Wars of the Threshold

Warmaster's Journal #2

Two lives and yet it's all full of blood. The taking of the fort went better than expected, massive casualties on the opposing sides while my men came out relatively unscathed. Guess I still have it. Interesting how quickly men fall back into old patterns. The men are hopeful, as far as I can tell, but the food situation is precarious. Fortunately, this new fop in our company has made that a bit easier. Perhaps I shouldn' be so hard on my allies, but the Sidereal spy has me worried. I've come to despise Sidereal exalts, though maybe that isn' fair either. I miss battlecat, I pray she is safe. Curse Thule thrice for separating us. Too many things to do and too little time, the Bull will come soon enough and we must be ready. More blood, more tears, and more orphans. I'll never understand how my other self ever enjoyed this.

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Garvan's new life...
"I wonder if others have the same experience when they visit their past lives" thinks Garvan as he sees his hands move under another live's control. "I wonder what that is?"
Holding up a device and pointing it at a target the device erupts and the target spouts a hole in it.
 
"Ahh, it seems to be like a flame piece but instead of fire it's more like a crossbow."
Several more shots are taken before the device makes a clicking sound. At that point He hands it back to another person with clear approval. Then he goes into a near by building and into an office.
 
"This might also be easier if i could understand them as well. Ahh, this thing again. If i am guessing correctly it is used to store information… I really wish i could read this."
 
Typing away on the device He is interrupted by a snake.
 
"I have seen this snake before. I believe it is a Lunar, based on what i have learned from Garian."
The snakes delivers a letter to Him.
 
 
Garvan wakes up.
 
 
"Well, that was… annoying, like usual." Garvan says out loud in his room in High Realm. "I had better get up. These barbarians think it is normal to get up before lunch… it's barbaric." Getting up and ready Garvan leaves his room and his "bodyguard" falls in step behind him. In Scavenger tongue "Is Garian back, or the Lucky Raspberry back?"
 
"No idea. I have been outside your room for the last 3 hours." Says Renald. "Anyways i am your guard not your assitant."
 
"Shit, you can speak words with more then 2 sylables."
 
"Fuck you very much." making a rude gesture at the same time.
 
"Ahh, that's more like it. Well since you have had plenty of time to sit lets go for a walk."
 
"I am surprised your royalness is awake, lunch isn't for another 3 hours give or take."
 
"Well, I figured I could try at least a little bit to blend in with you barbarians."
 
"Lose the fancy clothes, it will go farther…"
 
Banter continues until Garvan and Renald make it to the docks.
 
"Ahh, She must have just gotten in they are still unloading." Looking around Garvan spots the ships Captain Nova. "Nova! Glad to see you," he shouts in High Realm.
 
Nova, looks up with a grimace, "Shit, I was hoping to be finished before you got up." Switching to scavenger tongue. "Renald, Why are you waking him up so early?"
 
"Figured if i had to deal with him, others should suffer with me."Renald responds innocently
 
"And i am an ass you say. Don't worry I'll sit outside the captains quarters and let you 2 lovebirds
have your reunion, after I have my meeting with Nova."
 
Renald and Nova quickly shake off their embarrassment, and all 3 head to the captains quarters for their meeting.
 
In Scavenger Tongue, "First, Nova on your next trip south can you see about getting me a decent crossbow and 2 flame pieces? I have had an inspiration to learn at least some basic ranged combat. Also I need an aid. Renald here can't be in 2 places at once and thanks to that damn messenger I have to have a guard with me at all times."
 
"Let me get someone to replace Terra. She is the only one here that has good forest tongue, but i need her for now. No one else is as fluent and I am meeting with more Forest tongue speakers."
 
The rest of the conversation goes into the state of the ports the Lucky Raspberry has been going to and the issues there has been getting supplies. Also a refit for the Lucky Raspberry to give it more cargo room. After which Garvan gives Nova and Renald their privacy. After awhile Renald comes out and both Garvan and Renald head back to the keep.
 
"I am really surprised that you and Nova hit it off so well." Garvan says conversationally.
 
"Well, when you bring a ship full of women here there is bound to be some relationships starting, but yea I am surprised myself. Though i think we just pity each other about having to deal with you soo much."
 
"Ouch. Well now to really bore you, paperwork. You get to translate forest tongue for me as well."
 
"I would have preferred to stay on the ship…."
 
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Capt Farwinds Log Entry 7

1,000 curses, vexes, plagues, and miseries of every form upon that city.  I curse you Thule!

I finally find you after all this time and you shanghai me to the frozen north.  Not only that you drop me into the realm of my wife!  Oh I hate you…

Okay maybe hate is too strong a word.  But, come on.  Why would you do this to me?  What did I ever do to you?  

