Chains of Silver and Blood

Episode 12
Unexpected Returns

It has been raining. The rain is soft, and warms, and brushes away the waves, turning the Sea of Gold into a silver mirror facing the calm grey skies. Elikem and Daitya shout as they run in the puddles of the private garden, their offering of tea still smoking on their father’s altar. Between the buildings of Beyaloa’s estate, a few servants walk briskly under triangular umbrellas.

And on the small beach, facing the calm sea with a cup of precious coca steaming between her hands, stands Saramen, queen of the Twelve Thrones of the Isles, flanked by the Bey of Ansibah and her advisors and guards. As Beyaloa consults with her water elementals on the pier, they wait for the meeting with the People of the Sea, unconvinced at the tall tales of underwater empires and sunken cities spun by the group.

They have been waiting for a while now. More than an hour. The easy conversation of the first moments, as Pragatima reminisced with Saramen’s bodyguards about old battles, have dried up and turned into an unconfortable silence. Under a tiare tree, Rohim and Harik are staring at the sea, afraid to consider what would happen should no-one show up.

And suddently, as Campa starts to complain about the lateness of their guests, the sea parts to reveal M’’ui’rin and another member of her tribe. Introductions are made, and gifts exchanged between the two monarchs, and Saramen soons gets over her surprise as they start talking about the threat posed by the Unificator. Under the rain, knee deep in the water, they make plans to organize some kind of resistance against his ever-lengthening grasp : Some of M’’ui’rin’s people will travel to the Dreaming Sea to find if others are trying to resist, and a safe haven will be built in the sea around Khimsar where the free People of the Sea can train and regroup.

Soon Pragatima and the Voriyaras are planning how to help training such peculiar fighters, arguing with Campa about how to organize the camp. Harik, playing with his shining lens, recalls some of the discussions he shared with Beyaloa, and wonders at the possibility of a sorcerous working that would allow the armies of the land to fight underwater alongside their newfound allies.

Meanwhile, Saramen takes Beyaloa for a walk on the beach, intent on testing her loyalties to the Twelve. They agree not to share any information with her aunt for now, fearing how Omale would try to use such knowledge for personal gain.

In the main room, they find Jemdat and Siem talking in a hushed tone, obviously exited by the content of the letter they received. The circle quickly learns that due to Pragatima’s negociations with the Bank of Ansibah, Ysmir has made significant gains, enough to sponsor someone else for a place in the council. He plans on lending enough assets to Siem to allow her to become a Merchant-Prince, and asks for her to come back to Dir-Jal as soon as possible.

They spend some time discussing the matter, and promise Siem to meet her back in the City of the Chained God for her inauguration during the yearly Festival of Chains in a few weeks. The next few days are spent finding a sufficiently secluded bay and setting up the training camp, with half the Voriyaras staying to help the Sea People organizing the training camp.

The voyage back to Dir-Jal is less eventfull than their previous trip: the group crosses the savannah and the dry valley without trouble, and they soon arrive in the city of the Chained God, where preparations for the festival are in full swing. They are welcomed by Ysmir, whose palace is packed with guests staying for the festival, some coming from as far as distant Illuvar.

They are brought up to speed on current events, and learn that the cult of the chained god is currently undergoing a schism, with some vocal elements decrying the official acceptation of the cult (with Marika as High Priestess) as political maneuvering to quell the population. This movement is centered around a previous alchemist and holy man named Neth, and is taking ever-hardening positions on the liberation of the Inashi and the leading council of the city. They also learn that someone has been seen consuming the Inashi’s flesh, and their suspicions soon turn towards the new sect.

As the three scholars mingle with Ysmir’s guest and reconnect with old friends, Pragatima leaves the city with Siem to negociate with some of the local Hazan tribes, planning to open a regular market between the Hazan and Dir-Jal, both to facilitate peace and to secure her power. During the trip, Siem confesses that while she accepted Ysmir’s offer, she fears the terms of the deal she struck with him to become a merchant-prince. What’s more, she is unsure how she feels knowing that her triumph is due to another than herself. Philosophical, the mercenary simply advises her friend to wait and see how things evolve before making up her mind.

