As the tale of the Exalted Continues

Piper's Journal 31

Wlyd ducks

Descending Earth 11

We left Zingma’s Tree to follow in the wake of the Bonesiders who had departed in a column some four months prior. We would have been at a loss to determine the path of their departure has Desadi not made note of the tracks before his internment. There was little sign left of their passage which I guess should not surprise. Skeletons lack weight compared to living people so their persisting traces would likely be minimized. Even if they had been flesh, four months and autumn’s fresh cover of leaves would have left me at a loss.

Our return to the boredom of the road prompted the soldiers to amuse themselves at Wilson of The Weeping Willows expense. They pestered Wilson mercilessly about his aversion to circles to the point even I felt bad for him. There is no shame in being wrong. Caution is better than carelessness. That night when we made camp we did so in a clearing with a ring of mushrooms and Wilson, fed up with their teasing, pitched his tent as close as possible to the ring.

It wasn’t long before I noted Desadi was preoccupied by something. When asked what concerned him he initially ignored me. I waited patiently until he eventually mentioned the area was strange. He startled and asked me if I had heard a duck quack. This odd behavior was initially concerning because I heard nothing remotely duck-like.

A few minutes later I too heard the sound. It did sound like a duck but weirdly I couldn’t discern the direction of the sound’s origin at all. Could our imaginations playing tricks? Desadi long spate of interment alone was undoubtedly injurious to the mind and my imagination can’t yet, and perhaps never again, be trusted. It made me uneasy

When organizing the watch Saiten insisted he no longer requires sleep and can keep watch all night (something which I am intensely envious of if it is in fact true) but Desadi suggested we post our own watches to compensate for his inability to perceive the unseen world. Good to see he’s lucid enough to note my newfound ability to see spirits… though he’d done so without comment. Perhaps he cannot remember that when last we met I’d no affinity for sensing the supernatural.

First watch was mine. Saiten meditated leaving me to stargaze undisturbed for a few hours when a bloodcurdling scream split the camp. We scrambled to it’s source. Wilson’s bedroll had come apart and his foot had strayed into the ring of toadstools crushing some of the delicate fungi. When we arrived he was trying to tear his boot from his foot. A boot that muffled the sounds of a tiny trapped animal. Removing his sock he displayed four normal looking toes and one small duck nestled between his big and middle toe.

As the tiny animal thrashed it became apparent that it was attached to Wilson’s foot. The duck WAS his toe. The camp gathered round to ogle the oddity. Desadi, examining it closely told us this was the work of Wyld energies.

I’d seen plenty of wyld mutations in Nexus’s slums. Claws, fangs, skin that oozed or had scales, wings, fur, feathers extra limbs and even extra heads… but even in Nexus a perfect miniature duck for a toe would stand out.

Desadi tried his best to reverse the oddity by increasingly more uncanny means as Wilson continued to panic. The display of strange symbols in the air and the exorcist reaching into his foot up to the elbow did little to calm the patient. In the interim Saiten fed the tiny duck, somehow dubbed “Quincy” for reasons I cannot fathom, a few tiny breadcrumbs curiously asking if Wilson felt more satiated. Aster conjectured the ideal course might be amputating the limb frightening the man still more.

I began to wonder if I had fallen asleep on my watch and my dreams had strayed into utter absurdity. It would be a nice change.

Desadi took Saiten aside and explained a theory that the energies of the clearing may have preyed of Wilson’s beliefs. He outlined a plan to get Wilson to believe that the toe could be restored by asking Saiten to collaborate in a deception. His reasoning sounded plausible but why’d he’d believe Saiten would be convincing struck me as worrying. Saiten might not be as ethically committed to the truth as Aster but he’s still one of the most forthright and blatantly honest people I know.

Convincing Wilson that a ritual would restore his toe to normal wasn’t hard but Desadi’s notion didn’t take. Rather at the end of it we all looked like fools and in the morning Wilson cut his boot open and resigned himself to his new abnormality.

