Arrant Green Jay heads east to the town of Kengare to secure access to their famous liqueur. Along the way, he fights off some bandits. The village turns out to be having bandit problems of its own. Along with one of the caravan guards and a mercenary hired to help with the problem, he defeats the bandits and their leader, a leaf-coated lord of the Fair Folk. The other two reveal themselves as Solar, though he does not, and no lasting friendships are formed. He heads home.
Arrant Green Jay, Takuro, and Khazarkhan meet in Lookshy through a lot of coincidence and a little magic. Acting on prophetic visions and some astrological investigation, they set forth towards Sijan to uncover the tombs of their First-Age predecessors.
During a stop at the small port of Bulto, they pick up a follower in the form of Squirt, a young urchin, and do battle with some strange, foul-smelling entity that is possessing drowned corpses to harass local shipping.
The heroes reach Sijan, locate their tombs, and engage in some bureaucratic bribery to learn more about the history of the Black Chase. They pass a curious silver-haired man and woman of some importance, who seem to pay special scrutiny to the characters. Afterwards, they set off for the Black Chase and Takuro's tomb, meeting a pair of curious maidens along the way.
They encounter Takuro's First-Age Lunar wife, locate the tomb, and gain admittance, lifting the spell that shielded it from detection. Squirt and a wall mural make them realize they maidens they met were Maidens.
The heros descend into a dank, foul cave, find a dark copy of their Manse at the edge of the Labyrinth, and defeat the hungry ghost of Resplendent Something-or-Other, then seal the passage with salt. The silver-haired individuals from before pay a visit, revealing themselves as Abyssal emissaries who come in peace, bearing greetings from the Silver Prince.
At the urging of the local elementals, the heros head to three villages to the northeast ruled by Fair Folk. The two most obnoxious are convinced to relocate to Nexus, and the third becomes their general, bringing her elite order of citizen-warriors with her.
The Sidereal Pensive Reflection appears at the Manse, and convinces Khazarkhan and Arrant Green Jay to help with a problem. That problem turns out to an ancient warstrider which is seeking to force the reincarnation of its master so that they may slay Dragon-Blooded together. They talk it down and fly it back to the Manse with the assistance of Natanya, another Sidereal.
Takuro returns; he and Arrant Green Jay go West to speak with Lyta, the reincarnation of the warstrider's master. The meeting is less than fruitful, but remains civil. Khazarkhan resolves the situation by breaking his oath to help the warstrider, disconnecting it instead.
Arrant Green Jay and Takuro head north to Skullstone to pay a visit to the Silver Prince. Along the way they meet Rika, a young Solar pirate who seems to also be a reincarnated member of the Circle. She joins them, they pay their respects, and head home.
Back home, Khazarkhan's wife Naeshan shows up, improving his disposition greatly.
Glides with Hope begins to feel ill. Arrant Green Jay diagnoses it as an Essence-deficiency disorder. A milennium and a half in a shadowland have aspected her towards Death. The prescribed cure is hot, steamy sex with Takuro, who flees back to Lookshy instead. Arrant Green jay follows by a much shorter route using the artifact Khazarkhan found.
Takuro convinces the Thorns exiles to join him at Noontime Glory. A shadowy thing attacks him in his room, and he is arrested on suspicion of rabble-rousing. The leaders of Lookshy's sorcerors secure his release, realizing he could be a powerful ally. The adjutant general is slain by one of the shadows.
Everyone returns home and starts annoying the Guild by liberating slave caravans and adding them to the burgeoning population of their new city-state. On one such trip, they are assaulted by the Wyld Hunt. After a hard-fought battle, one member of the attack squad lies dead and the other three are taken captive.
More visits to Heaven are made to research Takuro's dreams about the reforging of The Blade with the Really Long Name. Takuro finally sleeps with Hope, improving her disposition greatly. A seed of an idea to steal the Calendar of Setesh is hatched. One captive Terrestrial starts coming about in her views, and one escapes. Khazarkhan receives word that his children have Exalted.
Arrant Green Jay, Takuro, and Khazarkhan head to the Realm incognito to investigate the power struggle focussing around the latter's freshly-Exalted children. Takuro indulges in his desire to act and gets drafted to perform at a Cynis party while the others meet with Naeshan and question Sesus Nagezzar over his involvement.
Takuro manages to leave the Cynis Party. Arrant Green Jay buys a shop and house, and hires a perceptive melon vendor to man the store, which will be producing melon liqueur in the back room. Khazarkhan meets with Naeshan again. Takuro then uses charms to pump the headmaster of the school for information on visitors. Khazarkhan manages to break the Celestial Circle binding on his wife that prevented her from talking about the fact that Sidereals run the Heptagram. Takuro then visits Cathak Laina and gets it on while discussing politics.
