Wednesday 13 December 2017

Exalted - Growing Up Realm

Our 'Uncle' Chow was indeed the head of House Cathak. The sudden change in our lives - from peasants to prominent members of a wealthy major noble House - was dizzying. The Cathak estate seemed overwhelming and vast - Derren's Ford would have fit within the grounds. For the first time, Kito and I were given separate rooms. I lay there that first night, not afraid as such, but a little lost, and very thankful when I heard a patter of bare feet outside my room. Kito opened the door just wide enough to squeeze through and scurried to my bed. After that, we took it in turns which bed to share - a habit we finally left behind as puberty started to make itself known. Although, even now, if something is really bothering one of us, the other might receive a midnight knock at the door.

We were given a crash course in court etiquette so that we wouldn't cause an incident by accident. We had tutors to bring us up to the education standard expected of children of our new status, and also in archery, warfare and martial arts. House Cathak has a reputation in the field of war and we couldn't let that down. Our martial arts tutor turned out to be Hak, the kind man who rescued us in the forest on our flight to Thorns. He was relieved to see we were well, even if Kito followed him around like a puppy.

There was no news of the people missing from Derren's Ford, including our mum or siblings Han and Yee. Our eldest brother Song, though, did visit from time to time, and was proud of the way Kito had sailed us to safety.
 We learnt about the history of The Realm and its importance and the Immaculate Faith and the dangers of the Anathema. We hoped to be chosen by the Dragons, like Song and Mei were.

We told Uncle Chow about the boat that took us safely to Thorns, and he had it brought to the estate so we could play in it on the lake. After we told him about our treehouse in Derren's Ford, he helped us build a bigger one in the grounds. I continued learning to draw and paint, sending some pieces with our frequent letters to Captain Ling.

Soon after we arrived, Uncle Chow showed us a second blade to match the one Kito had carried. They'd both belonged to our father, 'Laughing Blade', and he'd only one with him when he left the Realm. He helped Kito lift it and said he could train with them both, then gave me the bracers that had belonged to our mother, and showed us a huge painting of the two of them in a battle. They'd apparently been fierce warriors when younger. Our father was supposed to marry the daughter of the Empress, but when he met our mother he eloped with her instead. With Uncle Chow's help, they laid low in the Realm until Mei was born, when they ran away to Derren's Ford. We eventually learnt that 'Uncle' Chow is actually our grandfather: he'd pretended to be our father's brother to reduce the weight of expectation on our father. It made us wonder just how old our parents were...

We called him 'Gruncle' after that.

There's a rite of passage the children of all noble Houses went through - a visit to a mysterious hermit called 'The Sage'. We were sent much younger than most - Gruncle insisted Hak take us despite Hak's concern we were too young. 

It was a very strange experience: Hak flew us on a cloud to a cave in the side of the Mountain. It was cluttered with junk all around the edges - plates and paintings and tables and a battered bit of tapestry or carpet rolled up. The man who lived there was bent with age. He peered into our eyes and cackled, then offered us tea. We accepted, and watched as he walked to a door, getting younger with each step. It got weirder after we drunk the tea: the room span - not because we were drugged; it actually started spinning. It seemed we were transported to another place, shining gold, an ampitheatre filled with sunlight. The old man had become young, with a bright gold circle in the centre of his forehead.

And then it was over and Hak took us home. He hadn't had an experience anything like that when he went, he told us, and said we probably shouldn't tell anyone. The Sage disappeared after our visit.

We also had to meet the Scarlet Empress. She was kind to us - unfailingly. I said something that should have been inappropriate (I forget what), and she laughed and admired my honesty. We visited her court often after that.

We eventually reached a point where we had to be formally schooled, and were both keen to learn magic. Gruncle wanted to send us to the Heptagram, where he'd been trained, while the Empress wanted us to go to the Cloister of Wisdom. We were really torn - The Cloister of Wisdom sounded better to us, but going there felt like a betrayal to Uncle Chow, because in return for sponsoring us the Empress expected us to move in with her and become, more or less, her spies. The Cloister won out in the end, and Uncle Chow sent servants with us, to make sure we were looked after properly (and no doubt to keep his own spies around). Mi-Yung and Jia stayed with us for several years. 

The head of the Cloister of Wisdom was 'Resplendent Blossom of Winter', though we usually called her the Abbess. We had other teachers there, but once we proved ourselves so able, she took over. There was a lot of physical work that didn't make much sense to us, but trained our bodies to make us more efficient fighters. She was also training and preparing our minds, ready to teach us sorcery.

Then we had a message from the Empress telling us that she'd had news of our family. Our mother, Yee, Han and others taken from Derren's Ford were in a slave camp. She knew where, but regretted intensely that the current political situation meant she couldn't free them. I wanted to go. I was sure the Empress was telling us because she wanted us to go. I begged Kito and the Abbess to help, but the Abbess said we couldn't go if we wanted to learn sorcery. They'd been preparing us, and it was now or never. Kito kept repeating that we couldn't rescue them, that we weren't strong enough to take on a group of Dynasts. Between them they wore me down and we stayed. I'm glad: I think Kito's right - we were just kids, and having since seen that camp I don't think we'd have succeeded. As much as I hate to admit it.

So we learnt sorcery and graduated the Clositer of Wisdom at an unusually young age, thanks to our dedication to our studies and to our dedicated tutor, and returned to the Empress.

She 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.

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