Why am I talking to a city?  Why am I talking to something not anywhere near me?

It's finally happened, I've finally gone round the bend.

And why is that damn owl following me?…

Three days later, the owl floats down and takes on its true form, Lilith now stands before Jingham.

"Hello husband"

"Hello my lady, Lillith.  I am sorry, but I am not entirely sure how to address you.  What should I call you?"

"That's not like you to show such hesitation or indescision.  Interesting.  You may call me Lillith for now."

Over the next several weeks Lillith would train Jingham and help to explain the meaning of the lore filling his head. 

During this time Jingham comes to understand his purpose as a Solar, and adopts a new mission.  "Rid the world of the darklands and everything in them.  Abyssals be ware."

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The Mountain
Adventure Log for The Brother of the Mountain

              The arrow flew wide and the goat skittered, darting away from the clattering sounds of the arrow shattering against the mountainside.

              “Shit,” Chester cursed as he watched his prey bounce away from him. That was the third goat he’d missed today – and he couldn’t return home for another night without one. His drunkard father would beat him bloody if he did and worse, his mother would go out a proper meal for another night.

              Further up, then. He’d never been this far up the mountain, but he saw no other choice. He stowed his bow on his back and climbed higher still. It was fast approaching twilight and a path without sure footing would be dangerous in the dark, but the thoughts of his mother and his own rumbling stomach pushed him onward… and upward… As he climbed, he trees grew more sparse, replaced with short stubby bushes that grew out of the cracks from between the boulders that little the side. The wind grew only more biting and Chester hugged his cloak tighter to protect himself from the cold.

              Movement! To the left! He dropped to a crouch and retrieved his bow. He nocked an arrow, gently fingering the fletching at its end, checking that his next shot would fly true. It was the goat again, but it was already looking dead at him… Chester drew back the string as gently as he could, but even that was enough to send the goat bounding towards a steep mountain path between a cliff-face and the open sky. He risked keeping the bow out this time – it cost him his hands which were useful when climbing, but with any luck, the goat was right around the corner. The path should make it a relatively clean shot. He snuck around the corner and, sure enough, the path was long and straight… He could see the goat bounding up it. He drew back the bowstring, lined up his shot… and then noticed the cliff face.

              It was carved – the rough stone had been hewn and polished into shapes and patterns and designs. There was no color, but the image was perfect in its depiction that it was difficult to believe its patterns were once something as lifeless as a stone. The image showed a staircase – raising at the same rate as the slope of the path – climbing towards a radiating sun. On the stairs, near the bottom, was a dog; but the next figure was slightly less dog and slightly more human; the next one, even more so; the next, even more; until after about six or so figures, it was a perfectly human girl. Her features were perfectly and subtly carved that she could have been a real girl forced into the rock… Her features were gentle and delicate, her hair blew in an imaginary wind – Chester could pick out individual strands across her face – and her hand reached towards the impossibly radiant sun that crowned the stairs…

              It was possibly the most beautiful thing that Chester had ever seen.

              A clack of hooves suddenly reminded him of why he was here and quickly realigned himself and fired. He was distracted though, by the cliff-face, by the beauty of the stone girl and his arrow sailed way over his target, striking nothing. The goat darted again.

              “No!” cried Chester and he increased his pace up the slope. The goat turned the corner, out of Chester’s sight. Then, there was a rush of noise and the mad bleating of the goat as if he was caught in a trap. Chester increased his pace again, turning the corner… then came face-to-face with an enormous man – at least a foot taller than him in height, bare and barrel-chested, with dark skin covered in tattooed spirals and curves and holy symbols – grasping his quarry tightly in his grip as the goat flailed madly trying to escape the stranger’s iron grip.

Chester tried to cry out in shock, but no sound emerged from his throat. The mountain stranger made an odd face, then twisted his arms around, grabbed the goat by the neck and twisted it around hard. There was a sickening crack and the goat instantly fell still.

The stranger looked up at Chester. Despite his fearsome appearance, there were kind eyes under the complex, circular tattoo in the center of his forehead. “This is yours, I assume,” he said, his voice was deep and stern, but not commanding.

“Um…” Chester managed.

“Oh, it’s alright,” said the man. “I have another. You can have this one.” He offered the goat to him. Chester put away his bow and accepted the gift, slinging it over his shoulder. The stranger smiled at him kindly. “Well then,” the man continued. “Enjoy the meal.” He turned away and began to retreat back up the mountain.

“Wait,” said Chester, stepping up after him. “You live up here?”

