As the tale of the Exalted Continues

Piper's Journal 34
Unfinished Business

Descending Earth 21

The trail led us northwards. Following the Bonesider track was simple due to the sheer size of the beast but our entourage could only move so fast. We camped the night and picked up the trail in the morning and at mid day came across the place where the great beast had shed it’s flesh. Giant fetters lay amidst the rotten soup of innards encircled by the tracks and traces of the Bonesider host. In the slurry of mud and trampled greenery traces of partial boot prints from an unknown individual could be glimpsed however try as I might the scents were not strong enough to pick out. I’m not sure if I could have picked out much anyway given the appalling stench of the literal mounds of viscera. We opted to continue following the tracks of the beast that lead into the clearing. They had dragged some sort of game animal to lure it there. We traced the tracks until we noticed something strange.

The sky to the south was growing dark. A massive storm building. Bounding to the canopy I scrutinized the darkening clouds. Something wasn’t right. Bands of essence flashed like lightning stirring up a giant thunderhead. I bit my lip. The power was building directly over Rising Falls .

Consulting with my colleagues we agreed that the town was most likely in danger. We ordered the soldiers to find their way back without us as we’d be going on ahead. Saiten scooped Aster into his arms and we ran.

Most of us, myself included, normally walk through the world with a inflated sense of our own resilience. We brush seemingly light objects from our path without much thought but that is a conceit. We ourselves are fleeting shadows. Casting to the side my complacence I became insubstantial, treading the leafy tops of foliage and letting their sturdy forms cushion my footfalls and their springy fronds propel me forward. The stalwart stalks barely bent beneath my weight. Saiten instead embodied the opposing stance and punched through objects that many would not consider insubstantial. Splintered remnants of trees fell like deadly arrows into the calm.

What differences there are between Saiten and I became gradually apparent. Saiten was tireless. He could power on in this wild sprint virtually all day if need be but by the second hour I was wearing out. Muscles burned like hot brands pressed to skin as I forced power through them. Essense popped like sparks in a trail behind me. By the time we reached the outskirts of town my body trembled from exertion and my lungs screamed for oxygen. Saiten lept to survey the town from a higher vantage prompting a frightened squeal from Aster who still rode on his back and reported that all seemed quiet.

Falling to my hands and knees my lungs hungered, desperate for air. I pleaded with Saiten to at least go cautiously, grabbing a handful of his cape as he made to stride past. He paid me no heed and strode on dragging me unceremoniously in the dirt. I gulped lungfuls of cold air scented with petricor, coughing as I huddled on the ground a moment. A wretched pauper asking for a pittance and being denied even a second glance.

I don’t know why I bothered.

Saiten set Aster down and the two of them waltzed into town bold as brass. Every instinct screamed at me that this was wrong and some other sense. A bitterness. Behind them I kept out of sight my uneasiness growing. With a rumble the clouds broke showering us with rain so cold it stung, soaking us to our skins in seconds. There was something off about the sound of the drops. Pausing I placed my hand on one of the buildings feeling the impacts of drops like beats upon the skin of a drum stretched tight to bursting. In contact with the surface I could more easily pick out the pattern concealed beneath the roar of the rain. Hoofbeats… No… death.

Doors slammed open admitting armed men into the street as a break in the clouds swelled and a massive metal monstrosity plummeted to earth with a deafening crash. I coiled my exhausted muscles and jumped as the ground rippled from the impact. I ducked out of sight on a tiled rooftop and stole a shuddering breath. Opening my senses to the symphony of raindrop impacts I let each one’s sound paint a picture of the moment in the dull thump of water on flesh, the sharp hiss of water on metal and the roar of the water converging and flowing off the jade hide of a massive centaur-like Warstrider. Cavalry thundered, closing ranks to cut off our escape as armed monks swarmed onto the streets.

This would be the Wyld hunt, the foes that even Broken Walls feared. Slamming power into the wet clothing that plastered my skin I heard Saiten roar from the square up ahead “This is it, get ready, we’re doing this!”

My mouth went dry as paper looking up at the towering war machine and the approaching army. Of course he’d fight it. Saiten doesn’t run. Not from anything no matter how outmatched he may seem. My voice cracked with terror as I screamed a plea “Run! Get back to the forest!” Keeping out of sight of the men below I ran to meet them, hoping against hope they would come to their senses so I could cover their retreat.

Aster began to sing in a voice that made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. Petals of Aster’s light drifted down as Saiten’s power exploded into the form of a massive fist decimating the foot soldiers numbers. Saiten threw series of sharp blows almost too fast for the eye to follow transforming flesh and blood opponents into deadly missiles. Those he hit wouldn’t have suffered long. They practically vaporized from the impact.

The Warstrider charged with incredible speed closing the gap as Aster turned and retreated. The cavalry would be on Saiten in seconds. I tore ceramic roof-tiles from their moorings and dabbing small threads of my power onto them threw them with a sharp twist. The spinning tiles cut through the air with a hissing sound beheading the trio of mounted warriors who were riding Saiten down as he dodged the giant lancetip of the Warstrider, fire flaring from his fists.

Aster was falling back, but Saiten stood his ground.

Given his penchant for risk I’d assessed the likely possibility that I’d witness Saiten die one day. I’d been steeling myself for a blow so when the time came I’d mitigate the damage of his loss. As time went on I cared for him less and less. I am not ambivalent to his fate just already resigned to it.

Perhaps if I believed in my cause I’d be willing to go down swinging. To take as many of the bastards down with me… But I don’t. These people are my enemies because they are scared of us and from what I’ve seen they have good cause to fear what we can do. Somewhere deep down I even acknowledge guilt for preserving my own life at such cost yet here I am armed with clay rooftiles against the pinnacle of weaponry so I could, what, perish in a suicide charge alongside Saiten in a symbolic but futile act of brotherly solidarity? Even if by some miracle we survived this would only happen again… another time another place, another deadly risk met with boisterous enthusiasm.

I was done. There was no winning this game, just accepting the terms of our loss. Saiten would have his fight and with any luck buy Aster and I at most a few seconds. As a chance it wasn’t much but as a parting gift it was invaluable. Turning on my heel I fled, clinging to each moment of precious life as I shed any pretense of pride, fellowship and bravery.

It’s stupid isn’t it? What reason would I cling to life for? My ideals are not high minded enough for me to fool myself with the delusion that it absolves me of my sins. Love is forever beyond me and I haven’t even much of a gift for friendship. A mere handful of people will mourn me. My life has held little joy in it and there were times when death might have been a merciful out.. but I’d persevered. I dragged myself out of despair time and again out of pure spite and malice because this life, even when it’s the only thing I have, is mine. I’ll not throw it away.

Yeah. I am despicable. You want heroism? You’re looking in the wrong place.

I could feel the Warstrider gaining ground as I put on a burst of speed. It was heading my way. That was it then, Saiten was probably dead and I’d be next in line at the gates of hell. With any luck Aster would use what little time I could afford in tangling with the thing to hide or run away-

My heart hammered in my chest, racing to fulfill it’s quota of beats before the finishing blow would force it forever still. This was it then, the death by betrayal and negligence I always had coming. I had been right to be wary of friendship, the intoxicant that imperils judgement and leaves one an addict forever hurting for their next fix.

I am so very angry and it doesn’t matter at all. There is no one left to care…

Piper's Journal 33

Descending Earth 18

Thick viscous slime smelling of rotten meat and coated in bone grit saturated my clothing and stained Saiten’s yellow leathers the speckled brown of a decaying banana. A reminder how I had grievously underestimated my destructive capability in what could prove a fatal error. Aster hovered anxiously checking us for scratches. I did my best to grip my fear in hand. If we were already doomed there wasn’t much I could do about it.

Spurred to urgency from Aster’s insistence that we clean off quickly we cast about for some indication of where the Bonesiders had come from. At first blush the topsoil on the beast’s claws was the only thing that seemed out of place. The soil smelt distinctly different than the forest’s terrain. Dasadi called over his hound who sniffed the soil and declared it had crystalline elements. “Like a cave?” Dasadi asked the beast. The dog did not reply.

We made our way back to Rising Falls with all haste. The ichor by this time had already begun to dry and was beginning to itch. Aster made the arrangements to clean us off in a pit dug next to the bathhouse demanding that we wash ourselves with a special herb concoction to neutralize the contaminants before a vigorous scrub in the hotspring. She prepared my batch first. The mixture had a fresh scent that reminded me somewhat of mint. Where it touched the bonesider residue it fizzed into small white foamy bubbles which instilled me with some confidence that it had beneficial effect. My clothes I left in a graceless pile, they would need to be burned anyway.

After adjourning to the baths I carefully scrubbed what remained away taking with it every trace of the powders and waxes that made up my disguise. Forgoing a relaxing soak in favor of a quick rinse I donned one of the inn’s yukata and headed back to my room drying off with the fluffy inn towels in preparation to re-don the practical elements of my disguise. The maids were in the process of airing the rooms and had thrown the doors of the rooms and even the closets open. My haste to regain privacy did not stop me from noting something that brought me to a halt outside Dasadi’s room.

Dasadi’s kit sat in his closet with his locked journal on top. A quick glance around proved no one was watching as I slipped out of the hall. Trespassing into Dasadi’s closet I pulled the door slightly shut to disguise my presence and pried splinters from the beams with my fingernails to serve as pick and torsion wrench. The lock snapped willingly open after barely a touch and I set it to the side. Skimming the first entry my skin prickled.

Were the journal’s contents to be believed Dasadi played a role in the downfall of Zingma’s tree and was complicit in the spreading of the puppeteer’s plague. One did not need to read far at all before he was admitting his collaboration with both Javier of Unfallen Snow and Ma-ha-suchi. Later entries seemed to imply he had not intended to meet us and had indeed lost a few weeks of his memories before we pulled him from the sea and the most current entry mentioned that he’d received instructions to lead us to some sort of cave.

The journal itself seemed authentic, and true to the book’s providence the ink had run on the entries written before Dasadi’s rescue at sea making them barely legible. It even smelled like Dasadi -and only Dasadi – which would have made it damnable evidence… but I checked my natural inclination to believe the worst.

Placing everything back exactly as I found it I left the room and asked the maid who was cleaning one of the rooms nearby about the inn’s cleaning regimen and found that the inn’s staff air the rooms this way unerringly every day.

Sentiment does not color my assessment here. Dasadi’s aloof nature and his reticence to share the details of his actions don’t just lend credibility to the words penned in his diary they also do not endear him to me in a general sense. We are barely acquaintances and if he is truly the one who penned these pages in earnest then I would not feel conflicted killing him. No it was the box’s placement that tugged at my sense of caution. For it to be there it had to have been conveyed to that spot covertly which means either someone other than Dasadi placed it there for him to pick up or Dasadi had it with him the entire time somehow. The latter is a possible option. Dasadi is a sorcerer and hepotentially could possess the skill to conceal things box beyond our ability to perceive it.

