Ijeyua, the God of Enlightened Examination, rolled up his last review, then sighed heavily. The Jade Pleasure dome around him was so magnificent, so excellently the finest building in Creation, that simply gazing upon it should have been a distraction exceeded only by the Games of Divinity they contained. Even such flawless, transcendent superlativeness couldn't take his mind off the next review, however.
He sighed again, then tapped his finger against the desk and produced another sheet of Heaven-Wrought Parchment. "Most Highly Illumed Ones-"
"I don't know the name of the next reviewee," Jupitar said suddenly. "And it's not a Secret. Which can only mean it's one of the three nameless Sidereals in the Bureau. Which is it?"
"Epiphany," Saturn answered for Her. All five Maidens sat in casual luxury, clad in the finest fabrics ever made. Two of Them were distracted by the smooth, suave handsomeness of Luna who presently rested His head in Saturn's lap and his feet across Mercury's lap.
"It's a wonder You noticed," Venus muttered, who didn't approve.
"Why doesn't Epiphany have a name?" Luna asked suddenly. "The Hunter lost his to a Faerie and then there's that fellow whose name is still somewhere out to sea...or is it a woman, I can never remember." He stretched, then hummed contentedly as Saturn fed Him grapes.
"Epiphany was never named," Jupiter said, Her eyes fixed on the measuring rod She twisted endlessly in Her hands. "She was born, then abandoned. The orphanage that took her in had too many and none thought to name her because none noticed her apart from the other children. What a fascinating life," She mumbled, a smile on Her face. "The only one for whom Arcane Fate manifested so strongly, so early that no one remembered her..."
Ijeyua coughed into his hand politely. Thankfully, the Maiden of Secrets' sentence trailed off and the collective attention of the Incarna turned to him. "Very good, Ma'am. This is Epiphany's 19th annual review. Shall we begin with the Measure of Journeys?"
The God of Enlightened Examination looked at Mercury, who finally stopped giggling at the way Luna wiggled His toes at her. Though focused, She smiled the most sincerely and tucked strands of Her short blonde hair behind an ear in a manner any human would have found endlessly endearing.
"Epiphany meets expectations for the first time this year. Though she has traveled far in her years, she has always dug her heels in, resisted change and fought every assignment. Now, she moves with an army and her work with King Winterblood's Golden Empire has remarkably improved communication, travel and stabilized trade. She survived well against Ravenous Lion last year but her feet will take her on broader paths yet. For a Chosen of Endings, she has done, fine, fine work to further the Measure of Journeys."
"Very good, Ma'am. To You, Ma'am," he said to Venus, "The Measure of Serenity?"
"Epiphany's...reaction to Serenity is...unique," the Maiden of Serenity said, over the snickers of Luna. "Personally, she is more at peace than at any point in her life. Her newborn daughter Descending Dawn has brought joy to her life and her actions show a proper regard for Serenity's interests there. Broadly, Epiphany is a stabilizing influence on Seras Winterblood and, by extension, all she rules. As with the Measure of Journeys, Epiphany's behind-the-scenes administrative work not only improved trade and communication, but that stability has directly translated to statistically significant increases in meeting My Happiness Quotas for the North. Her demenor remains abrasive but far more lives are improved than harmed by contact with her. In this, she exceeds expectations. But please issue a notice to her that personal satisfaction can never interfere in the performance of her duties or she will risk an audit."
"Certainly, Ma'am," Ijeyua said.
"Epiphany exceeds expectations this year on the Measure of Battles," the Scarlet Maiden said, swirling a glass of Celestial Wine before sipping from it. "Her actions in the War for Springhome are noteworthy and her tactical involvement minimized the damage to the Tapestry such high-Essence military exchanges are prone to create. Her role as the King's advisor now continues that excellent pattern. The Battle between Exalts of sky and earth is inevitable now that the Jade Prison is broken and Epiphany's role will continue to minimize the dangers such necessary conflicts create. Please include her usual reminder that, while discretion is the better part of Valor, her use of Avoidance Kata is 220% of norm and far in excess of even the next highest user."
The God of Enlightened Examination penned the Maiden's comments down, his writing flowing across the Heaven-Wrought Parchment without thought. Next, he glanced at the Maiden of Secrets, only to find Jupiter smiling.
That rarely boded well.
"Epiphany...ah, Epiphany." The Maiden tapped Her lips with Her measuring rod. "When was the last time she met expectations on the Measure of Secrets?"
"That would be her 2nd annual review, Ma'am," Ijeyua said.
"Ah, of course. The Fulcrum Hammer Prophecy. As an employee of the Bureau of Fate, Epiphany has often found it challenging to integrate herself with the office culture. Her love of Secrets, while noteworthy, is always outdone by her refusal to keep those Secrets that are meant to be kept. Her knowledge of Underworld Astrology is valuable but she has made no effort to add to that value since her employment in the Bureau."
"Shall I mark her as needs improvement again, Ma'am?"
