Sun Forged Oath

Loyalty
Vanguard explains her devotion to Amara

“Why? Her walls have protected me ever since I was a child. Her city was my house, those walls my door. Keeping out the dark monsters that lurked beyond them. They signaled home, riding back in the Red Zone once I became a Scout. Tall, pure, powerful, protective…

We used to play a game as children. We'd sneak out, dare each other to go further and further away. Looking back, we never really went all that far, skittering out from tree to tree, but to us every step felt gigantic. For some of us, it wasn't just about the dare. And for me, at least, it wasn't about proving I was brave. Deep inside, I wanted Them to see me. For Them to see that They couldn't make me hide. That They couldn't make me afraid.

Stupid, yes, I know. But in my defense, I was an actual child at the time. 

As I'm sure you could guess, one day it went poorly. It wasn't even the furthest that we had dared to go. But we were just barely out of sight of the walls when something stepped out of the forest towards us. A half dozen hobgoblins, and something else. Something tall and beautiful and terrible. Which laughed as the first of us to see them screamed, and we all began to run. 

Echo tripped, and I stopped to help him. I yelled for the others to keep going as I pulled him to his feet, certain that we were about to feel spears and blades, but instead we made it back up and started running again. I realized they were playing with us. They’d fired arrows as we ran, I could see blood on on the others, but somehow they were only ever glancing shots, enough to hurt us or make us falter but not to make any of us fall. We couldn't possibly have been outrunning them. It was toying with us, we were a sick game. Not just to terrify us before killing us – no, It meant to let us nearly reach safety, and then kill us in sight of the walls, in full view of the guards, so they’d see it happen. 

‘Eyes on me.’ This was the first time I used that tactic against the enemy, although it wouldn’t be the last – it’s one I've used several times as a Scout. 

I let the others outpace us, and then instead of heading to the nearest gate, I turned to the other side. There wasn't an opening in that direction that we had a hope of reaching, but maybe It wouldn't know that. 

The plan worked. It and the hobgoblins followed the two of us, the others getting safety away and back inside. We reached the wall. I'm not sure Echo realized until then that we weren't getting away. We turned to face them. I remember at some point I grabbed a large stick from the ground. 

They came into view, walking slowly. It drew a blade and I stared, and understood in an instant just how stupid it had been to think I wasn't afraid. I could hear it… screams and wails… the sound swelled and pounded in my brain. My fingers ran cold, and I pushed Echo back, stepped back myself, so our backs were against the wall, and I held up that useless stick in my shaking hands. I forced my eyes off the blade and looked It in the eye, terrified but furious, desperate to not die cowering… 

And then suddenly It was growing smaller, as we went flying up and away. In my fear and focus I hadn't even felt it, but something had reached through the wall and grasped us and was now lifting us up, running us up straight along the wall. I heard shouting again but this time it wasn't in my head, it was soldiers attacking the group. There was a whirlwind of blue and white silk around Echo and I, and a soft but strong voice whispered to us that we were safe now.

I asked her if we could see. Echo shook his head and said he didn't want to, and buried his head in the woman's side. She held him close, let him hide his face against her, but held me in her other and the whirling silken sleeves parted enough that I could peer down. We were floating high up, with her leaning out of the wall itself, and I watched as our soldiers slew some of the hobgoblins and the terrible beautiful creature withdraw and vanish back into the forest. Once it was done, we began flying up again, and she set us down on the rampart walkway. She touched cheeks and smiled, then sank back into the wall and vanished. 

We didn't sneak outside on dares anymore after that. Instead, though, Echo and I began sneaking off to other places. We both would slip off to the temples. And I also slipped off to watch the Scouts as they rode in and out of the gates.

Amara protected me, sheltered me, when I was small and could do nothing for her. And I intend to repay her love and her loyalty now that I'm the one who is larger.

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The Scars We Bear
Vanguard discusses old wounds with Okami

While off on their sidequest, the Celestial pair sat by the fire one night, quietly amusing themselves by reviewing scars. Vanguard responded to Okami’s tease about the number of them by dryly pointed out that she'd taken the Second Breath well into an active and dangerous military career. 

“I can't believe these are only six months old. They look older than some of your others,” the Lunar commented, lightly touching the three punctures left by the war ghosts the Calibration before. 

“Jade’s skill, is why. He’s arrogant for a reason, you know. And he was still just a mortal then.” Vanguard smiled slightly.  

“These look like they could have easily killed you.”

“I told you before how poorly that night nearly went.” 

“I remember. It's just another thing to see and touch it. Hmm. These ones, this set along your right arm, they're odd.”

“Behemoth claws. I was raked pulling a child out from right under its grasp. That was a glancing hit – more direct and I probably would have lost the arm if not my life. But sometimes we're lucky.”

“And this one here?” Okami ran his fingers along the long scar that crossed the tattoo on her outer thigh. Despite looking like it should have damaged it badly, the ink was unmarred and the image clear.  

“A raksha's blade. Got him, though,” She grinned savagely, but the expression faded as Okami then ran his fingers along the tattoo itself, examining it.

“That…” she trailed off, the words not coming to her. 

“Something to do with your husband.” 

“Is it that obvious?”

“You change a little when he comes up.” The Lunar says quietly, still tracing with his fingertips. Noticing how tense she was already becoming, Okami carefully kept his eyes on the tattoo as he spoke rather than making eye contact. “How long were you together?”

“Married for nine years. But really, ever since we were children, there wasn't anyone else. And then… well, you know,” Vanguard shrugged. 

“I don’t really. You never told me exactly what happened. He was a fellow soldier?”

“A priest. One day I was out on patrol, and another Scout group needed help with some dead outside the city. He volunteered. He… he used to say… he wished he could be brave like me.” Her voice turns bitter. “A behemoth ambushed the group, and he was gone. I brought him… his body… back. I couldn’t bear the thought of him being left out there. And then after that, I just kept going. For a couple years, I took care of my people and did my job and that was all. It took awhile, Summer was the one who got me to start being more of a… a person again, I suppose.”  

She pauses, eyeing him, and then adds, “Does it bother you, to hear about all that?” 

“No,” he said simply, finally lifting his gaze to meet hers. He pulled her into a comfortable and somewhat protective embrace. “Tell me more about Hakura…”

 

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Before I Can Go
Vanguard entrusts Summer when she has to choose where to go

Carry You: https://open.spotify.com/track/0TbP1ASV5mBpwpME75LWRA 

Relentless Vanguard and Okami each startle wake from their dreams, and with a look realize they have experienced a shared First Age memory: a powerful weapon in a hidden manse to the southeast of Thorns, which only the two of them together can access. Not continuing on to ensure the rescue of the Lunar pains Vanguard, even after the others convince her they have it covered and that it's better suited to other skill sets than hers given the plan Koi has in mind. 

Before she leaves, Vanguard pulls Summer apart from the rest of the Circle. Inari is at the Eclipse’s side, and Okami at her own, but the Dawn seems unbothered by their presence and doesn’t ask to send them away for privacy. 


Vanguard catches and holds Summer's hands tightly in hers and speaks quietly but intently. Her back is to the others, and so only the three of them can see as her usually cool demeanor cracks just enough that a swirl of guilt and sadness can be seen in her eyes. 

“I know it might seem odd, but this matters to me. It doesn't to the others. It’s not that they don't care, it just apparent it doesn't mean as much, and I feel worried that… look, we can talk about the why later, there's not time here, but for now just know it’s important to me. I'm going on this other mission because I trust you to hear my voice in my absence. And I'm not saying this because I doubt you. I needed to say it, for me, before I could make myself go. Please, Summer, just… just please get her out if you can.”

