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Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
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Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

17 Mar 2011, 19:01

Here's another aimless story.

*************************************************

Tethys tugged on Mikko's sleeve.

"What is it?" Mikko asked. His hands were full at the moment, so he cheated and used essence to communicate with the boy.

Tethys pointed at the fortress on Garrison Heights, a questioning look on his face.

"No, we're not going there. Well, we are, sort of. Do you see that building?" Mikko gestured with his head at the Scintillating River Palace, next to the fortress.

Tethys nodded.

"That's where we are going. That's where you are going to live."

Tethys made the hand signal for the Westfields. He only had a limited vocabulary in the sign language, but he was getting better. Mikko hoped he was up to the task of teaching him.

"No, the Westfields have to go back to Great...back to all the other people. They have to help them."

Tethys made the symbol for Great Forks.

"No, no we're not going back there. Not ever."

Tethys shrugged.

"There are bad people there."

Even thinking about Great Forks made Mikko feel sick to his stomach. Every night he wept for the city and its people, hoping that in the darkness no one could see him cry. By Luna he was weak! He couldn't even be strong for all the people who needed him - he had abandoned them, run away to Greyfalls, leaving them to suffer in the wars and the refugee camps.

At least Saul and the other Solars were hunting down the deathknights, making them pay for all the evil they had done. At the least the Solars had fought the deathknights, at least they had tried to protect the city. What had he done? He had stood there and watched while he lost his second home, this time even more completely than the first. At least Fallen Lapis still stood, there was still some remnant of it to record its passing. But Great Forks was gone, consumed utterly by the Underworld, and he had done nothing to save it. Some hero he was.

Mikko sighed and shifted his heavy burden, throwing it onto his shoulders. The leather bag clanked, and it took Mikko a little while to make it comfortable. The darn thing was heavy, and it was difficult to carry the bag and watch Tethys at the same time.

The deaf boy was fascinated by the half-repaired ruins of Greyfalls, and he continually fell behind to poke around the piles of rock and building materials that dotted the city. Mikko, of course, couldn't yell at him to stay close, so every time Tethys wandered off he had to hunt him down. Eventually they got to the Garrison Heights, and the soldiers watching the gates knew Mikko well enough to welcome him back. They even offered to help him with his bag, but Mikko waved them off.

It was quiet in Garrison Heights; most of the Seventh Legion was long gone, while the Greyfalls militia was mostly busy with fixing the city. Mikko did spot one familiar face and shouted out to him.

"Hoi! Avrei! Can you helps me heres?"

The white-haired Lookshyan stopped walking across the courtyard, looking slightly annoyed by the interruption, but he walked over to Mikko nonetheless.

"Master Merkova," he said with a brief bow, "I'm surprised to see you here. Have the rest of the Exalts returned as well?"

"No," Mikko shook his head, "they is stills outs and abouts."

"Ah. Well, I suppose I can't blame them. A lot more fun to be out there having people trying to kill you than to be stuck here enjoying a peaceful summer. A strong sense of duty is such an impediment to a quiet life."

"I guesses. So, can you take Tethys here insides? I don't know where he can goes, but I'll be theres soon. Okay?"

Avrei looked less than thrilled at the prospect of caring for the boy, but he knelt down in front of him anyway. "Hmm, I can't say that I like children - some might say that my aversion to the fair sex is an outgrowth of my dislike for the natural produce of congress."

"Hoi?"

"That's rubbish of course. I dislike children because they are useless now and only gain value in the future, and I deplore it when the potential subtracts from the actual. Much better to live in present, don't you agree? I for one find there's much less pressure to hurry on if you don't concern yourself with the future."

"Okays," Mikko said. The summer sun and his heavy load were begging to make him sweat, and he wished Averi would get to the point.

Avrei finished his inspection of Tethys stood up. "Well, then, I'll take him to Berthen. As I recall he has a few women working in his office, and they should be more than suited to shunting him off to an unqualified caretaker. And, he is deaf, yes? Not just especially unobservant? Not that I want to deny the boy the possibility of multiple deficiencies, but I am trying to be charitable."

"Yes, he can'ts speaks, but he can write a bits if you needs to talks." Mikko turned to Tethys. "I want you to go with Avrei, okay? He is a soldier and he will look after you. I will be back soon."

Tethys nodded in consent, and allowed Avrei to lead him towards the Palace.

"Oh, heys!" Mikko shouted after Avrei. "Sorry, but I was forgettings. Where is Zey-oh-vey?"

"In the garden, I believe," Avrei shouted back. "If not, he can probably be found in the west courtyard."

Mikko yelled his thanks, and lugged his bag towards the garden. The trees and bushes there were in full flower, but the current government had neglected to upkeep the place. Everything was overgrown, with plants wildly overflowing their assigned spaces, while the waterways had grown stagnant and full of weeds. It was difficult to see through the limbs and leaves, but luckily Mikko came across Xyofei in one of the garden's many small clearings.

The Sidereal was sitting on a bench, a book on his lap and another on the bench next to him, taking notes with a pen. Apparently he had been doing something strenuous recently, because his jacket was unbuttoned and the white shirt underneath was stained with sweat. He looked up, surprised, as Mikko dropped his bag with a clatter.

"Mikko! What are you doin' here?" Xyofei put down his pen and closed the book.

"I am coming back from the wars," Mikko said, trying to sound nonchalant. "How are things heres?"

"Okay," Xyofei replied, looking at Mikko curiously. "Not too much to report. I think Berthen's gone off the fuckin' deep end, and I might join him too if I don't get outta here, but it's pretty much okay."

"You is doing readings out here in the woods?"

"Sorta. I was practicing and now I'm takin' some notes." Xyofei pointed at a thick log that had been stuck, end first, into the ground. It must have been eight feet tall at one point, but most that length had been chopped off, and the battered chunks of the log lay around the clearing.

"Oh, the fightings. You is using swords?" That would be convenient.

"Nope, just these," Xyofei said, raising his hands.

"Okays. So, hey, I was thinking, maybe, you know, you could helps me with somethings."

"Sure. What?”

“Wells, I was having problems with, well you sees, at Great Forks things are not going good.”

“Right,” Xyofei said cautiously. “I heard about that, but you know that I gotta stay here in Greyfalls?"

"Yes, that is not the problems," Mikko said quickly. "Hoi, is actually the good things to be heres. You see, out there, at the Great Forks..."

Mikko trailed off, his voice catching in his throat. How he hated himself! Why was he so weak? He couldn't even think about it without losing his composure.

"Go on," Xyofei said gently.

"I wants, you sees, I tried, and I can'ts, but I wants to..."

Biting his lip in frustration, Mikko leaned over and undid the straps on the bag. Flipping it over, he unrolled the bag and what had been inside spilled out with a clatter. Greaves, vambraces, a breastplate, and two swords, twins, each three-feet long and razor sharp. Everything, swords and armor, was made of a silvery metal that gleamed in the sunlight.

"I wants you to teach me how to fight," Mikko said.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
User avatar
Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
Topic Author
Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

17 Mar 2011, 19:07

Ooh, this is exciting. The italicised parts are flashbacks!

In case you were wondering, Anasatsis is the fertility goddess who's temple is near the Nathir Yu-Shan gate.

***********************************************

"But I don't want to go," she wailed. Aja was next to her, holding on to her arm, a terrified expression on her face.

"You have to," daddy explained patiently. "Aren't you a good girl? Don't you want to do what your parents tell you to do?"

"I don't want to leave you! I want to stay here with mommy and auntie and the cats and everything!"

Daddy sighed, and then he turned quickly and hit her with the back of his hand. Then he hit her again and again and again, until she fell down and could hardly feel anything.

"Hey, be careful," the man from the Guild said. "She won't be worth much if she's damaged."

"She'll be fine," daddy said, spitting. "I've given her worse before. Besides, it's not like she can get any uglier. Aja's the pretty one, anyhow."

"Yes, she's a pretty little thing. She'll fetch a good price at the market." The man from the Guild reached out and caressed Aja's cheek. Aja shuddered a bit, but didn't pull away.

She didn't understand why daddy and mommy were doing this. Why couldn't she and Aja stay at home? Why did they have to go away with the Guild? She wanted to cry, but she hurt so much she couldn't. A little whimper escaped her lips, but that was all.

"Ah, shut up," daddy said, hitting her again.

Everything went black.


* * *

The river was in full flood. The last of the spring rains had fallen and the water surged, full of the promise of violence and danger. Out in the middle of the stream all kinds of debris flowed by: logs, trees, pieces of boats and houses, the occasional cow or sheep that had been caught in the rising waters. Sometimes there would be a swirl of foamy bubbles, an unwholesome yellow-white mass that would whip by on the current, picking up stray leaves and twigs as it went.

But while the center of the river was dangerous, the banks were relatively calm. Here and there the waters had overflowed the banks, inundating the trees and bushes. Nothing looked as odd as a tree without its lower half – all of the branches and leaves looked off balance and out of place, embarrassed by the lack of a trunk.

The boy picked his way through the flooded woods carefully. The footing was good enough, and the water was warm, but you never could be certain of what lay under the water. There could always be a hidden sinkhole or sharp stick to step on, and some of the floating tree limbs and bramble could grab hold of you and drag into the current with them. So the boy went slowly, his pants rolled up around his knees, his leather shoes strung around his neck by their laces.

There wasn't much to see here, only the tops of bushes and the bottoms of trees. Most of the interesting stuff would have been caught further upstream where the river broadened out and slowed down. Or it would be swept a mile or so downstream to the cliffs and rocks that crowded the water near the junction with the Meander. That's why he was so surprised to see the body.

It was floating, face up, near the edge of the flood zone. The flesh may have been olive-toned, like a Thresholder's, at one point, but now it was all pasty and white. The pale, wet hair was smeared all over the face, and the clothing was ripped and torn. It might have been a woman, but it was hard to tell.

More curious than afraid, the boy edged closer to the body. He had seen plenty of sick and dying people at the temple of the river mother, where he lived, but he had never been so close to a dead one before. It wasn't hard to see what had killed her: her throat was torn open, the jagged cut extending up the side of her face. The blood had been washed away by the river, but it was still a gruesome sight.

The boy looked closer, and then started back when he heard something. Had it come from the body? He leaned in and heard the noise again, a faint, jagged rattle of a noise. The body was breathing! The boy even saw a faint trickle of blood ooze out of the wound.

The boy started splashing towards the bank. A healer would know what to do.

* * *

"You have to be brave," she whispered to Aja. "If you cry, that'll only make it worse."

Aja nodded. "I can be brave."

"If they touch you, don't fight. Just pretend nothing's happening. Think of…something happy. Make yourself go far away. That's what I do."

Aja nodded again, a little less afraid. They had been together so long she didn't know what it was going to be like to be alone. Ever since daddy and mommy had sent them away, Aja had been the only good thing in her life. And now they were taking Aja away.

She was afraid for her sister. Things had been tough for her, they way the men touched her, the way her masters treated her, the way everyone beat her, but she was older. Aja was too young, so they had left her alone. But now Aja was leaving and she was afraid.

Everything that had gone wrong for her had gone right for Aja. She was ugly, she knew, and she would talk back, sometimes, and, if she was feeling brave, she would even fight. But Aja was beautiful and sweet and nice and always did what they told her to do. She knew they would ruin Aja, just ruin her and leave nothing left, once they took her away.

But she couldn't say that. So she whispered encouraging words she knew were false, holding Aja's hand, telling her not to cry. When they came to take her sister away she fought and scratched, but Aja went without a word.


* * *

"What now?" Anisatis asked irritably. It had been a long day, even for a goddess, and the troubles of her temple combined with the constant harassment from the Sidereals using the gate were sorely trying her good humor.

"Milady," said the acolyte, "there is one more supplicant for you to look at. She is gravely injured."

"Fine," Anisatis said. She couldn't refuse someone her healing arts, especially not if the supplicant was already in the temple. "Where is she?"

"Here, milady. One of the children found her in the river."

The acolyte led Anisatsis to a low bed, pulling back the white sheet that covered the supplicant.

Anisatsis snorted irritably when she saw the body. "What? Can't you tell she is already dead? Give her a decent burial and collect her belongings. Perhaps we can discover who she is."

"Milady, she lives," the acolyte said. "I examined her myself. She is very weak, and I fear she does not have long, but I thought that, perhaps, your touch…"

Anisatsis frowned, but she looked at the supplicant again, this time with essence sight. To her surprise, she saw that the acolyte was correct, that the supplicant was not dead. Not yet, anyway. What's more, she was…

"And fetch the Sphere of the Nine Falls, from the sanctum. Now!" Anisatsis said, urgency filling her voice.

As the acolyte rushed off, Anisatsis kneeled down by the bed, gently running her hand over the supplicant. She would have to be careful with her essence and try to repair the damage from the inside; she couldn't just rush in. It would take multiple blessings to heal all of the damage, but she could save this girl. She had to.

* * *

She gasped as the punch hit her in the stomach, doubling over from the pain, and then another strike landed and she was forced to the ground. It was over now, she knew, but she wasn't giving up. Reaching out with a trembling hand, she grabbed the sword hilt and tried to lift it up, but he was too quick. He stepped on her wrist, and she could feel it snap as her hand went numb. She dropped the sword, her arm broken, useless.

'Tsk tsk," he said. "You shouldn't have been here, you know. You should been far away, safe and secure." He sighed. "But no, you had to come back and cause me no end of trouble."

"Not…not enough," she spat out.

She staggered to her feet, aggravating her wounds, but she didn't care. The entire complex was on fire now, the light reflecting off the water below. They were safe enough here, on the rocky cliff that stuck out over the water, but she could feel the heat on her back as she turned to face him.

She threw herself at him, trying to punch him with her good hand, but he stepped out of the way easily, kicking her feet out from under her. As she sprawled on the ground, he grabbed her by the hair and slammed her face into the rock.

"Stupid girl," he hissed into her ear, "what were you thinking? There were three of us! If I had been alone, or maybe with just one of them, you might have stood a chance. But three? You always were too brave for your own good."

"Had to," she whispered. "Had to help him."

"Ah, yes, the everlasting justification for every stupid thing ever done – I was only trying to help. Idiot."

He kicked her in the side, turning her over, and then grabbed her by the throat, lifting her up. His muscles clenched with the strain, but she could feel the essence empowering him, and she could see the fire reflecting in his eyes as he hauled her over to the cliff face.

"I suppose this it," he said. "I can't say that I ever liked you, but I did respect you, after a fashion. Goodbye."

He tightened his grip on her throat and the pain was greater than anything she had ever known. The white arcs of essence, corrosive and cold, ate away at her, ate away at everything. There was nothing, no past, no present, only the pain. And his eyes, eyes full of fire.


* * *

The acolyte came in every few hours to check the supplicants. Most of them lay quietly, waiting to heal or to pass on, but this one was always active, always twisting and turning. Her hysterical movement would tear away the bandages around her throat, but nothing could be done to calm her down. None of the herbs or narcotics had much effect on her, and they couldn't tie her down, so the only thing to do was to check on her frequently, repair what damage they could, and hope for the best.

The bandages were in fairly good shape this time around, so there wasn't much to do. The acolyte found it worrying that she still hadn't woken up, even after weeks of lying there, weeks of personal attention from Anisatsis herself. But the goddess had insisted that she would recover, and that there was nothing else to do but to wait.

As the acolyte bent over to fix the bandages, the supplicant's hand shot out and grabbed his shirt, wrenching a fistful of buttons. The acolyte was too surprised to respond, and the supplicant pushed him down while she raised herself up, the bandages falling away from the red ruin of her throat. She stared at him with confused eyes, violet and wild, but she didn't let go. A weak clacking noise came out of her throat, and it took a moment for the acolyte to realize she was trying to speak. Finally, she managed a hoarse growl, full of blood and anger.

"Where…is…Typhon?"
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
User avatar
Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
Topic Author
Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

17 Mar 2011, 19:12

More pointless stuff. Sensing a theme yet?

***********************************************

"You need a haircut," Declan said.

"Huh?" Xyofei started out of his reverie. He had been gazing at the waterfall, the thundering rapids that gave Greyfalls its name.

"You need a haircut," Declan repeated. "You're getting a little shaggy."

Xyofei ran his hand through his hair. "I guess you're right. How much longer?" He gestured at the rippling pool of golden light that hung suspended in mid-air, the product of Declan's spell casting.

"Not too much longer. Sometimes it takes a few minutes for the door to arrive." Declan looked around at the trees that surrounded them, blocking the view of everything save the waterfall and the river. They hadn't seen a single person since they'd left Greyfalls city, but Declan was still nervous about their privacy. "Are you sure we're concealed enough out here?"

Xyofei shrugged. "I've come out here plenty of times. Never seen anyone. Besides, what's the big deal if we do?"

"Maybe it isn't a 'big deal' if someone spots us, but unlike some people, I'd rather not splash Celestial sorcery all over the place. A little discretion is always appropriate, I find."

"Whatever."

Out of nowhere, a bell chimed.

"This is it," Declan warned.

He stepped back from the golden pool, which was fast evaporating into pulsating waves that resembled a heat mirage. Out of the waves, or maybe from behind them, a door formed, complete with post and lintel, made out of orichalcum and moonsilver and jade, with a round knob exactly in the center. It was the Calibration gate, one of the portals to Yu-Shan, summoned here by Declan's sorcery.

"Let's go."

Declan opened the door and entered the long, white, slightly curved tunnel on the far side. Xyofei picked up his daiklave and followed, whistling a song in a minor key. The door closed on its own accord, and with nowhere else to go, the two Sidereals began to walk to Yu-Shan

"It will all work out," the Chosen of Battles said.

"What?"

"Sorry. That's how the song goes. You know, 'Never goes away, but it all works out.'"

"No, no I don't know."

"Oh. Must be a Calin thing. The song, that is."

"Must be."

The walked in silence for a few minutes, down the hallway that always sloped slightly upward and curved a little to the left. Declan was still nervous, but this time it was about the reception they would get at the tunnel's end. Would the guard of Celestial lions let them pass? Or would they try to arrest or kill Xyofei as a criminal and maybe him as well for good measure? There should only be three lions in the tunnel, but there would be at least half a dozen more on the other side of the door. He and Xyofei could probably take three lions, but nine? And what if they called for reinforcements? There were too many variables for his liking.

Finally, they came around the final bend and the door to Yu-Shan was in front of them, complete with its guard of Celestial lions, sitting in a loose circle. Declan didn't recognize any of them, but since the lions were all so similar in appearance, that didn't really mean anything. One of the lions rose off its haunches and approached them.

"State your business," in said, in a deep, smooth voice.

Declan moved to answer, but Xyofei spoke first.

"The fuck," he said, smiling broadly. "You don't recognize us? Shit, Deccy, we must low in Bureau if the fuckin' lions don't know who we are." He glanced at Declan and winked.

"You're Sidereals," the lion said.

"Hell yeah," Xyofei replied enthusiastically. "This here is Declan Congreve, Chosen of Secrets. You get one guess for my Caste." He spun his daiklave around with one hand, while he rapped his red armor with the other.

"Hmph," the lion snorted. "Very well. You may pass."

It raised one of its forepaws and touched the door. The door shimmered briefly, and then smoothly swung open. On the other side was a large circular chamber covered in white marble, ringed by a dozen Celestial Gates. The guard of Celestial lions was in the center of the chamber, but they barely glanced at the Sidereals as they passed through.

"That was well done," Declan murmured to Xyofei once they were outside the chamber.

"You liked that?" He grinned. "I figured the lions just want to get it over with, and if we don't give 'em a reason to suspect us..."

"...they won't bother to ask you for your name." Declan finished.

"Right. Now, why don't I get us a dragon boat?"

Xyofei walked down to the canals that serviced the area and waved down one of the minor spirits responsible for managing the dragon boats, Yu-Shan's public transportation system. Soon enough a boat bobbed up to the stairwell, and after they boarded it edged out into the silver lane, the 'slow' lane for ordinary traffic that moved at a mere one hundred miles per hour.

"Shit," Xyofei said as he leaned against the gunwales. "There's some pretty rough stuff goin' on down there."

Declan frowned. "In Creation? Yes, those deathknights have proven to be far more capable than I anticipated."

"Than anyone anticipated. No wonder the Confeds want blame it on the Mask of Winters. Hard to think that a handful of exalts could stir up all that shit." Xyofei sighed. "And then there's Sen. She looks like hell."

"Her external injuries are the least of her problems. I've never seen her so subdued."

"Yeah, and she’s got a hell of a reason for it. What do you think the chances are Heike made it?"

"Ordinarily I would say nil, seeing as Typhon doesn't seem disposed to operate with discretion. However, I don't know if Typhon needs him alive in order to operate the machinery in Denandsor. That's pretty much the only hope he has."

"And it's fuckin' slim. Shit."

"I know you and Heike were friends," Declan said quietly, "and I know how much Gerran and Stilgar cared for him. I want you to know that I am going to do everything I can to help him."

"Yeah, thanks, but you don't need to worry 'bout me. Sen's the one we gotta watch. It don't come easy to me, liking her and all, but, shit, it sucks seeing her like that. If Heike's dead, I don't know what she's gonna do."

"Break under the strain, most likely."

They were silent for a moment as the ship rushed south towards the Nexus gate. The lead in the Games of Divinity was in flux at the moment, and the dome of Yu-Shan was constantly changing between the Sun, the Moon, and Mars' constellations.

"It's odd," Declan said, "but I don't think I've even spoke to Sen since she was…redeemed? Is that the right word for it? Anyway, while she was still a deathknight I conferred with her all the time, used her as intelligence asset. I even helped her a few times with her operations. But now that she's a Solar I've pretty much ignored her. I don't know what that means. Maybe I need to extend my involvement with the Solars?

"To date all I've really done is ask them for help when I've needed it and tried to assist them in surmounting problems that seemed to be beyond their abilities. Otherwise I've tried to be more hands off, tried to let them solve problems on their own. Is that the right approach? I don't know. And..."

Declan stopped in surprise. What was the dragonboat doing? It had stopped going due south and had turned to the west, heading more towards the center of Yu-Shan. Heading right towards the Loom of Fate and the Bureau of Destiny.

"Excuse me," he said, speaking to the small god that piloted the craft, "we should be going south. To the Nexus gate."

"Nope," Xyofei cut in, "we're doin' fine. Keep on goin'."

"Are you insane?" Declan hissed. "We can't go to the Bureau! Someone will recognize you!"

"You think?" Xyofei asked, a bland expression on his face. "Good. It would be a shame if people didn't remember me."

"You...you want to go there?" Declan was incredulous. "But Hu Dai Liang, and everything else..."

"You mean that problem with my essence?"

"The problem with...wait...what?"

Xyofei sighed. "How stupid do you think I am? I know I've been fucked up ever since you cast that spell on me. I mean, I couldn't do half my charms at first and I still can't do shit for martial arts even though I've been workin' on it around the clock. Maybe you know why? Or do I have to get a second opinion? Maybe from someone who'd be interested in hearing about that little spell of yours?"

Declan struggled to respond, but before he could the dragon boat had pulled up beside the Crimson Panoply of Victory, the maze of tents and training grounds that surrounded the small brick fortress that housed the Division of Battles. Xyofei jumped off the boat, leaving Declan to scramble awkwardly out onto the banks of the canal. The Crimson Panoply was a beehive of activity, with war gods great and small marching about, sharpening their weapons, and arguing, always arguing.

“Tachi-kun, you old son of a bitch!” Xyofei called out to the Central God of War, who happened to be passing by. “I gotta tell you somethin’.”

Tachi-kun, all muscles and heavy plate armor, stopped with an annoyed expression on his face as Xyofei walked over and exchanged a few words. The god shook his head a few times before resuming his stroll around the camp. Xyofei shot an annoyed look at the god’s armored back.

“Well, fuck you too, buddy,” he muttered, turning to Declan. “The fuck is wrong with that guy? I mean, I thought he’d be excited to talk to me.”

As the Chosen of Battles turned towards the fortress, Declan hurried to keep up with him. “You do realize that you that last time he saw you he was on the wrong end of your daiklave, right?”

“Huh?”

“At those sparring matches last summer? Aurora told me about them. Apparently Hu Dai Liang got you to spar with all of the directional war gods.”

“What?” Xyofei looked surprised. “No shit. I…I don’t remember that at all. And, but…no. You’re full of shit. No way.”

Declan shrugged. “All I can tell you is what Aurora told me. She said there was a big sparring contest for all of the gods and Sidereals, not just the war gods, and that you were the main event. You beat each of the directional gods – except for Siakal, who wasn’t there – and you pissed them all off in the process.”

“Now I know you’re fuckin’ with me. No way I beat all of them. Tachi-kun would kick my ass, at least, and Sunipa and Ahlat wouldn’t be far behind.”

“Aurora says you broke the rules of engagement when you killed them.”

Xyofei stopped, right in front of the gate to the Crimson Panoply. “I killed them?” he asked.

“Well, as much as gods can be killed. You didn’t use Terminal Sanction or anything, just…de-materialized them a bit.”

“Huh. No wonder Tachi-kun’s pissed. Well, that fucks things up a little if I don’t got the directionals on my side.”

“I imagine. Now, maybe you want to rethink this?”

“No,” Xyofei said, shaking his head. “I hafta go through with this. I hafta talk to Hu Dai Liang.”

“Why? So she can kill you?”

“Why do you always hafta shit on everything that ain’t your idea? See, I got this idea and…well, look. Remember last winter on the Nexus bridge? Remember how you tricked me into fightin’ Octavian so you could get onto the bridge? Well, I was pretty pissed with you, but I still trusted your judgment. When I saw you fightin’ with Black Ice Shadow did I hesitate before I jacked him up?”

“No.”

“No, I didn’t. I mean, I don’t think I would’ve been totally nuts if I’d tried to kick your ass, but I didn’t. I knew you were a good guy, even if you were a total dick. I trusted you. So why can’t you trust me? Just this once.”

Xyofei looked at Declan pleadingly. With a start, Declan realized how truly alone the Chosen of Battles was. He didn’t belong to the Bronze or the Gold faction, so he had few allies amongst the Sidereals. The gods were suspicious of him, a product of Hu Dai Liang’s manipulations and Xyofei’s own prickly individuality. He couldn’t try to explain his problems to anyone due to risk they would discover the crimes Hu Dai Liang had had him commit, and he couldn’t do anything overtly due to the risk Hu Dai Liang would find him and kill him to cover her tracks. Really, Declan was the only ally he had in Yu-Shan, the only person he could trust.

“Sure,” Declan sighed. “We’ll do it your way.”
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
User avatar
Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
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Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

17 Mar 2011, 19:18

Here's the coda to the third plot arc. The climax was an epic battle in Denandsor between the Solar PCs and Typhon, his deathknight allies, and his armor of badass soulsteel automatons. Most of the deathknights were killed, but one of them, Sorrow Sword, was captured. The PCs had an idea that they could redeem him, seeing as he was a pretty swell guy before he exalted. Now, Sorrow Sword has a conversation with Matara Sen, the ex-deathknight that the circle redeemed (hence their confidence vis-a-vis Sorrow Sword).

*************************************

There was a knock on the door, quiet but insistent. Sorrow Sword ignored it, hoping whoever it was would go away. Right now he wanted to be alone.

The knock came again. Annoyed, Sorrow Sword rolled out of bed and groped for the lamp and the matches. The moonlight streaming in through the open window made it easy enough to see, and soon the lamp was lit, filling the large bedchamber with light.

He hadn't been sleeping, just lying on top of the bed sheets in his underclothes, sweating in the oppressive summer heat, waiting for the night to pass. He didn't sleep much these days, just as he didn't eat much, either. Neither activity gave him any pleasure, so he did the bare minimum to get by, rushing past them to do something else that was equally uninteresting.

The knock came a third time.

"Coming," Sorrow Sword called out as he pulled on his clothing.

Not for the first time he cursed his lack of possessions. No dressing gown, no slippers, no nightclothes. All he owned was the quilted cloth that was supposed to go under his armor and one drab black suit. It seemed that he had been living in those same garments for years as Typhon and the other deathknights dragged him back and across the Scavenger Lands and he had been forced to fit all of his belongings into one small sack. At least he had gotten his hands on a few extra shirts since arriving in Greyfalls.

Barefoot, he walked across the room and opened the heavy wood door, the weight of the oak groaning against the hinges. On the other side, standing in the feeble light of the hallway lamp, was Matara Sen.

Sorrow Sword arched an eyebrow in surprise. "Good evening," he said. “Can I help you?”

Sen smiled at him unevenly. "Heya, Landrey. Mind if I come in? I need to talk with you, okay?"

"I suppose." It's not as though he was doing anything tonight, anyway.

He stepped away from the doorway and gestured for her to enter, closing the door behind her. As she walked past him, he couldn't help but to notice - again - how profoundly unattractive she was. Her nose was too broad, her lips too thin, her teeth overly large and uneven, and even her hair was limp and stringy. Although she was athletic and muscular, she was too thick in some areas and too flat in others, with none of the curves that a woman should have. None of it was helped by the angry red scars on her neck and the right side of her face, or the ugly little nub where her ear had been.

It was hard to believe that she was the same woman who had once entranced him with her beauty, her otherworldly features and perfect body. If anyone had ever doubted the power of an Abyssal exaltation to change a person, here was the proof, a woman warped beyond recognition, from an ogre to a goddess and back again. And maybe he had been changed as well, in ways that he didn't even notice. Maybe people looked at him and didn't recognize the man before them, and instead saw only some...thing, some parody of human life propped up by the power of Oblivion.

Shaking the grim thought from his head, Sorrow Sword tried to direct Sen to one of the chairs by the window, but she either didn't hear or didn't care and sat down on the bed instead. Frowning, he pulled a chair closer to her and sat down, trying to read her mood. Was she angry with him? Did she want to talk about their sparring match? Or did she come here with amorous intentions? The last possibility was vaguely horrifying, though he doubted Sen was in that frame of mind. She seemed empty to him, listless and uninspired.

"So, why are you here?" Social niceties no longer came naturally to him, and he didn't feel like straining himself just to be polite.

Sen smiled wanly. "I wanted to talk to you. About Heike." The smile disappeared. "You were there, weren't you? At the temple."

Sorrow Sword looked at her cautiously. She was supremely dangerous, he knew, especially since his essence was still drained. Even with essence he probably wouldn't stand a chance against her, so he would have to be cautious now and try to not provoke her.

"C'mon Landrey, tell me," she implored. "I...I need to know."

"Why?"

"I have to know what happened. And you were there, right?"

He set his shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes. "Yes, I was there."

"Well, what happened? What did Winky do? How did...how did Heike, you know..." She trailed off.

"Winky?" Sorrow Sword asked, trying to distract her.

"Yeah, you know, Typhon. The Wink of the Storm's Eye? His stupid deathknight name. They've all got them. Don't you have some dumb name that the...the dead super-ghost thingies gave you?"

"The Neverborn?"

"Right, them. Well don't you?"

"They call me the Sword of Sorrows Yet to Come."

She snorted derisively. "Well that's dumb. I mean, it's better than some of the names I've heard like, well, I don't remember her name right now, but, did you know Stitches?"

Sorrow Sword shook his head.

"Well, her spooky ghost name was really stupid. Anyway, I liked Nalen Landrey a lot better than Sword of whoop-de-doo."

"I can't say that I disagree."

“Right, well I liked you a lot when you were still Landrey and I was hoping that maybe you, well, still liked me enough to help me out? Just to tell me what happened.” She smiled and batted her eyelashes at him, somehow managing to be both pathetic and grotesque.

Sorrow Sword tried to feel pity for her, but he couldn't. Instead he felt an urge to laugh at her, to mock this ugly little girl in front of him. His face twisted as he savagely suppressed that hateful impulse, but Sen was looking away from him and didn't notice his turmoil.

"Why don't you tell me what you know," he said. "Then I can fill in the gaps."

"Okay. I can do that."

Sen looked back at him as she twirled a lock of hair around in her fingers. The motion was not becoming, drawing attention as it did to the ruined half of her face.

"I was sleeping," she began. "At least I think I was. I don't, like, remember anything bad happening, you know? But I woke up out in the countryside in the afternoon, I think, and there were, like, six guys with me. I was all tied up and kind of groggy, but none of the guys was an exalt or anything and they’d done a bad job tying up my feet. So I escaped easy enough and killed them and took some weapons off of them, you know, a sword and some knives and stuff. One of them lived long enough point me back to the temple.

"It wasn't too hard to get back once I found the river, so I ran as fast as I could. It was dark by the time I got there and there were a bunch of guys down by the riverside and the temple was on fire. The whole thing was, like, burning up. All of our work, burning up."

Sen hesitated, but she didn't cry. Her eyes weren't sad, they were just empty, completely devoid of any emotion. She slumped down again, as if the emptiness in her eyes had extended to the rest of her body and there was nothing left to support her. Sorrow Sword looked at her awkwardly and was about to speak when she suddenly pulled herself upright and continued her story.

"So the temple was burning, and down by the riverside, by the docks, there were a couple dozen guys and the Lady of Darkness and...the guy with the hat."

"White Bone Sinner," Sorrow Sword offered.

"Right, him." Sen's face assumed a determined cast. "Well, I started bushwacking these people, 'cause they were loading a boat, or something, and I could hide in the dark and behind all the boxes and stuff. And then the Lady and White Bone Sinner come after me, but I had, you know, done the whole essence protection thing on my mind so her little shadow-thingies weren't really doing anything. And he was so slow and, like, totally blind and stuff because of the dark and the fire so it wasn't too hard to get the jump on him."

She sighed. "It was stupid, I know, to fight all of them, but I was winning. I know that I was winning. But then Typhon showed up and it all went downhill. I mean, it was just too much, you know? I'd cut White Bone up pretty bad but not enough to take him out all the way, and then he and Typhon start to go after me and I could see that it wasn't going to work. So I bolted up the cliff to the temple, trying to get past them, but the Lady gets this lucky hit on me and..."

Sen shuddered again, absent-mindedly rubbing the scars on her neck.

"Well," she continued, "that hurt, and then Typhon caught up with me, and I was really short on essence, and so, he, well, you know, beat me up and broke my arm and burned me up and then threw me into the river. Then I woke up at some temple on the Yellow River and walked to Greyfalls as fast as I could."

"I see." Sorrow Sword looked at her coolly. "And now do you want to hear what I know?"

Sen nodded. She looked miserable.

"Well," he said, "you might be pleased to know that Typhon thought very highly of you. He made certain that all four of us - all four Abyssals, that is - knew how dangerous you were. He also thought Heike was dangerous, but Typhon knew he would be easier to neutralize. So we approached your manse - I assume that's what you call the temple - at night, and I had a platoon of soldiers and the Lady with me to stop anyone from escaping. Typhon and White Bone Sinner snuck into the little house by the river to apprehend you while you slept, and I assume they used a drug of some kind to subdue you. White Bone Sinner always did have a certain aptitude for poisons and the like.

"I suppose that you must have been sleeping alone because Heike was in the manse..."

"Yeah," Sen said in a choked voice, "he always did work late. Left me alone a lot at night."

"I can't imagine how he could resist getting into bed with you." Sorrow Sword smirked, but Sen either didn't understand or didn't care about the joke.

Mildly disappointed that his dig went unnoticed, he continued. "So, after dragging you to the manse, Typhon presented Heike with an offer. If he cooperated, you would go free. If not, Typhon would kill you. Heike agreed to cooperate and Typhon sent you away with an escort to stop you from causing trouble. Obviously, that didn’t work, but Typhon did have a perverse sense of honor. He never intended to harm you.

"I'm not sure what happened in the temple then, something about Denandsor and crystals and a little device Typhon had brought with him. Regardless, Typhon and the Lady were busy with Heike, while White Bone Sinner and I kept a close watch around the manse. Fortunately, it was a holy day of some sort so none of the people in that little village up the river bothered us. Towards sunset I went back to the manse. Typhon wanted to burn it down, so I had the troops prepare the necessary materials. Having finished that, I went to the hearthstone chamber where Typhon had Heike captive.”

“How was he?” Sen asked nervously.

“He was bound, but it looked like he was unharmed, that he had given Typhon everything he wanted.”

“No,” Sen said, shaking her head. “I mean, what was he feeling? Was he sad? Or what?”

Sorrow Sword waved his hand dismissively. “You know Heike, he always looked the same. Calm, quiet, half asleep. He didn’t say anything to me. And then I left. Next thing I knew, he was dead.”

“You’re lying,” Sen said flatly.

“Am I?”

“I can tell. Now, tell me what happened. The truth.”

“Fine,” Sorrow Sword snapped. If she wanted the truth, she would have it. “He looked at me and said ‘I’m sorry.’ What that meant, I don’t know. Probably some silly platitude about my condition. Regardless, I didn’t say anything to him, and then Typhon began to hit him, hurt him. I think Typhon wanted to beat Heike senseless so we could take him away with us. But before that happened, we lit the fires and Typhon began to gloat about how he had destroyed everything Heike had worked for, but Heike didn’t seem impressed.

“Then we received word that you were causing trouble down by the river, so Typhon had me haul Heike outside. We were in front of the manse, which was quite on fire by then, and Typhon told me to kill Heike.”

“But you didn’t,” Sen said. “’Cause you liked him. Right?”

Sorrow Sword sighed. "Frankly, I didn't care. Didn't care about him, about you, or any of this stuff and nonsense. But that isn’t why I didn’t kill him. I was too slow drawing my sword, so Typhon said he was going to be damned if he let you rescue Heike and ruin his plans. Then he cut out Heike’s heart with his razor claws and threw the body into the fire."

"Oh," Sen said. It was the saddest thing Sorrow Sword had ever heard.

“That’s all,” he said. “Unless you want to know how we got back to Thederia.”

"No, no. That’s okay. Thanks Landrey. Now I know." Sen stood up. "I had thought, kind of hoped, you know, that you would be different. That you wouldn't be like the rest of the deathknights, that you wouldn't be like I used to be. I'd hoped you wouldn't be...dead."

She laughed, a thin, high, hysterical noise. "Stupid, isn't it? But, ‘cept for Heike, you were the only one who ever seemed to care about me. I mean, that you liked me, that you weren't just making love to me, but that you actually, you know, loved me. Stupid. Well, hey, good night." She made her way to the door.

Sorrow Sword remained seated as she left. He stayed seated for a long time, silently regarding the knife on the bed, the knife Sen had hidden from him, the knife she had left behind, never to be used.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
User avatar
Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
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Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

23 Mar 2011, 17:21

The fourth story arc in the campaign didn't really deserve the title. Mostly it involved the PCs consolidating their hold on Greyfalls, expanding their control into the Hundred Kingdoms, and dealing with assorted random threats. One of the problems was the ongoing, rather desultory, war between the Realm and the Confederation of the Rivers, and the threatened war between Thorns and the Confederation (which was provoked by the actions of the rogue deathknights who were the focus of the previous arc). The PCs proposed to deal with both problems by engineering an alliance between the Realm and the Confederation, cemented by the Confederation ceding Calin to the Realm. This was all done with a bit of Sidereal help, as we see in the story below, when Ledaal Kes talks to Dragon-bloods, a magic box, and a Chosen of Battles, in that order.

