though he’d done so without comment. Perhaps he cannot remember that when last we met I’d no affinity for sensing the supernatural.

First watch was mine. Saiten meditated leaving me to stargaze undisturbed for a few hours when a bloodcurdling scream split the camp. We scrambled to it’s source. Wilson’s bedroll had come apart and his foot had strayed into the ring of toadstools crushing some of the delicate fungi. When we arrived he was trying to tear his boot from his foot. A boot that muffled the sounds of a tiny trapped animal. Removing his sock he displayed four normal looking toes and one small duck nestled between his big and middle toe.

As the tiny animal thrashed it became apparent that it was attached to Wilson’s foot. The duck WAS his toe. The camp gathered round to ogle the oddity. Desadi, examining it closely told us this was the work of Wyld energies.

I’d seen plenty of wyld mutations in Nexus’s slums. Claws, fangs, skin that oozed or had scales, wings, fur, feathers extra limbs and even extra heads… but even in Nexus a perfect miniature duck for a toe would stand out.

Desadi tried his best to reverse the oddity by increasingly more uncanny means as Wilson continued to panic. The display of strange symbols in the air and the exorcist reaching into his foot up to the elbow did little to calm the patient. In the interim Saiten fed the tiny duck, somehow dubbed “Quincy” for reasons I cannot fathom, a few tiny breadcrumbs curiously asking if Wilson felt more satiated. Aster conjectured the ideal course might be amputating the limb frightening the man still more.

I began to wonder if I had fallen asleep on my watch and my dreams had strayed into utter absurdity. It would be a nice change.

Desadi took Saiten aside and explained a theory that the energies of the clearing may have preyed of Wilson’s beliefs. He outlined a plan to get Wilson to believe that the toe could be restored by asking Saiten to collaborate in a deception. His reasoning sounded plausible but why’d he’d believe Saiten would be convincing struck me as worrying. Saiten might not be as ethically committed to the truth as Aster but he’s still one of the most forthright and blatantly honest people I know.

Convincing Wilson that a ritual would restore his toe to normal wasn’t hard but Desadi’s notion didn’t take. Rather at the end of it we all looked like fools and in the morning Wilson cut his boot open and resigned himself to his new abnormality.

Descending Earth 12

The day dawned bright and clear. We resumed our journey though everyone was obviously disturbed from the events of the previous night. Autumn Blaze, seeking distraction, engaged me in conversation asking me if my fighting style was in fact some sort of martial art that I had trained in. I saw little reason to lie and told her it of the Dreaming Pearl Courtesan style.

The name of course elicited a pause from my companion… probably because of the inclusion of the word “Courtesan” which even I find embarrassing. It occurred to me as I said it that nobody has ever asked me that question before which might be why it felt oddly disconcerting saying the style’s name out loud. Her next question was predictably where I learned it. For an instant in my mind’s eye I pictured Lang smiling over the corpse of one of her “practice dummies” before banishing the thought. I supplied more honesty telling her I picked it up in Great Forks. Only the specifics were unacceptable and required revision. Thankfully there are plenty of false details I could supplement.

I settled for telling her the style was common enough in the city and I’d honed my ability to compete in the Arena of the Blood Lotus Society. A feasible lie and hard to disprove even if she had grown up in the city. If she did in fact travel there and showed an interest she’d have little trouble finding a teacher.

The grandeur of Great Forks seemed to hold some appeal to my companion though perhaps she was just bored. People flock there from all over Creation for the perpetual festivals and to revel in luxuries. It surprised Autumn Blaze that I’d left – for Champoor of all places. Hmph. People without money seem to think that money fixes everything. Great Forks may be a nicer place to live in some respects- Champoor is a dirty, dingy, ugly city – but at least in Champoor you see is what you get. Great Forks pretends it’s heaven like a whore pretends to be a lover. It’s syphilitic blemishes concealed beneath the careful application of rice powder makeup.

It was nearing midday when Dasadi drew our attention to a swept bit of road and my sharpened senses picked up traces of stale human blood. We followed the trail into the woods to a cairn of stones. The grave reeked of blood and the leaves around had been swept to make the spattering of blood on the leaves less apparent. The scent burned in my nostrils as the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up and my skin tingled with a weak crawling sensation. I steeled myself and helped uncover the body with the others.

The first bad omen was the word “sorry” scrawled beneath one of the stones Saiten had picked up. Whomever had killed the man in the grave had cause to remorse. The victim had been killed by a hefty blow to the forehead which must have killed him near instantly. His arms had been severed and lay to either side of his torso but were horrendously mangled. My first thought is perhaps they had killed the man to alleviate the suffering of his arms until Aster decreed that the arms alongside the body didn’t belong to the man in the cairn. Unsettling information that did not sit well with any of us.

I went through the man’s pockets. The blood on his clothes was dry but I took pains to wash it’s traces from my fingers anyway. I found nothing of note, just a few mixed coins from different places. His clothes were of good quality but worn. He had traveled some distance to come to this unfortunate end. Aster used her fire on both these sad remains before we headed back to our caravan to let Oob know of our findings.

My dreams that night were uneasy.

I was walking on a forest trail my nose full of the stench of blood that dropped like warm sticky raindrops from the leafless trees. The sky was an unbroken blue, the sun catching on the ruby drops and rubbery pools of coagulated blood. I stumbled and threw my hands forward to catch myself and noticed my right hand was missing, replaced with a ragged stump. I continued onward and the path turned until I faced the sun. I closed my eyes against it’s glare and felt warm tears roll down my cheeks. When I opened them again I saw nothing from my left eye, I swiped my sleeve over my face and saw the trace of tears from my right eye and blood spots from my left. My ears eventually disappeared the same way the woods becoming eerily silent with their loss. In the dream I was not distressed just driven to my destination with a sort of resignation of fate.

I approached a clearing where someone waited. With no ears I could not hear her greeting but I recognized the person waiting for me there. Autumn Blaze gave me a warm smile and strode toward me confidently. Staggering I looked down to note I’d lost my foot and glanced up just as the rock in Autumn’s hand came down with a crunch.

Desadi happened upon me in the morning as I was washing the night’s fear sweat from my face and asked if I’d had nightmares. He assured me he’d fix me some drought to assist. I thought to demur but saved my breath. Proof is better than argument. It will be easier to simply stomach whatever pet dope he offers than convince him it will fail.

Piper's Journal 30
Regression to the Mean

Resplendant Earth 14

I’m pretty sure Chaoxi handles Broken Wall’s scheduling. That is the easiest explanation as to why it is more reliable than any time keeping device I can name. That clockwork efficiency, while exploitable, has it’s upside. The moment we docked I was able to make a beeline across the city, single-minded in my purpose and absolutely sure of my destination.

Upon my arrival at the Temple District compound I was stopped by guards. Hurriedly I informed them I was with the expedition that launched yesterday and that I needed to speak with Broken Walls urgently. Broken Walls soon noted my presence and fixed me with a concerned stare. Dismissing his people he took me immediately aside to inquire why I had so unexpectedly returned.

I partway expected to be denounced as crazy. Hell, there are days I can’t be sure I haven’t cracked straight down the middle. We are, all of us, fairly eccentric but where is the line between eccentricity and madness and how in Creation can you tell once someone has crossed it for good? Maybe I’m too scared to seek answers on that point. To my considerable relief Broken Walls calmly accepted my tale as fact and agreed that it seemed out of character for Aster and Saiten to behave as they had. Unfortunately he couldn’t be certain if she had used her power on Saiten. I’d hoped since Broken Walls had witnessed it’s use before he’d have more concrete insights. No such luck.

We developed a haphazard plan. Stationing myself on the roof of a warehouse I watched Broken Walls approach Aster and Saiten from afar. I’ve become accustomed to the instant gratification of knowing what people are talking about at this distance and it was harder than I expected to resist the temptation to eavesdrop. Broken Walls had prepared himself by plugging his ears with beeswax and bringing a pen and paper to converse. We hoped it would serve to insulate him from the effect of Aster’s voice.

