This is a little blurb I wrote for Ember, who you can see a picture of here. The original idea was for this to be the opening chapter in a series of shorts told mostly from the girl mentioned in this story (whose name I could never decide on) which is why Ember is never named. I never got around to writing the rest of it though, and after sitting on my hard drive for about a year I figure this deserved to be seen, especially since I just had that nifty picture done. So without further rambling, here it is:
The Blessed Isle is the home of the Scarlet Empress, Her legions of Dynastic children, and the Dragon-Blooded host. The spirits here are well regulated, the weather is usually bearable if not pleasant, and there is always a Dragon-Blooded soldier, monk, or hero only a few days hard travel away. It is considered the safest place in the Second Age of Man, where a mortal can live his entire life without fear of being killed by barbarian, taken by plague, or harassed by marauding spirits. All of this combines to make it so that the name “Blessed Isle” is the only truly applicable title.
But that doesn’t mean it is completely safe. As any person can tell you, each satrapy, province, city, village, and neighborhood has its quirks and dangers. Arjuf, a city in the southern coast of the Blessed Isle, is no different. There are certain areas that are safer, or cleaner, or friendlier than others. But Arjufians have 4 rules to follow to keep themselves out of most dangers. Don’t get drunk after the torches are lit. Don’t go down to the wharf district after the torches are lit without a weapon. Don’t go down a dark alley without at least 3 friends who also have weapons. And NEVER sleep with the harlots from the Croaking Toad.
Of course, I’ve never been good at following the rules. The man grinned as he reached down and picked up his jug of mead. The jar wasn’t phased by the flames from his anima, being a treasure made of ceramic he’d “acquired” in the North. He took a swallow of it and surveyed the carnage around him. At least a dozen people lay dead, most from horrific gashes caused by the Black Jade daiklave in his hand, but one’s face was caved in enough the man suspected he had crushed his skull completely. He shook his head at them, noting none of them could have been older than 14 Calibrations. Youth and stupidity once again make a lethal combination.
Taking another gulp of his mead, the man noticed one of his would-be-muggers hadn’t entered the fray. Indeed, she sat cowering in the corner, watching him with fear filled eyes. He stared at her dispassionately for a second, still basking in his victory and savoring the sweet liquid flowing past his lips. She was about the same age as the rest, not even an adolescent yet if her body was any indication, without any half-decent curves. Still, she had long blonde hair and her eyes were a very pretty blue. Given how pale her skin was, he guessed that she was either an immigrant from the Northern satraps, or her parents had been.
Probably gonna be a real knock-out when she grows up. Too bad she’s too young now. The man finished the last of his mead and smacked his lips in enjoyment as he stared at her. The sound of it broke the unblinking gaze the girl had, and a whimper escaped her lips as she tried to curl up even tighter into a ball under his gaze. A toothy grin escaped the man’s lips at that, enjoying the palpable fear that she emanated. “Pl--please,” she stammered out weakly in low realm, her accent confirming his suspicions that her parents had been from the North. “Don’t kill me.”
The man snorted. “Shouldn’t I,” the man asked in a thick Nexian accent. “You and yer friends tried ta fuckin’ mug me after all, thinkin’ I was some moron drunk. Should cut off yer head and pike it, be the proper thing fer a Prince O’ the Earth ta do, wouldn’t it?” The girl whimpered again and tears started streaming down her face. The man saw that and all the mirth from the situation left him. “Aw, stop crying for Pasiap’s strength,” he stated in perfect Low Realm. “I’m not going to kill you.”
The first flicker of hope flew across her eyes, but she was still too terrified to believe him and while she stopped crying she still cowered from him; which was probably just as well, given what he tended to do with kids like her. He let his anima die down so he could at least touch her, then set down the empty jar and put his sword on his back. He pulled the long tassel around his chest and hooked the ring at the end around the tooth of the dragon’s maw at the tip of his weapon. Picking his jar back up he walked over to the girl, who tried to crawl away from the Exalt as he approached. He grabbed her arm and hauled her to her feet, ignoring the gasp of pain that escaped her at his ungentle touch.
“C’mon, I know just where to bring you,” he said and started leading her out of the alley. He didn’t see a crowd, which was to be expected this late at night. With his anima held in check again, the alley had once more plunged into darkness, and no one would probably discover the bodies by morning. Plenty of time for him to be far away from here, but as he started walking the girl resisted his efforts. “But my friends, we should bu--," her words died out as he looked at her, his face hard. “You’re friends are dead. If they know what’s good for them they’ve already moved onto their next life. No need to waste effort on them anymore.”
She yanked her arm out of his grip at that and stared up defiantly at him. “But we can’t just let them rot! You killed them, can’t you at least burn their bodies or something!” The man simply stared at her for a long second, and when her gaze finally faltered a bit, he spoke. “I can still kill you and let you rot with them. I’m sparing you cause you’re worth more to me alive than dead right now. But if you annoy me enough I’ll murder you where you stand, even if that’s in front of some Dragon’s-Cursed Magistrate. Got it?”
A flash went across the girl’s eyes at his words, her expression looking worried. “Worth more alive? You not taking me to the chain-gangs?” The man snorted at that to cover his surprise. Smart one here, smarter than she should be. He debated lying to her for a second, then decided to hell with it. “Nope, gonna take you to a brothel I know. The Cosmea Veil. Pays well for pretty young things like you and takes good care of their property.” He leaned down so his nose was almost touching hers, his brown eyes hard. “Or I can leave you here dead with your friends. Whichever’s easiest for you.”
