As the tale of the Exalted Continues

Piper's Journal 30

Regression to the Mean

Resplendant Earth 14

I’m pretty sure Chaoxi handles Broken Wall’s scheduling. That is the easiest explanation as to why it is more reliable than any time keeping device I can name. That clockwork efficiency, while exploitable, has it’s upside. The moment we docked I was able to make a beeline across the city, single-minded in my purpose and absolutely sure of my destination.

Upon my arrival at the Temple District compound I was stopped by guards. Hurriedly I informed them I was with the expedition that launched yesterday and that I needed to speak with Broken Walls urgently. Broken Walls soon noted my presence and fixed me with a concerned stare. Dismissing his people he took me immediately aside to inquire why I had so unexpectedly returned.

I partway expected to be denounced as crazy. Hell, there are days I can’t be sure I haven’t cracked straight down the middle. We are, all of us, fairly eccentric but where is the line between eccentricity and madness and how in Creation can you tell once someone has crossed it for good? Maybe I’m too scared to seek answers on that point. To my considerable relief Broken Walls calmly accepted my tale as fact and agreed that it seemed out of character for Aster and Saiten to behave as they had. Unfortunately he couldn’t be certain if she had used her power on Saiten. I’d hoped since Broken Walls had witnessed it’s use before he’d have more concrete insights. No such luck.

We developed a haphazard plan. Stationing myself on the roof of a warehouse I watched Broken Walls approach Aster and Saiten from afar. I’ve become accustomed to the instant gratification of knowing what people are talking about at this distance and it was harder than I expected to resist the temptation to eavesdrop. Broken Walls had prepared himself by plugging his ears with beeswax and bringing a pen and paper to converse. We hoped it would serve to insulate him from the effect of Aster’s voice.

Once we reconvened Broken Walls handed me what Aster had wrote. Supposedly she regretted her decision and wanted to get back underway. Saiten for his part had remained firm in his belief that remaining in Champoor was the right course until Broken Walls had taken pains to convince him otherwise. I suppose it’s reassuring that he isn’t willing to blindly follow Aster’s every whim…

Something still doesn’t make sense to me. Aster had seemed so sure, so utterly confident in her course of action. Why change her mind again so suddenly? Broken Walls questioned me about suspicious characters on the boat thinking some sort of outside influence might be taking advantage of Aster’s moment of weakness. It is as likely a cause as any but I am at a complete loss as to how.

Whatever the case Broken Walls and I agreed that if Aster was having some sort of breakdown or is being manipulated by outside forces it would be best she do so away from the city. We made arrangements to borrow a couple of Stone’s Passing’s homing pigeons so that if Aster did prove to be unstable word could be sent. One of my network from inside Rising Sun was drafted to join us on our journey. One can’t expect him to be of much help if the worst happens but you never know who might be of use in a pinch.

I don’t know what to think. In the past I’ve felt guilty about not being sincere with Aster. She has confided in me during periods of personal crisis and believes I am her friend but right now I don’t want to be anywhere near her. Watching Champoor fade beyond the horizon the keen edge of separation bit deep surprising me. I hadn’t realized I’d miss Broken Walls, Chaoxi, Spindlewisp, Toki, Xi… Enough nonsense. It’s being so worn out from frayed nerves that has me caught up so. I just need rest.

Resplendent Earth 20

The ride North across the Dreaming Sea was uneventful. For the most part I stayed aloft where I wouldn’t run afoul of Aster. Fretting wasn’t going to do me much good so I chose to focus inward on what I could change. It’s past time I started gaining control over my thoughts and emotions so I’m not at their mercy as I so often am.

Sailing is agreeable for fostering contemplation. At night the stars were so bright they seemed almost within reach. I forgot how dull they appear in Champoor. Since the introduction of nightlife they have seemed to become even harder to see. Autumnal cold seemed to make them sharper and closer. The first breaths of approaching winter blew brisk over the salt water sweeping the bile of paranoia and fear from my addled mind. The days are getting steadily shorter and that holds some baring on me . The fading power of the sun as the seasons turn isn’t something we’re told to enjoy but I always have. The patient hording of food waiting for the spring to return, armies laying down their arms or digging in to weather the cold and wet. It is a time of stillness, darkness, patience… and beauty. Champoor might be too far south for snow but it always brings back fond memories. I liked the sound of it best. The muffled closeness that made everything feel like it was wrapped in a fluffy down blanket. The heliotrope reflections of when the sun hit it at just the right angle or the luminous full moon on the untouched newly fallen snow. Turning the ordinary into an extraordinary place for just a little while.

Winter can be deadly, the cold kills those with no proof against it. Planning and patience makes it bareable until the wheel of seasons turns. In troubling times one must have faith that things will eventually improve so I shall try.

