Chains of Silver and Blood

Episode 24
Palace of Chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 23
The Dragon's Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 22
A Hand in Return

In the middle of the night, Harik feels his Peronelle shuddering, fearing the return of the sorcerous presence she already sensed a few days ago. After reassuring her, the sorcerer’s keen senses pick up a conversation in the otherwise silent villa: Teferi’s domestic sharing a meal and news with a newly arrived Ebele, returning north after her mission amongst the local pirate crews. Interrupting their late dinner, he greets the demigoddess and informs her that her cousin is here, along with the rest of their circle.

Around the breakfast table of their host, the group reunites with Ebele, and introduces her to Rain Pearl. They start discussing the reasons of their presence in Baliad, the menace of the Sea People and the treason of the Bey, the trail of the Fair Folk that led them here, and the capture of Star-Prince Zapir and Foam Spiral. Immediately, Ebele tells them that she might be able to help on that count: during her weeks spent amongst the pirates of the southern coast, she saw the hideout they use to sell their captives to the Guild. She adds that high value slaves are usually sold well before coming into Baliad.

Pragatima, Rohim and Rain Pearl decide to follow her there : a few hours away from the city, they find the narrow cove, where and ancient village hollowed in the white cliffs, a single ship and his crew resting under the watchful eye of an ancient idol sculpted on the rocky façade.

Learning that some crewmembers sometimes come here without their ships, Rain Pearl disguises herself as a member of another crew, and goes out to investigate. She learns that Zapir was indeed taken here after being captured, and was sold to a guildsman guarded by a group of masked warriors.

Meanwhile, Harik and Beyaloa decide to look into the Way of Inspiration, and visit the compound built on the hillside in the center of the city. They pass the nine gates, entering a garden where disciples train in the Low and High Arts under the watchful eyes of their teachers. They meet with Khnemu, an Inspired who introduces them to the Way and its tenets, and decide to watch one of their lessons.

Unsurprisingly, they notice that the so-called muses of the Inspired are in fact so many Fair Folks, flittering about the grounds of the complex, flourishing under the steady diet of creativity produced by the cult. As fast as politely possible, the two sorcerers leave, not without planning to come back to explore the restricted area of the compound.

The circle meets back at Teferi’s villa to compare their findings, and conclude that they have few avenues left to explore. As they hesitate on their next course of action, a messenger bearing a package for Pragatima: inside they find a freshly severed hand, with the glowing tattoo of the Illuvari Flashing Mirrors. All eyes turn to Rain Pearl, who turns visibly pale at the gruesome sight and what it means: Foam Spiral in indeed held prisoner, and her captor known about their search. Along with the hand is a note, asking one of them to come alone to a dock a bit before midnight.

After an instant of stunned silence, the room erupts in a flurry of activity. Harik runs out in the street to find the messenger and hopefully interrogate him; Rohim starts digging in his satchel to find reagents that will allow him to preserve the hand; Ebele extends her senses into it to search for hidden clues; Beyaloa send an Infallible Messenger directly to Foam Spiral; and Pragatima starts making plans with Rain Pearl to take on the obvious trap.

Beyaloa is the first to come up with results, as she sees the Flashing Mirror held prisoner next a Fire Aspect she recognizes as Lapis Ojamila, a noble of Ayodhya, but the captive is unable to answer the sorceress’s query as to her location by her Dragon-Blooded guard. Harik returns empty-handed, but Ebele’s visions lead them to believe that Foam Spiral is held in the lighthouse at the north-east of the city. The circle starts making preparation, wary but determined.

Night comes, and then midnight, and Pragatima comes up at the dock alone, only to be told that the meeting will take place at the lighthouse instead. Feigning surprise, she rushes toward the gardens, where she is greeted by a dozen guards who escort her to the base of the tower. As she walks, her eyes dart around her, trying (and failing) to notice the other members of the circle. Far up in the air the air the two sorcerers ride Beyaloa’s Cirrus Skiff. In the water close to the shore, Ebele is holding her breath, waiting for signs of trouble. And Rain Pearl, unbeknownst to everyone else, is standing right next to the Hazan warrior, disguised as one of the guards escorting her.

At the base of the tower, surrounded by armed guards, Lapis, a sheathed Daiklave at his hand, is seated next to Enandi Iobana, a Wood Aspect and head of a local noble family. At their feet, bound and gagged, Foam Spiral struggles against her chains. Lapis greets Pragatima warmly, thanking her for her trust, and the two start discussing the situation, royally ignored by Enandi, absent-mindedly stunning and tuning her rebab.

