Chains of Silver and Blood

Episode 8
The Coral Men

The morning sees our heroes still tense after their disagreement. But still, more pressing matters remain, and Beyaloa starts her day by naming a new captain of the guard, in front of most of her household, choosing to officialise the position of her most promising guard, who has been acting as captain since the attack on her estates by Fair Folk a year ago.

As soon as the ceremony is over, however, the argument between Pragatima and the rest of the circle is settled without their input : a messenger arrives from Ansibah. Their great-aunt has learned of the return of Ebele, and is summoning her niece to the capital. Wary, Ebele decides that this is for the best, and leaves with a last hug to her cousin’s children, whispering a warning to Beyaloa : “She got news that we were here in less than a day… are you sure you can trust your staff?”.

With the question of Ebele’s presence rendered moot, the group decide a truce is the best way to keep the circle together, and the subject is left off for now. As the workers replenish their supplies, Harik and Beyaloa spend their time between the library and the tower, discussing the magical properties of the manse and the protections the sorceress put in place to guard her home. From the top of the three stories tower, the whole region is visible, and she points out the statues littering the grounds and garden, along with the small clouds hovering over the estate : so many elementals, guarding the land and her children and tasked to prevent another Fair Folk incursion.

Meanwhile, Pragatima and Jemdat train in the gardens, showing off their martial prowess in a friendly match. The young martial artist, a student of the snake style, is by no means an amateur, but she quickly realise she is out of her depth against the Dawn. She finishes the bout on the ground, her seven-section staff far away from her grasp. As both exchange tips and techniques, they are quickly joined by some of the Voriyaras and Beyaloa’s guard, and a impromptu dojo is started on the grassy field. For Jemdat, there can be no doubt anymore : the Hazan woman is hiding a power far greater than she lets on.

And the voyage starts once more. Two days of travel north bring the caravan to less-populated part of the Twelve Kingdoms, where subsistence farmer eke out a living next to the coast of the Dreaming Sea. As they debate on the last known objective of the expedition they are looking for, they stumble upon a golden-blond yeddim being used as a beast of burden by some farmers, and Jemdat recognise it as the beast used by Zao Khan. Interogating the villagers, who are more than wary of such an heavily armed group, they nonetheless discover that Zao’s expedition passed throught there a few month ago, looking at a ruined temple next to the coast. No-one ever came back, but the beast did, and so the villagers have looked after them since then.

Following their enquiries, they also learn that a tall man, followed by a walking cage of iron, passed throught there a few month before that : Narez, the sorcerer of the Pearly Coast. Usually, thought, travellers and locals alive stay away from the ruins, believing them haunted (and apparently, with good reason). The next step of the group is clear : finding those ruins and the lost archeological expedition. Jemdat reminds them that should they manage to find either Zao Khan (or his body, in order to give him a proper burial), her uncle will cover the cost of their own travels as they search for answers on the glowing lense and the strange happenings of the area.

The woods are heavy with branches and tree ferns, and the circle soon decides to leave their own beasts and the workers behind. Entering the forest, they feel the air getting cold and clamy, and the sunlight diminishing without any clouds, and realise they have just entered a Shadowland. They find an old stone temple, overgrown with bone-white trees, and a path leading towards the sea.

Continuing onwards, they soon come upon a coral statue sitting on a fallen tree trunk, and soon realise that it is too detailed by far to be a simple art piece. A man is there, stuck in a shell of grey coral, perhaps even still alive. Immediately, Rohim starts studying the petrified victim, and the rest of the group goes on ahead to scout. They arrive at a small ruined village, mostly destroyed, sitting on cliffs overlooking the dark Sea of Dreams. As they explore the village, they conclude that most of the devastation was probably due to one of the Inashi’s rampages, and find a small staircase sculpted in the side of the cliff, leading to deep caves. The group starts debating wether to keep on exploring or not, Pragatima wanting to go investigate the caves, while the rest of the group fears being stuck inside the Shadowland at night. Before they manage to reach an agreement, Rohim manages to cleanse the living statue, and a living and breathing man falls down in his arms, deeply asleep, and the Voriyaras bring him back to their camp.

Soon after, Pragatima gets down in the cave, determined to learn more, followed by Jemdat, while the rest of the group stays on the cliffs. As they both descend down, they find more of the living statues, culminating in a gruesome tableau : in the middle of the cave, the whole crew of the lost expedition is frozen in living coral, stuck in the middle of a fight for their lives against a monstruous creature of the depth. The monster’s tentacles are spread across the room, raising the humanoid torso above all the mortals fighting him, and crushing the body of Zao Khan’s bodyguard, a Dragonblooded petrified seconds after his death, his own spear mere centimeters from the monster’s face. The scene is eerily lit, both by the light pouring in from the sea, and from the crackle of lightning perpetually trying to explode out of the great jade spear, destroying the coral only to be immediatly covered by it once again, keeping the beast in stasis, stuck in time before the moment of its death.

As Pragatima and Jemdat observe the uncanny collection of statues, the rest of the group stumbles upon a mystical barrier etched in the ground, made of salt, iron and gold, surrounding the cave complex. As they inspect it, they realise it was made less than a year ago, and Harik gulps audibly when he notices that it was recently broken.

Soon the group as a whole is moving towards the camp, carrying with them the coral body of Zao Khan, who is soon healed by Rohim. Comparing what they discovered, and interpreting the ramblings of the sleeping Zao, they soon reach their own interpretations of the scene : the monster (that Harik identifies as something ressembling a Second Circle demon) was probably contained inside the barrier by the sorcerer Narez, and Zao Khan’s men ended up freeing it unwitingly in order to explore the cave. During the battle, the Dragonblooded warrior was killed before landing the killing blow, and the creature freezed the scene in coral to keep itself alive until someone removed the spear. Beyaloa also mentions the cryptic warning of her Serpent-and-Egg about a wave of darkness coming from the depths, and the group can’t help but shudder.

After debating for a while, they reach an agreement on what to do : they will get as much people out of the cave as possible, and carry them away to where Rohim will be able to heal them without risking his life. After this, Pragatima, Beyaloa and Harik will stay behind, and try to grab the spear. The first part of the plan goes out without any problems, and the unerved workers leave the cave with the coral statues, leaving the three Exalts alone in front of the monster.

