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The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 7/16/12)

20 Jun 2012, 20:34

A few months ago, some folks kicked around the idea of doing a radio play for Exalted on the White Wolf forums. Like virtually all collaborations, it fell apart before it began but the script I wrote for it teased me and amused me. So, for kicks, I decided to turn it into a proper story.

For the moment, this post will have a few brief comments about the story but will probably wind up with a table of contents at some point.

Bryony Rue in this story was created by both Astra and myself as part of her Lover's Oath project. This Bryony may or may not be the same Byony, only time will tell. As for the viewpoint character of the first chapter, Siyas may remind some readers of another Sidereal of mine. That's probably intentional, and significant rather than just a symptom of recycling. His mystery isn't half of the story alone but it's a good one. As for the Alchemical and Lunar, well, I always planned to write about the next incarnations of Solitary Coil and Enthusiastic Agile Mechanic. Here's their test run.

To any who choose to come along for the ride, hang on and I hope you have fun! All comments and critique are welcome. :)
Last edited by Epiphany on 16 Jul 2012, 14:30, edited 4 times in total.
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The City on the Edge of Forever (Part 1)

20 Jun 2012, 20:35

Siyas exhaled, causing a small cloud to billow in the frozen tundra.

"Interesting," he murmured. "It's cold here. Yes, must be the North. The only question is, how far North? Tastes like Creation still. Nothing wobbly about my breath, it's not trying to eat me so safe to say we're still in Creation. But never mind that, old boy. A better question; am I talking to myself or to an audience?"

"I've known you a few months now, Professor, and I still don't know the answer to that question."

The Sidereal turned and took in his surroundings. Cold. Frozen wasteland, as far as the eye could see. Siyas realized his first impression was false. This wasn't tundra. Sheer ice stretched from horizon to horizon, broken up only by the unevenness of the landscape. Behind him, Siyas saw a trail of footprints leading from where they'd come.

Far ahead, he could see a plateau all by itself. Nothing else to see, geographically speaking. Empty barren landscape filled only by spectacular cliffs that seemed strangely empty of ice. So why were they here?

His crimson eyes shifted to the woman presently standing next to him. She was thickly bundled in furs over sturdy, sensible boots. Still, Siyas could make out a pretty face and a shock of black hair fallen across her forehead. She carried a large, bulky backpack that mostly concealed the bundled daiklave she carried sheathed beneath it. It was almost clever.

"Sorry?" he asked.

"For what?"

"No, I mean I'm sorry I didn't hear you. What did you say?"

"Nothing worth repeating." She sighed, weariness evident in both tone and body. "Come on, Professor. If you want to make it by nightfall, we won't do it standing here."

"Right. Of course. After you?"

"You think I know where we're going?"

Siyas chuckled at the incredulous eyebrows peeking out from beneath the fur-lined hood of her coat. Then he shrugged and started forward. The tracks behind them pointed a straight line ahead after all. Presumably they'd find something before they walked off the edge of the world.

Cold, gusting wind from the Elemental Pole of Air bent their heads. It gave Siyas a chance to inspect himself. Yes, same knee-length fur coat with leggings and good sturdy boots. Mittens covered his hands. Completely dressed against the North indeed. From the unsubsiding warmth of the clothes, he suspected a Ritual of Elemental Empowerment for the extra protection. That was charitable of someone, possibly himself.

Speaking of himself, Siyas patted his waist and came up empty on pockets. Disappointing. Then he realized he carried a pack as well. Perhaps his diary was in there. Time enough for it later, though. In the meantime, the Sidereal took the opportunity of the fierce northern winds to keep his head down and pry open the drawstring-taut gap between mitten and sleeve. Sure enough, Siyas found the Clockwise Cascade girding his left wrist. The elegant starmetal bracelet had a hum to its inner mechanisms he could hear even over these winds. But then, theirs was a long and interesting relationship after all.

He frowned as he took in the display. Siyas tapped the adamant facing, prodding the Cascade to change the complex configuration of orrery-like gears that made up its interior. Then he shook his head and slowed, allowing the woman to catch up.

"Should we have introductions to make when we reach our destination, how should I introduce you?" Siyas said, his tone light and conversational.

"Bryony's fine. Doctor Rue if you must. Not that I expect it to matter."

"Oh? And why's that then?"

"No one will be talking to me. They'll be talking to you. I can't speak Skytongue, remember?" Bryony glanced his way, scowling from beneath her hood. "Though thanks for at least confirming there will be other people when we get there."

"That depends on how you define people, I expect," Siyas said, turning her name over in his mind. Bryony Rue. Eastern? Likely. Could be Tengese but not with her looks nor with that black hair. Her accent was Thorns. Eastern, definitely Eastern. "For that matter, it depends on if you think the Exalted are still people."

"Huh?"

"You said 'other people'. In some parts of the world, humans might say people are mortals and that the Exalted are divine and all of that nonsense."

"Do I look like an Immaculate?" she asked.

"Are you trying to?"

"Professor, we spent a month on ship after ship sailing from Nexus up to Malice Bay. That day we spent flying from Icehome to Diamond Hearth on that airship was just enough for everything to get sore before we spent more weeks trudging across all this ice. For the last two days, we've been staring at that plateau ahead at the top of those cliffs. All this time, you've never told me why we've come, only that it's important. I'm trying to keep my spirits up here but being coy with questions isn't winning you smiles right now."

"Diamond Hearth, did you say? Marvelous. Must be post-Usurpation then. Post-Shogunate, come to think of it. Wasn't it found, what, 600 years or so after?"

Bryony came to a stop and just stared at him.

"Have they found Tzatli yet?"

"Thirty years ago, at least." Bryony shook her head and snagged his arm, tugging him forward again. "I'd say you're weirder than usual but-."

"But what?"

"But you're always this weird."

Siyas grinned, at the description and at the undertones of easy warmth in her barbs. Bryony might be unhappy about spending months on the road but she clearly liked him. The Sidereal then considered that thought before peering at her.

"Speaking of weird, I've got this weird ache in the back of my tooth here," Siyas said, tapping the right side of his face as she turned hers towards him. "Fancy a look? I think I might have damaged it."

"Open your mouth." Bryony looked inside as he looked down at her intent, detached expression. "I don't see anything wrong. Hold on. ...No, there's nothing wrong with you at all according to my Flawless Diagnosis Technique. Now stop stalling and let's make some time."

Siyas mumbled something complimentary before taking the lead again. So, she really was a doctor. A Solar doctor for that matter. Thankfully, there was little evidence of romantic intimacy. She cared for him but in the way an old friend or comrade might. Very convenient. Those feelings would cover a multitude of mistakes without adding complications he didn't need.

The North. A Solar. A Doctor.

He stopped in his tracks. When Bryony nearly ran into him and tried to push past, he thrust out an arm and stopped her too. Slowly, he lifted his arm and pointed down at the ground. A thin line in the ice wound its way across the land just shy of the cliffs. They'd almost reached it and he hadn't noticed.

Siyas realized his throat had sealed shut. With effort, he swallowed. Then he coughed out another billow of fog.

"Professor?"

"Come along then, mind your step," he said at last, steeling up his courage.

"We've been walking through all this ice for weeks. I know how to watch my footing."

"Do you now. I suppose you do. Except, come to think of it, you don't."

"What was that?" she hissed as he crossed the boundary.

"I said you-careful now, Doctor, I've got you."

"What the hell was that?!?"

Siyas didn't answer her for the moment. It gave his Solar companion that moment to get her bearings and recover from the effect. He needed the same moment for the same reason, and more.

Then he bent down, pulled his mitten off and brushed his hand through the grass. Tall blades of green stroked his palm, stirred by his motion. Unsurprisingly, they didn't bounce back to standing upright but remained bent. Siyas stood, brushed the snow off of his coat and watched it settle. Within moments, it clung like dust to the summer stocks of grass.

"Well, that depends. Do you want to know what it is or do you want to know what it's like?