Once we reconvened Broken Walls handed me what Aster had wrote. Supposedly she regretted her decision and wanted to get back underway. Saiten for his part had remained firm in his belief that remaining in Champoor was the right course until Broken Walls had taken pains to convince him otherwise. I suppose it’s reassuring that he isn’t willing to blindly follow Aster’s every whim…

Something still doesn’t make sense to me. Aster had seemed so sure, so utterly confident in her course of action. Why change her mind again so suddenly? Broken Walls questioned me about suspicious characters on the boat thinking some sort of outside influence might be taking advantage of Aster’s moment of weakness. It is as likely a cause as any but I am at a complete loss as to how.

Whatever the case Broken Walls and I agreed that if Aster was having some sort of breakdown or is being manipulated by outside forces it would be best she do so away from the city. We made arrangements to borrow a couple of Stone’s Passing’s homing pigeons so that if Aster did prove to be unstable word could be sent. One of my network from inside Rising Sun was drafted to join us on our journey. One can’t expect him to be of much help if the worst happens but you never know who might be of use in a pinch.

I don’t know what to think. In the past I’ve felt guilty about not being sincere with Aster. She has confided in me during periods of personal crisis and believes I am her friend but right now I don’t want to be anywhere near her. Watching Champoor fade beyond the horizon the keen edge of separation bit deep surprising me. I hadn’t realized I’d miss Broken Walls, Chaoxi, Spindlewisp, Toki, Xi… Enough nonsense. It’s being so worn out from frayed nerves that has me caught up so. I just need rest.

Resplendent Earth 20

The ride North across the Dreaming Sea was uneventful. For the most part I stayed aloft where I wouldn’t run afoul of Aster. Fretting wasn’t going to do me much good so I chose to focus inward on what I could change. It’s past time I started gaining control over my thoughts and emotions so I’m not at their mercy as I so often am.

Sailing is agreeable for fostering contemplation. At night the stars were so bright they seemed almost within reach. I forgot how dull they appear in Champoor. Since the introduction of nightlife they have seemed to become even harder to see. Autumnal cold seemed to make them sharper and closer. The first breaths of approaching winter blew brisk over the salt water sweeping the bile of paranoia and fear from my addled mind. The days are getting steadily shorter and that holds some baring on me . The fading power of the sun as the seasons turn isn’t something we’re told to enjoy but I always have. The patient hording of food waiting for the spring to return, armies laying down their arms or digging in to weather the cold and wet. It is a time of stillness, darkness, patience… and beauty. Champoor might be too far south for snow but it always brings back fond memories. I liked the sound of it best. The muffled closeness that made everything feel like it was wrapped in a fluffy down blanket. The heliotrope reflections of when the sun hit it at just the right angle or the luminous full moon on the untouched newly fallen snow. Turning the ordinary into an extraordinary place for just a little while.

Winter can be deadly, the cold kills those with no proof against it. Planning and patience makes it bareable until the wheel of seasons turns. In troubling times one must have faith that things will eventually improve so I shall try.

We landed and offloaded the horses and wagons with no incident. The overland leg of our journey will take us to the North East. Aster’s behavior seems to have returned to normal but I’ve maintained my distance. She is enamored by the forest we are passing through flitting here and there marveling at the landscape. Saiten is likewise showing an interest toward the unfamiliar terrain though his is more academic or perhaps culinary, he seems focused on identifying edibles along the trail.

The landscape reminds me somewhat of the forests around where I grew up, at least in regard to the flora. That familiarity is more odd than reassuring. I think we must not be terribly far from the easternmost fringe of the Confederation of Rivers.

That vision I had, and the forest we’re passing through, has put me in frame of mind to wonder if I should ever attempt to visit my family. It’s a ridiculous fantasy, what would my parents even make of me? It is impossible to imagine a place I’d have amongst them but the alternative is to let time march on and erase any chance I have of knowing. Do I owe them closure or will I regret not satisfying my curiosity as to what became of them?

My dreams for years have shown me a multitude of reunions with them and all of them have been painful in one way or another. The warmth and affection that they freely gave me as a child cannot be borne by me as an adult. What if they demand an explanation? Recounting all that has happened to them would be like reopening old wounds I fought to stitch closed. Catharsis is something I’ve already achieved and the means by which I found it is definitely something they’d disapprove of. I’m nothing like their memories of me and maybe it’s kinder for all of us if I leave things there.

I can only really count on my Grandmother’s reaction. She believed wholeheartedly that wyld mutations are a sign of weak moral character and I haven’t exactly proven her wrong. For some reason I can’t imagine the old woman having passed away. If anything she’d probably live forever out of pure spite that death would dare inconvenience her. Her ironclad disapproval shouldn’t matter but at the same time I don’t want to face it knowing I never lived it down.

At present there is no time to deviate from our path so I don’t need make a decision but I don’t think time will make an answer any more apparent. I could weigh every outcome and benefit for a millennia and be no closer to an answer but I haven’t that long. I am also not in the best company to ask an opinion. Saiten and Aster’s parents are deceased. Even if I thought it wise to ask their opinion it would probably be tactless.

Resplendent Earth 24

Travelling overland and wanting something other than my thoughts to occupy me I have spent some time getting to know our guards. In Champoor I’d gotten used to speaking with a number of people on a very consistent basis and I found myself missing that contact. I might not be candid about my true identity to a great number of my acquaintances but that doesn’t mean I place no value on our interaction. I’m content to listen and that is companionship of a sort.

The guards are a varied lot but most of them are sailors of the Renoh family or were hired and trained out of poverty and drilled to military standards of discipline by Rising Sun. I’ve been sparring with them and find that they are surprisingly adept considering most of them only started training this year. Oob is practically unrecognizable from the slovenly Rathouse bandit he was when we first met. Exercise, discipline and the adoption of hygiene have made him almost distinguished. He now commands with competence and fights like a man born with a sword in hand. Strange.

Handily since my alias Sun Shen Li was in the tournament my presence is easily explained. I am a hired guard with the unusual ability to perceive and communicate with spirits. Normally I don’t advertise my skills but I’ve been keeping an eye on the local spirits and people tend to be put off when someone behaves as though interacting with something invisible. At present I am well aware that there are a few who think I am putting on an act in a bid for attention. They are welcome to believe what they want for I do not care.

Aster and Saiten continue to attempt to amuse themselves. Saiten seems to be struggling with trying to find ways to make the journey into more of a workout and Aster well… is Aster. She sings, she marvels at the scenery she flutters here and there. Most of our guards are content to stay out of their way and maintain a kind of reverent distance. I wonder if that is a good thing.

As for me well… I don’t like being confined to a single body for long periods of time but I’m trying to make the best of it. It’s addictive being anyone you want to be but being deprived of my normal indulgences has made me appreciate them all the more. I’ve been blending into the pack of guards which if anything has been useful in retraining my reference for what “normal” is. Useful practice I guess.

The guards tend to tease me for being a “shrimp”. Having experienced extremes on both ends of the spectrum I can’t say I prefer being tall or short but seeing this as an avenue to merit the occasional retaliatory prank I’ve elected to treat it as a good-natured insult. Oob has lectured me rather sternly about some pranks but seems to appreciate others. Apparently convincing someone they have ingested a fatally poisonous mushroom is “mean spirited” but shaving an eyebrow off a sleeping sentry is perfectly fine. I’m not sure where finding my sleeping bag filled with nettles and sand last night falls on this spectrum but Willows over Rivers is going to learn tampering with my rest exacts a heavy price.

We have been pushing the pace to make better time continuing late each evening by the illumination of Aster’s pendant. Late yesterday we encountered some ghostly highway men, a prickly giant boar and something I’m told is called an Ox Dragon. Of them , the first wisely decided we weren’t worth troubling with, the second was bludgeoned to death by Saiten in the space of half a minute and the third Aster told us not to harm which was wise as it didn’t seem to be aggressive.

Afterwards Aster attempted to incinerate the body of the boar with her golden fire drawing objection from Saiten who wished to add it’s meat to our supply. Aster seemed to think the creature was holding a grudge in the afterlife and was continuing to suffer. The guards watched stoically not wanting to intervene but I could tell a number of them would have preferred a meat dinner over the increasingly unappetizing trail rations. Weighing in what I had been told I informed Aster that animals don’t tend to hold grudges over singular offenses the same way humans do and only sustained patterns of mistreatment might earn enough animosity to merit an angry ghost pig. Moreover average funerary rites and prayers were more than often enough for most human spirits.