We landed and offloaded the horses and wagons with no incident. The overland leg of our journey will take us to the North East. Aster’s behavior seems to have returned to normal but I’ve maintained my distance. She is enamored by the forest we are passing through flitting here and there marveling at the landscape. Saiten is likewise showing an interest toward the unfamiliar terrain though his is more academic or perhaps culinary, he seems focused on identifying edibles along the trail.

The landscape reminds me somewhat of the forests around where I grew up, at least in regard to the flora. That familiarity is more odd than reassuring. I think we must not be terribly far from the easternmost fringe of the Confederation of Rivers.

That vision I had, and the forest we’re passing through, has put me in frame of mind to wonder if I should ever attempt to visit my family. It’s a ridiculous fantasy, what would my parents even make of me? It is impossible to imagine a place I’d have amongst them but the alternative is to let time march on and erase any chance I have of knowing. Do I owe them closure or will I regret not satisfying my curiosity as to what became of them?

My dreams for years have shown me a multitude of reunions with them and all of them have been painful in one way or another. The warmth and affection that they freely gave me as a child cannot be borne by me as an adult. What if they demand an explanation? Recounting all that has happened to them would be like reopening old wounds I fought to stitch closed. Catharsis is something I’ve already achieved and the means by which I found it is definitely something they’d disapprove of. I’m nothing like their memories of me and maybe it’s kinder for all of us if I leave things there.

I can only really count on my Grandmother’s reaction. She believed wholeheartedly that wyld mutations are a sign of weak moral character and I haven’t exactly proven her wrong. For some reason I can’t imagine the old woman having passed away. If anything she’d probably live forever out of pure spite that death would dare inconvenience her. Her ironclad disapproval shouldn’t matter but at the same time I don’t want to face it knowing I never lived it down.

At present there is no time to deviate from our path so I don’t need make a decision but I don’t think time will make an answer any more apparent. I could weigh every outcome and benefit for a millennia and be no closer to an answer but I haven’t that long. I am also not in the best company to ask an opinion. Saiten and Aster’s parents are deceased. Even if I thought it wise to ask their opinion it would probably be tactless.

Resplendent Earth 24

Travelling overland and wanting something other than my thoughts to occupy me I have spent some time getting to know our guards. In Champoor I’d gotten used to speaking with a number of people on a very consistent basis and I found myself missing that contact. I might not be candid about my true identity to a great number of my acquaintances but that doesn’t mean I place no value on our interaction. I’m content to listen and that is companionship of a sort.

The guards are a varied lot but most of them are sailors of the Renoh family or were hired and trained out of poverty and drilled to military standards of discipline by Rising Sun. I’ve been sparring with them and find that they are surprisingly adept considering most of them only started training this year. Oob is practically unrecognizable from the slovenly Rathouse bandit he was when we first met. Exercise, discipline and the adoption of hygiene have made him almost distinguished. He now commands with competence and fights like a man born with a sword in hand. Strange.

Handily since my alias Sun Shen Li was in the tournament my presence is easily explained. I am a hired guard with the unusual ability to perceive and communicate with spirits. Normally I don’t advertise my skills but I’ve been keeping an eye on the local spirits and people tend to be put off when someone behaves as though interacting with something invisible. At present I am well aware that there are a few who think I am putting on an act in a bid for attention. They are welcome to believe what they want for I do not care.

Aster and Saiten continue to attempt to amuse themselves. Saiten seems to be struggling with trying to find ways to make the journey into more of a workout and Aster well… is Aster. She sings, she marvels at the scenery she flutters here and there. Most of our guards are content to stay out of their way and maintain a kind of reverent distance. I wonder if that is a good thing.

As for me well… I don’t like being confined to a single body for long periods of time but I’m trying to make the best of it. It’s addictive being anyone you want to be but being deprived of my normal indulgences has made me appreciate them all the more. I’ve been blending into the pack of guards which if anything has been useful in retraining my reference for what “normal” is. Useful practice I guess.

The guards tend to tease me for being a “shrimp”. Having experienced extremes on both ends of the spectrum I can’t say I prefer being tall or short but seeing this as an avenue to merit the occasional retaliatory prank I’ve elected to treat it as a good-natured insult. Oob has lectured me rather sternly about some pranks but seems to appreciate others. Apparently convincing someone they have ingested a fatally poisonous mushroom is “mean spirited” but shaving an eyebrow off a sleeping sentry is perfectly fine. I’m not sure where finding my sleeping bag filled with nettles and sand last night falls on this spectrum but Willows over Rivers is going to learn tampering with my rest exacts a heavy price.

We have been pushing the pace to make better time continuing late each evening by the illumination of Aster’s pendant. Late yesterday we encountered some ghostly highway men, a prickly giant boar and something I’m told is called an Ox Dragon. Of them , the first wisely decided we weren’t worth troubling with, the second was bludgeoned to death by Saiten in the space of half a minute and the third Aster told us not to harm which was wise as it didn’t seem to be aggressive.

