Kami and Chelsea make the necessary repairs to the Crimson Gale, while Olivia is gone fetching the artifact prizes for the party. Hunter and Blake disappear into the desert, entering the Underworld and training in its dark, inviting expanse. Kami trains Sam and Txori to develop their essence, all the while helping them envision a new future that they are to bring about. Chelsea completes work on the Crimson Gale’s cannon. TJ has disappeared into fate, telling the party that he will be available once a week for a few hours in an oasis a hundred miles to the west. He warns them that while his ally in Yu-Shan has successfully concealed all their fates, effectively faking their deaths, Welkin’s ghost will sooner or later be available for questioning either by some Deathlord or by the Yozis so they will only have a month at most of peace.
Once Olivia has returned, exchanging the Transcendent Phoenix Pinions, Soulsteel Razorclaws, Collar of Thunders, and parts for the Cornea of the Mind’s Eye for Sam’s family heirloom, the centerpiece for the Crown of the Craft-King. Kami finishes training Sam and Txori, and once Hunter returns with Blake, Olivia, Kami and Hunter take their leave, claiming that they’ll be in touch again soon assuming the Bull of the North doesn’t kill them all (ha ha… wait you’re serious?).
On a hot sunny day in an oasis in the midst of the ruins of a once-great city, TJ suddenly appears amidst the party, greeting everyone with a friendly yet slightly haggard demeanor. TJ presents a new mission to the party: locate the contaminant affecting the Free Man and neutralize it. TJ informs the party of an ally waiting for them at the Bureau of Secrets and several Sidereals that are likely to be reliable contacts, then secretly informs Chelsea (and Txori inadvertently) where he will be located, in case they are required to give information and must be indirect about who they will give it to.
After some planning, the party determines that Txori’s Eclipse Caste diplomatic immunity should get them into Yu-Shan, so they enter the hallway containing the portal and see two Celestial Lions standing guard. Txori respectfully approaches and claims business in Yu-Shan with the Free Man, which the Celestial Lions do not contest, but they are generally wary of Txori’s companions. Txori vouches for their necessity, and each party member claims to wish no chaos nor harm within the city (except for Blake who meekly states, “I’m just here” to the shrugging approval of the Celestial Lions). They are permitted into the great heavenly city of Yu-Shan, an enormous and beautiful city, more elaborate than anything they could have believed possible were they not laying eyes on it.
With a few easily followed instructions and Txori’s deep pockets (in Creation terms) the party quickly catches a boat ride to the Slightly Less Forbidding Manse of Kudzu, an office near the Forbidding Manse of Ivy. Loitering outside the building is a tall Northerner wearing monk’s robes and carrying a golden sigil of a bull, introducing himself as Joshua. With a glance he notes that two of his new allies are creatures of darkness, but this does not disturb him, and they move inside to continue their planning. Sam verifies Joshua’s identity, and some planning takes place.
Between TJ’s advice on the room number and Joshua’s knowledge of the building, they soon find themselves in an empty hallway outside the Free Man’s unassuming office. Txori detects two heartbeats and lowered voices discussing subcommittee budgets, one of which belongs to the Free Man. Chelsea is unable to penetrate the room with her (formerly Welkin’s) spy eye, however. The party is planning on entering and confronting the Free Man, but Joshua volunteers to go in first since he’s the only one who isn’t supposed to be dead. Everyone else backs up around the corner as Joshua knocks, and in a moment, a young woman with red star-flecked eyes answers and admits Joshua.
This breaking of the room’s barrier allows Chelsea’s spy eye to see into the room. With Hellscry Chakra active, she can see that the woman, a strange plant on a windowsill, and a strange stone acting as a paperweight on the desk are all of Malfeas. The woman is a Sidereal Akuma, and the plant is some kind of soulforged demon. Blake can smell the woman and the demon, and sizes them both up with Blood-Scenting Hunger, finding her to be Essence 5. Joshua appraises the woman, detecting her backing both in Yu-Shan and in Malfeas, and also noting that the Free Man is very tired and sloppy, but believes himself to be sharper than ever, having been manipulated by someone who regularly tampers with some of the essence-wielding objects within the room. Joshua begins to spin a story of TJ contacting him shortly before disappearing, which catches the Free Man’s attention so that he wards the room against scrying and commands his assistant, Mitia, to prepare to take Joshua’s statements. Chelsea’s view cuts off, to her dismay, but she and Blake have shared information with Txori, who is now scribbling a transcript of what is happening inside.
As Joshua stalls with a winding story of TJ warning him of a traitor within Yu-Shan, he reads Mitia’s intentions and learns that she is anxious, preparing to kill him at the first opportunity. The Free Man begins mapping out a course of action, and Mitia asks that Joshua step outside for just a moment while they consult. Once the door closes, Txori can hear her walk over to the plant on the sill and water it, and Blake is suddenly aware that the plant demon is expending essence. Within moments, the Free Man’s mumbling becomes more disjointed and quiet, and then he begins to snore quietly. Mitia then suddenly and barbarically crawls onto the walls and then the ceiling, and as the Free Man’s warding fails Chelsea can see into the room, almost losing her lunch as the young woman is now crawling, spider-like, along the walls with her elbows and knees bent unnaturally outwards.