“I am the Brother of the Mountain,” the man said matter-of-factly. “This is where I belong.”

              “Well, thank you. For the goat, I mean.”

              “You are most welcome,” said the Brother. “Do you know how to skin it?”

              “Not really, but my dad can do it tomorrow.”

              “I can show you, if you’d like. I have the right tools right up here.”

              Well, it wasn’t the greatest decision… but the Brother seemed friendly enough and curiosity got the better of him. Chester nodded in approval and increased his pace to match the much bigger man’s. As they walked, Chester awkwardly introduced himself as he noticed more and more of the stone art – not as large as the mural that he first saw, but no less beautiful. They were all different – some were carved into the boulders, some into cliff faces – and many of them featured that same girl from before. So intricate and beautiful were the carvings that he could recognize her even when her hair or clothes were different from before.

              “You’ll have to forgive me if I am not the greatest of teachers. I have done it once before, a long time ago, but it did not go particularly well,” said the Brother simply as he approached a simple campfire, next to a domed stone structure that he was clearly sleeping in. Clothes were hanging over nearby rocks to dry and a small waterfall trickled over a cliff a few feet away into a small mountain pool. A small bird, a falcon maybe, sat atop a small stone pillar near the campfire – that pillar was carved too into beautiful spirals that spanned its length.

The bird squawked loudly as Chester approached. “Oh, and you’ll have to excuse Eos,” said the Brother. “He’s not used to visitors.”

“Yeah, I can kinda see why,” said Chester. The Brother smiled gently in response.

He approached a flat stone surface – this too had been made flatter than nature intended and picked up a carving knife that lay flat on it. Chester took the hint and laid the goat down on the makeshift table. The Brother then went about explaining the various details – it was true, he wasn’t a very good teacher. His voice was too monotone and Chester kept zoning out and glancing around at the various carvings. Still, the Brother was patient and observant – whenever Chester got distracted, he simply waited until his attention was back with him and then continued. After he finished, the mountain man picked up the goat and handed it back to Chester with a smile. “I trust you can find your way back down the mountain?”

Chester cursed again; he’s taken way too long up here – it was already dusk. The path would be dark by the time he was even halfway down the mountain and he’d brought no torches to light his path. He looked around for a branch to start crafting a torch out of. “Any chance I can borrow some of your fire to light my way down?”

The Brother nodded with understanding. “No need. Eos will guide you down.” He gestured to his bird, who quickly fluttered to his arm. “Eos. Light.” The bird closed its eyes, then burst into light – not flames, just a solid white glow that radiated from every one of his feathers and bathed the two of them in its radiance. “He will see you safely home.”

Chester nodded his thanks though his amazement. He started down the mountain, but he turned again to speak one last time to Brother. “Can I come and see you again?”

The Brother nodded. “Though, I cannot guarantee I will be here. I feel it may be time to finally move on from this place. You are welcome to use this place though. I do not intend to remove it.”

Chester couldn’t help but smile. A simple base camp when hunting… A place to get away from his father… It was practically a slice of heaven in the middle of the mountain. “Thank you… But, can I ask… who’s the girl?”

Bathed in the simple white light of the luminous bird, Chester watched the Brother’s face fall – the genial amusement fell from his face, replaced by a stern, disciplined mask. “She is nobody, and yet she is all that matters,” he answered.

“I don’t get it. Is it someone you loved?”

“She is someone I failed;” he said, his voice hard, yet filled with emotion. “And, in my hubris, I believed that if I carved enough monuments to her memory, that it would absolve me of those failures. They do not, so I will try another way…”

“What was her name?”

The Brother closed his eyes. Shame washed over his face. “I don’t know.” He turned away and walked towards his stone hut – ducking to get in through the door. “Goodnight, Chester. Be well.”

Chester nodded again, adjusted his freshly-skinned goat, and started down the path, drinking in the stunning stonework – somehow even more detailed now in the light of Eos, like the stone had adopted the texture of real skin and hair and fabric. He promised himself that he would make the trek up here again in the next couple of days – if only to refresh his memory of the place. He ran his hands over the cold stone – wondering and wishing that others had witnessed the magical art of this strange mountain man – and hoping that he would get to see him again some day soon.

              *

A long way away, two monastic students swept the long, darkening hallway. All along the walls, leading to the main cloister were decorated with long bass reliefs, carved into the simple stone. Each of them depicted photo-realistic men and women waiting to reach the main part of the church – they started simplistic, but got increasingly ornate as they got closer and closer. By the end, the figures were dressed as fully-fledged members of the Imperial Court, complete with flowing robes and golden artifacts, bathing in the light of righteousness.

