Marked by Saturn - Alexsei's History
This part contains Alexsei's personal history, from his birth up until the premise of A Dance of Angels. (The history section is incomplete for now, but I post the part I have completed here, while waiting for my inspiration to come back ^_^;)
You wish to know about me ? Sit with me, and I will tell you my tale. I warn you in advance, however. I am no hero from the first age, nor am I a sorceror able to bend the world to my will. I am but a servant of fate, and a soother of the departed. Nothing more, and nothing less...
* * *
I was born in the Realm, sixty-nine years ago now, in the Realm Year 698. I was first brought to this world in the town of Nishimo, part of Arjuf Dominion. Of course, that was before Nishimo's marble quarries emptied out, before it became the dirty bandit's den it is today. Back then, the town was still a wealthy, well off town.
My father was a marble worker, and my mother, a clothes weaver. We were not a rich family by any means, but both of them managed to have us thriving and comfortable enough. I was the middle child, second of three sons heir to our humble Krauser lineage. We lived a pretty peaceful life, with our father apprenticing us at a young age to learn the family trade of marble carving. However, fate started to deal its hand when I was still very young, and life took a tangent unlike anything my father would have even been to fathom...
It started with the epidemic. An unknown illness started to spread across the miners in town. Some superstitious people whispered that the ones operating the mines had tapped something they shouldn't have in the quarries, and that the illness was the punishment for their transgression. Whatever it was that caused the disease, it didn't take time to catch on - soon, a lot of people were affected, miners or not. My father and two brothers were caught by this strange illness, while me and my mother were inexplicably untouched by it...
It took the skills of several Dragon Blooded doctors and healers from the Dynasts in order to repress and ultimately eradicate the epidemic. But the damage was already done : my father and brothers were among those that were not saved. So for two years, I lived with my mother, trying my best to assist her so we could make the money necessary to survive. My mother was a very attentioned woman, and one who loved her children very much. Perhaps this is what ate her, in the end... She was still taking care of me, making sure I lacked nothing, but in her eyes were an emptiness greater than I have ever seen. She was broken by the loss of such important parts of her life, swept away in an instant while she was safe and alive still.
It took to years for my mother to finally join the rest of my family in oblivion. Some say it was caused by traces of the illness that claimed my father and brother, traces that she still bore into her and somehow resisted until that moment. But I know the truth. My mother had wasted away from the inside, destroyed by all the things she lost and all the sorrow she bore in silence. I remember the look of regret she had when she passed on, when she knew her ending had come, and that she was casting me in this world alone... She was fearful, and, although she couldn't speak, her eyes were full of regret and shame. She grabbed at my hand, and her beautiful eyes were begging for forgiveness, for not being able to hold on and raise her child...
Perhaps it was fate at hand. Or perhaps a rare moment of clarity in a grieving child. Whatever the case, I remember clearly that although I was filled with a deep sorrow, I was not afraid. I sat by my mother's bed and accompanied her last moments, until the very end. When, at last, she saw me there by her side, she seemed to realize that I understood, somehow, in my child's mind, what this all came down to. Her brow eased, and she left me with one last, compassionate smile. Her ending would mark the end of this chapter of my life...
* * *
After the funeral, the house was sold, and since I was too young still to cast down on my luck, I was sent to my uncle in Arjuf, the only family I had left. His name was Nalldarak, and he was a Dragon Blooded, a fallen Dynast from house Tepet that had been demoted from an important post in the Capital for some reason he never talked about. He was a burly man, and one that did not take disobedience lightly. He was visibly angry at what he lost, cast down in some insignificant managing job without hope of getting out. He had been forced into an arranged marriage with some inconsequential child of a minor noble, and had lived in Arjuf ever since.
It was clear to me that the life I led with my parents was definitely over as soon as I entered my uncle's property. I was visibly considered the same as some bastard child one is caring for because of obligations only - a child that one would rather see disappear rather than being bothered with it's existence. I was not an exalt, just a simple mortal child - and I had this truth enforced in my young mind as often as possible.
Under my uncle's service - as that is what it was, I was serving him in exchange for what he provided for me - I was treated at almost the same level as the barbarian slaves that were also part of the household. The beatings were frequent and lengthy, and I found out that no matter how well behaved I strived to be, my uncle never ran out of things to complain about. The only pastimes I really had, back then, were books - I would snatch one or two when asked to clean the library (my uncle kept his library mostly for show, as I did not see him read much, and therefore did not notice one or two books missing at a time), and I would read when I was supposed to sleep. I had to do so with bad lighting, and, looking back, this probably cause the myopia I still show signs of today. The days followed each other, until days became months, and months became years. The bad treatments never slowed down, and I found myself praying to whoever would listen to let me go, either through a mean of escape or through death, like the rest of my family. Whether it was the answer of my prayers or not, I do not know - but soon after, an event triggered a big change in myself, and brought upon the end of the most miserable period of my existence.
