Archive for January, 2011
Sensing his discomfort, the man walked over to the other side and threw a thin leather sheet over that side of the dome. While he was doing so, Roob was able to examine the many tables, blank pages, chisels, the few eating utensils present, the bed and the fire-pit, currently lit. Roob walked carefully over to one of the tables with a cup on it, assuming it was safe to sit there and waited while the Rain-Keeper walked back.
“As I was saying: You are then certainly far from home. I have a little water that I can spare, if you’d like, and many questions.”
Roob waited for the questions then realized that the Rain-Keeper had already asked one. “I will not deny the pure waters of a Rain-Keeper.” He looked humbly at the table as he said this.
The man sighed, taking the cup from in front of Roob he walked over and poured the water from a container and set the cup unceremoniously in front of Roob before sitting down. “Do not believe this is some holy shrine or sanctuary. While I am… was… a Rain-Keeper, I am not here from some penitential duty.”
Questions blossomed in Roob’s mind, but still he did not look up from the water. It was not his place to ask questions in this man’s home, Rain-Keeper or not. Under his breath he whispered the thanks he had known from childhood for the sacred liquid, before drinking it. The Rain-Keeper waited for Roob to finish before continuing, “What are you doing here, so far from your Barrow?”
Roob looked at the man, “I am a Surveyor. We have no choice in my Barrow but to search this land for suitable mounds.”
“We are not far from the forest though, I’m certain your Rain-Keepers are not happy about this. What prevents your Tribe from taking someone else’s mound, or pleading refuge through the Rain-Keepers?”
“Our allies will need to expand soon as well, so we cannot plead refuge through the Rain-Keepers. We have not the force after one of our Barrows collapsed.”
“Barrows do not collapse. How did this happen?”
“We do not know, Exalted…” Roob stopped himself, but the conversation had fallen into such a familiar place that he was hardly paying attention. It fell upon Roob and his family to make sure the Barrows were secure, that nothing done to them affected their protections. His family, he himself knew the Barrow had been secure, it should not have collapsed. They had all answered this question many times, and Roob had taken this task upon himself to restore some status to his family.
The man waited, sounding out the silence with his gaze. “The Barrow should not have collapsed, save it be the Rain’s will that all within perish.” Roob’s reply was quiet, non-accusatory, but heavy with shades of meaning. The man leaned back into his chair.
“Do you wish to be alleviated of your sorrow? Of your ‘responsibility’ for such matters?” the man asked. What little vision left was rooted onto Roob’s face.
He approached cautiously, looking first left and then right out into the main, utterly empty Barrow-mound. When he reached the door, he knocked politely and then stepped to the side, knife at the ready. It was whispered that merely being this close to the Forest would turn a man feral, and Roob felt it was better to be safe, since so far today it had kept him alive.
When the door opened it revealed an older gentleman, probably in his late-thirties. His eyes were wide, naturally bulbous, his face gaunt and thin, marked with a beard, full and almost down to the man’s chest. Since Roob didn’t hear or see the sounds of a pen he assumed the man did not eat much; since he had a beard, Roob assumed the man didn’t ever leave, or had not left in a very long time, since the Rain would spread faster along a beard. His skin had paled, and his eyes were beginning to develop the signs of filming over; too much time spent in the dark. Perhaps most shocking to Roob however, was the fact that this man was wearing the formal robes of a Rain-keeper (never mind they were soiled and dusty). It did not take very much time at all for the man to become aware of Roob, and he waited, looking his own person over and attempting to loosen some of the accumulated dust.
Roob recovered. “Exalted one, forgive my staring. May the Rain spare you.”
“There is nothing to forgive, I’m certain I look frightful.” the Rain-keeper paused, as though honestly debating returning the stock greeting. Roob blushed in embarrassment on the Rain-Keeper’s behalf as the other spoke: “Go always in faith that you will be spared. Please, come inside young one.”
Roob did so, still blushing.
“You are far from home, wherever that is…” the Rain-keeper paused expectantly.
“Panther Flame Barrow of the line of Smith, exalted one.”
“Please, enough formalities, they chafe under all that I now know,” as though to emphasize the point, the man redistributed the weight of the robe on his shoulders. While doing so, Roob was able to look around the interior Barrow and saw rows upon rows of metal shelves, lined with thin slices of metal arranged perpendicularly to the shelves. These books continued, the pages getting thinner and thinner until at the other end of the dome, wrapped in leather and forbidden paper, marking their age by their material, were true books. Roob looked down; even to look upon one was heresy. Only the most elevated of Rain-Keepers knew what was in them.
