Adach Molo, Guardian of the Stars

Background

The Sidereal Exalted are Chosen from a young age. From the moment they are born, they are destined to inherit the power of the stars. This is a great advantage – they can be trained from a young age to handle the difficult and stressful life that awaits them – but also a great weakness. If their enemies discover them, they will certainly take advantage of the weakness of a child. Some are discovered. Some are slain by the Silver Pact. Others are manipulated. A few are corrupted. It sets the cause of Heaven back by years. These special children need protection, but the Chosen themselves are far too busy to spend their lives raising infants.

To protect their future selves, the Sidereals created the Custos. Each of them was once human. They were transformed by a sorcerous ritual: turned into immortal living golems and set to watch over young Sidereals until they come of age and obtain their fated inheritance.

Five hundred years ago, more or less, Adach Molo lived farther north, along the River of Tears. He was a crab fisherman, waiting for the creatures to scuttle from the water just before the river reversed direction every two weeks. He would beat away the seagulls and ward off the claw striders with torches. His companions could fill a sack with crabs. Then they would all run like hell to avoid the larger predators that came to feast on gulls and striders.

One day he noticed a young woman standing just beyond the treeline, watching them. She approached him in his hovel, praising him for protecting his comrades. He couldn’t believe she had survived the onslaught. She just smiled, and asked whether he liked children.

Over the next few years, Molo learned much and trained hard. He grew wiser and more patient. He learned about the Sidereals and the ways in which they protect the world, and swore to uphold their vision. When he was at the fullness of his strength and conviction, the one who had recruited him performed a great ritual. A prayer strip was bound to the inside of Molo’s skull. Its power sustains and protects him as he safeguards the children who will safeguard Creation, one at a time. He has protected and taught nearly fifty of them.

Now, Molo lives in a very small, very clean house in the town of Pech. His ward is Vatli Butterfly.

Adach knows that there are many other Exalts hidden in the Pearl. He doesn’t know exactly who, but given past experience, if he just stays out of the way, they’ll all leave before they threaten Butterfly.

Appearance

Adach Molo 500

The thing people remember most about Molo is his intense expression. His dark eyes stare into the soul. He most often wears a simple white cloth cap and a long white robe with buttons down the front. He has light brown skin and a medium-length beard with a moustache. His hair is salt-and-pepper grey.

Demeanor

Calm, taciturn, and intense. Adach Molo is patient with everything but impatience. His neighbors see him sitting in the square, playing games of Gateway, talking with the old folk, smiling at the children who run past. They know that he babysits for the Vatlis once in a while.

With Butterfly he is both tender and firm, stern and understanding. He can still be a little intimidating, because of his size and scowling face, but Butterfly knows that if she is good and clever she can still get a smile out of him.

When his wards are threatened, nothing will move him from their defense.

Intimacies: “Protect my ward” (Defining), “Teach the new Sidereals” (Defining), “The secret must be kept” (Defining), “Children” (Major, Positive), “Watch over the young” (Major), “The Silver Barbarians” (Major, Negative), “The Fivescore Fellowship” (Major, Positive), “Don’t be hasty”, “Crabs are delicious”

Capabilities

Adach Molo is perhaps not the best teacher ever to walk Creation, but he is very patient, and very knowledgeable. He demands discipline, and his wards generally rise to the challenge. He is well-versed in ancient history, the powers of the Chosen, the ways of gods and elementals, and the various philosophies that people follow across Creation. He knows many of the secret pathways that crisscross Creation. He has memorized the principles of geomancy, alchemy, astrology, geometry, and more, not that he has practical understanding of how to use them. He plays Gateway like a pro. He does not pass all of this knowledge to each of his wards, but tries to find “teachable moments” where the memory might stick most effectively.

Each of the twenty-four Custos are tied to a particular constellation, determined by the prayer strip used to create them. Adach Molo is tied to the Mast, the sign of endurance. It is perhaps because of this that he has survived through so many decades, where many other Custos have had to be replaced. Molo is incredibly durable, needs no sleep, no food or water, and ignores poison without even noticing it. He could run non-stop from one corner of Creation to the other if the sea were not in the way. His mind, too, is like this. His willpower is inexhaustible, and his convictions are unwavering.

In a fight he is an unstoppable juggernaut. He can be wounded, but not knocked back, and his wounds do not impair him. He fights like an expert with a spear, both held and thrown. He has an instinctive feel for tactics – putting himself between his foe and his ward, escaping from encirclement, fighting alongside any ally who might be present.

As a Custos, Molo’s skills and feelings are frozen in place. He will not age and weaken with time, but neither can he learn at a deep level. Even his recovery from injury is slowed. His Intimacies are unchangeable. He has no access to his own essence, but he can hear when others with awakened essence expend theirs, like the ringing of a bell. The more essence, the farther away it can be heard. In places like Lookshy or the Imperial City a Custos would hear an unending carillon, impossible to distinguish. In the Pearl, Molo can pick out individual exalts and sorcerers quite clearly.

