Who can say when change starts exactly? Did it happen when they left Haven? Was there something in the mists outside that little Waymount place Apple avoided entirely? Was it when Oakskin refused the Night Driver’s hospitality and told him to shove his precious secrets? Was it deciding to save the Legion instead of a Town? Who can say, but the telling of this change begins with Grayn Ghostblood.

In the gathering dark of the piney night, with the soft cloy of the needles all around them, a silence fell over the group. The dead beast-men did not rise. The door to the mines was stuck open. Some of them ached from exertion and old bruises.

“Listen, we need to talk,” said Grayn, cleaning and sheathing his cheap sword with practiced familiarity. For reasons perhaps of low self-esteem he had left behind the fine sword given him by the smith in Waymount. “It’s clear we’re all… ” and there wasn’t exactly a word for what they all were, so he settled on, “Exalted. So we each fight like the big wolf in the pack of dogs,” he shrugged in frustration with himself. “We fight like we’re in separate rooms.”

He identified Onyx and Chain, with their weapons and armor as their heavy hitters. Himself and Sanction as backup combatants. Oakskin as a distance and support. “We’re going to end up fighting – that’s inevitable – and we need to work out a strategy, or we’re going to get picked apart.”

They spoke of themselves. Grayn revealed he had once been much more than the pitiful man who they had sprung from jail drunk in Haven. Defeating – with powerful friends – the Death Knight Ghost Mask took “more than I could have imagined”. But it seemed now, his strength was remembering itself… perhaps in preparation for some challenge ahead.

At this point, Sanction brought up his desire to foster not only themselves, but all the living pieces of Creation. “If we don’t have to kill,” he drawled in his old world accent, “then let’s don’t!” As they talked about the desire to preserve life, the forest grew closer, and curious.

Naughty ThingFinally, a voice and following it, the body of a faun-like spirit emerged from the dark green. Curled horns issuing from curly dark hair, tiny gold rings adorning his upper body in all the likely and many unlikely places, furry legs shifting restlessly as his cloven hooves stamped in the needles.

Sanction assured the faun that they were indeed invested in making things better, and not in shedding unnecessary blood.

Satisfied, and obviously excited, the faun nodded and bobbed and began to tumble out an explanation of what was happening, under the watchful eyes of goats, in this old mine, and what he had deduced. A Lunar had come, with a number of beastmen. He’d left again and returned with a whole horde of legionaries. It turns out the Lunar was hunting for some device from the First Age, that according to his mad ramblings can “move mountains, can’t it? can’t it?”.

Seeming to have some personal experience with such things, the faun suggests that the Lunar was using an incredibly powerful intoxicant from the Age of Wonders to ensnare the legion men. As the faun described the drug in lurid terms, his body ran with goosebumps of recalled ecstasy.

Since Creation is never simple, it also seemed there was a Wild Fae gossamer in the Elsewhere that has attached itself to the Lunar, driving some insanity on and on in the man, making him obsessive over finding whatever the mining device is locked away down there that could move mountains. What would a Wild Fae do with such a thing? What wouldn’t it, really?

There did turn out to be another entrance, round the back. An accidental one. If they were really committed to the least bloodshed… were they?

They were.

Then there was a different soporific the faun could get hold of for them. It would work to subdue even the Lunar, even in the presence of the drug he’d already used on himself and the legionaries. The faun would leave it at the entrance up round the mountain, a well in a circle of dead cypress trees. Would that work for them?

It would.

When asked what his name was, and who he was, he flushed again, horripilating pleasurably. He looked cunning and devious. “At a party once… in Heaven… Luna called me ‘That Naughty Thing in the Ferns’.”

Going serious, but gold rings tinkling, “As to what I am, well, I’m just a Little God, who’s being very, very good. And following all the rules,” he stared at Sanction, a long, long stare.

When Onyx apologized for killing one of his goats (who were now watching over their mortal friend, the seer chasing the spirit of Justice, Arjos), Naughty Thing grinned another feral grin full of cunning delight, “Oh… well… there will always be more… goats.”


Dragon Well

cone nite scanAround the craggy and broken hill where the mine entrance was, sliding and slipping along deep drifts of old pine needles like ungainly children, they reach a seam between mountains. There was a double line of dead cypresses, silver with age. New trees stretched fine fingers together over the cypress remains, afraid to disturb them.

There was a low well in a circle of clear-cut stumps of cypress. There was a shrine or other structure that once sheltered the well. A half-dragon, half-human statue stood over the dark, frozen in the act of gathering water to itself.

