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[Actual Play] Exalted - Forge of Souls

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Prologue - Exalted

It is the Realm Year 769, the spring of Ascendant Wood. Near the northern edge of the Hundred Kingdoms, is the Kingdom of Khacin. This kingdom is one of warriors, and ruled by an elite family of warriors, Dragonblooded. The kingdom sits along a tributary to the Lesser Rock River, and is famous for its exports of Tiger’s Courage – a special brew of sake – and shards of the unbreakable metal known simply as Diamond Shards. The kingdom is so skilled in warfare that it holds an annual martial arts tournament, and its troops form some of the most famous mercenary armies.

Towards the mountains, where mystic monks make their home, is the village of Wai’hl. This village is lucky to be near the fresh water from the mountains, and its population is also safe from the predations of the Hyena men on the plains.

It was morning as the ragged traveller, Falling Rain, rode into town. Rain was hungry and in need of rest having fled his home in the capital of Khacin. More importantly he needed to keep a low profile. He led his horse in to the town past the villagers who were working. The smith’s forge was ringing out the sound of hammered metal, and in the town square the shop owners were selling their wares and preparing loads to be taken to the next town and onto the city. Rain tied up his horse at the inn and made his way in passing the other curious man in the village. Sat outside on the porch of the inn was Red Echo. He was dressed in military garb and was obviously not from Khacin but from the Lookshy. He had a shock of red spiky hair and was sat writing in his journal while smoking opium. He conducted himself with strict precision, both in how he smoked his pipe and how he wrote. Rain then returned to the porch and a table was set out before him where the inn keeper served him rice and meats for breakfast.

Elsewhere in the village Resplendent Trout was performing his sacred duties and preparing salves and ointments for sale from his family home. The town messenger Kheralin was taking it easy at her home, grooming her horse and polishing her riding gear. She had only returned from Khacin the other evening.

In the town market the guild trader, shaman and seer, Aisha, was once more peddling her wares and reading people’s fortunes. Aisha had also taken note of the curious arrangement of gods in the region. Khacin had its city god, the Grey Tiger Kha Alahan. This town had its own minor god, Sapphire Talon, another god of the hunt. Aisha had learnt that the shrine of Sapphire Talon was a collection of twisting metal pipes made of the same strange metal dug up in the region. The pipes would hum with the wind. Aisha had also concluded that it would be worth getting more trade for the Guild and that this find would make her a lot of money.

Another strange local was the northern barbarian, ex-gladiator, and now game keeper, Norn. Compared to the locals he stood an entire foot taller and had long white hair and a beard. He often would aid the villages in its defence against raiders and beastmen.

That evening in the inn Aisha was sat drinking with Echo. She already had got used to the one sided conversations she would have with the mercenary captain. Trout was sat, as usual, playing his harp, and Norn was engaged in arm wrestles. Kheralin spoke to the inn keeper and bought the bottle of apricot brandy he had recently been sold by traders.

Rain went to sit with Aisha, thinking it be better to sit with the outsiders, and was then joined by Kheralin. Rain asked her about the roads about the village and what route he could take next. He learnt that this was the most extreme part of the kingdom, and that to go on further would require scrambling up into the mountains.

Norn, somewhat intoxicated, wondered up to the group of strangers and challenged Echo by trying to steal his journal. Echo did not back down and after a tussle Norn had fallen on top of a table and sent drinks flying. The inn keeper broke the fight up and sent Norn home.

Later that night once everyone was home and asleep, Rain was sat watching the village. He could see the lanterns of the town watch patrolling. He looked up at the stars and spotted something amiss. The constellations of were somehow wrong, especially the Ships Wheel. It was then against the disc of the moon a floating citadel on a floating rock appeared. The air then hummed and soon the village erupted in chaos as large darts of dark metal crashed down.

One dart landed in the village square and Rain could see that the sides were etched with a language similar to that of Old Realm, and they glowed an eerie green. The sides of the dart opened and out stepped 5 men, dressed head to toe in dark leather, metal armour plates, and a full metal face mask and goggles. They also carried strange weapons from which arrows were fired. Another carried a cylinder on his back and a hose, from which a flame flickered. Rain readied his two swords.

Woken by the screams, Echo leapt into action, donned his clothes and armour, and grabbed his swords and made his way down out of his room in the inn to find Rain standing there looking on. Echo asked what happened. ‘They came from the skies’ replied Rain. Echo readied his great sword.

Elsewhere in the village, practically naked save for his fighting gauntlets, Norn was already in the streets fighting, watching the attackers raid homes and taking people away. From the citadel a number of floating boats descended. Norn was easily able to crush heads with his fists.

Kheralin was also fighting, taking aim with her bow, covering the escape of some villagers, looking on in horror as gouts of flame engulfed homes.

Trout was charging raiders with his spear. He impaled and slashed at them, leaping forward to drive it through the next man.

Aisha had got out of the inn to find Rain and Echo cutting through the attackers. Rain was quick and slashing in all directions, while Echo hacked men in half and cleaved heads off. Aisha saw her chance to flee and help other villagers.

It was then that something stirred in all of them. Something erupted within their souls. They heard it speak. ‘I am the Unconquered Sun! You are my chosen. This path was not given but it is now yours. You are Exalted and this world’s heroes!’

All felt power course through themselves. The air shimmered about them, and their foreheads burned with the power of their caste mark. From each their anima banners exploded, sending up a column of light a mile into the night sky. The air about Trout exploded with light which deflected arrows. Norn caused soldier to flee in terror from his bear like anima banner. Both Rain and Kheralin felt their animas erupt and twist inwards, hiding them in shadows as they fought. Echo was now a lord of battle as his anima took shape as a roaring griffon. Aisha felt power flow through her and her hands knitted together the injuries of the villagers.

The raiders then fled, taking what slaves they had captured, and returned to the floating citadel on their flying skiffs. The last to leave was also crewed by an imposing figure in black. A monster of a man with burning purple eyes and a huge axe in the form of half a cog.

For Trout, Kheralin and Norn this was not the end as they saw friends and family taken away and killed.

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Episode 1 – The Sins of the Past

The fires of Wai’hl still burned and the dead all lay about them. Falling Rain looked on at the metal dart, this thing that fell from the sky, and marvelled at its design and how it carried men within like some pod from a tree. The surface of the dark metal was now lifeless. But where essence had glowed he could make out what looked like writing not to different to the glyph language of Old Realm. Rain pointed it out to Red Echo, who noted that he had seen that language a lot on the on the magitech of Lookshy.

Rain and Echo were then alerted to sounds of people approaching behind them, and they were met by a number of surviving villagers who held makeshift spears. They also pushed forward Aisha, who like Echo and Rain was still surrounded by her glowing anima. All three were no longer glowing like they had before, but it was still present and taking time to die away. They also noted that they all bore the mark of the Sun on their foreheads.

The men before them demanded to know where their families and friends had been taken. They accused them of being demons, and that they had led the attackers here. They also called them Anathema and demanded that they leave. By this point the group of Exalts were joined by Dorn. The brute was unimpressed, and once more the villagers accused them of being demons. Dorn, sickened by this punched the man and sent him flying, leading to the man slamming to his death on the side of a house.

Drawn by the light and the sounds of arguing, Kheralin and Resplendent Trout joined the group of Exalts. Kheralin demanded to know why the villager was dead, and was horrified to hear that Dorn had killed him. Rain calmed the group and suggested that they come to terms with the fact that they seemed to have become Anathema, but that the legends of the Anathema must be lies since he did feel demonic, but in fact the complete opposite. He asked the others if they had seen the flying citadel, and Echo mentioned that the only places to have such flying ships were the Haslanti and their hot air balloons, and of course Lookshy and its collection of First Age sky ships. Dorn also mentioned that only in the far North that he had seen crossbows, but clearly their attackers were not from the Haslanti League. Rain explained that the attacker’s mode of arrival bore the same language, or a variant, of Old Realm. However, it was similar to that which Rain had seen on the ancient buildings of Khacin, in particular the arena known as the Circle of Blood.

