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Ruby's Dreams of the First Age
Dreams of the First Age: Part One
*begin dream wibble*
You stand in the middle of a city built in terraces on the side of a mountain. The mountain extends mile after mile up into the sky, anchoring the center of creation together and extending its four roots outward towards the Elemental Poles. The city itself is miles up onto the side of the mountain, but the air is still breathable. The road seems to be carved of one solid piece of marble, so smooth that you can see your face reflected in it. Your dreaming mind starts for a moment at the long fall of coal-black hair, but the familiar red eyes are still there. Your face is thinner, as is your body, but you are still recognizably you.
In the dream, you begin walking up the road toward the complex of palaces on the top terrace. Tonight is the New Year, and all the Solar Exalted will be gathered here to welcome the Unconquered Sun when He rises for another year. It is your first time at one of these gatherings, but you have already met most of the participants, and you are not nervous. How can you be? These are the greatest people living in Creation, and you are counted among their number.
Thousands of people throng the city's main street. Even in a single glance, you can see people from their south with their black skin and fire-red hair, eastern tribesmen fresh from the jungle, blue-haired sailors from the western isles, People of the Air (you know that is what they are called, though you have never seen people with wings before in your waking life), Mountain Folk, and even a party of Dragon Kings. The massive lizard-like beings bow to you as you walk past--you were born in Rathess, and every Dragon King in existence is proud to have you as their advocate.
"Honored greetings under the Sun to you, Dancing Ruby Phoenix," says the larger of the two. He plucks for a moment at his robes. "May the light shine on you forever."
"And may you always have shelter in the warmth of the Sun," you reply, completing the ritual greeting. The words sound strange in the language of the Realm, but the Dragon Kings do not lightly teach their High Holy Speech to mortals, and you have not yet had time to learn it now that you are one of the Chosen of the Sun.
"It is an honor to have been chosen to celebrate the New Year in Meru," the Dragon King says as you walk up towards the temple. "I imagine that you are similarly excited?"
"Of course," you reply. "I must warn you, honored sir, that there will be no sacrifices.
The Dragon King's lower jaw drops. You have been around them long enough to realize that this is their equivalent of laughter. "I understand, honored lady. It seems strange to worship the Unconquered Sun-" he casts his eyes towards the ground for a moment "-without the sacrifices that are His due, but you will honor him your way, and we will honor him ours."
"And so Creation is maintained," you reply.
*dream wibble ends*
Dreams of the First Age: Part Two
You stand in the middle of a vast banquent hall made of green cystal veined with silver. Huge tapestries hang from the walls, depicting the heroes of the Primordial War standing atop the bodies of their foes. Before you is a man--the absolute pinnacle of physical perfection--with the fangs and tongue of a snake. He is still young, not even three centuries yet, Sun's Setting has taken a liking to the young No Moon. Perhaps he will know where your mate has gone.
"But why?" you ask.
Alaethis sighs. "You've seen the signs. The people grumble more and more. My elders tell me that there is more rebellion and strife than there has ever been in the past. The Yozi cults multiple, and you Solars do nothing. You care only for your palaces and your trinkets and your petty intrigue."
Rage wells up within you to here this puppy speak so of his betters. "I could crush you with my bare hands," you say.
"And so you could," he replies, "but you cannot destroy the truth. You know that the Realm has become decadent. We have seen it too. The way Ashraielle behaves toward me..." He shudders. "She's a monster, Ruby. You know it. You've seen her idea of 'justice' now. So has Sun's Setting. We're doing what we must. That's why we-" He stops, frowning.
"That's why we're what?" you ask.
"I've said too much already," Alaethis replies. "But I will tell you this. Somehow, someway, you aren't as bad as the others, and you remember how things started out between us. I still have a...lingering affection for you, so I will tell you this much. Do not go to the ceremony for the New Year this year. Stay away, whatever you do."
You blink. "Stay away? Buy why-"
"Just do it!" Alaethis shouts. The sound reverberates through the empty hall. He rubs his forehead. "Don't go there, Ruby. Please." Before you can speak again, he pulls himself up, looking you straight in the eye. "Think on what I have said. Your mate is gone because he must go. You have heard of the Lunar Society. When you Solars are behaving as you are, we will do what we must."
Before you have a chance to speak another word, his body blurs and falls apart into a murder of crows, which quickly flies up and out the large windows of the banqueting hall. With a glance at the darkening sky, you turn on your heel and walk towards the door.
*end dream wibble*
Dreams of the First Age: Part Three
*cue dream wibble*
With loving fingers, you have shaped the raw ore into something more, combining steel and orichalcum into a whole greater than both its parts. Now the sword lays completed on the table, and only the work of enchanting it is necessary.
You already have all the ingredients. Orchids from the canopy of the trees in the uttermost East, the scales of a certain fish found only one particular tributary of the River of Tears, the heart of a Fair Folk Noble, a poem to the glory of the Unconquered Sun written by Maenin, and a bit of dirt from the Mountain. All that remains is to combine them with the masterpiece you have crafted with your own hands.