It was a fairly natural crevice, unworked by heat or hammer, and as such how wide it was tended to fluctuate greatly. Roob found himself sideways (shoulder first) on several occasions, squeezing himself between the sections of blood-red material that he could. His gear didn’t help the situation, and Roob blamed his foresight in the matter. Already deep within the scarlet walls of the crevice though, Roob decided it best to continue forward. For a split second, after looking back and forward, Roob disoriented himself, forgetting for the briefest of instances which shoulder had been leading. The confusion lasted only a second, and Roob continued, hopefully in the same direction he had been going. He distracted himself from the tedium by considering the value this vein would have to the Tribe. If it ended in a cavern, the opening could be widened out and used as a Barrow. Even if it didn’t, this was a sizeable vein of critical material, worthy of being mined.
Roob almost fell face first on his next step. It was a tricky squeeze: the two walls were only navigable in a lightning bolt shape for two steps, each perpendicular to the last. As if tight, blind corners weren’t enough, the walls opened up sideways and the floor down into a set of steps. Roob’s balance saved him, as he threw out the arm that wasn’t holding the lantern and grabbed a hold of a jut in the wall.
He stepped down a couple of steps and carefully turned to examine them close up. There… Roob had thought the light played strangely on them, and closer he could see the tell-tale signs of workmanship on the material. The hammer-and-chisel marks left by the white-hot tools were even, and still hard to notice. Roob turned back down the stairs, his face quizzical; the knife usually at his hips in his hand.
Roob knew there weren’t supposed to be any other Tribes in this area. He made a point to ask for the most recent territory maps his Tribe had before going out to look for Barrow sites. Roob by himself didn’t have the station to negotiate with another tribe for mound-access rights. He’d been sent to do so for other Tribes before, usually as a peace gesture, but stumbling into someone else’s turf and then nosing in their business usually made you seem confused at best and incompetent at worst. This place, so close to the trees, was not and had not been claimed by any Tribe. If there was material to be had here, it was believed it would only exist under the tree roots, and since the trees defied the Rain and forsook its gifts, no one was willing to bother.
The situation back at Roob’s Tribe had grown bad however. They were quickly outgrowing the Barrow and needed to find a new one soon or start casting people out. They didn’t have the man-power to force another Tribe to give them access to their mounds, not since a freak accident had wiped out one of the Tribe’s Barrow. Their few allies also didn’t have any mounds to spare, nor with the Wet season coming on, could they spare any men. So they’d sent Roob out to investigate the mounds in the no-man’s land.
The stairway continued into the depth, until the ceiling that had previously been omni-present, was now aloof. At the same time, the stairs ended into a naturally even floor, facing a small hallway that led to a dome. Roob had heard of pockets of critical material forming shapes with shapes, usually domes within domes. In regular practice, one mined the critical material out from the middle and used it for day to day necessities… one did not often encounter doors in them.
Up ahead, three overhangs and on the wrong side of the canyon from him, Roob spied the vein of black-amidst-the-green running vertically along the wall and pooling at the bottom of the canyon. The black stood out starkly because of the green tint of the goggles and Roob pressed himself harder. He abandoned keeping his breath even and let it come in shortened bursts. Dust was coming up from the non-critical sections of the walls and floors of the canyon: the Change was starting just as Roob dived into the chasm, his vision swimming. Despite a lack of breath, Roob quickly set to work.
He knew that the critical material was a thin vein in the rock on the canyon edge, so it would hold; but, he didn’t have a survey-map of the area, and wouldn’t know how much of the rest of the canyon would hold against the Rain, and how much would turn critical, until the rain stopped and he left the crevice. Then there was the matter of whether or not he could leave the crevice once the rain stopped. Quickly he pulled a folding-screen made of critical material, hammered thinly into shape, out of his bag. Pulling off his glasses with the other hand; the charcoal colored light coming in from outside painted the chasm in its natural blood-red color. The tempered-glass joints squealed slightly as they rubbed against each other, more as Roob wedged the folding-screen into the entrance. It billowed out slightly, both to prevent too much pressure on the screen, and to prevent build-up near a shelter entrance.
