Third Edition

Moderator: Logos Invictus

 
User avatar
emerald viper
Essence 2
Essence 2
Topic Author
Posts: 86
Joined: 03 Aug 2010, 20:03
Title: Changing Moon
Exalt: Lunar
Fighting Style: Dodge Charms
Location: Texas
Contact:

Alexander The Great (Read 1st)

03 Aug 2010, 21:05

I've been working on this story for a little while now and would appreciate any constructive comments. Sometimes I also post Exalted pieces on Deviant Art. I'm deathly bored currently and will doubtless be reading some other stories and commenting soonish.

I've done some major rewriting of this story and there's a series of perspective shifts in it now. That's also why the title has changed to "The Dowager's Well".

Different characters telling the story makes it a bit better (I think). Seems that a lot of people looked it over here but no one had anything to say (good or bad). Without further adieu, I'll begin with my next post.
Last edited by emerald viper on 28 Oct 2011, 23:33, edited 2 times in total.
 
User avatar
emerald viper
Essence 2
Essence 2
Topic Author
Posts: 86
Joined: 03 Aug 2010, 20:03
Title: Changing Moon
Exalt: Lunar
Fighting Style: Dodge Charms
Location: Texas
Contact:

Re: Alexander the Great

03 Aug 2010, 21:33

Prologue – Tepet Genji's Story, Paraphrased from The Account Given at His Trial

“Tepet Genji?” The soldier who had come to fetch me was an enormous lion-faced Anathema, one of The Faeslayer’s ferocious servants. I stood obediently at the sound of my name. Being a sorcerer and not a warrior, I knew that it was best to pretend to be complacent while I searched for a means of escape.

"Come with me." The lion man ordered.

I did not protest. As I slowly rose to my feet, I touched on the dagger hidden in the folds of my clothing. It was not much of a weapon - but it was a weapon. Now what to do with it?

I considered the lion man who had stopped several feet ahead of me, near the entrance of the tent where I had been kept for more than three days. The top of my head barely reached the middle of his chest and his shoulders were so broad that I did not doubt he could easily carry a man my size like a child might carry a little lamb. My dagger would do very little damage against such a foe. I decided to keep it hidden for as long as I could. If it looked as though I were about to be tortured or killed, I could swiftly take my own life.

Although killing the demons who had taken me prisoner would have certainly been an accomplishment (or as some might say - the "duty" of any Dynast), I'd heard enough stories about "Alexander Faeslayer" since departing The Blessed Isle and knew better than to challenge one of his servants directly. The lion man who served as the head of his private guard was especially infamous and had been raiding and pillaging throughout the Scavenger Lands for more than twenty years.

So to answer your question... no. I did not attempt to fight my captors.

Really, what kind of imbecile tests their "spiritual superiority" against a Forsaken with an army of beastmen anyway?

And no, as I have already stated many times - I had not purposefully sought ought the Anathema to get myself killed. In those days I still received an admirable stipend from my House and the sumptuous prize of jade on the demon's head did not tempt me. You see, while I do fully understand the necessity of The Wyld Hunt, I am a firm believer that such business is best left in the hands of hot-headed Cathak children who wouldn't know what to do with The Scarlet Throne if it came crashing down upon their heads.

Or you know, we could always turn the whole rotten business over to Anathema-hunting-Anathema, like that damned Faeslayer?

But enough of that for now. My personal feelings on the matter are irrelevant - as my esteemed brother-in-law has already made clear. I shall tell what happened in the simplest possible terms so that everyone present will better understand why I am here standing trial before you and not being crowned with laurels in some silly little parade.

When that lion man came to fetch me, it had been three days since my captivity began. in all that time I had not caught the smallest glimpse of The Faeslayer. For the most part, we were surrounded by animals... but nevertheless my servants and I had been treated most admirably. None of us had been abused and the food that we were served morning and night was of such quality that I could scarcely believe that we were truly prisoners – and not honoured guests.

I had known before departing on my journey, as our dear Ledaal Tsuni has already pointed out - that skirting too close to Nexus was bound to be risky business. Everyone spoke of the Anathema gathering there and what they had done to the formerly foul, dangerous city. To be honest, what had drawn me so close to obvious danger was something far more sentimental than I should probably admit. In her dying will, my mother left me nothing at all... save for a single hearthstone that she promised was the key to a "very unusual manse". Naturally, I decided to investigate. I wanted to know if I had been slighted - or if I had been given a secret gift.

A natural sentiment, yes?

“Move it!” The lion-man grunting, taking my moment's hesitation as cause to shove me rudely in the direction of his master’s tent.

It was the first time I had been struck and it startled me - somewhat. I steadied myself for the horror that I would surely witness, being brought before one of the most terrible Anathema in all of Creation.

The lion-man did not step into The Faeslayer's tent before me. He only stood at attention and motioned for me to enter. I smoothed out my clothing as best as I could and did as I was told. I was Exalted by the grace of Sextis Jylis. I would not be afraid.

What I did see when my eyes adjusted to the dim light left me at a loss for words. Though the golden armor and the massive orichalcum daiklave that rested in the corner of the tent left me no doubt as to the true nature of my jailer, The Faeslayer himself was hardly imposing, at least not in a physical sense. He was slightly taller than my own height, just over six feet and had the build of a runner, lithe and strong without the bulk of too much muscle. His skin was tanned from the sun and his blonde hair was bleached almost white. He glanced up at me as I entered and I found myself staring at his striking blue eyes.

“Ah, good! You must be Tepet Genji.” The Faeslayer exclaimed, a smile on his face. His voice was very pleasant and he spoke High Realm without the distinctly provincial accent that I had become so accustomed to while travelling in the Scavenger Lands.

I will not lie - I found him very attractive.

It's a kind of power that he has, you must understand. And I'm not the only one who has noticed it! The Faeslayer can make you think that he is beautiful and noble even when you know otherwise. Like his name, like a Fair One!

“Tell me, how have my soldiers been treating you?” The Faeslayer asked.

“Well enough.” I replied stiffly, averting my gaze. I did not know if it would prevent him from prying into my mind, but it seemed a logical course of action. “What do you want from me?”

"First I should apologise for detaining you." He replied. "As you've sworn to my men, you do appear to be travelling on personal business - not scouting around looking to make trouble."

There was an earnestness in his words, as if he cared very much how I felt about the circumstances - and that startled me almost as much as his first smile had.

How appropriate that evil should be so alluring, so difficult to resist!

That was when I saw a familiar wooden chest on the desk before The Faeslayer, my writing box which contained all of my precious paper and inks.

“You’ll find that everything is in order.” The Faeslayer informed me. “You may continue your journey first thing tomorrow.”

“You’re releasing me? As simple as that?” I stared at him in disbelief.

“I only held you in order to verify your story. Since you're not a spy, you’re free to go.” He replied. His manner was extremely straightforward, not at all the kind of riddle-speak that Anathema were so famous for. I tested his words with a Charm and found them to be completely honest. Though I suspected The Faeslayer might have been able to manipulate even my best magic, I still felt compelled to say something.

“Thank you.” I paused, feeling a familiar annoying prick beginning in the back of my mind. I have been both blessed and cursed with insatiable curiosity, a thing which made me one of the best students of my class at the Heptagram and the very bane of my father’s simple existence.

“Though I would ask a favor of you.” The Faeslayer added.

“What sort of favor?” I wondered, instantly on guard.

“Nothing very important. Don’t be so nervous! Although… I suppose I can’t blame you.” The demon laughed slightly. And as much as I wanted to hate him for what he was, I could not find the strength to do so. There was something in his demeanour which was so… likeable!

Damn it all, why wasn’t he a loathsome monster?

“I want you to write a letter for me – and deliver it.” He explained.

“Surely you could…” I began.

“Write it myself? I could. But my penmanship leaves something to be desired, and this letter must be perfect.” The demon sighed and poured me a glass of wine. “All of our business here is conducted in Old Realm or Riverspeak, as I’m sure you’ve observed. As much as I’m loathe to admit it, my High Realm has become a bit rusty.”

His speech sounded so perfect that I wondered what other motivation he might have for making such a peculiar request. I tried my Charm again and learned only that he was nervous about the letter writing – though I could not discern why.

“Time is not very important, so by all means… go to your mother’s manse and stay as long as you like. You should have no trouble finding the recipient of my letter when you return to the Imperial City.”

“Well then.” I observed, slowly opening my writing box. The task set before me seemed harmless enough and arguing with one of the most powerful and feared Anathema in all of Creation would get me nowhere. “To whom should this letter of yours be addressed?”

“To the Dragonlord Cathak Chiron.” The demon replied. “My father.”
 
User avatar
emerald viper
Essence 2
Essence 2
Topic Author
Posts: 86
Joined: 03 Aug 2010, 20:03
Title: Changing Moon
Exalt: Lunar
Fighting Style: Dodge Charms
Location: Texas
Contact:

Re: Alexander The Great/The Dowager's Well (reboot)

13 Jul 2011, 22:42

Chapter One – Exalted

“It may surprise you to learn that I was born and raised in the Imperial City. I received my earliest education from Immaculate monks and spent my childhood days dreaming of leading gallant Wyld Hunts against fair folk and demons. My father was the great Dragonlord Cathak Chiron. I’m sure you’ve heard his name before. Let me tell you this… his reputation is well deserved. Even if he were not my father, I would still consider him to be one of the best generals since the Shogunate Era.

When I was a child, I idolized all of the heroes of House Cathak. I could not have been more than four years old when my father first returned to the Blessed Isle after the capture of Lookshy, but I distinctly remember being put up on a servant’s shoulders so that I could witness the sight of him riding into the city. And ever after that day, I became determined to prove myself worthy of his Scarlet Legion. I worked much harder than most of my siblings, received better marks in school and was “the leader” in all of the games that we played.

Had I been a legitimate son, I might have been groomed as a candidate for the Scarlet Throne… but my mother was a slave girl of no importance, long gone from our House by the time of my earliest memory.
Before I was sent away to the military academy of Paisap’s Stair, I was the responsibility of our servants, my elder siblings and my great-aunt Garel, the head of our House. My father was often away at war, and my stepmother was far too busy to care for any of her children, least of all the illegitimate ones. If anything, she seemed annoyed that my great-aunt “wasted” so much time of her time with me. As you may already know,

Cathak Garel is regarded as one of the foremost military historians in the Realm, which says nothing of her reputation as the strictest instructor at Paisap’s Stair. For some three-hundred years she has been feared and revered by every student to enter those hallowed halls, and it is often said that there is not a Dragonlord alive who did not once suffer through her course on Shogunate Era warfare.

It may seem strange to you that a person of such importance took an interest in my upbringing, especially since most young Dynasts see very little of their elder relatives. But then again, my great-aunt was already very old by the time of my birth. She preferred to spend her days working on her chronicles near the koi pond in her private garden rather than involving herself in the intrigue games of the Imperial Court. As a child, that secret little cove of green was one of my favorite places to play. Whenever I saw Aunt Garel put down her pen, I would rush to her side and beg her to tell me about the heroes of our House, particularly my father.

There was nothing I wanted more than to make him proud of me. Like a moth drawn to a candle flame, I chased that feeble hope that someday our patron Hesiesh, the Elemental Dragon of Fire, would find me worthy of Exaltation. My greatest dream was to become a Dragonlord myself.

I was born on the first of Ascending Water in the year that the Scarlet Empress vanished. No, I am not as “ancient” as most people seem to believe – I have always been what you might call an “old soul”. As a child I took to heart the lessons of the Immaculates, believing that if I behaved like one of the Exalted I would surely join their honored company. I was a model student and graduated near the top of my class, despite not being an Exalt. My last day of school at twenty years of age was also the day of my enlistment in the Imperial Army. And I knew on my first day in the field that I had found my true calling. I was born to be a soldier.

I rose through the lower ranks very quickly, as good soldiers often do. There was no limit to my ambition, but I lacked the raw ability of the Dragonblooded. The beginning of my twenty-fifth year was like a death knell to me. I was forced to accept then that Hesiesh had somehow overlooked me. Even the weak-blooded who were destined to Exalt came into their own before that age. I cannot imagine what a disappointment it must have been to my family. There were none of the usual festivities on my birthday and my great-aunt refused to attend dinner. Her only words to me were cold, concealing more pain than she dared express. She advised me to go into a monastery and pray for Enlightenment. I was dead to her already.

For the first time in my life, I felt compelled to rebel. Though most of my relatives truly thought that I would make a good monk, stories of glorious battles still called out to me more strongly than any sacred texts. More importantly, I could not conceive of a living in a place that did not resemble a military encampment. Even if the path of a Dragonlord was closed to me, I knew that I could still pursue some small command. In every respect, I continued to excel in my chosen profession and I do believe that my father was still proud of me – at least as proud as he could be of an illegitimate, weak-blooded son.

All of my efforts were soon eclipsed by the Exaltation of my younger brother, Jaret. You must understand, this came as a surprise to almost every member of House Cathak. Despite the fact that he was one of my father’s few legitimate children, Jaret was not held in high regard by most of our family. He was nearly disowned dozens of times and usually kept under someone else’s supervision. I had always felt a certain responsibility towards him myself, being six years his senior.

No matter how I tried to inspire him, Jaret consistently neglected his studies. Drinking and gambling were his chief past times and though he was a good swordsman, he had no talent for strategy and he viewed responsibility of any kind with the same sort of disdain that most people reserved for ticks and lice. And yet somehow Hesiesh saw fit to Exalt him instead of me!

At first I was furious at the Dragons for choosing my brother who had never respected anyone or anything in his life! My father dismissed my harsh appraisal of Jaret’s character. He believed that my brother would “grow into” his gifts and to some extent, Jaret’s Second Breath did change him. He soon discovered that with his new strength he could afford to behave more recklessly than ever before.

Something clearly had to be done, and so it was decided by my stepmother that Jaret would turn down a prestigious commission on the Blessed Isle, a soft position which he favored. Instead, both he and I would travel to the Scavenger Lands, joining Winglord Mnemon Rai Jin and his infamous legion - The Ravenous Winds.

I was certain that Jaret wouldn’t last more than a season with The Winds, but I avoided expressing my doubts. I was already well accustomed to life under “Old Thunderstormer’s” command – I had served him faithfully for seven years. When I failed to Exalt, I was not given the opportunity to join my father’s legendary Scarlets, but not all Imperial legions were restricted to the Dragonblooded. Mnemon Rai had personally selected me out of my class at Paisap’s Stair. He said that he admired my tenacity and warned me that the path ahead of me would be difficult, but also promised that if I showed courage and sound judgment I would not go unrewarded.

It has often been said that The Ravenous Winds march more miles in a single campaign than any army in Creation, and that Mnemon Rai hunts Anathema like some pretentious nobles hunt pheasants. All of that is true. More importantly, however, Mnemon Rai characteristically favors grit over breeding and commands one of the few legions in the Realm where a mortal might actually be promoted over a Dragonblood.

Though he seldom played the political games favored by many of his peers, Mnemon Rai knew that he was expected to give my brother a position befitting a promising young Dynast and scion of House Cathak. He dutifully granted Jaret command of a single Fang of fifty men and appointed me as my brother’s second officer. It was a significant demotion that made me furious, one that I had done nothing to deserve! I suspected that our father had given the order and did my best to hold my tongue. From that day forward, I knew that Jaret would reap all of the glory… while I did all of the work.

The first few months we served together were murderous. Jaret quickly learned the importance of properly caring for his own weapons when there was no one else to tend them. He stopped complaining about rain, dirt and insects when another member of our legion drew a humiliating picture of him dressed in ridiculous silks and a little feathered hat. And as the reality of his predicament began to set in, Jaret became somewhat more tolerable. We had a few good conversations while camped along the Gray River, and after a long hard march through the muck and rice fields south of Nexus, I finally mustered up the courage to ask my brother what it felt like to Exalt. He told me simply that at the moment of his Second Breath, the world became “a different sort of place”. I did not understand what he meant by those words, but I came to accept what Hesiesh had obviously intended. If Jaret had become the rock on which all of our father’s hopes and dreams rested, it was my duty to protect him – to teach him the things he had never wished to learn before. And in doing so, I would be serving my House.

