[FFML] [Exalted]The Broken Circle 5/5
miashara at deepfriedpuppies.com
miashara at deepfriedpuppies.com
Tue Dec 8 14:20:08 PST 2009
Exalted is the creation and property of White Wolf Publishing. No
infringement is intended. This is a not for profit fan work.
This is it. If you read it, I hope you enjoyed it.
All chapters at ff.nt
That run broke me off. We stopped at the few streams we passed to
rest, drinking deeply of the sweet mountain water while we did. By the
time we'd left the company of our captors, daylight was waning in the
early afternoon, leaving us on a timetable. We had to move quickly. At
first we let Dog set the pace, since we expected him to be tired. Two
miles later and several thousand feet higher, we forced him to stop so
the rest of us could catch our breath.
"I keep forgetting you're not a small, bookish kid," Hail admitted
after plunging his face into a shallow pool. He was speaking to Dog,
who paced around the clearing, keeping his muscles warm.
"I am a small, bookish kid," Dog countered. "I'm just poor, have no
books, and like to run. While you're getting your wind back, mind
explaining to me what happened during your absence?"
Angel did most of the talking. She broke the chain of events down
quickly, omitting most of the technical details of the fight. Dog did
ask, "You let him knock you out intentionally?" at one point in her
Angel shrugged. "It seemed reasonable at the time," was the only
explanation she offered. After that Hail took over the narrative of
our capture and reverse interrogation. They agreed that the panther
had probably let it go on exactly as long as he wanted. The
coincidence that he had left with his students in tow just as Dog
arrived was too unlikely to be unintentional. Similarly to Maheka, the
jungle cat had set the situation so he would gain if we succeeded, but
lose nothing if we failed. On the other hand, that implied our feline
friend was at least nominally on our side. Still, we resolved to trust
him not at all. Paranoia was setting in.
"I'm impressed you managed to get them to fall for the crossfire," Dog
told us while we were trotting along a game trail.
"They didn't," replied Hail cryptically. After some prompting he
explained, "The girl, Sky Eyed Vixen, was buying it, but the man was
ignoring us. I had to force him to start talking."
"You forced him?" probed Dog.
Hail spent several moments looking for words. We were all scrabbling
for vocabulary to describe our powers. "Do you remember how you threw
those knives at Beast of the Oak Forest? You didn't just throw them,
you threw them better?"
"Yes," agreed Dog in a tone that encouraged Hail to continue.
"Well, I did the same thing. I put power behind my words. Normally I
think Seven Roaring Terrors would just have ignored us when we started
trying to eek a reaction out of him. But he didn't when I made my
words-" he stopped, and tried to figure out how to explain it. "-more."
"When I was living in the Imperial City, I once heard Dragon-Blooded
warriors talking of 'Charms.'" Dog reminisced. We all grew silent,
surprised he was willingly breaking his silence on his history. "At
the time I didn't understand what they meant. They talked about them
like they were tricks, little moves they've figured out which let them
go past the normal limits. I think that's what we're doing."
"I noticed that too," I agreed. "There were things my old sensei
taught me to do but never explained why. When I would ask, he just
told me that it was part of the form. But up until now, I've never
been able to make the tricks work. Now, they seem easy. The secret to
them, the 'trick' I was looking for, makes sense now."
"Are these tricks, Charms, magic?" Hail asked.
"No," replied Dog thoughtfully. "They're close, but I don't think
they're the same."
"So, how long did you live in the Imperial City?" asked Angel, losing
the fight against her curiosity.
"Oh, look. The sun's setting. We should pick up the pace," observed
Dog. He immediately sped up until we couldn't afford to waste any
breath on speaking. I momentarily hated Angel but soon lost the energy
for that too.
After that we ran hard. The mountain did indeed suck. By nightfall we
were crossing terrain we'd already passed, and sheltered for the
evening in a small glade, near where wild lilies grew in waterfall
pools. I tried to take watch but succumbed to sleep in the end.
My dreams were simple, like what I'd had before. Ash Maiden was alive
when I slept. Every time I woke she died. If my body didn't require
it, I would never close my eyes.
Angel was watching me curiously when I dragged myself from my
blankets. Without a word she fell in next to me on the way down to the
stream. While we'd agreed that no one should go off alone for safety's
sake, I knew that wasn't what this was about.
