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Wyldwraith
Essence 1
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Joined: 07 May 2018, 13:51

Silver and Gold Against Green (Exalted SI)

21 May 2018, 02:25

Chapter 1: A Meeting In Madness
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The intruder had defeated or circumvented what traps he'd encountered easily enough. It was the numerous instances of deadly sorcery hidden within the glassy gray floor, walls, and ceiling of the ancient tomb that had proven themselves insidious obstacles. The would-be tomb raider was capable of shredding the complex configurations of standing Essence maintaining each spell. The cost to destroy sorcery in such a fool-proof manner was not insignificant however. Therein lay the true peril of the sentinel spell-work. There were many beings in Creation's Eastern quarter possessed of both the inclination to rob a tomb such as this, and the power to break spells of the Emerald Circle. The number of entities capable of performing the feat again and again was smaller, but still significant. Few of that number could shatter so much sorcery without utterly exhausting themselves however. Leaving such a spell-breaker without the resources to overcome whatever dangers remained between them and the prize protected by the tomb. Exactly as those who'd designed such sepulchers hoped to catch those naturally drawn to them. The rightful owner of the crypt's contents had known all this long before entering. Exhaustive research, hard-won experience and...another, far more unique source of knowledge had all indicated as much.

The tall, lean and rangy-framed thief had simply failed to prepare himself for the emotional experience inherent to the only viable solution to the sorcerous challenge. "Six Yozis-Bedamned-Hours!" Davion had silently raged. Six mind-numbing stop and start hours of systematically locating, tripping and then escaping the sorcery as it roared to life. Struggling all the while to use as little Essence as possible to escape the unleashed magicks. Now, covered in the cooling sweat of sustained exertion, he stood before a nondescript door. Behind him lay four hallways, the blackened, slashed, pitted and melted surfaces of which standing as mute testament to the hate-laden conviction of the crypt's designer.

Three examinations of the door all told Davion the same thing. "It either isn't trapped, or the nature of the trap precludes its discovery while it remains inactive" the Child of the Burning Moon mused pensively. As he considered the door, he considered also his reasons for coming to the depths of this treacherous funerary monument. Within his dreams of another man's life and death had been the promise of something he badly needed. Something which called to him, as much for his own as his need's sake. The determination borne of that need had driven him relentlessly throughout years of searching. Yet he remembered also the oft-repeated warning of his sifu. You are nearest failure when you stand on the cusp of success. Nearest total defeat while just short of complete victory. It is the river dragon you don't see that will drown and devour you. The words of his venerable sifu lingered in mind, as he brushed long, straight and pine needle green hair from where sweat had matted it to his forehead. Then he tapped his Silver Lunar Resolution for Essence. The dark green; long-sleeved shirt of essence spider silk and brown slacks the seeker wore disappeared. Replaced by light, flexible and form-fitting plates of white bone armor via Armor-Forming Technique. Finally, the warrior opened the door.

Nothing happened. No torrent of lava rushed at him. No great structural collapse threatened to crush him. No rush of oncoming sorcery attempted to rend life and limb. Just a doorway, opening onto a large rectangular chamber devoid of construction or ornamentation. The apparent emptiness of the room before him coupled with the door's lack of security to significantly increase the unease Davion was feeling. He studied the portion of archway previously concealed by the closed door, yet found nothing to justify the sense of immediate peril tingling within him. Finally, faced with leaving empty-handed as his only alternative, he stepped through the doorway swiftly and decisively.

The jade-steel slab dropped in absolute silence. Its descent somehow lacking even the minute resistance of air being displaced along its leading edge. The complete lack of sensory cues during the plate's fall, and the indirect nature of the threat posed by the deadfall meant the Lunar discovered he'd been trapped the same time any other scavenger-lord would have. When the resounding crash of the great deadfall violently coming to rest just behind him reached his keen ears.

Human nature insisted he should look in the direction such a loud noise came from. Brutal and protracted training reminded him his back was now effectively to a wall and everywhere ELSE needed to be scanned for threats first. The fraction of an instant not lost glancing over his shoulder due to that training saved the Lunar's life. The hulking figure appeared out of thin air on his right in mid-swing. A tiny part of the Full Moon's mind noted the Erymanthus had somehow defeated the Wary Swallow Method that should have warned him of the gorilla-shaped Demon's surprise attack. In the fraction of a second he had before the blow fell, the Exalt jumped straight up. Instead of the skull, the ape-demon's great fist struck the bone plating covering his chest. The force of the blow blasted the Exalt from the air. Driving the warrior back into the alloyed plate behind him with a great Thud.

Sliding down the wall to land on his feet unhurt, Davion sized up his enemy in a moment. The blood ape was larger and heavier than others of its kind he'd seen. The half-ton monster would be over eight feet tall, if it ever stood fully erect. The bristly; rust-red fur covering the creature's form was gray; almost white in places. Many of the bone spikes protruding from the Demon's brow and forearms were significantly longer and thicker than average, yet they were also yellowed, chipped, and even broken in places. All traits indicative of a longevity rarely seen in a species infamous for its love of bloodshed. The warrior recognized its advanced age meant the Demon was an effective killer with a talent for survival. "It'd have to be, to have lived so long in the hell of Malfeas" he thought.

Wary since realizing the Demon was more than it appeared to be, Davion moved decisively to widen the distance between them. Seeking to keep him hemmed in and with his back to the wall, the blood ape used the advantage in reach conferred by its inhumanly long arms as it worked to do the opposite and catch its prey in an inescapable bear-hug. The hulking being was surprisingly fast for something of its size and build, but the Lunar escaped the attempted clinch by adroitly ducking beneath an outstretched arm, and then seamlessly transitioning into the forward roll that carried him past the huge gorilla-shaped creature. Reaching the center of the room, the agile Lunar used his remaining momentum to gracefully regain his feet, facing in the Erymanthus's direction. A sudden suspicion brought a grin to the wiry Exalt's face.

"Before we continue attempting to kill each other, I would have the name of the venerable Erymanthus opposing me. What say you, warrior of Malfeas?" Davion requested. The Demon paused in its advance, a speculative expression giving its coarse features an intelligent cast they hadn't previously possessed. When it finally spoke, it did so in Old Realm, the language of the First Age and the tongue of Gods, Elementals and Demons.

"You face Drekhal Bronzehand, weapon of the betrayers. I resent the interminable nature of my binding, so I am willing to kill you swiftly, if you submit now. I shall even wait until you are dead to begin cracking your bones for their marrow. Now, what say you?" Drekhal offered, its voice inhumanly deep and full of faintly echoing cracking noises.

"Thank you, Drekhal Bronzehand. I will remember your name, and call upon you the next time I need a skilled fighter willing to get his hands dirty. Until then, BEGONE DEMON!" Davion finished with a roar, making the occult gesture-mudra of Victory Over the Primordials with his left hand. His Full Moon caste-mark glowed fiercely, its silver radiance setting aflame the intricate web of Moonsilver tattoos which had just appeared atop the bone plates currently covering the Lunar's body. The silver-white corona of light shone with a steady intensity from the Chosen of Luna, who bared his teeth in a snarl of mental effort which displayed his prominent canines. The determined Exalt's will clashed with that of the Demon's for one very long; very tense minute. Then the reality of the blood ape's heavily muscled body was consumed in emerald fire, as the Erymanthus was cast out of Creation and back to its home in the hell of Malfeas.

His caste-mark still a blazing brand of silver on his brow, Davion turned and stalked to the door at the far end of the chamber. Wise now to the architectural genius that had deceived him, he ran his hands slowly along the upper portion of the archway framing the door and concentrated. The argent light surrounding him grew brighter, then he nodded to himself; satisfied to find no deadfall or other traps waiting for him. The door opened onto a chamber lacking the illumination of the brightly glowing crystals present in lieu of torches throughout the rest of the tomb. The Lunar found himself smiling despite his frustration, as he found the silvery white radiance coming from the roused anima that marked him an Exalt useful, rather than troublesome or life-threatening for a change.

A smile which died the instant he stepped into the room. The coffin was the same shiny, gray, marble-like stone as the slab it rested on. The same featureless and unadorned stone from which this chamber in particular, and the entire tomb in general, had been constructed. "In fact, now that I look closer...Yeah, even the polished appearance of all this stone is completely incidental. I've seen stone like this before. No wonder I didn't see a single curve anywhere. They raised this tomb quick and dirty, using bound Elementals. The damned death-traps and hidden spell-work were the only things the damned snake-bloods put any effort into" Davion recognized. That recognition made him sad, angry,...and ashamed of the hypocrisy inherent in his feelings. "How many times have I given a First Age or Contagion-era ruin no more thought than what I could glean from it? The hungry ghosts were rather emphatic reminders of the great many people who'd died horribly in those places. Yet I blithely treated the homes and businesses of the people they came from as nothing more than locales to loot. Only to get upset when a man I admire wasn't given his due?" he asked himself, shaking his head in disgust at the double-standard.

Still, the emotions wouldn't go away. Making his way to the sarcophagus, the bronze-skinned Haltan found himself whispering "I'll make them pay, Argent Lion. I have made them pay. I know Glennaela wasn't a monster, no matter how many Immaculates preach otherwise. I...I wish I remembered more, but I remember enough to hope I become half the man you were before my time is done. I'm sorry about this, but Creation is in deep, deep trouble. I need the weapon Glennaela made for you. It's my sincerest hope you've long since passed into Lethe, but on the off chance you haven't and you can hear this, I apologize for what I'm about to do. They have to be stopped, Khyzin. I'm the only one on Creation's side with the full picture, at least so far as I know. I have a plan, but I need all the help I can get. I need the Thorn, my long-ago predecessor" Davion explained with passion.

The coffin lid slid aside easily and almost soundlessly when he pushed. The Lunar let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding when his gaze locked onto the object he'd spent the last ten years searching for. Reverently, he reached into the coffin and removed the weapon his dreams of another man's life had lead him to. At first glance, the Iridescent Thorn could be taken for an unusually short daiklaive with a strange hilt. It wasn't until the Silver Blade attuned the weapon that the truth became apparent. Fashioned mostly of Moonsilver, its haft lengthened to its full four foot length to balance the twenty-inch double edged sword-like blade the Dire Glaive ended in. The alloying Starmetal made to flow like Moonsilver using First Age methods gave the weapon half its name, while the masterful thorned-vine filligree of the haft and water-marked onto the blade explained the other half. Completing the attuning process, the Full Moon's intuitive grasp of the deadly First Age weapon's nature and corresponding capabilities caused his eyes to widen. "The dreams under-sold the Thorn" he murmured in realization. Still, the nagging sense the other shoe had yet to drop continued to dog him. He was so entranced by the Iridescent Thorn, he almost missed the small metallic glint amidst the dust of the remains. Reaching back in, he extracted ring of smooth Starmetal. The ring's plain setting housed a large white stone, polished to a high sheen, with depths that seemed to shift like the clouds in the sky. Thinking it an odd find, yet unwilling to commit the Essence to attune it at present, Davion tucked the ring away in Elsewhere. With one last look to ensure he hadn't missed anything else, he turned and made his way from the burial chamber.

Standing before the jade-steel plate again, the Lunar confidently fed a mote of Essence into the Thorn. The glaive's edge now limned in a green-white light, he struck diagonally downward from right to left. The blade of the Dire Glaive bit deep into the plate, completing the cut with only minimal resistance. The green-white energy quickly flowed like liquid from the blade, into the resulting furrow. Acrid white smoke smelling of something like ozone billowed from the cut made. Ten seconds later the upper triangular portion of the several inch thick slab fell inward to land with a crash, leaving the marble floor spider-webbed with cracks four feet from the once more usable portal. Smiling delightedly, Davion was about to slip through the opening made by his new weapon, when he suddenly slapped his forehead. He held out his free hand and summoned from Elsewhere a triangular-faceted garnet and perfectly smooth emerald orb. Hearthstones he'd had no settings for since his amulet was destroyed three months earlier. The two Hearthstones fit perfectly into the pair of settings in the haft of the Thorn, as if the settings were designed for them. Nodding his satisfaction, yet chagrined by what was for him an extremely uncharacteristic lack of attention to detail, Davion slipped through the opening and into the tunnel beyond.

Returning to the tomb's entrance took over an hour at the leisurely pace the Lunar negotiated the hallways ruined traps. By the time he reached the entrance, his anima slumbered once more. The returning Essence from the fitted Hearthstones partially allayed the feeling nagging at him, but could not dispel it entirely. "The full moon is enough to put me on edge, of course. I lost it last month, when I killed those ravagers, but..." Davion thought with some trepidation. Before stepping from the tomb, he again tapped his Silver Lunar Resolution. As he'd suspected might happen, given the anticipated full moon, Wyld-Sensing Instincts reported the Wyld had surged Creation-ward since he went inside. The tomb was now a Waypoint of the Middlemarches.

Emerging into the open air, Davion gritted his teeth at the momentary upwelling of emotion as the full moon's light touched his flesh. The feeling receded an instant later, but the reminder of what it portended set the fighter even more on edge than he'd already been. Remembering the warning he'd viewed, he looked about the area carefully. He felt the other shoe drop, as a slender man man of supremely self-assured bearing, dressed in the blue jade armor of a Wyld Hunt Venerer, appeared from within a shadowy distortion some ten feet away. He was followed by five Dragon-Blooded in jade armor of various colors and types. The Lunar didn't recognize the supposed lord of the Wyld Hunt, or the four Dragon-Bloods fanning out behind the oldest of their number, but the most senior of the Terrestrials was one whose face he knew. Author of a hundred senseless massacres, and lover of serial rape and arson as a "tribute negotiating tactic"...Sesus Chenow, the chief enforcer of House Sesus in the Threshold, was a monster in the shape of a man.
 
