Session 17: Glorious Golden God-Kings
The circle left Tambreet after the minor revolution they had started, but they took a few days for themselves before continuing across the river to Zarrith. During that time, Blazer and Ven worked around the clock on repairs for the Lion’s Roar. Ven only took breaks to work on laying in orichalcum tattoos for Snapdragon, who had volunteered to be her next test subject. Snapdragon revealed more of her painful past to Red Lion and Ven during this period, including the circumstances of her sister’s “death” and her own scarring—the reason she wore a leather gorget all the time.
Once the tattoos were drawn, Ven realized that they had not taken the same pattern as Red Lion’s tattoos. That made sense—each Lunar’s tattoos were unique, after all. Still, each new tattoo pattern gave her more insight into the way orichalcum tattoos worked as compared to moonsilver tattoos. While Red Lion’s made him immune to the powers of darkness in the same way Ven’s tattoos made her immune to the forces of the Wyld, she could only guess what Snapdragon’s tattoos would do. Given the repairs of the Lion’s Roar and the circle’s imminent possible meeting with other Solars, they didn’t really have time to figure it out. It would have to be something they discovered in due time.
Once some basic scouting was done, the Lion’s Roar was parked and the circle decided to approach the city-state of Zarrith on foot from a couple of miles out to show their peaceful intentions. No sooner had they come within sight of the city’s stone walls than a bright ray of light shot out from a watchtower at the center of the city, catching them as in a spotlight. From a ziggurat below the watchtower flew out a burning spark, resolving itself as it approached them into a beautiful woman surrounded by a golden anima banner, wearing orichalcum plate armor, and flying on wings made of orichalcum blades. As she landed, she demanded to know who these “intruders” were, offering up her own name as Invincible Sword Princess.
Red Lion stepped up to introduce the group, including his own proper title: “the Undefeated of the East.” Hearing another warrior call himself “undefeated” piqued Princess’ curiosity, and she demanded an immediate demonstration of his martial skills. The two of them leapt into battle, Red Lion holding his own with his powerful but clumsy style against the more graceful and technical attacks of Princess. Just as it looked like the fight might turn serious, a feminine voice from nearby called a halt to it and Princess immediately stood down.
The circle examined the newcomer: a beautiful woman wearing a long jacket; she had long, raven-black hair and the greenest eyes any of them had ever seen. She introduced herself as Sweet Emerald, a fellow Solar, and decried the senseless violence of her circle-mate. Princess seemed genuinely abashed and offered a grudging apology for her martial eagerness. She departed back to Zarrith to make way for their guests while Sweet Emerald led them to her conveyance, a First Age motorized wagon, and had her driver take them into Zarrith by the scenic route. The circle suspected that Emerald’s kindness masked the set-up for an ambush, but none of them could penetrate her mask-like mien.
As they traveled, Emerald explained that Zarrith had been in the grip of a terrible, generations-long civil war between three competing clans when her circle had arrived in the city a year ago. They brought peace to the factions, united the kingdom under their rule, and rebuilt the manse at the heart of the city. Most of Zarrith was recently rebuilt, it seemed; the buildings weren’t especially advanced, but they had an air of newness about them. Emerald explained that much of the city was in ruins after decades of fighting, and one of their first civil works projects had been to rebuild the city as it had been before the war. The reconstruction had taken longer than they wanted, but they had been dedicated to using mortal labor for the effort. Seeing the other circle’s confused looks, she explained that giving mortals important tasks in the rebuilding efforts served a double purpose: it made them feel invested in their own nation’s future, and it stimulated the economy. Blazer thought that it made sense, and Prism approved of anything that caused mortals to labor for the glory of the Unconquered Sun, but Red Lion thought that it would be better to provide standard of living before worrying about abstracts like the economy.
