[Hello, everyone! Unfortunately, my original idea for this review is taking a bit longer than I thought it would. I’m still going to work on it, but because it won’t be done in time, I’ll do a more traditional recap!]
Exalted of the East (January 24th, 2011)The wind, even during the scorching Southern summer, carried with it a cool relief. A father and his golden haired son sailed across the desert sands, feeling the air flow across their tanned, rugged faces as the currents propelled their Sand-Surfer toward home. The Son watched his Father as he danced across the rigging, leaning back and forth to guide the machine back to their family. A brief prick of icy coolness touched The Son’s leg. He looked down and saw water from the many clay jugs tightly packed into the Sand-Surfer sloshing about because of the movement.
“Dad, why can’t we live somewhere where water is plentiful?” asked The Son.“Because water is great, but not as necessary as what we have here!” The Father responded, rather cryptically. “What do we have here that’s as good as water?”
“You’ll find out someday, son! You just have to keep looking!” laughed his Father as he launched the Sand-Surfer up over a dune and through the burning desert air…
“Hey! Are you alright?” asked Ren after a particularly hard blow to the head of his circle-mate.
“Ow. I think you shook something loose there, buddy…” winced The Pilgrim. The two beings, Exalted of the Unconquered Sun, had begun to spar as they waited for their friend Toshiro to finally come to his senses. The Pilgrim could not fault him for his sudden bout of strange actions as he had just suffered from it himself. Even with great power, authority, and the ability to create or crush entire nations, it is still possible for those with greatness to be pushed passed their limit.
“That’s strange, I didn’t realize you had anything up there to shake loose!” mocked a voice from up in the trees, one belonging to Joquim, The Silver Khan, an Exalted of Luna and travelling companion of The Pilgrim. For many moons, the two of them have travelled across the East together, causing and solving havoc as it occurred to them. With the addition of Toshiro, Ren, and The Veil, the Circle had grown into something more than a cadre of random strangers. To the Pilgrim, they had become something more, something that he hasn’t had in a long time… a family.
“Well, why don’t you come on down here and give me a hand?” asked The Pilgrim before pointing and laughing. Subconsciously, Joquim gazed at his (currently) missing arm, a result of their recent troubles with the Deathknight lording over the Shadowland that had become of Farhold, their temporary home. With a growl, Joquim leapt gracefully from the tree and, with a bound that seemed to defy gravity, he appeared next to Ren and the Pilgrim, his stance one of combat. Joquim smirked lightly, the hint of a fang gleaming in the light, before roaring in challenge and running toward his friends. Seeing this, the Pilgrim also let out a shout, a deep bellow of power, as he tossed his sparring weapon, a simple stick, into the air, his body springing into the air just in time to avoid a blow from Ren’s wooden sword.
“Damn it!” cursed Ren when a small itch at the back of his head warned him of an incoming blow. With preternatural deftness, the Eclipse Caste Solar barely dodged a blow from The Pilgrim, his smiling eyes glowing in the sunlight. The Pilgrim nodded his head and Ren’s face blanched with horror when he realized that he was wide open, an insight gained too late. As soon as he turned his head enough to see him, Joquim’s feet were already smashing into his gut. Joquim kicked Ren with enough force to flip him around, his wooden sparring weapon flying into the air. The Lunar Exalt chortled in triumph. For The Pilgrim, this would hopefully be the distraction he needed, and with hope in his heart, the Zenith leapt at his Lunar Companion, planning on a quick but vicious series of blows to the legs and back to render him unable to continue. This, however, was not to be. The Pilgrim slammed against the ground with a hard thud, his target nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, Joquim dove out of the branches above, violence burning in his eyes. His body was pure blinding, mercurial movement, a chimera of kicks and punches, all of it ending with a spinning roundhouse kick strong enough to launch The Pilgrim into, and through, one of the tribal huts littering the area. Silence filled the forest as the one armed Tiger-Man did a backflip in victory and rose his arm and stub into the sky.“And that, gentlemen, is how it is done!” shouted Joquim, his ego inflating almost at an audible level. Hearing the commotion, Toshiro stepped over to Ren and The Pilgrim, his hands doddering from sheer, never ending work.
“Oh my! Is there anything I can get for your two? Is anyone hurt?” he asked, maniacal caring blazing in his grandfatherly eyes.“I could use a backrub and a drink…” groaned The Pilgrim, his hand slowly rising from the rubble.
It took Toshiro a few more days to come back around, but as soon as it happened, the Circle was once again on the move. Using powerful sorceries, Toshiro had created a massive whirlwind powerful enough to whisk the cadre of Exalted to the resting place of a weapon, an airship capable of assisting them in their battle to retake Farhold. The location of the airship, however, came at a great price, a trade of a young child to the monster Baba Yaga. The thought about what this cost weighed heavily on The Pilgrim’s mind.