I was finally resigned to my new future as Jaret’s keeper when our legion came to the city of Nexus. Now you may think this strange, but at that time Nexus has no proper government whatsoever. It had long been ruled by The Guild, a secretive organization largely composed of crooked merchants, slavers, brothel madams and drug peddlers. Some centuries ago The Guild’s spiritual leader, an individual known only as “The Emissary” had passed a provision stating that no army could be brought into Nexus – which was of course, a direct challenge to the legions of The Realm. Many in the Imperial City protested that Nexus should be crushed for daring to contest the right of the Dragonblooded to rule Creation. But because of The Guild’s secrecy, no one could guess the whole of its strength. Even when my father had conquered nearby Lookshy, he felt compelled to stay well clear of Nexus – not wanting to provoke what could prove to be the most terrible war ever fought in the Scavenger Lands.

Needless to say, Jaret and I were both quite surprised to discover that Mnemon Rai had somehow acquired a “special dispensation” from The Emissary himself. Of all the legions in the Imperial Army, only The Ravenous Winds could camp without fear of reprisal outside of Nexus’s walls. Ranking officers could even enter the city on a day pass, provided that they signed a dozen waivers.

Jaret and I had only just arrived in Nexus when we received word from our cousin Andric that the fae were attacking several nearby mines which our House held a stake in. Mnemon Rai agreed that Jaret and I could take our Fang to investigate.

In retrospect, I should have taken charge from the beginning… Jaret had never fought fae before and had no comprehension of how dangerous they were. Nevertheless, our soldiers remained under his command. Most of them were men that I had led for years, skilled and experienced. Even still, the situation was far worse than we had anticipated. I knew when I saw the devastation of the first mine that our Fang was not nearly sufficient to deal with the fae threat. But my brother was intent on making a name for himself and he chose to push ahead when all reason begged him to turn back. I made the last-minute call to undercut his authority and put a vote before the men who unanimously decided that we should return to Mnemon Rai and tell him what we had seen. Unfortunately, my decision wounded more than Jaret’s pride.

Despite having Exalted, my brother was still painfully aware that most of our House considered him a failure. When our soldiers refused to follow him further East, Jaret went on alone.

And so I did the only thing I could, the only thing that my loyalty to my House would allow me to do. I left our remaining men safely behind the walls of a little town called Haven and went after my brother myself. They were told to rejoin Mnemon Rai if I had not returned by sunrise. I anticipated that I was going on a suicide mission and did not want to risk their lives as well.

I finally caught up with Jaret in a place decimated by Wyld taint, the remains of one of House Cathak’s most profitable holdings. The place absolutely reeked of death. All of the buildings were burning, there were bodies scattered everywhere and the air was thick with putrid black smoke.

Jaret was lying face down in a pool of greenish water mixed with his own blood. He was surrounded by cheering, jabbering goblins and I would have believed him to be dead as well if he hadn’t been flaring with Essence. His fiery red anima burned so brightly that I could feel the heat of it from where I hid. Jaret struggled to his knees. As the Fae closed in on him, I was compelled to make my presence known.

“Back! Get away!” I shouted, charging in with my sword held high. Most of the goblins scattered. A few weren’t quite fast enough. I’d often coveted my brother’s fine jade daiklave, but I was grateful for my simple iron blade then. You see, cold iron is the bane of the fae and they are the most malevolent creatures in all Creation. Single-minded beasts, they live only to undermine the best and most constructive efforts of mankind and transform whatever they can sink their claws into back into pools of formless chaos. The fae have no sense of honor whatsoever and will cheat their way out of anything they are not sworn to uphold. Many prefer to view their fallen comrades simply as a source of fresh meat.

Though the goblins could have easily regrouped and mobbed me after my first awkward assault, they began to nervously move towards the trees. About half of their numbers skittered up into the higher branches, watching Jaret and myself in anticipation. My brother scrambled to his feet. I almost gave him my arm before I remembered that the Essence currently flaring around him would burn my skin off.

“Loren? You followed me?” Jaret glanced nervously in my direction. If he had been angry with me for opposing his authority before, I could tell that he’d forgiven me then. He knew that he had made a mistake, and now he feared that both of us would pay the price for it.

“Of course I did. Exalted or not, you’re still my little brother.” I replied.

“I don’t know if I should thank you or kill you.” He paused. “I think something’s coming.” Jaret observed. “Something… big.”

I sensed as much myself. I made a slow circle around Jaret, watching the trees for any sign of motion. A furious rumbling began beneath our feet, causing little stones to jump into the air. Whatever it was, it was tremendously huge and moving fast.

Before I could determine which direction I should be facing, the most terrible beast I had ever seen came charging out of the trees. Fully thirty feet long, it had a centipede-like body composed of various pieces of rotting flesh and a large, circular maw ringed with yellowed teeth. It let loose an earsplitting squeal, splattering both of us with gore.

You would think that nothing could possibly be more horrifying than a giant, Wyld-mutated carrion-eater… but that was when I noticed that the ground we were standing on had begun to crack.

Jaret seized my arm and wretched me after him into the brush. The section of my chain shirt that his hand set upon instantly heated red hot and burned through my gambeson, searing my skin. I scarcely noticed the pain. We clung to a mess of roots and rubble as a tremendous pit opened up beneath us, so deep that no light reached the bottom. The sound of the earth caving in was deafening.

We both stared in horror at the sinkhole. Were we still on unstable ground? It seemed so.

“I… I should have listened to you, Loren. You’ve always been smarter than me.” Jaret whispered. It was a tremendous concession for him to admit such a thing. Obviously he believed that his life was over.
Seeing my brother so vulnerable and afraid, I forgave him for everything he had ever done. I no longer felt any of my petty jealousies and decided that if one of us was going to be killed, it would not be Jaret. My brother had so much more ahead of him than I did… more than I ever would. I could not bring myself to hate him for having been given the chance to finally make our father proud.

“You must get out of here.” I told him. “Run as far as you can, and rejoin the Winds in Haven! I’ll hold it off!”
If Jaret tried to protest, I didn’t hear him.

Shouts and jeers from the goblins in the trees turned into shrieks of terror as I charged the monster. Being cowards by nature, I was sure that not one of the fae could imagine having nothing left to lose. The ground collapsed behind me with each step I took but I did not hesitate, not for a heartbeat!

After pursuing Jaret for days with nothing but frustration and fear propelling me, I knew I was in no condition to fight. I had bloody gashes all over my body from fae claws and my burned shoulder still throbbed with pain. I only hoped that I could wound the beast and drive it off before it killed me.

But then I saw something I had not expected, the perfect opening! I followed through with a clean strike, severing the monster’s head in a single blow.

And that was when I felt it.

Power. Power beyond all comparison!

A white-gold haze filled my vision as I struck with a strength I should not have possessed. The monster collapsed at my feet. I remembered a battle to the likes of which Creation had not seen, not in thousands of years! I saw myself at the head of a tremendous army, routing hordes of fae back into the Wyld.

And I remember thinking to myself… this is what I was born to do! All my life, this is what I’ve been waiting for!

The sheer glory of it all brought tears to my eyes. Even after I was returned to myself, I could still taste that long-ago victory. I felt like a priest standing before the altar - in the presence of a God. I felt compelled to offer a prayer of thanks, but the right words stuck in my throat - they were in a language that I did not realize I had forgotten.

The teachings of the Immaculates say that we have all lived many times before, and that only the truly blessed are capable of recalling what they have been or done. I knew with absolute certainty that what I had witnessed was part of my own soul’s memories, and that I had somehow borrowed a fraction of the strength I had once possessed in order to save my brother’s life.

I didn’t even bother to consider how impossible what I had done was until I saw the beast’s head lying on the ground. Its teeth were fully as long as my hand, and its neck was covered in articulated gossamer plates, armor that I knew I should not have been able to cut through, even with a cold iron sword.

All of the lesser Fae had vanished. The forest was silent as a tomb.

But Jaret and I were not alone.

A spider-like white wraith with eight arms and a dozen eyes stood on the edge of the trees, flanked by several of the lesser goblins. It was clear that she was a leader amongst her kind. She watched me warily, as if she were faced with a great and worthy opponent, one whose blood she desired above all else. I stepped over the corpse of her pet monster and approached her without fear. We stood less than three feet apart.

“Leave this place!” I ordered. My own voice sounded strange to me.

“Tiger, tiger burning bright. These eyes have seen you!” She hissed… and then vanished as if she had never been.

I knew a threat when I heard one… but more importantly, I knew that I had won. I had slain a monster that had slaughtered forty men, forced an old, dangerous faery queen into retreat, saved my brother and somehow lived to tell the tale!

I smiled slightly, knowing that no one would believe what had just happened. I scarcely believed it myself. And yet I did not feel as I had only moments before, stretched to my limit. I felt as if I was a child again, brought for the first time to Paisap’s Stair – my eyes opened to a vast new world. How shocking it was to believe that I had reached the end of my life and then to discover that it was only the beginning!

When I was certain the fae were gone, I ran for my brother. He’d only staggered a few feet away from where I’d left him, but he looked somewhat steadier than before. A tempest of golden light cut through the smoke between us like the sun’s rays through early morning clouds. It was not until I saw my brother’s face that I realized that the light I saw was coming from me.

The first word Jaret spoke cut through my heart like a spear of ice. His eyes were full of hate.
“Anathema.”

“No!” I protested. “Jaret, it’s me, Loren! Your brother!”

“Liar!” He cried. Leaping at me with a speed I had not thought he possessed, he swung his blade at my head. “You’re not my brother! You’re one of the Forsaken! Did you kill him? Did you kill Loren?”

Since I had no weapon at all myself, I was forced to dodge his first awkward assault.

“Jaret, stop! I swear it, I’m your brother! Idiot! Stop, look at me! ” I begged him. For certain, I knew that something had changed within me... but how could I possibly have become be a demon?

Out of the two of us, Jaret had always been the superior swordsman. Still, as he attacked me, I found that I could easily parry his every move. It was more than just my brother’s wounds slowing him down, that much was obvious to me. My own eyes had changed, the eyes that I saw him with.

Jaret did not falter. He forced me back a dozen paces and then caught me off guard. His daiklave struck solidly against my wounded shoulder, shattering my armor but glancing harmlessly off of my skin which glowed like new bronze. The force of his blow sent him staggering backwards. I reached out to grab him before he toppled into the chasm, but the moment I caught his hand, he drove his blade into my stomach. I was so stunned by the pain that I doubled over. And as I dropped to my knees, he fell into the sinkhole.

I did not have to look to know that Jaret was dead. I stared instead at my own reflection, mud and blood staining my hands and my clothes. What should have been the a familiar face was nothing but a blur of gold that almost held the shape of a man. Wounded as I was, I sensed that I should have bled far more than I did... and while the glorious invincibility I'd felt killing the monster had faded somewhat, it did not entirely depart. Even after the light around me dissipated, I felt as though I could fly... as if every burden I had ever struggled to carry was suddenly lifted from my back. Though I did not understand why or how, I knew that I was changed.

It took me eight hours to find my brother's body and much longer than that to carry him back to what was left of our Fang, all the while bleeding from a gut wound that should have been fatal. I said nothing about what had happened, too shaken by the events to make sense of them and still unconvinced that Jaret was gone.

I remembered what my brother had said about the world “different” after he Exalted… and I feared with all of my heart that the worst was yet to come.
 
User avatar
emerald viper
Essence 2
Essence 2
Topic Author
Posts: 86
Joined: 03 Aug 2010, 20:03
Title: Changing Moon
Exalt: Lunar
Fighting Style: Dodge Charms
Location: Texas
Contact:

Re: Alexander The Great/The Dowager's Well (reboot)

13 Jul 2011, 22:46

Chapter Two – Dreams of the First Age

As soon as I met up with Mnemon Rai, I sent a letter to our father, informing him of Jaret’s death. I knew it would take several months for him to receive the news and I wanted my message to arrive on The Blessed Isle before I did. I explained to the Winglord what had happened as well as I could but said nothing of my brother turning on me. His younger, impulsive son being killed by Fae was something that my father could understand. I didn’t dare tell him what had really happened. In truth, I did not believe that he could stand to lose both of us at once.

I was permitted to rest until I felt well enough to travel, at which point I was responsible for bringing my brother’s remains home. Being that ours is a military House, the Cathak cemetery is somewhat larger than most of those in the Imperial City. Even still, it is reserved exclusively for the Dragonblooded members of the family. Jaret would be interred alongside our elder sister and some cousins who’d been killed at Thorns. Our father would deliver a heartfelt tribute to his valor, Aunt Garel would write his story into her books and every spring Jaret’s mother would bring flowers to his grave. When I died, I knew that there would be no such ceremony for me. I would be buried wherever I fell and my name would be forgotten.

Had I ever dwelt on my own death before? I could not remember if I had, but I knew for certain that it had never felt more immanent. Someone would learn what had happened to me, and since I knew I could not bring myself to raise my sword against a friend or kinsmen, I would be cut down like a rabid dog.

I did not sleep well for weeks after that day. I paced and woke at unusual hours of the night, drank heavily and avoided speaking to anyone. Everyone from the camp followers who handled our baggage to the Winglord himself knew that I was Jaret’s keeper. They were all as kind to me as soldiers know how to be… which is to say that they left me alone. Perhaps they felt that I was blaming myself for his death.

But the truth was, I could not even think of my brother, not at first. Whenever I closed my eyes for longer than a heartbeat, images flooded into my mind and familiar voices rang in my ears. At first I thought I was hallucinating from the morphine I had been given, but the feeling that came over me as I drifted between waking and sleep was more akin to accessing an unstoppable torrent of memories, the memories of my past self.

I first dreamt that I was the general a very large army. That in itself was not unusual for me. I imagine that most ambitious young soldiers fantasize about being earning an officer’s commission. The problem was, in days past I had seen myself serving the Scarlet Dynasty, making my father proud and bringing great honor to House Cathak. But following Jaret’s death… well, I had no words for what I was seeing! My lessons in history led me to believe that I was witnessing a time very long ago, before the rise of the Shogunate. Still, what I saw in my mind’s eye was so different than anything Aunt Garel had ever taught me about.

The city I lived in was staggeringly beautiful. My life was a whirlwind of grand campaigns and state events. Everyone I spoke to treated me with the utmost respect and after a long day’s work, I returned home to a palace overlooking a pristine blue river and rolling green hills.

Always at my side was a weapon of surpassing beauty, a daiklave with a six foot blade forged of a lustrous golden metal that I recognized as orichalcum. The magical ore was exceedingly rare and known for its tremendous weight. No mortal or Dragonblood could hope to wield such a blade, which left me with only one conclusion. In the life that I was remembering, I had been one of the Anathema.

Or… what were the words that my past self would have used?

Dawn Caste. Solar.

The first night that I slept soundly, I dreamt of a woman. I’d sensed for some time that she was present when I returned to my palace but she always seemed to be sitting or standing somewhere where I could not see her face. I knew that she would sometimes rest her head on my shoulder as I watched the sun rise – the sound of her breathing was unmistakable, and the sensation of her fingers trailing along the back of my neck was intimately familiar to me. I could find no words to describe how those early morning memories made me feel, except that I was more at peace than I had ever been. There was a certain “rightness” in the world that had too long eluded me.

“Where do you want to go for breakfast?” My lover asked. I turned slowly, simultaneously remembering her appearance and taking it in for the first time. I was struck by how exceptionally beautiful she was, dressed in a form-fitting gown of dark blue that accentuated all of her curves. Her hair was silvery colored and cropped short. When she tilted her head to the side, it fell over one of her golden eyes. She smiled as she spoke to me.

“How about Calypsis?” I suggested, naming a place that seemed very far away.

“It’ll take us all day to get there.” She replied. “Don’t you have to meet with Perfect this afternoon?”

“I’ve already canceled.” I replied. “In fact, I’ve canceled every one of my appointments until the fifth of Ascending Fire. I’ve also taken the liberty of clearing up your schedule.”

“You took a whole month off?” She blinked in surprise. “Who are you and what have you done with my Alexander?” She demanded, elbowing me.

That was the name I went by in my dreams. I knew it as my own and could have instinctively answered to it, had someone like Roach or Mnemon Rai shouted it in my general direction.

“What? Amira, you said you wanted to get away for awhile, and so I arranged it! Though I can’t imagine what we’re going to do with ourselves with so much free time.”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll think of… something.” She kissed me.