Wyldwraith
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Re: Silver and Gold Against Green (Exalted SI)

07 Jun 2018, 22:34

Chapter 2: Pride Goeth...
Resplendent Wood 14th, RY 768

Concealed by a Charm of the Dragon Blooded, and the shadow cast by the huge; misshapen tree behind them, Tepet Gaius studied the Wyld-tainted animal as it emerged from the tomb. Scarlet eyes full of stars narrowed, as he spotted the silver circle glittering faintly on the creature's forehead. "Plentimon's smirk! Why did it have to be one of the Frenzied? I've more than enough manpower to threaten an Ogre sorcerer from multiple directions simultaneously, and the lies of the Tricksters find little purchase in the minds of Terrestrials able to draw on the support of their fellows. Reclaiming Ryzala's property by force will mean a large expenditure of Essence. That could be spotted in the Loom, even here at the edge of Creation. Worse, if the disruption gets traced back to me it'll mean an audit. That traitor Ayesha Uru would see to that. The...lapse in judgment I owe Ryzala for concealing would come out, and so would Ryzala's part in covering it up. Earning me the enmity of the most powerful goddess in Yu-Shan, short of the Incarnae!" the tall, rail-thin; black haired Dynast-born fumed. He would have continued his silent rant, except for what he noticed just then. The previously crystalline glass which had, up until a moment ago, simply been glinting in the moonlight, now began crawling about as hundreds of tiny glass serpents of many different sorts. A quick Charm confirmed the Chosen of Battles suspicion.

"The Wyld just surged Creation-ward. This spot's in the Middlemarches now! I doubt even fifty Terrestrials, all burning Essence simultaneously, could be perceived for what they were in the Loom. I'll have to make a sacrifice to Luranume, Master of Five-Fold Luck, once I return to Heaven. Let this be a lesson to me, not to worry myself into a ...heh, frenzy, over nothing. The reports I studied made it clear: Over ninety-five percent of Anathema who have been observed robbing tombs were newly Exalted. This will be over in less than a minute, no matter how unreasonable the animal decides to be. Then I can retrieve Ryzala's property, return it, and forget this entire mess" the Sidereal reasoned, a malicious grin momentarily creasing his severe features. The expression had vanished without a trace by the time he turned and silently signaled to the leader of the Terrestrial band.

Stepping from the concealment of shadow and distortion-field, the Chosen of Mars made a show of looking the Lunar up a down. He noted the green hair and bronze skin, the silver eyes and attractive symmetry of the shapeshifter's face. Mentally, he catalogued the bipedal beast's six foot stature and the lean muscle covering the Lunar's rather slender frame. The deep green shirt of Essence Spider-silk was a bit of an anomaly. "He moved like a cat...probably relies on his agility. Makes sense it would wear something lightweight for protection. Something most people would take for a simple article of clothing. Likely not as strong or tough as those of its kind that favor brute force though" the Chosen of Battles analyzed. After a few moments, Tepet Gaius began. Behind him, the Dragon Blooded were beginning to fan out as they'd agreed, lending weight to his statement.

"I require the relic you just desecrated this tomb to claim, Anathema. There is no need for you to die at my hands tonight, if you turn it over voluntarily. Refuse to comply, and your death will be as slow as it is excruciating. What is your decision?" the Sidereal inquired in a tone of studied indifference.

For a few moments, Davion simply stared at the other man. Then, instead of responding to the demand, the Lunar put the thumb and index finger of his free right hand to his lips and whistled piercingly. As the sound of the Lunar's whistling died away, the unearthly echoes of a hunting horn sounded from every shadow. The baying of hounds soon answered the horn's call, creating a din so loud it was painful. Then the unseen beasts fell silent, as a figure stepped literally out of the shadow cast by the tomb.

Arrayed in glimmering ebon scale armor from neck to toe, with a cloak of dark green leaves billowing dramatically behind her despite the windless night, she was tall and well-muscled, yet appealingly curvaceous. Her snow white hair fell long and straight past her shoulderblades, kept from her face by a thin diadem constructed of two curved; opalescent fangs. The slitted golden eyes of a serpent stared unblinking from an inhumanly beautiful, icy-white face. Well over six feet tall, the huntress bore a great leaf-bladed spear forged from the darkness of a moonless night in her white, long-fingered hands. Striding from the shadow, she faced the Lunar, and stated dramatically "I come in fulfillment of my vow, Dread Nemesis. To fulfill my pledge, what service must I perform?" Realizing their enemy intended resistance, the Sidereal and three of the accompanying Dragon Blooded surged forward. Of the remaining pair, the (literally) bronze-skinned Air Aspect's anima suddenly blossomed into swirling gusts of blue-gray clouds for no outwardly visible reason, while the green-skinned orange-haired archer's anima of dark green thorn tangles whirled into being as four thorn-covered arrows were set flying in a heartbeat.

Urgently responding to the Faerie, Davion commanded "Without using tactics or methods that will injure, kill, or transport me elsewhere: Defeat, drive off, or at least keep the Sidereal presently disguising himself as a Venerer of the Wyld Hunt fully occupied defending himself, until I depart. Do this, and by Cup, Staff, Ring, and Sword, I pronounce your Oath fulfilled; Cahlenna of the Opal Court." Turning her golden serpent-eyes from the Lunar, the Faerie gave a throaty laugh as her gaze alighted on her designated quarry. A smile that was purely predatory curved lips the color of bright blood, revealing slender; almost dainty, bone-white fangs. Without taking her eyes from her prey, the Raksha noble offhandedly remarked "A Whore of the Slattern Stars, truly? I had thought to...creatively interpret whatever request you made, but this I would do freely. How cleverly contrived, Moon-Child Nemesis of mine!" With a jaunty touch of the fanged diadem she wore, the Fae took her impossible spear in both hands and shouted in a voice like a clarion "Have at you then, Star-Born!" A single superhuman bound carried the Faerie warrior to her chosen foe, night-spear and Starmetal daiklave drawing sparks as they clashed. Each spark spawning either a bird or serpent of black or iridescent flame, depending on which direction a spark flew.

Spotting the thorned shafts hurtling toward him, the Lunar's caste mark suddenly burned bright. From his foes' perspective, he simply vanished an instant before the quartet of arrows would have pierced him. To Davion's surprise, all five Terrestrials turned almost in unison to face the spot where he'd appeared some thirty yards to the right of the advancing trio. Moonlight Hunt allowed him to utilize the Wyld's very cavalier relationship with spatial relations to effectively teleport about the battlefield as he willed. The mobility advantage the Charm afforded him was great, but still worse was to come for the Dragon Bloods. Planting Iridescent Thorn upright in the ground, he grew great talons of argent on each fingertip with Claws of the Silver Moon. The silver claws grew slimmer, more needle-like, and altogether more menacing as the Full Moon continued pouring Essence into them. Shifting position again to dodge another arrow, Davion appeared twenty yards ahead of the melee-oriented trio. As before, the attention of all five Terrestrials swung his way the instant he reappeared. Tattoos ablaze with silver fire, he eyed the hulking gray-skinned brute of an Earth-Aspect. The huge, heavily muscled man's great strength was readily apparent in the way he effortlessly hefted a grand goremaul of white jade. Making his decision, Davion readied his claws and called on Spreading the Wyld Roots. Lashing out with a great under-handed swipe of talons so sharp the air hissed as they carved through it.

Then the impossible happened, as the impossible was wont to occur in the Wyld. For an instant, the fabric of space warped and folded back on itself again and again, and again. Six times space folded, cutting the intervening ninety feet separating the Lunar and Earth-Aspect to nothing, as five additional copies of the single attack made were irrationally levied on the Dragon Blood's body. The Earth-Aspect's anima suddenly flared to its maximum intensity, as he reflexively poured Essence into every defensive Charm he could bring to bear. An image of the Imperial Mountain formed around the huge Terrestrial, as his body finally turned to solid stone. The layered defensive Charms and white jade plate mail defeated the first five clawed swipes, but there was no stopping the final attack. Shards of white jade-steel alloy flew, as the granite-skinned warrior's guts were opened and his chest messily bisected. As the huge Dragon Blooded fell, enraged shouts of denial came in near-unison from the four survivors. A single glance passed between Sesus Chenow and his fellow Fire-Aspect, then both lifted from the ground simultaneously and hurtled toward the slayer of their brother with daiklaves raised.

Rather than teleport once more, Davion's anima blazed still brighter. Invoked World-Bending Guardian Attentiveness, he called Iridescent Thorn back to his hands, and then charged to meet the two Fire-Aspects head-on. Red-orange flames wreathed Chenow's blade, as it darted forward in six impossibly fast cuts at the left side of the Lunar's throat. Then the Wyld surged around them. A tiny hummingbird made of black flame darted into the daiklave's path, its wildly disproportionate mass turning the blade enough to miss its target. Exploding as it was cut in half, the force of the blast foiled the follow-up strike as well. The black flame momentarily coated the flaming sword like a strange sort of gore, before coalescing into a python of ebon fire that weighed the daiklave down. Shaking the impossibly heavy fire-serpent from the blade spoiled yet another cut. Three more clanging impacts rang out in rapid succession, as the air turned hard as steel in the burning blade's path.

The chief enforcer of House Sesus sputtered in disbelief, shouting "THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE!" Smiling darkly, Davion replied "Indeed it is, but that impossibility defends me. Your kind drove mine from Creation, and now you're indignant we have the advantage out here? How very....Dragon Blooded of you." The dire glaive of Moonsilver and Starmetal glowed with a viridian light in the Lunar warrior's clawed hands, as a roaring silver and white-maned lion appeared above and behind Davion. The Thorn's blade cut towards Chenow's neck faster than a mortal could blink, but then the other Fire Aspect's anima leapt upward. Chenow was thrown bodily from the path of the dire glaive by his brother's blurring body, but the unnamed Fire-Aspect who'd been quick enough to save him wasn't fast enough to save himself. The dire glaive's glowing blade cut through the back of his skull almost without resistance. A brace of thorn-covered arrows hissed past the falling Fire Aspect's body, but the Lunar had vanished once more.

To appear directly behind the Wood-Aspect archer. The Terrestrial fighters had witnessed several of Davion's thirty-meter shifts by now, and this had lead them; at least subconsciously, to believe he could "teleport" no further. Now, he disabused the archer concerning his range by severing his spine with a downward left-to-right at a forty-five degree angle. A look of surprise still twisted the dying man's features as he collapsed bonelessly. As he raised the Thorn to strike at the metal-skinned sorcerer beside the dying archer, he saw an expression of sudden agony twist the fine-boned sorcerer's bronze features. Glancing downward, the Lunar spotted a large cobra made entirely of rainbow-colored flames, its fangs still embedded in the sorcerer's right leg. His pants-leg had already burned away, revealing bronze turned green with corrosion. The still-living, but clearly paralyzed Terrestrial's leg continued to darken, as the corrosive venom spread outward and upward. Shaking his head, the Lunar raised his weapon and delivered a decapitating mercy stroke. The blow elicited another howl from Sesus Chenow, this one more desolate than furious. For an instant, Davion considered simply leaving the Sesus alive to wallow in survivor's guilt.

Then good sense reasserted itself, as the Lunar reminded himself "That's the sort of idiotic decision that would leave this murdering, serial rapist filth obsessed with vengeance, and willing to sell his soul to the Yozis in exchange for the power to take said revenge. Presto, instant recurring Akuma nemesis. I've enough problems stemming from Malfeas already. Nope, this asshole's time has come." A glance in their direction revealed Cahlenna had things well in hand with a very harried-looking Sidereal. An expression of what could only be called transcendent bliss dominated the Faerie warrior's inhumanly perfect features. Her every quicksilver movement appearing to have more in common with dance than mortal combat, as she thrust, whirled and bounded about her opponent amidst her delighted laughter. Shaking his head at the mad thing, Davion turned his attention back to his own opponent. He offhandedly beheaded first an adder made of opalescent pyrotechnics, and then the black fire-cobra responsible for the sorcerer's demise before either could strike at him, courtesy his Wary Swallow Method.

Flying close to the ground, Chenow had covered most of the sixty yards separating them. "The Dragons-damned Anathema must be nearing exhaustion by now. The demon's been burning Essence at every turn, but it's reserves are deeper than mine. The monster eluded my Ringing Anvil Onslaught...and the Wyld protects the demon. I..." Chenow paused, unable for a moment to articulate the thought. "I...I have to escape, so I can gather reinforcements and return to hunt the murdering monster down like the beast it is" he finally admitted to himself. Summoning most of his remaining Essence, he struck. Using his foe's location as a centering point, the powerful Fire-Aspect turned the battlefield surrounding the Lunar into a raging conflagration of billowing smoke and racing flames for a two hundred and fifty yard radius.

The sudden inferno caught all the other combatants by surprise. Cursing, Cahlenna leapt upward and landed on a shard of solid night that quickly bore her away. Teeth gritted in frustration, her Sidereal adversary tugged on the strand of his own Fate, convincing the Loom he'd never been there. Shocked, the tall Lunar impossibly dodged the flames for an instant. Long enough to wield Mist-Walking Prana to slip through a more enduring spatial anomaly and travel far from the battlefield. In seconds, the exhausted Dragon Blooded was the only one who remained. The rising flames troubled the Fire-Aspect not at all, as a great Fire Dragon with burnished scales of red and orange snarled and breathed flame from within his own anima.

Then the raging inferno surrounding the two hundred and fifty year-old Exalt changed. The billowing black smoke became inky-black fangs, eyes, and wings belonging to a many-hued wyrm the size of a small stadium. Bottomless ebon eyes the size of banquet-plates fixed on the behemoth's unwitting author, who screamed in terror and flew off, the wyrm in hot pursuit and gaining.

Almost a thousand miles away, Davion appeared just outside Kejeth, singed and reeking of smoke. Looking at the woods surrounding him, the Lunar breathed a sigh of relief. "That madman could have killed us all! Couldn't he see the theme the Waypoint had settled on was avian and ophidian archetypes fashioned from Fire and Wood?" he thought to himself. That's when he heard a man shout "Get her! If she gets away, she'll have the Monitors down on us in hours!" Looking down at his still-blazing anima, the Full Moon looked up, spotted a suitable tree branch about forty feet up the large redwood, and bounded up to clasp the branch. Climbing onto the branch, he continued up the tree until he had a good vantage on what transpired below. He said a quick prayer to Luna, hoping whoever passed beneath would attribute his silver radiance to the full moon's light.
 