              “Who made these anyway?” asked one of the students.

              “Not sure. Master Tide refuses to speak of him,” replied the other. “I think he’s some kind of traitor, but the monks decided the art was too nice to get rid of.”

              “If he’s a traitor, then we should get rid of them.”

              “Take it up with Tide then. Don’t complain about it to me.”

              Suddenly, there was a bright, blinding flash of light accompanied by a deafening boom – both students yelled out in shock and pain as the sudden searing radiance unexpectedly burned their eyes. Their brooms clattered to the floor – the noise echoing around the dank stone chamber. As their eyes began to readjust and come back into focus, they noticed a new arrival among them – a woman, garbed in a nun’s habit, but reinforced with armor and carrying a sinister shield.

              The newcomer was just as flustered as them – she held her head briefly, shaking the white noise out of her eyes, then she looked up with menace in her gaze. She glanced around at the carvings in the walls – then, at them, the menace quickly turning to hatred.

              “Where am I? Where are the others?” she said, her voice icy.

              The servants stuttered as fear took them over. “Outer hall… Frostfield monastery…”

              “Bastards!” cried the woman. She swung her arm wide and with great force – a blade sprung into existence in between her fingers and, by the end of the swing, the sword had carved a large swath into the wall carving, decapitating three stone monks and causing a hideous screech that sounded like the images had come to life simply to die in agony. “They stole it!”

              The servants stepped back quickly, nearly tripping over their robes. At the ends of the hallway, others had come to investigate the ruckus and were stepping through the door to see. Monks, brothers, orphans, even a couple of the town guards were now witnesses to the woman, whose anger seemed to rise off of her in thin wisps of black smoke.

              The woman eyed all of them of the newcomer with that menacing glare. A guard stepped forward, his hand on the hilt of his sword. “Ma’am, put the sword down.”

              She looked at him – he hesitated for a moment… The black smoke thickened, rising from her skin as her eyes filled with blood, turning the whites there to a sinister crimson. She smiled slightly. “Oh, it’s been too long…”

The guard drew his weapon and tried to shout a response, but the walls, the floor, even the ceiling, exploded outwards – filling the room with swirling patterns of red. Razor sharp daggers of bones coalesced out of nowhere and joined the rapidly increasing maelstrom before the guard was overwhelmed by the instant, macabre storm. The bones tore at his meagre armor, the patterns of red dragged the skin from his bones and within seconds, his entire person was gone replaced by human debris that added to the twisted whirlwinds.

              The woman brandished her blade and smiled wider as the storm grew and grew, swirling around her. Everyone was screaming, stampeding out the hallway, while the stone monks looked on emotionlessly. The flying debris scratched and chipped away at the relief work, adding pebbles and shards into the ever-growing whirlwind… and the woman ran at the cowards that fled from her – dragging her blade against the frozen images of the wall, and bringing it down hard on the living souls they were supposed to mirror – and reducing both to nothing.

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Capt Farwinds Log Entry #6

What day is it?

The last thing I remember was being on the deck of an undead cruiser fighting Abyssals and Dragonblooded alike, watching Saleema sailing off on the Orphan's Revenge.  

When I came to Maybelle (Steve) was there and telling me things have gotten more perilous. 

We walked around for awhile and guess what, I found the remaining members of my circle and they are ALL alive.  I was hoping in all our bad fortune, the Abyssal would have died.

And wouldn't you know it, Tarquinn, the damn Night caste that made off with one of my life boats is here too.  Oh and he's found a "Temple of the Old Ones." Gods I need a drink.

 

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Cathak Drummand's Journal

It's been a few days since we got the news from the north.

I've been doing what I can for my friend in the hopes of keeping the rest of my family out of it.  I'm going to step it up a bit in the hopes of disuading further interference from my family.

We discovered a lead on the dagger that was used to attack my friends in the ally.  It lead us to the docks and a whole distasteful group of undesirables.  I tried to avoid a fight, but…

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Capt Farwind's Log Entry #5

Sept 16 Evening,

It was an eventful morning.  Steve (the Sidereal) has gone missing and there are some rather distressing rumors that required we get underway before the auction of the Saka jaws.  We got a tidy sum for them, but had to sell them short or risk losing everything.  

Surprise, surprise…another day another exalt.  This time a member of our circle.  The one called…well I can't seem to remember what we called her in the past, but in the here and now, she calls herself Sister Bitter Iron.  A cursed Nunn.  Oh and if that weren't bad enough, she is now sworn to the Abyssals.  She has been tainted.  We cannot allow this and must find a awy to free her or kill her.  I do not relish that idea.

