Session 16: Rain’s Village
Once upon a time, there was a tiny village named Tambreet. Many, many moons ago, a young girl was born to the headwoman of the village. Though her mother loved her very much, she feared for her too. On the day of the girl’s birth, a seer had foretold that the girl would know much sorrow—as much sorrow as five generations of her people. Because of this prophecy, the girl was named Tears Falling Like Raindrops. She lived a long, happy life and seemed like she would avoid the pain foretold by the prophet.
Sadly, when she was a grown woman with two children of her own, the prophecy came true. The woman lost her husband and son, and her daughter was maimed. The woman was tested and tried—and in the end, she was embraced by Luna. She would live a very long time, possibly forever, and she would remember that sorrow just as long. She ran from her home and she swore to herself that she would never come back. Like so many other promises, that would be one the woman could not keep…
After leaving Chaya, it took the circle most of the next two weeks to travel north and cross the edge of Arczeckhi territory. Though they didn’t fear the barbarians, the whole point of the trip was to avoid putting the Lion’s Roar through any more stress and a war with the notoriously vicious and fearless Arczeckhi would be the very definition of “stress.” As they traveled closer to Tambreet, Ven finally began to open up a little bit about her past, mentioning that she had lived there as a mortal. From time to time, after she had Exalted, she would stop back in to drop off pieces of old technology or magic she found in the wilderness, things to make their lives a little easier, but she hadn’t been back in some time. When they asked her how long “some time” was, she was more than a little vague.
As they approached Tambreet, Ven waxed nostalgic about the small town she had grown up in, though her voice held a note of bitterness. The Lion’s Roar slogged through the mucky lowlands around the Maruto River, passing the occasional small fishing village before finally coming in sight of a much larger city. Ven was confused; Tambreet was a small town, no more than fifty people, but they were looking at a city-state of several thousand. Her hurt expression told them everything they needed to know. It hadn’t been “a couple of years” since she had been here—it had been at least a handful of decades.
Before they could find themselves too melancholic about the passage of time and the ephemera of mortality, a small patrol mounted on bizarre beasts came streaking from a concealed outpost in the nearby jungle. A dozen riders on hump-backed animals surged forward, wearing boiled leather armor and wielding obsidian-tipped spears. They were admirable armed and armored for a pre-bronze civilization, but the most surprising thing was their artillery support. Behind them came out a swamp-sled drawn by a small team of the beasts—and on the sled was a First Age light essence cannon. Somehow, these swamp-dwellers had gotten their hands on a working—if somewhat jury-rigged—essence cannon and had turned it into a mobile firebase.
The Lion’s Roar animating intelligence informed the circle that the weapon might be a “light” cannon, but it still had the potential to do serious damage to the warstrider from a direct hit. Worse, the swamp reduced the ‘strider’s maneuverability to almost nothing while the cavalry’s swamp-beasts gave them surprisingly good mobility—not that the Lion’s Roar had a working projectile weapon. With nothing to do other than risk exposing themselves and hoping that cooler heads would prevail, Red Lion activated the public address system and called for a parley.
As they exited the warstrider, the scouts were careful to keep a safe distance from the intruders. They had clearly never seen a warstrider before—otherwise, they wouldn’t be so confident that they could hold it off with a dozen camel-mounted soldiers and an essence cannon—but they were otherwise quite competent. The essence cannon stayed at its maximum certain operational distance while the cavalrymen kept a careful perimeter around the strangers. Ven watched the growing frustration between the two sides—especially considering that only she and Prism could speak the tribal patois—so she grew tired of waiting and cut right to the chase. She changed into her kaiju platypus shape, and gronked a mighty gronk at the cavalrymen, who immediately threw themselves from their mounts and prostrated themselves before her.
Ven changed back into human form, confused but happy that her attempt at intimidation had worked so well. As the cavalrymen jabbered, she began to realize that they weren’t just scared—they were begging her divine forgiveness. Apparently, in the time she had departed Tambreet, her people had come to see her as some sort of patron deity. She quickly offered them forgiveness, on the condition that she and her fellow “gods” be escorted to people of importance immediately.
