Sapadi Am’beta, Chosen of Soil

Background

Sapadi grew up in the lands east of Kirighast, known informally as the “Lakes Province.” She was trained as a sage, as was her mother before her, and they lived in a lakeside city that sprawled over twenty miles of coastland. As a loyal, peaceful, and productive tributary to the Realm, they saw the Dragon-Blooded only rarely.

When a sorcerer from the Realm came to her city, seeking inks from a creature that dwelt in the lake, she made the mistake of treating him as an equal. He, astonished by this hubris but captivated by her intelligence, brought her along with him. The two became traveling partners, and shared several adventures as they traveled the inland sea. Unfortunately, this was her perception rather than reality. In truth, he had paid her family a hefty sum to effectively purchase her, and they had acquiesced. She found this out only once he had been made an instructor at the Heptagram, and she was stuck there with him. He was not unkind to her, but neither would he let her leave.

When she met V’neef Ethaa, she saw someone who would help her escape. It didn’t work out exactly as she hoped. Ethaa fell in love with Sapadi, but rather than freeing her from the teacher’s bindings, purchased her again. The instructor actually lowered the price as a sort of graduation present – Sapadi suspects the exchange of other favors as well. Sapadi played the role, pretending to be Ethaa’s shy and quiet lover, hoping that one day she could speak with Ethaa as an equal – or perhaps just leave.

She died before she had the chance.

The two of them were on a ship in the Cinder Isles. There was an eruption. Her face and much of her body were covered in fiery debris. She drowned before the burns could kill her.

Then, unexpectedly, painfully, she was alive again, months later, on the final night of Calibration. Ethaa stood above her, her face frozen with pride and terror. She explained that she had repaired Sapadi’s body, and drawn her soul back from its next life. Now they could be together again.

Ethaa was clearly mad. Sapadi left the following night. She called on power that she never had before and didn’t understand, summoning up dead creatures of the sea and forcing them into service. They carried her north to Wavecrest. The next morning she could feel Ethaa pursuing her.

Since then Sapadi has traveled through many islands, seeking the truth about what she is or allies who can help her against Ethaa. She has met many other sages and Chosen in the islands of the West, including Ghula M’shatha. She discovered him in Wavecrest, in a cove where she was sheltering the night. Imagine her surprise at finding a cult chanting not ten meters from where she slept. At the peak of the ceremony, a spear of green and brass fell from the sky. It impaled the central cultist – M’shatha – through the leg and spoke to him in a voice of flame and despair while the rest fled in fear. Eventually it vanished. M’shatha fell into the sand gasping in joy and pain, bleeding slowly from his leg. Sapadi quickly took advantage of his weakness and blackmailed him at knifepoint for his boat. She took it and sailed off to the north.

She was able to stay ahead of Ethaa for an entire month. It was grueling and dangerous, ending when her stolen vessel crashed into the reefs off Athanor. It seemed to her that she was dying, and her last thought was that at least she had escaped… but she woke up on the beach. Sapadi is hiding in the city of Athanor. She knows that Ethaa is here somewhere, and is praying that they will not run into each other.

Appearance

Sapadi Am'beta 500

Sapadi has skin the color of drifting sand – or at least she did before she became what she is now. Now, parts of her body look as if they were taken from other people, some of them badly burned, others battered and bruised. Her eyes are two different colors. She wears purple robes that cover much of her body, including a veil across her mouth. She speaks with a slight accent from her homeland.

Demeanor

Quiet, contemplative, and shy – but with a growing ruthless streak that has helped her survive the last year. Sapadi hides in the shadows and corners of the city. Her plan is to wait out the contest and hope that she’s not part of the Deathlord’s plan – or kill the winner, if necessary.

Intimacies: “My freedom over all” (Defining), “V’neef Ethaa is mad with power” (Major, Negative), “Ghula is a demon-worshipping hypocrite” (Major, Negative), “My homeland” (Positive)

Capabilities

Sapadi was a well-trained young sage in her home city. She can read and write all the major languages of Creation, including Old Realm. Under her mother’s tutelage she gained an extensive knowledge of sea creatures and their uses, from shells to inks to teeth to poisonous spines.

Her time in the Heptagram taught her many things as well. She can recognize many spirits, elementals, and demons. She knows the principles behind sorcery, though she hasn’t had the time to put them into practice since her exaltation. She is also very good at hiding her emotions and motivations, and at having people not realize when she’s observing them. Both her experience and her essence have made her very, very good at remaining hidden and observing from a distance. The face that Ethaa can still tell she’s there, even if she can’t tell exactly where, is infuriating.

