Exalted: The Sun Also Rises

Session 2: Tears of the River God
In which our Heroes face divine sorrow and slavers most foul.

The heroes heard about a mysteriously flooded village, Misty Valley, from a wandering Guild merchant and took off to investigate. They took the Lion’s Roar overland, allowing the animating intelligence to keep a basic straight-line navigation while everyone else slept.

Red Lion woke up to the sound of blaring klaxons!He called on the Lion’s Roar to find out what was going on. As it turns out, in the Siege of Celeren, the warstrider had taken structural damage that had never been repaired, causing the legs and living spaces to take on water. Struggling at the controls, Red Lion and Venomous Spur manage to get the warstrider to shore and begin making jury-rigged repairs. Blazer starts cobbling together an aquatic module for the warstrider, using his Solar crafting skills to materialize components and put them together as fast as his hands can move. The limited space slows him down, though, so it still takes several hours.Rather than waiting for Blazer to finish his efforts, Venomous Spur changes into her giant platypus form and carries the whole group through the flooded valley.

Arriving in Misty Valley, the group discovers that the place has seen better days. Flooded up to the roofs and filled with floating corpses, only a few dozen elderly men and women remain as the survivors of the flood. Red Lion approaches one of the old men, who spurns his aid. Fortunately, Red Lion is quite charming, so he was able to convince the villagers of his sincerity in short order. Gideon started interviewing the villagers while Blazer offered medical aid and food. Ven jumped back into the water, changed into kaiju shape again, and started gathering the bodies for proper burial. Seeing this, the villagers once again began to freak out, but some quick talking from Ven convinced them of the party’s divinity. Prism of Truth flared his anima to send the spirits of the deceased into their next incarnations.

Finally, the story of Misty Valley’s woes came out: About a year ago, the city-state that the village pays taxes to came and conscripted most of their adults for the army. After a hard year of working the land with only children and the elderly, a large gang of bandits came marauding into town, stole everything of value, and carried off all the remaining women and children as slaves. Then, a few days later, the river overflowed its banks and filled the valley with churning water, killing many of the remaining old people. The old man they had spoken to, Farmer Yang, and his wife, Shen-Yi, posited that their river god, Okoto, had gone mad and rained destruction down on them for no misdeed. The circle decided that a mad god was perhaps more dangerous than slavers, and went up into the mountains to confront Okoto.

On the way, they decided that since the soft approach had worked so well with the hawk-riders, it might work as well with Okoto. They spoke a bit about the nature of Celestial and Terrestrial gods, and the elemental courts, and started making plans about what to do about the various lesser deities and elementals that might serve Okoto. They also decided that, since Okoto asked young girls to come up to his shrine every year, it might be beneficial to bring an offering and perform the proper rituals. As the resident lore expert, Blazer knew rituals for propitiating small gods. Snapdragon noted that he was as pretty as a girl too… and everyone slowly looked at Blazer. After some arguing, the party got him into a shrine maiden’s dress, so that he could work better at luring the god from his sanctum.

The mountain shrine was clearly old and maintained by people with a lesser engineering ability than the ones that had built it, standing on a cliff overlooking a great waterfall and the pool below it. Blazer performed the dance of the shrine maidens, luring the god Okoto from his sanctum with his dancing and beauty. Okoto was a massive being, ten feet tall and black-scaled like an ancient river crocodile. Okoto came to greet Blazer… only to swiftly discover that he had been tricked! “How dare you try to trick me!” he bellowed, summoning his massive jade trident and lashing out in fury.

A battle on the cliffside ensued, with Okoto’s ally, the river dragon Swift-Flowing Chundereth, joining in the fray. Okoto slashed open Blazer’s dress with his mighty trident, Shimmer, while Gideon leapt from hiding to pepper him with shots from the Twin Dragons. Red Lion jumped into battle, pounding on Okoto’s scales with his powerful fists, and Venomous Spur charged toward Chundereth—one mighty beast versus another. Snapdragon snarled a threat at Okoto, unable to reach Okoto quickly enough to prevent him from using the waterfall to sweep Red Lion and Blazer off the cliff and into the pool far below.

Red Lion sputtered water, frustrated by his inability to quickly rejoin the battle, while all around him rose up watery women with the heads of fish—Okoto’s elemental minions, the koi-koi. Blazer summoned his glowdisk, pulled Red Lion aboard, and zipped back up into the fight. Prism of Truth attempted to end the fight with a social-fu masterstroke, but Okoto was far too enraged to be willing to listen. Ven darted past Chundereth, tail-slapped Shimmer out of Okoto’s hands, quick-shifted into deadly beastman form, and caught it before it hit the ground. In his fury, Okoto snatched up Ven one-handed and twisted her into a crab clutch, bending her painfully.

