A New Creation

Kalanthes's Journal - Thinking, Knowing, Fearing

Note to Self #1 – No more broad questions in the journal until lack of fate entanglement is confirmed.

When asking disturbing questions in a journal, receiving immediate answers can be unsettling. Receiving immediate answers that appear to confirm your worst fears are unsettling. Receiving immediate answers that not only confirm your fears, but introduce new ones you had not thought to consider is reason to lock the doors and not come out again.

The technique of the Courtier’s Eye reveals support and alliances in a metaphorical fashion. Wealth appears as chests, bursting with treasure. Organizations appear as some person or group of people with trappings that indicate who they are. Allies in the room can appear simply as golden threads connecting the observed to the person they believe they can count on for aid – Sleepy Fen cast out a great net of golden threads, believing everyone in the meeting room, save Locke and Zen, were assets to be used in need. Suto has, unsurprisingly, made explicit, and thus far successful, efforts to obscure the extent of his power and support. Li Zahn attempted to do the same, but was not as successful as Suto.

I may have wished that he had been.

The usual images of wealth appeared behind the merchant prince, as did a great cloak of black fog, like smoke, that swirled over his shoulders and into his ears. Something is whispering to him, and those whispers grant him power not unlike that of a powerful patron. I might have mistaken it for the influence of a Deathlord, but for one minor detail – I saw the Deathlord, or at least a representation I recognized as Walker in Darkness, looming behind Li Zahn with one awful hand on his shoulder.

Something worse than a Deathlord?

I appear to have violated my first note to myself.

Note to Self #2 – Draft specific instructions for the Chrysogona. Instructions should leave some leeway for creativity, but inhibit the capacity for betrayal. Easier if I set the start of the war as the end of the service period.

Suto, who we knew was of a type with us in power and ability, was kind enough to reveal his own patron directly once the mortals were out of the room. While the revelation is useful, first I have to overcome a nearly paralyzing fear. The Ebon Dragon? So Deathlords and Yozi Lords both have their own Exalted and both seem to take a far more active hand in supporting their champions agendas than the Unconquered Sun has taken in ours. The nature of their Exaltations remains a mystery though – How would it even be possible for the Deathlords to forge something designed to affix itself to a living soul? Li Zahn appeared as alive as I am.

The panic inside of me wants to cast off everything I’ve built and focus solely and being ready to do battle with such beings – both of the ones I met radiated power I have only recently come into. But the strategos wins – I know next to nothing of their natures, their experience, or their plans. I cannot defeat an enemy I don’t know. Even on a more rational note, however, the need to improve my sorcery and broaden my knowledge becomes more critical in light of these developments.

The Fair Folk will be marching soon. The Dead will gather to assault us, and have some necrotic Exalted of their own. The forces of hell have their own champions and are far more likely to move on an aggressive timeline than the ever-patient dead. In a world threatened by such things, what do I do?

Note to Self #3 – Write Wedding Vows.

Ah yes, I am getting married.

It has been some time since I was shouted at. My wisdom has been questioned often enough, and I’ve been called arrogant with enough frequency that I must confess it. I was so certain I had a solution all figured out and then I’m standing there guilty of exactly the sort of thinking I’ve berated Jin for. No fool like an old fool. Even now, I fret over the idea that, in the potential centuries ahead of me, she might become a wisp of a memory. And the moment I do, I hear her voice pointing out that we are nothing but an assembly of Todays, and letting today go because it’s a memory tomorrow, or because of some imagined tomorrow 10,000 todays from now, is a cockeyed way of looking at the world.

If nothing else, I owe her my thanks and my support just for pointing out my hypocrisy, however much it may have stung at the moment. There is no charm or spell to make me a good husband. That is my burden and I shall try to live up to it.

Topics for research: Ebon Dragon, Walker in Darkness, the madness of the First Age Exalted.

If existential threats from beyond Creation were not enough, we must now acknowledge a threat from within. Jin may be willing to rationalize his reactions as understandable in the face of betrayal, but I give him more credit than that. He’s uneducated, but he’s not a fool, and yet he was ready and willing to compromise all the work we have done to conceal our natures to stomp one meddling Factor? I have never seen him lose control so utterly, and Elephant Speaker’s stories of the First Age Exalted going mad now resonate with some concern. Perhaps it is some effect that my Sorcerer’s sight could not detect – some corruption Suto unleashed. Perhaps the human mind simply cannot hold the sort of power we have been given. He may protest that he did not mean to kill us, but even if that’s true, I expect he is overestimating my resilience in the event of large, bleeding wounds.

I hope that the wedding and the expedition to Karroth Vlan may achieve something we have not been able to accomplish in the months we have worked together – a degree of cooperation and trust between us. Jin, Kado, and I have not, I think, yet worked at cross purposes, but we have difficulty working together. We don’t trust each other. As Kado so often (and loudly) points out, they cannot sense lies the way I can, so I need to demonstrate my sincerity and openness more directly. On the other hand, if they had not lied to me on our first meeting, I might be more inclined to trust them now – first impressions are hard to overcome.