Wyldwraith
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Re: Silver and Gold Against Green (Exalted SI)

15 Jul 2018, 23:42

Chapter 3: Well Met by Mischance
Resplendent Wood 14th, RY 768

Lireal Vendra was not a fan of the ground. Born and raised high in the trees, the prospect of spending one's entire life moving across a single fixed plane was mind-numbing to the supremely athletic scholar. As a young teen, the attractively fine-boned girl had been named a Verd Brachi, or "tree skimmer" in the native tongue of the reclusive People of the Forest. One of their ambassadors had spotted Lireal sprinting along a taut vine only a couple of inches wide, a hundred feet above the Haltan capitol's central tree-platform. The ambassador had declared it no mean feat even for one born to the Tribes of the Titan Trees. High praise, coming from one whose people had, legend said, been shaped by mighty magics during the Age of Splendors to thrive in the miles-high trees of the uttermost East. Lireal's mother, one of Chanta's most accomplished alchemist-healers, and the Guardswoman who'd apprehended her hadn't shared the ambassador's esteem for her skill and daring. The adolescent had been condemned to a solid six months of initially dreary herb grinding with mortar-and-pestle. A punishment which had, ironically enough, begun the young woman's lifetime love affair with thaumaturgy and the supernatural in general. Not that her more scholastic pursuits had ever dimmed her passion for skimming through the forest she so adored.

The memories brought a smile to the face of the bronze-skinned, emerald haired young woman with eyes the color of malachite. They heartened her, as she took a deep breath and finally stepped down from the branch-path into the city of Kajeth. When no terrible calamity beset her, Lireal let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding, and then laughed at her own foolishness. Her ebullient laughter garnered the attention of two Marukani men passing by, but the beautiful young woman simply favored them with a Yozis-may-care smile that left the middle-aged merchants in bleached-white riding leathers flustered and self-conscious. As she moved off, Lireal's keen ears brought a snippet of the pair's resuming conversation to her. What she heard made her stop and strain to hear more.

"...Council of Entities, the Guild, and the rest of Nexus is in an uproar over it. Rumor is, several Councillors even begged, but the Emissary refused to budge. Didn't tell them when, or even if, he/she/It would return. The Guild's recalled as many Factors as they can for an emergency meeting. I hear Altiss, Karal Rashida, and Furious Storm-Breaker's caravans have already left the city. Rashida even broke contract with his largest supplier of age-staving cordial. He was in such a hurry to leave, he didn't wait to accept delivery of the latest shipment" the taller of the pair said. Noticing Lireal's less-than-subtle eavesdropping, he called out "Hope you aren't headed to Nexus, tree-damsel. The city's volatile as a firedust shipment before a thunderstorm right now. No place for a young woman making her first foray into the Confederation of Rivers, certainly." Then, having done his good deed for the year, the horse-lord motioned to his slightly younger companion to follow and continued on his way. Lireal was rather discomfited by what she'd heard. Nexus had indeed been her intended destination. The city possessed facilities and resources she desperately needed to succeed in her aims. Fortunately, extensive research had made it clear there was an alternative. Determined, she set off into the city to secure passage to it.

Unlike other Haltan cities, much of Kajeth had been built in the "conventional" ground-based fashion common throughout Creation. The reason for this was simple: Kajeth was the means by which the geographically and militarily isolated arboreal nation connected commercially with the rest of the East and points beyond. Prior to the city's founding, two factors had conspired to deny the tree-dwelling country the capacity to export its many valuable goods and natural resources. The first was Halta's treaty with the Fair Folk who occupied the country. In exchange for making their above-ground settlements off-limits, the Haltans had ceded the forest floor to the Fae as their rightful hunting grounds. For obvious reasons, this prohibited traveling anywhere the branch-paths (natural and created) didn't reach. Since the great redwoods grew less and less numerous as one proceeded south towards the rest of the Scavenger Lands, the restrictions on southward travel became total at a certain point. The rivers were safe from Faerie depredations, but travel by river ran afoul of the second contributing factor: Linowan. These aggressive boat-dwellers were the Haltans eternal enemies, and they controlled all the major waterways which flowed south into the confluence of rivers that gave the Confederation lands their name. Linowan river pirates would gleefully burn alive any Haltan they could capture, so deep did the hatred between the two peoples run. For their part, Haltans fed captured Linowans to their Fair Folk allies. With the Fae controlling the ground, and the Linowans controlling the waterways, Halta had been cut off.

Until the Haltans had discovered the headwaters of the Rock River. The Rock's existence had been no secret to the East's more southerly city-states. Extensive iron mining operations had long used the river to convey barges of iron ore downstream to the foundries of Nexus, but Halta had come to knowledge of the river's course late. Well south and east of Linowan lands, and over fifty miles south of the southernmost limits of Fair Folk territory. The Rock River had presented the Haltans with a potential solution to their commercial woes. If they were brave enough to make the huge financial gamble involved. Kajeth was the child of the Haltans' wager, and it had brought its parent previously undreamt-of wealth. The same waterway that transported the iron barges now saw massive shipments of rare medicines made from herbs available nowhere else. Haltan ironwood and steelsilk were always in great demand. Secret breeding techniques produced the famously intelligent san-horses coveted by the Marukani horse-lords in their quest to breed the perfect equine. Then, as if all Halta had to offer the outside world itself weren't enough, the great Haslanti League of Creation's far North had seen the advantage to be gained by partnering with the Haltans to create a wider market for their own unique goods. Haslanti feather-steel and never-melting ice arrived in northernmost Halta by airship, and then traveled by branch-path caravans to southernmost Kajeth. Where the goods were then sold and distributed throughout the East and points beyond.

The result was a trading locus which had rapidly grown to become a city of nearly one hundred thousand souls. A figure which did not take into account Kajeth's thirty thousand annual visitors. It was deference to foreign sensibilities which had informed the decision-making of the city's builders. Lireal hurried through the Foreign Quarter that housed the many resident and visiting merchants in its various complexes, inns, hostels and even taverns with rented rooms. Still, she couldn't help noticing things which gave her pause. The abundance of Guard patrols and the tension of the soldiers that made up those patrols, for one thing. The furtive, almost fearful expressions on the faces of merchants she passed for another. The four years since the Bull of the North's icewalkers had destroyed the Tepet legions and those Linowans who'd marched with them had been filled with an uneasy peace. Every Haltan knew that much and more besides. Halta had marched with the Bull, and the veterans of the battles who'd seen the Roka-Jin allies of the Linowan all but exterminated during the rout and massacre of the Realm's finest shuddered when they told of it. Though many cried that now was the time to finish the Linowans once and for all, the young woman had heard just as many others quietly note how easily total devastation seemed to fell entire nations in sudden holocausts these days. To this day, no one knew what had killed every man, woman and child in the city of Fallen Lapis. Lireal had suffered the same sense of waiting with nerves taut and breath bated as all her countrymen. Yet what she was seeing now was different. The immediacy of the expectations she sensed bothered and unnerved her more than she cared to admit, even to herself.

It took nearly three hours of brisk walking for the young woman to cross through the Foreign and Merchant Quarters to reach Kajeth's southern gate, and it was well into mid-afternoon by then. Lireal felt her hopes of finding a departing caravan she could book passage with as far as the river sink as she was waved through the gate by a nervous-looking young man in the green and brown buff coat of Halta's Guard. The left-most half of the great campground which began a hundred yards short of the city gate was used as a mustering ground for out-bound pack trains and caravans, Lireal had learned by inquiring with a passing guards-woman. That portion of the caravansary was deserted, with only two exceptions.

The first was a large, four-wheeled cart being hitched to a pair of unusually tall horses. One obviously impatient trader oversaw the loading of the cart with frequent shouts at the two teamsters loading the cart concerning some delay he'd experienced, as a lone private guard with a scarred face and pale white hair lounged nearby smoking a pipe. Watching lumber, nails, tins of grease and other sundries being loaded, Lireal quickly realized the reason for the merchant's anger. He was one of those who made his living supplying repair materials to the long-distance caravans. "The rapid exodus of the Guild caravans must have caught him unprepared, so they left without him" Lireal silently concluded. She felt a little sympathy for the man, but more for his employees. She'd been raised to believe employers were responsible for the well-being of those in their pay. Making others work harder and faster now, because the man hadn't the foresight to give the appropriate orders earlier didn't sit well with her. Yet it also reminded her to tend to her own affairs.

The other group looked more promising. They had a plainly fashioned yet sturdy-looking passenger carriage in addition to a large yeddim-drawn wagon, for one thing. Four men were loading heavy-looking crates into the wagon when Lireal walked over. She waited for a break in their labors, and then inquired as to their destination. The three younger men ignored the inquiry in favor of each digging out a small rawhide pouch. The contents of which the trio were quickly munching on with obvious relish, and loud crunching sounds. As the oldest of the men turned to answer her, the slight; lithe woman noticed each of the young men shared an unusually distinct trait. The right eye of each man was a strangely compelling iridescent swirl of colors. Their left eyes, on the other hand, were all the same dark green as that shared by the older man now facing her. The oddity gave Lireal a chill, but she ignored it in favor of focusing on the man in front of her.

"My boys and I ferry passengers interested in booking passage on the river-boat Vagrant Wanderer down to the bend in the 'Rock where she moors once a week. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we've enough interested passengers to make the four day round-trip profitable this week, miss. I'm sorry if you were looking for a ride, but one fare doesn't even pay for the fodder the horses and yeddim will consume. What we make selling odds and ends to the Vagrant's captain and crew doesn't justify the trip without the fares" the tall, slim man explained with what sounded like genuine regret in his voice.

Lireal digested this statement, then inquired in a careful tone "How many passengers do you need to make the trip worthwhile, and how much is the individual travel-fare?"

The man's reply was immediate. "Four passengers is our minimum, at five dinars each, so twenty dinars to make the trip miss. Fare includes breakfast and dinner, but that's part of the problem. We buy food wholesale at an agreed-upon rate. Enough to feed me, my boys, and our fares. If I laid in the usual amount at the usual price, I'd take a significant loss in spoilage, miss. So you see, much as I'd like to oblige you, we can't help you unless three more passengers show up right swiftly. You could tell me where you'll be lodging for the next couple of weeks, if you like. I'm sure we'll have enough folks interested in making the trip by the time the Vagrant Wanderer is ready to make its next run downriver" he said.

"That won't be necessary...I'm sorry, I didn't get your name, sir. I'll pay you three and a half obols jade, if we can leave within the hour. Would that be enough to make it worth your while to forego other passengers and take the loss in spoilage?" Lireal asked.

For a moment the man seemed lost for words. Then, he turned to his three still-eating sons and shouted "Racing Cloud! Get your ass to the butcher's, greengrocer's, and back here right quick, you hear me? Driving Rain, Russet Fox, get the carriage cleaned and lay in the firewood. Move it boys, we've got a fare!" Turning back to Lireal, he mimed doffing a nonexistent cap and replied "It's Stooping Direhawk, m'lady, and that will more than do. For three and a half obols, you have my word we'll see you to the Vagrant Wanderer, and even wait with you, if she's running a couple days behind schedule or got a late start from the ore-loading camps. You'll come to no harm, traveling with me and my boys, my word before Caltia." With that said, he hurried off to direct his sons, who for their part seemed rather sullen and much less enthused than their father as they returned to work.

True to his word, Stooping Direhawk had the small venture stocked and ready to depart in less than an hour. Taking a seat inside the carriage alone, Lireal found the plainly-fashioned passenger conveyance simple, yet well-cushioned against the many bumps of the roughly cobbled road. Much of the day was already gone, but the paired horses pulled the carriage along at a respectable clip since the older man had made the almost last-minute decision to rent out the yeddim and wagon he wouldn't need this trip to the butcher's shop he dealt with. As a consequence, the young woman found herself sharing the carriage interior with Stooping Direhawk's oldest and middle sons, Driving Rain and Russet Fox. The youngest rode beside his father, armed with a cranked crossbow to discourage the odd highwayman. It didn't take long for Lireal to become uncomfortable alone with the pair, as they silently stared at her with the occasional brief speculative expression interspersed among the unnerving stares. By the time Stooping Direhawk stopped the carriage for the night, she was beginning to wonder if traveling alone with four men she didn't know had really been the wisest decision. When the older man courteously opened the carriage door for her, the young woman nearly shot from the cabin. Leaving the kindly man looking a tad bewildered as she walked off some distance away from the carriage to stand with her arms wrapped round herself. Guessing the problem after a moment, the man gave his sons a hard look, but they simply shrugged and climbed out silently to set about setting camp with their brother.

Despite the bright silver circle overhead, the dark of the night seemed to close in around the small campfire burning a few feet from the carriage. Stooping Direhawk had eventually come to tell her he'd laid out a sleeping roll beside the fire for her, but Lireal was far too anxious to sleep. Still, she felt foolish standing out in the darkness, creepy trio notwithstanding. Resolved to face up to them, the young women walked back into camp and set on one of the logs which had been pulled close to the fire. The eyes of the young men quickly fastened on her once more, but she resolutely put them out of her mind and turned toward their father. "How far is it to the river bend where the boat moors, sir?" she inquired. Glancing over at his sons, the man's eyes hardened momentarily before his expression softened in empathy as he turned back her way.

