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Long-awaited and yet soon over, the Sidereals 2010 Starlight at the Well of Souls one-shot! Starring--no pun intended...

Alejo as Trajan Justinian Severus (aka "TJ"), a Chosen of Secrets with a split personality (though no one else knows that). Every time he goes to sleep he swaps between Trajan, who specializes in sorcery, and Justinian, who specializes in Tiger Style martial arts. He survives this by keeping a detailed journal of everything he does, and by using a hearthstone that lets him instantly know the names of everyone he sees.

Debbie as Alex, an androgenous Chosen of Endings who uses a new and experimental [read: the DM made it up, and it's still a little unbalanced] martial arts style based on origami. Alex is referred to as "him" in the summary below, but as far as anyone knows, "her" would be just as appropriate.

Tyler (aka "Tiff") as Rob, a Chosen of Serenity who is seven feet tall and tools around in a suit of starmetal armor with a giant goremaul hammer. Though he is originally from Lookshy he actually hates war and his true ambition is to be a poet.

Nathalie as Erika, a Night Caste Solar fron Sijan who enjoys slaying ghosts.

For the sake of brevity, the summary below assumes that the reader is already familiar with the various peculiarities of Sidereal characters--i.e. that you know what pattern spiders are and have a reasonable mental image of what Yu-Shan is like. If that's not the case you will be very disoriented.

Part 1: Crashing Spiders

Our story opens upon Alex, who is hard at work with paperwork in one of the Cult of the Illuminated training camps. We're serious when we say paperwork; everything that ought to end up in the wastebasket gets folded into the shape of an animal and set on a shelf. A magical messenger-bird from Yu-Shan comes in and deposits a letter from the Convention on Oversight informing him that he is being given an emergency new assignment and that he should use the enclosed "Babylon Candle" to teleport back to Heaven immediately. [The candle is borrowed from the movie Stardust.] Though initially suspicious of the summons, Alex eventually commits the five Essence that lights the candle and transports him back to Yu-Shan as it burns.

Alex materializes in a wax circle on the floor of a foyer flanked by two similar circles, in which soon appear Justinian and Rob. The three have all seen each other briefly at Gold Faction events, but this is the first chance they have had to speak with each other. Justinian teases Rob about being "the living statue". A spirit beckons them into the inner chamber, a large lecture hall which is permeated with the overwhelming smell of coffee. In the front of the hall they meet none other than Chejop Kejak--still alive and kicking 34 years after the breaking of the Jade Prison, though he does seem to be responsible for the coffee smell. He has a large mug of it and doesn't look like he's been getting a lot of sleep lately. The table in front of him contains a pattern spider which is either dead or at least very seriously broken; its legs are all scrunched up in classic dead-spider form.

Kejak explains to the party that for the past few weeks, pattern spiders have been crashing on the Loom. Though they are capable of repairing each other, they're having to do this with such frequency that they are having trouble keeping up with their standard Loom maintainance. He managed to have this one removed a day or so ago in hopes of studying it, but it's of such inscrutable workmanship that he can't see where the problem is; nothing seems physically broken. The party's mission is to find out what has been triggering the crashes, and if possible, set it right. Justinian asks several questions about possible leads. Kejak's information is limited since he (and most other elder Sidereals) have been busy fixing the contradictions caused by the spiders' negligence, but he is able to inform them that the problem appears to stem from bad threads on the Loom and that the area that seems dangerous has been tagged. Kejak asks the party to report back to him with news once they have it, and gives them all cards that will, for the next two weeks, allow them passage on the Gold Lanes of Yu-Shan's dragon boat canals.