The great arena is vibrating with the sound of thousands of voices. In the warm glow of late afternoon, a trio of dancer-gladiators is fighting in the red dust, blades spinning and twirling. The first day of festival is upon Dir-Jal. Everywhere people are in their most colorful garments, talking, betting and debating as the spectacle gets more intense. Sitting in the honor row, the group is making small talk with Zapir, a Star-Prince from Illuvar and his bodyguard Rain Pearl, when the attention of the audience switches from the match to the council: without fanfare, Siem has taken a seat next to the two established merchant-prince.

There is a moment of tension, as everybody waits for someone to call that bluff. But after a minute of silence, Pree Asma goes from shocked to obsequious, inquiring as to Siem’s change in fortune. And just like that, the tension vanishes as fast as it started. People relax, and the activity of the festival resumes once more. The risk is past. Or so everyone thinks.

The sun is about to set when the ground growns and shakes, throwing mortar dust everywhere. The arena rings out with screams and the groaning of stone and bricks thrown against each other. In the distance, a cloud of ration jumps in the sky as the Inashi throws his immense weight against his shackles.

In the silence that follows, Pragatima and Harik are the first to notice the dark figure striding across the sand towards the council, clad in funeral robes and wearing a broken death mask. Immediately the Hazan warrior jumps in the sand to join the gladiator already positionning themselves to block the menacing stranger. A spear coalescing in his hand, the masked man joins the fray, dispatching the gladiators in a few blows, as the circle calls for the arena to be evacuated.

In the middle of the nascent chaos, the circle preps for battle, incantations making the air buzz. As the spear of shadow and the spear of lightning clash in the middle of the arena, Pragatima at last sees the visage of her foe throught the cracks of his mask : Nash Draghma, eyes haggard and empty. His voice is cold as ice as he tries to brush away the Dawn.

“Move aside, Hazan. I did not offer my name to death only to be stopped by a savage.”

And with a blow that cracks both air and stone, Pragatima, leader of the Voriyaras, master of White Reaper, undefeated against monsters and Exalts alike, is thrown in the arena stairs by a Nash Draghma darkly lit by the un-light of his anima.

Episode 11
Below the Surface

A clear morning dawns on the coast, and the People’s Place guests are woken up by a breakfast of flatbread served with oignon-and-plum sauce. Before Rohim can start to enjoy his meal, a glowering Pragatima enters the room, asking him about his dealings with the palace staff in her usual blunt manner. Faced with Beyaloa’s testimony, he explains that he is following the advice of Ebele, who told him to follow the white veils if he wanted to reach her after her departure.

The discussion once again turns to the subject of Pragatima’s paranoia, but the Dawn brushes away any accusation by remiding everyone that they are after all holding a very dangerous prisonner, and that some aspects of Rohim’s nature and past are still somewhat cloudy. Before another argument can start, however, Harik enters the room, warning them that a retinue led by two Dragon-Blooded is entering the palace.

The group (without Harik) meets with Omale on the great veranda of the palace, where they greet Ejain and Makeba, who come bearing magnificent gifts for the Admiral : an exotic unbreakable glass sword from distant Chiaoscuro, a dozen pure-bred horses with golden brides, and a bottle of precious wine from the Center of the World. The two Prasadi nobles explain their concern at the very public humiliation and capture of their compatriot. Ejain apologises for Jinosoi‘s actions, and Makeba warns that keeping a Dragon-Blooded in captivity will not sit well with Prasad of followers of the Pure Way. In order to avoid straining the relations between the Twelve and the Empire of Prasad, they ask that Jinosoi be released as soon as possible. In exchange, they will repay any insults given throught Jinosoi’s actions, and ensure as best they can that such a thing won’t happen again.

Wary of such a deal, the group stalls for time, saying that they would rather not take such a decision without Queen Saramen’s support, and all agree to meet again in the evening to discuss the issue further.

Accompagnied by Omale, Beyaloa, Harik and Pragatima head to the Royal Palace, people muttering and staring as they see the great jade lance carried by the mercenary capitain.

In the palace’s hall, they meet a tired Saramen, discussing the issues caused by Y’danna’s refugees. She grumbles as they spell out their situation, and she explains that their position towards the neighbouring empires of Prasad and Ysir is too precarious to agravate one of them. The problems raised by Y’danna’s mysterious attacker, and by its displaced citizens are worrying enough without adding another political crisis into the mix.

Together, they end up agreeing to release Burano Jinosoi, and asking for embassies to be created in order to be able to solve these types of problems in the future, reasonning that this might also be a good way to strenghten diplomatic ties between the two nations.