"I want to know what it is," Bryony asked. She pulled her hood down, revealing a tanned, freckled face.

"Technically, it's the liminal boundary between Creation proper and an asamasaratic region that experienced terminal Tapestry disconnection. That exact drop of pressure, pulse and respiration we both experienced was caused by the wake of a suspended Reality Incursion. Severity 7, or nearabouts to it."

"Would you like to try that again, Professor? I'm a doctor, not a scholar."

"You could try calling me Siyas, you know," the Sidereal said, narrowing his golden eyes.

"You could try using words I actually understand, you know."

"...Fair point. So that's what it is. What it's like is, well, it's tricky. It's like triage. Situational triage. Imagine for a moment that you're on a battlefield, hundreds of people, all very badly hurt. What you do is you sort through them, find the ones you can save quickly and you save as many of those as you can. Those who might live but would require too much work, well..."

"I know what triage is." The Solar's green eyes narrowed as well, then tilted away in introspection. "You're saying someone did this on purpose?"

"Everything you see right now is purposed, yes. Bryony, we're somewhere that was never supposed to be. An age and ages ago, this was part of the Diamond Hills Province. This RBC used to produce crops, herbs, they used to have mines filled with shining jewels ripe for the plucking. Livestock? You couldn't count how many sheep, goats and mammoths used to walk here. Look at those, do you see those?"

"The tall metal spikes?" she asked, following his finger towards a ring of them around the plateau.

"Tall metal spikes, don't you know what those are? A work of genius, those are! Look at the tops. White jade alloy anchoring moonsilver trifilament cabling. Once, these were spread out over half the North, channeling geomantic power on a scale so big they had to invent a new one just to chart it."

As he marveled at seeing Tzatli's power source like this, Bryony just firmed her lips together before saying, "That's odd."

"No, that's not odd. That's amazing! That's fantastic!"

"Not that. I mean the cables."

"What's that?"

"Look at the cables."

"What about them?"

"Professor, we're on a flat plain of ice facing a cliff face surrounded by all these metal poles with taut wires in the air."

Siyas chuckled and said, "Perfectly obvious but, please, continue."

"The cables aren't anchored into the cliff," Bryony said, pointing upwards at the moonsilver wires that came to abrupt end above the line in the land separating grass from ice. "What are they anchored to? It's like it's...frozen."

"It is. Well, it's not exactly. It's not from the cold anyway."

That's when Bryony realized what he'd noticed from the moment they'd entered; how unearthly quiet everything was. No wind, no sound at all but theirs. Bryony's luminous green eyes turned towards Siyas. There. Unfamiliar as this situation was, unfamiliar as she was, this Sidereal had seen that expression on countless faces. It was equal parts confused fear and amazed wonder mixed with a faith laid naked and bare before him. A faith in him, a trust that he'd sort it all out.

"Professor, what happened here?" she whispered.

"The Great Contagion. It was a dark time, as I'm sure you've heard. Millions dead and dying. The Fair Folk marched on us, intent on wiping us all out, a full million of them, give or take a color or a letter or two."

"A color?"

"Maybe a million and orange. They like orange, you know. Doesn't rhyme with anything. They think that's hilarious. Which it is, really, if you think like the Fair Folk. Which you don't. Sorry, am I rambling?"

"I can't really tell anymore," Bryony said, sounding as numb as she looked.

"Right. Sorry. Suppose we should get on with it, now that we're here."

Siyas looked up at the cliffs, familiar cliffs now that he was this close to them. He bent his head to conceal a look of anguish he couldn't suppress. Nodding firmly, the Chosen of Journeys mastered himself, reached out his hand, and placed it on the side of the cliff face.

Then he pulled the entire plateau down to ground level.

A tremendous roar of rock filled the air. The cliffs sank down and down, still moving on their own from the momentum of his shove. Bryony's startled cry vanished beneath the cacophony of it. He caught the lip of the top before it passed too far, slowed its descent and finally stopped it at ground level.

Stretched out before them was an enormous valley. Green grass filled his field of vision. Farms dotted the landscape below, linked together by a handful of simple roads. All paths led to the small city at the valley's heart, of course. It gleamed in the pale Northern sunset from outside.

"That's impossible," Bryony said, astonishment wiping away all other emotion.

"It is, isn't it," Siyas said agreeably. "I mean, that much sheer rock beneath all those farmlands must weigh millions and billions of tons. The city alone would sink a hundred ships if you balanced it across their backs."

"How?"

"Because there's a rule that connects the concept of cliffs with the concepts of climbing and falling. A plateau weighs a million tons because it's supposed to, because somewhere there's a rule that looks at rocks, looks at a volume of rocks and says they should be about this heavy. Only those rules aren't here anymore. They haven't been for centuries. We cut them away to keep out the Great Contagion, in a desperate attempt to save the lives of the people who lived here."

"Triage," she said, grasping the only sensible thing in that much scale. "So it's here because of you?"

"I cut Nacre away from the Tapestry, Bryony," Siyas said, no longer able to hide the old pain. "I cut it away to save it from a world I thought was dying. Only I was too late. The Great Contagion had already got in. Sooner or later, we reconnected all the places we cut away back to the Loom of Fate but not here. I don't know why, exactly, but I think I can guess. It's because I was born here. It's because I couldn't let Nacre, my homeland, die."

"Professor..." Her gloved hand closed over his shoulder. She cared. And if he didn't know her like she obviously knew him, it didn't make the gesture any less touching. "Professor, you must know it's too late. That was seven hundred years ago. Even if there were still people here, the incubation rate is..."

"Ah. Figured it out have you?" he asked, as fresh astonishment eroded the rest of what she intended to say.

"Professor, you can't really mean there's still people here, can you? The same people? No one's aged a day in all that time? Those cables in the air, they're not just frozen, they're frozen in time!

"Time's just another rule. One that doesn't work here."

"Then what are we doing here?"

The Chosen of Journeys turned his back on Nacre and faced his Solar companion. Bryony looked stark, strict in her frost-bitten furs against a backdrop of twilight tundra beyond. So little life here. So little chance. What had he been thinking? What could possibly have led him to gamble all their lives like this? Why now?

"I can guess," Siyas said at last. "You see, there weren't Solars in the days of the Great Contagion, Bryony. All the wonders we were capable of, oh, you should have seen our proud triumphs but they couldn't compare to yours. It took more than seven hundred years but, finally, miracles have returned to Creation. I brought you here to save them, Doctor. You have to. You're the only one who can."
Last edited by Epiphany on 23 Jun 2012, 02:37, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 6/20/12)

20 Jun 2012, 22:25

I like it! I remember the radio play idea. It was pretty neat. I'd have volunteered to read for it but a slew of folks had already done so before me and the deadline had passed by the time I noticed that it was a thing. Ah well.

I really like Siyas.
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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 6/20/12)

22 Jun 2012, 16:40

I have to admit, I was really intrigued at the idea of a radio play, in part because I've recently become a fan of the Big Finish radio productions of classic Doctor Who featuring the original casts. Remarkably fascinating to listen to, in truth. Also, writing description has always been the bane of my existence. Writing dialogue and action, though, and in a radio play -everything- is dialogue and action.

You'd make an amazing voice actress for any Exalted fan work, I have no doubt! The project fell apart, though, when the deadline passed and no one was willing to just pick one and/or actually coordinate doing it. Amusing and ironic, given enough people volunteered to voice-act both of the scripts submitted. Ah well.

I also like Siyas. I'm only starting to get into his head and it's a fascinating, tangled place. Thanks for reading so far!
BrilliantRain: There are those who would note that sometimes, sometimes, you get the things you really need instead of the things you deserve.
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The City on the Edge of Forever (Part 2)

23 Jun 2012, 02:34

Bryony Rue felt as frozen in her steps as the vast field of grass was frozen in time. As frozen as the fields of ice around and beyond. Shock robbed her of motion. Thoughts raced through her mind, panic chasing panic.

"Wait, you think I can cure the Great Contagion? I have no idea how to cure it. No one does. You brought me all this way for this?"

