Dust-Shrouded Sun session 3
Conversations and Alienations
(Third writeup for the Dust-Shrouded Sun campaign)
Just to put this into perspective, the dragon blooded would hunt down myself and my companions and execute us if they knew what we were. There would be no mercy, no quarter, just overwhelming force and a swift death. Or a bloody battle at best. And here was one who wanted to give us a medal and a hearty handshake, or something like that. Oh, the irony. What could we do but go along with it? Causing a scene would risk the very thing we were hoping to avoid. So it was off to the palace for us all. Well, except Lolindir. Sneaky bugger that he is, he somehow contrived to be overlooked by our escort. Neat trick, and probably one hell of a good idea to make sure that they didn't have all of us. Why yes, I was expecting trouble. It isn't paranoia if they really are out to get you.
The rest of us were taken to the palace—I made an effort to look suitably impressed—and granted the honour of an audience with Lord Cathak Resplendent Jade, current grand high poobah of Chiaroscuro. (Okay, maybe that's not his official title. Dragonlings take themselves far too seriously to even think of adopting such a title.)
He was shorter than I'd expected, but there was a certain presence to him. The cynic in me says it's easy to broadcast confidence when you have legions of troops to back up your words. I'd be more impressed if he managed the same force of personality standing in the slums clad in rags rather than velvet brocade. I think he'd find that somewhat more of a challenge. He waffled on a bit: "thanks for risking your necks to save our cheap labour," blah, blah, blah. Okay, maybe those weren't his exact words. I took the opportunity to have a look around the room, opening my senses to the essence flows within this place. It's amazing how quickly such things become second nature. There was the usual shininess I'd expect from a powerful exalt and his trinkets, but there was also something else. One wall held a case that looked like it was made of glass. To normal vision, it seemed empty, but my magical vision showed me the outline of a bow within it. Instinct told me that there was an artefact of great power here. I longed for the chance to examine it more closely but, alas, I believe that Lord Cathak would have objected. Perhaps another time.
Once he'd finished mouthing empty thanks and meaningless praises at us, the evil overlord handed us each a bag of coin and sent us on our way. Personally, I was just relieved to have escaped without a Wyld Hunt being called down no my head. The money was a pleasant bonus, however.
Resplendent Jade had graciously offered us the services of his physician to heal injuries sustained while saving the city. I do not believe any of us were seriously hurt, but we were glad of his ministrations all the same. Once that was done, we retreated to somewhere we could speak privately. Two matters required immediate thought: what did we do now, and where in the name of the Unconquered Sun had Lolindir disappeared to? He was almost undoubtedly up to something shady. I know his type. No morals, no scruples, will do anything for a price. He'd sell his grandmother if he needed the coin. And yet, I trust him. It's a curious paradox. We concluded that he could take care of himself for the time being and would rejoin us when he was good and ready. We left messages for him suggesting a couple of meeting times and places. There was little else to be done about him for the moment.
That only left the problem of what to do next. As it turned out, both Wren and I had people we needed to see. I had to have that talk with Hafiz and Wren wished to meet with the resident immaculate brother in the interest of maintaining his cover. It was a risk, but it did make a certain amount of sense. If he could gain some official status within the hierarchy of the city, that could make our investigations that much easier. Ah, our investigations. I haven't mentioned those yet, have I? Nor shall I, just yet. Perhaps later.
Our other companion—a man known as either Parviz or Eternal Sailor, although he tends to use the former with us—elected to accompany Wren to his meeting. Probably just as well. If I had brought a stranger with me, I think the meeting with Hafiz would have gone even worse than it did. After arranging to meet up in the marketplace later, we parted ways.
