Murphy's Circle

The Road to the North
Prologue
At a tavern in a far-flung crossroads town, three weary travelers rested. The one called Hugo relaxed over a pipe after his long journey, content to remain in the shadows in simple traveler’s garb. The other two, though, were not so discrete. Arriving in town by flying in on a fire Griffon and openly wearing Orichalcum weaponry, it was impossible to mistake those two for anything save Solars. Hugo ignored the newcomers – an aged lady in tattered vestments called Callas and a young man in lamellar armor carrying a massive sheathed daiklaive known as Hakun– and kept to his pipe. For reasons he kept to himself, he wished to remain out of sight. However, even a Night caste such as Hugo cannot hide forever, and Callas sought him out, recognizing Hugo as a fellow Lawgiver.

Hugo chided the pair for their utter lack of subtely, citing a nonspecific encounter with the Realm as his reasoning to remain unseen. Callas asked Hugo where he was going, and then offered the young man a lift when she realized they were headed in the same direction. Hugo refused, however, preferring to arrive much later, but without the obviousness of riding a flame gryphon. He bid the pair of them safe travels and returned to his drink. Callas and Hakun returned outside to the hitched gryphon, entertaining the local children. Hugo briefly stopped outside, glaring at the two of them before turning to appraise the gryphon. The two stared down briefly before the beast offered Hugo its grudging respect. Hugo held a brief talk again with Callas. By now, there were several people staring, not only at the two Solars, but at the traveler who was talking with them as well. A priest then descended upon them, burning incense and chanting ‘Anathema.’ Hugo had a brief word with the priest, where he made it clear that he would ‘take care’ of the pair after the priest let slip the Wyld Hunt was approaching to deal with the pair. Hugo quickly put on a show of forcing the two Solars out of the town before joining them on their flight north, speed becoming paramount with the Hunt approaching.

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The Beginnings of a Circle
First Session

For two weeks, the trio flew north upon the back of the gryphon, searching for the Bull of the North, who was rallying the newly-returned Solars to his banner. After their travel, they sighted what appeared to be cattle grazing about the trunk of a tree…. only they could clearly see them from the sky, and both were far too large to be mere cattle. Once they spotted that, they descended to low flight until they reached the gates of the walls built around the tree. That tree, as it turned out, scraped the sky, and the ‘cows’ they had seen were actually yeddim, the great beasts of burden. The trio was greeted by an alarmed response – dozens of archers took aim at them. Hugo quickly dismounted and attempted to get the message across they were no threat, which confused the Icewalkers. Callas sought parlay while Hakun simply held his tongue. The Icewalkers deduced the obvious quickly and escorted the three Solars to the Bull of the North’s throne. On their way in, they passed by the smithies, who were busy with the spoils of war – literally thousands of weapons bearing the insignia of the Realm’s House Tepet were being repaired, including a plethora of jade weapons mixed among the more mundane ones.

A look flashed across Hugo’s face too quick for anyone to really notice it while they ascended to the Bull’s throne where they met the legend of the North. The Bull greeted his fellow, if still young, brethren in his throne chamber – set in the mouth of a massive dragon construct, the walls decorated with war trophies from House Tepet, and they set to a discussion. The Bull laid out his goals – to build a civilization upon the Frozen North – and to defend it without taking it on the offensive. His problem, though, was that he was uniting nomadic tribes used to raiding and hunting and trying to turn them into a civilization of farmers, scholars, and craftsmen, and they had little experience with any of that. He had sought aid from many, but few had answered, and now he needed skilled craftsmen more than anything. He requested that the newly-Exalted Circle that sat before him travel to Diamond Hearth and seek an audience with the Mountain Folk, and attempt to negotiate a treaty with them for trade and technical aid. He was pleased to see that Callas was an Eclipse and could bind the Mountain Folk to the treaty, although a look of concern flashed on his face as he saw Hugo clearly upset by something. He gave the Circle time to rest after their journey.

Hugo set upon his quarters with barely a word to the others and before shutting himself in, while the Callas and Hakun browsed the smithies, searching for weapons and armor they could use. There was no Orichalcum armor befitting a child of the Unconquered Sun, but there was jade equipment in plenty, and both helped themselves to arms and armor as they could. Restless, Hugo took leave of his quarters to look around the city, where he was taken aback by two things – the mind-boggling array of equipment from House Tepet, and the hardiness of the folk. He wandered into a town square where several warriors were training on an essence projection simulator. Hakun happened upon the simulator at the same time, and there was a huge demand for the two Exalts to spar. Hakun was eager, Hugo less so. Hugo reluctantly agreed to enter the simulator, knowing that refusing a fight would burn nigh all of his credibility with these people, even if fighting would raise questions he didn’t want asked. Hakun eagerly entered the ring, his massive Orichalcum sword and shield somewhat clashing with his newly acquired blue jade plate, but that wasn’t what drew the stares of the crowd. Hugo had reluctantly shed his cloak, revealing an Orichalcum breastplate which was ornately wrought with Moonsilver, Jade, and even a few tiny bits of Startmetal, but it was not even that the fine armor which drew the stares of the crowd – it was his blue jade bracers and chakram, paired identically to what the Icewalkers had seen six months ago, against the Legions of House Tepet. Hugo sighed, knowing this was a bad idea. Sadly for him, refusing the battle would be a worse move than what he was about to do, and he entered the arena.