Khazarkhan visits his children. His daughter is accepting but cautious, while his son seems more wary. The three return to Noontime Glory, where they learn that Arrija has renounced asceticism as enlightened path, Shakar Hawk is showing an interest in her, and Glides-With-Hope's Caste Mark seems to be changing. (The latter has also continued the prescribed treatment for Death-aspected Essence without Takuro's help.) Natanya arrives at Khazarkhan's behest, to deliver a warning to other Sidereals. Khazarkhan then invokes the awesome might of Solar Circle Sorcery to hide Noontime Glory and its citizens from those who would do them harm. At the conclusion of the spell, a curious forest spirit appears and congratulates him, handing him a twig in case he needs to contact her in the future. He plants it.
The Circle, along with Natanya, Shakar Hawk, Arrija, and Squirt, plus a crew of twelve sailors, set out in the skyship towards Denandsor to plumb its mysteries. They find a desolate place, devoid of all life, spirits, Essence, and sound. They pass a barely functioning gate-guardian automaton, and follow a trail of increasing destruction towards the city's heart, where a large metal sphere lies thrumming and breaking the silence. The sphere on the seal is broken, and some sort of vapor escapes before it can be resealed. The thrumming changes pitch, and the unease and fear the sphere emanted are lessened. Arrant Green Jay spots the removed cobblestone that formerly concealed the third and final piece of the Blade. The party enters a building, tracking after the mysterious Abyssal who preceded them and whose Shadows they tangled with on the way. They catch him just as he finishes a ritual to slip into the Labyrinth, and dive after him.
The Circle battles Rain of Killing Shadows and capture him. While deciding how to proceed out of the Labyrinth, a curious green mist that turns bone to ash wanders their way, and even the shadows flee in terror before it. The party wisely follows. After much wandering, they reach a nest of steel ants, and pass through mostly unscathed, finding themselves in a large cavern with lakes of flaming blood. They follow a path marked with cairns to a city of spectres built upon the scalp of one of the Malfeans. Khazarkhan paints "Loser" on its head, and the Malfean later changes the writing to "Round Two". They interrogate the captive Abyssal, and then Khazarkhan summons a Tomallah to sustain them and provide Essence.
The Circle brazenly strolls into town and confuses the local spectres who have no idea what they, the Unconquered Sun, or Creation are. Arrant Green Jay insists on obtaining some food due to the disgust the Tomallah evinces in him, but it turns to Ash in his mouth. Khazarkhan summons up three Agata, and the Circle flies out of the Labyrinth. Rain of Killing Shadows breaks free, and half the Solars dive after him, leading to a crazy plummeting battle. It ends with Khazarkhan unleashing Solar Circle Countermagic on the Abyssal's Ivory Razor Forest, filling the air with broken shards of bone and setting the Malfean's hair on fire. Rain of Killing Shadows escapes, and the Solars hightail it out of there as the angry spectres appear.
Khazarkhan asks the Tomallah to listen to the local Essence flows, and they determine that a large Shadowland lies to the north. They fly that way on the Agata, passing over a huge army, which they determine to belong to Walker in Darkness via interrogating a random ghost they snatch up. After they're done, Takuro convinces him to reincarnate. They see a dread black citadel and a bone-chilling cathedral, and fly out into the world.
Khazarkhan banishes the Tomallah, as it insists on feeding him. The Circle then flies into Great Forks and meets the ruling triumvirate of gods, whom they inform of the army. After freshening up, they go to meet a renegade Abyssal seeking asylum, who turns out to be the missing member of the Circle. Nantanya contacts them, informing the Circle that she and Squirt are back at the manse, discipline has gone to hell, and she passed through both Great Forks and Yu-Shan on the way there. Khazarkhan grants Great Forks the blessing of Mirage of Protective Shelter. Talespinner uses his travel charms to send Arrant Green Jay and Takuro back to Noontime Glory and Khazarkhan, Rika, and Ashes to Denandsor.
Arrant Green Jay determines that this is not a disease but rather some form of possession. Takuro's probing reveals that it is a behemoth known as the 10,000-Fold Legion, working for the Ebon Dragon and seeking to drag all of Creation into Malfeas. They decide to exorcise it.
The others find that the mortal crew of the ship fled last night. They fly into Denandsor and follow footprints to find the crew trying to mess with the sphere. After a confrontation in which Rika avoids flipping out and killing people, Ashes pins the hand of a treacherous soldier with an arrow, and the crew is subdued. Investigation into the Hall of Administrative Oversight reveals evidence that agrees with the written account, as well as First-Age Medical Automaton that works fine after some infusing with Essence.