I woke up a few hours before dawn. My student sat beside my bedside, watching me with amusement. “Roach” was roughly fifteen years old, short and wiry with sun-browned skin and a mischievous smile permanently fixed on his face. I had found him in the desert on my first long march and he had been following me for the better part of the last six years. By official rule, there were no servants or students in The Ravenous Winds – every man was supposed to be his own master. Mnemon Rai had made a rare exception for Roach, mostly because he believed that I could turn the boy into a decent scout.

Whatever his official standing, Roach was charismatic and popular with the men. If anything, he was something of a legion mascot, the whore’s son “student” of the un-Exalted House Cathak “officer”. Perhaps I was not Enlightened enough to lead Dragonblooded, but no one could argue my right to train The Ravenous Winds’ resident “sand monkey”.

“Good dream, Boss?” Roach teased.

“My head is killing me.” I groaned, slowly sitting up.

“So who’s this “Amira”?” Roach pressed.

I felt all of the warmth drain out of my face at the sound of that name.

Roach laughed. “Easy, easy! You know I won’t say anything! She’s married, neh?”

“Y…yes.” I replied awkwardly. It seemed like the right answer.

“You rogue! Didn’t know you had it in you.” He helped me to my feet. “How’s your wound?”

I slowly stood up. I was still a little dizzy from my dream, but I figured that some fresh air would probably clear my head. Solitude is a luxury of being stationed in the middle of nowhere. Before my first campaign, I’d never experienced genuine peace and quiet. With so many relatives living on and around the family estate, dear Aunt Garel had always thought it best to run things like a military encampment… which meant that privacy was unheard of.

“Better. I think I’m going to go for a walk.” I decided.

“Want me to come along? You know, you’re not all that steady on your feet yet.” Roach reminded me. He followed close to my heels as if he were expecting me to fall.

“Roach, I’m not made of glass. I’m a soldier and I’ve been wounded before. Right now I’m going to take a walk down to the river and bathe. And I’d like to do that alone!” I sighed. “I promise, I’ll be back before the sun comes up. If I’m not, you can come find me.”

Strange as it seemed, I knew the precise time of night in the space of a heartbeat and was certain that I could make it down to the river and long before the first rays of light passed over the mountains to the east. What I could not explain was how I knew.

“As you wish, Boss.” Roach gave a little salute.

My student didn’t even attempt to follow me, and I suspected it was because I had used the terrible word “bath”. Although Roach did not like to wash as often as I considered civilized, he was extremely quick-witted and always true to his word. For years I had used him as an armor polisher and groom for my horse, but I had also decided to teach him reading and mathematics. When he began inquiring about Mnemon Rai’s tactics, I made him go over my Aunt Garel’s books, and when he grew strong enough for a sword, I dutifully put one in his hand. Even if he was the son of a whore, irreligious and foul-mouthed, Roach had the makings of a fine soldier… and as I saw it, it wasn’t fair let him waste his life carrying other peoples’ baggage just because he’d been born into poverty and ignorance.

Despite my promise to take it easy, I did run as soon as I was beyond sight of the camp. I ran as if my life depended on it, putting as much distance as I could between myself and my companions. I followed the river until it began to wind into the forest and then a little further. No one would believe that I had recovered as quickly as I had, so I still pretended to be ill. When I was sure that I hadn’t been followed, I knelt down on the grassy bank. There was something I had to do that I didn’t dare attempt unless I knew I was alone.

My dreams had begun planting seeds of doubt in my heart. I was beginning to wonder how much of what had happened at the mine was real and how much I had only imagined. I knew I had to act decisively or I risked going completely insane.

I clenched my fists so tightly that I dug my nails into my palms. I could sense that I had a power inside of me. Was it a demon? Perhaps I could speak with the thing that had chosen me as its host.

“Reveal yourself, monster!” I ordered.

Nothing happened. Was I possessed or wasn’t I? I sensed distantly that I should probably avoid idly throwing about the names of the demons that I was familiar with, lest I accidentally summon one of them from the bowels of Malfeas. I sat in silence for a moment, and then I scoffed at my own stupidity.

There was another answer, a much simpler one. Against all odds, I had somehow Exalted… at age thirty, no less! I knew that what made the Dragonblooded different from ordinary mortals was a thing called Essence, a power breathed into them by the Elemental Dragons themselves. Using Essence was an act of will, a conscious decision. Fire-Aspects like my father and brother could burn like torches. Wind and Water-Aspects became raging tempests, Earth-Aspects were immovable as stone and Wood-Aspects could poison or heal with only the softest touch.

The way I felt matched every description I had ever heard of Exaltation. The strength within me was not parasitic, it was as intrinsic to me as breathing! It was woven into the fabric of my very being so tightly that I could not remember nor imagine what it felt like to be without it. I knew that I could choose to see the golden light that flowed through my veins. All I had to do was acknowledge that it was there.

I felt a little pinch just above my nose. It was not pain, precisely… but it was entirely unlike anything I could find words to describe.

I stared at my reflection in the still, dark water… the unmistakable demon brand burning right between my eyes. The shape reminded me at once of a stylized morning sun, being exactly the same soft, white color.
Was that what I become? Sun-Chosen? And how in the names of all the Gods could such a thing be evil? For the briefest of moments I saw my own face superimposed upon the face of my past self. I was struck immediately by how much I looked like him… or was it he who looked like me?

A rustle in the bushes immediately caught my attention. I looked up at the sound and caught sight of a large silver wolf watching me with intensely familiar yellow eyes. I picked myself up slowly and began to walk away. When I looked over my shoulder to see if the wolf was still following me, I swallowed a lump that had rose up in my throat. The beast was gone and standing in its place was the woman from my dreams. She was dressed in almost nothing worth mentioning and covered in silver tattoos that glowed with the light of the moon.

“Alexander?” She gasped, putting her hand to her heart. I didn’t say anything. What could I have said? Did I dare admit that I was beginning to doubt who I actually was?

With the grace of a dragonfly she skimmed across the surface of the water, her feet barely breaking its surface. She looked like a ghost to me, seeming almost intangible until she collapsed into my arms, sobbing uncontrollably. The warmth of her body and the smell of her left me convinced that she was no ghost or illusion, but a living, breathing woman. I didn’t have the heart to let go of her. I suspect in some ways I needed her at that moment even more than she needed me.

It wasn’t until she stopped crying and our eyes met that everything fell into place for me. The mark of a silver crescent moon was flickering slightly on her brow and she had… a tail?

“Anathema?” I whispered fearfully.

“How could you call me that?” She demanded, seeming genuinely hurt. “Alexander, don’t you recognize me?”

“Leave me, Trickster! Go away!” I ordered, shaken.

“But…” She protested. As I started walking, she followed after me.

“Look, I know I’ve changed! It’s been so long… I had to survive somehow!” She begged. “But I never stopped waiting for you. I always knew you’d come back.”

“I don’t know you, demon!” I snapped. What I had spoken was a half-truth and I knew it. While the part of me that was still arguably Loren knew that I had to put as much distance between the Anathema and myself as possible, the part of me that seemed convinced I was Alexander wanted nothing more than to hold her close for as long as she would let me.

The woman spoke a single curse word in a language I did not recognize and then disappeared into the forest. I went back to camp and dutifully returned to bed. I woke several hours later in a state of extreme distress, the name “Amira” still on my lips. I thought I’d heard her crying… but she was nowhere to be seen.
 
User avatar
emerald viper
Essence 2
Essence 2
Topic Author
Posts: 86
Joined: 03 Aug 2010, 20:03
Title: Changing Moon
Exalt: Lunar
Fighting Style: Dodge Charms
Location: Texas
Contact:

Re: Alexander The Great/The Dowager's Well (reboot)

13 Jul 2011, 22:56

Chapter Three - Amira

Over the course of the next few days, my life returned to normal… or at least as normal as it ever would be again. I had been serving under Mnemon Rai for years and had many close friends amongst The Winds. I could easily pretend that Jaret was still at home, still infuriating our father and making Aunt Garel threaten to disown him. But I knew that was not the case.

He was dead.

I was dead too… or at least I knew I would be if my family ever discovered what had happened to me. The thought was unsettling. My wounds healed perfectly without so much as a scar, my dreams ceased for a time and I began to ask myself… had I really changed? For certain, I could run a longer distance, jump further and I seemed to be breaking an unusually large number of swords, but those little things were not unequivocal proof that I’d become a demon. The invisible mark on my brow was another matter entirely and my brief encounter with the woman from my dreams was even more difficult to forget.

Then, just as I had almost completely banished her from my thoughts, Amira returned. I was standing watch in the hours just before sunset when a little sparrow suddenly landed in the brush behind me. It followed me in a suspicious manner as I walked the perimeter of our camp and when I finally stopped at my assigned post, I noticed that its eyes were golden-colored. I blinked twice and rubbed my eyes. When I could see clearly again, the little bird was gone and the woman was in its place. She did not stand - someone would certainly have seen her if she had dared to… but she did wink at me, seeming pleased that I had noticed her. At very least, she had a smile on her face and was wagging her tail back and forth like a dog.

“You again? What are you doing here?” I hissed, my voice no louder than a whisper.

“I take it you still don’t recognize me.” She spoke those words with distaste, and I immediately felt sorry for having upset her.

“I’ve already told you, I don’t know who you are.” I replied stiffly. Observing the expression on my face, Amira suddenly grinned. Has she caught me in my lie?

“What’s that smile for?” I snapped, turning away from her. “I could sound the alarm right now. Have you killed.” I added.

“You won’t.” She retorted.

“How do you know?” I pressed.

“I know you better than you know yourself, Alexander.” Amira informed me.

“Heh. Well, that settles it. You’ve obviously mistaken me for someone else. My name is Loren.” I said.

“Cathak Loren.” I gave the name of my House in the same arrogant tone of voice that my father so often used. I only hoped that he still considered me to be his son.

“Whatever your name is, you’re still you.” She sighed. “And I’ve missed you so much.”

“I keep telling you… I don’t know what you’re talking about!” I argued.

“You don’t know - or you don’t want to admit knowing?” She pressed. “Denial’s a dangerous thing, Alexander… especially for one of us.” She slipped a thick silver bracelet off of her wrist and it unfolded into a little silver rod about five inches long. “Look familiar? Oh, I bet you remember it! This is my stupid stick. It’s a kinder, gentler way of reminding someone that they’re being stupid, stupid, stupid!” Each time she spoke that word she slapped the stick against her palm and it doubled in size until it was roughly the length of a fighting staff.

“I don’t give a damn about your stupid… stupid stick!” I protested, not wanting to admit that I knew I’d seen that weapon before. “I’ve already told you… my name is not Alexander. And I’m nothing like you, so stop saying “us”!”

Fast as lightning, Amira whapped me across the back of the head with her stick. “Stupid!”

“Ow!” I protested. “Why did you do that?”

“It made me feel better.” She replied with a mischievous smirk. “Although you are technically right… we are nothing alike. That’s why you’re my perfect mate. We balance each other like the night balances the day.”

I didn’t realize how close the two of us had come to one another until Amira reached out and put her hand on my cheek, her trembling fingertips tracing the line of my jaw and coming to rest on my lips.

“Don’t touch me, Anathema!” I snapped. I’d never been so weak in the presence of any woman, let alone one that I suspected might kill me! Obviously she had placed me under some sort of spell!

“Feh! You’re just mad because I interrupted your sulk!” Amira retorted, slinking around behind me and wrapping her arms around my neck. “What if I… make it up to you?” She whispered seductively. The most skilled courtesan in the Imperial City could not have done it better. I very nearly dropped my guard again.

I took her wrists and forced her off of me, shoving her in the direction of the trees.

“Damnit, Amira!” I shouted before I could stop myself. It occurred to me then that she’d never actually said her name… but I had known it, as she’d expected I would. I’d just proven her right. There’d be no living with her now.

“Ahah!” She exclaimed. “Liar!”

“Sir?” A young soldier inquired, turning the corner. “Are you quite all right?”

“It’s nothing.” I replied quickly, hoping that Amira had the sense to flee. Though I did not entirely trust her, I knew that I could not turn her over to Mnemon Rai who would certainly kill her without hesitation. The new part of me, the part of me that was Alexander felt an undeniable connection to that woman. Worse still, she was powerfully beautiful. Even if she did have a tail, few men alive could have resisted her advances. “Continue with your patrol!” I ordered. The young soldier nodded and went on his way.

When I turned back to where she had been, Amira had vanished without a trace.

I slept well that night, undisturbed by visions of the past. It had been very cold in my tent for some weeks, but when I woke in the morning I felt as warm as I might have been sleeping next to a fire at home. There were traces of silver hairs on my blanket and as I slipped out to find my breakfast I noticed several canine footprints leading off towards the river.

I smiled slightly despite myself, somehow comforted by the thought of that strange woman sneaking into my tent – not to steal anything, but to secretly curl up at the foot of my cot. Even after I’d cursed at her, she’d still risked her neck just to be close to me. Clearly, she was incorrigible.

I knew as I had known from the moment we met that Amira was the lover I had dreamt of so many times, the one who tormented and teased me and then whispered sweet little nothings in my ear. I remembered every curve of her body and could scarcely keep my mind on affairs of the present, as much as I desired to see her again.

But she did not return.

Five days after Amira’s second visit, my ship arrived and I returned to the Blessed Isle. I expected Amira to make an appearance until we were miles out on the open sea. I was convinced that she would somehow prevent me from boarding the vessel and could not decide if I wanted her to stop me or not. I felt conflicted. At the same time that I was fulfilling my duty to my family, I also feared that I was running away from something much bigger and infinitely more important than the affairs of House Cathak.

For lack of a better way to put it, I smelled a touch of destiny in the air.


Chapter Four – Art and Warfare

After Jaret’s funeral, I had hoped to be sent back to Mnemon Rai immediately… but my Aunt Garel fell ill and decided that I must be the one to care for her. What was originally a delay of some months lengthened into almost five years as she recovered and worsened more times than I could count. I often wondered if I would be sitting at her bedside helping her page through old books for the rest of my insignificant life.

Though he understood familial duties as well as any Dynast, Mnemon Rai was unwilling to count me as a permanent loss. He found work for me to do on the Blessed Isle, the sort that he personally detested. I became his political liaison in certain circles, helping him to find young officers with skill and potential. And while many Dragonblooded scoffed at being asked to deal with a mere mortal on equal terms, very few were willing to provoke Mnemon Rai… or my father, for that matter.

It goes without saying that my father was very pleased to have me assume Aunt Garel’s mundane duties so that he could focus on his Scarlet Legion and his political ambitions. I became the master of all the servants, in charge of the monthly expenses and the disciplinarian of the younger children. And whenever I had a moment away from the affairs of our House, I immediately stepped back into my role as Mnemon Rai’s secretary and recruiter.

I applied myself diligently to my duties. Still, I was not a “Prince of the Earth” and never would be, which meant that I was so far beneath notice that no one, not even the members of my own family seemed to remember what year I had been born in. Of course, that was to my benefit… it kept them from asking why I still appeared to be in my late twenties.

How was I able to avoid being detected? Well, it was very easy not to show the world something I did not want to believe in myself. I was able to avoid particularly tense situations because I was not a Dragonblood. My House never needed me for anything overtly political, and the Exaltation of my cousin Teric gave my father someone else to train as his heir.

At first I simply filled my schedule with perpetuating domestic harmony in my House and sifting through mountains of paperwork, but it was not long before those tasks left me feeling bored, anxious and irritable. I took up playing Gateway, a popular game in the Imperial City and saw in it an outlet for my burning desire to think strategically. Most famously, I beat Ledaal Kes in a match which left him sore and fuming for several months. How could a mere mortal have bested him at a game which he considered himself to be the unparalleled champion of?

Now, I suspect… he probably knows.

Following my Aunt Garel’s death, six years after Jaret’s… I began to read my way through her entire library. I took on as many styles of martial arts as I could reasonably fit into my already complicated schedule, begging lessons from the most exclusive and demanding instructors at Paisap’s Stair. After effortlessly whipping two impatient young Dragonblooded in a demonstration match, I realized that if I did not want to draw unwanted attention to myself, I would have to begin practicing my skills in private.

