The trip itself is quite windy, as befits a Stormwind Rider, but Lion manages to bring everyone down safely outside the city.
There’s even a welcoming committee! A man and woman who seem on terribly unfriendly terms both come to take them where they need to go,but it turns out their concept of “where they need to go” diverges.
Neither of them seem inclined to take the newly-arrived Exalts to Askatu, but they press on, and the lady escorts them to the palace.
This promptly results in an alarm.
It seems that their guide is openly connected with the Blood on the Rose, the movement to put the blood heir of Thorns back on the throne. And when she showed up with a half-dozen people, some of them clearly armed with orichalcum and/or moonsilver, the worst was assumed.
The Lord Starfall hurls himself out of the palace, grand daiklave drawn, ready to cut something down…oh hell it’s just the guys who are here to help. He announces a lack of immediate threat, and then invites them in.
He goes over the basic problems, such as they stand:
Maïe, the uncrowned but theoretically rightful queen of Thorns is young, and her guardians have made sure that they can rule through her.
Tarmach is perhaps effective, but his reasons for wanting the crown are probably less than selfless and he’s a shady character, and…
There was also the Merchant’s Union, but both Maïe and Tarmach sent assassins after their leader. Probably each other too, but less successfully.
So Askatu rules. Sort of. He’s pretty blatantly feigning incompetence and trying to piss someone off enough to wrest the throne away by force, but nobody’s worked up the courage yet.
So things just…are not in a good place.
Dusk suggests they find the Mask’s library, and peruse it to see if there’s some sort of information that might be used to fell others of his kind.
Sparrow and Unari get on that.
While Lion and Lyim go to talk to the queen.
Dusk, for his part, decides to pay a visit to Lord Tarmach, after learning that he’s got some…interesting…ties…
Akeva, for his part, is sitting on the docks.
An albatroll lands there.
Look again, the Albatross is now diamonds a lunar.
The Lunar—one Tei Mak Jahr—immediately tells Akeva to wake him up in a couple hours and falls asleep on his feet.
Akeva’s having none of that, wakes the Lunar up, and takes him to the foot of Mount Juggernaut.
Jahr proceeds to spit on the mountain, fulfilling a centuries-old promise to the maker of rubble, and asks Akeva for one last fight. He should have a couple hours left, having just used the Lunar anti-aging charm to buy himself some time while he slept—
Oh fuck right he didn’t sleep.
Tei Mak Jahr falls in only two passes, but not before congratulating Akeva.
The Bronze Tiger buries the strange bird man…but more on that later.
Dusk sits down for a glass of wine with Tarmach. It turns out he’s pretty much in bed with the Scarlet Dynasty, and the Iron Wolf attempts to be entirely pragmatic about this. Then again, so is Tarmach. They part on polite, if not jovial terms.
Lion and Lyim go to talk to Maïe. And she has a great big speech, and the crowd is all fired up for her, and she’s willing to shed her blood for them.
Afterward, the queen is clearly shaken by what happened and what she’s done, but the approval of the family who’s kept her safe seems to ease her.
Our Bull and our Falcon try to talk to her, but interference is had all the way, until finally they resolve to leave. Asim tries to plant a seed of reasonable doubt in Maïe’s head on the way out…
Meanwhile, Sparrow and Unari go and dig, dig, dig. The Lunar conjures up Irzath Forgotten-Mole and Ligneous Rall, both of whom begin to quickly open up the tangle of roots that’s buried the Mask’s fortress.
A wild Mint appears!
Mint has a bound demon with her. Out of curiosity, she decides to assist the PC’s in their dig.
Well, her bound demon can do that.
It’s about this time that everyone who isn’t Akeva sees the anima flare from Akeva and Tei Mak Jahr’s final battle.
By the time anyone gets there, the battle’s over and Akeva’s putting the last soil over the Lunar’s grave.
But everyone’s together, so there’s some discussion, and the dig site is really just over the mountain…
As are the Elementals.
And the demon.
Who is Zsofika.
Who is Lion’s mother.
This cannot be said to play out like anyone was expecting:
Zsofika, believing Six to be the only Lion, finds this relatively unmarred Solar to be an obvious—if well-made—fake.
Lion, for her part, finds that her mother no longer means as much to her as she once did, and while she initially maintains a claim that she’s the real Lion, she eventually “confesses” to seeing the real Lion destroy herself to escape Malfeas.
Mint seems to find her bound demon’s wrath hilarious, preventing her from doing anything to harm Lion, take righteous vengeance, or speak while they go check out what’s been dug up.
The result is a frankly exhaustive list of weapons which will be detailed elsewhere. And a single recorded prophecy.
Having heard it, the PC’s conclude that Mint fits the bill to have destroyed the Mask, which the mute copper spider finds hilarious.
Mint finds many things hilarious. Including her lack of a tongue.
Days pass, and finally the Solars conclude the only way they’re going to get a talk with the queen is going to involve abduction.
How wonderful, then, that they have someone adept at disguise and infiltration.
No, not the Lunar. She’s about as subtle as a soulbreaker orb.
Dusk breaks into the camp of the Blood on the Rose, steals the queen away while wearing her shape, and flees back to the city proper.
He is, unfortunately, followed with unnerving constancy by a dematerialized tomescu.
While it never directly confronts him, he can’t shake it.
He finally makes it back to the city a few minutes ahead of his tail, and lets Lion begin sweet-talking the Queen.
The demon arrives shortly after, and the PC’s try to stop it. But it defends with the charms of the Whispering Flame herself.
Dusk plays the part of an angry Maïe to shake it, insisting she was not to be followed. But the clamorous cloud arsenal simply responds—after analyzing the Iron Wolf—that he is not the one it is bound to, and passes on.
Dusk realizes that a demon being bound can mean only one thing: Maïe has infernal ties, and controls this demon directly.
Meanwhile, upstairs, Maïe is being talked down from “How dare you kidnap me I will see you all hang when I am queen” with surprising aplomb from Lion.