[FFML] [Exalted]The Broken Circle 4/5

miashara at deepfriedpuppies.com miashara at deepfriedpuppies.com
Thu Dec 3 14:30:39 PST 2009


Exalted is the creation and property of White Wolf Publishing. No
copywright infringement is intended. This is a not-for-profit fan work.

Previous chapters can be found at FF.net

Act 4

We were riding a high wave of confidence after our victories over  
Ragara Aino as well as the Beast of the Oak Forest. In addition Dog  
was healing even faster than we expected. He went to sleep the night  
after we left Nibeldamt and woke up fine. That was it. He had no  
soreness, no bruising, nothing. Angel and Hail clustered over him as I  
cooked breakfast, poking at his chest, constantly looking up waiting  
for expected hisses of pain. Dog shrugged.

"It doesn't hurt at all?" Hail asked, confused.

"Not a bit."

"You're healthy? Really?" added Angel.

"Better than before," Dog replied, smiling bashfully. He looked a  
little embarrassed at the way Angel kept touching him, which I thought  
was hilarious.

"Well, Beast of the Oak Forest, you've proved you are worth your word,  
at least," I told the tracker. He and I were setting the results of  
his hunt over the campfire. During the night, accompanied by Hail, he  
had gone out and returned with two rabbits and a variety of edible  
plants. We weren't intending to stay long enough to prepare them well,  
but I was doing what I could. Our campsite was in a small grove of  
brambles that had engulfed several small trees. No one could see in,  
and by building the fire near the base of an ash tree, the smoke rose  
and dissipated through its leaves, spread to fine to be seen.  
Eventually my companions got tired of poking Dog and joined us.

"So, feeling froggy?" I asked Dog once they'd returned.

"Ready for anything," he agreed, which would shortly be proved to be a  
complete lie.

I'm telling you this because I want you to understand how optimistic  
we were at that point. Life was good. We were in a cozy den sheltered  
by old hardwoods. This would last roughly nine seconds.

"So, when's breakfast ready?" Hail asked. "It smells delicious."

"Was that a compliment?" I needled him.

"Just serve, you-"

The ground exploded.

A hillock on the north side of the site that we'd used as a wind break  
came violently from together. Huge boulders ripped through the camp,  
nearly braining Angel. Tree roots snapped like kindling and flailed  
through the air, one catching Hail in the head. He lost consciousness.  
Directly underneath the fire pit, a ground blast tore the frying pan  
from my hand and cast me backwards into one of our harboring trees. My  
head met bark like a thunderball. The eruption had thrown Dog into the  
air, and now he was sailing over the treetops into the distance.

Standing in the northern crater stood a figure nine feet tall. It was  
covered in coarse fur over skin that looked like old leather.  
Barefoot, if such a term was meaningful, its toes were knurled as tree  
roots. From torso to toe and shoulder to wrist its underlying bone and  
musculature looked human. It, or rather he, for he was both naked and  
immensely, visibly male, was built like the colloquial brick shit  
house. The head and hands were those of a southern lion. Its mane  
expanded from the immense neck and flowed over the shoulders to mid  
chest. With prehensile paws for hands, each possessing unnaturally  
large blood red claws, its humanity seemed to merge smoothly with  
impossible nature. The whole being was speckled with intricate  
patterns in flowing white light that moved just beneath the skin. They  
accented his form, blazing from chakrah to chakrah, expanding the  
channels of his bodily energy from rivers to ocean currents.

Its companion made no such half measures. It was a bird with lightning  
for feathers, eyes the color of deep sky, and wings like typhoons. It  
had emerged from beneath the ground, but now hovered in air, wings  
wafting slightly on nonexistent winds, while lightning bolts reached  
from body to tree and seared air and earth. If the tattoos on the lion  
were oceanic passages, on the thunderbird they were starry galaxies  
that raged above a nighttime sky of storms and chaos. Between the two,  
their simple arrival had knocked three of our party senseless before a  
blow had been thrown.

"I am the Fall of Angels, and you have one heartbeat to stand down and  
put on some goddamn pants before I end you," said the sole standing  
member of our group. She stood alone and unarmed at the center of the  
clearing, looking defenseless and mundane. (The Beast of the Oak  
Forest had demonstrated his own good sense by yelping, "Fuck!" and  
running away as soon as our visitors had appeared.)