Afterwards Aster attempted to incinerate the body of the boar with her golden fire drawing objection from Saiten who wished to add it’s meat to our supply. Aster seemed to think the creature was holding a grudge in the afterlife and was continuing to suffer. The guards watched stoically not wanting to intervene but I could tell a number of them would have preferred a meat dinner over the increasingly unappetizing trail rations. Weighing in what I had been told I informed Aster that animals don’t tend to hold grudges over singular offenses the same way humans do and only sustained patterns of mistreatment might earn enough animosity to merit an angry ghost pig. Moreover average funerary rites and prayers were more than often enough for most human spirits.

To assuage Aster’s fears and appease Saiten’s appetite I said a brief rite for the boar. Nergui taught me that for Gods and ghosts the principles are virtually the same. Acknowledge, show gratitude or remorse for trespass and observe polite reverence. That done our soldiers cleaned the kill and roasted the meat. I think they may have rubbed it with some sort of hot pepper to attempt to counteract some of the gamey flavour which didn’t really work. It was still very gamey. The cooks wrapped up and salted the remaining meat with the hope aging should improve the flavour. It’s cold enough that it should keep a while.

In the morning I surveyed the deforestation the Ox dragon caused. Curious I peered into the spirit realm to see what the spirits made of the disturbance. There was only one. A tiny rock-kami who was running in circles and screaming. Asking what troubled it specifically the spirit pointed it’s tiny fingers and flailed indicating it’s surroundings while maintaining it’s high pitched scream. It had impressive lung capacity for something so small. Unable to help I muttered an apology and was surprised when it abruptly stopped screaming, made a noise sort of like “huh!” and buried itself in the ground seemingly content. I left a small prayer slip behind apologizing for the upset for any other spirits who may have been displaced by the disturbed earth. It really doesn’t seem to take much to appease these spirits but I’m trying to get in the habit of exhibiting better manners.

Descending Earth 10

We have at last arrived in Zingma’s Tree, a town which is aptly named for the massive tree that once overshadowed the town. Now it has fallen, diminishing the grandeur of what must have been a spectacular sight.

Travelling toward the stump we noted a perfect circle of new saplings which at first I thought little of until noticing the even distribution of trees was too regular to be natural. A sour and unpleasant fragrance lingered about the place reminding me vaguely of Champoor. Smelling this scent for the first time in isolation I recognized it as a unique odor and not the byproduct of a melange of mingling human waste and trash as I had once thought. It seemed out of place in an area alive with natural spirits tending to the trees or loafing about as spirits are wont to do. The spirits themselves had a very “green” smell about them, like damp moss or fresh rain. The nebulous nature of the stink’s source added to the unnatural quality.

Dasadi’s instructions were clear and we easily found the boulder beside the stump that dominated the center of what was once a lively village. It took no goading for Saiten to not just push, but lift the boulder revealing a set of descending spiral stairs. We were greeted by the whirr of crystalline gears as the bird who had found us in Champoor flew up from below to tell us we were in the right place but at the wrong time. Dasadi supposedly disappears every second day and makes his re-appearance at twilight. The bird also warned us not to go down lest we disturb “the dog”.

Curious, but unwilling to assume the role of the proverbial cat, we elected to wait at the mouth of the stair. Pork soup was put on to boil for supper in preparation for Dasadi to properly break his fast. One of the men, Shining Rain’s Hammer, argued caution claiming that we should endevour to not be in the circle at midnight fearing some sort of supernatural confluence. I’ve heard that bit of folklore before. Something about not crossing through rings lest one be cursed and never allowed to leave again. To be safe I requested our company not do anything that might defile the ground we are on as it was spiritually active.

The sun sunk low over the horizon and shortly after Dasadi appeared at the cave mouth, emaciated, carrying his filthy clothes in his arms and wearing nothing but a belt which did little to preserve his modesty. He was flanked by a large spirit in the shape of a dog. Aster and Saiten averted their eyes, obviously embarrassed to witness Dasadi naked. Aster’s reaction wasn’t surprising but Saiten’s vehement disgust initially puzzled me. Surely he’s seen masculine genitalia before? I’d understand being squeamish if Dasadi’s were mutilated or some such but aside from being pale his were unremarkable.

Ah- come to think of it Nexus’s bathing customs favour the style of baths taken alone in a small tubs. Public bathing there has a negative stigma. I had theories during my time living there that it had something to do with the large number of mutants. Idiots sometimes think they can “catch” a mutation like a disease by sharing amenities like bathwater probably leading to the decline of public bathing. Saiten’s abhorrence of nakedness could be the result of observing that custom from the standpoint of a moderately wealthy merchant family.

