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Three times during the First Age, deer-footed Mara concocted grand and insidious schemes to bring low the Chosen of Creation. Three times, her plans came to naught. Mara's prestige within Malfeas remains undiminished despite these failures, for the tools of her ambition still abide in the world and much cautionary lore regarding them has vanished in the fires of cataclysm and revolt. The Black Claw style was her second plan, and while it failed, it has not passed from existence and might still bear fruit in this Age or the next.

Also known variously as the Fainting Maiden style or the Mouse-Seizes-Bear Art, Black Claw style utilizes the tools of misdirection, perception and love as its primary weapons. Victory is grasped by opening oneself utterly to the aggressions of one's foe so that he castigates himself as thoroughly as his victim. Defeat is mollified by exposing the perfidy of the victorious.

Black Claw style has two qualities that differentiate it from other Celestial Martial Arts. First, like all demon-created Celestial arts, any demon of any circle may practice the style so long as the spirit satisfies all relevant trait minimums. Second, Mara's association with perverse relationships bleeds into every Charm, inseparably binding sifu and student. It is impossible to know the secrets of this style without being exposed to the innermost heart of one's instructor, and impossible to understand that knowledge without accepting what is within that heart. So it is that every Black Claw practitioner bears an Intimacy of genuine and unbreakable love toward his teacher. No amount of natural persuasion or scenes spent working against this love can weaken the Intimacy. Only unnatural mental influence can sever the emotional connection, and even then, every scene in which the character invokes a Black Claw style Charm counts as a scene spent rebuilding the Intimacy.

This style gained popularity in Creation during the First Deliberative Era of the Old Realm. Its practice, which began among several of Brigid's students, quickly flourished throughout the Solar and Lunar community. Its first Exalted practitioners viewed the style as a quaint and amusing demon-trap, its dangers easily seen and avoided so that its benefits could be enjoyed. However, as the art spread far and wide, it came to be regarded with unease—while conquered demons were of no threat to the Realm, the idea of a power bloc forming among young Solars bonded in love to a handful of mighty teachers (all the worse if those teachers were Lunars, or Sidereals!) was quite alarming. So it was that after a few short centuries Queen Merela outlawed the style and brutally suppressed its schools. Those without the personal or political power to ignore the law were bonded in Eclipse-sanctified oaths to forsake the practice of the style. Save for a handful of lovestruck outlaws, it fell from the history of Creation.

The Black Claw style likewise proved disruptive to the regimented chaos of the Demon City. Because it allowed the weak to bond the mighty to themselves in chains of love, Cecelyne issued a partial proscription against the style, sanctioning its use only by citizens of Malfeas. Orabilis, who does not consider love to be a form of wisdom, tasked his soul Florivet with rooting out illegal schools within the Demon City. However, the Whim-of-the-Wind has rarely bothered looking since he became an adventurer. On the rare occasions when he uncovers demonic serfs making unauthorized use of the Black Claw, he defeats them in gaudy and spectacular public fights, but this happens less and less as time goes on. The public resentment against him after such battles makes Florivet sullen and unenthusiastic.

Now, as the Reclamation begins, Black Claw style is experiencing a resurgence. Mara has already taken on several Green Sun Princes as students (and lovers), and it will not be long before they establish their first school in Creation.

Weapons and Armor: Black Claw style may only be practiced with bare hands, and without armor. An appearance of martial readiness would undermine practitioners' posture of unjustly assaulted innocence.

Complementary Abilities: To properly grasp the insights upon which the style is founded, a student must possess at least two dots spread in any fashion among Larceny, Socialize and Performance.

Open Palm Caress

Cost: 4m, Mins: Martial Arts 2, Essence 2
Type: Reflexive
Keywords: Combo-OK, Illusion
Duration: Instant
Prerequisite Charms: None

From the beginning, things start to go wrong. Righteous heroes find themselves cast as a vicious bullies when they fight a student of the Black Claw — even if the martial artist picked the fight himself. This Charm supplements a Join Battle action, adding the user's Essence in bonus successes.

Regardless of whether the Join Battle roll permits the martial artist to act first, compare the result to the Dodge MDV of all other characters who witness the fight begin (including all combatants). If the roll result is higher, they suffer an unnatural Illusion effect which costs two Willpower to resist, convincing them that the martial artist's opponents initiated hostilities. This even applies to the opponents themselves, who may suddenly find themselves quite confused about why they are attacking the character. Characters that do not pay this cost upfront can pay four Willpower to correct their memories later, but only with external prompting or a compelling personal reason to question the memory and not until a day has passed since they last encountered the martial artist. Minds need distance from such a toxic presence before they can think clearly. This Charm may enhance only the first Join Battle roll the character makes in a fight.