It was the end of the day, and all us "servants" were tired from a full day of harsh labor. As always, we were awaiting the master of the house before dinner, for our "review". It meant, basically, that we were waiting to see which ones of us Nalldarak would find something wrong with, and who would go to get punishment before the meal. My uncle was a very bitter man, and his helplessness with his situation did not help his seething rage at all. As such, venting his frustrations on his slave and servants was his chosen mean of expression - and I was more often than not given the honor of bearing his harsh treatments, for some reasons I cannot quite explain. Perhaps the fact I was the only other member of his family in the household save for his wife, and my Unexalted status reminded him of his own failures... In any case, I can only speculate as to why I became such a "favorite" with him. When he came around that night, of course, I was picked with nine other slaves to receive punishment for "innapropriate execution of simple tasks." As soon as the others evacuated the room, we awaited as Nalldarak pulled out his whip, all of us resigned to the pain even before it hit our flesh. Only... this time was different.
My uncle approached one of the young barbarians, a girl who presented her back obediently to the master of the house, who smiled slightly at the display of docility. In that moment, I time seemed to slow down for a moment, allowing me the time look around at those sharing this unjust fate with me. In their eyes, some young like mine, some older, the light was almost gone. Resignation replaced dignity as they... no, we chose to accept the truth that we had no rights here in the Realm, and were merely property. But something inside me snapped, at the sight of this. We all were born the same, yet those in this room looked more like sheep waiting to be slaughtered than human beings standing with each other. As I watched, helpless, as my uncle rose his whip to strike down the helpless girl, my mind filled with things I had never seen before.
Flows of colors, dancing across the room in an impressive display of lights. The lights were surrounding all of us, but seemed to glow brighter and more focused around my uncle. Time came to a stop as my mind tried to wrap around all I was now perceiving - all that is to be, from the birth of the smallest bird to the death of the most powerful Exalt...The infinity of fate, destiny written in the stars, and a white haired woman, her eyes full of endings and departures, smiling at me as my head felt like it would explode.
Something must have been apparent, as the other slaves stared at me for a moment, then seemed to back off slowly. My uncle had since brought down the whip twice, but as he pulled it upwards a third time, he realized the terror of the others and turned towards me. I found myself meeting his gaze, something I could never bring myself to do. Something was changed in me, when I spoke, the voice was mine but the words did not feel like my own.
Nalldarak raised an eyebow, then gave a somewhat amused look in my direction. "Well well. It seems the little weakling grew a spine. Not that it will save you from my rules, snot-nosed peasant. No, you will watch as I punish this one. Your turn comes next, insolent child." He smirked, and gazed at me once before turning to pull the whip upwards once more.
"I said, RELEASE HER."
I took a step forward, and as my uncle turned to me, his expression of amusement melted. Something was amiss. Even if I could not see myself, I could tell. Something was burning brightly on my forehead, casting a strange violet hue in the small room. "Little bastard ! You're one of them ! I will have you beheaded as an anathema, you son of a peasant bitch !"
He turned to raise his hand, but the girl stepped and threw herself in his way, her arms extended to cover me. The barbarian children were of higher constitution than me, and they were usually better at physical work than I was. They helped me with the chores my frail body could not endure, and I think it developped in them a certain need for them to look after me...
Nalldarak looked infuriated at this string of disobedience, and rose his fist to strike down the girl. At that moment, panicked at the idea I had endangered another through my reckless behavior, I seemed to notice the strands connecting everyone in the room. Somehow, I knew our chance lied in those strands, and, instinctively, I grabbed the one that had its root in the courageous girl, and tugged it.
What happened next, I am not quite sure I understand, even today. My uncle punched the girl, and the sound was enough to make a lot of the slaves turn away. However... She did not budge. She did not seem to feel it, even. she still stood, and she met his gaze evenly as he tried again. The result was the same... She seemed to ABSORB the blow. "Little Anathema bastard !" My uncle screamed as he seemed to invoke the powers of air to aid him. "You're dead, little freak. GUARDS !!!"
And then, somehow, I witnessed it, and I knew. I pointed at him and I talked again, but once more the words just flew from my mouth without me thinking of them.
"This is it, Nalldarak. Fate has decided. We will walk out. We are free."
"What are you mumbling about, dog ? You are all staying here, and it's the AXE that's waiting for you. GUARDS ! DAMN, THE LITTLE BASTARDS ARE RISING AGAINT ME ! MOVE IT !" I thought he would faint from the sheer force of his rage. He was ready to tear us down to pieces if we moved, but most were too scared to even lift a finger. The mark was burning even brighter on my forehead now, and my words had a strange echo to them, filling the small room with a strength I did not know it possessed.