“If it’s important to you, it’s important to me – the why doesn’t matter,” Summer squeezes Vanguard’s hands, her expression earnest. “I give you my word – if there’s a path, I will find it.”

"Thank you," Vanguard says, a touch of relief entering her pained eyes. She holds the other woman's hands for another few heartbeats before releasing them and taking a step back. As she moves away, before she turns back to where the others could see, the calm and stoic veneer slides back into place. 

"Well, then, let's go."

As they ride away, Okami glances at his Solar. He expects her to look back towards Subdued Summer, but her umber eyes stay fixed calmly and steadily ahead of them. 

“It’s a pity you can't be in two places at once,” he finally says. She smiles in response. 

“Really? It feels like I am.”

 

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A Different Perspective
Dream sent during Session 37

View logs in order: The Story So Far

A dream sent to the bartender of a small inn near the capital of Thorns, who Subdued Summer judged to need a bit of help keeping his word of discretion.

He wakes – it's midday, and he's preparing for the lunch shift. A cloaked figure walks in, and begins inquiring about visitors to the bar and any individuals they may have consorted with. The questions are leading, but generally unspecific, and masterfully designed to encourage the bartender to unknowingly divulge the presence and conversations Night Warden may have had, as well as when he and his potential companions may have left and what direction they went. Any resistance met results in the cloaked figure making thinly veiled threats, and
then a more direct threat.

"Your life is worth more than a dinar, is it not?" the figure says, and the bartender agrees, finally giving up the information. The figure leaves. Soon after, a team of death knights burst into the bar. They ask the bartender what he knows, and again he divulges everything, this time expanding upon details as one particularly startling woman with disturbing eyes grins
wickedly, brandishing her weapon in a casual but menacing fashion.

Once the bartender finishes speaking, the crazed woman grins a terrifying smile, and takes a step towards him. Another says, "Thank you for the information, and the verification that you can not be trusted." 

The world is suddenly washed in pain and darkness as the woman's weapon enters the bartender's body. The last words he hears before giving in to unconciousness, "Raze the town. It's time to send a message."

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Could Be Fun
A letter from Deirdre of Nexus to Subdued Summer

View logs in order: The Story So Far

During an evening of drinking sake in Great Forks with Mighty Jade Triumph, Deirdre writes Subdued Summer a letter, which is received first thing the following morning.

Summer,

Two new ackquisitons asquisssitons acquisitions. Do you think they are a thing or a THING? We should find out together! Could be fun.

Love Always,
Deirdre

In response, Summer has a letter sent back so that it will arrive near when Deirdre herself awakens.

Deirdre,

Sounds good. Drink water.

Love,
Summer

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Just In Case
Following Session 33

View Logs In Order: The Story So Far

From the journal of Subdued Summer

16th Resplendent Fire RY 770

It is more and more difficult to sleep. A silence has fallen over what was left of the refugee camp – the type of silence which only takes hold after a tragedy, once tears and blood and screams have all exhausted themselves. I can hear the deep, measured breathing of Inari and the rest of our companions – save Lovely Breath, who is on watch, and Vanguard and Okami, who think their insomnia triggered jaunts through the woods go unnoticed.

I hate this. And while I’m not yet able to tell you, whatever version of me is reading this, exactly what has happened, I do need to make that clear: I hate this. An exhaustion has wormed its way deep into my very bones. We are so new at this. There is so much we don’t know yet. What I do know, though, is that I may not survive the coming months.

There’s letters to be written – just in case. So many letters; so many potential goodbyes. It’s time for Caltrop’s first task. And, later, I’ll write about what happened here – so you can remember, and hopefully learn something.

-

A letter addressed to Glance of Emerald, tied in a bundle with several other letters which are all sealed separately and marked for different individuals.

Emerald,

When I told you about me, I also told you things may continue to get more dangerous. Some of our plans have been expedited, and it would be remiss of me to not reach out to you while I am able. 

We will be gone longer than intended, journeying beyond the refugee camp to handle some other affairs. Please continue to maintain the inn in Tenyio as you have these many months – I am so grateful for everything you’ve done for me, both as a friend and for the business. I need you to know that, above everything else.

Please only disperse these letters, and read the other addressed to you, in the event of my death.

In Forest Tongue, as on the door of all Fox and Hounds, is written: May your path bring you good news, glad tidings, and loyalty.

Yours,

Subdued Summer

-

The first letter in the pack – also to Glance of Emerald.

Emerald,

If you are reading this, and have followed my instructions, it means that I have been killed. In that event, I ask that you take over for me – the inn, its secrets, and the care with which I’ve endeavored to recruit and protect our employees. I entrust our family to your guidance. Please, take care of my Circle and maintain the value of the coins I’ve given to our allies. Comfort Rain as best you can, and continue to teach Biting Snapdragon – our own Little Kit – as I taught you.

I am so honored to have known you.

Summer

-

Another letter, addressed to Rain’s Cadence.

Rain,

I’m so sorry. You’ve done an exemplary job of protecting me all these years. Please continue to watch over the creatures who call your branches home. Guide Glance of Emerald as you have me. Know that I am content with my choices and my path – I did the best for all of us that I could, and I hope it was enough.

Summer

-

Another letter, addressed to Singed Wing of Dawn.

Daddy,

Do not blame anyone for this, and don’t again hide yourself and become bitter. I love you. Please help keep my family safe, and take care of Lily. You were always so good for each other; that final fight seems so insignificant now. Why not start again?

Love,
Summer

-

Another letter, addressed to Deirdre

Deirdre,

I was prepared, I thought, to outlive you – the green dress, the eulogy, the flowers, everything you asked for. I wasn’t prepared for this moment, and for once I’m basically speechless. At least now we know this goodbye isn’t forever; we’ll get to remember some of this life together. I’m excited to hear about what you get up to while I’m away – how you’ll bring comfort and direction to the Jades of this world, how large you’ll grow your empire, the things you’ll see and contracts you’ll negotiate – everything.

You know I’ve always loved you. Thank you for everything.

Summer

-

Another letter, addressed to Relentless Vanguard.

Sister,

What is there to say? We did the best we could. Be gentle with the world – it’s cruel; it’s worth saving.

Summer

-

Another letter, addressed to Inari Nine Tails.

My love,

We did not have enough time together, that’s a fact. I wish I had time to remember more about our lives during the First Age, when it all was new. We will find each other again, and next time I will try not to faint at the sight of you, at the rush of feelings you invoked in me from the very first moment.

Eternally Yours,
Summer

___

There are other letters – to the rest of the Circle, to Autumn Tempest, to the Foxes and the Hounds, to Joyous Ford, Blade of Vengeance, Silent Flower. At some point during the writing, Summer falls asleep, stirring only slightly as her Lunar gently plucks the quill from her hand. 

“Even you can’t write to everyone you care for in a single night, my love. I will give these to Caltrop, send him on his way, and wake you when it’s time to leave,” Inari says softly, gently kissing the Eclipse’s cheek.. 

Summer leans into the touch subconsciously, her delicate features contorting with worry. “What if we can’t fix it?” she mumbles.

“Fix what?” Inari for the first time really looks at the letters, seeing one with her name on it. “Summer? Why would you write me a letter and send it to Glance of Emerald first..?”

There’s no response, and the Lunar sighs, wrapping a blanket around Summer’s shoulders and taking the letters, as promised, to Caltrop to carry with him to Tenyio.