On the way through Yu-Shan, Natanya files the forms needed to get access to the Loom of Fate, which should be processed by the next day. Once in Denandsor, they follow through with Khazarkhan's plan to relocate the entire city to Noontime Glory. Combining his Mystic Travel with her Neighborhood Relocation Technique (authorized via a very vague petition involving "moving an abandoned neighborhood to a drained swap with a burgeoning population"), the haul the entire city home, and out of the Dead Essence Zone. Natanya collapses from exhaustion, and lies on the couch sipping wasabi plum juice with a towel on her forehead for a while.
Khazarkhan, with the help of others, then modifies the Essence battery from Vengeful Thunder to take an attachment resembling a giant hypodermic needle made of Orichalcum. They attempt to use it to vacuum up one of the parasites from a captive, but it is too tightly wrapped around the man's liver, leading to some serious bruising. After much argumentation, they get a dematerialized earth elemental (who demanded immaterial pay) to unwrap the gossamer worm, freeing the man from its influence.
Ashes manages to convince Takuro to hand over the Liverator, and a plan is sketched out to vacuum up the remaining bits of the behemoth from within the containment sphere, use it as a beacon to attract all the infected individuals in the world to the site, have a horde of air elementals to unwrap everyone's livers, and then defeat the behemoth in a massive Kung Fu battle. A note is found on the solarium table, done in lovely goldenrod cardstock and trimmed with pale lemon lace, in which a graceful flowing hand spells out "Cute. Don't do it again. — J." Natanya grabs it up and looks vaguely anguished while dismissing its importance.
More travel gets us back to Denandsor, where earth and wood elementals build ramparts to help slow any invaders. Advanced members of the possessed appear soon, and are easily liberated by the elementals. Shortly thereafter, a squad of 50 or so arrives, and they are dealt with by the Circle quite easily. Then, one of the stormcrows reports that a small legion is massing to the north. Khazarkhan refocusses the attractor, and the legion begins marching south. Initial attempts to subdue the attackers quickly degenerate into a massacre. The 10,000-Fold Legion abandons the host bodies to materialize and form a giant, writhing mass, which is beat into submission quickly enough.
A plan is hatched to liberate the souls of the Abyssals that Walker in Darkness keeps in his cathedral. Ashes will return with Khazarkhan in tow as a potential convert, and while the Walker is distracted, she will direct some of the Brass Legionnaires to move the cages out of the cathedral, so they may be hustled back to safety. The Legionnaires are deployed with the help of Talespinner, who his travel charms to speed them along a road of smoke stretching from a burnt offering to its underworld shadow.
They arrive, and Walker in Darkness is willing to talk. He heads off with Khazarkhan, while Ashes brings in the Legionnaires and carefully sets about silencing the ghosts bound into the bells chained to the nine cages. She manages to cut the skull-clappers from the bells and pitch them into the well of the void, then to sever the chains and have the Legionnaires lower the cages, but when they are removed from the cathedral, it triggers the Walker's personal alarm system.
They load into the airship and veer off, whilst the ground shakes with the approaching tread of the Walker in Darkness. The Circle spots a pair of Legionnaires with a cage, and Khazarkhan swings down to let them tie a line to it. He succeeds, and is pulled, resulting in painful and horrific buffeting against the Monstrance of Celestial Portion. The Walker in Darkness cleaves both Legionnaires in twain with a single blow, then unleashes a ball of crackling blackness straight at the ship. Khazarkhan unleashes his most potent countermagic, resulting in only moderate damage to the stern of the ship, and shattering the Monstrance. The bound soul flees on the winds as the ship does likewise.
Escaping, they come across the pair with Ashes's soul, and recover it, with the aid of Squirt, who is completely unfazed by the horrid cage and even crawls into it at one point to poke at the trapped soul with his finger. They recover one other complete cage, and one which has been unlocked and emptied, its two bearers strangely paralyzed and inoperative. Three more have been smashed to bits, with only a flake of dandruff and some horrific dreams as evidence of a Malfean hairball as the culprit. Three more have presumably been recovered by the Black Psychopomp himself.
Upon return to Noontime Glory, Khazarkhan rests. A lot. A letter from his daughter arrives, via her own curious variant of Infallible Messenger that couriers hand-written letters. The Factors of Sijan visit to determine the intent of the new empire growing on their northern border and to set up trade agreements. Ashes finds a curious little shape-shifting pet sealed in a First-Age biocontainment unit which shielded it from the blast that shattered the soul of everything else in Denandsor. It learns various new shapes and consumes a shocking quantity of soulsteel, jade, and other scraps of magical materials. Takuro begins training troops and writing new religious doctrine (with Arrija's help) while Khazarkhan, Arrant Green Jay, and the medical automaton attempt to diagnose what is wrong with Hope. Khazarkhan countermagics Ashes's Monstrance, releasing her soul, which immediately takes up residence in her body again. Takuro has a prophetic dream regarding the reforging of a somewhat reduced in size Blade that Walks in the Night and Devours Oaths, while the Malfeans leave graffiti on the dandruff flake mockingly thanking the Solar sorcerer for helping their plans. Lastly, riders come from the north bearing the banner of the Bull of the North.