"Evidently!" Siyas said. He suddenly looked completely, obnoxiously cheerful.

"If you'd told me when we left Nexus what you planned, I'd have stopped you before we left on this fool's errand!"

He snapped his fingers and said, "Maybe that's why I didn't tell you."

Rather than sounding sarcastic, Siyas actually looked pleased. It was as if he'd just realized it. Nonsense, of course. The man was full of nothing but nonsense. Following him into the North was madness. Why hadn't she stayed in Nexus? What on earth could she possibly accomplish here? And why did he have to be so damn good looking?

The attraction hadn't been immediate. On the surface, Siyas wasn't much to look at. He had a good looking face but his thick brown hair was lanky, almost always disheveled and yet not long enough for it to be a sexy kind of dishevelment. As brown went, it was more mousy than anything. His crimson eyes failed to be the sexy kind of dangerous, instead twinkling more like a glass of wine than arterial red. Siyas had an undeniable athleticism to him that he utterly failed to show off by dressing in long coats and unfashionable scarves over an antique suit that might predate the Usurpation. The tie was positively ridiculous, she thought. At least he'd kept his boot shopping for this trip to less than half a day. Honestly, most women spent less time on shoes than he did.

And yet. Bryony sighed as he failed again to notice she was upset. Why couldn't she shake this crush? Maybe it was the tenderness she saw in those red irises when he looked at people. He'd saved her life, of course. But Professor Siyas was the kind of man who'd save anyone if he could, even at great cost to himself. Then there were moments like this, when something as simple as a revelation made him smile like the most carefree child in the world.

He was a good man, the best. Even if he'd make a terrible boyfriend.

Bryony pushed a lock of her naturally black hair out of her eyes. Then she snapped her fingers. Siyas focused immediately.

"I don't know how to do this," she said. To her horror, Bryony could hear the quiver in her voice, feel the tears welling up in her eyes. "You know I'd save them if I could but I-"

"Shhhhh, there now."

Just like that, Siyas was before her. His hands clasped her arms, squeezing affectionately. The man's eyes were even more affectionate. Siyas picked up on attraction cues about as well as a blind Immaculate Monk could spot a head needing a shave but he cared. They hardly knew each other and still he reached out to her like this, comfort his first thought. What girl wouldn't be head over heels from that?

"Professor, I-"

"Shhhhh. No talking." That's when he hugged her. Bryony froze again, then started to pull away, then started to relax into it. Finally, she just hugged him back. "Better?"

To her surprise, she said, "Yes."

"Brilliant. Now follow me."

Bryony opened her mouth and shut it a moment later. By the time words got out, the sight of his back would be half out of sight given his pace. The Solar clenched one fist tightly, counted to ten, and set out after him.

The valley of Nacre was strange for reasons far beyond its stillness. Bryony walked in the wake of Siyas' broad stride and listened for the swish-swish of grass against her tightly bundled legs. She heard it but it was different than it should be. Muted. More like a breath than a caress.

Ahead lay a scene of complete pastoral paradise. A sea of grass gave way to wide fields ripe for harvesting. Bryony squinted, then counted. Wheat, grass for hay, rows of beans were common. She saw cotton growing, sections for millet, for rice, even for hops and teas. There was such an abundance of food here. How was it possible that it could have grown this far North?

They reached a road at last. Bryony paused as she stepped onto it, eyeing her companion. Siyas had already swung the pack off his shoulders and was in the midst of divesting himself of his coat, his leggings and those boots. The Solar realized how warm she was and followed suit a moment later.

"So how's this work? I'm warm. It feels warm here. Where does the heat come from?"

"Combination of things, really. The first is Age of Splendor engineering. Weather control, my dear Doctor," he added when she gave him a look. "The Solar Deliberative ordered the weather they wanted. The Bureau of Seasons in Yu-Shan complied. Basically. It's really about 90,000 times more complicated than that, if you go into the charts. Anyway, there was a weather map in place for this region back in the day which kept things warmer. Not warm, though. Some of the local heat you're feeling is probably from the Tzatli power grid. It drew most of its power from the Diamond Hills Province, which Nacre's a part of in case you wondered."

"So, it won't get cold?"

"Not until we patch Nacre back into the Tapestry, I suspect," Siyas said thoughtfully as he pawed through his pack.

"At which point, what keeps them all from freezing to death given it's solid ice out there?"

The crimson-eyed man paused, looked across the flap of his pack at her and frowned. Then he shook his head. "I can't be expected to solve every problem at once."

"...That's a pretty big problem, Professor!"

"Blimey, you think? Never mind it, I'm sure we'll sort it somehow."

Bryony wasted a perfectly good glare on the back of his head when he turned away. Again. Why did she put up with it?

At least she was back in her regular garb. In this case, a plain brown tunic worn over chainmail. Bryony hefted her pack up onto her shoulders just after removing an equally plain brown leather bag. She might need her medicinal tools after all, even if she hadn't the slightest idea what to do here. This wasn't any plague. The Great Contagion had murdered millions. What could she possibly do against it?

The road made for faster travel. The packed dirt had the firm feel of soil with little rain. She kicked her foot up through the surface and sprayed a small cloud of dust into the air. It made her smile for a moment. It'd been weeks since she'd last seen anything but snow after all. Then the dust failed to settle back down.

Shaking her head, Bryony settled back into the marching pace she'd maintained all the way here. Siyas started whistling. It was something light hearted, cheery, if strange in mode. The Solar shook her head. On the surface, it seemed almost disrespectful. When she thought about it, though, Bryony realized it was once again just what she needed. The two of them walked in a land impossibly alive this far north but that life was a lie.

Everything around her was just life on the cusp of death.

She shivered. Then she peered around her slowing companion to see what caught his attention. A man stood by the side of the road, eyes cast towards the diamond city of Nacre. Bryony drew up beside him. After a few seconds of scrutiny, she swung her pack off and opened up her kit.

Suspended in time, motionless, the man nonetheless looked exhausted. Haunted too. Black circles beneath the eyes, poor skin color, sunken cheeks. Not from lack of food, if the landscape was to be believed. Bryony ignored his strange clothes by cutting his shirt off of him. Gloved fingers pressed against flesh. Curious. He had the texture of certain kinds of wax, both supple and rigid at the same time. The Solar pushed a finger into a soft part of his arm, then drew it back. She watched the indention she left. It didn't go away.

"Professor, this is...this is ridiculous."

"Is it?" Siyas peered over her shoulder, looking completely absorbed in studying the poor, doomed farmer.

"I can't test for reaction against regents. I can't even check his pulse! A significant part of a doctor's diagnosis comes from cooperation with the patient, asking questions and eliminating possibilities based on reported symptoms. What the hell am I supposed to do with a man who can't move?"

"Good question. Have you tried your Charms?"

"Listen to me. It's dangerous just being here. We could be catching it right now, just by breathing. As it is, I can't accurately measure his temperature or pick up any tactile cues because I don't dare touch his skin just in case. Symptoms don't appear for days or weeks and, when they do, they begin with nausea, diarrhea, coughing, fever, chills, joint pain. I can see the man's flushed but that could be from just being on the road. Nothing else is diagnostic."

"Then, my dear doctor, perhaps you should try your Ailment-Rectifying Method."

Bryony narrowed her green eyes. "I can't treat him without a diagnosis."

"Assume he has it then."

"You don't understand, Professor. There's no cure for the Great Contagion, remember? If I'm going to even try to do this impossible thing, I have to invent one on my own. Ailment-Rectifying Method might make it possible, I don't know, but even it needs the essence of a cure. Herbs, chemicals, a treatment as a counterpart."

Siyas frowned. "You don't know Contagion-Curing Touch?"

"...I do. But I've never used it without a diagnosis."

"You already know what the diagnosis is, though. Great Contagion. Just put your Charms together, see what happens."

"Please tell me you usually plan better than this. I'd hate to think the Jhni-Iris incident in the Bastion District was this," she paused, groping for the word and finally settling on, "half-assed."

