A New Creation

Kalanthes's Journal - Gods and Other Useless Things

28 Descending Earth

I nearly died today. I also learned that I am, to some people, a god. Rarely have the poles of possibility been so far apart and yet crammed into a single day.

In all honesty, I’ve been close to death a few times since my Exaltation, so I don’t know why this moment seems to be sticking with me more. Perhaps it’s because it was so unexpected, or that death wore the face of a man I know. Perhaps it’s because I finally have projects underway and I’m concerned for how they finish or whether they’ll require my care to sustain. As I sit and reflect tonight though, I think it is because I have hoarded.

I don’t mean my material wealth, so much – wealth is artificially restrained by the coins we mint, but the value is in the objects and services we buy, not in the medium we use to make the exchange. I am a rich man because I make expensive things. Those things are expensive because others agree with me on their value – I could not set prices that other people would not pay. Well, I could, and then I would sit alone with my crafts and starve.

What I am hoarding is in my head, and that’s a greater problem. If I die, my wealth will pass on to others and continue to act in the great cycle of buying and selling. My knowledge, however, will pass into the Underworld and out of the reach of those for whom it would prove most profitable. I have lived my life amongst books, and I have learned things that are found in no book. Can I trust that others will find these places or comb through these books? Will they only share part of what they know, so as to present the picture from a certain perspective?

I have not seen the future, but I have read the past. Every time Jin launches into another of his “the pattern of Creation is one of decline,” I first want to strangle him, and then I want to weep, because I’m certain his is the majority view. Perhaps the First Age went overboard, but in the wreck and ruin of what came after, there are forces that lost or abandoned technology to make the lives of common men and women better, and there are forces that suppressed that technology for their own reasons. The world doesn’t have to be this way and it doesn’t have to be the high hubris of the First Age. None of that happens, though, without broadening the minds of those who live in this world.

How to do it, though? Illiteracy is rampant, even in semi-cosmopolitan places like Nathir, to say nothing of the outlying villages. If I can write a primer on Old Realm for Kado, surely I can produce a basic text on Riverspeak or commission one to be produced. The knowledge disparity is hard to repair, but education is practically impossible to undo.

The project I am currently developing will provide much needed infrastructure for the poor in Nathir, but that doesn’t solve the long-term problem if they cannot learn to take care of themselves and to know when those who would assume responsibility for them are shirking that duty.

And then there’s the god thing.

I’ve never had much use for gods. I was, at best, a lackluster adherent to the Immaculate Philosophy, and then I learned it was deliberately designed to transform me and those like me into monsters in the minds of the people. The faith of the Realm made me a failure right up until it made a fiend. And now there’s a man in the poor quarter who worships me, and all because I built him a house without asking him for something in exchange. Is that the world I live in? Where altruism is so dissipated as to be seen as a divine act?

I don’t know what to say to him, and it’s clear that he’s not the only one. Jin seems amused by the whole thing and Locke looks ready to tear me limb from limb for sacrilege. I’m not a god, but neither am I a man. Neither I nor my actions are, to my mind, worthy of worship, and yet…what have the gods done to deserve praise and prayer? Locke wants us all to worship the Unconquered Sun, but the implications of our Exaltation would imply that he has not had much to do with our reappearance and may not have had much to do with what we do in Creation since the war against the Primordials ended millennia ago. Is it too much to hope that I could lead people who follow me to eventually take care of themselves and each other? Do I undermine everything I’m working toward if I accept their worship? Do I give that worship to some undeserving city god if I turn it away? There’s no book for this, no manual, no instruction, and no plan.

If I see a flawed or broken system and I have the power to fix it, mustn’t I? If I don’t, then what am I for? What is the point? Maybe I can’t fix Creation, but I can certainly fix homes and streets and sewers. I can’t fix ignorance, but I can grant access to knowledge. Knowing in full that I will need to leave Nathir behind, if I do not leave the city better than I found it, I don’t deserve the gifts I have been given by gods or men.

We’ll carry forward the project – University and Hospital and whatever else I can think of to build. I’ll write a book on geomantic architecture for my bride. I was going to say that I don’t want to tell people how to live, but I suppose that’s only partially true – I want them to have more opportunity than they currently have, and I hope they seize that opportunity, but I have to draw the line somewhere: I feel certain that people could be compelled, even forced, to learn what I know and believe what I say. That’s too far. The Immaculate Order has used force to try and coerce the world to believe a lie for 1000 years. I won’t go down that road.

And I won’t let us go down it either.

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Divine Intervention
What does it mean to rule?

In the week that three of the Solar Exalted were in the village of Cot, the Council of 100 had elected Diep Thi to the position of Minister-Prince.

On the 27th of Descending Earth, Locke, Sarnai, and Kalanthes returned to Nathir. Jin had spent the intervening time training both the Dragon’s Coin and a growing Nathir militia recruited out of the poor quarter. All of the Exalted noted, however, the arrival of the airship that swept into the town and landed on the river. Sarnai went her own way to consider some issues, but Jin, Locke and Kalanthes converged on the docks, where the ship stopped to allow the passengers to disembark.

The commander of the Lookshy Sky Guard, Taimyo Nefvarin Shou-Yu (Kalanthes’s cousin) greeted Jin, who inquired into the purpose of the arrival. Lookshy, informed of the multiple threats facing Nathir, had dispatched a Dragon of soldiers, including heavy infantry, rangers, artillery, and warstriders, to bolster the defense of the city. Shou-Yu intended to ask Kalanthes for access to his repair and technical facilities for the benefit of the troops arriving. Jin accompanied the Taimyo out to Kalanthes’s estate, with Kalanthes, who had only observed the proceedings from a distance, going ahead to prepare. The meeting between the cousins was tense, but an agreement was reached for paid access to Kalanthes’s facilities.

Upon arrival home, the Exalted received a letter from Kado, informing them that the Night Caste had left to seek training in the South. The letter was met with some consternation, but little could be done about it at the moment.

