Exalted: Pillar at the Roof of the World
Game 2: A New Career
The group isn't in any great hurry to go anywhere. It's midafternoon and they could make it on over to Lujang by nightfall if they started out now, but most of them were still tired. Hasuran, the Guild envoy and driver, had no problems with staying at The Weeping Willow until the next morning per instructions from Guild Factol Sartaq Altan, so there seemed to be no problems.
As the members of the party rest up, Dead Flowers of Youth arranges to speak to Hasuran in the chambers arranged by Mara, sending some good drink ahead of him as compliments of the house. Flowers spends some time building a positive intimacy with the driver, and both have a little to drink but, in both cases, only a very little. Hasuran is happy to gossip about the reason for the summons; there have been serious raids against Guild caravans which have damaged profit margins considerably, and he's not sure if they're the usual suspects of Tear Eater or Icewalker barbarians overstepping their boundaries or someone totally different. As the evening proceeds, Dead Flowers takes his leave and send Mara to see if he needs… anything, which Hasuran conscientiously (though politely) declines. Flowers takes the time in the evening to write up his report via prayer strip to The Mask of Winters, but otherwise the night is uneventful.
The next morning, Muras Konta, feeling embarrassed and stir-crazy, wakes up early and actually disassembles the small wooden writing desk provided in the Willow's accommodations in an attempt to construct a rocking horse. Despite being a preternaturally talented artisan, she's tired not really on her game, and only ends up with a neat pile of wooden parts for her trouble. Meanwhile, Dead Flowers and Mara gain provisions and ready the group for travel – when they are ready, Hasuran takes his place at the head of the reindeer-pulled sleigh and the group sets off.
The sleigh itself is of very good construction – decorated but not ostentatious – and closed off, equipped with a very small internal coal stove, and provisioned with bread, hard cheeses, smoked meats, and wine, which Konta launches herself at and rapidly finishes off. Travel takes several hours; Lujang isn't particularly far, but neither is the sleigh particularly swift, and it takes until a little after noon until the city appears on the mountainous horizon. In the time it takes to cover the distance, the group discusses Kan Chi Ja's mining settlement, where he has taken his abode, the potential corruption of the Realm state, and how it is that the city of Lujang itself represents a sense of freedom to the people of the province. The banter is low-stakes, though, and none of the members of the party leave with an altered opinion.
As the sleigh nears, the city becomes visible as a slowly growing township that takes up the entirety of the slope between the steep mountains and the curving bay fed by mountain waters. Heavy gray walls sweep over the stony ground, continuing on into the river, and connected to giant barred portcullises that might be dropped at night, or when conflict seems likely. Outside the walls themselves, some sprawl has cropped up, mostly of the low-slung earth sheltered homes that are emblematic of the region with the occasional walled-off two story compound. Here, none of the roads are paved, but are instead either hard-packed snow or frozen mud at this time of the year. This is where the sleigh travels, rather than inside the gates, to a high-walled two-story compound near the edge of the sprawl, which looks as though it were relatively new construction.
Stepping out, Konta tips the driver with an intricately carved wooden coin, which he accepts with merely a nod. (Craft: 3 successes.) As they step into the building, through its heavy oaken double doors, Hasuran returns the sleigh to the stables with its steeds, and Dead Flowers invokes Superior (Hearing) Focus for the scene. (With 4 successes the first time.) With a near-legendary success, Dead Flowers is able to hear just about everything going on in the house, where he confirms his suspicions that very little activity is going on at all; besides a skeleton crew of servants and presumable Altan himself, there's almost nobody in the Guild house at all.
The house is laid out a little strangely, with large central rooms being surrounded by twisty hallways and closets on the periphery; the servant leads them to one of these side hallways and up a narrow stairwell, back into a large central room. Unlike The Weeping Willow's larger outward-facing windows, the Guild house has two outward-facing walls with many windows no wider than a man interspersed with tapestries so that very little of the actual wall is visible. A wide circular table is set with several candles and a masked man is sitting at it who leisurely stands when the group is lead into the room.
