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.
We headed north, knowing we couldn't take on the Bull (yet) but determined to learn as much about him as possible. The journey was uneventful: we rested at Port Kaylen, where the gate guard slept as we walked past. The inn we stayed in was cheap, pleasant in itself, but run by a harridan. We were back at Highcastle by the next evening. Rey greeted us with good news: she'd been reassigned with us as the Empress pulled some strings after our visit, and was glad to be out of the cold. She led us to Rose Black and the leader of House Tepet to make our promotion official. Our new unit was the 73rd Regiment, a scale within the 33rd Legion. Our first mission had the primary objective of coming back alive: to the north was The Hold of White Idols, a rice farming region whose produce supplied much of the Realm and Threshold, but they'd gone quiet recently and we were to learn why. On our way, we were to stop at a holding of one of the lesser Houses of Ledaal. She gave us a Hearthstone amulet that would allow us to contact her, our medals of office showing us as Scale Lords, and sent us on our way.
We picked our way through the campsite to reach our scale, their tents in a semicircle that broke the perfect order of the camp. 6 who appeared to be normal humans, and 6 Dynasts: 3 from Tepet, 2 from Cathak and 1 Ledaal, Sven. He called us "kids", but I managed not to rise to his baiting. We were young, and I knew we'd soon prove we were there on merit.
They were the troublemakers, which delighted me. It meant they could think.
We found a rabbit in Kito's bed that night. I was set to punish them or at least get revenge, but Kito calmed me and I listened. We fashioned it a harness and named it 'Ghost' and kept it as a mascot. It was a sweet thing, white with black spots.
We left in the morning and got to know our unit as we travelled. Cathak Cainan was particularly grizzled and seemed to have the most leadership experience. The other member of our House, Kou, was the youngest of the Dynasts, an Immaculate Monk wearing a tunic with a leaping flame motif. House Tepet was represented by Rihannon, a blonde-haired older woman with a reaper diklaive and an excellent cook, Elena, who felt familiar until it struck me she reminded me of the Rose Black, and Hoarst, whose bald head was one of the shiniest things I'd ever seen, and who seemed... shifty. He kept grumbling about the cold. Ledaal Sven had fair hair and skin, blue eyes and light stubble, and seemed young and irreverent. Everything was a joke to him - I had no doubt he was behind Ghost's appearance. Of the mortals, Osada and Iki were married. They wore full plate armour as though it were nothing, and had strange amulets grafted into their wrists. Matsu Dairu had a pair of ornate guns with which he was very skilled.
After half a day's travel, Sven was already bored. We could hear running water and headed toward it. Before we reached the river, we found a giant rock gouged with great clawmarks indicating we were passing into an Anathema's territory. After a quick discussion, we decded to take the risk as the river would vastly speed up our travel. Once we reached it, Cainan oversaw the building of a raft while Rihannon, a good fisherman and cook, prepared a meal. Osada, Rey, Elena and I secured the perimeter, and I learnt more about Osada and Iki's armour. It wasn't full plate, but "gonzai" armour, linked to the amulets. It's a special kind of power armour that can be used by those who can't normally channel essence, but it halves their lifespan. In thanks for such a sacrifice, the Realm promises to look after their families and gives them a command. He met Iki through this, and they're here rather than commanding their own unit because they're coming to the end of their time and "well, I'm not the type to die in bed, so I'm refusing to retire." I could respect that.
Cainan and I were sharing watch when the tyrant lizard attacked that night, crashed through the trees towards our camp. I fired arrows into it as Cainan swung at it. It bent its mighty head and caught him in his jaws, lifting to swallow him, but in that instant he flared so that it looked like it was breathing fire for a moment and cut his way free, the sword getting wedged as he finally fell. I fired an arrow into its open mouth and must have hit a nerve that caused the jaws to snap shut, lodging the sword deep into the creature's brain. We looked at each other with the joy of hard fought victory. There's good eating on a tyrant lizard. Rihannon joined us in time to organise the creature's dissection, splitting the parts into edible, valuable, useful and detritus.
The river raced us along until we reached an offshoot used to irrigate the fields of the Ledaal holding. We saw fewer people than we'd expected, but it seemed to be very efficient. Overseers stared as we floated past,visibly relaxing when they saw the Imperial red armour worn by some of the unit.
After tying up the raft, we were led to Overseer Vash, a corpulent man grown comfortable in his position. He introduced us to his servant George and showed us around. Housing for the workers and livestock was pointed out and dismissed as he led us to the gardens, replete with ornate topiaries and pristine lawns and flower beds. Even the ivy clinging to the buildings was immaculate. The stables housed horses of particularly fine eastern stock. As we approached the main house, servants tripped out and lined up as though for an inspection. Vash then offered his hospitality for as long as we might want, his obsequious bow and unctuous grin failing to hide his desire it wouldn't be long: with so many Dynasts in our party, perhaps he thought he was being replaced. He then began a detailed tour of the house, and this was when we noticed Hoarst was missing. Kito left Sven in charge, and we snuck off to look for him.
