Monday, 29 October 2018

Exalted - Calibration and Manse Building

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

It was the run up to Calibration in the year 757, making us 17. We'd been in the army a couple of years, been promoted a few times. Reilly sent us back to Rose Black at High Castle, not giving us time to see Rey before we left. When we got there, the quartermaster greeted us: we'd sent back the various things he'd asked for every opportunity we'd had, and to show us his gratitude he gave us a power bow and a flame tongue repeater, with ammo pearls and a kit to make more.

My overriding memory of our return to High Castle was the sheer number of Dynasts strutting around the place. Rose Black called us to her as soon as she could, to explain that we'd been in the army long enough to be allowed home for an extended period, even to leave. However, she continued, they had a continuing real problem with beastmen and we'd proven ourself against them, and in particular she was worried by a threat from the north, an Anathema calling themselves "The Bull of the North". If we came back, she'd give us our own command. We looked at each other, torn: I wanted to go home and see my family, but I liked Rose Black a lot, and I knew this would help the Empress too, and beastmen were a menace, and I think Kito felt similarly. She read our inner conflict and told us we didn't have to make a decision until after Calibration and sent us back to Gruncle's.

The Emissary joined us to travel back and invited us to a sorcerors' meet, a feast from the end of the First Age. It's held on the nights when the rituals to summon the most dangerous demons must begin: by gathering the most powerful sorcerors together, this can't happen without knowledge. The Realm doesn't following the tradition and it's fallen out of practice. He wants to bring it back. The Empress can't attend due to her position (though says she may come in disguise).

We talked with him about Lunar's Warriors. He called them Stewards and explained they're paired with Lawgivers. The Bull of the North, we learn, is a Lawgiver, but won't be open to negotiation: he'll see us as representing a force trying to oppose him. The Emissary showed uncharacteristic emotion then, looking demonstrably worried: there should be 300 Lawgivers, but he only knows of Tsung (the Seer) and the Azure Titan (our former incarnations' mentor). With the Bull of the North, that's 4, or 6 if he's right about our destiny.

When we reached Gruncle's, Hak's there and we showed him the bush where Kito saw the mouse. He told us we're truly blessed. 

Once we'd been greeted by everyone and been fed and fussed, I sought Gruncle alone in his office - the one with the stunning view over the Estate that makes it look like the grounds are aflame as the sun sets. It was an awkward conversation, but I walked away  reassured that if Kito and I do end up Anathema then he will at least still talk to us, and he knew I understood he would protect us as best he could, but had to put the safety of the House first.

And then the Emissary told us it was time to leave for the feast. He drew a glass globe from his sleeve and dropped it to the floor, where it shattered to dust that rose to create a shimmering, transparent door. He opened it and ushered us into a corridor of similar doors, with large double doors at one end. Others of the doors like we'd entered by opened and people came through until around 25 people stood there. We walked through the main doors and I realised we were approaching a manse, somewhere in Elsewhere - that place that isn't the Wyld, isn't Creation, but is everywhere else. From the steps to the Manse door walked down two inhuman women, perfect mirror to each other, with strange metallic tattoos or engravings across their skin.

Most of the guests seemed snobby. Not rude towards us, exactly, but uninterested. The Seer - Tsung - was about the only exception, and the Emissary didn't seem entirely pleased by our acquaintance. We didn't recognise him to begin with, but I, at least, was pleased to see him. We talked to him about things we'd struggled to get others to explain to us, and finally learnt the significance of the white mouse and the symbol Kito had seen: a boon from the Unconquered Sun, a symbol of his favour, a moment of luck or inspiration to help overcome insurmountable odds, and very, very rare. His favourites may see one or two in their entire lives.

The food was incredible, which made up for how lonely it started to feel.

In the morning, the Emissary took us and Hak to check on some of his freeholdings in the west, leading us through a set of sliding doors to a mountainside overlooking the ocean. An archipelago stretched out, leading to a larger island in the northeast, but we walked away from the view toward the mountaintop, a blackened caldera. The heat haze and a wisp of smoke showed this to be dormant, not extinct. All the same, even at the centre the heat felt merely uncomfortable and not deadly as I'd expected. As the Emissary reached through the solid rock, I activated my All Encompassing Sorceror's Sight and realised there were no elementals around. He pulled on an orichalcum chain the other side of the rock, and the heat dissipated, the mountain melting with it to leave an evergreen forest. It felt unnatural: we hadn't left the tropical region, so these trees were distinctly out of place. 

