Exalted: The Sun Also Rises

Session 26: The Tower of Souls
In which Venomous Spur uncovers a conspiracy and must choose between love and truth

Session 26: The Tower of Souls

After the end of the epic trial, Red Lion opined that he would like to spend his last couple of days in Yu-Shan sightseeing, particularly the Jade Pleasure Dome, which had been recommended to them by the Green Lady. Ven agreed that he should enjoy himself, but she had some things to do and would catch up to the others when she was done. With that, she slipped off and commandeered a personal cloud transport to take her to Taru-Han’s Tower of Souls.

The rest of the circle chose to go on without her to the Jade Pleasure Dome, an immense structure at the very center of Heaven surrounded by literally miles of lesser entertainments. It was like approaching an endless carnival, one where the divinities themselves were revelers. The circle was awed by the sight of the mile-high walls of jade, orichalcum, and moonsilver, and the hundreds of celestial lions standing perpetual honor guard at the enormous gates.

As the circle approached the Dome, celestial lions stopped them at the gates and tried to turn them back. After pulling rank as Celestial Exalted, the lions finally agreed to let them in, but only if they would wear special jade goggles. Red Lion asked what would happen if they took them off. Upon hearing that his mortal frame would be devoured by holy fire if he looked upon the Games of Divinity with naked eyes, he agreed to not take the goggles off.

In the meantime, Ven was having the worst time in the world getting her cloud scooter into the Tower’s airspace. Giant eagles kept attacking her, as did strange aerial glows that seemed something like luminous jellyfish. Finally, she was forced to abandon the cloud entirely and make a dive for the parapets of the Tower of Souls. Never before did she so completely regret not picking up any flying creatures in her shapechanging portfolio…

Within the Jade Pleasure Dome, the circle was watching the movement of the Games of Divinity with rapt attention. At a mighty table stood none other than the Incarnae themselves—Sol Invictus and the Maidens, with Luna standing to one side with an amused look on her face. The game seemed to have some deeper, sublime meaning in their eyes, and even Snapdragon’s Dark Passenger was quieted for a time in the glow of their glories. Prism was nearly insane with divine ecstasy from being in the presence of his One True God, while Blazer was still trying to analyze the situation through the fog of unnatural joy.

Venomous Spur stalked through the halls of the Tower of Souls looking for something resembling a records hall or an office. Instead, she found her way to a massive central chamber filled with a blinding blue glow, like a solid shaft of light several miles tall and hundreds of feet thick. Millions of motes of light swirled within the beam, being drawn from some unfathomable source to some unknown destination. Ven was able to glean that she was looking into the very cycle of reincarnation—the River of Souls.

As she wandered the platforms overlooking the mighty conflagration, she happened across a blue-glowing form in the shape of a man. As the form coalesced and took on a more lifelike coloration, she was shocked to recognize the face of her long-dead husband, Cattails-by-the-River. She reached out and spoke to him, and discovered that he remembered their life together clearly—but that he had no recollection of the moment of his death or anything since. They had a touching moment before the arrival of the mistress of the Tower of Souls, Taru-Han herself.

Back in the Jade Pleasure Dome, Blazer had finally managed to piece together enough of his mental capacity to realize that the Games of Divinity were acting as some sort of psychic dampener on them. They were simply too powerful for mortal—or even semi-mortal—minds to process properly. Their Exaltation shards were capable of understanding the rules of the game, and even appreciating the multi-layered maneuver by which Sol Invictus took control of the board once more, but their human minds were rapidly schisming under the weight of unadulterated joy.

Taru-Han spoke to Ven directly, asking her about what brought her to the Tower. Ven honestly responded that Ryzala had asked her to look in on Taru-Han’s doings. The goddess seemed amused by the answer and made Ven a counter-offer. In exchange for telling Ryzala nothing of what she had seen and swearing to preserve the secrets she had learned, Taru-Han would allow Ven to visit her husband once a year.

When Ven expressed curiosity about the reasons behind keeping people from the cycle of reincarnation, Taru-Han told her that collecting the souls of mortal heroes was her hobby. Such people would not be considered heroic by the standards of an Exaltation, perhaps, but Taru-Han found their subdued and gentle heroics much more to her taste than the gaudy violence preferred by Autochthon’s greatest weapons. Ven struck a bargain with Taru-Han, including an offering of worship to the goddess to give her increased visitation rights with Cattails. Privately, Ven began to scheme about turning Cattails himself into an object of worship in order to remove him permanently from Taru-Han’s purview. With the aid of the goddess, Ven found herself launched to the Jade Pleasure Dome in mere moments.

