Chains of Silver and Blood

Episode 33
The Empire's Horns

To Be Continued

Episode 32
The turtle and the Bey

To Be Continued.

Episode 31
The Second Invasion

As their second day in the city comes to an end, the circle have to admit that help will probably not come from the Twelve. After a small discussion with Beyaloa’s Aunt, they agree to spend the evening in Ansibah, and to leave the next morning towards Dir-Jal, a decision that is reinforced when they receive Pragatima’s messenger falcon with fresh news from the City of the Chained God.

Still worried about the possibility the He Who Burns might have followers in the capital, Rohim and Rain Pearl head towards the street of temples, looking for the small shrine lovingly maintained by local adepts of the Path of Inspiration. Posing as potential converts or even patrons, the get invited to diner with the couple who started the local branch of the Path.

Meanwhile, Hark, Beyaloa and Kadma head towards the Blue House, to serve as Omale’s representatives at a party. But things take a turn for the strange as soon as they arrive : the ancient stone god guarding the villa and its gardens walks down from his post as soon as Kadma passes close to him, suddenly acting like an excited pup. To the surprise of everyone present, he pulls the Blue Walker to a specific spot in the gardens, where old stones are protruding from the ground, out of the way of the party. Inspecting the stonework, the realize that they have stumbled upon and old stone relief depicting the Broken King and his consort, whose face has been destroyed by time, but still has a resemblance with Kadma’s soma.

As their host arrives to check on his guardian, Harik recognizes that the text on the stone is a dialect of Old Realm, but before he can try to decipher it, he perks up, his superhuman hearing picking up a great clamor coming from the sea.

Far from the Twelve, Pragatima spent the better part of the afternoon talking with Jemdat about her plans, and decides to spend some time spying on Pree Asma’s routine in order to decide on the best way to act. As she vaults effortlessly on the roofs next to the palace, she spots another observer, a young man sitting unmoving on a nearby building.

Getting closer, she understands that the man has noticed her too, and she introduces herself. With a calm smile, he acknowledges her presence, and responds in kind : he is Visadhara, the Bane of Ansibah, and close friend of Ebele. There is a moment of silence as the two Dawn caste observe each other, aware that they do not yet know each other’s agendas, each both afraid and eager to ask the question for fear of starting a duel that would probably end up devastating for both themselves and the city as a whole.

With some care, they manage to delicately exchange information on their goals, and Pragatima learns that Visadhara hasn’t been in the city for long, and is currently trying to decide who to back up should trouble occur. Pragatima is more than willing to give him dirt on Pree, but he declines the proposition for now, and they part on somewhat neutral terms.

The waters of the Dreaming Sea are boiling, thousands of Sea People soldiers crawling on the shores of Ansibah. Beyaloa reacts immediately, grabbing her two companions by the arms and starting to speak the words that will transport them where they need to be. With a flash of light, the two sorcerers and the living statue appear on the roof of the People’s Palace, gasping at the terrible scene unfolding in front of their eyes. The few soldiers guarding the palace are already falling back, and most would already be lying dead on the beach were it not for Omale, her anima already lighting the scene. The Lady of Ansibah is rallying her guards, standing in the midst of the battle, her silk pantaloons covered in dark red blood, holding a broken spear and a sword in her hands. Kadma jumps on the beach, leaving her stone skin to possess the closest sea warrior’s weapon and turn them against their owner. Harik invokes the Brilliant Raptor, burning a swath through the invaders to seal off a flank, as Beyaloa starts muttering her own incantation. Soon, pillars of lava sprout from the ground, the burning tentacles of the Magma Kraken protecting the beachfront, throwing the sea people back in the water or burning them where they stand.

Amidst the flames, she pauses a moment to survey the carnage, sending off an Infallible Messenger to alert Pragatima, and Rain Pearl and Rohim arrive at last, having run towards the commotion, figuring that the rest of the circle would probably be at the center of the sorcerous lightshow.

Quickly, they agree that now that the People’s Palace is somewhat safe, their next priority is to help the queen. Rain Pearl, Kadma and Omale, still clad in the fish-scaled dragon of her anima, take what few soldiers they can spare, and make towards the plaza of Sarebe, cutting their path in the dark streets full of panicking citizens and Sea People invaders.

Beyaloa calls her Cirrus Skiff, taking to the skies with Rohim and Harik, who is now whispering maddening incantations under his breath. Slowly, his voice is joined by an eerie choir, spiraling figures of smoke and ghostly ephemera surrounding the trio, growing in number until they reach the streets below, sending the Sea People in a panicked rout. Those who stay put or can’t escape find themselves unable to breathe, and the Cantata of Empty Voices continues to spread over the city, panicking even those who don’t feel its sorcerous effect.

In the chaos, storming the queen’s palace is almost easy, and soon, Saramen and her honor guard are brought back to the People Palace, as more permanent defenses are erected. The battle almost seems over, the sorcerers still flying over the city inside a mile-wide tornado of ghostly light, when a monstrous sea-turtle rises out of the water, a ballista on her shell. The first shot is well-aimed, and the two sorcerer barely have time to blink as the meter-long bolt of iron pierces through Rohim’s body, throwing him clean off the Cirrus Skiff to plunge towards the ground a hundred feet below.

Beyaloa rushes to cover, the cloud diving amongst the protection of the city roofs, and they lose sight of their friend’s body.

Rohim opens his eyes on the floor of a house, having shattered the wooden roof with his fall, shouts rising in the dust. Still trembling, he gets up and starts running back towards the shore and the People’s Palace.