“So you still have a problem with this?” asked Toshiro, his calm voice managing to be heard over the destructive winds catapulting them ever forward.“Yeah, I guess you can say that. I can’t help but think that the best thing to have done in that situation was to beat the ever living hell out of Baba Yaga and forced the info from her anyway,” pondered the Zenith.
“Or she could have simply escaped and we could have never received this information in the first place. True, we did trade in an innocent child to be eaten by a monster, but his sacrifice will avenge the deaths of thousands and rescue thousands more. We traded one child for an entire city. There’s got to be some good you can see in that,” argued the doctor.“I don’t know… maybe.”
“Oh, you’re just upset that I beat you the other day!” spoke Joquim as he popped up behind The Pilgrim and danced mockingly in the vicious winds.“Please! I let you win!” The Pilgrim exclaimed. “What?” questioned the Lunar incredulously. “I felt sorry for you, having lost your best wife!” joked The Pilgrim as he pointed toward Joquim’s missing arm. A dark scowl crossed Joquim’s face and Toshiro rolled his eyes as the two began to scuffle.
“What?” shouted The Pilgrim, clutching his bleeding chest and his clothing stained green with the blood of a strange encounter the circle had barely survived.
“Flesh-tearing lizard/plant creatures. Welcome to the Pole of Wood,” muttered Ren.
“At least they weren’t more bats… wouldn’t want Pilgrim to scream like a girl again,” spoke Joquim as he cleaned his shiny, metal claws.
“I never screamed like a little girl!” growled The Pilgrim.
“Could have fooled me, and I’m a doctor,” said Toshiro, from out of nowhere. Laughter rang out louder than the shrieking monsters the circle had just eliminated.
“Man, I don’t want to hear it! I just killed two of those plant things myself, myself! You bunch of slackers’d be plant food without me, so I would appreciate a little more… BYTHEGODSTHEYAREGOINGTOKILLUSALL!” screamed The Pilgrim as a bat suddenly flew into his face. It was only the sound of his friends laughing to the point of breathlessness when he realized the bat had flown away and he was now flailing at nothing.
“Okay. Shut up. You, get to healing,” mumbled The Pilgrim as he pointed at Toshiro. Even the doctor, the Circle’s even tempered Twilight, was wiping away tears of laughter from his eyes. The laughter continued into the night as the Circle set up a fire and commenced to set up camp for the night. And for The Pilgrim, sleep did come, but not easily.
The Pilgrim, a young wisp of a man, hit against the ground hard, blood seeping from his face and body. His ragged breath blew the sand from the stone beneath him and it swirled in the air. It came down, softly, against a black, monstrous foot, its dark talons scraping against the floor. The world was hazy and bright as the monster before him mocked The Pilgrim and his futile efforts.
“That was adorable. A little boy pretending to be a hero. As to what Sol Invictus saw in you, I would never know,” mocked the creature as it flexed its massive wings.
“Yeah, sometimes I ask myself the same question,” laughed The Pilgrim as he spit blood. A green light and massive waves of pain suddenly washed over The Pilgrim, his body freed from gravity and floating in the air high enough to meet the creature face to face. Although it was a creature of many forms, it preferred the iconography of a bat. It was missing one eye, the socket filled with nothing but darkness. The other eye was a rolling ball of green fire. It consumed the souls of entire villages.“I always thought you all travelled in packs… where is yours?” it asked. “Not that lucky, I guess.” “Ha! I guess not,” laughed the creature as it sent even greater waves of pain through The Pilgrim’s body. The young Solar’s eyes danced around as the vile creature continued to pump burning, cutting energy into his flesh. Whatever it was, the Old Man said it was escaping outside of Fate itself. The Pilgrim had managed to follow it to its floating platform, a Manse of Combat, itself outside of Fate and acting as its throne to rule over the sea of Dunes he and his father once travelled every season. The Pilgrim also noticed that, while it was not exactly dark at the Manse, it being outside of Fate made the fading sunlight just that much more lifeless. At that point, he got an idea. “I may not be lucky, but damn am I bright,” punned The Pilgrim as he erupted into a bright, shining light. The creature recoiled as the pure light of the Sun washed over him, his mystical grip loosening enough for The Pilgrim to wriggle free. The Pilgrim watched gleefully as the creature struggled against the light. The Solar, his mirth shifting to rage, ran so fast toward the monster that he felt his muscles nearly snap. The light emanating from his form flowed around him like a river as he leapt into the air and began to punish the creature with all the power in his body. Essence flowed out of him as the light grew intolerable. Focusing all his anger into one massive punch, the soul eating monstrosity felt his entire body shake as it flew through the air. It made a sickening, tearing sound as the monster landed upon an Orichalcum rod positioned next to the throne, the rod tearing through the creature’s body and spraying its blood all across the Manse. The creature grimaced and growled, cursing in a language The Pilgrim had never heard. The vile language polluted The Pilgrim’s ears as the creature exploded into the largest colony of bats the young man had ever seen, enough to blot out the sun. The bats swarmed around him, scraping him with talons and fangs, nearly pushing him off the edge of the floating Manse. Silence soon filled the area, leaving The Pilgrim alone with a floating Manse and a mysterious golden rod that would soon become his signature weapon. The Pilgrim awoke with a start, unconsciously feeling his hair to ensure no bat had become tangled within it. He returned to his supine position once more and let the sounds of the morning wash over him, the calls of strange beasts that make their home in the constantly shifting Wyld.