The Fire Aspect tells Pragatima about the Wyld Hunt he is assembling, and reveals that he knows the Anathema who assaulted the Bey of the Fiery Isles bore the tattoos of an Illuvari Flashing Mirror. As he came to Baliad, he learned that they were also looking for Illuvari slaves and figured that they might know where his quarry went to ground. As the Hazan mercenary hints at a partnership with Star Prince Zapir and suggest that they were simply looking for him and his bodyguards, the two sorcerers see a dark shape flying toward them: Lapis’s giant bat, guarding the skies. Beyaloa flees, crashing the Cirrus Skiff in the sea to escape from the beast.

Unaware of the situation, Pragatima keep discussing the situation with the two Dragon-Blooded, eventually coming to an agreement: she and her friends will keep looking for Rain Pearl, and will notify Lapis when they find her, in exchange for Foam Spiral’s freedom. With a nod, Lapis agrees, still somewhat suspicious.

Everyone is on edge when they meet again, and they agree that something must be done to stop the burgeoning Wyld Hunt before they learn too much and fall on the circle. Killing them is hardly an option, as that would draw even more unwanted attention and possibly precipitate their fate. There is no other clear option : Rain Pearl must die.

Or at least appear to. Finding a fresh body is not hard, though there is a stringent debate between Rohim and the rest of the group concerning the ethics of such a thing. But time is of the essence, and much to the physician’s chagrin, he soon has at his feet the corpse of a pirate girl, taken from their hidden cove in the dead of night. Both Rain Pearl and Rohim go to work, the Zenith replacing the original hand with the tattooed one he saved earlier, and the Night working her own brand of magic, disguising the pirate girl and making her look like a copy of herself. Her anima starting to burn, she turns towards the rest of the group, and draws her weapon.

In the darkness of the last hour before dawn, their fight is awe-inspiring, the Night’s anima flaring bright next to the city gates, as she evades the spears of Hazan riders and gusts of flame called by Harik’s Burning Name. The lightshow is visible far and wide, alerting the city guards and the rare passersby and sailors up at this early hour, but it is over in the few minutes: in the midst of the Voriyaras’ camp, the Anathema lays dead, surrounded by burning tents and the bloodied faces of those who cornered her.

Episode 21
A Price on Freedom

After meeting one last time with Sondahk to discuss an eventual mining expedition with Harik and negotiate “renting” Ami in the future, the circle leave the town… not towards the sea, but towards the mountains.

An hour’s walk away from the outskirts of Ma Nao, they come upon their agreed meeting place, a small clearing dotted with old stones, from which they can see the whole bay. As the light rain stops, they watch a giant bat circle the ships and settling next to a watchtower, but are interrupted by Faj’s arrival. The young heir is accompanied by a friend and a doctor, and the three present their weapons to Beyaloa for inspection.

Silently, the duelists take their place at the center of the clearing, their flame pieces in hand, waiting for the other to flinch or blink. They both know that a single shot of firedust is all they have, and that they must make that shot count. The silence of the clearing after the rain is tense, and Pragatima is the first to move: a feint at first, as she grabs the unfamiliar weapon to force her adversary to act. The blast of fire catches her in the shoulder, not enough to stop her momentum, and she aims for Faj’s hand, burning him and forcing him to drop the flame piece.

As soon as it started, the duel is over, Rohim and Faj’s physician rush to help their respective friends. The insult burnt away by cleansing fire, Faj and Pragatima meet once more at the center, both expressing gratitude at having only lightly wounded the other.

The circle then goes back to the palace one last time to pay their respect to the Bey’s family before leaving, and learn that he is meeting a Dragon-Blooded from Ayodhya, who came in riding a giant bat this morning. Afraid that this might be the premises of a Wyld Hunt, the circle leaves as quietly as possible.

The journey to Baliad is short and calm, and the group spends the better part of it resting on the ship, preparing their plan for the next few days. After a night at sea, the Temeraire and the old pirate ship finally arrive at Baliad’s port, where slave workers are busy working on a massive sea-wall to the south. As they start walking toward the home of their contact, they notice the fresh paint on all the building they pass, the walls depicting scenes of popular stories or colorful landscapes, and the numerous artists plying their trade on the streets. Beyaloa also notes that some nobles have retinues of silver-masked warriors, a sneer appearing on her face at the view of the dream-eaten.

