Celestial Gate 60 lies at the edge of the world. When one comes through from Heaven, the heat hits like a sledgehammer to the gut. The light sears like being bashed in the face by the wings of a Garda Bird. The gate rises out of vast salt-bleached desert flats, the pure desolation broken only by tracks of the Lapis Courtâ€™s flame-footed steeds. Thankfully for Sivar Kash, none of the Courtâ€™s raksha seemed to be about at the moment. Sivar stood outside the great arch of the celestial gate, his deeply purple linen robes already adhering to his skin, the long black bangs that shrouded his face slickening with sweat. Around him were dropped a few bags of provisions and belongings, including the folded chassis of a Swift Rider.
The last godly servants vanished through the arch behind him, with not a few snickers at the Siderealâ€™s fate. Kash slumped down amongst his bags and stared into the skyâ€”until the bright, angry sun forced him to lower his gaze with a curse. The only other sound was a faint, mournful breeze picking its way across the flats. Sweat dripped down his bangs and fell to the salty ground, evaporating almost before it struck the earth. â€œLess than five minutes,â€ said Kash, â€œand I already hate the place.â€
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â€œWell, youâ€™ve gone and done it.â€ Bronze Thrushâ€™s brow furrowed, making the amethysts sewn into his bald scalp shift and glitter. â€œYour careerâ€™s over, Kash. At least for the next few decades. Wordâ€™s already trickled down. The tour with the Hunt? Cancelled. The internship with the Capital Convention? Gone. Youâ€™re going to be stuck in a dead-end appointment for the next half-century, at least. And for what, Kash? What possible reason did you have for telling Amoth City-Smiter to, and I quote, â€œgo suck on Seven Days Darkness till the sun comes outâ€? In front of his entire staff? At a dinner party?â€ Kash met his sifuâ€™s gaze, his face set. He leaned back in his chair, hands laced together behind him like a headrest. â€œHe was being a dick, sifu. Running his mouth about some war in the Scavenger Lands, with the Fair Folk. Saying itâ€™d mean a pay raise for him. So I told him what he should go and do with his mouth.â€
There was dead silence in Bronze Thrushâ€™s office. When the elder Sidereal spoke again, it was with measured tones. â€œYou told the second most powerful god in the Bureau of Humanity, a close ally of our division, that he should felate the Unconquered Sunâ€™s bastard child?â€ â€œThatâ€™s the shape of it, sifu.â€ Kash didnâ€™t even realize there was something in Bronze Thrushâ€™s hand before Thrush popped him on the top of the head with the end of his long, knobbly cane. â€œThatâ€™s for jeopardizing the Bureauâ€™s alliances within the Celestial Bureaucracy,â€ said Thrush, and sent the head of the cane thudding into Kashâ€™s stomach. â€œThatâ€™s for shaming the Division and I with your conduct,â€ said Thrush while he spun the cane in his hand, bringing it around to slap Kash across the face and stagger him to the side. â€œAnd thatâ€™s for doing it for no good reason!â€ Bronze Thrush withdrew the cane and scowled at his pupil, who was still recovering from the assault. â€œOf course Amoth was being a dick! He was an insufferable bastard before the Contagion, when he was just someoneâ€™s secretaryâ€”do you think heâ€™s gotten better since?â€ Kash was hunched forward in his chair now, head downcast. He could feel Thrushâ€™s furious gaze, though he couldnâ€™t meet it.
The stretching silence was broken by a womanâ€™s whispering voice. A viridian envelope appeared on Thrushâ€™s desk, as if from thin air. A message from the Division of Secrets. Thrush opened it and pulled out an official-looking lime green paper. He scanned it for a few moments, then set it down. â€œYour sentence has been decided. Youâ€™re being assigned to the Convention of Fire, to be deployed in Creation within the week. Apparently, thereâ€™s a city in the South that needs looking after. Every long-term forecast predicts disaster, but Saturn says itâ€™s not the places appointed time. Someone has to keep it safe, and youâ€™re up.â€ Kash looked up, and for a moment hope flickered in his eyes. â€œWhat city?â€ he asked. â€œIron Lotus? Chiaroscuro?â€ Inwardly, he breathed a sigh of relief. A few decades of exile and troubleshooting on the Southern coast was hardly the worst job in the Bureau. â€œNo,â€ said Bronze Thrush, in a tone that killed Kashâ€™s hope instantly. â€œFurther south. Youâ€™re going to Gem.â€ Thrush might as well have hit him with the cane again.
