As the tale of the Exalted Continues

Piper's Journal 32

Rising Tension

Descending Earth 15

Days of icy rain has churned the road to mud and lowered the general morale of our company. Some levity arrived in the form of a small package from Broken Walls carried by Desadi’s mechanical bird. Inside was a toe guard complete with air circulation holes and a tiny set of armour made to fit a certain tiny duck. Broken Walls has… an odd sense of humor.

The gift did serve to pick up Wilson’s spirits which was a blessing. Ever since he’s picked up the Wyld mutation he’s been morose, adding to the general gloom over our company. Comfort has been in short supply with damp gear seeming to get only heavier and mustier as we progress. Going over my few possessions to make sure they were properly proofed against the weather I happened upon the small kit that Nergui made for me of basic supplies for ward making. Thinking back to Desadi’s kit I remembered that he’d been divested of his possessions and the contents of this kit were not so different from the one he had when we pulled him from the Dreaming Sea.

I made a gift of the kit to Desadi that night and he seemed grateful enough to receive it I suppose. Thinking I might engage him in conversation I told him a bit about my time with Nergui – but his interest quickly waned. Desadi informed me that Nergui hadn’t lied to me and what he taught me was sound – but fact checking wasn’t exactly the purpose of the exercise. I felt somewhat disappointed by the exchange though I can not place particularly why.

Perhaps I should not take this for the mild rebuff it appears to be. Since rejoining us Desadi has been prone to being lost in thought, barely answering questions and doing strange and possibly dangerous things without supplying any explanation beforehand. Perhaps he believes that we are not much help to him in this arena or worse that we are nitwits incapable of understanding so he feels he owes us no explanations. His absentmindedness sometimes comes across as him willfully ignoring us which I am trying not to feel slighted by. After all he has just survived a long period of seclusion which I know is torture of a sort.

I wonder if Indebted Blood is faring well. One would hope as a former prisoner Broken Walls would make a compassionate jailer but then one can’t be sure. Ha… The exchange today has made me a little wistful though for what I can’t be sure, but it is like a small weight in my chest I carry without understanding why.

Descending Earth 16

We made inquiries with travelers passing by on the river running parallel to the road how close we were to the next settlement, The news was favorable, according to them were about a day out from “Rising Falls”. The name struck a chord with Desadi who remembered hearing a rumour from some travelling merchants who pass through the town once a year that he met on the road. According to the merchants the town’s children had gone mysteriously missing and none of the adults had seemed to remember that they had ever had children.

Can’t say I much like the sound of that. Kidnappers deserve not one whit of mercy whatever their purpose and though my lust for violence has slackened I’d have a hard time not indulging in causing one as much pain as can be afforded. Three months gone by bodes not well for those children’s fates. By now they likely have been split up, sold or killed – odds are they will ever return. The plague of bonesiders takes precedence as it represents the greatest threat but if I could return even a small number of those children – or bring their kidnappers to ruin- the effort would be worthwhile.

That night I dreamt I was a rat plundering a storehouse. A delicious smell wafted from a deep jar and I lost my footing at it’s lip plunging into it’s dark recesses. Coated in sesame oil from the jar’s bottom I struggled to free myself but my claws slipped on the rim of the jar denying me my freedom. A leering human face hove into view above me, it’s features grotesque and distorted and it grinned at me revealing a mouth of crooked jumbled teeth. Frozen in fear I locked eyes with it knowing that if I looked away-

I woke and stared at the dark roof of my tent, my mind still occupied by the vision of those dark unblinking eyes I lay frozen by that unblinking predatory stare until morning. Why do I still feel like I’m being watched?

Descending Earth 17

Rising Falls is a beautiful place. As we neared the city gates we came across a tree blossoming a light periwinkle blue blossoms. The landscape was dotted with dotted with dragons beard candy-like tufts of blue blossomed trees making it seem as though it were early spring rather than late autumn. The town itself is about as large as Zingma’s Tree had once been. The cliff face at it’s far end possessed a peculiar waterfall which seemed to defy gravity and flow in the opposite direction I am accustomed to see water flow.

Is it still a waterfall if the water travels upwards?

The singular guard on the gate was made nervous by the armoured warriors in our company but he let us through after securing our toll. Aster asked him about lodging and he mentioned that there were inns in the town the most costly of which were atop the cliff where there was a hotspring. The news that there was a hotspring was very welcome to our group after so many nights spent damp and cold and days wandering through mud and grit.