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Drawing Closer
Episode Summary 36: Into Darkness

View logs in order: The Story So Far.

Parallel: https://open.spotify.com/track/3F5qsKr0Oz71wscwJxol0o 

As they make their way closer to Thorns, Vanguard spends a lot of time talking with Okami slightly apart from the others. She covers the group’s prior encounters with Thorns forces and the Death Knights, especially Seven Seasons Widow. She especially stresses Widows’ ability to fake identities and appear to be someone else, suggesting a few small signals that the two of them can use if there’s ever a doubt. She also teaches him a few of the Thirteen’s signal-whistles that she feels are likely to be helpful or useful. 

But aside from the practical/tactical discussions, she also starts opening up in general and shares some her personal history. She talks about Hakura, obviously with pride, and about the Lucky Thirteen. More somberly, she talks about the raksha siege, and how she eventually left the city due to a prophecy from a dying oracle. After leaving, she had ended up meeting Summer, and the pair had swiftly formed an easy and equal partnership. The recent changes in their lives hadn’t done much to shift that, only cementing their bond and trust. 

She also shares that they’ve begun working with Celestials within the Hakuran Empire on solving that problem for good, and admits that part of her reason for supporting Great Forks and the greater River Province as actively as she has been is the anticipating that Hakura would be rejoining the world soon. She mentions wanting to take him there when they can find the opportunity, with a feral glint in her eye as she comments that it’d be “fun”. 

*

One night, the Solar woke after four hours of sleep, as usual. She quietly pulled on her boots, gave a nod to Lovely Breath to silently indicate all was well, and then went out for a slow patrol around their camp. She became aware of someone following her at some point and after catching a glimpse, her keen sight marked the figure as Okami. She said nothing and continued her usual pace, but was not surprised when the Lunar suddenly appeared next to her. 

“When was the last time you slept through the night?” He asked as he reached her side. 

“Last autumn festival,” she responded, her eyes continuing to scan slowly around them. 

“Well that’s specific. Did something happen then?”

“A ship full of hungry dead, plagued bodies, and three war ghosts. It was the last group of Thorns refugees that tried to make it to Tenyio, that Seven Seasons Widow turned into a particularly vicious message. We were all still mortal, then. It nearly ended very very poorly.” She touched where she had scars on her torso from those wounds and winced slightly at the hazy but painful memory. Okami abruptly took a step in front of her and stopped, causing her to come to a startled halt to avoid running into him. 

“Our enemies favor the night anyway. It's been a good habit,” she continued. He didn’t say anything as he directed his gaze down her torso, running his hands along the spots that her fingers had brushed. Cloth and armor separated his fingers from her skin, but the Scout could swear it felt like nothing was there and the touch was like electricity to her senses. She didn’t stop him, and kept talking. 

“… if hadn’t been for Fortunate Tributaries’ intervention, and Jade’s obsessively good healing skills, that’s probably where it would have ended. As it was, it was weeks before I was back on my feet.” She smiled ruefully. “Not quite the story for a hero.” 

“Well, your story didn’t end there,” he said slowly, lifting his gaze to meet hers. Her self-effacing grin faded, and her heart beat faster. Vanguard moved first, pulling him closer and kissing him deeply, although once she’d done so he eagerly slid his arms tight around her and returned the energy.

It was the Dawn that broke the embrace before they could get too far. She took a step to the side, hand trailing along his chest and giving his arm a squeeze before letting go. 

“We should get back. And walk with me this time, would you. You’re distracting when you’re trying to sneak around behind me.” 

“You say that as though I wasn't letting you notice me.” Okami commented with a grin, and matched pace as they slowly made their way back to camp.

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Combat Log: Into Darkness
Session 36

View logs in order: The Story So Far.

The group continues on foot into Thorns, taking a week or so to reach the country and a small town where Low Vice says he can reach one of his agents, an attractive woman called Bronze Tower. During their travel, Summer spends time recreating the destroyed spy documents rom memory and gives those to Low Vice. Vanguard spends most of the time travel apart from the group with Okami, talking quietly. 

Upon checking in with Low Vice’s agent, they find out about the various masks that Seven Seasons Widow might be wearing and the next area she is likely to appear. They also learn that the Lunar who ensured the escape of the Thorns refugees was captured rather than killed, and is presumably held in the shadowland of the capital on Juggernaut itself. Word is that she is being tortured and there is a plan for public execution. 

They head out to the town where they will find their prey. It sits on the edge of a shadowland, not quite a part of it but on the precipice of fallin. Once there, they rent a room at the inn (to varying degrees of satisfaction with the accommodations) and then head out. As they are walking the city, night begins to fall… 

*

BEGIN BATTLE LOG

Bronze Tower suddenly whispers “that’s the mask” and then slips away. We see a woman with short red hair. She is attended by Last Breath, multiple of the mortwight monsters they battled at the refugee camp, and a battle group of war ghosts. She spots us nearly immediately, and immediately bolts in the opposite direction for an alley. 

Deirdre sees the action about to explode around her and readies herself to protect any mortal bystanders who might end up in the crossfire. 

Vanguard summons Zelator to her grasp and says to Lovely Breath, “Time to let the cat out of the bag”, then charges to the enemy most in between her fellow Dawn and the fleeing Abyssal, knocking them out of way to clear the route for Lovely Breath. 

Lovely Breath heard the words she has been waiting for since she got to this side of the River Province. She pulls a bag out of her backpack and throws the contents towards Seven Seasons Widow – opening the bag she flings it towards her enemy… but a cat doesn't come tumbling out, because that would be animal abuse! No, a very thin wire unspools from the back as the weighted bag flies through the air. A very graceful Lovey Breath runs along the newly created bridge.

Summer bursts into movement, using nearby architecture to propel herself to the ledge of an adjacent building, trailing Seven Seasons Widow with the goal of inflicting a wound that leaves a traceable blood trail in spite of any stealth trickery she may employ.

Koi draws shadows around himself, literally, winking out of sight so well not even the shadowy Death Knight can see him in the darkness. 

Inspired by Lovely Breath, Jade snaps to action, speeding towards Seven Seasons and seeking to tackle and grapple her before she can escape the mighty Dawn. As he moves, he pulls sorcerous energy to himself, activating his body armor spell. 

As everyone else explodes into action, Low Vice gathers himself. He starts stepping sideways and like a complicated courtly dance, draws his sword with one hand and a sigil in the air with the other. As he does, the lights in the air waver and brighten like a light at the end of the tunnel at his fingertips. 

At the sight of her family and clan's murderer, Eagle Wind's face flushes with anger, and with the force of her honor flings Flying Silver Dream forward at the enemy. 

Jade appears behind Seven Seasons Widow, seizing her arm and twisting it into a joint lock, using his physician knowledge to know exactly how to put force on her body to bring her to a halt. She tries to slide and spin into the shadows to escape, but he succeeds in grabbing her arm before she can slip away and begins pummeling her with his other hard-as-metal hand. 

A blood ape erupts from a red jewel on the Death Knight, but is immediately slammed into by Fresh Surf, and they tumble to the side and crash into a building together. For a moment, everyone is impressed by how good of a boy the elemental is.  

Lovely Breath sees Jade seize and pin Seven Seasons down into a flurry of bronzed fists. She realizes all of her actual weapons are in her dropped backpack, but as she is leaping through the air spots the wrought iron lantern hangs from the side of the building  and grabs one. She passes the sword hurtling through the sword at the death knight and slides the metal pole across its edge to sharpen it, and as she lands she slams the now-deadly piece of metal into Widow's body. The death knight slithers and slides like liquid shadow in an attempt to fling herself to the side to escape the falling Dawn. The attempt is in vain, as with a mighty “take THAT”, the wrought iron bar is slammed deep into her torso. She goes limp. 