So two simple options for how the box got there but here’s the rub. Say I had the ability to conceal the box unerringly so no one could see it – why would I opt to forgo that flawless security and risk leaving it unconcealed in an unlocked closet? On the flipside, if I were dead dropping something to an agent I would have little reason to leave a damning bit of written evidence handily explaining my schemes on top like a plum atop a bowl of rice. Yes incompetence or dumb luck could be a factor but the whole affair has an element of being too staged for my liking.

As for the journal itself I have certainly seen it before. The only thing is I never opened it. In fact I have never seen a proper sample of Dasadi’s written hand. If Dasadi did write down our misadventures in Volivat and someone had stolen the original as Dasadi claimed it would be possible to transcribe an altered copy that used details from the original to make it seem legitimate. As for the smell – I can fake that and I’ve got a notion there’s someone else I know who might be able to manage the same trick.

Someone is jerking us around like a fish on a line but who is it?

Javier of Unfallen Snow?

Is it paranoid to believe that Pekahan is wrapped up in this somehow? She went so far as to sow rumours of a fake slave trading syndicate across the Dreaming Sea just to hook Saiten into her little game. She also seemed unusually taken with me… obsessed possibly. Come to think of it in her shoes I wouldn’t have given up at the first sign of disinterest… I would follow my targets back when they felt safely rid of me so I could observe them when their guard was down…

Now here is a thought to make me break into a cold sweat : What if she never left us?

This problem was too big to assume I could handle it myself. Pulling Aster aside for a private word I laid out the problem in it’s entirety. After she heard me out she asked to see the journal and the box. I agreed and asked in turn if I could get something from her healer’s kit that dried clear that had a distinctive scent. She supplied me with a vaguely clear liquid with a faint bitter smell and the two of us went back to the box.

Aster leafed through the journal as I carefully spread the diluted tincture on the handles of the kit’s drawers and the straps by which it would be picked it up as well as on the items Dasadi might try and take with him. I reasoned that if he came into contact with the kit and tried to keep it’s existence a secret I’d smell traces of the decoction on him. We also argued in whispers about our course of action. Aster wished to confront Dasadi but I favored caution. If Dasadi was fast enough on his feet he’d simply claim the box had been planted in his room and we’d have no way to prove his story wasn’t false. We’d have a harder time catching him in a lie once Dasadi was on his guard. Better to not let him know we’re on to him and see what he does. She also expressed a desire to inform Saiten of Desadi’s possible duplicity. I talked her out of it. Saiten has never demonstrated the least aptitude for covert behavior… moreover he seems too stubborn to listen to my thoughts on such matters which has made me less inclined to request his help a minute before it becomes necessary.

Aster and I decided to seek out the others to chart our course of action and we had just collected Saiten when Zhwoi hailed us wearing a concerned expression. He told us a courier had arrived baring a missive and Zwhoi had supplied Dasadi his office to read it in private. When Dasadi did not reemerge from the office he had investigated and found Dasadi had vanished.

We cast about the office for clues to explain his disappearance. I found the ashes of what I guessed was the message in the center of the office near the desk but as far as my nose could tell Dasadi’s scent terminated in the middle of the office. He didn’t flee out the open window. To my senses it was if he disappeared…

An open window and a burnt letter. In Volivat Dasadi had burst into flames to avoid a blow that would have killed him. Could he have been lured into the office with a note so he could be ambushed? It’s also possible that he vanished because he’d been informed we were onto him. I wish I knew more about how his fire worked. Given that the places he’s reappeared are places he’d been unable to rescue himself from I somehow doubt he has much control over where he reappears. There must be something that governs the location outside of his control since in Volivat he appeared far from where he’d disappeared but while in the cave he kept reappearing in the same place he’d left. Provided he has dissolved into his flames we haven’t the least idea where he will reappear.

The timing makes sense for a setup. Dasadi disappears so odds are we’d check his room out of concern and would discover his kit and journal. It’s not definitive but I am beginning to favor the notion that Dasadi has been framed. I believe it likely that our meeting was engineered because he would eventually lead us here of his own volition though he needn’t necessarily be a willing or informed participant to act as pawn in our enemy’s game. Problem for our adversaries – in dealing with the dead he is perhaps our greatest specialist. At some point he might have become more of a liability than an asset now that he’s lead us close enough to our intended destination.

It is still possible he is the man who penned this journal I just am not sure of it.

We decided to try and track down Aiphee. She had put us on the track of the bonesiders with a story no-one else in the town could corroborate making her the most likely to be operating against us. If Dasadi were operating against us the two are most likely collaborators.

We approached the river goddess Alabaster Dawn to establish Aiphee’s reputation and a description of her tree. When the Goddess saw us she treated us with deference and offered us a pearl cup which she said would purify any liquid placed inside into fresh clean water. We were taken aback with her sudden show of respect and when we commented on it she mentioned Zwhoi had told her of our identity.

Enlightenment hit like a lightning bolt. A memory of Chaoxi leaning on a kitchen counter shortly after our return to Volivat when I expressed my concerns about Pekahan. “Your disguises aren’t infallible,” She had said “there are ways to figure out what you are.”I discovered in part what she meant after studying the spirits of Gisig’s alley. Gods are entitled to know the nature of those who fall under their jurisdiction. After we had bathed in the hots pring Zwhoi could sense who what we were because he was the Hot spring’s deity.

In any other context I might be less than pleased to have my identity established so but here was a way I could out any unwanted Lunars from our company. I just needed a god to play along.

Our inquiry established Aiphee’s trustworthy reputation and with gratitude for the goddess’s help we went to meet the spirit of the tree.

Aiphee’s tree was a gnarled, maybe a century or two old. Paying her a visit she did not seem particularly pleased to see us. Gone was the simpering act she had put on for Dasadi. When told of his suspicious disappearance she didn’t seem particularly broken up. Rather is seems she cared nothing in the slightest about his fate. I wouldn’t have expected her to mourn him like her nearest and dearest but I did expect some concern at least for her own welfare. If someone went missing after I covertly supplied potentially dangerous information I would be concerned for my own skin at least. At least I might have expected her to double down on her plea for assistance as Desadi was the only one who had agreed to her request to save the children.

But here she was- uncooperative and annoyed at fielding our questions.

I spoke to her in Old Realm as Aster and Saiten stood by. A glance at my companion’s blank looks made me remember that to those who can’t see the immaterial I appear to be carrying on a casual conversation with fixtures of the landscape. My conversation with Aiphee irked me. She did display some remorse when she mentioned the missing children children but overall I got a sense that she gotten what she needed from Desadi, something that we couldn’t give her…

Something didn’t smell right. I’d bet her little performance with Desadi was staged. The missing children are probably real but maybe they are being used as leverage to get Aiphee to stage a little play for our benefit. In Volivat we’d been fed a steady stream of scared little human breadcrumbs in various forms of trouble to lead us onward and I’m beginning to get the feeling that’s what’s happening here as well.

The prospect of being manipulated puts me in a foul mood.

I decided to put a little pressure on, if she had needed us to believe there were children so we’d go rushing off to save them then her lukewarm reception wasn’t supporting that aim. I switched to Riverspeak to tell Saiten and Aster that she was of no help, that she obviously cared nothing for Desadi and that I thoroughly doubted that there were any children in need of saving in the first place. I would have wagered anything that this tree spirit understood Riverspeak and when she blushed deep blue with rage and huffily stormed back into her tree I could hardly suppress a smile. So much for caring about the poor little children who used to play in her branches. Off her script Aiphee didn’t seem to give two sheckles what happened to those kids over her own scorched pride.

Like clockwork Aster started applying her charm to coax the spirit out of her tree and the angered sprite demanded that I leave before she would speak. I happily retreated to eavesdropping distance and listened as they spoke. Not once did Aiphee attempt to help or reiterate what she told Desadi even after my companions pledged to get the children back. She seemed rather more like she just wished we would all just go away.

Aiphee’s probably a decent tree spirit but I think the townfolk would do better to save their prayers for someone with an actual heart and not just a guilty conscience.

Back at the inn we settled down for the night. A cup of sake did little to untangle the knot I’d been handed but it at least made my concerns less oppressive. Pekahan, even the prospect of her, scares me. My forms, even the ones infallible against my fellow Solars are useless as cover against her while I in return am blind to her presence. She has shown she will go to enormous effort to toy with us. Now, if the journal is to be believed we’re on our way into the grasp of her father Ma-ha-Suchi to what? Kill him? Join him? To die by his hand?

I guess in the end it really doesn’t matter what end we are being manipulated since the lives of innocent children are being used as leverage. Even if I could talk Aster and Saiten into doing so I can’t abandon children in peril to this fate.

I need to figure out how to disrupt the game. Maybe it is to disrupt their expectations and turn our backs on this folly and see how they react and what lengths they will go to to keep us on track.

h3. Descending Earth 19

In the morning I spoke with Zhwoi about the possibility of vetting Dasadi should he return. I hoped he would at least be willing to inform us if he was a lunar masquerading about in disguise but the innkeep made it clear that he was a neutral party. He seemed intent that he not garner a reputation for spilling the secrets of anyone who bathed in his springs to just anyone who asked, even guests who might count on the warning for their safety in his damn Ryokan. Apparently gossiping to local River Goddesses doesn’t count as a breach of discretion. Hypocrite.

I didn’t press the issue. Zwhoi is quick to affirm the stance of “Not my circus, not my monkey”. I can understand operating as a neutral party in one’s self interest even if it makes me angry. Doubtless he just wants nothing to do with us to save his own skin should things go south. An unwilling ally is as likely to turn on us for causing them strife. Besides it’s not entirely discounted he didn’t help lure Dasadi into an assassination. He was the last one to see him before he disappeared

I crossed paths with Saiten on my way out. His morning routine of lifting the heaviest things at hand had him rearranging the inn’s rock garden. The poor elderly gardener following along behind fretted and did his best to minimize the damages but Saiten has no eye for arranging rock gardens and is likely to just leave the stones randomly placed with no ascetic principle once he becomes bored. I left them to it. It occurs that faking Saiten’s identity at least has significant challenges attached.

Finding Aster was simple, she was at the top of the waterfall singing a song to greet the day. I waited to let her finish. The notes she sang were so clear they rang through the air like the sounds pulled from the rims of brass prayer bowls. The resonating quality was calming and I would need calm. I am not at all calm.

As I saw it we could either wait here and hope Dasadi would emerge but I didn’t place much faith on that happening. If Dasadi were our enemy we’d be potentially better off without him, if our enemies understood where he would reappear than they might just take him hostage and we’d be losing time we might better spend on following a trail that was going cold. If he were our friend and could return on his own then he had the resources to catch up quickly. His dog could track us and the beast is large enough for him to ride. We’d be moving slower due to our compliment of soldiers anyway.

After speaking with Aster and then Saiten we opted to gather our people and follow the Bonesider’s trail. We left Wilson behind to act as a messenger on the off chance that Dasadi returned to the hot spring. The soft duty would be good for his spirits and he won’t spoil our approach with possible quacks from his shoe.

If someone has been keeping close then chances are good they have been keeping tabs on us by blending in with our guards. It would be ideal if I could find a way to make sure everyone is as loyal as they’d like us to think they are…

Saiten's Journal 23
Descending fire 8 continued.

