Friday 28 September 2018

Exalted - The Death of Raven

This is the story of our Exalted game, told from the point of view of my character, Cathak Taji. Click here for the index.
Tiger reached the temple doors as they opened in a swirl of feathers. Raven stood there, muscular male torso bared, but a bird's head and a pair of huge black-feathered wings. Twirling a silver daiklave as though it were a twig, he leapt at Tiger and landed a blow. In response, Tiger's form shifted, becoming sleeker, leaner, faster. Raven flew up high, gathering essence to him - realising he was casting sorcery, Kito and Ray ran for cover, but I hadn't taken my eyes from him since he emerged and he was still just inside the range of my bow. I drew the string back far enough to hurt, pictured white mice and the symbol Kito had found, whispered a prayer, and loosed the arrow. It took all my courage, but I watched the arrow fly true. It glanced against the beast - not enough to distract him, but I hit him.

There was no immediate effect to Raven's casting. The 5 beastmen who'd made it into the temple now raced out, dressed for battle and armed with bows - which was when volcanic tentacles erupted from the ground, lashing at Ray, Tiger and Kito but ignoring me, still hidden in the forest. Tiger fought the tentacles, but Ray backed off and Kito ran into the temple. The remaining beastmen chased after him, so Ray followed.

The tentacles had flailed as individuals, but with only one target remaining I saw Raven focus on them, and those Tiger hadn't destroyed stilled then turned on my ally, one wrapping itself around him and the others then smashing into him. He looked awful; I knew I had to do something, for all I felt out of my depth. I braced myself against the trunk of the tree I stood in, and took careful aim at Raven once more. Again, I managed to hit! The tentacle dropped Tiger, but my relief lasted barely an exhale as Raven dove through the foliage to me. I dropped from my branch as his blade sliced through where I had been standing, turning a killing blow to a glancing one, compounded with bruising as I landed awkwardly. Raven returned to the sky as I tried to hide.

Curling up in the roots of a tree,I looked back up to see Tiger had transformed into a roc and Ray standing near the temple doors. Raven swooped at Tiger, who rose above, shifted back to human and drew his axe as he fell to land on Raven's back. Ray's lance flashed past, close but missing both. Tiger roared as he swung his axe - an impossible arc, he'd clearly missed... and yet somehow twisting to cut through Raven.

They fell, one of Raven's wings spiralling separately.

Kito emerged from the temple as I disentangled myself from the jungle. Ray left to retrieve the lance and Kito checked on Tiger, which left me to look to Raven. A young-looking man, fine-boned with a pointed, beak-like nose. I decapitated the body. Tiger left the head for us to take back as a gory trophy, gave the daiklave to Kito and burnt the rest of Raven. He would fix the damage Kito had attempted to inflict on the manse and claim it as his own. I looked around at this warm, tranquil spot and envied him, swore to myself I would have a manse at least as fine as this of my own, one day.

The journey back to the camp felt anti-climatic after that. We told Captain Riley that we'd found Raven and the beastmen dead when we reached the village, but he didn't believe us and blamed Ray's leadership for us disobeying his direct order not to get involved. Ray was angry, clear even through the faceless armour, stated we should be being rewarded for this, and insisted on taking a few days off. The armour cracked open then, and a tall woman stepped out, with long, blonde hair and vibrant green eyes. "And for the record, Riley, fuck you," she spat as she spun on her heel and left the room. We followed like lost sheep, and she sent us to rest, explaining she'd be visiting a village a few miles up river.

She's gone when we woke. We spent a couple of anxious weeks trying to keep our heads down and doing general camp tasks, and then she was back, with no further comment. Everything continued as if she'd never left, never sworn at Riley. We stayed with the camp for another year and half, earning a few promotions and continuing to serve under Ray. Once we reached the point where we'd been in the army for 2 years (making us about 17), Captain Riley sent us back to the Rose Black at High Castle.

Thursday 27 September 2018

I said goodbye to the circus...

Ziggy & I have reached the third trimester!

We're both well. I'm tired and have neck, soulder, back and pelvic pain (pregnancy and fibro) but otherwise feeling pretty good.

I have had to finally give up circus until my abdomen has recovered after the birth. A really hard decision: part of me is terrified that I won't (want to) go back, it'll take months to return to where I was, and I miss it (and everyone) already! But I am too tired now, and my pelvic girdle pain, changing shape and weight, and stuff, there's too much I can't do. So that's it, now, until my rectus abdominus have recovered. I've done my best to avoid exercising them during pregnancy, to reduce diastasis recti, but I won't be allowed back until they've knitted back sufficiently - Vikki will make me do a sit up while she pokes the gap between by abs and once she can only fit 3 fingers in I'm allowed back.