There is a moment of silence while they all contemplate what they are about to do, and then a flurry of sorcery as Beyaloa calls to her the Invulnerable Skin of Bronze and the Cirrus Skiff, to carry Harik and herself far from the sea-demon. And the Dawn grabs the spear : Piercing Thunder, forged from a captured bolt of lightning cast in iron, Blue Jade and Orichalcum.

Immediately, the coral cracks and frees the creature, and the fight starts anew. But the monster no longer faces mere mortals protected by a single terrestrial Exalt, this time three Solars are ready for the fight. And what a fight it is! Three times the demon tries to crush Pragatima with its coils, throwing the Dawn against the stone wall, and three times she escapes death, even blinding the beast with a powerful strike of her newfound spear.

Madened by pain, blind and disoriented, the monster cannot escape the terrible assault of the Dawn, nor can it strike the two sorcerer who pelt it with the Death of Obsidian Butterflies and the Flight of the Brilliant Raptor, nor can it see the cave light up with the lights of sorcery and the anima of the Dawn wielding trapped lightning. The fight is long and furious, and stone shatters and crumbles under the power of the blows, but as the dust settle, an exhausted Pragatima rises from the ashes of the monster’s remains, wounded but smiling, holding her trophy high over her head.

She stumbles out of the cave still smiling : however little they may know about all they settled out to discover, finding Zao and an unclaimed artifact means that their expedition is already a sucess in her eyes.

Episode 7
Beyond the Walls

The caravan has been heading east for two days under the harsh sun of the savanah, and the circle is passing the stone stela marking the end of Dir-Jal territory. As Beyaloa and Jemdat argue with the men posted at the frontier over the tax leveled against caravans, Pragatima and Rohim notice a stranger heading their way.

The Voriyaras, acting as the expedition’s guards, quickly intercep the tired traveler, who turns out to be Beyaloa’s cousin Ebele, tired and hurt by days of trecking alone in the wilderness. She tells them of the wyldstorm she faced while sailing the Sea of Gold, and of how the fury of the elements tossed her ship aside, leaving her stranded on the coast far from her compagnions.

Exhausted and malnourished, she is taken in charge by Rohim and the group quickly decide to help her on her way back to the Kingdom of the Isles. When the caravan leaves, Ebele is fitfully resting next to Harik on one of the Yeddim’s howda.

In the middle of the valley, the caravan finds its first resting point : a torn-down, abandonned temple to a forgotten god, with an ancient well still used by occasionnal travelers. As they put up their camp, they spot a great dust cloud approaching them.

What looks like a great herd or an army on the march turns out to be a tribe of Hazan and their flocks, marching towards the western plains. The circle quickly negociate a way to share the site, Pragatima and her warriors mingling with the nomads to share news and food. They learn that the chief of the tribe, Dathanka of the Hibana, has recently died, and was buried in the plains, leaving the tribe under the direction of Asale, his teenage daughter.

As the night falls, Beyaloa ventures out of the camp to think. Under the dark sky she starts an old sorcerous chant, summoning a Vaktri to protect the caravan for the rest of the journey and to calm her mind. Meanwhile, Ebele’s eldritch senses notice the telltales sign of a ghost around the camp, obviously preparing to strike against one of the Hazan warriors. Curious, she goes to speak with the young Hazan princess, and they quickly determine that this might very well be the ghost of her father, trying to avenge his death.

The night grows old, and Beyaloa returns to the camp, her Vaktri in tow, only to be confronted by an irate Pragatima, who took the elemental summoning for a threat. The mercenary asks to be told before any future attempts, her plea mostly falling on deaf ears. As they talk, they are surprised to see Ebele and Asale suddently bursting out of the princess tent, and follow the god-blooded woman to learn more about the reason for their obvious panic.

Soon, the whole circle is running throught the camp, searching for the ghostly presence. They are nearly too late, and arrive at the moment the hungry spirit manifests to attack one of the Hibana warriors. It falls on the young man with a terrifying shriek, shrouding the whole area in a darkness deeper than night. As the tribesmen flee in front of the monstruous apparition, the circle try to stop the ghost, managing to defend the young man’s life long enough for Asale to get a confession out of him : in front of his victim’s ghostly rampage, he admits to poisonning his chief, blaming him for the loss of his wife’s life during the last campaign against another clan.

The young princess pleads with her dead father, still engaged in deadly combat with Pragatima in the middle of the camp, and promises him he will be avenged, finally quelling the restless spirit. With tears in her eyes, she turns towards the warrior, banishing him from the tribe and forbidding anyone to trade or shelter him in the future, but cannot bear to have one of her men executed as her first official order.

The rest of the night is silent and tense, but in the morning the circle leave the tribe without much qualms, confident that they solved the problem. Ever cautious, Pragatima tries to learn more about Ebele’s strange powers, but to no avail : the demigod stays quiet and doesn’t reveal her nature, even taking offense at some of the most pointed questions.

The expedition keeps pushing on, crossing a few nomads, refugees and merchants along the way. A few days after leaving the Hazan tribe behind, they come upon a merchant stuck under his overturned cart, his wares spilled on the road, assaulted by three monstruous Beaked Coualts looking to feast on his horse and himself. Immediately, Pragatima and Ebele fall on the beasts, beating them into submission and using the horse’s corpse as a distraction. Soon, the flying predator retreat and begin fighting amongst themselve for the spoils, and Rohim starts treating the honey merchant, who explains he was travelling from Puljad to sell his wares.

As soon as he is safe, Rohim puts him into a deep sleep to rest, and the salvageable honey is loaded onto their Yeddims, but not before the wounded merchant thanks the young physician, calling him by another name entirely: Rufus. The rest of the circle doesn’t notice the strange name, but Rohim himself is visibly shaken for a second or two.

It takes more than a week to go from the City of the Chained God to the fertile coast of the Twelve Kingdoms. Ten days after they departure, the group is travelling past villages and cocoa plantations, close to the straights separating the Dreaming Sea and the Sea of Gold. Here, they finally arrive at Beyaloa’s estate, and are greeted by her majordomo and her children, Daitya and Elikem, who are as happy to see their aunt as their mother. Soon, Elikem is showing everyone his new kite, Daitya staying next to her mother as she is swept by the work of administering her lands.