"Then don't think it," Siyas said, grinning once more.

Making an annoyed sound, Bryony returned to the figure of the frozen man. No, he was a man even if he was beyond awareness. No green tint to the skin, that was promising. Could he really have the greatest disease that'd ever afflicted Creation? Really?

Finally, Bryony set her tools aside and placed her hands on his shoulders. Closing her eyes, she called up the fiery essence within, letting it flow through her blood, carried through her arteries with each beat of her heart to her fingertips. There, it welled through her gloves and sank into the farmer. Contagion-Curing Touch could make up for a lack of critical ingredients. Could it make up for a lack of knowledge? She didn't know exactly how the disease targeted the bones, the muscle, the nerves, the brain, every fiber of a man's being until his death liquefied his whole body. But the Unconquered Sun had given her His power. She didn't know what the disease destroyed but she knew how to heal, how to make anything whole.

Essence pulsed through her, ticking out into the man trapped in time. Sunlight surrounded her, suffused them both. Minutes, hours, time truly became meaningless in the moment as Bryony forged a binding connection of light between them. Her hands felt the nascent evil, then, locked inside that mortal frame, locked in time but no less lethal. Charms had always enhanced the skill she'd already had but this was something else, something transcending simple speed or accuracy. With a fluttering, ragged breath, Bryony grimaced and flexed her essence. The Great Contagion shrieked immaterially and tore apart, shredded to tatters by the fury of her righteous light.

Slowly, the Solar came to herself. Siyas dabbed her cheeks with a white handkerchief he pulled from somewhere. Bryony touched her face and looked at the dampness on her glove. She felt drained. She felt elated. In that moment, she looked in the wine-red eyes of the man who'd saved her and-.

"Steady on there, doctor."

Bryony blinked several times, then grinned shakily. She'd almost done something awkward there, hadn't she? The Solar tugged her gloves off and rubbed her face. "I'm fine, Professor. Just...drained."

"You'd think you'd never done the impossible before," Siyas said, chuckling and patting her cheek tenderly. Then he frowned, caught her just bared hand and turned it over. "What's that there?"

"Hmmm?" Bryony looked down at the sapphire ring girding her left ring finger. "Oh. It's just a ring I have. Why, does it matter?"

"How long have you had this?"

"...I don't remember. Always, I guess? Does it matter?" Bryony looked closer at the ring. Sapphire atop a band of silvery steel. Intricate lettering flowed across the flawless metal. The memory of remembering flickered tantalizingly out of sight. She shrugged, then tensed. "Siyas? Have you been here before?"

"Presumably. Don't change the subject." All of his attention was focused on her ring.

"I'm serious."

"To be perfectly truthful, I have no memory of having been here before."

"Since you cut this place away from Creation?"

Siyas threw his hands up in the air. "Really now, doctor, would you care to just tell me what's troubling you?"

She just pointed. The pair of them looked further down the road. A row of rumpled over grass converged with it. They hurried up the path until they reached the intersection point. Two sets of tracks stepped onto the road ahead. Bryony knelt in the dust and looked at them carefully before glancing up at Siyas.

"We're not alone here."
BrilliantRain: There are those who would note that sometimes, sometimes, you get the things you really need instead of the things you deserve.
Kailan: If people only ever got what they deserved, the world would be a more miserable place.

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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 6/23/12)

23 Jun 2012, 12:24

Well this is interesting. I'll be keeping an eye on how it develops.
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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 6/23/12)

29 Jun 2012, 00:54

*shifts in her throne and yawns*

Proceed.

:mow:

When am I going to read more Fulcrum Hammer? It's been years Neverborndammit.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
 
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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 6/23/12)

02 Jul 2012, 19:45

BrilliantRain: I hope you find it interesting to read! This next part's for you, actually, a bit of something promised a very long time ago. All feedback is especially welcome since I plan on cleaning it up after I finish writing it and probably redoing/reposting it.

DPM: Always a pleasure to have your consent, your Majesty. ;)

As for Fulcrum Hammer, who knows. I haven't felt motivated to write much Exalted in years. When I write at all, it's usually on my own fiction (including Winterblood Retainer and Heaven Sent Hero, as well as a few other books like Imnaha Nights and the Darkened Mirror, most of which isn't done). I actually like where Fulcrum Hammer left off as far as cliffhangers go. Maybe I'll pick it up again someday. To my knowledge, you're the only one left on these forums who'd read it, though.
Last edited by Epiphany on 02 Jul 2012, 19:55, edited 1 time in total.
BrilliantRain: There are those who would note that sometimes, sometimes, you get the things you really need instead of the things you deserve.
Kailan: If people only ever got what they deserved, the world would be a more miserable place.

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The City on the Edge of Forever (Part 3)

02 Jul 2012, 19:51

Never in her life had Natasha seen a more frightening place.

Green vegetation was everywhere, creating an alien landscape that the most preserved pictures failed to represent. Likewise, there were words in the scholar's archaic Old Realm for sky and night but neither did justice to the immensity of space that surrounded her. The clusters of buildings were the only thing remotely familiar, wrought of alloyed metals, crystal lattice and a strange substance that looked like the black cloth produced by her city's factories but was probably some local organic equivalent. Even they were strange in design; rather than worked out of existing landscape, this flatness meant they could be immensely wasteful with their use of space. Each residential unit in the district they stood in conformed to design aesthetics utterly different from her own.

It was the silence that frightened her most of all, though. From the womb onwards, Natasha had never experienced a single moment of it. Machinery, moving fluids through conduits, the clamor of people or the spirits never ceased. So it had always been in Autochthonia.

"Status check on the outliers, please."

"Still approaching," Natasha said, focusing once more on the uncomfortably open space with vegetation that bordered this residential block. "Interesting."

"Elaborate?"

Natasha turned from where she crouched concealed at the entrance to one of the residences. Impeccable Pattern Analyst stood at the interior door seal, equally hidden in the low-hanging cloth-covered patio. Her Starmetal Alchemical had reconfigured one of her four hands into an Omnitool Implant-enhanced myriad of lockpicking tools. As Natasha watched, Analyst rotated out a counterspin unsealer for another smaller implement. Dozens of miniature instruments were at work, attempting to puzzle out the access code to the building. As Analyst cycled through code sequence after sequence, her neck swiveled. Luminescent emerald orbs regarded Natasha, their color lightening a shade as the pupils contracted minutely. Impeccable Pattern Analyst might be a construct but there was nothing artificial about the emotions inside of her, or how they showed.

"The woman is unquestionably a Solar," Natasha said.

"We have never seen sunlight to confirm the radiance she emitted earlier was that of a sunlit hero. Its colors fall within the spectrum assigned to the Lawgivers but there are other light sources that can produce similar displays. Even in Yugash, we have certain individuals capable of generating the light produced by their divine parent."

"It's been 15 minutes since the initial display," Natasha said. "You can see for yourself. She's not glowing as much as she was."

"Ah. Suggesting it shares the same anima cycle times of the Alchemical Exaltation. An excellent deduction, my darling sweetheart," Impeccable Pattern Analyst said, her tone fond and proud.

"What?" Natasha felt her cheeks pink at the unexpected endearment. "What did you call me?"

"Seventeen longitudinal studies carried out by joint commissions from the Theomachracy and the Five Magnificent Sodalities between 4417 and 4820 all confirm that the use of unique endearments between intimately involved workers increases solidarity, improves general morale and reduces frequency of unacceptable behaviors. There is a statistically significant positive correlation between their use and overall productivity. You and I are on an unprecedented expedition into Creation, the first unauthorized by the Bureau of Fate under the terms of the E'lial/Ot Treaty of 4,879. We must perform at superoptimal rates, with complete cooperation between us. You and I have been intimate for two years and cohabitated for approximately 1.5 years. Is this inappropriate?"

"You know I love you, Ana," Natasha said, dropping her voice to a whisper, conscious of the way her cheeks flamed from pink to red. "It's your timing that surprises me."