The next morning, a naked man, a young woman, and a bear arrive. The man challenges Takuro to a fight, first three touches. Takuro eventually strips and accepts, then wins easily. The girl challenges him to an extemporaneous poetry contest, and the bear deems that he smells alright. Their bright red and green tattoos, respectively, mark them as children of the dragon born to the tribe watched over by Grandfather Bear, an elder Lunar. On the advice of the Grand Conclave, he has sent them as observers to deem the worth and motives of the reborn Solars. Khazarkhan notes that the tattoos seem to have modified their Essence in fundamental ways, moving them closer to the form of Lunars.
The Solars return to Noontime Glory, and explore Denandsor. There is much information but few working devices. Some can be repaired, but it will be a lot of work. Khazarkhan receives notice from his wife that the presentation of the white jade skeleton has gotten her quite a bit of attention, most of it positive; her star is rising.
Meanwhile, Khazarkhan sets about restoring the factory-cathedral, building roads, and otherwise being imperial. His wife corresponds about an evening visit from the Mouth of Peace, who is curious about her story regarding finding the skeleton and her overall intent.
Upon return, they find that Tentpeg has taken off to preach the word of the Unconquered Sun. They chase after him. At the first village he passed, he left a lasting impression the mortal Immaculate monk present. Takuro finished the job of convincing him. At the second village, Tentpeg and the local Exalted monk left lasting impressions in the ground with their fight. The monk has gone for help and Tentpeg has moved on. At the third village, there was no local monk, but the villagers were periodically being extorted by a small god known as the Tenzuro.
The Solars catch up with Tentpeg on the way to the Tenzuro's lair. In a shady ox-bow lake, they meet the physical form of the spirit, which resembles a giant seven-tentacled lamprey with eyes between each pair of tentacles. It indicates that it wants human sacrifices, and the Circle decides to get medieval on it. The lake is filled with the animated translucent corpses of former victims, who fight to defend their master. Rika chops of two tentacles, and it retreats into its sanctum. The animated bodies dry to dust on when placed on dry land, and the mighty-earth shattering attacks of the Earth Immaculate drive off the hideous bodyguard. Rika uses here oceanic anima to plunge to the bottom of the lake while driving back the water, and Tent peg follows, shattering the portal into the Tenzuro's sanctum. Inside the mirror-lake found within, Rika shears the god in half with one throw of her awesome daiklave, powered by the new technique she just invented. Afterwards, Tentpeg agrees to a compromise of returning to Noontime Glory to be trained in the use of Infallible Messenger so he can signal for help on the road should he need it.
The Circle heads north to claim the level-two manse that Khazakhan had detected. It turns out to be a fort, staffed entirely by female soldiers, all of whom resemble each other and have aesthetically-pleasing green markings on various locations on their left side. The fort itself is green-tinted iron, and nice. Three of the soldiers agree to lead them to the capital, where they can meet Father, the immortal lord of this kingdom, known only as the Green Lands. The women are talkative, but not impressed by Arrant Green Jay's schmoozing, which disappoints him.
The city itself is huge and glistening. After obtaining authorization to proceed from one of the guard towers, the ship continues on to set down by the palace, and the Circle is led in to met the local lord. In the throne room, the met the short, broad man-like being with a body of dark green iron and green brass eyes. He is astoundingly beautiful. Introductions are made, and he declines to give his true name, claiming that it is so beautiful it would damage human ears to hear it, though he is known as Father and is the Beautiful Soul of Ligier, and thus a Demon of the Second Circle.
He was slain around the time of the Usurpation and later reformed, only to find himself somehow summoned by a mortal thaumaturgist early in the Second Age, through her use of some discarded bit of First Age technology. She bound him to watch over her and line until the end of their days. Interpreting his mandate broadly, Father gave of his seed to her and her children, that the might of his blood might strengthen that of her line. Over time, he has bred an entire kingdom of demon-blooded maidens. At first, he had sons as well, but they pined for their inability to bear his children, and thus he only produces daughters as an act of compassion. His oaths protect him and hold him to his current status.
The Circle negotiates some minor trade agreements, but Father is reluctant to engage in battle as an ally. He rightly points out that the Circle will handle the threats on its own (and with the help of the allies it has already acquired), and that he does not wish to risk harm to the beneficients of his oath. Somewhat frustrated, they go home.