The afternoon is spent resting and socialising : Rohim and Ebele visit the estate together and flirt, Harik enjoys the view from the high tower that is the center and the culminating point of Beyaloa’s manse, and Pragatima, always turned towards business, interogates the staff to learn more about Ebele and Beyaloa, and sends a couple of her Voriyaras scouting towards Ansibah.

In the evening, a feast is thrown in honor of Beyaloa’s return. Smiles and laughter abound, as everyone enjoys the fine alcohol and warm meals. But the temper soon turns sour when Beyaloa asks Ebele to stay in the expedition. Her Infaillible Messenger informed her that some of Ebele’s companions survived the storm, and while they are currently a few weeks of travel away, they are safe : the two cousins thus see their chance meeting in the plains as a occasion to spend some time together. But while most of the travellers see no problem in allowing the young hero to accompagny them, Pragatima puts her foot down : she does not trust Ebele, and as she is the one responsible for the security of the caravan, will not let in anyone she cannot completely count on.

The charming evening soon gives way to an all-out shouting match, with tempers running high all around the table, and is it with a heavy heart that they all go to sleep, afraid that their friendship might have hit an impenetrable wall.

Episode 6
Comings and Goings

In the still-smoking ruins of the inn, the group interupts their debate about what to do about the envoy’s death to tackle the arrival of the refugees. Sën is quickly told about the events of the previous days, and starts thinking about how to resell the precious jade and orichalcum armor : not only would this be one of the biggest fortunes she has ever got her hands on, it could also help her if she decides to leave for the Pearly Coast in the near future. Meanwhile, the rest of the group is summoned to the extraordinary session of the council taking place this afternoon.

Immediately, Pragatima goes to see Ysmir, meeting him and his niece in the interior garden of the villa. They talk about the attack and Pragatima reveals the death of Burano Arjuna, prompting Jemdat to question her on how the group managed to defeat one of the Princes of the Earth. Staying evasive, the Hazan warrior compliments the skill of her troops, and they decide that for now, keeping the death a secret outside of the city is the best possible decision.

As the warrior leaves, Jemdat comes towards her, telling her that she might be interested to join them in their expedition once the group leaves town.

Rohim also leaves the inn, both to check on his appartment and to help some of the people who ended up hurt during the night. He is reassured when told that the red-haired priestess escaped her would-be killers, but distraught when he sees his office burnt and sacked, and learn that at least a hundred people have been killed or maimed during the attacks.

Meanwhile, Beyaloa and Harik try to find a way to quell the refugees fears while warning them that they choose to move in a city already on the verge of civil war. But the new arrivals simply tell them that they wished to stay far from the sea, in order to escape the unknown army that torched their city, even if that means enduring in a chaotic foreign land.

The council meets at the top of the great Ziggurat, overlooking the city and the monster rumbling at its heart. Of the six thrones sitting at the top, one remains empty : Nash Draghma never answered the summons and soon Pree Asma asks for him to be removed from the council, holding him responsible for the undiscriminate attacks of last night. Beyaloa and Harik notice that Marika now officially stands amongst he religious leaders of the city, next to Lee the Blind‘s high priest and the abbot of the Immaculate Lotus, which probably explains Kelaj’s umitigated support of Pree Asma.

The circle are asked to testify against the merchant prince, and they do, but Beyaloa and Pragatima point out the fact that Pree was probably an accomplice as well. Alas, without evidence, the council refuses to let go of a second member. As the debate rages on, the circle is forced to reveal their fight against Burano Arjuna, and tell the council that they merely defended themselves against and unprovocated assault. The incredulity of the council and their sudden terror at the idea that this death could lead to all-out war against the Empire of Prasad leads Harik to reveal that he himself is a Prasadi citizen, and the long feud his family has with the Burano Clan.

Of course, this won’t suffice as an excuse to the rest of the Prasadi envoys, and the solution comes from an aide of Ysmir. What if the death was the consequence of an attack by the Anathemas? he asks, walking in front of the council. Wouldn’t that mean that this wasn’t the responsibility of the city at all, and that the Prasadi would concentrate on chasing the monster instead of declaring war against the city? Some agree, and others ask how could this be. The aide smiles, and changes form, becoming a tall, blond man and declaring himself to be responsible for the death of the envoy. As the council recoils in horror at the Lunar in their midst, Yadu laught and transforms into a hawk, leaving with one last cry.

There is a moment of stuned silence, and he meeting is ajourned. The decisions are clear : Nash Draghma will no longer be considered a member of ruling council, and will be judged for his crimes, his holding in the city seized to repay for the destruction he has caused. The death of Burano Arjuna is unfortunate, but the city cannot be expected to protect Dragon-Blooded against Anathema bandits : this will be the official version given to Arjuna’s aides.

But nothing is ever that simple. The circle quickly discover that Nash has shut himself off in his palace, and brought all the silver masks to protect him, willing to wistand a siege before accepting judgement. Kelaj and Piah decide to leave him to rot, unwilling to engage in a war with the supernatural warriors, and the palace is soon surrounded.

Worse is yet to come : Sën has not been idle, and following Pragatima’s suggestion that they need more proof in order to confound Pree Asma, has once more infiltrated her palace. She grabs whatever documents whe can find, but is soon attracted to the wing of the palace where the envoys from Prasad are lodged, worrying about their master’s wereabouts. And for once in her life, her skills are not enough to hide from their eyes, and she is quickly surrounded by guards and the personnal aide of Burano Arjuna, who swears to let her go if she reveals where their master is. Unfazzed, Sën tells him the truth, that Arjuna attacked them without provocation and that the Dragon-Blooded ended up being killed instead. Furious and profoundly disturbed that his god has been murdered, the aide lets her go, promissing retribution, and leaves to prepare for a furious journey back to Kamthahar.

Sën quickly gets out, followed by a young dancer-slave who seizes that opportunity to seek freedom.

When Pragatima and Ysmir learn what Sën has done, their reaction is the same : Arjuna’s followers must not be allowed to reach Prasad. Soon, the mercenary leader and her troops leave the city in pursuit, and soon they come back, their grisly business done, trailing behind them the slaves of Burano who prefered to surrender rather than fight the Voriyaras to the death.