"I have witnessed it, Nalldarak. Your ending. Nobody will come to rescue you. You treated your soldiers like dirt. You acted as if your wife was property, and struck or caressed her as you pleased, with no regards for her. They have been hoping and praying for this moment for years. You will end here, Nalldarak. Forgotten by all those you mistreated. Alone."
As I uttered the words, light around me intensified, and lapped around the other slaves for a moment. Slowly gaining in rage and frustration, the adrenaline pumping in their scarred bodies, they started to advance on their tormentor, whose skills as a diplomat and dignitary could not save now... The anger gave way to fear and terror, as the slaves took on every object they could to release their anger on the reviled master of the house. He backed off from them as they struck him with even more violence than even HE could muster. He watched with horror as the scene that unfolded before his eyes was one from his worst nightmares.
A man watching, helpless, witness to his own ending.
* * *
The years following that fateful night were filled to the brim with new knowledge and experiences. Following the fall of my uncle the household arranged a proper cover-up and passed on the successsion to his Exalted wife, who, even if she was a distant woman, was treating those under her far better than he did. The slaves were released, partly because they deserved their freedom, but mostly because the rest of the house's inhabitants did not feel comfortable with them anymore, after what happened to the master. We were in luck that my uncle's wife was understanding, and a more caring woman, as we all could have been executed for what happened that fateful night. She kept the truth under wraps, for reasons her own, and allowed the slaves to go free withouth any fanfare. As for me... it did not take long for me to be noticed. Two men, dressed in lavish silver and carrying various books and scrolls visited the lady of the house. She did not seem surprised, and they looked like they showed great interest in me. It was not long before they took me with them, and they taught me what I was.
The Maiden of Endings had chosen me from birth. The trials were over, and I was now allowed to learn about my abilities and the responsibilities they entailed. I was now a sidereal Exalted, and was to receive training in Yu Shan.
In a short time, I was told of my new life. As a Chosen of the Maidens, I was now responsible to ensure the smooth continuity of destiny, taking the necessary steps to ensure Fate would run its alloted course. The flow of information was so great and continuous my mind could not fully take in what I was told before I was taught something else.Looking back, perhaps this is intentionental of the Sidereal, as not to have new rectruits flinching and breaking down at the prospect of all the new responsibilities of a Chosen of the Maidens. I was listening intently, silent and docile, and I found myself embracing this new prospect - for one who was born of lowly descent, it was an unexpected change of destiny. Perhaps the now active essence in me was keeping me under control, also.
I experienced Exaltation before the uncertain times we know today - the Scarlet Empress was still ruling with an iron fist, and the Solars had yet to return in significant numbers. As such, there was not a rush to train new sidereals as it is now now in the bureau... There was less of a state of overall urgency - and perhaps that is one thing my brethren have come to resent, for they did not see those blows coming. My own apprenticeship took around three years to complete, with several masters teaching me about the basics of being an agent of the Bureau of Destiny and the many powers available to those chosen by the Maiden of Endings.
When the time came for my martial training, I was brought into one of the millions of pagodas in Yu Shan, about three hours from the Jade Pleasure Dome. It was a very elegant, yet very simple building, crafted from ebon wood and inlaid in silver with images of great lotus flowers and lotus petals. Across the great black marble pillars on either side of the great entrance, stylized spiders made of silver seemed to be frozen in their eternal climb for the top of the beautiful structure.
As I was brought in, I was awed by the simplistic beauty of the training area. Sparsely furnished, yet tastefully painted in earthy tones and shades of dark red and purple reminescent of a dying sunset. I was asked to sit and wait for sifu, which would be my guide through my martial training as a Sidereal Exalted, and would also forge me into a full fledged Chosen through training and discipline.
When I fist laid eyes upon the one that would teach me, I remember being a bit surprised. The stereotypes deeply ingrained in me planted the image of an old, white bearded man, with eyes full of wisdom despite an apparently weak and old body. Instead, the man that stepped in the room looked not older than middle aged, with jet black hair stricken slightly with an occasional strand of gray. His purple eyes showed the lines of one who laughed a lot, and instead of the harsh, demeaning look of a martial master meeting a new student, I found eyes displaying a genuine warmth and a welcoming smile. His neatly trimmed goatee, black like his hair accented the deep violet eyes now staring at me approvingly as he stepped closer to the point where I was seated. His white and purple robes were to the image of the man's dwellings, simple yet elegant robes both pleasing to the eye and allowing a good freedom of movement.
"Welcome, Alexsei. I have been preparing for your arrival for quite some time now. Congratulations on your reawakening, and welcome to what will be your home for the last part of your training. My name is Laisdach. I will be your Sifu, your guide in the Violet Bier of Sorrows martial form." He bowed his head to me, and I bowed deeply in return, in a show of respect. He smiled and encouraged me to get up.
