People are always asking me why Iâ€™m so angry, spiteful, and violent. They say, â€œHey Tadrana, why are you always such a bitch?â€ And Iâ€™m always telling them, â€œI donâ€™t explain myself.â€ But for the first and only time, Iâ€™ll tell you the big secret about myself. Iâ€™m angry because I donâ€™t forgive people for what theyâ€™ve done. Iâ€™m spiteful because people shouldnâ€™t get away with their shit. And Iâ€™m violent because people are insects to me. What do you do with irritating pests? Thatâ€™s right, you crush them. I crush them, too. Only before I do, I scream, â€œI HATE YOU, I HATE YOU SO MUCH Iâ€™LL BE LAUGHING WHEN I KILL YOU!!!â€
And when I say that, I mean that I hate you. Yes, you. Oh, did you take that a bit personally? Good. People donâ€™t like it when I talk like this, though. They tell me that I should be ashamed of myself and that I should respect our glorious leaders, the noble Dragon-Blooded. I say, â€œDamn their Breath!â€ those Dragon-CURSED are the worst of the lot! If the Dynasts donâ€™t get off their asses someday, theyâ€™ll probably all be killed. By me. Oh yes, and I can do it, too. Just because I have decided to restrain myself for the time being does not mean they were right all along. Whether the Realm can be salvaged remains to be seen. Iâ€™ll give them a chance to make something better of their world before I bring it to ruin.
Whatâ€™s that? You think hearing about my childhood will give you a clue as to how Iâ€™ve ended up this way? I doubt it. You canâ€™t possibly comprehend the pain Iâ€™ve endured. But what the hell, why not? I bet by the end of it, that look of disgust on your face will be replaced by something different.
The first thing I remember was how much my parents hated me. Oh, I suppose my mother cared for me, but the very fact that I was born was a huge embarrassment for her. Not to mention my family, House Tepet, who looked at the whole thing as a scandal. My mother used to be a decent woman, apparently. Once, my favorite great-aunt of dear memory, told me of how she and my mother, Tepet Stormy Resolve, were always getting into trouble. A woman after my own heart. As children, they arranged to free the ship slaves at the end of a voyage to the Threshold. Did they give any thought of getting back? No, but it was a noble thing to do. Apparently, they had befriended many of those pesky slaves. Well, my mother committed a long line of embarrassing acts, which is why they saddled her in her second marriage with a fierce, abusive mortal man.
Trained by the Immaculate Order, he had been expelled for excessive cruelty. Nellens Edinal was as horrific as people get. An abomination of a man, I can safely say that he hated people even more than I do. I heard of how he tormented newly Exalted Dragon-Blooded at the Cloister. The Princes of the Earth do tend to treat mortals like something between livestock and playthings, so I canâ€™t say I blame the man for that. What I do blame him for was taking everything out on me. Why did he have to take my birth so personally? He hated me at first sight, I imagine; after all, my muddy-brown skin looked nothing like his or my motherâ€™s. Whoopsâ€¦ and she was usually so good about covering up her extramarital liaisons. Edinal tortured three of my motherâ€™s best servants to death before he managed to extract the information he wanted from my wet nurse. Evidently, my mother had regularly disappeared at night when she had last visited the South to check on our familyâ€™s assets there. Of course that was a year before I was born, but my father was no fool and figured that, since she wasnâ€™t sleeping with him while she was traveling, and since I had dark skin like many of the savage natives down there, she had surely strayed. No way of covering this one up, either. My skinâ€™s a dead giveaway.
Well, my mother certainly earned the ostracization Edinal arranged for her. Hey, I donâ€™t regret being born, I just wish I hadnâ€™t been born under such unfortunate circumstances. As the story goes, Edinal stormed down to the South and wasnâ€™t heard of for six months. When he returned, he was still fuming, but full of perverse satisfaction. Everyone says that he found and killed Stormy Resolveâ€™s lover. Iâ€™m not so sure; Edinal was a clever man and may have just arranged an illegal deal under the guise of seeking redress for motherâ€™s adultery. But maybe he extracted blackmail from my unknown fatherâ€”affairs are common here in the Realm, but Edinal always took things so damn personally.
At first, I was as pampered and spoiled as any Dynast child. I was tutored from as far back as I can remember. The lessons covered every topic of the world, and I looked forward to living the glorious life of a Dragon-Blooded hero, cutting down barbarian hordes by day and drinking and having orgies all night. Wow, the thought still gives me goose bumpsâ€¦ Anyway, I was treated as any other potential Exalt, but I knew that something about me was wrong. None of the kids wanted to play with me. One of the few times I really had a conversation with my mother, she said that it was because of her shameâ€”she was weeping while she apologized for ruining my childhood. I think she is a much nicer person than she lets on. I donâ€™t talk to her anymore, but I still hear a few things from time to time. After all, she is a skilled sorceress and a cunning negotiator of mercantile contracts.
I saw more of Edinal than Stormy Resolve, moreâ€™s the pity. He would beat me every night for a few weeks, and then I enjoyed a reprieve when he let off for a few months. I was so terrified of him, and of his strength. He was a monk, rememberâ€”he knew how to inflict pain. My family didnâ€™t interfere because my mother had plenty of healing Charms to get me up and going well enough. A typical day included lessons, studying, and playing at the games of nobility, followed by a nice bit of dinner. A typical night consisted of me trying to find some hidden corner of our familyâ€™s estate to play and hope that I wouldnâ€™t be found until bedtime. I donâ€™t know how, but Edinal always seemed to find me when he wanted to, and he would slap me around and yell at how I was so stupid and disgusting and ugly and worthless.
Oh, I hated him so much. I remember the very first time I started to hit back. I punched him in the eye hard enough that he got a bit of a black eye from it the next day, but that was also the first night that he broke my arm. Itâ€™s actually quite easy, you know? Grab my arm on both sides of the joint to immobilize me, and then forcibly bend my tiny seven-year-old arm the wrong way. Next, I hear a sound like splintering wood and a sharp spike of pain that takes my breath away. Finally, I can only hear the sound of rushing blood; the only evidence of my screaming is that I can feel the harshness of my voice afterwards. I became very familiar with these sensation over the monthsâ€”whenever I struck back, he would break an arm, if not both of them. Of course, the healing I received cured me right up the next day to allow him to do it all over again the next night. Sometimes I felt so defeated, that I just took the beatings without resistance. At least he didnâ€™t break my bones when I yielded my body for his violent pleasure.
Well, as you might imagine, I couldnâ€™t get away from my family fast enough. Unlike many children, I was overjoyed to leave to go to primary school. The provincial town of Serenity, in the Incas Prefecture, was all I had known, situated in the wide valley west of the hills near Noble. My homeland was almost entirely agricultural, with expansive pastures ranging over the hillsides where cows, sheep, and other livestock were raised. A smelly, backward place, but it had the uncommon advantage for my mother of being a good, quiet place for her to study her sorcery. I donâ€™t think Edinal liked Serenity much. I know I didnâ€™t. So when I packed up and was shipped like so much baggage to the Halls of Resounding Voices for tutelage, I was very excited. I had never been to any city like Sion, before.
