As the tale of the Exalted Continues

Piper's Journal 16

Blood, Tea and Intrigue

Resplendent Fire 8th to 13th – A busy week


There was some time to prepare for the meeting as it was over a week away. I did my best to continue on with business as usual though my mind hummed with tension like a plucked bowstring. I met a number of interesting people and learned a great deal more about the diversity of human suffering in the city. I tried my best to lend an ear to those whom I spoke with and was careful to use a number of fresh aliases so if my watchers were checking in they would find me difficult to track.

Things had settled into an almost comfortable cycle until Broken Walls sought me out one morning and asked me out to lunch. It was an unexpected interruption to my routine and I was immediately concerned by the implications. I suspected he had information to share that the others couldn’t hear or he suspected that one of the many people he has given access to the compound was compromised. Neither boded well. We settled on a Sukiyaki restaurant on the inside of the wall. It was a popular place, noisy and difficult to be overheard but in the manner of sukiyaki restaurants they had private booths. Perfect.

Over lunch I asked him what he wanted to speak to me about, already calculating the possibilities of how best to go about hunting a mole. Broken Walls cleared his throat and… made clear his intent to be my friend.

Unconquered defend me, please let that not be some implication of a romantic attraction!

I decided to take this statement at face value. My read on Broken Walls is such a tangled mess of impressions. I openly disagree with him on so many points but suppose it couldn’t hurt to try for a fresh start. I admitted that I had not considered him a candidate for friendship. I apologized for my cold demeanor and accepted his invitation to “be friends” hoping that he was in fact being literal but the rest of the meal was exceedingly awkward.

Later on that evening I took out my shogi board and offered to play with him. He proved an excellent player, trouncing me thoroughly at the game which given he probably has well over a century of additional experience was not surprising. It was not a disagreeable change of pace. Saiten is still learning and I have never really experienced this form of higher level of play.

Over the past few weeks I have been practicing the techniques of being personable I learned from watching Aster work. The first stage appears to involve an exchange of personal information and displaying an active interest. Seeming as he mentioned it some time ago though was unspecific on detail I settled on asking Broken Walls what the Unconquered Sun told him when he took his “second breath”. Aster had explained she had heard him speak and he instructed her to share her light with the world. I was curious to know what sort of directive the Unconquered Sun bid Broken Walls follow as I had neglected to ask.

I was a little taken aback when he explained that his directive was to lead and better mankind. That gave me pause. Is Broken Walls meant to be some sort of king, literally invested with the divine right to rule? What does that make him to me, my equal or superior? Hmpf. It doesn’t matter. I don’t care what the Unconquered intended for me in that respect, I submit to no one.

Returning the social grace, Broken Walls was curious about my own experience. He was aware of the fact that I was not told of the my purpose of my selection by the Unconquered and wanted to know if that effected me terribly. I told him the truth about my stance on the matter, that it never bothered me. At the time I recognized that I was amathema. I was not a follower of the faith but a monster seemed a fitting enough label for what I had become so I had not questioned it until I met the others.

Our talk continued to range over philosophical ground. Broken Walls aired some thoughts on whether mortal law really applied to us. The double standard does not seem just though I cannot deny that I have never seen the law as an applicable check to my actions. Do we bind the weak to the laws we make? That feels uncomfortably like slavery and oppression. Broken Walls seemed troubled by the implications as well which was to his credit. I have no answers, only more questions.

Resplendent Fire 14th – Something in the Air


Most of the day was unremarkable but this afternoon I asked Aster about what sort of tea might be suitable for a gift. I have much knowledge on the proper way to serve different teas and I can tell an inexpensive tea from a pricey one but I wanted the eye of an expert to narrow down the type to best suit the occasion. She did after all used to work in a tea shop and I have not been much in the habit of selecting gifts.

Aster was very helpful. She suggested a fragrant variety of herbal jasmine tea but as we spoke Aster mentioned that she had tickets to see a play at the Winter Meets Wind. Curious I probed a little further and learned that she is going on a date … with Hatelis… The God…

I tried my hardest to contain my shock. We can’t count on the man (god) as an ally yet and doubtless he has his fingers in a lot of pies. I mused perhaps she intended to use this as a means of investigating him which seemed unlike her but further questions revealed she actually fosters an infatuation. I didn’t trust myself to speak much to her about that as I felt an anger stir that I initially couldn’t place. After she left I reflected on the emotion and despaired.