****************************************

Evening was swift approaching in Port Calin, and the servants came into the chambers to light the lamps. The four Dragon-bloods at the table ignored them, continuing with the discussion that had been going on for the better part of the afternoon.

Ledaal Kes stifled the urge to yawn. It was hard to remain focused in the summer heat and, although the thick walls and wide windows of the Shogun’s Palace kept things reasonably cool, now that the lamps and essence lights were on it would take a while for the sharp heat of the afternoon to fade. His loose silk suit was slightly damp with sweat, forcing him to go through great pains to conceal the stains from his fellow Dynasts.

"...and so we've repositioned the flotilla, just to be certain," Peleps Jenelle said. "I've moved out most of the Calinti fleet and stationed our ships in Port Calin. But the real issue is whether the Seventh Legion is set on defending the area between Eastwatch and Goodharbor."

"We think so," Cathak Sedren said, "but we can't be certain. It is Seventh Legion practice to only lightly defend the forward area of the battlefield, so we don't know if the current weakness is the sign of a withdrawal or the precursor for a serious offensive."

"And we have no intelligence on what is happening beyond the front line?"

"Not right now, no."

"That is unacceptable," Kes said crisply. "We must increase our reconnaissance. I want to know exactly what the Seventh Legion is doing, all of the time. Right now we think Karal Linwei has withdrawn the First Field Force to attack the Mask of Winters, but maybe she's waiting to launch a surprise raid. Maybe the Lookshyan fleet is preparing to blockade Thorns, or maybe they're linking up with a flotilla from Nexus. Honestly, how can you people tolerate this situation, this living in the dark?"

Peleps Jenelle looked a little taken aback by Kes’s comment, the first he had made since the start of the meeting. She was a dark-featured Water Aspect of good breeding, accustomed to the discipline of a naval ship where the captain’s word was law, so any sort of negative comment was a novel experience for her. She had done a good job administering Calin during the Realm occupation but Kes felt she needed to be actively encouraged to do a better job.

His active involvement in Calin was the first part of that encouragement. At first Kes had taken a largely hands-off approach to the military operations in the Threshold, letting the members of the more militant families conduct the operations against the Bull of the North and against the Anathema in Greyfalls. But after the muted success of the first operation and the utter failure of the second he had decided that, as the Speaker of the Deliberative, he needed to keep a firm hand on the largest Realm military operation in centuries.

This did not make Kes happy. He did not want to establish himself as a new emperor, a forceful and visible symbol of power, ruling by fiat as the Scarlet Empress had. Not only did he lack the absolute authority to make that possible, Kes also thought that overt command was terribly crass. Much better, he thought, to rule through the Senate and the Deliberative, to present himself as merely the first among equals, the leader of the Scarlet Dynasty, not its ruler. Modesty and understatement would make his rule much more palatable to his power-hungry cousins, and if people forgot that he was actually in charge, well, then, so much the better.

But the Calin operation was too important to run indirectly, so now here he was, up to his elbows in Threshold politics, trying to tell the ruling council of Calin what to do without actually telling them what to do.

"Well, Master Kes," Jenelle replied, "I have been doing my best to bring the situation here under control, but to say it has been chaotic would be an understatement. The loss of all of the experienced staff officers at Greyfalls required a complete restructuring of the legions and their logistical support. Not to mention the confusion that can consume Sedren's operations."

"Now, wait a minute," Sedren protested, "you've had months to get things straight around here. I don't see why any of this is my fault, or Nasek's."

Cathak Sedren was the second part of Kes’s plan to encourage Jenelle to do a better job. Sedren was a capable officer who had conducted himself well during the disastrous Greyfalls expedition, and, despite his association with failure, he was very popular with the legions. He was also prone to argue with anything and everything, so his position as Jenelle’s second in command would hopefully provoke Jenelle into being more active.

Jenelle shrugged. "Maybe it isn't. But I'm not the one who lost the better part of four legions, so my competence can't be called into question. At least not regarding that."

"Are you calling me incompetent?" Sedren said angrily, pushing back his chair.

"No, but the evidence certainly suggests that's a possibility."

"Listen, you dragon-cursed, salt-headed bitch, I've done nothing but follow other people's orders. Nasek's, Kes's, and your's. And I've done a damn fine job marching twenty-thousand troops halfway across Creation."

"And only four thousand came back."

"After I fought a battle, which is more than you can say. What have you done other than sit on your thumb here in Calin and watch the Seventh Legion run circles around you? And how the hell do you think you would match up against the Anathema? Maybe you could try to beat them by counting beans and doing dragon-damned paperwork?"

"Well, ladies, gentleman," Kes said, smoothly interjecting himself into the argument, "I think we have run our course today. Why don't we call it a night?"

Sedren and Jenelle gathered themselves enough to politely wish everyone goodnight, but they did not exit together. Kes watched them leave with quiet bemusement.

"Verin, please stay," Kes said.

Nellens Verin stopped, halfway to the door. The Wood Aspected sorceress hadn't spoken during the meeting, but that wasn't unusual. She was generally content to speak only when spoken to, which annoyed Kes somewhat - after all, there were only three members of the ruling council here in Port Calin and if one of them declined to speak, well, there went a third of his information.

Kes stood up, walking over to Verin. "I want to know what you think."

"About Jenelle's intelligence problem?" Verin perched herself on the edge of the table. "It shouldn't be a problem for me to fix it."

"Are you sure?"

"As long as I am allowed to relocate some of my agents from Greyfalls, no, I shouldn't have any problems."

Kes thought for a moment. "Fine. We can leave the Anathema alone for a while. This issue with the Seventh Legion is more pressing. Just be sure to pass on everything you discover. Everything."

"Certainly." Verin smiled lightly. "It was nice to see Ragara Szaya. Too bad she had to leave so soon."

"Well, there was pressing business back on the Blessed Isle that I had to entrust to her."

"She probably shouldn't be traveling, though, given her delicate condition. That reminds me, congratulations are in order. This will be, what, your sixth child?"

Kes hid a frown. "Yes, the sixth."

"Your devotion to your wife is commendable. I know how much she distracts you from your favored amusements."

"Procreation is our sacred duty," Kes said airily. "When you get married you'll learn the same lesson. If you happen to love your spouse as I love Szaya, well, that's the icing on the cake."

"I imagine." Verin stood up. "Well, I'll get right on that military intelligence for you. It should make for an exciting change of pace."

Kes smiled politely, waiting for Verin to leave the room. He then waited another few minutes while he carefully scanned his quarters with every spell and charm at his disposal. The apartment, one of the guest suites in the Shogun's palace, wasn't large - a bedroom, a bathroom, a parlor, and then a slightly larger living room located in the center of the suite. Satisfied that he was alone, Kes returned to the parlor, where he removed the silk cloth covering one of the tables. The table was an odd piece of furniture, a solid block of clear crystal that became blue and opaque near its center. If you looked closely at the crystal you could see the blue slowly swirling around in its depths.

"Thoughts?" Kes asked.

"She did that to impress you." The dry, even voice emanated from the crystal.

"Yes," Kes agreed. "No one knew that Szaya was pregnant. I myself only learned of it as she left."

"Mother did not tell me, either."

Kes tut-tutted. "Now, Icemind, what have we told you? You are not to call her mother, nor are you to call me father."

"I apologize."

"And yet, you don't regret saying that, do you?"

Icemind hesitated. "No," it said finally.

Kes chuckled. "Well, at least you're honest."

“Kes.” Icemind spoke with the slight inflection that indicated it was asking a question. “Were you telling the truth. Do you love Szaya.”

“What’s this? You can’t read my intentions? Can’t tell if I’m fibbing?”

“Not usually, no,” Icemind admitted.

“What a shame. Have you reached the limit of your abilities?”

“I continue to improve. I always improve. But you are good at concealing your intentions. And even better at injecting false emotion into your speech and body language.”

“I never realized how impressive I was. Thank you.”

“You are welcome. You are also very good at directing the flow of conversation. You have avoided answering my question.”

“And so I have.” Kes walked over to the crystal, crouching down on the floor in full view of the essence intelligence. “If you must know, I do love Ragara Szaya. Very much.”

“Then I was incorrect,” Icemind said. “When I have observed you in the past you do not display the typical signs of affection that are exchanged between husbands and wives. You both abhor the possibility of shared intimate contact.”

“A sad, but unavoidable, symptom of our arranged marriage,” Kes sighed. “Perhaps I will educate on the custom in the future.”

“I would very much like that.”

“I imagine you would. Well, hopefully it will satisfy you to know that Szaya and I have a very fruitful partnership founded upon respect for each other as scholars, parents and individuals. You are not the least product of our collaboration.”

“And I serve to enhance the bond between you.”

“That’s very perceptive of you. Very perceptive indeed.” Kes stood up and walked over the window. “Now, perhaps we can resume our analysis of Nellens Verin?”

"Yes. She did not think you were speaking the truth about Szaya. She does not believe you love her."

"Well, even the best of us can make mistakes. Go on."

"She does not like the change of plans. I could tell she desired to continue monitoring the Anathema rather than shifting to the Seventh Legion."

"And what do you think?"

Again, Icemind hesitated. "I think it is a sound plan. You possess only limited resources on this front, and it is best to concentrate against the most dangerous foe. By simple matter of proximity the Seventh Legion is more dangerous at the moment than the Anathema."

"But you have reservations?"

"Yes. You are being too passive. If the information you have given me is correct, the Confederation is very cautious. A forceful attack might pay greater returns."

"How so?"

"You might scare them into granting the Realm control over all of Calin, and possibly Marin Bay as well. They have a legalistic mindset and it is easy for them to abstract concepts of ownership and control. This, combined with the pressure they are under from Thorns should make them eager to achieve equilibrium, a stasis on the battlefield, something they would be happy to sacrifice Calin to achieve."

"True," Kes agreed, "but we lack the strength at the moment, and our hold on Calin is far from secure."

"You refer to the local nobility. Beneven and Khouros."

"I refer to the entire situation. Right now the only thing maintaining us is brute strength and-"

Icemind interrupted him. "Father, we are not alone," it said quietly.

"What?"

"Another person has entered the central room. I did not detect him until just now."

"Him?" Kes ghosted across the parlor to listen at the door leading to the living room.

"Yes. It is a male, between six feet two inches and six feet four inches tall, weighing between two-hundred and twenty pounds and two-hundred and forty pounds. Some significant portion of his weight comes from a metallic encumbrance."

"Armor? Weapons?" Kes whispered.

"Possibly. He is standing on the west side of the room. Occasionally he will shift his weight from one leg to the other. Otherwise, he is motionless."

Kes thought for a moment. He could call for the guards, but the uninvited guest stood between Kes and the hallway. He could use sorcery or a charm to alert the rest of the palace to the threat, but the stranger would be alerted first. Or maybe there wasn’t a problem – if the intruder was an assassin he probably would have come right after Kes, and he certainly wouldn’t be standing out in the open in the living room. No, he was almost certainly a friendly visitor.

"Be silent," Kes said to Icemind. "I'm going to confront him." With that, he opened the door and walked into the living room.

Kes was more than a little relieved to see Xyofei standing there, intently examining an elaborate tapestry that hung on the wall. He had been gambling that the intruder wasn't hostile, gambling on the scanty information Icemind had given him. But now that he saw the Sidereal his heartbeat began to slow just a little.

"Good evening," Kes said, slowly closing the door behind him. "Fancy seeing you here."

Xyofei looked over at him and smiled. "Oh, hey. Hope you don't mind me sneaking in without an invite."

"Not at all. Though, I must admit that I am a little surprised."

The Sidereal shrugged. The other times he had come to see Kes he had been dressed in formal clothing, but now he was wearing armor with a heavy-looking sword strapped on his back. His boots were splattered with mud, while the rest of him was covered in dust, dust that lay heavily on his face and in the creases and folds of his clothing.

"Yeah," Xyofei said, "I didn't have the time to set up a meeting. Things are pretty chaotic out there right now, so, well, ya know. I kinda had to move quickly."

"I see." Kes picked up a tumbler of water and walked over to Xyofei. "Care to freshen up? You seem a little travel-worn."

"Sure. Had to come here from Denandsor."

Kes looked on, bemused, as Xyofei washed his face. "From Denandsor? How long did that take?"

"About three days." The Chosen of Battles grimaced for a moment as he removed what appeared to be a strip of silk paper from around his neck. It had been obscured by the scarf so Kes hadn't seen it earlier, but as Xyofei untangled it Kes saw it was covered in writing.

"Three days to travel two thousand miles? Not bad."

"Yeah, well, sometimes you gotta keep movin'. You mind?" He gestured at a couple of chairs drawn up around a table.

"By all means." Kes didn't quite know what to make of this visit. The whole thing was very strange, but it was also rather amusing, and then, of course, Kes was always willing to overlook a few oddities in exchange for the other assets Xyofei possessed.

"So," Kes said as he took other chair, "why are you here?"

"We need to talk." Xyofei pulled off his gloves. “It’s about what happened in Denandsor. And in Thorns. You see, well, shit…” He frowned.

“Yes?” Kes said politely.

Xyofei ran his hands through his hair, and then laid them in front of him of the table. “Well, it’s complicated, ya know?”

"Of course, that goes without saying. But is this a business complication or a personal complication?" Kes reached out and caressed Xyofei's hand.

The Sidereal jerked back like his hand had been stung. "What? Personal? I don't..."

Kes was annoyed by the rebuff. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pressure you.”

“Pressure?”

“Yes. I thought you were in the mood.”

“Mood? What mood?”

“I thought you were being suggestive."

"Suggestive?" Xyofei looked at him, bewildered.

“Stop repeating everything I say!” Kes snapped. Then he sighed, regretting his outburst. “I’m sorry. I just thought you wanted to pick up where we left off last time.”

"Right. Last time. When we..." Xyofei left the question hanging.

"Oh, you know what happened."

The color drained from Xyofei's face. "We...uh..." he stammered.

"Slept together," Kes supplied helpfully.

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

There was a pause.

"That...that's awesome," Xyofei said in a strangled voice.

"Hmm," Kes muttered. "I see the evening didn’t make quite the impression on you that it made on me. Well, if pleasure is not an option, perhaps we should move onto business?"

"Yeah, right, business," Xyofei said frantically. "That."

Kes waited for Xyofei to speak, but the Sidereal seemed to be very flustered.

"Well?" Kes asked, a hint of impatience in his voice.

Xyofei started. "Uh, sorry. Right. Business. Well, I know I've given you some strategic advice before, you know, about the war."

"Very helpful advice."

"It was? Great. Well, um, this time, I need you to help me. Help Creation. Help me help Creation."

“Oh? How?”

“Well, down in Denandsor it was…well…there was a big cluster fuck and…”

Xyofei stopped again, leaning back in his chair. His face was still very pale, and his red, almond-shaped eyes were a little wild. He took a few breaths, pulling absent-mindedly at the straps of his armor. After a minute, he looked back a Kes.

“I can give you Calin,” he said. “Not just Calin – Marin Bay and Goodharbor too. I can help you beat the Seventh Legion. I can help you win this war.”
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
User avatar
Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
Topic Author
Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

23 Mar 2011, 17:27

Here's a story about two women taking a ride. Woo.

*******************************

Tepet Corvina was waiting by the horses as the sun rose ever higher. They were supposed to have left by now, but Matara Sen was taking her time. Corvina had checked and double-checked all of the bags on the horses, making sure they had all of her necromantic tools and all of the camping gear they would need. She had even checked the shoes on the horses and the spare saddle, in case they had to fit it to the pack horse. And now Corvina had nothing else to do, so she sat and waited by the horses in the shadows of the courtyard on Garrison Heights.

She didn’t know Sen at all – she had seen the Solar a few times around the palace this past week, but she had assumed Sen was a servant of some type. Certainly nothing about Sen’s appearance inspired confidence; she was tall, for a woman, but otherwise she didn’t look like a warrior, or much of anything at all, really. She dressed in rough spun dresses, like a scullery maid, and she seemed so listless and lifeless that Corvina had assumed she was mentally ill. But Gerran had assured Corvina that Sen could protect her, that she would be safe going to the shadowland of the Frozen Wood if Sen came along. Corvina thought the Solars’ concern was silly, since the road between Greyfalls and the Frozen Wood was safe enough and, as a necromancer, she had nothing to fear from ghosts, but she had politely agreed to go along with their request.

When Sen finally arrived, Corvina was more than a little impatient to get going, so she climbed onto her horse as soon as she spied the Solar entering the courtyard. Sen looked better than she had the last time Corvina had seen her, more alert and fully armed. She had clearly made a visit to the Greyfalls armory and was wearing a short jacket made of heavy leather reinforced with metal studs, pants made of quilted cloth, and she had a short sword and a number of knives hanging from a harness strapped across her torso. There was also another change, one that Corvina was embarrassed she hadn’t noticed earlier, since it was so obvious now that Sen had drawn her pale blonde hair away from her face.

“Your wounds,” Covina blurted out, “they’re better?”

“Huh?” Sen poked her head up from fixing her horse’s saddle.

“Sorry. I…that was rude. I just saw that your wounds were healed.”

Sen lifted her hand to the right side of her face, where the angry red scars had so recently been. Even her ear had been restored.

“Yeah,” she said, “whatsisface, Mikko – he fixed it for me.”

“Well, that must a nice feeling.”

“Pretty good.”

Sen shrugged and mounted her horse. Even with the scars healed she was not an attractive woman, but at least now she looked whole, complete.

"So, what are we doing?" Sen asked, as the two women spurred their horses towards the gate.

Corvina was surprised. "You don't know?"

"Well, Gerran said that we were going to some shadowland or something and that I was supposed to watch out for you."

"We are going to the Frozen Wood, a ways to the east of the city. I wish to investigate the shadowland and any ghosts who may have taken up residence there. It should be an interesting and fruitful experience."

Sen turned around in her saddle to look at Corvina, which, since they were currently negotiating the rather narrow and very steep ramp down from Garrison Heights, made the Dragon-blood more than a little nervous.

"You want to go into a shadowland?" Sen asked incredulously. "You know they, like, totally suck, right? All dry and dusty and spooky."

"They are not all bad," Corvina said. "The Underworld does have a certain charm, and most ghosts are perfectly pleasant. But I am not really going for pleasure - it is part of my necromantic studies."

"You're a necromancer?"

"Yes. I am surprised that Gerran didn't tell you."

"He did. I just thought he was playing with me." Sen frowned. "But I thought Dragon-bloods were all, like, retarded and stuff. That they couldn't do necromancy."

"I assure you that we are not 'retarded'," Corvina said stiffly. "It just takes a special sort of Dragon-blood to practice necromancy. A dragon of a different color, you could say."

"Right," said Sen. "Like a purple one."

Corvina didn't know what to say to that, and the conversation lapsed as they left the city. Both the Nellens Canal and the bridge over it were quite busy, so they had to wait for the traffic to clear. It seemed to Corvina that most of the barges were carrying ore and stone down from the hills, but several of them were going north, filled with all sorts of goods to trade in Arden and Meridia. Judging by the merchants' attire most of them were from far East, Appollonia and the like, but a few were wearing fashions from Nathir and Nexus or even further abroad.

Once away from the city the roads cleared up and they made good time on the east-west road. The terrain in the central part of the Greyfalls territory was mostly rolling hills with sandy soil that was too thin for most crops, so the local peasants engaged in husbandry. Flocks of sheep and the occasional pasture for cattle dotted the landscape, along with scattered farmsteads.

Sen was an odd traveling companion. For the most part she rode in silence, slouched over in her saddle, a blank expression on her face. Most of Corvina's efforts at engaging her in conversation were met with a disinterested look and monosyllabic responses, and it became clear that Sen would rather be alone with her thoughts. At first her lack of vigilance worried Corvina, but Sen was clearly more alert than she appeared. Every time Corvina saw other riders approaching them or spotted something suspicious off the road, Sen was already up in her saddle, carefully investigating the potential threat.

Fortunately, that was what they remained - potential threats. There was no excitement on the first day of travel, and by nightfall they had arrived a Handen, a small farming village located in the valley between two high downs. It was laid out in a pattern similar to every other village in Greyfalls, so even though she had only ridden through the town once Corvina had no trouble locating the local inn. It was a small, but tidy establishment, and Corvina's elemental markings and High Realm accent garnered a healthy amount of respect from the innkeeper. Soon she and Sen were seated in the common room eating dinner, surrounded by local farmers enjoying their evening drinks.

Corvina decided to make another effort at conversation.

"So," she said, in between mouthfuls of bread and lamb stew, "why are you here? In Greyfalls, I mean."

Sen looked confused for a moment. "Um, to help you. Right?"

"No, no," Corvina said, shaking her head. "I meant what is your purpose here? Are you good friends with the other Solars? Did you come here to do research or for a political reason?"

Sen looked down at her stew and poked it with her spoon. Corvina was afraid she had offended her.

"I didn't mean to pry," Corvina said. "I just don't know if Solars naturally come together, or if you even worked together. As a larger group, I mean."

"Yeah, no," Sen replied, still looking at the stew, "I'm not working with Stilgar and Gerran and the rest. Well, I guess I am, sort of. My husband died, so I went to them. For help."

"Oh. I...I am so sorry. I didn't know."

"That's okay."

After a moment, Corvina spoke again. "Were they able to help you?"

"What? No. It was too late. I mean, I thought he wasn't dead, at first, but it turns out he was, so, oh well, what the hell, right?"

"I see. It must be very hard for you right now."

Sen sighed, picking at her food for a minute, before she pushed her chair back from the table. "I think I'm going to go to bed," she said. "You okay here?"

Corvina nodded her assent as Sen stood up from the table and walked up stairs, leaving Corvina at the table, alone, picking at the stew, waiting as long as she could in the common room. When she finally did go to the bedroom that she and Sen were sharing she tried to creep in as quietly as possible, but she saw that was unnecessary. Sen was lying on her bed, illuminated by the bar of light let in through the open door, still dressed in her armored jacket, still carrying her sword. She never looked at Corvina, but the Dragon-blood could tell she was awake, staring restlessly at the ceiling.

The next day began as awkwardly as the last one had ended, and the two women barely exchanged a word as they ate breakfast and saddled the horses. Sen's melancholy was beginning to put Corvina on edge, and the morning ride went by uncomfortably.

Corvina was in an awkward position. She had spent the first fifty years of her life in virtual slavery to House Tepet, a valuable, curious oddity, one of the half-dozen necromancers in the Realm. She was used to following someone else's orders, being closely watched and kept under control. In those rare moments when she had had free time to pursue her own interests she had been shunned, all but ignored by her peers in the Scarlet Empire who viewed the Underworld with fear and disgust.

Corvina had plenty of experience dealing with servants and commanding ghosts, and she was unhappily familiar with other people telling her what to do, but she was unused to the difficulties of relating to an equal. Usually her response to that sort of pressure was to seek solitude, to ignore the problem until it went away, but she wasn't sure if she could do that in this case. As a necromancer the realities of death and loss no longer bothered her, but she also had a heightened awareness to the effect that death could have on others. After all, a ghost was nothing more than pure emotion given form by the experience of death, crystallized and transformed by the experience, but always defined by it.

And here was Sen, broken by the death of her husband, consumed by grief. Corvina felt that she should try to help, but she didn't know what to say. Her clumsy efforts at conversation last night had only brought the problem to the surface, and Corvina was uncertain if she could do anything to repair the situation. If she tried to talk to Sen about it she would probably only make it worse. So they rode on in silence for the next two days, finally approaching the Frozen Wood in the late afternoon.

The shadowland was long, thin forest, running north to south for dozens of miles. True to its name, every tree in the wood was covered with ice, but not the clear, shining ice that would catch the light of sun and refract it into a rainbow of color. Instead, the ice of the shadowland was dark and heavy, a weight pushing down on the trees that bore it, a suffocating sarcophagus that entombed, but didn't necessarily preserve.

Corvina brought her horse alongside Sen's.

"If you don't mind, I would like to stop here for the night." Corvina pointed to the south, where gentle hills crisscrossed with stone walls surrounded the ruins of a good-sized farm, just outside the shadowland.

Sen looked at the sun. "Why? We still have a couple of hours left ‘till sunset. We could get to the middle of this thing, I bet."

"Well, you see, this is burial ground. There was a battle here during the war when the Realm was granted Greyfalls, and the dead are buried here."

"Oh?"

"Yes. While the fighting occurred up and down the length of the shadowland - that is what created it, after all - most of the bodies were entombed in those mounds there. I would like to investigate the burial sites and make sure all of the dead are resting peacefully. It wouldn't do to have this area be haunted."

Sen shrugged. "Sure. Where do we stay? In the ruins?" She pointed at the farmhouse.

"No, that might be disrespectful. We can make a camp on this side of the hills. Maybe by that stream, over there?"

They turned off the main road to ride cross-country for a short distance. Most of the countryside here had been turned into grain fields, and a few untended crops waved in the sun, the wheat intermingled with grass and weeds. They made a little campsite in the shelter of one of the stone walls that marked the boundaries of the fields, and while Sen tended to the camp Corvina spent the last few hours of daylight marking out the burial sites. Luckily, the graves were fairly obvious, big mounds that must have held hundreds of bodies each.

Corvina climbed to the top of one of the mounds, mentally sketching out the pattern she would have to draw to summon the ghosts. Since the area wasn't directly in the shadowland she would probably have to begin by bringing it closer to the Underworld, at least temporarily, and then call upon the ghosts afterwards. She might even have to dig up a few bones, an unappetizing prospect, but a necessary one.

She was so distracted by her mental preparations that she almost failed to spot the smoke cloud. Only as she walked down from the mound, averting her gaze to the south, away from the setting sun, did she see the plume rising above the ruins of the farm. It wasn't much, probably only a large campfire, but it meant that she and Sen were not alone. With a worried frown she raised her riding skirts and hurried back towards the campsite, but she was already too late.

"And where do you think you're going?"

The voice was rough, but the speaker to whom it belonged was even rougher. A short, dirty man stepped out from behind a large boulder that lay at the bottom of the burial mound. In his hands he was cradling an axe with a bright, sharp blade, and Corvina was certain he wasn’t using it to chop wood.

“West,” Corvina said, trying to hide the nervousness in her voice. “Away from here.”

The man shook his head. “Now, we can’t have that, grandma. Yorn, what d’you think?”

“We certainly can’t have that,” Yorn said, coming around the far side of the burial mound, along with two more rough characters armed with crossbows.

Corvina took a step back up the mound. She had a knife in her belt and she knew a spell or two that would chase these ruffians off, but she needed them to give her the time to cast them. If she revealed herself to be an Exalt would that intimidate them and give her the opportunity she needed? Or were they brave enough to attack her and try to finish her off?

“Look, I don’t want trouble,” Corvina said. “I just want to go back to my horse and go away.”

“A horse?” The short man smiled. “Well, that’s something else we can take from you.” He walked up the slope towards her.

“You see,” Yorn said, slowly unsheathing a sword, “we can’t let you leave.”

“That’s right, grandma,” the short man agreed. “See, we can’t have anyone sharing the information of our little operation here.”

“Okay, this all super interesting,” Sen said, “but we can stop now. Let her go and maybe I won’t I kill you. Maybe.”

Sen jumped over the wall at the bottom of the mound, directly behind the short man. Corvina hadn’t seen her approach and, judging by their reactions, neither had the ruffians.

“Another one?” Yorn said, smiling. “There a whole bunch of you girls back there? Maybe there’s even a good looking one in the bunch.”

“Wow, that is so funny,” Sen replied, “I bet it took you, like, five minutes to come up with that one. Now, give me one reason I shouldn’t geek all of you.”

“I figure this is reason one,” the short man said, hefting his ax. “Those’re reasons two and three” – he nodded at the men with crossbows – “and Yorn’s got reason four.”

“Oh, well, whoopee,” Sen rolled her eyes. “Tell you what; I’ve got the reason why you’re going to die. Well, actually, he's back at the farm with what's left of your friends.”

Corvina wasn’t sure what happened – she didn’t even see Sen move. But suddenly the two men with crossbows were dead, blood gushing out of their throats, and the short man had a knife sticking out of his forehead. As he fell to the ground with a little gurgling sigh, Sen drew her sword and closed in on Yorn.

“Now, they’re dead,” she said, “those two assholes at the farm are dead, and you’re next. But maybe you can answer some questions first.”

Yorn looked at Sen, looked at Corvina, and grinned. He lunged at Sen, swinging his sword. Sen stepped back, ducking out of the way of his blows, and then, again moving faster than Corvina could follow, she cut Yorn down.

“Damn it,” Sen said, looking at Yorn’s body. “Too much.”

Sen kicked the body, and then quickly checked the others to make sure they were dead. Only after that was done did she turn to Corvina.

"You okay?"

“Yes, thank you,” Corvina said, hesitantly picking her way back down the slope. “Those were some dangerous men.”

“Guild,” Sen spat. “Slavers.”

“Are you sure?”

“I know the type. They had a little camp back at the farm. I checked it out while you were climbing your hill.”

“And there were more of them at the camp?”

Sen nodded. “Two of them. And a kid, a boy. Dead too. I think he was an escaped slave, and our six brave companions were hunting him down. Assholes.” She spat again.

"You seem to have the situation well in hand, though."

"Kind of. See, there was someone else here. Recently."

"Really?" Corvina turned around, looking at the stonewalls, the boulders, all of the little folds in the ground. There were so many places to hide the enemy could be anywhere.

"Yeah, someone else killed the two dudes at the farm, and I think he killed the kid too. And he must have done it after these assholes left to come after you but before I got to the farm."

"You mean you did not kill them yourself?"

Sen shook her head. "Nope. Dead before I got there. And I didn't want to kill these guys, at least not all of them, but that skinny dude" - she pointed at Yorn's body - "was better than I thought. Way too good for a mortal."

"Truly? You seemed to defeat him with ease."

"Trust me, he was good." Sen sheathed her weapons. "Should we take care of the bodies? Is something bad going to happen if we don't?"

Corvina thought for a moment. "If you will help me, I believe we can glean some more information from these scoundrels. I must warn you, you may find it distasteful."

Sen snorted. "I'm pretty sure I'm okay with anything you're going to do. Especially to these losers."

"Good. Now, what we need to do first is..."

Corvina began to direct Sen to help her with the ritual preparations, and for the first time since they had left Garrison Heights Sen seemed to be comfortable. Not happy, certainly, but at ease. Corvina thought it was a start, at least.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
User avatar
Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
Topic Author
Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

23 Mar 2011, 17:32

I rather like this story. Avrei, although a minor character in our game, is a fun one to roleplay. I feel I have to read a lot of Oscar Wilde before the game to get his manner of speech down. Avrei, if you're wondering, the attache from Lookshy, who's troops watch over the Solar PCs and their kingdom, and make sure they don't go too far against the interests of the Confederation. It's a tough job, as you might think.

************************************

Yukia bit her lip in frustration. It was dark in the armory and her lamp wasn't providing sufficient illumination. The light kept flickering, probably from a defective wick, and it was difficult to see the gears and levers laid out on the table in front of her. The recoil system of a crossbow was far from the most complicated machine in the world, but if it wasn't put together properly it had a tendency to come apart. Violently.

Giving in to necessity Yukia picked up the cloth that the gears were laid out on and carried it over to the table by the window. The morning sunlight streaming in through the glass wasn't perfect, but it was brighter than the lamp, and, since it was still early in the morning, the light should continue to shine through for a few hours yet.

As she resumed her work Yukia wondered, not for the first time, why she was doing this. Why was she skulking in the armory that, until recently, had held the weapons of the Seventh Legion detachment? Did she really need to work on tinkering with the recoil system? Shouldn't she be actually addressing her problems rather than ignoring them?

Oh, stop moping, she thought. I have plenty of time to wrestle with my 'problems.' I don't need to be bothered by them all of the time. Besides, they're really not my problems. I didn't want to do those things - it was the deathknights. They made me follow their commands, they made me...

She shuddered at the memory. And there was the problem. Even if she knew she wasn't morally responsible for her actions at Great Forks and Denandsor, even if wasn't really her fault, it didn't change that fact that she had done those awful things. Her, not someone else. She had given herself to the deathknights, she had killed Roundhill, she had tried to kill the Solars, and she had enjoyed it. At least she thought she had.

That was the worst part - she wasn't sure what she felt, what she remembered anymore. Sometimes she remembered the things she had done with utter disgust and revulsion, but then, a moment later, she would remember exulting in the pleasure of the moment. The thrill of the deathknights touching her, the burning totality of her hatred for the Solars, the satisfaction of revenge as Roundhill died by her hands. Even if they weren't of her own making, those emotions, those memories, were still in her head, still part of her. And maybe some of those emotions were genuine. Maybe they really were hers and not theirs.

With a bang the door opened, filling the armory with sunlight. Yukia jumped a little in her chair, startled by the intrusion. She turned around to see Shozei Ledos Avrei in the doorway, a scroll of paper in one hand and a pen in the other.

"Kinetropos Nalen," Avrei said, raising his eybrows in surprise. "Good morning."

"Avrei." Yukia inclined her head politely.

"I must admit," he said, walking into the room, "I am surprised to see you here. Not just in the dingy splendor of the armory, but in Greyfalls. Apparently, our hosts neglected to mention to me that you had returned."

"Yes, I came back with them from Denandsor."

"Denandsor? How remarkable."

Avrei walked over to close the door, looking out into the courtyard for a moment as the wind tousled the white hair that was his distinguishing feature and the only mark of his Exaltation. His face had a certain handsome aloofness to it, but his dark eyes and olive complexion were like any other Thresholder, and physically he was fit but unremarkable. His hair, though, was thick and coarse, pale blue at the roots and pure white at the tips, a white so bright it shone in the sun. It lay messily on his scalp, sticking out at odd angles and flopping down onto his forehead, just short enough to stay above his eyebrows, just controlled enough to be decent.

In fact, most of Avrei's appearance skated on the edge of decency and military acceptability. He wore his Seventh Legion uniform every day, as required of an officer, and although it wasn't stained or torn, it tended to be wrinkled and creased. On days like today, when the weather was hot, Avrei had a habit of loosening his collar, undoing the buttons on the bottom of his sleeves and rolling the jacket up his arms. While none of this was against regulations, and Avrei was always careful to clean up for formal occasions, it still set Yukia's teeth on edge. Her fingers itched to drag a comb through his hair and to iron his uniform, to make him look like an officer should, a paragon of discipline and conformity.

After closing door, Avrei walked over to Yukia's table and perched on the edge. "Allow me to tell you," he continued, "just how pleased I am to see that you are alive. I heard conflicting reports as to your fate, and once I learned about Kensabura, I assumed the worst."

"No, I got through it alright," Yukia said, looking down at the table. "The deathknights took me captive, but the Solars rescued me."

"Excellent. Really, I can't say how happy I am to see you." Avrei sighed. "A shame about Ken, though."

"Yes. He was a good friend, to both of us."

"We were a good team, the two of us. A collection of talent to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers all across the Scavenger Lands. I, for one, appreciated you contributions to our service, but you never really garnered the respect that he and I did. I was passed over for promotion at least half a dozen times, and, although the general staff had the bad taste to finally promote Ken to field command I doubt they will repeat that error with me. So my legacy of mediocrity is secure."

"You're too harsh on yourself. Besides, I haven't had enough time to create a legacy. I'm only twenty-three."

"Twenty-five," Avrei corrected her. "Twenty-five. Honestly, how could you forget such a simple fact?"

Yukia briefly considered arguing with Avrei, but then decided that bringing up the time stasis trap in Denandsor wasn't worth it.

"Either way," she shrugged, "I'm still the junior officer. How long did you work with Ken – six years?"

"Seven years, though it could seem like an eternity at times, full of unnecessary exuberance and bad jokes. Sometimes I regretted our assignment together, but we always made the best of it."

“Well, you know he thought the world of you.”

“That’s because I was willing to tolerate all of his rash behavior. I swear, that man got us into more trouble than any enemy army ever could.”

“He always meant well, though,” Yukia said. “And you knew he had your back, no matter how it got.”

“That’s true enough. You could always count on him to fight, just as you could always count on him to say something inappropriate.”

"What was that thing he always said to you? 'I'll take care of the wars and the whores...'"

"'...and you can have the books and the boys,'" Avrei finished. "The height of humor, summarizing our personalities in such a pithy manner. I, of course, always thought that he could improve upon the alliteration by having the second element rhyme as well - I proposed 'toys and boys' at one point - but Ken remained resistant to my suggestions. Confident in his infallibility to the last."

"Yeah." Yukia smiled wanly.

Avrei gave Yukia a questioning look. "If you don't mind," he said, "may I inquire how Ken 'bought it?' I deplore that phrase, but that is how he would have put it."

Yukia shuddered a little. She had tried to avoid that memory, tried to avoid most of them, but she knew that nothing would be gained by pretending they didn't exist. Better to confront them and move on.

"No, I don't mind," she began slowly. "One of the deathknights killed him. Typhon. They captured me in Thederia, when I got off the boat we were taking to Lookshy. Ken and the rest of the talon stayed on the boat, and the deathknights attacked right after they got me. I didn't see what happened, but afterwards I heard that Typhon drowned him. In the river. You know, putting out a fire."

"How droll.” Avrei thought for a moment. “He deserved better than that,” he said finally. “Much better.”

“I know.”

“Well, obviously you cannot rely on deathknights to behave in an honorable manner. Speaking of which, how did you fare in the hands of our black-clad adversaries?"

"Okay." Yukia hesitated. "No, not okay. They were awful. They did things to me..." She trailed off.

"Ah. That." Avrei slid off the table. "I think I understand."

"No, you don't. They didn't just use me, they made me do things, made me help them. I killed Jonathan, you know, Major Roundhill? I killed him, I got his blood all over me. And I helped them kill all of those people, all of those hundreds and thousands of people."

"But that wasn't you, it was them. You're not to blame."

"I am! I...I wanted to do it. They made me want to do it. Or maybe I always wanted to do it. I don't know."

Avrei looked a Yukia, carefully analyzing her. Then he shrugged and picked up his pen and paper.

"If that's you think, I can't help you," he said. "But you should keep in mind that those deathknights are scary fellows. At least I'm terrified of them."

He walked away from Yukia's table and began to nose around the shelves and drawers of the armory, making a record of everything he found. Yukia turned back to her crossbow gears, but she had lost the desire to work on them, if she had ever had the desire at all.

