It is my sad duty to report that Taylor will be taking a break from Exalted to ensure that he completes his degree without any problems. Welkin will be an NPC, and we look forward to playing with Taylor again once he graduates!
Welkin, Txori, Grey and Sam have reconvened from their separate missions, when the table starts pulsing with blue light.
The course is laid in relatively easily, and within two days they have arrived at Theldaspa. The party snoops around the market and easily locates a local watering hole called The Watering Hole. The impression is that the place is somewhat lawless and dangerous, so disappearances are not unheard of. A lot of the permanent residents live in the large water-aspected manse in the center of the city which appears to be some leftover of the Shogunate or maybe even first age (and probably maintains the oasis). Some old-timers complain that the manse itself is less safe than it used to be. The city’s “mayor” (head thug) plays nice with the Guild and aside from that doesn’t do too much, but the party concludes that seeing him may get them somewhere.
As everyone arrives at the towering manse, Grey sees a normal manse, but Txori, with her über-senses active, is confused by subsonic sounds emanating from it that don’t seem to match what she sees. Meanwhile, Sam and Welkin stare aghast at the building that is completely wrapped up by a monstrous creature covered in fangs and exuding massive tentacles that slide into the building from all angles, occasionally dripping venomous slime. Sam can sort of use his imagination to imagine a building, which matches Txori’s description of the illusion.
The plan seems to coalesce around evacuating everyone from the building as the top priority. Welkin is quite confident he can accomplish this using his Mariner’s Parable Defense, Authority Radiating Stance, and Listener Swaying Technique if needed. He strolls in, easily locates someone who works there, and demands to see the mayor. The thug on duty says the mayor is indisposed but he brings Welkin up to the 9th floor to see Colt, one of the mayor’s deputies. Welkin meets with Colt, a dapper man lounging at his chair with a rose in his mouth, and states that his friend and sorcerer has identified that the building is in serious danger. Colt scoffs at this, but Welkin is insistent, and so Colt assures him he will immediately begin the evacuation for the sake of everyones’ safety. He asks the guard to escort Welkin down the halls to room 5 while he begins the evacuation himself. Welkin dispatches Jack to meet up with the party while he stalls on his trip down the halls.
Txori finds an open sandy dune within easy view of much of the building and carves out giant letters advertising a sale in the marketplace, with a hidden message that everyone should grab their friends and get out of the building. Soon people start trickling out, to go check out the market.
Jack gets down to the street level very quickly (probably going out a convenient window) and guides the party to Colt’s office. Txori sends Onyx up to spy, spotting Colt in his office. Sam is watching for anything that may happen under the illusion. Soon Welkin fakes a trip and plants a small bomb in the floor, then as they keep walking he detonates it and screams, “It’s too late, it’s starting!” This panics his guard, who sprints down the stairs screaming for everyone to get out. Welkin hides in the stairwell, just barely evading the gaze of Colt as he throws the door open. Colt curses at the man causing a stir, and pulls out a strange strip of sparkly, iridescent, prismatic fabric and starts wrapping it around his left hand. Welkin leaps out and makes a ranged surprise disarm attack, successfully yanking the fabric out of his hand, then using Call the Blade to recover the fabric. He immediately starts sprinting down the stairs. Colt curses again, and is about to scream something when Txori decides to take an arrow shot using her super senses and Onyx for spotting. The shot is devastating to the unsuspecting, unarmored target, who only manages to scream “SIST—“ before the arrow goes through the back of his head and he falls over lifeless.
Welkin gets out of the building, along with the people who saw the message and the people who heard the panicked guard’s screams. After a bit, the people stop trickling out, so the party plans to get out anyone who hasn’t left yet before confronting the threat at the top floor. This is a relatively straightforward task, and soon they are on the 9th floor, finding the corpse of Colt slowly disintegrating to colored sand. Surprise!
Sam pieces together his voice and appearance and mimics him, then they go to the door that Welkin was originally sent to. Sam can’t see much inside, so he slowly opens the door and they see before them a female Raksha warrior wrapped up in tentacles and on some kind of bed. She is in a haze, but she turns to see the party, glares and suddenly ninjas leap out of the shadows to attack everyone. The ninja attacks fail utterly against both Sam and Welkin, for whom the attacks seem immaterial, but Grey and Txori must actually cope with the attacks. Grey is wounded while Txori perfect-dodges like crazy. Sam runs up to be next to them and swings his chain around, which dispels the ninjas as it hits them. Welkin, meanwhile, throws his chakram at the tentacles attaching the Raksha to the walls, and soon she is loose. She is immobile, as her legs are shriveled and useless, but pulls out a knife which Sam disarms her of. Another round of ninjas leap out of the shadows, but Sam dispels them just as easily, passing her large sword to Txori for safekeeping.
Sam begins interrogating the Raksha, who refuses to say anything past asking for Colt, so Sam uses Revelation of Associates Hunch, identifies a friend of hers, and says, “You’d better start talking or the same thing will happen to you as what happened to your friend Contessa Candela.” This brings the Raksha to tears, but she finally starts talking, explaining that she is the Sharp Lady, a renowned warrior of the Lapis Court until ten years ago she was cursed to lose her legs and only the blood of many innocents could restore it. Her brother the Beautiful Boy (AKA “Colt”) took her here so he could prey on the innocents here, slowly snatching them one by one over the years using the shaping weapon Behemoth, Nyarlathoth the Citadel of Fangs.
The party doesn’t feel confident they can attune to and control this Behemoth, so they cut her a deal: if she takes this monster away, harming no one, and stays in the Wyld for a quarter century, they will give her the attunement grace of the Behemoth and let her go in peace. She accepts this deal, though she also says, “I will not forget this.” She then attunes to the grace, and as the party walks out the manse, Sam and Welkin can see it slithering away with her riding it. Mission accomplished!
- Eli: “Are there sewers? I think we solved this case before.”
- DM: “Txori you could possibly use your sense of touch to get more info, but I’m not sure you’ll want to walk up to it and touch it like like ‘Hello building, my friends all say you’re a giant monster but I understand you.’”
- DM: “You’re scattering them like… something that is easily scattered.”
- Eli, Re: Barabella getting control of the Behemoth: “That bill would not have gotten out of committee.”
There is now a conundrum: At maximum speed it is about 18 hours to Chiaroscuro and to the villages, but it is a few hours between the two. Many strategies are proposed, a number of which involve splitting the party (since Ah Nold can also fly at the same maximum speed as the ship, he could be diverted to the other target if the ship goes to one), but ultimately the conclusion is that the party’s power is much greater when working together, and Hallun will be able to survive long enough for them to investigate the villages first, as long as they do not dawdle. Kliptheros also points out that Chiaroscuro had many Waypoint Shrines and hopefully at least one still remains, making Chiaroscuro a desirable destination to refresh everyone after a long trip. There is also some discussion about whether her entourage, including Ogode will object to the course alterations, but the party eventually realizes that they can be manipulated and don’t have a lot of options other than be along for the ride anyway. With that settled, Welkin has Edelweiss double the ship speed and uses his WInd Jewel to add further speed for the entire 18 hour trip while setting a course for the first of the wiped-out villages. Everyone else gets rest, except Ah Nold, who busies himself making Barabella into his personal concubine.
The rest of the day and night pass, and the second day arrives as the Crimson Gale is heading towards the first village. At some point Ogode quizzes Welkin about their course deviation, but he smoothly lies about trying to pick up Seven Bounties Paste here which would save everyone time, and Ogode buys it. Soon the village comes into view. From a distance, corpses are visible everywhere, with some accompanying scavengers having arrived. The bodies appear to be twisted and contorted, but the cause of death is not clear.
Ah Nold’s Essence Sight reveals that not only are they all dead, but they have no hungry ghosts. Very strange and confusing, since the bodies have clearly been left out to rot and no rites have been performed over them. They should each have a hungry ghost dormant inside them, and yet clearly there is nothing.
Txori’s super hearing reveals a regular clicking sound coming from the town hall, so she sends Onyx out to scout more, and Onyx finds the central town hall is particularly full of bodies piled around a metal cube two feet to a side with the top ripped open and the front burned and blackened. There appears to be some vague residual writing underneath the scorch marks, so Txori uses Discerning Savant’s Eye to read the original text. There was apparently a dial marked with both Flametongue and Old Realm that said “Turn left for fast” and “Turn right for smooth”, and below the dial, in Old Realm only, “Turn down for what.”
At this point most of the players begin an agonizing groan while the DM cackles madly for about a minute.
Concerned that this box had or still has some mysterious, murderous power, Txori describes it and asks Grey for his input. He suggests that if it held a demon and if the box has crystal resonance structures within it, it could be used by a demon to infect the fabric of reality around it. He couldn’t tell without a closer look however. The party decides to send Barabella down since she’s most likely immune to whatever is down there, and she can release her assumption charm to become an unshaped Raksha temporarily, ensure she cannot transmit anything. She reluctantly heads down, does a cursory medical examination, and reports that they appear to have died from the Great Contagion. This puts everyone in a state of mild alarm and also spawns some debate (notably, Sam knows that the Great Contagion kill rate was only 90% and only hit once), but no one is letting Barabella back onto the ship until she releases her shape and becomes an unshaped Raksha to get back on, which she eventually does.
Ogode is highly troubled and wants them to get out of there for Hallun’s safety, and the ship soon takes off again, as Welkin steers for the second village which is on the way to Chiaroscuro. Once they arrive it’s the same story: dead bodies, no hungry ghosts, metal box in the middle of a building with bodies piled around. The party speeds ahead, locating the caravan while shielded in cloud cover, though Ah Nold scans it with Measure the Wind, finding an Essence 6 demon is somewhere within. The party speeds past the caravan and arrives at Chiaroscuro by midday.
Welkin has a new charm, Flag of All Nations Method, that makes his ship and crew appear to be friendly or pointless to whoever looks at it, and parks right outside Chiaroscuro. Ogode, Hallun and their cousins are rapidly offloaded from the ship, leaving the party free to prepare for this new threat. Welkin goes to the Waypoint Shrine since he hasn’t slept, while Txori and Grey and Sam start asking around for information. Txori finds no issue with the caravan, and in fact a lot of hype about its imminent arrival, so she uses her money to short stock for the arrival (essentially betting against the fortune of the caravan). Sam locates the Guild Factor responsible for arranging this caravan’s arrival, Zhukha, and tracks and soon mimics his assistant Portanna. Disguised as Portanna, Sam reveals to Zhukha that there are rumors that the caravan is cursed or possible dangerous. Zhukha shows great surprise but no confusion, and intends to squash these rumors. Meanwhile Txori gets to work spreading more of these rumors as fast as possible.
Ah Nold, meanwhile, got bored and went to the local guard barracks, started a big ruckus, and then trained all the guards in hand-to-hand combat. Because that’s how he is. Also while Sam is returning he feels that one of his hearthstone necklaces is turned around, triggering his superstitions about being lied to.
Once Sam, Txori and Welkin are all together and share information, Txori wants to know about the previous destinations of this caravan. With Welkin’s Flag of All Nations and Authority-Radiating Stance, he easily gets into the Guild Archives, with Txori there to sort through the bureaucracy. She finds the planned route the caravan most likely took, which does indeed seem to have taken it near the desert empire she recently fled. This is troubling. Sam also analyzes whether Txori, Grey, Welkin, and Ah Nold have each been forthcoming about their recent past, finding the most gaps in Welkin’s stories. He notes this for future reference.
The day is waning, and the caravan is due soon to arrive at the last big village before Chiaroscuro, so the party hustles back and Welkin drops Sam, Txori and Grey right in the caravan’s path, with Ah Nold in cloaking nearby and the ship hiding in the clouds. As the vanguard scout arrives and tells the party to move, they convince him they have urgent news for the caravan Captain regarding a spreading plague. They are brought to Captain Moslett, who listens intently to their news of plague but is unconvinced by their story that Zhukha sent them. Txori attempts to reinforce their story that they’re super secret Guild agents by having Grey send a message to Welkin to reveal the ship and land with Flag of All Nations active, which he does. This gets Moslett’s attention and he calls for the other ranking guild figure to attend, and in strides Makarios, the Sigil’s Dreamer and member of the guild. He listens intently to their words of spreading plague, and Txori’s social attack forces him to consider how to salvage the profits of the caravan.
While this is going on, Ah Nold hunts around with Essence Sight until he finds more of the boxes like the ones found in the villages, except without the tops blown off and faces melted. He gets to work stealing them one by one using his stealth, super speed and Principle of Motion. He manages (narrowly) to get them all undetected and doesn’t stop until the boxes are in a pile a mile away.
Txori continues stalling Makarios, who is now completely torn by his difficult situation. Finally he rolls his conviction, succeeds, and decides that the solution to these problems is to kill the party, blame them as guild impersonators (guilty) and conspirators against the caravan (also guilty) and responsible for spreading the plague, and then all his troubles go away. Join Battle!
Though Makarios has made the first hostile decision, Txori immediately focuses her anima banner and it grows to iconic status as she increases her essence score. This gets Ah Nold’s attention, as he is still scoping out the caravan, so he flies above the caravan and reactivates Principle of Motion. This incidentally also panics a number of Guildsmen, including the Caravan Captain, who flees into the desert.