As the city starts to breathe once more, a fragile equilibrium is reached. With the silver masks and Nash Draghma besieged, and the cult of the Chained God recognised as an officially sanctionned religion, the workers find their demands heard once more, and for a while, there is if not peace then at least calm.

But as the expedition leaves, the circle and their allies realise that this is temporary at best : the food issues of the cities haven’t been solved, and between the unknown army from the sea and a Fair Folk hollowing out men to make them into living weapons, there are entirely too many mysterious forces at large.

And once more, Sën has disapeared, leaving behind only the jade medaillon she stole from Rohim and a short letter. “Gone to Puljad.”

Episode 5.5
A day in the life of Sën

“I heard they come from Y’danna.”

And with that, she moves away from the group. That meeting with the revolutionnaries wasn’t something that interested her anyhow. And she needs time to think about the fact that her new companions are apparently all Solars too.

But most of all, it’s the name. The name of that city that she knows so well, spoken in the streets of Dir-Jal. She wants to know more

Sën disapears. She is only a passerby. Someone else in the crowded street. A bit player in the story of the people surrounding her, merely part of the scenery of their lives. She allows herself a smile, and gets closer to the two men talking.

“How many of them?”
“I dunno, about a hundred or so, according to him?”

She listens to the conversation. A hundred people coming from her old city. She couldn’t possibly have offended so many people… well, she probably has, now that she thinks about it, but there’s no way she offended them all enough to make the trip here. Something else, then.

She starts walking again, curious. If they are indeed coming here, they must be somewhere on the east road. Sën smiles under her scarf. She planned on seing Siem again anyhow.

And Pragatima is here. Sën waits, listening to the conversation without much interest. Something about the expedition, a bit of local politics. This is boring. But the Hazan warrior finally leaves, and Sën drops from the rafters, frightening Siem half to death.

It doesn’t take long to convince the young merchant woman to act as a guide, and soon both of them are riding on the east road, talking about their past and their fears. For a moment there is peace, and even a bit of sincerity between the conwoman and her guide.

The sun burns red when the two young women finally arrives to the campsite. More than a hundred people are laboriously setting up an improvised place to stay for the night. They are a sorry lot, without any of the tools or knowledge of the usual nomads who criss-cross the plains in their travels. Around the dozen small campfire, gaunt and dirty faces look up at the two riders. Some look hopeful, especially when Sën dismounts in their midst, but a few others throw worried looks their way. Most are two tired to care. They would look like beggars, but most of them sport clothing that was fine and well-cut before being exposed to the elements and torn up to be used as improvised bandages or ropes. Refugees, then.

Sën walks around, asking to see their leaders, falling back the her Y’dannan accent for the first time in what feels like years. And the two women are brought to a man in his early forties, his eyes sunken with worry and lack of sleep. His voice cracks as he tells them of the fall of Y’danna, of the unknown army who passed the proud walls like so much paper to strike at the heart of the powerful city, of how the city was sacked and put to the sword in a single fiery night.

Sën stumbles, visibly troubled, and ask about other survivors. They learn that quite a few ships escaped the fall of Y’danna, and through poionted question ends up learning that one fleeing ship at least was flying the red pennant of the Terik family, and was last seen heading for the Pearly Coast.

As the sun disapears beneath the horizon, Siem and Sën agree to guide the group towards Dir-Jal, warning them that the city is currently in turmoil.

And the skies open to release the Wyldstorm.

The night is harsh, violent, humid. Taking whatever shelter they can under tarps or makeshift tents, the refugees huddle together, both to keep warm and to pray away the chaos coming from the Wyld. The gods stay silent and somewhere far away, there is the clear ringing laugh of the Fair Folk piercing throught the storm. Sleep is impossible, but somehow, talking about love and loss in the middle of the downpour, Sën and Siem find some amount of solace and warmth in each other’s arms. And then talk stops.

The morning finds them drenched but alive, and soon Sën and a dozen of the refugees enter the silent city to seek help and respite. Intrigued by the tense atmosphere, Sën leads them to the Inn, where they find the rest of the circle debating what to do, surrounded by chared silver-masked corpses and the armored body of a dead Dragon-Blooded.

The gods only know which group is more surprised.

Episode 5
Cristal Claws

The circle walks throught the tense city, passing butcher-alchemists and patrols on the way. The unpaved streets are dry and nearly empty, with only a few workers waiting in line to get loans. The atmosphere is electric, and a storm is brewing in the east, as if to conclude the month of Resplendant Water. As they take a sampan to cross the red Dast river, a lazy sparowhawk circling over them, they question Rohim on the veneration Lee the Blind seems to have for him, but the young Zenith seems to be as taken aback as they are.

They make their way to the southern kells, passing through the poor quarters, and soon notice that Sën is once again missing. Once in the great barracks, past the cooking fires and the woolen partitions separating each empty worker’s spot, the young revolutionnaries they met next to the Inashi’s chains are waiting for them, along with a blond-haired wild giant meditating silently. All of them share a meal of flat bread and weak beer, and talk about the state of the city, confirming what they already guessed : high food prices and loan sharks have made life more difficult than ever for most workers, and day-to-day work is harder than ever to find. The recent apparition of the silver-masked warriors has driven most protesters underground, giving the Cult of the Chained God a powerful recruiting tool.

As their meal ends, the young revolutionnaries try to recruit Beyaloa and the rest of the circle in their fight against the silver masks, arguing that their presence has created to much resentment amongts the city’s malcontent : without any other way to protest against they see as unacceptable conditions, the cult is threatening to free the Inashi as a bargaining chip. “Better to live free than to die in chains”, chimes in the blond giant with a thick Prasadi accent.

Justly horrified at that idea (with the exception of Pragatima), the circle give the cultists what little information they gathered on the silver masks, and promise to bring the cult’s issues to the council, but argues for caution: after all, no-one really wants to go back to the times where the god-monsters predations redered any kind of civilised life impossible in the area… There is a moment of silence, as Pragatima shrugs and the giant leaves with a look of contempt.

As they leave the kells, Rohim and Harik try to question Beyaloa on her apparent hatred of the dreameaten warriors, but get an angry lie as their sole answer. Before they can press her, they stumble upon a clerk anouncing that the council has decided to put the city under a curfew for the foreseable future. The people surrounding them grumble, but the sharp glances of the guards patrols quickly dispel any ideas of protesting the decision.

