Prologue

A Place to Belong

“Do not grieve. To the world, we might die; but we will know each other as we always were, as we always will be. Even in death, our souls are as one. All the gods and their eternities shall not sever us.”

Those were the final words of my closest friend and leader, Galatea, before she and everyone I cared for were murdered around me. We had been betrayed. Despite everything we had done, despite all the good we had tried to accomplish, despite the sacrifices we had made, even to our own kind, the dragonblooded host came down upon us, intent on slaughtering us to the last. I stood my ground and made them pay dearly for every spilled drop of blood of my friends, but soon I too was overwhelmed. I had failed to protect my friends, my mate, even Creation itself. And so, furious, heartbroken yet oddly soothed by my friend’s promise, I died.

That was the first memory that surged through me as dawn rose outside the monastery walls and I began my search for my friends. I wasn’t ready however, and be it through the providence of luck, scrying or the will of The Unconquered Sun himself, my teacher, Flawless Pearl found and shuttled me away before the immaculate monks could swarm over me like their ancestors had done. She brought me far away and helped me to make sense of my memories and who and what I was, and what I had to do. She continued my education that the immaculate monks had started but perverted with their lies and propaganda. She taught me instead of the Solar wisdom and glory and made me understand the importance of living up to those standards if we were to save this world of tumult. But despite all this, all the wisdom she imparted, and throughout the grueling training she prepared for me, the words of Galatea never faded. I knew that I had friends out in the world, a place where I could finally belong and be wanted. Friends who were longing for me like I longed for them. That thought helped my endure my teacher’s training, even as she taught me the secrets of sorcery.

I instinctively recoiled from the idea of using such energies, memories of foul creatures and rotting flesh rang through my mind each time she brought up the subject. Yet she showed me how my memories could be what fueled my sorcery and how it could help me remember more of who I am. It was also the knowledge that not even my former self had been able to protect his circle, so I knew I had to gain every advantage I could so that I wouldn’t fail them a second time.

And so sorcery and deep meditation was added to my training and through that time itself began to blur. I could no longer say with certainty if I had been taught by her for weeks, months or even years, which days she was there with me and which days I was left alone, until one day she came to me with grave news.

She told me of the murder of one of Luna’s chosen, a Full Moon named White Tusk. She told me that a man named Shadow Edge was responsible and that I had to stop him and save the budding rebellion in Somchai. She warned me that I wasn’t ready, but finally I could leave the mountains and to perform my duty as a Solar Exalted. And so finally, began my search for the brotherhood.

I reached Somchai during the early night and was soon able to find the leader of the rebellion, Second Brother Tiger. I warned him of Shadow Edge and his treachery, how foolish those claims seem now, and offered my aid to bring him to justice.

I waited for Shadow Edge outside Tiger’s house, waiting for my time to strike down the supposed criminal. A few hours went by, and then he stood before me. I called him out, rebuking him with vile threats and accusations. I never gave him time to properly defend himself; I took his silence as a sign of guilt and charged at him. The rain blurred my vision but as I reached him I saw the impossible, his Night Caste shone brightly from his forehead. My will faltered and with it my attack. Silence swept over us, until I finally regained my wit and supplicated in apology. In response I heard his voice meld in my mind with that of woman’s, wry humor lacing the words. And only then did I realize, he wasn’t just any Night Caste, he was Janira Baccaran, he was my sister.
0 solar +1

Trust

I could hardly believe it, not a full day had passed since I left the mountains and already had I found Janira. I could not understand what my mentor could have been thinking, but all doubt of Shadow Edge’s innocence was forever washed away.

He…did not seem to remember me as well I did her, but it was clear by his eyes and mannerism that the trust and bond that tied us were as strong as ever. I told him and the other rebels about our great legacy, our power and our betrayal. As dawn rose and with it the understanding of who we were dawned on him, even the heavens themselves celebrated our reunion. The monsoon rain that had been going on for countless days relented as the clouds gave way to the light.

We convened with Second brother Tiger, who swore loyalty to us. He did not know of the solars, and instead believed us to be the return of The Elephant-Riding Ghost Generals. In some ways he is probably right. At any rate, myself and Shadow Edge went to see Gurinder Hanyun, grandson of the previous lord of Somchai who had opposed the Dragonbloods and had thus been killed. We went to him to ask for his aid to the rebellion and to retake his position as lord. A demure woman from the resistance guided us to him, but I didn’t pay her much heed. Her mannerism reminded me of my previous life and so I wanted nothing to do with her.