Descending Earth 12

The day dawned bright and clear. We resumed our journey though everyone was obviously disturbed from the events of the previous night. Autumn Blaze, seeking distraction, engaged me in conversation asking me if my fighting style was in fact some sort of martial art that I had trained in. I saw little reason to lie and told her it of the Dreaming Pearl Courtesan style.

The name of course elicited a pause from my companion… probably because of the inclusion of the word “Courtesan” which even I find embarrassing. It occurred to me as I said it that nobody has ever asked me that question before which might be why it felt oddly disconcerting saying the style’s name out loud. Her next question was predictably where I learned it. For an instant in my mind’s eye I pictured Lang smiling over the corpse of one of her “practice dummies” before banishing the thought. I supplied more honesty telling her I picked it up in Great Forks. Only the specifics were unacceptable and required revision. Thankfully there are plenty of false details I could supplement.

I settled for telling her the style was common enough in the city and I’d honed my ability to compete in the Arena of the Blood Lotus Society. A feasible lie and hard to disprove even if she had grown up in the city. If she did in fact travel there and showed an interest she’d have little trouble finding a teacher.

The grandeur of Great Forks seemed to hold some appeal to my companion though perhaps she was just bored. People flock there from all over Creation for the perpetual festivals and to revel in luxuries. It surprised Autumn Blaze that I’d left – for Champoor of all places. Hmph. People without money seem to think that money fixes everything. Great Forks may be a nicer place to live in some respects- Champoor is a dirty, dingy, ugly city – but at least in Champoor you see is what you get. Great Forks pretends it’s heaven like a whore pretends to be a lover. It’s syphilitic blemishes concealed beneath the careful application of rice powder makeup.

It was nearing midday when Dasadi drew our attention to a swept bit of road and my sharpened senses picked up traces of stale human blood. We followed the trail into the woods to a cairn of stones. The grave reeked of blood and the leaves around had been swept to make the spattering of blood on the leaves less apparent. The scent burned in my nostrils as the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up and my skin tingled with a weak crawling sensation. I steeled myself and helped uncover the body with the others.

The first bad omen was the word “sorry” scrawled beneath one of the stones Saiten had picked up. Whomever had killed the man in the grave had cause to remorse. The victim had been killed by a hefty blow to the forehead which must have killed him near instantly. His arms had been severed and lay to either side of his torso but were horrendously mangled. My first thought is perhaps they had killed the man to alleviate the suffering of his arms until Aster decreed that the arms alongside the body didn’t belong to the man in the cairn. Unsettling information that did not sit well with any of us.

I went through the man’s pockets. The blood on his clothes was dry but I took pains to wash it’s traces from my fingers anyway. I found nothing of note, just a few mixed coins from different places. His clothes were of good quality but worn. He had traveled some distance to come to this unfortunate end. Aster used her fire on both these sad remains before we headed back to our caravan to let Oob know of our findings.

My dreams that night were uneasy.

I was walking on a forest trail my nose full of the stench of blood that dropped like warm sticky raindrops from the leafless trees. The sky was an unbroken blue, the sun catching on the ruby drops and rubbery pools of coagulated blood. I stumbled and threw my hands forward to catch myself and noticed my right hand was missing, replaced with a ragged stump. I continued onward and the path turned until I faced the sun. I closed my eyes against it’s glare and felt warm tears roll down my cheeks. When I opened them again I saw nothing from my left eye, I swiped my sleeve over my face and saw the trace of tears from my right eye and blood spots from my left. My ears eventually disappeared the same way the woods becoming eerily silent with their loss. In the dream I was not distressed just driven to my destination with a sort of resignation of fate.

I approached a clearing where someone waited. With no ears I could not hear her greeting but I recognized the person waiting for me there. Autumn Blaze gave me a warm smile and strode toward me confidently. Staggering I looked down to note I’d lost my foot and glanced up just as the rock in Autumn’s hand came down with a crunch.

Desadi happened upon me in the morning as I was washing the night’s fear sweat from my face and asked if I’d had nightmares. He assured me he’d fix me some drought to assist. I thought to demur but saved my breath. Proof is better than argument. It will be easier to simply stomach whatever pet dope he offers than convince him it will fail.

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