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  1. - Top - End - #271
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    Ascension's Avatar

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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    Wind is grateful for Wic's intervention. In the moment, as Leaf confronted him, he had no rational response, only, Sun forgive him, fear. He may have faced, and triumphed against, Leaf's sifu, but she was merely a terrestrial divinity. The spark of heaven burning in Leaf is something greater, and Wind has no doubt that this student has surpassed her master. As her bare foot cracked the tile beneath his feet, he simply backpedaled, raising Kidale's blade in a defensive stance to ward off the blow he felt certain would follow Leaf's outburst.

    But Wic's defense of him - earned he knows not how, the two men have exchanged few words, while Wind had thought Wic a circlemate to Leaf - buys him space to regain his wits. His mouth is still dry, the sword in his hand still raised, but he steels himself and speaks.

    "She did not forget herself with the people of this valley. That speaks well of the impression you made on her, Brown Leaf. But she had grown accustomed to sparring with an Exalt. Without you here, she grew bored.

    "She ventured beyond the valley looking for sport. I gather that she attacked a traveling Dragon-Blood or two... the only Exalted she could find to 'play' with. You've asked me how the valley came to Kirighast's notice? That's all I know to point to. Your beloved sifu's own actions.

    "When I arrived, it did not take her long to challenge me."

    He forces himself to meet Leaf's gaze. He flinches under the weight of her glare, but does not look away.

    "I felt it imperative to remind her that the Chosen of the Unconquered Sun are not playthings."
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  2. - Top - End - #272
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    MonkGirl

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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    "Neither are the spirits!"

    Leaf was literally incandescent with rage, her glowing Anima assured that, but she could see the logic of Wic's argument. She felt ashamed for her outburst, though she still wanted to throttle Wind.

    "Wic, I unnerstand yer meanin' but it ain't the same. Tenepeshu's the leader'a a spirit-court, she's a leader, the biggest fish inna big pond. She knows her responsibilities an' ignores 'em. Here, Lou Kahn did wrong, but only by our standards. She's a Tiger fer Pisap's sake! It's her nature t' hunt an' patrol an' be arrogant, she keeps the wilds wild an' protects her patch. If'n she's acceptin' prayers from folks here, it's cause she was their guardian, as a favor t' me! All she had t' do was what came natural, jes' t' the bandits an' Realm slavers what come through the mountains. If'n she bloodied some Realm noses, good! The worst they could say was that she was outta her remit, send a monk an' give her a slap on the paw. This place's too remote t' bother with more'n that, unless there's evidence of Anathema settin' up shop!"

    She shot this last sentence at Wind. Then sighed.

    "Well, at least I know why Alhat's botherin' t' join up now. Lou Kahn an' he go way back, t' hear her tell it. Long time back, they was rivals fer control'a this land. He took the plains an' she took the mountains, then he got big with war while she stayed in her patch...heh, she always said she got the best of it, not havin' t' deal with the Realm...I reckon Alhat wanted t' humiliate her, bloody an old rival's nose...but he's too late."

    She glared at Wind. "You might think the gods are arrogant, an yer right. But they ain't nothin' compared t' you. She knew you was an Exalt, how could she resist? You came inta her territory t' set up shop. I bet she saw right through you, a sad man runnin' away from his fears, hidin' behind oaths t' a dead friend, 'cause the livin' ones were too hard t' face." She pointed at the blade in Wind's hand. "Did she taunt ya? She likes doin' that. Called me 'cub' a lot, 'runt' too. The one what stung the most was 'not strong 'nough t' save yer family.' She's got 'xperience dealin' with Zeniths what lost folks they cared for. Is that why you done it? She saw what you was, called you out on it, so you humiliate her? I'll admit it ain't one'a her more endearin' traits, but a tiger's nothin' if not brutally honest."

    She turned and began to walk away from the group. "Y'know what? Ferget it, you ain't worth it. Ya'll come up with a plan. I'm gonna go see Lou Kahn. Anybody 'round here kin tell you 'bout Bent Creek, jes' come find me when you got an idea. If we got nothin' I'll jes go fight that army mysself."
    Sorry for making things complicated!
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  3. - Top - End - #273
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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    Wirric does not respond to Leaf's words as she speaks. It's easy to tell where this is going, and the Zenith has more than earned the right to have her say. With luck, some well delivered rage will help clean the air for later reconciliation. He nods as Leaf makes to go, waiting until she has moved passed the monastery gates before letting his ring of fire fall away. Doing so, the sorcerer looks down to his fire cane, chuckling quietly to himself. "Your lover is a creature created to bring death and suffering to this world. And you say that a god can't be expected to rise above their natures? That the ramifications of their actions don't fall to them?"

    That was... not tactful. Wirric himself winces in the second after he says it. The thought had slipped from Wic's tongue: it was meant more as personal meditation than commentary for the group. Still, once said it can't be retracted. With a mournful sigh, Wic shakes his head at Kelam. He can at least clarify what he meant. "I have no sympathy for that line of reasoning. From her, the Immaculate Order or Lou-Khan. Or the Deathlords. All things have the power of self definition. We are who we choose to be. Our nature and circumstances can weight the dice, guide our path, and we as observers should be mindful of that but they don't chose for us. Ahlat should not be considered simply a bull, just as the Khan deserves more respect than a plainscat. Them choosing to indulge in their baser urges remains a choice, and I'd say the consequences fall on their heads."