When we approached Hanyun, he was out on the field along with his men and elephants. They seemed to be having problems dislodging a sawed down tree that had gotten stuck in the mud. As a sign of good will, I decided to help out the man and so hoisted up one end of the tree and carried it together with Hanyun’s elephant, Raja. I continued working with the men while Shadow Edge explained to him our plan. The poor man did not understand the extent of Shadow Edge’s power, so he went out into the jungle to hunt a mighty bunyip. I knew it was only matter of time until my friend was victorious and so I stayed behind with the men, keeping an eye out for a signal, so that I could help him carry back his burden.

Not long after he ventured out did he shoot out a golden arrow, and so I went to aid him and after our return, our combined might finally managed to awe Hanyun into pledging himself to our cause. However, he refused to have his men take part in the fighting, he understood he had a duty to his people serving him first and foremost. Second-Brother Tiger had called him Hanyun a coward for his reluctance towards violence, but I could see that the man understood what it meant to be a mortal leader.

We returned to Second-Brother Tiger and his men and told him of our success. We formed a plan to have myself and Shadow Edge storm the gates of the Teak Palace, while the two rival candidates to be the next lord, Suharo and Sukano Rangoon were busy fighting amongst themselves. That was when Shadow Edge suggested that he would sneak in and dispatch the Rangoon men while I took on the combined forces of the Rangoon family, estimated to be 2-3 scores.

I am ashamed to admit it, but when I realized that Shadow Edge remembered so little from our previous life, there was some small part of me that feared that it might affect our friendship and the trust he had for me. I was a fool, so complete was his faith in me that he didn’t hesitate to send me against the men alone. It was my first time fighting mortal men since my second breath. Perfect Pearl’s guidance rarely involved actual fighting, relying more on essence control and perfecting forms through practice. The closest to real fighting was during my brief training with Shattered Gem. And even then I had to do my utmost to stay alive against that one opponent.

Nonetheless, I was determined to live up to my friends expectations. I meditated shortly on the highest peak of the aqueduct, basking in the light of the unconquered son, letting his light seep into my skin.

I was ready. As Shadow Edge entered the palace from the side, I went through the gates, declaring who I was and daring the men to face me. The wisest of them laid down their weapons, the others, bolstered by their commander charged towards me. Spears came from all directions, as if in mock imitation of my final battle against the Dragonbloods, but these were merely men and not well trained ones at that and their spears did not pierce my skin. Screams and clashes of swords rose from within the palace, warning me that my friend had been found. I could not waste my time while he was in there counting on me. I drew upon all my reserves, upon all that I was, letting my anima flare brightly. And only then did I notice. The anima had changed. No longer was I alone in the wheel of reincarnation, Janira had finally joined me.

No sooner had I come to that realization before my enemies lay beaten before me. I continued through the palace doors, barely registering that they were there as I went in to aid my friend. The last remaining lordling, Sukano, and his remaining guards were surrounding Janira. They were no match against us, and while there was little we could do to minimize the bloodshed, the rebellion had been a success.

Gurinder Hanyun took his place as lord of Somchai and they immediately began arranging for a great feast in celebration. Shadow Edge and myself decided it would be best that we did not attend and instead hurried onward to Resounding Bells. The people of Somchai had seen us only as saviors, and given them renewed hope. Staying and eating with them would lessen that impact, and besides, Second Brother Tiger’s spies reported on there being a demon summoner within Resounding Bells, who had stood up against the wyld hunt. We had a potential ally there, and every moment lost, made it more likely for the hunt to find them.

Before departing however, Shadow Edge approached me and told me he planned on taking the woman from earlier, Ririka, with us. I was surprised by this, but he explained that she had once saved him and was before meeting me, his only friend. My view on the woman aside, she was important to my friend, and I swore I would protect her with my life.

We went to the barge, and once again Shadow Edge showed his trust in me. I took it upon myself to tow the barge along, and Shadow Edge took it as a matter of course that I could match my skill against that of six workers. I started working but we had only gone for an hour at most until he cautioned me to stop. He had spotted a shapeshifter amongst the trees. I couldn’t be certain if it was a Steward or a spirit of some kind so I lit up my caste mark and addressed her.

It truly was a Lunar exalted, a Lintha going by the name of Little Rainbow Claw. I was surprised to see a Lintha as one of the chosen, but she explained how she was White Tusk’s student and had travelled here only to find out he had died. She decided to join us in our fight so as to take revenge on those that killed him, and went to hunt for a shape to better blend in to the city streets. I let my friends rest and returned to my paddling, and before long, dawn, and with it the open gates of Resounding Bells stood before us.

4 solar +2

Prologue

The Brotherhood of Virtue Riklurt Sydow