Yesterday's Sins, Tomorrow's Promise

The Lion's Outstretched

The First and Forsaken Lion. A new enemy of Creation. Called a Deathlord by some.

And apparently with designs on Chiaroscuro.

A plague of Shadowlands began to rise throughout Chiaroscuro, unleashing many hungry ghosts. Skye recalled that something similar happened in Thorns, prior to its destruction at the hands of the creature called The Mask of Winters.

Kafun returned, revealing that he’d managed to misdirect the efforts within the Southern Deserts, and prevent the activation of what turned out to be a Manse of possibly enormous power that the 17th Legion was apparently attempting to protect… or activate.

The Circle discussed the many hungry ghosts that had been rising. They searched, and discovered that an agent of the Lion, called the Curator, was placing fetishes around the great glass plain of the City, attempting some sort of magic. He was employing creatures called Mortwrights, which apparently operate as priests of the dark forces within the Underworld, to place these items. The fetishes used blood, which the Mortwrights obtained from random attacks. Someone on the skin of Creation, meanwhile, was displacing the salt lines that had been sealing the Shadowlands shut…

The Circle learned later that Sapphire, their favorite barmaid, had gone missing, apparently in the company of a man. They investigated, finding that the mysterious man was a member of the Tri-Khan’s Palace Guard, who had also been missing for some time, and been seen near the opened gates to the Underworld. When they gathered the information about the guard, they sought a meeting with his Captain… only to be greeted by Temuz and a famous Ifrit sifu. It was the Sifu’s manse that was sought by the Curator, likely to enable an assault upon the Manse by the Curator’s forces.

Temuz revealed that the Ambassador from Harborhead had been assassinated by her bodyguard, a bride of Ahlat. Sundered Cliff remarked that it was unlikely that a Bride of Ahlat would do such a thing… and more unlikely that she would commit suicide afterward. Similar crimes were being reported around the city – outbreaks of insane violence.

And Sapphire had been seen near several of these sites.

Realizing that the Curator was likely behind this, and had their friend under some sort of control, the Circle spread out, searching for her. They encountered her near Grandmother Bright’s plaza, talking to two people, who quickly went into murderous rages against the Circle. Once the Circle subdued them, they went to inform Grandmother Bright, who stormed from her Pavilion in her full Battle-Readied Glory. She charged the Circle to end this influence upon her people.

So they went forth into the Underworld, by way of one of the gates, destroying two Mortwrights and engaging the Curator within his Manse, along with 4 of his servants. The fight was furious – even the mightiest blows of the Circle seemed to barely hurt the Curator, though his servants fell easily enough. The Curator unleashed a blast of necrotic lightning, which nearly killed Yaro, Black Fly’s Dragon-Blooded apprentice. Sundered Cliff, feeding on his pain, drew deep, and unleashed furious blow after furious blow upon the Curator, backing up Obsidian Skye’s furred fury and flying fans.

Eventually, they succeeded, splitting the cadaverous creature open, and freeing his four captives: the Ambassador from the Lap, Cathak, Darius Gray, a mid-level financial minister from the Palace of the Tri-Khan, the Palace Guard, and Sapphire. They returned to the Entryway, exiting the Shadowlands and emerging once more into the sunlit world…

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In the Lap of Luxury

The party decided, while Kafun was traveling, to greet the new Ambassador to Chiaroscuro from the Lap. Hamat managed to finagle Obsidian Skye in as his escort while Sundered Cliff acted as a bodyguard. Black Fly managed to crash the party after introducing the staff to a large barrel of wine. The party discovered that the Ambassador was wearing 5 pieces of jewelry similar to those the previous ambassador had been wearing – and that he was fully aware of them.

Skye managed to tip the new Ambassador off about their awareness of his jewelry, then quickly left after he dropped a pointed hint about introducing them to the manufacturer.

The Party met the Emissary for dinner, and discussed most of what they had learned. Later, they journeyed to the Deep Docks, and took the Celestine Arrow out into the bay while discussing Black Fly’s plans for bringing literacy to the masses of Creation.

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Black Fly's Downtime

Black Fly’s Down time

First Month:
Based on Dreams of the first age Discovered his Manse where he found an artifact essence powered brush. The brush records brushstroke made by the user, and then quickly makes them again when called for allowing someone to quickly make multiple copies of the exact same calligraphy. It has a near infinite recollection of strokes and can make as many copies as demanded.

Use the brush to start producing The Chronicle of Creation’s Contemptible Failure, A quarterly Journal of Black Fly’s writings.

Fell asleep in a brothel and dropped his pipe setting the place on fire. Ran naked and screaming through the streets, as he used essence to keep himself from burning to death.
Began composition of a series of simple songs designed to be sung along with doing farm and peasant work. These songs in conjunction with a few simple dance moves and drawing in dirt and sand are intended to help people learn the basics of how to read.

Second Month:
Drank Sludge wine with the Nezumi and passed out for several days only being awoken when one of the cross bread females tried to mate with him.

Starts teaching the reading songs to peasants in the various areas where he travels.

Spends the day first attacking and then politely speaking with the demon Gervasin, who is dedicated to love and to defending Chiaroscuro

Fell asleep in a brothel and dropped his pipe setting the place on fire. The building was saved but the owner in the process of attempting to get Black Fly to pay for the damages revealed that some of the girls there were not working there willingly. Thirty eight kidnapped women were brought home to their families; the town got a new community storage building and a new town drunken eunuch.

Arranged with the Guild to export The Chronicle of Creation’s Contemptible Failure all across creation.

Third Month:
One of the women from the human trafficking brothel named Yellow Yarrow appears at the Inn where Black Fly is staying. She threatens to stalk him and sneak herbs into his food that will make him constipated for weeks if he does not allow her to become his apprentice. During the ensuing screaming match in the attempt to physically remove her from the inn Yellow Yarrow summons essence and throws Black Fly sending him through several walls before his momentum stops. The building sets on fire. Black Fly decides to hire Yellow Yarrow as his body guard.

Worked with an artisan in Chiaroscuro to create the first non-essence using printing press.

Fourth Month:
Yellow Yarrow slips herbs into Black Fly’s pipe weed that makes him constipated for one full month for not making her his apprentice.
Not much else happens that month.