I donâ€™t have much to say about my school years, actually. Like all the children, I studied hard and tried to get away with as much trouble as possible. I was not well liked, but then again I was just so different from the rest. Although the Realm is a veritable artistâ€™s palette of hair and eye color, my dusky skin stood out from the majority. Iâ€™ve seen actual Southerners and know that Iâ€™m quite light compared to them (I am my motherâ€™s daughter, after all). But more importantly, I knew so much more about pain than the rest of them. Two children in particular gave me more grief than any of the others. Rasmus and Finaere were very popular and Exalted in our second year, a bit before most of the others. It didnâ€™t help that I had played a cruel joke on the beautiful Finaere our first year. I had put a poison in her cosmetics which irritated her skin and gave her an unsightly rash that lasted a month. It marred her beauty for a time, and even left a small scar where she had scratched too much. She was always holding her graceful, ethereal looks over the rest of us girls and telling us how she would get married before any of us. Someone needed to bring that whore down a step or two, and I was just the bitch to enjoy doing it. Well, her lover, Rasmus, aided her in implementing devious schemes of vengeance against me. It was almost good-natured at first, the pranks that kids play and all. However, after the incident where I gashed open my arms and bled all over Rasmus while he slept, it turned pretty ugly. After their Second Breath, those Dragon-Cursed bastards certainly enjoyed utilizing their new powers to torment me. I will not claim any special treatment, though, because they really did torment everyone. In the end, I was never very important to anyone.
My courses were fairly enjoyable, I will admit. I wasnâ€™t very interested in the speech-making and rhetoric that was the Hallâ€™s specialty, but I fared well. I owe the entirety of my social skills to those lessons (both in and out of class). Weapons drill was much more difficult for me, however. The trauma on my arms had distorted their shape somewhat, despite the miraculous healing of Charms. In my final year, I was still weaker than even the youngest children. I learned to compensate for my lack of strength with speed, somewhat. My greatest advantage over the rest, however, was that I could take any punishment. The instructors were forced to cane me with the corporal punishment tools used on Legionnaires when I misbehaved, because the smaller versions used on Dynastic children barely left a mark and left no impression on my behavior whatsoever. Heh, I laughed contemptuously whenever those arrogant bastards tried to discipline me. But I made it through school with minimal trouble. Well, from the instructors, anyway.
I should say that one important event occurred, or rather didnâ€™t occur, while I was at school. I failed to Exalt as a Prince of the Earth. I had been hoping to of course, and had been looking forward to the power of the Dragons to elevate me to high status and perhaps give me magic to compensate for my damaged body. Privately, I had also wanted to go back and teach Edinal a lesson or two in pain. This was a foolish dream, though, because even a mortal trained by the Immaculate Order can defeat a Dragon-Blood under-trained in martial skills.
I returned home after my final examinations. My mother began to make arrangements for a party in my honor. I wasnâ€™t Dragon-Blooded, but I was a young Tepet woman coming into her own. I knew that I was going to be judged for marriage prospects by the attendants. Honestly, I donâ€™t know what I thought about all that.
All I really remember was coming home and desperately wanting Edinal to come at me so that I could unleash my new combat training against him. Of course, he came for me, and I gave that fucker a bit more than a black eye, but he left me crippled, like he had always done before. I was fourteen and he was fortyâ€”did I really have a chance? I later found out that he had been seen exhaustively training in his forms in the months before I returned. Well, my mother found me before the servants did, for the first time in my life. She wept while she applied her healing Charms and told me that she would try to get me away from this life. I think she was beginning to go mad from isolation, because I couldâ€™ve sworn that she was saying that she could arrange my Exaltation or something.
On a side note, I realize that you might not understand why Stormy Resolve never attacked Edinal for his injuring me. I will point out that my mother had been ostracized and socially shunned since I was born (which was the last of a long string of disappointments to the family). She was publicly disowned. This typically goes on for twenty years or more, so she was unable to get any respect or assistance from House Tepet. In a way, my mortal step-father had more credibility than she, one of the Dragon Blooded, did. Physically, Edinal could probably have defeated Stormy Resolve (actually, I do remember occasionally seeing marks on my mother, but I was always told by my tutors that they were sex-related rather than given in rage). And yet, I know that her sorcery could have slain him in seconds if she had ever felt the desire. But doing so would have been another very large mark against her (as she had already murdered her first husband, one of those Dragon-Cursed). Furthermore, such a thing would have offended House Nellens terribly and quite probably ruined her chance for future husbands. To put it another way, her interest in self-preservation was higher than her interest in saving me. After all, I was just another worthless mortalâ€”one child of ten she had already had. She didnâ€™t even like me all that much. By the Dragonsâ€™ Dung, I hate people. If you canâ€™t respect your own mother, who can you respect?
Getting back on track, my coming of age party was going ahead as planned. I was carefully prepared for my debut with all the right things to say, how to walk, how to wear my dress, and so on. This was probably the only time that I really tried hard to be feminine. I had always preferred more practical clothing and had rarely worn cosmetics of any kind; I mean, whatâ€™s the pointâ€”no young man wanted to pursue the crippled girl. During the party, I wore a stunning dress all gilded in pearls and blue silk lace that brought out the gray-brown of my skin and the deep black of my hair. The very best wardrobe, designed by a master artisan in Sion. I was thrilled to finally have some attention and actually looked forward to the event. When the day came, I watched through the upper windows of my motherâ€™s Manse as the guests arrived. The Manse was a powerful one, magically (from what I was told), and doubled as a large mansion that was able to support dozens of guests. Despite my motherâ€™s shame, many from my House visited, bringing eligible suitors with them.
My entrance was spectacularly grand, for I had practiced my politely seductive speech and graceful steps for weeks. I floated delicately down the stairs while greeting the assembled Dynasts with a well-mannered, â€œWelcome to the Manse of my family, Honored Guests. Be at ease and enjoy your stay in the bosom of my home. It will be my pleasure to make your introduction this evening.â€ Not much of a speech, but thatâ€™s all they would trust a fourteen year-old girl to say. Edinal scowled at me as I began to make the rounds, which made me know that things were going well. Well enough, that is, until I caught the eye of Finaere, my Dragon-Cursed tormentor from school. Who had brought her? And WHY?!? I spent two hours greeting and making pleasant conversation with the families that attended my party. By far, I was more charming in the hours that night than I have been in the entirety of my life before and since. Then that bitch Finaere ruined things by whispering of my deformity to the young men who had come to consider me as a wife. I approached her discreetly and told her off, something good; I spoke quietly, of course, but her humiliation was severe. My clothing cleverly concealed my arms with voluminous sleeves. But all was revealed when Finaere angrily ripped the fragile seams. The twisted shape of my arms, and the scars of thousands of punctures (from the sharp ends of my splintered bones exiting my skin) were presented to the room.
