Children of the Unconquered Sun

Chapter Eighteen - Slaying Tainted Lunars

Time spent with the Satrap eventually convinced all four to cast their lot with him. Enchanted by his airships, Desdemona accepted command as the Admiral of her father’s fleet, and Mihir accepted that he would have to return to Greyfalls to bring Jezmin’s madness under his control and sway the people to Haral’s cause.

But first… there was the matter of Zhen Heaventouched.

Willing to lend his cavalry, foot soldiers and airships to the cause, Haral set out on a hard ride to meet with his men and engage with Zhen’s army of undead as they marched for the walled city of Celeren, not far from Thorns. While the airships bombed the army and the cavalry attacked from a flank, the Foursome would engage directly with Zhen.

That was the plan, anyway.

Deciding to drop in from above, the Foursome went down to the battlefield, strapped to gliders, but Zhen saw them coming and sent Obsidian Butterflies to cut them apart. The battle began.

Jumanah attacked with martial arts but was unable to strike the Lunar, who turned aside her blows readily. Desdemona and Rillin both struck at him, but no damage was done until Mihir shot three sunlight arrows into his face.

Zhen retaliated with a strike from a blood whip that would have surely killed Mihir had Rillin not intervened and saved him. But the weakened Elder Lunar soon fell prey to Desdemona’s next strike from her solar bolt, falling dead from his spectral horse. As he died, his army broke apart and went crazy, easy pickings for Haral’s forces.

Then, after he died, a dark, shadowed hand shot up from the earth to steal the silvered shard of Lunar light, dragging it down, panicking and mewling, into the dark of the underworld.

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Chapter Seventeen - Cue the Imperial March

At Mihir’s insistence, Haral arrived, and the meeting began on rather shaky footing. It didn’t help that, partway through, Mihir tried to deck the man on the jaw and resulted only in injuring his own hand.

However, the meeting confirmed that which Constantin had told them. Haral wanted their help, and in return he would offer them titles of nobility. He would give them land, power, wealth, resources, and industries… In return, he wanted:

He leans back in his seat. "Alright, let’s lay it on the line. What I need from you people. Your support. I need you to help me win this war and carve out these borders. I need you to convince an entire populace who has been taught to hate and fear your kind that they’ve been lied to and the Realm has been using them. In return is negotiable. Mihir, if you want to be some sort of Seneshal or moral compass or…religious guide or whatever, we can talk about that. You want to see this kingdom shape up a bit differently then the realm, well, guess what? The foundation is where you forward those ideas and get them put into action. You’re getting a chance to change destinies for entire peoples, including people like your family, and like who you used to be. You are getting the chance to create something new, and I’m not so sure you can walk away from it. What kind of ruler would I be? Same kind of commander and lord that I am. For the most part, I take care of my own.

The meeting was eventually concluded, again with everyone dispersing to think it over, but as they parted ways, Haral said to Mihir that he would need to know everything that was at stake before saying no to him.

Which meant there was something more to be found out that he hadn’t said, something very, very important.

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Chapter Sixteen - Message For You, Sir

Now armed with the needed parts from the Goldwood Ruins and some Lizard Kings, the Foursome returned to Rillin’s manse in Halta to again enjoy his hospitality and let the scholar get to work. And work he did. He created a mechanism capable of tracking Zhen.

Then Mihir announced he’d received a message from Haral. He wanted a parlay. A representative by the name of Mnemon Badini Constantin would meet them at an inn on the road between Whitewall and Wallport, far to the north. This road, famous for its enchantments, would prevent any violence from rising between both parties, lest the offender find himself driven to suicide for breaking the peace on the road. Constantin would wait there for thirty days before assuming their answer was no, and he would leave.

After some discussion, it was decided that the group would temporarily leave off of tracking Zhen to deal with him and would instead go immediately to meet with Constantin on the road.

Off they went then, to meet with the young Dragonblood and his entourage. The journey was uneventful, which was something of a relief, since what Constantin had to say would be rather difficult to swallow.

Haral wanted the Solar Exalts to join him and help him to carve out his own kingdom, separate from the Empire, with the newly-renamed Cydonis (formerly Sperimen or Mahalanka) as its focal point. Shocked and a little disturbed, the Foursome did not give an immediate answer but left the meeting with Constantin to think on it awhile.

Some time later, Mihir privately approached Constantin, demanding to speak with Haral directly on the matter. Another message was sent, and Haral eventually answered through a courier.

He was on his way.

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Chapter Fifteen - In Goldwood Ruins, Part Two

Still deep in the Goldwood Ruins of Halta, the intrepid foursome had just completed challenge when they came face to face with another.

In a room full of pipes and chimes, the Hall of Harmony, Mihir had to find the right combination of notes to compose the perfect melody to complement the sweet, serene music. It took awhile to get the composition just right, but eventually the door was opened.

