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Azure Heart
Essence 2
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Scriptures of Weeping Triumph 2 (Spirit-Frog is the Gateway)

13 Nov 2006, 00:52

Shortly after Sekli’s convalescence, she began her preparations for primary school. She could already read simple texts, figure numbers up to two digits, and convey herself in a properly respectful manner at dinners, but she had much more to learn. Her older brother, Sesus Decher, volunteered to begin her initial instruction.

Decher was a typical Dynast in his early twenties who did not Exalt: he was quite depressed and rather bitter. However, Decher was also a caring individual who had watched his younger sister suffer under his mother’s stern hand. He did not care to see another sibling cast aside by a Dragon-Blooded matron with an underdeveloped appreciation for her children. His own dreams of Exalting and attending the Heptagram were distant memories, but he could at least do right by others whose dreams were still ahead of them.

Sekli had seen her brother numerous times at family dinners, where they had both sat at the table for the mortals. She had not had many words with Decher until he showed up and told her he would start teaching her everything she needed to know to be a Dynast scion of House Sesus.

“So, you know everything, then?” doubted Sekli.

“I know enough. More than you do, anyway,” smiled Decher.

“And mother agreed to this?”

“Of course! I’ve spent most of my life studying. I’ve cultivated a variety of academic interests and have tutored my fellow students for years. Besides, I might as well put all that work to good use.”

“You haven’t Exalted yet?”

Decher sighed, “No, Sekli, and I never will. But you might.”

“Mother doesn’t think so,” Sekli pouted.

“So I’ve heard. But only the Immaculate Dragons know for sure.”

“I doubt it,” said Sekli, still bitter about her brush with the demon.

“My, what impiety,” her brother chuckled, “You are far too young to be so cynical.”

“What’s sin-ick-el mean?”

“Nevermind. But I’m curious, Sekli, why don’t you believe the Immaculate Dragons know whether you will Exalt?”

“Because they didn’t save me when I was in trouble. And the demon said they were false gods.”

“Ah, I see,” mused Decher.

“And they didn’t make mother send for the healer when I got so sick.”

“That’s true.”

“And I prayed at the shrine every day for two months and they never gave me the doll set I prayed for!” shouted Sekli.

Decher nodded sympathetically.

Sekli was breathing hard from her outburst. She was frustrated at how she got winded all the time. She was still angry at her mother for letting her suffer. She wanted to hate her mother. She wanted to hate the Dragons, too, but only because it would shock her mother. She glanced at Decher with a sidelong look. He didn’t seem outraged by her words. She wondered why.

“What do you think about the Immaculate Dragons, brother? Are you angry at them?”

“Not usually, but I have my days,” he shrugged casually. “But I’ll tell you what—I believe in them.”

“Why? You didn’t Exalt.”

“Well, the way I see things, you should believe in the gods because they’re powerful and good, not because they have, or have not done anything for you. So what if they didn’t choose me to be Dragon-Blooded? That only means that I have to work hard in this life, so that next time I will be closer to them.”

“But what about that demon I met? He said the Dragons are not real gods.”

“Hah! He would say that. Do you know about the demons, Sekli?”

Sekli shook her head fearfully. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know anything more about them than she’d already experienced.

“Do you want to know why he said what he said to you?”

Sekli shrugged sheepishly.

“You’re afraid of them, aren’t you? Is that what you’re always having nightmares about?”

Sekli nodded shyly.

“No wonder. Sekli, the demons are truly horrible creatures. Some of them can rip a grown man apart with their bare hands. By accident! But the worst thing about the demons is that they’re always trying to convince you to surrender to them. That’s how they like to win, by getting you to give up! Because once you give in to them, they’ve done something worse than kill you.”

Horrified, Sekli whispered, “What do they do?”

“They claim your soul. When they get your soul, you never move on to your next life, and you will never meet the Immaculate Dragons in future generations. I don’t know about you, but that sounds worse to me than simply dying.”

Sekli looked downward, “I don’t know if I want to see the Dragons, anyway.”

