CHAPTER 1 The Monolith Edelon One Week Prior In Edelon they have a saying: follow the holler. One can always find their way to the city’s heart by tracing the sound of waterfalls. The source of the Prosperos River surges from the Temple of Ilium, and fills the streets with song. That morning the water’s holler near-deafened Lady Ironblood as she ascended steps carved into granite. It was a sound to which all the Jade Prophet’s disciples were accustomed, and it made communication through body language and lip-reading a way of life. The Elder Forest Kin awaited her arrival at the Temple’s entrance. Each clad in cinnabar, like herself, though they bore their mantles with immortal grace, a sanctity she could never emulate. She imagined she could feel their eyes, their judgment of every insecurity, misshape and wanting. It threatened to pitch her into a chasm of gymnophoria, were it not for the faint, harmonizing hum of her Aux against her heart. It was Stryx, the Eldest, who greeted her. His woody voice creaked within a beard of moss and fungi. “The Cinnabar Clad welcome you, Sister Ironblood.” As one, each disciple’s body aligned itself to a gentle posture. Words were mere artifice, their true conversation expressed through the mudrās, the movements that aligned Crux and Aux in a subtle tacenda. The Lady’s slippered foot rested softly against her left calf, bent slightly at the knee into the tree mudrā—she was centered. Her right arm followed the slope of her spine, ending with her open palm. Her left hand raised to caress her ear—she was listening. “How may I heal this land, brothers and sisters?” Kama, the Beloved, answered, “There are troubling reports from the scouts of the Northwest coast. Something has been unearthed.” Her Aux, a russet hare, curled at her bare feet. “A dark artefact whose curse subsumes into all life around it.” Ironblood’s mind flowered with arcane theories. She did her best to shut these illusions out, to keep her mind clear and open. “What could this be?” “We do not know. There was but one survivor from the party who discovered the artefact.” The Beloved knelt, gathered up her Aux and drew it lovingly to her breast. “He was driven mad by its corruption.” “From his ravings we gleaned a single utterance...” “’Monolith’.” They eschewed language for a time after that. Long enough for Ironblood to glean the purpose of her summons: the Jade Prophet had tasked her to carry out the Word. It was Stryx who confirmed this. “The Cinnabar Clad bid you retrieve this monolith and bear it back to Edelon.” Ironblood felt her heart skip. “Brothers and sisters, you honor me. Ilium’s Word be done.” The reply was perhaps too eager for a Forest Kin’s liking. “There is no room for honor here.” They each felt his presence before he spoke. As one the disciples turned to regard their prophet who knelt at the base of the waterfall. The sylvan body of Kairos glowed faintly as he guided a wisp through the stream. “His spirit was nearly sundered by the monolith’s corruption. I could not save the Crux, only the Aux.” The light coming from him soon flickered out as the wisp found its way through the current to join the Prosperos River. “He will return to Ilium.” He stood fully on cloven hooves, approaching while his crown of antlers scattered shadows across the Lady’s face. “Leave those illusions of the ego behind. They will only mislead you on your journey.” He extended one willowy arm and pointed his stave to her. Despite herself, Ironblood’s voice trembled. “Virid Spirit...” The stag’s head that tipped Kairos’ Aux touched the silver pendulum around her neck. A chime at the connection that grew in pitch until it drowned out all other sensation and sound. Ironblood closed her eyes and allowed her thoughts to dissipate. Present Day Hosia The sun was warm on her face as Ironblood stared off into the Prosperos Sea. She stood upon the deck of the Sea Wraith, one of the finest ships in the Green Realm’s navy. On the land, in the city of Hosia, the citizens celebrated in the streets, welcoming home the fleet from a six month tour. It would be a short celebration indeed for the Sea Wraith and her crew. The moment the ship had docked, Captain Valyrin received official orders from on high to escort the High Alchemist’s expedition to a remote area along the Northwest coast and then back up the Prosperos River. What this meant for the captain and his crew was another two weeks before they could return home. That was how Ironblood had brought this party together within a week. She had begged, bribed, asserted her status, the seal of the Jade Prophet, whatever had to be done to gather the party she would need for such an undertaking. Already, she could just discern the displeased glances from the crew of the Sea Wraith. She had not anticipated being very popular. Couldn’t be helped. The Half’kin turned from them, looked out to the sea, and waited for the others to arrive.