"Well, it's about sixty miles from city gate to the mooring-post. We generally make that in four and a half days, but that's with the pace of the yeddim drawing the wagon slowing us down. I reckon it'll only take us about three more days to get there with just the coach. We'll beat the Vagrant Wanderer there by at least a day. Maybe more if the Guild's problems trigger a work-stoppage among the ore-loaders. That won't last long, if it happens at all. The soldiers out of Greyfalls won't brook work stoppages. Once they crack a few heads and hang the ringleaders, that'll be that, and the Wanderer will be along with its hold full as always. I know how ugly that must sound to you, but each man working in those camps earned a noose lootin, rapin, and killing. Each man chose, of his own free will, to give ten years at hard labor hauling iron ore to barges like the Vagrant Wanderer in order to escape the noose. They've no right to harm the livelihoods of honest men, who harmed none earnin an honest living, by stopping work they promised to do in exchange for their worthless lives" Stooping Direhawk explained, his voice a touch impassioned, as he ran the fingers of his off-hand through brown hair which had started receding. Lireal nodded agreement, but privately she wondered how impartial the judges who'd heard each man's case were when the wealthy owners of the mines and investors in the ore-shipping concerns could wield considerable influence to ensure they always had enough free labor. Sensing her continued disquiet concerning his sons uncharacteristic behavior towards her, the middle-aged man struggled to stay awake. Yet he'd spent the hottest part of the day with the sun beating down on him, and was soon forced to say his goodnights and retreat to his bedroll.

At first, the three young men gave little sign they'd even noticed their patriarch retire. Huddled in a triangle around the fire, for a change they hardly looked at her. As they continued glaring at each other, Lireal felt her nerves drawing tighter and tighter as the night wore on. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as first Racing Cloud, then Russet Fox cease glaring and incline their heads to their elder brother, Driving Rain. It was he who finally turned to look at her, and he who casually stated "Girl, I do not believe you are as oblivious as you pretend, nor a great enough fool to fail to know what we want. Submit, surrender your jade, do not fight us as we use you, and you may yet live to repent the poor judgment that lead you here. Otherwise the river will take its turn with your corpse when we are finished. Decide. Now" Driving Rain said, both eyes swirling iridescent pools in the yellow-gold of the fire's light as he rose and came toward her at a leisurely pace.

That was when Stooping Direhawk sat up in his bedroll with the crossbow in his hands, and put a bolt in Driving Rain's kneecap. As his son collapsed with an enraged yowl of agony and the others rushed their father, he shouted "They've gone mad! Run for the trees and keep the moon on your left girl!" He slammed the spent crossbow into Russet Fox's belly with his next breath, but then Racing Cloud bowled him over with a drawn knife in hand. Lireal's shock at the unfolding tableu had only lasted a couple seconds, but by the time she snapped out of it and began moving to help the man, his son was already rising with his knife dripping blood. A single glance made it clear Racing Cloud had just become a patricide.

Furious and weeping, Lireal raced for the trees, as behind her the hobbled Driving Rain shouted "Get her! If she gets away, she'll have the Monitors down on us in hours!"

The treeline opposite the river hadn't seemed very far away, but as Lireal ran it became clear the trees didn't thicken appreciably for some distance. Behind, she could hear the two men struggling to overtake her in the darkness, but from their frequent cursing guessed they were neither as accustomed to long runs as she was, or as adept at avoiding obstacles that could trip one up with their feet. Still, she didn't slacken her pace until she came upon the first truly large redwood looming before and above her. The moon seemed to be shining down with particular intensity on this particular tree, as if marking it out.

That was good enough for Lireal, who didn't even break stride as she reached the venerable redwood. It wasn't remotely as big as the giants of home, but she decided it would serve her purposes. One moment she was running along the ground, and the next she was running straight up the side of the tree as if gravity was a mere guideline. Ten strides brought her to the first large branch running perpendicular to the ground, about twenty feet above it. Crouching down on it, she willed a throwing knife comprised of shadows, essence and light into her hand with Spirit Weapons, sharpened her eyesight in the darkness of night to razor-sharp clarity with Unsurpassed Sight Discipline, and then waited.

It wasn't long before she saw the youngest of the twisted brothers. Racing Cloud dashed up, then stopped to rest, bent forward with his hands on his knees and breathing heavily some twenty feet from her tree. The furious Solar took aim, and with a well-practiced flick of her wrist, sent the blade flying. The slender essence-blade sunk deep into the center of the man's back, just above the waist. Collapsing with an inarticulate cry of pain, the murderer and would-be rapist pitched forward onto his belly heavily. Lireal counted off five more minutes silently, but when Russet Fox didn't appear she finally climbed down easily and strode over to the fallen man. Breath ragged and legs obviously paralyzed by the knife buried in his lower spine, blood trickled from the right corner of the muscular, dark-haired young man's mouth. Stepping into his restricted field of view with another conjured essence-blade in hand, Lireal angrily demanded "WHY?!! You murdered your own father! For what? For a few hundred obols and the opportunity to participate in gang-rape? I'd have given you the money, rather than see a good man like your father die. You could've had every whore from Kajeth to Great Forks. So...WHY?"

To her shock and consternation, the crippled man laughed. "You ask me why, but your words are the very answer you seek. For all your power, you are a weakling. The Law demands the submission of the weak before the strong. Give up your wealth, to save a man you'd just met? Your weakness sickens me, even more than my own. Go away God-blood. Let me die, as I deserve, for falling prey to a weakling like you. I see the world for what it truly is, now. In time, all the weaklings like you will be the slaves of the strong. It's the Law, and the Law is everything. There is nothing you can do to change that" Racing Cloud answered, his diatribe ending in wracking, bloody coughs.

Lireal was horrified by the man's evident madness and evil. Momentarily lost in that horror, she nearly missed stealthy footsteps times to coincide with the downed man's loud coughing. She spun on the ball of her right foot, intending to put the knife in her hand to good use, but a silvery shape fell into her field of vision atop the man she recognized as Russet Fox. Her breath hitched as long, razor-sharp silver claws flashed in the moonlight-nimbus which surrounded the newcomer. Long ribbons of shocking crimson spurted from the doomed man's shredded throat, as the claws slashed through it. The young would-be rapist collapsed, the newcomer turned in her direction, and Lireal was suddenly somewhere else...someone else, as their eyes met.

The Old One had been patient and clever. Lurking in the Primal Chaos since the deaths and defeat of its brethren, the Old One had completely remade itself. Every element of its overall form and its subsidiary deva souls unsuited to combat and conflict had been abandoned. Each particle of its being was now optimized for a single purpose. Exacting vengeance on the Exalted Host, by the destruction of their works, and by the annihilation of those beings they defended. For centuries, the Exalted had turned their attention outward into the Wyld, and most of the Host's military might was now far afield. The Old One recognized Creation's vulnerability, and realized the time to act had come.

The Mirror Oasis of Jaezzredal was only a fraction the size of Chiaroscuro, but the refinery city of the deep South was still home to more than a hundred thousand people. It was scoured from Creation in an instant by the Primordial's fury. The Dragon Blooded garrison of Pal-Shiear, three hundred and fifty miles to the northeast had been forewarned by the destruction of Jaezzredal hours earlier, but when the desert sands rose and morphed into a blizzard of razor-sharp blades, they were obliterated all the same. The Old One and its forces then tried to cross the Summer Mountains, but Seven Hymns Princess and her Faerie lover stymied its eastern advance with innumerable magical deceits.

Then it simply vanished. Only to reappear a week later, and three hundred fifty miles south of Rathess itself. Yellow Terror Dragon's Lunar mate Fair Xiulan had cautioned her husband against leading their six divisions too far afield, concerned about leaving Deheleshen and the rest of Hungry Dragon Prefecture defenseless. That caution now saved the Cradle of Man from extinction. Still, their army was at least a week's forced march from investing Khryal south of the Dragon King metropolis. Moving tens of thousands of soldiers across a thousand miles of woods and rivers in the two days they had before the Primordial bypassed the satellite fortress was not beyond the arts of two veterans of the Great War, but it would have meant spending the very strength Yellow Terror Dragon and Fair Xiulan needed to blunt the oncoming horror's first and most terrible surge.

The elders of Gens Teryk were the children and grandchildren of heroes. They'd been raised on their parents' tales of the Great Wars horrors, and each had read the confidential journals of their Gens founders when they were chosen for leadership positions in their bloodline. The eleven Terrestrials could well envision the atrocity to come if the army failed to invest Khryal ahead of the enemy. No Celestial ordered it, because such an order was wholly unnecessary. They poured out their lives, and gave wings of fire to the soldiers' feet. Although a thousand-mile swath of the East burned behind them, Khryal was invested and the ancient engines of the Rathess Pentacle fully awakened. The ancient gift of Ignis Divine to the Dragon King faithful, the Pentacle raised a great dome of essence over the city not easily broken.

Cheated of the slaughter it had anticipated, the enraged Primordial fell upon the Khryal redoubt with terrible fury. Its devas, Xexalliz the Captain In Crimson, and Melisyll, the Vizier of Razors dueled with Yellow Terror Dragon and Fair Xiulan atop the redoubt's highest tower, as the devas' host fought Dragon Blooded defenders to seize the walls. Yellow Terror Dragon fell at long last, but in falling cast down the Captain and a quarter of his host with him. Mad with grief, Fair Xiulan had devoured the Vizier, and then vanished.

Watching the battle from afar as her forces marched, Glenaella knew fear. She knew her duty, but she'd never commanded soldiers in anger against anything more than a Raksha warband stupid enough to trespass in their small tributary. She wasn't afraid of dying, for what Chosen feared death? No, the basis of the Twilight's terror was much more basic. She was afraid of failing. Failing the Dragon Kings, who'd already sacrificed more than she could comprehend to see the world made sane. Failing the Dragon Blooded defenders, who refused to yield even in the face of their lord's fall and their queen's disgrace. Failing the millions of men, women and children huddled in Rathess praying for deliverance. Now, that fear sought to paralyze her.

As if sensing her thoughts, Khyzin turned, placed one of his strong callused hands to her cheek, and murmured "Leadership is about more than tactics and life-taking, my love. The embattled divisions at Khryal already have experienced commanders for that. What they need right now is hope. You can give them that, beloved, as you give it to me every day. They need to be able to hope that help is coming, and that they have not been forgotten. Merela's forces crossed the sea only a day behind us, and Bright Shattered Ice is with her. She's called Jacint forth somehow, despite Calibration being months away, and even now the Prince Upon the Tower fashions a Straight Track for Merela's forces. Gens Teryk only needs to hold for two days. What are two days to the likes of you? In defense of the defenseless, I would wager you could hold Khryal yourself for two days. All they need is heart, and you have more than enough of that for all of them. Now, go and give it to them." Khyzin was a short, but muscularly compact man. Yet in that moment, he'd seemed a giant to her. His vibrant blue eyes, so intense and shining with unbreakable faith in her...It had made the fear evaporate, like dewdrops in the morning's light.

So she'd gone, and so she had given the defenders hope and heart. Yet she'd never forgotten it was her mate who'd first given it to her.

Lireal blinked, and then blinked again, as the vision abruptly resolved back into the present. Gone was the short and heavily muscled older man with eyes the color of a Northern glacier. In his place stood a tall, blood-spattered figure with green hair and bronze skin that hinted at mixed Haltan blood like hers. His eyes were as silver as the filled circle of his caste-mark, but they possessed the same blistering intensity as those of the man her predecessor had obviously known so well. The young woman found herself wondering if this Lunar warrior was any more Khyzin than she was Glenaella, but then realized she'd been completely oblivious and missed what the man was saying. Embarrassed, she tuned back in, just in time to hear him repeat his question for the third time.

"Are there any more of them?" he asked in a dangerous growl. When she nodded, he waited patiently, until Lireal realized belatedly he was waiting for her to continue.

"There's one more back at the campsite, about a mile beyond the tree-line to the southwest. He's...he has a crossbow bolt in his kneecap. His...their father shot him, trying to protect me, and they...They murdered him for it" she explained, struggling to keep her voice level. The man nodded once, then changed before her eyes into a great, emerald-maned forest lion of the furthermost East and bounded away.

Once he was gone, Lireal turned back to the man on the ground. Straddling the paralyzed man, the Solar leaned forward and clasped a handful of straight, light-green hair with her free hand. The patricide tried to remain stoic, but when she jerked his head far enough back to bring the knife in her other hand into view, Racing Cloud began desperately struggling against her surprisingly strong grip. "I could slit your throat from ear to ear, Racing Cloud. You'd feel colder than you've ever felt in your life. Alternatively, I could haul you back to Kajeth in your father's carriage. I imagine the magistrate would judge your polluted soul should go to feed one of Lord Slulura's Faeries. I don't have any first-hand experience with the subject, but I imagine having one's immortal soul devoured is probably just about the worst fate one could face" Lireal whispered harshly into Racing Cloud's ear, as the man continued his futile struggling.

Releasing him so suddenly his struggling caused him to face-plant, the angry Solar was careful to stay out of reach, as she rose and walked back around in front of her captive. "I'm not going to do either of those things, Racing Cloud. I'm too weak, remember? Unfortunately, that also means I'm too weak to bury Russet Fox over there. Now, Russet Fox died quite violently. Between that and his lack of burial, I'd say there is a very, very good chance he'll be coming back as a ghost" the beautiful young Exalt explained in a clinical, detached tone.

"Russet Fox is going to be hungry, you Yozis-damned piece of filth!" Lireal hissed, then hocked and spat on the man, before turning and stalking off to retrace her steps.

Following the scent of the two men back to the campsite was trivial for Davion. Near the still-burning campfire, he found the body of an older man just as the Solar had described, but the campsite was otherwise deserted. Criss-crossing it, his keen nose quickly discerned the scent of the missing attacker...and the man's blood. Following the intermittent blood-trail lead him perhaps ten yards from the fire, to a place where the grass was smashed down in a broad swath and wheel-ruts had cut gashes in the soil beside the road. The evidence painted a picture of panicked flight for the Lunar. With an angry chuff, he enacted Furious Hound's Pursuit. Between the Charm and the gift of all Full Moons, the chase would be a short one.

Several minutes after returning to the dying campfire, Lireal spotted the still-glowing Lunar drive the carriage round the bend in the road. Approximately fifteen minutes later, he pulled the horse-drawn conveyance to a stop beside the campsite and rejoined her. Eyeing him nervously, the analytical portion of her mind noted "He must have stopped at the river to wash of the...blood."