Rika discovers that her water glass is out of place, and an investigation reveals that it has been spiked with a deadly poisonous water-soluble iocaine gel, almost certainly the work of Larad, the Water Immaculate that escaped. Khazarkhan gets another letter from Tiia, covering her progress as well as a disturbing nightmare of some great behemoth rising from the sea and flattening the Heptagram in one blow.
An Infallible Messenger arrives from the elders of the Silver Pact, informing the Circle that it is time for the trials to begin. They journey by airship, following the light of the moon to arrive at a hill nestled among the trees and covered in grass made of pure silver. There, they encounter an assembled panoply of strange men, beasts, and mixes thereof, who question them on their purpose and abilities. The Lunars state that they will speak again in one week, by which time the Solars should have performed three vague, curiously-worded, seemingly-impossible tasks.
Nearly a third of extant Sidereals come to the meeting, including Chejop Kejak himself, who declares a temporary truce. Sidereals examine the Calendar while Natanya discloses the meager information available on the Green Lady, a renegade operative once assigned to keep tabs on the Underworld, who was Fated to die hundreds of years ago but still keeps on going. Noticing that way too many of Creation's defenders are in one place and that Calibration just hit, Khazarkhan remembers the dream of impending doom his daughter had, and the Solars rush off to the Heptagram by means of Yu-Shan, including some miraculous bureaucratic wrangling to obtain use of the gold canals. They arrive to find the entire corner of the isle where the Heptragram itself used to reside completely missing, with a sad Mnemon looking over the edge.
They spend some time arguing about who to summon for help, and then some Sidereals show up through the Calibration Gate, wondering why the Heptagram gate isn't working and prepared for the worst. The Solars hop into Heaven through the gate, after having sent word to everyone from their troops to Chejop Kejak to The Silver Prince that the shit has, indeed, hit the fan. First stop is the Bureau of Seasons, where Takuro secures the services of the Martial Weather. Then, they go to the west and recruit Lyta and her army to help, then ship them back to the east through Heaven. Khazarkhan goes north to Noontime Glory to lead those troops, while everyone else enters Creation through Nexus. Arrant Green Jay hires a mercenary company, and flies ahead to Lookshy on an Agata, where he finds the city under siege by a vast black legion of things that should not be.
Aside from Juggernaut, there are five giant soulsteel warstriders, hordes of zombies, great armored manlike beasts, vile maggots the size of horses, and untold horrors. As Arrant explains who he is, the city is bombarded by still-crawling hands that try to sabotage supplies and open the gates.
Meanwhile, in Lookshy, flaming zombies fall from the sky. The circle responds by unleashing martial weather. The armored war reavers attack, and the war striders spring into action. Ashes responds by demonstrating a new combo she picked up, killing the Abyssal pilot of one of them in a single shot. Takuro arrives wearing the body of Vengeful Thunder and starts battling one of the soulsteel behemoths atop the walls of Lookshy, while another one, almost certainly piloted by He Whose Breath Mocks Silence, the reborn Wind Stalker, simply chops a giant hole in the outer wall.
At this point, the Mask of Winters is mostly through the casting of a terrible spell to summon things from the bowels of Creation, while Khazarkhan makes a volcano burst out of the battlefield. Takuro, Ashes, and Arrant all charge the Mask of Winters, on a warstrider, Pet, and the Thousand-Forged Dragon, respectively. Arrant plows the Dragon into him, and then pet tosses the Dragon, Mask of Winters included, into the Volcano, where Khazarkhan makes a wall of lava hit him. Meanwhile, Takuro frightens off all the nemissaries that are making Juggernaut move.
Then, Juggernaut starts thumping forward, thirsty for revenge, and Arrant quickly makes an oath to grant him peace if the Mask of Winters is destroyed. The Mask of Winters rises from the lava, Lyta rounds the corner of the mountain chanting a prayer, and he is smitten by a ray of holy fire from the sun. Ashes ventures into Juggernaut and breaks the soulsteel chains binding his heart, and he eats the Mask of Winters. Takuro then spends his last mote of Essence to cremate Juggernaut, with Ashes making a frantic dash out ahead of the wall of flames.
Back in Lookshy, as the orgies are winding down, a ship arrives, flying a flag of parley over gleaming white sails with the crest of House Mnemon on them. It bears Naeshan, who has been sent by her grandmother to open negotiations with Lookshy over working cooperatively in the future. After ceremonial receptions are over, she manages to get some time alone with the Circle and is brought up to speed on recent developments (such as the acquisition of Ashes Burnt from Forgotten Dreams). The Circle hatches a plot to use Guild money to finance the unattached Legions of the Realm under their own authority, but needs a popular Dragon-Blooded general free of political entanglements to serve as their front-end.