Once arriving at the Temple of the Noonday Sun, the manse-palace claimed by the Zarrith circle, they were astounded by the sheer opulence in which their opposite numbers lived. The manse was a vast complex of luxurious rooms filled with servants dressed in sheer silks. Everywhere were the signs of wealth and power. While a number of soldiers were posted in key places, they seemed more like an honor guard than actual protection. Prism’s eyes focused as he got close to one of them; he was certain that the guards were Dragon-Blooded. At least they were in their proper role for a change—as servants to the Solars. He was beginning to like these other Solars.
Sweet Emerald showed the circle around, introducing them to her own circle-mates. She herself was an Eclipse Caste, and the leader of her circle. When the other Solars claimed to not have a leader, she seemed amused; one of them was surely in charge, even if he or she was too modest to admit it. Clearly, Invincible Sword Princess was their Dawn Caste, and they were briefly reintroduced to her while she was in the outer reaches of the manse, caring for her spirit-companion, a kirin called Serene Dancer.
Next came their meeting with the circle’s Night Caste, a cocky pretty-boy gunslinger called Obsidian Hawk. He was target shooting in a completely dark room, and when Snapdragon got in his way, he was able to arc a bullet in mid-flight away from her. Unlike Gideon’s plasma tongue repeaters, Hawk’s primary weapon was an immense hand cannon called Temple of the First Principle of Motion, a prayer-piece that flung tiny pieces of metal at incredible velocities. Gideon thought the whole thing was a little ridiculous; flinging metal was never going to be as impressive or useful as streaming fire at things. Hawk seemed enamored of Snapdragon, probably because of her recalcitrant demeanor and his own contrariness.
Out on a patio overlooking the city, they found the fourth member of the Zarrith circle, a darkly tanned and red-haired Twilight Caste woman called Harbinger. She sat in midair above a mystic circle, limned in light and flame. She stepped clear of the meditation area as the guests walked into view and started babbling at them at high speed and low volume. Harbinger seemed pleasant enough if somewhat bubble-headed—until she revealed that she knew Celestial Circle Sorcery, which changed their view of her somewhat. Blazer seethed with private envy; this Southerner had mastered the second tier of true magic while he himself knew only a single, first tier spell. He calmed himself and looked at it as an opportunity to study with a superior sorcerer; why had he suddenly felt so angry about it? It totally wasn’t like him at all…
Emerald showed some reluctance to introduce the visitors to the final member of the circle. When they reached his area of the palace, they found it a shrine to self-indulgence. The air was full of a smoky haze, and half-naked beautiful men and women lounged everywhere on silk and overstuffed pillows. At the heart of it all, puffing on an enormous hookah, sat the Zarrith circle’s Zenith Caste, a tanned and muscular man called Adamant Prayer. He spoke to the circle at length about the mind-expanding properties of certain hallucinogens and the importance of tantric meditation in communing with the Unconquered Sun. Prism of Truth was horrified—how could a holy man, a priest of the Unconquered Sun, live in such decadence?
At the peak of the ziggurat was an altar, upon which was chained a man. The circle was horrified, but Emerald explained that he was a convicted murderer who was to be publicly executed. Adamant Prayer had suggested the manner, as both a means of public display and a way to send the criminal’s soul straight on to reincarnation cleanly. When asked about it, he claimed to have had visions of people worshipping the Unconquered Sun with human sacrifice during the First Age—and clearly, if the Sun didn’t want this kind of sacrifice, he would let his Chosen know about it.
Emerald concluded the tour at a set of guest rooms and asked the circle’s presence at a special dinner that night in their honor. As she did so, a shape unfolded from the shadows—a shape that Venomous Spur knew only too well. Dressed in furs and bearing a curved moonsilver sword, the warrior looked like he would be more at home in the frozen North than in the balmy East. Ven introduced her fellow Lunar to the circle: Fenrir Vanagandr, a former member of a Lunar pack with another old friend of the circle, Vesper. Snapdragon perked up at the mention of her Lunar, but a few words from Fenrir convinced her that the wolfish swordsman was nothing like her gentle, foolish Vesper. He bandied words with the circle for a bit, laying vague threats against them if they should interfere with his current hunt. Sweet Emerald seemed terrified of the Lunar, her first genuine emotion since the circle had met her; once Fenrir departed, she was able to explain that he was here because of his Solar mate—Invincible Sword Princess. The two of them couldn’t stand one another, but they also couldn’t stop being near one another.