    Wic takes a second to share a rueful smile with the remaining Zenith monk, "Though I would rather not press that point to Brown Leaf, Wind. You were right, and justified in defending yourself, but I... would not care to test my luck with her in the ring a second time."

    Be light. Be jovial. There's nothing to worry about here... but you should still keep momentum moving. Wic coughs, glancing between the rest of the circle. "Bent Creak can wait. Our first priority should be getting rid of the expeditionary force." He turns again to his side, "Wind, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to stay here. If you intend to remain with your disciples here, we can't risk your identity being revealed to the attackers. But before that, does the monastery still have any kind of archive? Some local maps could prove invaluable."

  4. - Top - End - #274
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    PirateGuy

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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    Leaf’s outburst and Wic jumping to Wind’s defense caught Slang off-guard. They are thankful that no fight he argument ends as quickly as it started, but it leaves the Tya unsettled as Leaf leaves to find Lou-Khan.

    “Erm, not to keep this argument going, but I think the rumors she heard in Kirighast of an Anthethma cult.” Slang glanced at Kelam for confirmation since she was with Brown Leaf at the time.

    However, Wirric’s not quite quiet enough commentary has the Captain raising their eyebrows. The Twilight’s shocked expression almost made Slang chuckle as they realize he hadn’t meant to say any of that aloud. They listen to his clarification and wonder about how the match between Brown Leaf and Wic had played out. They will have to ask about that later. There is work to be done.

    Turning to Kelam, Slang tries to keep the swordswoman calm with a few words. “Kelam, I know you may want to chase after Leaf right now, but I think she might need to take in some of the changes that have happened while she’s away. I know it was strange for me the first time I visited Gateway after my first long voyage, and I wasn’t nearly attached to that city as much as Leaf is to this valley.” They smile gently. “I am sure she’ll want to point out more than a few things to you when we don’t have two armies coming this way.”

    Slang then turns to Wind. “I’m not sure if her talking Lou-Khan will calm her anger towards you, but—” Shaking their head, they continued. “— under other circumstances, I think she would have thanked you for stopping here and making sure nothing happened to the people she grew up with.”

    Wic’s suggestion of Wind not taking part in the upcoming fight has the Tya nodding.

    “Yeah, if we are going to have the deception plan as a safety net, your face not being associated with Anathema will be crucial. If we can find a good spot for an ambush, I think between Leaf and my anima banners we can limit the armies’ field of vision.”
    "In every walk in with nature one receives far more than he seeks." -John Muir

  5. - Top - End - #275
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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    Tuoni harrumphed. Wind had walked into the home of a goddess and expected to, what, be genuflected towards? More than that, he walked into the home of a fellow martial artist, and the territory of a tiger. Lou Khan had been well within her rights to ask for a challenge - perhaps dispersion was the appropriate end to that, but this talk of superiority irked him. The Solar Exalted had no claim to dominion above the gods - were they not promoted by a god themselves? Still, he let the matter lie and turned to their plan.

    "You intend for us to fight an army?" Tuoni asked, deadpan. "Half Legion, half Ahlat's brides? I wonder, in Whitewall did they call you mad?" His tone turns serious. "I, at least, have been trained to fight against those odds and at this point I could not doubt the rest of your skills, but I do not think we would survive an open battle. That's not to say we cannot win. My people, we do not fight like the Realm. We attack from the forest, then retreat and attack again. We lay traps. We poison food and water. Only when victory is assured to we attack all-out. I think this is what we would need to do."

  6. - Top - End - #276
    Orc in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    "That would be a better use of our resources and skills," Slang agrees. "We should figure out what possible routes they could be taking to concentrate any traps we set up. I could possibly sneak into their camps to sabotage their supplies."
    "In every walk in with nature one receives far more than he seeks." -John Muir

  7. - Top - End - #277
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    OOC:
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    To address Mal's question from the Discord, I do think Survival could help with ambush preparations. Tactics developed with Survival rather than War will be skewed toward tactics which would be applicable against animals, but many of those can certainly apply to humans as well.

    Monastery:

    Kelam is, in fact, already preparing to leave before Slang cautions her to give Leaf space. It's not that Wic's summation of her nature rattles her, though she doesn't like the way Wind looks at her afterward... the sorcerer's words are no harsher than those she might use for herself. Rather, she hates to see her girlfriend in this sort of state. She'd been able to calm Leaf down the last time she stormed away from the monastery... who's to say she wouldn't succeed again this time? And yet...

    Her fingers find an old seam in her armor, a mended gash. The gash her sword... not the Mourning Blade, but the sword she bore before its forging... once made, the gash through which her sensei's life blood once spilled.

    If I had the chance to speak to her again, on the other side of death... would I want anyone else there with us? Even Brown Leaf? Maybe she needs her time alone with Lou Kahn.

    She holds her tongue and stills her feet, then, in the matter of Leaf's departure. She does, however, confirm, "They were aware of Lou Kahn's indiscretions in Kirighast, but yes, they had also heard rumors of an Anathema cult."

    Wind lets out a mournful sigh.

    "Maybe someone from the valley spread word abroad... maybe an outside informant passed by. I trusted to this place's isolation to keep my work secret; I did not hide my nature or the nature of my message from the villagers, nor did I try to monitor their movements. I am sorry that was not enough.