Hakun immediately launched an attack, his daiklaive coming for Hugo in a great arc. Hugo sprang out of that arc, though, with a speed and agility that he hadn’t betrayed to the others before. He then did something that truly quieted the entire square – he dropped into a martial arts form that everyone there immediately recognized as Air Dragon style. He flared his Caste Mark so that he wouldn’t be mistaken for a Terrestrial, and subsequently put to death, before he hurled his Chakram in a dizzying flash of air and essence. His blows too came to naught, for Hakun batted aside all of his attacks and retaliated with fury, a savage series of blows whipping through the air towards Hugo. His acrobatics weren’t enough, though, and Hakun’s sword drew first blood, scoring Hugo across the back. Hugo dropped a quick Charm and retaliated, filling the air with chakrams, all of them speeding for Hakun. A huge roar went up from the crowd as no less than eight lightning-infused chakrams sped through the sky in a multi-axis assault on the Warrior. One of the weapons found its way through Hakun’s defenses and scored a solid wound into his back. Hakun, though, was not one to be had that easily. He reached into his own bag of tricks and unleashed a powerful series of blows that Hugo’s evasive flips and twists could not escape, and Hugo was hit again, this one blooding him. Hugo rolled out of arm’s reach and began a whirlwind spin, hoping to disguise his next blow. He let fly with his chakram after several feints. It wasn’t enough, though, and the Hakun batted down the thrown weapon. Hugo’s lightning speed caused his next attack to land as Hakun’s did, and the two locked weapons, both attacking but not landing a hit. Hugo leapt back and moved for his final play, but in the time it took him to set that up, Hakun launched into another vicious combo, blasting through Hugo’s depleted defenses and skewering the Night Caste.

Hakun was quickly raised on the shoulders of the crowd whilst Hugo hacked on his knees, the pain of the blow which had taken him almost making him retch. His Caste mark burning his forehead, he fumbled for his real weapon, assuming that he was about to be set upon by a mob of angry Icewalkers wishing death upon one who fought as a Terrestrial. He was surprised, though, by Icewalkers congratulating him, and there was even a sizeable number that wanted him to train them. He made an effort to disappear into the crowd, although his flaring anima banner made that difficult. He did note that it felt good not to have to hide this, but he paid that little mind as he attempted to get out. His efforts, though, were futile, and the Bull of the North himself congratulated him. He said that it was probably for the best that Hugo had lost, since the crowd wouldn’t have wanted to see an Immaculate Style prevail. He chuckled, commenting that he hadn’t seen a fight like that in some time. Hugo turned back, anger and pain in his eyes as he asked if it had been six months. The Bull took a step back at that as he realized just how Hugo had Exalted. He asked Hugo to meet him later in council, for these were… awkward circumstances. Hugo was still charged from the fight, and the Bull gave him some time to cool down and center himself before the two had a discussion. With that done, the fledgling Circle made their final preparations to set off for Diamond Hearth.

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Expected and Unexpected
Second Session
“Just because you’re the power behind the throne doesn’t mean it can’t be pushed on top of you” – Jasper

After nearly a month’s travel through the frozen North, Hugo, Callas, and Hakun finally see Diamond Hearth. At Hugo’s insistence, they land on one of the pads designated for the commercial airships that service the mining city. When they landed, they were once again greeted by the clack of crossbows being loaded and readied. Hugo tried to talk to the sergeant of the guard to get the proper permissions, but when asked Hakun invoked the Bull of the North’s name, which set the entire platform on edge immediately. Hugo defused that by quickly saying they were there for trade negotiations and would leave immediately if asked. The sergeant did indicate that there was a serious problem with the Undead coming out of the local mass graves. The three of them agreed to help clear the local Undead hole in exchange for the proper permissions to rest in Diamond Hearth. The sergeant was agreeable, noting that they’d gotten aid from a Realm garrison in the South. The sergeant sighed, let them into the city, and pointed them towards the inn. Callas went off with the griffon to hunt, locating several baby seals south of town.

Hakun and Hugo, meanwhile, reached the inn, where they immediately grabbed a bite and a brew, tired after their long travel. A glance around the room showed that there were a few of the normal patrons in the place in addition to a group of Realm soldiers. Not all of the town had merely casual interest in them, though, and a note Hugo found mysteriously at the bottom of his drink asked him to meet on the second floor. A quick reconnoiter showed that it wasn’t an obvious trap, and after knocking whilst invisible Hugo confirmed that it wasn’t actually a trap. He knocked again and entered, greeted by Geralt, a man who’s only distinguishing feature was that he was completely forgettable. The second man was a poised gentleman who identified himself as Jasper. The four of them danced around the issue briefly before Hugo flared his caste mark, the others following suite. Hugo was somewhat surprised that they had a Perfect Circle, all five castes represented with Jasper and Geralt representing the Zenith and Twilight castes to balance the Dawn, Night, and Eclipse they already had.

With the group committed to working together to clear out the undead, they parted ways for the night. Hugo immediately sat down and went into deep meditation while Hakun chatted up the Realm troopers that were downstairs. Two of them where Tepet Legionnaires that had survived the battle with the Bull of the North that was now almost a year ago. The warriors talked for a while, wishing they had at least one Immaculate Monk to back up the three Dragon-Blooded they had before they parted ways for the night.