He greets them and introduces himself as Factol Sartaq Altan, who has been placed in charge of Guild operations this far north, and bids the group be seated as the attending servants bring in cider, wine, and tea along with even more food – which the group doesn't really apply itself to at all, having eaten in the sleigh over. Altan doesn't seem to mind, though, or even notice, as he helps himself to a cup of wine. His age is difficult to discern, and he is wearing a good silk shirt and his long hair is bound up loosely in the back. He wears an elaborate mask of porcelain painted gold around the edges of the face and eyes, but the eyes are covered in smoked glass, making Altan's eyes impossible to see without magic.
The ensuing discussion is relatively brief; Altan explains the Guild's position is tenuous, but that it fulfills a vital role in the province at this moment where the Realm is unable to dedicate very much of its time to securing borders or promoting commerce. Guild caravans which move throughout the area send peddlers off of their main trains to resupply farmsteads in exchange for money or seasonal debt to be repaid in the warmer months, and that Icewalkers are satisfied with food and salt in the cold months to lessen predation on homesteads and small settlements.
However, the intensification of raiding seems to have emptied out some small farms on the outskirts, leaving these places ghost-houses at best, and have prevented caravans from reaching their destination, heightening tensions. The Guild, he says, would like to work with the provincial authority that is House Muras and concerned locals, to keep trade moving. And, in exchange, Altan promises substantial rewards for the group to share.
To his surprise, the group accepts without requesting any favors or payment at all – as Konta says, it's entirely for the good of the region. Altan seems, maybe, a little incredulous but it's not uncommon to demand favors later for services rendered in any event. He's pleased to hear, nevertheless, and explains the plan – one caravan has made it out of a dedicated raid, and that was one lead by 15-year veteran Arjan Iceeater, an Icewalker from the reindeer tribe who'd seen evidence of an ambush when scouting ahead and was able to create a counter-ambush allowing most of the caravan to escape. This time, Iceeater would come prepared and the caravan itself would substitute out what appear to be slave carts with soldiers merely pretending to be cargo, armed with bows and spears and able to counter-attack both from the position of the carts and unloaded.
Meanwhile, the destination is a legitimate one; the local Icewalker tribe has spotted a shadowland where it appears that the raiders have been traveling to, or at least spending time around. They have what they say is valuable information to trade along with their usual set of ivory, horn, and fur. This enterprise stands to be a two-for-one, then. Dead Flowers of Youth activates the Charm "Screaming in Silence" to communicate with the Factol telepathically – Dead Flower's high Socialize was employed successfully to garner Altan's favorable attention, but despite that, he initially denied request to speak mentally. After Flowers redoubled his efforts (his high Appearance rating and bonus Merits make him hard to refuse), though, Altan allows communication – Flowers would simply like to speak with him after the initial meeting on a subject of… mutual interest and Altan accepts the proposition.
After the discussion, Factol Altan suggests to Muras Ohri that Ohri ought to discuss important details of Guild negotiations with his mining trade with the Factol's secretary, which Ohri accepts and Altan leads him out of the room. Flowers attempts to listen in again, using the same Charm as before (though this is a new scene, so it needs to be reactivated), and he receives one success – which works, but is marginal. What he finds is that Altan leaves him off outside a small room – almost a closet – but one that seems to be impenetrable to his senses. The secretary and Ohri are gone for only a few minutes, but the Factol doesn't return immediately; Flower's senses indicate that he's present but not initially returning. Eventually, Muras Ohri returns bearing news of a negotiated iceship to be owned and piloted by Konta upon resolution of the job as well as a 5% discount for House Muras with the Guild for an undefined period, which would also improve Ohri's profit margin and ease large scale trading for the House.