They are warmly welcomed by Teferi, a local noble serving as queen Saramen’s agent, who gives them his perspective on the shift in politics of the recent years, saying that the local Bey is using distrust of the Twelve to fire up his supporters and unite them behind him: his refusal to provide troops to Ansibah was public and impressively popular.

He also mentions the Way of Inspiration, adding that while the silver masks are supposedly simple mercenaries for hire, most people who employ them seem to be followers of the local cult, only furthering Beyaloa’s suspicion that they are at last close to the den of her Fair Folk nemesis.

Before dealing with the Bey or the cult, however, they agree that looking for Rain Pearl’s Prince is a more urgent matter: Baliad being a center of the slave trade, they know that there is a chance that he might pass through the local slave market if a ransom is not asked before that, and so spend the afternoon looking around, interrogating slave merchants to learn about newly arrived Illuvari or good fighter slaves.

As they talk about exotic slaves, Pragatima and Rain Pearl learn that at least one Hazan serves as a gladiator slave for a rich local family. They end up bribing a local merchant to meet a guildsman who has links with the slave trade, and end up face to face with Mahel of Agate. Passed the initial surprise, the rector tells them she hasn’t seen any people matching their description in the past few weeks, but will keep an eye out for them and warn the circle if necessary.

Harik and Beyaloa, on the other hand, knowing through the sorceress’ Infallible Messenger that Zapir is alive and held somewhere in a warehouse, decide to check the outskirts of the city, and step on their Cirrus Skiff to watch the terrain from the sky. A few hours of flight give them at least a few candidates, from simple farms to a smallish but comparatively heavily guarded compound a few hours walk south of the city.

Slowly, they make their way back to their room at Teferi’s villa, the night already heavy on the painted city.

Episode 20
A House Divided

It is no secret that the palace of Ma Nao is built in the ruins of an ancient temple: like most of the city, its walls were standing long before the pirate lords who became the first Beys ever settled to rule. And it is in the old shrine, where the walls still depict the heroes and gods of old in mother-of-pearl, that the council is held.

The room is filled with local lord and citizens, all hoping to resolve their issues and grievances through the elusive Bey. The debate over naming an heir or a regent is already well underway when the circle is led inside, and Rohim is asked to testify on Navayanan Yora’s health, in order to prove Piliang and Yembe’s claim that naming an heir would be premature, and that a regent could suffice to lighten the Bey’s load until his health is better. Of course, the separatists see this as a power grab, and attempt to smear the physician by painting him as a charlatan working for queen Saramen or one of the Bey’s wives. Beyaloa and Pragatima defend their friend’s expertise, and accusations fly, the Hazan woman even going so far as to imply that Faj, Yono’s first born-son and a popular figure amongst the separatist, is responsible for the attempt on his father’s life.

But slowly, the calm demeanor of the Zenith and his credentials convince the few fence-sitters, and Yembe is named regent. As Yono and the separatist start to protest, the Bey surprises everyone by decreeing that while she is regent, he does not give her the power to choose a successor, and that should he die of natural causes before getting better, Faj shall be the next Bey.

While the audience is processing this unforeseen turn of event, the newly named heir comes toward Pragatima, asking her to apologize publicly for her insinuations. When the Hazan refuses, he nods gravely, and names the firewand as his weapon of choice for their duel. The Dawn accepts, to the horrified gasps of her circlemates, and the council is back in session.

Meanwhile, Harik’s Peronelle starts muttering about a great silence, forcing him to find a more secluded spot in order to talk with the demon-armor. Hmaiyeroba tells her master that she feels suddenly strained, as if a sorcerous force was keeping her from the flows of essence. The sorcerer thanks her, and starts pondering silently if he knows and artefact or a spell able to weaken demons this way.

After settling a few minor matter (chief amongst them the news that the Pure Way has sent word to the coast about an Anathema being sighted on the island), the Bey and the new regent ask Beyaloa about queen Saramen order to send part of their fleet to the city of Ansibah. Cautious, the circle asks for the rest of the nobles to leave, and tells them plainly about the People of the Sea and the menace of the Unificator; showing them memories of their meeting with M’’ui’rin through her Hearthstone.

The news is grave enough to get everyone on the same page: something must be done, and the Bey decides to send part of his fleet north to join with the armada. Abduraman volunteers to accompany the ships, in order to make sure that they will be used wisely and protect the south if the need arises.

