The Order of the Stick: Utterly Dwarfed
The Order of the Stick: Utterly Dwarfed - Coming in December and available for pre-order now
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  1. - Top - End - #151
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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    Kelam fidgets uncomfortably in the water. She should've gotten out and dressed when Leaf did, but if she did so now, by herself, it would just call attention to her. She glances over to Tuoni. She's vaguely glad that the shaman has been enjoying this, but the relaxation she felt with Leaf earlier has all faded away by now. She's just overheated, overexposed, and impatient.

    "Those villagers Leaf mentioned are 'good people anywhere,'"
    she reminds. "And their hour of need approaches. Shouldn't we be moving on?"
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  2. - Top - End - #152
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    Slang watched Wic disappear below the decks. With a quiet sigh, the Captain stepped onto the Remora, and the living ship's essence rushed and swirled underneath Slang's feet. The energy brought an image of the two Greenmaws jumping excitedly around and on Wic to Slang's mind, and that started to lift the Captain's mood and placed a smile on their face. 'Hello to you, too.'

    Glancing around the deck, Slang saw Briar and Camellia lazing about in the shade of the green sails and Zalm leaning upon the main mast. The first mate was directing some of the crew in where to store new supplies. Slang looked back to where Wic was headed for a moment, but they shook their head and headed over to Zalm.

    "I'm glad to see we got enough for Leaf's tiles to resupply."

    Slang paused and thought a little bit about Brown Leaf and the situation in her home village.

    "I might need you to take over for a bit, Zalm. We, or well Leaf and Kelam found out that the people Leaf grew up with are under threat. We'd have to go inland to help 'em."

    Slang shifted nervously. Sun, it's like they're back to being that uncertain green sailor again. "I don't want you to think that I'm leaving you or the crew behind. I'm not sure how long we'll be away, but I'll come back." They give Zalm a crooked smile. "I am Tya first."
    Last edited by Malozing; 2019-05-30 at 10:25 PM.
    "In every walk in with nature one receives far more than he seeks." -John Muir

  3. - Top - End - #153
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    Zalm's own lopsided smile reflects Slang's. The former captain reaches out and ruffles the Night Caste's hair affectionately.

    "I know you are, kid, and you know I can take care of this ship."

    They give out a chuckle.

    "Folks ask a lot more questions since your friends turned the ol' Remora halfway into a tree, but you don't have to worry. If they get too nosy, we might put out to sea for a bit, but I'm sure that blond boy you like can get word to us whenever you have a need. At least if you can keep him from running off on his own again. I could lend you some rope... I've always thought men were easiest to handle when they were tied up, anyway."

    Anticipating Slang's response, Zalm can't help but preemptively grin.
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  4. - Top - End - #154
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    "Fair point!"

    Sighing and stretching, Skymoth rises from the water. He barely bothers with drying off, just shaking his body a little before he throws his loincloth and cloak back on. Being dressed -- even though "dressed" is a relative term where Skymoth is concerned -- makes the steamy air much less comfortable, and he starts to want to get out almost immediately.

    "If you lead, lady, I will follow."
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  5. - Top - End - #155
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    Slang's faced flushed when Zalm mentioned the younger Tya's crush, and Slang almost choked on air when the First Mate jokingly offered to lend them some rope.

    "What is with people today offering me love advice?!" they asked between gritted teeth. "Am I really that obvious, Zalm? Leaf mentioned earlier I should... Wait, did you put her up to that?"

    Slang shot a glare at the older Tya.
    "In every walk in with nature one receives far more than he seeks." -John Muir

  6. - Top - End - #156
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    "Yes." Tuoni answered simply, though if Brown Leaf was expecting any more detail she was going to be disappointed. He wasn't going to be talking about his family here and now, not in present company at least. Instead, he turns to watch everyone begin to climb out of the spring with a soft sigh of disappointment. It had been nice while it lasted, to just drift and relax and forget. To not have to worry about Immaculate monks, or angry gods, or his own circle-mates.