We carefully waded through the forest until we came across a soldier waiting at the top of a hill, his horse tied to a nearby tree. If he had spotted us, he hadn’t let on. Piper had identified the armor as Campthaharian, so we were at least on the right track. It wasn’t the man that we were looking for, but he probably knew our target. Piper and I agreed that we should continue to try to be stealthy in our approach, but the man soon saw through my feeble attempt at sneakery. He quickly untied his horse, and began riding off as fast as his horse could muster. It was unfortunate for him, that I’m a fair bit faster than your average horse, and caught up with him quickly. He tried to swing at me as I closed the distance, but it was no use. He wasn’t that strong. I did hear him shout “Die Anathema scum!” shortly before I knocked him out. It looks as though our reputation precedes us.

By the time Piper had caught up, I had tied the soldier’s horse to a nearby tree. I wasn’t sure if there were any more soldiers nearby, but I figured having a riderless horse running around probably wouldn’t attract the attention we were looking for.

Peering down at the unconscious soldier, Piper suggested that he might have been waiting for the person we were looking for. I wasn’t entirely convinced, seeing as how our target had been ahead of us. Still, Piper was quick to assume the form of the soldier, just in case. I don’t know if I am ever going to get used to Piper’s shape shifting. His abilities and my own are at odds more often than not. While he lurks and sneaks, I stand proud, ready to accept any challenge thrown at me. Piper has often suggested that my methods are foolish, yet here I still stand. I know that there is wisdom in Piper’s methods though. He has managed to survive for untold years as a Solar, despite the best efforts of the men we have been chasing. Regardless of this, I have resigned myself to the roll of a hero, and hero’s don’t lurk in the shadows. Still, there is nothing wrong with associating with one who does, especially if good can come from it.

We waited into the dead of night on the top of that hill, hoping to find some sort of clue to where the man we were chasing might be, but it didn’t look like anyone was coming. Eventually the wind shifted, and with it, Piper’s mood. Piper could tell that the man we were looking for had already moved on.

Descending Fire 9
Shifting back to the more familiar form of Obi, Piper lead the way while I carried the unconscious soldier. I wasn’t exactly sure of what to do with him, but leaving him there by himself wouldn’t do any good. He would either wake up and make his way to his allies, or some wild animal would get him. Neither of those options were particularly appealing, so I continued to carry him with us.

It wasn’t long before we spotted some more soldiers at the top of an embankment. We could hear the movements of what we could only assume was some sort of a camp. Piper had me hold my ground while he scouted ahead. And so, I sat there and waited. It seemed to be a common trend on this adventure with Piper. As I eyed my surroundings, I thought about training a bit while I waited. There were a few boulders that I could get a few good reps off of, but that would undoubtedly make too much noise. I should have at least brought a book.

When Piper returned, he was able to confirm our suspicions; an entire enemy camp laid before us on the other side of the hill. This was going to be fun. I began moving towards the camp, but Piper was quick to stop me. “We should go back and get Broken walls and the others!” he suggested. I disagreed of course. The sooner we dealt with the camp, the better. If Prasad had information on us, I would sooner prevent any force from attacking Champoor. Better to deal with it here and now.

Eventually, Piper relented, and agreed that now was the best option. He suggested I wait behind as he he drug the camp, putting the soldiers to sleep so that we could deal with them easier. I’ll admit, I was not a fan of this option. I would sooner face the entire encampment by myself than drug them, but this was not about me. This was about the safety of Champoor and the others. If even one of these soldiers got away, it could have serious consequences. I agreed to Piper’s plan. Hopefully a few of them would at least be able to put up a struggle. Still, I couldn’t help but feel left out as Piper left me alone once again.

When Piper returned, we could hear Chaoxi’s voice on the wind, saying that they had lost our trail somewhere on the road. It would be a while before Piper’s drugs took effect, so we agreed to part ways for a short time. Piper would return to the road and find Broken Walls and Chaoxi, and I would remain here and observe the camp.

While I waited, I didn’t see much. I wanted to, but that’s just not how it worked out. I was relieved when I saw Broken Walls and Chaoxi trudging through the brush. Finally, I might be able to do something aside for “Wait for Piper”.
Piper had explained to them what he done, drugging the breakfast of the encampment so as to render them unconscious. Broken Walls and Chaoxi were quick to agree to wait until sunrise before making our move.

When the hour approached, we carefully made our way into the camp. I was finally getting a little excited. Surely someone had managed to resist Piper’s toxins, and anyone who could resist them would no doubt be fun to trade blows with.

As we entered the camp, I was hugely disappointed. Piper was unfortunately very proficient with his method. Not one soldier was standing. With each tent we checked, my groans got noticeably louder. I swear I saw Piper snickering at one point. He must have loved this.

It must have been after the fourth or fifth tent I searched, when the blonde haired man from the tavern came out of his tent. From the look of him, he had just woke up. When he turned and saw me, he quickly turned to run, but he did not get far before I knocked him out with a single blow. So much for him being a challenge.

As we waited for the camp to wake from their stupor, Broken walls bound everyone in shackles he whipped up using the various weapons found on site. Hopefully this was all of them.

When our target, the blonde man from the tavern woke up, Broken Walls was ready to question him.

By the time he was done, we had learned that more soldiers, along with some DragonBloods, would be showing up over the next few days to prepare an attack on all of the Solars of Rising Sun House, plus Chaoxi and Piper.
They were going to planning to ambush us at the Gala, where we would have no doubt been at a huge disadvantage. To think that Prasad would be willing to attack en mass where there would be innocent people sickened me. Clearly these people needed to be taught a lesson.

What that lesson was, took a bit of discussion within the group, but eventually, we agreed to prepare an ambush of our own at this very camp. Chaoxi and I agreed to stay, while Broken walls and Piper gathered more of Rising Sun House’s forces.

Piper's Journal 32
Rising Tension

Descending Earth 15

Days of icy rain has churned the road to mud and lowered the general morale of our company. Some levity arrived in the form of a small package from Broken Walls carried by Desadi’s mechanical bird. Inside was a toe guard complete with air circulation holes and a tiny set of armour made to fit a certain tiny duck. Broken Walls has… an odd sense of humor.

The gift did serve to pick up Wilson’s spirits which was a blessing. Ever since he’s picked up the Wyld mutation he’s been morose, adding to the general gloom over our company. Comfort has been in short supply with damp gear seeming to get only heavier and mustier as we progress. Going over my few possessions to make sure they were properly proofed against the weather I happened upon the small kit that Nergui made for me of basic supplies for ward making. Thinking back to Desadi’s kit I remembered that he’d been divested of his possessions and the contents of this kit were not so different from the one he had when we pulled him from the Dreaming Sea.

I made a gift of the kit to Desadi that night and he seemed grateful enough to receive it I suppose. Thinking I might engage him in conversation I told him a bit about my time with Nergui – but his interest quickly waned. Desadi informed me that Nergui hadn’t lied to me and what he taught me was sound – but fact checking wasn’t exactly the purpose of the exercise. I felt somewhat disappointed by the exchange though I can not place particularly why.

Perhaps I should not take this for the mild rebuff it appears to be. Since rejoining us Desadi has been prone to being lost in thought, barely answering questions and doing strange and possibly dangerous things without supplying any explanation beforehand. Perhaps he believes that we are not much help to him in this arena or worse that we are nitwits incapable of understanding so he feels he owes us no explanations. His absentmindedness sometimes comes across as him willfully ignoring us which I am trying not to feel slighted by. After all he has just survived a long period of seclusion which I know is torture of a sort.

I wonder if Indebted Blood is faring well. One would hope as a former prisoner Broken Walls would make a compassionate jailer but then one can’t be sure. Ha… The exchange today has made me a little wistful though for what I can’t be sure, but it is like a small weight in my chest I carry without understanding why.

Descending Earth 16

We made inquiries with travelers passing by on the river running parallel to the road how close we were to the next settlement, The news was favorable, according to them were about a day out from “Rising Falls”. The name struck a chord with Desadi who remembered hearing a rumour from some travelling merchants who pass through the town once a year that he met on the road. According to the merchants the town’s children had gone mysteriously missing and none of the adults had seemed to remember that they had ever had children.

Can’t say I much like the sound of that. Kidnappers deserve not one whit of mercy whatever their purpose and though my lust for violence has slackened I’d have a hard time not indulging in causing one as much pain as can be afforded. Three months gone by bodes not well for those children’s fates. By now they likely have been split up, sold or killed – odds are they will ever return. The plague of bonesiders takes precedence as it represents the greatest threat but if I could return even a small number of those children – or bring their kidnappers to ruin- the effort would be worthwhile.

That night I dreamt I was a rat plundering a storehouse. A delicious smell wafted from a deep jar and I lost my footing at it’s lip plunging into it’s dark recesses. Coated in sesame oil from the jar’s bottom I struggled to free myself but my claws slipped on the rim of the jar denying me my freedom. A leering human face hove into view above me, it’s features grotesque and distorted and it grinned at me revealing a mouth of crooked jumbled teeth. Frozen in fear I locked eyes with it knowing that if I looked away-

I woke and stared at the dark roof of my tent, my mind still occupied by the vision of those dark unblinking eyes I lay frozen by that unblinking predatory stare until morning. Why do I still feel like I’m being watched?

Descending Earth 17

Rising Falls is a beautiful place. As we neared the city gates we came across a tree blossoming a light periwinkle blue blossoms. The landscape was dotted with dotted with dragons beard candy-like tufts of blue blossomed trees making it seem as though it were early spring rather than late autumn. The town itself is about as large as Zingma’s Tree had once been. The cliff face at it’s far end possessed a peculiar waterfall which seemed to defy gravity and flow in the opposite direction I am accustomed to see water flow.

Is it still a waterfall if the water travels upwards?

The singular guard on the gate was made nervous by the armoured warriors in our company but he let us through after securing our toll. Aster asked him about lodging and he mentioned that there were inns in the town the most costly of which were atop the cliff where there was a hotspring. The news that there was a hotspring was very welcome to our group after so many nights spent damp and cold and days wandering through mud and grit.

The guard had mentioned there was a shrine at the base of the cliff for the River Goddess Alabaster Dawn and we stopped in to leave our offerings. Offering her a coin and prayer the river Goddess herself leaned out from the roughly hewn statue that served as her image to stare at us curiously. She was obviously startled when Desadi and I met her gaze. She seemed flustered by this at first but seemed content enough to strike up a brief conversation. She seemed unaware of there being any missing children and told us to give Zhwoi her regards when we reached the hotspring at the top of the cliff face.

At the top of the cliff there was a busy market and a number of well off manor houses clustered around the main road. True to the rumor we saw no children helping at the market’s stalls or playing in the street as one might expect. My unease deepened. There are plenty of reasons to steal children none of which are savory but to deprive a village of an entire generation?

