Chains of Silver and Blood

Episode 31
The Second Invasion

To be completed

Episode 30
How to Chain War

To be completed

Episode 29
Storms of Sea and Land

Harik is trembling, lying on the soft grass, his hands over his ears, eyes closed and a cold sweat running down his spine. He is painfully aware of Beyaloa and Rohim approaching him carefully, and how could he not be? Even the whisper of the wind is loud enough to seemingly pierce his eardrums… even the soft, wet grass is full of blades and spikes that feel like they are cutting his skin through the rough texture of his silk clothing… every noise a shout, every touch a wound. He winces as he feels Rohim approaching, closer and closer, expecting pain to erupt as the physician’s hand touches his bare skin… and instead feels nothing but warm relief, the medicinal genius of the Zenith banishing pain as surely as he sun does shadows. He opens his eyes, staring at the world in a new light.

A kilometer away, Pragatima and Rain Pearl are watching the Sea People train in the shallow water of the bay. As they approach, the camp leader comes to greet them, flanked by two scouts who give their latest report on the Unificator.

They learn that the great city-camp hasn’t moved for a long while, and that tribal conflicts are making it difficult for the conqueror to keep his massive force in check: recently, some of his generals were executed for treason after leading a coup against him, claiming to their followers that they had made a deal with death to gain immortality and great power.

Recognizing the work of She Whose Name Is Death, Rain Pearl and Pragatima frown: they agree that M’’ar’ai will need to move soon if he wants to keep his forces in check… war, after all that time, is approaching. And Beyaloa’s Serpent-And-Egg agrees, waking up to deliver a cryptic warning:

“A choice to make, peace through war and death. A dragon stirs in the west, and a chain is forged between sea and death. Which of the two spears will break out the Chained God?”

As they talk about the ominous news, the circle is once again interrupted by an unexpected arrival: one of Beyaloa’s Cloud Persons warns them that a trio of riders is approaching, soldiers of the Twelve escorting a messenger from Dir-Jal.

The horses thunder into the garden, the messenger immediately dropping to his knees in front of the circle. He tells them he has been riding for three days without rest, charged by Pree Asma to ask them for help: a full Prasadi legion is approaching the city of the Chained God, asking to be let into their territory to investigate the disappearance of their envoy. They have already engaged Dir-Jal forces in small skirmishes, and the council is worried they will not be able to hold the city without help.

“She told me to finish by saying this: I know we have been enemies in the past, but a greater danger is upon us. Help me today, so we can be enemies again tomorrow.”

Having delivered his message, the rider falls to the ground, exhausted, and the group is left to react to this new menace: while the danger of a Sea People invasion is immense, war in Dir-Jal is a terrifying prospect, especially if such a conflict ends up revealing their nature as Anathemas. After confirming the menace with an Infallible Messenger to Siem, the group quickly decide to warn queen Saramen for help.

But Pragatima has a more direct idea, and she climbs on top of the tower that is the geomantic center of Beyaloa’s manse, where the whole region can be seen as if from the top of a great mountain. In front of the bewildered circle, she grabs Piercing Thunder, throwing it across the sky, the spear falling on the far horizon like a bolt of lightning… and when the thunder dies out, the Dawn is still holding the jade spear, now standing next to the red waters of the river Dast, more than halfway to Dir-Jal.

Not one to be impressed, Beyaloa starts shaping the mudras of Travel Without Distance, and the very air around the rest of the group turns a blinding white. A blink, and they are now standing next to the royal palace of Ansibah, in the middle of a silent crowd reeling from their sudden apparition. The sorceress, flanked by Rohim and the Blue Walker, enters the palace under the eyes of the stunned guards, and Harik heads towards the Prasadi embassy, Rain Pearl in tow.

Now is no time for waiting around.

Episode 28
Long-sought Answers

The season of Fire has passed, and with it the terrible heat of southern summers. Now the clear dreaming winds bring with them their cool, and the last harvests of the year. In the common room of Beyaloa’s estate, the circle is drinking to their reunion, sharing news of their adventures and mutual friends. Pragatima shows her new artefact to Harik, and Beyaloa discusses local politics with Rain Pearl and Rohim. In the next room, Elikem and Ora play with toy armies as Daitya naps against a purring leopard. The small patter of light rain on the roof only serves to further isolate the little tableau of peace and friendship.