But we must make way now.  We must go to the lost city and salvage what we may.  My mates have no idea how to get down there, but I do.  I have discovered a lost ability I previouisly held that allows me to survive in any environment.  I will use this to reach the city and reclaim what once was.

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A Dream ... ?
Adventure Log for Bitter Iron Forged in Cruelty

Something was wrong… but she couldn’t place it.

The sun was high in the sky. Bitter Iron could see it through the skylight in the ceiling of the room. Perhaps that was the problem, the sun shouldn’t shine so brightly on sad days. She had spent the mornings writing letters, reading books, anything to pass the time; but it was nearly noon now. Time to ready herself.

She hadn’t bothered to get dressed this morning, so she was still in her long silk nightgown – virginal and white, made by the finest tailors that the city had to offer. She walked to her walk-in closet, past her large bay windows with a wide view of the sprawling sea. Birds chirped across the ocean. A beautiful kingfisher had perched on the railing of her patio, such was the height of her tower.

Iron’s closet was filled with all manner of clothes – all the finest make the city could offer. The colors and patterns were vibrant and energetic, as were the styles – short, breezy skirts; colorful corsets; and tops with long flowing sleeves. But, they all went ignored today. She’d already laid out today’s outfit at the back. A simple black slipover that hugged her form, but reached all the way to her ankles and covered her skin almost completely. She pulled her magical girdle, magically colored into a simple gilded gold, over the top of the slipover to complete the look, then a simple golden necklace.

“Ma’am?” came a voice at the door, along with a knock. “Miss Iron? Are you ready to depart?”

“Come in. I’ll be ready in just a moment,” Iron called out as she began to tied her hair back into a simple ponytail.

“I’ve readied your carriage, ma’am,” said the giant suit of armor as he stepped into the room. It had to duck to enter through the doorway properly. The faceless hole behind the helmet stared directly at her, but Iron could feel the Silent One’s pity for her. Pity? No, that wasn’t right. Silent Ones don’t feel pity… and were they normally this talkative? She shook her head for clarity… this wasn’t a typical Silent One after all; this was her special bonded one or something. She recognized it by the simple carving of a jackal on its chestpiece.

“There’s no need for formality. It’s not like we haven’t done this before,” Iron said.

“Of course, I’m sorry,” the Silent One said. “Are you ready to leave?”

“Let’s go.”

Iron followed her Silent One out of her room and down the stairs of her tower. She noticed it occasionally looking back to check on her like he was worried she’d snap at any moment. Once they reached the bottom, the Silent One opened the door to her horseless carriage and she stepped inside – keeping her face somber and contemplative.

She could already see the ghosts gathering – no doubt wanting to commiserate with her or share their own grief, but they couldn’t possibly understand. Her vision focused in on a small family… Two parents with a girl of around ten; all of them with that ghostly translucent sheen on their waterlogged and bloated faces. The little girl – what was left her clothes was ragged and topped with the occasional barnacle – had tears in her eyes like she’d lost a personal hero, an idol of some sort. Iron didn’t want to deal with that. She had her own problems to worry about. She nodded tersely at the once-drowned child and closed the blind of the carriage, blocking herself from view.

The carriage rumbled along simply, the rhythm of the paved streets becoming the only sound. The Silent One in the front seat was mercifully quiet for a change, though his concerned looks back didn’t stop. Finally, they stopped and a second later, the Silent One opened the door and Bitter Iron stepped out into the noonday sun – the streets were once again lined with tearful and pitying ghosts, all staring at her as if they were trying to beam their feelings into her.

The building in front of her was one of the most spectacular in the city. Burials were impossible in a floating metropolis, so Iron and the rest of her Circle had created a great mausoleum in the one of the outer sectors of the city. It was a towering structure – viewed from above, it formed a perfect sun shape, round with exactly thirteen rays around the circumference, and at least a dozen stories high. The center of the structure was an open amphitheater – and now, at the perfect moment, the sun shone down the center, lighting the pews and altar on the ground floor which were normally cast over in the shadow of the massive surrounding structure.

As Iron followed her Silent One down the cleared path towards the central amphitheater, she noticed there were several spectral guards keeping the peace – keeping the common ghosts away from the more important attendees.

As she breached the outer wall of the building, she beheld the guests. Lots of ghosts – their clothes were different than the others, extravagant and expensive, bedecked in impressive jewelry; but their faces, just like the ones outside, were waterlogged and bloated. Their hair swayed and bobbed as if they were underwater and their once delicate fingers were inflated and decaying. All of their faces turned to her – their eyes filled with grief.

