As Felicity concluded his conversation with Forgetful Thirst, promising to meet her for refreshment in the unspecified future work week, he turned on his heel to see where Rano-Che had gotten off to. With his rapid turn, he bumped right into Emerald Script Quill. As she fell, Felicity thrust one leg forward and assumed a spread-leg posture on the floor while at the same time twisting his body and pushing upward on Emeral Script Quill's back. As she hung arch-backed and suspended, she glanced down at the flower that Felicity had earlier plucked and placed in his collar.
"My that is a lovely lotus!" the Secrets Caste exclaimed.
"Then I picked it for you!" replied the Serenity Caste as he pushed upwards on the woman's back.
For her part, Emerald Script Quill placed her hands on the floor and shot her legs up in the air to soar in a gentle arc over her body and then downward again to gain purchase on the balcony floor beneath her. Meanwhile, Felicity, pulled his feet together and rose, twisting, into a standing position with the grace of a dancer. He pulled the flower from his robe and handed it to his friend with a bow and a smile. She took the proferred lotus, smelled its fragrance, and secured it in her long dark hair.
Felicity had trained with Emeral Script Quill as they had both Exalted within a few years of each other. She was a Secrets Caste sorcerer of the Second Circle and a fair occultist and investigator as well. They had once spent many hours together with their mutual friend, Eternal Winter, wiling away the hours with entertainment, philosophy, and martial arts practice. Ever since she had joined the Outer Circle of the Bronze Faction, however, she had become more and more reclusive and involved with faction politics.
"It is a joy to see you, Quill," said Felicity. He practiced the Perfection in Life stance and began to radiate calm serenity and effusive joy, bringing happiness to the fates of all who viewed him. He did it because he knew Emerald Script Quill liked it.
She broke out in spontaneous laughter, "And likewise, my friend. Only you could knock someone over and leave them better off for it!"
They laughed together at that while they moved over to the long tables filled with all the delicious foods of spring. Between the platters were assorted bouquets of flowers, which added a subtle fragrance to the dishes. Since there was more than either could sample on their own, the two Sidereal split the choices between them and compared notes. Even though they quickly became full, they insisted the other had to try one dish or another that had instantly become a favorite.
"So, what brings you to this function, anyway?" Felicity asked his friend.
"You say that like I wouldn't come just for the food!" she giggled. Felicity grinned. "But, I came with the others," and she subtly inclined her head in the direction of the state room. There inside, Rano-Che and an assortment of other high-status gods conversed with members of the Inner Circle, including Chejop Kejak himself. Instillness Asmile winked at Felicity with a colorless eye from within that chamber. Then, Felicity gaped as he saw none other than the Maiden of Serenity herself step out from behind two Celestial Lions and speak with Master Chejop.
"By the stars, I did not know Rano-Che had such prominent guests at this little party of his!"
"I know. It's why I'm not allowed over there," she sighed wistfully. She left unspoken the assumed "yet".
Felicity scanned the faces of the deities, and wondered, "They almost look like they're having a meeting. An odd spot for such."
"I suppose," Emerald Script Quill said dismissively.
Felicity glanced around and started to become more concerned. "I don't see anyone from the Gold Faction. Or any Serenity Caste other than me. Kind of strange for a party."
"It's probably nothing, Felicity. Say, what do you suppose that tapestry over there is supposed to represent?"
Felicity glared at her and noted that she was looking nervous and embarrassed. Then, her eyes widened to fully show her eyes of emerald green. She immediately began to glow with a green aura that lapped at her feet and at the hem of Felicity's robe.
"Someone was reading your thoughts, Felicity!"
He blinked, completely lost as to what was transpiring.
"I was supposed to come over here and just get you away from Rano-Che for a bit, they didn't tell me anyone was going to invade your mind, I promise!"
"Quill, I believe you," Felicity said. And he did. She was the worst liar ever. He'd heard that most Secrets Caste considered it a major flaw in her character. "But what is going on?" Felicity looked about just in time to see a Secrets Caste that he did not recognize moving away from him and into the state room. Something about the way she fidgeted with a decorative shawl indicated to him that she had in fact been spying on his thoughts for the purpose of investigating his involvement with some kind of disagreeable activity. It was a little bit of a stretch, but Felicity's social perception had been honed very finely through the intricate politicking at the Cerulean Lute of Harmony.
"I think I'm being investigated," Felicity whispered to Emerald Script Quill.
"What? Why would anyone do that?" she said too loudly.