It was as they were discussing this that some of the group noted a small bird made of crystal land upon the shrine made of twisted metal. The bird unfolded and formed a man with avian features and composed of blue crystal. This figure presented itself as Sapphire Talon, the local god of the village, and that he had been waiting for the Exalts for a long long time. He explained that he was once privy to the Loom of Fate and that he learnt that he must wait in the village for their arrival. Rain felt contempt for this god. How dare such a being put fate above the needs of the villagers. Sapphire Talon simply said that it was for a greater good and that even the Loom of Fate had not predicted everything. He commented that there were six of them, and that there should have just been 5. He also noted that they missing one of their circle, the Zenith caste.

Sapphire explained that the kingdom of Khacin has a prophecy concerning them, which was belived false, while another prophecy has formed the backbone of the Khacin faith. Rain knew of by hear the prophecy that Khacin clung to.

And cometh the times of the

Blackened Suns, the fears of the past.

And in the heart of the den shall

They clash.

Blood shall pour, grey to crimson,

And the Tiger’s roar shall sing out

The end.

This prophecy was written by one of the first priest of the Grey Tiger when Khacin was founded. By this false prophecy now makes more sense if fate is being altered. The false prophecy was written by a son of the royal bloodline of Khacin. He was blinded and after this event had written many such prophecies in his madness.

For the ship is lost as the stars flow

The Sun shall rise in its path, its light will show,

And they cometh, the key piercing the loss

And it shall cometh, its maker, and with its host,

Shall the hunter weep with tears of

Grey silver, in the time of fears.

Sapphire Talon then handed over to Trout a disc of jade. It was made up of concentric rings and bore the language of the Old Realm upon it. Sapphire Talon said that it was theirs and that his task was done. As he crumbled to dust and nothing more the disc opened up to form a globe of these rings rotating. It glowed with essence and showed the stars as they were now, and for a moment flickered to show the stars as Rain knew they should be.

Rain asked for the others to help with the burial of the villagers, and the survivors looked on and eventually helped. Rain salted the bones and committed their bodies to the 5 Dragons and the Grey Tiger. With respect to the dead invaders Rain found that behind the masks they were human, but upon their foreheads were gems. Aisha pulled one out, noting how it had been attached by prongs that were driven in. Aisha was also able to tell that the crystal was similar to a Yasal crystal, and so as a test Rain suggested that they leave the body out while the others are salted and cremated. As night fell and passed they seemed to confirm their theory that somehow the crystal had captured the soul.

In the morning, the group gathered together to leave the village for the town of Turg. It was 2 days travel on horse. Arriving in Turg they found the town was in the grip of carnival fever as the excitement was growing surrounding the annual martial arts tournament in Khacin. In the streets people were watching show fights, fire breathers and knife jugglers. There was much talk of the town heroes who would be going to take part in the tournament.

Dorn had gone into the town on his own, as it was thought a better option that the troupe split up for their own safety. Dorn was initially stopped by the guards but eventually let through as they recognized him as the once famous gladiator. Rain got Aisha and Echo in as Rain once more acted like the monk he once was, blessing the guards as they passed. Kheralin and Trout simply passed in as Kheralin showed the guards her badge of office. The two of them then made their way directly to the mayor’s house where she got an audience.

The rotund and belching mayor listened to her words in horror. He mentioned the beams of light that the night watch had seen a few nights back, and he said that he would dispatch scouts to go and see the village to confirm her news. But while they wait the mayor asked that they and any companions of theirs should remain in the town and so he gave her some money to pay for lodgings.

Meanwhile Echo was in a bar drinking and smoking. The last few days had been eventful and he had to write. But what should he write? It was while sitting there he heard something in the crowd. A voice. And it spoke as if right next to him. It spoke the word ‘Anathema’. But as he looked about he saw no one. Moments later he was joined by Aisha and Rain who had become concerned that their lumbering brute of a friend may be saying too much.

In another bar Dorn was engaged in a drinking game with a local god, Red Pelt. Both the god and Exalt were getting very very drunk. The others had found them and Rain called upon his anima powers to cloak himself and thus spike Red Pelt’s drink. The god collapsed and then soon after Dorn collapsed.

***

Overlooking the ruins of the city of Thorns watched a cloaked figure. It looked on with a mask of ice. In his obsidian chamber he was disturbed by the presence of another. His fingers cracked and turned in upon themselves, his hands inverting, and the mask upon the rear of his head came to life. The Mask of Winters beckoned his servant forward. His servant spoke and begged for forgiveness that they had not recovered the missing. But the servant offered something to the Mask. Into the Mask’s large hands the servant placed a gem, the same as that which Aisha had taken from the dead raiders. The Mask looked at the gem.

‘Interesting...’, and the Mask gave a long cackle.

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Episode 1- Part 2 – The Sins of the Past

Kheralin and Brilliant Light of the Woods (the player retconned the name resplendent trout) where outside the inn in Turg. They could hear the patrons shouting Dorn's name. Inside they found a packed crowd about a table where there were two men passed out surrounded with empty flagons. They spotted Falling Rain, Aisha and Red Echo. All were appalled by Dorn's behaviour. Together they carried the drunk barbarian out and to another inn where they were to stay. Kheralin explained that in the morning they had a meeting to attend with the mayor of Turg.

During the rest of the evening the group sat and talk at a bar, while Kheralin remained at the inn to watch over Dorn. It was agreed that the best way to make it to Khacin was under the guise of travellers going to the tournament.

It was while walking back to the inn that the group heard shouts from the mercantile quarter. On the way there they could see that the noise was coming from the Guild compound. But Rain spotted some large hulking figure with long arms leaping away from rooftop to rooftop. Rain chased after, free running up onto the rooftops, and started chasing the creature. But his chase ended quickly, as he stumbled, failed to grab the ledge, and plummeted down into a barrel of rain water run off. Some nearby children helped him out, and tipped over the barrel.

Meanwhile, Aisha and Light spoke to the guards of the compound, and were met by the old, bearded, merchant in charge who assured them it was just a thief. Light was unconvinced and so with Echo waited for Rain. Rain returned to them, soaking wet. Aisha had left to run to the inn to get Kheralin.

Rain and Light sneaked into the compound. They ran from shadow to shadow, but their footprints were spotted. In a flurry of slashes and thrusts, Light and Rain took out the guards. From outside the gate, Echo, who was not one for sneaking about, or running in without backup, noted that the lantern carried by the guards could not be spotted moving between the gaps in the wooden planks of the compound gate. Things had obviously gone wrong.

Rain and Light found where the animals were kept. They could here the whimpers of people and Light could see people in cages. This was illegal and disgusted him, especially considering his recent loss of family. Light strode forward and launched himself at on of the guards, who were sat playing dice. He drove his spear through the first, while the second fled. Rain released the animals while Light released the slaves. They learnt that a monster, or demon had attacked. And that it had metal claws and no eyes.

In the main courtyard of the Guild compound there was chaos as animals an slaves ran about. Light went to find the merchant while Rain went into the buildings looking for things of interest. He found the finance books and a few maps, of which a number of tombs were marked.

Outside Kheralin, Aisha and Dorn arrived. Echo nodded to the compound, shrugging as if he was not to blame. Kheralin leapt up onto the wall effortlessly, and balanced there with her bow at he ready. Dorn charged forward, smashing the gate of its hinges and causing the merchant and his men to look on in terror.

The group held the merchant to account for his actions, and they looked at his stock and his books. In exchange for all he knew and some goods they allowed his misdemeanor to slip. They found out a child had been stolen from the group of slaves, and so the group returned to their inn, now with a cart of swag. Rain suggested that they can now travel to Khacin as traders. Especially since Aisha was a member of the Guild. Rain also suggested they leave as soon as possible. However, Light, still fuming, demanded they save the missing child.