Txori attempts to put an arrow through Makarios’s chest but he dodges, and Grey takes up a defensive position in front of her. Makarios seems for a moment like he wants to attack her, but facing two Exalted and a god-blooded doesn’t seem like a winning proposition when he himself is definitely not a fighter. Instead, he pulls the stuff of dreams and nightmares out of his robe and molds it for a moment before he disappears in a cloud of bats, essentially using both Hoodwink and Demateralize. Welkin is struck by the dazzling illusions but still manages to fly out to attack Makarios with a firebomb and tries to send his glider into the wagon guarded by Guild soldiers (however, that particular bit doesn’t work very well, as the glider almost hits Ah Nold instead). Sam is overcome with illusions and takes no actions, while Ah Nold negates them with Elusive Dream Defense. Txori and Grey hold their wills fast against the illusions, and Txori covers Grey as he sets fire to the nearest wagon. Ah Nold, seeing that Makarios has dematerialized, dematerializes himself as well to pursue, instantly sending him to iconic anima banner.
At this point, a sandrunner (a ship with sails and an engine that coasts over the desert on sleds) arrives out of the desert wastes at high speed with an Abyssal Exalted standing on the bow of the ship. To Sam and Welkin this seems like just another illusion, but Txori recognizes this is probably the White Bone Mistress, servant of the Unconquered Sun and ally to Sanity’s Weeping Wound. She shrieks about how she has been looking for Txori and Grey, and tracked them by finding Grey’s work. She makes a reference to their being many shades to his work… Sam slips into the crowd of panicking and confused caravan workers, altering his appearance to seem to be one of them.
Ah Nold can vaguely see all this happening with Essence Sight but he has more immediate concerns. Makarios is standing before him and has one moment to act, so he tries to bribe Ah Nold into letting him leave in exchange for items of great power. Ah Nold, not trusting the silver-tongued merchant, replies by denying the offer with an expended willpower and a magical pummel flurry that leaves Makarios unconscious.
Meanwhile, Txori attempts to put two arrows through the Mistress’s skull but she blocks, and then makes a leaping attack that savages Grey. Sam slips around a corner, successfully pretending to be a confused and hapless mortal, then after an aiming round, snags the Mistress with his fighting chain, giving Txori an opening to put two aggravated damage arrows in her chest. The White Bone Mistress’s superheavy soulsteel plate is quite remarkably tough, but she is badly wounded by the assault.
Ah Nold had noticed that one of Makarios’s trinkets, a magical spell construct, fell out of his hand and disintegrated, and it seems perhaps he will not be able to loot the body effectively. He tries taking off Makarios’s robe only to find another one underneath, and frustrated, he smashes Makarios’s skull in. Makers disintegrates into a demonic swirl of smoke.
Welkin, having plotted a number of different possibilities, has now been sprinting towards the sandrunner and arrives, finding a pilot, a spectral hound, and several nonthreatening undead servants. He uses a Presence charm to intimidate them to get off the ship, but they are not easily swayed, and the pilot seems prepared to attack Welkin. Welkin is hoping to claim the ship for his own if he can dispose of this essence-using pilot.
Sam and the Mistress struggle over the chain, and despite having a huge dice advantage, Sam fails to keep a hold of the White Bone Mistress, but manages to hold onto his chain. She makes an immediate attack to take his head off, which he narrowly manages to dodge despite its exceptional speed and power, and then in the blink of an eye the deathknight is sprinting back towards her sandrunner to kill Welkin and probably escape. Unfortunately, she didn’t know much about Ah Nold, who flies up behind her and rematerializes just in time to deliver a crushing blow to the back of her neck. This drops her and she soon bleeds out while Ah Nold smashes the pilot threatening Welkin, punts the spectral hound high into the night sky, and generally makes a mess of things. A hatch opens from the engine hold and another deathblooded, a young woman this time, pokes her head out, then rapidly slams the hatch shut. Welkin deposits bombs into the hinges of the hatch and blows them, concussing her and rendering her an easy target for Ah Nold’s smashing.
The party rapidly rounds up as many of the Guildsmen as possible and Txori takes advantage of her iconic-level anima banner to swear everyone there to an oath that they will never discuss what they have seen here with anyone. The party questions the Guildsmen and the deathblooded crew, finding that the caravan traded with the Empire of Sand and Bone, that Makarios and Minajikin got help there making the boxes in exchange for giving a lot of the collected souls back to Sanity’s Weeping Wound, and that the necrotic essence weapons seem to require human blood to work properly. The party leaves the caravan goods scattered around the evil sandrunner, with obvious signs of battles everywhere, and also executes the deathblooded and leaves their bodies near the deathknight. This is all to point blame at the undead and definitely away from the party.
The process of swearing oaths, interrogating the Deathblooded, collecting the boxes back into the ship, and destroying and looting the caravan takes most of the night, and as the dawn breaks the Crimson Gale sets out for Chiaroscuro again so Txori can cash in. As they are reaching the city, however, a strange, rhythmic noise begins to become audible. Everyone starts feeling a vague compulsion to dance but no one feels like giving in to it.
Welkin pulls off to circle the city and sends Barabella to watch over Hallun while Ah Nold flies in to scout, finding that the Elusive Dream Defense does in fact keep him from wanting to dance. What he sees is chaos: people dancing uncontrollably in the streets, each person apparently emitting the sound themselves. Ah Nold’s essence sight (and 11 successes) reveals something fascinating: each person seems to have some kind of tiny invisible thread of essence attached to them, and when they infect a new person that person becomes attached to an extension of the thread. Also people seem to be getting stronger and tougher the more they dance, beginning to smash through windows and walls with ease.
Ah Nold is deeply unnerved and reports back to the party, letting them know what he’s seen. Welkin continues to fly at a safe distance while Ah Nold flies back to conduct some more experiments at Txori’s suggestion. He finds the Guild Factor from before, carries him off, and brings him into range of the dancing. Soon the Guild Factor starts dancing uncontrollably as well and starts trying to grapple Ah Nold. He seems to start having some success so Ah Nold tries punching him, only to find in total shock that the Guild Factor’s toughness seems to be increasing exponentially. He soaks bashing and lethal with his full stamina, and he’s receiving a bonus to strength and stamina that is doubling periodically.
Ah Nold experiments with carrying him away from the music but this does nothing to dampen the effect. He then drops him from terminal velocity, only to watch him smash through every floor of a building and dance his way out the first floor along with everyone else who was in the building. Ah Nold gets to him again and finally punches him to death, then watches in horror as the man’s soul is dragged away through the invisible thread of essence. He immediately reports back that they have a huge problem.
Ah Nold’s scouting and Txori’s augmented senses help them locate the epicenter of the catastrophe, a building that is still standing though its neighbors have been smashed by now. Sam has plugged his ears while Txori uses Sagacious Reading of Intent to ignore the compulsion of the music, which has the ulterior motive of trying to make her dance herself to death. Welkin prepares to ram his ship into it, but Ah Nold wants to try and stop it himself first. He activates Principle of Motion and his cloaking field and jets down at maximum velocity past all the dancers and into what was probably a main auditorium on a lower floor. A seething, writhing mass of people dancing are gathered, and Ah Nold temporarily boosts his Essence score with his Twice-Striking Lightning Prism and uses Refinement of Flowing Shadows to perfectly dodge all the many random attacks coming at him (also using his Danger Sense to avoid being blindsided by flailing +64Str limbs) and starts shoving people aside trying to get to the center. He just comes within view of the center of the mass: one of the boxes like the ones they have on the ship with the dial turned down for “what”. He can’t reach it though, as new dancers get in his way as fast as he can push them, and he roars in frustration (and gains limit).
Ah Nold has been gone long enough that Welkin decides it’s ramming time. He has managed to steer the ship around the dancers being thrown high into the air once Sam and Txori start spotting for him, and now turns the ship onto a 60-degree plummet and plows into the building, using Hull-Preserving Technique to negate damage to the Crimson Gale while shattering the building, scattering the dancers and flinging the battered box into the air. Txori and Welkin then hit the box with aggravated damage, slaying the demon that was hidden inside (Ah Nold identified it as a Zolanski, a first-circle demon and progeny of Minajikin). All the essence thread attachments to the dancers immediately disappear, and they collapse, exhausted (including the ones who had dashed into the hold of the ship and were about to activates the other boxes). Ah Nold immediately reboards the Crimson Gale and they leave the way they got in very quickly.
They park near Hallun’s house, collect Barabella, and bring Hallun and her entire family over to the Tri-Khan’s palace (but leaving Welkin behind on the Crimson Gale), leaving them there for safekeeping and updating the Tri-Khan on the destruction of the caravan and that it must be related to the recent disaster of people destroying buildings with their dancing. Then after Ah Nold gets bored and leaves, Txori and Grey go to the marketplace, wait for the bad news to filter down, then promptly begin collecting their insurance monies and short-stock dues. Txori rapidly becomes very wealthy as a result (having bet her entire 4-dot resources on this venture, she is now up to 5 dots).
Sam and Ah Nold are resting on the Crimson Gale when suddenly he has a bad feeling about something about to happen. He alerts Sam and Welkin, scans the area around them, sees nothing, and gets worried. Measure the Wind does reveal the nearby presence of an Essence 6 Exalt, however. Welkin asks Edelweiss about this and she comments that someone has just landed on top of the gas bag. Sam and Welkin climb up one set of rigging while Ah Nold flies around the back side cloaked. Welkin and Sam get to the top and see nothing, but Ah Nold sees a man wearing black clothing including a mask covering his mouth and nose, with a blue jade left arm, several blue jade artifacts in his possession, and a left eye that is glowing blue. As soon as he spots Ah Nold with this eye he drops the bomb he was planting and takes off, leaping from cloud to cloud. Ah Nold paces him and tries punching him but the martial artist is very skilled, though he does take a few lumps. Ah Nold soon sees that he is leading Ah Nold directly towards the Chiaroscuro Realm Barracks, out of which are spilling at least half a dozen Dragon-blooded who are powering up their scenelong charms. Time to go!
Ah Nold breaks off pursuit, flies to the marketplace, grabs Txori and Grey, and books it back to the ship. Welkin has started the engines up while Sam has disarmed the bomb, and away they go. They note they’re being pursued by the spy who is riding a glider and using a Wind Jewel, but Txori starts shooting arrows to discourage further pursuit. Soon he lands and broods as the Crimson Gale makes its getaway. Txori complains that this is yet another city she won’t be able to come back to again. No sooner has everyone’s adrenaline rushes subsided when the blue table is glowing again, causing everyone to sigh, but this time, the orders are a bit different.
- Debbie (typed): I’m not comfortable risking our rewards^H^H^H^H^H^H^H her health.
- Sam rolls his compassion and succeeds! Alejo: “Hallun looks just a bit like your long lost sister Dora!” Debbie: “My one compassion weakness!”
- Alejo: “Don’t forget, you don’t actually know what happened at these villages yet. I’m a pretty creative dude so there’s lots of different ways I could have killed them all off.”
- Eli, Re: complaints by Ogode etc. “If nothing else I made a list of things could you look over it? ‘Sit down and shut the fuck up for an hour’ Or maybe ‘Climb into a barrel and count my fingers for a while'”
- Sam: “But the Great Contagion only had a 90% kill rate, so maybe this is the Greater Contagion.”
- Louis: “Maybe we should have enslaved the brains of the operation.” Alejo: “Instead of the genitalia of the operation you mean?”
- Eli, related: “But also [the village deaths] diagnosis came from a moron, so there is also that.”
- The DM also revealed at the end of the session that Barabella botched her medicine roll to identify what killed the village. Oops.
- Welkin: “This charm is my new parking permit.”
- DM: “There is apparently a big social media marketing push for this caravan. Hashtag #guildswag, and all that.”
- Louis, Re: Makarios: “The best part is, what is he gonna do, report his stolen Great Contagion?” Debbie: “You can get that insured, right?”
- DM: “Sam, you feel a compulsion to slip into a world of dreams and nightmares all around you.” “Yeah so does Debbie.”
- Eli: “No one’s ever prepared to get spirit suplexed.”
- DM: “Wow Makarios has Presence 3? Learn to optimize!! And he has Martial Arts 1 despite being like ten thousand years old. ‘Yeah I took martial arts once but I never really made it past orange belt’.”
- DM: “This is the last time I make a powerful enemy without surprise attack detection.”
- Eli: “IT’S A TARP!”
- Eli: “Keep in mind that touching someone may give you… mosh pit … -itis…”
- Louis: “I forgot not everyone can survive 300-feet falls”
- Alejo: *counting* “Let’s see, his strength bonus is 1, 2, 4, it’s up to +8 now.” Taylor and Debbie, alarmed: “Uhhh that goes up REALLY fast.” Alejo: “I know!”
- Debbie: “We don’t want a little girl to come up to the box and turn down for what”
- Eli: “That’s a lot of bricks and planks plastered to your ram prow… Yeah maybe we should just get to the palace through conventional means…”
- Tri-Khan, about the Guild: “They wear their secrets like undergarments” Eli: “So they have no secrets?” Louis: “Sentinel defense force undies!”
- Eli: “It’s not gambling if you directly influence the outcome.” Louis: “Right that’s not gambling, that’s cheating”
Welkin sets a course for Vora-Dun, the sacred land of the nomadic Delzahn, after first making a pit stop to buy a bunch of food for the banquet. While en route, Txori takes time to educate everyone in basic Flametongue and also updates them on the customs of the notoriously aggressive and prideful Delzahn nomads. Sam and Welkin both Rosetta-stone Flametongue, while Ah Nold tries to increase his essence without enough experience points for it and thus stands around screaming in a constipated manner for a while. At some point, Sam manages to disguise Ah Nold’s battle armor to appear to be red jade instead of orichalcum, helping him pass off as a Dragon-blooded.