The next evening the five Solars set out for the warcamp of the Realm force on Griffonback. Upon reaching it, Hugo leapt off the back of the winged beast, lighting off his hearthstone to simulate the effects of Air-aspect Terrestrial anima. That cemented the group as a Terrestrial merc crew, which kept their cover intact. Jasper and Hugo then were approached by the Captain of the Dragon. That officer was Tepet Lisara, Hugo’s former CO and second cousin. She immediately commented that she was glad to see fellow terrestrials, even if they were Outcastes. Hugo immediately retorted that there were no Outcaste here, just one Exile, as he stared daggers at Lisara. She sent a death glare right back. She remembered who Hugo was, mentioning that his Exaltation did them no good since the battle had already been lost by that time, and wondering why Hugo was in town instead of back at the Monastary. Hugo simply responded his actions had saved four hundred lives, not lost four thousand. Lisara visibly swelled at that, invoking her rank and station, and Hugo’s status as a ‘mere’ soldier of House Tepet, ordering him onto latrine duty and out of her sight. Hugo left, and she turned to deal with the rest of the group.

Lisara held a brief talk with each of the other four, Jasper taking more time in her tent than the others. After the brief talks, dusk fell, and the soldiers prepared for the onslaught of the undead. Lisara had repositioned the Solar circle to cover one of the larger areas that had been giving her men some trouble. Thankfully for the Circle, they were well away from the Terrestrial troops, and while they had to be careful they didn’t flare any anima, they could fight unimpeded. Hakun, Jasper, and Geralt took up a concentrated position overlooking the hole in the earth, with Callas flying air support. Hugo elected to unwind a bit and continually leapt over the chasm, serving as the eyes and ears of the Circle. The first waves spotted were mere zombies, and between Hugo and Callas they were stopped cold. The second waves added warghosts into the mix, which Hugo and Callas were unable to cull before they reached the surface. The trio lead by Hakun engaged while Callas provided air cover. With that quad holding decently, Hugo kept his focus on the next wave of Warghosts and rained chakrams on them before they could reach the surface. Once they reached the surface, though, they immediately mobbed Hugo. The Immaculate, though, was too slippery for them, and even extended as he was he managed to slip the relentless assault. Hakun, Jasper, and Geralt, meanwhile, had handily dealt with the gang on them.

A deep roar was heard, and three massive… well, undead golems came out of the hole. One set upon Callas, one set upon Hugo, and the third set upon the remainder. Callas pinned one of them down and pulled it out of the fight, while Hugo danced about with the second. The trio subdued the third handily, while Hugo displayed the prowess of the Immaculate Order, single-handedly subduing one of them before finishing the one Callas had clinched. With that, the remaining ghosts fled underground, and the Solars came after them in hot pursuit.

The Circle came upon a dank, dark underground, which they set into fearlessly. None of the Solars had exerted themselves to the point where they were flaring, which was a good thing. Hugo and Hakun came upon a terrified mortal fleeing something. They attempted to question him, but he merely fled. A chalk of the Realm troops followed him and said that man was the necromancer. Hugo and Hakun immediately gave chase, with Hugo eventually catching and forcing the necromancer into a submission hold. The necromancer was terrified beyond belief, and all he could say was ‘The beast is coming… the beast is coming…’ until he saw Hugo’s face. On seeing that, he pointed right at Hugo and said ‘It’s coming for you!’ the necromancer shrieked before he demonstrated that he was surprisingly spry and slipped Hugo’s hold. After staring dumbstruck for a second that such a little guy could break his hold, Hugo flung a chakram at him to stop him. However, Hakun had the same idea, and he too attacked the fleeing necromancer. The combined effects of their attacks killed the man almost instantly.

With the necromancer dead, the Realm forces quickly set to searching his lab. Their Occult experts determined simply that he was a novice, just taking advantage of the high concentration of dead bodies and the encroaching Shadowlands to create the undead. That was all they shared, and all that Callas and Geralt could determine, either way. Lisara made it clear that she wanted to speak with several members of the Circle privately later on, but with the necromancer dead and his undead servants vanquished, the Cicrle set to rest and recover.

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Murphy Steps In
Interlude

After hearing what Hakun had said when they landed, Lisara wished a more comprehensive talk with several members of the Circle, and she called three of them into her tent sequentially.

Hugo was the first, and he was forced onto the defensive immediately when she called him on associating with those who claimed to be working for the Bull. Hugo managed to evade the question, citing that he was there on Order business. He claimed that they were attempting to destroy the Bull through guile instead of open arms, and that he was on an infiltration mission. He gave her Maxim’s name as the one giving him his marching orders. That seemed to calm Lisara, and they held a brief talk of restoring their House to its former glory.

Jasper was the second. Despite Hugo’s warning that Lisara was a conniving seductress, Jasper elected to enjoy himself for the evening. The rest, as they say, is censored.

Hakun was the third. Lisara challenged him on all of his claims – that they were working for the Bull, that they sought the aid of the Mountainfolk, et al. Hakun also ignored Hugo’s warnings on dealing with her and eagerly responded with the truth. He was so enthusiastic about helping the Bull that Lisara couldn’t restrain her temper and set upon him in a rage.

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The Hearth of the North
Third Session

Hugo and Jasper were surprised when they looked out of the Inn to see a totemic Solar Anima banner flaring over the Terrestrial Warcamp. After facepalming so hard that Creation itself shook, Hugo leapt out of his chair and headed off like a bat out of hell for the warcamp. At the Warcamp, Hakun and Lisara had engaged in combat, Lisara pulling her sword and attacking the young Solar. Hakun parried and retaliated, his Caste Mark flaring as Lisara’s eyes grew wide in shock. Screaming for the guards to slay the Forsaken Anathema, she flew into combat with Hakun. Hakun quickly gained the upper hand, for as experienced a Dragon-blooded warrior as Lisara was, she was no match for a Solar. Or at least, she shouldn’t have been, but she held with Hakun, and later Callas, before she transformed into a great phoenix and fled. Her remaining troops cited they had no wish to partake in a Wyld Hunt, and surrendered, cursing Hugo as a blood traitor once he reached the camp and did not openly defy the Anathema. With nothing left to do, the Circle headed into the darkness of the mines.

