Sunday, March 22, 2009

Episode 2: Points of Departure

Summary: Yuusuka does battle with an anathema in the streets of Puyo, and finds that there are allies to be found where you least expect them. Meanwhile, Shan investigates the situation in Wangler's Knob.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Her Brother's Keeper

On the other side of the tent city, Sessus Nodoka allows only the faintest hint of disapproval to cross her face as she looks down at the semi-conscious form of her brother, Lahor.

There he lies, splayed out drunk at the entrance to his tent in the arms of two of his concubines. One of them - a beautiful, pale, twenty or so year old woman from the north, stirs and looks up as Nodoka approaches, and has the grace to look embarrassed by her situation. The first concubine nudges the second, who comes to with a start, and neither meeting Nodoka's disapproving gaze, the two of them rise, collect their discarded clothing, attempt to brush the dust of the campground from themselves, and depart for the pleasure tent.

Nodoka does not react until the concubines have been gone for at least a minute. Only then does she allow the mask of professionalism slip, and the face of the worried sister peak through. She sighs. "What am I to do with you, Lahor?"

Lahor stirs at last, looking blearily up into the eyes of his sister. "... nndoka?" he murmurs.

The professional soldier snaps back into place as if it had never been gone, and she meets her brother's gaze dispassionately. "Go to bed, Lahor," Nodoka says.

Bleary and still more than a little drunk, Lahor clambers to his feet, and immediately staggers, and would have fallen but for the sudden presence of Nodoka at his side: she catches him.

"Come on. Lean on me."

And he does, and she helps him to his bed, tucks him in, and then leaves his tent, shaking her head as she surveys the circus that her brother has made of the Wyld Hunt. In her hands she holds the compass which even now points towards the Ashadar encampment, but she knows as well as anyone else that her resources alone would do little more than rouse the might of an Anathema: it will take the full hunt to bring the monster down. The hunt which her brother has steadily eroded.

"How did it come to this?" she murmurs.

The night has no answer.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Day in the Life

He didn't remember his name. Not anymore. Names weren't much use, here, anyways. You either worked, or... well, it turns out there really ARE fates worse than death, and most of them were known to the Overseers. He'd been here, working to build the war machines of some conquerer to the west since... he wasn't sure. Time had a way of blending together, here. The ebon whips of the overseers kept them at their task, but he wasn't sure what else they'd do even if the whips stopped. Building these abominable machines was the most important thing in the world. He knew that now. More important than making sure his daughter grew up to be a good woman... yes, he remembered now, he had a daughter. Funny, but now that he thought about it, he couldn't remember who he'd fathered her with.

The land was the colour of ashes, and above, the sky was filled with strange stars.


Fear shot through him. He'd dropped his pick. He'd dropped his pick! In a panic, he snatched it up and went back to work with redoubled effort, hoping against hope that the attention he'd just drawn to himself wouldn't doom him. For a long moment, it seemed to have worked.

Then, just as he was daring to hope that the danger had passed, cold, powerful hands seized him from behind, and a voice spoke aloud, pitiless as the mouth of the void itself: 'Here's one we can spare.'

He screamed, and he flailed, but to no avail: the Overseer had him, and there was no escape from that. Even as the Overseer, resplendent in dark robes and a featureless ivory mask, carried him shrieking towards the furnaces, he caught a glimpse of the new slaves which had arrived. Supply and demand. It was that simple. A certain number of them were required to keep the forges at optimal capacity, and a certain number were required as fuel for the unspeakable processes which were involved in the actual forging of the raw material out of which the war machines were made. And now he had been chosen.


There were more of them around him now, strapping him down on a metal frame which held his body suspended over ... over... he didn't want to look. He was strapped in now, and he tried not to look, but one of the overseers turned the crank, and the metal frame turned, forcing him to look down upon his destiny: a dark liquid metal which, though so hot that it scalded his corpus, produced not light but darkness visible.

"No, no, no..." he moaned, "Please, I'm useful! I'M USEFUL!"

The cold voice of the Overseer whispered a reply: "Yes. You are."

It poured over him, then: alchemical substances which dissolved his corpus in a blaze of agony beyond anything he had ever experienced, and sent his soul screaming into the vat of unforged soulsteel below. All his fear and pain, all his love and hope, all his joy, all his sorrow, all his trials and every fond memory, all that he was or ever would be, sealed forever, screaming in agony, within.