I asked my father if I could have the use of his old hunting lodge, which was located on a lake some miles from the Imperial City. I told him that I wished to meditate and could not do so at home. Smiling slightly, he called me by my childhood nickname - “Little Monk” and told me to go “refresh my spirit”… provided that I promised to return before the entirety of our House was reduced to a state of chaos. With forty-five relatives and twice as many servants living virtually on top of one another within the confines of those walls… I knew that I had less than a week.

Still, my first trip to my father’s hunting lodge went far better than I had anticipated. In that place of solitude I found that I was able to focus again. I was no longer compelled to intentionally miss the target when I shot, or to feign exhaustion when I had only begun to warm up. There was no one to tell me what I could not do or what I should not be capable of. I was my own master.

Roach, who was still technically my “student” became increasingly annoyed with me as my private “meditations” became more frequent than his lessons. He chafed at being left alone in the hostile quarters of House Cathak where he was treated as a sort of unwelcome pet. I trusted Roach more than I trusted any member of my own family… but every time I thought to tell him my secret, a sick feeling welled up in my gut and I remembered my own brother running his blade through me.

It became so that I spent the first week of every month at Paisap’s Stair scouting for Mnemon Rai, the two middling weeks running my father’s household and last week alone up at the lake.

When I was certain that no one had followed me, I began to attempt exercises far more daring than cleaving down two dozen targets while blindfolded. Though at that time I still believed that I had been cursed… any student of martial arts knows that only a fool carries a weapon that he cannot wield. A dagger that a man cannot properly use is all too quickly turned against him, and how much worse would it be if I could not control the enormous power that I possessed?

I decided to experiment with my own Essence. I had my dreams for guidance and I had secretly listened in on many lectures given by Ledaal Tsumi, a well-known master of the Water Dragon style. Once I understood that Essence could not only burn, it could flow… I instinctively understood how to improve my training regime.
The results of my first few ignorant attempts left me questioning if there could be something wrong with the world I lived in, if people were mistaken about the power wielded by the Anathema. I had always been told that it was demon-born, dark and uncontrollable… but to me it felt very different, as pure as a sutra on the lips of a saint.

I found a place to sit overlooking the water on the far east side of the lake and went there every morning before dawn to watch the sun rise. If the God of the Sun knew that I was waiting to hear from him, he gave no sign of it. My meditations did not help me to find the answers to any of my questions, but the transcendent beauty of that place left me compelled to return to it. I sought inside myself the stillness of the lake, closed my eyes and let my dreams take me away.

On the tenth anniversary of Jaret’s death and I emerged from my meditations shaking so badly that I could barely stand. It was almost noon and there was a heaviness in the air that made me expect rain. I tripped dozens of times as I made my way to the back door of my father’s hunting lodge. I didn’t bother to light a lamp as I stumbled into the dark kitchen and drank fistfuls of nearly green water. I didn’t need one.

The Essence all around me was flaring bright as day. Brighter, perhaps… as the sun had only just risen. And as it cleared the mountains on the horizon line… for the first time, one of my most pressing questions had been answered.

I had always known that the Dragonblooded had once served the Anathema – their revolt against tyranny was the very cornerstone that the Realm itself was built upon. But nothing could have prepared me for the experience of witnessing that legendary rebellion from the opposing side, the horror I felt in seeing my friends killed, my home burning to the ground. What the Dragonblooded had actually done was far worse than salting the earth… it was absolute desecration, something akin to painting a temple with blood.

The Realm had to call us demons! They had to turn the people against us while we were still weak, killing us before we regained the strength that we had once possessed! For many centuries, it had been their greatest fear that we would return… and that we would remember. And what hope did the “Princes of the Earth” have against the Chosen of The Unconquered Sun, the rightful Lords of all Creation?

The sickness that welled up inside of me, knowing that the beautiful world I had seen in my dreams had been destroyed by the heroes of my childhood… it was almost too much! I wanted nothing more than to run to the nearest Immaculate Monastery and tear everything off of the walls! Was everything that I had ever believed nothing more than a pack of lies?

“Hello?” A familiar voice wondered. “Cousin? Loren? You in there?”

I froze. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my cousin Teric and friend of his standing in the doorway of the hunting lodge. They were carrying their bows and enough supplies for a weekend trip.

“Hunh. Guess he must be out.” Teric observed, stepping inside.

“Your cousin lives up here all alone?” His friend inquired. She was clearly a Wood Aspect with a nose that made me suspect House Sesus.

“On and off. He used to be a soldier, but he lost his nerve after his brother was killed. Now he does paperwork for his former commander, runs our servants around and spends the rest of his time hiding from the world. Uncle Chiron basically gave him this lodge.” Teric explained. “Which is a bit stupid, because you know… I asked for it first. And Uncle told me to forget it.”

I’d never guessed that Teric had been so interested in my father’s private retreat and was secretly pleased that my father had withheld it from him. “Loren’s useless! He’s just a mortal… he’ll be dead in twenty years! I don’t know why everybody is so soft on him!” He snorted.

“I think it’s because he’s nice. And you know, you’re a jerk.” The girl teased, elbowing Teric.

“Look at all of these broken swords! What has he been doing?” She approached the table, observing my stack of books. “Mixed Unit Tactics? Famous generals of the early Shogunate? That’s some real light reading, eh? Who does he think he is, Cathak himself?”

Teric didn’t reply. He was staring directly at me, as if he could see through the stone to the spot where I hid. I flattened myself against the wall and prayed that he hadn’t used a Charm to detect my presence, though it was obvious that he’d noticed something. “Quiet!” He hissed. “Someone’s in the house.”

“Your cousin?” The girl suggested.

“No. It can’t be. Whoever it is, they’ve been burning Essence. A lot of it.” Teric paused, sounding very apprehensive. He paused momentarily. “Kira, your necklace is glowing.”

“Hunh? Oh, so it is!” She observed, holding up the little piece of golden stone. “That’s weird, it’s never done that before. I guess it actually… works. It works? It works! Teric!” She was ghost pale as she held up the stone for my cousin’s examination.

“What? What does it do?” Teric demanded.

“My grandmother says that it detects Anathema.” Kira replied.

“Anathema?” Teric stared in horror.

I didn’t need to hear that word twice. I bolted out the back entrance, throwing the door off of its hinges as I fled. The righteous fury I had felt only moments before departed like morning dew and I became a hunted animal, as certain of my own evil nature as I had been of my innocence.

Anathema. Monster.

I could hear Teric and Kira following after me, but they were far enough behind that I was sure they couldn’t see anything more than a golden light blazing through the forest. An arrow laced with fire came within inches of my shoulder as I raced towards the falls. Without hesitation, I leapt the chasm in a single bound and kept running.

Teric and Kira skidded to a stop on the edge of the cliff.

“Did you see that? That… that was a demon! A real demon, here on the Blessed Isle! I… I’ve got to warn my uncle!” Teric stammered.

“What about your cousin?” Kira demanded.

“Forget Loren, he’s probably already dead!” Teric paused. The last thing I heard from my cousin was a string of unintelligible curse words. When I was sure that I was no longer being followed, I sat down and attempted to compose myself until I stopped burning like a bonfire.

It took me several hours to muster up enough courage to return to the Imperial City. The sun had gone down and I was no longer glowing when I arrived, but I still felt that I was very close to revealing myself and feared that someone would sense all of the Essence I had used in my escape and recognize its source, just as Teric’s friend had. I had never heard of a stone that could detect Anathema before, but it made sense that if such a thing existed, someone from House Sesus would know about it. So many of their children went to study sorcery at the Heptagram in lieu of military school. My father had never trusted sorcerers, and even being an “Anathema” myself - I was still inclined to believe that most people who invested so much in something so capricious were up to no good.

I tried to head directly for the port, hoping not to see anyone I knew. As you can probably imagine, I almost jumped out of my skin as I passed Roach and some men in the colors of The Ravenous Winds drinking at a local tavern.

“Boss!” Roach exclaimed. The men jumped to their feet and saluted. Though I hadn’t left the Imperial City in years, I was widely known as Mnemon Rai’s personal secretary.

“C’mon, you monk! Have a drink with us!” One of the soldiers gestured to an empty chair. “We were just talking about Chiarascuro. You’ve been there, right? You know all about the hungry ghosts and the salt lines I bet.”

I nodded, and Roach grinned proudly. I could tell he’d been sharing stories of our great “adventures” again. He was a substantial part of the reason that my reputation was as overblown as it was.

“Well, we just got back. Hot as hell there this time of year. Killed ourselves another Anathema. This one was a big monster with half an army of crazy damned cultists! They must have known they couldn’t win, but they charged us anyway. Cut through the rest quick enough, but the Anathema… he was unstoppable! Now it may be heresy to say so, but it was amazing, like nothin’ I’d ever seen! That demon must have gone through twenty men before Old Thunderstormer put em’ down.” The soldier grinned broadly. “Good fight. You should’ve been there.”

I forced a weak smile.

“Anyway, take a look at this. Found it out in the desert.” He pulled something wrapped in a handkerchief out of his satchel and held it up for my examination. It was a little golden ball.

“It’s orichalcum.” He informed me. “It looks like gold, but it’s heavy and harder than steel. Some of the Anathema used to make their weapons out of it, but the only place you’ll see it around here is the Heptagram.”

“Feh! The hell with sorcerers! They lock themselves up in that fortress and waste all their time playing with demon junk!” The other soldier snorted. “No wonder everyone thinks they’re creepy. Here, catch!” He seized the ball and tossed it in my direction. I caught it effortlessly. I completely lost track of where I stood as I ran my fingers across the object’s smooth surface.

It was orichalcum.

Still feeling the effects of my long meditation, I recognized that I was holding a physical object that had survived from the days of the Solar Deliberative. The word “Anathema” did not even occur to me – it rang harsh and false on my ears as Roach spoke it. I was lost in the past, staring at that relic of a world gone from memory. I unthinkingly fueled the device with some of my own Essence and smiled slightly as it responded. It started to feel light and airy in my grasp, less like a cannonball and more like a child's plaything.

In a sputter of golden light, the ball unfolded into a delicate little flying contraption. It hovered for a moment just above my head, evaluating me with interest.

“Whoa!” Roach exclaimed. I panicked, wondering if I had revealed myself. Traces of golden Essence bled from the little creature as it shot into an upward spiral and then suddenly exploded. The men who’d brought the thing were as surprised as I was and too drunk to consider why “the killer bug” had responded to my touch and no one else's.

When the men dunked for cover, cursing in shock, I shoved Roach aside and took off running. I didn’t stop until I made it home, slipped through the gates of Aunt Garel’s garden and collapsed near the koi pond.
The lines between my dreams and my reality were blurring. I was beginning to think like a demon, to do things that would certainly get me killed without even considering the consequences! And I knew with sick certainty that it was only a matter of time before I would be detected.

Some hours later, I returned to the main house. The first thing I learned was that someone had sent a letter for me. My father was reading it when I stepped into his library, a very grave expression on his face. I knew that I had beaten my cousin and his friend back to the city but I expected them to come charging in at any moment – with their tale of my disappearance and the terrible Anathema they’d stumbled upon.

“Loren? I didn’t expect to see you for another two days.” He observed.

“I left early this morning. There’s a thief poking around your hunting lodge.” I paused. “Things have been disappearing lately. At first I thought it was animals, stealing food out of the kitchen… but then some of my clothes went missing off of the laundry line. I thought you should know.” The lie was surprisingly easy to swallow. When my cousin and his friend returned, their story would corroborate my own. Though I hated deceiving my father, I was not in a hurry to be hunted down and executed.

“Heh. Taught the villain a lesson, I hope.” He replied.

“I haven’t caught them yet.” I sighed, doing my best to sound defeated.

“Well, perhaps your cousin Teric will have better luck. He’s gone hunting for a few days. I don’t know how you missed him on the road.” My father nodded.

“I took a rest in the early afternoon. He must have passed by me then. So what is this letter about?” I wondered.

“Well, I wasn’t going to disturb your meditations with it… but I suppose you have a right to know. Mnemom Rai is in the city and he has been asking for you. He thinks he’s found the fae that killed Jaret.”

“He’s asked for me personally?” I paused, knowing that things were certainly more complicated than my father was making them sound.

“Apparently he’s also had some trouble with Sesus Calil. He wants you to settle it.” My father admitted.
“I’m no one. Why should I get between two Princes of the Earth?” I demanded.

“Because we both know, Loren… that the only thing those two men have in common is a peculiar respect for you. You took an arrow for Calil and you personally recruited two thirds of the soldiers who are currently serving in The Winds. It has been ten years since you last served in the field and yet somehow you still have one of the best demon-hunters in the Realm wrapped around your little finger. Rai Jin has written me a dozen letters demanding that you be returned to active duty as soon as possible – because without you… his entire legion will rise up and trample him!” My father laughed. “Hesiesh as my witness, I shudder to think of what you might have been, were you only better bred.”

It was meant to be a compliment, and so I decided to take it as such.

“I should join him then. I’ll find myself passage tomorrow.” I decided.

My father smiled slightly. “I’ve already taken the liberty of packing your things.”


Five – Lost and Found

The memories of what had happened ten years ago still haunted me, but I knew that it was no coincidence that such news would arrive when I was seeking a new direction in my life. Several hours after I received the news from my father, Roach staggered into my room, drunk and grinning like a madman. He’d been complaining about provincial soldiering for years, arguing that nothing worthwhile ever happened on the Blessed Isle. All things considered, I was beginning to agree with him.

On our sea voyage Roach and I learned more about what had happened to Mnemon Rai.

Because of political in-fighting, The Winds had split into two Talons of two-hundred and fifty men each, one under the command of Old Thunderstormer and the other under his former first officer, Sesus Calil. Talonlord Calil had recruited most of the higher-ranking Dragonblooded officers, promising them better pay and quicker promotions. Of course, Mnemon Rai retained nearly all of his enlisted men – particularly the veterans of many years and the new recruits I had sent his way. Desperate to reunify The Winds, Mnemon Rai planned to send me to Calil’s camp as his special envoy. If all went well, he promised me the promotion I had always desired – the highest rank a mortal could hold in the armies of the Realm. I would be his second officer, a mere three steps away from true command.

Roach and I landed in Nexus where we were received by my second-cousin Yuan. Though himself Exalted, Yuan had never cared for the duties of a Dynast and had spend the better part of his sixty years building up his mining enterprises which funneled a great deal of money into the coffers of House Cathak. He lived quite sumptuously in a residence on Sentinel Hill and provided Roach and myself with princely accommodations. Since time was short, Roach and I would not stay in Nexus long, but before we rode out to join Mnemon Rai in the field it was nice to have a few days to recover from our long sea voyage.

During my first visit to Nexus I had been serving as Jaret’s keeper and my second visit had been darkened by the circumstances of his death. Seeing the city for the first time without a metaphorical cloud hanging over my head, I found it to be exceptionally exciting. Unlike the Imperial City, where Dragonblooded were always accorded special status, Nexus was a cornucopia of Exalts and God-bloods, restless spirits and fae-tainted wanderers. A dozen tiny, pale Djala, two green-haired Haltans with exotic birds perched on their shoulders and one particularly tall, dark-skinned Southerner caught my eye as I watched the teeming crowds of the Big Market.

In that vast sea of humanity, was it possible that someone carried the same secret that I did? My first suspect was a Djala acrobat who was performing a fine balancing routine on a slack rope. But then again, what about the abnormally large Southerner who led a string of cattle towards the Brood Market? On the street corner across from him was a well-dressed jeweler with the frosty complexion and blue hair that one would normally associate with an Air-Aspect Exalt. In the past I had been mistaken for a Fire-Aspect myself. Perhaps none of them were what they seemed to be?

Roach took in the scenery as I did, though he could not have known what thoughts were whirling through my head. I led us in the direction of Glassmaker’s Alley.

There was a crowd gathering on the street and I was curious to see what they were looking at. If anyone had looked closely enough to see that Roach and I were dressed in House Cathak lamellar, they probably wouldn’t have let us pass… but fortunately, whatever it was that had “appeared” at the end of Glassmaker’s Alley seemed to have the undivided attention of the neighborhood’s populace. As it was, we blended in perfectly with the mercenaries who’d also come to investigate the situation, most of them from the Bronze Pioneers.