But peace never really lasts. And this particular peace is broke when Beyaloa’s page bring in farmers from the nearby village, who tell their mistress that a moving statue has been seen wandering in her lands. Without missing a beat, the circle rises, agreeing to check out the anomaly together.

The stone-blue one is walking slowly in the light rain, next to a small bamboo forest. Leaving the wary villagers behind, the circle approaches, introducing themselves. The Blue Walker turns and salutes them, each move slow and purposeful. Calmly, they explain they didn’t seek to trespass on Beyaloa’s land, and were simply passing through on their journey.

Inside the living stone body, the sorcerers see a cold blue flame, an old ghost, who explain they are seeking memories of their old life, washed away by the centuries, in order to re-enter the cycle of reincarnation. As the circle offer them hospitality, curious about this odd soul, the Blue Walker fixes their stone eyes on Rain Pearl, a slow smile lighting the carved face, and announce that Fate has been kind today, bringing them back in contact with one of their descendant.

Back at the estate, the circle engage in discussion with the newly named Kadma, both trying to learn as much as they can about the others. They talk about the Sea People, about the fearful presence of the Deathlord She Whose Name Is Death roaming the Underworld south of the Dreaming Sea, about Illuvar and the Broken King, and the time before the Inashi was chained.

As the day becomes night, the ancient ghost leaves their stone body, becoming intangible. Beyaloa offers them her library for the night, and the circle starts to ponder how to help them regain their memories: it is obvious to all that a vast vault of knowledge is sealed inside Kadma, one that could be precious to the circle, but letting them know about their own nature as Solar Exalted is not something the circle is comfortable doing just now, even if an ancient ghost is unlikely to be on friendly terms with the Immaculate Lotus or the Pure Way even at the best of times.

In order to find hints about how to help Kadma with her memories, Beyaloa retreats to the family shrine in her personal gardens. Under the eyes of her circle, she starts a long prayer honoring her patron-ancestor, and sets fire to a model of a ship, perfect down to the last detail, built by Harik.

Honored by the offering, the ghost of her family founder steps out of the hallowed ground, clad in a translucent cloak of office, and sits in the middle of the summoning circle with a warm smile. He introduces himself to the newcomers, and when asked about the Blue Walker, reminisces about old ghosts walking the labyrinth in the Underworld, having forgotten all about their lives, stuck in limbo for eternity. He advises Kadma to stay close to the few reminders of their old life, in order to give her memories a basis to work with.

Before leaving with a las smile towards his great-grand-daughter, he warns them not to confront She Whose Name Is Death if they can avoid it, mentioning her immense power and powerful servants.

In the morning, the circle find Harik’s bed empty once more, and Beyaloa goes looking for him with Rohim, worried about the strange insomnia of their circlemate. Meanwhile Pragatima walks towards the Free Sea People training camp to check on their progress.

Walking in the villa, Kadma stumbles on Ora, who salutes the living statue, asking them how long they will be staying, and soon launches into a long spiel about the lack of control he has over his own life: while grateful towards the lady of Khimsar for offering him a place to live and a trade, he doesn’t want to stay in her service all his life, and dreams of being a great warrior or a hero, held in awe by other mortals. Calmly, the ancient ghost comforts the young man, telling him to meditate on his wants and needs, and reassures him. Fate, after all, is written in the stars and on water, not carved in stone.

Summer Peace

And time passes, tides and winds turning with the seasons, the world slowly changing, as if carved by the sea and the rhythm of the gods. In Ansibah, an embassy is built for the Empire of Prasad, just in time for the festival of winds, when thousands of bladed kites take flight to fight in the skies of the capital, Elikem using his own for the first time under the watchful eye of his mother and Ebele.

Next to Khimsar, the camp of the Free Sea People grows, trained as first by the Voriyaras and soon by some of their own.

Pragatima disappears for a while, leading her band towards the southern animal kingdoms, and comes back wounded but proudly holding the scepter of the Broken King in her hand.

Rohim goes back to Dir-Jal, regularly making trips with Harik to the Fiery Isles to tend to the Bey, Asteria and Star-Prince Zapir, and both sorcerers study and prepare for the dangers to come.