I am jealous.

I cannot tolerate the barest touch and yet I feel acutely the sting of favours of affection being granted to someone else? What hypocrisy! My past apparently hasn’t taught me anything. I must relive it and weigh myself wanting again! I will not bear it. This disease is in it’s early stages yet and I can stop it before it progresses too far.

Troubled, I purchased my tea and went to my visit Xi. I had a small run in with her son who I can tell doesn’t like me much, I think he is suspicious of me, seeing little reason why a man my age is visiting his aged mother. I can’t say I blame him but I don’t like him much either. He treats his mother as a burden now that her eyes are failing and she can do little to help the bookshop. It seems a lonely business being old. Even the comfort and company of her books is deserting her as her vision goes.

I read to Xi from a book of poems as we drunk the jasmine tea and I felt that tightness in my chest loosen a little. Xi’s sense of humour is still intact and her wits are sharp. We spoke a little about what was on my mind and while I was exceedingly vague and realize it doesn’t help my situation it did make me feel a little better about the whole thing. It is odd to think that one day though I may be her age but I will never know what old age is truly like. I promised her I would visit next week and freverently hoped I would be alive to keep my word.

Resplendent Fire 15th- Aster’s Date


Aster had been most forthcoming in sharing the details of her date with Hatelis and as such I had a proper itinerary and time to prepare. Indulging this idiotic possessiveness I have no right to feel is not my intent. I won’t meddle in Aster’s affairs directly but Aster is privileged with great power and is much too quick to trust. In an attack I know Aster could hold her own but men are devious in their manipulations and a God of fine print undoubtedly more so. I arranged to join the stage crew of the Winter Meets Wind Theater for the night for their performance. The piece they are performing is a pretentious display of “high art”. The play features a piece of art which is painted onstage alongside the action.

I’ve encountered this nonsense before. The painting is sold after the show to wealthy patrons to increase the revenue of the production. A prospect that probably pleases a god of commerce. The Assistant Director has an owning stake in the theater so there is some pressure to please him amoungst the actors. In the afternoon the play began and I eavesdropped on Aster and Hatellis.

He was charming. He spoke respectfully and kept his distance as he introduced her to the Assistant Director who of course gushed over his latest passion project. It was however somewhat….impersonal. Hatelis’s approach to Aster struck me to being similar to trying to how one might attempt to impress an important client. I can’t tell if he actually harbors any legitimate affection for her though he is certainly attempting to get on her good side.

After the show they took a carriage to a high class teahouse hung above a garden on a delicate structure. It always mystifies me how the rich choose to waste their money. I gained entrance easily enough however at a glance the menu gave me a fair estimate of what I was in for. No prices were listed, yet another folly of those with too much money and a sign that this little outing was going to cost. I selected a tea and a wagashi to nibble and gazed out at the garden as I eavesdropped. The sweet was excellent though the money that was changed for it was an absurdity hard to swallow. From my dealings with the wealthy they look at the consideration of how much something costs as being distasteful. I don’t know if Aster was aware of how much Hatelis spent but I wager it would have kept her clinic stocked to bursting for a month.

Hatelis remained polite and distant for the most part but Aster did dig some information from him. He is not confined to the city having high end clients in the surrounding area and some sort of stake in a quarry outside of town. Worth investigating at some point when I have the time.

The sun was setting and Hatelis informed Aster that he was permitted to travel the city at night under some restriction and could see her home. I however had to trot home like a good little sheep before the evening locked me in. Aster is a capable young woman. She can handle herself and hopefully can realize when she is being taken advantage of. I on the flipside can wager a few guesses at what lurks the streets and I know that on my own I am not their equal yet.

I kept an eye out until Aster arrived in Hatellis’s coach where he gifted her the painting from that night’s performance. A ham-handed use of wealth to gain her favor but it worked. She was flattered by his attentions. I listened to her recount the evening with Chaoxi as I fought my unease and dislike of the god. I don’t trust him but there is true advantage if Aster insinuates herself into high society here through him she could foster real change from the city’s elite.. The whole matter makes my blood boil but I can only try to direct it’s flow. I am nothing more than a meddling over protective older brother of sorts and must accept my place.

Please let me not be a failure at that.