    "Thank you, though, for your dedication to these people's defense. I am sorry I will not be there to face the foe alongside you, but I agree that my place is here for now... and perhaps your Brown Leaf will breathe easier while we do not breathe the same air."


    He gestures to a couple of his monks loitering nearby, largely failing to eavesdrop, as the Old Realm favored by many of the Exalts is foreign to them, and he says a few words to them in Flametongue.

    "I will give you what aid I can... the monastery's newest maps date to shortly after Peleps Thousand Grains' departure, and most are years older than that, so some information may be outdated, but the geographical area they cover is extensive, and they are all of Realm make, so their detail and accuracy are remarkable."

    The monks return after several minutes away, carrying armloads of map scrolls.

    Brown Leaf:

    The way from the Sand's Edge Monastery to the bamboo forest at the heart of Lou Kahn's domain is not a short or straight path, but Brown Leaf knows it intimately well. She knows it not as her mind recalls even the minutest detail of the faces of every single person whose corpse she has cremated in the Sun's flame, but on an even deeper level, beneath thought. After she takes her first step along the way, the rest are automatic.

    Yet even on this journey, taken so many times before, Leaf is bedeviled by change. Here the path hasn't been repaired since the last heavy rain washed a gully through it, there the weeds once trod flat by her feet have grown into a thicket.

    As Leaf reaches the forest's edge, she can feel the eyes of the tiger goddess's children upon her. She can hear the soft footfalls of stalking cats trailing her, paralleling her path. It should not be claimed that Lou Kahn has ever been trustful of humans, but Leaf herself has not been subject to this level of scrutiny in many years.

    The last stretch of the path, nearest Lou Kahn's sanctum, has never been clear or easy. Even if Leaf bulled through the thick walls of densely-planted bamboo, knocking each and every stalk to the ground, she would find them all upright and intact an hour later.

    This day, how does she approach?
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  8. - Top - End - #278
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    MonkGirl

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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    Confronted by the familiar obstacle of the bamboo thicket, and aware of the keen eyes all around her, Leaf is perplexed. Lou Kahn had never been an easy deity to approach, but this was new indeed. What was the Tiger Goddess's mood? How would she feel after so long? How would her battle with Wind have affected her? At any rate, Leaf made a mental note to thank Lou Kahn for the challenge, it certainly took her mind off of being angry at the troublesome man back in the monastery.

    She gripped one stalk and started to bend it, then paused. Had she rushed off too soon? Should she have stayed? No, she was too worked up, it wouldn't have worked out well. Wic had been right to step between them, and she had no desire to hurt the sorcerer. And what kind of monk loses their temper anyway? Well, far too many, it would seem. Wind hadn't answered, but she was sure she was right on why he had struck down her second Sifu...she wondered how Kelam was doing. Would her girlfriend understand, or had Leaf shattered her trust as surely as those tiles? She could repair the tiles, the village had a kiln...wasn't that one of the lessons anyway? With enough care and attention, plus careful application of fire, couldn't anything be molded into anything else? Well, the fire wasn't universally applicable, but the principle remained.

    She looked up at the canopy, saw the sun winking through the thick boughs, making sweat bead on her skin. Even here, on the edge of a goddess's territory, the Sun shone. He really was omnipresent, and no amount of Immaculate twisting could change that...hrm...apply enough heat from the Sun...Solar energy, and what couldn't you mold? Could you shape an Immaculate? Could you shape The Immaculates? An idea worth pondering...

    Her neck was starting to hurt, but Leaf didn't look down. Among the jumble of thoughts a memory stirred, a calm evening after training, Lou Kahn's great golden bulk lying beside this stream, where it burbled to life further up the mountain. Leaf was lying on the grass, letting healing herbs work on cuts from their training, sore feet cooling in the brook. She had brought a satchel of scrolls that day, and Lou Kahn had taken an unusual interest in their contents. These weren't Immaculate teachings or histories or sciences, like usual they were...

    "Poetry. Grass-spreaders..."

    Leaf had her answer. She kicked off her sandals, tied them into her belt by their straps, and leapt, springing again and again up the thick green stalks until she stood above the canopy, her caste-mark matching the sun. She picked her direction, and began to walk, the thicket's impenetrable density aiding her steps. As she walked, she recited from memory, calling out the bright cadence to any that could hear.

    "The gushing waters of the stream pour and disappear into the South, washing away past heroes: their triumphs and failures, all vanish into nothingness in an instant. Yet, the green hills still stood as before, along with the perpetual rosy sunset.

    A gray-haired man fishes and splits firewood in a small island, accustomed to observing the autumn moons and feeling the spring winds.

    A good old friend drops by happily with a bottle of crude wine; all tales, old and new, shall then be told and shared together in laughter!
    " She finished with a laugh.

    The old Tiger was always a sucker for a steady meter.

    Spoiler: OOC & Rolls
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    Brown Leaf is activating Monkey Leap Technique to ascend the bamboo, and once she's up top she's activating Graceful Crane Stance to walk along the top of the bamboo, eliminating the need for any rolls.

