As the tale of the Exalted Continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am glad that’s over.

Saiten's journal 15
Resplendent fire 22 Continued

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

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

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

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

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

Resplendent fire 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piper's Journal 23
Unsettling Questions

Resplendent Fire 27-

The day started normally enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resplendent Fire 28 -

Odd dreams last night.

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

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

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

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

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

To each their own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d hoped the difference was more obvious.

Saiten's Journal 14
Resplendent fire 20 continued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resplendent fire 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resplendent fire 22.

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

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

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

Saiten's journal 13
Resplendent fire 18 Continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resplendent fire 19.

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

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

Resplendent fire 20.

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

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

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

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

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

Piper's Journal 22

Resplendent Fire 24 – Dawn

The oily black smoke rising from the burning bones and mummified corpses scented the air with the overwhelming stench of death which prompted people to brave the streets to investigate. Watching the crowd gather I sighed, the time of Rising Sun House’s relative obscurity was over. The next few days would cement the reputation of my friends and every step they take further into the limelight is a step further away. Joining them is out of the question. I need obligations and public scrutiny like I need a gaping chest wound. Better to be a spider, walking deftly across the web of power like a whisper, not a fly, betraying my every intention by my own thrashing momentum.

The first move Rising Sun made was to publicly stake their claim on the territory of Black Quarter. Aster delivered their official statement which was as vague as it was as brief but she tried to make clear that the purpose in taking on Akkimu was as a service to the average citizenry of Champoor. Trying to wrap iron in a silk cloth won’t fool everyone. This move could easily be perceived as the beginnings of a hostile take over. If it is Rising Sun House could be making enemies of not just the gods but the wealthy citizens who could band together to tackle a perceived threat. I voiced my concerns but in the end it is not my decision to make.

On the way back I noted Aster’s posture was slightly slumped, her face drawn and pale. I asked her if she was alright to which she replied that she was troubled by the events that had transpired. Sadly I’m not exactly adept at cheering people up. I tried to get her to focus on the present and the good that will flower from our actions but I don’t think it worked. As much as she hated Akkimu I think she feels guilt for ending her and her cadre of mortal followers. She shouldn’t. The world is a better place without them. Whatever baubles they were offered were enough to sell their souls for and lend themselves to perpetuating Akkimu’s evil unreservedly. Anyone so cheaply bought does not deserve her grief.

My dreams that night were uneasy and I awoke abruptly to some sort of ruckus coming from outside. Sharpening my senses I heard the voices of a mob. The night before Aster had offered to answer questions and the citizens of Champoor had come to collect. Outside Saiten, Aster and Chaoxi stood looking as out of their depth as I’d ever seen them. Aster pleaded for me to stay and advise and Chaoxi tried to strong arm me into staying. They forget that I am not responsible for speaking on the behalf of their franchise. I wasn’t about to be dragged into that nonsense just because they felt they needed a nursemaid.

As a happy consequence I had the pleasure of listening to Aster and Saiten answer public queries on behalf of Rising Sun House. The best bit was when someone requesting help rescuing his stolen his cat from Silgar had to be told – by Saiten no less – that “Rising Sun House is contractually obligated not to rescue your cat”. Priceless..

Not wanting to go too far in the event this somehow devolved into an angry mob I decided to put my time to proper use and dedicated myself to the practice of martial arts as I kept an ear on what was being said. I don’t doubt some of what was said will be misconstrued but the wishy-washy rhetoric Aster and Saiten delivered should at least keep people guessing.

When Broken Walls eventually returned it was made plain that he had forgot entirely that Aster had promised answers to the crowd. He had been caught up speaking with Nergui to make sure we were operating appropriately to set the spirits of Akkimu’s victims to rest. By the time of his return the soldiers manning the walls had picked up on Aster and Saiten’s intent and were delivering statements in adept official sounding blandness meaning Saiten and Aster were able to step down.

We all adjourned to the courtyard where Chaoxi had set up a chair and table and was three quarters into a bottle of wine – doubtless a side effect of listening passively to the rambling confrence with the concerned citzenry of Champoor. Our meeting was a war council of sorts. We had achieved a task that needed doing quickly and now that the blinders were off we needed to start anticipating the consequences. A virtually impossible task to do with what information there is at hand. Mauk had revealed a number of things to us yesterday but we still know practically nothing about the fellow players on the board here.

Most of what was discussed was fairly predictable until Broken Walls made plain his intent to go in person to Tenepeshu and tell her outright that he has no intent to act against her. I don’t think he realizes one can’t simply waltz into the domain of someone who believes themselves deserving of respect, tell them nothing but a carefully prepared statement and walk right out again. He will face questions he himself does not have proper answers for yet. If he so dares to refuse to answer a question it at best gives Tenepeshu reason to be suspicious and at worst is an insult a powerful entity would be loathe to let slide. Lying to her face is equally risky. Until we know more maintaining the false seeming of inaction is safest.

Acting outwardly as though we aren’t particularly bothered should make the suspicious come to us, the fearful avoid us and the complacent ignore us. With luck the uncertainty of whether we are a threat or not might keep everyone off balance for a little while. Charging in could earn the scrutiny of people we might otherwise not have to worry about. One doesn’t exactly win at majong by telling the table their hand the instant the tiles are dealt. It was after trying to convey this that Broken Walls insisted that he would just have to face her alone.

I couldn’t help but think Broken Walls had let that glowing armour of his go to his head! He could die, or get everyone affiliated with him killed because of his hubris. Thinking himself invulnerable is a potentially fatal mistake. Perhaps he was banking on us not being able to stand on the sidelines if he decided to blunder headfirst into disaster but I resented him for placing me in that position. Choosing to uphold common sense and letting him or the people we care about get spattered over half of Champoor to prove my point wouldn’t bring me any satisfaction! Thankfully Aster backed me up and we got him to at least delay making any rash action until we learned more about Tenepeshu but it was a near thing.

I tried to return to the practicalities we discussed but this time I tried to shift the focus. I encouraged each of them to start reaching beyond their walls and consult with the people here. In my experience the powerful react poorly to unanticipated changes in their landscape. If Rising Sun does not show those parties the respect they believe they deserve their meddling could turn Broken Wall’s utopia into a pit of vipers The more autonomously they act now the more they will be perceived as an authoritarian threat. Until Broken Walls achieves necessary momentum the people within Champoor could be just as dangerous as the threats from without. The others took this idea up and hit on the idea to reform Black District into a temple district which sounded like a sound political move provided they are willing to invite all the gods to be represented. Done properly it could establish Rising Sun as a seemingly neutral party willing to treat with all the Gods in the city.

Here came another snag.

They want to invite only the gods they support. Aai ya, they want to draw a line in the sand and risk insulting those on the other side! It would be a clear display of Rising Sun House’s stance towards all the parties in Champoor. Those parties not given space at the table could use their mutual disfavour as a rallying point and band together. I tried to convince them to at least invite the other patrons… even Silgur and Kadu. Personally I hardly need to find proper pretext to make the fat frog’s life more difficult but there is little to be gained in them publicly slighting him. I will lay the ground work to attend to him my own way and would personally much rather catch him off guard.

If anything this little chat has revealed that duplicity is an alien concept to my friends. Not a one of my companions has had occasion to walk the crooked path until now and as such they are as straight, direct and predictable in the intent of their actions as the path of an arrow. The haven’t considered that that predictability is a disadvantage. To them intent and act are inextricably tied and they aren’t keen to consider that extending a hand with a flower can distract from the serpent coiled at an enemy’s feet.

