A Spark [Lunars: Fangs at the Gate]

Exalted

The smell of roasting rabbit made Sazay’s chops water. She’d caught two of them earlier while Tegama started the fire, and now she lay curled up as a fennec, tip of her tail touching the tip of her nose, eking as much warmth out of the flames as she could. Sazay had teased Tegama about cooking meat they could perfectly well eat raw, ribbed him about clinging to his aristocratic ways, but she’d only half-meant it. Now, she had to admit, the hot meat would be welcome in this dreadful cold.

“Perhaps if you were a different kind of fox,” Tegama suggested as she edged closer to the fire, careful not to get singed. He was from the Scavenger Lands, cooler than the Southern climes Sazay called home, but still warmer than this frigid corner of the North. He’d wrapped his lean form in a fine wool coat; Sazay’d teased him about that, too. “Fennecs live in the desert, don’t they? Up here they’re all tail and thick fur. And much smaller ears.”

“Ah, but these ears will tell us if we’re being pursued,” she said, flicking one to emphasize her point. Sazay sat up and stretched, letting her human form come slowly; she hated losing the warmth her fur had soaked in. “Since you wouldn’t let us stop to fight those Dragon-Blooded bastards.”

“Our shahan-yas would never forgive us if the Wyld Hunt killed us before we found the fledgling. Or worse, led them to her door.” Tegama passed her a rabbit before thoughtfully stripping a chunk off his own, hissing at the hot grease 

“Pish. I’ve seen you fight. Two of them would be dead before they saw you draw. Then you’d realize I’d already killed the other three. Think of the tale: ‘While searching for a new Lunar, Sazay Shadow-Dancer and Azu Tegama Asarkon defeated five Dragons, simply to pass the time.’” She tore into the rabbit like it was one of the Dragons’ throats, and Tegama laughed. They both knew she was boasting; such a battle would never be so easily won.

“Perhaps we’ll see them again, and you can try. But reaching Tula…”

Sazay nodded. “I know. It’s more important than tweaking the Realm’s nose.” Spirits and spies had brought the name of the new Lunar in the North to their shahan-yas’ ears. In turn, those esteemed elders had entrusted Sazay and Tegama with seeking her out and recruiting her to the Silver Pact. 

“She’ll need training, and protection when the Wyld Hunt does take notice.” Tegama was no fool. The Realm would notice, eventually. Its resources might’ve been spread thin these last few years, but thin wasn’t non-existent. If the order didn’t come from the Blessed Isle, a bored Dynast stationed in some backwater satrapy might get it in her head to seek glory and call a Hunt. Or the ones Sazay and Tegama’d slunk around a day’s journey south might get wind of the new Lunar in Kulinth and investigate.

I hope they do. But not until Tula was ready. Sazay and Tegama had a plan, and they needed her to help carry it out. “Do you think we can convince her to join?”

Tegama’s smile was cold as the Northern night around them. “If we can, the three of us will do more than tweak their noses. We’ll cut out their hearts.”

•••••

“Tula,” Sazay repeated, though it was unlikely the Realm’s soldiers had ever bothered to learn the bandit woman’s name. He’ll learn it now, and fear it for the rest of his life. Which wouldn’t be long, of course. She wasn’t so foolish as to leave him alive, wouldn’t let him run back to Kulinth with Tula’s name on his lips.

Capturing him had been easy, and Tegama’d left Sazay to her questioning. They were well outside the city, but her Full Moon companion refused to risk a surprise patrol ruining their mission so close to its end. Over the last few hours, her captive had proven quite knowledgeable about bandit activity near Kulinth, enough to fill in the last pieces of information they needed to find Luna’s new Chosen. 

Still, she wasn’t done. Sazay stepped closer, looming over the soldier as her skin rippled and shifted. Her bulk filled the makeshift shelter, her shoulders touching the walls and her head brushing the ceiling as her war-form took shape. Sharp teeth filled her mouth, and Sazay leaned in, snapping at the air inches from her prisoner’s face. “Tula,” she growled. “Say it.”