The guard had mentioned there was a shrine at the base of the cliff for the River Goddess Alabaster Dawn and we stopped in to leave our offerings. Offering her a coin and prayer the river Goddess herself leaned out from the roughly hewn statue that served as her image to stare at us curiously. She was obviously startled when Desadi and I met her gaze. She seemed flustered by this at first but seemed content enough to strike up a brief conversation. She seemed unaware of there being any missing children and told us to give Zhwoi her regards when we reached the hotspring at the top of the cliff face.

At the top of the cliff there was a busy market and a number of well off manor houses clustered around the main road. True to the rumor we saw no children helping at the market’s stalls or playing in the street as one might expect. My unease deepened. There are plenty of reasons to steal children none of which are savory but to deprive a village of an entire generation?

The woman at the gate of the hotspring inn gave us the rates for a night’s stay or for just a visit to the springs and a meal. It was as pricey as one might expect, too pricey to lodge the guards. Desadi looked put out as he was still penniless but after a brief conference Aster and Saiten decided that they would pay for rooms for our guard compliment at a nearby inn that was somewhat more affordable and if they wanted to splurge on the hotspring they could do so from their own wage and also offered to pay Desadi’s way. I for one was in for the food and the bath. Hotspring rooms are well and all but I hardly find the accommodations worth the price just so one can sleep near where one bathes. Aster and Desadi reminded me however that we had things to discuss and I reluctantly agreed to take a room at the inn.

Shortly after arriving we spoke to Zhwoi who as it turned out was the proprietor of the Hotspring. We passed along our regards from the River Goddess and complimented him on his fine establishment. We adjourned to the baths and so distracted was I that I almost forgot that the disguise I inhabited would do nothing to conceal the ruined flesh at my back. The powders that darkened my skin would also easily be removed by the application of soap. Stepping into my room I passed a power laden hand over my forearms smoothing the trace work of hair-fine scars and the raised flesh of my back. These marks begged too many questions and while I owed no answers to the soldiers who would be filtering in after us I did not wish to be troubled by their attentions since my surroundings had me so on edge.

This place reminds me far too much of things best forgotten.

The bath warmed by body if not my spirits. Desadi and Saiten gleefully booked a massage after learning the Proprietor had offered us the night’s stay for free. The food was very good though I picked over it with no appetite, my mind turning over the plight of the missing children. When Desadi and Saiten rejoined Aster and I it was plain Desadi had already sampled some of the alchohol. His breath reeked of it as he lost his balance and leaned on me irritatingly.

Desadi, after ruminating on something for a time, exclaimed something to the effect of “Oh, might as well!” and motioned us in conspiratorially. He told us of the secret message writ in blue flower petals he had witnessed bidding him to return after everyone else was asleep. He outlined a plan whereby he’d meet with the writer of said message while I listened in with the others posted close enough to come to his aid should he find himself in trouble.

What in Creation did he mean by “Oh Might as well”?

We agreed to his plan an hour later and Aster, Saiten and I stationed ourselves near the base of the cliff while Desadi went to meet his mysterious contact. Listening in I heard a gentle female voice greet him and introduce herself as Aiphee. I recounted what she told Desadi faithfully to Aster and Saiten as she lamented mournfully of the past when children played in her branches and the day a number of black skeletons surrounded the town and took them away. She told us of the woman in white armor who had spoken to the townspeople and as many gods and spirits as they could gather erasing the memories of the children they stole. This handily supplied the means Desadi had likely lost his own memories.

After divulging the entirety of the tale Aiphee asked Desadi to join her in her tree. Desadi’s acceptance for her forward invitation abruptly ended my narration. Aster reacted with concern when I sourly told her that I’d listen in no further since if Desadi got himself in trouble doing what he intended he could do so on his own. Once she understood my meaning she blushed bright red and we adjourned leaving Desadi to romance the spirit. Aiphee seemed to like children, perhaps she simply wants one of her own.

I returned to the inn though I found it difficult to fall asleep. My thoughts kept returning to supposition of the purpose those children were put to and why the bonesiders left the rest of the town untouched. In a way I was glad the two were connected, the kidnappers lay in our path.

Descending Earth 18

Desadi met us in the morning looking refreshed and cheerful. We spoke with Zhwoi and thanked him for his gracious offer of a free night’s stay. He demurred saying that it was what was afforded people of our noble stature. I didn’t correct him as we did come with a compliment of twenty guards though I was curious what he thought we were. Aiphee had mentioned Zhwoi had been present for the attack and spoken to the woman in white. Checking with Zwhoi we confirmed that three months ago an incident with Bonesiders had indeed happened though the skeletons had dispersed in all directions. I asked if anyone had been injured and he mentioned that there were no great injuries that he knew of but to check with the guard captain.

