Thursday 28 December 2017

Exalted - From the Realm to Nexus, via the Wild

The Empress wanted us to learn about Creation, so sent us off to Nexus, hoping we might be able to pick up rumours and so forth she wouldn't find otherwise. She made us promise to be careful and avoid the ruler of Nexus - The Emissary - at all costs, and took us off to have our very first hearthstones. I forget Kito's, but I chose one that would help me haggle and negotiate in trade.

We took a boat from the Imperial City to Lookshy, as our first stop, Mi-Yung and Jia accompanying Kito and I. We rejected the first inn we came to, an absolute dive, and ended up at the Leaping Fish instead. It was run by a father and daughter who took us in and made us welcome. Kito and I ran off to explore while Jia and Mi-Yung set things up. He and I split up, to cover more ground. I had a great time, meeting traders and locals. Kito wasn't back yet when I returned to the inn; we waited a bit, but I was hungry and tired so we ate before worrying enough to look for him.

When we found him, he was bleeding badly, unconscious in an alley. I was terrified; I don't know if I can express the fear that went through me. I've seen him similarly hurt since, and every time I flash back to that moment.

Jia carried him back to the inn, and the two of them patched him up. It took him several days to be up and moving, but even once he was physically recovered he seemed distant. Someone had tried to mug him for our father's blade he still carried. It took him a long time to admit to me (one of those 'creeping into the other's bed' conversations) that he'd killed the mugger. I was torn between hurt it had taken him so long to tell me and relief that he finally had. But mostly I was angry that he'd gone through that, angry at the hurt to his soul.

We took passage on a river boat to get us to Nexus, but it was attacked by pirates (in a boat armed with an implosion bow, the power of which left a huge impression on us) and sunk. Despite my best efforts to persuade him otherwise, the captain went down with it, but some of the other crew and passengers survived. Mi-Yung and Jia did their best to rally them; we built a fire and caught some food and ate and dried out, and left them in the morning to walk onward to Nexus.

We got lost that first night. Found a tumbled-down, ramshackle small building to use as shelter, but all four of us felt unsettled. Jia went to hunt and didn't return - Mi-Yung followed him, and when she didn't come back either, Kito and I went out. The landscape got stranger the further we went, with bleeding flowers whose thorns writhed. I lost Kito when he climbed a tree to try to see the way out. He said afterwards that as he tried to climb down, he found himself instead getting higher and higher. We rediscovered each other on a sheet of pure black glass, that rippled as we walked across it. 

Sitting on (growing out of?) a throne of the same material was a pale, androgynous figure who looked at us and asked our names. 

"Kito and Taji," we replied.

The figure laughed, a shattering of glass, "No. Your real names. I see Resplendent Blade Resonating Eternal and," those strange eyes, too big for the head, turned to me, "Dawn's Dancing Butterfly."

It wanted a story, promised to let us go as long as the story was a good enough story, and true. We told it of Derren's Ford and our journey to Thorns, and how we learnt who our parents really were... It seemed to satisfy the creature; strange dancing lights guided us back to the ruined hut - where Jia and Mi-Yung were sound asleep.

The experience stayed with me. It had laughed again when we'd said we were House Cathak, laughed when we talked about being chosen by the Dragons, as we expected - a derisive, baffled laugh. My thoughts kept spiralling back to one thing it told us: that we were Anathema, not Dragon-Bloods. I remembered the strange visit to the Sage when we first arrived at the Cathak Estate. My thoughts were confused and conflicted, but rarely left the topic for long; Kito, meanwhile, decided it had been messing with us and seemed able to put it completely out of his mind.

Jia and Mi-Yung had no strange memories of the night, and we didn't give them full details, but it was clear we'd stumbled into a Wild incursion and were careful as we left it in the morning. I was the first to notice Kito was... taller. The others didn't take me seriously to begin with, but when it became clear he could also walk faster and jump further - and I could see in the dark (or at least, low enough light conditions that it might as well be dark) - we realised that the experience had left its mark on us.

We walked for what felt like weeks, eventually comng across a statue of a man, enormously tall and made of a material we'd never seen before. He stood facing away from the city, arm raised with the palm facing out. We paused there, and I sketched the statue. 

From there, it was only hours to Nexus. We hired a small boy to keep us up to date with the ever-changing laws and took rooms at the 'Laughing Badger' - a lovely pub run by an elderly woman and her young nephew, a boy about our age. His name was Lawrence and we got on very well - he was impressed that we'd come all the way from the Bless... the Realm, when he'd never left Nexus. 