Avrei's voice was muffled by the closet he was inspecting. "And you should remember that the mind has a wonderful ability to deceive itself. Oftentimes we only see what we think we ought to see, and reject or misinterpret all evidence to the contrary. How else could a nice, sensible person blame himself - or herself - for the actions of others? An objective observer might call such a person a silly ass, but I tend to be more charitable in my analysis. Generally speaking."

The next few minutes passed in silence, until Avrei spoke again.

"To return to my earlier point, I have a healthy fear of deathknights. Have I ever told you about the time I encountered not one, but two of those villains?"

"No," Yukia replied. She knew where this was leading, but it had been some time since she had heard one of Avrei's long-winded stories so she didn't protest. If he thought it would help by distracting her, then so much the better.

"Well, it was a dangerous encounter, but I hope I won't be giving anything away by telling you that I somehow managed to survive. The actual event occurred during the Mask of Winter's conquest of Thorns, but it has its roots in the misfortunes of my early military career.

"As you probably know," Avrei began, "I am the last citizen of Thorns to be educated at Lookshy. I gained admission to the academy at Valkhawsen just before relations between our two countries turned sour. Fortunately, the administrators at the academy were decent enough to allow me to stay even though Thorns spent my entire tenure growling at the Confederation like a starved dog. No doubt my winning personality was the deciding factor in keeping me on. I am certain that I made friends with at least two people during my stay - although perhaps I overstate my geniality.

"Upon matriculation I discovered, to my dismay, that Thorns had come under the influence of half-educated thugs from the Realm. For some reason, which I am still at a loss to comprehend, they failed to appreciate my natural brilliance and leadership abilities and instead shoved me off to some minor position in the army, there to provide sorcerous support and little else. I, of course, was a true patriot and resolved to fulfill the grand tradition of the army of Thorns and uphold the legacy of gens Ledos despite my mistreatment. I was just as lazy, incompetent and self-serving as the best of our national heroes, although I was out done in my dereliction by many of the general officers, who, not more than a year after I returned from Valkhawsen, supported the Autocrat’s declaration of war against the Confederation.

"During the ensuing war I did as little as possible, though occasionally I was impressed upon to cast a spell or two. Possessing an insightful military mind as I do, I had divined that the key to Lookshy's military supremacy was its store of essence weapons and the like. I tried to increase Thorns stock of that sort of equipment, but I was foiled, both by the paucity of weapons and by general staff's insistence that I help out on the front lines.

"Let me tell you, nothing is more upsetting than actually having to fight during a war. Usually there are so many opportunities to shirk one's duty that anyone who is actually caught in the firing line is clearly an idiot. That, or he is motivated by the base emotions of honor and valor. Either way, he is probably a moral reprobate and is best avoided.

"So, you can imagine my horror at being forced to associate with these foul degenerates on the battlefield, but I had no choice but to aid my country in seeking out its own destruction. This the Confederation was more than happy to provide at Mishaka, and most of the army was slain, including all of the Dragon-bloods from the Realm. Tragically, my assignment in the rear, providing sorcerous support, robbed me of the opportunity of dying with heroic stupidity with the rest of them. I regret my survival to this day - to think, I could have perished a hero, been recorded in the annals of Thorns' history and then been promptly forgotten. Instead I am forced to labor out here, on the far edge of the world, the thankless indentured servant of an alien power. Oh, the cruelty of fate!" Avrei smiled slightly.

"Let me remark, in passing, on a item of personal interest to you. It was on the battlefield of Mishaka that I first saw your father. Certainly, there was an officer from Great Forks who rode a horse during the entire engagement, even while the Great Forks contingent was being chopped into pieces. I can't say that I admired the man's stupidity - imagine, making you self a target like that, a mounted man amongst a dragon of foot troops. Of course, upon learning of your father's condition I came to understand and respect his decision. I wouldn't expect a man with a crippled leg to walk through a fight like that, and it is far better to sacrifice one's life than to sacrifice one's comfort. I always appreciated that about him, by the way: he had his priorities straight. I know that, during my time under your father’s command, he had his disagreements with Lookshy, but I usually thought he was in the right."

Avrei paused for a moment while he moved some suits of armor, noting the individual components still in the armory. Yukia turned back to her crossbow, concentrating on getting two stubborn gears to mesh properly.

"After Mishaka," Avrei resumed, "the Autocrat, in his wisdom, elected to relegate me to a relatively minor command position. I naturally found this to be especially grating, seeing as I was one of the few native Dragon-bloods to survive the Mishaka fiasco and I had assumed that I would be appointed to a rank of importance. Not so. I imagine a combination of my natural brilliance and my harrasment of the command establishment led them to direct me to the arsenal, so-called, a rather dingy collection of First Age weaponry stored by the docks in Thorns proper. There I labored for the better part of decade, trying to equip our army to something approaching the standard of the Seventh Legion, while remaining safely out of the generals’ hair. While my success was modest, I was least able to provide a few weapons of First Age caliber.

"The Autocrat, and the Realm dynasts who advised him, thought this was a bunch of nonsense. They preferred to make our army stronger by increasing the control of the Dragon-bloods, shipping in more and more half-trained fools from the Blessed Isle to boss around us well-meaning, but profoundly lazy, Thorns-folk. I kept my own counsel during this period, preferring to work on repairing weapons and generally avoiding the dynasts. This was detrimental to my career, but highly beneficial to my survival.

"And now," Avrei said with a little flourish, "we reach the heart of my tale. Some seven years ago, on an overcast spring evening, the Mask of Winters attacked my beloved home. Of course, nobody knew this at the time. We just assumed it was an especially violent eruption from the shadowland just outside the city, so the Realm Dragon-bloods, as well as those few Thorn Dragon-bloods who remained, rode out to suppress this attack by zombies and ghosts. Perhaps if I had had better relations with the dynasts, or if I hadn't been struggling to repair a suit of dragon armor at the time, I would have ridden out with them. Instead, I was busy in my workshop, trying to recalibrate the armor's elemental lens, so I missed out on the first battle, where my esteemed, idiotic colleagues repulsed the undead.

"But then, to their chagrin and horror, the Mask of Winter's revealed his second wave of attackers - the deathknights. This did not go quite so well for my coequals, who were summarily dispatched by the deathknights, leaving the army leaderless and directionless. This is the situation I found myself in when I finally got to the city walls in my malfunctioning aegis, surrounded by panicked soldiers and confronted by a horde of determined enemies.

"Now, if this was traditional story, I would have risen to the occasion, proven myself to be a true hero, and single-handedly repulsed the Mask of Winter's Assault. I myself thought this was a splendid narrative and was wholly prepared to go along with it, but the deathknights had different ideas. Honestly, they have no sense of drama and certainly do not care about satisfying the audience.

"Instead, as I tried to rally some sort of resistance, the gate was opened by a traitor assisted by a rather stealthy deathknight who had slipped into Thorns ahead of the main body of undead. This woman - the deathknight, that is - began to slaughter the troops defending the gate, and I moved to oppose her. Well, after a fashion. My elemental lens still wasn't working properly, so when I tried to assault this femme fatal I met with frustration. I considered fighting her and throwing away my life to prove a point, as was traditional, but then my conscience took over and pointed out that by doing this I would be denying future generations the pleasure of reading my memoirs. Fortified by this sage advice for the betterment of our race, I retired to repair the lens. By the time I had fixed the cursed device, everyone by the gate was dead and the locking mechanism was wholly smashed.

"However, I did not have the time to admire my adversaries' work or decry my foul luck, for shortly thereafter I was confronted by a new threat: a second deathknight, leading a band of undead soldiers. While my female opposition had been quite lovely, though my glances of her had been fleeting, my new foe was not so appealing. A large fellow with larger armor and a daiklave that was larger still, he began the assault proper, storming through the gate.

"Being a natural warrior whose martial prowess had been honed by years of shirking off and reading books, I was able to stall this villain for some time. For five whole seconds I challenged the deathknight, upholding the tradition of the men of Thorns to do the bare minimum to avoid accusations of cowardice. Then, deciding that any fate was preferable to ending up skewered on the end of a soulsteel daiklave, I discharged my elemental lens into the archway over the gate. Of course, the cursed thing misfired again, and rather than the controlled blast that I had been intending, I instead blew through enough essence to fry one of my hearthstone sockets and brought the entire wall down on top of my head.

"This took me out of the fight, as well as a number of the undead soldiery. The deathknight, displaying the aforementioned contempt for dramatic convention, was not impressed and continued on his rampage into and through Thorns. Horrid, I know. Of course, if my foe was prepared to reject the narrative tradition by which both of us would have perished in the conflict, I concluded it would not be remiss if I did the same. So rather than die with fruitless heroism, I survived to crawl out of the rubble and escape from the city, with nothing but a suit of broken dragon armor to my name. Before I fled I swore to avenge my favorite bistro down by the docks, which I assumed would not survive the battle. This conjecture appears to have been correct, since I have neither seen nor heard from crab cakes since then. I cannot bear to think of the fate of the scallop stew.

"And that is it. After reaching Celeren and the safety of Marukani territory, I made my way to Lookshy and offered them my services, and have been ordered up and down the Scavenger Lands in the years since. And now I find myself here, writing down sums in the oppressive, muggy, mostly dark air of this armory, living a life of adventure and romance."

Avrei finished with his cataloging and, rolling up the scroll, walked over to Yukia. Crossing his arms, he leaned against the wall, looking at the now repaired crossbow before turning his attention back to her.

"Now," he said, "you may think that I regaled you with this story simply because I enjoy hearing the sound of my own voice. Not true. What I do enjoy is hearing the infinite wisdom and all of the well formed phrases that I can inflict upon my fellow man. Nothing is so fortifying to the ego as proving to others just how much smarter you are than them.

"But, let's assume that, for one impossible minute, I was not as sensible as I am. If I found myself in this weaker, fragile, state, I would probably blame myself for the fall of Thorns. I would curse my lack of courage and my deficient martial ability, and, consumed by self hate, I would place all of the evils of the Underworld on my own shoulders. This would be idiotic, of course. While I am not perfect - I know, it's a terrifying thought, but true - my failings do not make me responsible for the failings of others. Their sins are theirs to bear, and no one else's. Don't you agree?" Avrei raised an eyebrow questioningly.

"I suppose," Yukia said after a moment of thought.

"Well, you should suppose yourself into believing it. There's a good girl." He gave Yukia a casual salute that set her teeth on edge. "Now, I have to get on my way, but I want you to stay alert. You wouldn't want to be surprised by half-wit soldiers telling heavy-handed morality tales. I hear they're lurking around every corner in this place."

"Oh my," said Yukia, "are they dangerous?"

"Absolutely," Avrei replied as he opened the door. "I have it on good authority that they can bore you to death."

Then he walked out into the courtyard, his white hair shining in the summer sun.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
User avatar
Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
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Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

30 Mar 2011, 11:53

After taking over Greyfalls (and, eventually, some of the surrounding territories) the PC circle invited the Guild to do business in their new country, hoping to collect some revenue. Of course, with the Guild being the Guild, questionable business practices followed, including the import of fae-ravaged slaves into the country. The PCs learned of this and had several different reactions, raging from outrage to indifference, which were all rendered irrelevant when one of the PCs suffered limit break and began to systematically kill all of the Guild employees he could find. This ended poorly, but thankfully before too much damage was done. The Guild, as you can read below, was less than thrilled.

***************************************

Drax watched impassively as the Greyfalls troopers left the Guild’s Division compound. Rolf Bekker was next to him, silent as always. As the two Guild factors watched, the leader of the army detachment came over to speak with them.

“That should be the last of it,” Major Rhetal said.

“I should hope so,” Drax replied, not even showing a hint of anger. He was a big man, much bigger than the slender Major Rhetal, and the harsh, heavy lines of his face suggested that he was not a man to be trifled with. What Drax really wanted to do was break Rhetal in half, but he was disguising his true emotions, like a good businessman should.

“So, we’re impounding all the items on this list” – Rhetal passed Drax a receipt – “and we’re charging you this much up front.” Another receipt. “The legate will let you know what the final fees are, based on the assessed import taxes. And we’ll inform you if there are any other violations.”

“Right. Has Legate Quodross made any comments on the matter?”

“No, only that he intends to see the law enforced.”

This would normally be where Drax offered to bribe Rhetal and Tep Quodross to see that the legal follow up was gentle on the Guild, but he knew that was a lost cause. Rhetal was so bland and unimaginative he would never be tempted by a bribe, and while Quodross was more flexible when it came to accommodating the Guild, he would never agree to anything that conflicted with his duty to Greyfalls.

“What about my losses at the brothel?” Drax asked. “And the losses down here? Are there any plans to compensate me for the loss of property, to say nothing of the loss of my employees’ lives?”

“Not so far as I know,” Rhetal replied evenly. “The tragedy was the result of an attack by a rogue demon, so the Sat…uh, the Logothetes’ office isn’t under any particular obligation to make you whole.”

“Well, I suppose I’ll have to bring the matter up with the Legate myself, then.”

“Is that all?”

Drax thought for a moment. “Yes, that’s all. Thank you, Major.”

“Very good, Master Drax.” After a brief handshake, Rhetal turned and left the compound, leaving destruction in his wake.

Drax sighed. The dismantling of his little empire had been almost complete - every box opened, every door unlocked, every building inspected. In some ways, this inspection had been even more damaging than the attack the compound had sustained two days ago, but Drax wasn't worried about the damage.

Damage and loss were to be expected in every business enterprise. Ships sunk, buildings burned down, market demands changed on a whim. Any good businessman planned for the worst case scenario and had a way to survive it, and the impact here was far from worst case. They would have to pay fines for the smuggled goods discovered on the site, but that was a minor issue. It hadn't even been a purposeful operation, just something that had happened because Drax had gotten lazy and had decided to stash the goods here for a few weeks rather than move them out ahead of schedule, and had thought he could get away with not paying the transshipment fees. A stupid waste of money, but relatively minor.

More concerning was the loss of the brothel, temporarily at least, and several good employees. That had hurt, not because Drax cared especially about the employees, but because it was difficult to find people you could trust to handle a sensitive business like that. Martina had been a good madam, and she had handled the girls (and the few boys) well, making sure nothing got out of hand. It would be hard to bring Division's sex trade back under Guild control after an event like that, especially since the freelance whores had been let go, but it could be done.

What was worst was the loss of the slaves. There had only been a couple dozen of them, but a ravaged slave was worth a lot more than a regular slave. So long as you played to their peculiar appetites a ravaged would never rebel, never misbehave, and would always do exactly as commanded. They definitely made the best whores because their enthusiasm for their work was genuine, something that most clients appreciated. And now they were gone, taken because the Anathema had decided they didn't like the idea of ravaged whores.

That was what Drax was worried about. Unpredictability. So far as he could tell he had done nothing overtly illegal, but he had still been treated like a criminal. If the government of Greyfalls could unilaterally change its mind about an issue like the slave trade, and then enforce this change on the Guild, there was literally nothing Drax could do to stop it. Well, maybe not literally. He could try to oppose the Anathema and assert the Guild's rights, and then get crushed by their overwhelming power. Or he could pack up shop and cut off all ties to Greyfalls. Neither option was appealing, so that left appeasement.

Drax hated appeasement. He was used to getting his way.

With an irritated grunt, he turned to Rolf Bekker. "So, what the hell did you do?"

"Hmm?" Bekker had been watching the departure of the Greyfalls troops, and turned to look at Drax. Bekker had blonde hair and skin that would have been fair if it hadn't been burned and beaten by constant exposure to the wind and sun.

"What the hell did you do?" Drax repeated. "How did you mess up the thing with the ravaged? You didn't actually deal directly with the Fair Folk, did you?"

"No," Bekker said, shaking his head. "Always dealt with third parties. Arkuli, mostly. They got the slaves to and from the fairies, then sold them to us."

"You're sure?" Drax eyed Bekker suspiciously. The Northman was a good operative and Drax had worked with him before on some of the Guild's more...robust business ventures, but he suspected Bekker wasn't beyond putting his own interests first if the price was right. Bekker was a Dragon-blood after all, and with exaltation came a certain amount of arrogance.

"Damn right I'm sure," Bekker responded with hostility. "What? You think I'm dumb enough to cut corners on something like that? I know goddamn well how the Confederation deals with ravagers."

"Sorry, I didn't meant to insult you," Drax said. "I'm just trying to figure out what went wrong. If we had made a misstep somewhere, maybe. But I think we just got in the way of the wrong people."

Bekker snorted. "Sure did."

"Then what do we do about it?"

"Get them on our side. Find out what they want and give it to them. Bribe them."

"And then what if they change their minds like they did today? Everything we did was legal - more or less - and they just smashed us. Tried to kill everyone."

"Yeah." Bekker rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "What was up with that? There's a flash of light and then the next thing I know there's that awful noise and everyone's screaming."

"Twenty dead. Eight more at the brothel."

"It was Khouros doing it down here, and probably him again at the brothel. And then that other guy comes out of nowhere and beats Khouros senseless and gives him up to other Anathema."

"Yes. I wonder who he was. You saw him, right?" Drax had been in his office at the far end of the compound during the attack, where he had been out of range of the sonic attack, but unable to see anything.

Bekker nodded. "He was glowing like Khouros, though not so bright, and it was more silver than gold. Not a big guy, but not little either. Brown hair, dark skin - like an Easterner."

"Did you see him again in the company of Denton and Stilgar?"

"Can't say I did."

"But he must work with them. It sounds like he's an Anathema as well, so it would only be natural. Damn, that makes six of them."

"A regular colony they've got up there in Greyfalls."

"Yes." Drax thought for a moment. "But if they are working together, that means that the group had a disagreement with Khouros and approved of using violence to stop him. So maybe the rest of them didn't want to kill us."

"That's a happy thought."

"Of longer term importance, it means that there are divisions within their brotherhood. The five of them, or six, or whatever, don't always get along."

Bekker understood where Drax was going and got a crafty look in his eye. "So maybe we can exploit their division? Play them off each other?"

"Maybe. It's not a perfect solution since it doesn't give us the stability and predictability we need to profit from the Greyfalls market, but it would be a whole lot better than some random murder squad showing up and exterminating our entire operation on a whim."

"Like Nexus," Bekker spat.

"Like Nexus."

Drax looked around the compound. A few people were taking the initiative and cleaning up, but most of the employees were just standing around. He sighed. Time to get back to work.

"I'm going to try to restore order around here," Drax said. "I want you to get a boat and whatever you think you need - soldiers, supplies, whatever - and head back to Norn's Hill. Get that operation so squeaky clean that no one will be able to complain. No ravaged, no drugs, nothing. Understood?"

"Sure," Bekker said. He started to walk off, but then he stopped, and looked back at Drax. "And what do I do if he comes around again? You know, our friend with the peculiar tastes?"

Drax scowled. He had forgotten about that. "Tell him the truth. We don't have the girl. If he wants her, he can go to Greyfalls."

"He won't like that."

"And what do we care? It would have been nice to make a profit on a useless lump like her, but she's gone and her brother's gone too. Our friend will just have to swallow his disappointment."

"I don't know...Yorn let that kid get away and we haven't heard back from him."

"Yorn was a jackass. And you're telling me that creep killed Yorn over some useless, idiot slave boy? I doubt it. And even if that is the case, you're not actually afraid of him, are you?"

"Of course not," Bekker said defiantly, but his hand reached unconsciously for the plasma repeater at his hip.

"Good. Now, get going. I need to send a message to Marita, and then I need to get this shit storm cleaned up."

Drax walked away, looking for people to order around. It was going to be a long day.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
User avatar
Henry
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Essence 5
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Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

30 Mar 2011, 11:54

Most of the stories I write are pretty random. This is one of them.

*********************************

"Halt!" Colonel Jensen barked out.

With a collective sigh the members of the Second Regiment came to a halt, the ragged column of soldiers becoming even more ragged as they dispersed, before forming back into neat lines. They had been training for most of the day, physical exercise in the morning and weapons training in the afternoon, while the last hour had been spent practicing drills. That had been the most difficult part, sweating in the summer heat as Colonel Jensen made them do the maneuvers at double time.

"Okay, people, that's enough!" Jensen bellowed. His face was beet red, in sharp contrast to the iron gray of his hair, but he wasn't sweating. It seemed like the behavior of his subordinates affected him more than any physical exertion ever could. "Your battalion is on leave for tomorrow, so use that time well. I expect everyone to be here bright and early on Mercuryday. If there are any shirkers, the entire battalion will suffer. But I don't need to tell you that, do I?" Jensen smiled a smile that bordered on sadistic delight.

"Sir, no sir!" the soldiers responded in unison.

"Dismissed!"

Sergeant Nils Jakaari took a moment to ensure that the soldiers in his company were all in good order before sending them back to the barracks. There was a good deal of joking and horsing around as the young men and women left the marshaling ground, but Nils was too tired to participate. Not for the first time he wondered if he was too old for the army. Fighting in the war hadn't been too bad, but this new training regimen that Autarch Denton had introduced was wearing him down. Maybe an old leather boot like Jensen could keep up, but someone soft like him, someone more used to doing paper work and adding sums, well, it might be too much.

"Tired out, Nils?" Lieutenant Oren Stegen said, reading Nils's mind. "Well, I've got the cure for that."

Like Nils, Oren was a life-long resident of Greyfalls. Oren had the light brown hair common amongst the region's natives, while Nils had inherited pitch black hair from some Northern relative, but otherwise the two could have been brothers. Or father and son, given the disparity in age, Nils thought.

"Not the Lower Lock again," Nils said, groaning in exaggerated displeasure.

"Hey, you got hit the Lock to get the shot," Oren said, giving Nils a friendly slap on the shoulder. "Besides, you doing anything else tonight?"

"No," Nils admitted.

"That's 'No, sir'," Oren chided him. "But, tell you what - I'll buy. Sound good?"

"Good enough. What time?"

"Well, I'm going to be there a little after sunset. We're meeting with Epsom and Devereaux."

"Oh, good. At least that means you'll have someone else to drink under the table."

Oren gave him another friendly slap and walked off towards Garrison Heights. As an officer he had a residence in the fortress, while Nils and the other non-commissioned officers berthed with the enlisted soldiers in the barracks. He did have his own room, at least, a tidy little box adjacent to rooms owned by the company's other sergeants.

As he cleaned up in the communal washroom, Nils wondered how long he was going to be able to stay here. His wife and children would be returning from the refugee camp near Division shortly, and he would have to find lodging for them. On his sergeant's salary he certainly wouldn’t be able to afford a house in the city, let alone a slave. Maybe he could land an apartment in one of the new tenements down in Mist Town, but his wife wouldn't like that. She had been supportive, more supportive than he had dared to hope, about his entire adventure in the army, but he could tell her patience was wearing thin. She was waiting, hoping, that he would give up, drop out, and return to civilian life.

And maybe that wasn't such a bad idea. Nils knew he was a lousy soldier - he wasn't much of a fighter, he didn't have an eye for the battlefield, and he had no skill at command. It was only by virtue of his superior birth and education that he was a sergeant at all. Any else with his experience would have been made an officer upon joining the army, but not Nils. Here he was, stuck being a sergeant, watching over people half his age and twice his ability, helping children like Oren do the company's paper work.

Despite all of that, Nils hung with it. His wife thought he was being stubborn, refusing to admit that he was wrong. But Nils knew it was more like a sense of...patriotism, if that was the right word, that kept him in the army. He had joined up with Jansen's irregulars during the war when the Confederation conquered Greyfalls. He hadn't planned on staying on after the war, but he still hadn't been discharged when the Realm had attacked again, everything he had owned had been destroyed in the Battle of Greyfalls, and they had all been confronted with the huge task of rebuilding the country. Nils just couldn't imagine leaving in the face of all of that - he had to stay on and do his part.

And, of course, there was that small thing that appealed to his vanity. Nils had discovered, during the Battle of Greyfalls, that he was brave. Not suicidal, or heroic or anything, but the battlefield held no terrors for him. That small thing kept him going with the hope that maybe, somewhere, he had the makings of a real soldier within him.

None of that changed the fact that he was forty-five year-old sergeant who had a drinking date with his commanding officer, so he hurried to get ready in time. Oren was twenty years his junior, but before the war they had worked together at the same trading company. Oren was much more competent than he was, not that that was saying much, but he had been appointed to command a company in the new regiment that had been formed this spring. It was a tremendous honor for a lieutenant who had only been in the army for a year, but Oren had been certain to bring Nils along to be his staff sergeant and help out with the task of organizing the new regiment. And to be his drinking buddy too, apparently.

Nils hurried down from Garrison Heights, doing up the last few buttons on his uniform as his made his way through the streets of High Quarter. The Lower Lock Inn was built into the steep cliff face that marked the boundary between High Quarter and the mercantile district, the kind of inn that lived and died by its tavern patrons. Fortunately, the tavern was well situated on a cliff overhang, suspended dozens of feet above the mercantile district with excellent views of the lower city and the countryside around the Lower Rock River. It had been very popular with the city's resident merchants before the war, and, since it had somehow survived the conflict largely intact, it had continued in its popularity during the reconstruction.

The tavern was crowded, as Nils entered, but not too hot. The subterranean nature of the room as well as the cool breeze coming in from the east kept the temperature reasonable, something Nils, in his gray, high collared uniform, was happy for. It didn't take him too long to spot his party, seated by one of the windows. In addition to Lieutenant Oren Stegen, the table also held Chester Epsom and Yvette Devereaux, both Captains in the Bronze Pioneers, old than Oren but younger than Nils. Chester was lanky, friendly man with a shock of straw colored hair, while Yvette was a dark, heavyset woman with a forceful personality. They were engaged in the casual sort of relationship that soldiers got into, nothing romantic, but a predictable source of sex and comfort that only lasted as long as the campaign.

"Sergeant Jakaari," Yvette said with a friendly nod.

"Captains. Lieutenant." Nils responded with a casual salute. "So, what are we having tonight?" he asked as he took his seat.

"Beer, to start," Oren said. He motioned to the serving girl for a new round. "And I was just telling our mercenary colleagues about our new toys."

"The crossbows?" Nils asked.

"Yeah, you guys get all the fun stuff," Chester said, adopting a sad look. "No one ever gives us any presents."

Oren smiled broadly. "Part of the perks of working for the great state of Greyfalls. Maybe if you got closer to our fabulous Solar overlords you would be showered with blessings too."

"Like that training regimen they have you on now?" Yvette pointed at Nils, then at Oren. "I'm suprised that either of you is still standing after watching that slave-driver Jensen push you around all day."

"Autarch Denton and the others sure did put a bee up his butt," Nils agreed. "But I'm not sure if Jensen is as bad as the Solars are. I think they drive us even harder when they run the training."

Oren nodded in agreement. "They drive us harder, but we feel it less. They make it easier. If that makes sense."

"Must be their special magic powers," Chester said, waving his fingers. "I bet they're brainwashing you into being their slaves. Vile Anathema that they are, and all that."

"C'mon, Chester," Yvette said, nudging her fellow Captain in the ribs. "Be polite. No need to insult our employers."

"We wouldn't want to do that," Chester said, putting his hands on his cheeks in a horrified gesture. "Then they might want to train us, too!"

The conversation paused for a moment as the beer was delivered. When it resumed, Yvette leaned forward with little smile on her face.

"That wouldn't be all bad," she said. "We'd get new toys, and we'd get to spend time with their drill masters, too."

"Stop," Chester cautioned, "you're making me jealous."

"There are some handsome men there, that's all I'm saying. Stilgar, Denton, that blonde guy. What was his name, by the way?"

Oren frowned. "Who?"

“You know, he worked with you over the winter. Tall, muscular, impossibly handsome? Really pale hair, almost white? Ring any bells?"

Oren and Nils looked at each other questioningly. "Sorry," said Nils, "I have no idea who you're talking about."

"Come on," Yvette said, annoyed. "I saw him instructing you on how to use the crossbows at least a dozen times."

"Doesn't ring a bell," Oren said, shrugging. "But you know who I do remember? Nalen Yukia. Now, there is a looker."

"Oh yeah," Chester said. "Where did they find her, and why can't she invent something for me?"

"Tell you what," Oren said with a wink, "she's back. I thought she'd left for Lookshy or something, but I saw her around Garrison Heights the other day. She's the one who introduced the new crossbows as a matter of fact. And if you thought the view was good during the winter, well, it gets a whole lot better when the coats come off."

"Do tell," Chester said, pretending not to notice Yvette's hostile stare.

Nils leaned back in his chair and stopped listening as Oren began his only slightly exaggerated description of Yukia's assets. It was hard enough being faithful to his wife without supernaturally attractive women around to distract him. Not that he had a chance with any of them, but there was always the chance that they would excite him enough to encourage him to do something stupid with some merely mortal woman. Like the women in his regiment. Most of them were only girls, little older than his daughter, but they were women nonetheless, always there tempting him.

He cast his gaze over the tavern, idly taking in the crowd. He wondered if there was anybody out there that he knew, but it looked like most of the patrons were merchants come to the city for the market days. Nils had primarily been an accountant, involved in the exchange of currency and debts between banks, so he'd never really talked to foreign merchants. Most of the faces familiar to him were the old Greyfalls merchants, men with strong ties to the Realm who had packed up and left when the Confederation had taken over. Now the city was full of new faces and Nils was left in the past with his memories that didn’t matter.

“The city sure has changed,” Nils muttered quietly.

“Huh?” Chester asked. He twisted around in his chair, craning his neck around to look out the window. “Yeah, it’s a hell of a view.”

At this time of night Greyfalls was mostly dark, with only the soft glow of the streetlights to provide an outline to the bulk of the buildings. The bulky buildings down by the waterfront and the tall, multi-story constructions near Nooji Plaza spread the illumination into the sky, a mild challenge to the constellations.

“I like it,” Yvette said. “Not as impressive as Nexus, but you don’t have all the First Age buildings.”

“Or a million people,” Oren said, “or piles of garbage, or poisonous smoke.”

“Nexus isn’t all that bad,” Chester protested mildly. “You can even walk down some of the streets without getting mugged. In daytime. If you’re armed.”

“Right. Streets.” Nils sighed. “I’m not sure if I like the new ones.”

“Don’t say you doubt the designs of our Solar overlords?” Oren asked.

“The buildings are nice, especially the tall ones. But the streets…I don’t know. I liked the old, winding ones. The new straight ones, well, they’re a bit boring.”

Oren shrugged. “It works. Besides, I’m damn sure that I’m going to like anything that I put that much work into building.”

Sometime after midnight their little group decided that they had reached their limit, so they began to slowly move towards the door. Nils was pleasantly drunk, and he cast an approving eye over the greatly diminished crowd of patrons in the tavern. Only the really committed or the really drunk were left, but Nils stopped in surprise as he neared the door. He knew the man at the corner table. Not a friend, but someone he had been friendly with. He stumbled over to say hello, but his target was staring distractedly out of the window and didn't seem to notice him.

"Hi Landrey!” Nils said with excessive enthusiasm. “How’s it going…”

The words died as the man turned to look at him. The man looked like Peleps Landrey, with the same aquiline nose and that funny way of raising his eyebrows, but on closer inspection his hair was black and straight when Nils was certain that Landrey's had been brown and curly. What was more, Landrey was at least ten years older than Nils, but the man looked like he was ten years younger than Nils. And then there were his eyes, black and cold. It made Nils shiver just to look at them.

“Yes?” the man asked in a quiet voice.

“Sorry,” Nils muttered. “Made a mistake. I…I have to go.” He hurried to catch up with Oren.

“What’s the hold up?” Oren asked, keeping the door open as Nils stepped outside.

“Nothing,” Nils said. “Just…well, I need to revise my memories.”

“I have no idea what that means.”

“Neither do I.”
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
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Henry
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Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

30 Mar 2011, 12:02

This one is just kind of goofy. I like the structure of it, though the writing could use a little polishing. In case you were wondering, Mikko is a Changing-Moon Lunar, Sen is a Night Solar, and Landrey is a Dusk Abyssal in the process of redeeming himself (and gaining resonance like whoa).

********************************

It was well after midnight when Mikko slipped out of Annika's bed.

He had come to see her as soon as they had returned from Division, pausing at Garrison Heights only long enough to check in on Tethys. He knew it was irresponsible for him to run away like this, but he didn't care. He needed someone to hold him, someone to comfort him, and Annika fit the bill perfectly. She was pretty and a good lover, sensible enough to not take their relationship too seriously but passionate enough to make it matter while it lasted.

Mikko had been seeing her for a couple of months, ever since she had come to Greyfalls with the first groups returning from the refugee camps, but he had only occasionally been to her apartment near the river. Usually he would take her to his place in Garrison Heights, or, more often than not, they would wander around the countryside near the city and make love wherever it suited them. Neither Mikko nor Annika were exhibitionists, but the physical side of their relationship thrived on spontaneity. That was probably why Annika was so willing to see Mikko tonight even though he had showed up at her door, unannounced, after being absent for a week.

As he left the bed he moved quietly so as not to wake her, even expending a little trickle of essence to lighten his tread. He wasn't going to leave, so he didn't bother trying to sort out where, exactly, his clothes had ended up, and instead ghosted through the bedroom door into Annika's living room. It wasn't a large apartment: only a bedroom, a washroom, and a general-purpose living room, but the building stood on a slight rise near the city's south-eastern corner so the view from the windows was just high enough to look over the other buildings in the neighborhood.

Mikko went onto the balcony, really no more than an exaggerated window frame, just a foot of stone sticking out from the building and a metal railing. The moon was out tonight, almost full and near the end of its nightly circuit. It hung, a clear silver orb, not far from the horizon, covering everything in a soft glow that bleached away individual details but heightened the contrast between objects with light and shadow.

Bemused, Mikko noticed that his moonsilver tattoos had started to glow as well, shining ever so slightly in the moonlight. Normally he used some very basic charms to conceal the tattoos, which he thought was a shame. Necessary, but a shame. They really were quite impressive, swirling around his limbs and torso, a sharp, bright contrast to his dark brown skin. Whenever he shifted shape, and sometimes when he didn't, the tattoos would flow and reposition themselves, ever so slightly adjusting to his body. Even though the tattoos were there to stop him from mutating uncontrollably into a perverse, chimerical monster, Mikko had always thought of them primarily as a fashion statement, something to impress girls.

Mikko smiled to himself. That was how he lived, just floating through life, drifting from moment to moment, doing what suited him, relying on his wits to get by. Well, his wits and his good looks. Can't forget the looks. He might not be the tallest or handsomest guy out there, but he knew how to use what he had to his advantage, how to use every gesture, every change in posture to influence other people. Certainly he was good enough at charming people, at getting friends to support him, at getting girls to go to bed with him. But what had he ever done with his life? What had he done to affirm Luna's faith in him?

Mikko pondered this as he leaned on the railing, idly looking at the buildings running down the slope to the river. In Division, just a few days ago, Samir had been killing people. Not just killing people - he had been murdering innocent people for no apparent reason, using that...that thing, that spell. The one that had destroyed Fallen Lapis.

Gods, it had been awful. And still, Mikko had hesitated, hesitated to stop Samir. It wasn't like Samir was his friend; he was an arrogant, anti-social jerk who had ignored every effort Mikko had made to befriend him. It was that Mikko had trouble fighting anyone, much less someone who he knew and trusted, like Samir. So what if he had eventually screwed up the determination to knock Samir out - if killing Samir had been the only way to save those people, Mikko didn't know if he could have done it.

It had all sounded so simple when Luna had appeared to him during his moment of exaltation, when she had given him the mission to protect and nurture the people of Creation. But since that moment, what had he really done? He had been nice to his friends, he had tried to do a few things to help Great Forks, and he had taken care of Tethys. Probably the best thing he had done for Creation was help those who actually had the vision and the drive to do something important, like Declan or Annointed Starfall or Saul. Certainly nothing he did on his own initiative was very important.

Mikko frowned as he looked over the city, the moonlight having suddenly taken on an accusatory air. A flash of movement drew his eye to one of the buildings down towards the river. There, on the roof, on a small platform. Two people, making love in the sight of Luna, hoping for the goddess' to bless their relationship with fertility. Mikko smiled as he looked away, leaving the couple to their own devices, but then something else caught his eye, something suspicious. A dark figure crawling in the shadows, making its way from roof to roof, towards the center of the city. After a moment of debate, Mikko decided to investigate.

* * *

Nalen Landrey was in a foul mood. The past few days had been rotten and tonight wasn't much better.

The trip to Division was supposed to have been an escape from the pressures of Greyfalls, a way to distance himself from Berthen and Yukia and all of those other distractions. But then it had all gone wrong, with Samir losing his self control and trying to exterminate the Guild, and then with the discovery of that child, Linara. Landrey was very distressed by the child's condition, since she had not only been exposed to the Neverborn, it also seemed that the depth of her corruption exceeded his own. Maybe it was a good sign that he was upset by her - and indication that he was regaining his empathy.

Or maybe it meant nothing. Certainly, nothing that had happened tonight would suggest that he had improved. At first he had tried to get a drink at the River Palace, but Art had been in the lounge so Landrey had to skulk off before he was seen. Then he couldn't find anything in the barracks, so he had been forced to go down into the city. For some idiotic reason he had chosen to go to the Lower Lock Inn, his old watering hole from when he and Art would visit Greyfalls on business, and then he had sat right in plain sight, like a damn fool.

Really, he shouldn't have been surprised that someone had recognized him; he had lived in Greyfalls for fifteen years and done business here for another forty, so plenty of people knew him. And, despite his self-pitying moaning to the contrary, his exaltation hadn't changed him that much. So perhaps the remarkable thing wasn't that Nils had recognized him tonight, it was that no one had recognized him earlier.

Regardless, Nils had approached him, said his name, and Landrey, acting like the damn, heartless jackass that he was trying not to be, had used some of the precious essence he had been hoarding to chase Nils off. Stupid! At the very least he shouldn't have spent the essence, since it next to impossible for him to gather motes in Creation. And the way he had used them, to scare Nils away. Idiot! What he should have done is talked to Nils, seen how he was doing, tried to act like a decent human being. Wasn't that the entire point of his being in Greyfalls? To overcome the emotional scarring of his Abyssal exaltation? How was he ever going to get anywhere if he kept on being such a fool?

With a scowl, Landrey slammed the door to the inn behind him. Last call had sounded several minutes ago and he was the last of the inn's patrons to leave, sticking to the shadows, hoping no one else had seen him. Now he was out in the light again, the nearly full moon illuminating the city in a silver glow. The familiar tangle of the streets of Hightown spread out before him, all but empty in the early morning.

Autumn was less than two weeks old so the weather was warm enough, but Landrey still pulled his coat around him. No reason to advertise his presence on the walk back to Garrison Heights. He walked up the slope, moving down the side streets towards the avenue that ran behind the city wall and gave the quickest approach to Garrison Heights. At least he could actually walk up the steep incline now, which had usually been too much for his crippled leg to handle. One small positive from his exaltation.