In a battle, Sapadi will strike out instinctively and powerfully, hurling dark soil at the eyes of her opponents to blind them, creating rolling waves of rotting earth to drive others away, and diving into shadows or even the ground itself to escape. She has an instinctive sense for the things that might cause harm in her environment and will maneuver others into them. In extreme situations she can reanimate massive dead creatures from the ground or sea to serve her, though she is left wounded and breathless afterward. She doesn’t realize yet that she can survive horrible injuries, nor that she can take body parts from the dead. Both of these realizations will probably come soon.

Supporting Characters

  • Cathak Ledash, instructor at the Heptagram. Snooty, brilliant, entitled.
  • Brev Mokalo, an old man who took Sapadi in for a night. Kindly, orderly, reclusive.

Questions

  • Will Sapadi pretend at submission again if Ethaa appears, if she thinks it will help her escape the island? How long would she be able to act that way?
  • How much does Sapadi know about the Deathlords and their servants? Does she know the truth of what is being offered here – and would she accept it?

V’neef Ethaa, Chosen of the Water Dragon

Background

House V’neef is the youngest of the Great Houses, and in many ways it still has much to prove. When Ethaa was growing up, she was told, “Measure your life in the changes you make in the world,” – by which her parents meant, “You have accomplished nothing until you have power.” She was continuously compared to children from other families, especially Peleps Rithra. When Ethaa was outspoken, her parents pointed to Rithra’s quiet focus. When Ethaa was beaming at her accomplishments, her parents pointed to Rithra’s humility. Ethaa worked hard to please her family, but nothing she did was good enough.

When Ethaa was Chosen, her parents informed her that the family needed sorcerers, and she would be attending the Heptagram. This suited Ethaa just fine – it got her out of the Imperial City, and if the teachers at the Heptagram were difficult, at least they were fair. She expected long hours of obsessive work. What she didn’t expect was to fall in love.

Sapadi Am’beta was a servant at the Heptagram, brought by one of the instructors from the lakes region east of Kirighast. Ethaa found her irresistible. Sapadi slowly and shyly reciprocated – which, to Ethaa, was all part of an exhilarating conquest. When she graduated from the Heptagram, Ethaa bought Sapadi’s freedom, and took her away to her assignment in the distant Southeast, where Ethaa’s sorcery was to improve the islands near Lathe.

Sadly, Creation is a dangerous place, and the mountains of the Cinder Isles doubly so. Ethaa denies that her sorcerous workings disturbed the balance of the elements. Regardless of the cause, a sudden volcanic eruption capsized Ethaa’s ship and set fire to the wreckage. All hands on board drowned, including Sapadi. Ethaa, thanks to her gifts, survived.

Losing Sapadi drove Ethaa into an obsessive madness. She recovered her body from the seafloor, and stretched her magic to the utmost to call Sapadi’s soul back from its next life. The process was… imperfect. The thing that might have been Sapadi fled, and V’neef Ethaa abandoned her post to pursue her.

Ethaa has tracked Sapadi across the West, sustaining herself with sorcery, relentlessly pursuing her lost love. That pursuit led her to Athanor. Ethaa knows that Sapadi is here somewhere. She will be reunited with her lover, and woe to anyone who stands between them.

Appearance

V'neef Ethaa 500

Ethaa is thin – thin eyes, thin eyebrows, and a long thin frame. She wears greens and blues that harmonize visually with her anima. Her robes have long sleeves and flowing skirts, and they blow around her impressively when she calls to the elements. Her branch of the family is from the East originally, and it shows in her green hair. She wears small accents of body jewelry.

When she was young, her face was plain and her body ordinary. One of her first acts with sorcery was to make herself beautiful. She is the spitting image of an elder in her house whom she considered breathtaking.

Demeanor

Ethaa never quite managed the trick of humility. Her parents’ attempts to instil this virtue were overwritten when she went to the Heptagram, where she was taught to be commanding and mysterious. This suited her much better.

Intimacies: “Peleps Rithra is a waste of the Dragons’ blessing.” (Defining, Negative), “Sapadi is the love of my life” (Defining, Positive), “My teachers at the Heptagram” (Major, Positive), “The Realm” (Positive), “The Sidereals” (Positive), “I will bend nature to my will”

Capabilities

Sorcery is Ethaa’s primary focus. Many of the skills she learned in childhood have atrophied in favor of geomancy, alchemy, and elementalism. Her tongue is still as quick as ever, her wit as clever, but she hasn’t picked up a war axe in years, and she’d probably fall off any horse that she didn’t conjure herself. She’s at home in a library, though. Her calligraphy is impeccable. She knows more of the secret history of the Realm than even her teachers taught her. She speaks High Realm, Watertongue, and (of course) Old Realm. She can plan and organize well, but is particularly good at improvising when those plans fail. She still wonders what more she might have done to restore Sapadi properly.