    The poem is a modified version of “The Immortals by the River” by Yang Shen. I’m afraid I messed up the meter by omitting a proper noun and changing a word here or there, but it atilll carries the same meaning for Leaf about life and emptiness. What those mean for her, I’m sure we’ll learn in time. ;)
    Last edited by Sticks; 2019-07-11 at 12:11 AM.
    Sorry for making things complicated!
    -Me

  9. - Top - End - #279
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    As Leaf's recital ends, the bamboo begins to bend beneath her feet... not due to any failure of her body-lightening technique, nor any weakness on the part of the plants, but rather because she is being invited in. The bowing stalks lower her gently to the ground, so that she stands within a clearing - a clearing which was invisible only moments before, from the vantage of the forest's canopy.

    Lou Kahn waits for her. The tiger goddess reclines on a pedestal of bones, the remnants of centuries' worth of worthy prey, with the imperishable mane of the god-lion Tsavo draped atop them as a sort of cushion. The massive bones of god-blooded Aurochsen can be seen scattered throughout her throne, along with the shattered forms of crystallized Fae and the grinning skulls of generations of foolish human champions.

    Yet today the proud huntress looks small amidst her trophies. She is gaunt as if from hunger, skin hanging loosely from her bones. Only her glaring eyes retain the energy Leaf remembers from her divine sifu.

    "Brrrrrown Leaf," the goddess growls. "You've brought the wrong gift for this occasion. I am in no need of poetry today; I am in need of claws and teeth."

    She waves a paw in a manner more human than feline, gesturing to herself.

    "You see your old teacher laid low, humiliated by another of your kind. Another 'Golden Bull.'"

    She snarls that ancient Zenith title, and her claws scrape audibly against the horn of an aurochs' skull.

    "This is not the time for lovely words. It is time for vengeance."

    She rolls on her back, kittenish, feigning greater vulnerability than she likely actually suffers from.

    "You wouldn't leave me in such a state, would you?"

    And then she is up on her feet, staring daggers down at her student.

    "The pretty claws I gave you haven't forgotten the taste of blood, have they?"
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  10. - Top - End - #280
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    MonkGirl

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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    Brown Leaf stepped up to her divine teacher's side, took one of the massive paws between her hands, and patted the rough pads in a condescending gesture of comfort. "So many questions, Sifu. One'd almost think yer a helpless little kitten."

    She sat on the ground, first sweeping away a rib and a clavicle from some creature, the origins of which she'd rather not speculate on, and sighed.

    "I'm torn, Sifu. On the one hand, Wind, the one what's makin' yer pride hurt so, is a stuck-up self-righteous prig what deserves whatever's comin' t' him." She allowed the venom in her voice to flow freely, Lou Kahn never held much stock in keeping things bottled up. "But on the other, there's stuff he ain't wrong 'bout. At this point I don't care who started th' fight 'tween you two, he aimed t' finish it in a way he shouldn't. I wanna git him back fer it, mark my words, but...I can't do nothin' t' him worse'n he's done t' hisself. You could see it, couldn't ya? That man's haunted, fulla doubts. I kin challenge him, an' win too in yer name...but if'n it's vengeance yer' lookin for, it ain't gonna phase him. He'll admit I'm the better fighter, that you done trained me well, but it ain't gonna hurt 'im."

    She pursed her lips, folding her legs under her to rise slightly on her knees, the better to see Lou Kahn's face. "I wanna help you, Lou Kahn. You was there for me after I done lost everythin' an' I ain't fergettin that anytime soon. But I'm already bein' pulled a hunnerd dif'rent directions as is. I'm sworn t' save th' world by huntin' this 'chosen-a-the-stars', I need t' protect this valley, it turns out I got some kinda weird shape-shiftin' girl what's tied t' me by fate'r somethin' an...I got a partner now."

    She twisted a bamboo leaf in her fingers, making a tube, a spiral, a box, bending the supple plant with tender care to not tear it. "You'll like her, she's fierce when she wants t' be. Beautiful too...Oh, heh, no competition fer your stripes, don't worry none...heh, like you, she'll shed blood first an' worry 'bout the consequences after, 'least when she's not worryin' what I think. Honestly, she kin do as she sees fit if'n she thinks fightin's what's needed. I'll be there t' send on the souls..."

    She dropped the leaf, then rubbed her temples as though experiencing a sudden headache. "Ah, listen t' me! I'm jes' ramblin. I...no. I ain't fergotten how t' kill like you taught me. I jes...lost the th' taste fer it, I guess. A couple years ago I woulda killed Wind outright when I heard what he'd done t' ya but now I ain't so sure."

    She looked up into the tiger goddess's eyes, her own showing apology and defiance in equal measure.
    Sorry for making things complicated!
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  11. - Top - End - #281
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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    Slang unfurls the newest map and places it where the others can see it. They take a moment to pick out possible routes that the armies would follow and spots they would likely camp.

    Pointing and dragging their finger along a portion of the map, “From what I can tell, this would be the best route from Kirighast to here for a group of their size with the most access to oases to camp by. If I were leading the armies, I would try to travel by night to avoid too many people suffering from heat exhaustion and camp during the day.” Slang glances at their clothes and the surrounding landscape. “I might want some clothes that match the environment better… These colors will stand out if I try to sneak around their camps during the day.”

    “Poisoning the oases wouldn’t work, but we could still set up traps or ambushes in these areas here.” Slang points out a few areas along and little further out from the predicted route. “What kinds have you used, Tuoni?”