To assuage Aster’s fears and appease Saiten’s appetite I said a brief rite for the boar. Nergui taught me that for Gods and ghosts the principles are virtually the same. Acknowledge, show gratitude or remorse for trespass and observe polite reverence. That done our soldiers cleaned the kill and roasted the meat. I think they may have rubbed it with some sort of hot pepper to attempt to counteract some of the gamey flavour which didn’t really work. It was still very gamey. The cooks wrapped up and salted the remaining meat with the hope aging should improve the flavour. It’s cold enough that it should keep a while.

In the morning I surveyed the deforestation the Ox dragon caused. Curious I peered into the spirit realm to see what the spirits made of the disturbance. There was only one. A tiny rock-kami who was running in circles and screaming. Asking what troubled it specifically the spirit pointed it’s tiny fingers and flailed indicating it’s surroundings while maintaining it’s high pitched scream. It had impressive lung capacity for something so small. Unable to help I muttered an apology and was surprised when it abruptly stopped screaming, made a noise sort of like “huh!” and buried itself in the ground seemingly content. I left a small prayer slip behind apologizing for the upset for any other spirits who may have been displaced by the disturbed earth. It really doesn’t seem to take much to appease these spirits but I’m trying to get in the habit of exhibiting better manners.

Descending Earth 10

We have at last arrived in Zingma’s Tree, a town which is aptly named for the massive tree that once overshadowed the town. Now it has fallen, diminishing the grandeur of what must have been a spectacular sight.

Travelling toward the stump we noted a perfect circle of new saplings which at first I thought little of until noticing the even distribution of trees was too regular to be natural. A sour and unpleasant fragrance lingered about the place reminding me vaguely of Champoor. Smelling this scent for the first time in isolation I recognized it as a unique odor and not the byproduct of a melange of mingling human waste and trash as I had once thought. It seemed out of place in an area alive with natural spirits tending to the trees or loafing about as spirits are wont to do. The spirits themselves had a very “green” smell about them, like damp moss or fresh rain. The nebulous nature of the stink’s source added to the unnatural quality.

Dasadi’s instructions were clear and we easily found the boulder beside the stump that dominated the center of what was once a lively village. It took no goading for Saiten to not just push, but lift the boulder revealing a set of descending spiral stairs. We were greeted by the whirr of crystalline gears as the bird who had found us in Champoor flew up from below to tell us we were in the right place but at the wrong time. Dasadi supposedly disappears every second day and makes his re-appearance at twilight. The bird also warned us not to go down lest we disturb “the dog”.

Curious, but unwilling to assume the role of the proverbial cat, we elected to wait at the mouth of the stair. Pork soup was put on to boil for supper in preparation for Dasadi to properly break his fast. One of the men, Shining Rain’s Hammer, argued caution claiming that we should endevour to not be in the circle at midnight fearing some sort of supernatural confluence. I’ve heard that bit of folklore before. Something about not crossing through rings lest one be cursed and never allowed to leave again. To be safe I requested our company not do anything that might defile the ground we are on as it was spiritually active.

The sun sunk low over the horizon and shortly after Dasadi appeared at the cave mouth, emaciated, carrying his filthy clothes in his arms and wearing nothing but a belt which did little to preserve his modesty. He was flanked by a large spirit in the shape of a dog. Aster and Saiten averted their eyes, obviously embarrassed to witness Dasadi naked. Aster’s reaction wasn’t surprising but Saiten’s vehement disgust initially puzzled me. Surely he’s seen masculine genitalia before? I’d understand being squeamish if Dasadi’s were mutilated or some such but aside from being pale his were unremarkable.

Ah- come to think of it Nexus’s bathing customs favour the style of baths taken alone in a small tubs. Public bathing there has a negative stigma. I had theories during my time living there that it had something to do with the large number of mutants. Idiots sometimes think they can “catch” a mutation like a disease by sharing amenities like bathwater probably leading to the decline of public bathing. Saiten’s abhorrence of nakedness could be the result of observing that custom from the standpoint of a moderately wealthy merchant family.

Dasadi sat at the fire and accepted a bowl of soup silently as the dog settled behind him and the bird perched on his shoulder. He offered a seed to a small acorn spirit riding a passing squirrel before tucking into his food. He barely registered us at first. I wasn’t surprised. Just because one’s ordeal ends doesn’t automatically equate instant recovery. Aster and Saiten kept their distance until after I draped a blanket over our companion reestablishing some decorum and ensuring he didn’t catch his death.

The first thing to cut through Dasadi’s inattention was Rain’s Hammer’s urging to abandon the circle. He quailed as Dasadi fixed him with a mad eyed glare and forced some seeds into his hand gesturing that he plant them leading me to conclude that he had something to do with the circle of saplings and thus had nothing to fear.

Trusting Dasadi knew his business we made camp. Finishing his soup he retired to the tent we had pitched for him. I had noted that Dasadi’s clothes were ragged and smelled appallingly so I left my baggiest spares next to his bedroll. He’d lost so much weight I surmised they would likely fit despite the difference in our heights and builds. They might not flatter but they’d make do.

Rain’s Hammer, despite our reassurances, remained anxious about being in the circle at midnight. Since I was keeping vigil and grew tired of watching him fidget I offered him my necklace of carved bone magatama telling him it would offer him protection from minor spirits to settle him.

It doesn’t. Minor spirits are ambivalent to the presence of humans and rarely manifest.

Still the way he clutched it like a child’s security blanket calmed his nerves enough that he didn’t run screaming into the night. He continued agonizing as midnight approached but the so called “witching hour” passed without incident. I kept watch throughout the night to make sure our camp was not taken by surprise but aside from tiny spirits and a few scavenging squirrels all was still.

Descending Earth 11

Dasadi emerged this morning from his tent again completely nude. He quickly realized his error and donned the clothes I had left him but my companions took awhile to shake off their dismay. When he rejoined us he seemed more present. Not entirely back to his old self but more willing to speak. It took him a bit to recognize Aster and Saiten and when he turned his attention on me I hinted we’d met before. He stared at me in a somewhat unsettling manner for a few seconds but the explanation seemed to satisfy him and I figured he’d already inferred who I was.

We spoke to Dasadi and the mechanical bird as the dog lumbered off and destroyed a bunch of empty houses. When asked about the nature of said canine and why he was collapsing nearby fixtures Dasadi told us offhandedly he “manifested it from his own will” and that it “dislikes the structures of man”.

How very reassuring.

We turned our questions toward the nature of the bird who seemed to find our inquiry rude. I imagine were I a more empathetic person I would pity it the rough time it was in for rather than resent the reprimand. After all it’s going to have to get used to answering the question “what are you?” on an extremely regular basis since well distributed etiquette books detailing the finer points of conversing with mechanical birds DON’T EXIST. The bird reluctantly explained that it is an artifact of extreme age that Dasadi found trapped in the rubble of the cave and that it sustains itself off conversation and song. Funny, if conversation were my sustenance I might think twice about being a disagreeable curmudgeon lest I starve.

Dasadi gave us the run down as to how he had managed to get himself so throughly stuck. A little over a month ago when he had arrived the area was in the process of converting into a shadow-land and the spirit of Zingma’s tree had been terminally ill as a result. Dasadi had replanted a number of seeds left to him by the dying God of the tree but the man who had been assisting him , Javier of Falling Snow had tricked him into descending into the cave and sealed the entrance behind him.

It’s also worth mentioning that prior to Dasadi’s arrival the skeletal structures of the former citizenry of Zingma’s tree had marched off presumably to devastate neighboring villages. I imagine we’re going to encounter their aftermath further down the road since we are a month behind them. I’d somewhat hoped I wouldn’t have to reckon with another army of undead so soon after Akimu but as usual the fates don’t give a damn about my preferences.

