“Bring all the maps." – The Bull of the North to his adjutant, trying to plan around the Circle’s actions.
The next day, the Circle is still reeling from their combat with Mocks Her Madness. The Bull is still recovering, unconscious as they await the delegation from Lookshy. Instead of the Lookshy delegation, though, they are alerted by lookouts that there was a massive explosion observed, along with an equally-massive red cloud to the East. The Circle immediately sets out to investigate the explosion. As they get closer, several begin to recognize it as a necromatic teleportation method. They spot a single figure at a table, apparently having tea with five others. The Circle collectively utters an ‘oh shit’ as they realize the standing figure is none other than The Mask Of Winters himself. The five seated figures are quickly revealed to be dead, and given the amount of jade the skeletons are wearing they surmise that this was the delegation from Lookshy. The Mask is simply conversing with the corpses before he notices the Circle. He waves cheerily at them, which intensely disturbs the Celestials.
The Mask didn’t want Lookshy to form any type of alliance with the Bull, hence the corpses of a Sworn Brotherhood of Immaculate Martial Artists surrounding him. Still, he did have business with the Celestial Circle. It seemed that the Yozis were making a major move, something the Circle was already aware of. What they weren’t aware of were the particulars, which involved a larger scale than the Circle’s worst-cases. The Deathlords don’t want the Yozis to score a victory of this scale, but they cannot directly interfere, so The Mask is using the Circle as catspaws. The Mask then freely gave the Circle quite possibly the most valuable piece of information in all of Creation: the location of the Scarlet Empress. He gives them that, along with a cryptic message
“She runs towards war in a wedding gown. She risks the world to slay her kin. Long has it been said that the legions would follow the empress to hell and back. As of right now, the old saying is half true. Secrecy has been her watchword, for only those who know can knowingly intervene. Yet no plan is foolproof, for the ingenuity of fools is truly without bounds. it is not from her conspirators that her danger lies, but from the one who is kept in darkness that he may ever speak without falsehood in his mind”
With that message delivered, he followed up with a fix on Lisara, who was literally clear across Creation. The Mask mentioned something about ehr being a cornerstone to the Yozi’s Plan , then departed, leaving the Circle standing there with dumbfounded looks on their faces in the middle of a Shadowland. They hiked back to the City, where the Bull was finally up and about. He asked them for a status on their last mission, and was delighted to hear that a full-scale Elder Jadeborn was en route. He then did a quick double-take a he spotted three new Celestials in the Circle, including a Lunar. He was less than thrilled to hear that the Mask Of Winters had shown up, and jokingly asked if they were working for him or if he was working for them. Deadpan, Hugo replied probably both, and then asked the Bull if he wanted to know where the Empress was. The Bull then asked if there was anything else that had happened, and Hugo replied that Diamond Hearth had been burned, and that they’d struck at least a good inroad to starting relations with the Silver Pact. He noted that in the span of three weeks, they’d done more than he had in three years, and joked that he should take naps more often. Hugo mentioned that they had a fix on Lisara’s location, then explained who Lisara was and why they were chasing her. The Bull briefly confirmed that the Jadeborn could build more of the airships the Circle was using before he bid them safe travels, calling for a full meeting of his war cabinet as soon as they could all be gathered.
The Circle swung by Lookshy on their way south, dropping off a diplomatic mission from the Bull after being escorted in by a trio of military airships. They also hit up Callas’s old stomping grounds, giving her a chance to confer with her spirit mentor before they dipped West, headed for Lisara’s last known location. They came in fast, but slowed when they reached The Lap, coming in quiet. After tossing on a quick disguise, Hugo donned his Immaculate robes and proceeded to the local Order monastary to dig up information, Jasper in tow. He asked about the phoenix form that he’d seen Lisara take, and the acolyte he spoke with indicated that they had seen something like that before he asked what it was. Hugo answered truthfully that it was an akuma and that they were chasing it. He was immediately brought before the head of the local Order, who asked why nothing had been sent out about this, since the firebolt had come straight from the Blessed Isle itself. Hugo mentioned that between the blood traitor up North and this, the Order was trying to keep it very quiet, and had dispatched his strike team to deal with it. Hugo told the head to directly contact no one but Tepet Maxim about this matter and passed a coded message to his old mentor. The head of the locals didn’t know where the akuma might be, but he had a hunch who did. He was hesitant to bring it up, but he did mention that the Silver Pact had a presence and that they would be able to find her if anyone could. Hugo gave them a feigned look of pure horror before he mentioned that he’d work with them long enough to kill the akuma, then it would be their turn. With a fix on a position, the Circle headed into the Wyld, guided by Aunn, who found a trail that lead into the furthest parts of the Bordermarches…