The Hall of Ice awaited them next, battering them with supernatural cold, but their internal fortitude got them through.

The next challenge was for Desdemona to complete, a challenging gauntlet that tested her dexterity to the extreme. She flew through the course, dashing across bridges and slippery logs, making tremendous flips and leaps, all while threatened by fire and acid. And at the very end, she pulled a lever to clear the path for her teammates.

A circular room with a strange, mechanical device and seven locks awaited them in the next chamber. It took all of them working together to disarm and unlock each one, and that was the end of the challenges.

At long last, after what seemed like several weeks of toiling, the Foursome found the sleeping Lizard Kings and were able to revive them. Speaking only High Holy Speech, they were eventually convinced to return with the foursome, trying to worship the Solars along the way.

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Chapter Fourteen - In Goldwood Ruins, Part One

Merely finding Goldwood Ruins was not enough for a victory for the Awesome Foursome. There were traps and dangers to conquer, disable and overcome.

A forcefield blocked their entry into the tomb itself, eventually requiring the disabling of four elemental plates mounted at the tops of twenty-five-feet-high pillars. This was done eventually using arrows, beams of energy and a thrown spear.

Their next challenge involved moving across the checkered floor in a specific pattern, which Jumanah accomplished with the dance-like moves of a kata.

The chamber beyond held a very large game of stones, a game which Rillin could practically win in his sleep, and thus he got them past the challenge.

Beyond, the Hall of Madmen tested each one in turn with haunting, horrifying images that would disturb them most. “Let none pass through here who know not their own minds and hearts,” said an inscription. It was difficult to get through, and Jumanah was nearly lost to the illusions that plagued her, but all four managed to pull together, focus through the mind magic that was pelted at them, and got to the other side.

But there was still more to come…

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Chapter Thirteen - To Halta and Goldwood Ruins

Following a conference between the Awesome Foursome, it was decided that they would travel to Halta. Mihir brought up the possibility of a parlay with Haral following that disaster in Denandsor, and no objections were raised, only a few concerns.

So following their journey to Halta, they found themselves at Rillin’s home, a great and magnificent manse elevated above the trees, situated atop a floating lake. Enjoying the hospitality provided by the scholarly Lunar, the Foursome took a brief but well-earned breather, doing little but swimming, eating and messing around.

Eventually, however, the group resumed their adventurings. This time, lured by the revival of Lizard Kings, ancient knowledge and finding one last, needed piece for a tracking device aimed at Zhen, they began walking the Tree Road towards the Goldwood Ruins.

The trek along the Tree Road itself was treacherous. Due to ancient pacts with faerie beings, residents of Halta were safe so long as they never touched the ground. That didn’t stop the faeries from trying to lure travellers to the ground, through either tricks or sending out hugely overgrown Tyrant Lizards to attack the Foursome.

Which is exactly what happened… A Tyrant Lizard came thundering out at the group, hugely overgrown and far too tall to be natural. With cunning and quickness, the Foursome subdued it. Mihir dazzled and distracted it with flaring arrows while Rillin worked a counterspell, reducing it down to a more normal size, at which point it ran off to try to eat the faerie that had set it on them in the first place.

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Chapter Twelve - Airship Battle! Oh Noes!

30th Day of Wood Descending in the Years of the Glorious Reign of our Scarlet Empress, May She Live Forever.

Upon leaving Denandsor, the Glorious Foursome flew due west through the air, heading towards open waters. For awhile, it was relaxed enough that Jumanah even played a prank on the crew, sending out little floating eye golems to stare at everyone without them being spotted, dripping jam on Mihir’s nose or teasing Rillin by floating around behind his head.

The respite was not long-lasting, however.

Soon, a thick fog rolled in across the waters as the ship touched down into the seas. Flaring the anima banners only momentarily repelled it, and soon Rillin discovered that the fog was Abyssal in nature. A ship was approaching, very swiftly, and the rain began to pour…

Zhen was upon it. He’d changed since their last meeting, having grown exceeding pale and wraith-like in appearance. He had lost his eyes. There were only perpetually-bleeding sockets. The tainted Lunar screamed out his welcome to the crew and sent a Fang of Erymanthoi to the deck of the Night Star before fleeing into the night.

Although injuries were taken, the crew of the Night Star and the Awesome Foursome defeated the Erymanthoi. Desdemona then directed the ship due south, along the coastline, into unclaimed waters.

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Chapter Eleven - And Leaving Denandsor!

27th Day of Wood Descending in the Years of the Glorious Reign of our Scarlett Empress, May She Live Forever.

Once again our trio of Do-Gooders were forced to confront Zhen Heaventouched and his corrupted madness. Having tainted himself with Abyssal energy, the mad Lunar had spent much of his Essence in his ritual, leaving him weakened when facing off against the group of young Lunar and Solars. Captain Desdemona, with her thirst for vengeance for the betrayal worked against her, struck the mightiest blows against Zhen, while Mihir struck him with arrows.

