After settling Free Spirited Arvia with his people in Great Forks and checking in with Anzar, Ashes prepared for the 10 day journey to the source of his enterprises stone. A place where Mountain Princess saw building sized images of the Bronze King carved and outlined in bronze on the walls of the town.
On his arrival he could see several pillars of smoke rising from the city beyond the several tiered walls. As he cautiously approached he noticed rhino-like beastmen manning the walls and standing guard at the gates. Hiding in the shadows were bow wielding goat-wolf beastmen watching warily.
After a brief discussion where he played off that he needed a blacksmith, Ashes didnt enter the city but found a local blacksmith who was willing to play along with Ashes charade. With him Ashes entrusted his horse and gear before returning to enter a town that was under martial control of these beastmen.
Ashes entered Heaven’s Tears prepared for the worse. He found a town that was eerily underpopulated. Mountain Princess had mentioned that the town had room to expand but it seemed as if there were far few children and women about. Ashes found an Inn where he checked in before heading to the center of the town.
To his horror he passed through the seventh gate (there were 16 all told in the town) to find men crucified. This portion of the town was overrun with beastmen. Choking back his bile Ashes proceeded onward to discover what other horrors awaited for him. He was not yet ready to act as he was uncertain as to the outcome of rashness.
The next gated section of the town held women in cages with beastmen watching over them from the buildings with bows ready to fire. Anger consumed him but he choked it down with an iron will. His ire raised he entered the center section of the town. To his horror, there were children caged along the street with the same beastmen watching over them. Obviously the women and children were hostages to ensure the cooperation of the people.
Ashes headed to what appeared to be the town’s hall. It was a library and place of healing. And it had been ransacked. Exploring about a bit, Ashes came across an old man trying to piece together some torn apart books all the while complaining about the town’s new master. He was startled when Ashes cleared his throat.
The old man turned out to be the care taker of the building. A building of lore that was famous for some of its ancient knowledge but much of that had been either burned by the beastmen or taken by their new master Rhigor. It turned out Rhigor had deep interest in the number of Manses that were built about the town and wanted every bit of information he could gain. With a sneaking suspicion he knew the old man Ashes left the building to examine the large pedestal outside the domed building.
The pedastal was easily 10 yards in diameter of pure white first age marble. Its edge was encased in a bronze ring carved with magical runes. As Ashes examined this artifact and tried to decipher it, he heard the rattling of armor and weapons. He looked up to find the square surrounded by beastmen. At their head was a man large for even a human. He bore in a single hand a hammer of impossible size.
“What is it you want stranger?” bellowed the man in a voice that sounded like the stamping of a rhino about to charge. “If you have business here, finish it. But do not loiter. Tourists are not welcome.” Already boiling over with anger at the treatment of the women and children of this town Ashes responded with the promise of bloodshed underlying his words. “You are the master here?”. The man paused and looked at Ashes crosswise, a thoughtful glimmer in his eyes. “Eh, I am. What of it?” The beastmen around stomped their spears and banged their weapons on their shields in support.
Ashes channeled his essence so that his caste mark blazed forth. “I am the chosen of the Unconquered Sun. My word is law. Leave this town or pay the consequences.” Silence echoed across the square. Ashes could hear the old man and the few tenants of the dome shuffle out of the entrance. Ashes felt the tickle of a distant memory but could not place it.
The man chuckled with the tones of a beast “I have always wanted to test myself against one of you. Not many of you around. Or at least none as brash as yourself.” With those words the man gave a great bellow of challenge as his body warped with bones cracking, flesh shifting, and hide plates emerged to cover his body. In his place was a Rhino humanoid several feet taller than Ashes stood. Silver glyphs danced across his body as every move was accentuated by trails of silver light. He charged with the thunder of a thousand rhinos.
Ashes called upon the glory of the Unconquered Sun as he took the stance of the Solar Champions. Braced he met the charge of the lunar with a thunderous crash that could be heard 10 miles distant. Before he knew it, Ashes was hurled 10 yards back, leaving a long furrow in the stonework where his body had ploughed up the worked stone. Ashes next move was to run up a nearby building and hurl himself at the lunar. With the ringing of a hammer on an anvil, his fists crashed into the body of the lunar repeatedly. Bones were crushed. Limbs were broken. The Lunars body was shattered at each point Ashes connected. But the Lunar was unphased by the punishing blows. Ashes knew he was in trouble.
The battle was horrific and bloody. The lunar should have been dead three times over but he kept going like there was no end. He showed no weakness from the blows while Ashes was slowly wearing down. Ashes shifted tactics before the lunar gained the upper hand. He ran away!