As a sorceress, Ethaa knows how to call demons and elementals, clear a battlefield with a rain of poisonous darts, send messages across the breadth of Creation, call a sleep-inducing mist, and call a small ship made of cherry blossoms and spun copper that can bear her across the sea. Beyond that, she uses her essence to uncover the truth about people and places, to hold her steady against waves and wind, and to notice those who might try to harm her before they come close.

Ethaa has multiple demons already summoned. She wears one as paper-thin armor beneath her robes, and another as a feather in her hair that lets her see the true nature of those with whom she converses. The rest wait nearby, immaterial, until she calls on them to defend her.

Supporting Characters

  • V’neef Kharavi, the elder that Ethaa idolized. Glamorous, enterprising, worldly.
  • Cathak Ledash, instructor at the Heptagram. Snooty, brilliant, entitled.
  • Jul, the demon that Ethaa wears as armor. Finicky, patient, vague.

Questions

  • What kind of demons does Ethaa have with her, and how many?
  • Would Ethaa continue to partake in this contest if she were reunited with Sapadi?
  • How would Ethaa react if Sapadi rejected her?

Peleps Rithra, Ghost

Background

Peleps Rithra grew up in the Imperial City, surrounded by the politics of the Chosen. When she had time to think, she found it overwhelming. She rarely had time to think. Like most dynastic children, she was put through a rigorous training regimen, and held to expectations far beyond those of ordinary children. She was continuously compared to children from other families and found wanting.

One of those children was V’neef Ethaa. “Look at what V’neef Ethaa did today,” her parents would tell her. “See what she accomplished.” “You should have heard her sing.” “You could learn something from her.” Rithra hated Ethaa, and knew that she was hated in return.

After she was Chosen, she had the chance to leave the Imperial City and be apprenticed to her aunt. Rithra took the opportunity. She traveled to the northwestern Blessed Isle to live with a lesser-known branch of the family and learn the trade of the All-Seeing Eye. Even here she could not escape Ethaa. Their town was the closest on the shore to the Heptagram, where Ethaa continued to be adored and amazing, and Rithra saw it each time the school let out. Ethaa said nothing to her. Her eyes said it all.

When her apprenticeship was complete, Rithra disappeared from the official rolls of her house. She became a one-woman Wyld Hunt, seeking those who must be removed silently and without fanfare. She served the All-Seeing Eye as an assassin in all but name. Finally free from the scrutiny of others, Rithra excelled at her job. The Eye provided her with a paralytic agent that she used to bring her targets back to the Realm for justice. The silence of her victims suited her just fine.

In Wu Jian, things took a turn for the worse. Rithra was pursuing a target there, someone who should have been an easy mark. She was to return with him so that he might stand public trial. Instead, she found him dead in an alleyway, the huntress Kiri standing over him. Kiri had not only killed him, but seemed to expect thanks for her actions. Rithra was furious. The two fought briefly; Kiri fled after a scratch from Rithra’s poisoned needles left her arm paralyzed.

Rithra could feel the shame on her face each morning. Her very name was in jeopardy. She sought out the local representatives of the Eye and explained the situation. They assured her – though their assurances fell on deaf ears – that such things happen to all operatives. They sent her farther West, with a new quarry. The ship never made it.

Rithra arrived instead at Athanor Isle. She survived the shipwreck, but those who come late to the event (the players’ circle) will find her body on the beach. She will have been dead for two days when they arrive on the island. They will likely find her ghost not long after.

Appearance

Peleps Rithra 500

Rithra looks very young for an agent of the Eye, let alone for an assassin. She has pale skin with peach undertones. Her hair is long and black with henna at the tips. Her dark eyes are typical of the Blessed Isle. Her clothing is dark, with subtle purple patterns. She bears a plain katana that shows little sign of use. As her essence was always somewhat weak, she shows no outward signs of being Dragon-Blooded.

As a ghost, she bears a stab wound that matches her own sword. All her belongings except her clothing and the sword have been removed.

Demeanor

Quiet and brooding. When she was alive, she kept her eyes down and her ears open, the better to pass through crowds and cities. Rithra as a ghost is actually more forthcoming than she was when alive – she believes (perhaps correctly) that her existence will end soon, and (quite incorrectly) that nothing can harm her any more. She is glad to talk about the message sent by Eight Eyes Ending, and will even talk about her life as an assassin. In death she has gained a certain emotional distance from her previous life, and can speak of her motivations as if she had been merely acting a part in a play.

Rithra claims to remember nothing of her death – just a flash of darkness, a pain in her chest, and endless darkness. She remembers the claim that those who die will serve in the underworld, but feels somehow that this is not her destiny. Time will tell whether or not she is correct.

