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 [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)

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Manovan Marrowsteel

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Number of posts : 319
Age : 29
Location : Sweden
Registration date : 2008-11-10

PostSubject: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sat Mar 06, 2010 12:02 pm

I know this isn't World of Warcraft, and most of you probably don't know the fantasy world I'm using for this story. But in a desperate attempt to get som readers, I'm posting it anyway. This story tells the chronicle of my first Exalted character (Exalted is a tabletop RPG made by White Wolf). This is for entertainment purposes only. Keep in mind that English is not my native tongue. The grammar may be off and you might think its poorly written, but I hope you will find something compelling about the story nonetheless. Keep in mind that I'm using the same character name in this story as I did in WoW. I hope it won't be too confusing. Here it is:



Table of Contents
Prologue

First Arc: Marching with the Dragon
Chapter 1: The boy from the fishing village
Chapter 2: The nameless figure
Chapter 3: The Tome of the Makers
CHapter 4: The boy from the fishing village II
Chapter 5: Coral Snake
Chapter 6: Infiltration
Chapter 7: The boy from the fishing village III
Chapter 8: In the dragon's belly
Chapter 9: Forbidden love
Chapter 10: The boy from the fishing village IV
Chapter 11: Anathema
Chapter 12: You can't fool the Dragon-Blooded
Chapter 13: The boy from the fishing village V
Chapter 14: Two men enter, one man leaves
Chapter 15: An invitation to Kal Bax
Chapter 16: The boy from the fishing village VI
Chapter 17: The phoenix

Second Arc: Unlocking the Cursed City
Chapter 18: Glorious Horizon
Chapter 19: The boy from the fishing village VII
Chapter 20: Children of the Moon
Chapter 21: A city cursed and forgotten
Chapter 22: The boy from the fishing village VIII
Chapter 23: An unwelcoming presence
Chapter 24: From one cruel curse to another
Chapter 25: The boy from the fishing village IX
Chapter 26: Breaking the miasma
Chapter 27: Ancient wonders
Chapter 28: The boy from the fishing village X
Chapter 29: In the daimyo's shoes
Chapter 30: The armory
Chapter 31: The boy from the fishing village XI
Chapter 32: Warmth within a frozen heart
Chapter 33: The central mind unit
Chapter 34: The boy from the fishing village XII
Chapter 35: Manovan of the Sea

Third Arc: Founding the City of Dreams
Chapter 36: The screaming box
Chapter 37: The boy from the fishing village XIII
Chapter 38: Soaring through the sky
Chapter 39: Heroes
Chapter 40: The boy from the fishing village XIV
Chapter 41: City of Dreams
Chapter 42: The God of the City
Chapter 43: The boy from the fishing village XV
Chapter 44: Founding a city
Chapter 45: Calling Lookshy
Chapter 46: The boy from the fishing village XVI
Chapter 47: The enchanting mayor
Chapter 48: The village of poets
Chapter 49: The boy from the fishing village XVII
Chapter 50: Stewards and bureaucrats


Prologue

Who would have thought that a young boy from a fishing village would live to see this sight? the hero asked himself as he gazed out from his balcony. Tens of thousands of hopeful faces looked up at him and cheered. He raised his hand in a silencing gesture. His fingers were embraced by rings of golden orichalcum and colorful jade. One ring stood out the most; it glittered as heavenly silver and gave a faint glow as the man felt a hand on his shoulder.

Someone kissed his cheek. It was a beautiful woman with long, red hair and radiant nut-brown eyes. One long lock was in glittering silver. Under her silken dress glowed tribal tattoos curving over her delicate yet muscled body. She was his wife. They were destined to be together.

The cheers of the people silenced and they waited for their king to speak. He embraced his wife while looking over his people. The embroidery of his silken robes shimmered in orichalcum and ancient old realm runes coruscated as the man channeled Essence from within. From his and his wife's foreheads shined circles. His was like golden sunlight and her like the silvery moon. The people cheered as they saw the marks on their royalties' foreheads.

The hero spoke: “You people are my slaves! Now, go and die in my war!”

A man woke up with a scream. He sat up in his bed, covering his sweaty skin only by silken sheets. The spot next to him was empty. His wife was hundreds of miles away, fighting the unending chaos that is the Wyld. He felt alone and unnerved. Outside his palace were thousands of people who loved him. Why did he have this dream? How had it come to this?


Last edited by Manovan Marrowsteel on Tue Jun 28, 2011 9:30 pm; edited 49 times in total
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Manovan Marrowsteel

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Number of posts : 319
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Registration date : 2008-11-10

PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sat Mar 06, 2010 12:03 pm

Chapter 1: The boy from the fishing village

“Give it back, Amir”, the young boy cried as he tried to reach for what his brother had stolen.

“Boys shouldn't play with dolls, little brother”, Amir laughed and pushed his brother to the soft, dry grass while holding the doll in the air where he couldn't reach it.

The fall didn't hurt but the young boy cried nonetheless. It was his fifth birthday and he had been given a doll by his older sister Lira, who was seven. The boy loved it. Not because it was a doll, but because it was a gift from a sister he admired. Amir, the oldest brother, took every opportunity to bully him for it. He bullied him for being weak and for looking more like a girl than a boy. He was twice the age and ten times the strength. He was a lionhearted warrior in a ten year old's form with a raven-black crew cut over a firm chestnut-shaded face framing in two resolute, livid eyes.

The young boy pleaded to his mother whom he could see through an open window to their cramped house of wood and alabaster clay. It had a layer of palm leaves covering the wooden roof from the strong summer monsoons with its heavy rain. Even though they all had to share the same space, it was sufficient for the five of them. The mother was leaning out through the window with her arms crossed on the wooden frame and her curly, dark hair dancing with the mild breezes of this clear spring day. Her charcoal eyes stared intently at her oldest son.

“You're ten years old, Amir”, she said. “You should be good to your little brother.”

Amir said nothing but his disappointment could be seen as he suddenly lost his smile. He tossed the doll over to his sobbing sibling, gave him a sly, condescending smirk and then ran off to the swing-set their father had built only weeks ago. The boy embraced the doll with his fragile arms and looked at it for a moment. It was made of stuffed bag-cloth and had threads of yarn for hair and two wooden buttons for eyes. He wept silently as he tossed it a few yards into the ocean. His brother was right. He couldn't play with dolls. He was a boy.

Lira came running out from the house. “Did you throw it away?” she cried. “Manovan, you idiot!”

Manovan took a bold stance before his sister and tried a fake laugh, still with teary eyes. “A boy can't play with dolls!” he lied and ran to the swing-set to join the brother that had been mocking him only moments ago. Amir smirked proudly as Manovan came up to him at the swing-set and forced a more valiant posture. Now it was Lira who wept. But that was okay. She was a girl after all.

Joy filled the family when the father's fishing boat approached the bridge. The boat was a slim wooden jangada with a triangular, white sail. The father used to either sail it alone or together with a friend of the family. This time he had been out alone. The beaches were sunny but a thick mist could be seen far out the sea. Amir had often tried to scare Manovan by telling him that it was the spirits of the ocean that tried to cover the sight of fishermen so that they could be devoured by the sea. Manovan believed in the stories and his heart beat faster every time his father was out fishing in that weather. He didn't want to lose him to an evil spirit.

But this time he was back safely. Amir and Lira hurried to the bridge to see their father's daily catch. Most of it would be sold in the village and both Manovan and Amir would get to help at the market. They always got the biggest fish for lunch and watching what Manovan could see of the fish on the approaching boat, it seemed that today's biggest was a fifteen pound swordfish that was nailed to the mast. There would be enough food to last for supper, both for today and tomorrow.

The father tossed a rope over to Amir who tied the boat to a pole on their crooked bridge. Manovan kept thinking about the doll who floated around in the water below them. He regretted that he had tossed it in. He sat on the swing-set, watching out over the bridge but didn't go to greet his father. Lira had stopped crying and Amir laughed with excitement as their father showed his daily catch.

The mist seemed to get thicker but Manovan swore that he could see something moving out there at sea. It looked like the spears of an army, pointing up to the sky. As they approached, he noticed they were masts of great dynastic galleys. Their grandiose crimson sails carried imperial crests in black and gold.

“Daddy, look!” Lira said and pointed to the approaching ships.

Their father looked at the ships, gave his daughter a pat on her head and told his kids to go back to the house. He turned to greet the visitors at his bridge. All but one ship seemed to slow down before reaching the shore.

Manovan didn't move. He wanted to see the Dragon-Blooded. He had only heard about them from his father. They were said to be gods in human form and they ruled over Creation from the great Imperial Island. You could almost see the Imperial Island from the village on a clear summer day. At least the high Imperial Mountain that reached higher than any other mountain in the world.

One galley approached the bridge and Manovan watched his father step back to let it dock. A rope was tossed to him by a man clad in metal plates and he tied it to a pole. A handful of metal-clad soldiers, armed with exceptional straight swords and round crimson shields, jumped onto the bridge, followed by a tall man clad in a full-body armor of black jade. He wielded a grand daiklave of the same obsidian-colored material on his back. The man had pale, olive skin and long, ebon hair. His slightly oblique eyes were as deep blue as the ocean itself on a clear spring day. His high cheek bones, sharp nose and trimmed eyebrows showed the face of a man who was clearly older and wiser than what he seemed to a mere mortal like Manovan and his father. It was obvious to them both that this man was Dragon-Blooded.

“Welcome to Sakana Village, best dynast”, Manovan's father said. He avoided eye contact and kept his head low. “I am Doran of the Sea. How can I be of service?”

Manovan stopped the swing and sneaked up to the corner of the house so that he could hear the conversation more clearly. His father used big words and he didn't understand all of them. But he did understand that they were important.

The man in jade said something in a language Manovan couldn't understand. His voice was deep but the words were fluent and poetic. It was a beautiful language. Not even Doran seemed to understand the language and looked at one of the armed soldiers who translated into the language Doran self had used; riverspeak.

“He says: 'My name is Wakde, Dragonlord of the Peleps family. You will be of service by acting obediently.'”

Doran looked confused and Manovan wondered if his father understood as few of the words as he did. What was a Dragonlord? And what did “obediently” mean?

“Of course, my lord”, Doran stuttered.

The Dragon-Blooded raised his head and looked down on the fisherman with eyes showing nothing more than contempt. Manovan noticed a grin on Wakde's face as he said something in that remarkable foreign language. The soldier gave his lord a quick, surprised glance and then translated to riverspeak: “You will convince the villagers to give us enough food to feed our whole dragon. You will provide young men and women for our soldiers and you will do so without questions. When all the soldiers in our dragon have been fed and satisfied, all healthy men, women, boys and girls in this village shall happily board our ships and serve the Peleps family as their slaves.”

“What!?” Doran called out with a heartbroken cry. Manovan bit his lip in surprise of his father's outburst. He wished he could understand. “This must be some sick joke! We can barely feed ourselves! And slaves!?”

The Dragonlord tilted his head and looked at Doran with an amused grin on his olive-pale face. He slowly moved his hand to the great sword on his back. Doran hobbled back a step but was stopped by one swift motion where the Dragonlord had drawn and cut faster than the eyes could see. Doran stood idly before the Dragonlord, surprised and confused by what had happened. He didn't look to be in any pain but blood begun to slowly run down his neck.

“I told you not to question me”, the dynast said in fluent riverspeak and sheeted his sword on his back.

Doran's head dropped from his body and landed on the bridge with a faint thump before it rolled into the water. Manovan watched his father's severed head sink next to the doll which aimlessly floated around along the surface of the water. The doll's button eyes didn't have a care in the world.

Dragonlord Wakde of the Peleps family approached the house with more and more soldiers leaving the ship and following him ashore. Behind them docked more ships and others had released boats carrying soldiers ashore. A Dragon-Blooded man with a similar armor to the Dragonlord but in red jade hurried towards the shore by running atop the surface of the water as if it was solid ground. He nodded to the Dragonlord and Manovan noticed that the man had hair that seemed to emanate the heat of orange flames.

“Winglord Rondo”, the Dragonlord said. “Try not to kill too many children this time.”

“Yes, my lord”, the other Dragon-Blooded said with a smirk. A faint red glow emanated from his body and he drew his grand daiklave from his back. It too was similar to the Dragonlord's but it was fiery red instead of black.

Manovan heard his mother's scream and saw her and his siblings leave the house and flee uphill, towards the village. The soldiers came closer and closer and Manovan knew that if he ran after them, they would see him as well. His wisest move would be to hide until he could safely reunite with his family.

He noticed the root cellar next to him behind the house. It was dark and there were many places to hide. He ran up to it and opened its doors when he noticed his mother ascending the hill a few yards away. She stopped for a second to make sure that Amir and Lira were keeping up with the pace and first then noticed her youngest son standing at the root cellar. She widened her tearful eyes in desperation and pleaded silently for his safety.

Suddenly, an arrow pierced her left temple and she fell lifeless to the ground. Manovan cried out in shock and lost his grip of the door. He fell down the stairs into the root cellar with the door slamming shut behind him. He could hear the faint echoes of his siblings' cries. Tears and snot were filling up his throat and he had a hard time breathing. He gasped for air and crawled up the stairs to see if Amir and Lira were still alive. He stopped when he heard sounds on the other side of the door. Men were talking in a language he didn't understand. Had they seen him fall in or heard the doors slam shut?

He ran deeper into the root cellar to hide. He opened the lid of a barrel filled with dirt and dug himself down into it. He could hear the door open and boots clapping against the stairs. He buried both his body and his head in the cold dirt and closed the lid on top. He could barely breath within his hiding-place, but he knew he had to wait until the soldiers left. He heard them searching through the root cellar. He heard them open up the lid to the barrel he hid in and dig around in the dirt that covered him. Luckily, they never felt him in there.

It felt like forever but eventually the sounds faded away. He crawled out of the barrel, shivering from the coldness of the dirt. He didn't know how long he had remained hidden but the freezing dirt and the lack of air had made him balance on the edge to the world beyond. Luckily there had been an air pocket in which he could breath, but his head was pounding like a frightened heart. Maybe ten hours had passed. Probably more.

When he opened up the door to the root cellar, he could hear the crisping sound of burning wood. Above him was a sunless sky with thousands of stars watching over him. He pleaded to them for help but they didn't listen. His house was on fire and even though all of this was frightening, the warmth from the fire embraced him like a comforting mother's arms.

“Mother?” There were no soldiers around, though silhouettes of the ships could still be seen from the shore. He ran to the hill where his mother had fallen and saw her cold, lifeless body lie there with dusky, dead eyes wide open. The arrow had been removed from her head but the body was left to rot.

He sobbed quietly. He was a boy. He wouldn't cry. He looked around himself but saw nothing more than grass, blood, sand and flames. “Amir!? Lira!?” There was no answer. He ran around the yard, almost all the way from the shore to the village, looking for his siblings. There were lights and sounds coming from the village. Soldiers must be there.

He returned to his burning house and saw his father lying on the bridge with his head severed. Manovan couldn't leave his parents like this. He jumped from the bridge into the cold water and searched with his hands and feet for his father's head along the sandy bottom. But he was afraid to find it.

When he next ascended the beach, he carried his father's head in his arms. He refused to look at it and he tried to ignore how it felt on his bare skin. The skin had gone mushy and reminded him of a jellyfish. Without looking at it, he tried to force himself into thinking that he carried a jellyfish instead of a severed head. He placed the head next to his burning home and then returned to the bridge to get the rest of his father. The body was heavy but he refused to give up. He held his father's arms and dragged him up towards the house, trying not to look at the wound from the severed neck. But it was difficult to look away. When he was done, he wiped the sweat off his forehead and went to get his mother.

He had to push them to get them into the flames and they burned his body as he got close. When he had finally managed to push his parents' bodies into their burning home, he sat down next to the house and watched the flames.

The man's name was Peleps Wakde. He would remember that.


Last edited by Manovan Marrowsteel on Sun Oct 17, 2010 10:04 pm; edited 3 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sat Mar 06, 2010 12:04 pm

Chapter 2: The nameless figure

A dark figure watched over the town of Yuro from atop an overlooking hill. Its black woolen robes were soggy from the heavy rain that showered the thick jungles from the ominous thunderclouds above. Under the woolen robes hid a man with skin as dark as the thick, unwelcoming mud that soiled his boots and he had intense charcoal eyes with a slight epicanthic fold. His eyes were darkened even further with black makeup and he shaded his face with the outer robe's hood and an ebon mask that was an extension of his cotton shirt's collar. Already covered in water and mud, the thunderclouds above could hardly fret him.

He looked down upon Yuro, impressed by the massive tree surrounding the town like a protective wall. What could grow such a thing? And what could have cut off its crown as all that remained was a great hollow trunk? The surrounding jungles looked like moss in comparison. He had witnessed amazing things in his barely nineteen years in this world but this was the first time he had ever laid his eyes on something as remarkable as this. And yet this wasn't the most bewildering aspect about the town within. What amazed him even more was that none of the showering rain seemed to actually hit the town itself. Water splashed on what seemed to be an invisible dome, shielding the town from the hostile weather. Whatever magic protected this city, it was beyond his understanding.

As the man gazed upon the breathtaking sight, a coral snake with stripes in red, yellow and black crawled down his leg and rested for a moment on his muddy leather boot. Its dusky eyes looked intently on a mouse that was trapped in the mud. The snake slowly opened its strong jaws and bit its syringe teeth into the mouse's neck. The man gave it a short leer as he noticed the mouse's faint shriek.

“Always so cruel, Dawn”, the man said to the snake as he watched it devour the dying mouse. His voice had a pitch of clear feminine smoothness hiding a manly depth. “Are you going to make me spend another day cleaning mud from your scales?”

The man felt his stomach growl and gave the town a second gaze. He knew he ought to keep moving so that he could reach Yuro before the sun had fully set. Crimson rays pierced the livid thunderclouds and illuminated the jungles like the sun had bled out the time of dusk. He could feel the tame serpent crawl back up along his leg, leaving half of the mouse to rot in the mud.

He walked. He forced his feet out of the squishy mud with each step and ignored the echoing thunders and the dazzling flashes of distant lightning. As he approached the town, all he could see from outside its walls were guards watching the entrance and patrolling the top of the giant trunk. They were dressed in rugged leather harnesses, sheeted hooked swords and round metal caps. They held long spears or halberds in tight fists and had short wooden bows strapped on their backs.

Reaching above the bark-walls were a few tall towers in smooth, white stone which reflected the crimson rays with their polished facades. Some of them had open balconies, others had not. The towers themselves weren't wet from the rain as they were protected by the invisible barrier.

Is it caused by the city's spirit or by … something else? the young man asked himself as he watched how the rain carelessly ran down the barrier's sides. The path under his feet widened as he closed in and its mud felt more solid.

As he approached the open tunnel leading through the massive wood, two guards gave him tired looks. They were standing just below the shaded tunnel ceiling so that not to be drenched by the heavy rain. Though the rattling echoes alone seemed to be enough to drain their spirits. “Welcome to Yuro”, one of them said in forest-tongue, the local language, without caring to give eye contact to the dark visitor.

“Thanks”, he muttered in the same tongue as they and walked a few steps into the tunnel leading through the wooden wall. He looked up on the shaded ceiling and noticed massive rings in the wood indicating that the trunk was from ancient times. He turned to the guard who had welcomed him. “Do you know where I can find a tavern?”

“Just follow the road”, the guard responded with a tired mumble. “There are plenty of them there.”

He continued along the tunnel until he entered the inner town. He knew he was outside but not a single drop of rain touched his stained robes. He gazed upon the sky and witnessed the heavy rain being blocked from reaching the ground. The water running down the surface of the invisible dome felt like a transparent liquid ceiling above his head. It didn't seem like he was outside even though he felt breezes touch his skin. The rain could be smelled but it couldn't be touched. He noticed that the ground under his feet was like dry desert sand, stepped solid by thousands of boots who were walking here every day.

It's like a dry oasis in the middle of the rainforest, he thought and moved some of the sand aside with his muddy boot.

The street was crowded with people. The last crimson rays faded away and the crowded row was illuminated by torches on poles. Most of the people he could see were either drunk, homeless or visiting the market stalls that still seemed busy at this hour. The most common garment people wore was a white linen tunic tied around the waist with a rope or a leather belt. Unfortunately to some, they couldn't even afford to wear that.

His stomach growled again. He had used up the last of his money buying traveling gear and provisions for this final trip that had made him travel through the jungles for almost two weeks without encountering a single village or person. He didn't know what had caused him to travel all the way to Yuro. The mere rumor that the town existed had been enough to lure him here. And it was far enough into the jungles of the Scavenger Lands to make him feel safe. However, traveling the jungles hadn't been easy without much experience in the wilderness. He had cooked what he knew he could eat and avoided everything he had never seen before. There were plenty of animals, berries and fruits that he had passed up just to be sure he didn't eat something poisonous. And how it sometimes could be difficult to find water in something called a rainforest was remarkable in itself.

But he had other talents. He was certain that he could move freely along this road while pick-pocketing people along the way. He was sure that no one would notice him and, if he was lucky, it would give him enough money for both a good meal and a comfortable bed for the night. He moved easily along the street, not even glancing at people as he reached inside their pockets to dig out bits and dinars. He even managed to spot one thug who tried to reach for his own pockets, but broke the amateur's fingers as a gesture for him to have better luck on another day. When the thief cried out in agony, the man had already moved a few yards away.

He noticed the first tavern from the many effulgent lights hidden within colored paper balls that overlooked a crowded terrace. Illuminated by the lights was an elegantly carved wooden sign saying “Crimson-Bear Tavern” in forest-tongue. There were people enjoying cool beverages on the terrace outside while listening to the distant thunders, but the nameless man had longed for a ceiling above his head. He walked into Crimson-Bear Tavern and looked for a free table.

It was not as crowded inside as it was on the terrace and the man shortly found himself to a table next to two interesting men. One of them looked rugged with a considerable, though ill-kept, maroon-shaded beard and long hair sharing the same color. His eyes were like two dim emeralds framed in and shaded by a weather-beaten, tawny face. The man was dressed in stained, dusky leather and thick viridian wool, like a ranger living in the jungles. The other man looked more like a young teenager than a man and was much to the bearded one's opposite. He was short and had skin as pale as alabaster with a sooty haircut which sprawled into thick tangles. The boy had an over-sized, pointy beak of a nose. The only thing compelling about his appearance was his formal, violet linen robe with golden tribal embroidery.

The dark man removed his backpack and placed it next to his chair. As he sat down, he removed the hood from his head and pulled down the ebon mask covering his nose and mouth. His raven-black hair was worn in three linear knots but was clearly long enough to reach his shoulder-blades if the knots were untied. Around his forehead was a bandana of the same color as his hair. The bandana and the black makeup he had used on his eye-lines were of practical use more than of fashionable. They helped darkening his face even further. Even though the man had walked for weeks through the jungles, his coffee-shaded skin was very clean and smooth, like if he had never even had an indication of a beard. His high cheekbones and the curve of his shapely lips gave him an androgynous appearance.

A young waitress with curly, dark hair and round, chestnut eyes came up to the man and handed him a menu. He looked it over briefly and then asked for a grilled chicken as he gave the waitress a friendly smile. She blushed a little by his smile and answered with one of her own. The man also ordered some cheap red wine and a pitcher of water. The girl nodded, scribbled down the order on a piece of parchment and then disappeared into the kitchen. The man leaned back in his chair and took a deep sigh, finally realizing that he could relax from the dark jungles and its unwelcoming atmosphere of ominous rain and vicious beasts. He had a ceiling over his head and, soon enough, he would have a warm meal to still the growling beast within his stomach.

“Countless artifacts, you say?” he heard the rugged man with the beard whisper to his peculiar friend. “And all we have to do is get some book?”

The dark traveler raised his eyebrows and listened intently at the men behind him. Had he heard the man mention artifacts? Such items were quite valuable when offered to the right people.

“Yes, I've, um, been talking it over with Terfal and Lormi already, but, well, there's one thing that bothers me”, the teenager with the nose said with a stuttering, but interesting, voice. “This book, um, is … well, it's in the palace. And I already told, um, the employers ... that I had it.”

The bearded man leaned back in his chair. “Well, count me out then, Cypher. I won't break into the palace.”

“Well, um, I thought you'd say that”, Cypher whispered in his interesting, yet somehow annoying, pitch of faintly shrieking stutter. “How about a jade mina for the job? No, let's make it two.”

The dark man almost recoiled in his chair. A jade mina was much more than most people got from a year's work. A mina was a small brick consisting of two shekel which in their turn consisted of eight obols each. A quarter of an obol was called a bit and was the currency most people traded with. Was this man really willing to give up two minae for some book? Many would sell their children for much less than that.

“Still no, my friend. I'm not interested in money and you know it.”

Not interested in money? Was the man crazy?

“But I, um, I am your friend, right, am I not?”

“Of course you are. But it's the palace. It's the death penalty.”

“But, um, Crystal ... you do want to find the artifacts, don't you?”

The man sighed. “Let's think this over first, Cypher. We must be careful.”

The waitress eventually came with the grilled chicken and the young man ate with great appetite. It was his first real meal in two weeks. He thought he would have reached a village or town much sooner than it had taken him to come to Yuro. He never wanted to go through a jungle again. He was starving. While eating his food the man still kept his interest in both of the men, though he was mostly interested in that teenager with the weird nose. He who was called Cypher. If he was willing to pay two minae for a theft job, then he must either be very resourceful or be after a book with even greater value.

After he had finished his meal, he waited for the two men to say their good byes. He then left enough money to pay for the food and followed Cypher into the dark streets of Yuro. People were still roaming the market row but as soon as he left the main lane, he also left the loud crowd. The man realized that Cypher walked carelessly as he looked at his own feet instead of on the shadows surrounding him, even though he was formally dressed and therefore an obvious target for thugs.

Cypher eventually reached his home which, to the dark visitor's surprise, was one of the city's seven great towers with its polished stone. The tower itself looked like a tall chimney with neither windows nor balconies until the very top where the balcony missed a railing. The hooded man had seen similar towers before in his life and knew that those balconies were built to dock flying vehicles. However, who had such vehicles this far from the military state of Lookshy or the great Realm? He watched the man while cloaked by the concealing shadows and he didn't move until Cypher had unlocked the door, entered his home and then locked the door behind him. Since the door seemed to be the only entrance, he had to make sure he broke in unnoticed and with the tower's inhabitant unprepared. He would let the boy settle in at home and find focus elsewhere.

He let a few minutes pass and waited until the last few people disappeared from the streets around the tower. It was pitch-black with the exception of a few lit torches in the alleys and the little sound he could possibly make would be muted by the rattling rain and the cacophony of voices and activity coming from the main row.

When he felt the time was right, he approached the tower's locked door. He watched over his shoulders to make sure he was alone and then reached in one of his bags for a lock-pick. He put the thin metal pick into the lock and quietly tried to unlock the door. It was an old, rusty lock. They could be unreliable. Eventually, he heard a click. But the click didn't come from the lock. It was the lock-pick itself that had broken inside. Removing the piece of metal was a job for a locksmith. He had to think of something else.

Damn, I'm becoming as rusty as the lock, he quietly cursed himself. Larceny may have been his expertise, but there hadn't been much time for lock-picking while walking through the thick eastern jungles for weeks.

He sighed and then placed two fingertips on top of the lock. Golden light blazed shortly with the touch and he could hear the rusty lock click. He slowly turned the door-handle and lurked quietly into the tower, closing the door behind himself.

It was a messy place. Strange tools and clockwork were spread along tables, shelves and the oil-stained wooden floor. It was very dark and gloomy inside the tower, but a faint light coming from a room further in illuminated the rest of the first floor. This was obviously more than a home. It was a shop of some sorts. This Cypher seemed to be some kind of engineer or collector. The man assumed that the room from where the light came was the bedroom while he was standing in the shop and living quarters as there were both moderately comfortable sofas and heavily worn craftsman desks. Another open portal seemed to lead into what looked like a small kitchen.

He heard a humming coming from the lit-up bedroom and he slowly walked towards it, careful not to step on some strange tool. When he approached the open door, he could see Cypher sitting at a messy desk, toying with some sort of spherical artifact in a golden material. The orb seemed to reflect much of a candle's light and the man could tell that the material itself was magical. It was a material he knew very well. He thought about the weapon he had hidden in his dark backpack. Yes, it gave the same golden reflection when its surface was touched by rays of light. That orb could very well be the most valuable thing in this entire city, except for the remarkable city itself.

He silently walked up behind Cypher, wondering whether or not he should have just knocked on the door instead of breaking in. He was here planning to rob the man after all. But now he wanted to know more about him. He had awakened a slight sense of curiosity about what kind of person chose to live in a messy place like this, surrounded by invaluable artifacts. As he came up behind Cypher, his movement created a breeze which made the candle-light flicker. Cypher turned around and screamed when their eyes met. The young teenager reflexively did some clumsy martial art moves with his hands and legs trying to hit the nameless figure standing in his bedroom.

The martial art moves were clumsy but not poor and it was obvious that he had some years of experience. However, Cypher was not the only one knowing martial arts and the dark figure was confident that his skills surpassed the boy's. He evaded every single punch without even moving his feet. Eventually, Cypher's panic toned down and he hobbled back until he fell with his bottom to the desk and tried to hide the golden sphere behind his back. He held is arms in a protective guard before himself.

“Who are you? What do you want?”

The man grinned but his face was once again hidden under the black woolen mask. All that Cypher could see were his dark eyes. “Nice moves, Cypher.”