The cocoa season comes and goes, Hapana is held next to Dir-Jal, and Rain Pearl travels around, often coming back to Khimsar to rest and learn about local politics.

It is only four months after leaving Baliad, in the middle of Resplendent Earth, that the circle all find themselves together once more…

Episode 27
Letters and Promises

Night has spread its dark cloak over the city hours ago, but still Pragatima tosses and turns in her bed, unable to find sleep. Suddenly, she rises, and goes directly to Rohim’s room, taking care not to disturb the others. Waking the physician, she confides in him, revealing her doubts and asking him to explain why the rest of the circle feels so circumspect about her judgment, even as she does her best to protect and help them. As flattered as he is surprised, Rohim quickly steps up, exploring possible avenues to settle the rising mistrust in the midst of the circle. After a few hours quietly talking to each other, they go back to sleep, planning to breach the subject in the morning. Neither of them notice that Harik’s room is empty, his bed still made despite the time.

For Pragatima was not the only one unable to sleep, and the sorcerer elected to spend the night wandering in the streets of the colorful but silent city. His steps lead him, slowly but inexorably, to the docks, and he ends up watching the sun rising over the dark waters of the Dreaming Sea, as fishermen and dock workers start their day without a second thought for the still figure in the midst, contemplating distant shores, long-lost or never-seen.

He is interrupted from his reverie by a young errand boy, who recognizes him on his way to the Temeraire, and hands him a sealed parchment for Rohim. As he pockets it, he notices Shab boarding a boat preparing to leave towards Ansibah, and frowns at the sight, wondering at what this could imply.

Meanwhile, as the rest of the circle is having breakfast, Rohim and Pragatima bring up their discussion to Beyaloa and Rain Pearl. While the latter is overjoyed at the idea of reducing the nascent tensions, Beyaloa is a bit less happy to tackle the subject, being too worried about the council she is attending this morning to officialise their deal with the Bey. Her offhand dismissal of the Dawn’s concerns almost leads to another argument, but she leaves too quickly for the situation to turn sour.

The council itself is a formal but largely already consummated affair: most of the usually fiercely independent families associated with the Path of Inspiration have changed their positions overnight, and now support sending the fleet. The main part of the discussion is spent discussing the cap on taxes and the number of ships to send, and Beyaloa leaves the negotiations table both relieved and with a new-found respect for her old foe’s influence.

Harik comes back a bit before noon, just in time to welcome back Teferi. As he group briefs him on the events of the past couple of days, Rohim opens his letter, his eyes growing wide as he recognizes the precise script of Asteria, and wider still when he sees the precise locutions used by Star-Prince Zapir when he was a thrall of He Who Burns. Behind the sweet message wishing her former betrothed a nice life, there is a hidden cry for help… or worse, a confession. A single sentence pierces the lips of the peaceful physician, the one so used to arguing against conflict.

“We have to kill He Who Burns.”

The whole circle is arguing under the silent gaze of their host’s ancestors, the stone and bronze funerary masks somberly judging their discussion. Rohim tells them that Asteria is affected in the same way the Star-Prince was, and wants to go back home to spread the Path of Inspiration. He believes that if the fae noble is able to reach out to too many places, he might end up becoming too powerful to ever be stopped. Disturbed by the image, the rest of the circle still hesitate to upset the fragile balance they managed to put in place, especially after Beyaloa has seen the influence their adversary has over local politics. They end up discussing the responsibilities over the region, and how to best protect innocent people that might fall prey to He Who Burns or the chaos of a civil war.

In the end, Beyaloa ends up swallowing her hate, and they agree that the Unificator is a more pressing threat. They will deal with the fae noble later. In the meantime, Rohim will reach out to Asteria and offer her protection in the Fiery Isles until she is out of trouble.

At the end of the discussion, Pragatima goes to Harik, asking the sorcerer for a favor: Enandi is willing to give her what she needs to free Obin from her current master, but only against the services of a sorcerer. While Harik doesn’t like the idea of trusting a Dragon-Blooded so close to the Path of Inspiration (let alone one who tried to mount a Wyld Hunt against them!), he agrees to hear her out, and they both head towards her manse.