But overcome them we must. The one advantage we have on Suto and Li Zahn is that, for all appearances, they do not have friends, only acquaintances and minions. Whatever their power, I doubt they could withstand the five of us working together. In the longer term, I would say the same for the Yozis and the Deathlords. After all, something inside tells me we’ve beaten them before.

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The Best Laid Plans

Editorial Note: This week’s title works both in- and out-of-character, as our august Storyteller declared that we were totally going to Karroth Vlan today. And then things happened…

On the 26th of Descending Wood, Li Zhan, a Guild Merchant Prince specializing in dealing with the Dead, met with Jin in his Ministry offices on behalf of the Guild Factor, Sleepy Fen. Li Zahn requested, at Sleepy Fen’s urging, if he could accompany the Nathir Embassy to Karroth Vlan. Jin asked why Kalanthes was insufficient Guild representation for this endeavor, and Li Zahn indicated that the merchant faction of the Guild’s infrastructure wanted to ensure that their own interests were represented, as well as seeking opportunities for profit that they would be happy to share with Jin, should any present themselves. Jin voiced concerns about the need to provide additional security and declared that for Sleepy Fen to send a subordinate to make this request was insulting, and if Sleepy Fen wanted such a thing, he should come ask himself. Li Zahn apologized and promised to convey the message back to his superior. Before the day was out, a meeting with Sleepy Fen was scheduled for the next day.

On the 27th of Descending Wood, Sleepy Fen came to call on Jin, who had arranged to be joined by Kalanthes (who, as always, brought his trusted bodyguard), Locke, Unfettered Horizon, and Suto, Jin’s designated Guild sponsor. Sleepy Fen, for his part, brought Li Zahn along. The first part of the meeting was taken up by small talk and sizing up the many interlocutors. Jin’s keen social eye picked out a variety of intriguing power relationships and concerns. Sleepy Fen was markedly uncomfortable with the subject of the Dead. Additionally, Jin, who had cunningly arranged the room to help with his surreptitious observations, saw that Li Zahn and Suto were eyeing each other with a surprising level of antipathy. Kalanthes spoke with Li Zahn as one scholar to another, about how best to arrange a possible exchange of information regarding sorcery and necromancy. But Kalanthes’s Courtier’s Eye Technique revealed a terrible secret: Li Zahn’s backing and resources included the support of the Walker in Darkness, the Deathlord who was the power behind the throne in Karroth Vlan. Moreover, his sorcerer’s sight showed that both Suto (whom the Circle well knew about) and Zahn (whom the Circle knew nothing about) were powerful supernatural beings. Still reeling from this shock, Kalanthes got another one when Zahn used a version of a charm he had seen Jin use before to assess the room himself, though the Essence was strange, with a dark taint of death, though Zahn himself seemed as alive as anyone.

In the business part of the meeting, Jin adamantly resisted adding Zahn to the Embassy team, declaring that he could not guarantee Zahn’s safety. When Sleepy Fen offered to provide additional security personnel, Jin declared that such an act would only complicate matters needlessly and make diplomatic work that much harder. Realizing that Jin was intent on refusing him, Sleepy Fen declared that the Guild may take steps to send their own delegation. When Jin accused Sleepy Fen of acting against the wishes of the Ministry of Emergencies, Sleepy Fen accepted this with a shrug. The meeting broke off, with Kalanthes taking the opportunity to appraise Sleepy Fen with Courtier’s Eye and get a sense of the reach and power of the Factor.

After Sleepy Fen departed, Jin turned to Suto, his Guild sponsor and strident rival, asking him for assistance in stopping Sleepy Fen from interfering in the Embassy project. Suto seemed to demur, until Jin committed to a full social engagement, insisting that Suto assist him and Jin would consider himself to be in Suto’s debt if he did so. Suto asked if Jin meant that and Jin said yes, putting his hand on the merchant prince’s shoulder and invoking a powerful social charm combo to compel Suto to do his bidding. Suto replied with something no one was expecting: the merchant prince erupted in a baleful green aura of power, his totemic symbol a gaping maw mask of green fire and Suto, now revealed as some unknown form of Exalted, sanctified the agreement (That Suto would stop Sleepy Fen and Jin would be in Suto’s debt) with a power remarkably like Jin’s caste power, ensuring that the party that broke the arrangement would fall victim to a powerful curse.

Frustrated and now backed into a magically-empowered corner, Jin’s virtues rang out in his mind and his Conviction finally drove him over the brink, triggering his Limit condition of Deliberate Cruelty. Heedless of secrecy now, Jin, who had only barely caused a glimmer of his caste mark, now allowed his aura to manifest as he attempted to terrify his nemesis with his holy power. The psychic assault was brutal and Suto only managed to swallow his terror with a tremendous expenditure of Willpower. Fully in the thrall of the Great Curse (though no one was aware of this, or even that such a thing existed or was possible), Jin turned to deal with Sleepy Fen himself, headed for the door with cruelty first on his mind. Kalanthes stepped in front of the door to try and prevent the raging Jin from exposing himself or harming the Factor. Jin, undeterred, set to drive the sorcerer aside. When it became clear that only violence would resolve the impasse, battle was joined.

