The powers available to Durandal are nothing short of incredible. I confess that I did not know how we were going to be able to flee the ancient manse to avoid what would likely be a very unpleasant death by Raksi’s poisonous mist, but a gateway directly connecting two discrete points of Creation was an excellent solution. I wonder if it is something I could replicate, perhaps with Caemlyn’s help, but I had little time to devote to this puzzle as we the exit of the gateway was the top of Ma Ha Suchi’s ziggurat. And an alarm had been raised.
We were greeted by Byrrden and Effulgent Petal, a young woman he seemed to know who clearly had seen harrowing trials but retained a cheerful disposition. She also had eyes full of stars, which I took an immediate disliking to, but Byrrden clearly trusted her greatly and that is enough for me for now.
Ever the tactician, Durandal recommended we meet the inevitable oncoming horde in a more defensible position, and thus we made our way to the throne room, a place once opulent but now ravaged and foul, reeking of a primal madness. There was little time to wait before legions of Ma Ha Suchi’s goatmen were upon us. For half an hour their assault crumbled on our effortless defense, bodies stacking high and clogging the doorways, until some beast in a panic ordered the expelling of the rutting pens, the vile pits where Ma Ha Suchi kept unfortunate captives for breeding purposes.
We had no time to clear the bodies, but from somewhere within me came a massive surge of power, and with my shield deployed to act as a fender I plowed a path through the dead goatmen with no more effort than to knock over a child’s snow fort.
In the pens, Rose flew into the fray scarcely ahead of the Lightbringer, both blazing with righteous fury, as our Circle felled the remaining goatmen. We were not able to save all of the captives, but we were the saviors for most. But what to do with them? Rose, Petal, and Caemlyn saw to various physical and mental wounds as best as they could. Vox, assured by Petal of the freed captive’s capabilities, roused their will to give them the strength to leave. He has an impressive presence for one so slight.
As we made our preparations to leave, a sound that can only be described as the cracking of a gigantic egg came from outside. We did not expect to see that the source, once we stepped outside, was exactly that: a giant ivory and moonsilver egg, spinning in midair for a moment before its shell exploded in all directions, depositing Rose’s Golden Guardians in a heap, topped by one stunned tyrant lizard.
Her people filled us in quickly on what had transpired: a Lunar named Errol Polishes Bones Flies Over Dunes disapproves of the ways in which Ma Ha Suchi and Raksi have engaged in conquest; thus he is temporarily an ally; he suspects Ma Ha Suchi is hiding something from the Silver Pact; he trusts Durandal and his Circle to ultimately deal with him and provided a means for the Golden Guardians to rapidly rejoin Durandal, which I presume was the egg, a much less elegant mode of transport than the gateway.
Byrrden chimes in with what he believes Ma Ha Suchi had been hiding: vials of moonsilver that seem to hold some power over the Lunars that he found in a hidden location in Ma Ha Suchi’s quarters. If they are what Byrrden suspects, then the ancient Lunar will be furious with us, indeed, and we had little time to discuss tactics.
The best move would be to peel off Ma Ha Suchi’s Lunar companions as widely as possible to leave him alone and unprotected. Petal would take most of the freed slaves to the jungles to hide, though one named Green Hair – speaking for herself and a decent contingent of others – stood up to be a part of the fighting.
Durandal wouldn’t have it, and expressed his condemnation for fighting for vengeance. I could see that he was trying to protect them, these people who had been through so much, and the thought of further suffering coming to them pained him greatly. It hurt my soul to go against him, but I had to point out that they needed this and would fight with our without our leave. Our only option, our only way of helping in the time we had, was to prepare them as best as possible.
Preparations were made all around. Durandal grudgingly trained his new “fighters”; Rose took her people to hide in ambush; Byrrden walked me through creating decoys of the vials – some of my finest work to date, and were nigh indistinguishable from genuine First Age artifacts – that he used as part of a false trail he set up in the jungle; and Vox changed, somehow, to be more appealing to the Lunar Bearfist, whom he felt he could reason with.
When twilight fell and the sun and moon both hung in the sky, Ma Ha Suchi and his army descended on a bridge of moonlight and began to fan out into the city with orders to leave none alive. Our plans began to unfold.
Sheoldred the spider began stalking Durandal, oblivious to Byrrden stalking right behind her, while in the catacombs Durandal stalked – the other kind of stalk – after Deatruma the terror bird. Sudden attacks from the shadows, and surprise deflections from unseen sources ensued, with Durandal standing steadfast in the middle of it all. There is something both amusing and mystifying in the image of a shining golden point at the center of three swirling shadows, as if it were the beginning of a joke or a prophecy, though I am unsure which.