“You know my name? Who are you?”

He leaned forward and looked Cypher into his eyes to intimidate him. “Tell me about that book.”

“What book?”

“The one in the palace”, the man said. “The one your friend didn't want to steal for you.”

“Um, you must have heard wrong”, Cypher stuttered with his bloodshot eyes wide open.

“You're lying to me, Cypher”, the man said. “Don't get me wrong here. I apologize for this little intrusion but I'm here to help. I want to steal that book for you.”

Cypher raised his eyebrows. “Um, you're not very convincing.”

“I decided to show you a little of what I'm capable of, hence this little break-in”, he continued. He had wanted to rob him at first but if the man was resourceful then maybe it could be wise to stick around for some time to see exactly how resourceful he was. “I should be able to handle a palace as well.”

“Eh?”

“I just want to know if those two minae are still on the table?”

Cypher seemed to think for a moment. If he could think in a situation like this. An unknown masked man had just broke into his house and pushed him up against his desk. He was smiling underneath his mask, waiting impatiently for the peculiar teenager's reply.

“Okay”, Cypher said. “But, um, if you get caught … don't mention me, please.”

“Most certainly not”, he said. “I'm a professional after all.”

Cypher sighed in relief, then dared himself down from the desk.

“However”, the man continued. He noticed, to his surprise, that there was one unbroken mina on the desk next to a pile of books. The Imperial Treasury's sigil was clearly visible on the green jade. The man leaned forward and grabbed it. “Half the payment in advance”. He put the mina in his item bag.

Cypher gulped but didn't argue.

“Great, now tell me about that book.”


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sat Mar 06, 2010 12:07 pm

Chapter 3: The Tome of the Makers

The palace was located in the center of Yuro, surrounded by the seven great towers. It looked like it was partially as ancient as the towers themselves with a central dome that was of the same polished white stone. However, new foundations had been built around that central dome with extensions reminding of the pale clay bricks used for most of the other buildings in Yuro. The clay bricks were framed in with wooden boards and pillars, forming squares and crosses along the facades. Surrounding the palace were thick white walls, reaching about six yards high. The young man could jump such heights if he wanted to, but he had to be careful of the patrolling guards. There were still distant thunders echoing from the ominous clouds and the rain rattled as heavily as before on the magical barrier.

He had left his robes back at Cypher's shop and was now wearing a sleeveless shirt of tight, black cotton with its collar concealing his mouth and nose. He had strapped bands of the same black cotton along his arms and he wore two fingerless leather gloves. His wide pants were buckled with two belts, together holding an item bag, an elastic cloth bag with a sleeping snake within as well as a small leather bag with four vials of coral snake venom. On his back was a backpack as black as the rest of his gear and on each thigh was a holster with three reachable obsidian handles. He had changed his muddy boots to soft, quiet shoes in black leather. He was more than ready to stealth inside the palace and steal the tome for the peculiar young Cypher.

He sat on a rooftop overlooking the walls and the well-kept garden. Eight guards were patrolling the walls and six more were chatting among the trimmed bushes of the garden while they casually observed their surroundings. The guards looked tired and out of focus. He knew that it would be easy sneaking past them. However, he hadn't done a job like this for a year, even though his body now was stronger than ever before. It was easy to jump a little too high or hit someone a little too hard.

He quickly investigated the palace's facade. The best place to enter was via the roof, but it was probably about ten yards up. He wouldn't manage with a single jump. He had to make two and that would lose him a second. About five yards up was a barred window where he could take footing. However, to get to the facade he had to pass the wall.

He stood up on the rooftop and took a few steps back. Between the roof and the wall was about twelve yards. He was going to jump it. He waited for a moment, carefully watching the guard closest to his path across the wall. At the moment the guard knelt down to fix his boot, the young man sprinted towards the edge and jumped head first over the street and the wall, diving down to the dry grass below. He landed with a somersault which hid himself just below a bush cut aesthetically to portray a tiger. A few guards were passing the garden on the other side of the bush. They chatted about their wives and kids and then disappeared around the corner of the palace.

The man continued across the yard towards the facade. As he was about to jump, he heard rattling leaves at his left-hand side. A lone guard passed the corner and almost bumped into him. The guard noticed the dark figure and recoiled.

Damn, I truly am rusty, the man thought.

The guard opened his mouth to shout, but couldn't manage a sound before something pierced his mouth and continued out the back of his neck. The nameless thief sighed. In his hands was a golden staff in seven sections, the last section buried inside the face of the dead guard. I was just going to knock him out, he thought, damning himself for how easy it was to hit someone too hard. The guard was innocent, probably a providing father, but the mission always came first. It was kill or be killed.

With one swift motion, he pulled the weapon out from the guard's head and folded the seven sections back together. The weapon's metal rods were held together by alloys of golden orichalcum, a metal brighter and more beautiful than gold. He called it a serpent sting-staff – named not by him but by the person who had given it to him. He put the weapon back in his backpack. The guard fell to his knees and then continued to fall forward before he was stopped by the intruder who had killed him. The thief grabbed the guard's leather collar and pulled the body into the bushes at the facade. He ignored the blood that had spilled to the grass. It was hopefully too dark for the other guards to spot it.

He knew that this assignment could already be a failure. When the other guards would notice that this one had gone missing, they would sound the alarms. But that would hopefully not happen for at least a few minutes and the payment was just too good. He decided to continue.

The man ascended the wall with two high jumps and landed quietly on top of the roof. He hurried to a window on the roof and looked inside. He could see dozens of book cases filled with books and scrolls. He had to be on top of the library. The book he was after was named Tome of the Makers and it was – according to Cypher – very old and valuable. Such a valuable book couldn't be kept in a common library like this. But it was a good place to enter the palace.

He remembered breaking his last lock-pick at Cypher's shop and put his two fingers on the window's lock. A faint glow shined from his fingers and the lock clicked open. He quietly opened the window and jumped down into the great library, landing smoothly atop a high book case.

The library was empty from guards and only slightly illuminated by a few lanterns and from the garden lights reaching through the giant windows. The windows looked out the other facade than the one he came from and he could see two of the guards patrolling the garden outside. None of them kept any attention to what, or who, might already be inside. He gave the many books a quick gaze and then decided to ignore them completely. The book he was after had to be kept somewhere more protected.

There were two doors leading out of the library. He ignored the one leading directly out to the garden and ran up to the one leading further inside the palace. It was a double wooden door, closed and locked. Before he unlocked it with the same magical touch he had used before, he put his ear against the wood and listened for any activity on the other side. He heard nothing.

Usually, he always locked a door after he had unlocked it so that no one would notice it ever being opened. This time, however, he had already messed up by killing the guard outside. He didn't care much about locking the library door since it would only require more of his Essence to be channeled for the touch. He couldn't keep unlocking locks with Essence this carelessly. It would exhaust him in the long-run.

As he passed the door, he entered a grand vestibule with three patrolling guards. They didn't hear him coming in through the door and their lines of sight were broken by white stone pillars. On one side of the vestibule was a big wooden door, probably the main entrance, and on the other side was a stairway leading up to the second floor. The other side of the vestibule, just next to one of the guards, was another door leading further inside. It was his best bet to try that way.

He observed the three guards for a few moments to see if they were guarding with a behavioral pattern. What he looked for was a moment when all three guards were looking in another direction. He would use the time to cross the room unnoticed. When he realized that moment would never come, he decided for a more difficult solution.

He had transcended humanity and become something greater. Even though every living soul emitted Essence, only someone supernatural could take control over one's Essence and shape it into what could best be described as charms. He could pass by the guards unnoticed, through their lines of sight. All he had to do was to call out his Anima and use it to cloak himself in the night's shadows. He extended it around him like an imperceptible veil. He knew he wouldn't be impossible to spot, but it would mute the senses of those perceiving him. This could very well be his greatest trick, but the charm didn't come without a cost. This would greatly exhaust his Essence.

He moved swiftly across the vestibule. The guards were looking at him, but they didn't notice him. All he was to them was a flickering shadow. They wouldn't hear him and they wouldn't see him. He approached the door, reached for the handle, and damned himself once more.

I should get some lock-picks, he thought before using the lock-opening touch once again, though this time suppressing the glow it usually emitted.

He looked at the guard who was standing right next to him. The guard wasn't looking at him, but instead kept gazing at his partners across the room. The nameless thief then opened the door, moved in to the other side, and quietly closed it behind himself.

He hurried through an empty hallway, ignoring a few doors along the way. He could guess that they were random quarters, or leading into minor offices. He was looking for something which stood out a bit more than that. At the end of the hallway, he finally found something which truly stood out.

He was looking into a throne chamber. Two armed men were guarding the room, each standing next to the entrances of two other hallways. He came from the bigger entrance which led up to the red carpet going up to the throne itself. It was first now he realized that this actually was a palace and not a mere mayor's mansion. No wonder there were so many guards around. The chamber's both long-sides had many great shadows caused by big giant pillars which only purpose was to be artistically appealing. Though the nameless thief could find another purpose for them. They blocked lines of sight and helped him move around more freely. His cloaking Anima didn't make him invisible after all. He could still be seen and heard if he wasn't careful.

He decided to start with the left hallway. He moved quietly and carefully along the wall until he was only a foot or two away from the guard. The guard yawned, completely unaware of the intruder standing beside him. The nameless thief almost felt sympathy for the guards who had to stand here for hours every night. He bet that this night was the only night someone good enough to break in was actually here, breathing close to the neck of the unaware guard.

He passed by and went into the hallway, took a few steps down a stairway and ended up in a less illuminated path with more small doors along the sides. He followed the hallway until it reached a stop, then turned around to try the other way. As he returned up the stairs, he noticed the Essence wrapping around him fading away and the guard at the entrance turned to look behind himself.

The nameless thief didn't think, but instantly drew one of the black handles from his holster and threw it at the surprised guard. The sharp throwing dagger hit the guard's collar without piercing through and fell to the floor with a cling.

You got to be kidding me …

“Hey!” the guard cried and went for his slashing sword.

The dark intruder reached inside the black bag hanging from the left side of his belt and took out his coral snake. He tossed the snake like a projectile at the guard and it opened its mouth to bite down his neck. At the same time, the nameless man ran up to the guard, took up his dropped knife along the way and placed one foot on the guard's shoulder. He jumped up to the side of the big white pillar behind the guard from where he jumped back to the wall and leaped past the middle of the throne chamber. The second incoming guard didn't notice the dark figure leaping over his head. The bitten man fell dead to the floor and, when the next guard arrived, the nameless thief was already unlocking the barred door to the hallway on the other side of the chamber. Dawn crawled swiftly through the chamber towards its master on the other side.

Two dead guards because of stupidity, the nameless thief thought to himself as he passed through the barred door and shut it on the other side.

The second – frightened – guard drew his slashing sword and looked around himself. He noticed a snake crawling in through the bars on the door on the other side. He bit his lip and ran back to the hallway he had previously guarded. He slowly approached the door, trying to get a gaze at what might be hiding inside. Maybe the thought occurred to him that it might just have been a snake and not an intruder killing the other guard. Snakes were after all very common in this part of Creation.

The guard grabbed a lantern next to the hallway and held it up at the door. He looked inside, focusing on the floor where the coral snake had crawled. He didn't notice the hand reaching for him from above. A thin black glove grabbed the hand holding the lantern and pulled it in through the bars. The guard screamed and dropped the lantern to the floor. He tried to stab what hid inside with his slashing sword, but that came to be his doom.

The dark figure grabbed the hand holding the sword and pulled it inside. He bent the arm at its elbow and used the guard's own arm to thrust the blade back out through the bars. The guard was stuck in the bars, piercing himself through the neck with his own slashing sword, and the dark thief easily took the set of keys hanging from the guard's belt. He could hear the guard gurgle and cry as he drowned on his own blood. At least he would be out of his misery soon.

The man took up the lantern and walked inside the hallway. The barred door was a sign of a little more secure location. He noticed the doors at this side were bigger, had metal alloys and barred windows. Was this a vault of some kind? He held up the lantern next to the window of the first door and noticed it was empty. The second room had nothing more than a few crates.

He decided to look through the other doors at a later time. The body outside would be found any minute now and he couldn't afford to still be here when he heard the alarm go off. He decided to run along the hallway to see what was hidden at its end. Then he would check through the rooms on his way back.

He came to a big wooden door to which the keys did not fit. He sighed with disappointment as he put his fingers on the lock and opened the big door. He came into an almost pitch-black stairway only illuminated by the lantern in his hand. He followed the stairs down until he reached a room where the foundation was ancient compared to the rest of the palace. He noticed a big metal door with runes in green and red jade waiting across the room where the dust on the floor hadn't been touched in ages. He couldn't read the runes but he knew that this door held something very valuable. He carefully approached the door and investigated the lock in its middle. It had a circular shape, surrounded by ancient runes. Its key had to be a circular object and not a common key.

But no lock could keep him out. He put his fingers in the middle of the circular shape and channeled Essence through his fingers with a faint glow. He felt a spark on the tips of his fingers and a surge of pain went through his arm. Before he knew it, he was launched a few feet back and landed with his back on the stairway.

“Ouch!”.

He carefully stood up. He wasn't too hurt. He looked at the door and scratched his head. It was certain. That door protected something very valuable. He wondered if even the king himself knew what hid inside. However, curiosity wouldn't take him through the door. He had a book to find. He raised his lantern and walked back up the stairs, aiming for the first of the doors in the hallway outside. He leaned in to the barred window where he got a glimpse of a wooden table with two thick books.

“Well, look at that”, he said to himself. His back was still slightly sore.

He used one of the guard's keys to unlock the door and enter the room. He was looking for a book named Tome of the Makers. Unfortunately, that bastard Cypher had forgot to tell him if the title of the book was written in some ancient language.

The alarm sounded from outside.

Took them long enough.

He removed some pieces of cloth from his bag to fit both books inside. He left the cloth in the room and then hurried to the door. Now there was the hard part left. He had to get out with all the guards on alert.

But he was Exalted by the Unconquered Sun. He could do it without breaking a sweat.


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sat Mar 06, 2010 3:57 pm

Chapter 4: The boy from the fishing village II

There was not much left of the village Manovan had once called home. He was lying down in the dry grass of an overlooking hilltop, gazing upon the still burning village with the rising sun spreading its crimson rays behind his back. The last screams and cries had faded overnight and the young boy could not tell if anyone he loved was still alive within the ruins. Sakana had always been a peaceful village. Everyone had always been nice to him.

He was trembling and his face was blushed and swollen after having cried all night. He hadn't slept. It was impossible. Though he imagined that the nightmares when asleep could not be as bad as the nightmare when awake. He knew that he had to leave the ruins of his former home if he was to live another day. He wanted to stand up and run away but he didn't know how. He didn't know how to survive outside the village. He didn't know how to get food.

But worst of all: he didn't know which way to go.

The imperial ships were all docked along the shore and soldiers could be seen patrolling the ruins and the farms outside. He had seen a few villagers been taken as slaves and dragged brutally to the ships, but he had been too far away to identify who they were. He pondered for a second to let himself be caught just so that he might see his siblings again. But he was too scared.

He forced himself on his feet and ran as fast as he could down the other side of the hill and away from the village. He decided to follow the direction of the rising sun. He didn't know where it would lead him but the light comforted him. He thought that if he kept running towards the sun, its light might warm and protect him from the ruthless soldiers that were raiding his home.

But he wasn't sure how far his feet could carry him.

They ended up carrying him no further than a hundred yards before he fell to the dirt with a growling stomach tormenting him. It was not begging him for food. It was demanding it. Without food to still the inner beast, it would not let him continue. He sobbed. More tears managed to press themselves out his swollen eyes and it felt like a choking lid was stuck in his throat. His eyes got irritated because there weren't many tears left.

A faint rattling could be heard in the grass before him. He forced his head to move and he noticed a young python, not an inch longer than five feet, crawl around the grass looking for food. Manovan looked at the snake and licked his lips. He wondered if it was possible to eat a python. It wasn't poisonous. It was a hugger. But he didn't know how to cook.

He dropped his face to the ground. The next time he looked up, the snake was gone. He sighed. Maybe it was time for him to give up. He couldn't endure this pain.

He heard approaching footsteps from the hill behind him. Boots clapped against the rattling grass. A couple of foreign voices spoke to each other but he couldn't understand a single word. However, he did understand that they spoke the dynasts' language. Fear brought strength back to his body and a surge of adrenaline had his feet moving in no time. He ignored the growling beast within his stomach and dashed towards the thick jungles ahead.

He ran until he fainted.



When he next opened his eyes, he didn't know whether or not he was still alive. It felt like he had been unconscious – or even dead – for almost a day. But he wasn't hungry anymore. He wasn't thirsty. He felt refreshed. It was like the gods themselves had given him food and water without him knowing. All he knew was that he was grateful.

He forced himself up on his feet and looked around himself. He was deep in the jungles. Everywhere around him were wide trunks reaching higher than he could possibly climb and thick roots surrounded him like threatening tendrils only waiting to grab him. He heard the sounds of crickets and of chirping birds. In the distance, a monkey chattered menacingly.

He knew that the jungles were almost endlessly deep. His parents had forbid him from playing in them because it was easy to get lost. Not to mention the many creatures that were only waiting to devour him. Amir had told him about creepy lizards with strong jaws and razor-sharp teeth as well as insects bigger than horses. He didn't want to meet an insect bigger than a horse.

The sun was shining brightly above his head and he couldn't keep following it anymore. It had moved too much and he wasn't sure if following the sun would only lead him back to the soldiers. He didn't even think about where his feet would take him. He just ran. He couldn't tell if it was deeper inside the jungles or further out.

What did House Peleps want with his village? Why had they killed his parents? Despite reflecting over the questions he couldn't find an answer. He was just a kid. He was a weak kid who looked more like a girl than a boy. At least according to his brother.

He ran until he tripped. It wasn't easy to see the thick and shaded roots because of the tall trees blocking the light from the sun. He reached forward to protect himself with his hands, but his fragile arms could barely hold him up. He slipped forward on some leaves and rolled down a steep slope. Sticks and stones bruised his skin and he bit his lip until he felt the bitter iron-taste of his own blood against his tongue.

When his fall finally came to its end, he could hear the refreshing splashes of a waterfall and cold steam filled the air. Soft bushes had guarded him from falling into the river and, even though his body ached, he could feel that he wasn't badly hurt. He had some scratches and bruises. The worst thing was his bleeding lip.

But there was no need for crying. His mother wasn't here to help him up, dust him off and tell him everything would be okay. He knew it wouldn't be. He would die today, just like his parents had yesterday. But he was afraid. He was afraid dying would hurt.

A faint hiss grew stronger as it approached him. He could hear rattling leaves being moved around as something came closer. Manovan held his breath for a second, hoping that the sound would go away, but instead it surrounded him. Many obsidian eyes appeared from behind the leaves of the bushes that he thought had protected him. The intense eyes were framed in by a round head seemingly formed by brownish green moss. The hissing came from the razor-sharp teeth that were between two twig-like pincers which threateningly reached for the boy.

His eyes widened in shock and the realization that the branches of the bushes that had protected him were nothing less than the legs of this spider and its family, had him utter a shriek that he could only recognize as a death cry. But he didn't want to be food to these huge spiders. He used what little strength he possessed and pressed himself out from the wood-like spider legs and its coats of leaves and moss. He realized he wasn't as fragile as he had thought and jumped away from the creatures into the river they were nesting by.

He relaxed in the strong streams of the river, ready to let them either lead him to his death or to someplace safe. Maybe this nightmare would finally be over.



“Do you think he's alive?”

These words were the first things Manovan could comprehend once he came to. He couldn't see anything else than the unclear haze caused by his dizziness. His lip wasn't bleeding anymore, but it felt like his chest had been hit by a rampaging bull. Every breath was faint and painful, like if something was clogging up his chest.

“Look at his chest”, another voice said. This one was stronger and obviously older than the previous voice, though both were males'. They sounded like children but he couldn't be sure. Everything was dizzy. He wasn't sure anyone was there to speak to begin with. “He must have been hit by a rock.”

“Don't poke him with a stick, Wing”, a girl's voice hissed.

“Look at his eyes”, the first voice said again. This boy sounded younger than the other one. He couldn't be older than Manovan himself. Maybe five or six years old.

“They are moving”, the older boy said. “But he's dead any second anyway. He must have water in his lungs.”

“Can't you get it out?” the girl asked.

“He must throw up.”

“Poke him in the throat”, the younger boy said.

Manovan could feel someone grab his cheeks and force his mouth open. He wasn't strong enough to resist, but neither was he awake enough to actually notice too much of what was going on.

“No! Not with the stick.” It was the girl's voice.

“Then how?”

“With your fingers.”

“That's disgusting”, the older boy said and then sighed.

Manovan could feel fingertips reach inside his mouth towards his throat. The sensation was faint but he was aware enough to react to the unpleasant stimulation. He couldn't help but to gag and the short gurgle made the boy quickly withdraw his fingers.

He puked, but very little of what came up was water. The boy had emptied his stomach but done nothing to his lungs. But Manovan doubted he had water in them anyway. He could breath after all, though faintly. He tried to focus his eyes and thought he could see figures take shape in the dim haze.

“Don't tell me I didn't have to do that”, the boy said. “It looks like he's waking up.”

Manovan could see the blurry silhouettes take the shape of three kids. In the middle stood a boy who looked as lionhearted as Amir, but with his black hair longer and his livid eyes bloodshot and resolute. The boy looked ten years old and was heads taller than the two at his sides. He was dressed in cotton rags with a dirty piece of cloth tied around his forehead. Manovan noticed him wiping his fingers against his torn shirt. So it was him who had made him throw up?

Next to him stood a girl, probably six or seven years old, with skin as coffee-shaded as Manovan's and with her dark hair in long tangles. She looked shy and tried to avoid eye-contact while gnawing on the nail of one fingertip. She was also dressed in cotton rags, but she had tried to add some accessories in the form of seashells and threads of yarn in various colors.

The third child was a boy who looked like he could be a twin brother to Manovan, but with the peculiar feature of having natural hazel-shaded hair and emerald eyes instead of the usual black hair and brown eyes that was common among the people of this region. He looked at Manovan with round eyes who seemed to not have a care in the world. Though, according to how all of them were dressed, the world didn't seem to be generous to them.

“Are you okay?” the oldest boy asked.

Manovan tried to sit up but his chest was aching too much. He gently placed the palm of his hand on it and tried to breath. He opened his mouth to speak, but all he could say was a guttering noise that choked him.

The older boy seemed to understand that he wasn't okay and he crouched down before him. “I'm Wing”, he said and then pointed to the boy. “This is Hyena”. He pointed to the girl. “And Glittering Wolf. We saw you come running down the river.”

Manovan moved his aching neck and tried to take a look around. There were no jungle trees surrounding him and the strong sunlight burned his skin. He thought he could spot a thin wooden bridge over the water and seemingly endless corn fields. He was lying in the sand next to a road. The river must have taken him far. He had never been here before.

“What were you doing in the river, anyway?” Wing continued.

“I—“ He tried to speak but he got stuck. He coughed a little and tried to ignore the fact that his face got red and blue when he spoke. “I fell in … Almost eaten by … big spiders.”

The three strangers looked at each other with frowned foreheads. “Sounds like you had an adventure”, Wing then said and tried to gently help him up on his feet. Manovan pressed his palm against his ribcage to somehow ease the pain. While up on his feet, his legs felt weak and rocked back and forth.

“What's your name?”

“Mano … van … of the Sea”, he stuttered and couldn't hold back his tears. His face blushed and got even more swollen than before. The tears flowed like the river he had been saved from. He had finally understood that he would survive a little while longer. But it didn't change the fact that his parents were dead and his siblings were gone.

“Don't cry”, the girl said and couldn't hold back some tears of her own. “Where's your family?”

When he heard the word family, his sobbing turned into painful screaming. The choking lid grew in his chest and he felt himself turning blue again. He tried to relax but he couldn't.

“He doesn't have one”, Wing explained to Glittering Wolf. “He's just like us.”

Glittering Wolf walked up to Manovan and embraced him with her arms. His screaming turned into sobbing again and he looked at her with confused teary eyes. “We can be your family”, she said. “There, there.”

Wing gave her a light push on her shoulder. “Hey, who made you leader?” he muttered. “We can barely feed ourselves.”

Manovan looked at Wing with pleading eyes. He had nowhere else to go. Wing looked at him with a frown and then wrinkled his nose. “Whatever”, he said and stepped back. He grabbed the stick from the ground and pointed to Manovan with it. “But if you're gonna be with us, then you have to follow the rules.”

“Don't listen to him”, Glittering Wolf said and leaned her head on his shoulder as an attempt to comfort him. “He's just mean.”

Manovan looked at Wing, waiting for him to continue. He would follow any rules if he could only be together with someone. He didn't want to be alone for another second.

“You're not Manowhatever of the Sea anymore”, Wing continued. “Is that clear? Your old life is gone. Now you're with us. No whining, no crying. Your new name is Tear-Eyed Viper.”

Hyena couldn't help but to giggle.

“Tear-Eyed Viper?” Manovan said and raised his eyebrows. “Why do I have to be Tear-Eyed?”

“Because you're a cry-baby.” Wing pointed his stick at him again.

Manovan had stopped crying and was now staring at Wing with big, round eyes and raised brows. He felt an admiration and respect strong enough to have him follow the three kids to the corners of the world.

“Wing gives names like that”, Glittering Wolf said. “He says I can stop being called Glittering when I stop putting colored bands and seashells on my clothes. But I like being called Glittering. Only Wolf sounds like a boy's name. And the colored bands and seashells make me look nice. Doesn't it?”

Manovan, or Tear-Eyed Viper, scratched his head, clearly confused about what was happening.

“That's right”, Wing said. “You can stop being Tear-Eyed only when you stop crying like a girl.”

“I'm Tear-Eyed Viper”, Manovan said, more to himself than to the other three. He forced a smile. “Thank you.”


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sat Mar 06, 2010 11:12 pm

Chapter 5: Coral Snake

Cypher had dressed in his white night garments and was just about to crawl into bed. It had been more than an hour since the darkly dressed stranger had told him that he would break into the palace to get him the Tome of the Makers. The man was probably dead by now. Cypher remembered that he had forgotten to mention that King Gryphonheart had massively improved his guard squads for the night since it was the night where his queen would supposedly give birth to their first child. He had wanted absolute security to ensure the safety of his heir.

Even though Cypher felt some regrets for not having prepared the man for this important detail, he knew that a proper night's rest would be enough to have him care slightly less about the strange man's fate. He had broken into his shop after all. The man was a criminal.

He was just about to blow out the last flickering candle in his bedroom when he heard a familiar voice from the darkness behind him.

“Hey, Cypher!”

The young engineer screamed in panic. Even though he recognized the voice he had never expected to hear it again. At least not a mere hour after the man had left to do the impossible. Maybe he had seen the guards at the palace, gotten cold feet and returned here to rob the place.

Cypher let his eyes flicker like the candle he held and watched the shaded corners of the room to see if everything were where he had left it. The only thing that was different was the fact that a darkly dressed figure was standing next to his desk with two thick tomes under its arm and a self-confident grin reflected in its glimmering eyes.

The stranger dropped the books on the desk and then leaned back against it. He looked intently at Cypher as he waited for his response. The young engineer noticed the old realm pictograms on one of the tomes. It said Tome of the Makers. It was the tome – the only known record of ancient texts regarding the legendary cursed city of Denandsor. Cypher couldn't believe his eyes. This stranger had actually succeeded in getting the tome from the well-guarded palace. Who was this masterful thief?

“Um, you left here … well, about an hour ago, right?” Cypher asked and tapped on his nose. “Did you really, um ... break into the palace already?”

The masked man stretched his arms and legs and Cypher could clearly see his narcissistic smirk reflected in his eyes. Even though he hid his face under a black cotton mask, he did not even try to hide his emotions. “I told you I was good”, the man said and gave Cypher an intense gaze. “So?”

“So what?”

“You owe me another mina.”

“Um, of course”, Cypher said and hurried over to a locker next to his desk.

The master thief had leaned back in the work chair at the desk and placed his dirty shoes carelessly close to the tomes. A coral snake in black, red and yellow stripes crawled out from a bag on his waist and up along his arm. The man reached for something on the back of his belt with his other hand and grabbed an empty vial corked with a small brush. He flipped open the vial with his thumb and then let the snake crawl up to its opening and, without his aid, release a dose of venom from its glands.

Cypher didn't know snakes could be trained to do this sort of thing. He hurried back to the desk with a green jade mina in his hands, properly signed with the seal of the Imperial Treasury. The master thief looked at the seal and gave a sly snort before he let his eyes rest in an unfocused gaze at the floor while his thoughts were elsewhere.

Cypher carefully placed the mina on the desk and took a few steps back to avoid the venomous snake. Before he managed to back off too far, the man slapped his hand on top of the jade mina and let it slide closer to him across the wooden desk. Cypher recoiled by the sudden sound.

“You shouldn't keep this kind of money in your house”, the thief said.

“Well, um, I don't really trust banks”, Cypher stuttered and sat down on the side of his bed. “May I, um … What is your name?”

The man watched his snake crawl around his arm and he gave it a gentle pat along its back with his fingertip. “Good question”, he said and watched the snake hiss faintly as it tasted the air with its split tongue. “What about Coral Snake?”

“What about it?”

“You want me to use another one?”