Perhaps they can be guided. Aster might might not approve of dishonesty but sees diplomacy as a negation of future conflict. I’ve noticed she agrees with me more often than not on couses of action, though not for the same reasons. Chaoxi possesses an attention to detail formal manners that are quite applicable to matters of politics. Broken Walls will be the real challenge, not because he has no capacity for criminality, politics or duplicity but because he’s becoming increasingly more hardheaded from his string of successes that convincing him of anything is getting progressively more difficult.

As for Saiten…

Trying to teach Saiten the smallest measure of duplicty has already proven a lost cause. Any further attempts are a waste of effort so I endeavor to leave him to his own devices. He keeps saying “heroes are meant to be seen” which I take to mean “anything that doesn’t further my vain-glory isn’t worth my consideration.” Hopefully he can channel that desire for public adulation into something constructive. He is a decent fellow, I’m sure whatever he ends up doing will be done with the best of intentions. In this arena though he is a bull in a china shop.

My struggle now is to prepare for the end game and to maintain appropriate distance. However I might advise my companions I must be content with whatever is decided. I cannot forget that I intend to walk away from all this one day. It would be unfair to meddle in Broken Wall’s business too much, particularly since as his goals come ever closer the more I see fault in them. The main issue now is certain a lack of cohesive vision. My companions are each in their own way of admirable character but I don’t think they are on the same page as to what their ultimate aim is here. Saiten, Aster and Broken Walls are all focused on a very narrow slice of the moon cake. Right now they are seeking to improve the welfare of Champoor’s citizens, or it’s landscape. Their individual intentions are all good but I don’t think they have examined the ethical ramifications of what it will take to turn Champoor into the impregnable fortress they want.

Cities are permeable. Unless they want to completely remove the autonomy of the people living here and kill or cast down the people who oppose them they will never achieve enough consolidated power. Even if they do somehow manage a bloodless victory they will be asking these citizens to suffer on behalf of them when the Wyld Hunt comes. I doubt any of them are comfortable with admitting that subjugating free citizens is their ultimate intent. The only other avenue they has is to treat with and share the power with those who live here and sacrifice security as a result.

I feel more than a measure of pity for Broken Walls particularly. He keeps claiming he wants a “home” and I honestly believe that he is being candid. He wants to be safe, not an unreasonable desire for anyone to have in a perfect world. However… If his desires are truly so humble then why is he staking his claim on a city and not retiring to a tiny farm on the outskirts of society where he might never use his powers again and safely disappear into the annals of obscurity forever? Can any of us carve out a piece of creation, however large, for ourselves, plant our flag and sit idly by in an imperfect world when we have such power at our disposal to try and better it?

The Realm wants us dead simply for the crime of what we are and I think I see why. The temptation to use our powers is almost impossible for us to resist. We are not uniform in our methods or beliefs which means we are divided in our aims in using that power and that is a weakness the Realm does not share. The Realm simply needs to maintain and preserve the world as it is. The course they steer is steady and sure. When they come they will test the allegiances here and if they are weak it will fracture along the cracks. If the Realm cannot break Rising Sun they can siege and starve the city. I don’t think any of my friends would be willing to huddle behind walls while the realm takes Champoor hostage. If anything they would be prompted to abandon their walls and fight.The more I think about it the more I believe they are backing themselves into a corner.

There is a saying “the prison you build yourself no prison is” but I cannot live without liberty. Broken Wall’s safety, his “home”, is just a wistful dream to decorate his next prison cell with until the Realm’s houses and armies are divided and defeated.

Considering the approaching day when I must expand beyond the vision of my companions my chest feels tight. It will hurt to leave my friends behind but I do not believe this place will ever be safe. Champoor is, as I originally thought, a good test case. I am learning so much and building the skills I will need to wage the larger war. If the others will not come with me when the time comes then the best I can do is try and leave them in a position where they will still be alive when I return. I think I can bank on loneliness being more tolerable if there is a promise that it won’t last forever.

Near dusk messengers arrived. Invitations to Mauk’s tournament and the Heart family gala were extended to each of us, including Mists of Ruby Skies. It made me wince internally as Aster expressed her delight. Notoriety is a double edged sword and one I particularly do not favour. While I might use this as a means to set up Mists of Ruby Skies as a wielder of influential power here there are not insignificant drawbacks. Increasing my footprint in the city poses risks. Mind you, that ship may have sailed after my lapse last night. I had theorized that I was capable that sort of display but I had somehow assumed mine would be less…. flashy….

Unfortunately I cannot opt out of the party entirely as would be my preference. This invitation could represent a trap but it also represents a potentially high reward in political connections for my friends. I cannot ask them to forfeit that and sacrifice their ambitions… Still, four known anathema, in a pre-arranged location with plenty of time for a possible enemy to prepare any number of contingencies. I do not like those odds.

After we adjourned Broken Walls asked me to vet the lingering crowd of questioners outside for spies from other factions. It reminded me of something I wanted to ask, namely, how he knew what Lang smelled like. He was evasive. The best answer I got was that he inferred things gleaned from my telling of the tale. He likened it to my power over disguises. My heart sank a little, if he could infer things as tangential as a smell could he not “infer” other things- actions that I did not tell him I had taken? I tentatively mentioned the time I had spent with Lang, inviting him to comment but he acted as though he had no idea what I was getting at. If he truly was unaware I wasn’t about to confess to the things I had done. His hesitation and the evasive way he tried to angle past truly answering my question bothered me. I shouldn’t let the possibility that he doesn’t trust me sting too much. After all, I didn’t trust him enough to tell him everything. If he did know that I was concealing something from him and the nature of what is being concealed why would he trust me? I haven’t exactly earned it.

I excused myself to carry out Broken Wall’s request and used my keen senses to try and pick up anything out of the ordinary in the crowd. Nobody was carrying anything unusual or was in a disguise that used anything other than maybe mud. Their questions were simple and straightforward enough to be genuine. After an hour I gave up and headed back into the common space to resume my practice. I stayed up until past midnight tinkering with all manner of objects and putting into practice integrating the skills I had gleaned from Lang. My association with her came at a staggeringly high price. I must make the most of it.

Resplendent Fire 25 -

With the crowds around Rising Sun mostly dispersed we decided to go and speak with Hatellis. His temple was manned by a skeleton crew and it looked sadly empty without it’s full contingent of accountants and few remaining furnishings. None-the-less we were informed that Hatellis was in residence and that he would see us. Now that Akkimu was gone Hatellis was free to speak openly about her and told us that she was something of an outlier amoungst the patrons. Few tears would be shed by her fellow patrons regarding her dispatch. He wasn’t able to inform us how the patrons would react to Mauk airing their dirty laundry but was able to tell us where and how we might be able to contact the surviving patrons, including Gisig, which was useful. Hatellis volunteered information when he could but appeared legitimately restrained by what he could and could not say..

After we could demonstrate what we already knew Hatellis was able to teach us a bit about the structure and nature of heaven. It sounds far more bureaucratic than my imaginings. A corrupt bureaucracy in some ways if Tenepeshu is somehow operating in such a way that heaven cannot see things here. “Blocking the eyes of heaven” could mean that somewhere along the line someone is being paid to look the other way. Tenepeshu might have carved out her own little piece of Creation where she is the top of the hierarchy instead of some sort of middle-managment where she belongs. In regards to her character Hatellis gave the impression that she spends most of her time “high” and is best left alone, advising against even sending her some sort of letter. It seems unless she is provoked into action she is likely to consider us beneath her notice. How long can we count on that complacency I wonder?

In asking about Natasha and Gisig’s whereabouts we learned that Natasha’s temple is located in coin district and referred to as “the Temple of Earthly Pleasures”. Hatellis advised us never to contact her while inebriated making me think she might have some influence over drugs. Possible the avenue to exploiting Tenepeshu then lies with Natasha who may be responsible for maintaining Tenepshu’s high. It is almost a pity I will have to leave the work of treating with this particular Goddess to one of the others but some things can not be helped. If I ever set foot in another temple that has the word “pleasure” in the title it will be several lifetimes too soon.