They spent several days navigating, the Gryphon distinctly unhappy about being both underground and in near-total darkness. They eventually heard the some variety of sound that was metal on metal, and headed towards it. Coming upon a Mountainfolk mining camp, they were greeted mainly with curiosity by the lower-class Jadeborn. The foreman of the mining camp quickly directed the Circle to their city, which was accessible via either a secure but long passageway, or by taking a high speed minecart through an area that hadn’t been secured yet. Naturally, the Solars took the faster, less secure route, running into a Mountainfolk patrol engaged against undead. The Solars launched into an assault, slaughtering the undead and shadowfolk in seconds. The Jadeborn captain quickly thanked the Circle for their assistance, then directed them to the Jadeborn capital after sending a message ahead, and leaving a demolition squad to deal with what was left of the shadowlands.

Upon reaching the Mountainfolk city, the Circle was escorted by an honor guard to the leadership of the Mountainfolk. Met by a representative of the artisan, engineering, and war castes, the Circle quickly commenced negotiations with the Mountainfolk Elders. With Hugo and Jasper taking the lead, the high-stakes verbal fencing match began. Skyseeker, their engineer, and Songforger, their artist, seemed open to the idea. Dark Granite, by contrast, was openly hostile to the Circle, and stated quite plainly that nothing short of direct intervention from the Clay Man himself would persuade him to lend his support to the Bull. Still, a slip of the tongue on Skyseeker’s part reminded Hugo of the Great Geass, and his insistence that it not be invoked won over Songforger, who pledged a few of his journeymen to aid the Bull. Aid from artisans and songwriters, though, was not what was asked for by the Bull, and they continued to press. After Hugo gave them an update on the crumbling status of the Realm, coupled with the technological innovations of the surface, Skyseeker herself agreed to take a ‘sabbatical’ to the surface for a few decades. It would take three months for the Jadeborn to tunnel all the way to the Bull’s capital.

With the support of two of the three castes secured, the Circle stayed in the Mountainfolk city for roughly a week, commissioning several custom magic items. They traded demonstrations of their abilities for payment towards the custom gear, with Hugo picking up a custom version of his existing chakram that doubled as a shield, Geralt picking up a set of boots that were amazingly fast, Callas repairing his gryphon’s wargear. With that set, the Circle agreed to secure rapid transit for an advance prep team of a few Mountainfolk, with whom they set off to the surface. On their way up, they discovered several fresh corpses once they neared the surface. Their flesh had been carved in a fashion Callas found all-too-familiar. She warned the Circle to be on their guard as they approached the surface, only to see the telltales of fire as they reached it.

They reached the surface to find Diamond Hearth besieged by demons. Hugo immediately lit off several charms and began half sprinting, half flying for the town, while the remainder loaded onto the Gryphon with Callas. When they reached the city, they saw three airships defending the city, besieged by blood apes and demonic wasps. Hugo moved to defend one of the smaller airships, as did Callas after she had dropped the other three off at the large one. Hakun, Jasper, and Geralt made a good account of themselves on the main airship, but Hugo and Callas stole the show. Hugo was flaring like he never had before, his anima banner totemic for the first time in his life, supplemented by the hearthstone he bore, which gave the effect of him having both his Night-Caste banner and an Air-Aspect banner. He single-handedly drove off the demons assaulting one of the ships, while Callas did much the same for the second. Hugo gave his two cents for the second airship, though, when one of the blood apes used two crewmen as impromptu chakrams. Hugo caught the pair and tossed them back onto the airship, which started to break apart. Hugo shored up the weakened prow long enough for the damage control teams on the airship to get more permanent shoring in place. During this, Hakun, Geralt, and Jasper took down the large attack team besieging the heavy airship. Once the airships were secured, between the Circle and the heavy airship firing an essence cannon, the town was cleaned up fairly quickly.

Hugo quickly tried to establish what the hell had happened in the town. One of the older women in town quickly accused the Circle of causing the assault. Hugo was confused at that, and asked for elaboration. She said that her husband had been the ‘necromancer’; actually the town’s local God-blooded seer, and he had seen a great evil coming. The only option he saw was to raise an army of the undead to beat back the demons. Hugo was skeptical at this, but then she mentioned that the one who brought this evil on them was the female leading the Realm troop. Hugo twitched at that, and then Hakun and Callas remembered something about the way she’d fought Hakun… she’d had far too much power for a simple Terrestrial. That coupled with the fact that Hakun and Hugo specifically recognized what she used near the end of the fight – Infernal Hero Style martial arts – lent credence to her case. Jasper’s somewhat reluctant admittance that he’d seen a tattoo on Lisara that, upon further review, made her so obviously an akuma, selling out Creation to the Yozi, they should have realized it sooner that Hugo hit himself. Hugo and Callas were ready to go chasing her straight to the Realm, or Malefas, or wherever she had fled, but Hugo calmed and decided to finish the mission he was on… only after swearing a Blood Oath of Vengeance on the Unconquered Sun and the Dragons that Lisara would die by his hand. They elected to get back to the Bull’s as quickly as possible. The Jadeborn quickly souped up one of the airships, and they headed back to the Bull’s at breakneck speed to deliver news both good and bad.