The woman at the gate of the hotspring inn gave us the rates for a night’s stay or for just a visit to the springs and a meal. It was as pricey as one might expect, too pricey to lodge the guards. Desadi looked put out as he was still penniless but after a brief conference Aster and Saiten decided that they would pay for rooms for our guard compliment at a nearby inn that was somewhat more affordable and if they wanted to splurge on the hotspring they could do so from their own wage and also offered to pay Desadi’s way. I for one was in for the food and the bath. Hotspring rooms are well and all but I hardly find the accommodations worth the price just so one can sleep near where one bathes. Aster and Desadi reminded me however that we had things to discuss and I reluctantly agreed to take a room at the inn.

Shortly after arriving we spoke to Zhwoi who as it turned out was the proprietor of the Hotspring. We passed along our regards from the River Goddess and complimented him on his fine establishment. We adjourned to the baths and so distracted was I that I almost forgot that the disguise I inhabited would do nothing to conceal the ruined flesh at my back. The powders that darkened my skin would also easily be removed by the application of soap. Stepping into my room I passed a power laden hand over my forearms smoothing the trace work of hair-fine scars and the raised flesh of my back. These marks begged too many questions and while I owed no answers to the soldiers who would be filtering in after us I did not wish to be troubled by their attentions since my surroundings had me so on edge.

This place reminds me far too much of things best forgotten.

The bath warmed by body if not my spirits. Desadi and Saiten gleefully booked a massage after learning the Proprietor had offered us the night’s stay for free. The food was very good though I picked over it with no appetite, my mind turning over the plight of the missing children. When Desadi and Saiten rejoined Aster and I it was plain Desadi had already sampled some of the alchohol. His breath reeked of it as he lost his balance and leaned on me irritatingly.

Desadi, after ruminating on something for a time, exclaimed something to the effect of “Oh, might as well!” and motioned us in conspiratorially. He told us of the secret message writ in blue flower petals he had witnessed bidding him to return after everyone else was asleep. He outlined a plan whereby he’d meet with the writer of said message while I listened in with the others posted close enough to come to his aid should he find himself in trouble.

What in Creation did he mean by “Oh Might as well”?

We agreed to his plan an hour later and Aster, Saiten and I stationed ourselves near the base of the cliff while Desadi went to meet his mysterious contact. Listening in I heard a gentle female voice greet him and introduce herself as Aiphee. I recounted what she told Desadi faithfully to Aster and Saiten as she lamented mournfully of the past when children played in her branches and the day a number of black skeletons surrounded the town and took them away. She told us of the woman in white armor who had spoken to the townspeople and as many gods and spirits as they could gather erasing the memories of the children they stole. This handily supplied the means Desadi had likely lost his own memories.

After divulging the entirety of the tale Aiphee asked Desadi to join her in her tree. Desadi’s acceptance for her forward invitation abruptly ended my narration. Aster reacted with concern when I sourly told her that I’d listen in no further since if Desadi got himself in trouble doing what he intended he could do so on his own. Once she understood my meaning she blushed bright red and we adjourned leaving Desadi to romance the spirit. Aiphee seemed to like children, perhaps she simply wants one of her own.

I returned to the inn though I found it difficult to fall asleep. My thoughts kept returning to supposition of the purpose those children were put to and why the bonesiders left the rest of the town untouched. In a way I was glad the two were connected, the kidnappers lay in our path.

Descending Earth 18

Desadi met us in the morning looking refreshed and cheerful. We spoke with Zhwoi and thanked him for his gracious offer of a free night’s stay. He demurred saying that it was what was afforded people of our noble stature. I didn’t correct him as we did come with a compliment of twenty guards though I was curious what he thought we were. Aiphee had mentioned Zhwoi had been present for the attack and spoken to the woman in white. Checking with Zwhoi we confirmed that three months ago an incident with Bonesiders had indeed happened though the skeletons had dispersed in all directions. I asked if anyone had been injured and he mentioned that there were no great injuries that he knew of but to check with the guard captain.

Our interview with the guard captain gave us some good if puzzling news. No injuries had been sustained to any of the guard as the bonesiders used only closed fists to rebuff them and they seemed to have a clean bill of health. The soldiers had attempted to track the bonesiders but the traces disappeared into the north. Desadi left us to go “try something” as the rest of us wandered trying to find some vain hint of how to proceed. I mused that perhaps they could be lured out if they could attempt to steal a child. It is a long shot but maybe they left some sort of spy or contingent behind. We didn’t have much time to discuss as Desadi approached us at the run breathlessly to inform us that his dog had sensed something concerning approaching rapidly from the North. We sprinted back up the cliff face path scattering distressed travelers left and right as we barreled past.

Saiten and Desadi raced ahead of us as Aster and I raced to fetch the soldier contingent. We were in luck as they proved to be all in one place. Leaving Aster to issue commands to the soldiers I sprinted ahead to join Saiten and Dasadi, pausing only briefly to grab a twig bristled broom from where it leaned against the lintel of a house. I could hear the crack of tree trunks in the distance and tightened my grip on the broom’s rough handle.

Dasadi and Saiten waited tersely at the edge of town. Saiten had perched on a tree and was keeping post. Desadi sent Halcyon with a message for Aster to give the order to their guard complement to evacuate the area. Hoping to buy the townsfolk some time we decided to meet the danger as far from town as we could.

Into the woods we plunged, Saiten leaping from tree to tree as Dasadi and I kept pace concealed in the underbrush. It wasn’t long before we discovered our quarry. Bonesiders, Only about twenty of them but they were accompanied by a giant skeleton of a beast… or was it a bird? It’s arms were short but it’s legs were taloned like a falcon, it’s maw lined with teeth the size of kunai and it’s back sown with heavy spikes. I clutched my broom and took a deep steadying breath opening my senses to the clearing. For an instant I felt as though I were a part of the fabric of the landscape and the tremors of the beast’s feet on the earth my own heartbeat. Pausing at an intersection of action and consequence I felt a tug of instinct beckon me and followed it’s call.

Beside me Saiten toppled a tree in the path of the thing as I slipped to the left gaining ground. The beast turned towards me and advanced as though it had scented me. I gathered quick momentum and raced to the branches of a nearby cedar only to find the thing was faster than I had anticipated. I struck out at the more delicate looking bones of the things nose and heard a sharp crack of breaking bone. It pulled away with a screech as Saiten descended on it throwing it off balance with a mighty blow.

Remembering those taloned feet I jumped straight up, soaring above the creature and slamming the power laden bristles of the broom downward. The twigs, soaked in essence sank deep into the creature’s spine with barely any resistance. I twisted the broom which resonated with a series of snaps as bristles broke off where they had stuck, sticking like absurd crooked pegs out of the bone. Using the pole of the broom to vault I came down on the mess with both feet burying the protruding twigs flush with the bone. Beneath my feet I felt the beginnings of a series of violent heaves as the creature tried to dislodge me. I dropped to all fours, grabbing hold of the craggy bones as my body was momentarily weightless from it’s attempt to buck me off.

Not wanting to risk a fall to the forest floor I noted the skull of the thing had large enough cavities where it’s eyes should be for me to slip inside it’s skull. It smelt like rotten meat and was covered with putrefied slime but I dropped into the recess nevertheless. I slammed my reserves of power into the twigs making them glow a dull violet gray before whipping the handle in a close figure eight and sending the twigs flying like a rain of crooked arrows in all directions.

I was surprised to find myself suddenly in open air as the force of the strike blew apart the skull of the beast into fragments. A quick glance upwards was enough for me to witness some of the larger fragments reach the apex of their arc and begin plummeting back towards me as the beast began to fall. Instinct seized me and I leaped for the trees, latching onto the trunk of a pine as what remained of the beast tumbled to the ground. A mighty blow from Saiten carried the fragmented bones of it’s legs into the bonesiders like missiles decimating all that Dasadi had not felled. Distantly I registered that Aster was present and singing though I had been so preoccupied I was not sure when she had started.
As the sound of crumbling skeleton faded to silence I relaxed my death grip on the pine tree and slid to it’s base. I was coated in the foulest smelling substance I had ever smelt and a fine powder of bone dust but at least we now had a fresh trail to follow…

Saiten's Journal 22

Descending Fire 7 continued,

After the questioning had finished, and Hatellus and Gissig had left, Piper and Aster had a private questioning period with Indebted Blood of Fire. I’m not sure what exactly they hoped to learn from the man, given that he had answered all of our questions earlier. Still, Aster and Piper thought it wise to continue to press him. I wasn’t about to argue.

As they questioned, I trained around the compound, but returned to check on them after a little while. Aster had finished her questioning, and was bringing the man some food. Even the most vile of enemies, Aster shows compassion for. I respect that about her.

I continued training around the compound once they were done. I’ve found that I think the best when I’m pushing myself. So that’s what I did. I pushed myself, and I thought. I thought about Indebted Blood of Fire, and the situation he has brought up. 10 legions of Presad, and 2 dragonbloods did sound like a sizable force, but at the same time, I suspect they’re underestimating us. While It’s true that Indebted Blood of Fire was watching us, I’m not entirely sure he truly knows our true abilities. I’m not sure I even know our abilities. Or my own for that matter.

Since the fall, I’ve grown stronger than I could have ever imagined during my old life, and I continue to grow stronger every day. During my fight with Mauk, I realised that I may not be as strong as I think I am, but at the same time, I am not totally sure. I had pushed myself to my limits during my retreat from Champoor a couple months ago, yet it felt like it’s been years. Maybe I should consider another retreat. Some time to meditate and reflect on what being a Solar is truly about.

In the meantime, all I can do is trust myself and my friends to try to do what is best in the moment. With any luck, things will work out in our favor.

Eventually, I see Broken Walls coming back in the distance, but I only climbed down from the central tower that I had been scaling when Piper and Aster called to me.

Piper suggests a take a trip to the outrageous flagon, where Indebted Blood of Fire was headed when we managed to catch up to him. If we would be able to find his ally, Wonders of Forsaken Dreams, we may have better luck stopping this invasion that Indebted Blood of Fire had suggested.

Initially, Piper thought it would be best to go alone. That was shot down quickly. I quickly volunteered to go with Piper, but he gave me the strangest of looks when I did. Almost to say he would prefer not me, but not going as far as to say it out loud. Chaoxi suggested I wear a cloak to cover my uniform. I would normally disagree with covering up, as I have many times in the past, but I relented on this occasion. Covering up during travel, when we are attempting to sneak up on a target makes sense in this case. Still, I didn’t feel fully comfortable with the idea.

Piper and I headed out fairly quickly, but the trip took a fair deal longer than when Broken Walls and I had headed in this direction. We were on horses this time, and as nice as it was to not have to be running the entire way, I couldn’t help but feel like they were going slowly just to irritate me.

Descending Fire 8

We rode through the night, stopping only briefly to water the horses. As we got closer, Piper decided to change his form, changing to a woman he named Genna. I’m not entirely sure why he chose to don this new appearance now, he could have easily done it before we left, or even when we were watering the horses. Still, I’m sure he has his reasons.

