Exalted: In A Mirror Darkly
On the way back to Arroyo, the group encounters a man on the road. He is dressed in dark purple robes and a black cloak. A large, ornate helmet sits atop his head, the same shade of dark purple. To either side of the skull, the helmet extends out, and ends in a collection of golden chains. Red eyes gaze at them from out of the skull-like sockets of the helmet. The mouth of the helmet is a solid piece. When he sees them, he stops in the middle of the road, and waits for them to approach. Although his face cannot be seen, an air of malevolence and superiority is evident from his stance. He is standing in the middle of the road, blocking the path of the party.
Ku Pulu, Spear of the East, and the others, each in turn, ask him to stand aside. He does not acknowledge their words, leading Spear to attempt to negotiate with him in several languages, to no avail. Instead, the man in the road looks them over, one by one, and stays in a defensive stance. He almost seems to be beckoning them to attack him, but no one in the group rises to his bait. They do take precautions, however, and as Spear and Liao draw their weapons and take aim, the man attacks.
The battle that follows seems all but hopeless. With each strike at the man, he seems to grow stronger. Or, as Aldeus would later suggest, perhaps he merely held back less. In either case, the man appeared to take no damage from the group’s onslaught. Instead, he began to glow a dark shade of red, the glare glowing brighter with each strike. Even Kiara’s lance, at full speed from her horse, was stopped dead before dealing what would have been a mortal wound to most men. It was soon after this attack that the man unleashed a new tactic, one with devastating effects.
Taking a new combat stance, the man began striking out with his palms at anyone who moved towards him, striking hard blows and knocking them backwards several feet each time. Still, the combatants charged in, seeking to slay this man-monster who had appeared before them. It was at this time that Ku Pulu disengaged himself from the fighting, and implored his comrades to retreat. The did not, and Ku Pulu was left on the edge of the battle, watching helplessly as his friends were savagely beaten by the man, one at a time. A strange sort of battle-lust seemed to fall upon the members of the group, almost as though the man in purple’s malevolent desire for mortal combat had transfered to them. Aldeus recognized in the man a deep knowledge of the martial arts, and asked him his name as the two stood sparring. The man did not reply verbally, instead performing a technique Aldeus recognized as a ‘yamazaki’ punch, a technique designed to shatter ribs and rupture bellies. Aldues weathered the blow, and the man seems almost to nod in appreciation.
When all was said and done, only Liao Tsien and Ku Pulu stood standing. The man had knocked everyone unconscious, save Spear of the East, who had attempted to antagonize the man, in order to allow his friends a chance to escape. Spear was broken and bloodied, his body on the verge of death when the man walked over to him, and plucked him from the ground. Spear’s body jerked, and then fell back the ground. His wounds were still severe, but he was no longer in mortal danger. Thinking that the man had just broken Spear’s neck, Liao Tsien took this chance to throw poisoned needles at the man. His opponent was less distracted than he had hoped however, and caught each of the needles. He turned to Liao Tsien, came upon his with a step, and backhanded him with his fist, loosening teeth and drawing blood. He then said simply, “Cease fighting.” to the needle wielding thaumaturge. Liao Tsien was compelled to comply. The fight over, the man turned and walked back to Spear.
He asked Spear, “You are the weakest. Yet you attacked me. Why?”
Spear told him to go to hell.
He then asked, “Do you lament your weakness?”
Spear replied “Of course I do, you bastard,” and spat at his adversary.
Though his face could not be seen, the man seemed to smile as he asked the next question: “Do you seek power?”
After a pause, Ghost replied in the affirmative. And then fell back into unconsciousness as the man poured raw essence into his body.
He then turned his attention to Aldeus.
“You fight well. Who has trained you?” he asked.
Aldues though a moment, and decided to answer truthfully. Through bloody teeth, he told the man “My sifu is Fei Wong.”
The man’s eyes widened through the helmet, and the he tossed back his head an began to laugh. Without another word, he knocked Aldeus unconscious.
The man then traveled to the other opponents in the fight he felt to be ‘worthy’, and took a trinket from each, which he converted into small golden token and hung from his helmet. He then gave each of them a small token, and told them to “become stronger”. He began to walk away, then stopped, almost as if he had thought better of it. He turned to Liao Tsien, the only conscious combatant.
“When that one wakes up,” he said, pointing to Aldeus, “tell him to convey to his sifu that Grahf remembers him.” He then turned, and walked back along the road, without even a final glance in Ku Pulu’s direction, where he still sat upon his horse, watching the battle.