Behind the mask, the Overseer smiled pitilessly.

"Send in the next one."

Monday, February 2, 2009

Episode 1: Of Falcons and Falconers

Summary: Our story opens upon Ashadar Shan and his expedition heading south along the road from Nexus even as Cathak Yuusuka rides east along the guild road, both heading for the old, untended House Cathak holdings in the southern Scavenger Lands. But they are both about to discover that nothing is simple in Creation, and unfriendly forces are on the move...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Wyld Hunt - I

It was Hakara’s third Wyld Hunt in as many years, and he was forced to admit that being a shikari was not what he had expected at all, though he knew it was a necessary duty. His first hunt, he’d been so keyed up that he’d nearly pissed himself when the man the Immaculate fingered had gone from peasant to Anathema in a single terrible heartbeat, horrible golden light pouring off it in waves as the demon possessed the poor man, screaming curses and blasphemies. Fortunately, Ledaal Hakara had trained at the House of Bells, and though “Now, get ‘im!” was not one of the standard field commands prescribed in The Thousand Correct Actions of the Upright Soldier, it had the desired effect, and Hakara’s infinite jade chakram caught the Blasphemous in the shoulder, distracting it long enough for Sessus Amara and Nellens Jaal to close. A golden fist swung like a pile driver took down Jaal, but Amara got her spear through the thing’s chest before it picked her up, armor and all, and snapped her spine like a twig.

Tepet Garam was still shouting commands, forming up spearmen to protect his archers, and even though most of the mortals’ arrows were bouncing off the anathema’s skin harmlessly, Cathak Taro put her powerbow to good use, and several of her shots found their marks.

It charged them then, plowing right through the spear line, tossing legionaries aside like ragdolls. It grabbed one, and Hakara threw himself to the side. Taro was not so fortunate, as the demon swung the man like a club, crushing the archer to the ground long enough for the demon to pulp her head beneath a sandal-clad foot. Finally, Garam went toe-to-toe with the thing, matching it blow for blow with his goremaul, Righteous Fist of Virtue, while his sandstorm anima banner shredded into the demon-made-flesh. Then it was done, the demon departed, and all that was left was the shell of the mortal, pierced with arrows, cut by blades, crushed and abraded, a mass of blood. Jaal and Taro were dead, along with over a dozen legionaries, and Amara was paralyzed from the neck down, screaming in pain. It had taken less than a minute.

The second took longer. It had taken time for word to travel from Harborhead to the chapter house at Yarrowstalk, and by the time they arrived, the anathema had followers. One village attacked the Hunt mercilessly, then when the fighting went against them, committed suicide. Men, women, children, all turned their weapons on themselves. That really rattled the legionaries. Twice the Hunt brought their quarry to bay, but twice it escaped. The second time it left no trail. The troops quartered the savannah, and V’neef Maala, the All-Seeing Eye’s representative, set out, returned, cursed, set out and returned again. The Immaculate diviners cast their horoscopes for a week, before muttering that the matter was unclear, and the stars said nothing. It was a long journey by ship from Harborhead back to the Blessed Isle.

This Hunt didn’t seem particularly auspicious either. The Hunt was lead by a man named Sesus Lahor, who had openly bribed his way into command, and seemed intent on turning a military expedition into a gala safari. Hakara hated Lahor from his first meeting with the Fire Aspect, and being forced by leadership to cater to the man’s every whim had not helped matters. Lahor had shown no interest in the operational aspects of the campaign, nor even tactics – “What’s there to it?” he’d asked. “If you ask me, you shikari have been pretty spoiled lately, laying down on the job y’know? It’s time a real man showed you how things are done.” Drawing his reaver daiklaive, Combustion’s Profligate Mistress, Lahor had split a desk in half. “Cut through the red tape, man! Do I have to do everything around here? Now look sharp, I want the troops assembled and ready for inspection before we sail on the morning’s tide.” Whereupon the fire aspect had strode out of the office and vanished for the rest of the day.

The dockside had been another fiasco. It had taken all night, but personnel had been recalled, stores assembled and loaded, and the auxiliaries drawn up in open ranks just after dawn, for the tide would turn at mid-morning. An hour later, Sessus had not yet arrived when the first animal cage rolled up, containing an enormous panther, spitting and snarling. Others soon followed: a pair of strix, a clawstrider, ostriches and flamingos.

