Last time, Wren is now in the clutches of a surprisingly squeamish deathbyssal.
…back to Holok. Luckily something will actually happen this time.
We start off in Neleh’s head, actually, because the book figures the best way to show how awesome Holok is is by having someone else not notice what he does. So the Hunt is riding along when Holok suddenly senses the boy and tells them to stop. Neleh unreasonably does things like ask why the fuck he thinks that and then acts like “I can sense it in a way I and everyone else never has before!” is not a great answer. In fact, she goes on a rant about how there is absolutely no sign of the damn kid.
We’ve lost him, I say. Let us return home, and then send a garrison in force to Qut Toloc. It’s better than this pointless chase!”
Holok turned to her, his face very pale. “Are you finished?” he inquired mildly. “If this is what you wish, you-and the other members of the Hunt-are free to go.
This is the second time Holok has figured the other exalts with him are basically useless. This is hardly a view exclusive to this book, either – the official stance on Dragonblooded varies wildly throughout the line from basically useless cannon fodder that’s somehow gotten the mistaken idea they’re people to the true heros of Creation – mostly the first, though, the line is rarely kind to the group. Still, it’s really detrimental to the setting to treat them like they simply don’t matter, since for things to make sense, the Sidereals can’t be able to run things on their own and they need to be a danger to Lunars and at least baby Solars. It’s within the realm of reason for a young, arrogant, and unusually stupid Sidereal to ditch his party because he figures he can do it on his own. It’s even a mistake he might live to learn from, provided he realizes his error in time to decide to never have been there in the first place.
Sadly, she doesn’t take him up on the offer and we don’t get to find out. Instead, he suddenly smells smoke. She says she doesn’t.
Wet wood, too. Precisely the sort of fire I’d make if I were trying to remain hidden.
This is not how fires work. Wet wood burns terribly and produces copious amounts of smoke. You want dry wood for this.
Because Holok and the author both find dickery amusing, he ends this with Try again. and sadly, instead of punching him in the face and setting off after Ratcatcher, she does.
So they decide to stop and that prompts Yuyu to run, which then sets off the birds, so the Dragonblooded run in, with Holok sprinting ahead of them.
One by one cloaks of blazing light enveloped them, making them seem like sinister will-o-the-wisps as they sought their prey.
Finally confirming the Hunt is completely made up of Dragonblooded! I’m not sure why they’re flaring essence so quickly, but whatever.
This is a very poor description of their anima banners, though. While Celestial exalts get a straight lightshow, Terrestrials have more of an impact. Fire aspect is obvious, the light is from actual fire and like actual fire, burns what it touches. But it changes based on aspect. If you’re wood aspect, you end up wrapped in lashing, thorny vines. Etc. This one only mentions fire, but it’s extremely unlikely a hunt would be made up of fire aspects only – Dragonbloods do best with variety.
“This way, you fools!” he bellowed
Part of why Holok is so damn annoying is that he never does anything particularly outragous, it’s just a constant background drone of jerkassness. Even Yuyu is superior in that when he sociopaths it up, he gives you something to really hate. My only guess is this is the author’s attempt at Sidereal smugness, and if so it’s not a very good one. The smart conniving vizier doesn’t end even statement with “you fucking dumbass, why aren’t I in change?” Sidereal are not the people in charge, they’re the people behind the people, and that requires a minimum of playing nice. More likely this isn’t supposed to be making me want him stabbed in the face until he never speaks again in the first place.
And now we switch to Yuyu, who also had a random gut-twinge that told him they were coming.
And so he had doused his fire and tried to creep off into the deeper swamp, but the birds had betrayed him. He wondered if he had offended Raiton somehow
I know people are not really big on the outdoors these days, but Yuyu should have learned what upsets birds and what doesn’t, or, failing that, at least that birds get upset normally when you start rushing around. This should be so familiar it wouldn’t occur to him to expect his god friend to alter things for him.
But then Yuyu should understand that dousing a fire produces smoke, so he’s obviously unusually dumb.
Yuyu has thirteen arrows! And you may recall that if he fires all of them our wolfy friend will come to crack open his bones. Yuyu being, as established, really fucking dumb, it did not occur to him to cobble together a sucky extra arrow just to stay in his quiver so he’d be sure that he always had one there.
He then grabs the dagger.
It felt good in his hand, and he imagined what it would be like to use it, to drive it into an enemy’s guts and twist. He could almost feel the hot spurt of blood on his hand, the whoosh of breath from his enemy’s lungs as the shock of the wound hit, the terrible slow tearing as he pulled the knife out so that it might seek another belly or throat.
Those were not his memories, Yushuv knew. He had never stabbed a man, never so much as cut a friend during childish play. He had killed animals for food, but never with joy and never for pleasure.
This is a decent flash of past lives, though it’s confusing because he’s chasing the one dagger and this is a completely different one triggering the memories. It’s also overstated. Yuyu’s been butchering game for the past few weeks, and he probably cut up animals before now. Cutting warm flesh and getting blood on him should be things he’s at least familiar with enough to imagine on his own.