Our interview with the guard captain gave us some good if puzzling news. No injuries had been sustained to any of the guard as the bonesiders used only closed fists to rebuff them and they seemed to have a clean bill of health. The soldiers had attempted to track the bonesiders but the traces disappeared into the north. Desadi left us to go “try something” as the rest of us wandered trying to find some vain hint of how to proceed. I mused that perhaps they could be lured out if they could attempt to steal a child. It is a long shot but maybe they left some sort of spy or contingent behind. We didn’t have much time to discuss as Desadi approached us at the run breathlessly to inform us that his dog had sensed something concerning approaching rapidly from the North. We sprinted back up the cliff face path scattering distressed travelers left and right as we barreled past.

Saiten and Desadi raced ahead of us as Aster and I raced to fetch the soldier contingent. We were in luck as they proved to be all in one place. Leaving Aster to issue commands to the soldiers I sprinted ahead to join Saiten and Dasadi, pausing only briefly to grab a twig bristled broom from where it leaned against the lintel of a house. I could hear the crack of tree trunks in the distance and tightened my grip on the broom’s rough handle.

Dasadi and Saiten waited tersely at the edge of town. Saiten had perched on a tree and was keeping post. Desadi sent Halcyon with a message for Aster to give the order to their guard complement to evacuate the area. Hoping to buy the townsfolk some time we decided to meet the danger as far from town as we could.

Into the woods we plunged, Saiten leaping from tree to tree as Dasadi and I kept pace concealed in the underbrush. It wasn’t long before we discovered our quarry. Bonesiders, Only about twenty of them but they were accompanied by a giant skeleton of a beast… or was it a bird? It’s arms were short but it’s legs were taloned like a falcon, it’s maw lined with teeth the size of kunai and it’s back sown with heavy spikes. I clutched my broom and took a deep steadying breath opening my senses to the clearing. For an instant I felt as though I were a part of the fabric of the landscape and the tremors of the beast’s feet on the earth my own heartbeat. Pausing at an intersection of action and consequence I felt a tug of instinct beckon me and followed it’s call.

Beside me Saiten toppled a tree in the path of the thing as I slipped to the left gaining ground. The beast turned towards me and advanced as though it had scented me. I gathered quick momentum and raced to the branches of a nearby cedar only to find the thing was faster than I had anticipated. I struck out at the more delicate looking bones of the things nose and heard a sharp crack of breaking bone. It pulled away with a screech as Saiten descended on it throwing it off balance with a mighty blow.

Remembering those taloned feet I jumped straight up, soaring above the creature and slamming the power laden bristles of the broom downward. The twigs, soaked in essence sank deep into the creature’s spine with barely any resistance. I twisted the broom which resonated with a series of snaps as bristles broke off where they had stuck, sticking like absurd crooked pegs out of the bone. Using the pole of the broom to vault I came down on the mess with both feet burying the protruding twigs flush with the bone. Beneath my feet I felt the beginnings of a series of violent heaves as the creature tried to dislodge me. I dropped to all fours, grabbing hold of the craggy bones as my body was momentarily weightless from it’s attempt to buck me off.

Not wanting to risk a fall to the forest floor I noted the skull of the thing had large enough cavities where it’s eyes should be for me to slip inside it’s skull. It smelt like rotten meat and was covered with putrefied slime but I dropped into the recess nevertheless. I slammed my reserves of power into the twigs making them glow a dull violet gray before whipping the handle in a close figure eight and sending the twigs flying like a rain of crooked arrows in all directions.

I was surprised to find myself suddenly in open air as the force of the strike blew apart the skull of the beast into fragments. A quick glance upwards was enough for me to witness some of the larger fragments reach the apex of their arc and begin plummeting back towards me as the beast began to fall. Instinct seized me and I leaped for the trees, latching onto the trunk of a pine as what remained of the beast tumbled to the ground. A mighty blow from Saiten carried the fragmented bones of it’s legs into the bonesiders like missiles decimating all that Dasadi had not felled. Distantly I registered that Aster was present and singing though I had been so preoccupied I was not sure when she had started.
As the sound of crumbling skeleton faded to silence I relaxed my death grip on the pine tree and slid to it’s base. I was coated in the foulest smelling substance I had ever smelt and a fine powder of bone dust but at least we now had a fresh trail to follow…

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