“Eh? I, um, guess Coral Snake is fine”, Cypher said and tapped on his nose. He crossed his legs on the side of the bed and leered at the tomes on the desk. “Um, my name is Whispering Rainbow Cypher. May I, um ... call you Coral?”

“If you want to make it shorter.”

Cypher didn't seem to know what to reply. He reached for the two tomes next to Coral Snake's feet without leaving the side of the bed. His eyes glimmered with excitement as he read the old realm pictograms of the Tome of the Makers and felt its thick bindings in his rather fragile hands. This tome was said to have collections of all kinds of texts connected to the cursed city of Denandsor, gathered all over the eastern Scavenger Lands. The book itself had been put together a few centuries ago, but its content were much older than that. It was said to not only hold forgotten truths, but have magical properties as well. This could very well be the most priced possession in this shop. Well, the orichalcum sphere he had hanging from his neck was a close competitor.

He looked at the other book. “What is this?” he asked. “Thaumaturgy?” He placed the Tome of the Makers next to him on the mattress and flipped open the other tome. He gave the pages a quick glance as he flipped through and then closed the book with a thump, creating a small cloud of dust to irritate his beak-like nose. “No. Sorcery. Immaculate”, he said and sneezed.

“You know stuff like that?” Coral asked as he let his snake return to the safety of his bag.

“Yes! No! Well, maybe a little”, Cypher said and picked up the first book again. He glanced rapidly through a couple of pages, fingered on the bindings a little and then put it down, took it up and read some more. “I, um, know some alchemy ... and astrology ... and, um, some geomancy. Well, it's easy, um, once you understand the theories.”

“Those words alone sound complicated.”

“Yes, well, it's actually not that … complicated”, Cypher said as he tapped himself on the nose and quietly read in the tome. He looked at a page with a drawing of an ancient mechanism, but he couldn't decipher it's purpose by the drawing alone. It looked like the inside of a box filled with tiny gears and wires, each marked with an individual number. However, the numbers lacked explanation.

He tilted his head and then flipped page. The next page seemed to be an excerpt of a research journal hastily written with black ink. Cypher tapped on his nose once again and looked at Coral Snake who was looking back at him with what could best be described as a fascinated, though slightly condescending, gaze. Cypher made a short cough. “Um, alchemy is all about, well, transmutations while astrology is ... well, there are divinations and computations and—“

“You lost me at um”, Coral interrupted and removed his legs from the desk. He leered around his shoulders and then back at the young engineer. “Do you have a place where I can sleep?”



Coral Snake was introduced to a sizable couch in the shop. It would have been alabaster white if not for the unwelcoming spots of dried oil staining its cloth. However, the stains were not much of an inconvenience for someone who had spent his last couple of weeks sleeping in the jungles. After having cleaned up his bed-to-be from multiple tools and parts of clockwork with dangerously pointy edges, the darkly dressed thief could no longer hide his exhaustion. He fell asleep almost instantly, with his clothes still on, while the tomes kept Cypher up for hours.

Coral had never needed much sleep. When one worked night-time, for the most part, he could rarely afford spending more than a few hours in slumber each night. However, this Moonday of the month of Ascending Wood was different to other days. It was the first time in nearly a year when his body was awake but his eyes wasn't. It had been too comfortable sleeping on this oil-stained couch of dry, itching cloth and he didn't want this feeling to end by opening his eyes.

But he was a professional after all. Once he had managed to force his eyelids open, he noticed the welcoming rays of the morning sun trickle through the otherwise violet draperies that were almost as stained as the couch. He sat up in the couch and noticed that he had slept with his ebon mask covering his nose and mouth. He pulled it down to his neck and breathed deeply to enjoy the sensation of having his skin free to touch the stuffy air of Cypher's shop. The scent of oil was fierce to his nose, but it wasn't too abhorrent.

He removed his bandana from his forehead and then reached for the three bands he had tying up his hair, removing them one after another. He shook his head a little and stroke his black hair backwards, letting it rest over his neck down to between his shoulder-blades. He then leaned forward to the worn mahogany table, moved some tools and objects that could be best described as stuff out of the way. He then removed both of his holsters from his thighs and placed them on the table. The six obsidian handles pointed at him.

He leered over his shoulder to see if his peculiar host was still asleep and couldn't help but to smirk at the comical sight of seeing the teenager slumbering like a young child, tightly embracing his orichalcum sphere like it was a teddy. Cypher was truly peculiar. Not only did he run a shop like this when he couldn't be older than sixteen- or seventeen years old, but he seemed to have been successful enough to be economically resourceful. Maybe he had inherited it all.

Then there was this artifact he had around his neck. It was a perfect sphere with strange golden markings portraying nothing Coral could understand. But one thing he did understand was that the sphere was very valuable, if not invaluable, and the fact that Cypher slept with it was probably proof enough that he knew it as well. However, there was one thing that puzzled him about it. The material it was made of was clearly orichalcum, the same golden material as the alloys of his serpent-sting staff. He didn't know much about the material, other than the fact that it was magical. The material represented an individual who had been exalted with some of the powers of the god who now embraced Yuro with its morning rays; the Unconquered Sun. The material represented someone like Coral Snake.

Would it be wrong of him to let a peculiar mortal have an artifact like this? Maybe it was his obligation to steal it.

He pondered the thought a little and was then interrupted by a loud snore coming from Cypher as he more tightly embraced his amulet. Coral frowned his forehead. Another way to go could be to stick around and see if he could work for the boy. With the jade minae from yesterday, he was probably already one of the richest men in Yuro. Cypher seemed easily manipulated and more work meant more money.

He turned to the table and opened up his holsters. Their insides were of stuffy cloth completely without friction. This was a conscious choice as the material didn't absorb the poison from the throwing knives. He grabbed the obsidian holster of one knife and pulled it out from its sheath. It was stained with dried, dark blood from yesterday.

He unbuttoned another bag on his belt and took out a piece of cloth as well as a secure vial of very potent alcohol. He dipped the cloth in the alcohol and then begun to scrub the dry blood from the knife. When it was clean enough to reflect the morning sun on the polished walls of Cypher's shop, he grabbed the vial he had used to collect Dawn's venom the other day and shook it a few times to have the venom stick to the brush it was corked with. He used the brush to spread the deadly liquid along the blade of the knife. When it was dripping wet, he sheathed it in the holster and repeated the procedure with another knife.

Shortly after he was done applying poison to his throwing knives, he could hear Cypher waking up with a high-pitched snort. He pulled up his mask before his mouth and nose still with his back against Cypher and tied the bandana around his forehead.

“Oh, Coral”, Cypher muttered with a tired yawn. “I didn't, um, expect you to … well, still be here.”

Coral leaned back in the couch and tilted his head so that his eyes met Cypher's. “Well, I was hoping to have another conversation with you”, he said. “I apologize if I startled you yesterday.”

“Do you want some, um … breakfast?” Cypher asked and tapped on his nose.

“If you insist”, Coral said with a forced cool, trying to ignore the fact that his stomach growled like a rabid beast. “Let me ask you something, Cypher. I overheard you and your friend talking yesterday. Does the book I stole for you lead to some kind of treasure?”

“Yes, well, sort of”, Cypher said as he limped through the shop to the kitchen. Coral noticed him taking his pendant and hiding it within his night-garments as if to protect it. “The one who, um, can properly decipher its content … well, he will, um, learn the secrets of Denandsor.”

“What's that?”

Cypher raised his voice to make himself heard from the kitchen. It was accompanied by the clinking of metal and the opening of wooden cabinets. “Well, um, it's the City of Makers”, he said. “An ancient city with, um, ancient wonders. Well, you see, it's, um, said to be ... a paradise for artists and engineers. And, well, I'm an engineer, so ...”

“And there are artifacts, right? Anything valuable?”

“It could, um, very well be, well ... the most valuable place in Creation.”

Coral flinched when he heard those words. He had just got two minae from this peculiar youth. He had understood that he was resourceful, but the thought hadn't occurred to him that this might just be the tip of the iceberg. Maybe there were great treasures out there waiting for him. If Cypher was going to look for that city, and the legends about it were true, than maybe it was time for Coral Snake to become a scavenge hunter.

“So, are you and your friend going to look for that city?”

“Well, I'm supposed to, um, decipher the tome ... Crystal Bow, well, he knows the jungles like no other.”

“That's it? You need a bodyguard. Someone to protect you from harms way.”

“I do?”

“Of course you do”, Coral said. “I can be your bodyguard. You know that I will get the job done and I won't take much in payment. I'll settle with one bit a day.”

One bit a day was an incredible payment for the little folk, but with two minae in his bags, it meant little. The idea was to make an offer sounding like a serious job request. As soon as he found that city, he would steal some artifacts and sell them to the highest bidder.

“Well, okay”, Cypher said. “Why not?”

He gave Coral a bowl of hot cabbage soup and then went straight to his desk and opened up the Tome of the Makers. Coral was satisfied with these turn of events. He had gone from being a poor wanderer to an insanely rich man overnight. That Cypher seemed clueless about how the real world worked. Coral couldn't say that he would feel any regrets taking advantage of the boy's illiteracy when it came to social interaction. But that aside, the cabbage soup tasted very fresh. Apparently, Cypher was not only a good engineer but a decent cook.

They didn't speak for some time. Cypher had his full focus on the tome and Coral enjoyed the sweet, boiled cabbages and the salty gravy. Sure, it wasn't a luxury course, but it had more flavor than he could even begin to manage with a similar dish.

There were some knocks on the door and a short, plain-looking but not ugly girl entered the shop. She was a head shorter than Cypher and didn't seem to be a year older than seventeen. Her raven-black hair was long and tangled and she had pale skin between her many distinct freckles. She wasn't pale enough to share Cypher's alabaster skin, but she didn't look like the type who spent much time in the sun. Her round, amber eyes glimmered as soon as she saw Cypher and Coral couldn't help but smirk at the realization of her devote admiration. He wondered if someone as socially illiterate as Cypher could ever notice that this girl was in love with him.

She walked right past the couch without noticing Coral Snake and greeted Cypher by giving him a gentle hug from behind.

“It was a girl!” she said. “They're calling her Xandra! Princess Xandra!”

Cypher himself seemed reluctant to respond to the hug as he was reading his new tome. Coral noticed that the girl was dressed in a set of oil-stained woolen clothes and an even more stained gray apron. As her arms embraced the careless Cypher, she noticed the darkly dressed stranger on the couch. He had just finished his soup and once again covered his face with his ebon mask.

“Cypher”, the girl said and frowned her face. “There's a masked man on your couch.”

“That's Coral”, Cypher said. “He's my bodyguard.”

“Bodyguard? For what?”

“Well, I, um, decided to accept the, you know, assignment.”

Assignment?

“What? No, Cypher, you promised not to.”

“Well, you see, I got the tome”, Cypher continued. “Coral helped me get it.”

Coral almost recoiled by the girl's sudden glare. She had eyes that could kill. “You mean he helped you steal it?” she snorted.

“Well”, he said. “At least I have it. Now I, um, just have to wait for, well ... Peleps Rondo to come.”

Peleps Rondo? Coral Snake bit his bottom lip as hard as it hurt. Did he say … Peleps Rondo?

He remembered a severed head sinking in the ocean. He remembered an arrow piercing a mother's head. He remembered a house burning into ashes. He remembered a crying boy.


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sun Mar 07, 2010 7:47 pm

Chapter 6: Infiltration

House Peleps was a strong dynastic house, only loyal to the Scarlet Empress. They were the ruthless naval force of the Realm, known for cheating and manipulating even their fellow dynasts if it would further themselves in the eyes of their Scarlet Empress and the Realm's Immaculate Order. Why they had left the shores and traveled far into the Scavenger Lands was a mystery to Coral Snake. Not only because they were known as a naval house, but because these lands were within the military state of Lookshy's domain and the Realm should be restricted operations in this part of Creation.

Was he their target? The last time he had encountered House Peleps, they had slaughtered his parents and taken his siblings. But his fear and hatred for them aside, they could not know that he was now an anathema in their eyes. The Realm's corrupt religion, the Immaculate Order, taught the philosophy that those exalted to anything other than Dragon-Blooded were abominations in the eyes of the Elemental Dragons. Anathema were meant to be slain. And the realization that he had now become one was the reason he had traveled deep into the Scavenger Lands. He wanted to avoid the Realm until he had the power to fight them. Or at least fight the house responsible for him having been forced to live on the street as a five year old child.

But he did not yet possess that power. His dedication to follow Whispering Rainbow Cypher on his quest to Denandsor had suddenly begun to falter. Was he just to ignore that this socially awkward youth had sold his services to a Peleps led dragon stationed in forbidden territory. It was impossible that they were here for him. They had obviously been here days before his arrival. They were here for Denandsor. It was them who needed Cypher's services, not the other way around.

Maybe he could take this opportunity and, for the first time, use his new-found skills to learn a thing or two about his sworn enemies. If he was to one day declare war against this dynastic house, then he couldn't back out now when he had the opportunity to infiltrate them. But seeing them would truly test his temperance.

Crystal Bow, the viridian ranger with the maroon beard, eventually showed up at Cypher's shop with an entry as boisterous as he was weather-beaten. He pulled up the wooden door and nearly yelled into the shop. “Cypher, my friend! We need to talk about yesterday.” The man stopped the instant he noticed Coral Snake sitting with his legs crossed in one of Cypher's couches. He shrunk together a little and frowned his forehead. “Hello.”

“You must be Crystal Bow”, Coral said with a forced smile, forgetting the fact that his mask covered it. “I've heard great things about you.”

“Um, I haven't really … well, talked about him, Coral”, Cypher muttered from his desk, still with his full focus in his tome.

“I know”, Coral said with a snort. “I was just being polite.”

“And you are?” Crystal asked while helping himself into the shop.

Coral raised his eyebrows when he noticed the full-grown, ashen-shaded wolf quietly following the ranger. The wolf tensed its glimmering brown eyes once it noticed the masked stranger in the shop. It forced a faint growl before it was silenced by its master snapping his fingers.

“Coral Snake”, he replied to Crystal's question. “Cypher hired me as a bodyguard.”

“Bodyguard? Really?”

“Do you have to bring that beast into the shop, Crystal?” Elisa hissed from one of the corners. She was cleaning the floor from parts of clockwork and sorted it into various tool boxes. It looked like a dull duty, but Coral had understood that Cypher wasn't the type of boy who cleaned up his own mess.

Coral thought he could see an indication of a smirk under the man's maroon-colored beard. Crystal nodded to his wolf who somehow seemed to understand the gesture and walked outside.

“Why have you hired a bodyguard, Cypher?” Crystal asked and b-lined into the kitchen where he immediately begun to scavenge the cabinets.

“Well, I decided to, you know, accept the assignment.”

“Really? Well, I've been thinking about that”, Crystal said and came back out from the kitchen – this time holding a piece of bread that carried the sweet scent of being newly baked. “I thought that maybe we could simply tell those dynasts that Gryphonheart has the tome. If they want it so badly, they might be able to convince him to sell it.”

“Um, I have it already”, Cypher said.

“You what?” Crystal asked and walked past the couch up to the engineer at the desk. He looked over Cypher's shoulder and flinched when he noticed the tome. “How did you get it?”

“Well, um, Coral got it for me.”

“Really?” he said and tilted his head until his eyes met with Coral's. His face frowned and Coral could swear he saw some suspicion in those dim emerald eyes. “And how did you manage to pull that off?” He raised one single, though very bushy, eyebrow, anticipating a reply.

“Well”, Coral said. He felt slightly intimidated by Crystal's suspicious gaze and couldn't resist scratching the top of his head. “I'm a professional. I just sneaked in, grabbed the book and sneaked out. Nothing more to it.”

“Really?”

“You say really a lot.”

“Is that so?”

“That's a synonym to really.”

Coral noticed Crystal's single raised eyebrow lower and a new smirk could be seen through his bushy beard. “Well, who am I to doubt a professional?” he said and walked up to the couch. He reached towards the masked newcomer with his open palm. “Welcome aboard then, Coral Snake.”

The young bodyguard answered the greeting by taking the man's hand in his.

“Nice mask, by the way”, the viridian ranger said with a nod. “One can think you're the shady kind.”

“Are you the one to talk?”

“Touché.” He turned to Cypher. “I'm heading to the market then. What do we need?”

Cypher shrugged from his desk. “Well, um, Peleps will provide for us. Ask Coral if he, well, needs something.”

The sturdy man turned his eyes back to Coral. One bushy eyebrow raised once again, anticipating a response from the shady stranger.

“Well”, Coral said. “Why not buy me something to make me look less shady and more of a bodyguard. If Cypher will pay for it, of course.”

“I suppose”, Cypher muttered from his desk.

“And don't forget to fetch some new bread from the bakery, you thief”, Elisa hissed from another corner, still cleaning up the mess that was Cypher's shop. Coral wondered if she was hired to clean or if she had other duties as well. Her oil-stained apron could indicate that she actually repaired or built stuff herself.

Crystal looked at the piece of bread in his hand, frowned his forehead and then shrugged. He got some money from Cypher and then went to market row with his pet wolf at his side. Coral had no intentions of following the jungle man downtown. He had to see Peleps Rondo with his own eyes. He could clearly remember the name, despite it being fourteen years ago. He was the second one, the Dragon-Blooded with the fiery anima who ran atop the surface of the water as if it was solid ground.

What was he referred to by Peleps Wakde? Was it Winglord? Could he see the man without trying to kill him? Could he kill him? He knew that mortals were like insects to the Dragon-Blooded. But he also knew that there were two ways insects could kill a man. They could either be venomous or they could attack in swarms. He wondered if he, as an anathema, now was on equal terms with a Dragon-Blooded, or if his strength was still inferior to their.



Peleps Rondo eventually arrived at the shop with a handful of metal-clad soldiers watching his back. Coral Snake had decided to wait at Cypher's desk, crossing his arms and legs and leering at the dynast from the shadows of that corner. He didn't hide his presence, but he tried not to interrupt when Cypher and the Dragon-Blooded had their conversation. He carefully watched the dynast while he forced his mind to settle down and keep him from letting his hatred overpower his rationality.

Peleps Rondo was dressed in the same articulated plate of red jade as he had been fourteen years ago on their criminal raid in Sakana Village. The full-body armor was reflecting the sunlight that had managed to illuminate the otherwise stuffy atmosphere of Cypher's shop. Coral couldn't tell if it was the red jade or the man's anima that radiated the unbearable heat that suddenly spread in the shop. He was aware that red-colored jade had the properties of the element of fire, the same element as Rondo's anima.

There were five kinds of Dragon-Blooded, each represented by one of the five elements: air, earth, fire, water and wood. These elements all had their own color jade, a material that was to the Elemental Dragons what orichalcum was to the Unconquered Sun. Rondo wielded artifacts made of red jade for the same reason Coral wielded his serpent-sting staff with alloys of orichalcum. The material reacted to and harmonized with its wielder's essence. That was the special bond someone exalted had with its artifacts.

And it was also the reason why Coral had pondered whether or not he should steal Cypher's pendant. As a mortal human, Cypher should not be able to channel his essence and wield it into the manifestations someone exalted referred to as charms. He should not be able to use the artifact he had hanging around his neck. It could very well fall into the hands of a Solar Exalted like Coral Snake.

He noticed that Rondo's presence alone had made the shop not only stuffy but almost boiling hot. This had to be a conscious attempt of the dynast to intimidate everyone in the room. It was probably a way for him to tell everyone that he was strong, without actually saying it. It was painful for Coral to acknowledge the fact, but it worked. He could feel the sweat on his forehead moisten his bandana and he ground his teeth.

But the heat was not the only thing about Peleps Rondo that was intimidating. Another thing was the cape in glimmering obsidian silk that was suspended from his crimson pauldrons. It carried the crest of House Peleps, a circle around a v-shaped blade with its edges folded like a fan. It was difficult to see the full crest because of the massive grand daiklave sheathed over his back. A grand daiklave was another artifact, a two-handed sword of the same crimson material as the man's armor. It was a sword that could cut through a fortress gate like it was rice-paper.

Coral had only gotten a glimpse of this man as a child, but it was first now he could recognize exactly how powerful he was.

The first words the man uttered were in fluent riverspeak: “Have you decided?”

“Yes ... yes, I have”, Cypher said while tapping on his nose. “I, um, have begun to, you know, analyze the tome … and, um, I know I can, well … decipher it.”

Coral noticed the dynast frowning his naturally blushed visage when listening to Cypher's attempt at coherent conversation. It was a wonder that the fiery Dragon-Blooded tolerated that Cypher spoke to him in this manner – without any honorifics and with a stutter worse than a shy boy's when confessing to a girl. Despite the stuttering, Cypher didn't seem too intimidated by the man's presence. Maybe he was just too socially illiterate to be able to comprehend how dangerous this dynast was.

Peleps Rondo frowned his face even more and the veins in his already bloodshot eyes seemed to almost coruscate as he stepped towards Cypher and grabbed his sphere-shaped pendant in a tight fist. He pulled it towards him – Cypher being pulled with the chain – and grinned with grinding teeth. “This is orichalcum!” he roared. “The forbidden metal used by the cursed anathema!” He dropped the artifact with a snort, clearly showing his disgust for it. His eyes still stared intently into Cypher's. “How dare you wear it in front of me?”

Cypher took a step back and for the first time showed some hints of being intimidated by the man. He held his artifact gently in a protective grip and flickered nervously with his eyes. “Well”, he said with his usual stutter. “This, um, artifact is … well, it's broken … and I'm, um, trying to repair it. You see … I believe, um, that it plays, well, a vital part in, you know, unlocking … the mysteries of Denandsor.”

“Such cursed objects shouldn't be repaired”, Rondo growled, though slightly relaxing his still vicious face. The man's visage had a dangerous look on an otherwise appealing frame with distinctive lines and a dark stubble on pale skin. His long but straggling haircut was blonde but looked shrouded in orange flames and faint puffs of steam could be seen with his breaths. “Are you sure it's vital for this operation?”

“Yes, I … um, know that you imperialists, well, don't like this ...” Cypher tapped gently on the sphere with both hands while letting it hang freely from his neck. “I might as well, you know, wear it until it, well, works … And, um, what harm can it do in my, you know … I'm just a commoner, after all.”

”No, you are not”, Rondo said and took a deep sigh to calm himself down. ”You're supposedly the sharpest mind in this land. I know that's not saying much in a primitive land such as this, but the Dragonlord has high hopes for you.”

”I understand.”

Rondo gave the pendant a disgusted gaze before he let his anima settle and the heat he emanated decrease. ”You should keep it hidden. At least from Master Chino. His hatred for anathema is in a completely different league to my own and he's old enough to stand above Dragonlord Wakde's orders.”

Wakde? Coral couldn't help but to grind his teeth. His muscles tensed throughout his body and he was a second away from falling from his chair when he forced his mind to calm down. He was trained to be a master of his emotions but that name was the one name he would give his life to rid from existance.

”Should I, um, know something about, you know, this Master Chino before I meet him”, Cypher asked while tapping on his nose.

”Don't look him in the eyes”, Rondo said with a smirk. He looked over his shoulders as if searching for something and stopped for a moment when he noticed Coral Snake gazing back at him. The young stranger frowned his forehead and shifted his gaze as soon as their eyes met. He made a short cough and leaned back further in the creaking chair. The Dragon-Blooded looked back at Cypher. ”Is this the pathfinder?”

”He's, um, at market row”, Cypher said while looking at the floor. ”This is Coral. He's, um, my bodyguard.” He tapped a little on his pendant and then gently placed it within his white night garment. The fact that he had forgot to change was both sad and comical but Coral had other things to think about than reminding him about it.

”Bodyguard?” Rondo asked and eyed Coral up and down. ”Why?”

”He'll, um, keep me out of, you know, harm's way.”

Rondo looked at the clueless, young engineer for a second and then burst into a forced laughter. “I guess we can put him with the foot soldiers”, he then said with a grin. “You will be traveling with our sorcerer-engineers.” He turned to the door, still chuckling to himself. “Keep me out of harm's way―heh heh.” He stopped for a second as he united with his soldiers at the door. Both his laughter and his smirk was gone and his eyes regained their former viciousness. He looked intently at Cypher who flickered with his eyes and shifted his weight from one foot to another. “Get ready, Cypher. We'll depart momentarily.”

The dynast then stepped out from the shop, nodded to his escorts and left. Coral could still hear some of the soldiers waiting outside the shop, probably waiting to escort them to the rest of the dragon. Elisa had dared herself out from the kitchen where she had went as soon as the imperialists had arrived to the shop. Her freckled frame looked blushed and sweaty.

“I don't like this, Cypher”, she said while untying the apron behind her back and lifting it over her head. She folded it and placed it on one of the work desks in the shop and then walked up next to the still very stiff engineer who stood in the middle of the room. She gently placed a hand on his arm and tried to get eye contact, but his eyes were still flickering.

“I don't like them either”, Cypher muttered.

Coral raised one eyebrow in surprise as he didn't hear a single stutter in that short phrase. He stood up from the chair and stepped into the shop to join their conversation. He tried to remain cool, but he could feel the heartbeats within his chest. It had been Peleps Rondo. He had seen one of those who ruined his life fourteen years ago and there had been nothing he could do to kill the man. At least not yet.

“You'll be, um, going with the … Well, you might have heard”, Cypher said as he noticed Coral entering the room.

“The foot soldiers. Yes, I heard.”

Only moments later, Crystal Bow and his ashen-shaded wolf returned with a heavy backpack filled with food, wine and medicine. The husky man kept his smirk under his maroon-red beard and tossed a buff jacket over to Coral. The young bodyguard caught the heavy buff jacket and held it before himself. It was a thick woolen robe reinforced with a harness of black, sturdy leather and thin metal plates covering his chest, upper back and shoulders. It looked much too warm to wear in a tropical climate such as this, but it gave protection and looked formal.

Coral thanked the man and tried it on over his cotton shirt. It fitted him perfectly. The wool reached far enough down his thighs to cover the obsidian handles on his throwing knife holsters. He tied the unprotected part of the buff jacket tightly together with his belt, still carrying his snake bag on the left side of his waist and his item bag on his right. The poison vials were hidden in the small, black bag on the backside of the belts. Over the bag was the dark backpack hiding his serpent-sting staff. Hopefully the dynasts wouldn't take a look inside and recognize the orichalcum. He could always lie and try to convince them that it was gold.

When they were all ready to depart, Elisa stood in the middle of the shop with an empty look in her eyes and a faint tremble on her pouting lips. It looked like she wanted to say something but she didn't know what. Coral noticed how she opened her mouth to speak but all she could express was a muted sob.

The young engineer turned to say good bye and seemed startled by the gloomy shadow stretching its limbs over Elisa as if to drag her into the realms of depression. Her wet eyes were glimmering and her freckled cheeks blushed.

Cypher tapped on his nose for a moment and then walked clumsily across the room towards her. He gave her an awkward hug before he pressed his wet lips against her. Coral frowned his nose, waiting for the girl to slap the peculiar boy. But instead she welcomed the kiss.

“Good bye, Cypher”, she said after they had let go of their embrace.

“Good bye”, he replied, tapped on his nose and then turned to leave.

Crystal waited with his arms crossed and nodded approvingly with a satisfied smile on his tawny face. However, Coral found the situation more awkward than romantic. He wasn't sure whether or not he should laugh or cry when watching Cypher handle his good bye with that nerdy girlfriend of his. But on the other hand, at least Cypher got to say good bye to the person he loved. Everyone didn't have that luxury.

The shop was left to Elisa. Next stop was Denandsor.


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sat Mar 13, 2010 5:53 pm

Chapter 7: The boy from the fishing village III

Wing was truly a lionhearted boy. Much to Tear-Eyed Viper's surprise, the boy sounded like Amir when he spoke and they shared the same over-confident smirk. Even though Wing had Amir's confidence, he didn't share his youthfulness. This boy was a man. He had to be to take care of Glittering Wolf and Hyena. They had told him that it was all thanks to Wing they had survived alone on the roads. They had been through much together. Things that would even scare most adults. But Wing never got scared. He couldn't let himself be.

Tear-Eyed Viper wanted to be just like him. He had to mature as well. He had to become strong if he wanted to one day take revenge on Peleps Wakde and save his siblings from their shackles. He couldn't let things like wood spiders, violent streams or hunger take his life. He was going to become a hero like Wing.

His heroism, however, lasted only until later the same day when he was told by Wing to chop the head of a chicken. He had been taken to an abandoned farmhouse a couple of miles away from the main road leading east from Sakana Village. When he witnessed the farmhouse – or what remained of it – he understood why it was abandoned. Half of the building was burned to crisp and the other half barely stood upright. The three children slept on hay and stained rugs while dreaming about warm food. Their only means of dinner were a few chickens cramped in a narrow cage and some dry bread that was way past its expiration date. They had a working well, but none of them knew how to use the land to grow.

After having cried with an axe in one hand and a chicken in the other, Tear-Eyed Viper's new big brother Wing eventually took over that duty with a sigh. The four of them savored what they could from the poor chicken, gnawed on some of the old bread and drank from the well. The water looked dim and tasted sour, but at least it stilled the hungry beast hiding in his stomach.

As soon as he got to bed he could finally sleep. At least for a while.

He woke up in the middle of the night. The crescent moon illuminated the dead fields and dry meadows and the stars coruscated brightly. It was a quiet night except for one strange sound. It was like a faint guttural moan expressing sorrow, hatred and hunger. It was a sound unlike any other.