The group made their way out of the town, and out into the dark fields, heading towards the hills where the monster had headed towards. Dorn waited for his familiar, a large brown bear called Grunsen, to join them. With wagon hidden and scent marked by the bear, they headed further into the woods.

For an hour or more they walked over the rough terrain until the bear led them to a cliff face. Along the way they noted large pieces of metal were embedded in the ground and over grown with moss. They walked around to get to the bottom cliff. There the bear acted with caution, and Dorn noted the air was tinged with the smell of death. There was a breeze, and it seemed to come from the entrance of a cave. Going inside the cave mouth they could hear a metallic whirring with the near cyclic sucking and expulsion of air. Using his essence, Rain made his caste mark glow, and it was clear the cave mouth was only recently opened, and inside the cave was in fact a tube like tunnel, ending in a round portal, surrounded in a cog like bulkhead. Beyond was a stairway leading down.

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Episode 1 - Part 3 - Sins of the Past

At the bottom of the stairs the circle found a locked door. The door was more of a portal, sealed by a metal iris. Rain, Light and Aisha examined the door and found a panel next to it. This was the lock. It bore Old Realm runes and a circular slot. Realising it would fit the jade disc that Light was given by Sapphire Talon.

The jade disc came to life, and the rings of the jade disc began to more freely on their own axes. It was then that they noted that each of the rings bore stylized symbols for the sun, moon and the 5 maidens. They set the position of the rings o match the date and the door opened.

Within was a circle entrance hall. At the centre was a curved desk. The desk was topped with a dark glass which was cracked. Along the edges of the glass were ivory like runes. At the desk in a seat was a dessicated corpse. The corpse had some form of mechanical eye augmentation, and metal grills replacing the mouth. The group searched the chamber, with Red Echo uncovering a silver, light weight, bone saw. Aisha found a drawer in the desk and within in some medical scaples, and a sheet of glass. The glass responded to Aisha's touch and Old Realm script scrolled across it.Kheralin touched the desk and found it to came to life, but only for a second as it also displayed some Old Realm script. Rain realises that he must learn this ancient language if he is to better understand how he, the others, the jade disc, the raiders on the village, and this place, fit together.

As Rain looked at one of the three net doors he found the lock responded to his essence. The iris opened and there was a corridor beyond. He and Echo and the others went down it to the next door, which also responded to their essence. Inside was a room that looked like a barracks. There were bunks that were over turned, and more bodies. They were also dessicated. Then the temperature dropped and the spirits of the dead revealed themselves. The group backed out and closed the doors behind themselves. Rain hen realised something. The doors only react to essence, and worse, anathema.

Dorn, on his own, checked another door, tracking the beast. He went down the next corridor and then down a branching corridor, finding a room filled with equipment that made no sense to him. In the centre of the room was some form of glass tank that was cracked and empty.

The others checked the the last route out of the entrance chamber. They found a large room filled with pipes and tanks. The tanks had contained some variety of fluids and chemicals, but were now empty. The chamber however smelled caustic and foul. It was while investigating this chamber they noted that Dorn had gone off on his own, and Kheralin questioned why Rain thought he could give the group orders.

The group followed after Dorn, and found him and he explained the room he had found. They went to the next room and Light was able to pick out some surgical tools, some vials filled with a pinkish fluid, and some sort of syringe gun, and what looked like scrolls that described the essence nodes of a person. he tank in this room was filled with a dark fluid. Light lifted a limb from out of the fluid, and it was studded at the joints with some sort of sockets.

The group continued down the corridor, they found a large room filled with over 2 dozen tanks large enough to contain an ogre. the tanks were not all filled, but those that were contained a green fluid. Running above the tops of the tanks was a gantry, and high above were numerous pipes, cables and hanging equipment more than likely used to operate the tanks and fill them.

Rain went forward to look about while Dorn did the same, but made his way down the nearby stairs and to the main floor of the room. It was then that Echo spotted up above in the pipes a large figure moving. It dropped towards Rain as Echo called out to alert him.

Rain glances up at the shout, his eyes widening. Barely hesitating, he crouches before leaping upwards to meet the monster. He uses his twin shortswords like ice-axes to push himself up and past the creature, his attacks do no damage however, and he starts to fall back to earth. Dorn is on the lower level, walks towards the stairs whist stoking up his battle fury focus. Echo attacks with his sword, dashing past the creature, fails to get past its defences. Kheralin hits it with a charm-enhanced flurry of three arrows that bounced of its hide. Light leapt off a gantry railing striking down with a series of rapid blows. His spear is able to do damage, causing green blood to erupt from the beast's hide.

It was now that it was clear the the creature was hunched over and would be some 10 foot tall. One arm ended in long, sword long metal talons. Its face was concealed by a metal cap, revealing only the lipless mouth of razor sharp teeth. Its body was heavily modified with metal replacements for joints and bones. Luminous green blood could be seen running through the vein of the creature.

Rain lands on the creatures back, grabbing hold with one hand and striking with the sword in the other at the monster's neck. He channelled all his might into the attack but the monster parried with its claws, sending sparks everywhere. In response it lashed out, with Rain using his supernatural speed to dodge out of the way, and Light being lucky not to have been hit. With essence being channelled many of the group were now experiencing anima flares, and the room was lit up. Aisha rushed off to find the child that the monster had taken, and Dorn began to channel his essence, entering a beserker rage. Aisha eventually finds that there are three children suspended in the tanks, with tubes entering their bodies. She breaks them out and began to use her healing charms upon them.

Echo has another go at the beast. Even magically enhanced his great sword is rebuffed. Light starts to shape terrestrial sorcery, with the intent of casting Death of Obsidian Butterflies. Rain realises that he can't hurt the monster with his limited weapons, but also that Light's spell would be prone to disruption, and so makes himself a tempting target. He gets up close to their opponent, dodging its claw strikes, and keeping it in place. Dorn gets up the gantry charges at the melee. Attempts to grab the monster to damage it with his steel guantlet and his spiked harness. But it stays out of his grasp. Keeping out of the melee Kheralin's arrow hits the monster in the neck. The monster lashes out at Echo he barely blocks the claws before using his inhuman ability to leap far out of the way to the ground below the gantry, skidding to a stop.

Light finally unleashes the Death of Obsidian Butterflies, the shaped orb of black stone exploding in the direction of the monster. Dorn is forced to shelter behind the beast's massive, armoured, but rapidly shredded body, whilst Rain again uses seven shadow evasion, leaping up and somersaulting backwards over the clouds of razor-edged death. He lands on a relatively stable part of the now collapsing gantry as the others steps to safety.

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Episode 1 - Sins of the Past - Part 4

With the beast dead, torn to shreds by Light's spell, Death of Obsidian Butterflies, Echo, Dorn and Rain investigated the body. Echo recognizes the the creature is partly composed of magical materials, including a previously unseen type of jade the is coloured yellow. Together they able to ascertain that the creature is in some way made from different parts. Dorn looked around at the rest of the other tanks and found remains of other similar bodies in various stages of modification. The creature then was some form of experiment or construct, where limbs and organs and bones had been replaced. Worse was the fact that the creature had begun as human. However, the magitech was far beyond their understanding and was clearly something from the First Age.

Aisha, Kheralin and Light tend to the children, resuscitating them and removing the needles and tubes that have been inserted into them. Considering what they had seen of the creature and the others in the tanks, the children were to be somehow changed. This meant that there was some original creator but the question was where were they now. It seemed impossible that the creature that they had just fought was capable of doing this all by its self.