We found him in a study, feet on table, flicking through paperwork, looking, he explained, for any dodgy dealings. Behind him, a painting rested on the floor to expose a safe in the wall, the open door revealing a jewellery box filled with large gems, and two talents of yellow jade! Hoarst chuckled at our shocked expressions.
"There was more." He indicated the paperwork. "Our Overseer Vash has been dealing with the Azlanti." And not just the Azlanti: he showed us where 12 talents had been paid to the Azlanti, 5 to the Guild (for slaves), and finally 5 to the Realm. Payments had been coming later and later and with less and less interest, so the Realm had become suspicious. This was the real reason we'd been told to go via this site. He explained something the Rose Black had omitted telling us: each member of our unit has their own purpose and their own mission. This was his.
As we helped him restore the room, I discovered a secret compartment in the safe, holding a key labled 73256. Hoarst pocketed the guide and promised to keep digging, but seemed genuinely impressed I'd found the key. We rejoined the tour briefly: Sven was doing a fantastic job of keeping Vash occupied, so we slipped off again to look for a bigger safe.
Kito suggested the wine cellar, figuring a safe as large as we're expecting would have to be underground. As we walked, Hoarst explained the unit's recent history. The previous leader, Scale Lord Chow, faced down an Anathema so the rest could escape, but even so half the unit had died.
The wine cellar was filled with expensive bottles of wine and spirits, and barrels of various sizes, up to some several metres in diameter laid on their sides. One of these sounded empty so I fiddled around and found a catch that opened the front, revealing a large metal door. The key fitted the latch, and the number turned out to be the code. The wall the barrel had been pressed against wasn't, as it had appeared, been the edge of the cellar. While the room had been large, where we now stood was even larger. The size and structure made us think the room had to be Shogunite, or even older, but was clearly in current use. The wine stored here was worth even more than that we'd already seen. There were green jade talents stacked fairly near the door, artworks and other items dotted around. Kito found a small box in green jade. Opening it, we found 8 needles around the length of a finger and the diameter of a stem of wheat, 2 in each of the magical materials. We recognised them as Wound Healing Needles and hid them in my bag. A fine pair of gloves next caught our eyes, chased in orichalcum. The left included a Hearthstone socket. Kito identified them as Gloves of Martial Readiness, and again we squirrelled them away. I picked up a small orichalcum chevron, that could clip over a belt buckle, and spent a moment attuning to it. Throwing it to the ground caused it to expand until I could stand on it, hovering. It responded to my awkward movements and my feet felt secured. With practice, I knew it would make a very useful archery platform (I'd later learn it was known as a Wind Blade Class Personal Transport, and it remains one of my favourite possessions). Finally was another small jade box, with motifs picked out in moonsilver, locked and dusty like it had been discarded. Kito attuned to this which allowed him to open it and discover a plasma tongue repeater, like the one the Highcastle Quarter Master had given us, complete with ammo. I restored my wind blade to belt buckle sized and shared a look with Kito: there was a lot of orichalcum in the room.
What we found there made us look more closely at the yellow jade Hoarst had found in the office. Stamped by the Imperial Mint but dated to the first 5 or 6 years of the Shogunite. We took these and rejoined our unit, throwing the jade down in front of Vash with our accusations. He prevaricated and tried to justify himself, but before he got far Elena's blade flashed past, beheading him. I was shocked and angry, wanting to hear more, especially about where he'd found the orichalcum items (Anathema tombs, but we didn't learn the location), and frustrated that she was acting on orders from above me and about which I knew nothing. I understood this wasn't unusual in an army situation, but I felt undermined and that was nearly unbearable. I suppressed my feelings and gave instructions to split up and find more evidence.
As the others amassed paperwork and such in the great hall, I found a hidden room behind the kitchen - I had to squirm through the back of a cupboard to reach it. Inside was a strange device, with an array of buttons and blinking lights. I didn't recognise any of the symbols and curiously tapped a couple of the buttons. The lights and some symbols changed. I tapped again, and the blinking intensified. An alarm sounded. I frantically batted more of the buttons until the blinking and alarm synced into what sounded like a countdown. I bolted from the strange room and started yelling for everyone to evacuate. As I reached the edge of the gardens, I saw a large, metal dragon-shape break out of the house and explode. I was shaken but not injured, unlike Kito who'd been trying to rescue servants. He was bleeding profusely when I found him, badly bruised all over with his leg twisted beneath him. We laid him out carefully, and I tested the needles. To my relief, they worked. Guards came running over, but Sven led them off. I instructed our unit to clear the ruin, and we got the surviving servants to prepare the guest house as the main residence.
As Kito came to, he pointed out there was no essence in the area. The device must have been similar to a Thousand Forged Dragon, though with less destructive power. All the same, it shouldn't have been possible to accidentally enter the launch code. Either I got very, very unlucky, or those things have a lifespan and become unstable towards the end. That might explain why there was less damage, too... Either way, I was just grateful my brother was ok and the damage not as bad as it might have been.