The Four Solars arrived uneventfully to the Valley of Death and over the crest of one of the barren hills they came across a barrow mound next to a wagon marked with a black hill inset with the image of a bloody eye: the symbol of the army of Barrow Black. Behind and between the two was a hole with stairs leading down deep into the earth.
The Opening Battle
The players (and new ST) needed an introduction to the dynamic combat system for Exalted 2ed…enter 2 zombies, stage left…
When Kade and Morning Breeze stepped up to investigate, an undead being leaped from the wagon, swinging wildly at Morning Breeze. Naria was quick to put and arrow into the foul creature while Rinan ran forward to thrust his harpoon into its side, dispatching the zombie. Just as Kade was readying his weapon for any other attackers who may jump into the fray, a second zombie came out of the wagon to attack Rinan. The stench of death wafted over Rinan and Morning Breeze, but they were able to withstand its foul odors. It’s fist landed squarely in Rinan’s chest, but due to his Invulnerable Skin of Bronze, he shrugged off the blow without even flinching. Kade’s readiness came in handy at this point as he darted over and cleft the second zombie in twain, leaving a stinking, rotting mess at the feet of Morning Breeze and Rinan.
The Circle continued on into the tunnel where there was a set of stone stairs, and the walls were carved with ruined images of sword-bearing warriors, painstakingly cleared of dirt and polished as if by someone with much free time and nowhere to go. Strangely, it seemed that some time after the carvings were cleared and polished, they were shattered by some other process that left the rock scarred and blackened. Kade and Morning Breeze both recognized the scarring patterns. The deathknights they saw and faced outside Thorns fired blasts of necrotic energy that produced similar pitting and discoloration.
Ahead, there was a light and the Solars could hear the sound of a dozen people eating, brawling and telling each other crude jokes. Naria crept ahead and discovered warriors she recognized from previous battles against the forces of Barrow Black. The chamber was huge, 50 yards wide with a domed ceiling, illuminated as if by sunlight despite the absence of obvious light sources. Around the edges of the chamber were five huge metal rings, each 10 feet across, set into the walls of the chamber. Behind each ring was the symbol of one Solar Caste: a sunburst; a solid gold circle; a ring half-filled with gold with an empty lower half; an entirely empty gold ring; and a gold circle surrounded by a ring. In the center of the chamber, a raised dais with a smooth top. Once, the chamber was a marvel of First Age engineering, carved from glistening white marble and edged in gold, but now, it’s the filthy den of a bandit band, and the bedrolls of the brigands were scattered everywhere across the floor, along with scraps of uneaten food and looted goods. She reported her findings to the rest of the group and they prepared themselves for battle.
Battle for the Tomb of 5 Corners
Six Brigands were gathered around the central dais, immersed in a game of cards, while two slept, two were arguing off to the side, and the final two were deep into a game of Bones. Kade was first to act, dashing into the room, but unable to reach any opponents due to his heavy armor. After him, Naria stepped lithely into the light, devastating one of the Bones players just as he was about to throw. The arrow pierced through the back of his head, out his mouth and through his throwing hand, lodging firmly in the dice about to be thrown (I guess gambling is bad, after all.). By this time, Kade was able to make it up to one of the men playing cards, dealing him a killing blow as Mornings Breeze and Rinan both moved in to engage the enemy. Rinan warned his friends to move aside as he began casting a spell of the Terrestrial Circle. Kade was the first to dash aside. Naria chose to move in a different way…up the wall, using her Spider-Foot Style Charm. Morning Breeze Bounded in the other direction, slashing the remaining Bones-player with his short sword and then kicking him in the chest. The bandits, having been caught off-guard, were just now starting to get up and draw their weapons to fight. About the same time, Rinan was able to complete his spell, unleashing a torrent of razor-sharp, Obsidian Butterflies which filled much of the room in swirling death as seven of the enemy were mown down. Morning Breeze and the Bones-player continued to engage each other while Naria went further up the wall to get a better shot. Her arrow struck true again, as it felled the gambler that Morning Breeze was having so much trouble with. Kade ran up to the final enemy combatant on his side of the chamber, crushing her with a massive stroke of his sword. By this time, Rinan was able to reach the final bandit left and strike him dead.
With the brigands taken care of, the Circle proceeded to investigate the room. Rinan went toward the ring set in the wall with the empty lower half, the symbol of the Twilight Caste, while Kade went to explore the Dawn Caste (sunburst) ring and Morning Breeze headed toward the raised dais in the center of the room. Upon his approach of the dais, glowing, golden hologlyphic symbols of First Age script to appeared floating above it. Morning Breeze could not read these symbols, so he called his his Circlemates to see if anyone else recognized them. Rinan was quick to translate the script, “They explain that each of the five gates, called gates of auspicious passage, will operate automatically in the presence of the reincarnation of the Solar buried in the tomb beyond it. Within each tomb is a gate key, which looks like a small golden teardrop on a necklace. In case of emergency, four gate keys are required to open the fifth gate.” Since Rinan was the one able to translate the script, they group decided to try out his gate first.