Fifth Month:
Fell asleep in a brothel and dropped his pipe setting the place on fire. Fire spread to destroy almost the entire village, but it was ok because they were dicks and the fire revealed that they were secretly Yozi worshipers

Heard in a bazaar The Chronicle of Creations Contemptible Failure called The Failure Chronicle.

Awoken by Gervasin in the middle of the night to help him hunt bandits. Gervasin Black Fly and his filthy apprentice Yellow Yarrow track and hunt a small group of bandits that bear marks of the wild.

Meditating on visions from the first age and extrapolating upon the artifact brush invented movable type.

Sixth Month:
Organizing to reproduce and sell printing presses to private entities, and cities.

Fell asleep in a brothel dropping his pipe and setting the place on fire. Several of Black Flies followers who were stalking him receive minor burns, the scars of which become a sort of status symbol among Black Fly devotees. Attacks a group of them later with a sack of glass jars full of watery manure, screaming and yelling that they are all mindless moronic drones that have no independent thought. Burns become a growing hidden symbol of Solar Exalted and Black Fly allegiance.
………………………………………….

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Finding the Trail

The Circle continued its investigation.

Kafun continued his surveillance on the Lap’s Embassy, watching it during the day. He observed a great deal of traffic from the 17th Legion… 4 different messengers showing up over 11 different trips. He had his spiders watch during the evenings…

Hatak continued his investigation of the 17th Legion and its Talon Lord. He discovered that the Talon Lord was fortifying the town of Valen, making it into a fortified outpost that could disrupt trade in the region, as well as ordering supplies from both the Realm as well as from Lap itself, suggesting a possible alliance between the two. The Talon Lord and his Legion were apparently resisting orders to return to the Blessed Isle in order to pursue a find in the deserts of the South… he arranged for tea with the Ambassador of the Lap the following afternoon.

Obsidian Skye again attempted to meet with Grandmother Bright, but the great spirit again was not in. She then visited the Deep Docks to meet with the Hand of the River (with Sundered Cliff in tow), to find out what she could. However, the Hand continued to be her usual cryptic self, revealing only that the River was not opposed to the goals of the Court of Orderly Flame. Sundered Cliff went to drink while Obsidian Skye arranged for a meeting with the Emissary of the Mist-Shrouded Isles, which would take place later that evening over drinks.

The Circle met with the Emissary, and informed him of their suspicions and what little they knew thus far. He was surprised to hear about the Circle of Orderly Flame, and also expressed an interest in them, as their goals apparently coincided with his.

The next morning, Kafun learned from his spiders that the Lap’s Ambassador had had some late-night visitors. The spiders weren’t intelligent enough to determine who these were, so Kafun decided to put them on the day watch while he would watch the Embassy in the evening.

In the meantime, Hatak met with the Ambassador. Using his considerable knowledge of bureaucratic procedure, the information he’d discovered, and her considerable stress, he discovered that the bracelet (that the automaton assassin was disguised as) was supposedly from On-Tang, according to the Ambassador. Continuing to obfuscate his intentions behind his speech, he managed to get the Ambassador to reveal that she was aware of the 17th Legion’s intentions. Finally, as she grew more and more frazzled, Hatak asked how the bracelet actually killed people.

Reacting on its own as the ambassador recoiled in fear, the bracelet leapt from her wrist, lashing out at Hatak, who rolled backward and fired his flamepiece at the creature. He scored a brief hit, yelling at the ambassador to call the beast off. She exclaimed that she couldn’t, and the creature lashed out at her, punching through her. Hatak took the opportunity to leap from the window and begin running, and the creature exploded through the wall and began to pursue.

Its figure was smoking in the sunlight, but this seemed only to enrage it as it continued to grow. Looking less like a centipede, the creature now looked like a roiling amalgamation of flesh and chitin, and was growing to enormous proportions. Hatak dodged in and out of alleys, hurrying to the Tower.

Sundered Cliff answered the door as the little bureaucrat fled inside, closing it just as the creature boiled up at the face of the building, slamming its flesh against the walls, faces appearing on its surface as it tried to get inside. After a few more blows to the wall, it began to quickly scuttle up the side of the building.

Everyone hurried upstairs, with Sundered Cliff and Kafun running up the stairway while Hatak and Skye took the lift. Skye took the opportunity to take on her War Form, assuming the shape of a gem-encrusted panther, which left Hatak aghast and drinking.

Kafun made it to the roof first, only to be struck from the stairway’s roof by the creature, which had anchored itself in a large, ink-black, flesh-woven web to the top of the building. He rolled away from its flurry of blows, getting grabbed by one of its barb but escaping any harm associated, then returning that strike with one of his own.

Sundered Cliff burst onto the scene like a bolt of lighting. He charged up the creature’s forming barbs, using them as stepping stones to leap, calling Slaughterwake to his hand at the top of his leap and then striking with the coruscating fury of the Unconquered Sun’s chosen warriors. He left a tremendous blow in the creature’s back/front as he landed on it, using its roiling plates of armor as flagstones amid the sea of writhing flesh.

Hatak used some potent alcohol and his flamepiece to burn away the fleshy webbing that the creature was placing over the doorway as Obsidian Skye ran onto the roof as well, her fans trailing in her wake and weaving their deadly dance. She leapt, striking with her poisoned claws, and then her fans whirled through the creature’s flesh.

Sundered Cliff was struck several times by a rain of probosces that manifested out of the creature, but had used his Essence to dodge the many enemies. He rallied to channel his Essence into another titanic strike, which left the creature split open and spraying putrescent ooze onto the roof, which began to dissolve in the light.

However, the fight did not stop there, as four smaller creatures crawled out of the remnants of its body. They were, thankfully quickly dispatched… too quickly for Obsidian Skye, who tried to stop Sundered Cliff mid-strike from killing the thing, but he was unable to pull his blow in time.

The Circle proceeded to ask Hatak what he had done to bring this thing upon them, and he revealed that it had attacked him at the Embassy of the Lap. Obsidian Skye left to find the Emissary, changing into a bird, and Kafun jumped down the side of the Tower, leaving an irate Sundered Cliff leading the inebriated Hatak.

Sundered Cliff and Hatak proceeded to the Embassy, finding an Immaculate Monk (the same gentleman who had come to their tower) leading an exorcism rite on the ruined building. The bureaucrat knew about an entrance in the back, and the two headed that way, unknowingly picking up Kafun as they did so.