The avenue was a broad street, the side facing the residential buildings lined with short trees while the side along the wall was wide open. Landrey kept to the trees, lost in his thoughts, but as he neared the ramp to Alder Plaza a sound, a crash like a falling stone, broke him out of his reverie. Looking around to determine the origin of the sound, he heared the sound of voices ahead of him. Moving cautiously, Landrey remained behind the trees for concealment as he approached the small party standing near the gate. It was Nils and Oren and their compatriots from the Bronze Pioneers, smoking cigarettes and wasting away the night in the little plaza that gave a nice view of the canal.

Damn it. Landrey paused. The last thing he wanted was to confront Nils again, and then there was the chance that Oren would recognize him too. He had never had anything more than a business relationship with the two men, using them to smooth his export business in Greyfalls, so he doubted either of them felt very strongly about him one way or the other. Still, there was no reason to unnecessarily anger the Neverborn or provoke awkward social moments, so Landrey made a split-second decision. He ducked down a side street, taking an alternate route.

The street, really more like an alleyway, was narrow and uneven, zigging and zagging with the slope of the hill. It was so crooked Landrey couldn't see the other end, so he could only hope it didn't terminate in a dead end, and it was so narrow almost no light was let in between the buildings that lined it. Walking more carefully to compensate for the bad visibility, Landrey ducked to avoid the support struts of a metal latticework balcony that overhung the alley. That was when the monster attacked.

* * *

Matara Sen grunted with exertion as she pulled herself onto the top of Greyfalls river wall. Silently cursing herself for making a noise, she slipped the rest of the way over the battlements and then pressed herself into the shadows, waiting to see if anyone had noticed her. Thankfully the rest of her ascent had been quiet enough so as to not draw the attention of the sentries, and no one had noticed.

She didn't really know why she had decided to climb up the walls, rather than wait until morning to cross the river and enter through the Nooji Plaza gate, or even take a nighttime stroll over to the Canal Gate that was always open. It was totally unnecessary for her to sneak into the city, much less to do it without spending essence, but she had felt like a challenge. It hadn't been too hard to swim across the Lesser Rock River, but slipping past the guards on the river front had been difficult, and scaling the smooth sandstone of the city walls had been harder still. Now she was here and the only obstacle left was to get off the wall.

That is, unless she wanted to create another challenge. Sen looked at the distance between the wall and the first ring of buildings. There was a building, maybe a warehouse, about twenty feet from the wall and quite a bit shorter. Sen was pretty sure she could jump the gap, land on the roof, and then get to Garrison Heights without ever touching the ground. Now that would be fun.

Quickly making sure no one was watching, Sen braced herself, and then sprinted across the top of the wall, leaping at the last minute to clear the gap. With a little more noise than she would have liked she landed on the warehouse, slipping slightly on the slick tile. But there wasn't any sign she had been spotted, so as soon as she regained her balance she was off again, leaping from building to building on a roundabout path to Garrison Heights.

Her mission to Arden had been interesting, if not especially hard. She wasn't sure why Saul had sent her there, since she had never been to Arden before and had only heard of it in passing during her past operations in this area. But it had been fun to skulk around and spy on the military up there, impersonating officers and swiping plans. Actually, it had been somewhat startling to use her powers for the first time - she hadn't had an opportunity to do any spying since she had become a sun girl and her charms were distinctly different now. Still effective, but different.

Maybe that's why she wanted to sneak through Greyfalls without the aid of charms. It was more predictable to just use her muscles with the occasional boost from excellencies than to do something more complicated. What if she tried to use a charm that didn't work the way she had expected and ended up hurting herself?

The rope around her wrists - bound so tight it cut off the circulation to her hands - hurt something fierce, but not as badly as the gag in her mouth. The rag he had tied there was cutting into her cheeks, making it hard to breathe.

"Let's go, princess," he said, grabbing her by the arm and hauling her over to the side of the road.

She hated him. She hated all of them. She wanted to kill every single member of the Guild, but she had gotten sloppy in Calin and now she was a prisoner, back under their control.

The man patted her down, searching for any valuables he might have missed. Finding none, he grunted in dissatisfaction and grabbed her roughly by the hair. She tried to struggle, but he was a lot bigger than she was and he had already beaten her severely, so it was strictly for show. He pulled her head back, exposing her neck, and she fought back the tears, trying to retain a small measure of dignity. As the knife cut into her throat, her last thought was that she was happy they had killed her, that they hadn't made her a slave again. Then everything went topsy-turvy as she tumbled into the ditch.


Sen almost fell from the shock of vision. Sliding down the roof she stopped just short of the precipice, clinging onto to a tile while another one, dislodged by her spill, fell into the alley below.

What was that about? She hadn't had a vision like that since, well, since she was a deathknight. Oh, sure, sometimes a whisper here or there, or a bad dream, but ever since she had become a sun girl the Neverborn had been largely absent from her mind and she was happy to keep it that way. But now this came out of nowhere, a memory of startling clarity and painful emotion.

She sat, dazed, on the edge of the roof, trying to regain her composure. She wasn't too far from High Quarter, right by the canal wall, and she could see a few people down below in the avenue. In fact, there was someone in the alley below her, a slender man with black hair, a blue coat and a big nose. Landrey. That explained it. His whisper thingies must have gotten her whisper thingies going. Or something. She was pretty sure that was how it worked.

After wondering what he was doing at this time of the night, Sen impulsively decided to go see him. The building she was on had a number of balconies made of wrought iron, and she slipped down them, towards Landrey. At the last one, right above street level, she wrapped her knees around one of the bars that made up the balcony and flipped over backwards, hanging upside down, swinging down suddenly to look him in the face.

"Heya, Landrey!" she said.

* * *

Nalen Landrey recoiled in surprise from the creature that confronted him. Like a bat it hung upside down from the balcony, huge eyes in a dusky face surrounded by a mane of pale hair. Its mouth, a horrible maw full of uneven teeth, opened, and a noise came out, something that might have been words. Landrey took a step back from the awful thing, but, before he could respond, another shape crashed into his assailant.

The first creature, the upside down one, moved impossibly quickly, flitting down from the balcony in the blink of an eye as the second creature attacked it. This new arrival was mixture of light and shadow, dark flesh surrounded by coruscating bands of light, and horrible, glowing teeth. It growled at Landrey, reaching out to grab him with one hand while, out of nowhere, a blade of glowing silver appeared in the other hand.

* * *

Mikko had been worried that he was too slow, that the mysterious infiltrator he had seen crawling across the rooftops was going to escape him. Even after he had transformed into a hawk the figure had almost escaped his vision several times, and it was only by lucky chance he had spotted it skulking into the alley. He had plummeted out of the sky, changing back into human form just in time to stop the infiltrator from attacking some poor fellow standing in the alley.

When the infiltrator easily dodged his first attack, Mikko threw himself into battle frenzy. If this thing wanted a fight, it was going to get a fight. Snarling, he summoned one of his daiklaves from Elsewhere, while he was barely aware of himself pushing the bystander out of the way. The hunt was all that mattered now, and he moved to attack.

* * *

What the hell? Sen thought, as the silver and black thing tore into her. Of course she had no problem getting out of the way, but it was only by using charms that she had avoided being hurt. She rolled off the balcony, landing on her feet and drawing her daiklave in one smooth motion, ready to fight.

The silver thing, glowing bands of light surrounded by shifting shadows, was attacking Landrey, pulling him into the alley. Sen lunged at it, thrusting the daiklave with the short, controlled motions the Mask of Winter's master of arms had taught her. When the silver thing easily parried her initial blows, she shifted to an all-out attack, whipping her blade around in a whirlwind of motion as she danced up the walls of the building to come at it from unexpected angles. The silver thing proved equal to the task, though, flowing away from her sword, dancing too far away for her to reach, before moving back in to attack again.

* * *

Mikko was worried that he may have bitten off more than he could chew. The infiltrator was incredibly fast and it was only by keeping plenty of distance between them that he could avoid its attacks. In fact, it was taking all of his skill just to avoid being hit - he couldn't even think about counterattacking.

And what about the bystander? The one the infiltrator had attacked? The one he was trying to defend? Mikko spared a quick glance over his shoulder to the back of the alley where he had shoved the poor man off to. At first he didn't see anything, but then a shape, dark and terrible, loomed out of the dark to confront him.

* * *

Landrey stumbled back as the second creature grabbed him by the shoulder and pushed him away. Tripping over a box left askew in the alley, Landrey fell into an undignified heap. It took him a moment to disentangle himself from the garbage, and as he did so he had a vague impression of two shapes, one covered in golden light, one in silver, both tinged with darkness, dancing around each other.

Standing upright, Landrey finally understood what was happening, not that it made any sense. There was Matara Sen, illuminated by a combination of the streetlights in the avenue and her caste mark, her features partially obscured by the shadows of her anima banner. Facing her was Mikko, Denton's pet rat-man, or whatever he was, his flesh interwoven with silver bands of light. For some reason, Mikko wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing. And then there was Landrey, covered in filth, ignored by those two sword-fighting imbeciles. Feeling the anger boil up inside of him, Landrey strode towards the combatants, unconsciously expending his precious essence to make himself more formidable.

"That is quite enough," he snapped at Mikko as the Lunar turned to look at him. "Now, why don't you tell me what the hell is going on here?!"

Mikko recoiled, his face showing a brief flash of fear before changing to surprise.

"I don'ts...I mean I thoughts that..." the Lunar stammered. "You was in troubles?" He turned to look at Sen.

* * *

Woah. Sen stepped back from the silver thing as Landrey confronted it. Landrey did not look happy. His face and body language oozed anger, the shadows wrapping themselves around him to lend weight to his words, and on his forehead his caste mark dripped black blood. The silver thing, rather than attacking Landrey as Sen expected, stopped to look at him, and then spoke in a familiar voice.

Now Sen saw that the silver thing was actually Mikko, wielding a daiklave, his moonsilver tattoos surging with essence. In fact, the tattoos were the only thing on his body, and Sen was surprised to see that the Lunar was impressively well-muscled. Huh. She never would have thought that.

Taking a moment to suppress her anima, Sen cautiously approached the other Exalts. Landrey was really tearing into Mikko, giving the Lunar a piece of his mind, and Sen had to wait a minute for a pause in the Abyssal's tirade.

"So, uh, hey Landrey. Hey Mikko," she said, waving hesitantly. She still kept the daiklave out, just in case something fishy was going on.

Landrey fixed her with unsympathetic eyes. "Sen. Maybe you can tell me what is happening?"

"Well, I was up the roofs for change, 'cause, well, I thought it would be fun, and I saw you down here, so I thought I would skip down to say hello."

"You thought it would be a good idea to jump out of the shadows and surprise someone at two o'clock in the morning?"

“Well, you looked lonely.”

“And you sought to remedy the situation by ambushing me?”

“It wasn’t an ambush,” Sen said defensively. “It was just a friendly hello. It didn’t seem to bother the Solars that one time in Nexus.”

“So you’ve done this before.”

“Yeah.”

“In Nexus.”

“Yeah.”

“And it never occurred to you that this behavior – the sneaking around at night surprising people – might be viewed as suspicious?”

“Um, no?”

Landrey sighed and pinched his nose in a gesture of frustration. The shadows around him ebbed away, but his caste mark pulsed darkly.

"Yes," Mikko chimed in. "That's what I was thinkings. You sees, I sees her - well, I no knows that its was her - sneaking on the roofs and I thinks that anyones doings that it ups to no good. So I comes after her, then I sees her spooking out you, so I come to helps. I least, I thoughts it would helps," he finished lamely.

"So, let me get this straight," Landrey said in weary voice. "You" - he pointed at Sen - "were crawling on the rooftops in the middle of the night because it is 'fun'. And you" - he pointed at Mikko - "decided to engage in nude vigilantism to protect the innocent." Landrey sighed again. "Remind me again why I associate with you?"

Mikko gave an embarrassed grin, showing off his silver fangs. "Well, I no has the time to gets dressed and I was up in the birdy shapes most of the times, so, um, was not so much the problems? At least, not until nows."

"Certainly not a problem from this angle!" Sen said brightly, nudging Mikko with her elbow and giving him a ribald wink. "Besides, Landrey, we're the Lords of Creation! We make the rules! No one tells us what to do, right?"

Landrey looked at her, looked at Mikko, embarrassed and naked, looked at himself, covered in stink of garbage, and then he did something totally unexpected.

He laughed.

It started as a chuckle, but then expanded into a proper belly laugh, the sound echoing down the narrow canyon that was the alley. Sen and Mikko looked on in surprise for a moment, but then they both joined in as the ridiculousness of the situation sunk in. As Landrey laughed, the pulsing of his caste mark slowly faded away, and his voice mixed in with the others, forming a harmony of sorts.

Sergeant Nils Jakaari looked on in confusion from the end of the alley. He had come over to check out the ruckus, and at first it had looked like there was a fight going on. But now things seemed to have calmed down and the people in the alley appeared to be getting along. Whatever. Nils shrugged and turned away. It wasn’t his problem if a couple of drunks were having a rowdy night, and besides, he was feeling too mellow to intervene anyway. He needed to get back to bed and enjoy his day off.

Overhead the dark figure moved, unnoticed, slipping over the rooftops into the heart of the city.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
User avatar
Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
Topic Author
Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

06 Apr 2011, 16:34

Here's a silly piece. Well, sillier than normal.


****************************

"Damn it," Arturo Berthen muttered under his breath. He had stubbed his toe.

As he leaned over to rub the injured appendage, he knocked his head on the corner of a book sticking out from the shelf behind the desk. Cursing again, he stood up and walked over to the window, stumbling on the chair as it caught on a box that shouldn't have been there.

Nursing his wounds, Berthen regarded his office with suspicion. He'd been out of work for the better part of a month and Dawn and Samir had booby-trapped his domain in his absence. He was fairly certain that it hadn't been on purpose, but everything was just a little out of order. The furniture had been moved a few inches here and there to make way for boxes of reports and receipts, the back records he kept on the shelves had been shuffled around, and more than a few things had been adjusted to accommodate Dawn's petite physique. Nothing major, but the cumulative effect was enough to keep Berthen disoriented and constantly surprised by a new ambush waiting for him.

He was certain that sobriety was not part of the problem. He hadn't had anything to calm his nerves in the past week, other than an occasional injection after dinner to help him sleep, and he was determined to remain clean during working hours. Not that he hadn't thought about taking out the case he kept in the back closet and using just a little to help him through the day...

Berthen scowled and turned to the window, kicking the baseboard in agitation and hurting his toe again. Damn it all. He had to wait it out. It all goes away over time. You forget, you move on, you get better. Berthen didn't want to forget, but he knew he had to. He knew he would. Everything fades away. Even Lilly. And Great Forks would be the same. Soon it wouldn't be anything more than an inconstant pain, and then it wouldn't be anything at all. Forget and move on. Focus on the here and now, on Greyfalls.

Outside it was a grim, overcast day, the steel gray skies and sharp wind carrying the promise of rain. The soldiers in the courtyard were hurrying through their routines to finish ahead of the storm, their urgency mimicked by the functionaries and clerks rushing to and from Garrison Heights. All of the action quietly pleased Berthen, a satisfying reminder of the condition of the city that a few months ago had been in ruins but was now as prosperous as any place he'd seen. He knew that his work had been of secondary importance after the labors of the Solars, but, still, it was nice to see that he had actually been able to help people. It made his troubles a bit less burdensome.

He turned around and was about to go back to this desk when the door to the office opened silently and Mikevro Merkova stepped in. The Lunar didn't seem to notice him; in fact, he seemed to be more interested in what was happening on the other side of the door. His back towards Berthen, Mikko closed the door most of the way, keeping it open half an inch. Shifting back and forth on his feet, Mikko nervously peered out into the waiting room on the other side.

"Can I help you?" Berthen asked.

The Lunar spun around, looking at Berthen with wild eyes.

"Berthens?" he whispered. "You is here?"

"Of course I'm here. It's my office, after all."

"Hoi." Mikko seemed befuddled by the concept. "But Samir and Dawn has not been workings heres..."

"But I do," Berthan said firmly. "And what are you doing here?"

"I is, well, outs in the halls..." Mikko started, snapping out of his crouch and closing the door. "I has to hides."

"What?"

"She is comings heres to sees you, yes no?" Mikko walked quickly towards Berthen, grabbing him by the wrist.

"What? Who?" Berthen pulled away from Mikko.

"Erika," Mikko said. "Erika Revnek. Is out in the halls. I sees her talking to yours slave."

"Huh? What? Revnek? From Great Forks? Or, whatever, from the refugees? Yes, she's here to talk with me about logistical matters. She is the acting minister, after all."

Mikko spun around towards the door, his face turning pale with trepidation. "I has to hides," he said urgently. "She can'ts sees me."

"W-Why?"

"Is a bitch," Mikko hissed. "Is stone-cold bitch."

"What?"

"Is a bitch," Mikko repeated, grabbing Berthen by the wrist again and dragging him towards the door on the side wall of the office.

Berthen was too surprised to resist as Mikko flung open the door, revealing the cramped closet on the other side. He pushed Berthen inside and tried to follow, but the space was too small, too filled with boxes and files. It wasn't really big enough to hold a single person, let alone two, but Mikko squeezed against Berthen anyway.

"Hey, wait!" Berthen protested, his voice muffled by Mikko's upraised arm pressing into his face. "Wait! What are you doing?!"

"I has to hide!" Mikko said frantically. "Erika is killing me if she is seeing me!"

"Well, then, let me out you stupid idiot!" Berthen tried to push his way past Mikko, but the Lunar resisted.

There was a knock on the door, and Berthen heared Athea's muffled voice say something.

"Is too late!" Mikko said desperately.

His eyes wide with fear, Mikko grabbed Berthen's arm and bit him on the hand, puncturing the skin with his sharp teeth. Cursing, Berthen pulled back, but then he fell silent with surprise as something extraordinary happened. Mikko's skin quickly lightened in color, his eyes went from brown to green, and his hair shortened and thinned while turning a blonde-green hue. His face and waistline filled out considerably while his features lost their handsome sharpness. Even his clothing changed, his green and gold jacket morphing into a dull gray suit.

Berthen was looking at himself.

"Wha..." he began, but Mikko placed a hand over his mouth.

"Please, be quiet, just for a minute. I need to get out of here. Okay?" There wasn't even a hint of an accent in Mikko's voice. In Berthen's voice.

Wait. Did he really sound like that?

Overwhelmed by the strangeness of the moment, Berthen could only stop and stare as Mikko swung the door shut, or tried too. There wasn't enough space for him to fit and Mikko had to leave the it open a few inches.

"Come in," Mikko said in Berthen's voice.

Pressing against closet shelves, Berthen watched through the gap between the door and the frame as Athea entered the office with Erika Revnek following her. Erika was an impressively beautiful Dragon-blood, one of the few from Great Forks, with long red hair and inquisitive eyes that saw everything.

"Master Berthen," Athea said with a bow, "Minister Revnek to see you."

"Arturo," Erika saw warmly, stepping forward to take Mikko's hand. "It's been too long."

For a moment Mikko's twisted Berthen's face into an expression that would have been appropriate for someone touching a snake, but he quickly forced a polite smile. "Erika. How good to see you." As he turned away to walk back to Berthen's desk, he muttered something. "Still dressing like a whore," was what it sounded like to Berthen.

"What?" Erika said sharply.

"Nothing," Mikko said, waving his hand dismissively. He sat down in Berthen's chair. "I'm afraid I don't have much time, so make it quick."

Erika gave Mikko a strange look and approached the desk, while Athea stood awkwardly by the open door. She shifted uncomfortably on her feet.

"You can leave, my dear," Mikko said grandly, "I won't be long." Since no one was reacting to Mikko's voice, Berthen assumed it must be an accurate mimic of his own, as strange as it may have sounded to his ears. How disappointing.

As Athea left, Erika remained standing by the desk, looking pointedly at the chairs arranged in front of it, but Mikko didn't invite her to sit. Still standing, she looked at him, probing him with her eyes.

"Are we alone?" she asked. "No company?"

"Of course we're alone. Do you see anyone here?"

Erika smiled tightly. "It's just that I thought I saw someone, a man, talking to your assistant out there. You know, the blonde tart who's practically spilling out of her dress? I didn't see him in the antechamber, so I thought he might be in here."

"No, we're alone," Mikko assured her, leaning back in the chair, putting his feet on the desk. "And don't be so critical of Julia - unlike some women, she doesn't try to bite your dick off if you don't do everything she says."

"If you say so." Erika gave Mikko a strange look. "Are you trying to use charms to influence me, Arturo?"

"What, no!" Mikko's feet slid off the desk. "No, I was just doing....um...paperwork, you know, sums and that sort of thing. I was using essence to help me out with that. You must be seeing the, uh, residue of that. Nothing about you."

"Good. I apologize for being so suspicious." Erika smiled pleasantly. "I knew I could trust you, Arturo. You're an honest man, unlike so many of the people I have to deal with."

"Well, you would certainly know dishonesty if you saw it, I bet. Experience is a great teacher."

"Hmm, yes it is." Erika pursed her lips. "So, how is life treating you here? You're getting along alright, I hope?"

"Oh, yeah, it's great. The Solars leave me in charge and let me do what I want. No irrational demands from life-sucking women permanently stuck in their menstrual flow."

"Well, you certainly do seem loose. Relaxed, even. That's a change."

Mikko smiled. "It's amazing how relaxed you can be when you're not being tormented by she-demons who are impossible to please."

"Hmm. I imagine."

Erika stepped around the side of the desk, closer to Mikko. She cast her eyes over the office, looking for something. Berthen pushed himself further into the closet, trying to hide. He decided he was going to strangle Mikko when this was over.

Erika turned to look at Mikko. "I can see that you're not in the mood to be pleasant, Arturo, though I don't understand why."

"I don't know what you're talking about, my dear," Mikko said with a look of innocence on his face. "I'm perfectly pleasant. Maybe it's just one of your mood-swings making you hostile and paranoid? I understand lots of women have them."

"Must be," Erika said, gritting her teeth. "Why don't you give me the report and I'll leave."

"I'm afraid it's not ready."

"What? Don't give me that, Arturo. I know it's ready. You told me it was."

"Well, I must have..."

Erika cut him off angrily. "And don't use your bullshit charms to try and weasel out of this. I already told you that I can't be fooled. Look, I don't know what your problem is today, but if you keep on acting like an asshole we're going to have a serious problem. Just give me the report."

"Okay, okay," Mikko said, waving his hands in a gesture of surrender. "I'll get it for you." He looked around the office, then turned to Erika. "Uh, I don't suppose you know what it looks like?"

Erika didn't say anything, she just stared at him and tapped her foot impatiently.

"Alright, I'll get it myself." Mikko stood up and looked around again, a worried expression on his face. He walked to one corner of the office, and then the other, while Erika watched.

"Ah-ha!" Mikko said finally. "I think it's in here. Just a moment."

He walked over to the closet, pulling the door open a little. Berthen tried to remain out of Erika's line of sight

"Berthen," Mikko whispered, "where's the report? The thing she's looking for?"

"Behind me, you moron," Berthen replied. "I...you...you are such an idiot!"

Mikko frowned. "Well, get it for me. Please?"

"I can't. I have to move, and if I do she'll see me!"

"Just duck down and I can get past you. No, not that way, the other way."

Mikko stepped into Berthen, trying to worm past him, but the Lunar couldn't quite fit so he got next to Berthen. That didn't work at all, as they were both rather stout, and Berthen tripped sideways against the shelves, knocking some their contents over.

"No...stop...you're on me...just stop...idiot!"

"Is everything alright?" Erika asked. Berthen could hear her walking towards the closet.

"Yes, it's fine!" Berthen and Mikko said at the same time.

"What's going on there?" Erika was getting closer.

"Nothing!" Berthen said, trying to push Mikko into the closet to hide him, while Mikko tried to do the same to him. Eventually Berthen got the upper hand and shoved the Lunar backwards, feeling him squirm in his grasp. "Nothing! It's all fine!"

But Erika was not to be dissuaded. "What are you doing, Arturo? Who else is there?" As she pulled the closet door aside, Berthen spun around to look at her, a guilty expression on his face.

"Well, you see..." he began.

"Is nothings," said a woman's voice. "I is just leavings."

While he realized that nothing about Exalts should startle him anymore, Berthen couldn't help but to the stare at the darkly beautiful woman standing in the closet behind him, wearing a green and gold dress. Mikko was apparently full of surprises.

"So this is what you call being alone?" Erika asked archly.

"Erm," was Berthen's succinct reply.

For a moment the three of them stared at each other awkwardly until Mikko screwed up the courage to act, stepping out of the closet and squeezing past Berthen.

"Okays-I-is-goings-see-you-laters-goodbyes," Mikko exhaled, keeping his head down as he danced around Erika and out of the office. Erika watched him leave, squinting thoughtfully.

"Who was that?" Erika said. "I feel as if I know her."

"Oh, no one," Berthen replied faintly. "Just some easterner."

"Who you keep in your closet? Along with your hat, I see."

"Huh?" Berthen realized his hat, which Mikko had not replicated, was askew on his head. Cramming it down, he stepped away from the closet. "Look, I'm really sorry about this..."

"Save it," Erika snapped. "I don't care what you do in here, or how you screw around, or who you screw with. Just give me the reports."

"Right." Berthen turned around and grabbed the summaries of the agricultural yields and infrastructure in eastern Hesperville. "Here it is."

Erika snatched the folio of papers. "Thank you. I'll get back to your office on our farming plan as soon as I read this. Perhaps it would be best if we communicated via correspondence in the future? I find myself lacking the desire to see you face to face."

"Yes. Good idea. Correspondence. Letters. I like letters. Anything else?"

"No, I've taken enough abuse for one day." Erika stepped towards the door. "Don't worry, I can show myself out."

"Bitch," Berthen muttered under his breath as she left.

He looked at the closet, at all the files he and Mikko had knocked about. There, on the floor, was a plain wooden box with stained brass hinges. Picking up the box, Berthen flipped it open to reveal the syringe and the glass bottle inside, full of a cloudy liquid. For a minute he silently stared at the box, until he snapped it shut with a snort of disgust, shoving to the back of the shelf. Not now. Not later, either.

Well, maybe if Mikko came around again...
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
User avatar
Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
Topic Author
Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

06 Apr 2011, 16:48

Whenever I read this story, I can't help but to think of the whispers as little, evil imp, sitting on Sen's shoulder and whispering in her ear. Which is kind of stupid, but there you go.

************************************

Sen walked down into the palace gardens, shaking with anger. Behind her, through the trees, she could hear the sounds of the party, the laughter and the music drifting down from the River Palace. She was glad she had left the party with Gerran and Dawn, but now they had gone off to bed and she was all alone in the chilly autumn night. She didn't feel like sleeping and she didn't feel like going down into the city, so instead she was wandering around outside, trying to avoid everyone.

Kicking the gravel that lined the garden path, Sen sat down on a bench by a small pond. It was hard to think clearly. Part of that was because of her anger, but it was also because of the whispers. They were speaking to her again.

It took all of Sen's willpower to crawl back to the slave quarters that night. She hurt so much she could barely walk, but she tried not to wake the other girls, sneaking in as quietly as she could and then falling down onto her straw pallet in the corner of the room. She lay there quivering for a while before she finally drifted off into an uneven sleep. One of the other girls must have taken pity on her, because when she woke the next morning a blanket had been placed over her and dirty tin cup of water was placed next to the pallet.

Her dress was ruined because of all of the blood, and her backside hurt so much she could barely bend over to do her normal work. Sen knew it must have been bad when even the kitchen master, an older woman with a nasty temper, showed her sympathy, getting her clean clothing and sending her straight back to bed for the rest of the day. Nobody yelled at her, either. That never happened.

The other slaves didn't really like her, didn't like how she was always making goofy jokes or flirting with the men who visited the factor house. That didn't bother Sen, because she knew that the other slave girls didn't understand just how terrible their situation really was, even if any girl the men raped usually spent the night crying. They were too stupid.

She did what she could to protect them, they way she had used to protect her sister Aja, getting the men to pay attention to her and overlook the others. It helped that she was just a bit older than most of the girls, old enough that the men would prefer to sleep with her than with some girl who was little more than a child. It would have helped if she was prettier, but most of the men didn't care about looks, they just wanted a girl who was healthy and willing, so Sen tried to give them that. Not that it worked all the time; sometimes, one of the men would fix his eyes on some other girl or, even worse, there would be more men than she could handle. Still, she figured she got two or three times more attention than the rest of the girls combined, which was good enough. She knew that she could take it and they couldn't.

But last night had been different. Oh, sure, sometimes it hurt, sleeping with the men, sometimes they were rough with her, and most times they didn't care about how she felt. But no one had ever actively tried to hurt her before, not like he had. She had seen that he was different and dangerous the moment she laid eyes on him, so she had made a special effort to distract him from the other girls. He looked like he had been out on the sea, and most of the time sailors had a lot of pent up energy, so she figured it was something like that. She had been wrong. Very, very, wrong.

After another couple days of lying down, Sen was finally able to get back to work. She couldn't stand to even look at the other slaves, and she shrugged off any attempt they made to give her sympathy. She didn't want to think about it, didn't want to dwell on the fact that this wouldn't be the last time. There was no way she could let this happen to one of the other girls, so she would have to make it herself available to him every time he came by. It was the only way she had to protect them. But she could take it. She had to.


Stupid whispers, invading her memory like that. And stupid Rolf stupid Bekker for making them pop up again. Why did he have to show up here, of all places? Why couldn't he have just disappeared and gone away, somewhere she would never have to see him again? Better yet, why couldn't he have been in Nexus that night she cleared out the Guild headquarters? That would have been sweet, killing two birds with one stone.

But she was over that now. Killing people who got in the way wasn't what Solars did. That wasn't how good guys behaved. But what if the person was really bad? Not because of what he was doing right now, but because of what he had done in the past? Or what he might be doing right now, tonight, after the party, to some other little girl in the Guild house in Greyfalls? Didn't he deserve to die for that?

Sen sighed. No, he didn't deserve to die. She knew Heike wouldn't have thought so. And Heike had always been right about that kind of thing. He would have said some stuff about forgiving the sins of others, about not letting anger blind you to the true light justice. Or something like that. She had never really understood what he tried to teach her, but she had tried.

Tried and failed. Like everything else.

Shut up!

You're a failure, you know.

I am not!

Of course you are. A failure that lets her loved ones die.

Do not!

Really? Then what about Aja? And Heike?

I tried to protect them. I really did.

Tried and failed. They took Aja away from you, despite everything you did. You let her die.

Well...

The girls at the factor house? They hated you, laughed at you, because of what you did. You weren't protecting them; you were acting like a whore. A stupid, ugly whore.

No.

And Heike died because of you. Typhon killed him because of you. You didn't just do a terrible job of protecting him, you killed him. If you hadn't been there, he would still be alive.

No.

A failure. You can't protect anyone. All you can do is avenge them after they die. Kill their killers. That's all you're good for.

But I want to help. That's all I want to do.

Yes, because you're a good girl, aren't you?

Yes. I mean, no. I mean, shut up!

But maybe you can still be useful, still do the only thing you're good at. Killing. He's here, tonight, you know?

Shut up!

He's here, in Greyfalls, within reach.

Shut up!

The man who killed Aja.

Shu - what?

Yes. You heard us. He's here. Alone, vulnerable. It would be easy.

Really?

Yes. Doesn't Aja deserve it? Doesn't she deserve vengeance?

Yes! Wait, no. Maybe?

What did she ever do to anyone? Wasn't she always the nice one, the sweet one? Didn't everyone always say they loved her?

Yes.

Well, they loved her so much they took her away and turned her into a goddamn whore, just like her stupid, ugly sister. And then he killed her, just because he could. Because he wanted something he thought it was okay to kill a little girl, the nicest little girl anyone would ever see. Doesn't someone like that deserve to die?

Yes...

Good. Now you see what has to be done. No one here can stop you. None of the other Solars are half as good as you are, and the Guild won't stand a chance.

He's with the Guild?

Yes, he's staying with them, at their factor house here in Greyfalls. All you have to do is sneak in and kill him. Very easy. No one would even have to know who did it.

I don't know. I'm not supposed to do stuff like that anymore. That's not what Solars do.

Of course it is. Why, they...

No! Shut up! I'm not listening to you anymore. I don't care what he did, I'm not going to kill him.

You say that, but we know you want to. Just think how easy it will be. One quick thrust and Aja can finally rest. You've done before a thousand times. Once more won't hurt.

No, I won’t do it.

We think you will. Because it’s all you can do. And this time you’ll actually do the right thing. Imagine that.

It’s not the right thing. Killing him isn’t right.

Isn’t it? Isn’t he a bad man? Didn’t he kill your sister? Didn’t you kill your family, your mother, your father, for less?

I’m not the person who did that, not anymore, and I’m not listening to you! You don’t have any power over me, not anymore. Go away.

Are you sure? Are you sure you don’t want to know his name? He’s from Calin and…

Na na na na na! I’m not listening!

Sen was never sure if the whispers went away on their own accord or if it was her force of will that silenced them. Whatever the reason, this time they stopped and peace and quiet resumed in her head, if not in the garden around her.

"Am I interrupting anything?"

Sen turned around to look at her visitor, standing illuminated in the garden path.

"Oh, hey, Uncle Xyofei," she said, smiling half-heartedly as the whispers faded. "No, I'm just thinking."

He sat down next to her, taking in the view of the artfully placed pond reflecting the nearly full moon as the sounds of the party echoed around him. Right now, in profile, he looked so much like Aja it hurt. Sen had never noticed that before, but it made perfect sense. No wonder she had never doubted they were related - it was written all over Xyofei's face.

“Don’t call me uncle,” he chided her. “Makes me feel old.”

“You? Feel old? Do you ever look in the mirror?”

He laughed. “All the time.”

They sat in silence for moment.

“So,” Sen said finally, “why are you here?’

"Well, we missed you at the party."

"Huh? No, you're just being nice."

"You think I'm shitting you? Well, I ain't. We need all the hot girls we can get up there."

Sen looked down at her dress, the dark red cloth cut as simply as possible so as to not draw attention to her total lack of redeeming features. What she saw wasn't appealing, despite the dressmaker's best efforts, and she knew her face wasn't any better.

"I'm pretty sure you don't need me," she muttered.

"Ain't you never been to a party before?" Xyofei asked, looking at her quizzically. "The girls are the most important part. You have to have girls."

"Oh? I thought, well, you know..."

"You can't dance if you don't have girls. Well, you need guys too, but there's always plenty of them. You hafta have one of each to dance."

"But I don't dance."

Xyofei smiled. "'Course you do. Everyone dances. Well, 'cept for me, but that's because my partner ran off."

"Sorry. I didn't mean to, you know, leave you alone. And stuff."

"That's okay. So whaddaya say? You wanna go back now?"

Sen looked back up the hills, where she could just make out the lights from the palace through the trees. Back where the party was. Back where stupid Rolf stupid Bekker was.

She shuddered a little, trying to hide her discomfort. "No," she said, "I can't go. Sorry. Just go without me."

Xyofei looked at her again, carefully scanning her with those creepy red eyes of his. She didn't understand why he was making such a big deal out of this. Although they had at least reached the point where they were comfortable with one another, they still didn't really like each other. Too much bad history between them.

"Well," he said slowly, "if we can't go to the dance, maybe we can bring the dance to us?"

He took stood up and offered her his hand. Not really knowing what to do, she took it. Pulling her closer, Xyofei began to step back and forth to the sound of the music drifting down from the palace, his feet crunching in the gravel in time with the band.

"Now," Xyofei began, "I'm gonna lead us through the first one, but usually in a low-tempo waltz like this the woman leads."

"So you don't really need women, then," Sen said with an impish smile.

Xyofei laughed. "You got me there, kid. Tell me, you been talking to Declan lately?” Ignoring her baffled look, he continued: “But if you want to do it right, you need 'em. Now, step to the left like this."

“I don’t know…”

Xyofei grabbed her with both hands and assessed her.

“Now, look, maybe I ain’t a boyfriend or a husband or someone who can fuckin’ sweep you off your feet, but I’m the next best thing: an older male relative. I know how the world works, okay, and you gotta listen to me, okay?”

“Okay, sure.”

“You figure out how to dance, and everyone is gonna eat out of your hand.”

“Okay.”

“Great. Now, follow after me…”

Slowly, haltingly, he led her around the pond, swirling and twirling to the distant chords. A party of two.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
User avatar
Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
Topic Author
Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

06 Apr 2011, 16:54

So, there was this awesome, climatic adventure, when the circle of Solars infiltrated the Noss Fens, battled with zombies and the Shoat of the Mire, rescued those poor children from the Mound, and had an epic battle with the Dowager on the crumbling lip of the Well of Udr in which the deathlord was vanquished and their deathknight friend, Landrey, was redeemed. But you don't get to read about that. Instead, you get this little puff piece, full of angst. Lucky you.

********************************

Nalen Landrey had been waiting over half an hour for Yukia to arrive and even so he almost missed her. Moving purposefully, she walked right past the recessed window he had been resting in, reaching to her vambrace to extract the coded jade chit that opened the armory door. Landrey slid off the window sill, taking half a step towards his daughter.

"Good morning, I -" Landrey began, but Yukia ignored him.

"Wait just a moment -"

She didn't wait, opening the door and moving to step inside, not even glancing at him.

"Yukia, dear, wait..." He searched for the words, his carefully rehearsed speech abandoning him. "You see, I am...I am better. See?" He smiled lamely as he expended a few motes of essence to make his caste mark sparkle on his forehead.

She paused in the doorway, turning around to look at him with her dark eyes. How perfect she was! Not for the first time Landrey felt a surge of pride and sadness, marveling that, somehow, he was responsible for such a marvelous creature. The positive feelings, however, did not appear to be reciprocal.

"Wonderful," she said flatly, her expression hostile. "Now leave me alone." She pushed the door open wider.

"Stop right now, young lady!" Landrey snapped, infusing his words with essence. She was going to listen to him, whether she wanted to or not. "Stop ignoring me, stop running away. Turn around and talk me, now! Please."

Every word, except for the last one, was filled with power, and his caste mark throbbed in rythym with the cadence of his speech. Landrey hated to bludgeon his daughter like this, to force her to listen, but this game had to end today. He couldn't bear to have her ignore him any longer.

To his astonishment, Yukia did not give in. She didn't quiver and accede to his demands like everyone else had when he used his charms on them. She shook her head, a frown flitting across her face, and then looked back at him as she stepped in the armory.

"I have nothing to say to you," she said, closing the door.

"Damn it," Landrey muttered, rushing forward to throw himself into the doorway, sticking his foot in front of it to stop it from closing. Leaning against the door, he gently pushed against her. "I am not going away, Yukia. Not now, not ever. One way or the other you are going to have hear me out."

