The jungle quivers. The hum of tens of massive Wyld-bred dragonflies cut through the air, sending leaves whirling in all directions. A huge First-Age airship, its blue jade keel gleaming amidst the orichalcum filigree housing, cruises through the upper canopy, bending trees and vines around it like water. This is the flagship and vanguard of the Meridian Isle Army, and with it are members of the Isle’s Solar Circle.
They are blazing a long, looping path north from their floating home, towards Grey Falls, and the Deathlord who rules it. The Army follows slowly, building roads and marking a path, and the Isle follows behind even more slowly, moving less than a mile a day.
They will pass close by the Pole of Wood – too close, some argue — but the Reality Stabilizing Matrix of the Isle keeps the Wyld from warping them. It is not the best path, but the one with the highest hope of success and surprise, to keep the Walker In Darkness unaware of their advance. They have plenty of time…
A titanic snake, ten feet across and several hundred long, with glowing silver eyes weaves around tree trunks that could have housed an entire village. The Circle watches the snake warily as it looped behind another tree. A moment later a horrible snarling sound was cut short. The snake emerged holding a draft-horse sized chimera in its mouth, which would have been horrifying in any other context, but looked like a tiny snack in the serpent’s maw. The snake twisted down on the chimera and swallowed it whole, the lump traveling down the long body and gradually disappearing.
Then the snake writhed, shrinking and dropping lightly out of the tree, until a young woman stood on the loamy jungle floor. The elder Lunar known as Raksi, formerly Queen of Fangs, looked up at a squad of Dragonfly Cavalry as they made to land near her. “The East is a dangerous place. I’ve spent more time than is really sane in the Far East. I’d like to accompany you while you’re in this area.”
Raksi leveled a wry smile at Caiden, the Sidereal, as he dropped down from his elemental dragon mount. “That is, as long as I’m not cramping your style.”
Raksi walked around the Sidereal, trailing fingers across his gleaming starmetal armor. “What ARE you doing this far East anyways? It seems a bit out of your way. Are you lost?”
Zaela pushed through the sheltering bulwark of the cavalry-men and swept a deep curtsy to the elder Lunar – an accomplishment in traveling leathers rather than the brilliant silks she normally wore.
“Greetings, Lady Raksi. We would be happy to have your protection and guidance on our travels. How have you been since we last spoke? Is your own quest faring well?”
Caiden suppressed some bitter thoughts towards the now-sane Lunar. She caused much trouble for his convention just based on the sheer number of magics she used to try and unlock Solar Circle Sorcery._ Blessing and a curse, I suppose. Nobody liked Loom duty after Solars used Adamant Circle…_
“You should know by now that a chosen of Mercury is never lost,” he started, half wondering if the sanity also restored memory of the Usurpation and Sidereal involvement.
“As for my reasons,” he said forcing a smile while promptly discarding the previous thought, “I’m here to make sure the Solars reach their destination, given the value of the artifacts moving with them. There are many in the East who would stop at nothing to get their hands on them, not to mention the Book of Three Circles.”
Raksi gave an unusually polite bow to Zaela. Her whole mannerism had changed since giving up her tattoos and the insanity that went with them. “Thank you for the invitation, Queen.”
She turned to Caiden. “And thank you for your concern Starborn. If your leadership has gone insane I can’t well hold you accountable for that, now can I? It’d be a bit hypocritical I think.” She turned to pace thoughtfully. “I’ve had a lot to catch up on. Being an elder means having your hands in many pots all at once. It’s easy to get spread thin. I’ve tracked down most of my Lunar pupils in the East and advised them to head to the Meridian Isle for cleansing. I just have Red Eyes to deal with.”
Raksi leaned up against a tree and unconsciously took on some of its color and texture. “Don’t worry about the Book of Three Circles. It’s still quite safe. Most of my beast-men decided to stay loyal to me even if the humans left Mahalanka. I do still intend to teach Willow.” She leveled a glare at Caiden. “If Ketchup has a problem with that, tell him he can come discuss it with me personally. I may be over eating people but I’m not above showing my fangs where it’s needed.”
Raksi relaxed. “Anyways, the reason I was stopping by is that I’ve been tracking down dear old Lexicon’s work. I haven’t been able to find the Adamant Codex. It’s a cylinder about an arm’s length, plated in orichalcum. Since Skogur is carrying his Bow I thought maybe your Circle had found it?”