The three headed into what remained of the office, finding 4 Realm Guardsmen present. Hatak dismissed them and began investigating thoroughly. He found plans for the Lap to collude with the 17th Legion’s desertion, going so far as to propose a military alliance between the two, after Kafun opened a safe…

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The Mystery Deepens

The Circle returned to their tower, finishing the events of the evening in something of a whisper.

Sundered Cliff reflected that it would be decent to have both the River and the Emissary owing him a favor.

On the morrow, they rose. Obsidian Skye and Night’s Orchid went to Grandmother Bright’s Plaza to speak with the venerable spirit, but found that she wasn’t receiving, and the golden golem left in her plaza couldn’t say when she would be back. She then took Night’s Orchid into the Deep Docks, introducing her sister to Celestine Arrow, before heading to attempt to find the Hand of the River, and speaking with her at length.

Kafun began to draw up a diagram of what little was known regarding the murder, trying to figure out what, exactly, the motive for the murder was, and who would benefit.

Sundered Cliff, meanwhile, went to the Gilded Lily to speak with Sapphire. He encountered some of Black Fly’s refugees there, but they kept a respectful distance, thankfully. He asked her if she knew old Jedeb, the caterer who had fled the Emissary’s estate. She directed him to Dammoth Ken, who owned the Gilded Lily, the Gull and other establishments. Ken, she said, would know better than she.

As he attempted to leave, one of the refugees stopped him, and asked him to stop and share his story with them. Sundered Cliff did not want to expose himself to the Immaculate Monks, and gruffly rebuffed them, heading out to the Gull.

There, he met Dammoth Ken, a short, rotund and rather crude little man. In Ken’s office, Sundered Cliff learned that old Jedeb usually could be found at the Three Eggs, a prestigious restaurant in the Old Town section of Chiaroscuro. Ken expressed some skepticism that someone like Sundered Cliff could even be present at an event where he could get the scraps from the table that Jedeb prepared.

Sundered Cliff expressed that he had indeed been to such an event, and then began to attempt to buy the Gilded Lily, something that Obsidian Skye had expressed an interest in doing. His attempt was laughably bad, and he left without having secured the establishment.

Meanwhile, Hatak had met with the Hand of the River as well, and with her assistance arranged to be become the Realm’s investigator of supernatural affairs, continuing his attempts to cover up the Circle’s action. He later came to the Tower, and was invited in to speak with them regarding their investigation, as was the Hand of the River.

The Hand remained rather cryptic – saying little and revealing less. The murdered man had been an agent of the River, but had not indicated that he had been compromised, or that anything else out of the ordinary had been reported. The Circle surmised that he had discovered something that evening that had likely led to his death. They learned that he did not live within the Embassy, and Sundered Cliff suggested that they needed to seek the man’s house.

They then went to the Three Eggs, seeking old Jedeb and his son. Hatak and Kafun questioned the younger man, and finally got some details of what he had seen. It was a centipede, opalescent, approximately 6-8 inches in size.

Kafun decided to infiltrate the Embassy of the Lap. While doing so, he recalled old Jedeb’s words, and this sparked a memory of Kafun’s, who recalled that the Ambassador from the Lap had been wearing a bracelet similar to the one described at one point, but was not wearing it when everyone was viewing the body. He also overheard the Ambassador complaining about impossible orders and a difficult situation, but she didn’t elaborate, as she was simply grousing to herself and unaware she was being observed.

After the dinner, they journeyed to the victim’s house. They searched, and found a recessed section of the floor that held two medallions. One was a silver medallion with a river etched onto, but the other was an orichalcum medallion. That was rare in and of itself, but the symbols etched on it were those of an esoteric secret society, The Society of Orderly Flame.

The Society, according to Kafun and Hatak, were a group of Creation-bound spirits that were bent on removing the corruption in Yu-Shan, and instilling Order. Nominally aligned with the Southern Spirit Court, the Circle was surprised to hear about them here…

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An Eventful Evening
Or, Our Dinner with The Emissary

It had been a week since the defeat of Tso Lien. The Circle recuperated, slowly tending to business that had been forgotten in the mad scramble to defeat the Lintha.

The morning became eventful shortly after dawn broke across Chiaroscuro. The Tower of the Anathema was shaken by a series of chants and cheers. Obsidian Skye opened the door to find a throng of people gathered, some with small shrines bearing the likenesses of the Circle being erected as well. She also found Black Fly at the head of these people, who immediately began to cheer as she came into view.

Realizing that this situation was untenable, she quickly pulled Black Fly inside the tower, who was accompanied by a tall statuesque young woman named Joanna. Black Fly told his Circle-mates that he had come from very far to bring the refugees into Chiaroscuro, and that apparently his tales had inspired them to come forth into the city proper to pay homage and ask for protection. Sundered Cliff and V’neef Kafun also made their way downstairs, the former massively hungover and annoyed by the noise from outside.

Quite soon, a Monk of the Immaculate Order arrived on the scene, along with an Iselsi Hatak, a bureaucrat of the Realm. The Monk, led by his niece, demanded that the people gathered in the plaza depart and turn away from heresy, lest it lead them into disaster. He was recognized as someone who had been a great hero to Chiaroscuro some 60 years ago, and his niece was an Immaculate Acolyte, and by reputation was known to be fulfilling her grand-uncle’s belief in her.

The tower dwellers filed outside, and asked the Immaculate Monk to halt his chastisement for a moment. Obsidian Skye then asked Black Fly to take his followers, who Sundered Cliff had learned had come from Thorns, out of the city proper, where they could set themselves up. Black Fly, in turn, asked Joanna to lead the people out while the Circle spoke to the Monk and the Bureaucrat.

Obsidian Skye set breakfast, and the group sat down to talk. Black Fly and the Monk sparred verbally for some time, before Black Fly then went on to explain more of what had happened to Thorns, or the remnants. Apparently, the things that sacked Thorns, under the leadership of a creature called the Mask of Winters, had begun to raise a vast army of the dead, and had begun to march. This army had besieged the village of the refugees, leaving only those who Black Fly shepherded away alive. Sundered Cliff remarked that an army of the dead would only grow as it expanded… but Thorns was some distance east of Chiaroscuro…

Eventually, Obsidian Skye sent the Monk on his way with promises that they would make sure that no more worship/heresy occurred, and that the Circle had not invited or incited such. The Bureaucrat also left, his calm somewhat disturbed by Black Fly‘s exuberant recall of their younger days on the Blessed Isle, especially involving a tale of gooseberries. He returned some of Black Fly’s discomfort, revealing Black Fly’s name (at the time) as Casco Rumbottom.