"I don't know. But maybe I should leave," he said with disappointment. He had been looking forward to this function for a month. All he knew was that he hadn't been involved with anything remotely illegal or questionable beyond normal childish pranks since he had arrived in Heaven ten years before. In fact, he kept himself strictly separate from the struggles between the factions knowing that he could easily be punished by either side for any transgression.
"Don't leave, but let me find out what's going on," Emerald Script Quill said. She turned to one side and shielded her mouth. She coughed quietly and spat out a spider made of emerald, glowing essence which quickly scurried away.
"Subtle, Quill. Real subtle," Felicity commented, feeling as though he was being observed, still. He finally decided to ask, "Who's that?", and he pointed toward the woman who he suspected had invaded his mind.
Emerald Script Quill glanced over, "That's Navia. I don't know her very well. She keeps to herself."
Felicity suppressed a chuckle at a description that could easily suit every Secrets Caste he had ever known. But, coming from another Secrets Caste, maybe it meant something.
Felicity was handed a drink by a servant, who had apparently detected that Felicity was wanting one. Shrugging, the Serenity Caste took it and sipped. He sat on a stone bench that was gilded in gold and sported a thick cushion stuffed with the down of hundred infant hybrocs.
"You don't know what's going on?" Emerald Script Quill asked Felicity as she joined him.
"Not the least. Probably more of the same suspicion. Something's wrong and I'm being scapegoated, like always," he said with more weariness and less bitterness than he had expected of himself.
"And you haven't done anything recently... been involved with anyone or anything?"
Felicity gave her a look that conveyed, "You must be joking."
"Okay, fine. I'm sorry, Felicity. I don't know what to say." Instead, she hugged him. She smelled like a fresh ocean breeze, and also of lotus flowers.
"It's okay, Quill."
"I wonder how long it'll be before they trust you. You are not Nuche Keru!" she whispered vehemently, referring to Felicity's predecessor. The man whose astrological indescretions had forced Felicity to become inducted into most of the astrological colleges so as to cancel effects that were disrupting all of Creation. It had taken Felicity years before he fully understood the implications of some of the prayer strips that he terminated with a signature. Many had durations lasting for dozens of generations and a few had such wide-ranging scope as to influence the destiny of whole nations. One of the first he had been taught to cancel concerned a diminishing of spiritual temperament that had blanketed the entire Blessed Isle! This had been deemed impossible by his teachers, and Felicity had learned not to talk about his predecessor. He had seen fear in the eyes of his mentors. He had been instructed via a memo from the Maiden of Serenity herself to never discuss the scariest aspect of all: that some of the astrological interventions were even now taking effect. Somehow, Nuche Keru had figured out a way to alter future destiny, separated by the many years following that man's death.
"No, I am not Nuche Keru," Felicity responded quietly to Emerald Script Quill. "And everyone seems set on keeping me that way."
"It's not fair. I mean, I know that you'd never become the scandal that he was," she said, referring to the fact that Nuche Keru had been Bronze Faction but was then known to support some of the returning Solar to accomplish his objectives. Objectives that had never been completed, as far as could be told, and remained a mystery even to Felicity and the investigators who had tried to draw memories straight from Felicity's anima. "I know I shouldn't ask you, but if you joined the Bronze Faction, I'm certain it would do much to ameliorate their concerns."
Felicity mechanically repeated his usual argument against factional politics, "It's not my job to side for or against the Realm or the Solar. My job is to inspire and promote serenity."
"I know, I know," she said. She released Felicity from her embrace. At such times, she felt like a big sister to Felicity. He appreciated what family he had in Heaven more than he could ever say.
They rose and tried to make the best of things for awhile. Whatever the content or results of the Bronze Faction discussion that evening, the Sidereal and gods in the state room eventually dispersed amongst the other party goers. The Maiden of Serenity was spotted leaving with the God of Reckless Abandonment to Sensual Bliss and the party continued uninterrupted.
Rano-Che made no effort to approach Felicity, so the Serenity Caste gave his friend his space and focused on entertaining guests with ancient stories from the South, but adding a modern twist. He soon forgot his worries and almost left the party late that night without a care in the world.
But on his way out, he spied a Secrets Caste with whom he had never before spoken standing in one alcove. The man glared at Felicity and mouthed the words, "Do not go to work tomorrow or risk the consequences."
Then, the man was abruptly gone and had, in fact, been somewhere else the entire time. Felicity had no evidence for the threat, but was left the memory of a warning that was never given.
To be continued...