Jin was a wild whirlwind of furious swings of his moonsilver daiklaive. Kalanthes, attempted to keep himself alive, while Locke and Zen, carefully moderating their swings to battle, but not cut, Jin, attempted to subdue the mercenary. Locke summoned ice to freeze Jin’s legs and then his sword, while Zen strategically parried deadly blows away from Kalanthes and dazzled Jin with a shower of sparks from their blades crashing. Though Jin swung with the intention of not just injuring, but leaving painful scars, his exuberance inhibited his ability to strike true, and the combined efforts of the Zenith and the Dragon-Blood gave Kalanthes the opportunity to coordinate an attack that drove Jin into a spin that left him bound in an armlock. Now helpless against further assault, Jin found himself rapidly beaten into unconsciousness.

Suto clapped smugly as the circle, now with several totemic auras flared, was forced to subdue one of their own. Kalanthes acquired rope and they bound Jin to prevent him from doing further harm. Locke and Kalanthes sparred verbally for a brief period with Suto, arguing over the nature of good and evil, even as Locke, very sure of her own sense of right and wrong, desperately wanted to end the argument with the edge of her daiklaive. No further violence was in the offing this day, however, and as the auras began to fade, the party bound up Jin in one bag, and his arms and armor in another, spiriting the unconscious warrior to the basement of Kalanthes’s compound for safekeeping.

It took the best part of the morning and into the early afternoon before Jin’s fury had receded. Kalanthes, Locke, and Zen asked him for an explanation and Jin retorted with accusations that the others had turned against him. They argued in a circle over this for a brief period before Kalanthes asked Locke and Zen to wait outside, and then untied Jin. The two men talked briefly about Jin’s decision-making process, with Kalanthes trying to get Jin to consider why he had been suddenly willing to put the identity he had been so carefully protecting at risk. Jin, never one to indulge in pointless self-reflection, agreed to think about it, though he did not see the point.

Attempting to mend fences, Kalanthes brought everyone together for lunch and made an announcement: his attempt to break off his engagement had met with failure and not only was he now getting married, he needed to do so before departing for Karroth Vlan. He asked Jin to both organize things and to serve as his best man, which took the mercenary, so recently having assaulted Kalanthes with violent intent, aback. He also asked Locke to preside over the ceremony and to arrange for the attendance and blessing of whichever members of the Spirit Courts she could persuade. Turned to new purpose, Locke and Jin began immediately conspiring to achieve their ends.

Their first stop was back to the Ministry offices and up to the top, where the temple of Happy Taro resided. The City God of Nathir appeared immediately, still petrified of Locke’s zealotry and spirit-damaging powers. Jin and Locke began speaking with Happy Taro about the wedding and its importance and the necessity of as many members of the local court attending as could be arranged. Happy Taro was, as is his way, happy to oblige. The pair then visited Muy, head of the Salt Council, and arranged for the many salt gods to also be in attendance.

And here we paused.

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Kalanthes's Journal - Power and its Costs

What do I know about Exaltations? I know that the Dragon-Blooded, also called the Terrestrial Exalts, pass their Exaltations along via bloodline, that the bloodlines have become diluted over time to the point that not all children Exalt (how well I know that bit). I know that there are further Exaltations unknown to most of the world. They “belong” to the Unconquered Sun, Luna, and the Five Maidens, though I’ve learned nothing of their creation. Did each god or group of gods create their own Exaltations, or were they created elsewhere and simply attuned to each god in the way that Essence flows may be attuned to a god for a manse? Both Terrestrial and these, let us call them Celestial Exaltations dramatically enhance the wielder’s ability to manipulate Essence in the way that Immaculate Enlightenment seems to, but over a dramatically compressed timescale. The Exaltation does not come with instructions or compulsions on how it is to be used, due to the necessity that the gods could not exercise control over their soldiers, lest the Primordials simply order the gods to order their Exalts to cease fighting.

The Terrestrial Exaltations appear to be aligned with the elements via a connection to the Elemental Dragons, which also provides particular attunement to the magical material, Jade. My own Solar Exaltation does not appear to be elementally attuned, but more focused on empowering my human abilities to a degree far above that any human should be able to achieve. As the Dragon-blooded have a special attunement to Jade, I appear to have a special attunement to Orichalcum. Neither the Dragon-bloods nor I and my fellow Solar Exalted have demonstrated any facility at shapeshifting, which indicates that this is likely the purview of the Lunar Exalted, like Copper Hound. That would be in keeping with the legendry of the mercurial Luna. I have no evidence yet, but an attunement to Moonsilver seems probable. I have precious little evidence of the capabilities of the Sidereal Exalted, though their proximity to heaven supports the hypothesis that they are likely attuned to starmetal.