While Jin and Kalanthes engaged in another extended debate about their purpose in Creation, Locke was enraptured by the sight of the 12-foot Warstriders. She asked a staff officer to borrow one, and was rebuffed. As Locke asked to speak to the Taimyo and things began to become heated, a servant came to draw the quarreling Exalted out to perhaps corral their exuberant friend. When they walked out of Kalanthes’s home, however, a surprise was waiting for them – Jin and Zen noted Kado lying in wait in one of the towers just as he loosed a perfect arrow shot at Kalanthes. Jin responded with a perfect defense that parried the arrow to the ground. The arrow was coated in the same toxin that Sarnai had developed for Tsuto Toyokuni’s bride and had a note attached. The note said that the archer believed he could work with the Exalted, but that further threats against “her” would result in him destroying them and the city entirely. The Circle surmised that the shooter was likely Tsuto or dispatched by him, which triggered some concern, as the archer looked exactly like Kado, to include manifesting his Night Caste Mark when he magically empowered the shot.

As part of an experiment to demonstrate their capabilities, Kalanthes asked Locke to proselytize about the Unconquered Sun to the soldiers of Lookshy on the following morning. When the massive Northerner did so, her rhetorical talents and magical powers combined to fill the soldiers with righteous hope and they flocked around the woman that, a day before, they had been ready to arrest. When Jin argued that he was still seeking some greater cause to dedicate his talents to, Kalanthes noted a small white mouse run out of Jin’s boot and flee the room. Neither Jin nor Zen saw the mouse and it took some convincing, but Jin inspected his boots, which he adored above almost all things, and discovered a white hair within. Now incensed (No one messes with Jin’s boots), Jin walked back out with Kalanthes and they collected Locke to go into town. Presenting Locke with the hair, Jin demanded an explanation as to what the King of the Gods was up to. Locke answered that she did not know, but would be willing to ask. Kalanthes acquired an extravagant assortment of incense mixed with flakes of gold and Locke made a prayer to the Unconquered Sun in a secluded area. When she did so, a great tide of mice swarmed over her, with one whispering in her ear that they were the Mice of the Unconquered Sun, and Locke was struck with a memory from another life of mice who, in their own way, worked to undermine the enemies of righteousness. Locke declared that the presence of the mouse was clearly a blessing for Jin, though Jin seemed dubious.

In the poor quarter, now cleaner and more peaceful than perhaps ever before in its history, Locke and Jin made a discovery about the population’s relationship with Kalanthes. Jin called over a resident and asked him and received confirmation – several of the townsfolk had begun worshiping Kalanthes for his beneficence in rebuilding the quarter and providing sanitation. Kalanthes was shocked. Locke was incensed. Jin was amused. Kalanthes refused to do anything, affirming or negating, regarding this existential crisis at first, but, at Jin’s encouragement, he gave the worshiper a jade oboul before he departed.

The Solars met at a dive bar with Phan Hai, the leader of the Magnificent Dogs gang, and the new guise of the Lunar Exalted, Copper Hound. First, Kalanthes made a deal with the gang that they would seek out a good location for the new hospital, and would receive, in exchange, a 5% finder’s fee of any property purchase price. In exchange for this consideration, the circle asked the gang to begin investigating the circumstances around Vinh Banh and Quy Banh, the two ministers that had spoken to the former Minister-Prince just before his unexpected suicide. Arranging a private discussion with Copper Hound, the Circle warned her about Tsuto and informed her of what had happened with the attack by “Kado.” Copper Hound, in turn, used the opportunity to get to know Locke better, asking her about the Northerner’s intentions and ambitions.

Following that discussion, Jin and Kalanthes went to Jin’s office and summoned Hirose Maiko, Captain of the Dragon’s Coin. Thinking him a typical mercenary, they offered him a generous pension to step down from command of the Dragon’s Coin before the very perilous activities ahead. The Captain surprised them by offering to surrender command to anyone thought appropriate, so long as he could stay and fight alongside his men. Accepting the man’s valor as genuine, they agree to his terms. He would be demoted to Lieutenant and the Dragon’s Coin would have a new commander – Jin.

And here we paused.

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Incremental Advancement
Bringing the new Solars up to speed and figuring out which way we're headed

On the 20th of Descending Earth, Sarnai, Locke, and Kalanthes set out for the village of Cot, after letting Elephant Speaker know via her deific go-between that another Solar had been discovered. On the two-day journey, Kalanthes took up Elephant Speaker’s part in providing Sarnai and Locke with a summary of the history of Creation prior to the history as it is presented to Creation: the story of the Primordials, the Incarna, the War, and the rise and fall of the Solar Empire. Sarnai wondered aloud if it was even wise to pursue such power as the First Age Solars wielded, to which Kalanthes responded that wielding it was probably inevitable, but how the power would be wielded might not be.

Upon arrival, Sarnai and Locke got their first look at the impossible tower in the middle of the village. They also met Shan Tzu, who greeted them warmly and was delighted (as much as he appears delighted by anything) to meet another member of the Zenith Caste. After introduction were made, it was time to see the Machine.

When Sarnai opened the door to the Machine chamber, Kalanthes took the opportunity to observe the Essence flows, seeing some of the internal circuitry for the first time, as well as some places where the flows were still stoppered. The group split into pairs. Sarnai and Kalanthes ranged all over the machine, investigating its parts and attaching the power relay that Kalanthes had built back in Nathir. Between Sarnai’s keen investigative mind and Kalanthes’s deep knowledge of Magitech, they were able to determine the following about the machine:

  • The alcoves, which run all the way around the walls and up the 100 feet or so of height, are stasis pods – if they could be activated (not possible at this point), they would freeze whatever was within outside of time. Each of them also has a gem that allows the pod to violate the laws of physics and hold an object that should not be able to fit.
  • The power system itself is a reality-making machine. The shard of Wyld within serves as a battery, which shunts power through the pipes and relays, using the appropriate magical materials, to create stuff. There are also power siphons which, if the sphere were immersed in Wyld energy, could draw in the raw Wyld and push it into the Adamant Sphere, potentially magnifying the power available.
  • Speaking of power available, the machine looked capable of generating power equivalent to several mid-sized manses (See forum discussion on Cot Improvement for mechanical details). If the whole thing were brought online, it could be as powerful as the Sword of Creation (Kalanthes had a flashback to a past life where he was helping in the Sword’s construction). That limit is largely a function of the machinery, not the power source – it could produce theoretically infinite power, but the machine itself could only handle so much throughput.
  • The machine did not create the tower, but it did extend it. Kalanthes believes it could be collapsed again, though this was not done out of consideration for the 1,000 or so people currently within. The controls for the tower now have a marking – “Outpost Spur.”