Hakara had peremptorily ordered them away, only for the handlers to deferentially apologize, claiming they had orders to load their charges on the troopships. Then a richly dressed young man approached, introduced himself as Sessus Cyan, and with downcast eyes explained that his cousin, Lahor, had ordered him to see to the loading of Lahor’s goods. In addition to the animals, which included Lahor’s four favorite racehorses, there was a pleasure pavilion and its staff, who would need quarters as well. The list went on and on.

Hakara was so numb with shock that he almost missed one item. “Reagents? Reagents for what?”

“My lord owns a fuel bolt launcher, sir. He calls it Fell Bane of Anath-“

“He wants to bring firedust and explosive reagents aboard a troop ship?!” Hakara was livid with rage and horror.

And yet load it they had. All of it. Lahor breezed in at an hour till noon, berated everyone in earshot – quite a few – for incompetence, and had three dockworkers flogged for shirking. The ships sailed that evening, hulls so low in the water that they wallowed even through the calm swells. Decks were packed, hatches covered, and the men, not just crew, packed three or four to a bunk. They were on half-rations as well, to keep the courtesans – who no one was allowed to speak with or approach – from going hungry.

If the sea voyage had been miserable, the river journey had been torture. Lahor had nearly sparked a fight with Lookshy, sailing under their walls and shooting off his firewand. At least being near land again meant they could come off rations. Hakara hadn’t had to eat salt pork since he was a cadet at secondary school. He’d taken to eating in his cabin – only the dynasts had that privilege – just to get a few minutes away from Lahor.

The other dragon-blooded had that idea too, it seemed, for he was often joined by one or both of the others. He didn’t begrudge them. He’d known Tepet Kiriel from primary school, where they’d attended the Harmonious Spire Transcendent. Unlike the rest of their small clique, Kiriel hadn’t gone on to the House of Bells. Instead, the water-aspect said she had felt a calling towards something more spiritual, and had gained acceptance to the Cloister of Wisdom. She hadn’t been allowed to take vows, though. Before they’d graduated, the Tepet Legions had been smashed by the anathema Bull of the North, and Kiriel’s family said her services were now required for other purposes, and monastic life was out of the question. She’d spent the last four years drilling troops, honing them and herself. He’d asked why they were allowing her out this time, and she’d replied, “Field experience.”

The final dynast, on loan from the All-Seeing Eye, was something of a mystery. He’d seen action in the threshold, had faced an anathema and lived it was said, although the green jade prosthetic that replaced his right hand testified to how near a thing it had been. Cynis Marad refused to discuss the event, and the other two respected his wishes. For all his taciturn demeanor, he was focused and disciplined.

They used these informal dinner sessions to plan the campaign, such as it was. The Immaculates said there was – or would be – an anathema in a flyspeck of a town called Wangler’s Knob on the banks of the Grey River in the south of the Scavenger lands. The planning helped a little. When they finally disembarked from the ships, their cross-country speed was slowed by the pleasure tents, the camp followers, and the three wagons simmering with alchemical substances whose delicate glass containers were all that held them in abatement from bursting into flame. Sessus Lahor didn’t seem to mind in the least, however, and the fire aspect delighted in demonstrating his fuel bolt launcher on villages that didn’t show him proper respect. He’d razed three so far.

Soon, Hakara thought. Soon they’d be at the Knob. Soon this farce would reach its conclusion, for good or ill. He stared out at the encampment. There’d been another hunt today, and two wildebeests and a parts of a giant crocodile were sizzling in firepits and on spits. Another dozen auxiliary troops were injured as well. Dragons help us all, he thought. How can we save Creation from the Anathema like this?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Interlude - Ragara Sumire

Two triptychs framed the woman's couch. On her left, the canvas depicted herons taking wing; on her right, peasants labored in the fields while dragon-blooded lords practiced falconry. Ragara Sumire leaned forward on one arm as she listened to the report. She was a small woman, and the marks of terrestrial exaltation were evident in the deep pine green of her eyes and hair, the latter arranged in complicated braids.

“I refuse to believe it, Tenuba,” she stated. “It’s completely impossible for little Shan to have built such a substantial trade empire. Look at his father – he squandered money left and right. Patricians are worthless unless they’re carefully guided. It’s patently obvious someone is using him as a front.”

“That’s possible, but there’s no evidence one way or another. House Ashadar–” Peleps Kaizoku Tenuba cut off as Sumire dashed her glass to the floor. Dark wine splashed across the thick carpet, and the glass rolled several feet, leaving a trail of droplets.