The sun was sinking lower on the horizon and Zaela motioned for the Scouts to begin making camp. Twilight was short in the deep jungles, and night came up fast. The Scouts mounted up and back to the single First Age flagship that they’d brought along, making it fast among the branches of the house-sized tree Raksi had recently occupied.
“If it’s what I think, then yes, we have it. It’s with us. What is it, anyways?”
Raksi gave Caiden an icy glare. “I’d rather not talk with a Star-born around. They have complicated loyalties. They’re never really part of the pack.” She took on a more imperial stance. “If you have the Codex, you should give it to me so that I can put it into safe keeping with the Book of Three Circles. I don’t want it falling into enemy hands.”
A faint hum in fate could be felt in the air; occasionally it would crackle, but right now it was a pleasant background noise. Craft charms worked quite differently for Sidereals, and this particular one at work was ensuring that Fate itself was helping deliver an artifact to a chosen destination. While certainly not all powerful, it did help prevent mishaps, while penalizing opposition.
Caiden could feel this link to the Codex that sat safely in Swift’s possession. It took some work to get such a powerful fate woven into the Loom. Sayuri, his fellowship mate, worked with him to craft it, and they were both able to get some support from the monsoon god when he listened to their highly obscure, but critical reasons for needing it.
Dark times were seen in Creation’s future, and the return of the Codex from its millennia in the Wyld was a welcome beacon on the Loom. Convincing the Circle to actually follow him through pole’s celestial gate and meet with the Meru Circle for safekeeping might be another story. At least they were heading in the right direction, while their enemies weren’t.
“You’re certainly one to talk of complicated loyalties Raksi. If I recall, only months ago you were ready to tear the Solars’ throats out without a second thought. I can assure you that had I not been traveling with the Circle, ‘Ketchup’s’ lackeys would have already found us.”
Caiden pulled a prayer strip from thin air before flicking it away as a dart towards Greyfalls.
“As it stands now, any complicated agents are a hundred leagues west of us following a trail I set up for them – send your scouts to verify that if you must. You’ll find a group of Sijanese monks using some mystical quest as a coverup for trying to find us. Chejop knows the Solars have left the Meridian Isles, and I’d prefer if he didn’t find out you’ve left Sperimin either…fortunately I’ve arranged for terrible storms to plague the region for some time, which should keep trespassers delayed at the very least.”
Caiden took a deep breath, followed by a sigh of irritation. “Now, can we stop the distrust game, and continue this journey? I’ve got a number of fates working in our favor as long as we keep the artifact moving this direction. Trust me to advise the circle, just as I trust you to protect them.”
Raksi tilted her head curiously as if she’d just seen a blue tufted vampire squirrel hop out of the Wyld for the first time. “Perhaps I have misjudged you. I suppose you deserve further scrutiny.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” The Sidereal smiled, reaching out to the air and grabbed the outline of a bridle. A dragon appeared where there was none, and Caiden swung himself into its back. “For now I need to check out the path north of us; troubling signs and all that nonsense in the skies.” He winked at her before the dragon kicked off the ground, leaving a vacuum of air where they stood.
Zaela watched Caiden and his mount disappear between reddening shafts of light and massive tree trunks._ He knows what he’s doing, he can take care of himself out here. But I hope he’ll be alright…_
“Well, Lady Raksi, would you care to accompany me to the ship? It may not be as grand as Mahalanka or back home on the Isles, but we’re not without our small luxuries here. I would be grateful for any information you care to divulge on the Codex.”
One of the Dragonfly Scouts handed Zaela the reins to a docile blue-black fly and she
mounted gracefully. Above, the first age air-ship glowed gently against the dark trees, its running lights in soft white and blue blinking against the branch it was moored against. Zaela patted the beetle-blue chitinous head scales of her mount, tucking her feet. “I can offer you a mount, or do you prefer to fly under your own power?”
“Mounts are fairly superfluous to a properly prepared Lunar,” Raksi commented as she transformed. A moonsilver hawk took off towards the Airship a moment later, with great beats of its fluid silver wings.
A few hours later, Iyanden – the elemental dragon steed – dropped Caiden off at the airship fleet before returning to fuel the northerly wind hastening their journey. He could smell dinner inside the main cabin, and – thank the gods – it wasn’t bug stew again. Expecting to see only Solars inside, Caiden strode in, driven mostly by his hunger.
Raksi caught sight of him the second he became a shadow in the doorway. The Sidereal pressed on, knowing he was being watched, even as she pressed a bowl up to her lips and heartily drank.
