Sunday, 28 January 2018

Deadlands - Wailing Horror, Investigating Grave Robbery, Looking for a Rabbi

We return to Shan Fan and send a telegram to the Explorers in New York, then sleep on the boat. In the morning, we look for something to do while we wait for a reply, and remember the lightning mark in the Cave of the Wailing Horror. We gather ropes to help us get in and out, and follow Tesla, the route stitched to his mind with threads of terror.

The stench of decaying bodies - the Tongs' we'd left last time - meets us as we tie the ropes, and gets stronger as we make our way in. I feel sick, remembering the death and violence. And then we open into that cavern, and the pile of bodies is there, and I want to turn and run, only I can't, and anyway, before I can, the bodies start twitching as the ground swells - not the earth elemental we fought last time, but the ghost of the Blue Ogre who'd led the Tongs.

Tesla runs; Carson and Chin start fighting while I follow him. He's terrified, cowering, when I find him. I sit next to him, talk to him gently and remind him how effective his lightning's been against other ghosts - and doesn't he want revenge on the creature? It works: he charges back to the cavern, giving me just enough time to yell a warning for the others to duck as he opens fire.

The fight continues. I'm useless in a fight against something that you can touch, let alone something you can't; I can't help, even though this is one fight I'd like to. Last time, when it had been people, that one I'd have liked to avoid. All these bodies. Thou shalt not kill... All those bodies... And that's when it strikes me! What little I've learnt about ghosts, they always have a unique weakness, related to why they're there - and this one was killed by Steve's bullet. I yell what I've thought, and that we need to get Carson to just bleed on the sigil...

They manage it, defeat the ogre's ghost. Carson bleeds on the sigil. He's a bit pale afterwards, but insists he's ok.

We head back to Shan Fan; it's evening by the time we can check with the telegram office to find there is a message for us "Find the Rabbi". Chin doesn't know of any synagogues. We find food and go back to the boat to sleep.

Morning comes. We pick up a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph and flick to page 13; there's a message from Lacy O'Malley: "Good Intentions! Gallows theft and grave robbery in the waterfront, Shan Fan. A new ally?" Not knowing where to look for a Rabbi, we decide to head to the gallows and gibbets at the waterfront. They're all empty, so we move to the nearby graveyard. 

None of the marked graves are touched, but we find a large patch of disturbed soil to the south, surrounding a hole. There's no sign of any groundskeeper. Carson jumps into the hole; I follow once he says he can't see anything... supernatural about the place. We scrabble at the soil and find bodies: a mass grave. I swallow a yelp. This isn't somewhere I want to be, especially not so soon after being in that cavern again. But I have to hide it so the others don't have to worry about me. I examine the sides of the hole: dug with a spade, large enough to have removed one (or more) of the bodies buried here. Tesla mutters something about Burke and Hare, graverobbers from his homeland. Chin says the bodies here probably come from the gibbets - after they're finished being displayed, they're thrown in a hole.

We move away, hunger overwhelming the unpleasantness of the scene. A man at the noodle bar we found said he'd heard of bodies going missing from the gibbets and suggested we talk to the sheriff. I don't know about the others, but I feel a bit stupid: Long-Haired Tony is the obvious person to talk to.

Long-Haired Tony is happy for us to help. Three times they've come by in the morning to find the sturdy lock on a gibbet smashed and the body missing. He doesn't have any leads - to be honest, I don't think the abduction of criminal corpses is something he really cares about - but there is someone he can execute tomorrow if we want to guard the body overnight. It's always criminal corpses that go missing. He has no idea why anyone would be stealing bodies, but Tesla mumbles "Burke and Hare" again, so our best guess is a western medicine doctor wanting bodies to... practice on.

Carson's the only one of us any good at getting information out of people, so we follow behind him as he tries to find a white doctor. He eventually hears of one working out of Stinktown. We traipse after him, Chin looking particularly sheepish as we pick our way through the dirty streets. Feeling uncomfortable with the stench - more memories of that first visit to the cave - I keep my head down too, and notice, as we get closer, that there's no cart tracks in the area. We'd expected them - how else would you be able to get bodies here? - but nothing. Is this the right doctor? Do we even have the right idea of who's behind this?

Carson knocks and the door's opened by an older man, broad shoulders and with the kind of paunch that used to be muscle. Tesla spots a skullcap, and he confirms he's the Rabbi. We start rabbiting about graves and bless├ęd blades. It's when Carson mentions the Sin Eater that he ushers us into a back office and asks what hangs over the fireplace of the London lodge of the Explorers' Society. We show him our rings and tell him "the head of a jackalope". He relaxes immediately, tenseness we hadn't noticed flowing from him as he sinks into a chair. He confirms any grave in Shan Fan with a headstone would be sufficiently consecrated for our purposes. He can do something about blessing a blade for us, too, but that will take time. So while he works on it, we'll keep looking for this bodysnatcher. He suggests we might be looking for a necromancer, and as it hasn't been happening for long, it's likely someone new in town.