Pragatima then spends some time organising her expedition. She goes to enquire about Siem’s health after the night, and enrolls her as the expedition quartermaster, before going to Jemdat to talk about equipment and sparing. The young martial artist promises to lend the Voriyaras Inashi-bone spears for the expedition. Meanwhile, a sparowhawk lands on the palace-fortress of Nash Draghma. It flutters from window to window, admiring the colored glass and the rich interiors, almost as if looking for something, someone. After a while, it leave, and circles the city, observing the oblivious people living under him. And notices a commotion to the east of the city, a clash of cymbals and a rolling of drums, under green and gold banners. Ever curious, it lands in the middle of the procession entering the city, atop a great throne carried by a dozen slaves.

The very same procession crosses the path of the circle as they make their way towards the Alchemist’s Ziggurat. Dancers and musicians paving the way with flower petals, in front of the lavishly decorated trone carried on the back of powerful-looking slaves, and thirty warriors clad in the armor of Prasadi soldiers, brandishing the banners of Clan Burano. And atop the trone, a powerful looking man talking to his advisor, occasionnaly throwing fistfulls of pearls and candied fruits to the people massing around his slow-moving procession. No mere man, but a living god clad in gree silk, with skin like brown marble : a Prince of the Earth. Burano Arjuna, Choosen of the dragon of Earth.

Quickly, they make their way to the Ziggurat, where they find Piah and the rest of the alchemists frantically preparing for the unexpected visit. The exasperated Black Alchemist tells them to find a place in the reception party untill she can take care of their request.

Under the light of the dying sun, the procession arrives at the foot of the great Ziggurat, and Burano Arjuna’s slaves bestow extravagant gift of gold, silver and precious incense to the council members, who offer back works of arts and weapons made from the remains of the Inashi. As the ceremony draws to a close and night falls on the city, the emissary from the distant empire is offered a wing of Pree Asma‘s palace to rest. Wary of this arrival, Harik goes to find Piah, dragging his three companions behind him inside the alchemist’s maze.

But before they can talk to the Black Alchemist, a diminutive blond woman approachs them, introducing herself as Yadu Vanshi, the blond giant they met in the Kels earlier, saying that he/she merely changed face to find them here.

“They come to us wearing the faces of our dead.” The group shudders for an instant, remembering the legends of the dreaded Lunar Anathema, the face-stealers of the wilderness, killers of men and beast, nightmare-prowlers, bringers of war and revolutionnaries. And one of them is helping the revolutionnaries of Dir-Jal against the council. They give him the adress of the inn they use as a base of operation, promising to meet him there once they have talked to Piah. The Lunar leaves without protest, and a blond-headed sparrowhawk lands on Piah’s balcony a few minutes later.

While talking to Piah, Harik learns that the strange glowing lense he bought on the way to the city is part of an ancient apparatus to reveal the things that are unseeable. Piah points him to an ancient apprentice of her, Ciello Three Tears, who moved to the Twelve Kingdoms of the Isles and is currently a guest of the Lady of Ansibah, Omale Najilah’ojoeni. They start discussing the silver masks and learn that the council as a whole is ignorant of their true nature, but have to head back to Memdil’s Inn before they find a possible solution, unwilling to be out past the curfew. In the empty streets, the wind is picking up, giving texture to the darkness, a storm is approaching, more efficient at keeping malcontents inside their homes than any curfew.

As the wind and the rain pour and scream around the inn, the group meet once more with Yadu Vanshi, and start talking about how they plan on defeating the silver masks : no-one truly knows how many dream-eaten warriors Nash Dragma has secreted in the city, and the question of how he manages to control them is impossible to answer for the time being.

Before they can start worrying about Sën’s whereabouts, a drenched and crazy-looking Farris stumbles in their room. He crashes at Rohim’s feet, apparently relieved to see him alive : his workplace has been set on fire as the storm started, and attacks have been happening all over the city. Known members and supporters of the cult of the Chained God are being ambushed by the silver masks everywhere, and Farris has come to warn the circle and seek protection for himself.

Immediately, the circle springs into action : most of the group prepare for a siege inside the inn with the Voriyaras and the rest of the inn’s clients, while Yadu Vanshi and Pragatima jump onto the back of her rhino and go out to confront Nash Dragma and Pree Asma. On their way, in the pouring rain, they find themselves facing Burano Arjuna, decked in a glorious jade and orichalcum devil-armor. Yadu throws himself on the terrestrial, shifting from shape to shape to evade the great iron tetsubo, allowing Pragatima to keep running towards Pree Asma’s palace.

She blasts throught the iron-wrought door of the palace ground, scattering the guards and jumping throught a window. Soon, she is standing in front of Nash Dragma and Pree Asma, asking them to call off their attack or suffer the consequences. Silver masked warriors pour into the room, and she takes on a White Reaper stance, holding them at bay as she dives for the two merchant princes. More surprised than afraid, Pree throws a table at the mercenary woman, who shatters the wood with a shout. The windows explode, and wind and rain pour into the room as Pree Asma lifts her heavy wooden throne over her head as a last-resort weapon. But her strenght is of no more help against the prowess of the Dawn caste than the training of the dream-eaten warrior, and she soon falls on the ground, asking a terrified Nash Dragma to call off his attack. Promising to return, Pragatima jumps from a shattered window, and disapear in the night.

Meanwhile, dozens of dream-eaten warriors are now trying to enter Memdil’s Inn. The siege is violent but short, with bursts of flamme from Pragatima’s weapons illuminating the clashing spears, and soon the masked men push through the slim door… and with a word of power and a single gesture, Harik lets loose the Flight of the Brillant Raptor, burning the group to a cinder.

They barely have a moment to recover : soon, a wounded Yadu comes to them, followed by the light of the terrestrial’s anima. The Dragon-blooded comes throught them with deadly purpose, intent on killing the Lunar Anathema and the people protecting him. With a single gesture, he nearly roots Harik in place, his anima erupting in ropes of cristaline shards pouring up from the drenched ground.

But even the might of the Choosen of Pasiap cannot stand against a full circle of Solar and Lunar exalts, and soon, he falls to his knees in the rain, pierced by Pragatima’s and the Voriyara’s spears, leaving them all to mend their wounds and reflect on what to do next.