She arrived just in time for Red Lion to overcome his fugue and reveal the real reason he had wanted to come to the Dome: to call upon Sol Invictus personally for an audience. Red Lion was insistent about gaining the attention of the Unconquered Sun, until finally the circle found themselves transported into a mini-realm of beautiful sunlight and burnished gold. There, waiting for them, was the mightiest of the Incarnae himself, Sol Invictus! As he walked toward them, thousands of golden-furred mice swarmed about his feet, but he stepped on none of them in his passing. In each of his four mighty hands he bore an implement of his office and distant music heralded his presence.

They were struck by his beauty, by his power—and by his terrible sadness. Despite his willingness to gift them with an audience, they could sense that he longed to be elsewhere. Red Lion implored that their progenitor would return his gaze to Creation now, in its darkest hour. Sol replied only that he could not—his heart was too heavy with the burdens he had borne for so long, and he had been disappointed in his children one time too many. Red Lion almost wept at the idea of a being as boundlessly compassionate as the one to whom they now spoke being pushed beyond the bounds of tolerance.

Red Lion looked deep into his own heart and found a well of conviction he hadn’t know before. Before his circle and the Unconquered Sun, he swore that he would find a way to redeem Sol’s faith in them. The god smiled a wan smile and offered in return only that he would be watching them closely from now on, to see if Red Lion could make good on his word. Before he departed, he shared a few words of wisdom with each member of the circle, and even kissed Snapdragon on the forehead. Prism nearly fainted from joy.

As the first among the Incarnae departed, they found themselves outside the Jade Pleasure Dome once more. While there was still much work to be done, they now knew that the gods were listening to them. That went a long way to restoring weary spirits and giving them hope for their future endeavors. They had only one day remaining to them in Heaven before the end of Calibration, and Red Lion and Venomous Spur knew exactly how they wanted to use it: raiding the Bureau of Nature!

Session 27: Calibration's End
In which our Heroes return to Creation with bittersweet parting

Session 27: Calibration’s End

After their separate adventures in Yu-Shan, the circle gathered together again to plan their raid on the Bureau of Nature, an action that would have to be both subtle and low-impact if they were going to avoid further censure from the heavenly authorities. Naturally, they decided that the best thing to do was to walk through the front doors and harass bureaucrats until they got what they wanted.

A quick consultation with their pet pattern spider revealed that the offices of the Bureau of Nature were hundreds of miles away, too far for a trip on a simple scooter-cloud. The literal-minded spirit also informed them that the fastest way to get there was by hitching a ride on the Golden Barque, the floating sky-fortress of the Ministry of Journeys.

The circle didn’t realize that the mighty airship was a haven for Sidereal Exalted when they jumped aboard the ferry that would then dock with the Barque. However, a fortunate turn of events led them to encountering a Sidereal with golden eyes and dark skin who was quite friendly to them, even aiding them on their way. Only after the fact did they realize that they had been aided by Ayesha Ura, the leader of the Ministry of Journeys and the de facto head of the Gold Faction of Sidereals.

The quick travel time allowed them to reach the Bureau within an hour or so, leaving them plenty of time to approach the local gods about their requests. A minor cat god, Ohai of the North, was able to give them a guided tour of the once-impressive but now-less-so grounds of the bureau. Ohai told them that the bureau was divided into two separate (but theoretically equal) ministries: the Hierarchy of Function, which divides up creatures by their abstract biological qualities of similarity; and the Hierarchy of Type, which divides up creatures by their similarity of appearance.

The highest-ranking bureaucrat who would meet with the circle was Nan-Chal, Eminence of Mammals. Taking the form of a vaguely humanoid wombat, Nan-Chal was quite pleasant with the circle, even complimenting Ven on her efforts to increase the number of creatures in Creation through her experiments. He also implied that platypi used to be Wyld creatures who eventually bred true in Creation, and even introduced the circle to the God of Platypi, a minor but quickly ascending deity in the Department of Mammals that had recently accepted a promotion to division chief over the Division of Monotremes.

After listening to their request for an official Seal of Divinity to help set right the problems on Creation, Nan-Chal was saddened to inform them that he had no such seal to offer them—officially. If they could aid him in a small project, he would be happy to “lose” a seal for them to “find.” He had heard rumors that there was a cache of Elsewhere-preserved creatures kept in stasis in an ancient, lost First Age city, but that none of his spirits could get anywhere close to it because of various dangers. If they were willing to find the lost laboratory and recover the specimens, he would happily promote Ven to adjunct membership in the Bureau on the sly and pass a seal off to her. He was also able to inform them that at least one greater seal had gone missing in Creation as well, and that if they could find it, he could instruct them on its use.

With both of these options in mind, they thanked Nan-Chal profusely. Red Lion asked if they minded taking a side trip to the Bureau of Seasons since they still had a little time, and the circle agreed. The trip there was quick as well, and they asked to be shown to the presence of the Court of Calendars. After arguing with an obstinate secretary, one of the calendar-deities agreed to see the circle anyway.