"You don't sleep very well, do you?" she asked while washing her face
in the river.
Perched against a tree with my back to her, I was watching the woods
for signs of an impending assault. She had all the privacy I could
give, but it also gave me an excuse to hide my reaction. My dreams
weren't a good topic of conversation.
"I thought we agreed not to talk about this?" I asked.
"So that's why you didn't want to wait in Shogg's woods. You're scared
of sleeping," Angel surmised.
"Again, this isn't something we need to discuss," I told her.
"I'm not sure of that. Have you considered your bad dreams might not
be because of simple guilt? We've dealt with a lot of people with more
than human abilities, including us. Someone could well be influencing
you." Angel told me over the noises of splashing water.
"I don't have to stay here for this, you know. I'm about to leave," I
"No, you can't. I'm giving myself a bath, so you have to make sure no
one looks at me while I'm naked."
"What if I look at you while you're naked?" I countered.
"Please. You'd need to admit to yourself there are girls other than
Ash Maiden in the world, and I'm pretty sure that part of your brain
is broken. Both of you are like that," she observed acidly.
"Both of who?"
"You and Hail. You know how impossible it is to try to win a guy who's
in love with a dead girl, much less my best friend? I can't even
really try, because I feel like I'm dishonoring her memory." It
suddenly occurred to me that Angel's acidity wasn't directed at me,
but at herself. After her admission at the moment we'd come to our
power, she'd never spoken a word to Hail. I was an idiot for not
noticing that before.
"Have you talked to Hail about it?" I asked.
"No," she admitted.
I almost turned around to stare at her. This was the girl who let
herself get beaten unconscious to hit a giant cat with a volcano. "Of
"Of him telling me 'no.' Ending, I already know he doesn't feel the
same way for me. If I push the issue, he'll just have to reject me.
Maybe in a little while when time's taken the edge of his grief we can
discuss it. In the mean time I know what he would tell me, and I'm
scared of hearing it," Angel explained simply. Her words sounded
practiced, giving the impression she'd rehearsed this speech on
herself many times. "I wish I'd never had said anything to begin with."
"Then why did you?" I asked. "I mean, when we escaped from jail. Why
mention it then?"
"Because that was when I first got power," she explained. "This, this,
whatever this is. I'll ask Dog what it's called. He'd know. But I
didn't realize how it worked. I thought I was immune to everything,
but now I realize there's no gift that would let him reject me without
making me want to cry." She was silent for a moment, and the pool was
still. The only noises were birds in the trees, and water cascading
down the falls. "Besides, if something happens, at least he'll know."
"Nothing's going to happen to you," I retorted, bothered she would
even imply otherwise. "You're the biggest badass we've got."
"We'll see," she replied.
"Have you thought about anyone else?" I asked, hoping to distract her.
"How can you even ask me that?" she whispered. Her voice sounded
betrayed. "You, of all people."
"Touché," I admitted. "I'm sorry. That was inconsiderate of me."
"Jerk," Angel grumbled in a hurt tone. I heard more splashing noises.
"Besides, I'm not here to talk about me. I'm here to ask you about
"Sorry, but this might be a wasted trip for you. I don't want to talk
"Well, tough. We're talking about something while I bathe, since I
can't do this with either of the other two."
"I'd be embarrassed to be naked around either of them. But if I could
get you to pull your head out of your butt long enough to even think
about another girl, I'd feel like it was a worthy sacrifice."
Angel was not given to tact or mincing words, I'd noticed.
"Shouldn't you have feminine modesty or something?" I opined.
"I have plenty. That's why you're looking at the woods, instead of at me."
"No, I'm looking at the woods because I'm worried someone might try to
kill you while you're naked."
"Don't quibble. Tell me about your dreams, Ending." I was going to
lose this. I could never beat Angel in a battle of wills.
"Dammit woman. In my dreams she's alive. She's with me, not him. When
I wake up, she's dead. I couldn't even let her tell me it was over
without making her cry. Fun memories. It's not complicated. What do
you want from me?" I snapped, staring angrily at the trees.
"You know, that's not your fault," Angel said quietly.