“I will NOT have that word spoken. Patricians should keep their place, and all this talk of Houses is an affront to propriety.” Her face softened as she looked at Tenuba. “Come, it should pain you as much as it does me. Pray continue.”

“Certainly. Shan has done well for himself. He owns a dozen ships, most of them trading between Arjuf and the South, but a few that carry Scavenger Lands’ goods to the Imperial City. He holds the leases for Heroncrest Prefecture, and his estates there are rich in agriculture and livestock. His net worth is greater than most dynasts.”

“That’s a horrid thought. Imagine having less money than Shan. That creepy white skin of his, and those eyes! Ugh. His mother was a wyld barbarian you know. I heard she had the same red eyes. Imagine being seen in public looking like that. No wonder his father never took her to any events! Pity Shan doesn’t have the decency to keep himself locked up the same way. What is he up to?”

“He recently provided logistical support to Cathak Yuusuka’s troops near Marukan – the ones reopening the gold mining operation? It’s still not clear what happened, but Shan came back to the Isle and has been recruiting soldiers cut from the legions, as well as masons, smiths, and other skilled laborers. Cathak returned separately and has been in seclusion.”

“Planning to start a colony? Nonsense, all the legions have been recalled. He’d spend as much on mercenaries as he’d get in taxes. That’s it then. House Cathak is up to something in the Threshold. No doubt they think using a patrician will hide their preparations, and they’ll unveil it to distract everyone from Cathak Cainen’s bid for the Throne.” She tapped her lips with a finger. “If it’s big enough, it might even give him an edge. Let me know what you find out.”

“Of course. You’ll know as soon as I do.” Tenuba turned and left the room. Sumire was occasionally a handful to deal with, but Tenuba had known that when she hitched her fortunes to the Ragara. Tenuba had the patient adaptability of water, and her relationship with the wood aspect – and the rest of her brotherhood – had paid rich dividends in the past, enough to bring the youngest daughter of ill-favored parents to the opulent Ragara manor she currently resided. Keeping Sumire happy kept Tenuba happy, and that was all there was to it.

Touched by the Sun

Walking back to camp through the darkened woods, I reflected back on a job nearly done and tried to predict what my Mistress' next move would be. As a Magistrate of the Realm, she should be able to simply stride in with the information I had gathered tonight and accuse the Satrap Cynis Bonstrin of selling the property of the Realm for personal enrichment. She would send him back to his House in disgrace and the position of Satrap would be filled from another house. At least that's how it should work. These days a Magistrate had to be much more careful about how she does things. Without the Empress to back her decisions, she has to pick her steps much more carefully. The Great Houses no longer have any patience with Magistrates meddling in their business, House Cynis nearly least of all.

As I came within sight of the campfires, my senses began to tingle and the hairs began to stand up on the back of my neck. By this time I should have seen one of the camp guards. I should have been able to see shapes moving back and forth, silhouetted against the fires.

Getting back into the assassin mind-set, I crept forward through the trees. It wasn't long before I came across the body of one of the camp. They were scattered around as if a tornado had hit. Most of the soldiers still had their weapons sheathed. This had happened quickly... and brutally.

I stretched my senses to their limit and heard a commotion coming from the direction of the far side of the camp. The distinct, nearly unnatural sound of Jade Steel ringing on Jade Steel and shouting carried through the cool night air. This was the work of Exalted! Perhaps the Solar demons had ambushed us!

Moving through the camp as quickly as I could while still staying hidden in the shadows, I hurried towards the sounds. I didn't know what I, a mere mortal, expected to accomplish against the Anathema, but my feet were carrying me almost without my permission. My Mistress could hold her own, she didn't need my help. Why was I nearly running towards danger?

When I peeked from the shadows, the scene before me made no sense. Why were there dragon-blooded guards fighting here? Where were the Anathema? Who was inflicting so much damage on these Exalted troops of the Realm?

That's when I saw her, my Mistress. She was injured, but holding her own... against four Terrestrials! Any mortal would have died from the wounds they were inflicting on each other, but they barely slowed. The clearing was nearly blinding with the glow of their anima.