The circle was escorted into the grand and opulent offices of Jetazuro, Daimyo of the Season of Wood and Daimyo of Clouds. Red Lion commented to the goddess that her two titles didn’t seem to go together, and she pleasantly replied that it was just a matter of bureaucratic crossover. She was the official head of the Department of the Season of Wood, and was acting minister of clouds. Both departments had undergone significant changes over the last few centuries, and had gained her position after replacing the original Daimyo of Wood when he was arrested for departmental corruption.

Red Lion was conflicted. On the one hand, this wasn’t one of the gods who had actually snubbed Five Days Darkness. On the other, he had his oath to his sifu to fulfill. The goddess passed a time with them, enjoying some tea and discussing politics. When the topic turned to the matter of the Exalted, she revealed two important facts that helped Red Lion make up his mind. First, she was a Bronze Faction supporter and genuinely believed that the Solar Exalted represented a threat to all of Creation. Second, she had poisoned their tea.

Snapdragon collapsed from the poison, apparently no longer breathing, and Ven found herself paralyzed completely from the noxious brew. Most of the circle was weakened to some extent or other, but Red Lion pushed through the pain and stood his ground as Jetazuro summoned her panoply and assailed the remaining Solars. Blazer focused his efforts on saving Snapdragon’s life, leaving Red Lion, Prism, and Gideon to fight the martial deity. Even at three on one, the fight was less than in their favor. Jetazuro was a powerful goddess, possessed of potent artifacts and many divine powers.

None of it saved her. The Solars were agreed in only defeating her, not destroying her, so when the tide of battle turned against her it was only a matter of hard knocks and not lethal force. Red Lion got the final blow in, telling her that it was from Five Days Darkness. Then, Red Lion’s potent Heaven Thunder Hammer technique knocked her through a wall and into the distance.

Once the battle was done, they consulted with Sankara Holtz, their Sidereal legal advisor. She told them that since Jetazuro had made the first hostile move it was unlikely she would try to bring charges, but it was probably best that they leave Yu-Shan right away—especially considering the fact that Calibration was nearly over. She also warned them that the reach of the Bronze Faction was long, and now that the Gold Faction had come out to openly support them, it was going to become ugly. Blazer immediately understood that the Sidereals openly working against one another had a significant chance to turn from a bureaucratic nightmare (as it currently stood) into a total clusterfuck.

Sankara advised them to travel to Nexus when they got a chance, since there was a Gold Faction presence in the city. They wondered if Lady Redfeather was a member of the Gold Faction as well, since she had advised them to seek her out there. If so, why had she been working to destroy the peace of Mishaka? And why had she nearly ruined Delsinar? Had she been working with Oberen, or against him? So many questions remained unanswered when it came to the Sidereals and their motives.

Finally, they went back to the Celestial Gates and made their way to the portal home. Red Lion signed a few autographs while they waited for their turn to use a gate. As they made their way into the portal, they chanced to see Oberen standing on the other side of the terminal. He told them that he would see them back in Creation—and the next time, the gloves would be off. Snapdragon sneered that she looked forward to it.

And the portal closed, returning them to Creation.

Once the light faded, the circle realized that the gate through which they emerged was not the one through which they had traveled to Yu-Shan. Blazer ran some calculations based on the position of the sun and his own internal compass, only to discover that they were hundreds of miles south of where they had been only a few days before. The conference at Marita would be beginning today, and they were weeks away by foot. Red Lion commented that it would be no problem at all to summon the Lion’s Roar and Blazer to mock up a new flight module for them… but the Lion’s Roar did not come at Red Lion’s call.

Blazer’s sorcerous sight revealed that the dragon lines of their area were horribly twisted, as though something were distorting the local geomancy. Before they could examine the nature of the distortion any further, they could hear the distant cries of battle. People were in trouble! Without a second thought, the circle raced toward the sounds of danger…

Session 28: Swamp Things (part 1)
In which our Heroes attempt to save a village from a sinister swamp

Session 28: Swamp Things

The circle chased down the sounds of combat, finding a small horde of Arczeckhi warriors descending on a helpless human village. One of the hideous wolf-like mutants rode a tyrant lizard, while the others ravaged and slew as they saw fit. The circle entered the battle without a second thought, driving the Arczeckhi before them like grains of wheat before a cyclone.

As the battle turned in the circle’s favor, Ven requested that one of the mutants be captured alive so that she could test her brand-new invention: the mutation suppressor. Gideon made no promises, blasting away at the feral mutants with his Twin Dragons, and Snapdragon could only concur, reaving amidst them with her Grieving Blade. These monsters were hardly even human, and destroying them felt righteous. Still, Red Lion was able to help, knocking out the tyrant lizard with a punch to the jaw and trapping the hordemaster beneath its fallen bulk. He then punched out the mutant and tied him up, so that Ven could test the device on him once they recovered the Lion’s Roar.

