Being Step One of how Fokuf gets from Point A to Point B
When he was 15 years old, Tepet Fokuf nearly died.
It was his cousin Vallen who found him, in the end. The young Exalt had missed Fokuf at dinner and, spurred by a presentiment of disaster, came upstairs to find out what the letter Fokuf had received from his father meant. It was he that discovered his cousin missing, his bed unslept in, and he that set out into the winter snows to search throughout the night, with the others suggesting that Fokuf was merely hiding somewhere and might be found in the morning.
It was Vallen that found Fokuf lying in the snow, his lips blue, wearing nothing but his evening dress. He was semi-conscious, mumbling incoherent messages under his breath, and he still clutched the letter from his family to his chest, as though releasing it was impossible.
Given your continued failure to Exalt, I do not see a valid reason for you to attend the Spiral Academy. Instead, I am beginning inquries about a school more in line with your limited capabilities. We will expect you to return home at the end of this school year while we determine what your place in the household should be.
Later, after the instructors had treated him for advanced hypothermia, Vallen asked the question, sitting at his cousinâ€™s bedside â€œWhy?â€
Fokuf could not look at him. Instead, he simply lay back, closing his eyes. â€œI justâ€¦ I wanted Mela to choose me. But she ignored me.â€ He stared up at the ceiling, and Vallen sighed.
â€œNot everyone Exalts, Fokuf.â€ The words were soft, as he searched for some way to bridge the yawning abyss opening between them.
â€œNo.â€ Fokufâ€™s voice was flat. â€œOnly the deserving.â€
When he was twenty-five years old, Tepet Fokuf received his first bureaucratic posting, in the city of Greyfalls.
It was nothing important. His secondary school grades had been uniformly mediocre, to his fatherâ€™s lack of surprise and his cousinâ€™s annoyance. Vallen maintained that Fokuf had exceptional talent, but no one else seemed to see it, and his results were certainly far from excellent. Rather than be forced to deal with him up close, his father chose to send him as far from the Blessed Isle as possible, hoping that some hardship might â€œshock some sense into the boyâ€. The day that he left, Vallen visited him once again. Now a young man, graduated from the House of Bells and with a strong career ahead of him in the North, Vallen smiled at his cousin and friend as the two toasted each otherâ€™s postings.
â€œYours will be a great career, Vallen.â€ Fokuf smiled honestly, something that he seemed to do less and less as the years wore on. â€œYou have incredible talent.â€
â€œSo do you. Use it.â€ Fokuf made a dismissive gesture, and Vallen gave him an annoyed look. â€œI know that others in your class took credit from your work. And that half the reason you did so poorly was because you finished their work instead of your own. Why are you doing this to yourself?â€
After a few moments, Fokuf sighed, and stood. He walked to the window, and looked out of it. â€œWhat do you see out there, Vallen?â€
â€œThe port of Arjuf.â€ Vallen stepped up beside him with a smile, laying a hand on his shoulder. â€œThe ships sailing out towards the horizon, and the glories of the Empire.â€
Fokuf nodded. â€œI see a world that has no place for me.â€ When Vallen looked at him sharply, he smiled sadly. â€œIâ€™m not about to do anything rash, if thatâ€™s what youâ€™re afraid of. But I have no prospects for advancement, no way to be superior to the Exalted that run the Thousand Scales. Better that I know my place.â€
Vallen made a rude noise. â€œYour place is whatever you make it, Fokuf.â€
â€œYours is.â€ Fokuf smiled again, and turned to his cousin. â€œYour fate is to rule, Vallen. Mine is to serve. There is no shame in it.â€
â€œNot to the world, perhaps.â€ Vallen turned away. â€œBut to you?â€
Fokuf had no answer for him.
When he was thirty-five years old, Tepet Fokuf returned home from Greyfalls, with a number of glowing reports of his affability, and fewer of his talents. All involved admitted that he made things run more smoothly, but he was passive â€“ no great ideas or daring choices for Fokuf, not when someone else could make a decision that he could follow. His father, somewhat mollified that his son had not managed to engineer the cityâ€™s conquest, gave him a few minor financial jobs to undergo, and the results were much the same. Fokuf might have some talent; it was hard to tell, because he had no drive, no desire to become more than he was. He spent the next ten years in the Imperial City, just another cog in the Dynastyâ€™s machine, and watched as Exalts less qualified than he was passed him by. He had few friends, but no enemies â€“ a rarity in the competitive politics of the Scarlet Dynasty.
When he was forty-five, Vallen was given a new posting, further afield than ever. As was their tradition, the two met to toast his success, and Vallen kept his discontent with Fokufâ€™s lot quiet. Instead, Fokuf asked him about the posting.
â€œNothing major, really. The icewalkers are causing trouble in Linowan territory, and the Wind-dancer is bringing a legion over to remove them.â€ Vallen chuckled, shaking his head. â€œIâ€™ve been promoted to Dragonlord, if you can believe it.â€
â€œOf course I believe it.â€ Fokuf chuckled. â€œI always told you that you were destined for greatness.â€
â€œAnd you were destined to serve.â€ The words slipped out, and Vallen saw the shadows falling across Fokufâ€™s face. â€œI still donâ€™t believe that, cousin.â€
â€œBelieve what you will. I am content with my lot. Happy, even.â€ Fokuf shrugged. â€œI only ever wanted to serve the Realm. I think the Dragons passed me over because I never had the desire to improve myself. I truly am better suited where I am.â€
â€œYou could be so much more, though.â€ Vallen, frustrated, finished his wine.
â€œBut I wonâ€™t.â€ Fokuf smiled again, patting his cousin on the shoulder. â€œYou will become a great general, and I will be a quiet bureaucrat, and I will be happy.â€ And with that, he deftly turned the conversation to less controversial matters, and Vallen gratefully accepted his lead. The next morning, he left for Linowan territory, to begin the war against the Bull of the North.
One year later, Fokuf was appointed Regent of the Realm.