I'm still going to pop along the weeks I'm not too tired, for the social side of it - and to stretch and maybe sneak up the silks occasionally just to keep myself sane!

We did a photoshoot a couple of weeks ago. I'm glad I was still on form for that. Photos won't be ready until around Ziggy's due date, but here's a "behind the scenes" snap for you to enjoy until then.

The photographer was Simon from the Image Cella. He specialises in pole, aerial and dance photography; you can see more on Instagram. I'll post my photos as soon after they're ready as I can, but I will have other things on my mind!

Part of me's hoping that having extra evenings free means I'll get back to blogging properly - I've got half an Exalted post waiting to be finished - but I'm not sure I'll have the energy even with more free evenings. I'll try, because next year I think I'll be even busier! ;-)

Sunday 16 September 2018

Deadlands - The Asylum pt1

This is a chapter in our Deadlands game, told from the perspective of my character, Solomon Blackbird. For the story so far, check out the index.
When we come to rest that first night into our journey back to Perdition, we stop very near the shore. Tesla collects one of his pylons and awkwardly jumps from the boat. He's been subdued (for him) all day, but it's only now, watching him wade to the beach, that I realise how aged he looks, since that fight with the shadows. He sets up a pylon more or less in the surf. Carson picks it up and gently moves Tesla along the beach away from our camp, and inward away from the tideline. I hide, just in case, but this time Tesla's using his pylon's power on himself.

We make good time over the next few days. By Tuesday, Chin's thinking we might reach Perdition that evening, several days early. I'm still feeling exhilirated by this bit of good news when Carson pipes up: there's a trail of bubbles that seems to be following us.
Chin's eyes widen as he takes a look. He races to the controls, saying it looks like water dogs. I don't have time to ask what they are before, ghost rock boiler screaming, he throws the boat into top speed - just in time to avoid a column of water that erupts where we were seconds before. It crashes back down, creating a wave that races toward us, faster than we have time to brace for. The boat shoots forward faster as it hits; the jolt of the impact throwing me and Tesla into the water. For a heart-stopping moment, I think the others haven't noticed, or that Chin won't risk coming back for us, but the waters calm once more and Chin turns the boat to us. I join Tesla in the engine room until I'm dry.

As hoped, we reach Perdition before dusk and hide the boat in our usual cave nearby, laying low there until Friday, when we make our way into town at dusk. The Fallen Angels saloon is busy when we reach it, and we have to wait for a table and food, which we're just finishing as Sam and Lacy show up just before midnight. It's still very busy, a noisy environment where we feel safe from being overheard.

Sam explains he's leaving the Maze soon, but has some loose ends to tie up first. He'd like our help with two of his former agents (Fidel Salazar and Lonnie Bruce) that he'd had committed to a mental asylum after things they'd seen in the Maze. The asylum's on a mesa not far from Perdition and run by a Dr Sanderson Petersen on an altruistic basis - that is, patients are committed free of charge, with the running costs met by donations. Committing them had seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but following his incarceration on the Rock, and rumours he's heard of Petersen's methods (more torture than therapy), he's not so sure any more. He'd like us to get them out and onto a train heading East. Failing that, he wants us to get eyes on them to confirm whether or not they're even alive, and gives us a photo of the pair.

Tesla starts asking how much we'll be paid. Carson and I talk over him: this kind of task is too important to be paid for. All the same, Sam insists on paying our bar tab for the night, and reminds us he already owes us a significant favour: this is a second we can call in.
The following morning, Chin and Carson head out to investigate the path to the mansion, leaving Tesla and I in Perdition where we're somewhat less likely to draw attention. I ask around, trying to find more about the asylum's reputation, and particularly the rumours Sam hinted at, but no one wants to talk to me. Tesla, meanwhile, beelines first for the library, then the Epitaph office. He finds a little more: as Sam said, it's run freely for most patients, though there are a few who pay. There's no stories of people leaving, no news from anyone who's been inside. It feels odd, but doesn't mean no one leaves, just that no one's writing about it.
Chin and Carson return in the evening. It looks fairly normal: a fence surrounds the mesa to protect from falls, and they saw patients gardening under the supervision of orderlies.
We return as a group the next day, discusses plans as we travel. It's decided Tesla will go in as though looking for work as a mechanic, with me as his assistant, figuring the other two will be better at getting us out if we get in trouble than we would if it were them.

Once we're near enough the mesa for the house to be clear, I take a photo with my spirit camera and set about developing it as the others prepare lunch. To begin with, the image seems normal, the landscape forming as I'd expect... but as the fence becomes clearer, it glows redder and redder, and the building never becomes more than a shadow filled with faces - one looks like Rev'd Blackwell, and as I recognise him, the image catches fire. I yelp and back off, but the fire doesn't spread further and extinguishes as soon as the photograph is ash.

