Sunday, 4 February 2018

Exalted - The Journey to Nexus

We left Lookshy early in the morning, Kito physically recovered from his mugging, but still barely talking. It worried me; knowing his love of sailing, I'd hoped embarking on the Shining Beak would bring him back to his excited, caring self, but he remained taciturn.

The crew were brightly dressed - Lorenzo Bagni, the captain, in an amber vest with a bright blue hat, jacket and trousers. Perched in the hat was a purple feather, a symbol worn pinned to hats, boots or clothes of all the crew.

The second day, I spotted a boat following us. It was still there the next day, so I pointed it out to Kito. He watched it in silence for a while, long enough I thought I'd again failed to raise his interest, before telling me the other boat was sailing to catch us up. He thought they'd reach us by the evening. We showed Lorenzo, who agreed it was a concern: it looked like a warship, but was flying no colours. After a quick discussion, we decided to show off our sorcery skills to alleviate the problem: Kito summoned a cloud and whisked me into range, where I took out both masts with one burst of obsidian butterflies. I felt smug as we returned: I hadn't spotted the essence ballistas until they turned them on the Shining Beak. Great bolts smashed through our ship, tearing it apart. Most of the crew dived and swam for the shore, but Lorenzo was determined to go down with his boat. I argued for a bit, thinking it a stupid idea, but gave up and followed Mi Yung and Jia into the water. Kito stayed longer, trying to reason with him. A final bolt flew at them: Lorenzo pushed Kito out its path and the boat exploded.

We made it to shore, cold, wet and shocked. Mi Yung and Jia tried organising the sailors to light fires and take care of each other. Most of them scattered; the ones who remained sat like empty shells on the beach. Giving up on that, our servants led us deeper into the forest, finding a tumbledown stone house, using its shelter to light a fire and dry ourselves.

We'd wandered into the Wyld, but didn't realise it until Jia investigated a noise and didn't return. Mi Yung followed, then Kito and I went when she didn't come back. We got separated in the weirdness but found each other again as we reached the lair of what Kito recognised as a hobgoblin. It told us a lot of strange things I didn't understand: what stuck with me was that our souls weren't from here, but somewhere it called the "panopticon cataclysmic", and our names weren't our names. It called Kito "Resplendent Blade Resonating Eternal" and me "Dawn's Dancing Butterfly". It let us go in return for the story of our life to that point. When we made it back to the stones, Mi Yung and Jia were asleep, with no memory of any excursions in the night. 

We continued to Nexus on foot - when possible, making camp with other groups at night, but found we made faster progress travelling by ourselves.

We came across a series of tall statues facing out, right hand raised in warning or defiance. They appear to mark a perfect circle along the border of the Nexus territories. Dramatic, imposing. We think they're obsidian and look brand new.

Once across the boundary, we started to see armoured guards on the paths. We found an impromptu market, entered the tearoom and watched as we drank. One guard wearing a white tabard marked with a midnight blue hammer embossed with twinkling stars was turning people away - it wasn't clear why.

The tearoom was cool and quiet, in stark contrast to the market outside. A small group of seemingly wealthy merchants drank tea in the corner. All the visible staff were young women, although we could hear male voices in the kitchen. The decor was minimalistic - smart and pleasant, but not expensive. Likewise, the food was good, but not as good as the price suggested. We wondered whether it was just here, or Nexus in general, but realised there was something of a captive audience: the tearooms were spaced around 8 hours apart, as a caravan travels, so they could charge more or less what they wanted. It would be very expensive to stay there over night.

We stayed drinking tea until evening, then went for a walk as we decided what to do next; we were still two or three days from the city proper. The market had gone, vanished as if it had never been there. We saw a few patrols, but otherwise it was deathly quiet. We decided

Further along the route, we met up with travelling merchants and obtained supplies for far less than the tearoom prices. They also warned us that camping was very much "discouraged", so if we wanted to avoid the tearooms we should move far from the path and not have a fire. Kito and I exchanged a look; after our last camp far from the path, we opted to stick to the overpriced tearooms for the rest of the journey.

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