They processed like quiet supplicants between the dead tress in a dead cathedral to long-gone nature. It was clear the place was empty and long-unattended. Sanction picked up a rabbit-skin purse dangling from the dragon-man’s fingers. He opened it, sniffs, pinches, tastes, sighs, and pronounces Naughty Thing’s little gift efficacious.

Oakskin announces there is no power which could compel her down that well, that she’d wait and make sure the rope and the way out are safe for when they return. They try not too hard to dissuade the unhappy lightfoot. Down they went.

At the bottom of the well, it was clear that a river had broken into the well, carrying masoned rubble with it to form a new bottom.

stairsThey made their way through the dry watercourse into the mines, going uphill. A long, low, dirty scuttle birthed them into an ancient bathing chamber. Originally shaped like a hippodrome, the room had become a horseshoe chapel to sharp rubble. The back wall turned out to be a shattered surface of a deep vein of volcanic glass, and a silent passageway led through the glass off to the left. To the right, there was a stairway down deeper into the earth, and maybe a little light. Padding forward on wrapped feet, Onyx listened and returned, reported he heard down below men moving about, and what was presumably the Lunar whispering quite madly to himself about “have to get it, don’t we? Don’t we?! Move mountains for her, move mountains we must. The sun commands! That’s what we must do… isn’t it!? Isn’t it!?”

Moving away from madness – as is often done in the beginning – they crept down the silent hallway. After a turn of the mine’s bowels, they reached a glass door fitted into a glass wall. Through the door, they saw a large round room ringed by dark-leafed vines hanging down from a broken ceiling in a circle around the room, thin feelers linked together. A banked fire of peat bricks burned in a circular depression in the floor. A score of naked men lay around the room, unconscious.

After some investigation, it was clear that the door was some kind of still-functioning artifact. Sanction puttered around, humming, and finally said to Onyx, “Well, you are a child of the Earth, why don’t you give it a go?”

Consternated, Onyx laid his hands on the glass and thought very, very hard. Moments later, some of his essence slithered into the glass. Moments after that, the cuneiform of the gods took shape inside the door, like crystals of frost on metal. Unsure what to do, he pushed, and the door fell silently away from him, careening toward the floor of the chamber beyond with its massive, fragile bulk. Gasping, he leapt forward, trying to catch it, ending up with a face full of maroon leaves and a nostril full of the sweetest scent he had ever experienced.

A moment of sickly sweet revulsion, followed by an intense desire to inhale as much of that scent as possible ran through all of them. Someone managed to plant a foot on Sanction’s robes before he went through the vines.

Inside the carefully-laid bricks of the fire was a tiny ball of chalk, slowly falling apart. Making a bit too much noise, they crossed the room to the left. From up the tracks across from the entrance, they heard guttural babbling and feet approaching. 3 Beast men, also clad badly in scavenged Legion armor entered the room. There were some misadventures, but they were disabled by the faun’s drug paste, and it seemed clear the vines contained the air in the chamber – more or less.

Heading left from the vine room, they found what must have been metalworks originally, but had been reconfigured as a primitive mess hall. There, they found Strength of Olives. Her left hand was gone, and the stump capped with silver. A long iron chain bound her tattooed and once-strong body to the wall near a converted furnace that was being used to cook some enormous pot of goat stew. She was covered in aggressive tattoos. Her left breast was gone, but healed over. Her pubis was covered by a small loincloth. She glared a welcome of hatred at them. No one recognized her visage or tattoos from around Creation.

She could not speak, because the Lunar had removed her tongue. She could, for reason, write in the High Realm calligraphy. After some brief conversation, it became clear she was a slave, bound to the Lunar, chained in this place. It was clear without conversation that she hated all men. She seemed to know a great deal of the profane words of the High Speech.

Onyx, the Eunuch, the one not-man among men moved forward, conversed with her, moved close, shared vulnerability and loss in whispers. He was rewarded with just the sort of kindness that Creation often brings: grudging respect and a knee to the groin. Strength of Olives expressed to them how she was bound to the Lunar by the silver stump, with or without the chain, how she had little agency, but was still alive. They should go, what use had she for freedom she would be punished for?

Heavy hearts as strong as the red intoxicating air hanging like tobacco smoke across their path, they made their ways back across the sleeping chamber.

Down the wider tracks to the right, they discovered an open cavern hosting at its center the spirit Arjos, its skull hanging from a black arch across the room, eyes burning while two obsidian faces glowered at it from the walls. The group acted quickly and decisively against the many beastmen and naked legionnaires in the space. There was a safe carved from jade across the room, and one of the Beastmen held the key.

