The Circle stepped out of the Tale of Jamal’s Fall, and began to speak with the Aspects of Jamal.
The Aspects offered to impart what knowledge they could to the Circle, but revealed that, contrary to what Sundered Cliff had thought, no device existed within the Citadel Inevitable that would allow the Circle to simply destroy the Deep Docks to prevent Tzo Lien and his Lintha from getting access to them. Rather, the Citadel stood as a test, a mark as to what the Circle was capable of, especially as they grew in power and took their place in destiny. They asked what had caused the Circle to think such a thing, to which Sundered Cliff replied that it was Grandmother Bright who had sent them forth. The Jamals stated that they had known Grandmother Bright before she withdrew from active Godhead, when she was known as Sanguine Bright Saber, the Goddess of Betrayal and Vengeance. Jamal had learned the secret of creating Essence-filled vessels from an Exalt called Ortigne, a Twilight caste thief that used duplicates to elude Grandmother Bright’s vengeance.
Sundered Cliff then asked if the men that the Jamals had been embodied the same Virtues that the Standard Bearer and the Ring Keeper had talked of, just before Sundered Cliff and V’neef Kafun entered the Story. He replied that they had. Sundered Cliff then asked if there was any danger of their personalities being totally subsumed; the Jamals did not believe so, as the various symbols helped them maintain the Virtues that allowed them to wield them in the first place.
Obsidian Skye expressed her distress with her growth in power, as she felt that the Exalts were capable of Creation-rending mistakes, especially given the mistakes that they had just seen Jamal make. She expressed how many questions she had about who and what she was, from the shifting of her caste mark to her compulsion to placate the dead. She asked Sundered Cliff if the Unconquered Sun ever spoke to him directly; he said that he sometimes got flashes of insight, but replied that attracting the Unconquered Sun’s full attention was a prospect that terrified him, in a way, for the full gaze might burn him as the sun’s heat scorched the desert sands. Even as Shadow-in-the-Jungle attempted to comfort her and assure her of her place within the Tapestry, explaining that while the Solars could master skills to degrees that she could not, as a Chosen of Luna she could innovate in ways the Solars never could. Meanwhile, the Jamals corrected Sundered Cliff, explaining that in the Presence of the Unconquered Sun, one’s mind would be overwhelmed by the need to comprehend only Him, and hear only the pure wisdom of the pattern of Creation that His words would reveal. V’neef Kafun peered closely at her aura, revealing that her Essence flow was damaged. Shadow-in-the-Jungle looked closer, and expressed confusion at that, stating that it seemed normal to him. The examination went around the room, and each of the Exalts appeared to have some damage to the flow of their Essence.
Then the Jamals looked at V’neef Kafun, and things took a surprising turn. The Jamals asked V’neef Kafun exactly WHAT he was. He professed that he was a Dragon-Blooded, which the Jamals denied. Neither Obsidian Skye nor Sundered Cliff was particularly happy about the fact that V’neef Kafun had apparently been lying to them for some time.
V’neef Kafun sighed, and his face then drained of color, becoming a pallid gray. His armor seemed to flip around on his chest, and his flesh appeared to become metallic, leaving a man made of a composite of metals, its hands glowing with a blue aura of power, a gem set into its forehead.
According to V’neef Kafun, he was a servant of the being who had taught The Unconquered Sun, Luna, and the Maidens how to create Exalts, to fight creatures he called the Primordials. He called this being Autochthon, or the Maker. He also claimed that he was an Exalt of the Maker, implying that the Maker would not have passed on the process without testing it first.
Sundered Cliff was shocked – this was something he had never heard of before. He was aware of the various beings that the “Anathema” had forsaken, but this was far beyond his ken. Obsidian Skye was also surprised, but less so, and continued to ask V’neef Kafun about himself.
He revealed that unlike Exalts of the other Incarnae, he was more of a gestalt of consciousnesses that had contained the Exaltation. Much like the Jamals, as it turned out, much of who V’neef Kafun is resides within the gem on his forehead. V’neef Kafun went on to explain some more about himself, as much as he thought he might be able to explain that Sundered Cliff would be able to understand, which admittedly was not much beyond what had already been revealed.
Even as he struggled to comprehend all that had been revealed and spoken of, Sundered Cliff asked if the Jamals might spare a list of materials, so that the Circle could improve Celestine Arrow and the ship could grow weapons. In exchange, the Circle had to bring materials back, as well as obscure the tomb, and discourage Grandmother Bright from sending anyone else out to the Citadel. V’neef Kafun also asked that his true nature remain a secret, to which Sundered Cliff and Obsidian Skye rapidly agreed, pointing out that Civilization tended to erupt whenever a non-Dragonblooded Exalt was revealed. They couldn’t imagine what the revelation of The Maker’s Exalts would provoke.
The Circle moved the boulders back to block the Tomb, and hauled the loan down to the shoreline from the cliffs. They sent the hawk from Sundered Cliff’s bracer to signal the Celestine Arrow, and the ship made its way back to them. They brought the metals on board, which pleased the ship greatly. It revealed that it would grow the weapons in about 5 months of time. This meant that the Circle would be unable to attack Tzo Lien, as they had hoped to, and so they decided to head for Chiaroscuro.
Before they left, however, Obsidian Skye took some time to herself, and stalked a hawk. She caught the animal and consumed it ritually, and gained the ability to take the hawk’s shape. Revelling in her new shape, she flew back to where the Circle waited with the Celestine Arrow. She watched them for a time, and then swooped down and plucked a fish from the water, flying with it back to the deck of the ship. Sundered Cliff grumbled a bit about nothing seemed to hold its shape around him anymore, which he found damned inconvenient in some ways.
The Circle headed back to Chiaroscuro, with Obsidian Skye flying to scout ahead of the ship. She caught sight of a merchant vessel that had been hulled, apparently by the same sea monsters Tzo Lien commanded. Judging from its position, it had been trying to sail into Chiaroscuro when it was caught. They headed onward, arriving in the city deep in the night.
As they sailed into Dock Eight, Sundered Cliff caught sight of a shark-like figure in the water that quickly began swimming away from Chiaroscuro into the open sea. The Circle realized that they had been spotted, and that Tzo Lien and his Lintha would be attacking the docks soon.
While V’neef Kafun and Sundered Cliff prepared inside Dock Eight, moving some more barrels of the nutrient paste onto Celestine Arrow and sending the hawk messenger to retrieve Autumn’s Fire and Tauros, Obsidian Skye went forth to Grandmother Bright’s pavilion, which, as it was night, had a court of ghosts. She spoke with Grandmother Bright, arranging to meet with the Hand of the River and informing Grandmother Bright of the threat that was coming. A short time later, she met with the Hand, and asked if the River would be able to help. The Hand informed her that it would be for the best if the Circle would be able to resolve the matter itself, but that the River would be prepared should they fail.
Annoyed, Obsidian Skye headed back to the docks and informed the others that they were on their own. The Circle settled in, preparing their defenses for the fight to come…