When we arrived at the Outrageous Flagon, we secured the horses at the stable. Piper had planned to spook Wonders of Forsaken Dreams, and flush him out towards the stable, where I would ambush him. This wasn’t exactly what I thought was the best idea, but then again, this whole operation was out what I considered normal. I trusted Piper, and wished him luck as he ducked inside the front door of the Flagon.

As I sat in the stable waiting, I regretted not asking Piper to bring out some food. It had been a long trip, and while I don’t mind the rations we packed, the smells coming from inside were quite enticing.

Piper did eventually return, but did so empty handed, and that included without food. I looked at him judgingly. It was fine. I could get my own food.

Or so I thought. Piper stopped me when I started to head inside, saying that he wasn’t finished yet, and that he would bring me something to eat if that was all I was worried about.

It wasn’t all I was worried about. I of course wanted to find Wonders of Forsaken Dreams, but having a nice meal while doing so wouldn’t be so bad either.

I waited for another few hours before Piper returned. Still no Wonders of Forsaken Dreams, but at least this time he had snagged a ham loaf for me. I’m pretty sure the rations we had packed were tastier than the loaf was. As I choked it down, I could only assume this was Piper’s idea of a practical joke.

Piper hadn’t stayed to watch me eat of course. He had gone back inside to look for our target. The building wasn’t that large, and there couldn’t have been that many people inside. Just how long was this going to take?

As I had gotten fairly bored, I walked around and checked out the other horses in the stable. I wouldn’t say that I know much about horses, but I’ve seen enough to know which ones are usually owned by the wealthy types, and which by the warriors. I suspect that Wonders of Forsaken Dreams would have ridden a fast horse, being in the information business. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any that stuck out, and on top of that, all of their saddle bags were either empty or missing. So much for me finding clues.

I did manage to befriend a little bunny, but it scampered off quickly once Piper returned.

It looked like we were going to be here a while. Piper had rented a room for herself inside, but insisted I stay out here just in case. I begrudgingly agreed, and hopped up into the hay loft, where I could still see the horses, but also be comfortable as well.

Piper woke me up when the breakfast crowd had begun to gather, warning me to be ready for travelers returning to their horses.
Five men eventually came out, each taking their own horse. Two of them took notably nicer horses, with fancier travel bags. I wondered if one of them might be the man we sought, but as Piper had not come back outside, I doubted it. I took note of the directions they headed off in just in case.

Piper returned empty handed once more, but this time returned without any other ideas as well. He believed that either Wonders of Forsaken Dreams wasn’t here, or that he had eluded Piper, and left already. I told him of the five men who had left, and Piper suggested we could catch up to them. While I am sure we could catch up to the riders, without knowing which rider to catch, I was hesitant to do so.

We instead headed back towards Champoor, hoping we could find some insight from the others when we shared what we found at the Flagon. Maybe Indebted Blood of Fire had given some more information while we were gone.
As we rode through the city towards the compound, we ran into Broken Walls in the temple district.

When we explained what we had discovered at the Flagon, he told us that it was the blonde haired man that was likely our target.
The blonde haired man was one of the men who had headed off in the direction of Presad, and his horse was one of the fancier ones, so it did make sense.

We decided that it would be faster for me to run this time, though I would need Piper’s help to track our target en route. Even carrying Piper, it would still be faster than taking the horses. And so, we gathered some basic supplies and headed out.

Descending Fire 9.

It was my second day without a full night’s sleep, although this time I was running. Piper was at least more comfortable than Broken Walls was to carry. Broken Walls would fidget as I ran, never really getting comfortable, but Piper I think may have fallen asleep at one point. He was quiet at least.

I ran for at least 10 hours straight. Eventually, Piper beckoned me to stop, before hopping off my back. He began sniffing the ground like a hound, even tasting it at one point. Eventually, he pointed into the woods saying our target went that way.

Saiten's Journal 21
Descending Fire 6

Descending Fire 6

I chose not to carry Broken Walls on the way back to Champoor. I’m sure he would have liked it, but that guy gets fidgety after a while, and having his ankles digging into me was less comfortable than I would have cared for.

As we slowly made our way back, we eventually ran into Aster, Chaoxi, and Piper as they rode to catch up to us. They had all the supplies that we had foregone during our hasty departure from Champoor, so I was thankful to be able to have something to eat as we made our way back.

During the long walk, we discussed what to do with our new captive, Rose Piercing Wind. Piper was quite concerned with keeping him out of the public eye, while Broken Walls wanted him to confess his intentions to the authorities of Champoor, such as Hattellus, or Mauk. I don’t really have an opinion on the matter. I’m sure there are benefits to both options, but this sort of thing isn’t really my strong point.

Eventually, we reached an inn along the road. The group decides they want to rest here, but I decided to press on. I had left the tournament in an awkward way, and it left a sour taste in my mouth. The sooner I could return to the tournament, the sooner I could smooth things out.

When I did eventually reach the tournament grounds, I found Mauk waiting for me. I could see that the merchants had all started to pack up and head back to their respective areas of regular commerce. I told Mauk that Broken Walls was on his way, but he might be a while. Mauk kind of shrugged, and motioned to the ring, as if to imply that I could wait for my opponent there.

So I did. I sat in the ring, and contemplated how my final fight of the tournament might go. If Broken Walls didn’t show up, I figured I would challenge Mauk himself. Either way, a fight would be had.

Broken Walls did eventually show up, along with the rest of the group, and Rose Piercing wind in tow. Our little captive was still passed out, but the rest of the group looked well rested and alert. I wondered if they had any issues since we split ways, but they made no indication that they had.

When I urged Broken walls towards the ring to have our match, he told me he didn’t wish to fight me. He also said that due to the rules of the tournament, he wouldn’t be able to give it his all, and thus, not provide the challenge I was looking for.

I was crushed. I had been looking forward to this since I had first heard about the tournament. This was not how I pictured my defeat. If I was to lose, it was to be overpowered, either in skill or strength. To be defeated by denying me the chance to fight was almost unbearable.

Still, there were other options. Mauk had been listening, and wasn’t being too subtle about it either. When I eventually got over the shock of being denied by Broken Walls, I turned to Mauk and shouted, “If Broken Walls won’t fight me, how about you‽”

Mauk initially dismissed the idea, but finally relented when I appealed to his pride of leading his warrior troops. At last, I had my fight. My challenge.

After Mauk retrieved his cudgel, we made our way to a nearby hill. The ring, as enormous as it was, was far too small to let Mauk fight comfortably in, and I didn’t really care about our venue.

We started at quite the distance, which I felt put me at a disadvantage. Mauk could reach me from the onset with his cudgel, but I managed to avoid at least three good swings before I was able to hit him. It was a solid hit for sure; one that would likely cave in the bones of anybody else. Mauk was not anybody else. I don’t even think he felt the hit.

After the strike, a sudden realisation came to me. I had just hit Mauk with everything that I would be willing to throw at somebody that I didn’t intend to kill, and he didn’t even feel it. If I was to continue the fight, I was going to have to throw caution to the wind, and go all out. I wasn’t sure if I could do that to Mauk in the name of a good faith bout.

Mauk wasn’t about to let me sit there and ponder the nature of our fight however, as his next swing landed squarely on top of me. The weight of Mauk’s cudgel was like nothing I had ever felt before. It was as if an entire mountain had collapsed on me. I could hear me rocks below me cracking as I was compressed into the hillside with a loud “thud”. I don’t know if I had passed out, or if I was merely dazed, but the next thing I knew, Mauk was lifting me into the air, his fist wrapped firmly around my entire body. “We done?” He boomed.

Now, I’m not normally one to yield in combat, but I was clearly outmatched here. “Let’s do this again next year!” I managed to shout back to him. I’m going to have some more training to do.

Mauk chuckled as he put me down. It was a good fight at least. I thanked Mauk for the opportunity to test myself against him, and for giving me a challenge to look forward to.

On my way back, I grabbed the gauntlets that I had used when I faced Akimu from the victory pile. I hadn’t beat Mauk, but I did technically win the tournament with Broken Walls withdrawing. Tick did not agree with this assumption however, and asked me to return them. I shrugged as I tossed them back. There’s always next year.

I returned to the compound, exhausted. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow.

Descending Fire 7

I wanted to sleep in today, I really did. But a hero shouldn’t let himself get too comfortable when there are injustices around. So, I pulled myself out bed, ready to take on the world once more.

I looked over my uniform before putting it on. It was brand new, but I I had managed to get it pretty beat up and torn in my fight with Mauk. It Looked like I’d be paying Midnight Raining Blossom a visit again.

During my morning patrol, I stopped in to see my new tailor. He was quite excited at how I had performed in the tournament. He had gotten several new orders since people had found out that he was the one who crafted my uniform, but he managed to fix up the damage I had done in a matter of minutes. I couldn’t even tell where the rips were before.

When I did make my way back to the compound, I found Broken Walls and the others, getting ready to question Rose Piercing Wind.
They had brought Hatellus and Gissig there to observe. Probably a wise precaution.

Broken Walls stared at the man for a while before speaking. I’m not sure what Broken Walls’s plan was to get Rose Piercing Wind to speak, but it had better be a good one.

“What is your name, rank, and social standing”? Broken Walls questioned.
“Indebted blood of fire, 5th heir to clan motome, Sergeant in the god-kings army” he spoke back with fear in his eyes.

“Why were you in Champoor?” Broken walls continued.
“Strifes Flawless Depths, of clan Orphis bid me to travel to Champoor to determine the combat capabilities of the foul solar anathema that infest the city.” he squeaked out once more, clearly unable to believe the words coming out of his own mouth.

Broken Walls sat there for a moment, choosing his words carefully. I began to expect that there was some sort of Solar ability at play here. There was little chance that a true enemy agent would give his information up of his own free will, and this is not the first time I’ve seen somebody responding in unlikely ways to Broken Walls asking questions.

“Based off the report you were to deliver, what force would you expect to be sent here?” Broken Walls asked, continuing his interrogation.
“10 legions of Presad, including my clans along with 2 dragonblood.” He responded once more.

“Who are your allies within Champoor?”
“Wonders Of Forsaken Dreams from clan Syuya”

Broken Walls narrowed his eyes as he asked once last question. “What would we need to do to capture Wonders of Forsaken Dreams alive?”
“Convince me to meet him at the outrageous flagon” he responded before starting to scream one profanity after another.

Saiten's Journal 20
Descending Fire 5

Descending Fire 5

As I rose from my slumber, I could already hear somebody scampering around downstairs. I had once again gotten up a bit earlier than usual, wanting to squeeze in some training and a patrol before making my way to the tournament grounds, but it seems somebody else had beaten me to the punch. The waking up early part at least. I’ve not had much company on the training, nor the patrols as I might hope for.

When I did get downstairs, I managed to see Aster heading out the gates in the direction of the tournament grounds. She must have a lot of preparations for the day’s fights. As the tournament progresses, the injuries are likely to get more severe.

Following training, I once again headed out into the city in an attempt to right some wrongs, and stop some senseless acts of thievery. Thankfully, I didn’t run into many issues. I imagine the shady sector of the city is as distracted with the tournament as the rest of the city is.