Once both Emerald and Fenrir had left, Ven explained to the others that Fenrir had a reputation in Lunar circles as being a skilled hunter. He had once brought down a behemoth single-handedly, and now he was apparently in Zarrith to hunt another one—a creature called the Tyrant of Brass and Fire. Snapdragon wondered how Vesper could have ever been in a pack with a creature like Fenrir, and Ven mentioned that Vesper had quite a bad reputation once himself. Snapdragon didn’t believe it for a second; Vesper was the light to her darkness, and he could never have been truly bad.
While they waited for dinner, Red Lion and Ven chose to go into Zarrith and talk to the citizens. What they found there disturbed them. Though Sweet Emerald’s circle had freed all the slaves and banned slavery, they hadn’t made any special provisions for the freed slaves to reenter free life. Because of this, there were a great many homeless people in Zarrith, and people who worked as little better than slaves for want of better paying employment. A djala named Rulon became their guide to the city; he walked with a limp, and explained that he had been hobbled many years ago by his owner. When Red Lion asked if the man had been punished after freeing his slaves, Rulon said that a general pardon had been issued for any crimes committed before the arrival of their god-kings. They wanted a fresh start, they had said. Most of the citizens seemed incredibly devoted to Sweet Emerald personally, and Ven suspected mind control.
Snapdragon had already come to the conclusion that the locals were being mind-controlled, and had the worse suspicion that the “admitted murderer” had plead guilty only to please Sweet Emerald. She snuck back to the rooftop altar and questioned the man. He wept that he had gotten drunk and killed a man in an argument, and that he only wanted to be cleansed of his sins so that he could enter the next life in peace. Obsidian Hawk strode out of the shadows, admitting that he had suspected one of the other Solars would come back here but not that it would be Snapdragon. They bantered for a bit, with Hawk finally warning her about the consequences of judging others: you wind up getting judged yourself.
Red Lion and Ven finally returned to the manse, and the circle shared the information they had gathered. Blazer recommended patience and calm; these were the first other Solars they had met in their travels, and they were clearly more powerful, if less unified. When the impending execution of a prisoner was brought up, Blazer asked if they were upset at the fact he was going to be executed, or the way they were going to do it—because if it was the latter, then they were just being semantically picky. Dead is dead. Prism was quick to defend the necessity of the homeless population; if they just gave wealth away for free, then no one would want to work and it would cause problems. It took time to build an infrastructure that would support people.
Red Lion wasn’t buying it, though. These Solars had been in Zarrith for a year now, and they were living in luxury while people were starving in the streets. Ven pointed out that “starving” was an exaggeration, but not by much. There was a wide gap between the rich and the poor in Zarrith, and the Solars who ruled here had much to answer for. Blazer privately despaired; he couldn’t see any way to avoid violence with the kind of attitude that some of his circle-mates were developing.
Still, dinner came on soon enough. The circle was provided with lovely clothes and escorted to a magnificent dining chamber. Essence lights filled the room with illumination, and a great ring-shaped table dominated the room, bisected midway to allow servants to walk freely between the two halves. Dozens of servants attended them—and Prism privately suspected that they might all be Dragon-Blooded. Gilt thrones awaited them, with a silvered throne slightly behind and to the left of Red Lion’s seat. Frowning, Red Lion wrenched it from the floor and dragged it to be even with his seat; no one was going to suggest that Ven was somehow less than him.
Despite the minor faux pas, Sweet Emerald greeted everyone courteously. Everyone sat down to start what would undoubtedly be the most interesting dinner of their lives…