With Shining Star's help, you have worked out the proper configuration of materials. As the sun begins to pour in through the windows of your workshop, you crush the dirt and sprinkle it into a bowl of water, all the while chanting hymns to the glory of the Unconquered Sun.
When the sword is completed, no one will be able to stand against you. You smile as you work, thinking of the power this blade will bring.
*end dream wibble*
Dreams of the First Age: Part Four
*cue dream wibble*
"Bring the prisoners out," you command.
Your guards leap to obey, opening the doors of the great hall and throwing in the men that had been rotting away in the dungeons. They look up at you with fear in their eyes, and you can see them trembling slightly. Disgusting—the least they could do is meet their fate with honor.
They aren't bound--not a one of them could harm you. You rise from your chair, staring at each of them in turn. "Each of you stand accused of repeated failing to report to your assigned work detail. Do you have anything to say in your own defense?"
"M-my lady," one of them stutters, "m-my poor mother is s-sick. Sh-she needs m-me to-"
"Bah! Why did you not bring her to the healers' house? There are established procedures for this--there was no reason for you to disobey your orders."
"She c-couldn't be moved...I th-thought she m-might die-"
"Then send for a healer!" You sigh. Ephemeral mortals...so afraid of death that they cannot even display any discipline in their lives, you think. Fear taints their every action, driving mental clarity away from them no matter how hard they pursue it. "Do any of the rest of you have any excuses?"
"Good. At least you are now taking responsibility for your actions." You walk up until you are standing over the stutter. "But you should have known better." Almost quicker than they can see, you draw Answerer from its sheath across your back and bring it down, cleaving the fool in twain. Two of the men begin to cry, and the stench of urine fills the air. Pathetic.
"Take them back to their cells," you say, your voice filled with contempt. When the guards have dragged the screaming wretches away, you turn to one of the guards and say, "and make sure that a healer is sent to his mother's house, whoever he is. She should not die needlessly because of his fault."
You look down at the body, barely registering the guard's crisp, "Yes, my lady!" and hasty departure. Discipline must be maintained for the state to function efficiently, and the deadwood must be cut out or it will drag the entire tree down. You sit back down on your throne, satisfied with yourself as you idly clean Answerer's blade. You, at least, will not succumb to their weakness.
*end dream wibble*
Dreams of the First Age: Part Five
*cue dream wibble*
You bring Answerer up to a guard position, staring over the ornamented blade at Shining Star. Shining Star herself is wearing a fine-woven suit of layered Orichalcum cloth and carrying two orichalcum daggers, the pair of which once belonged to the long-dead Dagda Mór. They were used in the Primordial War long ago, and the one in her left hand was responsible for the ultimate death of He Who Dreams An Endless Nightmare.
You circle around her, carefully looking for any hint of an opening in her defenses. You are Chosen of the Dawn, and battle is your specialty. As long as she does not have the chance to use her sorcery, the battle is yours.
Essence glitters in the air as your sword lashes out towards her. With a contemptuous gesture, she brings up a dagger and parries the blow, lashing back at you with her other hand. The blade strikes true, but your orichalcum armor turns aside its worst effects. With her hand extended, you lash out with a a fist. A blow that could break a stone wall hits her without any noticeable effect, but Shining Star's mouth does curve in a small smile. You step back from her and resume your circling. You can feel your caste-mark glittering on your forehead, and the half-circle of Shining Star's own mark is visible to you as well.
In a quick movement, Shining Star leaps backward, landing several yards away on the edge of the trees. Before you can move, she brings her hands up and begins chanting as swirls of sparkling color gather in the air around her. The very air hums as you race across the ground towards her, but before you can reach her she throws her arms forward and shrieks. The air behind her shimmers and twists as hundreds of black stone butterflies materialize into existance and hurl themselves towards you.
You back off your run, bringing up your sword instead. Your hands a blur, you move Answerer faster than any mortal could possibly even hope to see, sending butterfly after butterfly spining off its normal course. Small flecks of obsidian score the edges of your face and hands, but you feel no pain. The world is reduced to a narrow tunnel of flying stone and the sword in your hands, moving quickly back and forth in an impenetrable dance.
And then, as quickly as it began, it is over. The ground around you is littered with razor-sharp shards of obsidian, but beyond the marks on your hands and face, you are totally unhurt. With a smile at Shining Star, you begin your advance again...
*end dream wibble*
Dreams of the First Age: Part Six
*cue dream wibble*
Shining Star shook her head. "No, Ruby, no. You're doing it wrong. You have to feel the Essence flowing through you."
You shake your head. "I don't understand why I'm doing this."
"Because it's important. At the bare minimum, you should be able to protect yourself from harmful spells thrown at you. At maximum, sorcery can turn the tide of a battle--and you are Chosen of the Dawn. You should not have to rely on the Twilight Caste to aid you on your battles."
You grimace slightly. "You're right, of course, but it takes so much more effort than it seems to be worth."