Tear-Eyed Viper sat up slowly and carefully in his mattress of hay and noticed the figure of a fragile man with an almost ethereal body. His eyes were dead and blood-shot and his limbs were like bones covered by nothing else than a thin layer of burned, black skin. The man looked back at him with drool and blood running from his mouth.

The boy screamed but the sound was quickly muted by a soft palm pressing against his mouth. Tear-Eyed Viper tried to shake himself loose, but the grip was too strong.

“Quiet!” Wing hissed. “Stop moving around!”

Tears ran down Tear-Eyed Viper's cheeks but the realization that it was Wing who held him was a little less frightening than what he had feared at first. Though he was still staring into the dim eyes of a dead man. And they looked hungry for flesh.

“Look at the line!” Wing whispered and pointed with his one free hand to a line of salt between them and the ghost. “Ghosts can't cross salt.”

The scared boy stopped trembling but tears still flowed like strong currents down his cheeks. He had heard tales about ghosts from his big brother and it was a common practice in Sakana to sprinkle salt on graves. Wing let go of him and leaned back against the wall, showing a forced smile.

“I hoped you would sleep through this”, he said and rolled his eyes. “That ghost has been coming here every night since we got here. He nearly killed us the first time.”

Tear-Eyed Viper wiped his cheeks and tried not to look at the moaning ghost. “Are you sure it can't …”

“I'm sure”, Wing said with a brotherly smile. “I'll be watching over you. Try to sleep.”

“But what if the salt blows away?”

“Don't worry about the salt”, Wing said and placed a comforting hand on Tear-Eyed Viper's shoulder. “I call him Burns. He might want to eat us, but you get used to him in no time.”

The young boy scratched his head and looked at Wing's sharp, confident eyes. His courage was admirable.

“Admit that it's a little funny”, Wing said. “Burns. Because his skin is burned.”

Tear-Eyed Viper leered at the drooling ghost. It's dim eyes might have been dead but there were hints of consciousness there; like a trapped soul controlled by hunger and instinct. This man had died an agonizing death and was doomed to roam the nights around his former home without finding rest. Now he was mocked by children. “It isn't funny.”

“Not even a little?”

“No, it's sad.”

“Come on. Give me a little smile.”

“No.”

“Do you want to throw rocks at him?” Wing asked with a goofy smile. “It's fun.”

“That's rude”, Tear-Eyed Viper hissed. “I want to sleep.”

Wing nodded with a smile indicating that his efforts had succeeded. It was something about Wing's calm that comforted the boy. This was a world where people were often murdered by hungry ghosts but the young child forgot to be afraid for a short moment because of his new friend's comforting smile. He crawled up closer to the wall and covered his ears with the palms of his hands to mute the sound of the guttering moans. He closed his eyes and tried to remember something that made him happy. He tried to think about his mother but all he could picture was how she looked the last time he saw her.

She looked dead. Just like the ghost that watched him sleep.



Once the stars had faded from the sky and the light of the Daystar warmed the grassy meadows around their burned home, the ghost had vanished from sight and neither Wing nor the others mentioned their uninvited guest. However, it was most likely they who were the uninvited guests and the ghost – or at least the man it once was – who was the rightful owner of these ruins.

Tear-Eyed Viper was happy to see the morning sun but it wasn't easy to smile after all that had happened. Seeing the ghost had been scary. But facing reality was even worse. He was an orphan now. How did one deal with the deaths of one's parents? He wasn't quite sure. But he could tell that the aching in his chest wasn't from the rock he had fallen into when in the current of the stream.

At least he wasn't alone anymore. He had friends who probably had suffered similar fates to his own. Maybe he could ask them what to do next.

Wing didn't want to talk about his own life other than the fact that he had been an orphan for four years. His view on life was surprisingly optimistic despite the fact that his view on the world was filled with rage. He hadn't any problems talking about the hateful minds of grown-ups and that he was much better off on his own. However, he didn't want to talk about his own parents other than to express his indifference to them being gone. Maybe he had changed from being alone for four years and forgotten how it felt to be embraced by a loving mother. Or maybe he had never experienced it.

One who hadn't forgotten was Glittering Wolf who broke into tears as soon as the subject came up. She told Tear-Eyed Viper that she came from a village a few days north-east of Sakana where she lived with her parents, her little brother and her dog. The village was known for its majestic cotton fields and both of her parents were tailors. A bandit lord had showed some interest in the village because of its profiting cotton production and took a band of thugs with him to do business with the chieftain of the village. She hadn't understood everything that was going on and why the bandit lord had attacked the chieftain, but she clearly remembered how both of her parents were in the middle of the conflict when it escalated into a blood-bath.

Tear-Eyed Viper didn't want to hear more than that. Glittering Wolf had experienced the same thing he had. Maybe it was true what Wing had said about grown-ups being full of hate. All their conflicts seemed to end with blood.

Hyena's story was not a bloody one but still one of tragedy. He was the only son of a hunter and his mother had died at childbirth. He remembered his father telling him about his mother. Apparently she had been a northerner, stranded in the Thousand Kingdoms of the Scavenger Lands when traveling together with her father who was a merchant. She had met with Hyena's father and settled in outside one of the villages of this land.

Hyena had been five years old the day when his father never came back from his hunting trip in the jungles. The boy had run over to his neighbors and waited at their place for three full days. When they assumed that the boy's father had been devoured by the jungles they left him alone saying that they couldn't feed another mouth. With no one else in the world, Hyena was lucky to meet with Wing.

Tear-Eyed Viper knew that these three children were like him. They shared his pain and he would forever be at their sides. They would form a new family and live a life outside of the laws of the lands and the conflicts of the grown-ups. At least until Tear-Eyed Viper would be all grown-up himself. Then he would change the laws of the lands and end the conflicts of the world by spilling the blood of the criminal houses of the Realm.

He would start with House Peleps.



Days passed and Tear-Eyed Viper eventually got used to the presence of the hungry ghost. He still couldn't look directly at the ghost's burned body and he still had to sleep with his palms covering his ears. But he always managed to leave the nightmare of the present behind and dream the nightmare of the past. He believed it was a nightmare that would be with him forever.

He suddenly woke up on the eighth night since his arrival to the burned cottage and listened to the crickets play their usual melody accompanied by the rattling leaves. Hissing breaths were heard from Burns who was sitting on the other side of the salt line, waiting for the salt to somehow disappear. Tear-Eyed Viper peeked at the ghost and was met by the dim, bloodshot eyes he had seen every night since he came. He instantly looked away and noticed Wing sleeping next to him with a faint snore. About a yard away slept Glittering Wolf and Hyena under the same torn blanket.

The ghost's hissing breaths turned into a craving moan once it noticed the boy was awake. It raised its burned arms towards him but stopped just before the salt line. Drool and blood was running from its mouth but vanished once it dripped to the burnt floor.

Tear-Eyed Viper carefully sat up in the hay, bit his lip and forced himself to look at the ghost. It looked back at him and intently followed his every move. Once he came closer to the salt line, the ghost exposed all of its teeth with a faint hiss. The boy stopped for a moment and felt a freezing cold surge through his spine. He took a few deep breaths and tried to calm himself.

“Do you know if my parents are ghosts too?” he asked while tears ran down his cheeks. “I miss them so much. Can you ask them to come here? Please?”

The ghost's eyes were as dim and bloodshot as before and its grin was just as hungry. It couldn't understand him. There were only hunger and rage left in that soul.

Tear-Eyed Viper dried the tears from his cheeks and looked down on the salt. The line was about two inches wide and stretched itself in a circle around their pile of hay and blankets. The boy hadn't asked Wing how he had managed to get all this salt. It couldn't have been easy. He looked at the ghost again and noticed it had forced itself closer to the salt line. Tear-Eyed Viper couldn't help but be thankful that the ghost didn't have any common sense left in it, since it would probably be easy to destroy the salt line with an action as simple as sliding a rock over it.

The ghost moaned louder than before as the boy was close enough to the line to further tickle its hunger. It opened its mouth wide and showed its open palms as if to say to the boy that it wanted to grab him, pull him towards it and bite him. Its moans became an agonizing roar for blood and Tear-Eyed Viper quickly got up on his feet.

“Shut up, Burns!” Wing yelled and rushed up from his blanket with a rock in his hand, tossing it like a deadly projectile towards the ghost. He didn't know that Tear-Eyed Viper was that close to the salt line.

The rock hit the boy on the cheek and had him fall over the salt into the arms of the ghost. Wing gasped and leaped towards his new friend to grab his ankles and pull him back into the circle. Glittering Wolf and Hyena had woken up and screamed as they realized what had happened.

Despite feeling dizzy, Tear-Eyed Viper felt warm blood run down his aching cheek and he could clearly see that the ethereal body of the hungry ghost slowly took more solid shape. He uttered a high-pitched scream as Wing pulled him into the circle, causing a large gap in the salt line as he did so.

“Get up!” Wing yelled. “Run!”

Glittering Wolf and Hyena quickly got up on their feet and ran past the ghost and to the meadows. The ghost got up on its own two feet and stepped through the broken salt line reaching for the wounded boy. A thin trail of blood formed as Wing pulled Tear-Eyed Viper by his feet. The dizzy boy reached for Wing with his hands and was quickly pulled up from the ground by him.

The ghost roared with its mouth full of drool and blood and charged towards the two boys. Behind them were thin, broken walls but an open window big enough to climb through. Wing grabbed Tear-Eyed Viper's wrist and pulled him towards the window. As they passed the other side of the salt circle, the ghost stopped, growled at them and then turned around to exit through the gap from which it had attacked.

Wing kept looking over his shoulder on the quickly approaching ghost while he grabbed Tear-Eyed Viper by the waist and pushed him out through the window. The boy hit his head once again when colliding with the grass outside, but he was too scared to even notice that additional pain. Once back up on his feet, he couldn't help but notice how swollen his cheek was and it burned like he pressed it against a hot iron cauldron.

But he didn't care about that. He could barely see what was going on because of the darkness of night, his never-ending tears and the dizziness from the blow to his head. But he could hear Wing climbing the window in front of him and he reached out with his hands to help the older boy as best as he could.

“Wing!” he cried but felt a sudden moment of relief once he felt the boy's hands grab his.

He walked backwards and pulled Wing with him through the window. While breathing heavily, they ran towards Glittering Wolf and Hyena who were calling for them from the road. The ghost came after them through the window and its roar pierced their spines like ice-cold metal rods.

They left everything they had and ran for hours. Even though the ghost stopped chasing them and returned to its remains before it would be killed by the light of dawn, the four children kept running until the warm morning sun was greeting them with a new day and they were too exhausted to keep going.

However, keep going was what they did. They kept going for years.


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sat Mar 13, 2010 5:54 pm

Chapter 8: In the dragon's belly

The ominous thunderclouds had faded overnight and left only puddles and mud along the roads outside of Yuro. Coral Snake, Whispering Rainbow Cipher and Crystal Bow were escorted by two soldiers to the dragon hidden in the valley just south of town. Coral ground his teeth while forcing his black leather boots out of the squishy mud, leering at the two soldiers as he did so. Normally, dragon referred to an elemental beast, such as the ones who gave the dragon-blooded their powers. However, a dragon was also what the dynasty called an army of about a thousand soldiers. Peleps Wakde carried the title of dragonlord and had the highest position within this army.

Coral couldn't help but wonder how many of these soldiers had been there on the day his village was attacked. Since it was fourteen years ago, most of those soldiers were probably done with their services since long ago. But who knew how many more villages had suffered similar fates? These soldiers were hardly innocent. But he doubted he could take them all on by himself.

After having walked for some time, the soldiers led them off the main row and through a jungle glade that showed obvious trails of having been recently passed by hundreds of people. Twigs were broken and leather boots had ripped off the grass from the ground and formed trails of solid mud, protected from much of the earlier rain by majestic tree crowns. They passed a few leather-clad scouts with short wooden bows and full quivers strapped on their backs. Their otherwise pale skin were tanned by the eastern warmth and they looked uncomfortable in the thick foreign jungles.

The soldiers said something to the scouts in the language low realm which was native to the Blessed Isle. One of the scouts nodded and gestured for the group to pass through the glade and into the crowded valley. There were soldiers everywhere. Some were patrolling and guarding while others were idling at the many tents that had somehow endured despite yesterday's storm. Open barrels had been placed all over the camp to gather rain-water for the soldiers to drink.

In the center of the valley was three heavily guarded wooden cabs as large as two-floored residences. Next to each idled two impressive four-legged beasts with goofy-looking heads reaching up to eighteen feet above ground. They were covered in fur with shades of gray and brown and had metal-chain bridles connecting them to the massive cabs. Coral recognized the beasts as yeddims. If any creature could pull a two-floored residence through thick jungle terrain, it was the yeddim.

Coral had his eyes open for Peleps Wakde's black jade and he felt his heart pound in his chest. He wasn't sure if his extensive training to get control over one's emotions would really help him this time. The embodiment of his hatred led this dragon. He had to find a way to murder him for what he had done.

Neither Coral nor the others said much. They were escorted into the camp and to a cloth pavilion on the other side of the frontal cab. The tent's wool still smelled sour after the heavy rain, but the dirty ground below was solid and dry. In the center of the pavilion stood a wooden table with multiple maps spread out like a table-cloth. Looking at the maps were a handful of officers who were probably mortal due to their lack of artifacts. Their fierce conversation sounded more like frustrated growls as they scratched their heads and pointed to the maps. The army had indeed traveled far and Coral got mildly amused by their frustrations.

He didn't have to look around much to see the two dragon-blooded men who were speaking with each other between the pavilion and the great wooden structure. It was the red-jaded Peleps Rondo together with a man who was dressed in a full-body armor of articulated plate as obsidian as Wakde's, but this man was clearly not him. He looked much younger than the vague memories of Wakde's face, and this visage would have been pretty if not for the grim look of pure hate that tensed his every muscle and frowned his face into something bestial.

From what Coral could guess, this young dragon-blooded was taking orders from Rondo, and he was told something he did not like. Though an exalt's age could be misleading, the black-jaded boy looked no older than eighteen human years, and his frustration and hate for being told what to do reminded Coral of the spoiled brats of Nexus' Bastion District. He could hardly be very menacing.

As the group approached, Coral noticed the grand daiklave sheathed over the black-jaded boy's back. He recognized the wavy markings on its obsidian handle as identical to the weapon that had taken his father's life. Maybe his memories were deceiving him, but he was sure he had seen that very same wave-pattern in his nightmares from that dreadful day.

He ground his teeth.

As soon as the two dynasts noticed the three newcomers, Rondo gestured to the darkly armored man that their conversation would continue at another time. The young man snorted and relaxed his angry frowns, leaving one mark of irritation just between his gently trimmed, black eyebrows. He removed one of his gauntlets and stroke some sweat from his short but pointy hair which was as dark as the jade he was dressed in. Coral immediately recognized the man's similarities with Wakde. He had to be a son or a younger brother.

“You must be the pathfinder then”, Rondo said in riverspeak and nodded to Crystal who walked with a forced pride next to his wolf. Coral made out the ranger's sweat as nervousness despite the eastern heat. “You'll be traveling with us.”

The grim one snorted as arrogantly as he looked, not even leering at Crystal as he put his gauntlet back on.

“Yes, sir”, Crystal said and tried a clumsy bow.

The young dragon-blooded frowned his face once again and bellowed an angry “Sir?” with his teeth grinding like they could crush glass. “This is Winglord Rondo of House Peleps and you refer to him as sir? You should be executed where you stand!”

Saliva shot out from between his teeth as he spoke and he moved his hand towards the familiar sword-handle, readying himself to murder the man. Crystal wasn't sure how to react, but not even Coral could hide a gasp under his ebon mask. It was Rondo who intervened by gripping the hateful man's sword-hand.

“Easy now, Talonlord Meego”, he said with a smirk. “Let's make our guests feel at home.”

Meego snorted before he lowered his arm, spat on the ground and left. Rondo followed him with his eyes for a moment before he turned to the group with a smile.

“Cipher”, he said. “You'll be working indoors.”

Cipher looked over his shoulder at the mighty cab shading them from the sun. He then looked back at the dynast, pouted his lips in a weirdly shaped grin and replied: “Allrightyro.”

Rondo gave Cipher a questioning look and then sighed. It looked to Coral like the dragon-blooded man died a little on the inside, not knowing how to react to the young savant's lack of respect. Instead of beating some sense into Cipher which would be the proper dynastic response to that strange comment, he shifted his gaze to Coral and raised his eyebrows.

“Is it common for a bodyguard to hide his face?” he asked.

Coral knew that he looked suspicious with his cotton mask, but he wanted to avoid the chance of somehow being recognized by those he had sworn to kill. Even though they hadn't seen his face as a child, he wanted to avoid them recognizing his face in the future. He had thought about an excuse for his mask but he hadn't come up with anything that guaranteed that his life would be spared.

“No, it's not, best dynast”, he said with a gentle, though slightly narcissistic pitch. “But I'm known for feminine features and I wouldn't want to distract your soldiers from their work.”

Rondo opened his mouth to speak, but didn't seem to know what to say. Instead he placed his palm over his face and sighed. He then looked at Coral with a sharp gaze. “I damn Lookshy for letting you eastern heathens live your lives with neither proper etiquette nor immaculate teaching. You would have already been dead if Talonlord Meego was here to hear this.”

“My apologies, best winglord. I didn't mean to offend.”

Rondo seemed to ponder something while looking at the masked man from top to bottom. “I'm letting you off the hook for now but expect a beheading the next time you decide to be recalcitrant”, he said. “I'll place you in a fang close to the cab, but you will travel and live with the soldiers. If you can't keep up, you will be left behind.”

“I understand, my lord.”

The winglord gestured to one of the soldiers who had escorted them there to take Coral to his fang. He didn't have to go far before he was placed before a tent with five casually dressed soldiers shading themselves from the sun with the alabaster-white tent-cloth while they looked at him with frowned noses.

The man who had escorted him to the five idling soldiers said something to them in low realm, carrying a sly smirk and leering at the stranger. Coral didn't need to know the language to understand that the soldier was talking about him. He was then left at the tent and the soldier went back to his own duties.

Four men and one woman were looking at him with some curiosity but with very little trust. One bald, young man with a fresh scar across his cheek, and who was leaning over a sheathed straight sword, took the initiative to speak.

“What's with the mask?” he asked in poor riverspeak.

“It's a fashion choice”, Coral instantly replied while eying the man up and down. He noticed that a torn jacket of reinforced leather was carefully folded and placed on a dry spot of grass next to the man, showing a dynastic symbol he recognized as the mark of the fanglord. A fang was the smallest of units within a dragon, supporting only up to five soldiers. This man was the leader of this small unit. “I understand you're the fanglord. My name is Coral Snake and I'm a mercenary bodyguard hired by an engineer working in that cab.” He pointed to the wooden cab parked only a few yards away from their tent.

The fanglord gave the cab a quick gaze and then looked back at Coral. “Shouldn't bodyguards be with the ones they are guarding?”

“I didn't say I was a good one.”

The soldiers gave each other confused gazes and one of them said something in low realm to the fanglord, making them all burst into laughter. Coral frowned his face in irritation as he was frustrated by the fact that he couldn't understand what these people were saying about him. The fact that they were dynastic soldiers didn't make this easier.

The fanglord looked up at Coral again with a smirk on his sun-burned face. “Why don't you sit down, Coral Snake? My name is Fanglord Felix and these are my fang. I'll let them introduce themselves.”

Coral removed his backpack, placed it on the ground and then sat down on top of it. He rested his arms on his thighs and leaned forward, looking at the girl who sat in front of him. She was a cute and freckled girl with chestnut hair at shoulder-length. Her eyes were slightly oblique and she had small dimples in her cheeks. She didn't look older than twenty years old. But then again, neither was he. “My name is Tixi”, she said in a riverspeak much more fluent than the fanglord's. “I'm curious to see your face. Could you remove your mask, please?”

Coral raised his eyebrows at the question, pondering for a second whether or not he had a reason to hide himself from these dynastic minions. They were a fang of mortals. He doubted they could pose a threat to someone chosen by the Sun. He grabbed the mask with two fingers and pulled it down along his nose and mouth to form a cotton collar around his neck. He gave her a charming smile and she smiled back, pleased by his gesture.

“Interesting”, one of the other soldiers said with a smirk. “I suddenly can't tell if you're a man or a woman.”

“I would say the same”, Coral replied. “Why don't you tell me your name and I might just figure it out?”

The already sun-burned soldier turned even more red at the newcomer's remark. Once his friends started laughing, his shame turned into rage. He quickly got up on his feet, ready to charge at Coral with his fists. “I'll fuck you up!” he roared while loading up a punch.

Coral followed the man with his eyes. He immediately noticed that the man, though trained, was far from talented when it came to fighting bare-handed. Maybe he was affected by his rage, but his feet were too close apart for his stance to add force to his blow and he bent his arm at the elbow. This punch would barely leave a mark. If Coral would channel some essence, he could parry the full force of this poor punch with his fingertip, but he wasn't here to show off. As far as everyone knew, he was just a mortal. He could very well take the punch.

“Pamo!” the fanglord yelled.

The man stopped instantly and lowered his fist. Coral made a faint sigh as it seemed he didn't have to be punched in the face after all. The soldier named Pamo leered at his fanglord with a vein still pulsing on his temple.

“Take a walk”, the fanglord ordered.

Pamo snorted and spat on the ground before he walked away from the tent. As soon as he got out of sight, the fanglord leaned forward and gave Coral an intense stare.

“Listen up, brat”, he said. “I don't have a grudge against you. In fact, no one here even cares about you. But we have marched for weeks and we are all in a bad mood. I would appreciate it if you could just shut the fuck up and act nice while you're here.”

Coral couldn't help but to be a little impressed by the scarred man. He knew very well that he was acting like an arrogant prick and that he was giving a bad first impression. But on the other hand, these soldiers were working for House Peleps and it was much too tempting to be provocative.

“I promise to stay out of your way then”, he said and shifted his gaze to Tixi. He made sure she noticed a flirtatious smile before he evaded his gaze. Coral deeply loved a girl who had been gone from his life for about a year now, but he assumed that he would have it easier to bond with a female than with these short-tempered men. If he wanted to be accepted by the group, then maybe he had to start bonding with her.



Cipher was amazed by how comfortable the inside of the cab was. It was indeed like a two-floored residence, and the sorcerer-engineers' office was merely a part of its upper floor. Once he entered through the doorway, he was met by a stairway and a corridor with closed wooden doors along its walls. He noticed that one door had the low realm symbol for sleeping quarters elegantly carved in the wood. It seemed working with the sorcerer-engineers would have its advantages.

While the first cab was home and office to the sorcerer-engineers and the high officers, the second cab worked as a storage and armory. Cipher had noticed soldiers loading and unloading weapons and supplies in that cab. He assumed the third cab was an infirmary. There had to be an easy way to keep marching without having to worry about losing the severely injured. Maybe he could take a look in the infirmary if he would have some free time. Patching people up did have its similarities with engineering after all. It was all about understanding the machine.

Once he entered the office on the upper floor, he was stunned by how much effort had been put into decorating it for the sorcerer-engineers' comfort. There were chairs and divans with silken pillows and elegant wooden desks with carved lion-paw feet. The many book cases had drawers and doors in glass to protect the content from any bumps in the ride. Warm breezes soared in through an open door leading out to a balcony overlooking the campsite. But the most interesting thing of all this was the fact that there were artifacts all over the place. Cipher noticed quills and scrolls decorated with jade. He noticed what looked like small figurines, cubes and orbs with various magical materials. Some of them were there to make the sorcerer-engineers' work easier, while other items seemed to be part of the research.

There were four dragon-blooded engineers there and a handful of human apprentices. One of them frowned his face when noticing Cipher in the doorway. “So this is what we're supposed to work with?” the sorcerer-engineer said in high realm. “Look at him. He's even wearing night-garments.”

Cipher looked at himself. What a silly mistake.

The man who had addressed him was the oldest of the four dragon-blooded. He looked tall and wise with a fragile-looking body. His limbs were almost unnaturally thin and Cipher could clearly see the cheek-bones in his face. He had braided his silver-white hair and it was long enough to reach his waist. His sharp eyes were like glimmering sapphires, coruscating a never-ending glow expressing deep wisdom. He was dressed in crimson robes with embroidery in threads of obsidian jade and a violet hearthstone was pulsing from a necklace in that same dark jade.

“Well, you needed someone who, um, could decipher the book”, Cipher said with his usual stutter.

“How old are you?” the dragon-blooded man asked.

“I'm seventeen.”

The man placed his palm over his face and sighed before he looked back at Cipher with an intense stare. “I have lived for four centuries. Are you telling me that I, Chino of House Peleps, can't decipher a tome when a seventeen year old snot-face can?”

Cipher wiped his nose with his fingertip. He wasn't sure what to respond. The winglord had warned him about Peleps Chino. This was a man old and strong enough to not even having to follow the dragonlord's commands.

“You should be more kind, Master Chino”, an attractive young woman with straight coffee-shaded hair said with a charming smile on her full lips. “If the dragonlord says this boy will help us, then I'm sure he will.”

The old man shifted his gaze to the woman and his sapphire eyes seemed to turn ebon black, like if his pupils dilated enough to cover his irises. “Don't try to order me around, Daughter of Ledaal!” Chino hissed. “I only took you in because your father asked me to. Your presence is unfortunate to us all.”

She frowned her forehead a little but tried to ignore her master's remark. Instead she walked up to Cipher and took his hand in her. He noticed a faint breeze coming from her skin and he understood that she was exalted by the Elemental Dragon of Air. “My name is Ledaal Yuko. Master Chino might seem like a bitter old man but you'll get used to him in no time.” He noticed that she was an inch or so taller than him and she was dressed in a violet robe carrying the crest of House Ledaal; two waves folding inwards along a circle and uniting at the top.

Cipher couldn't help but to take in the sight of the alluring woman, but he tried not to lock his gaze for too long on her more intimate parts.

“I'd rather he stays away from me completely”, Chino muttered. “And get him some proper robes. Then he will at least look respectable enough to be in the same room.”

Another of the dragon-blooded men nodded to Cipher. He looked to be in his mid thirties which, for a dragon-blooded, could be anything up to a century or two. He was dressed in the same kind of robe as Chino was, but he was better built and better looking with a more distinct jawline. His hair was not braided and only half as long, but it was naturally as blue as the sky on a clear spring day. “I'm Peleps Ammo”, he said. “I must say that I'm fascinated to see what you can do. The fact that you can speak high realm is a good enough first impression for me.”

Cipher tapped on his nose and forced a smile. “Um, my name is Whispering Rainbow Cipher”, he said. “I'm, um, also fluent in low realm, old realm and riverspeak. You know … apart from my, well, native tongue, that is.”

“Even in old realm, you say?” Ammo responded with a smirk. “That's a rare gift for anyone not a god or a dragon-blooded. Then you can take the burden off some of us with a little too much to read.”

“Don't praise the heathen, my son”, Chino muttered with a snort. “There's a reason why old realm isn't normally taught to just about anyone who wishes it. Who knows what demonic thaumaturgy he may have gotten hold of in these sinister lands?”

Cipher didn't respond. He understood that the man was right about one thing. There was a reason why old realm wasn't normally taught. Cipher knew enough by knowing old realm and by having a great scavenge hunter such as Crystal Bow as a friend. Crystal had found and brought him plenty of old texts that told tales that would disprove the dynasty's immaculate teachings should they come out. But he couldn't speak of such blasphemy with these people.

The fourth dragon-blooded in the office never looked up to greet Cipher. He seemed enchanted by a book of sorcery and was whispering scripture to himself. Ammo introduced him as Peleps Gaxo, a man with an obsession of mastering immaculate spells. Despite being young for a sorcerer, Cipher was told that Gaxo had mastered enough spells to almost rival Chino.

One of the mortal apprentices helped Cipher settle in. He was showed one of the empty chambers downstairs where he had a comfortable bed, a small closet and a window from where he could see the campsite. There was a small desk with candles, quills, inkwells and parchments in case he would want to work in private. It was cozy enough. He wasn't envious of Coral Snake and Crystal Bow who probably had to sleep in tents.

He was given a robe in shades of violet and emerald that he put on in private. Just like with his night-garments, he hid his orichalcum pendant under the cloth. He had been wearing this broken artifact since he was a young child. Leaving it in his room was out of the question. But he had been ordered by Winglord Rondo to keep it hidden. At least from the grumpy old Chino. He took the Tome of the Makers under his arm and walked back upstairs to the office where they had prepared a table for him.

“I still can't believe we needed a common thaumaturge for this job”, Chino muttered from his working space. “One most likely foreign to the Immaculate Philosophy nontheless.”

“I'm, um, you see, quite conversant with the Immaculate Philosophy”, Cipher said and tapped on his nose. He carefully placed the tome on his desk. “I, well, simply don't believe it's entirely … you know … true.”

Chino dropped his quill and opened his mouth in shock. “How dare you!?”

This time even Peleps Gaxo looked up from his sorcery book and gave Cipher a bewildered look before he snorted and kept chanting the principles of the spell he was practicing.

“Calm down, father”, Ammo said, though with a slight shiver on his bottom lip. “You'll have plenty of time to convert him along the way. If you kill him now, the dragonlord will never forgive you. You know that.”

“Kill him? Who said anything about killing him? I just want to slap him around a little!”

“No, please”, Yuko interrupted. “No one's slapping anyone here. We're all civilized, aren't we?”

