Nakotch Tala, Pelagial Castoff

Background

The blood of the Elemental Dragons runs through nearly every human being in Creation. In most people, it is dilute, and the dragons sleep. Sometimes, though, a coincidence of parentage can exalt even the lowest-born citizen.

Nakotch Tala was born in a tiny village in the deep East, nestled in the borderlands of the Wyld. The stress of childbirth activated the power in her blood. Her daughter Detla was miraculously spared while the hut where Tala gave birth burned to ash. Tala’s lover was terrified. He wouldn’t approach her, and ran off into the woods. A few weeks later the Fair Folk arrived. They had heard the rumors that he spread: their ancient foe, here and vulnerable. They offered Tala a chance: let them kill her, and they would raise her daughter as a queen. She refused, and the chase began. They followed her through the jungle. She carried her child on her back, guided by instinct and the power of the dragons. Five long years she raised her child on fear and adrenaline and love.

She eventually found solace in the kingdom of Rhadaster. The king there saw the potential of a dragon-blooded advisor, even one so uncultured… and perhaps he dreamed of dragon-blooded grandchildren as well. Tala was just glad to finally have a chance to rest, and to have friends and guardians for her daughter.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. She was still pursued. Detla, now nearly grown, paid the price, exalting in a flare of sorcerous power but falling in the process. Tala picked up her child once again and took her toward the Pearl of the Realm, where V’neef Kharavi‘s skill at medicine was legendary. Along the way there was an ambush. Kharavi defended herself and Detla as best she could, but she fell in the battle. She never drew breath again.

An uncertain time later, her body fell through the bottom a burning funeral barge and drifted toward the bottom of Tchatlop Lake. There, the Pelagials, ancient sea-dwelling enemies of the Solar Realm, had come seeking opportunity against a world in upheaval. They collected her body and reanimated it through ancient rituals of dark power. Her fiery blood was inverted, replaced with their dark ichor. Her memories were hidden away. When she was ready, she was sent to spy upon V’neef Kharavi and work towards the destruction of the Pearl.

The Pelagials, born from eggs in the thousands, would not have understood what it meant that Tala’s child was still the Pearl. (Not that they knew.) They didn’t realize that Tala’s memories would return, in painful fits and starts, when she saw Detla. Their cold hearts had no empathy when she told them of how she would do anything to meet with her child again – but they knew that they had lost a servant. They stripped her of the artifacts they had given her and turned her out on the other side of the lake.

Since then she has walked back to the Pearl step by step. She waits and watches V’neef Kharavi. She sees the person her daughter has become. She fears that she will be seen as a monster and a traitor to Creation. She may be right.

Appearance

Nakotch Tala 500

Tala has light brown skin, both darkened by life in the sun and made paler by her death and burial. She wears brown robes with a hood that covers her forehead. Her eyes are dark. Her voice is hoarse and strained. When Tala’s essence flows freely her skin displays a pattern of cracks and burns, like a strange and delicate mandala. Red veins pulse behind her skin, but blue light bleeds into the world around her. The effect is somewhat garish.

Detla’s father was much taller and darker than Tala – her daughter doesn’t look much like her, except in their eyes and their rare smiles.

Demeanor

Hesitant, secretive, and independent. Tala despairs over her present form, and keeps to the shadows because of it. She speaks quietly, and may run if she is forced into the light. At the same time, she craves contact with her daughter, and has effectively been stalking her for the past few weeks. She’s desperate to fill the hole in her life. On the other hand, her fears of others’ reaction and of her own strange nature are holding her back. She’ll almost act, and then pull back, risking discovery and accomplishing nothing. She sometimes retreats to the lake to weep beneath the waves, but her resolve cannot be broken, and she always returns with renewed intent.

Intimacies: “Nothing will keep me from my daughter” (Defining), “The Fair Folk” (Defining, Negative), “I am done serving others” (Major), “The Pelagials and their cause” (Major, Negative), “The royal family of Rhadaster” (Positive), “I am a monster”

Capabilities

Tala was once a fire-aspected Dragon-Blood. After her resurrection, she has retained her immunity to fire, but her bodily fluids were drained and replaced. The power of the dragons no longer flows through her. Now she is one of the Liminal Exalted, blood-aspected – and that blood is not human.