What do I not know? I’d be here for years, but some areas of ignorance are more pressing concerns than others. The evidence indicates that Suto shares several abilities with Kado: impersonation, a superhuman skill at archery. But Unfettered Horizon speaks of her and Suto as serving the same “master,” and I don’t think she means the Unconquered Sun, who provides precious little guidance. I can conceive of three forces potentially capable of commanding a Solar Exalt and a Dragon-blood to do its bidding: the Gods, the Deathlords, and the Yozis. A god is plausible – they’re not all indolent, but they’re also not subtle. Servants who work an agenda that does not obviously result in greater worship would be a strange game indeed. The dead are worth investigating. Soulsteel is, at present, a magical material without an Exalt attuned to it, which is a gap in a system that, in my experience, despises gaps. On the other hand, it is also not a naturally occurring magical material, so I may be overthinking that. On the other other hand, the Exaltation binds itself to a soul – can you Exalt a ghost? Would you Exalt a living being to then use Necrotic Essence? How? What would that even do to the person?

The third option would be the Yozis, or at least the most powerful of demons. According to Elephant Speaker, the Primordials first fashioned Creation, but the Exaltations were created specifically to upgrade humans to fight the Primordials, so for them to have their own flavor of Exalt would be strange. Demons, however, have their own harmonic of Essence flow (Query for later: do they have a magical material? Something native to Malfeas?). There shouldn’t be an Infernal Exalted sui generis. But if Essence flows can be changed to fit different environments, such as in the way that the living cannot restore essence in a Necrotic Environment and Ghosts work vice versa, then it follows logically that something designed to improve and enhance the manipulation of essence, such as an Exaltation, could be “harmonized” with any Essence flow, to include infernal. The Fivefold Harmonic Converter is evidence that Essence flows can be adapted, and if the demons have one thing in abundance, it’s time. The implications of this line of thinking are disturbing, to say the least. If a demon could corrupt an Exaltation, such a creature would be immensely powerful at “birth” and unbound by the traditional limitations of Hell. Even worse, Solar and Lunar Exaltations have some sort of ill-defined (in that no one has defined it for me yet) bond. If a Lunar or Solar Exaltation was altered, what would that do to the bond?

What do I need to know? How do Exaltations work? Can they be severed from the host without killing the host? What degree of awareness or control do the patrons of Exaltations actually have (“Free will” has a lot of wiggle room)? What would I like to know? Where do they come from? How were they made?

And I am now out of high theory to cogitate upon and I must turn to more personal questions of power.

When I Exalted, I became aware that the stations of sorcerous initiation are embedded in Creation, meaning that I could potentially pursue more powerful magic than I now have without the benefit of a tutor, although a tutor would no doubt be helpful. As I review the process of initiation, however, I am confronted with the station of sacrifice and what it might entail. I had unwittingly sacrificed my place in Lookshy society, and perhaps my family, as part of my initiation that culminated in my Exaltation. Sorcerous sacrifice is always something dear to the sorcerer, as magic demands a great degree of commitment. Old texts make clear that there are spells beyond the capacity of any modern sorcerer, a fact which leads to the conclusion that there would be some greater initiation in order to access them. But what would I sacrifice to access such magic?

The list of things that are dear to me is rather depressingly short: My circle, the people who work for me, knowledge, a few sentimental attachments. The sentimental things I could hardly sacrifice, and knowledge would be contradictory in an educational paradigm. My fellow Exalted? Am I ashamed to admit that “dear” may be too strong a term? We are bound almost solely by our mutual culpability in being a class of being that is considered a monster by most of humanity. We agree on almost nothing and our goals only overlap in the very broadest terms. In truth, there are only two things dear to me that I could envision sacrificing and those are the organization I have built and the man who swore to defend my life with his.

It’s not much to look at. A large compound, a well-outfitted workshop, some 100 men and women. There are larger craftworks and wealthier scavenger lords (though not many, if I am honest). The company has grown rapidly in the last year, and I no longer know everyone by name, but I like to think that I would rise to their defense as rapidly as I did for Mai. The idea of sacrificing them, even if it were just severing my connection to them, in exchange for magical power, strikes me as the sort of trade the others would make without hesitation, but I find difficult to justify.

For what is it, if not trading one sort of power for another? I have seen a spell that would allow me to raise a manse overnight, but my people and I could direct the creation of multiple manses at this point, and enrich hundreds of laborers in the offing, if I am just willing to wait. There are, no doubt, spells to summon and banish higher orders of demons, but my wealth and power now could help build a world where the nihilistic cynicism that is susceptible to demonic corruption has difficulty finding purchase in the first place. Sorcery promises me the ability to reshape creation, but don’t I already have that?

And all of that presumes that the sacrifice is not of a more visceral nature. What if I am called upon to destroy what I have made? Could I even bring myself to do it? On the other hand, there is the very real possibility that mortals, or even Dragon-bloods, cannot learn magic this powerful.

Many of the things I have made in my life I have given away. Some were because that was my job – someone else paid for them and they dictated where my work went. Some were because I had the means and I saw a need. I have the power to make the lives of others better in indirect ways. Powerful sorcery would be more of the same, really, just a different sort of power and a different sort of change. Which is more of what I am? Which is more of who I want to be?

At some point, the Incarnae decided that it would be a good idea for the Exalted to rule the world. I am not certain that I agree. But if I am to be a being who stands between Creation and its enemies, I must, it seems, determine for myself how that will work.