As Rinan approached the Twilight Gate of Auspicious Passage, he slowly extended his arm toward the blank section of stone wall behind the giant, golden ring. As his fingers were just about to brush against the stone, a rush of sound blasted out at them and a swirling vortex of Essence appeared where once there had been only stone. Gingerly, they stepped through, one by one, until all four had arrived on the other side, standing knee deep in a pile of skulls. The gate platform was a charnel heap. Before them stood a cathedral of gold and brass and ivory. First Age memories helped Rinan recognize it as a decommissioned factory-cathedral. In the First Age, Solars used installations such as factory-cathedrals to produce artifacts and wonders, but this one had been overgrown by trees and other greenery to the point that the underlying architecture was almost completely obscured. Notably, the entryway was blocked by the trunk of a huge redwood. More trees surrounded them in all directions. Above, they could see a village had been built around the tree trunks, with houses and connecting bridges raised 40 feet in the air. A single rope ladder hung from one walkway nearby. The Circle saw no activity within the village and heard no sounds of life. No birdsongs, no animals rustling in the foliage and no wind. The forest was totally, unnaturally silent. Exploration of the village revealed the owners of the skulls below, eternally undecaying, hanging from the ceilings of their domiciles, the materials of the roofs interwoven with their toes. Their skin had not been broken; their faces and heads hung horribly slack, with the underlying bone removed and cast to earth.
From the second level of the village, they found an entrance into the cathedral: a hole drilled through the roof, 80 feet below. The hole was blocked by a sorcerous Essence-shield that glowed violet, and just beyond the shield stood a woman, in golden-armored splendor. Morning Breeze’s First Age memories assailed him with recollection of a powerful demon who had secretly replaced Rinan’s former incarnation. When the Circle discovered this, their chosen punishment for the demon was that it be imprisoned forever in the factory-cathedral that was also due to serve as Rinan’s previous incarnation’s tomb. They considered this punishment more severe than merely obliterating it. With proper care, the wards would have held forever, but then came the Usurpation. When the demon spotted them, she smiled and ignited her false Twilight Caste Mark, and then waited. She had millennia to cultivate patience, after all. On the trees surrounding the ladder down to the factory-cathedral were carved runes and markings unknown to any of the Solars, written in the tribal language of the former inhabitants, they assumed. Rinan was able to translate the text by summoning a magical eye and mouth to read and speak the story of this village:
Sometime after the Usurpation, the forest grew up around the structure and eventually, after the original nature of the place was long forgotten, human settlers arrived. They built their village in the trees surrounding and growing from the factory-cathedral, and eventually, they found their way inside. When this happened, the humans released the demon, still wearing the face of the Solar Rinan’s former incarnation. The Solar Anathema, as they referred to it, killed most of the village’s inhabitants, removed their skulls and threw them to earth, and hung the rest of their remains upside-down from the ceilings of the villagers’ former homes. Eventually, the settlement’s sole outcaste Dragon-Blooded sorcerer managed to trap the demon within the factory-cathedral again, after which the survivors all left, regarding the now-abandoned village as cursed.
Battle for the Tomb of the Twilight
Knowing now that the Essence-shield below had been shaped using Sorcery of the Terrestrial Circle, the four Solars readied their weapons as Rinan shattered the shield with Emerald Countermagic. As soon as the shield was gone, five flame-demons burst forth from the cathedral and began climbing the rope ladder leading up from the roof. These beings were not true demons, just demonic Essence shaped into caricatures. They resembled lithe, stylized humanoid warriors composed entirely of fire. The first Demonic Servitor of Flame was quickly destroyed by Naria’s deadly-accurate bow. The remaining four jumped up amongst the branches of the trees to the level where the Solars stood waiting. Kade’s blade sliced cleanly through one, causing it to vanish in a puff of firey ashes. Rinan rushed forward to attack another, but in his haste, his strike missed its mark. Naria and Morning Breeze each took on a demon: she with two well-placed arrows, and he with a flurry of fists and feet. The Servitors struck back, but Naria and Morning Breeze were too nimble and dodged the attacks. Rinan, was not so lithe, but his Invulnerable Skin of Bronze kept him from being hurt. Kade rushed over to Naria’s aid, running the creature through with his sword. Rinan brought to bear the full force of his Peony Blossom Attack on his opponent, shredding it with his spear. The final demon, unphased by his comrades’ deaths continued to strike wildly at Morning Breeze. Naria was able to put one arrow in it and Morning Breeze finished it off with a strike to its head.
With the flame-men’s ascent, the rope ladder was destroyed. Luckily, they also set many branches alight, and one such branch fell onto the cethedral-factory roof, providing a new form of access to the entry hole. Once down inside the cathedral, the Circle was ready to finish off the demon-witch who still bore resemblance to Rinan’s former self, but she was nowhere to be found. Presumably, she escaped while they were distracted by her minions and will likely return for revenge once she has gathered more power and resources. The factory-cathedral itself was vast within, with many incomprehensible magical devices, all smashed in frustration by the demon in the time from its binding to the present. Finding the tomb chamber was not difficult, as the cathedral had been laid out as a sensible workshop rather than an enigmatic labyrinth. Within the tomb chamber, the Solars found a journal, written by the previous incarnation of the Circle’s Eclipse Caste, telling the story of how they discovered the demon had replaced their Twilight Caste and how they came to the decision to imprison rather than destroy it.
Details to be added later…the rest of the summary follows
Next, through the Dawn Gate where everyone got their butts kicked by Kade’s former incarnation. Naria finally was able to end it with a mid-air shot from her bow while leaping from one pillar to the next which struck the mummy through the throat. Kade was knocked unconscious, and now the party will rest until he is fully recovered (luckily it will only take a few days due to his Body-Mending Technique which speeds his recovery 10 times faster than any normal mortal).