Tuesday 9 January 2018

Exalted - Enter the Black Chase

Our primary duties in the army were scouts and occasional raiding party. While we felt we were the best, we certainly weren't the only unit with these sorts of responsibilities. The Rose Black summoned Kito and I, but the war council was led this day by her father and other generals (mostly male) I didn't recognise. They wanted us to go into the Black Chase, a nearby Shadowland, to find out what had happened to another scouting party. We agreed readily and were dismissed. As I closed the door behind us, I heard a murmured exchange between the Rose Black's father, Lord Tepet, and one of the others in there. The general asked if he was sure it was wise to send mortals there, given the danger. Lord Tepet dismissed us as "acceptable losses". I was livid. If it wasn't for the fact I liked the Rose Black and her sister Elinor (the one in our unit), I'd have sworn to wipe House Tepet off the face of Creation. Instead, I resolved to prove them wrong and show them how capable we are. Kito thought I'd probably misheard, and even if I hadn't I was overreacting.

As she'd asked, we reported back to Rose Black separately later. She gave us more information on the last known actions of the other group, where they last reported in from and that they'd seemed fine then. She seemed... tired in a way we hadn't seen her before, and it worried me. As she handed over an artefact that would allow us to stay in touch with her, she asked us to be careful and look after her sister. I promised and asked if she was ok. She gave faint smile and said she was just tired, there was so much paperwork. We were dismissed - I think before we managed to worm the truth out of her. I'm sure there was more going on.

We prepped our unit and left at first light, trekking on foot until we reached the river, where we built a raft and enjoyed a leisurely journey on that. It gave me time to sketch everyone - I was particularly pleased with one I did of Kito as he went through his katas, capturing the shape of his movement rather than his flesh. I gave everyone a copy of the picture I drew of them, except Sven. The irreverent joker had an expression of sorrow I'd captured by accident - I felt I'd unfairly caught something very private, so waited until he was laughing and drew that as his present instead. I kept the other picture safe and hidden.

Cainan, Rhiannon and Sven knew the most about Shadowlands. We knew they were places where ghosts live, but not much more. They filled in a few gaps, most importantly that at night you can only leave if you have the ability to channel essence, something the Dynasts of our unit could easily do. As sorcerors, Kito and I had learnt to and Matsu Dairu said he had means too, which left our married couple. I felt bad asking them to stay behind, anticipating they wouldn't be happy to be left out, but they didn't mind guarding our raft and looking after Spook, the rabbit mascot we still had with us. They dropped us off on the Shadowland side of the river before setting up camp on the other.

The rest of us knew we were in the right place as the colour bleached from our surroundings. It was creepy, but I felt a flush of excitement at exploring somewhere unlike anywhere I'd been before. There was no bird song. A breeze rustled the trees, and the sound was dry and distant. Our footsteps and breath seemed too loud - we mostly communicated in military sign language, because our voices sounded out of place. We trekked on, following the route the other scouts were believed to have taken.

They'd been careful to leave little trace of their passing, but we knew what to look for and found the campsite they'd made their last report from, spotting the tents through the trees in the spot we'd have chosen. It seemed to be in order, but as we got closer we realised there weren't enough tents for the size of the party. We saw one of the missing tents collapsed on the ground, then spotted one of the standing tents had great rips through it - it made Kito and I think of the damage we'd seen Raging Tiger do to rocks and trees, though we doubted any Lunar had done this. We sent some people out in pairs to scout in all directions, and headed into the camp with the rest.

Again, at first glance (if you ignored the mangled and shredded tents already mentioned) it all looked in order. There was the remains of a campfire, with kettle neatly settled on it (though blackened by the burnt out fire). There were no people, but not all the tents had been damaged. Some had pairs of boots and neatly folded clothes and armour, suggesting the lightly disturbed cots had had sleeping occupants. There was little sign of fighting, but a few more tents had rents across the backs and there was blood in places, and dragmarks, leading away. Kito found the prints of a human running barefoot and followed to see where they led.

Those of us who stayed reused their campfire and had tea brewing as the last of the scouting groups came in. They'd found more dragmarks and some damaged Realm gear. Kito's was the most disturbing: the footsteps had ended nearish a large rock, covered in blood. It looked to him as though the person had been killed by being thrown against it repeatedly, then (judging by the bloody trail) dragged away in a similar direction to the others. We reported in to the Rose Black.

We didn't want the same fate to be ours, but the campsite was there so we made use of it for the night, with watches we'd consider over-cautious in other circumstances. The night passed uneventfully, almost anticlimactically, but we weren't sorry for that.

In the morning, we followed the dragmarks until they faded out, but about there we were distracted by... bird song. Something in it tugged at us, and before we knew it, all of us were heading toward it. The path twisted, confused us, but we ploughed on. At one point, Kito was separated from us and I didn't even notice, the charm on us was so strong. When he rejoined us, he'd been attacked by some mystery beast (though he hid his wounds well and I only found out much later). 

We were brought to a clearing with a figure in that reminded Kito and I of the Fey we'd met all those years ago. Maybe more masculine and more... fluid. It introduced itself as "He Whose Laughter Fills the Sky with Blood", a sleeping Primordial (we later learnt it was Hak who defeated this Primordial in the war, leaving it in a subdued or sleeping state under the Black Chase). It wanted something from us: there was a fortress - the Black Citadel - nearby, occupied by a necromancer who was disturbing the Primordial and keeping it from sleeping. It wanted us to use the Imperial Army to wipe out the necromancer and the army it was building. If we didn't, it promised that the feared Bull of the North would sweep down and wipe out the Imperial Army - with my current feeling of disillusionment with all things Realm, I wasn't entirely against this idea, until it pointed out the fall of the Realm in this way would be disastrous, that the Bull of the North was more dangerous than I anticipated. I bowed to its words and its charm. We swore its oath.

Released from its power, we returned to our path, managing to find the dragmarks again. This time, we were able to follow them to a wider track, where they were replaced with wheelmarks. Evidently, the unfortunate other scouts had been put onto a cart of some sort. We followed the route to a main road, and cautiously followed the road until we could see what must be the Black Citadel clawing its way above the trees. We wanted to get back to Creation proper before evening, so I strapped on my wind blade and flew to look around. Above the tall walls and spiked turrets soured hideous winged creatures I took care to avoid. The walls were patrolled by hulking, half-dead beasts and smaller beings encased in armour. The place was crawling with occupants; I saw other carts arriving and had no way of knowing if the other party had survived their encounter and were trapped within. Somehow, I doubted it. I returned to the others and we left the Black Chase, making it out shortly before dusk fell.

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