Before they leave, Pragatima and the Queen discuss their shared heritage, Saramen revealing that she has Hazan ancestors. Somewhat directly, the Dawn asks if Saramen might be interested in lasting peace between the Twelve and the Hazan tribes, surprising everyone. Saramen responds that such a thing would be terribly welcome, but that uniting the Hazan tribes (or even obtaining the agreement of all the Beys) seems impossible during their lifetime. Undaunted, Pragatima nods, content for now to see a common hope.

Meanwhile, Rohim leaves on his errand to obtain more information on Ebele’s activities. Meeting his contct at the non-existent teahouse, he learns that the young heroine left a message for him before leaving to hunt pirates disrupting sea traffic south of the Twelve.

Somewhat put off, Rohim leaves the teahouse to return to his studies, eyed by the white weiled patrons.

Jinosoi freed, and with the promise that the Prasadi Dragon-Blooded will stop meddling in local politics for the sake of their hosts, the Circle is free to return to their expedition. After spending a couple of days preparing at Beyaloa’s Khimsar estate, they leave for the Sea of Gold aboard her personnal dhow, the Temeraire, leaving the Voriyaras behind.

Following Ciello‘s directions, the head towards a small fishing village, intent on finding the fisherman who picked Harik’s lense from below the waves. Stopping for the night on a uninhabited island, Beyaloa and Harik decide to spend their evening adding to the expedition’s roster. The sorceress creates a boiling column of water next to the ship, which splits to reveal a shimering Tidemare, eager to explore the sea around her. On the shore, Harik draws a complex circle of salts and incense on the sandy soil, stepping inside the maelstrom of green fire and silver sand that erupts to emerge clad in a talkative grey Peronelle.

The fishing village is small, craddled between two rocky cliffs on the shores of the sea. As the Temeraire enters the bay, there is a flurry of preparation and stress, and the locals greet the circle with a deference bordering on fear, only calming when they realise that the visit has nothing to do with raiding them or collecting taxes.

Once they ask about the lense and the treasure from the bottom of the sea, they are pointed towards a small secluded house sitting above the bay, freshly repainted and given a wide berth by the inhabitants. In the middle of a few dozen expensive wine bottle, they find a sleeping Aver. The old fisherman grumbles at being woken up so suddenly, and thell them to go away, stressing that he hasn’t sold any treasure for years.

Over time, Aver warms up to the group, and starts talking about his days as a fisherman and his discovery of the underwater city. He tells them of being carried there by a wyldstorm, and of waking up after days of whirlwinds and pouring rain under a blue sky, shining white roofs jutting from between the clear waves. With tears pouring from his eyes, he recounts the trips he made there, to the empty undewater metropolis, exploring the upper levels and bringing back riches to sell and memories to last a lifetime, as he grew more isolated from the small supersticious community of his village. After a while, his voice cracks, and he concludes by saying that he is too old now to sail alone far from the coast, and that not one of the young fishermen of the village is worth sharing such splendor with… not that they would want to leave on such an risky trip.

With a smile, Beyaloa then tells him that if he agrees to show them the city, they will give him the opportunity to see it as no-one has seen it before, and to explore the unseen depth unreachable by a lone diver. It’s a reborn Aver who descends towards the village with them, where they are greeted by the sight of children playing with their Tidermare, the elemental basking in their adoring stares.

Under the guidance of Aver, they sail towards the center of the Sea of Gold, and soon reach the underwater city. True to his word, the white roofs of the city’s highest towers protrude from the calm surface, and the silhouette of many other buildings can be seen throught the clear, shining water. The Temeraire is attached to a roof, and soon the group is plunging underwater, safe in the belly of their Tidemare.

The city is immense, spreading down an underwater hill, and seems to be in pristine condition. As they leave their living ship to swim in the abandonned building, surprising fishes and retrieving mysterious ustentils, they discover a city apparently built for an underwater people : no stairs are to be seen anywhere, and doors are haphasardly placed at any level on the white-coated building, free of any algua or coral growth.

Suddenly, they notice a face peering at them from behind a bush of algua. A face soon joined by several, as they end up surrounded by a group of sea-people, tall humanoids swiming throught the water, clad only in harnesses and string of pearls. They climb back to the surface, followed by the great men and women who pierce the wave next to their ship. Cautious, the group try to communicate, and find that one of the tribal leaders of the strange group speaks a bastardised version of Dreamthongue.