As the council breaks up, the circle breathe a collective sigh of relief: their mission here is done, and at last they can leave the Fiery Isles… once Pragatima’s duel is settled.

Episode 19
Children and Heirs

The night is tense. Guards have been posted everywhere on the palace grounds, the intendant even calling on the local chapter of the Children of the Spear to protect the guards. The circle is awoken by a servant bringing them breakfast : a simple vegetable soup with fruitbread. Before the meal is over, Rohim leaves silently, quickly followed by Pragatima. In the gardens, they walk in silence for a time before the physician blurts out an explanation for saving Panman ; reasonning that this will help them ingratiate themselves and admitting that he couldn’t have done anything else anyway. Once she is assured that the prince will not be able to confront or oppose them for the next few days at the very least, Pragatima mellows somewhat, accepting the young Zenith’s judgement.

The days is spent waiting for Piliang’s return and the council. But waiting does not mean staying idle, and the circle spend the day intriguing, meeting with as many people as possible in order to further their agenda and decide who to back as a heir. Most do, at least : Rain Pearl, taxed by events of the previous days, elects to wait on the beach, in order to parse her toughts away from the tense atmosphere of the palace. As she walks towards the shore with Harik, they stumble on a crowd massing in front of the sanctuary of the Children of the Spear : monks and followers of the Pure Way are forming a human chain in front of the entrance to keep the warrior-monks inside.

Investigating, Harik learns that while the followers of the Honored Ancestors and the Pure Way are both planning to call for a Wyld Hunt to run down the Anathema who attempted to attack the royal family, the Children of the Spear are planning to flush out the Wretched hiding in their midst themselves. Fearing that such a move would invite retaliationg, the adepts of the Pure Way have sent word to the coast and are ready to use force to keep the Children from doing anything until Dragon-Blooded help arrives.

Harik spend a while talking to the leaders, hammering out a deal and forcing them to cooperate in order to make sure that the Anathema doesn’t escape the town. In exchange for the help of the Pure Way monks, the Children promise not to try anything unless their hand is forced. Hoping that this agreement will suffice to stop the violence, he heads on to meet Sondahk and discuss his particular brand of metalurgy, spending most of the morning talking to the thaumaturge.

Unaware of the religious tensions brewing in the town, Beyaloa and Pragatima meet with Yembe, the Bey’s second wife, eager to know more about her before they commit to backing anyone. They talk about local politics, and she explains her version of the family conflict, deploring the fact that her eldest son walked away from politics to join the cult of the Honored Ancestors.

In the meantime, Rohim goes to see the Bey directly, hoping to finnally have to opportunity to treat him. Using the fact that he saved Panman’s life, he is escorted to the Bey’s room, where he finds Yono, his last wife, mother to Panman and stauch separatist, caring for her husband. After some hesitation, she lets him help her husband, keeping a watchfull eye on him.

As Piliang’s ship is sighted in the bay, the circle meets next to the port to share their perspective on the day. Pragatima and Beyaloa are unwilling to back Piliang’s daughter as an heir : while her loyalty to the crown could be an asset, her lack of popular support could lead to more unstability and could see more people flocking to the separatist’s banner.

Rohim chimes in, telling them that he can probably end up curing Navayaman’s dementia, provided he comes back a few time in the next months. Already, he has managed to give him back some clarity of mind, even if this cannot last without further treatment. This means that the Bey will probably be able to choose his own heir in a few month’s time, and that naming a regent in the meantime could also suffice.

Accompanying Piliang to her quarter, the circle explain their vision to her, hoping that she will agree to back Yembe’s claim as regent instead of risking one of Yono’s sons becoming heir. Somewhat taken aback, she takes some time to reflect before agreeing, a sour taste in her mouth.

Episode 18
Ghostly Blades

The rain and surf make the cliffside slippery and treacherous, and it takes all of Rain Pearl’s skill to get to the top without cutting herself on the facade of the coral. As she arrives on the plateau overlooking the sea, she looks around her, but it is already almost impossible to distinguish her allies: Pragatima and Rohim are hidden in a small cavern sculpted by the sea, ready to jump back into the sea and board Calyp once they manage to grab the Bey. Beyaloa and Harik are lost in the clouds, acting as lookouts from the safety of their Cirrus Skiff.