Dasadi sat at the fire and accepted a bowl of soup silently as the dog settled behind him and the bird perched on his shoulder. He offered a seed to a small acorn spirit riding a passing squirrel before tucking into his food. He barely registered us at first. I wasn’t surprised. Just because one’s ordeal ends doesn’t automatically equate instant recovery. Aster and Saiten kept their distance until after I draped a blanket over our companion reestablishing some decorum and ensuring he didn’t catch his death.

The first thing to cut through Dasadi’s inattention was Rain’s Hammer’s urging to abandon the circle. He quailed as Dasadi fixed him with a mad eyed glare and forced some seeds into his hand gesturing that he plant them leading me to conclude that he had something to do with the circle of saplings and thus had nothing to fear.

Trusting Dasadi knew his business we made camp. Finishing his soup he retired to the tent we had pitched for him. I had noted that Dasadi’s clothes were ragged and smelled appallingly so I left my baggiest spares next to his bedroll. He’d lost so much weight I surmised they would likely fit despite the difference in our heights and builds. They might not flatter but they’d make do.

Rain’s Hammer, despite our reassurances, remained anxious about being in the circle at midnight. Since I was keeping vigil and grew tired of watching him fidget I offered him my necklace of carved bone magatama telling him it would offer him protection from minor spirits to settle him.

It doesn’t. Minor spirits are ambivalent to the presence of humans and rarely manifest.

Still the way he clutched it like a child’s security blanket calmed his nerves enough that he didn’t run screaming into the night. He continued agonizing as midnight approached but the so called “witching hour” passed without incident. I kept watch throughout the night to make sure our camp was not taken by surprise but aside from tiny spirits and a few scavenging squirrels all was still.

Descending Earth 11

Dasadi emerged this morning from his tent again completely nude. He quickly realized his error and donned the clothes I had left him but my companions took awhile to shake off their dismay. When he rejoined us he seemed more present. Not entirely back to his old self but more willing to speak. It took him a bit to recognize Aster and Saiten and when he turned his attention on me I hinted we’d met before. He stared at me in a somewhat unsettling manner for a few seconds but the explanation seemed to satisfy him and I figured he’d already inferred who I was.

We spoke to Dasadi and the mechanical bird as the dog lumbered off and destroyed a bunch of empty houses. When asked about the nature of said canine and why he was collapsing nearby fixtures Dasadi told us offhandedly he “manifested it from his own will” and that it “dislikes the structures of man”.

How very reassuring.

We turned our questions toward the nature of the bird who seemed to find our inquiry rude. I imagine were I a more empathetic person I would pity it the rough time it was in for rather than resent the reprimand. After all it’s going to have to get used to answering the question “what are you?” on an extremely regular basis since well distributed etiquette books detailing the finer points of conversing with mechanical birds DON’T EXIST. The bird reluctantly explained that it is an artifact of extreme age that Dasadi found trapped in the rubble of the cave and that it sustains itself off conversation and song. Funny, if conversation were my sustenance I might think twice about being a disagreeable curmudgeon lest I starve.

Dasadi gave us the run down as to how he had managed to get himself so throughly stuck. A little over a month ago when he had arrived the area was in the process of converting into a shadow-land and the spirit of Zingma’s tree had been terminally ill as a result. Dasadi had replanted a number of seeds left to him by the dying God of the tree but the man who had been assisting him , Javier of Falling Snow had tricked him into descending into the cave and sealed the entrance behind him.

It’s also worth mentioning that prior to Dasadi’s arrival the skeletal structures of the former citizenry of Zingma’s tree had marched off presumably to devastate neighboring villages. I imagine we’re going to encounter their aftermath further down the road since we are a month behind them. I’d somewhat hoped I wouldn’t have to reckon with another army of undead so soon after Akimu but as usual the fates don’t give a damn about my preferences.

His story complete Dasadi showed interest in what we had gotten up to since we last spoke. Telling him of the discovery of a Wyld rift in the bay, Tenepeshu’s reassigning of godly domains and our brief brush with the Realm it became apparent how much has happened in so short a space of time. It seems a lifetime ago but in reality it wasn’t that long since we parted ways. Midway through our tale Dasadi seemed to focus again on me asking who I was. Somewhat taken aback I refrained that we had met before to which he gave me a blank look. “In Volivat” I supplied trying to jog his memory. He put a hand up slowly to his mouth as if who I was had finally dawned on him.

So…I guess he hadn’t figured out who I was then.

On the journey here I had resolved to ask Dasadi what he knows of the Dreaming and hopefully gain a little insight as to what happened to me. Maybe I’ll wait a bit to ask him about it until he’s collected himself. I think he has enough on his plate at present.


Edgar_Grim Cultureshock007

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