The Crimson Gale takes a circuitous route, partially to give Welkin time to develop his new charms, and arrives on the first day of the celebration. Vora-Dun is a two-square-mile raised plateau in the middle of the desert that the Delzahn people hold sacred, and when Welkin touches the Crimson Gale down on the outskirts of it, an Or-Khan and a large posse of nobles arrive and hostilely demand they remove themselves from this space that only Delzahn nobility may stand on. Ah Nold tries threatening him in his version of Flametongue, but since his Seven Visions Medallion contains the ghost of his first age incarnation who is from five thousand years ago, his Flametongue sounds archaic and confusing to listen to. Txori rapidly smooths things over by promising to have them land in the permissible area. As they fly by, Sam notes that many people who are not Delzahn nobility are in fact walking around in defiance of this supposedly sacred law, some serving a specific role and others being of mixed heritage.
The Crimson Gale lands on the flat plain near the easily accessible north face of the plateau, and another posse of Delzahn rapidly accost them. This one is led by an Or-Khan named Hungharn who is much friendlier and commits his people to helping unload the food. Soon the food is unloaded and the party is standing around, scheming to get more info.
Welkin finds a local watering hole populated by non-Delzahn merchants, mostly from the Guild. After chatting them up for a bit Welkin rapidly learns that support for Matajin is fading due to his inactivity for the last few years. He has ceased to be a strong leader and isn’t conducting raids or riding out to war, and some Or-Khans are probably plotting to overthrow him, particularly Armukh, who matches the description of the Or-Khan who kicked them off the plateau in the first place. Welkin is excited by this nugget and runs to find Ah Nold, who is amusing himself by beating nobles at feats of strength and duels. One noble actually beats Ah Nold in an archery contest, but Ah Nold goads him into a bare-handed duel, which he handily wins. Welkin starts acting as Ah Nold’s hype man, claiming even the khans bow before Ah Nold, leading another Or-Khan to challenge Ah Nold, and though Ah Nold wins handily again, he is starting to show his anima rather strongly so he takes a break. He is soon invited up to Vora-Dun to continue his run of challenges.
Txori has Grey making various fancy children’s toys and selling them, attracting quite a crowd of children. Eventually this attracts the attention of Hungharn, who invites Txori and Grey up to Vora-Dun to further ply their wares. Once up there, Txori asks Sam, who has unobtrusively tagged along, to watch for any children of the Khan. Soon Sam spots two boys who strongly resemble the Khan, but aren’t especially close in features to his daughter. Txori nudges Grey to them, and soon their mother, dressed as a woman of only middling social status, comes to tend to them and they ask her to buy one of the spring-loaded toys for them. She does easily, and Txori takes notes of this for later.
Now Welkin gathers everyone together for his master plan, refined with some discussion: he can implant a small fire explosion into one of Grey’s toys, Sam can disguise himself as an anonymous Delzahn noble and give it to Armukh with a letter which has Txori’s letter-within-a-letter suggesting it be given to the Khan and/or his daughter, staging an assassination attempt, which Welkin can take advantage of by arguing with Armukh immediately afterwards in the presence of others, and Welkin’s Listener-Swaying Argument charm will immediately convince everyone that Welkin’s accusations are completely valid. Armukh removed, the party ingratiated to the Khan, and a chance to scan the targets further with more information gathering charms and abilities. The perfect crime!!!
Txori writes the letter with the following information:
Plain text: Please accept this token of our gratitude for your excellent leadership and guidance. You are the finest and wisest of khans! Let your prized children enjoy this special gift purchased at great expense for our noble lord.
Hidden text: Please enjoy this barely adequate gift. It is cheap and foreign. Give it to one you hold in low esteem during the banquet, so his feeble offspring can further dull their minds.
Sam transforms into an anonymous Delzahn noble, hands it to Armukh before the banquet, slips away and turns back into himself. At the banquet, Khan Matajin presents himself and his wife (not the same woman Txori met) to the guests, and the party commences. Once the primary eating has settled down somewhat, Armukh goes up to the Khan and presents his gift to the Khan. He goes to sit back down, and the Khan inspects it briefly (of course finding nothing unusual) and sets it aside. After a few minutes, Grey makes a show of standing and pointing at his toy, which Sam then sprints over and knocks the Khan and his wife over right as Welkin detonates the flame weapon, burning Sam for 1L but mostly making a big show. Welkin then immediately points in an accusatory fashion over at Armukh, claiming he intended to assassinate the Khan or his daughter. Armukh furiously and smugly refutes Welkin’s points, but the moment an argument is created the public’s mind is made up by Welkin’s magnificent charm (literally and figuratively) and hauls Armukh away to be executed for treason.
Sam rapidly chats up the Khan and his wife, enabling him to use Revelation of Associate’s Hunch. The Khan’s associates are his family and the Or-Khans, but his wife’s associates include the apothecary Willsa and a Raksha named Shynor the Taster at the top of her list. SUPER SUSPICIOUS. The Khan’s wife, soon becoming fearful for her daughter’s well-being, rushes off to check on her after insisting that Sam be handsomely rewarded. Txori uses Sagacious Reading of Intent and reads that the wife is indeed concerned solely for the safety of her daughter. The Khan seems somewhat listless still but rattled enough to be in agreement. Sam asks to consult with his colleagues which the Khan acquiesces to easily. Sam huddles with everyone else and the new plan is to ask to dine with the Khan and his family. Sam asks for this and the Khan immediately makes it so, retiring to the big tent with some of his clansmen escorting Sam, Txori, Grey, Welkin and Ah Nold in as well. The Khan notices that Sam is wounded and calls for the apothecary, who soon arrives with his young female assistant in tow. Ah Nold is finally rewarded for his incessant Measure the Wind + Essence Sight on everyone, finding that the apothecary’s assistant is an Essence 3 Raksha. He subtly informs the rest of the party as the apothecary tends to Sam’s burn wounds. Sam uses Revelation of Associate’s Hunch on both the apothecary and his assistant, finding two more Raksha names: the apothecary is connected with Barabella the Unfair, while the assistant is associated with both Shynor the Taster and Krengen the Hungry.
Txori, knowing she has diplomatic immunity with Raksha, whispers in the assistant’s ear that they have business to discuss. The Raksha keeps a poker face but soon announces in a bubbly fashion that she’s going to collect more herbs and bring Txori along. Once they’re outside the tent, Txori tries to get more information about what’s going on, but the Raksha claims they live there in peace and are doing everything they can to help out, including keeping the daughter alive. Txori trusts none of this but lets her go.
While Txori is out, the Khan’s wife and daughter arrive, the daughter brought in on pillows, clearly being sickly. Ah Nold thinks that killing the daughter will solve the most fate problems, but Clippy his armor’s god takes total exception to this, locking down the armor and giving Ah Nold a stern talking to about finding better solutions that involve saving lives. Soon the Khan’s concubine, the woman Txori met before, arrives with the Khan’s two sons. Everyone notices that the Khan’s wife does NOT like the Khan’s concubine that has borne the Khan’s two young boys, plus Ah Nold notices the Khan likes the concubine a lot more than his wife. Ah Nold also scans the daughter with Essence Sight and interprets it with his Seven Visions Medallion medical library, finding she is very sick in the lungs with some nonmagical disease and some type of moderate magic is keeping her alive.
Txori has arrived back, and soon the Raksha does as well, causing Txori to activate her paranoia senses. Ah Nold is keeping a super-close eye on the Raksha, especially for the next part of the plan. Grey asks about the daughter’s health and why no one has tried to use Seven Bounties Paste, rare but clearly affordable for one of the Khan’s stature. The Khan claims it has been tried and hasn’t worked, and Welkin insists that it should work, and thus it must have been mis-applied. This draws the apothecary into an argument with Welkin, and once again Listener-Swaying Technique rapidly causes everyone to believe they can see through the apothecary’s feeble lies. While he is dragged off, Welkin volunteers to fly and collect more Seven Bounties Paste, with Grey claiming he should be able to use it to cure her. In that moment Ah Nold barely notices the Raksha getting away, and he takes off after her, tackling her once she’s in the abandoned space between several tents. She tries to drain his Valor, but he instinctively activates Integrity Protecting Prana to dispel the effect, then beats her into unconsciousness and drags her back to the tent. There he presents the girl as being a Raksha, and when this is met with some dubiousness, he takes some Iron Leaf Bush pressings and touches her skin, causing it to sizzle and smoke. A gasp rolls around the room.
The party now has the room’s attention. Txori, with her heightened senses both physical and social, detects that the Khan’s wife is shocked but not surprised, and is quite concerned. While the Khan begins speaking about how these foul creatures will pay for their deceptions, the wife excuses herself, saying she must take her daughter away from here, for protection. She gestures to the guards to bring her daughter. Txori, not trusting this woman, rapidly scribbles down a recipe for some healing herbs and remedies while secretly embedding a message inside:
Your scheme is undone, throw yourself on the Khan’s mercy or vanish forever.
Txori hands it over to Laliara smilingly and lets them leave. At the Khan’s command, Ah Nold awakens Barabella and she is questioned. The Raksha is tortured and threatened and attempts some feeble lies, but when Sam reveals they already know the names of the other two Raksha, Barabella fails a Valor roll and rapidly spills the beans, confirming what was already suspected: the Khan’s wife contracted the Raksha to extend her daughter’s life to save her political marriage to the Khan. The Uliyat clan, to which Laliara belongs, has long been a power-seeking family, but this revelation still stuns the Khan as much farther than their usual shenanigans. He sends a guard to fetch his wife.
The guard does not return, and after about fifteen minutes the party is ready to go after them. Ah Nold is kept behind to keep watch over the Khan while Txori, Grey, Welkin and Sam all are led by another guard to the Khan’s sleeping tent. The main part of the huge, lavish tent itself seems to be unoccupied, but when they get to the back the guard is there, gently caring for a big rock sitting in Hallun’s bedding. There is also a large hole in the back of the tent sliced open with some bladed weapon. The guard shushes the party, warning that the princess needs her sleep. This provokes some exasperation amongst the party, and also confuses the hell out of their guide.
Txori sends Onyx, her clockwork raiton familiar, up to search the area. Thanks to an exceptional survival roll, Onyx rapidly locates both Laliara (meeting with Uliyat clan members who are bringing horses and traveling supplies) and another cloaked figure running the opposite direction at some considerable speed, carrying something in its arms. Once Txori shares this information, Welkin sends Jack, his tree singer after Laliara with instructions to sing for them, which will put them into a trance and eventually make them pass out. The goal is to delay them until they can be dealt with.
Onyx gets close enough to identify the runner as a Raksha carrying Hallun, so Txori, concerned for the child’s safety and furious that the child seems to be a pawn in this, uses There Is No Wind and Essence Arrow and a Conviction roll and Onyx’s spotting to shoot the Raksha from hundreds of yards away. The arrow arcs, blazing holy light, giving the Raksha a moment to try and dodge, and she ends up with one lethal damage as the arrow takes off an ear and part of her cheek. She falls but manages to keep the child safe, then looks around to try to see what happened. Thanks to a botched Stealth roll, she rapidly spots the clockwork raiton trying to pretend it’s a taxidermy, and tells it coldly that she has the child as a bargaining chip and will exchange it for one of her own (presumably Barabella). Then she keeps on running. She is getting away, as Sam is fast but not as fast as a Raksha, and Grey and Welkin aren’t having that much luck either. Txori climbs up onto a nearby tent and prepares for another shot while Welkin gets out his glider and uses his Wind Jewel to take off and rapidly catch up.
Txori gets a window for another shot and takes it, this time using a target arrow and the Righteous Judgment version of Essence Arrow (since apparently shaped Raksha do not count as creatures of darkness). This one hits brutally, disintegrating the runner’s knee as she is putting weight on it, causing her to crash to the ground, separating her shoulder and smashing up her face. Welkin rapidly arrives and lands nearby carefully (discarding his plan to clock her on a flyby). As he approaches, however, the Raksha looks at him and her eyes begin to glow, causing Welkin to reflexively launch a dart into each eye. These are thrown with such power that they snap her head back completely and slay her. She slowly begins to disintegrate as Welkin picks Hallun up and walks away. Sam soon arrives and takes the girl, trying to inspect her and seems to think she’s healthy (due to a botched medicine roll). Grey arrives a few moments later, taking Hallun, and when Sam suggests she is healed, Grey immediately identifies her as still being very sick.
They bring Hallun back to the Khan, with Ah Nold still holding Barabella in uncomfortable body locks. They report that Laliara is preparing to escape with the help of some Uliyat clan members, which riles up the Khan, even more when hearing that Hallun was in the grasp of another Raksha, most likely Shynor the Taster. The Khan demands to be taken to his wife immediately, which Txori does so with Grey and Welkin. Sam and Ah Nold, meanwhile, go back to collect the body of Shynor, with Barabella still in tow.