He is nearly there when lightning strikes right next to him, revealing Pragatima holding piercing thunder, a serious look upon her face as the ozone dissipates.

“Took you long enough.”

Episode 30
How to Chain War

“I knew this already.”

Beyaloa, Rohim and the Blue Walker nearly gasp at hearing Saramen admits that she knows about the Prasadi Legion moving towards Dir-Jal, and it takes all the sorceress’ self-control to maintain a polite façade. The queen sights, and tells them that the Prasadi sent word to her a few days ago, stressing that they did not bring their army to menace the Twelve’s western frontier, and that their alliance still holds.

Moving troops from the Kingdoms of the Isle to help Dir-Jal isn’t only unheard off (unsurprising considering the rivalry between the two local powers), but doing so now could jeopardize a fragile and precious alliance. Somewhat dispirited, the trio take their leave, nearly failing to recognize the queen’s handmaiden as she escorts them out of the palace. Shab, betrayed only by a peculiar gesture when she salutes them.

Meanwhile, Harik and Rain Pearl meet with an old friend of the Twilight, Sinaran, now working for the Prasadi ambassador. They spend some time catching up and relaxing in the hot baths of the Bathouse of Lhir, Sinaran even lightly flirting with Rain Pearl, before the topic slides towards home politics. Sinaran reveals that the situation in Prasad is tense : the two Dragon Clans, Burano and Ophris, are torn on how to deal with the disappearance of the Scarlett Empress, some Dragon-Blooded even arguing that Prasad should outright stop sending tribute to the Realm. In this climate, it would be delicate at best for the Ophris Ambassador to intervene in a situation involving not only a Burano legion, but one outside of the Twelve Kingdoms of the Isles. Somewhat dejected, Harik thanks him without protesting much.

In Ysmir’s villa, Pragatima is pacing restlessly, talking with a wounded Siem and their host. When they tell her that the council sent scouts out to observe and start negociations with the legion, she jumps on the occasion, asking if she can meet them on the way. They agree that is the legion is truly there for the armor, they are all willing to frame Pree Asma, especially if it means removing her from the Council, and replacing her with another merchant-prince. The Dawn tell Ysmir that she knows someone who might be able to plant the Seven Devils Armor in Pree Asma’s palace, and he tells her that he hid the artefact in the fundations of the new bridge he is having build across the Dast. Satisfied, the mercenary thanks them and leaves to meet with the scouts.

Night is setting when Pragatima catches up to the scouts making camp, and they recognize the slayer of the Anathema Nash. The lights of the legions are shining over the horizon, hundreds of fires turning the sky a dull red.

During her shift, Pragatima takes a look towards the red horizon, and jumps in the air. Her long, almost lazy arcs carry her over the camps in minutes, and she tries evaluating their numbers, noticing a peculiar chariot near the center of the camp, a great contraption pulled by half a dozen yeddims, transporting what looks like an armored giant hidden under a tarpaulin. Frowning, she steps on air, heading back to the scouts, and settles for a night of frustrated waiting.

The rest of the circle spends the evening sharing their news, resting in the guest’s quarters of the People’s Palace. While they are unhappy with the lack of help for Dir-Jal, what worries them most is the potential presence of Shab close to Queen Saramen. Beyaloa writes a letter to the queen, warning her not to trust her servant, and sends an Infaillible Messenger to Pragatima to give her an update on their lack of progress and advising her to keep an eye on the Cult of the Chained God if she finds an opportunity.

The others decide to send Rain Pearl and Kadma to infiltrate the Queen’s Palace, wanting to understand the link between Shab and the handmaiden. For the Night Caste and her ghost ancestor, entering the building is child’s play, and they are soon back, slowed down only by a quick negotiation with the ghost guardians of the royal family. They found a strange broken mirror in the servant’s possession, and Harik studies it, intuiting that it might be a sorcerous device meant to communicate with the Underworld, and the circle remembers Nash and the broken glass that allowed him to reach She Whose Name Is Death.

At the idea of another of their enemies being empowered by the Deathlord, one with both a personal grudge against them and the capacity to infiltrate the power structure of the Twelve so easily, the room itself seems to grow colder, leaving everyone uneasy.

The sun rises slowly, half-veiled behind the dust of a marching legion, thousands of men stamping in the savannah behind wings of cavalry, the support caravan personnel trailing like a tail behind them. And riding towards this beast of an army, the four messengers from the city of the Chained God, Pragatima proudly opening the way. Slowly, the army stops, and they are escorted to parley with the legion’s general, Burano Sodari. The earth aspect plunges her Daiklave in the ground, as much a show of nonchalant power as a sign of good faith, and the talks start.

The Burano general is frank, sure both of her power and her right. She tells them that she doesn’t buy the council’s cover story that her cousin Burano Arjuna died on his way back from Dir-Jal, and that the legion was sent there to obtain answers and justice towards his murderer, as well as to reclaim the precious armor of the seven devils. She has no intention of waging war against Dir-Jal if it can be avoided, but will not stray from her mission if it comes to open conflict.

Pragatima and the other envoys, afraid that the council won’t accept to let a foreign army into the city, and somewhat relieved that an outright invasion isn’t yet on the table, ask if the general would be willing to meet with the council in order to agree on a method to look for the armor and the murderer, and they all agree on a meeting in a few days, at the doors of the city.

As she rides back towards Dir-Jal, Pragatima is already thinking about how to find someone accommodating to take the place of Pree Asma on the council after this is resolved. Perhaps even a Hazan merchant…?

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.