The increase in power enabled Sarnai, Locke, and Kalanthes to attune to the device and select Hearthstones of their own. It also brought several new control panels online, giving access to new systems within the machine (See Cot Discussion).

While this technological investigation was ongoing, Shan Tzu and Locke were having a spiritual investigation. Shan Tzu spoke to Locke of his own questions and concerns regarding the Unconquered Sun and the suffering that he seems to have allowed to take place while his Exalted remained locked away. Locke proved more steadfast than her interlocutor, and stated plainly that the Unconquered Sun had a plan, even if it was not one that was readily obvious to his servants, and that she had faith that the King of the Gods was arranging things as was best for Creation. The older priest took her words to consider.

The group then adjourned upstairs to discuss future plans, at which point a certain green-haired Sidereal Exalted showed up to join in the conversation. Kalanthes brought Elephant Speaker up to speed on their discoveries regarding the machine, and Elephant Speaker informed the Solars that Lookshy would soon be organizing a force to support Nathir and the area against Karroth Vlan. She also explained the various political factions within the Sidereal Exalted to Sarnai and Locke. Armed with this information, the group began discussing how they might turn this situation to their advantage. Elephant Speaker said that it would be best for everyone if the Solar Exalted made a friend of Lookshy, so that on the inevitable day that the Solars declare their true nature, the friendship of Lookshy would hold off a lot of the typical tools of Solar-killing that the Bronze Faction might want to deploy. The Circle posited that orchestrating the coming battle with Karroth Vlan to allow Lookshy to take some of the credit, while also getting them to acknowledge the Solars’ aid, would be a promising gambit to make a friend of whomever commands the Lookshy forces. It was at this point that Zen, of all people, introduced an opening – Gens Gherin, Zen’s family, includes a bloodline that can trace itself back to the last of the Dragon-Blooded Shoguns. The Circle hatched a plot that involved finding said Shogun’s descendant, arranging for him to take command of the forces coming their way, and making him their friend, then sending him back to Lookshy with bloodline and military victory to make him an ally that could speak to the General Staff on their behalf (See Defense of Nathir forum thread).

Finally, we turned to the subject of Karroth Vlan. We know the city of the dead can probably field a decent-size force that will grind up what we put in front of it (possibly by design, in the case of the Order of the Firmament). We discussed coordinating our attack with Lookshy and determined that, if they deployed one of their flying barges, they could mobilize in a day, if necessary. We also stated that we needed better intelligence and some more leverage inside the court of Karroth Vlan, to which purpose Kalanthes proposed that the entire Circle travel to the city to gather information, undermine its stability, and arrange for whatever battle would take place to happen on our terms (See Defense of Nathir forum thread).

And here we paused.

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Heavenly Interlude #1
Terrestrial Procreation Success Reports

“Madam Elephant Speaker, the Eastern Chair would like a word.”

Elephant Speaker lifted her face off of the desk to peer at the small, gnome-like godling standing at the door. It was holding the formal summons out for her to inspect.

Rubbing the sleep from her eyes with one hand, she used the other to grab the scroll. It merely repeated in script what the godling had told her. Looking over the top, she saw the messenger waiting expectantly. She fished around in her robe, and after a few moments produced a glowing vial. She tossed it to the godling, who snatched it out of the air with a tiny harumph. A moment later, and it was gone.

Muttering to herself, Elephant Speaker made her way down the stairs and out into the street. The dhow stop was as crowded as usual, forcing her to squeeze in between some sort of giant bird-man and a goat that appeared composed entirely of moss. All of them strained to avoid eye contact.

The palace housing the Convention of Wood was an arcology of wood as might be envisioned by a mad Haltan. Shaped of living wood harder than steel, its rooftops branched and bulged with mushroom tops and skyways. Inside, Speaker knew, vast halls held flora of every shape and size, and gods moved about in fetid darkness and soft, leaf-dimmed light.

Showing little awe in the presence of a structure she had been traveling to and from for the better part of two decades, Elephant Speaker walked past a set of massive gates and to a nearby lift. Its attendant, an ambulatory onion bulb, saluted her and sent them shooting up into the treetops looming overhead.

The lift doors opened to a spacious reception area filled with Wood spirits of a dozen different configurations. Elephant Speaker saw a large, pink pig closing the thick mahogany doors that marked Ayesha Ura’s office. She approached and opened the doors again as it ambled away.

“I told you, I’ll see what I can do about scrap collection in the-oh, Speaker. Come in.” Ayesha looked up from her scroll and quill. Curly, dark hair framed a heart shaped face and cheerful eyes. “Have a seat.”

“Nah, I’m good,” Elephant Speaker said, crossing her arms and leaning back slightly. “What did you need?”

Ayesha gave her an appraising eye. “I wanted to review some of your reports and cross-check them with other information we’ve received from around your region.”

Elephant Speaker shrugged. “Fine with me.” Translation: Gold Faction’s running another sweep for Bronze assets, she thought. Wants to make sure the anarchist in their backyard hasn’t been compromised.

“I would have enjoyed going over these reports in a less formal context, but you never seem to be able to make time for my little soirees. If there’s any way I could make them more hospitable-”

“Nah, I’m good,” Elephant Speaker scratched the back of her head and looked down. “Just real busy keeping a lid on things. Fae invading, dead city looking to march, and I’ve got Essence users coming out of my ears. Trying to keep the pirates from capitalizing on the chaos too much, and refugees keep coming in from the north and the south. By the way, how’s my neighbor to the South? Am I going to need to worry about beastmen too?”

