Hubris of the Solars
Chronicle 1 Chapter 3
Chapter 3: The Circles of Fate
And so Ashes struck a deal with the three to take in the slaves he led to freedom. For a period of several seasons, they all knew peace as they settled into this new city. Everything was going great for them. The mercenary company formed from the ex-slaves was shaping up, Anzar was elected by his fellow slaves to represent them in the house of commons, and Ashes had a romantic interest in the form of the libidinous Emerald Waters; whom Ashes was led to believe was a god-blooded student at the Great Forks University.
During this time Ashes pursued his study of Thaumaturgy and discovered the temple of the Unconquered Sun. The temple was virtually abandoned so Ashes began restoring it; during this time he met a waif of a woman whose brother had been exalted but disappeared on a quest; rumor had it he was slain by a Wyld Hunt. She had been attending to the temple in her spare time. With a Solar now maintaining the temple she became a full time attendee and volunteered to help Ashes however she was needed.
Ashes study of the Thaumaturgic arts turned out to be a deadend in pursuing the ancient magics wielded by the Solars but it did enable him to make connection with an instructor in the first circle of magics: Ascendent Starfall. All Starfall requested in turn was that Ashes swore an oath to perform any single service requested of him. After a series of tests and extensive study, Ashes latent abilities were unlocked by Ascendent and he becaem fully capable of casting Emerald Circle magics: the first circle to achieving Solar magic. The five tests he endured were:
The Station of Humility: “Mastery of sorcery gives reason for pride, but the world-be sorcerer must first learn humility. A would-be sorcerer must want this achievement for its own sake, rather than for what it can get her. Power-lust, obligation, revenge, and similar motivations distract from the total concentration needed to learn the great art.”
The Station of Tutelage: “Sorcery requires knowledge of many secret things. This includes more than formal study. A world-be sorcerer also seeks the mystic import of their concepts and experiences. A general might see the ebb and flow of his troops in war and understand how Essence flows through Creation; the glass blower might comprehend the shaping of Essence into fragile yet potent patterns as he creates his masterpiece. Each Sorcerer must find his own perspective and truth in how Essence underlies the foundation of Creation.”
The Station of Journey: “A sorcerer must move beyond her familiar surroundings and experiences to see Creation in new ways. Although sometimes understanding comes at the end of travel, often the journey itself grants wisdom. One must look back on their journeys they have undertaken and understand the value of the lessons they learned along the way. Some must embark on a journey to learn this lesson.”
The Station of Fear: “Like any man, a sorcerer can find his will frozen with fear. Therefore, he must conquer it.”
Little known to Ashes, events behind the scenes were building up against him.
Guang Liu had not forgotten the humiliation and insult visited upon him by Ashes. He became more active in the local spirit court, seeding worry and concern over Ashes bringing back practices of the First Age where spirits were not to be involved with mortal laws.
Guang Liualso began to worm into Thunderhead’s thoughts and turn his own ego and pride against himself by insinuating that he was defeated by a “mortal with grandeur’s of elitism”.
The Emerald Hunt had arrived and was preparing an ambush. Guang Liu became aware of them and after meeting with them began to feed them information that culminated in later events.
One of the most important pieces of information gathered by Guang Liu was the relationship between Emerald Waters and Ashes; a chance encounter enabled Guang Liu to sight the two together on a romantic stroll.
The relationship became the fulcrum to manipulate the Yellow King; Guang Liu lured Emerald Waters into a trap where she was captured and imprisoned within a crystal. Nobody was aware of this as she had her duties and was known to just suddenly disappear for days at a time; Ashes received word from Anzar that she had stopped by to tell him she had to go on a week of field study.
And this revealed Anzar’s part; still bewitched by Leaping Stars magic and control over him he became putty in her hands. He fed information to Ashes and sent Ashes men off on different duties. Skar was told to take a troop of soldiers and hunt down bandits down the yellow river that were troubling local villages under the protection of Great Forks. Rugai was sent to Nexus with his unit down river on a “secret mission”. Nadiir was told to go into hiding for a bit as the local constables were asking about her activities. And Jordin was given a task to deliver a message to the Confederation of Rivers council in Marito. With his loyal followers scattered, all was set to spring the trap.