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Allies and Enemies
Fouth Session

Flying through the air at breakneck speed, the Circle received an Infallible Messenger sorcery from the Bull’s camp. It indicated that there was a great deal of trouble at the Bull’s, the most important bit was that the Bull himself was incapacitated and hovering between life and death, helpless. Despite the newfound sense of urgency, there was little they could do to arrive sooner, and they arrived 2 weeks later to see the camp on a full military lockdown. They were escorted to the Bull’s adjutant, noting that the soldiers were more focused on internal than external threats. They reached the Bull’s throne room to find him confined to bed, with an alchemist running all manner of tubes into him to keep the Solar going.

The Bull’s adjutant, a God-Blooded, said that several days ago, people had started disappearing. First one at a time, then in small groups, soldiers had been disappearing. The pattern fit someone very skilled at disguise, and they went to lockdown quickly. Eventually, they located the source of the problem – a soldier that transformed into a hideously deformed monstrosity – and they set upon it. The heavy Essence cannon they had laid one into the beast before the Bull himself came down to do battle with it. The Bull wounded it, but couldn’t kill it, and was poisoned in the process. Armed with that knowledge, the Circle deduced that the hostile was a Chimera, and they knew they had to find it and kill it. Finding it would be easier said than done, though, since Chimeras could look like anything they wanted to. With that, the Circle started to search, with Hugo and Callas airborne while Geralt and Hakun searched on the ground. Jasper, though, had been pulled in by the Alchemist to provide raw Essence to keep the Bull alive, and he was out of the picture.

Searching from the air with Essence sight, Callas expected the search to be brief. She was surprised, though, to see a horse on the ground. There had been no horses there before, and her gryphon immediately launched into a dive-bombing attack, snarling a war cry. Hugo leapt from the glider he’d borrowed into a freefall descent as soon as he saw Callas charge, and the others on the ground followed suite. The gryphon tore into the horse with a snarling war cry, but what emerged chilled the bones of the Circle. The horse became a Chimera, with razor-sharp quills, a snake’s body, and a lion’s head, laughing madly the entire time it transformed.

With that, the Circle set to work. Hugo snapped off a volley of chakrams as he descended, lighting off as many of his charms as he could. The remaining Solars all cast their charms and sorceries, and before you knew it there were four totemic banners flying, lighting up the sky for miles. Hugo’s eyes widened as his throws all landed good hits, but did next to nothing against the beast. The beast turned its attention to Hugo in retaliation, sending a volley of quills his way. Hugo twisted, but wasn’t fast enough, and his armor didn’t take all the hits, one of the quills scoring deep into his arm. Callas renewed his attack on the chimera, but her attacks barely scratched it too. Hakun, meanwhile, began directing the Circle for one massive, coordinated strike. The rest of the Circle didn’t relent their assault, though, but it wasn’t enough. The Chimera continued to laugh insanely as it set into Callas’s gryphon, badly wounding the animal.

However, it seemed that the Circle wasn’t alone. A falcon came screaming out of the sky at breakneck speed, before flipping over and transforming into a pissed-off Lunar, screaming ‘MINE!’ as Hugo and Callas continued their assault. The Lunar had transformed into his war form, and he too set into the Chimera as Hakun shouted directions, coordinating an attack on the Chimera. Hugo managed one last burst of energy, infusing his assaults with lightning before Hakun’s coordinated strike landed, with Callas pinning the beast down and Hugo raining electically-infused chakrams onto the thing. Those finally did something, and Geralt took advantage of the confusion to lay into the beast with his claws and boots. Geralt’s boot did a good number on the beast as the Solar stepped further in. He locked eyes with the chimera, expecting to see hatred. What he got back instead was… different.

Geralt felt a sparkof recognition in that instant, and the chimera transformed into a mouse, climbing up onto Geralt’s shoulder, simply repeating ‘you came back for me!’ After the initial confusion, Geralt realized that was the recognition of his Lunar bondmate, and he nestled up to the mouse, which now looked… cute That fact terrified the rest of the Circle beyond belief, and Hugo was still intent on killing the thing as a Chimera, since he viewed Lunars that had descended into Chimerism as Anathema. The young Lunar, Aunn, that had showed up agreed with Hugo, stating that the thing was beyond sanity and that it needed to be put down, although it was calm enough that Aunn was confused if that was still necessary. Hugo was… somewhat forceful on that point, flipping a bolt of lightning past Hakun’s ear by way of insisting. Callas broke up the argument by offering to seal an oath on the Unconquered Sun that the barely-not-a-Chimera Lunar known as Mocks Her Madness would not descend into madness again, would not recklessly attack thinking beings, would cure the Bull, and most importantly, that she would take the Moonsilver Tatoos that the Silver Pact used to contain the madness associated with travel into the Wyld.

With the Oath sealed, she transformed back into her human form, revealing a stunningly beautiful young woman, her hair the color of Orichalcum in a perfect mirror of Geralt’s moonsilver hair. They headed up to the Bull’s hospital bed, where she transformed again, sucking the poison out of the Bull. The alchemist that was trying to heal him noted that he would make a full recovery in the span of a few days, and all present breathed a deep sigh of relief. Aunn, the young Lunar, said that this was the last thing he’d expected, and that his Elder would be pissed. Almost on cue, a scout showed up saying that they’d spotted a massive owl indicative of another Lunar coming in. Aunn cursed, and the Circle, plus Aunn and the recently restored to remote sanity not-Chimera, headed to the largest landing on the tree as they waited for the Elder. Callas asked Aunn if it was Fury Of Claws, and Aunn said yes, indicating that he had been given instructions by Fury not to approach the Bull’s city because his bondmate was there and that they hadn’t parted on the best of terms… then he realized why Callas was asking and quickly facepalmed.