"I remind you that you asked for more spontaneity in our relationship last month."

"Never mind," Natasha said, rubbing her cheek with her left hand. "Focus on the door."

"I have not discontinued my entry of sequences. The Motonic permutation algorithm used to lock this door so far defies my ability to induct."

Natasha peered at the door lock. Essence welled up inside of her, compressing hours of analysis into a single moment of blinding brilliance. "You need more than a code. It looks like the lock is also keyed to the individual essence signature of the residents."

Impeccable Pattern Analyst considered the possibility. "That seems unlikely. It would require significant manual calibration per individual. Why would any settlement implement such a labor intensive requirement for residential structures?"

"You told me once that Creationite cultures are organized around biologically related groups, rarely larger than a dozen at any given time. These were not Populat workers rotating between factories. Perhaps the only time they ever needed to recalibrate was due to birth and death rates."

"A fascinating theory," Analyst said, sounding delighted at the revelation. She looked delighted too when she lifted her Omnimodal Implant, unsocketed the door control and disconnected a wire, causing the door to slide open. "And a correct one. There was a manual bypass in case all occupants became deceased. Well done, lovesocket."

"Let's go back to sweetheart, and not in public," Natasha said hurriedly, ruing her pale complexion and the way it showed her slightest embarrassment. "Quickly, get in before they see us."

The two women slipped inside and sealed the door. As Impeccable Pattern Analyst strode through the entry foyer to a communal living area, Natasha lingered at the entrance. Why had it opened?

So far, conventional causality worked intermittently at best in this place. A rock she'd kicked earlier drifted several meters before stopping in mid-air. Condensation from a metal water pipe beaded on her fingers normally but the droplet also hung in mid air once she'd flicked it off. Even with Impeccable Pattern Analyst's work, triggering the bypass required something of the door's mechanism, something independent from the two of them. The fact that the door worked at all was unusual.

Then again, the two of them appeared to be able to manipulate their environment. Interacting with elements of this place imposed a kind of causality, it seemed. Perhaps that's all it was; an imposed causality that reached beyond what they could touch.

Natasha followed her Starmetal Alchemical into the living room. A large table dominated its interior space, slabs of that organic building material Creationites called 'wood' cobbled together with metal junctions. It was set for twelve, though no food was on the trays in the middle of the plates. She glanced left, squinting slightly at the kitchen through an archway. It was a strange mixture of unexpectedly familiar and alien composition. Not that they had 'kitchens' as such in Yugash. The culinary equipment in evidence seemed of similar sophistication, though. She just didn't know what half of it did, as it was likely designed for substances other than slurry.

"In here, my beloved porcelain doll."

"Sweetheart's fine," Natasha said loudly as she followed the sound of Impeccable Pattern Analyst's voice.

The Alchemical stood inside one of half a dozen private dormitories. Natasha's eyes swept over the wastefully used space with its outlandishly sized beds spread out with more furniture than any Autochthonian would know what to do with. Then she spotted the family unit.

They could have been a sculpted image of Yugash's texts on Creation's families. There was a man standing over the bed, facing two children snuggled up in their blankets. Beside the bed, a woman knelt, head bowed, hands clasped. Something glinted between her fingers. Natasha's eyes adjusted and suddenly the gold medallion zoomed in exaggerated relief before her. Symbols of the Unconquered Sun adorned the medallion's surface.

That's when Natasha spotted the diagnostic green hue of the children's skin.

Immediately, she felt along her utility belt fastening her robes. Natasha identified the Axionitic Analysis Unit by touch and swept it out, up and across with her only good hand. Natasha had installed Impeccable Pattern Analyst's sensory suite personally, despite the traditional responsibility belonging to the Prolific Scholars of the Furnace Transcendent. It was impressive but the Starmetal Alchemical, her Alchemical, was ultimately designed for other purposes. Natasha was Yugash's subject matter expert here, demonstrated in part by the AAU. She'd built it herself too, after all.

"Ana, you're not going to believe this."

"I have no evidence of any coercive Charm affecting your judgment or mine. Therefore, I suspect you're making a joke."

Tiny creases lifted the edges of Impeccable Pattern Analyst's mouth. Natasha managed a smile back, then passed over the AAU to the other woman. "Look."

"There are similarities with the Great Maker's affliction," Analyst said after a minute of study. "The morphology varies, however. It's pranic contamination parameters produce similar symptoms but through very different means."

"Look at its contagion vectors."

"They are...very similar," Analyst said, her tone grudging as her brow furrowed in concentration. "Too similar. I wonder if there's some interaction with the Divergent Insertion Engine."

"Patropolis of Ot's Charm put us here because it was the least likeliest point of detection by the Bureau of Destiny and their Loom of Fate," Natasha said, refusing to be distracted from the triumph of this find. "I thought we'd need months at least to locate the data we need. Who could have predicted that we'd find the source of the Great Maker's illness at the insertion point itself?"

One of Impeccable Pattern Analyst's four hands gently squeezed her shoulder. "I urge restraint, my dedicated input/input port." Natasha blinked at her. "Too obscure?"

"What?"

"More research is needed," her Starmetal Alchemical said in a way that clearly returned to the immediate subject. "There are differences between His illness and this affliction. Don't allow your excitement to cloud your judgment."

"But don't you see? I can't begin to understand how local causality could have broken down so badly that time stopped but it's a stroke of luck for us. They could have been infected near the time the Great Maker left this world! If they aren't the same illness, there may still be clues here preserved through the ages for us to find a cure! The victims themselves may know firsthand details, if we could find a way to restore their local causality, or perhaps reintegrate them into an environment with a functioning Loom server."

"A brilliant plan, but for three problems."

The two Autochthonian women both jumped in alarm at the unexpected voice. Impeccable Pattern Analyst's four arms spiraled out, and four matching starmetal discs instantly assembled themselves from her Transcendent Multimodal Artifact Matrix. The gyroscopic chakram wouldn't spin up the three inch razors until thrown but the slumbering danger was unmistakable. Natasha added to it the only way she could, by lifting her left hand and lengthening silver claws from her fingertips. If only she could trust her right.

A man stood in the doorway, smiling with unafraid confidence. He leaned then against the doorframe, deliberately indifferent to the deadly threat against him. It was a curiously casual stance, given his dark suit with ceremonial neckcloth could be right out of the pages of some of Autochthonia's oldest history books for formal attire.

Then Natasha marked the star-filled brilliance of his red eyes and exchanged looks with Analyst. A Chosen of Battles, a Sidereal from the Bureau of Fate with conflict in mind to deal with the unauthorized interlopers. Or was he? Natasha looked past him into the residential hall and spotted the nondescript black haired woman with him. The probable Solar. Did this make her identity certain? If so, what were a Solar and a Sidereal doing working together?

"First, there's your assumption that their illness is, what, about 5,000 years old give or take a century?" He glanced at the black-haired Solar who simply shrugged. "It isn't. More like 700 or 800 years. Then there's the fact that restoring their connection with the Loom of Fate will kill them, given the disease they carry. Third, someone else is here...and they've murder on their mind."

"Murder?" Natasha asked, not at all concealing her disbelief.

"Come see for yourself."
BrilliantRain: There are those who would note that sometimes, sometimes, you get the things you really need instead of the things you deserve.
Kailan: If people only ever got what they deserved, the world would be a more miserable place.

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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 6/23/12)

03 Jul 2012, 00:19

Epiphany wrote:
BrilliantRain: I hope you find it interesting to read! This next part's for you, actually, a bit of something promised a very long time ago. All feedback is especially welcome since I plan on cleaning it up after I finish writing it and probably redoing/reposting it.

DPM: Always a pleasure to have your consent, your Majesty. ;)

As for Fulcrum Hammer, who knows. I haven't felt motivated to write much Exalted in years. When I write at all, it's usually on my own fiction (including Winterblood Retainer and Heaven Sent Hero, as well as a few other books like Imnaha Nights and the Darkened Mirror, most of which isn't done). I actually like where Fulcrum Hammer left off as far as cliffhangers go. Maybe I'll pick it up again someday. To my knowledge, you're the only one left on these forums who'd read it, though.