She remembers growing up in the wilderness; she can still hunt and forage. She remembers raising her child; she knows how to soothe people or make them angry. She needed to hide from predators; she can hide from those who are keeping a watch for interlopers. She was surrounded by the Wyld and the Fair Folk; she recognizes the signs of their approach and knows what kinds of dangers they bring with them. The Pelagials encouraged her quiet hunting skills and enhanced them with sorcery. They gave her certain gifts, to make her better able to live in their world – she can breathe water as easily as air – but her primary power comes from her status as a Liminal.

As a blood-aspect, Tala can detect living beings and their emotional state. She can push and pull on their blood in a figurative manner. This can enhance their existing emotions, calm them, or transform them by altering their target or imagined cause. For instance, a merchant angry with her husband for his extravagant spending might be made more or less angry, to be angry at her business partner rather than her husband, or to shift her anger to her husband’s attitude rather than his spending habits. On a different front, creatures who are attracted or repelled by supernatural purity can easily be fooled by her talents. She can walk amongst hungry ghosts without being noticed, or pass the guardians of Yu-Shan as if her soul were perfect. This allows her to slough mental influence as well, enhancing or repressing her spiritual purity until the influence seems but a drop against the ocean. There can be consequences to such actions: emotional resonances and backlashes that last for weeks.

Should Tala be assaulted, she can call her own blood/ichor to her defense. She can slick her skin to squirm out of grapples, or create tough scabs that absorb impacts and deflect blades. She can encapsulate poisons and diseases, expelling them her body or saving them for later use. If she has enough essence, she can heal herself, but the resulting display is both highly visible and exhausting, so she reserves it for times when she can be alone and hidden. She can retaliate by hurling her ichor at her foes in hardened shards. Those who have poisoned her will find the venom returning to them this way. She can also simply shove against her foes, throwing them back – or flinging herself, if she is not so well-braced.

Supporting Characters

  • Eighteen Fathoms Deep, the Pelagial who directed her when she was a spy. Rational, austere, piercing.
  • V’neef Tenar, a groundskeeper at The Manor, who has seen Tala’s shadowy form lurking in the gardens. Glum, honest, respectful.
  • Fifty-three Jaws Open, the deposed Pelagial who had selected her as a test subject. Restless, rebellious, hedonistic.
  • Wondrous News, the Raksha who threatened Tala’s life in the first place. Glorious, assertive, resentful.

Questions

  • Tala knows she was replaced. How much does she know about Sapphire Light?
  • The botched Pelagial ritual that turned Tala from Dragon-Blood to Liminal – would it be repeatable? What dread price did it exact on its caster?
  • Would the power from the dragon lines restore Tala to full life? If so, how might she be stealing it?
  • Many Liminals end up with a soul that was not theirs. How did Tala keep hers? Did she even keep it? Is there yet another set of memories waiting within her?

The King of Kindness, Criminal Mastermind

Background

The Pearl is a quiet and peaceful place. This is a region short on bandits and murderers. However, it still has its criminal element. Most of them are petty thieves – purse-snatchers, cat burglars, con artists, and the like. What no one suspects is that so many of them are part of one man’s criminal empire.

The King of Kindness is a name whispered among the criminal underworld of the Pearl. Most have never met him. They assume that he’s some minor bandit king, living in the woods or hills beyond the Pearl, pouncing on caravans and travelers. Some newcomers assume he’s just a myth, or a name used by a whole collection of miscreants. Those who stay long enough end up meeting his servants and his messengers, and they find out that the King is very real indeed.

They say that he knows every secret and underhanded thing that happens in the Pearl. Not a purse gets stolen but that an obol from it makes its way back to him. And the frightening thing is, it seems to be true. When someone fails to pass on a tithe to the King’s messengers, that felon is in for a rough time. None of them get left out for the patricians’ guard to find, though. That would be telling. Instead, people end up tortured in the most inventive ways. The term “King of Kindness” is entirely a euphemism. They all keep quiet about what happened and how, but the marks are visible for days.

The Pearl has a very orderly spirit court, a very orderly set of minor nobles, and a very orderly underworld. The King makes it so. Anyone who might cause trouble – especially trouble that would drag out the secret criminal networks beneath its surface – ends up either working for him or sleeping at the bottom of the lake.