"Yes, it is, and you may as well admit it," I sighed, and realized I
couldn't avoid explaining this. "You know why she didn't love me? It's
because I'm a hair shy of being ax crazy, and there's nothing I can do
about it. Look at how we took it. Hail mourned her and did what she
would have wanted. I'm trying to get my friends killed while I go find
someone to murder. You know why she didn't love me? Because of that. I
can't even blame her for it. Now can we please not talk about this
Angel finished getting dressed while I ranted, and by the time I
wasn't snarling any more came up behind me. She wrapped me in a
sisterly hug, and I could feel her wet hair against my back. I ignored
her until everything was safely bottled up again.
"Ending, Ash Maiden found the meaning of her name in death. Please
don't do the same," she whispered softly.
"We'll see," I muttered, throwing her words back in her face.
"You're a pigheaded ass, you know that?" she told me.
"Doesn't anyone in this group know what a bedside manner is?" I asked
"Dog does," Angel informed me. "At least ask him about your dreams, will you?"
"Do you promise to drop the topic?"
"Fine, then. I'll talk to Dog about my dreams. I'll talk to the whole
world about my dreams, my bad habits, and what I had for lunch
yesterday if you just stop pestering me," I ranted to the world.
"Good." She gave me a parting squeeze and stood up. "Let's go back to
"Hold on." I didn't bother taking off my clothes. Instead I just
jumped into the pool, scrubbed myself with sand, and rang out
everything I was wearing when I got out. After that we went back to
While we were gone, Dog and Hail had foraged successfully, and we came
back to a collection of fruits, berries, tubers, and plant stems. We
ate. Angel caught my eye, then sent a meaningful look at Dog and
grunted at me. I sighed.
"Have either of you been having weird dreams?" I asked, skirting
around the issue.
Hail thought about it, then shrugged. "I dream of Ash Maiden a lot.
The way she moved, what her cooking smelled like, that sort of thing.
They're sweet dreams, but they make waking up hard sometimes."
I mulled over that while asking Dog, "What about you?"
"My dreams are always pretty strange. I try not to pay too much
attention to them," he replied.
"Strange how?" I asked.
"Last night my dead grandmother attacked me with a frozen weasel, and
I had to beat her to death with the melody from Little Blue Baby," he
answered, referring to an old lullaby. "By the time I got her down, a
flower grew out of her forehead and blossomed into the Scarlet
Empress, whom offered me a cupcake. The cupcake was full of octopi who
immediately began eating Nexus. After that my legs turned into the
color green. Then I woke up."
We all stared at him. Dog shrugged. "Like I said, my dreams are pretty
weird. They're just dreams though."
I turned to look at Angel, asking her with a glance if she was
satisfied. She put a tired hand to her forehead, and waved submissively.
"Why?" asked Hail, observing our interplay.
"Nothing at all," I replied evenly.
"Well, if you girls are done whispering, I suggest you head up to the
ridge line and look towards Nibeldamt," Dog told us.
"Why?" I asked.
"It has begun," he said simply. "Now, I'm going to go wash off."
With that the two of them went down to the stream. Angel and I picked
our way up the hill until we hit a high spur that carried us to open
air. The sweep of heaven was undisturbed by the few nosy peaks that
reached for it, trying to see what went on behind the vault of the
sky. Ecstatic birds flew below us, winding their way through the vales
of the Meander mountains. We stared at the world, laid bare at our
feet by the naked power that made mountains. For a long time we just
looked. Then slowly our attention swung to the city.
Nibeldamt was framed by two great peaks. They had once been joined by
a soaring kol, but centuries ago an earthquake had sheared that apart.
Now their shoulder's reach for each other, ending in cliffs that
bookended a view of the foundry city. It was under its usual cloud of
ash. The gloom that had been so pervasive while we were there seemed
tiny, bottled in by the surrounding peaks. As we watched, the
smokestacks of First Age iron foundry gouted flames into the sky. The
city was an unnatural mechanical beast. But as we looked, we became
away that the fires ripping through the city were not solely confined
to the foundries. They ripped through the city, burning some of the
lesser mansions and a garrison on the north side.
"Maheka's making his move," Angel observed. "He must have decided we'd
weakened Ragara's forces enough."
"He would never have done that if Ragara himself was still fine," I said.
"Then he must not be," Angel replied.