“Just in time, Starborn,” she said, thumping the bowl down with a fanged grin, “we were just about to go over the finer details of the Codex – something no being should ever have to do on an empty stomach.” She dished up a bowl and set it down lazily at an empty spot, some of it splashing out onto the table. “I’m sure your people have some details on the damned artifact, but I’m certain they don’t know what I do.” She flashed another grin as she shifted from a youngling into an old crone before their eyes, gesturing for Swift to hand her the Codex so she could begin.
Caiden moved towards the empty seat, still feeling slightly awkward at running into Raksi here, but she still had some valuable information regarding the Codex that his division was never able to uncover. Food was a powerful motivator, and a visual confirmation that bugs weren’t involved in tonight’s meal helped him shrug off the fact that they would be listening to the elder Lunar well into the morning…
“I’m sharing this information with you because my scouts have just reported a piece of disturbing news that amplifies the importance of the Codex. I’ll get to that in a moment. First, you need to understand who Lexicon really was.” Raksi took another sip of her soup.
“Lexicon, Master of Seven-fold Elemental Harmony, was one of the preeminent Twilights of the First Age. And there was a lot of competition. He was primarily concerned with stabilizing Creation against the Wyld and also expanding it. The place you know of as the Meridian Isle is actually a Wyld ship he constructed to search for the Primordial Gaia.”
“His particular area of specialty was the integration of Sorcery, Artifact and Genesis Crafting. You’ve already seen Deselowth, the War-strider guardian. He created a Permanent Indestructible War-strider by imbuing each piece with a Solar Circle spell that tapped into the corresponding elemental channel. He sustained and stabilized the spell by routing through a soul he created, then made it indestructible by binding that soul to an artifact. The three became one, each depending on the other. This is what created the infinite lava fountain in Qebeth that fueled foundries for milennia. That’s just a sample of his style: complicated, integrated and immortal.” Crone Raksi wet her dry palate again and paused to brace herself.
“All of his large projects were ultimately powered by the dragon lines. He was obsessed with elementals and the flow of power that they stewarded. Lexicon believed that the original five Greater Elemental Dragons were shattered during the Primordial war, creating many lesser elementals from them. His life’s project was to recreate the Greater Elemental Dragons. And he was very close when he was murdered.” Raksi’s eyes drifting across the group listening to her and let her eyes linger on the Sidereal.
“This is where the real history deviates from what you’ve been told. The Immaculate Dragons were real Dragon-blooded that lived during the Usurpation. I’ve met two of them. But they’re no divine being, nor sent from the gods. The Immaculate Dragons were a crafting project; an ingredient really. Lexicon was trying to bring back the Elemental Dragons and the Immaculate Dragons were to be the human soul anchor to control the Dragon’s awesome power.” Raksi steepled her fingers nervously. “This is necessary. Perhaps you’ve heard of something called the Kukla? The Kukla is the only Greater Elemental Dragon, created by fusing five lesser elemental dragons. Unfortunately, the Kukla is insane and the size of a continent. The Unconquered Sun himself had to put him down and… the Codex may have information about the Kukla, which is why it must not fall into enemy hands.”
“That power must be channeled through a human soul to keep it sane. If one could succeed in recreating a Greater Elemental Dragon, they’d be on the same scale as an Incarna. Able to go toe-to-toe with a Yozi. Which brings me to why this may be more than theoretical.” Raksi leaned back, her wrinkled form looking deeply tired.
“My Lunar associates have reported three separate sightings of a new type of Exalted with Demonic Essence. They appear to be on the level of Solars, maybe even stronger and they’re bonded to human bodies in a nearly identical way to Celestial Exaltations.” She leaned forward and stared right at Zaela. “Every single time a new group of Celestial Exalted has been created, the balance of power in Creation has permanently changed. First there was the original Primordial war that created the Yozis. Then the creation of the Immaculate Dragons, on the level of Solars enabled the Usurpation.”
“Now I can see the tables of Fate shifting towards the Yozis and their demon horde. We need to take this threat seriously. If we don’t get our act together it could mean something as serious as the removal of several Exalted types, as in the Usurpation, or the removal of the Incarna with Yozi ruling Creation. The reverse of the Primordial war. Either way the Adamant Codex could mean a bulwark for Creation or a super weapon for the enemy.”
“We need to get away from the Wyld and away from the Underworld and away from Demon servants. We need to find a place where the Codex can be protected. We also need to find a group of Solars with enough sorcerous knowledge to utilize the Codex. Which is where I come into the picture. I’m fully prepared to teach any willing students Solar Circle Sorcery. If we are to finish Lexicon’s work, that is the first step.”