"Little girl, do not make me hurt you," growled the deep voice of the  
lion headed man. Its companion had taken flight after the Beast, and  
now screamed through the trees to the sound of thunder roaring from  
trunk to trunk. The echoes ripped leaves from stems, bark from trunks,  
and cast dirt from the ground. It's passage filled the air with the  
smell of ozone.

"One," counted Angel.

The interloped didn't waste more breath by speaking. My girl had that  
look in her eyes, the one that portended calamity like a fall of  
angels. Still, our attacker was bigger, stronger, and vastly more  
powerful. He had no idea Angel was just meaner.

They came together like natural forces bent on mutual annihilation.  
Suicidal migrations of the fire-beasts of southern deserts into the  
fast flowing river of Id were of similar intensity, but result in  
superheated clouds of steam ripping apart the river's banks, forming  
the voracious essence-powered storms of lightning and hail that give  
birth to the next generation of fire-beasts. The fight that took place  
in our campsite had no such reproductive necessity to justify its  
fury. Born and bred warriors bent on ending the engagement via  
destruction, they managed to capture the sound and fury of natural  
cataclysms. The lion attacked fast, seeking to overwhelm her quickly  
with his size and speed. Angel grabbed a rock, shrieked, "All Things  
Are Blades Approach!" and began whipping the blunt stone through the  
air in the fluid patterns of the Silken Lotus Style of the  
warrior-fanatics of Gnesh.

Being at best semi-conscious, I could appreciate Angel's technique  
with the calmness born of a serious concussion. Her take on things  
like feints and parries was unique. To Angel, a feint as a lethal  
stroke easier to parry than necessary, thrown in such a way that  
blocking it left one open for the invariable onslaught of follow up  
attacks. She thought parrying meant breaking your attacker's arm  
before his strike got home. Given that in her hands stones severed  
flesh and bone while a birch rod shrieked through the air and gouged  
furrows in oak trunks, her unique approach to combat ripped fur from  
skin like rainfall. She cut the lion's biceps off, excoriated his  
chest till naked ribs shone in the sunlight, and severed his forearm  
from his body save only ribbons of tendon and sinew before beating him  
with it.

Her primary problem was that the lion got better. He jammed his  
forearm back into place and flesh leaped from his arm to forearm  
dovetailing streamers of essence to reinvigorate the limb. His claws  
were quicksilver talons of white light and power that could block the  
horrific, unrelenting cascade of Angel's assault, cutting down the  
number of times she tagged him to a third. While on a mortal that  
third of strikes would all be fatal, the lion just took them and kept  
coming. He launched flurry after flurry of his own, using his absurd  
reach advantage to harry Angel around the campsite, never letting her  
disengage for positional advantage. She couldn't evade every attack  
which meant she had to block or dodge, something that resulted in  
exhausting her while the lion's mangled limbs reknit before my eyes.

Through my foggy brain, the thought that I should do something about  
this began to arise. My motor system considered it, and concluded that  
was impossible, as any non-reflexive action was an unacceptable  
instruction to my muscles. I asked myself what was injured, and the  
response was, 'Everything.'

The lion, who was growing frustrated, blocked another nigh insane  
torrent of lethal strikes, made no less dangerous by the fact that  
Angel's current weapon were handfuls of water she hurled from a  
canteen. Each splash lanced through tree trunks and holed rocks.  
"Peace, woman!" he bellowed. "I'm trying to take you alive!"

"Too bad. I'm not," snapped Angel. She leaped at him, swinging the  
empty canteen overhead in a two handed arc and cried, "Volcano  
Disrupts the Countryside Cataclysm!" before smashing it down towards  
the lion's exposed chest.

The big cat wisely decided not to take it like a man. "Perfect  
Evasion!" he cried, and suddenly, simply wasn't there when Angel's  
murderous smash whiffed past him. She hit the ground and a sun's worth  
of power blasted out from the impact site, vanishing into the earth.  
The lion darted forward, put his claws together, and came down at  
Angel's head with a double handed strike. He caught her cleanly on the  
base of skull and drove her head into the dirt with a sharp crack.

Angel lost consciousness almost immediately. But she did have time to  
smirk and whisper, "I figured you'd do that," before losing  
consciousness.