Rillin, taking a moment to study what the mad Lunar was doing, discovered that he was attempting to turn the entirety of Denandsor into a Shadowland.

Jumanah took the moment to return, looking very bloated, full, bloody and sounding very belchy.

Rather than take on four Exalted in battle, Zhen fled once again, leaving the reunited quartet to deal with the trap he’d left behind. A crystalline cube was holding together powerful strands of Essence, both tainted and not. Mishandling it would result in a variety of cataclysms, ranging from turning Denandsor into a Shadowland to flattening the entirety of the Scavenger Lands with hurricanes.

Working together, however, and after some friction in the party, Rillin, Jumanah and Desdemona filtered out the Abyssal taint and slowly returned the Essence to the leylines as it should be. They then were able to use the power of the cube to control the Dissonance Engine and prevent it from sending out waves of psychological torment. And although the day was saved, storms hit Denandsor as a result, keeping the party trapped in the tower for roughly another week.

While trapped for a week, the party took the time to get used to their luxurious surroundings. Food was scrounged from the gardens surrounding the tower. The party members took time to talk to each other, coming to a better understanding of each other. There wasn’t much else to do but wait out the storm and make small, daring ventures into the city to search for treasures.

And when the storms let up… they had a surprise waiting for them. Cathak Cydonis Haral, Satrap of Greyfalls, Desdemona’s estranged father and Mihir’s former master, was riding at the head of an army of six hundred fifty. They were coming for Denandsor.

Hurriedly fleeing the city, Rillin restarted the Dissonance Engine. The party fled across the city, returning to the ship and readying for takeoff. They would have left more quickly, but the engines were not working properly. They had been sabotaged. Using a Dreambroadcaster that he had found in Denandsor, Mihir used his Charms to send out a telepathic message and a burst of fear that struck Haral and his men at the same time (purely by coincidence!) the Dissonance Engine’s effects slammed into the army. Needless to say, Haral and his army fled in blind terror before the force of the double whammy. It bought them more time, at least, while Rillin repaired the engine.

The Night Star lifted into the sky and fled west towards open waters, leaving the Captain and her crew to ferret out the traitor who gave away information about them to Haral. The culprit was Zerick, the ship’s engineer, who complained that since the coming of Rillin he was no longer needed, that the ship was once their home, but now it was being overrun with Anathema.

After throwing him in the brig, the crew continued towards open waters.

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Cut Scene (Haral)

V’neef Cardassian Marak had gone dark.

Cathak Haral stood before the open window at Cydonia, staring down at the ancient stone courtyard. Below, his people worked like bees. They had set up running water, gotten the kitchens going, and started farming on the rooftops to supplement supply trains and supply runs. If they could get traders in here it would be a proper city soon, the very keystone of the kingdom he was hoping to build. He had no ambitions to be Emporer, but King was a nice step above Satrap.

He very much doubted anyone would be Emporer or Empress, ever again. Though he supposed Mnemon might eventually take up the title, ruling over a very much reduced section of territory.

The letters he had just burned threatened to change all of that.

Haral was no fool. He had relied on far more than the bounty hunter to track the movements of the Anathema who had left his employ. Just because a mere human wasn’t equipped to fight the man did not mean that they did not have eyes, and ears. He made use of those with hefty salaries, and had a network of agents across the Scavenger Lands and well into the east and south for as long and as far as he could insert them.

It had taken him some time, however, to trace the identity of the ship’s captain who his wayward, possessed slave had taken refuge with. And when he had, and had further read the reports that his bastard daughter—Dragons above, what had the name of the kitchen maid who had birthed her been? It had been too long for him to remember now—Desdemona had also shown signs of the Anathema curse…well.

A cold sensation had struck him to the core, twisting his stomach in knots. He already had that damnable representative of the Immaculate Order here, sniffing around, all but openly accusing him of treason. His men were in a state of uneasiness and unrest that only Jarak’s steady hand had managed to calm. The only reason Haral’s own men weren’t dragging him back to the capitol in chains was due to the fact that the monk had no evidence.

He had never had much use for monks. There was one little temple in Greyfalls, but they had mostly stayed out of his way. He hadn’t encouraged any greater participation, and had made it as easy as possible for people to seek civil ceremonies for marriages, funerals, and all manner of other rites.

But the monk was out for blood, and his darling wife had probably fucked him senseless to make sure it was not her blood that he came for.

But if this got out—if others made the same connection—the monk wouldn’t need anything else. He’d be branded a heretic, perhaps called Anathema himself, and that would be the end of him.