Appearance

King of Kindness 500

They say all kinds of things about the King of Kindness. That he’s clearly from the Blessed Isle. That he’s a Fair Folk noble and you can see it in his eyes and the tiny wings behind his ears. That he’s a ghost, or a powerful demon, or some fell creature from before humanity’s time on Creation. His messengers say that he can look like whatever he wants – whomever he wants – and no one could ever find him.

The last part is fairly accurate. The King is a master of disguise. However, he spends a fair amount of time in his native form: that of an aged snake-charmer. He sits in the marketplace in Redleaf most days, playing his instrument, with a basket of snakes before him. His orange turban, dark brown skin, and near-white hair would be striking in any other setting. In the bazaar’s, riot of color, he blends in quite well.

Other days? Well, he might be anyone. When he meets people in dark rooms and back alleys, he wears a different face each time. He often chooses someone famous. Everyone tries to guess what he might really look like underneath. No one imagines that there’s more than one layer of disguise.

Demeanor

The King is always ready with a friendly smile for anyone who happens to meet him. This puts his opponents off-balance. He then proceeds to be helpful, considerate, or sympathetic, as appropriate to the situation. Anyone who has heard of him is likely shaking in their boots at that point. They know that it’s only a matter of time until he calls for their head. When he offers a way out of their predicament, everyone takes it, gladly, without bargaining.

Those who don’t? The strong-willed ones who think they can overthrow this empire with the death of a single man? Well, that’s what one builds a reputation on, isn’t it. The King of Kindness is indeed kind to nearly everyone he meets, but those who decide not to show him respect and obedience are made into object lessons in how badly someone can hurt before they die.

One of the King’s recent acquaintances is Kotala Fesho. Thanks to having her followed for a few weeks, he knows that she has been Chosen by the moon. She certainly knows who he is, but he’s uncertain as to whether she knows his full capabilities. He finds himself fascinated by the fact that she continues to associate with him, even knowing who he is and what he does. He’s not sure whether she’s trying to build up a blackmail case against him (in which case he’ll frame her for crimes against House V’neef) or whether she’s actually bizarrely curious about him and his life. It’s disconcerting, and he finds himself revealing more than he wanted to in the process of vetting her.

Intimacies: “My position in the Pearl” (Defining), “Stay beneath notice” (Defining), “Those in power” (Major, Negative) “V’neef Kharavi must be watched” (Major), “Kotala Fesho is an odd duck”

Capabilities

The King is, the entry says, a criminal mastermind. He can pick pockets and run cons himself, but what he really excels at is convincing others that they want to put their illicit talents to use for him. Thousands of crooks and con artists, thieves and assassins across the Pearl, all give a tithe of their earnings to his operation. In return, he keeps them all quiet and makes sure everything runs smoothly. If the surface of the Pearl is a lake, his operations are the currents beneath. They don’t break the surface. He clears up misunderstandings before they become feuds. He keeps people in their place, and makes it clear how that place might change. It’s an impressive operation, legitimate or not. He’s also a fairly good Gateway player, whether he’s cheating or not, and animals of all sorts instinctively love him.

Despite his age, the King is still spry and sharp-witted. This is because he’s one of the Chosen: specifically, an Eclipse-caste Solar. His supernal ability is Larceny. He uses his oathmaking powers rarely, and only when disguised as one of the Fair Folk. Instead, he relies on subtler magics. He can slip through a building unnoticed and bring his allies with him. He can steal a change purse from across a table. He knows when he is being investigated, and roughly how much his investigators know. He can sharpen his ears and his nose to hear people coming for him. His servants can send messages quickly and securely across surprising distances. He concocts plans within plans. He has contingencies for every event.

If forced into a fight, the King has instinctive knowledge of Snake Style martial arts, lingering in his mind from a past incarnation. He is not afraid to strike quickly with poisonous essence, and then retreat to let it take its course as his bodyguards come to his aid. He knows this style only up to the form. He’s also not above reaching into his basket and throwing a cobra at someone if they bother him in the marketplace.

The one thing his Exaltation did not fix was his eyes. The King is nearly blind. He can tell when there is light and darkness, see the blue of the sky or the brown earth beneath him, but not much more. Even those who meet him often do not realize – they may even assume that his cover as a blind snake-charmer is an act, and that he must be able to see.

Supporting Characters

  • Rhiltak Tekcha, messenger for the King’s operation. Fearless, petty, flippant.
  • Rhiltak Azakta, an assassin who kills on the King’s orders. Perfectionist, addicted, unforgiving.
  • Kofo Itlaxa, the King’s torturer. Formal, predictable, penitent.
  • Otlo Pikotko, a mole from the All-Seeing Eye who watches the King’s operation. Abrasive, generous, apologetic.

Questions

  • How long has it been since the King of Kindness was Chosen? Has he moved to the Pearl in the last few years, or has he been hiding out here for decades?
  • What is the King’s true name?
  • How was the King Chosen? Why?
  • The King must know something about the missing tribute. How is he involved? How will he keep it quiet – or is this his bid for a behind-the-scenes rulership of the Pearl?

Axaganar, Traitor to the Sun

Background

Like Peacebringer, Axanagar comes from the lands north of the Pearl. He hails from the cold northeast, where few people live and the Fair Folk play their strange games in the pine valleys. He has a family there, but there was a town too that loved him, once, and the story of their death is the story of how he became what he is.

He was a watch-shaman, in a wooden fortress built into the towering redwoods, with his eyes bent on the horizon and the ground below. He returned home a few times a year, to his wife and children who lived in the town of Rensai. He loved seeing them grow up, and regretted that his job kept him away from them for so long.

No lookout likes to feel useless, but neither do they truly want to see what they are set to see. A riding of the Fair Folk came to the fortress. A terrible creature, long and sinuous, curving and carving its way through the trees, brought a dozen of their cataphracts with it, and sped past carrying dozens more. The troops of the fortress outnumbered the fey warriors, but fell before them like pine needles in the storm.

Axaganar was Chosen at that moment – he heard this new name, his name, spoken as if from the distant past. He ceased being who he was and became a living shadow. The space around him erupted with blinding light as he stepped from dark space to dark space, killing the Fair Folk. The warriors of the fortress thought him a spirit of vengeance sent by the sun, and they were not entirely wrong. Once the fortress was safe, he departed, following the monster that had brought them. He knew where it must be going.

He arrived in time to save his family.

As he slew the last of the Fair Folk and the power subsided in him, he saw the rest of the town. The merchants who knew him by name. The healer who had set his leg as a child. The old shaman who had trained him. The swordsman who said he held promise. All of them were dead. He and his family were the only ones who lived.

He swore vengeance on the sun that day. He left his family not long after. He traveled to the south, hearing that there was one there who might help him avenge the murder of so many, who might have been saved had but one more been Chosen.

Appearance

Axaganar 500

Axaganar is a light-skinned, dark-haired man with a brown moustache and oddly tan eyes. He wears patchwork clothing, many times repaired, all black and brown and dirty. On his head is a raiton headdress, covered with their feathers and owl feathers. He has several necklaces and amulets, earrings and hair-jewelry. Most of them are of silver or carved bone. His voice is gravely from years of smoking.

Demeanor

Angry. Where Peacebringer is the calm, peaceful emissary of the Worldbreaker’s Fist, Axaganar is her furious recruiter. He’s here to convince as many Chosen as possible that the gods care nothing for Creation – that they deserve to be torn from the sky and crushed underfoot for their neglect of the world. If that means Creation falling into the Underworld, at least that will be a just existence, where all are equal. Axaganar’s view of the world is very black-and-white.

He’ll take a few attempts at getting his message across. He’ll track people through their days and step out of the shadows after something goes wrong for them or for someone they love. If his quarry doesn’t bite, he’s more likely to leave in disgust rather than to attack. Once he’s decided to write someone off, he’s unlikely to give them another chance.

Axaganar is most reverent when addressing spirits. He was raised as a shaman, and respect for the gods runs deep in him – part of why his betrayal by and of the Unconquered is such a crushing thing for him. He knows that every god is different and acts differently. He knows that there may be a chance to convince some of them the Unconquered is not the ruler of Heaven that he should be. Conversely, he is least respectful with the King of Kindness and his minions. He has some deal with the King, the nature of which he has been unwilling to discuss, but he clearly doesn’t appreciate it.

Intimacies: “The Unconquered Sun” (Defining, Negative), “Worldbreaker’s Fist” (Major, Positive), “My Family” (Positive), “The King of Kindness is a manipulative ass” (Negative)

Capabilities

As a scout and lookout, Axaganar knows both military discipline and forward observing skills. He has abandoned the former, but the latter have been supernaturally sharpened. He can hear heartbeats and feel footsteps, making him almost impossible to surprise. His breath enhances the strength and agility that he attained in the military back home. He learned to grapple, and to use a bow and a spear, and his supernatural skills extend to those as well. He’s also an excellent tracker, better with people than with animals. None of those are the heart of his power.

Axaganar is a Night-caste Solar, and stealth is his supernal ability. His power is less about the sun and more about its absence: specifically, shadows. He can slip between dark places without being noticed, even to the point of teleportation. He doesn’t evade attacks; he was never where he was expected to be in the first place. Perhaps most terrifying, he can step into a person’s shadow, giving him a variety of abilities: to ride with them, to control them, or simply to strangle them. He uses darkness to distract his opponents, close in on them, or disengage from a more powerful foe.

The sun-traitor is also attuned to several manses controlled by the Worldbreaker’s Fist. Their hearthstones funnel essence to him, but they have other effects as well. One allows him to see and interact with ghosts and spirits. The second allows him to resist heat and fire – not enough to walk through a bonfire, but enough to stand over a campfire without injury to himself or his clothing. The last lengthens and darkens all shadows for three kilometers around him. He realizes that this last effect would let someone track him, but doubts anyone could move fast enough or see far enough to exploit that. He doesn’t have the experience with the Chosen that Peacebringer does, or he’d realize how wrong he is. All three of the stones will shatter if removed from his presence.

Supporting Characters

  • Hidden Beneath Shallow Dunes, the shoreline elemental Axaganar cowed into hiding his tracks. Eloquent, cowardly, vain.
  • Glittering Horizon, God of Sun on the Water, whom Axaganar is working to recruit. Uncommitted, egocentric, pensive.
  • Ufla Bonespear, his wife, who has gone searching for him. Tenacious, worried, angry.
  • Chetak Xupa, who doesn’t know how to tell the King of Kindness that he lost Axaganar’s trail. Frightened, erratic, faithful.

Questions

  • Axaganar must know that the dragon lines carry prayers, some of which would run to the Unconquered Sun. Is he behind disrupting them? To where might he divert them?
  • What deal does Axaganar have with the King of Kindness?

Peacebringer, Chosen of Oblivion

Background

The Exalted are chosen by the gods, or by the Elemental Dragons. Some few of them are chosen by someone who cares too much for them to let them die, or by things from beyond Creation. In every case, it is some higher power that selects the Chosen, or receives them.

There is one category in which this is untrue. Oblivion’s chosen may be appointed to their position by the dark masters of the Underworld, but they choose themselves. Every one of them could have chosen a different path. Yes, it might have been a path to reincarnation, or to emptier fates… but it is a choice freely made.

Peacebringer understands this. She helps other people understand it.

Peacebringer came to the Pearl a few months ago. She went to speak to the people. Just a few at a time, perhaps a dozen at most, in Pech and Sparrow and the city of Redleaf. She doesn’t draw public crowds. She prefers late-night meetings – drinks first, perhaps, then small gatherings in houses, then quiet sessions with a few families together. They’re more like therapy sessions than occult ceremonies. She targets people who have lost friends or relatives: sailors and soldiers, especially, but anyone who is recently bereft is a good target. Parents who outlived their children.

She helps them understand the pain and suffering that comes with life. More, she helps them understand the choice they make. Those who die without attachments are least likely to move into the afterlife. There’s no reason to die early, but neither is there a reason to fight against death. Life ends in death, and death ends the pain of life. And then, reincarnation – ah, but she tells of a secret way to avoid that too.

Suffering in life is inevitable; joy, transient. In the afterlife, things are worse. What’s not inevitable is this cycle of existence.

Those who choose to relent when the Worldbreaker’s Fist arrives will have freedom.