“Ma-ha-suichi continues to mass forces, but beyond that we’ve detected no evidence of further plans. The surrounding nations war with one another, certain that his silence for the past five years will continue. You may wish to look to your north, though-I don’t know what Bronze wants to do with Greyfalls, but the obvious step for them would be to push South.”

“They’re not stupid. That’d put them up against the whole Confederation, and the Guild.”

“Neither are invincible, particularly if they’re rescuing you from a Deathlord. Chejop let me know that the Walker appears to be taking a closer interest in Karroth Vlan.”

Speaker’s hands started to feel clammy. “Would he dare strike out so close to the heart of the Guild?”

Ayesha looked thoughtful. “Perhaps. King Veltarxes is a mad dog. He could be using Veltarxes for cover, or as a menace that the Confederation needs help to defeat. That would be close to the game that the Mask is playing in the west.”

“So, what? Do I need to tell my little ragtag group that they need to fight off the Mask fighting off Walker fighting off Karroth Vlan?”

“From what I’ve heard, your little group of mortals and godbloods are doing quite well punching above their weight, but I have doubts about them taking on even just Karroth Vlan by itself. That’s even before we get to to this Fair Folk issue.” Ayesha tapped her quill against the scroll. “I think it’s time that Lookshy got a little more involved in your region. A series of wins near the Confederation capital would put our adversaries on notice.”

Elephant Speaker rolled her shoulders. “Sure. What kind of involvement are we talking about?”

Ayesha gave her a hooded smile. “I’ll see what I can arrange. While I’m taking care of that, is there anything else you would like me to look into, or address? Or anything you’d like to report on further while you’re here.”

“Actually, yeah. I didn’t put it down in the report because it didn’t seem like a big deal, but since I’m here…” Elephant Speaker unrolled a dirty scroll. It revealed sketches of monsterous, bug-like creatures. “Have you seen anything like these? Some of the local mercenaries found them nearby. Hadn’t seen them before, and haven’t found any records. They’re logged with Fate, but no gods report oversight.”

Ayesha looked them over. “I can’t say that I have. The hierarchy is such a mess that you might never find the gods responsible, especially if these are some sort of….remnant, or outlier. I’ll pass this along and see if anyone recognizes them. Anything else?”

“Not from me, ma’am.”

“Good. It was nice speaking with you. Do let me know when you might have a spot of time. Working yourself to death won’t do anything to help Creation, you know.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Speaker said, and strolled back out the door.

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Confirmation
Finding one's place and seizing one's place

It was the 17th of Descending Earth when a young woman from Chiaroscuro approached the compound of Nefvarin Kalanthes and asked the guard if she could speak with the owner. Sarnai introduced herself to Kalanthes as an apothecary with a specific research interest in the Fair Folk. Kalanthes invited her to peruse his library, where the two of them encountered Locke and Jin. Discussion of Sarnai’s particular interests and training led to two results. First, it was determined that she was looking for a formula to transform the Fair Folk into humans. Second, it was determined that she had a talent for making poisons – a talent for which Jin had an immediate use.

In exchange for a promise to deliver a Fair Folk for study, Sarnai produced a toxin capable of inducing sleep and various symptoms that ranged between terrible illness and death, for use of Tsuto Toyokuni’s bride-to-be. In exchange for Jin’s promise to capture a Fair Folk for study, Sarnai showed herself capable of administering the poison herself. After a detailed description of Unfettered Horizon, Sarnai made herself into a perfect replica of the Dragon-Blood – so good that the guard detained her briefly on the way out of the compound – and blustered her way into the home of Tsuto’s fiancee, administered the poison to a cup of tea, and then blustered her way back out again.

On the 18th of Descending Earth, Jin met with the Mach family to try and turn their abstention from the previous vote into full-on support. Using his usual blend of charm, patter, and supernatural mind control, Jin persuaded the family elders that only he could save the city from disaster.

Back at the compound, Kalanthes, Locke, and Sarnai discussed the powers and limitations of salt in use against the dead. Their research revealed that salt itself is of limited use, mostly due to its fragility, it could be mixed with other items, or refined to produce more potent effects. Kalanthes hatched a plot to try and have Karroth Vlan think that they had developed some manner of salt-based ghost-killer, but the plan is still in its beginning phases.

With Locke despising the hot and humid weather and Jin desiring to show Sarnai his hometown, the group went to one of the stranger high-end bars in Nathir, the Eastern Ice Cap. Magically cooled with ice in the drinks that never melts, the bar proved a good spot for people to introduce themselves in a more casual fashion. Sarnai described herself as an apothecary from the south, but resisted going into detail about where she learned the secrets of magical disguise. Jin spoke of his own upbringing in the poor quarter of Nathir, while Kalanthes told of his background with the Seventh Legion of Lookshy. Locke, as is her way, remained silent, but greatly enjoyed the refreshing cold.

On the 19th of Descending Earth, it was time for the second emergency meeting of the Council of 100. Jin started the day by trying to ensure that the Minister-Prince would be in his pocket, rather than Tsuto’s. Deflecting the arguments regarding Looksky, Jin rhapsodized about his love of the city, and then attempted to use a new influence charm, but was unable to overcome the strong-willed Executive. He was successful on a second attempt just before the Council meeting, however.

At the compound, just before dawn, Kalanthes offered to show Sarnai his workshop. He demonstrated something he was working on – a Fivefold Harmonics Adapter for Jin – and the magical speed with which he worked was a power immediately recognizable to Sarnai, who has the same power! Finally, the two of them were able to confirm that they were both, in fact, Solar Exalted.