Fury Of Claws landed and was about to demand an explanation from Aunn when he spotted Callas and muttered a strained ‘Hi, Honey.’ He was backfilled on what had happened by Aunn and Callas, and was flabbergasted that Mocks Her Madness was ready to take the tattoos and wanted to become sane…-ish again. With the aid of Callas and Aunn, they performed the tattooing ritual by the changing moon, plugging the leaks in the Lunar’s sanity before setting off back to their camp to repair the damage that had been done. Fury indicated that there would need to be a suitable punishment to Aunn for his disobedience, and elected to have him remain with the Solar Circle. With that deal done, the Circle went back to the Bull, happy to see him recovering. His adjutant mentioned that he was glad to see the Circle back for a multitude of reasons, and now that the immediate crisis had passed, they would need to help with the envoys of Lookshy that were coming to discuss a non-aggression pact.

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From One Who Knows The Score
Fifth Session

“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…

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Solars on a Wyld Hunt (No, not that one!)
Sixth Session

“It isn’t unusual for you to see a Fair Folk on their own, because that would imply there’s a usual in the Wyld” – Mike

“I don’t think pregnancy is a Wyld mutation” – Mike
“It is if you’re male” – Aaron

Once the Circle had rested in the near Bordermarches, they pressed on, leaving Hakun to guard the airship. Vaulting over the massive waterfall they had found, they came upon a massive desert at the bottom. The desert eventually degraded into a literal sea of sand, which had a skiff beached on it. Hugo tentatively called out to see if anyone was there, and what appeared to be an old woman came out. She was so obviously Fair Folk it wasn’t funny, but she wasn’t hostile, so the Circle engaged her in conversation. She said she was fishing, and that she just caught five big ones. The she asked the Circle where they were headed, and Aunn told her they were looking for the Silver Pact. She offered to give them a lift, but the Circle elected to take the gryphon.

As they flew, fortunately for everyone Aunn spotted a large fin cutting through the sand. THey climbed, and escaped the wrath of the siaka that had been stalking them. The same skiff then darted in and cast a net about it, which instantly became razor-sharp the second it closed about the beast. She waved the Circle down. Aunn dove, transforming back into his human form, while the gryphon dove. THey had to wave off, though, when the effects of Hugo’s Wyld-repelling charm interfered with the boat. They quickly reached an accord. The little old lady would guide the Circle to the Silver Pact in exchange for protection from them. Sealing the deal with an Eclipse Oath, they presed on, reaching the end of the sea of sand.

The lady quickly fashions a simple diving rod to track down the Lunars. The Circle is confused, though, since she pretty much ignores it in her single-minded pursuit of her goal. They start in a forest where the entire landscape is made of bone, including the trees. Quickly that descends to just being littered with skeletal remains. They then come upon an archway into a jungle. The Old Lady continues on, as does the Circle. The lady is still totally focused on her divinations, and in that focus she steps on a brown mound. That mound then twitches, and what used to be a tyrant lizard comes out. Callas quickly tries to talk it down, but it responds by spraying the Circle with burning sand and ash. With the diplomatic option out the window, everyone lights off their combat charms and starts thed process of taking it down.

Hugo pulls away as he lights off, as does Jasper. Callas clambors onto her gryphon frantically as Aunn throws himself forward full-force, shifting to his war form. Aunn and Hugo deliver somewhat effective attacks as they finish lighting off, their anima banners going totemic, visible for miles. Aunn is scored by the battleaxe-like tail of the beast as Geralt flings himself forward. Geralt kicked the beast int he face before he slid down its back, dragging his razor claws as he fell. That badly wounded the thing, and Callas was able to convince it to let them go.

Hugo chides the old woman for letting them get in that kind of trouble. She just laughs, citing that its their job to fight and hers to look. They come upon a great river of lava which bears a single bridge. Across that bridge is a quartet of Lunars in war form all hurridly looking to cross. When they see the Circle, they calm down somewhat. They quickly begin talking, with Hugo and Aunn taking the lead in the discussion. They indicate they’re looking for an akuma last seen in this area, possibly searching for a manse, and decribe her phoenix form. The Lunar’s diviner quickly tries to set something up to find her. As the ritual was cast, Hugo and Strength of Mountains, leader of the Lunar pack, swapped notes on long hunts. Once the divination ritual had finished, the stick that Wind Reader had been using as a focus shattered. She looked puzzled as she consulted her thaumatology notes on what exactly that meant. She informed the Circle that they and Lisara were intertwined with a very powerful line of destiny that was not Lisara’s. She explicitly told them “You are fated to find her. There will be strife, struggle, and unintended consequences” That was all she could say; the presence of so many Exalts, operating outside of Fate, made the rest of future unclear. She did get a solid fix on Lisara’s location, and the Circle sets out, thanking the Lunars for their aid.

They approach the likely spot for Lisara – a manse where all 5 elements coincide, being a volcano with a lagoon and a forest at the base, with plenty of air at high altitude and the mountain itself filling in for earth. They approached the mountain under cover of dark before setting down. Aunn did a quick recce of the volcano. He spotted a secondary entrance to the place through the lagoon. The Circle moved in, trying to time their arrival with the dawn.