    Spoiler: OOC and Dice
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    Ascension has approved the use of Trackless Region Navigation for predicting the best route by the locations of oases between the locations. Spending 5m and 1wp for the charm.
    For the trap and ambush information, let’s see how well Slang did!
    Spoiler: The Dice
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    Spending 8m for Survival excellencies
    Survival 5+ Intelligence 3+ Stunt 2+ Excellencies 8 =18 dice
    (18d10)[3][5][3][2][4][4][4][7][7][6][9][2][3][4][4][2][4][8](81)
    Last edited by Malozing; 2019-07-11 at 04:40 PM.
    "In every walk in with nature one receives far more than he seeks." -John Muir

  12. - Top - End - #282
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    HalflingWizardGirl

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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    Wic follows Slang's words, watching their hands dark across the unfurrled map. The good captain seems well informed but all the same, Wirric raises a hand before Tuoni can answer their question. "We shouldn't overcommit to this. A little thought and a favourable position are useful, but we've already faced a likely comparable force. A hundred Silent Legionaries, backed a full Wyld Hunt of five experienced Shikari. I doubt the garrison was able to commit more than that just to investigate the rumor of Anathema. With the War ensuring they will not be receiving reinforcements any time soon, the odds are good that they sent less."

    Wirric rises, leaving more space for Tuoni and Slang to plot while studying the head of his cane. He can't help but chuckle a little. "If you both wish to prepare traps and ambushes, so be it. I fully agree that gathering more information on the Expeditionary Force before making our move is wise. But if it became necessary, I don't doubt we'd win a straight up fight against them. Especially with surprise on our side. A little basic planning and tactical acumen between us could work wonders."

  13. - Top - End - #283
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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    "I'd prefer not to underestimate the Realm - not when they have the support of Ahlat, and potentially other Sidereals. Yes, we may be able to prevail without our full compliment, but why take the risk? What else would we be doing. And, Captain-" Tuoni replied, "- nothing complicated. My sister was always the hunter in the family, my hobbies were more lackadaisical. I remember the basics, though."

  14. - Top - End - #284
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    HalflingWizardGirl

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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    "We should retrieve Brown Leaf first, I concur. But we have a pressing reason to gamble here: time. The Hortatum already had over a month's lead on us as of Chairoscuro: the longer we spend here, the greater that grows, and winning this fight brings us no closer to catching the deceptive wretch. Which ultimately makes it a distraction from our mission. That's not to say we should shy away from the fight, just that we should keep that in mind when planning how to deal with it. Without information suggesting they actually have a Sidereal or a large number of Dragon Blooded with the group, I still find the idea of a swift overwhelming strike sorely tempting, dangers aside."

    Wic frowns: he's not happy about that conclusion, but he can't find a way to alleviate the worry of it. He glances around the group. "Take a step back for a second. If this place wasn't Brown Leaf's home... would any of us consider this our problem?" This is less an admonition of Tuoni, and more a downcast personal reflection. Wic sighs, "Sun Above. I like to think I'd stop to help regardless, but I can't swear to it. We have our own work to do, and its importance is potentially far wider than one rural vale. I'd be tempted to just raise my hands, provide a little advice, and move on."

  15. - Top - End - #285
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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    Brown Leaf:

    "Lost the taste for it..."

    Lou Kahn removes her paw from Brown Leaf's hand and rests it atop her head. Leaf can feel the points of the goddess's claws against her scalp, an unsubtle reminder of the strength the huntress retains even in her diminished state.

    "Your heart was always softer than your hands. But if you still consider yourself my student in any regard, you will mark my words, little one."

    With her other forepaw, she bats at a human skull, sending it clattering across the bones, rolling up to Leaf's knee. Leaf can see a symbol etched onto the skull's forehead, mimicking a caste mark. A trace of iridescent metal shines from the engraved symbol, a faint echo of the technique Lou Kahn used to give Leaf her orichalcum stripes. The sigil itself is the mark of the Sidereal goddess Saturn, the Maiden of Endings.

    "If the star-chosen are the prey you hunt, you should let this 'partner' of yours remind you of the virtue of ruthlessness. Only a hard heart and a steady hand will see you through your enemy's web. You will ever be in danger as long as they still have blood left to be shed. But..."

    The claw-points at Leaf's scalp retract, and Lou Kahn rubs Leaf's head affectionately with the pad of her paw. Her mouth hitches in an almost human smile... though no human's mouth could ever boast such fangs.

    "That's a hunt you should be proud of. Remember your strength, remember your pride, and you should be able to forget all the confusion which chains you. The Sun's might and your tiger's heart should show the way. Beneath all your monkish worries and human connections, you know your exploits ought to ever be the stuff of legends.

    "I want the next poem I hear from you to be the epic of how the great huntress Brown Leaf crippled the fingers of the hand of Heaven."

    Her eyes turn sharp, and she strokes Leaf's cheek with the back of one claw, a gentle threat.

    "Not how the humble monk Brown Leaf, chosen of two gods, rejected her higher calling out of pity for fools and farmers."