His story complete Dasadi showed interest in what we had gotten up to since we last spoke. Telling him of the discovery of a Wyld rift in the bay, Tenepeshu’s reassigning of godly domains and our brief brush with the Realm it became apparent how much has happened in so short a space of time. It seems a lifetime ago but in reality it wasn’t that long since we parted ways. Midway through our tale Dasadi seemed to focus again on me asking who I was. Somewhat taken aback I refrained that we had met before to which he gave me a blank look. “In Volivat” I supplied trying to jog his memory. He put a hand up slowly to his mouth as if who I was had finally dawned on him.

So…I guess he hadn’t figured out who I was then.

On the journey here I had resolved to ask Dasadi what he knows of the Dreaming and hopefully gain a little insight as to what happened to me. Maybe I’ll wait a bit to ask him about it until he’s collected himself. I think he has enough on his plate at present.

Piper's Journal 29
Corrupted Words and Minds

Resplendent Earth 12

Normally routine scheduling is not something I subject myself to but I have to admit predictability is comforting during troubling times. Champoor is molding itself into a new shape with us here. The process happens with startling speed. Broken Walls and Chaoxi have been laboring to build an army and the new Temple district. Aster has been spreading clinics around the city and improving sanitation. Even Saiten, after a month away on some mysterious retreat has been running self defense classes for citizens tired of being the victim. Life improves in the general sense for the populace here as a result and things have stabilized with the Gods of Champoor. Kadu has fallen out of favor sightly but the rest seem willing to live and let live.

My spy network has structured itself into proper cells under my commanders. As a safety precaution only my high level agents are aware of “The Warren” and we’ve adopted a number of sub organizations within the structure who have little idea they are operating within a larger whole. I’ve kept Broken Walls appraised of my progress in vague terms, helping smooth alliances and spot trouble before it starts. We play games together in the evening still. He has been trying to teach me a game called “Gateway” lately but I get the sense that even had I not recently restructured how I think from the ground up I would struggle to understand these esoteric rules.

Hearing of my fellow Solar’s exploits ad nauseum is impossible to avoid. Everything they do publicly- and sometimes privately- is reported through my agents since their notoriety is so marked and my links to them not well known. The most distressing is that Aster has taken to spending time with Silgur and told none of us beforehand. If I didn’t have contacts in Rathouse I might not have known myself. My best guess is she is trying to “reform” him or something of that ilk. I don’t know, my contact wasn’t present in the room to learn of what they spoke about and the rumors of the Rathouse regulars are divided. All I know for sure is the two spoke and she was allowed to leave Rathouse unmolested. Crazy as Silgur might be I’m certain he knows that if he tried to lay a finger on Aster his hideout would be ash by dawn. In that theoretical scenario I might not even be the culprit, in some places in the city she is worshiped like a Goddess.

Even with the pains I take to keep a low profile I can not completely escape notoriety. The rumors of a “Void Being” existing in Champoor have been circulating and has captured the curiosity and imagination of my network. I told them to keep an eye out for more information to see how fast they can find me. It will be an interesting exercise.

If anything is to be the culprit outting me it’s likely to be our lunchs. While it presents a security risk, Broken Walls has instituted a group lunch arranged bi-weekly at different restaurants in Champoor. The amount of attention we draw is enough to set me on edge and I do my best to make sure nothing of any particular importance is ever discussed in these public venues but the others seem to appreciate the change of scenery. While I enjoy novelty myself I miss the days when people didn’t care who we were. Now they try very hard to impress us and I find that difficult to tolerate.

Today was one such lunch and we chose a modest soba house to eat at. The owner kept hovering about refilling tea and fretting, adding extras on for free and the like. I had just taken my first bite when Saiten drew our attention upwards. The sky was the dull dusty blue that passed for sunny in Champoor and there was something flashing on the horizon like a signal mirror. At a distance I could tell it made some sort of repetitive clinking and whirring sound. It kind of reminded me of the machines we heard in Volivat only much higher pitched.

The object appeared to be on trajectory to pass overhead harmlessly but at the last moment it spiraled down and hovered inches above the table. It proved itself to be a small mechanical bird with oricalcum framework and powered by crystalline gears of ice. Aster offered it her finger, which it immediately lit on and opened it’s beak. Startlingly, it spoke in Dasadi’s voice.

The bird replayed a message Dasadi had spoken to it in which Dasadi explained that he was sending us a message from Zingma’s Tree where he has managed to get himself trapped underground. Supposedly the town is in dire straights being threatened by skeletal undead called “Bonesiders”. The exorcist had mentioned when we met that he had been investigating cases of Puppeteers disease, by report it’s gotten much worse. Once finished it’s missive the bird spoke in it’s own voice telling us it’s plan to help ferry food and drink to Dasadi so he didn’t starve while he awaits rescue. A bird that size is going to have a hard time feeding an adult human for any length of time so it was plain we should make haste. We told the bird to inform Dasadi we were on our way.

Aster, always attentive to the needs of others, offered the bird some sustenance. The mechanical bird refused an offer of food from our table (having no guts to speak of) but requested a song which Aster and I performed for it by way of thanks before it sped off the way it came.

This is the second time some sort of unusual avian creature has stepped in to direct us toward rescuing Dasadi, the first being the little fire bird which fetched us to fish him out of the Dreaming Sea. Having an affinity with birds seems a useful skill given his affinity for winding up in circumstances he can’t get himself out of.

We made hastened preparations to set off exempting Broken Walls who demurred given the responsibility he believes he holds to Champoor. We are still awaiting word from Kampthehar and leaving the city during such a crucial stage seems unwise. He threw us a farewell party that night at which he seemed morose at not coming with us. Aster in turn seemed quite fraught over leaving Broken Walls behind. It was all sickeningly sentimental given if all went to plan we’d be back practically before they knew we were gone.

Resplendent Earth 13

എല്ലാം തെറ്റ് പോയിരിക്കുന്നു. ഈ യാത്ര വളരെ ലളിതമായിരുന്നു. അതല്ലായിരുന്നു. നമ്മൾ തിരിച്ചുപോകുന്നു, ഒന്നും ചെയ്യാൻ പറ്റില്ല. ഞാൻ പേടിക്കുന്നു, മറയ്ക്കുന്നു. അവൾ എന്നെ കാണുന്നില്ല.

मैं आभारी हूँ for this physical record of my thoughts. Right now I am Γραφή this by candlelight in the hold of the ship Saiten’s ਬਦਲਾ so that I may later review it to համոզվեք, որ իմ միտքը չի եղել been tampered with.

મેં કંઈક કર્યું. તે આ સમયે નિષ્ફળ ગયું. હું તેના પર કામ કરી રહ્યો છું. GODS OF LICE AND POX! I need to be calm. I’ve tried something and it backfired. This will pass. I will be fine- Well, maybe not “fine” given what just transpired. Fuck this is a mess. I’d tear out this page but it has my previous entry on the back and now- Whatever, moving on.

The পূর্বাভাস OMENS for this voyage were all wrong from the start. This رحلة journey occurring four months to the day from our last one over the חולמת Dreaming sea. Thirteen and Four- ਬਦਕਿਸਮਤ inauspicious numbers both. To make matters worse the night before I had a dream of the common space filling with murky water. My friends and I struggled to keep our heads above it but finding myself chained by the ankle I began to flounder. I called for the help of my friends and as I did the door to the common area burst open and the shoulder height water began to rush away. The current was so strong that it knocked everyone off their feet. My friends were swept away but I, anchored as I was, lost my footing and was forced under by the strong current.

Upon waking, aside from the obvious jitters of confronting my childhood fear of drowning I observed something of a sense of constriction and something less easy to place. Melancholic but indirect somehow. As usual these notions quickly passed but left a lingering unease.

I dressed that morning in the guise of Sun Shen Li , the alias I had created for the tournament. The end result was not as comfortable as a disguise from the dreaming but was a more sensible choice given how uneasy I felt last time sleeping in close quarters with the crew. A curtain is was not a sufficient a privacy barrier for comfort and I’ve come to value my rest for the off chance I actually do sleep peacefully.

We left in the morning to literal fanfare. Broken Walls astride his horse looking like a figure from legends in sparkling brilliant armour seeing us off with a contingent of guards who gave us a ceremonial salute. Onlookers clogged traffic at the dock as he told all attending that we were departing the city. Why in Creation he did this I can’t fathom. Admitting that your allies are leaving temporarily in front of the public in a way that’s practically engineered to make the rumor mill spin like a top is tantamount to yelling “We are weak, now is the perfect time to take advantage!”

