Part Five

Tredemin has been moved, but it is not out of danger. Within days of it setting down in its new location, it is wracked by earthquakes. It appears the gemlord has found the solars.

Still, the kingdom is in a state of relative peace, allowing its rulers to pursue their own plans. In Ferric and Kairos' case, this means trying to track down a pair of Bracers of Universal Crafting. Unfortunately, Kairos' contact in Lookshy admits that more than one person has sought said bracers, and they are currently in the possession of Kairos' own aunt - location unknown. Unknown, that is, to all except Kairos, who saw her through the images projected by Ferric's spybot insects in her role as Queen of Kharadron.

As the pair leave Lookshy, Kairos decides to track down the gemlord who appears to be his sworn enemy. Partly because going back to the North East of the Hundred Kingdoms so soon seems rather stupid, but mostly on a whim. Since he had chosen a gemlord of the west, assuming that would be safer, he has some way to go.

All in all, it takes Kairos six weeks to travel around the world. He manages to obtain an amnesty from the gemlord, in return for an oath not to summon earth elementals without the express permission of the earth court to which they belong, and not to open any new mines in his kingdom. More alarmingly, he has agreed to create one hundred thousand square miles of new land in the next 50 years. On the other hand, the solars now only have three incredibly powerful enemies instead of four.

By the time Kairos returns, it is time to head off to Kharadron. Grey Wolf kindly agrees to accompany him and Ferric so they won't suffer from a case of dying horribly. First though, the trio head to the kingdom owned by Kairos' brother, to offer him nominal rule over Tredemin. The logic being that anathema are distinctly better off behind the scenes. Ever cautious, Azure Grace agrees only to a diplomatic exchange.

Kairos is given a warm welcome by his aunt and the her family. Mainly because he lies and says that he is there solely to warn her that the guild know where she is. Worryingly, though, it turns out that the king of Kharadron is more tooled up than expected, as are his wife and two exalted children. Moreover, the court is playing host to an immaculate monk. Not great odds.

After some debate, the solars resolve to drive Auntie away from her home by saying that the forces of The Guild draw closer, and frame the monk for the 'leak' by implanting force memories and beliefs into his family members. All they manage to do is drive the queen into her workshop basement, but they do get a nice look of the king throwing the monk out of the window. One down.

After leaving some time for the monk to leave the kingdom, the solars dispense with subtlety. They attack the king and the two exalted princes in the throneroom, making judicious use of the wasp and the wolf to keep the mortals at bay. They then break into the secret basement and dispatch the queen. After that, it's a simple matter of looting the bodies and going home with a whole load of new toys.

Kairos' trip to the West gives Azir some time to see to the general health of the nation and plant the seeds for a new project, that of making the rank-and-file soldiers of Tredamin that much hardier on the field of battle. After all, the tougher our troops, the easier it might be to bring others round to our way of thinking... should it be necessary to deploy them, that is.

However, Tredamin's facilities prove somewhat limited, forcing him to seek out a remembered alternative in the manse out east. A few weeks, a lot of hard work and some arduous crafting later, the good doctor returns triumphant having located not only one of his workshops from a previous life but also a list of ingredients for his first major alchemical work.

With Kairos, Ferric and Kieron heading0 to Kharadron, Azir (on the basis of another dream) pulls Fox and Raiden to Nexus, firm in the belief that there is another manse to be found - a workshop full of plans! - and access to the strange floating manse that Ferric had described. High above the streets of Nexus, who'd have believed that!

Whilst scouring the metropolis for clues as to location, they hear of a protest group called the Skulls who monger doom and gloom, citing the fall of Thorns as heralding the apocalypse. In an effort to find out more, Raiden gets Azir to craft a giant skull to act as a rallying point before bribing some indigents into staging Creation's first real flashmob. One rousing speech and a crowd dispersal later, the party ninja is left disappointed at not having discovered a way into the real group.... until the following morning, that is, when he wakes up tied to a chair, two menacing figures in the half-light!

Having not heard from their friend, Fox and Azir visit his home only to find him missing and a scent trail leading up over the rooftops. And much to their surprise, Fox's nose is telling him that their old companion Tariq (disappeared presumed dead) appears to be involved.

Tracking the scent trail over the roofs of Nexus, Fox (with Azir trailing at street level) end up at a small tenement in the backstreets. With carefully calculated precision, Fox puts his fist through an apartment window sending glass crashing into a mid-level room... to no apparent reaction.

Proceeding, Azir and Fox stand in front of a room door where the young Exalt's nose has told him Raiden is being held. With the good doctor concealed in a stairwell, bow drawn, in case of immediate hostility, Fox knocks for entrance... to be greeted by a well-built figure in black. Eschewing the bow for some powerfully-backed pleasantries, Azir then tries to persuade the fellow to return that which had been 'mislaid'... to no avail though resulting in a combative bid to restore their friend to freedom.