Supporting Characters

  • Vines Climb High, the reincarnation of the Sidereal who changed him into a Custos. Studious, tactful, devoted.
  • Wind Hunts the Wolf, one of the Sidereals who grew up under his care and is still active in the East. Stately, detached, thankless.
  • Ixatak Toklat, one of the elders who plays Gateway with him. Likeable, crude, dependable.
  • Lakot Xutka, an informant assigned by the King of Kindness to watch this neighborhood. Lewd, strong-willed, deceitful.

Questions

  • Molo has been tracking Kotala Fesho. Does he know what she is yet? How would he react? Would he attack her to keep Butterfly safe, or just try to squeeze her out of the Pearl?
  • Who first assigned Molo here? Is this person still active in the region?
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Vatli Butterfly, Sidereal-to-be

Background

When Butterfly was less than a year old, her parents died in an accident. She doesn’t know exactly how. Her family at home couldn’t take care of her, so they sent her to live with her auntie and uncle and Adach Molo in the Pearl. Her auntie likes to say that they named her Butterfly because she came to them on the wind.

Her auntie and uncle lost their only child before Butterfly arrived, so she doesn’t have any real brothers or sisters. She spends the mornings with her tutors, and the afternoons with Adach Molo, who’s like her… well, she already has an uncle, but he’s more like her father, except… you know what she means. He takes good care of her and talks to her about gods and stars and things. In the evenings, if her parents are busy, which is a lot, Klatang ‘Emashi who lives down the street comes to take care of her. Sometimes she even brings V’neef Detla with her, who lives in Sandpiper and is Very Important. They’re the best big sisters a little girl could want. They go to market, and play in the street, and splash in the lake in the moonlight.

None of that is wrong, exactly, but it’s not the full truth. Vatli Butterfly has a special fate: one day, about eight years from now, one of the Sidereal Exalted is going to die. Butterfly, whatever her name will be then, will inherit the power of the Maidens of the Planets. Her “aunt” and “uncle” are really much more distant relatives who were chosen by the Fivescore Fellowship to watch over this special little girl until her destiny comes to her. Adach Molo is a guardian and teacher set to watch over her until this day comes.

She doesn’t know any of this. She’s just six (and a half), and her exaltation is almost a decade in the future. She’s grown up here with loving caretakers, the best of tutors, and a very busy life.

Unfortunately, there’s a wrinkle in her life, unknown to her and others. It puts her at the center of a very dangerous event. Butterfly’s aunt and uncle are in a cult, one organized by the deathknight known as Peacebringer. They tell her that they are out with friends, playing Gateway, and leave her with ‘Emashi. In reality, they’re talking with these families about the importance of giving in to death when it comes, and of ending the cycle of pain that is reincarnation.

Appearance

Vatli Butterfly 500

Butterfly has light brown skin, black eyes, and black hair. She wears a bindi and has just gotten her first ear piercings, with tiny earrings. She wears mostly heavily-patterned skirts and vests that she’s growing out of, with the occasional gauzy cloak. Her favorite color is green. She is often barefoot.

Demeanor

Butterfly is the very model of a polite little girl who hasn’t had to wear her first veil yet. She bows to everyone who looks like an adult before speaking to them. She says “please” and “thank-you,” listens with rapt attention when people talk to her, plays with dolls who have extraordinarily complex fictional lives, and thinks that boys are kind of gross.

Overall, Butterfly is a very happy little girl. There are times when she’s tired and stressed and angry, of course. Even girls who don’t have a half-dozen tutors to please get that way. On the whole, though, her family and friends find her a joy.

If there’s one thing everyone prefers that Butterfly would grow out of, it’s that she has a real talent for ferreting out the truth, and no compunctions about saying it. Her aunt and uncle tell her that the truth is very important, and she believes them 100%. Adach Molo says that sometimes life is “nuanced,” but “nuanced” turned out to mean you lie to people, so “nuanced” wasn’t very nice.

Intimacies: “Always tell the truth” (Defining), “Klatang ‘Emashi” (Major, Positive), “V’neef Detla” (Major, Positive), “Aunt and Uncle” (Major, Positive), “Adach Molo” (Major, Positive),

Capabilities

Some day she’ll grow up big and strong, and Adach Molo says she needs to be ready for that. He’s her teacher. He’s not like the tutors who help her learn maths and languages and calligraphy, or like her sensei who teaches meditation and martial arts. Adach Molo teaches her how to be a grown-up: how to be polite when she should, and strong when she’s hurt, and clever in Gateway. He teaches her the secret history of the world and swears her to oaths. (None of them are binding – yet.)

Strenuous training only goes so far when someone is six years old, though. She’s not going to beat anyone up, or even do more than scream if someone grabs her hair. Butterfly is strictly a non-combatant. She does use her training to “play spy”, though, and she’s surprisingly good at sneaking around and watching people. Her aunt and uncle know about it and think it’s adorable. Her neighbors have no idea how much she actually knows about them. For instance, she knows that Klatang ‘Emashi turns into a fish! It must be a big secret because some of her friends talk about it too.

Butterfly has an extensive secret life unseen by her caretakers. It’s woven into all the moments of her days, a narrative like a fairy tale that crosses through her days and weeks. She watches the merchants of the marketplace and sees who they talk to. She sees Bakdan-O when he appears on the shore, and he sees her watching him. They even talk sometimes. She sees the little worms climbing up the plants to become butterflies, and thinks about her name. She sees V’neef Kharavi going to the dragon temple, and Ten Thousand Verdant Shoots going to the ballet. She makes up many stories about them, and a surprising number are right. Butterfly probably knows more about the social situation in her part of the Pearl than anyone else.