Having broken into early afternoon – maybe almost 2 PM – the negotiations are concluded and, given travel time, the Factol allows the group to stay on the grounds for the time being, as accommodations here are likely to be finer than at the public house down the street (as well as more private). While the group accepts, there's still a lot of time for recreation in the provincial capital, and so they empty out onto the streets – all excepting Dead Flowers of Youth, who promises to catch up – and head to the nearest public house which is already nearing capacity.
Dead Flowers opts to stay behind initially. Sartaq Altan pours a bit of cordial into two glasses and the two converse very briefly on shared economic goals before Flowers pours on the charm (and Charm – an Excellency) and moves to seduce Altan. Initially, Sartaq's hesistant; he's a professional and Flowers moves very fast, but he's not particularly opposed either. Flowers stunts a Socialize roll, seductively removing Sartaq's mask (and thereby seeing his face and receiving a sweet 2 motes which he pushes back into a Socialize Excellency) to convince the Factol - success. Flowers seduces the Guildsman and the two temporarily retire to a room. Flowers does build a positive intimacy with the Guildsman.
Meanwhile, the rest of the crew are at the local public house – which is the only major establishment in the city for this purpose. Other drinking and lodging needs are filled by private homes or meeting places, like the Guildhouse or back-alley dives. Because the weather has most people stuck indoors until it warms, Lujani people do a lot of business at this sprawling, two-story establishment and Konta starts out strong with an Appearance+Performance roll with a legendary success to pick up the mood and drive custom through song and dance.
She attempts to get Muras Ohri on the stage, but Kan Chi Ja manages to dodge the situation itself with 7 successes, causing him to very nearly disappear entirely, and Penge succeeds tolerably to add his storytelling skills to the mix. They're drinking and partying early, but the revelry is contagious, and business dealings and side conversations slow down or cease in order to celebrate a minor defeat of barbarians at the homestead and a love of food and drink. At least an hour in, Dead Flowers of Youth strolls in plucking his instrument dramatically – his entrance is incredibly successful at 8 successes, and the group has guaranteed amazing patronage throughout the day and night; the inn keep lavishes "The Golden Dragon" and any of her friends with beers, spirits, and tavern fare and they all drink until early evening, when they begin to get tired of the establishment and decide they'll want to pursue drink elsewhere.
What Konta and Penge see that the others miss is a small number of Immaculate faithful quietly filing out of the public house. They don't attempt to cause a fuss, but their dress and demeanor both label them as devouts - even if it's difficult to tell exactly what their station is. Neither the Lunar nor Solar make a point of it, though, quietly filing the fact away, but they don't stay long. In fact, the group splits amiably at this point; Penge and Konta take as many bottles of wine and casks of beer as they can hold with the owner's blessing and head for the city's walls which, while cold and lonely at this time of the night (with the exceptions of occasional guards posted at towers in key locations – not a concern for the two Exalts, tonight) affords a terrific view of both the rolling tundra, the frozen inlet of the Silver River, and an unobstructed view of the stars. Meanwhile, Kan Chi Ja (successfully masquerading still as Ohri) and the Deathknight Dead Flowers abscond onto the darkened streets of Lujang deliberating whether they ought to go high or low – and of course choose low – traipsing through narrow alleys and now-deserted courtyards to the end of town facing the steep mountain side. Flowers plays his music and those men and women who are out in search of strong drink follow in their wake to the front of an earth sheltered house with its back to the mountain no different from any other dimly lit abode save for the wooden sign, blank of either word or picture, hanging in front to indicate that it is a public establishment with no clue at all as to what type. And of course, the men enter.
The house is dark and there's not a terrific amount of space. The living space is mostly dominated by a single common room where an elderly woman stands behind a table pouring beer or cider into ceramic cups. The walls are soot-blackened and there is only a single port-hole style window to let dim moonlight in through, so the light is almost entirely derived from individual candles set on the few tables or on the bar table itself. Kan Chi Ja/Ohri and Dead Flowers take their places standing at the table and propose to out drink each other then and there, which causes the old woman, who the drinkers just refer to as "grandmother" to walk to the back and come back with a blackened cask of dark Imperial stout, possessing an ABV suitable for a strong wine.