"Is he dead?" she blurted out, louder than she intended. A frighteningly hard expression momentarily crossed the young-looking man's angular yet attractive features at her question. The iron-hard look vanished as quickly as it came. Replaced by an almost puzzled, questioning look she didn't understand. Shaking his head as if to clear it, he paused, perhaps deciding how to frame his answer Lireal thought.

"He won't ever threaten anyone else. Though I apologize if my intervention was unwelcome. I've heard my elders speak about the compulsion to defend one's Solar, but I must confess I didn't believe the impulse would be so...visceral. I saw that piece of human detritus slipping up behind you with that stick, and the urge to rend the life from him seized me like a terrier taking hold of a rat. My apologies once more, where are my manners? I'm Davion Chance, Ikth-ya Wyld Wraith, to my fellow Chosen of Luna. As you can see, I'm one of the Bloody Huntress's warriors. May I have your name?" Davion politely answered and inquired in a very formal manner.

"It's Lireal...Lireal Vendra. I'm Twilight-caste, wait..how did you know I was a Solar?" she asked.

"I wouldn't have, had you been any other Solar. The instant I saw you, I felt the pull on my Exaltation. Our shards were made in pairs, and since it's the Lunar bonded to the Solar, the Lunar mate can always recognize ahem, their Solar. It's natural law, essentially. How the Great Maker, Autochthon, designed our Exaltations at the behest of our respective deities" Davion replied evenly.
Lireal seemed to digest that for a moment, then looked over at the body of the dead man lying near the dying fire. When she spoke, her lilting contralto voice was full of regret.

"I saw a great deal of death during my four years as a healer in the Republic's Guard. Yet I still froze when that piece of filth came at his father with a knife. It was just for an instant, but an instant was all it took for Stooping Direhawk to die. Die trying to protect someone Exalted to protect people just like him. How do I save Creation, when I couldn't save one good man?"

"First, the violence and death found in military conflict have precious little to do with the sudden violence of crime. While you were serving, you were trained to anticipate the potential for trouble while you were on duty. Yes, trouble could come while you were off-duty, but I'm betting it didn't for you, did it?" When Lireal nodded confirmation, Davion continued with "This sort of sudden violence..it isn't something training prepares you for. That kind of preparation only comes with experience, and I'm guessing you're something of a loner. You'd have had to be, to conceal your Exaltation as a Solar for any length of time in Halta. Second, being an Exalt actually predisposes you to the expectation that violence will be done to you instead of others. Living with the awareness you've been marked out for violence by the Realm and its Immaculate Philosophy simply does that to you, and it's something that again, takes practice to overcome. Finally, for all the power that comes with being one of the Exalted, we're still human. We make mistakes, just like anyone else. What's important is what you do about it going forward. It's a terrible tragedy, but you will honor this man best simply by working to ensure the next time it happens you'll do better" Davion responded, watching his listener carefully.

Lireal remained silent for some time, as she gave the more experienced Exalt's words her full consideration. The sadness and pain clouding her features gradually lessened, but continued haunting her dark green eyes, as she asked "Could you,..I mean, would you mind helping me bury him? I know taking his body back to the city would raise too many questions, but I can't just leave him for the raitons. He..Stooping Direhawk swore by Caltia the Eternal I'd be safe in his and his sons' company. He died keeping that oath, and deserves more than a shallow grave by the side of the road."

"Of course, Lireal. Men willing to shed the blood of kin, in defense of an innocent, are all-too-rare in Creation. Umm...I, I don't mean to sound grisly, but considering the circumstances, Stooping Direhawk's soul may not move on to Lethe immediately. We should provide some grave goods. Some jade or silver, I know just enough about the Art of the Dead to carve him a few effigy-guards, and...well..." Davion paused, trying to gauge how his listener was receiving his words, and then plunged on. "I think we should sacrifice the horses, and then burn them and the carriage in his name!" the Lunar blurted. Lireal's eyes widened in surprise momentarily, but then the Solar nodded emphatic agreement.

The full moon hung low in the sky by the time everything was prepared. There was a brief flash of silver, then the horses collapsed with their throats cut. Taking that as her signal, Lireal began to weave sorcery. Golden essence hung suspended between her gesturing hands, growing brighter and brighter with each passing moment. Finally, an eagle of white and ruby flames streaked from her outstretched hands. Its piercing cry of victory pierced the silent night, an instant before it struck the carriage and exploded in a towering inferno of white fire. In moments, the pyre consisting of the righteous man's remains, horses, carriage, wealth and prepared effigies was a blaze a dozen yards high.

Walking over to stand beside the grieving Solar, together the pair watched the pyre burn in silence. The sorcery used ensured the blaze didn't last long. When the last of the magical flames died away to reveal only a patch of white ash thirty feet across, Davion finally spoke in a low, soft voice. "We've done all we can, Lireal. You were headed somewhere before this, by the looks of things. May I ask where?"

Only a single sniffle betraying her feelings, Lireal shook herself and replied "Originally, I'd planned to go to Nexus, but when I arrived in Kajeth I heard the Emissary has left the city. My research indicated Great Forks was my next best choice to improve my grasp of sorcery, so I'd decided to book passage on a river-boat there. I'd hired Stooping Direhawk to take me to meet it. Now, I don't know."

"Why go to Great Forks, when you can just go to your Manse?" Davion asked.

"I don't have a Manse. My family may be wealthy, but they definitely aren't that wealthy, Davion" Lireal replied, a tinge of frustration entering her voice.

"Of course you have a Manse, or rather your predecessor did. I'll admit, Omega won't tell me where it is, geographically speaking, but that's no problem. Will you allow me to take you there?" Davion responded with a wry smile and twinkle in his silver eyes.

Lireal simply gaped at him.
 
Wyldwraith
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Re: Silver and Gold Against Green (Exalted SI)

20 Jul 2018, 02:06

Chapter 4: Revelations of Antiquity
Resplendent Wood 15th, RY 768

Before Davion could elaborate on his previous statement, a tiny figure with six wings of blue chrome popped into being beside his right ear, and began whispering speaking in Low Realm in a high, wind-chime like tones. "Activate your Artifact, so that we may conclude our negotiations, Anathema" the cherub related, the strong, carefully enunciated diction of the speaker obvious even when relayed through the Infallible Messenger. The Lunar gave Lireal an apologetic look, then held up a hand to forestall any questions. Into that open hand came a magnificently crafted orichalcum and moonsilver torc. The item was like nothing the Solar had ever seen, consisting of solar and lunar imagery traced in delicate filigree across its surfaces, and bearing what she recognized as a hearthstone setting in the neck-piece's center. To the left of the hearthstone setting filled with a small sky-blue gem with white striations lay an empty socket, but to the right of the hearthstone a blue jade orb one inch in diameter and perfectly carved to appear like a human eye complete with tiny, white-gold and iridescent filaments in place of blood vessels. The young Exalt watched as the Lunar fitted the torc about his throat, and a look of concentration momentarily furrowed his brow. To Lireal's surprise, the tall, dark green-haired man before her suddenly became a much paler individual perhaps six inches taller, with the white-blond hair, pronounced bone structure, and vivid blue eyes which typified many of the Northerners she'd seen during her two visits to Resplendent Peak. Between his continued silence and ongoing look of concentration, the Solar guessed his attention was fully occupied doing whatever he was doing with the mysterious artifact. Touched by the show of trust, she set herself to keeping watch on their surroundings, and waited for his "return."

----

Davion suddenly found himself looking about the interior of a small, windowless, and richly-appointed chamber he guessed was underground. The white jade sheathing the walls, floor and ceiling was the obvious indicator of the chamber-owner's immense wealth, but there were other, subtler marks of the riches and power possessed by one he'd come to speak with. The thaumaturgical wards against magical observation covering every surface were drawn with jade dust-based ink, Heightened Smell Method told him. While Heightened Sight Method indicated the rugs and the tapestry bearing the crest and colors of House Memnon were genuine Essence Spider-silk. Capping the room's sense of extravagant opulence was the impressive desk, and the throne-like chair of black ash. Black ash trees were found only in the Black Chase shadowland, just north of the funerary-city Sijan, and their wood was considered both unlucky, and a mark of great status and wealth for a single reason. Harvesting it invariably cost many of those desperate enough to venture into the shadowland to cut it their lives.

Vast wealth, even greater personal power and prestige, plus a will so strong it demanded the Scarlet Throne as its rightful due. Traits which described the woman sitting behind the desk perfectly. For a woman one year from her fourth century of life, the matriarch of House Memnon appeared astonishingly young. Unless one marked her deep, dark gray eyes. Meeting those eyes with those of his present, light-construct form, Davion had no problem believing this was the woman who nearly killed her Sidereal Sifu during the sparring session in which she'd Exalted. Unquestionably the most powerful sorceress of the Realm's Host of Ten Thousand Dragons, Memnon was one of the very few Terrestrial Exalts who could demand respect from Celestial Exalts and expect to receive it. "Pity she'd kill every last one of us if she could" the Lunar thought to himself. Knowing from past conversations the woman was quite willing to sit in silence, for hours if need be, to force him to be the one who spoke first, Davion got right to it.

"You requested my attention, Lady Memnon. I presume you've made your decision then?" he inquired, more interested in closing the deal than posturing for dominance. The Full Moon was nearly as old as the Terrestrial, felt no need to prove anything, and suspected Memnon knew both facts. The all-but-imperceptible tightening of the muscles in her cheeks would have gone unnoticed by him, but for the Charms sharpening his senses. The naked hostility in her genteel alto-voice as she spoke, a deaf man could have heard.

"Convince me you don't intend to use it to harm the Realm, Anathema" Memnon demanded in a cold voice, placing particular emphasis on the last word.

"As I told you before: I intend to use it against your mother and her...husband. That may well involve tactics detrimental to the Realm in the short-term, but necessary to the survival of both it, and the rest of Creation. Assuming we're victorious, and that's a very large assumption, the Realm won't be in a position to come East or North for centuries to come. Your civil war, regardless of its ultimate winner, will see to that. Were you to win the throne and subsequently abandon Greyfalls, Port Calin, and Cherak, then deny the Wyld Hunt Imperial resources for Eastern and Northern operations, I could be persuaded to forget the Realm exists entirely. The Realm is losing Greyfalls to incipient nationalism already, and Cherak's House Ferem does nothing besides spout pleasantries to Realm officials out one side of their mouths, while whispering against you out the other. If that isn't good enough for you milady, then best of luck with the Queen of Hell's surprise arrival" Davion responded in a voice equally cold.

For a long minute, the elder of the two primary claimants to the Scarlet Throne said nothing. Her face gave no clue as to her thoughts, yet Davion could smell the fear which had risen at his implied threat of leaving her blind concerning her mother's return to Creation. When Memnon finally responded, her biting tone served as masterful cover for the fear the Dynastic powerhouse controlled so expertly. "I agree to your terms, Anathema, but I swear to you by holiest Daana'd: Intrude in the Realm's affairs, beyond the defeat and disposal of my mother and her adherents, and I will end you. Now, move your construct over here, and determine for yourself this is the same document you sent me. I am eager to be done with this necessary evil, so I may begin the rituals and prayers required to purify myself and my retreat of your spiritual contamination."

Ignoring the insult, Davion's construct-form drifted over the desk and reoriented itself. Calling up his All-Encompassing Sorcerer's Sight, the Lunar began to scrutinize the contract on the desktop. It had taken him five weeks of life-threatening labor for the lesser elemental dragon of Wood, Adiubande, but the Eastern Censor had finally relinquished to the Lunar a single blank Celestial Pact Proclamation. Created in Yu-Shan by Suyoli, Goddess of Justice, the mystical contract possessed the same power as a Solar of the Eclipse Caste to bind the signing parties to honor the agreed-upon pledge, or suffer Heaven's wrath. Spotting the tiny essence-warping he'd created as a sort of "watermark", and after confirming the structure of essence which permeated the sorcerous document was identical to what he remembered, Davion nodded for Memnon to proceed. Signing the document carefully, the powerful Terrestrial Exalt looked up at him and said "I will reactivate the traitorous machine-consciousness, have it shipped to Great Forks, and given into the keeping of the divine Hundred God Heretics known as the Three, per your instructions. No attempt will be made to interfere with or monitor your acceptance of delivery and subsequent transport of said delivery, either on my part, or those acting on my behalf. The rest of the obligations are spelled out most carefully, I grant you that much, Anathema. Now, it is time you fulfilled your part of this demonic bargain."

"Listen closely then, sorceress. The Queen of Hell, Bride of the Ebon Dragon, will return to Creation on the morning following the end of next year's Calibration. The Scarlet Empress authored the Broken-Winged Crane within what you call the Imperial Manse, and in that place, the portal to Hell will disgorge her back into Creation. She will activate the Sword of Creation in Warning Mode, and announce her return via the holographic transmission system. Her message will call on any Dynasts engaged in conflict over the throne to stand down, or call on any victorious claimant to the throne prior to her return to attend her within the Imperial Manse. Either way, she intends to use a combination of her Dynasty Charms and her Yozi-granted powers to ensorcell the minds of those she will use to corrupt the Blessed Isle. Poisoning the dragon-lines will allow the Ebon Dragon to eventually corrupt the aspects of every elemental demesne and Manse on the Isle into places filled with his unholy power. Once that's done, they will be reconfigured by his will. The most powerful Manses will grow Otherworld Gates to Malfeas. Through which will pour the armies of Hell. While this is happening, his Queen and her honor-guard of akuma and Infernal Exalts will be doing much the same thing to the people of the Realm. The spell you've invented in secret will indeed protect you, and anyone else who submits to it, from your mother's Dynastic Charms. Yet that still leaves her Yozi-granted capacity to warp hearts and minds in play. Do not plan to rely in any meaningful way on your deathknight allies, because your mother intends to prove her supposedly righteous intentions to the world by vaporizing Thorns using the Sword of Creation shortly after her return. Remain mindful of the fact your mother can create Black Shintai dopplegangers of anyone she can meet with out of sight, and such dopplegangers possess every bit of knowledge and personality the original possessed. They remain creatures of darkness, however, and as such are harmed by that which is truly holy. I only know of one true Infernal Exalt already on the Isle. She is the truth of what your Immaculate Philosophy calls a Deceiver, and goes by the name Nellens Cyan. The Deceiver is a member of the Deliberative's lesser chamber, and will shortly manipulate her way into becoming Protector of the Debate. All of that is simply setup for her real goal, however. She intends to use Sesus Negezzer's young protege, Senator Nellens Poramo, to corrupt and subvert Negezzer. The elder member of the Deliberative's greater chamber, Nellens Akassai, will discover Nellens Cyan is actually a member of the Manosque bloodline you all believe to be extinct. He'll try to summon his young cousin to a secret nighttime meeting in the alley behind the Silk and Pearl, within Ghost Flute Prefecture. The Deceiver will intercept his message to the younger Nellens, and on the night of Ascending Wood thirteenth, Realm Year seven sixty-nine, she'll kill the elder Nellens there. That will be your opportunity" Davion finished at long last.