“Sir!” I tapped on the shoulder of the man nearest to me, a fat old merchant who jumped with a start. “What’s going on up ahead?”

“You haven’t seen?” He wondered incredulously.

“Obviously not.” I replied.

“It’s a miracle, that’s what it is! Those Immaculates up there are blaming it all on us but I will tell you, I’ve been a member of the Glassmaker’s Guild for twenty years and there is not one artisan in all of Nexus that could ever have done such a thing! It is the work of the Great God!” He whispered, a note of awe in his voice.

“Which God?” Roach demanded.

“See for yourself!” The merchant replied.

I turned to Roach who only shrugged. “I don’t know if we should get into the middle of this, Boss.” He admitted, watching over his shoulder nervously. Some mercenaries and craftsmen were involved in a shouting match with two Immaculate monks that seemed to be rapidly escalating. There was likely to be a riot soon if someone didn’t separate the firebrands on both sides of the crowd.

Of course, that was when I felt it. Like so many times before, there was something in the air that I found impossible to ignore, my siren’s song. If someone had to do something, that “someone” was going to be me.
I stepped forward, pulling my cloak aside to reveal my uniform underneath, the insignia of my new rank emblazoned on both of my shoulders. Though revealing my identity as a Realm officer was far from advisable in such a neighborhood, I assumed that I could play to the Immaculates and get them to step away from the artisans.

I would casually drop Mnemon Rai’s name to get their attention.

And if need be… I could give them a bit of a stronger “suggestion”.

Roach watched me as if he thought I’d lost my mind completely.

I cleared my throat. “Excuse me?”

The two Immaculates closest to me turned, seeming surprised that I dared interrupt them. The more I watched the behavior of these so-named monks, the more I became convinced that the majority of them were only self-righteous troublemakers who felt it necessary to lord over those less fortunate than themselves.

“My name is Cathak Loren. I am a servant of the Realm, a Talonlord in The Ravenous Winds under Mnemon Rai Jin. What seems to be the trouble here?”

“These mortals are revolting! They’re spouting all sorts of heresy!” The leader of the monks stammered.

Not for the first time I wished that I possessed the courage to reveal my great secret. The thought of explaining to the monks that they, in fact, were the true heretics, whipping them soundly and then leaving them tied up somewhere in a particularly humiliating position brought a slight smile to my face. No more than a heartbeat later, I was appalled by my own rash thoughts. As I had feared months before leaving the Blessed Isle, the “demon” inside of me had grown very strong. Put simply, there was nothing he did not think he could do.

“That doesn’t change the fact that this situation is already ugly and quickly getting far worse.” I replied calmly. “There are less than a dozen of you monks and far more of these craftsmen and this is their district.
Regardless of what they’ve said or done… shouldn’t you proceed through official channels rather than tussling like children in the streets?”

The monks looked somber and considered what I had said.

“Now will you be so kind as to show me the nature of this problem?” I demanded.

The crowd parted without a word and I stared in absolute awe.

The huge, immobile white marble block that had formerly stopped up the canal before it reached Glassmaker’s Alley had been split in two. Like a festival egg with a treasure inside, it had opened to reveal a magnificent fountain constructed with bits of blue jade and orichalcum. It was crafted in the shape of a rising sun with rays that became hands cupped to gather the water which flowed down the stone. The design was highly geometrical and very clearly influenced by the marvels of the First Age. But more than that, the fountain was functional! As the filthy muck of the Gray River entered into the heart of the magical mechanism, it was purged of all of its impurities.

The water I tasted in the pool beneath the mountain was more pure than any in Nexus and cooled to the temperature of a high mountain spring. Lines of glittering essence raced like veins through the stonework. It was an astounding feet of magical engineering, a true masterpiece. If I had been awed by the little golden ball that Roach’s friends had brought back to the Imperial City I was dumbfounded then.

The evidence was unmistakable. There was a Solar somewhere in Nexus… and he was skulking around in secret doing good deeds. Or no, a “good” deed would be something akin to helping an old woman with her baggage.

The Solar who’d repaired the fountain in Glassmaker’s Alley had saved an entire neighborhood so near to falling to the ravages of plague. Whoever he was… he was doing truly great things!

And what was I doing, with the potent power that I’d been given?

Following orders and playing “peacemaker” for two hothead Dragonbloods who hunted “demons” for sport. The thought made me twitch a little.

“The water is clean.” I replied, turning to the monks. “When did this part of the city last have clean water?”
“It’s been more than ten years, sir.” A child of one of the artisans admitted, not waiting for the monks to reply. The little boy spoke with such painful honesty that no one could deny him. Having been born into a life of privilege, it touched my heart to know that the clean water from the miraculous fountain was probably the first he had tasted in his young life.

“Hm. I fail to see what the problem is then.” I replied.

“Don’t you understand? This… this monstrosity glorifies the Anathema! Everyone who drinks from it will…” The monk protested.

“Not get sick?” I suggested. “Let it be! These Guildsmen are fighting with you because you’re making an issue out of something you ought to be thankful for. You monks ought to know how the plague affects these poor neighborhoods. Half of these people will die for want of this water. And I don’t see any Anathema here.”

It was not difficult for me to say such a thing. While I’m usually a terrible liar, what I’d spoken at that moment was unquestionably true. I did not “see” any demons because I had cleverly turned away from my own reflection just as I spoke.

“But it is the work of an Anathema!” The leader of the monks protested. “Look!”

He fairly seized me by my arm and drug me around to the side of the fountain where a message was carved into the marble in elegant Old Realm. I pretended not to be able to read it, as no ordinary soldier would have known the language of the Gods themselves.

The monk did not wait for me to ask what it said. “It glorifies the golden demon that the beasts serve. And it says here that it was made by one of the Unclean!”

He pointed to the “signature” of the fountain’s maker – no name, of course… but the unmistakable symbol of the Twilight Caste, the legendary sorcerers and artisans of the First Age. I was not at all surprised. I knew that the Twilight Caste’s skill in crafting rivaled my own in the arts of war… and that was a sobering thought.

“None of these people can read that language! Why does it matter what it says?” I replied, forcing myself to sound stiff and annoyed. In truth, I felt as I had when I’d first risen from my long meditation at my father’s retreat. I wanted nothing more than to sit beside the fountain for hours on end and let the poetry of those long-forgotten words fill my soul as nothing had in far too long.

As a child I had been a great believer in Immaculate philosophy. As a young man, with my hopes of Exaltation dashed, I struggled to understand my place in the world. And though everything that I had ever believed told me that I was a demon now, a wretched Forsaken Anathema… I found it very difficult to deny the peace that I was beginning to find in Nexus.

Filthy, violent and corrupt the city was, but part of me could see through all of that. Part of me remembered what the city had once been, more than a thousand years ago.

Our little pastoral paradise.

I jumped with a start as I realized whose work I was looking at. Though it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to me, given what I knew of my own past life as Alexander… the fountain was unmistakably of the style that had been created by an old, old friend of mine. Though I knew there was no way that I would recognize her, not in whatever new form her spirit currently inhabited… I knew without a doubt that the Twilight Caste who had once been known as Perfect Mechanical Soul was somewhere in Nexus.

Perfect had not been a lover of mine. Having Amira, I’d never desired another. But we had been partners in a very different sense, equals.

“Boss?” Roach tugged on my cloak.

“It’s very beautiful, isn’t it?” I said, not caring who heard.

I expected that Roach would snort and make some sort of snide comment as he usually did when something particularly ostentatious was shown to him, but he only smiled. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” He replied. “But we should really get out of here.”

The Immaculates were leaving Glassmaker’s Alley with a fair amount of pushing and shoving through the crowd that had resumed its usual hectic bustle. And though I was revealed as an Imperial soldier, no one moved to stop my passage and one merchant even handed me a fresh dumpling in a little slip of rice paper. I gave it to Roach who cheerfully wolfed the thing down in one bite.

My mind was still on the fountain and the words carved into that pristine marble.

“You see many stars at night in the sky but find them not when the sun rises; can you say that there are no stars in the heaven of day? So, O man! Because you behold not God in the days of your ignorance, say not that there is no God.”

I looked up at the sun, only barely visible through the clouds of smoke and ash drifting across the river from the Nighthammer District.

“What do you want me to do?” I demanded, not realizing that I had spoken aloud. Roach gave me an odd look, but then another street vendor passed him something to eat – so he said nothing.

The sun gave no answer, of course. But as my gaze drifted slowly back in the direction of the fountain, I began to realize that I had no need to ask that question.

It is somewhat sobering to realize that the task laid before you is nothing less than the complete transformation of the entire world. I would have liked some time to be alone with my thoughts, but Roach and I would spend no more than one night in Nexus before hurrying on to meet with Mnemon Rai.

We returned to our accommodations without incident. Dinner at Cousin Yuan’s was tolerable, better than camp food but nothing to write home about. I waited until everyone in the household was asleep and then stole out through the window.

I had not been to Nexus since my brother Jaret’s death and at that time I had been too numbed by everything that had happened to me to see it clearly. If I had been looking further ahead than the back of the man in front of me, I certainly would have recognized all of the ruins that I now remembered so well.

While the great city of my dreams had been destroyed many centuries ago, a pale shadow of my private retreat still existed under the many layers of filth that was modern Nexus. I slipped with ease through the night-darkened streets and went first to a bridge that I had marveled at earlier in the day. I had heard it called “The Bridge of Whispers” and everything about it felt intimately familiar to me.

A few drunks and whores passed by, but none of them paused long enough to notice that I was reading the ancient inscription on the pedestal of the headless bronze god.

“Given this 7th day of Ascending Fire to the People of Nexus by its Co-Regents

Perfect Mechanical Soul
Exalted of the Twilight Caste and Chief Engineer of Roads, Bridges and Waterworks and of Other Improvements for the Public Good

Melisende Asura
Exalted of the Zenith Caste and Priestess of the Unconquered Sun

Stefan Shadowsbane
Exalted of the Night Caste and Keeper of the Peace

Many-Starred Cloak
Exalted of the Eclipse Caste and Emissary of Nexus.

Alexander Demiurgos
Exalted of the Dawn Caste, Sword of the Deliberative and High King.”

I touched the name Alexander. It was scarcely legible but in my mind’s eye I could see it as it had appeared when it was newly carved. Still, I hadn’t slipped out just to prowl around ruins. I was fueled by a desperate desire to do some good and so I watched the streets for scoundrels. No one would have recognized me from earlier in the day, dressed as I was in completely black garb. I was no spy… I did not truly have the stealth necessary to be one, but then again… it wasn’t my intention to skulk about. By being a blatantly obvious target, I intended to draw out the snakes from their nest.

It did not take me long to find my first mark. A young woman, probably a whore was standing on the bridge holding her flimsy cloak pulled tight to her chest. She was not altogether bad-looking if a bit too sharp-featured for my tastes and her hair was very long and braided down her back. She walked at a fair clip, her eyes fixed on the ground as if she knew that she was being followed, which she was.

The man who pursued her was exactly the kind of scum I’d been hoping for. As he passed me where I stood, still intend on pursuing the girl… I put my foot out in his path to draw his attention. He did not stumble, but he stopped and stared at me.

“What do you want?” He demanded.

“I couldn’t help but notice that you were following that young woman.” I replied. “Bad form. That’s no way to treat a lady.”

“She’s a whore, man. Are you her brother or something?” He demanded.

“No.” I replied, smiling slightly. “Just a concerned citizen, protecting trade in Nexus. If she is a whore, then
pay her properly. If she’s not, then let her be. In either case, you’ve no business following that poor girl about at this time of night - like a starved wolf after a sheep.” I finished.

“You talk too much.” The man brushed me off, clearly annoyed.

I stopped his hand. “I’m afraid I must insist.”

That did it. The mugger took a great sloppy swing at my head and I turned his own momentum against him, throwing him into the dirt. Brushing off my hands, I decided that I had made my point and began to walk away. Though I hadn’t seen a weapon on his person before, that was when the man drew a sword and thrust at me with it.

Evading that awkward blow was even easier than dodging his punch had been. I drew my own blade and our swords clashed in a tower of sparks. I pushed him into the nearest wall and disarmed him effortlessly. As he moved to retrieve his weapon, I struck at him, shattering my own sword to pieces on the wall from the sheer strength of my blow.

It was not the first time I had destroyed a sword in such a manner, so it did not surprise me. It did, however, surprise the mugger who fled without a backward glance. The girl had long since disappeared, but I still had the strong impression that I was being watched.

I looked up.

The masked figure cloaked in white could only have been the most infamous phantom in all of The Scavenger Lands… The Emissary himself! And what did this being in reputation a terrible enforcer of justice – think of one such as myself patrolling his streets?

Nothing, it seemed. He gave no sign of displeasure at any rate. But he must have shown himself for some reason, as he could have certainly escaped my notice had he chosen to do such a thing. The two of us stared at one another for what felt like an impossibly long time. Then, when it must have been obvious to him that I did not intend to flee the scene… he gave a courteous salute and disappeared across the rooftops.

Sighing in defeat, I went to fetch the shattered blade of my sword. I’d had my fill of adventure for one night, but before returning to my cousin’s house there was one more place I intended to visit.

Without fighting my way across the hubbub of the Big Market, it did not take me very long to reach the fountain in Glassmaker’s Alley. It was no less beautiful at night than it had been during the day and I sat down on the white marble, running my fingers through the crystal clear water, so very blue in the moonlight.
As enamored as I was of the fountain, at first I did not notice that I had company. An old, old woman sat on the opposite side of the fountain, almost obscured by the shadows. There was something about her that struck me immediately, and I knew without a doubt that she was no mere mortal… but a little God.

“Don’t mind me.” The little God remarked, flashing me a smile of very white teeth. Her eyes were iridescent green and carried a hint of mischief in them. “I’m just saying goodbye, you see.”

“Goodbye?” I echoed in confusion.

“Well, this dear thing was lost for a very long time and I must admit that I grew rather fond of it.” She replied, running her gnarled fingers along the marble.

The manner in which the old woman spoke seemed familiar to me, and though I did not know her name, I felt certain that we had met before.

“Do I know you?” I pressed.

“Do you know me?” The little God cackled. “I should hope so, lost king of Nexus!”

It was not the first time that a God had thus addressed me. I had learned that they saw very differently than mortals or Dragonblooded and were capable of identifying one such as myself with very little effort. Though anyone on the streets might have guessed me for a soldier masquerading as a beggar, only an immortal being would recognize the spark that I carried inside of me.

“You’re Madame Marthacine!” I exclaimed. Though speaking of the existence of Gods outside of the Perfect Hierarchy was a minor blasphemy, there were some Gods whose names were readily invoked, even in a Dynast’s household.

Madame Marthacine, as she was commonly known – was the God of Lost Things. She was blamed for every piece of silk or silver that went missing and was commonly invoked by frustrated servants searching for that one precious earring that the Mistress had somehow “lost” while out in the garden.

I had always considered her a minor sort of deity, but that was before I realized just how much had been forgotten over the past fifteen hundred years. Entire cities had vanished from the face of Creation, and those that remained were well-nigh unrecognizable. The world of the glorious First Age was completely lost. As the sole keeper of such secrets, that made Madame Marthacine a powerful God indeed.

“I am indeed.” She bowed dramatically. Her advanced age was suddenly a superficial thing, as she stood straight and tall as a young woman and moved closer to me with impossible grace.

“So riddle me this, Dawnchild. I was speaking with a mutual friend of ours recently and of all the most unexpected things… your name came up. Certainly strange to hear such a thing whispered by those who traffic in secrets such as we, although it wasn’t always. It has come to my attention that you and some others will find one of my greatest lost treasures.”

“Shouldn’t you be trying to stop me then?” I pressed.

“Not at all. Nothing in Creation creates such interest in things long lost as one such thing miraculously found.” She replied. “I cannot tell you what it is that you should be looking for, nor where you should begin your search… but I eagerly anticipate your immanent “finding”. And our mutual friend has also asked for me to extend to you his congratulations. Prematurely, of course.” Madame Marthacine replied. It seemed that there was something she wished to say but for whatever reason, she could not simply say it.

“I wish I knew what you’re talking about.” I admitted.