For an instant Rain Pearl can’t help but feel in over her head; accepting to help her newfound allies is one thing, but as she sees the small fortress lying between the shore and the mountain, guarded by soldiers and warrior-ghosts, she shudders in the warm rain before advancing.

Meanwhile, Rohim and Prgatima notice marks on the ground of the narrow cave. Following them inside, they stumble on a small rowboat, complete with multiple disquises and a boxfull of deadly poisonned coneshells, recently harvested : they realise that someone else is infiltrating the fortress, and quickly sabotage the small boat and leave the cave, waiting for any sign of distress.

Unaware of the new complication, Rain Pearl is slowly searching the castle room by room, avoiding patrols (and quickly putting a page to sleep when he stumbles upon her.) It is only when she finds a suit of copper armor pierced by a dagger blow next to the Bey’s study that she begins to suspect foul play. Finding the Bey sleeping, she quickly drugs him and puts him on her shoulders… only to come face to face with a servant holding a vicious-looking dagger, who closes the door silently before jumping on her.

A furious duel starts, both fightersstruggling to keep as silent as possible as they exchange vicious blows in the dark room. They trained bodyguard manages to disarm her opponent, but she soon realises how outclassed she is when the misterious assaillant phases throught her next attack, leaving her oppen for a fatal counter.

And then there is light. Enough of it to bathe the room like a sun, enough to creep under the closed door and fire the suspicion of the palace guards. As stunned as her terrified opponent, Rain Pearl feels the deep, terrible power she has tapped into, her soul erupting around her in blue-white twin waves of phosphorescent light. Flowing like water, she dodges the killing blow with little to no apparent effort, and the assassing flees.

Knowing that she has little time before guards swarm her, Rain Pearl decides against pursuit, choosing to grab the Bey and fleeing, her blazing anima illuminating the castle grounds. Alerted by the light and the call of the guards, Pragatima jumps into action, and finds the newly exalted Night caste running towards the sea, ghost-warriors and guards in pursuit. They jump from the cliffside and the last thing the Bey’s guard see is a deep light sinking under the ship watching over the bay, plunging ever further under the surface…

Dawn cracks up the sky, melting the storm clouds away, and the group meet up on a small coral island, Calyp calmly letting her four passengers on the sand as the two sorcerers step down from Beyaloa’s Cirrus Skiff. They barely have time to catch some of the conversation, the Dawn and the Zenith reassuring a troubled Rain Pearl, when the Bey coughs and wakes up, interupting the exchange.

The circle try talking to him, soon realising that his mind is blurred by old age, and meanders throught the events of his life without order, mixing up his wives and conflating the wars he fought. They manage to get him to realise that the circumstance are dire, and he mentions the name of his admiral, telling them that he trusts him to make the proper choices.

Disapointed, they send for Abduraman, and find him in the midst of the chaos reigning in Ma Nao after the attack of the Bey’s fortress, both relieved at learning that the Bey is safe, and somewhat suspicious at their story of recapturing him from his Anathema kidnapper.

Bringing the Bey in the palace at Ma Nao, they find out that Piliang disapeared during the night, and the suspicions of the royal family soon fall upon her. Unwilling to lose a precious ally if she ends up an outlaw, Beyaloa interupts the debate amongst the potential heirs by contacting her on the spot throught an open use of her sorcery, and the discussion is soon brought to an end when she calls the wayward wife back. Still, with an Anathema on the loose and the Bey’s failing health, they agree that naming an heir as soon as possible is a priority, and everyone agree to reconvene the next day, hopefully with Piliang present.

Rain Pearl sleeps, for a while, exhausted by the event of the night. But this is no time for peace yet : as she falls into a deep slumbers, she finds herself in a great prison-palace of void and glass, miles long, tall as a mountain but far narrower. In the distance, a great blue light, a fire surrounding a many-armed spirit of obsidian and ectoplasm, who stares at her for a moment in silence before banishing her with a gesture and sending her back to her body. She wakes up sweating, unsure of the significance of such an omen.

After a quick rest, Rain Pearl and Pragatima tell the rest of the circle about their own suspicions, noting Panman’s suspect attitude during the discussion of the assassin. Eager to know more, Rain Pearl disapears for a few minutes and comes back wearing a nigh-perfect disguise of the woman she fought last night.