A man she couldn’t place stood as she approached and nodded at her. His face seemed blurred and unformed, though Iron felt an unexplained spike of envy at his beautiful features. “Iron,” he said in a surprisingly feminine tone, acknowledging her presence. Iron simply smiled sadly in response.

Jingham sat in the next row, regal in his attire – he’d chosen his more subdued crown for the occasion, but it still glittered magnificently in the sunlight. He rose as well and they embraced briefly, kissing each other on both cheeks. “If there’s anything we can do, my dear,” he said. Iron again simply smiled at him.

At the center, near the small altar and the large curtained platform behind it were four Silent Ones, imposing and large, though each subtly different in their demeanor. Iron’s Silent One took one last look back at her before approaching the others of its kind and speaking quietly to them. They quickly dispersed and found their seats. They were so identical to each other, Iron would have struggled to keep track of each of them if it weren’t for the engravings on their chests – a whale, a mouse, an owl, an ape…

She took her place at the front of the room. She stood as everyone sat and fell silent. She heard heavy footsteps behind her, then Gharian was next to her, towering over her form as he always did – his great barbarian beard meeting with the great plate of the dawn that he wore to all of these more formal occasions. Sarnai was there too, escorting him – she reached out and squeezed Iron’s hand affectionately before taking her own seat.

“Are you alright?” said Gharian’s deep voice. His rough coarse hand interlaced its fingers with hers.

“Yeah,” replied Iron. “Some things are inevitable.” Neither of them looked at each other, just straight ahead at the altar and the curtained platform.

“Doesn’t mean they aren’t sad.”

“True,” Iron ceded. “What about you?”

“Worse than I expected,” he admitted. “The twins were special.”

“Yes. They were.”

The curtains withdrew – drawn by two hooded men that made Iron feel uneasy. One was so hooded that his face was invisible; the other was tall and lean and heavily armed. Iron and Gharian approached the platform as they retreated – their hands unlocked as they walked to different sides of the plinth.

Two women lay there; their faces calm and serene, their hands intertwined like Iron and Gharian’s were just moments ago. Near Gharian’s side was a petite woman, with long perfectly-white hair, in her spare hand lay a tome of magicks emblazoned with the symbol of the untempered sun. Her twin, who lay closer to Iron, was young and blonde, decked in the clothes of the Immaculate Order and grasping the holy symbol of their church.

The voice of the priest called out, thick and silky sweet as honey. “We are gathered here today to return Salina and Ana to the Eternal Cycle,” she said aloud. Across from her, Gharian laid his hand on Salina’s shoulder and began to quietly weep. Iron looked back to the crowd – every eye was on her, every eye was slick with tears. They began to quietly hum – a traditional funerary song, she thought, that grew louder with every second until her ears began to hum with the rhythm of it. The sun began to move on – slowly casting a shadow across the proceedings.

The priest stood behind the altar – she stared directly at Iron with eyes full of malice. She was beautiful, far more beautiful than one would have expected, in an outfit that was far from priestly – that revealed an awful lot of milky white flesh and what fabric there was seemed to flow like gently trickling water.

“Are you ready to commit them to Oblivion?” the priest said again. Her words were daggers.

The amphitheater was darkening… The guests were fading to nothing as the shadow passed over them; only their dreary song remained and it continued to grow louder. Her Circle passed under the shower and disappeared into the black – the nameless one, Jingham and Sarnai – their eyes glowed bright as stars before they vanished. The Silent Ones too were consumed by the dark – the engravings on their chest sparked with silver before they too were turned to nothing.

Then, Gharian and his weeping faded too and the funeral song continued to build to a deafening roar. Only the Priest remained, flanked by her hooded attendants who knelt before her and kissed her hands and feet…

“Are you ready to commit them to Oblivion?” she repeated – somehow audible over the blistering noise of the funerary song that echoed around in the dark.

Iron looked down at her twin girls. “Yes,” she whispered.

Then, the dark moved in again… and the girls were gone… and the attendants… then the priest faded from view, leaving behind a glistening, sinister smile for a second longer than the rest of her form…

Finally, mercifully, Iron was alone. The way it was supposed to be. There was no one, no thing… 

Just her and the never-ending dirge. From now… until the end of everything.

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The Monastery
Adventure Log for Bitter Iron Forged in Cruelty

The monastery was bleaker than it was supposed to be. It was normally a dark and dingy place – there were few decorations to hang, only folded strips of orange and white fabric, and the gray stone that the place was built of sometimes seemed to suck in the light – but, today, it was even worse.

As Sister Wendy rushed through the long corridor towards the inner cloisters, she realized that the darkness was because the torches had been extinguished – an odd choice considering the late hour. The only source of light was the flickering candle she held tightly in her hands as she continued onwards.