    Slang:

    The open savannah covering much of Harborhead's interior affords few choke-points for an ambush, and waiting until the expeditionary force reaches the valleys near Sand's Edge would place their sighting of Anathema rebels too close to the vulnerable villagers for comfort. Fortunately, the satrapy's marshy waterways offer a potential solution. The expeditionary force will have to cross the broad Sundiata River, and even though the Sundiata's currents are lazy, they should be vulnerable during the crossing.

    Alternatively, even if their ethics demand they refrain from poisoning any oases, an oasis could make for a reliable stakeout point, to try to guarantee contact with the moving army.

    The Monastery Group:

    "I trust this is merely a hypothetical question," Wind says in a warning tone, glancing at Wic. He had thought the sorcerer an ally, at least of a sort, when he had stepped in front of the angry Leaf... it alarms him to hear the man so casually discuss abandoning the valley outright.

    "If you are confident to face them in open battle, you may by all means do so, but please... do not be so cruel as to abandon us now."
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    Wirric sighs. He can't say Wind's rebuke is wrong as such, it was tactless of him to express his feelings aloud before the monk, but all the same. He fixes the Zenith with a glare all too similar to the one he used on Brown Leaf. "How many people live in this valley? Two hundred? Five? A thousand?"

    The actual answer is immaterial. Wic presses on, "They say the capitol of the Realm holds one million souls. A thousand times a thousand lives: saints, sinners, dynasts and street sweepers. If it took every life here to save the Imperial City, and everyone within it, is that sacrifice worth it?" The sorcerer twirls his cane, meeting its gaze briefly before turning back to Wind, looking somewhat exasperated. "That's a hypothetical, yes. I don't turn my back once I've given my word. But you should understand the stakes we're working at here. Assisting you puts our already less than ideal timeline back even further. The Bent Creek Job will do the same. I don't want to give our foe time to put his plans into motion, any more than I want to see you or these people dead."

    There. Rant delivered, Wirric seems to deflate a little. He takes a second to catch his breath and let his words sink in before chuckling a little. "Are you quite sure you play no role in Nasir's wider scheme? He didn't tell you to unseal some ancient temple, find a map to Lost Rathess, anything like that?"

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    Brown Leaf gave a rueful chuckle.

    "Heh, you ain't been talkin' t' the valley folk, have ya? Seems I've got quite a posse there, and I ain't even asked fer 'em...Sorry, jes my way'a bein' selfish..."

    She paused, then smiled.

    "Heh, you wanna hear tales though? I used yer trainin'. Impressed a bunch'a gods too. The Golden Lord, uh...Kokage, an' Five-Days-Darkness, though they ain't crazy 'bout the whole 'Predator Instinct bit you pushed so hard on me. Also got a good hit in on Tenepeshu, big ol' Dragon out in the Dreamin' Sea. She was bein' a right pain in th' ass, an I don't mind sayin' her breath was the worst I've smelled! Decked her one an' laid her out, woulda finished her if'n things'd worked out diff'rently."

    She couldn't help but let an iota of pride slip into her voice. Lou Kahn's braggadocios nature was somewhat contagious.
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    Slang grins at Tuoni’s admittance.

    “Well, hopefully, you remember well enough to teach me. I doubt the traps I use to catch crabs and such will be of use on land. I can head out to scout the possible route and see what we can set up in advance.”

    Slang shakes their head after Wic finishes his rant.

    “You wonder if you have a good heart and create hypothetical situations where you paint yourself as uncaring. Damnit, Wic. You are here. You helped us get here even after you found a possible lead on the daughter you were forcibly separated from. You are finding ways to help others while at the same time summoning a thunderbird to search an area in the north for your daughter.”

    The Tya turns to Wind.

    “I know you don’t know him, or any of us really, but from having them on my ship, I can tell you each one of my circlemates has a good heart. We may not always agree on the best way to handle situations, and I doubt anyone of us would turn our backs on these people right now.”
    "In every walk in with nature one receives far more than he seeks." -John Muir

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    No, we would not. Tuoni thinks, in silent answer to Wirric's question. Timeline or no, the world is too full of small abuses to bother overmuch with them. And, truthfully, is the Realm in the wrong here? The stones of this temple are clear evidence of the good they've brought to this place. That the people here abandoned their faith in it so quickly speaks only to how far it's fallen - or to Wind's persuasiveness. Perhaps a bit of both.

    Still, he leaves that discussion for the moment to focus on the maps. Thery're... not easy to read, covered in symbols and colors denoting things he doesn't understand. The very concept of maps, seeing the world like a bird, is strange to him. It feels... well, it feels very close to blasphemy. Like one is taking the place of the Sun. They're tools of rulership. After a moment, though, he begins to figure things out. Harborhead is clearly marked, and their own little village as well. And between them a river.

    "How deep is that ford?" He asks, gesturing.

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    Monastery Group:

    Wind's face is still sour after Wic finishes his explanation, but he nods his... comprehension, if not understanding.

    "All Nasir encouraged me to do was to spread my message... but he did help me shape that message."

    He sighs.

    "I believe in my illumination, still. In the value of that... hope. But it disgusts me to think that my faith may have been made a tool again. Just as it was in the Immaculate Order."

    At Tuoni's question about the ford, Wind turns to his monks. It takes some time, but it transpires that one of them once traveled that way regularly as part of a group of nomadic herders.