One of the mortwights looks like it is about to creep up and stab an appendage into Lovely Breath's back when a piece of moonsilver webbing flings through the air, catches it, and yanks its feet out from under it. Saffron Dusk stands there pleased with himself with a snapped open fan. 

Eagle Wind is right behind her flying sword, leaping up just as they reach the death knight's limp body together and with a neat and smooth kick, sends it flying hard and fast. It slices straight through the Death Knight’s body. Blood is sprayed into the wall of the alleyway and the black Exaltation appears from her body like a ball of black crackling lightning and shoots off towards the capital. The sword begins a protection spin around its Solar, and perceptible only to her says in Old Realm, “Huh. I never thought I'd be in the hands of Five Swords Dragon again. That was pleasant. Our foe no longer has life.”

A mortwight shrieks out in anger and reaches to slice at Eagle Wind's throat but is jerked back by Okami, who has grabbed it by its arm as it tried to rush over. He wrenches forcefully, ripping the limb off, and begins beating the creature with it. 

Koi quickly applies poison to his weapon before he appears from the shadows, dashing and slicing through the war ghosts’ midst, using the cover of the falling night to wink back out of sight, and thus continues on unseen closer to the ghostly squire and two remaining mortwights. 

Weeks ago when Vanguard had brought the heavily damaged Port Cailin sign to her, Summer had a sobbing breakdown alone in her office, clutching the hunk of burnt wood so hard that small pieces of it broke off in her hand, which she kept. She leaps from the edge of the building, throwing the shards. As she lands, she knocks Seven Seasons Widow out of Jade's arm and one of splinters sinks into the dead woman's neck, the rest of them flying towards Last Breath. 

Low Vice knew to be on the lookout when Seven Seasons Widow fell. As the lights begin to appear above her corpse, he dismisses the energy he had been gathering and instead moves his hands in a different pattern, which ends in drawing his fingers to his third eye. With his sorcerer's sight, he sees it for what it is – an Exaltation as powerful as that of a Solar, but deeply permeated with the energy of the underworld and the void, and he realizes the essence is a Solar Exaltation shard that has been corrupted and twisted by the old dead gods that sleep in the Labyrinth. He also sees there is a powerful Working tied to a sorcerous artifact that is fishlining the Exaltation back —  not to Yu-Shan or to the side of its creator as would normally be expected, but rather towards something else in the Underworld. He realizes the corruption and the fishline are related but separate. 

After giving the signal to Lovely Breath, Relentless Vanguard does not even glance in the direction of Seven Seasons Widow, trusting that her friend will take care of the problem as promised. Instead, she flings herself to where she is most comfortable –  in the middle of the war ghost battle group, Zelator spinning and flashing. As she strikes them over and over, there is a flash of pale white light as they become transparent and complacent, and they begin transitioning into Lethe. That danger abated, she moves towards the remaining three threats. 

One of the mortwights shrieks out and begins to vomit forth darkness, the only black fog spreading out swiftly and dropping them all into darkness. 

Suddenly unable to see her friends and allies, Deirdre focuses on her surroundings and drops into a defensive stance. 

The last mortwight summons a whirlwind of debris and flying hazards that whirls around everyone and strikes them with anything not nailed down. 

The small objects bounce harmlessly off Jade's skin. With nothing else drawing her direct attention, Deirdre is able to knock the items out of the way so they don't injure her. 

Low Vice argues with the nature of reality itself, and somehow during this metaphysical struggle, he steps in between the flying debris unharmed. 

At the shriek and as the wind begins to pick up, Vanguard remembers the fight at the refugee city and what will happen next. As objects begin to fly around them, she catches the edge of a cart with her spear and flings it in the opposite direction of the wind. It clashes into the airborne dangers, creating a break that she uses to move through. 

Summer hears the shrieking and remembers the sound – and what followed it. Knowing she needs to move, Summer grabs the edge of Widow's cloak and pulls her body up as a shield. 

Lovely Breath hears the beings shrieking and thinks, “man, they're noisy”, and looking around realizes she cannot see. Pulling the sharpened lamppost spike free (and sent flying as the body it had been impaled in is yanked up by Summer),  she flings herself in the direction she remembers a building being in order to block the debris. 

It goes dark, but Koi has been in this situation twice before and knows how things will move in the darkness. He skillfully and gracefully dodged everything, backing up until he's against a wall. 

Unseen by all but Vanguard, Last Breath goes quiet. He reaches to the corpse of Seven Seasons Widow and pulls. His fingers slide away, a spirit in their grasp, and he begins to slip away. Vanguard leaps to intercept, but he successfully slides past her. 

Jade pauses and listens closely – for a rapid heartbeat, for the sound of someone desperately fleeing, and he rushes out and catches up to the fleeing squire before he can slip away with the soul of their enemy. 

Summer listens to the pattern of movements around her, separating out the noise of battle from the sound of footsteps to pin down the fleeing squire. 

Radiant Koi focuses on the deep rasping breaths of the mortright that breathed out the darkness. He reaches out towards the noise with Silent Depths, his black jade garotte, and wraps it decisively around the creatures neck. It collapses dead on the ground and the darkness ends. 

His sight returned, Low Vice looks around and sees a single mortwight still standing — and Last Breath escaping. He looks at the mortwight standing before him with contempt, and leaps up into the air to traverse over it and after Last Breath. He doesn't move straight towards them, but rather up to the rooftops and then jumps from to another, tracing out the progress of the Sage constellation in his movements. He parts the shadowlands, and brings into his hands the light of the next life, the very light of Lethe.  He hurls it towards Last Breath – and as it hits the ghost squire, he actually looks relieved. He takes the ball and inhales it, streaks of entropic essence sloughing off his being like dissolving chains. He fades away into white light and vanishes. 

Vanguard leaps into the last standing mortwright, channeling her hatred towards the minions of Mask of Winters into Zelator and igniting its shared animosity for what she despises. She slashes into it, tearing apart its very essence. 

Seven Seasons Widow's ghost looks around, then sits on the ground and sighs. “I surrender.”  

END COMBAT ROUNDS

*

Lovely Breath and Subdued Summer begin questioning the ghost of the Death Knight, as a clearly-murderous Vanguard stalks over. They are able to get some answers out of her but in a short amount of time, Vanguard grows impatient from both the risk of standing in the open on the site where they just slew a Death Knight and the dangers the ghost or her potential lies might yet present, and tersely says that if Low Vice has a way to send her soul on, he should do that — and if he does not, the Scout will rip it apart the quick and dirty way. Seven Seasons Widow expresses doubt that the group would be able to do anything for her soul aside from outright destruction, and is shocked when the Lookshyan Solar again casts the spell to summon the light of Lethe. Gratefully, she accepts it and in a pale light, vanishes. 

The group quickly grabs their stuff from the inn and gets out of the town. Once there, Inari says she will summon the Stormwind Rider to get them out of Thorns. Vanguard gravely asks how long they think the captured Lunar has before she is executed – and its apparent she, at least, doesn’t not consider abandoning the Celestial to be an option. 

The group grows somber. Okami immediately agrees that they can head out immediately to rescue her. Inari says that while Anjani made her decision knowing the risks, she still would prefer to rescue a fellow member of the Silver Pact. Summer offers up the additional motivation that she’s going and will need her Lunar to help protect her. Saffron Dusk balks, saying that Lovely Breath needs to get back to Hakura and that Anjani Silverclaws “made her choice”, but the bright young woman asks how she can leave without helping, and an argument begins with her Lunar.