He won't come with us to the Isle of Ghost Tears, but is happy to wait for us to get back with the Sin Eater's corpse to bless the graves we use. He reminds us that Tam will likely kill us if he learns we've visited the island.

We go back to the boat for the night, head to the waterfront gallows in time for the execution. I felt uncomfortable - he may be a criminal, but I couldn't help feeling his death was our fault, for our benefit. We're skint again, so afterwards Carson and Chin find a bounty to hunt, while I travel with Tesla to translate as he looks for mechanics work. I nap in the corner as he fixes and tinkers with engines so I'll be refreshed for the evening.

As the day's light fades, we head back to the waterfront and hide ourselves away in a spot with a good view of the gibbet.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Exalted - Growing Up Realm pt 2 - The Cloister of Wisdom

We spent the week between our 9th birthday and starting school in the palace, where they expected us to sleep in separate rooms, which we found difficult despite how tired we were. We'd be joining halfway through a term and the Empress and our uncle grandfather ('gruncle', as we often called him after the Empress's revelations) did not want us to embarass them, so every free moment was dedicated to bringing us up to speed.

And then we were off to the Cloister of Wisdom.

The Abbess there was an elderly woman called the Resplendent Blossom of Winter. She hadn't taken pupils for years, but would be teaching us as a favour to the Empress - once we were up to speed. To that end, we had a series of tutors: Mneomnaraha (Mnemen's daughter and so the Empress's granddaughter) taught us ethical statecraft and politics; Hitayashi herbalism and healing; Silk Tide (the only teacher who wasn't Dragon-blooded) was a famous poet and taught us history; Chu taught us sorcery and martial arts, along with our primary tutor Geta.

We lived in a house in the adjacent town, kept by Jia and Mi-Yung. They looked after us well, making sure we had a big dinner when we got home, getting us up and well-fed before walking us there to arrive an hour before dawn. The school days were very busy - under the circumstances, we were taught apart from everyone else. It made it hard to make friends, but we sometimes had lunch at the same time as the other students and there was one boy, Hwan, who put up with our questions and unrequested company. He was about 3 years older than us, had been at the school many years, and was gracious enough not to show if he minded when we surpassed him in our studies, despite starting older. He impressed us when we first met him, because he talked to us - but also because he was learning sorcery too, and could already make water move.

To us, it felt like a long time before we were good enough for the Abbess to want to teach us, but she was impressed we'd learnt as fast as we had.

Her lessons were not what we expected: lots of running. Lots of filling big urns with water using tiny cups, then teaspoons, then our hands, and emptying them the same way. This went on for days, leaving us tired and aching.

When we finally had a day off, we spent it reading spells and trying to make water move like Hwan could. To Mi-Yung and Jia's amusement and confusion, we sat on the kitchen floor, each with a bucket of water in front of us. We focussed really hard, until eventually we could see the elementals within! By this point, it was very late and I was tired and knew we'd have more physical work in the morning so went to bed. We found Kito asleep on the floor in the morning: he hadn't managed to make the water move, but had got all the elementals to line up and look at him.

Five years passed, with the lessons with the Abbess more and more intense. The city of Thorns declared war on the River Confederacy - a war they lost. We heard from Captain Ling less often after that, but she had a daughter called Yuwe.

Then we received a letter from the Empress, saying Mummy, Yee and Han had been located. Some scavenger bandit-types had them in the River Confederacy.

And there was nothing anyone could do.

I dragged Kito to the Abbess, Mi-Yung and Jia racing behind us. I figured the Empress must have written to us because she wanted us to go - her letter explained she couldn't send someone for political reasons, so this must, surely, be her subtly asking us to go... Kito told me I must be wrong, because we were just 14 and our training wasn't finished and it would be a suicide mission and the Empress wouldn't send us on a suicide mission. The Abbess explained if we left now, we couldn't come back: she'd had us on a special diet (Mi-Yung and Jia confirmed this) and all the training was coming to a critical point. If we left now, that would all fall apart and we wouldn't be able to learn sorcery.

Reluctantly, I let them talk me down.

We stayed at the Cloister of Wisdom for another year, until they declared we'd learnt everything they could teach us. Before we left, the Abbess spoke to us about how unusual she found us, our abilities. She wondered how we could learn as fast as we did. We told her about the visit to the Sage and what he said. She told us the seer had left very soon after he saw us, that it seemed he was one of the Anathema, but that didn't explain why he'd spoken to us when he hadn't spoken to any other child taken to him. It didn't strike us at the time that she gave him the title of 'seer' rather than 'sage'. Now, I wonder...

