Circle of the Five Corners

Quest for the Eclipse (Part 2)

After a few days’ rest, Kade’s wounds were healed and the Circle was ready to travel through the Zenith and Night gates and then, with all four gate keys in hand, they prepared themselves for whatever may lie beyond the essence-vortex of the Eclipse Gate. During their rest period, Morning Breeze occupied himself with cleaning up the main chamber of the Tomb of 5 Corners, where he discovered a journal of letters written by one of the brigands. Aside from the promises to his family of sending home mounds of gold and loot, he also wrote of the return of the ghost of Barrow Black and the Bandit Lord’s new Lady, the Mistress of Pacts Sealed in Blood. The letters mentioned that the two of them had traveled several times through the Eclipse gate, but had never been able to work any of the other Gates of Auspicious Passage. Rinan and Kade hypothesized that this Mistress could be their lost Eclipse Caste member, corrupted by the powers of the Deathlords and made into an Abyssal Exalted.

Their preparations made, the Circle went through the Zenith Gate, which took them to the side of the Imperial Mountain, in the ruined city of Meru, at the center of Creation. Seeing such horrible destruction for the first time came as a shock to these four, as they were not around during the Usurpation. Up a set of stairs and around the back of the gate, they found what was left of a statue of the Unconquered Sun: two golden feet straddling a shrine and standing six feet tall at the ankles. Morning Breeze recognized that even though this shrine had been ruined, there was still some power left in this place. He led a prayer for guidance and each Solar felt renewed and refreshed…it also opened a passage, revealing a set of stairs leading down. The stairs were guarded by arcing blasts of pure essence. Morning Breeze steeled himself and took a step downward, allowing himself to be struck by the bolt. Using his Durability of Oak Meditation, he was able to ignore the damage, and Naria being extremely observant noted, “Looks like the rest of them got weaker when that one hit. Maybe four more of those and it’ll be out of juice.” She was right. After four more steps and four more hits of essence, the energy of the trap was fully dispelled. Within the tomb below were the ashes of Morning Breeze’s former incarnation along with a simple, white robe, an alms bowl, and his Serpent-Sting Staff, an orichalcum chain-staff which called to him and brought back First Age memories of wielding it in fierce battle against the minions of Hell, itself.

Through the Night Gate, the Circle found themselves atop 20-foot-high (6-foot-wide) pillars of gray stone rising from the Endless Ocean below. At the base of these pillars was a colony inhabited by gilled frog-men who immediately attacked the intruders, bounding up the pillars and bringing their short spears to bear on the Solars. Morning Breeze flung his newly-acquired Serpent-Sting staff around, leaping from pillar to pillar and felling many foes. Kade similarly hopped about and knocked several frog-men back into the sea. Naria protected Rinan long enough for him to bring to bear Death of Obsidian Butterflies, which severely wounded many of the remaining beasts, who promptly fled back to their colony to regroup. The Circle continued on slowly (because of Kade) toward the 20-yard-wide pillar they had spotted about 100 yards in the distance. Atop this pillar was a smaller, raised section bearing a stone coffin. From a pillar next to the edge of the larger platform, Naria noticed that it was trapped to anyone setting foot upon it. Instead, she leaped easily to the center raised section and opened the coffin. Inside lay her former incarnation, grasping a golden bow to his chest and the gate key around his neck. She gently pried the bow from his hands, took the gate key, and bounded back to the rest of the group. They made their way back to the Gate without further hindrance from the frog-men, although the Circle was watched very closely.

With all four other gate keys now in-hand, they were able to make it through the fifth gate, the Eclipse Gate. They were greeted with an horrifying landscape of frozen blood and blinding snow, littered with the bones of thousands of men and beasts who died on this field of battle a millennium ago. From these bones rose the skeletons of three saber-toothed giant cats and a Tyrant Lizard. These skeletal guardians were easily defeated by the Circle who has fought so many times before. Their strengths reflecting off of each other and bringing their full force to bear. Once inside the massive Tomb of the Eclipse, they began to hear wailing and taunting from a somewhat familiar (but distorted) voice accusing them of abandoning her and tempting them with power if they joined her and her master, the Mask of Winters, in ruling the world. This word-sparring ended in a call to battle from both Naria and Kade, which she answered gladly.

and so ended the session.

to be continued…

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Quest for the Eclipse (Part 1)

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).

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A Bit of History

The Solar heroes had just returned from a successful campaign against the bandit king Barrow Black and his army, the Eyes in the Hills. When they returned to the city of Nexus with their company of mortal followers in tow, they found a message waiting for them. The four Solars had long speculated as to the location of their fifth member, for all have had fl ashes of recollection from the First Age, and they know they once counted a fifth Solar Exalt amongst their number, a member of the Eclipse Caste who completed their Perfect Circle of fellowship: the Five Corners of Creation joined together.

The note was unsigned, but sealed in golden wax and pressed with the unmistakable sigil of the Eclipse Caste. Little Shoe explained to the Solars that he was entrusted with this note in the trading town of Northeast Spoke by a beautiful woman with pale skin and dark hair, wearing a white robe, and that he’d been carrying it for six months, trying to fi nd the Circle. Their campaign against the Eyes in the Hills had been long, and ultimately, he’d decided his best chance would be to wait in Nexus for the characters to return. After some debate, the Solars decided to depart for the ruins at once, leaving their tired mortal followers to recuperate in Nexus and await their return. The Solars traveled across the Yellow River that lies to the north of Nexus, and then further north and east for four days, until they reached Northeast Spoke. In Northeast Spoke, they heard rumors of local bandits sporting the symbol of the Eyes in the Hills, once again demanding the payments taken by Barrow Black before his army was scattered. Could these be remnants of Barrow Black’s band, fled to the north after their defeat at the hands of the Circle, or perhaps another group of robbers who sought to take advantage of Barrow Black’s reputation? The rumors point further north, into the Valley of Death, a desolate expanse that had been avoided by the people of the region for as long as anyone can remember. Once they arrived, the area seemed familiar, and all the Solars had flashes of First Age memory. They knew now where the ruins were and asked Little Shoe to wait for them in the town while they proceeded north to the meeting point. After another half-day of travel, they have nearly arrived.

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