Having been dismissed, the party heads to the Loom of Fate. After some searching they find an area on the Loom marked out with loose knots of red thread, and begin a long series of Perception+Investigation rolls to see what's in it. Justinian has an Investigation excellency and therefore does most of the work. They find the bad thread when a spider takes a wrong step and crashes right in front of them, and Justinian tries identifying it. The thread offers no mental images about who or what it belongs to--touching it only causes the investigator to hear a horrible, panicked scream. They have little luck seeing what crosses the bad thread, but they do find a thick thread running parallel to it--one that would indicate someone powerful--and find that this thread crosses that of Sijan, the City of the Dead.

Part 2: Sijan

Justinian spends the trip on the dragon boat writing in his journal. They take a Celestial Gate to Sijan, and climb out from the basement where it's being hidden into the lower section of the city. Asking a local live mortal doesn't reveal much; he seems to be rather scared of everything. The party does learn that the city's leadership consists of the dead and is located on the upper levels.

The party locates an office of internal affairs and talks to the receptionist (the first of many they'll encounter this week!) She asks if "The Wailing Maiden" sent them, and when they answer in the affirmative (Alex botches, claiming they are brothers--NO family resemblance--but they smooth it over) she asks about their "parentage." They say their last name is "Shadowstep" and she heads into the offices deeper within, presumably to get more help for them. The party looks over the papers on her desk; they seem to be geneology charts. They ponder what this might mean; to most people the dead are just dead and as long as they end up in the Underworld, no one cares much how they got there. They note that ghosts can get power from living descendants who honor them, but also recall that of all the people in Creation, those most concerned with bloodlines are...Dragonbloods.

Investigations are brought to an end when an arrow sails through the window at Justinian, who dodges it, and they all join battle against a group of three mysterious people who attack them from the street outside. The enemy group consists of one archer, one swordfighter, and one initially-hidden spellcaster. All are equipped with what appears at first to be soulsteel, but on closer inspection is actually an alloy of soulsteel and jade. Justinian jumps up to the wall where the archer is hiding and makes short work of him. Alex and the swordfighter trade blows for a bit, and Alex and Rob get caught in a field of grasping bone hands that come up from the ground, summoned by the necromancer who is only noticed as the archer gets finished off. Rob, it appears, doesn't have spectacular aim, but when he does hit, he hits hard--when he finally connects with the swordfighter he pretty well flattens him. The necromancer, who is manifesting a vaguely-fiery anima banner, tries to run away, but Justinian knocks her out without killing her, and the party takes her back to Yu-Shan for questioning. They also loot the soulsteel-jade-alloy sword for investigation, and Alex loots a letter off the archer.

At the Forbidding Manse of Ivy, the party reserves an interrogation room and chain up the necromancer with Essence-dampening chains. With the aid of some truth serum they are able to get several facts out of her. She claims to have been "born with" her Exalted power and says it activated when she was twelve. However, she herself was never a Dragonblood proper. Their chain of command consists of a Deathlord called The Wailing Maiden of Screaming Silence at the top, with an Abyssal called The Prince of Corrupted Sun under her, and these mysterious corrupted Dragonbloods underneath.

The party begins speculating that The Wailing Maiden of Screaming Silence might be responsible for the bad thread. It seems plausible considering the thread was carrying a scream and no one seems to know exactly where the Deathlord is. However the necromancer, still under the effects of the serum, mentions a resistance within Sijan dedicated to keeping the Underworld and Creation separate. It's led by a Ghost-blooded whose name she doesn't know, and he has a student who was, long long ago, "in the same Circle" as The Prince of Corrupted Sun. That student, however, left Sijan a few months ago. The party accepts this as a new lead and head off for the Loom of Fate again, leaving the necromancer chained up, and leave directions with the Forbidding Manse of Ivy receptionist to keep her sedated. They try to schedule an appointment with Chejop Kejak, but are informed that he is "booked through Tuesday, for the next century."

Part 3: Nathir

The next morning the party meets up outside the Lotus of Heavenly Design. Alex is slightly surprised at Trajan's casually clueless "so, what are we looking for?" greeting. A return trip to the Loom reveals that the powerful person's thread they found before--probably belonging to this most-likely-Solar student--crosses the thread for Nathir, a city along the Yellow River southeast of Sijan. The party locates the Celestial Gate for Nathir and heads through, and after a day of walking they arrive in Nathir.