There was one remaining matter, Hatellis asked for our assistance in recovering several talents of jade that had gone missing from his personal finances. He could tell us where it was in a general sense since he could track where currency was (I shall have to be careful about this in the future if I ever need to go unnoticed in his presence) however something was interfering with his ability to pinpoint it. As such he could only tell us it was somewhere underground in coin district. My personal guess is that Silgur has something to do with this. In the event of having to cross into Silgur’s space I asked Hatellis what constituted being a “member of Rising Sun House” just in case I had been remiss. He mentioned it involved being an official member or acting on their behalf as an outside contractor. if that is all I believe I should be fine, I have never taken any form of payment or made any formal verbal or written contractual arrangements for any of the things I have done. My closest formal connection is as a renter of the room in the compound for which I paid a tidy sum a while back. While it cannot be argued that my personal association with four of it’s founding members has benefited Rising Sun House my involvement has never been a matter of dispatch. Perhaps it is worthwhile to double-check but I didn’t during our meeting. It is a sore point for Broken Walls to be reminded that I am not in his employ.

There did seem an element of informality in Hatellis’s request. He appears to be leveraging an unspoken expectation of reciprocity or perhaps just hopes to cash in on the infinite goodwill that the others splash about like water without committing to a reward.. While there are possible kickbacks for me (however nebulous ) if I entertain his request I am not so sure how much he is willing to step up his involvement to compensate for the time I am willing to spare at present. While I might entertain the notions of my companions I prioritize their requests because I value their friendship, our mutual interests and their safety. I am not exactly jumping up and down to work for free for someone who is about as useful as they are ever likely to get.

I anticipate Broken Walls is going to come down hard on that line of thinking. Doubtless he will think me ingratious to Hatellis for the assistance he gave in regards to Akkimu. His belief in absolute reciprocity is admirable but I detest being pressured into fulfilling obligations for people I don’t like. I’d best start marshaling my excuses now.

The whole matter is compounded by the fact that I still can’t quite sort out what to think about Hatellis. I do not consider him my friend and I don’t much like him. Professionally I recognize him as trustworthy enough to treat with but what he is like on personal level is so remote that I have no sense of whether he is genuine. I suffered through seven cursed years of watching Shufen adeptly maneuver through tiny loopholes and grease the palms of bigwigs while they treated me like furniture. People who operate in the sphere Hatellis has dominion over are often extremely pleasant on the surface when it is in their interest to be so but might have withered raisins for hearts. Hatellis might only see us as an opportunity to be taken advantage of and be willing to play act friendship to achieve those aims.

Perhaps I am simply too soured on those concepts which form his dominion. Laws and contracts, while necessary in my experience just represent a battlefield of wits where the one with the most knowledge of it’s arcane codex can manipulate the wording to make sure they come out on top every time. Evils can be perfectly legal and contracts can be used as a tool to control and manipulate the unprivileged. The concept of “fine print” exists for just this purpose. Currency, his other dominion, while again not evil in itself, can be a corrupting influence to a person’s character. More evils have been conducted in the name of wealth or the envy of it than I have time to list. Hatellis may represent the only legal voice this place has but that doesn’t mean he represents a moral standpoint.

I am curious about how Hatellis functions. What are his limitations and how does he fit into the picture here? I really must devote some time to digging down into his operations and see if I can get a better picture of this entity and what his goals truly are. Only then will I consider running his errands.

After bidding Hatellis goodbye we walked around the corner to the shrine to Gisig. It is a very small shrine that consisted of a number of small doors. We spoke to the gargoyle above the largest and found that it was, in fact, the god of doors. I formed a rather favorable first impression of Gisig. He invited us to speak with the displaced Gods he harbours and the experience was … enlightening. They loitered in the narrow alleyway that Gisig told us wasn’t a place but a space between places. The assembled spirits were shadows with begging bowls in hand. They had nothing to lose by telling us of Tenepeshu as they had already lost everything. I endevour to return and learn all I can from them and show them the respect that they have been starved for. Seeing these gods, principled dissenters of Tenepeshu’s absolute rule, reduced to such ruin I can’t help but feel pity.

When we returned to the compound I split off to take care of a bit of business that Broken Walls had alerted me to. Rue had noticed the multitude of people who came through wearing a rabbit necklace and was seeking to speak with one of them. I approached him as Featherweight and spun him a tale that I was one of many agents that operated in conjunction with but autonomously from Rising Sun House. He put forward an interesting offer. He was willing to join the ranks of my “organization” and offered to see to our bookkeeping in his spare time. I took Rue’s offer and welcomed him into “The Warren of Rabbits”.

Do I tell Broken Walls about this? Technically Rue should not be establishing allegiances independently. Rue represents a very lucrative arrangement for me. A specialist able to pick apart account books who is versed in the Guild’s codes and an observant spy within Rising Sun House who would build report directly with me… No, as tempting as it is to keep quiet I must inform Broken Walls once things settle. He is less likely to take it well if he finds out on his own. He should not have much cause for concern. I doubt Rue will betray Broken Walls for a shadowy organization unless things get truly out of hand. Perhaps he will even appreciate the joke that Rue is a spy network of one who believes himself one of many. None-the-less I shall have to treat Rue properly which means dropping him the odd tidbit now and then. It may have landed in my lap sooner than I expected but it is time I started converting the assets in my gossip network and the pickpocketing ring into proper agents. Delegating some of the duties I have heaped on myself would leave me more time to tackle more projects. Some of the more hard done by assets might appreciate an opportunity for a proper income. I shall have to see about procuring funds enough to support them. Perhaps I can levy it off of some who aren’t putting it to good use. It is always useful to aim to kill more than one bird with any stone.

I spent the rest of the evening tracking some of the Heart family’s servants back to their homes or the places they socialized and eavesdropped from rooftops and alleyways under cover of darkness. If something is in the wind for the gala I might be able to catch it early enough to prepare.

Resplendent Fire 26 -

Today Saiten and Broken Walls went out side the city to take part in a preliminary round for the tournament while I spent the day with Aster and Chaoxi helping them pick clothes for the gala and supplying a replica of Broken Walls for them to dress. It may not have been the most worthwhile application of my time but Aster has been gloomy of late and she cheered a little picking things out for Broken Walls and debating what each of us should wear to the gala. I didn’t have the heart to break it to her that I was planning on attending in a much less obvious capacity than Mists of Ruby Skies. She also lamented that she didn’t know how to dance… Well, at least she doesn’t know specific dances. I offered to teach her.

Afterwards I headed out to check in with Xi and continue my infiltrations. I convinced some of the performers at the Winter Meets Wind to provide entertainment for the opening night of the Rising Sun Night Market by telling them it was a good opportunity for them to make some extra coin until the theater adopts a schedule more appropriate for a city that stays up late.

In the evening I attended the opening of the market in the guise of Pearl Skinner. Hatellis was there but not in an official capacity. He offered his blessings on the going on and made a clear show of enjoying his time with Aster. It still irritates me to watch them go through the motions of romance so I focused on supplying music for the market. The players surprised me by putting on a hastily drafted play about the battle against Akkimu … complete with Mists of Ruby Skies and a battle scene complete with Seven Desert Roses draped in black veils sewn with tiny sparkling glass beads fighting Gabor Khalil who was dressed in a hastily thrown together Akkimu costume. I was mortified but did my best to not show it.

I suppose it is useless to hope this doesn’t catch on…

Aster's Diary 19
We are beings of light.