The circle loaded back into the warstrider as the Tambreet cavalry formed themselves into an impromptu honor guard. The procession through the city revealed a thriving metropolis; in the generations since Ven left, the people had used irrigation and architecture to drain the marshland into more easily contained pools and eddies, building up great mounds of earth upon which to build permanent structures. The mounds stood as high as a hundred feet, though it seemed that most people still lived in reed huts on stilts above the pools and marshes. Some of those huts were elaborate constructions, built with scaffolding supports on the mounds to give them greater strength, and with vines and plants growing across the scaffolding like latticework. The city was full of animal life as well, with the people seeming to live in harmony with the wildlife that surrounded them. Perhaps most astonishing were the clear signs of working First Age technology: water purifiers, weather dampers, early warning systems, and other constructs whose workings had been lost to time. Ven recognized them all as things she had scavenged and repaired, then left for the Tambreeti in years past.
The Lion’s Roar was hard-pressed to avoid damaging anything as it gingerly made its procession through the city, but it was able to reach the largest of the mounds without doing any lasting harm. Atop the highest mound of earth, the circle discovered when they disembarked, was a stone temple flanked by statues of platypuses and surrounded by pools filled with living examples of same. The statues guarded over offering bowls overflowing with fruits, carvings, and even a few bits of precious metal or shiny stones. The dragon lines of the area converged at the temple, turning it into a weak but very stable water manse. The high priestess, Amber Sunrise, prostrated herself before Ven and asked what brought the “goddess” among her people after so long without manifestation.
Some subtle conversational probing on both sides revealed that Amber was shocked and almost terrified; the last time Ven had even been sighted by anyone was decades before she was born. No high priestess in memory had received a visitation, and she was scared that the goddess had come to strip her of her title. After all, the great stories—which every priest and priestess were required to memorize—said that the goddess brought her blessings with subtlety and her wrath with openness. Some of the Solars were dubious at these claims; when was Ven ever subtle? Still, the people had been sure they were worshipping properly, since the offerings kept being accepted.
During the conversation, Ven also realized something that had escaped her attention during her time traveling abroad. One of the last times she had been in Tambreet, long ago, she had crafted a small coin purse that magically absorbed the offerings people left for her and converted it into coin. It was something she had read about gods being able to do—transmuting prayer into food—but her limited magic at the time was only able to trade value for value. She had only been able to pull a couple of dinars out of it every month at the time, just enough to cover expenses when she was forced to go among humans, so she had fallen into the habit of not relying on it.
When Amber Sunrise departed to inform the “great families” of Tambreet about the return of the goddess, Ven took a few minutes to look into the purse. The interior now resembled a mighty vault more than a coin purse; the Elsewhere pocket just kept growing with the need to accommodate value, and now it was filled with enough money to support a small kingdom. Looking at Red Lion’s threadbare pants and bare feet, she just closed it back up and returned to the others. There would be time to bring up her newfound wealth later. For now, Red Lion was just so charming in his poverty…
The leader of the cavalrymen who brought the circle into Tambreet, a man called Stone Bat, was assigned as the liaison to the goddess while the circle toured the city. He spoke about the city’s accomplishments and wealth as they traveled, but Ven noticed that those “accomplishments” included a close alliance with an old friend of the circle—the Guild. When she saw the Guild chapterhouse dominating almost an entire mound by itself, she was livid with fury, as was Gideon.
Stone Bat explained that the Guild offered them extremely lucrative contracts; it sold Tambreet luxuries and building materials, and all it wanted in return were plants that were common in the region but hard to find for non-natives. The Guild had also brought out mercenaries in the past to help them with raiders and beastmen. A little questioning allowed the circle to realize the dismal truth: the Guild was buying components for some of its most addictive drugs in Tambreet. There were also significant quantities of components for rare medicines and non-addictive pharmaceuticals, but the sheer naivety of the Tambreeti about the whole thing turned Gideon’s stomach. They thought they were getting a good deal, when any real contact with the outside world not mediated by the Guild would let them know they were being played.