As the Circle continued to talk amongst themselves, another knock came at the door… this time, dressed in the livery of the being known as the Emissary. He extended an invitation to the entirety of the Circle to come to a dinner that evening at the Embassy of the Mist-Shrouded Isle.

Sundered Cliff reacted with a bit of horror – the thought of a formal dinner and hobnobbing with ambassadors was not something he looked forward to. Obsidian Skye almost agreed, but the Emissary’s messenger revealed that the Ambassador of Gem was a former gladiator himself, and so the evening might not prove entirely horrible. Obsidian Skye then decided that Sundered Cliff and Black Fly needed accoutrements in keeping with the formal dress the party called for, and dragged them into the mercantile districts in search of proper attire. She also stopped to inform Grandmother Bright about the developments in Thorns…

Later that evening, the Circle arrived at the sprawling manor house that was the Mist-Shrouded Embassy. There, they met many dignitaries, including the Ambassadors of Varang, Gem, The Lap, and Harborhead, as well as a Talon Lord of the 7th Legion of the Realm, and the Bride of Ah-lat the Sun Bull, who served the ambassador of Harborhead as a bodyguard. The Bureaucrat was also a guest. Small talk was made by most, though Sundered Cliff was determined not to drawn into idle conversation, as he was definitely uncomfortable in the situation they found themselves in. Obsidian Skye began speaking with the ambassador of Varang, talking with her regarding the rumors coming out of Thorns.

Sundered Cliff was greeted by the Ambassador of Harborhead and her guard. The Ambassador was most courteous, telling Sundered Cliff that she recognized him as a member of the Izhalvi tribe, and asked if, as his Ambassador, there was anything he might need. Sundered Cliff replied that while he had been born in Harborhead, he no longer viewed it as his home – it simply was the place of his birth. The Ambassador of Gem, however, blew through his dour nature like a desert whirlwind, laughing boisterously and seizing Sundered Cliff in a bear hug, saying that he too had once been a slave, as well as a Gladiator, and that he was now an ambassador. Sundered Cliff had heard a bit of Gem’s policy of slavery, and did not think that the Ambassador understood truly what it was to be a slave. Out loud, he replied to the Ambassador that he longer fought in the arenas, as it brought back bad memories of his time in bondage.

Their host soon entered, and ushered everyone to dinner. Various conversations sprung up during and after dinner. Kafun spoke with the Ambassador of Varang and their host regarding the nature of Fate and the Exalted’s influence on the Weave of Creation. Obsidian Skye, Black Fly, and Sundered Cliff spoke with the Ambassadors of Harborhead and Gem about the nature of gladiatorial games and the slave trade in the respective regions. The bureaucrat and Talon Lord also engaged in a conversation of their own..

Eventually, Obsidian Skye broached the topic of Thorns with the Ambassador of Gem. He, in turn, asked the Circle to join him in a side room for a private remark. Instead of a conversation, however, he revealed Night’s Orchid, a member of Obsidian’s Skye‘s family, who she was overjoyed to see alive. The two began chattering away at each other, catching up, as the rest of the Circle looked on, somewhat agape – this was the least reserved they’d seen Skye acting. Even as the Ambassador of Gem chuckled, they returned to the main table, where the Emissary dropped a wink to Obsidian Skye.

Shortly after, however, a scream was heard. A servant came scrambling in, and whispered something to the Emissary, who demanded to be taken out of the room. The entire dinner party followed, and found the body of one of the Emissary’s servants, a native Delizhani who, it turned out, worked for the River (which most of the party seemed to view as the Tri-Khan’s secret police). The Emissary had known this fact. There were no visible wounds on the man, and indeed no sign of an attack.

Sundered Cliff and Black Fly headed downstairs to ask the servants if anyone had left even as Kafun and Hatak began to investigate the scene.

The servants revealed that two men, the caterers, had left shortly before the two Solars had entered. They opened the door to attempt to pursue, but realized that the lavishly appointed district was wide open and heavily populated – it would have to wait.

Kafun and the Bureaucrat, meanwhile, discovered a burn of some sort on the fallen man’s left temple and a necrotizing wound on his right ankle. Sundered Cliff and Black Fly had returned upstairs with the information they had learned, and Sundered Cliff noted that the wound on the ankle was not caused by any local spider, snake, or other venomous creature. Hatak noted that the delivery might have been via an automaton, a device which could be made to look like an animal to assassinate someone.

With the revelation, and its accompanying cloud of suspicion that quickly enveloped the entire group, the Emissary asked for his house to be emptied, but that no one leave Chiaroscuro, lest they admit guilt in so doing.

Night’s Orchid came along with the Circle as they left…

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Tso Lien's Last Stand

The attack came soon enough.

The Circle watched as the Lintha pressed a group of Chiaroscuro’s citizenry towards Dock Eight’s defensive field. The Circle knew that Tso Lien’s forces would attack the dock if they went out, but couldn’t allow the citizens to die so horribly.

V’neef Kafun passed Sundered Cliff a mask that he had used to disguise his appearance. Sundered Cliff adopted V’neef Kafun’s appearance, and he and Obsidian Skye proceeded outside to begin the confrontation.

6 Lintha warriors and 3 sorcerors stood outside, calling out their demands.

Sundered Cliff grew annoyed with their talk, and hurled Toothbreaker into the speaker’s face with all of his might. Obsidian Skye and V’neef Kafun followed suit, leaping into their attacks.

The sorcerors snapped into position, beginning a complicated spell-weaving even as the warriors moved to defend them. The Lintha had practiced their battle formations well, and attacked as exceptionally coordinated units.

V’neef Kafun managed to land a crippling blow against Tso Lien, who burst apart in a gout of acidic blood…

Only to reveal that the one the Circle believed to be Tso Lien was a decoy. The true Tso Lien completed his spell, coating himself in a bronze sheath, then crafting a shaped globe of water that repelled many attacks and allowed him to hover, while a whirling ethereal blade struck at his foes. Even as the Circle slowly struck down the other Lintha, Tso Lien himself moved into the defenseless Dock 8, leaving behind a group of sorcerous snakes that used virulent poison and severely weakened the Circle.