As I made my way towards the tournament grounds, I was again inundated with shouts of encouragement from the people of the city. I am glad to be able to bring at least some joy into their worlds.

The first match of the day is between Silken Orchid of Fallen Love, verus Throk Fire Gazer. Whoever wins this fight will likely face me after my fight with Dinger Earth Hallow.
Broken Walls and I went to see Dinger during Throk’s fight. As the fight progressed before us, I told Dinger that I expect nothing less than his best. He assured me that he will give it his all, but judging by his previous fights, I had my doubts.
The match goes on for a fair amount of time. Throk put in a good effort, but Silken Orchid eventually dispatched him. Still, both of them were heavily wounded and were brought to Aster’s tent for recovery. I hope Silken Orchid will be able to recover in time for our match.

Broken Walls and I again investigate the days prizes. A box of Jars seemingly crafted from large gemstones catches my eye, but Broken Walls again shows me the the value of things can often be deceptive. He pointed towards a gem the size and shape of an eye. “That is what you should be trying for” he told me. I’m not sure I believe him, but I do trust him. I’ll get the eye next.

I make my way back to my tent before my first bout of the day. Dinger might not look like the challenge that I wish for, but I still intend to give him a good run. One of these opponents will be a challenge, and I will be ready to meet it.

I clear my mind and once again focus on strengthening my muscles. I considered going beyond and hardening my fists as well, but I decided against it. How hard could Dinger be anyway?

When we entered the ring, I could clearly see that Dinger was excited to be there. He had been waiting for this fight. Hopefully I live up to his expectations.

With the sound of the bell, we rushed towards each other, aiming to strike at the same time. I swore I had planted my first firmly in his jaw, but at the moment of contact, I was hit from behind!
I turned, angry, ready to smash the man who had interrupted my match. He had red hair, pale skin, and wore red gauntlets with glades that glowed like the night’s sky, but before I could even finish turning towards him, he was gone; replaced with Dinger, who promptly hit me again.

By this point, I had seen enough. Something was going on, but I wasn’t about to wait around to find out what. My next strike hit Dinger hard. As I hit him I saw the Red haired man’s figure fade into existence, with his eyes rolling back into his head before Dinger’s visage once again took over.

He tried to strike again, but could clearly not see straight after my last hit. I swiftly moved past his punch, then slamed Dinger in the side of his ribs.

It was at this point that the strange apparition revealed himself to me. “That was fun!” he said almost gleefully. “Come and find me later!” he said, tosing me a strange looking compass before disappearing. Once gone, Dinger collapsed.

I was not expecting Dinger to collapse of course. Moments ago he looked to be in fighting shape, and surely my last hit had not hit him hard enough to do him in. I yelled at him to stand up, even tried to lift him to his feet, but it was no use. Dinger was done.

The crowd roared as I was proclaimed victorious, but I was more confused than anything else. What just happened? Who was the red haired guy?

I quickly learned that nobody else had even seen the additional participant in the fight. Not Broken Walls, not Descending Dawn. Nobody. It doesn’t make any sense. He was right there, clear as day when he handed me the compass. I look it over briefly, as if to reassure myself that I hadn’t imagined the figure; that Dinger hadn’t in fact, hit me hard enough to knock the sense out of me. But there it was, pointing off in it’s own direction, begging to be followed. “Another time” I told myself as I stuffed it into my pouch. I had more important things to worry about.

I returned to the prize pool and claimed the eye shaped gem as my reward. I did notice that this time there was much less attention on me as I picked my winnings compared to last time. Last time I could swear I was being watched by a dozen or so people, which was not the case this time. I guess other things must have the attention of the people.

I returned to my tent, feeling more and more exhausted as the adrenaline of the fight wore off. I didn’t even bother to watch the next fight, which I probably should have. It was Dedecasi’s Demise versus Broken Walls.
I got the highlights afterward from one of the spectators. Broken Walls had managed to fake out Dedecasi’s Demise, causing him to ring out. I couldn’t believe it. That fight should not have ended that way. As I try to reason out the result , I realise something else: I’m going to get to fight Broken Walls after all. This day was looking better and better.

Having not seen the fight that I had arguably been looking forward to the most, I decided to pay better attention to the next one. It might not be Broken Walls, but it might be entertaining at least.
Rose Piercing Wind, faced off against Sun Shen Lee. Something about how Sun Shen Lee moved reminded me a little of Piper. I knew Piper studied martial arts, but I didn’t even know the name of his style, yet alone the style itself. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if they had trained together in the past. I’ll try to remember to ask Piper when I see him next.

The fight itself seemed fairly even, but in the end Sun Shen Lee forfeited. Still, it looked like Rose piercing wind was not to be taken lightly.

With the quarter finals finally complete, Broken Walls again looked upon the prizes for the next tier. I didn’t see anything obvious, but again Broken Walls discreetly point out that there were some red packets that seemed incredibly valuable. I really hope Broken Walls isn’t messing with me here, but I once again agree to his suggestion.

I prepared myself once more in my tent, before hearing my name called out for the next match. Silken Orchid was waiting. I hadn’t really expected a challenge of this fight, having seen Silken Orchid fight Throk, but I still took the match seriously. I wouldn’t want my opponent to be disheartened to think that I didn’t respect their efforts. Still, the match went as I expected. I carried her to Aster’s tent after she dropped, giving a small shrug as Aster glared at me.

I of course retrieved the red pouches, counting out 15 of them total before returning to my tent. I wonder what they actually are.

As I tried to meditate, I could hear shouts of disappointment from the crowd. Something was wrong.
I emerged to find that Broken Walls’ opponent, had not shown up. It seems that Dedecasi’s Demise wasn’t the only competitor to scare off a fighter.

I tried to let the events get to me, instead returning to my tent and continuing my meditation and preparation. There wasn’t any doubt anymore. I would be facing Broken Walls next!

Or so I thought. Broken Walls forfeited! I couldn’t believe him as he spoke the words. This was going to be it. Him and me! Me and him! Fighting for all to see! I don’t even know how to react. I’m devastated of course, but Broken walls must have had his reasons. I turned to him with an impassioned look, as if to ask “Why did you take this from me?”, but the words that came next were not what I was expecting. “There’s a good chance that Rose Piercing Wind was a spy from Kampthahar” he said without regard to who could hear him.

I turned to face Mauk, who had a puzzled look upon his face. “This isn’t over! Broken Walls and I will be back to finish this!”

I knew that I was faster than Broken Walls. Much faster. I had seen him run many a time, but now was not the time to humor him.
And just like that, I swept Broken Walls off his feet and started running in the direction of Presad, while Broken Walls shouted directions.
I ran for hours, having shifted Broken Walls onto my back. I can’t say he was the most comfortable of passengers, but we made good time at least.

When we caught sight of Rose Piercing Wind, I threw Broken Walls straight at him, knocking him from his horse.
I take a swing at him, but he quickly rolls out of the way, right into Broken Wall’s grasp, as he effortlessly bends Rose Piercing Wind’s spear around him, trapping him tightly in place.

Saiten's Journal 19
Descending Fire 1-2

Descending Fire 1-2

As continued my training and preparation for the tournament, I noted how Broken Walls didn’t seem to be doing much training at all. My mind had started to play tricks on me, thinking that he must be overly confident and that I would not be a challenge to him, or he thought I might get eliminated before we faced off against each other. Either way, Broken walls will have a challenge. Hopefully I will as well.

I decided to patrol in the higher end of Champoor, noting that while the slums may need my help the most, assisting the upper echelon of the city might do well to provide visibility to lower end’s plight. Perhaps the help that I need to start the Hero’s guild will come from somebody I am able to help.
The patrol was mostly uneventful. The wealthy are able to hire their own guards to protect them from wrong doers, and as such I find myself mostly unneeded. I do help a few people with minor inconveniences, but nothing like the problems of the slums.

I did pick up my new uniform from Midnight Raining Blossom. Trying it on, I note that it fits considerably better than my old one, though that isn’t very surprising. My last uniform I had made shortly after my fall, and I didn’t have quite the same physique back then.
I thanked him profusely before heading back to the compound.

Descending Fire 3
I was awoken by some sort of Silgur alert. I hastily threw on my old uniform (not wanting to get my new one all bloody before the tournament) and ran downstairs in a hurry. I was met by two small rats pushing an equally small wooden box. It didn’t look dangerous at all, still, Broken Walls advised caution. He stopped me from opening it, opting to do so himself from inside a small brick hut he quickly threw together.
When he did emerge, he did so holding a small golden medallion, along with a ripped piece of paper.
It was obvious that Silgur had broken our non aggression contract, yet we saw the medallion seemed to be some kind of peace offering as it brandished the rising sun house’s crest upon it. A confusing token to be sure, yet if Silgur were to attempt anything again, I would be sure to show him less mercy than I had before.

Broken walls thanked the delivery rats before sending them on their way, though I am not certain they understood his words. I could swear I could hear a sigh of relief as they turned tail after he pointed to the compound door.

Seeing as how I was already awake, I figured I should do my hero rounds before getting ready for the tournament. While out, I noted several of the townsfolk shouting words of encouragement and luck to me as I passed by.

When I arrive back at the compound, I donned my new uniform and head to the tournament grounds.
The grounds are massive. Mawk had certainly done his work building the arena, as it was easily several hundred feet across.

As approach, I find myself distracted by the wondrous smells of the food vendors. I couldn’t help but get some sort of delicious meat on a stick. The vendor of course told me what it was, but I was too enthralled to care.
Shortly after taking a large bite, I hear Tick call on people to take their seats, so I head down the stairs to the arena.
Finding Broken Walls, I offer him some of the deliciousness that I had found, though he claimed he had already eaten. “His loss”, I thought to myself as I quickly finished the rest off.

One by one, we presented ourselves to to Mauk and the crowd. When I eventually had my turn, I was pleasantly surprised by how many cheers from the crowd I got. I haven’t been in this city for very long. Three or four months at most. I’m happy that I’ve able to affect the lives of the people here to the point that they’re able to take time for themselves to enjoy the tournament. I remind myself that these people may not have been able to be here if not for me, and that I’ll need to work hard to ensure that they, or people like them will be able to enjoy themselves in the future.

As the other competitors present themselves, I can tell they’re all confident as well. Some seem downright fearsome. I can only hope they are as strong as they look.

One competitor seemed stood above all others. Dedecasi’s Demise. This looked more creature than human. It stood nearly 10 feet tall, and bulging with muscles. I could tell Broken Walls was startled by her appearance. I could only hope that I got a chance to face off against her.

When I do finally catch a glance of the tournament fight order, I don’t see anything immediately exciting. It looks like Broken walls will meet in the finals, if at all, as he faces Dedecasi’s Demise before then.

My opponents are all people I’ve never heard of before, starting with Xin Ashcutter, a woman in fur, armed with a cudgel. I stare at her intently for a few moments before I recognize her. She was one of the troops that joined us in the fight with Akimu! I doubt she will be much of a challenge, but she could still prove to be a surprise.

