As the tale of the Exalted Continues

Aster's Diary 17

The next day, Piper and I set out to visit Karoski’s temple, to see how it was coming along. I am not a terribly experienced rider, so I rode behind Piper, ‘guised in the form of an older looking gentleman, with Seventh Dawn along for further support. I am attempting to take the advice of the other day to heart, and not travel anywhere alone. I would hate it terribly if my friends were put into any kind of peril because of my foolhardiness of over-confidence.
Karoski’s temple seemed to be coming along, though somewhat slowly. Life was returning to it, in the form of some few plants, and, according to Piper, whose sight for such things is far superior to mine, tiny spirits had begun to inhabit the place as well! He described them as ‘little hicks’, which it seems means farmers, who it seems were quite friendly. Piper asked them if there was anything we could do to help speed Karoski’s recovery, and translated that they wished for us to pray.
I have nothing but respect for any being who fosters life, so was glad to do whatever I could to help Karoski to heal. I only hope he was able to hear my prayers for strength and recovery, so that his people may also heal their lands. His spirit helpers brought over a beautiful sprig of thyme for us as thanks, which I hope to make thrive as soon as we make it home.

Home. It feels good to think that word. I am all the way across the world from the place I came from, but I do feel this place can be called home. A house, a family, a place where I can belong, and a place that I can renew and revitalize, that may one day recognize me as a part of it too. I will make Champoor glad to have me.

Finding an Exorcist in Champoor is no easy feat, Diary! It has become more and more apparent of the last week that the dead in Champoor are not very well taken care of. We shall have to see about remedying that after Akkimu no longer has a hold of them.
We were, in fact, not able to find one that was actually in the city. Piper left Seventh Dawn and I for a while to seek out the council of her contacts in the city (splitting up is against my better judgement, but if anyone can walk without fear of being recognized in this city it is Piper). I sought out news of an exorcist in the markets, but no one knew of any. Thankfully, Piper had much more luck than I. It seems there is a Crematorium outside of town that an exorcist sometimes visits, which, being our only lead, we set off to seek out.

The building we came to, a ways outside of the walls of Champoor, was surprisingly… peaceful. The death I have been witness to lately has been so violent, so harsh and painful that it was a welcome change to be reminded of its more restful aspect. It was fronted by raked and swept pebbles, swirled into pleasing patterns around larger stones, like a pond, its ripples frozen in time.
The keeper of the crematorium introduced himself as Stone’s Passing, and was a welcoming host. When we inquired he stated that yes, an exorcist does stop by there at times, and, if we wished, we could wait for him there. He even offered us lodgings for the night, so we would not have to brave the streets of Champoor after dark.To keep the others from fretting, we sent Seventh Dawn to let them know of our staying there, and began to chat with our gracious host while we waited for the arrival of the exorcist.
It seems as though he used to live in the city itself, but was unsettled by the way the dead of Champoor were treated. He told us of the carts that crate away the bodies of the deceased, and how it seems very few people left in the city care much for the dead after this. While this news was disturbing, if not entirely surprising, given what we had been told about graveyards in Champoor, but at the same time it was heartening to know there was someone like Stone’s Passing nearby who still cared for those whose time had come.
While we waited, our gracious host allowed me to marvel at the pigeons he kept, one of which had gone to fetch back his exorcist friend. Our possible plans for keeping ourselves informed of the movements of Kamthahar possibly involved these interesting creatures, so I was happy to study them, but it was also quite a pleasure to watch the glisten of the myriad of colours on their wings, and listen to the soft, rolling coos of their little voices. I hope very much that we come to keep some.

The exorcist found us a little after dark (how strange it is to be up after dark again!), and rightly treated us as the strangers we were to him. His name was Nergui, Stone’s Passing told us. After he had had some time to eat and settle, Piper and I began our plea to him.
He was…. understandably cautious. Hearing what we have done and been up against lately, Diary, I, too, would be more than a bit alarmed in our description of events. We both attempted to be vague, so as not to frighten him away, or put him in too much danger, but did not seem to succeed. I suppose knowing that we had angry spirits hunting us and that we ourselves might be a match for them would be quite disturbing for someone who had just gained knowledge of this.
My heart truly sunk when Nergui named his price; I have little experience with the prices of usual goods, let alone those to do with the warding of buildings from angry spirits, but the jade he asked for I was fairly sure we would not be able to procure in time. I glanced at Piper for confirmation, and found my heart sinking further at the look on that grizzled face. How would we possibly keep the people in our care safe if Akkimu was after us, and we could not even afford to keep her soldiers from our own walls?

On the verge of tears, I threw myself at his mercy and his feet; one final attempt to have the light in him recognize mine. I just knew that if he could truly understand that there were innocent lives at risk that he would do what he could. Piper’s voice chimed with mine, a more logical plea, certainly, than my emotional one, Piper being far cleverer than I when it comes to persuasion, and we finally heard the old exorcist’s voice bend and give. So long as we could provide the materials, he would lower his price enough that we would be able afford it, and he would be able to live with it. I knew that behind the older man’s gruff exterior beat the heart of a hero!

In the aftermath of such a victory, while my heart was still soaring on the thought of such generosity we had been shown, it did suffer some pangs of guilt at the shock our poor host, Stone’s Passing, must have felt upon hearing our story. I do not think either man had expected the two of us to come in with such requests, and to be told that we fought against the legions of the Champooran God of Murder herself mut have been, well, frightening. We did our best to ease our host’s mind that night, but hopefully our eventual ridding of Champoor of Akkimu’s doings will help him even more in the long run.

That next morning, we returned home, only to find the place buzzing with some story or news: It seems that, while we were away, Broken Walls, Saiten and Chaoxi had gone running through the city, chasing one of the Host!… or, at least, that was one such story circulating. In reality, it seems that Saiten brought one of the Host, laid out by his hand, into the compound, as some kind of prisoner. Broken Walls, seizing upon this opportunity, remembered the effects the strange mead the two brothers Knot and String had made had had on him the last he drank it, which was to be able to actually see the movements and lines of others’ light! It seems they did go tearing through the city, but not chasing the Host itself, but following the tether attaching it to.. well, wherever it was that Akkimu held it from, which they found was under the ground beneath Akkimu’s bell!
It must have been such a sight to see the normally composed and thoughtful Broken Walls, racing through the streets, following a line that only he could see! It almost makes me laugh just to think of it now, Diary!

As much as it was good to know where it was the spirits were bound, there were other matters to tend to that day, with the arrival of Nergui. We had sent Broken Walls and Saiten, as our strongest members, to fetch the ingredients that Nergui had requested for the warding of our compound, and they arrived back not long after he did. It was a bit odd to see him again in the light. His clothes and belongings reminded me of Dasadi, but his mannerisms and manners are distinctly different.

I hope he is keeping well… I’d hate to think of our friend in trouble without us there to help him…

Nergui put Broken Walls and Saiten to work as soon as he saw them. Not wanting to be a bother, I attempted to stay out of his way, but his work was so… fascinating. To think that a compound of mainly salt, and some painted sigils should prevent spirits from entering our home…. Although I suppose to think that inner light could ease the passage of a departed soul, or transform ones appearance, or dance on the surface of armour, or that will could harden a fist into steel…. the world I find myself in is full of wonders.
At first Nergui set Saiten to helping him with digging and building, which I suppose made as much sense as Broken Walls, from his perspective, since both look fairly equally suited to those tasks. I assume the Broken Walls simply did not want to contradict our expert in such matters, but soon became impatient with not being able to do his best work, and gave a demonstration of why he should be making the bricks of salt instead of Saiten, by using a single strike to make a whole barrel of the salt mixture into perfect slabs.
I felt again for poor Nergui then, who, even as we had attempted to ease him into the strangeness that is our everyday lives, must have been overwhelmed with everything he was experiencing. Or perhaps not; as an exorcist, I imagine he is privy to all sorts of strange and unusual sights, and if he was confused or worried by the sights we showed him, he didn’t show it much. It is admirable to see someone with such stoicism in the face of the unknown.

It took more than the day to finish warding our compound. Piper seemed keenly interested in the whole process, which isn’t entirely surprising, given that he has seemed quite studious lately when it comes to matters of spirits. I am quite pleased to see it now taking the form of seeking help from another; Piper spends so much of her time alone, or with others, but as someone else, and for purposes that are more geared to helping our cause and finding information than to her own interests and purposes that it is heartening to think that she may have found a teacher with whom she can form some kind of bond.

Ah, I miss Litaka! He stayed quite a while this time, but it is always not long enough. He always know what to say, and just how to say it! Even when it is often vague, round-about and not always the most helpful, I long for his advice. He has a smile that makes worries melt, and a laugh that chases fretting away. But one must learn to be reliant on one’s own advice, and, if nothing else, I can think of what he might say or do in these circumstances. And that would be to sing, or tell stories.

So I did.

The second night, after a day of wandering the streets with Chaoxi, searching somewhat aimlessly for a sight for the orphanage, and speaking equally aimlessly about nothing and everything, I decided that, after a day of unease and tension, the people of our compound could use a chance to get out of their heads. I searched to the back of my mind and pulled out a story with a happy ending:

The Bridge Builder

Once upon a time there was a little village on the coast that was sorely in need of a new bridge. Every year they would build a new one, but every year the river it was over would rage and roar, and the bridge would end up torn asunder. This year, they pooled all of their money together, and sent for the best bridge builder in the whole Pole.
This bridge builder was known throughout the land as the most innovative and clever bridge builder anyone in the area had ever heard of, but this bridge had him stumped! If he built it too low, the water would flow over it, and carry it away. If he built it too high, it wouldn’t be strong enough, and the fast currents would soon tear it down! He thought for days and nights, barely sleeping a wink, but he just couldn’t think of how it could be done.
One morning, just as the sun was rising, he sat by the river, pondering. Suddenly, a great gush of water rose up out of the river: standing before him was a great and terrible Spirit, with red skin like rusted iron, great bulging eyes like saucers, and horns as big as carving knives!
“Bah, you call yourself a bridge builder?” The Spirit rumbled to the dumb-struck man. “I’ve been watching you for days, and you haven’t done a thing! I bet you I could make the best bridge this village ever had in three days. In fact, if I can,” the towering spirit leaned over to the man with an impish grin that chilled him to his bones “If I can make a better bridge than you’ve ever seen before you can guess my name, I’m going to take your eyes.” And with that, the spirit vanished with barely a splash back into the water.

The bridge builder didn’t know what to think! As the sounds of the village waking began to drift over him, he shook himself, and stood. He must have fallen asleep at the edge of the river, and that MUST have been a dream. Right?

But sure enough, the next morning, the beginnings of a bridge had begun to span the impossible river! The people marveled at its construction; so quick, and yet so sturdy! The bridge builder, however, turned away from their praise, white as a sheet. He hadn’t built the bridge, the spirit must have been real! And to make matters worse, at the rate the bridge was going up, it would in fact be finished in three days!

The bridge builder, fearing for his eyes, tore through the village, searching for anyone who might have known the name of the spirit in the river, but no one had heard of such a spirit! The local historian only knew of the spirits of the village, not the surrounding area, the priests knew of the local gods, and the more renowned gods, but no one knew the name of the spirit in the river!

The second day came, and the bridge builder’s fear grew: the bridge had gone further still, and it would surely be finished by the next day! Once again the people stopped and stared, praising the skill and ingenuity of the bridge and its builder, but the bridge builder was so frightened that he fled from their praise! The books of the village held no word of the spirit, and the local fishermen had never even heard of a spirit residing in their river. The bridge builder became desperate.