Supporting Characters

  • Vatli Axta, her aunt. Composed, intrepid, wistful.
  • Vatli Xotep, her uncle. Insightful, curious, sad.
  • Xupa Crawfish, a slightly older friend of hers whose parents live next door. Jealous, sisterly, kind-hearted.
  • V’neef Olan, her sensei, who is starting to suspect that Butterfly is something special. Creative, stingy, cultured.

Questions

  • How did Butterfly’s parents die?
  • Butterfly is quite the eavesdropper. Has she heard anyone talking about the missing tribute or the diverted prayer from the dragon lines? If so, who was talking? What about ‘Emashi? Does Butterfly know about her recent adventures?

Klatang ‘Emashi, Chosen of the Moon

Background

Lightning struck the ship not far from land. ‘Emashi wasn’t the only one to see it, but she was the only one to jump into the water. Someone had to save them. When the second bolt struck, she was in the water. The light of the moon burst through the clouds. Those on the small dock were blinded; confused. Many wandered away in a daze. They didn’t see a young woman swimming like a fish, pulling one sailor after another to shore.

All her parents knew was that she was exhausted the next morning. She had snuck out to watch the storm with some friends; those who realized what happened covered her in a blanket until the glow faded and snuck her home. That was only three weeks ago. With characteristic fearlessness her friends convinced her to sneak out a few more times and “discover her elemental powers,” but her sharp-eared mother had her grounded before long.

‘Emashi grew up thinking that the Dragon-Blooded were the only real Chosen. The Dragon-Blooded were the virtuous Chosen of the mighty Elemental Dragons. Besides them, there were the god-blooded, and there were strange things and monsters, and there were the Anathema. She saved people, so she must be Dragon-Blooded – perhaps water? But the lightning, and the silver-white glow… air? And the powers that flowed from her didn’t feel elemental at all. She’s starting to worry that she might not be Dragon-Blooded after all, and that leaves few good options. It’s not easy to ask your parents if your real mother was a god… a flashing, shimmering woman who swam next to her in the depths that fateful night, with a silver ring on her forehead.

She knows she’s hunted, though. Someone has been asking about her around Pech – perhaps several someones. She thinks it’s probably just the sailors wanting to know who saved them, which is bad enough. (Her mother would ground her for a century.) Her friends think it’s the Wyld Hunt – or the Anathema – or V’neef Kharavi – or the ghosts of the sailors she couldn’t save, though they don’t tell her that last one. It would be cruel. Regardless, someone has been asking about a young woman matching her rough appearance. It’s only a matter of time until they find her.

Appearance

Klatang Emashi 500

Like many women in the Pearl, ‘Emashi wears copious amounts of silver jewelry. Her family wears saris covering much of the face, and she does as they ask, though she doesn’t completely buy into the tradition. She has deep brown eyes, with carefully applied kohl. Her skin is a rich medium brown with terra cotta undertones. Her favorite color is robin’s-egg blue.

‘Emashi has just one animal form so far: her totem, the giant arapaima. She hasn’t discovered her war form yet, nor even realized that she can hunt animals for their forms.

Demeanor

Ordinarily, ‘Emashi is respectful and compassionate. She practices a proper physician’s bedside manner often. Among her friends she also giggles and gossips, at least when it won’t hurt anyone. Right now, though, she’s more sedate, and more introverted. She’s been told she can’t talk to to her friends for a week yet (though they come up and whisper things in the window while she works, and she shoos them away before the healer hears them). Honestly, she’s nervous. She’s frightened. She’s not panicked yet, but she’s getting there. She doesn’t know what she’s becoming yet, and she’s afraid of the answer.

When Nakotch Detla first came to the Pearl (before she was V’neef Detla), carrying her mother, ‘Emashi was the one who directed her to V’neef Kharavi for aid. She followed her into Sandpiper, wanting to see what the famed surgeon would do. Unfortunately, she wasn’t allowed into the V’neef estate. She was still concerned, though, and curious about Detla’s fate. ‘Emashi made sure to approach Detla when she was in the marketplace some time later. ‘Emashi’s positivity and visible compassion warmed Detla’s heart, and Detla’s courageous story enthralled and fascinated ‘Emashi. The two have been friends ever since. She also helps take care of Vatli Butterfly sometimes, when the little girl’s relatives are busy – which is all too often.

Intimacies: “I will be as great a healer as V’neef Kharavi” (Defining), “V’neef Detla” (Positive, Major), “Vatli Butterfly” (Positive, Major), “My Friends” (Positive, Major), “Suitors in general” (Negative)

Capabilities

Young ‘Emashi hasn’t had the chance to practice many worldly skills. She can help with the rice harvest and catch fish in the lake. She’s athletic enough, and can run, balance, swim, and climb her way into all kinds of trouble. She can’t dance well. (Her parents always looked down on it.) She knows how to read and write and do simple figures. As may be obvious from her background, she knows nothing of spirits and the ways of essence. As a No-Moon Lunar, she is likely to learn quickly.