Leaving the main chamber the group investigated one the earlier corridors that they skipped before. Within the massive room was a tower in the centre. Lighting arced about above, jumping from conductors and gems. The room resonated with essence. Again Echo had the most insight into the device, stating that the machine was similar to the essence accumulators that are used in Lookshy. In effect the tower was the heart of a manse, and in turn powered the entire complex. Once more the scale and technology and magic was beyond comprehension for the circle. However, Dorn through caution to the wind and attempted to detach a red jewel from its setting on the device. Essence built up and lighting jumped and earthed on Dorn. There was the smell of cooking flesh and burning hair, but Dorn was able to prise the gem off the device. It was then that machine really did go out of control as lightning began to arc erratically. They take off at a run at Kheralin's suggestion. Rain accedes this time.

Light is first off down the tunnel towards the surface, with the others close behind except for Dorn who trailed behind, still stunned by the shock he had received. The entire complex rumbled and shook. The light globes dimmed and soon went out entirely. Though they were plunged into darkness many of the circle still retained their anima flare, and so illuminated the corridors with their caste marks. They rushed to the main door, and as all but Dorn went through the door iris began to close. Rain jammed his sword into the iris to give Dorn enough time to exit, though Rain lost the tip of his sword as the iris cut it to a new razor sharp edge.

Exiting the cave Dorn and Rain were almost caught by the landslide from the cliff face above. Dorn dodged many of the tumbling rocks, while Rain employed his Seven-Shadow Evasion technique. Regrouped, the circle watched on in awe as the hillside collapsed in on itself. A beam of blue light, wrapped in electrical arcs erupted into the sky. It was clear that the circle should move soon before they were spotted.

Wondering back to the wagon, the circle took the children back to safety. They worried what the best way would be of returning them as the circle wanted to attract the least amount of attention as possible. Aisha's use of Stormwind Rider was considered to blatant. Rain, not too concerned about the children, and therefore stayed out of the discussion and so was able to make out movement ahead of them. He quietly warned Echo. Kheralin and Echo both called upon their charm of Monkey Leap Technique to leap up into the branches of the trees above them. Rain is annoyed. His warning was not meant to be used for individual evasion. Kheralin scouted ahead and finds a large group of men with lanterns and weaponry. She reported this back to those on the ground. The group attempted to slip away, but Light stumbled, breaking a twig. Rain asks Kheralin if the group of men are from the village, or if the Guild might have had that many men in town. Aishsa doubted that the Guild had that many resources. Rain motions for everybody to put their weapons aside, and wait calmly, and Echo leapt down, his sword ready behind his back.

The villagers encircled the group of Solar Exalts, initially cautious and hostile. Rain tried to pass themselves off as peaceful travelers, who have come across the children and are returning them to the village. Rain, trying to placate the mob, asked if the parents are with the villagers, as they would like to return the children. Light bowed as he handed over a child. However, a priest of Grey Tiger emerged from the crowd. He is adorned with a necklace of many tiger fangs which shows that he is quite an authority within the faith. He attempted to turn the villagers against the group, and tried to shout down any of their claims, calling them anathema and monsters, deceivers, who have stolen the children. Rain pulled himself together and appealed to the villagers, infusing his words with essence. Driven by his anger at the priest, and being called a boy by this backwoods cleric (he's in his 30's), Rain spoke to the assembled crowd, presenting the group as peaceful in their intentions, and the priest as a fear-monger, only trying to scare the villagers against imaginary monsters so that he can exploit his position of privilege. However, Rain knew that he was in a tight spot, as he felt his command of essence drained and that any further use of his supernatural talents would cause his anima to flare. This would simply confirm their nature and show them as liars and the priest will in turn have won. Luckily, his points are persuasive and start to win the crowd around. Aisha made a social attack against the priest for acting in his own interests, but her words were rebuffed as he pointed her out as a foreigner whose words are poison. Light made an appeal to the villagers as a man of Khacin simply trying to do a good deed. But the priest is scornful, suggesting that Light is the reason his own village of Wai'hl is destroyed. Dorn stood up straight and proud and presented himself as a hero of Khacin. But again the priest just pointed out he is nothing but a barely civilized barbarian from the North. The priest attempted to attack back at Rain, again denouncing them, calling them deceivers. Rain was able to stand firm against these words, but felt his heart beginning to race. Rain shook his head slowly, calmly pointing out of the priest is angry, and irritated, and calling for blood, when it is unnecessary. Who is the monster here then? Rain asked. The priest lost the support of the crowd, who start to drift away back to the village, now more concerned with the rescued children than in making new enemies. The priest too is forced to leave, telling Rain that this is not the end of this. Rain agrees. Rain turns to the rest of the group, and is halfway through the sentence 'I believe that we may have to kill this troubles...", when Red Echo dashed forward, and from behind the un-expecting and defenceless priest cleaved him in two with his greatsword. The priest's body fell into two pieces with blood fountain out. Rain's visible response to this is a single raised eyebrow as Echo walks back cleaning his sword as if nothing important had happened. Rain had anticipated slipping back to the village in the dead of night to do the deed. Or at least try and convince one of the others to do if for him. Although messy, this did speed up the process somewhat. If the group could be turned against priests who stood in their way, then they would indeed be a useful tool against the priestly bureaucracy of Khacin.

In the dark of the woods, with the circle of Exalts gone, the crumpled form of the priest rested in halves. Then, the dead fingers of the holy man twitched, and his eyes rolled back open. The priest smiled and then began to laugh. 'Yes, I will be trouble. It seems that you all have a penchant for causing chaos and disrupting order. Next time you won't get away so lightly. I WILL BE THE ONE LEFT STANDING ECHO AND RAIN!'.

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Episode 2 - River of Stars - Part 1

The circle of Solar Exalts continued their journey from Turg, and onto the city of Khacin. Concern weighed heavy on their shoulders as they contemplated their nature and the reaction of others to their existence. Most rode upon their horses, as Aisha directed the wagon with Falling Rain riding along. Kheralin, such was her nature and her profession, scouted ahead to look for signs of danger.

At night the circle camped. It was a few days yet before they reached Khacin and they were still unsure what they should so once they arrived there. There was the issue of the prophecy that had been thought to be true and now was somehow false, and the true prophecy lay within the city. Rain and Aisha spent their nights talking about the gods and spirits of the land, with Rain explaining some of the details of the Immaculate philosophy, while also coming to terms with this new god that had spoken to him directly. Dorn was able to attend to the dietary needs of the circle, the barbarian being an expert hunter. He was also tired of eating rice constantly, something that Red Echo has no issue with considering his upbringing in the martial state of Lookshy. Dorn approached Echo about how he might be able to raise an army, and if Echo would help him in this endeavour at the city of Nexus. Dorn simply saw his exaltation as a chance for revenge against his kinsmen in the Haslanti League. Echo of course knew that the barbarian could not lead an army, but that Nexus was also important to his own plan of assuming power within his mercenary company.

Two days had past and the circle could see over the hill rising towers of smoke. Kheralin and Resplendent Light of the Wood rode forward to see what had happened. Kheralin was aware that there was a small village on this route, and was horrified to find, that like her own village, that it had been raised to the ground. Kheralin called the circle to join them, as Light rode down. The others noted this impetuous charge and followed, more wary of the scene that lay before them. Rain questioned if this was the work of those that had attacked Wai'hl, or perhaps the work of the Hyena men savages that would raid the country.

The circle found that the village was a smoking ruin. Men, women, and children lay dead all around. Many were impaled by arrows. Dorn looked for tracks and found that the raiders had come from the east, and that they were men, and not beastmen. Light, who had already been there for a few minutes held an arrow he had taken from the body of one of the dead. He also pointed out those soldiers who were killed by the villagers. Their armour and livery showed them to be soldiers of the nearby rival of Khacin - Ashuriana. The wood of the arrow matched that of Ashuriana, as the rival state made heavy use of archery and spears in their own forces.

