Exalted: In A Mirror Darkly
It has been three weeks since the group dealt with the Immaculate Monk, and returned from the Tomb of Silent Earth. Barson, in gratitude for the groups assistance in recent matters, offers Ghost a position in the town leadership, as commander of Arroyo’s admittedly insignificant militia. Barson confesses to being very concerned with the recent rash of dangerous visitors to Arroyo, and wants Ghost to formalize a mutual defense agreement with the Ona. He also commissions a set of armor for the militia, and pays Danilus and Aldeus handsomely for the work. Lastly, he requests of Liao Tsien a supply of his alchemical medicines.
A young Black Rose Knight, calling herself Lamia, arrives in Arroyo, badly wounded. She sputters out a story about how an Eidolon is attacking Sesta, a village about 3 days ride north of Arroyo. She was badly wounded, and her Agent killed in combat with the beast. She retreated towards Arroyo as quickly as possible, since she’d heard another Knight (Kiara) was staying there. Liao Tsien takes her back to his inn, and tends to her wounds as she fills in the group on the details of her story. With his newly improved medical prowess, she will be healed and ready to travel in a few days.
Her Agent contacted her about a week ago. An Eidolon had gone on a rampage in Sesta, slaughtering people in the hundreds in broad daylight. Unusual, to say the least. But they could scarcely afford to debate it’s motivations while innocents died, so they set off, and arrived at Sesta late in the day. Lamia fought the Eidolon, but it was much stronger and faster than she was used to, and she barely escaped with her life. Her Agent, Falcon, died enabling her escape, telling her to make for Arroyo as quickly as she could.
She begs Kiara to intervene on her behalf. Kiara accepts, but first she needs to consult with Owl, whom she has not spoken to in over a month. She goes out into a nearby wood, and calls for him. Half an hour later, he appears, as always. He confirms Lamia’s story, explaining how he passed by Sesta on his way back from the north. He’s been investigating the unusual communication difficulties that the Order has been experiencing. When asked about this Eidolon’s unusual nature, Owl explains that occasionally, an Eidolon will undergo a metamorphosis. The changed eidolon, referred to as ‘awakened’, is often faster and stronger than their run-of-the mill counterparts. Typically, they are easy to track down, since their aggression level rises significantly, while their caution all but evaporates. Teams of Black Rose Knights, 5 strong, are usually assembled to deal with the matter. Owl suggests that she take along as many of her friends as possible, and Lamia if she’s healthy enough. He’ll head south, and try to contact the Black Rose Order and request reinforcements.
The group has two days until Lamia is fully healed, and preparations need to be made. Ku Pulu and Liao Tsien devise a plan to commune with the Wyld on a vision quest, but they’ll need some help. Perek, an hermetic shaman know to the Ona, guided Ku Pulu on a similar journey many years ago, when he sought out the Duke. He commisions Danilus to make her a gift, a mortar and pestle of white jade. He offers her this and a quantity of medicinal herbs in exchange for guidance into the Wyld, and the hallucinagenic drugs they will need for the vision quest. Perek tells Ku Pulu she sees through his transparent attempt at bribery, but rather than being offended, is more than willing to offer her assistance. For now.
Aldeus speaks with his Sifu, Fei Wong, about Eidolons. Fei Wong never encountered one, and after hearing the description of the groups plan, is glad that his student has not forsaken compassion. He regrets that he cannot lend his aid, but says there are reasons he cannot leave this wood.
Meanwhile, Liao Tsien has conducted research on the Wyld Nobles. Unable to find much in the way of hard facts about them, he limits himself to pragmatic details. He knows that the Guild trades human slaves to the Fair Folk, and that they seemingly can extract human emotion. He decides to take along one of his servants, in case this Duke demands a tribute for traveling through his domain. Half a days ride later, Ku Pulu, Liao Tsien, and his servant enter the threshold to the Dark Wood. Ku Pulu retraces his steps to the Duke’s holding there, inside a pocket of the Wyld. While the Dark Wood seems almost lifeless and drained of color, the Duke’s domain is vibrant and verdant, green grass and flowers grow all around, and the sun shines above an azure sky. The three companions continue in towards a thicket of trees that Ku Pulu recalls from last time is the Duke’s “home”.