Once that was in place, Roob quickly pulled out a glass bubble filled with a sky-blue, gel-substance and shook it, making sure to cover the openings; he set down the now-glowing container in what he assumed to be the center of the crevice, and pulled-out a bio-pen. The pen was filled with a similar substance as the lamp, but was made of less sturdy construction than glass. With the entrance-screen to his right, he went to the wall and drew a symbol on it, the bio-pen reacting with the critical material. The sigil started glowing brightly in a cobalt color as the critical material… pulsed is really the best word for it. Not wasting time, he drew another glyph on the entrance screen, and another on the wall opposite the first. Roob went to draw a third on the wall opposing the entrance, but didn’t find the wall. Instead it seemed the crevice continued. Cursing softly, he instead drew half the sigil overhead, and the other half under the lamp. Now he could rest, safe that the material would hold, and he would be able to leave.
Roob took a moment to settle everything, placing the unnecessary things back in his bag. He started to undo the straps for the leather, now that he was indoors, but stopped himself. His eyes moved opposite the opening, down the crevice. There was no way to know if the critical material continued to line it, and if it didn’t, he would have to be careful. Without the continued lining there was a greater likelihood that Rain would start pooling on the ground, but hopefully the Rain wouldn’t last long enough for that to happen. Running his hand down the wall (careful not to disturb the glyph), Roob picked up the lantern, left his bag behind and started his journey into the crevice.
The darkness is absolute, but even still I can just barely make out the essence of the spirit. It speaks to me, though it does not materialize. I am not sure it knows or cares that I can hear it.
“Who dares to enter this sacred chamber?”
I do not speak, as I desire more light, and manipulate my essence to flare my caste mark, brightening the initial chamber in the glow. The spirit is now completely visible, and it looks like it is bowing.
“Lawgiver! Forgive me Copper Spider, I have waited so long for one of the Princes of Creation to find this place. Now that you are here my geas is complete—“
“Wait! Before you go, what is this place, who put you here, stay, talk to me, show me around? I have nothing with which to compel you, but ask only in friendship.”
“This place is a sacred building of the Lawgivers. During the Usurpation it was buried under the Earth in one day by the magic of the Solar Exalted, it has remained here ever since, and by that same magic I was bound to remain here until it was reclaimed by a Lawgiver, and to allow no one else access to it. No one has come save you, and for that I will talk. I have no duty under Heaven now, since I’m certain they’ve given away my post…”
Despite wanting to know everything this being is saying, I focus on the task at hand. “Walk me through this place as we talk then?”
The building turns out to be a pyramid, long since buried. I am informed that the balustrade is a rain-collecting device for anyone who wishes to remain inside. That way they may have clean water. It has remained mostly intact throughout the ages, confined within the earth and that the entrance I used to discover it is an emergency tunnel built after it was sealed and connecting to the second level on the interior from the top. By the end of our tour we have travelled several rooms and floors, into a cavernous space inside the center of the pyramid. A dome of pure crystal caps the top and mirrors reflect the lights throughout the chamber. No sun, no light within the pyramid.
“And… where is the hearth room?” I ask of the spirit.
It… sighs. “So many questions, Twilight. Always questions. I will answer this last one and go. Yes, the manse is functional, but it has no power. It still caps the demense it sits on, and the magic that hides it keep either from deteriorating, but that demense is no longer being fed by natural essence flows. You would have to redirect the ley lines that formed the demense downwards in order to power the manse to give you a hearthstone. Until then…”
“Hmmm… yes. I should return. Thank you spirit.” With that, I return through the manse, quietly debating on how to do that, and more importantly, what to do with a family in a house that I will have to buy… I find myself hoping that at least one of them knows a skilled craft.
I pull out 83 dinar from a pouch near my groin. I know it is a generous amount, but having friends everywhere is a courtesan’s duty; also, if my investigation helps the family, even better.
The couple stares at the money, mouths agape. It is the wife who regains her wits first. “And what poor sop did you steal that off of, hmmmm? We don’t need your charity, beggar-thief.”
I look her dead in the eye. I am firm, possibly imposing, but not threatening, and not chastising. “It is not charity I give you, woman. It is more than ample compensation to justify my searching your house for something that belongs to me. On my word of honor, I will not harm a hair on your head, take one thing that is yours from your household, or disturb your children from their slumber.” I pray it’s not in the children’s room as I say this.