Even though they put up a valiant fight, Tauros and Autumnal Fire were unable to stand up to Tso Lien, 2 additional Lintha, and Tso-Lien’s mighty water demon. The rest of the Circle rushed in as soon as the venomous snakes were dealt with. They were severely weakened, but could not allow Tso Lien access to the boat.

Obsidian Skye began picking apart the two Lintha warriors – even injured, she far outmatched them, her fans whirling and striking at the two Lintha very quickly. Sundered Cliff meanwhile called on the power of his armor to boost his speed to thrice that he was normally capable of, leaping in to strike at Tso Lien himself, who had abandoned his globe of water. V’neef Kafun leapt into combat with the demon, his spear flashing like lightning from the heavens as he tried to strike at the creature from behind an invisibility field. But the water left on the walkway from Tso Lien’s globe gave his presence away and the creature detected his coming. Its arms thinned and split, becoming four deadly limbs even as it advanced on V’neef Kafun

Tso Lien attempted to leave combat, and surround himself with his men, but Sundered Cliff roared back to lock blades with him once again, cracking through his armor and burying Slaughterwake into the sorceror’s chest.

He crumpled, but one of his men managed to summon up the strength to toss Tso Lien bodily into the demon before the Circle could intervene. The demon adopted the sorceror’s bronze mien even as a chitinous head could be seen emerging here and there from Tso Lien’s wounds. The creature’s arms rejoined and it caught the whirling magical blade, which stretched and contorted as its fingers closed around the hilt.

Sundered Cliff closed to lock blades with it, as Obsidian Skye finished off the two Lintha, slicing them like so much fish for chumming. Sundered Cliff struck hard, but the creature’s sword cut through his defenses, dropping him to the floor.

V’neef Kafun retreated into the warehouse’s supply boxes, using his spear’s reach to evade strikes from the demon’s sword, while Obsidian Skye used her fans to strike down the two Lintha in a shower of gore and began to slice at the demon’s defenses. Her blades bit deep into it, even as V’neef Kafun extended his arms, shot out a bolt of light, and levitated up into the roof supports, his eyes darting this way and that, searching for a seam in its armor. The demon attempted to strike at Obsidian Skye even as her weapon dug into its flesh, but she evaded its strike. Water poured from the demon’s wounds, and its face contorted in pain and hurt. V’neef Kafun dropped onto the creature like a boulder crashing into the ocean, his strike shattering the creature’s flesh and impaling Tso Lien like a bug collector.

Tso Lien’s flesh shifted, and his demon poked its head out, questioning the Circle and wondering why they had interrupted his work. V’neef Kafun slowly and methodically dispatched it, while Obsidian Skye went outside to see if the crowd was safe. There she found a Captain of the City Guard, the Hand of the River, and a distinguished man in nondescript gray speaking. She informed them of their success, and of the casualties, then came back inside Dock 8, where she began gently tending the bodies of their fallen comrades while the Circle debated about how to treat the bodies. Sundered Cliff’s armor finally healed the worst of his wounds, and he stood slowly.

The Hand of the River and the man in gray came inside shortly. He introduced himself as Tamuz. Both Obsidian Skye and V’neef Kafun peered at him, seeing a powerful aura, one that they both recognized as a Lunar Exalted, and recognized his name as being a founder of Chiaroscuro some 400 years in the past. The Hand, meanwhile, offered to place the bodies of Tauros and Autumnal Fire into proper tombs… but the Circle would be unable to visit the tombs until such time as the River might allow it.

The Circle asked them to leave – not really capable of the diplomacy needed to properly discuss events. Sundered Cliff looked for some cloth to shroud the bodies. Celestine Arrow offered to shed some of its sail, which could then be used to transport them safely away. The Circle made its way back to their tower, and Sundered Cliff placed Tauros’ body on the top, where he had enjoyed greeting the Sun.

The Circle rested, while Obsidian Skye saw to the spirits of their friends, comforting Tauros about what lay beyond. She had the wise idea to host a farewell dinner to them, and invited Grandmother Bright and Autumnal Fire’s father to the event. She prepared a large amount of ghost tea, that allowed the group to see the ghosts, and the Emissary sent a special bottle of wine that would allow the spirits to interact and take part in the feast.

It was an event of both joy and regrets. V’neef Kafun slipped away early, having efficiently conveyed his feelings. As the night wore on,Sundered Cliff got progressively more drunk, and what little manners he possessed went right out the window, to the mortification of Obsidian Skye and the humor of Grandmother Bright.

The next day, they turned the bodies over to the River’s agents. Sundered Cliff went in search of a means of recovering from his wounds more quickly, which Grandmother Bright provided, as well as a doctor who owed her a favor. Over the next several days, he was treated, which allowed him to heal much more quickly than otherwise…

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They Emerge From the Tomb

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.

Sundered Cliff‘s first thought was that V’neef Kafun was something like the Jamals – an aspect of someone else. As it turned out, that was not correct.

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…

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Deeper into the Story

As the Circle journeyed deeper into the Citadel Inevitable, with the Standard Bearer and the Ring Keeper leading them, their conversation continued. The two Aspects of Jamal elaborated on the nature of the Citadel Inevitable, and its prisoner.

As they reached the bottom floor of the Citadel, the group paused. Rather than another level, such as those seen above, this level held what resembled a battlefield in the wake of a tremendous slaughter. Bodies in various states of decay lay piled on the field as far as the Circle could see. The room, such as it appeared, was wreathed in a mirage-like shimmer.

The two Jamals indicated that the Circle needed to proceed “into the story,” as they put it.Obsidian Skye proceeded in. Sundered Cliff, meanwhile, stayed to ask the two Jamals one last question. He asked them if, as the Guardian and Cupbearer had done, they would pass on those things that they bore to the Circle. The two Aspects replied that, though the Circle had demonstrated Valor in the fight against the Guardian, and Compassion in not pursuing a fight with the Cupbearer, they had not yet demonstrated the Virtues needed for the two Aspects of Jamal to be able to relinquish the Standard and the Ring. They did indicate that the Circle yet had a chance to do so. With that, Sundered Cliff and V’neef Kafun bid the two good-bye, and stepped into the mirage.

The charnel site vanished, showing instead an encamped army surrounding a series of pavilions on the hill behind the vanguard, beneath white fluffy clouds, blue sky, and warm sun. The world itself seemed… more focused. Lines on the armor the characters wore seemed sharper, the colors brighter, the sounds of the banners snapping on the pavilions cleaner.