Before the beating could begin, a horn blew in the camp and the dragon was ready to start moving. Whispering Rainbow Cipher was spared for now, as he and the sorcerer-engineers got to work.


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sat Mar 13, 2010 5:57 pm

Chapter 9: Forbidden love

Cipher was mumbling to himself as he read through a page in the Tome of the Makers. A few hours had passed since the dragon begun its march and the sun was slowly setting in the west. The sorcerer-engineers in the office were all quietly working on their own research. The only one who sometimes looked up to give him a welcoming smile was Ledaal Yuko. She seemed different from the others. Maybe it was because she was from a foreign house, but her kindness could just as well be an act.

The page Cipher was reading looked like a hastily written letter in black ink and he could make out the paper as a typical reinforced kind common in the High First Age. It wasn't made of some special kind of wood, as far as he knew, but instead treated with some strengthening medium. This type of paper didn't deteriorate with time. But unfortunately, reinforcing paper like this seemed to be a forgotten knowledge in this day and age. At least outside the borders of the Blessed Isle.

The content of the letter was strange since it looked like a love letter with no clear connection to the city. It read:

Dear Juliandra,

I truly miss the warmth from your embrace. I miss your comforting smile and those enchanting, golden eyes. But you know who and what you are and why we can't be together. Remain safe and look after your mentor's creations. It will be up to you to tutor him once he is reborn. I'll be watching you from the beak, waiting for a better tomorrow.

With endless love,

Shara Ice


Cipher gently tapped on his nose while reading the letter over and over. “I'll be watching you from the beak”, he mumbled to himself, wondering what those words referred to. Could it really refer to a beak – like that of a bird's – or did he read it wrong? Maybe she referred to a peak. He could understand that the view would be great from atop a peak. But a beak? How silly.

He looked around himself, taking notes of what his colleagues were up to. The grumpy Peleps Chino was holding a spherical artifact in the palm of his hand. It was quite similar to Cipher's own sphere in size but it seemed to be made up of blue jade and a glimmering, violet metal that had to be starmetal; a material said to be harvested from the husks of dead gods after they have fallen from the skydome and crashed down on Creation. It was a very rare, magical material and Cipher had read that it was the only metal that could change – or at least tap into – fate itself. But that was about all he knew.

From the sphere appeared a projected image of a remarkable woman as if being an ethereal ghost in the middle of a beam of light. She was dressed in crimson robes and had long hair in glimmering obsidian-black reaching down to her ankles. Cipher couldn't make out her words, but as she spoke, Chino was taking notes.

“Um … who is that woman?” Cipher took the liberty to ask.

The old sorcerer-engineer didn't respond. He listened to the woman, wrote something on a piece of parchment and then replayed the message while scratching his chin.

“Where did you … well ... find that, um, artifact?” Cipher continued.

Peleps Ammo gave both his father and Cipher quick looks before he cracked a satisfied smirk. “You shouldn't speak with him”, he said to the young savant. “He thinks you're useless. You've been reading that tome for hours without any hints of progress. Maybe you should give it to someone with a little more experience.”

Cipher pouted his bottom lip in a childish way of dissatisfaction. “I'm, um, just curious.”

Ammo gave his father another look on Cipher's behalf.

“That snot-face has no business whatsoever asking me any questions”, Chino said to his son before he gave Cipher an intense stare with those deep, coruscating eyes of his. “If you want to ask me a question, you will show the proper respect. You ought to fall to your knees with your forehead touching the floor and address me by my full name and title.” He grabbed his black jade amulet with his one free hand and showed its violet hearthstone to the boy. “If you don't, I will use my hearthstone to trap your mind in a never-ending nightmare, like I have done with a thousand others before you.”

Cipher gasped and then looked at Yuko with his mouth shaped like a silent o. “Can … um, can he do that?”

Instead of responding, Yuko grabbed his wrist and pulled him from his desk towards the corridor outside. She took him to his quarters and pushed him in through the open door. “Listen to me, Cipher, and listen carefully”, she said while pointing his finger before him. “Master Chino is seriously mad because of your presence. He's not mad at you. He's mad at the dragonlord for not trusting us to do this without you. I recommend that you keep your mouth shut when inside the office. If you can't, you should take your research to your quarters here instead.”

“Um ...”

“No ums”, she continued. “Do you want to know who Peleps Chino is? He is the man who has been dragged down into the depths by Leviathan the Anathema and come out alive. His entrails were ripped out after the anathema had devoured the entire fleet. And yet here he is, scarred by moonsilver teeth and lacking half of his intestines. But he's alive because no anathema can kill him. Nothing can kill him. There is not a single man in the dynasty who haven't heard of Peleps Chino, the Immortal. If he asks you to bow before him, you must bow before him.”

Cipher blushed when he looked into Yuko's glimmering eyes. She was close enough for him to feel her breath and he immediately avoided eye contact. “If he's, um, that powerful”, he stuttered. “Then, um, well … why aren't you ...”

“Intimidated?”

He nodded.

“What makes you think I'm not?” she asked. She took a deep breath and Cipher noticed that she relaxed her intense stare and took a step back. “My father taught Chino immaculate sorcery at the Heptagram more than four centuries ago. When my father asked him to take me as his apprentice, he had to swallow his pride. He might not like it, but it's obligation.” Her gaze shifted and she looked down on the wooden floorboards. “Just like it's obligation that I must marry his son, Peleps Ammo, after my service is over.”

Cipher raised his eyebrows a little as he recognized some feelings of respect towards her. Not for being honest about things he couldn't care less about, such as her future marriage with Chino's son, but because she's treating him like a human being instead of like some worthless insect.

“You're just a kid”, she said and gave him a quick gaze. “And you know nothing about our culture.”

“Um … I'm actually quite, you know, conversant with ...”

SLAP! Cipher felt a sudden aching heat covering his left cheek and he stumbled a few steps to the right, having to grab hold of the wall to not fall. He hadn't expected Yuko to be the one to assault him after having experienced hours of welcoming smiles and friendly nods from her. As he leered at her, he noticed she was more irritated than mad. At least if he read the situation correctly.

“You're just a kid”, she repeated. “I won't be tolerating any arrogant remarks. If you want to survive this expedition, then you need to be taught how to act around dynasts. Especially exalted ones.”

“I'm sorry”, he said.

“Good”, she said with a smile. “Let's get back to the office then.”

While back at the portal leading into the grand office, Cipher was reluctant to step back in. His cheek was still burning from being hit by Yuko and he understood that there had to be something wrong with the way he had behaved. He had never been the social type. This was not going to be easy. He took a deep breath and gathered enough courage to step back into the office and clumsily fall to his knees before Peleps Chino, touching the floor with his forehead and ignoring Ammo's entertained whistle as he did so.

“Master Peleps Chino the Immortal”, he said. “I, um, want to apologize for my, um … behavior.”

The old dragon-blooded snorted and then reactivated the artifact and once again listened to the remarkable woman's message. Cipher could finally hear what she said.

”Juliandra”, she said. ”I've heard that the Stone Sculptor has been reborn and that it's up to you to make sure he'll be comfortable as the new Prince. You have probably heard already, but I'm currently working with the establishment of your embassy here in Hollow. It's quite the manse. Water aspected, just like myself. Ten more years and I'll be entitled to its hearthstone. I know I promised not to send these messages after our letters were stolen, but I just wanted to tell you that I'm glad, despite everything.”

Cipher flinched when he heard the woman say the name Juliandra. ”I'm, um, sorry to disturb you, Master Chino”, he said from the floor with a short cough. ”May I, um, tell you about my, um, findings?”

”What?” the old man growled from his divan.

”I, um, read the name Juliandra in my tome”, he mumbled. ”Well, you see, I believe that woman is … um … Shara Ice. It seems, um, that Juliandra was, you know, her companion for … well, um, love. He could not, um, be with that woman for reasons unknown … and, well, she left to be at some beak.”

”And how is that relevant?”

”Well, um, you see”, Cipher continued, still with his forehead against the floor. ”The beak must, um, well, it must be referring to some kind of, you know, landmark. Something, um, overlooking the city itself. Maybe.”

Chino sighed. “And why do you bother me with this, human? Write down your findings and pass them over to Ammo.”

Cipher nodded and hobbled back to his desk where he grabbed a quill and dipped it in his inkwell. He scrippled a few notes on a piece of parchment and then gave it to Chino's son. Ammo skimmed through the note, nodded and gave it to Gaxo. “Will you let the winglord know?” he asked.

Gaxo looked at the note and then chanted a few words. Breezes lifted his hair and his eyes gave a faint glow as essence materialized in the palm of his right hand. Just above his palm floated a small, sinister-looking creature with its grayish green body slightly bent forward. Its eyes were hidden by a piece of scarlet cloth. “Peleps Rondo”, Gaxo said to the creature. “There might be a landmark in close proximity to the city. Possibly a structure of some sorts formed like a bird or some other creature with a beak.”

He closed his hand and the creature dissipated. He recognized the immaculate spell as an infallible messenger, a means of sending messages over Creation in the blink of an eye. That small creature would almost instantly appear before Peleps Rondo and repeat the message with Gaxo's voice. Truly an astonishing way of communication.

Cipher turned to the next page and read through the second letter.

My beautiful Shara Ice,

I would rather be with you than to tutor Tle's legacy. I did send a message to Kal to offer him my seat, but the Deliberate wouldn't allow it. Kal has a new student whom he cherishes deeply. Some boy named Larquen. I may be old, but I am not powerful enough to both go against the will of the Deliberate and the will of the Elemental Dragons.

I'll meet you where the talons reach the glimmering streams for our final night together.

You have my never-ending love,

Your Juliandra


Cipher tapped on his nose again while carefully reading through the letter. It seemed this Shara Ice was exalted by the Elemental Dragons, just like these sorcerer-engineers. But something was different with this Juliandra. He seemed to have a higher position than Shara Ice and the reason why they couldn't be together had to be because of her exaltation. Cipher had read that those who carry the Dragons' blood in their veins will have much greater chances of spawning children who will exalt if they breed together with other dragon-blooded. This was how the Realm had most of the world's dragon-blooded within their dynastic houses. Their breeding and arranged marriages were all very deliberate.

And there were three more names mentioned. Tle was the name of the Stone Sculptor whom Shara Ice referred to in the projected image. He had read that name not only in the Tome of the Makers but in other records about the City of Makers as well. He was said to have been the man who founded the city countless generations ago. His legacy must have been his reincarnation.

There were a few important details that Cipher knew and could never say to the dynasts here. He knew about a form of anathema who had been extinct for ages. They were called Solars since their powers came from Sol, the Unconquered Sun, himself. The dynasty's Immaculate Order taught children that the solar anathema were hellspawn who looked glorious and golden to twist the minds of mortals. However, the Solars had once been the god-kings of Creation and the dragon-blooded their trusted servants. Stone Sculptor Tle had been a solar exalted and his reincarnation was the shard that carried his divine powers. Upon the time of his death, this shard would seek out a human worthy of being its host. If Juliandra was meant to tutor a newborn solar, than maybe he was one himself.

Then there was this name Kal. There was only one solar exalted with that name. Kal Bax, the greatest constructor of manses of all time. He had been Cipher's role model since he was a young child and first learned that someone could use geomancy to channel energy from the essence-carrying dragon-lines of Creation and harness its powers in a construction called a manse. It was what had spawned Cipher's interest in thaumaturgy and in engineering in the first place. He wanted to create the greatest manse this world would ever see. One greater than the imperial manse in the heart of the Blessed Isle.

But to get to the matter at hand. “I'll meet you where the talons reach the glimmering streams”, he mumbled to himself. Another reference to some landmark. Beaks. Talons. There was something about birds. Cipher couldn't help but wonder why people had to be so vague. Why not simply state out right where that landmark was?

He turned the page to the final letter.

My dear Juliandra,

The Deliberate knew about the phoenix and sent agents to take me in. I wanted to be there. I swear on the Elemental Dragons, the Constellations and all the celestial gods that care to listen that I wanted to be there. But now they will send me away somewhere where I can't bother your work. If I hadn't been yours, I would surely be dead.

This could very well be my final letter.

Yours forever,

Shara Ice


“Phoenix?” Cipher mumbled. “I'm sure, um, Crystal has mentioned such a thing ...”

Once again he grabbed a quill and scribbled a note which he passed over to Ammo who skimmed through, smiled and then gave it to Gaxo.

“Another one?” Gaxo muttered. “Don't treat me like some essence battery. This will be the final spell today.”

He chanted the principles of the infallible messenger and summoned the creepy little imp once more. Gaxo read from Cipher's note, let the messenger dissipate and then leaned back in his divan with his eyes in a book. Somewhere in the dragon, this messenger would appear next to Peleps Rondo and repeat the message to him. He would then turn to their pathfinder, Crystal Bow, and ask him about these landmarks.

Cipher truly hoped that he knew about this phoenix mentioned in the letter. He was curious to study it first-hand.


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sun Mar 14, 2010 12:10 am

Chapter 10: The boy from the fishing village IV

Five years had passed since Burns the Hungry Ghost chased the orphans from their burnt home outside Sakana Village. They had not only survived the dangerous roads east, but they had left their childhoods behind and matured. Tear-Eyed Viper had spent half of his life on the road and his memories of the time before the dramatic event five years ago had begun to fade. His life with his family was vaguely in the back of his mind but he couldn't remember much more than how they looked when they parted from their earthbound lives.

It was all thanks to Wing that the four of them had survived all the way to the mighty Yanaze River where they lived in another, less ruined but still abandoned, farmhouse. The house was all that remained of the farm that was and they hadn't lived here long enough to see if the dirt under the meadows would be fine soil to make seeds grow. The orphans used to sit on top of the roof, overlooking the great city of Nexus on the other side of the river, and wonder about how life would be in there.

“Have you heard about the Emissary?” Wing once asked them. “The Emissary is a god among men who dresses in ghostly white robes and a silver mask that attaches like liquid to his face. Many centuries ago, the Emissary walked into Nexus and claimed the city under the reign of a mysterious Council of Entities. Those who opposed him were killed by a mere glance as the Emissary's presence alone could tear their bodies inside out and have their eyes burst like bubbles in their dark, bloody sockets. Despite the powers he wielded, he didn't take the city for himself. He gave the power to a council who twisted the city into a haven of corruption as wealth and poverty met in a sinister circle of eat or be eaten. While members of the board were replaced as their mortal lifespans ended, the ghostly white Emissary still remains to this very day, keeping the council safe from rebels and sometimes reading their decree of chaotic laws to scare the people into submission.”

After hearing Wing's story about the Emissary, the orphans decided to never set their feet inside that dark city. Instead they watched the city from afar and made up stories of what was happening under those thick ashen clouds covering the city like a dark blanket. The boys tended to joke about the Emissary from time to time, scaring each other with stories that he would come and get them if they did something naughty.

But the only one of them who did something naughty on a regular basis was Wing. Becoming a teenager had changed his perspective of things and he had grown a side more hateful and aggressive than before. While usually speaking about how he didn't need any adults in his life, he could now be actively abusing adults for looking at him the wrong way. Instead of simply stealing food and money he had resorted to seeking out victims and robbing them. Neither Glittering Wolf nor Hyena knew about this behavior of his, but Tear-Eyed Viper had seen it first-hand and questioned him about it. But it was all a game to Wing. He enjoyed it.

During a hot summer day, Viper had been instructed to fail a pickpocketing attempt to have a man chase after him. The man was dressed in uncolored wool and was probably a local shepherd. It was someone not too rich and not too poor. A lone man who had been to the market in the nearby village and was probably on his way back home to his farm.

Wing lied in wait at the side of the road, having a rope in a firm grip. Viper wasn't sure exactly where his big brother hid but he knew that once he stepped over the rope, Wing would pull to trip the man. Then it would be safe to rob him.

Viper tried to ignore the taunts behind him. “I ought to cut your hand, you damn brat!” But the more the man yelled, the more the boy's heart would beat within his chest. He had never liked stealing, but that was a necessary evil. This time they were going to hurt the man by tripping him. That was just unnecessary.

There it was! Viper could see the rope lie on the road, almost camouflaged by the sand and dirt around it. He hurried across and heard the man growl as he thumped to the ground. Viper stopped running, leaned over and breathed. His heart was still beating so heavily.

He heard another thump behind him and the man uttered another growl. When he looked back over his shoulder, he saw something that made his eyes grow into shivering globes.

“Don't ever threaten my brother”, Wing said.

He stood atop the man with one foot on each side of his beaten body. Blood ran from the man's nose and his eyes shivered just like Viper's. In Wing's hands was the biggest rock he had ever seen his brother lift. His eyes showed nothing when he hurled the rock on top of the man's head.

Wing seemed to realize first after the crackling echo of a bursting skull what he had done to the poor man. Tear-Eyed Viper's blood froze and Wing dropped his jaw.

Viper couldn't help but wonder if this man had children of his own somewhere far away from this lone road. They were probably waiting for their providing, loving father to come home. But that would never happen.

“You killed him”, Viper said and glared at Wing with teary eyes.

Wing's eyes and lips trembled a little before he forced a sudden cool. “Don't tell the others.”

“I can't believe you killed him”, Viper continued, shifting his gaze from the corpse to his brother.

He wasn't sure how to react. The sight of dead bodies had been quite recent over the years. Apart from Burns the Hungry Ghost and Tear-Eyed Viper's own parents, he had seen people stricken by poverty and disease. He had passed villages where the corpses of criminals hung in snares or were locked in small metal cages. Those were villages where the stench of death was all too real. It wasn't as much the sight of the corpse as his own part in it all that made tears run from his eyes.

Wing suddenly grabbed his collar and pulled him towards him. Locked in the fifteen year old's sturdy grip, Tear-Eyed Viper couldn't do else than to look into his brother's eyes. Those eyes were now wider than ever before.

“This never happened!” Wing bellowed before giving Viper a push on the chest.

He stumbled back a few steps and then lowered his gaze. He said nothing.



It was a few hours past noon on the same grim day. Wing and Tear-Eyed Viper had each bought a roasted lizard skewer in the harbor village not too far from their farmhouse. The two of them came to the village every day. They usually robbed someone along the road outside and then blended in with the crowds around the markets where they could steal rarer supplies. The few coins they managed to get either came from robbing, pickpocketing or selling something they had stolen to some stranger along the road.

They were sitting on a bridge at the docks overlooking Nexus on the other side of the great Yanaze River. There were ships all over the waters between here and Nexus. Merchants traveled from one dock to the other, buying supplies in Nexus and selling them to the locals here and in neighboring villages.

Despite all the rare items being traded here, nothing appealed to the orphans more than fresh food and water, warm blankets, new clothes and comfortable shoes. Tear-Eyed Viper would rather have this salty roasted lizard than any of the medallions or charms from the stalls and merchant's pockets. Apart from merchants and finely dressed priests and gentlemen, few people seemed interested in buying those items anyway. The few times Wing and Viper had stolen a few amulets, they had only had issues finding buyers along the road and the wealthy few in the village either suspected they were fake or couldn't be fooled to pay more than a few silver dinars. Maybe the boys were the ones being cheated, but it was much easier finding and selling necessities than luxury items.

Today Viper couldn't eat more than half of the lizard. All he had on his mind was the sound of the man's cracking skull. They hadn't even disposed of the body. It was still out there on the road for everyone to see. Maybe someone was investigating the murder and would soon find the two guilty killers here on the bridge.

He looked over his shoulders, wondering if someone within those crowds was suspecting him. Judging him. Planning to arrest him and take him across the river to the Emissary.

“You're still too soft, Viper”, Wing muttered before biting off the last piece of meat from his lunch and then tossing the skewer into the water. “There is no place in this world for weaklings.”

Viper gave him a short gaze.

“I know that you're thinking about telling”, Wing continued. “Don't.”

“I won't”, Viper muttered.

Wing looked his younger brother up and down, trying to read his intentions. He then leaned back on the bridge and squinted at the distant sun. It bothered Viper that he seemed so careless about the whole thing. He had murdered a man only a few hours ago and he didn't seem the least regretful.

“Do you think the Emissary will get me now?” Wing asked with a smile.

“Are you being silly about it?” Viper frowned his face.

Wing was quiet for a moment before he closed his eyes and tried to relax. “Do you know about the Underworld?”

Viper rolled his eyes. “That's where the dead live.”

Where the dead live”, Wing tasted the sentence with a smile. “What about Malfeas?”

“Uh”, Viper said and scratched his head.

“That's where the demons live.”

“And?”

Wing opened his eyes and sat back up on the bridge. He glanced at Viper and smirked. “I want to become an anathema”, he said. “I've heard that some anathema are born as humans but are then chosen by the demon gods of Malfeas to lead their armies.”

“You can be executed for saying things like that.”

“But it would be awesome to have power”, Wing said. “You can do whatever you want.”

Viper frowned his face again. Wing's change of subject irritated him. Not only was it cold and careless, but he was now speaking blasphemy. He tried to take another bite off his lunch, but the taste was gone. He tossed it in the river.

“I could use my powers to destroy House Peleps”, Wing said. “I would do it for you.”

Viper hadn't forgotten about Peleps Wakde and his dragon of dynastic soldiers. He had told himself countless times already that he would do anything to make them pay for what they had done to his family. He would without a doubt do anything to become powerful enough to take them down. It could be quite nice to have Wing's demonic army on his side, should it come to that.

“Damn right you would”, he mumbled and forced a smile. It was okay to joke about such blasphemy, wasn't it? As long as they didn't take it seriously.

“Let's go back to the market. We should have enough coin to buy that medicine now.”

The medicine was for Hyena. During the last year he had slowly developed a strange cough. He had difficulty breathing at times and the coughing got worse and more painful the more stressed he was. That's why he never followed the boys out stealing. They had taken him to a doctor once but the old healer had only touched his back, listened to his cough, taken their money and told them nothing else than the name of a herb that would ease his symptoms. They hadn't gone to a doctor since. All they had done was spent much of their stolen coin on that herb while his disease slowly got worse.



The sun had already set when the boys finally saw their farmhouse at the end of the road. An orange light flickered through one of the open windows as a warm and comforting welcome. Glittering Wolf and Hyena had lit the fireplace.

The two boys had taken another road back home and they didn't know whether or not the corpse had been disposed of. It probably had. They hadn't spoken about it and that fact bothered Tear-Eyed Viper a little. But not enough for him to bring it up. It would make Wing mad.

“Do you remember when Hyena got stuck in the chimney?” Viper asked with a smile. They had mostly been talking about him during the trip home. He knew that the best thing to act like everything was fine was to smile and speak like he used to.

“That was hilarious”, Wing chuckled. He stopped before turning at the fork to their house. He pointed to another farmhouse a few hundred yards from theirs. “Do you know the name of the maid there? The green-eyed one?”

“Uh”, Viper said. “Tanya or Taneya or something?”

“It's Taneya”, Wing said and cracked a sly smirk. “She gave me such a flirtatious look yesterday. I'm so gonna fuck her the next time I see her.”

“That's gross!” Viper frowned his nose.

“You won't say that when you're my age.”

“Yes, I will. Girls will always be gross.”

Wing raised his eyebrows and gave Viper a sly look. “Do you like boys?”

“No way! That's even grosser, stupid!” Viper yelled back at him with blushed cheeks. He punched Wing on the shoulder and then ran towards the farmhouse. He could hear Wing laughing behind him.

Wing was older than the others and had none to whom he could speak about these things. He was fifteen years old and had developed a personality that Tear-Eyed Viper couldn't comprehend. Viper had no interest in it at all. It just felt yucky to him. There were some curiosities about certain things. Especially now when Glittering Wolf was maturing and developed shapes that was foreign to how Viper imagined that she was supposed to be. But it was still yucky.

He hurried to the house and pulled open the door. “Wing is gross!” he called out for the world to hear as he was met by four glimmering eyes looking at him with expectation. Two of those eyes looked exhausted and sickly.

Hyena sat on top of a pile of blankets with another blanket wrapped around his body. His skin was as pale as a northerner's and his sickly eyes were bloodshot. He forced a smile as his brother came through the door.

Glittering Wolf was kneeling next to the fireplace where she was boiling water. She looked over her shoulder and welcomed Tear-Eyed Viper with a smile.

He walked inside and placed his bag of food on a crooked wooden table. Wing was soon to follow him inside.

“How are you feeling, buddy?” Wing asked and ruffled Hyena's hazel hair like a dog's. He gave the pouch of medicine to Glittering Wolf before he gave her a gentle kiss on the crown of her head and then walked back to sit next to Hyena. “Glitter is gonna cook that up for you and you'll be just as fine as your goofy serpent brother there.”

The serpent brother was obviously Viper who frowned his nose and pouted his tongue back at Wing.

“I will never be fine, will I?” Hyena asked with a low, dry pitch. “I'll go see my daddy soon.”

Wing's blood boiled. He grabbed Hyena by the chin and stared into his dim emerald eyes. “Death catches up to you more quickly when you have ideas like that”, he said. “You are alive. And you will remain so for as long as I am.”

Both Hyena's and Viper's eyes got wet. The goofy brother serpent said nothing. He quietly organized the food they had bought and stolen. Breads in one pile and corn in another. Meat here and rice there.

“Here you go”, Glittering Wolf said and gave Hyena a steaming cup of tea made from the medicinal herb that would supposedly help him.

The boy took the cup with fragile hands and drank a tiny sip. His throat then locked up and he started coughing. His sister took the cup from him and his brother gently stroke his back. The boy's coughing was so dry and painful that tears poured from his eyes, snot ran from his nose and even blood came from his throat.

That had never happened before.


Last edited by Manovan Marrowsteel on Fri Jun 10, 2011 9:49 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sun Mar 14, 2010 12:05 pm

It's taken me a little while to get round to reading this but i have to say it's great stuff. Only minor spelling errors and incorrect tenses in a few places to detract from it so far. Looking forward to reading more Smile

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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sun Mar 14, 2010 1:02 pm

*puts reading this on the "to-do" list* But I will do it D:
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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sun Mar 14, 2010 2:34 pm

Vypra wrote:
It's taken me a little while to get round to reading this but i have to say it's great stuff. Only minor spelling errors and incorrect tenses in a few places to detract from it so far. Looking forward to reading more Smile
Is the story understandable for someone who's not familiar with the universe?
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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sun Mar 14, 2010 6:46 pm

Very much so. though i have to admit i'm now very curious about the source of your inspiration for this Smile

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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sun Mar 14, 2010 8:48 pm

Vypra wrote:
Very much so. though i have to admit i'm now very curious about the source of your inspiration for this Smile
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exalted
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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Mon Mar 15, 2010 5:17 pm

looks pretty cool. definately looking forward to reading the rest of your story Smile

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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Wed Mar 17, 2010 11:38 am

Chapter 11: Anathema

There is no question about it. That is him.

Coral Snake's teeth creaked as he saw the dragon-blooded man next to one of the wheelhouses. Peleps Wakde was washing himself at a barrel of water with a bored expression on his soaked face. Water dripped on the same full-body armor of obsidian jade he had worn back in Sakana Village. He had the same dark hair. The same cold eyes. He hadn't aged a day.

The young solar crouched atop the roof of one of the wagons. It was late evening and he was shrouded by his own essence. None of the mortal soldiers would be able to see him even if they wanted to. Some of the dragon-blooded were probably powerful enough to notice him, but why would they even look? He was a master of stealth. It was the gift he had been given by the Unconquered Sun.

But was he powerful enough to murder Peleps Wakde? Had he become a venomous serpent or was he still just a worthless insect? And even if he could kill him – could he do it quickly and quietly enough to not have to deal with the rest of the dragon? There were about twelve hundred soldiers in it after all.

He took a knife from his holster and gripped it with a tight fist. His eyes were locked on the target. It only needed to scratch – Dawn's venom would hopefully take care of the rest. He could even call on some of his essence and use it to make it appear as if the knife had come from another direction than it had. Maybe from the jungles. The soldiers would spend the rest of the night searching the jungles while he slept comfortably in his tent.

Yes … it was time.

“Mother … father … this is for you”, he said to himself as he flipped the knife to grab it with his index- and middle finger. Its onyx metal glimmered from the essence he channeled into his charm.

But as he was about to throw, the target was obstructed by that ebon brat Meego. Coral frowned his face and sheathed his knife. It was better to be safe. That Meego brat seemed talented enough. It would be unwise to kill the dragonlord in front of another dynast sharing the dragons' blood. And the journey would be long.

He jumped down from the wheelhouse and walked up to another barrel of water close to his tent. He faded into existence by letting his anima dissipate and then pulled down his mask and removed his buff jacket only to drop it to the grass with a thump. He took off his bandana and his cotton shirt before he opened the lid to the barrel.

He washed his face and upper body carefully and gently. The first day's march had been exhausting and the buff jacket was too warm in this hot weather. He couldn't handle many more days of this, and yet his stamina was far greater than the common man's. It had been even before his exaltation. For the first time in his life, he couldn't help but admire the imperial soldiers for managing.

“You did good for your first day”, a woman's voice said from next to the tent.

Coral looked over and raised his eyebrows at the sight of Tixi. She had removed her leather and her lamellar and was dressed in a common white shirt and gray leggings. She was cute – there was no doubt about that – but yet there was something about her presence that made him cringe within. Maybe it was the fact that such a sweet girl was part of a sinister dragon such as this.