Everyone fell silent and I met the horrified gaze of all in attendance. Someone gasped, and someone else chuckled. I finally realized how wretched I was, and fled from my party, weeping and dejected. That night, Edinal surpassed his highest record of the number of places he broke me.
With nothing to live for at home, I ran away. Runaways are generally pursued by their family, but I was not. If you donâ€™t understand why, then you havenâ€™t been paying attention.
My journey across the Incas Prefecture was difficult. I nearly died several times to wild animals, starvation, and even to a chance encounter with bandits who gave me my first sexual experiences. After a few weeks with them, I finally escaped, taking some of their ill-gotten gains with me. That was when I realized that I had no future and no means to accomplish anything in life. When I returned to Sion as a dirty nobody, instead of a promising Dynast, I saw a whole other side of the city. I fell in with a gang of young criminals called the Defiant Devils. Made up of street urchins and petty thieves who banded together for protection, I had a real family for the first time. The kind of family that takes care of you, watches your back, and appreciates you for what you can do.
Donâ€™t worry, Iâ€™m not getting sentimental. This â€œfamilyâ€ used me just as surely as everyone else in my life had. I started off with begging before trying my hand (or my mouth, rather) at prostitution. My crippled arms prevented me from competing with the girls who could assume a variety of positions that I was just not strong enough to maintain. And Iâ€™ve never been a pretty girlâ€”rather plain, actually. So I turned to theft. An older girl named Enarra showed me the ropes and was the closest thing I had to a friend in the back streets of Sion. She disappeared a year or so later, and no one ever heard of her again. That happens a lot to the likes of us, actually, and I fully expected to not live past twenty years. In fact, by that point I had already had a brush with death. During my whoring days, a client beat within an inch of my life when he found out I was pregnant with his child. In his defense, he was trying (successfully) to kill the unborn baby. Needless to say, my life was no easier than when I had lived at home. However, frequent encounters with the Black-Helms quickly honed my abilities to flee and hide.
I remember the first time that I was in the right place at the right time. I was casually blending into the street traffic near a merchant stall whose wares I was marking for a lift. Getting closer, I overheard the merchant talking to a customer about the necklace he had sold her previously. Apparently the woman had given it to her daughter as a birthday present. Shortly thereafter, the girl had been possessed by a demon, and the woman demanded to know the origin of the necklace. He said he had purchased it directly from an artisan who had completed it just recently and that there was no chance that it had anything to do with the womanâ€™s family troubles. Well, I followed that woman back home, curious to see what a possessed individual looks like. The young daughter did indeed slip out that night to set fire to a number of houses of wealthy citizens. I saw the whole thing.
Naturally, I did what anybody would do: I approached the family and threatened to reveal everything. There were plenty of concerned citizens looking for someone to blame for the loss of property and life. Right then, I learned that knowledge is power. I still stole to make ends meet during hard times, but I made a point of keeping an ear open to any useful information and trained an eye to spot people with something to hide. My skills in entering homes quietly helped me when I needed a bit more dirt on someone.
What happened next, I really should have seen coming. I was blackmailing so many people, some of them almost important, that it was inevitable that one of them would try to take me out. I had thought that my threat to reveal what I knew to someone they feared would be enough, but I had failed to recognize that my ability to do so was limited by my ability to stay alive. A magistrate who frequented those parts had been informed about my practices. She was skilled at uncovering the trail I had made and had the muscle to extract confessions even from those who were loyal to me. That bitch killed a few of the Defiant Devils to get me; no one I cared about, but Lord Keen Tide still managed to drive a wedge between me and my backup. I guess thereâ€™s no honor among thieves, eh?
Well, in two short days, my entire network was uncovered and I was left without any support. Then Keen Tide started to pursue me directly, and that I just couldnâ€™t have. So, I fled from hiding spot to hiding spot, relying on my finesse and rooftop daring to keep me one step ahead of that Dragon-Cursed (damn her Breath). Then, in a stroke of luck, I was able to find a young girl who resembled me somewhat, trying to scrape some food together in an alley. Grinning in relief (and in terror of the powers of the Elemental Dragons) I killed that girl, broke her arms until they looked like mine, and dressed her in my clothes. From a nearby roof, I crouched, shivering and naked, as I watched the magistrate seem to appear out of nowhere. She spent a long time examining my victim, but in the end, Keen Tide bought it. I cannot describe the sensation I felt then, when I realized that I had outsmarted one of the Princes of the Earth.
Three days later, as I was starting to establish a new set of clientele (Iâ€™m not stupid enough to go back to people who think Iâ€™m dead and now know too much about me) I was seized unexpectedly by a different magistrate. He told me he knew what I had done and sentenced me to death by public beheading. I was confused and unsure of how he had gotten me, but I remember saying something like, â€œGo ahead and do it, Iâ€™ve been dead for two years anyway.â€ He was bringing me to the stocks to await my execution on the morn when he noticed in my struggles that I was a cripple and barely capable of holding my own weight with my arms. That night, as I lay rotting in the stocks and cursing the uncaring universe that hated me so, the magistrate came to me. He introduced himself as Vicious Ember and said that he could use someone with my skills to assist him in his work. I thought about mouthing off and remaining defiant right to my death. I hated him that much. But then a more thoughtful moment yielded the realization that this might be my big break: a real job. Resentful of having to rely on the high-and-mighty Dragon-Cursed, I nonetheless took him up on his offer. The grinning fucker warned me that my execution was not forgotten, merely delayed, and that one slip would send me to the chopping block. Bastard.
Vicious Ember introduced me to the rest of his archons, a band of disgustingly heroic, yet humble, servitors of the Realm. Vicious Ember called the shots, of course, and we all went by different names since many of us had to pretend to not know the others. Thereâ€™s Chef, the kindest man I have ever met. He was aged and smiled a lot, and he tended to our supplies and meals. As for the stuttering youth called Scribe, I donâ€™t think I ever said much more than two or three sentences to him. He was, well, the scribe. All magistrates need records of their deeds, of course, but Scribe also would hit the libraries sometimes while the rest of us worked. Sometimes his study came up with good info. Pain and Agony were two large warriors that look like nothing more than well-equipped thugs. Pain was the smart one and Agony was the wise one. Most of the time, they â€œdefendedâ€ Vicious Ember, but they also mingled with the local Black-Helms occasionally (apparently they used to be crooked cops). They furthered my weapons training, but mostly they just picked on me. At least they didnâ€™t hit me. Banter was a charming young man with a silver tongue and more wit than he knew what to do with; I envied him his ability with people because everyone liked him and things always seemed to work out well for himâ€”something Iâ€™d never had. Dream was a gorgeous woman who Vicious Ember unrepentantly used as a seductress when he traveled to places where men (or women) appreciate that kind of thing. Sometimes she got information (in bed) from our target or from the targetâ€™s friends, but she was also occasionally a killer. She pissed me off most of the time because she kept trying to get me to bed her and mocked me by saying sheâ€™d rather have my skills. Yeah, my skills: Vicious Ember used me to sneak in to where people arenâ€™t allowed and to spy on all sorts of thingsâ€”basically what I did in Sion, but now I wasnâ€™t getting paid. He called me Secret, because no one ever knew that he had me for an archon. I generally passed as some wandering, crippled peasant girl that no one would pay much mind to. I may as well have been invisible, because people talked freely in my presence. When I was a Dynast, I never fit in. But as a broken, common girl I fit right in with the rest of the wretched rabble.