Episode 4
The Bloodless Night

As everyone braces for the conflict to finally erupt, Pragatima advances, her hand fidgeting around her missing spear, to negociate with Nash Dragma. Coldly, he agrees on letting go of the massed crowd if they simply go home without mischief.

The mob growls as our heroes start to explain that, but soon lower their makeshift weapons when Rohim leaves the priestess’s side to adress them and beg them to go to their home. He asks for help caring for the priestess, and soon, a dozen people carry her away, under the unflinching eyes of the silver-masked warriors. The rest of the crowd start dispersing, and soon there are only a scant dozen people next to the chains of the god-monster.

Sën follows the crowd, and the crowd follows Rohim, and Rohim follows Wulpa, south of the beast and back into the empty streets of the city. As they arrive next to a simple adobe house, only a smattering of people remain, and the physician enters the house with the slowly dying priestess.

Outside, Sën notices Kelaj herself, disguised as a simple member of the waning crowd, trying to peek at the healer and his patient trought closed windows. She approaches, and question the Red Alchemist, trying to learn the links she shares with Marika. Kelaj lies poorly, denying any knowledge of the priestess and claiming to be merely curious about the heretical rabble-rouser. Ever provocative, Sën tells her that she needn’t worry, as she herself poisonned the priestess, and that the deadly poison will soon take her life.

And Kelaj shrieks, taking out an iron knife and trying to push Sën to the ground, as the smiling Night Caste flutters around her attacks without effort. They are quickly separated, and Kelaj screams Sën’s conffession, accusing her of murdering the Chained God’s high priestess. The crowd restrain the young courtesan before she can flee, and Kelaj ask them to bring the woman to the Alchemist’s Ziggurat to be judged for her crimes.

Meanwhile, Beyaloa, Harik and Pragatima are negociating with the last remnant of the protest. Insults fly as the circle is accused to be on the payroll of the merchant princes, but Beyaloa soon shows her hatred towards the silver-masked warriors of Nash Draghma. Intrigued, the group of angry workers agree to go home for tonight, provided Beyaloa comes to the South Kels to talk to them the next day.

As everyone leaves, leaving only the immobile masked warriors to watch over the plaza, the trio goes to find Rohim. They arrive at the small house, still garded by a score of workers, who refuse them entry. After a while, Rohim gets out, telling few people still remaining that Marika is safe… for now. She needs to rest, and to drink and eat what she can once she wakes up, but she will survive her ordeal.

The group notice that none of them have seen Sën for a long time, and a young man tells them of what happened earlier, of the poison and the confession and the fight, and of the fact that Sën is now a prisoner inside the labyrinth of the Ziggurat.

There is shock, then debate, cut off by Beyaloa, who invokes the Infallible Messenger to get answers directly. The cherub flutters from her shadow, pausing a mere moment on her shoulder before flying to Sën in a flash.

But the young Night Caste has not been idle. Pushed into a dark, damp cell, she tries to negociate, then provoques her captor once more, and waits for the inevitable fallout. There is a second of confusion, and Sën is out of her prison, replaced by the Red Alchemist. The young courtesan flees in the twisting, dusty corridors, the alchemists’ guards hot on her trail.

Unable to outrun the guards in the mazelike complex, the young woman enters a forge, closing the door behind her. Parchment and knives and scrap metal, and the bleached bones and claw shards of the Inashi neatly stacked on a low table. As the wooden door shatters and guards enter the room, their escaped prisoner is nowhere to be found…

It’s the Infaillible Messenger who locates her, somewhere inside an internal chimney, holding on to dear life by using the Inashi’s claw shards as makeshift climbing tools.

And soon, she is out of the complex, wearing the face (and the stolen clothes) of an alchemist, to meet with the rest of the circle, furiously waiting for her in a nearby street.

It is a dry and sour morning that dawns upon the city of the Chained God, as guards patrol the street to look for a young courtesan and watch over the population. It has been a long time since the city has been united in purpose, but now everyone from the ruling council to the cult of the Chained God is searching for the woman who disapeared inside the Ziggurat during the night.

Over breakfast, Pragatima tells the rest of the circle about a strange message that she got during the night : a piece of torn parchment telling her to come to Lee’s Temple. Beyaloa and Harik soon push the entire circle out in the street, glad for the opportunity to learn more about the reclusive city-god.

Once in the temple, they are led to the roof and told to wait. In front of them, the butcher-alchemists start their gruesome work on the body of the undying beast, and they are soon joined by Lee the Blind and his High Priest, clad in chains of iron and gold. Under the watchful eye of the silent god, the priest tell them of his love for the city, and his fear that soon the Inashi’s blood shall not be the only one running throught the streets. He knows of the chaos that those who worship the Chained God would gladly unleash, and worries that five Exalted united in purpose spell doom for the city of his birth.

There is a moment of silence, and the god smiles at the irony of knowing what they themselves ignored. They urge the priest to stay quiet, and he promises to say nothing about what his god revealed to him, on the condition that they heed his warning. They both leave the circle to ponder on what they have learned, Lee stopping for a second to kneel in front of Rohim.

Episode 3
Flammes and Masks of Silver

As the group reels from the demonic attack, they find their investigation cut short : not only is Harik incapable to explain what happened, but he can’t apparently understand them, speaking only in Old Realm. They are quickly confronted by an angry innkeeper, who turns pale when he see the aftermath of the battle, and paler still when Sën manages to convince him that the demon attack was probably targeted towards him (after all, who hasn’t heard stories of poor beggars being turned away by greedy inkeepers, only to have the beggar reveal himself as a sorcerer and enacting wrathfull vengeance on the miser?)

They decide to all sleep together, Pragatima reimbursing the innkeeper for the damage, and keep a close eye on the still-incomprehensible Harik.

As the sun rises on the City of the Chained God, Rohim goes back to his office, where a woman has been waiting for him for most of the night : her husband has been acting weird for a few days, and disapeared last night before coming home nearly beaten to death. Rohim follows her, and learns from the man that the beating was a warning : he borrowed money at a high rate from Nash Draghma‘s lenders, and hasn’t been able to reimburse them. Concerned, Rohim refuses to be paid, even turning away the chicken the wife tries to force onto him.