I lurk, but I will never die. I haven't even broken out my Exalted books in years, but I'm still around. Good to see that your writing is still awesome though, it's what kept me coming back, even if it's just to page through again.
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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 7/2/12)

03 Jul 2012, 00:21

...and the plot thickens.

To my knowledge, you're the only one left on these forums who'd read it, though.


Which is truly a shame. I had considered commissioning you to finish it - I would see the trilogy finished. I've grown very attached to poor Matthias.

:mow:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
 
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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 7/2/12)

03 Jul 2012, 13:07

Dallen Andair: Likewise on the lurking front. ;) I've actually been playing online Exalted chats for the last couple of years with mixed results (some things I adore, some things not so much). Still, I think the game needs a 3e to have any hope of bringing old players back and attracting new.

Thanks for the props! I'd post up my original fiction here but it's off topic and cumbersome to edit/revise/keep current, sadly. I can drop you google doc links if you want, though. In the meanwhile, I have no illusions that the City on the Edge of Forever will rival the Pivot Child or Righteous Sword. On purpose. Those stories took massive energy and effort, which I'm presently directing towards my own writing. This is intentionally laid back writing, with little editing, in the interests of just writing out a story idea and finishing it rather than watching yet another story stall because I can't get motivated to put the work in that it needs.

DPM: Likewise, thanks for the props. I wasn't trolling for ego boosts or anything, just making a blunt statement of fact that most of the readership here has left. As for Fulcrum Hammer, I'm sure Exalted will put out something eventually that will excite me, reignite my desire to write and I may finish it then. Ironically, the Fulcrum Hammer campaign is the one I have the best documentation/notes on from the original campaign which makes it a lot easier to pay homage instead of relying on fading memory.

In case I never do, here are a few complete and utter spoilers: Tempest will strive all book to save/redeem her Infernal Lunar Mate, Relentless Tyranny, from his Akumahood, only to be forced to end his life in the grand climax, which he'll thank her for. Matthias finds Redemption, which should be no surprise since the enire reason I wrote an Abyssal's Dissent was to set up a believable Redemption story arch that wasn't trite or overdone. Vi'terathin gets what's coming to him. Yezenjen and the Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears will meet, though the way they meet will have to be different than the original campaign. Navia's only hope rests in the hands of her daughters.The rest is affected enough by the new characters (Heart Wrought Silver, Chen's Fetitch Soul) that it'll be different from the original core campaign and harder to predict, though I can take some guesses at it if folks have any interest.
BrilliantRain: There are those who would note that sometimes, sometimes, you get the things you really need instead of the things you deserve.
Kailan: If people only ever got what they deserved, the world would be a more miserable place.

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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 7/2/12)

03 Jul 2012, 14:00

My group outright stole some of your ideas and plot points to enhance our campaign, I'll admit. :P I wasn't running it (I am the king of shitty GM's) but the lady that was wove an awesome story, even with contrary bastards like me and most of the group at the table.

If I can find my old binder, I'll post some of the crazy.
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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 7/2/12)

03 Jul 2012, 17:49

Perhaps the new book thats coming out will excite you enough. =) But dont stop writing, ever.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
 
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Epiphany
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The City on the Edge of Forever (Part 4)

05 Jul 2012, 01:17

"You shouldn't be working," Siyas muttered as he peered at the Clockwise Cascade. The assembly of starmetal, adamant and other esoteric components simply spun on, heedless of the Reality Incursion's wake. Hundreds of miniature dials and bands formed a complex orrery inside its faceplate, counting out its inevitable countdown. The Sidereal glared at it, rapped it sharply with his knuckles and finally shoved his coatsleeve down to block it from view. Or block it's view, depending on how he felt like looking at it today.

"Something the matter, Professor?"

"We're standing in a city cut off from time, every man woman and child due to die from the worst plague ever made assuming they aren't murdered first, and you ask me if something's the matter?"

"Excuse me for asking," Bryony said.

She sounded sullen. Was she always this sullen? Why had he picked her up, anyway? Right, the Great Contagion. Though she had plenty of steel to her. She hadn't flinched at the first spectacle. Speaking of which...

"Here we are. Go on, then, have at it."

Siyas took a step to the side as they reached one of the inner common yards off Nacre. The trading city had any number of outlying warehouse districts, much as any city of its Age might have. Common yards allowed for easy routing of wagons or air-dropped supplies to the appropriate places while bordering the inward residential districts hemmed in by strips of commercial district. The pattern was rather like a wheel, with each spoke terminating at the outer edge in a courtyard like this.

No one could pretend there was a pattern to the bloodshed here, though. Half a dozen wagons had been overturned in the streets to form a crude barricade. Equally makeshift weapons were in evidence as simple swords lined the road next to axes, pitchforks, and a variety of farm tools.

They hadn't helped. Several score people lay dead. Must be dead from their wounds. Many had been viciously stabbed over and over again. A few were cut in half, roughly and without finesse. Some had their heads on backwards, either from a violent twisting of the neck or from decapitation followed by a sadistic form of mounting.

"I not forensics investigator," the Lunar said, in thickly accented Old Realm. "Ask Impeccable Pattern Analyst."

Not that she'd advertised her Exaltation but she might as well have, to look at her. The Lunar's pale skin had never seen natural sunlight by his estimation, which made it remarkably poor at hiding the faint sheen of scales that'd grown across it. Reptilian eyes, snake-like incisors for teeth...and then there was her costuming. Oh, the short circular cap, long-sleeved high-collared coat and the tight-fitting slacks that tucked into her boots were unusual on their own. He couldn't pin down the style but they seemed to be mass produced in a way he hadn't seen since a few days ago. No, the costuming wasn't interesting because of its production or quality but because of the way the coat's right sleeve hung far lower than the left. Most people used a glove to hide a change they didn't want the world to see...unless the change was so significant that it no longer resembled a hand.

Acknowledging the Lunar's request, Siyas looked to the other woman. Automata, obviously, though of a design he'd never see before. The gemstone set in her forehead was a brilliant cut diamond, contrasting with the purple amethyst the Lunar wore on her forehead. Impeccable Pattern Analyst had four arms which she used to startlingly coordinated effect. Most strangely, it looked like someone had packed an almost organic kind of clay around her skeleton and there were dozens of combinations of devices, wiring and modules protruding from it. The aesthetic was surprisingly appealing despite the unusual composition.

Siyas squinted slightly. Was her chief structural material was starmetal? Extraordinarily rare and a bizarre choice for a Lunar artificer to use given the limitations of their Crafting Charms. Impeccable Pattern Analyst looked to have enough starmetal to comprise a dozen Gods, easily. Where had the Lunar found that much of it? And why?

"I have forensic training," the automata acknowledged. "This scenario lies well outside the scope of any record outside of Apostate activity. Have you seen the like, Professor...?"

"Siyas," the Sidereal added to the unmistakable question. "But where are my manners. This is Doctor Rue, Bryony Rue," he said with a gesture to the silent Solar beside him.

"I am Impeccable Pattern Analyst, a Starmetal Caste Alchemical from Autochthonia of course. This is my partner, Natasha. She's one of the Meticulous Surgeons of the Body Electric. You may also address her as Doctor if you wish, Shieldbearer."

The ancient title fell off her lips with easy grace instead of the utter alienness it should have this far from the Age of Glory. Of course, the rest of her meaning was nearly as bizarre. Automata had classes. Only the Exalted had Castes. An Exalt modeled around Starmetal, a weapon built instead of made? Impossible. But then, Autochthon had made the Exalted, another fact practically lost to the ages. Wherever Autochthonia was, it could be the King of all Craftsmen had chosen to make his own Chosen.

"In a matter of a sentence or two, you raise a dozen and more questions. For the moment, let's confine ourselves to the immediate murders. What's your analysis, Analyst?"

