Session 22: Negotiations
After their resounding victory at the Battle of Ocho-Rin Hill, the circle set to making the new city-state of Ochorin into a viable place to live and work. With the aid of two ex-Guildsmen—the somewhat reluctant Mistress Shun and the somewhat more enthusiastic Cho Pang—the circle quickly negotiated supplies of food and other necessities for the freedmen. Cho Pang’s defection from the Guild to the side of the freedmen struck a suspicious chord with Gideon, who suspected that the merchant’s scribe, Woodmouse, might well be the one really pulling the strings in their relationship. Still, they couldn’t really refuse the help under the circumstances.
With Ochorin momentarily self-sufficient, they returned to Delsinar to meet with King Voshun. The boy-king was more self-assured then the last time they had seen him, more confident in his rule, though still a stammering teenager in the presence of Snapdragon. From Voshun, they learned that Fiori had been as good as his word and returned the Delsinarian hostages to their homes in exchange for some vague territorial concessions that would appease the Mishakans without costing Delsinar much at all. They were working on a formal treaty, including a way to share the profits from the formerly contested jade mine, but it was slow going due to the interference of their respective councilors.
The season of Fire was rapidly drawing to a close, and Calibration was approaching. The circle had previously agreed to travel to Marita ahead of the Mishakan-Delsinarian contingent and acquire housing for their delegation, in order to better their position with the Confederation Council. Without a formal embassy, the small nations wouldn’t be able to remain in Marita for the duration of the month-long conference, making it difficult to gain allies or importance. The circle sought to rectify that as part of their long-term plan to unite the Scavenger Lands under a single government.
Traveling speedily to Marita in the Lion’s Roar, the circle encountered little in the way of threat or resistance. Venomous Spur sent messengers and coin ahead to prepare the way, so that by the time they got there, the arrival of their warstrider was met with a formal parade through the city. Negotiations for the last blocs of housing were under way already, so the circle had to use every ounce of their cunning, savvy, and manipulation to jockey for position in the highly politicized climate. Red Lion spent a lot of time at noodle stands. Finally, after a couple of days of backroom deals and heavy bribes, the circle had managed to negotiate a large, expansive embassy for the joint nation delegation.
Not long after Fiori and Voshun arrived, the embassy had its first formal visitor: the ambassador from Thorns! Calling himself Typhon, Wink of the Storm’s Eye, the handsome young man acted little like the deathknights the circle had previously met, though his clothing was still festooned with the signs of Abyssal allegiance. He was gracious and charming, and obviously knew each of the circle by name and appearance. He bantered with the group for a while; the Solars were clearly expecting a fight or trick of some kind, while Ven was all too aware of what was really going on. The Abyssal before them had come to negotiate—a far more dangerous prospect than a fight in some ways.
Typhon opened up with assertions of the non-murderous intent of his homeland. Thorns, he insisted, was no more evil than any other nation that warred with its neighbors; indeed, most of the hostilities that had gone on over the last five years were born more out of misconceptions and misunderstandings than genuine malice. The Mask of Winters had liberated Thorns from the grip of the Realm—which they could only agree was a good thing. In turn, he was now looking to legitimize his rule in the eyes of his neighbors. Thus, Typhon had been appointed to be his voice at Marita, representing Thorns as a member of the Confederation of Rivers.
The circle was shocked. Thorns had been accepted into the Confederation? Typhon pointed out that nothing in the charter of the Confederation forbade its member states from warring on one another; it only set rules and boundaries for those conflicts and outlined mutual defense policies against outside aggression. It also offered the opportunity to meet with other sovereign powers under equal terms, either at Marita or through diplomatic channels that might otherwise not be open. It was Typhon’s intention to start reaching out to other nations through the Council to show them that Thorns wasn’t the terrible boogeyman it had been made out to be. To that end, his homeland was going to start admitting small numbers of visitors for the purpose of diplomatic negotiations.