After some more chatting, they decide to head to Hell to rescue Khazarkhan & Naeshan's daughter, along with the rest of the Heptagram's population. They summon Florivet, master of travel, who is quite easy-going after being offered some newly-created Lookshy Fire Pepper Liquor. His pimptastic ship made from his own bones takes them to Malfeas after a five-day journey through the desert Cecyline. Once in Hell, they bump into another aspect of the Tomallah that Khazakhan summoned, having been drawn to its location by sympathetic magic.
Flaunting their diplomatic immunity, they walk around like they own the place, and everyone stays out of their way. Eventually, they procure Agata and fly to the Forge of Brass and the Iron Counting House, where they find the rubbled remains of the Heptagram in a vast arena that an imp is filling with sand, one thimbleful at a time, importing each one from Creation with a five-day trip each way. The sand is filled with four-headed ants that eat one of the Agata and which were probably responsible for skeletonizing the remains of about a dozen people they found within, far less than the estimated population of the Heptagram at the time of the attack. Undaunted, they head to the Iron Counting House.
The Circle explores the Iron Countinghouse, and discovers that its square passageways have streams of coins floating down them, and that there is a local gravity field on each wall. Eventually, they obtain the assistance of an imp, using some bureaucracy charms, and find cages containing both an infallible messenger from Tiia to Khazarkhan as well as thirty-five students, two Dragon-Blooded instructors, and Pensive Reflection. Four other students, including Tiia, and two Sidereal teachers are missing, and in the custody of the Ebon Dragon, as payment for the services rendered. The rest are to be auctioned off tomorrow. The Circle decides to rescue the others first, and then come back for these. On the way out, they spot a collection of Names, one of which is sealed and labeled as extremely dangerous. The imp, whom Takuro appointed as his servant, refused to talk directly to Khazarkhan, for he is on the Watch List of highly dangerous individuals.
They leave the Countinghouse, and harass Octavian to learn how to find Malagos, the Possessive Soul of the Ebon Dragon. They need to find darkness that has never seen the light, so they get a rock, scare some demons out of a house, then go into the basement and crack the rock, opening a portal to the lair of Malagos. They step through, and fumble through the Darkness to a palace, and get led by Malagos to another palace, home of Erembour, the Seductive Soul of the Ebon Dragon, who is playing a song on her trumpet. Within the palace, the Ebon Dragon himself is entertaining the remaining captives, who are acting mindless. Insults are exchanged, then Takuro commands Pet to turn into pan pipes, and starts playing them while tap-dancing with his shoulder pads, as Khazarkhan raps about independence, altering the song that Erembour is playing, and freeing the captives. Ashes shoots the Ebon Dragon with her Sucking Chest Wound, opening a portal by attacking the darkness with her magic missile. They all flee through, and find themselves high in the air above the Demon City, falling and being chased by the flames of the Green Sun, but Pet turns into a flying beast and carries them down.
The River of Shadow begins to blot out the sun as the Circle dives for the Iron Counting House. On the roof, they can see half the cages already being auctioned off, but the other half is nowhere in sight. Arrant Green Jay gets off while the others dive into the bowels of the building and Ashes employs here labyrinth-navigation skills and stunts with the gravitational fields to reach the still-trapped students. Arrant makes a bid or two, decides this isn't working, and breaks out some new charms to get the children in exchange for not killing the demons on the roof five times over, which he already did in the First Age; he also convinces a second-circle demon to go talk to the River of Shadow as a delaying maneuver, in exchange for some shiny buttons, to be delivered later.
The others use Solar Countermagic to shatter the cages, grab the sealed scroll case with Khazarkhan's presumed First Age name, along with a large jade head they found lying around, and do some damage to the giant rolling coins that come to stop the thieves. Everyone meets up on the roof, loads, and skeedaddles before the torrent creepy-crawling things falls from the sky on them. Ashes develops a new charm, and shoots them up with a hailstorm of finger-arrows, as they make their way to to Florivet's ship, which conveys them back towards Creation.
There, they receive a messenger from Natanya saying that Arrant's First Age medicine techniques could be useful, and could he please come to Heaven real quick. The Circle goes, and finds the Bureau of Destiny deserted. All the Sidereals are in the Loom of Fate, which is infested by snakes, and the pattern spiders are dying off. Exploration reveals that the snakes have been weaving themselves into the Loom. Arrant trys killing one and wipes out the city of Gethamane with a catastrophic flood, damaging the fabric of reality in the process. Working on the spiders is more fruitful, as halts the course of the illness and determines that their very silk-spinners have been infected with serpentine essence, which will require some serious doing to fix.
The circle spends a lot of time arguing about what do next. Eventually, Takuro prays to the Unconquered Sun, and he and Gaia take a whole ten minutes out of their busy schedule to come and look at the matter. The Circle obtains a blanket authorization to break into the most sensitive files of the Bureau of Secrets, and does so with gleeful abandon. Eventually, they make their back to Noontime Glory, interrogate the head about Autochthon, and set off for the Elemental Pole of Fire, the last known rendezvous position of the Great Maker.