As for Vicious Ember, himself, I never knew too much about him. All heâ€™d ever said was that he had once had the highest price on his head in a hundred years before heâ€™d been brought down. The Scarlet Empress gave him pretty much the same choice he gave me: serve or dieâ€¦ painfully. He was able to spot a con job a mile away (and thereâ€™s one kind of scam he claimed to have invented) and he killed people better than anyone Iâ€™d ever known up to that point. He was a fantastic warrior who could even take down rebellious gods (without Immaculate assistance, even). He saw to the magical aspects of our travels, protecting us from the weather and such. As a Fire-Aspected Dragon-Cursed, he demanded attention wherever he went and his arrival sent people scurrying towards him for help. Others hid very quickly. Oh, and he was always extremely intimidating, what with his enormous daiklave. Heâ€™d always treated me well, and I had come to respect him, even though he used me to further his ends. I think he liked me, but wouldâ€™ve sacrificed me for the cause some day if he needed to. After all, I was just a mortal.
During my first few months with Vicious Ember and his archons, the Scarlet Empress went missing. The magistrate became increasingly concerned by her absence as it became clear that she wasnâ€™t coming back anytime soon. Sheâ€™s so far from my life, the Empressâ€™ absence honestly doesnâ€™t bother me, but Vicious Ember had met her (owes his life to her, too). Heh, maybe he slept with her, for all I know.
It was business as usual, those next years, despite increasing difficulties. We didnâ€™t dare return to the Imperial City, however. Some magistrates had gone â€œmissingâ€ there. Also, he Vicious Ember had reduced the harshness of his judgments, Iâ€™d noticed. I guess it wouldnâ€™t pay to make enemies just now. Even the greatest Dragon-Blooded warrior I had ever seen could be killed, I suppose. We generally traveled between the southeastern edge of the Blessed Isle, up through Lordâ€™s Crossing, and then west to the ocean, before returning to Noble again. Vicious Ember had an estate and a wife in Noble, whom he was always trying to convince to move to Lordâ€™s Crossing so he could see her twice as often, but she refused saying itâ€™d make her a target for anyone who wanted to get to a magistrate through her.
We had some good times during those five years. I honed my skills further during our adventures, and had enjoyed some pleasures that I wouldnâ€™t have had even if Iâ€™d been good and married well as a Dynast. Magistrates donâ€™t make or keep money (and neither could us archons) but we got pretty much whatever we asked for. I got to take some of the best damn drugs there are. And occasionally, even I get laid when we finished a task in some backward part of the countryside. In the very rural places, Vicious Ember said he probably wouldnâ€™t return there again in my lifetime, so I could be visible on those rare occasions.
But typically, Vicious Ember deployed me when we get somewhere where there was a problem and people were telling different stories of what was going on. I would walk around at first, getting a feel for things, and then I followed important people and sneak into their homes and businesses. Iâ€™m pretty good, now, and know a few tricks to keep even the Dragon-Cursed from noticing me. The information I found for Vicious Ember helped him when it came time for him to make a judgment or to root out corruption in some local government.
For example, we were once all so convinced that a merchant was hoarding weapons, presumably to sell to traitors who would assault Realm officials. He denied it, of course, but wasnâ€™t helping his case by being all paranoid and not letting Vicious Ember search his house. Meanwhile, everyone in the town maintained that the merchant was charging too much money for his wares without spending or investing any of his profits. During this particular incident, our rival, Keen Tide, was also in town making her own investigations. So, I snuck into the merchantâ€™s house and pried into every corner, and did the same in the manâ€™s warehouse. Since I found no weapons (and Vicious Ember trusted my skills), my magistrate dug deeper and found out that the merchant was â€œpaying offâ€ a spirit demanding expensive sacrifices or else the spirit would bring him and his whole family to financial ruin (apparently the merchantâ€™s father had offended the spirit 30 years before). We figured it out and Vicious Ember ran the spirit off before Keen Tide could even get an audience with the merchant.
Keen Tide, the magistrate that had almost got me, had been quite a nuisance to Vicious Ember. Technically, we were all on the same side, but the two of them had had an unhealthy rivalry for the past 50 years or so, from what I was able to gather. Chef, whoâ€™d been with Vicious Ember since the days â€œbefore he worked for the Realmâ€ told me a few stories. Keen Tide was the one to take Vicious Ember down and bring him before judgment. Apparently, she was quite outraged when the Scarlet Empress made him a magistrate. I think that taking me as his archon was a way of paying her back a little, since I had foiled her, too. The only time he ever presented me to the public was when he was showing off â€œthe little mortalâ€ who bested a magistrate. Needless to say, Keen Tide was never thrilled to see me.
She is probably the biggest danger to me these days, since she alone has the ability to uncover my secret. The secret of Secret, so to speak. But I get ahead of myself
We were remarkably successful considering our loss of support from the Thousand Scales. Vicious Ember has always been more than up to the task of dispatching any beast that terrorized the populace. Heâ€™s taken down Dragon-Cursed whoâ€™d gone rogue and he used his archons well. Banter smoothes the way with introductions and parties in new towns (and is quite popular in the cities we frequent on our route). Dream taps into the vices that are often our enemiesâ€™ weakness (heh, for as long as her looks last). Pain and Agony add intimidation and draw a few arrows away from Vicious Ember. I donâ€™t underestimate that pair because those boys have managed to find the source of corruption in the Black-Helms in several cities. Scribe keeps us apprised of ongoing events and news. And Chef always kept us sane. And I, Vicious Emberâ€™s dirty little Secret, had been getting my magistrate a reputation for knowing everything. Secrets are power.
About the only time we ever failed was when we went up against a man named Elated Fury. He was cunning and devious (reminds me of me) and had held his own against Vicious Emberâ€™s daiklave long before I joined the magistrate. Although Elated Fury never seemed overtly magical, Vicious Ember assured us that no mortal could accomplish what that man was able to. He was a bit of a mystery, and heâ€™d been popping up in our journeys with increasing regularity since our first encounter three years ago.