“Why? Because they didn’t save you? Or give you what you asked for?”

Sekli nodded.

“I wouldn’t be so sure that they didn’t help you out. From what I heard, that Immaculate monk saved you just before you were really hurt.” Sekli stared. Decher sighed and continued, “Maybe they don’t always do the little things for you, but I believe the Immaculate Dragons are there when you really need them. And also, they give you tough challenges and hard work just as often as they give you rewards. Life isn’t supposed to be easy, Sekli. Enlightenment is supposed to be hard to reach. That’s why the Immaculate Dragons didn’t kill all the demons in the first place. If there wasn’t risk to your soul, improving your soul wouldn’t be worth anything.”

Sekli shuddered, “Did the demon take my soul?”

“Oh no, don’t be silly. If he had, you wouldn’t be you anymore.”

Sekli sighed in relief.

“But next time you might not be so lucky. That’s why you can’t let them do it. No matter what they say, you can’t let them bully you into giving up. As long as you can resist their attempts to corrupt you, then they have no power over you. You can beat them, even if you have to die doing it.”

Sekli’s eyes were wide and intense, “You can beat them?”

“Yes, you can. And yes I have.”

“You’ve met demons before?” Sekli asked, awed.

Decher nodded. “I’ve even summoned them.”

Sekli gaped in admiration.

Decher laughed softly, “It sounds like you want to learn more about demons. That’s something I can teach you, if you want.”

Sekli nodded, “Maybe if I learn more about them, I won’t be afraid of them anymore.”

Decher grinned, “My thinking exactly. Let’s begin your first lesson.”

The rest of the day, Sekli was entranced by Decher’s explanations of the demons and how the Dragon-Blooded Host cast them out of Creation at the beginning of time. It comforted her to know that they had already lost the war and that, even though they were still dangerous, they were like beaten bullies that only had their wounded pride to keep them comfort.

That night, Decher entered his mother’s private study to confer with Alon, as ordered.

“By your command, I have come, mother,” Decher bowed.

“Ah yes, thank you for your promptness, my son. How was your lesson with little Sekli?”

“It went very well, mother. She is eager to learn. More than I was at that age, I daresay.”

“Indeed. You know my wishes: she is to learn all that is proper and expected. In your… enthusiasm… be sure not to neglect your duty.”

“Of course, mother,” Decher said, bowing again. Alon smiled and turned back to her studies, but Decher continued, “I would ask for permission for an unusual subject, however.”

Alon raised an eyebrow, “You know what I think about defying tradition, child.”

“Yes, mother,” Decher said, and he bowed his head and lowered his eyes and waited.

Alon frowned in thought. She considered dismissing the boy, but she remembered that his teachers had always spoken highly of him. Perhaps he had some use yet for her other than a marriageable son. “What is it, then?”

Decher raised his head and suggested, “Old Realm, mother. You will remember that I earned high marks in the subject. I think Sekli might enjoy having some knowledge about the demons and other spirit creatures… what she calls monsters. It might take the edge off her night terrors.”

“Interesting theory. I would ordinarily suggest she learn Low Realm. Dynasts who do not Exalt need a way of talking to the other mortals, after all.”

“She can always learn that later, mother, if she doesn’t Exalt.”

“Like you did?”

Decher struggled to keep himself composed against his anger. He simply nodded.

Alon smiled approvingly. “I will need some evidence that she is ready to learn such a difficult language before I give you permission. This evidence must come from her. Go now, son. I believe you have work to do.”

“Yes, mother. Hesiesh bless you.”

Alon waved her child away. Perhaps his use had not ended with his prospects for Exaltation.

Over the next several weeks, Decher sat with Sekli, showing her pictures of various demons and helping her pronounce their names. He told her about their natures and talents, and what to watch out for. He was pleased that she was so eager to learn. But she was unable to concentrate for very long, and her impatience encouraged her to give up too easily before finding an answer to a problem. What she lacked was discipline. He had an idea.