“You do.” She informed me. “If you’d lost the memory of it, I would know because everything truly lost comes to me. Think very hard. Explore this city most carefully… using your memories as your guide. Tread carefully now that you’ve returned to the Scavenger Lands. Trust no one.”

“Except for you?” I hazarded a guess.

“No, no, no!” The little God wagged a disapproving finger in my direction. “I’m only a little God, dear. And I owe a terrible amount of favors to various personages who may not have your best interests in mind.”

“Thank you for your honesty, I guess.” I paused.

“It’s no trouble at all.” She bowed dramatically and then vanished as she had never been, a shadow melting into nothingness as the moonlight touched upon it.

I returned to my cousin’s house but nothing could persuade me to sleep. I paced back and forth for the better part of an hour considering everything that the God had… and hadn’t said. Why in all my years on the Blessed Isle had no such spirits troubled me, and now that I was returned to the Scavenger Lands – every street corner was teeming with them?

In the morning over breakfast, I learned that the horses which I had requested for our journey had finally arrived. Roach packed our supplies and the two of us bid farewell to my cousin and took to the road heading east. We met Mnemon Rai at sunset and he was only too glad to see the both of us. For a time, I nearly forgot about my meeting with Madame Marthacine and the God’s prophetic words. But then the unthinkable happened.

Shortly after Roach and I rejoined our former Legion… it was absolutely decimated by the fae. They struck without warning in the middle of the night, killing fifty men in their sleep and most of the rest as they scrambled for their weapons and armor.

It was impossibly difficult for me to hold back in that fight, especially when good soldiers were being slaughtered all around me… but I knew that if I pushed myself too far, I’d be revealed and Old Thunderstormer would have my head on a pike to add to his collection. Worse still, I would be forced to kill the very men I was trying to protect. I did not fool myself into believing that any of them could stop me. Ten years ago, a few experienced Dragonblooded might have posed a threat… but even then, less than half a Talon composed mostly of barely-trained mortals would have been no challenge at all.

Despite my best efforts to control myself, before the Fae retreated I had still burned enough Essence that I felt obliged to wear Roach’s usual hat until after dawn the next day. Roach made a joke out of the whole thing, claiming that the hat protected him from fair folk, and I went along with his jest. My faintly flickering mark must have been invisible in the firelight, but just knowing that it was there, that I’d come so close to revealing my terrible secret left me feeling like a prisoner in my own camp.

No men could be spared after that first battle, so Roach and I went on alone to find Sesus Calil.
 
User avatar
emerald viper
Essence 2
Essence 2
Topic Author
Posts: 86
Joined: 03 Aug 2010, 20:03
Title: Changing Moon
Exalt: Lunar
Fighting Style: Dodge Charms
Location: Texas
Contact:

Re: Alexander The Great/The Dowager's Well (reboot)

13 Jul 2011, 23:07

Six – Revelations

I had first met Talonlord Calil two weeks before I found Roach. He was leading his own Wyld Hunt not far from Chiarascuro, working with the Immaculate Order to put down a dangerous cult of sun-worshippers living in a ruined temple. Mnemon Rai had offered his assistance to Calil, expecting that an Anathema worthy of slaying might make an appearance. No demons showed themselves. Still, the fighting was hard, the weather was miserable and for days I wanted nothing more than to quit the army and go home. Fortunately, after tracking down most of the cult’s leaders and capturing their stronghold, we began marching back towards civilization.

On the way we found a young boy half-dead in the desert. Though Talonlord Calil was immediately suspicious, he couldn’t find it in his heart to kill an innocent child whose only real fault was having the misfortune to have been born into a family of heretics. Because I was the only one out of my Talon who could decipher the unusual language of the cultists - the boy became “my problem”. I shared my rations with him for two weeks and by the time we reached the city, he was determined to stay in my service. Since I had taken an arrow for him in our first engagement, Talonlord Calil grudgingly agreed to my simple request. And since no one could pronounce the filthy child’s proper name, everyone began calling him “The Little Cockroach” – which was later shorted to “Little Roach” and then simply “Roach”.

“You’re not bad for a Dragonblood.” Roach confessed to me as we shared a rabbit I’d shot while out on patrol.
I had to laugh when he said that. “I’m not a Dragonblood. Well, my father is, and my brother is. I grew up as part of House Cathak… but I never Exalted.” I replied.

Roach seemed confused. “Why not?”

“I don’t know.” I told him. He must have realized that he’d touched on a sore issue, because after that night he never mentioned it again.

More than fifteen years had passed between the day that I had taken Roach under my wing and the day that we returned to the Scavenger Lands to hunt the Fae that had killed my brother. Roach was twenty-six years old, a veteran of four Wyld Hunts and no longer technically my student… although he still compulsively called me “Boss” whenever a situation was particularly tense.

I was over forty myself - with equal parts field experience and an unparalleled formal education. Over the years I had become one of the highest-ranking mortals in the Imperial Army, an acknowledged master of several martial arts styles and a much-feared Gateway player… not to mention a military paper-pusher extrordinare.

And of course… I had my secret.

As we had been warned, the forest near Haven was swarming with fae. Roach and I ran into a pack of goblins several miles from our assigned meeting point and lost our horses. Roach dislocated his shoulder in the fight and wound up with a few nasty bruises. I took a blow from a fae warhammer that shattered my armor and broke yet another sword. It was the second that I had shattered in less than a week.

It was further to return to our camp than to continue, so we pressed onwards towards to the place where we expected to meet Sesus Calil.

“Wait up, Boss!” Roach shouted. I stopped so that he could catch his breath. “Gods, how do you still march like you’re twenty when you’re twenty years older than me?” He demanded.

“I drink less than you do.” I reminded him.

Roach laughed. “So, if I was to become a monk like you, I’d be immortal and immune to everything? For that, I may just repent my sins!”

“I’m not immune to everything!” I protested. The fact that he’d called me immortal made me twitch. I was well aware of the suspicious glances that were often cast in my direction. Claiming to live a healthy lifestyle had worked when I was barely thirty, but it had been a long time since Jaret’s death and all of the men I’d served with were beginning to show their age.

Though my memories were fuzzy when it came to such things, I’d heard plenty of stories about Anathema who had lived thousands of years, far longer than even the best-bred Dynasts of the Realm. What would I do when I could no longer play the role of Cathak Loren? I didn’t know, but I felt certain that I would have to decide soon.

“Heh. Right. I’ll believe that when I witness something you’re not immune to.” He teased. “How’s your back?”

“Fine.” I replied. “It was just a glancing blow.”

“I’ve no idea how a glancing blow shattered your armor like that.” He remarked.

“Fae sorcery.” I replied, as if that explained everything… which it usually did.

Roach sighed. “Well, should we stop for the night, then?”

“We can continue on for another hour or so.” I decided. “We must be very nearly there.”

“Um… Boss?” Roach whispered uneasily. “I think we found them.”

That was when we saw Talonlord Calil. Or… what was left of him anyway. His head was lying in the middle of the road, only one of his arms was still attached to his torso and his eyes were notably missing from his skull.

It was quiet… too quiet. I knew we were being watched before the Fae showed themselves.

“Come out!” I ordered. “I know you’re watching us! Come out, cowards!”

At first there was no response, and then out of the trees on the sides of the road a huge goblin emerged, invisible until it wished to be seen. The monster was over twelve feet tall and gray-skinned with enormous tusks jutting out from its lower jaw. I stared up at it and slowly began to step back, preparing for a fight.

That was when I heard a muffled shout from behind me. In my moment of distraction, I saw that another fae had slipped out of the forest behind me. It looked like a white spider with eight arms and dozens of eyes of different colors and it moved without making a sound. Though the Fae change their shapes arbitrarily and it is generally impossible to be certain of such things, I knew that I had seen that particular beast before. The spider had seized Roach and quickly wrapped him in layer of thick silk, pinning his arms to his sides and covering his mouth.

“Stop! Release that man at once!” I ordered.

The enormous goblin grabbed my shoulder. “No.” It said, in a voice that sounded like cart wheels rolling over gravel.

“I’m not offering you a choice.” I gritted my teeth a little, brushing his claws off of me and focusing on the spider who’d begun reeling Roach in closer to her, as if he were a fly she intended to eat. There are few things I hate more than negotiating with Fae, and seeing my friends in danger is one of them.

“You’ve no business giving us orders, mortal.” The goblin replied arrogantly.

“And you’ve no business being in Creation!” I snapped.

The spider seemed concerned. “Have we met before?” She asked me in a soft, seductive voice, sounding like a highly-trained courtesan.

“How should I know?” I replied. “You Fae changed your faces so often it’s impossible to tell.”

“Ah, but these eyes of mine have seen you!” She hissed, fixing two of her eyes on me. They were a familiar golden-brown color and seemed to have been stitched into place. The connection I drew at that moment made me feel sick and I immediately reached for the hilt of my sword.

“My eyes never forget the things that they saw.” The Fae paused. “But their memories do become dull with time. Perhaps you will give me your name.”

“You never asked for it when we first met.” I replied. “But I believe you called me… Tiger.”

The spider jumped suddenly and wrapped four of her eight limbs around the huge goblin, abandoning Roach and using her dimwitted companion as a shield. Roach began to struggle in his silken bonds, looking up towards me fearfully, as if he hoped that I would find some way to save us.

The goblin grunted and attempted to brush the spider off of his back, watching me with a toothy grin.

“Little soldier, I will grind your bones.” He sneered.

“No, Tusk!” The spider seized the goblin by the neck. “This one is more than a match for you!” She leaned in to whisper something in his pointed ear. I knew what it was at once and felt all of the strength drain out of me.

“Hohohoho!” The goblin laughed. “Surely you are mistaken, Duchess! This one is no Sword of Heaven! A paper tiger at best, not one forged of bronze! The Children of the Dawn are big like Yurgen the Bull or that Demetheus fellow. I could crush both of these men with one fist.”

Roach stared at me dumbly, still gagged with spider’s silk. He knew what those sobriquets meant… how could he not?

I made no attempt to deny what the fae had said, though I did not wish to hear such words repeated. Sword of Heaven. Bronze Tiger. Child of the Dawn. It was what the Forsaken called themselves when they did not wish to be known as what they were.

Demons. Anathema.

But I was a soldier – a good soldier! I had always followed my orders! I’d protected people who could not protect themselves! I’d done everything asked of me and always tried to be honorable and fair. The powers-that-be had damned me anyway!

Being changed in such a way was nothing I had asked for, nothing that I even understood! All I knew for certain was that evil existed in the world and that it was my sacred duty to root it out however I could. The fae obviously intended to kill us both, and if I hesitated to defend Roach, they would start with him. After our earlier skirmish, I was all too aware that anything I did would be obvious and unmistakable.

And yet, how could I choose between my own safety and the life of my dearest, oldest friend?

There was no choice! I drew my shattered blade.

“It’s been so long!” The spider fae whispered, a tremble in her voice. I saw the same expression on her flat white face that I had seen when she had quoted her strange poetry at me so many years ago. She had little interest in me until I began to act like a foe to be reckoned with, and then her desire was insatiable. It was an old, old hate that drove us. We were as fire and water to one another.

“My mistress – the Red Queen, she thought that we had seen the last of your kind!” The spider murmured.

“Ah, but it pleases me that you have returned! I have grown tired of petty Dragonbloods… there are ever more of them to kill! But eyes such as yours, and dreams so fine and rare?” She inhaled deeply, as if savoring the bouquet of a fine wine. “It has been a very long time since I have eaten the heart of a Solar.”

Solar.

The fae spoke that word as a Dragonblooded might say “Anathema”, with a combination of loathing and reverence, as if she could think of no greater enemy to face. And if something so indisputably evil hated what I was so much, I had no choice but to believe in my own righteousness. I stepped forward decisively, finding all the strength I needed in that word.

“You will release my friend. And you will go far, far away from this place, back to wherever it is that you came from.” I replied coldly. “Or I swear I’ll cleave off every last one of your arms and claim your head for a trophy.”

“What makes you think you can kill us?” The goblin sneered.

Snorting like a wild boar, he lowered his head and charged at me. I braced myself and held my broken sword before me. Though the Fae must have expected to plow right over me, considering that he stood almost twice as tall as I did with shoulders three times as broad, I effortlessly swept underneath him and ran my blade through his gut.

“I can kill you.” I replied, lifting his weight over my head and throwing him ten feet down the road. My iron sword would have been enough to wound the Fae, but laced with Essence as white-hot as the heart of the sun… it did far worse. His body caught fire like a torch dipped in pitch.

The spider hissed at me and skittered off into the trees. As brave-sounding as she had been only moments before, I was somewhat surprised to see her flee after I had slain her goblin.

Still, I didn’t pursue her. I noted that she had said something about a mistress… a “Red Queen” that I had never heard of before. As much as I wanted to hack that monster to pieces, I didn’t dare abandon Roach until I was certain that no more fae were coming, and that the one which remained close to him was actually dead. I kicked the beast I had killed onto its back. The corpse coughed up black smoke and little sparks, like a hot coal rolled out of a fire. Without a moment’s hesitation, I drew what little was left of my weapon out of it, wiped the blade clean on my cloak and sheathed it, turning to my friend.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“Shit.” Roach cursed in disbelief. Both of his eyes were still in his skull and he wasn’t bleeding more than he already had been… but the way that he stared at me left me feeling chilled to the bone. I didn’t say another word, all too aware of the mark burning on my forehead.

“Don’t stare at me, fool! Get out of here! Save your own skin!” I ordered him. “Go! Now!”

Certain that my friend would recover and try to kill me just as my own brother had, I waited until he started to run and then bolted off in the opposite direction myself. I don’t know how many hours I ran, but it must have been all night because it was nearly dawn when exhaustion finally overtook me. I stopped to rest for a moment at the foot of an old willow tree and tried to focus on my breathing.

The view from where I stood was awe-inspiring. From the top of the ridge where I stood I could see the river snaking through the valley below. A hawk danced on the wind just above my head and the air was thick with the scent of pines and melting snow. And then the sun began to rise, painting everything in gold.

I was no longer burning brightly. The bonfire surrounding me had dwindled down to little more than a flicker, a faint haze of light that blended into the rays of the dawning sun perfectly, form and shadow momentarily reunited. For a moment I felt as if I were standing on the top of the world.

When I was seven years old my father had taken me to meet his friend Tepet Manu at his monastery north of the Imperial City. I had been full of questions at that age and after listening attentively to the old Immaculate, I had asked him as only a child could… how did he know that the Dragons were watching over him?

Abbot Manu laughed. “How do you know that your father is watching you, Loren?” He asked.

“I see him.” I replied, for I knew that he was standing right over my shoulder.

“And I see the Dragons.” Abbot Manu replied.

“Where?” I demanded. I saw nothing, of course.

“In everything.” Abbot Manu smiled. And that was all he would say.

I collapsed to my knees. It was all I could do.

Everything I’d ever believed told me that I was Anathema, an enemy of all Creation. And yet I’d seen the work of real demons firsthand - Sondok’s cult of assassins in the South, the Fae ripping men limb from limb, stealing their eyes and their souls.

If I placed myself between those monsters and the innocents they sought to destroy, then what did that make me? A hero, or a different kind of villain? Could I convince anyone that I was not a creature of darkness when they saw that golden brand between my eyes?

How did I know that the things that I dreamt of were real, true memories and not sorcerous deceptions? Was I only deluding myself? I still did not know… but I felt that I had come a very long way. After so many years and so many unanswered questions, I had taken the most difficult step.

I was beginning to believe.

Suddenly I heard a creaking sound behind me and turned to see what it was. It was a wizened little old man with skin like willow bark… some kind of elemental perhaps, or one of the local Gods.

“What are you running from, Dawnchild?” The little God whispered. He seemed very concerned.

“Everything.” I replied stiffly. “Leave me alone.”

“As you wish.” The little God nodded. “But you look most distressed. Are you certain that there is nothing coming to harm this forest? Nothing coming to harm my tree?”

“Nothing I know of. May I rest here for a little while?” I asked, well aware of my own condition. “I’ll make sure no one bothers your tree.”

“A very gracious offer. Who would have thought that one such as yourself would deign to protect my humble abode? You may stay as long as you like.” The little God smiled. “Would you like some tea? Yes? Well now, you might as well come inside!”