Nexus impressed us. The market was particularly exciting, and it was here we were surprised by Realm voices: looking around, we recognised the Rose Black. She was here to buy arms for the Realm's battles in the North, but her negotiator was doing a terrible job. So with all the cocky confidence of a 14 year old, I stepped forward. Kito tried to talk me out of it, but Gruncle, the Abbess and the Empress's tutors had nurtured my natural abilities, which were further boosted by the hearthstone the Empress had leant me, and I soon arranged a much better deal between the Black Rose's armies and the Guild. She was impressed, of course, and said she would remember the favour.

We wanted to see everything, but remembered the Empress's warning to avoid the ruler, the Emissary, so made sure never to be in the main square where theythey read the proclamations. Her warning was reinforced by stories we heard, including that it once exploded someone with a click of its fingers. We wanted to visit the library, and were disappointed to discover only Citizens were allowed. After that, we headed to the White Tower, whose edifice is visible from anywhere in Nexus. I was trying to convince Kito that we should try to blag our way inside to get a look at the view over the city, when we both felt a strange pull, a compulsion to turn around. The Emissary was behind us, walking towards the Tower. We'd forgotten this was where the ruler lived... 

The Emissary was tall and spoke in a deep, reverberating voice. The silvery mask was smooth, almost featureless; the billowing robes hid the figure. He (the voice made us decide he) seemed curious about us and invited us in. We didn't feel we could refuse.

Inside, we introduced ourselves as Taji and Kito of House Cathak, and explained the Empress had sent us here and told us to avoid him - he laughed at that and said they had history. It was hard to tell, with the voice distortion and the mask, but I caught a wistful edge. I told him what the Fey had said about us and our names, and he told us a bit about the history between the Realm and Anathema, to try to explain why the Realm hates them so. Particularly, he told us that the Realm, the island of the Realm, used to be called the Blesséd Isle and was important to the Anathema - to Celestial Exalts. They ruled there, and the Dragon-blooded (the Terrestrial Exalts) worked for them, but there was a falling out and the Dragon-bloods rebelled and wiped out the Celestials, taking the Blesséd Isle for their own, and with it a powerful weapon: the Panopticon Cataclysmic [[OOC note: not the 'Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster' I kept hearing]]. The Empress has tried to use it a few times, but as she isn't a Cestial Exalt (specifically a Solar, a Lawgiver, like the Emissary), doing so has damaged Creation.

It was a lot to take in.

He took off his mask, and revealed himself to be the most beautiful being either of us had ever seen - and thus started my first crush. My only crush, before I fell in love.

We told him about our mum and sister being held prisoner in a nearby slave camp. He knew the area we described, so took us there and showed us a taste of his power as he destroyed the guards. The Realm guards. Our brother Han was there, along with Mum and Yee. The Emissary freed everyone else, but they came back with us; he summoned a chariot from the sun, pulled by flaming horses, and took us back to Gruncle's estate, landing on the main lawn. Gruncle was very pleased to see us and our family. 

Hak knew the Emissary, and we learnt he was not a Dragon-blood as we'd thought, but another Anathema, Celestial Exalt. Not a Lawgiver, but a Vizier, a group we would later learn to distrust - though Hak has (mostly) retained our faith.

We talked about Derren's Ford and learnt about the mental walls Hak had put in our minds that night he saved us from the pack of giant rabid tiger-wolves [[OOC note: still just one small, mangy wolf, but they've told this story so many times now they don't remember it accurately]] to protect us from the emotional horrors of what we'd seen as they came tumbling down, and we sobbed and hugged Mum and Yee and Han. While we'd seen the ship flying Pellips' colours that day, Mum thought her House (Ledall) was behind the attack, based on the colours they wore - though she hadn't recognised anyone.

When we were alone, I told Mum that the Fey had said we would become Anathema, and asked her what she thought. She made me promise not to; she laughed as she said it, to show it was a joke, and I smiled back, but felt deep unease. Gruncle's response, when I spoke to him later, was to reassure me we'd face the challenge if it ever rose - and that, no matter what, he would always be our grandfather. That did make me feel better. Even now, when I feel overwhelmed, I remember his words, the tone of his voice, his face as he said it. His love.

The Empress was not impressed that we went to our Grandfather first, and summoned us to her - even the Emissary. She was pleased to see him. He called her "Catherine".  

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