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For a week, Kash had roared across the desert. And roar was the perfect term for it, really. The Swift Rider bore him across the flats, and later the dunes, with a speed no horse could match. Kash cut the wind with his passage, sending up blasts of dust and grit on either side. Minutes into a dayâ€™s ride he was coated with dust, plastered with it. The first day had been miserable. Kash's long Yu-Shan robes caught in the wind and yanked at him, quickly suffusing themselves with the grit of travel. Kashâ€™s long hair was matted and sticky with sweat-watered dust, and degenerated into a tangled nest of grit and hair within hours of the first dayâ€™s ride. The only thing in his favor had been the riding gogglesâ€”adapted version of Haslanti glider gear, lightened for desert wearâ€”without them, he wouldâ€™ve been riding blind.
Heâ€™d collapsed in the lee of a dune at sunset, and awoken just as the sun started to crest the eastern horizon. Kash had stood, looking down at himself in the pre-dawn light, and scowled. He ripped off his ruined robes, ripped off all his clothes till he wore only a pair of violet linen trousers. His mostly revealed body was hard enough, but pale and smooth from city living. A of a long, curved blade began beneath his navel and circled around his back, with the point of the blade ending above the navel, in line with the hilt. Clothing done, he went to the bags strapped to the Swift Rider and fished out a knife. Taking hold of his long black hair he lifted it and sawed through with the knife, repeating the process till he was shorn almost to the scalp. It was rough, a barracks-room cut, but it would do. Returning to his discarded clothes, Sivar cut a piece of relatively clean line to tie as a bandana around his mouth. As the sun rose Sivar remounted the Rider and set off into the west, the horizonâ€”and Gem.
Now, days later, the old paleness was gone. Kash was brown now, still clad in little more than trousers, wild-eyed and practically bald. His skin was rough from constant wind and grit, and the only truly bare skin on his body was the space under his goggles and makeshift bandana. And so, when this filthy desert rider arrived at the citadel of the Goren Rock elemental court just a dayâ€™s walk from Gem, claiming to be an envoy from the Bureau of Fate itself, the elemental guards were understandably confused.
Goren Rock was a fastness, a fortress built out of a single gigantic finger of sandstone rising from the desert sands ruled by the ifrit Kal Kazra. Though a court of Fire, it wasnâ€™t affiliated with the Court of the Orderly Flame. The Orderly Flame would never have associated with the gods of Goren Rockâ€”to a one they were known as brigands, upstarts and extortionists. The peasants of the oases under their influence paid tithes and sacrifices just to have their cooking fires start. Mercenary companies were forced to offer fantastic bribes and living sacrifices Kal Kazra, the self-styled Lord of Warâ€™s Fires, if they wanted their firewands to so much as kindle. All this had been in the briefing files Bronze Thrush had procured for Kash before his deployment. And it was precisely why Kash had come to the ifritâ€™s court.
A flash of his caste mark had gotten Sivar past the gates of Goren Rock. The dropped names of a few important Celestial officials had gotten him past the lower-level functionaries and pettiest gods of the court. It had taken invoking the divine privilege of a functionary of Fate and not a few blatant threats to get Kash past the more important gods, and up to the rooftop, open-air amphitheater where Kal Kazra held court. The ifrit himself reclined on a luxurious couch, itself on a raised platform in the midst of the amphitheaterâ€™s seating. Around him were arrayed the small gods and elementals that flocked to his entourage and the promise of wealth. In these fallen days, the court was full to bursting. Kal Kazra dressed all the flowing silks and jewels his extortion afforded him. The sheath of his saber was polished ivory chased with gold, and a princeâ€™s ransom of rubies and sapphires crowded his golden circlet. He was the picture of terrestrial decadence and refinement, reclining on his couch, nubile goddesses feeding him grapes from a golden platter. And into this finery came Sivar Kash, still covered in dust, clad only in filthy trousers and the goggles now pushed up onto his forehead.
The whole court hushed as Kash stepped out onto the amphitheaterâ€™s floor and headed straight for Kal Kazra. Somewhere a trumpet blew, the cue for formal introductions. The Court herald began, â€œWelcome, honored servant of the stars. Sit, rest, and enjoy the bounâ€”â€œ but his sentence wrenched to a halt as Kash spat onto the sandstone floor, coughed, and said in a voice that carried throughout the court, â€œRight then. Itâ€™s been a crazy week, so Iâ€™ll get to the point. You.â€ He pointed at Kal Kazra, and his caste mark flared to new life. â€œIn the name of the Bureau of Destiny, and in light of the subjectâ€™s gross misuse of bureaucratic power as recorded by the Convention of Fire, I, Sivar Kash, Chosen of Saturn, issue a Terminal Sanction for the Ifrit, Kal Kazra.â€ Kash spat onto the stone again, and locked his gaze with Kal Kazraâ€™s. â€œOkay. Now that weâ€™ve dispensed with the formalities, come on down so I can gut you.â€ Invisible essence flashed through the air between them and coiled within Kal Kazra, binding him to the Sanctionâ€™s rule. If he fell in the battle to come, Sivar could destroy him utterly or bind him to a taskâ€”possibly forever. Such an insult to such a pompous god was beyond reckoning.
