Tuesday 24 July 2018

Exalted - Hunting Beastmen pt 1

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

(The spelling of several names keeps changing. I know the official rule is to pick a spelling and stick with it, but typing from notes where I'm horribly inconsistent makes that harder. I think Riley as spelt in the previous session should have been Reilly really so I've tried to correct throughout, and Rey/Ray is kinda deliberate: the character is always hidden by their power armour, making them unknowable.)

It was weeks before Kito was better, so I worked like a good soldier as long as they let me see him. A lot of my tasks were scouting missions to learn more about the beastmen: there were far more than anyone had realised. Rey and I returned one evening from a scouting mission where we'd found and killed a hunting party of 4 of the beasts to find Kito had finally been released. He was sound asleep in his bunk; as much as I wanted to, I didn't disturb him, but instead curled up in my own bed. He was awake before me in the morning, and explained he, Rey and I were to be sent on a mission to the north-east, where the beastmen were coming from, and would be out for several months. Captain Reilly filled us in: a recon/scouting mission, with the most urgent thing that we were not to be followed. If we even thought we were being followed, we were not to come back - especially if it was an Anathema. The suits should last as long as they didn't get damaged (we were only authorised to attempt minor repairs), and we'd have rations for 2 weeks: we'd need to hunt and forage. He finished by advising we travelled at night.

The first week, we saw signs of beastmen but nothing definitive - dead end tracks, signs of historic hunts, that kind of thing. The thick snow made our progress slow, and Kito and I found the armour uncomfortable to sleep in (though both reluctant to spend frequent nights out of it). The entire trip, we never Rey except fully-suited.

Maybe 10 days into our mission, Kito found the carnage of a fight - blood and torn tufts of hair (or fur) and a large gash mark in a tree that Rey identified as having been made with a large battleaxe. Piles of snow dislodged from trees had been replaced in the branches. I sketched the scene as Rey reported in to Captain Reilly, saying it looked like 3 beastmen had been killed. The Captain wanted us to stay in this area for a few days to investigate further, see if we could find out what happened.

A little further north, we found a similar site, with one tree fallen and another split lengthways down the middle. The work of the axe was also visible on a cleft rock, beastman remains still embedded. Fired arrows scattered the scene, and I found a sharp, curved dagger with runic carvings I didn't recognise, an elegant yet purposeful piece. I slid it into my pack, figuring I'd find a use for it. Ray spoke then, saying one assailant against 15 beastmen. I saw Kito's eyes flash blue with the sorceror's sight charm, and he said all the blood came from the beastmen, that they'd used the fallen tree as a weapon against the other and still hadn't been able to hurt it. From everything we'd seen between the two sites, we surmised the other was moving in a similar direction to us, and we might be gaining on them. None of us said it, but I think we were all thinking the same thing: Anathema. I wondered what that meant to Ray, assuming the same it meant to most of the Realm.

The third site had been a much bigger battle - Kito guessed 20 to 50, and the more experienced Ray stated 36 had died. It looked like the beastmen were hunting the Anathema, and we were definitely catching up: this site was only about 12 hours old. The sow was scuffed and red with blood and gore, and beastmen bodies torn apart. So much violence... Riley wanted us to continue, but warned us not to engage.

The next day, I spotted massive footprints in the snow, picked out in the evening light. Ray knelt down and studied them, pointing out the sharpness of the prints meant they couldn't be more than a couple of hours old. We hadn't followed them much further before we heard shouting in the distance, and the sound of a tree falling. Kito and I glanced at each other - I saw his eyes flash blue at the same time as mine as we both activated All Encompassing Sorceror's Sight. We crept forward to see a giant in a recently created clearing, surrounded by beastmen. He was definitely Anathema, not just by his height, but also that he was covered in fur and had the head of a snow tiger - or maybe less a man than a snow tiger on its hind legs, wearing straps of armour and swinging an axe taller than Kito or I. The gleam of the axe told me it was moonsilver. My mind raced to recall what I'd been taught of Anathema that may help us now: he seemed to be one of the "frenzied", those that go mad in the moonlight and drank blood fresh from their victim's hearts.

The battle was over too fast for us to see how many beastmen were slain. The tiger-man shrank down to be just a man; the axe shrank with him, to a little shorter than me. He was tall, still, and very muscular, but otherwise wouldn't have stood out - except, you know, for the gore he knelt in to stare at the moon. He wore worn travelling clothes and had slick, black hair with white streaks. We held our breath until he stood once more, and vanished the axe from his hand, and called us over.

Up close, I saw his irises had a reddish tint as though they reflected too much light, while his pupil's reflected none, not even the shine over the eye of a normal person. He asked whether we were the Wild Hunt, accepting it without argument when we said not and saying we could call him Raging Tiger. He explained he was also investigating why there were so many beastmen. His kind manner and friendly attitude soon had him subject to a barrage of questions from me and Kito. He was from an area to the south-west of here, a little north of the camp - which he knew about, and tolerated as long as he left his people alone. His people, in this case, were local tribes under his protection - from the Wyld, from less friendly Anathema, from beastmen. His description of beastmen as "not allowed" intrigued us, and he explained they were a creation, a cross of Nightfang and human. Nightfang?, we wanted to know: a name for what he is. Also Luna's Warriors or the Full Moon. He knew who was creating the beastmen and was pissed off - that they were doing it, and that they were doing it in our presence. At more of our questions, he said he assumed the other Anathema was male, but didn't really know, and demonstrated what he meant by shifting into a woman's form before our eyes. It gave us the final bit of courage we needed to ask about him being a tiger, and he explained he was stronger, faster in that form, and that's what made people afraid.

He considered us an enigma, surprised at our ability to channel essence despite being mortal - even more surprised when he realised we could see with sorceror's sight. That was the first time we heard it was unusual, but we were learning so much we didn't think anything more then. Raging Tiger looked over to Ray, and told us he wasn't Dragon-blooded as we'd assumed, but didn't look Celestial (like the Emissary, and Raging Tiger) - probably a Celestial half-breed. We worried he meant something like the beastmen, so he clarified that they were created from mortals, whereas Ray would have been a natural conception between a human and sufficiently powerful Anathema - neither he nor Ray knew what type of Anathema.

We went back to the topic of the Wild Hunt then. Kito and I only knew the name; he explained they hunt Anathema, and that Anathema - Celestials - are chosen by real gods, dismissing the Dragons with a sniff. He told us our boss has a dangerous reputation - dangerous as in Wild Hunt. It wasn't Mygus he described, but Reilly. I guess it was the questions we'd asked and the concern that then flickered across our faces that led him to realise it, but he knew, then, that we'd been chosen to be Anathema, and we already knew it. He said it's very unusual for us to be marked already: that doesn't happen, then explained there's 300 Lawgivers (like the Emissary), and 300 Luna's Warriors, and it's one in, one out. Only, for some reason, Lawgivers at least aren't being replaced...

It was impossible to judge Ray's reaction to all this through the suit.

We set up camp and trusted Raging Tiger to keep watch as we slept for the day.

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