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Turning and Returning
Kado's back...and he's brought a friend

On the 17th of Descending Wood, a member long missing from the circle of Solar Exalted returned, and he did not return alone. Kado approached the compound of Nefvarin Kalanthes with an escort – a venerable old man that called himself Geron. Kalanthes, wary from the shot taken at him previously, stopped Kado at the gate and asked him, using the mystic ability to detect lies, whether he had been involved in the attempt to shoot Kalanthes. Kado protested ignorance of the event and the young archer’s protest rang true; therefore, Kalanthes invited them in and called the others to discuss what to do next.

Jin was, of course, delighted to see Kado returned. Kado and Sarnai got acquainted over their mutual appreciation of poisons. In providing details to Kado of the imposter’s attempt to shoot Kalanthes, it became clear that whoever it was (with the general consensus being that it was Suto) manifested abilities startlingly similar to those of the Solar Exalted. Unfettered Horizon had mentioned to Jin that she and Suto served the same master, which turned the circle’s thoughts toward a terrible notion – an Exalted in service to a demon or Yozi. There exists, however, no evidence that such a thing is even possible, and the paucity of information about celestial exaltations made it nothing more than a rumination. The circle agreed to go to a party where Suto and Unfettered Horizon might be present, so that Kalanthes could attempt some assessment of their resources and allies by means of a new charm. Geron, for his part, showed three characteristics:

1) An avuncular protectiveness of Kado
2) An exasperation with Jin
3) A level of knowledge that marked him as both supernatural and super-aware of goings-on.

With that unpleasant thought in the back of their minds, the circle began making plans to pay a visit to Karroth Vlan. Sarnai and Kalanthes collaborated to make Kado six arrows – hollow with ceramic heads, they are filled with a quicksilver variant on the alloy that is anathema to necrotic essence. Jin recruited Unfettered Horizon to join the circle in the proposed embassy, sealing her pledge to assist him with the power of his caste, both binding Unfettered Horizon to the cause and revealing to the anarchic Dragon-Blood that Jin is a Solar Exalted. She reacted with a surprising amount of aplomb to the revelation. Jin also insisted that Unfettered Horizon apologize to Kalanthes for her manipulation of the sorcerer at Jin’s dinner party.

The circle attended a party thrown by Su Thi Thi under the auspices of the Guild to scope out their enemies. Kalanthes’s magic availed them little, as Suto’s dissembling nature shielded him from the sorcerer’s scrutiny, while Unfettered Horizon, though a woman of means, had no other influence or allies to hand. Locke spent the evening drinking in a misanthropic fashion. Unfettered Horizon made a quite sincere apology to Kalanthes, which Jin pointed out to Kado as “true power.”

With the time incorporated for building and training (Kado trained the circle to act as a fighting unit), we paused on the 26th of Descending Wood.

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Kalanthes's Journal - Facets

How do you fight an enemy you don’t even know is there?

I do not truck with false humility – I was highly intelligent prior to my Exaltation and, since then, I have become brilliant in ways that challenge the notion that I can truly relate to human beings – one of many reasons I’m researching the concept of Influence without Authority. For all that brilliance, however, it was only when working with someone as brilliant as I, with more than a few starting hints, that I was able to find the ripples of stones thrown in the river of time, when fate itself works to hide the stones.

But we found it. The hidden manipulators. It may well be that Elephant Speaker is simply working to keep Creation intact, but her attitude shows that she does not represent the consensus view, or even a majority view. The Sidereal Exalted took it upon themselves to be Fate’s architects, rather than its servants. Perhaps that is something we can correct. And what hubris is this, Kalanthes? You didn’t even know they were there to look for until one appeared in front of your face. A lifetime of learning and I feel like the picture only now begins to become clear, and I have a handful of puzzle pieces.

If the tapestry of history that I have learned is but a part, and maybe not even the largest part, of the history of mortal civilization…If the technology I am capable of now comprises the building blocks of wonders that lead to moving sidewalks and machines that create reality itself…the implications are exhilarating and terrifying. On the one hand, there’s so much I could do to raise people out of the squalor that the Guild and the Families and the various power structures seem to be content to leave them in. And now I know that goes higher – It is probably that the Sidereal Exalted did not intend for Creation to fall apart like this, but they and their chosen Dragon-Blooded minions were not up to the task. The gods drifted into indolence and humans are left to scratch out a living amongst those who can turn and twist humanity to their whim. Most people know of the corruption amongst the gods – that’s part of why the Immaculate Philosophy appeals, I suspect. But they don’t even know about the Sidereals, and Copper Hound speaks of her own people as mostly dangerous.

Am I any different? I just said at the beginning of this entry that I question my capacity to relate to humans. I’ve broken off my engagement with Sapphire River, and the lies came so easily – I’m so much older. I spoke true when I said I object to arranged marriages. I find I’m objecting to a lot of things that take away choice. But the truth is that the age difference between us is not utterly immaterial. Barring accident or violence, I will outlive her by a preposterous span. No one deserves to be a footnote in the life of another.