Talking in the middle of Enandi Iobana’s garden, she confesses that she has been trying to pass on the blood of the Dragons to her children, without success, and that she is starting to look towards more esoteric methods. She has heard that some demons can conceive children to the specifications of their parents, and is willing to try. Despite knowing that this plan is unlikely to succeed, Harik agrees to summon a Neomah for the matriarch before they go back towards the capital.

Episode 26
Peace Offerings

Harik is the first to hear the music and the sound of marching feet. He leaves the rest of the circle talking in the living room around their breakfast, uninterested in the political discussion. His eyes widen as he looks at the street from the first floor windows: dancers and musicians are descending from the hill, escorting a howdah carried by half a dozen beastmen slaves and crowned by five peacocks. Behind them, two hundred silver masks are marching, wearing the colors of diverse noble houses.

Descending the stairs as fast as he can, he bursts back in the living room to warn the circle: He Who Burns is coming. Chaos erupts as everyone ask what they should do. Pragatima wants to go out and negotiate, while Beyaloa is planning on escaping. Ultimately, Rain Pearl and Rohim end up agreeing with the Eclipse, and the circle leave, heading towards the roof with Teferi’s retainer.

From rooftop to rooftop, they get away from the procession, Beyaloa ready to call up her Cirrus Skiff. But the Dawn stays behind, observing the soldiers surrounding Teferi’s house. When it becomes apparent that the house is empty, He Who Burns’ peacock fly off into the air, one of them landing right next to the Hazan woman. The circle stop moving, uncertain of what this could mean, and the peacock bows, delivering an invitation from his master to meet and talk outside the city. Pragatima ignores the Eclipse mouthing a silent “No” and accepts, on the condition that the Fair Folk comes without his army of silver-masked warriors.

After preparing for the worst and berating Pragatima for her lack of prudence, the circle heads out to a small verdant hill south of the city walls, where He Who Burns is already waiting for them with a few associates.

He greets them with a warm tone, and explains that he heard about the nascent Wyld Hunt that the circle managed to call off, complimenting them on their subterfuge. He stresses that a full-blown Wyld Hunt being called to Baliad would be a disaster for both him and Beyaloa, and hints that if any of them reveal his true nature to the Bey or other political leader, he will out her as a Solar Anathema. The circle agrees that such mutually assured destruction would be less than ideal, and the fae nods silently.

And the negotiations start, He Who Burns offering them a chest of treasure and offering to escort them out of the territory. Quick-witted, Pragatima picks up the magnificent present, going off into the distance as the others start arguing with the Fair Folk.

In the end, after hours of negotiations, they have a deal: the circle will not attempt to move against He Who Burns as long as he helps them accomplish the mission they have, and will leave as soon as Baliad’s fleet is promised. They move back towards the city, their heart heavy with what they learned about the fae’s growing power in the region, as he sends emissaries to the noble families he obviously controls. As she walks towards the walls, Beyaloa struggles to contain her hatred, asking herself if she shouldn’t have struck her hated enemy dead where he stood when she had the chance.

The diner at the Palace, in comparison, is severely less tense, with the Bey agreeing to send his fleet north as long as the crown promises to set a flat cap on taxes so he can have something to show to his supporters in returns. Beyaloa realizes that he is trying to play her, and that such a move would leave all the profit from the newly established silver mine in the hands of the Bey, and that this could leave Baliad rich enough to offset the power balance of the Twelve in a few years’ time… but her concerns are over the safety of the region as a whole, and she accepts the terms.

Episode 25
Old Flames

The festivities are slowly winding down when Rohim makes it back to the Palace. Leaving Ebele behind, he enters the great hall once more, silently repeating the speech he’s been preparing as he was climbing the hill, too absent-minded to notice the local nobles horrified stares at his torn clothing. With an uneasy smile, he greets Asteria, introducing himself as Rohim. Before she can interrupt, he launches into a long apology for his companion’s attitude, explaining that their curiosity is understandable, since he has been withholding a lot of information from them about his past, and stressing that he has been forced to do so in order to protect his family and those he loves. The strange glint in his eyes as he says those last words robs her of her response for a few seconds, and she waits a moment to regain her composure before accepting his apology, visibly uneasy at the implications. With a curt nod, he takes his leave, getting out of the hall and the palace, his face ashen and nearly trembling.