Well not out of cowardice or fear but with a different thought completely in mind. While he ran he taunted the lunar. As the lunar charged him, Ashes pushed the lunar’s followers in his path to slow him down. After running down a street he went up the side of a building as the lunar gained on him. He waited for the lunar on the roof. As the lunar burst forth from a shattered door, Ashes taunted him and leaped across to a building. The lunar charged after him. They leaped across a number of buildings. Ashes was starting to worry his tactic was not going to work when it all came to a head.
The Lunar ran out of essence. Ashes landed on a building. As he turned to watch his pursuer he saw panic in the eyes of the lunar as he just barely missed the leap followed by a scream of rage “NOOOOOOOO…” that ended in the sound of a something splattering on the ground below. Ashes looked over the edge of the building, wiping runnels of sweat from his beaded forehead. Below him lay the shattered body of the lunar unmoving. With a sigh he knew his gambit paid off. He only needed to wait for the lunar’s charms to wear off.
The beastmen by now had arrived. They were not cowards and were beginning to show signs of a rage. Ashes leaped to the edge of the building and shouted in a voice that could be heard across the city. “Your master Rhigor is dead at my hands. He could not withstand the justice of the Unconquered Sun. Flee now while you can for you are next!” With those words the beastmen broke and fled. The people of Heaven’s Tears rose to throw off the shackles of their oppressors. And Ashes led them to victory.
Ashes joined the gathering of the people at the square where he had battled Rhigor. There the people were looking for leadership. It seemed their leaders, along with at least a third of their people had either been eaten or been sent off as slaves to Ma-Ha-Suchi in the jungles beyond Dresedanor. As Ashes stood listening at the edge, he heard the old man’s voice; a voice that was hauntingly familiar echo from the back of the ground. “What about the Solar? He can help us. He could even lead us! Before the Dragonblooded, Heaven’s Tears served the Solar.” All eyes turned to Ashes.
After much discussion Ashes agreed to help them both to drive out the beastmen held up in the Iron Keep (a manse used by Rhigor as his headquarters), save those who had been marched to Ma-Ha-Suchi for whatever foul fate awaited them, and help Heavens Tears rebuild itself. Ashes was hesitant and unwilling to step forward as their leader but would help them rebuild their council.
It was the next day when Ashes went to the library to talk to the old man that he had an epiphany and odd realization. The old man was Cynis! Cynis was his mentor in the slave camp but was slain by Iron Monsoon as the Dragonblooded butchered the slaves Ashes led in revolt. Cynis! Alive! How?
After being shocked himself. Cynis admitted who he was. And admitted to being a type of exalted who worked with the bureau of fate in Heaven. They remained in the shadows working towards maintaining the safety of Creation. Cynis was saved by a charm he had woven. The price of the charm was to work a duty to a god owed service; that service was to be the caretaker of Heavens Tears till the coming of the Bronze Kings heir.
Cynis could not help Ashes directly as his duty forbade direct involvement with the politics of Creation. Beyond that he could say no more. In the coming week, while Ashes prepared a spell that would take him to the people being marched to their doom he uncovered the manses built across the city by a master geomancer… most likely the Bronze King himself. He attuned to a manse of each element and a lunar manse. The last manse was actually the dome. And Ashes figured it out. With that final discovery, Cynis revealed his duty was to hide the manse till all other manses had been attuned by the same individual. Ashes attuned to the Sidereal manse that was the center of the town’s culture and knowledge. It was during this period that he cast a spell that called forth an elemental tornado. This tornado allowed him to travel along with a hand picked group of men to the distant south where they defeated the beastmen and freed the captives being marched to Ma-Ha-Suchi. Upon his return the people had fallen to their knees in gratitude and had already begun constructing a statue in his honor.
With five terrestrial and two celestial manses attuned, from elsewhere appeared a floating citadel. The ancient battle keep of the Bronze King. Sent to elsewhere at his direction in the distant past, long forgotten by the people. Ashes memorized by the appearance of the keep became frustrated as he did not have the means to reach it. He realized he would have to return to Great Forks where he had the necessary spells. Then he would return and discover its secrets.
Bidding his farewell to the people of Heavens Tears he promised them he would send aid. The one person he could not find was Cynis. Without saying goodbye, Cynis had disappeared and oddly enough nobody in the town had any memory of the old man who took care of the temple. Ashes had no idea where the old man had gone but was grateful his old mentor still lived. He knew he would cross paths with him again. It was fated.