Jin thinks I’m soft-hearted, with my frequent refrain to think of those around us as people, rather than pawns, but in all honesty it’s just a hatred of waste and a preference for self-determination. Most of those who died at Mishaka probably had to in order to break the Realm’s will to fight. No doubt, some will die in the battle with Karroth Vlan, and many are at risk if our plan for the Fair Folk goes sideways. But his plan to sacrifice the Order of the Firmament to the war ghosts is raising alarms in the back of my mind. If they become aware that we mean to sacrifice them before the battle, they may turn on us. If they become aware at the battle, we may be providing the kingdom of the dead with a new company of occult-trained warrior ghosts.

Besides, it seems to me that our collective failure to acknowledge those who could not compete with our excellence is likely one of the chief causes of our inability to see the rebellion that ended our reign so many centuries ago.

So it must be Influence without Authority. Let humans run human affairs, but be there to give them space to make their own decisions, and to provide counsel when they ask. I don’t even know if we still bear the Mandate of Heaven, but I suspect that, even if we do, we likely do not deserve it.

To be certain, neither do the Gods or the Sidereal Exalted. We have all had some opportunity to rule over Creation, and what we seem to be best at is making our own lives comfortable and ruining the lives of people who become part of the local fauna. If they cannot rule and we will not, we must make humanity ready to govern itself.

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Links in a Chain

On the 9th of Ascending Wood, Locke set out on a introductory tour through several of the major gods of the city and region. First, she visited the temple of Duong Giao, the god of the eastern road. Praying at his temple, the impressiveness of her incense and the power of her prayer summoned the god himself for a discussion. Locke asked what sort of service could be done to prove that she and her Circle were allies worth having. Duong Giap requested new trade along the eastern road, as well as some plans to improve and beautify it. Next, Locke traveled outside the city to the sacred caves, in which dwell the god of the quarries, Ahn Lan Chong. Making the same offer to the granite form of the god, Locke is charged to increase the usage of the god’s stone in the region by 20%. Returning to town, she visited the dockside caverns that were the home of the Salt Council, headed by the chief Salt God, Muy. Muy, of course, was already a courteous and eager servant and absolutely pleasant after Locke had mentioned her relationship to the Solar Circle. Locked asked that the Salt Gods proclaim that she had their support at the local Spirit Court, and that they keep a quiet eye on the activities of Happy Taro. Finally, she paid a visit to Happy Taro himself, taking a somewhat different tack in making an impression on Nathir’s primary city god. Drawing her daiklaive, she slammed it to the floor of his temple, which occupies the upper regions of the city’s primary government building, and proclaimed herself not only a prophet of the Unconquered Sun, but a mighty warrior (carefully omitting the word “Exalted”). Happy Taro, a rotund and endless cheerful man, said he had no fear of demons, as they were bound in a variety of ways. Locke replied that she could defend the city from the dead and the fair folk, with magics that could destroy spirits eternally, making her pledge a less-than-subtle threat against those who would cross her. Happy Taro received the message loud and clear and asked what he could possibly do on behalf of such a mighty warrior. Locke asked him to bless the efforts of the Minister of Emergencies, which he rapidly declared he was happy to do thrice over. [Net result of this: Jin’s new ministry and position is now permanent. Any action undertaken in his official capacity receives +1 die.]

Locke, Sarnai, and Kalanthes each started training each other – Sarnai taught Locke some of the elements of deportment and making a positive impression (Charisma). Locke put Sarnai through a series of endurance exercises (Stamina), and Kalanthes taught Sarnai the fundamentals of business and of navigating the city’s bureaucracy (Bureaucracy). The forces of Lookshy received their direct commander, Gherin Kita, and plans were made to receive her at the compound and get to know her as soon as the Minister of Emergencies could clear his schedule.

Kalanthes started a pair of projects to further the Circle’s aims. First, he commissioned the construction of the Great Vaneha Road, to be considered a part of the Eastern Road, and running along the shores of the southeastern river, from the “ruins” of Kraytak, through Nathir, to Golden Spire and even further. He directed that the road be built with great slabs of stone from Nathir’s quarries, and that a side road from it run from the shoreline directly to his compound. Secondly, he gathered together the experts from the Guild of Red Iron and the Sorcerer-Engineers of Lookshy’s deployed Dragon to begin work on Jin’s great Harbor Chain. They eventually developed an alloy of orichalcum, white jade, red jade, and steel that would prove, no pun intended, anathema to the dead and those infused with the power of the dead [Net result – the metal does aggravated damage to any creature infused with Necrotic Essence].

Sarnai and Kalanthes engaged on an extended research project to discover just what the Sidereal Exalted were up to within the bounds of Stone Root Province. They began by researching regional history, searching out evidence of ripples in the river of events where the stone thrown to do so was unclear, contradictory, or simply missing. Armed with this general sense of where Sidereals might have appeared, Sarnai, aided by Kalanthes, made a direct investigation of the events and people touched by these ripples, focusing on the Immaculate Order as a known pawn of the Sidereal Exalted. They were able to determine that a Sidereal ran down and killed either a Solar or Lunar Exalted in this region some six years ago, and that, over the last two years, a Sidereal, probably Elephant Speaker, had roamed the region extensively, making various events happen or not happen.