Entering the wood, the companions hear the sound of a pan flute playing in the distance. Hoping to curry favor, Ku Pulu begins to sing a song, but his attempt seemingly has the opposite effect. The trees bend away from him, their leaves withering. The grass underfoot dies and turns brown, then black as it decomposes and rots, asailing his nostrils. The animals of the forest attempt to flee, those not fast dying and decomposing in mid run. Ku Pulu ceases singing, and the color slowly returns to the forest. When the arrive at last in the Duke’s Glade, he looks them over, greets Ku Pulu by name, and asks him to explain.
Ku Pulu begins to tell the Duke about the Eidolon, and their quest, but is interrupted. The Duke wants to know why interrupted his song.
Eventually, the conversation returns to the topic at hand, and the situation is explain. Liao Tsien offers his servant as payment for passage to the Deep Wyld, but the Duke rejects her, saying she has nothing of value inside her. He is, however, interested in Liao Tsien. Consenting to allow the Duke to “walk in his memories”, Liao Tsien watches as his whole life is replayed before his eyes. But where previously he stood in his memory, now his form is that of the Duke’s. After this disconcerting experience, the Duke consents to allow them passage to the Deep Wyld, and tells them to try not to die.
The following day and a half are ill remembered, at best. A combination of powerful hallucinogens and the strangeness of the Deep Wyld obscure most of the details, but at the end of their journey, all three travelers seemed to escape unharmed. In truth, Liao Tsien’s personality was reshaped slightly, giving him an obsession with the mechanisms of death. Ku Pulu escaped unharmed. And Liao’s servant lost the ability for her body to heal naturally. But in exchange, Ku Pulu dreamed of the Eidolon, and felt that it’s reason for attacking the town was somehow related to the group.
Liao Tsien saw the origins of the Eidolons.
Towards the end of the Primordial War, when the situation became most dire for the Primordials, they experimented with all sorts of ways to create their own ‘Exalted’. The Solars and their allies had inflicted great losses on the Primordials, and they needed to raise a new army of their own to combat this new threat. In desperation, they searched the Wyld for something they could use against their foes. There they found, in one of it’s darkest places, an artifact. A fifty foot tall stone the color of Onyx, it’s shape was that of a teardrop diamond. It’s many facets were smooth and cold to the touch. For this reason, and others, they called their find the Dark Heart Stone.
The Stone radiated an impure and malign essence, so unclean that even the Primordials were unsettled by it. But they saw in the Stone the potential to raise an army of dark soldiers that would be more than a match for the Dragon Blooded, and perhaps even some Solars. They did so, and shaped their new creations to be the ultimate spyies and assassins, capable of infiltrating any location by assuming the form of another. The Eidolons reaped heavy losses before the Solar’s allies discovered the source of this threat. The Solars gathered a great army, and marched into the Deep Wyld towards the location of the Dark Heart Stone. At that location, a great battle was mounted, one that eventually saw the Solar’s victorious. The Primordial’s new soldiers died in the same instant the Dark Heart was destroyed. The battle won, the Solars returned to Creation, and finished the war. Unknown to the Children of the Sun, however, a single sliver of the Dark Heart survived destruction, and came to rest in the Wyld.
Their prepartions done, Lamia healed, and armed with new knowledge of their foe, the group prepared to set out. Ghost and Garland once again found themselves at odds, however. Garland expressed his desire to accompany the group to Sesta, but Ghost resisted. He wanted Garland to stay in Arroyo and oversee the militia. Garland responded that the militia would be fine for a few days without his oversight, but Ghost insisted, and ordered Garland to stay in town. Garland refused.
Ghost demanded to know why he was so insistent to go Sesta, but Garland refused to tell him, saying his reasons were his own. With Ghost suspicious of Garland, and Garland resentful of Ghost’s accusations, the group left for Sesta, leaving the militia in the care of Prit and Ghost’s other allies in town.