“Not as good as you”, he said with a forced charm. He took a step back from the barrel and discreetly stretched his back to make sure she took in the sight of his dripping wet frame and the muscles that were as hard as the life he had lived. “Aren't you exhausted?”

“A little”, she said and walked up to the barrel. “You get used to it.” She grabbed a wooden mug from a hook on the barrel's side and took a sip of water. “They don't want you in the tent. They still can't stand you.”

They. She was referring to the fanglord and those proud men with their ill temper. He knew that they would probably want to strangle him in his sleep.

“Then where will I sleep?”

“I don't know. Outside. On the grass. With the mosquitoes.”

“I have always liked mosquitoes”, he said and reached for his clothes.

She couldn't help but to chuckle. “You must be the only one”, she said. “They say the mosquitoes in this part of the world spread diseases and parasites. And it's really humid. Are you sure it will be okay?”

Coral smiled. “You speak like if the Isle is only rainbows and butterflies.”

“It is!” she smiled. “But don't forget the meadows and the flowers and the cherry blossom.”

“Oh, I most certainly won't”, he smiled back. They shared a short moment of eye contact but he quickly looked down on the water in the barrel, remembering why he was here. “Why are you here in the jungles … this far from the Realm?”

“I would tell you if I knew”, she said and took another sip of water.

Coral gave her a bewildered look. “You don't?”

“They don't tell us everything. But there are rumors about some treasure hunt. Felix told me that if they find the treasure, the dragonlord will be wealthy enough to be promoted strategos, or maybe even be next on the throne.”

“Sounds important”, Coral lied. So it was all greed then? Had his parents been killed for greed?

“But it's just rumors after all”, she said and hanged the mug back on the hook. “All I know is that we're not here for war.”

“Then why so many of you?”

She shrugged. “Winglord Rondo says the Hundred Kingdoms is a place where anathema roam free. I suppose we're bodyguards. Like you.”

“Well, I suppose these lands are filled with people who want to kill dynasts – anathema or not”, he said with a little regret, thinking she might catch a glimpse of his own feelings. “I mean ... the Scavenger Lands are Lookshy's domain after all. Many take refuge here because they are afraid of you.”

Tixi listened to Coral's words and processed them for a moment. “You speak like if the Dynasty is evil”, she then said. “How do you feel about us?”

“I don't think you're evil”, he said – not sure whether or not he was lying. “But I don't like unnecessary bloodshed. I believe politics is full of corruption. Important people give orders without realizing the consequences it will have for the common man. A war might be for good or bad – but does the reasons behind it really matter for the innocent villagers who come in between?” Now he was lying. He wanted to slaughter the entire House Peleps and the rest of the Scarlet Dynasty would be a pleasant bonus. He had sworn it as a child and he had no intention of changing his mind today. He wanted to see the arrogant dragon-blooded drown in pools of their own blood while their banners burned around them. Peleps Wakde had ruined him. He had forced him to the street and taken away his last hope of living a decent life as a fisherman's son.

It might have granted him great power. But that's why it must better be worth the cost.

She was quiet for a moment and then smiled. “I think you're right”, she said. “Those who give the orders rarely know how it truly is on the field. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. Being able to distance oneself from reality can be an asset. It helps them take the hard decisions that a soldier could never take on his own. I don't know if you've been a soldier or if you're a victim of war, but you don't really understand the Realm.” She smiled and placed her hand on his shoulder. “But I don't blame you for that. March with us and you'll see how honorable it is to serve House Peleps.”

His teeth creaked like if they were going to shatter, but he swallowed his pride and smiled. “Maybe you're right”, he lied. “But I think it's time for me to sleep now. The mosquitoes are waiting.”

“Good night, Coral Snake”, she said with a smile before heading into her tent.

But Coral Snake wouldn't have a good night. He didn't sleep for a second.



The humid night was followed by a hot day. And a hot day like this would normally be welcomed after days of dark thunderclouds. But this heat even seemed to exhaust the proud dragon-blooded. The sturdy ranger Crystal Bow noticed how the dragonlord sometimes wiped sweat from his forehead while still maintaining the respectable image of a commander. The only one who wasn't sweating from the heat was Crystal Bow himself, since he and his northern wolf had traveled these jungles in worse heat than this. He was sweating for other reasons. Being surrounded by an army of foreigners when only a handful of them spoke his language was exhausting in one way, but that those dynasts frowned upon him as a lowly heathen made him watch his back.

He wasn't very familiar with the Immaculate Philosophy, and neither did he want to be. It demanded from him to regard the dragon-blooded as gods and that was something he was not ready to do. Cipher had told him many ancient and forbidden stories. He had heard that the dragon-blooded were exalted by the Elemental Dragons – and should be respected as such – but they were no gods. They were humans with great power. Just like the anathema.

But if he said that to their faces his head would roll.

“Pathfinder!” Peleps Rondo roared at him. He had a grim look in his fiery eyes. “Our frontal scouts didn't return when they were supposed to. What can we expect out there?”

Crystal jerked his beard and peered out into the jungles ahead. They were marching close to the frontal scales with the three wheelhouses in the rear. Both Winglord Rondo and Dragonlord Wakde were on the backs of their black dynastic war horses while Crystal walked by their side. “Difficult to say, my lord”, he said. “How were they armed?”

“Slashing swords, bows and target shields”, the dynast replied. “Enough to handle both savages and beasts.”

“We have cut many trees”, Crystal Bow said. “It's not too farfetched that a sentient jungle god wants to punish us for it.”

“A jungle god, you say?” Rondo snorted. “Then how should we proceed without angering a hundred more?”

“I can ride out and kill the damn spirit”, young Meego growled from his horse. He reached back to feel the handle of his mighty daiklave.

“Unwise, young lord”, Crystal filled in.

“Say that again!” the black-haired boy growled back at him.

“I didn't mean to offend, my lord”, Crystal apologized. “But these jungles are my home and I am known to some of its gods. If there is a jungle god behind the missing scouts, I suggest a diplomatic approach.”

“Those spirits should know their place in this world”, Meego muttered. “My daiklave is the diplomatic approach.”

“That's a contradiction of terms, Meego”, Rondo said with a chuckle. “Pathfinder! Take two fangs with you and seek out this spirit.”

Crystal shook his head. “Soldiers could anger it further”, he said. “Let me go alone. I know how to speak with them.”

Rondo pondered for a moment, but then nodded. “All right, pathfinder. But if you're not back before sunset, I'll send someone to get you.”

“I hope that someone will be me”, Meego muttered to himself, clearly frustrated by everything around him. The jungles. The heat. The lack of enemies. The fact that a damn commoner told them what to do. Crystal could feel Meego's frustration in the atmosphere and he realized it would be wise to stay at a distance. And it would be even more unwise to not be back before sunset. Hopefully the scouts were only lost somewhere in the wilderness.

Crystal gestured to his wolf and then ran past the frontal scales and into the jungles ahead. They jumped roots and avoided poisoned plants with grace – it was like they were one with the jungle. Crystal knew where to step, how to move and what path to take. He noticed the first traces of the scouts barely an hour after he had left the dragon. Under the root of a great jungle oak was a crushed helmet and next to it was a slashing sword covered in blood. The blood was not the scout's, but the hand attached to the sword was.

Crystal wasn't very startled by the sight. There were dangerous creatures in these jungles after all. This was not caused by a spirit, but by a predator. It had to be something big. He carefully walked around the tree, looking for more traces of the scouts. On the other side of the trunk was a fully armored dynastic soldier with a face swollen and purple. This man had been strangled. Crystal only knew about one creature that could easily strangle a man – but those creatures were foreign to this part of the world.

Maybe the rumors he had heard from the local barbarians were true. The South is joining the North. The question was why. Whatever was happening in the southern jungles, it disrupted the balance of Crystal's home. He had to hunt these creatures and kill them.

His wolf growled and Crystal could see in his periphery how it looked at something in the trees. He heard a hissing sound from above his head. As he looked up, he noticed a camouflaged lizard bigger than his wolf wrap its tail around a thick branch and reach towards him with long, skinny fingers. It's hide turned more red.

A strangler's serpent. It was just like he had expected. But what did a swamp creature do here?

He stepped back and drew a dagger from his belt, swiftly cutting at the creature above him. Two fingers dropped to the ground and the strangler's serpent hissed in agony before it crawled back to the other side of the trunk.

He heard hissing sounds from both right and left. He quickly jumped backwards as the two creatures leaped towards him from the sides. They almost hit each other as they came off the trees and tried to catch him with their long fingers. He looked around himself and tried to find out exactly how many of those lizards were here. Strangler's serpents were quick and strong. He was the prey and they would not give up until they had their scaly fingers crushing his windpipe.

”Stay back, Ash!” he ordered his wolf. He then ran towards the lizards, took footing on one's head and jumped higher than what was humanly possible. He felt the leaves and twigs of the trees scratch his skin as he soared through them like a breeze before he landed on top of a thick branch. He watched the lizards swiftly crawl towards him along the trunks and he raised his hands in front of himself. An enchanting golden bow materialized itself into existence in his grip and when he pulled the glowing string, an ethereal arrow appeared from nowhere. It emanated golden light.

Crystal aimed at one of the lizards and released the string. The arrow took off and nailed the lizard to the trunk before it dissipated and the scaly creature dropped to the ground next to Ash. He vaulted backwards from the branch and shot another arrow at the second lizard before smoothly landing on the ground.

The third strangler's serpent was since long gone. If the dragon-blooded would ask questions, he would just tell them he had used one of the dead scouts' bows. And then it hit him. Strangler's serpents strangled their prey. One of the scouts seemed to have been ripped into pieces.

The bow vanished from his hands. It was safely stored in Elsewhere now; a realm both free from existence and the Wyld's chaos. The bow was now somewhere else and yet it was always with him. Being a solar anathema had its advantages when it came to hiding secrets from the hateful dynasts.

As he looked around to see if he would find more dead scouts, he stumbled right into the trunk of a tree. However, the barks of this tree were a scaly mix of emerald and ruby. Crystal's gaze followed the trunk up before he realized it was the leg of the largest lizard he had ever seen. It was another creature from the southern jungles. A tyrant lizard; one of the fiercest predators known to man.

And probably too much for him to handle.

He ran faster than he had ever run before. With essence wrapping around his body, his speed rivaled that of a chasing cheetah. However, he was the one who was chased, and the tyrant lizard accelerated behind him. Trees were teared from the ground as it pushed itself through the jungle thickness. Crystal jumped and the jump took him higher than the trees themselves. He could see the approaching dragon march towards him. They were much closer than expected.

Some officer yelled and soldiers fired arrows at the incoming Crystal Bow. He was rapidly descending towards the ground, startled by the fact that the dynasts had seen him make this jump. The secret was out. Now the dragon-blooded would realize he was anathema. At least unless the tyrant lizard ripped them apart first.

Crystal landed like a falling star, causing the earth below to shake and burst into a crater with a shock-wave strong enough to throw the frontal scales to the ground. He noticed more arrows than he could count throughout his body and he leaked blood from at least a hundred holes. He forced himself to his feet and jerked his beard as he looked over his shoulder, both for the tyrant lizard and for his wolf. He could finally feel the pain of a hundred arrows at once and he fell unconscious to the ground.



”Was that Crystal Bow?” Coral Snake mumbled to himself as he noticed the pathfinder join the dragon like a projectile coming from the tree crowns. He was shocked to see Crystal Bow jump at such heights.

“Is it an anathema?” Tixi asked with a slight stutter in her voice. Coral noticed she was scared but had no interests in comforting her. He was much more interested in what was going on at the frontal scales.

He shrugged. “Maybe”, he said. “Do you want me to take a look?”

“No!” Fanglord Felix ordered him. “Do not break formation.”

But Coral was already on his way towards the frontal scales, despite the fanglord cursing him out loud. He wasn't sure if he had ever seen another anathema before. It was possible that Crystal was the god-blooded child of a mortal human and some jungle god. Coral had seen god-blooded back in Nexus. He wouldn't be an anathema, but it didn't rule out the possibility that he would be treated like one. The least the Peleps wanted was to have a rebellious god-blooded make the jungles itself their enemies.

Coral couldn't wait to see how things would unfold.

A roar echoed from the jungles and the earth shook through the frontal lines. The trees were pushed aside as a scaly beast came out from the jungles and into the dragon. It was running on its hind legs and reached probably thirty yards from head to tail. Coral had never seen anything like it. In fact, he had never even heard that something like it existed in this part of the world.

Many soldiers fled from the front while others were crushed by the monster's clawed feet. A few brave fangs came at it with spears, but many broke at impact rather than to pierce its hide. There was a cacophony of screams, yells and battle cries as the monstrous creature clawed, bit and crushed itself through the dragon.

Coral gave up his idea of checking up on Crystal and stopped to look at the scene. Had Crystal Bow really turned the jungle against the dynasts? When the thought struck him, he couldn't help himself but to smile. If it wasn't for his ebon mask, all the soldiers around him would see a big grin of satisfaction as Coral watched dynastic soldiers be ripped to pieces.

His eyes sought out the dragon-blooded lords and he quickly noticed them on their war horses, scratching their heads while looking at the scene. The dragonlord made a gesture to another scale of soldiers to attack the creature. Some spears had been stabbed into its ankles but it didn't seem to slow it down. Talonlord Meego seemed to be pleading to his dragonlord before he was met with a nod. He then jumped off his horse and drew the grand, obsidian daiklave from the sheath on his back. He made two swift cuts in the air before running past the dying soldiers to the hungry lizard. A few fangs of soldiers stepped back from the fight and cheered as the talonlord coruscated a glow in indigo essence while water ran from his skin and blade. The air suddenly became more humid, even as far away as where Coral was standing.

The massive creature turned to bite at more soldiers coming at it from behind. The young dragon-blooded took the opportunity to run up the beast's tail towards its head. Without stopping he did three quick cuts at the beast's back without slowing down the young talonlord. He continued up to the back of the beast's head before vaulting backwards to the ground next to the unconscious pathfinder; sheathing the daiklave on his back while in the air. The second he reached the ground, the creature was sliced into four parts.

The black-haired boy's glow faded and he turned to the soldiers. “We'll have steak tonight!” he shouted and the dragon's cheer echoed through the jungle. Meego touched Crystal with the tip of his boot to see if he was conscious. He then turned to the cheering crowd. “But first, lock up the pathfinder!”


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Wed Mar 17, 2010 7:10 pm

THIS CHAPTER IS OUTDATED!

Chapter 12: You can't fool the Dragon-Blooded

Wing-Lord Peleps Rondo teared up the door to the hawser with a bang. His eyes met Whispering Rainbow Cypher's who realized that the dynast didn't show a single emotion. There was a hind of fiery heat emanating from the irises, but Cypher thought it could just have been an illusion. He was speechless nontheless. Roars had echoed outside and they had felt the ground tremble below the hawser. Cypher had expected the worst, but he had not expected to be stared at by a high ranked Dragon-Blooded in red jade.

“What's wrong?” he asked.

Rondo looked Cypher up and down. “Your friend, the pathfinder, has been apprehended”, he said. “You better come with me.”

The sorcerer-engineers didn't say a word. They looked at each other and they looked at Cypher. Cypher himself was speechless. Why was Crystal Bow apprehended? What could he possibly have done?

“Why? What happened?”

“He's been locked up in suspicion of being an anathema”, the Wing-Lord stated.

Cypher twitched and the other Dragon-Blooded in the room quickly got up from their chairs. “Anathema?” he said.

“He brought a tyrant lizard into our frontal scales. Almost a hundred soldiers were killed. Good men and women. Talon-Lord Meego wants to put him down but the Dragon-Lord and I agreed that it would be best to be sure about what he is before we dispose of him. He's our only pathfinder.”

Cypher shook his head. He couldn't believe what he heard. “Crystal Bow?” he said. “An anathema? No way.”

“That doesn't matter!” Peleps Chino roared to the Wing-Lord. “If he's an anathema, he would only lead us astray. We can't trust his directions anymore.”

“That might be true, Master Chino”, Rondo said. “But we're three days away from Yuro. And we already know that Crystal Bow was the best that town had to offer. We would gain nothing by turning back.”

“Even so”, Chino continued. “We can't keep going without knowing where we're going. The anathema's demonic army might be waiting for us at our destination.”

Rondo put his hand before him in a silencing gesture. “That's why we must be sure”, he said. “He could be an unfortunate god-blooded or a newly awakened Dragon-Blooded. He's unconscious for now but we've locked him up. We'll interrogate him when he wakes up.”

Chino muttered in irritation. “Don't be reckless, Wing-Lord. He might use his tongue to twist your mind.”

“If he does then Meego will kill him.” Rondo nodded to the still shocked Cypher. “Now, come with me.”

Cypher followed Rondo out. He didn't realize that both Peleps Ammo and Peleps Gaxo were following them out of curiosity. They walked around to the back of the hawser where an unconscious, bloody man with red beard lied in a locked metal cage. Next to the cage stood Dragon-Lord Peleps Wakde with his black steed. He carried his articulated plate in black jade as well as a dark dire lance. He was surrounded by curious soldiers who wanted to see the so called anathema.

Rondo ordered the soldiers to scatter as he led Cypher past the crowd and up to the cage. Wakde was eying Cypher up and down. “Did you know about this?” he asked in high realm. His voice was deep and powerful.

Cypher shook his head. “I couldn't even imagine”, he stuttered. “We've been friends for years.”

“You're a thaumaturgist, an engineer and a decoder”, Wakde continued. “But you're also a skilled medicus, is that correct?”

“One of the best”, Cypher said with a forced grin.

“And yet you can barely be more than twenty years old. Or are my eyes deceiving me?”

“No, they are not. Um, I like to keep myself busy every minute of the day. And I don't need much sleep.”

“Unlike our soldiers”, Rondo laughed.

Wakde didn't even smirk. He looked at Cypher up and down. Then he nodded to the cage. “Can you treat his wounds?”

“Of course.”

The Dragon-Lord nodded to a guard who unlocked the cage, let Cypher in and then locked it behind him. Cypher walked up to his unconscious friend with his head bent so that he wouldn't hit the low ceiling above. He noticed plenty of open arrow wounds in Crystal's body and he could swear that he saw them slowly closing before him. It was like threads of essence stitched his wounds together.

He looked back to the Dragon-Blooded who stood outside the cage. “Um, he seems to be healing rapidly. The wounds aren't fatal to him but if you get me a kit, I can patch him up in no time.”

Wakde nodded to one of the soldiers who disappeared into the hawser's storage.

“Maybe I should get the essence lens from the broken canon, Dragon-Lord?” Peleps Gaxo asked his superior. “That way we can examine his flow of essence and perhaps understand his type of exaltation.”

An essence lens? Cypher thought. That could be dangerous.

“Do it”, Wakde replied.

Cypher had to do something. If he wanted to save his best friend's life, he had to stop Gaxo from getting the essence lens. But how? A mental image of Coral Snake's masked face appeared and Cypher got an idea. Perhaps a master thief could get rid of that essence lens in time?

“Um”, Cypher stuttered. “This treatment could take some time. Well, I might, um, as well wait until after I do number one and get some ointment – a special kind – from my bags. Just give me, um, five minutes.”

Wakde nodded to the guard who opened up the cage and let Cypher out. He hurried back towards his side of the hawser, but took a short detour. He discretely approached Coral Snake's fang who seemed to prepare to join the frontal scales who were burning the corpses of fallen soldiers. It was first now that Cypher noticed the pieces of tyran lizard lying about a hundred yards in front of the hawser. Some soldiers seemed to be cutting off chunks of meat from the carcass.

Cypher walked up next to Coral who nodded back to him, obviously hiding a grin within his mask.

“Hello, Cypher”, Coral said. He noticed that Cypher had got some of the soldiers' attention and he walked a few steps away to pretend to get some water from one of the barrels. He never got any water though. He just leaned against the barrel and rested for a moment.

Cypher leaned in suspiciously close to Coral who raised a brow. “We have a problem”, Cypher said.

“We or you?” Coral asked with a slight arrogance in his posture. “We're ordered to burn the corpses of the dead. I'm busy.” And he seemed to love every second of it.

“Well”, Cypher said. “It's Crystal Bow.”

“Ah, yes, the anathema. What was up with that anyway? Did he really lure that monster into the dragon to tear up holes in the ranks? Quite impressive.”

“I need to help him and, um, I need your help.”

Coral looked at Cypher for a moment and then whispered slowly in his ear. “Why would you want to help an anathema?”

“Because he's my friend.”

“Good answer”, Coral smiled. “How can I be of help?”

Cypher looked over his shoulders to see if anyone was listening to their conversation. When he noticed that no one cared, he said: “One of the sorcerer-engineers is about to, um, get an essence lens to use on Crystal.”

“What's an essence lens?”

“Well, you see, it's a lens used to show the essence flow around you. It appears like streams of energy, inside and outside any living being. A Dragon-Blooded can use that lens to see who can wield essence and who cannot. And they are going to use it on Crystal.”

Coral didn't answer. He looked intently at Cypher, then he carefully investigated his surroundings with his brown eyes. Cypher didn't know what he was thinking but he noticed that something had caused a shift in his personality. Was it possible that he actually cared about Crystal Bow?

“Sounds like you're serious about this, Cypher”, Coral said. “I'll do it―”

“Great!”

“―if you raise my payment from one bit to one obol a day.”

Of course, Cypher thought. It's always about money with this guy.

“Um, sure, whatever you want.”

“Then we have an agreement”, Coral said with smiling eyes. “So all I have to do is find the sorcerer-engineer who has the lens, steal it from him and hide it somewhere they can't find it.”

“I guess.”

“Except that he's a Dragon-Blooded and he will be holding the lens. And I'm a lowly mortal. I think I'm getting cold feet here.”

“Huh?”

“But that's not something an advanced payment of one mina can't take care of.”

Cypher sighed. “Are you trying to ruin me?”

“Do you want them to use the lens on your friend?”

Cypher dug in his money pouch but couldn't find anything more than a few obols. “You'll get it later. Okay?”

Coral nodded and then walked towards the hawser. He wanted to have a good look at that sorcerer-engineer. Cypher went into the woods to do what he had said he would do and then returned to get the ointment from his bags – even though he knew that he didn't need it. Gaxo had properly managed to take the essence lens from the broken canon in the storage and walked around the hawser to test it out on the prisoner.

Coral immediately recognized what seemed to be a circular plate of a glass-like material in a tall man's hand. He didn't have time to think. He had to act quickly or it would be too late. If he went there and just took the lens, the sorcerer-engineer would notice him. There was only one thing he could do, but it was risky. Very risky.

And even if he would succeed, he would draw attention to himself.

He walked up towards the hawser between the lines of fangs who waited for their officers' orders. Coral made sure that he would pass the corner of the hawser just as the Dragon-Blooded with the lens did so. He would turn to go towards his own fang and as he and the target passed each other, he would grab the lens from the dynast's hand quicker than anyone would be able to notice. However, he wasn't quite sure how good perception Dragon-Blooded had compared to mortal men and women.

When the moment came, Coral slightly bumped into the man, grabbed the lens and threw it out in the jungle. He was an expert weapon thrower and together with a perfectly executed charm, it was impossible to see him throw the lens or to follow its flight path and trace it back to him. The lens was far gone and they wouldn't find it without cleaning up the jungles.

However, he had bumped into the sorcerer-engineer at the moment he lost his essence lens. He would be suspect number one.

Coral twitched a little as he felt a hand on his wrist. He turned to look and noticed an irritated sorcerer-engineer holding him in a tight grip. “Give it back”, the man said.

“Give what back?” Coral answered. Sure, it sounded convincing, but considering the circumstances it would be a miracle if he could bluff himself out of this one. He had been too obvious.

“The lens”, the Dragon-Blooded said. “You stole it from me.”

“I haven't stolen anything”, Coral said, faking a slight irritation.

The man didn't let go. He held Coral's arm while he started to call upon his essence. Coral realized what was happening. The man was about to blast a spell in his face and he would take the full blow. One mina had clearly not been enough for this risk. He had saved Crystal Bow from the essence lens, but he had drawn suspicions to himself. What a failure. He was better than this.

“Hey, calm down now, best Dynast”, Coral tried. “You can't blame me for something like that without proof. Just calm down, okay. Search me. You won't find anything.”

The sorcerer-engineer was good. He wouldn't let himself be bluffed. He knew that he had been pick-pocketed. There was nothing Coral could do other than to keep denying and act like a weak mortal. If he would evade the spell, it would be obvious that he too was an anathema. But if he took the blast … well, he could die.

Coral noticed that the Dragon-Blooded's face seemed to calm down but when he once again looked at Coral, a wave of crushing water flew out from his watery anima and blasted a giant crack in the ground. Coral was thrown in the air and flew ten to fifteen yards away with his back into the trunk of a tree.

Pain was an understatement.

He was still conscious but he tried to fake otherwise. He knew that one of his poison vials had been crushed in the fall and he hoped the glass shards wouldn't cut into his back and poison him. He wasn't immune to his snake's venom after all. Parts of his clothes were ripped and he felt blood filling his mouth. He let it run out from his mouth even though it was still covered by the mask. It got moister and moister.

“Search him”, the man ordered the closest fang of soldiers.

Soldiers ran up to Coral and started looking through his bags and clothes. They won't find the lens, he thought. It was far into the jungle.

One of the soldiers screamed. “Snake! It's a snake!” he tossed Coral's black bag to the ground and stepped back a few yards. “He has a snake in the bag!”

“What kind of weirdo is this anyway?” asked another. “Sorry, My Lord. We can't find the object you're looking for. He carries a weapon of gold and some weird stuff. Just look at the snake, but other than that he's clean.”

You think my orichalcum staff is made of gold? Coral thought. I'm insulted.

Coral could see another sorcerer-engineer looking out from around the hawser, surprised by the big ruckus. He nodded to the frustrated man who angrily looked at Coral's supposedly unconscious body. “What's happening out here?” he asked. “Did you just kill that guy, Gaxo?”

“No”, Gaxo said with a grim face. “I held back. I think he stole the essence lens.”

“What? Why would he do that? Are you sure you didn't just drop it somewhere?”

“Well, I'm certain he …”

“You're getting old, Gaxo. I'm sure you dropped it here somewhere. I'll help you look for it.”

“Damn you, Ammo”, Gaxo muttered. “I'm not getting old.”

Coral Snake took a sigh of relief. It would take some days to heal the countless broken bones in his body, but at least he was alive. Had the mission been a success or not? He could ponder that while he was cared for by the medics.


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Thu Mar 18, 2010 8:27 pm

THIS CHAPTER IS OUTDATED!

Chapter 13: The boy from the fishing village V

Wing held his knife in a steady grip. He was following a young man with olive-pale skin and a short raven-feather haircut. The man was a former cutthroat who had wanted out of Nighthammer's underground guild and therefore had to be dealt with. To Wing, he was nothing more than a test subject. He had to prove himself worthy to the guys at the docks if he ever wanted to become one of their praised cutthroats. That someone wanted out of such a privileged profession was foreign to him. He was willing to do everything to get in.

He shadowed the man for some time before he got his opportunity to follow him into a dark and deserted alley down in the deadliest district within Nighthammer's docks. It was night-time and he hadn't seen a single fang from the Nighthammer Iron League. There was no doubt that he would succeed. The deserter was as good as dead.

The target walked up to a fragile wooden structure in the alley and reached for a set of keys in one of his pockets. Wing took the opportunity to make his move. He sneaked like a silent shadow up behind the unaware man, grabbed him by his shirt and made a quick cut over his throat. The man gurgled as blood filled his lungs and ran in thin dark lines down his neck. Wing let go of his shirt and the man dropped dead to the cobble.

He took a step back to look at his work of art. He was the master of life and death. Blood dripped from his sharp knife and he couldn't help but to smile. He was a true cutthroat. He was an aspirant assassin. And he aspired to become the best.

“Don't make a move, kid”, a voice ordered from behind.

Wing could feel his heart skip a beat. It seemed Nighthammer Pool hadn't been as empty as he first had thought. If this was a lonely vigilante, he would make a run for it. But if it was the Nighthammer Iron League, he was already dead.

Before he even got the chance to take a look, he felt a cudgel to the back of his head and all went black. When he finally came to, he could see Viper look at him with empty eyes. The cobble ground was lit up by morning light. He looked back at Viper and realized that he couldn't move. His hands and head were tightly held in position by massive wooden locks. The back of his head was sore and his eyes were dizzy.

“Viper”, he said. “Where am I?”

“You got caught”, Viper said with a low pitch. “I came as soon as I heard.”

“Got caught?” He remembered a voice who had ordered him not to move. He remembered the hit on his head.

“Some guys from the Iron League saw you kill a man in Nighthammer Pool. Now you're locked up here in the middle of the street. Was it worth it?”

Wing didn't answer. He looked at Viper with pleading eyes. “You have to help me, brother”, he said. “I have murdered. They're gonna kill me.”

“I know, but what can I do?” Viper walked up closer to Wing and lowered his voice even more. “I'm sorry, big brother, but I don't think there's anything to do.”

Wing felt tears run from his eyes. It made his vision all the more foggy. His heart beat faster and suddenly he felt the greatest fear of his life. He was convicted for murder in Nexus. Everything could happen but he imagined the worst. He noticed that Viper had trouble giving eye contact. He looked on the ground and rubbed his neck, then tried to look at Wing but quickly dropped the gaze.

“I guess you're ashamed of me, Viper”, Wing said with a forced smile. “I thought I was good enough. Maybe it was too soon.”