Jupiter held up a finger. "I would like her marked as outstanding."
The Incarna collectively looked at Maiden of Secrets, including Luna. "I think that's the first time I've ever heard you give someone an outstanding."
"Several factors contribute," the Lady of Emerald said, smiling serenely as she wound a long curl of red hair around her measuring rod. "All ultimately revolve around Seras Winterblood. That they have a relationship at all creates a myriad of fascinating intricacies within her higher and lower souls. She makes her love for Seras a Secret to others...but does so obviously. That she is in love with a woman is also a Secret by her behavior, but one exposed before it is concealed. This makes her the most challenging and thoroughly enjoyable Sidereal for Me to watch currently in Our employ."
"By Your criterion, that is an insufficient justification for an Outstanding," Ijeyua said, frowning. "Though I do recognize Your criterion itself, by definition, is at least partially undocumented."
"The greater part is this: Epiphany's relationship with Seras Winterblood is a greater Secret than she permits herself to recognize. Since infancy, her Fate has always been tied to the Underworld and the form it took by her Exaltation is an adversarial one against the Deathlords, the First and Forsaken Lion specifically. For a Sidereal less than a century old, Epiphany now works to fulfill everything she has meant to do. Her lover is her instrument, Seras' armies her weapon. The King will draw enough resource in Creation in the future to be the most likely force since the First Age to field enough strength to destroy the Lion's ambitions. And in doing so, Epiphany will accomplish everything she ever wanted, precisely as a Sidereal employee should."
"Your depiction does not agree with the color and quality of Serenity in her thread," Venus said, frowning at Her sister.
"Ah, but there's the capstone and crown," the Maiden of Serenity said, Her smile greater than ever. "Epiphany's Secret is so great even she doesn't realize it. Except, occasionally, she will wake from a nightmare with her lover beside her. She will hug herself for comfort, too frightened and ashamed to seek it from the sleeping woman she loves. And in that hour of the night, she understands more than she wants to and fears because of it. For all her hate of Necessity, she fears she is no different than any other Sidereal. She mistrusts her motives, worries all her work to support her lover is simply a machination too subtle to be seen. But she continues and will continue until the Lion falls at the feet of King Winterblood. And in that day, Epiphany will know that she has become both instrument and wielder, agent and executor of Fate...and that she will never be free of what she was born to be: A Necessary Ending."
Silence filled the meeting room, disturbed only by the Gods passing along the hall leading to the Games of Divinity. Without the Incarna actively playing right now, the intermission meant more foot traffic. No one was distracted by the movement outside, however.
At last, Luna shuddered. "And I thought I was being clever with how We worked out the Pivot Child Prophecy."
"On the Measure of Endings, Ma'am?" Ijeyua said, trying to move the review along.
Saturn at last put down the cluster of grapes She'd been feeding Luna and folded her hands across His forehead, using His head like She would a table. His chuckle suggested He enjoyed it. "Epiphany has always been a challenging employee, as You implied," Saturn said, nodding to Jupiter. "She is drawn to Endings yet refuses to embrace them. The Underworld fascinates her but, unlike the fine example of Mr. Kash, she has no interest in learning Necromancy. She may be the only practitioner of the Unleashed Starmetal of the Soul Style to actually understand less about herself than she did before she began her studies. But her personal qualities aside, I consider her actions. She directly contributed to the Ending of the inevitable conflict between the Bull of the North and King Winterblood. Her relationship with her daughter reflects a proper Ending of her maidenhood. More broadly, Epiphany's bureaucratic work has become as fine as any Chosen of Endings. Such vast improvement exceeded My expectations. Mark her as meets expectations, however, for she still has much to improve on and remains significantly behind in department culture development relative to her coworkers."
"So noted, Ma'am. Now, concerning her overall rating for Agent-level work?"
Saturn smirked. "She has been a member of every Directional Convention in the past twenty years. Three times, she attempted to return to her Ronin life, twice requiring Noelani Vailea to retrieve her back to Heaven. In the last year, however, her actions have led to the direct decrease of pattern errors in the North, down to 29% of past occurrences. Self-serving as it is, her indefinite assignment to King Winterblood has translated into direct savings for the Bureau of Fate. However, Agent Lingering Whisper filed a complaint for her use of coersion to remove the Astrologies he had on Seras Winterblood and, in like fashion, Iselsi Navia's report on Epiphany's willingness to directly oppose the Bureau over her Solar lover are unacceptable. You will mark her as needs improvement, and include a formal reprimand for putting the interests of a woman over the interests of Fate."
"..." Ijeyua's mouth had opened without thought but he couldn't speak under the direct gaze of the Incarna. Not when he'd almost objected. Inexcusable behavior for a God outside of the scope of one's purview.
"You have something you wish to say?" the Maiden of Endings asked, smirking.
"...does this mean I have to deliver it personally?"
: 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.My Novels
/ My Series
/ My Short Stories