At the end of the battle, they opened the safe. Inside it was a small box filled with chalk balls marked with the golden sigil of the Maiden of Serenity – more of the pollen of Adamanjor. They thought and spoke about facing the Lunar, and how that battle might go. Finally, they removed the skull of Arjos from its chain in the center of the room. Immediately, a black obsidian interdiction filled the dark arch, marked with pale First Age calligraphy noting the area beyond the arch was unsafe and forbidden except by command of the Solar Deliberative.

They thought about the possibilities of dosing the Lunar with the faun’s sedative. They thought about what would be needed to convince the Fae Gossamer to emerge rather than to lurk in the Elsehwere.

They returned to the kitchens, to the woman chained with the only cold, simple iron they knew of – the only true weapon against the hateful Fae. They sought her help, and her freedom. Probable they were giving her a good death in asking her to carry a lantern full of sedative to the Lunar and the men he was working with. She seemed to have already intuited this and did not demur. Anything was better for a woman whose face and breasts bore tattoos of the silent feathered hunter than being the whore and cook for a group of insensate Piss Legion miners.

They freed her. They considered facing a Wild Gossamer of the Fae. They made chains for their heads at the advice of Arjos, who had used Grayn’s body to scout the Elsehwere and get them information on their enemies. If the Lunar was incapacitated, and threatened, chances were the Gossamer would enter Creation to fight. Otherwise, the Gossamer might simply lurk or retreat.

A plan was founded. Chain paid Strength of Olives with the heads of Beastmen. Onyx paid her with a short but functional blade. Sanction gave her the lantern, narrowly resisting failing the whole affair just to bathe in its fumes.

They went into the old baths. Slowly, Strength of Olives descended toward madness.

Things grew strange after that. There were voices. Anger. A crash. Maybe there was silence, then, and tension for a while. Maybe the thing that crawled out of empty space, running after Sanction, who lurked down the stairs, came quickly. Maybe it feasted on the time it took to mount the stairs as it broke wetly out of the Elsewhere.

imagesIt seemed to emerge in segments out of nothingness. It seemed to create more space in the room as it tore in with its moth-like body, its lizard head, its 6 legs and its enormous moth wings flexing with a burning spectrum of power. It was angry, of that there was no post-assessment disagreement. It breathed out the blue and green colors of its displeasure over Sanction.

The battle began. Hapless Grayn vanished, wreathed in grey pallor, to reappear on the other side of the thing, his buried weapon darkening one entire wing. Instead of spinning into battle like an angry, bladed child’s toy as he had up above, Chain conjured the dark triumph of the water in that place and splashed blows across the Gossamer again and again. Onyx whirled and struck and dodged and carved at the terrible dusty strength of the thing’s wings.

Eventually, it came to this: Sanction igniting the sigil of Serenity on one of the balls of chalk. The breath of the thing gathered red and orange in its unreal throat as it buffeted Grayn aside. All their heads burned with the enormous agony of iron keeping the thing out of their minds. An aurora filled the air. The burning sparks of the ball were thrown to Onyx, after Sanction caught his eye. He may have said, “Well, sonny….”

Or maybe he didn’t.

A link of iron had been infused into the ball. Onyx spun as a dervish spins, rooted to the surety of the earth. He kicked the chalk ball. The earth trembled. Great spikes of granite began to fall from above.

The one fact they agreed on later: the dark arc of the iron on the ball pierced a clear curve through the creature’s breath, and out the back of its head, its mind released into open space as an expression of inorganic colors. The fire of its hate burst the chalk ball, and then the baths were again a place of pleasure and despair, those twins that never stray far from each other.

All of them inhaled – some in wonder, some in terror, some only in anticipation.

Funerary Admission

The Graveyard Minstrel sings…

[learn_more caption=”Smoke and Mirrors Lyrics”]

“Smoke And Mirrors”

You’re a fraud and you know it

But it’s too good to throw it all away

Anyone would do the same

You’ve got ’em going

And you’re careful not to show it

Sometimes you even fool yourself a bit

It’s like magic

But it’s always been a smoke and mirrors game

Anyone would do the same


So now that you’ve arrived well you wonder

What is it that you’ve done to make the grade

And should you do the same?

(Is that too easy?)

Are you only trying to please them

(Will they see then?)

