After a long night of dealing with Abyssals and a chimera, our heroes barely got any sleep at all before rising for the day and working on a plan to keep Fiori alive and bring down the council of oligarchs. Prism’s morning meditations confirmed what the others feared: Fiori’s fated death had not been prevented by the events of the previous night. He still foresaw Fiori’s death at the hands of Snapdragon’s look-alike—now revealed to be her twin sister, twisted and warped by the power of the Mask of Winters into an Abyssal. The vision happened at night, so they were fairly certain that Fiori would be safe through the daylight hours; just in case, they left one of Blazer’s communication devices with him. At a moment’s notice, half the circle could be in his presence in less than a heartbeat.
With Fiori’s safety more or less taken care of, the circle gathered to marshal their resources. Just as the discussion was getting serious, though, Ven took the opportunity to commandeer their tour guide and demand a tour of the best eateries and cafes in the upper district. Prism declined to join them, preferring to work the city for information and direction, but the chance to drink Mishakan coffee won over most of the group.
As they left, Gideon bumped into a well-dressed man with a neat upper-class goatee. He apologized for being so clumsy and asked to buy them breakfast by way of making it up to them. The circle agreed willingly enough, and the man introduced himself as Turos Czsuzsa. As they reached the Ninth Bell, the finest coffee shop in Mishaka, Turos mentioned that he owned a controlling stake in the Five Seasons Hotel. He also had to admit that it was no coincidence that he had run into them; he made it his business to keep up with interesting people that arrived in the city. While not a native, his business was tied up with the city’s welfare, so he was quite anxious to speak with people of real worth.
Gideon was immediately suspicious of Turos and asked him what his “business” was. He would only say “some of this and that,” but in between was throwing in bits and pieces of Nexus street slang that let Gideon realize that he was a criminal of some sort. He assured them that he wasn’t interested in the “hard trade”—indeed, he was strongly opposed to the oligarchy’s decision to allow slavery within sight of the city walls. Primarily, though, he was opposed to the idea of the Guild taking a more active role in city life. He made overtures to the circle of alliance against the Guild, but they would only say that they would think about it. He bade them good day and made his way out of the Ninth Bell.
They enjoyed themselves there for a bit, though Ven reacted somewhat strongly to all the caffeine, before setting upon a course to challenge the council of oligarchs for supremacy of the city. Prism rejoined them after their “debauch,” though he would never deign to gainsay the activities of other Solars. They gathered together and approached the palace of the oligarchs, the edifice known as Council Spire. Adjoining it was an enormous natural amphitheater, the site of debates and philosophers’ arguments for centuries. This day, it was filled to the brim with Mishakans observing the performance of a charismatic speaker—a beautiful woman with flaming red hair.
The circle immediately suspected her of being the Sidereal agent who had defrauded Delsinar, the elusive Lady Redfeather, though a bystander was able to tell them that she was calling herself “Madame Campanelle” now. As the circle listened to her argument, they realized that her words were supernaturally compelling to the audience—except for the council themselves. The oligarchs sat together in a special booth, their spokesman holding a magical gavel that seemed to shield them all from mind control. Blazer analyzed the nature of the item and of Campanelle’s charms in moments with his sorcerer’s sight. Her arguments became clear in moments as well: She was agitating for Mishaka to withdraw from the Confederation of Rivers and thereafter to begin a war of conquest against its immediate neighbors. With the wealth taken from Mishaka’s new jade mine, they could grow to become a great power in the region. The damage done by the Mask of Winters to the southern part of the Scavenger Lands had left dozens of small kingdoms weak and ripe for the picking. Mishaka would rise to glory!
Red Lion could take no more of it! He barged up onto the stage and accused Campanelle of warmongering at a time when the people of the Scavenger Lands should be standing together. The crowd roared at the breach of etiquette, but the oligarchs demanded order. After a brief debate among themselves, they ruled that they would permit a change of the day’s business and allow the newcomers to engage Campanelle in a debate. Observing their demeanor, the circle came to the conclusion that the oligarchs were no more interested in Mishaka withdrawing from the Confederation than they were, but that the public was quickly embracing the idea. After fifteen years as pariahs to the rest of the East, the idea of conquest and power must have been a heady drug to the masses.
A social combat was entered, with the circle standing against Madame Campanelle. While they started off strong, with a major blow against her logic, she quickly rallied and proved herself the more adept manipulator of public opinion—especially when it came to matters of war. The give and take of the debate was fast and vicious, and the crowd found themselves hanging on every word. Red Lion appealed to their sense of unity with the Scavenger Lands, while Campanelle called upon their nationalistic spirit. As the debate wore on, Snapdragon noticed a tremor in the crowd—her Dark Passenger had sensed another of its own kind. The Abyssals were here!
Gideon streaked across the night to Fiori’s home, snatching him from his family and telling him that it was his moment—now or never. He nodded grimly and steeled himself for either the debate of his life or martyrdom. Snapdragon melted into the crowd to try and find her prey while Prism bolstered his allies’ resolve. After returning with Fiori, Gideon invisibly took up a watchful position near him. It was a lucky thing too, for at that moment he spied—over a mile away, well out of the eyeshot of anyone with less than his level of preternaturally keen vision—the Disciple of Seven Forbidden Wisdoms lining up a shot. At the same time, Snapdragon and Vesper came across shadows that boiled and slashed; the Maiden of the Mirthless Smile was present as well.
The combat that followed was silent and brutal, with both sides seeking to prevent the crowd from knowing about their presence while slaying their foes. Gideon invisibly burned arrows from the sky; Snapdragon and Vesper locked hidden blades and subtly shifted claws with the Maiden’s bloody knives. Amidst it all, ignorant of the threats surrounding him, Fiori gave the speech of his life. He spoke of civic pride, of duty to one’s fellow men; he spoke of peace and prosperity and fairness.
At the height of his speech, in a moment of purest enlightenment, Fiori Exalted!
Light poured into the amphitheater, burning away the shadows of evening that had begun to creep in. Exposed and visible, the Maiden and the Disciple chose to withdraw rather than face another open battle while outnumbered. Fiori’s eloquence shattered the gavel wielded by the oligarchs and poured molted truth into the minds of the assembled Mishakans. When the light faded, the others could see Fiori standing there, the mark of the Eclipse Caste on his brow. He told them that there was much work that remained to be done, and made off to convince the oligarchs to step down from their positions.
In the meantime, the circle confronted the defeated Madame Campanelle. She did not deny the accusations of being a Sidereal, though she did not confirm them either. “If you wish to learn more about me,” she told them, “seek me out in Nexus.” With that, she departed in a whirl of red silk and redder hair.
With the Abyssals sent packing for the time being, and the council of oligarchs deposed, the circle allowed themselves a short breather to enjoy the fruits of their labors. They resolved to stay in Mishaka, perhaps for as long as a fortnight, to aid Fiori in the transition of power and to generally unwind from their recent troubles. Vesper sadly told Snapdragon that he had to depart immediately; his own kind would want to know about the chimera they put down, and about the covert efforts of the Abyssals and Sidereals to undermine local kingdoms, albeit apparently to different ends. She understood, though she admitted that it felt odd for him to be the one leaving this time. He assured her before he left that if there was anything that could be done for Dahlia, they would find it—together.
Despite the dangers and the trouble of the last weeks, the circle felt pride at their successes. For the first time, they allowed themselves to feel hope that everything would be all right in the end. The future was uncertain but full of promise, and with Mishaka as their ally, they would soon be able to start putting the whole of the East to rights.