    "This time of year, it should be passable on foot, even for an army, but it'd still be nearly up to the shoulders of the shorter folks," he explains. "Maybe even higher than shoulders for Krantiri, but those folk'd probably be able to swim it."

    Brown Leaf:

    "The Golden Lord has always been a bore," Lou Kahn complains, with a humanish grimace, "but in this, he is also a fool."

    The tiger goddess stretches and kneads her claws on Tsavo's scalped mane.

    "You know I treasure sport, but... once again, my student, be mindful of your prey. That's a lesson I have myself been given reason to recall, quite recently."

    She slumps back onto her throne.

    "Today you may speak of a foe you almost slew and mean it as a boast. But if you continue to move in such rarified circles, you will meet... may have already met... an enemy capable of making you regret leaving them alive.

    "Life's blood is finality. It's the only finality you will find in this world. Oaths and treaties may be broken, attitudes may always change. Only in death is trust guaranteed. The instinct, the ruthlessness, to strike your enemy until they will never rise again... that is the only freedom you will ever find from doubt. That is the only perfect clarity."
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    "The who?" Tuoni asked, befuddled. He'd never heard the name Krantiri - one of the local clans? "Either way, a swimming man is not a fighting man. I can hold them on the beach." Perhaps, perhaps with the help of Wind's acolytes but Tuoni had honest doubts about their skill and devotion. It took an enormous amount of training before fists could effectively challenge steel, and even then those arts were rarely suited to fighting as a unit. They alone wouldn't hold the shore, that he was sure of. And, if they broke and ran...

    Well, at least they had their families at their back. That would help.
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    Wic is silent at Slang's words. He seems surprised by them, but can't find any room to argue with the good captain, or with Wind. After a second he turns back to the map, and nods to Tuoni,

    "I can support you. If you're able to hold them back, I can concentrate on a swift, powerful offense. My style's suited to that, especially if I'm not concerned about restraining my anima. Anyone trying to circumvent your holding point will burn, beyond the point that water can save them."

    The water won't be helpful, granted, but he can account for that. Wirric frowns, eyes sill fixed on the map. "We've one last decision to make. How many do we want to let escape?" He points to the other side of the river, where their enemies would likely be coming from. "With my Stormwind's help, we don't have to feel restrained by geography. If we position some of our number on the far bank, concealed before the Expeditionary force begins to cross, we can catch them in a vice-grip. Bloodshed is not ideal, but we want them scared, we want them to panic and run back to Harborhead with news that this was a trap. A.. larger death toll helps ensure that. And it places us in a strong position if the force turns out to be better supported than I suspect."

    But it's ruthless, underhanded and shows a complete disregard for the value of life. Wic is about to expound on such, but glances to Slang, remembering what they'd only just said to him. With a deep breath the sorcerer gives his appraisal, as calmly as he can. "If the idea is to convince them that the tales of the valley were a trap to draw out and eliminate as many of the local forces as possible, we should be fighting ruthlessly like that. We should make it look like witnesses leaving was a mistake rather than our goal. But that will leave a toll in blood, and might not be necessary. I can't say if the merit outweighs the moral cost."

  23. - Top - End - #293
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    Brown Leaf met Lou Kahn's eyes and nodded. "I hear you Sifu. I'll take yer words t' heart, an' no doubt."

    She bowed low, begging leave. When she straightened, she had a wry smile on her face. "Y'know, I think I owe you two gifts next time. My gift'a poetry was meant fer you, but I think it's given me some ideas. I'm in yer debt once again, Sifu." She turned, then paused, a final thought occuring to her. "Once I remove Wind an' leave fer my journey, you'll be guardian'a this valley again. I ain't gonna be gone so long this time, but I'll return with yer stories, an' perhaps we kin train again, like the old days."

    She walked into the thicket, any parting words of Lou Kahn reaching her through the dense stalks of bamboo.
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    “Your faith is a tool. For you to use to help guide and shape things around you into something more. You should have more trust in yourself to be able to wield your faith on your own and not rely on someone else’s interpretation of your hope to guide your hand.” Slang pats the monk on the shoulder.

    Slang nods as Tuoni and Wic discuss the chosen battlefield. “Maybe I can modify some traps slow them down as they ford.”

    The Tya tilts their head in thought as Wic speaks about how many they should allow to escape. “You do bring up a good point. If we don’t come off as ruthless, more forces could be sent out instead of preparing for an attack on their home turf, and if we’re not here… These people won’t stand a chance without help.” Slang frowns. “It’ll be for the best for Leaf’s people. I will take a position on the far bank.”
    "In every walk in with nature one receives far more than he seeks." -John Muir

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    Brown Leaf:

    "Perrrrhaps," Lou Kahn echoes after the retreating Brown Leaf, an undercurrent of pleasure underneath her affected nonchalance.

    The Monastery Group:

    Wind's aspect is grim as Wic lays out his plan and Slang seconds it, but this time his sternness is not disapproval.

    "Do what you must. We will pray that their souls find a clearer path in their next lives."


    'Look at your heroes,'
    Kelam's Whispers taunt, 'so quick now to embrace death as a solution.'

    "Brown Leaf,"
    she interjects abruptly into the conversation, then backpedals to explain herself, "If it's going to be a slaughter, we'll need Brown Leaf to see off their souls. We don't want a shadowland forming. Especially not on a major river."

