Fiction Friday: Exalted Third Edition

Exalted

This week we present an excerpt from the introductory fiction of Exalted Third Edition.

Once upon a time, two girls lived in a dark place: a place of stagnant water at the bottom of the world.

Above them were stacks of ancient buildings; new buildings, piled up upon the old; and endless criss crossing walkways, so many you could hardly see the sky. The sun was just a distant glitter. The moon’s faces, just the same.

There in that place the sea was still; its waters were stopped up, its currents were broken. The sluice-streets down in the bottom-most layers did not run wet and then dry three times a day, like in the better districts, but simply sat there pooling, seeping, gathering bugs and gunk and plague. They who lived there were scarcely recorded by the men and women who kept the books in Heaven. “Some number of little people reside below,” they’d say, or write, “—and bugs,” and nod their heads.

When Suzu, the younger of the two, was four, she went out into the sluice-streets to play; only, instead of dying to the hungry dead, or falling into the hands of some fleshtaker, scavenger, or priest, she found a white pig (that her father said was likely sacred), with an earring that was a bell. She’d led it home, she’d loved to keep it, she’d ridden on it and confided in it and drawn great swirling patterns of black ink upon its flesh. She’d tugged on Sabriye’s sleeve—that was the older girl—and told her all about it, and it was a precious pig to little Suzu, and come the winter when they cut it open they found oracles in silvered letters on its bones.

Sabriye grew older. She left, and she came back changed. There was all manner of consternation among the bookkeepers in Heaven at that change; it provoked great flurries of paperwork, anguished tugging of the beards, and Heavenly commotion—for in some moment, while they had not been paying attention, Sabriye had joined the ranks of legends; had done some great unrecorded deed and won Exaltation: drawn down into her body a portion of the essence of the divine Unconquered Sun. It was a legacy and a power that had been Liam Island-Tamer’s before her, and Red Dove’s before him, on back to the beginning of the world.

They’d found it burnt into the tapestry of fate that they kept in Heaven; no longer was she “Sabriye, a gutterurchin,” but rather, “of the Solar Exalted.”

Such a to-do! And she scarcely even had records.

…for who in Heaven even bothered to track the gutterfolk of Wu-Jian? Sabriye had been named a Solar in the books of Heaven but of course this datum had not reached her. Not one of the memos that flew about was even addressed to her. She understood only that she had changed. That her steps had lightened, her eyes gone clearer, and a sun-mark glittered on her brow. If she were to try to explain it— …there was no explaining it. Words would fail her. Was it some sun-borne curse? The blessing of some small god of river, grass, or tree? Was she, as the Immaculate Faith would surely tell her, shamed and shameful beyond all measuring: indwelt, possessed, inhabited by some Anathematic demon-god?

If she knew the truth of it, deep in her soul, then to her mind it yet remained a mystery: a secret that lived beneath her tongue and in her throat. That stuck there, that weighed her down, that pooled in her like stagnant water.

The words would not come out.

And so, like anyone who has words they cannot speak, she sought out a kindred spirit to not say them to. She returned to Wu-Jian, hunting for the nameless house on the nameless street that her cousin had used to live in—rehearsing as she searched for Suzu all the words she would not say.

In this, she was not alone.

Ten floors above her, at that time, and three wards left, Jin chewed. Jin swallowed. “I don’t even know how to describe this,” Jin said. He put down his meat bun. He made an ancient finger sign against evil—most specifically, against Anathematic demon-gods—in its general direction. His partner Toad Rat snorted a laugh. “I want to describe it,” said Jin, “but—there are no words.”

“The Anathema aren’t exerting a sinister influence upon your lunch, Jin,” Toad Rat said.

“All I ever wanted—” Jin started to say; but then he sighed, and cut the thought short, and shook his head.

He stared at his meal. He shrugged, and picked it up again, and took another bite.

“One day,” he said, around it, waving the meat bun with a hand, “we will die, if we keep doing this. If we keep hunting these sun-marked monsters down. If we keep going to these terrible places. For what do we do this, Toad Rat, Eastern Star? Why do we risk our lives for things like this—for cities like this, where you can’t even get a half-decent meal?”