More than anything, ‘Emashi wants to be a healer. V’neef Kharavi is her idol, quietly worshipped from afar. She begged her mother to apprentice her to the local healer, and last year she finally relented. ‘Emashi has an excellent talent for the work, and the old man grudgingly admits that she will surpass him quickly. Since the incident, however, she has felt her breath flowing through her every time she touches someone. Her power doesn’t cure the diseases of those she treats; instead, they’re made stronger, hardier, more durable by her power. They become vigorous enough to recover on their own. It wouldn’t work on every injury, but she’s never had the need to treat soldiers with arrowheads buried in them. She doesn’t quite realize what’s going on yet, but it won’t be long before she puts it together.

‘Emashi has never been in a real fight. Given that her native animal form is a giant fish, it’s unlikely to be of much help if she gets attacked.

Supporting Characters

  • Klatang Tapatli, her mother the rice farmer. Strict, helpful, humorous.
  • Klatang Koptat, her father, a fisherman who is often away. Adventurous, loving, businesslike.
  • Popot Denkto, a friend who was on the dock with her. Adventurous, clever, smart-mouthed.
  • Tlalok Ihuatl, a suitor whom ‘Emashi finds insufferably immature. Sincere, melodramatic, eager.
  • Patli Achat, the neighborhood healer and her mentor. Irascible, tenacious, bossy.

Questions

  • How does ‘Emashi feel about her parents? Has she realized how much they love her, or is she still in the “parents are too strict” phase?
  • Does ‘Emashi know Adach Molo? What does she think of him?

Kotala Fesho, Chosen of the Moon

Background

Kotala Fesho is here to undermine House V’neef, kick the Realm out of the Pearl, and turn the riches of this land against the Scarlet Empire. She’s just so gosh-darned cheerful about it.

Fesho originally came from a small city north of Ember, on the edge of the Burning Sands, where she had a different name. She grew up on the Guild’s trade routes. Her mother raised her to be a merchant. She made a small fortune on the route between Red Jade Canyon and Urim. When she was about forty, her caravan was attacked by fair folk raiders from the deep desert. They had little chance, until the moon rose, and Fesho’s body shimmered and changed. She was at once the confident, dour merchant with a nose for numbers, and a fearsome creature with a translucent wings, a thick black carapace, and a deadly sting. The fair folk still took their due from her soldiers, but paid for it with their immortal lives.

She was taken in by Shikareth, an elder Lunar of the Silver Pact. She told Fesho what it meant to be a Lunar – the war they fought against the Realm, the nations they raised, the role they played in saving Creation from the Fair Folk. Shikareth taught Fesho that one of the Chosen could become whatever they wanted to. Fesho took the lesson to heart.

She traveled across the southeast for another hundred years, north as far as Thorns, east to the lairs of the deadly elders of the Pact. She found the lost, taught kindness to the cruel, and brought hope to those who had lost theirs. She learned how to fight – the cruel do not always learn easily – but learned more about how to connect with people. She saw the pain that the Realm caused to the people of Threshold, and how they were unable to keep it safe. It took many years of wandering and more than one run-in with the Wyld Hunt, but Fesho eventually agreed with the Silver Pact’s cause.

Fesho set her eyes on the Pearl of the Realm, a place that the Scarlet Empire had long ignored. Here, she thought, she could gain some leverage, bring courage to the people, and perhaps start a quiet revolution that would hit the Empire when it was most vulnerable. She settled into the town of Pech and started her work.

Unfortunately, she hasn’t had the chance to do more than lay the groundwork. The Scum of Heaven got here years before her, and left one of their servants, who considers Fesho a threat. She’s hardly able to exercise her powers without facing the living golem Adach Molo. He must be guarding someone nearby. There are rumors of a woman claiming to “bring peace,” which is always bad news. Plus, not one a month ago, people reported seeing silver flashes in the night for a week straight. It’s a near-certain sign of another Lunar in the area. Fesho is working to find and rescue the newcomer before someone kills them. The quiet and sleepy Pearl is about to become a lot busier.

Appearance

Kotala Fesho 500

In her true form, Fesho has the dark brown, slightly reddish skin characteristic of many southerners. Her eyes are brown. Her hair is dark, and pulled back under whatever loose, colorful garment she is wearing today. She uses henna often. She wears the extensive silver jewelry that is common in this region: finger rings, nose rings, chains from ear to nose, forehead ornaments, and so forth.

Fesho wears only female bodies when in human form. Her original true form was male, but it never felt quite right to her. Her animal forms vary greatly in size, but her greatest variety is at the smaller size. Wasps, bees, spiders, scorpions, beetles, mice, rats, anoles, hummingbirds, minnows, tiny octopi, and even a few worms can be found in her repertoire. With Adach Molo watching, sometimes it’s the only way she can get out of the house. Of larger animals she typically has just one of each type – and a hippopotamus draws too much attention to be practical around town.

Demeanor

Peppy, smiling, and helpful. Fesho intends to undermine the Realm here in a number of ways, but one of the most important is being helpful to others and building a grass-roots base of support. She’s both realistic and positive. This doesn’t mean that she’s unreasonably happy when others are sad – she’ll share sorrows with someone as well as joy, and can be somber and serious when the time calls for it. Afterward, though, she tries to help people see the positive potential in the world.