Resplendent Fire 16th – Using a hammer instead of a pin


This morning I spoke with Saiten a bit about easing my load of investigations. Lately he has been spending his time trying to train the guards of Rising Sun House, half killing them by exhaustion in the process. He goes on “patrol” but it doesn’t amount to much in the grand scheme. I asked him if he was willing to look into the goings on at the temple of Kadu. I know he isn’t exactly subtle but perhaps there is advantage in that. If Kadu is up to something sketchy they would be reticent to let him join their venture and if they did try and lock him up Saiten should be powerful enough to overwhelm them and return.

I will be tasked with my meeting with the murder spirits for the next few days and providing they don’t kill me I hope to keep Saiten engaged and with any luck off patrol. I don’t know what sort of things my contact might get up to but I don’t relish the thought of running into Saiten while trying to infiltrate a group of murder spirits. Not to mention that if Kadu is up to something this could put Saiten on the track to making true progress here. It is a much worthier use for his time.

I have no fear of him fouling up the investigation. Seeing him handle things in Volivat I understand the effectiveness of his way of approaching problems. It is effectively pointing a cannon at something and seeing what damage can be done. Saiten is strongwilled, very direct and once he puts his mind to something he can’t be easily sidetracked. I wish I could be there to see someone try and stop him from going where he will but life if imperfect that way. If Kadu is on the level then Saiten will be able to pass harmlessly through their mechanations and tell us what they are about. If he causes distress then Saiten is well equipped to distress Kadu right back.

He took some convincing but I managed it. I look forward to seeing how he does.

I checked in with Broken Walls before I left for my own meeting. He had told me he was going to be keeping an eye out for me but he wanted me to arrange a signal for him. I didn’t want to tip my hand more than necessary with my enemies as to what I am so I donned a familiar disguise of Garnet and twisted my power to form the illusion of a fire aspect’s power over flame. I demonstrated it to Broken Walls who seemed a little taken aback. he expressed a minor worry over me setting fire to something but I informed him it was all fakery. He didn’t believe me until I waved a piece of paper through the flame to demonstrate it is harmless.I think I can create a fairly flashy display using it though I have never tested it’s outer reaches.

Finding the way wasn’t hard and I arrived at the place the spirit mentioned and found an arrow sketched in blood on the walls. That arrow lead to another and that arrow to an ajar door. It was an effective means of supplying direction but surprisingly childish.

I caught sight of the spirit lounging on the building’s lintel. He smiled and waved me inside. I nudged the door open and waited for my eyes to adjust. There was a woman there of middling height with dark hair and cold attractive features. She was wiping a silver bladed knife on the clothes of a prone man.“What did he do?” I asked. She spun, momentarily startled gave me an apprising look “Just trimming the fat,” she said dismissively. I wasn’t sure if she was attempting humour. The man on the ground was practically rotund when you account for Champoor’s average physique being somewhere between thin and malnourished. She introduced herself as “Lang” and after introductions bid me follow her to the top of the city wall.

From the height Lang motioned to the stream of people entering the city and informed me a number of things which do not bode well. Lang serves a Goddess of murder named Akkimu who is invested in keeping the incoming population in check by removing the worst elements of the city. Her followers wear masks and cloaks when out at night which allow them safe travel through the city. The mask she showed me seemed inspired by the visage of murder spirits like Hathesis. Membership comes at a cost and worshipers must murder regularly to keep these masks from cracking and relinquishing Akimu’s favour. The use of silver knives strengthen the connection between Goddess and Worshiper. My guide implied that this connection supplied Akemu’s followers with power but was vague on the details. She did however mention she would be willing to train me in her style of assassination… the Dreaming Pearl Courtesan style.

I was surprised and intrigued. It isn’t exactly a common style and I am aware my own level of aptitude with it is sorely lacking. After all Peony and I practiced it in secret for years with no critique of our form to guide our progress. If our “master” knew what we were up to it would have spelled disaster. He himself was such a degenerate, spoiled, coward that I doubt he ever really used it in battle. Such academic use of the skill must have left him with an incomplete mastery over the style.

I was introduced to the murder spirit properly as “Hathesis” whom she commanded find us a target to cut my teeth on. Like a black clad butler the spirit directed us to a man locked in the stupor of drugs and his body baring the unmistakable signs of repeat use. I can see how one might find someone like this a burden on society but I do not approve of this sort of target. I rolled my eyes at Lang trying to disguise the clenching muscles in my stomach as a lack of enthusiasm. I made it clear this wasn’t to my taste and demurred the lack of challenge and sport in it. She shrugged and killed the man with ease.