"First, these are not yet technically murders. Every victim is suspended in time, unable to suffer the effects of their wounds. For the moment, I believe their souls remain attached to their bodies, assuming that's truly possible given their lack of soulgems. Second, every victim suffers a slightly different injury. A different vital organ targeted, a different break in the spinal column, the variety reflects a highly rational, scientific mind interested in experimentation. Therefore, the third aspect of my analysis is that the murderer has a dissocial personality disorder characteristic of Gremlin Syndrome. Many personality models could inflict death but only one has the requisite complete indifference and inability to empathize to approach death like this. Fourth, there is only one murderer. But you already know this."

"Do I?" Siyas asked, amused.

"The sixth sentence you spoke when we first met is diagnostic. You said someone else, singular. Old Realm is quite specific. Presumably this is why we are not your chief suspects."

"It crossed my mind," Siyas admitted.

"Our innocence, what convince you?" Natasha asked. That accent was strange, like none Siyas had ever heard.

"Your reaction, mostly. Oh, your automata here might have carried it out without question but only if ordered. I'm a practiced expert at reading faces and yours hadn't envisioned a scenario like this. You couldn't have ordered her to carry it out, you haven't the stomach for it. Rest assured, that's a compliment, really it is."

"I am not automata."
"She's not automata."

The overlap of their voices mixed in dizzying ways in the Sidereal's ears. Within the pause, Bryony said in a quiet voice, "I might be able to heal them, Professor, but it'll take time. I'm wondering where the killer is now, though."

"That's a capital question, my good Doctor!" Siyas said, pointing emphatically at the nondescript Lawgiver. "Perhaps we should try finding you some answers. Come along, Rue."

"Shieldbearer."

That title stopped Siyas in his tracks. He turned in them, stirring dust from the cobblestone streets. It froze in place around his legs as he put his hands on his hips and regarded the unusual pair from Autothonic or wherever it was they were from.

"Shieldbearer, your behavior does not conform to expectation," Impeccable Pattern Analyst said, her glowing green eyes tracking his every movement.

"I'd appreciate it if you stopped using that title," Siyas said, conscious of the curious interest of the Lawgiver next to him. "Do I look like I'm carrying a shield?"

"My records show that operatives like yourself disappeared from public knowledge approximately 1500 years ago."

"Your records shouldn't exist then either."

"All personnel from Autochthonia are subject to a separate Loom server for their causal frame of reference. As such, we are immune to the administrative overrides you've enacted in your Loom. This is information you should be aware of, Professor Siyas. Ever since the establishment of formal relations between our realities negotiated by your Division of the Bureau of Fate, you've had full access to all non-confidential data in our archives and vice versa."

"My Division did you say? Who negotiated these relations?"

"A Chosen of Battles named Amilar E'lial."

Shock wiped away all of Siyas' outstanding questions. Far more important ones came to mind now, ones no one should know about. Not that anyone could know about them. No one could have the context for understanding how that revelation so vastly complicated things.

He slid his sleeve up and consulted the Clockwise Cascade, heedless of the attention he drew from his three companions. Fingers nimbly adjusted tiny dials and buttons, checking and crosschecking. It shouldn't be working outside of an area governed by the Loom of Fate but at least it let him confirm the truth.

Impossible. Madly, flatly impossible. Yet here they all were and there was nothing for it until the countdown finished this time.

"Professor, you are distressed by this news, yes?" Natasha said slowly, her odd accent making her inflection exotic. "Your politics, I do not know but your Bureau, it inform you, yes? You not here for treaty enforcement? We not belong here."

"I don't belong here either," Siyas said, sounding as numb to his ears as he felt.

"What?"

"Doesn't matter. Well," he said after a moment's consideration. "It does, but it doesn't. One problem at a time. We've a Great Contagion to eradicate from every man, woman and child in the city of Nacre. We've murder victims to save. We've a city's causality to repair. And there's a murderer to catch, if we're not too busy trying to adapt a cure to fix up a disease apparently infecting the Great Maker. The absolute fracture of time can wait a bit. So, where should we start?"

All three Exalts spoke at once.

"That's what I thought too," Siyas said, grinning at them. "Forward to the city's central Manse!"
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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 7/4/12)

05 Jul 2012, 19:27

Oh E'lial you magnificent bastard. Even in death you still fuck with everything.

:mow:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
 
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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 6/23/12)

14 Jul 2012, 16:52

Epiphany wrote:
BrilliantRain: I hope you find it interesting to read! This next part's for you, actually, a bit of something promised a very long time ago. All feedback is especially welcome since I plan on cleaning it up after I finish writing it and probably redoing/reposting it.

DPM: Always a pleasure to have your consent, your Majesty. ;)

As for Fulcrum Hammer, who knows. I haven't felt motivated to write much Exalted in years. When I write at all, it's usually on my own fiction (including Winterblood Retainer and Heaven Sent Hero, as well as a few other books like Imnaha Nights and the Darkened Mirror, most of which isn't done). I actually like where Fulcrum Hammer left off as far as cliffhangers go. Maybe I'll pick it up again someday. To my knowledge, you're the only one left on these forums who'd read it, though.


I'd read it.
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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 7/4/12)

14 Jul 2012, 23:21

Deaths Pale Mistress wrote:
Oh E'lial you magnificent bastard. Even in death you still fuck with everything.

:mow:


Ditto.
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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 7/4/12)

14 Jul 2012, 23:21

I'm enjoying the Autochthonians btw.
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The City on the Edge of Forever - Part 5

16 Jul 2012, 14:28

Bryony nudged the sapphire ring around with her thumb as she trailed along behind.

Her thoughts were in turmoil as they made their way up the street. Apparently, they were taking the direct route past the shining rooftops of commercial buildings towards the diamond covered dome at the heart of the city. For all of the Professor's talk about a murderer, Siyas looked remarkably unworried as he led the way past frozen people. The two strangers followed, half-gawking as if they'd never seen any of this before.

Hard to blame them. For Bryony, it was a painful mixture of familiar and foreign. Sleds for cargo hung motionless, suspended on what she suspected was air as well as time. Weird sculpture stood on every corner complete with plates and lights that hung in the air as well. Every arrangement looked identical and people stood around each one of them, peering into a flat display of gold and light. Very weird.

Despite the differences, it seemed all too familiar. The fear on every face, frozen forever. She knew what that haunted look meant when a man looked at his family carrying groceries, or the way a little girl peered up at her mama cleaning a window. Some wore cloths over their faces to slow down infection but the majority had stopped bothering by the looks of it. These people knew they were going to die.

That's what Thorns was like, the day it fell.

The beautiful blue gemstone dug into her palm as Bryony clenched her hand shut. Shaking the unexpected pinch off, the Solar held up her fingers and examined the sapphire-bedecked ring. It sparkled in the sunlight, a cheery gleam that promised beauty, adoration and everlasting love. She almost didn't notice the writing drawn across the strange metal that made up the band. Old writing, the oldest.

Once, there was a maiden...

"Your ring, is lovely."

Bryony blinked, returning her attention to the street and those who walked it. The Professor was with the robot up ahead. Natasha had dropped back to her side, though, and now matched the Solar's stride. Bryony surreptitiously looked the other woman over. The only thing weirder than the clothes were the foreigner's looks. Oh, she was pretty enough but between the scales, the fangs, the snake-like eyes and the amethyst on her forehead, this doctor couldn't stand out more if she'd covered every inch of skin with tattoos or something.

"Thanks," Bryony said, realizing Natasha waited for a response.

"In Creation, ring worn on left hand, that finger, is sign of marriage?"

"Usually."

"He's your husband, no?"

...who fled a shadow, in the company of a friend.

"Ugh, not even a little bit." Bryony made a face as she thought of it. "Siyas is cute but he'd make a terrible boyfriend, much less a husband. Of course, I wouldn't have thought a woman made out of metal would work out but you two seem to do pretty well. I'm surprised you don't have one yourself."

"Please excuse?" Natasha looked puzzled.