We considered the aftereffects of our actions that now plunged the
city into fighting. We couldn't see individual figures, but knew they
were moving from street to street, clearing patches of Ragara's
resistance. The people loyal to him would be driven from their homes.
Only the continued outbreak of dirty red flames confirmed that it
wasn't complete already. We watched the city burn for a long time.
"Man. The animal that kills itself," observed a new voice. We glanced
around and saw her. Between two standing stones in the shadows of the
morning sun stood a woman in elegant stillness. Angel and I didn't
need to exchange a look to know we both recognized her. Though having
only seen her briefly, I never forget a face. (Or a prostitute for
that matter, but that was part of my old life, like larceny.)
Underneath her elegant formal wear, Serenading Thrush's hooker was as
pale as her northern skies. She regarded the distant violence with
dispassion. Her hand rested lightly on the silk wrapped handle of a
long broad blade hanging from her belt.
"Ants," countered Angel. "They make war. They'll conduct genocide if
"So the murder is part of the natural order? I feel vaguely absolved,"
the woman replied.
"Defile Perilous?" I presumed.
"Indeed. Let me guess. Fluffy Bunny?" she replied, amused. I smiled.
"Cuddly Kitten," Angel introduced herself.
"Did you kill Ash Maiden?" I asked her.
For a moment Defile Perilous stared at me, like she was debating
lying. Finally she shrugged. "Yes. I did. Shall we make this a formal
duel, then?" asked the Icewalker.
"No. We're just going to hack you to pieces," I replied.
She looked at us bemused. "I forget how direct you manlings can be.
It's quite refreshing after Yu Shan."
Hail shot her in the head. Three feet of fury behind an armor piercing
needle cast from a bow of light and fire dropped on her from behind,
perfectly matching the incident angle of the morning sun. The bow had
no string to vibrate or wood to creak, and the fletching on the arrow
was pure essence that made not a whistle as it cut the air. Defile
Perilous had no warning at all. She still parried. After that she
glowed a soft verdant green for a split second before the time to
notice such details was over.
Angel and I screamed like lunatics as we blitzed her. Our cries were
intended to distract her even as Dog and Hail filled the air with
their second volley. Hail's fingers flew from quiver to bowstring with
unhesitating speed, hurling arrows until it seemed the sky was falling
upon her. Every shot missed. Dog threw so many knives that they
occluded the sky worse than a plague of locusts, and came down on
Defile Perilous like rain in a winter storm. She parried with her
sheath. Angel whipped the cloth belt from her waist and snapped it
outright, where it held its rigid shape and sang like a nightingale as
it cut the air. The woman severed it with an effortless draw of her
blade. If Angel's improvised weapon sang like a bird, the murderess's
sang like an opera star. I just screamed louder and tried to punch her
in the boob. That did not go well for me.
Needless to say, she blocked. With a flick of her wrist, she drew the
weapon along my forearm until it leaped to my chest and laid me open
to the ribcage. Freakishly, that hurt more than it should have. In
addition I went tumbling backwards down a bluff, bleeding everywhere
to crash to a halt against a rock. Swearing, I grabbed my chest and
squeezed it closed, willing the wound to stop bleeding until I could
go beat that woman to death with my hands. It did. Two steps got me
into a sprint and I leaped back up the bluff, sailed a dozen yards
past a scree field, and landed back in the fight, flowing fluidly into
the motions of my old master. Defile Perilous was before me. For some
reason there were bears everywhere.
They were big ones too. Ten to twelve foot grizzlies roared and
swatted at Angel. Each one was about half a ton of muscle and claws,
furious as a rabid dog, and I noticed upon further observation,
attacking in infantry tactics of the Su-Hon barbarians. Admittedly,
the Su-Hon used little more than berserk rages and numbers, so perhaps
it was a coincidence. Then again, given that I'd returned to find
several tons worth of rabid grizzlies had managed to sneak up on us,
and berserk rage was quite the effective tactic for them, perhaps not.
The one immediately before me bellowed as it swatted at my head. I
stepped forward, blocked to the inside, and punched it in the guts
with all my strength. I gave it the extra effort. My fist smashed into
its hide and sent shockwaves through its fur before flinging twelve
hundred pounds of pissed off bear off the other side of the mountain.