The rest of the group, worried about Pree Asma‘s intentions, go looking for any information they can get their hand on. Siem apparently ditched out of town, even though she is supposed to be present at Ysmir’s soirée. Through the Voriyaras, Pragatima learns that the Ivory Arms are camping a few hours away from the city, and goes to meet them, accompanied by Beyaloa and Sën. As the two group mingle and share a meal, a fragile alliance is forged. Bika‘s Ivory Arms and Pragatima’s Voriyaras agree come to each other’s assistance if needed, and share information about their previous contracts.

During that discussion, they learn that a trio of of Prasadi Dragon-Blooded have been sighted in the region, travelling towards the city of Ansibah. More importantly, Bika reveals to them the nature of the silver-masked warriors : dream-eaten slaves, trained to fight on pure muscle memory, that he escorted from the south of the Twelve Kingdoms for a unnamed client in Dir-Jal. As Beyaloa’s curiosity becomes apparent, the Hazan mercenary leader outs her as the Sorceress of Khimsar, She Who Makes Stones Fight.

Still in Dir-Jal, Harik enters the Great Ziggurat of the Alchemists, the labyrinthine complex that houses not merely the city’s council, but also the forges, schools, and laboratories of the butchers-alchemists. Here, he meets with Piah, an old alchemist woman who inspects the peculiar lense he found on his way to the city. As he leaves the shining stone for her to study, he crosses path with the silent god of the city, peach-hairedLee the Blind, who passes him without saying a word. Later, the same god crosses path with Beyaloa in the streets of the city, only mumbling a cryptic warning that leaves her dumbfounded.

Days go on as they are wont to do, and the group prepares for the party and the expedition, Pragatima spending some time in Ysmir’s library to study the path of the previous treasure hunts he comandited.

The evening is warm and clear, and people are massing around the blue walls of Ysmir’s Villa. Guests are bathed in perfume before entering the interior gardens of the merchant-prince, but most are simple citizens of the city, here for the free food that Ysmir’s servants give out to anyone who ask.

As the guests arrive, our little group starts to mingle. They talk with Siem, drinking herself into a stuppor from the wine fountains. The young merchant is apparently aware that the attack they escaped was aimed as much at her than at the village, and is planning to leave the city for a while until things become less dangerous. She agrees on accompagnying the group on their treasure hunt, and fall asleep next to the fountain.

The conversation goes on, and they meet most of the ruling council of the City : Piah, the black alchemist, who asks Rohim for a massage and complains about old age as she talks shop with the young healer, Kelaj the Red Alchemist who is apparently a good friend of Ysmir, and the last merchant-prince of Dir-Jal, Nash Draghma, who brokers the beginning of a trade deal with Beyaloa and talks to Pragatima about getting paid to remind some late-payers of their debts to him in the next few days (a proposition that visibly worries Rohim.)

Pragatima also promises a martial art bout to Jemda, Ysmir’s young niece, and their conversation about the origins of the Twelve attracts the attention of Beyaloa, who springs to a patriotic defense of her countries’ history.

Sën flitters away, exploring the mansion and looking for art pieces or other valuables, when she notices the light of torches moving in the street. She goes out, followed by Harik, whose preternatural hearing picked up the shouts of the crowd.

It is not a mere crowd they find, but an angry mob, rilled by hunger and the fear of their creditors, massed next to the chains of the Inashi. They watch as a young priestess of the Chained God riles up the multitude, exhorting them to free the beast so that it can rampage again and destroy the corruption of the city, where princes feasts while leaving others to starve.

On a nearby roof, Harik and Sën notice Lee the Blind : the androgynous city-god is visibly furious, waiting to see what they will do. As the first blows rings on the pillars holding the chains of the Inashi, Harik shouts at the priestess trying to liberate the undying beast. He engages her to reconsider, claiming that she has no way to know that the Inashi will not kill them all should she free it. As they argue, Marika claims to have a bond with the beast, and the Inashi shudders, sending tremors throught the city. Sën, miggling in the crowd, gets close enough to recognise the priestess looks like a younger Kelaj. Could the Red Alchemist be related to the High Prietess of the Chained God?

As people start pouring out into the streets after the small earthquake, Harik and the priestess come to blow, Harik unleashing the power of the Burning Name against the woman, who recoils in front of the uneartly flames before getting stung by a much less impressive and much more dangerous blow : a needle of poison steathily thrown by Sën.

The crowd is about to fall on the sorcerer, when the rest of the group arrives to defend him. The mob parts in front of Rohim, letting them approach Marika. As the physician gets on his knees to aid the visibly dying priestess, all hear the sound of an marching army getting closer, and soon black-clad warriors with silver-masks and bone spears take position around the plaza, only stopping when the hand of Nash Dragma lifts up in the air to halt them.

The rumbling of the Chained God and the whimpering of his priestess are the only sounds that pierce the dangerous silence that follows.

Episode 2
Embers under the Chains

As they look for information, our heroes learn about Farris, a local information broker operating from Kazim’s Teahouse. As the sun sets on their second day in Dir-Jal, they meet in front of the teahouse, Beyaloa telling a very interested Pragatima about the legends surrounding Eren Kien Abe, the mythic lance lost at the bottom of the Dreaming Sea.

Rohim only has to nod to the guard standing at the door, a montruously fat, powerful looking demigod, to get them in. Inside, they meet with Farris, surrounded by a little army of cousins and nieces, who greats the young physician like a long-time friend, and offers them food, tea and bubbling bowls of steaming intoxicants before starting to flirt with Pragatima and Sën.

Harik and Pragatima ask him about the glowing lense they bought on their way to the city, and the conversation turns towards old, mysterious, and possibly powerful objects. Sën then offers Farris to spend the night with him in exchange for more information, and the now-grinning informant point them toward Ysmir, a merchant-prince of the city with a passion for treasure hunts and old relics. As the night grows outside, Beyaloa ask if he has heard about mysterious figures wearing silver masks. Both Farris and Rohim react with undisguised terror, telling her to stop her search : as far as they know, anyone asking about those have disapeared immediately after, including another young woman from the Twelve Kingdom. They still end up telling her that the silver masks are mostly seen during riots, going after local workers.

Before going, Rohim gets some godmilk from Farris, telling him to look out for Sën : the young courtesan apparently stole a medal from him a few weeks ago, and he’s sure she’s up to no good.

