The Brotherhood of Virtue
Shadow Edge's Log
I stepped into the jungle and realised something very important to realise… Knowing how to travel through any place, with accuracy, requires either a good knowledge of the area, or the use of visible and clear things to guide you. I had none of that in this area. My heart started beating fast… Was I going to lead these people astray? I can move through the jungle alright, and I know what to look out for. But I’ve not been in this part of the jungle. I don’t know it. Will I have to rely on luck? At which point I remembered my words I had spoken earlier. They seemed to attempt to convince, but I started thinking maybe they were convincing me. I am an exalt trained in survival. Rakios knows what that means, the others trusts what that means… But do I truly know what that means? Do I know what it means to be an exalt who is trained in something? My anxiety left me as I felt a familiar sensation. It was similar to when I exalted, or when I was in the manse. Almost like an awakening. During my exaltation my senses activated, and my trusty knife seemed as deadly as a greatsword… My essence awakened. In the manse my senses awakened to their fullest, and I saw things people would deem impossible to experience. And now I can see the jungle… That wouldn’t tell anyone anything, but I can’t explain it in any other way… I can see the jungle. I can see the path we should take, I can see the dangers ahead. I can see the jungle. That same essence is running through me, and I feel calm.
I respect the jungle too much to simply chill out, even with my essence backing me up. I remain alert, and warn my friends of danger before it happens. Is this what it means to be exalt? I am not greatest guide, I am not the greatest survivalist… But, I feel that no mortal can match this. My senses and my sense of the jungle compliment one another perfectly. I fear I may spend too much time analysing what is happening with me, in my lack of attention it seems that Brilliant Vale was getting bitten quite a bit by the insects. Had I paid attention, I would’ve helped her sooner. We reach a decent camping site. I climb up the trees to attempt to gage the weather for the morrow, and on my way down I remembered how I used my flaming arrow-thingie to light the scrolls on fire, and attempted it, successfully, on the branches Jia set to make a campfire. I took the first watch and Rakios the second, as we seemed largely unaffected by the rough trek. Keemia woke when Rakios did, and proceeded to converse. Partly about what happened between us, and partly about her relation with me, and her fears of my powers. I tried not to pay attention… I did not choose these powers… I am doing the best I can with what I have. And if she is one to talk, the things she’s capable of is scarier still… Yes, there are no secrets around me… But the things she does with commerce and people… Seems more monstrous to me. To each is his own, I guess?
The next day the monsoon began, and Keemia had set up to be carried by Rakios. Seemed a bit odd, to me. Three exalts, and two mortals, and one of the exalts need carrying? I suppose it does make sense, the rest of us kind of forced ourselves, or choose, to withstand this sort of thing. I am worried for Brilliant Vale, though. My attention is still taken up with analyzing myself, and now even more so with Keemia. Will she speak to me? No doubt she knows that their conversation was no secret. I already decided to only react to information people do not tell me directly if it is strictly necessary… I do prefer when people tell me things to my face, even if we both know I already heard it before. We take a break under a particularly thick tree, shielding us from most of the rain. Brilliant Vale seems to be falling ill, so we treat her and Rakios agrees to carry her until she is better. Before this, however, Keemia takes me aside and talks to me. We conclude that we are not friends, but will both try to be. Saying that friends isn’t like marriage… I see agree on few things. One can learn to stand people, just as one can learn to be friends with people. Yes, it is very easy some people. I had no problem befriending Rakios. I will have a very hard time to befriend Keemia, however. But, in a sense, that is what I feel a brotherhood is… Not necessarily people who immediately click and become friends. But people who come together and grow bonds through the challenges and hardships they experience together… If a brotherhood were “only” friends, they would not last, I feel. One gets only so far on sentiment alone. Bonds and emotions run deeper.We continue through the heavy rain, until it begins to dark. I find a rockface to camp on, as the ground is too wet to lie on… The leeches would have a field day. Myself and Jia set up a makeshift shelter, while Rakios wanders off to investigate a hole in the stone. He finds a small abode, that someone seems to have been living in. I suspect, as a resting place, or perhaps a hunting lodge. However, after a bit more investigation, I start theorising that maybe a Wiseman lived here. Wisemen are, well, wisemen who went out into the jungle. They grow long orange arms, and long beards. They forget how to communicate with mortals, but their knowledge is vast. I remember White Tusk speaking about them. They seem dangerous from what I can tell… Best keep my senses open. We bring Vale and everyone else down, and start a fire to dry our clothes. Keemia seems to not need it, apparently her martial arts also some practical tricks, similar to my fire arrow ability, that may not be detailed in the learning of it. Rakios, who went out to gather some moss tells me that an Orangutang, or Wiseman, is in-coming. It is an odd feeling, but I’ve gotten used to it… When people address me while not even seeing them. I stand at the ready by the entrance. Rakios speaks to it in old realm, it seems to accept him. It comes down towards the opening. I figure that I shouldn’t seem threatening, but perhaps a bit defencive. So, I activate my castemark to show what I am. What draws its attention, however, is my tattoos. Apparently, he knew of White Tusk. Since I don’t understand him very well, I can’t tell if he’s met him, or just heard of him. Either way, the Wiseman accepts our stay here, and leaves into the jungle again, not before looking at Rakios with a sadface… Maybe it was trying to tell Rakios something important, and was frustrated that he didn’t get it? That does seem to make sense with the sounds I heard and vibrations I felt. We join the others back down, and I take the first watch again, with Keemia taking the second watch. I was a bit surprised at this, but it should be fine.
The Unkillable Fiend and the Lizard who walk like men
The following days went by in a similar fashion. There were new challenges for me creeping up every day, but the essence in me seemed to guide my path. I began to trust my abilities more and more for each step I took. We should be closing in on lizardmen lands, so I should keep my senses peaked for whatever may come of that. I was not far off, but first I picked on there being a wide river ahead. The signs can be seen, and often felt, ahead of time even without my senses. However, my surprise was that I could sense that it was a wide river. Normally, one would see the signs of a river, and move closer to get a better look. I should stop being surprised by this… My senses are beyond that of mortal capability, I should accept that and move on by now. It does keep surprising me, though. I was starting to think of ways to cross the river, but most good ways relied on if’s that only be concluded by actually checking out the river.
As we closed in, we noticed lizardmen in the trees on the other side of the river. I told the others to remain, and went closer. There was something stirring in the waters… White Tusk trusted us with fighting a lot of things, but there were some creatures he just named Unkillable creatures. Should any named as such be spotted, you run… You avoid. You do not engage. It seemed like the lizardmen were gearing up to engage, however. I used an arrow to send a message to my friends regarding the situation. I waited for a bit, and scouted for a better place to cross. It seemed that upstream there may be a better place to cross. I returned to my friends, and was about to engage that plan… When I realised, before I left I saw two of the lizardmen coming from the jungle… They were bait. I knew, I did realise right away… And it was eating away at me… But this is an Unkillable… What can we do? Without thinking I turned to Rakios. I had a flash of the picture Rakios drew, with a focus on Gao. I felt a sense of deja’vu. There was a sense of calm in me, even though I emotionally panicking… Rakios will attack. And I will assist him. Those were the thoughts going through my mind. Rakios did just that, he launched away. And I climbed up the trees, telling Jia and Veil to stay behind. The creature had already made quick work of the two in the water, and was about to leap up towards the others. I felt a stir within me, and I pulled out my bow. Something felt off… A bow like this cannot do much against a creature like that. I aimed a took a shot, at what I assumed to be a soft spot in the skull. It seemed affective! Something still felt off… Not seconds after this Rakios burst into the water, and begins… Wrestling the Unkillable creature. I still had the mind of a hunter. Engage, and run… In this case we were White Tusk, our job was to make it run, so the rest of the hunters could live to hunt another day. That said, several times Rakios got the better of the creature, and my began to stir. We have a chance… Not only to win, but to kill it. He threw the creature to the shore… And I saw my opening. I had previously noticed a damaged scale. If I align the shot perfectly… It should pierce through him, and I could set its innards a blaze. The arrow hit true. Something still felt off… It feels different than using my knife. This are not the skills of an archer… This are the skills of a hunter. I had not considered it, as my exalted nature and essence has made me leap to a different level… But it is clear to me, this will not do. The lizard men had run off, but were curious enough to stick around within visual-ish range. We feasted on the creature’s flesh. And I carved out the heart of the creature, and split it with Rakios. I don’t know that he knows what this means. It is a classic hunters trope, but that usually only pertains to the killing blow. Sharing the heart of a fell prey is a sign of brotherhood in my tribe. Then again, Rakios already saw us as such, I suspect.
The creatures thrashing had conveniently knocked down a tree, making crossing the river much less of a task. And we proceeded to introduce ourselves to the lizard who walk like men. The initial greeting was a bit odd, as they do not speak a language we do. We do know that there are those who do, so after a ceremony of gifting them a piece of the Unkillable we were shown to the village. This was the male tribe, the female tribe was an hour away, as we found out later. Their custom of being gender segregated we already knew, but it a a custom so deeply ingrained in them that they did not even acknowledge the females in our group, and offered them to stay in their female tribe. Myself and Rakios followed Keemia, Jia, and Veil to the female village, and were greeted with the same there. The female our our group could communicate with them, we could not, however. So we returned to the male village, where they gifted us with a heroes feast… Of sorts. If heroes feasts consists of diluted poison from lizardwomen and hallucinogenic caterpillars. I made sure to take in as little as possible of the poisons… I cannot risk me loosing my senses now. Rakios was allowed to speak to their wiseman, a man who seemed to further along in the mutation process. He spoke only old realm, so I did not understand him. That said, the Speaker, who spoke Flametongue, did translate a few things. Something about a cursed place, and a person who was worse than the Raksha. Worse than the Raksha? That’ll be interesting. White Tusk had mentioned Raksha, as well. They were said to be more dangerous than the Unkillables. Not sure I want to ever face something worse than a Raksha… Then again, what are we?
After the festivities, we settled in one of their nests in the trees. We spoke a bit regarding the cursed lands. Apparently, they believed that a solar, not just any, the Queen of An-Teng, was responsible for the cursed lands, and Unkillables. Rakios seemed to think this was completely off the wall insane. I dunno… My dreams tell me otherwise… We are powerful beyond imagining… And even if we should be more, we were still all mortals. The same weaknesses that plague mortals, plague us too. Do they not? I do believe that we are chosen, but even if a person was once great, and once had potential for greatness… People change. Time and power can do that, I believe. That said, maybe Rakios knows something about Solars that I do not. Well, he does, but yeah. And with that, we went to sleep.
The Unkillable Tattoo
I had a thought during the night. I never did receive my final Warrior Tattoos. And killing an Unkillable should be enough to earn both Warrior Tattoo, and part of the Legendary Tattoos. Thus, I spoke to the village Speaker, as he had tattoos they at least had the capability of doing it. The wiseman was the one to draw the tattoos. This is common, as tattoos are a ceremonial thing, usually some kind of elder, wiseman, or great warrior, would the ones the ones trained to do it. The session took a fair amount of time. And I started to begin feeling selfish for delaying my friends in such a fashion. My reasoning, which Rakios bought-partly, I suspect, because he is Rakios, and I am Janira/Shadow Edge-was that this does have significance for me, but also it will be an extreme detour to find a tribe who would be capable, and willing, to do it later. That said, I find out later that it was indeed a good idea regardless. Jia had contracted Malaria. While this is not necessarily the worst thing that can happen to you in the jungle, it is up there. We should be glad that settling period was in the village of people who know how to deal with it. This pause also seemed to cheer Keemia up, which is always a delight. She is much more pleasant, and easy to deal with, when she is happy. Malaria is a bit fickle though. The early stages doesn’t knock you out or anything, but this is the part where you should stay still. As the beginning very much gives you an idea of how it will go. If it settles quickly and calmly, you can still work while lasting through it. Keemia suggested leaving her. But I will not leave anyone behind. Those words echoed through my dreams. I will not make the same mistake again… Not sure exactly what mistake that is, but I am certain I will not make it. The day goes by relatively quickly, through festivities.
The next morning we get up early, and prepare to set out. We meet up the others over at the female village. During yesterday’s festivities I found out about our trip to the river border, and Rakios found out, and shared with me, the information regarding the lands beyond their borders. Our travel through the first bit of the jungle goes past very easily. We carry Jia for part of the journey, and Keemia sings a travel song she picked up from the female tribe, which keeps the males away from us, and marks us as friends with the female tribes. Crossing the river could have turned into an issue, as I spotted some crocodiles downriver. We manage to cross without issue, however.
We were given information about three things to look out for. The first were migrating frogs. It is odd to see frogs traveling in packs, but beyond the first that traveled right ontop of us, they were little more than a sound in the distance. Strange lands these… This is not natural. Not natural at all. The second being the red flowers of forgetfulness. I warned my companions prior to us entering the jungle, but I made certain to warn them again… and I also had a terrible realisation. A mere sniff or any sensation of them can cause the effects… I argued with myself for a bit, whether or not to attempt to lessen my senses. Whether my nature did not allow me to, or if I am just incapable of, I do not know. However, I found it near impossible, and simply attempted to muscle through it. I focused on everything that was not the plants. When we finally-after what seemed YEARS-exited the area of plants, my mental energy was drained. It is possible that I went on for longer than I needed to, but… I cannot speak for my companions, but I do not want to loose any of memories. I feel that they make me who I am, both the good and the bad. And should we forget the painful parts, we would be less good people, and perhaps no longer worthy of the power we carry. Anyway, we managed to follow the white rocks to the Obelix. I climbed a tree to attempt to gauge how much further we had to move. And as I get up to the top I see the palace on top of Kalimsha appear in front me-or so it seems as my eyes zoom in on it. These senses of mine are indeed strange at times. The palace seemed too impressive, almost like something out of a dream. I couldn’t describe it even if I tried. I feel my essence essentially make aware of the fact that I could make it visible, even if it wasn’t, similar to the ghosts some weeks earlier. Interesting. I make my way down, and after a brief conversation we decided to head to the solar temple that is nearby.
The doors stood open, as if someone left in a hurry, or as if inviting us in. Upon entering I quickly scan the room, and indeed the entire temple for the presence of anything living, nothing. In my investigating, I did miss something very obvious… A mural. Depicting… The Pale Mistress, chasing people… Being ordered by what could only be Sagnila Utama, the solar of An-Teng. What does this mean? Did she sic the Pale Mistress on the people? Was there a reason? Was it punishment? I have understood that we have the mandate of heaven, but does that mean that we can order around the Gods as we please? These thoughts flow through my mind, as I am unable to contain my shock and awe at the meaning behind this mural.
The Raksha and the archer philosopher
There were more murals on the sides. One of them depicting a Night Caste getting crucified. As I looked upon him… There’s something familiar about him. I asked Rakios if he knew who he was. His reaction was to announce to everyone, and everything, that we were there. He did not. Creatures were incoming, I assumed Croxigor, or whatever they were called. It was not long until things got worse, however. There was a singing voice along with them. The voice was singing in Old Realm. Rakios managed to translate what sounded like a creepy children’s lullaby. It turned out to be a Raksha. Leaving was already too late, we all prepared in our own way while waiting for the creatures.
A big croxigor came through the doorway. Rakios made quick work of it. The Raksha wasn’t with them… She was on the roof. I charged up there. But before I could get to her, she shot at me. “I betrayed him”, rung through my mind. I couldn’t evade as I normally would. What did she do to me? I felt a weight on my shoulders, one carried by Janira, I suspect… Her guilt ran through me. Before continuing, Keemia attempted to commune with the creature. It would have none of it, and went as far as call Rakios a whore… This angered me. I wanted to end the creature, so I snuck on to the roof, where it was, and prepared. Prior to that word, I was simply kneeling with my bow out, but as the word left her lips, I had already cocked an arrow. I waited until Keemia spoke, under her breath “Kill her, Shadow.”, she did not have to finish the sentence before my arrow was loose. It hit her true. She turned around, and struck at me. I managed to deflect some of the blow with my bow, in the process the bow broke. Part of me was relieved that it broke… As if it marked me leaving of the path of the hunter. Rakios came to my aid, and smashed the Raksha through the roof. We followed with it down, and was destroyed shortly after hitting the ground. We ended the rest of the croxigor, before turning our attention to our wounds. While talking the Raksha, it mentioned something… It didn’t hit me until afterwards, I recognised the words The All Seeing Eye, by whom the Night Caste was taken. I asked Rakios about it. He said that it was a coalition of people, mostly Solar Night Castes, but also other manor of Exalts and creatures, that Janira belonged to, prior to her becoming part of the brotherhood. All Seeing Eye… If she was part of the organization, why do I feel so much pain in the name? What happened to Janira during that time? No point in asking Rakios, it appears she rarely spoke of what happened during her time with them.
Before long another creature appeared before the door. It was an ifrit, carrying a bow. He had been hunting the Raksha. He was a master of archery. I pointed out that I too seek mastery of the bow, but that my bow was already broken. He took me on a pupil, and seemed to think that learning without a bow was better, anyway. I didn’t quite understand why, but I took it on stride. He started talking about duty, mission, and similar things. About the difference with what one must do, and one chooses to do. One must steal one’s heart to do what must be done, and ignore the choice. Can I do this? My heart seems to not wish to be silenced. I should listen to his teachings, even so. Perhaps he can help me get rid of the ill feeling in my ranged offence. Before long, I realized my exhaustion, and we turned in for the evening.
The Palace of Kalim Sha
The next morning The Archer Poet, named Mugal Vishanti, decided to show us the way to Kalim Sha.
It took no more than three days to reach the foot of the mountain. We changed to our fancier clothes, and began the arduous trek up the mountain. What greeted us on top was the brilliant palace like structure, I had previously witnessed. The doors opened and an ifrit wielding a huge warhammer greeted us, named Ramandas. He showed us in, and told us to stay in the guest area, where the Dragon-blooded were. We were shown there. We sat down next to them, and ate while speaking to them. I specifically sat down next to one of them, as a show that we came in peace. Not sure it came across like that, but I figured that a night caste letting themselves be seen, should be a sign of peace…? I dunno, just a thought. I got to know the non-sorcerer a bit, Aranda Ledal, of Caul.
After finishing the meal, I went with Mugal to continue the training. He brought me down to below the palace, on top of the vulcano. The heat was unmistakably intense. The strong smell of sulfur was stinging. He told me to sit on a somewhat lowered bit, and told me not to return until I did not notice the heat. Impossible! With my senses, I can feel nothing but! I decided to try. At first it seemed impossible… Until I realized what he was trying to teach me… Up until this time, I thought he meant me to completely ignore everything that is irrelevant to the task at hand. However, in reality what he attempted to teach was that you need to take in everything, and make a judgement call based solely on instinct, honed instincts, on what to use and what to ignore. Upon realizing this, I took in everything… The sweltering heat, the stinging sulfur, the smell of the rock in the mountain, the garden above… The dragon-blooded, and… Rakios. I fixated on Rakios, and only took in information from the things that would help me reach him. And suddenly… The heat was gone. I sat in a black void… Only myself and Rakios was visible. I opened my eyes, and left to return to my teacher. He said I was ready for actual archery.
It was archery different than what I was used to. I did not use a bow, I shot with my mind. At first this felt silly. This a child’s game. It is not devoid of usefulness, but would it not be better to teach me to fire a bow? But as I trained, I started to feel something. As if understanding of what a bow, what archery truly is. Archery is not about shooting arrows, it’s about knowing where to place the arrow. The exact moment to fire, the exact place to aim for. The more I trained, the more I felt something inside of me… The more I shot the insects, the less felt the need for a physical bow. As if a physical bow was somehow redundant. A flame duck appeared to inform me that Rakios requested my presence, because Keemia had entered an odd room to learn more about her martial arts. I know that. You knew that… Wasn’t this why she wanted to come in the first place? I figured I’d keep my nose on her. The training was more all-encompassing than I originally thought. I reached out for her every so often… Everything in that room felt odd, but after a while all trace of her disappeared. I rushed over there, and banged on the door. Some servant or other opened, I asked about Keemia. She answered that she was being unmade, and that she should not be disturbed. I confirmed with Rakios regarding martial arts, and it seemed to be… Understandable. Why did I react in such a way for Keemia? Do I feel responsibility for her as well, maybe? Rakios was clearly disappointed that I keep track of her at all times. Rakios’ disappointments, or feeling, usually feel like a lead weight on my shoulders, this time however… I barely felt it. We came here, in part, for training. Myself and Keemia are both going through our respective trainings. I returned to Mugal, as he was speaking to an other ifrit. A woman with tattered clothes, named Zainabud. She was a hunter of beasts, as it turns out. I told her about the Unkillable that we slayed. She seemed interested, and said that she may just test one of us. Before making anything clear, really, she left to speak to my friends.
It was not long until the summoning of us meeting the of Aryabatha. Keemia was late, however. But it was not before she exited… Thought, something was different. Keemia was always beautiful… But this was different. The way she moved, the way she looked. My senses were completely intoxicated with her. I forced myself out of it. As we entered, Aryabatha spoke to us. He knew of us… Both our current selves, and that of our old selves. He said that we were to be tested, and that we were to have solo audience with him. I wished to asked him about the Night Caste, Night Raven, but I decided to wait until I was alone with him. He told us that the Dragon-blooded were there to ask for help from their army to deal the issues in the city of Adorned with Wisdom as a Sapphire, but also that there was another solar in the east. I was about to suggest that he send us to deal with it, in his stead, but he suggested it before me. He was unsure that they would accept our help, but in my mind that did not matter. We would help regardless, he would not help, he cannot. His duty, their duty, is to the border. We exited the chambers, and I overheard the two dragon-blooded… A legion was closing in on the solar in the east… There is only one thing to do.