The Khan arrives and awakens Laliara, questioning her furiously as to her motives. His wife admits that she gave their daughter to Shynor, but she was not to be harmed, it was merely as a bargaining tool and she was assured Hallun would be safe. Nevertheless, this is clearly an act of treason, not to mention it causes Txori to completely lose it, as she has above all a soft spot in her heart for children, especially ones being used as pawns. Txori pledges to assist with any and all punishments to be doled out here. The Khan seems to be getting back to his old self, as he has all the Uliyat clansmen rounded up for questioning.
Meanwhile, Ah Nold and Sam arrive at where Shynor’s colored sand corpse was located, only the body is gone. Sam locates tracks and signs that something recently passed through the rock here. This is attributed to probably be the third Raksha, Krengen the Hungry, so when they return back and the party gathers together again (after the Khan says his business with the party is concluded for the moment) they question Barabella again for more information on Krengen. She describes him as a massive, shark-like Raksha with a sword with a shark’s mouth, and he spends most of his time off hunting or traveling underground with his Fey Beast which is in the form of a sand wyrm. Sam was able to identify some of the bits of rock in the track as being from deep bedrock, indicating this sand wyrm is capable of traveling deep into solid rock.
After some brainstorming, the new plan is to summon an Earth elemental and ask it for help in cleansing the Earth of this foul creature. It’s a four-hour summoning ritual, and about halfway through Txori can vaguely sense movement deep underground. Fortunately it doesn’t come any closer, and eventually the spell is complete. Before them stands a massive humanoid carved from living stone, a Jokun who explains his name is Rocky. Grey articulately explains their situation and asks for his help, and Rocky says if Grey simply releases him here he will gladly help deal with this creature. Since Jokun are known for their honor, Grey accedes, and Rocky rapidly develops a basic plan, which is that he will force the sand wyrm to the surface on the low ground near the edge of the plateau, and will keep it from resubmerging while the party deals with it. The plan is accepted, and everyone gathers for an ambush. Rocky also provides some diamonds he has lying around, and Ah Nold studs his Essence Gauntlets with them.
Rocky sinks into the ground, and the waiting begins. Welkin, Txori and Grey gather on the high ground, Ah Nold flies overhead while cloaked, and Sam uses his armor to appear to be Barabella. The real Barabella is knocked out and imprisoned on the ship, with Edelweiss watching over her.
About fifteen minutes after Rocky submerged, a rumbling begins, and soon a two-hundred-foot-long sand wyrm erupts from the ground, casting boulders aside like waves of water, with Rocky literally forcing it aboveground while grunting and straining.
Ah Nold dive-bombs the surprised sand wyrm and smashes it with his Essence Gauntlets viciously, wounding it. It thrashes and from its mouth Krengen the Hungry appears, disoriented and furious. Txori places a deadly shot at the sand wyrm, punching a hole through its mouth and side, causing it to uncoil and roll down to the ground. Krengen manages to keep his balance but he has no chance of noticing Sam who sneaks up (with 16 successes) on Krengen, wraps him with his fighting chain, and then in a fit of genius, wraps the other end of the chain around his own hands and appears by Krengen’s side, making it look like Barabella has been trapped by the same chain. With 11 successes on the larceny roll and a charm to mimic her voice, “Barabella” calls for help, completely fooling Krengen and distracting him. Welkin leaps in, not wanting to use firebombs since the assassination attempt the previous day was carried out with firebombs, so he leaps in with a triple javelin attack, two of which pin his arms and the third of which includes Jack farting on his face. All this leads up to Ah Nold striding up confidently and smashes Krengen’s face in, not completely killing him but certainly ending the fight.
Rocky thanks the party for the excellent encounter and promises to be available in the future if they need help purging the Earth of more monstrosities. He drags the fey sand wyrm underground and is gone. Now left with Barabella and Krengen, a discussion ensues on what to do with them. Finally they are collected and awakened and Welkin tells them that there is one open position for a crewman on his ship. Barabella is clearly terrified of Krengen but also has no loyalty to him so she soon volunteers if she will get protection from him. Welkin takes her back to the Crimson Gale to be indoctrinated, while the rest of the party drags Krengen back to the main encampment where Khan Matajin is still holding his inquisition of the Uliyat clan. Ah Nold presents Krengen, and the Khan makes a brief speech/trial, condemns him to death, and Ah Nold punches his face in, slaying him. The Khan has more business (trials) to attend to but has one of his noble relatives pull the party aside to discuss compensation for their heroics.
The Khan’s cousin, Ogode, brings Txori, Grey, Sam and Ah Nold to a tent to discuss compensation, but the most important thing is the matter of Hallun still. The new court physician has estimated she has only a few days to live without the apothecary or the Raksha to heal her, and no Seven Bounties Paste remains in their supplies. Some debate crops up as to how to get her healed, with some leaning towards ferrying her to Chiaroscuro to save time. While this is going on, another Delzahn noble arrives and asks for a moment alone with the group. Ogode seems reluctant but allows it while he sends for Hallun. Once the noble is alone with the party, he asks who the party is, seeing through the cagey vague answers easily. Ah Nold uses Measure the Wind on the noble, finding that he’s an Essence 8 Lunar, who reveals his name is Tamuz when questioned. Kliptheros has some minimal information on Tamuz, and Ah Nold reveals he knows some of it, causing Tamuz to ask what his first age name was. Kliptheros reveals it to Ah Nold, who relays it, causing Tamuz to stroke his beard thoughtfully.
Tamuz asks how the party was able to crack the mystery of what was causing the Delzahn to fracture and resolve it so easily when he had been failing to do so for over a year. Kliptheros knows about Tamuz’s struggles with the Raksha so Ah Nold plays on that for a bit, pushing Tamuz’s buttons slightly. He is grateful to the party, however, and leaves them with a warning that if his own eyes in the crowd were able to spot that Ah Nold is in fact a Solar, other eyes would no doubt be able to as well, and the party had best leave and not come back anytime soon because the Wyld Hunt is likely to have spies around.
Tamuz leaves right as Ogode returns with Hallun and three of her cousins bearing her on pillows again. Txori tells Ogode that they have a vital timeline to keep and they cannot afford the time to ferry Hallun back, but they can ferry her there and leave her with family. Ogode is reluctant but allows it and leaves to tell the Khan while the party returns to the ship.
Meanwhile, Welkin and a newly domesticated Barabella arrive at the Crimson Gale. Edelweiss is not excited to see the Raksha is back, asking if she isn’t enough for Welkin, but Welkin points out that she should be useful to have around. Edelweiss mutters under her breath, “arrow fodder.”
Soon Hallun and her retinue arrive with the party. Welkin is sure to welcome Hallun to the ship (can’t have her failing any saving throws en route) and soon they’re off and cruising to Chiaroscuro. It’s not long, though, before Edelweiss reports to Welkin that the table belowdecks is flashing blue again. Welkin tells her to keep the ship on course for Chiaroscuro while he collects the party, and as they gather, Ah Nold makes Barabella get everyone sandwiches.
- Eli: “I fill everyone in on the “don’t’s” of this aggressive culture.” Taylor: “These all sounds like “do’s” to Ah Nold.”
- Someone asks Grey for his name, Eli responds “Fake name.” Alejo then interprets Grey as having said he is “Fakename” (Fah-keh-nah-meh)
- Taylor: “Then we give the toy with the bomb to Armukh.” Debbie: “How do we make sure he gives the toy to the Khan?” Taylor: “Letter within a letter!” Everyone: “AHHHHHhhhhh”
- Taylor’s Listener Swaying Argument charm is referred to as the “JFK Charm”, the “FOX News Charm”, and “Really Really Powerful”
- Welkin points the finger and blames Armukh, with Mariner’s Parable Defense active. Debbie: “I’m convinced by it.”
- Eli: “She’s got some kind of pneumonia or whatever going on.”
- Louis, arguing to kill the daughter: “It’s just an abortion at 72 months.” Later corrected to 105 months
- Sam: “I think she’s okay now!” Grey: *rolls* “Well she’s not injured but she’s still just as sick as she was.” Sam: “… That’s what I meant.”
- Ah Nold in the Sky with Diamonds…
- Louis: “Ah Nold takes exception to your negative characterization of brutes! Hashtag #SwoleAcceptance!”
- Rocky: “I’m gonna go 15 rounds with these guys” Everyone: “……..”
- Khan: “I see you are very powerful, you have a Prince of Earth among you!” Debbie: “Sam has a moment of panic before he realizes who he’s talking about.”
- Eli, Re: Tamuz’s advice and suspicions about him: “Look, even if this guy happens to be some monster born from a Yozi that’s been sexing a Neverborn, it’s still a good idea.“
- Alejo: “I like the idea that Ah Nold is an NPC and Louis is playing Clippy.”
Welkin sets a course for Lishapa, which is about two days away at high speed, giving the party time to prepare (and time for Sam to use Revelation of Associates Hunch on the entire party). The message from the Sidereals also includes drop-off instructions for Patience of the Endless Void, and he is dumped off at the required location. Many plans are discussed at some point, including:
- Coercing pirates into attacking the ship
- Sam impersonating the target and “drowning”
- Having several of the party board the ship as merchants to be innocuously close (This option is particularly attractive once Welkin points out he can use Ship-Claiming Stance to literally own the ship and thus impede everyones’ ability to interfere with them)
Ultimately the third option is chosen to start. The party gets off on the uninhabited far side of the island and Edelweiss is commanded to keep the ship hidden in clouds (some of her own creation if necessary) while the party gets to work. Txori, Sam, Welkin and Grey come in bearing forged documentation of mercantilism and get to work selling some of their artifacts, rapidly earning back the money they had spent, while Ah Nold practices hiding from people in cloaking mode with his armor. Their cover story is they are traveling merchants who sold their horses for ferry passage to this island and intend to ply their wares in Harborhead. They spend the night at the local inn to further buttress their alibi.
The next day the ship has put in to port. It is an impressively large ship called the S.S. Anne, practically a Guild Caravan but floating in the ocean and with some magitech for a main engine. The four purchase passage and keep their crates stowed in their room to save on the price. Ah Nold finds the command deck and scans the captain, finding him not an essence user. He also searches for Neeri but does not find her.
Eventually the ship has had all its exchanges made and sets off. Welkin finds a bathroom, locks himself in, and uses Ship-Claiming Stance to claim ownership of the vessel. Old Realm runes flash in the air and lights blaze around, and then the little god of the ship itself appears before him, calling himself the S.S. Anne (very unoriginal, yes we know). Ownership of the S.S. Anne is formally ceded to Welkin. Welkin formally welcomes Txori, Ah Nold, Sam, and Grey, and when asked, tells S.S. Anne not to inform anyone else. Welkin also commands the S.S. Anne to inform Edelweiss of their position and to follow them at a safe distance. Welkin, having used his anima power to conceal the essence expenditure, now walks out like nothing happened.
The lunchtime crowd gathers in the enclosed top deck, and the party keeps watch but sees no one like who they were looking for. Time passes and concern mounts, but when dinnertime arrives, four Brides of Ahlat (one with a black panther in tow) arrive escorting four diplomats from Harborhead. They sit and eat, and the party rapidly identifies Neeri as their leader and the one with the panther friend. Soon Welkin has an idea. He uses his hearthstone to cause a gust of wind to blow in through an open window, knocking over a wineglass into Neeri’s lap. She barely flinches, considers her appearance carefully, then rises and bows to the diplomats, who nod back, dismissing her. She walks down the hallway.
Sam, Welkin and Txori each follow at a different distance, while Ah Nold attempts to track her from outside. Sam wants to hear her voice and see what languages he speaks so he gets closer. Welkin sends Jack, his monkey, ahead to begin tormenting the panther. Sam runs up and apologizes, then tries to make conversation with Neeri in High Realm, to which she replies dismissively in Flametongue. Sam then tries Riverspeak, which he has picked up a few words of, saying, “Sorry. Bad [points at monkey]!”, and she replies relatively fluently and very dismissively that he should be sorry. He introduces himself, but she does not engage in further conversation. He does take this opportunity to use Revelation of Associates Hunch and notes the first name that comes up is Altonellis, a demon of the second circle. Neeri and the panther stalk off, allowing the party to locate her room. Ah Nold has lost track of her from outside and attempts to ninja his way inside, and soon he catches up with the party. The party retires to their room to scheme.
New plans are formed to coerce Neeri off the ship. Ah Nold has heard of Ahlat, the Southern god of War and Cattle that the brides worship, and wants to try impersonating him, but the details seem to break down. Finally it’s Txori who has the winning plan, with input from the others: she can forge a written letter from Ahlat with an embedded message for her to get off the ship. Grey provides some input and there is also some debate about where to put the letter, but the inside of her door is finally chosen. They wait for everyone to fall asleep at night while Ah Nold flies ashore to collect some cow’s blood, and then Sam and Txori sneak down to her room. Sam uses Terrestrial Reinforcement of Stealth to bolster Txori’s stealth and also easily picks the lock to their room, and then Txori forges a letter written on the inside of the door in cow’s blood:
Overt message: “Neeri, Bride of Ahlat, your worth has been measured and found wanting. Return to me if you wish to not be cast aside.”
Hidden message: Go to shore and find a bull to sacrifice to Ahlat.
Sam closes and relocks the door and away they go back to their room. Txori’s clockwork raiton is keeping watch from outside and in the early morning he shares a vision of Neeri reading the letter and immediately going with her panther to secure a lifeboat and row to shore. Sam, Welkin, Txori and Grey stay behind and act casual, while Ah Nold tracks her ashore while cloaked and flying, and then ambushes both her and the panther, scoring knockout blows on both.