It should be noted that Elated Fury was the only one we ever went up against who figured out I worked for the Vicious Ember and lived (Vicious Ember usually killed anyone who found me out to protect his Secret). The last time we ran in to him was down in Arjuf, which is off our route, but Vicious Emberâ€™s contacts gave us word of a sighting of the great criminal. I was following Elated Fury as he was making rounds on a â€œprotectionâ€ racket he was running. He was getting the top Dragon-Cursed merchants in the city to pay up because the first person who didnâ€™t had a merchant fleet mysteriously sink 10 miles out of harbor. Anyway, he was walking down the street to meet with a client I hadnâ€™t yet seen, so I was very intent on figuring out one of the criminalâ€™s contacts. But he had proven himself very much a sly fellow, so I was being extra-cautious. But I swear I looked away for just an instant, to scan ahead for the contact, and when I looked back Elated Fury had vanished. Disappointed, I overtly joined a crowd by a fire barrel for warmth while I discretely looked around.
Suddenly, the other peasant wretches got this funny look in their eyes and walked off in a daze. I was confused, and was considering following one when Elated Furyâ€™s silky voice came from behind me. â€œGood morning, Tepet Tadrana,â€ he whispered seductively. I whirled around and said, â€œGet back!â€ or something. He smiled and stepped forward giving me this incredibly sexy smile, â€œOh, but Iâ€™m so happy to meet you.â€ I backed away and overturned the fire barrel and fell, but was already rolling up to my feet. Then he reached out and steadied me. I have this issue about personal space usually, so I bared my teeth at him, but when I looked up, I caught this odd look of genuine concern in his eyes. After he had batted at my flaming cloak until the fire was out, his hand was sort of left resting on my hip. Iâ€™m a strong believer in lust-at-first-sight but the electric sensation between his hand and my butt was breath-taking. I think he felt the same way because he just stood there and stared at me with widened eyes. This was extremely uncharacteristic because of a criminal that all us archons had known to be a very smooth talker. Not the kind to ever be left speechless. Too quickly, he pulled back and, clearing his throat, said, â€œWell, Iâ€™ll be seeing you Tadrana.â€ He walked off and I didnâ€™t have the wherewithal to pursue. The thing is, I hadnâ€™t used my given name in so long, I didnâ€™t know how he knew it. I never did mention this incident to Vicious Ember. Oh, and Elated Fury left Arjuf shortly thereafter, much richer, and beyond our pursuit.
The last assignment I ever did for Vicious Ember had me down on the southern coast of the Blessed Isle. He was a few days west, still working on trying to persuade some people about some matter or other. Anyway, weâ€™d heard reports of something unusual in the area, and I was checking it out. Yeah, it was damn unusual: there were hundreds of burnished copper leaves blowing in from the southern sea. They were thin and light enough to float on the wind and the veins were etched into each and every one of them by no less than a masterâ€™s hand. The nearest town, Selent, was just over the hill from the coastline and was making good money by selling the leaves to metalworkers. However, there had to be a source for all this. I â€œborrowedâ€ a boat (and the fisherman since I know next to nothing about sailing) and we went out a ways, but I couldnâ€™t find anything other than that the leaves were falling from somewhere south and up. A little worried, I returned to Selent. I was checking around to see who was making money off of this and if I could see anything else odd, but everyoneâ€™s greedy reaction to the situation was normal enough.
Two days later, having sent word to Vicious Ember, I awaited his arrival in a sheep pasture on a hill. I was resting on a softer patch of grass under a tree (a little peasant girl like me doesnâ€™t often afford inns or taverns) when I saw the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Enormous, floating trees made of copper were drifting inland from off the coast. I stood and marveled at the sight of the soaring foliage, sunlight scintillating off the leaves in a thousand metallic colors. Because of the distance, I couldnâ€™t judge the size, but there were seven of them, each with broad limbs that seemed to catch the breeze as they floated down from the heavens to soar over the waters towards Selent. The roots were splayed out beneath the gnarled bark and the sound of wind rustling through leaves filled the valley with a sound like millions of yen falling on cobblestones. I was awestruck by the majesty, and that immediately made me suspicious. But it was too late, I was already enraptured when I spotted the beautiful people standing on the branches. They were dressed in silvery gossamer garb and chains of amber strung on cords. They were Fair Folk. I hid behind the tree and watched as the first of the copper trees came close to the ground. A massive root reached out and plucked a woman from off the street. A small fishing village, Selent hadnâ€™t exactly seen danger of any sort before, much less this level of threat. They all just stood there, transfixed. I saw the shepherds coming in from the hills to gaze upon the scene. The woman grabbed by the root seemed limp at first, but then began to struggle while her screams echoed up the hillside. Some of the Fair Ones mocked her with cries of their own. The root let go of her long enough to draw back and impale her through the chest, silencing her cry. Then everyone began to run.
The Fair Folk alighted on the streets and began to chase people down, grabbing them and throwing them high enough to be impaled by the trees, all the while laughingâ€¦ laughing. As I stood there, I realized that no single magistrate could fight the dozens of Faerie amassed here. In my mind, I saw Vicious Ember below, battling one of the cataphractoi and ending up skewered by a tree, maybe after taking down one or two of them. A lowly archon, such as myself, was hardly better equipped than one of the mighty Dragon-Blooded, in this case. Only an army of the Dragon-Cursed, aided by the Immaculates and a talon of sorcerers, could hope to beat them back. But there was no way they could respond in time.
How could this be? The Princes of the Earth, in all their highly-vaunted power were impotent against this force of Wyld. The Wyld could invade, kill, and retreat before the Princes could ever get there. In my imagination, I saw the Fair Folk attacking a dozen towns without much challenge before the Dynasts even really noticed, as distracted as they had all become.
And even when they did notice, they would barely be able to fight an army of Faerie. It didnâ€™t matter if you were Exalted or peasant, spy or Empress. In the end, the only thing that can save you is the power to enforce your will against those who would try to stop you. Murderers enforce their desire to kill until magistrates enforce their desire for law. Meanwhile, magistrates are increasingly defeated by the ministers, who are also enforcing their form of power to achieve supremacy. And beyond it all, what? What could challenge the ministers? The Fair Folk?â€¦ maybe the Deathlords weâ€™d heard rumors of? It didnâ€™t matter if you wanted to save the world, or damn it, all that mattered was the power to fight for what you wanted. That, and the ability to survive when others came to take what they wanted.