The sound echoed down the alley way, and the man blinked as he felt his cheek sting slightly from the blow. Though the way the girl was holding her hand, it had probably hurt her more. Still, lots of fire in this one. Real shame she’s too young. Thought she was cowering just a moment ago at the very sight of me though? The man frowned as he slowly pulled himself back up and looked down at the girl. “Personally? I’d have used my dagger. Not that it would have made very much of a difference.” He reached out and grabbed her arm again, this time clamping down hard so she couldn’t escape. He started dragging her out of the alley, despite her protests and the occasional pounding of her fists on his arm. He was just beginning to debate killing her when she stopped. He pulled harder, but the girl steadfastly refused to move.
That’s when he noticed the alley was lit up again.
He let go of her arm, hopped forward a few feet, twirled to face the girl, and grasped the handle of his blade in one swift and practiced motion. Sure enough, there she stood, staring at him defiantly with her feet firmly planted in the dirt. Around her pebbles and pieces of cobblestone floated inside the anima banner of the newly born Exalted.
Yup. I knew it. The Dragons hate me.
He licked his dry lips as he tried to consider his options, none of which were looking particularly good at the moment. Before he could make a decision though, the girl charged him, roaring and raising her fists. He easily dodged the first blow, but it was just a feint as her leg slammed into his bare abdomen. A whoof escaped him as he flew back, but he managed to land on his feet. He felt at least one of his ribs creak painfully though, and grunted at the familiar sensation.
“Alright,” he groaned out, slipping into a Nexian accent again. “That’s a little better than a dagger.” His feet spread and he crouched into a fight stance as he drew his daiklave one-handed in a blur, his other hand going out from his body. “But yer gonna hafta do more than that to beat me.” The girl growled at him and stomped the ground at her feet, causing an explosion of dirt that rapidly approached him.
Caught completely off guard by this unexpected proficiency with her Essence, the man felt his entire torso compress back under the onslaught, felt his body go sailing through the air. His flight was rather abruptly stopped, first in mid-air, then abruptly by the ground. As he raised his head off the cobblestones and shook the pebbles off him he looked around and saw he’d been tossed out of the alley completely and had crashed into a building front across the street. He groaned as he felt his ribs shift around in his chest, most if not all of them broken, and lifted himself off the ground.
The girl was walking toward him, the light from her anima illuminating the entire street. The few mortals in the area unfortunate to be out this late quickly ran away from the titanic battle that was obviously about to take place. He saw her mouth move and realized that there was a nasty ringing in his ears, implying he might be more hurt than he felt right now.
Fuck it. Enough holding back.
He gripped his daiklave tightly, but loosened his feet as he began to circle the girl, like he was in the old fighting square back at the Palace again. He forced his ears to stop ringing, ignored the creaking and cracking in his chest, pushed aside the past and future, and left only himself and his opponent in his mind. He’d fought plenty of Exalted before, and while they were inhumanly fast, tough, strong, and possessing of amazing reflexes, there were some things that you could exploit.
Like inexperience for starters. The girl was either still gripped in the throes of exaltation, or just really pissed off, because she just marched towards him steadily. The man kept circling around her, wary of any sudden attack, but she just kept tightening the turn until she would be able to smack him again. Not that he was going to give her the chance.
When she was between him and the building he had smashed into, he suddenly sprung forward, obviously intent on slicing her in twain with his sword. She stopped in her tracks, and set herself up to smash his face into the pavement before he’d be able to even swing, but that had never been his intention. As her fists went to slam into his head, he seemed to explode, the ground underneath his feet cracking as he was propelled onto the wall face on a gout of flame. Even as she twirled to face him though, it was too late.
He compressed his legs in as far as they would and for a single instant he stood perpendicular to the ground. Then he exploded again, a corona of fire engulfing him as he slammed the flat of his blade into her face, the black jade hissing in the flames suddenly surrounding it while steam poured off the girl as her flesh was seared. Then his knee impacted her gut, and she crashed into the ground and slid through the cobblestones a few feet with him still atop her. When they finally came to a stop, he vaulted off her, landed on his feet, twirled around, and brought the pommel of his still-steaming sword into her badly burned temple.
He stood there panting for a moment, waiting to see if the girl got back up, but her anima was dying down and her body didn’t even twitch. He placed his free hand on her neck, nodded when he felt a pulse, then slung Boiling Snake back across his back, wincing as the pain in his ribs came back with a vengeance.
“Fine,” he said down to the Earth aspect in Low Realm, his accent still the slurred, rough and tough Nexian he preferred. “If you didn’t wanna go ta’a bordello that badly, you shoulda just said so. But now I really gotta figure out what ta do with you.” His voice cracked from the pain and his breathing was a little more ragged that he wanted. Looking around at the damage he and the newly Chosen girl had done though, the man decided maybe the first thing he should do with her is get out of here.
Slinging the girl over his shoulder, he let out a gasp of pain as he felt one of his ribs separate from its partner. The agony was so intense he almost blacked out, the desire to just roll into a little ball and die overwhelming. Only from sheer will alone did he stay upright and conscious. Pasiap’s dick, I knew I should have learned that pain reduction technique back in the Legion. Catching his breath from the pain, he started marching down the street, trying to suppress his anima, the unwanted turmoil raging inside him, and the raging pain in his chest.
Comments and critiques, good or bad, all are welcome and appreciated!