Yukia was silent for a moment, then she stepped away from the door, the sudden loss of opposing force causing the door to swing inward, Landrey stumbling in the armory and almost falling down.

"Fine," she said. "Let's not make a scene in public, though. Close the door."

Landrey tried to regain his dignity along with his balance, straightening the sleeves of his jacket as he closed the door. Yukia walked over to a large work table, sitting down in front of it, watching her father with thinly veiled hostility. Landrey looked about for a moment before spotting a second stool, which he pulled over to the corner of the table.

"Saul tells me you're not a deathknight anymore." Yukia didn't seem delighted by this fact.

"No," Landrey said. He gestured at his caste mark, still sparkling on his forehead. "You see, I am a Solar Exalt. A Chosen of the Unconquered Sun. Just like Saul and Gerran and the others."

"Wonderful," Yukia said again.

Nonplussed, Landrey forged ahead. "In a sense, I always was a Solar. An Abyssal, a deathknight, is a Solar who had been warped, corrupted by the Underworld. That's what I was struggling against, the weight of death and the Void and everything else. The Void, well, it's..."

"I know all about the so-called philosophy of the Void," Yukia said. "Thanks to you, I'm intimately familiar with it."

"Right. Um. Well, that is what I had to overcome. That is what Gerran and the others helped me see, how to reach beyond it to find the virtues that underpin, you know, that motivate everything worth having in Creation. That is what the Unconquered Sun represents, the perfection of virtue. That is what I am trying to find in myself. I've already found a small part of it, enough to redeem myself anyway, but I need to go further."

"Then why don't you go out there -" Yukia gestured vaguely at the walls of the armory "- to find it. I have work to do."

"No, I can't! Don't you see, I need help to do it. We all need help. I needed Gerran and Stilgar and others to get as far as I have. And I needed you, too, to show me that there was something worth living for. I still need you. And you need me." He reached out to take her hand, but she pulled away.

"I don't need you for anything," she snapped.

Landrey raised his eyebrows quizzically. "Don't you? If you did not want to talk to me, then why do you stay around this place? If my presence causes you so much pain, then why tolerate it? Why not go back to Lookshy, go to somewhere far away from here? I put myself through hell because I could not bear to live without you, and you are doing the same."

Yukia laughed, mockingly. "Is that what you think? That you are the center of my world? That everything I do revolves around you? It never occurred to you that maybe I was doing this for myself? That maybe I found something here that was worth all the suffering you put me through, with you skulking around, watching me, running around the corner whenever I came near? You don't think I've noticed that juvenile drama you've been conducting around me? By the dragons, you're egotistical."

"Then what is it? What keeps you here?"

Yukia shrugged. "Call me naive, but it's hope. Hope that we can build a better world here, a better world for everyone. The Solars aren't perfect, but they've done more to actually help people than anyone I've seen. If I have to sacrifice my personal happiness to make that happen, well, then, so be it."

"But that is what I want too!" Landrey said passionately. "That is what I've always wanted, whether it was here, or in Great Forks, or even, gods help me, in Thederia. And now we can do it together! Can't you see that? Can't you see that now, more than ever, that I can do Creation good?"

"Maybe. But what has changed? Between you and me?"

"What? How do you mean, dear?"

"What has becoming a Solar done for you? How does it make what you did to me any better?"

"Dear, that wasn't, it was never me-"

"Don't give me that bullshit!" Yukia snapped. "It wasn't any deathlord that made you abandon me! It wasn't the Void that made you step aside and let them...ugh." She shuddered at the memory, before looking back at him. "It was cowardice, father. You were afraid. I saw it in your eyes."

"Yukia, I did what I did because I didn't want them to hurt you. If I had said anything, they might have killed you."

"Well, they should have! Isn't death better than what they put me through? I would rather have died than let them do what they did! But not you. You're too much of a coward to put your honor before your life, to put the lives of thousands of innocent people before your own. If you really loved me, you have done the right thing. You would have died at Holdenfeldt, and you would have let me die in Thederia. And I don't care if you've changed, because what you are now doesn't make up for what you did. I can never forgive you for what you've done."

"Never?" Landrey asked.

Yukia shook her head.

He sighed. "Then perhaps I should go."

Standing up, he walked over to the door. As he opened it, he turned around to look at Yukia, and she spoke.

"And father?"

"Yes?"

"Never speak to me again."

The door closed.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
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Henry
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Posts: 719
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Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

13 Apr 2011, 20:17

A character piece for your entertainment.


**************

Shozei Ledos Avrei watched as Lieutenant Oren Stegen prepared to fire the essence cannon, resting the long metal tube on his shoulder.

Observation: too much arch in the back. Analysis: Stegen’s stance was off. Conclusion: the shot will go wide of the target and high, with the resulting arc of fire taking the shot into the trees to the right.

The cannon roared with the discharge of essence, bucking backwards and sending a bolt of energy blazing towards the targets that had been erected at the end of the field. True to Avrei's analysis, Stegen's shot was high and to the right, missing the targets entirely and instead blasting apart some of the trees that lined the field. However, the shot went further astray than Avrei had anticipated; was there a problem with the sights? Or perhaps with the muzzle brake?

"Ah, damn," Stegen said, smiling sheepishly. "My aim was off."

Observation: early twenties, typical Greyfaller in appearance, demonstrating signs of good education in his bearing and manner of speech. Analysis: excellent material for development. Conclusion: Encourage him to develop his talents. Honesty is the best approach, he will appreciate it. A little bit dry humor will go over well. Avoid any overly technical explanations.

"Perhaps," Avrei replied. "Though I would place the blame more on your faulty posture. When shooting essence cannon, you need to aim with your entire body, not just your arms. Try to straighten your back the next time." He looked past Stegen, out at the burning forest. "Though, at least you've taught those trees a lesson. I thought they were looking a little suspicious, and for we know they may have been another band of spies."

The officers gathered around Avrei laughed, though there was an undercurrent of nervousness to their mirth. No one was happy with the recent attack on Greyfalls, and the ease with which their enemies had abducted Autarch Denton and hid a massive store of fire dust in the city. Now the military was on edge, investigating every suspicious act and fishy individual. Avrei thought their fears were misplaced: there was precious little that they, as mortals, could do when confronted with an Exalt, but he knew that he would get nowhere just by telling them to relax. So instead he had taken a group of them, half a dozen officers from the army of Greyfalls and the Bronze pioneers, into the fields outside the city, to practice with the essence cannon. It would distract them, it would familiarize them with the weapons, and it would allow Avrei to detect any flaws in the newly built weapons.

Avrei stepped back for a moment, making a certain sign with his hand. In response, the water elemental materialized next to him, a vaguely humanoid shape of fog and vapor.

"Put out the fire, if you please," Avrei instructed.

The elemental nodded in consent and wafted across the field towards the burning forest. The Immaculate faith frowned on the binding of elementals, but Avrei preferred elementals to demons and what little respect he had had for the Immaculates had been swept away by the fall of Thorns. It was gratifying to have his agnosticism be subsequently confirmed by his interactions with the Exalts, even if they had precious little to offer in its place.

"Gentlemen, give me a moment with the cannon," Avrei said, waving the soldiers away from the weapon as he crouched over to look at it.

Observation: a tendency to pull right when fired. Analysis: faulty muzzle brake. Conclusion: too complex to fix in the field. Bring out a new cannon.

"What is it?" one of the Bronze Pioneers asked. "Not enough back blast for recoil compensation?"

Captain Chester Epsom. Observation: intelligent but sensitive and self-conscious. Analysis: he compensates by trying to sound intelligent, which often leads him to comment on subjects he knows nothing about. Conclusion: Pretend to consider his advice, do not admit to having solved the problem.

Avrei frowned. "That might be it, but I'm not certain. Why don't we put it back in the wagon and bring out a new one just to be safe? You can help me look at it back at the workshop."

"Sure thing." Epsom leaned over, picking up the cannon with Avrei's help. One man could carry it by himself, but two was better. They placed it in wagon, next to Avrei's tools and spare parts, and took out the second cannon, waving off the wagon driver when he tried to help. Avrei brought the only two working cannon with him, but there were several more in the armory that were nearing completion.

Once they were back with the other officers, Avrei hefted the cannon onto his shoulder.

"Now, this is the proper stance to take," he began, demonstrating. "I know that many of you are in doubt as to whether you can equal the battlefield poise of a dragon-blood such as me, but I assure you that even the common soldiers of Lookshy can master this weapon. Of course, most Lookshyans would judge their peasants to be superior to other nation's dragon-bloods, but I digress."

Observation: the intent had been to put the officers at ease and make them amenable to further instruction. Analysis: a few of them laugh, all appear relaxed. Conclusion: success. Maintain a similar tone for the remainder of the instruction.

The drill lasted for the rest of the afternoon, and by the end of it everyone had sore shoulders and the woods had been ignited several more times. It had gone reasonably well, and the officers all had a basic understanding of essence weapons now. Avrei was not surprised that Stegen showed the most promise out of the lot, and he made a mental note to give the young Lieutenant more work. The water elemental was somewhat cross with Avrei when he finally dismissed it, but he wasn't worried - elementals had short memories.

The trip back to Garrison heights was easy enough, and Avrei tuned out the conversation of the other officers while he idly wondered what he would have for supper. He hoped the officers' mess was serving fish - while he still pined for the seafood one used to find in Thorns, the local river trout was acceptable. That and a little bit of rice with pepper would be perfect. But he had a suspicion that he was going to get beef stew and dark bread. Again. The problem consumed him while he packed away the cannon with Captain Epsom's help, and his worries mounted as he neared the mess.

Observation: dinner appeared to be pork sausages and some sort of fried potato dish. Analysis: While popular with the native officers, the very smell of the sausage turned Avrei's stomach. Conclusion: he would go out to dinner. Addendum: a companion would be needed. Tepet Corvina.

He found her in her quarters, cleaning up for the evening. Her long white hair was undone, spilling down the back of her dark dress. Cold weather suited her, Avrei decided, if for no other reason than the fact that her pale, white, almost translucent skin looked awful next the colors of summer fashion. Dark blues and reds were much better for her.

Avrei greeted Corvina with a little bow when she opened her door. "Madame, how does this fine evening find you?"

She smiled. "Avrei, how nice to see you. Please, come in."

"I shall, but not for long."

"Oh? What a shame."

Observation: innuendo. Second observation: they had slept together twice, once on the night of the dance, and again two nights later, when she was tired and overly emotional after searching, fruitlessly, for the Lunar's accomplices. They had not done so for a week now. Third observation: he continued to find her desirable, and vice versa. Analysis: it would be best to regularly satisfy her physical demands, so long as he did not find it to be objectionable. Conclusion: he would make love to her tonight.

Avrei stepped into Corvina's apartment. It was fairly spacious, but cluttered with all manner of curios and knickknacks. Some of them were clearly tied to Corvina's necromantic interests, but most were the sort of thing any well-bred woman would pick up in the course of her travels.

"I hope that I am not interrupting anything," Avrei said. "I can see that you've been busy." He nodded at the ritual components scattered on the bare stone by the fireplace.

"That?" Corvina replied. "That's nothing. I'm just trying to follow up on that horrible Lunar Anathema, you know, to see if he left any tracks in the Underworld."

"Any luck so far? Any clues?"

"No, nothing."

"Well, I am positive that means that there are no clues to find, for if there were they surely would have yielded to your superior powers of observation by now."

Corvina smiled. She was more attractive when she smiled, as it added a touch of vivacity and confidence to her otherwise hesitant features.

"You're too kind, Avrei. Now, why did you stop by?"

"Ah, yes. I have come in search of fish." He smiled tightly in response to Corvina's puzzled expression. "I want you to come out to supper with me. There's a restaurant by Merchant's Square that I have frequented before, and the salmon there is passable. Will you come?"

"Of course. I would love to. I just need a moment to, you know, fix my hair. That sort of thing."

"Take your time. My patience and ability to withstand boredom are legendary. In fact, I have been known to go entire months doing absolutely nothing."

Observation: Corvina accepted the invitation quickly and without hesitation. Analysis: she was very interested in spending time with him. Conclusion: he might be involved in something serious here. It would be best to proceed with caution, but there was enough time to worry about it after dinner. He was determined to get that damn fish.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
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Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
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Posts: 719
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Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

13 Apr 2011, 20:22

The PCs took a redeemed deathknight where they met Lytek, who was very, very interested to see her. This had some interesting repercussions.

**************************

"No, the fire pit hasta be at the back of the garden," Xyofei explained patiently. "And the tables hafta be on the left."

Graceful Balance fluttered in agitation. "But, sir, surely it would be more efficient to place everything together, closer to the manse."

"No, that would just mess everything up. Look, just do it like I told you, okay?"

"Yes, sir," the spirit said primly. "Will that be all?"

"Yeah," Xyofei grunted, pushing away from the table on the terrace. "Get someone to clean up around here."

"Yes, sir. Very good, sir." The spirit was using excessive formality to express its displeasure, like it always did.

Xyofei frowned as he walked back to his dressing room to change into loose-fitting meditation gear. Sometimes he wondered if Graceful Balance was worth the trouble. The spirit always gave him a hard time, especially before Xyofei's seasonal parties, because it felt that tending to Xyofei's domestic needs was beneath its station. It was constantly lobbying for Xyofei to hire another minor god or two to supplement the legion of servitors that tended to the manse, but Xyofei didn't have the money. It took all of his salary from the Bureau of Destiny just to upkeep the manse and pay Graceful Balance; adding to the staff was out of the question. Well, maybe if he cut down on parties he could do it. Say, three seasonal parties and one for Calibration?

Xyofei forced the thought from his mind as he stepped into the rock garden. It wouldn't do to be worrying during the meditation, would it?

The rock garden wasn't impressive by Yu-Shan standards, just an acre or so of white gravel arranged around pillars of black basalt, but Xyofei preferred to do his exercises out here. Something about the simplicity of the environment made it conducive to finding inner peace. Xyofei shook out his bamboo mat, spreading it out in the middle of the garden, before sitting down in the middle. Then he unfurled the prayer strip, running his fingers down the familiar script.

Every moment of action begins with a moment of peace. Repeating the words of the prayer scripture, Xyofei began to perform the motions of the kata, slowly twisting his body around until his torso was laying flat against the mat. With a sudden twist, he brought his legs back, and then forward, until he was kneeling with his head down. Then, with another twist, he rolled out his arms and lifted up his legs until he was doing a handstand. After slowly repeating the scripture again, then a second time, Xyofei lifted one arm off the ground while rotating out the opposite leg as a counterbalance. Resisting the urge to use essence to make the exercise easier, Xyofei repeated the scripture again, inviting himself to find peace within the truth it contained.

"Sir, you have a visitor."

Startled by the intrusion, Xyofei lost his balance and fell in an awkward heap. The bamboo mat flexed under the sudden impact, and pieces of gravel scattered everywhere. Damn it! Xyofei pulled himself up angrily.

"What the hell is your problem?" he said, looking at Graceful Balance. "I mean, I was right in the middle of the fuckin' routine!"

The spirit made a face, half frown, half smile. "My apologies, sir. But this could not wait." It pointed back to the door leading to the manse.

"Waddaya mean it couldn't..."

Xyofei stopped when he looked where Graceful Balance was gesturing. There, in the doorway, was a short woman with black hair and severe features. Adelene Phoros. His exaltation's prior host.

"Huh?" Xyofei was confused for a moment. "Okay, what's going on here?"

"I don't know, sir," the spirit said. "But she was quite insistent that she meet with you."

"Well, who is it? You know it ain't her, right? She's been dead for four-hundred years."

"Three hundred fifty-eight," Graceful Balance corrected him. "And I mourn her every day. I am afraid that I do not know who your visitor really is, but she was quite persuasive."

The Sidereal snorted in annoyance. "Fine, whatever. I'll see her."

Xyofei knew that currently, barefoot and dressed in meditation gear, he wasn't really to fit to take visitors, but seeing as his guest had barged in without invitation, she could take what he gave her. Pulling on his shirt, he walked over to the door.

"So," he said, "what can I do for you?"

Adelene Phoros looked at him dispassionately. "We need to talk. Somewhere private."

It was weird to hear with his ears the voice that so often echoed in his head. She had a funny accent, picked up in some remote village that had disappeared five thousand years ago.

"Right. We can go to the study. It's warded and everything."

Adelene waited for him to lead the way, which either meant she was being polite or that she didn't know where the study was. Xyofei figure it was the latter when she didn't react to the circuitous route he took through the manse, finally ending at the study. So even if she looked like Adelene, she didn't have her memories, or at least not all of them.

Xyofei closed the door and sat down in one of the upholstered chairs, gesturing for Adelene to do the same.

"Why don't we start off with you telling me who you really are?"

Adelene shrugged, and then seemed to catch on fire. Xyofei blinked in surprise at the sudden burst of light, but then, when his eyes adjusted, it all made sense. Sort of. Sitting before him was Lytek, the god of Celestial Exaltation.

"I'm sorry for the subterfuge," Lytek said. "But I needed to see you secretly, and I surmised that taking Madame Phoros's form would allow me to command a certain amount of respect."

"Huh. I didn't know you could do that."

"I can take the form of anyone who has ever held a Celestial exaltation. It's not a power that I use often, but it does have its applications."

"Okay. Neat. So, next thing: why are you here?"

Lytek frowned. "I'm here because I need your help. I need someone I can trust."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Xyofei said, shaking his hands. "You ain't never trusted me. Hell, you don't even like me. So why now?"

"I must admit, I don't like it," Lytek said with a sigh. "But it's because I don't like you, and more importantly because everyone knows I don't like you, that I've come to you today. You see, I need to share a secret with you, something that I've been hiding for a very long time. If anyone ever found out about it, well..." Lytek laughed bitterly. "Let's just say that I would be forged into starmetal, and it would probably ignite a second Usurpation. But if anyone saw you doing something suspicious, they would never suspect that you were working for me. And if I tell you my secret, and you go tell someone else..."

"...you could always deny it," Xyofei said. "'Cause who would believe you would ever say anything to me?"

"That's part of it," Lytek admitted. "Not that I expect you to betray me, which is the second reason I came to you. It's, well..." Lytek paused for a moment, the glow that illuminated him dimming for a moment as he thought.

"Your prior incarnation," Lytek continued, "was in many ways your opposite. She was a paragon of grace and self-control, a borderline aesetic. She was introspective, cautious, a careful thinker and the finest strategist of the Old Realm. You are none of these things."

"Gosh, thanks," Xyofei said sarcastically.

Lytek didn't seem to notice. "In most ways, you are completely different, except for the ways that actually matter. Adelene Phoros was a creature of honor, someone so dedicated to doing the right thing she would sacrifice herself without hesitation to accomplish it. Someone who would rather die than commit a dishonorable act, someone who always put the interests of Creation ahead of her own. In this manner, you are alike."

"Okay, sure. So what does that do for you?"

"It means I can trust you. It means that if you swear to never reveal what I am about to tell you I can rely on you to keep your word. Your honesty might not serve you well in heavenly politics, but it does mean that I can rely on you to keep our cooperation secret. So, will you help me?"

Xyofei didn't respond at first, sitting quietly, flexing his toes in the thick carpet.

"I don't know," he said at last. "Are you sure you want to involve me? I mean, why me, why now? Why not someone else?"

"There is a problem, you see," Lytek said, "a problem that I have been unable to do anything about, despite all of my efforts. But your friends, the Solar circle that you and Vadera brought to meet with me the other day, they dropped the solution right into my lap."

"Oh?"

"Yes. That girl, Matara Sen. She is a relation of yours?"

"Kind of. I mean, it's a bit distant."

Lytek pursed his lips. "Well, at the risk of sounding overly-dramatic, she may be the most important person who has ever lived."

"Ooookaaay." Xyofei looked at Lytek to make sure the god wasn't bullshitting him. "So Sen's the most important person in Creation."

"Yes. She is central to the solving the issue that troubles me. That troubles everything."

"The issue you want to share with me."

"Exactly."

Xyofei sighed. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. "Fine. I'm on board. Watcha' want to tell me?"

* * *

Later, much later, after Lytek had left disguised as some Lunar from the First Age, Xyofei walked out into the rock garden. He didn't know what to think, what to do. Even if he did, could he trust himself? Could he trust anybody, ever again?

He kicked the gravel in frustration, the sharp edges of the rocks cutting into his feet, leaving little drops of blood on the otherwise spotless white. Better. Xyofei walked over to one of the pillars of basalt, looking it up and down, and then punched it, as hard as he could. He didn't use any charms, didn't spend any essence, so he scraped most of the skin off of his knuckles, but he did knock off a few chips of basalt. Again. The rock glistened with blood. Again. Again! AGAIN! The pillar fractured under the blows, the shards scattering to the far edges of the garden.

Snarling, Xyofei turned on the other pillars, this time sending essence surging through his limbs. Pillar after pillar broke in a shower of crimson sparks as he spun through the garden, bringing destruction where before there had only been peace. Panting from the exertion, Xyofei sat down on the bamboo mat, brushing some stray stones out of the way. Every part of him burned with a ruby light, the light of his anima. He hated it. For the first time in his life, he hated it. It wasn't a blessing, a gift from the Maidens giving him the power to save the world. It was a curse.

Xyofei waited on the mat for his anima to fade. He didn't know what to do.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
User avatar
Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
Topic Author
Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

13 Apr 2011, 20:25

Another story. Nothing more to say.

**************************

Auspicious Dawn wrinkled her nose. She had changed out of her travelling clothing as soon as the circle had arrived back in Greyfalls, but then she had made the mistake of going to see Proxy. The hawk had been understandably affectionate and now she smelled like bird. Wet bird. She was going to need to bathe after this.

She undid the scarf around her hair, placing the wet cloth in the pocket of her overcoat. It was nice to be back in Greyfalls, back at the River Palace. It had taken a while to become familiar with the high ceilings and sweeping staircases, but she was starting to think of the palace as home. Certainly she had no trouble navigating from the little side door by the east courtyard all the way to Berthen's offices in the south wing.

This part of the palace was quiet, most of the bureaucrats having left for the day, and Dawn's footsteps echoed on the marble hallway floors. But there was a light on at the end of the corridor, which meant he still might be there. Pushing open the door to the secretary's office, Dawn saw a middle aged man she vaguely recognized.

"Hello?" he said, turning around from the file cabinet he was investigating. When he saw her, his eyes widened. "Autarch Alibeth. Good...good evening," he stammered.

"Good evening, Master...?"

"Jaakari, ma'am. Sergeant Nils Jaakari. Or, um, actually I guess I'm not a sergeant anymore, so it's just Nils. Jaakari. Ma'am."

Dawn greeted politely. "Pleased to meet you. Are you working with Master Berthen now?"

"Yes, ma'am. Master Berthen needed someone to take over the role of Chief Secretary after, well, you know, so he asked me. I'll be handling all of the day-to-day work now."

"Good. And you are in the military as well?"

Nils smiled sheepishly. "After a fashion, ma'am. I was seconded out, back to civilian work. I'm not much of a soldier, so there's no real loss for the regiments."

"I'm sure that's not the case. Sorry to cut to business, but is Nalen Landrey here? I'm looking for him."

"Landrey?" Nils looked a little disturbed. "Uh, yes. Yes he is. He's working in the inner office, just up the hallway there."

"I know it. Well, it was a pleasure to meet you, Master Jaakari. I look forward to seeing you around."

"Yes, ma'am."

Dawn moved down the carpeted hallway, not stopping at the door to Berthen's office. He was working now, and would be happier to see her later. Besides, she really needed to talk to Landrey. He was in the inner office, just like Nils had said, seated, not at the desk, but at the large table by the window, doing paper work in the fading twilight. Next to him was a cup, from whence there issued a delicious aroma.

Dawn knocked on the door frame. "Good evening, Landrey," she said.

He looked up, and smiled when he saw her. "My lady Alibeth. I didn't know that you had returned."

"We just got back," she said, stepping around the table to give him a hug. "Forgive me, but I had to see Proxy first."

Landrey raised an eyebrow. "You do have a certain aroma to you."

"Speaking of aromas, is that coffee?" Dawn gestured at the cup.

"Why, yes it is. It's a rather barbaric habit that I picked up during my youth. They don't have much use for it further west, and in the Realm it's tea or nothing, but coffee has a certain following in Greyfalls. And it's very popular up in the Halta area."

"I never knew. We drink it all the time in Metagalapa, you know, though not with milk. Really, it's the only luxury we had."

"Well," Landrey said, standing up, "allow me to fix you a cup." He walked over to small, silver pot, and began to fuss with the cream and sugar. "If you don't mind me saying, you seem to be much better. I take it the trip to Yu-Shan cured you?"

"Yes, at least most of the way. I finally feel like myself again. Not that I ever felt actually felt anything, felt like I was sick, you know? It's more like I've spent the last month stuck in a nightmare."

Landrey came back over and handed her a cup and saucer. "I'm sure you know, but we were all very worried for you, Gerran and Berthen especially. You're quite dear to them."

Dawn took a sip of the coffee, looking out of the window. When she looked back at Landrey, she smiled again. "But look at you! I haven't had the opportunity to congratulate you yet. For not being a deathknight anymore."

"Yes, a happy occasion," Landrey replied, sitting back down with an embarrassed look on his face. "To be honest, I haven't quite adjusted to the change yet, and neither has anyone else. I've started to make strides with Art, though. At least he trusts me enough to help him out around the office here." Landrey sighed. "Sadly, it took Koto's death to get him to open up to me."

"Koto's dead?" Dawn suddenly felt sick to her stomach.

Landrey looked surprised. "Yes, it happened a couple of weeks ago, when that Lunar infiltrated the castle and...you don't remember, do you?"

Dawn shook her head. "It's all kind of a blur. Like I said: a nightmare. I remember a dance, and following tracks, and an explosion...but it all blends together. Oh, Koto. I didn't know."

She hadn't been friends with him or anything, but she had always enjoyed working with him, and he had been very kind to her when she had first met Berthen and Landrey. A decent man, uncomplicated.

"Art took it rather hard," Landrey said. "He's not like me, you know. He's very kind, always thinking of other people."

Dawn hummed in agreement. "It's too bad you couldn't come to Yu-Shan," she said suddenly, changing the subject. "You would have loved meeting Lytek - the memories of the First Age, all of the wonderful things we did in our prior lives."

"I think not," Landrey said, smiling a little. "I finally have my thoughts to myself for the first time in my life, and I don't feel like sharing them just yet."

"Your thoughts?"

"Yes, you know, the whispers, the voices of the Underworld. Always probing at the edge of my conscience, especially so when I was an Abyssal. They have always been there, such a part of me that I'd never even noticed them."

"And now they're gone."

"Yes. For whatever reason, nothing else about me changed, at least not on the outside. But they're gone."

Dawn looked at him, seeing that he was right. She had become so used to his appearance that she hadn't noticed that he still carried the external markings of the Abyssal exaltation: the black hair and eyes, the handsome but distant cast to his face. And his leg, cured of its limp forever.

"Maybe it's a reminder," he mused. "Left there so I never forget what I did. What I had to do to get to this place."

"Maybe." Dawn frowned. "Look, I don't want to bother you, but I want to talk about something with you. Something from the Mound. From the Well."

"Go on."

"You...you're the only one who actually...communed with the Well, aren't you? The others, they shut it out, held it off. But you listened to it, didn't you?"

Landrey leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. He was sat there, silently, looking at floor, not speaking. Dawn was afraid he had offended him.

"Yes," he said finally, "I heard it. It resonated with me, resonated with my exaltation. It empowered me, justified me. Gods help, I never felt so right as I did in that room."

"Why?" Dawn asked, but she already knew the answer.

"Because I saw, laid out before me, an infinite array of possibilities. Universes stretching out in every possible permutation. And Oblivion underlay every one of them. Everything you could conceive of, more than that, and it all was destined to fall into the Void."

"All of it?"

Landrey nodded.

"I saw it too," Dawn said quietly. "That's what kept on playing out in my head, everything, things I couldn't even imagine, ending up dead. Destroyed. Nothing."

"Visions, that's all they were."

"But true visions? I saw us die, each of us, killed a hundred different ways in the past, but only one way in the future. I saw our fates, Landrey, how we're going to die. I can't see them now, thank the gods, but they were there. Gerran, Saul, you, me, everyone. Dead."

Dawn tried a sip of her coffee, but she didn't feel like drinking it anymore.

"Is that what being an Abyssal is like?" she asked. "Looking at something and only seeing its death?"

"Something like that," Landrey said. "Though there's more, and less, than that. You...you feel compelled to destroy things, to realize their deaths, not because you want to destroy them, but because they mean nothing to you. Everything is a pretense, a falsehood built upon hubris to give itself meaning. Better the cold reality of death than the arrogant lies of life."

"They're going to win, aren't they?" Dawn said in a small voice.

"The deathknights?"

"The Void. Oblivion. Everything. We can't beat them, can we? I...I saw it, I saw everything falling apart, every possibility dying."

Landrey was silent again for a while. "Everything falls into ruin, everything falls apart. Everything ends. But that doesn't mean it's pointless. Even the most transitory thing can have value."

"You didn't answer my question."

"I don't know," Landrey sighed. "I just don't. Probably, no. We can't stop Oblivion - at least, that's what the Walker in Darkness told me. Really, all of those horrors out there, the deathlords, the Abyssals, all they do is speed the process up. Everything is going to end in nothingness, regardless of what they do, what we do."

Even though she was stronger now, it still hurt Dawn to think about that, to think about what the Well had shown her.

"Then what do we do?" she asked. "What do we do if we can't win?"

"I'll tell you what we don't do," Landrey said, standing up and making himself another cup of coffee. "We don't sit around and wallow in depression. So, cheer up, alright? There's a good girl." He handed Dawn a fresh cup. "Now, tell me about Yu-Shan. I want to hear everything."

They talked for a while, the last of the daylight fading behind the clouds as the drizzle built up into a rain that drummed against the palace. Landrey seemed to be making a concerted effort to cheer Dawn up, trying to extract every detail about the Baths of Venus and the Bureau of Heaven. He only seemed mildly interested in Dawn's memories of the First Age, but her description of Lytek delighted him, while the news of Samir's departure left him saddened. Before Dawn knew it, it was pitch black outside, well past suppertime.

"We should be going," Dawn said, breaking the flow of the conversation. "You probably want to talk to the others, and I really need to clean up."

"I supposed you're correct," Landrey said reluctantly. "Hmm, but before we go, may I ask a favor of you?"

"Yes. What?"

"Could you possibly speak to Yukia on my behalf? I've been trying to talk to her to smooth things over between us, but she won't even listen to me. I know you're not close, but you're both women and about the same age, so I thought that perhaps you might have some special insight into her character?"

"I could try," Dawn grimaced. "But I don't think she'll listen. We don't get along very well."

Landrey looked puzzled, twisting the cup around in his hands. "Why ever not?"

"I think it has to do with you."

"Me? Whatever for?" Landrey asked, sipping the last of the coffee.

"She thinks we...well...you know," Dawn said, making an embarrassed smile.

Landrey choked on the coffee, spraying it out of his mouth, over the table. He coughed uncontrollably for a moment, shaking, before slowly regaining control of himself.

"What?" he gasped. "Why would...oh, what an impossible child!" He started to laugh, but it gave way to more coughing.

"Are you alright?" Dawn asked, putting a hand on Landrey's shoulder.

"I'm fine, I'm fine," he wheezed, waving her off. "But it looks like I'm all alone when it comes to Yukia."

"I'm sorry. I'd like to help, but I think I'd do more harm than good."

"Quite alright. It's just...how did she get an idea like that in the first place?"

"I don't know," Dawn deadpanned. "She must have an active imagination."

"No, it couldn't be that," Landrey mused. "Yukia would be the last person in Creation to be carried away by her imagination. Bother. Oh well, back to square one." He stood up. "Shall we depart for greener pastures, my dear?"

"I think we shall. But don't be so affectionate. We wouldn't want to give the wrong impression."

Landrey waved his hand dismissively. "Perish the thought."
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
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Henry
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Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
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Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

13 Apr 2011, 20:29

So, our friend the Shieldbearer decided to kidnap a redeemed Abyssal, and wackiness ensued.

**************************

"We're here." Xyofei stood up, moving towards the gunwales of dragon boat.

Nalen Landrey looked around in dazed confusion. So far he had only caught the briefest glimpses of Yu-Shan: the white rotunda that the gate opened into, full of patrolling lions made of gold; buildings of incomprehensible scale and splendor, soaring into the sky; the enormous bulk of a jade dome, dwarfing most mountains; a canal of silver and gold, flitting by too fast to see as their boat moved at impossible speed. It had all been rather overwhelming, and the rather commonplace surroundings they found themselves in now - a quiet neighborhood of tasteful plantings and high walls - was confusing because of its ordinariness.

"Well, c'mon," Xyofei said, looking back at Landrey, annoyed.

Landrey shook his head. "Right, sorry," he replied, grabbing his bag in one hand and his daiklave in the other, and scrambled out of the boat. "Where are we?"

"North side of Yu-Shan," Xyofei said. "This is my manse." He pointed his thumb at the wall behind them, thirty feet tall and an equal distance back from the canal.

The Sidereal walked up to the gate, setting his free hand on a jade panel set in the wall. In response, the gate slowly swung open, revealing a broad path winding its way through a well-sculpted garden. Xyofei gestured for Landrey to follow him, and started off down the path. Shaking his head again, Landrey followed.

"What is Venehane?" Landrey asked, jogging to catch up with Xyofei.

"Huh?"

"On the gate, in Old Realm, it says Venehane. Is that the name of your residence?"

"Sorta. It's where the person who built this place came from. I guess she got homesick, so she named the manse after her homeland."

"I see. And where is this country? I don't recognize the name."

Xyofei shrugged. "Dunno. It got wiped out in the Primordial War, so there ain't nobody who knows where it was."

The walked for a bit in silence. Landrey was starting to sweat under the weight of his burden, and the blue overcoat he had put on the combat the winter weather in Creation that was totally unneeded in Yu-Shan. Xyofei still hadn't given Landrey an adequate explanation as to why they had to go to Yu-Shan, but Landrey wasn't about to argue with the Sidereal. With the mood Xyofei was in, an argument was probably just a precursor to bruises and broken bones, or worse.

Landrey could see a few towers sticking out over the trees of the garden, but it wasn't until they passed into a wide open lawn that he got a true sense of the scale of Venehane. It was enormous, dwarfing any building in the Scavenger lands and rivaling the Imperial Manse in size. For the most part it was no more than four stories tall, but it spread over the grounds for what seemed like a mile in every direction. Despite its massive size, it was still quite elegant, with thick walls of grey stone conservatively embellished to emphasize the clean lines of the architecture. Landrey would have been astonished if it hadn't been for the several dozen equally impressive structures he had already seen in Yu-Shan.

"So, who resides here?" Landrey asked.

"Just me. And you."

"Oh. You don't have a staff?"

"Got a bunch of servitors who do most of the work; cleaning up the manse, taking care of the grounds, that sorta thing. And there's Graceful Balance."

"Who?"

Xyofei pointed at the grand entrance to the palace, a long colonnade that linked the path with Venehane. Standing at the end of the colonnade was an androgynous figure with silver hair wearing elaborate silken robes. Every part of it glowed slightly, including its blue eyes.

"Master Matara, you have returned," it said, a hint of annoyance in its voice. "With a guest. I am afraid that I did not receive any advanced notice of his arrival, so I did not have the opportunity to make the proper preparations." The spirit looked over Landrey with a disparaging eye. "Will he be saying in the normal guest quarters?"

Xyofei frowned. "What? No. Put him, hmm...put him in the north wing. One of the upper floors. And don't let no one know that he's here, okay?"

"Very good, sir. Shall I show you to your room, Master...?"

"Nalen Landrey," he said, dropping his bag and bowing slightly. Ordinarily you weren't supposed to formally greet servants, but when the servant was a god Landrey assumed that different conventions applied.

Graceful Balance appeared mollified by Landrey's courtesy. "Follow me, Master Nalen. One of the servitors will take your bag."

From behind one of the columns there appeared an odd looking automaton, all spindly limbs and oversized hands. Silently, it stuck out its hand, grasping Landrey's bag when he offered it. As Landrey followed Graceful Balance into the palace with the servitor shuffling behind, he realized this was going to be a very strange visit.

* * *

A few hours later, Landrey met with Xyofei again. The only way he could tell it was near suppertime was by spending motes, because the constantly fluctuating lights in the sky made conventional time-keeping impossible. The sensation had been very disorienting at first, but now that he was inside the constant glow of essence lamps reduced the confusion somewhat. A servitor had come to fetch him, speaking in a quietly artificial voice and leading him through the manse to a large room with an enormous window that overlooked an artfully arranged copse of trees. Xyofei was seated at a small, polished table that was set for supper, his red eyes staring blankly out the window.

"Good evening," Landrey said, as soon as the servitor turned to leave.

Xyofei smiled briefly and gestured for Landrey to sit down. He had changed out of his armor and was wearing a neatly tailored charcoal gray suit with pink piping. He seemed much more relaxed.

"Hope you're ready to eat," Xyofei said.

"Yes, I rather am. Unfortunately, I was unable to eat lunch today."

"Sorry about that, but I had to get you up here."

"And why is that?"

"Well, there's a couple of reasons. First, you're gonna have to meet with someone."

"Who?"

"Lytek. He's the god of Celestial Exaltation."

"I see. And why does Lytek feel such a pressing need to see me?"

Xyofei smirked. "Well, right now that's a secret. Let's just say it has to do with the condition of your exaltation."

At that point Graceful Balance and a platoon of servitors came out with an array of platters, each one with an extraordinary delicacy on it. It was quite simply the best meal Landrey had ever had, not only in the quality of the food but in the presentation of the dishes and the table manners of Xyofei and his staff. The formality of the situation would have suited the Scarlet Empress.

Landrey studied Xyofei out of the corner of his eye during the meal. He had never really had the chance to get to know the Sidereal, only meeting him in passing during the Battle of Greyfalls, and then again this past autumn. Xyofei was a jumble of contradictions, a foul-mouthed, straightforward soldier who knew how to use a dozen different kinds of cutlery and dressed like a courtier from the Imperial City. In creation Landrey almost never saw him without his armor and daiklave, living like he was in the field, while in Yu-Shan he had the most fantastic residence Landrey had ever seen, maintained at the highest level and impeccably decorated. Yet Xyofei lived alone, so far as Landrey could tell, with a minimal staff, which was doubly odd for someone who was so sociable and outgoing, not to mention extremely handsome, albeit in an effeminate sort of way. He would have thought that Xyofei was the kind of person who needed other people around at all times.

Landrey mulled over the odd behavior of his host while enjoying the dinner. Finally the last course was cleared and they were alone again.