Torn Lotus Defense

Cost: 2m; Mins: Martial Arts 3, Essence 2; Type: Reflexive (step 10)
Keywords: Combo-OK, Emotion
Duration: Instant
Prerequisite Charms: None

Every Black Claw student must submit to his sifu. As one whose heart has already been conquered, he knows that any greater defeat is impossible. The martial artist draws on the memory of his love and channels it into his stance, projecting unmistakable and fragile resolution: a sight to move the hearts of gods and demons alike.

This Charm may be invoked when the character successfully negates an attack with his DV. The aggressor is struck by the character's posture of resolute defiance, and treats the successful defense as a scene spent working toward building a positive Intimacy for the martial artist. The specific emotional context of the Intimacy, be it respect, admiration, or even unexpected love, depends on the context of the situation and may be chosen by the attacker’s player. This unnatural mental influence costs one Willpower to resist.

This Charm will not function if evoked in conjunction with a Charm possessing a Flaw of Invulnerability (or equivalent effect, such as an Infernal Imperfection); the martial artist's beauty lies in his weakness, not his invulnerable strength.

Flexing the Emerald Claw

Cost: 3m or 4m; Mins: Martial Arts 3, Essence 2
Type: Supplemental
Duration: Instant
Prerequisite Charms: Open Palm Caress, Torn Lotus Defense

Even for the unjustly wronged, there comes a time to strike back. Students of the Black Claw opt to do so with deceptive force. By paying three motes to supplement an unarmed attack, the martial artist's hand becomes wreathed in a bilious green spray of Essence. If the attack hits, it inflicts normal damage and the victim becomes afflicted with a dose of poison with the following statistics: (7L/action, 3, —/—, -2). This poison is exceptionally subtle, displaying no outward symptoms as it destroys its victim from the inside. By paying four motes instead, the martial artist may veil his strike in an unnatural Illusion effect, removing the Obvious tag for all observers save the Charm's target. This Illusion may be ignored by observers who spend one Willpower.

Black Claw Form

Cost: 5m; Mins: Martial Arts 4, Essence 3
Type: Supplemental
Duration: One Scene
Prerequisite Charms: Flexing the Emerald Claw

The martial artist assumes a defensive posture, equally declarative of his unwillingness to fight and his readiness to defend himself regardless. During Step 9 of any attack directed against him, the character may pay one mote to leap away from his aggressor (Appearance) yards, although the character does not actually move until after Step 10 has been resolved.

Additionally, as only a brute would assault such a reluctant opponent, each attack directed at the character causes any onlookers to act as though the attacker had just spent a scene eroding any positive Intimacies they might feel toward him. This unnatural Emotion effect costs one Willpower to ignore for the rest of the scene with regard to that attacker. Witnesses with higher Essence than the Charm's user who pay this cost ignore its influence with regard to all attackers.

Finally, the character may parry lethal and ranged attacks without a stunt or Charm, and Torn Lotus Defense does not count as a Charm activation while this Form is active.

Storm-Calming Embrace

Cost: 3m; Mins: Martial Arts 5, Essence 3
Type: Reflexive
Duration: Until next action
Prerequisite Charms: Black Claw Form

Despite being cruelly assaulted, the martial artist clasps his opponent to him. Swallowing his rancor, he does nothing to escalate the fight—such virtue! This Charm allows the martial artist to add his Essence rating in dice to all attempts to establish, maintain or control a grapple. However, a clinch enhanced by this Charm may only be used to apply a hold, not to crush or throw.

Incidentally, as a Crippling effect, the target the martial artist is holding automatically fails all Toxicity rolls, and any poisons in the target's system add the L tag to their Toxicity.

Doe Eyes Defense

Cost: 2m; Mins: Martial arts 5, Essence 3
Type: Reflexive (step 2)
Keywords: Combo-OK, Emotion
Duration: Instant
Prerequisite Charms: Black Claw Form

The Black Claw practitioner is well aware that vulnerability is his greatest defense, and exploits it ruthlessly. The martial artist falls back hurriedly in response to an attack, his every movement accentuating his inferiority in the face of the oncoming assault. Realization of her target's weakness unnerves or unduly excites the attacker, depending on her temperament, causing her to experience an internal penalty on her attack roll equal to the martial artist's (Appearance + 2). This unnatural mental influence costs two Willpower to ignore. In the First Age, this technique was also sometimes known as the Fainting Maiden Ward, or the Painted Boy Defense.