Sitting on the hill, I whispered my revelation. â€œPower is the only ultimate authority, and violence is the only ultimate means to take and keep that authority.â€
In that moment, I noticed a pale, golden glow coming from all around me. I spun around, expecting some glorious Fair Folk approaching to devour my dreams, but saw nothing and nobody. I looked down at my body and felt an indescribable ecstasy as strength and energy I had never known filled every pore of my being. I tore off my shirt and marveled as my arms slowly untwisted and everyâ€¦ singleâ€¦ scarâ€¦ â€¦ vanished! I Exalted there on that hill and knew that I was no Dragon-Blooded. Religious lore brought forth the wordâ€¦ ANATHEMA! A slow smile crept upon my face. At last, no one could hurt me ever again. No one would treat me like I was nothing, humiliate me, or disrespect me ever again. For I was the one thing that nothing, save the Wyld Hunt, could stop. In that moment, I wanted to cry and laugh, and to unleash all my 22 years of pain and rage upon the world.
And so I did.
A red mist filled my vision as I felt the impotent hatred I had carried with me all my life fill me with determination and power unlike any I had known. I hated everybody and everything. They must be destroyed. I gazed up to the trees and the Fair Folk still making their sport and I hated them for their cruel games and uncaring abuse of the world. I began my descent form the hill slowly, gathering my strength and energy as I jogged down the hill towards the town. I didnâ€™t know what I planned, but I knew I needed something to fulfill my terrible hatred.
Like a nightmare long forgotten, a felt a chill presence near me. I could feel a force that longed for my death, and it was close by. And it was mine. I lifted my newborn arm above my head and, in a golden flash, I grasped a five-foot daiklave of wicked purpose, forged from the accursed metal Soulsteel. How appropriate. I reached the edge of town and charged onto a street. A small group of people fleeing a cataphract stopped and started fleeing the other way! I laughed joyously as I struck at a man who was slower to turn. The black blade bit into his side and he cried out. I felt a sweet tingling in my arm as I absorbed his life energy. He fell, broken in half. The cataphract was before me, then, and I struck out at the astonished, beautiful warrior. My dark blade parted his spiderweb-silk clothing like it was cobwebs rather than a potent magical defense. I drunk deep of the cataphractâ€™s Essence. He cried out and his body began to shred apart like old, tattered cloth disintegrating. The wash of color surrounded me as I charged down the streets of Selent.
I awoke some time later, a little confused, but feeling great. Like youâ€™d probably predict, I thought this had all been a dream for a moment. Then I saw the sword lying beside me on the blood-soaked ground and I saw a gash running the length of my leg, open and unboundâ€¦ but not bleeding! I had that before, in the virtue of Vicious Emberâ€™s Exaltation. The thought of the magistrate bade me to look towards the heavens to gauge the time and his return, but somehow I knew before I looked that it was already early the next day. The only reason I could see what was going on around me was because the entire town of Selent was burning. Many buildings were reduced to nothing but smoldering ruins. I looked across at the devastation around me, so complete and utter. I knew that it wasnâ€™t a dream. I had done this. Thousands upon thousands of copper leaves littered the ground and two of the massive flying trees lay rent and ruined upon the ground some distance away. Men, women, and children were spread all around me, having bled out their lifeblood and their very Essence to fuel my hatred. I just couldnâ€™t help grinning in satisfaction.
Now, more temperate people are still appalled at what I did to Selent, and chastise me for my disregard for the quiet lives of provincial farmers. Whatever. I have known people just like those I had killed all my life. By the Dragonâ€™s Dung, I grew up in a place just like this. Everyone is corrupt and spiteful and hateful. They are judgmental and small-minded and hypocritical. Just like me. And thatâ€™s why I hate them all. And now that I was Anathema, I had the power to fulfill all my dreams of vengeance. I laughed out loud, laying there in a field of blood and bodiesâ€”laughed as I felt that I had always been an Anathema, but now I had a sword and the arms to use. The dark blade beside me quivered with delight. It wanted me to kill. And in the end, it thirsted for my blood, too.
One week laterâ€”still vigorous and fresh despite a nearly constant march, stopping only for brief sleep and to level a farmstead for food and drinkâ€”I stood at last at the last bend in the southern road leading to Serenity. The autumn weather was cool against my bare skin, but it was not uncomfortable. My hometown; it seemed to not have changed in the last 8 years, at least from where I stood. I continued to shed a steady golden light that let everyone within miles know that I was not somebody to fuck with. I had seen my reflection in a mirror (in a murdered familyâ€™s house) and knew that my face was majestic and terrifying, my eyes like molten gold, a shining sunburst on my forehead, and whole, powerful arms that, with my evil blade, could rend apart the Imperial Mountain itself.
Nearly naked, but surrounded by a magical aura of defense, I strode towards the town. I smiled in glee when I realized that people were seeing me from afar and fleeing before me to warn their neighbors. At the edge of Serenity, I met the combined forces of the militia, the Black-Helms, and a dozen Dragon-Blooded. I almost recognized some of them from my old life, when I had been terrorized and miserable for years. Not one of these law enforcers had done a thing to stop it. I struck them down with all of my hatred and drank of their Essence through the blade. My soul basked in their terror and pain.
You might imagine my surprise when, a couple of hours later, I reached my familyâ€™s Manse and found it deserted. I let out a horrific scream at the continued defiance the universe was delivering to me. Where was Edinal?!? Where was the man who defined the word ANGUISH for me? The townspeople had probably warned him to get away. Oh yes, this Serenity would end tonight.
And so it did.
Four days later, the Wyld Hunt caught up with me. I was astonished, actually, that it had taken them this long. There I stood, the horrific image of one of the demons that had been cast out of power, and out of Creation a thousand years ago. The Immaculate monks yelled words that I didnâ€™t listen to and the mass of Dragon-Blooded began to approach, runes of sorcery flying around several of them. I recognized a few of the spells, from when my mother had cast them. They were not friendly magics. And I laughed when I witnessed that, despite the immense power the Dragon-Cursed had brought to bear against me, not even one could meet my gaze! I mocked their cowardice and my dark blade fell upon the first of them.
A minute later, I realized that I was losing! Pain wracked my body and dozens of blows had gotten through the unflagging, though imperfect, defense provided by my daiklave. My mind reeled frantically as it dawned upon me that the Wyld Hunt had never, ever failed. A very mortal terror began to creep back into my heart, and I hated them for that all the more. An insidious voice in my heart told me to give in to the rage and show them the glorious vengeance of the Anathema, before I fell screaming into the darkness once more. A monk grinned at me, knowing my fear, and his black eyes were filled with the cold lethality of the stars. Something inside me wanted to stab out those empty eyes for what they had done to me, and my mind began to sink towards oblivion.
But Iâ€™ve always been cool under fire. I did not give in to the rage that had taken me in Selent, and again in Serenity.