It was finally Snapdragon who brought the fight to an end, belittling Okoto and bullying him verbally until something finally got through to make him realize that the villagers were in trouble. As he spoke of his loneliness in performing his duties with only river dragons and koi-koi to keep him company, he began to slowly weep, making the river overflow its banks once more. Red Lion finally had enough of Okoto’s crap and slapped him one, telling him to man up and start being the god his village needed. He responded that he asked for so little: once a year, he asked seven maidens to come up the mountain and sing for him for a night. Since they hadn’t come this year, they had finally forsaken him, just like the rest of his court, who had all run off to find better jobs. The circle assured him that they only missed his festival because of misfortune rather than malice, and now realizing that he faced Solars (and a Lunar), Okoto begged that they rescue his people from the slavers.

Intending to do as much anyway, Gideon scouted out to the edge of Misty Valley while Blazer used the Tome of the Great Maker to enchant small animals as his eyes and ears. At the valley’s exit, Gideon came across a splatter of blood and used his postcognition to see the passage of the group—30 or so slavers and 50 or more women and children. His guess was that they would be moving slowly from the coffles and general size of the group. Prism indicated that a group of slaves so large would have to be taken to a suitably large outpost for sale, probably a Guild waystation, so the group piled back into the Lion’s Roar and took off at all due speed, with Gideon remaining on foot, ranging ahead as a forward scout.

Gideon finally came across the slavers as they prepared to set up camp for the night, then returned to fetch Snapdragon so that the two of them could sneak in under cover of darkness to “eliminate” threats before freeing the villagers. As the rest of the circle took up positions some ways off, Gideon moved into the camp and started untying the slaves from their bonds. Snapdragon scouted the edges of the camp, but was unable to prevent herself from taking the initiative to slaughter a pair of bandits that had left the camp to hunt for dinner.

Realizing that some of their number hadn’t come back yet, the slavers started gathering together to take a look around the camp. Gideon decided that things were going to slowly and dropped his charm to start freeing villagers more quickly. Like a bloody wind, Snapdragon emerged from the forest here and there, murdering slavers without a sound until an unlucky swipe only disabled one of them, letting him send up a warning scream. At that, Gideon stood and used his precision with his chosen weapons to blow the coffles off the slaves without so much as scorching any of them. Now, the slavers rushed about for weapons and to take defensive position, their general poor training contributing to the chaos. The others rushed toward the sound of the screaming, finding Gideon herding away the slaves while Snapdragon slaughtered bandits.

The bandits’ leader came out of his tent, picked up a hunting bow, and shot Gideon, who managed to roll with the shot. His return fire missed the bandit but blew away his tent. As Blazer entered the battle, riding his flying disk with Prism accompanying him, the bandit chief realized that things had turned perhaps worse than he had feared. Ven charged from the woods, cutting down bandits in deadly beastman form, while Red Lion pursued the fleeing bandit chief into the woods. Gideon’s burst fire from his Twin Dragons seared and ashed bandits. By this time, Snapdragon was covered head to toe in the gore of her many victims, her orichalcum billhook all but screaming for their blood. A lucky shot at Blazer felled him and Prism from the platform, sending them rolling across the rocky ground. Prism came up cutting down a bandit with his mighty daiklave, the God-Cutting Shard of Divine Radiance. Blazer darted away, summoning the Tome of the Great Maker to begin calling forth his mighty array of anima-forged First Age weaponry.

Red Lion caught up to the bandit chief, kicking him in the chest with his crude imitation of Solar Hero style and sending him flying into a nearby tree, cracking the tree and crushing the man’s ribs. As he lay there, the circle mopped up the last of his men and began moving toward him. Red Lion, his anima blazing around him like his namesake, uprooted a tree with one hand and threatened to crush the bandit chief if he didn’t tell them everything.

His men dead and his spirit broken, the bandit chief babbled out the story: They sometimes bought supplies from a wandering Guildsman, who mentioned in his rambling complaints about a village he was traveling to that had lost all its adults to conscription, causing them to have poor food and be generally less useful to him. The bandit chief had come up with a brilliant idea—get there ahead of the Guildsman, enslave the village, and sell the slaves for coin before coming back to the village and spending their coin to buy supplies and weapons from the Guildsman, essentially paying him with his own money. They had not expected the flooding, and the bandit chief was able to confirm that the Guildsman—Cho Pang, in fact—had not been in on the plan, just unwittingly inspired it.