She seems moved enough by that. The husband seems abashed at his wife’s behavior, but despite that has said nothing. I was a fool for bargaining with him first, I should have known the wife would be the force within this home. Especially considering how much time I spend with an equally strong woman.
Finally she nods, and I begin my search. I carefully manage the reserves of my essence, making sure not to be noticed, but augmenting my sight to be able to see the spirits of the house. I can never be certain what resources my enemies possess, and spying with spirits is just another option available in the Great Game. As I look through the common areas of the house I find it, a small section of glossy yellow tiles poking out just under the wash-basin, almost unnoticeable.
“Can I move this?” I say to her.
“How long have these tiles been here?”
She looks down, thinks for a second. “Couldn’t tell you. Last heavy rain maybe? Can’t think of any recent earthquakes…” She looks to her husband, he shrugs.
“Can I move this?” I ask again.
“Sure… But I thought you were looking for—“
“Something that was hidden by someone else that belongs to me, I am… I just didn’t say how big it was.” She rolls her eyes at that, whatever trust I had built is gone; a suitably expense for now. After moving the washbasin I tap lightly on the plate. It is hollow, as I thought, and circular in form. Once more I flick the metal, allowing the essence to transfer into the tiles. It, along with a foot more of the ground, glows slightly, but nothing more. I clear away the dirt to the end of the glowing patch, finding a small depression just beyond the circle. I push down on the depression hard, almost going so far as to do a handstand on it. I am rewarded when the other side cracks open, and Stone, thankfully, places a broom inside the crack to hold it open.
I quickly move around the patch to the open side. I can see something lurking down there, dematerialized, waiting. I turn back to the couple who lives here.
“Things will change around here. They must, for your safety and mine, but I promise it will be for the better. If I do not come out of here by the first light of the Unconquered Sun, go to the palace, beg grievance from your Princess under the auspices of Huasi, she will direct you to my household where they will explain everything. I promise, on the word given before and the sanctity of my past-lives, things will be better for you.” So saying, I open the chamber and jump down, letting it close behind me.
Once there I search carefully, quietly, inconspicuously. Despite it having been so long ago, the metal does not seem to have rusted or twisted in any notable way. I run my hand along the top and get a quarter of the way down the railing before I feel it, wind. Looking carefully I can see the carefully concealed holes in the railing, funnels likely designed to catch rain-water… but why? I examine the flames on the bottom of the balustrade, feeling around where they touch the looser soils. Its then that it hits me, what the local Gods said, the house, the balustrade randomly appearing… this isn’t a singular thing: the balustrade is part of a larger structure!
I try something possibly very foolish then: I flick the railing, charging it with the essence of the sun, listening to the resonance. The note is sweet and pure, and after a couple of tries I am finally able to hear the response note. Almost the exact same, the responding note is just a touch flatter than the resonance note, it’s also at a much greater distance. I orient myself and follow it as best I can.
The note leads to a house near the edge of the district. I had not heard anything else from Sohana about this district, so it may be that there is something else which had made itself known that was less interesting. It would have to be so, otherwise why would it echo the resonance? Without hesitation I knock on the door.
The man of the house answers it, a young lad. He looks harangued, and I can hear at least three children in the background. His eyes go wide when he sees me.
“Are you from the Bitter Handler? Honestly, I have no money with which to pay you, and this is my home, my wife can’t see you or—“
“Relax, I’m not here from whoever that is. My name is…” I had not thought to use a false name yet. It is easy to see the man looks honest and embarrassed, if only mildly confused. “Subtle Blossoms. I just arrived from Port Cailin and have nowhere to go. A man at the gate said you were an honest and humble man, I was just hoping…” I give him a look that has made general’s flinty hearts melt. His relieved look turns to confusion.
“Oh… well, let me ask my wife… please come inside.”
“Thank you,” I smile demurely. The wife enters from the other room, having gotten the kids to finally sleep, and looks confusedly between me and her husband.
“Stone, what is going on?” She asks of him.
“I can explain,” I leap in before he has the chance to talk, that may be his wife, but I’m more confident that I can sway her better than he can. “My name is Subtle Blossoms, I arrived from Port Cailin and I told him I needed someplace to stay. That’s not the entire truth but its close enough. You see, I need to look through your house. I think someone hid something of mine here, and I would like to try and find it. I have money if you don’t mind.”