“Oh man… I’m not comfortable with this…” moaned The Pilgrim as he attempted to ignore the three goblins currently staring at him with nigh reptilian, unblinking eyes. The Circle had worked very hard to convince this small army of Goblins, as well as their blue-hued leaders, to join them in their war against the Deathknight. Even now they laugh and reenact the absolutely epic storytelling techniques used to convince them (they’ve been laughing for hours about Toshiro’s Stab This Man method… perhaps there was a powerful Charm concept in there somewhere). The Pilgrim had taken his seat in the co-pilot’s chair, being one of the most literate individuals in the group, and one of the few capable of reading Old Realm, but the thought of once again dealing with the Fair Folk troubled him. Even his mercurial, child-like sense of amazement and wonder was not piqued by the immense daiklave resting in the back of the Resplendent Manta Class Troop Transportation Arsenal they have recently acquired (dubbed “Sunray” by some obsequious little green, toothy beast that has since faded into the mass).
“You’ve been saying that quite a bit,” muttered Joquim through a clenched jaw as he fought a goblin over possession of his own artifact.
“You know, under normal circumstances, I’d be overjoyed to be flying in a giant mechanical fish, absolutely packed with an army absolutely itching to follow my orders, followed by a friggin’ flying whale. But it is my opinion, as someone now wholly given over to greed and selfishness as of yet, that we’ve been going about this the wrong way. I just have this feeling that we should be hitting things more, you know? Asserting out dominance as Lawgivers and whatnot. Instead, we seem to be making deals with creatures of darkness with some regularity,” explained the Zenith.
“Well, what could we do? We couldn’t fight Baba Yaga, ‘cause she’d probably beat us up and then escape in her stupid little chicken hut. We’d probably be temporary residents of a horde of goblin colons if we attempted to fight the Goblins. So here we are… sure we’ve had to compromise, to give in a little bit, but we’re still alive and only slightly off course, really,” answered the Lunar.
“Yeah, but that’s the problem. You call it compromise, I call it death by inches. Maybe not a physical death, but certainly a spiritual and moral one. As Lawgivers of the Unconquered Sun, and you I guess, I think we should be, you know, giving out more law. I mean, here we are in a ship filled with beings that we should have annihilated without mercy or hesitation. I mean, these things want to unravel the whole of Creation and have almost succeeded at least once if history is correct. But now we have to be buddy-buddy with them. This situation just does not wash with me.”
“Well, we’re in this situation here and now. Might as well see where it leads,” finished Joquim as the two Exalted grew silent. The Pilgrim gazed out the window, watching for their destination to appear from beyond the horizon, but his attention was interrupted by an itch behind his eyes, a trigger for him to be more alert. He gazed about, at first believing that the sensation came from the Goblins still staring at him (‘What, are they hungry? Are they bored? What the hell do they want?’ wondered The Pilgrim). It was then that he saw it, finally reaching from beyond the dense cloud cover… their destination.
Coalescence of the Sun’s Glory, the great southern Manse of what is said to be a great weapon utilizing several linked Manses. But something was off. There were huts dotting the peak and surrounding the Manse, structures with familiar markings.“Skyrunners,” muttered The Pilgrim to himself as he gripped his Orichalcum weapon, Aphelion, in a knuckle whitening grip. During his own particular mental breakdown, the Skyrunners had attacked his Circle and tried to kill them all. Even though it was only a mere shadow of the former emotion, The Pilgrim still felt a hatred lingering in his heart for this Tribe. He did not know what chaos was to soon befall his Circlemates, but he knew that whoever attacks them will definitely have hell to pay.
TO BE CONTINUED…