The sun rises over the city of the Chained God, and Rohim goes looking for Wulpa. He finds the docker huddled up in one of the great common buildings used by workers in the city, cooking food alone, watching over his kelsmates stuff. The grumpy worker takes some time opening up, offering the healer a meal after learning he isn’t seeking remuneration, and they have a heart-to-heart over the cheap millet bread, talking about helping others, and the difficulties of the common man.

The rest of the group goes to meet Ysmir, servants perfuming them and washing their clothes before they enter the inner house. The eccentric merchant-prince, glad to have visitors, insist on serving them himself despite the protestation of his niece and servants, who are obviously concerned about his fragile health. Unfazed, he only needs a hint before launching himself into a great diatribe about local politics, lost god-weapons, ancient ruins and underwaters cities, and is overjoyed when he finds that his guests are interested in undertaking a treasure hunt in the future, inviting them to the party he is throwing in a few days and opening his library to them. The group also learns that Beyaloa’s cousin, Ebele, was Ysmir’s guest in the city a few weeks prior. However, they are soon asked to leave by the merchant’s prince niece.

The day goes on, and Pragatima learns that Pree Asma, one of the other merchant-prince of the city, is looking for mercenaries. However, the group is stopped at the door by an obviously flustered guard, who tells them their information was false, and offers to pay them for their trouble as long as they stop propagating such “obviously false rumors”. As they negociate a price, Sën decides to enter the heavily decorated palace, and steps inside without so much as a surprised look from the guard (the same can’t be said about her friends!). Once inside, she explores the rich corridors, full of trophies and art pieces, stopping a few times along the way to harvest a gold funerary mask and a few precious objects.

She is attracted by an argument : in the center of the palace, Pree Asma is screaming at a proud Hazan warrior, Bika‘s second-in-command. The argument draws to a close, Pree unwilling to pay the Ivory Arms the original price, as they didn’t finish their mission as instructed, and the mercenary storms out, as Pree smashes a vase in anger. Unflinchingly, Sën becomes a servant, picking up the broken furniture and trying to calm down her “mistress”, who is apparently mad (and strong!) enough to pierce the heavy oak table with her gold-coated fingers. Sën leaves quickly, with her ill-gotten goods and a few important-looking documents.

At the inn, the group finally meets up again, Harik and Beyaloa going over Pree’s stolen documents.They soon learn that Pree is responsible for the imports of foodsuffs to the city, and is thus probably to blame for the frequent food riots. Harik’s eye then catch a strange looking piece of parchment, inscribed in azure Old Realm sigils. As he reads the text, a mist starts pouring in the room, and a Tomescu materialises in the middle of the inn.

The fight is short but brutal. Doing not-unconsiderable damage to the room, Pratatima overpowers the Clamoring Cloud Arsenal, using her voice to daze him before plunging her spear deep in the demon’s body. Wounded, the demon dematerialises and flees, leaving the group to pondering what to do next… and how to explain what happened to the inn’s clients.

Episode 1
Red like a River

Our story starts with a buffalo-pulled barge on its way to Dir-Jal, as it stops for a few hours next to a small independant river village. In it, amongst the merchants and the priests and the travelers looking for an easy way to the City of the Chained God, our five heroes are travelling and enjoying the impromtu market that springs up everywhere the water-born caravan stops.

In the middle of the market, Sën shares the meal she swindled from a merchant with local boys, as Beyaloa and Rohim wander throught the peddlers selling warm food, massages, petty drugs and fresh fruits. After a moment, Harik and Pragatima are attracted by a villager selling what he claims to be a relic from a drowned city in the middle of the Sea of Gold, a lense of luminescent glass that he ends up parting with for an outrageous price.

And as the caravan leader and the mayor argue about tarifs and taxes and the proper duration of their stop, a shadow spreads. For mercenaries have been sighted on the hill overlooking the village, riders atop horses and two great rhinos painted in black and red stripes. They are poised to strike at the village and the docked caravan, halting for a moment to gauge their target and spread fear in the heart of those who see them.

Pragatima advances slowly towards them, recognising them for what they are : Hazan mercenaries, led by Bika of the Ivory Arm. On the hills, negociations start between the troop and the circle-to-be, as villagers and merchants start to panic and prepare to flee. The circle learns that the troup has been hired to spread fear in the area, and have been ordered to put this village to the torch without killing most of the inhabitants. They refuse to leave without a fight, but agree to let the caravan go in peace.

Seizing the occasion, Siem sails away with the circle and her passengers, amid protestations from Rohim and Beyaloa. As the sun sets, they decide to go back, Beyaloa conjuring a Cirrus Skiff to carry them to the village, where the physician spends the night curing those who have been wounded, and the sorceress promises to send over money to help rebuild.

The rest of the trip is uneventful and uneasy, with few stops and fewer cheers, Pragatima even starting to become suspicious of Rohim and Beyaloa after their disapearance. The group arrives finally arrives at Dir-Jal, where they disembark in the midst of very busy docks, where wood and stones are discharged to be used in the building of a new bridge for the city.

As Pragatima haggles with Siem for her pay, an accident leaves a docker stuck under a block of stone, leading to a fight between a foreman and Wulpa, another docker who claims to have already warned the foreman of the security risk without any results. Unperturbed, Pragatima shatters the stone block with her voice, and takes advantage of the stunned silence to break up the fight before it can get out of hand.

As Rohim heals the shattered leg of the accidented worker and starts to ask questions about the irresponsible foreman, some workers start getting to theirs knees, seemingly recognising the unasuming physician.

Fires on the Wall

They were five. Five soldiers on the great wall of Y’danna, huddling together around the watch-fire to keep away from the pouring rain of Descending Water nights. Maan, Nomi, Irrah, Shana, and Desi, five people playing tiles and sharing honey-date cakes as they watched over the peace of the peace-full city. That night was their last guarding the wall that had been the pride of the city, the wall so thick two chariots could ride side-to-side all over its topmost road.

For in the red light of the signal fires of the great wall, under the deluge, the five of them fought the great un-man in chitinous armor who had lain low their comrades. Wounded by its wicked crooked spear, they laid low the monster only to find their city burned by undying fires.

In a single night of rain, steel and fire, Y’danna had fallen to the unknown raiders.


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