As I watched, she caught the wrist of one of her assailants as he brought his daiklave across in a low arch. With a grunt, she turned and threw him into another of the attackers. They piled into a tree directly behind them, which groaned and shook with the force of the impact. Nearly before she had released the assailant's wrist, she was flipping through the air with her sword poised to strike. The blow landed, point-first, into the shoulder of a third assailant as she landed behind him. She ripped the sword out (nearly taking his arm off in the process) and kicked him in the small of the back in one swift motion. He landed in a heap, twenty yards away. Two more attackers were already engaging her again before the wounded Terrestrial hit the ground. As one of them thrust forward with his sword, she spun like a bull-fighter, her sword piercing his belly, and grabbing his arm with her free hand, forcing him to continue his thrust, directly into the heart of the other. I couldn't believe my eyes! How had she directed the blade, held in another man's hand, through the arm-hole of another man's breastplate, with such speed and accuracy?

Just as I was thinking that there was no chance that she could fail, the unexpected blow came. The first attacker had picked himself up, and with obvious effort had closed the distance between himself and my Mistress. With her sword buried deep in the belly of one of her assailants, she didn't have time to react. I'm not sure if she ever saw the blow that took her life, but I will never forget it. My body filled with rage, and before I knew what I was doing, I was charging silently across the field, intent on killing or dying. I never noticed that I was filled with strength and speed that I had not previously possessed, nor was I aware that essence was filling me to bursting. I wouldn't have known what it was had I been paying attention anyway.

Before he knew what hit him, I dove over the wilting body of my beloved Mistress, and over the head of her killer. As I passed over, I grabbed his neck with both hands, and began to roll, head-over-heals, so that my feet would land first. With all my new-found strength, I heaved his body in a long arch over my head, slamming it into the ground in front of me. With a pivot, I used his body as a club to slam into the assailant with my Mistress's sword in his gut. As the both of them flew off together, I grabbed the sword in the chest of the dead Terrestrial and yanked it free with a spray of blood. Charging silently again across the distance to the assailants, I swung and had the head off of the first attacker before he had recovered. His anima flashed and died like a magician's flame. Changing grips on the sword, I drove it down into the neck of the second, extinguishing his anima forever. Hearing a groan from the bushes near-by, I looked and found the Terrestrial with the mangled shoulder, barely able to get up off of the ground. With one swift motion, I cut the hand off of his good arm, and had the tip of the blade at his neck.

"Who do you work for?" I growled. "Stop screaming, or you will be no use to me alive! Who do you work for?"

His screams quieted to whimpers. Why was a dragon-blooded Exalted acting so pathetic? All he managed to say at first was, "An-an-anathema..."

Rage filled me anew. "Why would you work for the Anathema?" I screamed, "You are an Exalted of the Realm! You are Dragon-blooded! Why would you..." That is when I caught the glowing reflection of a golden circle in his polished helm. There was the mark of The Wretched glowing on my forehead! He meant me when he stammered "Anathema." I dropped my sword, fell to my knees and screamed a primal scream. How could this be true? Memories of past lives that I had always assumed were remembered nightmares pressed themselves into my head undeniably. I was Anathema!

With me distracted, the wounded guard picked himself up onto his hands and knees and crawled away. He could go. I wasn't going to chase him.

When I came out of my stupor, I knew that I had to live. I had realized that these Dragon-blooded guards could only have come from one place: the Satrap. They were his personal guard and advisors. I had to live to bring vengeance upon the head of Cynis Bonstrin, and the heads of the household of Cynis, but my memories told me that the Wyld Hunt would be here very, very soon. I had no intention of being here when they arrived.

I gathered my things as quickly as I could, as well as my Mistress' armor and effects (I couldn't let them fall into the hands of the house that murdered her). Before I disappeared into the forest I buried my love, my Mistress.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Prologue: The Age of Sorrows (part II)

The great and venerable Ma-Ha-Suchi strode angrily through his many-columned and cyclopean lair. He was a massive creature, nearly three meters tall and seemingly made almost entirely out of muscle. With his lupine features combined with his cloven hooves and ram's horns, a visitor from a later age might have mistaken him for a very strange looking werewolf in the seconds before he tore them limb from limb for their uninvited intrusion into his sanctuary. Here, none came who were not called by the great and venerable Ma-Ha-Suchi. Not if they expected to survive the visit.

It had been not two weeks since his confrontation with a returned Sun-Child, and the twelve days his anger had had to brew in the meantime had done little to soothe his temper. Before him stood the Panoply of the Eyeless Sight. Here was kept one of his most secret, most valuable resources: She Who Sees With Eyes Unclouded. He pushed aside the fine silk curtains which veiled the entrance to the panoply, and immediately the sounds of the jungle were stilled: it was silent, save for the rustling of silk and his own breathing.