Dorn continued his search for tracks, finding that there were tracks leading out of the village into the north. Kheralin and Echo remained in the village as the others followed the tracks out of the village. It was not long until they found that the tracks, which were those of men and something on a sledge, led them to an excavation. It led down into the earth some distance before stopping at a hole in a revealed wall of some buried tomb or building. Large stones had been pulled from the wall to make the hole, and upon them were hieroglyphs from the First Age.

With some trepidation Light, Rain and Aisha made their way down, while Dorn proceeded straight inside. The moment Dorn entered the chamber he realised he was surrounded by three men. He lashed out, striking one and found that the figure just crumbled to white dust. When the others joined Dorn in the chamber they found that the men were composed entirely of something akin to chalk. However, it was clear that they were dressed as the raiders and that they had the look of terror on their faces. Something had turned them into chalk. About the chamber there were other mounds of white powder, no doubt the result of others having been turned to this powder and collapsing. The troupe began to search the chamber.

Meanwhile, back at the village Kheralin found on one of the soldiers a small pendant, upon which was some form of script that she could not read, and it certainly was not the language used by Ashuriana. Echo looked at it and knew immediately what it was. It was River Tongue, and more importantly it was a dog tag. The soldier was not from Ashuriana but from Nexus, and belonged to the Rabid Wolves. With this revelation it was clear that someone was trying to cover up something else with the attack and make it look like the work of Ashuriana.

At the excavation the others had searched the chamber. Rain realised that there were certain geomantic principles in action, designed not to channel essence but instead dissipate it and contain something. In the centre of the chamber there were signs that something large had sat in the centre of the room. Rain did find some old texts written in Old Realm, and also the remains of some sort of device. It was a helix made of crystal, but broken in half, and with it a blood drop shaped gem, the size of an egg. It was a dark garnet like colour. As Rain picked it up it began to glow and pulsate, matching his own heart beat. Rain pocketed it and kept it to himself.

Light recovered amongst the other pieces of decayed and broken artefacts, more books that contained schematics of strange devices of technology. Aisha however found a pair of red jade gauntlets, patterned with regular geometric shapes. Light tried them on, and by channelling his essence he was able to activate them, the jade gave of a glow of energy. They were a weapon or armour of some form. Dorn had recovered another weapon, but made of a different material. It was a short sword, with one straight edge, and the other edge as a square tooth blade. The tip was cut square and the entire blade had straight grooves running up its length. The blade itself was composed of a dark black steel. Light exchanged with Dorn the greaves, and then once more channelled his essence into the blade. Immediately the blade changed, the grooves pulsed a deep red, and the blade itself began to grow cold, so cold that ice formed along the edge of the blade. When finally awake the blade screamed a wail of pain.

It was in some of the papers that the group had recovered that the troupe that Rain spotted what looked like a schematic, and there in the design was the helix pattern with the gem. It was clearly a device powered by a hearthstone, or many.

Kheralin and Echo stood at the top of the excavation as the others exited the chamber. They discussed what they found as they returned to the village. It was now apparent that someone, under the guise of Ashuriana, had come here knowingly to take this device. If it was able to cause such destruction then it is a danger that has to be stopped. As they approached the village they saw a beam of light rise up into the sky from somewhere in the distance. The beam split the clouds. Fearing the worst the circle took cover, only for a strong wind to pass. Now fearing what the weapon could do in the wrong hands Aisha summoned the Storm Wind Rider, and with Rain, Light and Kheralin, travelled in the tornado to the site of the beam of light.

As the tornado raced across the landscape and across the river, Chi Alahan, to the site, they could see that there was an encampment of men. Kheralin lepted out of the twister and landed a distance from the camp so that she could use her bow. The others continued straight into the heart of the camp and upon arrival found that the camp had also been turned to chalk. The only weapons left untouched by the magic were those not worn by a soldier. The soldier were indeed mercenaries, their armour alien to this region of the world, more like the desert raiders to the south of the Scavenger Lands.

Meanwhile, Echo and Dorn sat waiting in the camp. Dorn found some unbroken bottles of sake in the village and drank as Echo sat and wrote. They then both spotted something moving, and to their shock, down the road, was the priest that Echo had only killed just days earlier. The man stood and smiled and then walked off. Echo and Dorn followed but found that he had just disappeared.

At the encampment the others found clues to a contact that the mercenaries had been working for. It was clear the weapon had been moved, and quickly in the time it had taken for them to travel there. It was then that they spotted a dark shape where the device had once stood. It flapped to a unseen wind. A cold wind blew from it and Rain realised what it was. It was a gateway to not just the Underworld, but the Void. Rain then looked up and saw that the sky held a reddish sun. With fear running through his veins he knew that they were in a Shadow Land. Seeing the need to now act fast, and knowing that the device had been taken down stream towards Khacin. Light summoned a spirit messenger, a blue glittering cherub, and tasked it to inform the Dorn and Echo to take the horses and leave the cart, and meet them at the crossing upstream from where they can ride on to the nearest port and try and find this weapon.

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Episode 2 - River of Stars - part 2

Red Echo and Dorn mounted up and with the other horses in tow raced off to to the river and the bridge down stream where they would meet the others. Meanwhile, noting that they were loosing daylight, Rain, Aisha, Kheralin and Light made their escape to a safe place outside the Shadowland. Before journeying anymore Aisha rested. She was able to sleep for a short while and allow herself to replenish her essence.

Echo and Dorn raced across the landscape, along what roads they could find. To their south was the river of Chi Alahan, and somewhere on the other side the others in the borderlands to the kingdom of Ashuriana. Echo and Dorn crossed small bridges and rounded hills and forgotten towers until they had to slow as there were people in the road.

Drawing closer they could see it was a gathering of locals, young and old, and they were stoning a man. The man was dressed in armour and the garb of the Ashuriana army. Dorn drew up to the villagers and demanded to know what they were doing. The oldest man there explained that the soldier had stolen food from their village and that he was from the rival kingdom. Dorn knew he wanted to ask the man some questions and asked the villagers to stop, but they refused. Dorn then bellowed in rage, striking a fearsome pose upon his steed. The villagers fled, and the soldier, who was bleeding from the forehead, thanked them. However, Dorn prevented the man from leaving, and knocked him out with a simple gloved backhand, before resting the soldier on one of the spare steeds.

Now refreshed and re-energized Aisha set about summoning another whirlwind, and once more used it to carry herself, Light, Rain and Kheralin off to the bridge. Her essence infused her body and her anima banner exploded into life, and the swirling winds lift herself into the eye of the storm, and also lifted the others up before speeding off across the landscape.

At the bridge, Dorn and Echo sat about waiting for the others to arrive. Dorn woke the soldier up with some water and tried to get some information out of him. They had the man bound so they had time to talk without fear of him running off. Dorn was able to find out that the man was a member of a mercenary force, the Rabid Wolves. He explained that they had been hired to get some weapons from inside the territory of Khacin. However, he little more and survived as he was a scout for the army and so was outside the main camp when the weapon activated.

Soon the wind picked up and Dorn and Echo could see a twister approaching, and at its heart a glowing being. It stopped nearby, having crossed the river, and from it came forth Light, Aisha, Rain and Kheralin. Now regrouped they continued questioning the mercenary. From him they worked out that the device was to be carried away by a group arriving on a yeddim. The circle then wondered what to do with the soldier. Should they release him, or hand him over? They agreed that he should stay with them, and that he would be best working for them. They cut his bonds and Rain handed over his damaged blade while Light gave Rain in return the black steel sword.

Now as a group the circle rode towards the next town, a port town on the river, called Sucha. The new recruit rode with Rain and as they traveled Rain spoke to the soldier, seeing the chance to explain his new religion.