But it wasn’t just him. The backlash would strike his brother, one of the few people who had ever had his back. Every one of his men would find their military careers and their lives cut short with new assignments to the front lines. His kingdom would fall apart. His nephew would probably find himself sent to the coldest hell. His little niece, so sweet and frail? Her marriage to the sorcerer would fall apart, and, with no other prospects, she would probably be disowned probably to make absolutely sure that the Tepet distanced themselves as far from that possible trouble as they possibly could.

Dragons help him, his heart even demanded that he spare a thought for his wife. He hated her sometimes. He’d wanted to kill her before. But the little fool would be mistaken if she thought for one moment that this wouldn’t backlash on her, too. He entertained a brief fantasy that this could bring them closer together somehow—that in mutual persecution she would have no choice but to turn to him, and work side by side with him, in a situation that was still as dangerous for her as it was for him. She did want to be Queen, he knew. Perhaps not with him…but perhaps that could be dealt with.

And perhaps Jezmin would stick a bloody knife in his back and twist it while laughing at his screams. No, best not to involve her.

He clasped his hands behind his back, white knuckled. No. He was going to have to deal with this. The only hope would be if he took them and killed them. Though a more interesting possibility had wormed its way into his head. If they had the powers to sway entire crowds of people he could perhaps use them to strengthen his hold and his kingdom. Sway the hearts of the people back to him, destroy or exile the Immaculates in a swift pogram—or rewrite their religion altogether—and challenge the empire with such allies at his side. Because if the secret got out later it wouldn’t even matter if he killed them! Desdemona was his daughter, and the belief would be that he killed her, not to spare the world from ravaging by a dangerous Anathema, but to hide the secret.

Which was in fact why he did want to kill her.

His own daughter.

Dangerous thoughts. A dangerous situation. But nobody ever made it to monarchy without danger.

He would have to decide later. First, he had to get to them. He had to be the first to get to them. He had to see to it that the monk could not accompany them for any reason, but he thought he had a solution there. He’d tell the monk that V’neef had gone dark, and that V’neef had evidence that would exonerate him. That would send the bloodthirsty bastard after V’neef to kill him before any such evidence could come to light. By the time he got back, Haral would have his most loyal men on the move. A Dragon of Calvary could make the trip in good time.

At least he knew where to go. A single member of the crew had talked to one of his agents. Pillow talk. The man was conflicted about traveling with a bunch of Anathema, and had been full of complaints about the lot of them. He hadn’t been sure where their next port of call was, but he’d said that Desdemona had perked in interest when a Lookshy patrol had mentioned some other Anathema (dear Dragons, the Scavenger Lands were crawling with them!) and Denasdor. What anyone could want with the Empty City was beyond him, but the complainer had also been angry about certain artifice retrofits that had been made to the ship, artifice that could make it fly over land. The agent had planted the notion of a bit of sabotage if it looked like they were going to leave there very soon.

Which meant he could safely plan on them being there.

Picking up a pen, Cathak Haral began writing up his orders.

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Chapter Ten - Entering Denandsor

20th Day of Wood Descending in the Years of the Glorious Reign of our Scarlett Empress, May She Live Forever.

Denandsor.

It is a grand, breath-taking city full of First Age wonders that has been abandoned for many, many centuries. Warily, expecting traps and monsters, Mihir and Jumanah went in first to do a little bit of initial scouting. They did not go far before they found out the reason why everyone stays away.

Every fifteen minutes, a wave of black terror spreads through the city. Those too weak in will to resist it run fleeing for the nearest gates.

Still, what they found was splendid, and soon, all four of the heroes were exploring through the city. They found treasures and cathedral factories. Taking materials and artefacts, they returned to the Night Star where Rillin put together tracking equipment to find the source of the black waves of terror as well as craft amulets to help resist its effects. Mihir discovered that jam sandwiches are not of any help during such endeavours.

Thus armed, the four returned to Denandsor for a second venture…

Which has been going nearly disastrously. Upon the first wave of terror striking them again, Jumanah lost control of herself, and in a rage, she fled the city to tear into the first thing that she could find.

Left to their own devices, Mihir, Rillin and Desdemona went onwards to try to finish the mission. They found the central tower where the black terror was originating, guarded by a pair of golems. Mihir talked to them, distracted them, so that Des and Rill could sneak into the tower.

While Mihir was directed to the Daimyo’s office for a great seal to enter the tower without the golem guards attacking him, Rill and Des made their way downwards, searching for the machinery itself to deactivate the black terror assaulting their minds on a regular basis.

But the job was not finished before a terrible, black energy began to emanate from the top of the tower, oozing its way down the central pillar. Mihir emerged from the Daimyo’s office and rode his automaton Garron up the stairs of the tower to find the reason why, arriving there before Rillin and Desdemona could venture out of the basement chambers.

Zhen Heaventouched was there and conducting a ritual.

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