Ah Nold arrives at the Crimson Gale with Neeri and the panther, one over each shoulder. He asks Edelweiss where to keep them, and she proposes empty barrels in the cargo hold, within line of sight of the briefing table. Ah Nold stays with them all through the day, applying 1 bashing damage intermittently to keep them unconscious. The rest of the party plays it cool on the ship, and Welkin releases SS Anne from his service.
After nightfall, Welkin flies up using his glider and wind jewel, and Ah Nold fetches Txori, Grey and Sam one by one. Once they are all gathered on the ship, they allow Neeri to come to and begin asking who she is. She seems to genuinely believe she is Neeri, but the mention of the name Altonellis causes her to subtly flinch with recognition. Sam catches it and asks more, but she is not cooperative. Sam then has the idea to use Revelation of Associates Hunch on the panther, and the top name is not Neeri but instead Thelonious, another second circle demon. Grey has an idea to look up these demons in the Scroll of Limbs, a very large tome that Txori had recovered from Kuzush, and to speed it up they split the binding to make it a multi-volume set and then Sam, Txori and Grey all search through the book for those names. Ah Nold gets bored and patrols around while Welkin starts playing darts using spirit weapons.
Eventually Grey locates the name Altonellis and begins reading the description out loud: a second circle demon, the Messenger Soul of Naz-pherat the Collector of Fear, a third circle demon of Isidoros the Black Boar that Twists the Skies, one of the Yozis. Txori notices that as Grey is reading the description Neeri’s eyes have rolled back into her head and she is contorting, so she stops Grey and they come over to investigate. They clearly have two demons on their hands, and several disposal strategies are suggested, the more exotic ones involving the Wyld Hunt station 500 miles due north on the coast of the Blessed Isle. Welkin vehemently vetoes flying into Realm air space, and there aren’t any active volcanoes nearby, nor any easy-access gates to heaven, and the party is getting stuck.
At this point Neeri begins talking in a voice not her own, but rather the voice of Thelonious, the Expressive Soul of Naz-pherat. Thelonious suggests that their disposal strategies are all very risky and so they will offer a deal: to leave without troubling them further, in exchange for telling the party where the real Neeri and panther are located. The party is a little reluctant to take such a deal until it’s pointed out that Txori is an eclipse and can consecrate a deal. Txori’s Sagacious Reading of Intent tells her that the demon’s aim is to avoid getting slaughtered, and the deal offer seems genuine, so she makes it so with a touch of the hand and a burning of a caste mark. The deal is struck. Thelonious also mentions that the souls of Naz-pherat have been commissioned to these tasks due to Yozi politics, which would not interest the party.
As Thelonious and Altonellis begin to move around more freely, they say they can be let off anywhere and it would be safer if the party themselves recovered Neeri, since she and her panther are in crates in the cargo hold of the SS Anne, being brought along by the disguised Neeri. They mention that they were keeping them alive to keep their fate and soul intact to further buttress their disguise as they went around occasionally nudging things towards the Yozi invasion of Creation. They mention “this new hot chick” in the guild that they have been working towards corrupting, but they will have to start over now that their cover is being blown. They are let off the ship and walk away.
Ah Nold flies down in cloaking mode to the cargo hold, stopping only to frighten a little girl who was wandering the hallway late at night, and after finding the correct crates opens them up, frees the two, and walks away. The real Neeri sits up confused and calls out for answers but finds none. Ah Nold escapes the ship and ferries Sam, Txori and Grey back before dawn, while Welkin flies back. They complete their cover of staying on the ship and checking off when it lands at Harborhead.
Once docked, Welkin slips away and uses his glider to get back to the Crimson Gale. He pilots it around and docks on land outside of Kirighast. Txori, Grey and Sam sell the rest of their goods, putting Txori up to Resources 4. At the end of the day, Welkin finds them and leads them back to the ship, and away they go.
- Someone: “The czar or whatever”
- Debbie: “I want to cast Revelation of Associates Hunch on myself to learn more about my allies!”
- Debbie: “I’ll say that I specialize in antiquities, given that I am one.”
- Alejo, to Eli: “You can use manipulation plus presence, unless you want to use charisma.” Eli: “Gosh I sure don’t.”
- Louis’s proposal for Txori’s message: “Apparent Message: Ahlat, the Southern God of War and Cattle commands __, my bride to come ashore and prepare yourself for ritual defloration. Hidden message: This is totally a message from Ahlat.”
- Someone: “So if we impersonate Ahlat and he gets mad and comes for us, do you think the Sidereals will cover for us?” Alejo: “Well that would be the honorable thing to do, so who knows?”
- Alejo, in reference to Eli’s charm: “Oh god, it gives you super vision to increase your DV!” Taylor: “Oh yes and it also gives you super vision to get automatic aim dice, and if you take the three ticks they become automatic successes.” Debbie: “Well, I can tell who is feeling most guilty!…”
- Debbie: “Well it’s a multi-volume set now!”
- Alejo: “Louis wants to dual-box Exalted.”
- Ah Nold presents a very pointed analysis of the demons’ situation. Thelonious’s response: “You seem very rational for a Conan the Barbarian type.” Ah Nold: “…. I have a good advisor.”
- Someone: “Wait don’t we have an eclipse?” Eli: “Oh yeah half the reason for my character’s existence…” Alejo: “Great job Eli, you beat out two other people for the Eclipse role and you totally forgot you had that!”
- Louis: “Could a little girl survive 16 bashing damage?” Alejo: “Could YOU survive 16 bashing damage?” After some math Louis concluded that he could but he would be in the hospital for it
- Alejo: “And now for the weather report– it’s sunny and clear except for the mysterious cloud that’s been not-at-all-suspiciously following us for three days.”
- DM’s note: I was completely unprepared for Sagacious Reading of Intent. I will not be caught unprepared again.
Thank you, Louis, for not being this person, even though you could be.
And while I’m on the subject of Louis, what happens when Ah Nold tries to have sex with someone while wearing his Celestial Battle Armor? I’m imagining this:
The journey to Agraev (which everyone seems to somehow know is commonly called Agrabah) is a relatively short one but there doesn’t seem to be an excess of time pressure so they take a slow cruising route while Welkin prepares a new charm using the strength he has been gathering on his adventures so far. Apparently some of the delays are also caused by Ah Nold attempting to copulate with Edelweiss, with about as little success as you’d expect someone to have trying to mate with an unwilling spirit in its own sanctum.
They set down on the outskirts of town, and once the ship has landed, Welkin is able to use Mariner’s Parable Defense to become the most magnificent badass who ever did pilot a skyship. As he disembarks, two city guards are already approaching suspiciously, but they are awed by Welkin’s magnificence and when he claims he is trying to establish a trade route for the Haslanti League and needs access to the city’s trade records, no one has any qualms about allowing him into the city center.
The party is escorted to the massive manse palace at the center of the city, and it is plain to see the standard of living jumps phenomenally as one enters the city itself. While Welkin resolves to investigate the city records aspect with Txori and Sam, Ah Nold decides that reading is for suckers and simply starts asking nearby people what they know about recent murders in town, making his way towards the front doors of the manse. Welkin, Sam and Txori are allowed into the records rooms and come up with very little useful information. Realizing that active crime files are probably at the police station, the three locate the nearest station. Sam meets a city guardsman coming off duty, asks for his name, then once he has left, mimics his voice and appearance and walks uncontested through the entire station. However, when he tries to find the relevant case files in the records room, he comes up empty. Realizing the records are probably somewhere else, he reports back to the group outside.
Welkin next decides to test the mettle of the guards to see what they’re up against. He goes inside as a civilian, and while he is waiting to speak with someone, his Tree Singer starts singing. Soon the people and the guards are all becoming entranced, but one of the officers comes forward and points out to Welkin that his monkey is singing (hinting that this guard is powerful in some way). Welkin apologizes for the monkey and makes to leave, but just then a guard rushes in looking for this man, Captain Dexter. Seems a massive, golden-armored man has broken into the manse and is refusing to leave while he looks around. Welkin rushes out to inform Sam and Txori, who plan to get more information from the records room they were at before and then perhaps sneak into the guard station late at night. They head over to the manse, seeing Captain Dexter preventing a gathering troop of soldiers from entering and instead goes in by himself.
Welkin follows Dexter in at a distance, finding that Ah Nold has not beaten anyone to a pulp but has basically walked in and past the guards while looking around with Essence Sight. He had used the essence sight to find the hearth room of the manse, which is heavily guarded since it doubles as the control room for the entire city’s water and sewage systems. The four guards on duty were thrown around but Welkin arrives just after Captain Dexter has entered to revitalize the guards with a war roll, causing them to coordinate their attacks to grapple Ah Nold down and one actually lands a blow, causing one bashing damage! Ah Nold shrugs off their grip after a time and then starts battling them all, trying to train them to improve their attacks, while Welkin uses a bolo thrown weapon to prevent Dexter from joining the fray. Finally, with the guards scattered and bruised, Dexter asks what Ah Nold wants, with the reply of wanting to look around being very suspicious and confusing. Welkin helps mediate a bit, and soon Ah Nold has poked around the command room (terrifying all the workers in the control room in the process), finding no obvious flaws or hints of trouble, and leaves.
Captain Dexter seems reassured by Ah Nold’s honesty in just wanting to look around, and also is shocked that they know so much about the mysterious murders. He invites them to help him with the investigation, which they are happy to accept. Once they step outside, Dexter disbands the soldiers who had gathered. Sam and Txori join them (they had investigated whether the new Caliph had anything to do with the murders but found no evidence of it) and the five of them go to the most recent murder scene. It is on the fifth floor of a large residential building with first age amenities. The murder had taken place in the bathroom which had been locked at the time of the killing, and no one had found the body for a day or so. The only way in or out besides the door are the two pipes for hot and cold water and the sewer pipe, none of which are wide enough for a person to fit through.
Sam investigates the room and declares that the lock had definitely not been picked or disabled in any way. Txori uses her new heightened sense of touch and notices that something almost completely insubstantial remains on the inside of the sewer pipe, and Ah Nold’s essence sight confirms that there is a remaining trail of some kind of ectoplasm. His essence sight also reveals that the bloody slash marks in the wall were made with some kind of essence-laden bladed weapon or claws.
Deciding that the sewer system is the problem, Ah Nold rolls Join Battle against the floor, but Welkin dissuades him from going through with it on the grounds that it would alert the enemy of their arrival (also that they’re on the fifth floor). Ah Nold acquiesces and Dexter leads them back to the part of the manse that has direct access to the sewer system. However the stairwell leading down is guarded by two elite Royal Guards who are impervious to persuasion and to reason (also one apparently has a degree in Sociology). Even Welkin’s ploy to put a grenade in the door only prompts the guards to summon more guards, who are soon rushing over to secure the area. [Dexter later explains that the manse’s hearthstone is the Stone of Loyalty and that the guards were unable to even contemplate going against their orders of keeping all strangers out of the manse’s key areas.]
Finally Ah Nold leaves to go back to his plan of punching his way to the sewer since there aren’t any easy-access manholes around. This takes him only about an hour, at which time he has made a sizable tunnel through bedrock and into the sewer system. Dexter leaves to investigate other leads (also the smell is not pleasant) while the party enters the sewer system and looks around.
Txori’s enhanced hearing reveals only a few rats scurrying around, and they soon find a large filtering machine attached to the pipes running into the building they were just in. Sam investigates it for tampering and finds it has been completely untouched both for maintenance and for sabotage, and its filtering systems that would have kept things out are offline. Ah Nold and Txori locate the trail of ectoplasm and Txori’s enhanced touch lets them track the trail of ectoplasm after Ah Nold loses the trail. However, as they start to follow it Txori hears the rat that was on top of the equipment scurrying away, so she sends her raiton familiar to collect it. It seems sickly and misshapen with glowing red eyes, and Ah Nold immediately identifies it as a necromantic zombie rat. They keep it in a bag and proceed with the tracking.
The trail leads for some distance through the sewer caverns. Soon, however, the trail simply dead-ends. Sam locates hints of boot tracks around and they follow these tracks to a set of stairs leading down to the next level down. Sam also cleverly notes that these boots don’t match the boots of the guards from the city. Txori can hear talk echoing from the next level down and shushes everyone, and she can hear two voices complaining about having to track down things. Some suggestions are thrown out of how to catch these guys, and finally the decision is made to try and sneak up on them. However, the sneaking on the stairs is not very successful (even with boosted stealth, Welkin rolls poorly, and Sam embarrasses himself with a poor attempt, mostly from shushing Welkin). At the bottom of the stairs Txori can hear the two voices debating whether they heard anything but eventually they keep walking.
The party closes the distance to the nearest corner despite now having no light at all, at which point Ah Nold decides to go for it himself. He activates Principle of Motion and dashes out towards the two while activating his anima enough to see, and notes that the two are humanoids wearing black armor and carrying truncheons with engraved bones at the tip, and their faces (and Essence Sight) give them away as being undead. Ah Nold smashes one guard with a single blow, but the other guard is knocked back without being incapacitated with Ah Nold’s second blow, causing the guard to rapidly take a dramatic action of breaking the bone on the end of his truncheon, and instantly almost two dozen Hungry Ghosts spill out into the hallway around them. Ah Nold finishes the second guard’s body off with another blow, then his last action is to zip away, leaving the two incorporeal nemessaries surrounded by Hungry Ghosts.