I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get into the little God’s home. The ceiling was only a few inches above my head and the porcelain cup he gave me was so small I held it between two fingers for fear of breaking it.

The little God rambled on at some length about the recent depredations of the Fae and the tribe of Wyld barbarians who were stealing winter supplies from his villagers. He spoke of two very old Anathema who’d begun assembling an army in the area. I remembered listening in on a briefing about the movements of their forces before I’d left Haven. Still, hearing the little God speak of the barbaric Frenzied Silvermane and the terrible Trickster Heartsblood as if they were great heroes left me feeling even more uneasy. I sat in silence, nodding every so often. My thoughts were elsewhere. Was it a moment of clarity that I’d experienced earlier?
I drank a dozen cups of tea, thanked the little God and then excused myself as I noticed that the sun was high in the sky. I walked all day and for a few hours after the sun went down until I couldn’t tolerate the chafing of my shattered armor any longer.

I stopped in a little grove of trees, undressed myself and examined the damaged lamellar plates. It was a small wonder that Roach had been suspicious… the Fae warhammer I’d been struck with should have broken every bone in my body. It would have, if I’d been mortal. But what was I, truly? With my sword broken, my armor irreparable and the one person I trusted in the world miles away… I was as lost as I had ever been in my life. I sighed heavily and buried my head in my hands.

“Oh what a sigh!” A familiar voice snickered. “You haven’t changed at all. Still blaming yourself for not being able to save all of Creation, eh?”

I was not entirely surprised to see Amira standing over me. She leaned on something almost as tall as she was wrapped in a thick layer of coarse linen cloth.

“Heh. So the Wyld Hunt hasn’t gotten you yet?” I was feeling more than a little cynical and could think of nothing else to say.

“They never will. You can’t hunt a hunter.” She smirked. “So, did you miss me?”

“I barely know you.” I protested, though I was secretly very glad to see her. “And it’s been ages since I saw you last.”

“It’s been no more than ten years, which may seem like an age to you… but that’s no time at all from my perspective. Loren, don’t make me get my stupid stick!” She warned.

“You called me Loren.” I observed, surprised by her sudden change of tone.

“It’s your name, isn’t it?” She demanded. “Would you prefer “Little Monk”? She teased, using my Aunt Garel’s nickname for me. The surprise I felt must have registered on my face. “Or… what does that Roach of yours call you? Boss?”

“You’ve been stalking me.” I observed.

“Guilty as charged!” Amira replied, completely unapologetic. “Luna’s blood, you look like hell! I see you broke another sword.” She rolled her eyes. “I saw that one coming.”

“They don’t make these things like they used to.” I shrugged, examining the broken blade.

“They don’t make anything like they used to.” Amira sighed heavily. “And oh boy, is that ever an understatement!”

She paused for a moment and then gestured to the thing that she carried. “I brought a present for you… looks like just in time too. It took me forever to find it. I knew it was somewhere in my Elsewhere Den, but you know I’m a terrible packrat.” She unraveled the cloth.

“Ta-da!” Amira bowed dramatically.

I stared. It was an orichalcum daiklave set with a single blood-red hearthstone.

I recognized the sword immediately. You see, after ten years time I knew more than I cared to admit about my previous life. The part of myself that was Alexander had wielded that blade in more battles than I could count. And when I had trained alone at the lake, perfecting my skills… there were times when I could have sworn that I felt that weapon in my hands.

I knew that the daiklave had been a gift to me from a very dear friend and seeing it so close reminded me of him. Without thinking, I found myself reaching for it and then recoiled as if I’d been struck by a snake.

“What’s the matter with you?” Amira demanded. “Go on, pick it up! We’ve got a lot of walking to do. That sword of yours is damned heavy and I’m not carrying it anymore.”

I couldn’t find words to speak.

“Listen to me!” Amira sighed. “I’m only going to say this once more and then I’m getting out my stick. You can’t keep denying the truth, Loren. You are Chosen… Exalted by the Unconquered Sun himself. That’s a rare thing. You’re not mortal, not a Dragonblood, you’re nobody’s second in command – not anymore! You’re destined to be greater than you can imagine, bloody goddamned glorious! And you’d better get used to that idea because if you spend the next thousand years like you’ve spent the last ten I swear I will kill you myself!”

“Are you insane? I don’t have any supplies… my armor is destroyed and this forest is still swarming with fae! I doubt I’ll last another two days at this rate and I’m sure I’ll never make it back to Nexus. Even if I did take that blade from you… what would I do with it? Walk up to Mnemon Rai and ask him to ignore the giant demon sword strapped to my back?” I protested.

“Old Thunderstormer may be a wily one, but he’s still a Dragonblood. They were bred to take orders!” Amira argued. “If you don’t want to cut him down, then command him to get out of your way! I’m not letting you run away this time, Loren. No more lying to yourself!” Amira ordered. “Silvermane and I are moving against the Fae tomorrow morning and we need your help.”

“Silvermane? Then you’re…”

“Heartsblood. Yes. I thought you knew.” She replied.

“Are you really a thousand years old?” I paused. It seemed like an idiotic question to pose to one of the most infamous Anathema in all of Creation, but it was all I could think of.

“Oh, I’m a bit older than that!” She laughed.

“You don’t look it.” I observed.

“You didn’t either, when I first came back to you.” She laughed slightly. “I was little more than a child then and you were positively terrifying! The oldest surviving veteran of the Primordial War, the commander of the greatest army in all of Creation, the unstoppable Sword of the Deliberative! Everyone was certain you’d manipulate me if you even bothered to notice me at all. They all thought it would be centuries before we could even speak to each other, let alone see eye to eye.” Amira sighed heavily. “But two weeks after we met in Meru, you kissed me when you thought I was sleeping and I knew that I’d never want to be with anyone else. Not if I lived ten-thousand years!”

I stared still at the daiklave, slowly absorbing everything that Amira had said.

“What is this, some kind of knightly vigil?” She demanded. “Are you coming with me or not?”

“No.” I mumbled. “I can’t.”

“Oooh, I hate it when you say that! Fine! You’re on your own then!” She snorted, turning to walk away, leaving the sword lying in front of me where I could not ignore its presence.

“You forgot something!” I shouted after her.

“It’s not mine – it’s yours!” Amira snapped, whirling around to face me. “You said it yourself… these woods are swarming with fae, Loren! And if you refuse to come with me, I can’t protect you. So it looks like you’ll have to protect yourself.” She paused momentarily and eyed me with a little grin. “Besides, you want it. You really want it, don’t you?”

I grimaced. She was right. The longer I stared at that sword, the more I desired it.

“It was a gift. An… important gift.” I paused for a moment. “Who gave it to me?”

“Who do you think?” Amira smiled slightly. “Loren, you once took this sword and drew a line across the edges of all Creation. You said to the Wyld – this is the line you shall not pass! And when those bastards attempted to cross it, you sent them crawling back into the formless void that spawned them as many times as you had to. Can’t you think of anyone who would appreciate something like that?” She paused for a moment and then grinned wickedly. “Aw, c’mon… it missed you!” She nudged me with her elbow. “It wants you to pick it up.”
I still said nothing. I had the sneaking suspicion that if I refused again, Amira might hit me with her stupid stick.

“Fine, I’ll give you a choice!” Either you take that sword or you…” She leaned in close to me and whispered something in my ear that no gentleman would dare repeat. I was certain that my face had turned the same color as the hearthstone I was still staring at.

“That’s… not very ladylike.”

“Who says I’m a lady?” Amira retorted in a very deep, masculine voice.

I stared in shock and she collapsed against my shoulder in a fit of uncontrollable giggling. “Oh, you should’ve seen yourself! You jumped out of your skin!”

“Why do you insist on tormenting me?” I demanded.

“Complain, complain! You should be grateful – I’m very busy and there are lots of people who’d love to have as much of my time as you’ve been getting.” She sighed heavily.

“But why me? Why don’t you find yourself another…” The word I’d been about to speak stuck suddenly in my throat. From the grin on Amira’s face, I gathered that she could guess what it had been.

“Find myself another whaaat?” She taunted.

I sighed “Some other…”

“Yeeessss?” She pressed. “C’mon, say it!”

“If I say it, will you go away?” I asked.

“I’ll do anything you want.” She vowed in a tone that sent my mind reeling. “But start at the beginning. I want to hear the whole thing! I’m so excited! This is a big step for you!”

It was useless to argue with her. “Why don’t you find yourself another Solar to bother?” I muttered, burying my head in my hands.

Amira gasped theatrically. She grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me until I was forced to look up at her.

“Oh, Loren! Speak to me, you great useless git! Are you implying that you are a Solar? A Bronze Tiger, Sword of Heaven, Lawgiver? Chosen of the Unconquered Sun and Lord of all Creation?”

The sobriquet “Lawgiver” stuck in my head. It was one I had not heard in a very long time. In a world nearly consumed by chaos, I could think of nothing more necessary. I remembered what Amira had said about drawing a line on the edge of Creation and forbidding the Fae to cross it. Even if I was a hundred lifetimes away from that kind of power, the thought of such a feat sent a chill racing down my spine. It was possible… no, it was more than possible, it was my very purpose! But if I was going to bring order back to our world… then the first thing I had to do was make peace with myself.

“Yes.” I nodded, swallowing the lump that rose in my throat.

It was a tremendous thing to acknowledge, even if I didn’t dare speak louder than a whisper. Amira was hardly satisfied.

“I didn’t hear that!” She cupped a hand to her ear.

“I said yes, you lunatic! I am a Solar!” I shouted so loud that most of the forest must have heard me. And I felt as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from my shoulders, one I hadn’t even realized I’d been carrying. I could not stop the tears that were flowing from my eyes.

That was when Amira kissed me. I’d been kissed before, of course… but I’d never had a kiss that encompassed so much. You see, soldiers don’t have much time for relationships, and affection of any kind is most often feigned in a Dynast’s household. I had sensed the undeniable connection between Amira and myself on first night that we’d met. I’d told myself that she was a monster because the truth was even more terrifying. As she herself had said, we were part of the same whole, made together in the very beginning of time.

Over the centuries we’d been comrades-in-arms, confidants, lovers… but it was more than any of those things that drew us together. It was obsession. Destiny. Terrible, insatiable need. All of my life I had only ever been half of myself.

When we both at last surrendered to sleep, still holding one another… I felt truly healed. For certain, I was now charging headlong down a path that I’d never even imagined walking, but if Amira was by my side, I believed that everything was going to be all right.

But when I woke in the morning, Amira was gone. There was no sign of the orichalcum daiklave she’d brought with her. At first I suspected that I’d dreamt up our entire meeting… but then I saw that my shattered armor and my broken sword had been repaired by someone of unparalleled skill. And over a thousand years of practice, no doubt.

I dressed myself as quickly as I could and was about to continue heading east when I heard the sound of men on horseback approaching.

“Loren?” It was Mnemon Rai’s voice that I heard, and I knew it was useless to hide from him. “Old Thunderstormer” was a very strong Wind-Aspect and could track a man for miles merely by listening for the sound of his breath disturbing the natural currents of the air. Riding beside him was Roach.

I clenched my fists and vowed that I would not draw my blade. It had taken me ten years to forgive myself for causing the death of my brother. I was not about to harm my loyal student or the honorable Winglord I’d served under for most of my career.

“You’re alive?” Mnemon Rai blinked in surprise. “Your Roach told me he last saw you chasing some Fae into the forest. Damn fool thing to do on your own. I should punish you, but right now I need every good soldier I’ve got.”

I stared in disbelief at Roach, who avoided my gaze. He’d lied for me? Why?

“Someone get Cathak Loren a horse!” Mnemon Rai ordered.

Four hours later we reached the sight of the latest fae attack. Roach and I rode ahead of the rest of our forces. When we reached the edge of the forest, the first thing we saw was a huge gathering of Fae camped at the break in the road. They were far too near to Nexus, and that worried me. The Fae were bad enough when they attacked outlying farms and mining camps. What could their plans be for a major city?

“That’s a lot of Fae.” Roach observed, giving a low whistle. “Too many for us to fight. I don’t suppose you could chase off a few hundred of em’ right now, Boss? You seem to be pretty good at that sort of thing.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you, Roach. Why didn’t you…” For the life of me, I couldn’t form the question that I wanted to ask.

“Why didn’t I betray you?” He laughed slightly. “Did you honestly think I could? You’re my friend, Loren.” Roach sighed. “And besides, I know you really buy into that Immaculate bullshit… but don’t you remember where you found me?”

“You were part of that… sun cult.” I paused, still uncomfortable with the memory of how we’d met. I’d never liked hunting down peasants, regardless of whether they were refusing to pay taxes, worshipping demons or harboring fugitives.

“Born and raised a heretic.” Roach nodded. “And while I’ve learned how to keep my nose clean around The Winds, you ought to know that I’ve never been a true believer! Old Thunderstormer thinks the Dragons are watching over us… well, I’m all right with that. I really hope they are. I’ve got a lot of respect for them. But to tell the truth, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable knowing we’ve got the Unconquered Sun on our side.”

I avoided his gaze and he laughed out loud.

“The hell am I going to do with you, Boss? You can’t keep staring down at your boots like you’re ashamed to be Exalted! I always thought you deserved more recognition than you got. Jaret did too. Your brother told me once that he thought that Hesiesh had made a mistake, choosing him over you. And as for me personally, I always thought you were cut out for… bigger things.” He looked up in the direction of the sun with a smile on his face.

“I wanted to tell you. It’s been so hard keeping this a secret.” I admitted. “But Roach, when Jaret saw me, he…”

“Jaret?” Roach blinked in surprise. “Wait, how long has it been?”

“More than ten years.” I admitted. “I still don’t understand what happened. It’s all fuzzy in my memory. Jaret was already wounded – he was half-dead when I caught up to him. I cleaved the head off of that monster, the big one that I gave him credit for slaying... and I changed, somehow. Jaret attacked me. He called me a demon, blamed me for killing myself. I tried to reason with him, but it didn’t do any good. When Jaret almost fell into the sinkhole, I caught his hand. I tried to save him. But then he stabbed me. He almost killed me, and… I lost my grip. I decided to tell everyone that he’d been a hero. I thought maybe that would help him rest in peace.”

“So that’s what really happened?” Roach shook his head heavily. “No wonder you’ve been beating yourself up.”
“You’re not angry?”

“That you thought I would try to kill you?” Roach shrugged. “Yeah, it bothers me. A lot, actually. But I can also understand why you didn’t say anything. Everyone close to you would have been suspect, even Mnemon Rai. Most of us would probably be executed for protecting you. I’ve been part of this filthy business long enough to know how it goes. And seeing as you just saved my life again yesterday… I can forgive you.” He paused. “But I think I should tell you. Since you’ve been back in the field… Boss, you stand out. I mean, you really stand out! You turned enough heads back in the Imperial City when you were kicking Kes Lidaal’s ass at Gateway and wiping the floor with those boys at Paisap’s Stair. But out here, when we were fighting the fae…” He gave a low whistle. “Let’s just say that after this battle is over, you’d better leave the army. Permanently.” Roach advised.

“Leave the army? I can’t!” I protested, a little uncomfortable with what he’d pointed out but nevertheless unable to deny the truth of it.

“Sure you can! And you’d better if you don’t want to get killed. Sooner or later, everybody is going to know what you are. And besides, don’t you have some great big plans to change all of Creation or something like that?” He pressed.

“Well…” I began awkwardly. Roach watched me as if he knew he’d guessed right.

He smirked. “Do you know why my people worshipped the sun, Loren? It’s the source of everything. Makes plants grow so we’ve got food, keeps us warm… Without that light, there’d be no life left in this world at all and we might as well let the fae have it. Now I won’t lie, I’m sure that bein’ Chosen is a huge burden and I’m definitely a little more afraid of you now than I used to be. But I will never believe you’re evil. Hell, you’re one of the only truly good men I know.”

“How do you do it? In one breath you’re praising the Dragons and in the next you’re spouting… all kinds of heresy! Roach, which side are you on?” I demanded.

“I’m on the same side we’re all on.” Roach replied. “The side of Creation.”

“The side of Creation.” I echoed. I’d never thought of it that way before. Roach laughed.

“Hunh? Hold on.” He paused suddenly. “What’s that?”