Akkimu is dead. She is…. gone. As gone, I suppose, as a god can be. Do they have souls that come back into Creation? Are they just…. gone… when they die?


We found little resistance when we approached the Bell. Strange, I suppose, when we were expecting a fight long before this, but also not. It was day, darkness had not yet fallen, so the Host could hardly be a force against us in the light. Unless they work much differently than I had surmised, which might be the case given that I had believed that they could not even enter homes before.
The Black quarter was all but deserted when we came to the Bell, but our troops were still cautious. Broken Walls broke ground and then further down past the stone he found beneath into a musty smelling tunnel, thick with death.
Literally, it seems, as Piper cautioned us that the space in the tunnel was crammed with the souls of the dead. How could someone do this to so many lives, not only take them, but break them and twist them to such foul purpose? Seeing the darkness that awaited us, and longing for the comfort of light within those acrid walls, I willed my own light into my gift from Litaka, the stone I wear about my neck.

Warm, bright light bathed us as it shone, and surprise leapt into Piper’s eyes. At first I thought he had forgotten my amulet from when I lit it in Volivat, but he quickly explained that its light was in fact turning away those ghosts pressed into the tunnels. Joy sprang into my breast for a moment, then was softly tempered by the worry that it might be doing them harm. For now, all we could do was press deeper into the pit, and would have to worry about putting these poor creatures to rest later.

The tunnel turned out to be some sort of temple of death, corpses lining the walls…. in many places literally. I, not for the first or last time, felt a wave of nausea at the thought of what it must have taken to have done this to so many innocents… Strange contraptions filled some rooms as we pressed further, instruments whose uses I tried desperately not to think too deeply on. As we found bodies, we sent them up with those behind us, to begin the process of putting their souls to rest.
It was a place of evil. I don’t know that I have ever been in a place that more pressingly felt of torture and decay. As we journeyed further on and found the rooms filled with remnants of bodies, blades in walls… well, the ast bits of doubt in my mind that this… situation.. could no longer continue fled. Even if Akkimu’s Host kept the citizens of Champoor safe from invaders, the price of the unending suffering of these people…. it was never something that anyone should have to unwillingly pay.

Finally, as the rooms seemed to shrink in size as we descended, we came to a room a bit smaller than the common room of the Rising Sun house, furnished only with a large skull sculpture. We must have been nearing the end at that point, as not much else could have fit in a room smaller than the one we were in. Broken Walls bravely took the lead towards the next room, and pulled open what must have been the last door.
A flash of silver and the scrape of steel on steel berrated us as a gigantic snake creature burst into the room, it’s scimitar fangs glancing off of Broken Walls’ deftly raise shield. Between Broken Walls’ defenses and Saiten’s newly armoured fists (aptly given gifts from Mauk), the machine creature was dispatched quite quickly, which was a mercy. We had little room in the cavern, and I think the smell and dust and general unpleasantness of the place were beginning to get to Piper. The steel serpent was dragged to the surface, and we could breath fresher air once more.

There was little time to catch our breath, however. The sun was setting quickly, and we would have little time to counter Akkimu while we were not also fending off the Host outside her temple. For we had found the entrance to her sanctum in between the snake’s jaws, a portal of some kind openned there. Broken Walls and Saiten went in first to ensure we were not in imediate danger when we entered, but once we knew we could at least enter unopposed and unmolested, we brought in all of our little army through the creature’s maw into….

I had thought a bit about what a god’s sanctum must be like. I had imagined a safe place to them, something like a house, or a favorite room, some place where they felt most at home. If Akkimu’s sanctum said anything about her, it was that she was power mad, death obsessed, and insane. We stepped into seemingly endless fields of burial mounds, culminating in a strange pyramidal structure on which several figures stood, and an army of the dead between us and them. Hundreds of thousands of the dead buried here…. how could the others have allowed this to happen for so long?

Akkimu herself…. there is something in her I pity. She was like a feral animal, left too long alone, painted like bones to frighten her enemies, killing her followers to strengthen herself… she must have been so… afraid. So lonely. So driven mad by being so hated. To have gone so far, to have done such awful things… I know there was nothing that could have saved her when we found her, but perhaps if we had only ben there several hundred years before… what would she have been?

Battle is not something I feel very adept at discussing. During is usually a whirl of trying to stay alive and protect those around me, and afterwards, well, I usually just feel sick. I remember Akkimu doing something strange to Saiten, causing him to falter and fall, not like he’d been hit, but like he’d been… turned off, I suppose, for a moment. Mauk had warned us that she had some sort of strange magics, so I assume this was something like that.
All of us burst with our brightest light that evening, And we saw Saiten’s and Piper’s for the first time. Saiten’s seemed an ultimate extension of what he thinks of himself, a blazing, gigantic fist, striking with him towards his opponent. Piper’s was… different. Not just a single symbol, but like a small play, a shower of butterflies shedding themselves to become moths, feeding on Piper’s body until only a strangely beautiful void remained. Piper’s void-self grew wings, but these too were taken by the moths, leaving only bones, until those too were shed.

Both these images are… troubling. Saiten seems to see himself just as a weapon, a weapon wielded in the name of goodness and light, but a weapon none-the-less. He is fun, and sweet, and kind. He is proud, and loyal, full of delight, and joy, and passion. A weapon is none of these things. I wish he could see himself and know that he is strong, but so much more than physically.
Piper’s ultimate light self… well, it feels me with such great sorrow for how Piper must see herself. A moth, wearing the skin of a butterfly? Nothing but her outer selves? Devoid of light without these gifts? Piper is not some creature of darkness pretending at grace and beauty. Piper may not always exude warmth, but Piper cares so very much about other people. Piper is full of light not because he was chosen by the Unconquered Sun, but was chosen by the Unconquered Sun because he already had so much light that could be shone on the rest of the world.

The fight was… swift, though not without casualties. Many on both sides gave their lives for their cause. When the final blow was dealt to Akkimu, her Host faltered, and the priests and fighters began to flee from our forces. They did not last long. Some were kept as prisoners, presumably for some kind of information gathering. From what Chaoxi knew, in order to keep Akkimu from coming back after she was defeated, we would need to destroy this sanctum as well. This seemed like an overwhelming task at first, but it seemed as though it was not as large as it first appeared, and the temple itself took less time to disassemble once Mauk caught up with us and got to work taking it apart. After assuring that the others were patched up, I set to work cleansing as many bodies as I could.
I felt as though I was not there, not really. We had finished a great task, certainly, but in doing so we had destroyed another creature. Many other creatures. Death should never be given lightly. What could we have done differently? What can we do differently next time? We cannot keep destroying the things that plague us. We must understand them, and cause them to change. We cannot become creatures of death. I will not become a a creature of death. I will bring light to this world, not destruction.
If we are to help this place, we need them to trust us. We cannot become only feared things like Akkimu. Even if there are those who fear us, hate us for what we are, we must show them that we are not enemies, we are not evil.
I am not evil.

Aster's Diary 18

There is…
I am..

At first I think it was shock. I remember feeling a little stone, like a pearl forming out of grit in a clam’s mouth. Then it was horror. And that became sorrow. Layered with guilt. Then hardened into fury.

That night, from their beds, some 30 souls had been wrenched by Akkimu’s Host.

In their homes.

Where they should have been safe.

This could not stand. I would stand for it no longer. The God of Murder must be ended.

Breath. In, and out.

We would need a plan, and people and…. and….

Breath. Start again.

