Exalted: In A Mirror Darkly
Part 1 – The Monk and The Swordsman
The town of Arroyo is going about it’s business as normal, still somewhat unnerved from the near miss with the Riders of Dark Wood a month ago. Spear has gone off on a trade expedition, and Liao Tsien has been absent as well, having left the town a week ago to “look into something”. Into this calm walks Cathak Symus, a young Immaculate Monk, and his bodyguard Nero. Arrogant and self-assured, Symus is freshly graduated from an Immaculate Monastery. He has decided to do missionary work in the lands between Haslanti and Linowa, hoping to spread the Immaculate Faith. And he can be rather insistent, as the people of Arroyo are about to find out.
Ghost is returning from one of his regular hunting trips when he sees the two strangers walking along the road towards town. One is dressed in the robes of an Immaculate Monk, the other wearing light armor and a katana by his side. As Ghost watches, the two pass a small, ancient statue of Uro-san, the local road god. In one swing of his hand, the Monk splits the stone statue in two. He then seeks out the nearest person, a farmer, and begins demanding to know about the statute.
Ghost hurries to inform Barson of this development, as Symus continues to rail at a growing crowd of displeased villagers. For as long as Ghost or any of his friends can remember, the older people of Arroyo have always blanched at even the merest mention of a Dragon Blood coming to town. This reaction is similar to one any mortal has when a Dragon Blood is near, but seems to be much more severe. It almost appears that some secret history haunts the older generations of Arroyo to this day.
Barson, Ghost, and Ku Pulu arrive at the crowd to find Symus demanding to know who maintains the statue, the name and location of the God it represented, and what, if any, priests live within the town. Arroyo has no priests, unless one was to count Midea. And the statue hadn’t really seen any upkeep in decades, but a local baker would take donuts or pastries to Uro-san whenever he stopped in front of the statue on his slow wanderings. Barson began speaking with the young Monk, attempting to calm his anger. But it soon became clear that Barson would not be able to hold his own in a contest of wills with the Dragon of Air, so Ku Pulu intervened on his behalf.
During the discussion, Ku Pulu manged to slowly calm Symus’ anger, and told him that this town was pious with regard to the Immaculate Faith. Symus was convinced, but nevertheless wished to wait for the next ceremonial reading of the Immaculate Texts, to ensure the ceremony was being performed properly. This gave Ku Pulu, Ghost, and their allies four days with which to plan against Symus. The townspeople, for their part, caught on to Ku Pulu’s deception, and passed the word around quietly to play along until the Dragon Bloods left. Caldus, the son of the former headman, attempted to cooperate with the monk, but after the town decided to follow Ku Pulu’s plan, had no choice but to follow along. Exposing the ruse would risk reprisals against the entire town, and not even Caldus would risk that for the sake of increasing his position.
After the incident a month ago with the Riders of Dark Wood, Garland had been hired by Ku Pulu to train some of his Ona followers in the ways of war, and Ghost had similarly taken to training a local militia of able bodied men. It appeared that their debut would come much sooner than anyone anticipated, and against a pair of Dragon Bloods, rather than the Riders of Dark Wood. Danilus equipped the men with spears made at his forge, while Aldeus consulted with Fei Wong about the Immaculate Martial Arts.
“If he is a student of one of the Immaculate martial arts, do not face him alone. You cannot hope to best such an opponent at this stage in your training,” Fei Wong tells his student. “Now, go punch into that bowl full of sand ten-thousand times.”
At the same time, Ku Pulu is working to resolve this conflict without bloodshed. Since he is expected to lead a recitation of a chapter of the Immaculate Texts in four days, he must seek out a copy of such a tome. He speaks to Gnaritas, who provides him with a copy. Although, the tome in Gnaritas’ possession seems to date back to just after the founding of the Scarlet Empire, so it may be somewhat out of date. Ku Pulu makes preparations for his ‘sermon’.