I said nothing. I’ve stopped advising my compatriots regarding pulling these flashy stunts. They don’t care and nagging them does nothing but make me appear paranoid.

At last Broken Walls and Chaoxi climbed down from their horses and swept us into embraces. I froze as Broken Walls manhandled my resisting body into a hug battling sudden chills and shortness of breath. Doing my best to bare it I wasn’t prepared for Chaoxi to follow suit. She broke off her embrace just as I was becoming convinced I was going to faint.

Slightly shell-shocked I clambered aboard and we set sail to the Northeast. By noon I was bored. Bringing a board game over to the ship’s infirmary where Aster was checking supplies I tried to coerce her into trying a game of Go. The game is complicated to master but the basic principles aren’t that hard. Played between equals the game ebbs and flows sometimes seeking points where the two players choose mutual existence rather than domination.

It wasn’t to be. Aster was distraught, indecisive and bemoaning the situation Dasadi had got himself into and that she couldn’t immediately save him. Contrastingly she didn’t want to leave her work in Champoor or Broken Walls who “missed us so terribly”. She was at the point of hysterics. I pointed out that we were doing all we could for Dasadi at present and that Broken Walls and Dasadi could manage for a little while without us. She resisted attempts to cheer her and seemed to be intent on lamenting not being able to help everyone at once. I don’t know what brought on this sudden attack of megrims but worried and suspecting that she probably required a hug or something I decided to fetch a surrogate. I wasn’t about to subject myself to that twice in one day.

Saiten was the obvious choice. I informed him that Aster was acting bizarrely and to see if he had any luck cheering her up. He headed below decks while I followed at a distance, posting myself outside the room to eavesdrop where I figured I’d be properly safe from any emotionally fueled embraces.

Saiten ended up saying basically the same things I did, trying to quell Aster’s, somewhat narcissistic, regret that she couldn’t alleviate everyone’s pain at all times. I get it, honestly I do. I am often frustrated that I cannot achieve everything I wish as powerful as I am but that’s just the price of being human. We need to prioritize. Inadvertently Saiten also mentioned this and expressed, like I did, that Dasadi would be fine until we came to rescue him as he knew we were on our way and were doing the best we could.

Abruptly Aster stopped crying though this was not comforting as it should have been. Her voice flattened to an uncharacteristic monotone. “You’re right.” She said with abrupt leaden certainty “He will be fine without us. We should go back to Champoor.” The hair on the nape of my neck promptly stood straight up.

Saiten backpedaled ferociously and layed on a speech that I wouldn’t have considered possible of him revealing a deep reservoir of feeling. He spoke of priorities – of helping our friends, even those we didn’t know very well and of his belief in his duty to assist the villagers of Zingma’s Tree who would be desperately in need of help. By the end of his short speech I believed he would lay down his life to protect any of us if we were in trouble. I don’t consider myself particularly prone to being effected by speeches full of ardor and fire but even I wasn’t unmoved.

If Saiten’s argument had been full of passion and shiny oricalcum gilded ideals of friendship and heroism then the counter argument Aster gave was one of iron handed practicality. No less correct perhaps but cold and dispassionate, delivered with magisterial imperative. She spoke of the duty we owed the people of Champoor, of how the suffering of the few were paltry compared to the needs of the masses.

She spoke with a most un-Asterlike air of authority as though her recommendations were the obvious choice. I can’t say she didn’t have a solid point but it was the source that made it seem aberrant. The Aster I know isn’t a creature of decisive bloody handed practicality. Trust me it takes one to know one. She twisted the definition of “hero” that Saiten bandies about to suit her vision and at the end Saiten swallowed it. “I guess you’re right.” he murmured thoughtfully.

Saiten, the man whom I could barely halt from diving into an enemy camp for a few lousy hours just agreed to abandon Dasadi and deny himself the opportunity to fight an entire army of undead and play the hero!

For an instant I was convinced my blood had transmuted into icy seawater. I had spoken to Aster before about her ability to sway people to her cause she had phrased it along the lines of “her light spilling into others and inspiring them”. She hadn’t liked being questioned about the ethics of overriding people’s autonomy but she had made it clear that to her the ends justified the means if it meant ensuring someone’s safety. Her wholehearted belief in her own brand of righteousness, a belief that painted “her light” as a unilateral force for goodness – overrode the necessity of other’s petty squabbling. At the time it had concerned me… terrified me actually but I had at least doubted she would use that power on us.

But what am I to think now?

I slunk behind some piled crates peering though a crack at the door as Aster strode through it, graceful, queenly, confident.

The Lady of the Golden Voice.

This was bad and not simply because she was going to turn the ship around and Dasadi might die as a result. What would happen if she met Broken Walls in this state? He commands a bloody army, what might she convince him to do in the face of this sudden about-face into forbidding austerity?! Tempestuous fury boiled in my veins at the notion I might end up hollowed out into obliging subservience. I’ve spent too much of my life being a toy for powerful people but at least I had the liberty to hate it! I wasn’t about to let us all become a puppets for some cross-grained seventeen year old!

I needed to slow her down, I needed time to try and talk some sense into Saiten. Scrabbling to think of something, anything I could do I reached out to my own power and came into contact with something… slimy?

“Fáisc ritskoða tišina nghloëdig”

Bind… Censor.. Silence… Sealed?

In a calm moment I might have not been so willing to use something I didn’t fully understand. This was not a calm moment. Recklessly I threw my will behind the alien words that lingered in my mind pledging anything to stop her from going back to Champoor. As I did I the strange syllables sunk into the fabric of my mind becoming a part of me. I could perceive some measure of delicate resistance and applying more force I felt the object of my focus slightly give. Then, as if in response something pushed back along that connection with absolute dominance of will. I struggled but the connection twisted and snapped causing my ears to ring.

Saiten and Aster passed my hiding place by seemingly oblivious. I remained frozen in place listening to her order the Captain back to Champoor above decks. I do not quite understand what happened but there is something very-very wrong with Aster. Changing into the form of a sailor I found this corner of the hold to hide in and started writing.

I have to get to Broken Walls as soon as I can and hope that he believes me.

Piper's Journal 28
Skipping through Time

Resplendent Earth 1

I have been remiss in my records these past months. Life has been difficult for a variety of reasons which I shall soon make plain. At the time due to overwhelming exhaustion I made excuses against spending time writing down a daily record of events.

It hasn’t been all bad. There is nothing of our battle with the forces of the Realm to tell of because it never took place. We received a missive from one of their messengers informing us that a scout had escaped our takeover of the camp and reported our potential ambush. The message further detailed that they’d be opening diplomatic channels to address terms and the return of hostages. A relief.

Dedecasi’s Demise and her temporary handler never arrived back at our arranged meeting. The Heart family have abandoned the property where Glorious Star of Summer’s Glory is staying and though the presence of this man in the city makes me uneasy I was willing to let the matter slide as I was possessed of a more pressing personal problem.

Night after night I had been plagued with nightmares becoming steadily more vivid. During the day I threw myself into elaborating and structuring my spy network and funding the operation by stealing from slave brokers. Easy, rewarding, work. The coffers of my organization and it’s ranks of assets swelled.

Still possessed of spare hours to fill I continued my study with Nergui and the lost gods of Gisig’s alley trying to understand the world of the unseen and even took to amusing Indebted Blood of Fire so he better bares his captivity. Hard work served to distract myself from dwelling on my nightly visions from my past, dreams illustrating fears I never knew I had and increasingly what I suspected may be omens of the future.

Worryingly when I awoke instead of reality reasserting itself and making the dreams seem distant and faded the world around me instead seemed flimsier and less substantial. My attempts to find any literature explaining the nature of dreams was useless. What does exist holds mostly conjecture. Much of what I found contained so called remedies for nightmares that were complete poppycock. No tea or elixir did anything and no recommended amulet did any good.

One obscure text I found recommended wearing an iron pendant or even a common iron nail on a necklace to bed. It was the first time anything made any difference but it did not help. Rather I awoke from a particularly bad nightmare with an iron nail on my chest that seared colder than Akkimu’s daggers and gave me the first scar I’ve obtained since becoming a solar.