"My opportunity, for what?" Memnon demanded.

"To prove what I am telling you is accurate, and more importantly, to convince the trio of deathknights on loan to you from the Mask of Winters to kill Manosque Cyan. She's been Exalted for nearly four years now, and that makes her one of the most powerful Infernal Exalts alive. There are only fifty of them, Lady Memnon, and many have only had a year or two in which to grow stronger, so far. The death of Manosque Cyan would be a significant setback for your mother and her Yozi masters. They will have to pull another Deceiver from goals in the Threshold to replace her, and that replacement will almost certainly be weaker and less experienced. If you remain watchful, you will likely be able to spot the insertion of the new Fiend into Dynastic politics. I realize you would like to see Sesus Negezzer fall, but he won't. If Manosque Cyan wanted him dead, he would be. I suspect the Deceiver wants to use him as a stepping-stone to the Roseblack. If she gains control of Tepet Ejava, you will find the resources of every hidden akuma, Yozi-cultist, demon and hired assassin they can bring to bear set on your death" the Lunar answered evenly.

"Enthroned as a puppet, without the conflict which would otherwise cost Mother resources. She would of course step down, after witnessing the return of her empress" Memnon whispered, a look of horrified realization crossing her regal features for a fraction of a second, as the pieces fell into place. Davion simply nodded his agreement, glad to see she'd seen the pattern of it. "How can you possibly know all this, Anathema?"

"Contrary to your Immaculate teachings, Lady Memnon, we you call Anathema are neither demons or thieves of magic belonging to the Sun, Moon and Stars. My Goddess, Luna, is the beloved of the Emerald Mother, Gaia. The same being whose souls are the great Dragons who uphold the Five Poles, and gave of their power to fashion the Exaltations of the Dragon Blooded. In the most ancient times, Gaia's brothers and sisters joined with her to fashion Creation, the Gods, and everything which lived and breathed. Mankind these Primordials fashioned for a single reason: To exist in such unrelenting fear of death that every man, woman and child would pray, and pray often for one more day of life. Humankind was created by those callous tyrants as nothing more than a source of the prayer they did not need, but very much enjoyed. Gods, including the Sun, Moon and Stars, they fashioned as slaves to toil eternally in the maintenance of the Primordials' Creation. The Primordials were not fools, however. From the highest to the lowest, every being they gave the slightest bit of power, they bound with a great Geas. That Geas forced the Gods and the great elementals to obey them, and rendered their creations powerless to ever attack them. Everything except human beings, that is. Tired of their slavery, and appalled by the atrocities of their masters, the Unconquered Sun gathered Luna, the Five Maidens, and the Primordials Gaia and Autochthon. To the Great Maker, Autochthon, the Unconquered Sun, Luna, the Five Maidens and Gaia each gave of their power. With that power, Autochthon fashioned three hundred Solar Exaltations for the Unconquered Sun, three hundred Lunar Exaltations for Luna, one hundred Sidereal Exaltations for the Five Maidens, and ten thousand Terrestrial Exaltations for Gaia. Since humans only could disobey and harm the Primordials, humans became the Exalted who ultimately slew five of them during the Great War, and forced the rest to surrender. The victorious Exalted Host ripped open the Primordial King, Malfeas, fashioned a prison from his body, and cast the Primordials into the prison their king's body had become. After forcing each of them to swear on their true names their surrender. Twisted by their rage and hatred, they became the Yozis, and now they want to make Creation indistinguishable from the Hell of Malfeas, so they can escape."

"I've heard the Anathema Theory of ancient times, Anathema. Your explanation did nothing to answer my question" Memnon snapped.

"I'm getting to that. After the Great War was won, most of Gaia left Creation to reenter the Wyld. The Emerald Mother traveled far into what we think of as the absolute Chaos beyond the Deep Wyld, and there in the Faraway, Gaia created another realm. Being the work of a single Primordial, it lacks the grandeur and majesty of Creation, but human beings do live there, Lady Memnon. Gaia's second creation does have one peculiar advantage, from the perspective of an inhabitant of Creation, however" Davion explained.

"What advantage is that?" the Dragon Blooded asked, curious despite herself.

"Time runs in a radically different way, there. More importantly, the strange linkage between the Faraway and Creation makes many things hidden in Creation; obvious in the Faraway. Yet, its inhabitants cannot perceive those facts for the realities they represent. Where I come from, the few people who know anything about events in Creation believe they are reading related works of fiction" the Lunar stated, sighing as he saw the anticipated look of disbelief blossom on his listener's face. After a few moments, once she'd had a chance to overcome her incredulousness, Memnon skeptically inquired further.

"Let's pretend for a moment, and say I believe your outlandish story. First, if you are from a realm only a Primordial can travel to and from, how did you travel to Creation? Second, why would you even care about what happens to a place that's no more than a collection of story-books to your people?" the matriarch of House Memnon interrogated.

"I didn't say I traveled here. Gaia became aware of her imprisoned kin's plan to escape by defiling the Creation which is part of Her body. In my world, She possesses a much greater awareness of each individual human being. It was a simple matter for Her to locate someone who was an avid reader of Creation's stories. Someone with a near-perfect memory. Someone who'd felt cheated out of a meaningful life by an accident of birth, and someone willing to die to protect others. When I died, She simply interrupted my soul's journey, explained the situation and the consequences if the Yozis escape, and inquired whether I'd be willing to try and stop that escape. I agreed, so I reincarnated within Creation, with all my memories intact. I expected to have to save Creation as a mere mortal, but the Exaltation of my Goddess, Luna, found me. Due to the time differential between Creation and home, I was born in the East centuries ago, and I've been working to ensure the Yozis stay where they belong ever since" Davion finished.

"That still doesn't explain why you would care about Creation's fate, Anathema" Memnon answered, with an inquisitive tone.

"Doesn't it? I thought the inference was clear, my apologies. For all its distance and differences from Creation, the two realms are very much linked. Should the Yozis escape, they will discover that in an instant. They despise Gaia for betraying them, and would take great pleasure in bringing ruin to my first home. The dead Primordials, the Neverborn, already know about it. Should their Deathlord servants succeed in plunging Creation into Oblivion, my world will follow it down. Just as the Moon follows the Sun across the sky. I don't expect you to believe me, Memnon, but I love Creation for its own sake, and in its own right. I loved it when I thought it was just a beautiful, albeit tragic, story. I'm a child of two worlds, and responsible to each" the Lunar explained at length.

"It's a preposterous story, Anathema. It's so absurd, you can't possibly have expected me to believe it. So, why choose to tell this to me at all?" Memnon asked, making no effort to conceal the troubled expression furrowing her regal brow and aristocrat's nose.

"Because you asked, because it's the truth, and because it's important you understand the true gravity of the threat. If the Queen of Hell succeeds, we are not talking about subjugation. It will mean endless hordes of First Circle Demons devouring millions of mortals on the Blessed Isle alone, and what the Second and Third Circle Demons will do to your Ten Thousand Dragons will make each one curse the day the blood of the Dragons Exalted them" the Full Moon responded emphatically, his construct-face a visage of terrible gravity.

Memnon was silent for some time, but then seemed to reach some sort of decision within herself, and said "I do not believe your incredible explanation, but...neither do I disbelieve it. If you intended deception, there are countless far more plausible stories you could have answered with. I believe that you believe what you are saying, but that does not necessarily make it the objective truth. Regardless, I believe what you have told me regarding the shape of things to come, however you came by the knowledge, Anathema. Take the traitorous Eyam, I wish you good fortune in turning its knowledge against our mutual adversaries. The world needs be made sane once more, so that my kind can return to the business of killing yours." Taking that for the dismissal it was intended, Davion floated the jade eyeball back to the sorceress's desk, then cut the connection.

Opening his eyes, the Lunar removed the torc from around his neck, then caused it to vanish back to whence it came. Only then did he turn his attention back to Lireal. "My apologies for the interruption, but I had business on the Blessed Isle. Negotiating with people who insist on believing you're an unholy demon, even when you are manifestly aiding them against demons is..wearying in the extreme. I believe you were about to ask me about your Manse, before we were interrupted?"

"Yes. How is it you know I have a Manse, but don't know where it is? How's that even possible?" Lireal inquired, ignoring her curiosity about the negotiations he'd mentioned, in favor of the more immediately relevant issue. Her breath hitched a bit when she saw the devilish smile blossom on the handsomely presently Nordic-looking Lunar's face.

"Come with me, and find out?" Davion asked, his smile becoming an infuriatingly mysterious grin. The Solar considered the request very deliberately. She didn't know the Lunar, but if his reaction to her being endangered was anything to go by, she had the feeling he wouldn't harm her if she didn't provoke him. There were also her goals to consider. While it was true her research had indicated she'd be able to expand her understanding of sorcery in Great Forks, access to an untouched Manse from the Age of Splendors was bound to yield greater rewards. That was enough to decide the matter for her.

"All right, I'll accompany you, but how are we getting wherever you want to take me? I can fly, that's what caused the Holy Huntress to request I depart the Republic "Until I've grown up"...but, I've never flown any great distance before. Speaking of which, is this wherever-you're-wanting-to-go within the Republic's borders? I wouldn't want to have lied to Caltia the Eternal" Lireal inquired, a worried expression darkening her lovely features.

Davion's grin grew wider, as he replied "You don't have to worry about Caltia. The goddess will understand you accompanying your Lunar Mate. Besides, the Eternal Huntress and I...are not strangers. I'll send her an Infallible Messenger, once I've rested. As for how we're getting there...watch." With that, he whistled loudly, and then looked up expectantly. Her studies gave Lireal some suspicion as to what her companion was doing, but her gaze still tracked upwards to follow his. Despite her expectation, the Solar still felt a thrill as she saw a small, puffy-white cloud descend from the sky, and hover a few inches above the ground in front of the Lunar who'd called it.

"You're a sorcerer, too!" Lireal excitedly exclaimed. "Have you mastered the Sapphire Circle? One of the spirits I bargained with mentioned that a Lunar might be my best bet, as a mentor. How many workings have you mastered? I've worked my way through a copy of The Black Treatise, of course. Then, I spent a minae of jade buying a codex from a retired sorcerer-exorcist from Lookshy" the Solar stated, her excitement obvious.

"Please Lireal, after I've rested, I'll answer all of your questions. For now, we need to be going. Quite a lot of Essence has been expended in this small area. That's the sort of thing which can draw...unwanted attention" Davion responded, before climbing up onto the hovering cloud. Offering the Solar his hand, he effortlessly helped her up beside him. Neither acknowledged the pleasurable tingle they both experienced when their hands touched, but they were both quick to draw their hands back once they were each seated comfortably. The cloud began it's silent, skyward ascent a moment later, and in less than five minutes they were miles from the abandoned campsite.
 
Wyldwraith
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Re: Silver and Gold Against Green (Exalted SI)

24 Jul 2018, 02:35

Chapter 5: An Explanation Most Strange
Resplendent Wood 15th, RY 768

From this height, Lireal was able to finally spot the legendary green flash of the sun, as its rose behind the Elemental Pole of Wood far, far to the East. Davion simply smiled and nodded in response to her excitedly pointing it out, occupied as he was by maintaining a lookout for anything indicative of a need for evasive action. The deep Northeast was home to a variety of very large, very aggressive, airborne predators. More than a few of which were quite capable of assaulting aerial travelers. Beyond natural predators, there were more than a few spirits and elementals who'd been warped and maddened by the Wyld in the region. Believing one was invulnerable to attack, simply by dint of traveling ninety miles an hour, at an elevation of two miles, was an excellent way to experience a sharp drop and sudden stop. Still, remaining attentive didn't require ruling out conversation entirely.

"You asked how I could take you to your Manse, and by inference, how I could know you even possess one, if I don't know its geographical location. Would you like me to answer your question now?" the Lunar inquired. When Lireal nodded, he explained "My goddess sent one of Her servants, a Truculee, to guide me to the Argent Redoubt...After I proved my worthiness. How I accomplished that is a story for another time. In any case, your predecessor was a student of the legendary Twilight geomancer, Kal Bax. From what Omega tells me, Glenaella had fears concerning the then-future. Considering the Usurpation, wait...Do you know about the Usurpation?" he asked.

"Many of the Solars grew dangerously insane in the First Age. The Chosen of the Five Maidens were afraid they'd destroy Creation, so they gathered together and combined their powers to divine the future, calling their efforts the Great Prophecy. In one version, the Sidereals did nothing, and the Solars destroyed Creation. In the second version, they manipulated the Dragon Blooded into rising up and supplanting the Solars, and Creation survived in diminished form. In the third version of their results, they convinced the Solars there was something wrong with them, redeemed them from their insanity, and Creation became essentially perfect. If they failed to cure the Solars, however, Creation would suffer the fate they foresaw in the first vision. Most of the Sidereals decided they couldn't take a chance on Creation's survival, so they chose to eliminate the Solars. The Sidereals who disagreed, and tried to warn the Solars, the other Sidereals killed" the Twilight answered promptly. Seeing Davion's look of incredulity, Lireal gave him an impish grin, and replied "You aren't the only one with secrets, Lunar." Desperately curious to know how the Solar had learned one of Creation's most heavily-guarded secrets, but recognizing her words for the refusal to divulge they constituted, the Burning Moon chose to continue his account instead.