Returning to Arroyo, Aldeus sought out Fei Wong’s advice on the matter of the man in the mask. He found his sifu near his hut, standing on his head, doing push-ups. Seeing his student’s beaten form, he cheerfully asked, “What happened to you?”, Aldeus replied that he had been defeated. He Fei Wong asked “By what?”, he answered “By a man named Grahf.” Shocked, Fei Wong fell on his head, and asked him for the entire story. When Aldues had relayed all that had happened, Fei Wong told him to gather his friends. It was time he met them. With Ku Pulu back with the Ona, and Ghost off on another hunting trip, Aldues was only able to assemble Kiara, Spear, his brother Danilus, and Liao Tsien.
Fei Wong reveals to the assembled group his past.
To know Grahf’s story is to know the tale of his and Fei Wong’s shared youth at an Immaculate monastery. There, they trained with a large class of similar students, as is customary for the region. All the monastery’s students were likely to receive the favor of the Dragons, and the training was designed to prepare them for the day of their exaltation, and beyond. But as the years dragged on, it became clear that neither Fei Wong nor Grahf would receive such favor. It was at this point that a much older student, Shodan, approached them. He too, had not been blessed by the dragons, and while he was allowed to stay in the monastery, he was no longer allowed to train with the other students, or be given instruction from the masters. This would be Fei’s and Grahf’s fate, as well, but Shodan had taught himself a great deal, and wanted to pass that knowledge on to them.
The boys accepted his training, achieving great feats of martial arts. While paling in comparison to the Dragon Blooded masters, their skills were still formidable. In another time and place, they would have been legendary. But this was not enough for Shodan. He desired the Dragon’s Blood. Already, his body was begining to grow stiff and weak with age. In desperation, he had searched the most ancient and perilous of tomes to find a way to escape his fate… and at last, he succeeded. “Soul Transference Method”, the technique was called. Using this, he would be able to steal another’s body… swap his soul with theirs. It was a fiendish technique… forbidden by all sane societies. But driven by his desire for excellence and immortality, Shodan abandoned his morality and used the technique. He ambushed a young Dragon Blooded master, stole his body, and rejoiced in his new power.
Already a formidable martial artists and essence user, armed with the considerably greater power of Dragon Blooded essence, he was able to devastate the masters and students of the monestary. In the end, only two remained… Grahf and Fei Wong. The three did battle, and it the process, Fei Wong exalted as a Dragon of Wind. Seeing this, Grahf knew a moment of sadness and jealousy as his friend so quickly left him behind in power, but continued the fight anyhow. Seeing that he would not win, Shodan seized upon Grahf’s hesitation to deliver one final piece of revenge to his former students… he used a technique which forcibly burned the secret of Soul Tranference Method into Grahf’s mind. In time, he knew, Grahf would age, and use this forbidden power. The temple destroyed and their comrades all dead, Grahf and Fei Wong left to seek new lives for themselves. For many years they journeyed, learning all they could of the martial arts. For a time, Grahf’s determination and natural born talent allowed him to keep pace with his friend. But, as the years passed, Fei Wong became stronger and stronger. And while he was begining to comprehend the secrets of his first Celestial Martial Art, (a power no mortal could master), Grahf’s age began to show.
For years, Fei Wong’s Exaltation had worn at Grahf’s mind. He worked so very hard, from dusk until dawn, just to keep up with techniques his friend mastered at a leisurly pace. Even then, Fei Wong’s efforts would eclipse his own on a semi-regular basis, though Fei Wong would never admit it. All because the Dragons had chosen Fei Wong, and spurned Grahf. Slowly but surely, dedication turned to doubt, persistence turned to anger, friendship turned to jealousy, and respect turned to hate.
One night, Grahf attacked Fei Wong, stealing his body away. And while Fei was, by this time, the greater of the two martial artists, the handicap of not being able to rely on such prodigeous essence reserves resulted in his downfall. In each of Grahf’s blows that night, Fei Wong could sense the hatred and loathing Grahf felt… not for Fei Wong, but for his own weak, mortal body. Grahf beat that object of his anger into a bloody pulp, but stopped short of landing a fatal blow. To this day, Fei Wong is not certain why.
In the years that followed, Fei Wong has trained his mind and body continually, hoping to reach the heights he achieved as a Dragon Blood. And while his efforts have born fruit, he is certain that Grahf’s progress has far outpaced his own. And all the while, his age has been slowly creeping up on him… a process which he has halted, for the time being, with an alchemical elixir.
Fei Wong has kept his ear to the ground, and once a year travels abroad to various Martial Arts institutions, to learn, to teach, and to find out what has become of Grahf. When he first heard of the Mask Cloaked in Black and Scarlet, he knew at once it must be Grahf.
Initially, Fei Wong had decided to train Aldeus after seeing something of himself in the boy. But now he believes that Grahf is also taking on ‘students’, and the time may well come when the two former friends will face each other again. And if that happens, Fei Wong will need allies…
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