The party locates an inn, and Alex chats up the locals a bit. The locals bemoan the fact that the nightlife is not as great as it used to be, and when asked why, reveal that a casino in town, The Palace of Felt and Ivory, was closed about a month ago and is now boarded up, and has been pretty well looted of its valuables by now. When the party asks why it was closed, the locals' main hypothesis is that the place was haunted, probably by the ghost of its old owner who died a year ago.

Despite how late it is, the party heads to the casino to check the place out. Sure enough, it has been abandoned for some time. They find absolutely no evidence of paranormal activity, but in the office upstairs Alex finds a journal belonging to someone named Hesperos. The journal begins some years back and he reads through its account of how Hesperos moved to Nathir from locations farther west and took an office job at a metalworking company. It seems he was an occasional patron of the casino, and also enjoyed hiking in the nearby countryside. A few years ago, during Calibration, he mentions some dizzy spells, and soon afterwards, describes a sudden ability to increase his chance of winning games seemingly by force of will. The journal even includes some coin-flipping trials he did by himself; if he thought about getting Heads, the coin came up Heads. Alex runs a quick statistical t-test and concludes the results are significant. The real clincher is that people in the casino didn't seem to notice when he won more often than chance should dictate, and kept returning to win again, and that he also noted: if he used this power too much at one time, his forehead glowed blue.

The party concludes this person was a ronin Sidereal, and they continue reading the journal: it appears that with his newfound divinely-bestowed luck he became a professional gambler and quit his old job where "people were jerks anyway." When civil war in the Realm brought bad economic times to the region he bought up some of the failed businesses in the area, and about a year ago, the casino itself, when its old owner succumbed to a sudden illness. The journal ends a month ago; his last entry states he was going on a camping trip in the hills to the southeast. The party searches the journal for the average length of such excursions and finds them to be a couple days to a week long at most, so, concluding that he likely won't be back anytime soon, they take the journal with them. The party returns to the inn, share a room amongst the three of them, and sleep, though Rob complains the beds are too small.

In the morning they come down for breakfast and ask people why they thought the casino was haunted. The locals describe how people frequenting the casino began to suffer from accidents--falls, injuries, and other strokes of bad luck. Justinian notices that a young woman in the corner of the room is watching them; she is dressed in black leather, carries a sword and dagger, and has bright yellow blonde hair. The party asks about a doctor who might know about the injuries suffered by casino patrons, and the locals direct them to a "Doctor Ellis" in the north part of town.

The party heads off to Doctor Ellis' office. They suspect the girl from the inn may be tailing them secretly, but can't see her. Doctor Ellis is friendly and relates stories of broken bones, burns, concussions and other injuries suffered by casino partons, none of which were directly fatal. It does seem that all injuries related to the "casino haunting" were of an accidental nature. After much hemming and hawing the party resolves to search the southeast for signs of this ronin Sidereal. Justinian struggles to cast Cirrus Skiff, and when he has almost finished, he is interrupted by Erika, who introduces herself rather simply in the true "I see your party has no Night Caste" style. Justinian recasts the spell, and they all head off together on the cloud.

Part 4: Scorpion

Erika, it seems, turns out to be a useful acquisition: she spots a month-old campsite down amongst the trees. The party (sans Justinian, who works to maintain the cloud) examines the campsite and finds that there is one set of human footprints leading from town, and several sets leading to and from the campsite from farther southeast. They board the cloud again and head farther southeast. Erika hears voices talking as they approach a stream, so she gets off and investigates. She reports back saying that she saw a group of people around a large metal structure, using a lot of metal tools. There were five humans, one of whom seemed to be wearing some kind of interesting armor, but she couldn't get close enough to see him clearly because there were a couple constructs with them who also looked pretty alert. They were speaking in two different languages, neither of which she can speak. When Justinian speaks a few words of Old Realm she identifies that as one of the languages the mysterious people were speaking. Alex scopes them out too, with similar results: those speaking Old Realm are speaking in a very strange accent, and he can make out the names of some of the Magical Materials in their speech. The other language is unknown to him; if Sidereals knew what German was, it would sound like that--but they don't, so it's completely unfamiliar.