Before that could happen, however, he had wanted to meet with the circle personally. Though the Council hadn’t yet met, he was hoping that they could go ahead and began hashing out a mutual non-aggression pact between Thorns and the power bloc represented by the circle. Though Gideon demurred that they had no authority to make any sort of agreements, Fiori and Voshun insisted that the circle’s opinions were vital to their nations’ decisions. With that in mind, Typhon outlined the basics of his proposal: Thorns would publicly acknowledge the sovereignty of the Lo Mountains tri-state region—including Delsinar, Mishaka, and Ochorin—and honor its borders in exchange for total non-interference. Thorns would make no war on any nation that was part of their treaty—but in return, the treaty nations could offer no aid or alliance to any nation that Thorns chose to fight. There was also some stuff about preferential economic treatment that would be vital to the region’s growth, but the crux of the matter was the non-aggression pact.
Though Fiori and Voshun were clearly tempted, Gideon and Blazer were immediately suspicious. Blazer’s advanced intellect grasped the implications of the treaty right away: Thorns wasn’t afraid of Mishaka or Delsinar or Ochorin—it was afraid of the Solars, and this treaty was a sop to shut them up and keep them away. The reverse implication was also quite clear to Gideon: “Leave us alone, and we’ll leave you alone—but get in our way, and your friends get moved to the top of our conquest list.” Fortunately, Red Lion wasn’t present to object to even hearing Typhon out, but the rest of the circle was deeply disturbed by the offer. On the one hand, it would give Thorns free reign to move about without interference on their part; on the other, the price of defiance would be a war that would cost innocent people their lives, even if they won.
Without any way to navigate the morass of conflicting loyalties at present, the circle could only ask for some time to think about Typhon’s proposal. He agreed that it was a fair request, but insisted that they not take too long. He was a mere diplomat, and his master would surely make a decision on his own before too much longer if he didn’t receive a firm answer…
That night, on patrol, Snapdragon chanced to encounter Typhon again. The two of them discussed many things, and eventually the topic turned to Snapdragon’s sister, the Maiden of the Mirthless Smile. Typhon mentioned that he had worked with her a few times and that she seemed to respect his opinion. If Snapdragon would be his advocate to her allies, he would happily be hers to her sister. Snapdragon was moved by his offer and couldn’t help but accept it. If there was even a chance that she and Dahlia could be sisters again, she had to take the risk.
Red Lion was starting to get antsy. After days of politics and diplomacy, he had used up all the money that Ven had given him on noodle stands and cheap trinkets. His mind had begun to wander toward improving his martial prowess and to the challenges on the road to proving himself the strongest fighter in the world. His mind turned toward the Green Lady’s words, that Five Days Darkness could give him a decent run for his money. Ven too was interested in the god of Calibration; supposedly, during the five days of his name, he could show supplicants the way to the gates of Yu-Shan.
After everything was settled for the time being in Marita, the circle made their way to the forests outside the city and let Red Lion issue the challenge. As the sun set, plunging the sky into perfect blackness on the first night of Calibration, the deity made his appearance. He arrived in the shape of a four-armed man made of blackness, looking remarkably like a negative image of Red Lion with extra limbs. Though they were prepared for a fight, Five Days Darkness instead greeted them warmly and with great praise. It seemed that he loved Solars; he would happily spar with Red Lion if he wanted, but he preferred to hang out and shoot the breeze.
The circle managed to uncover some things about the dark god’s origin, namely that he was the shadow of the Unconquered Sun, unable to bear the light of day—but that he held no ire toward the Incarnae. He had fought on the side of the gods during the Primordial War, and he had even kept a long-distance correspondence going with Sol Invictus before he got too busy to respond. Five Days Darkness seemed only wrathful against the calendar gods, the deities who embodied the seasons, months, and days. Red Lion made a mental note to do the god a solid when they got to heaven by punking out some calendar deity.
A few hours of banter and explanations later, the circle was ready to travel to Yu-Shan, the Celestial City. Red Lion asked to stay behind for the night to learn from Five Days Darkness, who agreed to become Red Lion’s sifu. The rest were taken to the Calibration Gate and advised that they should return to Creation before the end of Calibration; otherwise, they would be on their own. Taking his advice to heart, the circle bade their new ally farewell and stepped through the shimmering portal…