The Circle decides that the best way to find Autochthon is to break into the Imperial Manse. They head to the Imperial City, and set up a front with Arrant as the prosperous businessman funding a new play with Takuro playing out the life of the Empress. They casually go about setting up in the courtyard of the Imperial palace, and everyone assumes they have permission, because they're so blatant about it. Officials arrive to verify that the play meets censorship standards and that Takuro, an obvious God-Blooded, is on the up-and-up. Cathak Laina parades him around as her new boy-toy, and her brother turns out to be a Night Caste Solar manipulating the Great Houses from the heart of the Realm. On the third and final night of the play, they succeed in finding the passcode to let them through the outer moonsilver and starmetal door of the manse, giving them access to the living quarters. They then use the key of the Sun to open the second orichalcum and jade door to access the labs and libraries. The final soulsteel door leading to the presumed defense grid control room appears to only be openeable with human sacrifice. Within the frosty crystal chamber it leads to, they can see the still-twitching bodies of past victims. On the floor above is a map of Creation with the ability to detect and display Essence flows, with which they spend an inordianate amount of time playing.
Mnemon sneaks into the Imperial Manse after the Circle, and they talk a bit, then decide to head off to find Autochthon. They, along with Tiia, Hope, Natanya, and Squirt, pile into the airship and head for Gem, which seems to have weirdly stable Essence patterns. They get there, are greeted as grandiosely as one would expect when one shows up in a flying ship, and decide that the local-slave based economy is undesirable. One quick toppling of the local government later, they're flying down a large cave that eventually leads out to a vast empty space behind Creation, which must be Elsewhere. They spot a few random things floating about, protected by self-looped Essence constructs, and eventually reach a vast, nearly featureless sphere.
They manage to open a very large hatch and fly in, eventually finding themselves floating through dense smog of a field of wrecked debris. Mnemon casts a spell to keep the air about them pure, and they find a opening in the ceiling leading to passages lined with wires and pipes. Following the largest, they reach a giant hall with enormous pistons pumping away, and spot a human, who they bring on board. Clad in artificial black leather and wearing heavy goggles, he also has a soul-gem set in his head. He speaks an unfamiliar dialect of Old Realm, but communications are established, and he appears to be some sort of rebel or exile that lives in a small community apart from the nearby city, which he states is ruled by Exalted. That the Circle and friends are simultaneously Exalted yet neither metallic nor huge puzzles him. Eventually, they set him down, and he is quite grateful no one gave him an anal probe.
Further travel requires leaving the ship, and they set out on foot, where they meet a pair of metallic humans who identify themselves as Precise Tracking Methodology and Compound Justice Bulwark, made of Moonsilver and Soulsteel, respectively. The former treats the Circle with deference, citing First Contact Protocol, while the latter fumes that he is not allowed to pound these puny humans who are hoarding valuable magical materials and have unregistered souls. They head towards the city.
The Circle is taken to Outpost 17, a small one-room building set out in the Reaches, meant as a rest stop for field agents. From there, the Alchemicals contact the city, where the matter is quickly escalated to Rapid Retrieval Archive, a Starmetal caste Alchemical Exalt with an uncanny resemblance to Natanya. She responds with great exuberance, and heads out to greet the aliens. In the meantime, Khazarkhan and Mnemon discuss taking over the Realm.
Rapid Retrieval Archive arrives, going through greeting protocol and discovers that the Circle is infected with the Great Contagion. Many motes are spent and dice are rolled, then Khazarkhan sings, infecting the population of the entire nation with wellness. Afterwards, the Circle heads into the city, where they are greeted by a joyous population who is ecstatic that their heroic Exalts have brought back aliens to help with the crisis. The Luminors view the characters with suspicion for glowing, then they go talk to the city itself, an ancient Alchemical. After a vaguely brainwashy dinner, everyone goes to bed, and a spider robot-god wakes up Takuro in the middle of the night and helps him to break into a secret room with ancient proscribed copies of the Book of the Great Maker, responding to his prayer to Kadmek.
The Circle peers through the tomes in the room, and learns of the religious and political history of Autochthon. Shortly thereafter, they take off in the middle of the night, bumping into Rapid Retrieval Archive along the way, and get back to their ship, which they take towards Autochthon's core. Along the way, Rapid Retrieval Archive and Khzarkhan mind-meld for a bit.