Mitia knocks on the door, inviting Joshua back in, but Txori makes a “do not recommend” face, while Grey is busily casting Infallible Messenger to warn all three of their Sidereal contacts that this is happening. Joshua apologizes, saying he’s thinking of something, as he activates Solar Hero Form as Blake begins casting Soul Brand to apply a brand to Joshua. Mitia crawls into the shadows under the table and almost flickers out of existence, but finds she cannot, cursing quietly. Txori, Chelsea, Sam and Grey all glance at each other, preparing for the worst, as Mitia crawls back up the wall to the area over the door, preparing to launch an assault.
Joshua is the first to strike, punching through the wall above the door to grab and crush the Akuma, but she evades his strike, skittering away across the ceiling. Blake completes casting Soul Brand and places it on Joshua, plotting to break the Shade Prison Amulet she possesses. The Sidereal bursts through the door, suddenly gesturing outwards, and everyone can see fine spidery threads launching at them, except Chelsea who is behind the corner. Blake is wounded when one thread pierces her abdomen, but everyone else defends, and Txori retaliates with a storm of five arrows, one of which hits Mitia in the shoulder, wounding her. Sam attempts to grapple their foe but somehow she skitters out of his sure grip. Chelsea, determining that this foe is only half the battle, uses her telekinesis to attack the strange plant, cutting it in half. Each half seems to revert to a half of a strange, black oily creature she rapidly identifies as a demon known as Zolanski, progeny of the Midwife of Festivity, and the same type of demon that was in the music boxes.
Blake, wounded and furious, activates Shrouded Claw Attack, flips open her razor claws, and savagely tears through the Akuma’s defenses, besting even her Duck Fate attempt, and tears out her heart in a splattering of blood and vital organs. She feasts on her essence and at least some of her blood while everyone stares a bit awkwardly. After a bit, Blake calms down, though she’s still limping, and the party starts to try and determine their next move.
Chelsea inspects the Free Man, who is sleeping, and decides to use her Stone of Dream Entrance to see what the state of his mind is. She sees he dreams himself trapped in an endless desert, trying to find the way home. She appears as a disembodied voice, giving him two roads, one to normal Creation and one with Yozi architecture. He stands, confused, unable to determine which is the correct one, and Chelsea determines he may yet care for Creation but he may have lost his ability to see the way.
About this time, a squad of Celestial Lions appears with M. Chapman, and shortly thereafter more Lions appear with the Instructor. The corpse of Mitia has disintegrated into smoke at this point, but her clothes and blood that is covering Blake reveal her fate. The demon and the paperweight are both presented as evidence, but they also want to hear from the Free Man, who, once awakened, insists that Txori, Grey, Chelsea, Sam and Blake all be arrested. The other Sidereals are skeptical but he does outrank them, so Sam intervenes and persuades them of the truth. When the Free Man continues to be unreasonable, the Celestial Lions imprison the entire party as well as the Free Man in the Heavenly Palace of Luxurious Interrogation, a common place of imprisonment for Sidereals and other Heaven-allied prisoners.
There is food aplenty, and showers as well, and soon the party is clean and some have chosen to take the risk of eating. The Free Man is still sullen and bitter even after Chelsea talks to him though she detects a hint of fear behind the crankiness, so Txori hands him a napkin with a subliminal message, “What are you afraid of?” After a few moments the Free Man breaks down crying, terrified at his own inability to see Fate and what to do to save Creation. Chelsea, finally convinced he truly does want to save Creation, hands him her Heartsong Flute. The music plays and begins in a minor note, and though even Chelsea cannot read his heart with it, the Free Man himself is eventually soothed by the music, reading his own motivation and seeing it through the painful process of changing back to something that is closer to his heart’s true desire.
Afterwards, he is quiet and stands apart for some time, before returning, promising he has rid himself of the contamination, begging for the party’s forgiveness, and sending them on their final mission: They must infiltrate Malfeas and determine what the Yozi’s master plan is. All eyes slowly turn to Chelsea, and she looks fairly horrified at the prospect.
The Free Man claims he will break out from the prison, leaving an opening for everyone to escape from Yu-Shan, and he will soon be thrown in the Heavenly Dungeon of Not-Luxurious Interrogation and Screaming, but when they learn what they need to, they need simply send an Infallible Messenger to the Instructor and M. Chapman, and they will accomplish what needs to be accomplished.
The Free Man uses his incredible martial arts prowess to burst out through the walls of the prison, assaulting every guard at once, and then tears down the hallway in a rampage, while the party takes off at super speed (Blake’s and Joshua’s athletics charms, Chelsea’s hoverboard, and Grey’s Cirrus Skiff) and get out of Yu-Shan just in the nick of time.
- Chelsea: Good morning your aspiring imperial majesty.
- Someone: “We have legitimate business, I’m bringing myself in for questioning.” Jennifer’s response: “Interrogate me again…”
- Eli: “So what do we call you now?” Dillen: “…Blake.” Alejo: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if she took the title The Abyssal Formerly Known as Blake?”
- Joshua: “I’ll go in first, is that okay with everyone?” Txori: “Please stand in front of me, yes.”
- Eli: “Grey has just IM’d all our Sidereal contacts with what’s happening.” Jennifer: “Chelsea mentally upgrades Grey from serf to citizen, well done.”
- DM: “Mitia starts cursing in several different languages.” Txori: “It’s all going in the transcript, lady.”
- Txori, to Blake: “How much of that is your blood?” Blake: “It’s all mine now!”