The bandit chief plead for his life. After all, he had told them everything they wanted to know—surely, they would spare him. Prism stepped forward and declared that they had never promised to spare his life. “Find grace in your next incarnation,” Gideon intoned, before blowing his head off at close range with a plasma repeater. Venomous Spur found herself somewhat troubled by the exchange…

By this time, the villagers were cowering and weeping, now realizing that they were in the hands of the Anathema. Picking out a woman who looked like she was in a position of authority, Prism approached her and assured her that the circle meant them no harm and intended to take them home safely. While Red Lion tried to cut a rocky ledge with his bare hands so that they would have something to carry the villagers home on, Venomous Spur used her actual crafting skills to put together a wooden sled that the villagers could ride on, dragged by the Lion’s Roar. Upon their return home, the villagers were reunited with their survivng elders, and the circle took a day to rest and help Misty Valley rebuild its homes and fields. Gideon managed to entice Okoto down from the mountain so that the people could see that he still cared for them, and they for him.

Venomous Spur still had Okoto’s trident, however, and when the villagers showed their doubt for her sincerity to return it, as well as their inability to survive without powerful protectors, she cast Shimmer at Farmer Yang’s feet, declaring that the Exalted had done much for them—now, the villagers must show that they can stand for themselves! Ven berated the village for its weakness in the face of hardship, pushing them to take up the mantle of protecting themselves instead of relying on others. Yang was moved by her words and seized the trident, struggling to lift it from the ground, and finally managing to pull it upright by using all of his strength. He declared that the villagers would find a way to survive, no matter what Fate might throw at them. Singing with a clarion voice, the villagers gave praise to Okoto and the circle.

As they prepared to leave the village, the circle discussed its next move. Gideon snarled that he would like to pay a visit to the Guild’s waystation—any slavers he met were going to have a very bad day. Red Lion consented, on the condition that their next stop was the city-state of Delsinar, the home of the tax collectors that had conscripted Misty Valley’s men and women. Red Lion stated his intent to end the war, and get those folk home to their loved ones. Armed with a plan, they circle departed another grateful village.

Their next destination: The Guild waystation at Ocho-Rin Hill!

Session 1: The Taking of Lo Shang Ridge
In which our Heroes meet and defend an innocent village.

Our scene opens up late in the month of Resplendent Wood, somewhere in the East, south of Nexus. Red Lion and Venomous Spur are aboard The Lion’s Roar, a mighty royal warstrider, making their way through the wilderness after recently breaking the siege of the Marukani city of Celeren. In the distance, they see smoke rising from a village. Unable to leave innocents in potential danger, they put on the speed and race ahead into the unknown.

At the same time, Gideon and Snapdragon have made camp, recently reunited after fleeing Nexus independently. With the Grey Kraken and his gang dead, it’s possible that both of them have more to fear from the Council of Entities than from organized crime now. While planning their next move, they spot a distant plume of smoke. In a flash, Gideon’s golden sandals carry him through the forest, burning a trail in his wake, while Snapdragon isn’t far behind thanks to her superhuman agility and acrobatic skill.

Blazer is listening to yet another one of Prism‘s rambling sermons about the “glories of the Most High,” trying to decide if it’s better to be alone or have a zealot as your only company, when he spies the smoke with his keen sorcerer’s senses. Shouting a quick warning to Prism, he invokes sorcery to carry him as swift as the wind toward his destination. Prism follows on foot, his Zenith constitution allowing him to set a pace that would leave a mortal gasping for breath.

Gideon is first on the scene. Surveying the village spread out before him, he sees a hamlet of some 200 people under attack by over a dozen hawk-riding humans and twoscore vicious-looking hawk beastmen. “Guess I better get in it,” he mutters as he draws his weapons, the Twin Dragons, and leaps to the nearest roof. Twisting in midair, he fires both guns at once, arcing their plasma trails together so that they impact above the village, creating a massive conflagration that consumes a pair of hawks and a handful of beastmen. A few scant heartbeats later, Blazer comes upon the fight. Seeing a lone gunman defending an entire village of people sets his compassionate heart on fire, and he cannot help but jump to their defense as well. He conjures a spirit bow and begins lancing holy energy among the birdmen, cutting them from the sky.

The hawk-riders see these new foes and rain arrows down at them. Blazer manages to dodge, while Gideon takes a pair of barbed arrows; one he rolls with, while the other draws blood. The beastmen ravage among the townsfolk, clawing and biting. Without some help, the heroes might drive off the riders, but the village may still lose the day. Fortunately, Snapdragon chooses that moment to appear, seemingly from thin air, to fling her orichalcum billhook amongst the hawkmen. As it flies, it splits into phantom copies of itself, reaving through their number; she chooses to avoid harming the innocent townsfolk, forcing her to limit her choice of targets.