Vanguard interrupts and offers up the plan that Lovely Breath can both get back to their city and help out the group. If she makes a large amount of “noise” as she makes her way back, it will give the impression that the Celestials are leaving. Between that and the fact that it would be obviously insane to not pull out at this point, they hope to catch the Thorns forces unaware that they are instead headed deeper in. Lovely Breath agrees, and the two Hakuran Dawns take a few moments to speak quietly to each other of home and future plans. Inari asks Deirdre if she is ready, and the newly Exalted Eclipse heaves a sigh and says, “Actually, yes. I am”. 

Their decisions made, the group parts ways. Inari asks if Okami took care of the sentry, and he cracks his knuckles as he confirms. The Changing Moon begins to gather the energy to cast her travel spell to whisk them further into the dangerous land. And as she rides away from the others, Lovely Breath lets out a whistle just before she leaves Vanguard’s earshot – My watch is ended, I am going home. 

View
Change and Direction
RP between sessions 35 and 36

View logs in order: The Story So Far.

One night during the travel into Thorns…


Deirdre is incredibly unprepared for being on watch, but still she is up and her eyes scan the darkness for…something…

 

"Resist the urge to look up at the moon. It resets your night vision," Vanguard comments softly as she takes a seat next to Deirdre on her the ground. The Scout leans against a tree and stretches her legs out in front of her comfortably.


Deirdre nods a little absently at the advice, "The things I didn't think I'd ever learn…" she says softly. Her delicate hands smooth out the wrinkles of her pants as Vanguard settled next to her.


"Hmm. Are the things I can't imagine not having need to learning, myself." Vanguard flashes a smile, seeming to be simply amused at the difference rather than judging Deirdre's lack of experience.  She seems content to sit in silence for a few minutes, relaxed. 


Deirdre's face remains impassive as her eyes continue to sweep the darkness. She does nod as Vanguard speaks, acknowledging the words. Her eyes do linger on both Summer's and Jade's tents as they make their slow meander, but only for the barest of moments.


"Deirdre, why are you here?" Vanguard's tone is surprisingly gentle.


Deirdre blinks in surprise and turns her head to look at Vanguard. She raises a single eyebrow not in confusion but more in suspicion. "Oh goodness. There's a loaded question if I ever heard one…"


"Is it?" Vanguard shrugs. "I'm not saying the aid is unappreciated or unwelcome. I'm also not commenting on whether or not I think you belong here. I'm asking you why you're here."


"It is a loaded question. And if not, I don't have an answer." Deirdre pulls her eyes back to watching the darkness "I have had my world torn asunder more than once in less than 25 hours. So, I haven't a clue what the point of me is at the moment"


"Jade was the first one of us it happened to. Did he tell you?" Vanguard says. 


"No, Summer told me about it." Deirdre shakes her head, "I got the very small version of it."


"It was dramatic. After the initial flush of… well, you've seen him right after he accomplishes something. And when he took his Second Breath, he healed five men everyone thought basically condemned to painful cursed deaths. Power and accomplishment and like nothing was beyond him. But then on the ride back from the Yuan camp, he was so… quiet. I slept in the clinic that night. Those cots are surprisingly comfortable," Vanguard speaks softly. 


"Well, an uncomfortable cot wouldn't promote much healing. I assume." Deirdre can't help but linger on  Jade's tent as they talked of him. "I can imagine the intensity of it all could be overwhelming for him, especially because, at the time, he was the only one." She nods, "Were you worried about him? Is that why you spent the night?"


"He was both fine and not fine. Himself and not himself. I couldn't think of anything I could actually do, I didn't understand  I just knew I didn't want him alone, wanted to be there in case there was… ". Vanguard shrugs. "And then the next day, he was himself. And he was, IS, by the way."


"Is what?" Deirdre asks. 


"Himself. There's more, yes, but it's not…" The Scout frowns, thinking. "He's him. I'm me. It's strange because for awhile it seemed like everything would be different, but the more I get used to all of it the more I know it's just…me."


"Get used to the Second Breath, I assume?" Deirdre asks, pulling her eyes away from the tents and back to the darkness. "Get used to this fever everyone was going on about?"

"No, not that. That's a whole other…" Vanguard waves a hand in the air. "I'm not sure I have words for that yet. I'm talking about the emotions, the memories, this whole other self that starts settling in."


"I saw her. I saw who used to walk around with all this power and what she did with it. Is that what you're talking about?" Deirdre asks. 


"Used to?" Vanguard comments. 


"Yes, it seemed like me. But it wasn't. It was as if I was watching someone's life threw their eyes. It was…it's very hard to explain" Deirdre said searching for the right words and failing. 


Vanguard nods like someone about to hear the punchline of a joke they know. "It'll probably keep happening. It seems a little different from person to person. Summer gets them more frequently than I do. For me it's dreams, or sometimes just a flash of a moment that was important to her, to me."


Deirdre glanced over at Vanguard, "I assume by your expression that I got it right this time." She listened as the Dawn explained further, "So it is just simply, an affliction? A side effect? A ghost? A glimpse of the past?….I suppose it doesn't really matter. Whoever that girl was she definitely isn't me…"


"From my admittedly still limited understanding… She's not you but there's part of her that you share," Vanguard hesitates for a moment, as if deciding whether or not to admit something. "Like I said, it does seem to be different for everyone. Ostra…  feels a lot like me, in those flashes. It's familiar, and the way she reacts and thinks and feels… I get the feeling we're especially similar. Her memories do feel like mine. It doesn't feel like a ghost, or an affliction, or anything like that. I don't think it's that exact way with everyone? But, ah, what I originally mean to say was that you're still you. The power that's there, it didn't change any of that. I'm still me. I want the same things, believe the same things, feel the way I always felt. I thought at first that everything changed, but I know what's in my mind, and I see how the others act and what it's like interacting with them, and they're all still them."


Deirdre listens intently, taking in the words. "Huh… no different, you say? Still at the core ourselves. Well, you would know them the best." She says after a small pause. Then, abruptly, she takes a deep, frustrated breath.


Vanguard arches an eyebrow at the comment, but she is headed off from responding by the other woman's abrupt frustrated breath. She pauses instead, and then shifts what she was going to say.  "What is it?"


"I have no idea." The brunette takes a deep breath, pulling back on her outburst. "This is a bit frustrating. I thought I knew what I was doing, thought I had a hand on things. Apparently, I don't."


"Why do you think you don't? Because things went to shit back at the refugees?" Vanguard asks. 


"Yes. The whole loud mess. I simply wanted… well that doesn't really matter. You can't change the past. I can't go back now." Deirdre says with an even, tight tone. Her fingers smooth out her hair. "If you can't defend your point, you just might be wrong… I've never convinced her of anything… I get it now. I just needed to unpack all of it…"


Vanguard pauses again, deciding which part of the other woman's words to respond to, and then went with, "I might owe you an apology, then. Coming along was my idea, after all. You cannot change the past, but that doesn't make looking back worthless. You simply wanted what?"


"Don't do that. I wanted to go. I had things to do, though I only managed to accomplish the least important of them. Which is incredibly frustrating…" Deirdre sighs again, a little exasperated. "I don't know where to start answering your question. I really should just learn my lesson… I am loath to elaborate because I can't take another hit, I understand that I have to be alone. I just don't want to. I thought I was happy…I ju.." her voice waived, just the barest amounts. But with a deep breath it was gone. "In the spirit of honesty, I'd tell you more… but I don't want to be misquoted and I definitely don't want to have the conversation all over again." She hopped that her meaning was carried threw on her words to her late night companion.