One sunny day, after Sekli’s physical training, Decher brought out a Gateway board. He made certain the board was perfectly level on its stand, and positioned the center of balance directly over the pillar supporting it. With great care, he assembled the tiers and lined up the pieces in order of their hierarchy. Sekli watched this with interest.

“Do you know what this is, Sekli?” asked Decher.

“Of course, brother. It’s a Gateway board. I’ve played a few games with the cousins already.”

“Oh?” said Decher, surprised. “You’re a bit young to play with the cousins, aren’t you?” he wondered. He remembered how cutthroat and conniving the cousins were in their ‘friendly’ games and matches.

“I can hold my own,” she grinned. She did not mention that she had yet to ever win.

“Anyway, yes this is a Gateway board. But did you know there are other games that can be played with the pieces?”

“No,” she said interestedly.

Decher explained to her the rules, meanings, and goals of the variant game, Spirit-Frog. Not a true ‘game’ in the strictest sense, it was designed for only a single player. The goals varied depending upon the player’s interests for that game, her knowledge of religious principles, and her philosophical reasoning skills.

“What a stupid game,” remarked Sekli.

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s catching on all over the place, so it can’t be that bad.”

“Maybe for a monk.”

“Now Sekli, that’s no way to talk yourself.”

“Huh?”

“Well, since I’m going to test you on your expertise in Spirit-Frog, you might want to be kind towards people who are good at it.”

“Aw, please brother, don’t make me waste my time with this.”

“Spirit-Frog is a serious subject, Sekli. But, if you learn nothing from it, I guess I’ll be forced to agree it was a waste of time and just have to grant you extra free time instead.”

Sekli smiled in anticipation of earning more free time when she showed her brother how worthless a game was without competitors.

Three days later, she was frustrated and stumped by the same game she had criticized. Once she had learned the rules about moving the pieces, she figured it would be easy to get them arranged in the final position that Decher had taught her. This was not so. She had spent hours every day fiddling with the pieces, and had even ‘cheated’ by arranging the pieces in the ending arrangement and tried to work backwards. But she could just not figure out the order and direction to move the pieces to get them where they needed to be. She had to ask her brother for help.

“Not as easy as you thought it would be, is it?” he smirked.

“It’s still a stupid game. It’s not designed so you can win.”

“Oh? Watch this,” her brother challenged, setting up the pieces for a game, like he had shown her. He began with a series of normal moves that brought all the movable pieces to the edge of the board. Then he had them all switch places with one another before advancing on the pieces in the center. In short order, he had the larger pieces captured and the largest, center piece surrounded and unable to move.

Sekli blinked. It had taken her brother only five minutes to do what she had struggled for days to accomplish. Her brother was gazing down at the board with satisfaction.

She glared at Decher for awhile before finally asking, “How did you do that?”

“Well, it’s easy once you see this arrangement of pieces for what they are. These larger pieces in the middle are the Anathema, and the pieces facing away from them at the start are the Wyld Hunt. Because the Hunt is facing away from the Anathema at the start, they can’t see they are there\. They have to get some distance to turn around. Then, you have to match each Aspect to the Anathema they are best at opposing, and finally close in. The Anathema don’t have a chance to even move.”

“But you didn’t tell me this was a Wyld Hunt when you explained this setup.”

“No, I didn’t, but that’s part of the game. Learning how the pieces move is only the beginning. To win, you have to figure out what the story is, first.” Decher began rearranging the pieces to a new starting configuration while he continued, “When you have an idea about what the board represents, you test that theory by moving the pieces according to their purpose and intention, as well as the rules. If you’re right, you’ll figure out the ending configuration eventually, with enough trial-and-error maneuvering. If you’re not getting anywhere, you can have the pieces try a new strategy. Or better yet, go back to the beginning and figure out a new interpretation for the arrangement.”

Decher finished setting up the new board and explained how the final configuration should look.