Prism of Truth’s arrival is heralded with the blazing noonday sun surrounding him, forming itself into gleaming plate armor. He bears a six-foot-long golden sword and exhorts the power of the Unconquered Sun to bolster the spirits of the innocent villagers and his apparent new allies. Hawk-riders concentrate their fire on Gideon and Blazer, to little noticeable effect, while the beastmen leap at Snapdragon, rending and tearing. The ranged fighters give far better than they get, while Snapdragon gruesomely beheads her first foe.

At long last, the great royal warstrider Lion’s Roar appears on the scene! Seeing that the town hall is ablaze with people still inside, the great mech leaps over the fray and into the town square. Lion’s Roar seizes the burning building and tears it from its foundations, cracking one end off and safely tumbling the people out into the town duck pond, before swinging the whole structure around and flinging it into the hawk-riders’ leader! With their leader carried away from town by burning debris, the hawk-riders and their beastmen servants fled.

The cheering villagers close in on their glowing golden saviors to thank them. Gideon immediately starts to interview the village spokesman about the hawk-riders’ attack, while Snapdragon “cleans up” the battlefield. Ven and Red Lion exit the Lion’s Roar and put it into “parking mode”. Ven immediately starts to hit on Blazer, who is extremely attractive, in her own inimitable way—she asks him for a donation of “genesis material” for her latest experiment. Older doesn’t mean wiser in Ven’s case. Prism starts speaking to the assembled villagers, calming them and taking the opportunity to preach to a more receptive crowd, while Blazer ignores Ven’s advances and uses his magic to rebuild the now-demolished town hall.

The village headman, Mugwort Yoon, explains that the hawk-riders originally came to the village nearly a month ago in peace, but when he refused to sell them his daughter they became incensed and left in a huff. A week ago, they returned and kidnapped the girl—and said that the next time they came back, the villagers had better be ready with supplies. Agitated by the kidnapping of the girl, Mugwort’s daughter Apricot, the villagers chose to fight back against the hawk-riders, little knowing that their initial meeting had been with a mere scouting party instead of the much larger force they had brought today. Sensing that there was more to the man’s story than he was letting on, Prism of Truth pushed Mugwort to reveal what was hidden… or else.

Mugwort finally admitted that he feared his daughter might have left with the hawk-riders willingly, rather than being kidnapped. She had fallen for their leader, a handsome young Dragon-Blooded named Alibeth Berdehl, who had offered to pay a handsome dowry to Apricot’s father. Mugwort refused, and convinced the town to reject the hawk-riders. Apricot went missing a week later, and the day after, Berdehl returned with his ultimatum.

Gideon then went to the girl’s room to look for clues, and perhaps pick up some lingering resonance that might say whether or not her departure was willing. Mugwort finally realized what Gideon and his friends are, but didn’t care. He told Gideon that any price he must pay to recover his daughter, he would pay—even his soul, if necessary. Gideon assured the man that no such bargain was needed and sent him off so that he was no longer a distraction.

After determining that the girl was indeed in love with the hawk-riders’ leader, Gideon communed briefly at the Yoon family shrine. Apricot’s dead mother, Honeyberry, came to him to plead for her daughter’s safety; Honeyberry gave Gideon a spectral token of her love for Apricot, which would help lead him to the girl, and said that when Apricot was finally wed, she would release her hold on life and go to Lethe. Gideon suggested that the six of them had been brought together by fate, and that by working as a group they might be able to find out what was really going on and prevent further bloodshed.

Agreeing to work together, if just temporarily, the group piled into the Lion’s Roar… only to discover that it was bigger on the inside. Racing across the countryside, the circle arrived at the foot of the nearby Lo Mountains and disembarked to make the climb on foot. They pushed on into the night, making a difficult climb nearly impossible for some of them. In the dark, with the frail physique of a scholar, Blazer slipped and took a terrible fall—right into the lair of a buck-ogre!

The two-headed beast bellowed its fury and began to stomp on Blazer; the rest of the party quickly scampered down after him and engaged the creature in combat, while Gideon let his sandals carry him skyward to rain down fire on it from above. Blazer rolled away and teleported back up to his starting point. Red Lion leapt down the hillside in a single bound, planting his bare foot in the creature’s massive chest—and kicking it hundreds of feet away. The threat dispatched, they resumed their climb up the hill… only to be shot at by guards.