Before events with the Emerald Hunt and Guang Liu had boiled over Ashes dealt with a small slave smuggling ring Nadiir had established that was secretly freeing slaves and smuggling them out of Great Forks. This came about when Ashes witnessed some Djala (commonly referred to as “spotties” for their dark, circular markings) being used by a merchant in an indecent manner. Outraged, Ashes followed the merchant to his residence and then freed the Djala without their masters notice. With nowhere to take them he snuck them under the cover of darkness back to the headquarters of the Bronze Guard where Nadiir quickly came to his aid by pulling in her folks that had established an underground movement to free and smuggle slaves out of Great Forks.
Then came the day the Emerald Claw sprang its trap.
One day Ashes was at the local market and an outraged Thunderhead appeared and attacked him without warning. As he attacked he cried out “And this is for defiling my queen and besmirching the honor of the Yellow King.”
After defeating Thunderhead and dealing with the local authorities… it was self-defense after all… Ashes returned back to his quarters after a grueling day of questioning at the hands of the local authorities late at night.
It was late so Ashes went immediately to bed after speaking to Anzar who nervously informed him all was well.
The next morning Ashes awoke to trumpets announcing the arrival of the Yellow King and his escort. Out of curiosity Ashes approached him with utmost respect. The Yellow King refused to speak to Ashes and instead had Guang Liu (who had sadly informed the Yellow King of why Thunderhead had gone after Ashes) speak for him. The Yellow King challenged Ashes to a dual at Shogunate Ruins down the Yellow River at dusk in one days time. He was to come alone.
When Ashes refused he was told that the Yellow King knew of everyone who traveled upon the Yellow River and two of his most trusted and loyal servants were on barges. It would be a simple matter to sink those barges and ensure all aboard drowned. At this point Ashes had no choice but to accept.
Ashes went to the ruins where the Yellow King awaited him. After a brief exchange of barbed words, the Yellow King stated he would not sully his blade upon such a dishonorable man who claimed to be loyal to the Unconquered Sun. At that point he dematerialized and disappeared as the Emerald Claw sprang its ambush.
The fight with the Emerald Claw was bloody and violent but one-sided. Ashes walked away only superficial wounds. All in all, the fight with the Dragon Blooded took less than 30 seconds and the fight with the Ashigaru took no more than a minute.
After the fight, Ashes tended to Heavenly Mountain Princess. She told him where Mantis most likely fled, the Manse of Woven Dreams several days journey. She also informed him that they had taken Emerald Waters prisoner with the intent of forcing the Yellow King to do their bidding in luring Ashes into a trap. She was still a hostage in the Manse of Woven Dreams. It was around this time that Talespinner arrived with Anzar and Jiao. It turns out that Jiao secretly followed Ashes. When he saw the trap being sprung he fled back to Great Forks where he roused Anzar and Talespinner. They came to the rescue of Ashes only to find he didn’t need rescuing. Leaving Mountain Princess, Ashes intended to put an end to this mess.
Drawing upon the might of his exaltation, Ashes became a master horseman and granted the might of the Unconquered Sun to one of the horses left behind by the Emerald Claw. Using his power he was able to race across the land and beat Mantis to the Manse of Woven Dreams. A manse that lie deep within a local swamp.
As Ashes entered the Manse, a score of Blood Apes swarmed from the roof of vines above. Drawing upon his might, the Blood Apes didn’t stand a chance as he ripped the demons to shreds. With the guardians defeated, Ashes awaited Mantis. When she arrived she saw no escape and in desperation attacked him with everything at her disposal. It was a one sided battle as he easily overcame her and shattered her skull into fragments.
Searching her body he found the Hearthstone to the Manse. Intuitively he figured out how to attune the Manse to himself. He discovered that the Blood Apes, once they regenerated, were his to command in the defense of the Manse. And the Manse was actually the repository for a Void Egg. An ancient first age artifact that could store any items placed within it in an extra dimensional space. He summoned the Egg to find within a stash of Jade, three suits of Ashigaru armor, weapons, assorted items of the Jade Claw, and the crystal used to imprison Emerald Waters.
Ashes returned to Great Forks where he made a beeline to the Yellow King’s temple. Brushing aside its guardians he confronted the Yellow King himself where they had a battle of wills. At this point the Yellow King was still in a fury and under the influence of Guang Liu. Drawing upon his exalted right as a Law Bringer of the lands of Creation, Ashes forced the Yellow King to submit but it was not easy as the Yellow King was a powerful spirit of the Terrestrial kingdom. At the sight of the Yellow King bowing on his knees before Ashes, Guang Liu fled and has not been seen nor heard from since. It is believed he returned to the endless and lonely duty of his forgotten road.