It didn’t bother her one whit.

Playfully, as though it were a game, Lang raced me to the next mark. I needed to ingratiate myself with these two if I was to learn anything of use and they seemed willing to indulge my choice of target. Lang laughed and encouraged me as I killed him. It was obvious she embraces this lifestyle to the hilt. The next kill was hers and I witnessed her use of Pearl Courtesan style. They were certainly quicker and more direct. This was no pretender to the aesthetic like Shufen had been, this was a gleeful assassin who had perfected the craft. I am not too proud to admit she was far better at it than me. Perhaps it is the obvious joy she has for the kill. I believe this woman is some sort of psychopath and our association made me uneasy. The old man had been speeding himself to an early death but he did not deserve to be dispatched so and that bothered me. One thing was certain, that had to pay off. This poor devil’s sacrifice couldn’t be for nothing.

On the next mark I demonstrated a bit of my own skill and she rejoiced that she had found a student she needn’t tutor from scratch. According to her the style that I practice, which is based on the original dance forms, has too much wasted movement and I lack the decisive edge to my blows. The innovations of later masters developed it into a more aggressive style which she took pains to demonstrate. It was fascinating but her enthusiasm for her work gives me the crawls. We practiced our talents on marks I probably would have killed anyway but I can’t deny it felt wrong to kill in the service of this Goddess.

I returned to the Rising Sun House and met with Broken Walls who had some of his own observations to share after I exhausted my recountance of the day’s gleanings. He asked if we should inform the others and I told him I thought we should. I felt we needed to bring our combined might to bear on this… that isn’t genuine. In truth I was shaken. I needed to hear perspectives that weren’t twisted and compromised as mine are. I am a shade too close to these monsters… to being these monsters.

We called a council. Saiten’s reaction was predictable, he wanted to charge off and face the problem head on. I had to bring up that this wasn’t just a mortal enemy that we can bludgeon into submission. As distasteful as the job is we still don’t know enough to land a killing blow on Akemu. Furthermore, once we do initiate battle the ranks will close. Information will be nigh on impossible to glean from them as they tighten down on possible leaks. Aster weighed in trying to balance acting quickly with the possible benefit of holding off. Overall we elected to wait a day while my “contact” collected more information. Saiten and Broken Walls would go and check on Kadu’s city works as the work party leaves from the temple tomorrow. We would reconvene in the evening and figure out our plan of attack.

I spoke again with Broken Walls as the others adjourned to bed. He was steadfast. I voiced my concerns about the viability of attacking these creatures and Broken Walls reasoned that spirits need to be material to attack and thus make themselves vulnerable to our attacks. Broken Walls also mentioned he had some sort of power that can force a spirit to materialize against it’s will. Regretting bring this all to Saiten’s attention I mentioned the possible route of us putting off the attack for longer if I slip further into my role as a double agent and warn the spirits of Saiten’s involvement. Broken Walls was right to shoot that down. I had lost my nerve. I must trust that we have a chance and stand with Saiten for anything less is to work against him and our chances.

Resplendant Fire 17 – The hunt

In the morning Broken Walls approached to inform me he had met with Mawk who, by his account, doesn’t seem a particularly worthwhile God. Not particularly evil but lazy and slovenly as his following is irreverent and crude. Mawk had confirmed that Akemu lived somewhere in Black Quarter. When asked what her deal was he had replied simply “Souls.”

I felt as though I were plunged in ice water. It was small comfort the people I had personally damned had probably deserved their lot. Broken Walls was a solid grounding presence and I tried my best to keep hold of my resolve but I realize I am walking a thin line that grows ever more fine. Broken Walls has placed his trust that I am a worthwhile ally but at what point do I become so irredeemable that I can not be distinguished from the monsters I chase? Yet, they must be chased.The whole lot of this bunch must burn. This isn’t Silgur whom we can trash thoroughly and send sulking back to his sewer. Nothing less than total and complete annihilation will do.