At the town of Sucha they were able to enter with Kheralin's badge of office as a messenger of the kingdom. They had also already removed the livery of Ashuriana from the soldier. In the town Dorn, Light and Echo headed to the large inn near the docks to see what information they could find out. Meanwhile Kheralin headed to the town hall to speak to the other officers there and to find out what they knew. Rain accompanied her. Aisha went down to the docks to speak to the office of the Guild. Kheralin found out little more, while Aisha discovered that the yeddim had not arrived, but that there a few ships that had high security, which had annoyed the Guild as they did not want to hire any workers to load or unload the ship. Echo found out little more while Dorn and Light had taken to the fighting ring, and between them had made some money gambling on Dorn's fighting. Dorn was playing the drunken fool as Light worked the crowd.

Aisha and Rain headed to the inn and found Echo drinking alone, while they spotted Dorn fighting. Meanwhile Kheralin had spotted something strange. She had seen some shadowy being moving through the town. It leaned in on conversations and moved through solid objects. It was intangible and unseen by others. Kheralin followed it and found that it headed to the farmland side of the town, and to the mausaleom. There the shade met another 4, and silently they gather before splitting up again. She continued to follow one that headed back into town and to the docks.

Rain left the circle and the inn, and headed to the docks, calling upon his anima to cloak himself in darkness. As he left the inn there was the sound of a horn and from across the river were three yeddim,waving the banner of a merchant Guild. They circle knew that one of these creatures carried the weapon, and so set about creating a distraction.

Aisha worked her alchemy, and made a few small fire crackers. These they handed to some childre that were out late at night, and paid them too throw them as the second yeddim entered the town. They did so, and chaos ensued. The yeddim lurched into each other and nearby buildings, sending their guard horsemen flying.

At the docks Kheralin had used her charms to simply walk by the guards. She made her way to the main deck of the ship, following the shade. There she could smell many herbs, such as violets and saffron, but also the stench of rotting flesh. On the boat, also hidden, was Rain. He stood at the door to the captains cabin and looked in. There he saw a middle aged man, sat with an abacus, dressed in fine robes. He had black hair swept back, and a fine black moustache and goatee. He looked up as if hearing something distasteful and sneered.

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Episode 2 - River of Stars - Part 3

On the deck of the boat, Falling Rain and Kheralin were unaware of each other as they were both cloaked by their own respective charms and anima banner. Rain could see inside of the captain’s cabin that there was one man sat doing paper work. He was middle aged and was calculating things on an abacus. Rain made his way inside. He drew his hood up and concealed his features as best as possible. He walked up to the captain’s desk and informed him that the delivery is delayed. The captain had a look of worry on his face. But Rain had failed to notice that there was someone else present. Behind, Rain heard a large book close, and turned to see a man who was somewhat younger,

with a bald head, pale skin, spectacles, dark blue robes with white detailing, and a left hand that was gloved in cruel metal talons. The man adjusted his spectacles and asked how Rain knew of this, while also holding the door open for Rain to leave the cabin. Together they walked back out onto the deck and exchanged a few words. As they exited the cabin Kheralin watched them, before deciding that she should go down below deck.

Back near the west gate, the yeddim were still in chaos. One had toppled over and men were being trampled by the oafish creatures. Cargo fell from their holdings, and a crate smashed open revealing the metal octahedron - the ancient weapon. Immediately it began to glow into life, the runes illuminated with essence, and the temperature around began to drop. Aisha ran forward, hurriedly trying to summon the whirlwind in the vain hope that she might get the weapon away. Dorn was behind one of the yeddim unable to see what had happened, and Light and Echo witnessed one of the guards sling their prone horse to one side. The guard was no ordinary man, as they saw him replace his helmet where his head should have been. The helm filled with cold air and vapour was exhaled from the armour. But it was all too late. The weapon activated.

Back on the boat Rain and the man with the taloned gauntlet looked on as the town was illuminated by the weapon being activated. The man sighed and pushed up his spectacles on his pointed nose.

'So it seems that weapon was late as you said. No matter. At least it works. Saves me the trouble of raising this place to the ground.'

Rain made to leave, but this was to lure the man in to a false sense of security and turned just in time to see the bald headed man reach into his cloak, revealing a ring of pure black steel. The surface of it flowed with agonized, screaming faces. In a swift action the disc was hurled at Rain.

The weapon activated as Light and Aisha fled for cover. Aisha leapt off, hurling herself away and into the river, reaching up just quick enough to grab her familiar, her companion kingfisher. Light however was able to outpace the blast. The weapon sucked in all the essence before hurling it all out once more. A growing field of whiteness rushed out. All flesh, all life touched by it was immediately nullified, transmuted, turned into the lifeless white chalky substance. Yeddim and man were killed alike. The ghostly soldier was unharmed by the field, but Dorn was still in the blast. The wall of energy surged towards the hulking barbarian. Dorn braced himself, and forced essence through his body, just as the energy wave hit and flowed over him, leaving his skin briefly smouldering. The wave then died away after 30 or so yards, leaving people standing still, now changed into lifeless material.

The taloned man activated his black chakram. Serrated blades extend all along the edge of the ring, making it resemble a buzz saw. With little effort the chakram was hurled indirectly towards Rain, with the blade moving impossibly to strike at him. Rain is just able to block it and send it up into the rigging of the boat, causing the chakram to slice through the ropes and wood, causing the sails to fall towards the deck.

Rain activates his charm, Thunderbolt Attack Prana. Crouching, with essence coursing through his body, he leapt forward, his twin swords lunging forward like the fangs of a tiger. Golden essence rippled along the blades and cut into the robes of the taloned man. In response the anima caste mark of the man showed itself. It was a bloody representation of the same mark that Light bore, that of the sun at twilight. A wall of bloody streamers erupted up around the blood marked man, and this wall repelled the force of essence from Rain. However, Rain found his mark and took first blood. The death knight before Rain seemed impressed before launching another attack.

On shore, Dorn noted the weapon was powering up once more. He could not risk the weapon once more activating and killing more people. He summoned all his power and charged forward to the weapon. His large, essence crackling fist landed upon the metal octahedron in a vicious uppercut. The impact caused an explosion of power, a shockwave of air being displaced as the weapon, with an ear splitting clang, and the weapon was launched up and away into the sky, quickly becoming a shining star.

Light raced to Echo and pulled him along as he made his way to the docks. Along the way Light spotted that all around the town's people were being attacked. The dead had come for them. Echo laughed it off as just his imagination, a manifestation of his fractured mind. But Light told him it was not imaginary, and to get a grip. He sent Echo off to help the others while he engaged the hordes of zombies to save the towns folk.

Below deck Kheralin found that the ship was crewed by the dead. Zombies and the animated dead shambled around, tending to the ship or simply loitering. But then she heard above deck the ringing of metal. She knew a fight had broken out. She raced back up and called upon her essence to send her leaping at the death knight, bringing her sword down at him. But he effortlessly dodged away, and Kheralin's sword cut into the wood of the deck. The death knight launched the chakram again, causing it to ricochet between Rain and Kheralin. Kheralin dodged under the buzz saw, while Rain darted about, fuelled by essence, so that he was nothing but a blur. Rain leapt back, over the chakram, forming an arc of golden essence, grabbing the sails and throwing them to the deck. The chakram sought its target and sliced through the sails, rending them apart. From this cover of shredded material Rain burst forth, swinging viciously at the death knight. Though the death knight moved as if composed of a cloud of shadows and bats, Rain's swords struck home, revealing the soul steel armour beneath the robes of the death knight.

'I can do this all night, and my friend hasn't even broken a sweat!', Rain taunts, causing the knight to growl and launch the chakram again.

Kheralin used her Monkey Leap Technique to vault upwards into the rigging of the ship, finding a vantage point from which to stand. She fired off a volley of arrows which burst into flames, lighting the sails. Below the undead crew came out onto the deck, moved to go ashore. But as the dead shambled off the boat while Rain once more dodged the soul steel chakram. Rain again and again called upon his Seven

Shadow Evasion technique, moving his head out of the way of the flying buzz saw. Anima banners had flared to full life, Rain's banner

manifesting in the form of a perfected androgynous golden humanoid [looking somewhat like da Vinci's vitruvian man], and the death knight's as a bloody mandala of screaming runes. Rain again strikes, channelling his willpower through his conviction, knowing that his opponent, a callous murderer, striking at Rain's own people must be stopped. Only the recently acquired soul steel blade in his right is able to reach past the death knights defences, and even then the damage is mostly turned aside by the death knight's sanguine shield.