She infiltrates the prince’s quarters, finding him deep in toughts in his room. As predicted, he is nonplussed when he sees the pale woman enter, and asks her about the events of last night, annoyed at the perceived interference of the northern foreigners. But the conversation doesn’t go as planned : trying to act like an assassin-for-hire, Rain Pearl tries to negociate her pay, sending immediate red flags. Suspisious, the prince ask her how long they have known each other, drawing his dagger and yelling for his guards when she hesitates.

The gig is up, and Rain Pearl quickly disarms him. Acting without thinking, Panman throws an oil lamp at her, barely missing and setting fire to the room. As the first guards pour into the room, the Night caste cuts the prince with the dagger she grabbed from the original assassin, still coated in deadly poison. A shallow but fatal wound, before she disapears from view in the smoke and leaves her foes to deal with the fire.

She barely has time to get back to her circle to tell them what she learned. A page and two guards bursts into their bungalow, asking Rohim for his help : prince Panman has been poisonned, and they need a physician’s immediate assistance if he is to live. Ignoring the obvious insistent looks of his circlemates, the doctor leaves without saying a word.

The venom is known to him, after all : no need for a diagnostic, and he quickly stops the muscle paralysis and the respiratory failure before they can be fatal. Once the prince is out of danger, he stays for a moment, looking at the sleeping face of the ennemy he just saved, thinking. And with a sigh, goes out to confront his friends.

Episode 17
A Drifting Pearl

The sun is already warm on Ma Nao, the bay shining like a turquoise in the morning light when a group of ship flying the colors of the Children of the Spear enter the bay. On their prow, Rain Pearl is resting after her ordeal of the last few days.

As she sets foots on the docks, and thanks the captain, she stumbles upon the crew of the Temeraire and recognises the circle. They greet each other warmly, commenting on the unlikeliness of meeting so far from Dir-Jal, and invite the obviously tired Rain Pearl in their bungalow. Here, she tells them the story of how she lost her ward, recounting the pirate ambush and their capture as they were travelling towards Ysir. She turns sour as she recalls her escape and the day she spent drifting at sea before being picked up by the small fleet.

Concerned, Pragatima promises that they will help if they can. Harik and Rohim suggest asking the local admiral for help, as they already discussed the issues of piracy in the south, but Beyaloa has a better idea : grasping at the tendrils of Essence around her, she sends an Infaillible Messengers to Zapir directly. Seeing throught the eye of the cherubim, she finds him drugged in a cave, along with a dozen other bodies. Unable to respond coherently, but for now at least, alive.

They find Abduraman and tell him about the lost Star-Prince, and he agrees to send two fast ships to Baliad and Bali’n in order to look for Zapir in the local slave markets, reasoning that this is probably the fate the pirates have in mind for their prisonniers.

After a small rest, the group finally meet with Sondahk, the thaumaturge known for directing the making of the copper armors used by the ghostly guards of the archipelago. They are warmly greeted at the red tower overlooking the town. Eager the sell the cover they established, Beyaloa and Harik spend most of the dinner talking ship and establishing plans for an eventual sale. Pragatima tries to pick their host’s brain about Ami, his godblooded slave, without much success. The meal ends late, with plans made to pursue negociations in the coming days.

But as the island rests and falls into sleep, the circle leave their bungalow under cover of night. The plans have been made, the occasion ripe : tonight, before anyone can question the reason for their presence further, they will capture theBey, and try to learn more from his mouth. They cannot afford waiting more. As a warm rain starts to fall, they go over their plan once more.

Episode 16
The Brew of Unrest

Outside the town, where the forest reclaims its right and where the last ruined walls are used as orchards and livestock pens, the circle meets Piliang, having dinner with friends under a pavilion. As they share their meal, the Bey’s wife informs them that her husband has been sick for a while, governing when able and otherwise staying in a forteress along the coast. In the meantime, the power vaccum has left his heirs fighting amongst themselves for influence, trying to shape the court to their ideals.

As in much of the southern territories, some people resent being ruled by Ansibah, and while outright rebellion hasn’t yet been an issue, being contrary to those from the rest of the Twelve Thrones is seen as a show of strenght. Being loyalists to the Twelve, Piliang and her daugther are afraid that separatists may be gaining too much power, and she offers her help to the queen’s envoys, promising to try and introduce Rohim as a court physician.

During the afternoon, they meet Panman, one of the youngest son of the Bey and a avowed separatist. He asks them the reason for their presence, telling them that he can interceed in the place of the Bey for them. Unwilling to reveal their mission, Pragatima tells him that they are here to learn about the strange copper armors made by the local artisans for the ghostly warrior-servants of the Fiery Isles. They talk about the local family of thaumaturges who craft them, and the Bey’s son lets them go, still somewhat wary. Something in their attitude doesn’t ring true.