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Into The Fire
Seventh Session

‘Does it have a terrible aura?’ – Immanuel
’It’s a fucking demon, what do you think!?’ – Mark

Aunn’s recon had located three entrances to the Manse. One through a large set of ornate doors, guarded by blood apes. The second was a seaward entrance, apparently unguarded. The third was to drop in directly through the caldera. Hugo and Aunn discussed tactics, eventually deciding to insert through the caldera. Flying atop Night Bird, the Circle came in, through the heavy smoke of the volcano, and made their move. Aunn stayed high and inconspicuous as the gryphon descended among a wail of bells, Hugo leaping off the mount as alarm bells rang below. They saw that the lava only covered half the interior, while the other half was occupied by water, with a mass of steam rising where they met. There was a long, narrow path which had several buildings on it, and at the exact center, what could only be the manse.

Three Essence cannons were firing on the descending bird as cultists poured first out of the pagoda at the center. Seeing five Solars coming in ready for battle, they quickly dove right back into the pagoda as attempted to barricade it. Aunn dropped like a stone, streaking into the pagoda before it could be sealed. He ran into a pair of blood apes inside the door, which the Lunar set into immediately. Geralt, meanwhile, shattered the door with a single kick, and Hugo and Hakun scrambled through the door and slaughtered the apes, leaving nothing but cowering cultists clad in vestments of the Green Sun Princes.

Hugo nonchalantly tossed them a copy of the Immaculate Text, informing them they’d backed the wrong side. One of them picked it up, but Hugo grabbed his wrist before he could stow it. Hugo carefully examined the ring the cultist wore. Hugo’s eyes flew open in shock as he recognized the insignia of the Cult of the Scarlet Empress. Hugo demanded to know what they were doing with the Green Sun Princes and the Yozis. They stared back up at him, jaws open at the site of a Solar clad as an Immaculate Monk. One of them simply responded that the Empress was dead and this was the best way to ensure that someone worthy of the Scarlet Throne would sit on it. Hugo followed that with a demand to know where Lisara was, to which they simply responded the Hearth Room. Hugo proceeded to crack them over the head, knocking them out, and the Circle started a quick search of the place. They found more cultists barricading themselves inside the remaining rooms. The only thing of interest they found was a fully stocked occult center, complete with an extensive alchemical lab, and an open portal into Malefas.

They bypassed the portal and headed straight for the hearth room. They saw a visibly pregnant Lisara accompanied by a second circle fire demon. She commented that she should’ve expected Hugo to follow her, and that the Caste Mark blazing on his forehead explained an awful lot. She then nodded at the demon, telling it to take care of the Circle. Lisara disappeared farther into the manse, closing the door behind her as the demon turned to face the Circle. The demon smiled before lashing out with a fire whip, pinning Aunn and Jasper almost instantly. Hugo and Callas began an assault while Hakun barked orders, directing the assault. Hugo and Callas’s blows barely scratched the demon, though, and he was able to get one last blow off before Hakun’s coordinated attack fell. Hugo attempted to kick over the Demon’s sweeping flail, but it took him square in the gut, knocking him out cold almost instantly. While Hugo toppled against the wall, Hakun’s direction caused the blows of Aunn and Geralt to land true before Callas and Night Bird threw the demon into the water, ending it.

Hugo came around quickly, considering the blow he had taken. They attempted to break down the door, but neither Night Bird nor Geralt could smash it in. Hugo then studied it somewhat more intensely, and noted that it seemed to be designed for Terrestrials. He lit off his hearthstone, and then was able to freely walk in. He saw Lisara there, looking at him. She was no longer pregnant, which raised Hugo’s eyebrows quickly. He cocked his weapon, but she asked to explain what had happened. Hugo was battered, bruised, and since she seemed to want to ask something, he lowered his weapon, and then let the rest of the Circle in. Lisara said that time did not flow normally here, and that for every minute in Creation, almost two years passed in this place, which was some aspect of Elsewhere. She told them that this long in Elsewhere had at least partially broken the Yozi’s hold on her, and that she was tired, and wished to do what she could to make up for the misdeeds that had resulted from her pact with the Yozis.

She explained the Yozi’s plan in great detail, which had involved using her to mother a Terrestrial capable of operating the Realm Defense Grid. Almost on cue, a small girl walked into the room. She was a Fire-Aspect, and it was plain to all that she held great power, and great destiny. THere was no doubt this was the destiny the Lunar Circle’s diviner had seen. Hugo knew enough of bloodlines to know hers was the purest he had ever seen. Lisara commented that she had been born Exalted – which had not been fun for her – and that the Yozis had miscalculated. They assumed that adding Solar Essence into the child would have made her more powerful, which was true. But using a Zenith had allowed the light of the Unconquered Sun into the mix, and that had offset the darkness they had engineered into the child. Light and dark were in balance within her, giving the child free will. The Circle had many questions for Lisara, and they discovered this was the Yozi’s backup plan, and that Lisara was not read into their first plan. The Circle excused her from the area and discussed things internally, noting a massive shift in what they thought they knew.