I also really don’t believe this out of Yuyu’s treatment of the priest or basically everything else he did there. This was never a kid deeply concerned with never hurting anyone.
But he could feel the knife’s hunger, remember the savage joy of striking down countless foes.
Also possible is that the author doesn’t even know what past lives are and somehow got the idea people get randomly possessed by things all the time in Exalted.
He knew how to use the knife now, knew how he could face a man with a sword and surprise him with it. When they came for him, he could make them pay.
I guess long experience bullshitting to a DM to get your character extra points in stuff? What’s irritating is this isn’t needed – being an exalt makes you automatically semi-competent at anything, and the only reason this needs justification in the first place is the author’s decision to make Yuyu unreasonably harmless. Butchering animals will not teach you how to knife fight, but it does give you a very good idea of where to aim.
Yuyu finally dredges up some brain cells and decides to make a stand on top of a tiny hill.
The hillock was steep enough that it would be hard for his foes to scale it, and small enough that they could would have to come at him singly, or at best in pairs.
I’m trying to picture this and my only guess is that he’s bright enough to realize it’s good to have the high ground, but not bright enough to realize people can move sideways and climb up the hill from the sides or behind, because otherwise I don’t think this is physically possible.
He’s also completely fucked if even one of them has arrows. And did you know Sidereals have an archery charm that lets them declare random objects function as arrows? The author can’t be blamed for not knowing the latter, but the former should have given him pause. Even a mention that they had an archer but it was one of the people they lost to the zombies would be nice. Having at least one person capable of ranged attacks is kind of obvious, you know?
He’s not exactly in the open, though – apparently it’s covered in reeds, though in that case it’s not clear how he can easily identify its exact size without at least partially circling it. Eh.
They approach and Yuyu shoots his first arrow, which some guy called Shiresh blocks with his shield, but notes the arrowhead is visible on the inner side. This is apparently a regular sucky shield and not a jadesteel one, as artifact items are immune to damage when attuned, which begs the question of why it isn’t getting fucked up by his anima. Maybe it’s reasonably tough metal, but it’s hard to believe even a magicked arrow would get through that.
But anyway. Yuyu’s down to twelve arrows now. That means he has two shots per person, actually, which doesn’t sound quite so awful. If he can at least cripple most of them he’ll have time to escape while the survivors deal with the injured. Some mention of them being practically covered in armor so there’s nowhere to really aim might be nice.
Yuyu spends a moment wondering how they found him despite the fact earlier he knew the hunt had ways to find him.
We get a glimpse of the hunt’s composition – two women, four men. Could be worse, but it could be better.
one with a pair of swords with which she wove shining patterns of silver in the air.
No clue why she’s doing this while approaching him.
But no time to care, because Yuyu locks eyes with the priest in the back.
This was his true enemy, this sad-eyed but implacable man, and the five figures that closed on Yushuv were nothing more than the man’s tools. He could kill them all, kill a hundred like them, and still the monk would keep coming.
Then aim for him?
Holok staggered backward in shock. The Anathema had seen him, had somehow known him for what he was. And just a boy! A child, fresh to power-he should be an easy hunt. Confused, alone; he could not possibly have learned to harness his strength. And yet, a shuddering fear told Holok that this would not be the case.
Okay. When you’re exalted, a piece of incredible power is given to you by virtue of the fact you’re awesome, so you can go be even more awesome, and you become either the ruler of the world, the secret ruler of the world, or the usurped true ruler of the world. If you find yourself looking at this and thinking that your character isn’t enough of a sue yet, there is something wrong with you.
Anyway, we’re about to finally see real charm use. Yushuv has just fired while fretting about his lack of arrows.
Confidently she crouched in a ready stance, her swords already coming forward to pluck the arrow from the air.
Suddenly, it shimmered. As she watched in horror, it flickered and caught like a wisp of straw in a bonfire, blazing with a golden light. In its wake other arrows followed, converging on her like a swarm of angry hornets. The air screamed as they flew, and she could sense the terrible exultation behind them.
She struck down one and its fragments hissed and guttered in the muddy water at her feet. Another took her in the throat. Two more pierced her arms and a half-dozen took her in the chest. The stench of cooked meat filled the air, and her last scream died as a choked gurgle. Writhing like a drunkard’s marionette, she fell, shuddered for the last time, and lay still. Around her the dancing sheets of light dimmed once, twice, a third time, and then went out.
“Eleven,” said Yushuv grimly, and bent his bow again.
So much for Neleh. If only she’d told Holok to fuck off and gone after Ratcatcher.
Anyway. This is the sort of effect Solars should be throwing around. That was not strictly a legal description of the charm, but who cares, finally some decent magical effects.
Dragonblooded shouldn’t go down this easy, but we’ve established the book is treating them like chumps already. You know what would have been better? Making them mortals. We already had Ratcatcher ranting about how there aren’t real Wyld Hunts these days, making it out of just highly trained humans would be a good sign of the decline and explain why Holok treats them as fodder and they struggled against zombies, while still being a threat to a baby Solar.