Thursday, 4 January 2018

Exalted - More Time Passes

We made our way back to the army camp at the Last Refuge slowly, partly because we wanted to make it look like we'd arrived the Hold of White Idols later than we had, and partly because the horror of what had unfolded there was still sinking in. I've never felt so consumed by guilt. It grips me still. Kito and I made our report and it was accepted without comment.

I knew I couldn't be a part of the Realm any more, but I still felt loyalty to the Empress and the Rose Black and our Grandfather and didn't feel I could just abandon them. If Kito had felt the same as I did, maybe we would have run away together, but he still held hope, I think, still saw the good we were doing in fighting back the beastmen who harried the north. He still saw the good the Realm can do - the way we were taken in and looked after and various kindnesses we were shown. He's much better at seeing the best in other people. I envy him that sometimes,

So we stayed in the army and with our unit, fighting back the beastmen and barbarians.

Calibration, the Emissary collected us for the sorceror's feast. I don't think he was surprised that I pestered him and the Seer (still the only other person there who would deign to speak to us) with questions about the Unconquered Sun, Ignus Divine, and about Anathema, especially Lawgivers and Stewards. Both would only answer so many questions before the Seer would express annoyance and walk away or the Emissary would tell me it was a story for another time (it felt like his favourite phrase at times, infuriating to us).

I should comment on where this celebration was held, because it impressed Kito and I. The Emissary drew a small snowglobe from his sleeve and shook it up, then cast it to the ground where it created a doorway to the place shown in the globe - a mansion in a snowy landscape. The Emissary explained to us this place was in 'Elsewhere'. We would walk through the snow to the door, where a pair of identical beings would appear, wreathed in scant clothes whose colours changed each day (I think, looking back, they wore the colours of the 5 Solar castes). They fawned over the Emissary, who mostly ignored them. The hall where the feast was laid out was huge and lavishly appointed. I always inspected the art (it often gave me a route in to talk to the Seer, who did similarly): scenes from a past forgotten by all but a few. The Primordial War, when Solars and their allies cast the Primoridals down Beautiful people unfamiliar to me.. The island we knew as the Realm, but fresher, healthier. I learnt it had been the Solars' place and had been called the Bless├ęd Isle.

I was including more and more subtle allusions to the Unconquered Sun in my own art. I knew it was a risk, but I couldn't stop: it was too important to me.

We saw Raging Tiger, Hak and the Emissary on other occasions. One time, the Emissary took us to see some things and we were joined by a beggar on the street who turned into Hak. He created a doorway in a tree to save us time. I asked him about the gods of the Viziers, and he told me of the 5 Maidens, listing their colours, and I realised his eyes were green. I thought they were silver to begin with, but definitely green. I thought I remembered them as being purple, but they were green.

There was another time when Raging Tiger wanted our help, with the Emissary. We trekked further north than we'd gone before, seeking I forget what. It sticks in my mind, though, because we had to scale a tall and near-sheer edifice, and just as we reached the top Kito fell. I would rather face down a primordial on my own than live through the fear I felt then again: I froze to the rockface and screamed so shrill I'm surprised anyone could hear it as I saw him bump and tumble to the ground, and lay there unmoving. But they did hear it. The Emissary yanked me from my deathgrip and hauled me to the top - and held me there as I threatened to jump after my brother (not to die, but to rescue him). Raging Tiger shifted to an eagle large enough to swoop down and carry him back to us. He was seriously injured. I fumbled with the healing needles, but couldn't focus enough to get them in the right places. The Emissary stilled my hands - I thought he was going to take over and do it as I looked up at him with a tear stained face and desperate, pleading eyes. Instead, Raging Tiger (back as a man) picked my brother up as easy as if he were a leaf and carried him away. Again, the Emissary was forced to restrain me as I struggled to go after them.

I don't know the details of what happened next. Kito vaguely recalls being in a small hut in the Wild while Raging Tiger negotiated with someone outside, but that's it. When Tiger carried him back, he was sleeping but healed. He always healed faster after that day. He was taller when he stood, much as the previous time we'd spent time in the Wild. His skin had lost all colour; his hair, eyebrows, eye lashes, all white. For me, this was the strangest. We'd always looked so similar, distinguishable by our gender, his height (once he got taller than me), his broader frame, and the flashes of red in his black hair against what might have been a very dark blue in mine. Our faces continued to hold the same features, but the stark difference in tone made us look apart. I was pale beneath my tan, but not like him, now. My eyes so dark they looked black, and his now white. I found I even missed those flecks of red that had marked us different.

We spent time back with our family in the Realm, where Mum coined the "rebellious phase" excuse for Kito's new look. I found myself struggling to remember to call it the Realm around them, slipping up once with Gruncle, who gave me a strange look but no punishment. Around the rest of my family, I felt slightly wary. After Mum had joked that I wasn't to become an Anathema, I didn't know how to talk to her about my fears and was to scared to ask my siblings about it. I still loved (love) them fiercely, but could feel a metaphysical barrier between us. Kito was the exception, but even so I found I couldn't explain to him the wariness I felt. 

The Scarlet Empress summoned us one time. It was her birthday, and she wanted to spend it with the two children she'd taken in after we chose to go to the school she wanted rather than our Gruncle's choice. Kito, remembering her relationship with the Emissary, carefully wrapped the mask the Emissary had taken off and given to him when we first met him. The mask had kept him hidden for centuries, but the magic was gone from this one (he had others, as he continued to wear the masks in his public persona as the ruler of Nexus). Kito gave it to the Empress after she'd dismissed everyone else and the three of us were eating alone. She was touched by the gift, pleasure tinged with melancholy. It seemed to get to her, as she proceeded to, somehow, get very drunk while we didn't get beyond tipsy and giggly [[OOC note: GM: ok, roll stamina and resistance - youd don't often drink. Yeah, you're both just about holding it together... Guess I should roll for her... umm.... so... that's a quadruple botch... ]]]. She talked of regret that she couldn't have stayed with the Emissary (Zhou Yun, as she called him), of regret at the way she was restricted by political in-fighting, even regret at the behaviour of her daughter, Mnemon of House Mnemon.

On another visit, we went back to the Cloister of Wisdom to see the Abbess. I talked to her a bit about Anathema, each sounding the other out until we were sure we could trust the other. She led Kito and I through a series of corridors and secret doors that seemed to lead us up but took us below the building. 

The last corridor led to a circular room filled with a large pool of still water. A gantry crossed the pool, and and another circled the wall, allowing us to see the artwork, a relief fresco that covered the walls. The images that made my head swim as they filled me with knowledge: I saw more of the Primordial War. I saw a giant of a man stood of a hill, filled with light and holding a sword above his head. Despite never having heard the names before, I knew this was the Azure Titan with Adenvice, first of the Solars. The Unconquered Sun offered him leadership of the Solars, but he declined and it passed to another (was it the Abbess who sighed and said much of the worst of what followed might not have happened if the Azure Titan had stayed to reign?) We saw images of the deities - I smiled to see the face of the Unconquered Sun as rendered here. It reminded me of Daddy. I was confused when I saw the Maidens: there were 6 here. The Abbess must have noticed my confusion: she explained that most Viziers belonged to the 5 Maidens that were generally known, but the 6th had only a single Vizier. I looked at Kito and knew he had the same suspicion as me: Hakuran.

So a couple of years went by, with me and (more slowly) Kito feeling ever more restless.

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