I tried whatever I could find. Techniques supposed to allow someone to dream lucidly failed miserably. The dreams just became more peculiar and disturbing as though resisting my control. My next recourse was to avoid sleep when I could but exhaustion would eventually drag me down. I would fall asleep reading in Rising Sun’s common room or on top Broken Wall’s tower.

I meditated. I tired myself to utter physical exhaustion. I took sleeping droughts. Nothing changed for the better until one night it took a decided turn for the worst.

I dreamt the most vivid dream I had ever experienced. In it I sat atop a hill overlooking the once familiar landscape of my childhood home. I was flanked by two figures who, in the way of dreams, I was not alarmed by. I faced the figure on my left, a man about my age, light framed and of slight stature sitting on his heels and keeping his enormous brown and white wings slightly open to enjoy the cool evening air.

The sun was setting and the gold light of the fading day painted him in it’s hues. His long ponytail of dark brown hair was sun streaked and his raw silk hitatare, if one could call it that, bore a simple hatched pattern of green and white over dun colored pants. The hitatare had slashes at the back that ran from shoulder height to the hem of the garment and tied shut at the waist with a woven sash. The man’s hands were calloused from hard work and he had the look of a peasant labourer.

Aside from the rather obvious extra appendages and the subtle lack of my trace-work of thin scars on my arms , he was my double. He held himself with casual confidence of place and was very much at his ease.

“What are you?” I asked him. I was not scared or suspicious as I otherwise might have been meeting someone affecting my form but I was curious. He smiled and closed his eyes, savoring the breeze “Don’t ya mean who?” he teased. His voice was mine but his dialect was the one I no longer spoke. Speaking anything but the “proper” Great Forks dialect in front of my former master would have earned any of us a hard taste of a fan and the enduring alteration of habit reinforced with violence was hard to break. It was this Great Forks accent to which I was trained that addressed me from the right and though it spoke with an implicit sense of humour as well it sent a shiver down my spine.

“I do hope I will not be so rudely addressed when it’s my turn.”

Turning to face the speaker I gasped though by rights I should have screamed. The figure that sat there appeared to be years dead, it’s skin in places had eroded entirely showing yellowed bone poking between blackened rotten skin. It was dressed in silk and ornament in layer upon layer of once richly dyed damask. Here and there the beautiful garments were marred by the brown and yellow stains of long dried fluids. Blood and other, somehow more ghastly marks of putrefaction. The familiar gold and jade ring about it’s neck was mostly obscured by the chain that had been tightly wound twice about it and snapped at one of it’s links. The corpse’s arm twisted at a ghastly angle and through the hair that still stuck to it’s skull one could see the bone on one side had caved giving the fiendish apparition a sadly lopsided appearance.

It held itself rigidly upright as though it’s back had been tied to a board though it’s chest cavity moved giving it the illusion it breathed. It’s head tilted toward me affecting a very poised look though it did not turn to face me head on. It’s mannerisms affected the standard that was once enforced upon me and it’s movements when it made them were deliberate and formal. It had no eyes to speak of though the side closest to me still had eyelids that formed a hollow that at least gave it the impression of having an eye. “Don’t be frightened.” It said, it’s voice calm and even “Neither I nor our friend over there mean you harm.” It’s voice confirmed my suspicion that this was as much a version of myself as the man to my left though it sounded slightly younger in timbre.

My ghastly companion reached up with it’s good arm and tapped it’s skull just below the deep indentation. “I’m sure you’ve realized who we are by now.” it said dryly “Count yourself fortunate to have avoided my fate.” The winged man… Kyouya, I suppose since that is what he would have been called, shifted on my left reaching across my back to put a comforting hand on the shoulder of the corpse.

I squeezed my eyes shut. This was a very bizarre encounter and though it wasn’t frightening I knew I must be dreaming and wished to be granted the benefit of awakening before this whole ordeal became any stranger. Opening my eyes I was instead treated to an outlandish vista that I lack even the capacity to fully comprehend much less describe. The hill we rested on seemed to be dissolving midway into this landscape that bent and twisted in subtlety impossible ways.

Kyouya regarded this change of scenery with a stern expression. “It’s been comin’ closer every night.” He said in a low voice. The ground at the bottom of the hill crumbled and sheered away but when I made to stand the corpse beside me wrapped it’s strong papery fingers about my wrist and tugged me back down. “Not so fast.” it cautioned fixing me with that small void where it’s eye should be “Once you’ve crossed that boundary there’s no going back and there is no sense in rushing the inevitable.”

I settled back on the hill shaking “What is it?” I asked the figures both of whom trained their attention on that inscrutable expanse. “The unshaped Dreaming.” the corpse said dully. It released my arm and turned it’s head so that it no longer faced the vista. Kyouya sighed “Not surprisin’ it’s coming to call given how you keep stealin’ from it.” he said somewhat reproachfully. “Stealing?” I repeated, surprised. “Yes, stealing.” The corpse hissed, venomous sarcasm dripping into it’s voice. The hair on the back of my neck raised, that intonation reminded me wholly too much of someone I hoped to forget one day.

The corpse nonplussed began to berate me, “Did you think you were clothing yourself in nothing? Everything that has ever existed, even for a short time has substance, a past, a present and future it doesn’t just disappear!” It reached into it’s ample sleeve and removed a hairpin. This particular one had belonged to the alias Mists of Ruby Skies. It tossed it to me for inspection “Everything winds up back here, oft’times with blood still on it! Dolt! Didn’t you ever think to wash?!” He was right, I could see it there on the pin, actually it was impossible to miss as it burned with a deep maroon light and made a barely perceptible sizzling sound like fat in a fire.

Kyouya plucked the ornament from my fingers “You probably already know it’s powerful stuff but Did’ja know blood’s got iron in it?” he said handling the delicate setting as though it were poisoned. “Trust me when I say iron n’dreams shouldn’t mix. You’ve been funnelin’ a couple a drops at a time back here pollutin’ the Dreaming and there are things in here who take issue. You’ve lured us- them right to you.” he explained gesturing with the hairpin. The hillside shuddered as a tree fell from the edge and the wind picked up blowing a host of unfamiliar scents into my sensitive nose.

“What do I do?” I asked hearing my voice quaver. Kyouya sighed remorsefully as though admitting defeat “Nothing. It was too late months, mebbe years gone…”

My companions tensed as the wind blew cold. The sun was slipping over that shifting horizon. My animated corpse-self rose to it’s feet with practiced grace unperturbed by the shifting sands beneath it’s feet. “Keep your bearings when the storm hits. You have blessings the like of which I could never have dreamed.” it advised bitterly turning to leave. I reached out to try and catch it’s sleeve but it slipped through my fingers with only a fleeting whisper of sensation and was gone. Kyouya rose next, dusting himself off. He stretched his lithe limbs and gave me an easy carefree smile “I’ll be getting back as well. Whatever comes to pass you’ll figure it out, it’s no good frettin’ about it now.”

He flared his wings to free bits of grass that stuck to his feathers sending it scattering then stopped as though remembering something. “You know… you might wanna visit your folks before it’s too late. Just cuz you’re some kinda immortal now doesn’t mean you have all the time in the world.” He said before he flashed his fingers in a wave and launched himself into the air flattening my hair with the downward draft. No sooner was he airborne when he too dissipated as though he had never existed and indeed he never would

I was still not alone.

I turned to face the shadowy being behind me. Even here it looked out of place. Distant points of light swirled through him making him blend into the fast approaching night sky. It offered me it’s hand and spoke in a voice that was not mine nor anyone’s “I offer no advice. Where you go I follow. My past and future are your inheritance.” it said. There was a strange sense of permanence about this version of me, if that’s indeed what it was. “Hold on.” It whispered in that voice that was no voice at all.

The hill beneath me crumbled as I lunged for it’s hand. During the battle of Akkimu the darkness I had been suffused with had been warm and penetrated clothing, flesh and bone. It had torn through the layers of my self like they were rice paper leaving me feeling a rare sense of serenity. In retrospect it should have been terrifying for it was as if the person I am, all my concerns and fears are just floating on the thin surface of an indifferent abyss. I had existed briefly upon it. Apart from it – detached and intact. Now I slipped beneath the surface of that same unfathomable depth and felt myself seized by it’s inhabitants and scattered like dust.