That stood in sharp relief to the army itself. The Circle was greeted with raucous shouts, slaps on the shoulder, and raised cups as they proceeded amidst the dicing games and wagers to the pavilion at the top of the hills. Three Dragon-Blooded in spotless uniforms saluted the Circle, and ushered them in.

The smell of wine wafted over the Circle as they strode in. Boisterous laughter rolled throughout the General’s Pavilion, even as another Aspect of Jamal (the Keeper of the Heart), greeted them loudly with wine on its breath. Jamal appeared glad to see the Circle, and urged them to join in the revelry and drink. A woman dressed in practical coveralls, whom Obsidian Skye and V’neef Kafun recognized as Lady Amailya, proceeded to chastise Jamal’s premature celebrations, stating that though Jamal had won many times previously, he was still young and would learn defeat in time, which drew good-natured chuckles and jeers from the Commanders, even as Jamal shrugged off the discussion. The Circle, particularly Obsidian Skye, sought to press in on the doubts Amailya raised, but found themselves rebuffed by swaggering arrogance. Sundered Cliff quietly voiced the idea to V’neef Kafun that violently shattering the fantasy the Heart Keeper had surrounded himself with was necessary.

A dark hand, carved in the manner of the Aspects of Jamal the Circle had already encountered, lightly touched Obsidian Skye on the shoulder. She whirled quickly into a defensive stance, but dropped her guard as she took in this new figure. Rather than the elaborate porcelain of the Jamals, this statue was carved of some dark rock, looking like a Southron, covered in whorls and tattoos of filigreed silver. Obsidian Skye recognized him as Shadow-in-the-Jungle, or at least something that was carved in Shadow’s image. The other players in the Story seemed to take no notice of Shadow, and he beckoned the characters to follow, even as Jamal was entwined laciviously by the lissome figure of a blue-skinned minor goddess.

They went quickly to Shadow’s pavilion, and Shadow explained to them that they could not change the story from without. The Heart Keeper had to believe in the story, had to keep the tapestry of the tale of this, Jamal’s Fall, flowing accordingly. If he failed to do so, the Beast could gain freedom, not simply from the Story but also from the Citadel Inevitable. As the Circle had already altered the Beast, however, the story was not going to proceed accordingly, and disaster might strike if the Heart Keeper’s behavior could not be altered to accept the changes. Therefore, the Circle had to adopt parts that they could play, and use those parts to change the flow of the Heart Keeper’s performance within the Story. The Circle asked him about why he had not been mentioned in any of their encounters within Jamal’s Tale or in the outside world; Shadow replied that if he had been mentioned and remembered, his Name and purpose would have been for naught. The three discussed the roles they were to play. Sundered Cliff indicated discomfort that he would be ordering soldiers about – he stated that he was a gladiator, an arena fighter, not a trained warrior forged in battle. V’neef Kafun indicated that within this time, the Story would accept him as a God-King – something that Sundered Cliff vehemently stated should not be said again, lest the power of the Essence flowing through the Story work to reinforce that belief. Shadow indicated that he would be just as comfortable if the Circle would avoid such statements, both within and without the tapestry of the Story. He also stated that he could show them more of what some of the artifacts they carried with them did.

V’neef Kafun took on the part of a Talon Lord of scouts, reporting to Jamal and indicating his desire to make sure that the army was prepared, then directing his team of 5 Fire and Air Dragon-Blooded to search the surrounding countryside for changes/surprises, while discussing possibilities with his aide-de-camp about possible battle scenarios.

Sundered Cliff, meanwhile, took on the role of a Claw Lord, intent on shoring up a unit that Shadow had indicated was pivotal within the battle, the Talon known as Lashta’s Claw, a Talon made up of Earth and Wood Dragon-Blooded. He presented himself to Jamal as well, indicating to Jamal that he needed to make sure that the flank would not become fragmented in the course of the great battle. He took to the camp, finding Lashta’s Claw much more disciplined than almost all of the army, engaging in drills. Sundered Cliff began to take part as well, placing himself as a commander who had been promoted from the ranks and was more comfortable on the field.

Obsidian Skye plied all of her social graces into becoming Jamal’s top assassin and spy. She sauntered into his tent rather brazenly, wrapping her arms around him and asking if he had missed her. The Heart Keeper grinned, groping her, and replied that he knew she’d make it back eventually. The two jousted verbally for a few moments, with Obsidian Skye betting Jamal a cask of his private stock that things would not go entirely according to plan, and that she would secret it away in her tent later. Innuendoes flew back and forth between the two, even as Obsidian Skye used her Essence to crack through Jamal’s arrogance to plant a seed of doubt and change within The Heart Keeper.

V’neef Kafun‘s scouts, meanwhile, did not all return. Those dispatched toward the known enemy force reported back that, while strong, it was not so strong as Jamal’s information had indicated. The scout dispatched to the east, however, did not come back at all. The other men were sent out to find the missing scout as V’neef Kafun reported to Jamal that one of the scouts had not returned, that something had taken out a Dragon-Blooded. Obsidian Skye pressed Jamal, pouring water onto the seed already planted, indicating that all was not as he had planned if one of his Scouts had been killed.

Later that night, as the camp slept, two scouts were found. They were immaculately groomed and dressed in beautiful finery, but their minds appeared gone, leaving only their bodies behind like dolls made of living meat. The Circle and Lady Amaylya examined them, and Lady Amaylya proclaimed them Ravished. The Circle took this news to Jamal, who indicated that he wanted his chief lieutenant, Delzin, to take command of the army, while Jamal, Amaylya, and the Circle moved forth to fight the new threat.

The Circle was pleased at first, but Shadow caught them and indicated that the Story was taking a rapid change. He revealed that during the true battle, Jamal had seen the Fair Folk summon a creature that washed over the vanguard like a wave, causing the men that it touched to mutate horribly as Wyld energy shaped them. Bodies inverted, bones grew so brittle that the act of breathing caused them to shatter – these horrors and more were done in an instant. Jamal managed to rally and rip the Beast asunder, and Amaylya retrieved its Heart and passed it to him. If the Heart Keeper did not see the army ravaged, the Story would falter.