Up to that point, I had been walking northward, with no more direction in mind than to crush the Imperial Mountain within my mighty grasp, but it had just started to come to me the last couple of days that my feet had actually been leading me somewhere. It was if I was going somewhere. Somewhereâ€¦ close by? I had been through this area many times, but couldnâ€™t remember anything more significant than boring pasture and farmland. Yet, somehow, I knew that I could find refuge near here. So I ran, mostly blinded by blood seeping from a head wound whose flow I hadnâ€™t yet had the concentration to cease. A great victorious shout rang out behind me and I cursed at my weakness, but knew that I had downed at least five of the so-called Princes of the Earth. Somehow that made it all better. Those malicious bastards had to pay for what they did, for their treason.
What? Treason? No, no time to thinkâ€”so I ran.
I was pursued over hills and along ridges, while my feet led me inexorably towardsâ€¦ somewhere. I could feel a rising hope that I would make it. Plunging down a steep slope, loose rocks sliding beneath my bare feet (my feet uncut by their sharp edges) I fell and began to roll uncontrollably. I held my blade close to me; it was my one defense and my one weapon. I eventually got my feet back under me and continued down into this deep valley that lay nestled between three mountains. I turned back to see my pursuers just now coming over the rise, less than a minute behind me. Arrows were already being loosed against me, but my blade was instinctively lashing out and blocking each and every missile from the volley. My eyes raked the landscape, because I knew I had arrived. A lake fed by winter snows and a small, chuckling stream that tumbled out a canyon some distance away was the dominant feature. There. From the middle of the lake rose what looked like a withered, ancient spire of a large, dead tree. This lake had surely been here for hundreds of years, but the old, dried husk of a tree seemed to predate the waters, perhaps even the valley itself. In the gathering darkness of evening, I saw glowing runes that indicated that some ancient menace was in the area. Ordinarily, runes such as these would warn away the curious, telling them that a dangerous remnant of the First Age lingered here, still. One that was beyond the control of the Realm.
I rushed forward, needing to reach that old snag. The icy water cleared my mind as I stirred the waters of the near shore. I was near to something, and I reached out with my thoughts to grasp it, and to command it. In violent upheaval, the old tree rose to tower over the lake. At the same time, the surface of the water rushed away as though by a great wind while green vines sprouted from the snag and plunged into the frigid depths. A thousand tendrils lashed out from the vines and the lake churned as its waters reversed and were now drawn towards the growing tree.
A tingling sensation on the hairs at the back of my neck caused me to spin just in time to parry the outstretched tiger claw of the man with stars for eyes. He frowned and lashed out, forcing me to parry inexpertly and regret my lack of real combat skill. My entire life I had been so weak in the arms that no one had bothered to show me much other than a few tricks with a knife or with a well-placed kick. This daiklave was surely too large for me to lift, but then my grip was strong enough to crush stone since my transformation. I jabbed at the man with Bringer of The Passing Darkness, my Soulsteel daiklave that I had wrested from the hand of my enemy eons ago. Startled by this memory, I faltered, but the man was somehow just out of reach anyway. The Hunt charged across the rock-strewn field at the bottom of the valley and flanked me with my back to the lake.
Then, a massive vine snaked out from over my head and crashed down on the ground, flattening a Dragon-Blood who had been readying an arrow to fire at me. The mysterious man before me cocked his head for a moment, seeming to hear something, and then he burst apart in a flurry of blackbirds that flew eastwards towards the ascending moon. I blinked and turned to watch, completely without fear, as the old tree transformed into a large stalk from which grew snaking vines that weaved about in a curious manner. My attention was turned towards a hurled daiklave accompanied by an angry curse. The massive weapon spun in lazy circles towards the mass of growth. A branch erupted from the side of the stalk and intercepted the daiklave, which exploded into a shower of electric sparks. The branch squirmed while the fire raced up it, but it separated from the plant and fell into the ever-shrinking lake. I raced towards the towering abomination, confident that it posed no danger to me. Indeed, when a Dragon-Blooded threw himself upon me and stabbed me with his jewel-encrusted jade knife, a vine lashed out and struck him from my back. I pulled myself up from the ground and turned to face the assembled Wyld Hunt, grinning even though I bled freely from dozens of minor and major wounds. The golden radiance surrounding me was suddenly magnified to a blinding degree when the vines from the huge tree suddenly grew a thousand golden thorns that reflected the pale sunlight of my anima. The vines struck again and again and again and againâ€¦
A short time later, the vines were still. I approached the towering structure both thankful and curious. I touched the green stalk and felt it shudder as it solidified into bark, starting at the base and extending to the top. The vines became branches and the orange, brown, and red leaves of autumn grew out within the span of a second. I then spotted a cavernous hole in the tree near a branch a hundred feet up. Climbing up by using the coarse bark for hand and foot holds, I ascended to the hole and peered in. The unabated light that sprung from my body illuminated the night and pierced the darkness within the tree. I clutched Unsteady Vengeance tightly, its dark metal surface marred by screaming faces, as I entered into this alien, yet strangely familiar, alcove. I at once felt the rushing sensations of Essence pouring over my skin as I entered a powerful Manse.
Within the tree, I found a single large chamber that contained wooden (of course) furniture covered in soft leaves and on whose walls were scribed strange words in an unfamiliar language. I remembered spending so much time here, even though I knew I had never been here before. What was going on? When I became a demon, had I gone insane as well? I lay the daiklave on a nearby table and reclined carefully on a couch to rest my battle-weary muscles. At last, the week of my terror-inducing rampage caught up to me. My eyes closed in sleep. I dreamt.
Had the world gone mad? What had gone wrong that the entire Realm had decided to, as one, defy the just rule of the Solar Exalted? How could they betray us so? Nothing in my five hundred years had warned me that anything remotely like this was possible. And I, Kyvath the Gilded Blade of Ardent Judgment, would see them pay for what they had done. My leaders, the Solar Deliberative, had fallen last night and my elemental contacts told me that the legions of Terrestrial Exalted roamed the land, seeking the blood of my sisters and brothers.
For the last two hundred years, it had been my duty to see that all those who defied the will and just rule of the Solar, and defied the natural order imposed by the gods themselves, were shown the error of their ways. Single-handedly, I could level any upstart rebel nation. With my legion of 5,000 Terrestrial heroes, The Ardent Throats, I could level any army of Fae, slay any behemoth, or even pacify any nation-state misled by spiteful tyranny against the Deliberative. I tore them down when they least expected, coming out of the shadows and raining the wrath of the Unconquered Sun upon them. And I had never failed, until today. How could this betrayal happen without my knowledge? It was my DUTY to know the undercurrents of treason and to oppose it wherever it reared its traitorous banners.