She was old, though she didn't look it. As far as he knew, she had not moved from the cushion where she sat in nearly a hundred years, yet she looked for all the world like a young, beautiful noble lady, clad in the finest silk garments, her hair as white as snow, and her eyes... her eyes a faded, ancient blue. The faint smell of incense grew stronger, then stronger still, until it was almost overwhelming to his lupine senses. It was a pretty prison for a pretty prisoner.

"I have come," he rumbled, and she nodded.

"Be welcome in my home, Ma-Ha-Suchi," she said. Her voice was young and vibrant and full of power.

Silence for a beat.

She spoke, and her voice was now the voice of a crone, old and wizened. "Much I have seen, my Lord. The world is changing." Even as she spoke, he beheld a vision, and then another, and another: such was the nature of her power.


In the shining heart of the Empire, the Imperial City, a corpulent dragon-blood seated on a raised platform in a vast, decorated chamber looked shocked as he stared down at the blade penetrating his own heart. His assailant, a dark, cloaked figure, released the blade, and charged with dark essence, it slid in further, vanishing beneath a roll of fat. Around them whirled the bacchanal of House Cynis, naked bodies writhed together in ecstacy as beside them, clothed (for the moment) forms, male and female alike, reveled and danced and made merry, some disrobing and joining in the orgy, others not.

None seemed to notice the murdered man or his assassin.

With his last ounce of strength, the corpulent dragon-blood reached out and seized the slight form of his killer by the hem of the cloak, and looked up into the shadowed cowl. His eyes widened in shock and outrage. "...You...!" he spluttered.

That look of outrage was still there twelve hours later when the guards discovered his corpse in the party's aftermath.


The sun rose over the jungle, light streaming down through holes in the canopy to illuminate scant patches of ground where twisting, steaming life rose up to greet it, desperate for an energy source to photosynthesize. Just above the canopy grew a single, thick, bare branch; thereupon a strange, sinuous shape rose with the dawn, lifting its cold, reptilian eyes to the heavens in silent contemplation of the wonder it beheld there; for one shining moment, a new star was born above those jungles - a red star, rivaling the sun itself in brightness. There and gone.

The ancient Dragon-King frowned thoughtfully.

Those who have eyes, let them see.


"Much I have pondered," She Who Sees With Eyes Unclouded murmured, her wizened voice low and soft. "I see a man. A Solar."


In the cabin of a riverboat on the swift waters of the Grey River, a strange, pale young man with red eyes gazed out his cabin window as the city of Nexus receeded towards the horizon. He was dressed as nobility among the dragon-blooded, and his expression was unreadable.


"I see his companions."


It is night, and the moon is bright. A vague shadow flits across the river as a young woman - dragon-blooded, clearly fire-aspected - in jade armour looks up at the stars.


"I see a great hand reaching out of the sky, Ma-Ha-Suchi. Strife and division is coming. I see multitudes around this man, calling his name."

She is silent for a moment.

"The Invisible Fortress will be found, my Lord," she says. "This man will lead you to it. And to Her."

The great and venerable Ma-Ha-Suchi snarls, and it is half-rage, half-longing. "I should kill him and his companions and be done with it. I remember the Lawbringers, Seer. I will not have them in my lands."

"You must. For a little while," she said softly. "You will find your heart's treasure, my Lord. I tell you the truth: this man and his companions will lead you to it. And more. The Invisible Fortress at your command. Power. Power enough to challenge the Realm, perhaps."

Ma-Ha-Suchi considered the words of the seer. "... What is the red star?"

The Seer shook her head. "Some things, my Lord, are unknown even to me."


Then, seemingly satisfied with her words, the great and venerable Ma-Ha-Suchi turned and strode imperiously out of the panoply.

Behind him, in the darkness, the Seer smiled.

Prologue: The Age of Sorrows (part I)

Long ago, before the curse of Caine, before the Sundering, before the Impergium, before any Kuei-ren escaped the Thousand Hells to haunt the living world, there was a time of myth and legend. It was a time when heroes walked the land, raised up, Exalted above the ranks of ordinary men and women. It was a time when the mortal had put on immortality: the first age of the world.