"So, what are the other reasons?" Landrey asked.

"Huh?" Xyofei swirled his glass of after-dinner wine around.

"The other reasons why you abducted me."
"Hey, it wasn't that bad. I asked, didn't I?"

"You did, but I didn't think refusal was an option."

"No, I guess it wasn't. To be honest, I was about an inch away from socking Denton in the face and dragging you to the fuckin' gate."

"My my, I had no idea I was so popular."

Xyofei chuckled, but then his expression turned hard again. "Look, just so we're clear, I want you to cooperate with me and I want to make this easy on you, but don't go thinking you can just leave if you wanna. You're here for the duration."

"The duration of what?"

"Your education."

* * *

Landrey was sore all over by the time Lytek left. Somehow the god had secreted himself into Xyofei's manse and was waiting for Landrey in a room with dark wood paneling. The Sidereal brought Landrey to Lytek soon after breakfast on his second day in Yu-Shan, and for the rest of the day Lytek questioned him. And poked him. And prodded him. And scanned, punctured and pinched him with an array of instruments.

Xyofei brought him food a few times during the course of the interrogation, but for the most part it was just he and Lytek. Landrey rapidly came to detest the Daimyo of Exaltation, his condescension, and his tools. Especially his tools.

Some of the questions were fairly basic, about his family, his history, his upbringing. Lytek was also interested in his time as an Abyssal, and the path of his redemption. But much of the questioning made no sense to Landrey - questions about what kind of food he liked, how he felt when he dropped something on his toe, how he felt when he killed someone, what, if anything, made him cry.

When Lytek finally left, Landrey, rubbing his sore muscles, turned to Xyofei. "I'm glad that's over," he said.

"Not hardly," the Sidereal snorted. "He'll be back."

Landrey's heart sank. "Really? When?"

Xyofei shrugged. "Dunno. Probably not for a while. But you should rest up. We've gotta busy day tomorrow."

* * *

"Okay, show me what you've got," Xyofei said.

They were standing out in a practice arena near the manse, a circular area with a sand-covered floor and a low wood railing demarcating it from the surrounding grounds. A number of different weapons were neatly arranged around the perimeter, but right now Landrey was armed with his daiklave Winter's Edge, the soulsteel weapon he had received from the Walker in Darkness.

Landrey hefted the daiklave in his hands, and then assumed a fencing stance. Xyofei, also armed with his daiklave, looked at him critically. Neither man was wearing armor, but they did have thick, quilted, practice jackets on.

"You haven't been keeping it sharp," Xyofei said accusingly.

"Well, to be honest, I had rather hoped that I would never have to use it again."

"Yeah, well, that's a nice thought for fuckin' happy-go-lucky land. But in the real world, you gotta be on top of shit like that. If you take care of your equipment, it will take care of you."

Landrey laughed. When Xyofei shot him a nasty look, he hastened to explain himself.

"Sorry. It's just that there was a monk, one of the Immaculate monks in Greyfalls, who gave some of the children weapons training. He would always say that to me."

"Yeah, Brother Karito. Those were good times, even if you never listened."

Landrey stared at Xyofei for a moment. "Are you saying that…”

"You know it. We go back a long way, you and me."

"Now, wait just a minute. Are you telling me that I've been…manipulated by you since my childhood?" Landrey was peeved.

"Since before childhood. Who do you think got you mother to stick around in Greyfalls to give birth? Hell, I've been pulling your strings all your life." Xyofei raised his hands to forestall an angry outburst from Landrey. "But I didn't know why. Turns out, of course, it was because of that shitty destiny that some of my superiors tagged on you. I wish to hell that I never had anything to do with it, and believe me, I feel like a real piece of shit for screwing you over like that. But it's over with and this is something else."

"How terrific. This is a new round of manipulation, then?"

"It ain't manipulation, because I'm telling you upfront what's it all about. Maybe Lytek is keeping secrets from you, but not me."

"Really? Then what are we doing out here? I am certain you don't need a demonstration of my swordsmanship - you saw it firsthand at the Ebon Spires."

"Maybe I do need to see." Xyofei frowned. "Look, when Sen became a Solar, it took her a while to figure out how to use her essence again. I just wanna see where you are, see how much help you need."

"Why?"

Xyofei smirked. "Like I said, you need an education.”

* * *

Landrey looked, nonplussed, at the pile of scrolls on the table in front of him. They were in yet another room in the manse, this one a gigantic library, full of more scrolls and books than Landrey had seen in his entire life.

"So this is all from the First Age?" he asked.

"Yeah," Xyofei said. "See, when we – the Sidereals, that is – killed the Solars, we lost a lot of stuff with them. Phoros, my prior incarnation, well, she wasn't the kind to hang on to all the magitech and sorcery and all that crap, but she did what she could. I can't really blame her for feeling guilty over what she did, so I guess this was her way to say 'I'm sorry.'" He pointed at the scrolls.

"And what is 'this?'"

"You know martial arts? How they all reveal the nature of a certain thing? Like an elemental dragon, or a monkey…”

"Or a Hungry Ghost," Landrey said.

"Yeah, like that. Well, the Solars developed a style that revealed the nature of the Unconquered Sun. Well, kinda. It's more about the nature of the sun, like the actual, physical thing, but it was a way to understand his virtues. A way to get closer to him."

"And that's what these scrolls contain? A martial arts style?"

Xyofei nodded. "Well, there’s a lot of stuff about the nature of the Sun in there, but the part that we’re interested in right now is the martial arts. The Arms of the Unconquered Sun. Phoros saved the scrolls after she killed all of the people who practiced it, and then she taught it to herself. Partly to make sure the style didn't disappear, partly as a fuckin' penance, I guess."

"And then you taught yourself?"

"Yep. You could say I know more about the Unconquered Sun than anyone else in Creation. Well, anyone who ain't a fuckin' god or something."

"And now you want to teach me." Landrey looked at the scrolls, and then back at Xyofei. "Why? Why me?"

Xyofei shrugged. "'Cause you need it. I can't really tell you why right now, but you've got a better chance at doin' this style justice than anyone else in the past fifteen centuries. Maybe longer."

"Better than you?"

"A whole lot better than me," Xyofei said with a smile. "I never really got the whole temperance thing, anyway."

* * *

Landrey opened the scroll for the third time, running his eyes over it, before snorting with disgust and throwing down on his bed.

The sounds of the party echoed in through the windows, the shouts of laughter and the occasional trill of music from the far side of the manse. He had been confined to his quarters for the past several days while Xyofei had engaged in preparations for the fete. The Sidereal had explained that it was necessary to throw the party to maintain his cover; if he hadn’t, people might have been suspicious. Landrey understood the necessity, and he understood that under no circumstances could he be seen, but it had been dreadfully boring to be cooped up for so long.

Sighing, he swung his legs over the side of the bed. He resisted the urge to peek outside from behind the curtains, and instead walked over to the writing desk. The room, or more appropriately, the suite, was very well appointed, decorated in the same tasteful, conservative style as the rest of the palace, all dark wood with clean lines and only the occasional embellishment.

Landrey sat at the desk and picked up a pen. He had been here for over a month, and what did he have to show for it? Lytek had interrogated him half a dozen times, Xyofei had given him several extensive workouts to determine the limits of his charms, and he had struggled through the scrolls on the Unconquered Sun, to no real end. He still didn’t understand what the Most High was all about, how this alien creature thought and acted. He did understand that Lytek and Xyofei seemed to be getting a lot more out of this arrangement than he was.

He began to write on a piece of paper, in outline form, a summary of what he had gleaned from the scrolls, how the Unconquered Sun was formed of, a limited by, his infinite virtue. And then how that really posed no limitation at all, and was instead a way to elevate him beyond the limits imposed upon Creation by the Primordials and access the deeper truths that empowered reality. Or something like that.

After an hour of writing, Landrey pushed back the chair and rubbed his eyes. He began to yawn, but suddenly caught himself. There was someone outside his door, two someones. A man and woman by the sounds of it. Keeping absolutely still Landrey waited while they tried the door handle. Thankfully, the lock held. There was a brief, very drunken argument, out in the hall, and then they moved on to try another door.

Landrey exhaled. Unbidden, his thoughts drifted to Jozakura, the time they had spent together, and that awful, awful moment in the ruins of the Palace of the Three. He was very lonely.

* * *

Why did he have to wear this ridiculous clothing?

Landrey pulled with annoyance at his pants. The dojo gear Xyofei had given to him fit well enough, but it was very unflattering, tight at the waist, upper legs and ankles, but extremely loose down the legs and on the arms and wrists. It always seemed to be catching on something, too.

“You ready?” Xyofei asked.

He stood on the inside of the practice arena, wearing clothing identical to Landrey’s. The open neck and wrists showed off the tattoos that swirled around the Sidereal’s body, as well as the awesome muscles underneath the tattoos. Xyofei wasn’t the biggest or most muscle-bound man Landrey had ever seen, but his body was just as much a weapon as his daiklave, if not more so.

Landrey slipped into the ring. Unlike the rest of the Realm’s nobility, Landrey had never had any formal unarmed combat training before, due to his crippled leg. As a deathknight he had been given a cursory overview of basic techniques by White Bone Sinner, but he had never paid the matter much attention.

“So, how do we begin?” Landrey asked nervously.

“Just try to punch me. Try to focus your essence the way I taught you.”

Landrey stepped forward, concentrating on channeling his essence. The charm seemed basic enough, a powerful, all out attack that was charged with essence drawn from one’s sense of righteousness and was all but impossible for an enemy to avoid. The problem was that Landrey didn’t feel particularly righteous, certainly not in the utterly assured manner of the Unconquered Sun.

Taking a deep breath, he balled up his fist and swung at Xyofei. The Sidereal brought his open left palm around and intercepted Landrey’s blow, while his right fist swung around and slammed into Landrey’s stomach. It was like being hit by a sledgehammer. Landrey stumbled backwards, then tripped and fell onto his backside.

“Uhnh,” he said.

“Now, you see what you did wrong?” Xyofei asked. “See how the essence flow, the stance was all wrong? I stepped into you, but you just swung at me. You see?”

“Uhnh.”

“Hmm. Why don’t you take a moment? Catch your breath.”

“Uhnh.”

Xyofei walked over and slapped him on the back. “C’mon, it wasn’t that bad. You’re a fuckin’ exalt – this kinda thing comes with the territory.”

“Uhnh…maybe…for you. I’m…a bit…more…peaceful.”

“Well, get back up, mister Solar fuckin’ warrior. We ain’t leaving ‘til you show some improvement.”

Landrey struggled to his feet. He could tell it was going to be a long day.

* * *

For once, Landrey was alone. Xyofei had left on some mysterious assignment for a week or more, and Lytek hadn't scheduled any interviews. That meant Landrey was free to do as he pleased in his gilded prison.

And it was a prison. Venehane and its acres of parks and gardens may have been the most pleasant jail in Yu-Shan, but there was no way Landrey could get over the thirty-foot walls and the elemental weapons that guarded them. At least he could wander freely and explore the little wonders contained within the manse.

Landrey did get a certain, simple joy from strolling around. For the entirety of his mortal life he had been crippled, unable to walk without experiencing almost unbearable pain. But now he could walk wherever he pleased, through the grounds, up and down the stairways, in and out of rooms.

The gardens occupied his attention for the first few days, and then he turned to the manse's interior. There was no end of wings, annexes, and towers to explore, and each room contained a dizzying variety of artifacts and decor. There were also several libraries, mostly full of texts on military history and philosophy, but Landrey had little enthusiasm left for reading. He was surprised to see several very contemporary texts, including the published volumes of House Cathak's ongoing history of the Realm's battles.

Most of the manse was wide open, including an armory full of weapons and Xyofei's personal apartments. Landrey didn't pry too much into his host's private life, but he did peek through the door, once. There wasn't much to see and nothing to hint at the personality of the manse's master other than an oversized wardrobe and an elaborate personal bath.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the areas that intrigued Landrey the most were the ones he couldn't gain access to. There were three areas that were off limits, secured behind locked doors. The first was a tower that wasn't quite part of the manse, set off from the rest of the structure and connected by a covered walkway. Landrey's theory was that the tower was Graceful Balance's private quarters, because the spirit was the only one who ever seemed to enter or exit the place. He decided not to ask Graceful Balance for confirmation, though; the spirit tended to be irritable and Landrey didn't want to press his luck.

The second was rather easier to figure out, a series of thick doors arranged around the center of the manse. Landrey surmised that the doors led to the hearthstone chamber, the center of the manse's magical power. He had no idea what sort of powers the hearthstone conferred, but he had seen a pale yellow stone affixed to the pommel of Xyofei's daiklave.

The third locked door bothered him the most. It was located in the south wing, and the strangeness of the locale only heightened the mystery. The south wing was something of an outlier from the rest of the manse, at least in its decor. It was full of ornate, rather tacky furnishings, very different from the understated style found in the rest of the manse. Most of the rooms seemed to have more furniture than they needed, and while an effort had been made to make the rooms open and accessible, Landrey got the feeling that the south wing was more a storage area than a living space.

The locked door was located on the fourth and highest floor of the south wing. So far as Landrey could tell it closed off an area containing the entirety of the floor, and the presence another locked door at the opposite end of the wing seemed to confirm his suspicions. Looking at the south wing from outside, Landrey could see that the roof was made of a continuous piece of translucent crystal, implying that there was only one room on the floor.

Landrey pondered the mystery until Xyofei returned.

* * *

"Lytek seemed pleased," Landrey said, as the servitors cleared the supper dishes.

"Did he?" Xyofei said with a grunt as he leaned back in his chair.

He refused to comment on the matter to Landrey, but he seemed to have been injured during his recent mission. That was probably the reason why Xyofei had gone easy on him during the past few practices. Landrey wasn't sure which had been more painful: the bruisings he received at Xyofei's hands, or his interrogation sessions with Lytek.

"Yes, apparently my answers today pleased him. And he didn't feel the need to perforate me per his normal practice."

"Great. Maybe he found what he's lookin' for."

"And what is he looking for? You still haven't told me."

"It's a secret," Xyofei said with a sly smile. "You know that."

Landrey thought for a moment. "Not to pry into any more secrets, but what is the story behind the south wing?"

Xyofei chuckled. "Graceful Balance told me you were pokin' around there. Found the locked door, did ya?"

"Yes, but it's not just the door. The whole wing is a bit...off, if you don't mind me saying."

"Yeah, I haven't gotten around to clearing it out yet. It’s still got all the old First Age crap from when Phoros lived here. I mean, it ain't bad in small doses, but too much of it is kinda awful, right?"

"More or less. And what is on the top floor? The most egregious affronts to good taste?"

"No, nothing like that. It's more like...shit." Xyofei frowned. "It's Phoros' room, see? Not really my place to mess around with it."

"I understand."

"But maybe I should. I was thinking of taking you up there anyway, so why not right now? Might be something useful for you up there."

"What sort of thing?"

"You'll see when we get there."

Due to the scale of the manse it took them several minutes to get to the south wing and up the three flights of stairs. Landrey was bit winded by the time they got to the top, and his bruised ribs ached with every breath. He knew he would be healed by the morning, though, just in time for Xyofei to inflict another set of injuries on him.

"Okay," said Xyofei as he fiddled with the magitech lock, "this is kind of a funny place. Phoros, ya see, she took a lot of...well, trophies ain't the right word. More like, mementos from the people she beat. I guess to honor them, or something. Maybe it's what they did in Venehane, or maybe it's something she came up with by herself. I dunno 'xactly."

As Xyofei opened the door a light inside flicked on, bathing the hall in a soft glow. Just as Landrey had expected, the entire top floor of the south wing was one enormous room, a hall stretching for thousands of feet. A vast jumble of artifacts were collected in three rough rows, two going down either side of the hall and one in the center.

Xyofei took out a crystal from a socket near the door and inserted it into a jade device.

"So this should tell us what is what and where she got it from. Gimme a second..." Xyofei fiddled with the device. "Nope. Nothing here from one of your prior incarnations, but maybe you'll see something else you want? Probably better for you to use it than to leave it here, I figure."

Landrey was only half listening as he wandered into the room. It was fantastic. The first collection of items was utterly bizarre, things with forms and shapes that made Landrey's head hurt, that may or not have been weapons. These were followed by similar objects that had more apparently martial purpose, designed in a manner that reminded Landrey of objects from the demon realm.

"This all from the Primordial War," Xyofei said. "Nothin' too fancy, just some stuff from Second Circle souls. I guess she left the big boys for the Solars and Lunars to tackle."

The next collection contained more obviously demonic items, and a diverse array of gossamer arms and armor. There were also a few magitech weapons of an unknown design, alongside some more primitive instruments.

"Forty-five centuries of fighting Creation's enemies and this is all you get," Xyofei joked. He pointed out a long, sharp gossamer lance. "From the Balorian Crusade. Belonged to the Duke of Mirrors, Balor's champion."

The third and final section was full of orichalcum and moonsilver, with more of the former. Daiklaves, essence cannon, armor, every instrument of war was represented. There were even a few suits of magitech armor made out of jade.

Landrey shook his head. This place was full of echoes. There were too many things that he seen before, but only faintly. Arms used by his friends and allies, arms turned against him by enemies. Too much. He walked past the final collection to the end of the hall.

"You okay?" Xyofei asked.

"Yes, I'll be fine. It's just a bit overwhelming."

"Sure, whatever you say. See anything you want?"

Landrey frowned. "Not right now. Maybe later. Certainly almost anything would be better than the soulsteel I have right now."

"Just let me know. Ready to go?"

They turned to leave, but something caught Landrey's eye. The last hundred feet or so of the hall was empty save for a simple wooden stand holding a straight, unadorned sword. The stand was by itself, nothing else near it.

"One minute. What is that one?" Landrey pointed.

"That?" Xyofei had a strange expression on his face. "That's my contribution to the collection."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. Belonged to a girl I knew."

Then they stepped out of the hall, closing the door behind them.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
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Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
Topic Author
Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

20 Apr 2011, 17:43

In this story, our simple-minded Night Caste friend causes some trouble in PC-run Greyfalls.


**********************************

Matara Sen was under attack.

“Ouch.” She kicked her legs, but her assailant would not let go.

Grunting, she threw back her quilt. Zenobia was firmly attached to her toe. Sen shook her leg again, but the kitten hung on, digging its claws into her foot.

“Silly, you can’t eat my toe.”

Zenobia seemed to disagree, so Sen leaned over and carefully detached her. To compensate for the loss of the toe, Sen cuddled with Zenobia for a while, cradling the kitten in her arms as she leaned back down in bed. Zenobia mewled for a bit, and then decided that it would be a good idea to entangle herself in Sen’s hair. That was a short-lived enterprise, and Zenobia soon found herself on the floor.

“Sorry, but you play too rough.”

The kitten mewled again in protest, and then tried to stalk Sen’s feet as she walked to the window to open the curtains. It was already afternoon, and the sun was nowhere to be seen on this grey, nasty day. A few people were out and about on the palace grounds, though Sen didn’t have the best view of the main courtyard between the palace and the fortress. She could only see the southern corner of the yard, by the gate, where the guards were trying to shelter themselves from the frigid rain. Just right for the end of winter.

The water in the basin was cold, but Sen didn’t feel like walking to the sink in the hall to get warm water so she quickly washed her face with soap and pulled a damp comb through her hair. Then she took off her nightgown and washed that too, wringing it out thoroughly before hanging it over the little pot stove to dry. She thought the stove was really great, a small, efficient device that gave off just enough heat to warm the room and dry her clothes. It was an incredible luxury.

Really, her entire room was a luxury, easily twelve feet square. There was more than enough room to hold a bed, a wardrobe, a table, a washbasin, a rack for her weapons, and a box for Zenobia. And all of it had been a gift from Stilgar and Gerran and the others. Gosh, they were nice to her, and for no real reason. She even had money to buy clothes, half a dozen dresses and a couple pairs of pants to wear under her armor. And, of course, there was the red dress. Sen sighed a bit as she opened the wardrobe, fingering the red silk, feeling the dressmaker’s stitches. She hadn’t had an opportunity to wear it since the ball five months ago, but Corvina’s wedding was coming up so she would be able to take it out then.

Sen thought for a moment about what she should wear, before pulling on a thick gray wool dress. The dress only went down to just below the knee, so she had to put on stockings, and then the pair of half-boots that she stored under the bed with the rest of her shoes. That was another luxury – no less than four pairs of footwear, and one of them she could only wear with the red dress. Imagine! Shoes you only wore two or three times a year!

She dropped her dirty socks on the floor for Zenobia to do battle with, and then she stuck a knife into her belt and another into her right boot. She didn’t need the knives for fighting – Sen knew she could beat the stuffing out of anyone in Greyfalls with just her bare hands (well, maybe not Gerran) – but she might need them as tools. A quick check confirmed that she didn’t need to change the paper that lined Zenobia’s box, so after another cuddle she dropped the protesting kitten into its makeshift prison.

“Now, you behave, okay?” Sen said as she pulled on her jacket and gloves. “I’ll be back late tonight.”

She closed the door on the desperate mewling, running her hands through her hair one more time before she twisted it together and bound it up behind her neck with a strip of leather. This section of the palace was quiet, home to a few lower-level functionaries who worked in the various ministries. Most of the rooms were empty so Sen rarely saw anyone, which suited her just fine. She wasn’t exactly trying to hide, not like that confusing Jirikai woman, but she figured keeping a low profile was a good idea.

The cold rain whipped into her face as she stepped out into the courtyard. Keeping her head low she hurried out of Garrison Heights, down the hill to the Academy. It was in between prayer services so the north side of the Academy was quiet, and she easily slipped unnoticed into the subterranean tunnels. She paused to listen outside the door to Samir’s laboratory to make sure it was empty, before effortlessly disabling his lock system and stepping inside. This was the big gamble of her operation. She really, really needed to swipe Samir’s magic pen, but he was in his laboratory so frequently the opportunity to steal it was hard to come by.

But Sen had noticed Samir talking to Nalen Yukia the other day, and she knew what that meant. The two of them would start that whole stupid kabuki dance where they tried to see each other as often as possible while pretending that each meeting was accidental. They would both eat all of their meals at the mess, they would try to walk down the same corridors, and they would act surprised whenever they saw each other, but it was all an effort to spend time together.

Sen thought it was kind of stupid. Why didn’t they just get it over with and have sex? Samir was okay looking, she guessed, and Yukia was really, really pretty – as pretty as Sen had been when she was still a deathknight. Sen had had a prettier face, but Yukia had bigger boobs and her silver hair was kind of neat, if you liked that sort of thing. Why Samir was taking his time with her Sen couldn’t understand. But it worked to her advantage, since it meant he was guaranteed to eat lunch outside of the lab every day, leaving it wide open.

Of course, the real danger was not breaking in and taking the pen, it was the risk that Samir would notice the pen was missing before she could return it. But that was just the risk she was going to have to take. The only time the lab was certain to be unattended was lunchtime, and the only time she could use the pen was at night. She would just have to hope that Samir wouldn’t need the pen in the next twenty-five hours.

She walked through the lab to the drawer where Samir kept the pen, careful not to disturb anything. Papers and instruments were scattered all over the place, and there were several upright boards covered in writing. At least, Sen thought it was writing: she couldn’t understand it, and it didn’t look like any alphabet she’d seen before, but it was arranged like writing. Anyway, Samir was smart enough to figure out what it was. He was smarter than anyone she’d ever met – except for the Mask of Winters, of course. And maybe Declan, too.

Pocketing the magic pen, Sen left as quietly as she had arrived. First stage was over, now on to the second stage! A brief trip through the rain got her back to Garrison Heights, back at the Palace, in fact, heading up to the third floor of the south wing. There wasn’t anyone in the outer office, so Sen walked right inside.

“Heya Berthen!”

Berthen looked up at her, annoyed. He was standing at his desk with a black haired, nervous looking guy who Sen didn't recognize. They were going over some papers, and by the looks of their boots and the overcoat hanging by the door, they had just been outside.

"Hello, Sen," Berthen said. "Is there something..."

"I wanted to chat," Sen replied cheerfully.

"Well, I'm kind of busy right now. Nils and I are reviewing something important."

"That's okay. I can wait." Smiling, Sen deposited herself in one of the chairs in front of Berthen's desk. She began to hum quietly to herself.

Berthen looked at her, frowning. He took his hat off - it was that shapeless, turban-looking thingy - and rubbed his forehead. His short, greenish blonde hair had been pushed into odd angles by the hat, and there were a few beads of perspiration at the edge of his receding hairline.

"Hrmph," Berthen grunted. "Nils, can you give us a minute? And close the door, will you?"

The nervous looking guy smiled and stepped out of the office, taking some of the papers with him.

"Now, what do you want, Sen?" Berthen said, sitting down behind his desk.

"Oh, I just wanted to talk."

"About what?"

"Merchant stuff."

"Merchant stuff? What do you mean?"

"You know, what's making money right now. Is it wood or metal or something else?"

"Making money?" Berthen frowned. "Are you referring to the commodities market?"

"Sure, yeah, whatever."

"Well, there are a number of different factors to consider. Greyfalls is a transshipment port, and as such there is an active commodities market. But, we're not like Nexus - we're too small scale. A lot of our prices depend on Marita and Apollonia, and they react and fluctuate much more rapidly than in Nexus, at least at the micro scale. At the macro scale it's the opposite, since the relative independence of the market means that it takes a while for shifts in one area to affect the whole market."

Sen grinned, trying to hide her confusion. "Awesome. So, what's making money right now?"

"Well, it's impossible to say. What, exactly, are you looking for?"

"Nothing. Well, everything. Do you have a list?"

"I have a list from yesterday of the current prices in Merchant's Square. Do you want that?"

"Yeah! That would be awesome! And do you have anything from, like last month or something? Or anything from Marita?"

"Certainly." Berthen stood up, looking at her askance. "What is this for, Sen? Are you looking to invest? Because I could help you with that, you know."

"Nah, I'm just curious. Looking around." Sen walked over to watch Berthen as he thumbed through a box of papers. He didn't notice her extract a few of the papers and tuck them under her coat. "So, how are you doing?"

Berthen looked startled. "Me? I'm fine."

"Good. You look a little stressed, though." She poked him in the belly.

He scowled and stepped away from her. "I'm fine. Here are the reports of key commodity prices over the past five seasons. Now do you need anything else?"

Sen thumbed through the papers. "Nope, I'm good. Thanks, Berthen. Oh, and if you need me to do anything, you know, sneaky..."

"I'm out of the spy business for the moment, so, no. Besides, the last time we worked together it didn't turn out so well."

Sen blushed. "You mean that whole thing on the bridge? Yeah, that was pretty stupid. But we're past it now, so it's all good, right?" She smiled.

Berthen seemed nonplussed. "Yes, it's all good. Look, if you're finished I really need to be getting back to work."

"Yep, I'm good. Bye-bye, Berthen!"

Sen leaned over and kissed Berthen on the cheek, and then made her way out of the office. Well, that had gone well. Second stage over, on to the third stage. Now she just needed one more piece of information to make everything work. But first, some food.

The palace kitchen was almost always crowded, but if there was one thing Sen knew how to do it was navigate through a kitchen. After dancing around and past the cooks, scullions and serving girls, Sen emerged on the other side with a handful of hardboiled eggs, a piece of cheese, and a large pickle. Sitting down on the broad, formal steps leading down to the gardens, Sen stared at the rain running off the overhang as she peeled the eggs.

It was funny, she thought, how life refused to leave her alone. Or was it fate? That probably made more sense. She was an Exalt after all, and fate was supposed to pay her special attention. But to be here, in Greyfalls, just about as far away from everything as you could get, and then stupid Rolf stupid Bekker pops up, well, that was just too much. And then Khouros Farhad, who'd she never even heard of before, moves in.

At first she didn't believe what the whispers had told her, that this Farhad guy was responsible for killing her sister. So she had snuck into the Guild factor house here in Greyfalls and done some snooping, and it turns out that not only had Farhad done it, he was the one who had given the idea to the Guild in the first place, to get her dad to sell his daughters and his inheritance to the Guild. He was real buddies with the Guild factor, this Drax guy, which was why he had been staying at the factor house.

Sen had considered killing him, really, really, considered it, but she knew it was wrong. But she didn't trust herself to do the right thing, so she followed Heike's advice: when you can't do the right thing, make it impossible to do the wrong thing. That's why she had agreed to go to Yu-Shan, and that's part of the reason why she had followed Samir around all those months; if she wasn't near Farhad, she couldn't kill him. The other part, of course, had been her desire to protect that goofball while he was wandering around by himself with half of Creation out to get him.

Ultimately, it had been the time spent stalking Samir that purged her of the desire to kill his brother. Samir really was a good guy and she just couldn't do that to him, make him unhappy the same way his brother had made her unhappy. And from what little Sen had seen Farhad did seem like a good guy, so maybe he thought there had been a good reason to kill Aja. Of course he was wrong, but it wasn't Sen's place to act as judge and executioner. Fate would take care of it.

It was funny, though, that it had never seriously crossed her mind to kill stupid Rolf stupid Bekker. Killing Farhad to avenge Aja at least made a bit of sense, but killing Bekker to just to make herself feel better never really felt right. Oh, sure, she had considered the idea once or twice, but it was never an option. She had briefly toyed with the idea of giving him a taste of his own medicine, but that wasn't an option either. She wasn't a sicko.

But it was clear that the Guild was evil and that Bekker was evil, and it was clear that all they did was make people suffer. Sen knew she had to do something to take them out, but since wholesale slaughter wasn't a possibility she had to come up with something else. The problem had confronted her during the four months in the wilderness, and now she had a solution. It might require a bit of effort and it wouldn't solve the problem totally, but if it worked the Guild would be finished in Greyfalls and stupid Rolf stupid Bekker would go far, far away.

Just as Sen finished eating the pickle, Proximate Wind returned to Garrison Heights. The warhawk plummeted down towards the barracks, landing with a thump in the parade ground. Sen knew it would take Dawn ten minutes to lock Proxy in his pen, then it would take her another fifteen minutes to change clothes and get to her office. But once she was in her office Dawn would be alone, which was the important thing. Gerran never hung out with Dawn during the days she went on patrol, and instead spent the entire day doing...well...whatever it was Gerran did with his spare time. Sen had never bothered to find out what that was. The important thing was he never bothered to meet with Dawn before dinner, but since it was a rainy day Sen knew Dawn would return from her patrol sooner than normal. That gave her a window of about an hour when she would have uninterrupted access to Dawn, with no risk of Gerran interfering. Not that she was all that worried about Gerran being there, it was just that the fewer people who knew what she was doing, the better.

After waiting for half an hour, Sen stood up and went back into the palace. The other Solars all had offices in the east wing, overlooking the courtyard, but Dawn was the only one who regularly used hers. Saul and Stilgar spent most of their time at the Academy, Samir was only occasionally away from his lab, and Gerran...well, Gerran was a mystery.

Sen bounded up the broad steps of the formal staircase three at a time, spinning past the confused bureaucrats working in the various ministries.

"Hi, here to see Dawn," Sen said to the older woman who acted as the Solars’ secretary. The secretary tried to say something, but Sen breezed past her into Dawn's office.

"Heya Dawn!" Sen chirped.

Dawn was standing by the window, looking out onto the courtyard. She turned around, a slightly confused expression on her face.

"Sen. Hello.”

“So, how’s it going?” Sen sat on the edge of Dawn’s desk.

“Good. I haven’t seen you since you got back from the Wyld. How was it?”

“The Wyld? Kind of funny. I mean, there were, like cats everywhere, and then we were in this place where we thought we were kids, or we thought we looked like kids, or something. Then we talked to some fairies, who were all like ‘Oh, I’m so great, fight me’ and stuff. But Samir and Saul did a good job at talking to them, but we still think they’re all made of trouble. Gerran got all freaked out by the fairies, but I bet you know that.”

Dawn frowned. “Yes, he told me. But, other than that, the trip was a success?”

“I guess so. We still don’t know everything, but at least we know more than before.”

“Hmm. I don’t know about you, but I’m afraid of what we still have to discover.”

“I guess. But we’re Solars, right? If they cause trouble we’ll just kick them in the butt.”

“I hope it’s that easy,” Dawn said, smiling. She sat down behind her desk and gestured for Sen to take a seat. “What brings you around?”

“Just some stuff.” Sen thought for a moment, chewing her lip. “Hey, you’re a merchant, right?”

“Sort of. Mainly I negotiated trade treaties for Metagalapa. I was more interested in the big picture than in the actual goods.”

“Oh. Well, what do you think about the cloth market?”

“Excuse me?” Dawn looked puzzled.

“You know, cloth. We have all kinds of stuff coming through here: silk, cotton, wool, that magic stuff from the spiders. What’s the best stuff?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like, what’s your dress made of? I really like the pattern on it.”

It was true – it was a nice dress. Sen thought it was a bit too revealing for someone working behind a desk, but that was Dawn’s decision, not hers. And she had a nice figure, so why not show it off?

“Thank you. I like your –” Dawn looked at Sen, smiling at her earnestly, with her rough gray wool dress, her absurd stockings and boots, her lumpy green coat, her pale blonde hair pulled back from her face in an impossible tangle. And her infallible ability to tell if someone was lying to her. “Um. Thanks. The dress is wool, actually. But not ordinary wool: the really fine wool they weave near Flamerock. Really, it feels more like cotton.”

“Wow, that’s neat. You mind if I feel it?” Sen leaned over.

“No, that’s fine. I like the pattern, too. I got it from a merchant down in the square.”

“Oh, that’s really nice. So, do you think is the best?”

“The best?”

“The best cloth you can get in town. What’s the best buy?”

“The wool is very nice, but the most valuable should be the silk. Most of that comes from Halta and the trade is very new, so I don’t think people recognize just how good it is. I imagine the prices should go up even as the volume that's imported increases.”

“Huh.” Sen frowned. “And if we have a war with the barbarians or something that would force everything overland to Greyfalls. Right?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. But that’s possible. Look, what is this about?”

“Just curious. I might need a new dress, you know.”

“Well, you should definitely go to the dressmaker down in Alder Plaza. I had the best time…”

Sen smiled politely as Dawn prattled on about her clothing for several minutes. It was interesting, but not something Sen needed to act on since she already had a nice dress. Maybe in the future she might need two, but for the moment one was enough.

“Hey, thanks a lot, Dawn,” Sen said after a while. “Looks like it’s about dinner time, so I don’t want to keep you.”

“Is it?” Dawn turned around to look outside. “I really carried on there, didn’t I? Sorry for talking your ear off.”

Sen waved her hand. “That’s fine. Look, I’ll see you later. Okay?”

“Right. Good evening.” Dawn stood up and smiled.

“Bye-bye.”

Sen left the office, but she didn’t go far. Just in case someone was watching, she used a charm to mask her movements as she ducked in Saul’s office. She needed to do something in Dawn’s office, but she couldn’t do it while her fellow Solar was there. Dawn was way too observant for Sen to try tricking her.

Luckily, Dawn must have had a date for dinner or something, because she left soon after the clocks sounded for the nineteenth hour. Sen waited a few minutes for the secretary to leave, then she ghosted over to Dawn’s office. A charm disabled the lock on the door, while a simple twist of her knife opened the cabinet Dawn had looked at during their discussion about cloth pricing. Sen frowned at the wealth of paper inside the cabinet, but another charm allowed her to sift through the cabinet rapidly and find what she was looking for in a few seconds.

Sen took out the papers she had swiped from Berthen’s office. Yep, they matched up with what he had given Dawn. Out came Samir’s pen, and in a minute she had written up a new set of tariffs on cloth in Greyfalls. Tariffs that strongly favored Haltan silk, but put a steep charge on the import of cotton. Thanks to the pen, no one would be able to tell them apart from the originals.

After putting everything in Dawn’s office back in place, Sen snuck into Berthen’s office and returned his papers too. Berthen was actually in the office, working on math or something, but Sen just used a charm and he ignored her. That guy needs to have more fun, Sen thought. Too bad Dawn’s with Gerran now. Oh well, stage three done, only stage four left.

The rain had let up outside and the clouds had begun to clear, allowing occasional flashes from the crescent moon to shine through. Sen hummed happily to herself as she tromped down the hill towards Merchant’s Square.

We had times apart
We had times together
She was pledged to me
For worse or better

When it mattered most
I let her down
That’s the way it goes
It will all work out


The song floated through Sen’s head as she scouted out the Guild’s factor house, just off the square. She loved that song and how they used to sing it in Calin at the end of the year, a sad, bittersweet tune for a sad, bittersweet time. Aja would never sing, but she loved to listen. She had left it to Sen to make all of the noise.

Well, Sen wouldn’t be making any noise tonight if she was going to break in. Security at the factor house was tight, but it had some holes. Really, it had to, since it was impossible to make a house in a residential neighborhood totally secure unless you made it into something that resembled a prison. The guards were all located on the lower level, with half a dozen by the doors and another half a dozen wandering around on patrol. The windows were mostly narrow, shuttered affairs, and the doors were thick and sturdy.

The biggest gap in the security was on the roof, where the guards never went. Given the distance between the factor house and the neighboring buildings it was reasonable for the Guild to think that the roof was inaccessible, and maybe it was - to ordinary thieves. Sen, however, was anything but ordinary.

A little trickle of essence allowed her to climb one of the adjacent buildings by clinging to the wall, and another expenditure allowed her to leap the fifty feet to the roof of the factor house. The only real challenge was doing it silently, but the cocoon of Sen's anima banner muffled any noise she might have made. Opening the window by jimmying it with her knife was a piece of cake, and then she was inside.

Sen felt a rush of excitement as she crept down the hall. Boy, this was fun! The sneaking around had always been her favorite part of working for the Mask of Winters, sliding past people without them ever seeing you, seeing their secrets, knowing their innermost thoughts. That had been the best. The seduction stuff had been okay, too, but usually she had left that kind of thing to Typhon. And, she had to admit, the killing hadn't been boring, either. In retrospect, most of what she had done had been bad, but it sure had been fun at the time.

The top floor of the factor house, the fifth floor, was devoted to slave's quarters, but most of them were already in bed so sneaking past was no problem. She slid past the next floor, too, but she stopped at the third floor. This was where the business offices were - her target. Drax's office was at the end of the hallway, but there was a light on in one of the rooms between Sen and the office, and she could hear people talking. She cautiously snuck up to the open door.

"So they approved it?" A woman's voice. Tired. Whatsername. Teren. The factor for Greyfalls city.

"Yes, but frankly I'm surprised they did." A deep, rough voice. Edvin Drax. Again, Sen felt a little niggle at the back of her head. She knew Drax from somewhere, but she couldn't quite figure out where.

"Oh?" said Teren. "Why?"