"A ring. I've seen the way you look at Analyst over there."

The Lunar's pretty, pale face might be slightly scaled but it showed a blush magnificently. Bryony chuckled and shook her head as Natasha ducked her head. "Marriage, is not native social institution. Foreign, yes? Schin'nesme, she knows these feelings already. No ring is needed."

"Schin'nesme? Never heard that word before. Is it from your homeland?"

"Ummmm, is not." Natasha looked more embarrassed than ever. "Is made up word. I remember word, maybe. When I dream, I see strange places, strange people. I wake up and I remember word is for her. Is strange?"

They traveled through strange places, and among strange people.

"Sure, it's strange," Bryony mumbled. Natasha said something back but the Solar didn't hear it. Instead, words echoed in the depths of her mind. She'd brushed it off as a stray line of poetry, just a thought. There was something resonant about those words, though. Something powerful. Something pure.

Wasn't it warm here? A minute ago, Bryony felt warm. Now, she rubbed her arms for warmth and shivered. The empty city felt like the grave. All of these people, frozen forever. It was like Sijan, row after row of cemetery stones. No matter how warm the day, nothing could ever warm the living when they walked among the dead.

"How can you trust me," he asked, "with such horror behind you?"

Bryony jerked when something touched her face. The Lunar held up a stretch of cloth, white linen with a curious hole in the middle that looked intentional. "For your tears. Is for the dead but is only clean linen I have."

"I'm not crying," Bryony said, half-laughing at the idea of it.

Then her hands went to her cheeks. She drew them back, looked at the wetness on her fingertips. Rubbing her cheeks as vigorously as she'd rubbed her arms, Bryony turned away from the Lunar, her robot and the cheerfully oblivious Professor Siyas. The commercial district lay behind them, paved streets lined with the living corpses who would forever wait to learn they were already dead. Sunlight fell hotly on the Solar's skin and she closed her eyes against its brightness, drinking it in, relishing how clean and good it felt.

"Love endures," she said.

"Stop it," Bryony hissed, pressing her palms against her temples. "Just stop it."

They aren't my words. They're yours. I found them in your mind.

The Solar's eyes opened wide at that. Natasha had circled her, now stood in front of her staring in stark concern. It didn't matter. Up until this point, the strange poetry had only haunted Bryony, teasing her with memory that didn't quite materialize. There was no mistaking the last line as her thought, though.

Someone was in her head. Speaking to her. Maybe even reading her mind.

Four walked into Nacre, on the eve of its destruction. One, a man out of time, a man who doesn't belong anywhere. Two women with no time, for no clock invented was ever made for them. None of them are supposed to be here. But you are.

"What?"

What happened to you?

"Burrony, you are sick, yes? I shall examine you."

"It's Bryony," she said. "I'm fine. Let's go."

She didn't wait for Natasha to catch up as she hurried to rejoin the others. Siyas had an affectionate arm around the robot's shoulders, the other waving erratically as he made grandiose gestures to accent one point or another. For her part, Impeccable Pattern Analyst smiled slightly and occasionally reined in the Professor's more exuberant theories. Great. He'd found someone as brainy as he was. Now she really was superfluous. Why had she come here, anyway? To a city that shouldn't exist, fighting a plague that had no cure, meeting people from nowhere she'd heard of.

That observation made Bryony miss a step as they drew steadily closer to the capital Manse. Her original training had been a field medic, combat operation support. Charms gave her competency beyond any she'd ever heard of but her skill still lay princiaplly with the physical. Wounds, disease, poisons, simple.

What about madness? Could she be mad? Could this all be a hallucination? Was there a better explanation for traveling thousands of miles for no reason to an impossible city with its impossible Contagion and impossible people? She was even hearing voices. It didn't take Medicine Charms to know that was a bad sign.

I know something of madness too.

"What the hell is this?" she murmured.

I know what it is to grasp the infinity, to behold the essential essence of Creation. I know how such sights can break a mind. To know the future is to be trapped by it. To know the future is to have no future. Is that why she did this to you, I wonder?

"How are you doing this? Where are you?"

'How' and 'where' matter little here, as Professor Amilar so rightly observed.

"...So Siyas is his first name, I thought so. Assuming I can trust a voice in my head."

His name is as honest as yours, Doctor Rue. Or should I say Doctor Leilani?

The name was foreign, unfamiliar. Western maybe? And yet. There was something about it, about those strange almost melodic syllables. Bryony tripped on a bit of paving, briefly distracting her until she realized she could barely see from the tears in her eyes. She still had the Lunar's linen and she wiped her eyes, bewildered at it all.

"Why am I crying? What the hell is wrong with me?"

It's not your fault, Doctor. You didn't do this. Someone else did. It's a matter of Fate, you see, for all of you. The women lost theirs. Perhaps they never had it. Your good Professor Amilar holds his at arm's length, and from what I can see of it, it's the only reason he isn't screaming for the next 1,000 years. As for yours, it's been burned. Someone set your Fate aflame, Doctor Leilani, they turned parts of your very existence to ash. Perhaps the very person who gave you that ring.

"No one gave me the ring, it's just a ring I've always had."

Everything has a thread, I've discovered. A line leading into the past and the future. At some point, the ring's thread and yours crossed paths when it unwound itself from its previous owner and wound itself around you. But I can't see the ring's past, only it's present. I look forward to meeting you in person, Doctor Leilani. Perhaps a closer examination will tell me what I want to know.

"Why do you keep calling me Doctor Leilani? And what do you mean in person? Who the hell are you?"

My name is Righteous Valeyard. Just as the Professor's name is Amilar and yours is Leilani. Whatever he did to himself, whatever someone did to you, it didn't change who you are. Don't worry. I'll discover the truth of what happened and explain it to you before the end.

"...The end of what?"

Why, you, of course. You die here, Bryony Leilani. All of you do. I've seen it. I've known it for years. I know it because I am the one who will do it. I'm your murderer, Doctor, and Nacre will be your tomb.
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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever - Part 5

17 Jul 2012, 20:00

Epiphany wrote:

Bryony blinked, returning her attention to the street and those who walked it. The Professor was with the robot up ahead. Natasha had dropped back to her side, though, and now matched the Solar's stride. Bryony surreptitiously looked the other woman over. The only thing weirder than the clothes were the foreigner's looks. Oh, she was pretty enough but between the scales, the fangs, the snake-like eyes and the amethyst on her forehead, this doctor couldn't stand out more if she'd covered every inch of skin with tattoos or something.



....This just about killed me with laughing.

I also find it rather amusing that they keep dismissing the "robot." despite the fact that they're supposed to be smart.

....Wait, huh? ....Ceasing to Exist Approach can't turn you into another Exalt type. Not with that type of being's actual charms.

Righteous Valeyard.

Valeyard.


This...this is not good.
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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever - Part 5

23 Jul 2012, 17:38

The joke about tattoos is definitely more amusing because Bryony is oblivious to the greater significance of tattoos.

Bryony's dismissal comes from ignorance. Siyas' dismissal comes from a much, much older prejudice. Both will live to regret it. Hopefully. :)

To be clear, Righteous Valeyard isn't saying that Bryony is Leilani. However, the Leilani from Astra's Lover's Oath stories doesn't appear to have any other name. The significance of calling Bryony by Leilani's name has a much more traditional rationale, if you stop and think about it.

I've discovered with immense surprise that a great number of people seem to know about the Valeyard. I say immense surprise given the episodes with him haven't been shown on the air since the early 1990s, I watched them when I was a kid and most readers weren't alive when he was around. I guess that's the internet for you. Otherwise, yes, the choice of name is entirely intentional.
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Re: The City on the Edge of Forever (updated 7/16/12)

23 Jul 2012, 18:38

I heard about him due to the internet, yeah. That said, I think you can trace some of his current popularity to the fact that we're only a couple of Regenerations away from the Doctor becoming the Valeyard, and there have been some hints that the Doctor's self-loathing might be an arc villain sometime soon, so all signs point to him popping up again.
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