Fesho does still have some of the snarling anger for which the Chosen of the Moon are famous. She can be insistent, aggressive, and even dangerous when circumstances call for it. Still, her general good humor isn’t a front. She dislikes the negative parts of herself, and tries to nourish the positive. She finds the King of Kindness to be a fascinating counterpoint to her own position, and has cultivated a friendship with him for both practical and philosophical reasons.

Intimacies: “Bring hope” (Defining), “The Silver Pact” (Major, Positive), “Adach Molo” (Major, Negative), “Rescue the new Lunar” (Major), “V’neef Detla” (Positive), “The King of Kindness” (Positive)

Capabilities

With her time spent wandering the southeast, Fesho became an expert traveler. She can smell the change in the weather over the lakes, hunt down animals for food, and find shelter in the wilderness, even in her human forms. She’s especially good at navigation and pathfinding. She typically hunted with her natural poison, but was also a good shot with a sling or a thrown rock.

She’s better with people than she is with animals, though. Kotala Fesho makes friends quickly and easily, and even those who find her a little annoying can’t find it in their hearts to dislike her. People find that they share information with her freely, and she is at the center of a great web of gossip that spans the entire Pearl. She also leaves a lasting impression. Hope in this fallen age is a rare thing, and people remember her for it. She can give a rousing speech to inspire hope or righteous anger. The elders of the Silver Pact view her as having great potential because of this gift, but not having fulfilled it yet.

Being a Changing-Moon Lunar has its advantages. With a bit of will and essence, Fesho becomes even more compelling, especially at an emotional level. Subtle pheromones add a bit more impact to her words. She can help people overcome fear, put their animal instincts aside, or stand down from a fight. She can reverse these, too, if it comes to that. She is capable of putting fear into even the hungry dead or mindless beasts from the Wyld. She’s an expert at the art of the feint, both physically and politically. She’s not much good with warbands. She can keep them together, but doesn’t properly know how to direct them. Political groups, on the other hand, she knows much better.

Fesho’s totem is the paper wasp: a careful builder, layers within layers. She hasn’t put a lot of time into her war form, but its horrifying insectoid visage wins most fights without a punch. She is also a fast and fluid shapeshifter. When she can spend essence freely she’s damnably hard to hit, jumping between her human form and an insect-sized speck every few seconds. She can pull aspects of her various shapes together in her human form and speak in a human voice in her animal forms. In any form, she can sting with a touch, delivering a much more powerful poison than that of a mere wasp (treat as arrow frog venom).

Supporting Characters

  • Idashavo, the reincarnation of Shikareth, who lives in the South. Young, clever, agitated.
  • Eztli Izil, her house-servant. Hard-working, close-mouthed, no-nonsense.
  • Chennai Sharpnose, a Lunar whose circle was seeking Pelagials in the lakes a few years ago. Literal, exploratory, muttering.
  • Xochitl Mecal, who takes messages from her to the King of Kindness. Discrete, grubby, mercenary.

Questions

  • Does Fesho think this land is ready to turn against the Realm? If so, did she conspire with the King of Kindness to steal the tribute and force the matter?
  • Fesho must know about Peacebringer – her gossip network would not miss this morbid individual. Does Fesho realize who she is, or whom she works for? If not, how will she react? If so, what game is she playing here?

Sky Touches Earth, God of Tribute

Background

Yu-Shan is a bureaucracy. It has scribes, accountants, lawmakers, actuaries, overseers, notaries, adjusters, assistants, advisors, supervisors, judges, advocates, censors, and investigators. Sky Touches Earth is the last of these: a celestial investigator. He is summoned when there is suspicion of a misdeed among the spirit courts of Creation.

That’s the theory, anyway. Practically speaking, he needs a summons from the acknowledged leader of a spirit court. That summons must be properly signed and counter-signed, and must pass across the desks of a half-dozen indolent officials before it reaches him. With most of Creation’s spirit courts in disarray, these summons typically never even make it to Yu-Shan in the first place. Sky Touches Earth should be phenomenally overworked. Instead, his name has become depressingly ironic over the last fifteen hundred years.

In the meantime, Sky Touches Earth has become one of those indolent officials himself, lounging in the baths of heaven and enjoying the perfect weather. His purview as God of Tribute keeps him well-fed with ambrosia and rarer treats. He needs do nothing to maintain his domain; tribute will continue to flow across Creation without his action. (This is one of the reasons he was chosen as an investigator.) Every century or so, he answers a petition, which usually involves him standing around while another god uses him as political leverage, and his skills go unused. It’s like a week-long vacation from an eternal vacation.

This time, things are different. Ten Thousand Verdant Shoots seems very serious about putting him to work, and quickly. On one hand, he suffers from the pain of the privileged – actually doing one’s job? On command? What a chore. On the other hand, there is a part of him that is slowly awakening to this task. He feels his purpose calling to him. The disruption of the dragon lines in the Pearl is a genuine mystery, one that tugs at his interest and draws out skills long atrophied by disuse. He feels like he should – he must – find the culprit.

And afterward? Punishment for the godly is a joke in Yu-Shan. Sky Touches Earth knows this as well as anyone. Whatever god caused the issue, their case will sit on the docket for years, perhaps centuries, before some undoubtedly inappropriate punishment is handed down. Yu-Shan’s bureaucracy has many things, but someone who will take responsibility is not one of them.

If he is to feel satisfaction, Sky Touches Earth may need to take that responsibility into his own hands.

Appearance

Sky Touches Earth 500

Sky Touches Earth has metallic skin, with all the wrinkles and imperfections of true human skin. Small wings sprout from behind his ears. His eyes are dark; his curling hair and his well-trimmed beard are the same steely color as his skin. He typically appears naked. Glowing cyan shapes appear across his back and arms like tattoos. His voice is soft, but cuts through all conversation. It is impossible not to hear him if he is nearby.

Demeanor

Both insolent and serious. Sky Touches Earth acts like a spoiled adolescent who has been called on to do a chore, but also like a professional detective whose nose has been drawn by a crime. Both of these things are at war within him. He has difficulty letting go of either one.

For the most part he’s quiet, speaking when spoken to or when he has a pointed question to ask. It’s hard to tell from the outside whether he’s being contemplative or petulant. He’s always formal with the more important deities, but has little patience or respect for mortals with their mayfly lives. He’s quick to let people know that they probably have better things to do than watch him work. His frustration with his own lack of talent is likely to show at some point.

Intimacies: “Tribute must flow” (Defining), “I will find the truth” (Major), “The Maiden of Secrets” (Major, Negative), “The Sidereals” (Negative), “A life of leisure” (Positive)

Capabilities

As a heavenly investigator, Sky Touches Earth knows how to examine a crime scene, profile a criminal, and ask the right questions. He can see the traces that essence leaves on the world. A taste of dirt will tell him whether mortal soldiers or undead warriors marched upon it. Scenting the wind in a burned-out grove will tell him whether the fire was set by a Dragon-Blood or a demon.

His skills are fairly amazing… but he’s a bit out of practice. A little behind the times, and somewhat rusty. He might not have known that House V’neef existed before he came here. He’s not used to juggling a dozen potential suspects in his mind any more, and has a difficult time understanding the motives of people who aren’t themselves indolent celestial officials. He can’t tell who’s watching him out of curiosity and who’s a spy.

Should someone be so foolish as to assault Sky Touches Earth while he is pursuing his duties, they will be guilty of offenses against Yu-Shan itself. He will angrily remind people of this if they threaten him. The official penalty is one day of spiritual torture for impeding his progress, seven days for striking him or interfering with his investigation, and death for anyone who discorporates him. He has the authority to suspend any or all of this sentence, if he so desires.

If he does find himself in a fight, he has plenty of power to burn in his defense. His godly senses point out weak points and likely stratagems. He fights unarmed with an ancient variant of Crane Style, allowing him to retaliate against those who would strike him. He can soar through the air gracefully, hurl his foes a great distance, and quite literally smack some sense into his opponents. He typically has detailed knowledge of those who assault him, and can use their own Intimacies against them. His opponents often come to realize the errors of their ways and beg forgiveness for their actions. He’s glad to give (or at least feign) such forgiveness… so long as his defeated foes can give him something he wants.

Supporting Characters

  • Akta Ketaxa, a spy for the King of Kindness who is following Sky closely. Indecisive, careful, insightful.
  • Whisper of Faith, a lesser spirit of truth who takes notes for Sky. Sedate, clean, sentimental.
  • Upraised Eyes, Goddess of Praise, Sky’s superior in the heavenly bureaucracy. Capricious, affectionate, lazy.
  • Igi Lotoklo, the pedicab driver who takes Sky from place to place. Polite, industrious, clumsy.

Questions

  • How badly atrophied are Sky Touches Earth’s skills? How likely is he to accuse the wrong person?
  • What if the Background section above were a lie? What if the fading tribute paid to the Scarlet Empire by their satrapies is depriving Sky Touches Earth of spiritual power, and he’s decided to take the tribute for himself directly?

Bakdan-O, God of Tchatlop Lake

Background

Many people think of lakes as peaceful and serene. This is sometimes true, when one has a pond – but vast lakes the size of Tchatlop are dangerous. Storms can rise without warning and sweep boats across the water like toys. Great serpents and stranger things swim in their depths, making crossings treacherous. Most ships on Tchatlop stay close to the shoreline, for safety, as they would on the Inland Sea.

Bakdan-O, God of the Lake, is quick to remind people of the hazards they face in his realm. He blusters like the wind that sweeps across his home. His mask – or is it his face? – frightens children and reminds adults of childhood fears. Anyone who would speak with Bakdan-O will need to bolster their courage first. He is more than just a god of the lake, more than just a force of nature. He is a god who gives to the people… and who takes away.

It is said that when water from the rivers fills and empties the lake completely, the lake god is reborn. Bakdan-O came into his power some three centuries past, young and strong. He saw the other lake-gods arguing with one another, and realized the trap that Ten Thousand Verdant Shoots had lain for them. Each wanted to become the leader of the Pearl’s spirit courts, and yet none of them could take that position with two other lakes also vying for importance. Bakdan-O tried to tell them this. Of course, each of them was nearly as fearsome and ambitious as he, and the argument went nowhere. He seethed.

He sought out other alliances, but Verdant Shoots had solidified her power well, even on his other shores. When he dragged his feet in his duties, she chastised him privately, and warned him that she could withhold the worship that flowed to him through the dragon lines. He would still receive the prayers directed at him specifically, but not a portion of those directed to the pantheon.

Recently Bakdan-O seems to have finally accepted his place. He has always done what is required of him by his position without complaining. Now he also comes to participate in the courts, not just to complain. If he still snipes at Verdant Shoots from time to time, and argues with her in public, it seems to be without the rancor that characterized his first few hundred years. Perhaps he has learned a bit of politics after all.

That will not make him less dangerous.

Appearance

Bakdan-O 500

A terrifying, hulking male figure some eight feet tall, Bakdan-O wears a red-and-gold dragon gown with long white cuffs. His face (or perhaps his mask) is white, with symmetric black and red patterns that emphasize his eyes. His rough black beard goes nearly to the floor. His voice booms and echoes. His hat is stupendous.

Bakdan-O’s arrival is heralded by winds, and a distant sound like some strange beast howling. This is true in either of his forms: the human one described above, or a terrible waterspout that darkens the sky and tosses ships end-over-end.

Demeanor

Unearthly, pessimistic, and tempestuous. He frequently acts the contrarian, tearing down others’ ideas and leaving gloom and doom in their place. Bakdan-O tries to contain this to situations that deserve gravity and caution, such as warning unskilled sailors off his lake or telling people about the dangers of the underworld and its servants. He shows up for a reason, and leaves when he’s done. Unfortunately, he slips into this mode too easily if questioned about other matters. This hurts his credibility. There are many stories of people ignoring his warnings and paying the price, but just as many of the brave hero who defied him and won the day. He mopes about a bit, but not in front of others – he’ll vanish to his fortress instead.

Somehow, Bakdan-O has learned of Vatli Butterfly‘s fate. He treats her with as much kindness and positivity as he can muster, which often just means being silent. Others in the spirit courts have taken note of his behavior and are trying to decide what it means. Adach Molo (Butterfly’s guardian) is highly suspicious of Bakdan-O and his motives.

Intimacies: “I am destined for greatness” (Defining), “Ten Thousand Verdant Shoots” (Major, Negative), “My fellow lake gods” (Positive), “Sky Touches Earth” (Negative), “Vatli Butterfly will be a useful ally in the future.”

Capabilities

Bakdan-O does not control the lake itself. It is large enough that it has tides, but he allows one of his servitors to manage those. Its currents and hidden depths are beyond him. Instead, his power directs the weather above the lake, the migrations of fish within it, the fog above it that can conceal or reveal. Bakdan-O is not a god of water – his purview is the ways in which mortals interact with his lake.

Each time a ship leaves a harbor, Bakdan-O sees it. Every time a child swims and plays in the shallows or thrashes drowning in the weeds, he knows. He feels the flow of trade and money around his shores as if it were the wind through his beard. He has an immense amount of information at his fingertips. Based on these feelings, he will often travel across the waters and appear hovering above the lake as a warning. If he feels a great fleet or powerful vessel, he will sometimes appear simply to watch, so that he may learn who sails such things across him.

If forced into material form and driven into battle, Bakdan-O flies about on the winds, lightning blasting from his fingers. He carries no other weapon. Those who attack him must contend with an electrical aura that shocks attackers, as well as powerful wind that deflects blows. He is almost impossible to strike with ranged weapons. However, he doesn’t have the stamina for a protracted fight. If prevented from returning to his sanctum, he would be able to inflict great harm on others, but would fold after a few solid hits.

In the fog above the lake, Bakdan-O’s misty fortress floats, drifting between Creation and the spirit world. This is his sanctum, which he can move with quiet speed between the lake’s various shores. Some fishermen and sailors see it early in the morning, or in the evening as the sun’s light fades and the mist rises. No one has ever tried to assault it. It could house perhaps fifty people, were he to invite them.

Supporting Characters

  • Ixapot, god of Chotla Lake, who thinks Bakdan-O is a fool. Haughty, rugged, charming.
  • Xofa-teklo, god of Teklan Lake, who thinks Bakdan-O has a chance. Bitter, huffy, candid.
  • Etakta, one of Bakdan-O’s servitor gods, who handles the tides and currents of the lake. Caring, retiring, selective.
  • Ruda Katla, who leads a worship circle for Bakdan-O on the shore of the lake each week. Babbling, hospitable, imprudent.

Questions

  • Is Bakdan-O diverting the the power from the dragon lines? If so, how is he avoiding notice, and what is he doing with it?
  • Where did Bakdan-O learn about Vatli Butterfly’s fate?

Ten Thousand Verdant Shoots, Rice Goddess

Background

The Lakes District provides many foods to the Realm, and none of them are more important than the long-grained wild rice that grows in its streams and on the shores of the lakes. The hard, black seeds of this grass travel well, and even the stalks are edible. Those accustomed to the short, lighter grains grown elsewhere in the world may be taken aback by its appearance, but there are many who come to prefer it, and the Pearl’s rice is in high demand across the Realm.