"Oh, poop," breathed the lion.

The energy Angel had thrown into the ground had traveled deep,  
bouncing off the geomantic lines of power that flowed through the  
bones of the earth and returned, magnified a hundredfold by the soul  
of Creation itself. Like magma breaching the surface, the ground under  
her enemy erupted in molten rock and fire, throwing him into the sky  
as it sheared earth and stone. The geyser of essence should have  
ripped his flesh to pieces and fried the pieces to ash, but those of  
the lion's kind are not so easily killed, even by geological  
phenomena. He clung to life and consciousness as he tumbled into the  
sky, and realized that even with his power, there was no way he was  
going to survive hitting the earth again. That was why he had brought  
a friend with him.

"Falcon! Help!" he screamed, and his words passed through the high  
open air of the mountain to where the thunderbird tore through woods  
and ravines after the Beast of the Oak Forest. I'm not entirely sure  
how the Dragon-Blood had evaded him so long. Later on I concluded that  
the tracker was simply much brighter than the rest of us, and had made  
sure he could run really fast from anything he couldn't kill.  
Regardless, the thunderbird heard the call, and abandoned his chase in  
a blast of ozone and the crackle of static. Shearing through the tree  
tops, the bird flashed across the sky. It could move much faster in  
the open sky than juking between tree trunks and crossed to the  
falling lion before he could have his sudden, splattering reunion with  
the ground. Catching him in moonsilver tattooed talons, the bird  
dropped and avoided the open pit of lava that waited below.

The lion dropped to the ground of the clearing just about the time I  
was getting feeling back and Hail was gurgling. Angel was lying still,  
breathing softly with her face buried in the ground, but still very  
much alive. The lion considered the lot of us, and looked into the  
face of the prospect of fighting more, who might very well be as  
capable as the girl. We weren't, of course, but the lion didn't intend  
to take that chance. He pounced on Hail, and hollered something about  
subdual, before beating him  unconscious. Maybe he beat him  
unconsciouser, as I'm not totally clear on what Hail's state at the  
time was. Regardless, Hail wasn't doing anything, and my turn was  
next. My cranial trauma graduated to the next level, and I took a nap.

Of circumstances become a connoisseur of being beaten unconscious, I  
would like to grade the headache I had upon waking as a six out of  
ten. Splitting internal pain mixed nicely with numerous external bumps  
and abrasions, but lost points for not being potent enough to white  
out my vision or leave my ears ringing. Also, since I was out long  
enough for my spine to remember how to work, I had feeling in my  
fingers and toes upon waking to, which put me slightly better than I  
was upon going down. Excellent effort but underwhelming results, I  
decided.

I was hanging from a tree branch, trussed hand and foot like a hog to  
be taken to market. Twisting I could see Hail and Angel, but not Dog.  
They were in a state similar to mine. The woods around us were dark  
and deep. Clearly we'd been carried some distance while asleep. Now we  
were in deeper woods of the east, and the trees showed it in greater  
girth and deeper color. Sunlight only faintly made it through the  
canopy above.

"That one's awake," grunted the lion man. He'd put on pants, thank you  
heaven, and was watching us from nearby. He'd taken a seat against the  
vast bore of an old oak, and rested comfortably with roots for  
armrests. His tattoos gleamed with their own luminescence in the  
twilight of the forest. Near him crouched an attractive black haired  
woman in a blue and green smock. She was similarly tattooed, and wore  
a headdress of long, brilliant white feathers. They were as pure as  
clouds. Her skin and eyes were darkly tanned like those who live all  
their days outdoors.

"Is that the one that almost beat you?" she asked. Her voice was  
demure and so polite it almost concealed the amusement. She didn't  
look much past her late teens.

"No. It was the woman," her companion grunted.

"Oh, right. I forgot. You were beaten by a hundred pound girl."

"A hundred pound girl who hit me with a volcano," the huge man snapped.

"Well, maybe you shouldn't be so sexist," she suggested.

"Maybe you should shut up."

"Children," snapped Hail. "If you've going to capture and interrogate  
us, try to be mature. It's more intimidating that way."

The two squabbling figures froze. They hadn't realized Hail was awake  
but quickly got their surprise under control.

"We aren't going to interrogate you," said the girl. "We're just  
holding you so you can't harm anyone."