At the behest of the gods, the Exalted led an uprising against the Primordials - those who had fashioned the world out of chaos - and though the struggle was long and difficult, the Primordials were indeed cast down, some slain, others imprisoned, all conquered save for Gaia and Autochthon, who had sided with the gods.

From the ashes, the Exalted created the world anew, and they made it in their own image. For over a thousand years, they ruled the world in peace in the glorious civilization that made up the First Age, each of them like unto the gods themselves.

But power, as they say, corrupts, and the Solar Exalted, chosen of the Unconquered Sun, displayed the worst of this corruption. They grew uncaring and decadent, and ere the end they had become a horror to their own people the likes of which had not been seen since the Primordial War. Guided by the Chosen of the Maidens, the rank and file - the Dragonblooded - rose up in revolt. The Solar Empire had stood for over a thousand years, but it fell in a day. Three hundred Solar Exalted, three hundred tyrants and despots cast down and killed, with their Lunar consorts scattered to the Wyld places of the world.

Fearing that the Solars would simply be reborn, their souls were sealed away in a great Jade prison, and there they rested for centuries as the world rushed on, rocked by plague and by cataclysm, and invasion from both the Outside and from within. Though the Primordials had been slain, that is not dead which can eternal lie, and within strange aeons, even death may die; too large to simply be drawn into the cycle of reincarnation, their deaths spawned the Underworld, and with it, Oblivion, and now their armies of the dead, led by their new Death Knights, have begun to move in force upon the living world.

The Spiritus Mundi cries out for salvation: surely some revelation is at hand! Surely the second coming is at hand. The second coming...! And now, unexpectedly, in the hour when all hope seems lost, the souls of the Solar Exalted have been freed from their prison and have begun to be reborn; for the first time since the fall of the Solar Empire, the Chosen of Helios walk within Creation once more.

Welcome to the world of Exalted.

Lady Kaori

It's not a matter of wanting - it never is; I don't want her to die, but she will. They always do.

It's dark in the border-marches today. Overcast. Little beads of ... what was it called? Water. Little beads of water are drip-drip-dripping down from the sky, and the drip-drip-drips splash all over my upturned face. It's a peculiar feeling. Like acid, except without the burning. It doesn't burn her either, which is good. I don't want her to die.

She's a tiny little thing, this human child. Her mother said she was... six? I'm not sure what that means, but her mother was quite insistent upon it. "Please, she's only six!" she'd said, over and over, before I pulled out her eyes and fed them to one of my goblins. Her mother's, I mean. I haven't tried that with her. It would be a waste, and whatever else I may be, I'm not wasteful. The dreams of children are always intense, and her dreams are no exception. I let them play over my fingers, teasingly, as I devour them.

It kind of tingles.

I giggle. Giggling tingles, and oh, I'm bleeding again. Oh, she bit me. How quaint! This is called 'pain.' I giggle again, and bring my bleeding hand up to my lips. It tastes like sunlit meadows and wistfulness. Leftovers from the mother, perhaps.

"Lady Kaori," someone says, and I turn. It's one of my charming little goblins! He's looking at me expectantly, and it takes me a moment to remember that I'm Lady Kaori now. Names are such troublesome things.

"It's not here," he says, and his little tongue curls adorably around his fangs when he speaks.

The little girl is crying. That's what that sound is called. Crying. I can't help but wonder if she cried enough, would she dry up right into dust? They're mostly water, after all. Something to look into. I sigh dramatically, and I carefully pack away the little girl's dreams for later. Waste not, want not! "This won't do, Mister Muggles," I murmur. "This won't do at all."

The goblin looks confused for a moment, but wisely does not object to his new title.

"Come now, call the Hunt to arms! If the heart of the Fortress isn't in the shrine anymore, I'm afraid the entire village will just have to be burned to the ground. Yes, that sounds like an appropriate lesson. Being burned alive will surely teach these villagers to be more careful with their possessions!"

The village. Oh yes! We're in a village. Did I mention that? It slipped my mind until I mentioned it. That happens, sometimes. The ... militia? Is that the word? Militia. They crawled quite impressively after my goblins gutted them. Must have kept crawling for at least half an hour. How Mister Muggles and his friends cheered and clapped!

The villagers are screaming now. Except for her. She's just lying there, staring up at the sky.

Oh pooh, did I take too much? I didn't want her to die. ... Maybe if I put a little bit back in her. No? Oh well.

At least the village is pretty when it's on fire.
So are the villagers.