Eventually, Broken Walls heads off towards the prize pit. I decide to go with him, as it will still be a while before my fight. Each prize tier has several different choices, so the winners of each round can have something. Higher tiers look like they have more valuable prizes, but as the tournament hasn’t progressed very far, only the first tier options are visible at the moment.

After pointing out a few items of interest, Broken walls says he’s going to go see Silgur, whom we just saw had taken a seat in the stands. Fearing trouble, I join my friend. Clenching my fist as we approach, I am surprised to hear that Silgur only wants peace between us. It seems a bit sketchy, but Broken Walls seemed to accept his words at face value. I don’t really know Silgur all that well, but I can’t shake the feeling that something about him is up to no good. Still, Broken walls has agreed to trust him, so I will as well. Perhaps there is good in this rat god.

I had to rush back to the arena in a hurry, as I heard my name called upon to enter the ring. I was next!

Xin and I faced off. I could see a look of uncertainty behind her eager grin. She knew who I was, and saw me in action. Still, that didn’t stop her from lunging out at me as soon as the bell announced the start of the round. She got a decent hit in with her cudgel, but truth be told, there wasn’t much force behind it. I danced around the ring with her for a while, poking her with a few jabs to see if she was still warming up. Eventually it became clear that she was giving it her all, so I folded her over with a swift punch to the stomach.
I was a bit worried I had hit her too hard when she didn’t move for a little while after dropping, but eventually she was able to stand and limp over to Aster’s medical tent after I was declared the victor.

I visited her in the tent to congratulate her on her efforts, and encourage her to keep training so that we might fight again, but I’m not sure she was as receptive to my words as I might have hoped.

I had Broken walls help me pick out a good prize, as it is my intention to try to use the winnings to start the Hero’s Guild. I have no idea how much it will take to accomplish such a thing, but getting the most out of the winnings can’t hurt.

There was a few fights before Broken Wall entered the ring, but I can’t say they were very memorable. Everyone looked like they were moving so slowly. I’m guessing the fighters aren’t going to do anything fancy until round 2.
When Broken Walls did take the stage, he did so against River’s Glory.They knew each other, and greeted one another before facing off. Unsurprisingly, it was over fairly quickly with Broken Walls disarming his opponent. I had hoped to see some unknown technique that Broken Walls might use against me in the coming fight, but I think it will be difficult to disarm an unarmed man! Oh well. Next fight maybe.

Broken Walls’s came to speak with me before Dedecasi’s Demise’ fight. He asked me to be prepared to intervene in case the creature goes berserk and tries to attack the spectators. I was surprised at the request. Not that Broken Walls made it, but that he is so concerned that Dedecasi’s Demise might attack someone unprovoked. I of course agreed to his request, and kept a close eye on our new friend. I positioned myself on the opposite side of the arena from Broken Walls, so that we might be able to close the distance easily no matter where Dedecasi’s Demise might end up.

The fight was almost terrifying. Dedecasi’s Demise showed no hesitation at rushing his opponent, picking him up and slamming him into the ground until he was a bloody, beaten mess. Broken Walls was right to be cautious of this one. I wonder if I will get to face her after all.

When the day’s fights were concluded, I had Rue take my winnings back to my room at the compound, while I enjoyed the festivities.

I had hoped to find my next opponent, First Rain’s Beauty, and say hello before our fight tomorrow, but it didn’t look like she was there. Admittedly, it is a good idea to rest up before a day of fighting, and I was not sure how fatigued she was after her match today. Hopefully she will be in fighting shape for tomorrow.

Descending Fire 4

I awake with enough time for my usual routine, then head to the tournament grounds with Aster. I helped carry her medical supplies, as it looks like she’s taking a lot with her. The injuries of the competitors had been more significant than one might have expected, and since Aster is Aster, she wanted to make sure to tend to all of their needs.

We arrived in time to see Rose Piercing wind take the first round, after which I find Broken Walls to go see the Prize pool again. The Chests on this tier seem more expensive, though the prize weapons look fairly mundane.
As we gazed upon the prizes, two of Mauk’s followers face off against each other. I didn’t even bother watching, knowing that the victor doesn’t really matter. Broken walls pointed out the chests he believed to be more valuable once again. It’s nice to have him around. I can be easily fooled when it comes to the value of valuables it seems.

I got breakfast at the food stands again. Festival food always seems to just taste better for some reason.
As I stuffed my face, Broken Walls finds me. He told me that Rose Piecing wind lied to him about his martial arts style. He wasn’t sure why, but he suggested we watch his next fight. It may be interesting.

It wasn’t long before I was next to fight. I decided it was at this point that I should start taking things a little bit more seriously. I retreated to my competitor tent and meditated for a while. While I waited, I focused my energies upon my muscles, strengthening them in preparation for my fight.

When I hear my name called, I head out into the arena. I introduce myself to First Rain’s Beauty, a fair looking woman clad in armor with a very large tower shield. She looks the part if nothing else.

As the bell rings signalling the start of the match, First Rain’s Beauty planks her shield down in front of her as if to say “Come at me if you can!” So I did. I hit her shield square in the middle, slamming it into her head firmly. She tried to swing her sword at me, but was clearly dazed. She missed by a large margin. I swept around her, ready to finish her off. Something didn’t seem right though. As I closed the distance, I could see the blank look in her eyes as she slowly turned her head to follow my swift movement. She was clearly out of it. As I came in from behind, my fist ready to strike, I pulled my punch. I rested my hand on her shoulder and told her it was over. As soon as the words left my lips, she dropped her equipment and sighed. I had won! But I couldn’t help but be disappointed. The way she had held herself at the start of the match, seemed to shout that she could take me at my best, yet she fell to a single punch. I will make sure to visit her later.

I picked up the chest that Broken Walls had mentioned earlier and headed back to my private competitor tent with him to examine my winnings. Once there, we hadn’t even opened the chest before Obi(Piper) joined us. He was also curious about this chest it seemed. Inside the chest, we find an opal with the brilliance of the stars within. Broken Walls looked at the Opal with wonder. “It’s worth more than the entire Rising Sun House’s holdings” he told me. There were many others interested in this chest as well, so Broken Walls offers to keep the opal safe for me. I nod to him and he seals the opal into his chest piece. The Rest of the prize chest itself was no short of amazing as well. Gold and jewels filled the remainder of it. It was surely worth a small fortune as well. I decided to rush it home to keep it safe. I stash it inside the Rising Sun House’s vault before rushing back to the tournament.

I manage to make it back in time just as Broken Walls steps into the ring for his match. He and Pharo Silver Blood faced off, but the skill difference between the two was too great. Broken Walls easily defeated his opponent.

Once Broken Walls had finished the fight, I decided to go see First Rain’s Beauty in Aster’s tent. She was still there, but she was still concussed. I wished her well, and invited her to to tour Rising Sun House. Perhaps she would be interested in joining the Hero’s Guild, I wondered to myself.
I was surprised once she told me that she had never heard of me before she fought me. I thought for sure she knew of me based off how she stood in the ring. Still, I commended her on her on her efforts. I hope I see her again.

As I exited the tent, I looked around the stands and saw Natasha. I had never seen Natasha before, but her reputation as Champoor’s god of pleasure preceded her. She was indeed attractive, but not so much so that she occupied my attention for more than a moment. There were other, more exciting things to pay attention to today.

Dedecasi’s Demise was up next, against a man by the name of Iron Reed’s Spirit. Broken Walls and I again took our positions, as the creature entered the ring. I won’t let any harm come to the spectators of this event.
The bell had barely rung before Iron Reed’s Spirit dropped his sword and forfeited however. He knew his limits, and Dedecasi’s Demise was far beyond them.

I ran into Aster again once the day’s fights were over. She asked me to take her supplies back to Rising Sun House for her, which I happily agreed to. I quickly returned to the compound to deposit her things before returning to the tournament grounds. Aster had borrowed a few coins from me before I had left, and I saw her eating as she walked back. It was unusual for her to spend anything on herself. She is the kind of person who would give all the food on her plate to somebody in need. She offered me some of the food upon seeing me, though it tasted a bit off.

When we returned to the compound, we found Broken Walls, Piper, and Chaoxi together. We discussed my prize opal, but nobody really knows what it is. Broken Walls insists it is valuable, and I of course believe him. I trust him to keep it safe for me, knowing that the vault of the compound while safe against most thiefs, is still an easy target to somebody with the skill of say, Piper. Not to say that I would fear Piper would take it, just that I know Piper could if he wanted to. And if Piper could, somebody else likely could as well.
Chaoxi thinks she can figure out what it is. She suggests it may be a hearth stone, but isn’t quite sure yet. I agree to let her look at it for a while in hopes we can better understand it.

We discussed the fights to come, but I do not find myself getting excited. Everyone thus far has been a simple opponent. Broken Walls gets to fight Dedecasi’s Demise next, while I get another nobody. He asks for a suggestion as to how best to deal with Dedecasi’s Demise. I suggested ringing him out as Broken Walls had done during preliminary fights, but I somehow doubt Dedecasi’s Demise will fall for such a tactic. I’m sure whatever Broken Walls comes up with will be worthwhile to see.

Aster's Diary 22
Grateful for my friends' compassion and durability!

I am concerned for my countenance, Diary. For the last few days, two of my friends have been participating in a fighting tournament, for prizes and glory. I have been doing my best to keep them and the other competitors safe and healed, but my nerves will be much more at ease when this has all been concluded. It is not as if I don’t understand the need for force at times, and I would do nothing to stop my companions’ recreation but… well…
They endanger themselves needlessly! For fun! I do not understand it. All I can do is watch between my fingers and pray there is nothing done to the competitors that I cannot heal.

Let me start at the beginning:

The morning before the tournament began, a group of rats brought a small token into our compound: a crest of the Rising Sun House, in gold. We knew, as soon as it had been done, that this little act violated our agreement with Silgur, through the divinity of the contract we signed, which Silgur should have known as well. Why do this now? If it were as a peace treaty, for fear of what we did to Akkimu, why not keep the original agreement? But, if he felt the need to break this contract, why do so with an offering?
Silgur… puzzles me. If I understand Champoor’s gods’ pasts, he used to be just a sort of trickster thief god, but has become… pitiable, deranged. If he is truly insane, it may be his motives are unknowable. Only time, and investigation, will tell.
I made my way to the tournament grounds early, in order to set up for the inevitable injuries. A number of the participants’ partners joined me there as well, and agreed to assist me in triage when necessary. It is good to meet new faces. Perhaps some of them will agree to help out at my clinic in the future.
The fights themselves were something of a blur for me. I remember something of the competitors themselves, but I paid little heed to the fights except to watch for injuries. Besides my friends, one in particular sticks in my mind, for reasons that will soon become apparent.
Dedecasi’s Demise. The first night of the tournament, she sat in the tournament grounds for the night, instructed to stay there by her… handler, let us say, for want to keep this diary to a civil tone. She was well over ten feet tall, it seemed to me, and immensely strong, but surprisingly gentle when not being instructed to do otherwise. Her features were hidden by cloak and mask, but those that could be discerned seemed quite deformed. My heart bled for her, alone and uncared-for, so I took her some food and set up the medical tent around her for shelter during the night.
Her… handler… well, he may not have malformed features, but everything else about he seemed malformed. Glorious Star of Summer’s Glory sat with the Heart family during the tournament, and I do not know if I have ever felt so much distaste for another creature. The Heart family gave me an open invitation to visit their box in the stands during the tournament. After seeing the way Dedecasi’s Demise was treated, I hoped to be able to put this invitation to good use. It was only after that day of the tournament had ended that I realized the inevitable folly of my actions.
I cannot stand by when one so seemingly innocent is used in such a cruel way. To be made to fight for another, when one does not seem to have the faculty to make such decisions oneself? This is not something that I can abide. I went to Summer’s Glory with the intention of making him a deal.
I find myself unable to truly describe my level of aversion toward that man. He had no regard for Dedecasi’s Demise, and was unperturbed by showing this. So, I made him an offer. If he would agree to not force her to fight in this tournament, I would do one thing for him, whatever he wished. He agreed, though seemed bemused by the concern I showed for her, on the condition that I keep the conditions of our deal to myself.
And then he told me what he would have me do: bring him Mawk’s soul gem.
As much as it pains me to give this man anything, and to take something that is not mine to take from an ally, I agreed. If it would save that innocent creature from having to destroy another combatant against her will, I must do it, even if it is against what would usually be my better judgement.