"Very nice of you," I told her. "Not terribly bright, but very civilly  
minded. Let me guess. You're working for Ragara Aino and are waiting  
for him to arrive hand us over?"

"No!" exclaimed the male.

"Shsst!" hissed the female. "Don't tell them anything."

"Don't be embarrassed," urged Hail. "You're doing a very respectable,  
if misguided, thing."

"Ragara Aino is a very charismatic man," I agreed with him. "It's easy  
to see why you'd like him."

The girl sniffed and ignored us. Without a word exchanged, Hail and I  
agreed to a subterfuge.

"Well," mentioned Hail to me. "I don't think he's really that  
charismatic at all. In fact, he's kind of a-"

"Don't say that about him!" I interrupted. "He's a fine and upstanding  
man; a Dynastic scion of the Blessed Isle."

"But he's a jerk!" exclaimed Hail.

"Got that right," muttered the lion. His female companion clearly  
wanted to correct him for speaking, but couldn't disagree with  
anything Hail said.

"But he's handsome, at least. Had I his looks, I would be irresistible  
to women," I opined, loftily.

"You would be easily resistible to women with Ragara's looks and the  
Scarlet Empress's money," interjected Angel groggily. She didn't need  
prompting to play along. Our captors snickered.

"Woman, you wound me," I retorted. "What if I had Ragara's charisma as  
well?" I asked the girl. She scoffed but remained silent.

"You've already got his charisma," Hail told me. "You're a jerk."

"Had you Ragara's looks, the Empress's money, and far more charisma  
than you do, you still wouldn't have a chance with her," Angel  
informed me, beginning to get into her role. The teen was nodding in  
agreement. "She's into me, after all," concluded Angel. The  
raven-haired girl froze.

"I am not!" she snapped.

"You are?" I whined at her. "Kitten, you get all the ladies," I  
lamented loudly.

"I know," gloated the giant, cockily. Hail burst out laughing.

"He was talking to me, my muscle-bound acquaintance," corrected Angel.  
"Besides, your lady friend is clearly more interested in me than you."

"I am not!" the woman in question reiterated.

"See? I told you," smirked the lion-headed giant.

"Grahh!" she growled and waved her hands in the air.

"You're good," Hail complimented him.

"Oh, I know."

"How do you make sure she resists the Dynast?" Hail asked.

"Oh please," snapped the woman. "Even if I ever did meet Ragara, which  
I won't, all his charm wouldn't do anything."

"Because you like me," Angel agreed with her.

"It's okay," Hail reassured the girl without a trace of mirth in his  
voice. "She's very pretty."

"I do not like her!" the girl snapped, getting angry and  
argumentative. "I just don't like muscle-bound idiots like him." The  
last was with a nod at the still lounging giant.

"What's wrong with liking women?" I asked. "I like them quite a bit."

"But women don't like you," Angel told me.

"I like him!" yelled the girl out of pure contrariness.

"And I like you," I encouraged her.

"Why him and not me?" asked Hail, with an injured tone.

"We didn't capture you to expand the dating pool!" snapped the big  
man. He was suddenly uncharacteristically irritated.

"Of course not. You did it to turn us over Ragara Aino," supplied  
Angel. "Unless we have all this backwards, and you're attracted to  
them instead of me like she is?"

"Well, at least someone likes me," mused Hail, philosophically.

With the girl arguing her heterosexuality out of shear contrariness,  
it was not had to get the man into a similar position. "I'm not, she  
isn't, and we aren't giving you to Ragara either!" he snapped, getting  
defensive, goaded by Hail's honeyed tongue.

"My mistake," murmured Hail, appeasingly.

"Very," grumbled the lion.

"But we can't start dating yet," I told our female captor  
apologetically. "I don't even know your name."

"See?" Hail encouraged the big guy. "You still have a chance."

"I've never not had a chance!" the big guy retorted. "You're just a captive."

"Ouch. No wonder you like women, with the only men around like that,"  
mused Angel.

"I don't like women, and I don't like him!" the girl argued, getting  
angrier. She jumped to her feet and took several steps away from the  
lion headed man, towards me. "It's a pleasure to kidnap you. My name  
is Sky Eyed Vixen."

"I've never enjoyed being kidnapped more," I assured her. "I am called  
Fluffy Bunny by my enemies and the Ending by my friends." We tried to  
shake hands but had problems given as I was hog tied and all.