Ven was ready to meet with the leader of Tambreet, the High Headman—her descendant, many generations removed. The headman was a tall, dark-skinned man named Towering Rainbow, dressed all in multicolored feathers and flowers to show his station. Accompanying him were his two eldest children, Copper Hunter and Ashen Coypu. Though all three showed deference to Ven, it was clear to Gideon and Prism that Rainbow was invested more in his political power than his faith and Coypu was looking to tighten Tambreet’s connections to the Guild. When Ven revealed what the Guild was using the plants for, Rainbow laughed. What did it matter to the Tambreeti what happened to the outside world?
With that last insult, Venomous Spur could take no more. She went into a vitriolic condemnation of her descendants. They had squandered her gifts, ignored her lessons, and sold her people’s soul. Rather than reaching out to others and advancing their understanding of the world through her gifts, they had just dug in deeper and used those gifts to shut out the world. Copper Hunter dropped to his knees before her and said that he had always wanted more contact with the world—open trade, less dealing with the Guild, more resources devoted to advancing their infrastructure and building up.
Ven was just sick to death of the whole thing. She changed to deadly beastman form and declared that her people had disappointed her. She stripped Towering Rainbow of his mantle and threw it onto his son; Ashen Coypu’s eyes were jealous, but she said nothing. She declared that Copper Hunter would have his chance to lead his people in a correct direction, more pleasing to her sight. With a zealous fire burning in his eyes, he screamed to the assembled warriors that the time had come to drive the Guild from Tambreet! Copper Hunter and his men took to the streets of Tambreet, and soon enough mobs and riots were forming.
The night that followed was hectic and full of fire and terror. Only the concerted efforts of the circle kept serious harm from being done to the city in the purge of the Guildsmen, and from that purge turning bloody. Snapdragon intervened in an attempted murder, where a group of men had broken into a home and were going to issue “justice” for the inhabitant’s unfortunate past of being a coolie worker for the Guild. She stopped the assault with a few gritted words and a glance that showed them the price of noncompliance. Gideon patrolled the skies and broke up fights, while Blazer tended to injuries. Prism helped organize the Guild’s exodus, a task he took perhaps more relish in than was truly pious, and Ven laid down new commandments for her faith. Red Lion kept the people updated with the public address system on the Lion’s Roar and worked to make sure everyone knew that violence was not the way to do things.
By the next morning things had mostly calmed down, though the ripples would be felt throughout the region for months or years to come. The Guild’s local chapterhouse was in ashes, and its people were traveling on foot for the next nearest stronghold. Ven was exhausted after a night of putting her house in order. As the circle prepared themselves to depart, she sadly admitted something she knew in her heart: she had always hated this place, and the only things that made it bearable—the people she loved—were long since in their graves. Stone Bat was close enough to hear, and he knelt down before her, pledging that he would strive his whole life to make Tambreet a place she could love.
Before leaving, the circle stopped back at the temple to collect the orichalcum shards they had originally come for. Amber Sunrise expressed that this might be the last orichalcum they saw from Tambreet for quite some time. Though they knew where to get much more, digging it up was always problematic—issues of secrecy limited the number of people they could bring on digs, and so on. Now, with the Guild’s protection lifted, they were going to have to work even harder to keep the location of their gold and orichalcum mines a secret, especially considering the raids that had been happening in that area recently.
This piqued the circle’s curiosity. Amber Sunrise was able to explain that Tambreet had long been wary of a kingdom across the river, a place called Zarrith that had spent generations engaged in civil war. About a year ago, a new religious faction had united the city. Ever since, soldiers and scouts from Zarrith had been crossing the river and raiding small villages on the edge of Tambreet land. Some of the local elders were concerned that their incursions weren’t random aggression; they seemed more like a search pattern, looking for the source of Tambreet’s wealth. Most disturbing for the circle was the nature of the new Zarrith faith: they had become sun-worshippers.
The sudden competence and organization, the religious fervor, the quick end of local problems and the beginnings of ambition… It all pointed to one thing: there were other Solars in Zarrith.