I juked under the next claw, darted up the back of one distracted by
my sword-goddess, and leaped after Defile Perilous, glowing like the
She pivoted to block my foot with her sword, even as her hands glowed
brilliant crimson that flashed up the blade. Wild fire red streamed
behind her weapon as it describe an artistic arc, whipping around to
my head. This time I was ready for it and caught the blade between my
palms. Like Hail had described, I put power into catching the weapon.
For a moment transfixed on the tip of her weapon, with my feet
dangling above the ground, she seemed perplexed by this until she
whipped the blade around again and beat me against the ground.
This was distracting her from Hail's hail of arrows, which would have
been the point were I thinking clearly. She weaved back and forth
among them, taking cover behind her ursine shock troops and letting
them absorb the leaf headed stings. Finally getting her weapon out of
my capturing hands, she turned to attack Angel who was cutting a swath
towards her. I staggered upright to interfere, but a brown bear batted
my head downwards, compressing my spine and blinding me while the
blood pooled at the top of my head. A thrown meat cleaver the size of
a barge oar took it in the head then, and I regained my wits long
enough to punt it over backwards. The bear back flipped and crashed
into one of his comrades. Angel had seized one of the Kodiaks by the
guts, had managed to get it airborne in the most staggering O-goshi
hip toss ever, and was parrying Defile Perilous's terrible counter
attack with the thick, ursine skull.
Implacably the swordswoman feinted once and went for Angel's knees,
trying to slip her vast singing blade under the baffled bear where
it's huge bulk would conceal the strike. I interrupted by leaping at
her back, shrieking something about coiling dragons, and latched onto
her shoulders. When a grizzly behind me smashed me into the ground, I
took her with me. We ate dirt together.
Angel flung the Kodiak she had a handle on away and snatched one of
Dog's flying knives from the air. It was one of the few he was hurling
that wasn't formed of solid shadows and light. Defile Perilous
performed a shoulder toss on me that was simply impossible given
position and leverage, but nonetheless delivered me to the furious
offices of an enraged ursus majoris. It had an open injury on its
belly that looked remarkably like my fist. I think it remembered me.
The bear snatched my leg from the air with its teeth as I went by.
That really stung. But it also put its head in a still position.
Dumping enough essence into my elbow to raise Atlantis, I smashed my
forearm into its snout, cutting the bear's jaws in half. I dropped to
the ground with teeth still in my leg while the baffled grizzly tried
to figure out why it couldn't feel its face any more. The opening
provided a perfect avenue past its thick skull for my fist. As the
thing toppled and its head turned to a fine pink mist, I tried to
figure out what was happening to Angel.
The ladies were going toe-to-toe with reckless abandon. Unfortunately,
my girl was losing, and the horde was blocking my avenue to her.
Fortunately, Dog stopped his onslaught on the bitch long enough to
sling a flurry of knives my way. They were broad and slow spinning,
providing a perfect series of aerial stairs I darted up, hurled over
the shaggy heads, and came down all knees and elbows on my lesser
favorite of the girls. She didn't have time to parry my body with the
pointy parts of her sword and merely smashed me from the sky with the
pommel. Still, that finally distracted her enough for Angel to use the
techniques of "Rock to Face" style martial arts. One of the older
styles, many people don't have the respect for it that it warrants,
especially considering Angel could cut glass with a dull pebble, and
the one she was using outweighed me.
Defile Perilous went down hard a second time. The side of her face had
been laid open to the bones of her skull. Were it not for the sudden
rush of her bears we would have finished it then, but they overwhelmed
us, forcing us back. For the first we noticed that bear carcasses lay
everywhere with arrows sticking out of their eyes and nostrils, mute
testimony to Hail's efforts. More of them kept coming, rushing around
rocks that could barely conceal a bird. There seemed an infinite
supply, which was quite likely if Shogg the Forest God was bending his
effort to it. We had no idea the extent of his power. That being said,
we were prepared to deal with a nigh limitless supply of targets on
our way to finishing the fight.
"Ending, get me a weapon!" snapped Angel as the tidal wave of fur
tried to overwhelm her. She wasn't quite as mobile as me, lacking my
penchant for acrobatic nonsense. Currently engaged by five great
shaggy beasts she was holding them at bay, but couldn't direct enough
attention to anyone to finish it. I got pincered by two mammoth
Kodiaks, roaring to deafen the heavens. Dodging claws, I bounded off
the immense girth of one, spring boarded from the snout of another,
and danced across the heads of the furious horde.