"Because they blery hate us." A voice with a harsh, clipped accent. Rolf Bekker. "The verdamnt Anathema all hate us. We've talked to all of them now, except for the woman. Denton hates us, Khouros tried to kill us, Stilgar just gives us the runaround, and Cindarra, well, I think he hates us, but he might want to join up with Khouros and todent us. Kak."

He stepped away for a moment, bringing the flames of his anima under control. Sen was curled up in a ball on the bed. Her hands were bound and her nostrils were filled with blood and the smell of burnt hair. She started to whimper, but then she caught herself. She didn't want him to hear, didn't want him to shove something into her mouth again to stop her from making noise, stop her from being a bad girl.

Shut up!

The whispers went away.

"Why is that?" Teren asked.

Drax sighed. "I think it's because they don't care for the way we treat our slaves. Trafficking in the ravaged would probably be enough, but the brothel seemed to get them especially angry."

"Bunch of verdamnt hypocrites," Bekker spat. "They've got brothels and slaves all over this country, and ours are treated better than most."

"Whatever the reason," Drax said, "we know for a fact that they don't like us. Rolf and I talked to Cindarra this morning to sound him out, and he spent the entire time giving us the evil eye. I was hoping that there might be one member of their circle that liked us, but it doesn't look that way."

"So why did they approve our expansion in the city then?" Teren again.

"Maybe it's because Berthen likes us," Drax said. "He's always been reasonable, and I've known him for ten, fifteen years. Or maybe it's because of the other exalts. Maybe Auspicious Dawn is lobbying for us, or maybe it's Nalen Landrey."

"Now, hold on," Teren interjected. "We don't know what Dawn thinks, and we don't even know if Nalen is one of them."

"All signs point to it," Drax said. "Though he hasn't been seen for a couple of months now, so who knows? And I agree with you about Dawn: she's Metagalapan, and they're not the kind to like slavery or the Guild. But I'm not discounting it."

As interested as this conversation was, Sen had to keep moving. She spent some essence to jump onto the ceiling, using the position to sneak past the open door and the Guild factors within. The office was at the end of the hall and it was simplicity itself to open the lock. A quick search uncovered the necessary documents, and then Samir's pen leaped into action.

Sen had to be very thorough here. She couldn't just falsify the purchase orders, she had to adjust all of the data that the purchases were based on. That included the market prices in Greyfalls and Apollonia, the tariff rates, Drax's calculations for shipping and storage costs - everything. But the pen did a marvelous job and all of the forms were changed, perfect copies of the originals, save for the edits that Sen made.

When it was all done, the Guild was the proud owner of most of the eastern Scavenger Land's cotton stock. Cotton that would be highly overcosted and almost impossible to sell in Greyfalls, and equally impossible for the Guild to store in Greyfalls, given their lack of warehouse space and the volume of cotton. The Guild would hemorrhage money and hopefully be forced to eliminate their entire Greyfalls operation to cut costs.

Of course, this was a long term goal. Sen knew she had to shepherd the process and ensure that the Guild kept on losing money, and she had to make sure that the other merchants in Greyfalls exploited the Guild's missteps. Later tonight, a merchant named Penyo who owned a fleet of barges would have his books altered to take advantage of the Haltan silk trade, and there were a few others who Sen planned to help.

It was all very boring and complicated, and part of Sen wanted to do something more direct. But the Guild was a business operation, and if they stopped making money they would stop existing, they would close their office and their employees would have to work somewhere else. Somewhere far away. And maybe, if those employees were incompetent enough, the Guild would make them disappear.

"Bye-bye, Rolf Bekker," Sen said quietly to herself.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
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Henry
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Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

20 Apr 2011, 17:47

One of the PCs, Samir, is from Calin. This is a story about his sister (Neilani) and brother (Farhad). I rather like the writing.

*****************************

Telas Neilani frowned. She hefted the cloth in her hands, and then looked at the merchant.

"I'm afraid I just can't. Not at this price."

The merchant smiled, but nervously. He could feel a sale slipping away.

"But, my lady," he protested, "this is the finest silk in Port Calin. What with the tariffs imposed by the Realm - dragons bless their rule - the prices of everything have increased. My stock is not immune from such changes."

Neilani sighed dramatically. "Yes, everything is more dear now. Sadly, that means that even a gentlewoman such as me cannot afford what she used to. Too bad. I suppose I will have to cut some expenses this season."

"Yes, yes, times are hard for everyone, save for the Dynasts and their lackeys. Dragons bless their rule," the merchant added hastily. "But, perhaps, in this case, I can offer you a special deal? Say, twelve obols for the entire bolt?"

"I don't know. That is a good price, but I was hoping to make a dress, not cover a couch in the stuff."

"Ten obols, then."

Neilani thought for a moment. It was a good price, and, her claims of poverty aside, she could afford it.

"Very well, ten obols it is. I will have my man come by tomorrow to pick it up."

Waving off the merchant's effusive thanks, Neilani paid him and then signed both copies of the receipt. Tucking her copy into her purse, she bid the merchant farewell and continued further into the market square. The market was primarily used by farmers from the countryside around Port Calin, and the square was a riot of smells, the scents of produce and spices and livestock all mixing together.

Neilani was by herself today, and she made the most of her independence by slowly walking around the square, enjoying the warm spring weather. She didn't have to put any particular effort into flirting with the men in the market square, since she was still young - even if she was closer to thirty than twenty - and pretty, so they came to her. She enjoyed the attention, even though she had no intent of doing anything other than enjoy it, and it made her feel like her efforts to maintain her appearance weren't entirely wasted. And, although this was something her husband wouldn't like, maybe part of the attraction came from her dress. It was cut in the newer, more sophisticated style inspired by Realm fashion, with a tight waist and a hemline that came almost to the knee. Neilani still felt a little uncomfortable wearing anything higher than the traditional ankle-length dresses, but she tried not to show it. Fifty-percent of fashion was being confident in how you looked, and if you were confident you could use it to get what you wanted.

As she looked at a basket of eggs, Neilani smiled to herself. All that worrying about how she looked, the concern with fashion, that was from Farhad. And contempt for others' opinions and breaking things down into percentiles, that was from Samir. Her brothers, both of them in more trouble than the Yozis, and both of them responsible for shaping her view of the world. There again - that self awareness was straight from Samir. Farhad would only care about the quality and prices of the produce put out for sale.

There was a good selection today - the first of the spring harvests had just been taken in. After picking a few vegetables and spices to go with her eggs, Neilani also purchased a couple of chickens. There wasn't any fish, which was disappointing, but Neilani assumed that the fishmongers were sticking to the markets closer to the waterfront. After placing orders for sacks of rice and flour, she set off back to home.

Almost immediately she regretted buying as much as she had. The weight of the chickens was making the basket handle dig into her hands, and she kept shifting it around to find a comfortable position. She gained a brief respite near the Matara Gate, when the Realm's security patrol halted all ingoing and outgoing traffic to search some poor farmer's cart. Normally Neilani would have chafed at the delay, but today it gave her the opportunity to put down the basket and massage her hands.

The little square behind the gate soon filled up with outgoing traffic, mostly farmers and tradesmen leaving the city having done their business for the day, though Neilani did see a few of her neighbors from Barnas, the little suburb just outside the city. Leaning back, she looked up at the statue of Matara Inowei that stood in the center of the square. The thirty-fifth Shogun of Calin looked worn-out, his metallic shoulders stooped, his bronze gaze unchanging and weary as he looked over the city, down the hill, to the sea. It was surprising that the Realm hadn't taken it down; not only did their stricter version of the Immaculate Faith prohibit statues and pictures, the statue was also a reminder of the Realm's defeat some three hundred years ago. Neilani idly wondered what Matara would think if he saw the current state of Calin, his great rebellion undone and his country now more firmly under the heel of the Realm than ever before.

Finally the Realm legionnaires finished with their harassment of the farmer and traffic was allowed to resume. Picking up her basket, Neilani gave a smile and a nod to the Dragon-blood who headed up the gate guard, Cathak-something-or-other. She had met him at a ball some months ago, were they had shared a few friendly words and a dance. He reciprocated that friendliness now by waving her through the gate without bothering to check what she was carrying.

It was a struggle to carry the heavy basket all the way home, but Nelani managed well enough. Barnas was a cluster of buildings on either side of the southern road about a mile past the walls of Port Calin. The buildings by the highway were almost all commercial structures, warehouses and inns and offices, and they crowded as close as they could to the highway. In contrast, the residential buildings were set back from the main road amongst a tangle of alleyways and tree-lined side streets. The Telas residence wasn't the largest house in the suburb, but it was certainly large enough to warrant more than three servants, Neilani thought with a trace of bitterness. She knew she was lucky to have any servants at all, and it wasn't so bad to have to run errands herself every once in a while. Eventually things would improve.

Neilani passed through the side gate, through the garden and to the back door that led to the kitchen.

"I'm back," she announced.

The cook poked her head out of the pantry.

"My lady. Your trip went well, I hope?"

"Yes, I have food for supper for the next few days." Neilani hefted the basket. "And remind me to send Ren into the city tomorrow. There are some things for him to pick up."

The cook nodded in assent and ducked back into the pantry. Neilani began to unpack, laying out the produce on the rough table behind the large window that looked out over the garden.

"Ma-mah?"

There was a note of uncertainty in the statement. Neilani looked down to the floor, where little Kellan stood unevenly, looking up at her. The new dress must have confused him, causing him to doubt whether it really was his mother who stood at the table. But seeing her face answered his question, and he gave her a smile that contained more gums than teeth, before falling with a thud onto his backside. His diaper absorbed most of the impact and he began to root around on the floor, cooing to himself.

"Reeza!" Neilani called out. "Where's Leryn?"

After a minute, Reeza, the overworked housemaid and nanny, came into the kitchen. If it had been a month earlier she would have shouted back at Neilani, but she had finally learned the proper way to respond to her mistress's summons.

"My lady," Reeza said with a little curtsey.

"Where is Leryn?" Neilani asked, not looking up from the vegetables she was chopping.

"Your daughter is out back, my lady. I was letting her play in garden while I hung up the sheets."

"By herself?"

"No ma'am. Ren is out back there, too."

"Hmm. I see that you have shoveled Kellan off onto the cook, and now you give Ren the responsibility of looking after Leryn? Ren's duty is to look after the grounds, not the children. Please try not to distract him in the future."

"Yes ma'am," Reeza said, blushing slightly. "Shall I take Kellan away?"

Neilani looked at Kellan, who was trying to stick his foot into his mouth. "No, he's fine here. Just try to look after the children first. You can always do housework when I am around to watch them. Now, ready the table and get Leryn. It's almost time for her supper."

"Yes ma'am." Reeza curtsied again, backing out of the kitchen.

Neilani sighed. Reeza was a good girl, but stubborn. If times had been more settled, Neilani would have been tempted to fire her, but that wasn't an option. Hopefully she would settle into her duties in the next few months.

The front door opened, squeaking slightly on its hinges. Neilani frowned - she would have to remember to get Ren to fix that. But tonight the squeak served as a herald, because there was only one person who would walk through the door without bothering to announce himself.

"Hello, dear," Telas Zedao said, entering the kitchen. Neilani's husband was a tall, skinny man with dark features and a distant expression on his face.

"Good evening, my lord," she replied with a little smile. He made to kiss her, and she leaned closer to him, pressing her lips to his, while she skillfully blocked his wrist with her own, preventing him from putting his ink-stained hands on her new dress.

"You need to wash up," she said after they separated. "With soap." She pointed at the sink.

Zedao looked at his hands with an expression that approached surprise, as if he had forgotten that he had spent the entire day drafting architectural plans. He was a kind, intelligent man, but terribly absent-minded when it came to anything other than his family or his work.

"Da-dooh!" Kellan gurgled, latching onto Zedao's pant leg.

Zedao started to bend over to pick up his son, but Neilani moved quickly to stop him, grabbing his wrist again and gently detaching Kellan.

"Soap," she said, in a voice that allowed no argument.

He shrugged and moved over to the sink.

"I've invited a guest to dinner tonight," he announced.

"Oh, really?" Neilani looked at the chickens. She had hoped that they would only need to prepare one tonight.

"Yes, I ran into him down by the Shogun's Palace."

"Who?"

"Your brother."

Neilani stiffened. "Farhad? I didn't know he had returned."

"Apparently he got back yesterday. Or maybe it was the day before that."

"When is he arriving?"

"Oh, he's here already. He came back from the city with me."

"Then where is he?" Neilani looked at Zedao with annoyance. It would be just like him to abandon a guest.

He seemed to be oblivious to her emotions, like he usually was. "In the garden. He wanted to see Leryn."

"Dragons' tears. You should have told me that when you first came in."

Zedao shrugged.

"Well," she huffed, "keep an eye on Kellan for moment, will you? I need to speak to Farhad. I'll send Reeza in here to take him off your hands."

Neilani wiped her hands off on her apron before taking it off, and then hurried out to the rear of the house, fixing her hair as she went. There was a wide patio that overlooked the garden, and her brother was there talking to his niece, and serious little girl with hair so black it had a bluish tint to it. At one point Farhad's hair had been the same shade, but now it was liberally streaked with grey. Neilani's brother was well short of forty, so the grey spoke more to the stress of his life than its duration, and otherwise he was still youthful and handsome, with broad shoulders and a disarming smile.

"My lady," Farhad said, using that smile on Neilani as she came out onto the patio.

"My lord," Neilani replied, embracing him. He had been gone for the better part of a year and Neilani had forgotten how much she had missed him. "I'm sorry I didn't greet you, but Zedao took his time telling me you were here."

Farhad shrugged. "I wouldn't worry about it. Beside, Leryn has been entertaining me. She has all the makings of a fine hostess." He tousled Leryn's hair, and she smiled at him shyly.

"Good, good," Neilani murmured. "It's Leryn's suppertime. Reeza, please take her to the kitchen. I'll stay out here with Lord Khouros."

"Yes, my lady," Reeza led Leryn back into the house.

"A lovely child," Farhad said, watching them leave. "And how is Kellan? He was practically still a newborn when I left."

"Healthy and happy, which is all that you can ask for from a baby. Are they giving you ideas? Do you think you might settle down and have some children yourself?"

Farhad smiled again. "And deny the woman of Calin my gifts by taking myself out of the game? That would be too cruel."

"I think you overestimate your charms, my lord."

"Of course I do. You need confidence to succeed, after all."

"Shall we sit?" Neilani pointed at some chairs. "I want you to tell me how your trip went."

Farhad made a face as he sat down. "Not well. Everyone is willing to give me sympathy, give our cause sympathy, but no one offers concrete help. I received some money and some vague promises of future assistance, but nothing that will actually change anything." He sighed.

"But Lookshy is dead set against freeing Calin. If they're opposed, could you really expect to rally any support?"

"I suppose not. But I was hoping that I could get someone - Nexus, Nathir, someone! - to pressure Lookshy into shifting their view. But no one wanted to help."

"I'm sure you did everything you could," Neilani said sympathetically. "And maybe it's for the best. I've been worried about you, Farhad. If the Realm ever figured out what you were doing, well...I couldn't stand to lose you."

He laughed bitterly. "Oh, the Realm knows what I've been doing. They know exactly what I'm doing, and they don't care. They can see what a laughing-stock this entire venture has been. What have I done other than nearly bankrupt myself protesting their actions? I don't have an army, I don't have any political support, I don't even have any weapons. All I have are a few dozen merchants who feel the way I do, men willing to complain but unwilling to risk anything. I bet the All Seeing Eye operatives laugh themselves to sleep every night thinking about my 'resistance movement'."

"Then give it up. Why risk yourself if you can't win? You can't expect to defeat the Realm by yourself. You should give it up and go back to work. I'm sure you could affect the Satrap's policy if you work from within the system."

Farhad frowned and looked out over the garden. Neilani wasn't sure if he'd heard a word she said.

"I saw Samir," he said after a moment.

Neilani was startled. "Really? How was he? He wasn't a..."

"An Anathema? A demon pretending to be our brother? No, I don't think so. And if he was, the demon did the worst job at impersonation in the history of Creation."

"Oh?"

"Samir was actually polite to me, if you can believe it. I went to see him in that city that he and his brotherhood have built, expecting him to pick up where we left off and toss me out on my ear, or worse. But he actually listened to me."

"That's wonderful," Neilani said, clapping her hands together. "I'm so glad you were able to reconcile. But...oh, he didn't agree to help you, did he?" Her stomach clenched at the thought. If both of her brothers got caught up in this foolish enterprise...

"Only a little," Farhad said. "Or actually, quite a bit. He gave me more money than anyone else did, but he didn't agree to help personally. Which is what I need, what Calin needs. If half the stories are true Samir could probably destroy Port Calin by himself."

"I should hope not!" Neilani was horrified, partly at the idea of anyone destroying Port Calin, and partly at the idea that Samir now wielded that kind of power. What had happened to him? How much had he changed?

"I was speaking in a metaphor," Farhad assured her, but he wasn't very convincing. "And besides, if the choice was between destroying Port Calin and living in servitude, which would you choose?"

"That's madness, Farhad, madness. You can't think like that."

"I can't? Don't we need to be prepared to make sacrifices if we are to do the right thing? Even if that means sacrificing that which we love most in the world?" He gave her a strange, cold look.

Neilani shivered. "What would be the point of living in a world where everything you loved was gone? What kind of madman would want that?"

Farhad shrugged.

"Let's talk about something more pleasant," Neilani proposed. "You know you shouldn't be talking about these things with me. Zedao works for the Realm now, and if they ever thought he was part of your group that couldn't end well for him." Or me, or my children, was the unstated codicil.

"Very well," Farhad agreed. "What shall we talk about?"

"Tell me about Samir. How was he?"

"He looked well, very well in fact. I suppose that's not surprising, seeing as he is an Exalt. That's what they call themselves – Samir and his group, that is. Solar Exalts. It's a funny term, but so far as I understand..."

Neilani listened with interest, but she couldn't shake the thought that Farhad was a danger, to himself and to everyone else in Calin, even a danger to her. She shivered again.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
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Henry
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Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

20 Apr 2011, 17:50

One of the Solar PCs has something of a history with the deathknight known as the Maiden of the Mirthless Smile. I decided to tweak the background presented in the Scroll of Exalts to fit in a bit better with out game. Part of that effort is reproduced below.

*******************************

Ordinarily, Chuzei Shanku Kenda would feel pretty good. Her sword was out, covered in blood. The last of the troopers from Thorns was on the end of it, and she gave him an unpleasant smile as she kicked him off the end of it. She liked killing people, and she liked efficiently killing people even better. Her little talon of troops had come out of the skirmish largely intact, the discipline and equipment of the Seventh Legion allowing them to defeat the larger number of Thornguard, although annihilate might be a more accurate description.

Kenda didn't have much use for taking prisoners, and she had gleefully dispatched those Thornguard who had tried to surrender. She was a damn good fighter, even if others didn't always appreciate her attitude towards warfare. It tended to be a bit more…personal than the cautious approach taught in Lookshy. Maybe that was why the Seventh Legion had given her a backwater posting out here on the eastern border with Thorns when she was clearly one of the best young officers in Lookshy's service, something she had proven with this skirmish.

But the reason why she was unhappy, why she wasn’t content with what she had, could be seen from the high ground she stood on: one battle was over and it looked like another was about to begin. The Thornguard had friends in the area and they were closing in rapidly on Kenda and her talon, at least a few hundred of them. More than her little command could handle.

"Damn it," Kenda snarled. "Where the hell is Denton?!" She looked around the battlefield, but the other Lookshyans were nowhere to be seen.

"Chuzei Shanku," Shochei Lekino said politely, "maybe we should retreat."

"Retreat?" Kenda asked, incredulous. "When there’re still more of them to kill?"

She flashed Lekino a grin. The sochei had been a non-commissioned officer for longer than Kenda had been alive, so she accorded him at least a little respect. But she was his commanding officer, so he had to listen to her. Failing that, he might give in to her good looks - men usually did.

"Ma'am, we can't fight that many of them. It would be suicide." Lekino sounded nervous, and she could tell his attitude was infecting the other legionnaires.

Kenda kept the smile on her face, but it was fixed, without humor. "I don't care what you think. We're taking up position on that hill, and we're going to kill anyone who gets in our way. Understand?"

“Yes, Chuzei Shanku.” Lekino looked nervous, but he started barking out orders all the same.

Kenda knew the situation wasn’t nearly as dire as Lekino and the other legionnaires thought. They would take a defensive position on the hill, Denton would hear the sounds of battle and march to their aid, and then the Thornguard would be caught between the hammer and the anvil and be destroyed. Kenda thought Kinetropos Saul Denton was something of a stuffed shirt, too concerned with doing things by the book, but in this case the book would tell him to come to Kenda’s aid. She didn’t have to tell her subordinates what she thought, though – all they had to do was follow orders.

The legionnaires started to pile up the rocks that covered the slopes of the hill, trying to erect some sort of defensive position. Kenda knew that was a lost cause; they didn’t have enough time. Sure enough, the Thornguard launched an attack before the barrier was more than thigh-high. They swarmed up the hill, advancing in little groups. Kenda grinned to herself. They had attacked too soon, not waiting for all of their strength to assemble.

“C’mon!” she shouted. “Fire! Fire, you worthless sons of bitches!”

The essence cannon thundered, shooting down the corridors Kenda had sited. Her little group only had two of the weapons, but she had placed them along the Thornguard’s most likely avenues approach. Apparently she had guessed right, and the cannon tore into the Thornguard, blasting the black-armored soldiers apart.

“Get ’em!”

Kenda charged down the hill, leading the legionnaires into the Thornguard’s disorganized ranks. One of them stood in her way, and she leapt to his right, slashing her sword past his shield. He cried out in dismay as the blood blossomed from under his chainmail, and Kenda smiled in satisfaction, driving the sword point in further, twisting it around, increasing his suffering.

As she toyed with her opponent, another Thornguard clambered over the rocks, trying to get at her. He stood upright on a boulder, looking down at her, preparing to strike. She winked at him, and then unloaded her flamepiece point blank, melting the surprised expression off his face. Shrieking in agony, he tumbled down the hill.

“Hit ‘em while they’re down!” Kenda shouted.

She paused to dispatch a pair of wounded enemy soldiers, and took a moment to look around. The counterattack had gone well, but the Thornguard had rallied at the base of the hill. Shochei Lekino was calling the legionnaires back, regrouping higher up. Good, Kenda thought, now they could really give them a bloody nose.

“Shochei!” Kenda barked. “I want covering fire from the cannon. Site them on the left flank, and ready assault teams on the right.”

Lekino looked at her, his eyes wild. “Chuzei Shanku…are…are you sure?”

“Goddamn right I’m sure,” Kenda growled. “We need to keep them off balance, keep them off the hill until goddamn Denton gets off his goddamn ass and gets over here.”

“We can’t, ma’am,” Lekino said. “We’ve already lost too many men.”

He gestured at the legionnaires, and for the first time Kenda noticed how few there were. Maybe half of them had fallen in the counterattack. She shrugged. Soldiers lived to die, so losing those under her command didn’t bother her. And there were still enough to teach these bastards from Thorns a lesson.

“We can and will, Sochei. We can bag all of these sons of bitches if we hold on. Denton’s talon and maybe the talons from further east are going to be here soon. We’ll kill every last one of them.”

“I…I think you should reconsider, Chuzei. The odds are…are too heavy.”

Kenda cocked her head to the side and looked at Lekino, giving a slight grin. "Are you saying we have to retreat?"

"Yes, ma'am, I am."

"Oh, well, then," Kenda sighed. "Too bad."

She languidly drew the flamepiece from its holster and fired at Lekino. He didn't even have time to scream before the flames consumed him, and his body fell to the ground, smoking.

"Anyone else in favor of retreating?" Kenda asked of the legionnaires, her smile widening. They looked at each other, and then at her, shock and fear on their faces. Then, to her surprise, they broke and ran, up the hill, away from her.

Chuzei Shanku Kenda took half a step towards her fleeing command, shouting in protest, but before she could rally them she saw movement out of the corner her eye. The Thornguard were attacking again, piling up the hill after the legionnaires.

Snarling in inchoate rage, Kenda grabbed an abandoned essence cannon and fired at the black-armored forms below her. Maybe everyone else was running, but she was going to hold. Reinforcements were going to arrive any minute now, and she would be damned if she was going to turn yellow. She didn’t need those cowards anyway – she would win this fight by herself, or die trying.

“Where the hell is Denton?!”
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
User avatar
Henry
Essence 5
Essence 5
Topic Author
Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
Fighting Style: Awkward flailing and some hair pulling
Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

28 Apr 2011, 17:33

The Mask of Winters tried to cause a ruckus in Port Calin, but the PCs stopped him. Before are two short stories from the POV of the Abbot, one of the Mask's more put upon deathknights. I've already put the first one on this forum, but I'm double dipping because I can.

****************************

With a little gurgle, the lump of flesh and soulsteel quivered, and then fell apart.

The Abbot of Hunger and Dust sighed. His experiment had failed. Again. Not that he had any reason to expect anything different.

It seemed that everything he tried these days was doomed to failure. Maybe his necromantic powers had hit a wall. Maybe he just didn't have any good ideas. Or maybe the universe hated him.

The last option seemed the most likely.

The Abbot sighed again, and slowly pushed away from the table. He could consult some of the more advance texts on necromancy and see if there was any insight into the problem confronting him. Or he could talk to the Physician and see if his fellow Daybreak Caste had any ideas. Or he could go to the Mask of Winters himself. If his liege was in a good mood, he might even help.

Or maybe not. No one had ever helped him in the past, so why should they start now?

Before he could start down any one of the multitudinous paths to failure that spread out before him, there was a savage pounding on the door. The entire room shook and it seemed like the door itself would be reduced to splinters. The Abbot wondered if that would be a good thing. After all, if the door broke it would give him something to fix, something that was well within his abilities to repair. Of course, knowing his luck, the door would prove to be beyond him, some sort of special lumber from the Labyrinth or something. Bowing to necessity, or at least to the desire to lessen the burdens that were showered on his head, the Abbot opened the door.

As he did so, a massive, armored fist sailed through the air and almost connected with the Abbot's face. He didn't flinch in surprise. Random violence upon his person was exactly the sort of thing he expected to happen to him. It was something of a surprise when the fist stopped just short. Oh well, there was always next time.

"Hello, Crumbling Pillar," the Abbot said wearily.

The Prince Resplendent in the Ruin of Ages glowered at him. The Abbot expected the hostility, in part because it would be just his luck that the person he was talking to hated him, and in part because the Prince (also called Crumbling Pillar) glowered at everyone. The Abbot would have preferred personalized hatred - at least that would have meant that someone was bothering to think about him. But no, he only got generalized hatred. Just his luck.

"You're coming with me," Crumbling Pillar rumbled. It was hard for him to not rumble when he spoke, seeing as he was close to seven feet tall and massively muscled. His skin was black, an unnatural ebony almost the same color as his soulsteel armor, while his eyes were a white, almost luminescent in their purity.

"Where?" the Abbot asked. "Not that it matters. I suppose I don't have a choice. I never have a choice."

"To the master."

"Oh. Very well. Give me a minute."

So the Mask of Winters wanted to see him. It couldn't be for anything good. It never was.

The Abbot wasn't a big man, nowhere near the size of Crumbling Pillar. In fact, he was rather short and very thin, almost emaciated. The bones of his face and hands almost stuck out of his sallow skin, his thinness emphasizing his eyes to the point that they seemed like huge, dark pools. His ugliness wasn't the supernatural monstrosity that marked some of his Abyssal counterparts, just the ordinary ugliness of a man who saw nothing attractive in the world and so felt himself under no obligation to make himself appealing in return.

It was a modest miracle that the Abbot's robes were where he had thought they were. Predictable. The only good things that happened to him were so small as to be unimportant, but just helpful enough to get his hopes up, get him thinking that other things might go right as well. Which they wouldn't.

After pulling on the oily black robes and the gloves and mask that went with them, the Abbot turned back to Crumbling Pillar.

"Alright, let's go," he said, without enthusiasm.

Crumbling Pillar snorted in annoyance and led the way out of the palace. The Abbot's laboratory was located in the lower levels of the complex of buildings that the Mask of Winters had given over to his deathknight servants, located on the outer edge of the city of Thorns, not far from the living citadel of Juggernaut. The Abbot figured that was because the Mask of Winters didn't trust the Abyssals to not interfere with the politics of the city, so he tried to keep them as close to his supervising gaze possible. The Abbot couldn't really blame him; deathknights were a singularly untrustworthy group. He certainly didn't trust himself and he didn't expect anyone else to be so stupid.

Actually, that wasn't true. The Abbot didn't expect anything other than stupidity from other people, he just didn't expect that stupidity to benefit him.

It was a slight surprise when Crumbling Pillar led him not south out of the city to Juggernaut, but towards the center of Thorns. The reason for this became depressingly clear when they entered a derelict building and began to descend down a decrepit stairway. The Abbot tried to appraise how the stairs would hold up under the weight of Crumbling Pillar's magitech armor, and his conclusion was 'not well.' Of course, if the stone did give way under the weight of the soulsteel, that same soulsteel would likely protect Crumbling Pillar from any injury, while the Aboot would be crushed. Naturally.

"So we're going to the Labyrinth," the Abbot said. "I hate the Labyrinth."

Crumbling Pillar grunted.

"Though maybe hate is too strong a word," the Abbot continued. "Generally speaking, something must be capable of registering emotion itself, and preferably capable of reciprocating said emotion, to be properly hated. I doubt the Labyrinth cares about me one or the other. But then again, who does? Care about me, that is."

As he hopped off the last stair into a broad hallway, a dark figure stepped out from behind the stairway.

"You still running your mouth?" the Maiden of the Mirthless Smile asked. "Is he giving you trouble, sweet Prince?"

Crumbling Pillar grunted noncommittally at his fellow Dusk Caste. The Maiden of the Mirthless Smile smirked, and turned to the Abbot. They were very similar in their outlook, neither of them seeing much value in Creation – or any other plane of existence, for that matter. But the Maiden approached life with a sort of nihilistic sense of humor, an attitude aided by her ghostly beauty and omnipresent smile. Or maybe it was the other way around. The Abbot had never bothered to waste the time to figure out which way it was.

"Do you ever shut up?" she inquired. "I heard you moping all the way down here."

"I only complain because I thought no one was listening," the Abbot replied, nonplussed. "I wouldn't complain if someone could hear."

"Why not?"

He sighed. "If they hear, all it does it make them angry. And then I just have more to complain about. Which I can’t do."

"A vicious circle," she said, cocking her head quizzically.

"Not really. This doesn't have anything to do with economic theory. Which is where that term comes from, originally. Not that I expect you to know that."

"Let's get going," Crumbling Pillar rumbled.

"Right," the Maiden of the Mirthless Smile agreed, grinning happily. "We need to get going."

"And where are we going?" the Abbot asked.

The Maiden surprised him by actually answering his question. "He's not going anywhere," she said, pointing her thumb at Crumbling Pillar. "You and me, on the other hand..." She paused, a look that was close to rapture passing over her face. "You and me are going to the main event."

The Abbot didn’t bother to correct her grammar. It wouldn’t have done any good.

*********

“My lord,” the nephwrack announced, “the Abbot of Hunger and Dust has returned.”

“Show him in,” came the reply. Although the Abbot couldn’t see the speaker, he recognized the Mask of Winter’s voice.

The nephwrack stepped back into the waiting room and motioned for the Abbot to go in. So that’s what the Abbot did. It wasn’t like he had a choice, anyway.

The room was the same one the Mask of Winters always used to meet with his deathknight servants. It was high up in the citadel of Juggernaut, with narrow windows that brought occasional views of the shadowland around Thorns. While most of the citadel stank of rotting meat and decay, the air up here was usually fresh, or at least inoffensive.

The Abbot looked around the room for a chair. Sometimes the Mask of Winters had chairs and benches placed in front of his throne, while other times the room was devoid of furniture. Today was one of the other times. It figured.

“My lord,” the Abbot said, mimicking the nephwrack. He bowed slightly to his master, whose cloaked form loomed ominously on the throne on the opposite side of the room.

“Come here, if you please,” the Mask of Winters replied. The silver mask that he wore did nothing to muffle or obscure his voice. He tilted his head to side, the smiling eyes of the mask’s pleasant side watching the Abbot as he approached. “You have been wounded?”

“Yes,” the Abbot sighed. “The Solar, Stilgar, hit me. With a sword. It was a big sword.”

“And why wasn’t that in the initial report?”

“I didn’t think anyone would care. No one ever cares about what happens to me.”

“I see.” The Mask of Winters seemed to be amused. Of course he would laugh at the Abbot’s misfortune. Everyone else did.

“Even the Maiden didn’t care, and it was her job to protect me. Though I can understand why she wouldn’t be very motivated. To protect me, that is. The Void knows that I wouldn’t be excited about protecting me, either.”

“Hmm. And was there anything else you left out of your report?”

The Abbot rubbed his head, pushing his hood back as he did so. The heavy, oily material could be useful in repelling the plasmic creatures of the Underworld, though it rarely did any good. On a hot day like this, it was just an unwanted burden. But didn’t that describe everything in the Abbot’s life?

“I think,” the Abbot said carefully, “that the Disciple made contact with the Solars after we fled the Sepulcher. Why, I don’t know. He didn’t tell me. No one ever tells me anything.”

The Mask of Winters thought about that for a moment. “That is troubling, though you were wise to wait to tell me. It is better if the Disciple doesn’t know that we are aware of his…side activities.”

“Sure,” the Abbot agreed, without enthusiasm.

“But now he and the Maiden are off with the others. I suppose I will have to wait until they return to question him on this matter. In the meantime, let me know if you recall any other suspicious activity on his part.”

The Abbot nodded glumly.

The deathlord perked up, sitting more erect in his basalt throne. “Now, tell me of the mission. Tell me everything.”

“There’s not much to tell,” the Abbot began. “We started by investigating the place, which took a while. The Disciple had set up a decent undercover operation in Port Calin, if you don’t mind sleeping in hovels and smelling of garbage.” That had been a joke, but the Mask of Winters didn’t exhibit any signs of mirth. Of course not. Even the Abbot’s sense of humor was a failure.

“I figured out how to get inside,” the Abbot continued, “which is when we decided to abduct Khouros Farhad, as you had suggested. It took a day or two to break him, but he told us everything he knew about the Sepulcher, which turned out to be more than I knew. So that wasn’t a complete waste of time.”

“Do you think he would accept an offer to enter my service?” the Mask of Winters asked.

The Abbot shook his head. “No. He has too many delusions of nobility. And honor. Expecially honor. I hate honor.” The Abbot sighed. “Even after he gave in to my interrogation on the Sepulcher, he refused to bend on other issues.”

“A pity. It would have been useful to have someone with his drive and ability. And his knowledge of Calinti affairs, of course.”

“I suppose. But that’s why I never thought we had a chance to activate the second protocol of the Shield of Creation. The sacrifice has to be made willingly. We could have forced Farhad to kill his sister, but neither he nor his brother would have done it willingly, so the system would still have been shut off to us.”

“So why did you abduct Farhad’s sister then?”

“At first it was as insurance. I thought – I was wrong, but I usually am – I thought that I could cover up her disappearance indefinitely, and there was a chance that Farhad would come around and agree to help us. I even tried to bribe him.”

“Oh? How?”

“I told him that we would kill Ledaal Kes.”

The Mask of Winters chuckled. “You offered to do something we hoped to do anyway? That was clever.”

“It was the Disciple’s idea,” the Abbot admitted, and then winced. Why did he do that? Why didn’t he lie and take the credit himself? He finally could have received a compliment, even an undeserved one, but he had thrown the opportunity away. Predictable. “We kept the sister around, though, after the Solars appeared in the city. If they thought we were bringing her to the Sepulcher it seemed likely that they would pursue us in order to rescue her. Which they did. Pursue us, that it. Not rescue her.”

“And what did happen to her?”

The Abbot shrugged. “We left her in one of the Disciple’s hideouts. I imagine she’s dead by now, unless someone found her.”

“Too bad. It would have been nice to keep her as leverage to use against the Solars. But, I suppose you couldn’t have transported her back to Thorns all by yourself.”

“It wouldn’t have been easy. But nothing ever is.”

The Mask of Winters rubbed his gloved hands together thoughtfully. “The only obstacle that cannot be overcome is active resistance,” he said. “But, you know that already. Now, what of the Sepulcher?”

“Oh. That. That’s my fault. More so than anything else, at least. Somehow we got into the Shield’s command center – I suppose the Disciple and the Maiden did an adequate job at destroying the manse’s defenses – and I was able to reverse the flow of the essence sink. So now all of the Eastern Dragon lines are as healthy as you could wish. Which I imagine isn’t very.

“Then…we ran into problems. Well, more problems. The Solars arrived, earlier than I had calculated, but earlier than I had thought. People always show up early when you hope they run late. I had hoped all of the trouble we had stirred up in the Shogun’s Palace it would make it difficult for them to get past the Dragon-bloods, but it didn’t. What a waste.

“No, they got there early because Nightwarden was with them. He must have led them through the Labyrinth.” The Abbot paused thoughtfully. “I hate the Labyrinth. But you know that already.”

“Yes,” the Mask of Winters replied. “Nightwarden. Apparently I should have tried harder to kill him while I had the chance.”

The Abbot was a little surprised to hear the Mask of Winters admit to making a mistake, but, then again, maybe it was a backhanded critique of the Abbot, who had been partly responsible for smashing the resistance in Thorns. And had failed at it, apparently. What else was new?

“Well,” the Abbot continued, “the Solars arrived before we could reprogram the automatons to help us, so we were badly outnumbered. I did what I could, which wasn’t much, and I suspect the Maiden and the Disciple did even less. Though I was too busy being hit by large swords to pay too close attention to what they did, so I could be wrong. Which wouldn’t surprise me.

“I didn’t have time to redirect the essence flow of the Shield, so I entered the self-destruction code into the machine. So no mass destruction in Port Calin, no massive overcharge of the Sword, no-”

“What?” the Mask of Winters said smoothly, interrupting. “Overcharge the Sword?”

“Yes. That’s what the second stage would have done, if we had gotten a Matara to override the control lock for us, right? Or am I wrong? Again?”

“No, no, you’re quite correct,” the Mask of Winters said, amused. “It’s just that I am…surprised that you managed to figure it out on your own.”

The Abbot slumped. “Oh. You think I’m stupid. That’s fine; sometimes I’m inclined to agree.”

“Does it amuse you to have such a skewed interpretation of things? Or does it come naturally?”

“Naturally, I suppose. Or as natural anything can be for someone when he’s already died once and is propped up by the power of Oblivion to maintain a pathetic simulacrum of life. I imagine that it’s not very. Natural, that is.”

“An engrossing debate,” the Mask of Winters said, leaning a bit closer. “I imagine it must keep you awake at night.”

