Last time, Wren got threatened a bit and Ratcatcher emoed. Now back to Holok, the most boring Sidereal.
The Hunt has arrived in Yushuv’s former village to discover the place wreaked.
Holok observes there are bodies everywhere midway through the process of being eaten by scavengers, but doesn’t care much because he’s so hardened and badass the sight doesn’t affect him, and it’s not like there’s any rational reason to be worried about unburied dead bodies, like the fact they spawn ravening ghost monsters.
One ram stared stupidly up into Holok’s eyes, then ran off, bleating. A Huntswoman chased after it, curved sword glinting in the sunlight. She struck it repeatedly on the flanks with the flat of her blade, driving it first this way and then that until it was mad with terror. Others gathered around, laughing, as she continued with her sport
This is a nice little scene because it does a good job of showing what the Dragonblooded are like. They’re assholes. This isn’t really a Great Curse thing, it’s the natural result of being raised to believe you’re a superior being and anything you do is right.
He then comes across the dead priest Yushuv tormented.
His robes were stiff with blood, and on his face was an expression of agony. A smeared trail of dried blood on the steps showed that he’d crawled up several after being stabbed, and a full waterskin sat next to him, untouched. Holok frowned at the mystery
This is not correct – Yushuv drops the water next to him, then he crawls down the steps to get away from Yushuv. So even if he crawled back up to where he started – and he has no reason to, since he apparently was never interested in the water – there should be a trail of blood going down and then back up, since I doubt he made sure to crawl straight and have a perfectly overlapping path.
It’s also disappointing because why would the guy have just sat there and waited to die? He knows people will come eventually, and that he knows about two anathema. He should have at least scrawled a caste mark with his blood, so the people will have a better idea of what did this. If he remembered Yushuv’s name, he could have written that. For that matter, given how slowly the wound seemed to be killing him, he should have had time to write down all of what happened.
The woman in pretend charge of the hunt appears to get a name, Neleh, and talk to him about this because he’s the real leader.
“Whoever did this needs to be put down like a dog,” she added, and gracefully stepped in front of Holok as he strode farther inside.
“Yes,” he grunted, mildly annoyed that she’d taken point.
Sadly, it’s really hard in Exalted for the exalts to mutually kill each other (easy for mortals, though, since they can bleed out), so you can only hope Holok or Yushuv dies, not that they both do. Sidereals do have a charm that makes the damage they take not affect them until the charm ends, but their book was the final splat published for the first edition, and their charms hadn’t even been started when this book was published.
Holok figures this murder was the bad omen, because apparently one small village getting destroyed – and not even destroyed-destroyed, as the fact livestock are still milling about proves this place didn’t turn into a shadowland, Creation itself is undamaged – is enough for divination to start throwing up divide by oblivion errors and exploding.
The thing we hunt must be unimaginably powerful, and well trained to boot.
Nah, that was just Ratcatcher.
The monks who dwelt here knew their duty, and they were highly skilled.”
“Not skilled enough, I think,” said Neleh, and walked on. Holok shook his head at her miscomprehension, and after a moment, followed.
So this annoys me, but I find it more interesting to wonder why the author chose to do this.
Does he think that the reader is dumb enough to misunderstand, so he’s having a character make the mistake as a way of bringing their attention to it? Is the idea that she’s overly literal? Is it that he couldn’t think of a witty response, so he settled for a dumb one followed by saying he’s not dumb, it’s just the character, so isn’t he clever? Is it just that this sort of thing leads to easy padding?
Myself, I’m going to say that Holok is the one with comprehension problems and Neleh is, reasonably, pointing out that concepts like “highly skilled” are meaningless – you are either skilled enough for the challenges you’ll face, or you aren’t. She has a particularly good point here, as Immaculate monks are supposed to be able to handle anathema and it’s by this exact standard that one determines if they’re skilled.
Holok explains about the whole bone sifting thing.
I don’t understand how the guards were overwhelmed so easily, though. The doors were supposed to be barred.”
“They were,” said Neleh, prodding a shattered beam with the sword in her left hand.
Another notch for Neleh being more competent! Really, Holok, you’re seeing the aftermath of someone who singlehandedly took out an entire temple of Immaculate monks, and but you think they’d be stopped by a barred door?
Holok closed his left fist and concentrated. When he opened it, a ball of bluish light sat on his palm.
I think that’s our first actual charm. And it’s about as interesting as a D&D cantrip.
Nelesh’s competency goes even further – she suggests that maybe they should go get the others before going down into the place this Immaculate-slaughtering unknown monster was. Holok says there’s no need for that.
We get a bit more exposition about Toloc’s bones. Apparently the monks defended their failure to find it by claiming the ghosts were moving it, because if you’re going to make excuses about why you haven’t done the only job you’re there to do, you might as well go all out.