Later that morning, it was time for the Council Meeting. As the Minister-Prince walked away from Jin’s second, and more successful, enchantment, Vinh Bahn, the Minister of Trade, walked up to the head of state and whispered something regarding Su Thi Thi, the master artisan for thaumaturgy and demonology at the House of 30 Seals. As the Council gathered, Kalanthes also noted that staff members for both Su Thi Thi and Sleepy Fen, the Guild factor who oversees river trade, were in attendance. His investigation only uncovered that they were there to observe and report. Kalanthes introduced them to Locke, mentioning a project for defense of the city involving priests, but then it was time for the meeting.

Before Onyx Nomad’s nomination could be put to a vote, the Merchant Prince rose and stated that he did not feel fit for the position. Immediately following, Su Thi Thi stood and declared that she would be pleased to organize the defense of Nathir and would accept the Council’s nomination, should they be so inclined. A courtier approached the Minister Prince and whispered something in his ear, at which point the Executive’s eyes went wide, he declared, “No…NO!”, drew a dagger, and stabbed himself in the heart. Chaos erupted as members of all the families began shouting and arguing. Everything stood on the precipice of disaster.

Then the Exalted did something they had not done much of – they worked together. Jin began to call for order, but was only barely able to get his own voice heard over the din, his aspersions cast at Su Thi Thi and the practice of demonology falling on deaf ears in the hubbub. It was enough, however, to give Locke a chance to speak and she demonstrated the power of her caste with a fearsome speech that captivated the Council and instilled in them an unnatural devotion to herself, Jin, and Kalanthes. Sarnai watched Su Thi Thi for reactions, but the sorcerer remained inscrutable. Kalanthes leaned on the Vu’ong family, puppets of the Guild, to call for an immediate vote to elect Jin as Deputy Emergency Minister of War, and the Council voted overwhelmingly in favor. When the Sang, as one might expect, objected that the decision was not valid without the presence of the Minister-Prince, due to a sudden case of death, both the Vu’ong and the Tu family noted that there was legal precedent, dating back to the Thunder War, to support a vote taken with such a majority that the Prince could not have overruled it anyway. That they got this information from Kalanthes was not immediately mentioned.

With Jin’s appointment secured, the Council resolved to have a third emergency session in three days to hold the lottery to determine the Minister-Prince. The circle began developing a plot to ensure a candidate of their choosing wins that lottery – a plot that will likely involve a trip to a small village called Cot.

And here we paused.

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Help Wanted
Tsuto helps his kohai in his own special way

On the 13th of Descending Earth, Jin met with his allies in the An Family to set the process in motion for a meeting of the Council of 100. Speaking eloquently on the myriad threats facing the city, the Eclipse Caste Exalted persuaded the nobles to organize an emergency session of the council, scheduled for the 16th.

Kado and Locke returned from the lands of the dead and parts unknown, respectively. Kado reported on the still highly fractious state of Karroth Vlan, as well as his own partially-successful effort to infiltrate the castle, as well as the precipitous flight the partial success required. Jin spoke to Locke of acting as an imposing presence at the meeting of the Council of 100, and she agreed, especially if it gave her the eventual opportunity to lash out at the dead. Kalanthes filled in some of the detail Kado was not able to get from his scouting mission with details from an old text about the dead city across the river. With more knowledge, but perhaps not enough, the Circle set about putting plans into motion.

Jin, however, found himself in the path of another’s plans. Tsuto Toyokuni replied to the mercenary’s taunting letter with an offer of his own – an offer of aid. Though Tsuto’s letter, which Jin arranged for Kado to read, conveyed Tsuto’s regrets that he would not be able to attend the meeting where Jin would be invested with power, he was dispatching an aide and counselor (though the more precise term might be consigliere) by the name of Unfettered Horizon. Kado and Jin set out to gather some intelligence on this aid unlooked for. Kado headed to the docks to speak to those that had conveyed the woman to Nathir. From them, the Night Caste learned that Unfettered Horizon was an Outcaste Dragon-Blood out of Nexus. Jin, taking from Tsuto’s letter that he was not at home, made his way over to Tsuto’s home, where he arranged a future tea with Tsuto’s wife and came away with a pile of gossip from Tsuto’s household servants. It turned out that Unfettered Horizon had visited before, that the servants described her as a “Force of Nature, and that she had ties to the guild, but that those ties also implied she was subordinate to Tsuto. Of additional interest was the indication that both Tsuto and Unfettered Horizon were subordinate to an as yet unidentified third party. Finally, Jin discovered that Unfettered Horizon was a periodic source of aggravation for Tsuto and an unlimited source of love for cats and chaos.

Jin replied, naturally, by organizing a dinner party.

He invited his circlemates, including Kalanthes, who was in the process of securing the Tu family’s blessing to ask for Sapphire River’s hand in marriage. Jin also proposed the arrangement of a ruse for the benefit of Tsuto’s minion, to give the impression that the circle was not united as they might appear in public. Jin organized a dinner so formal, that his circlemates seemed befuddled on what sort of spirit of propriety had possessed their mercenary friend. Unfettered Horizon, for her part, dove in with gusto, intensely interested in the rituals, which Jin knew, but knew little about the origins of. The dinner itself was a cutthroat social affair, with Kado trying to pry into Unfettered Horizon’s head, and Jin masking his manipulations beneath the veneer of the haughty lord. Locke unveiled a as-yet-unseen talent for song, adapting a Northern folk tune to become a paean to Kado and affecting most present with affection for the hunter. Kalathes played along, taking up the role of the doddering scholar, and letting Unfettered Horizon correct him until she had revealed her exuberance for the affair was directly tied to her love of change and chaos. Perhaps sensing that she had given something away, she sought to deliberately provoke the Twilight Caste, assailing him with manipulative magic that inflamed his anger. His temper rising, Kalanthes lashed out verbally at his circlemates and at the Dragon-Blood, but became cognizant that his mind was not wholly his own and used the excuse to make his good-byes.Afterward, Unfettered Horizon got down to business, inquiring as to Jin’s plans at the Council meeting and offering her aid. The party broke up soon after, but not until Jin had put her through a rigmarole of tradition again.