Appearance

Peacebringer 500

A study in white and black. Peacebringer’s irises are black, with long black lashes. Her hair is black; her nails, lacquered the darkest red. She wears jewelry of onyx and dark garnet. Beneath all this, her skin is a pale white. She wears a simple grey robe and hood during her meetings, as well as black dye on her lips. She wears more inconspicuous clothing when out and about.

Demeanor

Peacebringer is a good listener. That’s what stands out to most people when they meet her. She has a smooth, calming voice, and it seems like she’s never hasty. She talks to people, really talks, about the important things that no one ever mentions. Death. Sexuality. The awfulness of the Realm. She seems fearless, and inspires that same fearlessness in others.

This is all a bit of a put-on, of course, but it’s not so far from her true self. The only real difference is that she’s not that great of a listener. Peacebringer really does want to free everyone from the cycle of suffering and pain that is life in Creation. She really does believe in spreading that philosophy. She’s not entirely fearless, but she cares little enough for the people around her to be able to say anything to anyone and not fear for their reactions.

Once in a while she’ll reveal that deeper self to someone. It’s typically for shock value. Whatever true self she has buried even deeper beneath that persona, it’s for her and her alone.

Intimacies: Peacebringer’s true intimacies are cloaked by her power. The ones that she portrays most often are: “Spread the Gospel of Oblivion” (Defining), “End the suffering of others” (Major), “Bring peace” (Major), and “Help people with their sorrow”, but she can display many others depending on the situation. Among her true intimacies are “Worldbreaker’s Fist” (Major, Positive), and “My fellow deathknights” (Positive)

Capabilities

Peacebringer is one of the more experienced and seasoned deathknights in Creation. She was Chosen early and has picked her battles well. She even engineered a trade for herself – she left a deathlord who didn’t need her skills and treated her poorly, and he received the horrific killing machine that he so desired. Now she’s the sharp point for a much blunter instrument. She feels much more comfortable in this role.

As an emissary and provocateur, Peacebringer makes friends easily. Everyone feels like they have something in common with her. People move right past her unusual appearance and feel like they really know the true her underneath. (Her beauty doesn’t hurt.) This makes her able to influence and exploit people well. Those she meets share their own secrets with her, and promise to keep her secrets well.

She uses the oathmaking powers of her Moonshadow caste freely. She never promises anything herself. Instead, she lets people bind themselves to her cause, or indeed to whatever they find most important. Let them learn how hard it is to keep a promise. Let them see that life is pain, that allegiance to any cause brings suffering, and they will give in that much more easily.

Peacebringer’s supernal ability is Socialize. She moves smoothly through any sort of social situation, and understands the connections between people with just a glimpse. She then constructs patchwork personae from dozens of Intimacies, drawn from the ghosts of her homeland. When she needs to connect with someone, she presents them with the person they’d like to see. She has spent so much time with some of these Intimacies that some even have specific Charms attached to them, which can be accessed when she pretends to feel a certain way. She avoids getting too close to people, though. Those who get her to reveal some of her true self can take some of her power from her.

In a fight, Peacebringer is more likely to escape. She knows how to use swords, spears, bows, and scythes, but her primary defense is Black Claw Style, which she knows up to its form. It’s enough to let her disengage and retreat while convincing both her enemies and her allies that she was probably in the right. She tries to avoid situations where she could be cornered, and will attempt to bargain her way out of a fight. When that fails, she’s superhumanly fast on foot, on horseback, or in a ship, and can hide in any shadow or hole large enough to hold her. She’s also capable of taking a surprising amount of punishment, whether physical or mental, shunting some of the damage toward the same ghostly souls that power her personae.

Supporting Characters

  • Xatla Chota, who organizes Peacebringer’s meetings for her. Loyal, organized, disaffected.
  • Tatko Ixotchaka, one of Peacebringer’s cult who also (coincidentally) works for the King of Kindness. Dishonest, touchy, neurotic.
  • Million-Razor Tornado, the aforementioned horrific killing machine who was traded to her old deathlord. Gleeful, sadistic, needy.
  • Worldbreaker’s Fist, her deathlord. Noble, nihilistic, focused.

Questions

  • Does the ritual that Peacebringer teaches her cult actually keep people from reincarnating? Or does it do something else to their higher soul?
  • Where is Peacebringer’s homeland? Are the ghosts she draws on for intimacies with her in some way, or are they back home and connected in some other manner?

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?