Rose, Caemlyn, and I were involved in scenarios more in keeping with high adventure stories for the common people. Rose tangled with Camezots the bat in a battle of flight and flame, her guns streaking fire through the air, finally engulfing the Lunar with 1000 Caresses of Hell, a charm so tortuous that he willingly formed a tie with Rose just to make it end. Meanwhile, I distracted Shardik the brown bear with a chase through the streets, harassing and frustrating the brute to allow Caemlyn the time to summon a falcon of fire. The elemental lit the beast ablaze while a well timed elbow drop from me rattled whatever he had for brains.
Off in the jungles, Vox awaited Bearfist the black bear, who was stunned momentarily by our Eclipse’s appearance, enough so that the two were intimate in their conversing rather than adversarial; or at least that is how it seemed to me upon the retelling. It seemed that Bearfist wants to resume leadership of the Arzecki, something he cannot do with Ma Ha Suchi still in control.
At this point, Ma Ha Suchi, annoyed that we are all still alive, bellows that the vials have been recovered and that we should step forth. No sooner does he do so when a large white-haired Northerner – who was not me – appeared next to the mad Lunar: Winter Wolf of the Silver Pact. Ma Ha Suchi would not be murdering Solars today; instead, Winter Wolf had arrived to bring Ma Ha Suchi to trial by the Silver Pact. They verbally sparred very briefly until a man of black and white skin – not wholly unlike that of the Southern Djala, but patterned differently and perpetually wet – and twice the size of Ma Ha Suchi himself appeared. Leviathan. The mad Lunar ultimately submits to a Silver Pact trial.
The Lunar trial was a rather straightforward affair: charges, evidence, conviction. He was accused of abusing the conquered, and cruelty for cruelty’s sake, with Bearfist himself laying those charges at his feet. Ma Ha Suchi called the accusations lies and that his actions were within his rights. I honestly believe that Ma Ha Suchi was telling the truth; that his, that he truly believed he had done nothing wrong. But then it was revealed what was in those vials: the castes themselves of the Lunars. Still claiming his innocence, Ma Ha Suchi demanded a trial by combat in what seemed like an attempt to force Durandal to drop his own charges (which, naturally, he did not). But no, he would fight our entire Circle. And so it would be.
As preparations were made, Rose spoke with Ma Ha Suchi, asking why he hid the Lunar castes. He found them on a vision quest in the Wyld, and to his thinking the reclaimed castes would make the Lunars weak, that there is only strength in the ferocity to seize what is yours. The two briefly debated the merits of strength, with obvious disagreements, but in a distorted form of compliment the mad Lunar told Rose he would enjoy killing her the least.
Durandal and Winter Wolf met as old friends to decide on the venue of the trial; Durandal felt that the throne room would be the most appropriate. Winter Wolf wished him to fight well, and pragmatically laid claim to the Lightbringer’s belongings should he die. The Lunars are a strange folk.
All assembled in the throne room, the formalities were observed while Lunars lined the walls to watch. Winter Wolf bid the battle begin and thus was I thrust into a fight like none I had ever experienced. Caemlyn, Durandal, and Byrrden were flurries of blades, with our Chayan Twilight being unexpectedly devastating with her scalpels. Vox and I were quite effective with simply our fists, while Rose couldn’t seem to decide if her guns worked better as melee weapons or firearms and was determined to try a variety of attacks.
Ma Ha Suchi was every bit as formidable as one would expect of a Lunar so aged. He removed knives and shrugged off slashes as one would splinters, disguising Rose as a copy of himself, and launching into a liquid fury of spear thrusts and moonsilver flames that even set the Lightbringer on his back foot.
For all his ferocity, however, even an ancient such as he was the lesser against a full Solar Circle, and Durandal, his daiklave blazing with essence, delivered the killing blow. With a burst of silver light, a beautiful young man stood at the end of Durandal’s blade, and in Ma Ha Suchi’s voice sighed his exhaustion, and fell down dead.
“May his essence go to one as worthy as he,” said Winter Wolf, as the Lunars left the throne room to let our Circle recover. Durandal set the body alight with essence to leave no corpse and let the spirit rest. Rest that we were not yet to have, for though we saved the Chayans and removed the blight of Ma Ha Suchi, we still had to contend with the threat of Raksi as well as the mystery of the disappearance of Gethamane.
I later learned that at this very moment, a grotesque creature of bile sacs and spider legs that was ancient in the First Age was clawing its way out of the utter destruction of the Void. As it topped the ridge, however, it was unprepared for and unable to stand against the armored boots and forceful imploring to “GIT! DOWN! THUR!”
When down thur it got, Dace was approached by Beacon, who informed him, “I thought you’d be difficult to find. Then I remembered it was you and just followed the bodies.”