We had arrived back at the door to the palace. My majordomo was waiting for us there; apparently there was a letter from my Father that required my attentions. I begged leave of the Princess to go deal with the matter.
When we returned to the residence provided for me I thanked my Majordomo for providing me the exit. I did not like the fact that I had to arrange for such escapes from Sohana, and I would have canceled this one had we not been so pleasantly engaged in conversation. I also could not let it simply pass and remained with her: the closer I appeared to my Father, the more respect I showed to my house.
The sun was setting, the entire city bathed in the violet, rose, and cantaloupe palette of twilight. I breathed deeply of the cooling air, enjoying the array of possibility that existed in this. Even though it was still recent, I had already started considering twilight “my” time. I quickly changed into a simple tunic and pants, wrapping and tying the weighted sash in such a way that a single tug would unwind it for use. I also made sure to bring two fans, just in case. I would go through the poor district dressed and looking like a common street-walker, and for that I needed props. While I readied myself my Majordomo came in.
“I have decided to get much rest this evening, and so after handling affairs with my Father I retired for the evening. Due to the nature of my rest however, I should be available shortly after dawn to handle the affairs of today should anyone require me between now and then.” He nods, and goes to leave before stopped and turning back.
“Sire, if I may?”
“Speak. You know I value your opinion.”
“I simply wonder if this deception is necessary. It is obvious to see that Sohana has taken a fancy to you.”
“Please, use her title. And I wonder if it is necessary to. But I do not yet know how she will feel if she should discover the truth, and until I know that… The less people know the better. I must tread carefully, and so despite my desire to truly be honest with someone, until I know whether or not my caution is to the betterment or detriment of our House and its place in the Great Game, none must know.”
He nods, and once more leaves. I quietly follow along the servant access to the house, exiting by a side door, and cautiously making my way to the balustrade.
This is a small Exalted (R) fan-fiction that I wrote for a friend’s game, serialized to post a section every 12 hrs. Its relatively short, and as an exception, certain concepts are copyright CCP/White Wolf, Inc. Appropriate rights reserved.
“Tell me again what that balustrade along the side road belongs to in the poor district Sohana?” We were walking around the gardens, and though I dare say I was beginning to enjoy her company, it was difficult to adjust to everyone’s perception of what was happening. I have always enjoyed my freedom, especially in terms of being a courtesan; however, for a marriage this beneficial to my House, and since it is Father’s wish… I can put aside my preferences.
“Why do you enjoy this story so much, Huasi?” It was my mother’s nick-name for me, in the interest of the upcoming betrothal I had allowed her to use it. I was still getting accustomed to hearing it from her.
“Because it represents a mystery! All things mysterious fascinate me: the unknown, the unknowing. I might tell someone that their secrets are no concern of mine, but that doesn’t stop me from paying attention. What they won’t tell me I make up.”
“Are you saying I must be more mysterious to gain your attentions then?” She smiled coyly.
“Nonsense. You are your city, and when I have made a story for every mystery here, then I shall tackle your own… mysteries.” Subtle emphasis on the last mysteries and… there, a blush.
“But what of the stories that already are, Huasi?”
“It just means I don’t have to make up as many stories… which means time is running out before I turn my eye on you.”
She pouts. “I had hoped your eyes were already on me.”
I look into her eyes as I respond, watching her face to make sure I don’t go too far. I like Sohana, more as a friend though. “My eyes drink in many things Sohana, sometimes all at once. I have sipped your vintage and know it to be ambrosia that even little gods would die for the opportunities I have had. So until I can drink deeply of the draught you provide, I will drink in your city instead… ravenously.” I know my Father though, and so I know that I will grow to love her… Love just takes time.
She clears her throat politely, disengaging in order to open her fan and use it rapidly. I can’t help but smirk.
“I assume you were speaking of the shaped steel balustrade that stands on the side of the road for only a few blocks? No one knows where it came from, for most of the city’s history it has been around, but the older records tell us that it appeared one night after a particularly torrential rain. Most people were stuck inside for days, in fact several nearby houses collapsed, and when people were able to come out again they saw, running right alongside their street, a white-steel balustrade, shaped like frozen flames. The magistrates inspected, but could not find any reason for its existence. When the local gods were questioned they responded only that it had always been there. The poor thought it was ill-omen to press the investigation, so we stopped. We could tell it was harmless, merely a decoration that had appeared.”