Justinian flies over with the cloud and, with the aid of his Naming Stone, sees that the person in "interesting armor" is Hesperos, but again, can't see him too clearly. The party regroups on their side of the stream and decides to have most of them approaching on foot, while Justinian flies over and prepares in case of hostilities.

Hostilities, it seems, are inevitable: once the party gets within range to see their targets, they are seen as well. Four of the five humans are in buff jackets and carrying crossbows--a weapon the Sidereal protagonists have never seen before. The fifth, Hesperos, is not actually wearing armor--he's a cyborg. His left arm, both legs from his knees to his feet, and one eye (with the surrounding skull) are completely made of metal. He greets the party by leveling an arm-mounted cannon at them and demanding, in Old Realm, that they surrender their artifacts to "He who gave them life"--and that "resistance is futile."

The party's first actions are to jump Hesperos. Alex whacks him with a stunt combined with an overpowered-via-miscommunication combo, which Justinian immediately follows with a frankly spectacular stunt in which he lands on Hesperos from above and then attacks him and his two closest allies. The end result is that Hesperos is KO'ed immediately, which would be disappointing except that they don't simply kill him off; they just knock him out, which makes this ultimately a rescue and not just a sudden offing of the end boss. The remaining extras also offer an interesting resistance. One powers up a control panel on the large metal device, which after five ticks of punching buttons, lights up and begins humming ominously. Others fire crossbows, but the shots go wide. Since they are all "heroic" mortals with the full seven hit boxes, they take some time to wear down. Justinian kills one in the river, one is knocked out, and the other two eventually surrender.

The captured humans attempt to stall for time, but the party forces them to deactivate their machine. The prisoners roll well enough on Valor, but repeated threats of pain by the party break down their resolve and they reveal they are there on behalf of "The Great Maker, Autochthon," who they claim is dying and needs Magical Materials to survive. When pressed they reveal that the large device is a teleporter by which they arrived, and from which those back home will expect a status report. Justinian sends back a "Stand by" message to allay suspicion while they continue interrogation; Rob later smashes the machine with his hammer. When asked about Hesperos, the Autochthonians explain that they brought him to Autochthon's service and describe him as "empowered, like you"--Alex and Justinian are glowing brightly by this point--and that he was in charge here because he was familiar with the area.

Meanwhile, Erika searches the area for ghosts, and finds none, but does find the bits of orichalcum ore in the stream that the Autochthonians were no doubt panning for. She recognizes the metal as being somehow "hers" and keeps a chunk for a souvenir. The Sidereals notice some "bad vibes" in Fate coming from around Hesperos and ask the Autochthonians about it; they're not sensitive to Fate, so they have no idea what it's about. Alex botches his examination of Hesperos' soulgem and tries to break it with his staff. It doesn't work and Hesperos gets hit with bashing damage instead. Justinian intervenes and they decide that Rob should stay behind and guard the Autochthonians, while the others summon another cloud, take Hesperos back to Yu-Shan, and add him to their collection of interesting people to interrogate.