The Circle went back to Jamal, and slowly persuaded him that the greater glory (that which Jamal prized) lay in leading his army not at the smaller, weaker, force, but to the greater threat, and then sweeping through both, thanks largely to Obsidian Skye’s persuasive abilities. The army was roused and began its march to the east.

As it marched, a false sunlight seemed to come over the countryside. As they peered closer, the Circle realized that faery fire was washing over the area, whirling in many shapes.

Soon, the army caught sight of the leading edge of hobgoblins, and battle between the armies was joined. As that occurred, the faery fire seemed to gather and coalesce, resolving into a hideous yet awe-inspiring humanoid/spider amalgam some 60 feet in stature. Even as the venom-bloated body took shape, and the trunk-like legs began to move, the creature’s face took on a beatific smile as it raised its arms, and an impossible filigree of web began to flow forth from it.

Lady Amaylya wove a protective spell that surrounded the Circle and much of Jamal’s command staff. That was not enough, however, to spare the army. The web took on a new shape as it spun forth, resolving into a whirling maelstrom of teeth that bit, chewed, and sliced through the army. Some of the men were actually pierced; many, however, simply fell to their knees in awe-stricken worship of the Beast, dying or Ravished within an instant.

Jamal, meanwhile, reacted as though the Story had not changed, calling out to his people to watch out for the acid, to not let it touch them. Obsidian Skye, realizing how desperate the situation was, channeled her Essence into her speech, grabbed Jamal, and shouted at him to truly see the situation. Jamal paused, the Heart Keeper obviously needing a moment to absorb the new direction of the Story.

Even as Jamal faltered, the Beast gestured, and a group of five Cataphractoi appeared. The Cataphractoi were approximately eight feet tall, elongated of form, and also possessed of otherworldly beauty. They immediately began heading for Jamal.

Shadow-in-the-Jungle cursed, and told the Circle that they had to prevent the Cataphractoi from reaching the Heart Keeper. The Circle stepped forth, with V’neef Kafun and Obsidian Skye guarding Jamal while Sundered Cliff stepped forth to protect Amaylya.

As the Cataphractoi drew closer, plates began to grow out of their bodies, and they were quickly armored in eldritch plate. All too soon, battle was joined.

Much of what came next was a hurricane of actions. The Circle whirled and parried, striking as they could against the Cataphractoi. Sundered Cliff landed the first blow against them, and V’neef Kafun‘s spear flashed forth, but it was Obsidian Skye’s whirling fans and poisoned claws that truly turned the battle. Amaylya, meanwhile, even while protecting the Circle, summoned forth an orichalcum rod and parried blow after blow. The Heart Keeper, meanwhile, slowly began to regain himself, Essence building about him like the growing light of the sun.

He soon leapt forth with a shout, light trailing after him. In mid-air, he slammed his two blades together, and they became a whirling saw of teeth, and he strode into battle with the colossal Beast. Titanic amounts of energy flew between the two, with Jamal streaking from point to point, dodging blow after blow from the scuttling legs.

With three Cataphractoi dispatched, 5 more appeared and began moving into the fray. The Circle leapt forth to intercept them. V’neef Kafun began to move almost as quickly as the Heart Keeper, streaking to his side and placing himself to defend Jamal as necessary. Obsidian Skye meanwhile leapt high into the air from the hill, Essence wreathing her, her fans whirling in a hurricane of death as she took the fight to the Cataphractoi. Sundered Cliff, his lumbering gait quickly building into an impossible speed, also took the high approach, leaping as high as he could, drawing forth Toothbreaker from Elsewhere and bringing it crashing down onto one of the Cataphractoi’s head, then returning Toothbreaker and drawing forth Slaughterwake.

Lady Amaylya, not one to be outdone, leaned toward the ground, her arms stretching out. Essence poured forth from her as fissures began to explode on the battlefield, with impossible tentacles made of flowing magma rising up from each. The tentacles crashed down on the Cataphractoi, scalding them alive.

As the battle raged, The Standard Bearer and the Ring Bearer appeared on the battlefield, their items coalescing in whirling cascades of light. The Standard Bearer passed the Standard to V’neef Kafun as Obsidian Skye bought out the Cup and Sundered Cliff drew forth the Sword. The Circle then gave the Beast its definition and gave the Story its meaning and ending. The Beast roared, then split down the middle, revealing a small, shriveled worm-like thing. The Heart Keeper, clutching at a locket, moved to the thing, picking it up in one hand and speaking quietly to it even as the battlefield faded away, revealing a room perhaps 30 feet by 30 feet, the base floor of The Citadel Inevitable. He strode over to a small clay jar, and dropped the Beast’s remains into it and sealed it.

He explained to the Circle that the creature grew too large every few decades, and had to be pruned back. The Heart Keeper then introduced himself as Jamal, and asked how he could help them…

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To the Citadel Inevitable

10/23/11 – The Circle, onboard Celestine Arrow, departed Chiaroscuro shortly before dawn. It was a short journey to the Tomb of Jamal, The Imminent Thunder. The Circle told Celestine Arrow to secure itself in one of the cliffside alcoves – they would arrange for it to be summoned, either using the Bracers from Grandmother Bright, or the Messenger Bottle attached to the Daiklaive. After a relatively short climb, the Circle managed to find the tomb. Shortly before it was a sign, warning people against the danger of Anathema traps in the name of the Shogunate, as well as a set of alcoves along the paths, containing the remnants of smashed figurines of what appeared to be soldiers. The Tomb itself was carved into the rock of the cliff, set behind a brick wall and a wall of Chiaroscuro glass. The brick wall was long since fractured, but the glass was immaculate.

The Circle approached the tomb, and after eating some of their rations, began to open the door. V’neef Kafun detected that there was a flow of Essence within the place itself, and as he and Sundered Cliff opened the door, a new warning, written in Old Realm appeared, warning intruders that nothing remained inside for them.

Disregarding that warning, the Circle entered, and found themselves in a large chamber, dark, with light shining through more Chiaroscuro glass skylights, and with pillars with writing on it. Also here was a statue, sitting meditatively, with an enormous daiklaive, in one of the shafts of light, some 50 feet into the room.

It rose from its position as the Circle announced itself. It was vaguely human in form, carved of beautiful porcelain, and threaded with other materials. It spoke to the Circle, and urged them to turn back. It called itself Jamal, and its voice resonated with regret and resolution. It also claimed that it guarded the Citadel Inevitable (its name for the Tomb) from intruders from outside and from… things… inside. As it continued to talk, it said that it was OF Jamal, that being formed in this shape had caused the spirit that animated it to take on more of Jamal’s aspects and personality, rather than its own. The Circle sought to find a way to leave the Guardian intact, but that was not to be.