Prism quickly informed the guards to take them to someone in authority, lest more bloodshed occur, and the shaken hawk-riders brought them into camp. There, they met with Alibeth Berdehl, the young Dragon-Blood in charge of the flight, and his love interest, Apricot Yoon. The circle informed him of the villagers’ desire to negotiate. Berdehl was initially hostile to the offer; the villagers had insulted him, cheated him, and killed his men. They finally managed to get him to explain himself, quickly realizing that Berdehl was a prideful young man whom they would have to treat carefully to avoid damaging his ego.

As it turns out, when the hawk-riders first came to Lo Shang as a scouting mission from their distant homeland of Metagalapa, they had wanted to set up a long-term trading arrangement with the village so that it could act as a resupply station for them. They traded the villagers a quantity of valuable goods for food and feed, but due to Berdehl’s inexperience, Mugwort was able to out-trade him and come away with a significant profit at the young man’s expense. After Mugwort rejected his offer to marry Apricot, his pride was doubly damaged. Apricot came up with the “kidnapping” during one of their clandestine nighttime meetings, but after she joined the riders at their lair, she was horrified to hear that Berdehl intended to raid her people in vengeance for his wounded honor. Over her objections, he went back, only to lose a dozen hawkmen and a handful of riders when the circle intervened. “Blood must repay blood!” he demanded.

With careful application of social-fu, the circle was able to convince Berdehl that the villagers were not to blame for his losses, and that ignorance of the riders’ culture was to blame for the “trade misunderstanding” rather than deliberate malice. Berdehl finally agreed to at least attend trade agreements with the people of Lo Shang—but only on neutral ground, not in the village itself. He offered to let the group spend the night at the riders’ lair before they returned in the morning, though they had no food to offer them.

In the night, Apricot came to speak to the group. Gideon had mentioned during the negotiations with Berdehl that Apricot’s mother had spoken to him; Apricot wanted to see if it was true, and sought any message from the afterlife that her mother might have. As well, Apricot needed advice on a sensitive matter. After Berdehl had taken her away from Lo Shang, she started to realize that their cultural differences ran quite deep—included the fact that Berdehl didn’t know that Apricot wasn’t actually a girl.

Apricot is a ko, a third gender local to the Lo Shang region possessing the sexual qualities of both male and female. While ko are expected to wear special clothing to show their status, Berdehl clearly is unaware that such a thing even exists, let alone that his newfound love is one. Given Berdehl’s poor response to the village’s perceived deceit, Apricot is a little afraid of telling him the truth. The party gives her some valuable advice about honesty, and Venomous Spur agrees to act as Apricot’s mother in her talk with Berdehl; that is, Ven will accompany her and mediate between them. With Ven’s aid, Berdehl takes the news without flying into a rage, but asks for some time to think about it.

The next morning, the circle takes Apricot back to the village to see her father and hopefully calm the villagers further. While Mugwort is initially resistant to the idea of any negotiation with the hawk-riders, he finally accepts that he might have been too profit-motivated with them and generally stubborn about his daughter leaving him. The villagers and the hawk-riders meet under tense conditions on neutral ground.

The circle sets the agenda: the village will repay the hawk-riders for their material losses and let the riders use the village as a scouting base; the two groups will enter into a binding, mutually beneficial long-term trade agreement; and Apricot and Berdehl are to be married, in order to cement the new alliance. In exchange, the circle offers them both strong incentives: better breeding programs for the riders’ hawks, a fertility ritual to make the local gods bless the village’s fields, and some newly-built megitech trinkets to make both sides’ lives easier. At the end of the negotiations, Gideon will use his anima power to sanctify the agreement. After several hours of intense negotiations, the villagers and the hawk-riders came to a mutually beneficial agreement and Berdehl agreed to look past Apricot’s “differences” to marry her anyway.

Both groups retired to the village to celebrate their new fortune, and the circle stayed on for a few weeks to help the villagers clear some land for new fields—after all, they would be needing them, now that they had someone to trade the surplus to. Apricot left the village with Berdehl to travel back to his distant homeland and receive his family’s blessing for their marriage. Satisfied that her daughter was in good hands, Honeyberry appeared to Gideon one last time to thank him, and then faded away into Lethe. Shortly after their departure, a small merchant caravan arrived at the village; the caravan master, a low-ranking Guildsman named Cho Pang, was grateful to have arrived safely, since their previous planned stopover had been a bust. Inquiring about the reasons, the circle discovered that a neighboring village had apparently been completely wiped out by an unseasonable flood that now filled the whole valley.

Sensing that something more sinister was going on than a mere flood, the circle looked at one another and leapt into the Lion’s Roar, setting course for a new adventure!