And he was looking at Eastern Star when he said this, because she was the one who’d dragged them there; but it was Toad Rat who’d answered.

“I think we are drawn to what we want least in life,” he said. “… That is courage.”

Let us speak of deeps and gutters; of starlight hidden in the darkness; of city piled on city: Of Wu-Jian.

Its roots sink into the ocean, unto the beginning of the world. It hides that glory, shelters it like a watchman covering his red lamp up: you cannot see it when you sail nigh. Rather the jagged piles and stacks that comprise Wu-Jian heave up from the horizon and give the impression, not of ancient grandeur, but of a slum of beggars’ slouching hovels, all leaned and tumbled over one against the other: written large.

Yet it began in the first days, nearly the very first days, as the outcast islands.

They roamed free.

They swum like a pod of whales playing in the ocean. They knew no stability and no order. They drifted on the currents and the waves. Red Tiger tells us that they were renegade humans who had cast off the shackles of their subservience, grown tall as the smaller mountains, tossed their heads, proclaimed their anger at the earth, and swum off into the sea. The Scholar Clad in Irons tells us, rather, that they were untethered, unrooted, but… ordinary… islands, in the keeping of unruly gods. They did not rebel against the order of things, but partook in it neither; therefore, the great demon-gods and goddesses, the “Anathema,” came out to bind them to the sea.

Do they not groan now, in remembrance of that awful day? Do they not heave, and shudder, and tremble, because the city weighs them down?

The demon-gods came for them—so the Scholar writes. They stood upon the surface of the water and they were clad in vestments of gold.

The chiefest of the islands roared out a challenge. It came at them on the lip of a tsunami, hung over it like a ship at wave’s-edge, and then plunged down; its fists were like the boulders of a landslide, like a trampling of great oxen, they tumbled down one after another and they were crested by the foam of waves. Not two of them but hundreds rather, each a writ of war and murder—but a young and slender demon-god, standing towards the front of them, took his pipe from his mouth, reversed it, and blocked each fist consecutively with its slender end. The island flew past him, lost its balance, flipped itself over like a turtle flounders and it was helpless then; in that moment of its defenselessness he replaced his pipe, seized a shaft of sunlight from the sky, made it gold, and plunged it like a pillar, like a needle, like a spear, through the body of the island, through the stone and through the sea beneath the island, and made it anchored to the ocean floor.

Each and all of them, then, all the wild islands: they pinned them with nails of jade and sun and shining metal until they ceased to move.

Such were the deeds of the “Anathema,” before the Dragon-Blooded cast them down.

Atop that dusting of pinned-down land amidst the endless waters they built a crisscrossing maze of bridges, an iridescent web and stronghold, rising, falling, slanting, sloping, reminiscent in its many angles of a brokenlegged spider crouching, injured, on the sea.

Lesser builders would later build their work upon it; would spread their warrens and their rookeries upon it; until the iridescent spires were hidden behind rough and modern structures, wood and stone. They burdened the islands down with city, weighted them down as if under a prisoner’s yoke with it, and the city spread until the islands blurred with one another and the sea-lanes were as the sewers beneath the fortress: beneath Wu-Jian.

Find out more about Sabriye and the Creation in which she lives in Exalted Third Edition, now available in PDF and print from DriveThruRPG.

  2 comments for “Fiction Friday: Exalted Third Edition

  1. Corwyn-Ulhar
    July 1, 2017 at 3:45 am

    I’ve seen the 2nd Exalted Novel & 3rd Exalted Novel in the development listings, but nothing about the implied 1st Exalted Novel (all being for 3rd Edition, presumably). What’s the deal with that 1st Novel? Is it already written & purchasable? I would love to read more Exalted fiction beyond the corebook’s blurbs, but I want to read 3rd Edition stories, not the pre-existing 2nd and 1st edition ones.

    • July 3, 2017 at 9:57 am

      There are only two novels in production, one by Matt Forbeck and one by Aaron Rosenberg. Likely the “3” was shorthand for 3rd edition, meaning Exalted 3rd edition novel and Exalted 3rd edition novel #2.

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