“That's not it”, Viper muttered. “I'm ashamed of myself. I didn't want to be a weakling anymore. Now I'm a murderer too.”

Wing tried to tilt his head but the locks kept it in place. “Really?” he said. “So you finally drew blood, huh?”

Viper avoided eye contact and took a step back. They could both hear more of a ruckus on the street. Boots were clapping and voices were heard.

“Yeah”, Viper said. “I'm sorry. I didn't think I would actually kill you.”

Wing's jaw dropped. “Kill me? What do you mean?”

“I told the Iron League about you, Wing. I'm responsible for your execution.”

Wing looked at Viper with confused eyes. His dropped jaw turned into a grin of pain and betrayal. He ground his teeth and felt a mental blade stab the depths of his heart. Left was a black hole filling up with feelings of disgust, fear and hatred.

“Why?” was all he could say. His eyes didn't see Viper. He saw a stranger. And his shattered heart pictured mental images of him killing that stranger in so many horrible ways. “I thought we were family.”

“We were”, Viper said. “But you killed your own family. Now your family killed you.”

Wing dropped his jaw once again. “Is that what this is about? You don't know the full picture. They were abusive drunks. Can't you get that through your thick skull?”

He clearly couldn't. Viper didn't even twitch. Instead he turned his back and walked.

“Viper!” Wing shouted. “I curse your life! I will haunt you! I swear I will haunt you!”

Soon, the voices from the crowd drowned his curses. “It's the Emissary! It's beginning!”

Wing silenced, closed his eyes and tried to control his fear. He was only a few days from turning sixteen years old and his life was already over. Not only that, but the Emissary himself was going to kill him. He knew that infernal agony awaited him and he wished for eternity in the heart of Malfeas rather than a few moments with the merciless Emissary. What could he possibly do to avoid this turn of events.

CRACK!

He felt his left hand make a full turn around his wrist. No one had touched his hand. It had broken by itself. He screamed. Oh, how he screamed. He couldn't even imagine how loudly he could scream.

There was another crack and the same thing happened to his right hand. Then his left foot. And his right foot. Cracks and crisps were heard between the echoes of the boy's screams as the crowd – dead-quiet – watched the ghostly white Emissary break every single bone in Wing's body, one after another, to eventually let the broad-axe fall as the last bone to be broken was the tortured boy's neck.

Viper couldn't watch. He had killed Wing, the boy who had saved his life as a lonely orphan on the roads outside a burning Sakana Village. He had killed him in fear of a life as a murderer. He knew the irony in that. He thought about all the people Wing had killed, but he still wasn't sure if he had actually deserved an ending like this.

Murderers had to be punished. And his own punish would be the curse Wing had put on his head. He would welcome Wing's haunting ghost and carry his curse in honor. That would be his punishment.

The curse would take effect already on his way back home. A dark bag went over his head and he was pushed into a wagon pulled by a strong horse. Viper would finally get to know the true depravity of abusive adults. He would experience four years of torment, making him truly regret what he did to Wing and fully willing to follow in his brother's footsteps.

What happened during these four years is too horrible to even mention.


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sat Mar 20, 2010 5:55 pm

THIS CHAPTER IS OUTDATED!

Chapter 14: Two men enter, one man leaves

Coral Snake woke up only to notice that he was completely naked with the exception of tightly wrapped bandages around his chest and stomach. He was in a soft bed inside the nursery which was the frontal part of the giant hawser. The entrance door was open and he could see the dozen strong buffaloes pulling the entire two-floored structure with ease. Next to his bed were nine more beds, eight of them occupied by soldiers who were wounded in the battle against the tyrant lizard. Between the beds walked white-robed medics. They were soldiers and carried their Imperial marks, but they weren't armed or equipped like the common foot soldiers.

Coral felt an intense pain in his ribs but he would endure. He wasn't mortal anymore. If he had been, the spell would have either killed him or put him in bed for weeks. He could feel that he still had small fractures in his ribs, but they would heal in no time. He could as well pretend to be in more pain than he actually was.

“Up already?” a blonde woman asked. “We thought you'd be out cold for the rest of the week.”

Coral hadn't seen the woman before, but just her good looks eased his pain. He realized that these medics were the only ones – next to his own fang at the night they smoked – who had seen him without his mask. It actually felt good to be without it for once, but he knew that he didn't want his face to be too remembered by these people. But what could some medics do?

He gave her a charming smile. “Didn't you know it's rude to undress a man when he's out cold?”

“Tell that to Doctor Gargan”, the woman answered with a smirk. “He's the one who treated you.”

Coral turned his head just to see a chubby old man with a bushy, brown beard who was dressed in the same white robe as the other medics. He dropped his jaw and the woman giggled.

“How are you feeling?” she asked. “You're healing fine, by the way. I've only seen Dragon-Blooded heal as rapidly as you before.”

“Well, I'm one-fourth God-Blooded”, Coral lied. “Got the healing from my grandmother.”

“Really?” she said with fascination. “I assume the Lords must appreciate to have someone like you to serve under them.”

Coral recalled the sorcerer-engineer who cast the spell on him. He then smiled to the medic. “They are overwhelmed with joy.” He carefully sat up in his bed and tried to stretch his arms but the pain in his ribs were too great. “For how long was I out?” He couldn't even recall ever losing consciousness. He had been awake during the time the soldiers searched him.

“Since yesterday. But you should stay here for a few days to get some rest.”

He shook his head. “I appreciate the concern, young lady, but a good soldier needs to march with his fang.”

“True that”, she said and gave him a ceramic cup filled with water. “But I'm sure your fang will manage without you – at least for today.”

Coral drank the water and suddenly remembered the reason why he was in the nursery to begin with. He had disposed of an essence lens to save Crystal Bow from being found out as an Anathema – and of course to prevent the sorcerer-engineers from ever using it on him too. But all that happened yesterday. What had happened since then?

“I'm curious”, Coral said. “Did they ever find out if that pathfinder was actually Anathema?”

“Last thing I heard, they were still interrogating him. I hope he's not.”

“Yeah.”

“But in worst case scenario, we can always rely on the dragon's Wyld Hunt veterans to take care of the problem. And we have Talon-Lord Meego. I think we're safe.”

Coral leaned back in his bed with his hands behind his head. So there were Veterans here as well? He should have guessed. The Wyld Hunts didn't just fight back the chaotic Wyld who were said to devour all corners of Creation. They also hunted Anathema and any being dangerous to the Realm and its Immaculate Order. If he would be found out, he would get some trained professionals after him. Even though they would most likely be mortal soldiers.

It was not worth whatever Cypher could pay him.

On the other side of the hawser, Wing-Lord Peleps Rondo punched the newly awake Crystal Bow in the face. “Don't lie to me!” the dynast shouted. “Are you Anathema or not?”

“I told you”, Crystal said with blood-filled mouth. “I'm not.”

Rondo turned to the Dragon-Lord who rode his horse just behind the hawser. The army marched slowly forward and soldiers could easily walk back and forth without getting left behind by the marching dragon.

“We can keep pounding him, Dragon-Lord, but I don't think it'll do us any good”, Rondo muttered in high realm. “He won't admit to being Anathema and he's just too stubborn to be anything else.”

“That just proves that he is one”, Dragon-Lord Peleps Wakde said.

“But we can't just kill him”, Rondo said. “We'll get lost without a pathfinder.”

“We don't have to kill him. Just bring in Meego. We'll give the men a good show and then the Anathema will be too scared to give us false directions. We'll kill him after we find Denandsor.”

“Yes, My Lord”, Rondo said and jumped out from the cage.

He locked it behind him and left the bleeding Crystal Bow inside. The pathfinder had been given a pair of jade cuffs which locked his hands together. The cuffs were artifacts which the Realm had created for situations like this. They blocked the use of Essence and could even prevent a mighty god from accessing its charms. Now, Crystal Bow was no more dangerous than a cuffed mortal man.

Whispering Rainbow Cypher was sitting at his table in the hawser. He was worried about his locked up friend and his injured bodyguard. He was also worried about the suspicious gazes he got from the other sorcerer-engineers, especially from Peleps Chino. However, he was relieved about the essence lens problem being dealt with.

Cypher had been the first man in Yuro to tip the dynasts of the skilled scavenger hunter Crystal Bow who was said to know the jungles like no other man. Some of the Dragon-Blooded had been heard accusing Cypher for knowingly helping an Anathema infiltrate the dragon's ranks. Only Ledaal Yuko and Peleps Ammo seemed to think of the rumors as nonsense.

“Um”, Cypher muttered, trying his best to break the bad atmosphere in the room. “I found another reference to the phoenix. Where the eyes of the phoenix see the glimmering peaks. I think it, um, refers to where Denandsor is located in reference to the phoenix and some mountains.”

The sorcerer-engineers didn't answer. Peleps Gaxo was standing in the middle of a sorcery circle where he practiced some spell. Peleps Ammo was reading a book while drinking some tea and Peleps Chino analyzed another artifact rumored to be connected to the city. The only one who recognized Cypher at the moment was Yuko who didn't reply, but answered his efforts with a friendly smile.

“Well, um, you see”, Cypher continued. “I've also read about mountains surrounding a hidden valley. The connection is, um, that the mountains themselves are said to have snowy peaks which glimmers under sunlight. Perhaps the valley itself could be, you know, hiding the city.”

What he didn't tell them was that he had found something truly exceptional in the Tome of the Makers. He had noticed it first yesterday, despite having read the book over and over since he got it. There were always clues to be found, riddles to be solved and cyphers to be deciphered. What he hadn't expected was that some clues didn't want to be found. Cypher was the only one who could solve this riddle. He knew it. Despite having shared the tome with all the Dragon-Blooded in the room, he knew that none of them had even been close to finding this clue. He was the only one who could do it.

It was after quite a few times of reading through the tome when he found out that something wasn't right. He noticed a gap in the couple of hundred pages. Only a special savant like himself could notice that one individual page was wrong when blended with hundreds of other. He had noticed that if he counted the book's pages without reading them, they were one more than when he counted them as he read them.

Some experimental counting from front and back led him to one page who was in the book but still clearly wasn't. That was the great mystery. He knew the page was there. He looked at it, read it and turned it. But yet, he had neither looked at it nor read it. He could see the page but yet he couldn't see it. It was clearly visible but yet it wasn't. What he could do was feel it, but not when looking at it. It was enough for him to discretely tear it out and put it in his pocket. He knew that none of the other would ever notice it be missing since they wouldn't even notice it being there.

The problem now was to find out how to actually read it. He could feel the page in his pocket, but he knew that when he was going to try to read it, he would gain nothing from it. He wouldn't even know he was reading it, if he ever was.

The only thing that was clear to him was the fact that the hawser stopped and cheers were heard from outside. The sorcerer-engineers gave each other bewildered looks and Peleps Ammo took the initiative to open the door to take a look outside. As soon as the door opened, a soldier ran past, shouting: “Talon-Lord Meego is going to fight the Anathema!”

Oh crap …

People rushed towards the scene. Cypher as well as all the sorcerer-engineers took a break from their work to watch the fight. Even Coral Snake quickly put on his gear and excused himself to the medics. About fifty yards behind the hawser, soldiers had created a big circle around Peleps Meego, Peleps Rondo and Crystal Bow who was still cuffed by the artifacts.

Coral Snake found his own fang who sat at the front row. He greeted them and sat down next to Tixi. Cypher stood in the back together with the sorcerer-engineers. He was insanely worried.

Wing-Lord Peleps Rondo raised his hand to silence the crowd. The sun had already walked past this place in Creation and was setting in the far west. The soldiers waited with excitement.

“This man is convicted of being an Anathema”, Rondo said. “On Dragon-Lord Wakde's orders, we'll show you a display of an Anathema's cursed powers – and prove to you all why the Dragon-Blooded reigns supreme.”

Wakde was standing a few yards behind the ring, watching over it together with the other commanders.

“However, this man doesn't admit to being an Anathema”, Rondo continued. “Talon-Lord Meego will therefore bring the truth out of him. This will hopefully not be a battle to death. It will be a battle of gaining control over the monster and let him know why he must fear the Dragon-Blooded.”

The soldiers cheered. Rondo nodded to Meego who approached Crystal Bow and removed the cuffs from his wrists. He could almost instantly feel the Essence within him once more. The soldiers silenced and some gulped, nervous of the loose Anathema.

Meego took a few steps back, stood in a defensive stance and glared at Crystal Bow with pure hatred. Crystal Bow looked frightened. He gave Meego a pleading look and tried once again to make them all understand that he was not an Anathema. But no one would listen.

“I'm scared”, Tixi whispered to Coral who intently watched both Meego and Crystal. “What if the Anathema actually wins?”

Coral didn't answer. He had seen Meego kill a tyrant lizard like it was nothing. He was a young but fearsome fighter. Could Crystal Bow actually win – even if he actually was a Solar Exalted like himself?

“Make the first move, Anathema!” Meego roared. “Show us what you got!”

“I won't”, Crystal said.

“Suit yourself!”

Meego drew his black grand daiklave from his back and charged at Crystal Bow. His skin quickly became darker almost to an ebony black and an aquatic blue glow emanated from his body and spread out along his blade. As he cut towards Crystal Bow, it appeared like he was cutting through water as drips of water fell from his daiklave's blade. His eyes glowed with a greenish blue.

Crystal Bow was not there anymore. He was ten yards in the air with his legs up and his head down as he turned his body upside down. A beautiful golden light appeared at the palms of his hands and a radiating orichalcum bow appeared in his steady grip. He pulled the string and an ethereal arrow appeared.

The sight startled the public but only excited Meego more. He grinned with true happiness as he realized that he was fighting a real Anathema – just like the legends had portrayed them. Stunningly golden, but with hellish light.

This was all the proof Coral Snake needed to know what Crystal Bow was. He was just like him. The bow in his hands was of pure orichalcum – the Unconquered Sun's divine metal. He didn't know much about the First Age, but he knew that only Solar Exalted were blessed with that metal. It was just like his Serpent-Sting Staff. He couldn't let the Imperalist scum kill this man. He had to save him somehow. But could he do it without revealing himself?

Crystal Bow released the string and the arrow of forged Essence flew rapidly through the sky towards the grinning Dragon-Blooded. Tixi had told Coral that Meego was exceptional in the way that he used his Water Aspect in close combat and made it work flawlessly, even though it wasn't the most proper element for that type of fighting. Meego didn't let the element be his master. He was himself a true master of his element.

Two more arrows left Crystal's bow. Meego swung his heavy blade, cut through the first arrow like it was water. When the second arrow came, Meego's body shifted like a ripple wave and the arrow seemed to pierce through a part of his body like it was made of water. It didn't injure him at all. He had let it pass through. When he third arrow came, he had managed a full turn and cut his blade through the arrow, making it dissipate into drips of water.

Crystal Bow was closing in to the ground and Meego ran towards him. As the Anathema was about to land, the grand daiklave swung in from his left and he tried to dodge it by placing his palms on the blade and rolling over to its safe side. He wasn't prepared for an armored elbow following up the sword's cut.

The blow hit Crystal's face and stunned him only for the blink of an eye, but it was enough time to let Meego swing his blade another turn around his body and follow up the blow with a clean cut to Crystal's chest. The sharp jade cut through the clothes and into his ribs. Blood splashed out from the wound and blended with water from Meego's anima.

Crystal fell to the ground. Meego had overwhelmed him like crushing waves. He walked up to Crystal's body and raised the sword before him. The crowd cheered.

A faint glimmering light appeared in a circle over Crystal's forehead and golden white light flowed from the man's divine anima and took the shape of an eagle, stretching higher up the sky than the trees themselves. The eagle spread its wings and looked down on Meego with sharp eyes. Soldiers screamed in fear but Meego held his ground. He stared back at the glowing eagle before it faded away and left only a bright glow around Crystal Bow's body.

A faint clink were heard. Meego felt a light thump in the back of his neck and noticed a black throwing dagger stuck in his armor's collar. He grabbed its handle, looked behind him to see from where it came, and then dropped the knife to the ground. He looked at the unconscious Anathema, spat on him and left the ring.

Coral Snake ground his teeth. Not only was Crystal Bow a Solar Exalted like himself, but they also shared the same caste mark. The golden circle representing the darkness of night, where the Solar Exalted of the Night Caste were beacons of light in the absence of the Sun. Crystal Bow was his brother. He would make sure the Dragon-Blooded wouldn't take his life.

One throwing dagger was missing from his holster. They wouldn't track it to him. The knife had come from behind but he was sitting in front. He only wished he had actually hit the neck instead of the damn jade collar of Meego's black articulated plate.


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sat Mar 20, 2010 11:31 pm

THIS CHAPTER IS OUTDATED!

Chapter 15: An invitation to Kal Bax

“How are you feeling?” Whispering Rainbow Cypher whispered as he bathed Crystal Bow's forehead. He was sitting together with the injured man in the cage at the back of the hawser. Crystal had been cuffed again after his fight with the Talon-Lord and he healed as slowly as a mortal man because the cuffs blocked him from accessing his Essence.

Crystal didn't say much. He had a fever and he was in pain. His morale was low because of all he had to endure from hateful soldiers who wished him dead. They were afraid of him and would prefer their Lords to kill him, but they knew that as long as he wore the cuffs, he wouldn't be dangerous.

“I couldn't have, um, guessed that you were exalted, Crystal”, Cypher whispered.

Crystal looked up at him, but his eyes were dizzy. “Are you sure about that, my friend?” He gave him a friendly smile and then leaned back to endure his agony.

Cypher gave Crystal a confused look, but then experienced a feeling of déjà vu. He could see himself bathing a man's wounds. It was the same man, but yet it wasn't. He looked different but his spirit sensed the same. He had taken care of Crystal Bow's wounds before – thousands of years ago.

He smiled. “So you knew about me all the time?” Cypher whispered. He put his hand on Crystal's wound and let a pulse of Essence run through his fingers into his friend's wound. Crystal's eyes got even more dizzy but all of his agony was gone. He fell asleep.

A thought occurred to Cypher. He could still feel the ripped out piece of paper in his pocket. It was a little more than a week ago since he had discovered it. He hadn't had much time to experiment with the paper since then because he was treating Crystal's injuries every day. The Dragon-Blooded wouldn't allow the cuffs to be removed so they let Cypher treat him instead. They knew that their own medics weren't good enough to ensure the man's survival. Especially after they discovered he had got an infection.

But what if the spell that was cast on the paper only was to ensure that mortals didn't read it. What if it was meant purely for the eyes of an exalt. What was needed to decipher it wasn't wits – but Essence. Cypher looked around himself. Guards were walking by the cage but none of them actually paid much attention to what happened inside. He could try to channel some Essence into the paper and see if that would reveal its content.

He turned his back to all who might observe and took the piece of paper from his pocket. He didn't look at it because he knew that it would make him forget what he would see. Instead he looked away, felt the paper in his hand and grabbed his spherical pendant with his other hand. He let a single mote of Essence flow from his fingertips into the paper itself. He could feel a faint warmth in his other hand and he noticed his pendant was glowing. He looked at the paper in his hand.

The scripture was as clear as the sky outside.

To the Makers' Court

I am writing this letter to let you know that I have received my invitation to construct a Guardian in your city. It was years ago I visited the City of Makers and it is a great honor and a privilege to be invited to immortalize my name through your great Collection.

I will fly there over the Glimmering Peaks and into the Maker's Valley. There you will be able to witness the construction of the greatest creation that have yet to come out of my hands. I would also ask for permission to study the construct of your city's admirable manse. I have always said that only those with enough mastery over Essence can understand the full dimensions of a manse's design. That is of course true even to this day. However, even though my upcoming Autonoma is much simpler than a manse in its design, the means I have taken to architect it is of a different matter.

I still haven't begun my journey to Denandsor, but my arrival will be via air. Don't bother opening up the portal. I am going to pick up my student Larquen Quen along the way. He has dreamt about visiting your city for quite some time now. We also have some matters to attend to concerning a demesne in the Northern Jungles, but expect our arrival at the end of the Fifth Month.

Kal Bax


Cypher looked at the name Kal Bax and felt his heart skip a beat. It was a letter by the Kal Bax, the greatest engineer of the First Age. He had studied the man and his work all his life. It was this man who motivated him to always do better. He was the greatest manse builder, an ancient rival to his own ambitions.

He would treasure this letter forever.

He put the letter back in his pocket and told the guards that he was ready to get out of the cage. Reading the letter had made him happy, despite the circumstances. He almost danced along the marching scales as he felt his stomach growl with hunger. He looked at the giant hawser, put his finger on his lip and pondered whether or not he would make it all the way to lunch. He shrugged the thoughts away and jumped right into the kitchen.

Cypher spent about an hour in the kitchen, making a gourmet meal out of everything he could find. He took ingredients the chefs cherished deeply, but the lowly personnel knew that Whispering Rainbow Cypher was valuable to their Lords. They didn't argue against his intrusion and instead helped him prepare the meal. When he was just about done, the dragon itself stopped for a two hour break.

He got the chefs to help him put a table and some chairs outside the sorcerer-engineer's door to the hawser and they placed plates for all five of them, as well as food to feed ten. Some soldiers looked enviously on Cypher's lunch. He ignored them and opened the door to the hawser.

“What about some lunch?” he asked with a smile.

He despised the Dragon-Blooded for injuring his best friend, but perhaps this meal would at least help him befriend the sorcerer-engineers and gain their trust.

“What's with you?” Peleps Ammo asked.

“Just come on out now”, Cypher said and sat down at the table.

Ammo was the first to take a look outside and he twitched with surprise as he saw the cooking on the table. He looked back in over his shoulder and smiled to the others. “It seems Cypher has cooked for us.”

“Bah”, Cypher heard Peleps Chino mutter from inside. “Then he has too much free time on his hands.”

They all sat down nonetheless and looked at Cypher's cooking. Ledaal Yuko sat down next to him and she gave him a friendly smile. She always did. Cypher realized that even though she was Dragon-Blooded, he couldn't hate her like he did the rest. Not to mention that she was quite the beauty. Elisa back in Yuro was plain in comparison to Yuko.

“Please, eat”, Cypher said and pointed to the food.

“No, wait”, Chino stated, interrupting Ammo who was reaching for a grilled chicken leg.

Chino waved in a soldier who was guarding them next to the hawser. The guard got the message and took some food from the table, ate it and then tried some more. He chewed, swallowed and stood in salute. “It's clean, My Lord”, he said.

Chino looked at the guard for a moment to see if he showed any symptoms of poison. When he noticed that he didn't, he turned to the others. “Very well then”, he said.

They ate and drank. It didn't take long before the tension faded and the sorcerer-engineers got talkative. They praised Cypher for the meal and laughed at stories they would usually never tell to a mere commoner. Chino was still the bitter old man they were used to, but he still ate happily from the food.

Twenty to thirty yards away, Coral Snake was leering at the bunch from a hot cauldron of stew where he filled his bowl. He knew how easy it would be for him to sneak up to the table and steal food without them knowing, but he chose not to. He had decided to stay away from the sorcerer-engineers after what happened when he stole the essence lens from Peleps Gaxo a little more than a week ago. He had fully recovered, but the trauma remained.

Eventually, the lunch break came to its end and the march continued. The sorcerer-engineers returned to their room in the hawser and Coral Snake returned to his fang. Crystal Bow had become talkative and actually helped the dynasts with their directions, even if it was only out of fear of being tortured or killed.

They marched for hours and the sun begun to set. Coral Snake noticed that the longer they walked, the more silent the jungle got. Eventually, he couldn't even hear the sounds of mosquitoes. The darkness and silence of the jungle were claustrophobic and he noticed some distress among the soldiers.

When he looked up in the sky, the only sign of life was a big and graceful bird. The bird was bigger than any other bird he had ever seen. It circled them in the sky, watching them from high above. The only thing bigger and more beautiful than that bird, was the head of the big, white phoenix which slowly appeared behind the high jungle trees. The phoenix reached higher than the towers of Yuro, but it seemed to be made of the same smooth, white stone.

They were finally here. It was the phoenix. The first landmark.


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sun Mar 21, 2010 11:15 pm

THIS CHAPTER IS OUTDATED!

Chapter 16: The boy from the fishing village VI

Viper sat on a chair in the middle of a grand bed chamber. He was properly dressed in fine linen, his hair was clean and his teeth were brushed. But he knew that it was all a show. He was the worst kind of slave. He had been for four years. And he felt embraced by filth.

Across the room sat a man with smooth, pale skin and long, brown hair. He was looking into a giant mirror and was preparing some shaving cream. Today was a grand ball and he was supposed to meet up with some noblemen from Great Forks. Viper was supposed to come along.

“The man we're about to meet today has taken a liking to you, boy”, the man said. “You will go with him for tonight and, if all goes well, he might want to purchase you for a high price.”

“I understand”, Viper mumbled, trembling as he did so.

“I understand, what?”

“I understand, Master”, Viper said, wanting to spit on the word as he said so. “I'm sorry.”

“We've been through this so many times, boy”, the man said. “Yet you never learn. Now, comb my hair. I only have an hour before we must depart.”

Viper felt disgusted, but there was nothing he could do. He walked up to the man and took the smooth comb of bone from the man's hand. He started combing the hair and tried to avoid glaring too much at the man through the mirror. The man was leering at him. He was a despicable and morbid man.

It was four years ago Viper had caused Wing's death. He felt cursed but a haunting ghost had never come. He had wanted it to. He had waited for it so that he could apologize. What he had done to Wing was childish. He didn't understand what Wing had been through. Now he did. The last two years were pure horror. He was angry, afraid and he wanted to kill. He wanted revenge on this disgusting man and everyone of his associates.

How was it Wing used to do it? It was a knife to the throat. One clean cut.

“Do you want me to shave you as well, Master?” Viper asked. He looked at the razor on the plate in the man's hand. The metal glimmered and he could see his own reflection in the blade. One clean cut was all he needed. The man was still stirring the cream with a brush.

“You cut me in the cheek the last time you tried”, the man muttered. “Why should I let you shave me again?”

“I didn't know how to do it then, Master”, Viper said. “But now I know. Let me show you.”

“Very well.”

Viper put down the comb and reached for the plate with the bowl of shaving cream and the sharp razor. He stirred the cream a little with the brush and then started applying it to the man's cheeks and chin. When the cream covered his face, he grabbed the handle of the razor.

There would be one clean cut. Just like Wing used to do it.

He carefully shaved some from the man's left cheek. The man leered at him a little, but then seemed to calm down. He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. Viper felt no tension. He was neither nervous nor scared. He had waited for an opportunity to kill this man. He needed to be free. If he would fail to kill him now, the man would punish him so greatly it was better to commit suicide.

“You know what I will do if you cut me again, boy”, the man said with a smirk.

Viper knew. He could still feel the pain from the scar just below his armpit. The man had cut him there with the razor after the last time. He always hurt him where the scars couldn't be seen.

“Yes, Master.”

He looked intently at the man's throat. He slowly moved the razor towards the throat. One clean cut was all he needed to do. He knew he could do it. He was ready. Just when the razor touched the skin, the man opened his eyes. He could see the glimmering metal and a boy's dark and determined eyes. He screamed as he tried to get out of the chair, but Viper quickly cut the razor blade through skin and muscle tissue. He made one clean cut and blood squirted from the wound like a beautiful fountain of death as the man choked on his own blood.

The man had gurgled and cried, but he was dead within seconds. Viper took a step back. He looked at the bloody razor in his hand and then on the lifeless nobleman in the chair before him. It had been almost too easy. He took a deep breath and felt relieved. He had wanted to kill this man for two years. He couldn't imagine that it would be this easy.

He looked at the corpse and knew that he wouldn't dispose of it. He wanted the man's ghost to come after him just so that he could kill him again. This had been too soft an ending for this man. He would leave the man here with his throat cut open – like a memento of his best friend Wing

Viper cleaned the blood from the razor and put it in his belt. He left the chamber and sneaked through the halls of the mansion until he reached the darkness of the streets outside. He ran from Bastion to Nighthammer Pool. He was a murderer – a stone-cold killer – and he felt like one with the darkness of the night. He wanted to find some guys down the docks. The same guys who had offered Wing a job four years ago. But this time, he was the one who was looking for work.

Viper, fourteen years old and a killer. He would aspire to become the best – the most feared killer in Nexus. He would get his revenge on all the noblemen who had shared his former master's depraved tastes. He would cut their throats and let them choke on their own blood.

The Throatslitter. That would be his new name.


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Sun Mar 28, 2010 10:27 pm

THIS CHAPTER IS OUTDATED!

Chapter 17: The phoenix

The phoenix was out of this world. It reached into the sky like a symbol of elegance. Its head was twice as high up as the trees and its beak pointed directly south. What it looked at was the snowy peaks of high mountains. The statue had its wings spread and its legs slightly bent, with talons reaching into the river itself. It looked like it was just about to take it to the air – probably to soar over the high mountain peaks.

The dragon had made its stop. The beasts seemed distressed but calmed down after some soldiers let them feed. All the sorcerer-engineers had left the hawser to study the gigantic sculpture which brilliantly showed the beauty of days passed. Whispering Rainbow Cypher was with them. At his side stood an amazed Coral Snake who felt like he was standing on a beacon of Essence. He could feel the Dragon-Lines under his feet connect to the great phoenix before him. It was something he hadn't felt since Nexus – no, since he was at that strange door in Yuro. He wondered if others felt it too.

Seemingly they did. Cypher investigated the area surrounding the phoenix like if he was searching for something which couldn't be seen. He seemed to calculate and ponder over something just too complicated for Coral to comprehend. Yet both their gazes constantly went back to the statue itself.