The woman calls herself M’’ui’rin, and expresses astonishement at their presence so far out at sea. The circle mention their interest in the city, and M’’uirin tells them about the history of the shining metropolis, built by their ancestors in ages past. She tells them that they are among the last of the free Sea People, and that they were driven out years ago by one of their own, M’’ar’ai, the Unificator. Now they only come into the old city but a handful a time each year, to hold their ceremonies in the ancient temple, moving around the Sea of Gold the rest of the time to stay away from the conqueror’s grasp.

Interested by the tale, they ask about M’’ar’ai, and the proud sea-woman tells them that the Unificator is on a crusade to unite all the tribes of the Dreaming Sea under his rule, and that he as very nearly managed to do so, and now dreams of conquering the surface. Sitting on the white roof of the tallest tower, the circle feels a strange sense of dread, remembering the stories of the sack of Y’Danna, and of the strange army that came from the sea. Talking to M’’ui’rin, they learn that M’’ar’ai wields a monstruous spear of coral and jade called Eren Kien Abe, able to summon powerful monsters of living coral.

Aver, Siem and Jemdat turn pale at those stories, but the circle find a renewed sense of purpose in the menace : at last, they have a clear adversary, and can focus their effort on this Unificator instead of worrying about an undefined threat. This must be known : the people of the Twelve and the Pearly Coast must plan to fight this adversary, and the first step is to talk with their leaders. They ask M’’ui’rin to come to the coast of Beyaloa’s estate in two weeks time, planning to bring Omale and queen Saramen there to tell them the grave news.

As the winds pick up aroung them, the four Exalts salute their newfound allies, and step back on their ship. The expedition must be forgotten for now. Sooner or latter, war will come to their shores from the sea, like a Wyldstorm ready to destroy what they all hold dear. Preparations must be made.

Episode 10
The Three and Four

Without thinking, Pragatima jumps after the Dragon-Blooded. The chase starts on the palace roofs, the two Exalts jumping over the heads of bewildererd palace guard under the red light of the setting sun. Soon both are bouncing from tree to tree, flashing towards the rest of the city.

Back in Osbek’s room, Rohim springs towards the thief to inspect him for injuries, as Beyaloa summons the Cirrus Skiff in order to follow the pursuit. Soon, she jumps on the coallescing cloud along with Harik. High above the paved roads of the city, they see Pragatima and her quarry on the roofs of the Street of Temples.

Over the busy street reverberating with the cries of wine-sellers and the prayers of the followers of Adriva Aynan, the Air Aspect turns around, realising that he can’t easily outrun the Hazan woman. There is a calm moment, as they face each other without speaking, ignoring the calls of the Children of the Spear passing in the street. Realising that the mysterious Exalt is probably trying not to be seen, Pragatima starts the fight by using the voice of the Nightingale, throwing the Dragon-Blooded off the roof with a powerful shout. The panicked crowd clears around him, and as he take a unknown martial art stance, Pragatima accuses him of being a murderer in front of the street, trying (and failing) to get the crowd and the Children of the Spear to join the fight.

The two martial artists come to blow in the middle of the street, destroying stalls and creating a panic, the Dawn’s shouts and the swift blows of the Air Aspect sending shockwaves throught the evening air. From the Cirrus Skiff, Harik’s keen eyes widen as he recognises the tatoos on the Dragon-Blooded’s hands : the mark of a holy assassin of the Pure Way, trained to fight and kill since childhood. The fight creates ripples throught the crowd, the first signs of a panic stampede, and the Children of the Spear establish a wall of shields around the two Exalts as the air starts to glow with the colors of the Dragon-Blooded anima.

But the fight, as terrible as it looks, is over before long, and the Dragon-Blooded is put against the wall by the fury of the Dawn. Before Pragatima can land the killing blow, he drops to his knees, throwing his hand in the air in an obvious gesture of surrender, his anima faltering around him.

Unwilling to kill a defenseless oponent, the Hazan warrior takes him prisonnier with the help of the Palace guard who followed the commotion to them, and the Dragon-Blooded is put in chains to be interogated… which proves to be harder than expected, seing as he doesn’t speak Dreamtongue or Flametongue.

