Tuesday 6 March 2018

Exalted - Joining Tepet's Legions

This is the story of our Exalted game, told from the point of view of my character, Cathak Taji. Click here for the index.

In the two weeks between the Empress's visit and our departure to join House Tepet's forces in the north, we wrote to Captain Ling and she came to visit with her husband and daughter. I was a little apprehensive: this was the woman who'd saved us. In my mind, at least, she'd taken on a maternal position, and now she was meeting my actual mother, and I was worried they wouldn't get on, that there would be jealousy. Instead, they shook hands and there were smiles and hugs and gratitude.

It was heading into Ascending Air when we departed. Kito was armed with the daiklaves that had been Daddy's, and Mum said I should keep her bracers. 

We had an uneventful journey (much, I think, to Jia and Mi-Yung's relief) north, to where the landscape was bleak and beautiful and cold. Our stop was the Last Refuge, a requisitioned Shogunite fort surrounded by pine trees and ice and snow. The fort stood on a clifftop, giving it near 360° of the surrounding region. A camp had grown up behind the fort, trampling the snow to dirt. There were so many people! We knew there were around 100 per banner; we tried counting the banners and lost track around 500. We saw people in power armour. We saw great Warstriders, even some made of jade. We even saw 4 people in gonzoshu, the armour of the elite forces in Lookshy. It gives a mortal with no essence of their own, who can't access the ebbs and flows of essence around them, the ability to take on an Anathema - at the cost of their lifeforce. Very rare, very expensive, very dangerous stuff. All 4 suits were in Tepet colours.

Our Imperial Orders saw us led straight to the central building, nicknamed the High Castle, where Tepet Ejava - the Rose Black - met us. She wanted us to travel with some supplies to join a recon unit, the 73rd Platoon, keeping an eye on barbarians without alerting them to the Realm's presence. She told us the barbarians were disorganised, but warned us of Anathema in the northwest.

We had a few days before the supplies would be ready, so we got to know the cooks and servants - the people who generally know what's really going on in a place. We heard a lot of gossip that way, and learnt that Commander Mygus (soon to be our CO) was a Dragonblood of House Ledall. We befriended the QM, too. His name was Han, like our brother, and when he heard where we were going he asked us to keep our eyes open for this red-coloured, peppermint-scented thistle that grew in the area - it was useful for curing "ailments of the mind". We were pointed towards a couple of people who've scouted the area before, and they warned us to keep a low fire at night and watch for the large, nocturnal cats who hunt a night: if they were to find us, we'd probably be dead. Look out, also, for Blue Dragon Fish, an admiral on the river who is very unhappy the Realm's in the area. We quizzed further on that, and were told he was very definitely a Dragonblood rather than an Anathema. They also told us to look out for the "Hushed Ones", people corrupted by "the stranger things out there" - naked and silent and very dangerous, they've wiped out entire units. We're warned to be alert: they prefer to lay traps. Avoid Wyld zones. Avoid snow lions. 

At least the ice weasels were said to be friendly.
Still with Jia and Mi-Yung, we travelled by boat up the River of Tears, then with the carts to the encampment, well hidden, camoflaged by the snow and much larger than we'd realised.. As we arrived, we saw a group of people in gonzoshu armour and one wearing something almost skintight, made of black jade plate and irridescent gems We were met by Captain Riley, a great bear of a man with flaming red hair and beard, and Rey, who wore power armour the entire time (it distorted his voice but could go invisible), and bore a dire lance. They led us to Commander Mygus, then Rey took us to where we'd be sleep: a small underground bunkroom which would be shared by just Kito, Mi-Yung, Jia and I. We were then left to settle in, and learned the food was good (supplies supplemented by hunting)..

At dusk, Kito and I reported to Captain Riley and Ray for our first assignment. We were given heavy laminar armour, matte black once we'd attuned to it. It made us faster, quieter, and acclimatised to the cold, and had built in comms. A long cloak completed the outfit. Kito kept his daiklaves, and I was given a red jade powerbow. Then we followed Ray on a scouting mission, to look out for fey, barbarians and bandits.

It was exciting, that first foray into the icy white wilderness. The speed of the suits was difficult to get used to, but once we'd mastered it Kito and I let out our competitive sides and raced across the snow. We came across 3 'horned devils', creatures of the Wyld whose horns, flesh, fur and bones would be useful, so we hunted them down and stashed their carcasses in a tree. The rest of the night was uneventful and we collected them as we returned to camp. A few hours sleep, and we were sent on another, longer patrol, again with Ray leading. This time, we ranged east, to investigate rumours of barbarians.

We found a village, and Kito found a hidey-hole with a good view. It seemed to have had recent use: the pine needles that lined it were well embedded and the snow hadn't fully covered the path to it. Curious, the 3 of us split up to see if we could find any trace of the mysterious observer. I found an arm and some broken weapons; Kito joined me there, having found and followed some tracks. It didn't take long for Ray to show up too: he'd found more tracks, these of the people who were attacked. They'd come from the village. The arm we'd found had come from someone who'd tried to run. From the various tracks and items we found, Ray reckoned there had been 4 people coming from the village. 2 were killed, and 2 taken captive. We didn't think barbarians were behind it: the arm had been severed too cleanly.

As we followed the onward trail, Kito and I spotted the hobgoblin who'd named us Dawn's Dancing Butterfly and Resplendent Blade Resonating Eternal. I can't explain how we knew it was the same one - even if it had looked the same, another fey could have assumed the appearance - but somehow we knew. Its presence alerted us to a small Wyld zone, which we skirted, picking up the tracks on the other side. 

Our suits meant we travelled faster than our quarry, and we eventually came across their extinguished campfire, and beyond that the village the attackers had come from. Movement flickered near some trees in the corner of my vision. I span round and fired my bow. We headed over to see a figure dressed in furs pinned to a tree, young, muscular, male, and dead. I staggered slightly: I'd never killed a person before. It wasn't like killing animals. We went over to bury him, and realised he wasn't wearing fur; he was growing fur. Ray turned his helmeted head in our direction: this was a beastman variety of Anathema. He wanted us to check the village and take them all out if they were all beastmen, becoming animated as he explained how dangerous they are, that they were a threat to our mission and to the natives, not to mention abominations.

It made me pause. This is what we'd been told about people like the Emissary and he hadn't shown any sign of being an abomination or dangerous. Hmmm. Maybe I should rephrase that. He'd never shown any sign of being dangerous towards us.

Although, the beastmen looked a lot more dangerous, actively violent against each other. Ray convinced us by pointing out they were taking slaves; we saw a normal man in rags and a blindfold. The blindfold meant we wouldn't have to kill him to hide the Realm's presence in the area; we could let him go. I didn't like to point out to Kito that this would likely lead to his death by exposure.

Our attack started with Kito and I firing from the trees while Ray snuck into the camp. Thunk-thunk-thunk: our arrows took down the chieftain. I kept firing as Kito ran in, dropping from the tree I stood in to land an arrow in the shoulder of one beastman causing it to miss Kito and kill its neighbour, but it wasn't enough: as axes and swords swung and arrows flew, Kito got very badly hurt. Ray and I finished off the combatants and freed the man in rags, giving him a blanket and telling him not to look for us. Ray burnt the village behind us.

We built a bier to drag Kito back to the base. I took him straight to the med-tent, then had to join Ray in a debriefing. The doctors and nurses wouldn't let me in to see Kito: as I begged and pleaded and argued and pointed out he'd get better faster if I was there, they just gave me nonsense about how I was demonstrating a lack of discipline.

He was in there for weeks, but I learnt if I played the good soldier they would let me in to see him. 

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