Ashes forgave the Yellow King but bound upon him the laws of Heaven. He was to spend his energies and efforts upon his duties vs. pursuing petty vengeance against lovers his wife took upon herself. Ashes realized the Yellow King was an honorable and dutiful spirit who was just taken by the simplest of mortal emotions… jealousy; emotions that spirits were new to experiencing given the laxity of the Celestial Bureaucracy. At this point, Ashes handed over the crystal imprisoning Emerald Waters. He left her punishment to the Yellow King as he left the temple.
Ashes returned to the compound to find that Skar was in a rage over Anzar’s duplicity and the rest of the compound was in an uproar over one of the their ex-slave masters being sheltered by Ashes. Ashes brought order. He realized that Anzar had still been bound by the magic of Leaping Star and was being magically compelled to do her bidding; with her death he was now free. In his forgiveness, he earned the utter loyalty of Anzar who swore to serve Ashes in soul, mind, and body till death and beyond.
In the coming days Ashes brought peace to his people. He also offered Heavenly Mountain a place within his Bronze Guard if she would forswear her loyalties to the Realm and place an oath of service to himself; he only did so knowing that her grandfather had discovered that the Dragon blooded had risen against their true masters the Solar in jealousy and greed… that Heavenly Mountain had always questioned the truth that Solars were anathema. She accepted and in the coming weeks Ashes worked diligently to alter the perceptions of his people in accepting her as a respected member. A task that took time and nurturing guidance.
It was during this time that Starfall performed the final test. “Sorcery makes demands that cannot be denied. After a sorcerer completes the ordeals, he must choose between advancing his knowledge or something else.” In Ashes case that something else was returning to his own world and instead binding himself to Creation and abiding by its laws as part of Fate for up to this point, Ashes being from outside Creation, was outside fate. Ashes gave up his drive to return to his own world and bound himself to both Creation and Fate. With that simple acceptance, Ashes was now fully capable of wielding Emerald Magic.
In the coming month Ashes thought long and hard over what his decision meant in terms of Creation. He decided he needed to return to the Tomb of the Bronze King and discover the roots of his connection with his predecessor.
Ashes gathered Rugai and his company of Fire Rifle Dragoons. They journeyed to Sijan where Ashes left Rugai and his men comfortable in an Inn next to a brothel while Ashes petitioned the Funeral Order of Righteous Morticians and Embalmers to grant him access to his spiritual ancestor, the Bronze King who was buried in a Citadel-like tomb in the First Age.
Guiding him to the tomb they quickly left. Ashes entered and explored the monolithic tomb that was the size of of an entire city block. Eventually he found the chamber where he was summoned into Creation. There he discovered it was a false tomb and the real tomb lie deep beneath the Citadel. Passing through two wards he came to the final guardian, a Celestial Lion who quizzed Ashes on the life of the Bronze King; questions that only someone who shared the same exalted shard could answer.
“Prior to yourself, who was the last incarnation to enter this tomb?” A: Sixth Hero of Heaven.
“Tell me the name of the trickster spirit who betrayed the trust of the Bronze King that you forced penance as a guardian for 5,000 years?” A: Jiao.
“Tell me the name of the Primordial you defeated in one-on-one combat with her cohort of five Solar circles as the Bronze King?” A: The Ebon Dragon.
Upon answering the questions, the Celestial Lion opened a gate through which Ashes stepped into the true tomb. Beyond lay a great chamber with an Egyptian-like sarcophagus standing on end. As he entered it demanded in a booming voice that he display his loyalty to the Unconquered Sun. With the display of his caste mark, the voice said he could take with him four items of his previous life if his own virtues matched those of the Bronze King. Ashes was then tested four times where he had to make tough decisions.
In the test of Valor he had to battle an endless horde of Blood Apes and Octavian, a demon prince, to his death in the protection of Creation. This test Ashes passed and was granted a choice of one of five weapons (though one set, a pair of matched Daiklave swords were missing). Ashes chose a pair of Orichulum Gauntlets shaped like dragon claws called the “Heaven & Earth Smashing Claws”.
In the test of Temperance, Ashes had to choose between keeping true to his oath to defend Great Forks from an endless clockwork army or join forces with Lookshy and keep the confederation of Rivers allied to stand against the horde at a different location. Ashes choose to defend Creation. This test he failed as the Bronze King places his honor in his oaths first and foremost.