Intimacies: “V’neef Ethaa is a horrid bitch” (Defining, Negative), “Kiri stole a life from my house” (Major, Negative), “Once I had duty; now I am free.” (Major, Positive), “My family” (Positive), “My aunt” (Positive)

Capabilities

Rithra lacks the refined social bearing of most Dragon-Blooded. She’s an excellent social observer and analyst, and highly intelligent, but things somehow fall apart when she tries to use these skills in social environments. She chalks this up to not being a fast thinker. Rithra is graceful, having excelled at dance and acrobatics as a child, and knows how to play several instruments. She’s good at any disguise where she doesn’t need to talk much. She can move without a sound. If she takes a moment to alter her bearing, she can approach people without triggering any sense of alarm or fear.

As a newly “born” ghost, Rithra has little control over her essence. She can sense the general health of those with whom she speaks, but not much more. If she’s forced into a fight, she’ll probably lose, unless she has the opportunity for an ambush.

Her ghost carries a spectral sword that is missing from her corpse. More often, she worked through a poison that rendered any incapacitated victims into a state of suspended animation. That poison has also been stolen from her body.

Supporting Characters

  • Peleps Oana, her aunt and well-respected member of the All-Seeing Eye. Gracious, experienced, guarded.
  • Cathak Setriu, daughter of Cathak Remba, whom Rithra assassinated two years ago. Angry, pessimistic pious.

Questions

  • Who killed Rithra?
  • Is Rithra serving Eight Eyes Ending by telling newcomers about the rules of the game, or does the deathlord have some deeper plan for her?

Kiri of Denzik, Chosen of the Hunt

Background

Kiri grew up on the city-ship of Denzik. She was a fisher-woman, using spear and harpoon to catch the swift-swimming giant gar. Her daring made her a local hero. Many are the times this young woman was hauled out of the water, coughing up salt but victorious, with her knife buried behind a fish’s head.

When Denzik left the northern Inland Sea, it picked up a tagalong: a group of Fair Folk. They picked off outlying craft, and seduced people into jumping into the sea at night. They fancied themselves hunters. Zeraata, Western Goddess of the Hunt, took great offense. She sought a champion to defeat them, and chose Kiri. Before long the Fair Folk retreated, deciding to take their chances with easier prey.

They didn’t realize yet that they didn’t have that option. Kiri harried them to a barren rock in the sea and pinned them to the ground with cold iron, to be picked at by the gulls.

For the past twenty years Kiri has kept the holy hunt free from corruption. So long as she seeks out dishonest and degenerate hunters, she doesn’t age – and she is quite zealous about her job. From unscrupulous bounty hunters in Skullstone to vice-ridden investigators on the Blessed Isle, Kiri has tracked down dozens of whom Zeraata would disapprove. Her favorite method is by depriving them of their prey. When the hunt is unjust, she stops the hunter by force. When the hunt is just but the hunter corrupt, she finishes the quarry herself and deprives the hunter of the reward.

Recently she has made her home in Wu Jian, where currents bring many distasteful elements together. A band of mercenaries and bounty hunters known as the Red Teeth hunted for pay and fame, which is not considered unholy by Zeraata – but they released their catch if they paid, and sometimes by sheer incompetence. Kiri confronted their master Nikau, who tried to assault her. She wounded him and escaped rather than face his pack of mongrels alone.

For a time she led the Red Teeth. They approached her in Nikau’s absence, seeking the leader they lacked. She has tried to reform them, or at least to focus them into a weapon for Zeraata, but even the greatest blacksmith cannot work with clay, and Kiri was never trained to lead. They followed her for her power alone until she fled from a fight with a dynast named Peleps Rithra. (Not all Dragon-Blooded are easy to spot, she now knows, nor are they grateful when you kill their prey.) Then she felt them begin to turn against her as they had Nikau. She took a few that were more loyal and sailed to the West.

Those soldiers now lie at the bottom of the ocean. The ship was caught in a storm north of Athanor. Red lightning struck the mast. Kiri alone survived – and she knows that she is now both hunter and prey.

Appearance

Kiri of Wu Jian 500

Kiri’s family is originally from the North, and she has the typical pale skin and blonde hair of the northerners. She typically wears heavy eyeblack to keep the sun from her eyes, and light clothing to allow her greater mobility. She has jewelry taken from some of her quarries. Whether she is hunting or not, she is never far from her spear, the Last Leaf of Fall, a simple and light amalgam of black and white jade.