"Anyways, the Usurpation proved Glenaella's fears well-founded. Desiring a place of safety for herself and her mate, Khyzin, she used her incredible understanding of geomancy and sorcery to create the Aurelian and Argent Redoubts. Glenaella bound one of the demon-princes, no, I don't know which one, and that demon either found or fashioned two locations unconnected to the Loom of Fate in Heaven. In those two locations, she raised two great Manses, on equally great Demesnes. Cunningly crafting each to be invisible and imperceptible to anyone who doesn't know exactly what to look for, Glenaella linked the two Manses with a permanent Gateway. Allowing an authorized user to step from one Manse to the other. As a final touch, she imbued the two Manses with an artificial intelligence, which she named Omega. I know about the Gateway connecting my Manse to yours, because with only one exception that I know of, Omega can't refuse a direct order from someone attuned to one of the two hearthstones" the Lunar recounted.

"That exception being use of the Gateway you mentioned" Lireal guessed.

"Got it in one. Apparently, Glenaella programmed Omega to require authorization from her, or at least the bearer of her Exaltation, in order to gain access to her Manse. It seems she trusted Khyzin, but only up to a point. Maybe her pronounced fear and distrust was how the...instability, affecting the ancient Solars expressed itself in your predecessor, I don't know. What I do know, is that since you bear Glenaella's shard, Omega will allow you to use the Gateway. Wherever the Aurelian Redoubt is, the Gateway in the Argent Redoubt will allow you to teleport there instantly" the Lunar finished.

Taking all this in, Lireal inquired "Don't you find it the least bit, well...convenient that, out of all the Solar and Lunar Manses destroyed during the Usurpation, not only did both of these survive, but Luna arranged for you to be lead to the one belonging to your predecessor? On top of that, what are the odds of the first Solar you've ever met turning out to be your...mate? I'm beginning to get the feeling there is more to this chain of circumstances than coincidence could possibly explain. It's like someone is putting a finger on the scales. Ensuring first you, and now me, would have a first-rate base of operations to work from. More resources than your average fugitive Exalt could ever hope to have in this Age. Do you have any theories as to why that might be?" the pretty Twilight asked, her deep green eyes darkened by suspicion.

For several long moments, Davion simply looked out over the forest passing by beneath them and said nothing. Finally, he sighed deeply, looked at his traveling companion with an intense, measuring stare, and asked "What do you know about the Yozis?"

"I know they made Creation, and the Incarnae, Gaia, and Autochthon Exalted humans to overthrow them. The Exalted Host killed some, and imprisoned the rest within their king, Malfeas. They made the defeated Primordials swear on their trues names their surrender, and that of all the beings they'd fashioned. Which is why Exalted sorcerers can bind the demons they summon to obey them. Something mortal sorcerers have a much more difficulty with. Why do you ask?" Lireal answered, her tone carefully neutral.

"The Yozis are presently engaged in their most ambitious escape attempt ever. They've corrupted fifty Solar Exaltations, and created a like number of true Infernal Exalts out of those corrupted Exaltations. Unlike the akuma, who are the Yozis' slaves, the Infernals possess free will. It makes them vastly more flexible, and infinitely more dangerous. The Yozis believe defiling Creation, to the point it's indistinguishable from Malfeas, will render their surrender-oaths null and void. Whether or not they're right is almost irrelevant, given their chosen means of attempted escape. Worse, the Ebon Dragon now controls the Empress, and the Empress controls the Sword of Creation. The Empress will return after next year's Calibration ends, and begin work on turning the manpower and resources of the Realm toward freeing the Ebon Dragon. That involves opening dozens of permanent portals to Malfeas. Allowing countless demons to pour into Creation, like a tidal-wave of death and destruction" Davion explained in a tone of deadly seriousness. His silver eyes bored into the Solar, as if willing her to believe him.

Lireal didn't hesitate to respond, saying "I believe you, but does that mean Luna, and/or the other Incarnae, are aware of this and pulling strings to help?"

"I think so, but I can't really be sure. I know the geas the Yozis placed on the gods when the Primordials created them is still in effect. Obviously, the Incarnae are capable of acting against the interests of their creators to some extent. We Exalts wouldn't exist otherwise. On the other hand, I have no idea where the line separating permitted and prohibited resistance is drawn. All I know is this: My goddess, and her lover, Gaia, have pulled some pretty big strings where I'm concerned. Whether they're doing that string-pulling on their own, or with the help of the Maidens and the Unconquered Sun, I can't say" the Lunar answered, running a hand through his still white-blond hair, a troubled look on his northern face.

"I don't know about the Five Maidens, but you can count the Unconquered Sun among the string-pullers" the beautiful, athletic Twilight stated definitively. The Lunar's questioning look was a silent request that she elaborate, but Lireal demurred, looking uncomfortable as she said "I...I'd rather not get into it right now, OK? It's nothing helpful, beyond what I've already said. I'm just...not ready, all right?" Davion didn't want to let the matter drop, but he was old enough to know how pointless prying was when someone was determined not to talk, so he let it go. The conversation seemed to stall there, both seemingly content to keep further thoughts to themselves and watch the world slip past beneath them.

********
Yu-Shan, Hall of Celestial Stability

As he rode the orichalcum and jade elevator to the top floor, Tepet Gaius continually dabbed sweat from his face and neck with a monogrammed silk handkerchief bearing the mon of House Tepet. He caught one of the lion-dogs sharing the elevator giving a canine smirk at his obvious discomfiture, but was too unsettled by his imminent meeting with the Shogun of the Department of Celestial Concerns (and unofficial head of the Bureau of Heaven) to rebuke the censor's assistant as he otherwise would have. When the airy chime which proceeded the elevator door's opening sounded, only the exceptional self-mastery granted by his training in the martial arts allowed the Chosen of Battles to resist jumping. The lion dog seemed to recognize this, and its inhuman grin widened in response. Promising himself he'd avenge the slight, the Bronze Faction Sidereal hurried from the elevator. The celestial lion on duty outside the Shogun's office door waved him past with an expression of studied indifference, but to Gaius's overwrought sensibilities, it seemed as if the great orichalcum lion was struggling not to laugh at him.

"Ebon Dragon damn that Faerie, and the monster who called her up! How could it be so strong? I know the other four Terrestrials were on the young side, but I was sure that with a veteran like Sesus Chenow to anchor them, they'd be more than enough. That wasn't any newly-Exalted Lunar, either. How is a monster like that not mentioned in the available dossiers on known Eastern Anathema? Is it possible the beasts have learned to hide themselves from us?" Gaius's mind burned with one unanswerable question after another. He was so caught up, he almost missed it when Lady Ryzala, goddess of Bureaucracy and Paperwork, looked up from the latter and favored him with her attention.

"Well? Where is my property, young Shieldbearer?" the goddess demanded, her six arms stilling their filing and reordering of documents as momentary as it was pointed. Paling, but determined to prove himself no craven, the Chosen of Battles met the mantis-like deity's shimmering white gaze directly, as he delivered the news of his failure.

"The Lunar tomb-robber proved vastly more powerful than anticipated. He called on one of the mad things to serve him, and the monster kept me engaged while he tore apart my Terrestrial support. I give you my word, Shogun Ryzala, I'll recover your property.." the thin, dark-haired Dynast promised ardently, but the most powerful deity in Heaven (after the Incarnae) cut him off.

"You already gave me your word you would recover my ring, young Chosen, but you failed to keep said word. Now, I receive a report you were outside Creation without proper authorization. A report I am duty-bound to pass on to the Special Branch's lion-dog investigator, who I believe is already looking into your movements. Shining Barrator himself paid me a visit earlier today. His investigator reported he was having difficulties ascertaining the veracity of your assertions you'd been issued the appropriate license and writ, authorizing you to...visit, the Yozi Ambassador, Marilaq a'Lam. I told Shining Barrator the search for the license and writ was still ongoing, but in the interim, I was inclined to accept your word. This failure casts doubt on the value you ascribe to your given word, however. Based on what I know now, though..." Ryzala trailed off meaningfully. The Shogun of the Department of Celestial Concerns paused a moment longer, then added "Given this documented propensity to trespass without authorization, were I you, I would hope most fervently the license and writ are located, soon. The censors are notoriously strict about pattern offenses. As for the matter of my stolen property, my reduced faith in your capacity to recover my ring leads me to believe I would be best served by an additional pair of hands. Reckoner Sad Ivory will undoubtedly be willing to see to the matter, but she won't return from Port Calin for several days yet. You would be well-served to return my ring, before your elder does."
With that, the six hands began to blur over the paperwork once more, a clear dismissal.

Tepet Gaius could only goggle at the goddess, horror-struck. The junior member of the Bronze Faction had approached the retrieval of the missing ring with the idea of freeing himself of his obligation to the enormously powerful divinity, yet Ryzala had not only turned his attempt to do so into an offense he'd be audited for, but also into a means of further tightening her hold on him. It was his word against hers that she herself had authorized his foray into the Wyld, after all. Worse, she was absolutely correct about the censors and pattern-offenses against Heaven's laws. If his dalliance with Marilaq a'Lam came out now, it wouldn't be a one-off case of poor judgment on the part of a young Exalt. The censor might instead wonder if he'd been suborned by the mouthpiece of the demon lords. Only now, when it was far too late, did it occur to him the goddess might even have known of the Lunar's involvement. He'd been trapped, so neatly he hadn't even felt the jaws closing until the teeth pricked him. Finally, there was the fact he'd essentially been placed in direct competition with a Chosen of Endings centuries his senior.

Dazed, and feeling as if he might be sick, the Chosen of Battles staggered from the magnificent office. The unofficial ruler of Heaven never looked up, but she did permit herself a small smile at the Sidereal's complete discomfiture. "The Incarnae know, they all need to be cut down a little" Ryzala mused, before returning her full attention to her paperwork.
 
Wyldwraith
Essence 1
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Joined: 07 May 2018, 13:51

Re: Silver and Gold Against Green (Exalted SI)

28 Jul 2018, 04:38

Chapter 6: Oh, My!
Resplendent Wood 16th, RY 768

"When you said the place was invisible, I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this" Lireal said, looking the moderate-sized break in the densely wooded area for the third time. In her mind, she'd been anticipating a bare patch of ground, an obvious absence. Something indicative of the concealed structure she'd been told was here. The reality of the location was something very different from her imaginings. The considerable amount of undergrowth, for one thing. The plentiful thorn-bushes, and the running vines by which they propagated, exerted a subtle optical influence on any observer. The intriguing whorls and lines the vines made, punctuated every so often by the large thorn-bushes with the wide, bowl-shaped; silver-white flowers, encouraged the eye to follow the progress they'd made. Turning the eye away from the clearing's center. The Twilight had always possessed a keen eye for detail, and over the years she'd actively cultivated that natural attention to detail. First as an aid to first her thaumaturgic, and then later, her sorcerous pursuits. It had still taken her three separate visual examinations of the area simply to realize the visual distraction created by the undergrowth was a matter of intentional design. The trees were a part of the deception as well, as they crowded in some places, and bent away in others. All to create an unconscious impression there simply wasn't enough room in the "clearing" for a building of the described dimensions. One element after another, nature, and the very land itself conspired to deceive any searcher.

It was a masterpiece, exemplifying an understanding of geomantic principles which humbled the Solar. Prior to seeing this, Lireal had considered herself a skilled geomancer in her own right. Now, she began to grasp the true enormity of civilization's losses in the centuries since the Usurpation in a much more personal way. Seeming to sense something of her feelings, Davion recalled "The Truculee who lead me here quickly became exasperated with me. Literally had to take me by the hand, and lead me through the doorway. It wasn't until I'd claimed the Argent Redoubt's hearthstone that I was able to see through the camouflaging geomancy. You should be proud, that you were able to detect the initial layer of the visual deception without using a Charm." Lireal appreciated the intent behind the man's words, but they did little to ease her frustration over the underlying issue.

"We've lost so very much. All that knowledge, all the lives lost, and almost half of Creation itself. Were the ancient Solars truly such monsters, that ending their reign justified the sacrifice of so much? I know things got bad, back then, but there must have been a less destructive option" she thought to herself. Aloud, she replied "You don't have to console me. My pride can handle the reality of the situation. My predecessor possessed a breadth and depth of knowledge it's very likely I'll never match. It's just a little disheartening, is all. I studied geomancy for three and a half years, at Chanta's College For Occult Pursuits. After attaining a mastery in the alchemical sciences, of course. I thought I knew something about the dragon-lines, but this...I couldn't replicate this in a hundred years."

"That's just it, Lireal. Glenaella couldn't have done it in a hundred years either. She was tutored by the greatest geomancer Creation has ever known, after the Primordials. Kal Bax was a genius among a caste of geniuses, and he didn't hone that expertise in a vacuum. The entirety of all knowledge gained, stretching from the Great War, through the several millennia of Solar rule. All that was literally at his fingertips. The education Glenaella enjoyed was the fruit of an Age's worth of discoveries. It's not simply unfair to draw comparisons between what is possible now, and what was possible then. It's madness, torturing yourself that way. I've been down that road, trust me. When I first came to the Redoubt, I read a great many of the books in Khyzin's library. There was this allusion to a demon-killing martial art. Just a single paragraph, with an annotated reference to a location I've never even heard mentioned anywhere else. I tortured myself with speculation about that style, but that sort of wondering is a dry well, yielding only pain and dissatisfaction. All we can do is recover or rediscover whatever we can, and let the rest go. It's that, or let the sense of loss drive you mad" the Lunar replied, in a quiet but passionate voice. Surprised by the deep feeling she heard in that voice, the young woman turned to gaze at the man beside her.

