Wednesday 7 February 2018

Exalted - Nexus and the Emissary

Nexus is a busy industrial and commercial city on a spur of land projecting into the river, riddled with canals. We were surprised to see no slaves within the city walls. Most inhabitants seemed to be armed, and there were bureaucrats scurrying in every direction. It was easy to spot the Nighthammer district, the industrial heart of Nexus, by the fog from the forges and smelting pits. The deprived areas were marked with a mismatch of architectural styles using wood, straw and reclaimed metal and stone, while the wealthy areas were all in a beautiful yellow-cream stone, with floral designs, minarets and high walkways and bridges connecting the buildings. We looked hard, but saw no stone like the statues at the border.

The laws in Nexus change frequently and can be very specific, and this was our first visit so we hired a child a couple of years younger than us, Lawrence, to keep track of them and make sure we didn't break any. Punishments were said to be severe: wide-eyed, Lawrence, told us how the Emissary had once exploded a person with a snap of his fingers. He then led us to his Aunt Sue's establishment, "The Wistful Badger", and arranged us rooms for our stay, then took us on a sightseeing tour of his city: Anathema tombs, said to cause instant, horrid death to anyone who got too close (dangerous even in death); a small Wyld incursion; the arts district; all while avoiding the marketplaces where the Emissary gave the laws, remembering the Empress's warning. We then headed to the docks to look for threats to the Guild.

At the docks, we spotted someone leaving a boat carrying a small box, then followed by four others in similar bland dress. They weren't looking furtive exactly, but they caught our eye nonetheless and we followed to a busy warehouse. Two stood watch at a slight distance, but the other three - including the one carrying the box - went in. We went in shortly after, and made mental note of where they stored the box. Kito knocked over some other crates as a distraction while I quickly picked the lock and looked inside: thin gold ingots, unstamped and with no paperwork. The metal seemed familiar, but I couldn't quite place it - gold, but more perfect than gold. I slipped a bar into my pocket and left.

Kito joined me outside. Unimpressed with my theft, he nonetheless suggested finding out where it came from. A quick bribe later, and we learnt the boat had travelled from the port of Chiaroscuro in the south, and the cargo had come from Gem before that. The Guild is marked as the receiver, though they're probably just a middleman. Gem's far to the south, in the desert and volcanic region near the Elemental Pole of Fire. Realising that, Kito took another look at my loot and declared it to be a magical material, so I hid it deep in my bag. It wouldn't be easy to work with, requiring heat equivalent to a volcano and special, custom made mirrors and lenses to focus sunlight. It seemed unlikely anywhere here would have the requisite items, but Chiaroscuro is famous for its glasswork so the parts could have arrived separately...

We went for a walk, to see which buildings were tall enough to get the sunlight needed in the crowded city. Several buildings dating to the Shogunite era looked like they might be, but the tallest building was the white stone tower used by the Nexus Council. We reached it as someone was leaving. They were dressed in robes that hid the shape of their figure, and a smooth, androgynous mask: the Emissary. We felt stupid, having promised to avoid him and then walking straight to where he was likely to be. Stupid, and then frightened fading into bemused as he spotted us and came over, greeting us by the same names as the fey had used: Resplendent Blade Resonating Eternal for Kito and Dawn's Dancing Butterfly for me. His voice was distorted by the mask. He told us we'd taken a long time to get there, and that we had the taint of the Realm. So much for keeping that relationship secret. With that, he left us. We let out our breath as we looked at each other. After the meeting with the fey, his words left us with a lot to think about.

We wanted to get to the bottom of the 'gold' bar, so once he was out of sight we bribed the guard at the tower door to let us onto the roof balconies. We were enjoying the view, trying to spot anywhere else that got anywhere like as much sun as this tower, when we were joined by the Emissary. This wasn't a council building, it turned out, but his home. He started out by telling us he would train us, but our expressions made it clear we needed more context. He talked a lot about a tapestry "they"'d stolen from heaven to protect us, then told us we were anomolies because we've only had one previous incarnation.

He led us into an observatory, where we had a strange vision of another life. We're in a golden room, given praise for landing the final blow on Malfious during the Primordial War; our tutor, Azure Titan, is very proud. Then we're on a battlefield, with the two of us (we knew it was us the way you know in a dream, even though we didn't look like ourselves) racing across it. We ducked behind a rock to prepare spells, then jumped up and loosed them into the Primordial Malfious.We snapped back to the present.

We asked about him and his mask, and he explained it hid him from people who would otherwise hunt him - people who would hunt us. He could never take it off, or they would find him.

We talked about our childhood, told him about Derren's Ford. It was strange, we didn't normal talk or even think about it, but something about the experience today made us open up. He said our parents had probably chosen Derren's Ford because it's over a manse we'd built together (but advised us against hunting for it just now, as it was filled with traps). Our parents wouldn't have known, exactly, but he advised us to ask our mother if there were white mice when they moved in - he said he'd help us rescue Mummy, Han and Yee from the slave camp. Then we could go back to the Empire and return to him later or not, but we should be aware that one way or another we would become Anathema and the Empire would hunt us. I felt a chill run through me.

He let us stay in the tower that night. I dreamt of a spar against Ashen Forest, chosen of the Water Dragon.

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