The circle met back at Kalanthes’s compound, where Kalanthes, who had already apologized to his would-be fiancee for his outbursts, apologized to his circlemates as well. The Circle agreed that Unfettered Horizon seemed primarily purposed to make trouble, but what could be done was left undecided for the time being.

On the day of the meeting, the Circle accompanied Jin to address the Council of 100. Armed with 62 votes, the decision seemed made, but then the Minister-Prince intervened. Stating his discomfort with the upheaval this decision seemed destined to cause, especially in establishing a new ministerial position, the Minister-Prince counter-proposed the creation of a Deputy Minister of Emergency Situations and placing the Guild Merchant Prince, Onyx Nomad, in that role. Even as Unfettered Horizon railed openly against the snubbing of Jin, the canny Eclipse saw the hand of Tsuto turning the Minister-Prince against them. Between Jin, who mentioned the many powers he could bring to bear against Karroth Vlan, and Unfettered Horizon’s impassioned ranting, the Council agreed that a second extraordinary session was in order, and would take place three days hence.

Jin met at last with Tsuto’s wife and Unfettered Horizon. While the tempestuous Dragon-Blood railed about the inept Council, Kado raided the Outcaste’s home. The meeting and the burglary combined to reveal that the Dragon-Blood made an offer to intercede with families that had voted against Jin, even as she had already planned to meet with them, according to the notes in her planning journal.

Finally, the circle met with the Minister-Prince’s chosen point man, Onyx Nomad, who professed ignorance as to the Prince’s intentions, and only a vague idea of how he might arrange a defense, if called upon to do so. Jin and Kalanthes worked on the man to impress upon him that there may be a more nefarious motive of attempting to move the financial burden of the city’s defense from the city to Onyx Nomad, and that the Guild could rally behind Jin as someone affiliated directly with neither the Guild nor the city government. Onyx Nomad agreed to discuss the matter with Su Ti Thi and the factor, Sleepy Fen, whose river traffic would suffer most heavily if the dead set sail.

And here we paused.

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Laying the Foundation
Kalanthes and Zen talk plans

Kalanthes dressed in a soft robe following his bath, pinning his hair back in a low club. He found his pot of tea steaming and waiting for him on his balcony. He poured and sat, sipping slowly as he looked towards the lights of Nathir in the distance.

“How are you planning to reshape it tonight?” Gherin Zen might have just walked up, or may have been there the whole time, Kalanthes could never be certain. His Armiger rarely spoke up unless they were alone or a point of military necessity was raised.

“Nothing new tonight, my friend. I am laying a foundation that will take time to set.”

“Your Guild meetings have increased rather dramatically.”

“A necessity for now. I barely have enough time in the day to work on the Captain’s pike, and I still haven’t met with him to see if he will truly want to take it up.”

“Why the hospital?”

“What?” Kalanthes turned slightly to look at the Dragon-blood, who stood where he could see both the balcony and the room.

“The two schools are areas you have some expertise in, but your medical training is…”

“Scant?”

“I would say ‘recent.’”

Kalanthes smiled into his sip of tea. “Your etiquette, as ever, does you credit. Two reasons. First and foremost, while we wait for the sewer system to reduce some of the filth and disease in the quarter, we must also acknowledge that poverty breeds illness for a whole host of reasons. Bringing healing expertise into the district is essential – a single healer can help only so many people a day, but basic knowledge of hygiene and self-care could save hundreds of lives.”

“And the second?”

“The Guild’s principal market in Nathir is pharmaceuticals. By making part of my project a large, new customer for their work, I head off any objections they might have.”

“Why would the apothecaries object?”

“If they weren’t getting a cut? They might object just on that. But if they were not involved, they might take the time to look at my project with an outsider’s eye and see what sort of building I’ve actually laid the foundation for.”

“You’re being subtle again.”

“Apologies.” Kalanthes poured a second cup of tea. “The local apothecaries all work for the Guild and produce goods for the Guild, but they are as the Guild prefers them, a few hundred different private crafters. When you build a system whose purpose is to turn out a good, you only look to how to produce that good more efficiently, and there are readily identifiable plateaus where that stops. If you were to build a system that provides a service, and even creates more of that service in the provision, such a system should, if husbanded and managed properly, overtake most goods-producing systems as an economic force.”

“So you mean to change Nathir’s economy?”

“Seven-Bounties Paste is a wonder, but the demand for skilled labor and educated women and men is far greater. I honestly don’t know what the Guild would do with a knowledge economy, since they can’t control the product – it doesn’t move from place to place so much as it grows.”

“Someone will figure it out.”

“Probably, but hopefully not until it’s too late.”

“By your own words, it will be a long time before it’s too late to kill you.”

Kalanthes paused, his cup on its way to his mouth, “Kill me?”

“Even if no one in Nathir figures it out, when you are successful, someone in Nexus will perceive the threat. Even if you are successful then, you will have made enemies of some of the wealthiest and most ruthless men and women in Creation.”

Kalanthes stared into the night. “Good thing I have a bodyguard.”

“He will need a raise.”

“Oh, if this works, my friend, he shall have one. Everyone shall have one.”

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Power Plays
"My centre is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking." - Ferdinand Foch

Back at Kalanthes’s compound near Nathir, the Circle planned their next moves. The ongoing threats were defined as fourfold: 1) Kareth Vlan, the city of the dead on the other side of the river, 2) The Fair Folk, who had submitted a counter-proposal that partly accepted the circle’s offer of a duel, but included terms that would need further negotiation, 3) The bug creatures that had emptied a village and had chased our heroes out of the jungle, and, as Jin pointed out, 4) Whatever had broken the strength of the Adamant Fist’s two other factions.