Congruent with the darkness, there was an oppressive silence that was uncommon in the monastery. The place was normally full of the gentle psalms of worship, the hum of activity, or the soothing notes of music – but now, along with the creeping shadows cast by her little candle, there was a silence so thorough that Wendy could almost hear the blood rushing around her ears.

Fear overtook her – she’d grown up here and in the whole sixteen years of her life, she’d never seen it so eerily quiet and foreboding. Her place of comfort had been reduced to somewhere terrifying. It’s alright, she thought to herself, Sky will know what to do.

“Sky?” she called as she approached the large oaken doors to the inner cloister. He was a kindly monk – enlightened in so many impressive ways. For Wendy, he represented the glory of the Immaculate Order and all that it could be. He was kind, charitable, gentle… he looked at the world and saw the goodness in it and had the moral strength to do everything he could to eliminate the bad. She’d idolized him since she was a child… and he saw her idolatry and tempered it. The first time he invited her into his bed was nothing more than divine. She saw the other sisters whisper about her – sneaking into Sky’s room late at night – they called her names behind the back; said she’d defiled her holy vows. But, they were ignorant of their true purpose together – they were just human after all, how else were they to purge their sin? If Sky would have that explained to them, the way he did to her, then they would be doing the same thing! They were probably just jealous – because of Sky’s special focus on her and their secret sessions in the dead of night, she had so much less sin than the rest of them – she was so much closer to enlightenment!

She tentatively pushed open the doors… There was odd stench in the air, like someone had ever so gently sprayed a foul perfume. There was an eerie red mist clinging to the air and, to Wendy, it looked like someone had dropped a crimson filter over her eyes. The inner cloister was huge, filled with pews leading up to a spartan altar, decorated with a few meager wooden carvings of the gods and their different acts of glory. The room was large enough, that in the dark, Wendy couldn’t see the outer walls, but there was still no sign of the other residents of the monastery.

She stepped up towards the altar, quietly calling Sky’s name as she felt the fear creeping into her skin and making the hair on her arms stand on end. As she got closer, she began to hear a noise – rustling and shifting about. It was coming from Sky’s private meditation room near the back of the main room. Only he was allowed in there! Well, Wendy had been in there during their private sessions, but only with him! It had to be him! A smile broke onto her face and she felt tears of joy well up in her eyes. She sprinted as fast as she could towards the door and burst into it – yelling his name in pure relief.

But, there was no Sky in sight. Just a woman – much older than Wendy, maybe in her forties – dressed in the garb of their order, but with a heavy metal breastplate over her nun’s tabard. On her back was a beautifully crafted shield of gold and black, depicting a beautiful woman being attacked by horrible demons. She was squatting down and pulling out drawers, scouring through Sky’s papers, then discarding them on the floor when she was done. The whole office was now covered in Sky’s personal files.

As soon as Wendy entered, the woman paused what she was doing and looked up at her. They locked eyes for a long moment. The woman’s eyes were shallow and intense – a deep stormy blue – then, she asked, in a simple, uninterested tone: “Can I help you?”

Wendy was taken aback. Did she not notice the monastery’s unnatural state? Even if she was just a visitor, she should know that this wasn’t normal… and where was Sky? Her confusion led the stranger to raise her eyebrows with annoyance.

“Um… Who are you?” stuttered out Wendy.

The woman rolled her eyes. “Iron,” she said.

“Is that a holy name? Like Sky? Wind?”

“Something like that.”

“What are you doing in here? Only Sky is supposed to be in here.”

Iron shook her head as she emptied and searched the last drawer. “I’m looking for something. Obviously. Do you know where this guy kept his research?”

“Um… He sometimes used to keep his notes in the covers of his books.”

Iron made an annoyed grunt as if she disapproved of the practice, then moved to the bookshelves. She picked one book up, rifled through its pages, then threw it to the floor; then picked up another book and repeated herself, again and again.

“What are you looking for?” asked Wendy.

“Met a woman recently – called herself Sarnai. Just trying to find out more about where she came from, how she exalted, that kind of thing.”

“An anathema?”

“Yes. Keep up. She came from a place called Deshan. Help me find it.”

Wendy was still deeply confused. “Um… Can you tell where Sky is first?”

“Why?”

“Uh… Because I’m worried about him.”

Iron looked up at her and locked eyes with her again. She sighed deeply. “Which one’s Sky?”

Wendy perked up. “Orange robes, blue eyes, bald, gray goatee,” her voice filled with hope.

“Oh,” Iron said. “Him. He’s dead.”

