Though we didn’t anticipate any great difficulty in our travels through the Stone Sea, aside from the near-constant earthquakes and aftershocks, we avoided returning to Halfgate all the same. We had stood idly by as Disfavored baited and killed Scarlet Chorus soldiers and I had little doubt there would be repercussions I wasn’t looking forward to facing. Our first task at the Stone Down Gorge was to locate Misery’s contact Octave – I understand they have been going with a war and song theme since they were first formed, but I wondered how members of the Chorus picked their names. Maybe at some point I would ask Verse.

The cliffs leading into the Gorge formed an oddly-natural staircase of broken rock and purple crystal, the latter having erupted from the ground during the Edict of Stone’s proclamation. Nobody knew whether they were a result of the Edict or of Cairn’s experiments during the war, but they dotted the countryside, and in places like the Gorge, seemed to spear out from every available surface.

Misery’s contact was covered in dust and grime, though such was not uncommon in these lands, and wore a jovial expression. “Here to help us or fight us, Fatebinder of Tunon? Either way, let’s get it done with.” I had to admit, I liked his attitude straightaway, no dancing around the issues.

He explained that the local Beastmen, the Stonestalker tribe, were in a snit about the Scarlet Chorus’ being in the Gorge and had strongly resisted recruitment efforts. Judging by the bodies of Beastmen and Chorus soldiers near the outskirts of the camp, it seemed to be a fairly even stalemate.

“Hundred-Blood has been calling the shots for the Beastmen. She doesn’t like humans, and she doesn’t like talking. I think even a Fatebinder would have a tough time getting through to her.” After more questioning he admitted that, without her, the tribe would be much more tolerating of the Scarlet Chorus’ heavy-handed suggestion of enlistment. My primary goal was to find my way to Howling Rock, where hopefully we could close in on the location of Cairn the Betrayer, and I cared little about the Scarlet Chorus’ recruitment drive.

Secondarily I wanted to explore at least one of the two Spires that loomed over the Stone Sea, though I had the feeling such would come after I completed the Edict of Stone by putting Cairn to rest. These were the last two spires to be found in the Tiers, and I could feel myself growing stronger with each one I laid claim to. I almost dared not hope that, when this reclamation war was over, I would be permitted to retire and spend the rest of my life plumbing their mysteries. At least one of Tunon’s other Fatebinders had called me “Archon” in a whisper when last we spoke, an honor I don’t know yet if I truly want.

Archons were Kyros’ most powerful commanders, emissaries, and leaders, all suited to a particular set of skills or tasks. Tunon was the Archon of Justice, and his Fatebinders were given dominion to adjudicate squabbles and conflicts between these semi-autonomous leaders, to ensure they stayed loyal to Kyros and followed the Empire’s laws.

The idea that I myself could one day be an Archon was an almost frightening thought, and one I didn’t idly entertain. I didn’t want to lead soldiers or command armies, and while the boyish scrapper who was picked up off the streets so many years ago couldn’t envision the path his life would take, I would think that by this point I have an idea of where I want it to go.

In order to reach the Spires, I had to either negotiate a peace between the Chorus and Hundred-Blood – or at least her replacement.