In the test of Conviction, Ashes had to exact punishment on a village that had rose in rebellion against Heaven at the behest of the Primordials whom they continued to worship after their imprisonment in Malfeas. Ashes personally executed every adult in the village for they were polluted by the influence of the Primordials. The children were sent to be purified and set upon the right path. For passing this test, Ashes was allowed to select one of four items. Once again one of the items, The Doom Bringer (a baroque two barreled bazooka), was missing. Ashes selected a Fiery Solar Canon that was engraved and finely etched with prayers to the Unconquered Sun.
In the test of Compassion, Ashes had to battle the Huntress at The Battle of Sky Rocks all over again. Though in this battle she was defeated and begged for mercy. Knowing her nature for what she was, a merciless and irredeemable killer who served the powers of darkness, he executed her. The Bronze King announced that Ashes had failed the test for with the Unconquered Sun at his back, all beings were capable of redemption. Ashes politely disagreed.
With two items of great power from the First Age and enlightenment that he and the Bronze King differed in certain ways, Ashes left the lower tombs. As he walked to the upper levels a Dragons Claw of Bull Headed spirits wielding spears and axes of Orichulum attacked him in a great hall of pillars. The battle was fierce but not too taxing. As the last of the spirit warriors was felled, Ten Step Ghosts seemed to step out of a space between spaces. Yet this was not quite Ten Step Ghosts. It was like an image of Ten Step Ghost was superimposed over someone else who closely resembled Ten Step Ghost.
With startling speed he attacked. he ran up a pillar and did a spin upward kicking downward with his left and right foot in succession. As he completed the attack he landed on his feet with a dismissive look backwards at Ashes who was staggered to his knees from the force of the kicks. As he brushed something off his shoulder he commented “And that’s just a feint.”
The ensuing battle was as lethal as it was dramatic; both called upon their combos and pure will to overcome the other. Ten Step Ghost obviously wielded exalted powers and celestial martial arts that were on a par with Ashes; powers and abilities that Ashes had never seen nor heard of. In the end as their powers blazed forth, Ten Step Ghost was wreathed in a swirl of violet motes of energy and upon his forward blazed the Mark of Saturn, the Maiden of Endings.
Throughout he commented on Ashes being a bane to all of creation, an anathema disrupting the flows of fate, and a darkness that would tangle the weaves of fate into a final destruction. Everything he did was to ensure the continued existence of Creation where letting Ashes live was to doom all to Chaos.
The battle ended with Ashes breaking through the defenses of Ten Step Ghost to crush his chest with multiple, rhythmic pounding strikes. As Ten Step Ghost’s shattered body flew backward a paper sash fell from his waist and it blazed in violet colors. The next thing Ashes knew Ten Step Ghost stood feet away prior to having his chest pulped by Ashes fists.
“Who and what are you? You stood outside of Fate and somehow I forgot about your presence at the Plantation… thus you were able to enact your nefarious plans. You are more than a Solar as not even the Solars can do such a thing. It was not till recently that I was able to track you via the loom and only shortly before you began your journey to Sijan.” With a sigh he shrugged his shoulders. “My time ends and so does yours.” With that closing comment he pulled out a small ovoid device made of metal of utter blackness and pressed a sequence of studs. With the final press a green digital flickering symbols began to flash… a 30 second countdown in old realm. With that his body reverted to the state it was in when he died but with the bomb active in his hand.
With no time to spare, Ashes turned and ran calling upon the last of his essence to speed his feet. Running like the wind Ashes barely remained at the forefront of an expanding globe of darkness that consumed all it touched. A darkness that seemed to cause whatever it came into contact with to cease to exist. With a final push of energy Ashes hurled out of the two story doors leading into the citadel tomb of the Bronze King. He flew through the air and came to a tumbling stop as the expanding globe ceased to exist. With a void of nothing in a 500 meter diameter, the structural integrity of the Citadel was lost and the Citadel collapsed downward upon itself.
The Funeral Order of Righteous Morticians and Embalmers were in an outrage over the destruction of the tomb. They were equally outraged that Ashes carried two items from the Tomb; regardless if they were gifted or not they considered taking anything from a tomb sacrilegious. Though they were powerless and fearful to even try to bring Ashes to justice for he blazed like the sun and his totem, a fierce dragon, raged in the heavens above him. They impotently told him to leave and never return to the city.
Ashes bowed his head and complied. Taking Rugai and his men, Ashes began the journey back to Great Forks.
And so ended the first Chronicle of Ashes.