Meanwhile Echo ran to the docks, and along the boardwalk to the boat, now on fire with and with the undead shambling around ship. Echo let loose his short sword, flinging it towards one of the undead, before lunging forward with his great sword, scattering the undead and retrieving his sword from the immobile corpse.

All then looked up as the sky was illuminated once more. Almost a mile away the weapon activated. A great sphere of essence expanded and then retracted, causing an earth shattering implosion, tearing the hillside apart.

Many miles away the light of the blast caught the attention of another. In the blackened ruins of Wai'hl a lone priest looked up to see the star light of the weapon. With a small action he summoned a lone drake like spirit that flittered about.

'Send a message to my friends. I know where the Anathema are heading towards. The hunt must move to Khacin.'

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Episode 2 - part 4

Dorn, having punched the ancient weapon and sending it flying away, turned his attention to the undead soldier. The being had been unaffected by the weapon, and was dressed head to toe in black steel. His helmet had two horn protruding and his armour was decorated with furs. Dorn charged this creature, which in turn face down the barbarian. The ghostly warrior drew its sword and made to chop off Dorn's head. However, the weapon barely bit into the barbarian's flesh, so suffused with essence that it was. Dorn reached out and gripped the warrior in a bear hug. His great armoured gloves crushing the soldier against his cruel razor harness. Dorn did not stop moving though. He lifted the soldier up off his feet and continued onwards, his intent to drive the ghost through the wall of the nearest building.

At the docks Red Echo faced down the horde of zombies. HIs great sword swung in large, cleaving arcs, rending apart the shambling dead. Before him was the ship from where they had come, which was now illuminated by the flames that were engulfing the deck. He could just about make out the glow auras of the combatants on board. One was surrounded by a gold and purple corona, darting about so fast that he left a visible, shimmering blur. The other was surrounded by a miasma of blood which rippled and formed screaming ancient runes.

On deck, dodging flaming debris and the undead crew, Rain, armed with his twin swords, shot forward again and leapt up to deal a devastating blow the death knight. The master of the dead moved with inhuman grace, his figure becoming nothing but a cloud of bats. But Rain hit his mark and cut in at a weak point in the death knight's soul forged armour. In retaliation the death knight unleashed his buzz saw chakram. If flew through the air at Rain, slicing through zombies that stood in the way, with Rain using one zombie as a shield. High in the rigging of the ship, Kheralin readied her bow and aimed at the death knight, unleashing a number of arrows. They thudded into his figure leaving the death knight to stumble back as Rain once more renewed his assault. The twin swords of Rain cut deep, and the death knight staggered back, clutching at his wounds.

'This fight is not over Rain!', the wound necromancer cried, before turning tail and running to the edge of the ship and jumping over board.

Rain ran after and looked out onto the river. In the night and the river it would be impossible to find the man.

Meanwhile, in the town, Light slew scores of zombies, leaping forward with his spear and impaling the dead upon it. With all his skill Light defended the town’s folk against the dead.

Aisha clambered out of the river in time to see Dorn charge through a building with the ghostly warrior in his grip. She pulled from her cloak the yellow Yasal crystal and ran forward, dodging through the crowd of zombies and towns folk fighting. She caught up with the barbarian and his victim and leapt forward, touching the Yasal crystal to the head of the ghost. As Dorn ran on the armour in his grip came apart as the occupant was captured. The ghostly essence was sucked from the armour and into the crystal.

With death knight and ghost now defeated, the zombies lost their will o move and fight, and soon were eventually all destroyed. Many of the villagers looked on at Rain and Dorn and the others, as essence use had resulted in them showing their true form. However, this did not stop the circle's attempts to bring calm to the town. Light set about tending to the injured, with Aisha aiding with the disposal of the zombies and the dead. Kheralin and Echo worked to organize the town militia and ensure that there were no other threats to deal with. Meanwhile, Dorn and Rain rode out of town to the hillside where the weapon had exploded, almost 2 miles away.

At the impact site, the one side of the hill had been melted away and turned into a crater of cooling stone, not unlike marble. There at the heart of the crater were the remains of the weapon, now a number of pieces of warped metal and shattered crystal. Rain moved quickly over the still molten rock to the weapon and checked that it was out of action, removing many parts that were of value.

*****

Looking out over the city of Thorns, the Mask of Winters looked on. Cold breath billowed from the silver, snarling mask that he used, while the golden, laughing face looked on from the back of his head. He knew that a death knight kneeled to his side awaiting his instruction, but he would make them wait a little longer.

'So?', asked the Deathlord.

'Master. We have found them.'

'At last. Send the whore to observe them. We are in no rush to recover them. Is there any news of the Locusts?'

'Master, there have been a number of sightings of their fortress. They have attacked a number of places across the River Provinces. They are clearly looking for something.'

'Good. Keep me informed. When the time is right you will face your cousins in battle.'

'I look forward to it master.'

*****

Episode 3 - The Lair of the Tiger

The circle has chartered a boat to leave the town, and after a day on the river they had disembarked, returning to the road. Rain was hoping that this would allow them to shake anyone who was following them. Fortunately, Aisha had bound the captain to their cause and he was pledged never to reveal them.

The road to Khacin now was getting busy. The main road that they followed wound through the outer farm land of the city state, leading to the looming spires of Khacin. The spires were a remnant of the First Age, and about the lighting crackled constantly. There were 5 in total, and one of their number was shorter, having been broken in half. They were of the same dark metal that was mined in Wai'hl, and was also the same material that the Khacin arena, the Circle of Blood, was made from.

Under foot the road had changed colour. It was now made up of cobalt blue stones. Rain knew that this was the famous Blue Road that led out of Khacin, and south towards the greater roads to Nexus. But within this patch of the Hundred Kingdoms, the Blue Road was a major trade route. The road was busy with merchants and travellers. The upcoming tournament was a major event in the city state, and many would travel to see the event and receive the blessing of the Grey Tiger.

It was while riding down this road that the circle was approached by an old, wizened man, dressed in worn blue robes, and with equally blue eyes. He used a long staff to help his walking. Rain instantly knew who was talking to them. It was the god of the road, Crescendo of Jagged Stone.

The god talked to the group, making it known that he was aware of the change in fate that they had received. But he also emphasised that it was important that they live in the now, and not fear the future, or mourn the past, for those things were gone, or uncertain. For once the circle seemed impressed by a god, especially since this one showed true concern and insight.

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Exalted Episode 3 - part 2

The circle of Solar Exalts entered the city of Khacin through the alabaster white walls. This was the first ring of walls that defended the small outer villages and farms. The Blue Road led on towards the main walls of Khacin. The festival atmosphere was increasing, and once they had entered the city itself, the circle was met by the roar of the crowd. All about were slavers, traders, warriors from many kingdoms. All were here for the Festival of the Grey Tiger, the great festival of ritual combat. The circle could see ahead the looming form of the Circle of Blood. This dark metal arena stood over all the buildings around, and from it hung the red flags of Khacin, proudly displaying the emblem of the Claw of Khacin.

From here, in the main square, the circle split up. Kheralin and Echo, using their charms, vanished into the crowd. Kheralin headed off to listen in on the rumours being whispered in the bars of the upper classes. Echo however went off to cross the river to the army barracks and find out more about the military situation of the kingdom. Meanwhile, Dorn headed off to sign up to the tournament, taking Aisha with him to act as his manager, while Light went off into the markets to go get a better weapon. Rain however had someone to see, his mother.