“Why would they do that?” Neleh was incredulous.
“There’s precious little in the Immaculate Texts concerning the motivations of dead men, Neleh,” he answered testily.
I bet that’s what they said when called on it too.
Holok then continues the dickery by saying she’s slightly too quick to suggest there’s nothing down here and they should go up, and then she hears clicking, which he dismisses. Then a bunch of skeletons show up to try to kill them.
He throws a fireball into one of them, then uses a martial arts charm to fire punch another. After that they just take out the skeletons with regular smashing. The scene is quite passably written, with bits like:
They circled left, until Holok‘s foot landed on the scorched shinbone of a previous opponent. He slipped slightly, just enough for the skeleton to see an opening for a thrust.
Holok drew his foot back, hooked it under the offending bone, and kicked it into the air. Seizing it in his right hand, he brought it across the skeleton’s outstretched blade.
But – not really Exalted level, this was a standard D&D fight against some skeletons.
Holok knelt to the floor and began tidying the rough collection of bones. “It’s a shame that the warriors whose bones these were have been abused thus.”
Well maybe the monks should have been burning them instead of sitting around all this time. Also, what about all the other bodies being torn apart by animals?
Neleh goes off to warn the others, and Holok then says that something should come out now that Neleh’s gone.
And come out she does.
She was tall but slender, wearing form-fitting armor that gleamed as if it were carved from the heart of a monstrous seashell. She wore a helm that bore a hideous, grinning caricature of a woman’s face, twisted in some dire amusement, and her hands both held short, wicked-looking sickles.
The helmet thing continues. Wonder why Ratcatcher doesn’t get one?
She wants to know why Holok wanted to fight her alone.
Holok took a step back and settled into a guard stance. “Insufficiently skilled allies are more of a hindrance than a help. I’d spend more of my time protecting her than killing you.
So in absolute terms Yushuv is far more of a dick than this guy, but at least Yushuv’s horribleness is at least epic horribleness, the sort of thing that can be decent to read.
He adds that The Dragon-Blooded’s strength is in their numbers. which is true but missing the part where the Dragonblooded are designed to work better in groups, you stupid fucker, so she’d be good support.
It’d make more sense to want her gone out of concern he’ll out himself as a Sidereal during the fight.
Holok, determined to wring every last bit of padding from this, wants to know if she made the skeletons when he already assumes she did.
Yes. A trifle. The things currently besetting your lackeys? Mine as well.
The noise from the latter should really be audible from there, but whatever.
She says she didn’t do the original killing, though, pointing out she’s the type of monster that actually eats the bodies afterward. She then tells him all about how she’s here to check things out herself, badmouths Ratcatcher again, namedrops her boss, and mentions she’s also looking for “the boy that Ratcatcher left behind”.
This is Shamblemerry. She appears to be a nemissabyssal. It’s best not to think too hard about it. You know, they’re apparently introducing a new exalt type that’s somehow undead related? I do not have high expectations (and doubt I’ll like it just because I really don’t like the idea Abyssals can never be the proper death exalts and can only turn back into Solars) but I wonder if the abilities of it might overlap with what Shamblemerry seems to be.
She also has figured out what’s up with the temple.
Holok shook his head imperceptibly, sadly. Then you’ve learned enough that you’re going to have to die. There are things here that your master should never learn.”
But the Prince already knows the basics, so he’d just send another servant here to check it out if he doesn’t hear back. Not that this will come up – even if he kills her, what does he intend to do about her ghost?
They fight for a bit and Holok keeps being condescending about how she shouldn’t have challenged him because he’s so awesome. His anima flares white despite that not being any of the Maiden’s colors.
Shamblemerry fights well, manages to pin his hand to the wall with one sickle, then:
His anima flared with power, and as he closed his fist, the sickle crumpled. “I think I’ll have to decline,” he said as calmly as if he were addressing a new acolyte. “Your life is forfeit. You may wish to take the next few seconds to contemplate your crimes.”
With a wrench, he tore his other hand loose from the wall, the sickle that had pinned it clattering to the floor. Shamblemerry sought to escape now, but her hand still clutched the broken blade, and that was held firmly in Holok’s grasp.
“NO!” she shrieked, as he brought his bloody hand to her throat. She dropped the sickle and tried to flee, but Holok caught her wrist and held her.
“Your breath is better used for other things,” he continued dispassionately. “Prayer, perhaps, or cries for help. But I am Shajah Holok, and I have served the heavens for twelve centuries. You are as a child to me, Shamblemerry, and children who do not know their place should be punished.”
Ugh. The author just says that suddenly he wins, so he wins.
This chapter at least has things happening, but it feels more like a random encounter than anything.