Yesterday's Sins, Tomorrow's Promise

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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Continuing Adventures in the Deep Dock

10/5/11 – The water manse beneath Dock 8 was attuned, and its hearthstone was passed to Sundered Cliff. The Circle continued its explorations of the docks, looking specifically at those docks that did not appear to be breached, but attracted quite a crowd of gawkers. Dock 9 appeared to have been breached, while it appeared that Dock 10’s defenses were intact. The Circle explored the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the Docks to conceal its presence a bit more.

As they explored, the Circle was surprised to have Dock 10’s subterranean door refuse them entry. They puzzled a bit, and attempted to place their Essence into the door, to see if it would recognize them. Eventually the door DID open…

To reveal a woman who called herself The Hand of The River. She led them to a conference room within Dock 10, and spoke to them at length. She told them of the Lintha sorceror, Tzo Lien, and how he maintained a floating base of operations. She also informed them of The River, an organization based in Chiaroscuro that was attempting to help the city “flow through and around events,” designed to benefit the Delizhan without attracting the attention and wrath of the Realm. The Hand informed the Circle of a tomb, located some distance outside the city in some cliffs, that might hold the means to take care of Tzo Lien once and for all. She also informed them that the rest of Dock 10 was “off limits,” though she did not exactly say why.

Celestine Arrow completed its metamorphosis, taking the shape of a roughly 12 foot long ship, with a leaflike sail, and frondlike oars. It grew a cargo hold, with room for berths, as well as an aft upper deck, and two protrusions near the masts, one above deck and one below. It insisted on the use of its full name, and spoke only Old Realm for a time, but began speaking Flametongue upon noting that Sundered Cliff did not understand it. It informed the Circle of materials it needed to build its weapons (many of which are exceptionally expensive). It could make do with other materials, but the weapons would not be as strong.

Sundered Cliff and Obsidian Skye purchased supplies for an expedition toward the tombs…

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Adventures in the Deep Docks

9/25/11 – The Circle took back up in Dock 7, overlooking the ship dock. The characters engaged in debate over the living ship, discussing what it would be, how to protect it from the Lintha. Eventually, Autumn Fire, Obsidian Skye, and V’neef Kafun managed to convince Sundered Cliff that there was no danger from the ship. The Exalted poured their Essence into the interface, causing the dock to birth a ship that was tinged in color much like the animae of the contributing Exalted.

The ship then asked for a name and a purpose. After some debate, the Exalted named the ship the Celestine Arrow. The purpose of the ship was defined by the various Constellations that dot the skies of Creation, and the Exalted chose to give the ship the Purpose of The Quiver, giving the ship a purpose of adaptability. Its genesis begun, the ship wrapped itself into a cocoon, saying that it would be ready in 48 hours.

The Circle then proceeded to search the rest of Dock 7, looking for a way that the Lintha might break in, a way to possibly destroy the dock, or a means to set a trap for the Lintha. Finding none, they split, with Tauros and Autumn Fire asked to stand guard over the growing ship, while the others proceeded to Dock 8.

They happened upon Black Fly outside, and entered Dock 8. As they got closer to Dock 8’s main building, they were illuminated by spotlights, which were very bright at first then dimmed as the building itself started to glow. The Circle drew closer and saw that the building was much like an opulent gallery, walled in opaque glass that changed in color to mimic the sun. The interior was beautifully appointed, but as devoid of content as Dock 7 was. It seemed more like the husk of a building abandoned, rather than the remnant of a battle.

The characters searched the building, and after passing through a series of doors, found their way to a manse, sunken in a very deep chamber, made of solid glass, and with fixtures made of solidified water. As the characters began to attune the manse, they heard a chime ring out. V’neef Kafun investigated, and discovered Shozam and 4 Lintha thugs had followed the Circle into Dock 8, as the defenses had not reactivated after the Circle entered.

The Circle engaged in some minor misdirection, and were able to take an hour to prepare for Shozam’s entrance. As Shozam and his men entered, Obsidian Skye and Black Fly proceeded to voice prophetic doom at the Lintha (with Black Fly‘s voice driving fear deep into the hearts of their opponents), while Shozam proceeded to directly challenge Sundered Cliff via a charm and demanded that V’neef Kafun show himself. As Sundered Cliff answered Shozam’s challenge with quips and a furious strike from his reaver daiklaive, Obsidian Skye proceeded to rain silver death upon the Lintha. Black Fly parried the strikes from his opponent while V’neef Kafun stayed under stealth and snuck behind Shozam. After Obsidian Skye destroyed the Lintha (cutting through two almost simultaneously, reducing one of them to a fine spray onto Sundered Cliff‘s back and preventing another from killing himself so that she could ), and V’neef Kafun and Sundered Cliff managing to put Shozam down, once and for all.

Shozam proceeded to disintegrate into acidic slime, leaving behind corrupted jade bracers (with a Hearthstone set into them), a corrupted set of jade Lamellar armor, and some sort of semi-living appendage on his arm, as well as some sort of scout creature that V’neef Kafun had placed onto Shozam in the midst of the last fight, and that he believed might tell the characters where the Lintha and Shozam’s master might be.. The Circle proceeded back into the manse to complete the attunement after finding a box to place the corrupt artifacts into…

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