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Episodes 2.29 & 30
The Circle faced the Bull and his companions: Grandmother Crone, Nalla, and Raneth. The battle is largely even, with the Circle pressing their advantage round by round. Once Northern Light established her dominance over the battlefield, she sang the song of the Bull’s destruction. With a soft word, she dissolved the Bull’s essence into music, which she then broadcasted over the North. Immediately after, Bright Shadow put an arrow through the Crone’s heart. Nalla and Raneth then fled.

In the aftermath, the Realm forces arrived on the opposite of Maidenstar from the fight. However, Grandmaster Luen Tso met with the Circle. Through cryptic utterances, he revealed himself to be the Jade Flower Prince in disguise. He also explained that he had said just what the Circle needed to hear to meet with violence those who would have otherwise been their allies. By doing so, the Threshold had been weakened. Syndoriel denounced his puppetry as the waste of innocent blood, but he addressed only empty air.
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Episode 2.28
The sound of mighty wings compelled Syn to return to Maidenstar. Once there, he, Northern Light, and Bright Shadow moved out onto the river to the west and battled Vedizthur, the Black Winter. The mighty dragon, large as a city, put up a good fight against them, but did little damage to the group—save for Syndoriel. However, it became uncoordinated in its flight and crashed into the river, where it drowned and bled to death.

Before the Immaculate monks could do anything with Taiphen, Mnemon Tsung Mae, Kagi’s mother, arrived. She made a show over Kagi’s lateness to lunch with Tepet Zaoti. Taiphen took advantage of the distraction and fled, closely pursued by the Immaculates, but he escaped in the end. Kagi, however, was taken away to discuss matters with Kalin and Xua Huo. Taiphen returned later that night, breaking into the vault of the palace by plunging the city into sorcerous darkness. He retrieved his gear and returned to Maidenstar.
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Episode 2.27
Three of the Bull’s champions led the second assault against Maidenstar. Northern Light led her hird against them, striking from the frontlines and engaging with Sharp Orchid. Meanwhile, Bright Shadow traded spells with Aslaug of the Seithr, while Muspel Burning-Heart commanded the Icewalker forces. The Icewalkers slew most of the Niveans, with Sharp Orchid laying many of them low, and even incapacitating Northern Light. Upon seeing her friend fall, Bright Shadow slew Sharp Orchid with a mighty sunbolt. Embla of Hiemal followed suit, her target Muspel. They then captured Aslaug.

Southward, Syn defended Braebrecken. The skies grew gray and cold as the Diamond Empress led the assault. Syn managed to remove her guardian, Nifl-ogre, from the battlefield, and then made her kneel to him. Then, the Lunar barbarian Alexia, the Maw of Winter’s Regret, attacked. She and Syn traded mighty blows, but the Lawgiver emerged victorious.

Taiphen was to be made example of in a ritual called the Five-Dragon Purge. Before an assembled crowd, Xua Huo made prayer to the Elemental Dragons, then purged Taiphen’s soul with the power of the five elements. He was electrocuted, battered, nearly drowned, and burned. Then, Xua Huo forgave Taiphen, the man, for it was really the Anathema demon at fault. With that, he stopped Taiphen’s heart. In the delirium of dying, Taiphen’s memories flowed by him, until only a pair of blue eyes and a smile remained. Mara held him from death’s grip, claiming that he wasn’t going to escape his contract so easily. The Shadow Lover then drove her fingers into his heart and squeezed with a mighty grip. Taiphen awoke to Kagirinai pounding on his chest. When Taiphen awoke, Xua Huo was greatly displeased.
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Episode 2.26
Northern Light and Bright Shadow defended Maidenstar. The Icewalker forces were led by Wild Stone Cleaver and Darneth of the Way. The Icewalkers managed to break through the gate, but only just. Beztup dealt a killing blow to Darneth, whose missing body parts were replaced with lupine flames. It then proceeded to give Bright Shadow a scare before being permanently snuffed out. Meanwhile, Northern Light harassed the reserve troops with a screaming vortex.

Syndoriel defended Braebreck from Roaring Playmate and Sylas Wolfkin. He dispatched both handily, assisted by Reiza’s bow and Mnemon Mizu on a lightning ballista.

Meanwhile, Taiphen crossed Hiemal to Heartvale, where he sought out Xua Huo. He convinced the monk to meet with him in secret—or, almost, as he brought along Grandmaster Luen Tso. Taiphen confessed to lying to Xua Huo and admitted his Anathema condition. He agreed to let Xua Huo purge the Anathema demon from his soul—even though the process would cost him his life.
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Taiphen Backstory Extensions
In dreams, Taiphen sees.

A boy, crying at the loss of his family. Grandparents, dead. Siblings, dead. Parents, dead. Friends, dead or gone.

A man, standing in front of the boy, hand outstretched. “Boy, what do you desire most?” The man inquires. He radiates darkness, but it is akin to a gentle, protective embrace that brings calm and peace, rather than a menacing, suffocating existence.

“I want to defend the innocent. I want to strike fear into the hearts of monsters – make them fear the night. I want to make it so what happened to me never happens to anyone else ever again.” The boy says through the tears, his heart starting out uncertain but growing more resolute by the day. Taiphen doesn’t recognize the voice, or the face of the boy – and yet, he seems familiar somehow. The boy takes the man’s hand, and they leave, disappearing into the night.

Years pass. The boy trains. The boy becomes a man. The symbol of a Night caste radiates from his forehead. An accomplished martial artist, a sharp and perceptive sentinel, he is the ideal terror of the night. None notice him without his permission, and few understand what he does.