Waking came as a shock. There have been times I have bolted awake from nightmares but this was the first time I had ever regained consciousness on my feet. My futon was in ruins, I had shredded my sheets and tossed my washbasin through my makeup stand to leave it stuck by it’s rim in the wall. My bookshelf had sprouted a number of twigs which I wasn’t sure was a hallucination or even an alteration from how it was before and I was streaming violet fire tinged with green. My room, once intimately familiar looked alien, the objects foreign or just plain wrong. My heart hammered in my chest like it was trying to escape my ribs and I knew that if I didn’t calm down soon I was liable to die of heart failure.

I quickly dressed and left my room disguise-less. The common space was deserted.Picking up a reed pen and paper to scribble a note saying I would be away a few days I found that was one already on the paper in my handwriting. I left it on the table and walked out of the compound of Rising Sun House.

How many years has it been since I had walked disguiseless in public? People’s eyes flicked over me indifferent but I was hyper aware of their gaze. I purchased a few meager rations, mumbling my thanks to the merchant who reacted as though she couldn’t understand me and kept my eyes trained on the ground ahead of me. My senses were dulled to mortal standards but overwhelmed none-the-less, assaulted by sights, sounds and smells that I barely recognized.

Walking through the night I abandoned the road once I was out of town. After the initial nervous energy wore off I felt ‘sore’ for lack of a better term. It wasn’t exactly a physical sensation though it was hard to tell. Everything felt surreal. There were times when the sequence of events seemed jumbled. The legs of my pants soaked to the knee before I happened upon a stream or feeling the scratch of brambles only long after I stumbled through them. Emotionally I was effected by little to nothing. This was a blessing as I only distantly dreaded sleep and was largely ambivalent to the knowledge I couldn’t escape it forever.

I did sleep sometime around noon the next day curled in the long grass beneath a tree. My dreams seemed normal. Not particularly pleasant mind you but not unusual by my new standard. I awoke at twilight and resumed my walk. By this stage I was beginning to stop trying to shut out what I was experiencing and instead surrendering to it. Every so often I would become entranced by something I would have formerly considered mundane and stood in fascinated stupor until a sort of physical discomfort spurred me to abandon the object of my scrutiny. At one point I sung snatches of song and realized that the words were coming out wrong and just babbled for awhile reciting nonsense phrases that came out as unfamiliar words. No wonder the merchants looked confused- I had blathered complete gibberish at them.

The wound inflicting my mind was quickly stitching itself back together much like the physical wounds I sustain. Things weren’t exactly returning to “normal” but I was adapting and translating things I once knew from my previous comprehending to suit my new one. Sensory information, memory, emotion it was all coming back just not quite in the form it once had.

Limited food supply meant that I couldn’t stay in the wilds forever. Retracing my steps I encountered a number of oddities that I couldn’t help but recognize as being somehow my fault. I had also come back to myself enough to feel like I was walking around naked.

By the time I had gotten another day’s rest things were beginning to slide back into place. I wove a disguise about myself taking more time than I ever had at the task and watching the individual threads weave themselves, feeling my bones splinter and reform. The material was recognizably not of Creation once you knew exactly what to look for. No, these were convincing facsimiles of real objects made from a substance that was invited through barriers between realms to pretend at being the stuff of Creation. Real, but not really what it was pretending to be.

I am going to need to be more careful about what I do with it.

Being clad once again in the substance of my own dreams made me feel much more like my old self. I re-entered the city and in the weeks that followed became more adept at reclaiming what I once knew into the new paradigm I experience now. I am carefully piecing myself back together and faking normalcy until things destabilize. Broken Walls and Aster are not completely oblivious to my struggle and I’m sure have marked my behavior as being odder than usual. If Saiten has noticed I cannot tell.

It’s not a perfect process. I still haven’t mustered the energy to figure out why my bookcase rooted to my floor and has started blossoming so I’ve just been pruning it.

Saiten's Journal 18

Resplendent fire 26

We headed off towards to the forum at Kadu’s compound. Piper was absent, but that was nothing new. I’ve stopped caring about keeping track of him. If he’s needed, I know he’ll be close by. Or he won’t. We’ll figure it out.

Once there, Broken Walls headed to the front of the crowd, intent on asking questions of the priest who stood at the forefront of the crowd, addressing people on the mundane principles of the church.
The priest introduced himself as Sailing Dawn Defiant, and he was the definition of a boring public speaker. I almost fell asleep listening to his speech.
Once he had finished his sermon, he tried to alleviate some of the concerns that Mauk’s earlier rumblings had aroused. I noted how he seemed very good at talking, while simultaneously, not actually saying anything.
Eventually, he spoke of the Wyld rift that was supposedly under the bay, stating that it is not something that can be known by mortal men. What does that even mean? Is there a Wyld rift after all? If so, what does Kadu have to do with it?

Before I could could put voice to my thoughts, broken walls voice raised above the crowd: “What are the details of the City improvement project?”
The priest looked startled and confused for a moment before he responded. “Indentured servitude of the people to mine and deliver stone to the fishmen, who bring it to the construction site.”
At this point, Aster poked me and asked for a boost. She could barely see over the crowd, so I gladly hoisted her into the air.
The rest of the priests and guards looked at each other in confusion before reaching to grab the one who spoke. They had just started to drag the man from the podium before I heard Aster plead for them to let him speak.
The guards looked towards Aster, then let the priest go.

Broken Walls, not letting the moment lapse, quickly moved on to his next question. “What do you know about the Fish men?”
Sailing Dawn Defiant looked terrified at this point, yet he responded. “They are loyal to Kadu, though sometimes they do their own thing. I think they are caused by the Wyld Rift. There is an army of them, but I don’t know how many for sure.”
I could see the sweat starting to form on the priest’s brow. Clearly he was terrified by this point. He was telling us things that he shouldn’t. No doubt he was afraid for his own safety. I resided myself to defend him, should the guards move back to silence him again.

Broken walls asked question after question. The priest shook with fear, but he continued to answer.
“What do you know about the Wyld Rift?” Broken Walls asked next.
“It has been around far longer than I have been alive. The fortress is being built around it under the bay. "

“What is the purpose of the fortress?”
“I don’t know – Maybe to protect the Rift.”

“What are Kadu’s intentions for the city?”
“To maintain slavery, while benefiting from the city’s growth. To accumulate more prayer by feeding the city’s people.”

Finally, Broken Walls asked one last question. “Do you need sanctuary?”
The priest leaped off the stage towards us shouting “Yes!”. The guards on the stage quickly followed suit, trying to apprehend the man. I had barely the time to put Aster back on the ground before the priest landed on me. It took a moment to adjust myself, but I managed to throw him onto my shoulder, ready to face the guards.
“Oh shit, It’s the Rat Puncher!” They exclaimed.
I focused my essence into my arms, feeling them burst with strength. I was ready. Bring it on!

My excitement faded quickly however, when I head Aster’s calming voice. She spoke to the guards, telling them not to hurt him, and that the priest had done nothing wrong. Aster, being the caring women that she is, must have instilled some of her goodness into the guards, because they once again relented to her request, and agreed to not harm him.
They did however follow us back to our compound, stating that by not apprehending Sailing Dawn Defiant, they have effectively quit their jobs. Aster all too cheerily offered for them to work for us, as guards of the Rising Sun House. Broken walls seemed startled by the suggestion. Aster was usually not the one in charge of hiring new recruits. I looked at Broken Walls and told him to give them a chance to prove themselves at least. He reluctantly agreed.

Once we had gotten back to the compound, we discussed Sailing Dawn Defiant’s accommodations. There’s talk of a cell, letting him stay in the barracks, and even kicking him out to the street, but eventually we decide to give him his own room. This Priest of Kadu (or former one?), had taken a big risk in talking so openly about Kadu’s secrets. If we treat him with the respect that he earned on that stage, perhaps in time he will know us as the allies we surely are by this point. Still, we posted guards at his door anyway. Mostly for his own protection, but one can never be too sure of a man’s intentions. Maybe everything he said on that stage was just a ploy to get our trust? I doubt that thought, but is still there. We will have to see how things progress in time.