Part 5: Denoument

Alex, Justinian, and Erika, with Hesperos in tow, head back to Yu-Shan. Erika is appropriately overwhelmed by all the heavenly splendor and much impressed by the Celestial Lions; apparently she likes cats. Upon arrival at the Forbidding Manse of Ivy they realize that taking Erika anywhere near Chejop Kejak would be a Very Bad Idea, so Alex takes her to his Celestial Manse for food and rest--and a subtle hint that she might have a future with the Cult of the Illuminated. Justinian, meanwhile, has a very irritating time trying to contact Chejop Kejak. He's still booked halfway to eternity, so he leaves a message for him at the front desk and tries to drag Hesperos down the hall for another interrogation room. On the way Hesperos starts to wake up, so Justinian knocks him out again. This triggers a first aid alarm on the wall nearby, which summons an Ambulance Spirit. She greets them ("Please state the nature of the medical emergency!") and sees that Hesperos is in need of serious attention--to which he is completely entitled, as the spirit's preliminary examination betrays the fact that Hesperos is still a Sidereal underneath all that metal. She morphs into an ambulance arial rickshaw and takes Hesperos and Justinian to The Laboratory for the Knowing of Unknown Ailments, where Hesperos gets taken to a room and Justinian writes a lot in his journal.

The next morning, Trajan tries to convince the staff at the hospital to let him check on Hesperos' condition. The doctor (who suspiciously resembles The Doctor on Star Trek Voyager) describes how they managed to break Hesperos' soulgem without killing him, and how he had to stimulate Hesperos' bone marrow to get him to produce his own blood again (since his blood was apparently replaced with Essence oil). Hesperos will still be sleeping it off for a few days. Trajan finally receives a letter from Chejop Kejak requesting an immediate meeting. Alex has received a similar letter, so they meet with Kejak in one of his many offices. This time he is not carrying around a giant coffee mug--the spiders stopped crashing at almost the exact time Hesperos' soulgem was broken. Alex brings a looted crossbow and the soulsteel-jade-alloy sword for Kejak to examine. He listens to their story with some concern, and examines the crossbow very carefully. He is familiar with Autochthon, but remembers him leaving Creation when he was a couple hundred years old. Alex also hands over Hesperos' journal, which Kejak sends to the Bureau of Destiny for examination, and he sends along their request to have someone go pick up Rob and his prisoners. Chejop Kejak also signs orders for the three victorious party members to have new Artifacts commissioned as their reward, claiming that they have certainly "earned their wings."

The Sidereals reconvene for a party at Alex's manse, where Erika has been hanging out all this time. Alex's sifu Zella comes back, having finally been relieved of fixing the Fate-contradictions that the pattern spiders were leaving behind. He turns on the recruitment charm with Erika, addressing her respectfully as "Lawgiver" and pouring on the "so wonderful to have you here," etc. flattery.

Finally, the party heads back to the hospital, where Hesperos is finally awake and in control of himself. Having been disconnected from Autochthon, he now has to commit a point of Willpower to his robotic limbs in order for them to work. He also seems dazed, having just come back from some very traumatic memories. When the party asks him about what he remembers about Autochthon he only remembers "floating in a liquid"--the rest is either too fuzzy or suppressed. The party takes this in stride, and expresses regret that he was not picked up by the Five-Score Fellowship earlier, but also their hope that his unique perspective will be useful in facing the coming challenges. The story ends in a poignant dialogue:

Hesperos: (looking bitterly at his metal limbs) "I... I can't go home like this..."

Trajan: "You are home. We need your help... and we can help you."

Hesperos: "Where is this?"

Trajan: "Uh, Doctor, is this patient cleared to step outside?"

The Doctor: "Well I suppose if he can walk stably...though I wouldn't go on any mile-long hikes."

Trajan: "That's fine.... let's go outside and see where you really are."

Hesperos: "Okaaay...." (they head out to a balcony and look out at the skyline of Heaven; Hesperos is flabbergasted)

Alex: "Nice place, isn't it?"

Trajan: "This is where we work to keep creation running."

Hesperos: "Okaay..."

Trajan: "And creation is about to undergo a lot of turmoil if the Autochthonians decide to invade, so we're going to need your help.... I understand you need time to recover, but when you're ready to work, you really can't escape it. It's your destiny."




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