"You've seen what I have done with sorcery," Shining Star said gently. "The effort you can put out..." She paused. "Maybe I'm taking the wrong approach to this. You've read both the Black Treatise and the White Treatise, right?"
"Perhaps a better position would be to familiarize you with the appearance of Essence flows. It would be far easier for you to manipulate them if you knew what you were doing."
You groan inwardly. Even MORE work before you get where you're going. Still, she's right--the cause is worth it.
"Now, we shall begin again..."
*end dream wibble*
Dreams of the First Age: Part Seven
*cue dream wibble*
The group this year is pitifully small--most of the Children of the Sun have become cowards with the long press of years, unwilling to face their betters and join in the ceremony to welcome in the New Year. You, however, have never faltered in your duty, ever since that first year so long ago. Even now, after all these years, you still sing the praises of the Unconquered Sun with those few Solars who keep the faith. Seventh Son and Shining Star are not here, but you can see Maenin and Ashraielle across the circle, keeping up their end of the harmony.
Then, the dissonance starts.
The scream bursts into full force out of nowhere, clawing at your mind. You can see Ashraielle look around in fury before putting her hand over her ears. Maenin is shouting something, but you cannot hear anything over the din.
Then, your flesh bursts into flames.
Pain washes over you, but you stamp it out with a burst of Essence. Another few motes of Essence makes your skin as hard as diamonds as you run for the door, managing to reach it just ahead of the others. With a blow that would kill an ox, you kick the door open and run outside.
The entire plaza in front of the Temple of the Sun is filled with the massed ranks of the Dragon-Blooded, standing as silent as statues. Their armor is multicolored--black, white, red, blue, and green--and you can see warstriders and troops in Dragon Armor interspersed among their lighter-armored fellows. It isn't guard duty, or even a rescue mission. The Dragon-Blooded are armed for war.
A flicker of Essence warns you so that you have just enough time to raise a defense before the entire front rank of Dragon-Blooded charges towards you. The first soldier to reach you is the most unlucky--you pick him up and hurl him bodily into the crowd, scattering soldiers like ninepins. They they are are on you, and the world narrows to flashing jade swords and blasts of elemental fury.
You can sense the Essence as Maenin and the others defend themselves as well. Some of the Solars have run, trying to lose themselves in the streets of Meru, but you do not. Dragon-Blooded keep coming at you--you have killed almost a score already with your bare hands--but there are simply too many of them. You have no hearthstones with you, and Answerer is back in your quarters. Weapons are forbidden at the ceremony. You are unarmed, there are too many of them, and you are running out of Essence.
A blast of flame drives you to your knees. You breath heavily, ready to surge back up again, when you notice that the Dragon-Blooded near you have stopped attacking. You can hear the sounds of battle elsewhere, but near you they simply watch. Then their ranks part, and a black-skinned woman with bright red hair steps out from behind them into your view.
"Hayako," you spit.
She shakes her head sadly. "It was the only way, Ruby-chan. You know as well as I do what you have become--what you are like now. Mad gods, drunk with power and sacrifice. The world is not sturdy enough to contain you."
"You could have told us." Your breathing is ragged, every word an effort. Blood drips down your body from dozens of wounds, but you are not dead yet. "You could have tried."
"No, we could not." Hayako pauses a moment. "I will not explain myself to you. Suffice to say that what we have done is the only way to save any of the glory of Creation. The Chosen of Luna already knew what we know, but they have run instead of acting on it as we have. It matters not, because you wouldn't have listened anyway. The Golden Age is over--the Bronze Age has begun."
Your thoughts flash to Sun's Setting, who you have not seen in years. He ran? He knew what was coming, but he ran and left you to die here, at the hands of a friend? Fury washes away all the pain, and you start to get up, but Hayako is suddenly next to you and pushing your shoulders down. You aren't strong enough to resist the push, and you sink back to your knees. Hayako continues leaning over you, looking into your rage-filled eyes.
"We did what was necessary," she repeats, but they are just words. Sun's Setting left you here to die. That is all that matters. "You cannot understand what we went through. You know that the Unconquered Sun has turned his back on Creation in the face of your pride. You know that Maenin speaks now from his own greed, and that the Unconquered Sun no longer answers his prayers. You know why we have done this. We did what we must."
Hayako straightens, placing a fist over her heart. "Shora'dai, Ruby-chan*," she says. You close your eyes for a moment, then look up at her. At least she is doing this with honor--what honor can be salvaged from such an affair. The two of you stare at each other across a gulf as wide as the western sea, but for a moment, you understand exactly why she is here. She is doing what she must.
Without any warning, Hayako's arm lashes out and taps you on your forehead, directly over your castemark. Searing pain immediately flashes down every nerve as the Essence of her strike tears you apart from the inside. The last thing you see, before darkness clouds over your vision, is the violet of Hayako's eyes and the terrible sadness on her face.
*end dream wibble*
*you know what this means, in the dream--"I salute you, who is going to die/marked for death"--but for some reason, the original Old Realm sticks out in your mind.
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