Where there is value and desire in Creation, there is a god. Ten Thousand Verdant Shoots is the goddess of the wild rice, and perhaps the most powerful god in the Pearl. She has watched over and fed her people for thousands of years. She has led the spirit court here since before the Fair Folk invasion. It is her political acumen (and, from time to time, her battle staff) that has kept that court orderly and productive.

Verdant Shoots has seen dozens of rulers come and go in the Pearl. During the Shogunate this land was independent, and practically ignored by the rulers of Creation. After the invasion, the Realm prioritized securing every inch of coastline in Threshold. That included traveling up the lakes. Verdant Shoots made promises to the newborn Realm, and followed through on them, giving her the respect and support she needed to rise to prominence. She has encouraged, bargained, and occasionally browbeaten the other gods in the region into making this place a peaceful and beautiful land where the entire pantheon is supported by the population.

When the dragon lines over the lakes weakened, Verdant Shoots was the first to notice. She grilled her spirit court intensely on the matter. Many of them would have preferred to keep the matter secret, fearing an inquisition from Yu-Shan. Instead, Verdant Shoots made the fact public, and demanded an inquisition. She brought the question to the Court of Seasons, who set Sky Touches Earth to investigating the matter. She brought it to V’neef Kharavi and questioned her about the new sorceress she had adopted. She left no stone unturned in her quest – and came up empty.

Verdant Shoot’s primary rivals are the nearby lake gods. She has long played them against one another so that they cannot form an alliance against her. Bakdan-O is the strongest among them, and she worries that he may be the one stealing the worship that is due to the entire pantheon. With that power, he could dominate the other lake gods and come to threaten her position as the leader of the spirit court.

Appearance

Ten Thousand Shoots 500

The first thing people notice about Verdant Shoots is her magnificent headdress, covered with rubies, gold, and feathers. She wears primarily green, and carries a long green staff. Her skin is tanned; her eyes, dark; her hair, black. Her face looks painted, but this is simply who she is.

Like most gods, Verdant Shoots has several alternate forms: a long-legged green heron, a cloud of pollen, and a brilliantly-colored water snake. She appears in these forms mostly to make a point, rather than to gain a tactical advantage.

Demeanor

Commanding, intense, and unrelenting. Even when she appears amongst the population, watching a ballet performance or walking through the marketplace to bless the rice vendors, Verdant Shoots has an unimpeachable air of importance. Her every act makes it clear that she is here, now, because she considers this very moment consequential. Now that she is being investigated by Heaven, Verdant Shoots is also noticeably agitated. She stops short of snapping at people, but not by much. Some people even whisper that she has seemed distracted and preoccupied.

Verdant Shoots sees V’neef Kharavi as a potential ally, but one with more time to spend before she has truly paid her dues. Twenty-plus years is not so much time to a god. The two have a tacit agreement: Kharavi leads and legitmates the prayers that keep essence flowing to the spirit court, and Verdant Shoots shows her the public respect that allows Kharavi to keep doing her job.

If there is one group that Verdant Shoots treats with unfailing respect, it is the young and the weak. She herself was once the patron of just a single river and the rice in it. She knows well how quickly fortunes can be reversed in Creation.

Intimacies: “I lead the spirit court in the Pearl” (Defining), “Peace in this land” (Major), “Bakdan-O” (Major, Negative), “The other lake-gods” (Negative), “V’neef Kharavi” (Positive), “The ballet-house on the shore in Sandpiper” (Positive)

Capabilities

Ten Thousand Verdant Shoots has two fairly narrow areas of expertise. Naturally, she knows about her crop: growing and harvesting, buying and selling, storing and preparing. Some of this transfers to other fields – for instance, she knows when a merchant is trying to cheat her by overpricing merchandise or offloading goods that are about to spoil. She is also a savvy politician with centuries of experience. Her maneuvers are deft and subtle. She knows how to handle both gods and mortals. Though the Chosen still manage to surprise her from time to time, her support base is large and loyal enough that even they have difficulty outfoxing her. Her personal presence and sharp wit only add to this.

Beyond rice and politics, she has many interests, but few skills. She enjoys taking in artistic performances, but can’t dance or create sand mandalas herself. She appreciates the applications of mathematics and geomancy, but has never taken the time to study them. Like most gods, she is highly focused on her specialized field.

When confronted with belligerent young gods or Chosen, Verdant Shoots strikes with a long green staff. She moves quickly and directly, with all the power that befits her position, but without much grace. Her targets must contend with a rotting fungus imparted by the staff (treat as snake venom) that can be passed from the targets to those who touch them. The mantle of her authority makes it difficult for the weak-willed to attack her in the first place.

Supporting Characters

  • Chanapta, God of the spring, when the rice shoots begin to grow. Frantic, gullible, aspiring.
  • Xaxaxa, God of the harvest. Genial, ambitious, realistic.
  • Bakak-autl, Goddess of storms. Pretentious, adventurous, remorseful.
  • Obatlak, Goddess of travel and time. Refined, pushy, accepting.

Questions

  • Is Verdant Shoots honest in her demands for an investigation, or is she doing this in order to frame someone? Did she actually divert the dragon lines herself?
  • Does Verdant Shoots know about Vatli Butterfly and her future?
  • Does she know that Peacebringer and her servants are in the Pearl, and what their goals are?