In time, the man heals.

The smiling face of a woman – here, Taiphen feels that same familiarity, though he can’t quite place her – as she turns into a mouse and scurries away, the faint sound of laughter emanating as the man merely sighs in both affection and exasperation. He chases after her, indulges in their cat and mouse game.

The deliberation of the man’s peers, skilled in ways similar yet different from the man. Though they argue, fret, and deliberate over the lives of those they protect, there is a faint sense of understanding among all of them. Together, they build wonder after wonder, create impossibility after impossibility, defeat foe after foe. And though the man misses those he has lost, he finds himself happy again among his peers, his friends. His family.

In time, everything goes wrong.

It is as if a plague has struck the strongest of them. One by one, each of them succumbs to the madness. Their great power is turned against those they were sworn to protect, and one by one they are killed to prevent more damage. More suffering. More pain.

The man watches in horror, silent from the shadows, as the screaming begins. It haunts him constantly – the screams of those he wasn’t able to help – wasn’t capable of helping. The innocent men, women, and children crying out in pain as they die a slow, agonizing death without a master of the medicinal arts to ease their pain or a leader to bring them hope, to show them the way to salvation. The man is not a doctor or a leader – he is a combatant, a warrior. An assassin.
So he does what he does best, to end their suffering. To silence the crying.

Taiphen sees the man beside himself with grief and guilt. The man does not resist as the Exalted of the Dragons take him away, doesn’t use any of his skill and power to resist as they chain him and bring him to his sentence.

In his dreams, Taiphen sees his predecessor die full of regret and pain.


____________________________________


In dreams, Taiphen remembers.

Taiphen sees himself, fresh out of training with Lewong, wandering Creation without a real goal for himself beyond helping those he comes across. His travels go past as if on an ancient airship soaring through the sky at incredible speeds. He sees himself walking, running, lifting, whatever is necessary to help those he comes across, however mundane or fantastic the task may be.

Finally, he remembers the day he came to a village and heard of children being stolen away by bandits. Children, who have been taken as sacrifices for the bandit leader, a sorcerer of impressive might and stature. A sorcerer who has taken many of the villagers in the past, none of whom have returned.

Taiphen remembers Lewong’s teachings. He remembers being pulled away as his parents faced their deaths. He decides the death must stop – and it will be stopped that day.

It is child’s play for Taiphen to track the bandits to their hideout – the grunts are so sloppy, so sure of their might that they don’t bother to be careful anymore. They regret their complacency when they are summarily knocked unconscious and hidden in a nearby bush, unaware of Taiphen’s presence the entire time. He continues making his way through the hideout in a similar fashion, systematically disabling and incapacitating every pig who dared to prey on the weak, to profit off of their pain. One room becomes ten rooms, and soon Taiphen has cleared out almost every room in the hideout. No one has seen him. Taiphen made sure of it. “Measure twice, strike once.” Lewong always said, and it paid off that day.

Taiphen remembers the cries and the stench. He remembers the plan.

It was supposed to be as simple as the rest of the hideout. Get in, free the captives, fight the sorcerer before demons showed up, get out. Easy. Taiphen lacked the years of experience he’d need to see how such a simple plan could easily go wrong.

He’d taken too long in the hideout. The sorcerer had finished his ritual, a demon already in the room, and was offering the captive children in exchange for power and servitude. The sorcerer had been sloppy, hadn’t used the proper safeguards, and hadn’t foreseen the demon refusing the offer in favor of murdering everyone there. Taiphen threw his plan out the metaphorical window. No time to quietly escape – only to strike.

The battle had been longer than Taiphen would’ve cared for it to be. The demon had been able to resist Taiphen’s first strike – in part due to its magic, in part due to Taiphen’s haste. They’d fought each other in single combat, the sorcerer too stunned and terrified to interfere. They traded countless blows, and light grew within the room until it seemed as if the sun itself was watching, awaiting the outcome of the battle.

Finally, Taiphen saw the opening he needed, and struck with his finishing blow. With strength he didn’t realize he had, he leapt through the air, bouncing off of a wall and striking the demon at the back of its neck. It fell to the ground dead, Taiphen breathing heavily as he turned to the fallen sorcerer.

“ReLeAsE tHe ChIlDrEn. NeVeR tRoUbLe ThE vIlLaGe AgAiN, nEvEr HaRm ThE iNnOcEnT aGaIn. Or YoU aNsWeR tO mE.” He intones. The adrenaline from the fight prevented Taiphen from realizing anything was wrong with his voice – from noticing the light bathing the room had died away, or how his form became shrouded in the hues of evening and resembled the figure of a bat. The sorcerer cowered and ran away, never to be heard from again, and the children could only look on in wonder as the dark, powerful man with an empty golden circle on his forehead shattered their bindings, escorted them back to their homes, and disappeared without any trace of his existence.

Taiphen remembers the stories of a man the villagers whispered tales of – one who singlehandedly ripped apart a group of bandits cloaked in the colors of the Night. Though many called him anathema from then on, they called him a hero – though he had simply done his duty. The smiles of the villagers as their families were reunited were more than enough of a reward for him.

In dreams, Taiphen remembers the day, sees his memories and his mission. Taiphen remembers the promise of more to come.


____________________________________


Though Taiphen couldn’t hear or understand the words that day, they’d still been spoken.

“Strong. Brave. Idealistic. Perceptive. Hopeful. A worthy successor. May you succeed where I once failed, recipient of my power. May you redeem this legacy.”
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Exalted (2nd)
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