Once Sailing Dawn Defiant was settled in his new room, Aster and I discuss the idea of going to see Natasha, which Broken Walls quickly put an end to. While she could be a powerful ally, she could also be a dangerous enemy. It would be best to not take that risk just yet. Better to learn more about her, and be prepared.
Instead, we agree to go see gissig instead.

When Aster and I arrived at the alley of the lost gods, we ask Gissig about Natasha.
He spoke slowly and softly, warning us to not go while drunk. Natasha is amenable to speak with, but can be very dangerous. She is manipulative and coercive, and those who are weak of will can easily become her play things. She used to be the God of prostitution, though now she enjoys the title of “God of earthly pleasures” Quite the promotion if you ask me.

Though we agree that she probably wouldn’t be hostile towards us, we decide to delay our visit.

As we walked back to the compound, Broken Walls spoke with Aster about the morality of influencing people. In the same way that I can punch away most any problem, Aster’s gift is her heart and voice. She is able to let people see the error of their ways without the use of violence. What she hasn’t done though, is use that gift for nefarious purposes. I have seen Aster behave as I would expect an angel to. Caring and loving, even to those who would not deserve it. I cannot imagine Aster’s influence being Immoral, when the good that it does is so profound.
I don’t think Broken Walls feels the same way, however. Still, he trusts her, but cautions her to not to take it too far.

Tonight, Piper and Chaoxi taught Aster and myself to dance in formal settings. I learned basics of the waltz, and the two step. I wouldn’t say they came easily to me. Compared to my foot work while fighting, I almost have two left feet while dancing. Still, it was nice to learn, and sure to be useful at the Gala.

Once we had finished, I had a sit down with Piper, who was curious to know about this mornings encounter at the Kadu forum.
I told him what had transpired, Piper became fixated on Aster’s influence of the events. I recounted her telling the guards to let Sailing Dawn Defiant speak, and then to not hurt him, but it was nothing too unusual. He thanked me for my insites, before retiring for the evening.

As I walked up the stairs towards my room, I glanced out the window towards the building were Sailing Dawn Defiant slept. I hope he can help make this city safer.

Resplendent fire 27

Following my morning training regime, I joined Aster in talking with Sailing Dawn Defiant. She tries to convince him that Kadu is not the nice god that he pretends to be, and that spreading his lies to the people of the city is not something to be proud of. Years of indoctrination are hard to break through however. While he may see the error of his ways eventually, for right now it is not something Sailing Dawn Defiant can accept at the moment.

I decided to clear my head and go on Patrol. The fresh air feels good against my scalp as I rush through the city. I hadn’t been out very long when I saw something odd. A small statue in a shrine that had a striking resemblance to Aster! The inscription on the shrine read: “May the Lady of the Golden Voice guide our way”. I am surprised to say the least. If it is indeed a shrine to Aster, i’ve never heard her referred to as “The Lady of the Golden Voice.”
After I returned to the compound, I brought Aster to see the shrine, if only to confirm it was indeed her. She was embarrassed to say the least, but I reassured her that she had nothing to be embarrassed about. Aster is the kindest person I have ever met. Her clinic has already saved countless lives in the short time she has been set up in this city, and her generosity and self sacrifice for the people here has clearly been noticed. If people want to admire and even worship her, then that’s fine by me.
Hearing this, she smiled, and thanked me for the faith that I had placed within her.

On the way back to the compound, she asked me if I had any plans for the future. I’ve been somewhat toying with the idea of a guild of heroes, that might protect this city on a more scale than I am able to on my own. As strong and capable as I am, I am one in a city of thousands. It would be nice to have some help.
Aster was delighted with the idea, and suggested Hatellus might be able to help find the resources to accomplish my task. I am unsure Hatellus is the best choice, but I guess even a guild of heroes needs contracts and paperwork.

As we weren’t that far away, we decided to take a detour on our Journey home, and make a stop at Hatellus’ temple.
Most times we’ve come to see Hatellus, he’s been swamped with meetings and paperwork, however this time he was able to see us immediately. It was nice for a change, because while I am comfortable around Hatellus, his waiting area is somewhat stuffy.
With a little encouragement from Aster, I described my idea to Hatellus. He was intrigued, and suggested that I might find potential financial backers at the upcoming Gala. As for potential candidates for the heroes themselves, any ordinary person might not be qualified for the tasks that might be expected of them. To find worthy candidates, Mauk’s tournament might be a good start to look.

Hatellus also suggested that brushing up on my social skills might be in order if I am to be brushing elbows with the nobles at the Gala. He offers the aid of his assistant, a man named Yoseff. Yoseff will guide me in the ways of speech, mannerisms, and the art of blending in with the noble crowd. I’m not normally one to engage in such endeavors, but if I can make this city safer by playing noble, then I’ll give it a try. I agree, though I can tell he sees me try to mask my apprehension.

Aster, seeing my slight discomfort pipes up asking about the shrines that I had found earlier today. Hatellus, unsurprisingly, was aware of the shrines, though didn’t say how long he had known about them. He reassured Aster that it was nothing to worry about, citing many of her previous accomplishments.

We thank Hatellus for his assistance, and head back to Rising Sun House. As we arrive, I notice Broken Walls leaving the compound, clad in simple armor. Normally, if a fight was to break out, Broken Walls would clad himself within Dauntless. However, the armor he was wearing now was as basic as one that our new recruits wear. It could only mean one thing. Broken Walls was going to enter the tournament! I excitedly chased after him, only to have him confirm my suspicions. This is AWESOME! I’m going to (probably) get to fight Broken Walls! I mean, it will all depend on where we land in the lists, and then there’s the matter that we’ll have to last long enough against everyone else to get to each other, but this is going to happen.

I decided to follow him to watch his entry fight. I could barely contain my excitement, and I’m sure Broken Walls could tell. Still, he was surprisingly calm about the whole ordeal.

When we reached the tournament grounds, Tick paired Broken Walls against a modest looking foe. Certainly tougher looking than the muggers and ruffians I encounter on patrol, but not someone who inspires the highest of confidence in his abilities either. Still, dressed as he is, I’m sure somebody who doesn’t know Broken Walls might underestimate him as well. And underestimate Broken Walls, the man did, as he was easily tossed from the ring. I was slightly disappointed at the outcome. Not surprised mind you. I had just hoped to see something other than a futile attempt.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Broken Walls had officially qualified for the tournament, and that I had at least one serious contender. This was going to be great.

Following Broken Walls’s success, we paid Mauk a visit, who was in the midst of setting up the tournament. Mauk had somewhat recently disclosed that he had lost his soul gem, and Broken Walls had become a bit curious about it. He asked Mauk about what it looked like, when he last had it, if he could remember where he was when he last saw it, that sort of thing. Mauk wasn’t much help, as it was stolen while he slept, some 200-400 years ago. He described it being about 1 footish big, purple, and spikey. Broken Walls thanked Mauk for his assistance, and told him he had some ideas as to where to start looking.

Resplendent fire 28

I didn’t get up to much today. Of course, I went on my usual patrols, but for the most part, today was training day.
I finally had a guaranteed challenge in the tournament, and I wanted to make sure that I was at peak performance, so as to not disappoint. So it was squats, pushups, situps, and running. Lots of running.
When I finally came back to the compound, I found Yoseff waiting for me. Right… I said I was going to learn the finer points of society…

I learned about how the knife goes on the right side of the plate, while the fork goes on the left. I learned how it is improper to have your elbows on the table. I learned how much I am going to be enjoying these lessons. Still, a deal is a deal. If I am to impress those at the Gala, I must become a gentleman. And so the lessons continued.
Eventually, we started on Dance. Aster, Piper, and Chaoxi were all eager to join this part, and to offer their assistance with me learning the steps. Luckily, foot work is something that comes naturally to me now. I can always manage to get my feet to where they need to be, when I need them to be there, and dance did not seem to be an exception. I even enjoyed it. I look forward to future dance lessons.

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…


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