“Roach?” My gaze drifted in the direction that he was pointing. Sure enough, another army had emerged on the horizon. Roach fumbled for his spyglass.

“Shit.” He cursed and then passed it to me. The army that was approaching seemed to be comprised mostly of woodland barbarians, but at the lead were a few dozen beastmen and two figures covered in moonsilver tattoos. The first was a lion-man, fully as tall as the fae I had killed – scarred and carrying an enormous battleaxe. The second was Amira. Her wolfish traits were somewhat more obvious than usual, and her stupid stick had stretched to the length of a pike and had a piece of white cloth attached to it.

That was when Mnemon Rai finally caught up with us. “Anathema?” He observed as I passed him Roach’s spyglass.

“Looks like they’re coming towards us, Winglord.” Roach added.

Rai Jin cursed. “As if we didn’t have enough trouble on our hands!”

“That’s a flag of truce, isn’t it?” I pointed.

“We can’t negotiate with Anathema!” Rai Jin scoffed. “I’d rather deal with the Fae! At least they have to keep their promises!”

“Then let’s meet with the Fae.” I replied coldly. I didn’t want anything to do with the Fae… and while my feelings on “Anathema” were still somewhat mixed, I knew that I could trust Amira if no one else. “We can’t fight off two armies at once with half of our Wing dead or injured.”

“With all due respect, Winglord… Loren’s got a point.” Roach interrupted. “Looks like the demons want to talk. Maybe we ought to hear them out.”

“Very well. But tell my archers to start firing the minute anyone comes into their range… is that clear?” He ordered Roach. “Loren, you’re with me.”

It took every ounce of willpower I possessed for me not to stare at Amira as we rode towards her army. If she’d seemed beautiful to me the first time I’d ever seen her, she was much more so then, dressed in a suit of exceptionally fine silver armor… or at least I suspected it was some kind of armor, even though it didn’t cover enough of her body to be considered such.

“I am Winglord Mnemon Rai Jin, commander of The Ravenous Winds.” Mnemon Rai announced in a loud voice.

“Your name and reputation is known to us, Thunderstormer” The old Lunar nodded. “I am Kahn Silvermane and this is my associate, Amira Heartsblood. We represent the Sun-King Seneschals.”

“Hm. I have heard of you as well… not much good, I’m afraid. I must confess that have my doubts as to your sincerity of purpose, Anathema. Now why did you signal?” Mnemon Rai demanded.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as it is said.” Silvermane replied. “We have an offer for you. You already know that your reinforcements were wiped out by the Fae. Furthermore, my spies tell me that you cannot run with how many wounded you have already. We have decided that we will help you fight the fae in exchange for one of your men. That one, who rides beside you. When the battle is ended, he will come with us.” He pointed directly at me.

“You want Cathak Loren?” Rai Jin stared. “Why?”

“We have our reasons.” Amira replied.

“I’d rather fight and die with honor than sacrifice one of my best to you barbarians.” Rai Jin replied.

“He will not be harmed.” Amira interrupted. “We’ll swear to it.”

I could tell that the Winglord was hesitating.

“It’s all right.” I told him. “If I’m the price, then so be it.”

“Very well. You have yourself a deal.” Rai Jin replied. “But mark my words… if you kill him, I will hunt you down to the ends of Creation!”

Very hesitantly the Winglord reached out for Silvermane’s enormous paw. They shook, and then Rai Jin turned to Amira, who bowed slightly in his direction. It was clearly meant to be patronizing. She did not take her eyes off of him as she should have if she intended to be polite. Then again, with what I remembered of the First Age, I wasn’t entirely surprised to discover that the two old Lunars did not believe than any Dragonblood could possibly be worthy of their respect.

Even knowing the true history of The Realm, I still believed that there were good Dragonbloods. Neither my father nor Rai Jin had been alive in that ancient time, and if they had been – I believed that they would not have acted so dishonorably.

Silvermane cupped both of his paws around my hand, bowing his head. It was very clear from the way that he stood that he would have preferred to be on one knee.

“It is an honor to fight by your side once again.” He whispered.

Then Amira approached me. I took her hand, feigning formality.

“Morning, lover.” She winked. I tried not to react to her teasing and glanced over my shoulder to see if the Winglord was watching me. He seemed to be more preoccupied with Silvermane’s swishing tail and I sighed slightly in relief.

“I thought you’d left me.” I whispered.

“Only for a moment.” Amira replied. “Afraid you were dreaming?” She teased.

“It all happened so fast I… well, I wasn’t sure.” I trailed off into silence as she put one finger to my lips.
“We have lots of catching up to do.” Amira whispered.

“Loren?” Rai Jin interrupted. “Come with me.”

I immediately composed myself.

“Oh, and one more thing, “Thunderstormer”!” Silvermane warned. “Don’t think for a moment that you’re giving the orders here! My warriors won’t obey a murderer!”

Rai Jin twitched at that accusation and seemed ready to defend himself, probably by calling Silvermane a demon or something equally offensive. Before I considered what I was doing, I positioned myself between the two of them.

“No! Stop it, both of you!” I ordered. “Even together, we’re still outnumbered! If we want to be rid of those Fae, we must not fight amongst ourselves! And someone must be in command!”

“Loren’s right.” Amira chimed in. She seemed very pleased that I was taking charge. And as I watched Silvermane and the Winglord both glaring at each other… I began to suspect that I was in the middle of a very elaborate set-up.

The Winglord paused for a moment. He was a smart man, and while his pride would not allow him to bow his head before a known Anathema, he knew he would have to make some sort of a concession. He turned to me.

“Loren, I will confess, I would like to know what business you have with these two beasts. But this isn’t the time or the place for dredging up past indiscretions. I agree with what Heartsblood has already said. You are right. We need to act decisively and as one force… or that fae army will continue marching towards Nexus and very many innocent people will die.”

“Then we are all in agreement.” Silvermane nodded. “The children of my children live in the forests nearby, and in the city of Nexus. I will not see them harmed.”

“And while it’s clear why I don’t trust the two of you, and the two of you don’t trust me… we do seem to have one thing in common.” Mnemon Rai continued, his eyes drifting towards me again. “Would you follow Loren?” He asked Silvermane. “Would you give him command of your army?”

“Yes.” The Lunar replied without hesitation. “He is a very great warrior, one of the greatest that I have ever known. I would trust him with my life, and with the lives of all my sons and daughters.”

“So would I.” The Winglord smiled slightly. “Cathak… take good care of my men, will you? They’re all yours.”
I stared at him in disbelief. An army of my own to command? And such a force, composed of not only of mortals and Dragonbloods, but also of beastmen and Lunars? Such an army had not been seen in over a thousand years! Even for just one battle, it was a thing I hadn’t dared dream of! I still wanted to lead more than anything, but I was also afraid.

I knew that I was about to leave my entire life behind me, beginning on a new path that was as foreign as it was familiar. As soon as the battle began, my secret would be out and Old Thunderstormer would not have to guess what sort of relationship I had with our new allies. I smiled slightly at the thought. Maybe I had cracked the legendary demon hunter’s armor. I did not expect that we would remain friends, but it seemed possible that I had planted a seed of doubt somewhere in his heart… and that over time, perhaps he would begin to see all of Creation as Roach did, as a place not meant to be so harshly divided. Mnemon Rai already believed that some mortals could be as good or better than the Dragonblooded. Would it be such a stretch for him to admit that perhaps not all Anathema were evil?

“You seem confident.” Mnemon Rai observed. “You don’t have a problem fighting alongside demons?”

“I’ll fight with anyone who wants to kill fair folk. Those beasts are worse than any Anathema I have ever seen. I believe you said that yourself, Winglord.” I replied. “Silvermane and Heartsblood have as much invested in this as we do. We’re all on the side of Creation.”

“Heh.” Rai Jin observed with a wry smile. “You’ve changed quite a bit these past ten years, haven’t you, Loren?”

“I suppose I have gotten soft.” I replied, trying to underplay everything as much as I could. “But that’s because I’ve been stuck in your office, remember?”

“No, no!” Mnemon Rai shook his head. “I didn’t mean to insult you. It’s just that I can barely believe you’ve been away from the front lines for more than a season, let alone a decade! You have a gift for leading men… and I’m not even going to ask why those demons seem ready to follow you into hell and back.” He paused. “Generally speaking, I don’t believe that The Dragons make mistakes. But you remind me so much of your father.”

“I think that’s the very best complement anyone has ever given me.” I smiled slightly. “Whatever may happen out there… it’s been a privilege to serve with you, sir.”

It occurred to me that I had said “with you” as opposed to “under your command” as I ought have. If Mnemon Rai did not approve, he gave no sign of his distaste.

“Well.” He paused for a moment. “I don’t suppose you’ve got a plan?”

The strategy I proposed was simple and elegant. I positioned Mnemon Rai, a handful of his surviving Dragonblooded officers… Roach, Amira, Silvermane, a few beastmen and myself in the center and divided the rest of our forces in two parts. They would drive up the flanks as the Fae would be compelled to direct the bulk of their strength against the portion of our line which appeared most difficult to break. And once they came down the center, we would let them pass through us… just as our men would crush them from behind.
“Like a crab’s claw.” I explained. “A pincher.”

“But how can you be certain they’ll target the center?” Rai Jin asked.

“Oh, they’ll come for me.” I pointed to a single white spider Fae that seemed to be inspecting a large number of goblin footsoldiers. “That one is called “The Duchess”. Ten years ago, I killed her pet monster. Two days ago… I’m fairly sure I killed her second-in-command.”

“I see. You’re turning into quite the Faeslayer, aren’t you?” Mnemon Rai smiled slightly.

Amira and Silvermane glanced at one another and both grinned very broadly.

I realized belatedly that everyone’s amusement was to some degree at my expense. At very least the nickname “Faeslayer” was distinctly familiar to me – it was what I had often been called in the First Age.
“Well then, this should prove most interesting.”

“Ready, everyone?” I asked.

“Let’s finish this.” Silvermane nodded.

“For the Realm! Tear those goblins down, Winds!” Rai Jin shouted, drawing his sword.

“Attack! Show no mercy!” Silvermane turned to his warriors, held his axe high and gave a ferocious, indistinguishable roar.

“Should we do it the way we used to?” Amira smirked, nudging me.

“Why not?” I agreed, knowing precisely what she intended.

A burst of fire shot over our heads… the Fae had reached the road and were in range of Rai Jin’s artillery. The battle had begun. Amira shifted into the form of a wolf, as tall at the shoulder as my horse. Our eyes met and in a language which hadn’t been spoken in over a thousand years, we shouted out…

“Kill the faeries!”

As I’d anticipated, the Duchess brought the bulk of her forces charging after me. The fighting was especially fierce, but Amira kept the Fae off of my back as the two of us tore through the heart of their army. I held nothing back. I struck with every technique that I had mastered in ten years of incessant training.

When I lost my horse, I leapt into the air. I felt as if I were flying and saw more than a few familiar faces staring up at me in absolute awe. The faint flicker of light that had been growing around me burst into a roaring golden bonfire. I flew as if I had phoenix wings and landed with a force that shook the earth directly in front of the Duchess.

I was revealed. There was no more going back, no more pretending. And the more I considered that, the more I realized that I had no desire to undo what I had just done. It was time for me to leave my old life behind.
As Roach had guessed… I had plans.

Disorder overcame the fae. The center of our forces collapsed perfectly as the flanking legions routed them from behind. The Fae would come to learn that there was a price to be paid for despoiling Creation. She heard me approaching and whirled around, snaring the blade of my sword with a whip of her silk and snapping it cleanly in half.

“Loren!” Amira shouted.

Something whizzed through the air, very near to my head. I reached up and effortlessly caught the orichalcum daiklave she had hurled at me. And the instant I touched upon that weapon, I remembered. I knew who had given it to me… and why.

It was more than an age ago, long before recorded history. The war against the Primordials had finally ended and the Incarnae were firmly established as the rulers of Heaven. There were not many of us Solar Exalted still remaining after the last battle, only seven out of the three-hundred that had been forged in the beginning of time. And as the greatest of the Gods prepared to depart the world and begin his new work… he gave each of us a gift.

“Creation is yours now.” The Unconquered Sun said as he placed the daiklave in my hands. “Take good care of it.”

The light that had been flaring around me before exploded outwards in all directions. Not since I was first Exalted had I pushed myself to my utmost limit! It was a profoundly liberating moment.

I brought my daiklave down with all the strength I possessed, a sea of white-gold phantasmal soldiers formed of Essence charging all around me, burning through the fae as if they were nothing more than feeble scraps of paper blown on the wind. The Duchess collapsed with a sickening crunch, all of her spidery limbs rolling around her seared corpse until there was nothing left of her but a dark smear on the ground and the stench of decay.

That was when the fae began to flee. “It’s the Faeslayer! The Faeslayer has returned!” They cried out. Whatever sense of solidarity had united the fair folk against us… it was gone at that instant. Shrieking in terror, the lesser fae scattered, clawing and scrambling over one another in an attempt to reach the trees.

A single figure dressed in scarlet armor caught my eye, and as she vanished into nothingness, leaving the rest to be cut down… I knew that I had seen the Duchess’s mistress – The Red Queen. The fae would be gone for a time, but eventually they would push their way back into Creation. And when they did… I would force them out again.

Still surrounded by a pillar of light that reached to the very heavens, I followed Amira to where Silvermane and Mnemon Rai were waiting on a bluff overlooking the valley. I already knew that there were many dead and wounded, but this time I could not blame myself for not trying to save them all. I was only too glad to see that Roach had made it through the fight as well, even if he would have a new scar on his face to add to his collection. Silvermane nodded politely in my direction, the gesture of one old soldier to another. Lunars have a great appreciation for courage in battle and it was clear that my performance had lived up to his expectations.
Mnemon Rai could not look at me. He shielded his eyes but did not move a step in any direction and he said nothing at all. It was just as well. I’d served with the man long enough that I could tell what he was thinking.

All of his many years of Immaculate training told him that he should hate me for what I’d become, but in light of our victory he could not find the strength to do so. And since he was an honorable man… he would give me all the time I needed to run before mobilizing his remaining men to hunt me down.

I said nothing, effortlessly slung my daiklave over my shoulder and began to walk away. After a few moments, Amira bounded after me.

“Where are you going?” She demanded, resuming her usual form. “Aren’t you coming with us?”

“No. I’m going to try following the sun for awhile. You could come with me.” I suggested.

“Oh, I’d follow you even if you told me that I couldn’t. But maybe we ought to head east from here. We’d be better off if we steered clear of civilization. Word of this is bound to spread. Pretty soon you’ll be dodging every two-bit Immaculate who wants to bag himself Cathak Loren “The Great Faeslayer”.”

“I probably should stop using my name or we’ll have House Cathak after us too.” I winced. “Besides, Loren “The Great” doesn’t really have much of a ring to it.”

The sound of a horse galloping up behind me caused me to turn. It was Roach… pursued by no less than half of the Winglord’s remaining men.

“Boss, wait!” He shouted. “Wait for me!”

“Roach? What did he do?” Amira stared in disbelief.

“Well, if I know Roach, he probably just told Mnemon Rai that he knew what was going on all along!” I laughed slightly. “Looks like we’d better start running now. We’re going to be doing a lot of that sort of thing, aren’t we?”

“Honestly, Alexander… would you have it any other way?”

“You just called me Alexander again.” I informed her.

“You said you needed a new name.” She reminded me.

“But Alexander?”

“Alexander The Great.” She clarified. “Now that has ring to it, don’t you think?”
 
User avatar
webkilla
Essence 6
Essence 6
Posts: 1483
Joined: 18 Sep 2009, 12:20
Title: Barbabe arbiter of unbound gravitas
Exalt: Alchemical
Fighting Style: March of the Thrice-linked Digital Webwork
Artifact: 4Chans Might
Location: Denmark, land of lego and vikings
Contact:

Re: Alexander The Great/The Dowager's Well (reboot)

14 Jul 2011, 05:51

Glorious

very well told - loved it

also, reading the last chapter while listening to this made it all the better: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D74CYLXJmm8


but seriously, that there is how you do Dawn right
I have a webcomic: http://psitech.comicgen.com - Its kinda like exalted, except more furry, more fanservice, more fun, more sci-fi.
- may contain people being called "bob"

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests