Ailera shrugs. "I have no problem with that, especially after how well you took care of business out there." She reaches down and takes the Belt and slips it on, looking forward to the fun she'll be having with her new toy.
When Catseye and Ysandre return from their visit to the local spirit courts, it is not with the blare of trumpets, but with the soft buzzing of demon wings. They come riding in on beauteous wasps, having passed by the Silver Mermaid before finding their way to the Lookshyan fortress on the river.
The young queen-in-exile and the sorcerer-likewise-in-exile quickly find their way to the treasure chamber where their circle-mates are dividing up the spoils of war.
When Ysandre steps through the door, there is an unmistakable look of disappointment on her face, brow is furrowed and her eyes go from one exalt to the other as she tries to figure out just what series of events has led them all to this place.
"Good day," she greets the others, "I am sorry we did not return earlier."
"I'm fine with it." Ganzin says to Axtis, before Ysandre and Catseye enter the room.
"Er...no problem. Hi." he replies somewhat awkwardly, having guessed from Ysandre's expression that she's confused about what's going on here. As far as he was aware, Ysandre and Catseye weren't around when the rest of the Circle made plans to take this fortress.
Ganzin tilts his head downward. "It's partly my fault." he says. "The Wyld Hunt destroyed the village I lived in before I Exalted. I recognized one of that Hunt's members as one of the personnel in charge of this fortress, and I wasn't quite able to hide my feelings towards her from Ryan, Ailera and Axtis. I wanted to kill her to avenge everyone I'd lost to the Wyld Hunt...and I didn't anticipate that Ryan would be willing to help me in doing that."
"Where by 'help you doing that' you mean 'declare war on Lookshy and kill dozens of mortals,' yes?" Ysandre looks at the assembled Exalts currently helping themselves to the belongings of the dead and defeated, "could you explain to me your reasoning for acting in this manner?"
Zedradon nodded. "I'm fine with that." He told to Ganzin. And took the green coat.
To Axtis he shook his head. "I dont mind at all." He patted the dark blade of his grimscythe,"These souls need me more than I need a new daiklave." Yes, he had grown quite comfortable with it. Even if soulsteel tended to have negative connotations.
"But you didn't kill her. Even when it was hard. You still shown mercy. I may have intervened, but it was still your choice." He said to Ganzin respectfully. "A good example many could learn from."
He then looked at the return of Ysandre and shrugged. "Why? I don't know. I wasnt paying attention. Ryan and them wanted it done, so I helped. I think it was something to do with the river and being unable to pass by unmolested with the forces we have."
"Irregardless, Lookshy is already at war with us, whether we have declared it or not. Yet from what I've seen... our actions just may have shown some of them that the Anathema aren't the monsters they have taught. I have personally seen to it that the injured were taken care of with the same care I would show anyone else."
He then looked at the chests. "If you are talking about this... well... waste not want not."
Ysandre looks momentarily baffled by Zedradon's position of not paying attention only to physically take a step back as he continues his account continues.
"I don't know what you mean by at war with Lookshy," she answers, moving into the room again, "unless of course you still have loyalty to the current government of Thorns," she add acidly. "For all its faults and affiliation with its own branch of the Immaculate Philosophy, Lookshy is not at war with any of us personally or any nations we belong to. On the contrary, we share an enemy in the Mask of Winters. As for showing them that the Anathema are not monsters, I would think that the dozens of dead comrades and being thrown in their own cells rather puts a dampener on the good feeling of having been bandaged up in the mean time." Though she never once raises her voice, there can be little doubt as to how seriously Ysandre takes these issues.
Zedradon gave a small smile,"Hyperbole, dear Ysaandre. I dont have the way with words that you do. But let me try."
"The war I speak of is not that of generals and admirals. But one of religion. A crusade if you will. Those against it are stamped out. And those aligned with the Immaculate philosophy are against us."
"As I told Ganzin. I do not put the blame on them. Nor do hold a position that we should. They do not know us personally either. But that will not stop them from slaying Anathema. Even if we share an enemy. "
"And yes, I am sure that it is the sweetness is ironic. But when one is sick. Sometime one needs a bitter medicine. It isnt praise from them that I am speaking of. But a seed of conflict of ideology. In why would monsters such as us show them any kindness or mercy?"
"Aye, dozens of dead. But a far cry of what could have been. A far cry from those they have taken. Fighting isnt all that glamorous either. And it isnt always personal. Would I have done things differently? Maybe. But im not the one in charge here. I am but a persnickety tag along here to minimize the loss of life in whatever acts are taken."
Zedradon let out a sign,"I admit. I see much differently than a lot of you. War and politics are as invisible to me as microbes and infections are to others. I was never a warrior or a noble. Simply a Doctor. My head has been so stuck down in my trade I am farfetched to see past the individual."
"As for Thorns... I was stuck there too long. In what I went through there, it would not surprise me if I had grown callous in areas of my heart where it shouldn't. But there is no loyalty for the Mask of Winters, I assure you. Pity, yes. But no loyalty. As a matter of fact, I would wager he is already trying to Hunt me down so he can do unspeakable things to me and scatter my entrails across the city as a warning to all others who defy him. He doesn't like me very much at all."
"However I was there long enough to see how effective Lookshy's war against Thorns is. No help came." Thorns was still a little bit of a sore spot for him. But he wasnt going to dwell on that.
"So what should we do now, then?" He asked sincerely. "I understand that this foray didn't go as you would have wished. Do you have any suggestions on how we might handle it?"
"I would not have wished for this foray to have happened at all, so perhaps it would be better to ask its architect," she says and turns to look at Ryan, "what did you have in mind after attacking the strongest military power in the region and letting one of its favored scions leave to tell of your assault on their fortress and their men?"
Catseye looks remarkably unchanged by the side mission she'd undertaken with the Queen. She also looks markedly...neutral about the scene she's arrived back to.
While Ysandre asks pointed questions, the Eclipse instead examines the treasures her Circle have looted and have been claiming. A thoughtful expression crosses her features and she raises an eyebrow at Ailera. "Remind me to look over your prizes tonight," she says, speaking to the Night Caste but plainly audible to the others gathered in the room. "It's possible there might be a way for them to track us with those. There's a few rites I can do to muddle that or at least make it harder, if they had a Sorcerer with enough presence of mind to make them traceable."
Turning back to the Zenith and Twilight, Catseye narrowed her eyes at the Fire-Aspect among them before finding a nice wall to lean on. "Motives would be useful for the future," the Eclipse comments after Ysandre makes her demand of the Dawn. "But there's a time and a place for this. Preferably after we decide what to do about this mess."
"And it is a mess, make no mistake. Let me state some facts for your mutual consideration. Like her Majesty said, Lookshy is the biggest military power in this region. Don't get me wrong, they're assholes. They're assholes who smashed our military and left it vulnerable to the Mask of Winters and they didn't do a damn thing to help Thorns when it fell. I'm not going to shed a tear that any of them died today. But when we look past our immediate goals towards the long game, the Mask is the biggest game in the East."
"Lookshy can't take the Mask. We can't take the Mask. I've been putting together a plan to work around that but that's in the fire now, after this. This bit of..." she looks at Ganzin and Zedradon dubiously, "whatever this is just cost us the easiest strategy I could think of and it wasn't an easy strategy. So, now we need to decide what comes next."
Catseye turns her gaze to the Night Caste and arches an eyebrow. "At this point, there's a witness and there's survivors and there's no way we can roll back our involvement. So, it's time to justify it." Before he opens his mouth, the Eclipse shakes her head at Ganzin and says "And I don't mean petty vengeance. I feel for you, I know what it's like to lose my home and everyone I loved. That's not going to win us any credit with Lookshy, though. So we need to invent credit instead."
"I've given to understand that you have less than reputable skills," Catsye observes dryly to their larcenous Circlemate. "I'm not without certain skills of my own. How about this."
"We're not here because a bunch of Anathema decided to murder a bunch of Lookshy's finest over a village they knocked around a couple of years ago. We're here because we discovered the commanders of this base were infernalists, pawns of the Yozi who reaped that village for souls to fuel their dark rituals to call demons into Creation. You're not a survivor," she says to Ganzin, "You're a witness of what they really did. When this Circle learned of demonic attacks we can invent later, we investigated, found you and used our Anathema magic to verify the truth of your words. We then came to this fortress to extinguish a grave threat to Creation."
Catseye turns back to the broader group. "I can forge us a few secret journals and diary entries, with Ailera's help. I can even provide evidence of demonic presence here...by building a summoning circle and binding us up a demon or two for that extra taste of infernal essence. Smudge a line or two and it'll look like the Exalts here weren't binding them, they were just bringing them over because they were in league with each other."
"Any survivors? Innocent by virtue of our Anathema truth-telling magics. Any survivors who had a hand in the original massacre? Either we kill them now or they're going to be victims of Malfean manipulation, puppeted by their treacherous colleagues using unholy magics that leave even their memories suspect. Why didn't we come to Lookshy itself? Beyond their reception, we didn't know how far up the chain this went until we got our hands on the leaders of this base."
"At worst, it'll be the survivors' word against ours. But at best, they'll also have the evidence we'll be creating tonight. We can't hide what we did here but we can cast doubt on why. And that might be just what we need when we inevitably make a deal with Lookshy, because sooner or later we'll need to deal with Lookshy."
The Eclipse spread her hands wide and said "If you folks have a better idea on how to avoid being Wyld Hunted for the next century, I'm all ears. Otherwise, let's get to work."
"What do I intend to do now? Continue our mission and sail south. I've settled what I saw to be a potential morale issue that could've split my force in half if I refused to address it. What was done here was entirely personal business of my company. So now that what's done is now done. We need to wrap up affairs here soon and get back on course southward." Ryan said with an unapologetic shrug.
Ryan looks to Catseye as she lays out her plan or suggestions. "I agree, we're going to have to deal with Lookshy eventually, but that was true before we arrived here. As for the suggestion, seems like an interesting crop to leave behind but not one that could be sown shortly. How long would your plan take to implement and how much longer are we willing to tarry here?"
A slight breeze enters the room where the Exalts gather, and it is followed by Quill, still his pudgy self, but it takes a second to realize that he now walks taller than before, or more to the point, he is walking slightly above the ground. With a flourish, he bows to them, and says "I am deeply sorry for my lapse of presence, but I have been called away." With that, he snaps his fingers to summon Sun's Brush to his hand. "This weapon has shown me a depth of Creation I wasn't familiar with, and I have managed to unlock the secrets of Sorcery through studying it. And as an extra present, I have found a way, with Sorcery, to cause a ship to fly through the skies, thereby preventing our reliance on a river, or needing to take out outposts of those we might not wish to alienate, in order to move about."
"Good to see you back, Quill." says Ganzin, grinning at the Twilight once he's over the surprise of seeing him walking on thin air. "And you can make ships fly now? I'd love to see that."
Then he turns to Catseye. "That's not a bad plan, for something you thought up on the spot. And maybe you two ladies could convince people to buy that story. Trouble is, I don't think it's going to have much effect in the long run." he says in a grim tone. "If Lookshy and the Wyld Hunt find out that there were Solars here, I imagine they wouldn't be sympathetic to us even if we actually did stop a load of Yozi cultists."
"I say we do as Ryan suggested; get out of here as soon as possible. Preferably overland, if Quill can make our ship go airborne. And if we can bamboozle the people of this fort we're leaving behind, I say we either hide the fact that there were Solars involved, or leave a false trail for when Lookshy comes investigating."
Catseye chuckled briefly at the Dawn's easy characterization of what they'd done here. Shaking her head once, she said, "I think a day should do it. We could be out of here by tomorrow morning. It's unlikely that your runner's going to get anywhere to bring help back in that time. Otherwise, I entirely agree; the sooner we're out of here the better."
@Red Shadow Claws
The Eclipse smiled at the return of the Twilight, looking approvingly at the changes his travels had wrought in him. "Flying ships, you say? I'll have to learn that trick someday. The option of leaving the river's a useful one, but sooner or later we'll have to deal with this river anyway; the nation we seek relies on river trade and getting the God of this river in our pocket would be a tremendous advantage over those we're aimed against."
She listened to Ganzin's thoughts on her plan and his own suggestions, nodding a bit as if agreeing. Then she opened her mouth and silenced that possibility. "I can't claim my plan's a great one; I did think it up on the spot. I can't claim the odds of its success are high either, although Ailera's skills and mine together might pull it off, especially if her Majesty's magics can be employed on those we leave behind as well."
"Let's have no illusions, you or anyone else here; this whole situation is a fuck-up on a scale exceeded only by the fall of Thorns. If I'm suggesting a chancy plan, it's because the alternative is even worse. Lookshy and the Wyld Hunt will find out Solars were here. Absolutely will, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it. If you want to lie to yourself, or yourselves," she adds to the rest of the Exalts listening, "then draw what comfort you can but I can't afford to. This little 'morale issue', as the good Captain described it, has good chance of killing us all."
"You have the Gods know how many witnesses still alive and not even the Queen can compel or bewitch that many. If any of their Exalts survived or, worse, escaped, our discovery is certain. I know enough about demons to put together a convincing frame job but I don't think any of us with all of our knowledge and powers combined can actually erase what was done here. A Lookshy garrison was wiped out. They'll have Exalts and Sorcerers of their own investigating this who are trained to find out if Solars are involved and to uncover their false trails."
"So, yes, I'm going to suggest we take the long shot of creating a little doubt in their minds. When we inevitably meet up with Lookshy again, that doubt might be the only way we get away with having massacred their entire garrison. Trying to cover our involvement, though, that's not a long shot. That's playing against Plentemon."
The Eclipse stretches, a bit wearied from the long flight on her Demon Wasp. "Escaping overland's not a bad idea, though, or taking to the skies. I can call up some weather to help us or hinder our eventual pursuers, either way. Anyone else have another idea?"
Ganzin listens to Catseye's words and explanation, and from the look on his face, he thinks she has a point.
"Well, you convinced me. I'll go along with your idea. And setting up some bad weather for any pursuers wouldn't hurt, assuming you can keep it going for a few days after we leave. That's probably the least amount of time it will take for anyone from Lookshy to get here."
Ysandre fixes Ryan with the full weight of her gaze, her eyes burning into his as she speaks. "Nothing you do is simply the personal business of your company. So long as we work together, everything each of us does paints all of us with the same brush, and this holds even more true when dealing with those who may send out the Wyld Hunt. As for calling this a morale issue," she adds now letting her sight fall on Ganzin, "if what it takes to keep you and your men with us is the spilling of blood, I do not think we should continue our association."
"Regarding your plan," she says, now addressing Catseye, "it seems unlikely to work fully, but better than nothing if we can pull it off quickly, but how do we let Lookshy know of our just cause? I can speak with the people here, sow some doubt, but I am probably more suited to truly showing one or two of them the rightness of our cause." Looking back to the group at large, she asks "are any of the residents Exalts prisoners? Perhaps I could talk to them?."
Quill clears his throat and starts pacing around, still floating slightly above the ground, yet moving as if he was pacing on the floor "I do believe this story might work well for us. During the Shogunate , there was a very ambitious Warlord whose castle was located here, and in fact, it looks like some of the base of this post is dated back to that era." His mind seems a bit distracted, before he continues "Anyway, that Warlod, named Kurosa Kaneka, turned out to be a Yozi cultist, and demons were a big part of his legions. But the other warlords banded together to destroy him. If this is the place, instead of faking a summoning circle, we ccan clear the way leading to his own summoning circles, and use that as a diversion."
[Introduce a Fact - I have 1 auto success from Harmonious Academic Methodology, because it's a specialty of mine, one more success from Bottomless Wellspring Approach, and doubling successes, and I have 10 dice on Int + Lore]
Ganzin looks like he's about to protest Ysandre's words, and point out that he wasn't the one who proposed a full-on attack of this place, but he quickly decides against it and settles for hanging his head in shame. After all, he was the one who admitted to having ill feelings towards Arumi, which is what got this whole mess rolling.
He perks up a bit after Quill speaks. "There was a Yozi cultist here? Lucky for us." he says, before looking back at Ysandre. "There were two Dragon-blooded in charge of this fortress. One of them died in the attack, but the other's still alive, thanks to the doctor here. Said something about wanting to take her with him, and having her work as a nurse."
There's only a little bit of rancor in those last two sentences, and he continues on. "There was also a Dragon-blooded archer, but we've been unable to find him since the battle ended. I imagine he's either hiding somewhere nearby or heading towards the nearest territory friendly to Lookshy..."
He suddenly stops talking and takes on an expression of alarm, as if he's just remembered something more than a little unpleasant.
"...shit." he curses. "There's another fortress like this one on the other side of this river. And I have a feeling that they sent reinforcements over to this fortress while we were waiting for the night to fall, meaning they were expecting something to happen. We've got hours before Lookshy comes investigating, not days."
While Quills arrival and revelation was stunning, it was marred by the rather dark option presented.
Zedradon grunted unapprovingly. "I will never approve wholesale slaughter. Which is what it would be at this point. Cold blood stains the hands and heart far more than hot blood. Far better, in my eyes, to take our lumps than lie and murder for an easy escape. Because if the truth is found, which it will eventually, then all we have done is proven them right on their views of us."
"And yes. Like Ganzin said, we do have one in our possession. But she isnt in much of a condition to talk at the moment. She needs to recover first."
"And it was a suggestion, Ganzin. Of a way to see her make up for the damage she has done." He explained.
"But yes, he is also likely right in the time we have. This base already had more than our friend here discovered in her scouting operation. Suggesting that the fort was already notified."
"With time of the essence, here is what I suggest. We double back on the river to throw off their trail, and make them thing our business here was done and we headed in a different direction. Then, once we are far enough. And night falls again, we use Quills new Mastery to take the ship to the air and make our way back the way we are desiring."
"Weather manipulation's something I'm rather good at," she says to Ganzin. "Leave it to me."
Catseye shrugs at the Zenith's observations. "I don't think there is a plan that will work fully. Right now, I'd settle for 'Investigators turn up, find out Anathema were involved but also find out their garrison's leadership had gone Yozi on them'. Whenever the other shoe drops and Lookshy does catch up to us, I'd like to at least say 'Hey, we only killed them because they were demon worshippers' and there be a possibility of being believed because of the evidence we planted."
"If you can spin a couple of witnesses, that won't hurt at all. Try to be careful about it, though. I'd expect their Wyld Hunt's used to dealing with people blinded by the Sun, so to speak."
@Red Shadow Claws
The Eclipse brightens at Quill's revelations. "Really now? That's definitely worth a quick look. Nothing adds legitimacy to a ruse like a little truth."
At which point, Ganzin reminds them all that their time is measured in hours, not days. Catseye promptly rubs the bridge of her nose with her thumb and index finger, looking pained.
"Right, so much for my plan. Like the gentleman says," the Eclipse said, tilting her head in Zedradon's direction. "Let's get the hell out of here. Unless you all feel like slaughtering even more Lookshyan soldiers than you already have."
Quill isn't the most combative, but while he doesn't mind a fight if it comes to it, he'd rather not anger Lookshy even more. But looking around, he knew that with a limited time there wasn't much to be done. And yet, he raised a hand "I know we do not have much time, but in order for our ruse, and revelation, t work, we need to at least open the door wide to that yozi worship place, so taht the troops of Lookshy who come here, will report it to their superiors. it's the least we can do, to give some semblance of reasoning to this."