Because I aim to try out everything people say is a bad idea, and I might as well get more mileage out of all the description I slaved over.

This is a mildly altered version of Exalted. It starts off several years early, just under one year since the Empress' disappearance, and it's a mix of first and second edition setting information with occasional tweaks. For example, among other things, the number of women running around is more in line with the percentages found in the pictures than the various text. White Wolf: So close and yet so terribly far.


Prologue

A sleek white cat picked its way delicately through the still marsh, leaping occasionally between pockets of dry land. Despite its care, its feet were already black, soaked through with muddy water, and the hairs on the tip of its tail were dark with grains of silt from when they had brushed the ground.

Though the marsh was far from any human settlements and farther still from anything approaching a city, the white cat itself was unobtrusive. Its thick fur was not the long pampered tresses of a rich noble's pet, nor short, thin fur of a mangy wild cat. It was fit, muscular with just enough plumpness to suggest it ate well. Its fur was glossy and, aside from the paws, clean, with an especially thick ruff around its neck and chest, and it would have looked just as at home sitting on a window sill as it did now making its careful way through the marsh. Few observers would spared it a second glance. The cat continued on its careful way, slipping in and out of the white mist like a ghost.

The white cat paused on a dry mound of earth, sat, and began to lick its paws clean, face crinkling in distaste at the dead, stagnant flavor of the water. The cat could smell nothing else in the place. It kept one eye out for any motion, but none came and in time it had finished its paws and set off again.

It paused again by a patch of open water, wriggling its way through the reeds that surrounded it to the very edge of the bank and then poking its head through the last to stare down into the utterly still pool. A large dead fish lay in the center, the flesh on one side rotted away to expose many, clawlike thin ribs. It was the closest thing to life the white cat had seen since entering the marsh. The eye facing upward rolled in its socket, evidently loose.

The cat debated pulling the dead fish onto the bank to examine it more closely. It reached out with one washed white paw, but then its ears pricked as it heard the sound of splashing and clumping, like a horse making its clumsy way through the soggy area. The fish was forgotten. The white cat pulled its head and paw back, then untangled itself from the reeds and began to move in the direction of the noise. Behind it, unnoticed, the fish's eye rolled to watch it depart.

The sound led it to a horse and rider. The white cat hid under a long tuft of grass that had fallen over under its own weight, the tips working their way back into the soggy ground. It was a damp hiding place, but the cat took no notice, remaining perfectly still as the rider came into view.

Even at the distance the white cat could tell there was something wrong with the horse. There were large discolored patches, as if it had lost fur, and it moved with a tottering trot in a perfectly straight line, making no effort to seek better footing or keep out of the water. A small figure sat on its back, wrapped in dark cloth and with a massive black sword strapped to its back.

As the horse came closer the white cat revised its earlier estimation. Almost all of the fur on the horse was missing, and the discolored patches it had noticed were areas the skin had been lost. Bone showed through on one leg, where the thin flesh had worn away.

The rider was hooded and facing straight forward. It was only when horse and rider came quite close that the angle allowed the cat to make out the rider's face, a young, pale child's.

The rider passed by the white cat's hiding place. After several minutes had passed and the rider had been nearly swallowed by the mist again, it slid from its hiding place and began to trail along silently behind. It came to a long strip of shallow water, newly churned black by the rider's passage, and without a moment's hesitation the white cat slid in, soaking itself to the chest, to follow.