Demeanor

Kiri was chosen to uphold the True Hunt. Damn the thrill – the important part is the quarry and its capture. She is blunt and pragmatic. She doesn’t brag to her targets or waste time talking to them. She is polite to others, but distantly, and without much conviction. Matters that could distract her from her work are put aside. Those who might aid her are accepted without long consideration and without truly making them into friends. Even those who have worked with her before rarely know where she went between the hunts.

And yet, there is a part of her that does thrill to the hunt – that feels a fierce, almost joyous rush of adrenaline when her goddess selects a target for her and the chase begins. Zeraata does not approve of this, but she keeps her tongue silent. Kiri has been her best ally in centuries.

Intimacies: “All quarries are mine” (Defining), “Nikau and his mercenaries defile the hunt” (Major, Negative), “I hate being cooped up” (Negative), “I will become powerful enough for the big game”

Capabilities

Kiri can swim and climb with the best of them. She is fast and accurate with both spear and knife. Years and years of practice have honed these skills to perfection. She is comfortable with a bow, but not an expert. Her native language is Wavetongue, but she also speaks a smattering of Low Realm, Firetongue, and Skytongue – just enough to get by in any port where Denzik might make landfall. She is comfortable with maps and charts. Since many of her targets hide in ancient manses, she can also recognize the most common of First Age glyphs, such as those for danger. She doesn’t give or take orders very well.

Once she has chosen her quarry (or been given it by Zeraata), Kiri can follow it to the ends of Creation and beyond. The same way that a migrating bird knows its path, she knows how to find her target. Once the prey is cornered, unfortunately, her essence gives her little advantage in a fight, so she sets traps and snares to even the odds. If she is wounded, she heals incredibly quickly – bones reform overnight and bruises heal in minutes. Kiri takes full advantage of this, fighting to maneuver an opponent into a trap, and then escaping to heal while their wounds fester.

The Last Leaf of Fall was created at the height of the Shogunate. Its simple appearance conceals a powerful set of elemental evocations. One allows Kiri to fight without impairment in inclement or hazardous environments – even underwater. Another surrounds her with a tempest of wind that deflects arrows and other projectiles. The third calls to the water within her targets, making their wounds bleed profusely. The last (that she knows of) makes the spear immensely heavy, trapping her opponent as she slams its head through their foot. When she connects with this strike, she leaves the spear in place to impair her opponent while she draws her knives and slices into their back.

Supporting Characters

  • Zeraata, Western Goddess of the Hunt. Righteous, decisive, shameless.
  • Aarostrometi, a god-blood whom Kiri caught and imprisoned years ago, and who wants revenge. Blustering, apologetic, compulsive.

Questions

  • What exactly does Zeraata consider “holy” when it comes to the hunt?
  • Where did Kiri find the Last Leaf? Did she take it from someone she was hunting? If so, who?

Nikau of Wu Jian, Chosen of the Earth Dragon

Background

The islands of Wu Jian have many compounds that house the Great Houses of the Realm. Well-defended, high-walled compounds, to keep thieves out and provide a sense of luxury to those inside. However, not all the Dragon-Blooded in Wu Jian are members of a Great House. Some, in fact, are exiles.

Born to house Tepet, Nikau was secretly terrified that he would never be Chosen. He covered this with bluster, and intimidating other students. He learned to fight and to fit in with other bullies. When exaltation finally came, it was in the middle of a scuffle – someone had finally decided to fight back, and they nearly paid with their lives. He attended the House of Bells, but was dismissed for brawling with the other students. His house sent him to the Vermilion Legion, where his rising bloodlust resulted in constant discipline issues. After two seasons of polishing armor and peeling potatoes, he deserted with a dozen other like-minded soldiers. His waning fortune bought them passage to Wu Jian, where their names were unknown. There, the lot of them hired out to anyone who could turn a blind eye to their brutality. They called themselves the Red Teeth.

Over the past twenty years, the Red Teeth have made a name for themselves as mercenaries and bounty hunters. Nikau recruits skilled and brutal warriors as they come through the port to replace those who die in the line of duty. They are a hundred and twenty strong, with their own docks, barracks, and brig. Most recruits settle in under his leadership when they realize they can break the rules they want to break. Some of them end up rebelling against him, thinking that they can lead better than he. Those he either breaks or throws overboard. It’s an in-joke with his lieutenants to egg new recruits on and see how far they’ll push things before they come to an end, one way or another.

Despite his effectiveness, House Tepet (who must know by now where their son is) has never officially acknowledged him. He claims not to care.

Not long ago Jalam Bedai came to Wu Jian, and left his boat at the Teeth’s docks. The soldiers hauled it out of the water to inspect it and conduct a little idle vandalism. Jalam was easy prey for Nikau and his veterans, but he had an unexpected secret – that he was Anathema. Nikau threw him into the brig to consider what he might do with him and how he might use this new weapon. He should have expected the Solar scum to break out.