“Tula! Tula! Please, I’ll —”

Whatever promises he made, Sazay paid them no heed. Soon enough he’d be too dead to keep them.

•••••

Snow crunched beneath their feet as Tegama and Sazay trudged through the forest. They were a half-day’s walk outside of Kulinth, nearing the abandoned barn where the soldier said a group of bandits used to hide. 

On their way through the city, Tegama had noted the garrison soldiers wore heavy, fur-lined cloaks and boots, plenty of protection against the cold. The peasants’ attire was far less opulent, which he’d expected, but was patched and threadbare to a degree he hadn’t. Once, such details wouldn’t even have registered with him. But that was a lifetime ago, when he thought his royal birth meant people ought to respect him, not that he should strive to earn the respect his position conferred. He’d learned better since then, and now recognized the gaunt looks that said people were going hungry, the darting glances and scurrying pace that meant they were afraid of the very soldiers meant to protect them. No wonder they turned to banditry.

Now and then a dove called out in the branches above them, though Tegama had yet to spot it. His attention had been focused on the ground for the last mile or so, sure they were being followed. Had the Wyld Hunt found them after all? He’d seen no signs of any Dragon-Blooded in the area aside from the garrison’s commander — would she have sent troops after her missing soldier? Sazay hadn’t left evidence of her interrogation, but that didn’t rule out a search.

The attack came from above, heralded by the flutter of wings. Tegama had time to look up and register the woman barrelling down at him, her emerald wings shifting into outstretched arms, a warcry echoing through the trees. Tegama’s daiklave flowed into his hand as she struck, and they tumbled away into the snow. He regained his feet quickly, and she followed. He turned aside thrust after thrust of her spear.

“Where’s the rest of your Hunt?” she screamed. “They said you’d come after me sooner or later. Where are the others?” Her fury grew with each step of her advance, as did Tegama’s understanding: She thinks we’re the Wyld Hunt.

He turned aside another blow. What she lacked in skill, passion made up for. “Stop! We’re not here to fight you.” 

Snarls rent the air off to Tegama’s left, belying his claim. Where he’d last seen Sazay in human form, two gray wolves now circled one another warily. Blood spotted the snow and stained the larger wolf’s teeth. 

“Look.” Tegama pointed behind his opponent, at the smaller wolf — Sazay — and her wounded shoulder, at the swirl of moonsilver in her fur. “We’re like you. Like both of you.” 

The woman paused and glanced back at the wolves. Sazay had heard Tegama’s plea. She stopped circling and sat on her haunches. She wasn’t the type to expose her belly or her throat, not so quickly, but the other wolf seemed to accept the truce. 

The other Lunar shifted into an androgynous hybrid form, a chambered shell growing from their back, its lacquered surface a swirl of deep yellow and white. They hunkered within and watched as Sazay shifted too, human once more. 

Tegama sheathed his daiklave slowly, so Tula couldn’t mistake his movement for a renewed attack. “Let’s start again. You must be Tula. I’m Tegama Asarkon.” He left off the honorific “Azu”; they were all equals here.

Tula glanced toward the nautilus-Lunar, but they only shrugged. “How do you know my name?”

“My companion Sazay and I heard rumors and followed them here. A farmer forced to banditry by the satrap’s ever-increasing taxes. A strange incident when the soldiers came for the lot —” here, Tula ducked her head, and Tegama continued softly. “Luna chose you, and we came to help.”

“She has help. Found me herself.” The nautilus-Lunar peered between Tegama and Sazay. 

Sazay looked about ready for another shot at them, despite her bleeding shoulder; the sharp-toothed smile she flashed held a challenge in it. But the nautilus-Lunar merely rolled their eyes, and Sazay dropped the threat. It gave Tegama a measure of comfort — Sazay simply wanted the chance to best a worthy competitor, not eliminate an enemy. 

But Tula couldn’t know the nuance of Sazay’s many smiles. She stepped between them and said, “This is my… friend, Silent Pearl.” She seemed to be testing out the word, watching the others’ reactions to it. For their part, Silent Pearl only nodded. Sazay grunted.