Despite the unsettled unease this leaves me with, Tesla and I head in as planned. There's a path winding through the gardens and orchards, with (as the others saw yesterday) patients tending the plants overseen by orderlies. A woman in a starched nurse's uniform bustles out to meet us and leads us to a waiting room as Tesla explains our cover story. She leaves us in the small room to fetch Dr Petersen.

There's a few chairs, and an empty desk. There's a second door in the wall opposite the one we entered by, but no windows. The only light is from the ceiling - bright enough it must be powered by ghost rock. The only sound is Tesla's shuffling and muttering, and my pacing - I've never experienced silence like this. I don't know how long we've been here - Tesla's watch has stopped. The tingling undercurrent of claustrophobia is getting stronger and stronger - I throw open the first door to see that night's fallen! We look at each other and head to the other door. There's a corridor lined with other doors - but as soon as we step into it we're back in the garden as though we'd step out of the door we'd entered by...

That's when the matron returned with the doctor. We returned to the room: he set behind the desk and talked with us, subtly guiding the conversation with Tesla until he'd blabbed his whole life story, including his plan not only to meet the person he'd named himself for - some scientist I'd never heard of - but also subsume his identity. After doing that, he wants to return to England to resurrect his dead parents! I'm frightened but not surprised when they take him away, dragging him through the other door and down that corridor of doors. 

At least they let me go. I walk as quickly as I can, following a roundabout route to return to the camp where I expect to find Chin and Carson, but they aren't there. I steady my breathing, mutter the Lord's Prayer and Psalm 23 to try and stay calm as I start a small, hidden, smokeless fire for the comfort it'll give, and head away to set and check snares in the hopes of having some food - as afraid as I am, it doesn't overwhelm my hunger and I focus on the task of skinning the scrawny rabbit to try and control my rising panic. I'm jittery, anxious, and nearly jump out of my own skin when Chin speaks. I speak quickly, tripping over my words as I try to tell him what's happened, only to have Carson appear, gun in my face, demanding I drop my knife! Tears prick my eyes as I do so, raising my hands to the air and looking round like a trapped beast. That seems to reassure him somewhat and he lets me tell them what happened, eventually putting his gun away.

"We should just leave him. Get on with the glyphs."

My back's to him - I've turned to retrieve my knife to finish preparing food - so I'm not sure if he sees me stiffen. I know he's anxious about the task, but... I turn back, slowly, keeping the knife where he can see it. "We can't. He's our friend."

"Yeah, but what he said. That's pretty crazy. Sounds like it's the best place for him."

I can't deny that what Tesla had said had frightened me, but not as much as the thought of leaving him. "Maybe you're right. I mean, I think he needs some kind of help. Just, not there, right?" His face hardens; I can see Chin setting to side with Carson so speak quickly. "And it's not just Tesla. It's Sam's friends too. We can't let Sam down. And this place - it isn't right," I can hear the wheedling desperation in my voice, "if we can get to the bottom of it, and, and fix it somehow. That's got to help slow the Reckoners down, right? That's got to matter, hasn't it? It's got to help."

"Fine," I think the snap in his voice is because he knows I'm right, "Chin and I'll sneak in tonight, look for them all. You stay here, guard the camp."

I try to hide my relief at that. I know it's mostly that they're much better and sneaking around than I am - I'm more likely to get caught, so they'd rather I wasn't there, but staying here and not having to see that place in the dark is all I could have asked for. I nod, start roasting the rabbit.

We eat in uncomfortable quiet, then they head out. I muse on Carson's reluctance to save the day: I think he's anxious about the glyphs, more anxious than he's prepared to admit. He's the one who's going to die in that hall, as the flood comes in. I shudder at the resurrection of my own doubts, remind myself that floods are God's cleansing weapon. Innocents will die in this endeavour, and I hate that, but many more will be saved, just so long as we succeed. No wonder he wants to get everything sorted in plenty of time. It's a lot of weight to carry. 

I reach for the spyglass to see how they're getting on, before remembering Carson still has it. The stars are bright above me: I snuggle deeper into the blanket and sigh, restless and worried. Sing a hymn, something half-forgotten from my childhood. The panic has burnt out, leaving ashes of anxiety. I'm not sure how long they've been gone. There's no lights in the grounds or the buildings. I'm holding my breath and I'm not sure why. Start to breathe again as I look away, back out into the desert.

I think I need to go up there.

All the same, I take as much time as I can packing the camp away, hiding it so only someone who knows where it was could find it again, protecting our scanty possessions. Bank the fire so it can be recovered later and light a lantern from it.

I made my decision, but still hesitate to walk away from the safety of the camp and towards the threat of the asylum