Word had spread quickly of the fight with an Anathema – of lights and the sound of avalanches. Many people came asking. He told most of them that he had slain the creature. Only one visitor knew the truth already. Kiri of Denzik, with her nose for hunts and escapes, confronted him publicly about his lies. He lashed out at her; drew his sword in rage. She calmly put a javelin through his leg.

His body healed, but he could feel that the respect of his men had been broken. Soon the Red Teeth would reject him as leader. The first assassination attempt convinced him, and he vanished in the night.

Nikau’s mind was fixated on the source of his problem: Jalam Bedai. If that little shit had never shown up at his dock, he’d still be in charge. He paid for “shadow passage” on a ship headed West, determined to hunt Jalam down. Would catching Jalam restore his position? No. Would it give him the sweet satisfaction of revenge?

He will have the chance to find out. After weeks of hunting, Nikau has come to Athanor Isle, his vessel wrecked on the shore. He will become the master here, or die trying.

Appearance

Nikau of Wu Jian 500

Nikau has dark brown skin, black hair, and grey eyes that hint at his Tepet parentage. A massive scar runs down the right-hand side of his face. He typically wears dark leathers over chain, and wields an ornate but finely-crafted sword that he took from a bounty years ago. Without the scar he would seem about twenty-five. In reality he is closer to twice that.

Demeanor

Nikau comes across as angry most of the time. That perception is not entirely incorrect. While his temper is under control – mostly – he does like to make a weapon of it. He intentionally gives off the perception that he’s close to the breaking point. When people do what he wants, he backs off. He’s a very canny leader, as long as he has people who will bow down to him to some extent. Without that he becomes a bit paranoid.

He could have been a great commander and mentor. He could have been… well, none of us are what we might have been.

Intimacies: “Fear is power” (Defining), “Jalam Bedai is lawbreaking scum” (Major, Negative), “Kiri took what matters most from me” (Major, Negative), “Fellow bullies” (Positive)

Capabilities

For all his discipline problems, Nikau is a career soldier. When he was growing up he never cared much for all the “playtime” things he had to learn. What he focused on was war – commanding troops, wielding a sword, planning battles, trampling his enemies into the ground. He was good at it, and he enjoyed it. The rest of his education could go hang – he’d be using his caligraphy time to practice writing orders, or rehearse sword katas instead of dancing. He also has a phenomenal force of personality. He’s incredibly intense, and knows exactly how and when to push someone’s buttons. He may not be a courtly Dragon-Blood, but he can stand up against them verbally just fine.

When Nikau was first chosen, his essence flowed from him grudgingly – and so he wrestled his very exaltation into submission and forced it to do his bidding. (Figuratively, of course.) The Earth Dragon roots him when he strikes, bringing extra impact to his blade and knocking his opponents to the ground. His sword is likewise heavy when others try to batter it away and strike him. He can feel the steps of his opponents behind him, and sense the deployment of enemy troops before he sees them. His soldiers can feel this too, and his urges for them, and those who obey his commands are the deadlier for it. It empowers his cruelty as well. The Earth Dragon is at the center of all things, and Nikau can see to the center of his victims – the things that motivate them – while hiding his own center, burying his conscience, and holding fast to his convictions.

Supporting Characters

  • Tobok Maran, his lieutenant in the Red Teeth, who may have set the assassin against him. Deceitful, caustic, brutal.
  • Peleps Fera, who hired him some years ago and regretted it. Busy, contemplative, ambitious.

Questions

  • Where did Nikau get his scar?
  • If Nikau were offered the opportunity to leave, would he take it, or would he stay to finish the contest?

Jalam Bedai, Chosen of the Sun

Background

The Wavecrest Archipelago has tens of thousands of islands, from the beautiful to the forgettable. Tiny sailing vessels ply the waters between the smallest villages. On a fair day, from a tall cliff, one can almost see more sails than whitecaps.

Jalam Bedai was a first-generation sailor from a more forgettable island. His parents, cowrie diggers, said he must have been left by Mercury herself. As soon as he could balance on a piece of bark he was trying to sail. When he was an adolescent he traded his family’s shells to dozens of tiny ports. As he grew older, he thought himself as a veteran sailor. The hurricane that might have proved him wrong instead led to his exaltation, and he rode it out laughing at the winds.

With the memories from dozens of lives tickling at his mind, Jalam began asking after the Dragon-Blooded – where they lived, who worked for them, their habits and lifestyles. He picked one that was isolated, distant, and despicable: Nellens Badu was at the center of a slave-trading network that spanned the entire West. Jalam wasted no time sailing to his island and crashing through his bedroom window with a knife.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t ready. He could defeat a weak Dynast like Nellens Badu, but not quickly enough, and his guards were too well-trained. He retreated rather than risk his life. The next morning he set sail after them, and tracked Badu’s ships across more than a thousand kilometers of open ocean to Wu Jian.