"Weapons!" I shrieked into the distance. Hail must have heard me for
his fusillade stopped for the first time. It took several stomps to
get a faction of the terrorizing bears enraged with me, and then I
lead them towards Angel. Still bellowing they swarmed over their own
comrades in pursuit, breaking up the unified assault on Angel. Out of
the chaotic maelstrom of bears she leaped, unharmed, and glowing like
the war goddesses of heresy.
"I still need a weapon," she snapped as we went for Defile Perilous
over shaggy heads, forsaking the ground entirely.
"Coming!" called Dog.
We glanced right. At first we though he was flying, until noticing
that the wiry little man was riding two of Hail's arrows and clutching
a third for balance. With whatever bow Hail was using he'd shot Dog at
us in our moment of need. I caught him and carried him along, for his
feet hadn't learned the trick of ignoring the ground. But as our
target got her feet under her and climbed upright through shock and
anger, Angel grabbed Dog's open hand and clawed a blinding saber of
glorious light from nothing. The women met again, this time equally
armed, and made savage war on each other with a viciousness that only
comes to enraged women. I chucked Dog back the way he had come, and he
sailed into the distance flinging knives like an edged hailstorm.
When Ash Maiden's murderer had hit me the first time, flaying my chest
open, I'd lost track of self restraint. When I dove at her again, she
smashed me in forehead with her pommel stone. It must have hit
pressure points on my head, for suddenly I ceased to care about the
woman I fought beside, and lost all manner of thought save my
cancerous obsession with killing the pale demon with the starmetal
The melee that took place on that mountain top was perfect. We three
ascended through combat to divine bloodlust, not just intent on
killing but destroying. Like a gray mist the intruding minions of
Shogg, Lord of the Forest, faded away as Hail and Dog came to
understand the nature of murdering them. Carcasses dropped around us,
outside the island that was our little world.
The problem was that she was better than both of us combined. Angel
got tagged across the arm then a leg. I took another to the gut. Every
strike separated us from who we were. Soon we weren't teaming up, but
trying to overwhelm her with our respective savageries. We became
iconic forces, but in the depths of that soulless murder, I suddenly
accepted that I wasn't going to win. That let me understand that
winning was less important to me than Defile Perilous dying. Then
everything became very simple.
The glittering starmetal daiklave was rising, casting aside Angel's
stroke. It traced a brilliant passage through the air, coming back
around towards her for a riposte when I set my foot on Angel's hip and
pushed down, throwing myself into the air. Soon the weapon and I were
alone in space, coming inexorably together. Angel's body was shoved
down, shoving against the ground, which pushed back against her even
harder. Angel took that strength and threw it behind her. She lunged
at Defile Perilous, who tried to retreat but had already committed to
attacking me. I captured her blade between my hands while Angel drove
her own sword through the icewalker's chest.
My heart exploded in pain. Suddenly Angel was beside me, and though
I'd seen her strike home, her blade was buried to the hilt in my ribs.
In shock my grip on the blade weakened, letting it pass between my
hands. Defile Perilous cut me from shoulder to hip, and in gentle slow
motion my body fell into two pieces.
Angel lost her mind. She landed and lunged, and Defile swept her
weapon around to parry and kill as she should have done so easily now
that she could focus all her attention on Angel. Yet the starmetal
weapon twisted slowly, and cleft the air where Angel had been. With a
crunch it bit into rock and stopped.
Defile Perilous looked down and saw Angel still. She saw the glorious
hilt of the saber driven to her sternum, nestling between her breasts.
Curiously she looked at her own weapon, wondering why it had failed
her, and only then saw half my bloody body trailing the ornate handle.
My arm had spasmed shut when the nerves connecting it to my spinal
column had been severed. It had thrown her balance off just enough.
"I lost?" Defile Perilous asked, confused, before Angel swept her own
weapon upwards, taking her head. An alchemical signal glittered on her
forehead and began to fade.
Dog and Hail arrived as Angel turned to me. My blood had stopped
gushing and now just trickled out. All that was left was my head, an
arm, and about half my chest. With three friends clustered around me,
I tried to smile as the last bits of strength faded from me. Life was
good, I decided. Then I died.
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