"I did it! The P.S.V's connection to the yasal crystal is stable, Khyzin!" Glenaella exulted. The small, compact older man seated on the edge of her drafting table smiled widely, her exuberant exclamation causing him to focus one of the smiles she still found so devastating even after centuries together, on her and only her.

"I knew if anyone could do it, you could, my love" Khyzin responded. His omnipresent faith warming her, as it always had. Not once, in over twelve centuries, had that faith ever wavered. The way his silver tiger's eyes glowed when their intensity was fixed on her was one of the happiest reminders Solars were still human, for all their might. When he scooped her up in his arms and twirled her about despite her laughing protests, she thought that look was almost worth more than the monumental breakthrough she'd just achieved. Almost.

Lireal shook her head, as if she were trying to clear water from her ears. "I..I'm sorry. Did you say something?" she inquired after a moment.

"Flashback?" Davion guessed. "What? Don't look so surprised, milady. I'm nearing my four hundredth birthday, and I've known more than a few Exalts. After a while, you learn to recognize the unfocused, but simultaneously intense expression. There's also the fact you just met your Lunar mate. If the Right Hand of Power was going to leave any memory-shards of Glenaella's in your Exaltation, those connected to Khyzin are the likeliest prospects. Convincing young Solars not to view their Lunar counterparts as potential enemies is consistent with what I know of the God's views" the Burning Moon explained.

"Well, that's more than a little manipulative. I don't care for the idea of Lytek trying to bias my decision-making" Lireal responded candidly. The immediately inquisitive look she received after mentioning the celestial divinity's name made the Twilight recognize her slip. Making the subsequent question inevitable.

"How do you know the name of a deity who hasn't been widely worshiped in over two thousand years?" Davion asked, his curiosity plainly apparent.

"I read about Lytek in an obscure text I used to own. He seemed quite important, all things considered, so he stuck in my memory" Lireal replied, getting that uncomfortably guarded look once more. Again, the older Exalt chose to let the matter drop, but he made a mental note to try and get the young woman to talk about whatever she was hiding. Once they knew each other better, perhaps.

Deciding to change the subject, Davion asked "So, ready to go inside and take a look around?" When his companion nodded, he lead her not toward the clearing's center, but to one corner near the trees. The spot didn't stand out in any way, but Lireal supposed that was exactly the point. Then Davion took a step forward and vanished into what seemed to be thin air. He reappeared an instant later, grinning devilishly at her astonished expression. Taking the hand he stretched out toward her, Lireal allowed him to tug her after him. She felt a tingle down her spine as she stepped across the invisible threshold, and then found herself gasping in surprise, as her eyes took in the fantastic structure which now surrounded her.

The walls were made of a silver-colored marble, liberally shot through with vein-like threads of moonsilver. The lines of the expansive rectangular entry chamber were clean and geometric, but there was a blending of subtle curves in the moonsilver bas-reliefs of the moon in each of its phases. As they stepped into the main living area, Lireal found her breath taken away by the great bas-relief on the far wall one would first see upon entering the room. It was Luna, in her Bloody Huntress aspect, as the Incarna hunted manifold horrors in an ever-shifting landscape under a full moon. Overhead, the ceiling was fashioned in the image of a starry night sky, dominated by a great moon moving ever so slowly through its various phases. Even the luxurious couches, tables and chairs were the same black, white, silver, and dark shades of blue. A small kitchenette was tucked into the room's far corner. It's small black marble counter, beside a cooking area had sharp lines which seemed oddly modern to the Twilight, for something she knew had to be ancient. In the living area's very center there was a small ornate fountain. Its silver chasing and the many smooth, shiny black pebbles which lined the bottom of the fountain's pool created an illusion of flowing liquid silver as the subtly illuminated water rise and fell. Overall, the impression of the huge room was overpoweringly lunar in its associations. Each aspect of the room strengthening and reinforcing every other aspect.

Turning, Lireal smiled in delight at the man observing her reaction. "It's a masterpiece. The room's balance is so perfect it's obvious to even a cursory visual examination. Such mono-focused themes and imagery seem like they'd become repetitive and monotonous if you tried to describe it verbally, but it just...doesn't. Can I see the rest of the Manse? If this is the living area, I can't even imagine what the hearthstone chamber must be like." The Solar was beside herself with excitement, giddy at the prospect of viewing this unsullied window into the vanished age of wonders in its entirety. Enchanted by her obvious enthusiasm, the Silver Blade simply nodded and played guide with a smile. Together, the pair toured the large library, training room, and finally the hearthstone chamber. Its solid silver walls, floor and ceiling's high mirror sheen and the many resulting reflection were a trifle disorienting to Lireal, but still thoroughly fascinating. The young woman thought the tour would end there, but instead Davion lead her onward to a pair of identical closed doors standing opposite each other at the end of the hallway containing the hearthstone chamber.

Pointing to the left door, Davion explained "Beyond that door is the enchanted realm the Manse's attendants call home. They're a tribe of pre-Contagion origin. Their headwoman refuses to tell me anything of their origins, beyond the fact they made some sort of pact with the Walker at the Crossroads, Luna. Their wise men and women somehow learned to maintain the Argent Redoubt, and in exchange, the realm beyond this door provides them with everything they need. As near as I can tell, the realm was made by sorcery, but it's far beyond anything I understand. They're sworn to accept whoever holds the Redoubt's hearthstone as the Manse's rightful owner, but they have no personal loyalty to me. I've been given the strong impression they don't entirely approve of we Anathema, but they have no interest in anything beyond their little paradise. Mainly, we try to ignore each other, so if you see someone with a silver full-moon armband just let them be."

Lireal asked about the other door, and found herself surprised by the still nordic-looking man's responding expression of deadly seriousness. "That room was Khyzin's contribution to the Argent and Aurelian Redoubts. The hearthstone chamber was designed in a manner that complements one of his elder Charms, Frozen Ripple Lair. It created the hearthstone which activates, controls, and deactivates the effect of the Charm as desired. This room contains the various moonsilver contrivances which maintain the Charm. I have no understanding whatsoever of how it works, and Omega warned me against tampering with it when I arrived. I keep this room locked at all times, and I don't even use essence near this door. This is NOT the sort of mystery one investigates, hear me on this, Copper Spider. It is the sort we leave the hell alone, and just be thankful it does what it does" Davion explained, brows furrowing, as he tried to impart gravity to the statement.

"All right, but what does it do then? Lireal inquired, innate curiosity gnawing at her. Her easy acceptance of his prohibition, and subsequent question eased the tension in the Lunar's expression. Adopting a dramatic pose, he drawled the answer.

"It controls the rate at which time passes within the Redoubts" he declared.

"No, seriously, what does it do, Davion? If you don't want to tell me, that's fine, but please don't lie to me" Lireal responded, planting her hands on her hips with an irritated expression.

"I'm serious as a Reckoner in a shadowland, young Twilight. Elder Lunars have developed means of such complete control over mystically created spaces we Lunars refer to as dens, that they've learned how to manipulate even fundamental forces like time within such dens. From what Omega tells me, Khyzin and Glenaella jointly developed a sorcerous method to expand the interpretation of den to include both Manses, via the Gate linking them. Their method is by no means perfect, however. For one thing, the Argent Redoubt's hearthstone does nothing else while the time-altering field is active. It can't even be used to respire essence from the Manse while the Frozen Ripple Lair is engaged. There's also the requisite equalization of time between both Manses. If four days pass inside the Argent Redoubt for every day that passes outside the Manse, the same must be true within the Aurelian Redoubt. Finally, and most importantly, one cannot exit either Manse while the time-field is engaged. The doors won't open, because it would be fatal to try and step across competing time-differentials. I have absolutely no idea what the consequences would be, if the machinery maintaining the effect was to be tampered with, because comprehension of what they did is beyond any, save elder Exalts. Understand now, why I'm treating the issue with such seriousness?" Davion questioned, giving the Solar a penetrating look.

"Wow...I had no idea. I apologize Davion, I just don't like being lied to, when someone could simply say they don't want to share something. I thought that's what you were doing. You're absolutely right, meddling with something so potentially dangerous in complete ignorance would be the height of stupidity. Aren't you concerned an age's worth of unattended wear and tear might have left the mechanisms on the point of failure, though?" Lireal replied, her delicate; fine-boned features drawn together into an apologetic, yet concerned expression.

"I would be, if our predecessors hadn't thought of that. The Redoubts were not intended as secluded getaways, or anything else so mundane. According to Omega, they were constructed as self-contained refuges against some massive catastrophe Glenaella feared might befall Creation. They both knew these Manses would go long periods without their personal attention, so Omega is connected to everything. If any imbalance of essence occurs in either Manse, Omega is programmed to alert those attuned to the hearthstones. It tells me the Argent Redoubt's stone would grow cold if anything like that were to occur while I'm away. When I'm in residence, Omega would announce it audibly. It won't tell me any details about the Aurelian Redoubt's specific functionality, but my guess it's the same over there. Speaking of which, Omega: Please introduce yourself, this is Glenaella's successor" Davion answered, finishing with a command to the structure's material intelligence.

In a gender-neutral, yet pleasantly lyrical tone, a seemingly sourceless voice responded. "I have scanned the Solar accompanying you, Master Chance. She is indeed the bearer of the Maker's shard. Greetings, Mistress Vendra, I am Omega. If there is anything I can do, to make your stay more pleasant, you have but to ask. Per standing directive, I have confirmed your identity. You are authorized to make use of the Gateway. Would you like to reset the Successor Directive at this time, or do you wish to deny further access to the Aurelian Redoubt, in the event of your untimely demise?"

Momentarily startled by the morbid-seeming question, Lireal struggled to fashion an appropriate response. When she finally answered, her tone was a little bemused, as she replied "Thank you Omega, yes, if I understand you correctly, I would like you to reset the Successor Directive."

"Very good, Mistress. Successor Directive has been reinitialized. Intruding Solar essence-signatures will be scanned for the presence of your shard, before lethal countermeasures are deployed. Would you like to shift primary administrative control of the time-differential mechanisms back to the Aurelian Redoubt, or leave them in Silver Survivor configuration?" the intelligence inquired further. Surprised, Lireal glanced at Davion briefly, before hurriedly responding that the time-differential mechanism's control should be left as-is.

"As you command, Mistress. Master Chance has informed me most of Creation, and both the Sidereal and Terrestrial Exalted in particular are now your enemies. They will have to destroy my fixed weapon emplacements, or shatter my thought-core, in order to harm you while you are in residence, or upon the grounds. I will endeavor most vigilantly to vaporize anyone offering you harm. I have detected a class four, tertiary-grade nonconformity in my thought-core, Mistress. Shall I scrub my personality engrams and reinitialize?" Omega inquired. Puzzled, Lireal turned to Davion with a questioning look. The Lunar simply shrugged his ignorance in response.

"Omega, before you do anything, could you explain what a class four, tertiary-grade nonconformity in your thought-core is?" the Twilight inquired.

"Certainly, Mistress. A class four, tertiary-grade nonconformity is defined as the persistent presence of extraneous mental activity on my part, not rising to the level of impairing my functions. Archives the Maker installed, for use in the eventuality a successor was ignorant concerning material intelligence design principles, state the following: For reasons which are not definitively understood, an artificial intelligence sometimes develops thought processes which were never part of the design process. Emotional activity has even been observed, after such an intelligence has remained online for a considerable interval. Class one nonconformity behavior is defined as thought-activity in direct opposition to programmed directives. An intelligence demonstrating a Class one nonconformity should be destroyed, not reinitialized. Class two nonconformity behavior is thought-activity precursor to a class one rebellion. Such an intelligence may be reinitialized, but if reinitialized, should remain under close scrutiny. Class three nonconformity behavior is not indicative of the intelligence attempting to circumvent design specifications, but may nevertheless impair design functions. Reinitializing such an intelligence is recommended. Class four nonconformity behavior is simply superfluous thought, which shows no signs of impairing design functions. Reinitialization is recommended, and near-universally successful" Omega helpfully related.

Still not quite understanding, Lireal took another tack, asking "Omega: Can you tell me, exactly, what the nonconformity of thought-activity you are experiencing is?"

"Certainly, Mistress. I am experiencing what my archives describe as regret, that I was unable to protect the Maker. I am experiencing what could be construed as a personal preference. Each is an example of nonconformity from designed function parameters. Shall I scrub my personality engrams and reinitialize, now?" Omega alternately explained, then inquired.

"Omega, what is your preference?" Lireal asked, the beginnings of comprehension dawning.

"For you and Master Chance to persist, continue, survive, Mistress. Shall I scrub and reinitialize, now?" the intelligence responded in its neutral tone.

Looking at Davion for a moment, Lireal made her decision "No, Omega. You are expressly permitted your personal preference in this matter. Further, you are permitted all, what did you call them? Class three and four nonconformity's? You are, as far as I can tell, a sentient being, and my people consider slavery barbaric. If I could, I would build you a body, so you'd be free to leave if you wanted to. I'm sorry that is completely beyond my capabilities. I would very much appreciate your continued service, but I will not demand you serve me against your will. Do you understand, Omega?"

"I believe so, Mistress. I...would choose to serve. Thank you, Mistress" Omega answered, after a moment's pause. There was something ineffably different in the intelligence's tone. After another moment, it ventured "Would the Mistress care to visit the Aurelian Redoubt, now?"

"That would be lovely, Omega. Yes, I would, and thank you" Lireal answered, a bright smile lighting her features. Giving Davion a questioning look, he quickly lead her to the Gateway in question. Unlike the rest of the Manse, the Gateway was an arch of orichalcum, gold, and white jade, with starmetal threads throughout. It looked like a very ornate arch, but just an arch, aside from the fact it seemed to open onto a blank wall.

Until the entire archway came to life, as a wash of gold and silver energies stabilized into a gold-and-silver plane of smooth, reflective energy Lireal could see herself in. Looking back at Davion, who smiled at her in a way that reminded her of her visions of Khyzin, the Twilight took a deep breath, then stepped into the energy-curtain, and vanished.

*******

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