The party realizes that the Hungry Ghosts can interact with both material and dematerialized things right now, suggesting they are currently in a shadowland and they did not notice the transition. Txori takes an aim action and Sam readies his attack without moving, as Ah Nold gestures that the Hungry Ghosts seem more interested in the (still invisible) nemessaries than in the party, but Welkin doesn’t feel like waiting to see what happens and throws three grenades (a fastball, slider and knuckleball) that wipe out all but four of the Hungry Ghosts. Txori shoots two and Sam catches the other two with his chain and crushes them both to oblivion.
The nemessaries were unharmed by the fire blasts since they are still dematerialized Ah Nold now stands above them and demands they surrender, which one quickly does and the other soon follows suit. Ah Nold demands they reveal who they’re working for, and they explain that it’s a deathknight known as Patience of the Endless Void, who is experimenting on the nature of the soul, and they are charged with cleaning up after his mess. The Hungry Ghosts that are escaping into the city through the sewer system are an undesirable by-product of his experiments he is conducting on the mentally impaired people from the city that he is abducting. When Ah Nold pulls a rat out of the bag they immediately put on a show of how loyal they are and how dangerous their unnamed master is, prompting Ah Nold to treat the rat as a web cam and taunt Patience of the Endless Void through it. Once they put the rat back in the bag the nemessaries lead the party down another flight of stairs to the lowest level, to a room that used to be a maintenance workshop.
Once at this lowest level, Ah Nold knocks on the door of the workshop, but no one answers. He forces the door open, and the entire party sees a large room, with at least four rows of ten tables, upon each of which is strapped a crazy person. Some are crazier than others, but none are very sane, each having some kind of mental disorder. Ah Nold goes around knocking out the noisy ones while Sam questions one of the more lucid ones, finding she has been there for weeks already. The party pokes around, finding a living space, a workshop, a lot of books on souls, and no deathknight. While the party searches, Welkin sees a ghostly woman come around the corner of the hallway, seemingly confused. When she asks where she is, she is relieved to hear she is in Agrabah, but she doesn’t know why she is the sewers. She claims she was in her bathroom and doesn’t remember anything else until now, so Welkin suggests she was murdered by a Hungry Ghost. The woman is shocked to find she’s dead, but she wants to see the laboratory that Welkin mentions, so she goes in and sees her cousin unconscious on a table. She mentions to Welkin that a man ran by her in the hallway only a few minutes ago, so Welkin yells that they have found the bad guy. Ah Nold comes running out, his Essence Sight and Measure the Wind showing the woman is an Essence 1 ghost. Everyone goes chasing down the hallway but finds no tracks and eventually a dead end. Ah Nold menaces the nemessaries (who are now materialized since night has fallen in the shadowland) but they plainly have no idea where their master is.
Ah Nold, now irritated, takes out the rat and starts threatening the deathknight to show himself, going back to his lab and showing him all the books they will burn if he does not show himself. He and Sam are in the workshop while Welkin continues to investigate the dead end and Txori stands guard outside the lab. Suddenly, while in the back rooms of the lab next to the bedroom, a small crack is heard followed by a massive surge of Hungry Ghosts pouring out of the room all on top of each other. They swarm over Ah Nold trying to claw him and he starts punching them while Sam grabs one with his chain and throws it into the crowd.
Suddenly a boom and rumble emanates from the main floor of the workshop. Sam and Ah Nold had failed their perception rolls to notice until now, but the “young woman ghost” was actually the deathknight, who reads now as an Essence 5 Exalt, and he has closed and locked the door, shutting Txori and Welkin out and has cast Flesh and Bone Winds, which promptly consumed the test subjects into a whirling maelstrom of bone, blood and lethal damage. He is cackling madly. Time to fight!
As Ah Nold and Sam whip around to see the deathknight standing in a swirling storm of body parts, Sam instinctively steps out of line of sight, masked by Ah Nold’s flying charge at Patience of the Endless Void. However, Ah Nold’s high-flying charge tackle results in slamming into the ground, as Patience effortlessly dodges his attack. Ah Nold then settles for trying to punch the door open to let Txori and Welkin in. Sam decides against stepping into the maelstrom and instead finds a ventilation duct, held together by a remarkable tape, and starts crawling.
Ah Nold has successfully punched a hole in the door that Txori can see through and aim through, but Ah Nold soon decides discretion is the better part of valor and breaks down the door completely so as to flee. He grabs Txori and dashes away at 100 miles per hour, zipping up the stairs the way they came. Patience pursues, and a game of cat and mouse ensues as Ah Nold and Txori dash through the second level at high speed, stopping for Txori to attempt arrow shots and also destroying the remaining necro-rats on that level.
Sam thinks back to his (extremely brief) interaction with Patience and conjures up his closest associates. The names and descriptions that stand out to Sam are Eye and Seven Despairs (deathlord master), The White Bone Mistress (deathknight ally), Sanity’s Weeping Wound (nephwrack ally) and Captain Dexter (sociopathic salesmen of insane people, by night only, contact). Sam is naturally somewhat troubled by this information.
Once Patience is out of range, Sam drops out of the ventilation ducts and wanders around for a bit, soon finding Welkin, who had investigated the hallways on the third level. On the ground next to Welkin is a burned-out husk of a skeletal guard much like the previous two, and Welkin has materialized a number of throwing weapons and chains pinning the currently-material ghostly inhabitant to the wall. Welkin explains to Sam that there was another Nemessary like this one that got away, and they are charged with carrying a message to a Nephwrack named Sanity’s Weeping Wound. Sam identifies this as one of Patience’s allies. The two head upstairs, rapidly running into Ah Nold and Txori who have been kiting Patience for some time. They collectively flee, but as they round a corner Welkin embeds several massive bombs into a pillar, and detonates them as Patience passes by, forcing him to defend both the explosion and then the collapse of some of the sewer onto him.
Ah Nold is at this point carrying everyone else and fleeing at top speed, as they blast up the stairs and past the elite Royal Guard who have been keeping anyone from entering the sewers. Txori’s still-enhanced senses hear the sounds of the guards engaging Patience in battle briefly before getting blended. Ah Nold is rapidly approaching a large locked door, so he throws Sam at it, who unlocks it in a split-second and Ah Nold then shoulders it open with the entire party hanging on for dear life. They have arrived outside the palace. Tori’s enhanced senses reveal that Patience is now heading back down to his lab so the party shadows him, and once he arrives the scene-long effects end, including Txori’s enhanced senses.
Txori reactivates her enhanced senses, revealing that Patience is in his lab, having slaughtered the hungry ghosts and is now grabbing his possessions to leave with. Ah Nold and Sam fly in at top speed, Sam connecting first with his chain for a successful grapple and squeezes his ribcage (Patience is too low on essence for more perfect dodges and his spell and martial arts form have expired), and Ah Nold clocks him with a mighty blow. Patience is out for the count! A quick search of his possessions reveal he was packing travel gear and a compilation of his research, compiled into a book called the Dictionary of Soul Manifestations, or DSM. Txori plants evidence in his laboratory implicating Captain Dexter in both the sale of citizens to Patience and in betraying Patience to Ah Nold. With that, they leave the sewers behind.
The party returns to the airship with Patience in tow after crushing his limbs. Morning soon approaches, and some debate is had over whether to do anything about Captain Dexter, but ultimately there is not a lot of enthusiasm for cleaning up messes that don’t really count as loose threads. The party does, however, decide to go into town to do a little business. Txori assesses the merchants in the marketplace and finds one who may possibly be less than competent, and Ah Nold provides essence sight to identify undervalued artifacts and also an intimidation factor as he is still dragging Patience around. Sam comes in separately as Txori spends all their money buying things that are underpriced and uses their distractions to steal a Fire Pearl. Now loaded with some crates of banged-up minor artifacts and semi-powerful totems, the party loads the hold of the ship and takes off. Before everyone can settle down and relax, however, the magic hockey table begins to pulse blue.
- Louis: “Are Blood Apes tasty or do they give you ebola?
- Dexter, to Welkin: “Well maybe you’re trustworthy but that man over there is a clear threat.” Ah Nold: “Nope I’m investigating too!”
- Louis: “My connection is kind of slow. Maybe I—— should stop these torrents.”
- Louis: “Actually [to see if someone’s lying] should be Investigation.” Debbie: “Good because I almost septuple-botched.” Eli: “Sorry I think my speakers must not be working properly. I thought you said you almost septuple-botched.” (7 7 6 5 5 4 4 4 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1)
- A discussion of the social contract isn’t what you normally expect when you try to reason your way past some elite guards, but that’s what you get when one has a Master’s degree in Sociology.
- Ah Nold: “For the social contract to work this requires honesty!”
- Debbie: “We can forge pretty much anything we need to.” Alejo: “What signature would you like?”
- Ah Nold: “I smell a coverup, or perhaps it’s just the sewers.”
- Debbie, after rolling 1 success on 14 dice for a stealth roll: “I don’t tromp down the stairs, I just shush Welkin. Loudly.”
- There is no Exalted scene that Taylor can’t resolve with grenades!
- Alejo, after Debbie rolls less than 3 successes on more than 13 dice for like the fifth time: “Sounds like the random number generator has a worse headache than you do!” Also relevant: “Sam is a super spy!” *cue James Bond music* Alejo: “No one’s going to believe you’re an elite spy anymore.”
- Rat Webcam. Also: Rat Selfies.
- Debbie after rolling absurdly well: “My rolls are like Txori’s stats.”
- Ah Nold: “GET TO DA CHOPPA!”
- After some debate over what to say to the elite guards, Louis notes that Ah Nold is flying at 100mph and won’t slow down. Alejo: “Run if you value your lives!“
- Sam: “I CAN PICK THE LOCK!” Ah Nold: “DEA’S NOH TAIM!”
- Louis: “Let’s look in the DSM to see if we can find a diagnosis for Dexter’s condition!”
- Eli: “If you were handing over citizens to some mad scientist living in the sewers, it doesn’t really matter what else you did.”
The campaign opens with a meeting in the desert. Welkin has flown his airship to the deep south, crossing half of Creation in the process, to arrive at a specific set of coordinates. In the distance two figures are visible staggering through the desert, so Welkin lands ahead of them and waits. The two figures are Txori and Grey, who escaped with instructions to walk north and find a ship waiting for them… this wasn’t really what they were expecting.
Ah Nold, who has been spending time learning how his Yasal Crystal works, uses Measure the Wind and finds that they are an Exalt and a God-Blooded, so he immediately charges the Exalt. She dodges into the air as he pursues, and Grey’s attempt to interpose himself just results in him getting run over. Soon Txori’s anima banner is blazing golden, which is a hint to Ah Nold that they’re not supposed to be fighting. Welkin calls down, “Are you guys finished? We have a time table to keep!” Ah Nold, Txori and Grey load up, as well as Grey’s grouchy camel, which Ah Nold immediately distrusts.
While they are en route to their next destination, the door to the lower hold opens and “Trevor” walks out, along with a new person no one has met before. Trevor says that everyone has been assembled, and indicates brief introductions are in order. The new person is Sam, a “man of a million faces,” and Welkin, Ah Nold, Grey and Txori introduce themselves. Trevor asks everyone to come downstairs. He briefly laments the lack of appropriately dramatic venue before presenting their first mission: to assassinate a Solar Sorcerer who lives in the Southeast and has been terrorizing a nearby small city. The documents include a vague outline of the fortress and its defenses and some basic abilities of the Sorcerer (primarily demon summoning). Ah Nold and Txori balk at assassinating another Solar, but Trevor explains that this man, Kuzush, is a dangerous man who must be put down, and he has been consorting with demons, including a Chrysogona, which is a lie-whispering trickster. With the promise of sorcerous riches swaying Txori and then Ah Nold, the party is soon on board.
Trevor leaves, while the party plots how to execute the mission. Once the airship arrives, Sam locates a swamp that would be a good place to conceal the airship, near a road that leads to both the town and the fortress. Ah Nold scouts the fortress first in high-stealth mode with essence vision active, detecting several patrolling pairs of human guards with a number of dematerialized demons as the true defense.
Txori prepares several letters, giving one to Ah Nold to give to a village elder with a hidden subliminal command: “a Golden Warrior will soon come to liberate you; you must rally everyone in the village to join with him.” Ah Nold delivers it, then flies close enough to the fortress to draw the dematerialized demons’ attentions, and while they are distracted, Sam leads both Txori and Welkin, bound with rope, up to the fortress. A pair of guards stop them, but Welkin uses his Authority-Radiating Stance to command them to investigate the town. One guard immediately runs to the town, and after a moment, when the other guard won’t budge, Txori shoots him with an arrow and they drag his unconscious body into the bushes. Txori then gives her powerbow to her clockwork ration familiar to keep until she needs it. Sam now impersonates this guard, and leads Txori and Welkin up to the fortress. Other patrols run into them but are fooled by Sam’s impersonation, and also tell “Quentin” (Sam’s disguise) where to go.