The Abbess advised us to leave out the part about the Day Star, but tell the Empress the rest of it.

When we did so, she listened with that kindness she seemed to reserve for us. She then told us about Nexus, and its ruler the Emissary. She asks us to investigate the Guild, a trading organisation with head quarters in Nexus and report back in 2 months. A ship called the Sea Bream will take us to Lookshy, and we can go from there. She cautions us to avoid the Emissary, and that our connection to the Realm and particularly the Throne must not be revealed.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Deadlands - Isle of Ghost Tears Initial Recon

As we sail to the island, I think back on what we learnt when we were last in Shan Fan. Tam had declared it off-limits to all except its one resident, an elderly man - hence our careful route now. The ghost tears are those of a lady who followed her husband to Shan Fan, only to find he'd been unfaithful and fallen to cards and drugs - and that was when the Quake struck. He'd shoved her aside in an effort to save himself, but they'd both perished. Her wailing can still be heard, though it doesn't seem to bother the resident.

We moor up on the far side of the island and wade ashore. A crow squawks at our approach - an old man shouts for us not to listen to it. It's mad and tells lies, apparently, and flies off as he waves his stick at it. He approaches us with a friendly smile and introduces himself as Ginjaya. He's hard to talk to, returning to the same topics over and over. The island isn't safe for the living. Meng controls the spirits. Very sad. Many tears. Many ghosts. The spirits protect him. We ask about the glyph, describe it. He says we'll never find it. I ask if Meng is sad because her husband was unfaithful, and he falls silent. We wait a few minutes, but he has become oblivious to us, so we move on to the centre of the island.

We pass a load of small mounds, and remember this had been a pauper's burial site before the Quake turned it into an island. I mutter a quick prayer as we move through. 

At the centre is a broken gazebo. Damaged Chinese characters around it tell the story of Meng, as we'd heard it on the mainland. We don't see anything else there. It's noon already; the island is huge and we want to be back on the boat by sunset. We start walking.

It's warm (and we're hungry), so Tesla and I head into a cool-looking grove of pine trees. It is cooler here, than under the beating California sun beyond the shade; our breath becomes visible. The pine trees susurrate. A mound of leaves moves, rises, reveals translucent, dead people who walk towards us. We flee back to the sunlight.

The other two don't understand why we're so frightened, so we remind how often the dead have nearly killed us over the past few months. All the same, they didn't actually hurt us so we steel ourselves and walk back in: maybe they'll talk to us...

They don't react well when Carson starts trying to cast. I tackle him before they hurt him, and ask for their help. They say the Earth spirites will not help us: the wolf will kill us and devour us, as it eats them all. I ask about Meng, and they say she is the most terrible among them and if she decides to kill us we will die. We can look for her in her home, which we assume means the gazebo, and as she wasn't there earlier we assume we'll need to wait for nightfall. About 3 hours away, now. 

As we return to the sunlight, Chin asks if anything eats ghosts. Carson goes quiet, walks away from us and paces. Eventually, he calls us over. He thinks we're facing a "sin eater". They eat corpses and take on the deformed form of that person, even with their memories. They're very hard to kill: we'll need to find a preacher - and not just any old preacher, but a True Believer. It's a servant of the Reckoners, one he doesn't want us to face, and I don't know we can do without a priest, but I know we need to do something.

We hatch a plan as we return to the boat. Carson explains we need the priest because we need a blessed blade and six consecrated graves. He claims the religion doesn't matter; Chin says there are many graveyards of many different religions in Shan Fan, so we can find the graves. The blade is the way to kill it: we need to sever the head and each limb from the torso and bury each in a separate grave. 

Back in Shan Fan, we contact the Explorer's for help - as subtly as possible, given Tam's ban - then sleep on the boat.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Circus Photos!

Just because I like showing off ;-)
(and also because when I did my recent circus post, I couldn't get photos to appear)
Top bar gazelle

Half back balance


ginger snap prep

reverse bird's nest


half back balance variation

it's like a comfy bed!

split tuck



top bar Delilah

shooting star

That feeling when a student wears a t-shirt because of your tattoo!

Super-secret-circus crime fighting posse!