Vanguard blinks. "Who would I be quoting you to? And… look, if you don't want to talk about it then you don't have to. I'm certainly not going to push. But I'm confused, why do you have to be alone? That sounds awful."


Deirdre blinks as well, "To Summer, of course. That's what we're are talking about right? My conversation with Summer?"


"Ah. The conversation with Summer that had you both miserably upset, and completely unwilling or unable to talk about it." Vanguard holds up a hand. "Again, not that anyone has to talk. I'm just commenting that neither of you wanted to. I still have no idea what you argued over. " She drops her hand back down to her lap. "Deirdre, if you don't want me to share something with Summer, just ask. It's not as if I tell her every last thing anyways. We talk a lot, yes, and we're close, so I suppose that might have given the impression, but… there's not a direct path from my ears to hers, or vice versa."


"I'd rather she tell you what happened. I don't want to get it wrong." Deirdre answered simply. "I appreciate your words. If I need your discretion, I'll remember to ask." She says with a nod. "Perhaps you could help me with a task. I need a little insight…"


"You'll 'get it wrong'?" Vanguard asks in a somewhat incredulous tone, but then sighs and shrugs. "Summer didn't want to tell me, so I'm not going to pry, and if you aren't comfortable for whatever reason, I won't pry with you either. The matter is dropped unless you change your mind. So, insight on what?"


"I can't be with Jade anymore. I need your advice on how to do that." The words were matter of fact, the tone reinforced it, but the eyes… the eyes gave it away, darting between Summer and Jade's tents. Lingering slightly, sadly.


"You've been very confident of your communication skills in this area before. What's different?" Vanguard asks. 


"It is different this time, because I don't want to do it." Deirdre says. 


"I'd like to take a moment to just point out the irony, here, which is that you're asking ME for this advice, and I have never once had this conversation with someone," Vanguard says dryly. "So why are you convinced that you have to even though you don't want to?"


"I'm asking you not because you have knowledge of break ups, but because you have knowledge of Jade." Deirdre can't help a small and smothered laugh as she considers the best way to answer the question. "Because I bring out the worst in him, and that could be dangerous. We can't have that. And the only way I can be truly happy is to learn to be alone. It's complicated…" her voice trails off and she keeps her eyes locked on the darkness ahead. "Getting this mark. This feeling. You'd think that is what troubles my mind. It doesn't. I'm ready to face this challenge, excited even. I can do this. This rush, the fever… that's nothing new. I feel that all the time. It's what makes me successful. It's this silly feelings of my mortal life that brings me down. How very odd is that?"


"Not odd at all. You're still a person. You're still you. The things that could bring you down before can still bring you down. So… I don't think I know that part of Jade, honestly. I've never seen him be towards someone like he is towards you. And I don't think the problem is only knowing him a couple years," Vanguard tilts her head curiously. "If you want my insight, just say you need to stop seeing him and don't want to talk about it. You're strong willed, you can out-stubborn him a bit if need be. I don't see why you think you bring out the worst in him, though. If anything, I think he could use a more reasonable voice that he might actually pay attention to. And I think he needs help remembering he's a person sometimes. Not just because of being a Solar, but because… it's him. He was lost in work even before the work got bigger."


"I didn't think of it like that. Getting the second breath didn't magically make me immune to my past!" Deirdre smiles as she shakes her head. "I really didn't think about my impact on him. I just enjoy his company. I'll miss it. I'll miss that I can just lean and he doesn't question…." she waves a hand as if to dissipate the words…"anyway… if you think that will work. I can be straight forward. I can hold to my convictions. I thought that it would take a little more finesse, but Summer will be pleased that it'll happen sooner rather than later."


"Oh will she?" Vanguard asks, carefully neutral. 


"He seems like such an outsider sometimes, that calls to me. I don't make friends quickly or often. I understand sitting on the outside." Deirdre nods, "Yeah, she pointed out my adverse affect on him. I didn't even realize it. I'm selfish, but not that selfish."


"What adverse— actually, no, I'm not going to ask you to argue Summer's point. Deirdre, what do YOU actually see?"


"Of Jade? I see laughing. I see mild irritation that I demand he get dressed up to take me out. I see his face when he enraptured by his work. I see the anger and frustration when things aren't happening fast enough. I see the compromises he makes for the good of your circle. I see the overconfidence that no matter what happens he can save them. I see the rashness. I see…apparently I have a lot to say. But you can't discount that I am too close to the situation, I could miss things."


"Mmm," The sound is remarkably noncommittal. "Well, I don't see what Summer sees, but she sees a lot that I don't, so maybe you shouldn't be listening to me. But as irritated as I've been with him, over… other things… it has still been nice to see him being just him. It'll be a pity to see that vanish again."


"I didn't mean to be vague or noncommittal. I thought we were good for each other. Is that a better answer? But Summer wouldn't lie to me, that's a hard thing to shake," Deirdre responds. 


"I don't think she'd lie to you about it either. And I think she wants you happy, and that she strives for the best for everyone. It's not her that I'm thinking of, though," Vanguard says. 


"Then who would you be thinking of?"


"You. Because I trust Summer  deeply, and will take her on faith even when I don't understand yet, and have asked her to read a person that I know could get away with lying to me. But you don't seem to be going on trust, and whatever this is doesn't seem to fit well on you. And you're out here, in the woods, heading towards shadowlands, to battle a Death Knight, and I'm not sure you know why. And not knowing why you're doing something also does seem to fit you."


"You are very perceptive. I am here for no reason. I don't say this in the hopes that you'll reassure me. I say that because it's true. I haven't had a moment to figure out my next step. I don't do things without thinking them threw. I always have a long game and now it's all been tossed out the window. I am not serving a purpose right now and it's getting to me. Truly it is." Deirdre shakes her head in mild irritation. "I know why the Death kight has to die. I just don't know why I'm here to do that. I don't just follow along. I am my own Boss. I don't do this. I never do this. I hate camping. I hate the wood. I hate pants. And yet, here I am…"


"Here you are. Camping in the woods, wearing pants, heading towards a giant shadowland, to battle a deathknight. Well, maybe being surrounded by things that are entirely unfamiliar will help you to see your 'normal' better," Vanguard chuckles. 


"Do you like it when it's quiet?" 


"Sometimes."


"Better question. Where do you do your best thinking?" Deirdre asks. 


In reply, Vanguard gets to her feet and holds her hands open in front of her. Suddenly the artifact spear appears in her grasp. She takes a few steps back and then begins rhythmically moving faster and faster.


Deirdre watches the beautiful display with rapt attention. Watching the increasing momentum with curiosity, as if to try and find the peace within.


Heartbeats stretch into minutes, and it's hard to say exactly how many pass before the whirling routine of limbs and weapon ends. Shorter than usual, although for the Dawn, "usual amount of time" often means "past the point where the average person would have collapsed from exhaustion". 

 

It doesn't slow, but rather the Scout abruptly goes from a spinning pivot to down on one knee, the spear winking back out of sight and to Elsewhere an inch before the butt of it would have otherwise slammed into the ground with a thud. There's a long pause and then Vanguard  casually gets up and takes her seat again, and looks up at Deirdre. Deidre, for all her gregariousness, is an excellent audience. She doesn't clap as the spear winks out of existence, but she does look incredibly impressed at the display. 