Once inside, the three follow instructions to visit the boss man down a flight of stairs, which is guarded by a Blood Ape. At the bottom of the stairs, another Blood Ape guards the door to a dungeon, inside which is Kuzush himself, working away in a laboratory. He tells “Quentin” to bring back Txori in an hour and to have Welkin strung up for more blood for the upcoming ritual. As the three leave, Welkin silently embeds a petard grenade into the inattentive Blood Ape. They then go and deliver another of Txori’s letters, this one to the captain of the guard: “There is suspicious activity down in the village, gather all guards immediately and begin a door-to-door investigation.” Soon guards are running every which way, assembling and preparing to enter the village in force, so the three party members head back to Kuzush’s laboratory, and Txori gets her powerbow back.
Ah Nold spots the commotion and activates his anima banner to full blast, standing in front of the approaching guards and demons, which includes a Teodzija, a Jade Lion Blasphemy. As the villagers rally behind him, Ah Nold decides to try and regroup with the party as quickly as possible and also wants to prevent the demons from slaughtering his potential future worshippers, so he yells, “I shall slay your foul master! Catch me if you can!” He activates the turbo jets on his suit and flies for the fortress, starting at the highest point.
Sam, Welkin and Txori pass two guards reporting to Kuzush on their way to his dungeon, and once there, Kuzush, holding books in his hands and getting ready to go, stops and stares in confusion at the three. Sam immediately lashes out with his fighting chain to pin him in place, and as the Blood Ape rushes to Kuzush’s defense, Welkin detonates the firebomb in the demon, killing it and wounding Kuzush (though his demon armor prevents him from taking too much damage). Another firebomb soon follows, and Txori then puts two arrows into his chest, dropping him.
At about this moment, Ah Nold crashes through the ceiling and drops his entire weight on another Teodzija which was dematerializing and preparing for a surprise attack. The Teodzija is crushed to death instantly. Ah Nold now perks up and scans the room with his Essence Sight, finding a dematerialized demon hiding on the table of the (now dead) Sorcerer. Ah Nold calls for it to reveal itself and it does, appearing as a large trunk of wood with dozens of twigs for legs and a dramatic mask for a face. It claims to have been trapped by the terrible sorcerer, and now that it is freed, it wishes only to serve the party. Sam seems to believe it is not lying, but Ah Nold has First Age knowledge of demons and identifies it as a Chrysogona, well-known for deception and sowing dissent. Ah Nold seizes it and demands, “Who are you working for??” The Chrysogona bursts into flame but Ah Nold’s armor prevents the damage, so he starts squeezing harder. The demon eventually barely manages to blurt out that it serves the Yozis, who are planning to re-invade Creation. Ah Nold continues squeezing it and kills it right before it reveals the name of who it is truly working for. Disinterested, Ah Nold tosses the corpse aside and walks out with Kuzush’s body.
Sam, Txori and Welkin start to search the room for valuable, after first putting out the fires that Welkin started (some debate over how Sam gets a hold of enough water ensues). Then, while Sam locates clues as to the sorcerer’s activities and Txori searches for valuables, Welkin discovers there is a secret door to a hidden room that he can’t locate any handle, switch or lever to open. So Welkin decides to simply demolish the door with the largest explosive he can make. Only after embedding the grenade, yelling “Cover!” and stepping back before detonating it does Welkin realize it was not actually a secret room but a severe flaw in the load-bearing structures holding the ceiling up. The ceiling promptly caves in, causing Sam to dash out the room and Txori to perfect-dodge her way out the door immediately afterwards.
Smash cut to Ah Nold strolling out the abandoned fortress with Kuzush’s corpse over his shoulder hearing the massive explosion followed by the collapse of a good portion of the fortress, pausing briefly before shrugging and continuing.
Ah Nold reaches the guards and demons that are facing off against the horde of townsfolk and hoists Kuzush’s corpse aloft. Challenging the demons to begone and the people to bow to him, many of them comply. Most of the demons vanish back to Malfeas, though three of the blood apes scatter, along with some of Kuzush’s guards, while other guards surrender to the townsfolk. Ah Nold demonstrates his worthiness of worship by using Principle of Motion to dash around and slaughter all three blood apes in one round. Suitably impressed, the village folk worship him, and he is now prepared to enjoy a great celebration that will last deep into the night.
The rest of the party heads back to Welkin’s ship, and once arrived Grey has stunning news: Trevor had appeared while they were out and he and Grey had installed a large, strange table in the hold of the ship, that would activate only once all of them were standing around it. Welkin immediately fires up the ship’s engines and they fly over the town. Recognizing this as an invitation, Ah Nold ceases his celebrations with, “I must get to da choppa. I’ll be back,” and flies up. Soon the entire party has gathered around the table, which now glows blue and projects a hologram of their mission briefing.
- Louis, several times: “I roll Join Battle.”
- Taylor: “Oh Eli, I can throw your bow and arrows at you using my charm and cause them to delay impact until you need them.” Alejo: “Taylor you said you weren’t doing more shenanigans with the new character!”
- Alejo, as Ah Nold’s guide: “It looks like you’re trying to scout an enemy’s power! Would you like to try using Measure the Wind?” In this mode
- Guard: “Who are you? Where are you going?” *Short pause* Debbie: “I got to hear his voice, I don’t need him anymore.” (Note to Debbie: next time get his name maybe? XD)
- Taylor: “When no one’s looking, I’m going to embed a firebomb into the blood ape.” *Alejo promptly loses his shit for about a minute*
Trajan Justinian Severus was getting drunk, and not the good kind. Not the kind where you’re happily laughing away with your friends, oblivious to the cares of the sober world you just left behind. No, TJ, as he was known, was the kind of drunk where you stew on those cares that seem to have followed you, and as they slowly eat at your self control, you begin to ponder things that you’ve been avoiding during your busy day.
For example, a few tables over, TJ could clearly see several of his peers in the Five-Score Fellowship, doing just what he wished he could do: laughing, sharing friendship, toasting each other and ribbing each other and generally being friends. TJ normally blotted out this stuff, but right now it was consuming him. He was sitting in one of the most social places in all of Yu-Shan, the Sparkling Crystal, a mid-class bar occupied by the most diverse crowd of supernatural beings, and he was drinking alone.
TJ had grown up on a farm, and he knew all too well the difference in temperament between those farm hands who drank together and those who drank alone. When he had first thrown himself into his new divine work, he didn’t think his temperament mattered much for his work, but twice now he had been passed up for important posts on Conventions, for other Sidereals with fewer qualifications but better connections. His isolated lifestyle wasn’t supposed to matter, but he was pretty sure it did. Hence the pondering something he had been ignoring all this time: the possibility of making actual friends.
Well, he reasoned to himself, if I wait too much longer I’ll be too drunk to pull it off, now or never.
With only a slight stagger, TJ abruptly kicked himself up and sauntered over to the table. Four Sidereals were at his target, three he knew from work and probably knew a few secrets about already: Verrance, Chosen of Endings, flush with quiet glory coming off the tremendous case of the Wind Creature; Alex, Chosen of Endings, eternally wrapped in layers of cloths with so little visible even his/her gender was open to interpretation; and Sedanya, a fellow Chosen of Secrets, central to the operation of busting the Yozi Infiltration and the exposing of the Green Lady a couple years back. The last Sidereal he didn’t know too well, aside from his name: Silver Water, Chosen of Mercury.
As TJ arrived, Alex made a gesture of friendliness, breaking the ice before he even had to say anything. TJ felt a rush of gratitude as Verrance pulled a chair up for him, and he sat a bit heavily and breathed a sigh which was probably of relief.
“Hey guys, how are you all doing this fine evening?”, TJ said with a warm smile, as a crystalline waitress brought him a fresh drink. The others nodded and said they were well, each in their own characteristic way.
“We were just talking about you actually,” Silver Water said elegantly, brushing back his his silver hair. “Wondering if you’d been stood up for a date.”
“Nah,” TJ said jovially, “Just relaxing after a stressful day.”
“You, relaxing? Let me mark my calendar,” Verrance quipped. He pulled out a notebook and mimed writing in it as he muttered, “Today’s ending: my belief in TJ’s invulnerability.” Everyone laughed.
“You do have a reputation though,” Sedanya said to TJ, “We all see you work so hard. Seems like every day is stressful.”
TJ caught the implied question and gently acknowledged it “Yeah, well I carry a lot of burdens, things I can’t talk about.”
“You’re very discreet,” Silver Water commented, “Even for one of us. We can’t even tell what factional sympathies you have, if any.”
TJ smirked a bit, pushing down the sudden irrational panic that slowly welled up inside him. He made light of it: “Come on, you guys are all very smart, what do you think of my sympathies? If you tell me your best guesses I’ll tell you the truth.” Making a game of it would probably defuse his worrying. Probably.
Alex peered at him discerningly. “Well you’re obviously not a strong patriot to any cause, but the way you were friendly with Erika I think maybe was a bit of a reveal towards Gold side.”
Verrance raised an eyebrow, amused, and then added, “When you helped us with that Solar Kami who came in last week you were pretty friendly with that group as well. I’m thinking you probably have some Gold sympathies but you keep it quiet because you have to attend so many of those all-Jupiter meetings, with a bunch of elder Bronze faction Sidereals sitting around staring through your soul.”
Sedanya piped up quickly, “Hey those meetings suck but people there still know I’m Gold and they haven’t made my life miserable yet. Well not any more than anyone else. But yeah Chejop Kejak and his buddies are intimidating as hell, so I think I agree with Verrance.”
Silver Water peered discerningly at TJ, then after a moment took his turn. “I don’t have the benefit my peers have of working with you, so I’ll take a different angle. I think you won’t tell anyone because you’re a Chosen of Secrets and keeping secrets is fun for you. Maybe you don’t even know yourself. We catalogued six times when you said something that could be construed as pro-Gold and nine times you said something potentially pro-Bronze, so you’re probably also laying down red herrings.”
The table went quiet, probably expecting TJ to deliver, but also in a way that made TJ think there was a purpose to this meeting. He cursed under his breath as he took another drink and as he wiped his mouth with a napkin he accessed his Efficient Secretary Technique and posed the question: How many times in the last hour was the word “Gold” or “Bronze” uttered by any occupant sitting at the table I am currently sitting at?
Searching… One hundred twenty one times, came the reply.
TJ sighed and smiled, seeing expectant faces looking at him. In this moment he had a choice: he could tell them the truth and the whole truth, or he could evade, as he had been doing all this time. For a moment he thought about revealing the secret. The one he had been carrying around since his youth. Then he thought about Jupiter, who he had met once, and who had looked at him approvingly in a way he knew she did not look at others often. So he chickened out.
Then he realized they probably had charms active to detect deception, and he had probably walked right into a Fate effect on top of that to ensure he would have a meaningful encounter. So he resolved to give them what he had promised: the truth. Just the small truth.
“Ah hell, the truth is that you’ll hear me express a lot of different opinions because I always think they’re true. I see both sides. The Solars are the rightful lords of Creation, but they blew it and we shouldn’t give them another chance, except if they’re going to take another chance anyway we might as well use that for something good. Hell, I have the exact same opinions about one of my ex-girlfriends. So I guess you could say I’m not over her, or the Solars, even through it would probably be best to do so. I never bothered to get any more specific about an overall plan because I’m too damn busy fixing the problems that get dropped on my desk, and I just play each situation by ear. Just trying to get by. I ain’t trying to jive-talk anyone, just feel like Creation is still in the middle of a messy breakup, is all.”
As he talked he could see the light slowly drain from the others’ eyes. So they were trying to feel me out for the Gold Faction, is all. TJ sighed again as he finished and watched their body language slowly retreat. He felt dumb for having believed, even for a moment, that he could have friendships here. He stood after a moment.
“Sorry guys, I know you’re all Gold and you don’t want to hear that stuff right now. Thanks for chatting with me.” He left a silver coin on the table for his drink and stood to go. Alex looked a little pained that he was leaving, but he shrugged and turned away. He slouched down the aisle and out the back door.
“Finally, an opinion worth hearing,” an authoritative voice said quietly but with an undeniable gravitas. TJ turned in surprise to see a figure in a long, heavy jacket like his own holding a canal boat ready for him. The lighting was poor (Jupiter had just gone ahead in the Games of Divinity and only green starlight twinkled down from the dome of Yu-Shan’s “sky”) but the figure and voice were vaguely familiar.
“Are you…?” TJ asked, approaching. A Chosen of Jupiter sign suddenly lit up on the forehead of the figure, lighting the face just enough to be recognized. A weathered, dark-skinned southerner with piercing green eyes and a knowing smile looked back at him. TJ stopped short.
“The Free Man? What is this??”
The Free Man was an elder Sidereal, well-known for his booming, persuasive voice and his calls for restoring the Loom of Fate to balance by any means necessary. He was a two-thousand-year-old big-shot, and while he was at those same meetings with Chejop Kejak and Sedanya, TJ didn’t think he ever took notice of him.
“Get in, please. I want to have a private meeting with you.”
TJ could only nod dumbly, and somewhat awkwardly got into the boat. The Free Man got in as well, and steered them towards the Forbidding Manse of Ivy.
The trip had been made in silence, and only once they occupied one of the innumerable reading rooms and the Free Man had activated his anima banner and warded the room from intrusion did the two Chosen of Secrets feel at ease enough to discuss business.
“Did you send them to feel me out?” TJ inquired as the elder completed the warding. He turned and smiled.
“No I didn’t, though I knew they were curious so I waited to see what would happen. I’ve been looking for someone like you, TJ. Someone discreet and pragmatic enough to work on a project for me.”