Rain's mother, Unfettered Emerald, lived in one of the more impressive, upper class, private walled homes. She was the political mind of the family, while his father was more content with tending to the manor house gardens. Rain knocked on the door to his family home, aware that he could be spotted by those still hunting for him. The first servant that answered did not recognise him, while the main servant of the house did. Rain was eventually let back into his home, and he met with his mother. She was a haughty woman, with luxurious clothes and pinched features and red hair. They had much to talk about regarding the cult of followers that had now grown up about his mother and the revelations that he had discovered. But first Rain need to wash and redress in something more fitting.

Meanwhile Aisha and Dorn were registered for the tournament. Aisha was able to haggle for Dorn, and they were given a private apartment for the tournament, and access to an apothecary. They were also to get sex slaves for the evening, and Dorn was to start at a higher ranking in the tournament given his own experience.

At the apartment having made themselves at home, the brothel mistress arrived, and with her were 6 slaves. There 3 young men, and 3 young women. One of the men was a lizard beastmen, while one of the women was a bird like person, with feathers and wide eyes. Dorn selected 2 of the men, and two of the women, and left Aisha outside while he attended to his own pleasure. While Dorn enjoyed himself Aisha was confronted by a pleasant monk who offered his blessings for Dorn.

Now washed and dressed in clothing more fitting of the nobles of Khacin, Rain was once more speaking with his mother, intent on meeting the others of the cult. Emerald was carefully pouring tea for both of them when the master slave entered the room to announce they had guests. It was Echo, Kheralin and Light. Together they all dined together at a low table, drinking cordials, and eating fine meats and fruit.

While talking Echo explained that there were some rumours of Ashuriana forces gathering, but that this was not made public what with the tournament in full swing. There was also rumour of Dragon Bloods from Greyfalls in the court of Khacin. Apparently they were here to see the tournament and bring good tidings from the Scarlet Throne. As the circle discussed these matters, Emerald expressed some interest in Echo, and was obviously flirting with him. She also mentioned that she would be going to the evening tournament fights and that the others were welcome to come along. Rain was not sure he wished to attend, and would instead wait for the cult members to come to the family home later in the evening.

That early evening Aisha and Dorn left the apartment, now a mess after Dorn's antics, and headed out to the private estates and Rain's home. It was then that Aisha realized that they were being followed.

Part 3

The gang of bandits leapt upon Dorn and Aisha and Dorn's bear, Grunsen. Aisha drew her sword, dodging the blades of their attackers. The bear growled out in pain as his hide was cut. But Dorn, though hit by a blade, took the advantage. He summoned his essence and in a pulverising blow sent one of the men flying back into another, sending both into a wall and crushing their bodies with the impact. Aisha called upon the powers of the trapped ghost within her Yasal crystal, and from her mouth erupted a stream of foul liquid. However, the gang were not so soft hearted and fought on.

Now surrounded, Grunsen lashed out, gripping one man in his jaws. Dorn summoned more of his essence and landed another blow, smashing the man back against a wall, causing his head to snap back and his skull to crack open against the wall in a big spray. Aisha, seeing her chance, called again upon the ghost in the crystal, and through her own mouth it spoke the ancient words of death, awakening the hungry ghost in the dead outlaw. The body, though broken and crumpled, shambled to life and attacked its living compatriots. The outlaws knew their number was up, turning tail and running, but not before Dorn launched the shambling ghost at them.

Looking around, the fight over, and their caste marks glowing, Dorn and Aisha fled the streets, making their way to Rain's house.

Rain had remained at the house, while his mother, Unfettered Emerald, Kheralin and Red Echo had taken rickshaws and gone to the arena, the Circle of Blood.

At the house Rain welcomed Dorn and Aisha and informed them of his plans, and that to ensure their safety at the house he would be doing some dangerous magic later, and that Dorn would be useful if it went out of control.

At the arena Emerald led the others to the private boxes, and from there, in luxury, they watched the tournament. Many fights were taking place in the arena. All around, in the warm evening, were hundreds of spectators, cheering for their champions and heroes as the fights took place. Weapons rung out in the arena, and crowd roared as blood was split upon the sand. Once all the evening fights were over the main event for the evening began. Into the arena a demon beast with many arms and eyes, skin a pale blue and shifting with screams, lumbered out. It was almost 10 feet tall and towered over the fighter who walked out to face it. Bearing a spear and rippling with muscle was a warrior of Khacin. The fight started, with the two combatant trading devastating blows. The anima banner of the man exploded, revealing him to be of the Earth caste, a Dragon Blooded, and with each attack the earth trembled.

With the fight over and the demon beast dead, the crowds began to filter out of the arena. On departing Unfettered Emerald was talking to many of the nobles of the city. It was here that Red Echo spotted a person that made his stomach turn, and yet he found himself drawn to her. The woman was dressed in little more that chains that barely concealed her petite frame. She had voluminous black hair, and her cloak was a deep crimson. She presented herself as The Lady of Darkness in Bloodstained Robes. She made it known that she was in Khacin as an ambassador of Thorns, and brought the blessings of the dead of Khacin and of the Deathlord, The Mask of Winters. Echo could barely contain his rage seeing this woman, a representative of the forces who had killed his best friend.

Meanwhile, Kheralin had worked her way around the gathered nobles and found out the identities of the Wyld Hunt. There was an Immaculate priest, Ascendant Hawk of Fall, of House V'neef, a scholar, Luminous Feather of House Cathak, a general, Solemn Topaz of House Peleps, and an ambassador, Ribbon of Silver Hand of House Seus.

Back at Rain's home, in the basement, Rain had constructed the summoning circle, with the help of Aisha. Aisha looked on in wonder, and Light was also intrigued. Dorn simply sat, drinking from the house wine barrels.

Using all his power Rain opened the gateway to Malfeas, to the demon realm of the Green Sun. He spoke the ancient words of power that had shackled the Primordials to their prison, and from the gateway, a twitching hole of flesh and blood, came forth a Blood Ape. The beast looked into the eyes of Rain, and bowed its head in respect. It listened to Rain's command and then vanished to go and enact them.

Rain's mother, and the others, returned to the house, and the last preparation were made for the arrival of guest for the party that night. Rain waited in the basement as his anima banner diminished. The others engaged in conversation with the arriving guests, and Dorn was suddenly the objection of interest for Rain's mother, much to Echo's relief. In time many of those present, Emerald, and her son Rain and the rest of the circle went off to a more private.

Rain took the scrolls that the growing cult had been reading, scrolls that spoke of other gods and beings, and he deemed it all folly and false. He threw them on the fire and instead decreed that knowledge and wisdom was found in the texts banned to them. That revelation was found by the individual. But his words were attacked by a politician, Grieving Silk. Rain was disturbed by his words, unsure why such a good friend would seek to support the status quo. But he could see no sign of influence.

With the meeting over, Rain sat pondering what had happened. It was then he felt pain searing in his chest and he coughed up blood. Light attended to him, examining the flow of essence through his chi points. It seemed that whatever had attacked him had put his essence out of alignment. Rain, feeling that something was off, instructed the Blood Ape to apprehend Silk and bring him to the wine cellar.

With Silk now in their custody, Rain and the others questioned the man. He simply laughed and patronized Rain. He called him a boy, lost and with out a sense of place in the world, and so something that should be put back in its place. The man spoke of the stirring sleep of Sacheverell, and that the circle was causing chaos that would awaken the dreaming Primordial and set in motion the end of the world. Rain realized then that before him was Lucien, the Guardian of Sleep. But before he had a chance to ask more the man fell apart, like a balloon loosing air.

*****

In the Imperial Palace of Khacin, in the ornate chambers of the king, Lord Kavar, came a guttural scream. The guards ran in to find, haunched over the dead king, Rain. Both swords were driven deep into the king, freezing the corpse. Rain grinned and fled, leaping from the window.

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