The ifrit rose from his divan, sparks flaring in the air around him. â€œYour hubris will be the death of you, star-child! You challenge the Master of Goren Rock! The Lord of Warâ€™s Fires! The Prince of the Deepest South! I will cut you down, roast you, and cast your ashes to the desert winds! Your vaunted Bureau will not forget this insolence! I willâ€¦â€ While Kal Kazra ranted, Sivar shifted through the stances of the Violet Bier of Sorrows Style. Essence flowed through his limbs, empowering him for the battle to come. The Blade of the Battle Maiden and the Endings Form coursed through him, and an amethyst glow suffused the air around him. His Caste Mark burned bright, for all the court to see. His face, caked with dust as it was, remained utterly blank. â€œFilthy exalt!â€ howled Kal Kazra, drawing his long, beautifully-wrought saber. â€œYou dare ignore Kal Kazra, Lorâ€”â€œ
The fight was on before the ifrit noticed. Sivar had darted under his guard and thundered his elbow into the elementalâ€™s stomach. Kash danced back while the ifrit coughed and reeled, the taste of Kal Kazraâ€™s leeched passion at the back of his throat. Kazra charged, fire bursting to life along the blade of his saber. He slashed with the agility of leaping flames, whirling and slicing at Kashâ€™s grubby form, trails of smoke and fire passing through the space Sivar had occupied a heartbeat before. Kash rolled under one such slash and kicked out, slamming the side of Kazraâ€™s knee, scampering away before the roaring, wounded god could pin him to the ground at saberpoint. Kash rose behind Kal Kazra, just in time to throw himself away from a bolt of fire from Kazraâ€™s free hand. The ifrit bulled forward, hacking and slashing, blade raising torrents of sparks from the sandstone floor.
Kash leaped and rolled to avoid Kazraâ€™s hungry blade, backing towards the wall of the amphitheater. Kazra pushed on, eager to pin the Sidereal against the wall and cut him to pieces. Kash spun away from one more slash and suddenly his back was to the stone. Kazra came in swinging from the side, angling to gut Kash and bring the fight to a close. In the split second before the blade connected with his abdomen, Kash reached down. His fingers curled over the hilt tattooed below his navel, and he pulled. The tattoo flowed, and from his skin emerged a real bladeâ€”a long, curved starmetal daiklave. Kazraâ€™s saber scythed in, only to meet the steady edge of Kashâ€™s emerged weapon. The tattoo disappeared, replaced by a full, lethal reaper daiklave in Kashâ€™s hand, set with the silvery-black disk of a Stone of Empty Knife.
Kal Kazra froze for just a moment, staring at the weaponâ€”just long enough for Kashâ€™s leg to sweep upwards and deliver a punishing blow to Kazraâ€™s groin. The Kash skipped to stand behind Kazra and, with casualness that bordered on contempt, raised his sword in both hands. He drove it, point-first, through Kal Kazraâ€™s spine and out through his ribcage. A short jerk slid the weapon clear of the ifritâ€™s body, and Kash delivered a kick to the dying godâ€™s bum just as the weapon rose free. A second kick laid Kal Kazra flat on his back, gasping and staring into the sky. Kash strode into Kazraâ€™s field of vision, weapon still at the ready. â€œKal Kazra,â€ he said, voice full of formality, â€œby the laws of the Terminal Sanction, I may now dictate your fate. And I chose service. For a year and a day you are bound to me, to do as I will.â€ A smirk crept across Kashâ€™s dust-coated face, now streaked with sweat from the fight, and he continued in a more personable tone, â€œWeâ€™ll discuss this once you reform. In the meantime, Iâ€™m gonna go into town and get boozy. Be seeing you.â€ And as Kash watched, the dying ifrit was swallowed in a gout of flame. Within moments, only charred silk and smoke-blackened jewels remained to mark his passingâ€”save a pocket of glowing coals where his heart had been, marking where the ifrit would return to the world once his Essence reformed.
Kash looked up at the silent, shocked crowds of the spirit courtiers and sheathed his daiklaveâ€”it resumed its form as a tattoo on his stomach. Kash gave the assembled spirits a short, ironic bow and headed for the passage back down into Goren Rock. Within the hour he was mounted on the Swift Rider and whizzing off northwards, towards the looming volcanic mass of Gem. The first task of moving into his new jobâ€”pacifying the local spiritsâ€”was well underway. Everything was moving along swimmingly. And a full week into his new job, Kash was starting to like this place.
Last edited by Zeal
on 28 Nov 2006, 11:17, edited 1 time in total.