Back at the Palace, Rohim is caring for Osbek and for Majaji, the Voriyara who was put in charge of the thief’s safety, and ended up being poisonned by the Dragon-Blooded. After managing to reduce the effect of the poison, he meets back with the rest of the circle and a furious Omale, who is interrogating her new prisonnier in Low Realm. They learn that he is named Burano Jinosoi, and that he was supposed to learn who hired Osbek to steal the bank ledger.

The assassin is put in a cell under the People’s Palace, and his injuries are treated by Rohim while the group debates what to do with such a peculiar prisonnier. While the Dragon-Blooded is polite and respectful, he refuses to answer any questions from the group, and only Beyaloa’s observation’s skills tell them that the assassin does not expect to stay in his cell for very long. Intrigued, they leave the killer monk meditating in his cell in silence.

Tired by their day, most of the circle stay in the palace to rest, study and keep watch. Restless, Rohim leaves to spend the evening at the Blue House, where a local noble is entertaining guests with a collection of songs performed by artists from the Pearly Coast. Oblivious to the intrigue of the nobles surrounding him, and unfazed by the eldritch guardian of the house, a lion-dog of living blue ceramic, the young physician simply enjoys the show, even going as far as to tap his fingers in rythm with the familiar melodies.

But he ends up noticing a shaded figure observing him in the crowd, and feels a shudder of recognition as he gets to his feet to approach the beautiful dark woman, who leaves as soon as she sees him approach. They both leave the Blue House, and end up running throught the empty streets of the city. As Rohim finally catches up with her, she brings a dagger of old bronze to his throat, and asks him to let her go. The young man ends up alone under the moon, lost in the foreign capital.

The night is deep when Rohim finally finds his way back to the People’s Palace. Ambling toward the guest wing, he crosses a young servant wearing a white veil, and grabs his arm, asking for information on Ebele’s wereabouts. Visibly surprised, the servant tells him that there is no way to get that information, especially not by going to the White Tree teahouse, where taking lunch would be out of the question.

In the shadown, Beyaloa watches the exchange incredulously, a cup of strong tea in her hands.

Episode 9
A Book and Twelve Kingdoms

The afternoon is starting, sweet sunlight pouring on the beach where Daitya and Elikem are playing with his latest kite, under the watchful eye of their mother and Harik. The two sorcerers are debating, drawing occult schematics on the fine sand. Meanwhile, Pragatima is taking care of Gendo in the middle of her Voriyaras in the gardens. In the house, Rohim is working on an elixir to cure the rest of those afflicted by the coral plague, a letter from Farris in hand, ignoring the buzzing coming from Zao Khan, Jemdat and Siem as they write to Ysmir. The day is calm and relaxed, a moment lost in time before the expedition starts once more.

But their original plan is soon threatened when a Cloud Person, one of Beyaloa’s elemental servants, descends to warn them : a great troupe of warrior is approaching her land from the northern road. Soon, the group leaves to intercept them, along with Beyaloa’s new captain of the guards, leaving the Voriyaras and the rest of the guards to prepare their defense.

A hour’s ride later, they find the sixty or so armed men harassing some of Beyaloa’s subjects, their leader Maratan interogating an old man. Furious, the sorceress demands explanations, helped by a glaring Pragatima, dominating the field astride her rhino.

Obsequious, Maratan tells her that one of his slave escaped his lands, fleeing south, and that the only reason they crossed into her land without asking for permission was to be sure they wouldn’t loose him. Suspicious of the number of men brought to capture a single fleeing slave, Beyaloa takes a minute to ask the villager about the hypothetical stranger. Standing by her side, Harik’s preternatural hearing catches Maratan telling his lieutenant about the book carried by the man they search. They learn that a young man passed throught the village this morning, and left towards Ansibah.

Still furious at the intrusion, Beyaloa gives that information to her neighbour, and provides him with some of her men to help him along his way, all the while planning to send Pragatima cross-country in order to find the fleing man before Maratan’s men. She sends Maratan on his way, and as the Hazan woman starts galloping throught the bushes, calls the Cirrus Skiff to her. Soon, she is back at her manse, giving instructions to her elementals watchers to circle the property and look for Maratan’s escaped slave. But from the sky, Harik’s keen eyes notices a warship flying the flag of the Twelve Thrones dropping anchor in front of her properties. Leaving him on the tower to act as a lookout, she rides her cloud towards the ship to learn more, accompagnied by Rohim.

Curious, Harik glances towards the ship, using the power of the manse and his own powerful vision, and shivers, recognising one of the passengers : Burano Madoria Makeba, a Prasadi sorceress and Fire Aspect . Worried, he turns his sight inland to help Pragatima.