Tegama startled. “Silent Pearl? But…they’ve been gone for centuries.”

“Not gone. Sleeping.” They regarded Tegama curiosly. “You know my name?”

“I know stories.” The Lunar who’d tattooed Tegama had told tales of others while she worked: Ma-Ha-Suchi and Lilith, Sha’a Oka and Vanamithri Mirror-Soul. And of Silent Pearl, herbalist and healer and witch of the marshes, whose last tale was spun before the Shogunate fell. 

“I found them,” said Tula. “In a ruin a few days east of here. I needed… I didn’t know what. Something to help my people. A weapon, maybe.”

“And you did!” Silent Pearl seemed quite pleased with themself. This time, when they looked at Sazay, they received a genuine smile. “I thought more would have changed, but it appears the usurpers have only changed some names. We have a satrap to drive out.”

“Then in that,” said Sazay, “we might find common cause.” 

•••••

Tula added another pinch of salt to the stew. It’d been a while since she’d fed a group, and she’d missed it. Meals with Silent Pearl were pleasant enough, if a little perfunctory; the older Lunar sometimes still seemed to be shaking off their long torpor, or maybe they’d simply never been much for light conversation. Watching how easily Sazay and Tegama bantered and bickered warmed Tula’s heart in a way she hadn’t realized she’d needed. Her gang used to do this, plotting out their next strike while she cooked, clamoring to be the one who got to taste the sample spoons she offered during the process. Sazay came sniffing around the most often, though she didn’t offer any opinions other than “’s good.” 

Earlier, the four had joined a flock of snow buntings and flown over the city so the newcomers could view it from above. Now, Silent Pearl had drawn a rough map of Kulinth in the dirt. They marked out where the barracks were, the storehouses, the building where the tax collectors stored their records. Tula peered over their shoulder, making adjustments and pointing out vulnerable spots and escape routes for refugees. Much as she wanted the satrap and the Realm’s forces gone, she wanted there to be a city left for her people to return to.

Tegama impressed Tula with his insights. He’d helped overthrow a tyrant in his time, and knew what they should expect, yet he deferred to Silent Pearl’s wisdom. Sazay asked about the power structure, who hated whom, what rivalries she could exploit. Silent Pearl grinned from within their nautilus shell and mentioned going to talk to an old, old friend.

“And you, Tula,” they asked, as she passed around bowls of steaming stew and a hunk of crusty bread, “what will you do?”

She thought of the people who’d sheltered her, after the night the garrison came for her and her gang. The farmers who starved themselves to pay the Realm’s hefty taxes, the people who worked the land and fished the rivers, and kept so little of their harvests… the very people who’d provided her the ingredients in the stew they were all scarfing down, who risked the satrap’s wrath by leaving bundles of food at her door. 

They ought to be part of this, too.

“I’m going to spark a rebellion.” 


Lunars: Fangs at the Gate for Exalted 3rd Edition is currently on Kickstarter.

  2 comments for “A Spark [Lunars: Fangs at the Gate]

  1. Noneofyourbusiness
    March 3, 2019 at 5:16 pm

    “Earlier, the four had joined a flock of snow buntings and flown over the city so the newcomers could view it from above.”

    So each of the four of them has done a sacred hunt on a snow bunting? That is the only way that Lunars acquire forms, right?

    • Gaius
      March 4, 2019 at 12:50 pm

      It is, though how they go about the hunt may vary. IIRC, the default 3e sacred hunt is a bit less cumbersome than 2e’s; it still calls for the Lunar to kill the noted target, but I don’t believe there’s any sort of minimum stalking time requirement. So killing and eating a snow bunting is probably what happened for each of them at some point, yeah.

      That said, the scope of what counts as a sacred hunt can also be expanded via a number of Charms. The new methods don’t require killing and drinking blood from the heart, but still aren’t trivial. e.g. there’s a Charm to just get the shape temporarily after only drinking blood from a wound; Intelligence has one that seals another’s oath, alerting the Lunar and giving their shape if the oath’s broken; etc.)

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