Wendy’s heart fell to the floor. “No. When? Where? How?”

Iron turned back to the books. “About fifteen minutes ago. Right outside. I flayed him,” she said, without a hint of emotion in her voice. She sounded more bored than anything else.

Tears returned to Wendy’s face as she backed out of the room and fled back into the cloister. Logic left her and she cried out desperately. “Sky! Sky! Help me!”

She ran to the edge of the massive room – and the smell worsened… and lit by her tiny candle, the mound of fleshless skeletons came into view. Their clothes – perfectly in tact – still clung to their horrific corpses. In the front, holding his quarterstaff and no doubt protecting the others, was the thing that used to be Sky… stripped of his meat… turned into nothing, but bone and dust. With a horrific moment of dark clarity, she realized what that red mist was – and she nearly choked on the air. She wept and fell to her knees, clutching at the robes of the man who had made the world make sense.

A dismissing grunt came from behind her. “You were sleeping with him, weren’t you?”

Wendy looked back, tears in her eyes. Iron was now clutching a brutal-looking longsword in one hand – it made Wendy uncomfortable to even look at the thing – and a handful of torn pages in the other. The young sister tried for words, but none came out.

Iron made a disgusted noise. “You’re what? Fifteen? He was at least fifty, sixty-something? And you’re both supposed to be chaste.”

“We… We were…”

“Oh, let me guess. He was ‘purging your sin,’ wasn’t he?”

Wendy bowed her head – in despair and shame. In response, Iron laughed – a deep ugly laugh that didn’t quite match her face.

She stopped laughing, leaving an ugly, twisted smile on her face. She gestured with the papers and shoved them into her backpack – gods, was there a skull in there? “I was going to kill you,” she said, matter-of-factly. “All of these idiots gave their life to this Order. They deserved their fate. But, you…” she chuckled again. Her sword crumbled away, falling into black dust and disappearing into nothing. “You’re the least holy person I’ve ever met.”

Wendy’s tears dried up, replaced with shock.

“You get to live,” Iron snarled. “You get to live knowing that you were so deeply ignorant that you abandoned all the vows you made so that a sick old man could get his rocks off on you. You get to live knowing that you turned your back on your gods so that a twisted, ancient liar could take your womanhood and make you his whore… and, worse, that you liked it… You probably begged him for it – that’s how deep your shame is.” Iron’s smile widened as Wendy began to shake. “You get to live knowing that every time you pray to your precious gods they look down on you in disgust… in hatred… and that they are never going to forgive you.”

Wendy wept. Iron laughed again. The cruel woman walked forward, wrenching the candle from the shocked sister’s weak fingers. “That is, of course, if you can get out in time,” she crooned right into Wendy’s face as she harshly rubbed a tear off her cheek. She tossed the candle into the pile of corpses behind her, lighting the woolen fabrics of their robes quickly alight.

“Run, little whore,” Iron snarled. “Your gods aren’t kind to those who break their vows.” She smiled again and walked away from the weeping girl.

Wendy’s hands quaked and scuttled away on her hands and knees from the crackling flames of the people she had grown up with. Frightened and alone, she watched the orange tendrils lick and spread from body to body until Sky’s robes caught alight and she saw his skeleton be engulfed in the fire. Tears covered in her face, threatening to drown her in her own sorrow. With the cloister now bathed in the haunting light of the flames, she stood up, wiped her eyes and wandered slowly to the door… Pain and grief surrounded her, but she knew the woman was wrong. She knew it in her heart – Sky was a goodly man; the gods had nothing to forgive; she was free and without sin! She was going to be fine – she would spread the news of the monstrous woman who was falsely wearing their Order’s sacred vestments and soon the whole nation would be safe from her cruelties and her blasphemies. She reached for the door – safe in the knowledge that the gods had saved and protected her once again.

Then… to her horror… she discovered that the door was locked.

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Capt Farwind's Log Entry #4

Aug 19, Evening

I am writing this entry not for record, but for my own sanity…

In the past 48 hours, I lost in poker for the first time in I don't know how long, I found out the wife I had in my former life is still alive, Steve the Pirate is a gorgeous female Sidereal Exalt, and I just got released from prison IN HEAVEN.

I was sober for the first two, drunk enough to drown every member of house Cynis for the third, and hungover fort he fourth.  Kinda pus things into perspective now that I think about it.

I can't keep acting like this won't change anything.  I can't keep thinking along the lines of me and mine.  The second I became a Zenith, my life became more dangerous than I could ever imagine.  The people in it will always be important to me, but I have to be more than what I am to protect them.  I have to become worthy of the mantle I now bear.

I need another drink…

 

  

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