On the ship, Rohim and Beyaloa are greeted by the captain, who respecfully explains he does not intend to attack her lands, and that his ship is part of a vast fleet manoeuver. With obvious distaste, he introduces them to his guests, Makeba and Ejain, two Prasadi Dragonblooded. Somewhat reassured, Beyaloa climbs back on the Cirrus Skiff to leave, catching the eye of Makeba looking at the sorcerous vessel.

Meanwhile, Pragatima soon finds the trail of the escaped slave resting in the high banians, and leaves the trail to catch him. As she climbs the tree to find him, she hears a commotion behind her : Maratan’s men, who obviously know that the man is in the area. Unable to move stealthily in the high branches, she grabs the man by the collar and starts running on the treetops, leading them on a merry chase and loosing them in the forest.

They end up riding peacefully back to Beyaloa’s estate on Gendo’s back, and here the man tells her his version of the story : his name is Osbek, a thief working for the highest bidder, who ended up fleeing with his latest loot after being double-crossed by his employer Maratan. Pragatima tries interogating him about the nature of his last contract, but the thief only pats his pack, asking her if she knows anyone rich enough to buy a kingdom.

When they finally arrive, Beyaloa offers her hospitality to the thief, and after a hearty meal he ends up sleeping deeply, aided by a powerful dose of God-milk concocted by Rohim. He does not hear or see the circle opening his pack to find the heavy leather tome hidden inside it, doesn’t see their surprise when they open it to find pages after pages of coded columns, or their horror when they realise that they hold in their hands the ledger of the Bank of Ansibah, a book capable to utterly upset the balance of power of the region should it fall into the wrong hands.

When Osbek wakes up, he is surrounded by the four Exalts and a collection of living cristalline statues, and soon realise that the best way out of his predicament is to tell the truth and hope for the best : he says that he was simply hired to steal a book held by a clerk without any knowledge of its nature, and that he was nearly killed by Maratan when he refused to give him the tome.

The group debates what to do for hours, but ultimately settle on what they feel is the most reasonnable solution : giving the ledger back to the bank in exchange for a reward, using Beyaloa’s aunt Omale as an intermediary. They leave for Ansibah before dawn, Osbek in tow after Pragatima gave him her word to protect him as long as he followed their lead.

After a few hours on the road, they are in the capital of the Twelve Thrones of the Isles, and head straight for the People’s Palace, where Omale has appropriated an entire wing for her and her staff. They meet the Dragon-Blooded Admiral in her changing room, and tell her all that they know about the situation, igniting a hungry gleam in her eyes. She tell them that she will do what she can to help, and leaves them to wait until noon.

Unwilling to spend the morning idle, Harik leaves to find one of Omale’s artisans, an old apprentice of the Black Alchemist of Dir-Jal now working for Beyaloa’s aunt. They meet Ciello in the great room where the artists patronned by the Admiral work, busy between a scupltor and a silk painter. As the group wanders the room, admiring the collection of art collected by their host, Harik and the young artesan talk about his peculiar lense. Ciello reveals that she probably knows the original owner, and mentions a sailor living in a village north of the Sea of Gold. After some talk about artefacts and legendary objects taken from the sea, they leave the artesan to her work.

The afternoon sees Pragatiman, Beyaloa and her aunt taking one of Omale’s barges to the Bank, a forteress island sitting in the bay, far from any possible menace, in order to negociate their reward upon the return of the ledger. In the dark, ancient building, they meet with Gouka of the Eyes, Secretary of the Bank, and the local rector of the Guild, Mahel of Agate. The negociation are harsh and take up most of the afternoon, but they end up agreeing on the book’s return, in exchange of which the bank will reward them with a substantial amount of silver and forget all current debt held by the Ojoeni family. As they prepare to leave, Beyaloa is taken aside by Mahel, and they agree to meet later to discuss the identity of the original commisionner of the theft, in exchange for another reward.

Back at the People’s Palace, the mood is celebratory, and the group debates on where to spend the evening in the shining city, settling on a singing performance by an musician from the city of Puljad. They go up to Osbek’s room to ask him to come… only to find him chained up on a chair, a mysterious Air Aspect interogating him. For an instant everyone stays perfectly still, and the Dragon-Blooded jumps from the window onto the roofs of the palace…

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.


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