The circle dines with the Admiral once more, and Beyaloa makes plans to send her new corsair crews on some exercices with his ships. Then, in the dead of night, the sorceress summons her Cirrus Skiff, and leaves with Harik to scout the Bey’s fortress on the coast. They find it well guarded, atop a small cliff riddled with holes hollowed out by the sea. From one window they get a glimpse of the Bey, incoherently raving near his bed, but they decide to leave without attempting anything… for now.

Episode 15
The Sea That Smokes

The Sea of Dreams is clear and blue, the sun of the late Wood season shining bright over the clear, deep waters. At the helm of her ship, Beyaloa is steering toward the great white plume of clouds marking the Fiery Isles. The rest of the group (along with three of the Voriyaras) is trying not to get in the way of the three sailors actually working, Pragatima racing with Beyaloa’s tidemare Calip on the surface of the water, Harik sculpting and talking with Beyaloa about sorcerous workings projects, and Rohim taking care of Onirim, who spends his day looking at the horizon on the prow.

They are a couple of days away from their first destination when they notice a quartet of sails coming towards them, three of them visibly intent on intercepting their small ship. Immediately, Pragatima jumps in the tidemare and goes under the surface. Their fears are confirmed when the first ship lets loose a volley of fiery arrows on the Temeraire, setting fire to the sail.

But no pirate ship can last long against the might of a circle of Exalts. Rohim and Beyaloa’s sailors quickly put down the sail and try to keep the fire in check, and the two sorcerers start to incant. They would be easy prey for the archers, but a powerful shout from the Dawn shakes their ship like a reef, cracking the cracks the underside of their hull and throwing off their aim. A few seconds later, one of the pirate ship’s prows explodes in a burst of fire, Harik’s incandescent Raptor igniting the archer’s oil. The second ship is battered by Beyaloa’s Obsidian Butterflies, the stone insects shredding sails and ropes, leaving the pirates exposed and wounded.

The third pirate ship starts to flee, and Pragatima sends another shockwave throught the hull before boarding it. There is a moment of indecision as the crew hesitates to surrender, and their captain, her face still covered with war-paint, throws her weapons to the deck and falls on her knees… only to be suddenly decapitated by the Hazan woman.

Horrified, Beyaloa forces herself to maintain her composure, and she soons board the pirate ship, taking command by sheer force of will. She accept the pirates’s surrender, allowing their second-in-command to put a rowboat down to help the other crews.

Meanwhile, the fourth ship is approaching the scene, and the pirate crew recognise it as a dhow used by a renowed pirate-hunter. Unfazed, the group calmly waits and meet their captain, who introduces himself as Karo-karo, and congratulate them on their prowess. He invites them on his ship to discuss where to send the captured pirates, but Beyaloa refuses, saying that she prefers to keep them under her command for the time being. Taken aback, Karo-karo tells them that captured pirates are usually sold as slaves in the south, and that they should not set such a precedent. He ends up bowing out of the conversation, obviously concerned about angering two powerful sorcerers, and intrigued at the reason for their presence.

After a few days of travelling around the volcanic north of the main island, the Temeraire and the two captured pirate ships arrive at the clear turquoise bay sprinkled with ancient ruins, where the city of Ma Nao has been built amongst the crumbled walls, temples and towers of a long-lost metropolis.

They are received by agents of the local bey, and offered a house inside the palace ground. As they wait for the bey to receive them, they start visiting the city, enjoying the hot springs and the sights, striking conversations with the locals. Pragatima, uneasy about the open slavery and the ghostly soldier wandering the street in copper armor, questions ayoung godblooded slave to learn more about the local culture. Later, they also meet Abduraman, the local admiral, and end up having a chat with him during dinner, learning that the Bey has been hard to reach for a while, and that most petitionners end up giving up before ever getting a meeting.

Then, late at night, as they come back to their house, Rohim bashfully trying his best to forget the vision of Pragatima bathing in the nude and almost carrying a too-drunk-to-walk Harik, they are greeted by Piliang, the second wife of the Bey, standing in their living room. Apologising for the intrusion, she explains that they might have a common goal, and invites them to eat with her outside Ma Nao the next day, leaving the group suspicious but interested in discovering more about the intrigue they apparently stumbled upon.


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