Things start well enough when Fox manages to nick the fellow's sword from behind his back... only to discover the stolen hook sword has a partner. The dance proceeds as the pair frantically try to free the bound Raiden whilst avoiding serious injury. With the ministrations of all three, including some well-placed barbed arrows to sever the ropes, the chair and the Night caste are separated though heavily wounded in the process. As things carry on, the lithe figure of Tariq appears, wielding shuriken, and opposing their escape. Shocked at both this and the dark animas and bleeding caste marks that their opponents are displaying, the trio beat a hasty retreat, to lick their wounds and ponder this new development.

Having run out of leads to the underground manse, Azir Fox and Raiden did the obvious thing: they went underground. This was something like looking for a very small needle in the world's biggest haystack. Nevertheless, Fox's nose detected hints of underground mineral seams that might lead in the right direction - but with no indication of where the entrance might be the three were no further on.

Their best hope was to make a deal with a friendly elemental and go from there. But they would need something to barter with. So it was that Raiden went in search of some disposable jade. Contemplating likely sources, a number of places occurred to him which would present little challenge. Discounting these, a more interesting target presented itself; the Realm's embassy. Such a place would undoubtedly have a vault with enough wealth to cover the necessary expenses.

Raiden made a scouting trip under perhaps the poorest cover story ever invented: celebrity-spotting. For the head of the embassy was none other than Ragara Abassus, a powerful scion of the Ragara dynasty. Having gathered the necessary information, he crept into the embassy cloaked by the charms of the night caste.

The place was a veritable hive of activity, and with the added concern that no small number of the workers might prove to be dragon-blooded. Including, of course, Abassus. Raiden resolved to wait until the place was shut up for the night before proceeding further.

It was several hours later, in the wee small hours, that Raiden finally lost patience. Though most of the staff had gone home for the night, his keen senses could still hear the interminable scratching of quill on papyrus from a nearby office, not to mention the sound of what must surely be Abassus from the floor above. It would not be possible to enter the vault and leave without risking one of them seeing him. Did these people never sleep? It began to occur to him that perhaps they did not. This would perhaps have been a good time to leave, and return refreshed in the morning.

Raiden investigated some of the empty offices, and found what he suspected must be the alarm system for the vault. Disabling it with ease, he made his way to the vault entrance. Deep in the heart of one of the upper floors, the vault would not be easy to escape from if the alarm were to be raised. Raiden opened the door with a flourish of essence, and opened the door. So far, so good. He stepped across the threshold.

As alarm bells screamed out above and below the vault door, adrenaline tore through Raiden's body and his senses came alive. Heavy footsteps were already approaching from several directions. The vault was a literal treasure-trove, with fancy armour, weapons and piles of jade. Sadly none of it very portable. Raiden snatched a couple of swords and sprinted out of the vault, coming to a dead halt as he heard the footfalls of an approaching clerk around the corner. An instant before the clerk rounded the corner, Raiden vanished, standing stock-still and invisible.

The clerk paced into the vault and Raiden sprang into action again - he was almost out of the building when he sensed the approach of others from the floor above. Abassus. He froze again, invisible. Fortunately, while stationary he could remain completely undetectable for an indefinite period, as long as nobody actually bumped into him.

Then one of the small crowd of dragonbloods now gathered outside the vault did something odd. He planted his feet together, closed his eyes, and felt. Raiden stood silently, his senses razor sharp as he listened for the slightest indication he had been detected. He could scarcely believe it when, as a drop of sweat from his brow struck the ground, he dragonblood gasped in reaction, and he heard the group start to move in his direction. Somehow they had detected him.

Raiden didn't wait for them to round the corner - he raced towards freedom. As he neared his exit, a figure seemed to literally fly towards him from the direction of the vault, preparing to hurl a storm of shuriken his way. It would only take one wound to slow Raiden enough that he could not escape. As the dragonblood wound up for the throw, Raiden wove a flare of dazzling essence that entranced his would-be assailant just long enough for him to get out of sight and round the next corner.

He did not wait to see if the rest were catching him up. As he neared the stairwell leading down to freedom, he realised that he needed to get out a little faster if he was to survive the night, and threw himself at a nearby window, swords outstretched to smash the glass. He sprang out into the night and landed in a crouch, as the mortal guards who waited outside shouted in alarm at his arrival.

Raiden tore out of the embassy compound, running straight up and over the surrounding wall, as four dragonbloods came after him. Abassus physically smashed through the wall of the embassy, bursting into the night like a juggernaut, as two somewhat subtler companions followed Raiden's route at unbelievable speeds, and a fourth figure emerged from the roof of the building to follow Raiden across the rooftops.

Raiden dashed towards his only hope of salvation - the nearby river. If he could reach the river, he might be able to hide in its dark waters for long enough to escape. Weaving skeins of distracting essence about him as he fled, he threw himself towards the river with every muscle-fiber tingling. Not looking back, he leaped into the dark waters, twisting in the air and finally plunging into the water, where he abruptly became still, unbreathing, and invisible.

Despite Raiden's efforts to slow them, the four were mere seconds behind him and crashed into the waters around him. But Raiden's stillness was enough to fool Death himself. After half an hour of searching, the pursuers gave up and left, leaving Raiden to soggily slosh his way home, damp but elated. He had secured the jade the party needed, but more importantly, he had thumbed his nose at death and emerged victorious.