Several options were discussed involving how best to deal with Kareth Vlan, and the circle eventually came to the notion of dealing a harsh blow that would decapitate the city. An assassination plan to kill the King, who did not normally leave his city to lead armies, followed by a tactical assault on the army to injure it, would crack whatever shaky patchwork constituted the power structure in the city of the dead. With Kalanthes’s and Locke’s ability to destroy the undead, and Jin’s and Kado’s combat power, the circle believed that a hard enough hit would shatter the city, rendering it impotent as a threat for a time. The circle decided to dispatch Kado to investigate the current state of Kareth Vlan, where he was to determine their current level of social cohesion, their state of military preparedness, and, if possible, determine who would lead the army of the dead when it finally came for Nathir. Jin laid plans to organize the force to repel said army, while also earning himself a plum, vaguely-defined position in the city hierarchy.

News came to the compound that Vorel Nibax has tragically passed away quietly in his sleep. Copper Hound herself confirmed that she was shedding the guise of the old scholar to pursue other avenues within the city, in this case taking up the guise of Tu Shwan Kwan, a lieutenant in a criminal organization that called itself the Benevolent Society, who was recently promoted to a position of leadership when the old leader was dispatched in the rioting that burned much of the poor quarter, where the Society operated. Kalanthes pledged his support. The circle’s other major ally, Elephant Speaker, also stopped by at the polite request of Kalanthes and the taunting jibe of Jin. When presented with the corpse of a bug warrior, she proved as ignorant as the circle as to the creatures’ provenance or purpose. She mentioned that the design followed the fundamental creation principles of Creation, implying some influence of the Primordials themselves, but that it did not match the work of either Autochthon or Gaia. She agreed to investigate the creatures further.

Jin set forth to prepare his move for power. He met with the Order of the Firmament, offering municipal funding for a mission to scourge the dead from being a threat to the city. The Order, religiously dedicated to such work, was immediately interested. Jin then turned to persuading the Minister-Prince of endorsing this plan before taking it to a vote of the Council of 100. The Prince, while mortal, proved to be a surprisingly cagey and willful mortal and the argument went back and forth, with Jin chipping away at the council leader’s resolve, while the Prince attempted to get Jin to be patient and build alliances, possibly reaching out to places as far away as Lookshy for aid, while maintaining the status quo within Nathir. Jin, however, would not be swayed and, with the timely use of some intelligence from Elephant Speaker, persuaded the Prince of the urgency of the mission.

Kado, provided a boat with Jin’s aid, crossed the river and infiltrated the dreaded city of Kareth Vlan. He scouted the city’s perimeter during the day and found the perfect hiding spot until nightfall, when the doomed city formed around him out of the nighttime gloom. The Night Caste watched the dead move about, large military patrols maintaining peace on the streets. Using his Sun-given powers of deception, he adopted a disguise to make him appear as one of the dead and began to explore the environs around the city palace. It became clear from snooping on standing guards that the city was still wracked by political chaos and in no position to march on any enemy outside of the walls. He penetrated the castle walls without incident, and leapt to a high window, opening it with a master thief’s grace. Inside the palace, he heard roving patrols and a standing guard. Relying on his capacity to erase himself from the memory of others, he struck out into the hall…

…and his powers failed him. The guard immediately shouted an alarm, having failed to forget the intruder. Kado, thwarted, turned immediately to escape. He bypassed the guard’s sword with ease and leapt back out of the window through which he had entered. The wall proved more complicated, especially as more guards now turned on the young man and showered him with arrows, though they could not catch the incredibly nimble Exalted. Kado climbed the arrows up over the wall and bolted into the city with the guard in hot pursuit. He led them a merry chase and escaped them, hiding away until his pursuers had completely lost his scent. He very nearly got caught again attempting to sneak out of the city and, had he not been an Essence user himself, may have been lost in the Underworld, but Kado willed himself into Creation, dashed back to the ship, and made for home.

Kalanthes busied himself with more mundane projects (or, at least, mundane for an Exalt). Studying the designs of the great machine beneath the tower at Cot, he began fashioning a piece of pipe and connectors made of a variety of magical materials to complete one of the smaller gaps in the machine, hoping to get a better idea of what the strange device was for. He held a crafting course for a large group of Guild artisans, setting aside spaces for crafters from the poor quarter, where he used his magic to enhance all of their skills. Finally, he took tea with Su Thi Thi and Onyx Nomad, using the recent “death” of “Vorel Nibax” as a pretext to combine the House of 100 Scholars and the House of 30 Seals into a Grand College, to which Kalanthes would contribute time and materiel, and which would enhance the profitability and prestige of both institutions. They seemed intrigued by the notion.

And here we paused.

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There's Always Somebody Bigger

When last we left our heroes – Jin, Kado, Kalanthes, and Locke had led their followers and the hired swords of the Dragon’s Coin into the Jungles of the West in search of the missing villagers. They encountered a group of insect-like warriors, which assaulted them from a hidden position, attacking with a small group of soldiers and a single giant bug-creature. The heroes were victorious, but, in the process, Kado had unleashed the full, totemic version of his aura.

In the aftermath of the battle, there was a lot of cleaning up to do. When asked about the strange glowing figure, as well as the current disposition of Kado (whose identity as the strange glowing figure had been obscured by the nature of the Night Caste’s aura), Kalanthes informed the Lieutenant of the Dragon’s Coin that they had magic on their side that was outside of his capacity to explain to the uninitiated. The Lieutenant accepted that explanation for the moment, but there was more to come. Kado and Locke were dispatched to do some forward scouting, as were several mercenaries, though in a different direction.

Kalanthes and the hunters of the group made a detailed study of their assailants. The specifically advantageous and purposed nature of the creatures’ traits led the Twilight to the conclusion that they had been deliberately bioengineered, rather than evolving naturally. The medium-sized creatures that had attacked as a group had been bred and grown for combat, while the larger creature was the equivalent of a siege engine, or even perhaps a warstrider. Further investigation revealed that, if these were the creatures responsible for taking the villagers, there were more bioforms as yet undiscovered, as they had not found a creature to match all the tracks that had been found.