There, he was captured. He left his ship tied up outside the Red Teeth’s complex when he went into the city to scout. Nikau and his men strung up Jalam’s boat and were searching it when he came back frustrated from the Nellens compound. They didn’t care that he was new in town. He tried to fight, and discovered what an experienced Chosen soldier could do. Though he put up a good fight, Jalam was outclassed and outnumbered. Nikau threw Jalam into his own personal prison.

After stewing in his cell for a few days and reflecting on his failures, Jalam took advantage of a particularly loud thunderstorm to break out. He stole a catamaran and headed back West, uncertain of what to do next. Sadly, he didn’t get the chance to decide. Jalam knows that no natural storm could possibly have blown him all the way back to the island where he ended up. He knows that no mere reef was responsible for his shipwreck. Athanor Isle has his him trapped.

Appearance

Jalam Bedai 500

Jalam has dark curly hair, including a full beard and a thin moustache that hints at his youth. His eyes are brown. His skin is brown with red undertones. He wears a simple silver necklace with a single red cowrie bead on it, a gift from his mother. When his anima flares, its pattern resembles a wave map used for navigation in the ancient West.

Demeanor

A few months ago, Jalam could be described as cocky, amiable, and easygoing. He didn’t believe anything his elders had to say about the world. Finding the limits of his power has tempered that. He is still naive, but he’s starting to believe the stores more, and he’s willing to fall in line with someone who seems more worldly. This is probably how he’ll be recruited. He has no strong influence from his past lives, and could easily turn into someone’s pawn here – as long as they manage to keep him in the dark and give him the chance to turn some tables on his enemies.

In addition, Jalam is becoming more and more panicked that his attempts to leave are unsuccessful. He’s never been in a situation he couldn’t sail out of, either metaphorically or literally. He’s likely to snap.

Intimacies: “My only master is the open sea” (Defining), “Nellens Badu must not be allowed to rule again” (Major, Negative), “Nikau is an honorless dog” (Major, Negative), “My family” (Major, Positive), “The Dragon-Blooded killed us all” (Negative)

Capabilities

Jalam is an Eclipse-caste Solar. When he was chosen his newfound power settled into well-worn pathways in his body. His essence flows from him as naturally as breathing. His body was fit; now he can leap trees and wrestle oxen. His eyes were keen; now he can see for miles. He was a friend to animals; now they whisper secrets to him. He was stubborn; now, when he digs in his heels, no one can move him.

What he is best at, however, is sailing. He can turn nothing more than a few sticks, a shirt, and a large piece of bark into a vessel that will take him throughout the West. He can feel storms coming and ride out hurricanes. He knows instinctively how to sail ships of any size, though he is most comfortable in those that are small and fast. He can’t lead a fleet yet, or command sailors, but his tiny vessels are swift and unbreakable. Sail is his Supernal Ability, and it shows.

Despite all this, he still can’t leave the island. It’s not truly the wind and the waves that keep him here – it’s fate, and he doesn’t know it yet. Once he understands, he just might be able to find a way out.

In a fight, Jalam relies on a pair of small knives and his phenomenal durability. So long as his essence holds out, blades fail to penetrate his skin, and his strength drives him forward relentlessly. In the past he has exhausted himself quickly and overcommitted to a fight. He is unlikely to make the same mistake again.

Supporting Characters

  • Manakaleo, his friend from his home island, who wonders what became of him. Relaxed, helpful, cowardly.
  • Balatan Demara, a fellow sailor that Jalam met on the waves, and to whom he told his troubles. Talkative, lively, regretful.

Questions

  • Does Jalam know that the forces of Skullstone took over Nellens’ island after he left?
  • Is Jalam merely playing up the “easily manipulated” angle? If so, how far will he take it, and what advantage does he seek to gain?

Nellens Badu, Chosen of the Air Dragon

Background

House Nellens is not known for its network of connections. It is not known for its internal unity, nor for its ability to manage a hundred disparate enterprises and weld them into an economically powerful whole. These things form the strength of this House, but it is known for one thing only: being the only Great House not founded by a Dragon-Blood.

Nellens Badu grew up with mortal parents and grandparents. He never expected to be Chosen. When his power erupted at school, his family was overjoyed. (His bullies, less so.) He was rushed through training at the Spiral Academy, and given land and servants early in his life. He was adored inside his House, and scorned by other Dynasts. Remembering how he survived bullying earlier in life, he sought out alliances, and was very successful at maintaining and exploiting them.