Oh, at first, I spared the troops after dispatching their leaders, but generations of rebellions had taught me to never leave behind any potential enemies. The children of rebels could one day mature into the next generation of rebels. I tore down cities and nations with my power; my stolen daiklave, Bringer of The Passing Darkness cleaved every Exalt apart, no matter what defense they possessed. The sword that had once been named Kyvath-Slayer slew the Exalted forever, freeing the Celestial forces to find more worthy hosts. The souls of lesser beings never rose again, so mighty was my weaponâ€™s power. So why did so many cities in the Outer Provinces demand to be recognized as independent? Didnâ€™t they know I would come for them? Oh, I had to show them the error of their ways. None defy the Might of the Solar Exalted! If they truly had legitimate concerns, they should have asked the Eclipse Caste to sort things out. I was only called in when they refused to bow to our rightful rule. I was assured this by my leaders. It had gotten so bad lately that I was forced to massacre innocent tribes and nations just to prove the dire threat to the rest. These last years, I had been terribly busy with another Example that had to be made, a necessary destruction to prevent more grief later on. Maybe that is how I missed it. I was too busy. Yet treason must never be tolerated. And now the whole world was against us.
I stormed across a field littered with the bodies of mortals and Terrestrials until I came upon the corpse of my dear friend Hsan-Thanyu, a Dawn Caste brother. I wept bitter tears. I would see the entire Realm burn for this, if indeed the entire Realm bit its tongue upon out very names. I would sooner see their entire world ruined before we were rendered to nothingness. For I could feel the foreboding terror of a coming darkness I could not even comprehend. Forming from shadow and air, Surreal Avenger Fog stood before me, his Night Caste Mark displayed openly as a testament to the rigors against which he had recently prevailed. He warned me that all the remaining Solar were fleeing and hiding. We would regroup and counterattack as soon as we could get organized. I dismissed his cowardice and strode forth once again on my approach towards Meru, the very Seat of the Solar Deliberative and the center from which sunlight illuminated the entire world. He shouted to my back that I was one of the last few Dawn Castes left. â€œMore glory for me, then!â€ I shouted back.
An entire legion of Terrestrials and a dragon of Warstriders met me a few miles inside the city of Meru. Their commander called out for me to submit to their bloodied sword. I heard the fear in his voice, for I was the one who brought down rogue legions. I grinned and charged their formations and spent the next two days killing every last one of the Betrayers. I might have Judged them faster, but their sorceries slowed my hunting after they scattered.
I made my way to my hidden Manse, secure from inspection even in the heart of the city. The Tree of One Thousand Golden Thorns stood proudly amidst a grand mountain garden. Surely, it would provide me shelter to rest before I set upon the Terrestrial Academy of Implemented Dragon Tactics. I lay there on my couch trying to figure out how I had missed itâ€”what had gone wrong and why did I not hear word of this Treason, this soon-to-be failed attempt at Usurpation? Did the Sidereal Exalted not foresee it? Where were the Lunar Exalted to champion us? What had set the Terrestrial Exalted against us? Why had the world fallen apart? Were the Unconquered Sunâ€™s Chosen not mighty enough to defeat this opposition? There were just so very many Terrestrial Exaltsâ€¦
The words of my love, my dearest wife came to me then. She had come upon me as I, under the cover of night, was setting a forest tribe impaled on spears in the center of their blessed grove as a testament to the might of the Solar and as a warning. Before she came close, I could already feel her sadness. She had seemed depressed for the last hundred years, and this infuriated me. Why couldnâ€™t she be supportive of me in my time of need? Couldnâ€™t she see that I was suffering underneath the burden of bearing all of Creation on my shoulders?
But before I muttered critical remonstrations, she spoke, â€œMy love. My dearest. What have you done?â€
She was not insulting me and was not opposing my actionsâ€”she was just weeping the nature of the world. I gruffly asked, â€œWhat do you mean?â€ She always liked explaining things to meâ€¦ it was her way.
She gazed at me with her liquid silver eyes and cradled my face in her hands. â€œOh, my love. Your grace comforts me, but I can bear it no longer.â€
Her open-armed gesture bespoke the dead forest peoples. Before I could respond, she captured my gaze. She held it for a long time, while tears leaked from her eyes. And in a whisper, â€œWhat have we become? How could we have fallen so far?â€
That night a month ago was the last time I saw her.
I awoke to the sound of five thousand discontented voices outside my supposedly hidden Manse. I stood, surrounded by the golden aura of my magnificence, the dawning sun on top of my fortress. Heh, they were besieging meâ€¦ what a reversal. I gazed down contemptuously at the surrounding forces and then the blood drained from my face when I realized that it was MY legion, The Ardent Throats. I guess I hadnâ€™t thought it through, but of course they would somehow be engaged in the rebellion. But last week, I could have personally vouched for the undying loyalty of every commander, lieutenant, and Terrestrial footman. And now they were aiming their bows and spears upwards towards me.
â€œWhat?!? How dare you defy your General? What vile corruption has seized your hearts to betray me, the one who fights the betrayal against the Realm and ensures the survival of us all?â€ They were silent. What could they say? I was their leader, and they were still loyal. I saw it in their faces. And yet, they had come to finish meâ€”the one they could not hope to defeat. Though I had trained and equipped them well, no power they did possess could vanquish their General, for I was a hero of legend and my prowess was excellent and remarkable beyond their means to vanquish.
Grim faced, my right-hand woman stepped forward. From a thousand yards, I met her eyes and saw the determination therein. And she saw the fury in mine. Bowing, she drew her blade and fell upon it. Then her chamber of advisors drew their weapons and fell upon them. Next, the lieutenants. The blood of the very Dragons washed across the field and the Treeâ€™s roots drunk eagerly of the rich Essence.
I was utterly shocked at this display of dissension; the last resort of the honorable warrior who disagrees with her leader. For the first time in centuries, I looked inside myself and called upon the insight of Gold Revelation. The one voice that I could trust, for it echoed the very voice of the Unconquered Sun and showed me the truth in peopleâ€™s souls. I saw nothing but righteousness in the hearts of my subordinates as, one by one, they fell upon their weapons while the legion silently watched. Aghast, my mind reached out for any explanationâ€”any explanation at all that could mend my fracturing world. Gold Revelation answered by reminding me of my long years of victories. Victories that cost the lives of millions and caused the despair of billions. I looked inside myself and saw that the corruption was within. My own heart was tainted black.
I turned and entered my Manse screaming and fuming, the red mist beginning to creep over my vision as it had so often as of late. Suddenly it cleared, and I saw it all with perfect clarity. The Sun no longer shown upon me, and I had not even bothered to notice. He had Forsaken me and all his Chosen and set the world against us in his pain. For though he had invested in us the power to rule the world, when our rule no longer uplifted the people and only brought misery, all the power in the world meant nothing more than the power to have our way, like a petulant child tearing apart an insect. For power without righteousness became the very Will of Destruction that would unmake the world.
â€œPower is the ultimate authority, and violence is the ultimate means to take and keep that authority.â€
--The Autumn Ruin, explaining her (perhaps narrow) personal philosophy
"Demons eat little girls-- even when they are hiding from the monsters. So, you might as well look them in the eye, because at least that way you can save your soul."
--Sesus Alon Sekli, aka Weeping Triumph