Yvonne and Rochelle like to take selfies when they're meant to be filming my awesomeness ;-)

tummy drop prep

rodeo (or doughnut, but rodeo is a better name)




Monday, 22 January 2018

Exalted - Growing Up Realm pt 1 - Joining House Cathak

I have my notebook! Seeing as I hadn't managed to write any more of the "from memory", I've switched to writing properly... I've left the Derren's Ford to Thorns section as that was basically fine. There are a few details to add: our mother's name is Shimi, our father Yoon. Our siblings are Mei, Song, Han and Yee; Han was originally Lan, but at some point we forgot and switched it to Han so I've gone with Han from the start for the retelling (similarly, there's a reference to House Ledaal in this section; it says Peleps in my notes, but it became Ledaal as the story progressed). Mei's husband is Tien. Captain Ling's husband, Hwang, is a merchant, and her brother, Kwan, is in the 22nd Regiment, which is the same as Song. We were born in Ascending Fire 740.

We'd thought Thorns was enormous, but it had nothing on the island of the Realm. The House Cathak estate alone was near the size of Thorns!

As we travelled there, our Uncle explained our father had been Laughing Blade of House Cathak and our mother Spring's First Song of House Ledaal, but they ran away when Mummy was pregnant with Mei - they wanted to escape the war and politics and because they wanted to raise us as a family. If they'd stayed, it would have been expected of them to use servants for that. 

We did each have a servant, now; Mi-Yung and Jia. Uncle Chow still made sure to look after us as much as he could.

He showed us a trophy room, with Daddy's other sword, even bigger than the one Kito dragged around, and Mummy's bracers. A stone was set in one, glowing, so Uncle knew Mummy was still alive. I now know it was a hearthstone, and the glow showed it was still attuned to her. There was a painting there, too, of Mummy and Daddy in a battle. It was masterful, but frightened us: clearly them, but not as we knew them. Not loving parents, but ruthless warriors.

We loved the estate. There was a huge oak tree where we built a new tree fort, bigger and stronger than the one in Derren's Ford, and the view from the roof of the house was beautiful. It felt like we could see everything when we sat up there - we could see to the Imperial Manse, though, and particularly the 'Sword of Creation', which Uncle explained to us belonged to the Empress and helped bring peace to the Realm, a gift from the Dragons.

Uncle Chow spent most of the first month teaching us the names of the other Houses and how they stood in relation to each other, and etiquette, and diplomatic speech, and things like that, and the basics of fighting, with lots of drilling in stances and how to fall safely. I liked archery better. He then asked Hak - the same Hak who'd rescued us from the wolf on our 8th birthday - to take us to see "the Sage".

The Sage was a mysterious old hermit who lived in a cave on the Imperial Mountain. All Dynast children were taken to him, though we were going at a younger age than most. Hak took us by cloud, then sent us into the cave alone.

It was filled with strange items, propped up against the walls in disarray. A roll of dusty carpet, or tapestry, or something. A picture frame, face to the wall, filthy but with a sheen of gold poking through. Similar treasures. The hunched, wizened and wrinkled old man ushered us to sit at the battered table and made us tea in chipped cups. As we sipped at it, he walked towards a door - each step straightening a little, filling out a little, until it was a tall young man with golden hair who opened the door and led us through. The room started spinning, spinning us all the way to the Sun, to a large room, circular and golden. He blessed us in the name of the "Day Star", and everything went black - and we were back at the table, holding our tea, and he was an old man again. We didn't really understand what had happened, and it feels kind hazy, but from that day on I felt ... stronger. Like I was more in the world. Like everything was brighter and more alive.

We found learning to fight a lot easier, not getting hurt as easily and recovering faster when we were. Hak was our teacher, and a good teacher, but something in that tea woke us up.

It wasn't just fighting we learnt over the year we spent on the estate. History, geography, diplomacy, mathematics, literature; a crash course in Realm education. And it wasn't just education that passed our time. I drew and painted. We both wrote to Mei and especially Captain Ling a lot. We played in our treehouse and aruond the grounds with whichever members of the household we could talk into joining us. Uncle Chow had the boat we'd left Derren's Ford brought over, and we played in that on the lake. Towards the end of the year, Song visited. He hugged us and swung us in the air, and let us explore the boat he worked on (much bigger than ours).

To be honest, it was a very happy time for us.  

On our 9th birthday, we were taken to meet the Scarlet Empress. We were impressed by her, and her huge throne of jade dragons, but found the visit confusing. She explained our Uncle was really our Grandfather - that he'd pretended to be our father's brother to give him more freedom: the younger-brother-as-heir would have more freedom than a son-as-heir. She was likely the only one who knew; she and Grandfather were old, and much of what they could remember had been lost from records in the confusion of history. More, the real reason Mummy and Daddy had left was that our father was supposed to have married her daughter, Mnemon of House Mnemon. When he didn't, the scandal was hushed up. We talked about the Dragons, too, and she told us we would be Chosen, like our parents and Song had been, and like Mei, Han and Yee would be (assuming they were alive - there was still no news of them).

We were due to start school at the Cloister of Wisdom a week later. The Empress took charge of us for that week.