Three nights later, the group arrives at Sesta. Both Kiara and Sesta can sense the Eidolon’s presence, a dark glow on the horizon. The group decides to camp outside town for the night, and attack in the morning. Garland offers to take first watch, and Ghost responds by offering to stay up with him. Kiara points out that a Black Rose Knight should be awake on both shifts, and Garland agrees with her. He lets Lamia take his place with Ghost on the first watch. He does not say so aloud, but it’s clear to anyone that watched the exchange that Ghost wanted to keep an eye on Garland during the watch, and indeed, he keeps watch on Garland’s bedroll throughout the night.
In the morning, the quieter members of the group sneak into Sesta, scouting a route through the city, and searching for a location to set up an ambush. The Eidolon has not moved since the previous night. It stands in a courtyard, still as a statue, starting off into space. Kiara and Lamia sneak around the city, planning to charge the Eidolon. Kiara takes a moment to confirm it’s position with her Eidolon Sensing Method, but when she does so, senses the presence of four additional Eidolons! These new eidolons appear to be masquerading as dead humans. While it’s completely unheard of for an Eidolon to lay a trap, that appears to be exactly the case here. However, being aware of it gives her and Lamia an advantage. In human form, Eidolons are no more resiliant to harm than a normal man.
They alter their plan, intending to charge through, slay the pretender Eidolons before than can shift, and lead the larger eidolon into the ambush. The plan goes awry when the Eidolon proves faster than they anticipated. Kiara and Lamia both slay one of the pretenders, as the awakened eidolon moves toward them, and away from the ambush.
Liao Tsien, seeing the ‘corpses’ begin to move and change, attacks both with a simultanious flurry of needles, killing both Eidolons while they are most vulnerable, in mid-shift. Ghost continues to have the group hold back their assault, hoping that Kiara will still be able to lead the awakened eidolon into the ambush. The group restrains themselves, some better than others. All know that one of their friends is out their, alone, face to face with a monster. Garland in particular seems anxious to join the battle, having little faith in Ghost’s leadership as of late.
The situation takes a turn for the worst when the awakened eidolon strikes down Kiara’s horse. The loyal steed falls to the ground, badly wounded, and the Eidolon moves to attack Kiara. Garland is already in mid-sprint when Ghost orders his friends forward, and into battle. The Eidolon is still nearly 60 meters from the groups position, however, so Kiara will be on her own until they can reach her. She manages to deflect it’s attacks well enough, but is unable to do any damage to it herself. Even with the arrival of Ghost and his allies, neither the Dragon Blood or anyone else can do more than scratch the creature. It’s long arms whip around it’s body so fast they almost seem to be fluid, blocking any assault.
Ghost rallies his troops, and shouts out a coordinated plan of attack. The group takes three steps back, and on Ghost’s count, attack as one, plunging their weapons into the Eidolon’s body, their swords and lances sliding against each other where they connect within. As the final blow lands, the Eidolon looks to Kiara. In a dark, gurgling voice it says, “i kNoW eVerYThiNg…” It’s head falls away from it’s body, in one of the many blows struck. In mid air, the head speaks it’s final words, ”...aBoUt yoUr mOtHeR.”
A few hours after the battle, as the heroes recover and provide aid to the survivors of Sesta, Owl appears. He was able to contact the Order. The communication difficulties are worse than he thought. He thinks it may be related to a senior Black Rose Knight, Varla. The second highest ranked Knight, she has long had it in for the senior leadership of the Order, and now it seems that she’s been holding unauthorized meetings between the Knights. She seems to have gained the loyalty of several higher ranked Knights, and may soon launch a bid for control of the Order. Owl has been ordered to accompany Lamia back to headquarters so she can make her report, and be assigned a new Agent. After which, he’ll investigate the situation with Varla further. In the mean time, he wants Kiara to stay near Arroyo, and be wary of any other Knights or Agents. Their loyalties may come in to question. Before he leaves, Kiara tells him of the Eidolon’s trap, and even more shocking, it’s ability to speak. Owl is taken aback by these discoveries. Neither Owl nor Kiara know what the beast might have meant about her mother, but Owl pledges to look into the matter back at the Order’s headquarters, and tell her anything he finds.
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