Sundered Cliff stepped forward, drawing forth Slaughterwake from Elsewhere. He held the weapon in a guard stance, and bowed to the statue, seeking single combat. In a flash, the statue moved, streaking through the hallway to strike at Obsidian Skye and V’neef Kafun with the flat of his blade before using his momentum to slam his blade’s edge past Sundered Cliff’s defenses.

The strike drew blood, but Sundered Cliff felt no pain from it – rather, a sense of a drunken euphoria descended onto him. V’neef Kafun moved up to guard Sundered Cliff, while striking at the statue to turn aside its blade, even as Obsidian Skye left her defensive stance and moved to strike. The statue continued its strikes, evading Obsidian Skye‘s blows, managing to make its blade seem to float around its wrists following an Essence-fueled strike by Sundered Cliff, and sought to overmaster V’neef Kafun through with an impressive slam with the flat of its blade. Kafun managed to evade by becoming a sort of greenish mist, flowing through the strike and behind the statue.

Sundered Cliff took the opportunity to strike, his anger fueled by both his drunken state as well as the statue’s attacks against Obsidian Skye and Kafun, as he viewed this tactic as dishonorable. Channeling power into him, and bellowing like an enraged bull, he lashed out with Slaughterwake at the porcelain blade. The Guardian managed what would have been a perfect block, had it truly embodied the one whose shape it wore – but it was not truly an Exalt. Its hands shattered at the wrist, and the blade was sent ringing into the floor.

The statue seemed to dim, and a dust that caught the light flowed out of it.

The door at the far end of the hall opened, and a new statue of Jamal entered. This one carried, instead of a blade, a silver platter and a cup. It spoke politely to the Circle, and offered Sundered Cliff the cup. Sundered Cliff thanked the Cupbearer, offered a small bit of the sparkling purple liquid to his pouch of gods, and then drank. His euphoria vanished, some of his wounds slowly drew together, and Essence flowed back into him. He then offered the cup to the others.

The Cupbearer brought them into the next room, a lavishly appointed place filled with cushions and comforts, and took a seat in a high-backed wooden chair at the end of a table, adopting the pose of a man granting an audience. It spoke at length to the Circle, answering questions as it could, and posing some in return. Sundered Cliff seemed to think of the Citadel as a goad or a scourge, with the statues and the reminders of what Jamal had been as something to purge himself of the regrets of his failures. Eventually, the Circle appeared to reach something within the Cupbearer, for it told them to take the Sword of the Guardian and the Cup, that these would be helpful when dealing with the dangers below.

The Circle then proceeded to the next chamber, finding a large, square shaft ringed by staircases, and small remembrance alcoves carved along the levels. Kafun and Obsidian Skye examined each, honoring the memory of those who were remembered within, while Sundered Cliff stood outside. The Citadel disturbed him – a massive monument to failure and doubt, a mausoleum determined only to remember the worst of a person – though he could not place WHY it disturbed him into words, not having Black Fly’s gift of oration.

As he gazed outward from one of the alcoves, something… skittered by, using the shaft as a passage. He got a glimpse of something that his mind called a giant centipede. He called, gently, to the others, warning them of what he had seen. Obsidian Skye and Kafun saw nothing when they came out, and they proceeded carefully to the next level.

There, they happened upon… something. It looked vaguely like a centipede, but its shape seemed to flow and shift. Sundered Cliff suggested that Kafun examine the thing via Essence Sight, to see if this was a Guardian of the Citadel. He did, and saw a disturbing flow within its Essence, odd skeins twisting and the pattern void in places. Obsidian Skye, meanwhile, called out a, “Hello?” to the creature.

It lifted its head(?) and opened its mouth(?). Eyes, sometimes two, then 4, then three, then 6, glowed as it gazed at them, and wicked teeth, each seeming to move of its own volition, appeared as it opened its mouth and hissed, before lunging toward them.

The Circle managed to evade its blows, and Kafun managed a solid hit, opening the creature’s belly with his spear after the Guardian’s sword failed to strike the creature. The thing shrieked in pain, greenish ichor melting the surface of the stone level, and then leapt down the shaft.

As the Circle began to move toward the next level, a third Jamal statue came forth, this one holding a staff ringed with different colors of precious metal. The Standard Bearer told them a bit more about the thing they had just faced, calling it the embodiment of murder and hate, a Nightmare beast made flesh. The Standard Bearer said that the Circle had been able to strike it once, but that each time it returned, it would grow in danger, and that the Aspects of Jamal had to keep it as what it was. It told them a bit more about The Citadel and Jamal as well as they walked.

As they did so, the Beast reared its head up, extending its form along a wall of the shaft, a wall of the level the Circle was on, and the ceiling that it was on, splitting the Circle, with Kafun and Obsidian Skye on one side of it, while Sundered Cliff and the Standard Bearer remained on the other. The Standard Bearer continued walking, asking a question as it proceeded, which it seemed that the Circle had to answer while engaged in melee. Kafun again struck at the creature, but this time his blow was deflected. Sundered Cliff, meanwhile, adopted a guard stance, Slaughterwake whirling in defense as he gave a quick, terse answer to the Standard Bearer. Obsidian Skye, seemingly reflexively, said, “I love you” to the Beast, which shocked it. Many of its limbs retracted as a ripple flowed along its length, and it retreated out of sight.

The Standard Bearer looked shocked, and when it was able to speak, told the Circle that it could not be certain what the consequences of Obsidian Skye’s actions were. The Beast would not escape the Citadel, so long as its Heart was secured – but, as Obsidian Skye soon realized, by binding it to a shape, so too had its actions been bound. With her words, the Beast had new actions, a new form, and perhaps a broader arsenal.

A fourth Jamal statue came up from below, this one bearing a glowing ring upon its hand, and urged the Circle forward. Sundered Cliff asked for a moment, and asked the Standard Bearer if, like the Guardian and the Cupbearer, he had something he could pass to the Circle that they would need, and if he would pass such. The Standard Bearer and the Ring Bearer urged the Circle to come with them, and continued their conversation as they took them forward to meet the Heart Keeper…

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