The Brotherhood of Virtue
I tell him I keep my promises. I call him by his name, the name he used in the beginning. The name he used in the end, when all was lost. When the Word passed from us, into darkness.
I am flesh and blood. I am reborn. I reignite.
For a moment, everything is clear.
I see the world as from above, as through the eyes of the Unconquered Sun. I see the world as it was meant to be, as a place of harmony, of stability, of order. I could reach out to touch it; I could tear down kingdoms with a thought, or raise empires from nomads and barbarians. It’s so simple; I see the world, and it makes sense.
The moment passes.
My name is Keemia Jelang. I have rebelled against the Dragon-Blooded; for this, I have become Anathema. The golden mark burns on my brow, reflected in my jewelry. They sought to take my people from me; my servants, my workers, my soldiers. They have already taken my husband. They will push me no further, even if Heaven punishes me.
But what kind of punishment is this? It is no curse; it is clarity.
There is a stranger in my house, one whom I took in out of compassion. He is awestruck. He is weeping. The mark burns on his brow as well. He is-
He is the Bronze Tiger.
His name is Rakios. He tells me I am Solar Exalted, destined to rule the world. Chosen, not cursed, by the Unconquered Sun. He calls me Takeshi. That is – was – my name, in a different age. The name sounds… Western, from Hamoji or beyond. I see the island before my eyes, understand my connection to it though I’ve never been there. But now I must focus. The islands of Creation vanish from my mind.
These are the facts, then:
Weeks ago, the Wyld Hunt came to my city, Resounding Bells, with half a legion and five of the Jade-Souled warriors. They killed the hero White Tusk and his soldiers, though at a great cost. They crushed any chance at freedom the city ever had; we accepted it. We bowed to the might of the Empire. Then the Jade-Souled were attacked by a monster, a Lunar Anathema; and now they will burn the city – my city – to the ground in search of it. They sought to recruit my men for it.
This must not come to pass.
Matters of the Solar Exaltation may wait. I must learn more about the present situation, and Rakios is willing to teach. He is allied with the rebels, with the Star Jasmine Princess, the enigmatic commander of demons. I do not trust her; neither does he. I would prefer stability over revolution, but it seems the Lunar Anathema has forced our hand – inaction can only lead to chaos. Rakios says we must overthrow the Jade-Souled, rid the city of them and their taxes. I see clearly that it is our only option. It is not that I mind them in times of peace – but now, in this time of tumult, they bring only misery. I understand; their governance is inefficient, their methods unrighteous, their results… unimpressive. So it is decided, then; that is what must be done. We move on to the how.
I question Rakios about his affiliates. More facts: He has already slain one of the Jade-Souled; Ragara Soras Rin, the vain one, the stone-blooded Child of Pasiap. The Lunar Anathema aided him in some fashion, but she is injured. She is held outside with a man named Shadow Edge, hiding in my warehouse, without my permission. She is probably bleeding to death.
Rakios wishes to discuss strategy. It seems prudent to delegate.
I call on Denpasar. He answers willingly, entering softly and silently. The burning marks have faded already, but his eyes know that something has happened; as they always do. Wordlessly our souls touch. There will be explanations later. I leave him with Rakios, knowing full well that the Bronze Tiger is Anathema, a rebellious soul, a dangerous monster in the eyes of the Jade-Souled. I communicate the danger with a flick of my hand; Denpasar, silently, acknowledges it, bending like a reed, becomes a caressing feather. He will be safe.
I drift outside to the warehouse, bringing a few men, not that I know what they could do against a Lunar Anathema. A man’s voice guides me towards her, and –
Entrails spill over the ground. Blood seeps in puddles, soaking her meager bandages to red. The stench of guts and death is unbearable. I adopt the Demure Carp Attitude, and override my body’s reactions; I remember that life and death are dreams. I politely direct the residents of the warehouse to my estate, where the woman’s wounds may be stitched.
She bears the tattoos and scars of a Lintha. She is stark naked, and bleeding from a gut wound that could fit a grown man’s arm. She is covered in blood. So are the men tending to her, the cloaked figure whose sarcasm belies panic and the short barber, Kamui. I take them to my kitchen; it is nearest, and it has herbs that may staunch the bleeding. It is strange; she should be dead many times over already, yet she is not.
Rakios says she will be fine. The Lunar Exalted are not so frail as mortals or castles. It is a peculiar turn of phrase; one I remember.
One I coined.
Kamui tries to heal her. He is helpless against the torrent of blood. His hands are shaking; his actions disorganized. I step in in his stead, seize the needle from his hand. The relevant principles become clear before my eyes; a body is a whole made up from parts in harmony; injury has caused disruption. I block the bloodflow with a touch to her chakras, then sew up her injuries. She is strong, incredibly strong, but muscle and sinew soften under my hands as I direct her Essence inwards, to rebuild, to remake. She will live.
Shadow Edge is gone. So is Denpasar, and shortly, so is Rakios.
Denpasar has taken the men with him; he is planning to prevent the rallying of the legion by crippling the bridges. Rakios has gone to stop word from being sent to the Steel Lotus. I am alone with a panicked barber and an unconscious naked pirate, one who has spilled as much blood as would fit a good-sized horse. On my kitchen floor.
I do not know what I had expected from being Anathema, but it was not this.
My clothes are soaked with blood. I return to my chambers, up the stairs, and undress. I don’t know if the stains will ever fade; poor Hirani will have difficulties with the laundry, I’m afraid. I hear Nonya in the next room over; she creeps into my room. I have blood up to my elbows, and consider telling her to stay – but it’s too late.
I tell her she mustn’t go downstairs as I wash off the blood. She simply stands there, staring. I’m unsure of what to say, so I say nothing else.
She asks me if I’m hurt. A silly question; the blood is gone, and I’m visibly unblemished. Mental note to hire a better anatomy instructor. I inform her that I’m fine, but that I’ve tended to a guest, and tell her to go back to her room until she’s called for. I dress myself – all the servants are busy – and leave Nonya alone as I return to the bottom floor, and to the business of making sure the estate is safe.
There is still some wine left in the kitchen. I pour it for Kamui, try to make him comfortable – he’s an esteemed guest, after all. He informs me what’s happened, and what will happen next insofar as he understands it.
The Jade-Souled will die. The city will be free, and a demonic princess and her rebel army will ascend to the throne. There’s going to be a tremendous amount of work restructuring.
I’m going to need more wine.