I called for Hathesis when I was far off from Rising Sun House and he greeted me as “Pearl”. Fantastic, that’s three aliases compromised and he knows I lodge at Rising Sun House. Pearl, Garnet and Mei are rendered practically unservicable until this lot is dispensed with. It can’t be helped. I asked after Lang and the spirit directed me to go inside the city walls and contact another murder spirit “Mathesis”.

Mathesis, who is a veritable twin to Hathesis, was forthcoming, giving me some more bloody arrows to follow. Lang was already at work, just finishing off some poor unfortunate soul. I tried not to think on it too much as I greeted her. She asked if I had used the silver knife yet that morning. I told her it hadn’t occurred to me to do so. It was after all quite early in the day. She bought that readily enough. She even teased me for being a late riser.

I broached the topic of what the actual benefit of joining the organization was in my particular case and she laughed at that mentioning that we would talk more after I got a few kills in. Like any cult they intend to string me along with mysteries. She beckoned Mathesis who brought us to yet another undeserving helpless victim. I showed my distaste for this sort of killing again hoping to sway her from this target trying to project a vision of the Pearl/Garnet I wanted my enemies to see. This identity is bloodthirsty but proud, caring not particularly for murder for murder sake but for sport. Powerful, vain, driven by self interest but wary of tricks and false dealings.

Taunting me yet again for being “picky” brought me to an off duty guard Mathesis told us was thinking of murdering his wife or committing suicide in a week or two. I don’t know if this was a lie and I didn’t press it. I endevoured not to kill him with the silver dagger so I needed a ruse. It was good that he fought back despite him being somewhat inebriated. My actions needed to be plausible. I killed him after a short, fevered skirmish with half a ceramic plate as Lang shouted her dismay.

I looked up at her with my best look of embarrasment and winced as I apologised, hoping my relief was sufficiently disguised. I might not have approved of killing this mark but at least I saved his soul. My instructor sighed and rolled her eyes. She applauded my enthusiasm but reiterated the importance of the knife saying again that killing with it was what strengthened my connection with Akkimu. She excused herself and crept upstairs to kill the wife of the man I had killed.

I felt sick. I did nothing to stop her and was aware that this was yet another stain that would never truly wash clean. I wish I believed in atonement but in truth deeds can not be repaid. I can only stop them from happening again.

When Lang returned she couldn’t help but advise me on how my form was sloppy and could be improved. She was a good teacher. Utterly devoid of a shred of humanity but certainly skilled. I focused on the lesson trying not to think about what just happened. I did my best to delay her from her next appointment by showing an an enthusiasm for learning the style. After we moved on and she got another kill in I tried to wheedle some more details from her about Akkimu but was told that I would have my answers once I had drawn my blood with the dagger.

A blood pact. No way in all the hells in creation is that happening.

Trying to pressure me into taking that step Lang waved the answer to the questions I asked in front of my nose.She did her best to tempt me with coins I could steal from my marks and the impunity to murder whom I pleased. I told her I had no use to trade for essense to power my attacks as I already could marshal power and I didn’t need a murder cult for murdering who I wanted either. Moving around at night was tempting but needed work to upkeep. I made it clear I was interested but looking for the strings attached. I asked her if there were any adverse effects from the pact and she told me there were none. I can’t help but think her inhuman lack of compassion is some sort of side effect she might not be completely aware of but for all I know she was probably chosen because she already possessed that trait.

.

I did my best to act exasperated with her secrets skirting the line between interested and not seeing enough benefit to offset the risk behind all these secrets she was keeping. She cracked a little and gave me free reign to pick a single question which she would answer so I asked about the bell. If it is the source of Akkimu’s power then it may hold the secret to her undoing. Lang proceeded to tell me the “host” chases people through the streets to the bell. When I interrupted her to ask if by host she meant the people in masks she scoffed and told me no. That they had nothing to do with the host. Of course she would tell me no more about the host accept for that it herds people toward the bell where they are then sacrificed to Akkimu. I was also told that my involvement in the nightly hunt wasn’t a huge commitment as it didn’t happen every night.

Lang was trying to sell me on the blood pact but I told her I still needed time to think about it. She gave me leave to get the knife looked at to discern if there was more at play here than there first appeared and told me she would ask after me tomorrow and if I were willing to take the next step would show me the “host”. I bid her goodnight and headed back to the Rising Sun House to see what Saiten and Broken Walls had found out and prepare for battle.




I think Saiten has the right idea.

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