    Everyone:

    By the time Brown Leaf returns from her visit to her old sifu, the ambush at the river ford is roughly plotted out. Questions remain, particularly about the Bent Creek raid meant to follow the massacre of the expeditionary force, and of course Leaf herself has to be brought into the loop, but it's a start. What else must be taken care of before the amassed 'Anathema' depart?
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    Caught up to speed, Brown Leaf agreed with the plan in the specifics, save for one detail.

    "If'n we're gonna make a stand at the crossin', I wanna give 'em a chance t' leave. We don't gonna show our whole hand, jes' let 'em know we ain't holdin' back if'n they choose t' fight. I...honestly 'spect they'll choose t' fight, but if'n we don't give 'em the chance I won't be able t' live with myself."

    She looked around at everyone, and decided to assert herself. "Well, I'm gonna let 'em know, anyway. Harass 'em, steal their supplies, scare 'em, pick off leaders, sure, we kin do that 'afore the ford. Once they're there though, they gotta know that the south side'a the Sundiata's a point'a no return."
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    “I am sure we can do that, Leaf.” Slang concedes. “Since we’ve got the plan settled, I am going to find some different clothes and head out.”

    The Tya paused and turned to Wic.

    “In case I can’t make it back here to report any changes, is there anything you have I can send a message with?”
    "In every walk in with nature one receives far more than he seeks." -John Muir

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    Kelam drifts to Brown Leaf's side, a concerned look on her face.

    "If we draw a line at the river, love, they will be sure to test it. If they do that while we're here, fine. We can prove our ability to prevent a crossing and hopefully leave enough of an impression to discourage them from trying it again. But if they back off, and we ourselves move on... then whenever they do find the courage to test it, they will find the threat is empty."


    The tip of her tongue plays nervously with the point of one of her outsized canine teeth.

    "You're right, the just thing is to give them the chance to back away. And I don't want to spill any more blood than we have to. But... for the valley's safety... for your people's safety... We may have no other choice than to provoke them. To make sure they cross the line we draw."


    '"It's them or us?" You fall back on the simplest justification for killing, Blade,'
    the voice of the Neverborn taunts Kelam. 'Why can't you just admit that you long for the chance to murder again?'

    "I won't enjoy it,"
    the Abyssal insists, audibly, an angry fire burning in her eyes. "I just... I'm afraid death is the answer, this time."

    'Not just this time...'
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    Wic meanwhile, looks as though someone suggested he fight the battle in tribal dress. The urbane sorcerer rallies a little as Kelam and Slang speak, but he can't quite hide his look when offering his own response to Leaf. "The entire point of the plan is to try and convince the attackers the rumours around the valley were a diversion, designed to draw them out and eliminate them so they wouldn't be able to help secure Bent Creak. We need to make them think we're not trying to protect the valley. Giving them the chance to flee before they reach the valley is as good as telling them that we are. The act alone shows our hand."

    Wic closes his eyes, taking a deep breath. This argument seems likely to be the definition of an uphill battle: no amount of logic or reason can contest emotion, and Leaf's desire for offering mercy to the bloodcrazed religious zealots was an emotive one. The sorcerer hums to himself, trying to turn the plan around, pondering if they could still make it work. Eventually, with a sigh he reopens his eyes, looking to Leaf. "If, if we do this? We need to hit Bent Creek immediately afterwards. Quickly enough to make it clear the battle at the river was essentially moot: even if they returned to Kirighast, they wouldn't be in time to reinforce the guards out there. That's the best chance we've got of selling the lie that Bent Creek was our objective, if you give the Expeditionary Force a chance to run."

    "That means we go straight from the battlefield, to the Creek, via my Stormwind. No delays, no distractions, no side trips. Getting the job done right has to take priority, and that'll mean working quickly to knock the place over and get the jade aboard the Remora before Kirighast hears either report" His proposition given, Wic turns to Slang, pondering their question for a second, "How long do we have? If I've another night's rest, I can bind a spirit to serve as courier for you. Otherwise, no, not yet." Wic frowns. He really should try and do something about that as a long term matter. This isn't the first time some kind of message service would've been useful.

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    Brown Leaf sighed.

    "Yer right, a'course, Wic. What I'm askin' ain't practical. I hate t' shed blood what don't need sheddin' but..." She sighed, then folded her arms. The tension withinin her was palpable, she felt the muscle straining against her dark skin and willed it to relax. She had to be at peace with this. "It's somethin' I di'int wanna acknowledge. They's sendin' an army 'cause they're on a punitive expedition. Harborhead ain't no stranger t' war 'mong its own. Dragons know, that's why Alhat made his home here. The Brides'r fightin' fer their god, the Immaculates'r comin' t' make a show outta punishin' the folk here. Kelam's got the measure'a things. We hit 'em hard at the ford, let 'em know we wanted 'em there."

    She turned to Wind. "As fer you..." Once again she felt her gorge rise, her muscles tense. She forced it down with somewhat greater effort. "Come help us with the ambush, or stay back, I don't care. After these armies'r dealt with, yer leavin'. If'n folk think yer worth followin', I won't stop 'em. Yer' goin wherever you please, but remember that you done run away from Jasara an' she wants you back. With the Sun's blessin' an' Paisap's luck, you might jes' listen t' her an git some sense in there 'afore the next time I see you."
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