Jin determined that the villagers had been brought to and through this space towards another location. The scouts established that the company had reached the outer perimeter of a highly-organized force, with 10 or so of these clearings forming a ring around an inner perimeter of four structures, each two stories, fortified, and home to some 200 soldiers. Past that was an even larger, possibly central dwelling, with indeterminate numbers therein. Outnumbered and in need of defense, the party hunkered down and Kalanthes raised a small fort through sorcery, crafting a wall and watchtowers around the corpse of the siege beast, which acted as a central high point. Over the course of an evening, Jin observed evidence of a scout party circling the party’s defensive hardpoint, but no aggressive action was taken by either side.

Upon the return of Kado and Locke, the circle discussed the situation and how to proceed. Jin argued that the 1,000 villagers that had been taken were not worth the cost if this group of creatures took offense at the circle’s actions and assaulted Nathir, creating a potential third front of enemies for the city. Kalanthes proposed that he, Jin, and Zen approach the interior in search of something that could be communicated with, in order to attempt a parley for the villagers. The company was told to make ready for a rapid retreat and to execute that retreat on their own if the three had not returned by the next morning.

As the trio advanced into the jungle, it was Zen who noticed first, his sensory powers extending for miles ahead. A massive force of 2,000 bug warriors, with three of the siege bugs leading the way, was bearing down on the fort’s position. At first, Kalanthes thought to try and hold the oncoming force’s attention while the other two and the company made their escape, but Jin and Zen got the better of the argument and everyone fled. With Kado leading the company via his own magical powers, they easily outpaced the oncoming force and fled back to the empty village on the outskirts of the jungle. It took several hours of waiting and preparing, but it became clear that the force was not going to follow that far. Confronted with such overwhelmingly superior force, the circle retreated back to Nathir, abandoning the villagers to their fate.

Upon return to Nathir, the circle found Errant Knight waiting for them. He announced good news, in that the Opal Court had accepted the challenge of the circle for Calibration. Jin realized that they were now actually in a negotiation for the terms of said challenge, as the Fair Folk had stipulated terms, which stated that, should Nathir’s champion win, the Fair Folk would not sack Nathir for 10 years, and if the Fair Folk’s champion won, the circle would serve the Fair Folk as slaves for eternity and the Court would sack Nathir immediately. Further success was found in that the bribes of grave goods to the city of the dead had triggered purges, re-purges, and counter-purges in an orgy of political paranoia that had, for the moment, rendered the city utterly dissolute. On the other hand, the growing number of armed ghosts needed in such chaotic times meant that, should a leader emerge who could unite the warring factions, they would be able to turn almost immediately on Nathir.

Beset on all sides, the circle began to lay plans. Jin began to organize a campaign to allow him to speak to the Council of 100 and get himself appointed as an Emergency Minister to respond to the crises. Kalanthes completed the Force Pike he had begun for the captain of the Dragon’s Coin. A report on the bugs containing what little the party had learned was prepared for the Council, the Guild, Copper Hound, and Elephant Speaker. With six months before Calibration, who knows how long before Nathir comes under assault, to say nothing of the circle’s secret treasure at Cot?

Here we paused.

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A Little Road to a Little War

While Kado and Kalanthes were meeting with Copper Hound, Jin was involved in a different metallically-named encounter at his first meeting of the Scourge of Brass. Bronze Hand turned out to be an older woman who appeared to legitimately have skin of shining bronze. The rabble-rouser exhorted the crowd to follow her, but also that now was a time for caution and patience while they awaited the moment for the “Final Strike,” where they would cleanse the city, to include freeing the slaves from the Guild Pens. Jin’s ditch-digging alter ego, Balo Hun, met Bronze Hand and made a positive impression, even as he began exhorting the crowd to turn their attentions toward the Banh family.

On the 24th of Descending Water, information began pouring back in for the Circle. The reconnaissance unit returned from Bien Ho, reporting that there were no bodies present, but that there were signs of violence, including blood stains. Examining some maps, the nearest city to the emptied village was Black Hand’s Rest, the lair of a notorious river pirate. Tracks found at the scene indicated several many-legged things the size of a horse as the principal attackers. The circle agreed that this was concerning, but they had more pressing matters, at least in the next few days.

The 25th was another day of meetings. Jin met with the Lac family, or that is, he met with Tsuto Toyokimi, who was introduced by his Lac fiancée and then left alone to negotiate for the family. Tsuto and Jin discussed Jin’s history of fighting against the Fair Folk, as well as his connections to several local mercenary companies. When the recent troubles of the Sang family came up, Tsuto seemed inordinately pleased by this development. More distressing was the amazing amount of social skill and defense he showed, deflecting the Quicksilver Falcon’s usually overwhelming social skills. Alarmed that the man who would soon be a member of a great family was clearly more than he appeared, Jin made his goodbyes.

Jin also laid a trail of breadcrumbs for the Guild Merchant Prince, Onyx Nomad. By soliciting the merchant in seeking Guild sponsorship, Jin “let slip” that Kalanthes may have had a change of heart on the Guild, which sent the merchant dashing out to the compound. Tea was sipped, pleasantries were exchanged, and a date of 14 Ascending Earth was named for a meeting between Kalanthes and the local Guild Council.

Kado, seeking to shore up his position after his confidence was shaken by Copper Hound, consulted Jin privately in search of “secret power” to give him an edge. Jin said that he would be happy to teach the boy to fight, but that “secret power” usually meant sorcery, for which a good destination was the House of 30 Seals.

The 26th was set aside for mixing business with pleasure, as the circle hit the town as a group for the first time. With Kalanthes footing the bill, Jin decided to test the Plaza’s wine stocks, while Kado went for both drinking and gambling. With Jin’s help, Kalanthes began searching for a potential bride among the ladies of the Tu family. Tu Sapphire River proved charming and intelligent, and walloped Kalanthes at Gateway.

With social positions advanced and plans laid, it was finally time to deal with the Scourge of Brass. The circle discussed a variety of options in dealing with what they believe to a God-blood, finally settling on heading down there in force. The circle and 50 soldiers from the Dragon’s Coin made their way to Wicked Emerald’s storefront temple on the 28th, to find Bronze Hand and a dozen followers.

As action prepared to go off, we paused.

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