    He surged out of the water, already back to his stern self, and stepped lightly over to the towels and his folded clothes. There, he dried himself thoroughly. Very thoroughly. By the time he was done, you'd hardly have thought he'd been in the water at all, and Brown Leaf might have thought he was stalling if this hadn't seemed so normal to him. And, to him, it was - water was death, in the frozen north. Going outside wet cost you fingers. So ti was a few minutes before the shaman, too, was dressed and ready to go. "May I ask, how are we getting to this little village? Sailing over land again?"

  7. - Top - End - #157
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    Brown Leaf offered a hand to Kelam and held open the box for her to retrieve her possessions. Turned slightly away, she addressed Tuoni over her shoulder. "I ain't sure that's an option this time. I thought Wic might have some kinda spell t' git us there lickity-split, but if not...Well, les' jes' hope he does."

    Leaf found herself uncharacteristically burdened by worries. Besides the matter of the village and the Hortatum, and if they were connected, she found herself facing two fresh conundrums.

    The freshest worry was for her relationship with Tuoni. Had she offended the Shaman? Were families really such a fraught issue for so many? Was he taking so long on purpose so she could stew? If he was, it was working. She could never really read Tuoni, but it could be the case that the enigmatic Twilight possessed a vindictive streak that he hid behind his mask. Certainly, he had been able to rile Wic up...but then that boy was wound tighter than a half-obol clock by default. Thinking of the sorcerer...

    If Wic didn't have the means to take her there, or at least not everybody, then she might have to go alone. Her travels had hardened her physically, she could probably reach the valley days ahead of any army, but what of her responsibilities here? Kelam had been so distressed at the thought of her leaving for just a day, what effect would a longer separation have? If the others went somewhere else, sticking to the coast, would she be able to find them again? Could she even handle whatever awaited her alone? A few months ago, these thoughts would never have occurred to Brown Leaf, Immaculate Monk of the Unconquered Sun.

    "Right, anyway, let's git goin'. I'll show ya the way, Skymoth. I gotchyer parasol, Kelam. Ready? Let's go."
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  8. - Top - End - #158
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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    Zalm laughs at Slang's accusation.

    "I didn't, but if that monk could tell how you're feeling, did you really think I wouldn't notice?"

    Zalm rubs the old tattoos banding their forearm, faded with age but still unmistakable as the Tya's mark.

    "You give a sailor their ink, that's a bond closer than blood. But don't you go and start worrying that the boy might've caught on, too. I've never been able to follow much of what he says, but I'm under the impression that one lives inside his own head more than the world that's past his nose."

    They shrug.

    "That might make things easier if you're just looking for some fun, but-"

    A call from a lookout mercifully spares Slang from further relationship talk. The group that stayed behind in the baths has arrived... Skymoth included.

    "Gods, who's that man with Leaf and them? You didn't find another Solar out here, did you?"

    Meanwhile, as she approaches the Remora, Kelam's sharp eyes sweep the deck.

    "I don't see Wirric,"
    she reports. "If he's disappeared again..."
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  9. - Top - End - #159
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    Slang shook their head, happy for the change in topics. "A Lunar. One connected to me like Qhispe is to Leaf. His name is Skymoth."

    They lowered their voice as the others came closer. "I first spotted him as a damned moth flying after me and Tuoni." Slang shuddered from just thinking about it.
    Last edited by Malozing; 2019-06-01 at 06:05 PM.
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  10. - Top - End - #160
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    Leaf sighed in exasperation at the idea. "He best not if'n he knows what's good fer him."

    She let Kelam and Tuoni pass, then turned to Skymoth. "I ain't normally much fer formality, but I 'spect the Cap'n should have the honor'a invitin' ya aboard. Jes holler fer permission so they kin do their bit." She winked, then bounded up the gangplank.
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  11. - Top - End - #161
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    Skymoth looks around curiously at the ship and the people, but not in an especially incisive way. Mostly he's just admiring that tree. "That is lovely. I wonder why they don't make more ships like that."

    At Leaf's advice, he snaps to attention in a way that's not quite mocking, but maybe a little teasing. "O Captain! Respectfully request to come aboard!"
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    Slang snorts at the playful teasing tone in Skymoth’s voice.

    ”He’s charming, and he knows it, ” they warn Zalm. ”He helped us get better prices at the market.”

    To the Lunar, Slang gestures for him to come aboard.

    ”Welcome aboard the Remora, Skymoth. This is Zalm, my first mate.
    "In every walk in with nature one receives far more than he seeks." -John Muir

  13. - Top - End - #163
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    Brown Leaf smiled at her two newest companions and the first mate. "Okay, if'n that's outta the way, kin I ask ya'll t' meet me in the galley? I'm gonna be a lil' delayed gettin' there, but I need errybody in our group present, Wic especially. I'll meet ya'll there."

    With that she descended the stairs into the ship, and made her way to the hold.
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  14. - Top - End - #164
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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    Wagering that the newcomer's unlikely to know Seatongue, Zalm ventures, "I know he's charming, if you met him as a moth and you're still letting him on the ship!"

    They look him over as he steps onboard, and one eyebrow rises.

    "Also, I've seen him now. If we sail anywhere with him, I think the crew might be even more distracted than they were with Ivory Knife."

    "Zalm does speak Low Realm, they're just too busy gossiping about you to say hello,"
    Kelam deadpans to Skymoth.

    "Not gossip! Ship's business!" Zalm insists, and their weather-beaten, age-lined, tattoo-marked face does a marvelous job of hiding any possible sign of embarrassment. "Good to meet you, Skymoth. I was just asking Slang here if we needed to widen any hatchways for those shoulders."

    Kelam tries, and fails, to stifle a surprised laugh.
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  15. - Top - End - #165
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    Tuoni nodded approvingly at Skymoth's stopping to request permission, even if he suspected that Leaf had warned him to do so, and follows up onto the ship at his own pace. He rolls- well, his mask tilts back in amused exasperation at the Tya's gossiping flirtations, and he looks to Zalm. "Unless the sorcerer is nearby, we may have a lot of walking to do. Is he below?"

    Truth be told, Tuoni wasn't entirely sure what they were going to do if Wirric couldn't carry them all overland. Walk? Miles upon miles, in this heat? The thought... well, it didn't appeal, especially with so little information about what was happening. After this long traveling together he owed Brown Leaf the trek, but that didn't mean he was looking forward to it. Maybe he could convince one of the local gods to help them, but he hardly knew any of them and the ones he did were all rivals of his old sifu. Tuoni's shoulders straightened at the thought. Speaking of... "Brown Leaf. You learned how to fight from a god here in the south, yes? Would he be able to tell us more about what is happening?"
    Last edited by pfm1995; 2019-06-02 at 11:36 PM.

  16. - Top - End - #166
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    Wic arrives at the mess shortly after Leaf, walking in a touch warily. It's not that he doesn't trust the monk, more that even now he's still not entirely sure of what happened while he was absent, even with the brief explanation he'd gotten. Just that Leaf wanted his help and that her home was in some form of danger. He takes a second to smooth out his new coat a final time before taking a seat. Much lighter than his first, and a pleasant shade of light green. Slang had been, as ever, far too kind. He has to thank them for it somehow.

    He takes a seat, nodding to Brown Leaf but saying nothing for the moment. If she wanted to speak, he'd hear her, but this isn't his conversation to start.

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    Slang doesn't even bother stifling their laughter. In Seatongue, "Nice save."

    Still chuckling, they answer the shaman's question,"Don't worry, Tuoni. Wic's down below. No long walks for us. We best head down to the mess before Leaf gets too antsy. She might just start walking tonight if we don't have a plan."

    Slang leads the way down.
    "In every walk in with nature one receives far more than he seeks." -John Muir

  18. - Top - End - #168
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    At the mention of the Tiger Goddess, Leaf's back stiffened. "Yeah, I 'spect she knows what's goin' on. I'll fill ya'll in more once we're all t'gether. Thanks Tuoni." Her words sounded perfunctory in her ears, but she gave the shaman a genuine grateful smile. "Ya'll head on t' the galley, I jes' need t' grab some paper."

    The Galley:

    With everyone assembled, Leaf laid out a wide sheet of Chairoscruo papyrus and began drawing with a stick of charcoal. As she drew, she began to explain. "Okay, so some'a ya'll know somethin' 'bout where I grew up. I'm from the Sand's Edge valley, right on the southern edge of Harborhead. It's a little slice'a heaven, you'll see." She sketched out a map that showed steep cliffs and sheer forested mountains surrounding a deep valley criss-crossed by several small rivers or large streams. Between these she added six huts, denoting villages, and finally a pagoda in the shadow of the southernmost mountain, before the edge of the map gave way to large dunes and the edge of the paper. "It's not like most'a Harborhead, the mountains keep the rivers flowin' steady an' the cliffs shelter it from sandstorms, most'a the time. The folk there're mostly Brakhani, but it ain't like that matters much t' em. They're jes' Valley folk."

    She looked up at Tuoni as she added a pair of tawny eyes over the mountain range. "These-here mountains are Lou Kahn's domain. She's the tiger goddess what rules 'em, an the one what gave me my stripes. She's old an' cunning, proud as anythin' but a decent sort once y' know how t' live with her. There's also gods'a the rivers an' mountains, but they're all her clients. Used't be some kinda lion god 'round here, but I think Lou Kahn drove him out a long time back. 'Sides Alhat, Lou Kahn is the most venerated spirit here. That's prolly why..."

    She drew an oblong shape, a bit like a kidney-bean among the dunes, right at the end of one of the rivers. "...other big spirits sometimes git riled up. There used t' be a seventh village here, but some big ol' desert elemental wiped it out 'bout ten years ago. It's a shadowland now...got a few dynasts buried near there too, but that were a few years later..." she drew in silence, adding a few mounds and a small dragon.

    "Anyway, I'm tellin' ya'll this 'cause Kelam an I learned somethin' t'day. We went up t' see the Fane, take in the sights an' see if'n all that fire essence might be some help, but it were closed off. The brides," she looked to the newcomer, Skymoth, "were gettin' prepped fer battle. An' what's more, the Order were there too. I got recognized. This first-coil kid I knew from way back tol' me the Immaculates an' Alhat's cult are gettin' ready t' come here." She tapped into the center of the map, leaving a black mark in the middle of the valley.

    "'Parently there's info that some kinda cult done popped up there, plus there's reports'a tiger attacks all over the mountains an' beyond. Before I left, I asked Lou Kahn t' protect the valley, an' taught the villagers how t' keep her happy. It ain't like she's one t' go back on her word or them t' forget, but I wouldn't put it past her t' try an' expand. T' hear her tell it, she done already beat out erry other spirit'a note in that area, might'a even butted heads with Alhat, back in the misty depths'a time. Anyway, I'm worried that this cult is my fault, that I been away too long or somethin. Now, where this all comes full circle is...the Order knows there were a Solar there. These dynasts?" She tapped the dragon-drawing. "They were sent after me, but they di'int know what they was lookin' for. They arrived an' went straight t' the Immaculate monestary an' found a monk there. Once I knew what they were lookin' fer, I lead 'em out inta the desert t' find the 'nathema, then I showed 'em."

    Leaf hung her head slightly. "I ain't proud 'bout what I did, but I di'int want t' fight 'em where the villages could get hurt. Problem is, one'a them mighta gotten word out, cast a spell or somethin' t' tell the Satrap that the 'Nathema lived there. I couldn't account fer all'a them at the time. So the Order knew 'bout a 'Nathema livin' there, an' we know of one other Immaculate Solar who done come this way. I'm thinkin' that if I were a lone Solar comin' t' Harborhead lookin' fer answers, I'd seek out another Solar ASAP. Wind...might be visitin' my home. He might be behind this cult."

    She finished, drawing a sun over the pagoda, and stepped back.

    "So...yeah. My home's gonna git attacked by Harborhead an' the Order, an our quarry might be there...Wic, can you git me there quick-like an...would anybody else wanna come help me? I unnerstand if'n y' say 'no' but..." she stepped back from the table, knelt, placed her palms on the living-wood floor and touched it with her forehead. "Please, I don't think I kin handle this on my own."
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  19. - Top - End - #169
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    Slang pulls Brown Leaf into their side with a one-armed hug.

    "You're family! Of course, I will help out." Slang gives the former monk a reassuring smile. "Asides if I didn't think of you as part of my family, I would have still owed you for the work you did to The Remora."

    The Captain turns to Wic. The coat seems to fit his frame well, and Slang smiles at the sorcerer before bringing their thoughts back to the topic on hand. "How many of us could you take at a time, Wic?"
    Last edited by Malozing; 2019-06-03 at 11:00 AM.
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  20. - Top - End - #170
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    "Safely? Four passengers. Beyond that the wind is simply not stable enough to hold another, and I wouldn't take chances in terrain like this."

    Wic hasn't looked up from Brown Leaf's map, his eyes darting between the points. He doesn't even nod to Leaf's question: he's too busy focusing on the practicalities of the matter. He glances briefly between his fellow group members. "I could conjure a thunderbird for one of us to fly. Does anyone here have experience with riding?"

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    "You know I'm with you, love," Kelam assures Leaf, kneeling to place a comforting hand on her bowing girlfriend's shoulder.

    The Abyssal glances to Skymoth.

    "If you're coming, could you fly yourself? That other Lunar we met, Qhispe, she could transform into a bird..."
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    "I can fly, but I'm not so good with long distances. I'm easy to travel with, though, if someone shelters me from the wind. I transform into a moth. One that's quite adorable, if I do say so."

    He gives Wirric his best, most charming grin.

    "...And anyway, I'll help if I can. My days are really quite free, lately."
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    Slang suddenly pulls away from Leaf with a shudder. Their palms feel clammy, and they try to wipe their hands on their pants.

    "No offense, but not me. Please don't- not even close to me...please." Slang shudders again. A cold sweat starts to form on the back of their neck, and the Captain rubs their neck to control the reaction. It doesn't work.
    "In every walk in with nature one receives far more than he seeks." -John Muir

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    "Oh, stand up would you?" Tuoni groused. "Of course we'll help - we've been traveling together for too long to do anything else. I want to meet this master of yours, and since we're not walking there..." his shoulders relaxed slightly, and he offered Leaf a hand. "There's no question to ask. The sidereal's errands can wait."

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    Leaf looked up, took Tuoni's hand and stood, wiping away tears on her sleeve. "Th-Thanks ya'll. I...I di'int wanna take ya fer granted, but...I did hope...thanks ya'll." She pulled Kelam and Tuoni in for a hug, but released them quickly. Even before Exalting she had always been accused of hugging too hard. Besides, it was unbecoming of a monk, a concept she might need to revisit in the future.

    "Okay, so if'n we're gonna leave here, we should prolly go durin' the night. I dunno what we're gonna need t' do when we git there, but odds are we're gonna have'ta show our hand at some point. Folks'r gonna know there's 'nathema in Harborhead an' if'n we kin distance ourselves from the Remora, the safer the Tya will be. I'm scared we may be flyin' south t' intercept a whole Wyld Hunt with the Brides as backup, an' I'd like t' not spill any Harborhead blood if'n we kin avoid it."

    She looked to Kelam. "Jarabi, I'm sorry t' say when we git there I'm gonna have'ta be a monk again, at least in appearance. I ain't gonna hide 'us' t' the folk there...heh, they'll prolly be delighted...but I'll need t' lose alla this." She gestured to her thickly-covered scalp. "Could I ask ya t' help me while everyone gits ready?"
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  26. - Top - End - #176
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    "Of course I will," Kelam assures Leaf.

    Later, a miniature tempest soars above the vast and varied land the Realm reductively refers to as "Harborhead." Even at the prodigious speed of Wirric's Stormwind, it is a long flight to the Sand's Edge Valley, passing over broad, open savannas; rolling, forested hills; the dry channels of seasonal streams awaiting the rainy season. Off to the east, past its reed-choked banks, the moonlight glitters off the softly rippling waters of a marshy inland sea.

    Those Dynasts and foreigners who wish to appear more enlightened or better-informed often refer to "Harborhead" as "the Land of the Five Peoples," or something along those lines. This is, however, another reductive simplification. While the Five Peoples are conscious of their ethnic identities, and affinity with one's People takes on an exaggerated significance where those groups meet and mingle, in great multi-ethnic cities like Kirighast or Dynastic strongholds like the mines at Bent Creek, none of the "Peoples" is anything like a monolithic organization. The Circle's flight takes them over dozens of disparate communities: camps of nomadic herdsmen outnumbered tenfold or more by their cattle, isolated villages fed by subsistence farming and supplied by domestic crafts, trading posts growing around guarded watering holes, sprawling farms worked by slave labor at the behest of wealthy masters. The worship of Ahlat binds all these scattered Southerners together more than anything else; even at the height of its power in the region, the Realm could not truly knit "Harborhead" into any unified whole. The 'borders' of the satrapy are little more than an indication of how far the satrap's garrison is able to protect his tax collectors when tribute comes due.

    The Sand's Edge Valley lies at the extreme southern edge of the satrap's influence. Local Dynastic authority was once guaranteed by the presence of Peleps Thousand Grains, but with him gone and his monastery fallen, the 'border' of "Harborhead" threatens to shift northward. Certainly, as morning twilight turns the sky from black toward blue and the stormwind finally crests the cliffs overlooking the six villages, the Circle can see no overt sign that the sleepy valley, an irregular quilt of small farms split by flowing rivers and dotted with simple huts, marks the boundary of a world-spanning empire. Yet even at this moment, the warrior-clerics of two faiths are on the march to enforce that very claim.

    Despite the pre-dawn hour, pinpricks of moving lamplight show that at least a few of the villagers of the nearest town are already up and about...
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  27. - Top - End - #177
    Troll in the Playground
     
    HalflingWizardGirl

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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    "Any idea where best to put down, Leaf?" Wic doesn't turn to look at Leaf while speaking, his gaze focused on the surrounding terrain and the knot of essence that holds them all aloft. Still, this is hardly the sorcerer's first time approaching a strange locale from the air. He smiles, "I can do the dramatic entrance if you'd rather. But if we're walking, I should bring us to ground now, to try and make sure nobody sees 'something strange in the sky'."

  28. - Top - End - #178
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    MonkGirl

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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    Leaf peered around Wic's arm, having failed to look over his shoulder. The high winds raked across her scalp, agitating the tiny cuts that always came with infrequent shaving. "There!" she pointed down and towards the end of the cliffs near the desert. "The polar winds'll have died down, an' nobody'll be around. We kin' have an easy landin'. The walls'll provide shelter too."

    She was pointing to the five-story pagoda that marked the center of the monastery compound.
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  29. - Top - End - #179
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    HalflingWizardGirl

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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    "Right into the heart of things, then."

    Wirric doesn't question Leaf's decision: as soon as the words leave her mouth, the sorcerer has begun guiding them towards the pagoda's heights. He looks down at the edges of the monastery as they fly above it, a curious look in his eye. He glances back to Leaf, figuring his divided attention might warrant explaining himself to the former monk. "I've never actually visited an Immaculate house of worship before. The Order never had much success in Whitewall: I presume it's hard to preach the word of the Dragons in a city ruled openly by gods and consecrated to the Sun. My apologies if I'm a little distracted."

    Well, that and another reason. But he'll see to that once they've landed and appraised the situation. That's his problem to deal with.

  30. - Top - End - #180
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The Lotus Blossoms! - Volume II

    Leaf is right about the wind; as the stormwind dips within the lee of the valley's cliffs, the uncanny tempest seems to spur forward with new speed, protected from the hot, dry currents blowing from the south. She is not, however, correct in assuming that no one will be around.

    A warning cry of "sorcerer!" in Flametongue goes up as Wic comes in for a landing, and wind chimes engraved with Immaculate scripture cry out not with the gentle ringing of the breeze, but with the clangor of alarm. By the time the stormwind dissipates, depositing its five Exalted riders on the worn paving-stones of the courtyard before the central pagoda, a few people have managed to rouse themselves from sleep to answer the alert.

    The handful of men and women who loosely encircle the newcomers are locals. They have the seeming of monks, with shaved heads and belted robes, but they conform to no tradition Leaf is aware of. Most of them wear brown robes, not the Immaculate postulant's gray, and carry stout, combat-ready staves; two wear bright saffron robes and carry spears decorated with tassels. Past that, without a light, it's hard to make out details in the pre-dawn gloom.

    Their stances are wary and guarded, ready for a fight.

    "Identify yourselves!" a woman, one of the two saffron-clad figures, challenges.
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