Sekli examined the pieces. The smaller pieces began in a circle around the larger piece, facing it. She had to surround the large piece with the smaller pieces without capturing the large piece. Meanwhile, the large piece also had a turn in which it would always move away from one of the specific smaller pieces.

“So, I begin with a theory of what’s going on?”

“It’s better than blindly moving pieces, as you discovered previously.”

Sekli stared at the board for a few minutes. She could imagine several different interpretations, but didn’t know which to start with. “How do you know when you’ve got the right theory?”

“That’s easy. When it works.”

Sekli stared at the board for several more minutes, trying to pick which interpretation to try first.

Decher interrupted her thoughts. “I’ll leave you with this one in a few minutes. But first, let me give you one more tool to help solve Spirit-Frog boards.”

“What is it?”

“Meditation.”

“Aw, damn.”

“Quiet. You needed to practice eventually.”

“I know,” Sekli sighed. “I was just hoping I’d only have to do it for temple.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s boooring!” she said in a sing-song way.

“Hah, that’s only because you’ve never done it right. Meditation isn’t about sitting still and keeping quiet while the monks preach. That IS boring. No, it’s about focusing your mind in a specific way.”

“What way is that?”

“Any way you want to. With a focused mind, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish. After years of practice, the secrets of the universe will reveal themselves to you. But before you get that good, the inherent patterns of Spirit-Frog may show you the meaning behind some of the arrangements.”

Sekli scrunched her tiny face in thought, “But does it work?”

“Well enough. I’ve solved dozens of Spirit-Frog boards with the help of meditation. The other aspect is to have the correct theory. Sometimes you need to study the Immaculate Texts, history, and spirit lore, and other subjects to learn new theories.”

Sekli now understood how to master Spirit-Frog. But the one thing she did not yet understand was why she needed to.

“Brother?”

“Yes, sister?”

“When I exercise, I get stronger. When I dress up and practice manners, I get better at presenting myself to adults. What do I get out of Spirit-Frog?”

Decher let out a triumphant sound, “That’s the best question I’ve ever heard from you! And here’s the secret about Spirit-Frog: if you understand the pieces and you understand the boards, you learn about the world, and you learn how to manipulate the world.”

“I think I understand, but can you give me an example?”

“Certainly. If you Exalted, trained for years, and joined the Wyld Hunt, what would happen if one of your fellows on the Wyld Hunt became an Anathema? Or if they were corrupted by one?”

“I see. You would have to get far enough away from them mentally so that you could turn around and see them for what they are,” she said, referring to the first Spirit-Frog board Decher had shown her. “And then you’d still have to defeat them.”

“Exactly.”

“I have some work to do.”

“Get to it, then, Sekli. Here’s four more boards,” Decher said as he pulled out a piece of parchment with starting and ending board configurations. “You have two weeks to figure them out before I test you. This is in addition to your other studies.”

“Yes, brother. I won’t fail you.”

“Good. One more thing. If you can do this, something you’ve been wanting will happen.”

Sekli was curious to know what reward she would get, but concentrated on passing the test. Her brother had yet to be very easy with his tests, or forgiving of failure.

Over the next several days, she spent many hours studying the board Decher had started her on. She tried all the theories she had first come up with: dancers celebrating around a hero, children playing around their parent, a victim staying away from the leader of the bullies, and variations on those themes. None of these ideas worked. The large piece was always able to stay far enough away from the one piece it avoided, so that the others never had a chance to position themselves surrounding it.

Although inexperienced, she tried meditating on the game board. She asked for extra help with meditation from a cousin staying at her household who had recently graduated from the Cloister of Wisdom. He disapproved of the casual direction she was applying it towards, but he relented when Sekli reminded him that Spirit-Frog boards often taught principles of understanding the Immaculate Texts. He showed her how to silence her mind with concentration, and then focus it on the object of her meditation. After she had learned how to meditate on the wind and the leaves and a candle and a stone and a pool of water, she turned her attention back to Spirit-Frog.