I need not have bothered.

As he left the arena on that day, Summer’s Glory spoke to Dedecasi’s Demise in some language I do not know, before leaving without looking back. I assumed, at the time, that he was telling her not to fight that day. However, when it came to her turn in the tournament, against, no less, Broken Walls, she stood up and took her place on the battle stage!
At the time, I was furious. Summer’s Glory had gone back on his word! While I felt relief at not having to steal from Mawk, much of my emotions twanged with fear and concern; Dedecasi’s Demise, on the one hand, had defeated each of her previous components with a single hit, and I feared for Broken Walls. One the other hand, Broken Walls is a formidable opponent that I had also yet to see defeated, and against such a daunting competitor, I feared he may indeed be able to hurt her, and may have to do so quite deeply in order to best her. I was in, however, for a surprise on both counts.
Dedecasi’s Demise did not simply bash him into the ground, and Broken Walls did not have to damage her in order to be victorious. She rushed at him, and he was able to knock her off balance enough to win by having her leave the stage! It could not have been a less stressful outcome for me.
It was, I discovered after, an orchestrated one.

I have spoken before of Piper’s ability to change form, and of their (sometimes quite hidden) good-intentioned heart. Both of these came into play during this fight, as Piper, it seems, had changed themself into the likeness of Dedecasi’s Demise in order that both A) she might not be spirited away from such a heartless creature as Summer’s Glory and B) Broken Walls would not have to either be beaten to a pulp or destroy her. Piper is a surprisingly caring person at times, and while I was dismayed that my contract with Summer’s Glory still held, I was heartened by the compassion my companion had showed.
This does bring us to Piper’s other deception, however. It seems that they decided to participate in the tournament after all, alongside Broken Walls and Saiten, but in disguise. I discovered this after they were finally defeated, thinking, previously that that particular participant had been one Sun Shen Lee, a spirited young martial artist from out of town. The wool was uncovered from my eyes, however, when he came to my medical tent for treatment, and I saw the Rabbit necklace around his neck. His sheepish grin was almost comical, and I may have smiled, were I not so concerned with their wounds.
It was nice to see Piper engaging in a bit of purely entertainment-based recreation, even if it is fighting. They seem to spend so much time working on things for the city that it is nice to know that Piper can also have fun.

I was also glad for Piper being at the tournament for, well, other reasons as well. I am not proud of this, Diary, but I needed a friend to quell my feelings of jealousy that day. A number of gods, beside Mawk, of course, attended the tournament as well, up in a special set of chairs in the stands. This afforded us our first view of Natasha, the god of pleasure.
She is ridiculously attractive. I have never seen a woman who so exudes desirability before. Upon seeing her the first time in the stands, Broken Walls and Choaxi both seemed overcome by their own desires, and kissed one another! They blame her effect on them, which I… mostly also attribute to her powers. There is much of their relationship prior to meeting them that I suspect, but little that I can say for certain. Perhaps something happened? Perhaps nothing has, but they fear a change in a relationship so vital to both of them that has lasted for so long? Who can say?

Where was I? Yes. My feelings of inadequacy. Beside Natasha sat Hatelis, the object of my own desire. Seeing them chatting companionably to one another, my self-esteem plummeted. She is literally the god of desire. Who am I to compete with such a woman?
Yes, I am beautiful, but she is…. Well… she’s so sexy! And worldly…. And, well, experienced. I am 17, and know so very little of… such things…. Hatelis may like me, may even feel affection towards me, but he has shown little in the way of desire towards me. And why would he, with such an alluring creature to sit by his side…

Piper was quick to point out how foolish I was being, and soon also brought over Choaxi to chastise my jealousy further. Though it is possible that they were in the past, they are not together now. He does like me, and has shown me this in many ways. And, as Choaxi pointed out, he is well aware of our age and experience differences, and is likely “taking things slow” because of this. For which I am grateful, of course… but….

Anyway. The point was that, were it not for my friends, I would have spent much more of the tournament mooning instead of taking notice of all of the other strange goings on…

But more about that in my next entry, Diary, as it has been a long night, and, after all that happened, I am I need of some rest.

Aster's Diary 21
I will start in the middle... too much lost time..

That night, the market bustled, music and laughter (and light! Cheerfully burning torches guiding prospective buyers and curious window shoppers alike) wafted through the air, and my spirits lightened a bit. It was good to see some concrete positive change coming after Akkimu’s death. I was still troubled, but for a short while the success of the market’s opening let me have a measure of peace with what we had done.
It was also heartening to simply have accomplished something so down-to-earth as starting a marketplace. So much of what we do lately is warding from spirits, arguing with giants, and tangling with gods that it was nice to be able to do something for the people of the city that was so mundane.
Speaking of gods, Hatellus decided to make an appearance that night. This should not have been entirely surprising; he is, after all, a god of commerce, more or less, in Champoor, so that opening of a marketplace makes sense for him to attend. He stated he was not there in any sort of ‘official’ (godly?) capacity, but the merchants certainly seemed to appreciate his being there, and he did offer them blessings, if they asked.
I have never known someone whose mere presence caused me so many…. Feelings. I felt elated. I felt dismayed. I felt joyful. I felt nervous. I felt a deep sense of calm. I felt a deep sense of guilt. All in the moment I saw him. It is a curious thing to be so intensely influenced just by someone entering my view.
We walked together among the stalls for a while, my emotions fluctuating between the flattery of his having come to see me, and the tidal wash of the fear that his strolling beside me might be imperiling him. My actions caused him to have to flee his city. Mine. I know he would never blame me, but I’m not sure I could handle being the cause of danger for him again.
After a while, I took him aside, unable to contain this feeling any longer. I confessed my fears to him, tearfully. He, responding to my obvious distress, took both my hands in his to reassure me. He believes in what we, the Rising Sun House, are doing. He seemed so certain that it was worth the possibility of danger in order to provide us with support and aid.
I may have broken down a bit at this point, quite embarrassingly, which seemed to bewilder him, though he took having a blubbering girl in front of him fairly well. It was not until much later that night that I remembered to feel the rush of excitement at the memory of his hands in mine.

  • * *

Today the temple of Kadu held a public hearing in order to discuss the information that had come to light about their god as per the information Mauk bellowed to Broken Walls. I am not sure exactly what I was expecting to hear, as there would have to be much repairing of reputations if the public were to trust Kadu again, but it was bound to be a bit of a tense situation.
We arrived at the advertised temple, the courtyard already crowded with concerned citizens. Piper seemed to be staring with unusual intensity at a few otherwise uninteresting areas of the yard, and soon slipped away from the other four of us; Piper’s ability to notice those things which I would never even have contemplated is quite remarkable, so I was not terribly concerned about this following of other interests. The rest of us moved closer to the front of the crowd, and a priest took the pulpit to address us all.
His beginning statements were bland enough, a valiant attempt to soothe the populace that everything was as it was before, and nothing to be alarmed about. But then Broken Walls began to question him.
I have never before heard such command in questioning, nor seen such compliance of the questioned to answer. Broken Walls had become one that would be granted answer, and the poor, suddenly much meeker looking priest could do nothing by acquiesce. Words he seemed never to have intended to speak spilled from his lips regarding Kadu’s intentions for the city, fear pityingly filling his eyes as he blathered. Guards nearest him began to move towards him, clearly intending to silence his truth-speaking, but I knew this act of honesty would be what was best both for him and for Champoor, so I raised my own Voice to them, imploring them to let him continue. At my request, obviously moved by my ardor and shine, they demurred, and helplessly listened as he continued.
When Broken Walls had finished his interrogation, he realized that the priest, Sailing Dawn Defiant, would now be in peril, and offered our sanctuary. He literally lept at the prospect, and we began to make our way to the safety of the Rising Sun Compound.
More guards of Kadu, quite agitated by this display of disrespect towards their god, made as if to threaten us, but a few of my impassioned words allowed them to see the error of their ways. They were so moved by them that a few of them even followed us to the compound, clearly understanding that what they thought of as their god before was no longer worthy of their service.

It is a strange thing, my Voice. Broken Walls asked me about it later, and I was not entirely sure how to answer him. I think I understand that it is somehow enhanced when I pour my light into it. It’s like having this light infuse my speech allows others to see what I am saying more clearly, enlightening them as well. Their words made it seem as though Broken Walls and Piper feared that it was somehow overtaking the wills of those I speak to, but I do not believe this is the case. The guards who followed me, who we have now taken into our numbers, I do not believe do so because they are somehow supernaturally forced to. They have simply gained a great respect for me, based on what I said, and how I said it, recognizing my light, and the fact that they wish to follow it. It is as if they were before sitting in a dark room at night, seeing by the little illumination the stars and moon give through cracks in the windows, and believing that this was adequate. All my voice is doing is lighting a fire.
Piper engaged me at length, later on after we had completed some dance lessons, on the subject of what it means to be a Solar. I have pondered it for some time, and I think I may have some thoughts that I would like to commit to paper:
-We are beings of light; whether that means we are happiest being surrounded by the sun, or banishing the darkness; we need to shine. Plainly, I believe we have some drive, some need to banish the ills from the world, and to seek out those things we think of as its evils.
-We are, and continue to become, immensely powerful; ours is not the domain of mortals, even if we wish it to be. We may yearn for those days when things were simple, and our concerns were mundane, but we are no longer capable of normal lives, in spite of whether or not we believe this to be true.

This second thing is something conflicting in me. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I’m just a girl, happy and dancing, and looking at clothes, and dreaming of romance and laughing with my friends.
And then I remember. I am a being of light. My voice will one day pull the stars from the sky. No, I am a star. Light, and warmth that shines and burns and even the gods will fear me.

And… I fear me.


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