We decided that we would have to go after Akkimu after the events of that night. It would have been more prudent to wait until we had more information, but the small bit of safety from her that the Champoorans had been afforded was gone, and our own wards would only hold so many people. So it would have to be before nightfall. That meant that we would have to both gather as much information on Akkimu as we could, and locate where her sanctum was. While it was a fairly good bet that it was probably located beneath the bell, we had no real way of knowing this. We would need information first. Little enough seems to be known about Akkimu by the people of the city, so that would mean either finding one of her followers, who could be anywhere in the city, or by asking someone who knew her.

I struggled for a moment when it first came to mind, because I loathed to put him in danger by having him further associate with us, but Hatelis was the obvious choice. He had given us information about her before, if ever so cryptically, and it was possible that, by asking him directly, I might be able to exploit what bond we had to gain some further information that might help us to undo her.

And people were dying. My people.

All five of us set off for his temple/office. The building was in a bustle as I had never seen it, carts, and boxes, and people moving about everywhere. It looked like it was being packed up….
I’ll admit, my heart fell and rose in an instant. Was he leaving? Had I caused him that much distress? But also: good, he’s going. Going somewhere safe, away from all of this. If I had had more wits about me I may have chastised myself for fretting over such things while the fate of this fair city was at stake, but my fury still burned as smoldering coals, so did not reflect upon it until much later.
There was still a clerk at the desk, though he seemed to be packing things and took a moment to realize we were there. It seemed that Hatelis had not yet left, but was in fact in the process of packing and going. We were granted an audience, and hurried up the stairs.

I had never seen him this.. distressed.. before. Almost always a model of composure, he required a moment to regain himself before speaking with us, which must have meant he was under a great deal of stress. An uncomfortable mixture of guilt and longing washed over my fury, damping it a bit.
It seems my worry over having to coerce information out of him about Akkimu was unfounded: in taking the lives of those in their houses, Akkimu had broken her contract with (presumably) the Patrons, and Hatelis was no longer bound not to give us information that might aid us in her downfall. He told us that she had a temple beneath the bell, and that she uses the souls she collects as some sort of power, as she had for more than 700 years.

Thoughts of this make me feel ill.

Hatelis told us he was leaving the city for the time being, and planned to be back in a few weeks. He would be well out of harms way for now, at least then. He bid us well, and wished us safety.

He smiled at me, a sad, but encouraging smile. I could barely meet his eyes. I have done this to you. It must be done, but I have done it.

Broken Walls set off from us then to talk with Mauk’s followers, and hopefully to Mauk himself, who Hatelis had thought might be able to give us more information, if not actual physical aid. Piper (as a mysterious and somewhat dangerous looking new guise, Mists of Ruby Skies), Saiten and I went off in search of a possible lead on the whereabouts of Akkimu’s priests. Apparently Piper had been working further on her already finely honed senses, and felt quite able to pick up on the unmistakable graveyard scent of the priests. Only, however, if we could find a still fresh trail.

We started at the scene of our encounter with Lang and the Host, but rain and time had taken their toll on any trail we might find there. We made our way back towards Rising Sun house, hoping to cross paths with the graveyard smell once more when suddenly….

It was like the rumble of distant thunder, but under our feet! Just as we were going to pass through Mauk’s gate, the Earth shook with a great sound. It was words! Someone’s great, booming voice was coming from beneath us! In my surprise and shock I do not remember everythign that was said, but it became clear fairly quickly that it was someone giving quite detailed information about the gods of Champoor! I will tell you what I remember, so that you may help me to remember it later.
Kadu, it seems, fears Akkimu. He is building an army of those fish-men that attacked Gi and Zeo outside of the city. Silgur was not always the way he is… he was not always the god of rats and vermin perhaps? There is a god named Natasha who seems to be some kind of god of…er…. the Red district? The speaker did not say… very much about her. Gisig is the gargoyle-like door god whose likeness we have seen a few places around town. It seems that maybe he can be found with the gods of Champoor who no longer have vocations? Akkimu, the voice said, is quite powerful, and practiced in dark sorcery. Her temple could be found beneath the bell. Tenepeshu, whose name until now we had only heard quite briefly, and little more than that, is a great Dragon (!) who lives beneath the ruins of the city, hides it from heaven’s eyes, and is able to change and grant vocations to the gods of Champoor, using them as punishments and bribes to keep them in line! No wonder the people here suffer so.
The speaker, who we soon discovered was Mauk, also spoke of himself. He said that he had come from some land called Dis, was, in fact, a Giant, and had driven off some group of people whose name I do not recall before settling down in Champoor some 700 years ago or so.
All of this by itself would be troubling, but was made even more so by the fact that it had just boomed around this part of the city, if not the whole place! People had stopped in their tracks, listening in stunned silence as this rumbling quake of a voice revealed these secrets of the inner circle of their gods. If there had not been problems between the people of Champoor and the dealings of their gods before, there would be now….

As we stood dumbstruck just beyond the Great Cudgel gate, who should walk around it but Broken Walls, looking just as puzzled as we were to see him. It seems that he had been the one speaking to Mauk, and had convinced him to answer questions about the gods of Champoor…. but neither of them had realized that the whole of the city could hear Mauk’s replies….
But we had little time to reflect on what the consequences of this might be. Mauk’s followers had agreed to aid us in Akkimu’s downfall, and we knew where we were to look for her. It was time to rally our own troops.

Battle songs are not something that I am used to singing; it is not often in a bar or tea room that one is tasked with inspiring soldiers to bravery. When those who had agreed to fight with us were gathered, I pulled from a long ago memory a song whose meaning I am not entirely convinced of, but have been assured is about a glorious victory. The familiar lyrics filled with unfamiliar words of the Realm Echoed from my throat as gloriously as I could muster. I am not a warrior, but I am a performer, and I will use whatever I can to help in any way I can. If I must send these brave soul off to battle, I will send them off with courage in their hearts.

Piper's Journal 21
Silver and Gold

Resplendent Fire 23 – After the battle

The march to Black Quarter took place some hours after midday. We halved our forces in an attempt to converge on expected resistance once we got to the bell with Chaoxi and I split between the two halves to provide support. Being able to see spirits who may attempt to blindside us makes Chaoxi and I somewhat of a commodity. Our forces were bolstered by a mobs of Mauk’s followers lead by a grizzled old man who was introduced to me as Tik. Unexpectedly we arrived at the bell tower seeing no sign of our adversary.

In a matter of minutes we located the freshly disturbed earth from Broken Wall’s last visit here and unleashing his uncanny ability to dig once again Broken Walls laid bare the stone structure he had described. Caving in the stone ceiling of the underground structure Saiten and Broken Walls made to jump down into the darkness before I stopped them. If they could see the horror invisible to them they might not have been so willing to cast themselves into the pit. To my eyes the spirits of the dead were packed tightly together like a solid mass of naked human flesh. They reached out for us but once exposed to Champoor’s watery sunlight they recoiled as though burned.

After I explained this to the others Aster came forward and called light to the necklace she wore which was so bright it caused the spirits dissolve into vapour in it’s wake. I am not sure if it was her power that made such light or simply the nature of the pendant but words cannot express how thankful I was at being spared the ordeal of wading through the amassed spirits of the dead. I am not sure what sort of effect they might have had on us if any but being able to see them while pushing on would have been a horror in itself.

Leaving Chaoxi to command the Rising Sun forces at the entrance we entered the catacomb. Like cities who follow the tradition of periodically emptying their graveyards it was a vault of the dry bones of Champoor’s centuries of dead arrayed in careful stacks. I have been in something of it’s ilk once before as the outlaws of Nexus make use of the miles of interconnected catacombs there to evade authorities. They are intrinsically dangerous places even without murder goddesses baring a grudge. I wouldn’t have put it past Akkimu to just collapse the place on our heads. Broken Walls opted to take Mauk’s forces with us mostly so that they would not desert us for sheer boredom sake and plunged into the depths.