Table-Turning Reversal

Cost: 6m; Mins: Martial Arts 5, Essence 3
Type: Reflexive (step 9)
Keywords: Combo-OK, Counterattack, Emotion
Duration: Instant
Prerequisite Charms: Black Claw Form

Only a coward would use a weapon to strike down an unarmed man. All Creation rejoices to see a bully given a dose of his own medicine, and the martial artist is the one to do it.

This Charm is activated in response to an attack; regardless of whether the attack succeeds, the martial artist may launch a counterattack. This counterattack is a standard disarm attempt (see Exalted, p.158), save that rather than knocking the opponent's weapon away, the martial artist steals and reflexively equips it. If the counterattack succeeds, he may treat the pilfered weapon as though it were an unarmed attack for the purpose of all Black Claw style Charms then for the rest of the scene or until the weapon leaves his grasp, whichever comes first. Weapons made entirely of Essence and attuned artifact weapons are not valid targets for this Charm.

Additionally, all characters who witness a successful disarm performed with this Charm treat the sight as a scene of work toward building a positive Intimacy for the martial artist. The emotional context of this Intimacy is chosen by the observer’s player. This unnatural mental influence costs one Willpower to resist.

Outrage-Kindling Cry

Cost: 10m, 1wp; Mins: Martial Arts 5, Essence 4
Type: Reflexive (step 9)
Keywords: Combo-basic, Compulsion, Counterattack
Duration: Instant
Prerequisite Charms: Storm-Calming Embrace, Doe Eyes Defense, Table-turning Reversal

These things are natural in Creation, but not Malfeas: To cheer for the underdog, to feel one's heart go out to another in pain, and to abhor injustice. Thus pious critics of Black Claw style are revealed as hypocrites; this technique employs the weapons of Creation, not Hell.

This Charm may be activated in response to an attack that successfully strikes the martial artist. It takes the form of a kiai that compresses the character's agony into a heart-rending wail. Roll ([ Manipulation or Appearance ] + Performance), adding a number of successes equal to any wound penalties the martial artist may be suffering, and apply it against the Dodge MDV of all witnesses within earshot save for the attacker himself. Those who succumb to this unnatural mental influence (spending the standard one Willpower to resist immunizes a listener for the rest of the scene) suffer a Compulsion to assault the martial artist's attacker and to protect the martial artist. This behavior persists until either the attacker or the martial artist has been out of sight for one minute, or the scene ends, whichever comes first.

The attack is considered automatically successful against all listeners who have a positive intimacy toward the martial artist, a negative intimacy toward the attacker, or who believe the attacker started the fight.

Heart-Ripping Claw

Cost: 4m, 1wp; Mins: Martial Arts 5, Essence 5
Type: Supplemental
Keywords: Combo-OK, Obvious
Duration: Instant
Prerequisite Charms: Outrage-Kindling Cry

This is the secret final technique of the Black Claw style. In the past, many teachers kept this Charm to themselves. Though the Yozis have forbidden their progeny from withholding it from the Green Sun Princes, it seems likely that many of the style's Infernal masters may likewise neglect to mention Heart-Ripping Claw when they establish their schools in Creation.

Eight wisdoms live at the heart of Black Claw style: Love is a lie; innocence is a lie; blame is a lie; lies are inescapable. Children betray their parents; gods betray their makers; students betray their teachers; betrayal is inescapable. Wise masters are ready to strike first, and strike better.

Enhancing an unarmed attack with this Charm causes the attacking limb to be wreathed in a corona of screaming black shadows, razor-edged and lashing. An attack so enhanced inflicts lethal damage, and adds a raw damage bonus equal to twice the martial artist's Essence rating.

Moreover, if the Black Claw master is held in someone's heart, he cannot fail to strike that mark. This Charm acts as an unblockable and undodgeable attack against any target harboring a positive Intimacy toward the martial artist. If the attack would have missed such a target without this Charm, then it strikes with a threshold of 0 successes. If the target has an Intimacy of love toward the martial artist, then the attack inflicts aggravated damage in addition to the benefits mentioned above. If this Charm slays an opponent, the Infernal tears the target’s heart out of their chest and holds it in his fist as it crumbles to ash.

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