It was as they were showing this rather extensive conspiracy map to Locke, some six weeks after they began, that Elephant Speaker returned, somewhat dismayed that anyone had been able to track down the activities of those hidden by fate itself. Nevertheless, she proved good as her word, presenting Kalanthes with a copy of the spell, Private Plaza of Downcast Eyes, and the Circle with documentation establishing that Gherin Kita was, in fact, a direct descendent of the last Shogun. In gratitude for her efforts, Kalanthes hatched a plot to try and reveal the Solar Circle to the Sidereals of the Gold Faction in a way that would take the pressure off of her to keep them a secret, and possibly give the Circle some more freedom to maneuver, as well as a few more friends in Heaven. Elephant Speaker had previously explained the existence of the Cult of the Illuminated, as well as the intention of the Gold Faction to use Solars as proxy rulers, in the same manner as the Bronze Faction uses the Dragon-Blooded. Kalanthes proposed that they attempt to arrange events so that some Gold Faction Sidereals “discover” the Solar Circle and the grateful Solars accept their aid, not letting on that they know how the Sidereals see them. Elephant Speaker endorsed this plan and agreed to help, but stated that, in order to arrange Fate to support this outcome, the Circle would A) need to come up with actions that would cause their Animas to flare to totemic levels, and B) be ready to deploy a plan that triggered these actions on very short notice. The battle with the undead of Karroth Vlan seemed to provide an ideal stage for this, but Elephant Speaker could not guarantee that she could manipulate fate to that particular event. Finally, Kalanthes asked that Elephant Speaker tutor him in the martial arts.

Having reached the date of 16 Resplendent Wood, here we paused.

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Kalanthes's Journal - Theories and Ruminations
A lot of scribbles in a notebook

Ashigaru armor requires three essence capacitors of standard size A to replace normal hearthstone support, allowing the capacitors to cycle motonic replenishment perpetually. Presuming a manse over a class-D demesne, what processing speed could be achieved with three such manses cycling to empower a fourth manse with an installed perfected calculation array? Presuming a page load of 32,640 (using the Valkhawsen Hornbook and Encyclopedia as reference), at what multiphasic speed could access be provided to a dozen petitioners at manse four?

I do not want to be a god.

I want those that are gods to do their jobs.

If they won’t, I will, and then no one gets what they want.

When did metaphysics require me to be 7 again?

Major Premise: A God receives power from prayer and provides services to those within its area of responsibility.

Minor Premise: I receive power from prayer and provide services to those within my area of responsibility.

Conclusion: Crap.

Sidebar: If a “god” does not provide services, what are they? If a god provides services in a manner that suggests bureaucratic corruption, how may such corruption be put right?

I’ve lived in the Nathir region for some 15 years, two years in the city itself while I built my estate. My first house was near the caravanassery, and I shall never get the smell of Yeddim fully out of my mind. The city’s history and character persuaded me that certain things were simply to be taken for granted: the slave trade, the poor quarter, Guild machinations, and the odd mixture of large numbers of mercenaries and apothecaries. The artifacts and history I discovered on expedition all seemed to support Jin’s unified theory of civilizational decay – that things just get progressively worse. The last two years have upended all of that thinking.

In the past week, I’ve seen a moderately successful mercenary force become as organized and disciplined as any force out of Lookshy, and our production facilities are such that I expect we’ll soon be able to outfit them better than forces out of Lookshy. Jin is enjoying playing up his invented role as the Dragon-Blooded savior of the city, but he will soon surpass even the most powerful Dynast’s capabilities. What happens then? It seems like the only subject I’ve seen him sincerely animated about is his loathing of the slave trade, but first he has to believe that positive change is possible.

Let x be the cost of a slave. If I make a futures purchase at x, and the cost to the slaver of the slave at 180 days has increased, at what price point, where x < x+180, do the slaver’s operating costs become untenable?

We climbed back down into the muck in order to get Sarnai a business license, all the while I had a nagging ethical doubt – If Sarnai’s talent for medicines is anywhere near mine for arms, she is already an existential threat to the Guild’s monopoly, and perhaps to their future. Of course, if she follows up on the Harmonics study I have pointed out to her, she may well be an existential threat to far more.

As for me? This week, I instilled literacy in 30,000 residents of Nathir. Just writing that now, it looks ridiculous. A few days thereafter, I noticed something. For the first time in weeks, I got into my workshop. I have to work after dark in order to conceal the use of my gifts while I work, but I appreciate the solitude (even more now that the Legion keeps sending technicians over). As I worked on a piece for holding the hearthstone I took from Cot, I noted that the Essence in my own pattern seemed to be flowing faster. The slow feed that had seemed to keep pace with my bloodflow feels like more of a fountain.

Measurements:

Old throughput: 1m per 15 minutes; capacity at 17.04 motes

New throughput: 1 m per 5 minutes; capacity unchanged. Hearthstone draws at 1m per 12 minutes.

Hourly count: 11 motes. Overage: 2 motes.

I can trace this to no other precipitating event than my marathon teaching sessions in the square. I must beware confirmation bias, because my personal confidence has been growing for a variety of reasons, but it does appear that the prayers of those who are praying to me is manifesting as Essence within my person.