The catacombs were punctuated with rooms where the bodies of the dead are processed, mummified and transformed into the masked spirits we saw roaming the street. Coming across a vast cavern of these mummies we ordered the members of Mauk’s forces to start passing the dried husks of completed hosts up to the surface to burn on a pyre before the sun set. The deeper we plunged thicker the miasma of mold, rot and bone dust grew. After I got a lungful of the stuff I learned that my new propensity for smell has also enhanced my ability to taste as well. Before I would have been aware of dust as just tasteless grit but now it possessed flavour. The result of this revelation was that I coughed and retched to the point where my allies began to show concern for my welfare.

Descending further we began to get the idea that the shape of the place was an inverted pyramid. Each new level seemed to be smaller than the one before. Reaching it’s narrowest point Broken Walls opened a door to reveal a giant silver snake which lunged at him with fangs the length of my arm. Meeting a formidable surface in Dauntless The snake recoiled to strike again as Saiten and I slipped past into the room. Saiten delivered a blow which rang in the enclosed space like a cacophony of metal pots sliding and crashing. The dazed snake fell in a mass of coils. I lunged forward angling an attack at it’s eye sockets with a hairpin but it was like hitting a temple bell with a chopstick. I couldn’t even scratch it. The snake, shaking itself back to sense, lunged again but Saiten made quick work of it with his glowing fists clad in Dauntless supplied by Mauk and in seconds the snake clattered to the floor with a clang, a massive dent in it’s side.

Once the strange automaton lay still we pried open it’s mouth to investigate a light source within and saw a patch of blue sky which we judged to be the entrance to Akkimu’s domain. We dragged the limp snake to the surface depositing it before our armies and prepared to invade. After sending Broken Walls and Saiten through to investigate we received the all clear and marched our forces through the snake’s mouth.

There was a curious sensation of shifting gravity as we walked over the lip of a sort of well set in the ground and emerged on a vast plain of bare earth. A Ziggurat loomed impressively in the distance fassoned with the enemy troupe’s ranks. At the top Akkimu waited ringed by her honor guard and flanked by two bell wielding priestesses. Once the last of our number passed through the portal the snake’s mouth snapped shut sealing us inside. It was clear there would be no retreat from this fight nor quarter given. Surprisingly this did not bother me. In the past I have taken a rather dim view of chivalry, militaristic bravado and honor. Such things I counted as foolish adherence to principles of vanity. Tricks to rook the gullible into spending their lives for somebody’s cause. A year ago had a prophet told me I would be standing on a battlefield willing to die alongside people who held these virtues aloft I would have called him a fool and laughed myself to stitches. But here I was, placing my wager and choosing to stand for one unwavering principle : That not one more life would be sacrificed to this Goddess before I forfeit my own.

I blame Aster. She’s been a terrible influence.

Our army charged across the plain, our followers giving rise to a war cry that was on my own lips before I was conscious of what I was doing. Staying in Broken Wall’s shadow I charged with the front rank. “Get to the Priestesses!” Broken Walls ordered me, I glanced up through the ranks of our enemies to the ring of guards around two bell bearers in the back rank and dismissed all consideration of attempting to cut them down. I would not be content with dealing with mortal flunkies whatever their purpose. I am aware this is hubris but in the heat of the moment it was hard not to indulge. Masked warriors set their blades against us as we plowed into the front line. They angled their silver knives at us but Broken Walls and I moved fluidly together like partners in a dance. The points of their weapons skittered uselessly on his shield and armour and found no purchase in either of us. I heard the chime of silver bells as I stepped out of Broken Wall’s shadow to whip a chain of linked necklaces and bracelets I had prepared earlier at eye level. I sent a burst of essence through the delicate chain which caught in the flawed quartz, topaz, garnet and amethysts I had spun. The carefully prepared stones exploded like a chain of fireworks sending tiny crystals peppering my enemies faces. It did little to harm them but served as an adequate distraction for Saiten who plowed in and decimated their number with a punch that blazed with light. A massive image of a fist wrought in light flew into the air before him flattening the ranks of enemies before him and the sky blazed.

The punch opened the path to Akkimu through the ranks of her warriors. She was a grotesque creature. Pale as a maggot, covered in a tracery of tattooed patterns and clothed in afterimages of herself draped like translucent veils. Her limbs were long and thin and her face was attractive in the same disconcerting fashion as a three day old corpse of a beautiful woman. She moved with all the staccato grace of a spider. As her mortal attendants were scattered by Saiten’s punch he pressed his advantage and flashed forward like a bolt of blazing lightning leveling a tremendous blow at her. Unbelievably he stopped short and fell at her feet. There was no time to be concerned for his welfare as the followers of Mauk surged forward through the gap and beat at Akkimu with their cudgels. She stepped over Saiten as she fended them off but the sheer press of their numbers seemed to overwhelm her enough that she made no effort to finish off our friend.

I heard the sounds of pitched battle behind us and dimly acknowledged that the spirits of the host had risen to attack our line from the rear. Broken Walls and I plowed onward and I felt the unison between us break as he surged forward, hammering at Akkimu with his sword before disengaging and putting Akkimu between us. I whipped my chain forward noting with pleasure as the twisted settings thrown open by the exploding stones snared her arm leaving shallow scratches in her flesh which oozed black as I used my momentum to slide beneath the legs of both her and Broken Walls twisting her arm and setting her off balance. Freeing my whip I snapped it up to wrap around my hands in a cats cradle I used to parry the grasping talons of the spirits that had formed at Broken Wall’s back. The Goddess attempted to back away but neither Broken Walls or myself would permit her to leave.

Akkimu shrieked and one of her priests, taking the cue, plunged a knife into her belly which seemed to fill Akkimu with new resolve. The Goddess lashed out at Broken Walls who lit his caste mark defiantly and withstood the blow as though it was nothing. Saiten rose to his feet and with his blazing fists landed blows on Akkimu who, almost unbelievably, bent double beneath the force of his punch but held firm. The Goddess reeled, flowing like water around Broken Walls she reached for me. A vision of a phantom hand reaching for me clouded my thoughts but I mentally brushed it aside. I offered it a glacial surface where my every fiber refused to yield a single foothold to my hated enemy. I leapt back spitting in the face of the Goddess who shrieked her rage and pressed forward with uncanny speed. I lashed out with my chain, wrapping it around Broken Wall’s arm to help me keep my feet as I backpedaled and swung wide from her attack. Again she swiped for me and I banished her influence from my mind. Suddenly I became aware of a faint refrain of that imagined music in the clear space where thought and emotion had sealed itself into perfect suspension. It took me half a second to realize that the music I heard was real.

Muscles pulled at my back sending me sailing into the open space between Broken Walls and Saiten. I glanced back and froze. Wings, or rather the ghostly image of them in shades of dusty violet and silvery gold, were at my back, my ears were full of the joyous ballad that beat the very air as the fires around me formed into a kaleidoscope of brilliant black and violet butterflies. The music cresendoed and I felt the Radius vibrate where it was bound to my arm between elbow and shoulder as it began to play itself. The discordant harmony performed by this duet of phantom flutes rent the air and the floating peaceful butterflies convulsed midair and blanched to become the palest gold.

Silkmoths. Rather specifically the yamamai silk moths which my mother’s family had cultivated for generations. I had loved watching their caterpillars, collecting their cocoons and seeing them be so artfully re-spun into the fabrics my father wove. Seeing them again was like seeing an old friend even as they swarmed about me and set on my feathers to devour them like oak leaves. There was no pain but my sense of my wings faded as pale gold bones clattered to the ground with the dry sound like wood. They were not finished. Surging forward they devoured the seeming of me leaving behind not my morning form but a void dotted with small points of light.

There was no time to marvel at this transformation. Akkimu pursued me, slashing at my form with her knives and screaming her rage. I felt rather than saw the daggers bite through the layers of my power laden clothes to sink into my flesh. The wounds inflicted seared with agony and I screamed in pain in a voice was alien even to me. It didn’t even seem like a true sound but rather a delusion that came from my own fevered imagination. Broken Wall’s stepped between us, his voice ringing like thunder, condemning Akkimu for her sins as his golden army gathered around us. Javelins of golden light pierced Akkimu through as his sword came down like an executioner’s blow severing her head. Her form held for only a moment before it crumbled to dust leaving nothing behind. The army of the host halted in their tracks as though the hand that puppeteered them fell slack.

The rest of the battle was almost an afterthought.

In the end enough of Mauk’s people heeded Broken Wall’s orders to leave one of Akkimu’s priests and a handful of her soldiers alive. I finished off a bloody handed murder spirit which hounded Aster and Chaoxi who seemed to have been hard pressed. Aster was robed in the white fire of her essence which cast prismatic rainbows through the whirling water that orbited Chaoxi. They looked like a pair of goddesses. They gave me a wide berth and I didn’t blame them. Moths still fluttered around me as though I were a flame and my form was suffused with a darkness that felt bone deep. To me it felt gentle and warm, a summer evening at peace, but I know I probably looked like something from the realm of chaos. I saw fear in the eyes of those I passed.

Broken Walls fled from the field through the mouth of the snake to attend some urgent business he did not pause to explain while Chaoxi took charge and ordered a contingent from Rising Sun house to enter Akkimu’s temple. Within minutes they started ferrying forth gold, ingots of strange metals and chased silver mirrors while Saiten focused his efforts on cracking the stones of Akkimu’s ziggurat with only his fists.

I made no effort to avail myself of the treasures of Akkimu or even join Saiten in dismantling Akkimu’s temple. Walking over to where the golden bones of my wings still lay scattered I stooped and picked up the left radius. I felt the real radius disappear from it’s bindings and though the bone I held had no holes when I held it to my lips I could play it as though it did. Altering the disharmonious counterpoint that sounded so sour and melancholy I improvised a duet with the strange sourceless flute that played on in an unbroken stream. It was as if I knew the melody better than I knew my own name and playing the harmony was as simple as breathing. It changed the song from something discordant and haunting to something beautiful. With a final sustained note the ballad ended and the darkness that clothed me began to fade exposing once again the form of Mists of Ruby Skies. Aster bandaged my wounds but asked nothing further than if I was alright. I did not offer much in reply. I felt like I was enclosed in a sort of glass bubble. Serene in a way I had not felt since I was a child.

Mauk arrived through the gate and set his great cudgel to Akkimu’s temple. He is quite impressive in size and his blows echoed across the plain. Broken Walls lead a discussion about how best to damage Akkimu’s realm but I left shortly after he began to put his plan into practice. I didn’t doubt that the job would be done.

I found a crumbling tower a short distance away and watched our surviving forces stock a great bonfire with the bones of Akkimu’s temple and the mummified remains of the host. It burned hot and fast throwing a great black cloud into the night sky. Every now and them I would make notice of the solemn gathering of spirits who watched the relics of the Goddess that held the city hostage at night burn as over ten thousand souls were freed from their bonds. They were not jubilant in watching us destroy the legacy of this ancient spirit. They were probably afraid of what this meant.

As I leaned against the spire’s crumbling rough bricks humming a snatchet of song I couldn’t help but feel I had fulfilled some sort of unspoken promise. I was possessed by a conviction that whatever eventually becomes of me, whatever I have been or have done, I will always have this. It isn’t atonement. What has happened can never be paid for or undone but I do have the power to alter the course of the future for the better. Watching the stars slowly fade to the dawn I reflected on all the decisions I had made and read them like a musical score. It stretched from the past through the present and into a strange dimly lit future that I could almost grasp the shape of. A gentle warmth and with it a sense of belonging and purpose permeated my being as I did so making me feel gloriously alive. The shame and pain of the past have not gone away but it is diminishing somewhat with the addition of things to weigh against it. Let tomorrow come.

I will be waiting for it.

Piper's Journal 20
Hitting Bedrock

Resplendent Fire 22 -

It took all of today to finish off the wards on Rising Sun House and to my chagrin negotiations were made for wards for the compound of families that allied with us. If I am gauging the situation properly Broken Walls has an allegiance owed to these people and his priorities rest with sheltering them from all the havoc we cause. I doubted he would consent to making a risky move on Akkimu while leaving them open to retaliation and thus didn’t press the issue but I was restless to put things to rights.

It didn’t help matters that a lot of the work with Nergui has been tedious and I have spent two nights stirring simmering fruit mostly in stoic silence. Though Saiten joined me for the second night not much conversation was afforded due to the fact it annoyed the old man. My mind does not easily consent to doing nothing for long periods and chasing my tail for hours with no new information to factor was maddening. As a way to pass the time I started trying to focus on the individual scents of the rich atmosphere of Nergui’s workroom as a form of mental exercise and was surprised how much I could actually smell.

Scent isn’t as straightforward as sound or sight. The smallest air currents manipulate how things are perceived and the scents themselves are like drifts of leaves with the oldest crumbling to dust beneath the layers of newer, fresher scents. The more I focus the more this hidden trove of information is revealed. Just as when I first discovered my ability to listen I realized that I was never blind to this, I just never attempted to see it. Maybe I can use the skill to my advantage somehow.

Resplendent Fire 23 -

In the morning we returned to Rising Sun House and were greeted with terrible news. Akkimu’s host had strangled thirty people in the private houses around the Rising Sun during the night to make her message was clear : if she could not get to us then she would draw us out. It was an obvious goad. In practical terms I knew it meant that she was trying to lure us onto ground where she had the advantage to finish us off with what she figured was more than significant enough force. Normally I would take pains to not react volatility and consider the options but I had enough waiting and fretting. I had set this in motion and it was past time I finished it. I would not wait idly by and construct new walls to cower behind or waste time while my enemy simply found new collateral to add to our consequence!

Looking to Aster was like facing a mirror, iron resolutions identical to my own were etched on her delicate features. Akkimu had pushed her too far. Saiten was of course game as ever. A challenge had been issued and that is usually enough cause for excitement for him to go along with whatever idiot scheme we might concoct. It was Broken Walls who was initially hesitant. Ever the head for cool strategy he attempted to be the voice of reason. He wanted time to fulfill his responsibilities to the houses who had allied with him but faced with our adamant will to act he decided he would rather swim with the tide than against it.

We opted to give him the morning to fulfill his commitments to his people. As he swept from the room I assessed the cold gleam that lit Aster’s eye and the carefully measured steadiness of her voice. I have sometimes wondered if Aster understands what it is to hate something unequivocally or look upon someone with no shred of mercy to spare. Seeing that look in her eye I think if she didn’t before then she just might now. Akkimu has much to fear from Aster Full of Light.

I rested for an hour while Broken Walls marshaled his forces. When I awoke I constructed a new disguise for the occasion. I spun from my essence brass bracelets and necklaces and anklets bedecked with raised settings of semiprecious stones with hidden flaws. Golden chrysanthemum hair ornaments with long steel spines and combs with widely spaced tines held my long black hair. I tucked into my weighted sash a fan I had purchased on a whim some weeks ago and I made my limbs long and willowy. I grew my fingernails hard, sharp and glass-like. My dark green dress was form fitting but allowed me much mobility. Armed thus and choosing the name “Mists of Ruby Skies” for the occasion I was as ready as I could be for the fight ahead .

We departed once everyone was assembled. Broken Walls had alerted the head priest of Mauk to gather his people and it would take time for them to amass their mob. We discussed a plan of action to try to tie up some loose ends and try to wrangle some last minute advantages.

Our first stop was to Hatellis’s temple. It had been Broken Walls who had pointed out that people not being safe in their own homes anymore potentially meant some sort of agreement might have violated. This was correct. When we arrived at Hatellis’s it was like an upturned hive. The entire operation was closing up shop and relocating outside of city boundaries. Seeking an audience with Hatellis who had the air of someone trying his best to manage disaster we learned that Akkimu had violated a serious contract she maintained with several parties in the city. He informed us that all parties involved in the contract would be receiving a message and recommended we wake Mauk if we wanted to ask for assistance. For all of the trouble we had caused him Hatelis showed no sign that he resented what we had done and wished us well before he vanished. For the first time I pittied him. His nature is such that he might as well be chained by the vast web of words and deeds. Because of that I don’t think he can ever be truly loyal to Aster even if he does care for her. If that is true I think their romance might be doomed to fail but he does have his virtues.

He also has a sizable fortune.

All in all Aster could have done worse for herself.

Broken Walls broke off to wake Mauk as Aster and Saiten accompanied me on a fruitless test to see if I could track the living priests of Akkimu from the place we saw them last. I could have saved myself the unpleasantness. The outer city usually smells of feces, rot, piss and old blood but the untrained nose homogenizes the nature of that miasma. Being assailed with a more intimate knowledge of how many different people contributed to those smells and which did so the most recently does nothing to improve the experience. I was able to identify the scent of the priests out of the mess but only where the air was still. Wind and rain had scoured the ground clean of any trail I could follow.

We were heading back through the gate toward our rendezvous point when we heard a voice like thunder through the cobblestones underfoot. People halted what they were doing and hushed. Peering into the invisible I saw multitudes of small spirits poke their heads out from the objects they inhabited and look about. We stood collectively dumbstruck as the secrets of Champoor bled out onto the public street.

“Akkimu is a godess of murder and sacrifice. She uses sorcery, messes with your mind and wields daggers. They hurt a lot. She has tens of thousands of ghosts at her command gathered from the dead of the city. Kadu and Silgur fear her but I can fight her, I just can’t win. That bitch messes with your mind. Tenepshu is in charge. She blocks the eyes of Heaven from Champoor. She is a Dragon who lives in the ruins of the old city and can make tidal waves. Kadu moved here 700 years ago, likes his food and has a wyld rift beneath the city. He seems like a nice guy. He’s building an army of fishmen.”

At these revelations the citizens and spirits drew instinctively closer together, the sibilence of frightened whispers intensifying beneath the hammer of each thunderous pronouncement. Saiten and Aster looked as stunned as I probably did.

“Grisig is honest and reliable, he made my door. Silgur is insane. He used to be a good guy but that was before he liked rats. Natasha will sleep with anyone and she was fantastic. As for me, I’m a giant who came from the land of Dis 800 years ago and kicked out the remnants of the Balorian Crusade. Things were great until my soul crystal went missing Akkimu and I had it out after she went evil and started doing all the nasty shit with sorcery and I lost.”

There was a pause during which the literal the dust which had been stirred up began to settle. Figurative dust however was another matter entirely. I heard hushed angry and scared voices in the crowd before it fell silent again when the voice resumed speaking. “Tenepshu reassigns the domains of the Gods in Champoor… Karoski and the other deposed Gods hang out with Gisig. Check with him.”

It was suddenly apparent we were hearing one half of a conversation and everyone paused waiting for the voice to resume again. The ramifications of these revelations are going to be difficult to quantify. With Hatelis having recently gone to ground the main mediator of these Gods might be in the wind which might impede their ability to co-ordinate. It is difficult to say how cohesive they are as a group particularly since Akkimu is seemingly unpopular amoungst at least three of the seven.

Tenepeshu worries me most. I don’t know what “blocking the eyes of heaven” means in practical terms but it sounds like shady dealings she has worked out with the gods here for mutual benefit. She might take issue with us killing Akkimu if Akkimu is key to propping up her power here. On the other hands seeing as Akkimu just violated a major taboo and might have proven herself a loose cannon Tanepeshu might be reasoned with. Our reputation here is such a mixed bag that it is hard to say how we might figure into their calculations. Mauk is nominally our ally. Silgur hates us but we haven’t broken the agreement with him since our property skirmish which could demonstrate that we are open to reason. Natasha, Gisig and Kadu’s opinion of us might be as yet unformed. The bit about the fishmen might be trouble but provided we mince Akkimu into tiny pieces Kadu might be inclined to make an attempt at diplomacy before stirring up trouble.

They might band together to kill us or they might offer us a seat at the table. Hard to say really.

The other consideration, that killing Akkimu might leave a power vacuum, concerns me less considering her monopoly on the city at night was absolute. It generally takes time for people to believe what they hear enough to risk changing reinforced habits and really if the business of thieving, whoring and feasting becomes less impeded all surviving parties might equally benefit. Even the temple of Gisig, provided he has one, will probably make a killing selling locks to suit demand. A city doesn’t immediately devolve into chaos just because people are out at all hours. Hell, the sudden labour shortage of nightshift guards might actually put more people to work.

Taking a deep, fortifying, breath in I immediately recognized Broken Wall’s scent and motioned for the others to follow. We spotted him just as he stepped out onto the street. As it turns out Broken Walls had no idea that Mauk’s half of the conversation had been heard at surface level. Upon learning that Mauk’s voice could probably be heard for a city block or two he was understandably upset. For my own part I have no idea if Mauk just did us a favour airing the God’s dirty laundry for the masses to examine but for the time being open speculation is ultimately meaningless as we could all be dead by tomorrow.

Leaders of the families and representatives of the priesthood of Mauk met us at Rising Sun House to be briefed on our plan. It appeared we would be leading a sizable contingent into the Black Quarter with us. As the leaders of the factions set about gathering what they needed I took the others aside.

Given that Mauk mentioned that Akkimu “messes with your mind” I worry that Akkimu may have some sort of power like the Radius. It is a remote possibility but it may similarly be transmitted through sound. Furthermore it is vital that should I perish the Radius must be destroyed and it may be important to let my allies know that it is not just a sentimental attachment. In the wrong hands it could be a powerful weapon provided it’s power continues to function once I am dead. I do not want to consider the ramifications of what a goddess of murder adept in sorcery could achieve with it.

That being said was a bit awkward letting the others know that I possess the capability to drive people out of their minds and moreover that I have used that power enough to have some idea of it’s scope. I handed out some beeswax that could be used to shield them from a similar attack should they need it and just in case they thought to ask if I could wield it effectively in our favour I stressed that it is far too unpredictable to be counted on and requires far too much time to be useful in battle.

There is not much time left before we march. Being generous I give myself a fifty-fifty shot of coming through this alive. Akkimu is waiting for us this time and no doubt we are walking headlong into hell. I never trained as a warrior and in my brushes with true combat as a whole I have only managed to scrape by by the skin of my teeth. Perhaps if I do live through this I will dedicate my time to becoming a proper soldier. Standing on principle has been an alien concept for me up til now but I guess everyone has their breaking point.

If this journal is discovered and decoded I am not sure what a reader would think of me. I leave no will behind as my possessions are for the most part worthless and the handful of people who would mourn me are either marching with me or have no idea if I am alive. If it is Aster and Saiten are reading these words then I apologize for deceiving you as often as I have. If it is another curious soul trying their hand at code breaking I will leave you the advice that I was given though it has done me little good.

“All spies get caught. If you are lucky you will live to be caught again. If you are good then you will die with your secrets but if you are stupid you’ll let your conscience corner you.”


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