Eventually Badu proved his worth to the other Chosen of his House. He was promoted to the West: given several islands to watch over, and a set of lucrative trade routes. His presence there also acted as a deterrent against younger Anathema and the machinations of the Fair Folk.

Badu watched over this island for decades. The trade of sugarcane, rum, and slaves ran smoothly under his watch. The savage Anathema focused their attention on the Caul, and he was left to while away his days in relative luxury.

One day emissaries from farther north visited: ghoulish folk from the Skullstone Archipelago. They asked him to turn his back on their actions as they crossed his shipping routes. Badu refused to turn traitor, generous though their offers were. They came back, each time with greater wealth – and more troops. The discussion turned violent. Badu was forced to enter the fray himself to repel the invaders.

Then, one night, one of the Solar Anathema burst through his window. The beast nearly killed him before soldiers arrived to drive the evil thing away. With so many dead in the conflict, and more “emissaries” coming soon, Nellens Badu could no longer mount a defense against Skullstone’s soldiers. He ordered his household and servants onto ships, and they fled the island at dawn.

Thanks to tight rationing, his fleet arrived in Wu Jian. There, an elder of the House formally stripped him of his holdings and his prestige, calling him a disgrace to his lineage. Badu was given a pittance, a small vessel, and five sailors, and told that he could return home once he earned the fortune he had lost. Ashamed and infuriated, Nellens Badu ordered the ship to return to the West.

A dark storm. A hidden reef. The ship, wrecked on the shore. Sailors, missing or dead. Chests, sunken or strewn about the shoreline. Nellens Badu is on Athanor Isle.

Appearance

Nellens Badu 500

Nellens Badu is light-skinned, with thin eyes. He accentuates these with dramatic makeup and dark false eyebrows, which he mixed from local muds and plants. Atop his head is a black hat with gold trim and long gem-encrusted loops. He carries a fan, with a few spares in his belt in case someone snatches one away. He wears soft pink robes with multicolored embroidery. These will become more tattered and ridiculous as events proceed.

Demeanor

Calm, smooth, and commanding. Badu is like a swan – poised and graceful above, paddling like mad underneath. He’s not afraid to throw around his dynastic importance, but he’s also not looking to make enemies. In the face of this inescapable danger, Badu sees opportunity, and he’ll do anything he needs to in order to achieve it – make alliances with the Anathema, cede power to others, even apologize for “presuming” that his way is best.

Years of island living softened Badu (not that he was ever all that tough to begin with). He enjoys relaxation, soft beds, clean clothing, nice drinks, and a few concubines – preferably all at once. He’ll gladly and subtly play this up if he thinks it will help people underestimate him.

Intimacies: “My life above all” (Defining), “Jalam Bedai robbed me of my land” (Major, Negative), “The Life I Lost” (Major, Positive), “Survival over Dignity”, “I will return to my family one day”

Capabilities

Nellens Badu has the encyclopedic education that is typical of Dynasts – riding, calligraphy, gymnastics, music, dance, arithmetic, manners, command, the arts of war, and more. Most of the past few decades has been spent honing his administrative and mercantile skills. His social skills are as sharp as any of his kin, but he has devoted little time to martial readiness. His mind, once grown lazy in a life of luxury, is showing unexpected reserves of strength now that he has been chased across half the world and back. His essence augments his skills, letting him read motivations, organize people, calm outbursts, and plan trade routes or military assaults, all with supernatural skill.

One of his more unusual talents is as a chemist. He studied the chemical arts from a tome left behind by his predecessor on his island home, and built his own laboratory outside of his manse. With the proper reactants, he can make poultices, analyze artifacts, brew poisons, even create explosives. If nothing else, he is the most likely to build a still on the island. His essence augments this as it does his other skills, letting him work quickly, purify elements, see into the makeup of a material, and successfully replace ingredients with those that a lesser chemist might consider a flimsy excuse.

In battle he devotes himself to defense, using Dreaming Pearl Courtesan Style and his natural Air-driven evasion and agility. He darts back and forth, parrying with his fan, leaping up and away, throwing darts hand-crafted from the local trees (many of which are poisonous).

Supporting Characters

  • Nellens Ekala, his wife, who is was sent to the Blessed Isle to serve as ransom for his good behavior. Proper, intelligent, hard.
  • Nellens Teiras, his beloved cousin, a commander in the legions. Flamboyant, short-tempered, well-connected.
  • Wehaukala, Badu’s “native” contact on the island, who knew his habits best. Gregarious, helpful, addicted.

Questions

  • Badu uses poisoned darts. Did he make that poison himself, or did he kill Peleps Rithra and take her paralytic poison?
  • Badu is an excellent military commander. Did any of his soldiers survive the shipwreck?