Hanging from the top of the tent, Pragatima and Rain Pearl are silently observing Zapir, painting absent-mindedly as He Who Burns stands over him, nourished by the Star-Prince inspiration. They share a terrified look, both wondering how to deal with the monster on their own. Without exchanging a word, they come up with a simple plan and spring into action.

Rain Pearl drops from the roof, throwing herself on the Fair Folk to distract him… Immediately, the fae’s molten glass robe lashes out, red-hot daggers whistling past the Shining Mirror’s ears. She responds with a throw of her own, her knife striking true, the force of the blow throwing the Fair Folk towards the tent’s fabric. Immediately, everything around them catches on fire, and the two Exalt flee, Pragatima carrying the stunned Star-Prince. They leave the wyld zone and the tower, Pragatima throwing herself on Beyaloa’s Cirrus Skiff, leaving Rain Pearl behind to adopt the fae’s mien and sow chaos in the Inspired’s ranks before disappearing, contrary orders leaving them incapable of responding properly.

Uncertain of how their adversary will respond to such an intrusion, the circle decides to move the Voriyara’s camp in a concealed location under cover of night, settling on a cave complex that shows signs of having been a smuggler’s hangout sometime in the recent past. There, Rohim takes care of the shell-shocked state. Zapir and Foam Spiral reunite, and the circle interrogates the former, eager to learn more about their foe. But Zapir has few recollections of the Fair Folk, and expresses only a desire to go back home in order to reflect upon what he has learned and spread his love of the arts in a more familiar setting. Suspecting influence from the fae, the circle tells him what they know of He Who Burns, and advises him to spend some time in the Fiery Isles to rest under the care of their physician.

The sun rises over a calm city, and the circle breathes a collective sigh of relief as they realize that He Who Burns hasn’t made an overt move against them for now. They decide to honor the invitation extended to them during yesterday’s celebrations, and make their way towards the Natae’s villa in time for lunch. In the open house overlooking the bay, they are introduced to the entire family, children playing with the captive birds whose song overdrowns the noise of the city. As they eat and drink, Osir tells them about how few loyalist families remain in Baliad, and how the families currently supporting the Bey tend to be linked to the cult of Inspiration, and would need to be convinced in order for the Bey to send his fleet north.

While talking about the marriage between Kami and her guildian husband, they also learn that a silver mine has been opened recently in the Mirror Mountains, currently exploited by the Bey and the Guild.

In the afternoon, Pragatima, still pondering how to free Obin, meets with Enandi Iobana, to visit her garden-manse and talk about a possible exchange: one of the minor artefacts from the Wood Aspect’s collection would certainly be enough to buy the Hazan’s freedom. Intrigued and somewhat amused by the mercenary’s bluntness, Enandi mentions that she might be willing to give them one of her trinkets for the services of one of their sorcerers. Smiling, Pragatima agrees to the deal, and promises to come back with either Beyaloa or Harik.

Episode 24
Palace of Chaos

The evening continues without much trouble, most of the circle socializing and testing the waters for possible alliances. Beyaloa finds Osir Natae, a local noble who invites them to dinner, and she gladly accepts, recognizing him as a probable loyalist described by Teferi. Pragatima goes back to Asteria and Khnemu, asking forgiveness for her earlier attitude. Harik keeps studying the hall’s decorations, occasionally listening to distant conversations. Rain Pearl, still disguised as a simple Voriyara, watches over her “captain” and the rest of the group. After a while, Rohim rejoins the festivities, his haunted look masked by a polite smile.

They cross path with Lapis, his white jade daiklaive still proudly displayed at his side as the only weapon in the hall, and he shares a toast with the Hazan captain, congratulating them once more. But the night is getting dark, and with midnight approaching, they politely leave the palace, intent on learning more about the wrongdoings of the Path of Inspiration.