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Nothing's the Same Anymore
Eighth Session

“Her unnatural tendency towards evil; has abated; her natural tendency towards being a slut has not” – Mike, describing the changes to Lisara
“Sweet!” – Aaron

Hugo had pulled Callas and Aunn aside, and they talked among themselves to come up with ideas for what to do with Lucy. Hugo wished to hand her over to his sifu, Maxim, and let the Immaculate Order take responsibility for her. Callas and especially Aunn had… issues with that. Everyone had an opinion on what to do, but it was Aunn that came up with the best compromise. Since her destiny involved the whole of Creation, all of Creation should have a hand in her education. As such, he proposed that a representative of the Solars, Lunars, and Realm Terrestrials should take part in her education. With that decided, they moved onto the issue of what to do with Lisara. Hakun simply proposed waiting back in Creation until she died of old age, but Hugo wouldn’t have any of that. Hugo wanted to kill her… badly. But seeing that she wanted a second chance, and that she chose not to be evil, he couldn’t help but be reminded of his own dilemma a year ago, and how he similarly chose not to be evil, and reluctantly let her live… with constraints. She consented to be Oathbound by Callas never to serve Darkness again and never to strike the first blow against a Celestial Exalt. In exchange, the Circle suffered themselves to be Oathbound to allow Lisara to mother her child if she could prove to be cleansed of the Yozi’s influence. With that sealed, the Circle elected to remain there and train. This was complicated by the lack of space and privacy in the Elsewhere, and nerves frayed quickly. The lack of tea was the last straw for several, though.

After spending eight months of perceived time inside the manse’s time chamber, the Circle had had… enough. They emerged into Creation barely 30 seconds realtime after they had left, the cultists still in the process of running like both hells. They let them live as they closed the portal to Malefas before they began appropriating everything that looked valuable in the Manse, including a powerful hearthstone for Jasper. With that, they loaded up on the airship and headed out. Hugo briefly spoke long-distance with Maxim, and with his mentor’s consent the Circle set forth for a training ground Hugo’s temple had long used, to meet with Maxim and turn Lisara over to him.

Problems arose when the airship’s essence drive broke down, turning what would have been a day-long journey into one of a week. Hugo gave a quick heads-up to Maxim, arranging for an engineer to be on-station to fix the magitek. Landing at the arranged clearing, the Circle was disturbed by a lack of a greeting. Hopping down from the airship, a quick Charm let Hugo know there were eight people nearby. He waved, and Maxim walked out, accompanied by seven other members of the Immaculate Order. Hugo reported that Lisara had been Oathbound and cooperative since they’d left the manse. Nodding, Maxim then examined Lucy. A quick check of the child showed the Elder Immaculate that she was every bit as powerful, and her destiny every bit as strong, as Hugo had warned him. He noted that she had the ability to do great good or evil, depending on how she was raised. He then motioned to one of his monks, Masaru, who would be accompanying the Circle back to the Bull’s city to serve as a tutor and bodyguard for Lucy.

With that, the Circle had to spend a week in the uncomfortable position of Solars and Lunars being on the ground in the Realm. Hugo, in a bout of nostalgia, headed into town, accompanied by Jasper and and Geralt. Hugo and Geralt both picked up a new set of armored clothing in town, and Geralt simply observed. Back at the airship, though, a nobleman’s hunt came through. The nobleman spotted the airship, the gryphon, and Masaru, and looked from one to the other. He looked over at Masaru, and commented that it was good to see Order types out and asked what was going on. Masaru responded that it was Order business, and asked him to move along. The gryphon immediately took off and began circling, managing not to attack the horses on sight, but it was clear he was… agitated.

The nobleman asked what was going on on his property. Lucy then asked if she could have a ride on one of the horses. Masaru said no as the Terrestrial noble started to ask more questions. Lucy then got up on one of the horses, which had happily let her onto it, and even changed pink for her. Still enjoying her new cat form, Callas had forgotten that normally cats don’t talk and simply promised Lucy a ride on something faster later if she could wait. The noble’s eyes narrowed and he grew clearly suspicious, looking at the whole picture far more carefully this time – talking animals, airship, gryphon with elaborate barding rigged for war. Callas noted that he was spending Essence, and was likely putting two and two together – this was quickly turning from a hunt to a Hunt. Lucy quickly walked up to him and said that he should forget this and move on. The nobleman muttered that he should forget about Order business and moved on, his horse remaining there as he walked away half dazed.

Masaru looked over at her, wanting to issue an admonition, but she had defused the situation. Hugo, Geralt, and Jasper then came back. Hugo attempted to scold Lucy for deceiving the nobleman and making him forget about his mount, but Lucy managed to deflect… it seemed she took after her mother and her Solar father when it came to manipulating people, several of the Circle realized. Maxim briefly stopped back and had a ‘private’ conversation with Hugo,; one which Jasper felt the need to eavesdrop on. Hugo ‘revealed’ to Maxim that they’d learned the location of the Empress. Maxim nodded, noting that he had been in on the secret and knew what she was doing – she was invading Malefas to kill her daughter, who, through means unknown, was now the source of Infernal Exaltations. Hugo and Jasper both cried a loud ‘what’ at that, and they moved on.

That night, the Essence Drive was repaired, and the tech who did it went off, saying he was going to forget everything about this job through the judicious overuse of alcohol. On that note, the Circle took off with their ah-hoc repairs complete. It took them longer than they’d have liked to return to the Bull’s city, but pushing any harder would’ve burnt the drive out again.

Reaching the Bull’s, they noted that the Mountainfolk had reached the city and that their workshop was nearing completion. The Circle was quickly escorted to the Bull, who asked them only half-jokingly this time what Creation-shattering revelations they had discovered this time. They replied by informing him that their best guess said they had mostly freed Lisara from the Yozi’s control and that they’d left her in the care of the Immacualte Order, who hoped to find some means to purge the taint from her. He nodded, surprised but not shaken. He was shaken, though, when Hugo introduced Lucy and told him that she had been bred by the Yozis to operate the Realm Defense Grid, but the inclusion of Zenith-Caste Solar Essence in the mix had offset the Yozi’s hold on her. With that revelation through, the Circle took advantage of their first opportunity in almost nine months perceived time to get the hell away from each other, retiring to chambers.

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