"This is the first freehold," our expressions led him to explain more. "A freehold is a stable area in the Wyld," and he went on to explain the Wyld we'd been in before had been the Border Marches. We were now in the Middle Marches and beyond that was the Deep Wyld, chaos unformed. I looked more closely at our surroundings and realised we stood in a bubble: there was a distinct circumference around us where the trees and bushes were well-formed, moreso even than in Creation, but beyond that things started to blur.

We followed the Emissary as he led us to the Deep Wyld, the bubble continuing to protect us. A path formed as he trod, and we took care to stay on it. Beyond that was darkness - the darkness of a child's room, filled with monsters. Nothing there, yet everything.

He created a safe area for the 3 of us to wait in while he worked, and we chatted with Hak. He told us he'd never been to the Deep Wyld before: Viziers like him rely on Ambrosia - on prayers made manifest - but Lawgivers, frustrated by the limitations of Ambrosia, had learnt to manipulate the Wyld. 

"Isn't that dangerous?"

"Very."

Golems stepped into existence around the Emissary, 12ft tall and golden. No, not gold: orichalum. Once there were 12, they knelt to him; he looked discomforted by the servitude, and tired by their creation. They returnedwith us, and Hak quietly explained to Kito and me that things created in the Wyld become unstable in Creation - further magics are required to give them solidity here, or they degrade. The magics were lost in the First Age: maybe 5 people have the knowledge now, and only 3 the power. 

The Emissary sent the golems around the island, which I now realised the caldera marked the very centre of, as we sat on its edge. He waited about 40 minutes - to allow them to get to the right places or for the sun to be in the right place, I wasn't sure - then clapped his hands as though into prayer and was hit by a torrent of light from the sun, cascading from him to flood the island until it reached what I surmised were the golems: 12 beams of light returned to the sky and expanded out to create a shield. As soon as the shield was complete, a 4-armed creature climbed from the soil to patrol the island, and magma began to bubble, rising from the ash of the caldera to reveal a simple sructure made of a composite of the 5 magical materials. The domed roof opened and the Emissary sank in.

Hak looked interested. As far as he'd known, only one person could do this, and that was the first sorceror, who'd been given her power by the Unconquered Sun.

A door appeared in the structure and the Emissary stepped out. He explained he had 30 planned, but could only manage maybe 10 this Calibration. Our offer of help was accepted, and Kito summoned a cloud to take us to the next location, a tiny rock in the ocean barely big enough for the 4 of us. The remaining golems (slightly smaller now) took their places beneath the waves and again pillars of light rose from them. The island seemed to shift as the ritual continued; once complete, a throne of glass waves stood before us, with a basin on a pedestal. The Emissary scooped out the ball bobbing in the bowl and explained there was a second manse below, which he'd created in a set of ancient ruins, and that was the relay manse to match the one he'd created earlier.

We took a portal to Gruncle's garden: stepping through felt a lot like walking through the Deep Wyld.

I peppered the Emissary with questions, of course. Manses are created during Calibration and are best given years of planning. There are many ways to use a manse that have been lost since the First Age - to learn more about that, I'd need to Meru herself, but the great city is no longer on top of the Imperial Mountain. He'd looked and found nothing but the ruins of hovels, long picked clean: no signs of the glory of the city.

There were feasts every night for the next four nights. The other guests continued to be uninterested in interacting with us, but the food and drink were phenomenal. The mirrored twins wore increasingly elaborate outfits: black fabric that flowed like water; a strange, metallic or stone-like material in white and silver; greens in a leafy, flowery, viney pattern; and finally, flickering, fiery reds.

We helped build manses again the second day, again in very remote spots: a section of a tropical island gave a multi-tiered tree; a four-armed statue of the Unconquered Sun, facing the Realm, above a small bay, where a rock formation created a natural wind tunnel that enhanced the sound of the crashing waves; an abandoned mine in the side of an equally abandoned quarry became a steel disc inscribed with runes supporting a throne and pedestal on a small island not far from a Shadowland (which had grown a lot since his last visit, 200 years perviously). On some of these, I saw statues as we left: the golems settling to take the exact appearance of those statues outside Nexus, with the Emissary's features.

The Emissary didn't take us if he did anymore on later days, but Mum took me to a manse in the north of the Realm to attune the hearthstone in her bracers.

It was good to spend time with our family, because we'd made up our minds what to tell Rose Black: the Bull of the North was a real threat, one even I appreciated we couldn't take on yet, but we would need to one day, so we might was well take the opportunity to learn as much about him as possible with our own recon unit.

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