Ghost seeks out Symus’ bodyguard in the local Inn, and finds him there taking his dinner. He approaches him as a fellow soldier, and strikes up a conversation. Hesitant at first, Nero eventually warms up to Ghost’s frank attitude, and expressed displeasure with his young charge. He also admits that he’s only accompanying Symus because he has been offered a position with house Cathak in the Realm. Ghost reveals to Nero that house Tepet is actively adopting ‘lost eggs’, and would take him in at a moment’s notice, if he were to find his way south. Nero is intrigued, but hesitant to give up a sure thing for a probably thing. He is convinced, however, when Ghost generously offers him ‘traveling supplies’, in the form of currency. He leaves that night, without so much as a word to Symus.
Three days later, Symus is confused by the absence of his bodyguard, but unconcerned. He anxiously awaits the recitation of the texts, as performed by Ku Pulu. And an admirable performance indeed, if a false one. After all, if there’s one thing Ku Pulu knows, it’s performing a sermon. Symus is convinced of the town’s piety. However, he noted that the ceremony was somewhat outdated. He generously offers to stay on with the town for a few months, to demonstrate the proper method of holding the ceremony, and to allow Ku Pulu to copy his texts.
Arroyo would not be able to keep up this ruse forever, so Ghost’s contingency plan was activated. Fifty men from both the Ona and Arroyo, armed with Danilus’ spears, fell upon the Immaculate Monk in a single moment. Surprised, and overwhelmed by sheer numbers, Symus fell to their spears. Only a few casualties were suffered by the warriors, and no fatalities. There was hardly any time to congratulate themselves, however. A rider approached town, calling out for Ku Pulu. There had been deaths among his people, and his guidance was needed.
Part 2 – The Cave and the Demon
Upon arriving to one of the plantations used by the less nomadic Ona, Ku Pulu and his friends are greeting by frightened tribesmen. A farmer named Hallick had been breaking rocks to make a new field when he happened upon a strange cave. He led a few men inside to explore the cave, when a monster attacked them. All were killed except Hallick, who had lost an arm while escaping. He described a red beast, slightly larger than a man, moving so fast that he could not get a clear look at it.
The group decides to investigate the cave, and march out to the field where it was discovered. And rather than a cave in the natural sense, they find instead a doorway in the ground. Four square black stones mark out the corners of a doorway made of the same material. The doors had been lifted open by Hallick’s men, and a long flight of stairs showed beyond. The group lit torches, and followed the stairs down to a hallway, also comprised of the same, black marble. They continued on until they saw the bodies of some of Hallick’s men, lying where he said the monster first attack them. Ghost and the others made to gather the bodies, and take them back up to be properly buried, while Ku Pulu nervously kept watch from the hallway. Suddenly, he heard a noise behind him, from back the way they had come. He turned, and saw a demonic red ape standing in the corridor, barely illuminated by his lamp. He slowly backed towards his friends, while whispering warnings to them. Kiara looked around, and spotted a second demon, lurking in the shadows.
A tense standoff followed, with the demon’s grunting threateningly in a language no one present understood. The standoff was broken when Ghost allowed his gaze to meet with the foremost demon, and it charged him. A bloody conflict followed, which saw Danilus badly wounded by one of the apes before striking it down with his hammer. No one escaped unmarked, but Danilus’ wounds were so severe, that if not for Liao Tsien’s healing tinctures, he would have lost his arm.
Several weeks passed, as the group recuperated from their wounds. During this time, Ku Pulu attempted to do some further research on the location, but without much success. Gnaritas did suggest that the location could be a manse, perhaps the Tomb of Silent Earth, whose location had long ago been lost. And in Arroyo, the ruse of following the Immaculate Faith had an unintended side-effect; some of the townspeople had reconsidered their stance on the teachings of the Dragon Blooded. A few conversations about the nature of faith sprang up in the local tavern.
With the party rested and whole again, the group ventured once more into the structure underneath Hallick’s field. Warily, they explored it’s corridors, before coming to an innocuous looking hallway. Liao Tsien and Kiara proceeded in first, and activated a long dormant trap. Marble pillars jutted out at them from the floor, ceiling, and walls of the hallway, knocking Liao Tsienh unconscious and bruising Kiara. After some discussion on how to best defeat the trap, it was decided that Ghost stood the best chance of rushing through it. He did so, and took a glancing blow to the ribs during his final leap into the manse’s hearthroom. A pillar of dirt and sand blew in the center of the room, and inside that pillar hovered a glowing, circular stone. Ghost reached out and took the stone, and control of the manse.
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