You’re desperate to deliver

Anything that could give you

A sense of reassurance

When you look in the mirror


Such highs and lows

You put on quite a show

All these highs and lows

And you’re never really sure

What you do it for

Well do you even want to know?

You put on quite a show



Are you watching?

Are you watching?


Are you watching?



You’re a fraud and you know it

And every night and day you take the stage

And it always entertains

You’re giving pleasure

And that’s admirable, you tell yourself

And so you’d gladly sell yourself

To others



Are you watching?


Are you watching?


Are you watching?


Are you watching?


Such highs and lows

You put on quite a show

All these highs and lows

And you’re never really sure

What you do it for

Well do you even want to know?

Yeah you put on quite a show


It was daytime. Days had passed.

They were part of a procession. There was a minstrel, singing about frauds and open secrets, full of a sad honesty, and a strange spice of delight.


Wilder Cane bore the skull of Arjos in the pale air atop a long cane stalk, bobbing softly, as though Arjos were agreeing with itself that all it had done was correct. The minstrel’s assistant carried a matching cane, bobbing with the multicolored panoply of Sanction’s hat, colored streamers trailing.

They made their way on a broad path into a deep green graveyard overlooking a seaside town. They went solemnly, Oakskin glancing nervously around the company.

At a small fountain, in front of a likeness of the kind aspect of the Maiden of Endings, they found the dark, hooded figure. Their two standard bearers moved to each side.

Cloaked FigureThe hood fell back. The face down. In the fallen gloom of evening, with the crescent of the Lady of Changes lingering on the horizon, they were maddened not to be able to see the face of the Night Driver.

“I have made a mistake,” is how he began. More than one, Oakskin’s snort suggested.

“I imagined that this… game… we have all become involved in, the one that would bring challenges and better the world to come as the Solar Exalted re-emerge, would not involve changing and challenging me. This notion was… absurd.” He looked up at Oakskin, who was the pale intensity of his eyes.

The minstrel finished his song of their communal absurdity. He had the excuse and safety of the Fool about him.

“Do you still want to know… the truth?” the Driver asked Oakskin as she stood, rigid as the cane they’d cut down on … that they must have cut down on their way here.

They did not remember the journey.

They remembered colors, and choking. Maybe falling. The moon under the earth.

“Oh, now you’ll grace me with it?” she sarcassed, “Why not?”

A sadness like the weight of Creation cragged across the Night Driver’s face.

“I fell in love. Which is forbidden for me. This was my failure, and the beginning,” he intoned as the sky darkened with revelation. Luna held station at the rim of the world, too curious to depart into the dark.

“Eventually, to be with me, she whom I loved, arranged …” he looked up at the stars beginning to burn the blue skirt of heaven, “to die.”

He swallowed, and the stars reflected on hot, salt tears.

“But there was too much of her to pass… from the world, to simply accompany me.”

In that moment, it was possible that if any of them had spoken, or exerted the power that was with them in their blood, that what followed would not have happened, that another road could have been taken out of the cemetery above that inconsequential Periphery town.

None of them did. What would they have done? What could they have done?

“And the part of her that could not die took shape, as it must. It became…” and he gestured with one slow hand toward Oakskin, “She lived on, and she became… you, Oakskin,” his tone said daughter in place of the tracker’s name.

“My reticence to tell you – ” and the words caught in his throat, as terrible things do.

It was still not too late.

Something else could have happened. Luna could have reached down from her high white-walled tower in Yushan. She did not. The Night Driver already had a piece of her, and she would give him no more.

There could still be … something else.

Oakskin dropped her arms, glaring at the Night Driver, preparing some devastating retort.

Something else did not happen.

“I am half of the White Monarch of the Underworld,” he intoned, giving each listener a terrible power and responsibility.

“With her death, my only love would pass with me into my kingdom. But I was afraid that if I told you the truth – since you are made of the slender puissance of her hope, that… hearing it… you – ” and what the Night Driver feared, in naming it, came to pass.

“I was afraid that upon hearing what you were, you would -” and with that, Luna’s sharp white horns fell below the horizon into darkness. The stars came out. Oakskin faded, made as she was of not knowing and the last impulse to survive.

“…perish.” The Night Driver finished, weeping openly in the graveyard above a place where a spirit held inside a cow’s skull would bring hope and justice to the Periphery because a small group of persons had plunged into the fabric of Creation’s danger with great courage. And with hope. And a little help from the Naughty Things still being good Little Gods, and following all the rules.

And after the presence of the Night Driver freed them from the Pollen of Adamanjor, After the Moon Descended in Color and Delight of their last few days.