As they walk back towards the camp, Harik and Beyaloa brainstorming about the kind of demon they could use to rescue the Star-Prince, Pragatima and Rohim start sniping at each other, their argument fast turning into a shouting match, the normally kind young healer screaming at the Dawn and accusing her of putting the life of those he loves in danger out of pure nosiness. Has he not done enough to earn her trust in the past months, he screams, tears welling up in his eyes? Taking an angry step towards Pragatima, he points at the disguised Rain Pearl, a living reminder of how their lives could be torn up in an instant, destroying them and their families. Taken aback, almost afraid, Pragatima takes a fighting stance, ready to defend herself if need be. But the enraged physician is undaunted, getting inside her guard as he keeps on berating the Dawn.

A shout breaks through the night: the Voice of the Nightingale, breaking the stones and cracking the ground with its fury. Aghast at the violence Pragatima unleashed on her friend, the rest of the circle find themselves awestruck when the dust settles, revealing Rohim standing on top of the shattered paving stones, his clothes ripped by the kiai with not even a bruise to show for it.

The silence that follows is heavy with implications, and the group separates with a last remark from Pragatima, insinuating that such a powerful ability could have proven useful in the past had the physician deigned to mention it.

Once more, Rohim leaves the group, Ebele at his side, going back towards the palace. Disgusted by the altercation, Harik starts walking towards the camp, putting his concern aside with thoughts of sorcerous formulas. For a moment, the rest of the circle stays silent, unsure of what to do next. Still somewhat fuming, Pragatima asks the sorceress to call her Cirrus Skiff, and they head out towards the private part of the Inspired’s compound, flying over the fire where the day’s art is being burnt, and reaching the high wooden tower under cover of night. Under them, silver-masked guards patrol the grounds, blind to their advance.

Her spear in hand, Pragatima jumps from the cloud to the side of the tower, entering from a high window…

And the tower is a world unto itself. A desert of red-ocre diamond sand under a black daylight, the air dry as a flame, pillows and couches emerging haphazardly from the ground, under floating canopies of colored fabric. Here Fair Folk and humans mingle freely, feeding on each other, magnificent livery giving way to the crudeness of bare skin and broken souls.
In the rafters of the great tents, Pragatima jumps from roof to roof, searching for a trace of Star-Prince Zapir. She finally finds him, painting and elaborate sand mandala under the guiding eye of a bright fae with a tail of burning peacock feathers, his eyes like twin suns of melted glass as he gives advice to the entranced Zapir. He Who Burns, alone with their ally.

Episode 23
The Dragon's Song

The sun is barely painting the eastern horizon in timid pinks when a group of riders march out the northern gate, approaching the camp. Solemn and silent, Pragatima and Beyaloa recognize Lapis and Iobana leading them, and share a concerned look: the die is cast, and now there is no turning back. Rohim is tending to the wounds of the Voriyaras, and Harik is standing silently over the dead body of their fallen comrade, pierced by Pragatima’s spear.

The two Dragon-Blooded dismount, and Lapis kneels next to the body while Enandi surveys the scene. With a sign of his hand, Lapis summons a member of his suite next to him, and the circle recognize Shab, the Ghostblooded assassin who fought them on the Fiery Isles. She inspects the corpse for a moment, and nods towards the Fire Aspect : Rain Pearl, the Anathema of Illuvar, is dead.

Satisfied and somewhat impressed, the two Dragon-Blooded interrogate the group, eager to learn how they managed such an impressive feat, and the circle spins a tale of heroics, mentioning the skills of the Voriyaras, and the presence of two sorcerers and the hero of Ansibah by their side. With a wry smile, Lapis cuts Foam Spiral free, throwing her at the Hazan captain, before leaving with the body. Enandi follows, giving a lingering look at Rohim that send a chill down the physician’s back.

As soon as she is free, Foam Spiral throws herself at Pragatima, rage and hatred in her eyes, but is easily restrained by the taller and unwounded Hazan. Exhausted and sobbing, she falls to her knees, and Ebele helps her to one of the tents. There, as the rest of the group catch up on precious sleep, she explains their stratagem, telling her that they faked her companion’s death, and show her the real Rain Pearl, lying in a hole in the ground, her anima having all but disappeared. The two Shining Mirrors fall in each other’s arms, glad to be together once more.