“Well I’m always happy to do what is needed of me here,” TJ said, puzzled. “Do you mean you need me for something off-book?”
“In so many words, yes,” The Free Man said with a sigh as he sat into a seat. TJ sat across from him at the table.
“Anything that can get me executed?” TJ asked casually. The Free Man smirked. “You know as well as I do that anything can get us executed if we muck it up badly enough. But to be more specific, I’m not asking you to do anything treasonous. Quite the opposite actually. Creation needs some serious saving right now.”
TJ adjusted in his seat. “Saving Creation is what gives me job satisfaction. What’s going on this time?”
“About two years ago, during the issues with the infiltration by the Yozis, Zig Zag was compromised fairly severely. Have you met him?”
TJ thought carefully. After a moment, the image of a wiry, short-haired Chosen of Serenity filled his mind, though they had not exchanged words. TJ nodded. “In passing.”
“As part of his punishment, but also to monitor him for other residual effects, we deployed him on a long-term mission to map aberrations in the Loom of Fate. He must have crossed all of Creation, cross-referencing tables and star charts on that mission. It turns out his time with a Yozi inside his mind made him particularly sensitive to unravelings in the Loom of Fate because when he returned he had quite a massive list of aberrations, at least eighty deviations of at least magnitude 5. A number appear to be posing serious threats in the near future, but it’s hard to say how so because, obviously, they’re being caused by something outside of Fate.”
TJ acted just a little more nonchalant than he was feeling. “Okay so how can I help?”
The Free Man made a sour face. “Unfortunately, the Convention on Oversight has now assigned this entire file to me, probably because I’ve pissed off one too many people recently. The entire thing is now solely my responsibility.”
“You’re kidding, right? They actually assigned you this file? As if you don’t have any other things to get done?”
“I know I appear high and mighty to you, but I was young when the Usurpation happened and my ambivalence on it made me few friends. Probably why I want to ask for your help. I think you and I think alike, TJ.”
TJ managed to restrain the impulse to make a wisecrack about only half the time, but a small smile still leaked out of him. The Free Man probably took that as affirmation, because he continued.
“The Convention on Oversight did not explicitly say I couldn’t ask for help, but they did make a number of restrictive specifications, and I think the best way to stick to them is to have no one else in all of Heaven know what I’m about to do. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to assemble a field team for troubleshooting all of these problems for us.
It took just a moment for TJ to realize the subtle but profound implications of what the Free Man had just said. If no one else in all of Heaven could know, then no Sidereal could be on this team.
“I… Uh… That’s pretty steep,” TJ stuttered. After a moment he realized it had been phrased as a request, so he added, “But I will accept. Not sure how yet though.”
“I think you can figure it out,” The Free Man said with another knowing smile. He pulled out a scroll. “Here, this will help you with any paperwork, just be discreet. The Convention on Oversight file has assigned the project to me under the code name Improbable Matrix Functionalization, or IMF. If anyone asks, you haven’t been assigned to it, I just asked you to courier something for me.”
TJ nodded slowly. The enormity of this project began to sank in, especially if he didn’t even know what the missions were. Nevertheless, if The Free Man needed him to complete this, he would not fail. Creation was depending on them, as usual.
Bedtime would have to wait.
“Hey, you there?” Trajan called out into the mists. His voice echoed for a moment then was muffled out. Then slowly a table appeared in front of him with two chairs. The far chair was occupied. The near chair had a bottle of sake and a glass in front of it.
“Thought I’d be a gracious host and cook up some relaxation,” The figure in the far chair said coolly. Trajan sighed and sat down. “So many chairs today. This isn’t my first drink either.”
“You went drinking?” The far voice was a little incredulous. “Damn you, you did that on purpose. Whenever you drink, I pay for it.”
“Not this time,” Trajan said evenly whilst pouring himself a glass. “Didn’t have very many drinks. Met up with some other Sidereals instead. Alex, Verrance, Sedanya, Silver Water. They were feeling me out, I think for Gold faction stuff.”
“You didn’t tell them how you really feel, did you? God, do I have to deal with that too?”
“Relax, Justinian, I was honest enough to register their charms but I left out the part that I actually agree with them.”
“Good, I’d hate for us to get strung up for double-crossing factional politics and I would only keep my mouth shut so long about those Goldies and their naïveté.”
“I was really honest, I do see things from both sides though. You’ve been helpful for that, if nothing else.”
Justinian sighed. “Me too. I know where they’re coming from… And I’m sorry I’m holding you back. Though in fairness you’re holding me back too. You know we should have been officers on on the Convention of Air by now.”
“Yeah yeah, we have bigger business than that now,” Trajan said with another drink. Justinian sat up. “What?”
Trajan bent forward, his elbows on the table, a smirk crossing his face. “The Free Man was watching them feel me out. He wants us for a mission.”
“What kind of mission?” Justinian leaned forward, ignoring the shifting between “me” and “us” that usually got on his nerves.
“A comprehensive docket on severe deviations from Fate has been compiled and assigned to him, and he wants us to assemble a team that no one in Heaven knows about.”
“….The Hell?? Then who is supposed to be on this team?”
Trajan took another drink, his smile showing through his glass. After a moment Justinian kicked his chair back.
“No, no way, whaaaat. Solars? For real??”
“Well I did some leg work before bed, but we need at least two more still so I’ll let you figure that out. Besides, if we get the whole team killed that’s fewer Solars to worry about right?”
“Ugh that’s what’s wrong with you Goldies,” Justinian said with contempt as he paced, tiger-like. “You think that Bronze factioners think they should just all be killed off however possible. You just don’t get Solars, do you? Every time you throw an impossible situation at them, half of them die but the other half just get stronger. Playing them against each other buys you time but afterwards they’re more powerful than before, and after a few rounds of that they’re unstoppable. I don’t want any more high-essence Solars running around, even if we killed a bunch to get the last few that way.”
“Well fine, make the team out of Immaculates or something, whatever. But The Free Man wouldn’t have asked for this if he wasn’t staring at 80-plus magnitude 5+ deviations.”
Justinian’s jaw dropped. “What?? How are we all still alive?? Who found these??”
“Zig Zag collected them after his bout of being a Yozi-puppet’s-puppet. It’s serious. There are enough things besides Solars that get stronger over time that we need to use every tool available, or we won’t even make it to the next Calibration.”
Justinian growled, then sighed. “Okay, fine. But I don’t want to hear a single complaint about my methods, okay?”
Trajan laughed a single, loud laugh. “Boy that’s good to hear. Can’t wait to see what you come up with.”
Alex pulled up short, allowing TJ to catch up while tucking close a packet of files. “TJ, what can I do for you?”
“Hey Alex,” TJ smiled, trying to turn a bit of the charm on. “First off, I’m sorry how things ended last night.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Alex said, as they started walking again. “It was probably unfair to have expectations about how it would go. You are not to blame.”
“Thank you, I appreciate that,” TJ said. “I actually wanted to ask you a favor. I was charged with bringing one of the STFC entries off-roster this week and I’ve been so busy this is my last chance. Do you have it with you?”
In fact, the Severe Threat to the Fate of Creation list was exactly what Alex had in hand, and this didn’t seem like a coincidence to Alex at all.
“I do… What authorization do you have for taking a name off? You know once these go in they’re locked in.”
“I know, I know, but I’m acting on orders. You know what they say about orders.”
“Let me see them,” Alex said suspiciously. TJ handed over his scroll which Alex unrolled and examined.
“TJ there’s nothing on here except signatures. You really can’t expect me to hand over a file from the STFC list based on this, can you?”
“Those are some pretty heavy signatures,” TJ said, dropping his voice. “We both know this is enough.”
“It’s a blank check! Who the hell are you working for??” Alex said, not following suit with the voice-dropping. TJ sighed and made a calming gesture.
“I’m just being asked to courier for someone important. One of those names on there wants to pull a file, I won’t tell you which.”
Alex pulled out the packet and flipped through the files. “TJ these are all awful people. This list is going to Ahn-Aru this afternoon and she’s going to kill them all, which will save thousands of lives. She’ll be furious if she finds names were withheld. These people need to die.”
TJ held firm. “This is for the good of Creation. There is an alternative being cooked up, no one will be the wiser. Please.”
Alex seemed hesitant for quite a while longer, but finally relented. “Okay, what’s the name?”
TJ could see some of the file names upside down but couldn’t make a good decision. “Let me see, I want to be sure.”
Alex gingerly passed the packet over to TJ, who flipped through the files with an affectation of total indifference. Each of these files, however, was more horrifying than the last, making TJ doubt the validity of this strategy. Finally he had an insight.
“Got it,” he said, holding up a file and handing the packet back to Alex. “I owe you for this,” he said warmly and turned to walk away.
“I’ll remember that,” Alex said seriously, and turned to continue.
TJ pulled out the second file he had concealed inside the first one. Now to decide which of these names to recruit, and which to test the team against.
The Temple of Anisatsis was once a mighty place where people venerated Anisatsis, the local river goddess who was mother to the kings of the land, but as the Great Contagion had decimated both the kings and the people, it was now an abandoned place. At least it was supposed to look that way. Actually the headquarters of the Convention of Wood, it was a bustling secret hive of Gold Faction activity. TJ wasn’t here to meet with the Gold Faction directly though, especially not after word of last night got around. He needed their help, but he planned to get it indirectly.
Entering a sanctum room and politely removing his shoes and sitting on his shins, TJ waited for the appearance of Anisatsis. It wasn’t long before she appeared before him, beautiful and buxom, with silver and blue eyes that stared into his soul.
“I will hear the words of Trajan Justinian Severus,” the goddess spoke gently but with a certain reserved quality. TJ expected no less.
“I have come for your counsel, Anisatsis. I have been charged with a mission that none in all of Heaven may hear about who have not already heard it, but I hear tell that you have never left your temple in all your millennia of existence.”
“This is true,” Anisatsis said mildly. “If you desire my discretion and my counsel, I am disposed to hear your words, and word of your mission shall not reach Heaven.”
“I have been tasked with assembling a group that includes Solars,” TJ said, pulling out the files. Hoping she wouldn’t recognize or report the STFC stamp across the top, he placed them on the floor before himself. “One of these Solars may be added to the team, but the other must die. I would crave the advice of the Gold Faction Sidereals but they are of Heaven. Yet you have their ear and their trust, I hope that your insight would be beneficial to me, as borrowing their wisdom through you.”
Anisatsis nodded, “You are a wise man, Trajan Justinian Severus. I shall examine these files.”
TJ waited patiently as she read each dossier. After considering for a while she threw one back to him: “This man should be added to your team.” With another gesture she threw the other file back. “This man shall die.”
TJ picked up the first of the files: the warlord Ah Nold. As he stared, Anisatsis explained her reasoning.
“He is a mighty hero and very bloodthirsty, but he wishes to prove himself in battle. The Dragon-Blooded offer him little challenge, and he wishes to grow. This is a useful mentality, as you can offer him ever-greater challenges, and Creations’s safety will depend on his success. Also, I remember the Solar God-Kings of old. This one is much closer to resembling them in their youth: arrogant and powerful but not yet bending to childish thought. If you can guide him to a better spiritual path, it will mean hope for all other Solars, that they can avoid the mistakes of the past. The other Solar has given in to greed, which is a much harder disease to cure. He must die.”
TJ nodded and took it in. “I am grateful to drink from the cup of your wisdom. I am worried though. He will be difficult to tempt if he seeks to defeat all who stand before him.”
Anisatsis smiled. “If none in Heaven may know of this mission, I can still call on my brethren, a lieutenant of the Terrestrial Court of the East and a prominent Gold Faction member, for aid. She can assist you.
”TJ frowned slightly. “Who might that be? Will she be helpful?”
Anisatsis nodded. “She is a lesser elemental dragon of fire, and more than a match for any young Solar, even one as powerful as this.”
TJ bowed in reverence. “Please make it so, and the Gold Faction will benefit greatly.” Anisatsis nodded and disappeared again, while TJ put on his shoes and walked out the room and back towards Heaven.
Once back in Yu-Shan, Justinian dropped the act and stared at the file again. A horrifically daunting task, and he just had to hope it would pay off.
“Okay,” he said to himself, mostly to break out of his worry-mode. “Now to the Loom of Fate to get the timing right on recruiting Welkin, and then we’re in business.”
An unnamed Elder Sidereal Exalted of great power has decided to assemble a team of young new Exalted to complete missions that no one else can. These are missions of great importance to fate, including intelligence gathering, acquisition of key artifacts, and assassination.
This squad is recruited based on their abilities and their commitment to improving Creation. They become vaguely aware that they are receiving missions from Heaven. There may or may not be actual Sidereals on the team.
The team has the following needs (your character should meet at least one and probably two):
- Intelligence gathering
- Stealth Killing
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to cooperate with the DM to build a character that can participate in these missions. All of Creation is depending on your team.
Your character options:
- Solar (recruited by “Trevor”, a Gold faction Sidereal)
- Lunar (recruited by Splinter, elder Lunar)
- Dragon-blooded (recruited by “Justin”, a Bronze faction Sidereal)
- Sidereal (recruited by the Elder Sidereal himself)
- Abyssal (recruited by Verrance, a Sidereal with extensive experience with Abyssals)
All characters should be recruited after being rescued (e.g. from the Wyld Hunt) or have a revenge motive (e.g. against a powerful foe outside fate).