The Dragon-Lord ordered the dragon to set up camp. It was late and the jungle was covered in darkness, but the moonlight reflected on the blank stone of the phoenix and on the surface of the river. Wing-Lord Peleps Rondo walked up to Cypher and the sorcerer-engineers with the cuffed “Anathema” Crystal Bow at his side.

He nodded to Cypher: “Does it fit the landmarks?”

“Yes, it certainly does”, Cypher said. “There must be a way inside. Um, may I go in, assuming we find the entrance?”

Ledaal Yuko who stood next to him looked up at Rondo with pleading eyes as Cypher asked those words. She too wanted to investigate it closer.

“No”, Rondo ordered. “We don't know what is within. The manse is too powerful for me to risk you going inside just to die in some ancient trap.”

“Let him do it”, Peleps Chino muttered, clearly intrigued by the idea of Cypher dying. “Or let that Anathema go inside to check for traps.”

“No, Chino”, Rondo said. “You should know that a manse in the hands of an Anathema can be a powerful weapon.”

Those words truly got Coral's interest. What if he could use the manse to wipe out the entire dragon? But he didn't know anything about how manses worked. Wishful thinking or not, he still wanted to go inside. He was curious to see the ancient wonders of the First Age, even if it was all above his understanding. He was a Solar Exalted after all. It was time for him to start learning – or re-learning – about the wonders of a lost age.

He noticed that Cypher was looking at the black streams covering the statue's talons. “The entrance must be down there”, he said, pointing to the water.

Rondo leered at the stream and then on his sorcerer-engineers. Peleps Gaxo – who Coral avoided the best he could – rubbed his chin and muttered: “I was thinking the same. Let one of the soldiers swim down to find out.”

Rondo nodded.

“I can do it”, Coral said. He said it both out of fascination for the manse and out of curiosity if his help would turn some of the Dragon-Blooded on his side. Perhaps even Gaxo, the man who had assaulted him with magic more than a week ago.

Gaxo gazed at him and twitched with his eyebrows as he noticed who the volunteer was. He ground his teeth. “I know you”, he said. “You're the one who stole the essence lens.”

Coral noticed the other sorcerer-engineers' eyes were all on him. It made him feel uncomfortable. They were all his enemies. His destiny – his Exaltation – was to gain enough power to exterminate them all. Why didn't he just kill them now? It was because he was still weak. He was merely an infant compared to what he could become. What he had seen himself be in a former lifetime. He had seen it in his dreams.

“I thought I was freed from all suspicions, My Lord”, Coral said.

“All but mine”, Gaxo said.

“Well then, maybe this act will help me gain your trust, best Dynast”, Coral said as he reached for his mask. He removed it from his face and smiled to the Dragon-Blooded. “No soldier can swim better than I.” He unbuckled his bags and belts, removed his brown cape and his buff jacket.

Gaxo snorted. “So that's the mysterious face you've been hiding all this time?” he said. “Quite feminine. No wonder you hide it. Well, I know from experience that you're quite familiar with water.”

Coral recalled Gaxo's spell blast him with a massive wave of water. He smiled to the sorcerer-engineer. “As a matter of fact, my father was a fisherman and he taught me to swim early.”

The Dragon-Blooded muttered to himself.

“Should I get into the water or not, Imperial Lords?” Coral asked, ready to remove his last layer of clothes. He removed the strings from the three knots he had in the back of his hair and let his long, black hair fall gracefully down his back. It reached to just below his shoulder blades.

Rondo eventually nodded to him. Coral gave a sly smirk and then undressed until he was naked. This was the first time anyone who was there had seen how he truly looked like below all his cloth. He had the face of an eighteen year old with smooth, brown skin and shiny, black hair. His face was androgynous and if not for his clear pitch of that of a young man, his face could be mistaken for a girl's. He was about five-six feet tall and was thin but strong with a well-shaped muscular structure of a true athlete.

He dived into the depths of the river. The water was dark and cold but he didn't even tremble. He felt the energies of the manse increase with each swim-stroke he took. The feeling excited him. This manse was constructed by his brethren from the First Age. He was them reincarnated. Even though he didn't know what this manse's purpose was, he felt at home. It felt like those clueless dynasts above the surface were desecrating holy ground.

About twenty to thirty yards down, he could sense the bottom through the pitch-black darkness of the river at night. As he got used to the water and the darkness, he noticed some moonlight reaching the bottom of the river. He could see a spherical shape before him, but he didn't know what it was. He reached for it with the palm of his hand and felt a smooth, crystal-like surface. He went back up to get some air.

“Did you see anything?” Cypher asked from the shore.

“Yes”, Coral gasped. “But not good enough. I'm going back in.”

He dived right back in, dedicated to explore the bottom more. He noticed another spherical object, just like the other one. A few yards away was another one. On the bottom itself were stone, going from the shore towards the phoenix itself. It was a road. Then those spheres must have been some kind of artifact lamps. He had seen similar being used in Nexus.

Coral followed the road towards the phoenix. When he got close, he noticed an open entrance leading into the structure itself. He could feel that he had some time left to hold his breath. The pulses of the manse were intense – but so was his dedication to explore it. He entered the phoenix and swum up to an imagined surface. Eventually he reached a pocket of air.

He had truly underestimated fresh air. Unfortunately the air inside this statue didn't feel very fresh. As he breathed heavily, he bumped his head into some kind of orb in the ceiling. When he looked up, he saw nothing else than darkness.

But he was alone. Light from here wouldn't reach the shore.

He lit his caste mark and strong light came from the circular shape on his forehead. It reflected on the surface of the water and danced with the ripple waves. He could see white stone-walls and a white stone-ceiling. The only thing sticking out was the series of orbs in the ceiling. They looked like they were made of dimmed glass or crystal. They didn't reflect much light.

He swum further into the construct and noticed more of those orbs in the ceiling. When he reached the wall at the end of the room, he bumped into a strange structure. It looked like a panel with three levers. He didn't want to risk touching any of them. It there was a trap, it would be better if a Dragon-Blooded activated it.

He dived back into the cold water and swum back up to the shore. He walked up to the shore and noticed more than the Dragon-Blooded's eyes were on him. Soldiers were looking at him as well, waiting for him to tell everyone what he had found down there. He felt slight discomfort by all the attention – not because he was naked, but because he showed his face to the enemy.

“I found an air-pocket inside”, he said. “There's a road down there, leading into the statue. I couldn't see anything inside but I think I felt some kind of panel.”

The sorcerer-engineers looked at each other.

“Along the road are spherical lamps”, he continued. “I know they are lamps because I've seen similar in Nexus.”

Coral walked up to his clothes and started to dress. He didn't try to dry his skin before he put on his clothes. He buckled on his belt and bags and stroke his wet hair back over his head.

Rondo nodded to Talon-Lord Meego who nodded back to him. He then walked out on the surface of the river as the familiar bluish glow started to emanate from his body. He looked down on the water below and then let it consume him with its waves. It looked like the river swallowed him whole, but it was all the time his doing.

There were a few minutes of silence before a strong white glow could be seen from the depths. Soldiers were calling each other and pointing to the river which seemed to part itself where Coral had seen the road. Water formed a solid surface next to the lit lamps and in the middle of the road walked Meego with a completely dry articulated plate. It was unthinkable that he had been within water only moments ago.

Coral had fully dressed and walked up to Cypher's side. He noticed that the only people who weren't even slightly amazed by what they had witnessed were Rondo and Chino.

Meego came walking up a stairway of white stone back to the shore. He nodded to Rondo and stroke his black hair over his head. “It's safe to go inside”, he said.

He nodded, then looked at the other sorcerer-engineers. “Okay”, he said. “Cypher and Yuko. You'll go inside.”

“I'm going too, best Dynast”, Coral said. “I'm still his bodyguard.”

“Very well.”

“Send in the Anathema, Rondo”, Chino said. “He can't tap into the manse when he's cuffed. Let him be bait for whatever trap there might be.”

Rondo looked at Crystal Bow who tried to avoid eye contact. “Fine”, he said. “Talon-Lord, you'll watch over them.”

“Yes, Wing-Lord”, Meego said. He grabbed Crystal in his hair and pulled him after himself down the stairs between the parted river. Coral, Cypher and Yuko followed them down.

The road felt claustrophobic. At their sides were walls of black water. Coral Snake couldn't shake off the idea that the water could fall over him at any second. He noticed that Cypher and Yuko seemed to share that thought. Meego didn't care the slightest. He was determined to drag Crystal with himself into the phoenix and Crystal Bow did his best to hold his balance when he was dragged by the strong Dragon-Blooded.

Even though the road was illuminated by the spherical lamps, Coral couldn't help but feel a giant shadow rippling past the road. He looked at the black water-walls at his sides and thought he could see the silhouette of a fish swimming within the water.

However, this fish seemed as large as the two-floored hawser that was parked further up the shore.

“Cypher”, Coral said, intently looking at the water. “Did you see that?”

“Um”, Cypher said. “I don't know. What are you referring to?”

“Inside the water. Something huge.”

“I didn't see anything.”

When they entered the phoenix, Meego pushed Crystal into the room. He then stood at the entrance and waited for the rest to come inside. “Yuko, you know the deal”, he said.

She nodded. “Yes, Talon-Lord”, she said. “Decode what we can without touching anything.”

“And if you must touch something?”

“Then we'll use the Anathema.”

He gave her a sly smirk. “Good girl.”

Cypher walked past them all, looking at the walls and the ceiling. The room was rectangular and every corner seemed to be made of white stone. From the ceiling were a series of half-orbs who lit up the room as brightly as the lamps outside. Coral remembered them as a dimmed crystal. On the floor were a few circular plates. They too seemed to be made of crystal, but they were much clearer than the ones in the ceiling had been.

Crystal didn't move. He was standing in the middle of one of the crystal discs, leering at Meego who leaned against a wall next to the entrance. The river outside was still parted at the lit road. Yuko took a pencil and a journal from the small bag hanging from her belt. She opened it up and took notes while investigating the walls and floor.

“I can see fragments of magical material”, she said. “Like a network of jade and orichalcum.”

Meego gave her a quick gaze and snorted. “I'll be outside”, he said and took a few steps through the entrance.

Cypher was standing in front of the panel with three levers. He was looking intently at it. He didn't move. All he did was staring at the levers, lost in his own thoughts. Coral didn't know what to do. He walked up next to Cypher at the panel.

“Do you know what it is?” he asked.

“Yes”, he said. “The levers control the amount of Essence released throughout the manse.”

“The network itself is hidden within the floor and the ceiling”, Yuko said. “The right lever should be controlling the orbs in the ceiling. They aren't just lamps. They have another purpose.”

“What purpose?” Coral asked.

Yuko didn't reply. She looked closer at the floor and scribbled some notes in her journal. “The floor seem to be connected to both the other levers”, she said.

“Strange”, Cypher muttered. “This can't be all there is to this manse.”

“What I find strange is that the panel is out in the open like this”, Yuko said. “There's not even an outer door. Anyone who could wield Essence could, in theory, activate this manse.”

Then it can't be dangerous, Cypher thought. I'm sure I know how it works now.

He let a single mote of Essence flow from the palm of his hand into the panel itself. A faint glitter could be seen from three symbols, each next to a lever.

“Something happened”, Coral said, looking over Cypher's shoulder. He hadn't noticed that the panel had been activated by Cypher himself.

“Yes”, Cypher said. “Um, it seemed to already be active.”

Cypher looked at the three symbols. They were old realm. The left one said Talon, the middle one said Wing and the right one said Beak. He realized he had no idea how it worked, but yet it all seemed much familiar. But he had never been inside a manse like this before. How could it feel so familiar?

“Let me see”, Yuko said and walked up to the two of them. Crystal still hadn't moved from his spot.

Cypher didn't hear Yuko. He slowly moved the left lever, from top to bottom. A network of magical material glimmered from the lever, through the panel and up along the wall to the ceiling. The orbs started to swirl and they sounded like salty ocean waves splashing to a sandy beach. Shortly, all of the orbs were swirling and the sound of ocean waves filled the room.

“Hey!” Meego shouted from the entrance. “You were supposed to have the Anathema—“ He was interrupted by a glimmering light covering the entrance like a solid barrier. It prevented him from entering. He growled in anger and drew his grand daiklave. He swung it at the barrier, but was pushed back.

“What are you doing?” Yuko cried to Cypher. She grabbed his shoulder. “Deactivate it now.”

“It's okay”, Cypher said and moved the second lever.

The disc under Crystal's feet started glowing with a strong, white light. He looked down with a shrug and then disappeared within the blink of an eye. The disc still glowed where Crystal had stood.

Yuko shook Cypher's shoulder. “The Anathema!” she cried. “He's gone!”

“Stop what you're doing!” Meego roared from outside.

Coral didn't say anything. He looked at the disc where Crystal had been and then at Meego who shouted at them from outside the manse. The lamps on the road outside became fainter and fainter before they went completely dark. The water-walls started flowing in, covering the road with Meego on it. He muttered angrily and then turned back to the road and disappeared into the black water. None of it ran past the barrier and into the manse.

Within seconds, the entrance was blocked by pitch-black water.

“I'm going to get it now”, Yuko said. “Cypher, turn the levers back!”

“Um, okay”, Cypher muttered and turned back the middle lever. The disc in the middle of the room turned dark, but Crystal didn't return.

“And the other one!”

Cypher looked at the lever and then on the barrier blocking the water from drowning the room. “Are you sure that's a good idea?” he asked. “Well, I don't know, um, which mechanism the Talon-Lord used to part the river.”

“Then we must find it quickly”, she said. “They are going to execute us for this.”

“Um”, Cypher said. “There is one lever left. I can try that one.”

He slowly pulled the lever and the glimmering light spread once more through the panel. It reached down to the floor and to the disc the three of them were standing on. It lit up with a bright, white light and then they all felt a great suction in their stomachs.

Before they knew it, they were all standing in another room, on another disc, before another panel.

Coral slowly turned around. “Wow”, he said. Before him was a giant window overlooking mountain peaks glimmering under the moonlight. He could see the bird's great beak outside the window.

They were inside the phoenix's head, looking out through its eyes.

Where the eyes of the phoenix see the glimmering peaks, Cypher thought. It couldn't be more precise.

Yuko walked up next to Coral and looked out over the dragon and the jungle. She could see some fires next to tents, soldiers guarding the camp and Meego talking loudly to Rondo at the shore, gesticulating and pointing to the phoenix and the river. She thought about shouting to them, but they wouldn't hear her.

Cypher was scratching his nose while looking at the panel. This one had two levers and one red button. He could feel the pulses of the manse being more intense up here in the phoenix's head. This had to be the heart of the manse.

The right lever had the old realm symbol for Down. He didn't have to guess to understand what that lever would do. It would take them right back into the room from where they came. The lever next to it had a number of numbers listed from one to fifteen. He had no idea what they meant. He hadn't found any references to those numbers in the Tome of the Makers.

But this was a manse! He knew they could be dangerous, but he was an aspiring manse creator. He had to know everything about this manse. He had to understand it.

He pulled the lever past number one, number two and number three all the way down to number fifteen. Nothing happened. Nothing glittered or glimmered. There were no intense sensations or sounds in the room.

All there was was the big, red button next to the lever.

He pressed the button and suddenly an intense pulse emanated from the manse itself and continued out like a shock-wave into the jungle. There was a bright, white light. When the light disappeared, Cypher heard Yuko cry out loudly from the window.

He turned around and saw the beams of morning sunlight – even though there should be hours before morning.

“Where did they go?” Yuko asked.

There were no soldiers, no tents and no fires. The only thing reminding of the camp that was, was the two-floored hawser which was now crushed into pieces.

“What did you do, Cypher?” Yuko cried. “What in the Dragons' names did you do?”

Cypher was speechless. He had no idea what had happened.

And neither had Coral Snake. All he knew was that whatever had happened, he loved it.


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PostSubject: Re: [Exalted Story] The fisherman's son (not WoW)   Thu Apr 01, 2010 1:20 pm

THIS CHAPTER IS OUTDATED!

Chapter 18: Glorious Horizon

Whispering Rainbow Cypher had almost forgot that Yuko was actually Dragon-Blooded. She had been too nice, too calm and too discrete. It was first now – after she had witnessed the ruins that was the dragon's former camp – when she for the first time seemed truly scary. Her anima didn't glow, but she was frustrated and frightened enough for her Air Aspect to be felt through chills in the atmosphere. Cypher couldn't help but to shiver.

“We're going down!” she said, then grabbed Coral Snake in his wrist and pulled him to the circle where Cypher stood. She merely gave the panel a gaze before she pulled the Down lever and transported them instantly to the bottom floor.

“You will remove the barrier when I tell you too”, she ordered. “Don't even dare touching anything beforehand.”

Cypher felt it was wisest to obey.

“Can both of you just pause for a moment to brief me on what happened up there?” Coral muttered.

“No”, Yuko replied instantly.

She walked up to the barrier at the entrance. The previously black water was now a greyish blue and the morning light slightly illuminated the bottom of the river. Silhouettes of the crystal orbs and the road could be seen through the barrier, but there were no signs of life.

“Ah”, she said as she spotted a small disc in the wall next to the entrance. She touched it, infused some Essence and watched the river part itself and the orbs lit up like small glowing suns. “Now, Cypher!”

Cypher deactivated the barrier by pulling up the left lever. The orbs stopped swirling and the entrance opened up once again. Yuko hurried along the road and up the stairs to the shore. Coral and Cypher quickly followed behind.

As soon as they came up to the shore, Yuko stood still. “Something's not right”, she said and moved towards the destroyed hawser.

“I can't see any soldiers”, Cypher said. “Do you, um, think they were disintegrated by the white pulse?”

She didn't respond. She hurried up to the hawser and started looking for any remains of the other sorcerer-engineers. Cypher took the opportunity to look for what could be left from their hard work. He soon realized that it would be impossible for him to save the Tome of the Makers. He had lost the key to Denandsor. The mission was now hopeless.

“You guys?” Coral asked from a few yards behind. “I found some remains … or something.”

Yuko turned to Coral with a surprised glare. She noticed he held up a fully decayed thigh-bone. Next to the bone were parts of a ribcage.

“Impossible”, she said. “It would take years for a body to decay into that state.”

“Unless”, Cypher muttered from the top of the ruined hawser. “Um, unless the manse's pulse rapidly increased the decay rate.”

Yuko gave him a quick glare. “If that's the case”, she said. “Then it's your job to gather all thousand soldiers' remains and burn them in a proper ceremony.”

“But that would be impossible!”

“That's your problem”, she growled. “You disobeyed orders and murdered a full dragon of soldiers! And you've even murdered Dragon-Blooded! Do you have any idea of how big a sin that is?”

He blushed and looked away, clearly ashamed of what had happened. Yuko blushed even more. But she wasn't ashamed more than she was furiously saddened and angry.

“Speaking of Dragon-Blooded”, Coral said while looking through the high grass for more remains. “I can see skeletons from soldiers, fully equipped with weapons and armor, but I can't see any traces of jade.”

“The camp is big”, she muttered.

“Isn't it weird how almost all soldiers carry their weapons and armor”, he continued. “I mean, didn't we just set up camp?”

Cypher jumped down from the hawser and looked around. He put his hands in a cone around his mouth and shouted: “Crystal!? Do you hear me!?” – but he got no response.

“He was probably caught in the blast too”, Yuko said.

“What's this?” Coral mumbled and took up a piece of bone. It looked like a cranium but had horns coming from its temples. “This can't be a soldier's. I'm utterly confused.”

Yuko didn't even look. She suddenly realized what had happened and felt a cold shiver go through her body. She carefully sat down on a piece of wood from the hawser. She rested her face in the palms of her hand and tried to ignore the ache of emptiness pierce the depths of her heart.

“They are all dead”, she said. “I'm all alone.”

“You're not like them, are you?” Coral asked. “The Peleps, I mean.”

“I was ...”, she stuttered. “I was hired to serve as a sorcerer-engineer in Peleps' fleets ... It's been three years of five.”

“And if you're not Peleps”, Coral continued. “Then who are you?”

“I'm a Ledaal.”

“The family with all those sorcerers? That's interesting.”

“Why?”

“No reason”, Coral said with a sly smirk underneath his mask. “Just sorcery in general … is interesting.”

She looked up on Coral. “And what about you?”

“What about me?” he said, looking intently at her from top to bottom.

“Who are you?” she asked. “How come us Dragon-Blooded doesn't seem to intimidate you even the slightest?”

He scratched his nose and couldn't help but to grin. “What makes you so sure that you don't?” he asked. “But the situation has changed now. We need each other to survive in this jungle. Don't blame me for dropping the honorifics.”

“Um”, Cypher interrupted. He was standing next to the destroyed hawser, a few yards away from Yuko and Coral, and watched over the ruined camp. “Everything seem different … somehow.”

“Of course it's different”, Yuko muttered. “Everyone's dead and the camp's in ruins.”

“No, what I mean is – well, um – that I'm sure the environment itself is different somehow.” He pointed to a bush a few yards away. “Look at that bush. I have almost full recollection of everything I experience and I'm certain that, um, that bush didn't exist just hours ago.” His eyes gazed around the area and he seemed to be calculating something once again. “Yes, it's not just the bush. It's like a completely different place. But yet it's the same.”

Yuko stood up from where she had been sitting and Coral looked around himself.

“I don't see any difference”, Coral said. “But on the other hand, it was dark and I was too focused on the statue.”

“I think I see what you mean”, Yuko stated. “I think we can assume that more time has passed than just the few hours until morning.”

“I think this is a waste of time”, Coral muttered. “What do we do from here on? Do we have any maps, any food or water?”

“I don't know about food and water”, Cypher said. “But all the maps – all our work – is gone.” He grabbed his orichalcum orb in the palm of his hand and then looked up to the high mountain peaks that could be seen south of the giant trees. “I don't want to go back to Yuro without experiencing Denandsor. If we can't get in, then I can settle by studying it from afar.”

Coral nodded. “I'll go look for water”, he said and then started digging around the camp.

Cypher walked up to Yuko who didn't really know what to say. She was looking at the phoenix which seemed as deactivated now as it had been the first time they lied their eyes on it. But the Essence pulses and the power of the Dragon-Lines could still be felt in the depths of their souls.

“What about you?” Cypher asked.

“What else can I do!?” she roared and raised her hand, wanting to slap him in the face, but suddenly realized that it would do no good. She calmed down and lowered her hand.

After a few minutes, Coral returned with the little fresh food and water he could find. He filled up some bottles with water from the river. Cypher and Yuko were already ready to go. They traveled south, through the thick jungle. They didn't follow any roads – since there were none – aiming for the mountain peaks. Cypher calculated that it would be a two day journey to get to the closest mountain. It was impossible to say how long it would take to get to the valley within.

They came across neither animals nor insects. The plants were overgrown and it was difficult to move about. They didn't dare eating any of the fruits or berries. Eventually, the day would come to its end and the sun would set. They set up camp, made a fire and spread out some blankets they had taken from the ruined camp.

Yuko sat with her legs crossed, her journal in her lap and looked intently on the stars above. She was taking notes.

“What are you doing?” Coral asked.

“I'm trying to find out exactly how much time has passed”, she said. “I believe what we experienced as a single moment could have been a long time. Maybe a year or two.”

“A year or two!?”

“Perhaps even longer.”

Cypher was chewing on some very dry bread. It looked painfully disgusting, but there were nothing else to eat. “Very plausible”, he said. “It's possible that it wasn't the manse who killed the soldiers. We might have just, um, locked ourselves in time while the dragon was killed by something else.”

“Something else?” Coral asked. “Like a monster?”

“It's a valid hypothesis.”

Yuko didn't join the conversation. She was staring at the stars and suddenly her jaw dropped. She scribbled something down, then put her journal down, emptied her bottle of water and swallowed nervously.

They didn't say much more that night. Two of them went to sleep while the third kept watch. When the sun eventually arose, Coral Snake, who had been the last to keep watch, was sitting on a tree branch, filling one of his vials with a dose of his snake's venom. He greeted Cypher who woke up first and then put his snake and poison away when Yuko woke up shortly thereafter. They ate some of what little they had, packed up their camp and kept going south.

The mountains felt larger and larger as they approached. They could still not see any signs of animal life. At least until they came across a tree that was teared apart next to the bloody remains of newly killed men. What kind of men they were was difficult to say. They wore cloth and leather and didn't seem to be armed with more than knives, slashing swords or hatchets.

Coral Snake took up a limb in his hands. It was an arm, seemingly ripped off from the torso. It looked like something had been chewing on parts of the arm. He showed the arm to Yuko who instantly flinched with a disgusted expression.

“Do you think what killed the soldiers could have done this?” he asked.

“I don't think so”, she said. “Whatever … ate these must have been quite small. Probably not much bigger than a human. Something like a bear. But since there are no bears in this part of Creation, I'd say a beastman did it … If we're lucky.”

It was said that beastmen were humanoid beasts with traits of various animals. They were primitive but intelligent and lived in tribes anywhere in Creation. But here in the East was where most of them could be found. Coral Snake had never seen one before. But he had heard the stories of beastmen attacking travelers or small villages.

He dropped the arm to the ground. “Do you think we can handle beastmen?”

“I don't know about you and Cypher, but I can take on one or two”, she said. “But beastmen never come alone. They live in packs. In tribes.”

“Then we should keep moving”, Coral said.

Yuko and Cypher seemed to agree. They left the bloody remains be and kept going south towards the mountain. After one or two hours, they heard an echoing growl and screaming men and women.

“Someone must be in danger!” Cypher said and started running towards the sound.

Coral tried to stop him without any luck. He sighed, then ran after him with Yuko in the rear. As they ran, they noticed the jungle got less thick and they came to a grassy meadow with a convoy of wagons standing still on a ruined road of cobble from the First Age. The white stone was covered by bloody corpses of both men and women. Fortunately, there were no children.

Cypher slowed down when he saw the dead bodies. He had been too late to save them. There was a profound silence except for the weeping of a young man.

The young man was sitting in a cage. It was not any cage – its bars were made of the magical material orichalcum. The cage was locked, probably by the dead man without a head who was leaning towards it with an orichalcum key in his hand.

Cypher coughed. “Who are you?” he asked in forest-tongue.

Coral and Yuko walked up behind Cypher. They didn't say anything. They were looking at the man who was sobbing inside the cage. The man was naked, very muscular and had long, blonde hair in curls. He was almost covered in blood.

The man leered up at Cypher with tearful eyes. “You should go”, he said. “I might kill you too.”

“He might be right”, Coral muttered.

“Did you kill these people”, Cypher asked. “How could you? Um, you're locked up.”

The man tried to dry his eyes with the palm of his hand, but realized his hand was bloody.

“I must have”, he said. “But when I came to, I begged the last man to lock me up. When he did … I lost control again. I don't remember how, but I must have reached through the bars.”

“Um”, Cypher said. “Who are these people? What purpose has this cage and how could you possibly tear them into pieces? We heard a growling. But you look human.”

The man tilted his head and looked at Cypher, at the other two and then back at Cypher. “They are slave-dealers”, he said. “They were going to sell me. I don't know about the cage. They said it was the only cage that could keep me locked up.”

“And what, um, who are you?”

“My name is … was Glorious Horizon”, he said. “I don't know what I am. All I know is that sometimes I lose control. I want it to stop so badly.”

Cypher looked at Yuko and Coral. Yuko had her chin in her palm and was trying to make sense of the situation. Coral nodded to Cypher.

“We should kill him”, he said. “We can't trust a monster.”

Glorious Horizon gave Coral a quick gaze. He looked scared but then calmed down. “Maybe you should”, he said. “I'm dumb and I'm good for nothing. I have nothing to live for.”

“See”, Coral said. “Even he agrees with me.”

“He might be Anathema”, Yuko said. “He's locked in orichalcum, the forbidden material. We should go.”

“What … what's Anathema?” the man asked.

Cypher looked at Glorious Horizon with a friendly smile. “It's a curse word the Immaculate Order use to describe what they don't understand.”

Yuko flinched and grabbed Cypher's shoulder. “What did you just say?”

He gave Yuko a quick gaze and then lit the caste mark on his forehead. He bore the glittering symbol of a circle with the bottom part of a half disc inside. Yuko let go of his shoulder and took a few steps back.

Coral raised his eyebrows. “Another one, huh?” he said with a smile. He could feel a new-found respect for Whispering Rainbow Cypher. He was a Solar Exalted just like him. Just like Crystal Bow. Meeting this man could truly have been his destiny.

Yuko didn't seem to share Coral's joy. “So you are an Anathema too!?” she cried to Cypher. She seemed truly frightened. She looked at Coral Snake. “Did you know?”

He shook his head.

“You're not one too, are you?” she asked.

“Hey”, Coral muttered. “Don't bring me into this. Aren't you going to kill him? Isn't that what you dynasts like to do?”

She blushed and looked down on the grass.

“I thought so”, Coral said. “You're relying on us to survive. Must be scary.”

Cypher looked at the bloody man in the cage. “Are you like me?” he asked.

The man looked intently at his glittering caste mark. He then shook his head. “No, but I've seen that symbol before. At the Empty City.”

Cypher let his mark fade away and he leaned in closer to the cage. “The Empty City, you say?”

“Yes. It's a city cursed to never hold life.”

Cypher looked at Coral and Yuko with a smile on his face. “It seems we just found our new pathfinder.”


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