Morning passes, and noon, and it is early afternoon before the circle is up and about. Rain Pearl, having disguised herself as one of the Voriyaras, is eager to find out more about Zapir’s whereabouts, and Beyaloa sends another Infallible Messenger, expecting to once again find the Prince held up in a dungeon. But the image she receives is entirely different : the Star-Prince is no longer bound, and is sitting on silk cushions under a blood-black sky, a desert of rubies spreading around the great tent where he rests, along with other humans… and at least a Fair Folk cataphroi. Fuming, the sorceress tells them that Zapir is held by a Fair Folk, in a Wyld pocket. The group agrees that the desert palace is probably in the center of the Inspired compound, and decide to investigate further this night before mounting a rescue, Harik musing that he might help by summoning demonic help.

Coming back to the city, they learn that the Bey has invited them to his palace this evening, along with Lapis and Enandi. The group accepts without hesitation, seeing this as the best opportunity to meet him on good terms before starting their negotiations.

With the afternoon free, Pragatima decides to follow the trail of the Hazan slave she learned about. After a quick discussion with her mistress, a local noble trying to rebuild her stable of gladiators, she gains the right to meet with the young fighter for a bout, passing herself as a potential buyer. At the arena, she meets Obin, and the two face off with wooden weapons under the eyes of the other gladiators-in-training. Obin demonstrates her mastery of Snake Style, and starts the duel with the upper hand before the Dawn manages to disarms her, leaving her easy prey for a devastating finishing blow. Impressed, Pragatima asks her is she would be willing to join the Voriyaras if freed, and Obin accepts. They share stories, Pragatima leaving her a gift of salt as she promises to come back for her as soon as possible.

As the light of the setting sun throws an aurora of light from the golden roofs of the palace, the circle, unarmed and dressed to the nine, enter the Bey’s residence, Ebele at their side. The hall of the palace is filled with local nobles, priests and rich merchants, dining on stuffed peppers and peach-wine. They mingle with the crowd, admiring the mosaic on the floor (scenes from the legends of Ibn, the greatest sailor of the Dreaming Sea), and listening to the musicians playing an traditional song.

Unfamiliar as they are with local politics, they still recognize some faces: Enandi Iobana salutes the circle, and waits until she can talk to Rohim privately. She mentions that she saw his distress this morning, and that she would be glad to help him should his companion’s actions bring him too much grief. Troubled by her demeanor, Rohim thanks her politely before excusing himself. Karo-Karo, splendid in an open golden jacket, picks them out of the crowd and introduces himself as the Bey’s brother. He asks them about their ghastly business with the Anathema, and engages in a bit of small talk. Before long, they are interrupted by an agitated and passionate man, Pakash Okashow himself, requesting

Beyaloa and Harik’s aid in a friendly debate with local priests of the Pure Way about the nature of the soul. The Bey starts beaming as Harik throws himself in the discussion with calculated abandon, managing to score rhetorical points for their host’s team. Overjoyed by his performance, the Bey thanks them for their help in disposing of the Anathema, saying that he heard great things about them and inviting them to dine with him as a favor. Before they can discuss it further, drums begin sounding, and a new singer appears on the scene as discussing everywhere fade to silence: a beautiful woman with jet-black hair and wide eyes, who starts singing an old ballad about the brevity of life.

Recognizing Asteria, Rohim goes pale, and hides at the back of the crowd. When the performance ends and applause ripples through the hall, Pragatima, having noticed the physician’s distress, goes to greet the singer, interrupting her discussion with Khnemu. Now openly panicking, Rohim grabs Harik by the arm, urging him to stop the two women from talking. The sorcerer obliges, insinuating himself in the conversation, where Pragatima is bluntly asking the singer if she knows their physician, quickly offending her with her intrusiveness.

Meanwhile, Rohim has left the hall, wanting to stay alone with his thoughts for a while, but he is rapidly interrupted, first by Enandi, who reiterates her offer, and then by Ebele, worried after seeing him leave so suddenly. He thanks both, and stays alone, looking at the city. The reception is still ongoing, and as the night gets colder, Rohim watches the lights of the city slowly turn off, replaced by the slowly turning stars.

In the main hall, Pragatima, Rain Pearl and Harik are arguing over wether to pursue their aborted investigation on the physician’s mysterious past, the Hazan captain saying that this might be their best chance at learning more about him, and the two others urging her to respect their friend’s privacy. In the end, they agree to let Pragatima apologize to Asteria, without asking any more questions.


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