"Here, Chosen of Endings, you will learn of the form prefered by Saturn. You will become a Reckoner, and will be ingrained into the way of thinking associated with being an agent of destiny just as you are shown the path to the Sidereal Martial Arts. Now rise, I will show you to your living quarters, and we shall begin training immediately."
I followed him , and thus began my friendship with Laisdach, my mentor and teacher, and the one that forged me into the man I am today...
* * *
Time in Yu Shan is a difficult thing to measure, as the great dome reflects the celestial body of the one leading the Games of Divinity, which can lead to some hectic successions of days and nights. As such... I am not quite sure how long my apprenticeship with Laisdach lasted.
He loved to challenge my mind at the same time he was showing me the Way of the Violet Bier of Sorrows, and a lot of my preconceived notions fell with his tutelage. Although my sifu is not affiliated with either the gold or bronze faction, he seemed to believe that the ways of Chejop Kejak were closing on their end, and that there was no use in clinging to dying ideas. When I questionned him about the Gold faction's goal, and if the souls of the Solars should be allowed to go free (I remind you this was before the sundering of the Jade Prison, showing that destiny DOES work in mysterious ways) and allowed to rule again, he merely smiled at me.
"Well, the solars are not the anathema Kejak pushed the Realm to believe. But does that mean they would be more suited to rule ? They DID fail the first time around, didn't they ?" He raised an eyebrow, a gesture I had come to understand was a philosophical or intellectual challenge. "But, sifu..." I replied, bowing my head to him. "If they were unjustly condemned, then this is not better to keep them locked in there, isn't it ? Surely with the proper warnings and education, the Gold Faction would be able to make them the rulers they were meant to be, right ?"
Laisdach stared at me and cocked his head slightly to one side. "A good point, Alexsei. But tell me. This "education"... Would it really be better than what the Bronze faction is doing with the Terrestrial Exalted right now ? How can you ensure it would not be the same story as now, with Solar Exalted instead of the Dragon blooded ?" I admit I was at a loss by then, and once again my master's insight has proven me how much I had to learn still. I merely bowed my head in defeat, for I couldn't come back with a satisfactory response. Laisdach nodded slowly, and stared into the distance for a moment.
"You are not a zealot, Alexsei. Your mind is broad enough that you will listen before you forge an opinion. Becasue of this, I think I might be able to take you further than some other ones I have trained..." He trailed of a bit, then turned towards me. "A lot of our brethren are blinded by their own clairvoyance, Alexsei. They have been convinced that they are not merely agents helping destiny run its course, but the very ones that have to shape it. Only... Destiny can be altered, and shaped in parts, yes. But the Pattern of Fate will not always bend to our will. We never foresaw the Great Contagion. There are things we cannot foresee, that we cannot predict, and that the enemies of creation can use against us, because they know us to be prideful. But listen, my student. All is not so black and white. Not one single individual holds the answer to where Fate should lead. If you go to the Loom of Fate, and observe the Pattern... You will realize how everything works together. How each strand complement the other to creathe the whole which is the true beauty. As such... I believe, Alexsei, that the only way creation can prevail through any threat, is for it to maintain balance. All of Creation is important. All is related. I do not believe us, or any type of Exalt, to be above the others, of more "fit to rule". I believe that by working together, we can push creation through the limits of any realm, empire, or dominion."
He gazed at me then, and his brow was furrowed - something I had not seen often in my master. "Now you understand... Why I am not allied with any of the factions. I think the Gold do have a point in wanting the Solars back, for their absence leaves a void in creation where their place should be. But... I do not believe we should strive to recreate the First Age, Alexsei. This age is past. It ended, and it is dealt with. I believe in balance. But who takes the time to listen to an older Sidereal that is not politically inclined, and unwilling to manipulate others to create his own following ?"
I took a long while to take in everything my master just told me, and thought about the matter on my own, mixing the words of my master with my own experience. We kept still for a long moment, neither of us daring to move or break the silence. Finally, after I had pondered the thoughts enough that I could muster a reply, I bowed my head to signify I would speak. "I... understand, master." I raised my head and gazed at Laisdach, and he nodded his head slightly in return. "I understand your lesson, honored sifu. Balance...harmony in all things... We should cooperate in order to progress. This is why we were created with strenghts and weaknesses... So we can work better together." I touched my forehead to the ground, and I could feel Laisdach's eyes on me. "I will not waste your principles, master. I will strive to apply them the best I can, with the methods I have."
He said nothing, and nodded only slightly to signify his approval. He smiled, and gestured for me to go back to my personal studies, which I did immediately. I often wondered, after this, if my master was happy to have found someone to share his ideals with, to find a student that would follow his teachings into creation, or merely to have found a youth not yet corrupted by the delusions of grandeur and the arrogance so often found among us Sidereals. But, as many other things regarding my honored sifu, this is a fact only he knows for sure.
* * *
To be continued...