"You, sir, are a player," Hail mock admired me. He turned his head  
towards the lion. "Look at that stud. Bound hand and foot, and still  
gets your woman. Unfair, isn't it?"

"He does not have my woman!" the lion snarled.

"Don't worry, honey. I kind of like you," Angel told him. "Provided  
you keep wearing pants."

"Tell me, the Ending," asked Sky Eyed Vixen, "What does Ragara Aino  
call you, since you seem to know him so well?"

"Mostly obscenities," I admitted truthfully. "But when he's being  
civil, he's firmly in the Fluffy Bunny camp. That's why I hope you  
aren't going to give us to Ragara."

"That's the one thing Seven Roaring Terrors has correct," she told me.  
"We aren't. If you weren't servants of Defile Perilous, we'd leave you  
alone, but as things stand, we can't let you kill Frozen Thane."

I nearly choked at that one. Angel did as well, and a sudden silence  
threatened the clearing. Seeing the talkative mood he'd worked hard to  
create fading, Hail asked the lion-headed one, "Seven Roaring Terrors?  
Tell me, did you name yourself that?"

"What if I did?" asked the giant. "What's wrong with it?" He got up  
and strolled over to the rest of us, refusing to be left out of the  
discussion.

"Nothing," Hail replied, in a tone that insinuated the opposite. By  
now the three of us had our captors right where we wanted them. They  
would argue anything if we took the opposite stance. I wanted to bring  
up the seasons just to see if I could get one to claim winter followed  
summer.

"I like it," said Angel, taking the hint. "It's a strong name."

"See?" the lion defensively exclaimed.

"It's too strong," said Hail. "It's the type of name someone gives  
himself. See, where we're from, when one reaches adulthood, one is  
given a new name by the village elder. It prohibits people from naming  
themselves, otherwise bakers with overdeveloped senses of drama wind  
up named Darkstalker Ravenheart of Blood."

"Not that there's anything wrong with Seven Roaring Terrors," argued  
Angel. "So long as he keeps his damn pants on."

"See?" I observed to Sky Eyed Vixen. "She's obsessed with him not  
wearing pants."

"She does seem to fixate on it," the girl replied amused.

"I knew it," the big man agreed, once again conceited.

"My point is," explained Hail. "You're already a big man. You don't  
need a name that says that for you. One doesn't name a tyrant beast  
'Gigantor.' One names it something like 'Tiny' or 'Nibbles' for the  
irony. You're what, nine feet tall? Anyone with half a brain can  
figure out you're a terror. Seven of them is pushing it, though."

"He's got a point," admitted Angel. "You might want to change it to  
something less ostentatious. Maybe something that flatters you brains."

"Which might be hard, because he isn't too bright," I murmured to  
Vixen in an undertone. She snickered appreciatively. The big guy  
heard, of course.

"Listen you-" snapped Seven Roaring Terrors.

"Don't say that about him!" interjected Angel, before anyone could  
beat some sense into me. She didn't have time to wait that long. "He's  
smart enough to defeat me!"

"He did that because he's big and strong and too dumb to know when he  
was beaten!" I argued with her.

"That's true," admitted Angel.

"Hey!" screamed the big guy, now feeling betrayed as well as insulted.  
"I figured out you three are working for the northwoman!"

"See?" Hail told Angel. "He did. Tell her how," Hail encouraged him.

"Simple. You've been working for her all along. Shogg promised her  
he'd help her find FrozenThane, but wanted her to take Ragara down a  
peg in return," Seven Roaring Terrors explained.

"Because Ragara beat Shogg, and made him his servant," agreed Hail,  
continuing to side with him.

"But Defile Perilous wasn't going to put her own neck out, so she had  
you three do it for her. And now you're tracking down Frozen Thane for  
her," the huge man concluded.

"Which we aren't going to let you do," the girl told me  
apologetically. "We like Frozen Thane."

"Never met him myself," I told her. "But I hear he's quite charming."

"Well, honestly he's almost as much of a jackass as Ragara Aino," she  
told me. "But he's helping us figure out how to rescue one of our own."

"Tell me, children," interrupted a new voice. "Would you like to spill  
any other secrets?"