“Maybe. I never sleep.”

“Ah. Well, on to the next project. As you know, the Maiden and the Disciple have joined the others, and we’re extending contacts with our allies to the west. But I need you to focus on the east for the moment. I am forming a circle to assist the Hunter of the Maw with the projects out there. Nothing pressing, but it should keep you occupied until we are ready to move.”

“And when will that be?” the Abbot asked, not caring about the answer.

“Soon. As soon as Crumbling Pillar and the Physician finish the preparatory training.” The Mask of Winters leaned forward. “And then Creation shall enter its Third Age. Its final Age.”

The Abbot had been right. He didn’t care about the answer. But he got it anyway.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
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Henry
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Title: Lookshyan brat
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Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

28 Apr 2011, 17:36

What do Dragon-bloods do? They get it on, of course. Unless they're Temperance 5, in which case the process is a bit more convoluted, as we can see below.

******************************

The sun snuck past the curtains, painting a lazy pattern on the bedroom floor. Ledos Corvina raised her head just a little to watch it creep across the room, the bars of light shifting and narrowing with the movement of the sun. Her husband lay next to her in the bed, quietly breathing the deep breathes of real sleep. It wasn’t quite time for him to wake up, so Covina let him rest for the moment.

She still wasn’t used to sharing bed a someone: more often than not Avrei would wake her up during the night when he shifted or turned. She hoped that she would get used to it eventually, since she liked the feelings of warmth and security that came from having Avrei next to her. And, judging by how well he slept, Avrei certainly didn’t seem to mind sharing a bed with her, though Corvina sometimes thought that he could sleep through an attack by a Thousand Forged Dragon. Maybe, she thought, that was an ability shared by all soldiers, who, she knew from her limited experience, needed to be able to sleep at any time and in any situation. Certainly Avrei’s habit of sleeping in whatever suited him at the moment, from his underclothes to his dress uniform to nothing at all, was not a habit that his parents would have taught him. It had taken a great deal of cajoling on her part to convince him to wear pajamas to bed, like a civilized person should.

Corvina reached over to the other side of the bed and placed her hand on Avrei’s sleeve, running the smooth silk between her fingers. No reaction. She rolled over, closer to him, ending up right next to him. Even when she wiggled a little and pressed herself against his side he remained asleep.

A little annoyed, Corvina threw her arm across his stomach, feeling him rise and fall beneath her as he breathed. He really was quite handsome, his dark, olive-toned skin contrasting with his coarse, blue-white hair. But the reason Corvina found herself infatuated with him was that Avrei was the first person to ever show any sort of romantic interest in her. By the time Corvina was old enough to think about boys, the peculiar nature of her Exaltation had been recognized by the elders of House Tepet and she spent the next fifty years of her life under their close control. Not only did House Tepet not want to lose such a valuable asset, they, and every other dynast, viewed necromancers with fear and suspicion. So Corvina found herself in a social limbo, distrusted by her peers and kept well away from everyone else.

But not anymore. While she still wasn’t wholly independent, wasn’t rich or influential enough to do everything she wanted, she was free, free to do what she could with her life. In a way, Avrei was in the same situation, after spending most of life being ordered around by the militaries of Thorns and Lookshy he was finally a position to give orders rather than take them. To a degree, anyway. And, Corvina suspected, just as it was for her, their marriage was the first time Avrei had found himself in love. Though, knowing him, his isolation had been the result of a conscious decision to not to get involved with anyone, and not a force separation like hers. Why he had finally changed his mind and decided to let himself love her wasn’t a mystery she had solved yet, though she was confident she would, given time.

All of this passed through Corvina’s mind in an instant, and it only made her more impatient for Avrei to wake up and start paying attention to her. She moved her arm down his body, still not provoking a reaction. So she started to use her fingers to walk her hand up his stomach, towards his chest. Very subtly, his breathing changed.

“That’s bold of you,” Avrei said, not opening his eyes. “Generally you at least allow me the flimsy shield of consciousness before you start assaulting me.”

“Sorry, dear, but I can’t seem to keep my hands off you.”

“Understandable. We are married, after all. It is you duty to think highly of me.”

“And what do you think of me?”

Avrei opened his dark eyes just a slit. “You? You’re adequate, I suppose.”

Corvina gasped in mock anger, and swatted him in the face with a pillow.

“Bolder still,” Avrei said, raising his eyebrows just a touch.

“A noblewoman must defend her reputation. The honor of the House, and all that.”

“Ah, yes, but I’m certain you understand that you and I are the sum total of gens Ledos, so there’s not much honor to defend.”

“Oh really?” Corvina asked, smiling. “So in that case, it won’t matter if we…misbehave a little?”

Avrei sighed, rolling his eyes. “You are insatiable, aren’t you?”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps you’re too restrained.” She poked him, just to show him what she thought of that. Avrei grunted in surprise.

“That may be the case,” he admitted, shifting over in the bed to get away from her, “but I have two counter-objections to offer.”

“No doubt they’re well thought-out,” Corvina said, determined to not let him get away so quickly. She rolled over on top of him.

“Naturally,” Avrei replied evenly, looking up at her. “My first objection to your proposed amorous encounter is that I have to get up and go to work.”

“That sounds like a feeble protest. Does it really take so long?”

“It can, depending on what you have in mind.” He tried to move, but Corvina had firmly locked him in position. He frowned.

“Do you think all of this talk of misbehaving has gone to my head?” she asked.

“Perhaps, and Dragon-bloods do have a tendency towards that kind of behavior.”

“I only ask for what I think I need.”

“Fair enough. And that leads us to my second objection.”

“Which is?”

“Being the sensible, restrained people that we are, we naturally only engage in coitus for a single purpose, and that purpose has been achieved. Therefore, any further efforts on our parts for the next fifteen months will merely be a waste of time.”

It took Corvina a moment to decipher what her husband had just said. When she did figure it out, her face flushed.

“How long have you known?” she demanded.

“How long were you planning on waiting to tell me?” he replied.

Corvina exhaled and hit him in the face again with the pillow.

“You’re impossible!” she exclaimed, but then her attitude softened. “If you must know, I was planning on telling you soon. But how did you know?”

Avrei gently removed the pillow. “Madame, marriage has not robbed me of my powers of observation. It would be distinctly sad if I could not tell that something had changed about you. Seeing as pregnancy was the most obvious condition to be affecting you, I made an educated guess.”

“You didn’t know!” Corvina squeaked. “You tricked me!”

“A little,” Avrei admitted. “But now that the notion has a god, so to speak, when can we expect the arrival of reinforcements?”

“You are just impossible, do you know that?” She rolled off of him, and then turned her head to the side to look at him again. “It should be sometime next spring.”

“Ah, excellent. So I have almost a year of pleasant company to look forward to.”

“It’s not that bad. It doesn’t even show in Dragon-bloods until the last season or so.”

“You misunderstand me,” Avrei deadpanned. “I wasn’t being sarcastic. I was genuinely looking forward to several months of you keeping your hands off of me.”

Corvina hit him with the pillow for a third time.

“Hmm,” he mused. “The next time we talk I’ll have to be sure to disarm you first.”

“Only if you keep on being such a twit. And you shouldn’t think that I’m going to let you off so easily. There’s still the little matter of my proposal. You know, the one from a few minutes ago?”

“Well,” Avrei said, a note of surrender in his voice, “perhaps you can persuade me to reconsider. I’m not wholly unreasonable.”
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
User avatar
Henry
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Essence 5
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Posts: 719
Joined: 14 Sep 2010, 18:48
Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
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Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

28 Apr 2011, 17:48

And now some more bad guy stuff. Hunter is an Elder Lunar who's angry at the PCs because their prior incarnations killed his Solar mate in the First Age. So he's allied with the Mask of Winters. Seems like a good, safe course of action with no negative repercussions.

*********************

Joachim Venator, the Hunter of the Maw, kicked at an unoffending tree root. Like most things in the Noss Fens, it was difficult to tell if the tree the root belonged to was alive or dead. The odd combination of shadowland and close proximity to the Elemental Pole of Wood meant that dead things continued to live long after they had died, while living things died long before they should have. Overall, it was a gloomy, smelly, unpleasant environment. It did have one significant virtue, though: it was safe. No scrying or astrology or other form of investigation could penetrate the shadowland’s veil. And so Joachim waited in his unpleasant safety, pacing all the while.

He searched through the pockets of his buff coat and pulled out his tobacco case. Cigarettes were a habit more than an addiction for him, but they would help to mask the smell of this putrid place. And maybe they would make it easier for his tardy appointment to find him. If they made it easier for some unfortunate third party to find him, well, that was just too bad. For the third party, that was. Joachim had no worries about himself.

“Must you?” Palest Ivory asked.

“I am sorry?” Joachim turned to look at the deathknight.

“Must you? Smoke, that is.” Palest Ivory made a face. “It’s foul.”

The Moonshadow Caste Abyssal was rather pretty, with the coloration one would expect from her moniker, her manner neat and tidy and polite. She wasn’t prone to complaints, and, in fact, she had been an inoffensive traveling companion. But Joachim had no use for deathknights. He would have much rather that the Mask of Winters had sent Palest Ivory to assist the Abbot of Hunger and Dust and the Fallen Arbiter of Exquisite Suffering in their endeavors rather than shackle him with what he considered deadweight. Joachim was much happier working on his own.

“What?” Joachim smirked. “Does it make you think of Darkening Ash, perhaps?”

Palest Ivory frowned at the play on words. “Very funny. But I don’t see my Dusk Caste colleague here, so there’s no reason to bring an unpleasant smell upon ourselves willingly.”

“Fine.” Joachim flicked the cigarette to the ground and stepped on it. “Satisfied?”

“Thank you.” Palest Ivory nodded politely and turned away. Joachim smiled a shark’s smile at her back.

That was one good thing about the Abyssals: he bothered them even more than they bothered him. For one thing, he was more powerful than any of them, and that could be an unpleasant realization for anyone who was accustomed to being the top of the food chain. For another, being around living creatures, even severely amoral living creatures such as him, was painful for them. It was even more painful if they had to cooperate with him and show deference, so sometimes Joachim would tweak their noses a little bit. Not enough to turn them against him, but enough to show them who was in charge.

But who was in charge, really? Joachim frowned at the unhappy thought. As time went on the centuries-old cooperation between him and the ghost of Larquen Quen was becoming less an alliance of equals, and more master-servant relationship. When Joachim had been the Mask of Winters' only ally with unrestricted access to Creation there had been a lot more give and take between them. But now, with the Abyssals under the Mask of Winters' control Joachim was no longer unique, no longer indispensable. He was, at best, a first among equals, and he could sense the Mask of Winters' attitude towards him slowly shift as the Abyssals took a more and more prominent role. Joachim had contemplated leaving and going out on his own, but, unfortunately, the deathlord had an additional hold on him.

Thinking of the Maiden of the Mirthless Smile made Joachim’s frown even deeper. He didn’t know what to make of her. He certainly didn’t love her, but, then, he had never thought that Edenne Lestocq’s reincarnation would repair the hole that Calan Ovest and Adelene Phoros had torn in his heart; Edenne had been his first, his only love, and he had fallen for her with the totality of his being. It wasn’t just her exaltation; it was everything about her – her smile, her vivacity, her kindness. No mere Solar bond could account for the depths of his feelings for her.

And Edenne had been taken from him, taken by a selfish, vindictive, paranoid son of a bitch. Taken by a Deliberative built by the supposedly virtuous, the Chosen of the gods, too busy pursuing their own interests to listen to the pleas of their most junior member. They had driven him to seek justice by any means, and, in doing so, not only had he been denied his revenge, he had consigned his love’s soul to an eternity of exile. There had been some small satisfaction seeing the downfall of those Solar bastards and their corrupt civilization, but the centuries of separation and loneliness had far outweighed that brief, happy moment.

"How much longer do we have to wait?" Palest Ivory asked.

"Not long. Our prospective partners do not have far to travel."

"Good. This place is wretched."

Joachim looked at her, bemused. "Really? I was thinking that a shadowland would be just as home for you."

The deathknight shook her head. "It's not the essence flow - it's the smell. This swamp reeks, and all of these slimy animals...ugh." She shuddered. "And then there's something else. I can feel something...tugging at me. It must be the Dowager's presence."

Joachim thought back to the Well of Udr, the terrible weight that had pressed down on him, overwhelming even his iron will. He shrugged.

"It could be. She did reside here for some centuries until her...accident. But now she is gone, so there are no more worries, yes?"

"I hope," Palest Ivory replied dubiously.

The Lunar looked at the Abyssal out of the corner of his eye. He wondered, would it be different for him if his mate had been more like Palest Ivory, someone he could relate to, someone he could touch and hold? It wasn't that Palest Ivory was a nice person - Joachim had no illusions about that. He knew that under her surface veneer of charm and diplomacy there was a heart as bitter and cruel as any specter's, but at least she was approachable and, really, not much worse than any number of Solars he had known in the First Age.

Not so with the Maiden of the Mirthless Smile. There was no give, no compromise in her, only an overwhelming, nihilistic urge to destroy. That sense of purpose gave her everything - and nothing. Joachim respected her, respected her drive and determination and skill, but he didn't love her. There was nothing there to love, not even the shallow bond of physical intimacy. In some ways that made it easier, since he didn't want a replacement for Edenne, didn't want someone who would cheapen his memories of her. But in other ways the Maiden's utter indifference ate away at him, digging into him with a pain more profound than anything he had felt since he had lost Edenne. If the Maiden had been different, would he be different too? Could she have led him away from the path of death and darkness that he had followed for so many years?

Joachim snarled silently. Why was he getting weak, getting cold feet, when he was so close to his goal? Ever since the fall of the Old Realm he had seen that Creation was too weak to survive without the Exalted, and that the Exalted were too corrupt to rule. Creation deserved to die, the Exalted deserved to die, for their failings. If its death was inevitable, he figured he might as well make it a death that suited him. All he needed to do was stay the course, and in a few years he would have his revenge, and not just the petty, small-scale vengeance he had enacted against Calan Ovest's unfortunate heirs. Creation itself would be dealt a fatal blow, and, perhaps more importantly, its guardians would be as well. The thought made Joachim smile. The poetry of that plan was exquisite - too bad there wouldn't be anyone left who could truly appreciate it.

And yet...and yet, there was a small, niggling voice at the back of his head that asked: but what would Edenne think?

"Someone's here," Palest Ivory said. "Sounds like two of them, approaching from the west."

Joachim tilted his head, listening. The deathknight was correct: it seemed that their long expected guests had finally made it.

When they finally walked into the clearing, Joachim was a little surprised, for they weren't exactly what he had been expecting. The woman who led the way was no surprise: tall, self-assured, with a thick mane of red hair and dark skin that indicated her Water-aspected nature. The other person, however, seemed to be of no consequence at all: a short, nervous woman, who, so far as Joachim could tell, wasn't even an essence wielder. He had expected an impressive entourage, but Cyrea had next to nothing.

"Mister Hunter?" the dragon-blood asked.

Her Riverspeak came with a northern accent, though it was the clipped tones of Icehome, not his native Cherak. Joachim was tempted to respond in Airtongue - he greatly preferred his native language to the vulgar patois of the River Province. But, no; he had to think of Palest Ivory. It wouldn't do to leave her out.

"Mistress Cyrea," he replied, "I am so glad that the Marmorean Circle has seen fit to meet with us."

He offered his hand, the traditional greeting in the North, and Cyrea took it. Her handshake was firm to the point of making him wince. Joachim wasn't a tall man, but he wasn't short, either, and the dead light in his black eyes could intimidate anyone. Cyrea, however, was tall enough to look him in the eyes, and forceful enough to bowl right over whatever intimidation he might have offered. He didn't like that. Hiding his discomfort, Joachim introduced Palest Ivory, while Cyrea's companion remained anonymous.

"I apologize for the rudeness of our surroundings," Joachim said, gesturing at the Noss Fens, "but I am certain you understand our desire for secrecy."

"Hmm," Cyrea said, rubbing her chin. "I hope th' area has been warded?"

"Oh my, yes." Joachim suppressed a smile. Cyrea had no idea how well the area had been warded, and he wouldn't tell her. That would be giving away secrets.

"Good," the Water-aspect said with a nod.

"Please, sit down." Joachim gestured at a fallen log. "Make yourself comfortable. I must admit, I am surprised at your lack of assistants."

Cyrea cast a disparaging eye at her companion as she sat down. "Why should I've brought more? More eyes means less secrecy, and 'tis not as if they would protect me. Not 'gainst the likes 'f you."

"Ah. I hope I am not making you nervous."

Cyrea shrugged. "'Tis a risk t' be here. But m'lord Eshemati has ordered me t' be here, so..." She shrugged again.

"Hopefully," Palest Ivory said, "we can show you that your master's trust in us is well placed."

"Perhaps," Cyrea replied. "So, what d'you have t' say t' me?"

"Two years ago you were approached by Typhon, the Wink of the Storm's Eye," the deathknight said. "He exchanged certain information with your master, and, as we understand, he sought your circle's help with a matter of some importance."

"Yes, I remember that. He was quite persistent."

"I imagine. But, as you probably know, Typhon died and his efforts died with him. We wish to resume them. And expand upon them, as well."

Palest Ivory gestured to Joachim to speak.

"We are understanding that Eshemati still has access to this thing," Joachim began smoothly, "but that his access is imperfect. The door is barred, so to speak. We can force it wide open."

"Oh?" Cyrea looked at him quizzically. "And what d' we get in return?"

"All of the secrets of the First Age."

"What d' you mean?"

Joachim smiled, trying to put a little more warmth into it than normal. "I mean all of them - everything. Everything that the Solar Deliberative thought worthy of recording is inside. And there is one more thing of particular interest to Eshemati. Not entirely related to this project, but something that would please him." Joachim briefly sketched out the plan.

Cyrea thought for a moment, absent-mindedly pulling at her red hair. "'Tis t' good t' be true," she said, finally. "Y' can't deliver all 'f that."

"Oh, but we can. Even if we are only giving you a fraction of what I have promised, well, is that not worth it? We do not ask for much, after all."

"No, no, I suppose not. I tell y' what: I'll speak t' my master about this, and I shall try t' convince him t’ agree. Fair?"

"Very fair," Joachim replied. "Tell me, though, just to satisfy my curiosity: where shall we have to go to find what we are looking for?"

"Down," Cyrea said with a knowing smirk. "Or, perhaps I should say: up?"
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
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Henry
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Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

05 May 2011, 06:55

Random character piece right here. Anja's the Lunar mate of one of the Solar PCs, though she has a less than perfect relationship with him. Girl likes to be on top, ya dig?

**************************************

"Excuse me," said a woman, "I am looking for Samir. Is he here?"

Anja Silverclaws looked up, over the oversized book she was carrying in one arm. The other arm was busy closing the door to the little study room across the hall from Samir's laboratory. Twisting her burden around, she turned to the other woman.

"I don't think so," Anja replied. "Usually he's around this time in the morning but today..." She shrugged.

"Do you...spend much time with him?" The woman looked at Anja, trying unsuccessfully to hide a disapproving expression.

She looked to be about Anja's age, maybe a little older, with very dark hair and olive features. She was pretty, though that prettiness was marred by the overly severe dress she wore, and by the slight frown on her face. One probably grew out of the other, since the woman did not seem to approve of Anja's tight-fitting leather clothing - clothing that revealed more than it concealed.

Anja decided she didn't like that expression. "Maybe. Samir and I have the same interests, you see. I'm Anja."

She smiled, and as she did she extended her teeth into fangs. That had the desired effect, and the woman recoiled in surprise.

"Oh." She smiled back, nervously. "I'm Telas Neilani. Samir's sister."

"And I'm his mate." Another disconcerting smile.

"Oh. I didn't know Samir had...a...um..."

"Well, he does." It wasn't strictly true, not it the way Neilani thought, but Anja wasn't going to correct her.

"How long have you been...together?"

"About seven years now."

"I'm...so glad to hear that. Are you happy?"

"Very. I think we were destined to be together." Oh, this was fun!

"That's lovely," Neilani said, though her expression made it clear she thought it was anything but. "So, how did you meet?

"Like I said: it was destiny. You see, he's a Chosen of the Unconquered Sun and I'm a Chosen of Luna."

"How wonderful," Neilani said weakly. "Like Master Mikko?"

"Yes, but I take my role a little more...seriously. Some of us are here to lead, and some of us are here to follow, if you catch my drift?" Anja gave Neilani a look that left no doubt as to where in that equation Samir's sister fell.

"I suppose I do," Neilani said, a bit of ice in her voice. That surprised Anja - she didn't think Neilani had that much backbone.

“It’s important that we know our place, right?”

“Absolutely, though perhaps some of us seek to rise above it?” Neilani raised an eyebrow.

Seeing that she wasn't going to cow Neilani into submission, Anja decided she had had enough of this conversation. "Well, I need to go. Can I pass any messages on to Samir for you?"

"No, it's nothing urgent. I just wanted to talk."

"Okay, then. I'll see you around."

Anja smiled one last time, and walked down the hall. She could tell that Neilani was still looking at her with prudish distaste. Well, nuts to her, Anja thought. She wasn't going to give Neilani a hard time for dressing up like a Sijanese mummy, so should she have to take any grief about how she dressed? Besides, it was a perfect late summer day, one of the last of the year when she would be able to get away dressing like this. There would be plenty of time later in the year to bundle up, but now was the time to enjoy the heat.

Anja walked, with her book, up the hill from the Academy. She was a little annoyed that Samir hadn't been around this morning - she had been hoping to get his help solving a question that she had about sorcery. But at least now she was going to be able to spend some time outside, reading the book Samir had lent her on the Sapphire Circle. Not her first choice of activities, but a necessary one, and it gave her the opportunity to enjoy the sites of the city.

Greyfalls really was an attractive city, quite unlike any Anja had seen in the Scavenger Lands. The shape and strength of the architecture, all smooth and dramatic, harkened to the First Age buildings of Nexus, but Greyfalls had none of the pollution and overwhelming size of that metropolis. Instead, everything was at a very accessible scale, geared towards the people living there, carefully planned and laid out. In that regard it was like Great Forks, or at least how Great Forks had been.

As Anja approached the ramp leading up to Garrison heights she spied Gerran leaving the citadel with another man. They were about the same height, but while Gerran was wiry and dark, the other man was burly and fair. He was also very handsome, as perfect a specimen as she had ever seen, which was what had drawn Anja's eye to him in the first place.

As she admired him from a distance, recognition came to her in a flash. She had seen him before, at Denandsor, when she had been badly wounded by the deathknight. He was a Sidereal, she was certain, but she had never got his name. She was positive she would have remembered that. But, then, she remembered everything. Granted, it was a trick born of essence and not any innate quality of her memory, but that wasn't going to stop Anja from feeling smug about it.

Letting Gerran and the Sidereal pass by, Anja bounced up the ramp into Garrison Heights. The guards at the gate knew her well enough to wave her through, and soon enough she was in the gardens by the river palace. She found a bench by the walls that was a perfect place to sit in the shade and watch people pass by to and from the main courtyard.

She opened her book and began to read. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very interesting, just a description of the motonic structure of common Celestial Circle spells. The illustrations were interesting, but the text was very dry. Anja found her attention wandering, drifting about the palace grounds, until her eyes settled on two men standing by the defensive wall a few dozen feet away.

One of the men was unremarkable, dressed as a soldier, with dark hair and the pinkish-brown skin common to people in this part of the Scavenger Lands. The other man was also in uniform, but his hair was a bright bluish-white while his skin was the olive-beige color Anja associated with the people she subconsciously considered ‘civilized’ – people from the Realm and the Eastern Threshold. He was rather handsome, but that wasn’t why Anja was fascinated by him. She was certain she had seen him before, or someone who looked like him, but she couldn’t remember where, which, of course, was impossible. She never forgot anything, so why this?

Fortunately, after a few minutes the two men walked over to her bench. The darker one, the Easterner, looked at Anja the way men usually did, while the Thresholder ignored her. That made him even more interesting. After a few quiet words, the Easterner left while his companion shuffled through a few papers, placing some of them into a leather satchel.

“Excuse me?” Anja said politely, sliding down the bench.

“Hmm?” The man didn’t look up.

“I’m sorry to be a pest, but do I know you?”

Now he did look at her. “No,” he said simply, turning back to his work.

“I’m a friend of the Solars. My name is Anja, Anja Silverclaws.”

“No, it isn’t,” the man said, turning back to his work. His voice had a hint of the soft drawl common in Thorns.

“Excuse me?”

“No, that isn’t your name.”

“And what is?”

“Talevti. Talevti Anja.”

Anja blinked. That was a name she hadn’t heard since she had Exalted. “That’s right. Or, that used to be right. My name is Silverclaws now, but it used to be Talevti.” She briefly explained her Lunar exaltation. “May I ask how you knew my old name? Are you from Thorns?”

“I was,” the man replied. “Ledos Avrei.” He nodded politely in her direction.

That explained it! “From Gens Ledos? Your…father perhaps? Your father was a friend of my family.”

“Yes, he did some work the Talevtis. Of course, being a dragon-blooded gens we had a more marital focus than your family, but it was hard for nobles in Thorns to avoid one another.”

“Yes.” Anja frowned. “So, what are you doing now?”

“I am putting my inadequate talents at the disposal of out glorious Solar overlords. After the fall of our fair, but incompetently defended city, I removed myself to Lookshy, in whose service I have been indentured for the past several years. If one wanted to be precise – but who ever does? Regardless, if precision was your aim, you would say that I am still in Lookshy’s service and that I have merely been loaned out to Greyfalls.”

“How interesting.”

“Very.” Avrei finished whatever he was doing, and sat down on the bench, twisting slightly to face Anja. “And what are you doing here?”

Anja made a face. “I used to run the resistance in Thorns as best I could, but the Mask of Winters and his lackeys smashed it a few months ago.”

“That’s terrible.”

“Yes, well, there wasn’t much I could do. So I’m staying here until I regroup and figure out what to do.”

“Hmmm. So, how was Thorns? Before you left, that is.”

“As you said, terrible.” Anja sighed. “At least they’ve stopped killing the people, letting them die. Now they’re busy brainwashing them, turning them into slaves of the Mask of Winters.”

“A pity. Well, perhaps our illustrious assemblage of talent can find a solution to that problem.”

“Maybe.” Anja was silent for minute. “I’m afraid I don’t know anything about your family.”

“Oh, they’re all dead, I imagine,” Avrei said airily. “I know my father and certain other relatives – dragon-bloods all – rushed out to get killed by the initial assault, and then once the wall was breached I had an excellent view of my ancestral home being sacked by ghosts.”

“And you didn’t do anything to help them?” Anja asked incredulously. “But you’re an Exalt!”

Avrei smiled. “You say that as if it means something. Perhaps you haven’t listened to the truth according to our Solar masters, but according to them I’m an Exalt because my father had the good taste to marry a fellow dragon-blood, not because of any particular merit on my part. Believe me; I can be just as shiftless as any mortal.”

“But…your family!”

“And what do suggest my course of action should have been? I tried to defend Thorns, but I was comprehensively defeated by a rather attractive lady deathknight, and then got a repeat experience at the hands of a rather unattractive gentleman deathknight. While I would have loved to make the lady’s acquaintance under better circumstances, I had better things to do than throw my life away. That, and I didn’t know where to find her.”

Anja had a pretty good idea as to where Avrei could find his lady deathknight, but she didn’t say anything about that. “But, you had to have wanted to do something,” she protested. “How could you just walk away?”

“Are you ‘walking away’ from Thorns right now?” Avrei asked pointedly. “Sometimes you have to know when you’re beaten, when you have to fall back, gather reinforcements, and try again. I wasn’t a match for one deathknight, let alone a city full of them.”

“You might be more right than you know,” Anja said quietly, thinking back to the hall under the city, the hall full of monstrances. She shook her head. “But you should have done something. Didn’t you have something worth protecting? A wife? Children?”

Avrei looked away for a moment, and then stood up. “Well, it was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ms. Silverclaws. Perhaps we can continue this conversation in a more pleasant, non-repetitive manner at a later date. Good day.” He smiled and nodded farewell.

“Yes, a pleasure,” Anja said, as Avrei walked away.

It wasn’t until after he left that Anja realized he hadn’t answered her question.
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey
 
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Henry
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Posts: 719
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Title: Lookshyan brat
Exalt: Dragon-Blooded
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Artifact: Magitech and heirlooms
Location: Rhode Island

Re: Exalted Fiction Potpourri

05 May 2011, 06:59

I swiped a number of ideas from Return of the Scarlet Empress, including the deathknights and Sidereals getting involved in the Realm Civil War. NB: there are no Infernals in my game, at least not on screen; I just can't summon the energy to learn another set of charms. Ugh.

******************************************

The Maiden of the Mirthless Smile was getting impatient. The manse and its surrounding grounds were quiet, but there was no way to tell how long they would remain that way. The Maiden wasn’t one to back down from a fight, but the notion of cutting through a small army of alert and angry dragon-bloods was not appealing.

Well, truth be told, it was appealing, but she didn’t want to have to do it, because that would mean they – she – would have failed in their primary mission. And the longer it took, the more failure became a possibility. Hence her impatience.

She almost sighed in relief when the Disciple of the Seven Forbidden Wisdoms appeared. The Maiden was well hidden near a small barn, but he walked unerringly towards her position, creeping through the shadows with a heavy bundle on his back.

“Good,” the Maiden breathed when the Disciple joined her in the cover behind the barrels and sacks. “All quiet?”

The Disciple nodded.

“And the target?” The Maiden gestured at the Disciple’s bundle. “She’s healthy?”

He nodded again.

“Good. Let’s go.”

The Disciple made a funny noise, and it took the Maiden a moment to realize it was supposed to be a stealthy version of a polite cough.

“Yes?” she whispered.

“Would you mind?” He hefted the bundle.

The Maiden smiled, and took it. The woman was completely limp, the kind of boneless flexibility that only comes from total unconsciousness…or death. But she wasn’t dead. The Maiden could feel the hideous warmth of life within the woman as she slung the burden across her shoulders.

The Disciple gestured with his head, and together the two deathknights made their way across the compound. Everything was silent in the manse, the members of House V’neef all fast asleep or busy with their private affairs. There was a small army of soldiers here, but their attention was all focused outward. Certainly, no one saw the pair of shadows that flitted to, and then over, the thick perimeter wall.

Only when they were safely in the little woods a mile from the manse did the Maiden allow herself to breathe easily. She had been worried that the woman would give them away during the escape, but the Disciple had done his business well. As he prepared the horses the Maiden slung the woman across the back of the pack animal, keeping a vigilant eye open for any pursuers. But there weren’t any.

Over the course of a few nervous nights of travel the deathknights made their way from Sion in the south east of the Blessed Isle to another, friendly manse, this one a dozen miles or so from the Imperial City. Even though it was friendly, very few of the people here knew the Maiden and the Disciple were friends, so they and their burden had to creep into this manse much as they had crept out of the other one. Only when they were within Mnemon’s private wing could they travel openly, and they made their way quickly to the center of the manse. The Maiden was still carrying the woman, who was awake now, so the Disciple had to open the door to Mnemon’s room. As she stepped inside, the Maiden saw Mnemon talking with Silken Whisper, the third deathknight in their little circle.

“We’re back,” the Maiden said, dumping the woman onto the floor without ceremony. The woman grunted through her gag, the impact shaking loose a few of the flower petals that grew in her hair.

Mnemon looked up at them. “About time. It is a good thing you have returned.”

“Oh?” The Maiden grinned. “I didn’t know you’d missed us.”

“It’s not that,” Silken Whisper said. “There was an attempt on her life last night.”

“Oh?” the Maiden said again, still grinning.

“Sidereals,” he said, returning the smile. “Well, Sidereal. He won’t be troubling us again.”

“Good, good.” The Maiden thought for a moment. “But now they know we’re here. Or, at least that something is here, something beyond the normal dragon-bloods. They’ll be prepared if they try again.”

“I am so glad that you so concerned with my well-being,” Mnemon said, “but could you bring her to me?”

With a mocking smile and a curtsey, the Maiden half dragged, half threw the prisoner towards Mnemon.

“Oh my poor niece,” Mnemon said, reaching out to caress the woman on the cheek. “Poor Bijar. You should have fled with your family across the Inland Sea. Just like a V’neef to think that nothing bad could happen to her.”

Bijar closed her eyes and shuddered, moaning a little.

Mnemon looked at Bijar, something like pity in her eyes. “But it is a war, even if the rest of the Realm doesn’t know it yet. And your mother has already chosen her side. Really, it is her fault, or at least her side’s fault, for making this an open war. If the V’neefs and the Roseblack hadn’t attacked Kes’ army like that, we might still be able to pretend that we were at peace. But it is war now, and you are my prisoner.”

Mnemon glanced at the Disciple. “Did you find her log?”

He nodded, and produced a book from a leather bag. Mnemon nodded in satisfaction as she thumbed through it.

“Very good,” she murmured. “Very good. You have been a busy girl, Bijar. I hope you are willing to help me.”

Bijar didn’t say anything, obviously, but she looked at Mnemon with something that the Maiden thought came awfully close to defiance.

Mnemon sighed dramatically. “It doesn’t really matter if you are willing or not. You will help me. I will get what I want. And the Realm will be mine.”

Not for long, the Maiden thought, not that she would ever consider saying that aloud. She did allow herself a smile, though.

* * *

“I do not think this is a wise move,” Ragara Szaya said.

“And why not?” Ledaal Kes asked as he opened the door. He held it open for his wife, who walked past him into the manse.

“You cannot be seen as weak. And you can not be seen as an outsider. If you stay on the Isle, and especially if you stay in the Imperial City, then you remain the legitimate ruler of the Realm and the others are just rebels. If you leave – especially if you leave for Calin – then you become the rebel.”

“That is true. But I would rather be a rebel with a head than a legitimate ruler without one. Ruling without a head can be so trying. Just ask Regent Fokuf.” He opened a second door, motioning for Szaya to go ahead of him into the sitting room

Szaya snorted. “This is not a joking matter, Kes. Why, I think-”

Kes never found out what she thought. He turned to look at her, but then a terrible force smashed into him, knocking the wind out of him and throwing him into a nearby chair. Kes spilled onto the floor in a decidedly undignified heap, where he lay, struggling to get to his feet. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t move. No, it was worse than that. He could his feel his breath suffocating him, pressing down on his lungs, catching in his throat. And everything he did seemed to lack cohesion, like he was a lump of sugar caught in a cup of tea.

He fought to get up all the same. He could hear Szaya thrashing, struggling against their assailant. He had to help her, protect her. But as soon as he slowly, awkwardly, pulled himself up on the chair he was struck again. This time his attacker grabbed him by the scruff the neck of the neck and hauled him over to a divan, pinning him down.

“Now you listen to me,” a voice hissed in Kes’ ear. “Your wife is fine. You will be fine, too, if you do what I say. Do you understand?”

Kes nodded. It wasn’t easy, what with the weight on his back and competing feelings of suffocation and dissolution, but he nodded.

“Good. Now, I am a going to give you your breath back, and I am also going to do something that will make it impossible for you to lie, so don’t even try. Understand?”

Kes nodded again. He felt a sharp blow in the center of back and his breath came back in a rush. There was also funny feeling, a combination of warmth and numbness, that spread outward from his chakras.

The attacker let go and stepped away. Slowly, carefully, Kes sat up. First he looked for Szaya, who was lying on the floor by the door. She was alive, he could tell that much. Then he looked at his assailant. He wasn’t much to look at, a nondescript-looking man with brown hair and green eyes. He looked more like a banker or a librarian than someone who could defeat two Dynasts in personal combat, and defeat them quickly.

“Can I…?” Kes nodded towards his wife.

“No,” the man said, pulling a chair closer to Kes. He sat down.

“May I ask what this is about?”

“It’s about you,” the man said. His High Realm was clean, with sharp, precise accents. “And Mnemon.”

“I gather she did not send you? No, of course not. If she had, I would be dead.”

“Right.”

“You don’t look like a deathknight, anyway. But you must be some sort of Anathema to get in here undetected…” Kes snapped his fingers. “A Sidereal, yes?”

The man didn’t reply. In fact, his expression didn’t even change. He would be a hell of a Gateway player Kes thought, somewhat absurdly.

“It doesn’t matter what, or who, I am,” the man said. “I need you to answer my questions.”

Kes smiled wanly. “I don’t have much of a choice. Ask away.”

“First, what do you know of the deathknights on the Blessed Isle?”

“I know Mnemon has at least two, possibly more, in her employ. One of them is the Maiden of the Mirthless Smile, the Mask of Winters’ servant.” Kes blinked in surprise. He hadn’t even thought about answering the question. The words had just…spilled out of his mouth.

“Have you met any Sidereals in the past two months?”

“No, none since I returned to the Blessed Isle.”

“What do you know of Hu Dai Liang?”

“The…war goddess?” Kes asked. The man nodded. “Nothing, really. The Immaculate Order prays to her a few times a year…”

“So you do not know of any connection between Hu Dai Liang and the deathknights?” the man interrupted. “Or between Hu Dai Liang and Mnemon? Or the Mask of Winters?”

Kes shook his head.

“Do you know V’neef Bijar?”

“Yes, she’s rather smart. Pleasant dinner company, decent at Gateway. A sorceress, about forty, fifty years old. One of V’neef’s daughters, obviously. Last I heard she was holed up in an estate near Sion, trying to pretend the war wasn’t happening.”

“And what do you know of her work on the Imperial Manse?”

“She’s been looking at it since the Empress disappeared. She’s…something of a specialist on the Realm Defense Grid and…”

“What do you think of Bijar’s claims that she was close to cracking the Manse’s outer defenses?”

“Not much. She always was excitable, prone to leaps of logic. She was probably just over enthused by a new discovery.” Again, the words just poured out. Kes frowned, twisting his seat, casting a nervous eye towards Szaya.

The man noticed. “You’re thinking of trying to help your wife, aren’t you?”

“Yes. I imagine an elemental bolt could distract you long enough to allow me the opportunity to run to the door and alert the guards. I do not know if I am fast enough to evade you, though.” Damn it!

“Well, don’t. I’m much faster than you. And besides, you don’t want to run away from me.”

Kes cocked an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Yes. I’m your, and your wife’s, best chance for getting off the Blessed Isle alive.”

“Why is that?”

The man stood up. He wasn’t very tall, wasn’t very…anything, really. But there was a hard glint in his eyes that made it clear he wasn’t to be trifled with.

“Because,” he said, “only I can save you from the deathknights who are coming here tonight. To kill you.”
You can dare to do anything and succeed in anything, provided you never forget that two and two do not make four; in clumsy hands, they often make three or even less; but they can make five or six. - Louis-Herbert Lyautey

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