Which brings me back to the question about being a god. The gods do get something for their trouble – they get power in raw form. Happy Taro gets the prayers of most of the city, and what does he do with it? All the problems I listed with Nathir – could he not have solved many of these by now? If the gods are not here to answer prayers and to make the lives of those who live in their domains better, what are they for? Perhaps that’s why he’s so happy – I too would be happy if I did sloppy work, but still drew power from tens of thousands of people that thought I was the source of their future good fortunes.

I suppose what angers me is how uncomplicated it was. It is entirely possible that the powers of the Solar Exalted are well-tuned to this sort of thing, but the myriad problems that I have put my mind to are not new, and the Gods have centuries of experience. These problems should have been solved before now. I don’t expect that life should be a paradise with neither trials nor failure, and I expect that there are externalities and circumstances to which I am not privy. But when I can get 60,000 people to show up just by promising food and raise their understanding of the world around them in two days of showing them the alphabet, I cannot believe that this is the city we would have if everyone did their duty, to say nothing of Creation at large. If I understand Elephant Speaker correctly, the Exaltations are largely self-propelled, which begs the question – where is the King of the Gods in all this and what has he been doing while Creation slides ever further into ruin?

Research point – Intermetallic Alloys through latticework phasing. Forcing an essence flow (Fire? See if Zen will support test bed) through salt crystal growth to fuse prismatic crystal to face-centered cube. It will look strange, however it comes out.

Two-front wars with the dead and the Fair Folk are problems that the Solar Exalted may well have been born to solve. The suffering of mankind was someone else’s job for over 1,000 years, and those someone elses – the Realm, the Immaculate Order, the Nobility, and every god from the least god of my forge to the Unconquered Sun himself – have allowed that suffering to fester and must bear responsibility in accordance with the power they have had to fix it.

Or, if not, they should make room for those of us who will.

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Lessons Learned
Reshaping the social landscape

On the first day of Ascending Wood, Jin met with Sarnai to discuss the poisoned arrow that Kado had appeared to fire at Kalanthes. Sarai declared that no one should be able to reproduce a poison she had designed to be undetectable. Kalanthes pointed out that Sarnai herself could probably determine the ingredients of a poison designed to be undetectable and reproduce it, given her skill in the area. Jin stated that he intended to still honor his end of their bargain. Everyone agreed that Suto, either directly or via proxy, was probably responsible for the attack, with the “her” mentioned in his threatening letter referring to Suto’s betrothed. Kalanthes offered to speak to Suto in the interest of attempting to determine his motivations and see if a detente could not be worked out.

Kalanthes offered to stake Sarnai in the creation of her own Apothecary and Alchemist shop in Nathir, and she agreed. They first went to the guild, where Kalanthes made arrangements to meet with Suto and with Reluctant Dagger, head of the Administrative Branch of the Guild in Nathir (which oversees banking). They also started the process of acquiring Sarnai a business license to operate in the city. Next, the group went to the poor quarter where they went property hunting. Even with the recent improvements to the area, they were able to find an ideal location that presently stood empty. The site acquired, all that remained was to get the blessing of three ruling families, who oversaw the production of medicines (The Diep), poisons (The Bahn), and alchemical goods (The Pho).

Kalanthes then met with Suto at the bar that overlooked the Slave Pens. Kalanthes attempted to discuss their recent difficulties, but Suto (lying the whole time) denied any knowledge of any troubles, though he did evince interest in Kalanthes’s development project. Eventually, Kalanthes made a roundabout query about the potential costs of achieving some measure of detente for a season, which Suto set at [Resources 4] if it would be an ongoing thing, or a one-time purchase of [Resources 5]. Before Kalanthes could make an offer, Jin arrived at the discussions, informing Suto that he had to terminate his plans to join the Guild due to his new position as Minister of Emergency Situations. Suto expressed (false) regret and conveyed his (false) hopes for Jin’s success. Suto did express an honest appreciation for the slave trade, and Kalanthes was able to divine that Suto’s underlying intention in the exchange was to deceive him and Jin and hide the extent of his power. After Kalanthes informed Suto that Unfettered Horizon had offended him and she should not be used in any exchanges between the two of them, Jin seized the opportunity to drive an emotional wedge between his rival and his rival’s Dragon-Blooded aide, magically empowering it to ensure Suto would be angry with his agent of Chaos for days to come.

The Solars returned to Kalanthes’s compound, where Kalanthes made an amazing soup. Jin took a pot of this soup to pay a call on Unfettered Horizon. Between excellent soup and Jin’s even more excellent social machinations, He set Unfettered Horizon to questioning her service and persuaded her to join him for training.

The next week was taken up by training and getting into business. Jin trained Unfettered Horizon and the soldiers of the Dragon’s Coin, magically enhancing their combat skills. Kalanthes, through the use of his own growing reputation and the offer of food, drew thousands upon thousands into the great square of the poor quarter where, over a two-day period, he educated 30,000 of them in the basics of literacy, geography, and history. Sarnai, with the help of the two tutors, made arrangements with all three families to approve her license, and got the Guild on her side by agreeing to sell controlling interest in her shop in two years’ time.

And here we paused.

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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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