 

"It clears my mind. To move and practice, especially with Zelator, and the hearthstone within. Bringing it all together, pushing past pain or tiredness. All the internal lines and boundaries and noise in my mind disappear, and it's like it's just me left. I don't know what would work for you, but whatever it is, find it and get to where you can hear yourself," Vanguard explains slowly. 

 

Deirdre nods at the words. Taking them in. "I know where my place is. I need the noise of life. The constant motion of people going about their lives. I need a friendly ear in the mist of all of that. I need… I can't believe I'm saying this… I need Gental Wind… I just need to unleash all of this," she gestures to her person with a delicate flourish. "Do with words, what you've do with your spear." She nods, understanding. 

 

"Well, you've got a bit more camping to do. But soon…" Vanguard trails off. 


"I'm a survivor. I'll be fine until I can get a handle on all this. Who knows? Maybe clarity will find me unexpectedly…I don't often feel alone and adrift. I don't very much like it. I hate being alone. It's probably the only thing I really fear…"


Vanguard winces a little at the next words to come out of her own mouth. "I think the world of Summer, and she might strangle me for this, but… You should do some of that before you talk to Jade."


Deidre gives a rather unladylike snort as she unsuccessfully tries to smother a laugh. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to laugh, but the image of Summer trying to strangle you and you pretending to choke was just too hilarious." With a nod, a firm nod. She makes a decision, the first real one since all of this began. "I'm going to do that. Don't worry, your secret is safe with me. I'm going to wait till I can process all of this before making any kind of truly important decisions."

The Scout smiles faintly at the laughing comment, but quickly sobers back up. "It's not that it's hard to process, it's just that most of us don't really have a point of reference for how. If I can help, though…"

"I'm not against help, usually." Deirdre responds. 


"Good." With that, Vanguard gets to her feet. "Going to take a little walk around before I go back to bed. Mmm. What you're looking for is change, by the way. You're unlikely to happen to be looking in the correct direction to actually spot something directly immediately. And most smart intruders will be waiting for you to not be looking. But… things like 'that branch was a half foot to the left'… look around and be familiar with how things should be and then you'll notice if they're different, and then can focus in on the why.".


"Yes, what I am look for is change. Notice what has changed and figure out why." Deirdre nodded as she raises to her feet with Vanguard. 

 

"I appreciate this, by the way. One day I hope to repay it. But most of my advice is oddly specific and I don't think you'll need it anytime soon." She smiles as she brushes the leaves from herself. "You are far more spectacular than most give you credit for. I hope you know that. But I'm keep you, enjoy your walk."


"Eh, I've never thought friendship was a thing of repayment. But perhaps it's just semantics. Not my wheelhouse," And with a small chuckle, Vanguard walks off into the trees. As she goes, she mutters to herself, "That's the second time someone said that this week… "


Deirdre smiles at Vanguard's back as she leaves. Her eyes fall over the camp, stopping on each tent for a brief moment. The turmoil in her chest isn't gone. It isn't even calmed. But now, she had something she didn't before. She had a direction.

View
What We Need
Session 35: The Morning of Night

View logs in order: The Story So Far

Their fierce but brief battle had ended. Vanguard's eyes turned to the sky, to the floating ship, and she grinned. She was about to signal-whistle Subdued Summer and head to the marketplace to meet her there, but didn’t make it even half a step before shouts from the guards around her snapped her gaze back to ground.

You have got to be kidding me…

The soldiers that had rushed to engaged the undead monstrosities hadn't put away their weapons – in fact, they were rapidly charging at the two blazing Dawns. She could hear other shouts from deeper in the camp, knew more guards were converging on the new Solar whose light was blazing like a beacon.

We don't have time for this. 

Lovely Breath hesitated, looking at her fellow Hakuran, waiting for a signal on how to react. Okami was tensing and eagerly ready to fight, Saffron Dusk moving defensively to his mate's back. Vanguard growled to herself, and stepped forward to the first guard moving on her, easily whirling Zelator to slam his sword aside.

STAND DOWN. We're fighting against the same enemy – them!” Her voice boomed with with authority as her anima swelled up into a nimbus around her and gave off wisps of golden power. She used the momentum of her parry to swing and point Zelator at the mangled bodies she and her allies had moments earlier torn apart. Her gesture served two purposes – it punctuated her point about the real enemy and reminded the Thorns guard exactly how easily the four of them had just taken apart the enemy. She glared around at the soldiers, meeting their eyes and radiating fury and power. Some faltered but one cried out that falling in battle against anathema meant they would be reborn as Dragon Blooded, and although they flinched away from moving on the fearsome Scout herself, they still came at the others. 

They’re getting away, dammit. I can't even see that ship anymore.

All around her, Vanguard could heard her allies attempting to sway the Thorns’ forces or use non-lethal force to defend themselves. Well I tried… Vanguard was about to call for Lovely Breath to head with her to the marketplace to reach their allies regardless of the cost, when the words of the others managed to make the soldiers finally back off from active assault. She stalked towards the center of the city. 

“We need to get out of here, or I swear I'm going to start ripping them apart.” Okami hissed to her. Vanguard swept her gaze across the scene, barely glancing at the guards who fingered their weapons and glowered at them. Her bearing conveyed the message that they were beneath her notice. 

“We're getting our people first, and then we will.” She said evenly. Finally, she spotted two of those she was looking for – Kalisha Stone and Smoldering Ember, and strode forth. She managed to gather that Silent Peach had last been seen escaping in the direction of the river temples with a group of refugees. She conferred swiftly with her busy allies, not wanting to leave them but also feeling the urgent need to get her mortal friends to safety, and uneasily agreed that they could handle themselves.

*

The four of them – Vanguard, Okami, Lovely Breath, and Saffron Dusk – were able to catch up to Silent Peach and the group of two dozen refugees she was shepherding to safety. It didn’t occur to her in the moment, but later Vanguard would reflect on how she hadn’t hesitated before sweeping those people up under her protection despite what she’d just walked away from back at the main camp. 

“We chased the enemy off, but it’s not safe back there anyone. They could return. These people are already clear, we need to keep them moving,” Vanguard said briskly. She glanced around the group and met the eyes of some of the refugees. Battered, tired, disheartened. Her demeanor softened, the anger that still pulsated through her veins taking on a protective rather than a vengeful tone. Although she was still speaking to Silent Peach, she shifted her words to address everyone. “We’ll get you all to the river temple, and from there keep you moving towards Tenyio.” 

Relentless Vanguard didn’t speak much, either to the refugees or to anyone else. She shifted into Scout mode, ready and confident, and patrolled the edges of the group as they made their way. At one point, though, she took note of the timidity and nervousness of the refugees and addressed it. 

“Yes.” She said suddenly. Everyone looked over at her, surprised. She continued on, calm and confident and matter-of-fact. “You were wondering if you’re going to be alright. You are now.” 

Upon their arrival at the river temple, there was a flurry of meetings. Confident that the their three mortal allies had everything well in hand, and after a verbal confirmation from Smoldering Ember to that effect, the Celestials departed to head back to the others. 

*

They returned to their small camp and elected to wait for the others. Just as Vanguard was reaching the edge of her patience for it and was asking Lovely Breath to dispatch Saffron Dusk to fetch them, they appeared. 

The conversation was tumultuous and disjointed. 

Summer and Vanguard began conferring. It started off a little tense, with Summer opening by announcing “we’ve discussed the plan” and Vanguard firing back with “have we?”, but within a few sentences, the pair got in tune and their attitude shifted. The Scout was incredulous upon hearing that Summer was still planning to get the larger camp to Great Forks, including negotiating with the nearby countries, but she rolled her eyes and declared that she didn’t care what Summer decided to do with them as long as it didn’t interfere with their plans to hunt down Seven Seasons Widow… which then began different arguments.  