The villagers expressed their deepest gratitude to the circle, confessing that lately it seemed as though the world itself had turned against them. Blazer noted that their homes were all partially flooded from the swamp and asked why they hadn’t built their homes on stilts like most swamp folk. The headwoman, Glass Whisperer, informed them that the swamp was new—until a few weeks ago, their village had been on the shore of a sandy-banked stream. In the course of a night, the swamp seemed to just appear around the village. Glass Whisperer’s niece, Alazne, had gone missing in the swamp a few days later.

Blazer was disturbed by this. More than just the sudden appearance of a new swamp, he thought he had seen a girl by Alazne’s description as they entered the village. But that was impossible, given what the headwoman was saying. On the other hand she might be a ghost, hoping to reveal what had killed her. In the meantime, Ven and Red Lion were doing their best to keep the villagers from killing the Arczeckhi prisoner they had taken, a hordemaster called Kervassi.

An investigation by the circle eventually led them to explore the interior of the swamp, leaving Kervassi tied up and locked inside a hut on the edge of the village. Ven warded the building to keep him from getting out—and the villagers from getting in—while they were gone. While exploring the swamp, they found that the vegetation kept acting in highly unnatural ways. Finally, they were attacked by shambling corpses covered in moss and vines—but which did not seem like the undead to Blazer’s sorcerous sight.

A more thorough review of the creatures revealed that they were plant-like monsters using preserved human corpses as structural support—like ivy growing on a pillar. Alazne appeared to them again and pleaded for release; she was indeed a ghost, and she could not rest until her body was given a proper funeral. While out exploring the new swamp, she had been attacked by the creatures that had ambushed the party; now her body was being used by them as a host for such a creature.

The circle asserted that such a thing could not be allowed to pass. They assured the poor dead girl that they would lay her to rest and set off in search of the center of the swamp. Upon arriving there, they found themselves face-to-face with more of the swamp creatures, as well as a number of beautiful women with vines in their hair, all of whom spoke in unison with a single voice.

“Who dares disturb Mother Bog?”

Session 29: Mother Bog (part 2)
In which our Heroes fight the ravages of nature... of a sort

Session 29: Mother Bog

After coming face-to-face (so to speak) with a talking swamp, the circle’s negotiations revealed that the creature called Mother Bog was some sort of behemoth from the First Age, a genius loci capable of slow but implacable movement. Her goal was to keep moving, absorbing new people to serve her as “swamp children,” and she wasn’t about to let to the whining of such short-lived creatures stop her. Moreover, upon learning that there were Exalted within her boundaries, she was quite livid—the Solars of the First Age had hurt her once, and she remembered it all too well.

A battle between the swamp creatures and the circle ensued, a pitched fight that gave no quarter and asked none. While they were able to recover Alazne’s body, they quickly found themselves overwhelmed until Prism of Truth discovered that his anima power could incinerate the host-bodies of the swamp beasts. They were not undead, after all—merely corpses acting as structural elements for the animating plants. Everything turned around in moments as Prism flared his anima banner to full and began turning the monsters into ash.

Though her “children” were defeated, Mother Bog herself was still prideful. She could not be killed, she boasted, and the circle had to concur. Blazer’s knowledge of First Age behemoth-fighting tactics showed that the usual method was to contain rather than kill, since killing such enormous beasts was often either impossible or had terrible consequences (such as the creation of a new hekatonchire).

Blazer and Ven worked quickly to cobble together a sealing plinth, modeled after the jade obelisks of the First Age that were used to hold back the Wyld. This one would lock Mother Bog in one place, effectively pinning her down like a butterfly on a tack board. The villagers were evacuated out of Mother Bog’s grasp to a nearby location, their village rebuilt and fortified with Blazer’s magic.

Once the villagers were safe from any immediate retribution on Mother Bog’s part, Blazer and Ven placed the mystic plinth, weathering the genius loci’s rage until it was settled into place. After confirming that the terrible behemoth had been imprisoned—at least for the time being—they said their goodbyes to the villagers and got back on the road to Marita. The last they saw of the place was Alazne’s spirit waving goodbye as she faded into Lethe…

Session 30: Capital Hijinx
In which our Heroes become entangled in politics

Session 30: Capital Hijinx


Session 31: The Cutting edge
In which Snapdragon's past comes back to haunt her

Session 31: The Cutting Edge


Endless Desert
Session 32: Complication
In which a broken Circle attempts to make itself whole once more

Session 32: Complications


A night in Malfeus