Monday 26 February 2018

Exalted - After the Anathema met the Empress...

We left the Emissary with the Empress and returned to the Cathak Estate. 

A week! We had a week to spend there, catching up with our family. Mum helped us with katas and archery (though there was a sadness in her eyes, that I suspect came from seeing us dragged into this world she wanted to keep us from), and she was impressed with my painting. We wrote to the Abbess - our tutor from the Cloister of Wisdom - and she came to visit, as did our brother Song. I wanted to introduce Mum, Han and Yee to Captain Ling in Thorns, and see Mei too, but they couldn't come to us and we weren't meant to leave the estate.

I did get special permission to visit the Tepet Estate, though, after someone from the House visited Gruncle and saw a painting I was working on, the view over the back of our estate. The Tepet Estate left a deep impression on me, a beautiful park, so intricately natural it must have taken a lot of maintenance. Huge trees had been shaped to create the house, with very few man-made materials anywhere. Even as novice a sorceror as I was, I could feel the vast amount of essence flowing everywhere. I remember it as one of the most peaceful places I've ever been. I was glad they were pleased with the piece I created for them.

The last morning, Kito and I were alone on the lawn drinking tea, when a tremour around us announced the arrival of the Emissary. I felt slightly dizzy, clammy: he still wasn't wearing his mask, and was still the most beautiful person I'd seen. He pulled up a chair and reassured us things were... ok. There wasn't going to be a new war, despite what the old man had said. He wasn't exactly happy that the Panopticon Cataclysmic - what we'd known as the Sword of Creation, or the Imperial Manse - was in the hands of the Dragon-blooded. He went on. She - the Empress - needed to be careful. She was only in charge because she was attuned to the manse, and the priests and Viziers who led the Immaculate Faith were powerful. He sighed, sadly.

"Do you... d'you think the Viziers were behind Derren's Ford?" The trauma of our childhood had been close to the surface since rescuing the survivors.

He looked closely at us, then shook his head slowly. "It's not them."

He explained he had to go away, stay away for a while, but the Empress would have a job for us soon. Then he took my hand and held it tight. My heart pounded; I could feel blood rushing to my cheeks, and hoped it went unnoticed. His hand was warm and dry. I swallowed. He touched my forehead gently and it felt like he wrote on my soul; he explained he'd given me a gift. If we needed to get a message to him, I'd be able to. And he left.

I felt confused as he went, relieved and disappointed. It was a stupid crush; I wasn't ready for (or interested in) the confusion of a relationship - I was grateful it was unrequited. I hated how daft and giggly I felt around him. I craved his presence.

Yee and Mi-Yung came to join me drinking tea while Kito trained with Hak. We heard - and felt - a rumbling from the training ground. We raced there, to Kito standing bound, blindolfded and unscathed amidst furrows of charred earth. He'd managed to dodge attacks from Hak by sensing the Essence. I went to help untie him, and he whispered that he'd seen a white mouse. Freed, he led me in the direction he'd seen it run

There was a bush there. On hands and knees, he exclaimed that he could see a mark on it, and asked me to guard it while he looked for a gardener. I knelt down and found what he was talking about: a circle with little triangular points all round it. It was warm to the touch, like the sun had been shining on it for hours, although it was in the shade. 

Kito returned with Mum and a few others. None of them could see the mark or feel its warmth and thought we were playing some game. But seeing Mum then reminded me to ask her about white mice in Derren's Ford, like the Emissary had said. She remembered seeing one in the house before we were born, and asked for my sketchpad to draw the strange marking it had had on its back: the same symbol we'd found on the bush. 

We asked Gruncle about it and showed him the symbol. He recognised it and wanted precise details from Kito about where and when he saw the mouse, then refused to tell us anything more, saying we shouldn't pursue it further for our safety. It was unusual for him to refuse us something, and the hidden tautness with which he spoke unnerved me a little. 

I didn't have long to dwell on it, because it was announced the Scarlet Empress was on her way, to join House Cathak for dinner. I was excited and went to dress.

The food was good - it was always good, but extra effort had gone in that night. The wine was strong and free-flowing. I felt warm from it, and Kito was quite tipsy. The Empress also seemed unusually relaxed; after the meal, she took Kito and I to a parlour to talk, and we realised she was really quite drunk*. She'd hidden it well until it was just the three of us, but now she didn't seem to mind as much, and kept topping up our glasses as well as her own, not seeming to notice that mine didn't need much to be full. 

Business first: the Rose Black had mentioned the help we gave in Lookshy. House Tepet had been frosty towards the Imperial Throne since she denied permission to expand their House. To rebuild the relationship, she wanted us to go and help the Rose Black with her campaign against the northern barbarians. "It should also keep you out of trouble," she added with a wry smile.

We asked about the Imperial Armies - being part of House Cathak, we had a decent background knowledge but were eternally curious. The conversation twisted and turned to a history lesson: she told us about the creation of the great Warstriders, which took mortals, Dynasts and Anathema working together. At my excited question, she denied this could happen again: "too much has happened in between."  

We were impressed with what she told us of the Warstriders and their power, even if all she knew of their creation was hand-me-down stories from her father: the factories where they were built had all been torn down. And the conversation returned to a history lesson: the factory cathedrals had been torn down to prevent them falling into the hands of the Anathema. They were too much of a threat, insane with power. The Wyld took much of Creation in the war against them, then the Great Contagion hit and wiped out many, many people. There was a deep melancholy in her, then, so we didn't ask more about the Contagion but listened quietly as she continued. She and her friends took the Imperial Manse - she alone survived to take the throne and activate the defenses to force back the Wyld.

Her voice trailed off. We fidgited, not knowing how to interrupt her reverie. Eventually, she shook herself, looked at us and smiled. "I'm glad you met Yoon."

Yoon. That was the name Hak had called the Emissary by. 

Kito pulled my sketchbook from my bag, flicked to the image Mum had drawn and asked the Empress about it. 

"It's the symbol of Ignis Divine, a god of the Anathema." She seemed far less upset than Gruncle that we'd seen the symbol.

The name rang a bell - the Emissary said he'd created the Solar Deliberative to look after Creation, then walked away when they messed up (which he said was through lack of guidance).

She topped up our glasses again, and told us it was her 800th birthday. We stared at her. That seemed so old! She smiled at us, that smile that we never saw her give anyone else tinged with a tired sadness. Kito scrabbled through his bag and handed her the mask the Emissary had worn. She took it with reverence and deep emotion, growing deeper as she read the script inside, in a language we hadn't understood. She hugged the mask to her chest, hugged both of us, and sent us away.

*GM: You guys aren't used to wine; roll stamina and resistance. Kito, you're starting to feel the affects... Taji, you're actually ok. Guess I'd better roll for the Empress too... [uncontrolled giggling] QUADRUPLE BOTCH! 

For an index of this story, a game of Exalted told from the point of view of my character, Cathak Taji, follow this link.


  1. And since that point whenever we roll for something mundane we always reference the fact, "Well, the Empress did get drunk once"