That night, he fled from the village, out into the nearby woods. Perhaps, if he couldn’t find him, the spirit would leave the bridge builder’s eyes alone. But the woods were dark, and thick, and soon the bridge builder was hopelessly lost.
All of a sudden, a soft voice began to lilt through the trees, and the bedraggled bridge builder perked up. Someone was there, maybe even someone with a fire he could sit at! He raced through the underbrush, and as he got closer, began to hear the words of a song:

Onihachi, bring me
Something to eat
Naisai balls are
Such a treat!

The bridge builder slowed down, confused. What were Naisai balls? He had never heard of such a thing. Where was Naisai? And it sounded like the singer was just a child. What was a child doing in such a remote place? He began to approach with more caution.

Onihachi, bring me
Something to eat
Naisai balls are
Such a treat!

As the bridge builder closed in on the sound, he came to the edge of a clearing. Through the moonlight he saw a small girl, sitting on the ground, through up small balls of something and catching them in her mouth. She was the one singing. But what was she doing way out here, all alone?
The wind shook the trees overhead, and suddenly the moonlight fell fully on the child.
Only, this was no mortal child! One, bulging eye, as big as a saucer, skin as red as rusted iron, and little horns sticking out of her raven black hair, like paring knives! And what was worst….

Onihachi, bring me
Something to eat
Nice eyeballs are
Such a treat!

The little pile in front of her was eyes!

The bridge builder crept away from her, the skin crawling on his arms and legs, until he was as far as he dared and then he tore back through the forest. By the time he found the other side of it, it was almost morning, and he was back at the village, just in front of what was now a finished bridge! What was he going to do?

Out of a gout of frothing water, the Spirit rose, grinning it’s demon grin from ear to pointed ear. “Well, Bridge Builder? I’ve finished! Guess my name, or I’ll have your eyes!”
“Wait, at least let me have three guesses!” Pled the shaking bridge builder. The Spirit scoffed, great arms crossed about his great chest, but waved his hand in acceptance.

“Is it…… Hannibal?” The bridge builder stammered, searching desperately for any name that night fit.
“Nope! You’ll never guess!” The spirit’s grin widened so that it looked like it might overtake his head!
“Is it….. One Red… Bridge..?” The bridge builder was really grasping at straws, but his lack of sleep and fright that night had really done a number on his nerves.
“Bah! You might as well give them to me now!” The spirit leaned towards the bridge builder.
“Wait! wait.. I get one more guess… is it…” The bridge builder tried to think, but all that kept running through his head was the scene last night, with the terrible little spirit girl popping eye balls into her mouth.

Onihachi, bring me
Something to eat
Nice eyeballs are
Such a treat!

Suddenly, the bridge builder’s eyes widened. “Onihachi! Your name is Onihachi!”

The spirit roared in anger, but the bridge builder had got it right. In a massive swirl of water that threatened to overtake the expertly crafted bridge that he had built (but didn’t, because it had been o very well made), the spirit was gone.

The villagers of that place still use and marvel at the brilliant construction of the bridge over their impossible river, but were sad that they never got to pay the brilliant bridge builder who had put it there. As for the man himself, after his encounter with the prideful spirit, he had fled the village, and taken up farming.

The End.

Broken Walls Journal 10
In which plots are uncovered.

Resplendent Fire 15, RY 768

I went to visit Aster today.
Well, we live in the same building, so I didn’t go far. She seemed to be fretting over her hair when I arrived – I’m not really sure why, Aster is always beautiful. I was going to say “radiant”, but that seems redundant, for obvious reasons. I tried to make conversation, but she was clearly distracted, and kind of… snippy. Aster is never snippy.
At any rate, she mentioned her “date” with Hatelis (that evening!), so I subtly mentioned that he’s probably around 700 years old, then departed.
Aster is a Solar, she can take care of herself. Still, I thought the age difference between she and I was great, and Hatelis could be more than four times my age!

I also stopped by the Family Compound to ask for info about Mawk. They pretty much suggested I speak to Mawk’s followers. Well that makes sense.

Resplendent Fire 16, RY 768

This evening is Piper’s meeting with the murder spirit’s superior. Piper has taken the appearance of a fire-aspect Terrestrial she calls Garnet. When I asked what kind of signal I should look for, should she be in danger, she summoned some flames into existence dancing above her hand. The seeming of flames, anyways – though I could see the fire and feel warmth, she assured me they could not burn anything. An illusion, then, a sterile flame incapable of spreading – good for a signal, though not subtle.
I headed up to the top of my tower to attempt to track “Garnet’s” progress, or otherwise watch for the signal. Glad I built the tower taller than the city wall, makes it an excellent lookout point. Also glad Piper is imitating a Dragonblood, and their lovely tradition of colour-coding themselves (Chaoxi if you’re reading this I apologize but look at what you’re wearing right now, I bet you a Mina there’s at least some blue there), as Garnet’s red and purple clothes are a little easier to follow.
I managed to track Piper’s progress for most of his journey (I’m certain he must have been trying to be visible for my sake), and though I lost sight of him for a time, I eventually spotted him and another that must have been the mysterious superior (human in appearance) climbing up onto the city wall, where they seemed to speak for a time. After they left the wall I lost track of them, and enough time passed that I had to remind myself that people don’t just see through Piper’s disguises, and even if they did, she’s still a Solar.
Eventually I sighted Piper approaching our gate, his steps seeming more leaden than normal. I went down to meet him, but he wanted to speak privately, so we returned to the tower-top. I couldn’t help but notice the blood on her hands and clothes, but waited for her to recount the evening at her own pace before offering words of my own.

According to Piper, the “murder spirit” she had previously encountered had led her to his master, a woman named Lang, whom I had seen with Piper on the wall. There, Lang had explained that she was a worshipper of Champoor’s Goddess of murder – Akkimu.

Great. Amazing, beautiful. Of course this city has an active murder Goddess, why wouldn’t it?
Anyways, apparently Akkimu’s followers wear masks and robes that allow them safe passage at night in the city, but the masks require upkeep in the form of murder with special silver daggers. In addition, use of these daggers may provide some further form of power.
That’s quite the package deal, I can see how it would tempt those seeking strength or status. Oh, and Lang’s bloody-handed servant-spirit is named “Hathesis”. I can tell you now I’m going to get that name mixed up with Hatelis’, hopefully not in the commerce god’s presence. Piper says these murder spirits can point the way to potential candidates for murdering. Speaking of which, Piper did not explain her bloody appearance. She seems nervous, too – maybe frightened? I am not used to seeing Piper displaying anything other than general annoyance, or perhaps poorly hidden pleasure while consuming her weight in strawberries.
His agitation is understandable, though. These are grim tidings he is bearing, and it’s obvious there are further details he is keeping to himself. I pray that whatever he’s hiding hasn’t damaged him irreparably.
At any rate, I told Piper that this information was too significant to even consider hiding from the others, and we should let them know right away – or after he had cleaned up. I also thought saying the information came from an informant might avoid some uncomfortable questions – Saiten’s views on right and wrong can be very rigid and small picture, and I wouldn’t want Piper and Aster’s friendship to be hurt. Chaoxi would probably understand. She’s worked in the Imperial Mountain. She’s seen far darker dealings.
And in fact, that’s about how the meeting went. Saiten wanted to rush out immediately and punch something, Piper asked for more time for her “contact” to gather more info, and Aster expressed concern for Piper’s contact’s safety should we act now.
In the end we convinced Saiten we needed more information before taking action so that we could get to the root of the problem.

As it turns out, Piper had gotten Saiten to go do some snooping for info about some “city improvement project” being run by the temple of Kadu that had been taking people out of the city. Apparently there is no further information about this project being offered, so tomorrow morning Saiten is going to go volunteer. However, Saiten isn’t always the most subtle person, and I worry he might get himself in trouble (although it would have to be some pretty major trouble for Saiten to be in any real danger) so I volunteered to go along with him.

I’d have to wake up early, though, as I have some other business planned at Mawk’s gate first.

Piper's Journal 19
Whispers in the Cold

Resplendent Fire 19 -

We arrived back in Champoor shortly after noon and set about our task of procuring the services of an Exorcist. I decided we should split up. Though many of my contacts are perfectly respectable all of the people I have made connections outside of Rising Sun are unaware of my affiliations. With Aster broadcasting her message every day from the city walls bringing her around with me would have them drawing parallels I’d truly prefer they didn’t. I must do all I can to minimize my seeming connection to Rising Sun House or else the information I receive as a seemingly free agent will become skewed by loyalties and hearsay. I agreed to meet Aster later with our findings in a pre-arranged location and we went our separate ways.

I decided to start with the people I would have the easiest time tracking down. Toki, a busker reliably found at Glazier’s Square,is amongst the city’s prime gossips whom I trade tidbits with on occasion. She hadn’t heard of an exorcist in the city in quite some time though I suppose she hadn’t much interest. I spoke with the troupe at the Winter Meets Wind though I didn’t expect much and dropped by some of the inner city’s coffee houses to check in with a couple of my well to do socialite contacts. The rest of my contacts being somewhat more difficult to track down and feeling rather hungryI purchased a light meal and a couple of moon cakes and went to visit Xi for tea.

It was good to see her again. When I arrived by fortuitous circumstance her son had stepped out on some sort of errand and she was watching the store. We spoke on a few light-hearted matters though I think she could sense that something was wrong and she asked if I was alright. I mentioned that I had a lot on my mind recently and told her that I was looking for the services of an exorcist. I was surprised when she informed me that she knew of one that stops by a crematorium outside of town. I could tell she was worried about why I might be asking for something so out of the ordinary but at that moment the bell to her shop jingled admitting a customer I immediately recognized though never expected – Broken Walls.

He fixed me with a surprised look but thankfully didn’t comment on my presence and conducted his business looking for books on metallurgy. Could he actually be acquiescing to Saiten’s request to construct some sort of practice warstider shell to punch? I know Broken Walls is generous to a fault towards us but that seems a bit much. Those materials can not be cheap. After he left, I excused myself to Xi telling her that I would stop by again soon. She sounded rather worried for me when I bid her goodbye. I wish I could tell her what was really going on but I don’t see how that would set her mind at ease.

I rejoined Aster and Seventh Dawn and, after gathering the horses, headed an hour’s ride outside of town to the place Xi had described. It seemed a pleasant place if you didn’t pay particular attention to the smell of the crematorium at the back of the property. Inside the gate it had a beautiful garden in the Zen style which I favour over the obnoxiously lurid color and frippery of flower beds. The white pebbles of the rock garden were more deeply raked than average to give the impression of islands in a choppy sea following the austere sereneness of the classic style. The proprietor of the establishment, Stone’s Passing, received us well and sent a messenger pigeon on our behalf to the Exorcist whom he occasionally consults with named Nergui, asking to arrange a meeting as soon as possible. He advised us that Nergui would probably be willing to meet with us that evening and, noting that we were inhabitants of Champoor proper, offered to provide room and board for a modest price. We dispatched Seventh Dawn with a message to Broken Walls that we would not be returning that night and settled in for a wait.

Aster of course was curious about our host and I gathered a rather favorable impression of him though I could tell that he was suspicious of us. He mentioned he had started work providing cremation services after taking issue with the way the dead in Champoor were treated which became intolerable to him after he suffered a personal loss. He seemed happy to share some tips with Aster about the breeding and keeping of messenger pigeons. Aster of course was enamored with the birds. I preferred to keep my distance since my experience with the handling of animals has usually lead to them biting me. The fact that I rarely appear or even smell like the same person long enough for them to become accustomed to me probably doesn’t help matters. As such I lack much common sense about their handling.

Nergui proved to be an old man in his 60’s with a very abrupt manner. He arrived just prior to our host serving dinner and was forthright in asking what we wanted of him. Having gotten a decent measure of Stone’s Passing I could hazard that Nergui’s outlook on the handling of the dead of Champoor followed similar lines but from the instant he walked in he presented a conundrum. Namely, it would be advantageous or even hazardous to outright lie to him.

If we did by fortune’s wheel manage to concoct a smokescreen to fool this expert on something Aster and I are both novices in he might discover our true purposes anyway once we employed him given the nature of what we were going to ask for. The minute he steps foot in Rising Sun House there are going to be things that he doubtless is going to notice. There is also the possibility that if we were not entirely honest about what we wanted him to ward against the wards we receive might be deficient for our purposes. To further complicate matters, in the past Aster has outright refused to lie except by omission and would most likely be unwilling to corroborate a falsehood. She is worth her weight in gold when trying to appeal to people’s better natures but her propensity to absolute honesty can be a double-edged sword. It pains me to take such risks but sometimes honesty truly is the best policy.

Not that it was easy. Aster and I started by trying to be vague until we could get a better measure of the man but I am sad to say our initial attempts at lying by omission were completely transparent. The aged exorcist was nobody’s fool. He asked for a king’s ransom for the services we wanted but in mentioning Akimu I was encouraged by the way his mouth twisted into a grimace, his posture straightened almost imperceptibly and a small spark lit his eye. Telltale hallmarks of disgust and hatred to be leveraged.

Aster threw herself on the old man’s mercy, pleading with him to assist us in the defense of the people under our care laying bare the true care she holds for the people she treats with. I could see it hit the mark as he softened a little towards her. Our credentials thus established I decided to deal my hand. If kindness would not goad him then I would appeal to the bitter recesses of his heart. I let him know our true intent. That we were seeking to rid the city of Akimu and her blasted army of the dead, that if he helped us we would do all within our power to strike out at her. We would not ask him to risk himself unnecessarily but if he aided us then he would be contributing to breaking her hold on the city.

He lowered his price.

After Nergui left we did our best to entertain our host who was much more ill at ease for knowing our true purpose. Stone’s Passing set us up in one of his spare rooms which were comfortable enough though I stayed up long past when the others fell asleep. I sat out on the walkway that surrounded the house and listened again. It is still there, even this far from the city, that faint music that I can almost hear hiding just beneath the summer song of cicadas and frogs. It must not be real but some trick of the mind. It is an alluring siren’s call, leading me forward into this strange stillness between thought and memory and hinting of answers to questions I have never asked. Beckoning as it asks me to reach past the present and grasp something unquantifiable and unknown.

It is so maddeningly tenuous. Snatchets of a melody barely perceptible in the silence between heartbeats. When I consider that every day Akimu’s power slowly grows as more souls and bodies fall into her clutches, that my allies may be fighting for their lives in Rising Sun House right now the music fades into the chaotic swirl of thought. I sense a price in choosing to chase this mystery. I cannot take on faith that what lies beyond will aid me and it comes at the cost of precious time and focus. It is as exclusionary as it is elusive, asking me to suspend all else to chase it. Do I abandon the candle I hold at the cave mouth and walk forward into this darkness? What of the others? My strength against this threat may be paltry compared to what they are capable of but can even it be spared?

No. They need me. I can see and hear what they can not. I might not be able to lay waste to the armies of the dead but my involvement is not inconsequential. Preparations must be made. This reluctant ally we made today may be the key to discovering what we might need to take out the host and gathering a much needed insight into this damned city. I cannot waste my time chasing butterflies when so much rests on our actions. I rose and opened the screen that lead to Aster and I’s shared quarters and paused one last time to listen.

It was silent.

Resplendent Fire 20 -

We left to return to the city in the morning to inform Broken Walls of what he would need to supply to get the services he wanted in warding his compound. I sensed something was amiss before we were even inside the gates and tuned my ears to the gossip of the guards and my heart sank. Saiten, that gormless blithering, ostentatious lunkhead had jumped over the wall last night in full view of the guards. WHY IN THE UNCONQUERED’s NAME DOES HE HAVE TO BE SO DAMNED FLASHY!? I know it is a useless exercise in preaching caution at this point as nothing my allies have done since we’ve arrived be considered “laying low” but it galls me. Not a week after we had a conversation about trying to scale back our visibility he is pulling stunts like this! After consulting with Broken Walls and getting the whole tale I was left speechless by the events that transpired in our absence.

The series of events went something like this:

First. Saiten, having lingered out after dark, most likely intentionally, was attacked by a singular Host which he knocked unconscious. Just let that sink in. He knocked a ghost, a spirit of a dead human being, unconscious.

Second. Said spirit did not dematerialize as one might expect and instead remained in the physical world.

Third. Saiten then picked up said spirit and lept over the walls of the Rising sun house IN FULL VIEW OF THE GUARDS to bring it to Broken Walls when he could have just as easily ordered them to open the gate.

Fourth. They unmasked it to reveal a human face locked in what seemed like a silent scream of horror. How many people I have added to Akimu’s arsenal since I’ve arrived here I wonder? It would sit easier if I knew for certain every one of them deserved it. As is it makes me somewhat ill.

Fifth. Broken Walls, deciding to make the best of an absurd situation fetched the special reserve of mead from Knot and String. When I tasted it is had caused a curious effect which I had thought a hallucination but according to Broken Walls it actually allows someone to see essence. Saiten, Broken Walls and Chaoxi then proceeded to go on a sprint through the city with unconscious host in tow following Broken Walls as he downed shot after shot of an insanely strong liquor so he could track the tether of essence that keeps the host enslaved back to the ground below Akimu’s bell.

Where do I even start?

I have been swept up in a torrent of irritations I can not begin to pick apart. I am angry at Saiten for his rash and conspicuous actions and it somehow frustrates me further that I can not deny it served a useful end in this instance. The pieces are falling into place through sheer luck but there is so much work yet to be done and so many unknowns in play. After all that has been done I am impatient with the consequences associated with leaving Akimu in power for even a few more days but wary that rash actions will only leave us at a disadvantage or just cause more harm. I need a plan but I possess far too many questions I have not received answers to and thus each consideration is half-formed and practically useless!

Suppressing my urge to scream I informed Broken Walls of what Nergui had demanded as payment and he immediately tasked Saiten with helping fetch the requested materials. They arrived with them just in time and Nergui wasted no time ordering them to do his bidding in preparing everything to his specification. Cowed by the knowledge that Nergui is our resentful ally Broken Walls and Saiten meekly bore his orders despite them being tedious and not at all playing to their strengths. It is petty, but watching Nergui task Broken Walls with watching salt dry for hours on end was intensely satisfying and lessened my frustrations by a degree.

I followed the old exorcist around as he carefully measured and tested the walls of the compound and took detailed notes. Destroying the host all at once maybe impossible depending on what we find. I need to explore other options. If I can convince Nergui to advise me there might be other ways to approach this problem. Regardless, I mustn’t waste an opportunity to learn how to physically ward areas against spirits. Security is worth the investment given that once we remove Akimu our problems presented by the remaining Gods may increase.

There were were a few obstacles in warding Rising Sun house, namely that it’s rear wall is the city wall may be too thick or high to adequately ward. Frustrated at the slow pace I relented and made it known that we could have a wall built quite quickly. The old man is very committed to not getting too entangled in our business and halts himself from asking questions or supplying us with anything more than what we asked for lest he be dragged further than he’d like into what he views as none of his business. It is a refreshingly comforting stance that he does not seek to pry. I reluctantly find myself liking the old codger the more I associate with him to the point where after this is all done I actually hope he doesn’t decide to wash his hands of us entirely.

I brought the matter of the wall up with Broken Walls who was frustrated enough with his forced meditation on the properties of salt to demonstrate some of his capabilities for the old man. Creating a permanent ward is an expensive and time consuming process and though Broken Wall’s abilities sped the process up greatly to the point where we exhausted Nergui’s supply he was unprepared to complete the whole job in one day. I offered my assistance to the old man to help him prepare overnight for the following day which he accepted. Begrudgingly perhaps, but it’s something.

Resplendent Fire 21 -

I can’t say Nergui has warmed to me much but my time spent in his company has been an education. His home and workshop outside of town had a wealth of tomes on the subjects of the spirit world and drawers upon drawers of strange devices, herbs and concoctions. The actual process for creating the liquid used to bind the salt is not very difficult though it is labour intensive. The symbols used for the wards are made from a specialized chalk that he prepares himself and will show me how to prepare so that I can preform necessary upkeep once the wards are in place.

I did not sleep last night. An unfortunate occurrence that I haven’t had to endure for a month now. The cold lassitude that I have been mired in is fading but it has been replaced by something almost feverish. I am well acquainted with obsession, paranoia, hatred and wrath in turn but this feels distinctly different. Similar certainly. More tempestuous. I resent my desire to lie down and rest. I want to press on until this is finished.

We completed the warding of the Rising Sun. A few of the host arrived last night and tried to strangle some of Broken Wall’s men. No casualties. Broken Walls has brokered the services of Nergui to ward a second of his properties and has made efforts to find a safe house inside the city walls off the books. I must ask my questions soon. We cannot wait forever to make our move.

Saiten's journal 12
Murder spirits

Resplendent fire 18
We awoke fairly early. The night was quiet, so I managed to sleep quite soundly. The fox had disappeared, much to my disappointment.
Broken walls surveyed the area after he rose. He asked about the wreckage that my training had left around the area. I told him that it was necessary to push myself during my training, and as such, I had to preform some…selective logging. I could tell he was unsure of what to make of the situation, but he didn’t pursue the matter further.

After a quick bath in the river, and a quick wash of my uniform, I gathered some berries for breakfast, then we made our way back to Champoor. As we approached, I couldn’t help but feel a bit depressed at the look of the city. Where outside the city was bright and sunny, the city itself had almost a supernatural gloominess to it. It was as if the city itself was depressed. I shook off the feeling as we passed within the city limits.

We waited for Piper at the Rising Sun House. I was eager to be debriefed regarding our mission to the Kadu quarry. I filled her in as best I could on our activities, but I saw no real reaction from Piper. Something else was clearly on his mind. When I had finished, I left for my patrols. It was already getting late into the day. I imagine the city’s less respectable folk were getting excited at the prospect of having another day without me. I was quick to disappoint more than one criminal element.

Upon returning to the compound, Piper and Broken Walls spoke to the group about the recent developments with Akimu. I had already been told that Piper was being considered as a recruit to Akimu’s followers. Now, however, I think I’ve gotten more of the full story. Her contact is Lang, a young woman of questionable morals. Piper was to meet with Lang tonight regarding if she was committed to becoming a follower of Akimu. Clearly, he was not. For if she was, he would not have told us of the meeting. We devised a trap for Lang, and Hathesis. Piper was to meet Hathesis shortly before dusk, then follow him to Lang. I am told that I am not as stealthy as one might hope, so it was decided that Chaoxi, Aster, and myself would remain at a distance, out of sight of Piper. Broken Walls would follow closer, along the roof line and signal us to join him when it was safe.

We waited for hours. We had hoped to lure Lang out before dark. The murder spirits would have an advantage that the others did not think wise to let them have. I had my reservations, but agreed with the plan. Lang, however, was not one to be rushed it seemed.

Finally, the signal came. We rushed towards Broken Walls was as fast as we could. Chaoxi leaped up to the roof line in a single bound. Aster looked at me nervously as I swooped her up in my arms, then leapt to follow. Piper had followed Hathesis into a small hut, where presumably Lang waited. We made our way onto it’s roof as quietly as we could. We could hear muffled talking, but I couldn’t make out anything specific.

It wasn’t long until creatures started to appear. Dark hands appeared out of nowhere, and started to pull their bodies into existence. Wrapped in black cloth, and adorned with a featureless, white mask. They were appearing by the dozens in the streets. It wouldn’t be long before they would be filled completely. It was then, that we knew it was time to strike. With a swift punch, I collapsed a sizable hole into the roof of the hut. Broken Walls entered first, followed by Chaoxi, then Aster. I looked upon the apparitions as they began to climb the building and smiled. “This should be fun,” I thought to myself.

Saiten's journal 11

Resplendent fire 8

Once my training was completed, I made my way back to Champoor. When I returned to our compound, I found Broken Walls training with the guardsmen. He was showing them proper fighting forms, and stances.
During my trip to Volivat, one of the things that stood out was it’s guard force. They were well trained, well coordinated, and always visible to the populace. That was something lacking with the Champoorie guard. I admired Broken Walls’ efforts to bring the local guard’s to a higher standard.

Once Broken Walls had completed his training, I asked if there was any way that I might help with the guards training. He suggested that given my daily training regime, I might be of help training their physical fitness. I’m not sure many would be able to keep up with my strict regiment, but I agreed to take the guards with me on my morning runs. Maybe some of my ideals would rub off on them along the way. The world could always use more heroes.

I finally got a chance to ask Aster how she managed to stay clean, despite the world’s best efforts. She told me that Litaka had given her a special necklace that lets her light wash her of even the most filthy stains. When I asked her where Litaka was, that I might ask him of it, she told me that he had departed while I was away from Champoor.
The news was a bit of a surprise to me. Litaka and Aster were very close. I almost expected him to become a regular sight in Champoor. Still, his departure was also of some relief. I was never able to shake that unsettling feeling about him.

Resplendent fire 9-14

I spent the rest of this week working with the guards that Broken Walls had hoped to train into a proper fighting force. We left in the mornings for my usual 10k run. I’m surprised at how hard it is for them to keep up with me. I must be that running in full gear is slowing them. I have only the uniform, whilst they have full armor, packs, weapons. Still, they will be better off training with the extra weight. I’ll just have to be patient.

We encountered a few muggings on our runs. Nothing out the ordinary for me. I dispersed the attackers with ease. I tried to show the guard how I handled the situations. They looked hesitant to attempt to disarm people the same way I do. They’ll get there eventually.

Resplendent fire 15

This morning, none of the guards showed up for my morning run. Their numbers had been dwindling towards the end of last week. A 10k run every single day, no matter what, was a lot to ask of a man. I guess I’ll just go back to running alone. At least I can run at my own pace.

When I returned, I discovered Aster frantically preparing for an engagement of some sort; Trying to get her hair just right. She told me she was meeting with Hatellus, and wanted to look good for it. Its hard to imagine, but it seems Aster is unaware of how beautiful she actually is. I somehow doubt that styling her hair differently, or wearing a different dress would change that. Still, I wished her luck on her evening, then retired to my room.

Resplendent fire 16

I had returned from my morning patrol, when I saw Aster and Chaoxi gossiping about the previous evening. It seems I had mistook the engagement that Aster was going on. As it turns out, it was a date. Aster was trying to court Hatellus. I don’t really know how to take this news. Hatellus is hundreds of years old, while Aster is 17. I’d say she doesn’t really know what she’s getting herself into, but neither do I. I’m only 24. I’ve never even had a serious relationship myself.
I know Aster can take care of herself. And while trying to court a god may not be the best idea, I can understand her desire to have a long lived companion.

I had just finished digesting the news of Aster’s evening, when Piper approached me, wanting my help with something. We’ve known for a while that Kadu’s followers had set up some sort of city improvement project. They had even tied Aster’s name to it at one point, until she requested them to stop. Piper now wanted to find out the details of the project.

For months now, Kadu’s recruiters have been gathering workers, and shipping them off to work. Where they were working, was unknown, and that’s where Piper wanted my help. She asked me to disguise myself, and go offer my services with the next recruitment party.
I’ve spoken with Piper before about my thoughts on disguising myself. I am a hero. And a hero should be visible. A hero shouldn’t hide himself and sneak around in the shadows. We argued back and forth, but eventually I relented. I agreed to go to the recruitment meeting, but I will do it in my own uniform. If Kadu’s men were serious and wanted to help improve the city, then they should have no reservations about having a hero such as myself help. Piper was happy to have my help, but a little disappointed at my attitude towards the disguise.

After she left, I spent the next few hours climbing the tower that Broken Walls had built. It’s a pretty good workout actually. There are few good places to grip, so each move has to be done carefully.

I had scaled the tower a few times, when Piper returned. She gathered Broken Walls, Myself, Aster, and Chaoxi to one of the meeting rooms in the Rising Sun House. He seemed to be worried somebody was listening to her. Piper is normally careful about her surroundings, but this time, he seemed extra cautious. He told us that yet another god had made itself known to her.

It seems that Akimu, the god of murder, and a spirit named Hathesis have been convincing their follows to murder people in the streets at night. I had wondered why the city had shut down around night fall. I didn’t think it was quite at this level though. I tell my friends that I can’t stand by and allow this sort of thing to occur freely. I would face these spirits, and put a stop to this once and for all.

Piper was appreciative, but felt that we didn’t know the full story yet. She was meeting with her contacts again soon, and felt that my sudden appearance and knowledge of the situation, may tip his hand. Currently, Hathesis believed Piper to be a potential recruit. Piper wanted to use this to her advantage, and I reluctantly agreed. I will be putting a stop to this, but I will heed my friends advise, and wait for the right moment. That being said, If I were to just happen to be taking a late night stroll, and happened to see an innocent in danger, it would be rather uncharacteristic of me to not help…

Resplendent fire 17.
I awoke, and began preparing myself for my mission to infiltrate the city improvement project. I don’t really consider myself much of a spy, but if it will helps the city, I will try to act the part.
When I descended the stairs, I found Broken Walls returning to the compound. He had gone off to meet with Mauk’s followers, with the hope of finding out more about Akimu, and his followers. He relayed to us that Akimu’s followers steal the souls of people, and that Mauk once tried to stop them. They said that there was a bell that existed within black quarter that had some sort of connection to Akimu. Mauk had tried to break the bell long ago; he failed, leaving a large crack in the side of it. If Mauk failed to break this bell, I want to try my hand at it. Must be quite something if it can withstand Mauk’s cudgel.

Broken Walls and I had just finished our conversation, when I noticed Aster pacing around. She seemed very distracted. When questioned, she told me that she was going to be seeing Hatellus again, and was hoping to give him a gift. I blurted out that he would probably like a fancy pen, as he is a god of contracts. She loved the idea, and hurried off.

I was about to head out to meet with the followers of Kadu, when Broken Walls stopped me. He asked me if I was sure that I wanted to do this alone. I told him that I would welcome the company if he desired to join me. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I know Broken walls to be dependable in a pinch.
He took it upon himself to don a disguise. He mostly looked the same, but older, and more ragged. Better than I could have done for sure. Hopefully it would be enough for Kadu’s men.

We made our way to the meeting place that Piper had told us of. There were quite a few people around, all excited for the work offered by Kadu’s men. When I offered my services, they were quite surprised. They recognized me immediately. I told them that I had heard that they were attempting to improve the city, and that I would want to do my part to help. Champoor had become my home, and I wanted to help make it a better place. They were not convinced. They told me that part of the agreement, was to spend a year away from the city, working at a quarry. I wasn’t sure I could commit to a year. I wasn’t sure I could commit to a week in all honesty. The city needed heroes within the city, stopping the murders that were happening. I questioned myself if this were truly the right call. I want to help Piper find the information he needs, but a year is too long. I decided to try my hand at deception. I told them that I would work for three months. If they knew of me, they know that I could surely do the work of many men in short order. They reluctantly agreed, but still wanted me to sign a contract. I signed myself as Genos, hoping they didn’t know my actual name. He stuffed my papers and those of the others (Broken Walls included) into a pouch and told us to hop on his wagon. It was a long ride to the quarry.

During the ride, I was approached by a few people. Most of them curious about my fight with Silgur. I explained to them that I just punched him, and he went away. They were not convinced. Broken Walls convinced me during the ride that it would be best for us to not interact openly. They recognised me, and he felt they might make a connection to him if we were seen together too often. We spent the rest of the ride apart. As time went on, I recognized some of the areas. We were traveling north of the city, which I had explored quite a bit during my time away for training.

We arrived at the quarry fairly late. It was getting to be dusk. Lights could be seen through out the drab encampment. I could tell that they didn’t put much effort into making the place appear in good condition. They gave all of us uniforms, and told us to get changed. I ignored this suggestion, and went to find some of the veterans of the quarry. Broken Walls did the same. The general consensus, is that the people don’t like it here, but they agreed to the year contract, so they are putting up with it. For a year’s labour, they are to receive a bag of silver. The term bag seems to be undefined, as the amount in the bag seemed to vary largely from person to person. When I met up with Broken Walls, he had found that people who fail to meet quotas, or that try to leave before their contract ends, are beaten severely. We decided it best to meet with the management of the quarry to see about perhaps improving the conditions here, and to get the information we desired.

We confronted a group of guards, and demanded they bring us to their boss. They laughed and said that wasn’t happening. One tried to hit me. He must have been here for a while. I imagine the guards who had been to the city recently, would have heard that fighting me is not a good idea. I spared him serious injury, but I made my point. They showed me to their boss, a man named Nork.
Nork seemed offended that they would even bring somebody to see him. He ordered me beaten at once. The guards in the room all hesitantly brought out their clubs, and raised them to attack. I swiftly grabbed one and snapped it in half effortlessly. He listened to us after that. He told us that the stone was being shipped to build a wall far away. Not even a wall for Champoor. So much for a city improvement project. We convinced him to tell us who he reported to. A man named Razu Topeshi. I think Broken Walls recognized the name. Nork didn’t seem to know much more than he told us. We told him that we would be leaving. As I walked towards the gate, Broken Walls spoke loudly as he dawned Dauntless. Anyone who wanted to leave, was free to do so. And the people here had better be taken care of, or we will hear of it. Also, he said he would return within one years time to make sure that people were being paid what they promised.

With that, I blew down the gate with a single, shattering blow and made our way off into the night.

When It became clear that we weren’t going to be making it back to Chapoor tonight, I decided to try and find my way to my training camp. It a few hours of fast paced hiking, but definitely closer than the city. We eventually found our way to the river, and followed it south until we found my camp. It was pitch black by the time we got there. I made a small fire to warm us as we slept. Shortly before I drifted off, I noticed a small fox curl up next to us. He must have been lonely.

Piper's Journal 18
Light in the Darkness

Resplendent Fire 17 (Cont.)

I rocked back on my heels, pretending to stumble back surprised as Broken Walls and Chaoxi practically landed on Lang and Hathesis with their weapons drawn. My feigned stumble brought me behind the first of the host who surged forward to assault Broken Walls. Sending power through the wineglass Lang had handed me earlier I tapped the rim lightly at it’s weakest point and shoved the sharp edge into the back of the head of the nearest host before snapping off the stem to slash at the next. The host turned and crowded in close, reaching at me with hands so cold they burned where they touched exposed skin.

If the Pearl Courtesan Style has a weakness it is that it relies on surprise and deceit. It’s practitioners are not warriors but court ladies seeking to preserve their virtue, assassins who lull their targets into false senses of security or sadists who seek to raise inflicting pain to a dark art. To lose that slim advantage of surprise and come face to face with a true master of the battlefield who is properly equipped and ready is an insurmountable obstacle. The wisest course in such situations is to flee, hide and then wait for a more advantageous moment to try again. Meeting such an opponent in the form of Broken Walls Lang attempted to do just that. She might have managed it if I hadn’t sprung forward at the last second and sank the wineglass stem into her calf and caused her to fall to her knees to scrabble uselessly on all fours like a frenzied animal in a snare.

A bright light flared and dissipated into a golden fog and candles guttered and dimmed. Host closed in, pouring through the walls to crowd into the small room as though trying to smother us with sheer numbers. I broke the legs off a small end table to use as a shield as the air beat with the rhythm of hobnailed boots falling in unison and growing steadily closer. Lang rose to a half crouch yanking the glass from her leg with a gasp, but it was too late. Golden semi-transparent phantom soldiers armed with javelins burst through the walls. “Lang, You have been judged .” Broken Walls intoned, his words echoing like peals of distant thunder.

I knew at once that this was the real Broken Walls, an entity invested by the Unconquered Sun with the divine authority to marshal and lead mankind. He looked like he had stepped out of a mural on a temple wall : clad in blazing armour, his eyes cold and merciless, baring down on his enemy with steel drawn, army at his back. Impervious, commanding… terrifying. The army of specters threw their javelins in a hailstorm of brilliant gold vaporizing all the Host I could see. Behind him Aster sung a note that wavered into a perfect pitch like a musical battle cry as red-gold fire blossomed around her slender form. I never even saw Broken Walls swing his sword. All I saw was the line of light lingering on Lang’s neck an instant before her head fell from her shoulders.

Hathesis, gushing blood from deep gashes, was all that remained standing, pressed up against the wall with terror etched on his pale features he looked desperately about him seeking escape. Saiten dropped through the hole in the ceiling and blinked. Looking about him he seemed confused by the sudden emptiness of the room that had been packed to bursting. Turning, he spotted Hathesis who managed one terrified squeak before Saiten’s fist collided, splattering spiritual gore all over the wall before that too fizzled and dissipated with a pop.

Chaoxi, nonplussed, dashed outside and proclaimed that more Host were coming and quickly. I heard the peal of two bells nearby and managed to yell out the direction of the sound to the others as the Host surged through the walls. I struggled to get my makeshift shield between myself and them, feeding more power through my clothes to snare their claws harmlessly in the weave of the steel-like silk as they pressed me down. Pale gold and dusty violet fire flickered around me as I strained against the pressure. Normally I do my best to suppress this flashy display but in the heat of the moment I let my control lapse as I focused entirely on surviving. “Stick together and keep each other safe I am going for the bells! Piper, wear Lang’s mask!” Broken Walls yelled sweeping out of the room to join Chaoxi outside.

The mask… Of course! Lang said it ensured the wearer could pass harmlessly by the Host but would it work if I was not sworn to Akkimu?

A quick glance about me showed me that Saiten looked to be in about the same trouble I was. Host hung from him trying to drag him to the floor, their sharp claws digging through the thin leathers of his suit. Aster however stood between the man Lang had bundled up for sacrifice and the horde of dark spirits. She was wreathed in gold and red fire but none of the Host touched either her or her charge. It was as they couldn’t. Saiten with a few grunts punched a single host into his fellows which collided and fell like majong tiles stood on end. It gave me enough leeway to roll beneath my impromptu shield and place my feet on it. Levering up with my back to the floor I sent the host pinning me down flying . With a spin and dash I leapt atop the polished tabletop and skidded across the carpet to grab Lang’s head as I passed. I yanked the mask from her still twitching face and with a kick sent the table into the ranks of the host. I quickly slipped the mask over my eyes and was immediately assaulted by the smell.

Graveyard dirt.


No time to contemplate the implications. I skidded into the empty space around Aster who was singing the first strains of some sort of battle hymn when I saw the first flower petals drift through the air. The petals that fell on the Host seemed to burn them like hot coals and light blazed as Aster’s song soared. There was something about that song, it was strange and beautiful but… how should I say this…. utterly and completely inhuman. I heard within it something that went beyond sound that resonated something within me. The shower of petals that landed on Aster formed a white robe of exquisite beauty which ignited in golden flames leaving spots dancing before my eyes which mingled with the petals that still floated gently in the air.

The Host that didn’t burn to ashes fell away and kept their distance. Saiten leapt to his feet and charged out the door to join Broken Walls with no delay. Aster, predictably, stayed behind to care for the man we had rescued while I raced after Saiten and watched him suddenly streak past Chaoxi and Broken Walls to hit a mask wearing priest clothed in black who was holding a bell. She crumpled as I closed the distance. I called, urging Saiten to leave her alive. It was plain he heard me because his next blow knocked the woman out rather than killed her. Once the bell fell from her hands the Host lost all direction and began to stumble off into the dark.

In the lull that followed Broken Walls asked me why we should leave the prisoner alive. I reminded him that we know little about the enemy’s numbers or the true structure of their organization. Extracting information out of a loyal priest of Akkimu is probably next to impossible but to not even try is to be negligent. We spoke with the hapless victim Lang had selected as Aster tended to a nasty wound Chaoxi had sustained in the fight. The man selected for sacrifice had probably come to their attention because he had been considering committing a murder fueled by passion of rejection and loss. In light of recent events I think he is reconsidering his priorities. Aster and Broken Walls set to igniting Lang’s body with their fire and finding the priestess we captured had clothed herself in human skin and hair they burned that too. Looking outside one could see flower petals still floated down from the heavens and a patch of the slums was illuminated bright as day. It was an otherworldly sight and a sign that reminder we could not expect to lie low here forever.

We made it back to the rising sun house with both a prisoner and a new conscript. As Broken Walls prepared proper accommodations for his new guests I followed Saiten down to the laundry where he made small sounds of disapproval and despair as he found all manner of tiny rips in his leather suit. I quietly washed the blood from my face and arms and dabbed the worst of the blood from my clothes. I had killed Lang. I had survived. This was a victory….but I did not feel the triumphant hero.

As soon as the door to the common quarters were closed I ripped Garnet’s identity away. Broken Walls asked gently if I was done with Garnet. There was a measure of concern in his voice that I didn’t expect. Yes, I was done with her. Normally I avoid being in my morning form as much as possible and choose to layer new identities on top of old but I wanted to discard Garnet like soiled clothes too fouled to wash. She might not truly exist but I loathed her all the same and the oppression of her weighed me down like lead. I felt empty… No, that isn’t right. There was an absence, but not of everything. The flame of hatred that kept me warm was extinguished and without it I was cold with shame and guilt.


Behind me Saiten exclaimed jubilantly “Piper’s a Man!” which I ignored. Being male does not a man make and it will not serve Saiten to think of me that way. Though he and this form are both male by virtue of birth I doubt our experiences have anything in common past the days of our early youth. What this form is is irrelevant. I have done everything I can to move beyond and surpass it. Waking up to find myself returned to it is nothing short of a disappointment.

Sensing I was ill at ease Broken Walls offered to play a few games of Shogi despite the late hour. I accepted. I’d hoped keeping my mind occupied would give me some sort of peace but it didn’t. I could barely focus. Aster kept her distance, instinctual aware perhaps that she could not cheer me. A blessing. I didn’t think I could face Aster and Saiten just then. I’d betrayed their trust. They are both bright shining examples of human goodwill and I know my association with them will always be bittersweet I do not doubt they would excuse my past but my future as it is now is destined to be littered with what in their eyes are inexcusable acts and even I cannot fully justify the events of the past week.

I had stood by while innocent men and woman were murdered for the sake of scraps of information. I had caused too much collateral damage waiting for the sacrifices already made to pay off to stop the ones that were happening right in front of me. People paid with their lives for my inaction and ineptitude. Lang may have lost our game but I hadn’t won either. Only weeks ago I had told myself I would not grow to be like Pekahan and treat people like my pawns but when my game with Lang had ended…

Broken Walls played game after game with me with the patience of a stone. His uncanny power to glean details from my recollections with Lang stuck in my mind. He must know more details about my time with Lang than I told him but if he knows everything that happened why hasn’t he admonished me or shown horror for the things I have done ? Rather he made attempts to show his solidarity by reminding me of the greater good I seek to serve. I sense that he is trying to understand and give me the benefit of the doubt. His company was not unwelcome but his advice did nothing to warm the chill I felt.

Resplendent Fire 18

I can’t shake that sound behind Aster’s song. There was a sense of conviction in it as though creation itself might tremble but Aster’s iron will would not be moved. It reverberated through my bones like a tuning fork and made my own lukewarm conviction seem fragile and superficial. In it’s wake there is a hollow feeling that has seeped into my spirit like an opium stupor. It is detrimental. People will continue to perish needlessly in this wasted time and if the wyld hunt have eyes here then they will soon be at our door. Time is shorter than ever and I should be furious at Akimu but the indignation and temper I feel are too quiet. Chilled in the shadows of my personal failings and the lonely expanse of secrets and lies between myself and the people who trust me.

I spent the day uselessly idling and went back to the Rising sun a few hours before dusk. I may have wanted nothing more than hide away but wasted time spent concedes the advantage to our enemies and I had already wasted far more then I should have. The others called a council and we spoke at length on a number of topics. Mostly about the wyld hunt. With the display from last night the others are finally beginning to show a little apprehension over discovery. Chaoxi was unsure if they would be able to tell if that was the work of two separate solars since Broken Wall’s only lasted for a few seconds though she mentioned that it might be possible if they described it adequately to a scholar on such things.

Chaoxi waxed informative about what sort of retaliation we might expect. She told us of essence cannons and warstriders. Her recollections seemed to enchant Saiten with the idea of trying to punch through one and he asked for a sample of similar metal they are made from to practice on. Broken Walls and Chaoxi seemed at a loss on how to supply what he wanted. When I raised a concern that our enemies may have suits of armour like Broken Wall’s he assured me that “Dauntless” is unique. Apparently it is some sort of relic made by a Solar of the first age that was “obtained” for him by Chaoxi. She seemed embarrassed at the admission that she had stolen something and I wondered not for the first time what the nature of her relationship with Broken Walls actually was. It must have taken a severe change of heart to support an “anathema” and betray her beliefs.

She also made an offhand comment full of pretentious chivalric ideals about spies being akin to criminals. I would be insulted if I were not a spy and a criminal in equal measure.

On the topic of spies, I tried to put forward that I am wary that these fortifications give my the others a false sense of security. From the standpoint of spies, assassins, saboteurs and maddened dragonbloods with hammers this place might as well be built of rice paper. Broken Walls of course bristled over the implication that what he had built here had a fatal flaw. I suppose I can understand how he thinks. He mentioned the wyld hunt had tracked him down in the middle of nowhere so his beliefs dance to the tune that fortifications make us safe because no matter what they will find us and overtake us regardless. He doesn’t see the difference between hiding in city where you are just a facxe in the crowd and stumbling about in the wild where man sticks out like a sore thumb. Never-the-less It could be true that hiding in a city is impossible if you are unable or unwilling to try and disappear into the crowd. I am beginning to believe that even if our collective heads were on the chopping block Saiten wouldn’t give up his beloved “hero suit”.

On that note I still don’t get how dressing in that weird getup and being a hero correlate. One would think he’d at least try and wear some armour but maybe Solars are all uniquely mentally ill. That could explain some things.

Actually that could explain a lot.

The others toyed with the idea of setting up a series of signal towers along the roads. I countered with the idea of placing some spies into rest houses and villages along the road and supplying messenger birds. For one it would be cheaper and for another, far less noticeable. A series of signal fires as I see it is a double edged sword. Seeing them will let our enemies know that someone knows they are coming and they will prepare accordingly and pick up the pace. Agents at inns could make our enemy’s journey less pleasant in any number of small ways. Unpleasant herbs could be slipped into meals, alcohol could be more readily supplied to the less disciplined soldiers, tiny stones could find their way between hoof and shoe and lame their animals miles down the road or strange noises in the night could wake them and make them short tempered. Nothing too obvious but every little delay might buy us more time and a series of way houses could benefit the city’s trade and line Broken Wall’s pockets as well. I will speak to him about it later.

I also put forward that maybe I should make some sort of attempt to contact Karoski. We need allies if we are to succeed here and now that I can see and speak to spirits I might be able to find him. After being virtually forgotten I don’t think he is powerful enough to do much towards adding to our strength but it is possible that being severed from the chain of power has made him bitter towards the other gods and more willing to supply us with information that may benefit us. I asked Aster if she would be willing to accompany me as she is by far the more diplomatic and charming of us. Broken Walls and Saiten offered to approach Mauk might also be convinced to operate in our favour. He may be little more than a thug comfortably resting on his laurels but we know he hates Akimu enough to damage her sacred bell. With luck he might respond well to being approached by the more warlike and impressive of our number.

We adjourned to the yard with the silver daggers to destroy them for safety sake. I thought it would do me good to see them shattered into harmless fragments but this proved much more difficult than expected. Saiten, venting all of his prodigious strength on one could only put a ninety degree bend in one. In frustration he chucked it straight up in the air which was perhaps the most foolhardy thing I have ever seen him do. Broken Walls quickly put up his shield and pulled Aster and I under it. Being mashed up against them made me terribly uncomfortable but the idea of getting accidentally scratched by the knife was enough to keep me in place until the thing clattered back to earth.

Broken Walls then attempted to use more conventional methods to destroy the knife . After heating it to a dull red it emitted a faint sound at first much like a lobster cooking. Not knowing much about metallurgy I didn’t find this terribly unusual until it grew a little louder and began to sound more like human screams. The air coming off the forge became frigid and when Broken Walls touched the blade it he claimed that it burned cold, not hot. Hitting it with a hammer proved to dimple it slightly meaning heat does make it more malleable but not by a substantial amount. Killing Akimu by destroying her bell may be out of the question. If we can’t kill the snake by chopping off it’s head then we may have top start with the tail instead. Choaxi seems to think that Akimu may have a stockpile of bodies that she uses to bind the spirits of the host from moving on. If we can destroy the Host we might be able to break her stranglehold on this city and buy time until we can get some proper advice on how to dispatch her properly by some other way.

Nobody mentioned the prisoner. I for one didn’t feel up to tackling an interrogation.

I stayed up late stargazing on the roof of our quarters and listened to the sounds of the city fade away and my companions settle down to sleep. Everything seemed muted and far off. Champoor is too quiet after dark. In other places people would still be wandering the streets, visiting taverns and nightmarkets, the doors and windows left open to let the sounds of music and chatter escape. I miss that comfortable sense of omnipresent humanity stretching past sunset. Here it is all locked away. The more I listen the more that silence bothers me. I strain to catch some distant strain of music all but erased on the wind but I can’t tell if is real or just the echo of a half remembered melody. It is off-key and disjointed but in this clear cold space that grief and guilt has cleared I can catch the barest hint of it. That sound … it is in there somewhere…

I had barely closed my eyes when a loud thud brought me to sudden wakefulness. I sharpened my senses and heard Broken Walls leave via the window. I didn’t wait to clothe myself in an identity but like the others followed immediately. The source of the disturbance was immediately plain. The prisoner was dead, strangled by a Host in her cell. The watchmen didn’t question my presence there. I know that to strangers this body is no different than the others I wear but I still feel naked when it is seen. I did my best to not act particularly self conscious but I hastened back to our room quickly after the emergency had been sorted out.

No one wanted to sleep alone after that. We all dragged our mattresses out and stayed together in the common space. Tomorrow we need to find an exorcist who can ward this place and advise us properly.

Resplendant Fire 19

In the morning Aster, Seventh Dawn and myself (as Obi) left for Karoski’s temple. Nobody said much on the ride. I didn’t want to discuss my thoughts with an outsider along and Aster was unusually quiet. I worry that she may have reservations about me after how I dealt with Lang.

The temple was surprisingly well kept and when I looked past the material world I could see why. Tiny spirits that looked like small humans dressed in tiny overalls were cleaning the temple and dusting the leaves of the plants. I addressed them hesitantly in old realm and while they couldn’t speak they did seem to understand me. I guessed these were spirits of the myriad : smaller spirits whose influence is so small they are generally contemplated only as an omnipresent nameless mass whose individual influence is limited. I’ve never been able to see the myriad spirits before let alone be able to communicate with them which could mean that Karoski is becoming more powerful here. When I told them I was looking to speak to Karoski they responded with serene gestures which Aster and I took to mean that we were supposed to pray.

One should think having lived a third of my life in a temple I would be fairly versed in protocol but all I ever did was mime the genuflections and pauses that were expected of me. After I was no longer mortal I had encountered a handful of Gods but most of them don’t seem distant and unknowable. Mostly they are more akin to powerful mortals. Praying to me feels very much like trying to hold a one way conversation with the air. I dislike it. Once we finished however the tiny spirits brought forth a clipping of thyme that they made clear we were supposed to plant. Aster treated it like a precious object but my hopes of getting much from Karoski had all but vanished.

Piper's Journal 17
Beyond the Pale

Resplendent Fire 17 – cont.

When I made it back to the Rising Sun house Saiten and Broken Walls had not yet returned which made me feel ill at ease. I guess I take for granted the sense of security they impart. I wandered the compound like a restless spirit late into the evening. Hate and guilt burn like acid through the substance of my thoughts and very much like pain it is hard to ignore when my mind isn’t occupied.

My dreams when I did sleep were fitful and unpleasant. Quick and clean is not the death Lang deserves and feeling I should attempt to preserve some level of moral high ground with her chafes me. In those empty hours I lamented the days when I was less conflicted about making my marks suffer for satisfaction sake but I highly doubt my friends would approve of how I wanted Lang to spend her final hours. Thankfully my allies cannot visit my dreams.

Resplendent Fire 18 – Games of Chance

I awoke before dawn and gave up on sleep altogether. It was a useless exercise to even attempt. I had already made up my mind to kill Lang sooner rather than later, perhaps that night if the chance arose and the raw energy of that resolve made me tremble. I wanted this game to be over.

There was no sign of Saten and Broken Walls that morning.

At the first sounds from Aster’s room I rapped on her door. Due to the early hour and the fact that I was not yet clothed in another form she was immediately and understandably concerned. I didn’t seek to worry her further and was direct in my purpose. I told her of the true nature of the knife and pleaded her assistance in taking it to Hatelis for appraisal. I reasoned that if this thing represents a binding spiritual compact then Hatelis, a god of contracts, should be capable of knowing the nature of it. Whether or not he will be willing to disclose it given that he has been tight lipped about Akkimu in the past is another matter. I didn’t mention to Aster that this is two tests wrapped in one. It is past time to see where Hatelis’s allegiance will fall. Akkimu or Aster.

As a plan it seemed perfectly sound until I actually handed Aster the cursed blade. I regretted my manipulations almost instantly. Had I had gone too far? Seeing her hold that weapon was like seeing a patch of the night sky at noon on a sunny day ; it didn’t belong there. I could see the horror of it on her delicate features. Under any normal circumstances this would have been too much for a girl of 17 from a teashop but I know that is only one part of who Aster is. I doubt she would appreciate me thinking or treating her like a child… but I have never met anyone who believed so wholeheartedly that everyone deserves rescue. In the circles I walk in that sentimentality could be a deadly weakness.

I had also not given a thought to how this might effect her aspirations. Cursing myself for the manipulative bastard I am I tried to show my concern for the trouble this might pose to her flirtations and asked her if things were going well with Hatelis. I recalled she seemed excited at her outing when she spoke to Chaoxi of it but she didn’t speak much about Hatelis himself which leads me to think that she is hesitating somehow. She told me she does still harbour feelings for him but is balking at the differences in their station. She feels intimidated being introduced to the world of the rich and powerful as a guest. She mentioned she didn’t think she could add much to that society.

Utterly riddiculous.

The lives of the rich are often empty and frivolous pursuits of novelty. Her association with them could give them a taste of substance. I recognize the ineffable power she wields to bend others subtly to her will enough to know that I cannot match it. I too have fallen beneath it’s sway though in my case it is unfortunately eroding my resolve to act as I must. I feel like she herself is completely unaware of it which perhaps is the key to her charm. No matter what the bitter and jaded attempt to spend they cannot buy her honest enthusiasm and idealistic youth. If there was anyone capable of shattering their pretensions with compassion it is her. Besides, she’s been trying to rabble rouse amoungst the city’s poor and all those pitiable people can offer to better their station is violence. They have no time, energy or money to spare and there is little to be gained .

Still possessed of that restless energy I checked up on the children and left behind some kitchen goods and food. Should I perish they should be provisioned or a couple of days. When I checked back Saiten and Broken Walls had arrived an they reported the quarry outside of town was signing people into indentured servitude for an obscure promise of payment at the end of the year. Hatelis’s work I expect. I don’t doubt the poor dupes are going to be paid a far more meager sum then they are expecting for their time. Furthermore what they are quarrying stone for is a bit of a mystery. All Broken Walls can say is that they are lying about what they said it would be for. Curious, certainly dodgy, but not immediately life threatening so it must be let slide for now but I made mental note never agree to anything Hatelis had penned. I imagine the fine print would give me nightmares.

Soon after Aster left to visit Hatelis and Saiten left to terrorize the city’s destitute criminals Broken Walls and I ascended the tower to speak privately. At the top I scooped up the odd spirit-larva and was pleased to find it at last solid in my hand. I made to drop it from the tower to be rid of it as I reasoned that it won’t harm it indefinitely. My understanding is it will simply reform somewhere, hopefully where it won’t be a nuisance. Seeing my odd behavior Broken Walls stopped me to ask what I was doing. After I explained what I held Broken Walls spoke to it and commanded the small creature materialize, which it promptly did. While it didn’t appear the thing could communicate Broken Walls explained it probably was there for good reason if it was found on the top of a temple to the Unconquered and that killing it, even if it would just reform somewhere else, would be somewhat of a breach of manners. Broken Wall’s moved the small spirit to the shrine downstairs so it couldn’t eavesdrop and alone at last I recounted my experiences with Lang to Broken Walls. For the most part he stared out into the distance as I reported, interjecting every so often with a question. It all seemed fairly commonplace until he mentioned Lang’s unfortunate smell of graveyard dirt.

I had not mentioned that…

He was obtuse when I pointed out the discrepancy, insisting that I must have mentioned it at some point. Could this be some precursor of dementia? He is old after all and he did say he has been a prisoner for over a century. If he was left alone for even a quarter of that time his mental faculties might have suffered. His behavior did bring to mind the time Pearl Drop was locked in a cupboard for two months . She was never the same after that. I recall it was quite unsettling how she would occasionally stare at you blankly as though she didn’t quite understand what you were saying and she became obsessed with all manner of odd things. Mind you she didn’t last very long after that. It wasn’t a comfort to see Broken Walls exhibit similar behavior.

The only other viable notion – that Broken Walls had been spying on me – was frankly ludicrous. He had been out of the city with Saiten and even if he wasn’t the man practically clanks even when not wearing his armour. Definitely not stealthy enough to get so close to Lang as to smell her!

In the end I opted to let the matter drop. Broken Wall’s judgement has been sound so far regardless of his eccentricities. He speaks with decisiveness when telling me if Lang is lying or not and I am inclined to believe he has valuable insight but I still found this strange lapse unsettling. I endevoured not to judge him if he did lose a measure of his sanity to his jailers. Less than a decade of ill treatment made me more than a bit odd, I can’t imagine what a century might do.

More importantly one of the things Broken Walls brought it to my attention was that he firmly believed Lang wasn’t about to let me surrender the dagger peacefully. I suspected she might be duplicitous but had simply figured I could run if things turned sour. I had neglected the fact that either way after tonight Lang might become too difficult to track down. Particularly since I am not at all confident I can best her through martial skill alone. This could be the only opportunity I have to set a trap for her and bringing the full force of my allies to bare. The downside to this is that it means being more honest with Aster and Saiten than I would prefer on these matters.

We convened with them in the late afternoon. Broken Walls told them a thankfully concise version of my activities and informed them what we knew of Lang and the host and our planned meeting for the night. When I asked Aster what information she had gotten from Hatellis she revealed that he had sent her with a sealed letter for her eyes only. She opened and read it in her room and emerged looking shaken as she asked us if there were any graveyards in Champoor. My mind leapt back to that day in Black Quarter where Chaoxi and I had seen the bodies lying out to bloat in the sun but that was hardly a graveyard. Well to do citizens would normally insist on burial or at least cremation but I had never thought to look for funerary sites. I can’t recall ever seeing one which doesn’t fit. In a town where death is commonplace, where do all the bodies go?

Likely they are being used for some kind of sorcery. That bodes not well.

After some debate we hit upon a plan that hinged on Broken Walls being able to follow me to our meeting and summoning the others while I stalled for time. To muddy the waters I carefully disguised Broken Wall’s face with my kit. I know the spirits have been keeping an eye on this place and if he’s spotted I hope it will be enough to not immediately alert them to his presence. Saiten and Aster would be waiting nearby and if my ruse was prematurely discovered I would create the flashiest display I can to alert them. I demonstrated my abilities to mimic a fire aspect’s display to the others. My friends were startled or in Chaoxi’s case mildly perturbed but they are accustomed to my oddities by now and didn’t comment.

We began at dusk.

A few blocks from Rising Sun house I summoned Hathesis but when he appeared belatedly after my second call I was told that Lang was busy preparing for that evening and was not available earlier. I told him if she got back early that I would wait at a nearby restaurant. It was an hour and a half before I saw Hathesis ooze through a side door of the restaurant to whisper in my ear. I made no sign that I could see him as he came and went. I would find this bumbling sycophantic spirit’s attempts at gravity and drama childish but honestly they probably serve him quite well with mortals who cannot see him. The power of theatrics falls flat once you strip out the illusion but I could see it’s use. Grabbing the unopened bottle of wine from the table I followed him out.

Dusk was quickly approaching. It seemed we were going to be testing ourselves against the advice of every citizen we had met and stay out past sunset. Broken Walls tailed Hathesis and I at a close distance to one of the more well to do places outside the wall. When I opened the door I saw Lang’s eyes flick over my shoulder catching sight of Broken Walls briefly. Looking to my right I saw the owner of this abode trussed up so tight he could hardly twitch. It looked as though the sacrifice came pre-prepared. Grand.

I handed off the bottle of wine to Hathesis as Lang dug in the cupboards for a set of wine glasses. She was abrupt and tried to get straight to the point of us sealing the pact but I demurred. I told her I felt like she was trying to rush me into a decision. I told her that our purposes were not completely unaligned which, like any good lie, was half truth. I am not blind and deluded enough to not recognize our purposes are similar. We both believe that the world can be improved by subtraction. Our opinion really only differs significantly on who makes the cut and why. I posed some “last minute concerns” regarding my freedom of mobility once I was sworn in which she was quick to soothe. She assured me I ( and by extension other agents of Akkimu) would not limited to the city and only required to check in from time to time. Eager to move things along she motioned to the bound man who squirmed against his bonds and made smothered noises through his gag.

I needed more time… alright and I was desperate to not have to add another life to the ones I have already wasted in this farce. I told her I had another concern, that I had been followed. I used it as an opportunity to ask if they have any enemies in the city and to try and ease Lang into believing that I was being upfront. Lang more or less confirmed that they did have enemies in the city but when she questioned me briefly about my pursuer breathed easy when I mentioned that he had only been following me for an hour or two. She was very confident that the fact I was followed posed no problem now that the sun had set.

It was at this time that the first of the host made their way into the room. They are human in shape but like Hathesis they are very pale. They could almost be his double if their hands actually dripped blood. They moved in a strange and unsettling fashion much like poorly handled marionettes – their movements sloppy, unnatural and uncoordinated. I looked them over feigning more lighthearted curiosity as Lang’s patience wore thin.

I couldn’t stall much longer without giving the game away. Lang was loosing patience with me and it was time and past for me to have made my decision. I knew Broken Walls had probably summoned the others by now and with any luck they were not far off. I did my best to act as though I really did worry I might miss out on a good offer but was concerned she was trying to get me into a contract that I didn’t benefit from. She gave me all the old reasons over again as if my memory was lacking and I replied it was not enough. I didn’t need a silver dagger when I had my own power. Walking at night in a single city of Creation was a paltry tidbit. I wanted to know what benefit her association really bought me. She asked me what I wanted.

“Impress me.” I told her summoning every fiber of false cocksure self-confidence I could muster to seem overconfident in my worth to her. I knew she was a pretender to a more lofty social standing, I sought to sink claws into her pride. Maybe even wear her out before the others came. She drew in a sharp breath and held it, considering.

“No.” she answered. A second later the roof exploded.

Broken Walls Journal 9
In which games are played

Resplendent Fire 8 through 14, RY768

Saiten approached me one morning, seeming slightly restless, and asked if he could help with training the troops. I asked what kind of training he had in mind, and it seemed like he wasn’t absolutely certain, some kind of physical training. Well, although he may not look it, I am certain I have never met anyone in better physical condition than Saiten the Fallen. I agreed under the condition that he was not to injure (or kill) anyone he was training.
I worry that Saiten feels that he doesn’t contribute enough on a day-to-day basis. I must remember to include my friends in my projects, even if I might think I don’t need help.

I spent time during this week finishing construction on the market and accompanying housing – now Aster and I need to begin the process of recruiting merchants – finding ones that are decent people is the tricky part.

My recent conversations with Piper have gotten me thinking – Piper needs a friend.

. . .

No, that’s not honest, and I really should avoid lying to myself. I enjoy my conversations with Piper, they never fail to be thought provoking. Also, it upsets me when I think Piper is unhappy with me.
In an effort to express this, I approached her one morning and asked if she would have lunch with me that afternoon. She agreed, perhaps cautiously, and asked where we should meet – I suggested barbecue, and she mentioned she knew a good sukiyaki place, which we agreed on. I hope I’m not in over my head.

We met at the restaurant – Piper “dressed as” Pearl Skinner, which I guess is something like Piper’s default lower-class female face? I’m not really sure how Piper feels about her disguises, I should ask some time – not today, though. We ordered some food, and then after a few moments she asked what I wanted to talk about.
I guess I decided to just go for it, because I think I said something embarrassingly blunt like, “I want to be your friend.”
Is there something wrong with me? I’m over 150 years old and I’m acting like I’m 12, and feeling just as awkward. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Piper look so stunned.
Eventually she accepted. Our food arrived, and we spent most of the meal in awkward silence.

I spent some time the following day forging an ornately decorated, yet still functional cudgel, and a wooden case for it. It will be a gift – or perhaps the correct term would be offering?
That evening, Piper asked if I knew how to play Shogi. I said yes, and Piper went to get his board.

I think it was fifty to sixty years ago when I learned the game? I read a scroll which contained a poem about the game, and when I asked Chaoxi about it – she was the only person allowed to interact with me, for research – she saw no harm in bringing a board to my cell. Chaoxi is far better at most games than I – I have a slightly better grasp of tactics, but she is a much quicker thinker than I.

Piper returned with his board and we played – he shows promise! I can tell he enjoys the game. We promise to play again.

Later that week I interviewed all of the people in my employ – I have learned how to watch people’s essence when they speak, and it twists in an ugly fashion when they lie. I checked to see if any of them had conflicting loyalties. Fortunately, all I discovered is that Oob has a drug habit, which I offered to help him get away from if he wants. I do not think it will be a problem.

Piper and I played again, and I told her about how, while I did think laws were necessary, I also thought Solars should have discretionary exemption, answering to other Solars, perhaps. It is an uncomfortable subject. Also uncomfortable, Piper told me that Aster has a date with Hatelis. A romantic evening.

The next day I asked around, it seems that Champoor, in its current form, is about 700 years old.

Aster's Diary 16
Truest friends, but unpleasant thoughts..

The last couple of days have been a bit stressful, to be honest, Diary. I apologize I didn’t tell you about their events sooner, but things have been a bit… tense. Now, more than ever, I appreciate your allowing me to share my thoughts and feelings with you. You are, and always have been, an excellent listener :).
The evening that I left off at last time I wrote to you was strange, unpleasant, but ultimately a victory, if a somewhat hollow feeling one now. We joined with Broken Walls on the roof of the house that Piper was holed up in with her would-be inducer, Lang. Saiten promptly broke an entrance in for us, and the battle began.
I could not see my companions’ first blows, as the hole was big enough for us to fall through, but not so large as to be able to get a lay of the room. Broken Walls dropped through first, and no doubt lay about him with his sword. Chaoxi followed suit, a whirl of blades by the time she had barely cleared the hole. As she dropped, ghostly hands and faces began to emerge from over the edge of the roof, those self-same white masked figures Chaoxi and I had seen from Mara’s! I was next to drop through the roof, and found a grim sight: Lang, bloodied and beaten, Broken Walls standing over her, a gruesome specter lying at Chaoxi’s feet, blubbering up blood, Piper, laying about him with what looked to be a point of glass, but at seemingly nothing (I thought perhaps at first that she was under some enchantment, or had been greatly disturbed by what had taken place until the shard stuck into the air, into one of the ghostly beings it seems!), and a poor, wretched soul bound and gagged against the wall, strapped to a chair and looking horrified at the whole scene.
I dashed to his side as more of the ghostly creatures started to drift their way inside, and summoned my courage and my light. I took a breath, and let a few notes ring out towards them, my light flaring up in a golden aura around me, brilliant light to banish the dark creatures. They would not touch this innocent man!
It seemed my display was too bright for these wraiths, as a few of them faded from existence, and the others seemed to leave us be, but other were not faring quite so well. The gasping creature gurgled pitiably as Chaoxi dispatched it, and hopefully whatever it was before, it was now at peace.
And then, Broken Walls summoned his light.

I have never before seen another’s displays of light in such… overawing fashion. I know that sometimes, when I am shining my brightest, something strange and luminous happens, but I am not sure how it looks to someone else. Broken Walls, well, his light was an Army, shining with dazzling brilliance, echoing with their gleaming, light-made armour, a pride in their selves and equipment that I see in Broken Walls himself, not broken, never breaking. I am not sure what it must have looked like outside, but it must have been magnificent, because the soldiers filled the room, marching through the walls as if they were smoke.
Broken Walls himself was a glorious apparition, a paladin of the sun, swinging deftly and surely with his light-filled blade, undoing the spirits of darkness until he stood before Lang, judgement in his eyes. His blade sliced through the flesh and bone of her neck as though it were air.

If I had not known him, I would have thought him the Golden Lord of An Teng.

We had little time to breath and take in the magnitude of what had just happened, because the horrific masked Host were still setting upon us, even with the bit of breathing room Broken Wals had gained us. Piper and Saiten fought off their opponents deftly, but there did not seem to be an end to them, and even if my light could keep them at bay, their are limits to what any of us could do.
Chaoxi had made it outside at this point, but it seemed that there were more of the creatures outside as well. Broken Walls gave a shout to us inside to stay together, a wise suggestion, and dashed out after her.

I have come to some conclusions, I think, Diary, about Broken Walls: he is a Good Man. He may be more fond of battle than I am comfortable with, but he cares quite deeply about others, about honour, and justice. It takes some time to see the caring in him; expressions of affection would not be something that would come naturally from him. But his deeds speak volumes. I have no doubt in my mind that he would die for any one of us, for a cause he believed in, especially one which involved the safety and freedom of his fellow Solars.
And I really do think he loves Choaxi. Perhaps not in the romantic sense (though, I am not sure at all that it is not), but in the sense that he would probably do just about anything for her. This makes sense, given that it seems it was she who released him from his prison, but there seems to be such a deep bond between them that it feels like it must go beyond that.
I am young. I think I am never more reminded of this than when I see the two of them together, having known each other for so very long, in synch in a way that I do not think I will be until I have known someone for a very, very long time.
And perhaps not even then.

But back to the battle.

I had freed the poor captive man, and he seemed safe enough so long as he stayed close, but the Host seemed to be gaining far too much ground with us. A cry came from Choaxi outside, and a roar of rage from Broken Walls. I knew that I must do something!
I gathered all of the light I could to me, putting ever ounce that I could into making myself seem as authortative and powerful as I could. If my light is for nothing, it is for dispersing the forces of evil! The shining golden glow around me blew up into the air, forming soft, shining petals, glinting like the shimmering diamonds of sunlight on a windswept sea. The swirl of them slowly settled on my shoulders, making up the threads of a beautiful, white-gold robe about me. As the last, delicate petal sank into place, my cloth of gold burst into a bonfire of terrific flames of pure light, still blazing off of me like a gown of righteousness. I began to sing.

My light wove into the notes of the song, the first searing through the air towards the Host like the blade of a knife, followed by the dull, echoing chords of a dirge, extolling my companions virtues, a warning to all those who might dare to try to bring them to harm.

(I do not enjoy thinking of myself being frightening, and thinking upon it afterwards, it is a bit embarrassing to imagine myself in such a manner. I know that I am powerful, and that my friends are as well, but do proclaim it so with such… pomp,shall we say… well, it makes my cheeks burn to think of it now. But, in the moment, I felt very… alive.)

The Host were thrown by my friends and my song from the room, and we had a moment to take our barings. Outside it seemed our translucent assailants had retreated somewhat, but were still closing in once more. Saiten seemed to notice something outside, for he rushed suddenly through the door, in a boom of speed that took my breath away. It seems he was able to defeat quite handily the controller of the ghostly creatures, because, as he brought a more richly dressed figure inside of the hut, very much out cold, the creatures began to disperse.

Lang was dead, but Chaoxi had been injured by the ghastly beings, so I began to tend to her as Broken Walls performed the ritual necessary for setting her at peace. I hope that whatever it was that caused her to feel she must live this way has left her, and that she is now able to rest. It fills me with great pain to think of how her life must have been, and how we could not really save her from it, but there was nothing I could do… right?

With Chaoxi as healed as she could be at this place, we began to see to the others now in our care. The man who had been captured by Lang was named Jar, and, while he was grateful for our assistance, we had apparently just wrecked his home. We offered him safe passage with us to the House, and lodging and employment, should he wish it.
Our other new charge… well, I do not know her name, but I am… uneasy.. with her fashion choices…
Broken Walls seemed to sense something that I didn’t with her clothing and armour, because he set his cleansing fire, usually reserved for the bodies of the dead, to it. Normally, this would do nothing, but the gown and armour burned as though it had had a soul. With everything that has happened in the last day, I do not like to think about what this means just yet.

We set off for home, an uneventful and Host-less journey.

A strange and wonderful thing happened when we returned home: Piper took off his disguise. This act in itself is a sight to behold, almost like a veil being torn away, or spiderwebs being brushed aside in an attic to reveal a beautiful old trunk filled with forgotten treasures. But what made it so heartening was that Piper did this in front of all of us. Not the troops or anything, mind you, but Saiten, Broken Walls, Chaoxi and myself. He trusts us. Or, at the very least, he trusts us enough.
This whole ordeal must have been so horrific for Piper. To have to make friends, partners, with someone you knew you might have to one day betray, maybe even imprison…. and then to have to have them killed… I don’t think it is something I could ever do. Piper is stronger than I could ever know.
Not to mention, Piper gave up what could have been great power, which could not have been easy. Don’t get me wrong, Diary. I would have no doubt that, given this choice again, Piper would make the right decision. But saying ‘yes’ to Lang’s proposition would have to have been tempting. To join forces with a powerful enemy instead of opposing them? To stop fighting the tide and flow with it? I admit, I could see the appeal. But working with Akkimu I don’t think will ever be the answer, not while she encourages others to kill without thought or mercy.
I do not pretend to know what Piper has been through. I don’t know that I ever really could. But he does seem to feel safer in the dark, behind his many masks. And Akkimu was definitely offering both of those things. That Piper chooses, day after day, to walk with us in the light, shows immense strength. Piper is strong, and I think she knows that, or at least I hope she does.

I was unsure of how to comfort Piper that night, and I was not entirely helped by Saiten shouting out “you’re a man!” when he saw Piper’s unmasked form. Saiten is a kind and helpful person, but he does not always seem he most… tactful. Thankfully, Broken Walls seemed to know what would work, and offered a game of Shogi. I’ll admit I feel a bit of shame at not being able to comfort him, but I think I am not the best suited to do so. As much as I feel the longing for my sisters back home, I think Piper feels the loss of his more dearly. I think sometimes I am a reminder of that, and so any methods I may have of offering comfort are likely to be tainted with longing and loss. I am terribly grateful, then, that Broken Walls and Piper seem to have found companionship in one another.

That morning, Chaoxi seemed to have fully healed, but I still wished for her to rest, so breakfast was a bit of a bare affair. I had much to think about, so did little that morning, checking in at the clinic, singing to Champoor, and tending to my lovely Daisy (<3).>s temple is doing, we will be looking into finding ourselves an Exorcist.

I wish we could contact Dasadi.

Aster's Diary 15
Necessary Evils?

I come to you very conflicted about the events of the past day, Diary. Writing to you usually helps me to sort out my feelings on things (since you are such a good listener :) ), but I am not sure that it will entirely help this time.

Today started a bit worryingly: Broken Walls and Saiten had not yet returned from their quest to seek out the nature of the ‘Improvement Project’. I know that they are both quite capable, but I am always concerned when my friends go away to do something potentially dangerous. Thankfully, I had other things to occupy my mind that morning, including a rather strange request from Piper.
Piper asked me to take a strange and dangerous looking silver dagger, which it seems was one of the ones Akkimu’s followers use, to Hatelis in order to ask him what he might know about the nature of the contract placed upon one who uses it. This was a good idea; since he is, after all, the god of such things. Piper then asked of me something which made me less distracted from worry: how did I feel about my outing with Hatelis the other day.
I have gone on at length with you about this, Diary, and I explained the gist of it to Piper: I am unsure of his feelings towards me, mine towards him, and feel quite out of place in his world.
Piper then gave me some very good advice on this point, Diary: perhaps this world, which I had such a hard time conceiving of needing more light actually does in fact need mine. It may be a place of excess, and glamour, but perhaps because of this, its light is a false one. I may need to invest time into teaching those in the richer districts that light does not come from jade and jewels, but from compassion and good-will.
To that end, I have decided that I will go to the Gala. I intend to find some there who can be convinced to help me with my next project for the slums, and orphanage for the children who are displaced there.

Before I went to speak with Hatelis, I wanted to find a more suitable gift for him than the one I had given last time, or at least one that was more personal. I had decided upon a music box, which would be something that he might enjoy, given his admiration for foreign music, and something that we would share an interest in….. which might perhaps make him think of me when he used it……
Anyway, I actually had quite a hard time finding something suitable. The only one that I could find that was not either too pompous or too soft was one that was broken, so I decided to take a chance on it being something suitable, and also on the chance of someone being able to fix it.
I returned back to the House to find that Broken Walls and Saiten had thankfully returned safely. It seems as though the project is a labour camp in a quarry where the participants are promised a ‘bag of silver’ in exchange for a year’s servitude to the place! This does not seem fair, and we shall have to address this soon, but, unfortunately, it would have to wait. There would be more pressing concerns for this day….

As expected of a man of his remarkable talents, Broken Walls seemed to see instantly what was wrong with the little music box. He seemed hesitant about it when I first told him of it, but I was confident that there was little he couldn’t fix, and was not in the wrong. With this wonderful feat completed, I set off to meet Hatelis, to both ask him his advice on starting my orphanage… and the less pleasant task of asking him about the silver knife.

Hatelis seemed quite pleased with the little box, though in remarking on the song itself he once again reminded me of the difference in our levels of experience. I cannot even imagine the things he must have been able to see and experience over the years; even if he has mostly stayed in the area of the city, it must have been amazing to see all of the things coming and going from it, its changes and triumphs… it does make me feel somewhat inexperienced in comparison, but I look forward perhaps one day to hearing about all of the wonderful things that he may have seen and done. And who knows, given the length of time that Broken Walls seems to have lived, perhaps I will get to do my fair share of experiencing as well.
He seemed a bit more cautious with regard to the proposal of asking members of the gala for help with the orphanage, but I think perhaps he just did not want to get my hopes up about my chances of finding many there to contribute. He did, however, offer to introduce me to those who might be willing, for which I am terribly grateful.
My last request, information about the dagger, however, was met with considerably less enthusiasm, as expected. What I did not expect was the level of fear he seemed to show for it. I am not sure entirely what this knife must mean, but he seemed barely comfortable with it out of the bag I carried it in, let alone seeing it slightly unwrapped.
Honestly, I half-expected him to simply say he could give me no information about it. Perhaps, looking back, it would have been better, safer, surely, if he had not. He told me before seeing it that there would be no hurt feelings about it, but now I feel more worried about hurt him than hurt feelings…. He gave me an envelope, and told me to open it only when none of his kind nor mine were going to see its contents. Then he said farewell.

I have never seen him so concerned. I feel… guilty. What if I have put him in danger by asking him these things? What if he is hurt because I abused the growing friendship between us? Why did he reveal anything to me at all? If he is threatened because of me….or worse…. Perhaps I should stop seeing him until we have resolved this…..

I came back to the House, where everyone had gathered. I told them what he had said to me about the dagger, and gave it back to Piper. The others agreed that I should read the letter first before we discussed anything further, so I went to my room.
I drew the shutters, and lit the fire to see by. I drew my light to me, and called upon any spirits that might be watching to reveal themselves, but none came forward. My hands shook a bit as I opened it, fearful of what it may reveal.

There are no graveyards in Champoor

What is Akkimu doing with the bodies? If Hatelis meant this as some dangerous clue to what was happening in the city, Akkimu must be doing something with those she has killed, must be eating them or using them in some dark ritual or… or….

I burned the note, fearing for what its reveal to those he wished it hid from might do to Hatelis.

When I revealed what it had said to the others, Piper revealed something more startling: the contact she had spoken of who knew of the dealings of Akkimu had been one of her agents, who was trying to tempt Piper to become the same! The dagger Piper had was used to take the souls of those it killed in order to give them to Akkimu (I think), which somehow just made the lack of graveyards in the city that much more chilling. What was happening to the bodies?
Piper told us he had a meeting scheduled with his contact, Lang, tonight, and that it was to be their last before a ‘decision’ was to be made. Broken Walls believed this to be a trap that Piper would not walk away from, even if he refused to become Akkimu’s servant. Lang was supposedly a quite able opponent, practicing a similar style of fighting to Piper, and in command of some spirits that were also in Akkimu’s employ. It was far from ideal, but we would have to use Piper as bait to allow us to find this Lang…. and put an end to her.

Death is sometimes necessary, Diary. When the pain is too great, when the suffering is unending… sometimes all we can do is end it. I am far more uneasy about this end than I am about those I have helped with before; if we had more time, more options, and if her master were not so terribly dangerous, then maybe… maybe we could have made a plan to save Lang. Perhaps it won’t come to it. But it probably will. I don’t imagine Lang, as the willing servant of a god of death and murder, would be willing to surrender and renounce her deity. Not as readily as would be necessary, anyway. If She were somehow able to alert Akkimu to our plans, we might be putting every one of us in danger, especially Piper, who was the one to deceive Lang in the first place. Not to mention, who knows what wrath may be exacted upon the city in the ensuing fight for our lives?
It still sits… uneasily on me, Diary. I have chosen not to protect one who I maybe, under different circumstances, could have saved, and it fills me with great sorrow.

But this will have to be dealt with later. For now we wait for our signal from Broken Walls that Piper is in position, so that we may save the city from Akkimu’s assassin.

…………..what do they do with the bodies?


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