Inari accused Vanguard of dragging Summer into things that were going to get her killed. Okami pitched a fit about Summer trying to "override" orders that Vanguard had given, which culminated in him voicing a threat of violence against the Eclipse. Saffron Dusk haughtily made some comments about what to do with the patient records he’d recovered, and while his point seemed to be directed at Summer, Vanguard had to resist the urge to aggressively step up to him when he pulled Okami in as part of his point. Lovely Breath was the one who smoothed that over, thankfully. Inari threw their absence the past age in their faces, which resulted in snarls from Lovely Breath and caused the Dawn to storm off with Saffron Dusk rushing after her. Her fellow Hakuran's explosion was a relief, though, as it kept attention off herself so her own stunned and pained reaction was missed. 

Low Vice was a voice of reason, as usual, and when he offered up a concrete plan that involved actively pursuing Seven Seasons Widow, it was what Vanguard needed to seize on. Assured they were moving towards that goal, with a concrete timeline of “in the morning”, the other arguments were less concerning to her. 

Through it all, Vanguard’s brain was spinning, although her focus remained on the Death Knights that had fled. 

What are we fighting about… are we even fighting… it doesn't feel like Summer and I are fighting, for authority or anything else, so why the hells are the Lunars acting like this… and why is Inari obsessed with the Yuan as being the reason we're going after Seven Seasons Widow, we’re doing it because that bitch keeps killing Summer’s people, OUR people… if anyone could have just walked away, it’s me, so why is she acting like I’m pulling Summer along into this mess…

****

Eventually, Okami walked off from the group, and after a final rapid consult with Low Vice, Vanguard detached to go after him. The look on his face when he turned and saw her felt like a knife twisting. I’m letting him down. He’s not OK. I need to fix things.

“We need to talk,” Vanguard held up three fingers and sighed. “Argument, thanks, and the plan. Which do you want to do first.”

Okami looked a little surprised.  What, was he expecting a comforting hug or something first, I don’t— her mental ramble was interrupted when he firmly responded. “Argument.”  After a slight beat to take a deep breath, he started in.  “WHY DIDN'T TELL YOU TELL ME WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO BACK THERE. YOU JUST STAYED QUIET, I FELT LIKE I WAS MAKING AN IDIOT OUT OF MYSELF. YELL AT ME, BACK ME UP, FIGHT ME, I DON'T CARE, BUT YOU JUST DID NOTHING!”

She waited as he ranted himself out, then arched an eyebrow and quietly but fiercely said, “Well how was I supposed to do that when no one was listening and everyone kept interrupting – including you.”

“You could have still said something!”

“I was about to. I fact I was about to back YOU up on a point when you suddenly decided to turn things against Summer and tack on a threat. Which, by the way, you do not do. Ever. You do not attack her, you do not threaten her.”

“And what if she's trying to kill you, I'm just supposed to sit back and let her?”

“That's ridiculous, Summer isn't going to-”

“No, no, it's not ridiculous, it could happen, and what do you expect me to-”

Wait. Arguing that the fear is unfounded isn't going to help, it's not addressing what he's worried about. Hear what he’s actually saying. 

Vanguard put up a hand. “Yes. In the event Summer is trying to stab me in the face, then yes you can defend me. I cannot imagine that happening, ever, but if she's actively trying to kill me, I won't be angry at you for attacking her. But when we're just talking, even if it seems like we're arguing, you need to let us. Sometimes we need to argue.”

“That's incredibly unhealthy.”

She stared in open astonishment. “How is THAT unhealthy?”

“It's toxic!”

“It's not toxic. Sometimes I need to hear something, even if it's not something I want to hear, or makes me unhappy to hear. It helps. If I only heard things I liked… I’d get nowhere. And Summer knows what I need to hear sometimes, and she knows when to say it. So I need for you to let her. And a lot of the times, we aren’t really fighting, even if it might sound like it. We’re good.” 

He nodded reluctantly, and gruffly agreed that even if he didn't like it, he'd try. When she grumbled that now they just needed to get Inari on board from the other side, he seemed skeptical about the likelihood of that. Well Summer and I will deal with that. Just not tonight.

They kept talking. Okami expressed a concern that Summer was brainwashing her. At that, the Scout couldn't help herself and burst out laughing. She tried to subdue it quickly, recognizing his anxiety was real, and reassured him it wasn't a concern. She explained that they usually tried to wait until they had privacy to discuss things, and that they presented a united front, but that each of their voices was heard by the other and no one was being overwhelmed. 

At one point, the Lunar expressed frustration at not understanding the dynamics of how the group functioned, mainly Summer and Vanguard and how leadership worked itself out. She reminded him that he’d just shown up, and she was confident he’d learn. She also made a mental note, to find ways to give him direction. I can handle that. If what he needs is to know what my play is, what I want from him, I can do that now that I know. I've been trying to not step on him, but he's saying guidance on how to back me is what he wants. Listen, he's telling you what he needs, just listen. He also expressed worry about how Inari had been acting, which made her realize and cautiously comment about how Inari was likely terrified of losing her Solar after having been separated for so long. He admitted he could understand that, and Vanguard felt grief momentarily well up in her throat. She needed about that to talk to him, or Summer, or both… but not now. 

After confirming the argument was settled, Vanguard relaxed and shifted gears, thanking him sincerely both for having her back and for how he’d done in the battle earlier. He brightened, firmly stated that he always had her back and expressed that he'd been impressed by how she had handled things with the monsters and then again with the guards, and she felt a surge of warmth. Lastly, she mentioned the plan for leaving in the morning to hunt Seven Seasons Widow. 

Eventually, a loud bell rang out, indicating dinner was ready. Okami voiced they should get back, but something about being summoned by Saffron Dusk after his earlier attempted “lesson” put Vanguard’s hackles up. 

“Should we?” She asked dryly. 

“Why, are you figuring out when you can rip my clothes off?” he said cockily. Vanguard blinked and looked at him in astonishment.  

“Wha… ah… I… ” 

“I'm just joking. Let's go get dinner.” 

“That was just a lot more direct than you've been up until now.” Vanguard commented, starting to smile. 

“Come on… 'it's too hot to wear a shirt or button it up’…” He responded slyly. She shook her head slowly, smile growing. Nearby they heard Lovely Breath yelling out for them. 

“Let's go before she ends up in the bushes,” Vanguard said. Okami nodded and started to move, and was surprised when she abruptly turned and stepped in front of him. Before he could say anything, she'd given him a light kiss, which deepened as he returned the affection. After a few racing heartbeats, she took a step back. 

“We're coming, Lovely Breath!” She called out. With one last grin at her Lunar, who had been shocked into silence, she turned and headed back to camp.  

*

As they got dinner, Vanguard quietly asked Summer when the two of them could talk. They decided after dinner to physically make their way to the water temple rather than sending a sorcerous messenger and use that as the opportunity to talk in private. Along the way, they confirmed that neither of them was angry at the other, and discussed both the situation and their their Lunars’ reactions. At the temple, they handled things with their mortal allies and the refugees, including Summer seeming to acquire a new retainer, and then headed back to the camp. 

When they returned, it seemed like everyone was settling down to sleep. Vanguard conferred with Lovely Breath briefly on setting watches, unsure of threats from both sides of Thorns. Then she paused, looked at Okami’s tent, and made a decision… 

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