In unison our two captors suddenly realized how much they'd told us  
and exchanged chagrined looks. Emerging from the shadows was a black  
panther. It strolled into the clearing with the supreme self  
confidence of a great cat and regarded us. Other than talking, it  
appeared completely normal if in amazing condition. Its coat was  
glossy black to the point of being immaculate. Blazing yellow eyes  
stood out as points of fire in the shadows of the deep woods. Once it  
had a commanding perch on a hillock it regarded the lot of us sagely.  
Normally my weirdness meter would peg at this, but normal had been  
left long ago. The two children settled into abashed silence.

"Now, prisoners, I commend you on doing a remarkable job of pulling  
confidential information out of two of my more reliable students.  
You've taught them a valuable lesson in watching their tongues, and  
all life should be a learning experience," the jungle cat told us.

"Did we just not get insulted?" I asked Hail.

"I think so," he told me.

"Wow. It's such an odd feeling," opined Angel.

"But your manners are lacking," it continued.

"We are bound hand and foot," Angel observed.

"This is true," acknowledged the elderly cat. I began to realize that  
the cat was much older than he appeared. Also probably not a cat, what  
with the whole talking thing. "Sky Eyed Vixen, please let your  
boyfriend down. Seven Roaring Terrors, cut down your girlfriend."

"And me?" asked Hail.

"Someone will get around to you," assured the cat. "Now, answer me  
truthfully. Are you working with Defile Perilous?"

"No," I said as the embarrassed young woman untied the knots and  
assisted me to my feet. "Though she may have manipulated us for her  
own ends," I admitted truthfully.

"Do you mean Frozen Thane any harm?" the cat continued.

"No," Angel assured him. The lion headed giant supported her with one  
hand while making short work of the rope with his claws. Soon she was  
on the ground beside me, chapping her wrists to get feeling back.

"What would you do now, if let free?"

"Find Defile Perilous, ask her if she killed Ash Maiden, and kill her  
if she says yes," Hail said. Without instruction, the two students set  
to work letting him free. Soon he was down as well, standing beside us.

"A worthy choice. She is chasing the northman some nine miles north of  
here. Shogg is aiding her, and in the forest he very capable. I wish  
you good luck. You will need it."

With that the old cat hopped down and strode towards the woods. The  
other two fell in behind him.

The three of us exchanged glances. "That's it?" asked Angel.

"Was there something else?" asked the cat, over one shoulder.

"No, I guess not," admitted Hail.

"Very well. Nine miles is a quite a distance. There's a mountain in  
the way, you know. Were I you, I would hurry." With that the cat and  
his students vanished into the woods.

"What the bloody hell-" I began, when Clockwork Dog burst from the  
tree line. He was bruised, bedraggled, and exhausted. Stumbling to the  
three of us gasping and sucking wind, Dog looked like distilled crap.

"Hi. I just- Are you-" he hacked out around deep breaths. He was  
panting so hard he was almost hyperventilating.

"Take your time," Hail told him.

"Put your hands behind your head. It'll open your lungs, and help you  
catch your wind faster," Angel encouraged him.

Dog did so, and after a few minutes managed to get himself under control.

"Sorry. I've been running since they took you," he explained.

"How did you find us?" Angel asked, curiously.

He looked at her with the inscrutable expression from Ragara's  
dungeon. "I can find you anywhere. Trust me."

"I'll take your word for it," Angel replied.

"Well, I've got good news, and bad news," I told him. "The good news  
is Defile Perilous is nine miles to the north, chasing Frozen Thane."

"The bad news?" Dog queried.

"They're nine miles to the north. There's a mountain in the way. We're  
going to run," supplied Hail.

"Nine miles. North. Over a mountain," Dog repeated, just to be sure he  
heard that right.

"Yep," I confirmed for him.

"Right." He groaned, leaned back to stretch out his abs, and twisted a  
few times, working out the kinks in his back. "Well, let's get started  
then, shall we?"

We grinned at him. "All right, then." I said.

"Which way is north?" asked Hail.

"That way. The way I just came," supplied Dog.

"The mountain?" asked Angel.

"It sucks," replied Dog.

"Nine miles?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah," Dog replied.

I patted him on the back, trying to be both apologetic and  
companionable. He laughed a little, but shrugged and set off at a  
trot. We fell in behind him and traveled.




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