Hafiz seemed pleased to see me, but a little on edge. I admit that I was a little blunt in raising the subject of the demons, but I had to know what as going on, what his involvement was. This was my home, dammit! Something like those demons could just tear straight through it and it wouldn't be those poncy nobles, safe behind their high walls and their troops that would be getting hurt, would it? No, it would be the common folk, the poor, the street gangs who would bear the brunt of it. My people. Our people, dammit. I said something of this to him, but I'm not exactly sure how much of it was coherent. It got through to him, though. Some of it did, at any rate. That's when he told me that there was more to this than his desire to turf out the dragon blooded. I think I'd been assuming that he'd made a deal with some other solar for the amulet. After all, they'd want the dragonlings out too, wouldn't they? And so they did. And yes, there was a deal, but it wasn't quite the type I had pictured. I never thought I'd see Hafiz afraid of anything or anyone, but that's what he was. He was terrified.
Someone had visited him in the dead of night. An exalt. A solar, most likely. This individual—a man, Hafix thought, although he hid his face—wasted no time with small talk. He just pinned Hafiz' pet dog to the wall and threatened him into helping he and his friends—presumably the solars who were turfed out of here not long ago—get rid of the dragon blooded from Chiaroscuro. It was this guy who gave him the amulet. They'd obviously managed to identify Hafiz as someone of standing in the city's underworld, someone with the clout and resources to what they wanted. He didn't tell me precisely what his visitor said, only that he made threats. What could Hafiz do but help? "Besides," he told me, "don't we want the dragon blooded gone as well?" It wasn't the point. It just wasn't the point. I said something to that effect, tried to put into words the sheer level of contempt I felt for someone who had such a flagrant disrespect for human life, who would endanger the people with such clumsy methods of sowing chaos. It didn't matter that we had the same goal. The ends absolutely does not always justify the means. It doesn't.
I don't think I was amazingly coherent. Part of the reason for that was that I was absolutely furious at the thought of someone threatening Hafiz. He's as good as my father, dammit! I absolutely refuse to stand by and let someone hurt and threaten my friends. The person that did this is going to pay. I swear it. By my blood I swear it.
I'm a little calmer now.
So, Hafiz and I talked around in circles for a while. We couldn't get past what he saw as the sticking point: how could he even hope to stand up to someone that powerful? If he got too troublesome, they'd just kill him and find someone else. At least if he played along, he might get something out of it. And getting rid of the dragon blooded could only be a good thing, right? I made a mistake. When Hafiz was going on and on about how powerful this guy and his friends were and how he couldn't possibly hope to stand up to them, I just blurted out that I was an anathema. A solar exalted. Whatever.
I was trying to tell him that he wasn't alone, that there was someone who would protect him. Someone who could stand up to exalts, because I was one. I was trying to reassure him. Instead, I terrified him.
It hurt. It hurt a lot. The man who'd raised me was asking me not to kill him, not to take his soul, not to… Oh, I can't even remember all of what he said. All that matters is that he was afraid. Of me. I tried tell him I was just the same person as I ever was. I tried to tell him that I was just as confused about all this as he was. None of it worked. He just didn't want to listen. All he kept saying was that he didn't want to get caught in the middle of any fights between anathema. He didn't want me there anymore. He didn't want me to come back again. What could I do? I left.
When I met up with Parviz and Wren I was composed again. I told them the relevant portions of what I'd learned: namely that there was another group of exalted in town who wanted the dragon blooded out, and that these were behind the demon attack on the city. The trouble was, we weren't entirely sure what to do about them just yet. That could wait for the moment, however.
A point of interest: Wren reacted badly when I used the word anathema to describe us. (I think I said something along the lines of there being another group of anathema in town.) He really took offence at it, saying that he was a solar exalt, or something along those lines. I must admit that it took me by surprise, but then I've never been particularly bothered by mere words. He pointed out that it was generally used as a slur. Personally, that doesn't bother me, but it apparently bothers him. Curious. I shall have to watch what I say in future. I have no particular desire to antagonise him.
On the plus side, Wren's meeting with the Immaculate—Great Willow, I believe he is called—seemed to go much better than mine. Wren has been accepted as the man's assistant, and has been tasked with investigating the rumours of anathema being in the area. So that's convenient. He's also been given the authority to investigate the hell shard that's consumed part of the palace. But that's a story for another time.
Oh, and Lolindir finally showed up again. Apparently, he'd picked up an assassination contract since we saw him last. So, he was up to something shady.
What a surprise.