Meditating on the configuration for two hours, and remembering one of the lectures of her monk-to-be cousin, she came upon the idea that the large piece was a god who was basking in the attention of prayers. The piece it was avoiding was an Immaculate monk who was trying to enforce the proper place of gods. By forcing the god into a corner of the board, and allowing the worshippers to get close to protect the god, the monk could close while the god was caged in by its worshippers.

By the end of the week, she completed the other four boards.

Sekli proudly displayed her solutions to her brother. Decher, for his part, praised her mildly for her accomplishment. He indicated that these were relatively simple boards. He showed her an entire book of Spirit-Frog boards to play through, as well as several variations of classic board setups in which pieces were facing different ways or had slightly different movement rules. Decher encouraged Sekli to keep playing Spirit-Frog but told her he would not test her on it again.

Sekli found that she enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment she felt when she intuited the correct interpretation. And the strategic challenge of manipulating the pieces correctly according to their interpreted purpose was good practice for traditional Gateway. But more importantly, Sekli found that she greatly valued a pastime that she did only for herself. Without the mean-spirited competitiveness provided by other players, she could enjoy the process as much as the outcome.

For his part, Decher met his requested audience with his mother with great pride.

“So, my son,” asked Alon without turning away from the figures she was calculating in a ledger, “You have evidence that Sekli can learn the difficult language of Old Realm?”

“Yes mother. Here,” he said, holding up the test sheets on which Sekli had scrawled in her unpolished hand the answers to the Spirit-Frog boards.

Alon glanced over and examined the tests for a moment before returning to her figuring.

“And what does that prove?”

“Mother, I believe that this demonstrates the metaphorical thinking necessary to interact successfully with demons or gods. There is little need to learn Old Realm unless one plans on dealing with spirits.”

“Why did you not simply see how quickly Sekli could learn the characters and grammar of Old Realm, first? Or perhaps another language?”

“I thought that her ability to begin a subject had no bearing on her ability to master it. Whether or not she can master Old Realm is nothing compared to her ability to use it effectively. Mother,” Decher bowed humbly.

“I agree. And furthermore, I have now seen that you are a worthy teacher of this subject. You may begin with my consent, my son.”

“Thank you mother. Hesiesh bless you,” and Decher turned to go. But before he reached the door, he turned once more and bowed his head, lowered his eyes, and waited.

“Something else, Decher?” Alon asked disinterestedly.

“If you please mother, I am curious. When you were deciding whether or not I should teach Sekli an unusual subject, were you wanting proof of Sekli’s ability? Or mine?”

Alon smiled and met her mortal son’s eyes, “Your perceptions serve you well, Decher. But your discretion does not. Be wary of your manners and never quest the intentions of your betters. Go now.”

“Yes, mother. Hesiesh bless you.”
Last edited by Azure Heart on 28 Nov 2006, 23:38, edited 1 time in total.
“Power is the ultimate authority, and violence is the ultimate means to take and keep that authority.”
--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
 
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14 Nov 2006, 22:31

Okay.

It's neat to get character background, especially of this exceptional depth. I also really like the brother. Sadly, he'd be in his...what, 60s or so now?

Unless he turns out to be Anathema...mwa!

I probably shouldn't say stuff like that to my players out loud, though.

Anyway. It's neat to see someone write about Spirit Frog. I remember it's inclusion as part of the three games of Gateway you can play...you're just the first person I've ever seen reference it. So that's nifty.

I'll be back from La Grande too late for gaming this weekend, methinks, but after that my schedule is clear (ie. M, W, F nights, Sat during the day, Sun...after 6 like M, W, F).

So let me know!
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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Azure Heart
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15 Nov 2006, 00:46

Poor brother, Sesus Decher. Yeah, I think he'll have to die for the cause (ssh! don't tell him yet! it's a surprise!).

And yeah, Spirit-Frog. I thought it was cool and all introspective and such. It'll probably be a character thing to do whenever she has a chance.

Looking forward to gaming!
“Power is the ultimate authority, and violence is the ultimate means to take and keep that authority.”

--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

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