Along the way, they fly into a Blight Zone which looks awfully Labyrinthine, and get attacked by three Gremlin Destroyers. Ashes unleashes an obscene pair of charms on them, reducing them to fine grey mist. Eventually, the Circle makes its way to the Elemental Pole of Crystal, an enormous translucent sphere of bluish crystal. Surrounding it is a gigantic city, devoid of inhabitants and any evidence of there having been any, but immaculately maintained. Exploring the sphere, they find a large pentagon of Adamant, with each of its borders trimmed in a different one of the five magical materials. When an Exalt of the correct type attunes to each side, the pentagon vanishes, and the Circle enters the Core.
Within is a vast lattice of glowing crystal, tended to by spidery machine-gods of Adamant that resemble large pattern spiders. Seven roughly meter-wide spheres of Adamant orbit the central pole, and they fly to the Circle to investigate it. They are the Eyes of Autochthon, and he has been awakened.
The Circle describes the situation, and Autochthon reiterates his problems. In doing so, he also covers the facts that they're affected by the Great Curse, that the Games of Divinity are a Primordial who only exists to be played, that all the magical materials are soul-forged beings, and that Autochthonian Soulsteel is made of the souls of a race he obliterated for dangerous hubris in an earlier Creation. In the end, he sends them off with two Design Weavers to fix the Loom of Fate and one of his Eyes to act as liaison, but not before hacking Ashes's Exaltation to fix something or other the Malfeans did.
The Circle heads back to Creation by means of the great ocean of oil at the top of Autuchthon. Once there, they immediately make for Yu-Shan, where they burst in with great fanfare. Autochthon's eye carries with it a great anima flare, and his Design Weavers get to work fixing and upgrading the tainted Pattern Spiders. Gaia comes in, and Autochthon reveals her a loophole in the rules of the Games of Divinity, allowing her to win consistently. Arrant makes a pass at her, and she mentions that she's free on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the alarm for a code 2 goes off, indicating that a vast fair folk army 10 million strong is attempting to storm Creation from the South. The Circle heads out to meet the problem, sending off the Dragon-Blooded to the Realm to man the Defense Grid after Mnemon swears to be a good empress. Natanya ships them through heaven with FedEx? labels.
The circle goes south, and finds that the invading army are fanatics bent on the eradication of Creation, and that they are willing to sacrifice themselves to do it. Compromise is not an option, so Khazarkhan decides to use Wyld-Shaping to raise a vast wall of iron to bar their progress. To power this, he needs a lot of Essence, so he uses that stored in the Essence capacitor with absorbed the Ten-Thousand-Fold Legion. Said being being the spawn of the Ebon Dragon, this does have the rather deleterious side effect of writing the Ebon Dragon into the tapestry of Creation, giving him the foothold he needs to enter. Meanwhile, the Fair Folk army sets about destroying the wall, to continue their advance into Creation.
The Ebon Dragon and the Empress enter Creation in a great black carriage upon which ride all seven of his third-circle souls, and they are followed by the 50 missing Solar Shards now turned into Infernal Exalted. He banters with the Circle, then rides off towards the Imperial City to arrange their wedding. Meanwhile, the proverbial shit continues to hit the cosmological fan.
The Circle travels about and organizes all the armies of Creation into a force to oppose the Fair Folk invasion. Many of them are marched through Yu-Shan to reach the front quickly. In order to enlist the Mountain Folk, they sever the Great Geas holding them underground, and Takuro gets Autochthon to swear to destroy him should he ever try to chain the Fair Folk again. They also discover that the Silver Prince has enlisted the aid of both the Roseblack and Seven Rivers Reborn.
The Circle and Allies destroy 90% of the invading Fair Folk army by luring it to Gem and blowing up the place with the Realm Defense grid. The remaining 10% are turned to jade by Autochthon, and become the Desert Folk. Takuro and Khazarkhan limit break.
The Circle and the Ebon Dragon banter and harass each other across the Imperial City, Takuro goes and sleeps with the Empress, then the Circle conspires to wreck his wedding plans (via some paperwork filed by Khazarkhan's son) and get everyone to Endorse Mnemon (with the Circle as her backers) as the new Empress, and thus representative of Creation. They crash the wedding, the Unconquered Sun shows up to smite the Ebon Dragon, the vast armies take care of the Infernals, and the Empress, being out of plot, dies of a heart attack.
Takuro becomes the official advisor to the Empire and keeps getting reelected forever, because he's better than Cats and everyone wants to vote for Takuro again and again.
Arrant Green Jay moves to Autochthonia and works on making the place nicer, introducing fresh food, liquor, and open spaces, but keeping Mandatory Weekly Sexual Congress.
Ashes Burnt from Forgotten Dreams goes on to rule the Underworld, and only kills people who deserve it. Mostly. She probably has a reunion with her son at some point. Or maybe some hot sex with someone else. Or something.
Khazarkhan wanders off into the Wyld, decides it's too dark, and says, "Let there be light."