Between the two of them, they finish the cask (rolling and succeeding at Resistance checks in Kan Chi Ja's case, though this isn't required for Flowers). Dead Flowers isn't showing any signs of inebriation at all, though, and rolls – barely failing – against Chi Ja's Investigation to conceal the fact. The Sidereal knows that Dead Flower's is engaged in some kind of misdirection, but he can't tell what, exactly. The drinking continues, as Grandmother pours more drink – this time, simple farmhouse ale – into their mugs, but the time has come for them to leave. They finish their drinks, pay, and go back out into the night.
Meanwhile, the city wall is serene and the tundra under the frozen moon is desolate but beautiful. Stars thickly coat the sky and the constellations, which dip and shift in time with celestial prospects, are clearly visible. Konta and Penge engage in a frank heart-to-heart (the details of which their players should feel free to add here, if they want) before making out on the wall and returning to the warm and surprisingly empty confines of the Guild manor, let in by one of the few guards/servants keeping a watchful eye at night. They talk next to the fire before falling asleep curled up next to each other in the living quarters just before Dead Flowers and Kan Chi Ja return.
The drinking cart has been left out, along with some breads and meats that surely are there for the returning Exalts, as the currently favored servants of the moment. The Guild has no lack of funds for simple pleasures, it seems. Though there's wine in stoppered jugs, "Ohri" insists that the amount is insufficient for the remains of their contest. Dead Flowers of Youth thinks otherwise, but Ohri persists (rolling Socialize to bullshit his intentions and succeeding against the Abyssal) and he leaves in search of some additional drink.
Down below, he finds Long Shiji asleep in a trick room, and awakening him, Shiji recommends diluted beer for their contest, and points him to the pantry where Chi Ja goes and acquires the drink. Returning, the drinking games persist – Dead Flowers fails to detect the ruse, though a combination of drink and the late hour finally gets to the hard-drinking Sidereal, and he begins to suffer a -1 penalty from the interior penalty of being poisoned, effectively. Normally this wouldn't be enough to put him out of the competition, but he attempts to fake deep inebriation anyhow – he and Flowers discuss a desire to succeed materially in a seemingly candid way before Flowers helps Ohri to his room. Though Flowers is able to build a positive intimacy with Kan Chi Ja, he also suspects that "Ohri" has simply pretended intoxication in order to go to bed.
After the Prince of the Earth has returned to his quarters, Dead Flowers believes that it is a simple thing, now, to steal back out of doors in search of a victim; he has consumed a great deal of his personal mote pool and without stunting or blood, it simply won't return. Coming back to the public house, he finds someone, leads them covertly out back, and drains them of their blood in the back alley, though there's someone else – Dead Flowers sees that he's been observed by none other than Muras Ohri himself. (Flowers spots Chi Jan in a contested roll, but the Sidereal agent doesn't know he's been spotted.) It initially appears that Dead Flowers has simply seduced the man, and then walks him back home – Kan Chi Ja breaks off and lets him leave without confronting him about the "seduction," which has fooled him on the face of it, for all intents and purposes, but hasn't allayed his suspicion entirely. Once at the man's home, though, knowing that he is no longer observed by the Dragon-blooded merchant, he coldly murders the man's spouse and exsanguinates them as well.
A morbid ending to a picturesque night, but one that's to at least one of the party's tastes.
Although the party manages to rouse themselves at the appointed times with no especial troubles (Kan Chi Ja might feel the effects a little, at least), Konta acquits herself the best, waking up even earlier than the rest to engage in a little light metal crafting manufacturing – Craftsman Needs No Tools and her forge gauntlets – an exquisite metal hawk-faced mask for Penge O Dimm. As she finishes up, however, it is time for the rest of the band to awaken to whatever fate the caravan will have in store.
EXP Rewarded: 8.
Total for all sessions: 20.